Places That Scare You, The (part 3/3)
by Rose Campion
warnings, disclaimers, etc. please see part 1
The instant I heard John say, "Better," I knew and I sat straight up in bed, ready for action, but I let him continue speaking. Then I started putting our oft talked about plans into effect finally.
"You go wake up Georgie and call Dr. Abbott," I told him, throwing off the covers even though the room was freezing, even for me. "I'll wake up Walt and we'll start setting up the pool."
"No need for hurry. It might be hours yet, my contractions are still five minutes apart," he said. Then he huffed in suddenly. He sat down heavily on the bed that I'd just abandoned and worked his way through the contraction, breathing in and out and massaging his belly. For a few brief moments, this person didn't seem like my lover anymore, but some other entity, a creature of instinct. Perhaps that was just because it is at these most human of moments- sex, birth, death, that we are also at our most animal like. I realized suddenly that John, the mind that was my lover might have prepared for this birth by pouring through books and on the internet, searching for fact after fact, but that when push came to shove, it was his body that was going to be delivering these babies and it was that body that had known what to do all along. I could suddenly imagine him giving birth alone in the wild, with only instinct for a midwife, some bushes for cover, the night sky overhead for a ceiling, doing what was most human and animal by starlight.
I had thought that this moment might seem strange, unnatural. Instead, it was a normal panic that I felt watching the person I loved torn in pain by forces I could neither control nor even want to hinder.
When it was over and John was back with me, he said, with a rueful grin, "Make that about three minutes. They're getting closer fast."
"Jackie, how long have you been in labor?" I asked. "Why didn't you wake me sooner?"
"The shower felt too good to leave. I think maybe two hours. Maybe longer. I was having a weird backache most of the evening, but I didn't think it was anything."
Two hours? Hell! "You'd better call Abbott now. Look at it out there. It's going to take him forever to get here. Assuming he even can."
John looked out the window and saw what I'd gotten a quick glance at- one of the worst winter storms outside of the Arctic that I've been in. The snow was blowing practically sideways. I'd say we'd gotten another twelve inches since we'd gone to bed, to add to the six inches that had fallen over the course of the day before and the foot or so of accumulation from earlier in the week.
He must not have realized it was so bad. He looked out the window with horror. Then his brow furrowed and he got a look of intense determination on his face and he said, "He's got a four by four. Dollars to doughnuts, he'll get here sooner that I want anyway."
"Jackie, I thought you were okay with Abbott."
"This is going to sound strange, but I don't want anyone but you around me at the moment," he said.
"No, that doesn't sound strange at all. It sounds completely normal. This is one of the most private and personal moments a person can have. Go on, wake Georgie."
He went downstairs and I got dressed quickly, throwing on the first pieces of clothing that came to hand. I was bouncing off the walls practically, hardly able to think anything other than a chorus of "the babies are coming, the babies are coming!"
Thank God we were having these kids here. I don't like to think about what a hazard on the road I would have been at this moment.
It was only a few moments and I was rapping on the door to Walter's room and calling to him. Strange that all these months I'd lived here in his farmhouse, like part of his family and I'd never been in his bedroom. I guess in some things, Walter still maintains a glacial distance.
"Mulder, what is it?" answered a gruff, sleepy voice, door still firmly shut.
"Babies are on the way, Walter. Hop to. Time to get busy."
"Hold on," I was told. Walter's voice transformed from half asleep to completely awake in about half a second. "Let me throw on some clothes. Is he anywhere ready to need the pool yet?"
"I'm getting the feeling that if we don't start filling it now, he won't get a chance to use it at all," I said as Walter emerged in a flannel shirt and jeans.
We'd done a practice run with the pool earlier in the month, just to make sure we understood how it went together and so that we could be sure that the floor wouldn't collapse under the weight of the water after all. We weren't exactly the smoothest working of teams, but Walter and I had managed to put up that pool and get it filled with warm water in short order.
"We'll probably have to heat some water on the stove," I said as we walked downstairs. "Sounds like Jack took a long shower before getting me up and that must have depleted the hot water tank."
The pool had a built-in heater, but things went much faster if you filled it with warm water in the first place. It takes a lot of time to heat up that much water.
And so we got to work. John was kneeling on the floor of the living room, resting his arms and head on the seat of his favorite recliner, breathing deeply, partially through another contraction. I moved to his side, to massage his back or do something for him, but he snapped at me, "Get workin' on the pool, dammit."
Georgie was tending to the fire in the wood stove while talking with Abbott on the phone. As Walter and I unpacked the box with the pool, she was hanging up. As she shut the heavy iron door to the wood stove, she said, "I checked John's dilation. I wouldn't be surprised if at least the first one gets here before Bob does. He's already at three centimeters."
It took multiple contractions to get the last of the plastic framework pieces snapped into place and the lining fully secured. Each contraction my attention was torn away from my work, watching how my lover was doing, how his body would heave with his heavy breaths, how his brow would furrow even deeper. How he would make a noise that wasn't quite a scream, but louder, more heartfelt than just a moan.
"We're starting to fill it," I was finally able to tell John, while he was resting between contractions. Labor had hit him fast and furious and I wondered maybe if the babies would be with us before full morning light. We had put big pots of water on the stove to heat and add to the mostly tepid water of the birthing pool and for the moment, there was nothing left to do but wait.
Walter had suddenly made himself scarce, I noticed. I supposed that after everything, it was asking a bit much to expect him to stay for the birth. I suspected this was more than not wanting to see John naked. Walter had once told me that he was scared to look beyond his one experience with things that went beyond normal reality, and that might have something to do with it. Either way, one could forgive Walter his squeamishness. The situation was hardly believable in a rational universe.
We were not alone, I realized suddenly, looking around. No, the room was crowded. A veritable Grand Central Station of the dearly departed. Monica watched John the closest, hovering over his shoulder as he leaned his upper body against the chair, occasionally brushing his hair. Scully was close by as well. Once, I heard Monica murmur something to Scully. "Isn't he beautiful?" she asked.
A little boy with blondish hair watched intently. I recognized him from a picture in a file I'd seen once. He was John's son Luke. The Gunmen hovered in the corner, my three unlikely guardian angels. All of them, all of my beloved dead were here at this moment and more, persons I did not recognize, two old women that I could only assume were John's grandmothers, the one's that we would be naming the children after. There were others, perhaps spirits connected with the house, members of the Skinner family tree that we had been grafted onto.
Realizing we were not alone, I lost my panic, suddenly as calm as John seemed. The room was filled with such a sense of blessing and love that the path from life to death, the eternal, unbroken circle of existence was palpable. It seemed, at this exact moment that nothing could go wrong.
It was a beautiful, serene moment, perfect in all respects, until John finished with a contraction, got up and walked over to me. In the full intense seriousness that only he can convey, he said to me, "I swear to God you'd better go through with that appointment of yours, Mulder, because if you ever put me through this again, I swear I will rip your fucking balls off. As slowly and painfully as I can."
I tried not to take it personally.
"I love you, John," I told him. "What do you need me to do for you?"
He wanted me to hold him up as he labored in a squatting position. I did, rubbing his shoulders as he gripped my waist or alternatively, anchored himself by pulling down on my hands. One particularly bad contraction he grabbed my hands so hard I was afraid he would break one of my bones. And then I saw Monica lean over his shoulder and say, "Breathe, John. You can do it. Breathe."
It wasn't until she'd said that that I realized he'd been holding his breath against the pain. He relaxed slightly as she spoke to him, brushed her hands against his body. And then he inhaled, deeply and steadily, and exhaled slowly.
Eventually, the water in the pool was ready, a nice, warm, body temperature. I helped John pull his clothes off and climb into the water. He seemed to ease into the water immediately. The furrows on his brow never disappeared completely, of course, but they were not quite so deep. The pain had obviously eased significantly just from his being in the water.
I would have crawled into the tub with John, except Walter called me from the kitchen. "Mulder, get in here," he said. I'd heard him come in and out and couple of times, but hadn't been able to think about it. I went to go see what Walter wanted.
Walter had, at the point of a very deadly looking military rifle, a fully uniformed Marine, in winter combat gear. Walter had a Smith and Wesson in hand as well, one that looked like a FBI service weapon. The Marine wasn't trying anything, just standing at attention. If it had taken a scuffle for Walter to capture the Marine, they sure didn't look like it.
"Walter, I appreciate the thought. I mean, a Marine of my very own is what I've always wanted, but since I already have one, you'll have to send this one back," I said. I couldn't help making the crack. Walter was seriously not amused. "Really? What the hell is going on here, Walter?" I asked. "Who is this?"
"I was hoping you might tell me, Mulder," Walter said. "I think there are more of them out there. I caught this one between the chicken coop and my workshop. He won't tell me anything but that he's on patrol, under orders, but he won't say from who."
I thought I had a pretty good idea of what he was doing out there. Images of the night William was born came to me. Scully being hunted because of the child she carried. It'd been a night of death and destruction, in addition to a night of new life.
"You're under orders from Col. Doggett, aren't you?" I asked. I got no verbal answer, but there was a flicker of surprise on his face, enough answer for me. "Walter, give the man his gun back, kick him back out into the blizzard and let him get down to his business. I suspect there's as much out there for them to worry about as there is in here for us to worry about."
I'll give Walter this much credit. Over the years, he's learned to trust my instincts, sometimes even more than I trust them myself. He threw the rifle at the Marine, hard, but the Marine caught it neatly. "You heard the man," Walter said, with that famous reined in fury that had served him so well in the Bureau. Walter had been a man used to saying jump and seeing people fall all over themselves to see how high they could go, myself the obvious exception. He still had it. "Get back out there. I don't want to see you or any of your men. Just go do your patrols, hear me?"
"Sir!" the Marine snapped straight to attention, then turned towards the door.
When we were left alone, Walter holstered his weapon so it was concealed under his parka. "You'd better be getting back to Jack," he told me, then he turned to the door. "I'm going to get more firewood onto the porch, in case we need it."
"Be careful out there, Walter," I said. I suspected that the Marine, if you'd looked, would have some very interesting looking bumps on the back of his neck. One of Col. Doggett's men. One of the supersoldiers that were being subverted to our side, if the Col. could be believed or trusted. I hoped for all our sakes that he could.
And if the supersoldiers didn't get Walter, the weather might. It was near whiteout conditions out there. Only the fact that Walter grew up here kept me from protesting that he went out at all. He knew, had to know, how dangerous it could be and wouldn't risk himself.
"I won't be long," Walter promised. "We probably have more than enough. I just want to be sure."
I left him to it and went back to John.
John was in the pool still, looking, for lack of a better word, radiant. People have written often over the centuries about the transformative power of some kinds of suffering, but never had I seen it illustrated so well. This was not pointless pain. Instead, it had a beautiful purpose and you could see that reflected in John's eyes.
"It won't be long now," Georgie said as I approached John. "He's already entered transition."
He was fully dilated then, and getting ready to start pushing. Labor was nearly over. I stripped quickly and got into the pool with him. The next couple of hours passed in such a distortion of time that I could hardly account for them. Moments like one of John's guttural moans could take an eternity, other times passed in the blink of an eye. I had the feeling, for the first time that I was not only in the center of something bigger than myself, but that I was an active maker of events, not being buffeted about in a storm made by others, as I had been my whole life.
John and I were at the center of a maelstorm, holding fast to each other. His hands were hard on my body, demanding my support, no, that I be his rock fast center. For these brief hours, nothing else existed for me but John. Everything else faded from my attention. Even Georgie was just an occasional presence, mostly ignored except for when she checked on how John was progressing. Rapidly was how he was progressing.
At four-thirty five in the morning, the head of our first baby was just crowning. My first glimpse of our child, a view stolen quickly as I dunked my head underwater, was of thick, black hair. It took only a few minutes more and our daughter was free in the water, tethered only by the umbilical cord that still provided her with oxygen.
She seemed to accept her new world with aplomb, perhaps because it was just a bigger, less crowded version of the womb she had been swimming in so long. Babies born in the water instinctively do not breathe until their face breaches into the air.
I caught her up in my arms and slowly brought her to the surface, turning her so that her face could be in the air and the rest of her body in the water. Once out of the water, she took her first breath, not a scream, just a gentle opening of herself to the world. Her eyes opened as well. They were hazel, like my own. I'd thought that most babies were supposed to be born with blue eyes that change to their permanent color later, but I didn't stop long to wonder about this. Eye color was hardly the most mysterious circumstance of her birth. Those eyes should have been unfocused, instead they seemed to take in the world with avid interest, looking all around her. They seemed so innocent and young, like she was a new soul.
I wasn't sure which name John wanted to use first, so I just said, "Welcome to the world, baby girl."
Astonishing, how small and perfectly formed her body was. Each little part a masterpiece, from the sharply defined dent just under her nose to her full arched lips, to the flawless light brown skin just starting to be visible under the vernix that covered her. I marveled at the utter perfection of her as I lifted her slowly up to John and set her on him, chest to chest.
He'd been resting, eyes closed, leaning back against the wall of the pool, but he opened them at the touch of her weight. He smiled at her and rested a hand lightly on her back.
"Hey, Gracie baby," he said. I felt a momentary surge of jealousy at the sight of him falling in love with her. He would never be entirely my own again, I realized, but hey, who wouldn't mind sharing their man with such a beautiful brunette? He couldn't hold her long. He was in thrall to labor pains again in seconds. Georgie moved in fast, to tie off the umbilical cord, clamping it in two places. Then, she had me cut it, freeing her from her father, so he could get on with the crucial business of birthing her sibling.
They say that the average time between the births of twins is seventeen minutes, and on that one thing, John was right about on par.
Just before five, another baby girl was born into the world. Instead of Gracie's pale caramel skin and black hair, Garnet Scully Skinner was born with pale skin that was alarmingly, angrily red at first. She screamed when I brought her face up out of the water and didn't stop until I took her completely out of the water and held her against my chest. She had almost no hair at all, just the faintest hint of strawberry blond fuzz on her bald head. Her eyes, when she finally opened them, were deep blue. Those eyes seemed so old, almost tired already, and I was left with the instinctive feeling that I had known this person before. This was an old soul come back into my life for some reason, for us to learn something from each other, for us to love, in a different way yet again. The last time I had felt so certain about this was in a field in Tennessee. I wondered who this soul was and how I'd known them before. Had it been a lover, husband or child of mine that had consented to be born into my life? Perhaps it was this more than anything that drove home to me the awesome responsibility I was facing. Because Gracie was new and sweet and I would fall in love with her very soon, just like John had.
But this one, this life currently known as Garnet Scully Skinner, I loved her already, and had for time untold. And she had trusted me enough to consent to be born as my child. It was a staggering realization.
Compared to Gracie's compact, round form, Garnet was a long, skinny baby. She, too, was every bit as perfect as her sister, in her own way. What finally wrought creatures we humans can be, I thought as I traced one of my fingers over each of her tiny ones. I held her until the afterbirth had been delivered and Georgie had pronounced John and Gracie to be perfectly fine. Garnet, in turn, was content to be held by me. Georgie finally demanded I hand Garnet over so that she could be looked over and I did so reluctantly.
Finally no longer focused exclusively on John, I looked around the living room. Apparently satisfied that all had gone well, our beloved dead had slipped away back to whatever place it is that they wait between manifestations.
Not long after came a rattle on the door. I was already out of the pool and dried off. I was helping John out, a difficult procedure because he was holding Gracie and wouldn't let go of her. Georgie handed Garnet back to me and went to answer the door.
There was a draft of cold wind suddenly, that was mercifully brief, then the soft sounds of Georgie and Dr. Abbott talking in the next room.
"You missed out completely, Bob," she said. "Not a thing left for you to do except congratulate the lucky fathers and fill out the birth certificates."
I'd been helping John get dry and before Abbott burst into the room, I managed to assist John in shrugging into a robe.
"Gentleman! Congratulations! And there's nothing I like better than a birth so quick and so easy, I don't have to do a single thing," Abbott said. He was beaming like he'd been the one to deliver the babies himself.
"Lord God, you think that was easy?" John asked, though he was too tired for the snap to have much venom to it. No, John's expression was a kind of tired bliss. His endorphin levels would have been sky high right then.
"Not at all, Mr. Doggett," he said. "But assuming you were in labor only two hours before I was called, you had a labor of just under five hours, significantly shorter than average. And no tearing according to Georgeann. I'd say you're pretty lucky."
John had sat back in his recliner and he leaned back. He took one look at the baby in his arms, smiled and said, "Yeah, you're right about that. Hey, somebody oughta tell Walter that the gross part is over and he can come back in now and meet his new nieces."
Abbott examined John, just be certain he was all right, an examination which John accepted grudgingly. Then the babies were looked over, weighed and fussed over, given a first sponge bath and dried off. We wrapped them in diapers and blankets, then put one of those sweet little knit caps on each of them. Gracie was a mere seventeen inches long and weighed six pounds, five ounces. Garnet was nearly twenty-one inches long, but weighed only a few ounces more, clocking in at six pounds, eight ounces.
Gracie was such an easy baby. She accepted anything that happened to her with perfect equanimity. Garnet, on the other hand, squalled at the top of her newborn lungs anytime she wasn't being held by either John or myself. The whole time Abbott was looking her over, she was screaming.
Before the birth, there'd been much debate, most of it between John and himself about whether he'd try to breastfeed the girls or not. At first he wasn't sure if he could, then when the colostrum made it's appearance and it was obvious that he probably could produce at least part of their diet, he wavered between wanting to try it for a while and not wanting to get them started. His reason for not wanting to do it was that he didn't want to be stuck at home until they were weaned. They'll be babies, he had argued. They wouldn't know why he couldn't nurse them in public. In the end, he decided to give it an experimental run, at least for the first few weeks, switching them over to formula supplements as he started feeling like going out into the world again.
Babies have a natural rooting instinct. Held against a chest, they tend to seek out the obvious, traditional source of nourishment. John started first with Gracie, holding her close, supported by pillows in the so-called "football" position, guiding his small nipple into her mouth in the way that we'd read about. She took it eagerly and sucked hungrily. John looked kind of surprised at first. Finally he said, "Okay, hand me Garnet, I think I should be able to do both of them at once."
The pressure of Gracie's mouth on my nipple had been greater than I'd anticipated, but it wasn't so bad. After a moment, I realized I could handle it. She seemed to be taking it pretty smoothly. My breasts had swollen a little more during the last month of my pregnancy, but they were still very small and it didn't seem possible that they'd produce enough for the girls, even though I'd been assured again and again, by books, by the internet, by Georgie and by Abbott that the size didn't matter. Now that I was experiencing it, I thought I might be a little bit more comfortable if I had a little more breast to offer. Things seemed like they were pulled kinda tight, like she'd managed to pull the whole darn tit into her mouth.
I asked for my other girl. I hadn't had much of a chance to hold her yet, what with Mulder holding her tightly and staring at her like she was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Hell, forget bread. Like she was best thing ever. Georgie practically had to pry Garnet out of Mulder's arms with a crowbar in order to examine her. When he finally surrendered her, I realized that Mulder would no longer be entirely my own. He belonged to a little girl now. Two little girls. But hell, who wouldn't mind sharing their guy with such swell-looking gals?
Garnet was starting to fuss even though she was being held. She must be getting hungry. Mulder handed her over and with his help, I got her positioned, propped up and under my arm. I put my breast up to her mouth and she popped on immediately. Only it wasn't smooth like Gracie. It was like somebody had applied a vise grip to my nipple. It hurt so much I could only gasp in pain. "Lord God, that hurts," I managed to get out.
"I don't think she's latched on right," Georgie said. "Why don't you try popping her off and positioning her again."
Georgie showed me how to break the suction by sticking my finger in Garnet's mouth. But the instant I did that, she started screaming again. Which set off her sister who spit her side out, then added her voice to the general ruckus. I tried to think clearly. Not easy with two human sirens going off right in your ear and being exhausted from the hardest night's work I'd ever done. You know, I had a new appreciation for my ex-wife, I really did.
Before I could come up with a solution, Fox said, "Jackie, why don't you give me Garnet for a little while. Focus on one at a time before you try both."
Fox claimed Garnet again and her screams dropped to a whimper the instant she hit his arms, and stopped altogether as he started walking her around the room, whispering sweet nothings at her. If I heard right, he called her 'Princess'. Somehow I suspected, we were going to have a real big problem not spoiling these girls. Freed from Garnet, I was able to position Gracie right back on the nipple and she went to it eagerly, a real trooper. I was surprised my let down was so good. As Gracie worked one nipple, generous dribbles of colostrum leaked from the other at the same time. Then Walt finally made his reappearance, poking his head cautiously into the room as if still afraid of what he might see.
Fox took charge of him, came up to him and presented him with Garnet. "This one's Garnet, Jackie has Gracie," Fox said. "I see a distinct family resemblance, Uncle Walt. I'll let you hold her, but don't take it personally if she screams. She's done it for both Georgie and Bob."
Then Garnet was handed over, Fox showing Walt how to support her head. Walt gingerly took her into his arms, like she was a bomb, and perhaps she was. A ticking-time bomb of fussiness. In his big hands and arms, she just about disappeared. Surprisingly, she didn't erupt into screams immediately. As Walt held her, any remaining traces of surliness melted right off his face, replaced by pure wonder. I don't think I've ever seen the man smile quite like that. "It's a miracle, Jack," Walt said. "Somehow, I just didn't quite believe it until now."
A few minutes of being held by Walt set Garnet off into fussiness, not full blown screams yet, just whimpering. Walt handed her back off to Fox before she even got going. By this time, Gracie had drifted off to sleep, my nipple still in her mouth. "You want to hold Gracie while she sleeps, Walt?" I asked.
I carefully popped Gracie off, afraid I was going to wake her. I did, but amazingly, she didn't start crying. She just looked at everything around her with unfocused eyes. She accepted being held in her Uncle Walt's arms just like she had everything else. It was as if she had a perfect trust in the world- that no matter what, it would continue to take care of her and provide for her like it had so far. As far as Gracie was concerned, I thought, there would always be strong arms to hold her, and warm rooms for her to be in and good milk to drink.
Taking Garnet from Fox, I decided that she was already doubtful that her needs would be met. I wondered why her and not the other. I prepared myself mentally for her clamping mouth to be placed back on my body. I was kidding myself that having done it successfully with Gracie, I'd be able to do it with the other. Guiding my still aching nipple more carefully into her mouth this time, I held her close to me and sweet talked her, hopefully into not hurting me so much this time.
It didn't hurt quite as much, but it still nearly caused tears to roll down my cheeks. The pain eased a little bit when I managed to push more of my breast into her mouth and her hard little gums weren't directly on the nipple anymore. I think she must have let up just a little when she realized she didn't have to work so hard to get results. I just about fell asleep, despite Garnet's vacuum suction mouth, except Abbott decided to bug me just then about the birth certificates.
"We're still going through with the plan we discussed earlier?" he asked.
We'd decided, Fox and myself, with some input from Georgie and Walter, that even if it was the truth, or as close to the truth as covered my situation, you just couldn't put my name down on the mother line, nor could you get away with putting, "Unknown" on the mother line and my name on the father's. A genetic father might easily be a ship passing in the night, so to speak, especially in today's moral climate. But a mother is always known. We'd decided that some name or another would have to go on the mother line, and that mine would go on the father's. We would tell the truth to the girls as they got older and were able to comprehend it. For the moment though, the "mother" of my children was going to be "Monica Reyes", a cover story I was even more glad of when I realized how much Gracie, with her black hair and brown skin, looked kind of Mexican. The story would be that we weren't even sure it was the woman's real name. She was just passing through, looking for work and caught I caught her eye, she decided to stay a while and got in the family way, but as soon as she was able to limp off after the babies were born, she hit the road again.
"Yeah, unless someone can think of a better story," I said.
I just wanted to get some horizontal time, even if I might have been too wound up to actually sleep. Walt had claimed the rocking chair he'd made for me and was sitting with Gracie, rocking her. From the looks of it, he was even getting her to sleep. Even though I didn't make it back up to our bed like I'd wanted, as the sun rose on a perfectly blue sky, the storm having blown over during the night, I eventually drifted off to sleep in the recliner. One baby was in my arms, one baby was in good hands. Yeah, life was good. Somebody had been making vague noises about opening presents, but somehow that seemed kind of anticlimactic comparatively. Presents could wait.
After catching up on some sleep, I joined Walt on a look-see around the property. Much as I thought, there was no evidence, no matter how slight, that there had been a Marine patrol on the grounds last night whether supersoldiers or mere human. Not even a footprint. Those had been covered by drifting snow that had blown to drifts five feet high in places, scoured to bare earth in others. As often happens after a big storm, the temperature dropped drastically. Bad weather happens in midst of transitions- clashes between warm and cold. In this case, a mass of cold Arctic air had bullied its way down this far south. But because of this, the air was clear, the sun brilliantly reflected from the infinitesimal little mirrors of the snowflakes. Yes, the weather was perfect and crisp. I guess I couldn't see why John hated it.
He'd spent the majority of the day so far huddled in the living room, with the fire going as high as we could make it, and still he hid under thick blankets with one or both of the babies at a time, depending on who felt like holding the other. All his attention was divided only between the two of them, with occasional breaks to sleep, mostly when they did. I wondered if John would kill me if I went for a run. I felt cramped, the need to stretch having invaded my muscles. Restless. I was restless.
