Places That Scare You, The (part 2/3)

by Rose Campion

The Places That Scare You (part 2 of 3)

warnings, disclaimers and so forth, please see part 1


Doggett:

I looked in on Mulder. His door was open. I was bored, curious as to what he was doing.

Pushups were what he'd been doing. A lot of them. He was counting out loud as he did them. He'd gotten up to just over a hundred. He was wearing just loose shorts and between the heat of the afternoon and his activity, his torso was dripping with sweat. Mulder had never looked so good. The shorts had slid down his hips nearly to the crack of his ass, letting me see where the swell of his buttocks started. Nice, very nice looking.

He'd always been of an athletic build, but definitely on the lean and slender side. A runner's body. Now, I'm not sure how it happened, but Mulder was starting to get buff. He hadn't bulked up a lot yet, but he was getting very toned. Yes, if he kept up doing whatever it was he was doing, he'd definitely be getting even more appealing than he was now.

I almost turned away. I was getting a woody looking at him, and my shorts were getting damp. My traitorous body had a mind of its own. It was embarrassing, but there were times where I walked around half hard. I'd asked the doctor about that. I guess there's increased blood flow to the pelvic area when a person is pregnant. And I was just plain horny these days. Rosie Palm and me were very good friends as of late. But I didn't want to be horny for Mulder. Even if he was looking mighty good wearing nothing but shorts, giving me an excellent view of his muscular back.

Lucky for me the altered shirts I wore were full and long at the bottom. My hard on was easily concealed. I silently watched Mulder finish his pushups. Finally he dropped to the floor, then rolled up to his feet in one smooth movement.

"Did you need something, John?" he asked, not even breathless. I was impressed.

At the moment, I just dreamed about doing pushups, real ones. I did modified ones, against the wall and a few other modified exercises, in addition to the damn prenatal yoga. I should have gone walking more often, but more and more I hated to go off the property because I was so huge. I felt so obvious, like some kind of freak.

"No, don't need anything," I said. I had no real excuse to bug him. He'd set me up real good, dropping big bucks on things to keep me entertained so I didn't have to talk to him. We'd gotten one of those little satellite dishes, and the internet access that Mulder had promised, plus the latest game system.

But somehow Resident Evil edition whatever just wasn't as entertaining to me these days. And there was nothing new on the internet pregnancy forum I'd been reading and posting on, posing as a woman named "Jackie". The depths I was stooping to these days! Well, Jack is a nickname for John and Ma did call me Jackie when I was a boy.

Mulder said, "Then I'm going to hit the shower. I figure if I get on the road in an hour, I can hit Kansas City before I have to stop tonight. I'm leaving."

"You're doing what?!" I interrogated Mulder.

He told me again, his words ringing in my ears. "I'm leaving," he said.

That was when I hit the ceiling. The son of a bitch was leaving. I know things had been kind of tense between us since he'd blown up at me for nagging him about the damn yoga tape, but I thought we'd gotten the air clear on that one. I didn't think he was ready to abandon me. "You can't do that to me, you bastard! You said you'd be here all the way through this for me. You're my birth partner, dammit. You can't just leave. You made a promise to me. Or are you planning to make a habit of ditching pregnant partners?"

That was a low blow even for me. I knew perfectly well that if Mulder could have been there for Scully's pregnancy and William's birth he would have. Those were extraordinary circumstances, extraordinary days. As if these weren't.

"It's just for a few weeks, John," Mulder said, trying to placate. "One of things I'm going to do is see if it's safe to get in contact with your mother or sister like you wanted. "

"Bullshit! Georgia is the opposite direction from Kansas City if you hadn't noticed. I know you can be dumb Mulder, but that's simple geography."

"Calm down, John," Mulder said. "I never said I was going to Georgia first. I'm going to track down some leads I have in New Mexico first. I'll bring back a present for Zippy and Fletch."

He'd taken to calling the Tadpoles that when I refused to consider to talk about names just yet. Zippy was the girl. Fletch was the one whose gender was not known at the moment. I figured that Tadpole One and Tadpole Two were good enough for the moment.

"Like that's supposed to make me feel better!"

"I'm going, John. I've got things to do. You don't like it, too bad."

Stung, I left him alone, to shower or whatever. I retreated to my room and spent the next couple of hours watching stupid things on satellite TV. When I finally ventured out of my room and downstairs, I was sure he was gone. A quick look out the window let me see that his car was missing from the driveway, though when I went into the kitchen I asked Georgie just to be sure.

"He took off in a righteous tear. What'd you say to him, John?" she said.

"Nothing. I don't see why he had to leave," I gripped. At the same time Skinner walked into the house carrying a big bowl filled with vegetables.

"Don't you want to find out who did this to you and why? If anyone has a chance of finding out, it's Mulder. Here," he said, putting the bowl into my hands. "Make yourself useful. Mrs. Admunson down the road sent me home with them for fixing her fuses."

I sat down at the table and started sorting through the assortment. It was mostly beans. "Snap the beans for dinner, sweetie," Georgie said. "Wally, you know, if you don't intend to follow through you ought to set that woman straight. She's sweet on you. I know damn well that Lucille Amundson has never needed a man's help to change her fuses before and she's a widow these fifteen years now."

Skinner winced when Georgie said that woman was sweet on him. "Mrs. Admunson is over nineteen years older than me and she was my kindergarten teacher."

"You know perfectly well that you're the most eligible bachelor to come through in years," Georgie said. "A handsome man like you. All the ladies are dropping like flies if you didn't notice."

Skinner frowned and retreated again, muttering something about some work out in the shed he needed to catch up on. I wondered what the hell that could be. In the month I'd been here, Skinner had maintained this place to within an inch of its life and Georgie had had to restrain him from starting in on major indoor renovation projects, telling him that I surely didn't need all the noise, fuss and dust, not to mention the kind of lead dust from the paint it would surely kick up.

I steadily worked on the beans, but after a while, I started uncovering. Yes. I could hardly believe my eyes. Yes. "Georgie?" I asked, holding out one of the vegetables in question. It was something I'd been craving for a while, but I knew Yankee types like Mulder just wouldn't understand. But it was one of the tastes of home that I'd been missing. "I don't suppose you know how to make fried okra, do you?"

"Of course, John."

We made ourselves busy in the kitchen. I swear Georgie was trying to teach me how to cook. Succeeding some. I wasn't the most domestic of people. When my ex had left me, I survived on microwaveable stuff for a long time. I could perform a few basic maneuvers in the kitchen, though Georgie seemed set on teaching me everything. Skinner too, surprisingly, could cook, though most of the time, Georgie managed that department. But a few days ago, on her birthday, Skinner whipped out a respectable lemon chiffon cake. Who would have thought Skinner capable of making a chiffon cake? With that boiled icing? He'd really looked funny wearing an apron though.

"I'll finish up here, John," Georgie said finally. "You go get Wally and tell him dinner is ready."

I headed out to the shed. It was nearly dark already. It was getting dark earlier and earlier at an increasing pace. The door stood open, so I walked in. The shed was something that I usually stayed away from. Mulder and Skinner hung out together in it, but there was a kind of mental boys club only kind of sign hung on the door, and I guess I didn't exactly qualify at the moment. Skinner needed his place away from me. I could respect that. That he let Mulder in was irritating, but understandable. They lifted weights together. I'd expressed interest and had been given some lighter weight dumbbells to be used in the house, the biggest ones about twenty-five pounds. About as much as I could handle at the moment.

Skinner wasn't working out now, nor sitting on his recliner. He was at the work bench, sanding on a piece of a project he was working on. It didn't take me long to figure out what it was. A nearly completed one stood next to him on the floor, just waiting to be finished.

Ever since that day I'd nearly lost the Tadpoles, baby things had just started appearing. First it was just small things. Packs of onesies. Little knit caps. I didn't protest because they were small. Then there were the car seats. I think Mulder bought them, but I wasn't sure. They just appeared one day. I hadn't protested because that was practical. We'd have to drive them somewhere, no matter what.

But I couldn't let this go. Skinner was making cradles. Not just any old cradles. They were made out of cherry wood. The kind of thing that's an automatic heirloom and you know is going to get handed down from generation to generation. He had a fine hand with the woodworking equipment, and apparently, the soul of an artist. Even incomplete, I could see that they were going to be beautiful, kind of mission style, but softer, with some curves. And he designed them. Tacked up to the wall were all the drawings, from the initial sketch to the full schematic.

"What are you doing, Walter?" I asked, brushing the stupid, idiotic tears out of my eyes that seemed like they were my lot in life for the moment. "Why is everyone acting like I can even consider keeping these babies?"

"All you've been through and you were going to give them up for adoption? Frankly I can't believe I'm hearing you say that," he said, continuing to hand sand a railing. I was hearing Walter Skinner, AD, for the moment. It was that authoritative tone, so dry it could be almost caustic at times. The one that he could use to rip people new assholes without so much as raising his voice.

"Maybe you don't know, Walter, because you've never had kids. But you don't just have them. You have to have to be able to take care of them. A man has to work to support his family. And I'm a dead man. What kind of job could I go out there and get? I don't have a house for us to live in or a car to put those damn car seats into. The clothes on my back were bought by someone else for me. I don't have the cash in my pocket to go buy a box of diapers. I don't even own so much as my own identity anymore."

"Is that the only obstacle you can see to keeping them?" Skinner asked carefully.

"No, but it's the major one. The rest I could probably figure out."

I knew exactly how hard it was to put together a new identity that was so good that someone as determined as I was couldn't track it down and tear it apart. That was the thing I was hung up on. It was all fine and well for me to be fugitive, on the move enough that no one was likely to question who I was, but you couldn't do that with kids. They need stability. They need to know what's going to happen next week, next month.

"Mulder and I are working on getting you a seamless new identity. We'd have to figure something out anyway, to be able to give the adoption agency a story. Or were you just planning on dropping them off on a church doorstep with a note that says, 'take care of us'? That doesn't seem like your style, Doggett."

I almost said, 'it's not, sir,' but I just looked at the mostly complete cradle, stepped up to it. Ran my fingers along a railing that had been sanded until it was satin smooth. The spindles were close together, just enough space for two of my fingers. I rocked the cradle and it went back and forth smoothly on its rockers. If Skinner was constructing me a new identity, it would be as carefully crafted as this cradle. He had to have resources I hadn't thought of, something in mind. Maybe he knew people in WitSec. I wondered who he would make me into. I couldn't speak, rendered mute with the gratitude that swelled inside me.

Luckily Skinner spoke for me, "Georgie probably sent you out here to fetch me for dinner, didn't she?" I nodded. "Let's go in, then. And don't let me hear any more of that kind of nonsense coming from your mouth. You and yours will be taken care of until you can take care of yourself."

The next couple of weeks with Mulder gone passed very slowly in a drawn out anticipation. Every time I heard the rumble of car tires on the gravel road, I automatically went to the window, to see who was coming out to our little deserted corner of the world. I paced restlessly every evening, feeling nervous, penned in, but not sure exactly why.

But I'm stupid. I'm a real idiot sometimes. I didn't even realize I missed Mulder until one night about three weeks into his absence when Georgie said to me, "John, sit down. All this fretting is not going to make that man appear one minute sooner."

"But what if something happened out there. We might never know," I said, giving voice to a fear that had been nagging me in the middle of the night, that Mulder might die or just disappear. He hadn't so much as made a five minute phone call in all the time he'd been gone. Skinner had said that Mulder didn't want to compromise my location in any way, no matter how slight.

"I asked Wally that, and he said that Mulder has a checkpoint system arranged with someone who will contact us indirectly, should he fail to check in. Don't borrow trouble, John. Apparently he's fine so far. So relax."

Still, I didn't rest well with him out of the house. Two in the morning more often than not found me either watching TV, having given up the attempt to sleep or staring up at the ceiling still giving it the old college try, remembering the times I'd slept so peacefully when I'd been held by Mulder.

A few more days passed and it was time for another appointment with the asshole OB. Rather than make me drive the three hours to his offices, this time he made the concession of coming out to see me.

After the invasion of my space he called an examination, he pulled his gloves off and said, "You're doing well, Mr. Doggett. I'm still astonished, honestly, but everything is progressing well. Very well indeed. Your fundal height is exactly what I'd expect it to be for your date. Your weight gain is good. You're looking significantly healthier every time I see you. Your hormone levels seem to remaining steady. I'm pleased with your progress. I see no obstacles to a normal delivery."

"Doc, you mentioned you wouldn't be opposed to a water birth. I've been researching it on the internet. I'd like to discuss it more."

The way it sounded, it was one of the best options for reducing pain outside of an epidural. And they weren't going to be giving me an epidural because of needing to keep this outside of the hospital. I'd stumbled onto a lot of glowing reviews of water birth when I'd been reading birth stories. Just researching so that I could find out what I was getting myself into here. Been gotten into.

"That's certainly a good option. My average patient doesn't get to use it very often because of medical complications. But yes, it can certainly ease a delivery."

So with the doctor approving, all I had to do was see if Skinner minded me setting up a pool with 1600 pounds of water in it up in the guest bedroom of his aunt's house. His house now.

Another week passed. The weather steadily cooled day by day. Though, when I looked back over the days of this past month that Mulder was gone, I remember mostly perfect crisp mornings that warmed to golden afternoons. I remembered sitting on the porch, that little calico cat slowly warming up to me, letting me pet her finally, watching the road for Mulder's return. It was a surprisingly happy time for all that I missed Mulder and was worried constantly about what I was going to do with myself, now that the next two decades or so seem to have been spoken for. Hell, I was going to be sixty before the Tadpoles were ready for college. I was definitely too old for this.

Mulder finally reappeared on one of the rare rainy afternoons that forced me inside. Somehow, I could sense that something was different the instant I first heard the tires on the gravel. Like usual, I went to the window to check and waited until the car was in view. Not Mulder's car, not a small SUV but a Honda minivan. I nearly sat down, disappointed again. Then the car turned into the driveway and I became alarmed. We just didn't get visitors usually, and if we did, almost all of the local people drive pickups. Neither Georgie nor Skinner had mentioned that someone they knew was coming over. A strange vehicle could be nothing good. I nearly headed upstairs, to hide while Georgie or Skinner dealt with stranger. The minivan was parked. And Mulder got out. As he dug around in the back for some bags, my heart was racing.

I'm stupid sometimes. A real idiot. As he pulled a couple of bags from "Babies R Us" from the back of the minivan, I realized why I'd been such a wreck this whole month. Why I was looking out of the house at every sound of car wheels. And why he'd been slowly creeping into my fantasies, masturbatory and otherwise. You've probably already reached the inevitable conclusion, but it took me a while sometimes.

I was in love with him. In love with Mulder.

How it had happened, or when, I wasn't sure. Perhaps it had started when he held me the first time after that nightmare. Perhaps it was his calming words and embrace after I fell down the stairs. I didn't want to be in love with Mulder. Or any man for that matter. I was always a 'three tequilas away from bisexual' kind of guy more than anything else. I do not fall in love with men. Or so I had always told myself.

But there it was, as unavoidable as a road-killed armadillo in the middle of the highway.

I was out the door before I could think much more. He was on the porch about the same time I was. I nearly threw my arms around him before I had a nasty, lurching realization.

Just because I was in love with him, didn't mean he was in love with me.

He'd agreed too easily when I fed him that line of crap about us just being friends. I could trust that Mulder was direct, honest, couldn't I? If he were going to make a move, he would have made it a while back. He's had more than enough opportunity. And obviously didn't care that much about me. He'd been gone a month without sending so much as a coded postcard.

And honestly, what kind of man would be attracted to me in the state I was in? I was a freak, a monster. I was an unattractive lump with a swollen belly and swollen ankles. I was even starting to get breasts. Just small ones, but there definite growth there, little bitch tits like a fat guy would get. I could only hope they would go away once I'd had the babies. No way Mulder would want to jump these bones of mine.

I let my arms drop uselessly to my side, struggling to get ahold of myself, feeling like I was drowning. Feeling like an idiot. "Hey," I said. "Need a hand with any of that?"

"No, let's just get inside, wet and cold out here." he said. "I've got some presents for Zippy, Fletch and you."

"Lot's of presents from the look of it," I said, indicating the bulging bags from the baby store.

"Oh, this is just baby junk. I've got real presents," he said.

Once we were in the living room, he set all his bags down with a weary sigh. Then he got out his wallet. He handed me a credit card.

"What's this?" I asked. The card was made out to one George E. Presley and was a platinum card.

"Your credit card. I thought maybe you might like to order some baby stuff off the internet or something. It's completely clean. No way to trace it to you. It'll be paid off in full every month automatically from an account set up in Wilmington, Delaware. Your credit limit is forty-five hundred dollars."

I turned the card over and over in my hand stupidly until Mulder said, "Put that away somewhere. I've got another present."

I put the card up on a shelf while Mulder dug through wadded up dirty laundry in his duffel bag. At last he pulled out a rough, otherwise nondescript rock and tossed it at me. The tadpoles started kicking and fussing immediately, clearly not happy about something.

"Don't let it get near any electronics or magnetic media," Mulder warned. "It's magnetite."

Something in me made a connection with memories past of supersoldiers being imploded, the indestructible being destroyed by this stuff. Then my babies wrestling around in me. Oh, shit. I tossed the magnetite back at Mulder.

"Sorry, Mulder," I said, feeling a strange kind of hope and devastation rolled up into one. My babies weren't normal humans after all. I had thoughts of William and the trouble surrounding his birth. On the positive side, I wouldn't have to worry about all the usual ways they could get hurt. "The Tadpoles don't like your present. Makes them pretty upset."

Mulder looked at the rock, looked at my belly and understood. "In that case, I'll let their Uncle Walter keep track of it until maybe someday they'll appreciate it."

Mulder stuck the rock back into his bag. "Can't win 'em all. I'll bet you'll like this though," he said.

He brought out a ziplock back full of red-brown dirt. How had he remembered? Why had he taken me seriously? One night, before he'd left, I'd admitted an odd craving to him. Something I was ashamed to even be feeling. Dirt. I'd wanted to eat dirt. I hadn't given in to this craving. Somehow, it wasn't the rich loam that you could dig up around here that I was interested it. It was the dirt from home. Georgia clay. For a couple of days, I thought nearly constantly about eating the Georgia dirt. I'd shyly mentioned this to Mulder, hoping he wouldn't freak. He'd just gotten this grin that made me want to knock his block off and he said, "Pica. The craving for things that are not normally considered a food substance. Very common in pregnant women. Usually attributable to a mineral deficiency."

Reassured by Mulder, I'd mentioned it to the damn OB, who had confirmed what Mulder said, then recommended more iron and other minerals, in addition to the big horse pill prenatal vitamin I was taking every day already. Since then the craving had gone away. Mostly.

"Jerk," I said. Then, "Thanks."

"Hey, I missed you," he said, there was something soft and tender in his voice and for a minute, my heart rose a little, hopeful just slightly. Then he added, "I don't know how I got along without someone to call me names all day."

"I missed you too, asshole," I said, brusque to cover the suddenly ache I felt, thinking about him. Mulder hadn't really missed me at all. It was obvious. What else could that smart ass crack have meant?

"I wasn't able to contact your mother or your sister," he said. "I'm still not sure if your family connections are safe at all. Does the name Col. Phillip James Doggett mean anything to you?"

"Uncle Phil," I said. "My father's brother. It was his idea that I go into the Marines. To straighten me out."

I'd been a wild child all through high school. Got good grades, but only because I was smart enough to fake my way through classes stoned off my ass. Rumor had it that Skinner himself inhaled a few times, but I was a definite stoner, as well as good buddies with a guy who had alcoholic parents and a liquor cabinet without a lock. I'd been picked up by cops more than a couple times. They knew my dad and as a favor to him just brought me home, not to the station. My parents had been sick of my behavior and certainly weren't going to shell out hard earned money for me to piss away at the local state college with me acting like that. So the Marines it was. And when I finally got to college, I'd been straightened out and was more than ready to buckle down. Nothing like the Marines to teach you to be a man. Everything I'd achieved could be credited to my Uncle Phil's insistence that I give the Marines a shot.

"Well, he's currently director of a something they're calling the Zodiac project. Just another face for the alien infiltration of the DOD. They're working on the production of more supersoldiers, like your late buddy, Knowle Rohrer. I'm not surprised. I knew if I dug a little, I'd find the family connection. People are drawn into this thing for a reason. It wasn't a fluke that you were pegged to lead the search for me."

"No," I couldn't believe what Mulder just implied. "I could just maybe see Uncle Phil doing this someone else. But not to family. Not to family."

"I'm not saying he did this specifically."

Mulder held his hand out in the direction of my belly, as if he wanted to touch it. I took a few steps closer, brushing my body up against his hand. He petted me there a moment, then said, "But the fact remains that you have at least one family member in this up to his neck. I'm wondering if just for now we err on the side of caution and continue to let your family think that you're dead. Until Zippy and Fletch are born at least."

There was a certain logic there. And I suppose I would have to wonder how I was going to explain my expectant state to my family, should I be able to get in contact with them. Too many people already knew about it as it was, if you asked me. I guess for now, I was willing to forgo talking with my Ma. "I guess I'd have to agree with you for now," I said.

"There's one other thing I need to tell you," he said. "I think maybe you might want to sit down first."

I settled myself into my recliner. It was getting hard to sit down gracefully and get back up again. Getting up again particularly made me feel like I was in the beached whale category. At least the recliner had big, stable arms to use to lift myself. Meanwhile, Mulder was back to digging in his bag. Finally, he pulled a simple wood box and brought it over to me. I didn't need to open it up to know what it was. I think I knew already and had known for some time. This was mere confirmation. I thought about dreams I'd had and the strange sense I would get that someone was watching me. The lingering, phantom scent of her perfume on the air. Samsara. One of the few times I'd been to her house I'd seen the bottle in her bathroom.

"Monica," I whispered, stroking the smooth wood of the box, even as I started to cry. Mulder positioned himself on one of the chair arms and wrapped his arms around my shoulders while I wept for the woman I should have fallen in love with. I'd tried on the idea of making her mine, thought about kissing her at least once but never did. Somehow, something just never gelled between us. Mulder, though, was strong, solid, my support. He smelled, just a bit, of days on the road, and something dusty, as if he'd just come from the desert.

"I'm sorry, John. I really am. I kept hoping I would find her alive for you. She died at a research facility. They weren't even using the women for research though. Just harvesting them. Don't worry. The place is shut down now. It's taken care of. I found her body with dozens of others."

The way he said the last thing was strangled, as if he were repressing something. It broke me out of my grief. I saw him, really saw him. I looked him in the eyes and knew that he was sick to his soul from this, either from what he had seen or from something he'd been forced to do. He was grieving just as much as I was. More even. I moved my arms around so that he was no longer just holding me, but we were holding each other. I pulled him against me, so his hair was in my face. Then we were crying together. Skinner looked in for a moment then retreated quickly when he realized what was going on, either made uncomfortable by our emotion or just letting us have our privacy, I didn't care which.

Mulder's tears lasted long after mine, perhaps just because I'd gotten a head start on him. At last, we were both calm, our faces wiped dry and I said, about the box with her ashes, "Shouldn't these go to her parents?"

"Her parents think that they've already buried her once. I think it would be cruel in this case to let them know that she didn't die in a car accident after all, but like this. I think it would be kinder to let a stranger lie in her grave."

"What do you think we should do with these?" I asked. I'd kept my son's ashes for years, the only thing I had left of him, as a reminder that I wouldn't really rest well until I'd found his killer. And when I had, I was able to let them go. We'd scattered them to the wind. Monica's killers had already met their retribution, if I believed Mulder. Yet I found it hard to imagine scattering these ashes to the wind. It had been so hard to release my son, let him go. Could I do that to my former partner?

"We don't have to decide now," Mulder said. "If you think it's morbid to keep them around, I can keep tabs on them."

"She needs a funeral," I said. "A real one. Not some mockery with a stranger in her place."

"We'll talk about it later," Mulder said. "For now, I'm starving. I hardly stopped on my way back. Georgie have anything good in the fridge?"

