Places That Scare You, The (part 1/3)

by Rose Campion

The Places that Scare You (part 1)

Warnings: This story has more warnings than I've had hot dinners. Male pregnancy and slash story. If you're squicked by that kind of story, don't complain to me about it, just don't read this! Go read something else. Very serious angst. DoggettTorture. MulderTorture. Main Character deaths. AU. This story may not be your cup of tea. My beta Jo says I have to give this story a three hanky warning. Very NC-17. No, really, I mean it. There were scenes that made me blush to write them. Includes some scenes that some readers may consider 'het' in nature. Negative feedback of any kind- I don't wanna hear it.

Special thanks to my beta Jo for daily doses of encouragement and generally going above and beyond the call of duty.

Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure CC and company would be very appalled by this story, but I'm not doing this for them. This is for the benefit of some of my like-minded fellow fans. Like most things I do well, I make no money from this.

Series: not part of a series. A stand-alone story. Don't ask for a sequel 'cause ya ain't gonna get one.

pairing: M/D, written for one of the challenges on the DTA website.

Archiving: Basement. SlashingMulder. Wherever. Just let me know. Diandra- you can't tell me you don't want to archive this.


"Are you ready for the thing called love? it don't come from you and me
it comes from up above
I ain't no porcupine
take off your kid gloves.
Are you ready for the thing called love?

I ain't no icon, carved out of soap
sent here to clean up your reputation.
Baby, you know you ain't no prince charming.

We can live in fear or act out of hope
of some kind of peaceful situation. Baby, how come the cry of love is so alarming?"

Thing Called Love- John Hiatt

We were two days out from Dallas, heading north. We hadn't exactly made the fastest progress we could on this trip. Right now though we were pulled off the side of the road, standing on the shoulder of the road as no one, and I mean no one, drove by this back of the boonies, Godforsaken middle of nowhere state highway through the near desert of Oklahoma in a drought year. Which was a good thing considering I was holding a gun aimed directly at Fox Mulder's head.

"This is all your fault, Goddamn it!" I yelled at him.

"John, put the gun down, please," he pleaded at me.

Sweat dripped into my eyes and I used my right hand to wipe my brow clean, but my gun didn't waver. "Asshole!" I told him. "You did this to me."

"I know you feel that way. We've talked about this before. But I think it would be more productive to have a rational discussion about it," he said. His hands weren't held over his head like I'd told him, but they were held out to the side so I could see he wasn't going to pull any crap on me.

Somehow or another, the man was going to pay for what had happened to me. What was still in the middle of happening to me. For what would continue to affect me for the rest of my life.

"There's nothing fucking rational about what's happening to me," I said.

It was too goddamn hot for this BS, to be standing outside of the car by the side of the highway, gun trained on my only companion, wiping sweat from my forehead, but I really couldn't see what else I could do at the moment. It was Fox Mulder's fault. He'd ruined my life. You couldn't put the blame any place else. The search for him had sidetracked my career into the X-files. His rescue from that military base had put me securely on the losing side against forces that had the power to destroy all of humanity. Rushing out to warn him in that desert had torn me away from the last of my old life. I hadn't seen the east coast since then, much less my house. Or my truck. You know, I missed my truck. I really did.

This wasn't the first time I'd pulled my weapon on Mulder since we'd started this trip north. He'd talked me into putting it away the other two times it had happened. I suppose I was just a little emotional. And scared crapless. Sure, it's not a manly thing to admit. Fuck that. If you were in the situation I was, you'd be lying if you said you were anything but crap your pants scared. This kind of shit isn't supposed to happen, and if it hadn't been happening to me, I wouldn't have believed it for a minute.

You see, Fox Mulder's aliens had knocked me up.

They abducted me. It happened not long after I warned Mulder in that desert in New Mexico. One minute I was parked, taking a leak by the side of the road, Monica waiting in the truck. Next thing, bang, I wake up. It turns out it it's six months later. Mulder is rescuing me out of the hold of some alien space craft and not only do I have a newly installed set of female plumbing, I'm in my second trimester. I mean, it was obvious already that I've got a tadpole getting ready to hatch.

You can imagine that a man would be a little unsettled by this.

"Please, just put the gun away and we'll talk about it in the car," Mulder pleaded again. "I'm trying to help you as best I can, but I can't do that if you put a bullet in my head."

He looked just about as lost as I was feeling. I shook my head. I didn't care. Let him deal with his own damn feelings. He wasn't the one who had to take a leak every five minutes it seemed. He wasn't the one who had lost sight of his own dick. He wasn't the one with his body doing things that a man's body was just never meant to do. He wasn't the one with a full measure of hormones meant for a woman's body. He wasn't the one freaking out every time he felt some weird ass fluttering feeling inside his freaking body. He wasn't the one worried out of his mind by the fact that he could be carrying some kind of monster.

Or even worse. What if I weren't? What the hell was I going to do if this was a normal human child I was carrying?

And Mulder wasn't the one throwing up his guts at the least provocation. Hell, without provocation. I was suffering from so-called "morning" sickness like you wouldn't believe. I counted every instance of it against Mulder. And against my ex-wife. Ms. Perfect complained about the nausea in the mornings for maybe a few weeks during her first trimester, but I know she never once threw up, much less was reduced to helpless retching heaves so bad that she bust blood vessels in her eyes.

That was how we ended up here by the side of the road, with me holding my gun to the man's head. I'd had him stop the car so I could vomit by the side of the road, losing the saltines and ginger-ale that I'd been so hopeful about keeping down. Then Mulder said something. It probably was innocent sounding. But the way he said things made me want to kill him. I think it was, "Are you done yet?" A supposedly neutral question, but one that can be delivered with such impatience and snideness. How I made the leap from to being angry to being quite literally ready to kill him, I don't know. I suppose it lacked a certain logic, but it felt so right.

"You are a total bastard," I told him. Hardly my most original insult of the day, but I was rapidly running out of fresh invective. Old standards would have to do.

"I know you think this is somehow my fault," he said, "And I can appreciate that you might feel that way. But I really am trying to help you. Please. Just put the gun away and get back in the car."

I didn't have time to answer. I was racked by another wave of nausea, this was as debilitating as the last, but without anything more in my stomach to throw up, was just dry heaves. The dry heaves were the worst. I was helpless against them. A prisoner to my own body.

The bastard took advantage of my weakness. He danced close and had the gun out of my hand before I could protest. So I knelt there by the side of the road, humiliated, the sour taste of my own vomit filling my mouth, asphalt hard on my knees, feeling weak from heat so intense that it was a smell too. And I yelled, or at least I whined with feeling, "Give it back. You bastard. Give it back."

"No," he said softly. You could tell he was Mr. Rationality. He was obviously angry, but he was able to keep his fury reigned in well within bounds. "I'm sick of playing this game, John. You're not getting it back until you're more emotionally stable. I can't risk the chance that you might actually pull the trigger instead of just threatening me. So just get back in the fucking car and we'll talk about this like two rational human beings. We'll get to Sioux City, Iowa soon. I'm doing the best I can to get you some help. We'll be meeting people there. People who can help."

"Scully?" I asked. It would have to be Scully. Who else could take what had just happened to me in stride? And who else would have any chance of understanding how I felt? She too had gone through the doubt of not knowing if the child she carried was even human.

Mulder got a pained look in his face but smoothed it over in just a minute. "No, not Scully. We're going to meet Skinner. He has old friends in Iowa. There's a place out in the county where we can hide."

"No!" my reaction was as automatic as it was vehement. I'd have sooner ripped out my own guts with a dull spoon as let Skinner see me in this condition. I could have cried. Except John Doggett did not cry. Not unless someone was dead or dying. A man had to have whatever tattered rememnts of his pride were left to him. "No! Not Skinner."

"Well, then you figure it out! I'm trying to help you, John, but frankly, I don't have a lot of options left. Maybe you're forgetting the fact that I'm a convicted murderer with a pending death. It's the bald guy or nothing. The Gunmen are dead. Monica is still missing. Scully is...we just can't go to Scully. Our friends are kind of thin on the ground here. You'd rather I call Kersh?"

Shit. Double shit. I didn't know who the hell else besides Mulder I could go to. You can appreciate that this was a real delicate situation. With Mulder, I'd only lost the shame because he'd been around, he found me this way. I couldn't let anyone else I knew see me like this, as some kind of freak and monster. Mulder, he knew monsters, so it was almost okay. But where the hell was Scully?

"Get in the car John," Mulder snapped at me. He pulled the clip from my pistol and stuck it in his pocket. Then he stuck the unloaded weapon in the waistband of his jeans. I could have killed him for that. Not just that he had my weapon and was treating it so carelessly. Hell, I was angry that he had jeans. And a waist. I'd been wearing the same pair of sweats day and night for a long time now, since Phoenix and we hadn't exactly taken a direct route from Phoenix to Dallas. They were tight already, just barely covering me. I think they were Mulder's. I hated him for that. Next sign of civilization we came to, I was going to insist at stopping at a Wal-Mart and getting real pants.

I held my ground. Or rather, I held the ground. I was not getting into the car. I wasn't going to do a damn thing the bastard told me to. This was my bus ride and damned if I wasn't going to be in the driver's seat.

"Fine. Fucking walk to Sioux City for all I care. It's too hot for this. Bastard."

"No," I said nastily as I climbed to my feet again. "This will be a bastard." I pointed to my belly. "I'm a son of a bitch. A mean, nasty son of a bitch and I am not getting in the car."

He didn't say anything. He just stared at me, We waited at this impasse for a while, until I started to feel woozy. I kind of swayed and almost went down. Would have went down, except Mulder caught me. He half guided me, half shoved me into the car. He put a bottle of water in my hands.

"Rinse your mouth out first," he ordered. "Take a sip. Swish it around. Spit it out."

I did what he said only because I'd been planning to do it anyway. The water was warmer than lukewarm. Blood temperature. Body temperature. Hot. I felt a tinier bit better without the taste of acid in my mouth.

"Okay. Shit. You're dehydrated, John. Take small sips. Okay, let's buckle you in and get on the road. Skinner said there was a doctor he could trust. An old Marine buddy of his."

Fuck! I was not going to let a fellow Marine see me like this, no way, no how. Almost as if he could read my mind, Mulder said, "Look, I know this is difficult for you. You're going to have to swallow your pride, because you need more help than I can give you. Semper Fi. It means something, right? Always faithful. Well, loyalty's a two way street. You can trust Walter to stand by you. And if he says you can trust this doctor, then you can. We'll get you taken care of."

With that, he pulled the seatbelt over my body and clicked it into place, just like he'd buckle in a recalcitrant kid. He adjusted the belt so it sat under my big belly. He tapped the bottle of water I was still holding and said, "Try another sip. Small sips, every couple of minutes."

I could have just cried from the humiliation. Except John Doggett did not cry. I had to keep telling myself that. Mulder shut the door and walked around to the driver's side. He sat down behind the wheel but didn't start the car yet. He rummaged in the back seat until he found something. He handed me a little foil packet. One of those wet wipe things. As he started the car, buckled himself, then took off, I tore open the packet and wiped my face clean. It was comforting, the cool feel of the alcohol evaporating off my face, with the air conditioning blowing on me.

"You didn't tell Skinner..." I started.

"I only told him that you're very sick and that it's an extremely delicate situation for you. It's okay, John. Since the trial, he's seen things far stranger than your situation. And he understands the need for secrecy. One thing Skinner taught me is to remember who my friends are and who I can trust."

"Am I a fugitive? For helping you escape," for the first time I put words to suspicion that had been nagging me ever since I'd started on this road trip from hell with Mulder.

"No," Mulder said, then paused. He looked out at the landscape. Flat and brown as far as the eye could see, a sere landscape that matched what I felt at this moment. "I don't know how to put this except plainly. You're dead. They found an SUV. It had crashed and caught fire. There were two bodies in it, along with yours and Monica's FBI shields and Bureau issued firearms. And some other identification. I didn't go to your funeral. Skinner did. He said it was nice. All your buddies from the Bureau, the NYPD and the Marines were there. Your ex-wife even."

Shit. My old life really was gone. I tried to remember if I'd updated my will since after our divorce. If not, my house and truck were probably already sold. Gone. Not sure where the hell it was coming from, I started laughing. Somewhere in between my hysterical laughter, I found it in me to say, "Shit. Dead? I feel like hell. But I didn't think I was that bad off."

Mulder stared at me as if I'd gone off the deep edge, then he started laughing too. He kept driving though. I think probably I had. I wondered what I'd find on the way down. Finally our laughter trailed off and we kept an uneasy silence for a long time. I sipped warm water, slowly. A sip here, a sip there. Maybe I could trick my body into keeping some water down if I kept this up.

"You must have been surprised to find me then," I said eventually.

"No, not particularly. By your situation. But I knew you were alive," he said. He didn't explain why. I wasn't about to press either.

Somewhere further down that lonesome road we were travelling, I fell asleep. Mulder had found a station on the radio and was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time to an old Bonnie Raitt song, kind of whistling tunelessly along with it as well. The man had many talents, but music was not one of them, not that I had much room to talk.

I was calmer for the sleep and for getting a little bit of fluid to stay down. I started to reach for the water bottle. I'd dropped it while I was sleeping. I couldn't quite reach it comfortably, not able to bend down like I used to. Without comment, Mulder grabbed another one from the back seat and handed it to me. I thought for a minute about how just a little while back, I'd been about ready to kill the guy. It seemed like it had been another person who'd been doing that, that I was removed from the fury, feeling it only as a distant annoyance now.

As I took the bottle of water from him, I said, "I don't understand why I'm doing the things I'm doing. It's like I'm someone else. I am not a violent man, Mulder." It was about all the apology I could offer at this moment. And even just that cost me a lot of pride.

"I know, John. Otherwise I would have disarmed you after the first time or not given you the gun in the first place."

Mulder drove. I sat, staring out at the landscape, thinking. Nothing else to do but think. I hated this fury of mine, coming out of nowhere like it did. Hormonal. It was probably hormonal. I remembered the oceans of tears that would appear from nowhere when my ex-wife was pregnant with our son. Except I was a guy. I remembered reading somewhere that too much female hormones could make a guy violent. Maybe that was it. They couldn't be good for me, that was for sure. I wasn't by nature a violent guy. I didn't hit people for the hell of it. I'd gone, first into the Marines, then the police and finally the FBI in hopes of making the world a better, more peaceful place. I would get a hold of myself, I promised silently.

I was still angry at Mulder. I still hated my situation. I hated being stuck in this car, headed only to more humiliation. I hated that the car was currently one big rolling garbage can, littered with the remnants of the fast food and snacks we'd been able to grab on the road. I hated that, with rare exceptions, most of the radio we'd been able to tune in was country music crap. I hated the fact that I was still alive and that I was too damn stubborn in my clinging to life to do anything about that fact. I hated the fact that I didn't have real pants. As shallow as it was, as shitty as my life was, I think probably that was the thing that bugged me the most. It's the little things that really worm their way under your skin and stick there, like burrs.

At least Mulder hadn't taken up with the damn sunflower seeds again. Not after I had, a couple of days ago, grabbed the damn package out of his hands, opened the window and thrown them out, letting them scatter on the breeze as I told him that he was driving me crazy with the damn crunching and that I'd kill him if he didn't stop. Thus far, no more seeds. Thank god for small mercies.

I wondered, as I watched him drive, if I had my choice in the matter, was there anyone else in the world I would have chosen to make this trip? Scully maybe, just because I know she would understand. But no, not Monica. I wouldn't subject her to this. Skinner? I thought of absent friends, family members, all of who thought I was dead. I couldn't think of a single one of them who would have understood. I suppose this situation of mine really wasn't that much stranger than having been buried for three months then come back to life. Perhaps Mulder was not such an inappropriate companion for me right now, that he was the right person to be taking this journey with. I still hated the bastard though.

I think his strange moments of solicitude were even worse than the times he was just cold. I wished that I knew for sure that he hated to be saddled with me just as much as I hated to be dependant on him. Instead, I got glimpses of a man who was truly concerned for me, who had it in him to act in pure tenderness. A man who, strangely, seemed to embody something I'd idealized for myself- that a man could be both strong and gentle at the same time. I didn't want to like Fox Mulder. I never had, yet the longer I knew him, the greater my grudging respect for him grew.

After we stopped by the side of the road for both of us to take a leak, I fell asleep again. That was one of the worst things about being knocked up. I was tired constantly. At least during the day. In the fleabag hotels we stayed at during the night, I tossed and turned, staring up at the ceiling in the dark, unable to sleep for the worry. I dozed easily in the car though.

I was woken by Mulder singing along badly with the radio. The song was the irresistible "Brown Eyed Girl," always one of my favorites. It was impossible to feel totally rotten so long as Brown Eyed Girl was playing. And so I found myself joining in on the chorus, both of us off-key and warbly and not caring damn about it, "Do you remember when we used to sing sha la la la la la la la la ti da? La ti da." and for a brief moment of perfect time, I was totally happy, everything else forgotten.

But when we got to the line about making love in the green grass behind the stadium, I thought suddenly about my own brown eyed girl. Monica. Mulder just called her missing. But if the car caught fire. And they'd found bodies. Monica, dead. I didn't like that thought, not one bit. Suddenly, I did lose it. I was crying.

Was Fox Mulder a fucking mind reader? He reached over and put a hand on my forearm. Then he said, "It's okay. Monica isn't dead. We just haven't found her yet. We will." Perhaps I just believed him because I had to, that if he wasn't telling the truth that was more terrible than I could cope with at the moment. Another one of the wet wipes was in my hand, and as I wiped my face clean, putting a stopper on the damn tears, Mulder said, "We crossed the border into Missouri while you were sleeping."

The landscape was changing, just slightly. It still seemed baked by the heat, but perhaps there were hints of green, trees here and there to break up the landscape, clustering around the occasional stream. There were farms now, pastures. We must have been headed slightly east too, because the land now rolled, foothills of the Ozarks, I thought. Eventually, after the sun crept down below the horizon, shrouding the hills and everything in black, Mulder found a truck stop area, one of the big ones. He found us a hotel room, perhaps a little nicer than the places we usually stayed. To conserve cash, we only ever got one room and shared it. A double room with two beds, one of us to a bed.

Tonight though, the only hotel around was completely booked, except for one room with only a single king-size bed in it. Mulder sighed but handed a small pile of cash over and took the room keys, without consulting me. I made my way to the bathroom first thing, to relieve a bladder that felt like so full that it hurt. As I could have predicted, it was only a weak trickle of piss though. But I'd gotten most of two bottles of water down without throwing them up, so that was progress. When I got out of the bathroom, Mulder and I stared at each other over the expanse of polyester bedspread covered bed.

"I'll take the floor," he offered. Maybe I was a greedy bastard, but I didn't disagree with him or offer to let him share the bed. "I'm going to go out and find us some dinner. You want to come? You up for trying any kind of food yet?"

I looked at the bed. The television, which probably had cable. The bathroom which had a shower. I was about ready to kill for a shower. The shower at last night's fleabag dive had been filthy and I'd skipped a shower rather than use it. The bathroom in this place looked moderately clean. And most importantly- some time without Mulder at my damn elbow.

"I think I'll risk the saltines again," I said. "You got quarters for a coke from the vending machine?"

"I'll get it for you," he said. I was surprised when he reached into a bag and got out my gun. He handed it to me butt first. Then he handed me the clip. "I don't want you to be vulnerable while I'm gone. Do me a favor though. Promise me that you'll give this back to me when I get back. Can you do that for me?"

I thought back to my earlier behavior. It'd be humiliating as all hell to give the gun back, but if I thought rationally about it, and I was mostly thinking clearly at the minute, no, I couldn't be trusted with a gun, could I? I wouldn't trust a person behaving like I had been with one. That thought scared me. That I wasn't myself so much that I didn't trust myself with my own weapon.

"Yeah, I can do that," I conceded. I didn't slide the clip home, but I set them both beside me as I sat down on the bed and reached for the remote. As I turned on the television and began the perpetual quest for something decent to watch, I said, "See you soon."

"Is an hour and a half long enough for you?" he asked. Of course. Fox Mulder, mind reader that he appears to be, seemed to understand my need to be alone for at least a little while. You know, he probably needed his space away from me. I'm more than convinced that I've been no prince charming to be with these couple of weeks.

It was long enough to take a shower, watch a little television while nibbling a few crackers and drinking a soda, then maybe possibly fall asleep before he got back. "Yeah, long enough."

Before long, Mulder had brought me a sleeve of saltines from the car, two more bottles of water and two Sprites from the vending machine. I still remembered the scene we'd had the first time he'd gotten me an actual coke, not realizing that what I'd meant by coke was just a regionalism for a soda. "Sorry, they didn't have ginger ale," Mulder said, cautiously, as if he was sure I was going to blow up on him. "Best I could do. Make sure you drink the water too. You're still dehydrated. We can't take you to a hospital if you collapse."

"Fine, I'll drink it. Get out," I said, brusquely.

Once I was certain he was gone, I stripped down for a shower. Off came the huge flannel shirt that I thought hid my condition a bit better than just a t-shirt. For a while I could still bend down and untie my shoes. I could tell that someday soon that wouldn't be the case any more. I'd have to switch to slip-ons. As I pulled off my socks, I noticed that my ankles were a bit swollen. Then the t-shirt, and finally the sweat pants. I didn't look in the mirror when I went into the bathroom, averting my eyes. I didn't need to know anything it would tell me. I knew already about how my face looked gaunt and haunted, my eyes had red patches from blown blood vessels and my belly was more swollen than you'd think, even considering how far along we guessed I was. I was always a slender guy, and it'd been hard work to put some muscles on my frame. They'd pretty much disappeared during my abduction. And there was no where but out for the tadpole to go, nowhere for it to hide.