Walt meanwhile was looking around shaking his head. He looked a dignified kind of ridiculous with one of those rabbit fur-lined hunting caps on top of his bald head. I suppose with so little hair, he was probably more susceptible than average to heat loss through the scalp. "You'd think we'd see at least one footprint. Something. Who were those people, Mulder?"
"Special forces from Project Zodiac. Under direct command from John's uncle. More supersoldiers. Supposedly fighting against the aliens. God. I don't know. They're gone. I guess we're safe," I said. I had no real idea whether that was the truth or not. Hell, you'd needed a score card to keep track of the conspiracy before the supersoldiers had arrived on the scene. There was so little I knew to be absolute truth these days. Only one or two things I knew for sure, and one of them was that I loved John beyond reason.
"For now," Walt said, looking out over the cornfields that surrounded the farmhouse. The wind continued to sweep over those gently rolling hills uncovering the stubble at the heights of them.
"What do I do now, Walter?" I asked. For so long, I had been focused on the simple task of getting those children into this world safe and alive. It seemed almost unreal that it had actually happened and that if I were to close my eyes and walk back into the living room of the farmhouse, when I opened them, John and they would vanish in a sudden, malevolent reverse miracle. For so long, I hadn't really believed in the future and yet here it was, in the form of two perfectly shaped girls. That future stretched out before me too wonderful and terrible to contemplate without feeling my soul tremble within me.
"You live, Mulder. That's all. You just live. You have a family now and they need you," Walter said.
Could I do that? Was that possible? I had no more chosen this family than I'd chosen any other family members. No, the insistent and perverse demands of the heart, that organ that had reason of which reason knew nothing, had directed my every coming and going until I had no more control over loving John than I had over needing oxygen, and loving our daughters followed as naturally as gravity. But yet the same perversity of life that had given me a reason to live had given me far more to fear than ever. I didn't know what to say to Walter, a man who had trusted me at times when even Scully barely did. A man whose authority had been my shelter, a man I loved in ways too complex to explain. He had become family as well, by virtue of the generosity of his heart.
I think Walter understood my reticence as fear and uncertainty. "You just do the next thing, Mulder," he told me. "You just love them."
Would that be enough though? When Walter turned back to the house, I followed him, leaving behind the shining, Christmas day, with its cold that was bitter right down to the bone. Someone had once told me, not kindly, that it's my instinct to jump first and expect the parachute to materialize on the way down. When I got back into the house and saw John stretched out on the sofa with our two babies laid out on his chest, I felt suddenly like I was plummeting very fast, to a hard ground miles down. And the parachute hadn't yet made its appearance. It was a cold, cold feeling indeed, like I hadn't shed the frigidity of outside, even though I'd come into the hot room that smelled intensely of wood smoke from the stove. No, this fear had settled right down into my bones for the moment.
As if he sensed both my presence and what I was feeling, John's eyes popped open. "Hey," he said. "You want to hold the girls for me? I gotta hit the little boys room."
I figured that I could hold one in my arms while the other lay across my lap. I took Garnet from him and sat down at the foot of the sofa. As he got up and laid Gracie across my lap, he leaned close to me and whispered in my ear. "We're okay, right," he said. "You, me, the girls, we'll all be okay."
"Yeah, we'll be okay," I told him in a voice that wasn't quite a promise. I wasn't ready for promises, especially not ones that I didn't know I could keep.
I wish I could tell you that everything was all better after the girls were born. That everything came up goddamn roses and lollipops. That we had a happy ever after starting right then. Well, life doesn't work like that. It's always something.
And what made it worse was that this time my worst enemy was myself. In the months immediately following the girls birth, my own brain tried to kill me.
The fog, the wall of gray that descended over me started early, within the first few days after they were born, and ironically, not as the lassitude I would have expected from depression, but as anxiety. Instead of sleeping while my babies were sleeping like I should have, I would lie awake, irrationally fearful that they would just plain stop breathing on me. Or that supersoldiers or some other enemy force would break into our little, private world and steal them away from me. That Fox and I would be helpless to prevent this. Worse were the times I woke up from nightmares, convinced that I would be the one to hurt my children. These anxieties could be banished by force of will mostly. I could separate out the true, real frightening things we were up against and rationalize away the fears that were strictly from some depths within me. Except no matter how much I chased away my own nightmares, there was still the flavor of those fears, tainting my thoughts.
In this way, I learned that sometimes the scariest monsters that you have to fight aren't external, aren't anything that could be hunted down or chased with a gun. No, they are immaterial, internal. So pervasive that you hardly know they've penetrated your defenses until it is too late.
Every minute worry added up, like individual words add up to pages which add up to books. And it was in this way that the fog descended on me so slowly that I had hardly seen it until one day I looked and I could hardly see anything else. It robbed me of every feeling but anxiety. It took every pleasure I took in my children, in my lover, in this remote little farmhouse that was calling itself home at the moment. I think my insomnia had something to do with it. I think the insomnia fed on the fog and the fog fed on the exhaustion resulting from my insomnia.
More importantly than my pleasure, the fog slowly robbed me of my ability to function, as a parent, even just as a person.
It really didn't help that I had two such small, helpless creatures depending on me for everything. I am morally certain that all three of us would have been dead within the first two months if it weren't for Fox, and to a lesser extent, Walter and Georgie. But it was Fox who saved me and taught me how to fight against the monsters I couldn't even see.
Gracie would have been such an easy baby, if she ever slept at all. Her disposition was naturally sunny and easy going. She didn't cry much and when she did, it was usually for good reasons- like a soiled diaper. But in those first couple of months, I don't think she ever slept more than an hour and a half solid. She was a cat napper and a grazer. She'd feed a little, sleep a little and then wake, wanting to be fed again. Consequently between this and the anxiety, I don't think I slept at all for a while, not more than minutes at a time.
Garnet was another story. Thankfully, she was a sleeper. I worried about it even. She'd nurse deeply, almost sucking me dry, then she would sleep for five, six hours at a time, through the night almost from the get go. Which was a relief. Because whenever she was awake, she was a clingy, needy baby. She'd cry and cry so hard that you couldn't calm her, so hard occasionally that she threw up. Most of the time, she was okay if you were holding her, but put her down and you'd set her off. I learned to juggle her in my arms when I took a leak. I learned to eat with her in my arms. And forget about her sleeping in that beautiful crib that Walter had worked so hard to make. She could be fast asleep, but the second you'd put her down in it, she'd snap awake and then instantly into scream mode. First Garnet, out of sheer necessity, then Gracie out of convenience found their way into our bed, the cradles beautiful, but mostly unused. Surprisingly, Fox took their presence in our bed with good humor and no complaint.
Still, it was hard, so hard. I think I had my first intimation that something was seriously wrong with me the night, about three weeks after the birth, when Garnet woke at about five in the morning, crying to wake the dead. And I couldn't do anything about it. I lacked the ability to reach out to her. It was as if some great and unseen force, like a gravity almost, had settled on me like a blanket, heavy and stifling. I was awake, cognizant of the fact that my child needed me. All I was able to do was stare at the ceiling in the absolute darkness of our bedroom. It felt almost like I had been stricken with a stroke or something, but I knew I hadn't. This was far more dangerous than a simple vascular accident.
After a little while of this, Fox stirred. First uncomfortably, as if still half asleep, then moments later, he sat up, completely awake.
"Jackie?" he asked, snapping on the lamp closest to him. He looked at me, taking in that I was awake, but unmoving. The light hurt my eyes, but I didn't blink. "Are you okay?"
I wondered what he thought. He sounded seriously worried. "Yeah, I'm okay," I told him.
He immediately ignored me then and reached for the crying child. Gracie was still sleeping. I'd just got her settled down into one of her catnaps and nothing would disturb her until her natural short cycle had brought her out of it.
"She's dry," Fox said, trying to hand me the writhing, screaming mass of infant. She was mad, oh was she mad, arching her back, little hands clenched in tiny fists, red with the effort of screaming. If anyone but Gracie was asleep in the household I would have been surprised. I didn't reach out for my girl. I couldn't.
"I know you can hear me, Jackie. And if you can't hear me, I know you can hear her. I can't give her what she needs. I'm not the one lactating," Fox said, still attempting to foist her off on me.
He seemed like he was about to snap on me. I wasn't the only one who was seriously sleep deprived these days though I was bearing the worst of it. Still, something was wrong with me. Seriously wrong. I shouldn't have been able to hear my baby crying like that and not be moved to swoop her up and take care of those tears any way I could. I didn't understand what was happening to me, only that it felt like I'd been buried alive.
"Jackie?" he asked, sounding unnerved by my silence.
My heart was strung out, being dragged across the broken glass of her cries. But all I could think about was how hard it would be, getting up, letting her feed. How hard her damn mouth would be on my nipple, the kind of discomfort she was still causing me. Then, in all likelihood, her getting so upset again that she'd throw up all that milk that my body had worked so hard to produce. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.
Fox saw something in my eyes maybe, some begging. He was Mister Rational again for the moment. He put aside his temper. "Okay," he said, not quite pleasantly. "I think maybe you need the sleep. I'll go see if I can get her to take a bottle."
He took her downstairs, away from me. I couldn't feel relief, I couldn't feel anything. He didn't return to bed that night. As dawn made an appearance, and the gravity slowly lifted just enough for me to escape the bed, bringing Gracie with me, I made my cautious way downstairs. He and Garnet had fallen asleep on the sofa together, empty bottle dropped on the floor beside them.
I settled down in the recliner to nurse Gracie. Fox woke eventually. "Are you okay, Jackie?" he asked, this time his voice soft with concern. He sat up, still holding Garnet and walked over to me. He sat on the arm of the chair and gently stroked my hair, then down my scratchy cheek. It'd gotten too hard lately to make the effort to shave. My beard looked like hell, patchy, with bare spots in places, and thinner than it used to be. I figured the female hormones were starting to play havoc with my body. I don't know. Maybe the beard was more than just sheer laziness, but trying to prove to myself that I was just as much of a man as I used to be.
"Yeah. I think so," I lied. "I just need more sleep than I'm getting."
"I'll help more than I have been," he promised.
And he did. Oddly, as time passed and more and more often, I found myself unable to even reach out a hand to gather my child to me, he got more and more patient with me, not less. For every coldness I found myself unable to avoid showing to my lover and to my children, he answered back with a greater tenderness. There were many nights where I would lie in bed, listening as he paced the floorboards and comforted Garnet, saying, "Don't cry, Princess. Daddy's right here." He wore both those babies as much as he could, worked so hard to stop their cries before they could even disturb me.
When I say he wore them, I mean that literally. One day, he came back from a shopping outing bearing a sack from one of the fancy mother and baby shops in Omaha. Inside was an assortment of cloth objects. He pulled them out one by one, saying as he did, "I told one of the ladies at the shop about how Garnet just won't stand to be put down and how hard it is to carry her all the time. The lady thought one of these might help. I bought them all. I figured one of them will work best. Baby Bjorn," he said, pulling out a set of navy blue cloth straps. "A regular d-ring sling. A snuggli. Guatemalan style sling. Kangaroo style pouch. Baby Trekker."
There'd been a couple more that he didn't name, but all of them were some kind of arrangement of cloth straps meant to tie a baby to your body. And so Fox Mulder, one-time hunter of serial killers, chaser of little gray men, the only real threat to global takeover, strapped Garnet to his body with the baby bjorn and wore her just about every waking moment, unless he was handing her over to be fed. It cut her fussiness considerably to be carried constantly in this way. If I had been in any kind of better state to appreciate this, I probably would have been stunned by the level of devotion he showed to both the girls and to me. I should have been welling with returned love. Instead, I felt nothing.
Watching him was like watching a man drown slowly and standing on the shore, unable to help. Looking back, I should have said or done something sooner. It wasn't that I didn't see what was going on. It wasn't that I didn't know what was going on. It'd been so long since I'd thought about any kind of psychology, except maybe forensic, but this was obvious. The presentation of his illness was textbook perfect. I watched him struggle for weeks, helping as best I could from the sidelines, taking as much of the pressure off him as I could, hoping that he would snap out of it. That I was wrong. That he just needed some time to adjust. That this wasn't anything but minor "baby blues." It was denial, simple denial on my part.
It was hard to be struggling though, with two babies, when he stared at the wall, not moving to help me as I changed diapers. He still fed them when I handed them to him, but did little else to care for them. Thankfully, I was too tired from being up all hours with the babies too, because any time I made a move to anything more intimate than a kiss on the cheek was met with either outright refusal or were deflected by being ignored. We no longer slept in our spoon, but with the babies separating us. Any attempts on my part to talk to him about his situation were met with silence and a weak, cold anger on his part. He never told me directly, but he didn't want to talk about it, and that message was crystal clear, albeit non-verbal.
About a month after the birth, I tried to tempt John out of the house. He hadn't been further than the front porch of the house sometime since December, Abbott having come to him for all his latest examinations. It was an unexpectedly mild day, sunny and warm enough to melt the top couple of inches of snow. No bad weather was expected for a good four days. It would be as good a day as any for the girls first outing. First thing in the morning, I dressed them warmly, in sweaters and little overalls, with knit caps on their tiny heads. Gracie's hair continued to grow thick, glossy and black, with hints of curls, but Garnet remained bald other than the fuzz. I thought she might be a red head in the future. It might be months before she had a full head of hair though. Either way, both of them still needed the extra warmth of the hats. Then, I went to go see if John could be tempted to get dressed.
"I was thinking about heading to Omaha," I told him. He was sitting on the side of the bed, unshowered, not having shaven in days. John was staring at the wall. Somehow, that was worse, more horrifying than if he'd spent all his time watching television. "Why don't you come? I was thinking maybe we'd do a little clothes shopping for you, get some lunch, then catch a matinee."
"Uh-uh," he said, shaking his head slowly. "The girls aren't ready to be left alone with Walt and Georgie yet."
Well, I agreed with that. My hands were currently resting on Garnet, who I had strapped to my chest. Gracie was fine, for the moment, laid in her crib. But somehow I doubted that either of them could face an afternoon without John or me. "We'll bring them with us. I figure if we time it right, the girls would sleep right through a movie."
"No, there's no movie I want to see and I don't need anything," he said. The former was, of course, subjective and I could hardly evaluate it for the truth, but the latter was decidedly a lie. He was still wearing the maternity clothing that Georgie had made for him by altering clothes. Only now they hung loose on him in a way that only underscored how gaunt he was getting. He looked, frankly, like hell, without even a tiny trace left of that 'pregnancy glow'.
"Jackie, please," I said. "I want you to come with me. What's the matter? A month and a half ago, you were itching to get out of the house and go just about anywhere."
I reached out and stroked his cheek gently, still able to love the feel of stubble and skin under my hand. He slapped my hand away roughly and gave me a dagger stare. "Give it a fucking rest, Mulder. I don't wanna go. Period."
I thought I understood the anger. It was easier to deal with than the sadness he must be feeling. Anger gives energy, makes you feel alive. Sadness drains you. It is a passive, waiting feeling. One doesn't escape it, really. You can't run away from it forever. The only way to truly find one's way through sadness is to travel all the way through it, a long, hard, uneasy process. I know. It was far easier to brutalize Alex Krycek than it was to cry for Bill Mulder, the man I knew as my father. Anger was easy, but fury could sustain a person for only a short time. It left one empty, burned. Hollow.
"Okay, Prince Charming," I said to him. "Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Whenever you're ready, we'll head out. Just let me know what you need, I'll get it to you."
Meanwhile, the wheels of military justice ground slowly. Walter fielded more calls, made more calls. Mostly solemn, deadly serious calls that consisted more than anything of listening to things that he did not tell me. He made one, brief trip back to DC that had him grumbling about having to dig suits out of the back of the closet. He returned a few days later with no more conclusive reassurances than, "I think I've found our military law expert. Sean Granville, up until recently, a Captain in the Marines."
"He's one of them, Walter," I said, my hackles rising suddenly at the mere mention of the Marines.
"He's the son of my lieutenant in 'Nam. He's young. Sharp as they come, Mulder. The time comes when you have to trust someone and something beyond what you can hold close to your chest. If you really think that nothing and no one are beyond suspicion, what do you have that is left fighting for? His dad was a good friend. Not everything is corrupt in this world."
Actually, I truly feared that it was. That I had truly come to believe something that I had been warned about for years, to trust no one. Well, no one beyond a few chosen people and the dead.
I trusted Walter. What he was asking me to trust his judgment of character. I knew he was trying to do his best for me. The softly bewildered look in his eyes as we sat across from each other over the kitchen table, the weak gray light of a winter dawn limping through the windows, let me know that once again, Walter felt out of his depth. That he no more trusted his ability to find me a way out of the snafu that my life had become than I trusted my ability to provide a safe future for my own children.
"Okay. You think he's one of the good guys, that's good enough for me," I said. I suddenly heard Garnet crying again. I'd left her upstairs with John and Gracie, thinking she was sleeping, down for the count. I didn't hear any moves on John's part to comfort her. I stood up and said, "I've got to get her."
Even Walter had noticed that something was not right with John. "Is he sick?" he asked. "Have you talked to Dr. Abbott?"
"No, Jackie doesn't want me to," I said. "If I were a practicing psychologist, I'd diagnose depression, I think. But I'm not sure it's chemical yet. It may be situational. He's had a lot to adjust to, and if you haven't noticed, these aren't exactly the easiest of kids. Scully says William was a lot easier."
I didn't know that for sure. I'd missed the beginning and the everything after of his life. I wasn't going to miss it for my girls. I headed upstairs. John had put both the girls in their cradles. Gracie was happy. The solar system mobile that I'd hung over her cradle was spinning around lazily, though it was hard to tell if it was doing that because of her, or because of the fact that her cradle rocked slowly, seemingly of its own volition. Garnet's cradle was moving as well, but not rocking. No, it was shaking, as if an invisible hand was pounding on the floor next to it. Inside, Garnet was red-faced, with her all too familiar arched back. John was curled up, sitting on the bed, knees pulled to his chest, staring at the pair of moving cradles. His face was white, his eyes as wide as a saucer.
Steadying Garnet's cradle with a well-placed hip and a foot on the rocker, I reached for Garnet. "What's the matter, Red?" I asked. I guess I'd started calling her red, not so much because of what I thought her hair color might be, but because of the red face she got when she cried. "Cubs not win the pennant this year either? You think your sister will be okay with Dad while we go down to the bar and get you a double? You okay, Jackie?"
Garnet's cradle had stopped its poltergeist act, but Gracie's was still describing its slow, regular pattern back and forth, with the planet's of her mobile making stately revolutions around each other. This wasn't the first time we'd seen signs that the babies were something out of the ordinary but it was the biggest manifestation of it thus far. Funny. Once upon a time ago, a man who shared the same name and face as I do would have killed to have such proof positive of the supernatural to shout to the world, but now that such proof was coming from my daughters, the only thing I wanted to do was conceal it, for their safety.
"I don't know, Fox," he said. "I don't know what I was expectin' but it wasn't this."
One day in early February, he was sitting, looking at me. He had a bag packed, waiting by the door. Walter had a bag packed by the door. Fox had Garnet in his arms. He was, I could tell, evaluating me, trying to decide if he could leave me for the night. He'd already rescheduled his vasectomy once, the first time because he thought I wasn't ready to be left alone for the night so soon. He obviously wasn't sure if he could leave me for the night yet. I wasn't sure if he could leave me for the night yet.
I must have looked like hell. The baby weight had melted off me, leaving me with a slightly flabby middle, but otherwise, skinnier than I'd ever been. I mean count my ribs skinny. I wasn't eating well, in addition to not sleeping well. Georgie had given up trying to tempt me with my favorite foods in favor of just pushing the highest calorie foods at me whenever I seemed distracted enough to eat. I was wearing the same sweatsuit that I'd worn yesterday, and the day before. Hell, that I'd worn all week.
"Just go get the damn vasectomy, Mulder," I told him. "I ain't having sex with you again until it's done."
I had been cleared a week ago, to have intercourse again, should I want it. I didn't. My libido had been shorn off at the roots, no remaining trace of it left. I had allowed Mulder very little bodily intimacy at all, nothing more than kisses. I had only just recently stopped bleeding entirely, having bled on and off for weeks, in amounts that varied from simple spotting to amounts that worried me. Abbott had assured me it was normal, just the uterus shedding the last of its lining. But more than the pregnancy itself, or even the birth, this bleeding had made me feel uncomfortable and vastly uncertain of myself. It made me wonder, would I get a period? Go through menopause someday?
"Okay," he said. "I'll go. You know you have Georgie here if you need anything."
I knew that she and Mulder talked, softly, worriedly between themselves about me when they thought I wasn't listening. I knew something was very wrong with me, but I lacked the ability to explain it, or even to admit to it.
Garnet started fussing in Mulder's arms and so I reached out for her, to pop her onto me for a feeding. I knew that's what she wanted. It had been hours since she'd eaten. Mulder didn't hand her over. Instead, he got up and started warming up a bottle for her.
"There's something I want to talk to you about, Jackie," he said, as he started mixing the powder into the water. It was a foul smelling thing, the formula, and it made their diapers smell far worse than they did when they were strictly breastfed. Worse, every bottle of formula they drank rather than milk from me made me feel more of a failure. It'd been hard to sell me on the breastfeeding thing at first, but once I hopped on the bandwagon for something, I was on for good.
"Listen to me. I know this will be hard for you to admit to. But I think you're depressed. Clinical, chemical depression. You more than meet the criteria in the DSM-IV. I want you to understand that it's nothing you've done, or thought about or anything like that that makes you feel this way. It's a chemical imbalance, brought about, probably in this case, by the sudden fluxes in your hormone levels after the girls' birth. What's happening is your serotonin levels have dropped seriously and that interferes with your abilities to do a lot of things, including sleeping even. I want you to call Dr. Abbott and make an appointment. I want you to consider going on an antidepressant. Only none of them that I researched are safe for nursing mothers. You'll have to wean the girls to bottles."
"I'm fine," I told Mulder, with the shadow of anger flaring up under the relentless gray of my feelings. "It's been hard to make some adjustments and I'm still not getting enough sleep. But things will even out soon enough. I don't want to talk about this any more. Give me the baby and get going."
I held out my arms for Garnet and, ignoring the bottle that was offered alongside of her, I popped her onto my body. She sucked eagerly at a nipple that was sore and cracked already. The pain, at least, reminded me that I was still alive.
Fox and Walter left finally. Nobody in the house that night got a wink of sleep. Not the babies. Not Georgie and especially not me. I'd had to give over Gracie's care entirely to Georgie. Gracie wasn't happy about that, but she was less unhappy than Garnet was when I put her down. Despite my holding her, offering every kind of comfort I could think of, Garnet still spent most of the night crying.
"I think she's colicky," Georgie said as we both tried to quiet the babies. She'd taken over the rocking chair and had Gracie mostly calmed. Except that Gracie broke out in squalls at any hint that she might be put down. Garnet, on the other hand, hadn't put a stopper to herself in an hour, though she was wound down to tired sobs at the moment. Except every time I thought she'd give up the ghost and go to sleep, she started up again, just as fresh as before. She was perfectly dry. She refused both breast and bottle again and again. She didn't have a fever. I'd tried dressing her up more in case she was cold and that didn't work. I'd tried stripping her down some in case she was hot. Nothing worked.
"No," I said. "I think it's that Fox is gone and she knows it."
You know, I had an all-new appreciation for my ex-wife since the girls were born. I used to think I was a pretty involved father. I'd loved my son. I'd changed diapers. I'd gotten up in the middle of the night more than a few times. As much as possible as my work allowed, I'd been around, helping out.
But that was just it. I'd been helping. The buck hadn't stopped with me. If I couldn't get Luke to stop crying, I always had backup. I could wake Barb, hand the problem off to the expert. She expected it even, often relieved me of my duty before I'd had a real chance to play daddy. I thought I'd been involved, but I knew now just how much she had borne the brunt of child-rearing.
Just like I was now. The buck stopped with me. It was my responsibility to get her to stop crying long enough to eat something, to fall asleep. Here she was, screaming as if she was in terrible pain, and I wasn't able to do anything about it. I was a failure, I realized. A fuck-up. I couldn't function as a person anymore. I couldn't even get my own baby to stop crying.
Hell, I couldn't even stop the subtle and insidious thought that threaded its way through every thought I had, that I could stop her crying with a well-placed pair of hands over her mouth and nose.
I nearly dropped her as the thought finally came to the forefront of my mind and I realized just exactly what I had been pondering.
The thought suddenly, obsessively starting flashing before my mind, of her sad, still, dead little body, held in my big hands.
If she hadn't been screaming in my ear at that moment, I would have had to shake her awake, prove to myself that I hadn't killed her.
"John? John!" Georgie stared at me, knowing something was wrong, but unable, obviously, to tell what. Because the emergency was all in my head.
I stood up and as much as I hated to put it all on her, I had to. I placed my screaming baby on her lap, with my other one, who was now fussing.
"I'm sorry, Georgie. But I have to get away now. I'm going to hurt them," I managed to get out, before I stuffed my hand in my mouth at the horror of the thought. I could still see myself doing it. Putting pillows over both their faces. Snapping their delicate little necks in my big, masculine hands. I could even hear in my mind the soft crack that their bones would make, the tender flesh powerless to resist under my fingers. Holding my babies under bath water like that one woman had.