"Just the usual. Let me get you a sandwich or something," I said. After all the toting and fetching he'd done for me, I could do a little for him. Besides, I could do with a little snack myself. Funny how not too long ago, the mere sight of food was enough to make me gag, now I was pigging out whenever I had the chance. Mostly on healthy stuff, but not entirely. "Georgie and I made a sweet potato pie too."

Mulder made a face at that for some reason. When he didn't explain, I asked, "What?"

Mulder just shook his head and, with a shadow of a grin on his face, said, "Nothing. Lead on, Prince Charming."

Mulder:

For a brief, shining moment, I had been so hopeful. John had rushed out to the porch to meet me before I'd even reached the door, a sure sign that he'd been watching for me. He'd smiled at me. His arms were open, as if he had been planning to pull me into a big bear hug.

Then, when I'd stepped onto the porch, he scowled and dropped his arms. His face became guarded, wary again. We were back to where we were before I'd left- at an uneasy detente without much warmth. Him pushing me away after allowing me some closeness. We'd cried in each others arms over Monica, but that night I'd slept in my own bed, alone. What could I do? I couldn't make him love me if he didn't. And to let someone know you love them when they don't return the emotion is a burden I would not wish on him. I did the sensible thing. I acted as if I hadn't noticed his scowl, just played it cool. I didn't push myself at him.

I hadn't been surprised to see him throw the magnetite back to me. He'd frowned as if they were having a barroom brawl in there. That's certainly what it had felt like when he'd allowed me to touch his abdomen. I suspected, but could not prove yet, that John's progeny were part of yet another project to make supersoldiers. As to why they had chosen a forty something male as their test subject was still a mystery, though I was going to continue my investigation of his family connection. John claimed his uncle wouldn't do this to him, but in my experience, family can be capable of the worst betrayals, made all the more vicious by the idea that "they wouldn't do this to family."

The next day, I was heading back from a run. While I'd been gone on my cross-country trip, late summer had turned into a rainy fall and today was a prime example of the natural progression of the earth through its orbit. Yes, it definitely was early October in the upper Midwest. A cold driving rain bit hard and drenched me to the skin, even though I had a rain jacket on. It leaked through the neck adding its moisture to that which I'd generated from my own sweat. My feet squished inside my shoes. Even so, it felt good to run down familiar roads again, even if I'd known them only a month before I'd left.

As I approached the porch, I noticed John. He was sitting on the old rocker on the kitchen porch, well under the shelter of the eaves. He had on a thick wool cardigan sweater that Georgie had dug up from somewhere. And he had a cat on what was left of his lap. That same scrawny calico he'd been feeding ice cream to that one time. The cat was cautiously accepting the affection. At the same time, John was feeding it nibbles of tuna.

"So, is that what you meant when you said you were a big fan of pussy?" I teased, stopping to wipe the water off my face and wring out the worst of the rain from my t-shirt. As I did that, I started planning to get a better rain jacket.

For once, John didn't snap at me like I expected. Nor did the cat bolt at the sight of me. Then I noticed something strange about the cat. It was definitely sleepy. About falling asleep in John's lap. It was very still, very quiet.

"Monica always said I was a dog person," he said, sadly. "I still think she was wrong. Never much saw the point to a dog. Can you tell Georgie that the plan is falling into place."

"What plan?"

"Drugging the cat. Sadie's nearly asleep. I feel bad to betray her like this, but it's for her own good. And for the good of the local songbird population. The world does not need another batch of kittens without a home. Georgie is going to take her in to get fixed and vaccinated"

For a minute, again, I loved him so badly it hurt. That he should feel regretful about duplicity of any kind, even the mild tricking of a near feral barn cat made me admire him. The gentle regard he showed to the sleeping, tiny cat body in his lap made me want to hold him, made me want him more than ever. Was this all love would ever be for me? This painful longing that rocked me to my soles and drained me out, making me feel hollow?

"I'll tell Georgie in a minute. There's something I want to ask you."

"Shoot."

"I heard from Walter that you're considering giving up Zippy and Fletch for adoption."

I'd been shocked when Walter had told me last night that John had even mentioned it, much less sounded so convinced about it. He thought he'd talked John out of it, but I wanted to make sure there was no doubt in John's mind.

"I was considering it. Two babies, one parent, no income. It's a bad combination, Mulder."

John lifted his hands from the cat. She remained still on his lap. He looked at his hands, as if wondering that there was truly nothing that he could do to change his situation. Like he felt helpless. He shrugged eventually and I wished more than ever that he loved me. That he could look at me and know for sure that he wouldn't have to go this alone. That I would always be there for him and his children. I could tell him that, but I didn't think he would believe me.

"John, you should know better by now. You aren't doing this alone and there's more than enough money to set you up for the rest of your life. You could live comfortably on that credit card I gave you. And you've got Georgie and me and Skinner. I don't know about the two of them, but I'm going to be mighty disappointed if I don't get to change some diapers."

I wonder if he would ever have any clue how much I loved kids, that I'd been craving a baby just as badly as Scully had when we made those attempts to get her pregnant. I was feeling my biological clock, that natural imperative to reproduce, again. It didn't matter that they weren't mine, I was impatient for the pair to leave their watery cradle, so I could hold them in my arms. I humbly hoped that he would let me take some part in raising them. Did he know? Would he truly believe me?

"You say that now, but it's a hell of a lot more than changing a few diapers. Are Georgie, Skinner and you going to help me nag them about their homework or be up worrying with me on the night of their first date? Or God, what if I have to bury one of them? Will you be there to have your heart ripped to shreds like that? Will you love them the rest of their lives, Mulder?"

I moved my hands towards his belly, but waited a received permission to put my cold hands on it, through the sweater of course. "John," I said, "I will love them for the rest of my life. I'll go tell Georgie that the Mickey Finn has worked on your cat."

"And get changed. You're soaked, you'll catch a chill," he said, reaching out to brush a seaweed like lock of hair that straggled over my forehead. I shivered and swallowed hard at this unexpected touch. He pulled his hand back as if he'd been burned. "And you could use a haircut."

It'd been a couple of months since I'd gotten one. I suppose he was right. My hair was all but dragging into my eyes. "Next time I go to town," I promised, wondering when exactly his good opinion had become so immensely important to me. I'd never once cared, not really, what Scully thought of my hair. It was just the stuff on top of my head. Sometimes I got lucky and found a barber who could make it lie perfectly. Other times, I got a hack job. But either way, it was just hair. Could love do that to you? I'd loved Scully, but my hair had never mattered to her.

Doggett:

He went inside and I kept expecting to hear Georgie scold him not to drip on her nice clean floors. A little while later, she came out with a cardboard box for the cat, already dressed in her rain slicker. We deposited Sadie's limp little body in the box and closed the lid carefully in case she came to on the way to the vet's.

"She'll be back tomorrow, John," Georgie said as she gave the feline a soft stroke just before we closed the lid. It was the first time anyone but me had touched the beast. "I know you're fond of her."

"More like she's fond of my food," I said gruffly, to cover my worry. And I wouldn't want anyone to think I loved a kitten. That's what Sadie still was, for all that she had kittens herself already.

Georgie loaded herself and the box into her big Ford pickup, then tried and failed to start it. It just failed to turn over. Sounded like the starter motor. Not a big fix at all. She tried a few times more. And a few more times. The Ford still didn't start.

"Jesus, Mary, Joseph!" she swore as she finally got out with the box. She sloshed through the rain back to the porch. "I guess I'm going to have to ask Fox if he'll drive us, then ask Teddy Foegle to bring his tow truck out."

"Georgie, you're not going to tow the truck for what's probably a simple fix," I said. I was almost looking forward to getting my hands a little greasy again. It'd take me less than half an hour, once I had the part, I was sure. Yes, a nice, pleasant thought, providing that we could roll the truck into one of the outbuildings, or at least get the hood part under cover. Having fixed a few cars in my day, out under a pouring sky, I can say with confidence that there's nothing to recommend it.

"I wouldn't, but with Wally gone. I hate to say it, but I don't know the first thing about cars," she said. Skinner had gone back to DC for a brief spell. I guess he'd finally managed to sell the condo in Crystal City and was needed at the closing. And he had a bit of other business to attend to.

"It sounds like the starter motor. If there's a parts store in town, just stop and get one. I'll pop it in for you, no fuss."

"John Jay Doggett!" she said. It was eerie just how much like my Ma she could sound at times. "I am not about to allow you mess around like a grease monkey in the state you're in. I don't think it's safe for you to be doing that. Besides, isn't your big, old belly going to get in the way?"

I hadn't even considered that. It was like that for me. I just did things like I always did, never considering that I might not be able to do some things any more or might have to do them differently. I wouldn't think about it until I came smack across one of these difficulties. Yeah, she was right. I probably wouldn't be able to reach into the engine compartment very well. "I can tell you how to do it, Georgie," I said. "It really is a simple fix. Actually, no, I've got a better idea. Mulder can do it."

She grudgingly agreed to my plan. "You wait out here," I told her. "I'll go get Mulder and tell him you need him to take you to town."

I went inside and up the stairs. I heard the definite sounds of the shower going. As I listened at the bathroom door, I could also definitely hear the sounds of someone in the final stages of masturbating in the shower, the faint, but unmistakable noises of moaning, audible just over the water. I listened, guiltily enjoying them, feeling myself be aroused in response. It wouldn't be long for him, I thought. And it wasn't. There was one, last groan and then just the sound of the water running.

After I heard the water shut off, I rapped loudly on the door. Mulder opened it, dressed in nothing but a towel. His nipples stood straight up in the cold air. He must have found some way to continue working out while he'd been gone for that month, because his torso showed definite signs of it. Yes, he was getting very defined. I could even see a well-defined six-pack. Nice. I tore myself away from my appraisal of his body and said, "Georgie's truck won't start. She needs you to run her into town."

"Okay. Tell her I'll be down as soon as I get dressed. A minute or two."

Hours later, they were back and we had the truck pulled halfway into a small pole-barn that was mainly used for storage. Georgie had made me promise to not actually touch anything under the hood at all and I'd mostly kept that promise. Mulder, instead, acted as my hands. Sort of.

This was possibly one of the most irritating situations I'd ever gotten myself into. Just getting the truck under cover had been ordeal enough for me, even with both Mulder and Georgie pushing the truck. Luckily the drive was well graveled so there wasn't much actual mud to splash around in.

Currently Mulder was not working on the car. He was ranting at me.

"There is a thing called money, John, of which I may remind you we are currently endowed with plenty. The thing to keep in mind about money is that it may be exchanged for goods and services," he said, bitterly. "This is a basic economic principle, somewhat on par with the idea that people act to best maximize their economic advantages. For two, three hundred dollars, we could have had the truck towed and the problem taken care of by a trained professional in town. That's exchanging money for a service. A trained professional could have had this part in a quarter of the time it's taken us so far."

"No, a trained professional could have had the part in place in a quarter of the time it's taken you to bitch about doing this. We're almost there. Shut up and fasten that wire there to the last remaining lead and we're good to go," I said. I'd taken us four or five times the amount of time it would have taken me to talk Mulder through doing it. He was a reluctant grease monkey. A very reluctant one. And though I knew he was a bit colorblind, I somehow hadn't thought it meant that he'd get the color coding on the truck's wiring wrong. He did as I said. "All done. Now, start it."

Mulder got out from under the hood. I wasn't going to ask how he got that smudge of oil on the tip of his nose, or maybe it was mud. It was kind of attractive, in an odd way though. He stepped around to the cab, climbed in, then started the truck. It rolled over beautifully, sounded gorgeous, just like silk. He closed the truck door and then carefully backed the truck out of the outbuilding. I followed.

The rain had dried up a couple of hours ago, and it was now night. Heavy clouds still covered the sky, but instead of glowing orange like they would have in the city, the sky was just dark and oppressive. The temperature was dropping from the just barely tolerable way it had been this afternoon to even lower. I was not looking forward to this winter, not in the slightest.

Mulder and I went into the house together. Georgie was talking on the phone to Skinner. "Okay, Wally, I'll be sure to let our friend know. You take care now and come home soon," she said. She listened a while then said, "You be sure to do that. Send me a postcard from Fiji or Bali."

After saying, "Love you too, Wally," she hung up. She set the phone down and turned to us. "Walter was just threatening to run away to the South Pacific and spend his days painting naked Polynesian ladies rather than come back to us. Look at you two, you're a mess. I heard the truck start. Thank you, sweetie." She swooped down on Mulder and kissed him on the cheek.

"Hey, share the wealth," he protested. "If it weren't for John, I'd still be out there, trying to find my ass with both my hands and failing."

Georgie gave me a look that scolded me for getting dirty at all, but she hugged me and said, "Thank you, sweetie. I just heard from Walt. Your estate has finally gotten out of the whole pile of legal complications it was in and has been settled. Your ex-wife is having an estate sale of your things this weekend. He wanted to know if there was anything in particular you wanted from your house. If there was, he'd try and buy it for you."

I thought long and hard about that. Most of the stuff in that house was just stuff, of no real significance. The stuff that was of significance, like pictures, especially ones of Luke, my Marine insignia and commendations, I couldn't imagine Barb selling. There was nothing there I needed or wanted, I concluded at last. Nothing that couldn't be replaced. Oddly, I couldn't bring myself to care that Barb would be getting everything. That was another time, another reality. It was as if my life had started from the moment Mulder got me out of that ship.

"You know, the only thing I really miss from my old life is my truck," I said finally. You know, I wasn't even sure if I'd take back my job with the Bureau, if it were offered to me again. The months of forcible leisure had sat surprisingly well on me and I had little, if any of the headaches and acid indigestion that had been my near constant companion on the X-files. With the stress gone, so were the symptoms caused by it.

The temperature continued to drop that night. The bottom fell right out of it, if you ask me. Yeah, I'd spent some years in New York, both the city and up in Syracuse, you think I would have gotten used to the cold then. But I was still a Southern boy at heart and my blood was just too thin for this. Hardly seemed logical that less than a month ago, I was running the fan in my window all day. But tonight, the windows shook and rattled in their frames as a northwest wind gusted. The weatherman had predicted a frost tonight.

I went to bed that night dressed not just in sweats but with that old sweater on as well, and a couple of extra blankets. I was still freezing. My hands, in particular, felt like blocks of ice and I just couldn't burrow deeply enough into my nest of blankets to make a difference. Midnight found me shivering and turning in my bed, which I suppose was a refreshing change from the usual kind of insomnia.

I crawled out of bed and wandered out into the hallway, wrapped in a blanket. I didn't see my breath, but dollars to doughnuts it sure seemed cold enough I should have been able to. Mulder's light was on and his door cracked open. He had a sweater on, but didn't seem overtly freezing. He had on a pair of little wire rimmed glasses and was reading through some file on a notebook computer. The glasses definitely added something to his look, made him look young, even more gorgeous than normal. True to his word, he had gotten a haircut in town. A good one, short and respectable, but leaving a little fringe across his forehead. He looked good, so good.

"It's freezing," I said, amazed that my teeth weren't chattering too much for me to speak. "You think the furnace isn't on or something?"

"It's on," Mulder said. "The house just isn't insulated very well and Skinner hasn't put the storm windows up yet. You're obviously a Southerner. This is hardly cold, just a bit nippy."

Says the native New Englander. I stared at him.

"You want one of my blankets?" he asked.

I stood there shivering for a while, looking at him. Finally, I broke down. "Look, do I gotta beg?" I asked. He just looked at me quizzically, waiting for me to continue. "Let me spell this out for you. I'm cold. I'm tired. My back hurts. I just found out my ex-wife is selling off my possessions at a fucking tag sale. I haven't been sleeping well lately. Did I mention that I'm cold?"

Mulder shut down his computer. He set it and his glasses aside. Then he turned down the blankets on his bed and crawled in, patting the mattress beside him as an invitation. I settled myself in beside him slowly. It was getting to be a bit of a procedure. No longer could I just throw myself at the mattress. No, now I had to lower myself to a sitting position, then let myself into a controlled fall onto my side. I could then scoot on my side into a more or less comfortable position. I rolled over so that I was facing Mulder as he pulled the blankets up over us.

Yeah, this was the right decision. He was hot, like a furnace. I started to thaw out, slowly. My hands were still icy though and they sought out the obvious source of warmth- Mulder. I slipped them up under his sweater without really thinking about it. He just about jumped right through the covers. "Jesus, John!" he said, pushing my hands away from his bare skin. "Did you stick those in the freezer first or something?"

"I told you I was cold."

"Okay. How about under the sweater, but over the t-shirt? Your hands are like ice," he said, rubbing one of my hands between his hands. He then lifted up his sweater and allowed me to stick my hands up there, not directly on his bare skin this time though. My feet kind of ended up getting tangled up with his. He kept moving his feet away from mine. Not, apparently from not wanting to play footsies or something, because he said, as he was reaching for the lamp to turn it off, "Your feet are icy too. I'll get you some wool socks next time I'm in town."

I laid there a little while, my feet entangled with his, my hands under his sweater, feeling his abs all but ripple every time he breathed. It occurred to me suddenly that maybe he hadn't totally bought the 'just friends' line. This was a situation far more intimate than most friends ever found themselves in. Once upon a time ago, I'd been married. And I'd had a wife who used to like to stick her cold feet on me to warm them up. I'm slow sometimes, but I think I was getting the hang of this.

"Mulder, can I ask you something?"

"Of course, John."

"You're a direct kind of guy, right?" I asked. Might as well be blunt. It wasn't like he could avoid realizing that we were in a compromising position here. "I mean, if you had feelings for someone, you'd let them know, wouldn't you? If you had thoughts about wanting to slip someone a little prick, you'd just go for it, right?"

He drew in a sharp breath. Shit. I'd hit some kind of target. Now, I had to wait for return fire to see just what I had hit. "No, John, I'd have to say that's not the case with me," he said. "Believe it or not, I've always waited for the other person to make the first move unless I'm drunk or my judgement is impaired in some other way. I'm sort of...shy. Believe it or not."

"That so?"

"Yeah."

"In that case," I said. At this moment, I didn't care that I was a big lump of ugly, that there was no way he could logically be attracted to me. Something about his breathing told me otherwise though. I was sure that if I reached down into his pants, I'd find that Mister Happy would be darn happy indeed. As for myself, lately I'd been needing just the slightest excuse to get hard and wet and well, this was more than a good enough excuse.

I snaked my hands around to the small of his back and pulled him as close as my big belly would allow him to get. Then I plastered a kiss right on his lips. He seemed shocked for all of about two seconds. Then he responded enthusiastically. More than that. He was like a starving man allowed in at a banquet. His hands found their way to my face and caressed my cheeks as we kissed for long minutes. It was everything I'd been fantasizing about and more.

"John? Are you sure?" he asked as he pushed me away for a moment. I used the break to stock up on oxygen again. I was intending to dive right back down into that mouth as soon as he stopped talking.

"Never been more sure. Just shut up and do me, Mulder."

"Fox. My lovers call me Fox," he said as his hands started to roam downwards. My belly was awkward. It got in the way. It was frustrating, because I couldn't grind my groin against him. Mulder pushed me flat against the bed. His mouth started travelling downward, covering every bit of exposed skin, my adam's apple, my chin. When he licked the bit of skin under my earlobe, right at my jawline, I shivered at the wet warmth and writhed with frustration. I needed more a more direct touch, that talented mouth on me where it would do the most good.

Meanwhile, I was trying to tug down his clothes and mine, get them out of the way and not succeeding very well. Finally, Mulder took some initiative. He pushed my hands to the side. He knelt on top of my legs and pulled my sweats down. Then he went down on me. He'd only just put his mouth around my cock when I was orgasming suddenly, over the edge. Though I was generally pretty good at stifling myself, this time, I cried out wordlessly as I came. It was a good job Georgie's room was on the ground floor. I wouldn't want to wake her.

"Well, one advantage to this change of yours is that I'm not burdened with that eternal question- spit or swallow," he said, pulling himself up until he was lying full length next to me. He held me and managed to pull the blankets up over us again at the same time. It was lovely, cozy and warm, being held by him. I was glad I took the chance and after a moment's rest, I'd be up for seeing what other kind of fun we could have together. I still wasn't quite satisfied.

"Mul- uh, Fox, you wouldn't do something so mean-spirited to a guy as spit, would you?"

"My first time I did. It was kind of a surprise, how much there was." he said, sheepishly.

My hands started roving, intending to reach for Mulder and give him at least a good hand job. His sweats were still up around his hips, given my earlier clumsy attempts to pull them off. The front of them was wet and his earlier erection was gone. He was soft again. "I made you come in your pants," I said, proudly. Just like he was some teenager. Score one for me.

"I'm sorry. I've wanted you for so long it was almost unavoidable," he said, pulling my hands off his body. He kissed the fingertips of both hands, just a nip of his lips on them, but so soft I hardly felt it. Then he said, "Goodnight, John. I'm going to change, I'll be right back."

Then the bastard tried to leave the bed, even though I reached for him to pull him back to me. Looked like I wouldn't be getting a second round after all. Still, it wouldn't hurt to try.

"What?" he asked, half in, half out of bed.

"We ain't done yet," I said, giving him a tug so that he fell entirely back into bed. Not like he struggled at all, mind you.

"But..." he started, but trailed off when I guided the hand I'd grabbed to my still hard erection. "Oh. No ejaculation, no refractory period, I guess. Multiple orgasms are quite attainable for you now I would imagine."

"You could say that," I said. Actually, more like it usually took a couple until the edge was worn off of my arousal.

Even though the room was mostly dark, I could still tell that Mulder was smiling. He rubbed his hand up and down my cock, stopping for a moment to lube me with spit. He kissed me tenderly as he jerked me off. They that a man who wants to make love to you when he has a hard-on is just expected, but that a man who wants to make love to you when he doesn't have a hard-on, that's truly flattering. It took me a little longer the second round, but when I was nearly there, gasping and making helpless little moans, he stopped kissing me and started talking.

"You're so beautiful," he told me. I found it hard to believe, but his voice was so sincere. So soft, almost a whisper. I came again, just as he said this. I shuddered and cried out. When I came back to myself, Fox was holding me tightly, nuzzling me. His hair was soft against my cheek and I was content to let it tickle me. I realized suddenly how lucky I'd gotten. That Mulder had turned out to be a thoughtful, considerate lover, more than I could have imagined. Having sex with a man had never been like this before. In fact, I don't think you could even say that I'd ever really cuddled with a guy afterwards before. Most of the time, I'd never even made it to the bed. But this was different, so different.

"Thank you," I whispered to Mulder. "Thank you."

"Believe me, the pleasure was all mine," he said.

This time, when he left the bed to change, I didn't stop him. His side of the mattress settled when he got in, then he was nestling up beside me, spooning into my back. By this time, I was already drifting off to sleep. When Mulder got back to the bed, he pulled me back together. I sleepily helped him tug my sweats back up and smooth my sweater back down. Then he spooned in behind me, pulling me close.

"Love you, Johnny," he whispered into my ear. "Can I call you that?"

Something about the sweetness of being cuddled on a cold, dark night and being told I was loved, it only seemed natural that he be allowed to call me something besides John. And Johnny was never a nickname of mine, had an older cousin who was called that. "Not Johnny. Jack," I mumbled, half asleep already. "Ma used to call me Jackie."

"Love you, Jackie," he said.

"Love you too," I murmured, even as I was hardly able to say anything. Sleep followed momentarily.

Mulder:

I slept surprisingly well, and a flawless blue sky greeted me as I looked out the window when I opened my eyes. The sun had already well started it's appointed round across the dome of the sky and I glanced over at the clock, stunned to have slept so late.

I'd had to look over a shoulder to see the window. Yes. John was still here in bed with me. I found myself wondering if last night had truly happened or if it was merely some particularly fevered dream of mine. Had John Doggett, the man who unapologetically murdered my name, pronouncing it Mul-dah, really asked me to call him Jackie? Said that he loved me too when I confessed my love to him? It hardly seemed probable. Or if it truly happened, that it would last. John started to stir and I wondered if he would wake with the heeby-jeebies and deny that what happened last night meant anything. That I would be, yet again, good for comfort, not anything else. And to my shame, I was sporting a particularly fine specimen of morning wood. If he was going to engage in the 'it was just one of those things' game, I didn't want to be showing such need.

Or maybe he wouldn't.