The shower was claustrophobically small, but the water was hot and the water pressure generous. I scrubbed myself clean with one of those little bars of soap found only in hotels, washing away road grime. Then I just leaned back and let the water run over my body, comforting me. The little things can make your life hell, but they can make your life a moment of heaven too. I found myself singing the chorus to Brown Eyed Girl again in the shower, not knowing many other words besides the Sha la la part.

Then the tadpole moved.

Sometimes I forgot for whole minutes at a time that I was so screwed that there were no words strong enough to cover the whole snafubarness of my situation. That had been one of them. But when the invader in your body chooses to make itself known, you can't help but remember. It wasn't what I'd call a kick. Just a fluttery feeling in my belly, the strangest thing. I understood now what my ex-wife had said about how it was a sensation you couldn't entirely describe, that you had to experience it for yourself.

Now that I had, I wish I hadn't.

I shut the water off and pretended nothing had happened, even as the tadpole continued to flutter around inside me. I dried myself off and even though I was loathe to put on my dirty clothes, I did. Anything was better than that Mulder would come back to the room and still find me naked.

Still, the tadpole was using my gut for a lap pool. As I settled down in front of the TV to a fine meal experience of soda and crackers, I talked to it. I almost never talked to it. I usually tried not to think about it as an actual entity separate from me.

"Stop it," I told it. "I hate that. I hate you. Soon as I get a chance, you're coming out. Got that? Ripped right out. And don't you dare send these crackers back where they came from."

Yeah, it was hypocritical as hell of me. I'd been pro-life for forever. But yes, I was going to abort the tadpole. Don't tell me you'd do anything differently. I think, if I found out it was a normal human child, it'd be harder to do, but I was still going to do it. I knew my limits. This was a place I could not go.

I didn't make a decision to carry this child. Hell, I'd never even made the decision to have sex. Other than my own left hand, there hadn't been anyone since my divorce. Fantasies about various people. But nothing approaching actual sex. Yes, if I'd made the decision to have sex and been caught this way as an accident, then yes, I would have buckled down and carried the tadpole, until it became obviously too medically dangerous or until it was old enough to be born. But I hadn't. I don't even remember how or when this happened to me or anything between my abduction and my rescue by Mulder.

Would it be a different decision if I'd had longer to think about it? If I'd been awake and conscious of it from the very start? I don't know. All I know was I couldn't do this. And yes, I did hate the tadpole. For all I was suffering because of it. Because it was making me make a decision I wasn't one hundred percent sure I could live with either way. For making me scared. Crap in my pants scared. More scared then I'd ever been, even during the times I thought I was going to die. Death would have been simple compared to this.

Threatening the tadpole didn't work to stop its motion. It was still fluttering around, starting and stopping, when Mulder came back to the hotel room to find me lying curled up as best I could on the bed, cursing to myself and saying, "Stop. Stop it."

He dropped the couple of plastic bags he was carrying and rushed over to the bed. He dropped on his knees beside me and said, "John! What's the matter? Are you in pain?"

"No, it's moving again," I said.

"We're maybe a day from our rendezvous with Skinner," Fox said. He took in the room with that look of his. One look that missed nothing. He took in the fact that the package of crackers wasn't yet opened, that none of the liquids he'd gotten me had been touched. He subtly reclaimed the gun, sliding it out of my reach first, then back into the waist of his jeans, the back of them. I'd have to go around him to get to it. Then he reclaimed the clip.

"We'll get you taken care of. Soon," he promised. He knew of my decision. When he'd heard it, just hours after I took that first pregnancy test that he forced me to take, even though I thought he was insane, he'd just nodded grimly and said the same thing he was saying now.

Mulder cracked open one of the sodas, probably gone warm by now. "Just a few sips, okay, buddy?"

He put the can into my hand and went to retrieve the bags he'd dropped. A couple of them had the familiar Wal-Mart logo on them. "I figure you'll only use them for a couple of days at most, but I thought you'd appreciate them," he explained as he pulled a huge pair of jeans out of the bag. Store brand. Who cared? They were real pants. And he brought out a belt for them too. He pulled out another flannel shirt, this one red and white plaid, with western style detailing. And then another pair of sweats. "I had to guess for size. I hope it's big enough."

I took a few slow sips of soda. It had gone warm but was not disgusting enough to trigger my gag reflex thankfully. Then I collected my new clothes from Mulder and went into the bathroom to change. Mulder had overestimated my size and I had to belt them up. The flannel shirt was similarly oversized. Who cared? Clean clothes and especially real pants were a real treat and I wasn't about to complain. When I got back out into the room, Mulder was already stretched out on the floor next to the bed. He'd claimed one of the bed's pillows and the bedspread. And the remote. He was flicking rapidly from station to station, not satisfied with anything he found. Just looking at the way the image was changing so fast made me kind of queasy. He sighed when I held my hand out for the remote but he handed it over without protest. We'd had this discussion a number of times before. Not only does he have crappy taste in TV shows when he does settle on one, he'll flip the channel on me just when I've actually got interested in something.

I flicked through the channels, looking for something. There was a limited number of things I could watch these days. Any kind of sport, with the exception of car racing, made me obsess about the fact that I was a freak and I'd lost a build that once had been nicely athletic. The news just plain made me uncomfortable and usually angry. Any kind of sitcom or drama that revolved around a family was out of the question too. They sometimes made me so irrationally angry that Mulder had once had to restrain me from bashing in the television. The TV talk tabloids seemed to hit the same emotional buttons for me as well.

The next channel I hit was that home decorating channel. Oddly, it was usually a fairly emotionally neutral choice for me. I could watch and make fun of Christopher Lowell or whoever was putting up a fuss over the color of some sofa or the walls. Perhaps it was because I'd never cared, never understood why anyone ever did. Still didn't. It was funny sometimes. Mulder did a wicked Christopher Lowell imitation. Tonight though, they were decorating a baby nursery. I stared like you might compulsively stare at a car wreck on the interstate, fascinated even as you feel sick to your very soul.

"Uh, John," Fox said, interrupting my downward spiral, "How about the history channel. I'm sure they'll be running that thing on the Civil war again. I didn't get a chance to watch the end."

"War of Northern aggression you mean," I said, grateful to have my attention pulled away from the emotional wreck that was about to start. Not that I believed the whole South will rise again crap, romanticizing a system that was horrible beyond comprehension, but a boy doesn't forget that he was born and raised in Georgia either. I changed the channel without looking back.

"Whatever. Never pictured you for the good ol' boy type," Mulder said. It was not the Civil War thing, but something on Pearl Harbor. Either way, it was far enough removed from present reality that it held no mood triggers for me and I could watch the old news clips and listen to the serious, studious narrator without feeling much of anything. Mulder shut up and listened as well.

Eventually, the tadpole quit with the synchronized swimming display and I had the illusion for the moment that my body was entirely my own. I reached for the crackers and opened the pack. One cracker at a time, small bites. That worked sometimes and I used the tactic again now. I washed the dry crackers down with the soda as ship after ship had destruction rained down from above on it. I couldn't have watched this if it had been in color, I decided. It would seem real. As it was, it seemed like a bad movie.

"So, how about you?" I asked during a commercial. "Did you ever picture that someday your life would be this much in the crapper?"

"I don't know. It's bad, sure, but not that bad. I'm a free man. I've got a roof over my head, a meal in my belly and a friend at my side. I'm not complaining."

"How much cash do we have left?" I asked, knowing that the room and then clothes and everything must have set him back quite a bit. I didn't know where he was being bankrolled from, but at my insistence, we were paying cash for everything, and I mean everything. We were moving without a trail as much as I could make us. I used to be a professional fugitive chaser and I know how people mess up and create a paper trail where they don't mean to.

"Enough. Don't worry on that front," Mulder said.

Some time or another, I drifted off to sleep, after a good portion of the crackers had disappeared. When I woke up again, the room was dark with only the bathroom light left on as a kind of nightlight, the TV turned off, though the remote was still in easy reach on the bedside table. And Mulder was talking to people who weren't there again. I'd caught him doing this a couple of times before and never mentioned it to him. He wasn't talking to himself. He'd say something, softly as if afraid of waking me. Then he'd wait, obviously listening to his imaginary friend's response. There was a definite conversation going on there, half of which existed only in Mulder's mind. It seemed natural somehow, fitting, that the only person around to help me should be so lucid most of the time and yet obviously completely insane. I usually tried not to listen when he did this but tonight he was talking about me to whoever it was he was imagining.

"I'm so worried about him, Scully. I think he's probably actually lost weight since I found him. He hasn't kept anything solid down at all hardly."

There was a pause of Mulder listening to his Scully of the imagination. Where the hell was Scully anyway? Why couldn't we go to her?

"Okay. I'll give it a try. Nothing else has worked. At least he seems to be sleeping well."

There was another pause. Then Mulder said, even more softly, with an edge of grief to his voice that I hadn't heard before, "I'd have given anything in the world to be there for you when you were going through this. You know that, don't you?"

I wanted to remain still. I wanted to fall back asleep. To pretend that I didn't hear Mulder talking to people that weren't there. But my bladder was demanding my full attention and I couldn't put off relieving it a second longer. I moved as if I was just then waking up. I made an immediate beeline for the toilet, sighing with relief as I finished draining the little lizard. My piss was no longer so dark, a good sign that I wasn't quite so dehydrated anymore.

When I went back to the room, Mulder had turned on one of the lamps and was sitting, leaning against the wall. He brushed at his face and I swore I saw tears being wiped away. For the first time, I noticed that he was wearing a necklace. The gold glinted in the light of the lamp. It was a small cross, familiar. I'd seen it before many times. Around Scully's neck.

I got a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach that had nothing to do with nausea, though I did feel sick. It was a soul sickness though. "Where's Scully, Mulder? What happened to Scully?"

"Don't ask me, John. I can't talk about it. Please." I was used by now to Mulder pleading with me about one thing or another but there was a definite edge to this plea.

Just how he said it confirmed the realization I'd had when I saw the necklace. It was like hitting a brick wall at fifty miles an hour. It was like somebody punched me right in the gut. I sat down heavily on the bed, remembering again how grief could feel just like physical pain. "She's dead," I whispered. "She's been killed. Hasn't she?"

"It's not the end, John," he said. "She's become a part of something far bigger than any of us. She's still fighting the good fight. She's not gone."

"Don't feed me any of that crap about Heaven. It's just stories that people make up to make themselves feel better about the inevitable. If you want to make yourself feel better by pretending to talk to her," There, I had it out. He knew that I'd heard him talking to himself. "Then fine. But don't expect me to believe that you're anything but crazy."

"If it makes me feel better, what skin off your nose is it?" he snapped nastily. I'd pressed a button or two of my own I could see. He continued to berate me. "You've never thought I was anything but crazy as a bedbug from the start, so why does it matter to you? People have thought I was fucking nuts since you were still tracking fugitives for the NYPD. I don't see why it should matter that you're telling me this now."

He stood up and invaded my space. He didn't hit me, though I could tell that he dearly wanted to. I almost wished he would. His face was deadly still in anger but his eyes flashed and his voice grew low and menacing. He did poke me in the chest with his forefinger. "And I was right about everything else, wasn't I? So maybe you might consider believing me when I say that the dead are here with us and that if you can listen right, you can hear them. Why does it matter to you if I believe that? That there is something bigger than us that has the power to save us?"

Why? Why should I care if he was insane, so long as he was functional? Because I was fucking dependant on him. That I probably wouldn't make it to the next town without his help.

What if it was worse than that? What if he was right, that if I listened in the right way, the dead would talk to me? What if they'd been trying to talk all along? What if my son had spent all these years desperate to say something to me? I had to believe, needed to believe, that there was nothing left of him to care what happened to him, that he had found the peace of oblivion. I had found some closure by finding his killer, knowing that the man was dead. But there was a huge jagged hole in me where he'd been, scarred over so I didn't bleed anymore, but still there. I was scared by the thought that he could still need me in some way, no matter how small and that I hadn't been there for him. I tried not to think about it.

"What happened to her, Mulder? What happened to Scully?"

"I was going to tell you as soon as you were in a better state of mind. We were trying to break into Mount Weather again. She was shot. She died in my arms." The words were delivered in the flat monotone of someone who has moved beyond grief. For a little while, I almost wished we weren't arguing. That I could say something to him. That I could find something in my scorched heart to offer him. I found nothing, though I looked.

"It's okay," he said finally. "She's happy. She doesn't hurt any more."

No, maybe not. But he did. I did. It wasn't okay.

Did I love Scully? Not carnally. But a little bit like you'd love your sister and a little bit like you'd love one of the guys in your unit. We'd been to hell together. I'd have done anything for her. Given my life for hers. I'd done a lot to protect her in the past and I should have been able to have protected her this time. God. I shivered and shook but for some reason, I was unable to cry. It felt too huge for that. I curled up on my side and just stared at the nubby beige pattern on the wallpaper. Mulder stood over me and stared. I could see him out of the corner of my eye though I didn't look directly at him.

A long time passed, Mulder in silent vigil over me, hours maybe even. Finally, he grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me. "Cry, damnit," he ordered. "Just cry already. I know you're a big man and you don't do that. But just cry already before you explode. Because I have to be able to trust you with a firearm. I can't leave you alone thinking that you might just leave me alone, with nothing a big mess to explain and clean up."

"Fuck you, Mulder," I grumbled. Did he really think I was going to shoot myself? He didn't know me, did he?

He pulled me up to a sitting position using a good bit of force. I wasn't exactly struggling against him, but I wasn't helping in the slightest. Then he wrapped his arms around me, pressing me into his chest. He was crying again. Maybe he needed this more than I did. If so, maybe I could let him hold me. I had literally nothing in the world left to offer him or anyone. Even the clothes on my back had been purchased by Mulder. I was a dead man with no identity, no official existence. My body only partially belonged to me, shared in joint tenancy at the moment with an invader.

When my own tears started falling, it was a surprise to me. And a relief. The grief was no longer so overwhelming, it was just ordinary, not a void of cosmic size. I could see, not the end of it, but how each day would happen. How I would get through the future in day-sized portions of despair.

Somewhere near dawn, I found myself asking Mulder, "Why? Why are you doing this for me?"

"Because other than Skinner, you're all I have left in this world. I can't do this alone. I need you. I need you whole to fight this fight with me."

I fell asleep again, exhausted by my sorrow, as I tried to think about this, that the great Fox Mulder, official bane of my existence, cause of all this trouble in the first place, should be ripping open his soul for me like this and admitting such vulnerability. And maybe, I might have to find it in me to be strong for him. Because some basic decency in me demanded it. Because he'd risked his life taking me out of that ship. Because he risked his freedom, being weighed down by me as deadweight. Because in the face of my anger and threats, he'd never been anything but decent to me.

Mulder was still in the bed when I woke up. He'd claimed a small corner of the huge space, all the way on the other side and was laying on top of the blanket. I don't remember inviting him to stay, but, whatever. I was too busy to fuss about it. My stomach and my bladder were calling for attention in equal measure, though the nausea wound up being the more compelling. I threw up the little fluid that was in my stomach and then spent a while just resting my head against the cold porcelain of the toilet tank. My mostly sleepless night had left me exhausted and feeling drained. I could have done without the wakeup call of morning sickness. Eventually my bladder forced me to stand and empty it. Mulder started stirring in the other room. I heard the exterior door to the room open then shut.

I gathered up the handful of things that I could call mine and shoved them back into one of the Wal-Mart bags, wondering where the hell Mulder had gone to. I looked out the window. Still fairly early in the morning, the dew just starting to burn off, it looked for now like it'd be a nice day, but would probably get wicked hot.

When I opened the exterior door, I found Mulder sitting on the concrete, bag of sunflower seeds in hand, busily cracking away. He looked up guiltily, like I'd caught out a secret smoker sneaking out for a butt. I thought for a moment about relenting and telling him he could eat the damn seeds in the car, if they were important enough to him that he was sneaking around to eat them. Then I heard him make that awful crunching noise, the full equivalent fingernails on the black board, if you ask me, and I decided I wouldn't.

"I'm ready to go when you are, Mulder," I said.

"Give me a few minutes, then we'll hit the road," he said, pouring himself another small handful. It appeared we were going to pretend that last night didn't happen, that we didn't cry ourselves to sleep in each others' arms. And that was just dandy by me. Except one thing he had to know.

"Mulder," I began. "No matter how bad it gets. No matter what happens. You ain't gonna find me with a gun in my hand and my brains splattered all over the place. Just not gonna happen. You can trust that much."

He nodded then said, "Thank you."

I shrugged. It had nothing to do with him. It wasn't for him. It just was something that wasn't in me.

I asked for, and got the car keys. I could do something about the rolling garbage can effect. I wasn't that helpless. I could control a little corner of my world to some extent. I gathered wrappers, empty bottles, bags and so forth from the back seat of the SUV. I retched a few times at the smell of some of the wrappers. They'd gotten kind of ripe sitting there. But I avoided another bout of nausea mostly. Eventually, I felt a presence behind me.

"I can take care of those," Mulder said, holding his hands out for the trash.

And so it went, the both of us saying no more than we had to, just enough to attend to the business of getting us on the road. Last night had been too much, too wrenching. We were busy covering up the raw, tender bits again, after having shown them to each other. I didn't like knowing the needy, all too human parts of Fox Mulder. I wished I hadn't seen them. He appeared embarrassed that he'd given so much away.

"Did you want to drive at all?" he asked as he put the last of our stuff back into the car.

I shook my head. Nausea was threatening again, and the effort of cleaning the car out had been a lot for me. I think maybe I still hadn't recovered from the abduction, beyond just the fact that this pregnancy was drawing on reserves I didn't really have. I think maybe if I'd been able to get some adequate nutrition down and staying down, it would have made a big difference. As it was, I was weak as a baby.

The landscape changed as we drove north and east. The rolling hills were now covered with farms, fields of corn mostly. My first impressions of Iowa were nothing but field after field of corn, as far as the eye could see, broken by the occasional farmhouse and dividing row of trees. The country no longer seemed so baked, though it was still seasonably warm. Gone was austere, dry Oklahoma and here was the land that fed the nation. Iowa. Though the corn was yellowed, most everything else was green, and despite the heat, it seemed so fresh compared to where we had been. You could almost get hopeful. It always seemed in Iowa that around the next curve of the road, the next rise of the hill, that there must be something new and wonderful coming. Some kind of redemption to this landscape of nothingness.

Hours of landscape passed us by. We stopped only for the bare necessities and then hurriedly. After weeks together in this car, I'm sure Mulder wanted to get this over with, get out of this confined space. Hand me off to Skinner. Wash his hands clean of me. And I'd be glad to get this over with. Find Skinner's doctor. Get this abortion. Pretend that my body hadn't been altered. Make a fresh start of it. I don't know what I would do, but I would put this behind me. I wanted to be done with this.

Day slipped into night and still we drove silently. I noticed that Mulder didn't turn on the radio at all. I wasn't going to break down and admit I needed music to fill the silence either. We didn't talk, the uncomfortable intimacy of the night before between us so palpable that it could be touched.

Finally, Mulder pulled into a grocery store parking lot. Hy-Vee was the name of the store. Mulder said, "This is the place."

I was relieved to have this trip be over and yet facing another round of dread. At the end of this trip was Skinner and I'd have to talk to him. See him. Have him see me like this. What made it worse wasn't just that he was a fellow Marine, a guy I looked up to, but that I once had a one of those crushes on the guy. The kind that make you act like an idiot. You find yourself doing anything in hopes of catching the guy's attention. You skulk around the office just hoping to catch sight of the guy. You get all butch and macho, putting on a display for him. Like I said, it made me act like an idiot.

I was over it now. Had been since sometime after we found Mulder. But yet it still flavored my interaction with the guy. He never knew a damn thing about it but I couldn't forget that I used to jerk off to fantasies of him at the gym. It was all about sex, nothing else. And then to have to come before this guy and have the horrible thing that had happened to me revealed to him. You can see how this might make me worried.

Mulder parked. He got out of the car. "Stay here. I'll take a look around."

"Mulder," I said. I couldn't do this. If nothing else, I'd never be able to say the words, to tell the truth about what had happened to me. Not to Skinner. "You find him, you tell him first before you bring him to me. If it's a problem with him, I don't want to know what he says. Don't tell me, we'll just go."

"It'll be okay, John. I promise. Skinner will stand by you."

Then he disappeared into the night, moving inconspicuously among the cars. I dozed in the seat.

I don't know what Mulder said to Skinner. I never will. I didn't ask and I don't ever intend to. All I know is that an hour later when Mulder came back he had Skinner in tow. And Skinner's face, though I could tell even in the dim parking lot lights was troubled, his voice was also soft with concern when he said, "It's okay, John. We'll do the best we can to get you taken care of. We'll meet my friend in Harlan."

And that was all I saw of Sioux City, Iowa.

Mulder climbed back in the car. He'd picked up a few things from the grocery store. As we pulled out of the parking lot, following Skinner, he pulled something out of the bag and handed it to me. It was a lumpy brown vegetable-like object. "It's ginger root," Mulder explained. "Scully suggested it. She says that it's very effective at calming stomachs as well as being totally safe. You chew on it."

I rolled down the window and chucked to object out. I wasn't going to humor him. I wasn't about to pretend that Mulder not only could talk to dead people, but that they might actually be helpful to him. Fuck that.

"Fine! Be miserable!" Mulder snapped. "I'm just trying to help."

"Go to hell," I muttered. I curled up in my seat again, miserable, feeling hateful. You know, I used to have an iron stomach. Nothing phased me, not MREs from my Marine days, not bad road food, not kabobs made from God knows what kind of meat bought from roadside vendors in Beirut, nothing. Didn't even get heartburn. I wondered if I would ever get it back.

I wondered how I would find the man I used to be- tough-assed, phased by nothing. This was not me, petty, pissy, scared, and weak. And a big jerk.