I'm not a man to run from danger. I face it. Charge headlong into it. But this horror was something I couldn't fight. The monster had so invaded me, become such a part of me that I couldn't even see where to start, what way to face it. I had to get myself away, not from the danger, because I was the danger, I had to get myself away from those I would cause danger to.
Georgie watched in pained silence, with my two babies clutched closely to her, one in each arm, as I rummaged around the house, until I had found a coat, shoes and a random ring of keys, not even sure whose keys they were.
Out in the bitter, starless night, I fumbled around until I found a key that matched a lock on one of the cars. Fox's police cruiser was the winner. I got in and started it. I said a little prayer as it turned over, then caught. Not bothering to buckle myself in, I drove down the driveway, into the seemingly endless Iowa night, taking whatever turns presented themselves to me.
We were on our way back already. I had been unable to rest in the Des Moines motel room, worried about how things were going back at home. I think my restlessness must have infected Walter as well, because as I tossed and turned in my bed, unable to get comfortable, despite the painkiller I'd been given, he moved from bed to chair, to window and back again, unable to settle.
It didn't help when Scully made an appearance. "Mulder," she said, sitting down on the corner of my bed. Walter didn't see or hear her. He was looking out the window again at the parking lot. "I know you're in pain, but I think you should consider heading back right now."
"Let's go home," I said to Walter at about ten o'clock. I wasn't exactly in pain, but my groin felt it had been unjustly abused. Definitely that kicked in the balls feeling, but I didn't think that tossing and turning in some strange bed was going to make it any better. My tormentor, the coolly efficient doctor, had been swift but without much compassion. She had approached me in much the same way as I remember Scully approaching her autopsy victims, snapping on the latex quickly, as if to say, let's get this over with. I was in and out of the office in less than an hour. I had been pricked, cut, snipped, stitched, shaved and bruised. Yes, my whole groin, especially my penis, was dark with spectacular bruising. I deserved the comfort of my own bed, I thought, but given Scully's warning, I somehow thought it would be a while before I got it. Oh, well. I'd functioned in far worse pain and levels of health.
I was surprised when Walter agreed, not just readily, but eagerly. I hadn't thought that he'd be so eager for a multi hour drive so soon. "I'm worried," he said, as I questioned him on this. He stuffed the few things we'd packed back into the bags, and added, "John's not himself entirely, is he?"
"No," I said, thinking about how empty his eyes had looked when I'd said goodbye to him this morning. I thought that I knew that place where he was right now all too well. I had been there, getting ready to eat my gun. I hadn't seen him try that just yet, but he was close. I shouldn't have left him.
"Depression will do that to a person," I said.
"I don't like leaving Georgie alone with them," Walt said as he pulled on his shoes finally. "In case you didn't notice, she's not really much of a baby person. It's hard on her."
"Let's go," I said. By then I'd managed to put on enough outer wear to make the trip through the sub-zero windchill to the car. It took only a few more minutes for us to get out to the car, get checked out of the room and get on the road.
I was able to drift asleep, finally, in the car, lulled to complacency by the steady rhythm of the wheels on the pavement, but I was woken instantly when Walter's cell phone jingled at him.
"Georgie?" he said, then listened. Silently. Gravely. Something in that silence made my guts tangle in fear. "You'd better talk to Fox. We're on our way home already, just another two hours or so. It'll be all right."
Walter handed over the phone and I said, "Georgie, what's up?"
She seemed, for the first time in the months I'd known her, like she had been crying. She was such a solid, strong, rock hard even, person, that I could hardly imagine what had happened. In the background, I could hear the wailing of not one, but both of the girls. "John has gotten worse since you left. I believe he's in a dangerous state."
"Georgie, if you haven't already, I want you to hide all the firearms in the house," I told her, imagining the worst. "Sit on the clips if you have to."
"He's gone, Fox. He got in your car and he left. I don't think he's going to harm himself. He said he was going to hurt the girls. He looked...I can hardly say. I was scared by it though. I let him go. I think I really was afraid that he would hurt them."
Fuck. Double fuck. I noticed that Walter had increased the speed of the car significantly, as fast as he probably dared to go on small, dark state highways that made sudden curves without warning. He drove with a grim expression that I could see in the green glow of the dashboard lights.
"He has access to a firearm in the car," I told her. "I don't know if he knows it's there. Under the driver's seat. With a clip in it," I said. "Georgie, look. I want you to call Bob right now. Make an appointment for first thing in the morning. Tell him you think that John is definitely suffering from severe postpartum depression, and that we're afraid he might have snapped into postpartum psychosis. Or if you can get Bob to come out tonight, that'd be even better."
"I've called already," Georgie said. "Bob is on his way."
I had already decided, all personality quirks aside, that push came to shove, Bob Abbott was a good man. An arrogant son of a bitch sometimes, but a good man. My judgment was reinforced again.
"Good," I said. "Look, I don't think John is going to hurt the girls. I think he left to stop himself. If hurting them was what he really wanted to do, he would have taken them up to his room or the bathroom or something. Found some excuse to send you out on an errand. I'm not afraid for the girls. I'm afraid for him. He just might decide he needs to punish himself for having these thoughts. Hold tight, Georgie. we're on our way."
It was a long, grim trip home.
When we pulled into the driveway, after first making a survey of the immediate neighborhood to make sure he hadn't driven the car into a ditch or something, I noticed that Abbott's car was already there.
In the house, I decided that Abbott probably had decided to become an OB because he liked babies. He had braved the foul beast that was my little, bald-headed screamer. And I thought he just might be winning. He was walking her around the house, cooing at her, bouncing her up and down as he walked. It was a funny sight, this fat old man, soothing a baby like that. But her sobs appeared to have died down a good bit, with periods of quiet in between. She seemed on the verge of falling asleep on his shoulder.
"Any word from John?" I asked immediately. "Did he call to tell you where he was going or anything?"
"No, nothing," Georgie said. She was baby-free at the moment, though she looked over at the cradle containing Gracie every now and then.
I was torn. I should be heading out, searching for him. I was exhausted. I was in pain. The bumpy ride from Des Moines had not been good for my general state of well-being or the comfort level of poor, abused groin. Georgie looked at me and said, "You sit down, Fox. Bob and Walter will go out looking for John. You take care of the children. I'll stay here with you."
Abbott held out Garnet to me. She seemed grateful to be back in my presence. With a few whimpers, she settled into my arms and proceeded to sleep, something I gathered she hadn't done since I'd left the house well over eighteen hours ago. It looked like I'd have to stay with her and trust that Walter could find John, and once he found him, talk him off that ledge that he must be wavering on.
I hadn't really gone looking for the Glock. My hand just found its way under the seat and there it was, in the same place I'd have put it if it were my car. The gun found its own way into my hand and I'd driven for miles and miles with it sitting on my lap. Its weight was heavy on my legs and cold through my sweats. Occasionally some more rational portion of my brain would kind of pick at what keeping that gun close to hand meant to me, kind of like a kid would pick at a scab. It felt like that too, raw and tender, and part of you thinking that if you could just pull it off, it'd feel better.
I'd taken the county roads kind of as they came to me, each time I came to a turning, I took a random chance on left, right or forward. But once I hit the highway, I found myself presented with less choices. The road stretched out before me, my options limited to where the builders had decided to put exits. I could go to Omaha. I could go to points beyond. I could stop at any number of small towns in between. I headed to Omaha, a place I hadn't yet been during my time here. Once I'd passed most of the way through it, I decided if nothing else, I should stop someplace, get a coffee and try and clear my head, decide what I was going to do. Except one thing, I thought. God, I'd better not get pulled over, because I didn't have my wallet. Not that there was much in there at the moment, just the fake driver's license and the credit card Fox had gotten me. No stopping. No coffee. Unless.
When I pulled into the first restaurant I found off the highway, I reached under the seat again. Not as obvious, but after a moment of digging, I was able to pull out a roll of cash- twenties mostly, probably, two, three thousand dollars. I peeled off the top most couple of twenties and stuck the wad back where I found it, along with the Glock. It made me feel slightly better knowing it would still be there when I got back to the car. I didn't have any pockets on the sweats I was wearing and I couldn't even tell in the dark if they were anything approaching clean. Probably not. I stuck the money in my shoe for lack of a better place to put it, and headed to the diner.
The restaurant was a Denny's, surprisingly empty, despite it being nearly two in the morning by this point. I found my way to the nearest empty booth and claimed it. There was only one waitress working the joint and she seemed kind of bored. I realized, suddenly, that it was a damn good job that the place was so empty. I don't think I could have handled the full crowd, just because it had been so long since I was out of the house, other than briefly being ferried to the doctor's offices, off hours, for appointments that couldn't be done at home. I hadn't so much as ordered a simple cup of coffee in a restaurant or seen strangers since before August.
The waitress was fat, with frizzy hair. She looked like hell. I could identify with that. She was yawning. "Sorry 'bout that," she said. "I just got switched shifts. Still not used to this late night thing. What can I get for you, sweetie?"
A way out of this hell that's calling itself my life? To set back the clock so none of this ever happened? The quiet peace of the grave which had to be better, could only be better than a life filled with obsessive thoughts about suffocating one's own children?
"Coffee. Black," I said. "For now."
"Right up," she said and left me alone with my thoughts.
I didn't know what I was going to do. What I wanted was to die. My family, my girls, would be far better off without me, their murdering father. The simplest, most obvious solution at the moment was looking to be that Glock. Everyone in law enforcement knows if they're going to take their own life, they ain't gonna mess around with pills, or trying to drown themselves or cutting their wrists. No, someplace nice and quiet and a nine-millimeter, in through the mouth, up through the brain was what did the trick, quick and simple.
"So tell me about it," the waitress said, as she turned the cup at my place setting over and filled it with coffee that smelled as strong as diesel fuel, like it'd been on the burner a while.
"About whatever troubles has got you sitting in a dump like this at one in the morning, away from your baby and family."
Was I going to even try and explain it to a total stranger. When the pain was so profound, so wrenching that I couldn't even begin to speak it to those I loved the most.
"How did you know I..."
"Have a baby? You've got throw-up all over your shirt, sweetie. I remember those days like they were yesterday. Oh, that was yesterday. I had to switch to the nightshift because it's the only time I can get my mom to watch my baby boy. Must have been some night for you to walk out looking like that," she said. Then she indicated the phone with a nod of her head. "You want to call your wife, let her know you're okay?"
"I don't have a wife. I was never married to my kids' mother and she walked out on me right after they were born. It's just me and the twins."
She looked at me like she suspected I was one of those people that would leave their kids in the car while they went in somewhere.
"I left the girls at home with my sister," I explained. "I just had to get away for a little while, you know."
"Oh, believe me, I know. Must have been one of those nights where the kid just would not stop screaming and you wanted to throw that baby right out the window. Hold on, sweetie, I'll be right back," She said, as the door opened again. Some stranger walked in and sat down.
I felt suddenly overwhelmed again, by the kindness, by the thought that maybe she understood something of what I was going through, and yet that I couldn't explain it to her, because I was so different. I couldn't tell anyone except the small circle of people who knew already that I was going so haywire because those babies had been birthed from my body. As she talked to the stranger, my breath felt choked and heavy. I had to get out. Abandoning my coffee, I stood up. I threw one of the twenties from my shoe on the table without waiting for change and just left.
Once back in the car, I didn't start it, not knowing where I wanted to go next. Even thought it'd been only twenty minutes since I'd left it, the car interior seemed nearly as cold as it was outside. Bitter. Bone chilling. Leaving me feeling like I was ice. My hand found its way automatically to that Glock again. I sat with it in my lap watching my breath turn into white clouds for hours, trying to make some kind of decision. She'd be the one to find me, I knew. The kind waitress would hear the shot and rush out to the parking lot to find my brains spattered all over the windshield. Actually, there'd be a whole chain of strangers who would have to deal with my death if I took it here. The cops who'd be called out. I knew that, having been on the other side when I was a cop. I'd had to break into some sap's car who'd decided to take this way out a few times. There'd be the EMTs who'd end up having to take me to the morgue. The medical examiner who'd be puzzled by the fact that I was neither fish nor fowl. There'd even be some poor sap car detailer who'd be the one to scrub my blood out of the upholstery.
All these reasons not to do it, but nothing presenting itself as an alternative, nothing that would end the pain. You know, I think I almost preferred feeling nailed down to my bed, unable to do anything to this feeling like I was choking on quicksand, drowning in it.
Sometime a while after dawn, there was a rap on my windshield. I'd had to break down, eventually and turn the car on, just for the heat, after I had started to shiver so badly that I knew I wouldn't even be able to pull a trigger. Even so, the windows were icy from condensation and I couldn't see through. I switched the heater to defrost and swiped at the windshield in the direction of the rap, wondering if it would be a cop telling me it was time to move on or something.
It wasn't. It was Walt. I could see his worried face through the little hole in the frost that I'd made.
I guess they'd worried about me. Not that I deserved their care. I reached out to unlock the car. Walt walked around to the passenger side and got in, allowing the cold in for a minute. I shivered as he sat down. He didn't say anything for a long time. Perhaps gathering his reserves to give me a good reaming out like I deserved.
Instead, he pulled his cell phone out of a pocket and handed it to me. I took it and stared at it a while, not because I didn't know what he wanted me to do with it, but because I didn't know if I could find it in me to talk to Mulder just at this minute. Even though duty nagged me, I still felt as if I were lost in my cold, gray fog.
"You scared the hell out of our sister," he said, finally. He was reminding me of the connection that we had made between us. "Not to mention the rest of your family. Two on the speed dial."
I suppose one of the good things about family is that they don't let you get away with crap. Just from the determined set on his face, I could tell that neither of us was going anywhere until I'd made that call. It was ridiculous, really. Me. John Doggett, now Jack Skinner, sitting in the frozen wasteland of a Denny's parking lot in Ass End Nowhere, Nebraska, grounded by the man who'd elected himself my brother, because I was afraid to make a call to my lover, because I was scared that he would tell me something I already knew- that I was sick. Finally, Walt made the decision for me. He reached over, grabbed the phone out of my lax hand and pressed the buttons for me. He handed the phone back to me before I could protest.
It rang for a few times, then was picked up, by a very tired sounding Fox Mulder. "Hello," he said. Then when I was silent in response, he said the same again a couple of times.
"Hey, Fox," I said. My voice, normally kind of raspy, sounded gratingly harsh to my own ears.
Mulder's voice though, was sweet softness to me. His relief at hearing my voice came through the phone loud and clear, even if he spoke at a near whisper, as if afraid of waking someone. "Hey, Prince Charming. When you coming home?"
"I'll leave soon as I'm done talking to you," I said, aware of the gun on my lap. Guess that no longer was an option, if it ever really was. No doubt they'd have me on a suicide watch back at home. Oh, they wouldn't be obvious about it, but my every step would be watched. I put it back into the place I had found it, remembering to put the safety back on first. "I'm on the far side of Omaha, I think. Walter's with me. Fox...I...I want to know if you can call Dr. Abbott for me. I think I need some help. I wanted to hurt them last night. That's why I left."
"Bob's out looking for you too. I'll call him as soon as I get off the phone with you," he said.
"He is?" I was surprised.
"I get the feeling there's very little he wouldn't do for Georgie," Mulder said. "Just like there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. We'll all talk when you get home. See you soon, Jackie."
He hung up on me, leaving me, for the first time in a while, hungry to be with him again, to talk to him some more. I wanted to know that my daughter's were okay, that the reason he'd been quiet is that they were sleeping and he didn't want to wake them. I handed the phone back to Walter and waited. I expected to get the royal treatment. The full ream out. It didn't come. Instead Walter was all business, deciding that though the obvious choice would be for me to drive the car back home, that I wasn't up for that. Talking to the people inside the restaurant, asking if it would be okay to leave Mulder's car there for a while.
Somewhere along the line, after I'd been deposited into the passenger seat of Walter's truck, I fell asleep. It'd been a good thirty-six hours since I'd had any sleep by that point, and though I'd once prided myself on being able to work round the clock, it was a rough time, considering I'd just come off a whole month and a half of virtually no sleep. I didn't wake up until I heard the crunch of gravel under the car wheels as we turned onto the county road that led to the farm house. It was starting to snow again, just a few flakes here and there at the moment, but with promises of much worse in the dark clouds overhead. I wondered if this winter would ever be over. Bob Abbott's car was waiting in our driveway when we pulled in. We were at home, sweet home, which somehow or another, had gotten to be a run down farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.
Mulder didn't rush out to meet me, but I got the feeling that he would have, if he weren't currently wearing Garnet. He met me at the door. He must have been watching me since the instant he heard the crunch of car wheels on gravel. Garnet was sacked out, limp in the baby carrier. Finally getting a little sleep. I suppose all that screaming really takes it out of a girl. Mulder didn't wrap me in his arms right away, but gently stopped me as I was walking past him by touching me under the chin. He looked into my eyes for a long time as Walter brushed past us. Of course I had to return the look. His eyes seemed dull, tired. Concerned, of course. But without that lively sparkle of potential mischief. These past weeks had been hard on him too, I thought. Though it had been the longest time since I'd wanted to be touched in any way, I pressed myself close to Mulder. I took my chin out of his hands and rested it on his shoulder.
"I'm so tired of this, Fox," I said. I was also suddenly aware that my breasts were uncomfortably full. The proximity of the girls caused it I suppose. I could feel the let down starting, soaking little wet spots in the front of my much abused sweatshirt.
"It's not you," Fox told me. "It's a sickness, but one that you have to take responsibility. God knows I don't believe in medicating away every bad feeling, but this is an obvious case of organic dysfunction."
Gracie chose this moment to wake. Even though she was in another room, I could clearly hear the tiny whimper that meant she'd woken hungry. My let down picked up again, soaking my shirt even more. I moved towards her, then stopped, remembering what Fox had told me yesterday, that I'd have to wean them. I didn't want to do that. Gracie, at least, had turned out to be an easy nurser. I wouldn't call it exactly pleasant having that suction pump and hard gums on my nipples, but there had been a certain peace I had gotten when I nursed her.
"Let me get her," Mulder said.
"No, just a few more times before we switch them to bottles entirely. Please," I said.
"Well, you haven't started the medication yet," Abbott said.
He'd come to the kitchen, bearing Gracie with him and he must have listened silently for a moment or two. He handed me Gracie. She'd been watching me, her whimpering shifting up to nearly a full cry once she realized I was in the room and she wasn't in my arms. It was almost an automatic response to shed my jacket, drop it where I stood, and pull up my sweatshirt. She popped onto the nipple almost like a sunflower turning to the sun. Her eyes closed as she suckled and as I walked us to the nearest chair to sit down, her little hands waved around. Then, when I held my hand near hers, she grabbed one of my big fingers with her tiny ones, holding tightly to me.
This is love, I thought as she nursed and I examined her. Everything just as it had been, each little dimple, each black curl. Love was the warm weight of her in my arms, the subtle but distinctive smell of her. I lost it. I tried to tell Mulder how much I had missed him too, but there was a catch in my voice that swallowing hard wouldn't make go away. Then I was crying, at least I have no other excuse for the streaks of wetness on my face. It was the first time I'd cried since before their birth. Fox held me. He didn't offer any overt comfort, just his presence as he held me. and his lack of judgment. A man could cry in Fox's presence and not feel any less a man for it.
Later, after I'd cried myself out and we'd fed both the girls, Fox and I had slept from the morning into the afternoon. I had my talk with Abbott.
Or rather, he talked at me and I gave the occasional monosyllabic grunt when he seemed to demand some answer. Eventually he pronounced, "We'll try you on Zoloft first."
I think some part of me must have been grateful, but it wasn't at the forefront at the moment. I didn't growl at Bob when he prescribed the antidepressant, but I wasn't pleased either. I guess I'd had some secret, futile hope that maybe he'd say something like, "It's all insomnia. Get enough sleep, it'll go away" or "All new mothers go through this. Wait another month and it'll go away."
No. I guess with not just Fox, but another professional diagnosing me, I had little choice but to accept that I was depressed and that it wouldn't go away on its own.
After Abbott gave the prescription, Fox held his arms out for both the girls and said, "You go shower and shave. After that, we'll go out and pick up your prescription."
Fox handed a clean shirt at me pointedly until I pulled my dirty sweatshirt over my head and changed into the clean one. Fox held the filthy shirt out at arm's length and said, "I think I may have tried to arrest this thing in a New Jersey sewer once."
"I don't think washing it is going to save it," I said. "May as well put it on the burn pile."
With us having to haul all our garbage to the dump ourselves, anything that was flammable practically, we burned. It was one of Georgie's favorite chores, so she claimed.
"You just might be right," Fox had said, but he chucked the shirt in the laundry anyway.
It'd probably been a week since I'd showered, as for the beard, it'd been longer. I thought about keeping it, but as I evaluated the man in the mirror, I decided that only nice clothes separated him from looking like a street person, with his hair and face looking like it was. My bangs had grown so long that I was having to push them out of my eyes. Yeah, I'd say a haircut was in order as well as a shave. Get myself together into something I recognized as myself.
After the shower, first I had to use scissors to cut the beard down to a length I could shave. As I pulled the safety razor down, stripe after stripe, revealing pale skin from under white foam, I wondered, was this myself emerging again? Understand that I still wanted to die like I had in that car, but sometime during that night, I had made up my mind to fight this thing.
Finally clean shaven again, I left the mirror behind. I could almost feel Fox on the other side of the door, even if he was a room away. No matter. Wherever he was, I could tell that he was wondering just what I was doing in the bathroom, why it was taking me so long. If I was going to harm myself, in other words. Oh, nobody would out and out call it that, but I'd earned myself a suicide watch, at least for a while. Not that I didn't deserve it.
Once back in our bedroom, I reached for some of my familiar, now comfortable clothes. The ones I'd been wearing since I'd been pregnant with the girls- one of those big oxford cloth shirts and a huge pair of sweats that I had to pull tight on the drawstring to keep up on my hips these days. Huge on me, but comfortable and they hid the fact that while the rest of me was gaunt, my stomach was still kind of flabby with loose skin. And that my hips were obviously bigger than they ever had been before.
"Uh-uh," Fox shook his head while digging in his own drawers, an awkward exercise for him even with Garnet in the baby bjorn. He held out a pair of jeans, his jeans, and a thick sweater at me. Fox and I used to be something along the same size. We wouldn't have been comfortable wearing the same suits, but for casual clothes, we once could have raided each other's drawers with impunity. Now, though, he was looking better than ever, his abs slim, buff, toned, his upper body bigger than it had been. And I was a physical wreck. He seemed to understand my hesitation. "Give 'em a try, Jackie. It's time to pack away your big clothes."
I'd been contemplating just wearing them until they fell to rags. That, or burning them. I don't see why he used the words, 'pack away', because it wasn't like I was going to use them ever again. I was never, never, never going to go through with this again. He'd even shown me the bruising to prove that he'd gone through with the operation.
"They're my loosest pair," Fox said. "They might work."
In face of such obstinacy, I thought it might just be easier to give in and try the damn things on. I pulled them on. I was skinnier than I thought, perhaps my body image still distorted by my pregnancy weight, but I was able to easily pull them over my hips and zip them up. They fit kind of funny, with plenty of room in the waist and not quite enough room in the seat, but they did fit. With the sweater over top, I almost looked normal again.
"You could use a haircut," Fox said, brushing a strand of drying hair out of my eyes. He reached up on tippy-toes to give me a kiss on the forehead, then said, "But other than that, you look great. Let's go. Daylight's burning."
Actually, there was very little daylight left. We'd slept most of the afternoon away. We'd be driving home in the dark for sure.
Walt was going to drive out with us, to retrieve the car we'd left in Omaha. Fox also wanted to bring the babies. I tried to put my foot down on that, but he kept wrapping Gracie up in one of those buntings that he'd bought. She took it in fairly good grace though she looked like a little pig in a blanket. Her sister was already wrapped up and waiting in her baby bucket, entertained by her own hands.
"They haven't had an outing yet," Fox said, soothingly. "We can't keep them here all their lives. Don't you want to share these adorable babes with the rest of the world?"
"Not really," I said, thinking about what I knew of the rest of the world. Keeping my girls hidden on an Iowa farm seemed like a good plan to me.
"If we take them, we'll have every cashier and the pharmacist cooing over them. We'll have to fight them off with sticks. What do you say? Just a quick run to the drug store and back?"
And so he wore me down and I finally relented. As the sun was finally setting, we were fitting the as yet unused car seats into Walt's car, borrowed for the trip. You know, when Luke was born, car seats certainly were available, but it wasn't unheard of for parents to ride with infants in their arms either. Now, I was thinking that it might be a good idea to get another set of car seats for, maybe even a third. See, I was thinking that once I was more myself, I'd get a car for myself. If I accepted that the money in that savings account that belonged to Jasper Skinner was mine, I had the money for it.
As if reading my mind, Fox said, "You know, if we go to the Wal-Mart, we can pick some things up while getting your prescription. Some clothes for you. Another set of car seats maybe. It'd be a longer trip though."
"Sure, fine," I said. "Whatever."
