Children of the Via

by Scifinerdgrl

Title: Children of the Via
Author: Scifinerdgrl
Rating: NC-17
Category: XR
Keywords: Doggett/Reyes relationship (married), Gibson Praise, William, mytharc super soldiers, post-series Spoilers: William, The Truth

Summary: Now married, Doggett and Reyes care for Gibson Praise and William as they hide out under the protection of a secret network of telepaths. Sequel to Via Sub Rosa, a post-series DRR story.

Feedback: scifinerdgrl@hotmail.com, scifinerdgrl@yahoo.com


Chapter One

John Doggett looked across to his wife of only an hour and smiled. She'd wedged her head between the passenger seat and the door, keeping a watchful eye over their secret cargo, Scully's son, William.

"We can't keep him, you know," he reminded her. "I'm sure the Via Sub Rosa wants us to take him to Scully."

"How do you know that? Did you read Tomas's mind?" Monica shot back, more defensively than either of them expected.

"I don't think anyone can read that guy's mind," John snorted. "But ..."

"Rosalita could," Gibson piped up from the back seat.

"Yeah?" John and Monica responded in unison.

"I believe it," Monica continued. "Did she know about William?"

Gibson shook his head. "She had no idea." He stroked William's tiny foot and repeated softly, "She had no idea about any of it."

John and Monica exchanged glances, sharing concern for their adolescent foster child and his first girlfriend, left behind when they'd escaped the wrath of the black helicopters that destroyed the monastery where they'd been hiding.

"That's probably best," Monica assured him. "She was already carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders."

"Yeah," Gibson croaked. He leaned against the window and stared out the window at the New Mexico desert. "I don't think anybody but Tomas and Mother Catherine knew what was going to happen."

John adjusted the rearview mirror, framing Gibson's face and studying it with an investigator's eye. "There's a leak in the Via's network. I just assumed..."

"They weren't the leak, if that's what you're thinking," Gibson said. Of course it was what they were thinking. Gibson's prodigious psychic ability never failed him, and John smirked at the boy's quip.

"How did they know, then?" Monica asked.

Gibson shrugged then glanced out the window again. "They got their instructions on e-mail."

The coded messages that the Via sent when the psychic network wouldn't work, Monica remembered. They had learned their codes too. "John..." She placed a hand on Doggett's sleeve. "I think it's time to pull over."

John glanced at the side mirror. Thick black smoke clung to the horizon, but the helicopters seemed to be gone, and no other vehicles were on the road. He pulled to the shoulder and slowed to a stop, looking around them for signs of trouble as he did so. "Well?" he asked after putting the SUV in "park."

"We need to figure out what we're doing," Monica said. "Are we going to try to find Scully and return William to her?"

Even William seemed to sense the tension her question generated. John turned in his seat, glancing at all three expectant faces in turn. "Let's see what Tomas packed in our wedding present before we answer that." He left the SUV running, just in case, and went around to the back.

Their SUV, most likely cobbled together in a chop shop, carried several boxes John recognized from his "job" as delivery driver for the monastery. These boxes, marked "For the Nuns," were taken in trade for boxes of magnetite-laced bullets smelted in the monastery's secret underground factory.

"Whaddaya think?" John asked, draping one arm over Monica's shoulders and the other over Gibson's. "There must be instructions in here somewhere."

Before either could answer, William, still in his car seat, let out a blood-curdling scream followed by more typical infant's cries.

"He's frightened," Gibson said. "He doesn't want to be alone."

Monica blanched and rushed to the door, flinging it open. Within seconds she had William clutched tightly in her arms, and though he stopped crying almost immediately, she continued rocking side to side as John joined her. He put an arm around her waist and said gently, "All babies are afraid to be alone, Monica."

But she didn't hear him. She bent her head to whisper to William, "I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking..."

John pulled at the baby's waist, and as Monica struggled to hang onto him, she suddenly realized it was John who was pulling.

"Monica," he pleaded. "It's okay."

Reluctantly, Monica let go and watched John pull the baby into his strong arms. She was almost disappointed to see that William seemed happy to be with John, but not disappointed to see John's instinctive smile at the feel of a baby in his arms. Especially this baby.

"Come on," John nodded, walking toward the back of the SUV.

Monica followed as if pulled by a strong magnet, then put one hand on the small of John's back as she stroked the back of William's head with the other. Gibson watched this exchange, and the swirl of powerful emotions from all three made him take a few steps backward.

"Gibson?" John turned and looked down into the short boy's face. Although he wasn't sure what he was seeing, or rather sensing, in Gibson, he could tell that Gibson was feeling uncomfortable. "Want to hold him? You two seem to have a connection."

John didn't wait for an answer. He turned William around and dangled him in front of Gibson.

"John..." Monica warned, but John edged in front of her, keeping her from taking William herself.

Finally, Gibson took William, and the baby looked up into his face as if he'd known him all his short life. Gibson's face broke out into a broad smile and he looked up at John. "He likes me," he said with some amazement.

"Of course he does, Gibson," John reassured him. "Who wouldn't?" He turned to Monica, smiling as broadly as Gibson. "See? He just didn't want to be alone. No baby does."

Monica flushed as she realized what John was up to. "I know," she pouted.

"Come on," John said, seemingly oblivious to her distress. "Let's see what they packed for us."

The pulled enough boxes and packages from the SUV to make a center aisle, then started opening them.

"Diapers," Monica announced. "Lots of them." She looked up at John, whose shoulders slumped in defeat.

"Let's see what else is in here." John slit open the top of one box and found clothes in his size. The next box held clothes in Gibson's size. "This is too much," he said.

"If we're not going back to Washington we need it," Monica argued as she slit open another box. Baby clothes, toys, and a book on caring for babies. She held it up for John to see.

"Monica," John said softly, crouching to her level and looking over the box into her eyes. "He's not ours. Don't go making assumptions here..."

"I'm won't," she said. "But you shouldn't either."

He reached across and stroked her cheek. "I promise."

When they'd finished their inventory, they calculated two weeks' of supplies, including food, water, and camping gear, and several deliveries of magnetite-laced bullets and other goods.

"Well?" John asked, his hands on his hips as he surveyed the goods. "We still don't know where we're going with this stuff."

"Mexico," Gibson said.

"Excuse me?" John demanded.

Gibson handed William to John then went to his seat, returning with his bag. He fished out his gameboy, hit the buttons in a specific pattern, then turned the it around and showed it to John and Monica.

The tiny screen clearly showed a map of Mexico, with splotches of color throughout in a random pattern that became brighter and denser toward the Yucatan. "This is why you wanted a gameboy?" John asked.

Gibson blushed and looked to Monica for support, but she glowered at him with the same betrayal in her eyes. "I didn't mean to keep secrets, but..."

"You were afraid we'd be overheard," Monica finished for him. "And you couldn't trust us."

"We've been working on that blocking thing," John reminded him. "Haven't we gotten any better?"

Gibson blushed for a different reason then said lamely, "A little."

"So what else have you kept from us, Gibson?" Monica demanded.


William fussed, a faint, almost inaudible cry that instantly caught Monica's attention. She reached out for him and his tiny arms reached for her. John handed him over to her and said, "Where were those diapers again?"

As Monica started diapering the baby, John's eyes bored into Gibson's. "Well?" he asked after a few moments' frustration trying to read the boy's mind. "Are you keeping any other secrets?"

"A few," Gibson admitted. "But it's for your own good."

"We were the ones who promised to protect you remember." John's eyes never left Gibson's face. "How can we do that if you're keeping secrets?"

"These secrets don't involve you," Gibson said defiantly. "But knowing them puts you in danger."

"Doesn't knowing them put you in danger?" John asked. "So being with you put Monica and me in danger anyway... and him," he nodded to William.

Gibson gulped and looked away. "Just trust me, okay?"

Monica returned to John's side. "Gibson..." she said gravely.

"Lita's going to try to meet us. At Isla Mujeres," he admitted. "If she's okay," he added, his lower lip quivering almost imperceptibly.

John smiled. "And now that we know, you're going to have to kill us, right?"

Gibson smirked. "I'm a good shot, remember."

"Gibson," Monica said, moving William from one hip to the other. "If there's more, and something happens to him..."

"I'll protect him," Gibson said. "I promise."

"What else is on that gameboy?" Monica demanded.

Gibson sighed. "Am I a suspect?"

"Not yet," Monica said.

"We haven't read you your rights yet," John said. Monica shot him a glance, but John continued. "Does that thing say anything about William? Where we're supposed to be taking him?"

Gibson shook his head. "It's just about the Via, where the safehouses are."

"There's one on Isla Mujeres?" Monica asked.

"That whole island is a safe house," Gibson replied. "It's kind of central."

"Kind of central?" John repeated.

Gibson nodded. "Well, very central. You might say, ground zero."

"Isla Mujeres?" mused John. "Doesn't that mean Woman's Island?"

"Yes," Monica said.

She took a breath and was about to say more when John interrupted. "Woman's Island," he muttered. "That's just great."

Gibson snickered until Monica shot him a punishing glance.

"It's a resort island off Cancn," Monica explained.

"That's a relief." John said with a wink. "Gibson and I were getting estrogen poisoning in that convent!"

"Yes, I've noticed the man-boobs you two have developed," Monica said. She marched to the SUV and started strapping William into his car seat.

John and Gibson sneaked downward glances to their chests, then snapped to attention when Monica called out, "And now that we know our destination, shouldn't we get going?"

Her men exchanged a brief "What's with her?" glance then began their well-rehearsed loading routine, honed during their deliveries of magnetite bullets, with Gibson in the SUV arranging boxes as John lifted them over the tailgate.

When the SUV was almost completely repacked, John's eye caught a glimpse of a dust cloud approaching in the distance.

"Oh crap," he said, to nobody in particular.

"John," Monica called out.

"Stay back," he warned as he stepped away from their vehicle. He tossed Gibson the keys. "Here. Go wherever we're supposed to go. I'll catch up with you later."

"John! Get in!" Monica yelled when she saw John walking toward the strange vehicle. Then when Gibson started the ignition, she grabbed his arm and shouted "NO!" but the boy slid forward in the seat and floored the accelerator. The SUV roared but stayed put.

"Shift to DRIVE!" John shouted, but it was too late. Monica had grabbed the ignition key and shut the engine off.

With determination Monica never knew he had, Gibson elbowed Monica out of the way, restarted the ignition, and shifted the gears. The SUV lurched forward then sped along the shoulder as the boy struggled to see over the steering wheel while keeping his foot on the pedal.

Monica watched through the rear window as the strange vehicle slowed to a stop next to her husband. "That's far enough, Gibson," she said, trying to keep both her voice and her emotions calm. "Let's see who it is."

Gibson obeyed, but Monica could see he was scared to death.

John held up his hands as the SUV approached, paying special attention to the magnetite-laced wedding ring that would vibrate if the strangers were super soldiers.

But when he saw who was in the SUV he lowered his arms. "What do you want," he sneered as Brad Follmer got out.

"Is that the way to greet someone who has gone to a lot of trouble on your behalf?" Follmer asked.

"Yes, it is. Go back where you came from!" Doggett ordered.

"Big talk for a man in trouble," Follmer said.

Skinner appeared at Follmer's side. "Do you know what that," he nodded toward the destroyed monastery in the distance. "was all about?"

"Nope," John answered. "Not a clue."

Skinner and Follmer looked at him skeptically. "Can I buy a vowel?" Follmer asked.

"You can buy the whole damn alphabet," Doggett sneered. "But I can't tell you a thing. Now if you'll excuse me..."

As Doggett turned to leave, Follmer said, "Enjoy your honeymoon. Just don't try going to Mexico."

CHAPTER TWO

Doggett stopped in his tracks.

"Where do you think they're all looking for you?" Skinner asked.

Doggett gulped then turned around. "Are her parents okay?"

"They're safe," Skinner assured him. "But they're being watched."

"Closely," Follmer added.

"And they're worried about her, of course," Skinner said. "They're trying to find her too."

"How?" Doggett asked.

"Private investigator," Follmer said. "He's very good."

"Did he -- " Doggett started, but he could see the answer in their faces. "Yeah, that's how you found us."

Follmer and Skinner nodded.

"Are you sure you can trust him?" Doggett asked, nodding toward the smoky horizon. "Somebody sent those helicopters."

"Whoever destroyed that Anasazi ruin destroyed that place too. But they weren't following you," Skinner said.

"They've gone after a few other places in the Southwest," Follmer added. "And they're all peaceful communities, just like your little love nest."

Doggett decided to let the comment go, and contemplated the implications of this latest piece of news. "I think I know what they're after, then."

Follmer arched his eyebrows and was about to ask what it was, when they saw the chop shop SUV coming toward them.

Doggett turned and ran toward it, shouting, "I told you to..." But he had to jump out of the way as the SUV's inexperienced driver mistook the accelerator for the brake pedal.

The SUV sped toward the other SUV, on a collision course until Monica grabbed the wheel and forced it onto the shoulder. It came to a stop a hundred feet past Skinner and Follmer's vehicle, leaving a cloud of dust on the rarely-used road.

As the dust began to settle, Monica, William in her arms, got out and ran toward John. "Are you crazy? Telling Gibson to take off like that?"

John ran toward her. "Go! Get outta here. I'll catch up with you."

Monica nodded toward her former lover, "He's not going to hurt us." Then she nodded toward their former boss. "He won't either."

"When I tell you to go, you should GO!" John shouted, the veins on his neck starting to show. "We have TWO kids to take care of now, Monica. I have to know I can trust you on that."

Remembering their escape from the Anasazi ruins, when she'd refused to leave John's side and his subsequent scolding about it, Monica nodded. "You can, John. But you can't over-react. We need you."

"Monica," John began to scold, more patronizingly and less angry now, but she interrupted.

"They're not Luke, John," she said with gentle resolve. "You won't fail them."

John nodded, suddenly realizing his confidence about Gibson had been propped up by the Via's protection. "They are Luke, Monica," he countered. "They're defenseless, and they're in danger."

Suddenly they heard Brad's voice sneering, "Well, aren't we the happy couple? Having our first marital argument already?"

Monica glowered at him and instinctively pulled William's head toward her shoulder. "What do you want, Brad?"

"I want you to be safe," he answered. "I need to know you won't go to Mexico."

"I can't tell you where we're going," Monica said. "And don't try to follow us again." She couldn't help looking toward the smoky horizon.

Brad's eyes followed her gaze. "That wasn't us, Monica. We're on your side.... And we're careful."

John put his arm around Monica's waist. "Tell her parents she's fine," he said.

"You've been in touch with my parents?" Monica exclaimed. "When?"

Skinner broke in. "Not directly. Their private investigator. But we can get them a message."

"Tell them I'm happy," she said, looking pointedly at Brad. "Tell them I'm married and I'll see them soon."

"I'll tell them you're married -- they need to hear that. But I won't tell them you're visiting them," Brad said. Monica's lips closed in a tight line that made Brad squirm, but he persisted. "I'm serious, Monica. If you care about them, you'll stay away." Then he nodded toward William, "And if you care about him, you'll let us take him."

"I've heard enough," John snapped. "Come on, Monica."

They turned toward their SUV, pointedly refusing to turn their heads when Follmer shouted, "You're making a big mistake!"

When John and Monica returned to the SUV they found Gibson, ashen-faced, staring over the steering wheel toward the destroyed monastery. John opened the driver's door and leaned in, saying, "Let's you and me have a little talk.

Gibson got out, and John put an arm across the boy's shoulders. "Do you want to go back? Check on them?" he asked, nodding toward the monastery.

Gibson shook his head. "They're not there."

His eyes on the horizon, John said, "Okay, then." He put his hands in his pockets and sighed. "Those men, they warned us not to go to Mexico."

"But we have to!" Gibson shrieked.

"Because of Lita?" John asked.

"Not just her," Gibson said. "All of us."

John's brow furrowed slightly but he kept his eyes on the horizon. "The people of the Via?"

"No," Gibson said gravely. "All humans, everyone."

John turned to Gibson, studying the boys face, and for the first time he felt the stirrings of a psychic connection with him. Following the meditation techniques he'd learned from Tomas, he relaxed his mind as much as he could, giving permission for the image Gibson was sending to enter his mind.

At first the image was foggy, or perhaps smoky, with graceful, willowy figures ambling in front of a large object that some part of him recognized as a space craft. But as soon as John thought about what he was seeing, the image vanished, like a soap bubble that burst, turning into a few silky droplets that could be followed, but would never be a bubble again.

"Sorry, Gibson," John said. "I didn't quite get all of that."

"It's Lita's image, her memory," Gibson explained.

John's eyebrows shot upward in surprise. "Lita was with them?"

Gibson shook his head. "Not Lita. It's her family's memory. One of them. She gave them to me for safe keeping." Gibson's face threatened to crumple under the weight of his next words, but he forced himself to say them anyway. "In case something happened to her. She's the last..."

John reached for Gibson's shoulder. "So that's your secret," he said. He quickly appraised the implications of these memories, then glanced over his shoulder toward Skinner and Follmer, who hadn't moved. "I hate to ask you to do this, Gibson, but..."

"You want me to size them up," Gibson said. "See if they're lying."

"See if you can find out why they don't want us going to Mexico," John said. "I don't trust him." He nodded toward Follmer, and Gibson rolled his eyes.

"He's harmless," he snorted. "He still loves her, is all. He's trying to protect her.

John's eyes narrowed. This confirmation of his suspicions brought up uncomfortable feelings, feelings that he'd never wanted to admit to himself. His thoughts were interrupted by Gibson's unexpected pronouncement:

"It's the other one you have to worry about. A.D. Skinner."

"What?" John exclaimed. "Skinner?!?!"

Gibson nodded. "He's worried about Mulder and Scully. He and Follmer have a deal. He helps Follmer find us, Follmer helps him find them."

Doggett knitted his eyebrows. "How does that...?"

"He'll sell us out if he has to," Gibson said. "He doesn't know what we know. He doesn't know how important we are."

"That could be good or bad for us," John assessed.

Skinner looked up, as if he could tell they were talking about him. "He cares about me. And he cares about William," Gibson said.

"So Monica and I are safe as long as we're with you?" John asked.

"And we're only safe if we're with you," Gibson answered.

"John?" Monica called out, bouncing William in her arms as if she'd been born to the job. She had been standing several feet away the whole time, looking anxiously toward Skinner and Follmer.

"C'mon," John clapped Gibson on the back. "And that was just between us, right?"

"Wouldn't that be a secret?" Gibson asked.

"Yes, it would," John admitted.

When they were all together again, John took a deep breath and said, "Let's go."

"Where to?" Monica asked.

"Mexico," John said resolutely. "Gibson, you're driving."

CHAPTER THREE

They drove Northward, until they were sure Skinner and Follmer hadn't followed them, then doubled back and headed South. John sat shotgun, feeding Gibson hints and tips about driving in a running monologue until Monica had nodded off. "I'll tell her, Gibson," he whispered. "Just not now."

"I know," Gibson said. "I won't keep my secret either."

Hours later, Monica awoke with a start when a streak of orange from the setting sun flashed over her eyes. "Wha---" she started, then checked on William, sleeping contentedly next to her.

"You okay, Monica?" John asked, turning in his seat.

"Nightmares," she said, shaking her head to dislodge the memory. "Fire, helicopters..."

"Everything's fine," John assured her. "We haven't been followed. In fact, we have only seen a few other vehicles."

"It's damn boring," Gibson said.

"Gibson!" Monica scolded.

"He's right," John agreed. "Damn boring. And that's the real risk of highway driving, Gibson."

"I wasn't talking about the driving," Gibson said, rolling his eyes.

Monica saw Gibson's expression in the rearview mirror and chuckled. "Maybe it's time to take a potty break & switch drivers."

"Let's go to that gas station a few miles back," John said. "God knows when we'll find another one."

Gibson stopped the SUV and turned it around as John bit his tongue, then he accelerated, a little faster than he'd expected. The SUV swerved, but Gibson corrected before John could give him orders.

"Way to go, Gibson," John said when he'd caught his breath.

The station had one gas pump, a small food store, and a single-bay service area. A tall, thin man with unexpectedly loose jowls and a shock of gray hair combed carefully over his balding scalp met them as they pulled to the pump.

"Regular?" the man said, directing himself to John.

"Yeah," John answered. He squinted to read the name on the man's shirt. "Thanks, Pete."

"I need the ladies room," Monica said. "And a changing table."

Pete looked sympathetically toward Monica and William then said, "It's unisex. It don't look like much but it's clean and there's a little table."

After Monica and William were inside, John got out and stretched. "It's been a lo-o-o-ng day!" he said.

Pete kept his hand on the pump as if it were a lifeline. "Where you headed?"

Gibson got out and stretched, saying "Yeah, a long day!"

"Don't want to say? Okay. None of my business..." Pete topped off the gas then added, "Only you got Mexican tags and you sure as shit ain't Spics."

"The wife's Mexican," John explained, trying to keep his voice nonchalant. "This heap belongs to her parents."

Pete seemed satisfied, and screwed the cap back on. "She don't look like a Spic either, but then I've seen some that were blond, even!"

"I'll tell her that," John said.

"And you!" Pete said to Gibson, who was taking a step toward the little store. "Are you old enough to drive?"

"I'm sixteen," Gibson snarled.

"He's short for his age," John said. "He's a little sensitive about it."

"Ahh, okay, then. In Mexico him driving wouldn't give anyone pause, but here..." Pete paused to take a bandanna from his hip pocket then wipe the sweat off his forehead.

"Yeah, we know," Gibson said, then he stomped off toward the store.

"Lucky you." Pete winked at John. "You get to go through the teen years twice. My two boys were born a year apart. I got it over with all at once." He passed the bandanna over his eyes, then said, "Glad those years are over!"

"He's a good kid," John said defensively. "If I could have a hundred more like him, I would."

"Be careful what you wish for," Pete said knowingly. "You just might get it!"


Gibson paced inside the little food store until he came to the magazine rack. He fingered the Seventeen Magazine, the magazine Monica had picked out for Lita. When John told Gibson he would be driving, he knew why. To keep his mind off Lita. And now that his mind wasn't on the road...

Even though he dimly sensed Monica's presence behind him, her hand on his shoulder made him jump. "I'm worried about her too, Gibson," she said. "But we have to believe that she's all right, and that we'll see her again."

Gibson smiled wistfully then let his hand fall away from the magazine and drift upward to grab William's foot. He rubbed the tiny sock thoughtfully and said, "You thought you'd never see him again, and here he is."

"Yes," she said.

"You were angry with Scully for giving him up," Gibson said.

"At first, yes," Monica admitted. "But I understand now. She did the right thing."

"You wouldn't do the same thing though, would you?" Gibson challenged. "You won't give him up."

Monica pursed her lips and thought for a moment. "I'll do whatever's best for him," she said finally. "And until I know what that is..." William reached out for Gibson, who took him into his arms despite Monica's reluctance to let go. "He's one of us, isn't he?" she asked.

Gibson nodded. "That shot? It only took away his vulnerability to magnetite. It didn't change anything else."

"So... he's not one of us. He's one of them," she said, thinking out loud. "He's a super soldier?"

Gibson jiggled William, who seemed delighted with everything Gibson did. "Not anymore," he said. "Now he's better than a super soldier."


CHAPTER FOUR

Monica's mind raced through the implications of Gibson's statement. Would super soldiers be coming after William? Were aliens looking for him? And what about the babies John found in that orphanage? Were they the same way, or was William the only one? Then there was the shadow government, and all the people who had chased the People of the Via into hiding over the centuries....

"We won't let anything happen to him," Gibson said. He leaned his head down to rub his cheek over the fuzz topping William's head. "That's why Tomas trusted us with him."

"I hope his faith wasn't misplaced," she sighed. "We've had two close calls now..."

"But don't you see?" Gibson said. "The helicopters are after the safe houses, not us. It's only when a super soldier dies that they know where the magnetite is. If we can stay ahead of them..."

"Exactly," Monica nodded.

"We will," Gibson said. William began to squirm and cry, making it hard for Gibson to keep hold of him. "He's hungry," Gibson said, looking helplessly up at Monica.

"Get some water," she ordered as she took William from Gibson's arms. "We'll need it to mix his formula."

When Monica returned to the SUV she found John leaning against the SUV as Pete washed the windshields. "Everything okay in there?" he asked, nodding toward the fussing child.

"Sorry," she said. "He's hungry."

Gibson followed a moment later with two bottles of water, then gave one to Monica. He started drinking the other one himself, then joined John. "We'll need more water," he said, nodding toward the back of the SUV, where Monica was mixing a bottle for William.

John busied himself filling water bottles, visiting the lavatory, and paying Pete while Monica fed William and Gibson looked on. When he returned to the SUV William was still nursing happily on his bottle, nestled comfortably in Monica's arms. He sighed, then looked away, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. Not knowing what else to do, he wandered toward the highway, pacing first Southward then Northward until Gibson's voice made him start.

"John..." Gibson said softly.

"I know, Gibson," John said. "I just can't help it."

Gibson put his hands in his pockets and looked toward the same horizon that seemed to have captured John's attention. "You don't want him?"

"I don't want her to get attached to him," John said. "It's not right."

"You don't want yourself to get attached," Gibson countered.

John glowered at Gibson. "Didn't we have a conversation about this, Gibson?"

"About me telling you what you feel?" Gibson asked, defiant despite the blush creeping up his neck.

"It's rude, Gibson," John snapped.

"But it's true, isn't it?" Gibson looked directly into John's eyes. "You're afraid that something will happen to him, and then..."

"Gibson, stop it!" John yelled, then started walking away from Gibson.

Gibson yelled back, "He's not Luke, any more than I am!"

John stopped in his tracks, then slowly turned and faced Gibson. "No, you're not Luke," he said. "I never thought you were."

"Never?" Gibson asked, his forehead lined with the same skepticism that had often furrowed John's brow.

"Okay, maybe a little... once..." John admitted. "But you're just Gibson to me now. Your own person."

"Can't William be his own person?" Gibson asked.

"He's just a baby, Gibson," John pleaded. "They're all alike. They cry. They sleep. They dirty their diapers..."

"If you never get to know him, how would you know?" Gibson asked.

"Gibson," John's tone was somewhat patronizingly, Gibson thought. "He may only be with us for a few days."

"Or he could be with us forever," Gibson pouted. "When you promised to take care of me, wasn't forever part of that promise?"

"Yes, of course it was!" John said. "But this is different."

"How?" Gibson crossed his arms and waited for John to answer, but John had no answer. "I thought so," Gibson concluded, then started back to the SUV.

John followed close behind, and when he and Gibson looked in at Monica and William, he had to admit that she was a natural as a mother, even if only a foster mother. "All finished?" he asked, a gentleness in his voice for the first time that day.

Monica sighed. "He's grown so much..." She smoothed over the baby's hair. "I remember the first time I gave him a bottle. Almost a year ago!"

"You spent a lot of time with him," John said. "I'd forgotten how much."

"I think he remembers me," Monica said.

"He does," Gibson answered.

Monica smiled beatifically. "I never told you how attached I was to him," she confessed. "You were making such a point of avoiding him."

"I didn't think anybody noticed," John said.

"When it comes to you, I notice everything," Monica winked.

Gibson rolled his eyes. "Here we go..."

Monica and John exchanged smiles, then Monica said, "You haven't taken your turn holding him."

John looked from Gibson to Monica, but both stared back at him innocently. He took William in his arms, and for the first time, looked into his eyes -- really looked. They were nothing like Luke's eyes, he realized. They were more like Dana's, and his nose was starting to look like Mulder's. Yes, he realized. This baby is his own person.

"Cute baby," Pete said, walking back from the station with John's change. "What's his name?"

"Julio," Monica jumped in. "Julio Flores."

"So you're the Flores family!" Pete exclaimed. "We've been expecting you."

CHAPTER FIVE

"We?" Monica repeated.

John's face blanched. "Must be some other family," he snapped. "We don't know anybody around here." He thought about the zippered pouch in the glove compartment. Its three passports, birth certificates, and visas for an extended stay in Mexico had come from Tomas, and Tomas had brought them William. They had left the monastery before finding out who the leak was, and John had never ruled out Tomas.

"You're not the newlyweds? Staying at the Rose Motel?" Pete scratched his head then ran his bandana over the same place. "I suppose it could be some other..."

"Rose Motel?" Monica and John said together.

Pete said, nodding to the South. "I thought that's where you was headed."

William squirmed in Monica's arms, and Gibson reached out for him. Pete watched the two "brothers," then said, "I heard there was kids involved. The big one's yours from your first marriage, right?" Pete nodded toward John. "And the little one's both y'all's?"

"That's right," Monica said.

"Your father's a very understanding man," Pete said. "If my daughter had a child out of..."

"Yes, my father is a good man," Monica interrupted. "He loves me very much."

"Well, he's not the first hard-assed career military I seen go soft when it comes to his daughter," Pete noted.

"You've talked to him?" Monica asked despite John's urgent tug on her elbow.

"He gassed up here after driving from Santa Rosa." Pete put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest. "He asked me to make sure you found the place alright. Need directions?"

"Yes," Monica answered, before John could interrupt.

Once they were out of sight, John pulled to the shoulder. He snapped open the glove compartment and pulled out everything he found there, setting it in Monica's lap until he found a map of New Mexico.

"There," he pointed to a small town in Eastern New Mexico. "There's Santa Rosa, and look what else..." He shoved the map in front of Monica's face.

It took her a moment to get her bearings, then she read off the place names: "Santa Rosa, Puerto de Luna, Arabella, Fort Sumner..." Monica paused, then John drew his finger southward along an intersecting highway. "Roswell," Monica read.

"Remember that disk? Your parents were military," John said, unnecessarily of course. "And look what we're coming up on..." He pointed to a golden area on the map.

Monica gulped. "White Sands Missile Range. I saw that. But I don't care who he works for. I want to meet him."

John suddenly couldn't bear to watch the emotions playing across his wife's face. He turned in his seat to check on their foster children. Gibson looked anxious. William looked from John to Gibson with uncanny understanding.

"And we need a place to stay," Monica said. At the sound of her voice John turned in his seat then placed a hand on her arm. She continued studying the map, seemingly unaware of John's caresses. "And then tomorrow, we can angle this way," she pointed toward a differently colored area on the map. "Through the reservation. And from there..." Her finger traced a small series of blue lines on the map until coming to the border. "We can cross the border ... here."

John had to admit, her route looked safe, and it stayed over the magnetite-laced territory indicated on Gibson's Gameboy. "Okay, honey," he said softly. "Let's meet your dad."

CHAPTER SIX

The Rose Motel was a U-Shaped, single-floor building from the 1950s, with a cemented-over pool in the center of the "U." Its only signs of life were a battered muscle car parked near the managers office and a marquee sign that read "Welcome Mr and Mrs Flores." As John pulled to a space across from the muscle car, the office door opened and a tall thin man came out to meet them. He was wearing a T-shirt, blue jeans, and a leather cap, and he had completed the look with a turquoise earring hanging from one lobe.

"He's okay," Gibson whispered, but John and Monica kept their guns handy just in case. John got out and took a few steps toward the man.

"Mr. Flores," the man said, extending his hand.

John looked over his shoulder then shook the man's hand. "How did you know we were coming?"

"The people of the Via agreed with me that it was time Monica met her father and brother," he said, shaking vigorously. "Frank Falling Eagle."

As Frank shook his hand, John paid special attention to his magnetite-laced wedding ring. Feeling no vibrations, he relaxed and studied Frank's features. Like Monica, he had wide cheekbones, dark hair and brown eyes. Yes, he decided. He could be Monica's brother, but so could a lot of men.

Frank glanced toward the SUV and said, "That's her? That's my sister?"

"Who says she's your sister?" John demanded.

"He your boy?" Frank nodded toward Gibson. "No, he isn't... but he's... He loves you like a father, but he's not yours."

"You didn't answer my question," John said, taking a protective stance in front of the SUV. "Who says you're related?"

"Our father," Frank said. "You knew that. But you don't want to believe it. You think the Via has a leak, and I'm..."

"Oh Jeez, not another one," John muttered.

"Ask Gibson," Frank said. "Then come in and I'll give you the keys to your rooms." He turned around, revealing a long single braid down his back, then sauntered toward the manager's office as John looked toward Gibson.

Gibson was unstrapping William from his car seat, and Monica was unbuckling herself. They've already decided, John realized with a sigh. Why do I bother?

Gibson carried William, taking proud steps in front of Monica and John. Monica squeezed John's hand. "Thank you," she whispered. "I've wanted this for so long..."

"I know." His hand returned the squeeze. "But don't lose your head," he warned. He pulled her to a stop then took her head in her hands. "This could be a set-up. Gibson's good, but..." He stroked her hair for a minute, as he watched her eyes watching his. "I just don't want to see you hurt."

"You're here," she said, wrapping her arms around his waist. "What could hurt me?" She kissed him then put her head on his shoulder.

His arms encircled her tightly. "I hope you're right."

Gibson turned around and sneered, "Are you coming or what?"

Monica pulled away and smiled. "Compared to what he's been through, how bad could this be, anyway?"

Inside, the motel's tiny lobby was shabby but clean. To the right were a sofa, a few commercial arm chairs, a coffee table and a TV. On the left the manager's desk ran several feet until coming to a door that read "MANAGER" and a tiny unfurnished space at the rear with an emergency exit. Frank stood behind the counter, which held their two room keys.

Gibson set William on the sofa and sat down next to him as John and Monica filled out their guest cards with their new names.

"Sorry to make you do this," Frank said. "After 9/11 those new rules about ID at motels... it's made things tougher for all of us."

"Tougher?" Monica asked.

"We have to be ready for inspections of all our documents," Frank answered. "In the old days the people of the Via could use a different name at every motel they went to. Now we can be tracked."

"Speaking of which," John said. "How did we know we can trust you."

Frank nodded toward Gibson, who was shaking a toy in front of William. "He trusts me. You trust him."

"Well who made the reservations?" John demanded. "Can you trust them?"

"Father Tomas did, and yes, I trust him. So do you," Frank said, boring his eyes into John's until John blinked. "Despite your misgivings."

"You have all the answers, don't you?" John spat out.

Frank laughed. "Tomas was right about you. You do ask a lot of questions." He pushed the keys toward John and added, "Now... do you want your rooms or not?"

"Just one room," John said, grabbing a key.

"John..." Monica said, but Frank interrupted.

"It's your wedding night. You need two rooms." He handed the other key to Monica, who grinned mischievously.