The next three hours were filled with a silence so icy and palpable you could have sliced it and served it for dinner. We'd come to another one of those limits of our ability to deal with each other and I didn't talk because I had no idea of what to say to the man next to me that would back us off this edge. Meanwhile, we drove down narrow state highways to this place called Harlan. The darkness was unrelieved, almost elemental. Only occasionally would the crest of one of the rolling hills reveal the headlight beams of a car going the other direction. Here and there farmhouses were lit up, but otherwise, nothing. A long time ago, we'd pulled off onto a gravel county road which crunched under our wheels and threw up rocks which pinged against the car. Here and there, I would gag slightly as we got a hint of the distinctive, acrid odors of a hog farm we were passing.

Sometime just before we pulled into the last turn, Mulder found it in him to talk to me. "Who'd have thought Skinner comes from the ends of the earth like this?"

"He's from here?"

"He's taking us to his late aunt's house, though the house he grew up in is just down the road a few miles."

With that, we passed a couple of mailboxes mounted crookedly on their posts, as if they'd been nearly knocked off. Then we turned down a driveway that looked like it was longer than my old block back in Falls Church. Finally, the cars were parked beside a big old farmhouse with the porch light left on.

"My sister's here," Skinner said, indicating a battered pickup truck parked in the drive just ahead of us. "She'll be fine. I had to tell her how I was going to be using the place. She lives here."

Before we could turn to the door even, it opened and a big woman swept out, targeted dead on for Skinner. "Wally!" she cried. "You're home!"

Even in the half darkness, I could tell that she looked just like Skinner, other than the chrome dome, even down to the glasses. It was, unfortunately not a real good look for a woman. Also, where his bulk came from muscles, she was just fat. She wasn't quite as tall, but she definitely weighed about the same. They had the same steel gray hair. Her hair was long and straight and pulled back from her face in a single braid. And whereas Skinner was all glares and scowls, she practically radiated warmth and smiles. It made me inclined to trust her. She hugged the big guy. I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that other than Scully clinging to him when we were burying the man who was now standing beside me. I wonder, did Mulder embrace Walt when they buried Scully. Hell, I didn't even know if they'd been able get her body back to her family or not. That hurt, knowing I might never be able to visit her grave.

Oddly, the inside of the space craft Mulder rescued me from seemed only marginally weirder than the sight of Walter Skinner, Assistant Director of the FBI and total hard-ass, getting the top of his chrome dome rubbed by a fat woman in floral print and suffering her to call him "Wally". He seemed to be lapping it up like a cat would cream though.

"Enough, Georgie," he said indulgently after a few minutes, pushing her aside reluctantly. "Georgeann, these are the men I told you about. Mulder and John, this is my sister Georgeann."

I hung back in the darkness as Mulder stepped forward. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he said, holding out his hand.

"Just Georgie. You boys must be hungry. I stocked the fridge. Won't be a problem to whip something up for you."

You could forget at times just how charming Fox Mulder can be when he sets his mind to it. Most of the time I was around him, I was so irritated with his singular ability to be a pain in the ass. As I watched how he smiled at Georgeann and generally had her eating out of his palm in a few short minutes, I wondered if part of it was me. If something in me brought out the worst in Mulder.

"Well, Georgie, I'd appreciate it. And I'm sure Walter would. But I think what John needs more than anything is some sleep," Mulder said.

She narrowed her eyes and looked at me as closely as she could where I stood in the shadows. Her jaw dropped slightly as if in shock, but then she closed it and decided not to notice that anything was amiss. I could definitely see signs of Skinner's famous iron will in her. It must be a family trait. She carried on like a trooper.

"Of course! Wally, you show John on up. I made up all of the beds. I'll take care of some supper for you boys."

And so, she led Mulder into the house, leaving me standing there with Skinner. I was grateful. It was well after midnight. I didn't think I could even contemplate food at the moment without feeling nauseous. It had been a bad day and I didn't even try the usual crackers, just had been sipping at ginger ale all day. Skinner and I stared at each other awkwardly, neither sure what to say to the other. Comparatively, my time with Mulder had been an easy, comfortable silence, companionable even. Finally, Skinner shrugged and reached for the door without saying anything. He walked inside and I followed, my legs aching from disuse.

The house still bore evidence of having been lived in by an old person for years, though mostly it smelled disused, dusty, rather than of that peculiar smell of old people. It was run down, never a fancy, proud house. Just a humble farm house that was filled with worn, cheap furniture. Linoleum was the preferred flooring material, a pattern in pink and green, much faded and worn now, looking like a remainder of the fifties. The living room had a huge wood burning stove, set on bricks. Though cold now, the lingering smell of wood smoke surrounded it. Houseplants on the windowsill. One bookshelf packed with reader's digests and a couple of bibles. The television was one of the big console types and it was going now, the color picture bilious green, the sound turned way down. Overall, though, it seemed comfortable, like someone's nest.

"There is central heat," Skinner said. "My aunt just never trusted it entirely."

"Your sister is nice," I said.

"She gave up a career in nursing to take care of my aunt. This house and the land should have gone to her instead of me."

One of the door's off the room opened up to a narrow staircase with painted wood steps. Skinner started up these. At the top was a narrow hallway, also covered in linoleum. Four doors led off it. "Bathroom through there," Skinner said, indicating one of the doors. He led me into another bedroom, this one with a simple iron bed, plain as could be. White sheets, plain blue blanket, white walls. "Your room."

Then we stared at each other, having nearly drained our supplies of words, as scarce as they were. Suddenly, I was angry that he couldn't find anything to say to me. All I had been through and he couldn't even say that he regretted it. I let myself fall down on the bed and started to get comfortable for another long night of staring at the ceiling in the darkness. I toed my shoes off and dropped them off the side of the bed.

"John...I," Skinner began. "I'm not often at a loss for words. I'm used to dealing with crisis situations. But be patient with me. This is so far outside my experience."

"Well, it isn't exactly something I've done before either," I said. "Or ever intended to do."

Shoes off, I laid down. The pillow was cool and comfortable on my face. I wanted to be left alone, not having to face these silences that told me everything I needed to know about how Skinner was feeling. That he was horrified. That he saw me as some kind of monster. That his view of me had been forever tainted. I didn't crawl under the blanket, because the night was too warm for it and the farmhouse didn't have air-conditioning, or even a fan in the window. But I curled up on my side and hid my face with my arm.

"Goodnight, sir," I said.

"Not sir," he said. "I quit right after Mulder's trial. I got sick of being a pawn, impotent to do anything. Walter. And I was pallbearer at your funeral. I think that puts us on a first name basis if nothing else."

He left me alone then. I thought it would be for the night, but he came back a little while later with one of those box fans. He put it in the window and plugged it in. He turned it on and a gentle breeze cooled the room, making it tolerable. Only then did he turn out the overhead light and go. I dozed but I did not fall deeply asleep.

Sometime, hours later, a figure appeared silhouetted in the doorway. Mulder, watching me sleep. I looked over at a clock on the bedside table. It was three in the morning, assuming the clock was correct.

"You don't sleep much, do you?" I asked. He'd gotten every bit as little sleep as I'd gotten the night before, but he'd then spent the day driving from Missouri to western Iowa. I'd have guessed three or four hours of sleep for him in the last twenty four. Maybe less.

"No, not when things are happening to people I care about. They call it situational insomnia. It's a kind of stress reaction. Sleep researchers think it might function as a mechanism to force a person to fully process their reactions to any kind of significant stressors, in this instance, the fact that my partner has died within the past few months and that someone I care about is going through an event so unusual and distressing that it doesn't exist on the standard life stressors scale."

He sounded impersonal, as if talking about someone else entirely in a clinical kind of voice, like giving a briefing for a case. Not like he was talking about himself and me.

"Do you need anything?" he asked when I didn't respond. Like Walt, I was caught out speechless.

"Starving," I said. I was. Over the hours, my nausea had calmed completely. I wasn't sure if my stomach was going to tolerate anything, but I certainly was going to try. I might spend the next several hours bent over the toilet, but for now, my stomach was rumbling and I actually had an appetite. I levered myself upwards and prepared for a trip to the kitchen.

"Want me to come with you? I'm up for a post-midnight refrigerator raid." Mulder said.

I shrugged. I made my way downstairs again, Mulder following close behind. The steps, I decided, were dangerous. Steep and with painted treads that felt slick under my stocking feet, I could see someone slipping and falling their straight descent right down to the door that closed them off from the living room. I made it down safely though.

The kitchen was still softly lit with one light over the range hood. We didn't turn on the overhead. There was a screened porch just off the kitchen and a kitchen window open to the porch. Skinner and his sister were sitting out on the porch, talking. I listened for a minute, because they were talking about me.

"What's wrong with the boy, Wally? Really. I know you don't want to tell me. But if I didn't know better, I'd say he was pregnant. He certainly looks it. Is it some kind of cancer?"

Skinner's struggle with himself was so obvious I could almost hear it. Finally, he broke down and said, "There are things I've never told you about, things about the government. Things that no decent person should have to worry about. Cover ups. Conspiracies. Secret medical tests and tortures that the government has conducted on its own citizens without their consent. Or even informing them. Things that you wouldn't believe possible. I have seen things that I can neither explain nor deny."

"You're saying that the man is a victim of some kind of tortured medical experiment?" she asked. Her voice was softly outraged. And I knew that I had an ally in her. "He is pregnant, isn't he? I've read some things. That they thought it might be possible some day to do it."

"Yes, if I am to believe Mulder," Skinner said, his sister's outrage echoed in his voice. He seemed choked with a kind of fury. I didn't like the way it sounded in his voice though, as if he were talking about me as if I were already lost. As if I were as dead as whatever body they'd buried in my place. "He's a good man, Georgie. For them to have done this to him...I just can't even say."

I turned away from their conversation, towards the refrigerator which Mulder had already poked his head into. "Turkey sandwich maybe?" he asked. "She made a peach pie that was pretty good. There's still some left. You want a ginger ale?"

Before I knew it, Mulder had set me up with plain turkey sandwich and a ginger ale. I ate it slowly and sipped at the soda. If I'd learned anything, it was that my best chance at keeping something down was to take it in small bites. I was doing pretty good.

Until the last couple of bites. Something changed. The turkey suddenly felt slimy in my mouth and I started to gag. I dropped the remainder of the sandwich and bolted. I almost didn't make it all the way through the downstairs, up those steps, then to the room Skinner had indicated earlier. Up came chunks of mostly undigested turkey sandwich. The worst part about throwing, I'd decided long ago, was that between bouts, you were left with plenty of time to contemplate just how humiliating it is.

I also had time to contemplate the pattern on the sheet vinyl and the sickly pink of the fixtures. The room probably had last been redone in the fifties.

I felt a presence in the doorway and I prepared some blistering comment for Mulder.

I looked up. It wasn't Mulder. It was Georgeann, looking at me with concern. "You must feel terrible, sweetie."

"Let me guess, you know just how I'm feeling," I was sarcastic, even cruel in my discomfort, nothing but a wounded animal lashing out at the hands trying to comfort me. I hated this person I'd become.

"No, I can't imagine half of what you're going through, but I have been pregnant and I remember sitting exactly where you're sitting and puking my guts out. Right into that exact same toilet."

"How old is your child now?" I asked aware only after I asked it that it wasn't a good question to ask.

"Back then it wasn't like it is now with all these girls keeping their babies. That was thirty-something years ago. I didn't see I had a choice. It wasn't legal, but that didn't stop me. Back then, they didn't call it rape when you knew the boy and he had your parents' permission to take you out."

Perhaps she did understand at least part of what I was going through. She had been made pregnant against her will, though by more conventional, earthly means than I had. And she had the abortion I was planning. Her words were plain, not quite harsh, not ornamented with dramatics but not exactly forgiving either. They were the words of someone who has seen reality and is compelled to tell it like it is. No sugarcoating would be forthcoming from her. I could trust that.

Shamed by her words, I hid my face, not finding it in me just yet to make an apology. She bustled around the bathroom for a while. I felt a cold cloth on the back of my neck. It was comforting. So was the light weight of her hand on the back of my neck. I thought maybe I might be able to accept this from her like I couldn't from Mulder.

"August is an absolutely miserable month to be pregnant in," she said. "I did ob/gyn nursing a while before I did ICU. You must be beside yourself."

"Words can hardly express," I said.

"All done for the moment?" she asked.

I let her help me to my feet. She got me water to rinse out my mouth. I didn't try and brush my teeth. The feeling of the toothbrush in my mouth kept setting off my gag reflex. She wanted to put me to bed, but I protested that I wouldn't be able to sleep again. So we ended up heading downstairs again, to the living room.

The TV had a VCR that I hadn't noticed my first couple of times through the room. "Not much to watch at this time of morning unless you're interested in preaching on the religious channel or infomercials. Or my aunt's tapes. Probably not much to interest a guy like you."

Whatever they were, it had to be better than a particularly virulent form of a religion that at best I couldn't believe in and that I suspected was nothing but lies of the worst kind. Either way, Georgeann settled on the sofa in an indentation that seemed to be her exact shape and I took the recliner directly across from the television. We ended up watching tapes of George Burns and Gracie Allen from the golden age of television. I found that the part of me that knew how to laugh wasn't frozen entirely. That, creakily at first, but more robustly as the show went on, I could laugh at the jokes and even have a good time.

When we got to the end of a show and the classic lines came on, "Say goodnight, Gracie." and then, "Goodnight, Gracie," I got a little misty in the eyes, just because.

"My Gram's name was Grace," I explained as I wiped these inexplicable tears off my face. "Gracie. She used to think that joke was the funniest thing ever. She passed while I was in country in Lebanon."

"It's such a pretty name. Better than Georgeann by far."

I just noticed that someone wasn't around. "Have you seen Mulder? Did he go to bed or something?"

"He went for a drive. You know, your friend Fox feels terribly that there's nothing he can do to make you feel any better," Georgeann said. "How's your tea?"

Georgeann had taken some time to make me a cup of tea. It was kind of spicy and peppery, not exactly unpleasant, but nothing I would have picked either. I'd sipped most of it down because she gave me baleful looks anytime I looked like I was going to abandon it. I decided that Skinner must have learned his AD glare from his older sister. She was a pro, could have stepped into his place in a minute.

"It's fine," I said. "What is it?"

"Secret Skinner family recipe. I'm sworn never to tell," she said, mock solemnly, making the motions to cross her heart and hope to die.

Sometime around dawn, after another cup of the secret recipe tea, I found my way to bed again.

Mulder:

The universe is irrational. And perverse.

There can be no other explanation for the fact that at six thirty in the morning, I was passing through Omaha, Nebraska and arguing about John Doggett with my old, now dead, boyfriend, Alex Krycek.

You would think that death would be merciful enough to keep the living fully separated from the dead. Not so in my case. Once I had loved this man dearly, then hated him with a rage that could be borne only of betrayal. Now? Who knew exactly how to describe what he meant to me other than that he now was one of my beloved dead. In Mexico, once a year, they celebrate a Day of the Dead, where they honor the dead, bring them sweets and decorate their graves. Every day, I spoke with the dead, whether I walked in their world or they walked in mine, I did not know. Suffice it to say that somewhere between us was an intersection, a moment of time where we interacted.

"Skinner and his sister will take good care of him," I said. "He's safe now."

"You really think that, do you, Mulder?" Krycek said. "You know these people. They'll stop at nothing."

"There's nothing more I can do for him. He won't accept my help. He hates me," I protested.

There was no answer. All of my beloved dead, but especially Alex Krycek, are intensely disturbing in their casual comings and goings. They appear with no warnings and disappear again with even less. I was alone in the car once more with nothing more than my cowardice for company. I was running away. Not permanently, I told myself. Headed to points west again, digging for clues, any kind information that might help us in the struggle against the inevitable. The date of humanity's doom had been set even before I was born, yet only the burning hope that I might change it somehow kept me going, now that everything I once valued had been stripped from me. My family, my home, the woman I loved dearly, my profession, my son, good friends- all gone.

I would never have called John Doggett my friend. Once, I had called him interloper, accused him trying to discredit the X-files. I had grown to respect him quickly, because his sheer competency and straightforwardness demanded it. If I could use such an old-fashioned, and mostly meaningless these days, word the man was honorable. Of course, he was also a closed-minded, tight-assed son of a bitch, so closed off to the same strange possibilities that I accepted naturally that he could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes at times. We'd had something approaching mutual respect and co-operation at one point. Until I'd done the inexcuseable.

I'd found the man at a moment of profound weakness. And I had shown him, again and again, that I was not afraid to admit to my own weaknesses. For this, I was sure he would never forgive me. All those untidy, messy emotions like fear and sorrow that can never truly be contained, blocked off by walls of thought, he covered them with anger. I had seen through his defenses for brief, blinding moments, to find a man quaking to his very soul. He hated me for it. I think I could have faced anything besides his hate, which was all he was letting me see.

Worse was my impotence in the face of the very real crisis facing the man. I was sure that it was no monster, not in the conventional sense, that he carried in his belly. Such a creature would have eaten through his internal organs and burst out of his chest long ago. No, whatever he carried, it was bound to be something so close to human as to be hardly discernible. I could see no solution though than to encourage him into the abortion he professed to want. Yet, I could also see that it would have the power to destroy him.

I intended to what? Stay away until such a time as the medical procedure could be performed and it was seen how the dice had fallen, whether or not he survived it with his mind and sanity fully intact. What would I do if he fell apart? Hope that destroyed like that he was of no more use or interest to the forces that ripped him apart in the first place and settle him someplace where he could be cared for with some of the money from the bank accounts Krycek had given me numbers to.

The only face that Doggett had let me see before his abduction was that of a strong man, a warrior. A man who would be hero given the appropriate circumstances. Now, the man I had gotten to know after finding him in that hold was merely human, and a suffering human at that. These were not Doggett's finest hours, which we both knew. I could forgive him, but he could not forgive himself.

Made uncertain of my plans by the naggings of Krycek and my own mind, I pulled into parking lot of a Denny's. A few moments later, I was settled in a booth, mind given fully over to the task of decided which of the fat-laden, feasts of eventual death by coronary artery disease I wanted. I wanted, for the moment, no decision more difficult than cream with my coffee or not. The restaurant was quiet, even considering the hour. I could hear myself think far too loudly for comfort.

The waitress could have been any waitress in a diner, working the morning shift in Nowheresville, Midwest, USA. She seemed an archetype more than a person, with her permed hair and rotund figure. She took my order with little comment, leaving me alone again having to face the far bigger issues like where I was going to go next, and could I continue to live with myself.

As she set down the combination of eggs, bacon and fried potatoes that I'd ordered, she said, "You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders."

Time for Atlas to shrug? Not likely. Still, she seemed like a sweet and anonymous confessor that could absorb some of my troubles. And she was out and out asking me to unburden myself. "I'm just thinking about someone I know," I said. I changed the sex of the person in question, to make it more understandable. I'd been thrown out of enough bars and other places by people who thought I was drunk to have learned my lesson on that front. "This woman. Some guy, not me, I swear, got her pregnant. I suppose you can only call it rape, I don't know how else you'd describe it. She's not exactly what you would call a friend of mine, because she hates me. One time she threw a full soda can at me just because it wasn't the right kind."

"She hit you?"

"Beaned me right in the gut."

"I don't think she was aiming for your gut. She was just a little high, probably. I know what I'd be aiming for if I were her," the waitress said. "So, why are you abandoning her?"

"I'm not. I just dropped her off at her aunt and uncle's house," I suppose that was a good enough way to describe Skinner and his sister. "She's safe now."

"You care for her at all?"

"Of course. I love her...like a sister I suppose. I'm furious about what happened to her," I said.

The waitress picked up my plate before I'd even taken a bite and she said, "I'll go wrap this up to go. When I'm done, if you know what's good for you and your Jesus-loving soul, you'll get your skinny ass back in your car and drive right back to her uncle and aunt's and stay by her side all the way through this. Be strong for her."

"But, she doesn't want me there. She hates me."

"Don't mistake her pain for hate, sweetie."

With that, the waitress took my plate and left me alone. Well, alone for just a minute.

I was confronted by a new face in my standard repertoire of ghosts. The one that I had hoped so much not to see ever since I'd found Doggett. I'd so hoped that someday soon I'd be able to find her for him.

"Monica," I whispered softly. I was learning not to talk too much in public to people that most would agree weren't there. Passing over to the other side, even if it was just my imagination filling in the details, always agreed with people. As a ghost, Monica was radiantly beautiful. Her pale complexion glowed under her silky dark hair. I was struck by the serenity in her eyes. She and the rest of the dead were at peace, even if I was not. I wondered how she had died. I'd learned not to talk about that with my beloved dead. They never seemed to remember how it happened. Most pain in their lives was forgotten. Only love seemed to remain.

"That waitress is right," she said with a little half-smile. "Go take care of him for me. Would you want to be stuck with no one but Skinner for company for this one?"

Monica disappeared. I dropped a twenty on the table and was out the door even before the waitress could get back with my breakfast packaged to go. I wondered sometimes at my singular ability to be blind to what was going on in those closest to me, especially myself. I drove around Omaha for a while, ostensibly in random directions, not entirely certain of my decision. I found myself heading further and further east every moment. On the eastern edge of town, I came across a big shopping center. The typical huge parking lot surrounded by big box stores. On an impulse, I pulled in and parked in front of one of the electronics store.

Doggett:

Sometime long after noon, I drifted to consciousness again. I was alone in my new room. Drawn curtains revealed an utterly perfect blue sky, not a cloud in sight. The fan blew in a smell was distinctly rural. I'm not a farm boy myself, but cousins of mine were farmers. I'd spent summers with my uncle and aunt on their farm. I knew the smells intimately. They brought to mind long, hot days of hard work at chores and sneaking away from those chores whenever possible for the sweetness of a cool skinny dip in the nearby river. Not exactly unpleasant, but with obvious undertones of animal shit. The smell of dirt over that was more pleasant.