I wasn't quite ready to deal with going out yet, especially not with the girls, but I might as well make good use of it while I was out. The trip was mostly silent. Walt and Fox were in the front, I was in the back, wedged between two car seats. Even after we dropped Walt off at the Denny's parking lot and watched him drive away, we were quiet until we hit the Wal-Mart parking lot.
"You want Red or Gracie?" Fox asked, as he parked the car.
Tough question, really. It was going to be hard not to favor Gracie, considering the way that Garnet glommed onto Fox any chance she got. But Gracie was easier to handle, quiet and sweet. Garnet was a more difficult child to love, which somehow made the times she slept on my chest more sweet- they could be hard won victories.
"Garnet," I said. "You've been holding her all day. It's my turn. What is it with you two, anyway?"
"Do you believe in reincarnation, Jackie?" he asked. He'd opened Gracie's side and had gotten her out of her car seat. He started to strap her to him. She liked the classic style sling better than the baby bjorn.
Oh, no, not that supernatural bullshit again. I gave him a look that I hoped communicated exactly what I thought of that theory as I slipped into the tangle of straps that was the baby bjorn. Even in the yellow and shadows of the parking lot lights, he could read my skepticism.
"This is something I couldn't prove to Scully's satisfaction. I don't think I could prove it to yours either. But again and again, I meet people with whom I have an immediate connection that I can't deny. The same players meet on different stages, again and again. I believe that Garnet and I have known each other before and that we have come together again in this life. Perhaps in the past she has protected me. Now it's my turn to protect her."
At least he turned off the faucet of bullshit as we entered the front doors of the store. The greeter was a pudgy, white-haired woman, who, if she wasn't someone's grandmother, should have been. She seemed like one of nature's own Grandma's. It seemed natural almost to let her approach the girls as we took off the blankets that were protecting their faces from the cold.
"What a beautiful little girl," she said, of each of them. I'm not sure she got it that they were twins, or that Fox and I had even walked in together. We didn't correct her, just headed towards the corner of the store that probably had the pharmacy.
Fox had been right. Nearly everyone we ran into cooed over the babies. It was a curious kind of anonymity. We were so noticed, yet only as the impersonal bearers of these babies. If we were asked any questions at all, it was "Where is her mommy?"
Part of me wanted to lay claim to them, to say out loud, damn you, I am their mommy. I brought them forth after months inside me by hours of pain and work. But I didn't. I couldn't. Fox answered for us, with the simplest of lies. "She's not with us anymore," he said, refusing to clarify when asked more questions.
My biggest surprise of the day arrived as we were pushing a cart up and down the baby supplies aisle. As I was reaching for a big bag of diapers, not really watching, suddenly another hand was on the package, helping me guide it into our cart. I was surprised, because I'd thought that Fox was behind me.
He was. I looked up. It was my Uncle Phil. The hell? I had always assumed that once he'd caught up with Fox in that laundromat, that despite any evasive maneuvers Fox had taken on the way home, Uncle Phil knew where he was going, and therefore, where I was. But he'd ignored me thus far. Had he, or someone close to him been watching the farm. Had he been waiting for the opportunity to make some kind of move. I looked first at Uncle Phil, then at Fox. Fox kind of shifted where he stood, as if feeling for the familiar weight of his holster and gun. I'd studied everything about Fox once, when I'd been searching for him. I knew his record of firearm discharges. It was rare for him to pull his weapon, but when he did, when he took a shot, it was almost always decisively fatal.
I decided to take a casual approach to this confrontation. Acting like it'd just been last week since I'd seen him, I said, "Hey, Uncle Phil."
"How's it going, son?" he asked, taking the cue from me, keeping his voice light and neutral sounding.
"We're getting by," I said.
"And the girls?" he asked.
This was where I took the opportunity to convey my feelings on that subject. My voice as low and menacing as I could make it, I hissed at him, "You touch them and you're a dead man. That clear?"
Then I raised my voice back to pleasant and conversational. I added, in the voice of an appropriately proud pappa, "Aren't they beautiful?"
"The loveliest little ladies I've ever put my eyes on," he agreed. He turned to Fox and held out his hand, "Good to see you again, as always."
Fox seemed kind of suspicious, but took my Uncle Phil's hand and shook it. Something seemed kind of funny. I'm pretty quick on the uptake and I was sure that he was palming something off on Fox.
"Well, it's good to see the both of you again," he said, stepping away. "We'll have to get together sometime. I'll bring a proper baby gift."
Then he walked away, leaving me feeling frustrated. He disappeared into the aisles even as question after question that I wanted to ask him popped into my head.
"Don't worry," Fox said, "I'm sure we'll be hearing from him again sometime soon. He seems to have taken a personal interest."
It wasn't until after we were back in the car, babies locked into their car seats, and on the road again, that Fox showed me what my uncle had palmed to him. It was about the size of a fat pen, with cords coming out of one end.
"Some baby gift. If I'm not mistaken, it's a USB drive," Fox said. "I wonder what sort of interesting tidbits are on it. I'm sure, considering the kind of risk he took to get it to us, they must be good."
Later that night, I nursed both the girls to sleep for one last time. Then I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the little, amber plastic bottle that was supposed to take my mental pain away, at least enough of it that I could think clearly again.
"You won't be on them forever," Fox promised. "Take it and then we'll hook the USB up to my computer and see what's on it."
I wrestled with the childproof cap for a minute, then shook out one of the little pills. It seemed like such a small thing to do everything that I'd been promised it would do. I took it with a glass of water. Then Fox hugged me. Just like I'd said to him once, right after the girls had been born and he'd come in from the outdoors looking vaguely shell-shocked, as if he couldn't believe what had happened, he said to me, "We'll be okay, Jackie. You, me, the girls. We'll all be okay. We'll make it through this. "
Then he added, with grin on his face, "So, should we flip now for who has to wait up all night on prom night?"
"We make it that far and both of us are going to be up chewing our nails and you know it," I told him as he got out his laptop computer. It took him a few minutes to get everything hooked up and for the information to be scrolling across the screen.
"It's garbage," I said, looking at the random seeming streams of characters that filled the window.
"No, it's encrypted," he said. "Damn. I wish the Gunmen were around still."
He looked at something over my left shoulder, then looked to me. I could see him making some kind of decision. Then he talked to the empty space behind me. "Yes, I know your kung-fu is still the best, Langly, dead or alive. But can it help me out with this mess on the screen?"
"What are you doing?" I asked as Mulder set the computer aside on the bed. I knew what he was doing. Acting crazy. Thinking he was talking to dead people again.
"Watch," Mulder said.
I've seen some strange things in my time. I've seen monsters. I've seen a blind guy nail a shot through solid walls. I'd seen my daughters cradles' rock back and forth, seemingly on their own power. I've never seen anything like this.
The computer seemed to take on a life of its own. The keys depressed like someone was typing, but there was nobody there. We waited. The nonsense strings on the screen changed, and changed again.
"That computer is haunted," I was finally able to admit. I couldn't think of any way else to describe it.
"No, more like I'm haunted," Fox said.
I was mildly surprised to find out that the three stooges could still hack with the best of them. No, perhaps even better than they ever had. I had known that my beloved dead are able to bring me physical objects. The man I knew only as X brought me the address of Marita Corvarrubias on a small slip of paper. That they are able to manipulate the physical world in other ways shouldn't surprise me. But to see them engage in such complex tasks seemed unlikely.
Past projects I'd worked with the gunmen had always gone smoothly. They easily worked as a team, their whole greater than the sum of their odd parts. But now, Langly was the center of their trio, the one at the keyboard, but the other pair stood at his shoulders, still, as if lending their power to him somehow.
I remembered how they'd picked up Jimmy as a fourth once, and I thought about that now. Groups of four are more stable, politically speaking. But I thought that a grouping of three is more powerful somehow. As if the tensions in the uneasy groupings produce a current that is not possible with a more stable arrangement. If nothing else, Western culture seems to recognize the potential inherent in threes. The chief power symbol of one of the still strong hegemonies of western culture is a trinity, after all. Trinitarianism possesses cultural supremacy while Unitarianism remains a footnote, a near fringe religion for liberals.
At long last, John spoke again. "So, the Gunmen are returned from the grave for one last hack?"
"No," I said, softly. Not that I could disturb the trinity now, I was sure, but the situation seemed to demand some kind of solemnity. "They, and the rest of the ghosts, come back to help me. I think if anything will save us, it will be them."
"I don't believe it," he said. But his eyes were telling me otherwise.
Over time, even the computer lost interest for us and we slept. I woke sometime in the dawn's light. John was changing Garnet and the Gunmen were still at work. But a few minutes later, Frohike said, "A few more keystrokes, then, sure as bob's your uncle, we're in."
"That was a brilliant hack," Langly said, at last.
"All you need now, Mulder, is someone who reads Russian," Byers added.
"Russian?" I asked, looking at the screen. They were right. The ASCII characters in nonsense strings had changed into Cyrillic text. It might or might not have been further encoded in the text.
"It appears to be, to all appearance, research notes of some kind," Byers said. "Our expertise ends here, Mulder."
I had once known someone who spoke fluent Russian, though I hadn't seen him around for a while. I had my own suspicions as to what happened to him, and if that were the case, then for damn sure, I'd rather have him where he'd gone than available to be my translator again. Look what happened to the both of us last time I used him as a translator anyway. Perhaps I was now getting my chance to make up to him what I now recognize as unnecessary cruelty and violence.
"It's really a damn shame that Walt's father wouldn't let their mother speak any Russian to their children," John said. She'd been allowed to transmit only the smallest amounts of her culture to her children.
We were, for the moment, at a dead end with this information. I shrugged.
"Breakfast?" I asked. There was nothing else to be done for the moment.
We left the computer behind and went downstairs with the girls. I was pleased to see John take the time to shave, then dress. And dress in the new jeans we'd gotten him from Wal-Mart. And a shirt that wasn't already permanently stained from baby throw-up. It was the little things that made me hopeful. Little things like taking his pill without argument.
After breakfast, I went upstairs, and got a surprised. I was disappointed to see Alex Krycek sitting in front of the computer now.
"Thought you'd finally managed to ditch me for good," he said, when he caught sight of my fallen face. "Too bad. I'm back like the proverbial bad penny."
"No," I said. "It's not that. I just hoped that maybe I was getting a second chance with you. A fresh start."
"You thought I'd risk coming back into a family where one of the parents has a temper like yours?" he said. "Fat chance, Mulder."
"If you'd come back to me as a child, I'd never hurt you, Krycek," I said. No, it was a solemn promise for all that I didn't phrase it that way. I don't believe I really have a bad temper. Krycek always just brought out the worst in me, a situation made worse by the betrayal I'd suffered from him.
"I'll take that under advisement," he said. "Now, shut up and let me get back to work."
I didn't ask what was in that document. Mulder would tell me when he knew and at the moment, my own problems seemed more important than whatever was happening in the wider world. He told me that he had found a translator who was working on it. I left it at that even though I knew that whatever it was, it was serious. Fox's mood passed quickly from almost jubilant to guarded and worried. He didn't sleep much during the next couple of days, even when the girls would let us get sleep. He was decidedly keeping something from me. Only, I didn't have the energy to go prying just yet.
For a couple of days, I struggled just to keep my head above water- to do the things I needed to do. Taking care of the girls, getting dressed, taking my medication, this was about the limits of my ability at the moment. Anti-depressants don't work instantly. My problems weren't gone with one magic pill, though I did feel better in the sense that I felt like I was taking action against the fog, rather than allowing myself to sink into it.
I knew that something was extremely important it the information that my uncle had given us even before Fox told me what it was. I saw it on the news, just as a sidebar item, just barely mentioned. Three days after I'd seen him in the Wal-Mart, there was a military helicopter crash, an 'accident'. A Blackhawk went down. The fatality list, though short, included then name Col. Phillip James Doggett. It hardly seemed real. I had just spoken to him days ago. He'd promised me I would see him again. I wouldn't get the chance to go to the funeral and I would never get the chance to ask him why he'd done what he'd done. Why he'd chose me. I watched the brief news item slack jawed, then went to find Fox. Thankfully, for once, both girls were napping, Gracie in her cradle, Garnet in the baby bjorn. I quickly threw a blanket over her before I went out into the cold. Hopefully, I wouldn't be long.
"How much progress have you made on those files?" I asked, when I found him in the chicken coop. Over time, he'd taken on some of Walter's chores, including cleaning the coop.
"Some," he said, guardedly. I knew that he knew more than he was letting on. His mouth was closed tightly, an almost frown.
"It's incendiary, whatever it is," I said. "Uncle Phil gave his life to get it to me. I just saw it on the news. A Blackhawk went down, for no reason, near Camp Lejeune."
"I was going to tell you later today. It's hard to find the words. Let's go inside and talk," he said, pitching one last fork full of used bedding out of the coop, then stepping out and closing the door behind him. We headed back to the house. When we were inside the house, shedding our boots and jackets, Mulder said, "Bedroom."
That was the place we went when we were having any kind of discussion we didn't want Walt and Georgie walking in on. I loved them, but I was really looking forward to getting a place with just Mulder. The farmhouse was a pretty big house, but it was still crowded with four adults and now two babies living in it. I almost considered seeing if we could have this talk in the living room, where it would be warmer next to the stove, but I thought Mulder wanted to have this conversation in bed. Probably with his arms around me. He was touching me again and again as we walked upstairs, guiding me gently to the stairs, just letting me know he was there. It took a while for us to get settled in bed, Garnet, still sleeping, in between us, but finally, he buried his face in my shoulder for a short while. His voice, when he talked, was a low rumble that I felt against my skin. His hair was silky under my fingers. It seemed right to run my fingers through it.
"You don't need any more bad news, in the state you're in. But you also need to know what I know. My source is not done translating the document, but I know this much. It's not just information. It's a warning. We have to find my brother as soon as we can. We need to get him to give our girls the same gift that he gave William. We have to go to him. We can't wait until he can travel to us."
"The magnatite? What's the hurry?" I asked. We'd discussed this before and we'd both come to the same conclusion, that when the time was right, if we could get our hands on it, we would administer the magnatite solution. Then hopefully, our little girls would grow up to be just normal girls. "William was months old when it was given to him."
"We need, as quickly as possible, to drive out anything in them that's alien," Mulder said. "The thing I've been looking for. The thing that has the power to prevent colonization. The thing that will end the conspiracy that's here now. It's been found. By the Russians. And they've unleashed it already."
"It's a virus. They conquer us through viruses. Now somebody in Russia has finally figured out the way to use the master's tools to tear down the master's house. I guess they were seeking to perfect the vaccine against the oil but they surpassed themselves. It's deadly to any of the aliens. The grays. The oil, you know like we ran across on the oil rig turns to dust when exposed to it. The bounty hunters. Any of the aliens. The supersoldiers even. All of the aliens, what they have in common are several key proteins making up their organic structures. These proteins are unlike anything found in terrestrial life forms."
"And anything that has them..."
"Dies when it comes into contact with this virus. We win. Endgame. Humanity lives happy ever after. Except our girls..."
I'll give Mulder one thing. He sure knows how to scare a guy. And I didn't want to think that the universe was so cruel as to give me something so precious to love as my children and then would just take them away again. Except I knew for a fact that it did that kind of thing all the time. I'd seen it done before. All the time. It'd happened to me. I pulled him as close as I could, hoping I wasn't disturbing Garnet too much.
"There's nothing we can do to stop it's release?" I asked. It might have been selfish, but yes, I would have sacrificed humanity's chance against the aliens for the sake of my girls.
"Too late. It's been released already. The only thing we can do is get our daughters the magnatite injection and hope that's good enough protection for them, that it destroys the part of them that's alien. The document gives a release date of a few days ago."
"Have you contacted your brother?" I asked. Personally, I still didn't trust the slimy weasel, but Fox did. But hell, everyone has an in-law that they don't like but they put up with for the sake of family harmony. Besides, if anyone knew where to get that stuff, Jeff Spender did.
"I did. We're just waiting to see if he can get his hands on what we need. He'll know soon. If he can, we'll be meeting somewhere in Tennessee, which is about in the middle of where he is now and where we are. We'll leave as soon as we know. There's other arrangements we need to make too," he said. Then he wasn't able to speak anymore for a while.
What do you mean, arrangements?" I asked finally, impatient in the face of his silence. The way he said arrangements was the way people usually said funeral arrangements.
"I just want to have things in order. In case," he said. He composed himself. He must have done the exact same thing hundreds of times when facing Skinner with some completely ridiculous report. "I want to get you the information on where all my various safe deposit boxes are and the couple of other places I have cash stashed. And I'll need to get you access to my various off shore accounts. And then, if there's a chance that I could be exonerated, I'll want to update my will, so that's what left of my assets can go to the girls. In case..."
"Cut the crap. What are you trying to say here, Fox?" I asked. I was getting more and more worried with each sentence. Sounded like he was planning on dying. That was not something I was going to hear.
"The virus doesn't just affect the aliens, Jackie. It affects hybrids. Like myself," he said. And then, just in case I didn't get it. Just to pound the nails into the coffin a little deeper. Just to twist the knife boring into my heart a little more viciously, he added, "There's a very good chance, no, an almost certain chance that this virus will kill me."
The universe is perverse. And cruel. The universe is a goddamn, mean, nasty, son-of-a bitch.
You'd think I'd be used to having the rug pulled out from under my feet and finding myself standing out over a chasm like in the goddamn cartoons. It'd happened enough in my life so far.
I couldn't accept this. There was nothing about this that was even vaguely acceptable. To have talked myself down from a ledge a couple of days ago, still sometimes wishing that I would just die in my sleep, mind you, then to find this out. To know that the person who I trusted most in this world, the man I'd grown unexpectedly to love, would be taken from me, along with my daughters possibly.
No. It wouldn't happen.
I did the only sane thing a man can do at a time like this. I denied it.
"You're trying to tell me you're an alien, Fox? What kind of BS is that? In the hospital, after you were dug up, Scully cured you. All those anti-virals. You trying to tell me that it didn't work?"
"Oh, they stopped that particular transformation," Fox said. "But they couldn't cure what's been part of my genetics all along. I am a hybrid, Jackie. I can't deny that. Alex Krycek confirmed that I am at risk for this virus."
"Great. So what I hear you telling me is that at the drop of a hat, we're going to have to set out on a cross country trip, with two infants who may or may not get sick and...and...and.." I couldn't finish for a minute.
"As long as I'm breathing, Jackie, that will not happen," Fox said.
"And that at some point during this trip, you will almost certainly get sick and die. And there's nothing we can do to stop that, and that even if we could, we probably shouldn't."
"That's about the whole of it," he said finally. I wondered, how many of the past couple of days had he known about this and kept it from me.
"I refuse to accept that. I wouldn't let you go down without a fight before, and I'm not doing it this time."
It seemed impossible, that in this warm bed, cuddled into the man's strong arms, the baby nestled between us, all evidence of the man's physicality surrounding me, from his masculine smell only tainted a little by chicken poop, to his velvety skin still cold under my hands from having been outdoors, that something should happen to him.
"It's not acceptable," I said again, holding him as if I could stop him from going.
"Life is rarely acceptable," Fox said. He was holding me back exactly as tightly as I was holding him.
"What are we going to do?" I asked. As always, I was more comfortable with some concrete plan, something to do. Something to investigate. An action to take. Something to fight against.
As for plans, I knew exactly what I would do if I lost both Mulder and the girls. No thoughts of waitresses finding my body would stop me. Not even thoughts of Georgie and Walt, having to bury their youngest sibling, again, would stop me. If just Mulder was affected and the girls survived, oh, it would be hard, but I would be obligated to continue. They deserved at least one parent.
"Have you told Walt?"
"Not yet," he said. "He's got enough on his mind."
Walt was busy, on the phone all the time, planning the hearing that might exonerate Mulder with that military lawyer he'd found. Tomorrow, he'd be flying back to DC for the hearing.
"He probably won't be able to go with us to meet your brother," I said.
"No. I don't think we should bring Georgie with us either. I don't want her in any kind of situation where she could get hurt. I think it'll be just me and you. I'll make sure you have numbers. People you can call if you have to go it without me. People you can trust. And my ghosts will always watch out for you."
And they would. Indeed, the house had started to take on that grand central station of the dead look again. Everywhere I looked, every place I glanced, there was some spirit or another.
I think I would have known something was about to happen to me, even without the news from John's uncle. I was in danger. It was clear from the constant attendance of my beloved dead. Besides Alex Krycek still hovering over the laptop computer, translating the last scraps of that document and looking for any hint, any information at all that might save me, Monica was hovering over Gracie's crib as she slept. Monica was singing softly some lullaby type song, in Spanish. I didn't understand a word of it, but Gracie continued to sleep. Monica was rocking the cradle in time to the music.
It would have been so peaceful. A wonderful loving scene. Except for I knew the axe that hovered over all our heads. There have been times before where I have thought I was going to die. That brain disease had been a frightening time. When Scully had been dying of cancer, I thought that I too, might die. But never before had the stakes been so great.
Strange to realize it now. For so long I had denied that my personal life even existed. The quest for the truth had seemed the highest stake there could be. That there was a danger threatening the lives of every person in the United States, in the world even, had been more important to me than the comfort of human company. If I'd known then what I knew now, I would have taken Scully to bed years before she died. We wouldn't have been so lonely together for so long.
Because you don't really love people in the abstract. That's not love. It's duty. Or something. No, you love people in all their glorious, banal reality. You love them and their petty irritations and their beautiful, solid, physical forms. You could feel a kind of hollow righteous anger that someone could threaten strangers' children with smallpox bearing bees. But you loved the weight of your own daughter against the crook of your arm, the particular pitch of her cry, the soft whimpers she makes in the night. And the mere thought of her being harmed is something that knives straight into your gut.
And perhaps in the large scope, my problems, my terror at being separated from my beloved family, might not be worth a whole lot, not even a hill of beans compared to everything that was going on out there. But for me, these stakes were higher than they had ever been.
"John, listen to me," I told him. "If this thing gets me, I will wait for you. We will meet again. Somewhere. Somehow. It may be a different stage, but it will be the same players. You and I will love each other again. And as long as you need my protection, I will haunt you, like my ghosts haunt me."
"No, I don't believe it," he said. "There has to be something we can do. Someway we can fight this."
As always, he was beautiful, strong-headed man. And by all the things I hold sacred, I wished that I could believe as he did- that I was not doomed. That some struggle against my fate would be fruitful and I would end up growing old with him. But who would know best who is fated to join them next than the dead themselves and they were hovering around me like turkey vultures around a road-killed deer. John held each other the rest of the day, until Georgie came up to find us. I guess John had volunteered to cook dinner earlier in the day. And she was wondering when he was going to get started, being as it was nearly seven already.
"I don't think either of us is going to be hungry, Georgie," John said to her. "Bad news."
Then he told her.
And I had my proof that his strength had come through his depression unharmed. He held Georgie as she crumpled, let her cry in his arms. She didn't cry until after she had asked the same questions he had. Isn't there anything we can do? How can this be happening? Why? Only when our helplessness in the face of this microscopic, but very virulent threat was confirmed did she let herself slip from her normal, stoic self. She let herself have about five minutes before she gathered herself up again.
Somehow, like always, life carried on. Somehow or another, we got dinner on the table, while juggling the babies, making bottles for them. Somehow, Walt was told, his only response a tightening of the jaw and a looking away, over my shoulder at the wall beyond me. I could almost see him wishing for someone like that black-lunged, cancer-riddled bastard or any other devil to make a deal with for my life. When dinner was served, it was in a terrible quiet we looked at each other over our soup and grilled cheese. The times were too profound for mere words, perhaps.
The ringing phone was a relief. Not the house phone, but one of my cells. I answered it sitting at the table, knowing it was the call that I'd been waiting for. The one that might bring salvation to my daughters at least.
My half-brother's damaged, raspy voice told me, "I have the packages you requested. I'm already on my way to the agreed delivery point."
"Understood." I told him. After that, he hung up. We didn't risk anything more than that. I shut down my cell and stuffed it back into my pocket. Then I stood up from the table, looked at my companions, especially John, and said, "We leave tonight. As soon as possible."
He shoved his bowl away, the vegetable beef unable to hold any more interest for him. "I'll start packing," he said.
I'd somehow expected him to protest, to demand that we start out in the morning with a good night's sleep behind us. Instead, he stood up from the table and was about to head upstairs immediately, when he remembered that it was time to take his pill. He grabbed the amber bottle with a few foul words whispered under his breath. "You know, if I didn't have to be on these, we wouldn't have to worry about packing all of this crap," he said, indicating all the bottles and formula paraphernalia. It was going to be a logistical nightmare, driving straight through with the babies but I couldn't see what else we could do. We had to get them to that serum as quickly as possible.
Packing was a rushed affair, with the both of us grabbing as much stuff as we could and putting it in bags. Most of what we grabbed was baby stuff. The average invasion of Europe has nothing on the sheer amount of impedimenta it requires to take a baby anywhere. Then double that. I'd gladly wear the same jeans for several days in a row, but babies are messy and inconvenient. Their diapers leak from the legs and make their cute little pink rompers disgustingly dirty. They throw up. They can't blow their own noses, I remembered as I grabbed the little bulb syphon thingee.
