2005 Spooky Awards

Project:TruthSeekers Alt Season Nine: Protagonists

by Char Chaffin and The Truthseekers

[Story Headers]

The New Truth, A Project: Truthseekers Alternate Season Nine

Chapter One: Protagonists
By: Char Chaffin
Email: char@chaffin.com
Spoilers: Through S8
Disclaimer: Many characters contained herein are the property of 1013 Productions and 20th Century Fox. No profit is being made from the posting of this story.

Summary: "The New Truth" offers an alternative to S9 wherein Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, with the assistance of Agent John Doggett, Agent Monica Reyes and Assistant Director Walter Skinner, establish and lead a global resistance to the impending alien colonization.

Please visit the stories that comprise "The New Truth" at http://truthseekers.xphilia.net/

Chapter One

2:16 AM

The sound of the drill brought him to shuddering consciousness.

He'd been sleeping well, for a change. Sleeping deeply, his weary body and mind needing the thick REM. Every bone was loose, every muscle relaxed. The bed had felt so good as he'd allowed himself to sink down into it. He'd fallen asleep almost before his head made a full indentation on the pillow.

Then he heard the drill. And he didn't want to open his eyes. He didn't want to look.

He had to look. He had to know.

His eyes opened just a crack, adjusting with difficulty in the inky darkness. He raised himself on a shaky elbow, and peered into a gloom that suddenly lit up with one small, furiously bright pinpoint of light, shining with harsh glee above the drill. It was aimed at him. At his mouth. The high screeching whine of it pierced his ears; the obscene spin of it mesmerized his frightened stare.

He tried to scream.

He couldn't make a single sound above that spinning, whining, blinding drill...

Mulder snapped awake, heart pounding madly, awash in a cold sweat. Sucking in a huge breath, he allowed himself to unclench his body, to relax on his damp pillow. He uncurled his fists, understanding it had only been another dream. Letting the air whoosh out of his lungs, he turned his head to assure he hadn't awoken Scully, sleeping next to him on her side with a hand tucked under her cheek. Thankfully she was still asleep.

A whimper, high and babyish over the monitor on the nightstand next to the bed, told him easily what had triggered what he liked to call 'the Drill Dream': William, awake and wanting his early-morning bottle and changing. For some reason his son's snuffles resonating over the monitor had an eerily-familiar whine to them. Mulder supposed he'd become accustomed to it sooner or later. Of course, he could just take a hammer to the monitor and buy a better model.

Maybe that's what he'd do.

With a soft groan of weariness Mulder swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up, stretching and yawning as he padded to the door and headed toward the nursery. Scully was trying to wean the baby off his two o'clock feeding but so far they'd both met with quite a babyish wall of resistance. About all they'd managed to do was to get him off one bout of breast milk, which did help Scully get a decent nights' sleep. It was better than no progress at all, he thought.

The Mickey Mouse night-lamp next to the crib cast a soft glow over the angelic William, lying on his back with one tiny fist crammed in his mouth. Mulder peered over the railing of the crib, mugging a goofy face in the gloom, and the baby gurgled and pulled his hand from his mouth, waving it at his father, all toothless grins and fleece-covered cuteness. Mulder scooped him up and snuggled his son close, nuzzling his nose into William's neck.

Carrying him to the changing table, Mulder made short work of removing the soiled diaper, whispering daddy secrets to the wide-eyed infant. He quickly fastened a new one, snapped William back into his bright yellow pajamas and hoisted him up onto his shoulder, walking to the kitchen to warm up a bottle. While he waited, Mulder sat on a kitchen chair and rocked his son gently, a one-sided conversation holding the child's fascination as he watched his father's mouth moving and smiling at him.

"Well, Willy-Boy... you know, sooner or later you're gonna have to bite the nipple on this feeding, and sleep through the night." The timer beeped and Mulder retrieved the bottle, chuckling when the baby eagerly opened his mouth. Sitting back down in the chair, Mulder guided the nipple into William's mouth, and held his son close as he drained the bottle.