I almost missed the obvious. That the distant scent of pig shit in the air wasn't making me nauseous. I should be making my morning race for the porcelain right now. My bladder was nagging though. That was the thing that had gotten me up in the first place.

Downstairs, Skinner and Georgie were sitting at the kitchen table, talking quietly to themselves, a conversation which ended the minute I came into sight, probably they were talking about what to do about me. "Put the kettle on, Wally," Georgie said, getting up from the table. She guided me by the elbow to sit down.

"It seemed like you needed the rest more than anything, so I asked my friend not to come until tomorrow," Skinner said as he filled the kettle from the sink.

"Where's Mulder?" I asked, not having seen any evidence of the man yet today. I guess I was concerned, that having dropped me off safely into Skinner's care, that Mulder was going to take off. And I was starting to be pissed that he hadn't had the decency to say goodbye even.

The back door opened. Mulder bounded into the kitchen. The man had the damndest sense of timing. He was carrying a couple of bags. "I went to Omaha. Bought a present for you. I figured you're going to be laid up for a while, recovering," he said. He dropped one of the plastic bags onto the table in front of me. I peek inside. About two dozen DVDs and box sets. It was one of the oddest lot of entertainment I'd ever seen gathered in one bag. I sorted through it: the Marx brothers, highlights of the 2002 NFL season, Dirty Harry, Ken Burn's Civil War, Iron Chef, a couple of bad chopsocky flicks, Ed Wood movies. And something called "Queer as Folk."

As I looked in puzzlement at that one, Mulder tore it out of my hands. "Sorry," he said, ears turning pink. "I forgot to sort it out. I got that one for myself."

"Hey, you left it in the bag, seems like it's my present after all," I said, more to embarrass him further, especially in front of Skinner, than any interest in the box set. I figured it had to be porn or just as good for him to be so furtively trying to cover up what it was. I was able to reclaim the box set from his grabbing hands.

"My aunt didn't have a DVD player, Mulder," Skinner said.

"I know. Help me get some more stuff out of the car, Walter."

They went out and a few moments later, they reappeared. Walt was struggling with a big TV box, Mulder hefting a couple of smaller boxes and bags. "Living room okay for now, John?" Mulder asked. "I figure if you end up confined to bed for a while, after the procedure, we can move it upstairs then."

"Fine," I said. By this point, Georgie had finished making a cup of tea. She set it front of me and looked at me with purpose. I got the point and took a cautious sip, blowing on it first. The same spicy tea as she'd made me drink last night. In the other room, Mulder and Skinner wrestled with boxes and wires, setting up the new TV and DVD player. I wanted to get up and go help them with it. I suppose a typically male reaction when confronted with the sounds of something that has the instructions, 'some assembly required.'

"You might as well wait here," Georgie told me. "Knowing Walter, two of them is about one too many, as is."

She was right. Immediately I heard a muffled "Mulder!" coming from the direction of the living room.

"Did I tell you or did I tell you? Drink your tea, sweetie," she said.

At Georgie's insistence, I parked my ass in front of the television more or less the whole day. While Skinner and Mulder finished arguing over the TV setup, she permitted me one brief stroll around the property, a short tour that skirted the cornfields, with her at my elbow. I'd activated the mother hen instinct in her.

"The land belongs to Walter," she said. She seemed not at all bitter about the fact that her brother was the one with the inheritance, not her. "Came with the farmhouse. But it's been leased out ever since my Uncle died in the seventies. I don't think he ever gave up hope that Walter would come back to the land and take up farming again."

I ventured too close to the cornfield itself for her comfort and she put a restraining hand on my shoulder. "I don't think you want to go that close. I don't trust all the chemicals the farmer uses."

We turned back to the house after that, passing the chicken coops. We came across Skinner, dressed in what I thought of as full country regalia. Jeans, a flannel shirt and somewhere or another he'd dug up an old John Deere gimme cap. He'd been busy in the coops, pitching out old bedding.

"How's the great TV setup project going?" Georgie asked.

"I left Mulder to it. I thought you said you hired a boy from the town to come out here and take care of the hens," he said to Georgie.

"I did. He's taken care of them. Just not to your standards I guess. Walter, it's a hen house, not a kitchen. Doesn't have to be spotless. They're laying just fine."

Skinner grumbled under his breath, but retreated back to the chicken coop instead of standing up to his big sister again. I don't think I've ever seen Skinner so meek as he was when his sister spoke to him.

The strangest looking cat I ever saw came limping across my path as we started for the house. She was a calico, but missing one of her eyes, only a fold of scar tissue where it should have been. She was a skinny little, tiny thing, but with a swollen middle. I've been around barn cats enough to know when one is with kittens. And this one was, nearly ready to drop. She wove herself around my ankles, mewling, but when I knelt down to pet her, she bolted away.

"Poor thing," Georgie said. "I've been trying to catch her and take her to the vets for weeks, but she's too clever for any of the traps I've set. I call her Sadie. She obviously craves human company, but she's so scared of us. I think she was a pet for a while before she was dumped out here."

Ignored, Sadie reappeared, sitting on the porch railing, still acrobatic despite her burden and her missing eye. "She's hardly more than a kitten herself," I said. She seemed scrappy, a survivor and a fighter. I could admire that in a creature. There'd been a while before my abduction where I'd seriously thought about getting a cat and never had. Monica had always said I was a dog person, but I disagreed.

Sadie leaped off the railing and twirled herself around my ankles again, rubbing frantically. I didn't reach down for her this time and she stayed there for a while, happy to have made my acquaintance. I didn't mind. She was a sweet thing and I felt sorry for her, so burdened down with kittens and so hurt already. A moment later, she reached the limit of her courage and retreated back in the direction of the outbuildings.

I shrugged and headed back inside the house. Mulder had set himself up in front of the TV, remote clutched in hand, in what I already thought of as my chair. I stared at him and then cleared my throat in a way that clearly suggested mayhem if he didn't move.

Georgie had followed me into the house and as he said, "oh," softly and got out of my chair, she shook her head. She went into the kitchen. I held my hand out for the remote and got it with only a roll of Mulder's eyes. The bastard could be so infuriating and I nearly whipped the remote at him, aiming right for between his eyes. I probably would have hit him too. I've got good aim and how could I miss at such close range? But it might have meant Mulder reclaiming the remote. I settled into the recliner and stopped the video he'd been watching. It was the NFL highlights.

"Between being in prison and on the run last year, there wasn't much chance to keep up with sports," Mulder said as he settled onto the well-worn sofa. "Which one did you want?"

"Marx Brothers," I said. Laughter seemed to be the easiest thing these days to get me out of myself.

So began one of the longest TV marathons I'd engaged in for a long time. Georgie brought out snacks. A plate of crackers and cheese which she set on a battered TV tray right at my elbow. Oddly, I found myself hungry and willing to risk some food again. I started with just the crackers. Though my stomach felt a little unsettled, nothing seemed on the verge of coming back up. A while later, I tried a few nibbles of cheese. Georgie kept me well supplied with that darn tea and made noises if I didn't drink it. She'd started adding honey to it and that made it taste a bit better. Walt eventually joined us in the TV marathon and we spent the hours laughing to the Marx brothers, having found other movies by them in Skinner's aunts stash of videos. I noticed that I was the only one that Georgie catered to. Indeed, Skinner was deferential to his sister, asking her if there was anything she wanted when he got up.

When the afternoon slipped into evening, Mulder slipped into the kitchen. He spent a while in there and eventually came out with a carton of ice cream and some bowls. "Anyone else want some? John?"

"What flavor?"

"Vanilla."

What I really wanted was peach, like Gramma Garnet used to make as soon as the peaches were ripe, but I realized that any store bought peach would be a pale imitation of that. Chocolate would have been good. Coffee maybe. I must have made a face or something at Mulder.

Mulder put the vanilla down on the coffee table and reached for his car keys. "What flavor did you want, John? I'll go get some."

"Fox, sit down. Nothing closer than Omaha is going to be open at eight on a Sunday evening," Georgie said, firmly, "It's all I bought, John. You want something different, put it on the list next time I go shopping, but don't give me any crap right now. You want ice cream or not?"

She dished out and I accepted a small bowl without further complaint. It was just plain vanilla, but the mere fact that I didn't immediately feel like tasting it a second time, on the way back out, was a real treat. It was smooth, creamy, and sweet and I savored every drop slowly, not wanting to push things, even as I celebrated a little bit of freedom from the nausea that had haunted me constantly for weeks. I was satisfied with another moment where I could forget that everything was all wrong and never would be right again.

I was almost happy, until the tadpole decided to move again. The flutters seemed to grow stronger all the time. I thought I put a good face on it. I didn't want Skinner to see me freak out. I put the footrest on the recliner down and stood up. I announced, "I think I've had enough. I'm going to bed."

The other occupants of the room were immersed in the Dirty Harry movie they were watching and hardly looked up. Mulder nodded but turned back to the TV. I made my way through the room, which by now was lit only with the bluish light of the TV. I ascended the stairs silently, shutting the door that separated them from the living room. When I got to my room, I turned the window fan up to the highest setting, not just because it was warm, but for the noise. I laid down on my bed and pounded a pillow as hard as I could as the tadpole continued its dance in my belly. "Stop it," I muttered again and again through clenched teeth.

A substantial silhouette appeared in the doorway. Georgie left the room light off but entered my room, leaving only the yellow light of the hall fixture to illuminate this little scene. She sat down next to me on the bed, a weight that caused the whole mattress to slope to her. A gentle, but authoritative hand was placed on my fist, ending my assault of the pillow. She asked in a tone that would brook no evasion, "What's the matter, John?"

"It's moving. I can feel it. Why can't it let me forget that this is a living creature I've got inside me?"

Georgie placed one of her big hands on my swollen belly and closed her eyes for a moment. I had never let anyone else touch me there, not since the first time Mulder had done so in the hold of the alien ship. Even then I'd brushed him off weakly.

When she spoke, there was some ghost of comfort in those words, but mainly it was that steel in her voice, the plain talk that made me trust her. "Because it is a living creature, John. Make no doubt about that. You aren't going to want to hear this, but you need to understand this. You are going to be killing something. We don't know if it's a human or something else, but I suspect that doesn't matter as much as you think. You were a Marine. You understand that sometimes there has to be death to defend something important."

"Are you trying to talk me out of this?" I asked, more troubled than when she'd first spoken. She made sense, but it was harder than I could anticipate to hear her describe my situation with such unvarnished truths. Not that she was bringing doubts to me and my decision, but merely making me look at the ones I already had, that I'd been so steadfastly, willfully blind to. Would I be better off if she'd never said those thing? No. I would hate to be lied to. I would rather have truth than comfort.

"No, nor trying to talk you into it. You'll be the one sitting by yourself at two in the morning, wondering if you did the right thing, no matter what your decision is. John, you need to defend your own life and your sanity, but there will be a cost. The rest of us can only be sorry that you were put in the situation where you had to pay the cost. I made the decision. I have no regrets. I know what I had to do to save my life. I would do it again in a minute. But I still wonder sometimes."

"Georgie, did Walter know? About yours?"

"He paid for it. Gave me every penny of money he'd been saving up for his first car without question. Borrowed a buddy's car to drive me to Des Moines. Held my hand. And I don't really know exactly what happened, but Walter had words with the boy that did it. And the boy moved out of town in the middle of the night.

She slid down until she was lying on the bed with me. She held me close against her big, soft body. I laid my head on her chest, perhaps the only time I've ever done that with a woman and not thought of her sexually. It was definitely sisterly, or motherly perhaps. Only sweet comfort without an iota of sex. She held me as I shook, an anchor in my storm.

"You know," she said after a while, "You might want to stop being as mean as piss to Fox. I don't think you realize it, but he's willing to do for you what Walter did for me, even down to beating the crap out of the boy that did it. Even if in your case, the 'boy' is this conspiracy in the government Walter's telling me about."

Well, this 'boy' was a long time enemy of Mulder's to start with, surely that had more than anything to do with it. I thought about the futility of one man on a crusade against vicious forces that had penetrated even the highest levels of law enforcement, perhaps even the highest levels of government in this country. I wondered whether to admire the burning belief I saw in the man or just laugh in hollow, humorless mirth at the vast stupidity of it all. As I tried to decide, I eventually fell asleep.

I woke alone, my nightmares forgotten except for the weight of cold terror that sat heavily on my chest and chilled me to my core despite the muggy August night. I was out of bed in an instant, sleep an impossibility. I headed first to the bathroom, thinking that my churning stomach might mean that I need to throw up. I did, a little, just a few retches. But I got myself under control before long. I was a little more awake, but the unspecified feeling of horror I'd woken with still clung to me. I thought I vaguely remembered killing Luke in my dream, but truth was, the terrors were even greater, more nameless than that. Surprisingly, this was the first nightmare I'd had since Mulder had found me. I certainly hoped it would be my last. I couldn't stand waking in a cold sweat like this all the time. The tadpole was doing the shimmy again, perhaps disturbed because I was.

Back in the hall again, I planned to go downstairs to watch some TV, but one of the doors was open and the room light was on. I looked in. Mulder was sprawled out on top of a made bed, clothes still on, not even attempting to sleep, though it was about three in the morning. He was reading a fantasy football magazine. He looked up from his magazine at me, "Are you all right, John?" he asked, setting his magazine down when I didn't answer. "Nightmare?"

I shivered but didn't answer. What could I say? Was there anything anyone could say that would make it all better? I didn't protest though as Mulder got up from his bed and put an arm around my shoulder. I let him lead me to the bed. We laid down together and he held me. I was so soul empty, so defeated that nothing, not even Fox Mulder cuddling me, mattered to me at the moment. A mean-spirited part of me wanted to hate him for it, but most of me couldn't find the will to do so. Slowly, his warmth leached from him to me, calming me with simple body to body comfort and I stopped shivering. "I killed him," I whispered so softly I wasn't even sure I'd said it. "In my dream I killed my son."

"John, it's okay," he said as he stroked my hair, my face pressed into his shoulder. "It may have seemed real, believe me. I know nightmares. But it wasn't. You didn't kill your son."

"No, but I'm going to kill this...whatever it is in my belly," I said. The way we were laying, side by side, belly to belly, I know he could feel the movements of the tadpole, which was still kicking up a tempest in its teacup. If he was surprised by this, he hid it very well. "Why isn't any of you trying to talk me out of this? This...thing. It didn't ask to be put here anymore than I chose to put it there. It's an innocent. And I want to murder it."

"Innocents die in war all the time, John. No one's going to try and talk you out of it because you're so obviously traumatized by having this...thing inside you."

"Just having it gone won't mean that it was never there. I hate it, Mulder. I hate this thing in me. It would be easier if I didn't feel anything at all."

I don't know what I wanted from Mulder. I don't know what I wanted him to say to me. Did I want the sugarcoated reassurances from him that everything would be all right? I certainly didn't expect what he said next.

"That's because the opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference. There are some, both religious writers and psychologists, who say that hate is love seen through a mirror of fear. And what you're going through is one of the most legitimately frightening things that could happen to a person."

Mulder stopped talking for a minute, as if hearing what he'd just said to me. Then he started again, "Shit. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be saying things like this to you. You didn't need to hear that."

I was angry. He was right. He shouldn't be saying anything like that to me, especially because it was total BS. Total psychobabble crap and I didn't want to hear it. "Get out!" I snapped, forgetting in my fury this was his room.

Mulder leaped out of the bed, away from me. "Fuck. I'm sorry, John. I'm an idiot."

"Just get out!"

He did.

Mulder:

I bolted from the room, a strategic retreat, furious, not with Doggett in the slightest, but with myself. I stormed through the house, downstairs and out the front door of the dumpy little farmhouse. I think I intended to head for the car and get in and drive again. The miles pounding under my wheels could only be soothing.

But Scully was waiting for me. She was leaning against the car, arms crossed. She raised an eyebrow at me and said, sardonically, "It's good to see that despite everything that's happened, you're still the same old Mulder. You weren't going to run away again, were you?"

"I'm an idiot, Scully," I told her. No doubt she knew what happened. She knew me inside and out, far better than I knew myself. Only Scully seemed to have the power to save me from myself at times when I was danger to myself, too clever for my own good. She had the power to make me believe in myself again when I could see only the shattered failures I left in my wake. She was still my one in five billion.

"I know John better than you do. He'd rather hear the plain truth than anything. Even if he is uncomfortable and angry with the answers, he wants them," she said. Archetypal mythology tells us that angels are winged creatures of fire and awesome power. Mythology is wrong. My angel is short and red-haired. She still watches over me.

"So, what do I do now?" Out of frustration, I picked up pieces of the gravel that paved the driveway. I flung piece after piece of it into the endless cornfields that surrounded this desolate hell we'd hidden ourselves away in. I think it was good for John to have this stable location, something that could become something like home for him, but for myself, I felt trapped. Even though I had been here less than two full days, part of which had been spent on the road to and from Omaha, I was a pacing animal in a cage. Ever since my time in prison, the road had meant freedom.

"Give him time. Mulder, think of how hard it was for me. And I wanted a child more than I ever wanted anything in my life, even to the point where I made decisions that weren't wise."

I'd wanted that child too and when I thought about him, there was an ache that ran through me. I understood what Scully had to do, but I think there would always feel like a piece of me was missing. One of the things I'd taken time to do was track down the family he'd been adopted into, I even spied on them a little. I could rest assured, I'd thought, that he'd gone to a family who wanted a child as much as Scully and I had. I would not be so cruel as to take him away, even if I had been in a position where I could.

Before I could think of an answer to her, Scully was gone. So tantalizingly brief were all of the visits of my beloved dead. I wanted more than anything to just sit down and be with her, with any of them, to watch a movie with them, to talk for hours about nothing. Instead of their company, I had their help.

Feeling lost, old and defeated, I looked to the car again. No, I wouldn't take off, not now. Maybe later. I was too tired. Yet sleep still seemed elusive. The front porch had a swing on it and I took up vigil on the swing, watching the sky for, I don't know, some sign of activity. There was nothing, just the ordered patterns of the stars, their relative motion so slow and ponderous that it seemed hardly motion at all. There was once where I could trust the stars, their stability a constant in a life that seemed in chaos. Yet, as I knew more and more of the truth, every time I looked at them, it was a reminder of the betrayal- from them came only death and peril.

I fell asleep on the swing, for a few brief hours. When I opened my eyes again, stiff from sleeping sitting up and disoriented for having done it at all, the dawn was approaching, a rosy glow tinting the gray. It was quiet, a peace that felt not entirely earthly. I felt a small body nestling against mine. My rarest visitor out of my beloved dead. I didn't look directly at her. It seemed if I did, she went away that much sooner. I felt small, girlish arms wrap around them, a sensation difficult to describe. It was not as if it were faint. Or a weaker version of what physical arms would have felt like. No, it was feeling entirely removed from normal, physical reality, though no less strong or real for being so. It always felt good, sweet and safe to be with her.

"Fox," I heard Samantha say softly. "Tell John that she forgives him. That if he's not ready for her now, she'll wait until he is."

"Who?"

"John's baby. One of them."

"One of them?"

"He has two."

Twins. That would explain why John was so huge. Simply lovely. That would make it even harder for John to do what he needed to do, knowing there were two souls on his head, not just one. Surely any doctor we could find to do this abortion would insist on an ultrasound. I wondered about the possibilities of keeping the image from him. Would he want to know, insist on seeing it?

Sam's presence slipped away from me. I didn't reach out for her, knowing the futility of it. And these moments, as rare and brief as they were, were enough. I was assured that she was at peace. When I knew I was alone on the porch again, I stood and went into the house. It was quiet, no one but me up for the moment. I went up to the guest room that had been given over to my use.

John was still in it. He'd fallen asleep again, face pressed into the pillow, on his side, belly held protectively with one hand. The furrows in his brow, even more prominent these days, failed to fade away while he slept. I wondered. If one of the babies forgave John for what he was about to do, what about the other one? Was it angry? Was that the one seemed intent on beating John up from the inside out. I could never let him know, not that he would believe my source in the slightest.

I was tired. I thought perhaps I might be able to steal another short while of sleep, a few winks of it. I climbed back into bed, with John. Keeping as much as possible to the other side of it, I laid my head down on the pillow and let myself drift.

Doggett:

I woke in Mulder's arms. Had I dreamed that I yelled at him to get out of the bedroom? Sometime during my sleep, he had spooned himself against my back and draped a arm over my belly, his other arm forming a pillow for my head. His knees were pressed against the back of my own knees. The most disturbing portion of this whole scenario is just how comfortable it felt to be held by him. This was, in no way, good. I did not want to feel comfortable about Mulder. I tried to remember how angry I had been at him when I'd thrown him out of the room and it wasn't working.

"What the hell are you doing in here?" I snapped, trying to pull myself out of his arms. It's one thing to let yourself be held in the middle of the night, haunted by dreams. It's another thing entirely in the bright light of morning to let yourself be snuggled by another man, no matter the situation. He wasn't letting me go easily though. He was tenacious and I just wasn't as strong as I used to be.

"It's my room. You don't want me around you, go to your own room. But first I have to ask you something."

"Then you'll let me go?" I asked. I laid back into the spoon again, no longer protesting Mulder's arms around me.

"So, what kind of ice cream did you really want yesterday?" Mulder asked when I stopped struggling.

He wanted to know what kind of ice cream I wanted?

"No point in saying. Can't get it any more," I told him. I might as well tell him the truth. No harm in that. "Gramma Garnet died in '87 and nobody can make peach ice cream like her."

"Okay, was there something a bit more obtainable that you'd rather have than vanilla?"