Frank motioned for John and Monica to wait, then he went to the front door, turned the knob to lock the deadbolt, and walked back to the sitting area. "Gibson? Coming?" he asked.

Gibson's and William's heads snapped up together, and Gibson dropped the toy. Frank picked it up and waved it in front of William, who reached out and grabbed it. "Fascinating toy, eh?" Frank said, then waited as Gibson scooped up William.

At the back of the motel there was a large lot, enclosed by walls attached to the motel and a tall fence topped with barbed wire at the rear. Well-tended roses grew under a series of windows and trailed up the burglar bars covering them. John and Monica sighed with relief and shared a single thought: Magnetite.

Their rooms were typical adjoining motel rooms, with doors to the front courtyard as well as the back entrance. "Three modes of egress," Frank pointed out. "I'll show you how to work the back gate, and then we can get your things."

Gibson, still holding William, looked up at his foster parents with a sour face that made them laugh. "He needs his diaper changed," he said.

"Ya don't say?" John laughed. "Here, let me..." He reached for William, then sniffed. It was indeed a pungent and distressing odor, yet it brought back such a flood of memories, both humorous and affectionate, that he looked forward to this parental duty.

Frank bent forward and opened the dresser drawer under the TV. It was full of disposable diapers. "We've been expecting you," he said.

"Thanks!" John said, then reached for a diaper, capably balancing William in one arm. He tossed the diaper on the bed then laid William down. "And we'll need..."

Frank opened another drawer, revealing powders, oils, and lotions. "At your service."

"While you're doing that, I'll get our things." Monica walked to the front door, but Frank rushed in front of her.

He peered through the peep hole, then opened the door slowly. "All clear," he sighed, then pulled the door open. "After you."

"Me too," Gibson said, but John grabbed his sleeve and pulled him backward.

"Real men aren't afraid of a dirty diaper," John said.


Monica felt her heart racing as she and Frank walked to the SUV but she held her body straight and took deep breaths. Keep control, she reminded herself. Get your things. Get settled in the motel. This is just like meeting any other relative...

Frank's silence didn't help, or maybe it did. She wanted to hear all about her parents, but she wasn't sure she could handle the truth. She picked up her overnight bag, John's slightly larger bag, and was reaching for Gibson's when she felt Frank's hand on her shoulder. "Allow me," he said, then picked it up. "And the baby's bag?" Monica pointed out William's diaper bag, which held a few changes of clothes and some toys.

"Will this be safe out here?" she asked, looking around the dark lot.

"No worries, sister," Frank said. "This thing's loaded with magnetite. And then there's Gray Wolf."

"Who's that?" Monica asked.

For an answer, Frank whistled through his teeth, and a large gray wolf came running from the side opposite the fenced-in wing. "Stop!" Frank ordered, and the wolf came to a stop in front of them. Frank scratched behind the wolf's ear and cooed, "Good boy."

It took a moment for Monica to catch her breath. "His name is Gray Wolf?"

Frank shrugged. "He guards the motel, the parking lot, and the guests."

"Hi Gray Wolf," Monica said, nervously reaching out to pat its head. The wolf moved its head under her hand to accept her petting. His fur was unexpectedly cottony, and Monica felt instantly calmed. "He's beautiful."

"Yes," Frank said affectionately, still stroking the wolf's ear.

Suddenly they heard William's high-pitched scream coming from the room, then Gibson's voice shouting "STOP IT! YOU'RE HURTING HIM!"

CHAPTER SEVEN

"Stay here," Frank commanded Grey Wolf, then he and Monica rushed to the room.

They found John, sitting in the motel's arm chair, holding William by the hands, lowering him until his feet touched the floor then lifting him up again. Gibson stood to one side, shaking in sympathy for his foster brother. "Tell him to stop!" his tearful eyes pleaded with Monica.

Like an eagle snatching its prey, Monica swooped down on William, grabbing him and then flying to the other side of the room. "What are you doing?" she demanded.

"Monica," John shouted, though not angry at her. "That shouldn't hurt! He should be getting ready to walk now, and he can't even do that!"

"It's true," Frank said, standing behind Monica and placing a protective hand on William's head. "A child his age should be able to stand up."

"And do you want to know why he can't?" John said, his voice still raised. He grabbed William from Monica, pulling him into his strong arms, then with one hand pulled down William's diaper. "Here's why!"

Monica gasped. A very long, very red surgical scar ran up William's spine. She touched it, and when William didn't wince, she ran a finger up and down its length.

"You didn't notice this?" John said accusingly.

"No... the table I changed him on was small...," she said, still focused on the scar. She spread her palm and rubbed the baby's shoulders affectionately. "Who did this to you, William?" she whispered.

"And Dana never mentioned him having a back problem?" John demanded.

"No," Monica said, still stroking William. She turned to Frank and said, "Did you know about this?"

"No. I only knew you were coming here," he answered. "Only what Tomas e-mailed me."

"But have you seen anything like this before?" John asked, his investigative curiosity beginning to take over from his parental ire.

"No, but I think I know what this is," Frank said, putting a hand on William's back. He caressed the baby then said, "And why you were sent to me."

"And why would that be?" John asked, pulling William away from Frank.

"The Via, it keeps track of the little ones," Frank said. He seemed not at all offended that John had pulled William away from him. "I'll explain once you've settled in."

"You'll explain NOW, Dammit!" John shouted. His booming voice set William crying.

Gibson reached for William, who reached for him, and John handed the baby over as if the transfer were a well-worn routine. William stopped crying almost immediately. Gibson laid him on the bed, then laid down next to him and dangled a toy just out of William's reach. Monica watched the two boys then looked up to see John's eyes seeking out hers. Wordlessly, she followed Frank back to the SUV, where Grey Wolf was still standing guard.

"He's a good man," Monica said when they were out of earshot. "But he doesn't like being kept in the dark."

"You don't either," Frank surmised. "But you know the light will come if you wait for it."

Indian wisdom? Monica wondered. She had always sought out ancient ideas, spirituality and serenity, but never thought she'd find those qualities in her birth family. Were they the reason for her interests? Did she know at some level? Even if he isn't her brother, she decided, she felt an affinity for him that would count just as much. "Yes," she said softly. "And it always does.

They found John sitting in the motel's armless dining chair, scowling as he watched Gibson play with William. Monica knew that scowl. It was the look of a man whose moral outrage would soon spur him to action. In an FBI agent it was a good look. In a foster parent on the run from an omniscient shadow government it could mean trouble.

Monica and Frank exchanged glances as she set their bags on the floor near the bathroom. Frank opened the door to the adjoining room and motioned her to follow him.

The first thing that hit Monica's senses was the overwhelming aroma of dozens of roses, and when Frank turned on the light she couldn't help smiling. There were vases of roses on every flat surface, and a garland of roses over the headboard. On the tiny dining table sat a standard motel ice bucket, a pair of plastic stem glasses, and a bottle of champagne. "Frank..." Monica whispered. "I don't know what to say..."

"Congratulations, sister," Frank said. "Our father will be here any minute, but I wanted you to see this."

"Thank you," Monica said. "Even if you're not my brother, I appreciate what you're doing for us."

"You know I am," he said. He put his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes until she looked away. "I want you to hear the whole from our father. You may not like some of what you hear..."

"I don't care," she said in spite of herself. "I want to know..."

Frank impulsively drew her to him and hugged her tightly. "I've waited so long for this day..." When his voice cracked he pulled away.

Monica's eyes were on the doorway. "John..." she said breathily. "Look at our room!"

Even though he knew Monica believed Frank to be her brother, John couldn't help feeling jealous, and he could see instantly that Frank knew. "Mon..." he said, holding his arm out for her. She obeyed his magnetic reach, nestling herself against his shoulder.

"Thank you for the honeymoon suite, Frank," Monica said. She pulled an arm around John's waist then leaned her head on his shoulder. "This hasn't exactly been the wedding day I'd dreamed of, but this..." She paused to wave around the room with her free hand. "This makes up for a lot."

John buried his lips in Monica's hair, but kept his eye on Frank, who smiled knowingly.

"I'll be in the office if you need me. Father should be here soon..." Frank said as he left through their unit's rear door. "If the phone rings with two rings, it's me. If it rings with one ring, don't answer it."


"Well?" Monica asked, turning John to face her. "Think we can have a real wedding night here?"

John smirked then kissed her lightly on the lips. "We can try," he said, then looked around the room. "But I gotta tellya, this whole set-up makes me nervous."

"Then it's a good thing I packed some of Sister Martha's medicinal oils," she grinned. "You found them very relaxing the last time I used them."

He smiled at the memory. They'd had incredible sex the night she'd worked the pungent oils into his tired muscles and put Sister Martha's salve on his cactus wounds. "I could go for that," he said.

He kissed her, and just as her mouth melted into his they heard an "ahem" from the doorway.

"Yes, Gibson?" Monica asked.

"Are we gonna eat dinner?" Gibson asked plaintively. "I'm starving!"

John and Monica exchanged glances. They hadn't given dinner a thought, but now that Gibson brought it up... Monica went to the phone and dialed the front desk. "There's no answer," she announced.

"That's just great," John said. "We're willing prisoners waiting for ..."

"Frank's okay," Gibson said defensively. "He wouldn't do that."

"Not knowingly," Monica pointed out. "We still don't know who tipped off your parents or A.D. Skinner."

"I don't think it was the same person," John said. "I think the leak is bigger than that. Otherwise, why did it take Skinner so long to find us, but Gibson's parents..."

"You contacted them," Gibson pointed out. "You wanted them to know that I was okay. Remember?" Gibson snarled then went back to his room, where William was sleeping contentedly in the middle of one of the beds.

John followed Gibson and sat on the other bed, looking up at Gibson, who was looking out the window through the gap in the drapes. "Gibson," John said gently. "It was the right thing to do. I still believe that. And now, with your parents gone and your foster parents in trouble, you're a free man, so to speak."

"I'm not a man," Gibson whined. "I'm only sixteen."

Monica leaned against the doorjamb, listening in. The bond between Gibson and John had grown so strong over the past few weeks that sometimes she felt left out. But she wouldn't change a thing. They were good for each other. John had treated Gibson as the normal teenager he'd always wanted to be. He taught him to drive, to do push-ups and sit-ups, and most importantly, to trust that there could be goodness in the world. And Gibson had been good for John. Although John had put Luke's death behind him as best he could, there would always be a void in John's heart where Luke should have been. Gibson filled that void, just a little, and reawakened John's parental instincts and gave him a chance love again. She glanced at William and sighed. And if it hadn't been for Gibson, John would never have accepted William, the baby he'd taken such pains to avoid in the past.

"I'm going to unpack, John," Monica said.

He looked over his shoulder, surprised that she had been there in the first place. "Okay, honey," he said. She smiled giddily at the word "honey," and John smiled back.

"She knows what you're thinking," Gibson said. "And so do I."

"Oh, and what's that?" John asked. His mind had been such a swirl of emotions and conflicting thoughts the past hour that he doubted even Tomas could have unraveled them.

"You want to adopt me, officially," Gibson said. "And so does Monica."

CHAPTER EIGHT

Before John could answer, Frank came through the rear door with two pizzas in cardboard boxes. "I heard you were hungry," he said. "Father will be here any minute. He said to go ahead and start without him."

They set the pizza on the small dining table, then Frank excused himself to get their sodas.

"See?" Monica said. "Everything's going to be all right." She and Gibson each took a slice then sat on the edge of the bed nearer to the little dining table ans John sat in the chair next to it.

John glanced at William. "I hope so...." he said. He took a slice then stuffed most of it into his mouth, so much that he could barely work the huge mass around to chew it.

Monica started to giggle, then Gibson joined in.

"What?" John asked, letting a piece of pizza fall out as he spoke. This caused the giggling pair to double over in hysterical laughter. He started to laugh, then realized he couldn't with so much food in his mouth. He spit it out into a napkin, then said, "I can't go anywhere with you two!"

"You can't go anywhere with US?!?!" Monica squealed.

Gibson fell backwards onto the bed, laughing hysterically, then started coughing desperately. John leapt into action, pulling the boy to his feet and doing the Heimlich maneuver until Gibson spat out a small morsel of pizza.

As Gibson recovered his breath, John said, "When you get to be a man, son, you'll be able to handle a manly portion." Monica placed her hand solicitously on Gibson's arm. "But until then, maybe your mom should cut up your food for you." He took the rest of his slice into his mouth then started working it around. "See?" he said.

"Point taken," Gibson said. "We won't laugh at you again."

"Better not," John mumbled through the dough.

Just then Frank came through the rear door, a cooler in one hand and a folding crib under his armpit on the other side. "I almost forgot this!" he said, setting up the crib as his guests began gulping their sodas. He took a slice of pizza then sat down next to Monica. As he ate he watched her face, his eyes smiling the whole time. When she started squirming under his gaze he said, "I've waited a long time for this day."

Just then Frank's pager beeped. He checked the number, then turned it off and said, "Someone else has waited a long time for this day." He excused himself and left through the back door.

While they waited for Frank to return, Monica paced. "I've never seen here like this," John thought at Gibson. He was surprised to hear Gibson's voice in his mind saying, "She hasn't either."

Monica stopped in front of the dresser mirror and began fluffing her hair. "I should have taken a shower," she said. "Washed my hair..."

John walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. He looked at their reflection together and said, "You look beautiful." When she blushed he kissed her cheek and added, "How could anyone not love you?"

She gasped. How did he know? She rarely even admitted it to herself, usually with the aid of tequila or an all-night stake-out at a vacant crack house. But it was always there, just under the surface, niggling at her mind. Why had her birth parents given her up? Why didn't they love her enough to keep her? She put her right hand over his left, taking comfort from his wedding ring. "Thank you," she whispered.

He put his mouth to her ear but before he could speak, the rear door opened. Frank stepped through, followed by a slightly taller, older man dressed casually but with a bearing that screamed out career military. John watched cautiously as the man approached. He had broad shoulders, a full head of stark white hair, and smooth but tanned skin that gave him an eerie, ageless quality. John stepped in front of Monica and stuck out his hand.

"John Doggett," he said. After the man took his right hand John put his left over their clasped hands and shook vigorously, paying special attention to his wedding ring. No tell-tale vibration to indicate the man was a super soldier, but John remained cautious. "Pleased to meet you, sir."

"Vince Castleman," the man said, then he turned toward Monica and said, "And you must be Angela..." He crossed the distance between them in a few strides then grabbed her in a suffocating bear hug.

Monica didn't make any effort to escape, but she didn't return the hug, either. He was a stranger to her, she realized. Her real father was in Monterrey, running his factory and keeping her real mother awake with his snoring. This man was just a man, she thought. Someone I could pass on the street and never notice.

He pulled away but kept his hands on her shoulders, examining her as if appraising a fine painting. "You have your mother's eyes," he said.

She blushed then began studying his face. She had stopped looking for herself in the faces of strangers years ago, but the well-honed habit came back. Yes, she thought, his ears look like mine, and his jaw line has the same curve...

He cupped her chin, and she could feel his fingers trembling slightly. Any other time she would have felt sympathy for this man, but as he held her a long-suppressed rage simmered in some forgotten recess of her soul until it erupted in an uncontrollable outburst. She threw up her hands, knocking his arms away from her face. "How dare you!" she shouted. "How dare you just leave me then expect me to be happy to see you! How long did you know where I was? A year? Five years? Why didn't you look for me? Why didn't you..." Her voice broke, and she fell back into her chair. "Why didn't...." But she still couldn't say it. She still couldn't ask him why he didn't love her.

Vince's moist eyes met Frank's stare. "You didn't tell her?" he asked.

"I wanted her to hear it from you," Frank said. He went around behind John and Gibson then put his hand on Monica's shoulder. "I want her to hear it the way I heard it," he said.

Monica put her hand on Frank's then glanced up to see him looking down on her with a depth of empathy she had never seen in another's face. Yes, he understood her, she realized, like nobody had ever understood her before. "I want to hear it," she said, still looking into Frank's face. "I want to know what happened to our mother, and why I was put up for adoption."


Gibson grabbed a pizza and said, "Maybe we should eat first." When the others burst out laughing he asked, "What? What did I say?" He gnawed off a huge bite and ate it so lustily the others decided to grab some before Gibson polished it off.

As they ate they caught up on pleasantries, exchanging the easy cut-and-dried questions and answers of strangers getting acquainted, but Monica ate very little, and said even less. She hung on her father's every word, trying to form a picture of him and fit it into her family album. He was from Chicago, but hadn't lived there since joining the air force after college. He knew their real names and where they'd been staying, but he avoided any mention of how he came to know it, or how much of the truth he knew. Monica guessed that he knew much more than he let on, but as a career officer, he lived by the need-to-know rule. Lately she and John had been living by that rule too.

When they had finished the pizza, Vince wiped his hands on his slacks, glanced at William, then asked, "Mind if I hold him?" After Monica nodded, he picked the baby up then walked around the room cooing and patting his behind. "God, how I missed holding you when you were a baby," he said to Monica. "I knew about you, you know. Well, I knew when you were due. I used to walk around my cell, holding my rolled up shirt in my arms, pretending it was you." He looked at Monica affectionately, and as he patted William's behind she imagined him patting a rolled-up shirt. "It's what kept me alive," he said. "Knowing there was a brand-new life waiting for me stateside."

Monica grabbed a kleenex, wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, then sat as far back in her chair as she could. "Go on," she said. John reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "I want to hear everything," she said more bravely than she felt.

Vince sat down on the edge of the bed, facing Monica, then laid William on the bed behind him. "You look like her. Did Frank tell you that?" She shook her head. "You have her nose, her mouth..." He reached out and this time she let him touch her. He rubbed his thumb in the dimple under her lower lip, then said, "So unique... so beautiful..."

"I wish I could have seen her," Monica said.

Vince withdrew, leaning back against the bed for strength. "I do too," he croaked.

Suddenly Monica felt Gibson's presence in her mind, joined by Frank's. Vince closed his eyes and Monica's mind's eye started seeing an unfocused image. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, following Tomas' instructions for receiving images telepathically. As she relaxed her mind the images cleared, until she saw what Gibson and Frank were sending.

She looked directly at her, her unblinking eyes seeming to penetrate her soul, and all the souls she met. Her features were exotically Native, and Monica had to agree that she could see the resemblance. Epaulets on her shoulder indicated a high rank in the air force, but her hat tilted rakishly to one side. The image didn't move, and Monica realized it was a photograph, or a memory of a photograph. When she tried to fix it in her mind it started to pull away from her, and when she reached out she saw another hand holding it. A masculine hand. She could see his thumb, rubbing over the bottom of the picture, a quarter-moon of dried mud smiling ironically from the bottom of the nail. As it continued pulling away she could see brilliant dark green foliage behind the photo, and she heard the sounds of jungle animals from every direction, until suddenly all went quiet save for the click of a gun behind her.

"Hands in the air," an Asian voice shouted. "Hands in the air or I shoot."

The hand holding the picture shot upward, and then she heard a single shot and the cackle of laughter behind her. The last thing she saw at first seemed to be snow, but then she realized it was the confetti remains of the photo as they fluttered to the ground.

Monica opened her eyes when the group broke contact. "I'm so sorry," she said.

"Are you okay?" John asked.

His voice startled her. "Yeah, yeah..." she muttered. "I'm okay." Then she turned to Vince and said, "Was that in Vietnam?"

"And tell it to her regular style," John demanded.

"After that I went to the Hanoi Hilton," Vince said.

CHAPTER NINE

John gasped. The Hoa Lo Prison was one of the most infamous P.O.W. camps in military history. Its ironic nickname, the Hanoi Hilton never failed to bring a shiver to every post-Nam soldier, even marines. "How long?"

"I'm not sure. I must have gotten knocked out after I ejected. When I came to I was in the middle of the jungle with no idea where I was. I tried to find friendlies but I must have been deep inside VC territory," he said.

John shook his head in sympathy. His own military experiences included a few horrors but nothing compared to this.

"Thinking about my family kept me going," he said. "I knew I just had to get back to her... to you," he added, looking at Frank and Monica in turn.

"And when you got back to the states," Frank prodded from his position at the head of the bed. He sat cross-legged on the bed pillows as if awaiting a bedtime story, but his face was grim.

Monica drew her lips together into a tight, brave line and met Vince's eyes with as much courage as she could muster.

"When I got back to the states," Vince said slowly. "Your mother was in prison." He kept his eyes on Monica, and she kept her eyes on him, signaling her willingness to hear the rest, then he added, "On death row."

"Death row?" Monica repeated. "She murdered someone?"

Vince shook his head. "Treason. She was tried in a military court..."

"Kangaroo court," Frank snorted.

"Yes, it was a sham," Vince agreed. "But she didn't put up any defense. She never said a word..."

"She wasn't even on duty!" Frank said, slamming his fist into a pillow.

"She was on maternity leave," Vince explained. "She was pregnant with you..."

"And they couldn't wait! The bastards couldn't wait!" Frank hissed.

Vince shot Frank a warning glance then turned his attention to Monica. In a very soft, compassionate voice, he said, "You were born in the federal women's prison in Gatesville, Texas, Angela," he said. "I was M.I.A. in Nam, and your grandparents didn't know what was happening."

"So they put me up for adoption?" Monica asked. "She didn't do it?"

"Sold you to the highest bidder, is more like it!" Frank said.

"Frank!" Vince scolded. He studied Monica's expressionless face then asked, "Are you okay?"

When she didn't answer, John said, "Honey?" and squeezed her hand gently.

She shook her head as if dislodging a bad nightmare, then said, "Go on. I need to know the truth, no matter what it is."

"They took you to a private adoption agency and listed phony names on your birth certificate," Vince explained. "I didn't find out until just a few months ago."

"Lizzie Borden," Monica said, remembering the fake birth certificates John and Gibson had found at the orphanage. "A murderer's name. And they called you Tom Dooley."

"Another murderer," John explained, as if he'd known the meaning of the name without having Monica sing him the folk song the name came from.

Vince shook his head. "They sent Frank to an Indian school, where he got a new name."

"But I remembered my name," Frank said. "I hung onto it because it was all I had."

"I hope you had good parents, Angela," Vince said. "My only consolation all these years was the hope that you were growing up happy and healthy."

"They were wonderful parents," Monica said. "I never wanted for anything."

"Except to see a face that looked like your own," Frank suggested. "It's all I ever wanted."

The two siblings looked into each others' faces as if studying their own reflections in a mirror, until Vince cleared his throat and asked, "Do you want to know why she was there?"

Monica nodded, and John squeezed her hand.

"She was in the military too. A code-talker," Vince said.

"Navajo?" Monica asked. "They only encrypted messages during World War Two."

"That's the official story," Vince said. "But they're still doing it today. Inside the military, for the government, and outside the military..." Vince paused to give Monica a significant look.

"For the Via," Monica whispered. She wondered if the code she'd learned was Navajo but didn't dare ask. She too understood "need to know."

"I didn't know about that until a few months ago," Vince explained. "After I retired. But she was part of the Via, and she used her position to help people. Nobody knew, but when I went missing..." His voice cracked and Vince grabbed a soda while the others looked away, waiting for him to regain his composure.

"They found out she'd been sending messages to Buddhist monasteries in V.C. territory. She was looking for me," he sniffled. "When they questioned her she clammed up. Wouldn't say a thing."

"She didn't want to tip them off about the Via," Gibson suggested.

Vince nodded. "She's considered a martyr today. She was on death row for two years, and she never said a word, even under sodium pentothal."

"They tortured her!" Frank broke in. "They tortured her, and still she never gave us away!"

"When I came back from Nam the first thing I did was look for her, but I had to be careful. Nobody knew about us. Fraternizing was against regs," he explained.

"They know about that," Gibson snickered.

John and Monica shot him a glance, but Gibson shrugged and said, "What'd I do? He already knows who you work for."

"I do, and I was so proud when I found out," Vince said, smiling at Monica. "You're so much like her."

"I hope I can live up to her standards," Monica said.

"You've set your own standard," John said. "And it's just as high."

Vince looked at John approvingly then said, "Your mother would be proud of you. And now that you know the truth, you can be proud of her too."

"And you," she said. "I'm sorry about before..."

"No apology needed," Vince said. "For years, I used to see little girls in stores or on airplanes, and wonder what I was missing out on. Even when they were yelling at their parents and telling them that they hated them, I wished it could have been you yelling at me for not letting you wear a low-cut prom dress or stay out past ten."

"You have that in common with my real father, then," Monica laughed, but immediately regretted the word "real." "I love him, you know. He'll always be 'papa' to me."

"I know," Vince said. "But thank you for listening."

He got up to leave, but Frank said, "Wait! You haven't told her about mama's death."

"Do you want to know?" Vince asked.

"Yes," Monica said.

"I was there when they gave her the lethal injection. Right up to the end they were interrogating her. I told the C.O. that I thought I might recognize some V.C. names if she decided to confess, so he let me go." He nodded proudly, saying, "Right up until the end she never cracked. She never told them a thing. Her last words were: tell my children that I love them."

"I wish I could have met her," Monica said, then burst into tears. Vince enfolded her in his long arms, letting her sob on his shoulder as if his little girl had always done that.

"Shhh, shhhh, Angela," he whispered. "We found each other at last. It's what she wanted most.

John watched for a moment then looked at Gibson, thought-casting the question, "Is this guy for real?" Gibson nodded, and Frank glanced at the pair disapprovingly.

Gradually, Monica's tears subsided, and she pulled away from Vince's embrace. "Thank you for telling me."

Vince grinned his encouragement, but said nothing.

"I have a few questions now," John said.

"Shoot," Vince said. He reached for William, who allowed Vince to pick him up, and then began walking around the room, cooing to the child.

"First off, do you realize that if you take that child anywhere near a door it'll be the last step you take?" John said, his hand on his gun.

Vince turned back toward the bed nearer the bathroom, laid William down, then lay next to him. "Better?" he asked. "I'm not going anywhere, okay? I've lost two kids of my own, remember. I wouldn't take yours."

"Just so we have that straight," John said. "Now... Where were you stationed when you came back from Nam?"

"Texas, San Diego, the Pentagon..." Vince said, his voice trailing off. "Does this really matter?"

"Area 51?" Gibson asked. "White Sands?"

"Some of my assignments were classified," Vince said flatly. "Got any questions I can answer?"

"Yeah," John said sternly. He walked over to the bed, turned William over, and pulled down his diaper to expose the scar over his spine. "What the hell is this?"

CHAPTER TEN

Vince gasped, then ran his fingers along William's spine, just as Monica had done a few hours earlier. "Why would I know?" he asked.

"Because someone in the government did this," John said. "Or someone connected to the government. They've been abducting people, turning them into super soldiers..." John paused, trying to keep his rage in check. "And if that's not bad enough, they're experimenting on children too!"

Vince said, "Children? That's unethical. The government would never--"

"Gibson," John ordered. "Show him what they did to you."

Gibson obediently went to the side of the bed, then leaned over, parting his short-cropped hair to show Vince the scars from his brain surgery.

"What?" Vince asked helplessly as he examined Gibson's scars. "Why?"

"They wanted to make more like me," Gibson said. "All my life I've been a lab rat."

Vince looked down at William. "You think the government experimented on him?"

"I think he is an experiment," John said. "His mother wasn't supposed to be able to have children, and his father was the subject of experiments. He's the result of genetic engineering, supposedly to remove any weaknesses."

As John talked Vince trailed his hand upward over William's spine, coming to rest at the vertebrae on the back of the child's neck, where his fingers examined every bump carefully.

"I think you know exactly what we're talking about," Monica accused.

Vince's hand jumped off William's back. "I've heard of certain experiments, and children conceived with advanced intervention..."

"Super soldiers?" John said, eyeing Vince carefully.

"Yes," he said reluctantly. "But nothing like this..." He eased William's shirt up and examined the rest of his spine. "This is so wrong... So backward..."

"Backward?" Monica asked. She went to William's other side and watched Vince's examination. "How?"

Vince ignored her question. "Can he walk yet?"

"No," Gibson said. "It hurts when he stands."

Vince picked William up then tried to set him on his feet. William let out an ear-piercing scream, looking pleadingly into Monica's face. Vince raised him up again, taking the pressure off the baby's legs. "Sorry, little guy," he said, hugging William to him briefly before holding him above the bed. "Can you crawl, little man?" he said gently, letting William down slowly until William put out his arms in front of him. William held himself up on his arms, but his legs wouldn't accept his weight, and he collapsed onto his stomach with a whimper.

"I have no idea," Vince said. "Why would anyone--"

"You didn't answer my question," Monica demanded. "Why is this backward."

Vince looked to Frank, whose stern face mimicked Monica's with spooky perfection. "I think you already know," he conceded. "But if you want me to spell it out..." He pulled down the collar of William's shirt. "These vertebrae here..." He pointed to the vertebrae that John and Monica well knew would be super-sized in a super soldier. "If there had been any experiments on him, any tampering..." He drew his finger over William's very normal-sized bumps. "It would be here, not the other end of the spine."

"So you don't know what this is?" Monica asked, disappointment in her voice.

"No. What can you tell me about this baby?" Vince asked.

Monica filled him in on the circumstances of his birth, his unusual ability to control objects, his kidnaping by a UFO cult and his subsequent survival after a spacecraft left him behind, and the injection given him by "the breather," who turned out to be Agent Spender. She spared no details, hoping Vince would recognize something in the story and come up with an answer.

"This is that baby?" Vince said after Monica finished. "How do you know?"

"I was there when he was born, and I was there when he went to the adoption agency. Only his mother knows him better than I do," Monica said.

Vince seemed satisfied with her answer, then he asked, "That shot, it was supposed to make him normal? Can he still control objects?"

Monica shook her head. "I don't think so. We've only been with him a few hours."

Vince rolled William onto his back, took his keys out of his pocket, then dangled them in front of William's face. William giggled and reached for the keys, but there was nothing unusual about the game. Vince sighed. "I think I have an idea about what happened, and who did it."

"Who?" John jumped in. "Someone in the air force?"

Vince sneered at him. "No, not the air force. But you were right, it was the government."

"Can it be fixed?" Monica asked. "Can he walk again?"

Vince let William have his keys then turned his attention to John and Monica. "This child, and the others like him, a lot of money and time was invested in them. The people who created him, they don't give up easy."

"And the People of the Via," Frank interjected. "They don't give up easy, either."

Vince nodded his agreement. "All these babies, they've been disappearing. They're being abducted and all the senior intelligence is scratching their heads over this. This one," he grabbed William's foot affectionately. "They were able to find him because he disappeared through normal channels adoption. She wanted to protect him?" Vince laughed. "Who would be better protection than an FBI agent?" He shook his head in disbelief. "What a stupid, stupid idea..."

"She thought she was doing what was best for him," Monica said, defending her friend. Although she had disagreed at the time, she had quickly come around to Scully's point of view, if only to keep her own spirits up.

"I'm sure she did," Vince said patronizingly. "But under the circumstances..."

"So you're telling me they tracked him down and did this to him?" John spat out, his hands starting to shake. He had disagreed with Scully's decision as well, but had never admitted it to anyone other than Monica. Having lost a child himself, he could never feel anything but anger and disgust for Scully after she gave William up, and now his anger was turning into a blind rage that could be dangerous. Monica looked at him with a worried expression he knew too well, but he couldn't stop himself. "They tracked him down, then what? Tried to turn him back into a super soldier? Is that what you're telling us?" By now he was shouting, and he finished his tirade saying, "He's just a baby!"

Monica said, "John..." as gently as she could, then placed a hand on his arm. "Just listen."

"It's okay," Vince said. "I felt the same way when I found out about this program. It's why I retired. I wanted to join the Via, to help put a stop to all this."

"And just how do you plan to do that?" John demanded.

"One baby at a time," Vince said calmly. "And here's the next one."

"Next one?" Monica repeated. "How many have you helped?"

Vince smiled enigmatically. "John and Gibson know. They've seen them," he said.

John and Gibson thought back to the orphanage where they'd seen several children, most of them babies, and where Gibson had shot his first super soldier using a magnetite-laced bullet.

"Okay," John said carefully. "So you're helping babies. Exactly how do you plan to do that?"

"I have a contact," Vince said, just as carefully. "A doctor. He doesn't tell me much. I don't tell him much. Just what he needs to know. He might have seen this before."

"And where is this mysterious doctor?" John asked.

"You'll have to trust me on this," Vince said.

"No dice!" John shouted. "This baby is our responsibility and we're not letting him out of our sight!"

Monica nodded, and this time she didn't make any attempt to quell John's anger. "Tell us where to go, and we'll take him there," she said.

"You won't get anywhere without me," Vince said. He thought for a moment then said, "I usually go alone, with just the kid... but I suppose they'd buy a visit from a family."

"They?" John asked.

"The Children's Hospital of New Mexico," Vince said.

**The Children's Hospital of New Mexico is Annabeth Gish's pet charity. Go to http://www.thankyouannabeth.com/index2.html for information on how to donate**

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Monica fought off the urge to grab William, and glanced at John. It looked like he was thinking the same thing. During their silence, Gibson moved to the bed and laid down next to Gibson. "So when do we go?" he asked.

"Gibson!" John scolded.

"They're family-oriented there, and they have a research program on spinal problems," Vince explained. "My contact knows how to work the system and keep the questions to a minimum."

"How can he do that?" John challenged.

Vince shrugged. "You have your documents?" he asked. Monica and John nodded. "So even if they ask questions you have answers."

"We don't have questions for that," John said, nodding to William. "How can we explain that?"

"Leave that to me and my contact," Vince said with confidence. "Once we get our foot in the door, it should be smooth sailing."

"He's done this before, remember," Frank said with affection. "And you can stay here as long as you need to. All of you."

John couldn't help thinking, 'At least we're not surrounded by nuns,' and he heard a giggle coming from the minds of Gibson and Frank.

With her worries about William partially relieved, Monica suddenly felt the full weight of her exhaustion and yawned loudly. "Oops, sorry," she apologized. "It's been a long day."

"So it's settled?" Frank asked. "You'll stay here and Pop will take you to the hospital together?"

Monica looked to John for confirmation, then said, "We want what's best for him."

After Frank and Vince left, John turned to Monica and said, "Well this was a surprise. Are you okay with all of this?"

Monica nodded. "It's all I wanted. Just to know," she said. She glanced at Gibson, who was trying to suppress a yawn. "And it's been a long day. We should get to bed."

Monica changed William and put on his pajamas while Gibson got changed in the bathroom. "I hope all this good luck is for real," John said.