As he woke, John ground his hips back against mine, obviously feeling my hard-on with his ass. No, enjoying it. "Morning, Sunshine," he said finally. I looked over his shoulder and saw his grin. This was a man who looked like he'd won the lottery. No, he wouldn't be playing the 'let's pretend this never happened' game I decided. He said, "You want I should take care of this for you?"

He reached awkwardly behind his back and rubbed my hard-on through my sweats. Oh, yeah, that was good, even through the fabric. I moved his hand off my dick for the moment, just to give me some blood to send to the big head. I'd come in my pants last night, so crazy with need had I been. I didn't want something like that to happen again. I wanted to think about how this should go, how I could really show him a good time.

For this second time, we would take more time, I decided. Actually get undressed. Maybe engage in more than a few seconds of foreplay. And kiss. Yes, there should be lots of kissing involved. Unhurried hours of it. I thought back to our first kiss, last night. To the brash, domineering way he'd taken my mouth, the strong, yet smooth motions of his lips. There might be some things about him that were normally only associated with females, but kissing John Doggett was definitely kissing a man. No, I would never get tired of him ravaging my mouth.

"What's the rush, Jackie?" I said in my most charming voice. He rolled over onto his back and I started to kiss the fingertips of the hand I was still holding. He smiled at me, the warmth lighting up those gorgeous blue eyes of his and I was assured that last night was no aberration, that he wanted this here in the daylight and not just not in the night when he was cold, scared and needy. I planted a kiss right in the center of his palm and he started to melt, squirming at my touch. He closed his eyes.

"Georgie," he said, opening them when I let go of his hand. "She's going to wonder why we're in bed so late if we don't get moving soon."

I chuckled a little. "After the noise you made last night, I don't think she's going to be bothering us this morning."

"You don't really think Georgie heard me, did you?" John said. He sounded mortified. It was kind of cute and almost funny, the modesty complex John had about Georgie, like she was his mother. No, like she was his big sister too.

I wondered, was the sister that he'd wanted me to look up, was she John's big sister? Would my own life have been different if Sam had been my big sister and not my little one? If I hadn't been the big brother in the position of being the one to watch over her. If she had been babysitting me the night of her abduction, and not the other way around. Would I have been so obsessed, so driven to find her? Would I have pursued the X-files to the point of mindless obsession?

John noticed my sudden quiet as I pursued this thought stream. "Mulder? Earth to Mulder. Come in Mulder. Do you read me?"

"Affirmative, Houston," I answered back. I tried to cover my momentary melancholy by stealing a kiss.

Alas, it's impossible to steal something from someone quite willing to give it to you. And it was sweet, and passionate. I was beginning to find out just how passionate John was. He was fire to my airy intellectualism, a demanding force to my receptivity.

But when I reclaimed my lips for my own again, he asked, "What were you thinking?"

"About family and responsibility," I said. Honest, but not entirely the truth.

"What about family and responsibility?"

Of course he wouldn't be willing to just let it rest. I wrapped my arms around him and started to talk, my head cradled on his shoulder.

"It's kind of a staggering thing, isn't it?" I said. "How much it can demand from you. It's more than a compelling biological imperative. You've heard about my little sister Sam, haven't you? I was babysitting her the night she was abducted. It shaped my whole life, became the touchpoint to an obsession. Because of the responsibility I had for her that night."

"I've been through it before," John said. "And that makes it even scarier. Knowing how easy it could be to totally screw it up. Things could have been so different. I could have taken the day off. I was a workaholic. Barb was always after me to take some time off and I thought about calling off that day, but I didn't. If I'd been there, I'd probably have ridden around the block with him, instead of Barb just watching him from the porch. If I'd been there, I could have done something. He wouldn't have been grabbed."

John shuddered occasionally as he spoke about his son, Luke, but the words were calm, though still sad sounding, the words of a man who had experienced much, but is starting to heal. I understood, I thought. I struggled so long with thinking that it might have different somehow, that there was something I could have done.

"It will different this time," I promised him, stroking his round belly through the shirt he was still wearing. "We can't waste the time we have thinking about what might have been."

"Fox," he said, putting his hand on top of mine, on top of his belly. I could feel a delicate fluttering. The babies' motions had been getting stronger and stronger, until they were definite kicks. But now it was just a soft reminder of their presence. "I gotta know. Are you in this with me for the long haul? Are we going to be a family?"

"Well, you and me and babies make four doesn't really have a poetic ring to it, but I'd have to say that, yes, if you'll have me, I'll hang on you like a cheap suit for the rest of our lives. So, when's the wedding?"

He got a funny, screwed up look on his face, like he was going to laugh. Then he snorted.

"What?"

"I could wear white," he said, then snorted again. "I'm. You know. Qualified still. A virgin."

"I thought Dr. Abbott was going to take care of that for you?"

I could think of one simple cure for the virginity John still possessed, at least in the one sense. But I wasn't about to go knocking on that door until I got a clear invitation.

"He was. He had to cut that appointment short because one of his other patients went into labor. I still have a hymen."

I wondered again at the alien technology that had wrought a transformation on the man so complete that they included not just altering his pelvic bone so that it was wide enough to allow for childbirth, but giving him a hymen. I wondered if the change went chromosome deep, but with the gunmen gone, there was no way to conduct genetic tests through secret channels. At least not at the moment. I was looking into opening some new channels with some new allies I'd found on my last trip

"You could have it, you know. If you wanted it. My cherry."

There was something both earnest, but scared sounding in his voice as he offered me his virginity. You know, I'm not sure how we would work it in his present condition, with his belly getting in the way, but somehow, I'd always figured that if there were any fucking involved, he'd be doing me. I'd love to have him fuck me, certainly. I'd fantasized about it for months now.

Now that I'd got a closer look at him without having to be careful that it didn't appear I was staring too long, I'd say he had at least an average-sized penis, that it hadn't been shrunk probably. His testes were about average-size as well, though it seemed that all the time they rode up closer to the body than normal, tucked against his abdomen. Probably for all but missionary position, they'd be mostly out of the way. Yes, thinking about penetrating him certainly made me hard.

"You know," I said, unable to stop myself from smiling. "I'm flattered, but I'm finding it hard to imagine someone who's so obviously in the family way a virgin."

"Jeez. I thought you were a believer, Fox. If you're a woman in Palestine two thousand years ago, I guess they take your story at face value and start a religion around you. But if you're a guy in the present day, nobody believes you when you say you're a virgin with child."

I had a sudden, sobering thought. "I do believe you, Jackie. And I'm glad you've still got your original good housekeeping seal of approval, so to speak. It means that Zippy and Fletch were almost certainly conceived in a lab, rather than in vivo without your consent, during those months of time you lost. The implantation might have been without your consent, but at least they didn't seem to accomplish it with overt violence."

He literally paled at what I said, and I was momentarily sorry I'd said it. It was hard, sometimes, for me to keep my mouth shut. I say things impulsively. Maybe it hadn't quite occurred to John so vividly that his children were the product of a kind of rape, and that he very well might have been raped in the actual sense. Had the hymen been left in place to assure him that he hadn't been? He certainly didn't need that kind of trauma in addition to everything else. John seemed to have made an amazing adjustment to his reality. It spoke of a resilience that I could only envy. But the fact remained that his equilibrium was still at a delicate balance point.

Clenching at my wrists so hard it hurt, John spoke, his voice low, but full of repressed fury, with an occasional catch in his throat. "Don't you ever again suggest to me, or anyone else, especially not the tadpoles, that they are the product of rape. Do you understand me? Maybe I don't remember how they came to be here. Maybe something bad happened. I don't know. I don't remember any of it. I didn't make a decision to get pregnant. But damn you, I made the decision to continue to be pregnant, and that's the only one that matters. I am consenting to having these children. I am choosing to be their father. Do you understand me?"

"I'm sorry, John, I spoke without thinking," I said. He released my hands. He was not a violent man by his nature. No, though he had a temper that ran high sometimes, he was a man of intense gentleness. I reached out to him. I caressed the side of his face first, then ran my hand down his neck, to his chest, then finally rested it on top of his belly. "You're right. Their origin is irrelevant. They'll be beautiful babies and beautiful children and that's all that matters."

I lifted myself up so I was kneeling over his belly and I kissed it gently. There was an answering kick to my touch and I laid my cheek on John so I could feel the babies better. I'd wanted to do something like this for months now, but had always been afraid that John wouldn't let me. Until he had accepted his pregnancy, he hadn't even allowed people to put hands on his belly at all. Now though, he ran his fingers through my hair and said, "Damn straight they'll be beautiful babies. Our beautiful girls."

"We didn't get a good look at the other one. Fletch might well be a boy," I said. It seemed we'd gotten sidetracked from the possibility of making love again this morning, but that was okay. This was almost better, this cuddling and talking, hashing out issues that had to be hashed out eventually anyway. There would be plenty of time for sex later. Now though, it seemed important to have this time to just hold each other, to strengthen these emotional bonds that we'd been tentatively building all along.

"Nah. Fletch is a girl. I'm sure of it," he said.

"How so?" I asked.

"I don't know. I just am," he said. He sounded perhaps a little confused to be confessing to something so illogical. This was, after all, a man who wouldn't testify that a stop sign was red unless he'd seen the exact stop sign in question. "I got a boy's name picked out just in case, but I doubt we'll be using it. John Wallace after my dad."

"Have you decided on girls' names then?" I asked. John Wallace sounded like grand name for a boy. I hoped it went along with the last name Walter was deciding on as he set up John's new identity. I know Walter was working on it, but he'd refused to give me any details.

"I can't decide. Either Gracie and Garnet after my grandmothers. Or Dana and Monica. After..."

Immediately, Monica and Scully appeared. "Aww, that's so sweet," Monica said. "John's wants to name one of them after me."

Scully made a face. "You know, I always liked Scully a lot better than Dana."

No wonder she'd put up with me calling her Scully all those years. Another woman probably would have strangled me with my own necktie calling her by her last name as close as we were. That was my Scully. I never really could think of her as a Dana. It wasn't a name that was strong enough for her. It didn't seem really to contain her magnificence, her uniqueness.

"I think he really wants to call them after his grandmothers though," Monica said. "Mulder, you should tell him that he doesn't have to name one of them after me."

"And definitely he shouldn't call the other one Dana."

How was I supposed to talk to them and to him at the same time? When he was going to give me crap about admitting that I talked to the dead. Well, I suppose, he was just going to have to learn to deal with this aspect of me.

"Jackie, Monica says it's sweet, but you don't have to name your daughter after her. And Scully says she'd prefer that you didn't name the other one Dana. She always liked Scully better."

He looked at me like he thought I was crazy. He didn't tell me that though. He just said, "There is no way in hell I'm calling a daughter of mine Scully."

"As a middle name, maybe? It is an old tradition to give girls a family surname for a middle name."

"Grace Scully or Garnet Scully?" he mused.

"Grace Monica and Garnet Scully," I said. "What do you think?"

Scully nodded, satisfied. Monica smiled as well, then they both disappeared. John seemed satisfied and he said, "Okay, call it a tentative plan. Grace Monica and either Garnet Scully or John Wallace. I'm sure it's a girl though. So, now that's settled, why don't we get back to the matter at hand."

He reached over and kissed me, then started massaging my cock through my sweats. Though my erection had flagged with waiting, it sprang right back to attention again. Oh, yeah. That subject. One I didn't think I could ever tire of, not with my new lover.

Doggett:

Two days after the night Fox Mulder became my lover, Walter Skinner returned home to Iowa, and, for a little while at least, all hell broke loose.

His return home went smoothly enough at first. We were all glad to see him, and even though it was raining again, when he and Georgie pulled into the driveway, both Mulder and I went out to the porch to greet him.

He was tired, as you'd expect, from a day of travel, but also, as you'd expect, he wouldn't let me help with the unloading of his luggage from the truck. I'd have to talk with him about that sometime. Just because I was pregnant didn't mean he had to treat me like I was a lady or something. I recognized the behavior. I might have been nearly ten years younger than him, and many men my age weren't raised that way, for instance, Mulder. But I was from the South, so that added to my own atavistic tendencies. Skinner was definitely treating me like a gentleman treated a lady. He even held doors open for me. If he did something like that again, I was definitely going to have to snarl at him and prove for once and for all that I was no lady.

There was one, big flat cardboard box that I noticed especially among the other boxes he brought with him. He'd brought a bunch. I guess he had a storage unit in DC that he'd cleaned out as well as bringing the last few things that had been in his condo.

"I know Georgie said you didn't really want anything from your house, but I brought a few things for you anyway," Walter told me, setting the big box at my feet. "I saw this sitting lonely at the estate sale. In the house. I figured that a bicycle kept in the house when a garage is available is one that's cared about or ridden a lot."

I was speechless. Walter had bought my bicycle for me. I'd figured it was a lost cause to wish for it. No way I could ride it anytime soon, but someday I'd be back in the saddle. Then, Walter brought me another box. In the box was a trainer. A high quality fluid trainer. It would turn my bicycle into a stationary bike by hooking up to the bike's back wheel, providing resistance and stability. "You were complaining that you weren't getting enough exercise because you didn't like leaving the house to go walking. I thought this might help."

"Thanks, Walter," I said, touched by his thoughtfulness again.

There was a lot of fussing and so forth as all of Walter's things were brought into the house. Then, having sent Mulder off on some errand with Georgie to get him out of our hair, Walter unpacked my bike from the airline box, and put it back together again. While he worked on the bike, I read the instructions for the trainer. I'd want to set it at a nice, easy resistance. The OB had been quite clear- easy, light exercise only. A stationary bike would be ideal, I was sure, but probably it wouldn't be a good idea to do hill training intervals or gear up for a century ride.

"I had the bike shop that packed your bike adjust the stem so that your handlebars are as high as they'll go," Walter said as he tightened the nut that held them in place. "I figure it'll be a while before you go down to the drops again anyway."

Once he was finished, I tried it out. Even adjusted high, I couldn't use the handlebars at all. I had to sit straight up, balanced on the saddle, no hands. Even so, it felt good to do a little riding and remember, earlier, happier days. The bike had been with me for years. I'd had it even before I'd gotten married. I stopped though, when Skinner came back into the room with another cardboard box of things. He opened it and started handing things to me. I recognized my own things immediately. It was interesting to see the assortment of things Skinner had picked out, thinking they might have been significant to me in some way. There were several books, including that big picture book about the Marines I'd used to keep on my coffee table.

Walter pulled a couple of ties from the box, a handful of muted silk, mostly blue and red. I guess it made sense to have picked them out, out of all my clothing. They were small and easily packed. Too bad I couldn't imagine wearing them ever again. I hated the monkey suits I had to wear for work, and now that I was well shut of the Bureau, I was never going to wear a suit again if I could help it, so help me God.

"I remembered you wearing these more than any of the others," Skinner said. Then he got out my can opener. "I know you hate the one Georgie likes. I've noticed people sometimes get strange, personal attachments to their particular style of can opener."

It was an old can opener, again, something that predated my marriage, just an old, mechanical one I'd picked up at a garage sale years and years ago. Barb insisted on an electric one, but I'd stubbornly kept this one and used it. I smiled at seeing this old friend, so to speak. I suddenly thought it odd that Skinner noticed so many of these small things about me. But he'd been a good agent. That attention to detail is what had gotten him promoted in the Bureau.

Then he put a handful of pictures into my hands. Just snapshots, but I could have cried with gratitude. I looked through them. A couple of ones of old Marine buddies were there. A candid snapshot from my wedding, of me in the penguin suit dancing with my sister, both of us looking like we were about three sheets to the wind. And most importantly. Oh, God. A snapshot of me and Luke at the beach. He must have been about six at the time. I did have to brush away a few tears at that. I'd thought I might never get a chance to even see a picture of Luke again.

"Your ex-wife allowed me to come over before the actual sale, because I said I'd been a friend of yours. She was just packing up your photo albums. She got distracted by a call from a realtor, so I stole them," Skinner explained. That was a real risk he'd taken for me. Barb was sharp. She didn't miss much. "I'm sorry they're a little random. I didn't have much time. I just had to grab."

I didn't care. He couldn't have done better if I'd told him the exact ones I wanted. I could hardly speak and just clutched them in my hands, looking at them over and over again until it was dinner time.

After dinner, Walter sat me down at the kitchen table. He got out a big manila envelope and dumped out a big assortment of the various kinds of documentation that make up a person's official existence, as far as the government was concerned. There were both a driver's license and passport among them and before I could reach out and pick one of them up to look, Walter took the passport, opened it up, showed me that my picture was in it. Where the heck had he found the photo? Maybe he was still in good with someone in personnel at the Bureau and was he able to get it out of my file? He started talking. "This is about as good a false identity as you're going to get, John. It's not entirely bomb-proof. A professional with real talent could dig in deeply enough and find it's false. I don't think you'd want to risk the kind of background check you'd face if you wanted to work for the police again. And you won't be able to use it around here, but I imagine once the babies are born, you'll want to be moving on anyway. It should do for just about anything else. Birth certificate."

He pushed a green slip of paper at me and spoke as he did. "Jasper Ivan Skinner, born December 12, 1961, Harlan, Iowa. Known to friends and family as Jack. Parents Anna and Florian Skinner, long time residents of Harlan. You were a mid-life surprise to your parents. Your living siblings are older by about ten years. Education, graduated public high school in Harlan, 1978."

One of those official looking certificate books was pushed at me, the kind they put diplomas in. I opened it up and sure enough, it was a high school diploma. It, like the birth certificate, looked genuine and old, like the paper of the vintage that the documentation. Oh, God. I suddenly realized what he'd done. He'd given me the identity of the younger, now dead, sibling that Georgeann had mentioned. It would be so good because there were two people willing to swear that I was their sibling, should anyone ask.

Skinner continued talking as he pushed an envelope at me. "A transcript. From Iowa State University. You were a smart boy, you did well. A 3.75 out of 4 GPA, with a declared major in Math. But in 1980 you withdrew, to return home and work on your uncle's farm, because he passed away and you were needed," he said. At this point, his voice got a little strained, but he continued, "At this point, we have to get a little creative, because the real Jasper Ivan Skinner died in a car crash not far from here in January of 1981. I've set the paper trail up so that for most of the eighties and nineties, you worked as a farmhand for my aunt. Your official address for that period is this one. Your pay was mainly room and board, but you were given some money and managed to save most of it."

He pushed a battered passbook for a savings account at me. This one was more obviously faked. It was from a local bank. I wondered how he'd pulled that one off. It showed regular deposits that varied from several hundred to just a couple of hundred dollars. Still, the amount added up to a nice little nest egg. The deposits stopped in late 2001.

"In early 2002, the aunt who owned the farm you were working died. The terms of her will divided the property equally between her husband's brother's three living children," he pushed another stack of papers at me. I looked at them. It was the supposedly last will and testament of one Roselle Wilder Skinner. It was also fake. It had to be. I knew that Walter was the sole heir. Georgie had told me. I was going to say something, tell him I couldn't let him give me a third of his inheritance, or any of this, but he said, "Don't protest, John. Georgeann and I discussed this at length. I'd have done something about getting her a share no matter what. Don't think of it as a gift for you, if that helps. It's a gift from Georgeann and I to your children. Something to help you get a good start at a life for them. We'll be selling the property in the spring.

"I thought long and hard about this. I thought especially about the wisdom of making your identity be someone so closely related to me, in case I was being watched still. I decided that it didn't matter, that if they're watching me, they know where you are now and that if they wanted you, nothing would stop them from taking you back. They have their fingers everywhere. I decided it's more important you have an identity that couldn't be exposed as a fake by a casual investigator. Oh, and the death certificate has disappeared from the county courthouse. The only record of Jasper's death is in a newspaper that shut down it's presses long ago. The local library doesn't even have a copy anymore."

Walter really had gone to significant lengths to set up this identity. I wondered if he knew someone in the county clerk's office. I tried on the idea that I was now Jack Skinner, Walter and Georgeann's baby brother. It was a good last name for a guy, sounding vaguely dangerous, but I wasn't sure I liked it with the names I'd picked out for the girls. Gracie Skinner?

I thought about what he said, that they knew where I was, that they were just letting me go. Was I a bug in their cobweb, ignored for the moment, but in the end, unable to escape their clutches? Just a toy, not worthy of being played with at the moment, shoved to the bottom of their toy box? I was scared, suddenly, that like Scully, they would come for me when I was giving birth, threaten me. I didn't care about my own life, but they'd have to harm my children over my cold, dead body. Suddenly, I was crying again. Damn tears. Damn hormones. It took so little to set me off some days, and this was no little thing. Walter looked uncomfortable. He petted my hand, then dug a clean, white handkerchief out of a pocket and handed it to me. I wiped my face and managed to blurt out, "Thank you, Walter. I don't believe it. But thank you."

"It's the least I could do," he said, gruffly. Then he scooped my new identity back into its manila envelope and handed it to me.

Now that Skinner was back, I tried to keep it down when I had sex with Fox, but he must have heard us. He must have figured it out. Not that Fox and I really changed any of our behaviors out of the bed. I wasn't about to become physically demonstrative with another guy, at least not around Skinner. We didn't cuddle in front of him. Even though I tried to change, I still called Fox by Mulder most of the time, just out of habit. Still, Skinner knew. I found out for sure he knew about a week after he returned home.

Georgie sent me out to track down Fox and Skinner for dinner. They were in Skinner's little boys' club hangout. The weather had turned mild again briefly and they had the door propped open for air. I paused at the door because I could hear them talking about me.

"Just what are your intentions with John, Mulder?" Skinner was asking. He was using his best AD voice, leftover from work. The one that demanded answers and got them, and promptly too. Though from what I'd seen, it never worked on Mulder before and didn't seem to be working now.

"I love him, Walter," Mulder said. Out of everyone from back at the Bureau, Mulder alone had never seemed phased by Skinner and the whole AD routine. "And through some miracle, it seems that he loves me back. My intentions are whatever he thinks is best for him and his children. That seems to include me in the equation."

"I think you need to back off. He's bound to be confused, sexually speaking, after what's happened to him. His change probably affects his orientation somewhat, but he needs to get that sorted out on his own. He's in a vulnerable place right now. You need to respect that space. Something terrible has happened to him and changed all the rules."

That really tears it, I'd thought. I just about exploded. Time, I decided, for Walter and I finally to get down to brass tacks and just have this out, for once and for all. If I heard once more that these babies were 'something terrible' or anything like that, I was going to kill someone. I was scared as hell of the delivery I was going to have to go through and of what could happen to them as they grew. But otherwise, this was just about the best thing that ever happened to me. And Fox was part of that.

Screw it. Forget about being discreet around Walter. I walked right in. Strode up to Fox. Planted a big kiss right on his lips as Walter gaped. I said, "Hey, Fox. Georgie says dinner is ready. Tell her Wally and I will be a few minutes. I got something to say to him."

When Fox had retreated, obviously recognizing the signs of me about to go on a tear and smart enough to duck for cover, I said to Skinner, "Retirement obviously doesn't agree with you, Wally."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because you're so bored, you got time to be stickin' your nose into things it don't belong in. Like Fox and me. None of your damn business if I'm getting it on with him. Got that? And I'm no more confused about my sexual identity than you," I said. I poked a finger right into his chest. "And furthermore, just because I have a cunt now, doesn't mean I didn't like sucking dick all along."

He winced at my crudity. So what about his poor, delicate sensibilities. I continued. I was on a roll.

"And furthermore, just because I have a cunt, doesn't mean I'm some kind of woman. If you don't stop treating me like I'm some delicate flower of a lady, I'm going to haul off and beat the crap outta you. Got that? I'm a guy. A man. That didn't change. Let me paint a picture for you. I like trucks, and I miss drinkin' beer and I don't cry at Hallmark commercials and I don't talk about my feelings. Unless I'm really fucking angry, which I am right now. I'm a guy. That clear?"

I thought he might have some snappy comeback. He was always thought fast on his feet. Instead, he just nodded mutely. It seemed, for the moment, I'd gotten the best of him.