"Coffee," I told him. "Plain coffee ice cream. None of that java chip jamocha cappuccino swirl Starbucks crap."

"Okay. I was thinking of heading back to Omaha later today after Skinner's doctor friend has seen you. I'm going to look into maybe getting internet service for the laptop I bought for you. It'll depend on how much of a false paper trail I can throw up if I can do it or not. I'll stop on the way home and pick up some for you."

The room's door was open, and at this point, Georgie looked through it. If she thought there was anything unusual about me being held so intimately by Mulder, she certainly didn't say a thing or even look surprised. "There you are. I worried for a minute when I saw your empty bed. Doctor Jensen is here. Are you ready?"

Was I ready? Strange, how the moment I'd been waiting for weeks impatiently, seemed suddenly a terrifying thing. I knew that it would just be an exam, that probably this doctor friend couldn't perform the procedure himself, that he would have to line up some kind of specialist somehow, but still, this would be the start of the process to rid myself of my burden. Mulder sensed my fear and impulsively, he kissed me on the back of my head. It was the oddest sensation, so tender, the feeling of lips brushing my hair softly. I found it impossible to take exception to this strange act of affection. One of his hands found mine and squeezed gently. Then he let me go. "Brave heart, John," he said.

Yesterday, I had changed into sweats again, but now I decided I wanted to get dressed in my real pants again, to put on what little armor, what little dignity I had at my disposal. "I'll be down in a minute, Georgie," I told her, getting up and walking out of Mulder's room. "I want to get dressed."

She just pressed a mug of tea into my hand and said, "We'll be waiting downstairs."

The nausea was nagging again, just slightly. As I got dressed, I sipped at the tea. Slowly, I'd been making the connection. Whatever was in the tea, it helped. I wondered if it was ginger. Had Mulder told her about it? Or was he just right and it was something a lot of people knew? Eventually, my mug was emptied and the encounter could be delayed no longer. I went downstairs.

Georgie, Mulder, Skinner and this Dr. Jensen were waiting, sitting all around the kitchen table. Dr. Jensen was not exactly what I'd been expecting. One of "Skinner's old Marine buddies" does not bring to mind a ruddy-cheeked woman with close cropped curly hair like a gray scrub pad. Her eyes widened a moment when she got her first good look at me, but otherwise she just rose from the table and held out her hand to me. "Mr. Doggett, Arlene Jensen. Sorry we couldn't meet under more normal circumstances."

I let her take my hand. Her grip was firm, strong for a woman. "I could say the same," I said.

Georgie pulled out the empty chair next to her and motioned for me to sit down. I did.

"So, Walter has told me that you're possibly pregnant," she said, dryly, as if she didn't quite believe this. I knew that tone. I'd been the skeptic myself. Hell, I wouldn't believe it myself except for I've felt the tadpole myself, swimming around inside me.

"There's no possibly about it. I've gotten positives on four different brands of those home pregnancy tests. Something is alive in there. Feel that," I said. Then I reached out and grabbed her hand. For the first time I willingly put someone's hand on my belly. The tadpole had been kicking up a storm ever since I'd entered the kitchen.

Her eyes widened again, "I'm also given to understand your plans are, if possible, to terminate this...pregnancy as soon as possible."

"Yes," I said flatly.

"Well, I can tell right off the bat that this will be no simple procedure. I'm a simple GP. Usually I treat strep throat, tell moms I can't pass out antibiotics for colds and do school physicals. Occasionally, I do a bit of baby catching, for low risk cases. This is something beyond my experience. You're looking at possibly major abdominal surgery, definitely beyond a simple D and C for sure. I suppose the first step would be a basic physical examination. Mister Mulder tells me that you haven't had any medical care since your abduction experience."

She looked at me as if I'd committed some unpardonable crime. Of course, you know doctors, convinced that they are essential to every aspect of life. I, in turn, tried to convey just how crazy I thought she was with my returning look. Like we could have trusted just any doctor with this thing. Honestly, right now the only thing keeping me in the same room as her was that Skinner seemed to trust her.

"Maybe if there's someplace we could go for a bit of privacy?" she asked.

Skinner and Mulder got up to go. There was one thing I wanted to tell this doctor, before the exam began, so she wouldn't be shocked by it's discovery later. Not that in my current condition it didn't seem somewhat logical that I would have one, but you never know. I knew from the troubled look on her fact that she must be picturing some very complicated internal arrangement, that might very well kill me should the tadpole be dislodged.

"There's something you should know. I have a vagina," I said, flatly. Mulder wasn't surprised. He'd seen me naked, getting me out of the ship. But Skinner's jaw literally dropped in surprise. I don't know what he expected. Then he fled out the back door, just shocked maybe, though possibly grossed out by the thought.

Not that I'd made a very close acquaintance with this new orifice I had of my own. It made me feel queasy just to think about it. I'd made one preliminary, uh, investigation into it, feeling around and deciding it was the most disturbing thing I'd ever felt, to be able to stick my own fingers inside of me like that, touching slick, moist, somewhat spongy tissues. I hadn't done it again and I wasn't planning to. Since then, I'd ignored it as much as possible, pretended it didn't exist. "I have what felt like a cervix. As far as I'm concerned, I have no reason to believe I don't have the rest of the equipment."

The doctor seemed almost relieved, but she still said, "Well, that may or may not make things less complicated. We'll take you upstairs and get a better look at you."

Mulder started heading for the back door. I suddenly took a mind to make him just as uncomfortable as I was going to be. I'm a bastard. But it would make me feel better to have him feel worse. "Where do you think you're going?" I asked him.

"I thought you'd want some privacy," he said, hand hovering on the door handle.

"I want you there with me."

"I thought you'd rather have Georgie."

I liked Georgie. I really did. I trusted her far more than I could have thought possible to trust someone in such a short time. But Georgie was a girl. She'd never seen me naked. I wanted to keep it that way. Mulder had seen me naked already. And while there were times where I just wanted to kill him, fate or whatever you want to call it had seen fit to throw us together into this mess that had taken over my life. I could trust him to watch my back for me.

Mulder wasn't looking at me, but at some point behind me, watching intensely. He was doing it again, I was certain, having one of his little conversations with someone who wasn't there. I saw him mouth something that might have been 'fine', then his expression changed, from his frown to a resignation. "Fine, whatever you want, John," he said.

We went upstairs, the three of us, Mulder, me and the doctor with a black bag. To fill the awkward silence, Dr. Jensen talked, "When I first met Walter, I was just a nurse, Walter one of the patients on my ward. I'd always dreamed of being a doctor, but had settled on being a nurse as being an obtainable goal. We got talking, Walter and I. We had a lot in common, two kids from the middle of corn country Iowa. Became pen pals when he was shipped back to the states. He was the one who convinced me that I could make it through medical school."

I let her into my room and sat down on the bed. She stood beside me and Mulder closed the door after us. Mulder stood, leaning against the door, arms crossed, watching the proceedings with guarded interest. Dr. Jensen started out with just asking questions. All the usual ones that they ask you when you go to a doctor. You know, heart problems, diabetes, this that and the other conditions. Anyone in your family, etc. She asked about any problems I'd been having. I told her about the morning sickness, about how it was letting up on me finally I thought. She did some of the basic poking and prodding around, looking down my ears, my throat, etc. Then she got out the blood pressure cuff. I thought I might have to worry about that. The last time I'd been to the doctor for my yearly, sometime I'd gotten back from that weird experience in Mexico, the doctor had warned me that my blood pressure was creeping up and we might have to start thinking about watching it closely. After a minute, she announced the numbers. They didn't really register with me nor could I even remember what was dangerously high.

When Dr. Jensen noticed my blank look she said, "I'd say that's pretty good for a guy of your age, especially considering. Okay, let's take a listen."

She got a regular stethoscope first and gave my lungs a listen. "Sounds good and clear," she pronounced. Then she got out a doptone stethoscope. I remembered them from my ex-wife's pregnancy with Luke. I didn't get the chance to go to many of her appointments, but I did a few. Even got to listen to Luke's heartbeat once before he was born. Back then, they didn't do ultrasounds routinely, so I never got to see him that way. Dr. Jensen held the end piece in her hands a moment. "It's pretty cold, let me warm it up for you," she explained. Then she put it on and asked me to pull up my shirt. I unbuttoned it from the bottom up, exposing the taut, pale skin. I hated the sight of my own belly these days, not that I could avoid it these days. She pressed the end piece to my belly and listened for a while, frowning. She shifted it around several times, still frowning.

I wished she would say something. A guy might get to worrying with his doctor looking like that and not saying anything. I was convinced that she'd somehow found evidence that this tadpole was a monster just by listening to the heartbeat.

Finally, she said something. "I'm not going to draw a conclusion until we get a good look with an ultrasound, but I did hear two distinct heartbeats. The simplest explanation is that you're carrying twins."

Twins? Two of them? I sputtered and choked on nothing. "Jesus Christ! Twins?! Tell me you did not just say twins," I said, standing and starting to pace around the room. Mulder didn't even have the decency to act surprised. He just watched me pace, shaking his head, arms still crossed.

"Mr. Doggett, would you come with me to my office, so we can do an ultrasound?" Dr. Jensen asked. "It's only about two hours from here."

Suddenly, the last thing I wanted was another trip through the emptiness of Iowa farm country, up and down the rolling hills that might just activate my nausea again for all I knew. I hated Iowa, I decided. I hated it as if it were to blame for everything, for this unexpected trip out to the world, for the, not one, but apparently two tadpoles swimming around in me, for being stuck with Mulder, Skinner and this weirdo doctor with brillo pad hair.

Mulder spoke up before I could protest that I wasn't budging an inch from this farmhouse. "Sure, I'll get the car started. Sooner we get this over the better, right, John?"

"Right," I muttered. I wondered if it were possible for things to get any worse. I buttoned myself up again. It looked like I wouldn't be required to get naked just yet. "You're coming with me," I said pointedly at Mulder. "You drive."

We went downstairs. Georgie was nowhere to be seen. Skinner hadn't slunk back from his retreat either. When we went outside, I caught sight of both of them. They were up on ladders, scraping at the peeling paint on the farmhouse. Skinner was up high, perched right under the eaves, Georgie down lower just on a step stool. Skinner didn't pause in his work, seeming not to notice us, but Georgie got down from her stepstool and put down her scraper.

"You take good care of him, Arlene," Georgie told Dr. Jensen.

"No worries there, Georgeann," Dr. Jensen said. Then she went to put her black bag into the back of her old truck. It was a nice one. If I believed my eyes, it was an International Harvester Travelall. One of the rarest of the rare. Not so much because it was ever a luxury car or rare to start with. But it'd been a hard working country kind of car and most of them had rusted to death long ago. This one was obviously a pampered toy, polished to within an inch of its life. My fingers were just about itching to look under the hood. Just to see what it had.

"That's a Travelall," I said, dumbly. She had to know what she had. It wouldn't have been taken care of so well if she didn't.

"Nice, huh? It was my uncle's. He always loved it. Didn't drive it in the winter ever. I discovered it in his barn when he died. Want a ride in it?"

Maybe Dr. Brillopad wasn't so bad after all, but I looked to Mulder. Mulder had already started the engine on his car. It was one of the smaller Ford SUVs, he'd traded down from the big ass Excursion he'd driven away from the ruins in. It might not have been as fun as the Travelall, but it would ride like a car. The Travelall would have the distinctly hard ride of a truck. "Some other time, I'll go with Mulder," I said.

Mulder:

Dr. Jensen's office was in one of the few buildings in the minor conglomeration of humanity that passed for a town this far away from the city. The biggest, most prominent building was the Casey's convenience store and gas station. I thought about ducking in and seeing if they had coffee ice cream. John would need a bit of cold comfort after today and as the hours rolled away, it was looking more and more like Omaha wasn't on the agenda.

We hadn't said much on the way to this two horse town. Just every now and then, John would sputter, "Two, there's two of them." He didn't seem to want a response, more perhaps gradually trying to accustom himself to this new reality. Once though he did ask, "You weren't surprised at all, were you?"

To this direct question I answered something wasn't quite a lie, and yet it bore my usual hallmarks of evasive rearrangement of the known facts in such a way that the truth was safely concealed, "You seem particularly, well, huge. It occurred to me as one possibility."

The good Dr. Jensen's office was in the front of a small ranch house, with only a shingle hung out front to announce her services and a slightly larger than average gravel parking pad out front. The building was closed and dark. She led us into an empty waiting room in what must have been a living room once. There were plenty of toys heaped in a chest in the corner and furniture that could have been any living room furniture. Only the Formica intake counter in one corner distinguished it from a house's living room. That and the brightly colored posters pushing the importance of immunizing your child for chicken pox and hepatitis. I had memories about immunizations, from someplace that seemed very far away and long ago- small pox, Tunguska, all distant terrors with little power over me now.

The exam room was a standard enough set up. As she weighed John on one of those scales with the balance beam, she said, "I never see patients on Monday, unless it's an emergency. Okay, what's your usual average weight?"

"One-ninety," John said.

She frowned. I caught a look at the numbers on the balance bar. He was at one seventy-two. I wasn't surprised. He'd lost a lot of muscle during his abduction. And being able to keep little down besides water was bound to take its toll on a person. John frowned at the numbers as well, the furrows in his forehead becoming more prominent. I know that he knew he'd lost some weight, but this was the first time he'd been confronted with proof of it.

Definitely the man was getting ice cream as soon as I could provide it. As much as he wanted. Whatever flavor. I thought for a moment that it was a shame I could only speak with my own beloved dead. If I could have, I would have tracked down his grandmother, interrogated her until she yielded up the recipe for that peach ice cream and made it myself if I had to.

"Height?" the doctor asked.

"Six-foot even," John said. She measured him, and he was, indeed, six feet tall. At least that hadn't changed. Then he said, "I gotta use the little boys room. Where is it?"

"For the ultrasound, ideally you should have a full bladder. I know there's a lot of pressure on your bladder, but do you think you can wait a while? I was also thinking you should take on another couple of glasses of water."

He frowned then said, "Trust me, doc. That's not necessary. I'm at capacity here."

From a cabinet, she found one of those lovely hospital style gowns without the backs to them. With his belly poking out like it was, it would leave John even less covered than usual in that crucial backseat area. Poor guy. "I'm going to ask you to change into this gown," she said, "You might want to keep your socks on. Sit up on the edge of the table. We'll be back in a few minutes."

With that, the doctor led me out of the room, to give John the privacy to change. "Can you tell just what he means when he says he has a vagina?" she asked me as soon as the door was shut.

I paused a moment to sort through my words and the memory of the very brief moment I'd gotten a close look at the man's new anatomy. "It's very definitely an orifice. My sample group is very small when it comes to natural born women I've see naked and in person," I said. Well, in person it was small. I would say I've seen a larger than average sample when it comes to pictures. "But it appears exactly like a woman's would in some aspects. There are labia minora, but not majora. No separate clitoris. He still retains his male genitalia, unaltered as far as I know. I obviously never saw him before this happened, so I have no baseline for comparison. I didn't get a very close look or a very long one. You can imagine that he objected when he came to."

"Walter said this was a result of some horrific medical experiment that was conducted on Mr. Doggett against his will?"

"You could say that again. Look, whatever you do, don't let him see the ultrasound. This is hard enough on him as it is. If he thinks he's aborting monsters or something, it might be easier on him. Just don't let him know."

"I won't lie to the man. He deserves the truth," she said.

She didn't know what I knew about the truth. Sometimes, I wondered if it would better that I never knew the truth. If I'd spent my life deceived and misled. Perhaps I'd have had a chance at happiness, found a wife or a lover to take care of and take care of me. The truth was a bitch, and it hurt and it didn't make things all better, just knowing it. "Fine," I said, not sure what else I could do. "It's what he thinks he wants. But try not to let him see. He has doubts that he's doing the right thing, but I think letting him go through with the pregnancy to term just might kill him."

She stared me down, then without saying anything more, entered the room where John was waiting. He was sitting on the edge of the table, shivering in the air-conditioning, looking generally miserable. It was a baking hot end of the summer kind of day outside, but the good doctor kept her offices frigid. "I'm not an ob/gyn, but as the only doctor for miles around and a GP, I do plenty of gyn exams and like I said, I deliver babies unless they're high risk. So, I know my way around the block, so to speak," she said, managing to sound reassuring even to me. "Mr. Doggett, I'm going to ask you to lie back on the table and put your feet up onto the stirrups."

She draped a sheet over the lower portion of his body as he laid back and then she pulled out two extensions to the table, the stirrups she'd mentioned. I moved so that I no longer had a good view of his lower half, but was looking at him directly in the face. He grabbed my hand and held onto it. Laid out like this, he was docile. So strange and unnerving to see him docile. Not fighting with me. Not angry. Not even pissy. It scared me more than anything I'd seen yet. I thought about trying to taunt him, just to see the John Doggett I knew and well, not loved. Expected I suppose. I'd even have liked it if he threw a soda can at me right now.

"Okay, good. Scoot your bottom down a little so I can get a good look," the doctor said. If she was shocked or even surprised at what she saw, she hid it well, her voice never wavering. I didn't see her face though.

"Good. I'm going to get a speculum," she said. She went to a cabinet and from a wrapped that indicated it had been sterilized, she pulled out something that looked like it could only be a torture device of some kind. She turned on the tap in the room's sink and ran hot water over the torture device for a while. "This is the extra-small size and I'm warming it up for you, so it shouldn't be anything more than a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I just need to get a better look at things."

She did something. I wasn't looking. I didn't see. But John's face tensed up as if he was expecting pain, then relaxed only slightly when it didn't happen. He didn't cry out, but he looked...stunned somehow. "Okay good, that wasn't so bad. Tell me if it pinches or hurts at all."

"Just feels strange," John said, voice sounding kind of strangled. I could only imagine how that felt. Not like anything I could compare it to.

"Yes, I definitely can see a cervix there. Okay, just a few minutes more. I'd like to do a pap smear," she said. I looked at her and she'd gotten something that looked like an overgrown mascara wand. "This will be uncomfortable most likely. What I'll be doing is basically scraping a few cells off the cervix. We'll take a look and see if anything is unusual, any abnormal cell growth."

John winced once as she was talking and for a moment he squeezed my hand so hard it hurt. After a moment, he relaxed. That must have been her taking the scraping. "Everything looks normal down here. Well, normal considering. You might expect a few drops of blood in the next day or so. But if it's anything more than that, I'll want you to call me, understand? And tell Georgie immediately. I'm going to submit these to the lab under a female name. We'll see what we get."

I watched as she made a slide from the bit of red on the mascara wand. I'd seen Scully make plenty of slides. But usually they were tissues from dead people, almost never from live ones. Then the doctor withdrew the torture device thing and put it aside. She worked a little more, making motions like she was palpitating John in places where men definitely shouldn't have places. I was prepared to stop her the instant John showed signs of any pain. He didn't though, just confusion and perhaps a little shock.

"Okay, ultrasound time." She took off and came back in a moment, wheeling a cart with a screen and various machines on it. She picked up one wand from the cart. It was about the diameter of a penis, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than average. She got one look at John's face and put it down. I hadn't realized until after looking at John where she'd intended to put it to get her reading, but John obviously had a clue. Oh, brother, that would have been too much for him. This was all too much for him. I wondered what kind of mess he would be by the time this was through. I was a mess just watching him.

Dr. Jensen picked up something that looked like a really old fashioned scanner, one of the handheld ones. She pulled up John's gown, exposing his belly, the sheet still concealing his genitals. Though he was pale, and it was, indeed, a very odd sight to see such swelling on a male, it was also strangely beautiful, the perfect roundness of it. Dr. Jensen spent a few minutes arranging the cart so that the screen wasn't easily visible from where John was. Unfortunately, there was no way she could work the controls, do the procedure and have the screen be completely turned away from John.

He caught on to what she was doing, even though I'd thought his mind was a million miles away. He'd been staring away, at the wall, but he turned now and looked Dr. Jensen straight in the eyes. "No, I need to see it. Them," he said.

"John, no, don't do this to yourself," I said softly. I stroked the hand I still held. It was rigid, hard as iron. Strange that despite his big, round belly, I never had any doubts that this was a man before me. His hands, besides being muscular, with prominent tendons, were calloused.

Sometimes I am irrational. And perverse.

I have always loved the unusual juxtaposition, the ripple of the strange through normal reality. I always saw beauty in the odd and unique. And at this moment, I didn't think I'd ever seen a man more beautiful than John. I was, for the moment at least, in love with him, with his crazy insistence at seeing these fetuses. With the beautiful swell of his belly right next to the slender hardness of his masculine arms. With those blue eyes, so clear and piercing. Like hard sky and ice. So sane and sorrowful.

Oh, God. I hoped this would pass. He'd kill me if he knew what I was thinking at this exact moment. And I, as much as I thought it was a mistake, could not deny him any single thing at this moment. I wished I could hold him like I had found myself holding him this morning when I woke up. He'd struggled so much to get out of that hold. I despaired that I'd ever be able to hold him like that again. "Okay, it's your body, your decision," I told him.

With a nod of her head, Dr. Jensen readjusted the cart so that John could see what she was doing. Then she coated his belly with a clear gel, explaining it was for better contact with the transducer. She swept the transducer over his belly and a picture started to form on the screen. At first it was just static, but slowly, an image started to form. Arms and legs could be distinguished, definitely something that could be a head, then another head. I turned to look at John, to gauge his response, see if he was doing as badly as I feared he would be. John watched with the same fascination as some people watch the remains of car accidents, except there was devastation there too, as if the car wreck he was seeing was of someone near and dear.

The doctor wasn't paying any attention to John's reactions. "There's something that definitely looks like an ovary," she said. But I was watching John. I had thought I'd been prepared for the eventuality, but when tears started running down his face, and he started shaking, tears of my own appeared.