Georgie agreed, after much persuasion, to be the one to stay home, keep the home fires burning, so to speak. She wanted to go with us so much, but it was too dangerous. Anything might happen on this midnight ride of ours. Sometime after nine, we were finally buckling the twins into their seats, after warming up the car for a long time. John took Georgie into his arms one last time and then said, "We'll be home soon. Everything'll be fine. I'll take first shift driving, Fox. You can sleep."
Walt hung back, but when John got settled behind the wheel, seatbelt on, he tried to find something to say. He failed, shook his head. Finally Georgie said, "Godspeed." Then Walt nodded his agreement and shut the car door.
It closed with a final sounding thud. We were sealed inside a little world, in many ways, just the two of us again. Yes, the girls were there, but the car seats seemed to work some magic on them and almost the instant John put the car into reverse and pulled out of the farm's long driveway, they were asleep. It had been less than twelve hours since Krycek had translated the document enough to get a full sense of what was in it. Since I'd gotten a death sentence that was more real, more perilous than the one I'd gotten from the military tribunal. John drove with silent purpose and intensity. His face, just barely illuminated in the dashboard lights, was lined, the furrows between and over his brows deeper than they ever had been, a topographical map of worry.
"You know," he said finally, long after we'd hit the highway. "I've heard people say before that God doesn't give you any more problems than you can handle. I'd have to say, that if I believed in God, that he trusts me entirely too much. You can't leave me, Fox. I can't do this alone."
I wished that he had some kind of faith. That I could tell him that he would never be alone, far from it, that the girls would have the most motley assortment of guardian angels you could imagine. I wished that I could tell him this and have him believe me. Instead of trying to break through his brick wall of disbelief again, I just reached out an arm and slipped it behind his neck as he drove, a gesture that I wished could someday become familiar, but comforting even as it was new. I fell asleep not long after.
Waking in a stopped car hours later was disorienting. John wasn't in the driver's seat. I shook sleepiness out of my head and looked around. I saw the yellow, harsh lights of a gas station canopy, the kind that cast more shadows than illumination. John reappeared a few minutes later. He pushed a few things at me. A cup of coffee first, then a cellophane bag with sunflower seeds in it.
"Your turn to drive. I've been driving for hours. We're nearly to Illinois," he said. When he got back in the car, it was in the back seat with the girls, squishing himself between the two car seats. "I took them in and changed them while you were sleeping. Fucking truck stop has one a them changing tables in the women's room but not one in the men's room. Had to do it on the six square inches of counter not taken up by the sinks. I'll feed them while you drive."
I don't know how he did it, what inner reserves he found. But the man who only days ago barely had it in him to get dressed was taking care of me. Perhaps he did his best in crisis mode. I looked at the bag of sunflower seeds. I had cut down on them ever since he'd thrown a bag of them out of a car window and threatened me with bodily harm should I partake of them in his presence again, sneaking out to the porch to eat them, or stocking up when I was on the road. It seemed a small enough thing. I'd never really told him what they meant to me.
Sticking the coffee into the cup holder, I got out of the car and walked over to the driver's side. The night was still cold, but somehow seemed milder than it had been, the air smelled almost moist. The sign of a thaw perhaps. I opened my bag of seeds as soon as I'd started up the car and got us on the road.
"You know, when I was growing up, I'd sometimes wake up in the middle of the night. I had a nightmare that I was the only person in the world. Like everyone else had vanished. I was scared. I was a kid, you know," I said. "And then I'd hear my father in his study down the hall. He'd be crunching seeds. And then it was okay. It's reassuring to me, the sound."
I tried to catch a glimpse of his face in the rear view mirror, but I couldn't in the darkness. But I felt a hand reach up from behind and rest of my shoulder. He was such a good man and what I felt right now was nothing but anger at the universe, at anything that was out there, that was putting him through this. The inextricable relationship that I was in with him was not accidental, yet it was not in my control either. I would not ask this of anyone, that they first love me, then have to watch me die.
State after state, we drove, stopping only when we had to, just for the demands of our daughters. Our own needs were strictly incidental, taken care of at the same time their cries made us pull over for a diaper change or a feed. I wouldn't have thought we could do it, drive straight through to Tennessee from Iowa, but with two drivers, we made it. Our progress was still slow though.
Nevertheless, we arrived in Tennessee. The sky was a dull gray, about the color of lead. It was early morning, but the heavy cloud cover promised that the sky would get only a little lighter with full daylight. It was chilly, but above freezing, maybe even up into the forties. More like the kind of winter I'd prefer to tolerate. Fox was at the wheel as we turned off the interstate, onto first a smaller state highway, then to a county road.
"Where are we headed?" I asked.
"Apison," Mulder said.
Neither of us were much in the mood for conversation. It'd been a brutal trip and both of us were cranky, liable to snap at the other. I was wearing the same clothes that I'd left Iowa in, so was Mulder. Neither of us had taken the time to shave either. I shrugged. Before long, we were pulling up to someplace that looked just like a big field, with a farmhouse. There were extensive outbuildings, but the whole place looked abandoned. The doors to the buildings hung open. Dead and brown with the winter, weeds grew waist high around the yard. No graffiti though. It looked like no one had even stepped foot onto the property in years. Mulder stopped the car on the side of the road, not heading into the driveway.
"What is this place?" I wasn't going to get the girls out of the car at such an abandoned and creepy place without making sure it was safe.
"One time home to the Temple of the Seven Stars," he said. "Currently property of the county for back taxes. Nobody will touch the place, not even at tax auction. It's rumored to be haunted."
"They did a Jonestown, didn't they?" I asked, thinking about what I'd heard about that little debacle. I hadn't been involved in the raid, and a good thing too. It was bad news all around. Hard to imagine every single member of the cult taking a swig of poisoned kool-aid without kicking up the slightest fuss.
"After the ATF and the Bureau continued to search for their weapons, after I warned that the Temple would take this action if they persisted," Mulder said. He got a sour look on his face, as if tasting something nasty. Perhaps this was the sight of a man facing up to one of his more regretted failures.
"This is where we're meeting your brother?"
Mulder checked his watch. "He'll be here soon. We're a little early."
There didn't seem anything for it but to get the girls out of their car seats and dress them up in buntings. After so long in the car, a little fresh air would do them, and me, good. Mulder was already going for Garnet, who'd starting fussing. She all but burrowed right into his shoulder. Once Garnet was in place, he patted himself down, then shifted a little, as if having to move his holster slightly out of the way of the baby. I checked my own weapon before reaching for my baby, moving the holster so it was almost in the small of my back. I'd been given the weapon by Mulder as we packed to leave. He'd handed it to me solemnly, and he didn't ask for my promise not to use it on myself. I just nodded and took the gun. Gracie was temporarily asleep and surprisingly didn't wake when I transferred into the sling. I set off on a stroll, more like a patrol. Mulder seemed to avoid the house, so I did on principle. I wanted to keep him in eyeshot, just in case.
I seemed to lose him soon though. I don't know where he disappeared to, behind some tree. Meanwhile, I was getting the strangest impressions. I swore I heard things that shouldn't have been there. Men shouting. Gunfire going off. But not in reality. I could tell that I hadn't really heard those sounds. They kind of rang hollow in memory, like I hadn't really heard them, just thought I did.
I hadn't meant to lose track of John. I was just wandering around, wondering at the wisdom of having arranged to meet Jeff here at this place, the field where I had once died. There were many memories here, most of them bittersweet at the very best, heart rending at the worst. I had not lied to John. It was a place that was haunted. I remain convinced that there is some power inherent in the place that causes those who are susceptible to it to recall memories long past, perhaps even some that were not their own. There had been a witness that had been arrested on that raid- Melissa. I had known her. I had loved her. No, I didn't fall in love with her. I just loved her. It had been a fact about her that was no more variable than her height. It just was.
The cold damp was, in its way, worse than the dry cold of the Iowa winter. It seeped into my bones. Garnet managed to fall asleep, but I was restless. I wandered aimlessly until I heard a noise.
John calling out to me. Only he didn't call my name. Or I suppose it would be accurate to say, he didn't call me by the name I went by this lifetime.
"Sullivan!" John called out. "No! Sullivan!"
As best as I could burdened down by my daughter, I ran to the sound. When I found him, he was kneeling on the ground, actually in a patch of mud, staring in horror at something that wasn't there. I put my hand on his shoulder and when he still didn't look up, I shook him gently. "Jackie, you'll catch a cold or something," I said.
His attention snapped from whatever inner world he was looking at to this reality immediately. I watched him struggle, to reconcile that inner truth with the proof of his eyes, that he was here in the winter of 2003, in the cold mud. Not, as he probably was remembering, a battle field during 1863. I saw him push that other reality down, tamp it away with all the other things he refused to believe. The evidence of his eyes won out and he stood up.
"I don't know what came over me," he said. "I don't know. Maybe some weird side effect from the medication."
"This was a battlefield during the civil war," I told him. "I believe that the emotions of that day were so strong that they remain still. Sort of a haunting of the whole field. So many people died that day. Young men, who weren't expecting that kind of end."
I didn't tell him for some reason, that I believed that I had been at this place, that I had been a young soldier named Sullivan Biddle. Somewhere, still in my personal files, if they survived intact in the storage unit I'd rented, were pictures that Scully had borrowed from the county records hall, that somehow never found their way back. Showing a young Sullivan Biddle, and Sarah Kavanaugh, who had loved each other. I wondered, had John been here as well? Had he been one of my friends, one of the comrades that had fallen with me. The man I had once been would have done everything in my power to drag John into a hypnotherapist's office, to get him to recall everything he might be able to remember about this fleeting memory of a life long past. Now, there wasn't time. It was interesting. But the life we were living now was in peril. One life at a time was about all I could deal with.
A lone figure got out of a car that parked next to ours. I strained to see who it was. "Looks like it's Jeff," I pronounced as I turned to meet him.
He'd had some kind of reconstructive surgery since I'd last seen him, and was starting to take on the semblance of a human being again. But it was just the start. He was still horribly disfigured, the sort of person who would scare small children. I hurt for him. I did. When we met up, halfway between the house and the road, I held out my arms to him. I was still honestly surprised when he let me wrap him into an embrace.
"It's been too long," Jeff said when I released him.
"Too dangerous," I said. "I wish we could see each other more and not under such dire circumstances."
Jeff looked suspiciously at John, giving him the hairy eyeball, so to speak. I guess they had some kind of history. John for his part just snapped impatiently, "Do you have it?"
Holding up a small duffel Jeff said, "Right here. We can do it right now. It's better if we do it immediately. I have to get going. Panic is already starting to spread you know. They know they're doomed. People with nothing to lose tend to do rash things."
It was the longest five minutes of my life. We ended up moving back to the cars to have someplace to sit down. Jeff pulled two syringes and vials of milky fluid out of the duffel. Garnet went first. He swiped at her head with a disposable alcohol swab, right over one of the fontanelles, one of those soft spaces where the skull doesn't meet yet, leaving a baby's brain protected only by skin and fibrous tissue. I felt compelled to watch, like a train wreck, as he jabbed the syringe right in, then plunged the fluid into her little body. She howled like a little banshee. Gracie joined the chorus even before we got to her. I felt like a ferocious ogre to listen to them, even as I tried to soothe Garnet. She spit out her pacifier in favor of crying. She refused a bottle. A few minutes later and Gracie was done. This time, knowing what would happen, I couldn't look. I averted my eyes, screwed them shut tight.
"That's it?" John asked.
"That's it," Jeff answered as he packed the syringes and the medical trash back into the duffel.
"Thank you," John said, holding Gracie tightly to him. He was having much better luck getting his half of the gruesome twosome to quiet again after this torture we'd inflicted on them. In an impulsive gesture utterly unlike him, John reached out and embraced Jeff. "Thank you. Thank you."
"We don't know yet if it will be enough protection," Jeff protested.
"Doesn't matter. We tried," John said.
"I should go," Jeff was uncomfortable. I wondered, if by some circumstance, we should all survive this, if he could be convinced to become part of our lives somehow. He undoubtedly had risked much in order to get the serum that might save my daughters life and he had done so without comment or complaint. He had never asked to have Spender as his father, any more than I had.
"Thank you, Jeff," I said. "You know, if you need anything, just ask."
"I'll be in touch," he said. Then softly, almost so I didn't hear it, he added, "Don't rush me, Mulder. It's hard. So long all that kept me going was hate for him. It's hard to learn otherwise."
"Good luck," I said.
Jeff slipped back into his car, then drove away, leaving John and myself standing in a field in Tennessee that I never wanted to see again. It was starting to drizzle, a cold, driving drizzle that got into your skin almost. "Now what?" I asked.
"We get a hotel room. A nice hotel room. Not some fleabag place. And then we get as much sleep as these little darlings will let us," John said. I didn't disagree with him.
We ended up spending a day in Nashville, spending the full twenty-four hours alternating between sleep and short periods of taking care of the babies. We occasionally turned on CNN and caught the news. The deaths had started. It was very subtle, but suddenly there were a number of deaths of highly placed government officials. I found myself surprised at how high it all went. Okay, so I can't prove that the suddenly death of the vice-president was anything but coincidental, but it was awfully convenient, especially considering most people hadn't really heard of the guy when Cheney died of that heart condition of his. Also, the CDC was warning that there was a sudden influx of a particularly virulent strain of the flu. They suggested that people who normally wouldn't get vaccinated against the flu do so this year.
"The flu shot isn't going to do any good. Because it's not the flu, that's just how they're spreading it," Fox said. "It acts like the flu. Only if you're human, once you get it, you become a carrier. A living, breathing defense against the aliens. And if you're an alien, you're dead. Quickly."
"Wait a minute," I said. I hadn't yet read the translation of this file we'd been given, just had Mulder tell me bits and pieces. "You mean I'm going to be breathing this stuff in and out for the rest of my life probably?"
"In all likelihood," Fox said. "Once they realized what they had, the creators of this virus wanted to make sure it would spread as far and pervasively as possible, so that humanity would never again be vulnerable."
"Good," I said, thinking of everything that had been ripped from me because of these creatures. If my lover was going to die, at least I would be breathing vengeance until my dying day.
We'd been lying cuddled in the middle of the bed. We each had a baby on either side of us, currently sleeping soundly. He squeezed me tightly, so hard I could hardly breathe for a minute. Then his lips were on mine, kissing me passionately, desperately. He was a man drowning and I was his life jacket. I found myself, for the first time in a long time, responding to his touch. Growing hard and wet as he ground his hips against mine. We'd shed our clothes earlier after taking a shower and just never gotten dressed again.
He broke off just long enough to say, "John, let's put the girls in their car seats or something."
Their baby buckets sat alone and unused in the corner of the room. Seemed like a great idea to stick them there. No way they could get in trouble locked up in there. If we could just get Gracie into hers without waking her up, we'd be all set. Luckily, Fox had Garnet on his side, I had Gracie on mine. I lifted her carefully, my hand supporting her head. I held my breath as I cradled her in my arms and walked across to the other side of the room. She fussed a little as I first set her down in the baby bucket, but her eyes never opened and she quickly settled back down. Fox, of course, had the easy job. Once asleep, you could set a bomb off under Garnet. Fox was back in bed while I was still hovering over Gracie, to make sure she didn't wake.
"Come back to bed, Prince Charming," he said, with a look that was both lustful and needy. The bed was unmade and he sprawled out over it, his erection tenting the sheet that he'd drawn over him.
As I crawled into bed and into his arms, I couldn't help think that maybe this might be the last time I ever made love to him. I banished that thought as quickly as I could. This was just the first time I'd made love to him since the girls were born. I would make it good for him for that reason alone.
We spent a long time on foreplay- holding each other, kissing, nipping, teasing. I think that was almost more important to Fox at this moment than the actual act. There were times where he would grasp me so tightly it almost hurt, as if I were slipping away. He'd be shaking and I thought he might cry, but he never did.
At long last, Fox produced a tube of lube. I guess he'd stuck it under the bed while I wasn't looking or something. I guess he'd been planning just this very thing. I didn't need it though, not by far. I was so dripping he'd be able to easily slide right into me. To my surprise though, he didn't slick up himself, but me.
"My turn," was all he said as he directed me to lay back. He had a smile on his face. Big smile.
A pang twisted my guts as I realized what he wanted me to do to him. I'd never done it before, not even with a woman. Barb was too uptight to do more than squirm if I'd even mentioned it.
"It's okay," Fox said as he gauged my hesitation. "I'm no virgin. Not by far. I want it."
He showed me how to stretch him. He directed my fingers to an opening that seemed impossibly tight. But he accepted one finger easily, bearing down on in, breathing in hard with pleasure when I hit some internal sensitive spot. Two fingers were almost as easy, though the third had him whimper in pain for a minute before it became good for him.
Eventually, he directed me to lie back on the bed and he slowly guided himself onto me. I gasped and nearly came right then just from the tightness of him around me. It was so sweet, so right to be in him like this. He held still, partially so I wouldn't come, partially so he could adjust to the feel of me in him. He might not have been a virgin, but if he was right, and that he'd only had one male lover before, it'd been a long time since he'd done this. Soon though he was rocking on top of me and I was finding it hard to hold back. I'd been nearly painfully hard by the time he'd impaled himself on me.
"It's okay," he told me. "You can let go."
I didn't though. I was going to make sure he felt as good as I did. I understood just how it could feel to be the one being penetrated. I wanted him to feel it too. I reached for his cock and stroked it. It took only a little bit and I was rewarded with his come. His shout was hoarse and wordless. That and the glazed look in his eyes let me know that he was feeling the orgasm just as intensely as I felt it when he fucked me. The clenching of his muscles around me was all it took to drive me over the edge I'd been teetering on.
He collapsed onto my chest. I slid out of him reluctantly. Fox rolled over onto his back and then got up out of bed. "We really should clean you up," he said. "Just in case."
We probably should have put a condom on him actually. He'd had the vasectomy over a week ago, but the vas still has plenty of sperm in it that have to be released before a guy is sterile. And I was paranoid that I was just about a fertile as the proverbial rabbit. Afraid that a drop or two in the right place would be all that it took to knock me up again. His come was all over my stomach and chest.
Fox got a warm wash cloth and cleaned me gently. Then we snuggled in bed together, holding each other tightly. "Sleep," he said. "Sleep now."
For once I couldn't argue with him. I was certainly ready to concede that point.
I awoke finally to find Mulder in the bathroom giving Gracie a quick wash up in the bathroom sink.
The scene was so beautiful. He'd stripped down to the waist and had the heater fan running. He'd propped Gracie up on towels so she wouldn't need to feel the cold, hard porcelain under her skin. "Who's Daddy's beautiful girl?" he asked her as he ran a washcloth over her belly. She waved her arms and legs excitedly at the feel of it. Swear to God, the kid was smiling. No, not just smiling. Grinning with delight almost. "You're a heartbreaker for sure. Most beautiful brunette I know."
Then, turning for a moment when he saw my reflection in the mirror, he lifted her out of the sink and wrapped her in a towel. "Hey Prince Charming, would you get me the powder and diaper from the bag? The princess here needs a change of royal garments."
Mulder indicated a small pile of baby clothes shed onto the bathroom floor. They'd just have to go into the bag we had of other clothes that they'd managed to soil in the short couple of days since we'd left Iowa. I was thinking about suggesting we hit a laundromat before we headed back, just so that the clothes wouldn't get ruined by sitting with stains on them. I went and dug in the bag and got the requested items as well as another sleeper. We'd brought a bunch with us, so we weren't running short of clean clothes for them yet. But all of the ones left were light colors- pink, yellow, light green. Ones that would stain easy but couldn't be bleached like white could. I thought about chucking all the damn pastel baby clothes and going out and buying nothing but denim overalls or something similarly indestructible for the girls to wear. I thought Fox might object to that though. He liked to dress them both up in the girliest outfits that I'd put up with, he even put those little headbands with the bows on the girls. A girl should look like a girl. I'm old fashioned like that. But a man should have to put up with only so many ruffles.
"I was thinking," Fox said as he diapered and dressed Gracie. "We might want to stop somewhere and get family pictures taken. It might be our only chance."
Oh, we had a couple of snapshots. The problem was, nobody around the house was much of a shutterbug. We didn't have one good, clear picture of the four of us. "I think that's a great idea, Fox," I said, thinking of what clothes for the girls we had that were pretty and clean. "I'd love to have some pictures while they're so young and small. And more of us all as they keep getting bigger."
I'm sorry. I just couldn't admit, especially not to Fox that I thought that he was going to die. I wouldn't let him leave us like this. He didn't say anything, just gave me a look I couldn't quite read, perhaps part hope, part misery. He took Gracie and laid her next to her sleeping sister on the bed. Then he dug in our luggage and pulled out another sleeper. This one was pale green, but otherwise matched Gracie's. Both had the same flower print. Then he found two matching little knit caps.
"They'll hide the bruises," Mulder said. Actually, Gracie's bruise wasn't visible, hidden by her hair, but Garnet had a big, livid one right on top of her head, right on the soft spot. Anyone in their right mind who saw it would probably call child protective services. Only the fact that they both continued to behave normally stopped me from worrying. Mostly.
Fox and I just dressed in clean jeans and sweaters that sort of matched. As we walked out the door of the hotel, I noticed that Fox had put the green cap on Gracie and the pink cap on Garnet. "Did you do that on purpose?" I asked, starting to switch the caps.
"What?" he asked. Then as he watched me, he said, "Sorry. I'm red-green colorblind remember?"
"How the hell did you ever get into the Bureau?"
"I think you'd find that a lot of rules were bent or just plain ignored to get me in the Bureau. I was also the only profiler in the BSU without a PhD. Let's get going."
After driving around a while looking for someplace to get our pictures taken, we ended up having to settle on a big Wal-Mart. Our photographer was a dull-eyed woman who acted like she didn't have the intelligence to be a high school dropout. Either that, or she just couldn't wrap her narrow, little mind around the fact that two adult males, not apparently related to each other wanted to have their pictures taken together with two little babies. It had seemed a simple enough proposition at the time.
"So, let me get this right, you want me to take your picture with both of the babies, then his picture?" she asked.
"Yes, then all four of us together," Fox said, patiently. I personally was beginning to wonder if we would end up with anything like decent pictures. This was in improvement over just a minute ago where she wanted only to take pictures of us each with only the baby we happened to be carrying.
"You guys brothers or something?" she asked, as she started finally to have Fox sit up on the little platform.
"Something," Fox said.
"Kind of unusual that you'd both have babies the same age," she said as she pointed the camera at the right spot.
"Not really. They're twins," Fox said.
"Really? I thought, you know, that the one in pink was adopted. Because she's so dark. Maybe like she's one of those babies from the third world."
Honestly, I had stopped thinking of Gracie as having skin that was any darker than her sisters. She just was my beautiful little girl. Hearing her discussed this way made me angry, like she was being dismissed. I vowed that I'd protect her from every bit of this prejudice that I could.
"The girls' mom is Mexican," Mulder said, placidly.
And I was given a lesson in just how good Fox can be with people when he feels like making the effort. I just let him do all the talking for us for fear I'd get angry and snap out something I'd regret. As we were walking out with the proofs, having picked out some of them for a more complete order and arranged for them to be sent to the post office box in Omaha that we were using, Fox said, "Well, I suppose that's about what you could expected when two queers try and get family pictures from a Wal-Mart in the middle of hicksville."
By that point though, the irritation of it all had been forgotten. I was still paging through the pictures. I especially liked the ones that had just Fox with the girls. He hadn't been looking directly at the camera, but down at them when the girl had taken the picture. The girl had tried to talk me out of ordering any from that shot, because it was 'bad.' But I thought that the sweet tenderness he had for the girls had been captured perfectly and that the girl had managed to take a good picture in spite of herself.
"I'm glad we did it," I said, as I buckled Gracie into her car seat. By now, with all the time we'd wasted, it was about four in the afternoon. "Get another hotel or move on?"
"Move on," Fox said. "I want to get headed homewards at least."
That night, we chose to move on. We didn't get far, just a couple of hours on the road north before we decided to call it a night. We spent the night in a motel just off the interstate somewhere in southern Indiana. We were going to head back to Iowa through Chicago this time.
"I didn't get a good look at it last time I was through. I got chased out of town by Men in Black and didn't have time. Nearly got killed but one of my ghosts did a poltergeist on me," Fox said, then realized he was rambling. He simply added, "I just want to make sure you'll be happy there."
Whatever. For the moment, I was letting Fox drive this particular relationship bus and I was a passive passenger. He wanted to go to Chicago, we went to Chicago. I wasn't going argue if he wanted to talk about poltergeists and Men in Black, or even vampires, for God's sake. Whatever he wanted. After a short night in an anonymous hotel room, we were on the road to Chicago. We made it to the outskirts of the city by early evening. We could have avoided the city itself, passing through its suburbs to the south and then catching I-80 west to Iowa. But Fox drove us straight to the downtown.
We drove around for a while, gawking like tourists at the bright lights and the skyscrapers and I remembered why I'd liked the city. It was big, loud and unapologetic. Its skyscrapers reached straight for the sky, no fooling around. It had none of the veneer of civilization that DC did. It was an all-American city, no bones that it was anything but.
"Let's get a room," Fox said after we'd driven around a while. "Shouldn't be a problem. February isn't really peak tourist season here."