"And lastly," I continued, feeling the wonderful power of self-righteous wrath. Yeah, it felt great telling Walt off like this. I grabbed his hands and put them right on my big belly, forced him to keep them there when he wanted to tear them away. He'd never touched me, there, not once out of curiosity. "This pregnancy is not some terrible thing. Got that? It's the most frightening, terrifying, miraculous, wonderful thing that's ever happened to me. You feel them moving, Walter? That's my daughters in there. Or, if you believe Mulder, my daughter and my son. Maybe all kinds of crazy things had to happen to me to bring them into existence, but I don't care about that now. This isn't a terrible thing. It's babies on the way."

I'd never verbalized these feelings exactly before, but as I spoke the words in anger, I knew that it couldn't be more true. Yes, I was frightened, but I found that as I faced my fears, each and every day, my heart seemed to grow a little. That once I opened my heart to feeling love for these babies, that the fountain of passion and compassion for them seemed more and more to be a surging river. That I had stumbled into a miracle, one that left me in awe. And my protectiveness seemed to grow with each passing day too. That anything should harm these children was unthinkable, even the stigma of being a "terrible thing that happened" or as Mulder implied, the product of a rape. No, everyone around me was going to be quite clear that these were probably the most wanted children around. I might not have felt that way at first, but it was inarguably the way it was now.

"And you're their uncle, Walter. You had to be thinking that when you set me up with the papers saying you're my brother. That means you and Georgie are their guardians, should something happen to me. That means you gotta accept them and me just the way we are."

"I'm sorry, John," Skinner said. He still hadn't taken his hands off my big old belly, even though I'd since stopped holding them there. "I've just been trying to do what seems to be best for you."

"Well, I'm a grownup, Walter. A grown man. Time you trusted me to know what's best for me."

"You don't know Mulder like I do, John. He can be a bit much sometimes. He's brilliant. He's one of the bravest people I know. But he's not the sort of man a smart person would settle down and raise a family with."

"I don't always do the smart thing, Walter," I said. I thought, but didn't say that Mulder might have been a bit much, but he was also sweet, strong and tender, that I could easily see him as the other parent to my children. That I'd seen him a couple times with William and I knew that Mulder had it in him to be a great father. "And you're just going to have to accept that he's going to be your brother-in-law."

"You love him?" Walter asked, shaking his head. I suddenly got the impression that I wasn't the only one that Walt was concerned about protecting here. I knew that Walter had always shown concern for Mulder that went above and beyond that which you'd show to a subordinate. Even beyond that which you'd show a friend. Walter had done things to protect Mulder and Scully that maybe he shouldn't have done.

"I do," I said. "And I know when I got a good thing going. I don't think there's anyone else out there that would put up with me."

"Good. C'mon, Georgie'll have our scalps if we make them wait for supper an instant longer."

Mulder:

I was astonishingly, miraculously happy for once in my life. Every time I looked at John, it was as if my heart had wings. It was too bad that I could see no way around leaving him again, just for another couple of weeks. But I wanted to make contact with a few people and I didn't think I could safely do that from the farmhouse. John was going to kill me when he found I was leaving again. I kept putting off telling him.

Things seemed to have boiled to a head, then settled down between John and Walter. I don't know what John said to him, but suddenly Walter looked at him with a respect and near wariness that had been missing ever since John and I had arrived at the farm. Walter still opened doors for John, but John made the point of opening them for Walter whenever he got a chance to do so. And I had seen them talking occasionally over the past couple of days. And once, I had walked in Walter's shed to find John there. Walter was building a rocking chair to match the cradles he'd made. John was hand sanding it as Walter tended to the fire in the little wood burning that heated the shed. They were actually talking too, discussing different cities in the Midwest. Skinner kept trying to sell John on one or the other. I guess they were starting to discuss where to settle John down after the babies were born and the farm was sold. I kept out of the discussion. I pretty much figured I would just follow wherever John decided on. It wasn't exactly as if my career was in the way or something.

Today I was returning from an afternoon run. It was nearly dark as I turned into the driveway. The mid-October day had been crisp and it was chilly already. When I was nearly to the house, a car pulled into the drive. I looked. It was Dr. Abbott's. I rushed into the house, to find John in the kitchen, tending a pot on the stove. Walter was in the kitchen too, peeling apples. Georgie wasn't in sight.

"Are you okay, John?" I asked, concerned. "You didn't mention that Dr. Abbott was coming. He pulled up into the drive."

"I'm fine. I'm not supposed to see him until next week," John said, looking concerned and puzzled.

Walter meanwhile, had gone into the living room. I could hear him call to Georgie, whose room was off that room. "Georgie, Bob's here," he said.

"Tell him I'll be out in a minute," Georgie said.

As Walter walked back into the kitchen, the dots suddenly connected into the picture. The two of them were going out on a date. John made the trip from a to b to c too and said, "Oh, no! She is not going out with my OB. Uh-uh. Can't you say something, Walter?"

Walter muttered under his breath, "Like I could ever tell Georgie anything." Then he went to answer the knock at the door.

Georgie appeared. She was dressed to the nines. Never thought I'd see her in a dress. I didn't think she owned a dress. It was red knit fabric and flattered her, making her look lush and female without being overly feminine. She wore flats. I guess her concession to being so tall, especially considering her date for the evening was shorter than her by about five inches. She addressed herself to John, "I hope you don't mind, sweetie. I thought about it a lot and I couldn't see the harm and who else could I bring here without giving away your secret."

Dr. Abbott walked in. He addressed himself to Georgie first, "Georgeann, you look radiant tonight."

"Why, thank you, Robert. I think you have to promise my boys here that you'll have me home before midnight turns me into a pumpkin," she said.

He was different tonight. I guess the asshole routine was strictly his professional guise or something. Or maybe this was some veneer of charm he was putting on to impress Georgie. He actually smiled at her and the rest of us. Then he turned to John, and said, "Mr. Doggett, you're looking well. Is everything going well?"

"Just fine," John said, looking up from his cooking again for the moment. He sniffed the air from over the pot. I'd have said that if anyone here looked radiant tonight, it would be John. He was looking so good these days. He'd gained back to his pre-abduction weight and then some, even managing to get back some muscle. His haircut was an at home job, done by Georgie, but his hair seemed to be thicker than it used to be. He smiled a lot and it was sweet to catch him talking to Zippy and Fletch when he thought people weren't looking. He pointed the wooden spoon he'd been stirring with at Dr. Abbott and said, "You show Georgie a good time tonight."

I heard the "or else" that he implied, but had left off. I wondered if someone ought to have warned Abbott that there were three ex-Federal agents in the room who would hunt him down if he harmed so much as a fingernail of this woman we all cared so much about.

"She asked to go out dancing, and what the lady wants, she gets," Abbott said smoothly. I decided that this good behavior wasn't the veneer, that he could be a decent person. I wondered how he'd decided to ask Georgie out. The few times I'd seen them interacting, it'd been like cats and dogs. Perhaps it was one of those situations where there was so much sparking there, they were bound to like each other, opposites attracting. In a few minutes, with a few more promises from Abbott that he'd treat our Georgie well, they were gone for the evening.

After they left, John turned to Walter and demanded, "You knew. You could've stopped her. You could've said something at least."

"Last I checked, she was an adult woman, Jack. He's an adult man. Neither of them are married. She's not his patient. And if there's one thing Georgie knows, it's her own mind. I couldn't think of a single, logical objection."

Instead of answering Walter back, John just sulked. Eventually we ate the dinner that John and Walter had produced, beef stroganoff with noodles, baked acorn squash from the widow Amundson's garden and fried apples. John continued to be mulish through dinner though, and especially afterwards, cleaning up, he threw pots around in the sink and slamming cabinets, muttering under his breath when I was far enough away that I couldn't hear what he was saying. Once Walter had completed the minimum amount of chores he could get away with, he wisely retreated to his workshop leaving me to deal with my lover and his bad mood alone. I almost shouted, "Coward!" at Walter as he slunk away through the kitchen door. Instead, I just smiled at my lover and prepared for him to possibly throw something at me.

"What's wrong, Jackie?" I said. Actually, I had a working theory going as to his problem, but I wanted to hear what he perceived the problem to be before I put any plans into action.

"If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you," he snapped.

"Hey, Prince Charming, you need to talk to me. Communicate. I've been a mind-reader before, and it wasn't pleasant, not in the slightest. And at the moment, I'm no Gibson Praise," I said, as soothingly as I could. I walked up behind him and took his hands out of the dishwater. First I reached for the dishtowel and dried his hands off, then I laid my chin on his shoulder. We were about the same height, so I had to slouch a tiny bit to do this. "Now, tell me, so I can see if there's something I can do about it."

"Nothing you can fucking do about it. I'm trapped in this fucking house until December at least, nothing you or anyone can do about that. Everyone in this fucking house can go out into the world but me. I'm trapped here. You know, the sad thing is I'm almost looking to my appointment with that asshole, even though I know at some point he's going to have his fingers up my cunt, just because it's the only time I get out of the house. Can you even understand? And then Georgie gets to go out dancing with that asshole. God, I'd love to go dancing."

I'd been afraid he was going to start crying again, but he didn't. We'd had this discussion before, a couple of times actually and though I was willing to take him out into the world, to someplace big, like Omaha or Des Moines, in the end he wouldn't go. With a heavy jacket on, he might pass as just having a huge gut, or at least he would have earlier. He was so obviously pregnant, with his weight centered so completely in his belly, the rest of him so lean. He'd always decided he didn't want to take the risk of discovery.

"You want to go dancing, I'll take you dancing," I promised him. "What kind of dancing do you like?"

I hoped he was just gripping and not going to take me up on my promise. I could only dance the old ballroom dances, the waltz, the foxtrot, from forced lessons for country club dances when I was kid, the legacy of having been born into a family with money. Anything else I felt awkward and gangly trying to dance.

"It'd probably be a waste of time, takin' me out. I'd probably get tired after just a couple of dances. My feet hurt anyway. I just want to dance something nice and slow," he said, leaning back on me.

"I have an idea," I said. I took his hand and led him out to the living room. I shoved the coffee table out of the way, then dug through my small pile of CDs, until I found the one I was looking for. Yes, that was the one. I put it into the player and flipped through the tracks until I found the right one. The soothing, velvet voice of the one and only Elvis Presley filled the room. I took John's hand and crooned along with the King, even though I sounded more like a strangled chicken. Still, it's the thought that counts.

"'Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you,'" I sang, as we slow danced across the small area open in the living room. The world seemed to shrink for the moment to just this room, to just the few square feet around us. We stared at each other as we danced. His blue eyes seemed deep, like oceans. I realized suddenly that I'd let him take the lead and that it didn't bother me at all. He was leading us in something that was sort of like a waltz. His big belly meant we couldn't dance very close, but I squished up against him as best I could. Zippy and Fletch provided their own counterpoint to the rhythm. "'Take my hand, take my whole life too, 'cause I can't help falling in love with you.'"

When the song was over, the next track was the classic, "You ain't nothing but a hound dog."

I let go of John to turn it off and as I turned back to him, he smiled at me and said, "Tonight."

I wasn't sure what he meant, but I was so glad that I'd made him happy. "What?"

"Tonight. You. Me. The big I," he said, snuggling up to me. We'd figured out a couple of positions for snuggling where his belly didn't get in the way. Right now he was standing to my side, arms awkwardly wrapped around me, but still leaning into me. He nibbled a little at my earlobe, then he said, "You takin' my cherry."

Oh. Oh! We hadn't yet. There were times over the two weeks since we'd become lovers where I'd been sure he would have let me, if I'd made the move. But we hadn't had intercourse yet, just exchanged blowjobs mostly. I'd been waiting for a clear invitation to even touch him between his legs and it hadn't been given. This invitation was like crystal. Hearing it made my cock stiffen in automatic response.

The invitation thus clearly given, I decided to step up my seduction to the next level. I was going to take this slow, make it good for him. I'd never had a virgin before, as far as I knew. My own virginity, in the standard heterosexual sense, had been claimed by an older, more experienced girl. As for my virginity in the homosexual sense, Alex Krycek had been a practicing, enthusiastic cocksucker long before I met him.

I led John to the couch and helped him sit down. He was starting to need just a little help to sit up and down gracefully. I claimed the corner opposite him, then directed him to lift his feet onto my lap. I pulled off his shoes and dropped them on the floor. Size twelves, two sizes up from his usual to accommodate for his swelling, though I'd also heard that feet spread during pregnancy and many women find themselves unable to go back to their pre-pregnancy shoe size. I debated as to whether to leave his socks on or off. If I took them off, his feet might get cold, but the skin to skin contact would definitely feel better. I decided to start off with the socks on and move up to peeling them off. Starting off with his left, I rubbed my thumb firmly down his instep, nothing that might feel ticklish. As I predicted, he started melting under my touch quickly. I had him moaning before long, even before I got his socks off. In turn, he'd rub my cock through my pants with whichever foot I wasn't massaging at the time. Oh, yes, he was seducing me as surely as I was seducing him. Leaving me no room for doubt that he wanted this, wanted me.

"Upstairs," he said, as I started to tug on one of his socks. I ignored him and continued to de-sock him. "Upstairs now."

"Yes, sir," I said, letting go of his feet. I tucked the one sock I'd managed to claim into the corresponding shoe, then I stood up. He took both my offered hands and I was able to pull him upright without too much effort.

"I'm gettin' to be big as a house here," he complained.

Of course, it would do no good to verbally try and talk him out of those kind of deprecating words. He just didn't believe that I found him as beautiful this way as if he weren't pregnant. I'd just have to show him. I led him upstairs, to the room that once was mine, but now was ours. I'm not sure why we settled on this one out of the two, but we'd both gravitated towards it. Perhaps it was the coziness of it, the way that the old cast iron bed was tucked into a little alcove formed by the eaves of the house. Perhaps it was the subtle wallpaper, a print of flowers, but in blues and greens. John's old room had plain white walls with little ornamentation. There was one of those old chenille spreads on my bed and under that, a couple of wool blankets. Cozy and sweet. I'd miss it when the house was sold and I couldn't come back to it any more.

We laid down on the bed together, under the blankets and started kissing. Slowly, garments were shed, one item at a time. I wanted to draw this out, make it last as long as possible. Once he was mostly naked, I latched onto his cock, laving it well with spit, then swallowing him as deeply as I could. My goal was to bring him to orgasm at least once before I tried to penetrate him, my rational that if he were relaxed, it'd be easier on the both of us. I was flying, never before quite this free of my inhibitions and worries. Flying like this, I was able to act with a confidence and passion I never normally felt.

As I sucked him, I held his balls out of the way with one hand, and with my other hand, I parted his legs and explored. He was wet between his legs. The smell was hardly describable. Yes, there was definite male musk there, strong and delicious. I sniffed harder, trying to pull in as much as possible. But there was also that indescribable, but beautiful smell of a woman who is turned on, sort of blended in to his maleness. It was just the smell of sex. I also got my first good, detailed look at his female parts.

Tucked away between his legs normally, it was not quite like anything I'd see before. The labia that framed it were hairless, glistening with his juices. I ran a tentative finger along one side and they were soft in the way that only sex organs can be. He shuddered at my touch. I followed the labia up, to where it joined the base of his scrotum and just played with his balls for a little while. Then I teased his labia again, running a finger along the interior side of it, spreading his fluids around some as I did. I kept rubbing closer and closer to his opening, even as I continued to suck his cock. He hardly seemed with me, one hand sort of mindlessly playing with my hair.

My first penetration of him was accomplished with just my index finger. He definitely seemed tight. Just out of curiosity, I crooked my finger a little and felt for the patch of slightly more textured tissues. I found it and rubbed him good, even as I increased my tempo on his cock. I was rewarded with a shout, a hand that pulled my hair, a clenching of the vaginal walls on my finger, and more vaginal fluids drenching my hand. My own arousal increased at these sights and sensations. I wanted to just throw his legs apart and push myself into his cunt, then fuck him until I came. But no, I controlled myself.

He looked down at me through blue eyes gone hazy with desire and arousal. To see him so turned on like this, yet to have all the obvious signs of pregnancy made him seem utterly debauched. His first word, after he caught his breath, was, "More," then a moment later, "Need more. Just fuck me, Fox."

He was probably ready for me. Endorphins must be flowing. The pain, if there was pain, hopefully at this point would be forgotten quickly. I rolled over onto my back and said, "You have to control this. You on top. I don't want to hurt you, even a little."

It was awkward. He couldn't move freely. I had to lift up on his hands to give him something to balance on. But he knelt over my supine body, directed my cock to the right spot, then just threw himself down and onto me with one swift motion. Oh, God. I hissed in pleasure at the sudden, demanding feeling of being encased in slick, tight flesh. It was smooth and wonderful and I had to force myself not to thrust up into it.

Because John had cried out as he'd thrust himself down, and not, I thought, from pleasure. "Jackie, are you okay?" I said, worriedly. I all but rolled him off me and withdrew.

His eyes were closed and his face had scrunched up in pain. "Yeah. I'll be okay. Just give me a minute here. Feels strange. Hurts a little still. Distract me."

At my direction, he leaned back. I propped up my knees so he could lean back against those. Then I grabbed his cock again. Though it had been hard when he'd been penetrated, it had shrunk from the pain. I rubbed it now, paying special attention to the sensitive head. Soon, he was at full attention, any discomfort forgotten. And he was rocking back and forth on me, trying to get more sensation. He was always on a hair trigger and now was no exception. I think I felt his orgasm almost before he did, as his internal muscles clenched around my cock. Then he cried out and threw his head back. Oh, God, it was always beautiful to see someone come because of something you're doing, but it was even more so at this exact moment. It took only a moment or two more of thrusting into his limp, post-orgasmic body before I too, cried out triumphantly and released my semen into his body.

I wondered, just for a brief moment, what it would have been like if I'd been the one to impregnate him. What it would be like to purposefully plant my seed in him, in the hopes that it would catch and produce a child. I'd never had a chance to do that before, to purposefully make a new life with someone, in this time-honored manner. The thought fascinated me. The time I'd masturbated to get Scully her sample for the IVF was perhaps something close to this kind of excitement. It was fruitless, though, to wonder about impregnating John again. He'd never willingly go through this, I thought. And even if he would, would I be so foolish as to put him at this kind of risk, this kind of confinement again?

He rolled off of me and then looked at where his body had been in horror. I looked where he was looking. Blood smeared both our bodies, especially around my cock, but also on my thighs, on his thighs and even dripping some onto the sheets. "Do you feel okay?" I asked, in concern. I was sure it was just from the hymen, but I wanted to be certain we hadn't done him damage or disturbed Zippy and Fletch in any way.

"I feel wonderful, but it's a lot of blood," he said. Actually, probably it was a lot less than he thought. It seemed lighter than blood, as if it were mixed with plenty of other fluids. Semen. Natural lubricants.

"In some cultures, at this point, the grandmas come in and get the sheets to display them to the wedding party. It's probably only an average amount of blood from a hymen. Let's clean you off first," I said. "If you're still bleeding in a while, then we'll call Dr. Abbott. Maybe we shouldn't have done this."

"He didn't say I couldn't," John said. "And it just didn't feel right, somehow. Being a virgin still when my girls are being born. It doesn't hurt at all. Feels incredible."

He laid down on his side and sounded like he was falling asleep. I got up to get a washcloth from the bathroom. I wet it down with nice, hot water and returned to my room. John wasn't quite asleep and he murmured soft words about love when I cleaned him off, lifting his leg to get at his vulva. I'd brought a dry washcloth to dry him with. He squirmed as I touched the rough terrycloth to his labia, sensitive, still from his orgasm. When I took the dry cloth away, it was still clean, no hints of blood, so I guess he hadn't been seriously injured. I cleaned myself off, then snuggled up behind him into our usual spoon position.

"You need to do something for me, Fox," he said.

"Anything. What?"

"I loved this. I don't want to give up this kind of sex with you. And don't get me wrong, in some ways, I'd love to have your baby, but I'm not doing this ever again," he said, touching his belly. "I don't want there to be the tiniest chance I could get knocked up again. I want you to get a vasectomy. If you do it before the Tadpoles are born, you should be shooting blanks by the time I'm ready for sex again."

What he said made the greatest sense. I recognized the reality that he couldn't get pregnant again. I accepted intellectually that I was the logical candidate for sterilization, being as it was the least invasive of the two possible surgeries. A tubal ligation was still a major procedure, plus the difficulty of this all being secret. I knew that a vasectomy was simple procedure, done in the doctor's office most of the time even. But I still shuddered at the thought of anything sharp and pointy near the family jewels.

"Goddammit!" he snapped when he felt my shudder and I didn't say anything. "It's not like I'm asking you to do something I haven't done myself. I know exactly what it feels like. It ain't as bad as you're imagining."

"You? You had a vasectomy?" I asked.

"After Luke was born, Barb decided that one was enough. It seemed the gentlemanly thing to do rather than make her take a pill every day and worry every month until she got her period. I got snipped. It wasn't that bad. You know, they do give you anesthetic and painkillers for afterwards. I was sore and bruised for a bit, but otherwise, no problems. I was back at work the next day."

"Okay. I'll do it, soon as I can," I promised. Still, I couldn't help but feel a little cheated somehow. Not that it had ever been promised, or even implied that I'd get a chance to have a baby with him. Not that I wouldn't be happy raising the two that he was currently pregnant with. Not that, despite the ovaries that he supposedly had, plus all the rest of the necessary organs, we could even be sure I, or anyone else, could get him pregnant without technological assistance. But some rebel part of me sure wanted a chance to try. Definitely it was a primitive and atavistic urge, this feeling of wanting to spread the old semen around. To be the conquering alpha male who got to mate.

"But you can't fault a guy for getting sensitive when sharp metal objects are mentioned in the same sentence with his cojones."

He seemed to read right through my bluster and he said, "I wish I dared to let you knead up a bun to put in the old oven, but you know we can't. I wish I were pregnant with your daughters, not some strangers."

"You are," I said. I rubbed his belly, relishing each and every kick back I felt from the pair. "They will be ours. Yours and mine. Our beautiful Zippy and Fletch. Two's probably going to be more than enough for us to handle, right?"

"Ours," he agreed, sleepily. "Our Garnet. Our Gracie."

Doggett:

The conversation had started neutrally enough, thought I should have guessed how bad it could get. The day after we first had intercourse, over breakfast, he asked me, "What can you tell me about a woman named Lois Runtz and a man name of James Bond, known as Jimmy?"

"Friends of the Gunmen," I said. "She usually goes by a cover name that's some anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald. Yves Adele Harlow is her favorite. Supposedly she's fighting some terrorist organization run by her father. Jimmy's got more good nature than he has brains, but he's a good egg. Why do you ask?"

"I've met Jimmy before, briefly and I agree with your assessment. But I'm unfamiliar with Ms. Runtz. The more allies I can gather, the better. The Gunmen have given her a good recommendation, but I want to be sure before I go to meet her."

That was total BS. I knew better than to think that what I said to him really mattered. He'd made up his mind already. He was going to go meet her. He was just asking me because it was an easy way of breaking it to me that he was leaving again. And he had to leave me to go meet her. Yves. Even though it'd been a short time she'd known me, that whole time she never let me forget just how much she thought I'd really dropped the ball on that case that ended up with the Gunmen dead. The worst thing about that, is I thought she just might be right. I wasn't sure what else I could have done, but thinking about her, about them, always made me feel guilty, as if I could have prevented their deaths somehow. They were weirdos that made Mulder look normal, but they were also an odd breed of heroes, and strangely, I'd liked them. They shouldn't have died.

"You ain't going anywhere, buddy," I told him. "Got that? You are not leaving me stuck without you here in the middle of ass end nowhere again."

"I don't want to go, John, but I have to. It's not like it's exactly going to be a vacation," he said, defensively. "You think I want to leave you?"

"Obviously. I ain't seeing anyone pointing a gun to your fool head, making you leave. Seems to me like if you didn't want to do it, you wouldn't."

"There are exigencies here that go beyond the obvious, Jackie," he said, reaching for my hand. "There's a war going on that you're never going to hear about on your satellite TV and you and I are among the few people on the opposition side that even know it's going on. You were in the military. You know that sometimes men are deployed, even when their wives are pregnant and stuck alone in the middle of nowhere."