I turned on the doctor, "That's enough for now. Stop."

I was still surprised though when she actually shut the ultrasound machine down and took the transducer off John. "I'll give you two a few minutes," she said. Then she left us alone.

Perhaps he would look less helpless, less docile if he was sitting up. I helped him sit up, but he still just shook at first. Then he started to pull it together. He brushed at his face roughly, wiping away tears, but also seeming as if he was trying to punish himself. I dried my own tears because I had to be strong for him.

"John, it's okay. You don't have to make yourself stop crying. John," I said, and I pulled him into my arms. He didn't resist, which surprised me. His face pressed into my chest, dampening my shirt.

"I'm still going through with it," he whispered into my shoulder. "I have to do this. I cannot do anything else."

"I know, John, shush. It's okay. It'll be okay. I'll be right here with you, right by your side, buddy."

"Mulder, I'm scared," he said. This was a major admission for him and a sign of a new found trust in me. That and the fact that he wasn't trying to rip himself out of my arms for once.

"I know. It'll be okay. Let's just get you through this test, so the doctor can see what she's dealing with here. Then we'll talk about what comes next. I think maybe you shouldn't look at the screen this time."

"No, I gotta know. I need to know exactly what it is I'm doing. What damage I'm causing. What's the price I'm going to pay."

I couldn't argue with him, as usual. Not so much for his logic, which made it's own kind of sense, but because I couldn't deny him anything in this state. If he thought that plunging the depths of this truth would lay it all out before him and ease his passage through it, then I would allow him that without protest. Was it better to know the whole, bitter truth of something that had the power to destroy you even if it tore you down to nothing a pile of your weaknesses or was it better to face one's doom a happier and stronger person?

"If that's what you need," I told him. "It's what you need. Just consider it more carefully. I don't want this to traumatize you any further. I'll get the doctor and we'll go on."

What I hadn't expected was the doctor crying. I'd thought she'd be of sterner stuff and that John's plight hadn't really penetrated her, that she didn't understand the full dimensions of this things impact on him. She did. She dabbed at her face angrily with a piece of gauze she'd gotten from somewhere.

"I don't understand," she said between sniffles. "Why do this to him? Why? Why destroy a man this way? I saw the look in his eyes. It's going to kill him to do this."

"I'm going to find out why," I said, as certain as I'd ever been about anything. I would do it too. Persistence, thy name is Mulder. I would find out why if it took me years. And I would take down those responsible. "Let's go back to him. You and I have to be the strong ones for him. "

We went back into the exam room. John was shaking again. I reached out to sooth him, stroke his brow. He did not protest and after a while he was no longer shaking. Not coincidentally I stood between him and the screen of the ultrasound, blocking his view of what was going on. The doctor worked in silence. I could hear her scribbling notes occasionally. I guess I was used to Scully, speaking her notes into her little tape recorder. I missed that.

Scully appeared behind me, watching the ultrasound with interest. I didn't see her except peripherally, but I alone heard her say, "I'd say what we have here Mulder is two perfectly normal appearing human fetuses. Obviously we wouldn't be able to tell if they had an abnormality similar to the one William had. One of them is a girl. The other isn't giving us a good view of his or her perineum. Classic presentation of fraternal twins though. Placentas low on the uterine wall, but not dangerously so, definitely you couldn't call it placenta previa. Placenta always covers larger area with multiple births."

I wished she would shut up. At least John couldn't hear her. But I didn't like to be reminded that this was two normal children we were talking about here. Planning to sacrifice for the sake of one person

"From what I can see, he definitely has a chance of carrying them to term. Perhaps he would have to be delivered by Caesarian."

I couldn't tell her to cut it out with the play by play. I didn't dare turn around to even acknowledge her presence. With John in his current fragile state, to see me talk to Scully might be the thing that would push him over the edge again.

John spoke up again, for the first time in a while. "I want a copy of one of the pictures," he said. "To remember them by."

"Are you sure?" the doctor asked cautiously. John looked at her like she'd said something really stupid. I knew that look. He'd given it to me often enough, especially when we'd first met. Dr. Jensen sighed and then printed off a copy, then found a file to put it in. John didn't look at it or take it, so I did.

"Okay, we're through," the doctor pronounced. As she talked, she wiped John's belly clean of the gel. It twitched here and there as she touched it and I was jealous. I wanted to be the one to touch him like that. He obviously didn't seem entirely comfortable, touched by her. "I'd have to say, I'm astounded. If I didn't see that you are obviously male, everything else about this pregnancy would seem totally normal. Perhaps I might still put you in the high risk category just because of the combination of your age and multiples. But maybe not even. You seem remarkably healthy, given what I've heard you've been through. What we're dealing with appears to be two normal, human fetuses. I'm giving you a preliminary date of about twenty weeks maturity, which is a little far gone in the pregnancy for a simple procedure. I'm going to ask your permission to consult the ob/gyn that I send all my high risk cases to. He won't be happy to do the procedure, but he's always put the health of the, umm, mother first. We'll discuss options then. If after your abortion, you want to discuss reconstructive surgery to return yourself to your normal appearance and physiology, we'll probably have to find another specialist for you."

"You'll call us after you've talked to this doctor?" John said, pulling his gown down to conceal his belly.

"In a few days." she promised. "You can get dressed now. I'm going to suggest a vitamin pill, and I'm going to also suggest that you eat as much as you want when you want, whenever you feel you can keep it down. I'd like to see you gain back to your former weight before too long. A bit of mild exercise would be good. You," she pointed at me, "Watch him. See that he doesn't take it into his head to start out with the Marine Corps workout. I'm thinking a little walking, a little prenatal yoga."

"Yoga?!" John was irate. It was good to see the old John for a moment. Especially when it wasn't directed at me. He sounded as if she'd proposed he paint his nails pink and get a perm. "That's for Oprah watching, decaf skim latte sipping, minivan driving soccer moms. I do not do yoga!"

Monica appeared beside me, with a bemused look on her face. "Poor John. He can be so funny about things sometimes. He brought polish sausages to me once. You should have seen him when I tried to make him eat off a plate."

"Really? That's too bad," the doctor said sweetly, as if she just hadn't heard his pique. "It's really relaxing. It'd be very good for you. You know, Walter used yoga to regain some of his range of motion after he was shot. I'm a big believer in its therapeutic value."

Monica stood behind John and put her hands on his shoulder and then laid her head against his neck. He shook and shivered, as if feeling some kind of touch, a ghostly one. But he didn't look behind him. I wondered about that. I couldn't decide whether that meant that he had some connection with the world of the dead, like I did, or whether anyone could feel their presence when they wanted to make it felt. I do know that after a moment, John was no longer shivering at Monica's touch, but relaxed, like he was comforted in some way. "You said Walter's done yoga?"

"Some, years ago. I don't know if he continued. You'd have to ask him."

Yeah, like that was going to happen. Walter bolted every time he was expected to say more than four or five words to John, or whenever something reminded him of this thing that had happened to John.

"We'll figure something out exercise wise," I promised the doctor. Heck, I'd do yoga with John, if I thought it would help. I'd tried it before, back in my college days in England. I'd decided that human bodies weren't meant to be twisted into such noodles, at least not my human body. But prenatal yoga was bound to be milder, right?

The poor man was finally allowed the opportunity to drain his bladder. He was all but hopping from foot to foot by the time he got to the bathroom door. Then we left, with promises to call her if even the slightest problem cropped up. After we left her office, I pulled up to the convenience store. "I'm going to see if they have any ice cream," I said. "You stay right here."

I also planned to see if they had any of those panty shield things. Just in case John had any spotting like the doctor said he might. I'd gotten feminine products for Scully before. It didn't bother me or impinge on my masculinity in any way. John would be peeved to see them even, I could tell in advance. But he'd be even more peeved to have his jeans ruined. I'd have to get him another pair. This whole process was taking longer than I thought.

I found the ice cream he'd wanted. Coffee. Plain coffee. Haagen Dazs. I hoped that would do. I didn't find panty shields, but I found regular pads. The cashier, a pimply faced kid of about college age gave me a look of total pity as I put my purchases on the counter. And he even said to me as he rang them up, "Man, she's really got you whipped, hasn't she?"

I decided to shock the kid. "Better pussy-whipped than no pussy if you know what I mean."

He looked at me like I'd just said that I had a fetish for midgets in clown costumes. I shrugged. If the disdain of the whole Federal Bureau of Investigation for a decade had failed to wear me down, what chance did a loser clerk in a small-town convenience store have? Now, if only I really were getting some, well, it didn't have to be pussy, but something, it would have been perfect.

I suspected that in the unlikely event that John would ever return my feelings, he would never feel so comfortable with his body in its new form that he would let me touch that newly created portion of his anatomy.

I stopped at the coffee counter on the way out and found a plastic spoon. Back in the car, I got the ice cream and the spoon out for John and handed them to him. His eyes widened as he realized that I'd listened to him and gotten him what he'd wanted. He'd been slouched against the window, eyes half closed, but not sleeping. He almost smiled.

"Your stomach doing okay?" I asked.

"Fine for the moment."

As I drove us back to the Skinners', he slowly ate the ice cream. I worried that he might get sick from it, but he went slowly, tiny bite by tiny bite, definitely a man who knew how to defer pleasure. He stirred the ice cream until it was mushy, and by the time he was finished with the pint, it was liquid and we were only a few miles away from our new base.

John shrugged off Georgie's welcome and trudged right up to his new bedroom. Walter was still up on the ladder, scraping at the eaves, though he'd moved to another side of the house.

Georgie looked to me for explanation. "He got a good look at the ultrasound," I explained.

Georgie cursed under her breath. I didn't really hear what she said, but I thought I might have caught a few obscenities involving the Virgin Mary.

"You Catholic, Georgie?" I asked.

"Was, long ago. You a believer, Fox?"

"I believe in...something. I can hardly say what." What could I tell her, that I saw the appearances of my beloved dead as proof of some higher power, but one that could hardly be bothered to be involved him or herself. That such a power was indifferent to us, that we had only ourselves. But surely, that could be enough. It had to be. They loved me. And love could conquer anything.

"I'm still a believer," Georgie said. "I just can't be a church goer. Would you help me get started with dinner, Fox?"

"Sure, Georgie," I told her. I liked Georgie and would have done the most menial of potato peeling for her.

As we went indoors, I heard a window scrape open. This was the side of the house that John's room was on. John looked out of the window directly at Skinner and said, with a snarl, "Hey, Wally! Would you mind cutting that out? Some of us are tryin' to nap here."

Skinner bristled visibly. But he lowered his scraper and said, much more mildly than I would have expected, "Don't call me Wally."

Then he climbed down the ladder. He lowered the tall extension ladder and moved it to another side of the house, muttering to himself. Georgie chortled to herself.

"How much older are you than Walter, Georgie," I asked when she set me up at the table with a pile of green beans to snap.

"Now, why do you say that?"

"Because I've never seen a clearer case of someone being a big sister."

"I'm not that much older than Walter. We're what they used to call Irish twins. Less than a year apart. Ten and a half months to be exact. And I had an older sister who passed a few years back. Our poor sainted mother had three in diapers at once at one point."

"So Walter's the baby of the family?"

"No, we had a much younger brother as well. He passed away a while back," she said, with the ghost of old sadness from long ago in her voice. She still mourned this baby brother, perhaps more in some ways than the older sister she'd mentioned.

"Is he going to be okay, Fox?" She asked.

"Someday, I'm sure. He'll heal. If we can help him to be flexible and bend, not break under this."

"He's not a flexible man, is he? He knows what he knows, don't confuse him with the facts."

"Not quite that bad, but you'd damn well better have the physical evidence to back up those facts."

Doggett:

I slept right through the afternoon and through dinner. I vaguely woke up the number of times that various people looked in the room to check up on me- Georgie a few times, Mulder a few times and even Skinner once. But I couldn't pull myself into full wakefulness though, even the times I had to go to the bathroom, I managed to do that half asleep.

When I finally woke up, it was dark out, the cicadas buzzing to beat the band and I was hot and uncomfortable, even with the fan blowing on me. Why couldn't our secret hideout have had air-conditioning? I turned on the light and looked for my shoes. I saw that Mulder had put the file with the ultrasound picture on the room's desk. I didn't, couldn't look at it yet. I found my shoes and went to put them on.

They didn't fit. My feet and ankles were swollen and I couldn't put my own damn shoes on. I was also hungry and yet balancing on that edge between nausea and hunger. Saltines would have been good, but I'd run out of the pack I'd been keeping in my room. Cursing, I stopped trying to put the damn shoes on and went in search of saltines and someone to bitch out. Mulder would do nicely.

He wasn't in his room, so I went downstairs. He was in the living room, parked in front of the television, not, I noticed, in my chair, but stretched out on the sofa. I remembered his apartment, how the bed had no signs of someone sleeping on it, but the sofa was obviously slept on. He had the DVD on and was watching something, but he sat up as soon as he noticed me. Before I could start bitching at him, he was up off the sofa and at my elbow.

"Why don't you sit down, John? Are you doing okay? Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?" he asked. He was so sweetly solicitous that I was taken off guard. My tongue never had a chance to be sharp. It was blunted by some mysterious force.

As I took my place in the recliner, I gauged my nausea. Not doing well. "I want some of that tea Georgie makes me. With honey," I demanded. Well, he was asking what I wanted.

"I'm not sure what she puts in it. I'll wake her up and ask her," Mulder said.

"Don't you dare," I said. It was one thing to send Mulder fetching here and there, but I wasn't going to be having him wake Georgie up. It was nearly midnight. She needed her rest. "I think it has ginger in it. It helps with the nausea."

"Oh. Okay. Hold on a minute. Let's try something," he said. He left me behind to go into the kitchen and I got a good gander at what he'd been watching. On the screen, two guys were in bed together, a little blond hottie who looked about seventeen, a real twink, and an even hotter guy who was older. Well, they were hot if you didn't mind your boys looking like boys. When my eye went roving, I preferred a more mature look, with actual muscles. I like a guy who looks like a man. Like I said, I used to jerk off to fantasies about Skinner. Not that my eye went roving very often and it'd been years since I'd done more than look, since before I met Barb. I'd been more than satisfied with sex with her, and the handful of other women I'd been with. I suppose this makes me a bisexual. But I was no faggot, if you know what I mean. I'd never fallen in love with any of the guys I'd slept with. Honestly, I didn't think too much about it these days. And it wasn't like I was going to have sex with anyone else but Rosie Palm and her five daughters ever again.

At first I thought Mulder had been watching some kind of gay porn flick. He'd had an impressive collection of porn in his apartment, though from what I remembered, none of it was gay, all of it featured the usual assortment of silicone enhanced women. Could a man really be so paranoid that he censored the videos he kept in his own apartment? Anyway, the video I was watching now wasn't a porn movie because it wasn't very explicit, more suggestion than action, and then, when they're doing it, the phone rings. That never happens in porn.

Mulder came out just then. He was bearing a glass of ginger ale, a sleeve of saltines, and a little plastic bag filled with some kind of sugar coated dried fruit. "Try this," he said, giving me the bag first. "Georgie and I went shopping while you were asleep. Candied ginger. It might work."

I remembered throwing the raw ginger root out of the car window, just because he'd been the one to suggest it. God, I was a rude bastard sometimes. I shrugged and took a sip of the soda. It had a lot more bite than the usual kind I liked. I was about to kick up a fuss until I realized I liked it better than the blander stuff. It had a real taste to it, it wasn't just fizzy sugar water. Mulder settled himself on the sofa again. "Let me know if you need anything."

"You know, I'm pregnant. I'm not an invalid. I can get my own damn soda. My ex-wife worked until the day Luke was born," I said. I know I was as weak as a kitten when I got here, but I was feeling stronger all the time. Starting to feel more like my old, feisty self.

"Yeah, but your ex-wife is a woman. And I'll bet she didn't have morning sickness like you've had or having been abducted by aliens to complicate matters."

I didn't have any good answer back to that, so I stuck to my soda. Mulder went back to the television, started the scene again where the telephone rang as the two guys were in bed and the phone rang. From what little I'd caught so far, this wasn't porn, but some kind of damn soap opera about gay people.

"You some kind of queer, Mulder?" I asked, catching sight of the DVD box set. Queer as Folk.

"Yeah," he said softly. "Some kind. That a problem?"

"No, no problem," I said. I wasn't sure what kind of reaction I'd been expecting from the man. It would have been hypocritical of me to have a problem, considering I suppose, viewed from some angles, I was a kind of queer myself. "Just wanting some clarification."

"I had one boyfriend. Someone who used to work at the Bureau. It turned out badly. I haven't gone on the down low since, to borrow a phrase."

The way he said it, I knew there was a whole lot more to the story. I could hear hints of pain, betrayal and longing in his voice. Yeah, a whole lot more there. I didn't want to hear it.

I shrugged and went back to watching the television just in time to see Brian, the older of the two guys in bed, drag his new twink boyfriend off to the hospital with him, for the birth of the baby of the lesbian couple. I was okay until they brought the baby out on screen. I really was. Then the tears started out of nowhere again. Mulder realized what was happening too late, but he turned off the DVD anyway.

"I'm sorry, John. I forgot about the baby. I really did. I should have remembered."

This got me angry at him, irate. If I'd had something convenient to hand besides my crackers, I'd have thrown it at him. "I'm not fucking made of glass, Mulder. I'm not going to have fucking nervous break down every damn time I see a damn baby on the television or in real life. Turn the fucking show back on and let me watch it. And give me the damn remote."

He seemed relieved almost to surrender the remote over to me. Just to make a point, I watched the damn show, mostly stoically, doing my best not to let just the simple idea of a baby upset me. If I couldn't even watch one on the TV, how was I going to handle what was happening to me in real life. It was kind of too bad though, that I had to watch the damn show to make the point. Because by the end of the first episode, I was hooked.

Even so, I fell asleep in the recliner sometime during the fourth continuous episode we watched. I dreamed uncomfortable dreams, not quite full blown nightmares, but uncomfortable enough that my sleep didn't feel quite restful. My mind got no rest, busy with driving my truck around from dream setting to dream setting, looking for something that I could never find. All through the early morning hours, I searched through junk yards, weird garage sales, outdoor appliance yards, strange houses, and driving my truck from each place to the next. I didn't even know what I was supposed to be looking for, only that I'd let it go before and couldn't find it now.

When I woke up, it was a bright, hot morning. I seemed to be alone in the house, but I could hear Skinner and Georgie talking just outside the house, scraping on it again. I could hear him climb down from his ladder, even saw him through the open window. He offered to go inside and get drinks for the both of them. I couldn't bear the thought of having to say something to the man, so still half asleep, I climbed out of my recliner and with my bedroom in mind, I headed up the stairs. My foot was on the first stair as Skinner entered the house by the front porch. As he was most of the way through the living room, I was halfway up the stairs. He called out to me, "John, did you need anything?"

Half fuzzy with sleep, and feeling off balance with my big belly, I should have known better than to turn as I was about to place a foot on the next step. My stocking feet were slick on the painted steps. I slipped and then I was falling down those stairs. I hit with my shoulder first and felt a big burst of pain spread out from there. It was amazing, looking back, how instinctual it was to curl around my belly as I made the rest of the fall, do anything I could to protect it. Still, I know I took a hit there. I ended up laid out on my side at the bottom of the stairs, hardly able to breathe from the pain. My abdomen was already starting to cramp up as Skinner knelt by my side.

"Can you sit up? John?" Skinner asked. I shook my head, unable to speak. Shaking my head hurt. Everything hurt. He gave me a quick glance over, I guess just to see if I was bleeding and if I were still breathing. Fuck, I'd dislocated my shoulder again. That wasn't such a big deal. I'd done it often enough that it popped right back in with only a little help from me. It was painful, but not the main problem here, not by far. "Don't move, John. I'll be right back with help," he said. Then he rushed off calling, "Georgie! Georgie!"

Move. Like I could even consider moving. The cramping in my belly got worse suddenly and I realized that I might not have to wait for that abortion, that I might be losing the tadpoles right now. No, I thought, as I tried to breathe deeply and slowly. No. This cannot be happening. Not like this.

Mulder:

I just had had to make a break for the road, just for a little while. I was starting to feel that kind of claustrophobia that could only be helped by the feel of the road under my wheels and the big sky overhead. I really wanted to head out west and see if I could track down any alien ships. I wanted to go soon, and search for Monica's body and for any hint of why John had been so abused. But for now, I was only intending to go to Omaha and take care of those errands I'd been going to run yesterday. Alex Krycek appeared in the empty seat beside me when I was about an hour out from the farmhouse. "Turn around," he ordered me.

"Why?"

"He needs you."

"He doesn't need me. If you hadn't noticed, he now knows I'm a queer. And didn't seem overly impressed by the fact." The fact was that John had a strange look on his face when he'd asked that question. Not one of disgust, but of something else that I couldn't quite understand. But his voice had been sour. I don't know what I'd been expecting? For him to open up and admit that he liked getting it on with guys as well? He'd seemed to like watching Queer as Folk far better than I'd imagined he would, but that was proof of exactly nothing. I'd been a fool to let myself get hooked on it in various hotel rooms across the country.

"He needs you, Mulder. He can't do this alone. Turn the car around and go back to him now. You and I were doomed from the start but I'm not going to watch you screw this one up. He needs you right now."

There was something in Alex's voice, some revenant hint of menace, some darkness that always remained, but now it was even more tinged with urgency. Perhaps he didn't know exactly what was happening, perhaps he just wasn't telling me, but it was an emergency. I pulled into the first available turnoff off the two lane state highway and then turned the car around, retracing my trail back to John, only this time going so fast that I prayed to a God I didn't really believe in not to get caught.