Indeed, it wasn't really cold out, but it had snowed earlier in the day and the streets were kind of slushy. We had ended up hitting town at the tail end of "rush hour", which actually stretched for about four hours. It had turned dark long ago except it was cloudy, so the reflected lights of the city turned the sky orange and purple. The traffic in downtown crawled, but that was fine by us. More time for sight seeing.
We ended up at the hotel Burnham, a fancy place built into an old skyscraper from the turn of the previous century.
And it was there, in Chicago, that Fox got sick finally.
The twins caught it first. By the time we'd checked into our room, they were feverish and fussy. I was furious at first, hardly able to speak. Fox was beside himself as well. He trashed both of the wastebaskets in the room, kicking them until the plastic one in the bathroom broke in a flurry of plastic splinters and the wooden one in the bedroom was splinters as well. We dosed them with the smallest doses of baby Tylenol, Fox claiming to be advised by Scully on this. Then, as the night wore on and they failed to get worse, we both breathed a huge sigh of relief.
It was just a normal cold, we decided by five that morning, after a long, sleepless night. Oh, I can't say I was happy to have my little girls sick and uncomfortable. I wasn't happy to be suctioning out their noses with the bulb thing. But I was so glad that they were just my normal, human little girls that I could have hugged any one I'd seen passing in the hall to get to the ice machine. The serum stuff had worked. They were just human, just normal.
But later in the morning, Fox got sick. Quickly. So quickly I knew that the girls couldn't have been infected with just a garden variety cold, that this was the real thing that they'd managed to pick up. One minute he was fine, then he was coughing. Only an hour later, he was on the bed, knocked flat on his back by this illness, coughing so hard that I was afraid he was going to break a rib. He was feverish as well, burning hot to the touch.
"I think it's supposed to kill me more quickly than this," he said. Then he was racked by coughs again.
Half an hour later, as I was juggling both of the girls, trying to hold one while suctioning out the nose of the other, he stopped coughing long enough to say, "Call doctor. Can't breathe."
He didn't have to tell me twice. I picked up the phone and got connected to the switchboard.
"Can I help you?" said the pleasant sounding woman on the other end.
"This is room 1013," I said, working hard to keep the tremor out of my voice. "We're going to need an ambulance. My partner has gotten very ill suddenly. We need to get him to a hospital."
"Right away, sir," she said.
She got a few more details from me about Fox's symptoms then hung up to call 911. Meanwhile, Fox had crawled out of bed and digging through one of his bags. He handed me a plain notebook.
"Numbers," he said. "People to call. Jeff. Lois. Jimmy. Other people."
As I waited for the ambulance to come, I packed the diaper bag with fresh necessities and plenty of clean diapers. I checked on Fox, thinking that there probably wasn't much I could do and I was right. I changed the warm damp cloth on his forehead to a cool one and that was about it. I had the thought suddenly that the hospital wasn't going to want to admit Fox unless he had insurance. Being a fugitive, he probably hadn't kept up his cobra payments, so that meant he had none. I mentally sorted through the resources I knew I had available to me. I had that credit card. Credit limit up to $4,500. There was a start, though it wouldn't go far if he was hospitalized. There was a couple of thousand in cash in the car. I knew there was more than plenty of money, probably enough for even a major organ transplant. It was just a matter of getting to it. I knew what I could do. It was illegal, but I didn't care at this point. I flipped through the notebook Fox had given me until I found Lois Runtz's number. I dialed it on one of Fox's cell phones.
"Yves?" I asked. I wasn't sure how much I dared give away over the cell phone. "This is a, uh, friend of Fox Mulder. We've met before."
"Oh, yes?" she asked, sounding interested. And I could tell that she recognized my voice. "Is there some trouble?"
I explained the situation as quickly as I could. She made little noises of agreement as I talked, letting me know that she was aware of something that was going around, something strange that was taking out certain people who should have been invulnerable. If nothing else she could probably hear poor Fox who was hacking out a lung about four feet away, and the girls who were crying.
"Okay, read me the numbers of the credit card and I'll take care of it," she said. I did. Over the phone, I could hear taps on a keyboard, then she soon said, "Okay. Taken care of. You'll find that you now have a credit limit high enough to cover a multiple day stay in an ICU. I'm on the run and I have to go now, but take care. Let me know how Mulder is doing."
And then suddenly, there was knock at my door and the EMTs were here.
I put both the girls into their baby buckets as the EMTs worked on Fox. Before long, they had him prepared for transfer, on oxygen. Fox was pretty out of it at this point, but before I picked up the girls, I squeezed his hand and his eyes opened slightly.
"Don't you dare do this to me," I told him. "You die, I'm following you into the next life, just so I can kick your ass. Don't you dare die on me."
He mumbled something in reply, it sounded vaguely like, "I wouldn't dream of it."
It was a nightmare, the trip from the hotel to the hospital. The EMTs didn't want us to ride along, but I wasn't about to let them just take him away without me. I'd heard stories from Fox, about how the conspiracy had taken Scully under the guise of an ambulance. I just didn't trust people anymore.
When we got there, there was a nurse who stopped me from following Fox in. "You have to wait out here, sir," she said.
I know things weren't exactly right with me. I swore I heard Scully say, "It's okay, John. I'll watch him."
But that couldn't have happened, could it. I must have imagined it. I was just sick with fear and worry and as the door swung closed, for the first time, I thought just maybe that Fox might be right, that he was going to die.
Soon, another nurse was accosting me. "Does he have insurance?"
"No," I said, drawing out my wallet. "I'll pay for it. Credit card."
Somewhere along the line, the original credit card that Fox had gotten me had been changed for one with the name of new identity on it. This was the first time I'd used it in person, and the bill was going to be a doozy.
There was a lot of dickering. They didn't want to accept my card. It was a private hospital we'd been taken to, and they wanted to transfer Fox to Cook County Hospital because he didn't have insurance. I don't know about Jack Skinner, but there was still enough of John Doggett in me that could be a total son of a bitch when I needed to be. Soon, they were calling the credit card company and suddenly treating me a lot more respectfully. I wondered just how much my credit limit had been upped to.
After that, it was just a waiting game, played by me alone with two small, crying babies. And Garnet cried. Screamed like she did that one night. I could understand how she felt, but that didn't make it any easier.
I called Georgie first. "It's happened, Georgie," I told her. "The girls are okay, but Fox is in a bad way. We're at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Things look pretty bad."
"Oh, God, John. I'll be right out, soon as I can get the truck started," she said.
"Georgie Skinner, you are not driving that rattletrap truck across two states," I told her. "You stay right there. I'll call you with any news."
We argued for a few minutes more and when I got ready to hang up, I still wasn't sure that I'd won. she ended the call with, "I'll pray for you two, Jackie."
I thought about how once I would have brushed off a remark like this, maybe even been a bit offended. but now, I figured, it couldn't hurt, who knows, maybe it might even help.
"Love you too, Georgie," I told her. And then after I hung up, added, "And don't you do anything stupid."
Surprisingly, not long after I hung up on Georgie, the phone rang. "We're about to take off from BMI," said Lois. "You'll need some help, of course. Mulder warned me of this possibility. We have a plan in action, help is on the way. Have to go."
"What do you mean, you're coming here?" I asked.
But instead of answering me, she just said, "Got to go. They're telling us we have to turn off all phones." Then the phone line clicked off.
It appeared I wasn't going to be alone for this, even if it was just Jimmy and Lois. No doubt Walter would come as soon as we could, though we'd agreed previously that the hearing was more important than him coming, and would probably lead them to Mulder to boot. I wondered briefly who else I could count on. I looked at the notebook that Fox had given me, but I didn't open it yet. I had other things to deal with.
There was more paperwork to fill out over the red-faced cries of my babies. I felt painfully aware of just how much I didn't know about my lover. Did heart disease run in his family or not? Had he been vaccinated? I knew that his medical files probably could take up a whole drawer in a file cabinet. And how did any of that translate to a medical history form? The form was completely inadequate to describe Fox's history. Just how did you put "once spent three months dead" into any neat category on a form? There certainly wasn't anything like that you could check off. In the section for "race" there wasn't category for "half-human alien hybrid."
I settled on leaving most of the form blank and just put down that as far as I was aware, he wasn't allergic to anything and that he'd never had any of the major diseases they listed. After I turned in the forms to the nurse in charge of the intake desk, I asked around until I found a microwave where I could heat up bottles. I could tell that despite their being miserably stuff up, the girls were both hungry. A microwave wasn't the best choice, but I shook the bottles carefully so that there weren't any hot spots and tested it on my wrist. I ended up in the hospital cafeteria, feeding both of them at once, or rather, feeding Gracie, trying to feed Garnet. She kept spitting out the nipple of the bottle. They both stayed in the baby buckets. I felt badly about that. They'd been in there a lot lately and it added to Garnet's fussiness in particular.
"Lord God, what am I going to do with you if we really do lose him?" I asked her. In my own defense, I'll say that I was on the edge and hadn't had more than a few winks of sleep the night before. I can't explain what I said to her next in any other way. It just seemed the right thing to say. I talked to her as if she understood me, like she was an adult. "Sweetie, Princess. I know you love him. Maybe even you can feel his pain. Fox says you came to us in this life because you loved each other in some other life. We're going to take care of you and love you forever, but right at this minute you have to be strong for him. He needs you to be calm for him, okay?"
Amazingly, she drank the rest of her bottle without complaint, then settled to sleep immediately afterwards. Poor little thing. It was a lot to ask out of both of them to be in this strange new scary place while they were sick. Once they were fed, I carried them back to the emergency room waiting room, thinking that the baby bucket things were a big pain and bulky compared to wearing the in the sling. I couldn't wear both of them at once, though, not and carry the diaper bag. Eventually, one of the doctors came out to talk to me.
"Mr. Skinner?" she asked. I nodded. "We're moving him up to the critical care unit. I thought at first this was some aggressive strain of pneumonia. His lungs are filling with fluid. But I think what we have here is a severe viral infection of unknown type. It's beginning to attack other organs."
"Can I see him?" I asked.
"Do you have someone who can come and take care of your children for you?" she asked, indicating the two angels sleeping at my feet. "You don't want to expose them to whatever this is. Their immune system is still weak when they're that young."
"They've been exposed already," I said. "People are on the way, but I don't have any family or friends in Chicago. Just let me see him briefly."
"We only allow family members in the ICU."
"We are his family, me and the girls," I told her. "His mother, father and sister are all dead. He doesn't have anyone else."
For a brief instant, I wished I were a woman, if only because no one would have questioned my presence here if I were. They'd have accepted the fact that I was his wife at face value. I'd be up in that ICU already, holding his hand. Some strange movement near where I'd set the girls down caught my eye. I turned to take a look, wondering if one of them had woken up and was waving her arms or something. No, but there was a strange manila folder sticking out of the diaper bag that hadn't been there before. I pulled it out. There were papers inside. Legal papers. I scanned them quickly. That wasn't my signature on them, but it was my name, and I wasn't about to argue. I waved the papers at the doctor. "I have his power of attorney," I said. I flicked through the papers, as if I were making sure they were in order, rather than looking through them for the first time. "I'm the one who makes any important decisions about his care."
Before I could go back and forth any more with the doctor about this, an attractive young woman in a professional looking suit approached me. She had a just barely noticeable bulge at the waist though that immediately made me think firearm. I wondered briefly if she was Bureau or some other kind of government cop. "Mr. Jack Skinner?" she asked, holding out her hand. "Lily Martinez, with LG Services. My employer, Sheela Vera Lydow, gives me to understand you're in need of a temporary nanny."
I almost missed the anagram, yet another variation of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lois had sent this woman. Yet, could I trust my girls with this woman? This stranger? They might be all I had left. For that matter, what reason did I have to trust Lois Runtz. She might very well wish me no good. Once a long time ago, I'd contributed to her buddies getting themselves killed, or so she believed. She'd told me. The woman, this Lily, sensed my hesitation.
"Ms. Lydow says to tell you that she believes her words at your last meeting were somewhat hasty on her side."
Okay, so the woman could admit she was wrong. So what.
That's when I started seeing things that couldn't have been there. It had to be the stress. Maybe I was going crazy. The three stooges appeared over the woman's shoulder. Mulder's goofy friends. The gunmen. Byers, the one who looked so serious but was all kinds of crazy weird on the inside, was the one who spoke. "Ms. Martinez is bona fide. You can trust her. And you can trust Yves."
"Besides, she's hot," Frohike, the short one added. Never thought a dead guy could leer before. I decided there had to be weirder things in life than to be able to see your lover's dead friend undress some young woman with his eyes, but I couldn't think of any of them at the moment.
"She's the real thing. Top-level private security with one of the firms that Yves runs to fund her other operations," Langly said. "And she put in two years as an actual nanny before she went into her current field. Her last assignment was nanny slash bodyguard to Michael Jackson's kids for three months. Before she quit and went back home to Chicago."
I didn't know what was crazier- the fact that I could see these guys or that my gut was telling me to listen to them. I gave Ms. Martinez another looksee, to gauge more accurately what my cop instincts told me about the woman. Tougher than first impression for sure. Definitely armed. Yeah, take her out of the professional suit, undo the tightly pulled back hair and add a cut off baseball bat and you could almost see her as the head of a particularly dangerous girl gang. But she melted as she got her first look at my babies. She looked to me for permission first, but quickly knelt by their baby buckets, and smiled down at them.
"Gracie and Garnet," I said, indicating which one was which.
"Eh, Graziella," she said. At first it seemed that she had no accent, but as she talked to my baby, she slipped into a soft Mexican accent. Gracie had started to wake again and would need to be tended to. I guess I'd decided. I indicated with a look that she could pick Gracie up and she did. She carefully held Gracie to her shoulder. Martinez pressed her face close to Gracie's and then said, "What a precious little bonbomceito you are."
"Follow me up to the ICU waiting room," I told her, then turned to the doctor. "When can I see him?"
"They should be through transferring him in a few minutes," I was told, finally, but not until after the doctor had looked through my papers and been satisfied.
It seemed forever until I was finally admitted into the ward where Fox strung onto about a million machines, with about million lines coming in and out of him. He was unnaturally still underneath all of that and I was brought back for a minute to the just after he'd been exhumed, but hadn't been completely revived yet. He was just as still then as he was now, like he was already dead. His skin was pale and waxy, with a few, red, angry sores here and there, like it was starting to break down.
"We've started him on a strong anti-viral and sedated him for the pain and so he won't fight the equipment," I was told. "We're doing everything we can, but the prognosis is not good. He's starting to go into organ failure. I have to tell you that a couple of our researchers in the genetic medicine section came down with something that looks like this. Only they didn't survive. They passed very quickly from it."
"He's not going to die," I said, bravely as I could, trying to convey a total certainty that I didn't feel. I took a seat on the hard plastic chair by his bed. "He knows I'll kick his ass if he does."
A few more words from the doctor and then we were left alone, well, to the extent that anyone is alone on the ICU. There was definite sense of nurses hovering, ready to leap in to adjust machines at any minute. I reached out for Fox's left hand. Neither arm had an IV in it. They'd gone straight for a chest line. Not a good sign. It was the sort of thing they did for victims of major gunshot wounds. Fox's hand might have been as still as death, but it was warm. No, hot. The fever had been greatly reduced, but it still burned. I wanted to crawl into bed with him, to hold him close, but that'd be a big no-no on the ICU. Might disturb one of the lines.
"You can fight this thing, Fox," I told him. "You're fighting it already. You should be dead already but you're not. That means you can beat the virus. Your body can shake it off."
I talked like this to him for what seemed like hours. I was surprised that the ICU nurse didn't try and shuffle me off. Eventually I drifted to sleep, had a really strange dream. We were in some starry place, surrounded by infinite night- thick, black, velvety and almost tangible. Fox was there talking with an old Native man who had long white hair. There was the feeling that we were surrounded by others, but they kept back in the shadows, watchful, concerned. There was something familiar and peaceful about the place, like I knew it, like I'd been here many times before, but I couldn't say exactly when.
"What I have learned, Fox, is that when they are needed, the holy people will come. The ceremony pleases them, but when it is the rightful place for them to be, they come here. The Blessing Way is all paths and places."
"Please, let me join you," Fox was saying to the man. "I'm tired. So tired. I fought for so long. I lost so much."
"We all lost things, Mulder," Alex Krycek said as he stepped out of the shadows. He put both his hands on Fox's shoulder. I suppose if it weren't a dream, I might have bristled at this intimate gesture. "You move on. You find new things. You run into the old things again, maybe they look different but they are the same. Nothing is ever truly lost. Nothing is truly forgotten. And nothing truly dies. You know that."
"I know that," Fox said, softly. His voice was weary, like he was carrying the weight of the world.
"Mulder," Scully said as she too stepped from the shadows. "You are trying to step away from the thing that you craved more than anything. The underpining of your whole quest, the heart of it. Your family was once broken by acts of evil men and all along, you sought the missing pieces. You found them. The grail you sought is not here in infinite possibilities, but back in the waking world of finite truths."
"Scully!" Mulder said, an anguished cry that gave voice to grief that must have been so profound that he could hardly speak it. He hadn't, not since that one time in the hotel, cried for her. She allowed him to take her into his arms and hold her close to him. "Scully. I need you, Scully. I can't do this without you. Let me stay here with you."
"We traveled together a long time, in search of our own truths, in search of the greater truths. But now we walk separate paths, close but separate. We will walk together again and walk separately again. As was before, so is it now and so it will always be."
"It is hard for him," the old Native man said. "He has walked in this place too many times in this lifetime. It calls to his soul as home does to the lost, but it is not his home."
"You made me a promise, Mulder," Alex Krycek said. "I intend to hold you to that. He's here. Go to him. Let him take you home."
This was the first time anyone had noticed my presence. Scully gently let Mulder go, turning him to my direction first and drifted back into the infinite shadows. Fox turned to me finally, but hardly saw me. I walked up to him. I don't know how I knew, but with some kind of dream logic, I knew I would have to drag him back to the land of the living. That whatever I said to him in this dream was crucial.
"What is this place, Fox?" I asked, because somehow, this seemed that much more real than any dream, any nightmare I'd ever had. It was like I was even more awake than I was when I was really awake. "Is it a dream? Is it real?"
"Yes," Fox said. "Let me stay here, John. My quest is over and all but a few shining minutes of it was a cup too cold and bitter to drink. I fear that that golden cup I found at the end will only contain more of the same. More death. More lies."
"What kind of bullshit is that?" I said. I shook his shoulders. "You made promises to me. To the girls. And maybe there will be bitter things you'll have to face. But you can do that, so long as you remember the good things. Are you really gonna trade in making love to me and Gracie's smile when you wash her belly and the smell of fresh coffee in the morning and holding me in a spoon for this?"
I don't know how I knew, but I knew that my tack was working. He seemed somehow more present to me, less part of the shadows of this place. I kept up with more of the same.
"Won't you miss carrying those babies around? The way they're so heavy and sweet in your arms. Won't you miss the hours on the road with me, chasing down the moon, headed to some place, the only sound the tires on the road? You really gonna give up seeing the girls tear open presents on Christmas and going to the beach and running behind them when they learn to ride a bike? Are you really going to leave us unprotected? You know, it's pretty obvious that Garnet's here because she wanted to be your baby. Can you disappoint her like that?
"Come home to me, Fox. I'm waiting."
I didn't say that I loved him. He knew. This was more profound than that. This was connection. Commitment.
Suddenly, I found myself talking, easily, about things that had I been any place more normal, it would have seemed crazy. Like I was remembering things I couldn't have possibly remembered and known things that I couldn't have known.
"Fox, don't you want to grow old with me? Don't you remember how nice that was?"
I remember another time, another place. It must have been long ago. Lying in bed together with Fox, spooned together as had always seemed so natural. There was no electric light, nor candles or lamplight. Just the soft silver of a full moon shining through lattice windows on a mild night. I had been Fox's wife, he my husband. His chin was tucked so agreeably on my shoulder like it seemed it always had. We were old. We were farmers and we had been lucky, times were peaceful and prosperous and we had had many fine sons and a few, beautiful daughters. The ancestors had looked favorably on us and we were now provided for generously. In the other parts of the house, soft noises of sleep could be heard, our extended family. Our children and our children's children lived with us under one roof and looked to us with the rightful respect we had earned by our age.
It had been an arranged marriage, but we had started with respect for each other that over our decades together had grown to love and contentment. That was love- the hand that reaches out in the middle of the night to calm your rest. The life that grew so entwined that each little act of kindness was a steel cable that bound us.
Fox was remembering too. "China. Not far from the banks of the Yang-tze. The middle years of the Tang dynasty. A period of unusual peace, culture and prosperity," he said softly. "We have not been lovers since. I missed you. Oh, I missed you."
"We can have that again, Fox. It's within our reach," I said. "Just come home with me."
"I'm so tired. It's too late," he said. "It's over."
"No, it's never over," I told him. "I don't believe that. You missed me, so come home with me. We have children to raise. Besides, you promised me you'd take me dancing and you never did."
For the first time in this strange place, I saw the old Fox Mulder sparkle in his eye. "We never danced in China."
"So we'd better take our chance now, don't you think?"
"I'll be there soon," he promised me.
Then I felt a shaking of my shoulder. It was a nurse. "Sir, sir?" she said. "I'm sorry, sir. I'm going to have to tell you to leave. You've stayed long past visiting times as is. I should have woken you a long time ago."
"Why didn't you?" I asked. I looked over at Fox. Not quite devastated, but more than disappointed. I don't know what I was expecting to see. Him awake, miraculously recovered. He wasn't. He was still lying there, tubes running in and out of him. Only a machine letting us know that he was alive, not dead.
"It's just that his vitals were so much stronger with you close. They're very strong now. I think that's a good sign."
I shook myself and stood up. I was so tired. Though according to the clock, I had been asleep for five hours, I felt like I had been working the whole time. Had it been a strange dream filled with wishful thinking? Had it been real on some level? What I remembered from the experience was fleeting. Impressions of talking to Fox about people and places far away and long ago. Fox clinging to Scully, trying to stay away. China. The Tang dynasty. Those words stuck in my mind for some reason.
I reached out to stroke his cheek, and as I did, strange words fell out of my mouth, tonal and harsh to my ears. I didn't speak them. They just happened. What I said fell out of my memory the minute it was said.
I looked up and I saw them. Scully and Monica. The Gunmen. Alex Krycek. A woman I recognized from pictures as Mulder's mother. A girl who could only be Mulder's sister. More people who could only be dead. I was seeing them. A small hand slipped into mine and a small voice I thought I would never hear again said, "He heard you, Dad. He loves you too. Go and take care of my sisters."
"Luke," I whispered, then he was gone. The ICU nurse was waiting for me to leave, so I did. It was okay. He was being watched over. He would be okay.
Lily was with the girls in the ICU waiting room. Only she'd been joined by a big, jovial lunk of a guy- Jimmy Bond. Jimmy was walking around with Garnet, bouncing her gently every now and then.
Lily was rocking Gracie's baby bucket with her toe, singing a lullaby in Spanish. I swore I heard two voices though. I looked again and to Lily's right was Monica. After the song trailed off, she looked up and said, "It actually is a terrible song. It's a momma talking to her daughter, telling her that she's her pearl, but that if she get's her dress dirty, she'll slap her. I suppose it's not really any worse than Rockabye, Baby."
"Your girls are little angels, Mr. Skinner," Lily said. "They've been so good, even though they have such a terrible cold."
I couldn't disagree. "I think he's going to be okay. I'm exhausted. Let's go back to the hotel."
Last thing I remember was the hotel room. The EMTs sticking the oxygen mask over my face. I woke up, God knows how much later, feeling like someone had been using the inside of my lungs for a campfire pit. I felt dry and scorched and wrung out to dry. And I recognized the inside of a step down unit when I see one. Far too well.
You know, this getting pulled back from the edge of death thing was getting really old. It was really going to have to stop. It really took it out of a guy. John was sitting in a chair by the side of my bed, watching me.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," he said. "Welcome back to the land of the living."
I couldn't talk. I still had a tube down my throat. I gave him a look though. Sleeping Beauty?
Almost as if he read my mind he said, "Well, if I'm Prince Charming, that makes you Sleeping Beauty. Relax. You're still in pretty sad shape. That virus punched some pretty big sized holes in your lungs. I guess it may be a while before you're fully healed. You're going to make it. You're going to be okay."
He sounded even more relieved than I felt. I was going to make it through. I had cheated death once more. Hopefully, it was over. I wouldn't have gamble with my life anymore. I could have the quiet life I now knew I wanted more than anything.
He didn't have the girls with him. They had to be all right, didn't they? He seemed in entirely too good a state of mind for them to be anything but. So where were they?
"The girls are in good hands," he said. "Friends and family are here. Including Walt. By the way, congratulations, you're a free man. I guess it wasn't looking good. Until three members of the panel up and died one day and had to be replaced. Walt also managed to dig up a witness who testified that she saw Knowle Rohrer walking around a couple of days after his supposed death at Mount Weather."
So, this was it. Happy ending time, I suppose. Or rather happy beginnings. My greatest hopes and things I hadn't even dared to hope for had come to pass. I was impatient to get out of this hospital bed and start our lives together. I wondered how long it would be. Again, as if reading my mind, John answered.