That just sparked a deep vein of anger in me somehow and I reached for my orange juice, forgotten along with the rest of breakfast. I threw it at him, wetting him liberally. "Bastard. I am not a fucking wife. I'm a man, I can't be a wife," I told him as I struggled to my feet. He wiped juice out of his eyes but didn't reach for a napkin to dry himself. I was reminded suddenly of how Scully had thrown water at me when we first met. I hadn't been as much of a jerk to her then as Mulder was being to me now, but at least water didn't dry sticky.

"I never meant to imply you were," Mulder said. "Just that this sort of thing happens sometimes. I don't want to go and I'll be back as soon as possible. Just another couple of weeks then I won't leave again until after Zippy and Fletch are born."

"Gracie. And Garnet. The names are Gracie and Garnet."

"Boy, are you going to be surprised when it turns out to be Gracie and John Wallace," he said. I recognized what he was doing, trying to deflect and redirect. Fuck that.

"Garnet," I said, emphasizing the name, "Gracie and I are going upstairs to watch some satellite TV because there's nothing else to do in Ass End Nowhere, Iowa. If you come to your senses, you can join us, otherwise, why don't you just get the fuck gone now and not come back until you're ready to stick with me for the duration."

I had no clue why I was so certain it was two girls, but the further and further along I got, the more certain I was. I'd already started calling them by their names. Zippy and Fletch were starting to sound so flippant, so casual that I hated the nicknames. It was just a side issue, one that was distracting from the main issue- how betrayed I felt that he'd just pack up and go when I needed him. You know, he looked like he'd been prepared for me to cry. Fuck that. I was furious. I changed my mind. I didn't head upstairs. Instead, I went out to Walter's boy's clubhouse.

It was an Indian summer kind of day, warm and golden and Walt had the door propped open for air, so I couldn't slam it shut behind me. Walter was still sanding on the rocking chair. He looked up as I stormed in, took one look at me and pronounced, "Mulder just told you he's taking off for the outside world again, didn't he?"

Walter put down his sanding block as I said, "Fuck you, Wally. You knew?"

"We've been discussing it. He really has tried to come up with ways to avoid this trip, but in the end, he and I both think that there's some crucial information gathering that has to happen before the birth of your children," he said. "I know you must be angry. Here."

Leading me to the corner of the room, Walter, damn his eyes, remained calm and even tempered. He handed me a pair of boxing gloves and pointed at the punching bag he had hung from a ceiling beam. "You can come in and use it anytime you feel the need. It's good for getting the aggression out. Be careful, but hit as hard as you can without hurting yourself."

Walter, as much as I hate to admit it, was right. It felt good. I thought back to the first couple of weeks after my rescue, the times I'd been so angry at Mulder that I'd pulled a gun on him. I was easily that mad now, though admittedly a bit better in control of my emotions. Shooting him would do me no good, would it? So I pretended his face was looking at me off the punching bag and went to it. Walter watched me. I went as long as I could, working the bag hard and heavy, probably pushing myself more than was wise for the sake of the babies, but it felt good. Necessary. I tired quickly, unable to sustain my fury. I was nearly ready to call it quits. I socked the bag one last time, muttering, "Bastard."

Then I sought out Walter. "What the hell kind of trouble does he think he needs to stir up out there anyway?"

"Why don't you ask him. I'm sure he'll be glad to tell you," Walter said.

Now, there was an idea- have a logical, reasonable discussion about this? Nah, it'd never work.

Walter was back at work on the rocker, so I left him behind and decided to seek out Mulder again. My anger was mostly gone, but I was still feeling as if I were going to be abandoned, already lonely and sad, even though he hadn't yet gone.

Mulder was still sitting at the kitchen table where he'd been when I left him. He hadn't moved. He hadn't done more than wipe the orange juice out of his eyes. The rest he'd left on, to dry sticky. You could see the little flecks of pulp on his shirt. He was crying. Staring into the distance, with big, wet tears flowing down his cheeks. Shit. I'd done that to him. I never made a guy I liked cry before. And I always felt shitty when I'd made my wife cry during arguments. This wasn't any better. I got a rag and dampened it at the sink. I approached him and started blotting off juice from his face, cleaning him up. Wiping his tears away.

"Jackie?" he asked. "Please be okay with this. I need you to be okay with it. The fix is in. The date is set. Their plans are made. And I've got to do what I can to stop them. The invasion is coming and our own government is so infiltrated that it's going to help, not hinder it. I want our girls to have a normal life, a normal world to grow up in. I want them to play soccer and dress up and go to high school dances and be able to have little daughters of their own. Do you understand? I need to be getting out there and making it a better world for our girls. One they'll survive, not one where they'll be tools of forces malevolent beyond our comprehension."

I thought about all the times Barb had stayed at home when I'd been off working. I'd expected it. It'd been a given that she'd just arrange her life around mine. Mulder was asking me to do the same, wasn't he? Could I do it? Did I honestly have much choice. What was I going to do? Tie him to the bed with those damn ties that Walter had brought me and keep him prisoner? He was going to go and I could take it badly, or I could let him go gracefully and hope he'd come back.

I'd been a Marine. I'd been a beat cop in New York City. And Barb just had to face the fact that my job was facing danger, that I might not come home one night. Could I face the same with Mulder? I suddenly realized, like it or not, that while I was no woman, no wife, by virtue of what had happened to me, that I was now in a more passive position. One of those who wait. Even after the babies were born, I'd be tied down, at least for a long time. Could I accept this? I didn't think I had much choice. I would be the one to stay close to home and protect my babies. Could I let Mulder go out into the world and be the one to fight for our future together?

I had to.

I could see that keeping him smothered close to me, when there was danger for him to face, was just about going to kill him. I couldn't do that, I thought. I loved him. And if that meant being alone for a while, well, I could do that. And if it meant he might not come home to me, I had to accept that, like my wife had once accepted it.

In matters of the heart, I'll be the first to admit- I'm impulsive. Once I make the leap from distrust to caring, I love hard and fast. Somehow, I'd fallen in love with Mulder, as unlikely as that was looking at it from a logical perspective. It seemed necessary to be with him. To stay with him forever. And it was intoxicating to be with Mulder, because the way he looked at me, as if I were the great love of his life. Perhaps I was. He loved Scully, no doubt about that. But I'd seen them. I'd seen nuns more passionate than Mulder around Scully. Yet, in the past few days, I had my proof of Mulder's passionate nature. Ergo, he'd never been in love with her. He was in love with me. I was in love with him. It only made sense to call it forever. I was married to Barb within six months of meeting her. I'd say, with Mulder, I'd gone comparatively slow.

"So, I'm not saying I'm not pissed still," I said, handing him the washcloth to finish wiping himself off with. Then I sat down heavily in one of the sturdy kitchen chairs. "But when were you thinking of leaving?"

"A week and a half or so from now. I was hoping to go to your next appointment with you," Mulder said. He got a wry half grin then added, "I figured you didn't deserve to face Dr. Bob on your own. He's going to take one look at you and know you're no blushing virgin anymore."

Shit. I hadn't thought about that. I suppose that an OB, by definition probably has more knowledge of one's sex life than any other kind of doctor. I wouldn't be embarrassed, I promised myself. I wouldn't care what he thought. Besides, it's not like he didn't already seem to assume that Mulder and I were lovers. And you couldn't expect a person to have an orifice like that and not use it.

"Besides, you promised you'd drive," I reminded him. Dr. Abbott's office was about two and a half hours from here and while I could certainly drive still, it was hard to stuff myself behind the steering wheel anymore. And we'd all agreed that I'd always take at least one other person with me, preferably armed, whenever I left the house.

"I did, didn't I? he said. "We're okay, right, Jackie?"

"Yeah, we're okay. Tell Jimmy and Lois I said hi, if you think you can risk it."

"I have your blessing to go?"

"You do. One more thing I gotta say to you. I'll never be your wife. But I figure, I'd be glad to be your husband."

"Does that mean I have to take your name? Fox Skinner is even less euphonious than Fox Mulder. Mrs. Jasper Skinner?"

"You said, it, not me, Mrs. Skinner," I said, then laughed a little at his grimace. Guess I'd found a good name to tease him with then.

With that, Georgie walked into the kitchen. I'd never seen her still in her bathrobe before, except a few brief times on her way to the toilet in the earliest morning hours. Now though, she looked like she had a rough night of it last night. Her hair was down out of it's habitual braid and her eyes were rimmed with red. I'll bet she'd gotten in really late. She rubbed her forehead a little, as if fending off an incipient headache.

"Is the shouting over?" she asked, starting for the coffee maker. "Is it safe to come out yet?"

"Sure, Georgie. Can I get you anything?" Mulder asked. "If I'm not mistaken, you look like you really tied one on last night."

I had sudden, uncharitable visions of Abbott getting her drunk and taking advantage of her. You know, I'd never thought she was much to look at when we first met, being as how she looked so much like Skinner, which wasn't what a guy normally looked for in his women. But over time, I'd gotten used to her strong, stern expressions and her thick, solid body. She was a different kind of good looking, handsome, rather than pretty. If you could call a woman distinguished in the same sense that men were, she was. And I cared for her. And if Abbott had harmed so much as one single gray hair, I'd hunt him down and shoot him, not caring about the consequences.

She just gave a deprecating laugh and poured herself coffee. "Nothing of the sort, Fox Mulder. I hardly call three glasses of wine 'tying one on'. It was just a late night for me. I'm a lark, not a nightowl."

"Did he show you a good time, sweetheart," I said, struggling to rise from my kitchen chair. Between bracing myself on the tabletop and the back of my chair, I made it up. "I made breakfast. Waffles. You want anything?"

I opened the oven where I'd left the extra waffles to keep warm for her. I'd fried slices of ham as well. I was getting so domesticated. It made me a bit afraid sometimes that I really would end up as Mulder's little wifey.

"Yes, we had a fine time last night, Jackie," she said. Since Walter had come through with my new identity, they'd all taken to calling me Jack, so as to get me thoroughly immersed in cover. And Georgie had taken to calling me Jackie like Mulder did. I liked it a lot from her lips.

I settled her at the table and got her a plate of food. "So tell me all about your date, Georgie."

She laughed a little, got an undeniable grin on her face and said, "A lady never kisses and tells, Jackie Skinner."

A week later, we were travelling to Abbott's office, Mulder and I. He was driving. I was sitting in the shotgun position, Georgie was reading in the back. She didn't have to come along, but I guess she'd just wanted a chance to see her new boyfriend, however briefly.

"I appreciate the gesture of the van, Fox," I said. "I really do. I know it's supposed to be the ultimate family vehicle to have a minivan. But I hate to say it, but I'd feel safer in a big sedan. Maybe a retired police cruiser. Chevy Caprice. Ford Crown Victoria. That kind of thing."

I would feel safer. The taller a vehicle the easier it rolled over in a crash. And if we could get our hands on a retired cruiser, that'd mean better brakes and a lot of other features. Before the Bureau, I'd been a beat cop for a while. I knew cruisers. I felt comfortable in them. True, I missed my truck. But a pickup just wasn't a vehicle for a man with a family. I was thinking a big sedan would be just about right.

"I'll look into it. Maybe Walter could give us a line on a Bucar that hasn't seen too much action. We'll have to vet it first, for bugs, that kind of thing."

Sometimes, just sometimes, in all my thoughts of setting up housekeeping and making a safe, cozy life for my children, I can almost forget about the fact that the Bureau I used to work for and place my trust in had betrayed me and my partner. That my lover was a fugitive wanted for murdering a man that couldn't be murdered by normal means. I was reminded of that now and I wanted to scream. I wanted my life to be back to normal. I wanted to not be going to a fucking obstetrician, for God's fucking sake. I squeezed the door handle as hard as I could in anger. Mulder's eyes left the road for a moment, recognizing my fury, acknowledging it. He reached for my hand and squeezed it. I decided to soldier on, act as if nothing were extraordinary.

"So, Walter and I have narrowed down a list of places to go, once Gracie and Garnet are born," I said. Walter had talked me into agreeing that we'd move together. Not necessarily living together, but in the same town, close enough that he could be there in an instant if I needed help. I wasn't pleased with the thought, but I recognized both the logic and necessity of it. A younger brother who spent his whole adult life in Nowheresville, Iowa wouldn't strike out for the big city on his own with two newborn girls, though he might go to the city following his big brother. Planning an elaborate cover like this took significant thought and preparation.

"Neither of us want to stay anywhere near Iowa. I'd wanted to go back to the east coast, but Walter talked me out of that."

"Too dangerous," Mulder said. "Too many chances you'll run into someone who knows you."

"I know. I didn't want to go out to the West Coast. Just not my kind of place," I said.

Mulder added, "Too much UFO activity. Oregon especially. We don't want you to attract any notice on that front."

I didn't like to thing about the possibility that Mulder had mentioned once or twice, that I might be abducted again. That people abducted once tend to be taken again. So, I continued, "So, we agreed on the Midwest. Our top five choices are Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and Indianapolis. What do you think?"

"You didn't consider the Twin Cities?" he asked. "They're nice. I've been there on a case or three."

"Considered them and ruled them out in thirty seconds," I said. I pointed out the window at the flurries of snow blustering past as we drove. "It's even worse up there."

"So I take it Alaska is out of the question then? Anchorage and Fairbanks are surprisingly nice. Out of the way. Not many chances you'll run into someone you know."

I looked at him in a way that I hoped convinced him I thought he was crazy for even mentioning it. The Midwest was going to be bad enough.

"Okay, forget I mentioned it," he said. "What's your first choice?"

"Chicago," I said. I'd been couple of different times over the years, for work, as a tourist once. I loved the view from the Sears Tower. And an original Maxwell St. Polish sausage was the best, no doubt about it. One of the agents working out of the regional office there had taken me out to lunch at this little place that served the best Polish. Oh, yeah, it'd been really good. Thinking about it made me crave one now.

Mulder made a face though. "Chicago?"

"Yeah, Chicago. You got a problem with Chicago?"

"I had a really bad time there once. I ended up spending the weekend in five point restraints."

I dug through my memory, trying to see if I could come up with any X-file that I'd read through that was out of Chicago. The best I could come up with was one of the ones Mulder had recreated after that fire. "The bug thing in Oak Brook?" I asked.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Well, that's not Chicago. That's the suburbs. You'd almost expect scary monsters in a suburb like Oak Brook," I said, thinking of the tangle of roads and traffic that choked it. Worse than the DC area for traffic that was for sure. The road rage alone would produce some monsters.

"So you're talking about the city itself?"

"Yeah. Nice place. I like it."

"You really want to doom yourself to flying out of O'Hare for the rest of your life?"

"We'll always fly out of Midway," I promised.

"Okay. We'll look into Chicago," he promised me. We talked about more consequential inconsequentials for the rest of our way to Abbott's office. We started to shape our life together, one conversation, one shared dream at a time, just like any other couple would.

It was all fine and well to be brave about facing Abbott before hand, but lying on your back, bottom half naked and your legs spread, your bits hanging open in the breeze is another matter. I was suddenly bashful about him discovering that I was no longer in a virginal state. I nearly clamped my legs closed so that he couldn't look. It took all my manful willpower to keep them open and my feet on the stirrups. He didn't take the time to warm up the speculum like Dr. Brillopad had. If she would have had me as a patient, I'd have gone back to her in an instant. She'd come to a couple of my appointments, just to see how things were progressing and she was here today.

It wasn't as bad as I anticipated though. When he saw, he just lifted an eyebrow. He got a bigger speculum. I guess I didn't need the extra small now that I didn't have a hymen. Meanwhile, Dr. Brillopad turned on the warm water on the tap and then proceeded to grab the speculum right out of Abbott's hands.

"I think maybe I ought to stick something that's been in the fridge for a while right up your where the sun don't shine, Bob," she said. "How many times do I have to tell you it's just not nice not to warm it up first?"

Together they examined me and Abbott eventually pronounced that I looked good, the babies looked good and my weight gain looked good. Everyone had almost cheered when the scales had just tipped two hundred pounds today. Two hundred pounds and a couple of ounces. I was starting to feel a little more substantial again, not so weak and I guess the scales were agreeing. There'd been some disagreement as too how much weight was healthy for me to gain during the pregnancy, especially considering how much down I was from my healthy weight when I'd first been weighed. Forty pounds? Fifty? Abbott said he wasn't going to conclude it was too much gain until I hit two-forty. Then finally, the inevitable, that had been hanging over me like a booby trap, was mentioned.

"I'm going to recommend that you abstain from vaginal intercourse from now until I give you the clear after the babies are born," he said, clinically after I was sitting up on the table again. I'd been afraid he was going to smirk or something but he didn't. "It's a standard precaution with multiples and you're in your final trimester now. You don't want to do anything that might disturb the uterus. We want those babies as close to full term as possible. The prognosis would probably be good, should they go pre-term, but we want to keep everyone out of the hospital."

Damn. I'd just discovered the best sex of my life and now I was being warned off it. Women, I'd decided, definitely get the better end of the deal. The orgasm from a combination of penetration and exterior stimulation was far more intense than anything I'd gotten from being the penetrator.

But, if it was for the health of the babies, what was I going to do? I could wait a while, couldn't I? For their sakes, I'd do anything.

"Okay. Not a problem, Doc," I said. I couldn't believe I was about to ask this, but well, I wasn't going to wait until after the girls were born to get this matter in hand. And I was feeling a bit guilty about pressuring Mulder into getting snipped. "I want to ask you, about birth control. Once this pair is born, I don't want to ever have to use your professional services again. No personal offense."

True, the best thing I'd been able to come up with was asking Mulder to get a snip job. But he'd reacted badly, and maybe if I could come up with something nearly as effective, I wouldn't need Mulder to get snipped.

"None taken, I do understand," he said. Actually, he would probably be relieved to be well shut of his most difficult patient. "Of course, you understand, the only one hundred percent effective birth control is total abstinence. That means no semen from your partner anywhere near your genitals. Splash over pregnancies aren't common, but there have been documented cases of them."

Okay, that wasn't a good option. I liked giving Mulder head, I liked getting it. But I liked being fucked even more. We'd done it a couple times since my first, and it got better every time.

"I'm reluctant to even discuss hormonal birth control with you. You're so unique, as is the balance of your hormones. I'd fear to play with it in any way. We can discuss a copper T IUD, but your most effective option, if you truly don't wish for any more children is sterilization."

Mulder was there, holding my hands. "Don't worry, John. I'll take care of it."

Yes. He would take care of it. Of me. I could trust that much.

Mulder:

My first hint that one of my beloved dead was a poltergeist was in Chicago. I'd decided to stop by and check it out on my way back east to meet Yves and Jimmy, since both Walter and John seemed inclined to pick it. Walter, apparently, dreamed of living in "the big city" of Chicago when he was boy in rural Iowa. I guess DC was only a stop off point along the way for him.

In any case, I was in Chicago. I'd decided to check out the neighborhoods, not just the downtown and tourist areas, but the places where the locals actually lived. It was on North Ave, just east of Damen when it happened. I was confronted by the men in black. I wasn't paying sufficient attention. No, I was coming out of a Starbucks, enjoying the comforts of big city life again, deciding that maybe Chicago was still shitty, but that at least I'd like to be somewhere I could get a decent coffee again. I'd always said I'd wanted to settle in the country, but now that I was living there, I'd have to say that the fact remains that pig shit smells like pig shit. And simple country life just isn't what it's cracked up to be.

I was sipping foam off of my grande latte. It was a late Saturday afternoon and dark already when I felt the barrel of a gun in the small of my back. I don't know how I could have gotten so lax that someone would have been that close to me without me sensing it, but there it was, hard, cold even through my jacket. Unmistakable.

"Mr. Mulder, come quietly and these good people around you will never have to be traumatized by the sight of you being gunned down like a dog in front of them."

I stiffened. I was a dead man either way. And the guy was right. I didn't want innocent people around me harmed.

I didn't have time to make a decision though. Suddenly, the gun was no longer at my back. A harsh wind was howling in my ears. And the guy with the gun at my back was thrown up against the dumpster in the nearby alley. His black suited compatriots stared open mouthed as his trachea appeared to collapse on its own. I'd seen this before. The dead, protecting the living with a display of psychokinetic energy. I ran, knowing that I had to disappear quickly, wondering how they had tracked me down and if that meant that John's location was compromised at all.

I didn't dare call home and find out though. I ditched my car yet again, leaving it in long term parking at O'Hare when I'd parked it coming into the city. I was on foot, having picked up the El at O'Hare and taken it into the city. I'd been able to spend a few hour travelling around the city since I'd gotten into town and I'd noticed a bunch of used car dealers on Western Ave. I headed back that way on a roundabout route, mentally counting the cash in my pocket. It would be a bit of a pain, but I could pay cash for a decent car. I had another stash of cash that I could tap into not far away in a bank just outside of Memphis. I could make it there on the cash that would be left after I bought another car.

My roundabout route included jumping back on the El, taking it downtown. Walking across the loop. Catching another el. Getting out near Lincoln Park. Catching a cab that took me to the part of Western that I'd seen the car dealers on. Then walking up and down until I'd seen the right car.

I rolled out of town in an ex police cruiser, one of the last of the Chevy Caprices, bought from some guy who specialized in old police cruisers and wasn't at all surprised to see me pull out seven thousand dollars in cash. The decals had been taken off, but it was obvious that the vehicle used to be driven around by Chicago's finest, even though it was just a plain white Chevy. The car was bought under the assumed name on the driver's license I was currently using- David Reynard. The gunmen had shown me how to acquire false identification and it had proved to be a very valuable skill. And John had a touch with tracking fugitives that I'd just never had. His advice on how they were caught had been proving me good stead in avoiding notice. The guy I bought the car from didn't seem any more interested in asking questions about who I was and why I wanted this car than I was in providing him with answers. All in all, a satisfactory business arrangement. I planned to "borrow" someone's permanent plates on the way out of town, in place of the temporary plate I drove away with.

It wasn't until I was on my way out of town on I-57, that I stopped to breathe even. Somewhere along the lines, I acquired one of those cell phones where you pay by the minute from a Wal-Mart. Using a credit card made out to a third false name.

Back in the car, I waited until I was two hundred miles away from the city before calling my checkpoint.

I dialed. I won't go into the kinds of subterfuge we used to keep his line more or less secure, though I suspect the reason it remained so is that the powers that be had discounted this man as a possible player. They counted him as among those too damaged to resist. They underestimated the strength of those betrayed and seeking vengeance. And they underestimated the strength of my family's genes. Definitely we pass the genetic muster. Well, aside from that pesky trait of getting involved in global governmental conspiracies.

"Jeff?" I asked.

Our disagreements had been laid to rest and somehow, we'd ended up fighting on the same side. Genetics and adultery had conspired to make us half brothers. Fate had not seen fit to make us so in the emotional sense, but nevertheless, we had achieved a certain feeling of being comrades in arms. That was worth something. I forgave how he had sold me down the river regarding the X-files in that old life of mine that seemed so long ago. That anger seemed no more mine than the basement office and no. 42 in Alexandria were now. He was the only family I had left, aside from the new one I was forming now with John.

"Yes?" he asked. His voice was now rough, barely recognizable. He'd suffered more at the hands of our father than I had. He always had.

"I'm past the third stop off this trip," I told him. "Anyway you can inquire with the folks at home? I ran into an incident, made it out clean, but I need to know if there's any trouble at home."

"I'll be in touch with them," he told me. "Hear from you again after your fourth."

We didn't take long on our conversations ever. Partially because the shorter the conversations, the less the chance of discovery, partially because, despite what we had in common, we had little to say to each as of yet. When there's time, when there's peace, I promised myself. I will make up to him some of those things I said. I will learn to treat him like a brother and I will make us have something in common beyond our hatred for that cigarette smoking bastard, may he finally rot in hell for good this time.

I hadn't seen old smoky, though that wasn't conclusive proof that he wasn't dead. I had seen how completely the ruins had been destroyed. Nothing human could have survived that firestorm. Was the old man still human though?

The trip to Memphis itself was uneventful, even boring. How little you expect that some day you'll crave boring as much I did. the wheels turning on the road did my soul and peace of mind good. So much good that I wondered if I would be able to properly settle down with John, living with him, staying with him, like he seemed to expect. Being on the road had always seemed natural to me. One week investigating a case in Oregon, the next week Florida. Now, the road was my middle name, it seemed.