I made it back to the farmhouse in fifty minutes. Everything seemed normal. Skinner's Blazer was parked behind Georgie's old Ford pickup. Neither of them were up on ladder's working on the house like I expected, but it was the hot part of the day, the sun directly overhead and I broke out into a sweat as soon as I parked my car and stepped outside. Underneath that sweat though was a cold sweat that had nothing to do with the blistering warmth of the day. They might have gone in, just for lunch. They might have.

Inside, Walter was pacing back and forth through the whole downstairs, like one of those bears you see at the zoo, unable to accept the confines of its environment. He stopped when he saw me. "You're home from Omaha early," he said.

"I never made it to Omaha. I got a warning that something was wrong and I turned around immediately. What happened?" I'd told Walter about my ability to communicate with those who had gone to the hereafter. He took it stride much the way he'd started taking all of aliens and conspiracies.

"John fell down the stairs. Arlene is on her way right now."

"Where is he?" I demanded, not waiting for an answer, but heading back out into the living room again.

"He's upstairs," Walter called after me. "Georgie is with him."

I flew up those steps, practically levitated. From the top of them, I could hear John. He must not be dying at least, I thought. He wouldn't be so irritated sounding if he were dying right now. "I want to see Mulder. Where is he, dammit?" he demanded as I could hear Georgie make softly comforting, shushing noises.

"I'm right here," I said, looking in on John's bedroom. He was lying in bed, face pale and drawn. He was in obvious pain and I wondered if he were in the middle of a miscarriage. If he'd hit his abdomen on the down, depending on how hard and far he'd fallen, that could be some serious damage. "Heard you took a tumble, buddy."

I hadn't given those steps a second thought before now. Sure, they were steep and worn smooth with the passage of feet over the years, but I was steady of foot. John sometimes still didn't seem like he'd entirely adjusted to the weight and bulk of the sprogs. He was far from clumsy naturally, but it was a lot to ask out of a person, to adjust in two weeks to carrying an extra twenty-pounds or so, in a place where a man was never designed to carry extra weight like that, with a body that was doing far from optimal.

Georgie was sitting beside him, holding his hand. She wasn't doing anything else, so that meant he was in stable condition, right? Not in immediate danger. That, or she didn't think there was anything that could be done to help him.

"John's hemorrhaging, not much, but some," she told me. She was trying to sound reassuring, but I wasn't buying it. "He dislocated his shoulder, but that self-reduced. He'll have some real beauties of bruises. It's the cramping we're worried about now. Dr. Jensen is on her way. John's been asking for you."

Georgie got up and motioned me to take her seat. It was one of those little upholstered vanity chairs like you sometimes see in a woman's room. This one was kind of ruffled and pink, very girly. It was warm from her body still as I sat down. I pulled it as close to John's bed as I could get and took his hand in mine. I thought it would be limp and weak, but his grip was strong, punishingly hard even. To my surprise, Georgie left us alone to talk.

"I was wrong, Mulder," he said once we were alone. "I could never have done it. I could never have killed them. I was laying at the bottom of those steps, while Skinner ran for Georgie, telling anyone out there that would listen to please not take them, that I would give my life for theirs."

He was so grimly certain sounding that it was sobering. This could not be the same man who just a few days ago was telling me how much he hated the fetus inside of him. Had seeing the ultrasound effected this change? A gradual adjustment to the reality of the new life within him informing and changing his attitude? The sudden break of trauma forcing him to reprioritize as it did with so many people?

"You have to help me. Don't let me lose them, Mulder," he begged me.

"I'll fight with you," I promised, not certain if I could do anything, if indeed, he was going to miscarry. That was all I could, to promise to fight with him. I would do everything I could. Hold him as he cried if we had to bury their little bodies. Let him throw anything he wanted at me. Let him call me any name. Let him accuse me of not being there when it happened, of not doing enough.

I examined my own thoughts carefully, allowing myself cautiously to wonder for the first time what I would do if these babies were born, if they made it. I'd be there by his side just as closely. Be a good Uncle Mulder to them. Learn to change diapers if he wanted me to help. Buy them lots of presents with the cash stolen by Alex from the Consortium. I found myself marginally hopeful and very pleased by the idea of two new, small people in the world.

He rolled over from his back, to his left side, facing away from me, but he looked over his shoulder at me. The invitation was clear. He wanted me to crawl into bed with him and hold him. I kicked off my shoes and crawled right into bed with him. I wedged myself behind him, his head using my arm for a pillow. It would probably fall asleep soon from the pressure, but I didn't care. I grabbed another pillow and handed it to him to prop up his knee. He leaned against me and heaved a sigh. My other hand found its way to his big abdomen. They were moving still, the babies, just a gentle fluttering, but otherwise his belly was hard. I could feel the individual spasms and he breathed harder with each one. This was not good. Was he going into premature labor?

I rubbed his belly softly, long strokes, and spoke to him many words, soothing, relaxing, repetitive, trying to get him to put himself almost into a hypnotic state, some place where he could relax his whole body. I don't even hardly know what I said, just that after some time, even if his belly remained hard, the rest of him seemed to soften, to not be rocked so much by each contraction. I might have been kidding myself, but I thought they seemed to be getting further and further apart.

When I felt the presence of one of my beloved dead, I just looked up and talked. I didn't care if John would freak or get angry. "Monica," I said. "Can you talk to them? Tell them to hold on. That if they make it, he'll let them be born."

John didn't seem to hear me, or so I thought, until I felt another bit of fresh dampness on the arm he was using as his pillow. Was he seeing her? Or just reacting to what I was saying.

"They know, Mulder," she told me. She touched John again, hovering over the pair of us. She put her hand on his cheek. I almost cried, just to see how much she loved him. "Oh, John, John. It's going to be okay, John. I'm watching your back."

When she disappeared, he put a hand to his cheek where she had placed her hand, but he didn't say anything. Had he seen her? Or just felt some kind of touch, some presence. I wondered if I would ever know or if he would deny that anything had happened. None of my other beloved dead had seemed to get any kind of reaction from him. But I wasn't fooling myself that Monica was hanging around me primarily because of John. I'd liked her well enough, she was a good woman and a good agent. But she loved John, and I could tell that John had loved her. How was I going to tell him that she was gone, if he didn't know somehow already?

I was still holding John in this spoon when Dr. Jensen walked in. I had to get out of the bed to let her examine him. He did everything she asked without protest as she did all the usual. I was familiar with most of it, having been the subject of such an exam many times in the past. She checked his eyes for dilation. Palpitated him here or there. Listened to his heart beat and the fetuses. She touched his right shoulder which apparently was the one he'd dislocated and she seemed surprised that it was in good working order.

"Happened a lot when I was a kid," he explained. "I used to be able to pop it in and out at will when I was a teenager, but the tendons and ligaments got stiff again. I just put it back in place. It's fine. A bit sore."

I was impressed. I'd had a shoulder dislocation before and getting it back in place was a complex, painful emergency room visit with a professional torturer, i.e. an orthopedist, yanking it into place and a crowd of interns looking on like I was freak show, then a couple weeks in a sling.

"That's not what I'm worried about, Doc," he said. "The tadpoles. Tell me the tadpoles are going to be okay."

"I found two heartbeats still. They're both still alive. But Georgie says you're hemorrhaging. That's not a good sign."

She didn't go for protecting his modesty this time. Just had him get undressed for her to do the exam, had him pull down the sweats he'd changed into. They didn't look like mine, but maybe an old pair of Georgie's or Skinner's. I saw that they'd put those pads I'd gotten to use. He hadn't hemorrhaged that much, just enough to stain the pad but not saturate it. She cleaned him up, wiping away the little blood there was and did a quick exam. "You're not dilated at all," she concluded. He didn't seem to be bleeding any more. "I think your hemorrhaging is slowing down to a trickle. I don't think you're in immediate danger, Mr. Doggett. The uterus and amniotic fluid are there for a reason, as a cushioning against these kind of blows. I've talked to my ob/gyn. I've scheduled a consultation for you tomorrow evening. I'm going to call him and see if he'll come out here, maybe tonight if he can swing it."

"Cancel it. I'm not killing these babies."

There was a brief flash of smile on her face, then the set of Dr. Jensen's face got serious again. "Mr. Doggett, if you decide you're carrying these fetuses to term, you'll still need to consult with this doctor. I thought I made it clear to you that I don't deliver high risk cases. That includes any multiples or primagravidas over forty or anyone who's got a good chance of needing a c-section. You're all three. Now, if you're serious about carrying them to term there's something you're going to need to do."

"Anything," John said, without hesitation. I'd heard that determination in his voice before. Once, when I'd been whining about how the whole game was rigged, that there was no way that we'd win that trial, that it was fixed from the start, he'd said that we should shove it up their ass. He said this with that exact same tone of voice.

"Total bed rest until your contractions stop entirely, then after that we'll see how you're doing, and work your way back up to some activity. I think a sling for your arm might not be a bad idea. The hormones of pregnancy soften the ligaments. It's to help the pelvis stretch a little for the delivery. But one of my patients once dislocated her hip a couple of times during her pregnancy. If you're not careful, you may dislocate that shoulder again."

John just laid back in bed, without protest. He must have been exhausted. "Bed rest. I can do that," he said, sounding more like he was convincing himself. He must not have been happy about the thought. He was an active man and he hated being in any situation where he couldn't do something. It was bad enough for him being limited by his belly, but I could see how being in bed for a week or more might be entirely intolerable. Even when I'd first gotten him out of the ship and he was disoriented and could hardly stand, he'd insisted on walking part of the way to where I'd had my car concealed.

She left, to go talk to Georgie presumably. I got John put together again, fresh clothes from the small stack he had of them, a fresh pad from the pink box of them. Someone had found a pair of old briefs for him and that's what the pad had been attached to. It was then I realized, I never even remembered to buy underwear for the man. He'd been going around commando for the past couple of weeks without complaint. Maybe he went that way all the time. He hadn't complained, or maybe he was too embarrassed to do so. Okay, if he was keeping these sprogs for now, another trip to the store for more clothes was in order anyway. I got in bed with him finally, back into the position we had been.

"It hurts, Mulder," he said softly.

Doggett:

"It hurts, Mulder," I said. Damn, I sounded pathetic, but my voice was harsh from crying.

"What? Do you need me to get Dr. Jensen? There might be some pain reliever she can prescribe," he said, sounding anxious.

"No, knowing I can't go through with this," I told him. He was holding me again, that position which felt so comforting that I usually hated it, but now I craved it, wished he could get closer somehow, that I could disappear entirely into his embrace, that I could absorb his strength from skin to skin contact. "What you said, the other day, about how hate was love, looked at with fear. How do you stop being scared, Mulder?"

All my life I'd gotten through fear just by brazening through it. Pretend I wasn't afraid. Just do it anyway. Put on the good face, acted like the good Marine and nobody ever knew I was a coward and was still shaking in my boots when it was all over and that it hadn't changed me a bit or made me a braver man. This time though, I didn't think that was going to work. It went far too deep for that. Because this terror wasn't going to go away in a few hours or a few days. It would go on for months, until the tadpoles were born.

"Fear exists as an adaptive defense measure. Letting us take appropriate actions to fight or flee in the face of danger," he said, in a voice that was an odd combination of concern and clinical. He pulled me closer. "A phobia is a maladaption of this process, that same fight or flight response but towards something generally recognized as harmless. Phobias can be treated through a behavioral therapy of gradual desensitization. As for something that is a legitimate source of danger, then the fear response is healthy and you shouldn't try and stop it. Analyze it. Determine whether it's a legitimate cause for concern or an irrational phobia. The first step is determining exactly what you're scared of."

The next sentence came to my lips and slid out before I could stop myself. I felt, what? Like an idiot? Like I'd exposed far too much to him? He knew that my only son had died, disappeared and been murdered, the killer dead but not truly brought to justice. It was public record. In the newspapers even. He'd seen the files, I was sure. "Have you ever lost a child, Mulder? You think I can just rationalize my way through that? Analyze it and make it all better. And me lying at the bottom of those steps, terrified it was going to happen again. And worse, knowing I was planning to do it on purpose?"

"I know, John," he petted me, as if he were trying to still a wounded animal. Worse, it was working. I relaxed under his hands as he talked to me, saying little nonsense words. He kissed me again on the back of my head, that odd gesture the last time we were in bed like this.

"Can you know? Can you understand?" I asked a long while later, not angrily, but sadly, my mind not here, but on a Long Island beach, spreading a box of ashes that had once been a little boy, consigning him to the winds. My heart had flown away with him, leaving me barren and empty.

"My son is being raised by a nice couple. He will never know me. I will never know him. I don't dare try and reclaim him. I know he is still alive, but I will never see him again."

He spoke with such genuine pain branded across his voice that I moved my hand to stroke one of his. If his pain was even a shadow of what I had felt, then I wouldn't have wished that on my worst enemy, much less a man who had been so good to me. Who I was starting to feel might not be such a pain in the ass, but my steadfast ally. Who I, yes, I will not fool myself here, cared for. Even though he was Fox Mulder. I didn't want to care for him, but I did.

"Could you stand to go through that again?" I asked him. "Knowing how it could end up, would you do the same thing again?"

"Yes," Mulder said. "I would do it again in a minute."

I must have drifted off. When I woke up, Mulder was setting up the TV and DVD on the dresser which was directly across from the bed. I'd easily be able to watch while I was laid up. I started sitting up, intending to tend to the call of nature.

"Hey, where do you think you're going, guy?" Mulder asked, keeping his tone light.

"Do I gotta ask permission to go to the little boys room now?" I said.

'You heard the doctor. Total bed rest," Mulder said. "I'll get the jar, or do you need a bedpan?"

I wondered how he did it. He made it sound humorous without making it into a joke with me as the butt of it. Still, a guy had to protest being stuck in bed, not even able to get up and take a piss.

"The jar and then get out for a while," I snarled.

"There you go," he said, handing me the plastic object in question. I wondered where they'd gotten one on such short notice, but then Georgie was a nurse and she must have had her sources. "I know exactly how you feel. God knows I've been flat on my back in a hospital bed for more than my fair share of time. Look at it this way. It could be worse. Georgie used to be an ICU nurse. I bet she's still got a fine hand with a catheter."

I pondered that. Yes, things could be worse. Still, I frowned and said, "Get out already. How am I supposed to take a piss with you staring at me like a goober?"

A while after I emptied my bladder, there was a knock at the door. "Hey, Prince Charming, is it safe to come in yet?"

The last thing I would have figured from Fox Mulder is that he could cheerfully take a jar full of another man's pee and empty it without complaint. But he did it, then set it just out of sight, but still in reach of the bed.

"Now, what do you want to watch?" he asked. "You've got about an hour and a half before that OB is going to be here. Not really enough time for a movie."

"I think I fell asleep at episode four of that thing we were watching yesterday."

Mulder, damn him, raised an eyebrow at that. "You some kind of queer, John?" he asked, echoing my words back to me. He said it in such a tone that I could have turned it into a joke, made light of it.

But confronted with a direct question, I cannot lie. It's just not in my nature. There's right. There's wrong. There's not much in between. I wasn't sure I wanted to tell him, but I also knew that I didn't want it to seem like I gave a damn what he thought about me.

"Before I got married, I sucked dick a few times and liked it," I told him, the utter, unvarnished truth. There'd been a couple of guys in bars and one guy while I was in the Marines. "Got a problem with that?"

God, it's fun to shock Mulder. I swear, if he'd been drinking something, it would have spewed out his nose. As it was, he kind of choked and sputtered. I'll give him this much, he got himself under control pretty quickly. He calmed down, then started with his clinical voice, "I'm not sure why I should be surprised. If one credits the researches of various sexologists, a statistically significant portion of the population has engaged in sexual activity at least once with a member of the same sex."

"It's been years. Like I said, I got married. I like women best. I'm no faggot. Big fan of pussy, you know," I said, feeling like a dumbass that I found myself putting on the face of macho stupidity. I was not exactly in the best of positions right now to be claiming staunch masculinity. But I had to cling to what I could.

Luckily Mulder didn't seem to take offense. "Well, what's not to like about that?" he said, smiling. He put the DVD in the player and started it up. The chiropractor that one of the main characters had just started dating, I decided, was kind of hot. Mulder stretched out on the bed next to me as we watched, but didn't move to pull me back into the cuddle. I guess I wasn't sure I wanted it at this moment so I didn't invite it. I was feeling better, even a little ashamed of my earlier weakness. The cramps had slowed down significantly. Perhaps every twenty minutes I felt them again. The tadpoles had stilled and that worried me, but I didn't panic. They were usually quiet at this time of day anyway. Nap time I suppose.

After a while, Georgie brought up a tray with food on it. A bowl of chicken noodle soup, a tuna sandwich and a pair of pop tarts. Had Mulder told her about that? He must have. Just behind her stood Skinner. He was carrying a teapot.

"You think you can eat a little, sweetie?" she asked, setting the tray down on the table next to the bed.

"Some, I think," I told her. Despite everything, I was hungry and also looking forward to a pop tart. Skinner set the teapot down and fled without meeting my eyes. I wanted to stop him and say something to him. He looked guilty, as if he were blaming himself for my fall. I didn't blame him. I'd just been clumsy. I had a feeling we were going to have to some blunt words, sometime soon, get down to brass tacks so to speak. For the moment I just watched him rush away. Georgie decided that just for eating, it would be okay to prop me up to a nearly sitting position. She and Mulder went off to grab what must have been nearly every pillow in the house.

I surprised myself. For the first time in a while, propped up in bed, I ate. Like a starving man. Like I wasn't afraid I was going to toss my cookies somewhere in the middle. The tuna sandwich disappeared in short order, so did the soup. Oddly, the pop tarts weren't nearly as good as I imagined they would be. What I wanted was another tuna sandwich. I didn't care to push my luck as far as my stomach was concerned. When you spend as much time as I have over the past couple of weeks leaning over a toilet bowl, you learn not to push it. I set the tray aside and asked Mulder for a cup of tea and got it. I couldn't quite reach the tea and Georgie had made me promise not to move from my spot. I sipped a bit at it, but mostly I laid back on the pillows, exhausted by the simple act of eating.

I despised the OB the instant I laid my eyes on him. He was a pudgy little man with a superior attitude, a real arrogant SOB. He walked into my bedroom without knocking, though Georgie was just behind him and she did knock on the door frame, pointedly, as if point out to the doctor what he'd neglected. Dr. Jensen was just behind them, and as she entered, she looked at me apologetically. She obviously thought that the man was a bastard too. I wondered why she kept working with him.

"John," Georgie said, "Dr. Abbott is here. Let me get that out of the way."

Georgie took the remains of my meal away. She squeezed my hand and seemed generally pleased with how much I'd eaten.

"Uh..." the OB started, obviously made uneasy by being confronted with a male patient. He'd been told what to expect, but I guess he hadn't expected me. He finally started, holding out his hand for me to shake, "Mr. Doggett. Bob Abbott. Dr. Jensen has given you my credentials I assume. I understand you've found yourself in a most unusual situation. I've reviewed Dr. Jensen's file and the ultrasound pictures. Amazing."

He shook his head.

Then he said the thing which made me realize why Dr. Jensen continued to work with him, even if he was a certified, 100% grade A asshole. "Before you start in with any questions, let me give you some of my answers first. As far as what sort of things I believe in and allow for labor, walking around, squatting, water birth, doulas, any of that. I believe in anything that will create a positive outcome of the birth experience, that is to say, living mother and living baby or babies. And I take pride in the fact that, if you adjust for the fact that I take on so many high-risk pregnancies, I have one of the lowest c-section rates around. I'd like to examine you now. Without so much of an audience, please."

The last was said so dismissively, obviously directed at Mulder and Georgie, that I felt a bit of fury when I'd been sure I was too tired for it. "Mulder stays," I said. Then I dug around in my memory for a good reason for him to do so. "He's going to be my birth partner."

Mulder looked shocked and pleased, obviously not expecting this. He reached for my hand though and said, "That's right."

Call me prudish, I still didn't care to have Georgie see me naked, even though she'd now seen me that way. She understood and she took a strategic retreat, picking up the tray to take it back downstairs.

Dr. Abbott turned his attention to Mulder, with a look that was obviously meant to skewer, to wilt Mulder. Someone should have warned Abbott that Mulder hadn't wilted under the meanest son-of-bitch AD the FBI had to offer and hardened serial killers didn't phase him. Mulder was hardly going to be affected by the glare from a tubby little OB. "You are the father?"

"No," Mulder said firmly. "John here is the father. The children's other genetic source, if there is one, is a person or persons unknown. I'm just a good friend of the family, so to speak."

Dr. Abbott made a few noises that weren't exactly pleased, but we eventually got down to the exam. "Amazing," he murmured from between my legs as he got the first good gander at my equipment, some of which was factory installed, some was post-production, so to speak. "The way I understand it is that most intersex persons have a leaning towards one gender or another with mere vestigial traces of the other gender's organs. You appear to have two complete sets of sexual organs, complete enough to be functional."

"Almost functional," I corrected, then kicked myself for even starting to bring it up, wondering if there was so way I could get around saying this. It was. Well, how could you admit this sort of thing? To two other men. One of which was a near stranger for all that he had a couple of fingers up inside me at the moment, the other who was my near constant companion.

"Oh?" Dr. Abbott said. "Explain almost functional."

Damn him. Of course he'd want to know. He was an obnoxious bastard and was thinking of me as just another interesting science experiment and piece of meat.

"My balls are just decorative," I brazened through. "I don't ejaculate any more."

I wasn't about to explain how I knew this. They could connect the dots. I hadn't, not many times. I'd been too miserable to even contemplate it most of the time, but I'm still a guy and some urges just don't go away. Rosie Palm still made a good date, not too demanding, always eager to give it up. Orgasm was quite attainable, it's just that nothing came out any more. At least not out of my dick. Orgasm left me positively soggy and dripping from my vagina. I'd had a nice quiet freakout about this the first time it happened and just kind of took it in stride since then. Compared to other things that had happened to me, it wasn't such a big deal. But thank God Mulder had been gone for a couple of hours the first time it happened.