"Who says it's luck?" Monica grinned. "It's fate. All of it." She laid William down in his crib, then went to John and put her arms around his waist. "You and me together, us taking care of Gibson, and now William, my father and brother helping us... It's the way things should be. Even if everything else is all wrong, being part of a family, how could that be wrong?"

John was about to object then realized how lonely Monica must have felt all her years working in the FBI, and before that in college, away from her parents. And before that she was in boarding school. He stroked her hair, and said, "And a wonderful family it is."

Gibson came out of the bathroom and snarled, "You've got a room." He flopped into his bed, rearranged the pillows, then said, "Well? What are you waiting for?"

"Just knock if William needs anything," Monica said. "Like diapering."

"Pffft," Gibson sneered. "A real man isn't afraid of a dirty diaper."

"Then let us know if you need anything," Monica said.

Gibson took his gun and set it on the night stand beside him. "I'll be fine." He settled into his pillows, then closed his eyes and started doing the hum that helped him get into a deep meditation, one that would be deep enough not to overhear a passionate wedding night.

John pulled Monica toward the door then turned off the light, saying "Goodnight Gibson." Monica started for William's crib, but John tugged on her sleeve. "He's fine," he said as he pulled the door closed.

The aroma of roses was even more powerful than earlier, reminding her what night this was. "You're not too tired, are you?"

"You were the one yawning earlier," John pointed out.

"Hmmm, I was?" she murmured as she nuzzled the side of his neck. "I don't remember that."

"I remember it," he chuckled as she found a ticklish spot. "You yawned rather loudly, in fact."

"I did?" she asked, now nuzzling the other side of his neck.

"And I thought, there goes our wedding night." He brought his hands to her face then guided her lips to his. After a tender but brief kiss, he said, "But then I thought, I'm going to be with this woman the rest of my life. We'll have thousands of nights together."

"I hope so," Monica said, losing her flirtatious tone. "I hope we grow old together."

"I have a head start on that," he laughed. "But yes, we'll grow old together. Very old. I plan to live to be one hundred," he added.

"I'll be ninety-two then. You don't want to see that!" she said.

"Yes, I do," he said. "I want to see all your ages. And all your sides. Every part of Monica Reyes fascinates me. Past, present, and future." He pulled her close to his body so she could feel his fascination, then said, "But especially the present..."

"hmmmmm I am a little tired, now that you mention it," she said, grinding into him.

"Then it's definitely bed-time, Mrs. Doggett," John said. He reached down with one arm and knocked her off balance at the knees, then picked her up and carried her to the bed. "It's not a threshold, but it's the best I could do."

Monica giggled. "Gibson would thank you for sparing him this sight."

"You're welcome, Gibson!" John shouted over his shoulder. "Now..."

He walked Monica over to the bed and was about to toss her onto it, when she said, "Wait! What about the champagne?"

John sighed and set her on her feet. "You promise it won't knock you out?" he winked.

"I promise," she said with mock seriousness, putting her hand over her heart. "As long as you promise to help me stay awake."

"I think I can do that," he said, leading her to the champagne.

He popped the cork then pulled her into his lap, where they drank to their new life together, to her brother's generosity, to Gibson, and to William. Monica sighed at the mention of William. "I hope he'll be okay," she said.

"He has us, doesn't he?" John soothed.

"You're okay with keeping him?" Monica asked.

"He's been entrusted to us," John said. "It doesn't matter how it happened. He's ours to care for until we find out otherwise."

Monica smiled. "I'm glad to hear you say that."

"But that could be tomorrow, you know," John said. "He's not ours forever."

"I know," she answered, bowing her head to hide her disappointment.

"But Gibson..." John said. "We can adopt him."

"Think he wants it?" Monica asked, suddenly perky again. "I mean... he's almost grown..."

"I know he wants it," John said, wrapping his arms around her waist. "I know I want it."

"I want that too," she said. They sat in silence for a moment, until Monica said, "Did I ever tell you about my report to the Special Agent in Charge when I worked your case?" Of course she knew she hadn't, but now seemed the time to tell him.

"Only a little," John answered. "Just that you ruled me out as a suspect."

Monica turned on his lap until she could study his face. It was flushed, from the champagne she supposed, but he seemed relaxed and content. Ready to hear her story. "I was put on the case with the explicit instruction to get the dirt on you."

"I suspected as much," he said, unconcerned.

"You knew?" she asked. "Well, I shouldn't be surprised. You were a good cop. But that's why the Agent in Charge thought you'd confide in me. Because compared to you I was so inexperienced."

"That's what tipped me off," he said. "Why send a rookie on a case involving a cop?"

"I wasn't a rookie," Monica said, straightening. "I'd been in the bureau for three years."

John smiled. "And would you trust someone with three years to find Gibson if he disappeared?" Her silence answered his question. "I thought so," he said smugly. "But it didn't take me long to tell you were sharp."

She blushed, then confessed, "They asked me to check for chinks your marriage, to see if there was a custody case coming up, and whether you were violent at home. Those cases are much more common than stranger-abductions, you know."

"Yes, I know," he said, rubbing her arm. "I knew I'd be a suspect."

"Want to know why I ruled you out?" Monica asked. His silence answered her question. "I determined that you were a devoted father and loyal husband... despite the chinks in your marriage."

"Loyal husband," he murmured, then thought it over a moment. "Yes, you're right. I stayed with her because when you're married that's what you do."

Monica sighed, relieved that he hadn't taken her assessment personally. "And that's why I had no hesitation about marrying you. I know you'll keep your promise. To me, and to Gibson." She wanted to add "to William," but decided to save that issue for later.

"And you never forgot about Luke," John said. "That's why I would have no hesitation having children with you. But about marrying you..." He stopped himself, but worry lines appeared on her forehead. Now that he'd started, he had to finish, he realized. "I wasn't sure about you until I found out what happened with Follmer. Why you ended it."

"What did you think before that?" she asked. So few people knew about her relationship with Brad that she'd never given a thought to how the breakup looked to the few who did know.

"I didn't know what to think, Monica," John admitted. "One day you're in love with him, and I've given up trying to talk you into dumping him, and the next day... Poof! You're in New Orleans and you don't want to talk about it."

"I'm sorry, John," she said. "I just couldn't tell you..."

"I know," he said soothingly. "I understand now. But you gotta admit, it looked strange. And this all happened just after Barb left me, and she never gave me any signs... I had to know history wouldn't repeat itself."

"Oh, John," she sighed. "I had no idea..."

"You were loyal to him in your way," he said. "And even now, you're keeping his secret."

"Except from you," she said. "I'll never keep secrets from you." And to seal her promise, she kissed him, tenderly at first, but quickly deepening into a passionate invitation to bed.

John put their glasses on the table then stood, with Monica still in his arms, and carried her to the bed. He laid her down gently, and let her watch as he undressed in front of her. When he was finished, he began undressing her, and she lay there passively, watching his eyes as her body revealed itself to him.

"God, you're beautiful," he sighed when he was finished. "How did I get so lucky?"

"It wasn't luck," she whispered. "It was fate. We belong together."

"I can't argue with that," he smiled, then knelt on the bed, straddling her hips. He bent forward until he could nuzzle her neck, then brought his face up to meet hers. "Mrs. Doggett..." He lowered his body onto hers, and the contact made Monica shiver.

"Husband," she whispered.

They made love slowly that night, exploring each other's bodies as if they'd never been together before. When they were finished, they lay facing each other with nothing but the sound of the air conditioner breaking their peace.

"Thank you for telling me the truth," Monica said as her eyes closed.

"You deserve nothing less," John answered. He kissed her sweaty forehead then turned onto his stomach and fell into a deep sleep.

NC-17 Version*

"Husband," she whispered.

They kissed, slowly savoring the taste of marital intimacy. John rubbed his body over hers, letting his erection tease her ticklish spots but turning away at the first feel of her sensitive hairs. She groaned and urged him closer to her center, but he whispered, "Why the rush, Mrs. Doggett? We have the rest of our lives."

She groaned again and thrust her hips upward, bumping against his thighs. "I hope you're right," she said.

For an answer, he nibbled at the sweet spot behind her ear that never failed to send shivers down her spine. She surrendered herself to his pace and his ministrations, enjoying the tender kissed he trailed from her ear to her collarbone, then downward, where he found the heart necklace she always wore, the one he'd given her a lifetime ago. He took it between his finger and thumb, then kissed it and trailed more kisses toward the center of her chest, lingering over her heart. Monica let out a sigh, and his recently-developed sixth sense felt it. She understood.

He brought his hands to her breasts, then caressed them in perfect synchrony as she writhed sensuously beneath him. Keeping his hands on her breasts, he picked up his trail of kisses, moving downward until his mouth just brushed her curly brown hairs. "John..." she sighed as her hips rose to meet his mouth, urging him downward. He obeyed, but went at a teasingly slow pace until her knees, seemingly with minds of their own, drew upwards until his body was engulfed between her legs and his mouth was forced to meet her musky center.

He knew what she wanted. He always knew now. She could never imagine sex with another man now, and now she would never have to. As his tongue explored the peaks and valleys of her private geography she grabbed the bedspread and pulled on it until she had a massive wad in each hand. "More," she moaned. "Don't stop... ohhhh yes, yes...." He took her encouragement to heart and inserted first one then two fingers into her core, rubbing them against her most sensitive places and reaching into the hidden spot that would send her over the edge. With a few well-timed strokes he brought her to a shuddering climax that left her breathless.

He crawled back over her body, keeping his body close enough to feel her heat. "You liked that?" he asked when they were face to face.

She grinned. "What makes you think that?"

"Oh I dunno," he grinned back. "Just a feeling."

"Well, it wasn't the end to end all endings," she warned. "In a minute or two..."

"I was hoping you'd say that," he said, laying to one side of her with his arm draped over her waist. "Because there's more where that came from."

"I hope so," she chuckled. "Otherwise I'm going to have to ask Tomas for an annulment!"

"Oh, don't worry Mrs. Doggett," John said, rubbing her stomach subconsciously. "I have every intention of consummating this marriage!"

"Whew," she sighed. "I was worried for a minute there..."

His hand widened its track, making wide circle eights going over her abdomen, crossing its path over her navel, riding the curve of each breast, then crossing the navel again... He knew this would drive her wild, and he was right. She grabbed his head and kissed him with passionate abandon, then moved one of her legs over his. He let her take control as she turned him onto his back and then straddled his hips, just as he'd straddled hers.

Then, just as he'd trailed kisses down her body, she began a trail down his, resting her ear momentarily over his heart. She listened to the beat, strong, steady, constant, and lost herself in the thought that this heart would be beating next to hers every night for the rest of her life. That is, until John groaned and grabbed her hair. He pushed on her head, hinting at what he wanted, and she obeyed. His erection was as massive as she'd ever seen it, and she wondered how long she could tease him, but his half-lidded eyes were watching hers and seemed happy with the direction things were going as she licked, sucked, and tickled him to distraction. Finally, she drew her tongue up along its sensitive ridge, and when she came to the tip she tasted the salty hint of his readiness. She slurped it up then positioned herself over him, letting her own salty readiness drip onto his.

"Let me know if I'm taking things too fast for you," she teased. He answered by grabbing her hips and urging her downward until they were a mere inch from consummating their marriage. "You're sure? After this we can't get an annulment," she said.

He let go of her hips and with one hand scratched his chin. "You do have a point there," he said.

She lowered herself that last inch, then slowly slid herself onto him, saying, "I think it's too late to turn back now." She began with a slow rhythm that he seemed to go along with at first, but soon he began meeting her thrusts with urgent thrusts of his own. "Stop!" he said, and she did. She moved off of him gradually, holding herself up by her arms, then side-stepped on her knees to one side. "Yes, perfect," he said. He stood up and walked her backward until she was positioned where he could begin his patented Doggett-style pleasuring. Taking control, he concentrated on making it last, thinking about baseball, football, NASCAR... until he felt the shuddering signal to let himself go.

They collapsed together on the bed, then for a long time they lay facing each other with nothing but the sound of the air conditioner breaking their peace.

"Thank you for telling me the truth," Monica said as her eyes closed.

"You deserve nothing less," John answered. He kissed her sweaty forehead then turned onto his stomach and fell into a deep sleep.



CHAPTER TWELVE

For the next week John, Monica and Gibson watched William's condition deteriorate as they waited for the appointment Vince made for them. It was soon obvious they had to do something, and on the ride to the hospital, William yelped every time Frank's van hit a bump. Monica, in the seat next to William, winced in sympathy as John and Gibson, sitting behind them, exchanged worried glances.

They had packed a few days' supplies, in case William needed to check in. Monica felt sure they were doing the right thing. John wasn't so sure. If Vince's source, or Vince, were leaking their whereabouts to the wrong people, he could be delivering his entire new-found family into the hands of ... of whoever was coming next. But John trusted Gibson, and Gibson trusted Vince, and Vince trusted his source at the hospital. It was the best assurance John could hope for.

Their contact was a Dr. Gomez, a short squat man whose narrow eyes gave him an impression of being Asian despite his Spanish name. He grasped John's right hand firmly, and smiled when John placed his left hand over Gomez' meaty one. "I have one too," Gomez grinned, holding up his left hand and displaying his wedding ring. "Very handy."

"Very," John agreed, then let go of Gomez' hands.

Gomez shook Monica's, Vince's, Frank's and Gibson's hands in turn, smiling beneficently. Afterward, he ran his hand over Gibson's scalp and said, "I wish I could have stopped that. How are you doing now?"

Gibson blushed. "I'm okay. We're here about him," he said, nodding to William, who was in a stroller.

Gomez squatted to be on William's eye level then grasped the baby's hand. "Pleased to meet you." William giggled and kicked happily. "You said there was something wrong with his back?" Gomez asked Vince. Vince nodded. Gomez grabbed one of William's feet and tickled it, making William kick and giggle again. "Well, this is a good sign," he said. "Let's look for some more good news."

Monica sighed loudly and began taking William from his stroller, but John wasn't comforted. "You should see his scar before you say that."

"If I didn't see the glass as half full I could never work with children, Mr. Flores," Gomez said. "It keeps me going."

Chided, John stood back as Gomez gave William a thorough examination, but Monica stood at the other side of the examination table, asking questions and watching carefully. Gomez glanced at Vince occasionally, but asked no questions until finishing his exam. "You told me he was adopted," he said to Vince. "I think I know which child this is. His adoptive parents were abducted, found near death in fields near their home, then had miraculous recoveries," Gomez said. "A few months later they adopted him."

"Aw, Jeez," John said.

Monica felt heartsick at the news. William had been living with super soldiers.

"And you think you know this child too?" Gomez asked Monica.

She nodded, then told him William's story, up to the shot that was supposed to have made him normal.

"If what you say is true, my guess is..." Gomez said as he crossed his office then pulled a piece of metal from a drawer. "...that his new parents wanted him to be more like them." He waved the metal in front of William's eyes until the baby grabbed it and began sucking on it, then he took it from him, rolled William onto his stomach, and waved it over the back of his head, his neck, and down over his spine. As it passed over the scar it vibrated violently in Gomez's hand, then flew to William's back, landing with a whack that made William cry.

Monica picked him up protectively as Gomez looked at Vince. "I think we have our answer."

"And what would that be?" John demanded.

"He was injected with a form of magnetite, which changed him, made him more normal," Gomez said thoughtfully. "Which would create problems for his new parents. Magnetite binds to calcium, so it would have been absorbed into his bones."

"Including his spine," Monica sighed. "But why...?"

"With magnetite in his bones, he would have created quite a problem for his parents, because they would have had an alloy in theirs..." He held up the piece of metal for emphasis. "An alloy that reacts to magnetite. He would have been a very sick baby, and they wouldn't have been able to pick him up. And they got their alloy from..."

"Spinal implants," Vince said, closing his eyes. "Created by the military and used on unwitting soldiers in the 1980s."

Gomez nodded. "More effective methods of creating super soldiers have been created since then. But if my guess is true, that's what happened here. The way it works is that the initial implant is created from 'smart' molecules that replicate specific structures in a preprogrammed sequence, using trace elements drawn from the subject's blood. Are you following me?" he asked John.

"Yeah, someone tried to turn the kid into a super soldier, isn't that what you're telling us?" John answered.

"Yes," Gomez said.

"So why is he in such pain?" Monica asked. "I thought super soldiers were, well... super. Shouldn't he have just gotten over it?"

"We'll need X-Rays to be sure, but I think the trouble here is that William already was a super soldier. And yes, he is getting over it. Feel here?" he said, putting a finger on one of the larger vertebrae.

Monica put her finger on the same place, but felt nothing unusual. She pressed harder, which made William cry out. "What are you saying? There's something wrong with the implant?"

"This alloy is stronger than any known on Earth," Gomez said. "Yet it's bulging, right here..." He took Monica's hand and directed her finger to the place he'd noticed. "Feel it?"

"A little, but I can't really..." Monica said. Suddenly it was all too much for her and she found her eyes misting up.

"His own spine is re-growing, and that's the source of most of his pain," Gomez said. "But imagine, putting a bone made from the alloy next to a bone made from magnetite?" Gomez shuddered and stroked William's head. "I can't imagine what he must be feeling."

John edged her hand away and tried to feel it. "I don't feel a thing." He looked suspiciously at Gomez, then demanded, "I wanna X-Ray taken."

Gomez arranged for an X-Ray, and they could overhear his cover story. The Flores family's baby had been born with spina bifida, and he had received a defective, experimental spinal implant at a disreputable offshore teaching hospital. They would be Gomez' latest pet project, and he would absorb the costs himself.

The entire entourage accompanied William to the radiology department, where Gomez' reputation and his story seemed to have cleared the way for an off-the-record X-Ray. Afterward, they waited in silence in Gomez' office for the X-Rays to develop. When they arrived, Gomez hung them over the light on his wall. "See?" he said, pointing to the dark places in the pictures. "You can see these little bulges. His own spine is growing inside these." He pointed to the area where the darker vertebrae ended. "And see here? This vertebrae is pulling away. Not only is the alloy not taking over his spinal column, it's not growing at all. But his own spine is."

"And pressing against his spinal column," Monica said. She looked mournfully into William's face and he looked into her eyes. It was eerie, but she could swear she felt him pleading for help. She turned her gaze toward John, giving him the same pleading look.

"Okay, what do we gotta do? Surgery?" John asked.

"Gibson," Vince broke in. "Let's you, me and William check out the playground."

Gibson glanced at John and Monica, fearful of leaving them but obviously tempted by the offer.

"Go on," John said. He'd noticed Gibson's discomfort at being in a hospital, and considering the boy's history he didn't blame him one bit. When the boy-man still seemed hesitant, John thought-cast to him, "Remember you have a gun and you're a damned good shot." Gibson grinned, then John said aloud, "Be the big brother and cheer William up."

"They'll be okay," Gibson reassured Monica as the three left for the playground. "And you should see Vince with the kids there! He plays with all the kids, clowns around, puts the really sick ones on his lap and swing with them... It's not like playing with your own kids, but he loves it," he said.

John stood silently, feeling Monica absorb the meaning behind the words. Now that he knew her parents' story, he felt for Vince as much as he felt for her. Vince had missed out on so much, even more than John had.

"Okay," Monica said bravely. "What next?"

"There's an expert on spina bifida on this staff who's been designing experimental pins to hold developing spines together. I think it's time to call her," Gomez said.

"You're talking about removing these implants, right?" John asked. "Will his own be able to take over?"

"Will he be able to walk?" Monica asked simultaneously.

"These babies have remarkable recuperative powers," Gomez said. "But even so, his recovery will be..."

"These babies?" John interrupted. "How many kids like him have you seen?"

Gomez hesitated, but said finally, "I've seen over thirty, but I know there are many more." He rubbed his finger over the dark spots on the X-Ray. "But I've never seen anything like this. This is... disturbing."

"You think there are more kids out there like this?" John asked.

"No, not yet," Gomez said gravely. "And I probably won't again, but this means..."

"That even after they've been adopted, these kids aren't safe," Monica concluded.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

this chapter and the next are dedicated to on2freedom

The following day Gomez, John, Monica, Gibson, Vince and William met with the spina bifida specialist, a tiny slip of a woman who looked like she'd blow away in a stiff wind. But contrary to appearances, she proved to be a powerful force who could get things done, and quickly. Known as "Doctor Liz" around the hospital, Doctor Elizabeth Spark seemed to John to be smart enough to have seen through Gomez' cover story but compassionate enough not to care. Doctor Liz seemed completely unconcerned with using her unusual case to prove anything to anyone. She only cared about relieving William's suffering.

"First, we remove these aberrations," Dr. Liz sneered, pointing to the implants on one of William's X-Rays. "Next, we give him time to let his vertebrae grow back. He'll have to be in a body cast for a good while, and it's impossible to tell how long. I've never seen a spine grow like this before, and I've sure as hell never seen one grow inside a... You're sure you don't know when this was done to him?"

John and Monica shook their heads as innocently as they could. Monica held William in her lap, and kissed the top of his head as if to prove their cover story. Dr. Liz shot Gibson a curious glance, and the couple guessed that she felt the boy scanning her intentions, or that she was scanning his. They glanced at him, and he nodded approvingly.

Doctor Liz took in the exchange, but seemed unfazed. "We'll do the best we can," she said. "But in the end his recovery will depend on his parents." Noting the surprise in John and Monica's faces, she continued, "Even though his spine may recover, his brain hasn't been able to use the nerves from the waist down properly. He'll need physical therapy to re-learn to use his muscles, and to catch up with where he should be. I'll set you up with a physical therapist who can help you with special exercises, including hydrotherapy. You have access to a pool at home?"

Home. John, Monica, and Gibson's shoulders all sagged at the word. Their home was in the Via now, but they had no home of their own. And for the first time they felt the full weight of it.

"Yes, they do," Vince answered. "Go ahead and teach them everything they need to know."

Monica smiled at him with a grateful sigh, but John glowered beneath a wrinkled brow. What was behind this? he wondered, and he was even more curious when Gibson piped up, saying, "Yeah, it's a great pool!"

Doctor Spark looked from Vince to Gomez, then shrugged. "My advice is for one of you," she nodded toward John and Monica. "...to learn the calisthenics he'll need and the other to learn the hydrotherapy. It could be a long and exhausting recovery." She glanced at Gibson, who had relaxed against the wall behind John and Monica, his arms crossed over his chest. "And you do have another child to consider. I've seen too many cases of the older child feeling abandoned by the parent who focuses on the sick child. You should share the job for his sake as well as your own," she advised.

A wave of guilt came over Monica, and she glanced over her shoulder at Gibson. "I'm sorry," she thought at him, but he didn't seem concerned. He reached around her and stroked William's shoulder. "Don't worry about me," he whispered.

Of course, Monica worried even more when she heard this. Poor Gibson, she thought. Never being part of a true family his whole life, and now that he had them...

"Will he be able to walk?" John asked insistently, oblivious to Monica and Gibson.

"Probably," Doctor Spark answered. "But even if he can't, the pain should improve."

"Improve?" Monica repeated.

"Listen, I can't give you a prognosis until after we get in there, and even if the surgery is successful, he could have lingering problems," Spark said. "Assuming you're going to go ahead with this...."

"What choice do we have?" Monica asked. "Give him a life of constant pain? Never being able to walk? Living his whole life in a wheelchair?"

"It's more than that," Doctor Spark said. "He could have fluid in his brain, his spinal cord may not grow as fast as his spine, making it stretch painfully...."

"Assuming he lives," Gomez pointed out. "Not to mention, he'd be incontinent and impotent."

John winced at the word "impotent." It was hard to imagine the tiny tyke ever having sex, but now that he thought about it, he wanted the kid to grow up to have every pleasure a man could have. "When do we start?" he asked.

"I'll start making calls, assemble a team," Spark said, thinking aloud. "Three days? Maybe four? Depends on the team's other commitments. Dr. Gomez will set you up in a family suite. Can we meet back here tomorrow? Same time?"

They agreed to meet, and Doctor Liz went to her office to make arrangements. Gomez did indeed set them up in a nice suite, with a crib for William that was decorated with homey touches that almost offset the impersonal bank of data input ports next to it. Gomez explained that after William came out of surgery he would be monitored from his "own" room, with his "parents" and "brother" close at hand. Vince and Frank returned to Frank's motel to work on the pool, leaving the little family alone in its new home.

William went into the operating room two days later. John, Monica, and Gibson each took turns kissing William's forehead as he John hated to ask Gibson to scan the team, but he whispered, "They okay?"

Gibson gave each the once-over and whispered, "Yeah, they're excited about the case, and a little nervous, but they seem okay."

Excited about the case, John thought. He wasn't a human being to them, and maybe hadn't been a human being to anybody except Scully, himself, Monica, and Gibson. Monica followed William and his surgical team to the door, then turned and looked mournfully at John. He laid his arm across the back of the empty seat next to his, and she went to it automatically.

She could have relaxed into his embrace, but she sat upright, chewing on her lower lip, wondering what was happening to William and watching the clock. She stared out the window on the opposite wall, looking at the greenery in a small courtyard garden, then she noticed a woman sitting next to the window. She looked like Monica felt, but unlike Monica was sitting alone, with nothing but her baby's teddy bear for comfort. With her short stature and wide cheekbones, the woman reminded Monica of some of the women in her adoptive family, and she suddenly felt homesick.

Some instinct made Monica go to the woman's side and say, "Espa usted de Mexico?" The woman responded gratefully, telling Monica her whole story. Her name was Anna Sanchez, and she too was a charity case. Her baby was about William's age, and was having a cancerous brain tumor removed. The baby's father was back home in Mexico, as was her entire family.

Listening to Anna's story kept Monica's mind off William, and it was twenty minutes later when she glanced at her husband. He smiled appreciatively and leaned back in his chair, obviously enjoying the sight. Monica blushed. Comforting the Doggetts had helped her forget herself, and they had always credited her with more unselfishness than she felt she deserved. She turned back toward Anna and told her a bit of William's story, letting the tears flow when she described his uncertain prognosis.

When the operating room door opened, all eyes were on the green-clad doctor approaching the two women. When he removed his surgical mask, Monica saw that it was Gomez.

"The implants are proving harder to remove than we'd thought. That alloy is resisting all our efforts to..." Gomez paused when he saw John and Gibson out of both corners of his eye. "He's doing well, but we want your permission to try something drastic. It should work..."

Gomez put out his arms to lead Gibson and John back to their seats, and nodded for Monica to follow. Anna gave Monica's hand a comforting squeeze, then started pulling on the teddy bear's ears.

When they were a safe distance from prying ears, Gomez said, "The implants aren't budging, and William's own spine is too close to the implants for them to get any leverage."

"So they're giving up?" John asked incredulously.

"Not yet," Gomez said. "But we want your permission to try something drastic."

Monica's heart sank at the word. Drastic? "What?" she gasped.

"Considering his recuperative ability, this might not be as drastic as it sounds" Gomez said. "But there is a risk, especially after he's had that magnetite shot..."

Gibson's face blanched and he excused himself, going in the direction of the small garden. John and Monica watched as he reappeared in the window, then sat on a park bench, his face turned upward into the sun.

"What is it?" John asked. "Could it kill him?"

"No, even in a worst-case scenario it wouldn't kill him," Gomez assured him.

"Then what could be so drastic?" Monica asked.

"Sever the spine," Gomez said. "Then pull the cord free from the implants, along with his developing vertebrae. If they can't free his vertebrae then, they'd just reattach the cord without any vertebrae at all. But if they can be salvaged, they'd re-thread them, like beads on a string, and then reattach the cord. The risk is..."

"That the spinal cord wouldn't heal?" John asked, reaching for Monica's hand and giving it a squeeze.

Monica let John grasp her hand, but she didn't have the strength to return the squeeze. "And his vertebrae... if they can't be salvaged, then what?"

"I think new ones would grow back, just as they did before," Gomez said. "But of course ..."

"You've never seen anything like this," John said. He closed his eyes, and his grip on Monica's hand tightened until she had to pull her hand free.

"Do it," Monica said. "We can't let those things stay there."

"I agree," John said mechanically. "Do whatever you have to."

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Several hours later, Doctors Gomez and Spark came to the waiting room. John noticed them first and leapt to his feet. "Well?" he asked.

Monica stood and reached for John's hand. "How is he?"

"Will he be able to walk?" Gibson asked.

Wrinkles on Gomez' brow collapsed as he heaved a sigh. "Probably."

"Probably?" John repeated, his voice rising a notch. "What the hell does that mean?"

"What my husband means," Monica said gently but resolutely. "Is that we want to know everything. How did things go? What happens next?"

John shot her an annoyed glance, but he couldn't be angry with her. She was right to try to keep him from making a scene. He gave her hand a grateful and apologetic squeeze, then said in measured tones, "How is he?"

"It went well," Gomez said.

"As well as we could hope for, under the circumstances," Stark added. "His own vertebrae were bigger than they looked on the X-Rays. If we'd waited any longer we couldn't have saved them."

Monica sighed. "So he'll be okay?"

"Yes, but he'll be in some pain for some time," Stark warned. "We broke the vertebrae and the discs to free them from the implants, then put them back in place, pinned together with tiny pins that shouldn't affect his future growth."

"It's the most brilliant engineering I've ever seen in an O.R.," Gomez said.

Stark blushed. "We just did what we had to for the little boy's sake. When he wakes up we'll know how much function we were able to save."

"Have you people had lunch?" Gomez asked. "It's almost dinner time, and he won't be awake for awhile... It's on me."

"I'm not hungry," Monica said. "I'll just check on him..."

"Me too," Gibson said, though a very loud rumble from his stomach made everyone laugh. "He'll want his big brother there when he wakes up."

John sighed. Gibson had good reason to worry. "Let's all check on him."

"I understand. We'll bring something back for you," Gomez said. He led them to William's recovery room, leaving Dr. Spark in the waiting room.

William was barely recognizable. Tubes and wires ran everywhere, with yards of hospital tape holding them in place. Monica rushed to the baby's bed, then rubbed her fingertip on one of the few tiny patches of skin that wasn't taped over. "Hi little guy," she whispered, then kissed the tiny patch of skin she'd been stroking. "Feeling better?"

She didn't expect an answer, of course, but she could swear she felt a rush of gratitude coming from the child. She reached for his tiny hand, putting two of her fingers into his fist, then felt his fingers wrap around hers.

Gomez whispered to John, "It's not as bad as it looks. And if he's what we think he is, I think we can expect a full recovery."

"Thanks, Doc," John said, his voice threatening to give out. "Thanks for everything."

Gomez gave him an encouraging grin, then glanced at Gibson. "This is what it means to be part of the Via."

After Gomez left, John went to Monica's side and put his arm around her. "He says it's not as bad as it looks," he said, then kissed her cheek.

"I know," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "Somehow I know it'll be alright."

Gibson approached William's crib from the other side and stroked his other hand. "Yeah, I feel it too," he said.

John looked at each hopeful face in turn, not sure what to think of their optimism. Was it wishful thinking? Were they being influenced by Gomez? Or was William telling them something? He moved around Monica so he could stroke William's cheek, finding the same tiny spot of uncovered skin that Monica had stroked. He didn't feel anything coming from the child, but he felt a huge wellspring of feeling from himself. His hand automatically moved to stroke the baby's hair, and John found himself promising to take care of the little guy, no matter what. Suddenly, he felt the pressure of Monica's hand in his free one, and he gave it a gentle squeeze. He hadn't felt anything from the baby, but he sure felt something from his wife. She had made the same promise to William, and now she was making a promise to him.

When the doctors returned, William was still asleep, his fingers still wrapped around Monica's. John and Gibson had taken up positions in the hallway, watching for signs of trouble while keeping an eye on William.

As they ate, Spark and Gomez filled the family in on all the surgical details. They were able to sever the spine at the base of the implant, where minimal damage would be done. Still, he could lose the use of his legs and might need a colostomy bag or diapers the rest of his life. But they had been able to slide the implant off then replace what was salvageable of William's own vertebrae without further damage to the other nerves. Future trouble could come if there is a lot of scar tissue, but it was far too early to know.

John barely touched his food, nauseous from some of the more graphic details and anxious about the news, but Monica took in the whole story, asking intelligent questions and taking even the most horrendous-sounding procedures in stride.

"You gonna eat that?" Gibson asked John, eyeing his untouched mashed potatoes.

John smiled and shoved the plate toward the growing boy, then moved to Monica's side. "You finished?" he asked her. She nodded, then let John gave Gibson her leftovers. John smiled as he watched Gibson inhale the cold hospital food. He remembered when he was sixteen, the year he'd shot up from 5'5" to 5'10" over the summer. He'd had that kind of appetite, too.

When Gomez and Spark had finished eating, John asked, "What next? He can't do physical therapy in this condition."

"No, but you can," Spark answered. "While he's recovering you'll be learning your part. He can go home as soon as the body cast is off, but he'll have a long recovery."

"Not as long as most," Gomez pointed out. "But he still has a long way to go."

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

When William woke up he was groggy, as the doctors had predicted, but he recognized Monica instantly and graced her with a cherubic smile. ...which pulled on his tubing. ...which made him cry.

Monica and John tried to be brave, but Gibson wasn't fooled, and he suddenly felt the need for some air. He turned and walked toward the door. "Gibson..." Monica called out, but Gibson kept walking.

"Let him go," John said. "This has been rough for him."

"Go after him, John," she urged.

John looked down on William, who continued to cry. There was nothing he could do for him, he figured. And Monica would stay with him. Although they both loved their foster children it was becoming obvious to him that William was Monica's "baby" and Gibson was his. And in all the time he'd spent with Gibson, they never had discussed the medical procedures performed on him. Maybe now was the time. "Okay," he said. "But if I can't find him, I'm coming right back." He kissed her cheek, then bent down to kiss William's forehead. "Don't let your guard down, Monica," he warned.

"I won't," she promised.

She pulled a chair to William's side then put one knee on it as she leaned over the side of the crib. "Does it hurt, sweetie?" she asked gently. She stroked his hair then added, "It won't hurt for long. I promise."

William stayed awake for a few minutes, then fell asleep again. But Monica stayed by his bedside, still stroking his hair and talking to him.

"He's not awake yet?" Doctor Liz's voice rang out from the hall.

Monica jumped slightly then caught her breath and said, "He woke up for awhile, but he went right back to sleep."

"That's good," Doctor Liz said. "Let's try to wake him up again..." She crossed to William's crib then took a sharp utensil from her coat pocket. She dragged it gently against the sole of William's foot, but William didn't respond. Next, she dragged it against his thigh, just below the edge of his body cast. Still no response.