Once in Memphis, I checked into a cheap hotel. Once, I'd come to this part of the world to see one of nature's own places of power. A monument to a man, partially, but like many places in this country, it had its own power. As popular as Elvis Presley was, even I found it hard to explain the throngs of visitors that crowded this shrine. I had called it a spiritual journey when I announced my intention of going, intending that in jest, yet on my arrival, I could tell how true that was.

Now, though, was not the time for such an interpersonal connection with divine power. I was here to meet two potential allies.

As I sat in the appointed park on the east side of town, on an unseasonably warm fall evening, I reviewed what I knew about the pair I was going to meet with my three best friends in the next world. I barely needed the jean jacket I was wearing, but I kept it on because it was a good place to conceal my weapon. A warm wind stirred through the trees though, and was getting stronger as time passed. It smelled wet and held the promise of rain. Definitely the weather was shifting.

"Whatever you do, don't slip Gigantor sensitive information," Langly cautioned me. "He ain't exactly the brightest bulb on the string of Christmas lights."

"Jimmy has more intelligence than people credit him for, and he's got a heart more than big enough to make up for what he does lack," Byers said defensively. He always defended Jimmy. I had a theory about Byers, though it was too late to test it now. Even if I were available, and if I could touch the dead in that way, the dead seemed immune to such things. Their love became agape. Eternal. Platonic in all senses of the word. Pure. Even so, I suspected that Byers had worshiped at the same church as John and I, so to speak. He'd never dropped so much as a single hairpin, but yet his continual defense of Jimmy spoke of something that must have been love.

"Byers, as much as I hate to admit that hairboy is right, Jimmy is on the dim side," Frohike said. For all of his small stature, Frohike always had been the natural leader of the band. Even dead, he exuded a kind of confidence that I envied.

"And Yves?" I asked, wanting to turn the conversation away from Jimmy. The point of his intelligence, or lack thereof had been belabored enough already. "What about Yves?"

"As slick as an eel," Frohike said. Had he not been the most unlikely angel that had ever been a runaway from the choir invisible, I got the distinct feeling that he would have said she was hot, just like he used to describe Scully. "You definitely want her on your side."

At that moment, the pair in question strolled up to me. Yves, I could see in the orange light from the streetlights, was dark, elegant and slim. She looked more like a supermodel rather than someone running a one woman war against a massive terrorist organization. Jimmy, on the other hand, looked exactly as I remembered him.

But he saw them. He saw the three stooges. He managed to get out a, "Hi, guys!" before Yves clapped a hand over his mouth.

"Jimmy, no," she said. "Not here."

Whether she just didn't want him to make a further fool of himself in public, or whether she was truly spooked by the idea of him seeing men that were dead, I didn't know and I didn't care. Proof, finally, that I wasn't crazy, that I really do see dead people. Someone else saw them too.

"You see them, don't you Jimmy?" I said. "You see Byers, Frohike and Langly, don't you?"

"Yeah, I see them," he admitted. He was a big guy, and in the dim light, he looked ridiculously sheepish. And he obviously put a lot of stock in what the elegant woman thought because he looked at her first before saying what he said next. "Yves says I shouldn't tell people that I see them. That they'll think I'm crazy."

"You're not crazy, Jimmy. I see them."

"Only the guys keep trying to tell me something, but I can't hear them," Jimmy said.

"We've been telling him to find you," Byers said. "And help you."

"They've been telling you to find me, Jimmy," I said. "That you should help me."

"Can we conclude this meeting of ghostbusters anonymous?" Yves said. "It's not safe for us to remain in an unsecured outside location. And even the trees in parks have ears these days."

"I agree. We'll meet in private. I'm at the West Side Motor Lodge on Main," I said. I handed Yves a crumpled slip of paper- a note written on the stationary from the hotel I was really staying at. It looked like I was just shaking her hand, but her eyebrow raised as she felt me palm her the paper.

She palmed it smoothly, far more smoothly than I'd passed it to her, but then if I understood the guys correctly, Yves was a real pro. Espionage and terrorism were the family business. She'd probably been making sub rosa assignations since she was a teenager.

"I don't think so. This meeting has been nothing but a waste of my time," she said. Then she mouthed "half hour" silently, broadly enough I couldn't miss it. "Let's go, Jimmy. We've spent long enough humoring your crazy friend."

She stalked away, Jimmy at her heels calling out, "Yves? Yves!"

I waited for a few minutes, kicking at rocks, wishing that I had a basketball with me. I was right next to a court. It would have felt good even to just dribble the ball for a few minutes. You know, where ever John and I ended up, it would have to have a basketball hoop over the garage in the driveway. I couldn't imagine that John would protest that. I remembered that case I worked in Arcadia, not so long ago. The covenant and restrictions didn't allow people to even have a portable hoop out in the driveway. Yes, if we made it through this, we definitely wouldn't settle in a suburb where that sort of thing could happen.

After I judged sufficient time had passed that people wouldn't think I was leaving with the pair of them, I made my way back to the ex-cop car. It started raining, a surprisingly cold drenching rain that got me totally soaked even though it was just a minute or two I was out in it. I wove through the parking lot, back to the street. The hotel wasn't far away and I made it there first. Before Yves and Jimmy were set to arrive, I had time to change into dry clothes and spread my wet ones out to dry. I'd have to take time soon to run them all through a laundromat. I was running out of clean clothes again. For all that I needed this time on the road, it had it's disadvantages, including sitting in strange laundromats all the time.

While I waited, I thought about Jimmy seeing the guys. He must have had some special bond with them. Eyewitness account after eyewitness account existed, of people interacting with the dead. Usually it was the recently passed on. I was the only person I know though who interacted with the dead in such an intimate and in depth way with the dead. It was usually a struggle for them to get out a single, understandable message to the living. Me, I had conversations. Still, it was comforting to know that Jimmy was haunted as well.

There was a knock on the door. I looked through the peep hole. Jimmy.

I opened the door and he walked in, Yves following. She started looking around the room. I could tell what she was looking for.

"Room is clean," I said. "I checked it out when I checked in."

"Did you get the bible?" Jimmy asked. "The guys told me once about the bible in hotel rooms. There might be a bug in it."

"Taken care of," I said. Actually, for all of the Gunmen's talk about the Gideon Bible being the perfect place to conceal listening equipment, I'd only found a bug in one out of twenty hotel Bibles that I'd run across. Yes, I still checked out every one in every room I stayed in. Paranoia, thy name is Mulder. Hell, paranoid or not, I definitely knew they were out to get me. Still, no matter how broad the conspiracy was, they couldn't listen in every cheap motel room in every city across the country.

"So, Mr. Mulder," Yves said. "Jimmy leads me to understand some our enemies might be the same, making us possible allies. I believe the resources I have to offer are a good bit more significant now than the last time I was in contact with you X-files people. Speaking of which, how is Agent Doggett?"

"Officially speaking, he's dead," I said, cautiously, still not sure that I shouldn't play that card close to my chest. "His rental car was discovered after a catastrophic car fire, two bodies in it. What remained of Agent Doggett's and Agent Reyes' FBI shields and firearms were found in the car.

"Really now. That's too bad. I'd wished to apologize for my behavior after our mutual friends passed away. How's he doing, unofficially then?"

"Unofficially, he's hidden away somewhere in the upper Midwest. Yves, what I'm hoping you can do for me is some genetic testing. I have reason to believe that he's been made into some kind of hybrid," I said. I held up a small vial. Inside was a small amount of reddish brown substance. Even though the vial was sealed, it'd been weeks since I'd convinced John to let me prick his finger and take a small amount of blood. I probably could have gotten Georgie to do a blood draw for us, but I didn't want to tell her what I wanted it for. The amount that I got out of John's finger would have to do. It would. Death sentence convictions had depended on less.

"I'll do what I can," she said. "You're looking for the same kinds of things the Gunmen used to look for?"

"More or less. Anything anomalous," I said.

"I may be difficult to contact. My position is not as secure as it might be expected, after my father's death. On one hand, my main enemy is gone. On the other, my father had a lot of friends, who seem to assume that I did the deed."

I wondered, did she? I'd heard a number of conflicting things about Yves, but no doubt, she was a dangerous woman, though from other accounts, she'd pulled the Gunmen's bacon out of the fire more than once. Would she kill her own father though? Did I want to know? I know that while I could not hurt Bill Mulder, given half a chance, I'd plug Cancer Man so full of bullets that he looked like swiss cheese.

"These are difficult times all around I guess," I said.

Suddenly I was aware that the gunmen had been listening for a while. "You can say that again," Frohike said.

"We can't risk staying in Memphis much longer," Yves said. "You know how to get in touch with us?"

"Same way as before?"

"If the details change, I'll contact you. I assume you're still in touch with your friend from the Bureau? The big, bald, beautiful one?" she smiled as she said that. I suspected that I was not the only one who thought of Walter Skinner as a handsome man.

Yes, I'd once called Skinner a big, bald, beautiful man, right to his face. Admittedly, it was a situation that I was sure I wasn't going to walk out of alive. Word had gotten around. Walls talk or something. Regardless, I'll stand by that statement in court. The man was beautiful in ways that extended far beyond the broad shoulders and kind, intelligent eyes. I had John, I didn't want anyone else, but a guy could fall in love with a guy like Walter Skinner given half a chance. Sometimes I wondered, in some parallel universe somewhere, that drunken night when I kissed him, had Skinner opened his arms and heart to me instead of pushing me off?

I saw Yves and Jimmy out the door, promising to Jimmy that I would send his greetings to John. I turned to the Gunmen and looked at them in a way I hope they took as a question.

"How come you never called me a bald, beautiful man, Mulder?" Frohike asked.

"How do you know, Frohike? Maybe I just never said it to your face. Maybe I'm afraid of my love for you. Any way, you're not bald, you're just balding."

"Mulder, Yves is right," Byers said, ignoring my interchange with Frohike. He was always the one to get to the point, be forthright. "You shouldn't bother her unless you can't avoid it. She's having to swim like a shark right now. If she stops, she dies."

I remembered how once, someone had said something just like that to me. My first informant, Deep Throat. He'd traded his life for mine, one of the many sacrifices that had been made to my quest. I'd found the truth and look where it had got me. Alone in a cheap motel room in Memphis, with three ghosts who might or might not be candidates for a poltergeist, states away from my lover, who might be having our babies even now, or any time soon, and I wouldn't know. Twins went early all the time and I knew I was pushing my luck being gone this long. God I hoped I'd find some answers before long. I needed to get home.

Not back to Iowa. Home. Home was where ever my Jackie was.

It was in Portland, Oregon that they caught up with me. I'd been to the Oregon hinterlands again, looking for space craft, or any sign of alien activity. Anything that might give me some answers as to why John had been made pregnant. I was finding nothing. My trip had been successful in so far as I had made contact with two allies, but otherwise, I had found nothing, only added thousands of miles to my recently acquired car. I was preparing to turn around and go home, acknowledging that this trip had been mostly futile and I was returning home with empty hands this time.

The washer was just completing its spin cycle. I had decided that I couldn't wear my jeans again one more time before they would stand up on their own, so I'd found a run-down at the heels laundromat and started a load. I was feeling like hell, with a bad headache and a lonely, empty heart. The end of November was already yapping at my heels like one of those poofy little dogs. And I needed to be getting back to John, the babies could be coming any minute now. And I missed him the way a flat soda misses carbonation.

As I was transferring my wet clothes from the washer to one of the dryers, they walked into the laundromat. It was late night and otherwise I'd been alone in the dingy, yellow light. The three of them were obviously military men, even though they were in civies. But their bearing gave them away. I could read only one thing in the way that the younger two of the three looked to the older one for every move.

As for the older man, he seemed very familiar somehow. No, not that I'd ever met him before. I knew someone related to this man, knew that someone intimately. There were some differences, of course, but the family resemblance was almost uncanny. I could almost imagine John looking something like this when he grew older. The brow furrow must have been genetic. This man's eyes were a blazing blue. His hair was white and probably with time, John's would turn that same white. Here and there I was already seeing strands of gray in with his brown.

Dressed only in a t-shirt and sweats, I'd taken off my main gun earlier and it was hidden out of sight under my jacket, but there was no way I could reach it in time. I had a beretta strapped to my ankle, concealed under my sweats, but I was uncertain if I could even reach that before I would be fired upon.

You know, I think cadence and general sound of voices must be genetic as well. When the older man spoke, it was, again, uncannily like John, for all that he was lacking the over-veneer of a New York accent that John had picked up during his time there.

"You're a difficult man to find, Mr. Mulder," he said. Then he turned to his two soldiers and said, "Go. Wait outside. Mr. Mulder and myself will be having a conversation. Just that. Only a conversation. I believe I can trust him to keep his hands off his weapons if I promise to do the same."

The pair of them seemed inclined to protest, but eventually, like all good soldiers, or in this case, I would guess, good Marines, they did as they were ordered. Leaving me alone in the laundromat with the man who could only be John's great uncle, Col. Phillip James Doggett, USMC.

"You don't mind if I finish this while we have our chat do you?" I asked, trying to conceal any trace of sneer or anger from my voice. I wanted to walk out of this laundromat alive, perhaps even richer in information. This could be exactly what I'd gone looking for. Of course, it could also be the death of me. "I want to get it done and back on the road tonight. I hope that fits in with whatever your plans for me are."

"Like I said, Mr. Mulder. I am here to have a conversation with you. Nothing more," he said.

"So talk," I said, as I shoved the last of the clothes into the dryer and then loaded it with quarters. "You want this conversation. I don't possibly know what I know that you don't."

"How is he, Mr. Mulder?" Col. Doggett asked. He sounded desperate. Lonely. From what I gleaned from John, Col. Doggett was no longer married, and his brother's children were the closest relatives he had, no children of his own to carry on his line.

"How is who?" I played ignorant for the moment. This might suddenly turn out to be a very high tight rope I'd be walking on. Everything might drop away from me in mere seconds, leaving me and my lover, in mortal danger. I couldn't let it be known that I even knew John was alive.

"My nephew, Jack, Mr. Mulder. How is he?" This was not the Col. speaking suddenly, I thought. This was the uncle. The family patriarch worried for one of the family.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said. "And I'm not Mr. Mulder."

I had a driver's license in my pocket to prove it.

Actually, stashed in various places, I had about ten different driver's licenses from different states. All with different names, none of which were Mulder.

He drew himself up to full height. This was not a guy used to being disobeyed, either in his professional, nor apparently, his familial role. Ten to one he was the big brother of his family.

"Whatever you're calling yourself these days, Mr. Mulder, don't take me for a fool. You know where my nephew is and the least you can do is tell me how he and the babies are doing. Have they been born yet?"

So, he knew about John's pregnancy. Yet another piece of evidence for the case that he had something to do with his nephew's abduction and consequential transformation into something never before seen by modern science- a true intersex being capable of giving birth, while still being a man.

I didn't answer any further. I just leaned back against the dryer, feeling its welcome heat on my back. A few coins had escaped my search of pockets and I could hear them ping around the sides of the dryer drum.

"Do you really think that you made it out of the hold of that craft on your own power?" he demanded. "You just waltzed right out of there with the most successful subject of a project that even the givers of the technology which we accomplished it with weren't even certain it could be done? And you encountered only token resistance to your escape?"

He was right, of course. I'd never talked about this with John, but the mystery of how I'd been able to rescue him at all, much less without either of us getting hurt was one that had never been resolved to my satisfaction. Part of it I thought was due to their reluctance in injure a successful test patient. But they had ways of separating people and I hadn't been harmed either. Ergo, someone or something had wanted John out of there, and I had been a convenient way to get it done.

"My squad and I got the pair of you out of there. Don't you forget that," he said. His face, which had been a stone-faced mask, had crumpled for half a moment. A tear escaped. I realized I was getting a sudden, rare glance into the real face of Col. Doggett. "I just need to know that he's safe, that he's alive and well."

I was flummoxed. Was he the one that had done this thing to his nephew? Or was he the one who had helped his nephew escape alien captivity? Or both. His concern for John was obvious. No, his love for his nephew.

"He's safe. He's surrounded by people who care for him deeply, who love him and would do anything to protect him and his babies," I said, thinking of Skinner and Georgie. "Any more than that, we trade information. Project Zodiac. Tell me everything you know."

"I can't. Don't be a fool. You know I can't do that."

"Then at least tell me how you knew that your nephew was in a position where he had to be rescued." I demanded. "And how you know about what was done to him."

Col. Doggett drew in a deep breath and looked like he was preparing to spill his guts. Yeah, I knew the look of a guy about to break down and give a confession. It was this look.

"It was like it was before. They wanted a....a sacrifice, a hostage from each of us. A family member. A spouse. My closest family is my brother's family. I knew what was going on, I thought. I thought they were going to make him into a supersoldier. Invincible. All but unkillable. Our lineage, living on forever, nearly immortal. I knew that none of my nieces would be strong enough for the process. So, the choice of John seemed obvious. I know he wouldn't say no if he were asked. You can imagine my shock when I found out the true purpose of the experiments. They were making more supersoldiers, true. But not out of the subjects. Your son William was merely meant for a prototype. This was to be production. Using as many humans as possible, for the fastest possible production of the soldiers. That meant using men too, apparently. Though, part of me wondered if they were doing it just to see if it could be done."

"Is John safe? Do they know his whereabouts?" I asked. "Are they still looking for him."

"No, Mr. Mulder. The scientists who led that project are gone. Dead," he said. I somehow thought he had something to do with that. I wondered, how had he gone renegade though, without losing his life, much less his position in the Marines.

"They had deemed the project a failure, Mr. Mulder. The only man who failed to die during the initial process or sometime before the first trimester was over was my nephew. They had one successful test case, but they were unable to replicate their success. They were just about to commence cleaning the project up. Killing my nephew. And his unborn children. I had to do something."

"So you or someone working for you contacted me?" I asked. The information that had led me to the UFO had come from an anonymous source who had contacted me indirectly at first. We only ever talked through phone calls and honestly, I'd been a lucky fool to take that information at face value. it could easily have been a trap and cost me my life. But this was in the early days not long after Scully's death. I might miss her and grieve her still, but words can hardly express the kind of suicidal loneliness that I was facing then. The chance of retrieving even one of my former friends had seemed worth any risk. I'd been lucky. My risk had played out well. I'd gotten John out, getting myself a lover and family in the process.

"And saw to it that his memory was wiped of the last year. You don't know the kinds of things they put those men through, Mr. Mulder. He needed to forget. If nothing else, he needed to forget the miscarriages. It took four tries for the pregnancy to take."

Well, that explained one mystery. They didn't keep John knocked out for those months. He just doesn't remember them in the same way that I don't remember a number of things either. John had never shown any inclination to go digging through his mind for those lost memories though, unlike myself. I had tried hypnosis, anything to get them back. Suddenly, for the first time perhaps, I found myself not wanting to dig further into a mystery. Unless John himself wanted to reclaim those memories, I didn't want to dig for them. If a man like Col. Doggett who had willingly submitted his own nephew to testing and experimentation by aliens, to being turned into one of those creatures, thought that what he had been through was a horrific experience, then maybe John was better off not knowing. Four tries? Three miscarriages? I wondered if what had happened to John while in their labs wasn't worse than an actual rape would have been.

I wondered if on some level if John remembered that? If those losses informed his fears on an unconscious level. I was full of fury for John suddenly, looking at his uncle who looked so much like him. "You son of a bitch!" I hissed. Only cognizance of his two goons waiting for him outside stopped me from throwing him against the bank of dryers. "Sure you got him out of that alien ship. Hooray for you! You put him in there in the first place, you bastard! You delivered him into their hands and I'm supposed to congratulate you that you rescued him? You were willing to sacrifice him. Did it ever even occur to you that maybe he wouldn't have wanted to be a supersoldier any more than he would have chosen what did happen to him?"

John has said on more than one occasion that he is not a violent man, and I believe him. I, on the other hand, know my own capacity for violence all too well. It's an inherent response for me. Yes, I am a violent man. It's a dangerous drug, an intoxicating pull to me. I try and balance it with tenderness to the ones I love and to those weaker than myself.

At this moment, John's uncle must have seen and understood what I was capable of, some threat in my eyes, some anger that flared beyond my control. I saw fear in his eyes. I didn't touch him though, just stared at him.

"Mr. Mulder, you of all people know what we are up against here," he said. He'd stepped a good two steps back from me. I knew I could have backed him up against the dryers, just by stepping closer to him, but I chose not to. He continued after swallowing. "You know that the only chance we have against these....entities is soldiers of our own, that answer only to us. I was told, we were told, that this would be subversion from within. That we would get the technology and be able to turn it against them. All I saw was co-option. I have learned that the master's tools cannot be used to pull down the master's house."

I prepared to walk right out of that laundromat, grabbing only my jacket and gun. The clothes could be replaced. I was sickened, and not just by my own urge to rip this guy's head off and stuff it down his neck. He had done the very thing that my parents' had done to Samantha. John hadn't died, but he had been transformed to a state hardly within the realms of possibility. And apparently three embryos had died to get a pregnancy that stuck. Three babies, maybe even six if it were natural for John to get pregnant with twins.

"Can you honestly say that you're any better?" I asked. "You turned him over to them knowing they were going to change him beyond recognition, even if you didn't know it would be exactly the way it turned out. You are culpable, every bit as much as the scientists that performed the experiments and the superiors that ordered you to chose one of your family members."

He shook his head slowly. It was hanging in shame. He looked at his hands, as if expecting to see blood there, staining them and was surprised not to see it. He turned his hands over and over again, holding his fingers splayed wide. "I am far more aware of that than you can comprehend, Mr. Mulder. I have made a grave error and I have attempted to atone for it as much as I can without losing my position. From here, I can help you fight the future, Mr. Mulder."

I picked up my jacket and grabbed my gun. Stalking to the entrance of the laundromat, I said, "Then get in contact after they're born. And do something constructive between now and then, as a proof of your bona fides."

"Mr. Mulder, how do I get in contact with you?" he asked.

"You tracked me down to a small laundromat in Portland, Oregon. You figure it out."

I got in my car, leaving behind most everything but the clothes on my back. He could be telling the truth. Or I could be leading him back to John, setting up a trap. Either way, I was heading back to Iowa, where John waited, planning to drive straight through as much as humanly possible. I'd been gone long enough. Assuming I could trust his uncle, I had my information.

And if I couldn't, well, that wouldn't stop the babies from coming. And my place was right there by John's side when they arrived.

Doggett:

At least this time, Fox sent some proof that he was still alive and kicking. First was the cryptic phone call from a man I was morally certain was Jeff Spender, basically asking if we were okay. Was Spender jr. Fox's checkpoint?

Then there were the postcards. One from the city. Not of the skyline. Not of the Sears tower. No. It was of Wrigley Field. It said, "Did you know that there's a special rule about what happens when a baseball gets stuck in the ivy because of this place? Finally, a hometown team with a record slightly better than my old team," it said. And it was signed, "Mrs. Skinner."

Both Walter and Georgie were confused but I snorted at that and said, "Private joke."

I guess that was his way of saying that maybe Chicago wasn't so bad, if he was willing to consider the Cubs as his hometown team. The old team he had to be referring to would be the Boston Red Sox, a team which supposedly was cursed and hadn't won the pennant since 1911 or something like that.

I wished dearly I could write back to him. I missed him. Besides, I figure, I had to let him know that I was probably a White Sox kind of guy. At least the town had only one football team and basketball team so we wouldn't have to disagree about that.

Then there was a postcard from Graceland. I guess he'd stopped in Memphis for a while. It said, "Elvis never liked being referred to as "The King" because he said that there is only one King and that's Jesus. Mrs. Skinner. P.S. 007 says hi."

The postmark on that one was from Georgia, not Tennessee. I wondered whether he'd met Jimmy and Yves in Memphis or elsewhere. And what the hell he was doing in Georgia again. If he did too much poking around, he was going to get caught. I wasn't ready to face my family, even if they were safe, until after Garnet and Gracie were born.

Weeks passed. He was gone longer this time than he was the time before. October passed. So did most of November. I was starting to wonder if he was ever going to come back. Just as I'd start to curse him for making me so anxious, the next postcard would come. Always signed Mrs. Skinner, so I couldn't get too angry with him.