"Doctors say probably it'll be a while before you're fully up and at 'em. Like I said, you got a bunch of holes punched into your lungs. You lost some kidney function. You're gonna have some scarring on your heart that you'll always have to look out for. You lost a couple of toes and you'll need skin grafts on some places where the stuff ate away your skin. You are a man who's damn lucky to be alive."
I had recovered from things that were worse. I could do it again. I was tired, despite just having woken up. My eyes started to close.
"It's okay," he said, laying a hand that was warm and welcome on my arm. "Rest."
Slowly, I did get better. I was able to wake for longer and longer periods of time. There was always someone there watching me when I woke. Sometimes it was my beloved dead, more often than not, it was John, or Walt, or Georgie. I guess I'd been in a coma for just over a week, and this slow healing took another week, which passed quickly in a blur of short wakings peppered visits from the respiratory therapist and other doctors and medical personnel. One day when I woke up, they were in the middle of taking the tube out of my throat. I was still on oxygen, the nasal cannulas now. Even so, it still felt like I could hardly catch my breath, as if each inhalation brought in an insufficient amount of oxygen. Though my throat was rough, I could talk after that, sort of a hoarse whisper at first, but it got better as the days went by.
When it was finally easier for me to talk, though it was still a harsh whisper, about two and a half weeks into my hospital stay, I said to John, "I had the strangest dream while I was sick. You were there. Only you weren't you. You were my wife. It was someplace far away. Ancient China I think. We were sleeping together."
When he heard me say that, he stiffened with surprise for a minute and stared at me. "Only I'm not sure that was a dream," he said.
What did that mean? That John was willing to admit that there could be some kind of connection between us that went back to times immemorial? That he had entered my dream?
"While you were sick, when you were first in the ICU and it seemed like you were headed to major organ failure, death in a few short hours, I had an experience," he said. "I don't remember it all clearly. It was not a dream. I think it was a vision of some kind."
And then he told me about it, the dark place of stars, the blessing way. Talking with my beloved dead. As he talked, I remembered it too, though not quite as he did. There was one thing we did agree on though, where our memories meshed perfectly- the memory of growing old together in China, the Tang dynasty.
"I'm not saying I believe just anything," John concluded. "But I've seen your ghosts, when I'm awake too, though I haven't seen them since the ICU. And I'm not saying I believe in that reincarnation crap, but I don't know how else to explain those memories. And, God, Fox. I want to have loved you for that long. I want those memories to be mine. I want to have you for forever."
I'd been holding his left hand. Sometime or another, he'd taken to wearing the titanium ring that I'd bought him for Christmas. It seemed to fit perfectly and look exactly right on him. I spun the ring slowly around his finger. "I got something for you," he said. He dug in his pocket with his free hand. He pulled out a small velvet box. He handed it to me. I let go of his hand and opened the box. It was a ring of silvery metal. Not titanium. Platinum probably. It was similar to the plain band I'd gotten him, but not exactly the same. "I couldn't find a titanium ring like you'd gotten me. And the more I thought about it, I figured that we didn't need to have the same ring. We're two different people."
I wondered if he'd measured my finger while I was asleep or something because the ring fit perfectly. I'd once worn a wedding ring as camouflage, to stop people from throwing themselves at me. This felt nothing like that. It slid onto my finger as if it had always been there, as if it had been waiting in a potential form, a symbol of tremendous power and meaning. I wanted to pull him on top of me and make love to him right then, except that even if we weren't in a hospital, I doubted I was up for it.
"So when do you get to take me home?" I asked. I'd been too busy feeling miserable and breathless to pay much attention to what the doctors had been saying. I figured he would have hung on every word.
"They're thinking maybe another week. You'll have to have a lot of respiratory therapy for a while, lots of doctors visits. Might be another couple of months before we can get back to Iowa. Actually, we might not go back at all, except to settle the farm. I rented an apartment not too far from here when I realized it might be a while. It's kind of an expensive neighborhood, but the rent is nothing compared to your current digs."
"Are we doing okay for money?" I asked. I hadn't gotten everything taken care of in time before I'd been struck down. John had to have figured out how to finance everything though. This was a good hospital.
"We'll have a hell of a credit card bill, but yeah, we're good. Your buddy Lois helped me get access to a couple of your off-shore accounts. She helped out a lot in other ways."
There was a soft knock at the door, then it opened. A young Hispanic woman looked in. "Are you ready, Jack?"
"Yeah, bring 'em in. Fox, we have some special visitors for you," John said. The woman walked in carrying the most special visitors that I could imagine- my best girls. "You have no idea how hard it was to get permission for this. Oh, Fox, this is our nanny, Lily. I guess you made arrangements with certain people to get me help. She was sent."
My girls were put into my arms and nothing else in the world mattered for a long time. They seemed so much bigger than I remembered them. I guess in an infant's life, three weeks is a long time span. I cuddled them as closely as I could, basking in the sweet feel of their heavy, warm little bodies against my own. Garnet burrowed against my chest, trying to get closer. "I missed you too, Princess," I whispered, holding back tears. "Missed both of you. Tell me you've been good for your pappa."
Eventually, they were taken away from me. They had to go home, get fed, taken care of. John went with them. Skinner took John's place watching over me for a while. He watched me with quiet compassion as John took the girls home. Skinner fussed around with getting me fresh water and throwing out some of the wilted flowers from the florist's shop that seemed to have put into my room by mistake.
"You've got a lot to look forward to," Skinner said when he finally sat down in the chair beside my bed. "Something to get better for. It's going to be a lot of hard work."
It was finally sinking in, how seriously ill I had been, and in what bad condition I still was. I was still at serious reduced lung capacity, like I was someone who had serious emphysema, not to mention my other medical problems. The kidney issue was most worrisome, because I doubted there was anyone out there close enough to my tissue type for a transplant, but so far they hadn't needed to put me on dialysis, but I'd have to be careful. They thought I could regain my lung capacity, but it was clear I wasn't going to be going for any twelve mile runs for a while, if ever.
"I can beat this," I said.
"I know you can, Mulder. And you let my brother and my nieces down, I'll kick your ass," Skinner promised. Then he turned on the game. The Bulls versus the Jazz. As we watched the graceful acrobatics of the players, the rhythm of game, we talked about the future, or rather, Skinner mostly talked at me. The farm was already on the market and it sounded like they'd already had a very likely nibble. I didn't expect to hear that. It kind of hurt, the thought that I might never go back there. I said so. Skinner seemed surprised.
"My children were born there," I said.
"We're bringing them with us, Mulder," I was told.
John and Walt had been looking at apartment buildings in the city. They'd been hoping to find something multi-unit, big enough to actually provide an income besides paying for itself. For John. He'd be doing minor repairs and acting as landlord. They figured it would be the easiest job for him to take up without any kind of degree beyond high school, at least not that was on his record. John didn't want to do any significant work that would take him away from he girls anyway. But they weren't going to be able to buy the kind of building they wanted in the neighborhood they wanted. It was more money than they thought, so they were looking at smaller apartment buildings, as well as a couple of larger buildings in marginal neighborhoods.
"I'm a free man, right?" I asked Walt.
"Yes. We've been working on freeing up your legal documented assets as well."
"How much more do you need?" I asked. "My parents' houses. Must be a million of real estate."
"More," Walt said. He should know. When I went into hiding, I'd arranged for him to keep my assets that couldn't be hidden legally tangled such that they couldn't be taken away from me, yet that the knots could be undone when it was safe for me to reappear. He'd gotten good legal advice on how to do it. "I'd say that the house on Martha's Vineyard alone is worth that much. The rest are worth lesser amounts, but I'd say a conservative estimate is more like two and a half million."
"Sell 'em," I said. I was hoping he could do it without my help. I didn't want to set foot in any of those houses ever again. If I was going to regret letting go of the farm where I had such good memories, then I wasn't going to regret in the slightest the passing out of my life these houses of lies, anger and loss.
"I personally would have sold them earlier, when real estate was at it's peak in 2002, but I didn't. I assumed if you wanted them sold, you would have done so earlier."
"Too busy," I said. That was true. It just seemed I'd never had the time to make the arrangements to put them on the market. It seemed like such an ordeal even to think about clearing out the furniture and the gradual accretion of my parents' lives, in four locations. Their lives together and after they'd drifted apart. "Estate sale. Sell it all. Furniture. Everything."
"I'll see what can be done," Walt promised. "What about the contents of your storage unit?"
I pondered that. It was a lot of stuff. All my furniture, all my personal papers, assuming they'd survived the predations of anyone who could jimmy a lock, my damn porn tapes even. Too bad Frohike wasn't around still to give them to. I figured John wouldn't appreciate me having them around. "Can wait," I concluded. Two years had passed since I went on the run. Either my stuff was safe, or it wasn't. It'd be nice to have my sofa again, and my fish tank but that was about it. Yeah, the girls, when they were a little older, would probably love to stare at the fish swimming round and round in the tank. I'd been so long without any kind of permanence, any sense that something could be forever. It would be nice to get some part of that back. But it could wait until I was no longer flat on my back.
I was flat on my back for a lot longer than I thought I would be. Healing from this illness took me longer than springing back from any other injury or illness I'd had. Even being dead, which is really saying something if you ask me. Perhaps that which was alien in me had died, leaving only the vulnerable, fragile human. Perhaps it was just my age catching up with me. Either way, I struggled to regain full strength again. Opportunistic secondary infections stalked me. I got pneumonia. When I was recovering from the pneumonia, I got a staph infection in my foot that nearly robbed me of a couple more toes. I had a hard time shaking that one for good, but in the end kept the eight toes remaining to me.
It was late March by the time I was finally allowed out of the hospital. It was a mild, windy day, all signs of winter having been washed away in the rain. John rolled my wheelchair down to the car while Lily, who was apparently some kind of semi-permanent fixture now, carried the girls. Walt and Georgie were back in Iowa for the moment, cleaning out the farmhouse of the last of their aunt's detritus. Lily settled the girls into their car seats, then turned to us and said, "I'll see you later. I'll be by tomorrow morning. If you don't need me, call."
John apparently wanted to get me home, alone with the girls. It was something I'd been looking forward to for a long time. John drove confidently with a smooth hand and steady temper through the wilds of Chicago traffic. He seemed comfortable here, like he was already at home in the city.
"You know, Walter's been talking with the Bureau some, while you were in the hospital. The new Deputy Director, Jana Cassidy, she was asking about you. I guess she was talking about your possible reinstatement. Once you get your health back, you could have your old job, your old life back, if you wanted it. You could be posted at the Chicago field office."
When I didn't answer back, he said, "You can get your life back. The way it was before."
I wondered, was he projecting. Did he want to go back to that cozy, little house in Falls Church, start climbing the FBI ladder again? I thought for a moment what it would be like, back in DC, working in my basement again.
"You could have yours back too. It'd be safe now. There's plenty of precedent for those wrongfully declared dead to take up their lives again. You could probably even reclaim a large portion of your estate from your ex-wife. You can have your life back."
It didn't take long for him to think about this, though it wasn't quite an immediate response. He'd probably been thinking about it for a while, but not yet given voice to his thoughts. "No, Fox. I can't. That's not my life anymore. This is my life. As crazy as it is, with your ghosts haunting me, and babies given to me by alien technology and all of it. It's mine and I don't want anything else. Besides, don't you remember? We're under contract. I can't leave."
I suddenly noticed that he was driving us further afield than he would be if he were taking us right to the apartment he'd rented. "Where are we going?" I asked.
"It's not far. You'll see," he said. "Don't worry. I won't tire you out. We won't even get out of the car. The current owners are kind of touchy about letting us go into the place without making arrangements through the lawyers. But I thought you'd want to see the place before we close on it, seeing as the biggest hunk of money comes from you."
We'd been able to unload my parents' houses with no problem. Even the summer house in Quonoquatog was snapped up. I turned around and offered every sent to John, to sink into real estate here. I'd offered no more opinion about the matter than I wanted a basketball hoop in the yard.
Before long, we pulled up in front of a huge, brick apartment block. The building was dark red brick, with lots of decorative details in white concrete. it took up a big portion of the block, corner lot too. I counted four separate entrances, each sheltered by a portico with more of the white detailing.
"Walt was thrilled to find that the terra cotta details were designed by a student of Louis Sullivan," John said, pointing out what I'd thought was concrete. There were three stories to the building, screened porches for every unit, it looked like. "Personally, I was just glad to find that everything is more or less in move-in condition."
"How did you find this again?" I asked, knowing that with my money, we'd had a lot of capital to work with, but from what I could guess about real estate costs, we'd also lucked into a real gem.
"Lily's sister Rosa is in real estate," John said. He started up the car again and drove us around the side of the building, down the alley. It was a courtyard building, only centered around a backyard court, rather than a front court. I caught a glimpse of what might be grass and a garden. Wooden porches lined the back side of the building, most cluttered with bikes, outdoors furniture, the like. Most of my view of the back was cut off by a two story garage type building. There were six spaces for cars, and overhead, probably the space for two more flats.
"We're going to take two of the three flats over the garage and combine them, for Walter's unit. The third unit will be Walter's woodshop. You and me and the girls will take the three bedroom unit on the second floor. There's a patio just on the other side of the garage, we can hang a hoop off the garage for you there. If that doesn't satisfy you, the park is about a block that way."
So this was home. Or would be assuming that the complex mess of contracts that made up this deal didn't fall through. Oddly, I wasn't as displeased about that thought than I'd expected to be, but there was still an amount of melancholy I felt about pulling up roots and leaving the last place I'd called home.
"Fox, you okay?" John asked, as I leaned my head against the car window, as he drove away.
"Just thinking about the farm. I don't like to think about the place our children's were born being lived in by some strangers. I can't say I'll miss cleaning out the chicken coop, but I do miss the farm."
"Don't you remember? Or did I just think I told you? We were able to find a buyer for the land who didn't want the house. We were able to swing the deal so that the house was Georgie's portion. She wants to stay there so she can be close to Bob. I think we'll be hearing wedding bells before too long."
And so we talked about little things on the way back to the apartment that John was temporarily calling home. He made sure to point out all the neighborhood features before we left it. He drove us past the parks, and the shops. He showed me the El stop, which was well within walking distance of the building.
"This neighborhood is called Bucktown, but we're pretty close to Lincoln Park, Lakeview, places like that. Not too far from a neighborhood they call "Boy's Town" even. The kind of place that has clubs where we could go dancing together. We also looked at Wrigleyville, but there was nothing this big even close to reasonable. One guy was trying to sell a family home for about the same price, just because it's got a view of the ball park."
Eventually, though, John got us all home, then got me and the twins tucked into bed for a nap. He snuggled in next to me, though he didn't seem tired in the slightest.
"Have you thought at all about what you want to do next?" he asked gently, as if he knew this was a tough question. For so long, my life had only been this one quest. Now that the pressure was off, I wondered, would I be like one of those creatures from the deep ocean trenches. Once you bring them out of the tremendous pressure, they explode, unable to stand it.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. What about you?"
"Raise our babies. Fix peoples toilets. Love you. For once in my life, everything seems that simple."
Could it really be that simple? I wished it could. Oh, did I wish it could be.
Life went on, like it always does. The babies grew and far more rapidly than I would have imagined they could. Fox recovered, slowly, but steadily, until by the end of April he was able to ditch his portable oxygen tank. By middle May, he was able to ditch the cane he'd been using and walk around normally. I guess even small toes are more important than you think and he'd had to learn how to balance again. He couldn't take up running again immediately, but over the summer we took a lot of short walks that grew longer and longer, each of us carrying a baby. I could see what he was doing- forcing himself to gain endurance again. I pampered him as much as he would let me, cooking dinners I knew he liked, letting him control the remote. I even let him eat sunflower seeds in the house, in my hearing range. Actually, it's funny how quickly that sound starts to be welcome, a signal of his presence.
On a bright May afternoon, we finished moving into our new apartment. The girls had a nursery, of course, one which Fox insisted that I paint pink. I was all for leaving it plain white. I had to do all the work. He couldn't even be in the apartment when I was painting, because of the fumes. I even had to pick out the paint chip. He claimed colorblindness. I was strongly tempted to paint it pale green instead and see how long before anyone else tipped him onto the joke.
I thought a lot about making contact with my family. I didn't initiate anything, even though it would be safe. I wondered a lot about the kindness of making myself known to them again while denying the family name. I had become through and through a Skinner. I couldn't imagine being anything else. It was as if it had always been that way. Part of me thought that John Doggett was dead and I should just let him stay that way. In the end, I never did contact them. I couldn't figure a way to integrate this new life of mine with the tattered remains of the old one.
Eventually, Abbott said he thought it might be time to take me off the anti-depressant. Carefully, we reduced my dose to less and less, then eventually to nothing. When the last of the drug was out of my system, I was more the man I used to be, perhaps a little melancholy, but that seemed natural for me. I was okay though, in no danger of hurting myself or anyone else.
Meanwhile, life carried on. It was over. My first, true, visceral understanding that the danger really was over was the day I came home from grocery shopping by myself. It was almost fall. Fox was watching over the girls who were napping, only half paying attention to them. He was sitting on our living room flour surrounded by brochures, college catalogs, the like.
"What're you doing?" I asked.
"I've been thinking about going back to school. I didn't have time to do more than start on my PhD before I was recruited into the Bureau," he answered. "I'm looking at programs that will let me go part-time so I can still spend most of my time watching the girls. I'm hoping I can work it out with the University of Chicago."
Honestly, I'd have been happy to have him be my househusband for forever, if that's what he wanted. But he'd been thinking for months about what he wanted to do with himself. We'd talked about it on and off over the months, at those vulnerable talks we had in the middle of the night when both of us could say things that it didn't seem possible to say at any other time than safe in the comfort of each others arms. I was glad he'd found his answer because I knew how lost he was feeling.
"Once, I went into psychology because I thought it would give me the answers into why I hurt so much. And in a way, it did. I found my answers. Now I think maybe it's time I start helping other people find the answers to their questions."
I thought about it. My lover leading a person in a therapy session. I could see it, how tender and kind he could be, yet unyielding. The compassion that was part of why I loved him would serve him well.
"It's a great idea, Fox," I told him.
I've heard it said before that happy endings are all alike, that it's tragedy that produces the unique situations that catch at the heart and capture the mind. I would argue that happy endings are as unique and sublime as any. That both tragedy and happiness are filled with the spirit that makes any course of human events a wellspring of beauty. I had my happy ending. No, I made it each and every day, forming it anew. I shaped it with each loving word to John, I polished it with every loving gesture. I brought it into being by treasuring each moment, by my careful observation.
The day I truly realized I was creating my happy ending was the first day Garnet talked.
Gracie was a natural chatterbox. From six months she'd started babbling, the nonsense sounds that all babies run through during their sorting out of human language. By the time she was a year old, she'd sorted out a few basic ones, like da da, and she was picking up both Spanish and English, though I doubted we had Lily babysit often enough to account for that. I thought that it was Monica's doing. But Garnet kept her counsel, not even trying out syllables, at least not when she thought we were listening. Only the fact that we caught them both occasionally on the baby monitor, trying out sounds, talking to each other, kept us from worrying as eighteen months crept by without a word from her while her sister was already working on complete sentences. Garnet obviously understood language and responded non-verbally, but nothing could lure her into forming her own words.
She didn't show any other developmental delays, far from it. She was a natural athlete, almost preternatural in her physical abilities. She hated being left on the ground, so she ended up not crawling at all hardly. Putting her on the ground resulted in her shuffling over as quickly as she could to the nearest vertical object, usually one of our legs and climbing up it until she was upright. One day, at just over a year, she pulled herself upright without any help and took off at a run after John's retreating legs. Gracie, who had been watching nearby, perfectly content with her rug rat status, said, "Garnet up, dada."
Well, Garnet came out sounding more like "Gah neh," but the message was clear. It usually worked out that way. Gracie did the talking for both of them and Gracie did all the physical exploring. But for all that Garnet was the faster developer, physically, she remained clingy. That day, John had been getting up to make dinner. Garnet had been going through a John phase, where I just didn't cut it as far as she was concerned. After she ran to him, he tried to pick her up and pass her off to me and she would have none of it. She cried until he picked her up, tied her to his hip with the sling and started dinner, her clinging to him like a baby monkey.
Though Gracie had drifted away to wanting to be carried less and less, Garnet was permanently attached at the hip to one or the other of us until she was nearly three. I supposed we spoiled them both in that way, though with the sling, it was much easier to carry them. Garnet still hadn't spoken yet, not in public by this time and I was starting to think about the speech therapists at the university where I was working on my degree, though I still joked to John saying that maybe she just hadn't found anything she thought worthwhile to talk about yet. And she did have Gracie to do her talking after all, and Gracie chattered more than enough for the both of them.
Then one day, about a week before Thanksgiving, John was cleaning out the cat box. Garnet was tied to his back in the sling, happy to observe him doing the housework. I was in the other room, an open door between us, sorting clean laundry. The girls were long out of diapers, having toilet trained with ease, but they still produced a ton of laundry. Gracie was "helping" me with the laundry. She had dug all of the socks out of the basket and was matching them up by some ordering system that appeared to have an internal logic and reasoned structure to it, even though it had nothing to do with the usual routine of matched pairs. "One for Daddy Fox," she said, adding one of her little frilled ones to a pile. "One for Garnet. One for me. One for Daddy. One for brother."
It was her new thing. She was convinced we were going to give her a brother sometime soon. Like tomorrow. Telling her that her Daddy and I couldn't have a baby seemed to have no effect on her. She couldn't understand that our little family was complete with two daddies, two little princesses, a cat and Uncle Walter, with the occasional drop in by Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Lois.
Yes, we'd ended up with a cat. A bony, half-wild, half-crippled, one-eyed calico cat. It was the cat he'd befriended while we were living in Iowa. Somehow he'd lured it into a crate and brought it home with us. I don't think I saw the thing more than once a month. But it used the box and ate its food and occasionally came out to claim some affection from John. So, he was cleaning out the box. A task that Garnet had never objected to before, even though neither of the girls was a big fan of the cat, which probably had something to do with the fact that the poor thing ran in terror any time it caught sight of them before they even had a chance to try any of the usual toddler manhandling.
I watched as Garnet wrinkled up her little nose. It was a cute little button of a nose. Her eyes had changed during her first year, from that pale blue to a deep brown, almost just like Walter's. Her hair, such as it was, was pretty little wisps of bright red. Other than the red hair, she looked like a Skinner through and through. I'd seen her next to pictures of both Georgie and Walter as little kids and it was uncanny.
Garnet was content to watch the cat box cleaning for a little while, but she got tired of it quickly. She impatiently kicked at John's side.
"Hey, don't do that," he said, patiently as he dug out yet another cat turd. "If you do it again, I'll put you down."
"Let me down, Daddy," she said. Her first words to us were a complete sentence, clear and unmistakable. "It's stinky!"
He stared, at me, as if he didn't quite believe what he'd heard, daring me to contradict it. We'd talked a lot about what we'd do when she did start talking. We didn't want her to get any kind of complex about it or feel any pressure. I shrugged. John gave me a look. What did he expect? I was just as shocked as he was.
Then John straightened up from the box. He washed his hands first, but then he untied the sling and set her down next to me. "Okay, brown-eyed girl, you go help Gracie and Daddy Fox with the laundry while I finish up with this. Sometimes stinky stuff has to be done."
"Icky kitty!" Gracie agreed cheerfully as she dug through the clothes looking for more socks. "Kitty doesn't get any socks."
I somehow expected that once the dam had been breached, that the river of words would just flood the valley. It didn't. Garnet nodded solemnly and sat down next to Gracie. She took a handful of socks and started rolling them. Not into pairs, but individual socks. But she carefully put them back into the piles that Gracie had made, apparently privy to the system of organization.
A few minutes later John was done with the cat box. He walked over to our little party and said to Garnet, "I'm done. Do you want back up?"
"No more sling," Gracie said, but she was looking at Garnet. Maybe this was something they'd decided together?
"Big girls," Garnet added.
I caught the moment of sadness that clouded John's face, but he pushed it away. "Okay, you're right. Why don't you big girls help Daddy Fox with the laundry and then he can help you clean up your room. I'm going to make dinner."
He pulled the sling over his head and flung it at the now empty laundry basket, then turned to the kitchen.
After dinner, we got the girls to bed. I could have settled down to some reading for my dissertation, but instead, I cuddled up to John on the couch. He sat down and I had my head in his lap. He ran his fingers through my hair and watched CNN headline news. It was just so normally sweet. Everyday life.
"How are your toes?" he asked during a commercial break.
Gradually, they'd started growing back. It'd been a shock to see the first pink nubs appear on my foot but got used to it, like you do anything. Over time, they got bigger and bigger. They were almost obviously toes now, though they still didn't have nails. They grew almost imperceptibly slowly and it had taken nearly the full two and a half years since I'd lost them for them to get this far. In response, I just pulled off my sock and wriggled them. They were beginning to be able to move in response to conscious stimuli.
John looked and shrugged. I guess he just tried to take at face value that his lover was capable of growing back lost toes. It was hardly weird compared to some of the things we'd been through. "You know, I keep having this dream. I'm carrying a little fox around in a basket. No, not you. The animal. What are they called? The baby ones. Cubs?"
"No, they're kits," I said. I wasn't going to say anything about the dream. It was so classically Freudian that it funny. I was having a hard time keeping a straight face.