Monica looked on, blinking back tears as the reality of William's paralysis began to sink in. Her William's feet had been very ticklish. This new William would never giggle at foot tickling again.

"William?" Dr. Liz cooed over him. When he didn't respond she touched his face and said more loudly, "William?"

When William continued to be oblivious to Dr. Liz' attempts to awaken him, Monica thought silently, "William please wake up for Dr. Liz!"

Just then William's eyes opened, and Dr. Liz smiled. "That's more like it!"

Monica exhaled loudly enough for Dr. Liz to hear. "He's okay?" she asked hopefully.

As Dr. Liz shone a light into William's eyes, she said, "As good as can be expected." She continued with her preliminary tests, muttering to herself all the while. When William's feet didn't respond, even when awake, Monica turned around.

Dr. Gomez was at the doorway, watching the procedures silently, but when he saw Monica's grim expression he went to her and put a friendly arm around her shoulders. Monica accepted the gesture gratefully, and when he turned her around to watch the rest, she found it easier to bear.

"Well?" Monica asked when Dr. Liz was finished.

"Like I said, things are as good as we could hope for right now," Dr. Liz answered.

"Good," Gomez responded. "And his loss of sensation, in his feet?"

"Could be temporary, could be permanent. Time will tell," Dr. Liz said flatly.

"So there's still hope?" Monica asked.

"Oh, there's always hope!" Gomez said, giving her shoulder a squeeze. "Never lose hope!"

Dr. Liz put her supplies back into her pocket, made some notes on William's chart, then gave Monica a reassuring smile. "Considering what had been done to him, I think he's doing remarkably well."

"Good job, Liz," Dr. Gomez said.

"Yes, thank you for everything," Monica gushed, grabbing one of the doctor's hands and shaking it desperately.

Dr. Liz left to attend to other patients, then Monica resumed her place at William's side. He was asleep again, but to Monica it looked now like a peaceful, healing sleep.

"She's a good doctor," Gomez said.

"Thank you, too," Monica said softly.

"I trust her," Gomez added. "But there's something you should know."

Monica looked up, her brow crinkling as if to accept bad news.

"There was a scar over his spine, but when she got inside there wasn't any scar tissue. There should have been," Gomez said.

"Which means?" Monica asked.

"Which means that he's got the gene, the altered gene." Gomez lowered his voice then added, "The super soldier gene. He's going to recover completely."


John found Gibson a few doors down, leaning against the door jamb of another intensive care room. A baby lay on the bed, its head swathed in a large turban of gauze, tubes issuing from every orifice. To one side were monitors and to the other was the woman Monica had befriended in the waiting room.

"It's bad," Gibson whispered. "Worse than William."

John glanced at the baby then looked down at Gibson. The scars from Gibson's surgery lined his scalp, but until now John rarely gave them a thought. They were just part of what made Gibson Gibson for him. "Remind you of someone?" For emphasis, John put his hand over Gibson's scars.

Gibson shook off John's hand. "No, this is different."

"Sorry." John took a step backward.

"Someone experimented on this baby, and I think it's my fault," Gibson said softly.

"Yours?" John asked, pulling on Gibson's arm until they were both in the hall, out of earshot from the baby's mother.

Gibson motioned for John to follow him, then led him to the playground. There, amid the swings and slides and sandboxes, Gibson picked out one sick child. "See that boy with the bald head? Playing with a toy truck?"

John nodded. "What about him?"

"He's like the baby girl in the room. That little girl's cancer, it's the same one in this boy," Gibson explained. "It's in their brains." He sat down on a bench, and John took a seat next to him. "William played with the girl when Vince and I took William here a few days ago. She was one of us, I felt it. William felt it too."

"Okay," John said, carefully checking Gibson's expression. "But I still don't see what that has to do with you?"

"Four years ago Agent Scully did some tests on me," Gibson said. "One part of my brain was over-active, a part that is normally very quiet. She believed that's where my gift came from."

"She told me about that," John said. "Seems like a good theory."

"Did she also tell you how she got cancer?"

John blanched. "Yes."

"She got it because one part of her brain was stimulated to make her ovulate," Gibson said. "They put an implant in her, then took her ovaries."

"Where did you hear that?" John asked.

"Mulder," Gibson answered. "He told me all about it."

"Okay, so back to you," John said. "How are you to blame?"

"You don't get it? They're trying to make more of me!" His voice rose, ending in an adolescent squeak that tugged at John's heart.

"I don't think..." John began, but Gibson found his voice and interrupted him.

"This baby, and the little girl... they got cancer in the part of the brain where I'm special. Somehow they found out about those tests, and..." Gibson's voice deserted him again, and he looked upward for a long moment. "It's the reason they're not coming after me any more. They already got what they wanted from me."

"Now, hold on," John said. "You're telling me all these kids are part of the same....'

"No." Gibson sniffled then reached for a kleenex. After giving his nose a very loud, very anti-social blow that John resolved to help Gibson unlearn, the boy sighed deeply. "Only a few of the children here are like us. And only a few of the doctors know."

John watched the child Gibson had pointed out, wondering what Gibson's theories meant and whether they could be true. The baby seemed normal, but suddenly he began seizing, and his voice uttered an animalistic howl as his arms and legs threw themselves into painful-looking spasms. Within seconds, the baby's mother and two attendants had pulled him onto the grass and begun taking care of him. The other children moved to the other side of the playground, but continued playing, unconcerned.

Gibson walked over to the little crowd, staring all the while at the thrashing baby.
"Gibson?" John said as he tugged at Gibson's sleeve.

But Gibson paid no attention to John. He knelt next to one of the attendants then placed a hand on the baby's chest.

Suddenly, the baby's limbs stopped thrashing and he lay there completely at peace.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

John pulled Gibson back. "What did you do?" he whispered angrily.

"He's not dead," Gibson said. "I just sent him a message to calm him down. It's that part of the brain that..."

They were interrupted by one of the men who had been attending the child. "Don't do that again," he said, pulling Gibson further away from the activity.

Gibson looked up into the man's face, his eyes wide with fright. "Why?"

John put a protective arm around Gibson's shoulders and said, "He was only trying to help."

"Sub rosa means 'in secret' Gibson," the man hissed, then turned to walk away.

"Wait a minute." John grabbed the man's arm, making him stop in his tracks. "First of all, don't talk to my boy that way, understand?"

Obviously sensing John's anger, the man nodded.

"Second, what the hell is going on here? How many kids are there like this?"

The man's eyes darted from one colleague to another, and when he was satisfied that they weren't paying attention to them, he whispered, "We've seen a lot lately. You know what happened to them?"

"Someone tried to make them like us," Gibson said.

The man nodded toward a distant bench and the three walked toward it. "Whoever they are, they're getting desperate. We're seeing more and more kids with problems like this. Problems from experimental..."

Gibson turned a pale shade of green and bowed his head. John noticed. He gave the boy's shoulder a reassuring squeeze then said, "Spinal problems too?"

"Ahhhhhh that was your child," the man said. "He's the only one like that, if that puts your mind at rest."

"Yes, it does," John said, now rubbing Gibson's shoulders.

"What are this baby's chances?" Gibson asked. The baby he'd helped was now playing happily in the sandbox, oblivious to the watchful eyes of the hospital staff. "Can he stay like us after the cancer's gone?"

The man offered no answer, but just looked wistfully toward the playground.

"He's gonna die, isn't he?" John asked.

"Most likely," the man answered. "We haven't saved one yet."

"That part of the brain, where we're special," Gibson said. "You can turn it on to make people like us but you can't turn it off, is that right?"

The man nodded. "Even normal people use it a little bit."

"For what?" John asked, though he was beginning to feel out of his league.

Gibson and the man looked at each other with uncanny understanding, then Gibson said, "That part of the brain reaches out to other people, it doesn't just listen. When you turn it off you're dead inside."

"Best-case scenario, autism," the man offered. "It's my specialty. It's how we can justify working on these kids pro bono."

"Worst case scenario?" John asked. "Death?"

"Worst case scenario, the brain receives messages but doesn't send them out." The man gave John a significant look, but John shook his head in confusion.

"Worst case scenario," Gibson offered. "Super soldier."

"Like that but without the strength, only the lack of will," the man explained. "Worst case scenario, a race of slaves."


"So you don't want to save them," Gibson accused.

"Think what it would mean if someone found out! They wouldn't just do it to just a few kids, they'd do it to everybody," the man said in hushed tones.

"Wait a minute." John's eyes had formed into thoughtful slits and lines had etched themselves onto his forehead. "Who are they?"

"The people who gave us this part of the brain in the first place?" Gibson offered.

"The source of the 'junk DNA' that is credited with this phenomenon," the man said. "Alien DNA."

"First discovered by Agent Scully when she ran tests on me," Gibson said.

The man seemed distracted suddenly, as if hearing a voice calling him. "Gotta go," he said, then dashed to the sandbox. He arrived just as the baby started to seize again.

John and Gibson watched the crowd re-forming around the child, then turned back to the entrance.

When they returned to William's room they found Dr. Gomez and Monica, heads bent, deep in quite conversation.

"How is he?" John asked, worried by the secretiveness of his wife and "their" baby's doctor.

"He's going to be okay," Monica said, grinning at John and Gibson in turn.

"He's a special boy," Dr. Gomez assured them. "I expect a full recovery."

John went to William's side then stroked his cheek. "Hear that, little fella? Everything's going to be okay?" He turned toward Gibson. "C'mon, Gibson. Take a look."

Gibson shuffled toward the bed. "He looks so little," he said.

John grabbed Gibson's arm then forced his hand onto William's scalp. "William, your big brother is here," John whispered.

William opened his eyes and looked into Gibson's face. Gibson broke into a big grin. "Yes, he's going to be fine," he said to John. "He's still himself."


It was Gibson's idea to take turns watching over William while he was in ICU. His own experience of being abducted from a hospital room after being treated had taught him never to let his guard down. So they took overlapping twelve-hour shifts that allowed one of them to watch the hall while the other stayed in the room, and the third took a nap. By the time William could go back to the family quarters, all three of his protectors were exhausted.

A week after surgery, William's body cast came off and the X-Rays showed remarkable healing, just as Dr. Gomez had predicted. Dr. Liz determined that feeling and function would come back to his legs and feet, but he would still need the physical and hydrotherapy of her original plan. By the two-week anniversary of his surgery, William's pain had abated and they could begin his therapy.

And by the third week, John realized that he and Monica had gone for almost a month without having sex. A record for them.

It was one of those ordinary, domestic, moments that had become so routine for them. Monica was changing William's diaper, and she dropped the baby powder. As she bent forward to pick it up, John felt a powerful urge to grab her from behind and ravage her to within an inch of her life. But the urge would have gone unnoticed, just another welling-up of unmet needs in a long series of such moments lately, if Gibson hadn't snorted. John looked at him in confusion at first. Sexual frustration had been a way of life for him for so many years, that slipping back into it came naturally. But then Gibson winked and said, "You two need some time alone. I'll take William to the playground."

John blushed, realizing that Gibson had overheard his animalistic thoughts, but at the same time he was grateful to the boy for his understanding.

Monica turned around, sensing dual impishness from behind her, then looked back at William. "I don't know, Gibson... he's not ready for..."

"I'll keep him in the stroller," Gibson assured her. "He needs some sunshine, and so do I."

Monica looked to John for support, but saw only a gleam in his eye and a crooked grin on his lips. She'd almost forgotten that look, she realized. She'd been so wrapped up in William. And now that the look had reached her mind, it took hold and refused to leave.

Before she could answer, Gibson approached the changing table and reached for William, who reached for him. "We'll be back in an hour," he said.

When Gibson and William had left, John closed the distance between himself and his wife, then put his arms around her waist. "Well hello there, Mrs. Doggett," he said. "Long time no see..."

"John, I'm sorry..." Monica started, but he silenced her with a kiss.

"No apologies," he said when they came up for air. "Never apologize for doing what's right."

She thought for a moment. Yes, she always tried to do what was right, as did John. People who didn't know them might think they were a mismatch, but in this they were perfectly suited to each other. Being in the arms of someone of unquestionable morals and courage was the biggest turn-on she'd ever experienced. Bigger than being with suave, sophisticated, and experienced Brad Follmer. "I love you," she whispered. "Thank you for understanding."

"You don't have to thank me, either," he whispered as he buried his face in the hair behind her ear.

"Oh, but I do," she said, rubbing her hands sensuously over his back. "I never want to take you for granted."

"No, don't do that," he growled. He could feel himself losing control with every breath, as her scent permeated his consciousness. "Don't let me do that, either."

"It's up to me?" she laughed. He began kissing one side of her neck, making a line downward to her collarbone, where she laughed again. "That tickles!"

"Good," he said.

He kissed his way to her neckline, then buried his head between her breasts as his hands went under her blouse and lifted it over her head. He undid the hook over her heart then let her bra flap to the sides as he kneaded each breast, breathing heavily as he trailed kisses back upward to the other side of her neck. By the time his mouth returned to hers, she was breathing heavily too, and she began grinding herself into him. "John..." she whispered. "John, John, John...."

They tugged on each others' clothes as they moved to their bed, keeping their kiss going the whole time, then clumsily finished the job and threw the rest of their clothes on the floor. John ran a hand over Monica's naked body as if discovering it for the first time. She shivered under his gentle touch but made no attempt to stop him. He pulled himself off of her, then watched his hand as it continued exploring her curves. "You're so beautiful. Have I told you that?"

"Once or twice," she whispered. She knew he expected flirtatious banter, but she just couldn't. She wanted him so much...

"I'm so lucky," he whispered, moving to begin his trail of kisses again. This time he went lower, lingering over every part of her body that twitched under his touch, until he came to the curly hairs of her center. She opened her legs to invite him further, and he accepted the invitation eagerly. He pulled her toward the end of the bed, then knelt on the floor, letting her legs wrap around his neck. He wrapped his arms wrapped her hips then began licking the outer rim of her center, while his tongue darted over her growing nub at unexpected intervals. When her breathing sounded more frustrated than excited, he used one hand to part her labia then formed his tongue into a hard, tiny penis, rubbing it over her nub and increasing the pressure until it seemed he had no choice but to insert it. She was hot, wet, and writhing, and he considered going for broke at this point, but he knew from experience bringing her over the brink wouldn't signal the end for them. One hand engulfed her nub, rhythmically stroking and pinching it in a carefully paced crescendo as his tongue pounded into her until he brought her to a screaming climax that threatened to suffocate him.

Satisfied that she was satisfied, he climbed onto the bed and tried pulling her upward as he tried to position himself. "No," she whispered, still catching her breath. At first he was confused, then her hand on his erection told him what she'd planned. Staying where she was, and still recovering, she teased him until he groaned in protest. She got onto her shaky knees, hovering over him until he groaned again. She walked herself downward, letting her breasts make a goose bumpy trail down his chest until she could take him into her mouth. He was bigger than ever, she thought, and briefly considered periodically depriving him just to have this massiveness again, but when it jumped in her mouth she dashed that thought. Using her tongue to stroke the sensitive underside while gently kneading his balls, she managed to deep throat him, something she never thought she could do. His hands moved in mindless circles through her hair an his body began humping against her mouth. This wasn't their usual routine, but if it was what he wanted, she thought... She continued working his balls and shaft until a torrent of his seed shot down her throat. She swallowed, which milked him even more and caused him to utter an earth-shattering groan. When she needed to catch a breath she pulled away, then felt his hands at her shoulders urging her upward.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't help myself."

"Never apologize for doing what's right," she reminded him.

He grinned. "I had other plans, you know."

"Yeah? Like what?" she asked playfully.

He pulled her close to him, then said, "You're amazing. You amaze me every time."

"I have great inspiration," she said, kissing him on the cheek.

"How long until Gibson gets back?" he winked.

She drew her knee up over his legs, coming to rest on the part that would implement John's original plan. "We have time," she sighed, rubbing her knee gently over him.

"Good," he said. "It's been so long..."

"I know," she sighed again.

But instead of implementing John's original plan, they fell asleep in each other's arms.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

A few days later Doctor Liz gave William the all-clear to go "home," with the provision that his therapy continue, and Doctor Gomez stopped by as they were packing.

"I wanted to say good-bye to my favorite family," he said, smiling. He was dressed in civilian clothes, with a laptop case slung over his shoulder. "And give you this." He held the case by its strap, urging John to take it.

"What is it?" John asked suspiciously.

"Stay in touch," was all Gomez answered. He kissed Monica on the cheek, then bent to kiss William's forehead.

"We will," Gibson promised.

Gomez rubbed the top of Gibson's head until Gibson shook off his hand. "Take good care of your little brother," he said to Gibson. He stopped just before leaving the room, then said, "If any of you ever needs anything, just call. I'm always ready to help." Then, after checking the hallway, Gomez left.

"I wonder what he wants in return," John mused.

"Why do you think he wants anything?" Monica said, a little defensively.

Gibson said, "He feels like we owe him a favor, but it's just a Via thing." He reached into the satchel and took out the laptop. "We owe the Via a favor, but taking care of William, that's payback so far."

John and Monica stood behind Gibson as he booted up the computer. The screen showed the usual Windows background for an instant then flashed to a letter. Together they read:

My dearest daughter,

You have no idea how much joy it brought me to finally meet you and to know that you are well. I'm proud of you, and your mother would be too. She would also be happy for you in your fortunate choice of a husband. He's a good man, and your children give me hope for the future.

I promise to help you and your wonderful family in any way that I can, but for now I must keep my distance. I've taken a consulting job, and I'll be traveling quite a bit. I hope to do some good in this position, but I can't say more than that. All I can say is that I love you and I hope you will stay safe and be happy.

Enjoy your honeymoon. When you arrive, please send word to your brother that you have arrived safely.

Love, Dad


"What the--" John asked, but Monica's sniffles caught his attention. "Mon?"

"I was hoping to see him again," she said, trying to be brave. "There's so much I wanted to say to him."

John wrapped an arm around her waist. "You'll have other chances," he assured her.

"Is he telling us not to go back to Frank's?" Gibson asked. "Because Doctor Liz is supposed to give William a check-up in two weeks." He bent his head toward the screen, but unlike human minds, the CPU refused to give up its secrets under his scrutiny.

John bent forward, keeping his arm around Monica. "He's telling us to go on our honeymoon. But we didn't make any honeymoon plans."

"Isla Mujeres," Monica whispered. "He wants us to go to Isla Mujeres."

"Mexico?" John asked. "Why?" He could feel Monica's shrug against his arm. "And how long does he expect us to stay there?"

"Frank's place must be safe, or else why would he tell you to send word?" Gibson looked into their faces with a look of confusion that neither had seen before in the know-it-all psychic child. "You don't know what this means, do you?"

John shook his head. "Welcome to the wonderful world of high technology, Gibson. How does it feel not to know what someone's thinking?"

"It stinks!" he announced.

Monica and John chuckled, then Monica put a hand on the boy's shoulder and rubbed it. "You'll get used to it."

The three smiled giddily at each other, then the computer beeped and said "Incoming mail."

"Wireless!" Monica gasped. She grabbed the computer, then clicked on the flashing icon. "It's a message from Lita, Gibson."

Gibson grabbed the computer and turned it so his foster parents couldn't see the message. "She used the code," Gibson grunted. "Dear ... family..." he read. "Fine... meet ... soon..." He looked down, his face reddening.

"Did she say the three magic words?" Monica asked. John elbowed her, but she ignored his physical scolding, then grinned and said, "Gibson? Can I read it?"

"Sure," Gibson said, turning the computer to face her. "There's nothing personal in it." He looked away, trying to control his feelings for his own sake rather than theirs, then went back to packing his things.

Monica read the message eagerly and silently, while John went to Gibson's side. "She's not going to put anything personal in an e-mail," he whispered. "It doesn't mean anything."

"I know," Gibson squeaked, not looking up from his sock drawer.

John patted his back then went back to packing his own socks.


They decided to stay at Frank's until after William's follow-up visit with Doctor Liz. Frank had prepared the pool for them, installing a magnetite-laced privacy fence in front of it and magnetite-laced child-safety fencing around the perimeter.

On their first day back, Frank asked Monica if she could help with the motel. In contrast to their first stay there, almost every room had been occupied the night before, and Frank seemed exhausted from a recent increase in business. While John put William through his physical therapy, Monica helped Frank clean the rooms, which had all been vacated early in the morning.

When they broke for lunch, Frank asked, "Something's up, isn't it?"

"Up?" John repeated innocently.

"With the Via," Frank clarified. "While you've been gone there have been more and more people of the Via passing through."

"Someone's been destroying safe houses," Gibson answered, not waiting for John or Monica to give him permission. "They destroyed the monastery, and before that some Anasazi ruins."

"And other places as well." Frank nodded and took a bite from his burrito.

"We can't stay long," Monica said.

"Two weeks?" Frank asked, checking Gibson's face for confirmation.

Gibson nodded.

"I hope that's not too long," Frank said grimly.

"Me too," Monica whispered.

After lunch, as Monica was putting on her bathing suit for William's hydrotherapy, John grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close. "You're too sexy to be a hydro therapist," he growled. "I think you should be my sex therapist."

She giggled then pushed him away. "All in good time," she said. "William's come too far for us to slack off now."

"True," he agreed. "This morning he was amazing. He's way ahead of schedule."

"I wonder if his brain is super too," Monica said idly, as she combed back her hair and put it in a ponytail.

"I've wondered that too," John said. "Sometimes I think he's reading my mind."

Monica stopped, her hands still on her ponytail. "Me too."

In the pool, Monica tried thinking at William, but he didn't seem to respond. His therapy was rather painful, she reminded herself. Maybe this isn't the best time to test him. And when she opened herself to psychic messages from him all she heard were the thoughts of the man looking on from the pool side deck. More than once she blushed, looking down at the nipples that were straining against her bathing suit. She couldn't help it if the water was cold, she thought-yelled at John. When she glanced at Gibson, she saw him reading through the pool maintenance manual to one side. She hoped it was fascinating reading -- he seemed engrossed -- but she suspected John's thoughts about her nipples were intruding into psychics' minds for miles.

After therapy was over, Monica laid out a few folded towels under a pool side umbrella, then laid William down for his nap. As she stood up she felt strong arms capture her around the waist, tickling and surprising her.

Johns lips brushed her neck, then he whispered close to her ear, "How about a little sex therapy now?"

She giggled. "But what about William?" She looked over at Gibson, who was concentrating on the last chapter of the pool instruction manual. "We should watch William," she repeated, though John was starting to tickle her.

"You two have fun," Frank's voice interrupted them. "Gibson and I can keep an eye on him."

"Yes, please!" Gibson grunted, still looking at his book. "Leave us in peace!"

Frank picked up a bucket of pool chemicals then stood looking over Gibson's shoulder. "Want a job, Gibson? There's plenty to do."

Gibson looked up at the tall man then glanced at John and Monica. "Yeah, I need something to keep my mind off things."

"Go on, you two," Frank urged. "We'll be fine here."

John and Monica ran hand-in-hand to their room, feeling very much the honeymooning couple they were. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the darkness of the motel room, but they didn't need to see to find their way past each others' clothes to the hungry flesh beneath. Monica sighed deeply as John caressed her curves. She didn't even realize what worrying about William had done to her until the worries were over. And now, with the love of her life returning her feelings, all was right with the world again.


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

They fell into a daily routine organized around William's therapy and his naps. John was in charge of mornings, putting William through his paces then putting Gibson through his while William was napping and Monica helped Frank by cleaning the motel's guest rooms. In the afternoons Monica took William to the pool for his therapy, and Gibson became the pool boy, taking care of maintenance and developing a tan.

The motel was busy with almost every room occupied most nights. Monica suspected they were people of the Via, but they checked in late at night and were gone by the time she cleaned their rooms in the morning. Frank never said anything about his guests to her, or to anyone else as far as she could tell. On the day before their appointment with Doctor Liz, Frank joined her for William's hydrotherapy, then when Gibson arrived to clean the pool, he said, "Don't bother cleaning, today, Gibson. I want to spend some time with my sister."

"C'mon, Gibson." John clapped him on the back and grinned. "Time for us guys to do some target practice."

When they were alone, Frank looked longingly into Monica's face. "You'll be leaving soon," he said. "And you can't come back."

"Why?" Monica asked, feeling his grief before feeling her own.

"Trust me on this." He took her hand then said, "But we'll see each other again, I hope. And father, he won't forget you either."

Monica found herself sniffling with nothing to wipe her nose. Frank handed her the bandanna from around his neck. She took a few tentative swipes at her nose then wadded up the cloth in her hand. "Thank you," she said. "I won't forget either of you."

"If you ever need me, just send a message, through the Via," he said. When a cloud of worry passed over her face, he added, "I just want to be sure you know that you can reach me. Anytime."

"Thank you." Monica found herself studying his face as if she might not ever see it again. "Something's up, isn't it?"

"Don't ask me, Monica," he said, looking down. "I don't know. I just know things are... insecure for us right now. All of us."

She sighed, knowing she shouldn't have asked him for information she knew he wouldn't have. But his answer was an answer nonetheless. "So why did you want to talk to me alone?" she asked.

He smiled wistfully. "Just in case. I want to know all about you, and I want you to have a chance to ask me anything.... well, almost anything."

Monica put a hand on his arm. "There's so much I want to know," she said. "I wish I could have asked Dad."

"I know," Frank said, putting a hand on her arm.

"Of course you do," Monica blushed. "And if there's anything you want to know about me... That you haven't already read that is..."

Frank laughed. "A few things, yes."

They sat at the pool side table for the next few hours, sipping soda and catching up.


"Know why we're out here?" John asked Gibson as they surveyed the desert scenery.

"Yeah, target practice," Gibson answered, rolling his eyes.

John couldn't help smirking. His friends had warned him that his darling Luke would one day be so surly he'd wonder if another boy had taken his place. "This time I want you to shoot moving targets. Anything that moves, go ahead and shoot it."

Gibson gulped. "Wouldn't that be killing?"

"Yes, it would." John examined his own gun, then sighted over the barrel, scanning the ground for targets. When Gibson had dutifully begun imitating him, John said, "Notice how many people have been staying at the motel lately?" He made a point of keeping his eyes trained over his gun. "Something's up, isn't it?"

"Yeah, the Via... they're all from the Via, and they're scared," Gibson agreed, trying to hold his gun steady.

"The safehouses are still being destroyed, one by one, aren't they?" John pulled off a shot, decapitating a cactus.

"Yeah," Gibson said, nervously scanning the ground for prey.

"And someone has access to the adoption agency's records, don't they?" John blew the arm off a different cactus.

"I think so," Gibson said, then took aim on a large cactus close by.

"It's just a matter of time." John stopped shooting and looked into Gibson's frightened eyes. "You have to be ready. That's why I brought you out here."

"Ready for what?" Gibson looked like he didn't want an answer, but John suspected it was because he already knew it.

"Ready for anything." Something caught John's eye and he whirled to one side as hi brought his gun to eye level. He pulled the trigger without stopping to take aim, and a pink spray erupted in the brush. "Tastes like chicken," John grinned.

"I couldn't..." Gibson gulped, but John ignored him. Gibson followed reluctantly as John took long strides toward his target.

"It's nature's way, Gibson," John said over his shoulder. When Gibson caught up to him they looked down on a very dead rabbit. "Some have to die so that others can live."

"Yeah, I know, but..." Gibson protested.

"You and William, you're the others. Okay?"

Gibson nodded, though the quiver of his lips betrayed more than a little ambivalence.

"Good," John said. "Now let's make a fire and have some lunch!"


Gibson surprised John by easily starting a fire then finding edible plants in their environs. "Where did you learn all this?" he asked.

"That school for the deaf." Gibson gnawed on a piece of cactus as if it were his everyday fare. "They made sure we all knew how to survive in case anyone got lost. Those kids wouldn't hear people calling for them, or even helicopters. They could be within a few yards of a highway and not hear trucks passing by, so..."

"I get it," John said. He tried to enjoy his piece of cactus but vegetables were never his thing. Rabbit was much more to his taste.

When they were finished, they put out the fire and started back. "Not a word to Monica," John warned as they approached the motel.

Gibson sighed. "I don't like keeping secrets from her."

"Me neither," John said, feeling a little sheepish. "But I don't want to worry her."

"Wouldn't she be less worried if she knew I could make a fire and find edible plants in the desert?" Gibson pointed out. "It made you less worried."

John pursed his lips as he thought about Gibson's insight. "You're right, Gibson. Sometimes it scares me how right you are."

Gibson snickered. "You're not scared of me, just of your feelings."

"Gibson," John warned.

"Right, right... some things I should keep to myself," Gibson said. "I get on everybody's nerves when I do that."

John smiled benignly. "But I'm getting used to it."

When they returned to the motel, they found Frank and Monica laughing together like siblings sharing memories of good times past.

"What's so funny?" John asked.

"I was just telling Frank about my senior prom," Monica said, still chuckling. "It was something of a disaster.

"The push-up bra incident?" John asked.

"Yeah," Frank said. "She seems to be over the humiliation now."

"What incident?" Gibson asked. All three adults sent up blocks, keeping Gibson from their minds' eyes. "Hey, no fair!"

"Some things aren't for prying minds, Gibson," Frank winked. Maybe when you turn eighteen she'll tell you."

Gibson looked to the three for some sign they'd give in, but they all seemed resolute. "You won't tell me?"

"Nope," Monica laughed. "Maybe some other time."

Gibson's face looked desolate for an instant, until it assumed an adolescent scowl. "Never mind. I don't really care anyhow." He stormed off to his room, never looking back.

"Awwww maybe we should tell him," Monica said as Gibson slammed his door.

"No, it's okay," John smiled. "It's good to see him acting so..."

"Normal," Monica finished. "Less like an abused child and more like a loved one. Kids don't get angry with people that might leave them."

"Yeah," John agreed. "He knows we love him."


After dinner, John played games with William, games that reinforced his physical therapy drills. "I think he's getting stronger," he announced, pulling on his legs one at a time in imitation of walking movements. "He's really coming along!"

Monica looked at Gibson, who seemed to be feeling sympathetic pain with William. "C'mon, Gibson. Let's go for a walk," she suggested.

Once outside, she asked, "We don't spend much time together lately."

"True," Gibson agreed.

"Did you and John have a good time in the desert?"

Gibson shrugged. "Shooting practice."

"That's good." Monica reached out to pat Gibson on the shoulder. "Are you getting better?"

He shrugged again. "I guess so."

When they had gone a little distance from the motel, Monica stopped and looked into Gibson's eyes. "Gibson, I want you to promise me something. But if you can't, I want you to know that's okay."

"Anything," he said.

He looked so eager to please that Monica almost lost her nerve, but it was something that had been on her mind all day. She suspected he might already know, but she had to be sure. "If something happens to me, or to me and John... if for some reason we can't take care of William..."

"I promise," Gibson said. "I already promised William, anyway."

Monica smiled. "You and William have been talking?"

"In a way," Gibson said. "He's like me, but he doesn't really have thoughts just feelings."

"He doesn't keep them very secret," Monica laughed. "He's actually very vocal about them!"

"He loves you like a mother," Gibson said. "He doesn't want you to leave him."

Monica gulped. "He'll have to ask John about that."

"John will go along with whatever you want. He loves William as much as you do," Gibson said matter-of-factly.

"Yes, we both love him," Monica agreed. "As much as we love you."

Tears welled up in Gibson's eyes. "I love you, too."

They hugged, a long, tender hug, until grey wolf started nudging them toward the motel. Monica reached for the wolf's neck and ruffled the fur affectionately. "What is it boy?"

"He just wants us to get back inside." Gibson patted the wolf's head. "It's his job, I guess."

They obeyed grey wolf, and when they returned to the motel, they found a group of strangers entering the room next door to theirs. Gibson rushed up to one of them, hope in his eyes, then turned away in despair.

"Who were those people, Gibson?" Monica asked. "Did you know them?"

"I overheard them mentioning the monastery, but when I asked, they said they didn't know about any of the nuns." Gibson wiped a tell-tale drip from his nose. "They don't know where Lita is."

Monica wrapped an arm around his shoulders then hugged him to her. "She's okay. I feel it," she said. "And I think we'll meet up with her again."

"I feel it too." Gibson pulled away from the hug, but his eyes held Monica's. "I just want to know when."

Monica opened the door but paused before entering their rooms. "There are some things none of us can know, Gibson. Even you have your limitations."

"Yeah, I guess," he said, his surly expression causing Monica to grin.

Inside they found John on the floor, his legs spread wide, with William standing uneasily, his hands gripping John's strong fingers.

"Look, Mon!" John said excitedly. "He's doing it! He's standing!"

Monica and Gibson fell to their knees, then grasped William from opposite sides. "YAY William!" Monica squealed.

William giggled at the sight of Monica's face, then started falling backward. They all caught him in their arms, letting him down to the floor gently, as he continued giggling. Monica started tickling him, then the others joined in, until the were all laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes.

"We need to get him settled, Monica," John said when everyone had caught their breaths. "We have a long drive in the morning."

Monica sighed. "I almost forgot. He hardly seems to need a doctor."

"He does seem better," John agreed. "But I won't be satisfied until I see X-Rays. I want to know that he's okay."

"You're good for us." Monica smiled at John and covered his hand with hers.

"If you two are going to start, I'm going to bed," Gibson snorted. "Want me to put William down?"

"Sure, Gibson," John said, gazing into Monica's eyes. "I changed him while you were out. He's ready for bed."

After William and Gibson were in their room, John sat down and started watching the evening news. As she often had, Monica stood behind him, massaging his shoulders.

"Tense?" she asked.

"Hmmmm not now," he murmured.

"What happens next? After William gets the all-clear from Doctor Liz?" Monica asked.

John shrugged in her hands. "I wish I knew." He reached for one of her hands then pulled her down into his lap. "But whatever happens, we're prepared. Gibson's prepared. If anything happens to me, he'll watch your back."

"Is that what you were doing in the desert? Giving Gibson a test?"

He smiled. "You know me too well."

"So Gibson's your partner now?" she asked, keeping her back rigid despite his attempt to pull her into a hug.

"I didn't mean ..." he protested, but she wouldn't hear it.

"I'm a federal agent, John. I don't need a teenaged boy watching my back!" Monica stood and grabbed the remote, hitting the "mute" button before putting her hands on her hips and confronting him. "I thought we were a team!"

Chided, John sat wide-legged and child-like in the seat as she continued to vent.