I was beginning to fear he wouldn't be home in time for Thanksgiving. We'd had our first couple of inches of snow by then, at least that stuck around for more than a day. We'd had a few dustings before that melted as soon as they fell. Winter was starting to settle in for good though. Preliminary weather reports were saying they thought this would be a warmer than average winter, but that a lot of snow would fall, so they thought.

More snow was falling on the Wednesday night before thanksgiving. I was in the living room, curled up in my recliner. The TV was on, but I wasn't watching it. I had the lights dim and the sound low. Georgie and Walter had both gone to bed, which left me the problem of getting up out of the chair and up to bed on my own. Trust me, that was starting to get to be problematic. A real struggle. I might end up sleeping in the recliner tonight. It would be easier. I could call out to either Georgie or Walter, and they'd get up and help me to bed. But I wouldn't. They deserved their rest.

No, I wasn't watching the TV. I was watching out the window, hoping against hope that Mulder would make it home for Thanksgiving. Stupid hope. The last postcard he'd sent was from Oregon and it arrived about a week and a half ago.

This was a familiar vigil. Probably, he wouldn't come tonight. He hadn't any other night I'd kept it. I watched the snow fall. I huddled under the crocheted afghan. The room was pretty cozy. Before he'd gone up, Walter had stoked the big wood-burning stove so it would be hours before it burned down to ashes. I spent a lot of time in the living room these days, because when the stove was going, it was the only warm room in the house. Plus, it was like, well, it sounds stupid to say it, but it was like my nest. We were planning on me having the babies in this room. It made the most sense. It was the warmest room. And when I'd broached the subject of a water birth to Walter, explaining about the pool. He'd just nodded his head and said, "Well, how about putting it in the living room instead of your room? I can easily get to the joists under the living room, to check out if they can support that much weight." So, the living room it was going to be. We'd used Dr. Abbott as an intermediary to rent the birth pool and it was currently packed up in the corner of the living room, waiting to be filled when I went into labor.

Occasionally, I flicked through the channels with the remote, as if keeping up the pretense of watching TV. I thought about the nightmares I'd been having lately, all about giving birth. Sometimes, I gave birth to two beautiful, pink, human babies, and then minutes later, to a wrinkled, hideous gray alien baby that proceeded to kill my human babies, one after the other, right before my eyes. Sometimes, I had nightmares about hemorrhaging and dying after I gave birth, my life gushing away in a shower of red. Sometimes the dream was just that I gave birth to a dead baby. Always though, about once every couple of days, I had a nightmare about giving birth. The nightmares were as bad as the ones that I experienced around the time I was working on the case with the axe murdering cult leader. You tell yourself that it's just the brain processing, that they're just pictures. But that doesn't matter when you're waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. There's no kind of lonely and scared like waking up in the middle of the night, in a bed by yourself, still half thinking that you'd just killed a baby.

I remembered Mulder telling me about this tribe in the Asian rainforest, that their whole culture was centered around dreams. Having them. Sharing them with each other. Talking about them. Supposedly no adults ever have nightmares. They teach the kids that when a scary monster invades your dreams, you have to confront it. You have to beat it back, physically if necessary. And once you've beaten the scary monster, you could demand a gift from it, a song or a poem, that sort of thing. It's a nice idea, but sometimes the things scariest in life can't be isolated and destroyed. There were no easy answers to most of my nightmares.

In his absence, I grew to understand just how much I'd gotten to love and depend on Mulder. I won't say anything sappy or goopy like I felt like half of me was missing without him, or that he completed me. But when he was gone, there was a kind of emptiness I felt and when I thought of him out there in the world, my stomach kind of clenched. Despite the fact that we hadn't heard anything from Mulder's checkpoint, and that in this case, no news was good news, I worried about him. He should have sent more postcards. Or better yet, he should haul his ass back here. It was cold. I was always cold. They'd gotten me an electric blanket for my bed. And a down comforter. Despite that, there was still something that just wasn't warm about the bed with Mulder gone.

I needed Mulder to be here, to be my chaser away of nightmares. I wasn't sleeping well without him again. I got plenty, but it was broken, the nightmares, or the babies dancing on my bladder or just general discomfort waking me up multiple times in a night. The kids had discovered a new place to kick just recently. I've got a long torso, so I'd carried the girls pretty well, but recently, they'd gotten big enough they could reach my ribs when they kicked. It didn't hurt. Much. Abbott said that I was about thirty-six weeks and that I could go anytime now, though he was hoping for at least one more week. And thank God that this was nearly over. I wasn't ready to give birth, but I sure was ready to be not pregnant, more than I could express. I was starting to be afraid that Mulder wouldn't be home in time for them to be born and I needed him for that. I wasn't sure I could do this, much less do it without him.

I had a very real fear that something would go wrong, terribly wrong. We had plans to transfer me to a hospital in Omaha if something went wrong and I needed a c-section or whatever. It'd been agreed that my life or my babies lives were worth the necessary revelations that a medical transfer would bring about, even if saving their lives this way put us in further danger, that we might be putting ourselves into enemy hands this way. Perhaps it was this fear that fueled my nightmares. Every time I had seen Abbott over the past month, he'd assured me that I was quite astonishingly healthy under the circumstances and that I had every hope of a normal, natural delivery.

Somewhere during my long night of cataloging all my worries, I fell asleep, drifted right off even as I was calculating the effort of getting out of the chair and putting more wood on the fire versus the payoff of a warmer room.

My dream was unusual in that I realized I was dreaming. Lucid dreaming was something that rarely, if ever happened to me. I was in a room something like the living room only bigger, emptier, colder, giving birth alone. The pangs and pain tore through me like nothing else I had ever experienced, like my insides were being torn from me. It was my most frequent nightmare these days. The room was cold, like it was refrigerated as cold as a meat locker and it stank of death. Nearby was the decomposing body of the child I'd already lost, Luke. There was nothing for me to give birth on but the floor, and that floor was bare, hard concrete. First one, then the other baby was torn from my body with a agonizing, short labor. Then the third baby. The alien. Small, gray, wrinkled. Vicious already at just minutes old. After I laid it on the concrete far from my other babies, it pulled itself up on its hands and knees and started to crawl towards them, growling, slavering in malevolent intent. I laid nearby, exhausted, watching in terror. I suddenly knew what I had to do. I had to confront this monster, destroy it. I forced myself up. If I didn't stop it, it would kill my babies. I nearly screamed as I bent over, but I managed to pick up that alien baby. When I held it in my arms, it suddenly wasn't so terrorizing. It was a baby, a mewling, scared baby, and I couldn't hurt it, alien or not. "Hey," I told it, stroking it gently. "Don't cry. It's okay. Shhh."

At that moment, in my dream, I loved the alien baby as much as I loved my own, two perfect girls. I'd given birth to all three of them. It fell asleep in my arms and I suddenly knew that I had conquered my demon with far more finality than if I'd beaten it, or thrown it to the floor to bash its head in. And I didn't need to ask this demon for a gift. I was receiving its gift right now- this moment of sweet, peaceful calm. The nightmare had been stripped of its power, and suddenly, I was not afraid of giving birth.

When I woke, the room was flooded with the bright light of the day after the snowstorm. The sky was flawless blue and we were going to be having a decidedly white Thanksgiving. The sunlight reflected light off the snow, making the north facing living room brighter than it had ever been before. Someone had thrown the curtains completely open, stoked the fire high and thrown another blanket over me. I had no choice about getting up. One of the girls was dancing a tango on my bladder and the need to empty it was urgent.

I groaned and threw my blankets off. The house smelled wonderful. Besides the sharp fragrance of wood smoke, cinnamon and sweet smells drifted from the kitchen, definite signs of baking going on. It was Thanksgiving, though I was finding it hard to feel happy about that with Mulder still gone. Outside, I heard laughing and shouting. As I released the lever to put down the footrest, I looked out the window and saw Georgie throwing a snowball. I hauled myself up to the bathroom and took care of business.

When I went downstairs again, I headed to the kitchen, intending to get just a little snack to hold me until later. Walter was in the kitchen, checking on the pies in the oven.

"Morning, Jackie," he said, shutting the door carefully on the pies. "Almost done. Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah. I had a dream. A good dream. About giving birth. I..." I said. I tried to remember more but the dream had mostly faded by this point. "I...I can't remember. But I don't know. I feel ready."

He looked me up and down, his warm, brown gaze lingering when his eyes met mine. Then he turned back to the stove, as if embarrassed by his close scrutiny of me. A couple of finished pumpkin pies sat on top of the stove already, in addition to the ones in the oven. I wondered how much pie they thought three people could eat in the course of one holiday. There wasn't going to be anyone else but us here. Walter cut a couple of slices and handed me one without asking. He sat at the table with the other slice.

"Georgie won't mind if you have a slice or two," he said. "Just don't tell her I'm spoiling my appetite too."

When I sat down with him, I discovered that Walter Skinner eats pie from the crust to the tip, and today was no exception. I was also starting to get the feeling like he really did think of me like a kind of brother, that there was that kind of protective affection there between us as well as the harmless conspiracy of younger siblings against the eldest. After several minutes of silent pie eating, he spoke again.

"I think you are ready," he said. "You've got the look of a man who has looked at the dark things inside of himself. You have seen the places that scare you. And you are no longer afraid of them. You're a brave man, Jack, and I'm proud to call you family."

If he didn't hold himself so stiffly, I might have hugged him just then. He was a self-contained man, not given to many shows of typical affection. I understood that this stone-faced exterior concealed a deep, passionate nature though. It was evident in all the things that he did. He wouldn't say the words. Giving me a hug was probably beyond his powers of expression. But he'd opened up his house to me, hell, as much as given me one third of it. He'd given me a dead brother's identity. He'd made two cradles that were works of art, same for the rocking chair. And he'd done so much more for me. His words, as sparse praise as they were, were as treasured by me as any fevered declarations. I knew what he meant. I brushed away a couple of tears that escaped without my permission. They were odd tears, not sad at all, but proud ones, like they were an overwhelming love that couldn't be expressed any other way.

"Thanks, Walter. I'll do my best to do the Skinner family name proud," I said. "You ready to be an uncle?"

"It's something I've always wanted and never hoped for."

"Lucky I got knocked up then, right?" I said. Strange how a few seconds ago I was crying, now I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. It was a strange kind of happy I was experiencing. "Hey, you don't suppose Georgie would mind if I had some ice cream with my pie, would she? You want some?"

"No. She and Fox will probably come inside in a few minutes anyway. Best dispose of the evidence first," he said.

"Hold on! What did you say? Fox is here? Why didn't you tell me before?"

I didn't wait for his answer. I started to struggle to my feet. Walter had to help me up. I all but ran for the back door. I guess I had continued to hear the raucous noises of a snowball fight continuing. I should have wondered who Georgie was fighting once I'd found Walter in the kitchen. I made it out to the porch. They both decided to drop current hostilities between them and turn on me. I was plastered by wet, soft snowballs from two different sides.

Who'd have thought that Georgie had such good aim? Or that she had the stamina to keep going so long. After nailing me with his snowball, Fox came running up to the porch. He wrapped me in his sweet arms and kissed me. Oh, yeah. I'd missed that. I wasn't even angry in the slightest that he'd nailed me, that cold, wet ice was dripping down my face and I was shivering. Or that he'd been out in the yard playing when I woke up and hadn't gotten me up as soon as he'd arrived. All that mattered was his sweet lips, his arms tight around me, the mere fact that he was here again, a real, physical, solid Fox, alive and well. Well, almost all that mattered.

I took advantage of his distraction. I scooped up a handful of snow from the porch railing and used his inattention to shove it down the collar of his jacket. I expected him to get mad or something. But no. He squeeked, a repressed sound, as if he had been going to scream like a girl but stopped himself. And then he shook the snow out of his shirt as best he could, and went back to kissing me thoroughly. Oh, yes, it was good to have him back. So good that I couldn't find words, only a catch in my throat every time I attempted to speak.

Thanksgiving was just exactly like you'd expect it to be. All the usual food was present, including at my insistence, cornbread dressing. As we sat down, Georgie said, "I know I'm sitting down with two non-believers, but I'm going to say a prayer. It is Thanksgiving, after all."

I bowed my head slightly and kept silent. I know I've been disdainful of other people's piety before, but this wasn't the time. I still think religion is a bunch of stories that people tell themselves to make them feel better, but I respected Georgie.

"Thank you, Lord God," she began. "For Thy bounty and the gifts on this table. As well as for bringing us together in the blessings of family. For bringing my brother to sit at my table for Thanksgiving for the first time in twenty years, and for two new-found brothers to join us. And thank you for the miracle of the two children soon to join us. You bless us so profoundly, we can hardly fathom the depth of Thy grace and love. Amen."

There were three Amens echoing hers.

As a nod to Walter and Georgie's Russian mother, there was borscht for a first course, which I took a few polite sips of then pushed away. Georgie laughed a little, kind of sadly though. Then she said, "Jasper never liked beets either. Though admittedly, Walter's borscht is a lot better than Mama's ever was. She was a terrible cook."

"It wasn't that bad, Georgie," Walter protested. This was a long standing argument. Walter remembered his mother's cooking a lot more fondly than Georgie did.

We weren't a picture postcard kind of family, but still, the holiday held all the normal trappings for us, except that it was Walter and Fox who ended up washing dishes in the kitchen after we ate ourselves into stupidity, while Georgie and I watched the game. Walter had no patience for televisied sports, preferring to do, rather than watch. I suspect also that he and Mulder were talking about how Mulder's trip to the outside world went. I didn't worry. There would be time to talk about that with Mulder later.

Sometime just before the first half was over, the clanking in the kitchen stopped. I heard the back door open and close. Probably Walter heading out to the workshop. Mulder came out of the kitchen, rolling his sleeves down. He looked about dead on his feet.

"I pretty much drove straight through from Oregon, as quick as I could," he explained. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I think at this moment sleep is more important than football. I'm going up to bed."

I held out my hands, hoping he'd get the clue that I wanted his help getting up. I hated to ask people, even when I needed the help. Too damn proud I guessed. He took my hint and grabbed my hands. Together, we levered my big, fat, pregnant body out of my recliner. As I gained my feet, I wondered how many more weeks of this I would have to endure. The doc kept saying, "any time soon," but for some reason, the girls didn't seem inclined to shift. I was so ready to be not pregnant.

"I'm just going to go sleep, Jackie," Fox said. I definitely believed him on that count. He had that glazed over kind of look. He'd shaved off his stubble before dinner and showered as well, having desperately needed it after all that time on the road. Despite that, he still looked disheveled somehow, and he had dark rings under his eyes.

"I need a nap too," I said, thinking of my short night of sleep that I'd spent in the recliner. It hadn't been very restful, what with all the dreaming I had done. I was really looking forward to my life settling down to something approaching normality, so that I'd stop dreaming. I always felt cheated when I dreamed, robbed of that blissful oblivion. Dreams, even good ones, perturbed me. They were something I couldn't control, something not quantifiable or provable.

Soon, we were upstairs in our room together. Fox was helping me into bed, letting me use him as support as I lowered myself to the mattress. I wanted us to get undressed, not out of hope for sex, but just to feel his bare skin against mine. It was too cold to get undressed in the bare air. I swear, even with the storm windows up, I could see frost starting to form on the inside of the window.

Once I was buried under the covers, on my side, knee propped up with pillows, Fox burrowed under them as well, still fully dressed. He snuggled himself up against my back. I marveled again at just how perfect he felt there.

I couldn't see, but I could feel him bury his face into my back. And he hugged me tighter and tighter with each minute, as if I might slip away, as if afraid he might lose me. He shuddered and I wondered if he was crying.

"Fox, you okay?" I asked. "What did you find out there?"

"Later. I'll tell you later," he said. "Sleep now."

His hand snaked under my neck and wrapped around me. I reached for that hand and held it. Eventually, his shudders stopped, and we were drifting off together.

Sure enough, we talked later. We made love as cautiously as our enthusiasm would allow, not intercourse, but it was sweet to hold Mulder and bring him off with my hands, to make him shudder and moan. To know that I was the one doing that to him. To have him do the same to me. Then, afterwards, both of us satisfied, he held me his bare skin hot against mine. We talked in the quiet stillness of the winter night, in our warm nest of blankets.

"I talked to your uncle," he said, his voice coming from behind me as he held me in a spoon. His voice was soft, tentative, as if he wasn't sure it was a good idea to bring this up.

"What? My Uncle Phil? I thought you said he was neck deep in this conspiracy." My voice rose. I was concerned. No, alarmed almost.

"He is. He sought me out. I didn't seek him out. Your uncle claims you aren't in danger, that the project that did this to you was shut down and that all of the scientists are dead."

"But you don't know if you believe that either," I said. Ever since hearing that Uncle Phil was part of some project to make more supersoldiers, I hadn't known what to think about him, about my family. I thought I'd known them all. That I could always count on them to back me up, to be my safety net. That's what family was supposed to be like. Not that crazy web of dysfunction that I'd heard about from Fox, that his own family was.

Every family had its own secrets, of course, things that just weren't talked about. But I'd always trusted that my families secrets were of the mild type- you know- that cousin Alice wasn't so much an invalid as an alcoholic, that Great-Great Aunt Esme didn't really die in that big flu epidemic, but ran away to the city, leaving her husband and children behind. The usual closets in the skeleton, not this frightening betrayal of all I'd been raised to believe about America, truth and justice.

What Fox said next was more wounding than I thought it could be. I didn't want to believe it.

"Your uncle admitted to me that he set you up to be abducted. That they wanted a hostage and subject for experimentation from each of them, and that he chose you. Just like my parents had to chose between their children."

"No," I whispered through a tight voice that hardly seemed mine to control. I believed Fox though. I didn't want to, but I did.

"He claimed he didn't know exactly what kind of experiments they were going to use you for. He claimed he thought they were going to make you into a supersoldier and that you wouldn't have said now, if you'd been asked. That you would do anything to serve your country."

I thought about that. You know, once upon a time ago, he would have been right about that much. I would have done anything for my country. But since the X-files, I had seen too much. I had seen things, that if I can quote Scully, that I couldn't explain. Phenomena that lacked a rational explanation. And I had seen exactly how corrupt this whole conspiracy made even the best of human institutions. Not that the FBI had ever been perfect, but it had once had ideals that I could support, that I could stand for. But this conspiracy had rotted it to the core. And I suspected that anything to do with the government was tainted with it as well. So, no, now, I could not, would not do anything for my country without asking and thinking about it. I guess Uncle Phil hadn't known me since that change came to me.

"Once he would have been right," I said. "Not any more, but once, I would have done anything for my country. I was a Marine, Fox. I believed in my country and my government the way people believe in God. Not any more though."

"It doesn't make it right though. Or forgivable. How dare he?"

I decided I was going to shelve any thoughts I had about Uncle Phil betraying me until later. I had enough on my table to deal with now. And anyway, regardless of the way it happened, the result was something that was looking like it would be the best thing that ever happened to me.

"Okay, so it's his fault. So what. One thing I learned as a cop is that the people most likely to do bad shit to each other are family and other people they know. What else did he tell you? Did he give you any good information otherwise?"

"He said he couldn't give me information about the Zodiac project, but I think I can break him down. Jackie, he thinks he's working against the Conspiracy from the inside. That they can gain Supersoldiers that will fight against the aliens. He seems to think of himself as some kind of hero. I don't think he's any better than the rest."

I could hear the bitterness in his voice, but the words themselves were sweet to me. I understood. That was the Uncle Phil I knew. A tough Marine, willing to make any sacrifice, fighting for his country. That his sacrifice was me wasn't so important anymore. But swear to a God I didn't believe in, if the man tried to touch my babies, I'd kill him myself.

"Fox, once Garnet and Gracie are born, I want to see my uncle again," I said. I wanted to hear straight from the source. I wanted to listen to him and know if I could forgive him for doing this to me. "I don't want the girls to see him. I don't want them at risk. But I want to see him."

"I don't think that's an acceptable risk, Jackie," Fox said.

"Fuck acceptable," I said. "I want to see him. I need to talk to him."

"We'll talk about this later," Fox said.

We talked about other things, inconsequential things, until we fell asleep again. I had a feeling that Fox had far more information than he was giving out, but it would wait.

Mulder:

We never did settle whether John would meet with his uncle after the babies were born. Any time I tried to bring up the topic of his relatives, John just said that he didn't want to think about it now, that we'd talk about it after the babies were born, but that for right now, he had more than enough on his mind, thank you very much. Willful denial had always been one of his strong points. After a couple of arguments I decided that my unstoppable force had nothing on his immovable object and called it quits for the moment.

The Monday after I came home, I had to leave the house again, thought I sought John out and made sure he knew it was just for part of the day, and that I would be back later. He was in the living room, doing some of the moves from the pregnancy yoga video I'd gotten him, though I guessed by this point that he knew the darn video so well he didn't need the video itself. In fact, he hated the video and I'd more than once heard him muttering about the "dumbass new-age crap music" on it. At this moment he was in a deep squat, legs spread wide, feet flat on the floor, elbows resting on his knees, back straight. It was an easy enough pose, I knew from having done it. At least for the first thirty seconds. John held it for several minutes, perfectly still, eyes closed.

When he opened them and stood up, I said, "Hey, I gotta go to a doctor's appointment with a guy that Abbott recommended. The place is in Des Moines, so it'll take a while to get there."

I wasn't prepared for the look of guilt that immediately clouded John's face. I mean, he was the one who had demanded this of me, wasn't he? "I spoke without thinking, Fox. You don't have to do this for me. I'll get an IUD. Abbott says he's pretty sure it'll be a good option for me."

Trying to sound smoothly assured and calm, even though I was jittery as a room full of monkeys unleashed on the local Starbucks, I said, "If it makes you feel better, you can get an IUD too. You seem like a belt and suspenders kind of guy. I said I would do it. It's not a problem."

"Only if you're sure. I don't want you to feel as if it's something I'm forcing on you, something you'll regret," he said. "I feel bad that I talked you into something like this in a vulnerable moment."

"It's okay, Jackie, it really is," I said. I kissed him on the forehead, as if something as simple as my lips pressed to his skin could smooth away those furrowed wrinkles of his. "I'm a man. I live up to my responsibilities."

And so, hours later, I found myself sitting across from the urologist that Dr. Abbott had recommended. She was a definite surprise. If it's strange to find an middle-aged man who tends to women's most intimate medical needs, then it was even stranger to find a pretty woman a good ten years younger than me prepared to take care of my own intimate needs. I was not looking forward to her handling my manly parts. She seemed far too unrelentingly cheerful to be someone who spent her days examining prostrates.

"So, you're certain you want a vasectomy," she said. She'd looked me over once and seemed surprised at what she saw. She raised one of her eyebrows a moment and for a moment, for all that she was a blonde not a redhead, she reminded me of nothing so much as Scully. Perhaps Scully's sister in spirit. I wondered sometimes how someone chose the steps that put them on the path of their life, like at this moment, I wondered how this spiritual sister of Scully ended up looking at men's potty parts for a living and not, say, in forensic medicine.

Before I could think better of it, I said, "certain of it."

"You need to understand that despite the advances they've made in reconstructive surgery, that you have to consider this procedure for all intents and purposes to be irreversible. You're a young man, Mr. Hale. You might wish to have more children."

I'd been using one of my favorite pseudonyms. Abbott knew to some extent that I was a fugitive and that I had at least this one other identity that I used. Perhaps we trusted him with more than we should have, but so far he had proved to be trustworthy. I thought sometimes about how Scully had used a doctor for the first two-thirds of her pregnancy that turned out to be neck deep in the conspiracy and turned out to be dangerous to her. I don't think we were risking that with Abbott.

Today's appointment was just a consultation. I guess the doctors feel the need to have a chance to dissuade you from getting the procedure before they'll actually do it. I don't know why they just won't take a person at face value when he says he want's to get a vasectomy. In any case, once I talked the doctor into allowing it, the plan was to have Walter drive me into Des Moines, then for us to stay overnight in a hotel and drive back the next day.

"I understand. It's important that I get this done. If my lover gets pregnant again, it could be a medical disaster," I said. "I believe Dr. Abbott may have mentioned that you to you."