"So I'm carrying this kit around in a basket. And Monica's telling me it's time to find a home for it. Weird dream, huh?"
"I think we've both had weirder," I said. "What did you do? In the dream."
"I took it home with me. I thought you'd be mad if I didn't," John said. Then he paused, gathering some words. Even after three and half years with me rubbing off on him, John was still a more cautious and thoughtful speaker than I ever was. At last he settled on, "She finally talked."
"They're not babies any more, are they?"
I think John understood my moment of antinomy perfectly. I was so proud, so happy to have heard Garnet speak to us finally. But yet, it was the passing of an age. And Gracie pronouncing that they weren't going to use the sling anymore seemed like a particularly pivotal moment. It was sad to know that they were growing up, stepping away from me in the normal separation.
"Nope," John said. I think that when neither of the girls insisted on hanging on him while he cooked and we ate, had sunk home that maybe they were serious about not using the sling. There was a definite touch of melancholy there.
"Too bad we can't have another baby," I said. It kind of slipped out my lips before I could stop myself. I thought he'd be mad at me, but he wasn't.
What he did say, half amused, was, "Tell you what, Fox. You get pregnant this time, give birth, all of that, we can have another baby. Otherwise, dream on."
"Don't tempt me," I said. "You know I would if I could."
We fell asleep on the sofa watching the TV. My idea of a happy ending to a good day. I still hardly believed that I could have just about as many of those happy evenings as I could stand, over and over again.
Six days later, things were not so happy. It was the morning of Thanksgiving. I came in bearing last minute groceries, all the odds and ends that you forget when, like me, you make your grocery list in your head. Memory can be such an unreliable, unpredictable thing. I can remember the phone number of the hotel I stayed at in Oregon the first time I investigated Billy Miles, but I couldn't remember that John wanted sour cream.
John had gotten started on the pies, had them done already actually, and cooling on the countertop but not much else yet. The girls were still sleeping, or least quietly pretending to sleep. Instead of him being in the kitchen like I expected, I heard sounds of him in the bathroom. Saying words that shouldn't be said in households where little pitchers have big ears.
I knocked on the bathroom door and it opened. John pushed his way out past me and stalked into the kitchen. He stood at the sink, staring out into the backyard. It'd snowed last night and some of the tenants kids were making a snowman out in the courtyard.
"John? What's the matter?" I asked, innocently enough.
Something white and sticklike was flung at me. "Bastard!" he hissed as he threw. I caught it. The object was unmistakable, and obviously used. I couldn't tell for sure that the little window had turned to pink, but that's what I was guessing.
"I am never having sex with you again," he said as I looked at it stupidly. Well, it was more of a shout. "This is all your fault."
"Listen, Prince Charming. It takes two to do that particular tango and you know it," I snapped back, more in automatic response to his anger than any anger of my own. Actually, I was starting to feel pretty good. Yup, I was stupidly happy about it, despite the fact that John was pissed. "I don't exactly recall you telling me to leave you alone. You're acting like I did it on purpose."
"You should have thought that maybe if you can grow toes back, something else might grow back too."
"Maybe you should have had that thought too," I said. "You didn't mention it. I'd have worn a condom, or hell, I'd have gone and gotten snipped again."
Walt chose this junction to let himself in. "What's all the shouting about?" he asked innocently. John and I fought in earshot of Walt seldom enough that he probably didn't know he should step out of range of our paint-blistering anger.
He was carrying the turkey in big foil roaster. He'd bought it, but John and I were going to be cooking it at our house. John got one look at it, covered his mouth with his hand and bolted, back to the bathroom.
"What the?" asked one very puzzled Walt.
I held up the pregnancy test. "Congratulations are in order. Once Jack calms down. We're going to be fathers again."
"I thought you..."
"I guess my toes aren't the only thing that grew back," I said and shrugged. The oven was still on at nearly the right temperature, so I took the bird out of Walter's hands, tore off the plastic wrap and put it in the oven. I wondered if Walter and I would have to do the Thanksgiving meal between the two of us. John's nausea had been pretty bad the last time he was pregnant. It might keep him in the bathroom most of the morning. "It's probably safe to say that we're keeping this close to our chest until Jack is ready to talk about it. Especially with the girls. God, this is one talk I am not ready to have with them."
We'd always intended to tell the girls the truth about their birth, it just hadn't really come up yet. We had a couple of months probably until it started to get obvious that Daddy was going to be having a baby.
"Mulder, I'm sure you don't want to hear this, but better you than me," Walt said. I swear, the man was practically smirking. He started poking around our pantry and fridge, getting stuff for the fresh cranberry sauce. We worked in the kitchen together, him directing me mostly. I have to admit to a certain laziness in that area. It was always simpler to let John take care of cooking. He'd gotten pretty good at it over the years, so much so that I was having to run extra hard to keep the nearly inevitable consequences of too much good food from catching up with me.
Slowly, over the course of the day, family started trickling in. First Jeff insinuated himself into the apartment. Extensive reconstructive surgery was helping him a lot, but he still did his best to hide in the midst of the crowd of our family. I made sure to single him out for a hug when he first arrived, other than that, I let him hide out in the corner of our living room and make his contact with us on his terms. Then John emerged from the bathroom. He was fully dressed. He grabbed his shoes and coat and headed for the door.
"I'm going out," he said, frostily.
"Dinner's probably at three," I said, trying to sound unconcerned. He probably just needed the time to think. Hell, I wanted the time to think, as thrilled as I was about the thought of having another baby around. But somebody had to coordinate this family dinner and John was the one who deserved the time, because it would impact him more than it would me.
"I'll be back before then," John said. "I just have to think."
"Take all the time you need," I told him. "Walt and I have things under control here."
He snorted and gave me a look, letting me know that he was sure Walt had things under control and that were I in sole charge, chaos would ensue. He was right, of course. But that's what family is for. Then John took out his keys and headed out the back door. He'd be okay. He just needed some time to think. I could almost feel his simmering anger as if it was going on in my own mind.
A short while later, the princesses awoke. Ignoring Walt and I, they ran straight for Jeff in the living room. I had been pleased to find out that despite his appearance, they adored him. They launched themselves at his lap, happy to discover that for the moment, they both still fit on it. I watched carefully, wanting to catch them and guide them away after a few minutes before their presence got to be too much for the man. He accepted their adoration gracefully for a while. Before I got a chance to scoop them up though, Gracie, being the ringleader in all things, decided for them that they were done with him for now.
"Uncle Jeff is busy reading," she said, as she jumped off his lap, pulling Garnet after her.
I decided take my cue. I descended on the pair and scoped them up in my arms, threw one of them over each shoulder and said over their shrieks and giggles. "And it's time for you two to get dressed. What does her highness want to wear today? Overalls again? A pretty dress?"
Okay, so, maybe we spoil them. Well, I spoil them. I suppose I was the worst offender. Their room was filled with toys. Maybe it just was that way because Garnet wouldn't play with the same kind of toys that Gracie did. Gracie had to have her dolls, her babies, and the furniture that went with them. A toy cradle for the dolls, as well as a miniature dresser for the endless outfits. then also a big wooden dollhouse for the smaller dolls. Garnet's portion of the toy mess was lots of wooden blocks, duplo blocks. There was a big plastic ball that she'd had to have. At the time we'd gotten it for her, she was only just barely taller than its diameter. Her latest favorite toy was one of those ribbons on a stick like they use in rhythm gymnastics.
They had separate closets though they slept together in a double bed that we managed to wedge in between the toys. I dressed Garnet first because, in her own way, she was the easiest. Given half a chance to say anything about it she wouldn't wear anything but overalls and purple shirts. About three quarters of her wardrobe was some variation on these.
"How about the little dress overalls, sweets?" I said, digging for the right one. I held it up and she shook her head vehemently. "But we've got company today, sweets. You should look pretty for them."
"Not pretty!" Miss Garnet said emphatically. I sighed, grabbed a regular pair, plain. Not even embroidered flowers to liven them up. She was in one of her moods and nothing would induce her into pretty. I started to unzip her footie jammies. Then she said, for the first time, something that I would later recognize as a refrain. "I do it!"
"Okay, you do it, Princess," I told her, turning to Gracie. "Let me know if you need help."
If I had one utter tomboy, then I also had a girly-girl. Gracie had already started going through her closet. She had pulled out a mixture clothes which even I could see didn't match, with a smattering of her dress-up clothes to boot. I'm sure she thought that the maribou boa was just the height of fashion, but it's up to us parents to know better and reinforce it. Hey, I may not be a little girl, but I like to think that one of my abiding talents is picking out clothes.
"Okay, Princess Gracie. How about that red dress," I said.
"The dress is green, Daddy," she said. She was smart, both of them were. They knew all their colors already. Gracie could also say the alphabet. And actually, I was almost convinced that Garnet could read a few simple words already. Gracie could read numbers.
"Okay, so the green dress. This one," I said. To emphasize, I picked it up. "But the white tights and we ditch the boa, what do you say?"
So the negotiations began. Everything was negotiable as far as Gracie was concerned. She argued her way into the patent leather shoes, but not the boa. Meanwhile, Garnet had gotten herself dressed completely, except for one of the overall straps had gotten twisted and was stymieing her. I twisted it around right and then she got it in a trice.
I hate to say it, but I parked them in front of the electronic babysitter when we were done. They watched the Macy's parade with rapture while I worked just out of sight in the kitchen. With Walt as chef and me as sous-chef, we were doing pretty well, I thought, when John finally walked back in at noon.
He didn't say much, but held his hand out for the apron and said, "I'll take over here. You go stop our daughters' brains from turning to mush."
I looked. Sometime after the last time I'd looked, they'd gotten out the Teletubbies DVD and put it in. The Tubbies were one thing they could both agree on.
"Hey, I said you could watch the parade. I guess it must be over," I said, before reaching out and snapping the set off.
"Uncle Walter said!" Gracie protested.
"Oh, did he now? We'll just have to see about that."
The guilty uncle in question had been watching them from the next room, getting the pleasure of spoiling them. He hadn't been over enthusiastic about them as babies, but as they grew into interesting little people, suddenly he had found their charm. I think he must have been waiting for years for some children to spoil. I cannot otherwise account for the same man on whose carpet I was regularly called and reamed a new asshole, getting down on his knees and playing dolls with my daughter. Oh, and at Uncle Walt's house it's perfectly acceptable to have ice cream for breakfast.
Finally, the last guests, Lily and her new girlfriend Frida, arrived. The food made it out to the table. We all sat down and I looked at each shining face, in wonder that this actually was my family. That I had gotten this lucky, That I was not some stranger invited to another's celebration, but had taken my rightful place at the foot of the table, opposite of John at the head. We each had a daughter to our right. Walt, Bob and Georgie, Lily and Frida, Lois and Jimmy, our favorite tenants, Carlos and Lee, all surrounded us.
John sat down after he put the last dish on the table, then he looked at Georgie, who had never looked so handsome and radiant since she and Bob had run away to Vegas and eloped. "Would you say a grace, Georgie?" John asked.
John didn't say much to me during the course of the meal, nor during the traditional watching of football afterwards. It was easy not to, with all our guests around.
Later that night though, we were alone. Georgie and Bob had gone back to Walt's apartment. Jeff had slipped out hours earlier. The apartment was dark and quiet. After I tucked the twins into bed, making sure that the fish tank light was still on for their nightlight, I came back to the kitchen to find John washing the last few dishes. The light over the sink turned the window into a near perfect mirror. I looked at John in this mirror, gauging his expression. His brow was wrinkled thoughtfully. Definitely still brooding. He noticed I was watching him in the window but didn't turn. He watched me watch him.
Losing patience finally, he said, "Say it already."
"So, what are we going to do?"
"Well, I figure with only three kids, we might have to buy a minivan, but we don't have to move out to the suburbs just yet."
"I spent a couple of weeks I the suburbs once. It was hell," I said, thinking of an undercover case, posing as Scully's husband. I preferred my seamy underbellies out where I could see them, rather than hidden under a flawless exterior.
"I figure we'll have to turn the study into a bedroom," he said. "I know it'll be hardest on you."
"Not at all," I said. When it seemed that he wouldn't bite my head off, I moved behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist. I touched his lower abdomen tenderly, thinking about the new life, probably just big enough to see, resting and growing in there. Our child. He leaned back against me, allowing himself to rest on my strength for the moment. I was glad beyond words that he had come to accept this so quickly this time.
"So, how do you feel about the name Sullivan?" he asked.
When I asked him about it, he claimed he didn't remember anything strange happening in that field in Tennessee. But things like this made me wonder.
"It's an old family name," he said. "Well, a Doggett family name. Gran Garnet's maiden name was Sullivan. You got any preferences for a middle name?"
I thought hard about this. I hadn't seen my one-time lover, ex-antagonist, Alex Krycek, around for a while. Once, I had made him a promise. As much as offered to be his parent should he wish to be born again. I had vague memories of him saying he was going to take me up on that. Even if he was not this child, even if he hadn't elected to hop on the world again for another go round, I had the urge to honor him. We had fought more than we loved each other, and more often than not, the fault had been mine, my anger unthinking and bitter. Yes, given the chance, I owed it to make it up to him somehow. To love him as honestly as I could.
"How about Alexander?" I said. "Or some variation. Alexandria if it's a girl."
He shook his head. "Uh-uh. This is our son."
"You just know that?"
"Like I knew the twins were girls," he said. "I wasn't wrong then. Besides, Gracie thinks it's a boy too. I know I was mad earlier, but I'm thinking maybe it's not so bad to be pregnant again, especially if it's with your child."
I thought about a lot of things all at once. I thought about how much of a miracle the births of our girls had been, the fierce beauty of Garnet's first cry, the serene unfolding of Gracie's first breath. I thought about how calm and confident a father my lover was. But my thoughts kept coming back to how we had made this baby- the sweet, sweaty mystery of making love to John.
"C'mon," I said, sudden joy flooding through me. "Dishes can wait. What say we go make the bed springs squeak?"
I pulled him to me tightly and nuzzled his ear. He melted against me. The dish rag dropped to the floor from his lax hand. Yes, I still had it. He would soon be putty in my hands.
"Bedroom," I said.
We made our way to our room. A king size bed dominated the room. It was honestly a bit too big for the room, but two tall men and the occasional toddler or two needed a bed this big. Otherwise it was a plain room. Dark gold walls and blue plaid bedding. The only decoration to the room was a pair of antique Chinese lattice shutters that John had come home with one day without explanation. We'd hung them in the windows and when the sun shone through they cast intricate shadows.
We stood just inside the doorway for a minute. I looked at this bed where our new child had been conceived and I felt giddy and weak at the thought of it.
Meanwhile John was getting impatient in the face of my sentimentality. "Fox, if you're not on that bed in thirty seconds I'm going back and washing dishes."
What could a man do but exactly he was told? In a few short seconds, we were pulling off clothes, tossing them at the laundry basket, launching our naked bodies at the bed. John shivered in the cold air then quickly burrowed under the covers. I followed him, wrapping him in my arms. He pressed his whole body close against mine. I was so giddily happy that the only appropriate response was to laugh.
"Ah, that's better," he said, just before he claimed his first kiss. He was hungry for this, not that I wasn't, but he took the lead as he so often did. He rolled me over onto my back and draped himself over me, a pleasant and comforting weight, all the time taking kiss after kiss. I did my best to tear my mouth away so that I could nibble his ear and neck. He slid up and down my body, our cocks rubbing against each other in delicious friction. We were ready in a short time.
It doesn't matter, I've discovered over the years, whether he penetrates me, or which way I penetrate him. It all seems the same in some essential level. That which is truly penetrating is our souls, conjoining in the spiritual and emotional dance of love in a time that is eternal, where the body is left behind for a brief, ecstatic moment. I loved him. He loved me. The joining of body parts was a mere detail.
Afterwards, lying in each other's arms, blankets tucked up to our chins, he said, "I'm glad it's you this time. You know the thing I said, about what I'd do to you if you put me through this again?"
I recalled that clearly. It was a threat on my manly parts that was bound to be more than painful. "I remember," I said cautiously.
"I think that you should take that as an ill-considered statement. I'm sorry I said it. You can't hold a guy to things he says in the heat of the moment," he said. John wasn't real big on gushy apologies.
"I wouldn't dream of it," I said, yawning. Sleep was beginning to claim me. Resistance was futile, and besides, I could see and feel John start to settle into the restfulness of sleep beside me. It'd been a long day, crowded with those I most loved. And it had been another golden, happy ending.
So far, other than my one incident when Walt brought in the raw turkey, I hadn't yet been affected by morning sickness much this time. A bit in the early morning and I was usually fine once I got some crackers into me. Other than that, my only symptom of pregnancy so far this time was that I had to pee all the time. I'd forgotten about that, about how annoying it could be. I worried though, if about nothing else than what we were going to tell the girls. Pappa was having a baby. We'd told them over and over again that Pappa definitely wasn't going to have a baby when Gracie had started insisting that I would.
In fact, only Gracie's vehemence that I was going to give her a brother had talked me into taking the test at all. I'd had a few of the early symptoms, but none that couldn't be attributed to something else. I hadn't had a period for a long time, but that was nothing unusual.
Yes, I did bleed. But not monthly like women usually do. I supposed my hormone levels weren't up to supporting that, being as I seemed to continue to show mostly male characteristics in most things. Abbott had worried that over time, having ovaries might feminize me, but whatever the aliens did to me, my hormone levels were kept in balance and I continued to grow a full beard, my little breasts had disappeared, leaving me with a flat chest, and as I worked out, I easily put on muscle again.
Still, a couple of time a year I did bleed for a few days. I did get the full share of cramps, bloating and general discomfort when my period did come around. I think Fox was very relieved when my period didn't come. I know I had been.
Until I'd taken that test and learned why it hadn't. Actually, in some ways, I was thrilled to be pregnant again. Those days had been happy, most of the time. It was a sweet thing to think about, that farmhouse, first making love to Fox, all those times. And then to think about having a little baby to cuddle again, hold to my body. The girls had been serious about giving up the sling and Garnet's refrain had become, "I do it!" or some close variation. They weren't my little babies anymore.
Actually, right now, they were doing a pretty good imitation of being serious gamblers. Fox was teaching them to play dreidel. Fox had decided it was time to embrace his Jewish heritage a little more seriously, not in the strong religious sense, but culturally. So we celebrated Hanukkah. Sort of. He bought a menorah and a dreidel. We lit the menorah and opened little presents each night. One night Fox surprised us with latkes, but that was about it. Not a prayer was said though. I put up with it because it wasn't like I was going to raise the girls to be Christians.
Garnet spun the little top for her sister Gracie who couldn't quite manage it herself. We all watched carefully as it eventually came to rest. "Half," Fox pronounced, and doled out half of the gold coin candy to her.
It didn't take long for the small supply of candy to have been doled out more or less equally between the girls. They were allowed one each to eat, and then the rest was put up to be saved for later.
After the chocolate was done, it was getting nearly to bedtime for the girls. It was my time for reading the story tonight. You know, I was dreading the day when Garnet was going to seize the book from my hand, call out, "I do it!" then start reading aloud. I suspected it was going to come sooner than I thought.
But before reading in bed, came cuddle time on the couch. I guess the girls still were little enough for this, because they piled on Fox and me like baby cats on their mom. During the cuddle, Gracie rested her head lower on my belly. She patted me there, kissed me and said, "When's brother coming?"
I'd been dreading this conversation, but no time like the present, right? I'd ruminated over approaches again and again in the weeks since I'd discovered I was pregnant again and in the end I decided I was just going to do the only thing I can do. Answer their questions as they arose, as honestly as I could.
"It'll take months and months for him to get here," I said, knowing that a months was a unit of time they couldn't get their brains around, still being so young that a month was still a substantial fraction of their lives.
"An awful long time," Fox added. "Long after your birthday."
Gracie might have been the one asking the questions, but Garnet was listening just as intently to the answers.
"Daddy is having brother?" Gracie asked.
"But mommies have babies," Gracie said. She wasn't quite protesting, but she was confused. Gracie, I'd decided, wasn't psychic per se, but had some kind of ability read people that she didn't comprehend. She could just look at someone and know more about them than she could possibly have known. Whatever this sense, it was telling her that I was having a baby, even though I didn't look it yet, and even though it was in contradiction to her orderly world.
"Remember what I told you, about how you and Garnet don't have a mommy like other little girls? Brother is not going to have a mommy either."
"Daddy is unique," Daddy Fox added. He watched her try and say the word and not quite get it. "It means that no one else in the world is exactly like him. He can do things other daddies can't. Like have babies."
"Oh!" Gracie said, with a nod, as if she had everything explained to her satisfaction. Then she cuddled up even more closely, with a smile on her face. I ran my fingers on top of her raven black curls. Running them through the curls would tug at her hair, which would produce exactly opposite the intended effect.
Garnet meanwhile had buried her face in the crook of Fox's elbow and was very still. "Hey, Red," he said, "You fallin' asleep before our story?"
She shook her head, but didn't release herself from her cuddle. I suspected that she would be on her way to sleep very soon anyway.
"Dreidel song, Daddy Fox. Sing the dreidel song," Gracie added.
I could see Fox working to suppress a sigh. It was his fault. He was the one who'd first sung them the song. He was the one who had the idea of introducing them to Hanukkah.
"Okay," he said. Then he started to sing, in a voice that wasn't quite steady, but could more or less keep a tune, "I had a little dreidel, I made it out of clay..."
It was surprisingly sweet to hear him sing this little ditty, even if he wasn't exactly material for the Lyric Opera. The girls seemed happy with it too. And they actually started to drift off to sleep during the song's second repeat.
Once we'd tucked the princesses into their guaranteed to be free of peas bed, we went back to the living room. Fox knelt down to pick up the dreidel from where it had been left on the floor.
"Nun, gimmel, hay, shin," he said spinning the little square top in his fingers, then translated, "A great miracle happened there. It certainly did. And it's happening again."
He put the dreidel up, and embraced me. "Let's go to bed, Prince Charming," he said.
I couldn't disagree with that. Yes, sleep would be a good thing. And yes, a great miracle had happened.
We managed. We made several trips to Iowa over the course of John's pregnancy, to visit Bob. We got permission from Georgie to stay with her and Bob at the farm once John got further along. Walt would stay in Chicago and manage the building in John's absence. Because John was only carrying one baby this time, it was less obvious for longer that he was pregnant. This time at five months, instead of being huge already, with his clothes on he just looked like he'd acquired a sudden beer gut.
We'd had a few times where we'd had to do some hurried explaining. Not because people thought that John was pregnant by looking at him, but because of something Gracie said. She'd tell a neighbor, or the mother of one of her little playmates that daddy was having a baby. Then it'd be up to me or John to explain, using our cover story. That we were, indeed, adding a child to our family, but that we were using a surrogate mother, a woman we knew in Iowa, and that Gracie got confused sometimes. People were always inclined to buy it, the general person not believing the unexplained even when it was right under his nose.
In the middle of John's sixth month, we moved out to Iowa again, temporarily. I was able to do some of my dissertation work at home, but mostly that ground to a halt, as I was busy chasing children.
Time seemed to rush forward at a precipitous rate during this pregnancy. One day it seemed it was Hanukkah and John and I were explaining to the princesses how it could be that their daddy was having a baby, and then the next, it was summer and their daddy was having that baby.
Sullivan Alexander Skinner was very nearly a fourth of July baby, but he escaped that fate by a mere twenty minutes. This time, with the OB living in the same house, John did not escape having an attended birth, but after 'back off' was snarled a few times in Bob's direction, John was mostly left alone to do the hard work of guiding our son into the world. As happened last time, we were surrounded by a coterie of the beloved dead, watching us. This time, they needed not guard us, but they were present non-the-less. My old enemy, my old lover Alex Krycek was not present, making me believe more than ever that he had elected to shuffle on a mortal coil again, if not in my company, then someplace else. Hopefully, his road would be easier this round through.
At twelve-twenty AM, Sullivan Alexander Skinner unleashed his triumphant cry onto the world. It was loud and lusty and easily soothed. Where Gracie was dark and compact and Garnet had been light and bulky, Sully was tawny, skin tone much like my own, with a light fuzz of sandy brown hair. And he was rangy, tall and skinny. I was already picturing him as a basketball player. With two moderately tall dads, he might make it. He had a hint of the Mulder nose already and my square jaw line and lips.
At dawn, Gracie and Garnet woke up and they were allowed to troop into the living room where John was resting with Sully on his chest. Gracie didn't attempt to climb up on John and join them, though Garnet got kind of upset and clung to me.
"Brother Sully," Gracie said contentedly. She petted her new brother through the light receiving blanket that covered him, gently, even at her young age sensitive to how delicate he was. She seemed content to do this. I was content. John was content, drowsing as Sully nursed. Garnet settled down once she realized that I was still around and that both daddies couldn't hold Sully at once. Sully? Who knew his true state of mind, though he hadn't cried since his first cry. I would guess that it was not just content, but satisfied. He was going to be a passionate one, I could tell. He'd taken to everything presented to him thus far with gusto. Yes, he was going to be like me and like John.
Once he arrived, I understood suddenly that our family was complete. He'd filled an absence I had not been aware of. He was the harmony that when added turns a simple tune into a heart catching song. Yes, this was love, and this was my happy ending.
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