"We're partners, John, even though we're ... well, whatever we're doing we're still doing it as partners." When he didn't respond, she bit her lower lip then said, "Aren't we?"

He stood up and took her into his arms, but she pulled free, staring into his eyes as if demanding an answer from them. He had to admit to himself that he had started thinking of Gibson as a partner, and had changed his thinking about Monica. All those target practices he and Gibson had shared... he never once thought of inviting Monica. And as much as he hated to admit it to himself, he dreaded admitting it to her even more. But he knew he had to. "Things are different, now, Monica," he said, sounding more patronizing than he'd meant to. "Children change everything."

"What's that got to do with it?" she demanded.

"We have William to consider. He needs a mother more than I need a partner..." John watched as Monica's eyes misted over in anger. Barb used to do that, cry when she got angry. And then he would clam up, refusing to continue saying whatever had bothered her, for her sake he believed. But in hindsight he realized he should have risked incurring her anger for the sake of their marriage. It was the only way to resolve their differences. Now he had a second chance. He would have to make Monica angry, and he hoped he was doing the right thing this time. "I don't want you watching my back, Monica. I want you taking care of him. Gibson signed on for this thing of his own free will, but a baby ... he had no choice in this. And even if we went back to the bureau, we'll never be partners again, not in that sense."

"Well, until then I still consider you my partner, or I thought I could." She went to the window, pulled the drapes to one side, then stared up at the stars. "They're coming. We have nine years to get ready..."

"We'll be ready," John said.

"We? Who are 'we,' John? People of the Via? Federal Agents? Super Soldiers? We're all fighting against each other. How can we be ready for anything?"

John came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. This time she relaxed into his embrace. "We'll be ready," he repeated, then kissed her cheek.

"Only if we work together," she sighed. "All of us -- including me."

Was it possible to emasculate a woman? John mused. Monica was no damsel-in-distress and never had been. Yet he couldn't shake the desire to protect her, to be her knight in shining armor. "Do you want to go back?"

She shook her head. "Not until William's completely well, and Gibson..." She stopped suddenly then sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. "You're right," she said dreamily. "Children change everything. Including me."

"And you're right." He kissed her again, this time on the lips. "We're still partners." She turned around in his arms and looked into his eyes. "But promise me, that if you have to choose between me and them, you'll choose them."

Monica was taken aback by his request but as she thought about it she realized she'd already come to a decision. "I will," she promised.

"I will too," he said gravely, reluctant to envision that moment when he would have to betray her. "But I hope it doesn't come to that. I can't imagine life without you."

"I love you too," she whispered.

That night they made love slowly, luxuriating in each others' bodies as if it were both the first and last time they would touch each other.


CHAPTER NINETEEN

At Frank's urging, they packed all of their belongings into the SUV before setting out for the hospital. They knew Doctor Liz wouldn't be keeping William there, but Frank was worried they wouldn't be able to come back. And they were too.

After strapping William into his car seat, Monica hugged her brother tightly. "I'm so glad we've met," she said bravely.

"Me too," he said, studying her face. "You'll be back tonight, I hope, but in case you aren't..." He pressed something metallic into her hand. "I want you to have this.

"Frank," Monica said, but realized he was right. She might not come back here. She looked into her hand and saw a medallion on a long gold chain. On one side was a beautifully etched rose, on the other a pyramid. On both sides there was a series of symbols that might have been glyphs. "It's beautiful. What is it?"

He shrugged. "Mother gave it to Father to give to you. I was hoping he'd do it himself..."

Tears came to Monica's eyes at the mention of her natural parents. "I wish he had too."

"I have one too. Father doesn't know what the symbols mean, but he thinks Mother gave them to us for a reason." He shrugged, then pulled his medallion from under his shirt. "They're identical, but they look factory-made."

"I'll treasure it forever," Monica said. "I don't care what the symbols mean. To me they mean family." She kissed Frank on his cheek then turned back toward the SUV.

As they drove out of the motel parking lot, Monica watched Frank grow smaller in the rearview mirror, but she took heart in the words written under his image: "Caution: Images in the Mirror are Closer than they appear."


As they expected, Doctor Liz was amazed with William's progress. He was still months behind in his development, but she predicted he would catch up quickly. When the appointment was over, they went to the playground to give William a rare chance to interact with other children, but he needed help to navigate the sandbox. Fortunately, John loved playing almost as much as William did.

Monica and Gibson looked on, enjoying the show as much as the participants.

"Monica?" a voice sounded from behind her.

"Anna!" Monica exclaimed. She turned to see her friend, clutching a teddy bear and carrying a small suitcase. "Where's your...?"

The tears in Anna's eyes answered Monica's question, and she went to her friend in an instant, hugging her tightly. "Lo siento, amiga!" Monica cried. "Cuando?"

"Ayer," Anna said through her sobs.

"Yesterday?" Monica repeated. "I'm so, so sorry..."

Anna pulled away and looked over Monica's shoulder. "Tu hijo...?"

"Si, mi hijo," Monica replied, following Anna's glance toward William. "Es mejor.... He's better."

Anna smiled wistfully then walked toward William, holding out the teddy bear. William let go of John's hand, which had been holding him up to stand, and fell onto his little butt when he reached for the teddy bear. But he didn't cry. He looked into Anna's eyes with uncanny understanding, and Anna smiled back at him. She glanced briefly over her shoulder, smiling at Monica now, and then gave William a gentle kiss on the top of his head. "Buena suerte, nino," she whispered. She stood and turned her attention to a man walking toward her. When he came to the sandbox, he took her hand, then she buried her face in his shirt and sobbed.

The other parents looked away, including John, until the grieving couple had recovered their composure. Then Monica went to them and said, "El Doctor Gomez?"

"No esta aqui... He not here... He go Mexico," Anna's husband said.

Monica felt a chill a the thought that Gomez had abandoned his Via duties. What could be so urgent in Mexico? she wondered.

After Anna and her husband had left, Gibson said, "Something's different here."

"What?" Monica asked, only half-attending to her foster son's words.

"You don't sense it? How quiet it is here?" Gibson tugged at her sleeve for emphasis.

Monica shook her head. "Quiet? It's a hospital. It's supposed to be..."

Gibson let out an exasperated sigh. "Not that kind of quiet. It's moved. The Via. They're all gone. Doctors, interns, patients... We're the last ones."

Now that he mentioned it, Monica realized she did sense a difference here, an inner stillness that she'd attributed to less worry over William. "John!" she called out.

John left William sitting in front of a pile of sand, happily banging a plastic shovel backwards against it. "What's wrong?"

"I think we should get out of here," she said. "Now."


They drove at the speed limit all the way, then saw what they'd dreaded. At first they just saw a wisp of smoke poking over a mountain, but as they drove on they could see a dull orange glow, and by the time they got to Pete's gas station, it was obvious that their haven was at the center of a huge forest fire.

"You'd best be going the other way," Pete advised them. "I'm closing up in a few minutes and the whole town's been evacuated."

"How did this start?" John asked. He was still sitting in the SUV, but left it in 'park' despite Pete's warning.

"Damnedest thing! Army helicopter, one of those Apaches I think... the kind they keep having trouble with overseas," Pete guessed. "Started sputtering over there." He pointed to an area just East of the motel, then trailed his finger over an imaginary point in the sky until pointing in the direction of Frank's motel. "Then fire started shooting out of it, and it crashed right on top of that motel!"

"Anybody hurt?" John asked, trying to seem surprised that the motel was at the center of things.

"Dunno," Pete said. "I was afraid you-all were in there, but then I remembered seeing you drive off this morning. That was sure a lucky break!"

"Sure was," John agreed. "Mind if we stay here awhile, see if we can be any help? We got to know the manager, and well..."

"Frank? I saw his wolf running down the road, so he can't be too far off." Pete wiped his brow with his bandanna, then leaned down to check on the SUV's other occupants. "Need to use the ladies' ma'am? Might be your last chance for awhile."


They waited in the SUV, and to Pete's surprise, the fire-fighting helicopters handily extinguished the flames before they threatened his station. After a meal of crackers and soda, the little family went to investigate their most recent home as soon as the smoke had cleared.

The place was a total loss, as they'd expected, but they couldn't find any victims. "That's some comfort," Monica said. She was saying it more to herself than to John, but he put his arm around her shoulders and said, "Yeah, it is."

They started walking toward the manager's office. "Funny how they keep missing us," John pointed out.

"You think that's by design?" Monica wrapped an arm around his waist, grabbing at his shirt on the other side then squeezing it in a subconscious bid for comfort.

"Think about it Monica." He rubbed her shoulder, pulling her closer to him with every step they took. "There's some method to this."

"But it's happening all over," she said.

"Exactly. They want us to move to the next safehouse, or maybe they're doing that with all of us. So they know where it is," he suggested. "And then there's this common destination... We're being herded like sheep, and our retreats are all being cut off, one by one."

Despite the heat emanating from the embers of the motel, Monica shivered. "Then what? They take us out one by one?"

John shrugged. "I dunno, but they have some plan..."

"Or maybe we're the bait," she suggested. "Maybe they're trying to lure the aliens, and hope to take them out..."

"That's a stretch, Monica," John scolded. They were now at the motel's office, where the roof had caved in. The helicopter had come down right on top of it, its rotors ripping the beams into a swirl of debris that tangled itself in a heap.

John looked backward, seeing Gibson run for the pool. "Gibson!" he called out. "Don't leave William...!" He dashed toward the SUV, then pulled William out and trotted to the pool with William in his arms. "Gibson... what are you...?"

But Gibson had jumped into the steaming water, dived to the bottom, and come up with a gold object strung on a long chain. He seemed unperturbed by John's anger. "Look!" He jumped out, red-faced but triumphant.

Monica caught up to them and pulled her medallion from her neck for comparison. They were identical. "Do you sense anything from it? Is it Frank's?"

Gibson rolled his eyes. "You've seen too many fake psychics!"

"So what does this mean? Who's is it?" Monica asked.

"It doesn't mean anything, Monica," John snorted.

Gibson shot John a punishing glance that took both John and Monica by surprise. "I think Frank put it there for me to find. Maybe he's trying to tell us where to go."

"Where? To Egypt?" John said sarcastically.

"John," Monica scolded. "Don't take that tone with Gibson! He may be right. There are ancient pyramids all around the world. Including some in the Yucatan."

"Yeah, one of the most famous is near..." Gibson started to say, but John figured out where he was going.

"Isla Mujeres," John said resignedly.

Gibson and Monica nodded.

"But Follmer warned us..." John protested.

Monica interrupted him. "Who do you trust more? My brother? Or Brad?"

"She has a point." Gibson reached for William, and John lowered the baby into his arms. "Frank is part of the Via. Follmer's part of..."

"Hey, we're part of it too!" John interjected. "At least we were!"

"But if safe houses in the United States are all being destroyed, that leaves us with two choices. Leave the Via and go back to D.C." Monica said.

Gibson finished her thought. "Or leave the country and stay with the Via."


"All those people who stayed here for just a night?" Gibson added. "That's where they were headed. I only caught the impression a few times, but I think they all were headed South."

"John, we need to get to the bottom of this." Monica gazed at him defiantly. "If we don't go to Isla Mujeres, we won't know why it's a gathering place, or why people are gathering there now."

"I'm not sure I want to find out." John hugged William closer to himself instinctively.

"And if we don't go there, where do we go? Just make up new identities and settle down?" Monica half-wished he would say "yes" but she wanted to track down the Via, not to mention her brother.

"And what about William?" Gibson asked. "And me?"

Monica sighed. "That's another thing. We don't have any legal right to either of them."

"We're not supposed to adopt them," John suggested. "Otherwise we'd have adoption papers instead of fake passports."

"They've never forced us to do anything. It's all been our choice," Monica pointed out. "Maybe they want us to decide to adopt them..."

"Or maybe they've found a family to place him with, and they want us to deliver him to them," John pointed out. "Maybe that's what we'll find at Isla Mujeres."

Monica took a deep breath and gulped. "That could be why, but I don't think so."

"And if it is, would you be willing to go along with their plans for him?" John gave her a moment to think it over then asked, "Would you be willing to let someone else adopt him?"

"He's not a stray puppy, John," she snapped.

"I know, but consider what we're offering him. Life on the run? We're jobless, homeless fugitives. That's no life for him," John pointed out.

"We'll manage," she said, noting the way William clutched John's neck. "I don't think he minds."

John looked at William, and for the first time realized what this child must feel for him. It was more than the way William looked back at him. It was something John felt, something coming from within William that he'd never felt before. He blinked back tears. "We'll make the best of it," he said, more to William than to Monica.

"And so far we've been safe with the Via," Monica pointed out.

"You're right," John said. "Mexico it is, then."


CHAPTER TWENTY

After consulting their road maps and the map of magnetite on Gibson's Gameboy, they set out for Mexico, keeping to the smaller roads. For the first leg of their trip, Gibson drove, while John sat shotgun -- literally -- and Monica sat with William in the back seat.

"Mama," she said over and over. "Say 'mama,' William." William cooed in response to her pleas but seemed not to understand her.

After a half hour of watching for trouble, John relaxed and said, "Looks like they've finished what they came to do. They're not following us."

"I knew they wouldn't," Monica said calmly.

"Maybe because they already know where we're going," John said a little testily.

"We'll find out when we get there." Monica kept her eyes on William. "Ma-Ma," she said slowly.

John turned in his seat. "Mo-ni-ca, William. Her name is Mo-ni-ca."

Monica flashed him an annoyed glance. "That's harder to say."

"Monica," John sighed. "I don't mind that you're BS-ing me. Just don't BS yourself."

She glared at him defiantly. "I'm not. I know he's not mine..."

"What if we get to Isla Mujeres and Dana and Mulder are there?" he asked. "Would you give him to them?"

"I hadn't thought of that." She rubbed William's head affectionately.

"No? Well maybe you should."

"Let's cross that bridge when we come to it," she said, blinking back tears. "After all, wouldn't it be up to them too?"

"As long as you would consider it," he said.

"I'll do what's best for him, whatever that is." She kissed the top of William's head then rested her cheek on its silky hair.

"Man-ma," William said suddenly.

Monica pulled back to look at him. "William!" she squealed. "You did it! You said mama!"

"Mama," he said again.

"Sounded more like Monica," John growled, then turned to face the road.

Monica let the comment pass. "That man. He's da-da," she said. "Da-da."

"Mama," William giggled.

By the time they reached the border, John was ready to puke, but he was also proud of William for speaking. The boy seemed a little behind in too many things.

At the border crossing, he reached into the glove box and pulled out their phony identification. "Maybe Seor Flores should take over the driving."

They all stretched, then switched seats, Monica taking the shotgun position this time. When the border patrol officer took their IDs, he gave John a curious glance. "You're Mexican?"

"My maiden name is Bishop," John answered. "I took her name when we married."

"Why?" The officer leaned down and smiled at Monica as she waved to him.

"I don't have any brothers, and my parents want their grandkids to have their name," she explained, giving a nod to the children in the back seat.

The officer followed her glance, and as if on cue, William reached out for Monica and said, "Mama."

John breathed a sigh of relief. "We're on our way there now."

"Well, have a good trip home," the man said, smiling at William. "Bye-bye," he waved to the child with tiny hand movements. William kicked his feet happily and smiled.

On the Mexican side, a border patrol officer tipped his hat and waved to them, then when he caught Gibson's eye, he winked.

"He's one of us," Gibson reported.

"Yeah, I guessed," John grumbled. "Ya know, this crossing was just a little too easy."

Monica shrugged. "It's a permeable border. Brad was always complaining about that."

"And just because we're over the border doesn't mean they can't come after us. The FBI has all sorts of authority under the Patriot Act." John kept his eye on the rearview mirror as he spoke, looking both behind them at the road and upward into the sky.

"I know that," Monica snapped. "It's all the more reason we should stay with the Via."

"He should stay with the Via," John corrected, glancing toward William.

"And we should stay with him," Monica said.

They drove in angry silence for a few minutes until Gibson pointed to a bank. "Shouldn't we get some Mexican money?"

John and Monica exchanged glances, and John pulled to the parking lot. "Speaking of money, what if that's the way they're tracking us?"

"We've hardly spent any money," Monica said. "The Via has been providing for..."

"We've bought gas. Near the monastery. At Pete's gas station. On the way to the hospital..."

"You think the bank gave us marked bills before we left?" Monica pursed her lips and reached for the laptop computer. "You're starting to sound like Mulder!"

"Well? It's possible," he said, scanning the area suspiciously.

"I'll send a message, see if it gets through..." She booted up the computer, and the screen read: "Welcome to Mexico. Check the padding in your case."

"I love satellite!" Gibson said. "I hope Lita has one too!"

Monica pulled the velcro tabs holding the lining of her laptop case. Inside was a wad of cash. Mexican cash. "I hope Lita has some of this too!" Monica counted out the cash, then announced that it would be enough to live on for a few weeks. "And look! These are all old bills. I bet they won't be traced."

"Isn't Isla Mujeres a resort?" John mused. "It'll be expensive."

"Not off-season," Monica said, stuffing the money back into the case. "Besides, we can get jobs. The Via likes to make us work."

"I want to be a pool boy," Gibson announced. "That was fun."

"There are some big hotels with pools. Check the web and pick one." Monica handed the laptop to Gibson rested one shoulder against her seat. "I can be a housekeeper. If Frank's there already he'll give me a good recommendation."

John sighed then looked into Monica's eyes, which seemed a little dreamy. "You like this life, don't you? Taking odd jobs, being on the run?"

"Being with you," she said. "And them." She nodded toward the back seat then nestled herself under John's shoulder and reached for his hand. "I love this life." When he looked down he her lips reached for his, then she smiled. "I love this life because I love you."

"Oh please!" Monica heard Gibson groan, but when she looked back Gibson had his head bent over the computer.

"Gibson?" Monica asked. "Did you say something?"

Gibson looked up, his face ashen. "I'm sorry. I tried to just think it."

"I didn't hear anything," John said. "What did you hear?"

"He said 'oh please' when I kissed you," Monica's brows knit in confusion. "Didn't you?"

Gibson gulped then glanced at John. "No, but I thought it."


"You heard his thoughts?" John chuckled. He gave Gibson a crooked smirk, then said, "Party's over, my man. Your mom reads your mind!"

Gibson said nothing, but Monica plainly heard him say, "Just great!"

"I swear my mother could read my mind," Monica said soothingly. "But if you don't tell lies, it shouldn't be a problem."

Gibson rolled his eyes and Monica could feel him blocking her. She turned back to John and they smirked, their eyes locking until Gibson said, "Want me to drive so you two can keep staring at each other?" John cleared his throat, then Gibson added, "If you're going to hear it anyway, I might as well say it out loud."

"That's okay, Gibson. I'll drive," John said, putting the SUV in gear.

They drove several miles in silence, until John said, "Are you two talking behind my back?"

"Don't worry, John." Monica placed a hand over his. "We're not talking about you."

"That's good to know," he said. "I think." He turned the rearview mirror to look at Gibson, who grinned back at him.

"Honest, we're not!" Gibson promised. "But if you want us to..."

"No, never mind." John turned the mirror back to the road. "Just keep talking about whatever you were talking about." Then he muttered to himself, "I wish William would talk now. I could use some company."

"Mama," William said suddenly, and the SUV erupted in laughter.

"Da-da," John corrected, and when Monica grinned, he said, "What? It's better than being called Mama!"

Gibson took over the driving so John could work on William's "da-da," and within a few hours, William had learned "Papa" (Da-da just wouldn't work), "Ba-" for bear, "baba" for bottle, and "Gaga" for Gibson. He also said "ebba" repeatedly, though it didn't seem to mean anything. By sunset they'd nearly forgotten they were on the run, and were laughing and talking like a typical vacationing family with a babbling baby.

At sunset Monica sighed and said, "No signs of where to stay yet. Maybe the computer has something."

They pulled to a stop, and while Monica surfed the web looking for a place to stay, John diapered William and Gibson disappeared behind a pile of rocks to take care of business. When John was finished he watched Monica's face as she scanned maps and clicked on several sites. She'd never seemed more beautiful, he thought. Even though darkness was encroaching, she seemed to have a glow of her own, and when she looked up, smiling with the realization he was admiring her, it seemed to him that starlight was in her eyes.

"You look damn good too, husband," she grinned.

"Yeah? Ya think?" he asked, as he often did when she reminded him of her feelings. Even though they'd been married a few months now, it still surprised him that such a beautiful woman could love his plain mug. He pulled the visor down and looked into the vanity mirror, then noticed he did indeed seem younger. The tiny crows' feet at the corners of his eyes seemed to have disappeared, and his skin looked ten years younger. "You're right, I'm a stud!" he declared.

She shut the laptop. "No room at the inns, and not many inns..." Nuzzling his neck, she whispered, "Let's sleep here, under the stars..."

"Camp out?" he asked. "Aren't you afraid of tarantulas?" he asked, only half-kidding.

"No," she hummed. "Not when I'm with my knight-in-shining armor."

He had to admit, he'd been feeling quite the hero for a few hundred miles. In fact, he was feeling downright giddy, especially when he looked into Monica's eyes. "Well, then, whatever my damsel-in-distress wants, she shall have!"

"Oh good!" she said with childlike enthusiasm. "Let's tell Gibson!" She rushed from the SUV, calling Gibson's name.

Just as she was becoming concerned that he didn't answer, Gibson appeared from behind the rocks and said, "This place is great! Can we stay here?"

John took William out of his seat then approached the rocks. "Whaddaya got there?" He grabbed Monica's hand and they followed Gibson as he excitedly described his discovery.

"Down there." Gibson pointed to a copse of trees. "There's a spring-fed stream, and when I followed it up-stream I found this cave! It's awesome!"

John looked over the area. "If we parked the SUV over there," he said, pointing to a clearing that was hidden from the road by the rock outcropping. "We'd be safe from prying eyes..." He gave Monica's hand a squeeze. "Gibson and William could sleep in the SUV, and we could spread out our sleeping bag next to it."

"What about this cave?" Monica asked. "You didn't go in it without permission, did you Gibson?"

Gibson glanced at John, who raised his eyebrows expectantly. "No, and I didn't know I needed permission."

"For something potentially dangerous, yes you do," John said. He handed William to Monica then got down on his belly to peer into the opening. "I think before we settle in we should make sure nothing's living in there."

After returning to the SUV for a flashlight, John crawled through the opening until he found a large cavern. To one side there was a large pool, fed by the same spring as the creek, John surmised. On the other lay a large rock shelf that wrapped most of the way around the rear as well. After checking above for bats and to the sides for bears, John was satisfied the cave was safe, and backed out. "Looks okay," he announced.

Monica jiggled William in her arms, and William pointed to the opening. "Ebba," he said, giggling.

"I wish I knew what you were trying to say," Monica sighed. "You're such a smart little thing..."

"Ebba!" William repeated.

"There's a rock shelf and a pool in there," John said. "I imagine the spring starts in there, and the creek flows from the pool. But there's no bats, no bears, no tarantulas, at least not that I could see."

"Cool!" Gibson said. "Can I go in? I want to see how deep it is!" He broke off a creek side reed and started poking it into the creek. "This creek is only a few feet deep. I wonder what the pool is like!"


"Sure," John said. "I'll just pull the SUV around..." When Monica started to follow him he turned and said "It seems safe, but just in case..."

"I'll keep watch," she agreed. "But I can't imagine anything bad happening here. It feels like such a ..." She sighed and looked around the area, which was bathed in a pinkish glow from the setting sun. "Holy is the only word I can think of. It seems holy somehow."

This time it was John whose thoughts said "Just great!" How was he going to ravish her in a holy place? He thought back to their first night at the monastery, when they slept in separate rooms, dreaming of each other. It seemed such a long time ago. And before that? Those times seemed like an eternity. He couldn't believe he'd survived all those years waking up alone, not seeing Monica's smile first thing in the morning. When he pulled the SUV to the clearing, the headlights glancing over her face and William's gave both a glow that he had to admit seemed almost holy. They both seemed so radiant, he thought. Almost like those Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child he'd seen on field trips at the Metropolitan. But despite her maternal radiance, or perhaps because of it, he lost all doubts about being able to ravish her.

Gibson reappeared, his clothes dusty, his hair mussed, and his face grinning with the pride of accomplishment. "The pool is no deeper than five feet, and most of it is only about three. There's a bunch of rocks at the bottom. But I don't think there are any fish. I didn't hear any sounds but my own."

After they'd gotten everything arranged for the night, Gibson made a fire then they cooked a meal of canned meat and pasta and watched the stars come out. "It's so beautiful out here," Monica sighed.

"I learned about the stars from the Deaf School," Gibson said. "That one's the North Star. They told us if we were ever lost we could use it to find our way back."

"That's good thinking, Gibson," Monica said.

Gibson snorted. "Yeah, it was a regular scout camp there!"

"And the people staying with you in your that trailer? What were they like?" John asked. After all their months together, he should have known more about them, but somehow the topic rarely came up.

Gibson shrugged. "They were okay. They were people of the Via, but just hiding out, not contributing."

"Except to take care of you," Monica pointed out. "The way we're contributing by taking care of you and William."

"You were willing to do that before you knew about the Via," Gibson said simply, looking into Monica's face, which was bathed in light from their campfire. "It's why I wanted to stay with you."

"As soon as we can use our own names again, we want to make it official. To adopt you." John sat cross-legged with William in his lap. "If you'll have us."

Gibson grinned, his eyes sparkling in the light. "I don't need a piece of paper."

Monica pulled him into a sideways hug and kissed the top of his head. "We love you, Gibson. We can't imagine life without you." She held onto him tightly, and when he wrapped his arms around her she began rocking him from side to side.

William squealed, clapped his hands, then wriggled free from John's grip and crawled to Monica's other side. She pulled him to her side, then said through her tears, "I never thought I could be so happy."

John sat by, feeling like a fifth wheel but also sensing the love radiating from the group, until Monica motioned for him to join the hug. He knelt behind her, his arms encircling his little family. He wanted this feeling to last forever, but something told him things would be changing for them.


After getting Gibson and William settled into the SUV for the night, John wriggled into the sleeping bag where Monica waited for him. "Still awake?" he whispered.

"It's only been a few minutes!" she cooed. "As long as I waited for you to make the first move, a few minutes is like that!" she added, snapping her fingers.

"Have I ever apologized for making you wait?" he asked.

"Over and over, but I never get tired of it." She kissed him tenderly, and when his arms instinctively encircled her she deepened the kiss.

They'd changed into boxers and T-shirts in the SUV before putting the kids to "bed," but John was amazed to find she'd kicked her boxers off under cover of the sleeping bag. "Did you have something in mind, Mrs Doggett?" he growled as he moved his knee up and down her bare leg.

"I sure did, Mr Doggett," she murmured. Moving one hand over his shirt, feeling his muscles strain against the cottony softness, she hummed a tuneless melody that he had no trouble interpreting.

He let her pull off his shirt then his boxers, and within the confines of the sleeping bag they brought each other to the brink before Monica mounted John and began grinding against him in slow, deliberate thrusts. He teased her nipples between his thumb and forefingers while she looked down at him with an animalistic hunger. Her back strained against the sleeping bag, confining her motions and keeping their pace slower than it had ever been. John called out, "Oh god, oh god..." several times, oblivious to the echo from the rock outcropping. Each time she heard his voice Monica felt a shiver within her, sending her closer to her own inevitable collapse until finally she arched her back and let out a long groan that echoed for miles. John responded with his own "ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," shooting his seed into her for what seemed like an eternity.

Monica collapsed on top of him, leaving John gazing up at the stars as he held his wife in his arms. "I see why you wanted to do this," he said when he'd regained his voice.

"Hmmmmm?" she asked, still recovering.

"The stars... they're beautiful." He kissed her forehead when she raised her face to look into his. "Just like you."

She smiled, wondering if she would ever tire of his sweet words. He wasn't a romantic man, which made moments like this even more special to her. "Let's not go to Isla Mujeres," she sighed. "Let's just drive around, sleeping under the stars... singing songs with the boys..."

"Hmmmmm" he hummed, then sang, "You and me and a dog named Boo..."

"Huh?" she asked.

He sighed. "I keep forgetting how young you are, or how old I am, or something..."

"Old song?" she laughed. "If we get a dog we can name it Boo if you want."

"It's a song about living off the land. A seventies fantasy," he rubbed his hands aimlessly over her back. "Only instead of an SUV it would have to be a VW bus, preferably with flowers painted on it."

She rolled off him, but kept an arm across his chest. "Sounds groovy."

"Maybe it's knowing we're out of FBI jurisdiction, or maybe it's just being alone with you... But I feel like I could do that now," he grinned. "I feel like I could do anything now."

She sighed. "We'll never really be out of FBI jurisdiction because of the Patriot Act. It must be my influence."

"You're right. You've been a good influence on me," he agreed.

She snuggled close to him and they lapsed into a comfortable silence, watching the stars move slowly across the sky until they both fell asleep.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

They awoke to violent shaking and Gibson's voice shouting, "I can't find William!"

"What?!?!" Monica jumped from the sleeping bag, forgetting that she was naked.

"I went to check on William," Gibson said, also forgetting that Monica was naked. "He was in his car seat when I went to sleep last night, and I'm sure I locked the doors," Gibson panted. "And now he's not there... I was hoping he was here."

"He's not here." John felt around the sleeping bag for their clothes, and when he found Monica's he tossed them to her, and she blushed when she realized what she'd done.

Gibson averted his eyes as his foster mother dressed, and mumbled, "I'm sorry."

Within seconds Monica was dressed, and John was just finishing up under cover of the sleeping bag.

"Now, what happened," John asked, putting his hands on the boy's shoulders.

"The door was open... and ... I don't know... I never heard anything. I never felt anything..."

They ran to the SUV, then John asked, "Which door?"

Gibson pointed to the door nearest William's car seat, and John got on his knees looking for tracks. Monica got on her knees too, and together they found something that startled them. There were tracks alright, but not what they'd expected. Leading away from the SUV were two sets of tracks: one set a pair of tiny hand-prints, the other an unusual pattern neither had seen before. "I think I know what this is," Monica said.

"Yep, he crawled away on his own," John answered.

They followed the tracks, which went directly toward the opening of the cave. When Gibson saw where they were headed, she rushed forward, crying out "William!"

"Gibson!" John shouted. "Do you sense him? Do you sense anything?" John demanded when he had caught up to him.

"No." Gibson started crying. "I'm so sorry... I thought he was safe..."

"We all did, Gibson," John reassured him. Monica started crawling into the cave, but John pulled her back. "Let me. I've been in it before."

Even before developing her psychic connection with him she would have known what his face was telling her. He was afraid of the worst, and wanted to spare her. She didn't have the heart to tell him that she'd been trying to spare him as well.

John grabbed his flashlight then dropped to his knees and began crawling into the cave's opening. To his surprise, there was light at the end of the tunnel, and when he came to the cavern he saw a dusty shaft of light shining down from an overhead opening. Reflections from the pool danced on the ceiling, and beneath it sat William, staring up at the reflections and pointing.

"William!" John scolded. "Come here!"

William giggled then turned and crawled toward the pool.

"NO!" John shouted, the reverberations of his own voice deafening in the enclosed cavern. He scrambled for the toddler, catching up with him just as he approached the pool's edge.

"Ebba!" William giggled.

John heard whooshing behind him and turned to see Monica crawling from the tunnel.

"Mama!" William squealed. He crawled toward her, laughing.

"William," she sighed. She took him into her arms and kissed the top of his head. "Is this a game for you? Chase the baby?" she cooed.

John glanced from William to the water, then upward toward the ceiling. Something wasn't right about that light, but he couldn't place it. He shone his flashlight at different angles to the water's surface, watching the changes in the reflections on the ceiling.

Then he looked down.

"Monica... you gotta see this."

There, at the bottom of the pool, were dozens of skeletons, most covered with many-colored crystals, making them look like elegant, if macabre, jewelry. After recovering from her initial feelings of revulsion, Monica leaned forward slightly. "These must have been here for centuries."

"Ebba!" William cried, pointing to the bones.

John got onto his stomach then reached down and pulled one bone free. "This looks like am arm bone." After shaking off the water, he held it up for inspection against his flashlight, casting small prisms of color against the cavern walls.

William giggled and pointed to the lights then reached for the bone. "You want a bone?" Monica laughed. "No, William, I don't think so!"

William started to cry, then pointed to the water.

"No, not one from their either," Monica said sternly. He struggled in her arms, trying to go toward the water. "I said NO!" Monica repeated.

"Monica..." John nodded toward the water. "Is he doing that?"

Tiny ripples emanating from a central point disturbed the water in rhythm with William's movements. When William raised a hand and started waving it, the ripples grew to tiny waves that lapped against the sides of the pool. He laughed at the sound, the echo of his laughter mixing with the sounds of the waves.

Suddenly the reflections on the cavern walls turned into a kaleidoscopic display over the whole place, as the waves parted to reveal a single bejeweled globe rising from the pool just under the shaft of natural light. The globe floated noiselessly over the waves until it came to William's outstretched arms. William grasped it then giggled, its jeweled image rising and falling with William's laughter. "Ba!" he cried out.

Monica and John exchanged glances, then Monica said cautiously, "William? Can mama play with the ball too?"

William held it out for her, and she took it. But she gasped when she saw what it was.

Underneath the crystals was the perfect form of a not-quite-human skull.


"Hello?" Gibson's voice cried out from the tunnel. "Can I come in?"

"C'mon in Gibson," John shouted.

Gibson crawled through the opening to the cavern, stopping when he saw the scene in front of him. "Whoa--" was all he could say.

"You didn't see any of this last night?" John shone his flashlight into the water, letting the beam rest on a clump of skulls.

"No, I thought it was rocks." Gibson stood up, brushed off his pants, then approached the water. "This is incredible!" John couldn't help but be amused when Gibson fearlessly reached into the water, broke off a bone, then examined it. He turned it under the light from the ceiling, then watched the walls as the crystals cast prismatic designs over the walls.

Monica watched Gibson for a moment then turned her attention to the skull. The crystals covering it were all clear, but could change color as the light hit them from different directions. She remembered enough from her paleontology course at Brown to know that it wasn't a human skull or a monkey's. She bent over it, studying it, oblivious to John's glance as he looked back and forth between her and Gibson.

"How can you find that so fascinating? You're like Scully!" John snorted.

At the mention of her friend, Monica's face rose to face John's. "She'd love to see this," she said solemnly. "Let's take it with us."