"He was vague, but yes, he did. You know, there are forms of birth control available that are nearly as effective- depo provera, implants. If you and your lover break up, you may find yourself with a woman who wants to have children."

I almost laughed. I managed not to. I told her, "I've already fathered another child, in addition to my lover's children. I believe it would be irresponsible of me to have any more."

And so, I finally convinced her to give me the damn vasectomy. It was a bit of a shock when I got up to the front desk again, to schedule it, to find out that the next available slot long enough wasn't until mid-January. I guess I would have assumed that the doctor wouldn't be particularly popular, that if I wasn't thrilled by having a young, pretty thing cutting my vas deferens, that other, older men would be even less thrilled to have her, but she was pretty fully booked.

"Okay, fine," I said. "If that's the soonest, then I'll take it."

Great. John was going to kill me. First for not getting this done before the babies were born. Second for leaving him alone for a night when they were going to be so young still. Served me right for procrastinating, I suppose.

A few days later, I'd been sipping on some tea when John said something that made me almost choke and sputter out hot liquid on myself.

"What was that you said?" I asked. I couldn't quite believe what I'd just heard John say. Not that I wouldn't be more than glad to help, if I had heard him right.

I was helping John bathe. He could still step into the shower on his own, but he'd decided he'd wanted a bath, so that required assistance getting into and out of the tub. I could have left him alone to soak, but it seemed more social to sit on the toilet seat and talk about nothing in particular while he enjoyed the hot water. I won't say that I didn't the view.

We had a little electric heater going so that the pink bathroom was warm and steamy. John was in the tub, belly sticking out of the warm water. It glistened with moisture, as pale and round as the moon. He was huge. Hard to believe that he could have expanded that far. Any time now, the babies would come, within days.

"I was hoping you'd help me do some perieneal massage," he said. "It's supposed to help prevent tearing. The ladies on my internet forum really recommend it for first time moms. I've been doing it myself, but it's not really comfortable to reach down there. I'm too big."

Yes, I'd heard correctly. Hello! After being denied access to that sweet, unexpected part of his anatomy for so long, hell, yes I was going to help him out with that.

"So, show me exactly what you want me to do," I said. I'd massage anything he wanted, but had no clue exactly how one would massage a perineum.

He spread his legs, propping one on each side of the tub. He looked so strangely inviting, so sexy.

"I have some massage oil in the medicine cabinet. Little bit on your fingers," he said. I found the small bottle he was talking about. It looked like something from a health food store or fancy toiletries shop, with a label that said, "Mother's Love," on it. The label also declared it was good for helping decrease stretch marks. As far as those went, John was going to have some real beauties. They flawed his abdomen already angry, red streaks.

"No smart aleck comments," he said as I looked at the flower printed label. "Georgie bought it for me."

I poured some on my fingers, over his belly, so that extra would drip on that. It was strongly florally scented, definitely lots of lavender in the mix of odors. Very pleasant but definitely something I could picture in the ownership of Scully, not of my favorite ex-cop. "Now what?"

"Two fingers in about an inch and a half deep, back of the vagina, make a motion like this," he said. He hooked both his index fingers, then moved them back and forth, apart from each other and together again, and also out and forward, as if stretching something.

I did as I was told. "How does that feel?" I asked. His face remained placid, perhaps with a little smile. It obviously didn't hurt, though he didn't seem to be getting any great pleasure from it either.

"Fine. You can stretch me a little more. Maybe add a finger. Bit more oil."

It was awkward, kneeling on the hard tile floor, bent over the tub, reaching in between his legs. But I still relished the soft, hot feel of his cunt around my fingers. He smelled, over the floral scent of the oil, of sex, pure and simple. As I worked the massage, he ran his fingers through my hair.

He wasn't hard, but after a few minutes of this, I sure was, my cock straining against my shorts.

"More," he said. "Four fingers."

I wasn't sure that it would fit, but I slipped a fourth finger in. His perenium was stretchy, flexible and that fourth digit was easily accommodated. You could definitely tell that his body was making itself ready for childbirth.

"More pressure with your fingertips, and then hold them in place" he said. He breathed in hard a little when I did as he asked. "It's okay. It's supposed to burn a little. You're supposed to be stretching me."

A few more minutes of this, he smiled and said, "I think that's enough for now."

I was going to move my hands from between his legs, but he put his hands on my arms, not wanting me to take my hands away just yet. I could see that slowly, he had, indeed gotten harder. His erection bobbed

"You remember why the doc said no intercourse," he said.

"He didn't want any uterine disruptions to cause the babies to go pre-term."

"They ain't pre-term any more," he said. He was right. The projected due date that Dr. Abbott had given had come and gone yesterday, without any sign that they were on their way.

"You're right," I said, getting what he was hinting at.

"What say we hand these kids an eviction notice?"

Doggett:

Fox got a big old grin as he realized what I was hinting at. God I was horny. Strange that I could feel that way when I was so huge and ungainly. But I was. And it was Fox that I wanted. And there he was. Seemed obvious to have him.

I was lubed up plenty from the oil, but I hardly needed that. Oh, yeah.

"Okay. Not in the tub though," he said. "I don't know about you, old man, but I'm too old for tile on the knees."

It took a while for us to get me out of the tub, then dried. Fox insisted on toweling me off.

"This is just an excuse for you to fondle me," I mock complained.

"I'm very fondle you," he said, just before he kissed me.

A few minutes later, we were in the bedroom, under the covers. And I was both laughing between kisses from Fox's demanding mouth and frustrated. "How the hell do you think we're going to manage this?" I asked between bouts of tongue wrestling. God knows that no way could I manage on top like we had last time I'd tried this.

After a lot of fussing, we finally ended up with me on my side, knee propped up with a bunch of pillows. Fox snuggled in behind me. I felt his erection first press against my backside, then travel down and forward, seeking an entrance. I opened my legs as much as I could to accommodate him. And he found his entrance in just a few moments. He easily slid into place. I breathed in hard, just starting to fly. There is a moment just at first penetration whenever Fox is making love to me where it just feels so right for him to be there, as if he were made to fit into that strange absence. I've heard it said before that there aren't nerve endings inside the vagina, but that is such bullshit, at least in my case. I could feel every inch of the short trip from the very first breaching until he buried himself fully to the hilt.

This time, with Fox stroking my cock and penetrating me, with me having been deprived of this for so long, I came for the first time almost immediately. Once I came down from this high and let myself lie wrapped in his embrace, I heard him laugh a little. "You're on a hair trigger today," he said, and kept fucking me.

I wished again that the girls were Mulder's, that they had come from his body and mine combining. I imagined almost that he was making the girls his with the softly furious way he plowed into me, making me his with the insistent reality of his body finding its place inside mine. It was where he belonged, with me. Beside me. Inside me.

I would have thought that he'd feel as deprived as I was and that his pace would be fast and furious, but it wasn't. No, it was slow, methodical, yet intense. Demanding. He was going to take his sweet time getting his pleasure out of me and I was happy to let him do it. As he slid home relentlessly again and again, he kissed my neck and the back of my head. I tried to turn my head to kiss him back as he was fucking me, but the best I could manage was giving him my cheek to kiss. I was envious, a little, of his control. He brought me to orgasm a couple of more times before he let lose.

Afterwards, I rolled around to look him in the eyes. He smiled, tired, about to fall asleep and said, "You think that did the trick?"

"I hope so," I wished fervently. I kissed him, then both of us napped.

Despite multiple bouts of lovemaking over the next couple of days, the girls seemed inclined to remain firmly entrenched in their safe little world. Can't say I blamed them, though I was getting impatient. Christmas was approaching fast.

Fox and Georgie had started making various suggestions. "I hear eating spicy food induces labor," he'd say. So it was spicy food for the next meal, scorch your taste buds off spicy. Still, no go.

"Nipple stimulation," had been another one of Fox's suggestions. We tried plenty of that. The only thing resulting from that was a bit of yellow fluid that Dr. Abbott had assured me was normal- colostrum. I guess along with the ability to gestate, I'd also gotten the ability to lactate. I was still undecided if I would try to nurse the girls.

"There's an old wives tale that says that eating eggplant stimulates labor," Georgie had said.

Sorry, a man has his limits. I was getting pretty darn impatient, but there are some things that are just too gross to contemplate. Eggplant!

Dr. Abbott started making worried noises. "I'll give you another week, but if they haven't come by the twenty-sixth, we're going to have to start talking about inducing you. Maybe even a C-section."

Despite this talk, the girls stayed in place. Neither of them had even descended. At least the last ultrasound had revealed that they were both head down. That was a relief. Though it hadn't confirmed that they were both girls. One of them was pretty much hid completely behind her sister, though I grew more and more certain all the time that they were both girls.

Meanwhile, Christmas was coming. There was much disagreement among the four of us as to when or even if we should set up a tree. Skinner family tradition had one being set up on Christmas eve and taken down the day after Christmas. Walter was for this option, or even not having one, because the only place to set it up was the living room and "what if the babies came while it was up." Georgie was inclined towards a real tree up as soon as possible, and left up, until at least new years, if not Epiphany. Mulder said, "Don't ask me. We never had a tree. My family was all either Jewish or atheists. Or both."

I was inclined towards having a real tree, but I wasn't sure I wanted it in the living room. Even though it seemed like I'd still be pregnant forever, the kids would have to come out eventually and I wanted a minimum of fuss to set up when they did come.

We were batting this idea back and forth one afternoon about four days before Christmas. Georgie had gone so far as to get boxes of her aunt's decorations out.

"It's important," she said. "I just have a feeling it'll be the babies first Christmas."

I was looking out the window. They'd planted a row of pines as a windbreak and privacy measure towards the front of the lot. They were still pretty small, only twelve feet each. "I've got an idea," I said, thinking back to something Gran Garnet used to do. "We can decorate the outside trees. With cranberries and stuff for the birds to eat."

And so it was settled. Some bright idea. It was decided that I'd stay on the inside, doing the stringing of popcorn and cranberries. Do you have any idea how hard it is to string popcorn without the little kernels crumbling?

This was the first Christmas I'd celebrated since Luke and since my divorce. I thought things would hurt worse than they did. For years, the season had been something to be endured, perhaps spent anesthetized by a small, but steady stream of alcohol.

Now though, as Mulder, Walter and Georgie strung lights on one of the big pines in the front yard, with small flakes of snow drifting as they worked, I was at peace, even almost enjoying myself, except for the damn crumbling popcorn. They were having a wonderful time out there. Stopping to laugh and talk. Mulder would come in now and then to get more supplies and he'd kiss me each time, swoop down on me and steal a kiss, all the time looking at me like I was the best damn Christmas present he'd ever gotten. Do you know what it does to a guy's ego to have someone look at you like that?

Later that day, after the tree was decorated and the sun had slipped away, leaving us in darkness, we got a phone call. This wasn't very common. The outside world had been very good about making itself scarce in this small world of ours. We'd been indulging in some hot cocoa made by Skinner, who'd started out with cocoa powder and milk, doing it the old-fashioned way. As the phone rang, a audible intruder to our happy, little life, we looked at each other over the rims of our cups. Walter was the one who put down his mug and got up to answer it.

Walter picked up the phone with a twitch of the jaw, and said, "Skinner residence."

He listened then said, "You're certain?"

Then, "No, I have no idea where he is, but yes, I'll talk to them."

Then, "Of course I'd want to see that his name was clear. He wasn't just a client or a subordinate of mine. I respected him tremendously. He was a good friend."

Then, "I assume nothing is going to be done until the holidays are over. Yes, keep me posted on the progress. The minute you hear something."

Finally, he hung up, looking shocked. All of us had been in the living room, watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the animated version. While the call had taken place though, we'd been watching and listening to Walter with rapt attention, old, familiar show no match for this strange intrusion.

Walter turned to Mulder and said, "That was a friend I still have at the Bureau. Someone I believe we can trust. The military has contacted the Bureau about you, Mulder. I guess there was suddenly some question as to the simple legality of having tried you in a military court. Apparently, it's illegal to try a civilian that way. And there's some question as to evidence that should have been admitted, but wasn't. There's going to be an inquiry into that mockery that called itself a trial. The charges may be dropped, pending the results of the inquiry. You may be a free man, Mulder."

Mulder breathed a heavy sigh, as if momentarily away of the heavy burden it was to be a fugitive wanted for murder. "I won't be a free man until the threat is over, Walter," Mulder said, looking at me. I knew he was thinking about my children and their future.

"But you'd be able operate above ground. You wouldn't worry constantly at the sight of every police officer."

"I know. And that would be appreciated. But I'm not leaving hiding just for that chance. It's too dangerous. It very well might be a trap and you know it, Walter. And I'll still be a wanted man, just not so obviously. I've been a wanted man ever since I first looked into the X-files."

"You don't have to testify at this hearing. It's a hearing about the legality of the process itself, not another trial of you. I just want you to trust me to find someone who's an expert in military law this time, to help me represent you."

"No," Mulder said. He put his cocoa down on the table and stood up, as if he was going to leave the room. "No. I trust you, but not some stranger."

"Maybe this is a trap, Mulder. Maybe it's not. But maybe it really is a chance to get this conviction thrown out. And that's not going to happen without some help. The military lawyers, even if they're honest ones, are going to run rings around me again. You trust me, Mulder, but I'm a retired administrator with a law degree that's decades old and I never specialized in military law in the first place. I'm not going to let you railroad me into this again."

I listened to their interchange with great interest. Back then, at that trial, I'd still believed that justice would be served if everyone just told the truth and presented the evidence we'd found. Mulder should have been cleared. The evidence was more than adequate to do so. I'd thought that we could turn the game on them, that we could shove it up their ass. That trial and the fiascoes afterwards had been a disillusionment to me, a stripping away of an innocence I hadn't even been aware I still had until it was gone. The last bit of faith I had in justice and my government had been taken from me. That was why I wouldn't have taken reinstatement at the Bureau, had it even been an option.

Now though, perhaps there was someone, somewhere that was willing to admit that maybe they'd made a mistake. That justice had been not just not served, but downright raped and made a mockery of. At that moment, I had not hesitated to go to Mulder and Scully in the desert and warn them, regardless of my responsibilities to the Bureau, because I knew that it was all a big joke. The game was rigged. The fucking justice department, for god's sake, was filled to the brim with conspirators.

"Fox, listen to me," I said. "You know Walter is right. If he's willing to take the risk to leave here and go talk to these people, the least you can to is trust him enough to find someone that knows their way around the block. Maybe I can't, but you could have your identity back."

"Think about it at least, Mulder," Walter said. "They haven't set a date for the hearing. Not until after the holidays."

Georgie didn't say anything, perhaps feeling out of league when confronted by this thing that we all had in common, that she knew so little of, but she looked Mulder in the eyes and some kind of non-verbal communication passed between them. I really think that nothing Walter or I said made a difference. It was Georgie. One look from her and Mulder was saying, "I'll think about it."

Even so, Mulder was broody right through the remaining days until Christmas. I think maybe the holiday might have contributed to, rather than alleviated his funk. I know he spent a lot of time going back and forth between the farmhouse and Omaha. I got the hint that he went to a cyber-cafe there and had email contact with various people. He'd come home and study downloaded satellite pictures and big files. He'd shut himself in our room for hours, often coming out only for meals and to go out running, even when it was snowing. Of course, he never locked me out, but I ended up feeling like an intruder in the room when he'd get onto these jags. Sometimes he'd look up from the files. I could see him work at putting the mood aside, then he'd smile at me, and we'd make love.

On Christmas Eve, in the afternoon, as we lay in each other's arms after one of these lovemaking sessions, I asked him, "So, who peed in your cornflakes? Your mood has been a real pisser these days."

"I'm worried," he said.

"About what?" I asked, knowing full well some of the things he had to be worried about. Hell, I remember how I was during the days immediately before Luke was born. Fatherhood itself is a serious undertaking, a real chance to foul-up in a big way. And that doesn't even count any of the very real problems unique to our situation. Hell, everyone was saying that it looked like I could deliver these babies, no problem, and I even believed that myself. But we didn't know that for sure. I was about to do something no guy had ever done. What if I couldn't do it? What if they died?

"Everything, Jackie. Everything. Just hold me," he said. Then he buried his face into my shoulder. I held him as he shivered, and even cried a few tears. I could feel their wetness on my naked shoulder. Somewhere in the middle of it, we both fell asleep.

We were woken by a soft knock on the door. It was dark. A quick glance at the clock revealed that it was five in the evening. The room was cold and I would have been really suffering if I weren't under a thick comforter with my own personal furnace. Georgie called softly through the door, "You boys decent?"

"Not really," Fox replied. "But we're under the blankets, so come in."

"I just wanted to know if you wanted dinner."

Again, we'd had arguments about the type of Christmas celebrations. The Skinner family had always waited around for midnight mass, then come home and had a big, late dinner, then opened presents late at night. To me, it seemed wrong somehow to open them on Christmas Eve. In my family, it was very clear that you had to wait until Christmas morning, until well past sunrise, to open presents. Nothing else was right. Mulder, of course, was no good as a tie-breaker. As a compromise, we were having a big dinner tomorrow and opening one present each tonight. Dinner tonight was just simple chicken pot pie, which I guess was traditional for the Skinner's.

Without a tree indoors for them to accumulate around, the presents had sort of sprawled over the whole downstairs, piles of them here and there. I had the most, though one was obviously a big double stroller from Fox. I couldn't see that it could be anything else. The box was huge. I suspected that a lot of the other presents addressed to me were actually for the girls, baby stuff and the like. As if we hadn't accumulated enough of that already. It felt downright weird to be buying presents with money that had been given to me, for the person that had given to me, but I'd used that credit card to buy presents not just for Fox, but also for Walter and Georgie. Nothing elaborate. The Jasper Skinner I was creating for myself, from information passed on by Walter and Georgie, was in most things, thoughtful and practical, but not extravagant at all.

I was pleased to see Fox pick the package I'd gotten for him. I'd had Walter go to Omaha to buy part of it, but some I'd gotten from the internet. He shook the big, rectangular box. It gave an impressive, metallic rattle. He looked puzzled and not exactly pleased as he tore through the wrapping and opened the box. He took out the big, red metal tool box first. Then he opened that up and looked at the ordered rows of the different, basic tools that I'd picked out as essential to keep in the car. Under the tool box was an emergency kit, including one of those reflective blankets. And last he lifted out a bright yellow and black book. Car Repair for Dummies.

There was another, more fun present waiting for him later, but I wasn't about to give him that in front of Georgie and Walter.

"Thanks," he said. He wasn't looking exactly enthused.

"I worry about you, driving all over creation, with a used car and the weather like it is," I said. "You could get stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

He did seem a little bit more pleased when I kissed him.

Walter picked a big, brightly wrapped present that I knew was from Georgie. He tried to lift it and failed on the first attempt. "Lord love a duck, Georgie, what did you wrap it in this year? A safe?"

With a concentrated effort, Walter managed to lift the package and brought it over to where he'd been sitting. He methodically pulled away gift wrap to reveal a plain cardboard box. He opened that and looked in the box. He didn't lift his gift out, but broke into laughter. I peered over and got a look. It appeared that Georgie had given her brother a solid block of concrete.

"What'd she give you, Walter?" Fox asked.

"A toupe," he said, with a hybrid between laughter and resignation. Georgie was snorting with suppressed laughter. Finally she could bear it no longer and broke out into rich, bell-like peals of it.

"Doesn't look like a toupe to me," I said. "Looks like a block of concrete."

"That's just the wrapping paper, so to speak," Skinner explained. "About, oh, too many years ago, just after I started going bald, Georgie gave me this horrible toupe. It didn't even match my hair color. It's blond. So the next year, I wrapped it up and gave it back to her. Only I spent about an hour wrapping it in duct tape first. She gave it back the next year, only nailed into a wooden crate. It's kind of escalated since then."

Then Skinner looked at Georgie and pointed at her, "Yuck it up now, Georgie-porgy, because next year you'll be crying, trying to figure out how to get it out."

Georgie simply laughed some more. It was strange. The holiday had turned these two serious, responsible, even boring adult people into kids again. Eventually, everyone regained their composure and we finished unwrapping gifts. Georgie picked a box from Walter. It was much nicer than her present to him- a new, thick, quilted robe. She seemed pleased. Except for with the fluffy, pink bunny slippers that Walter had put in with the elegant, red, velvet and satin robe. She bounced one of the slippers off his bald head. The gift I picked to open was from Mulder. It was a small box. I figured I didn't want to spoil the good stuff for tomorrow. He'd gotten me a pair of slippers. Not just any slippers. Down filled booties. I guess he was serious about taking care of my cold feet problem. It was sweet, but I was oddly disappointed. I wasn't sure what I could have asked for, but something, I don't know. Say, a nice set of tools to replace the ones I'd always kept in my truck. Tickets to the Brickyard 500. Or a gun safe for the place were going to buy once the farmhouse was sold.

I gave him a kiss of thanks any way and tried to be as enthusiastic as I dared with Georgie and Walter in the room. It was then that he palmed a small box in my hand. Small velvet box. I opened it and stared at the ring inside. Made of silvery, burnished metal, it was the simplest, plainest band you could get. At first I thought it might be stainless steel, because it sure didn't look like white gold or platinum, nor even silver.

"Aircraft grade Titanium. Hardest damn metal I could find," he said. "You probably don't want to wear it right now. I bought it sized for what I thought would be your post-pregnancy finger size. You're a little bit swollen. It won't fit."

I tried it on my pinky finger and it was a bit loose. I decided there was a good chance it would fit on my ring finger when I wasn't retaining water like I was. I put it carefully back into its box. I wouldn't have thought about getting us rings at all, much less one that seemed so perfect for me. Somehow, as I thought about it, titanium seemed far more perfect than any kind of gold or precious metal would have been. It was tough, hard, nearly indestructible. The band was thick, substantial, without any decoration at all. And I was grateful to get this confirmation of his commitment to us, even thought I hadn't realized I'd wanted this kind of physical token of it.

"Thank you, Fox. It's beautiful," I said, as I kissed him again.

We stayed up for a while, drinking hot tea, and looking out at the tree we'd decorated in the yard, lit up with the little white lights that we'd up on it. Watching them slowly get buried in the snow that had started falling during the course of the evening. We went to sleep, worrying about how the snow was turning from a gentle fall to an outright storm.

Sometime, during the middle of the night, I woke up, feeling cranky and restless. My back hurt. I headed into the bathroom, suddenly craving a hot shower. I knew I should probably have woken Fox up to help steady me in and out of the bathtub, but I didn't want to disturb his sleep and I reasoned it was just a shower. Not like I was going to be settling into a bath, though that sounded much better than a shower at the moment. I was having very mild contractions too, so mild that I thought that it couldn't possibly be labor. I thought it was just more Braxton-Hicks, like I'd been having on and off for a while.

However, just moments into my shower, I felt an extra gush of warm liquid from between my legs. It flowed away quickly in the running water, but I was utterly certain that my water had broken. Oddly, I didn't feel panicked like I thought I would. No, a strange calm descended over me. I finished my shower, no, lingered in the shower, wanting to be alone for this part of it for some reason. The contractions, though they were getting closer, didn't exactly hurt. They weren't entirely comfortable, just more like muscles clenching. This was a kind of warm up for the work ahead of me, it seemed.

After I finished my shower, I waited in the hot, steamy bathroom, enjoying the warmth put out by the little heater, and oddly, enjoying the new found sensations of labor. The contractions grew steadily stronger over the course of the hour and a half that I remained in the bathroom, until they started to be almost painful. No, not exactly pain. Like I was doing such hard work that their closest resemblance was pain. I finally decided it was time to rouse the household. Fox first. I dried myself off fully and wrapped myself back up in the clothes that I wanted to keep off, but forced myself to put on because off the cold, then went back to our bedroom. I checked the bedroom clock before waking Fox. Two-thirty-five a.m.

I shook his shoulder, and said, softly, surprised at the excitement I heard in my voice, "Fox."

He woke immediately, sat straight up in bed, the action of a man too used to being in danger, I thought. "What? What's happening?" he asked. Then he got his bearings and realized it was me. "Santa Claus come during the night or something?"

"Better," I said. I could feel the big grin on my face. Couple of more hours and they'd be here. Best present a man could wish for.


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