"I doubt they're nothing but decorative," Dr. Abbott said, taking his fingers out of my vagina and choosing then to palpitate my testes. I nearly snarled. If Mulder hadn't been holding my hand, and therefore holding me back, I might have ripped the guy's head off. I might have imagined it, but Mulder gave the doctor a look which should have melted steel. The doctor was oblivious though. "You retain almost all of the secondary sexual characteristics of a male. I'd like to run some blood tests to check the levels, but I suspect you've got fairly high testosterone levels still. You're in need of a shave, yes."

Well, yes. I did. My face was pretty full of stubble at the moment, but it's not like they were letting me out of bed to take care of that.

"The testes, in addition to producing sperm are the body's primary factory for testosterone. It'd be interesting right now to get a bird's eye view of what's going on inside yours at the moment," he said, then he left off his exam of my balls and zeroed in on my vagina again. "I think sometime before the birth, I'd like to see you in my office. I'll want to remove your hymen. It's a simple procedure. A bit of local anesthesia, a few snips, a few stitches."

"Hymen?"

"Didn't Dr. Jensen inform you? You're a virgin, Mr. Doggett. At least by the archaic definition of having an unbroken hymen. Your vaginal opening is fairly large, but there is a distinct ring of tissue around it. I don't care to take the risk that it would rip during the birth. It might lead to further tearing."

"Birth? I thought I'd be an automatic candidate for a c-section," I protested. I'd seen a birth before, my son's. And I'd felt up inside of me. Two fingers had felt a little too full. There was no way something the size of a small cantaloupe was going to be coming through that. Two somethings. No way. Uh-uh. Just not going to happen.

"I understand from Dr. Jensen that keeping you out of a hospital is something that should be done at all costs and that no other people are to be involved beyond me. I can empathize, due to your unusual circumstances. But there's no way I can keep you out of the hospital if we c-section you. At the minimum we'd have to involve an anesthesiologist and a surgical nurse. From what I can feel, your pelvis is wide enough to allow for a vaginal birth and that's what my hope is for you."

Fuck! I was fucked. No two ways about it.

The doctor continued, not noticing that he'd broad sided me. "I see no further sign of hemorrhaging and no sign of dilation. Contrary to popular story, miscarriage from blunt physical trauma is fairly rare. And the fetuses are nearly at the point of physical development where a neonatal unit with the latest advances available could save them. But I'd like to see you on bed rest for a few days, just to be on the safe side."

Not that I'd expected him to release me from it, but I still sighed and tried to negotiate. "Does it have to be total? Can I at least get up to pee?"

"Starting tomorrow morning," he told me. He gave me a few more warnings and admonitions. About eating. Resting. Keeping my feet up. The usual. But who he thought I was going to have to avoid having sexual intercourse for a while, I don't know. Mulder? Ugh. That was something I'd rather not think about.

I might like dick. But there was no way I was going to let any man's dick anywhere near there. No way. Not going to happen. Not ever. It was just too gross to think about. So, why did some internal muscles I'd never been aware of before make a little clench at the thought of it? No, don't think about it. Especially not this image that came suddenly to mind of Mulder fucking me there. No, not that. Not Mulder.

At last I'd absorbed all the humiliation I would have to for the day and could get back to watching some TV. Mulder was on the bed with me and we were into about our seventh episode of Queer as Folk when I said, "You know what would be nice, Mulder? Satellite TV. Looks like I'm going to be doing a whole lot of nothing for the next couple of months. I'm going to run out of DVDs pretty quick."

"Okay. I'll look into getting one of those mini dishes. We'll have to ask Walt if he minds having one bolted onto his house. And I'll have to see how anonymous I can make the bill be. If I can't swing it, don't worry, I'll keep you supplied. Just write me a list of things you want to see."

"Wait a minute, Mulder," I said. I'd just been thinking out loud. If I thought about it. The DVDs he'd already bought. The TV. It was pretty big screen and a nice one. He said he'd bought a laptop computer for me. That was starting to add up to some big figures and I didn't like it. "Mulder, where are you getting the cash for all this. Last I heard, you were a fugitive from death by lethal injection. And I've seen your financial records. You were broke to start with. As far as I could tell, you pissed away a substantial inheritance on porn, expensive suits and airline tickets."

"Don't worry about the money, John. I've got plenty and nothing more important to spend it on at the moment."

"Mulder!"

"I just looked broke. When I realized something might be going on, I started moving as much as I could of my inheritance into off shore accounts and various piles of just plain cash. You should know better than anyone how money can be disappeared. I've got most of what I inherited from my dad still. And I have access to certain numbered accounts that Alex Krycek used to fund his operations. Consortium money belonging to people who aren't around to claim it any longer."

"Mulder, I don't want you to be buying entertainment for me with dirty money!" I said. A man had to have principles. Believe in something. "I'll do without."

"John, think of it as child support," he said, indicating my belly. "Maybe these exact people who did this to you never owned the money, but trust me, they are one in the same. They can pay for a few DVDs and baby booties."

I was not mollified, but I didn't know what else to say. "Bastard!" I muttered at Mulder, just on general principle.

"Stubborn, hard-assed son of a bitch," he sassed back, but the way he said it, it was almost affectionate. Like he was happy about the fact that I had enough spunk to be calling him names again.

I tried really hard not to be thinking about the thought I'd had earlier. About Mulder and me getting it on. It was especially hard during the occasional scene on the show where they showed the guys having sex. At the end of the episode we were watching, I said, "Uh, I've had about enough of this. Why don't we watch that thing on the War of Northern Aggression."

I said that more to get a rise out of Mulder than anything. I did not want to be comfortable around the man. I didn't want to like him. And for God's sake, I didn't want thoughts of him to be making my shorts damp. I wanted to keep him at arms length and if I had to pick fights with him to do it, I would.

Funny though. It was as if Mulder saw right through me. But he decided to play along. He got a grin and he said, "If by that you mean Ken Burn's Civil War documentary, then by all means, let's watch that."

The next morning, I was woken early to the sounds of cursing and hammering, then by the sounds of Skinner and Georgie having a little spat.

"Quieter! Don't wake him. For God's sake, Walter Sergei Skinner. You couldn't have waited until after ten?"

"I want this done before he's on his feet again," Skinner said, in his calmly pissed off voice. He hammered as he talked. Not heavy framing type nailing I decided. He was tapping tacks down into place. What was he doing out there?

"Well, that'll be a couple of days."

"It was my fault, Georgeann. It's inexcusable that I left a hazard like those stairs when I could have done something about them. This is my house, my liability. I should have done this first thing."

So, he was fixing the steps so they weren't so dangerous somehow. Carpeting them, maybe? Walter Skinner knew how to lay carpet? Who was helping him? I checked the clock. Eight in the morning. Plenty of time for me to be awake, even if I couldn't get out of bed.

I rang the cowbell that Georgie had left for me, to summon her or Mulder when I needed something. A moment later, she poked her head into my door. She was dressed in flannel and jeans, work clothes and she had a tack hammer in her hands.

"What's going on out there, Georgie?"

"My brother, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that the upstairs hall and stairs will be carpeted by noon today, so help him, God."

"Skinner knows how to lay carpet?"

"He did one summer while he was in school. Besides, my baby brother thinks he knows how to do everything. Did you need something, sweetie? I'd better get back to work if you don't."

"Can I get up to use the little boys room yet?" I asked.

So, with her assent, I got out of bed. I don't think I've ever been so glad to rise in the morning. At her insistence, she was at my elbow for every step of my traverse across the small expanse of partially unsecured mottled oatmeal gray berber carpet. It was certainly a practical choice of color and texture, but boring. Just like what I'd expect Skinner to pick out. I may not have Mulder's spooky ability to read people, but I still have good instincts about people.

When I was done with the toilet, I allowed Georgie to escort me back to bed, then get back to work, helping Walt. She left the door open so I could see and hear them. They made quick work of the carpet in the hall, and moved on to the stairs. Those were more complicated and with even less space for them to maneuver in, they ended up spending more time getting in each other's way and arguing than they spent working. I realized, suddenly, I missed my own sister. I hadn't thought about her for a long time. I wished for a way to contact her and my mom, to let them know I was okay. And to let them know that nieces and granddaughters were on the way. My ex-wife, I could have cared less about, but I couldn't stand the thought of Sissy and Ma crying over me for no good reason. I'd have to ask Mulder when he showed up.

Over the course of the morning, with many strong words exchanged, Skinner and Georgie finished up with the carpet, then put up handrails on both sides of the stairs. When they were done, I heard Skinner pronounce, "Well, that will have to do. If I could rebuild them entirely without cutting the upper half of the house off for a week, I would."

Well, now was as good a time to have it out as any. "Hey, Walter," I called out.

It was turning out to be a real melter of a day. Not so much hot, but the humidity was building until I swear it was as bad as it got back in DC sometimes. Just that thick, heavy air. My sweats were intolerable to wear, but my only other choice was jeans which would have been worse. The fan was going on high, but it just stirred around hot air, baking me in a convection oven. I was miserable. Every bit of skin that was bare was sticking to the bare skin it contacted. The DVD I'd been playing earlier had finished and I'd watched all the stupid special features even. I wasn't sure if I were allowed to get out and change it. I had the regular TV on and the best thing I could find was a rerun of Oprah. Oprah! I was a sad, sorry son of a bitch to be reduced to watching that blabbermouth and her pathetic guests.

Outside, the sky was getting darker with clouds. Skinner walked into my room. First he cast a suspicious eye out of the window. "They're saying tornado watch for the whole county," he said. "What did you need, John?"

"Sit," I told him, indicating the girly vanity chair which hadn't been moved out of my room yet. Let me tell you, the humiliating sight of Walter Skinner, one time scourge of the FBI perched on the edge of a pink, vinyl vanity chair was almost worth the whole thing. Just a smidge of pay back.

"You think I'm some kind of pansy, don't you?" I asked. "Some kind of faggot freak."

I've always been one for telling it like it is.

"I think," Skinner said, softly after a long time of awkward silence where my accusation hung on the air like the smell of rotten eggs. "I think that you are one of the bravest men I have ever known to go through with this."

With that, he got up and walked away, down the stairs. Probably out of the house to that outbuilding I'd seen him go into on occasion.

I was left to lie there and curse him, Oprah and that Dr. Phil yahoo too. Get real, my ass.

I was almost grateful when the storm broke and I had the sound of the rain on the roof to keep me entertained.

Mulder:

Over the next couple of weeks I watched John get stronger and slowly Georgie allowed him out of bed again, a few hours at a time, watching him carefully for any sign that he might be having even the slightest cramping or bleeding. I now believed the doctors that it wasn't likely that he would have lost the babies just from falling down ten steps.

I also watched John's appetite grow in leaps and bounds and the morning sickness leave him almost entirely. Could there have been an emotional component to it? The man unable to swallow what had happened to him, at a literal level. Either way, he had accepted his fate and was the better for it in a way that surprised me.

At least he'd lost the haggard look that haunted him for those first weeks after I'd found him. He began to fill out a little, his face no longer so skeletal. We had cheered yesterday, Georgie and I when he hit 180 on the scale.

I'd finished my lunch but I was sitting at the table watching him demolish his second tuna sandwich. He paused, set the sandwich half he was working on down and pulled the top slice of bread off then the slice of tomato. He grabbed the salt shaker and liberally salted the tomato before eating it separately from the sandwich. He salted the top of the sandwich before closing it then eating the rest of it. I'd watched him, every chance he got, put salt on nearly everything. He'd salted the watermelon we'd had last night. Georgie nearly had a fit the time she caught him raiding the fridge, eating pickles out of the jar. Salting them first.

"John, you'll retain fluid if you keep eating salt like that," Georgie scolded. She was cooking, doing something with peaches. I hoped. I'd mentioned to her what John had been really craving and she said she'd try and dig her aunt's ice cream maker out of the basement. For now though, she had a big pot of water going on the stove, steaming up the room on a day where it didn't really need that kind of help. She plunged peaches into the boiling water for a while, then into a bath of cold water before peeling them. Even though it was bloody hot for her to be doing that, the room smelled good, like cooking peaches.

"Ah, Georgie," he grinned at her in a way that was obviously meant to be charming to her, but came off as adorable to me as well, "You know I retain fluid no matter what I do. and I'm just craving it so bad."

He'd had swollen feet for a while now. I'd gotten him new shoes, so that he didn't bitch about having to walk around barefoot. Barefoot and pregnant. Who'd have guessed that you would one day find John Doggett barefoot and pregnant.

Georgie and I had gone into the city together too pick out clothing that might have a better chance of fitting him. It wasn't easy. Clothing for big men went over his belly, but were ridiculously huge every place else. Maternity clothes for women ended up fitting over his belly, but being too small in most other dimensions, especially too short for him. I guess six feet tall women weren't expected to get pregnant. Not to mention often available only in the most feminine of patterns and colors. I didn't think he'd appreciate t-shirts in pink with scoop necks. We ended up getting him some jeans and jean shorts in what we thought was his usual size, then stopping at the fabric store. Georgie bought some panels of knit cloth that could be used to turn normal clothes into maternity clothes. And she bought elastic. We bought men's shirts in plain oxford cloth in John's neck size, then searched out matching oxford cloth yardage at the fabric store. She made gores in the sides to accommodate his belly. We'd have been sunk though, if Georgie didn't know how to sew. I'd never been so glad that some woman had been stuck getting the stereotypical female education.

John seemed happy with the clothes, happier with his situation and almost content at times. And kept me at arms length. I guess I was good enough to scare away the monsters, but not good enough otherwise. Ah, well, I didn't expect anything else from him. When ever I got too friendly with him, he got mullish or crabby. Or bossy. Suddenly I'd find myself retrieving sodas, looking for the remote, getting him glasses of water or being sent to the store for ice cream. Then having him yell at me because it was the wrong kind. I was not invited to his bed to snuggle again nor did he show up in the middle of the night, stressed by nightmares and seeking comfort.

I found myself missing his unique combination of shapes, the hard, almost stringy masculine limbs, the round, smooth belly. I missed the odd scent that was his alone. Not like a woman's scent, but not like a man's either. Something in between. I missed the way my body seemed to mold so perfectly to his when we spooned.

Meanwhile, I was going slowly crazy. Every day I looked with longing at the long gravel road that I had to travel in order to get to even the grocery store. I went running, every day, long, hard miles, as if by punishing myself, I could put John out of my mind for good. As if I could make myself so tired that I wouldn't think about him when I went to bed, just collapse into sleep. I worked out other ways as well as the running.

I had discovered Skinner's inner sanctum, the place he retreated to whenever he got too uncomfortable around John. It was one of the smaller outbuildings, a big garage basically. It was part woodshop, part substitute living room, part gym. He'd moved the old console TV from the living room out here, and found a disreputable looking recliner somewhere. There was an old fridge, well stocked with beer and other necessities. And he had a set of free weights, barbells and dumbbells and a bench. I insinuated myself into his workout routine.

"Look, Walter," I had said as I watched him do some, for him, low weight, high rep sets with a fifty pound dumbbell. "If I spot you, you can do higher weights than you would otherwise. All I ask in return is your permission to use the weights."

He'd done more than that, of course. He couldn't bear to watch me work out in a way that was less than optimal. I found myself with a former AD of the FBI for a personal trainer. He spotted for me, I spotted for him. I'd never been much for weightlifting before, always been a runner or a swimmer. But Skinner showed me how to get the optimal force out of my body, how to build strength. Before I knew it, I could see a difference in my body.

Not that I'd ever get anywhere near as built as Skinner. The man was built like a brick shithouse and solid as a wall. Sometimes I feared that should he actually drop the barbell he was lifting, I wouldn't be able to stop it from crashing down on him. He lifted weights silently, with great concentration. All the gym monkeys I'd seen before made animal grunts and roars as they heaved their weights upwards. The only sounds Skinner made was his breathing. He was a handsome, handsome man. But Walter Skinner was as straight as an arrow. One drunken, despairing night a long time ago, I'd made a pass at him, something beyond my usual tease, something which couldn't be mistaken, couldn't be missed. He gently peeled my arms from around his neck, pushed me away to arm's length and softly said, "I'm flattered, Mulder, but I'm not interested. It's nothing personal. Men just don't get my dick hard." And nothing more had been said about it and as far as I could tell, it hadn't affected anything between us. He certainly didn't report the incident to anyone in the Bureau.

I looked at John who was eating a tomato like it was an apple, stopping now and then to salt it. A delicate trickle of red juice dripped down his chin, but he seemed to be savoring the moment. They say that pregnant women glow and I would have to say, at this moment at least, the one pregnant man I knew glowed as well. I sighed and looked out the window at the blue sky of a late August afternoon, and at the seemingly infinite fields of corn. I thought of running with Scully through a cornfield once, one that we'd found mysteriously in the desert, chased by a swarm of genetically altered bees and helicopters. I thought of Scully period. Her doubt, her sly humor, her tenacity. I missed her so badly. I slammed my hand on the tabletop and stood up. "I'm going for a run," I announced.

"You ran already this morning, Mulder," John said. "You said you were gonna do that damn yoga video with me this afternoon. If I gotta do it, so do you, bastard."

"We'll do it when I get back," I snapped. "Or Skinner can do it with you. I'm going running. Don't nag me or try and tell me what the fuck to do."

I was out of the kitchen before he could say anything more, but I paused in the living room, just on the other side of the swinging door, to listen to John said, "What was that about? Who peed on his cornflakes?"

Georgie answered, her voice filled with humor, like she was laughing at the pair of us, with our petty disagreements and minor bickering. "I told you that you should stop being as mean as piss to the man. He can't help it if he bites back sometimes the way you talk to him. I don't blame him at all."

Still fuming, I shook my head and went upstairs. It took only a moment to claim my running shoes then head to the outside for another punishing ten miles or more. I was getting lean again, losing the softness around the middle that a routine of nothing but driving and road food will give to a person. This could only be a good thing. I needed to be strong to fight this fight. I pushed myself so hard that everything zoned out, that I was in that state where I thought about everything and nothing, and yet when I was through my mind felt as blank as a fresh washed slate.

When I finally turned back up the familiar gravel driveway of the farmhouse, the sky was purple with twilight. There was a little nip in the air, a hint of the fall to come, a promise that the heat, sometime soon, would break. It teased delightfully on my wet skin, chilling me in a good way, a relief after the day. It was September tomorrow, I realized suddenly. We had been here at the farmhouse for most of a month. It might be time for me to move on for a while, I decided. John was well and truly settled. He'd be happier without me around. After all, I was the only one he argued with, the only one he got angry at.

Skinner and Georgie had finished painting the house. After much discussion and debate on the matter, with a veritable flurry of those little paint chips from the hardware store flying around the kitchen table, they had settled on a bright yellow. Now in the settling twilight it just glowed a warm, grayish beige.

I approached the side porch that led into the kitchen. John was sitting on the stairs and I would have diverted to the front entrance except he saw me and hissed out, "Mulder, stay right there. You'll scare her."

It was then that I got a good look at what he was doing. Feeding ice cream with a spoon to the scrawniest looking calico cat I'd ever seen. The cat was one among the many barn cats that roamed around the place. Neither Skinner nor Georgie acquired any of the cats, they just seemed to come with the place, and over time, they drifted on and off the property. I was sure many of the ones that left actually went on to the big litter box in the sky, so to speak, killed by hawks or cars or even the occasional coyote that found its way up here. Georgie, when she discovered a new one, would trap it in one of those humane traps, haul it off to the vet to be fixed and have the rudimentary vaccinations, then would bring it home and release it. None of the cats were housecats or owned any of the humans personally. They were feral cats, shy of humans, not likely to be domesticated again. Sometimes they suffered a few strokes of a human's hand before streaking off again.

John Doggett was about the last person in the world I would have guessed was a cat person, but there he was, feeding ice cream to a feral cat. I laughed, something about the earnest concentration on both his face and the cat's. The sudden noise startled the cat. She jumped first, then bolted and ran for the cover of the small barn where most of them seemed to live.

"Damn!" John said, then set his spoon aside. He reached for second spoon. Obviously he'd planned to be feeding the cat. As I approached the porch, he said, "She's got kittens, you know. Needs the extra calories just to keep them fed. Hey, Mulder. I got something to say to you."

I wondered what it would be. I couldn't read his face in the rapidly descending dark. The inside of the house looked inviting to me, the light spilling from the windows golden against the purple night. The shower waiting for me upstairs. I sat on the steps beside John, as far away as I could get, leaning against the wooden post. I dragged the tail of my t-shirt across my face to wipe away the worst of the sweat.

"We're okay, right? I mean, I didn't piss you off too badly this afternoon, did I?"

"No, we're fine," I said, meaning fine in much the same way as Scully always used to say it.

She'd be half dead from that cancer and still she would be fine. I don't think he had any clue, that he'd never quite fully knew Scully the way I knew Scully. As it was, I could hear Scully over my shoulder, saying, "If you two were any more fine, they'd be drawing up the divorce papers even as we speak."

"We're friends, right? Nothing but. I mean, you're a bit of a queer. I'm a bit of a queer. But that doesn't mean anything. Doesn't affect us one way or the other. Just friends."

"Just friends," I agreed. Yes, it was definitely time to move on until I got my rebel heart under better control.

"You missed dinner. Georgie made peach ice cream for dessert," he said, picking up his bowl again, digging into it with his second, clean spoon. He was delighted, I could tell. Pleased beyond measure by this simple thing. I was going to miss him, but I wasn't going to miss having my heart trampled on like this. I couldn't make him love me if he didn't and that's all there was to it.


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