Gibson took it from Monica then said thoughtfully, "I think I know what this place is. It's in Lita's memories."

"Lita's been here?" John asked. "How?"

"Not her, her ancestors." Gibson studied the cavern, taking special note of the opening in the ceiling and the pool below. "They made sacrifices, to the gods, in places like this."

"Animals? Are these monkeys?" John scratched his chin, then his gaze followed the path Gibson's had taken.

Gibson shook his head. "Human sacrifices." He studied the skull for a moment, and found himself talking to it apologetically. "They weren't doing it because the gods wanted it. They did it because the gods did it."

"Aliens were the gods," Monica guessed.

"When they created the hybrids, they disposed of the ones that didn't come out right. The defective ones." Still addressing the skull in his hands, Gibson's voice softened. "These were all children."

Monica hugged William instinctively. "Children?" Her lips quivered as she looked to John for moral support.

But John was lost in thought. "Ya know... While Agent Scully was pregnant, we had this case... Newborn babies disappearing. Agent Scully was convinced they were alien babies." He glanced from the misshapen skull in Gibson's hands to the too-perfect baby in his wife's arms. "I thought she was nuts at the time..."

"You think those babies were disposed of?" Monica gasped. "Defective?"

"But William wasn't disposed of," Gibson pointed out. "They tried to fix him."

"They tried to fix him after someone else had damaged him, in their view anyway." John crossed the short distance between him and Monica then stroked William's soft hair. "It always did seem strange that those super soldiers left him alone when he was born."

"And that spacecraft," Monica added. "It left him behind."

"Because he came out right," John deduced. "And they had plans for him."

"Well, I have plans for him now," Monica said. "He'll grow up to be a happy, healthy, normal little boy with loving parents."

"Ebba!" William said, reaching for the skull in Gibson's hands.

"Ebba?" Monica looked at the skull. "Does ebba mean toy? Play?"

"Ebba!" William demanded.

The skull started shaking in Gibson's hands, and he started to hand it to William. But John took it instead. "Sorry, William," he said sternly. He looked wistfully into Monica's eyes. "These children may have been dead for thousands of years, but they still deserve their dignity."

John put the skull next to the tunnel opening, then turned to see William pointing toward the water. The bone that Monica returned to the water broke through the surface and leapt into William's hand. William put it into his mouth and giggled triumphantly. John ran to the toddler and pulled the bone free. "NO!" he shouted, more angry than William had ever seen him. More angry than he'd seen anyone.

William started to cry, his wails so loud in the cavern that Gibson had to cover his ears.

Monica took the bone back and gave it to William. "He's just a baby, John. He doesn't understand."

Given William's unique abilities, John wasn't so sure. "Okay, but just until we get ready to leave."

"Do we have room to pack a complete skeleton?" Monica asked. "Because it would be the kind of proof that Mulder was looking for his whole life. We owe it to him to bring him that proof. Not just the skull. The whole thing."

John struggled with conflicting emotions as he considered Monica's request. "I don't know Monica... the people of the Via are the ones who made the sacrifices. They're people like William, the ones who weren't sacrificed to the gods."

"You think this evidence would put William in danger?" Monica hadn't considered this possibility, but even if she had, she would have disregarded it.

"Not William, us," John said. "So far they've helped us. If we find evidence that makes them look bad..."

"They won't hurt us," Gibson said. "We're all part of Via."

"Reluctantly in my case," John pointed out.

Monica shot him one of her skeptical glances. "We won't be able to hide our memories from them anyway. How would having a skeleton make things worse?"

Monica's defiant and confident expression gave John pause. "So we're already in danger?"

"Frank and the people at the hospital may have known that Gibson knew, and he was safe there. I think we're all safe among the Via, regardless of what we learn about them." Monica jiggled William in her arms then looked at him affectionately. "And anyway, they're not the ones sacrificing defective hybrids to the gods."

"No, just the ones with brain tumors." John looked down at the skeletons in the pool, thinking of all the children doomed to the same fate.

"They couldn't help those children," Monica said.

"I think you two should let me spend some time alone gathering souvenirs," Gibson offered.

"What?" John asked.

"Start packing up the SUV. I'll join you later." Gibson winked, then put his hands in his pockets and tried to whistle innocently.

Monica laughed. "What we don't know can't hurt us, John."

John couldn't help smirking. "We'll see you in a few, Gibson."


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Back on the road, Gibson grabbed the laptop. After a few moments he sighed, "No messages."

"Don't lose heart, Gibson," Monica said. "Those e-mail accounts were supposed to be used judiciously."

"You're a little disappointed too," Gibson countered.

"Yes, a little," she admitted. "But it's too soon to be discouraged. After all, she might be there already, waiting for us."

"Frank too." John reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze.

"Frank too," Monica said.

Gibson closed the laptop. "I sure hope so."

As they neared their destination the terrain became more lush, with exotic vegetation populated by colorful birds. "It's all so beautiful," Monica sighed. "I've never been to this part of Mexico, yet it feels like home."

John shifted in his seat. "Doesn't feel like home to me."

Gibson looked up from his gameboy, which he'd just discovered actually did have games on it. "I feel it too."

"Home is where I had a job and a home and people who knew my real name." John glanced at Gibson in the rearview mirror. "We're running low on money."

"We should have detoured through Las Vegas," Monica chuckled.

"I'm too young for casinos," Gibson said, not taking his eyes away from his game.

Monica ran her fingers through her hair, combing it out although it wasn't tangled. John looked over at her, annoyed by her nonchalance yet at the same time somehow comforted. "Won't this island be expensive? You said it was a resort."

She shrugged. "Not as expensive as Cancn."

"No matter how cheap it is..."

"You worry too much, John," she interrupted. "We'll be fine. We've always been fine."

He looked back to the road, grinding his teeth. It was a habit he didn't remember having in D.C., and now it seemed he did it a lot. But he stopped when he felt the calming touch of his soulmate as she put a hand on the back of his neck. "We'll know soon enough."

As they had the previous day, they followed rose symbols they found along the road. Gibson's map was now useless, as the entire peninsula contained magnetite. When they reached the ferry to Isla Mujeres John woke up Gibson, who had been sleeping for a few hours.

"Feel anything, Gibson?"

Gibson yawned. "Feels good. Feels like home."

"All Via people?" John scanned the dock, where several people milled around waiting for the ferry.

"Some are, some aren't. Those two are tourists." Gibson nodded to an overweight middle-aged couple wearing Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts.

John snorted. "You needed ESP to tell me that?"

They parked the SUV and milled around themselves, looking as touristy as they could. Soon John broke out in a sweat.

John wiped his forehead on his sleeve. "It's too hot. I'll never feel at home here."

Monica handed William to Gibson, then pulled on John's shirt. "You lucky men can go shirtless when you get hot." She helped him off with the shirt then kissed him briefly. "Feel better?"

"I'm still hot," he growled, then he bent forward to whisper in her ear.

"We'll find you a nice air-conditioned place with a pool," she promised.

"Ahem," Gibson interrupted before John could whisper his sweet nothings. "The boat is here."

On the ferry Gibson leaned forward eagerly, watching everything and moving from side to side like a much younger child.

When they docked, Monica asked the ferry operator for suggestions, and he recommended a hotel offshore. Gibson smiled broadly as they started off. "This hotel has a nice pool. I hope they need a pool boy."

"I hope it's not too expensive," John answered.

"Give the place a chance, John," Monica urged. "We just got here. She looked up into the cloudless sky and said dreamily, "If we could have had a normal wedding and a normal honeymoon, I would have wanted to come here." She rested her head on his shoulder then added, "And even if we are around normal people here, wouldn't we be safe here? They wouldn't blow up a whole island, would they?"

"I wouldn't put it past them," he answered. They stopped for a traffic light and he took the opportunity to kiss the top of her hair. "But, no, I don't think they will."

The hotel rose from a rocky island off the main island, its gleaming facades a stark contrast from the natural beauty of the coastline and beach below.

"We've been had," John sighed. "That ferry man must get a commission on suckers like us." Monica seemed not to hear him. "Monica? We can't stay here. It's too expensive."

"Just one night?" she pleaded. "Then we can look for someplace cheaper in the morning."

Gibson's eyes were wide as saucers as he contemplated the luxury ahead. "I wonder how much they pay their pool boy," was all he said.

"John, let's see if there's a reason we were directed here. Even if Gibson didn't sense anything, there still could be..." Monica interrupted herself with a sigh. "And it's off-season. We can afford it."

John considered reminding her that they had no source of income, but one look in her chocolate eyes melted his resolve. He remembered all the fights he'd had with Barbara over money, fights that always ended with Barbara in tears and John wondering whether he'd been too harsh.

"You win," he announced. "But only for one night."

"It's a deal," she agreed.


The lobby was elegant yet casual, but not casual enough to keep John from feeling out of his element. He was tired, sweaty and worried about money. But the desk clerk seemed not to notice. "Stay here," he ordered Monica and Gibson. "I'll see if they have connecting rooms."

He tried his schoolbook Spanish then found to his relief that the desk clerk spoke flawless English. "Yes, we have two adjoining rooms. Do you have any other requirements?"

"A crib," he said, smiling at William.

"No problem," the woman said.

He leaned forward and asked conspiratorially, then looked away when he realized he was looking at her chest. "We're on our honeymoon... do you have...?"

"You brought your children with you on your honeymoon?" the clerk asked in surprise, then caught herself. "Yes, of course. We can send up champagne and flowers. Now, if I can see your ID...?"

He pulled his wallet full of fake ID from his pocket then showed it to her. She glanced up at him. "You're the Flores family?"

He nodded, becoming nervous. "Why?"

"It's just... you don't look Mexican," she said, handing back his ID.

"Yeah, I get that a lot," he said. His answer seemed to satisfy her, and she called for a bellboy to escort them to their rooms.

Once they were alone in their room, Gibson let out a breath. "They know who we are, but they're okay. They don't mean us any harm."

John flushed at the realization that the desk clerk must have been reading his thoughts, including his passing curiosity about her nipples. It hadn't been a problem around the nuns, but this environment would present new challenges.

"I said she's okay," Gibson repeated. "You can trust her."

"Thanks." John smiled at the boy's understanding. He'd grown up a lot in the past few months.

A few minutes after they'd started settling in, the bellhop arrived with William's crib. As John stood at the door trying to figure out how much to tip him, they heard a woman's voice from the hallway say, "No, Roberto! Ellos non pagan. No tipping!"

Roberto stepped aside, making room for a sixty-something woman with an aristocratic air despite her plump physique. "Where's my grand-baby?" she cried out as she pushed her way into the room.

"Mama!" Monica gasped.

Mama Reyes pulled her adoptive daughter into an embrace that threatened to knock the wind out of both of them. "Hija mia," she cried. Though much shorter than Monica, Mama Reyes rocked her daughter in her powerful arms as if she were a tiny infant.

Monica pulled free. "Mama, what are you doing here?"

"Looking for my grand-baby," the older woman said. She spotted William then squealed, "There he is!"

William seemed overwhelmed but allowed her to pick him up. She handled him gingerly at first, but soon cradled him familiarly. "I've heard so much about you, little man," she cooed. "And you must be Gibson." She hoisted William on one hip then took Gibson in a maternal bear hug with her free arm. "Ever since I first heard about you I couldn't wait to meet you!"

Gibson blushed, but didn't answer.

"You've never had a grand-mama before, have you?" she asked, letting him pull away.

"No, ma'am," he said. "Pleased to meet you."

"So formal! What has my daughter been teaching you?"

Monica moved to stand behind Gibson, then put her hands on his shoulders. "To be a good, honest, upright human being, just as you taught me."

Mama Reyes laughed. "Good answer."

"I hate to interrupt," John said. "But how do you know his name? And how did you know we'd be here?" He put the privacy chain on the door then walked to the middle of the room.

"John, you remember the private detective they hired?" Monica kneaded Gibson's taut shoulders as if they were John's, but Gibson didn't complain.

"Yeah, the one who tipped off Brad and A.D. Skinner."

"The one who A.D. Skinner just went into business with," Mama Reyes answered. "The one who helps us watch out for People of the Via."

"Us? You're part of this?" Monica asked.

"Or are you working for them?" John accused.

Mrs. Reyes handed William to Gibson then turned to face John, a bemused smirk on her face. "He told us you were protective. I see he was right."

"Mama," Monica started, hoping she put bring this first meeting between her mother and her new husband on a better footing. "You remember John, from the hospital? When he saved my life?"

"Of course I remember," she snapped. "And I'm glad to see he's just as protective now."

"Brad told us not to come to Mexico. We thought it meant that you were being watched." Monica closed her eyes when she realized what she'd said.

"Not watched," her mother corrected. "Watched over."

Monica's brow furrowed as she pondered what her mother meant. John gave her a moment to take the lead, and when she didn't speak up he decided to ask the obvious. He had just opened his mouth to speak when Gibson saved him the effort.

"She's a member of the Via," Gibson explained.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

John flopped into the room's recliner. "Of course."

"But mama," Monica said. "How? Since when?"

"All my life, hija." Mama Reyes took her confused daughter's face in her hands and smiled beneficently. "Taking you in was my opus dei, my duty to the Via."

"And papa?" Monica asked, still stunned.

"He is too," her mother responded. "He'll be here in a minute."

"You came here like us? As refugees?"

Mama Reyes laughed. "No, hija, we own this." She waved her hand around the room. "Papa sold the business, and we retired here."

Gibson patted the expensive-looking dresser. "You live here?"

"Yes, Gibson," Mama Reyes said. "And our home is your home."

"You hear that?!" Gibson said excitedly. "We can stay here!" He looked to John for approval. "Say we can!"

John grinned at the boy. Yes, this environment would certainly be new for him. After living in a school for the deaf, a trailer in the desert, a monastery, and a cheap motel, living in a luxury hotel would be very appealing. "We'll talk about it later," he said.

"Please?" Gibson pleaded. "I promise I'll get a job!"

"We hear you're an excellent pool boy, Gibson," Mrs. Reyes said. "The job is yours if you want it."

"Later, Gibson," John repeated.

"We could use a new chief of hotel security, too." Mrs. Reyes winked at John, who wasn't sure he liked the direction things were taking. Psychic nuns, a psychic brother-in-law, and now a psychic mother-in-law? This couldn't be good.

"We promise you'll have your privacy," she added.

"Mama," Monica interrupted. "Give us some time. We just got here!"

"Of course," she said. "Why don't I give the boys a tour while you get settled and talk things over?"

"Why don't we all just stay in our room like one happy family?" John said, taking William from Gibson.

"I'll be fine," Gibson promised. "I have my gun." He patted his holster then added, "But I'm sure I won't need it."

Monica and John locked eyes for a moment, then John said, "Okay. Be back in an hour, or I'm coming after you."

"A curfew. How sweet," Gibson grumbled.

Mama Reyes laughed. "This hotel is big but not that big. He'll be back in less than an hour."

After they left, John put William in the crib, then picked up the hotel's guest services book. "I wonder if room service is free too."

"Nobody ever came to our house and went away hungry," Monica said. "Expect to be well fed here!"

John tossed the book on the bed. "I already know what I want for dessert." He grabbed Monica by the waist then buried his face in the crook of her neck. "Hmmmmm" he hummed. "Smells sweet. I bet it tastes just as sweet." He kissed his way from her collarbone to her jaw line, while she urged him on with nails scraping against his back.

"Yesssss," she thought, and she was surprised to hear him respond in her mind, "Oh, yeah."

Just then there was a loud knock on the door.

"Champagne," John whispered, pulling away to go to the door. "And flowers."

Monica blew him a kiss when he put his hand on the knob and he smiled. That kind of silliness would have turned him off a year ago, but now he couldn't get enough of it. He pulled back on the chain, opened the door, and was surprised to see no champagne.

A tall, cool, aristocratic man stood in the hall. "I hear my daughter's here."

"Papa!" Monica cried out, forgetting her flirtation with John. She raced to the door and wrapped her arms around the man.

John eyed him warily. They'd met a year earlier, when Monica lay in a hospital room recovering from a near-fatal accident. That day, her father's emotions were as turbulent as John's. Alternating between righteous anger and tears of joy, he was on the point of a nervous break-down. But now, on his own turf, he seemed a different man. He was aloof, hesitant to return Monica's affection, and very much in control of himself. John wondered for an instant if he had been turned into a super soldier, but Monica's implicit trust put him at ease. Perhaps this was the true Gustavo Reyes.

Monica pulled away and wiped away a tear. "It's so good to see you, Papa."

"Did you have a good trip?" her father asked.

"Papa," Monica scolded. "Is that all you can say?"

But John stepped in and rescued him. As much as he liked Monica's affectionate mother, he felt an instant affinity for her father's caution. "Yes, we made good time."

"Take the main road?" he asked. "Or side roads?"

"Papa!" Monica repeated. "Aren't you happy to see us?"

Chided, her father cracked the broadest smile he could manage. "Of course I am. We were worried about you." He put his hands in his pockets, an action which seemed to give him confidence. "But then when we found out you'd joined the Via, we knew you'd be safe."

"You've been a part of this all my life, but you never said anything?" Monica asked.

"Sorry, hija, but it was obvious you weren't going to be like us. We didn't think you'd ever need to join." He went to William's crib and looked down on the sleeping child. "Do you sense him? Do you sense how special he is? You weren't like this."

Monica felt an odd sort of resentment at this news. Compared to her peers and to John, she'd always felt special. She was the one with the edge. Then, living amongst the People of the Via, she'd felt "normal" for the first time, like she was with her kind. But today her own father, of all people, has said she doesn't belong with the People of the Via, either. She blinked back her tears and said, "We just put him down. Don't wake him up, Papa."

"He's dreaming," Papa Reyes said. "Did you know babies dream? He's dreaming about you. He loves you." He left the crib and took Monica's hands in his. His diffidence seemed to be melting by the moment as his thoughts turned to children. "I still remember the first time you dreamt for us. You were dreaming about your birth mother, how much she loved you, and how sad she was to give you up."

John put his arm around his wife. "We've heard about that."

"Yes, Vince told me," Papa Reyes said. "We've been in touch." He looked back at the crib. "Now he's dreaming about water. He loves the water, and playing in it with you."

"His hydrotherapy," Monica explained. "I make a game out of it."

"Our pool is usually empty in the mornings. You're welcome to use it with him." He gave his daughter a grim smile. "It's terrible what happened to him. You did the right thing."

"I know." Monica shook her father's hands lightly. "You heard about his surgery? What else do you know?"

"Your friends the nuns are onshore, establishing a mission for fishermen and travelers. The babies from the agency are here on the island." He looked at William's crib and said, "He's dreaming about a crystal skull now. You found one?"

Not wanting to give anything away, John decided to deflect this question. "What about the older children? There are some, aren't there?"

"The natural ones are with their parents, or their adoptive parents. The children like him," he said, nodding toward William. "They're all his age. Then there's Gibson..."

"He's special," Monica agreed. "He's the only one. Mulder said so."

Her father snorted. "He's the only one Mulder knew about." Then he shook his head and muttered, "That guy is so arrogant..."

"There are more?" John wondered about Lita, the only child Gibson's age that he could think of.

"Gibson's the most successful prototype, but there are others. They're here, where your Mulder won't find them."

"Is Lita here?" Monica asked. "Do you know Lita?"

Papa smiled at her. "She's like a daughter to you."

"Well, is she?" John demanded.

"No, she's not on the island. But I hear she's safe," he said. "Everyone is safe. We do have an edge over the enemy, you know."

They heard Gibson's voice in the hall, laughing and talking a mile a minute. He burst in and announced, "This hotel has EVERYTHING! There's a work-out room, computer room, TWO restaurants... And you should see the pool! It has a bar, right in the middle of it!"

Monica laughed then rubbed her thumb over his lower lip. "And which of these places serves chocolate ice cream?"

"Our apartment," her mother answered. "I hope you don't mind. He hasn't had ice cream in such a long time..."

"I only mind that you didn't bring any to share." Monica wet a washcloth then wiped the smudge from Gibson's chin, much to the boy's embarrassment.

He shook himself free then continued with his breathless commentary. "And there's an indoor pool just for lap swimming, and you should see the beach!"

"We can wait until morning," John said. "It's been a long drive."

"You want to go to sleep?" Gibson shrieked. Don't you want to go to the island and see the other hotels on North Beach?"

Papa Reyes shifted uncomfortably as John and Monica exchanged a very marital glance. "You two go ahead with your honeymoon. Mama and I can show Gibson around, and he can stay with us tonight."

"Can I?" Gibson asked. "I'll be okay, I promise!"

Monica hesitated. It would be the first time he'd been away from them since they'd returned from the Anasazi ruins. She looked to John for his opinion but before he could answer, her mother spoke up.

"He's a teenager, and a very mature one at that. You have to trust that he'll be okay when he leaves you, just as your father and I had to."

Monica couldn't argue with that logic. She'd argued for greater independence at an even younger age than Gibson's, and now that she knew about the dangers to people of the Via, she was on her mother's side. But reminiscing about her arguments with her parents also reminded her how protective they were. Yes, he would be good hands.

"Please?" Gibson begged. "You were safe with them."

"Don't confuse me with logic!" Monica laughed.

John clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Yes, you can go. Have fun with your grandparents."

After Gibson had left to tour North Beach with the Reyes, John took his wife in his arms. "Who needs champagne?" he growled.

"I get no kick from champagne," Monica sang breathily as she started dancing in his arms. "Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all, but tell me, what can I do? 'Cause I get a kick out of you."

She stopped singing and started humming, her head resting on his shoulder as her body moved sensuously in his arms.

"Do you know the rest of the words?" he asked.

"No," she laughed, leaning back to look into his eyes. "You don't either?"

"Music was never my subject," he said.

"Really?" she grinned. "Every day I learn something new about you."

"I never knew you liked old-time jazz standards," he said, moving stiffly to the rhythm she'd set up. "Know any more?"

She thought for a moment, then said, "How about this one? There was a man, a very strange enchanted man. They say he traveled very far, very far, very far one day..." She sang the entire song, growing more confident as she approached the final line: "The greatest thing you can ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."

At the last words John blinked back tears then kissed her on the lips as she drifted off into a hum. "I hope you don't want me to return the favor," he whispered. "All's I know are Bruce Springsteen and The Average White Band."

"If things go the direction I think they're going," she purred. "Average will be the last thing I'll want to hear."

He danced her toward the bed, then held her in his arms as she fell backward in slow-motion onto the mattress. Her hair splayed out on the bedspread and the lights from the overhead fixture danced in her eyes. He crossed to the light switch, turned out all the lights, then pulled off his shirt as he walked back to the bed. Standing at the foot of the bed, he looked down on his bride for a long moment before getting on his knees, straddling her. "Well, hello, Mrs. Doggett," he whispered.

"Hello, Mr. Doggett," she answered.

"You look beautiful in moonlight." He reached for the top button of her blouse. "Did you know that?"

"No," she whispered, then gasped when he slipped a hand under her blouse.

"Well, you do, as you always do." He cupped first one breast then the other. "You feel beautiful too."

"We have all night," she reminded him.

"You aren't in a hurry?" he asked, running his hand up from her breastbone to her jaw line then back down again.

"Hmmm-nhhh," she hummed. "Take all the time you want."

Like unwrapping a precious gift, he undressed her slowly, taking in each new vision as if it were the first time he'd seen her body. She lay passively on the bed, looking into his eyes as he studied her and lifting an arm or a leg when he needed help. Finally, she lay there, bathed in the soft light of the moon as he stood at the foot of the bed, performing a slow strip-tease for her.

She felt her heart racing as he slowly lowered himself onto her, and gasped when she felt the first hot contact of his well-developed chest. Like the virgin her parents wished she'd been on her wedding night, she let him guide her movements and show her how to pleasure him. Even now, after all these times together, she was still learning new ways to bring him to the brink. With her lips she explored every inch of his alien terrain, biting and sucking in random intervals until she came to the throbbing pole that thrust itself into her mouth. She resisted the urge to laugh, and relaxed her jaw to accept the whole thing, taking him further into her throat than she'd ever taken anyone. He made a few thrusts then grabbed her hair and growled desperately, "No, not this way."

She let him go, then straddled him, lowering her slippery, hot core over him. "Like this?" she purred.

"Yes..." He exhaled deeply while she lowered herself onto him, then gave one final push that made him gasp. "I love you..." he whispered.

Monica would have answered, but she was so engrossed in the feeling of having him inside her that she barely heard him. Moving slowly at first, then gradually picking up speed, she gave herself over to the pleasure building inside her. Unaware that John was watching her breasts heave and sway in the moonlight, she writhed on top of him, letting her hair fan out as she whipped her head from side to side. Suddenly, she felt a strong finger at the nub of her excitement, then a thumb. John played with it, rolling it around in rhythm to her pounding assault on his member until she heard her voice slipping into animalistic groans. He switched to rubbing its slick tip, which sent wave after wave of toe-curling ecstacy coursing through her body. John kept up his manipulation even as his own body turned to a churning mass of liquid pleasure, shooting his essence into her for what seemed like hours.

Finally, Monica collapsed on top of John, keeping him inside her until he made the first move to part. "That was incredible," she sighed.

John draped an arm over her waist and rolled her to her side, where he could face her. "That's because you're incredible," he answered.

She smiled. "I had incredible inspiration." She drew a leg up over his then hooked her ankle behind his knee. "Feel free to inspire me in the morning too."

"I just might take you up on that." He pushed a strand of hair away from her face then looked into her eyes. "When I see you I get inspired too."

He fell asleep first, and Monica listened to his breathing for several moments until she realized that she was hoping the subtle pain she was feeling in her abdomen might be ovulation. She smiled and fell asleep thinking that it probably was.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

In the morning Mama Reyes invited the newlyweds to breakfast in the Reyes' penthouse apartment then showed them around as William slept contentedly in his new gramma's arms. John was astonished at the apartment's elegant opulence, enormous size, and panoramic views, but Monica felt right at home. After staring slack-jawed at the objets-d'Art in the library, he turned to see Monica pulling a children's book off the shelf. This is how she grew up? he thought. What's she want with a shlub like me? But when she turned around and saw him looking at her she smiled, removing any doubt that she did indeed see something in him.

"You kept all my books!?" she said to her mother, then showed John the well-loved copy of "Little Women" in her hand.

"You read English even then?" he asked.

She nodded, then reshelved the book. "I just took it for granted because my parents were bi-lingual."

"We felt it was important," her mother explained.

John wanted to ask what it was important for, but Papa Reyes interrupted.

"I understand you two want jobs, cash jobs," he said.

John looked accusingly at Gibson, who shrugged. "You can't hide anything from him," the boy explained.

"I don't blame you for wanting to make your own way. In fact, I admire it," Mr. Reyes said, ignoring Gibson's comment. "Your job was to bring these two boys here safely, and you've done that. Your debt to the Via is paid in full."

"Papa, we've only been here a day," Monica argued. As she glanced from her mother, cradling William, to Gibson, who looked a little too admiringly at his new foster grandfather, she began to feel uneasy. Was he trying to get rid of her?

"No, hija, we're not trying to get rid of you," Mama answered her daughter's thoughts. "It's him." She nodded to John, who flushed. "He wants to be self-supporting again, and who could blame him? He's a good man, and he has his pride."

"We haven't discussed it yet," John pointed out.

Monica nodded in agreement. "We just arrived, and when we found out you owned this hotel..."

"Of course you can stay as long as you want." Papa put an arm around his wife. "But you don't have to stay here. We can lend you enough to get started if you want to rent a cottage, then you can pay us back after you find work."

John grinned awkwardly at Monica and her parents. He had to admit to himself that he'd been having those thoughts, and now that Monica knew, he hoped she would agree. All his adult life he'd been taking home a regular paycheck, paying his bills on time, and coming home to his own house. Trusting in the Via to take care of him and his family just wasn't his way. "Any suggestions?"

Papa Reyes smiled in a way that made John feel he was looking down on him despite being the same height. "Go explore the island. Rent a moped and see what strikes your fancy."

John wanted to protest that he didn't have a "fancy" that could be struck, but Gibson interrupted. "I want to go too!"

Monica looked longingly at William then said, "John, why don't you and Gibson do the exploring. William and I have our hydrotherapy..."

"It's a small island," her mother said. "Let him sleep until you get back. He had a big day yesterday."

John reached for Monica's hand. She instantly felt what he was thinking: that Monica needed to let go of William a little bit. They'd talked about this before, and now was the time for her to do what she'd promised. She turned her pained eyes toward him and saw a smile that said, yes, I know it's hard, but it's the right thing to do. It was a smile she'd offered him many times before.

"Okay," she agreed.


John stood looking down on his rented moped. "I dunno if I can ride this. It's not a motorcycle, it's not a bicycle..."

"They're not just for wussies anymore," Gibson laughed. He hopped on his and kicked it "on," following the shop owner's instructions.

Monica laughed and copied Gibson. "Well?" she teased. "We're not getting any younger here."

John grimaced and started his, but Monica laughed. He turned it off and said, "What? What's so funny?

"You look so silly on that thing," she said.

Gibson snickered. "It looks so small now!"

"Yeah, laugh at the tall guy. I've seen the way you've been growing, boy."

"Come on," Monica cajoled. "It's what everyone rides here. You'll fit in more."

John restarted his moped, drove a few circles in the parking lot, then started out for the main road.


North Beach was what they'd expected from Monica's parents' description, with sleek, elegant hotels lining the wide sandy beaches. But when they reached the town they turned into gawking tourists, riding through the colorful alleys and streets lined with shops. John and Monica parked their mopeds then walked hand-in-hand through the town as Gibson darted ahead then doubled back.

Several blocks from the beach they came to a small, vacant cottage with a FOR RENT sign. "That's cheap," Monica pointed out. "Even cheaper than I would have expected."

"If all three of us had jobs..." John mused.

Gibson pouted, an expression which looked ridiculous on a moped. "You don't want to live at the hotel?"

"Remember when you told us you wanted a normal life, Gibson?" Monica put a hand on his shoulder and stared into his eyes as she kept the memory of their first few days as a family in her mind. It was what he said he'd wanted, and though he also wanted to join the fight against the impending invasion, Monica knew he still wanted some normalcy in his life.

But..." Gibson began to protest.

John put his hand on Gibson's other shoulder. "A luxury hotel isn't normal, Gibson. And I don't think I want William growing up there, either. This," he waved toward the house then to the surrounding cottages. "This is a neighborhood."

As if to prove John's point, a woman pushing a stroller passed by and smiled to them.

"And if there are families here, there must be a school," Monica pointed out. "We want you both to have friends and playmates..."

"Playmates?" Gibson groaned.

"And girlfriends," John quickly added. "And guy friends to hang out with, play football, you know."

Gibson sighed. "Can I still work at the pool?"

His foster parents exchanged a glance, then Monica said, "Sure. I see no harm in that."

They took down the phone number for the cottage's landlord then continued exploring the island, stopping whenever they sensed a job opportunity. John found a job on a fishing boat. He'd be fishing from before dawn to mid-morning then hauling the fish to the big hotels. Monica found an afternoon job as a translator at a turtle farm, giving talks to tourists.

Mama Reyes seemed disappointed that they'd found a cottage and jobs so quickly, but her true disappointment was that they'd found complementary schedules and wouldn't need a babysitter. She cradled William in her arms and cooed, "We had fun this morning, didn't we? After we woke up? Yes, we did..."

Monica stifled her jealousy at William's giggles, and she wondered if Scully ever felt that way about her effect on him. William had taken to Monica so naturally that sometimes it seemed like William preferred her to his own mother. Scully had been so puzzled about how to handle her special child, but Monica never gave it a thought, and now she knew that William must have felt that. But her mother? Was this the same thing?

Over lunch they discussed the jobs, the cottage, the amount of help the Reyes' could offer, and William's day care. Mama Reyes seemed satisfied to have Monica and William visit for lunch every day after hydrotherapy. Afterward, they repeated the tour of the hotel, with Gibson narrating most of it as William's hand grabbed for almost anything within reach. Mama let Monica hold him, but stayed close at hand, putting her own fingers in the place of the objects William was grabbing. "They're always like this when they first arrive," she said sadly. "Being in hiding, it's no life for a baby, even a special one. Am I right, Gibson?"

Gibson nodded, but said, "It's better than the alternative, though."

Mama traced the scars still visible through Gibson's short-cropped hair. "We won't let this happen to you again," she promised. "Or to any other children."

They moved into their new cottage a few days later, then settled into a routine dictated by their jobs. John awoke well before dawn, and was far out to sea by the time Monica and the boys woke up. Gibson walked Monica and William to the beach for hydrotherapy, and when the sea was too choppy they'd go to the hotel instead, walking the whole way with Gibson, who was becoming quite fit in his new environment.

Three weeks into their new routine, Monica noted that William had become more and more active since their move to the island. His back was now completely healed, and though he could stand on his legs with some help, he continued to crawl and at an amazing speed. Chasing after him all morning was making her wonder if she should have accepted her mother's babysitting offer. After his hydrotherapy, they often stayed on the beach, Monica on a towel and William at her side playing with his plastic pail and shovel.

Monica played with William for a few minutes, then drifted off, wondering if there might be another baby for him to play with soon. She hadn't told John about her suspicion, or maybe it was just a hope, but it was on her mind so much she was sure he'd have picked up on it. Another baby? Would he be happy? Would it be a child of the Via? Would their baby have more ability than them or less? And would it be added to the database John had discovered? She closed her eyes and patted her abdomen. They had jobs, they had a home... Now was a good time...

Her eyes had only been closed a few seconds. She was sure of it. But she'd been miles away, or perhaps months away, in her mind. And when she opened her eyes again, William was several yards away, crawling toward the ocean at lightning speed.

"Ebba!" William cried out as he sped along. "Ebba!"

"William, NO!" Monica yelled, then took off running toward him.

But the little guy was too fast for her. He crawled into the water, crying out "ebba!" and laughing as an unusually high wave washed over him then carried him out to sea.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Monica ran toward the water the dived into the undertow that followed the wave that took William. A few sunbathers called out to her but except for registering the hope that they would be summoning help, she paid no attention to them. All her attention was focused on the tiny stream of bubbles that told her where William was. When the bubbles disappeared, she stopped swimming and treaded water, hollering "Will-yam!"


John hauled a net onto the deck of the fishing boat then quickly sorted the keepers into a large container. The rest were a rainbow assortment of tropical fish that tourists would be paying big money to see in their native element. He tossed them back into the sea and was about to throw out the net when something caught his eye.

In the distance, a dolphin broke the surface, jumped into the air in a graceful arc, then dove back under. Another dolphin following close behind mimicked the first, followed by a third, then a fourth. "Beautiful," he muttered to himself. It wasn't the first time he'd seen the dolphins, but on this day their dance was particularly graceful.

"Something's happening," said Luis, the only fisherman other than the captain who spoke English. Being able to translate for John had given Luis extra status on the boat, and he took every opportunity to demonstrate his skill.

"With the dolphins?" John asked. Except for being a little more active, he didn't see any difference.

"Yes, they are upset. They're trying to get our attention." Luis looked over his shoulder and nodded to the fishermen. They began pulling up on the remaining nets.

John looked over Luis' shoulder, incredulous. "You're kidding. They're talking to us?"

"Not talking. Remember Lassie? It's like that."

John snorted. "What? Timmy fell down the mineshaft?"

"Lost sailors." Luis said gravely.

John looked around, quickly counting heads on the little fishing boat. They were all there, and there were no other boats in the area. He was about to question how a sailor could come to be there when the boat lurched into a turn and sped toward the dolphins.


Monica swam until her arms threatened to give out, diving then resurfacing dozens of times. She stopped to check her position against the beach where they'd been. How far out was she? She could barely make tell the beach towels from the umbrellas. Defeated, she had just started swimming back to shore when she heard a boat approach.

"HELP! AYUDA!" she shouted, waving her arms.

When the boat came closer she saw it was the coast guard. They pulled her on board then started back toward the dock almost immediately.

"NO! No!" Monica rushed to the captain and pulled on the his sleeve. "My baby! My baby's out there!"

"Bebe?" he repeated, then scanned the water. "Aqui?" She nodded, brushing off the captain's assistant, who was trying to drape a towel over her shoulders. He ordered the divers into the water and called on his radio.

Now that help was on the way, Monica started to shiver. She grabbed the proffered towel and wrapped it around her waist, then took another and draped it over her shoulders. When the captain was finished radioing for help he and his assistant led her to a seat and asked, "What happened?"

"He was playing on the beach, then he went into the water, and a big wave just suddenly..." Reliving that terrible moment brought up the sobs Monica had repressed by taking action. "It just... took him," she finished.

The assistant's face blanched. "A wave? How big?"

Monica felt the man's fear, and she recognized it. It was the same supernatural terror she had often felt from the victims and witnesses on her X-Files cases. "About..." She raised her arm higher and higher until it was chin-high.

"Madre de Dios," the assistant said, then crossed himself.

The captain cleared his throat, which had the desired effect of turning Monica's attention away from. "And the wave carried him out?" the captain prodded.

"Yes. I lost sight of him except for..." Monica's tears threatened to overwhelm her at the thought but she persevered and finished with "bubbles."

"Sirena," the assistant whispered.

"A mermaid?" Monica stared at the assistant. William was the victim of an X-File?

"You speak Spanish?" the captain asked.

Monica nodded. So not everyone here was with the Via. It was some comfort to be explaining herself for a change, but for William's sake she found herself wishing someone from the Via could tell her everything would be okay, that William was safe.

"What mermaids?" she asked. Could William have been lured to his death by a mermaid?

"Why would mermaids want a baby?" the captain yelled at his assistant. His face softened when he turned back to Monica. "There is a legend, but no stories from this part of the Caribbean."

The assistant refused to be silenced. "Half-human, half-dolphin. They can walk among us on the land, and swim with the dolphins in the sea. On land they can call up the wind, and in the sea..."

"The wave," Monica finished, her heart dropping into her stomach. "They can call up the waves."

The assistant nodded and crossed himself. "They can sink ships, drown swimmers..."

"But why?" Monica struggled to understand how William could have been crawling toward such creatures. Did he sense them?

The captain put his arm around her shoulders. "They have also been credited with rescuing people."

"But if they don't like you," the assistant said. He finished by drawing a hand across his throat. "Adios."

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

"It's just a legend," the captain said. "Stop worrying her!" He gave Monica's shoulder a reassuring shake then added, "What's fact is that babies can survive hypothermia and hypoxia better than adults can. We still have time."

Monica smiled at his attempt to quell her worries. Even if he wasn't psychic, he would surely know that she would worry nonetheless. "I feel better now. I'd like to go back in."

"Leave the rest to us men, Mamacita," the captain said with a smile that proved he surely didn't see into her mind.


John's boat hadn't gone far when the other fishermen started pointing to a circle of dolphin fins. The captain cut the engine.

"Why'd you do that?" John asked. They were still hundreds of yards away.

"Las sirenas," Luis explained. "The mermaids. They will come to us. We don't go to them."

"Mermaids?" John was incredulous. Lassie-dolphins were hard enough to swallow, but now mermaids?

"They work with the dolphins. The dolphins lead us to them when they have rescued someone."

As if they did this every day, two of the men lowered a large net by both ends, creating a kind of hammock until it hung just above the surface. Luis added, "Now we wait."

Soon two of the dolphins broke rank and swam toward the boat. The other dolphins then scattered in different directions. As the two approached the boat, John could see what looked like a human form swimming between them. And as they approached still closer, he could tell that it was a very female human form, with long dark hair. His heart jumped into his throat. Was it Monica?


Before the other men could stop him, John kicked off his shoes and jumped into the warm sea. Despite the shouts of "NO!" coming from behind him, he swam toward the figure.

She was naked, swimming underwater until he was almost upon her, but at the last moment she broke the surface.

He gasped. "Shannon?"

Shannon McMahon righted herself, treading water, then reached below the surface and brought up a squirming, giggling William.

"WILLIAM!" John shouted, reaching for the baby.

William dutifully held out his arms, giggling as John snatched him away from Shannon's clutches.

"What the--" John started, but Shannon interrupted.

"He's yours?" Shannon asked. Then she nodded toward his wedding ring. "Congratulations. It's been too long. We should stay in touch."

"What were you doing with him?" John demanded.

"Bringing him to you, apparently." Shannon patted the backs of the two dolphins at her sides, then nodded toward the boat. The fishermen were yelling frantically and tossing life preservers overboard. "Your friends are calling you."

She started to swim away, but John said, "WAIT! I want some answers."

She sighed. "Need to know, John. Need to know."

"Well, I need to know dammit! What are you doing out here, and what were you doing with this baby?"

"Look at him," she said. "He's fine. Take him home and try to keep him away from the beach."

"Why?" John looked into William's face, which was as happy as he'd ever seen it. "What have you done to him?"

"Listen, I can't stay this close to your boat. It has a magnetite keel. Put the baby in the net then swim out to meet me." She turned around, and putting a hand on each dolphin's fin for support, she swam away.

John looked over his shoulder at the boat. Luis looked like he was about to jump overboard. "William," he scolded the tyke. "I hope you have a good explanation for this."

"Ebba!" William giggled.

John lifted William onto his chest then did an improvised sidestroke back toward the boat. He laid William in the net then yelled to Luis, "Call the coast guard, willya? Tell them to call the Reyes, at the offshore hotel."

Luis' eyes widened at the name of the wealthy hotel owners, and as soon as the net was raised he scooped up the baby and ran to the radio.

John swam out to Shannon, who seemed a little green around the gills. "You okay?"

"Magnetite. It's all around here, under the surface and all through that boat." She took in some water then spit it out. "It's even in the water."

John reached out the hand with the wedding ring, and its vibrations told him that she was indeed the kind of supersoldier that would be killed by magnetite.

"Who's the lucky lady?" Shannon asked.

"Monica Reyes, my partner." He pulled back his hand then explained, "There's magnetite in my ring. I was just checking..."

"So you're a member of the Via now?"

"You know about that?" John wasn't sure if this was good or bad.

"And the baby, he's yours too?"

"Foster child. Long story." John decided if she was going to play the need-to-know game, he would too. "Thank you for saving him."

"When we get a tip that someone from the Via is in trouble we come out and find them," she answered. "We can't help onshore, of course. Magnetite in the bedrock. But we do what we can."

"You're aligned with the Via?"

Shannon nodded then looked over John's shoulder toward the fishing boat. "Remember the group I told you about? Those of us who hate what we've become? We found out about the Via and the sirenas who help them."

John was suddenly confused. Or more precisely, more confused. "Sirenas? It's not you?"

"They are a branch of the Via. A secret branch. It's a long story."

"I got time," he said. He kept his eyes on hers, even when she nodded toward his fishing boat. "They can wait."

She sighed then pulled her dolphins closer to her for support. "John, how much do you want to know?

"Start with the beginning."

"In the beginning, there were humans and there were aliens. Then the aliens experimented. They wanted to create hybrids to suit their purposes." She grimaced, disgusted at the thought. "They also brought other species into the genetic mix."

John watched her as she patted her dolphins' backs. "You don't mean..."

"They wanted to be able to retrieve their space craft from the ocean floor, where it had crashed sixty-five million years earlier. They could see that humans would one day evolve to be able to find it, and they wanted to get a jump on them. Anyway, it didn't work out. The spacecraft is still there, well, most of it..." She looked at the boat again. "They didn't tell you about it yet, did they?"

Wrinkles crowded John's brow as he tried to put together a picture. "You mean..." Sixty-five million years... That date sounded familiar. "The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs?"

"It wasn't an asteroid, John. It was a science lab. Kind of like our Spacelab, but bigger. But it couldn't navigate over all this magnetite." Shannon's breath started coming in gasps. "Listen, I can't stay here much longer."

"What's your part in all this?"

"Remember my group? We hooked up with the sirenas, as the natives call them. They're the decedents of hybridization experiments, just like the members of the Via are. Just like I am, in a way. We're all doing our part to prevent the next ..."

"Invasion?" John chided himself for asking for information. Why was it that every time he asked for answers, he got answers like this?

"Not just that. The invasion brings more experiments, more hybrids. And the hybrids become overseers. It's what I was redesigned for."

John nodded his head. Of course. He remembered Lita's history lesson, about the Mayan hybrids who had become tyrants after the aliens had left. Overseers run rampant.

"We want to use our abilities for good."

"Like rescuing babies?" John nodded toward the ship.

Shannon snorted. "He didn't need rescuing. But even if he did, yes, that kind of good."

"What do you mean, didn't need rescuing?"

"John, you surely must know what you have there. A genetically engineered super being, like me, but without my weakness for magnetite. He can survive for hours under water."

No, John hadn't known that. He wondered what else he didn't know about his foster child. "How did you know he'd be there? You just patrol the waters here, despite the magnetite?"

"No, that was coincidence. Well, sort of. We didn't find him. He found us." Shannon gave him a pitying look, which John found immensely irritating. "John... You must promise not to tell anyone..."

"I promise," he said. Who would believe any of it anyway, he wondered.

"Except your wife of course. She must be worried sick..."

Monica! John felt a sudden pang of guilt for interrogating Shannon when he should be comforting Monica, but Shannon drove off the thought by continuing with her explanation.

"We try to keep the wrong element away from the Via, away from Isla Mujeres and the peninsula. We're based in Bermuda, away from magnetite. But when someone's threatening the Via at sea, we raise up the waves and overturn their boats. It's not pretty, and it's not nice, but we have to John..."

"Bermuda?" John repeated. "Don't tell me..."

"The Bermuda Triangle. We can take credit for a few of those events, but not all. Anyway, today we called up a wave and your son sensed our presence. He crawled into it and let himself be drawn to us." She smiled for the first time since handing William to John. "He's a very special little boy."

"Yeah, I know," John grunted. "He senses mermaids, breathes underwater, and doesn't react to magnetite."

"I'm glad he's in good hands." Shannon broke into a wide grin. "And any time you need help with him, let me know."

"Will do," John promised, though he had no intention of doing that.

"And if you decide to take that job in D.C., working with former assistant director Skinner, just let the Via know you're looking for me. I'll come find you. D.C. is an easier gig for me."

"What job?" John asked, but just then a loud foghorn sounded from the boat. "I gotta get going," he said.

"Yeah, me too," Shannon said. "You should take that job. You can do a lot of good there." She coughed then added, "I've stayed too long already."

"How can you stay here at all? There's magnetite under the sea bed, isn't there?" John's eyes narrowed as he began to wonder whether any of what she said was true.

"Need to know, John. Need to know." She grabbed her dolphins' fins, then the three turned and dove into the water, moving quickly away from the boat.

"Fine," John muttered. "Be that way."

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

When the fishing boat docked, Mama and Papa Reyes were there to greet it. By then William was sleeping soundly, wrapped in a thermal blanket and nestled in John's strong arms. John looked over the crowd on the dock, pleased to see his in-laws but wondering about Monica. Shannon hadn't said anything about Monica being in trouble. He had to hope that meant something.

"There he is!" Mama Reyes shouted, grabbing her husband's arm. "Gustavo, why isn't he moving?"

"He's probably just sleeping," her husband said calmly. "Don't borrow trouble, Maria."

Seeing his mother-in-law's distress, John shook William awake, causing William to let out a loud wail. "He's fine," John shouted over the din.

William put up no struggle as Mama Reyes grabbed him and hugged him to her bosom, nearly suffocating him. "Oh little William," she sighed. "Your abuela was so worried!" She rocked him from side to side, oblivious to her husband and John.

"Where's Monica?" John asked. "She okay?"

"She's on her way. The Coast Guard picked her up," her father answered without a trace of concern. As if to justify his nonchalance, the Coast Guard arrived and John could see Monica looking for him. After they docked, Monica grabbed William from her mother, and John couldn't help chuckling at the way she hugged William to her breast. It was as if she were intentionally mimicking her mother.

"Let's get you back to the hotel," her father suggested. "Have a massage, spend some time in the sauna."

"Let's go to our own home," John retorted. "She needs some dry clothes.

"It's okay, John. I want to go with them." Monica kissed the top of William's head then smiled at her mother.

John pursed his lips and studied Monica's face. Something was wrong. She didn't want to be alone with him. But he needed to be alone with her. Besides restoring normalcy to their routine, he wanted to tell her about William and Shannon, and about A.D. Skinner's offer-by-proxy. But he knew when he was being out-voted, and besides, going to the hotel would give him a chance to check up on Gibson.


John should have known the hotel would have clothes for Monica and him, courtesy of an advance call from his father-in-law. He hoped that they would be able to change together in the spare bedroom, but Monica dashed into the bathroom and slammed the door. He continued to the spare bedroom, where Mama Reyes was diapering William.

"What's with Monica?" he asked.

Mama Reyes looked at him with a combination of pity and disgust. "She almost lost her baby!"

"I know, but..."

Leaving William half-diapered, she turned and put her hands on her hips. "I thought you knew my daughter. If she needs to cry give her a place to do it." When John didn't answer, she clucked her tongue then added, "If she needs to be alone, let her be alone."

John sighed. Yes, he did know that. Monica cried so rarely that she felt uncomfortable doing it in front of others, even him. He went to the dresser that was serving for William's changing table. "Here, let me." He started pulling William's diaper up, and as he bent over William peed right into his face. He sighed and grabbed a baby wipe.

"Why don't you take a shower," Mama Reyes suggested, trying valiantly to suppress a chuckle. "You smell like fish."

"Thanks. I think I'll go to the showers downstairs." He gave his mother-in-law an awkward smile, then went back toward the living room, passing the guest bathroom on the way. He slowed when he got to the door, cocking his head to listen despite Mama Reyes' advice. He heard Monica crying, then something that sounded like it might be retching. She shouldn't be alone, he thought. He tapped on the door then said, "Monica? Monica honey?"

"Go away!" her muffled voice said through a stifled sob. The next sound John heard was more retching.

"Monica?"

"Go a-WAY!" she repeated.

Chastened, he went to the living room, grabbed the bag with his new clothes, then looked at his father-in-law, who nodded knowingly. "I'll be in the shower next to the pool," he announced.


Monica listened for the sound of the outer door closing, then flushed the toilet. How could she tell him? How would she even start? Honey, while fantasizing about our next baby I almost let our current one die? And by the way, even if I was pregnant before, I'm not now... A knock on the door interrupted her. "Go away!" she shouted.

"Hija, it's me," her mother said. "I know what you're feeling."

Yes, of course she would, Monica realized. She always had. Every childhood and adolescent trauma that Monica had wanted to keep private would be drawn out by her loving Mama's warm embrace. Mama, who knew her daughter's mind better than she knew it herself, would ask just the right questions, say just the right things. And then, after having a good cry on Mama's shoulder, all would be right with Monica's world.

"I know you do, Mama," she sniffled. "But give me a minute, okay?"

"I have something for you," her mother said. "I had Pedro bring it up."

Monica grinned and reached for the doorknob. Could her mother's psychic ability be that good? She opened the door a crack then grabbed the box of tampons her mother passed through it. Yes, it could be that good. It was even the right brand.

She found her mother in the bedroom, pulling the last of William's limbs through a dinosaur jumpsuit. Mama Reyes put William on the floor then held out her arms for her daughter. "Hija," Mama said in the low, comforting voice that Monica had almost forgotten.

Monica went to her mother, then let loose with a torrent of sobs. Even though she suspected her mother knew everything, she still felt the need to tell her. "I let it happen... I wasn't paying attention... And William crawled away..." She opened her eyes to check on William, who was on the floor looking up at her. "I was thinking... I was thinking about..." A new wave of sobs shook the resolve out of her, and her voice squeaked out, "Oh, Mama..."

Her mother patted Monica's back, and she started rocking her from side to side just as she had when Monica was a child. "I know, I know..." She led Monica to the bed, and sat her down. "You couldn't have helped it."

Monica sniffled, taking deep breaths in a futile attempt to regain control.

Her father appeared at the doorway. "I think William needs to spend some time with his abuelo," he said stiffly. He picked up the confused child and as he left they could hear him cooing, "Let's watch some soccer, Guillermo."

After her husband shut the door, Mama snorted. "He thinks listening to us will make the child too sensitive. Men!"

Monica laughed in spite of herself. Her mother always knew how to make her smile. It was times like these that she'd missed her the most since moving to the states. And now, when she needed her most, she was right here, willing to listen.

"Now, hija," her mother started, taking a box of kleenex from the dresser. "Tell me everything."

"You already know," Monica said. "Don't you?" She dabbed the tears from under her eyes then gave her nose a very unfeminine blow.

Maria Reyes stroked her daughter's back. "You want another baby," she said. "The natural way."

Monica nodded and took another kleenex.

"What you don't know, hija, is how many times I went through this before adopting you. I do understand, hija."

She'd never thought of that before. Well, she'd never thought about her parents having sex when she could help it, either. "I'm sorry, Mama. How did you stand it?"

"The first time was hardest," her mother conceded. "Let's hope that for you it will be the only time."

"Can you sense it? Whether I was pregnant?" Monica pulled on her mother's hand, placing it over her abdomen. She needed to know. She needed to know if she was grieving for a hope or for an actual baby.

"No, hija, I can't tell," her mother said, pulling back her hand. "And you shouldn't worry yourself over it. Just put it behind you and try again."

"But we weren't trying," Monica whined. "If I tell John... Mama, when we left Frank's motel, I forgot to pack my pills. We figured we'd find a doctor soon enough..."

"And you just haven't gotten around to it yet?"

Monica nodded.

"And John hasn't mentioned it?"

Monica nodded again.

"And he hasn't bought any condoms, has he? Why do you think that is, hija?"

Monica gasped. "We haven't discussed it."

"Well?"

"I don't know, Mama. The nuns, they wanted us to have a child because we'd add to the Via. John was against it then."

Mama Reyes stood up then reached out her hands to help Monica up. "But now you're here. And you're crying in the bathroom and your husband doesn't know why."

"I know, Mama." Monica let her mother help her up, then she grabbed a kleenex and wiped the remnants of her tears.

Mama Reyes led her daughter into the hallway. "He was worried about you. He didn't know if you were with William in the sea."

Monica's knees threatened to give out beneath her. "Oh gawd, Mama! I didn't realize..."

"I know you didn't. But now that you do, promise you'll tell your husband everything?"

Monica nodded eagerly.

"Now let's get you something to settle that stomach."


CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

John took a long shower then dressed and went to the pool in search of Gibson. He found him at his post: the storage area to the rear of the pool. He was sitting in a deck chair, intently studying a plumbing diagram that he'd spread on his lap.

"Hello?" John interrupted.

Gibson flushed and pulled the diagram further up over his lap. "Hi," was all he said.

"Can you come up to the Reyes' flat for a break?"

"Now?" Gibson's voice cracked. He glanced at his lap, shifted his diagram, then looked back up at John. "Can we wait a few minutes?"

John pulled up a chair. "Something you want to talk about?"

"Um, no," Gibson said. He looked down, but John could see the boy wasn't paying any attention to the diagram.

"You're sure?" John studied Gibson's face, what he could see of it, then looked over his shoulder. On the opposite side of the pool three beautiful young women in string bikinis lay on lounge chairs. Considering the effect the sight was having on him, he could only imagine what it was doing to a sheltered 16-year-old boy. "Want to talk about baseball?"

"Baseball? Why?" Gibson glowered at John, who was smirking shamelessly.

John nodded, signaling toward the women. "Looking at women in bikinis doesn't bother you?"

"Um..." Gibson stammered. "Do we have to talk about this?"

This was one of those conversations John had planned to have with Luke. He would be the understanding father, gently and patiently leading his boy into adolescence, and from there into adulthood. Luke would have been misinformed by his friends, of course, and would need his father to set him straight. And unlike his own father, John would never balk at his boy's questions. His boy would be able to ask him anything.

Gibson obviously hadn't read the script.

"So what do you want to talk about? Chess?" John smirked.

Gibson rolled his eyes. "They know we're thinking about them. They're laughing about it."

"Those girls?" John looked over his shoulder, and one of the girls waved. He blushed and waved back. "I think they're flattered."

"I knew you wouldn't understand," Gibson said, pushing himself lower into his chair.

"Oh, but I think I do," John said. "I understand about having my most private thoughts being overheard by psychics, at least."

Gibson scowled. "This is different."

"Look at it this way. They already know, so why not just get up and walk over there? Go talk to them," John urged.

"What?" Gibson squawked.

"They won't bite."

If Gibson could have slunk lower in his chair he would have. "I don't think so."

"I think you want to." John glanced at the unfolded paper in Gibson's lap. "Are you worried about what they'll see?"

"Well DUH! That's why I'm not standing up," Gibson snorted.

"So you're going to stay here all day?" John tried to hide his amusement but after the day's ordeal it was a relief to encounter such an ordinary problem, or as close to an ordinary problem as Gibson was likely to have.

"I have a girlfriend, you know." Gibson crossed his legs then uncrossed them just as fast.

"It's natural to have thoughts about other women," John said. Now we are back on the script, he thought. "I find those women attractive too, but it doesn't have anything to do with Monica."

"So you talk to them!" Gibson said. "I'll just stay right here..."

John looked around. There were a few other bikini-clad women sitting alone, and several affectionate couples. "So this why you wanted this job? Eye candy?"

"Did you just come here to torture me? Because if you did..."

John leaned back in his seat. "No, actually. I came here to tell you that your foster brother nearly drowned today."

"What?" Gibson sat up, letting the paper slide off his lap. "Is he okay?"

Keeping his mind as blank as he could in case the sunbathers couldn't be trusted, John said, "He's fine."

"And Monica? She's upset, isn't she?" Gibson stood up. "She was crying." Suddenly, he didn't have any problems walking in front of the girls.


Back at the Reyes' apartment, John saw that Monica's emotional outburst seemed to have subsided. She sat near the window, looking out at the sea, her face as calm as the blue surface below. But Gibson went to her and threw his arms around her neck, ignoring William, who was in a playpen at her side. "I'm so sorry," he whispered.

Monica blinked back tears. "It's okay, Gibson. It all worked out."

But Monica could tell Gibson wasn't fooled. It hadn't occurred to her that he had been aware of her secret thoughts. She had tried to keep them at bay when he was near, but then there were her dreams...

"If you say so." He put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

His sympathy flooded her mind. She covered his hand with hers and smiled gratefully, touched that he would be so understanding. She had fretted so much about his happiness that it hadn't occurred to her that he'd return the concern. "You're a good person, Gibson," she said, squeezing his hand.

He blushed, then turned and picked up William. "You little devil," he snickered. "What did you do?"

Monica related the story of the wave and the trail of disappearing bubbles, then John told the family about Shannon and her dolphins, and how William could survive underwater. In the comfort of the luxury apartment seemed quite surreal to John, but Gibson listened attentively, taking it in stride.

"There have been rumors about an underwater group," Papa Reyes said thoughtfully.

"I heard about the sirenas from Lita," he said. "They're part of her history." He pointed to his head then explained, "In her mind. It's all there."


At dinner, John could feel the tension around the table. All minds were focused on Monica, especially her mother's, and she seemed nervous under their scrutiny. John tried focusing his mind but he wasn't able to eavesdrop. The distractions of dinnertime activities interfered with his modest ability. Seated next to her, it was hard for John to get a good look at Monica, but he could see wasn't eating much. Well, he reasoned, someone who'd recently been throwing up wouldn't be hungry...

Then he suddenly lost his own appetite. Could she be pregnant? He consulted his mental calendar, which was a little jumbled. Yes, she could be, he reckoned. But why the crying? Why so nervous? Didn't she know he'd be delighted?

He stood up and held out a hand to help her to her feet. "Monica, it looks like you've eaten all you can. Let's take a walk on the beach."

All eyes were on Monica, even William's, as she accepted her husband's invitation. She followed him to the door, then turned and took one last look at her mother, who gave her an encouraging smile. Yes, she would tell John everything, she decided.

The sun had just set, leaving the sky a luminous deep blue that threw everything else into high relief. They walked hand-in-hand, silent for several minutes until John could feel Monica's hand relaxing. He stopped her and cupped her chin in his hands. "You can tell me anything," he said in a low voice that was almost lost in the sound of the lapping waves. "You know that, don't you?"

Tears welled up in her eyes. "I know."

"So...?" he prodded.

Instead of answering, she threw her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. "Sometimes it's just too much."

He stroked her hair with one hand and made soothing circles over her back with the other. "How about starting with just a little?" he whispered. "How about starting with what you think I already know?"

She laughed. He probably knew it all, at least subconsciously. Taking strength from her husband's gentle touch, she told him everything and finished with the last piece, the one that frightened her. "I never realized how much I wanted a baby until today."

Yes, it was what he'd suspected, at least over dinner. He slid an arm to her waist and guided her as they resumed walking along the beach. "I feel the same way about it," he said, choking back tears. "If you had been pregnant... and I don't think you were... I'd have been delighted."

"You don't think I was?"

"No, I would have recognized the signs." He looked up to the stars that were becoming more numerous as the sky darkened. "Barb had a lot of false alarms, especially when we were trying... before Luke died..."

She let out a relieved sigh. "Sometimes it's good to be the second wife."

"Did you know how much we'd wanted a second child?" he asked. "When you were investigating us, did that come up?

She shook her head. "No, but seeing how devoted you were to Luke..." Luke. The ghost that had brought them together yet always seemed to push John away. She never brought him up, always afraid of rubbing salt into a wound that would never heal. And whenever John brought him up, Monica measured her response. "I was afraid you wouldn't want another child because of him. Especially now, with our situation being what it is. You know, money and all."

She paused, giving him a chance to reply, but he remained silent, listening attentively. He knows there's more, she realized. Now confident that he was receptive to the truth, she continued. "And when we found out the Via wanted us to procreate, you were against it." Tears threatened to return as she thought about the child she'd seen disappear into a wave. "And you didn't want me to get too attached to William."

"I thought we'd be delivering him to Mulder and Scully when we got here." He pulled her a little closer then said, "But a baby of our own? It's a little soon, but if it happens..." He kissed her on the cheek. "If it happens because we want it, that's different."

"So you wouldn't mind if our child should grow up as a member of the Via?"

Now it was his turn to gauge her willingness to hear the truth. "Monica, what do we really know about them?" He paused, studying her reaction. Her lips trembled slightly, but her eyes probed his as if eager for more. Yes, he decided, she was ready to hear it all. "We know what they want us to know. They have the upper hand, and they've made us indebted to them. If they're up to something, how would we find out? How would we figure out the truth?"

"Gibson trusts them," Monica said. She couldn't help getting defensive. He wasn't just criticizing a group of odd nuns now. He was now casting suspicion on her parents, both adoptive and biological, and her biological brother.

"But Gibson has his own agenda. True, he thinks of us as parents now, but how many times now have we found out that he knows more than he's letting on? He knew about the sirenas, Monica."

They stopped walking and John put his hands on her shoulders. "Do you know why Mulder and Scully weren't here when we arrived?"

Mulder and Scully? What did they have to do with this? Monica knit her brow in thought. "What are you getting at, John?"

"You know what I think? I think they're dead. I think that's why William was brought to us and not to them." He paused to give his theory time to sink in, then said, "And if they're dead, who's going to find out what the government's up to in Washington?"

"A.D. Skinner?" Monica suggested, much like a child putting forward a sketchily reckoned answer to a math problem.

"If they haven't gotten to him too. But how will we find out?"

"We could send a message..."

John sighed. This was going to be more difficult than he thought. "Wouldn't it be better if we could find out for ourselves? And not just take someone else's word for it?"

"You mean leave the Via? Go back to Washington?" She blinked back tears at the thought of leaving her many families, biological, adoptive and foster. But if it came to it, she knew that she would follow John anywhere, even if it meant leaving everyone else she loved.

"That's exactly what I mean." John answered.

They circled the tiny island twice, discussing A.D. Skinner, the Via, their future children, and their future children's future with the Via. And by the time they arrived back at the entrance to the Reyes' hotel, they'd come to a conclusion: They would return to D.C. to search for the truth.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Monica's parents were not happy with the news. Neither was Gibson. He wanted to stay on the island, even if it meant losing his foster parents. They hadn't expected that. They assumed he'd want to go to Washington and live with them.

William was scooting around the Reyes' apartment, trying to get into everything, but being thwarted at every turn by his foster brother. Gibson scooped up the holy terror just as he started going for a large potted palm, and held the squirming toddler tightly. "And William wants to stay here too," Gibson announced.

"Come on," John snorted. "He can't possibly--"

"It's true," Papa Reyes said. He moved behind Gibson and put an arm around him. "The boys are better off here, with their own kind."

Their own kind. Monica felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach. Wasn't being loved more important?

John, sensing his wife's distress, reached for William. Gibson let go of the child, but William set up a squawl and tried to extricate himself from John's grip. John passed him to Monica, who had no more luck than he had in calming the child. She put him on the floor, then watched in dismay as the child crawled back to Gibson and reached out his arms to be picked up.

"Ebba!" William said. "Ebba! Ebba!"

"Do you know what he means when he says that?" John quizzed Gibson.

Papa Reyes answered on the boy's behalf. "It's his own word. It means people like himself."

"So, when he said 'ebba' as he was going toward the ocean--" Monica gasped.

"Yes, he sensed Shannon and her group." Gibson picked up William, then cooed at him. "Ebba, ebba, ebba."

Monica's mother went to Gibson and easily took William from him. She turned to face her daughter and said, "You can leave, of course. But if you take him, can you really guarantee his safety the way we can?"

"And can you stay one step ahead of him the way I can?" Gibson asked.

Monica's knees began to give way. She knew what Gibson meant. He could have kept the child away from the ocean, and she couldn't. What other trouble would William get into, especially after he started walking?

"You love these boys like they were your own," her father said, in a gentler voice than she'd ever heard from him. "You want what's best for them, don't you?"

"Of course, Papa," she said, holding onto John's waist for support. John responded by draping an arm over her shoulders and giving her a reassuring hug.

"Before you make up your mind, there's something else you should see," her father said. "You want the truth about the Via? Come with us tomorrow and we'll show you something that will change your mind."


That night, Monica and John agreed to stay at the hotel. They insisted on keeping William with them, but relented when Gibson said he wanted to stay in the Reyes' penthouse.

"Gibson's making his choice," John said as they shut the door behind them. "He wants to stay with them now."

Monica carried William to the crib that had been set up for them. "William seems to want to, too."

John locked the door then went to the crib and ran a hand over William's head.

"Papa," William said.

At the sound of this magical word, John picked up the child and held him close. "You calling me Papa? After the way you acted before?"

William giggled. "Papa!"

John paced the length of the room, stroking the child's back and talking baby-talk to him.

"Manipulative little bugger, isn't he?" Monica scowled. "I'll be in the shower if you need me."

Before John could answer, she'd shut the bathroom door behind her. "Well, William, it's just you and me while Miss Hormones gets ready for bed. What do you want to talk about?"

"Ba!" William cried out.

"Ball? You want your ball? Or your bear?" John called down to the gift shop for a stuffed animal then set William on the bed. "You want to play?"

He took off his socks, put them over his hands, then started a sock-puppet play for the child.

"I dunno, Monica, William seems to like us," the left hand said.

The other hand answered in a high-pitched voice. "Yes, he does. Let's stay here with him."

The left hand answered, "On the other hand, William likes your parents too."

"Who wouldn't?" His right hand answered. "I had a very happy childhood with them, you know."

"They have money and they own this fabulous hotel and they can read minds. What child wouldn't want to live here?" The left hand added.

The right hand gave William a pinch on the cheek and said, "I wuv this widdle guy just wike he was my own!"

The left hand gave the child an equal pinch on the other cheek and answered, "Me too."

The two hands then proceeded to tickle William, who laughed and kicked until they heard a knock at the door. "There's your bear, little man," John said.

He went to the door and accepted the stuffed teddy bear. As he turned around he felt William's hands on his legs, pulling himself up to reach for the bear. "How did you get over here so fast?" John asked.

"Ba!" was all William said.

John pulled the tags off the bear then handed it to the child, who stood unsteadily to take it. "You ready to walk? I think you are!"

John set the tags on the dresser then took one of William's hands, leaving the other free to grasp the teddy bear, and walked him back to the bed. "You faker! You've been ready to walk for weeks!"

William giggled and held out the bear for John to take. Then, just as he had most afternoons while Monica was at work, John put William in his crib and held the bear over him, putting on a play and telling stories until William fell asleep.

When Monica emerged from the shower she found John asleep on their bed and William sleeping soundly in his crib, nestled against a new bear. She smiled. Her father thought of everything. Wondering what else her father had ordered, she pulled on the dresser drawers, and found his and hers flannel pajamas. Papa, she scolded. Your little girl likes silk! As she set John's pajamas on the top of the dresser, she noticed the tags from the bear. She was about to toss them into the trash when she noticed something written on one: "W.S. 202-555-1013."

She knelt on the bed and shook John's shoulder. "John? Did you call someone in Washington?"

"Wha--?" It took him a moment to realize where he was, but he woke up when he saw the number on the tag. "What's this?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing." Monica sat back, cross-legged, letting the towel she'd wrapped around herself sag until it barely covered her breasts.

John sat up on one elbow then took the tag from her hand. "W.S.? Walter Skinner?"

"You didn't call?"

"No, I didn't even see this," he said. "Should I?"

"Why would Papa want you to call him?" Monica wondered aloud. "He doesn't want us going there."

John shook his head. "I ordered the bear myself, from the gift shop."

"Someone in the hotel wants us to leave?" Monica couldn't believe her parents could be fooled by a traitor. "Who?"

"One way to find out," John said, reaching for the phone. He dialed the number, then held the phone so Monica could listen with him.

They heard a mechanical voice reading an answering machine message: "You have reached the offices of Investigative Services, Inc. Our private detectives are all former members of the FBI, CIA, and police forces across the country. If you have an on-going case, please press one. If you know your party's extension, please press two. If you have a question about..." John sighed and pressed zero.

An operator's voice came on the line. "Answering service, can I help you?"

"Yeah, does Walter Skinner work for your outfit?" John demanded.

"I can't tell you that. I'm just the answering service," The voice responded coldly.

John hung up. "Yeah, he works there."

"So what do we do next?" Monica asked.

"It seems that someone here wants us to leave." Now fully awake, John couldn't help noticing the cleavage showing above Monica's fluffy white hotel towel. He tugged on the towel, hinting at what he thought they should do next. "Or wants us to think someone wants us to leave so we'll stay out of spite." He moved his hand away from the towel and moved it upward toward her neck then pulled her toward him for a kiss. "Either way, there's nothing we can do about it tonight. Might as well just..."

She pushed him away. "I'm not in the mood, John."

CHAPTER THIRTY

The next morning they joined a tourist bus headed to the mainland. Monica's parents refused to tell them where they were going, and Gibson kept mum as well. When they reached their destination Monica recognized it instantly: Chichen Itza, one of the most famous ruins of Mayan civilization. She'd been here years ago on a class trip.

(Quotations taken from:
http://www.internet-at-work.com/hos_mcgrane/chichen/chichen_index .html)

The tour guide's voice came on the bus's P.A. system: "Our first stop will be the Ossuary, built 800-900 A.D in the Maya Toltec Architectural Style. Like the Pyramid of Kukulcan there are four sets of steps with large serpents' heads resting on the ground and atop the pyramid is a high temple decorated with Chaac masks on its walls. There are pillars with masks of the rain god found at the base of the pyramid."

"This structure covers a deep cavern which leads to another urban center outside of Chichen Itza. There is a shaft cut into the center of the pyramid which archeologists say represents the entrance to the World of the Dead--where both the Maya paradise as well as its inferno were represented."

"Several tombs with rich offerings of precious stones and copper have been found inside the shaft."

The bus pulled to a stop and the tourists disembarked. "Well, here we are," Papa Reyes said proudly. "Your friend Rosalita's ancestral home."

John thought back to what little Lita had told them, or rather what Gibson had said on behalf of the reticent teen. "Toltecs." The name sounded familiar.

"They were brutal," Monica reminded him. "Cruel overlords."

Gibson read from a book handed to him by the tour guide: "The divine leader of the Toltecs had been a legendary chieftain. Generations of later Toltec chieftains used the name Quetzalcoatl to mean 'wise leader who enjoys the favor of the Gods.' Part of the Quetzalcoatl legend claimed that he promised to return and restore the Toltec kingdom of Tula one day."

"Let me guess," John snorted. "2012?"

Gibson shrugged. "Who knows?"

John held his hand out for the book then read aloud, "The Platform of Skulls, a T-shaped stone structure sixty meters long and twelve meters wide, was dedicated to the glory of military conquest and ritual sacrifice. It was here that prisoners' heads as well as those of other sacrificial victims were displayed for all the inhabitants to view." He lowered the book then said, "These people were Lita's ancestors?"

Monica grabbed the book and read to the end of the page: "During the excavation of the platform several human skulls as well as a statue of the Chac-Mool were discovered." She looked up. "They sound charming."
Gibson grabbed the book. "Lita's trying not to be like them. That's the whole point."

Papa Reyes put an arm out as if to embrace the whole group. "Let's go. They're waiting for us."

Monica looked over at the tourists gathered around their guide and started in their direction, but her father ushered them towards the opposite direction. They entered the pyramid then descended down a series of small steps. Both John and Monica had to bow their heads as they wound their way down. At a landing Papa Reyes pressed on a panel, opening a dimly-lit passageway going the opposite direction from the main tunnel.

At the bottom they came to a large cavern that had a familiar smell.

"Magnetite smelting," John said. "How many of these operations are there?"

"Need to know, John. Need to know," Papa Reyes said.

John shivered.

"Cold?" Monica asked, rubbing his arm.

John took her hand. "No, just... Let's see what we came here for."

"Nobody in the Via knows everything," Papa Reyes said. "Don't take it so personally."

They wended their way through a series of tunnels, coming at last to a large cavern, decorated with brightly painted carved Mayan symbols on all the walls. Discreet lights placed at regular intervals near the ceiling cast a warm light over the occupants. At the center of the room stood a bank of computers set into a circular console.

Gibson broke from the group, shouting, "Lita!"

A high-back chair at the center console swivelled, and the short, shy girl with the heavily Mayan features smiled at her boyfriend. But instead of running to greet her, Gibson stopped in his tracks.

Lita stood up with difficulty, then came toward them with the characteristic waddle of a very pregnant woman.

John shot Gibson an accusing glance.

"What? It's not mine! I swear!" the boy said.

"No," Lita said, patting her swollen belly. "It's mine."

"Oh no, not this again," John grumbled. Another William? Conceived through some unnatural intervention?

Monica thought the same thing, then instinctively hugged William closer to her. As wrong as this genetic manipulation was, she couldn't help loving the child it produced.

"Gibson wanted to," Lita said proudly. "But he wouldn't, out of respect for you."

"He should have been restraining himself out of respect for you," John retorted. "And for himself."

"I knew you wouldn't want me to make a baby just for the Via," Gibson explained.

Lita pulled up a seat. "I hope you don't mind. My feet are a little swollen."

Gibson bent to kiss her cheek then whispered, "I was so worried about you."

She squeezed his hand. "We were worried about you, too."

Monica hoisted William onto her hip then put her free hand on Lita's belly. "We're even more worried about you now."

"Don't be," the girl said. "All is as it should be."

The others gathered around her, then Mother Catherine appeared from around the console. She laid a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder then said, "I know you think she's too young, but we have so little time, and Lita's so special."

John's eyes narrowed at the thought of intentionally impregnating a teen, especially this shy, special teen. "So you did what? You cloned her? Inseminated her? I thought all that stuff was against the church's teachings."

"We did what we had to." Catherine gave Lita's shoulder a squeeze then moved to hug Monica.

Monica took a step backward. "What have you done?"

Catherine smiled benignly at William but kept her distance. "We knew we'd made the right choice. You're the perfect mother for him."

"And what of Lita's child? Will she be growing up in a nunnery?" John asked. He put a protective arm around Monica's shoulders and glared at the mother superior.

Mother Catherine bristled. "That's entirely up to Rosalita."

"I'm happy where I am," Lita said, patting her belly. "And so is my baby."

John was furious. The veins in his neck throbbed to the surface as he asked, "How could you do this? She's a child herself! How could you--"

"I'm eighteen," Lita interrupted.

"What?" Monica gasped.

"She's always been a little sheltered for her age," Mother Catherine said with obvious affection. "And very innocent."

"Is she still innocent?" John asked pointedly.

Before anyone could answer, William started to squirm in Monica's arms. "Ebba!" he cried out.

Lita reached for the child, but Monica held him tightly. "Ebba?" Monica asked William. "Lita is an ebba?"

"Ebba!" William repeated.

"She won't hurt him, if that's what you're thinking," Gibson said.

Monica had to admit to herself that protecting William had become an instinct for her. She hadn't been thinking anything. Reluctantly, she let Lita take William, then watched as William looked into Lita's face with the same bliss he used to reserve for Scully.

John gave her waist a tug, prompting to sigh and rest her head on his shoulder. "How could something that looks so right be so wrong?"

"I don't want to take your place," Lita assured them. "My own baby needs me more."

"If there's no father, I'd say so," John snorted.

"There's a father," Gibson said defensively. "And she has me."

This is too much, John thought, knowing full well that Gibson and the others would overhear him. Gibson playing papa?

"She will grow up knowing who her father is," Lita assured them. "She will know everything about her ancestors."

"So that's what this is about? Preserving your heritage?" John asked, looking from Lita to Mother Catherine to Monica's parents for answers.

"Preserving our future," Mother Catherine insisted. "The future of mankind."

Mama Reyes noticed her daughter's reaction and reached for William. "Come to your abuela, William." She bounced William in her arms and smiled at him. "The next generation of the Via, they have a special destiny."

"William too?" Monica glared at her mother.

Mother Catherine clasped her hands, adopting the preaching pose they'd seen many times at the monastery. She cleared her throat to get everyone's attention, then began her sermon. "The people who created him and the others like him, they had other plans for these children. They want them to collaborate with the enemy, to form an alliance with the devil. But under our guidance, they will understand right from wrong, good from evil."

"And impregnating virgin teens is right?" John screeched.

"John," Monica warned, but Mother Catherine waved her hand dismissively.

"It's all right, Monica. We knew he wouldn't understand. It's why we kept this secret from you, why we've kept the secret from almost everyone, even some people of the Via." Mother Catherine stroked the top of William's head, her gnarled fingers passing over his downy hair with the affection she seemed to reserve only for children. "And now that you know, you must realize how much William needs you to stay here with him. He needs to grow up here, protected by magnetite and surrounded by people like himself. But he needs parents too. Righteous parents with sound values."

Monica fought back tears. "Like himself? You don't mean us, do you?" She clutched John for support and glared defiantly at Mother Catherine.

"You belong here, too, daughter." Mother Catherine left William and stood before John and Monica. "You are both welcome to stay with the Via as long as you wish. We will never reneg on that promise."

"But we can't take William if we leave, is that it?" John asked.

Mama Reyes kissed the top of William's head then looked into her daughter's tearful eyes. "The question for you is whether staying here is what's best for you. The Via will watch over you in Washington, and we could use another contact there, but William..." She smiled and looked down at William's face. He smiled in return as if understanding everything. "William must stay here. We'd be happy to keep him with us."

Lita returned to the computer console, hit a few buttons then moved aside so her guests could see the screen. "See that light? The blinking red light?"

John and Monica leaned over the screen. They saw a map of the Yucatan, with a red light blinking over Chichen Itza. "What's this?" John asked.

"It's this cavern?" Monica looked over the rest of the console but nothing stood out.

"It's William," Lita announced. "He's been microchipped."

"What?" John leaned closer to the screen, as if it might give away its secrets. But it only continued blinking.

Mother Catherine followed them to the console then stroked William's cheek. "He got it when he received that shot. The other babies from the project were microchipped too, one by one."

"I've hacked into the GPS system," Lita announced proudly. "From here we can track William or any of the others."

"And so can whoever microchipped him," Papa Reyes said, a stoic sadness in his voice.

Monica looked from Mother Catherine to John to her parents, then asked the obvious. "Can't you remove it?"

"That would require a complete blood transfusion," Mother Catherine answered. "And his blood type is quite rare."

John snorted. "Part alien, you mean."

"Yes, that's what she means," Papa Reyes said. "And that's why he must stay here, where he's surrounded by people dedicated to protecting him."

"He and the others like him," Monica's mother added.

John looked steadily at Monica's parents. "And if we take him with us anyway?"

Mother Catherine fingered the cross that hung around her neck. "Whoever has been doing this, they know that the Via has been rescuing these babies and they've used the microchips to find our hide-outs."

"So isn't keeping him here a big mistake?" John's brows narrowed as he tried to figure out the logic of these mysterious people. "Wouldn't everyone be better off if he were in Washington?"

"This hide-out won't be attacked," Papa Reyes assured them. "It's a national treasure, and then there's the island... It's well defended."

Mother Catherine interrupted before Papa Reyes could elaborate. "We watch out for ourselves," she said.

John grinned, remembering the day Mother Catherine shot a super soldier in the forehead. That had been the first time he'd seen what a magnetite bullet could do, and the first time they realized how well-defended the Via was. Behind the monastery's magnetite-laced iron gate, they were safe from the super soldiers. Later, they discovered the smelting operation and the Via's distribution network for bullets. Now John wondered what else the Via was capable of.

"Well, I think Washington is the best place for William right now," John said. "If they won't attack landmarks here, they won't attack them there."

The room went silent except for a loud sigh from Papa Reyes. "John," he said finally. "Do you have any idea how many super soldiers live in Washington?"

Monica's mother slid her hand along William's spine then added, "If they could find him in Montana..."

John and Monica both blanched at the thought. As long as the implant was in his spine, William's pain had been intense and devastating for them to see. Would whoever did it try it again?

"Yes, they will most certainly try again," Mother Catherine answered their thoughts. "If not that, then some other technology to turn him to their side. So you see, he must stay here."

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

"But we must leave you now," Papa Reyes announced. "We have to catch up with our tour group."

Gibson looked longingly at Lita until John said, "Go ahead. Kiss her!"

The boy blushed then gave his girlfriend a kiss on the cheek. "See you soon?" he whispered.

She patted her belly then smiled up at him, communicating with her mind instead of with words. He seemed satisfied with the message then joined his foster family as they made their way toward an exit.

Monica was waiting by the door, looking over the hieroglyphics on the walls. "Do any of you know what these mean?" she asked.

"No," her father said, waving her toward the door.

Resisting his attempt to usher her out, she studied the pictorial writing, her brow knit in concentration. "It says here that the Toltec people are the special ones, that they are destined to be the rulers over..."

Her mother gave her a shove from behind. "Our bus must be waiting for us."

They moved quickly but silently through the tunnel, its low ceiling forcing John, Monica, and Papa Reyes to duck. Finally, they climbed to the surface and found their group standing near a natural pool surrounded by lush vegetation. Their guide said, "It would seem that the early inhabitants preferred to offer semi-precious stones, metal and clay objects to the gods of water. All of the offerings which were found were either broken or damaged as a part of the sacrificial ceremony. The objects and the occasional human victims (young girls, boys or warriors) were thrown to the cenote from the platform next to the altar."

The little group was silent on the way back to Isla Mujeres, Gibson sitting between the Reyes in the back seat of the bus. In front of them, Monica leaned her head against the window, sighing periodically over William, who slept in her arms. Next to her, John mulled over the implications of this latest news. William's microchip. Could it be removed with dialysis? And if his blood type is so rare, why wasn't it an issue when his implant was removed? Had they just let him bleed in surgery? And if he and Monica could have it removed, how long would it be before someone implanted a new one? Could they avoid all vaccinations? They'd have to home-school him. And if they kept him at home, how normal would that be? John would have to find some magnetite fencing. Where could he find it? And money. Could they survive on one salary? If he went to work for Skinner what would his income be? Maybe he should be the one to stay at home, and Monica should take Follmer's offer to work in the Crimes Against Children division, if the offer was still open. If Follmer was still alive.

When they arrived back at the Reyes' hotel, John saw he needn't have worried about Follmer. His former rival was sitting in the lobby, his lanky legs thrown over an ottoman in a studied casual pose. But as soon as he saw the newlyweds and their family, Follmer was on his feet.

"Brad," Monica gasped. She handed William to her mother, sending the silent command for her to take William and Gibson to the apartment. When her foster children had disappeared into the elevator, she turned and glared at her former lover. "What are you doing here?"

Brad glanced toward the elevator then said, "Why do you think I'd want to hurt them? I've only ever helped you."

"Have you?" Monica countered, taking John's hand. Though Brad's expression seemed sincere, she felt the need to show him she was John's wife now, and didn't need his help.

"When you let me, yes," Brad eyed John, as if he were the sole source of Monica's mistrust. "And I'm here to help you now."

"Another job offer?" John sneered. The last time they'd seen him he had offered John a job at Quantico and tried to convince Monica to take a position in the D.C. field office. Neither job would permit them to spend much time at FBI headquarters. John was still suspicious that whatever job Follmer might offer them would be designed to keep them from finding out the truth they'd been searching for in the X-Files office.

Brad nodded to the desk clerk, then glanced at the security guard and bellhop who were standing nearby. "Can we talk someplace else? Away from prying minds?"

Monica looked to John, silently asking his permission to hear him out. John rolled his eyes but couldn't resist his wife's silent plea. "Let's take a walk on the beach," he suggested.

They started from the fancy hotels of North Beach, walking southward toward the island's tiny town and their cottage.

"This certainly is idyllic," Brad mused. "I can see why you took so long returning our call."

"Our call?" John repeated.

Monica knitted her brow and asked, "When did you call?"

"You didn't get the message?" Brad asked.

John and Monica exchanged cautious glances. They knew the Via had a leak somewhere, but they didn't think information might be blocked.

"Uh-oh," Brad said. "Trouble in Paradise?"

"Mind if we ask the questions," John snapped.

Brad held out his arms in a gesture of openness. "Ask away."

Monica stopped walking, which caused the two men to stop walking too. "We already did," she said, shooting him a withering glare.

Brad took a deep breath. "Okay. Walter Skinner and I sent you a message via the private detective your parents hired."

"How long ago?" John demanded.

"Two weeks. Maybe longer," Brad guessed.

"And the message?" Monica crossed her arms then stepped away from a wave that washed over her feet.

Brad resumed walking, leading them away from the water's edge. "Walt and I took early retirement... Well, Walt retired," Brad corrected himself. "I was terminated." He chuckled slightly, though his discomfort at the admission was obvious to the two investigators. "Mis-use of agency funds. Seems someone in the travel office couldn't help mentioning that we were searching for Agents Mulder and Scully... and you two of course."

John shook his head. "Agent Harrison."


"I'm sure she meant no harm," Monica said.

Brad smiled at his former lover's charitable attitude, a look that was not lost on her husband. "She got fired too. Loose lips sink ships and all that," Brad said.

"Poor Leyla!" Monica pulled on John's hand as if he could fix the situation.

Brad snorted. "Poor Leyla is doing just fine. I found her a new job, and she's getting even more money now."

Monica heaved a sigh of relief. "That was big of you, Brad."

"She's my assistant now," he said, blushing. "At Walt's agency."

Monica understood his blush instantly. Still Brad, she thought. Getting involved with a subordinate. She suspected subordinates might be the only kind of woman Brad could ever relate to. She gave John's hand a squeeze. Unlike Brad, John could appreciate an equal.

"And have her lips tightened up?" John couldn't resist asking.

Brad smirked. "I can see why you were fast-tracked at the bureau. It's your tact."

Monica silenced both men with a glance. "Can we get back to the message?"

"The message was," Brad said. "Call us when you're ready to come back. You can work for us, at Walt's agency."

Monica looked anxiously to John for guidance, but he merely pursed his lips in thought.

Brad continued, "When you called, we thought you were ready. You're not?"

John brushed a few stray strands from Monica's face, then when they blew back across her eyes he tucked them behind her ear. She leaned her cheek into his palm, and her eyes searched his. Were they ready? The day before they thought they were.

Brad looked away, still uncomfortable around the newlyweds despite his own newfound happiness.

"You want both of us to work there?" John asked, checking his rival's expression carefully.

"Both, or just one. It's up to you," Brad kicked at a piece of driftwood. "Both of you are still on the FBI payroll, you know. Officially, you've been detailed to long-term undercover assignments." He arched an eyebrow then added, "Which isn't entirely false, n'est pas?"

Monica wondered how much Brad knew. Many times she'd seen him elicit confessions with just this sort of tactic. It was he who had helped her hone her own investigative techniques.

But before she could answer, John interrupted. "We're taking care of a couple of endangered children. Something I'm sure you can appreciate."

"Indeed I can," Brad answered, making no sign that he understood John's underlying message. "I admire what you're doing, and if you want to continue... But you should know, that as far as the Via is concerned, your job here is finished. And you have to admit, those kids hardly need your protection now."

Monica bristled at the suggestion. "They need parents," she insisted. "Loving parents."

"Yes, they do," Brad agreed. "But are you sure you're the right parents for them?"

"If the Via agreed with you, we would have gotten your message," Monica protested. "They think we're the right parents."

Brad cut her off with a wave of his hand. "I can see you're very comfortable here, and with two children to care for..." His expression softened as he looked into Monica's eyes. She blushed, knowing he would remember their conversations about children. "It's what you've always wanted. I understand that."

"Why do I hear a 'but' coming?" John interjected.

"But," Brad drawled. "Have you considered that this was all a little too easy? A little too pat?"

"And your job offer isn't?" Monica retorted. She knew where this was going, and she didn't like it. This tack would strike a nerve with John, and somewhere under layers of maternal affection, she had the same nerve.

"If you don't want to work with me, I can help you can go back to the bureau. Not the X-Files office, of course, but I still have friends in the Crimes Against Children division..."

"How convenient," Monica sneered.

"I'm offering you a way out," Brad said. "No strings attached. Has the Via done that?"

She had to admit it. The Via had sucked them in further and further until they weren't even in the U.S. anymore. They followed of their own free will, but only because they felt they had no other choices. "No strings attached?" She didn't buy that promise.

Brad nodded as he watched her face tell him all he needed to know. "And you can bring the children with you. My contacts can help you with the adoptions."

John scowled. "And what do you get out of it?"

"A good investigator, maybe two," Brad said. "And the satisfaction of knowing I've helped out some old friends."

John snorted.

"And contacts in the Via," Brad added. "We need them. They need us. We have a common enemy."

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend?" Monica sighed heavily, suspecting more machinations in Brad's devious mind than he was letting on.

"You might say that," Brad answered. "And we're both looking for Mulder and Scully."

At the mention of their friends' names, John and Monica exchanged glances. The Via was looking for them? Why hadn't anyone mentioned it to them? Or was Brad fibbing... again?

"Give us a minute," John said, leading Monica toward the water. When they were out of earshot, he whispered, "Think he's telling the truth?"

"He's fooled me before, John," Monica reminded him. She glanced over her shoulder, eyeing him warily. He was toeing the sand, his hands casually thrust into his pants pockets as if their conversation had no more import than a sidebar at a church social. "But to quote John Doggett, there's only one way to find out."

John nodded. "Go to D.C." He took a deep breath then asked the $64,000 question. "With or without the children?"

Monica choked back tears and when her lower lip trembled, she pulled her lips together into a long tight line.

John wiped his nose as he fought back his own tears. "It's up to you."

"I think it should be up to Gibson," she said. "But as for William... John, there's a disorder that babies get when they are separated from their parents, or go through a series of foster homes."

"What's that?" John asked. Despite his years of training, he'd never heard of this.

"It's called Attachment Disorder. They lack that stability, so they grow up either clingy and looking for love everywhere, or they fail to develop attachments..."

"Ahhh," John said. He didn't know the diagnosis but he knew the profile. "They become sociopaths."

Monica nodded. "And considering William's abilities and his status within the Via..."

John looked at her in horror. Either she was correct in fearing this baby's potential or she was rationalizing herself into endangering him unnecessarily. Neither possibility was very comforting.

"And Gibson can stay one step ahead of him," she added, smiling. "I think between us we can keep him out of trouble, at least until he's old enough to go to school."

"So it all hinges on Gibson?" John wasn't sure he'd leave a toddler's future in the hands of a teen, but considering recent developments, it seemed to be the Via's way.


Gibson agreed to meet them at their cottage, and as Brad stood outside, John and Monica explained their dilemma. By now it was dark, and Gibson listened intently under the light of the bare bulb hanging over their kitchen table. From the outside it might have looked like Gibson was being interrogated, but it was the reverse. He asked the questions, especially about attachment disorder.

"So you see, Gibson," Monica concluded. "We want to take William with us, but we can't do it without your help.

Gibson tried to avoid her eyes by looking into John's, but he found no comfort there either. John said, "I know you can tell what we hope you'll say, but we want you to consult your heart Gibson. We're asking a lot of you..."

Gibson interrupted, "I want to go with you."

Monica looked into John's smiling face then turned toward Gibson. "You've made us so happy..."

"But William has to stay here," Gibson announced.

"But..." John began, but Gibson cut him off again.

"I want to help you find Mulder and Scully. And how can you do that when you can't even tell who the aliens are?" Gibson paused to let his news sink in, then continued, "And I don't think your parents will let William grow up to be a sociopath. They didn't let that happen to you, did they?"

John smiled and glanced appreciatively at Monica. "No, she's quite the opposite."

"They were wonderful parents," Monica admitted.

"William needs to be with the others of his kind," Gibson said. "All those children will grow up together and be the leaders of the Via." He packed his gun and laptop in his backpack then walked to the door. "But they don't need us here. Our place is in Washington."

"What? Now?" Monica gasped. "Don't you want to say goodbye?"

Gibson shook his head. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

"But what about our stuff?" Monica started looking around the cottage, which she'd done her best to make homey. But after taking a mental inventory, her gaze returned to John's face. "It's not really ours, is it?"

"It's ours," John assured her. "But we can leave it behind." He reached into their secret compartment, where he kept the computer disk with the names of the Via members. "It's gone," he said, looking accusingly at Gibson.

"I don't have it," Gibson said. "And anyway, we shouldn't take it with us.

Monica put a hand on Gibson's shoulder. "He's right, John. We can't risk letting it get into the wrong hands."

John nodded his head as he thought over the risks, then opened the door. "Well then, let's go."

When Brad saw them he arched his eyebrows in a silent question.

"Just us," John announced. "The three of us."

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

They followed Follmer to a small dock, where a boat awaited them. They could barely make out the figures on the boat's deck, but one was unmistakable. A large wolf was silhouetted in front of the rising full moon and was soon joined by a tall lanky man.

Monica rushed to the boat, crying out "Frank!"

Her brother ran to meet her and took her into his arms. "I'm so glad you made it here," Frank said. He pulled back, smiling broadly, then addressed Follmer. "So this is why you called to ask us to wait?"

Brad nodded.

The boat's captain hollered from the deck, "No time for this! They're coming!"

Once on board, Brad asked, "What did you hear?"

But the captain and Frank refused to answer his question. Instead, Frank passed around life vests as the captain steered the boat away from the dock.

"The sirenas," Gibson whispered to John. "They sent a warning."

Less than a mile from shore, the pilot cut the engine, then the lights. "What the--" John demanded, but the captain shushed him.

"They're coming," the captain whispered. "Wait..."

At first the only sounds were the gentle laps of the waves that slapped the side of the boat, but gradually they could make out another sound. One that sent a shiver down their spines.

Helicopters.

Monica grabbed John's arm. "We have to go back!" she whispered.

"NO!" John hissed, and when she tried to make a break for the side. He held her by the waist as the helicopters gradually came into view. "There's nothing we can do," he whispered. "And remember Lita. She survived. So did Catherine." Monica remained rigid, a slight sniffle the only indication of her emotions. John added, "He'll be fine. They'll be fine."

Then suddenly, from the top of the Reyes' hotel, they saw a bright burst of orange light.

The flash illuminated the night sky, revealing three helicopters racing toward Isla Mujeres. And just as the darkness returned, they saw the first helicopter explode, then hang motionless for a long moment before crashing to the water.

Another flash of light from the hotel brought down the second helicopter. Its burning fuel illuminated the third helicopter as it made a desperate attempt at a U-turn. A final round of whatever weapon the Reyes were firing brought it down as well.

Then all was silent. In the distance they could see three flaming oil slicks and fiery debris spread out between them.

"Monica," John whispered. "See? Everything's going to be alright."

"I hope you're right," she answered.

They heard Frank's voice calling out, "Gibson? Still got that gun?"

Gibson pulled his gun from its box, loaded it with magnetite bullets, then said, "I'll take the front."

"I'll take the rear," Frank said. "John? You good to cover the middle?"

"Huh?" John said, reaching for his gun.

"I think one of them bailed," Frank explained.

"He's out there," Gibson announced. "And so is Shannon."

Monica drew her gun and stood next to John at the bow. Suddenly they heard a frantic splashing a few feet away. The pilot turned on a spotlight and trained it on the sound. There, amidst the frothy green sea, they could see the long tendrils of Shannon's dark hair as she wrestled with a man in a military uniform.

"Shannon!" John shouted over the barrel of the gun. "Get out of the way!"

At the sound of her name, Shannon raised her head and looked in their direction, but she was blinded by the light. Her opponent took the opportunity to grab her by the neck then force her downward. The onlookers on the boat watched helplessly as the pair disappeared in the depths of the sea.

The formerly calm waters were now rocking the boat as the dueling super soldiers kicked up wave after wave. Grey wolf paced nervously, his paws barely able to keep a grip. He took up a position on the opposite side of the boat then let out a low, throaty growl.

"This side!" Frank called out, and he rushed to the opposite side, grabbing a harpoon-like weapon as he rounded the cabin. He took aim, waiting for the captain to find the pair with the searchlight, but as the boat continued rocking more and more violently, the light never found them. Frank waited for the boat to tilt downward on his side, then jumped overboard, weapon in hand.

"Frank! NO!" Monica shouted, running to the side.

John caught up with her and yelled, "Hang on! If he can't stop them we're all going overboard!"

Monica got to her knees, wrapped one arm around a pole, then raised her gun. Pointing it toward the sound, she concentrated, her finger on the trigger, waiting for her moment. Gibson imitated her, kneeling at the next pole and taking aim himself.

When the light caught the supersoldiers, it was obvious that Shannon was just barely holding her own. Neither she nor her opponent seemed to have notice Frank treading water nearby, waiting for his opportunity just as the agents on board were. Suddenly, the soldier grabbed Shannon in a headlock, and with a violent thrust, pushed her downward, then leaped over her descending body toward Frank.

Frank took pulled the trigger on his harpoon, sending the sharp blade into the center of his chest. But after a momentary look of surprise, the super soldier swam toward Frank, overtaking him with a few powerful strokes. He caught Frank in the same kind of headlock he'd put Shannon in, then gave his head a forceful twist.

On shared instinct, Monica and Gibson fired simultaneous shots, hitting the man in the head. The man's headless body, now disintegrating from the magnetite harpoon shot, lay on the surface of the water, its sizzling flesh floating toward Frank's lifeless body.

"Frank!" Monica called out, even though her instinct told her it was hopeless. Desperate to share a final word with her brother, she started to climb over the bow until John pulled her back.

"Look!" John pointed to the light, which now shone on the familiar figure of Shannon, swimming toward Frank. Seemingly unharmed, she grabbed Frank and pulled him toward the boat.

Though her hands were shaking, Monica managed to get a grip under one of Frank's armpits, and when John took the other they lifted him out of the water.

Frank's head was still turned to the unnatural angle the supersoldier had put it in, and his eyes stared unblinkingly up at Monica.

"Frank," she sobbed. "You did it. You saved us. Vince will be so proud!"

Grey Wolf approached carefully, then sat by Frank's side and let out a howl that could be heard on the island.


EPILOGUE

Gibson scraped the food off the dinner dishes, as he had every day since they'd arrived in his new home, then loaded the dishwasher. Monica watched with pride, thinking that she was lucky to have such a good son. When she returned to the FBI she found that she'd accrued several weeks of vacation time, and that by adopting Gibson she was entitled to family leave as well. For the past three weeks the two of them had worked together to turn John's house from a bachelor pad into a true family home. Then, every day when John arrived home from his new job, they gave him a run-down of the day's decorating changes. John had been pleased with most of them, but there were a few things he refused to change.

Monica looked up at the NASCAR calendar hanging in the dining room, one of the few decorating concessions John had demanded. She noted the date, thinking that hanging a calendar was a small sacrifice in exchange for the big one he was making. Most new husbands would be less understanding of Monica's sudden refusal to have sex. But John understood. At night, after the distracting activities of the day, she couldn't help thinking of William and of the baby of her own that might have been. She turned her back on her husband, but let him spoon himself behind her. She knew he was pretending not to know she was crying herself to sleep, and she suspected he was shedding a few tears himself. But as she stared at the calendar, she found herself calculating the date of her next fertile period. Maybe then, she thought. Maybe then she could think about a new baby instead of the one she'd left behind.

"I know you have doubts about the Via," Gibson said, interrupting her thoughts. He was talking to John. How long had they been talking? Was John lost in his own thoughts while she was lost in hers? She stirred her tea absently, barely paying attention to Gibson as he puttered in the kitchen.

"But you have doubts about the FBI too." Gibson went to the cupboard where he stored his gun, took out the box and showed it to them as a reminder. "I found out who owned this gun before me. His name was S.G.B. Spender," Gibson announced. He took out the gun and held it out for their inspection. "He was the first member of the Via to infiltrate the government. He's the one who tipped them off about Roswell and the coming invasion."

"Don't you mean C G. B. Spender?" John asked.

The name grabbed Monica's attention. "That's the man who threatened your life, Gibson!"

"Not that man. This man died in the 1950s." Gibson put the gun back in its box. "He died because of what he knew, and because of who he knew. But he never gave up the Via to anyone."

Monica pursed her lips as she considered this news. It raised a lot more questions than it answered. And when she looked at John she could see he was as puzzled as she.

"If it weren't for him we wouldn't have magnetite bullets!" Gibson said. "He wasn't a bad man!"

"What's his relation to C.G.B. Spender, Gibson?" John asked, pushing aside his rising anger.

"No relation. It's not either one's real name," Gibson answered. "C.G.B. just stole the idea. S.G.B. was Shadow Government Big Spender, and the man you knew was Central Government Big Spender."

"Well that's comforting," Monica snorted.

"And who are you going to be? Puppet Government Big Spender?" John asked.

Gibson stared at his new parents with defiance they'd never seen before. "He made up the name as a joke. He never gave the Via any money. He just helped them out." After reading their thoughts, he continued, "The Via isn't lying. And you're wrong about them turning against us."

"Who?" John asked.

"The Via. They won't let us down. When the aliens come, they'll be ready, and they'll save us all," Gibson said with assurance.

"And what if the aliens never come?" Monica asked.

"Then they'll just keep watching out for each other, and for us." Gibson put the box back in its cupboard, keeping his back to his parents.

"Gibson, there's a principle you may not have learned yet, and I hope you never see the truth of it," John said. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

THE END


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