Actually, he enjoyed these late-night, early-morning bonding sessions with his child, even when they took him out of a much-needed sleep. During the day it seemed as if there wasn't much time for quiet moments like this. William was slowly becoming more active, more awake during the day and more demanding. At ten weeks, he was a chubby, sweet-tempered bundle of baby perfection. He was so adorable his parents could deny him next to nothing... and he was so wellloved that he was already showing signs of self-confidence. He was a blast to be around - and Mulder was thankful every day of his life that he'd been given a chance to be here, with his son and the woman he loved.

With William growing drowsy in his arms, little mouth slackening around the bottle's nipple, Mulder lifted him to a shoulder and burped him gently, then carried him back to bed. Placing the sleeping baby in his crib, Mulder pulled a light blanket over him and stood a moment, running tender fingers through the soft tufts of hair on the baby's head. The love whirling in his heart for this tiny human being... he would never be able to describe it to anyone but Scully.

As he watched his son, bending down to kiss the little forehead... William suddenly awakened, and Mulder found himself eye to eye and stare to stare with his child. Both of them unsmiling and intent on each other, neither heard Scully walk through the nursery door and stop in her tracks, observing the silent communion. For the longest time father and son stared at each other. Then William smiled a rather adult-looking smile - his tiny hand reached out and touched his father's cheek - and he broke eye contact and looked up at the cheery Pooh and Tigger mobile hanging over his crib. The mobile that up until a second before the baby gave it his attention, was unmoving and soundless.

As Mulder watched and Scully bore silent witness in the nursery doorway, William cooed - and the mobile drifted, just a little - and William smiled again - and the mobile turned a half-turn. Then William laughed, actually emitted a sweet baby laugh, as the mobile spun lazily, a tinkling tune of "It's a Small World," spilling out over the quiet room.

In the doorway, Scully gasped softly, catching Mulder's attention. He turned a worried face toward her, seeing identical concern in her eyes. Slowly she walked over to the crib, to stand next to Mulder and stare down at her beautiful, perfect child... who in some way was making a nursery mobile spin and sing with nothing more than his regard and his baby coos.

"Mulder, oh God. What are we going to do?" Scully's voice was a soft rasp of maternal fear. She turned to him and Mulder drew her into his arms and held her, both of them still watching the spinning mobile and their sweet baby.

He smoothed a hand over her hair. "We're going to love him. And we're going to protect him. We're going to live every minute of every day with as much happiness as we can, in a life as normal as we can possibly make it, regardless of what's coming down around our ears. We're going to find out what makes our child so different and so special... and we're going to find a way to help him channel it, to protect himself."

He hugged her tightly, adding, "We're going to fight, Scully. Fight to have a good life together. I'm ready to claw and pummel my way to a future that's safe for everyone, and I know you feel the same. Someday, under our guidance, William will join us in that fight." He drew back a little and cupped her cheeks, framing her face with his warm palms. "One for all and all for one, right?"

Scully's eyes locked onto his, tears glimmering there but not allowed to fall. In his loving gaze she saw hope, positive energy - adoration. Dedication and loyalty. Need, desire, a brimming heart and a tender soul. All for her and all for their child.

She nodded slowly; laid her cheek on his chest, tightened her arms around his waist. When she turned to glance down at her child, William stared solemnly up at her in the dim room; two fingers in his little mouth and huge blue eyes starting to glaze over with drowsiness. As they fluttered shut, the mobile came to a gentle stop; the tinkling tune petered out, note by note.

Baby William slept, secure and warm in his bed, as his parents kissed his sweet face and tiptoed out of his nursery, leaving the hall light on, headed back to bed.

8:10 AM

Dana Scully pushed open the double doors of the lab and stepped inside, snapping on several overhead lights as she shed her jacket and hung it on a nearby rack. She ran a massaging palm over her neck, easing the stiffness from sleeping sitting up. She'd fallen asleep the night before while reading over class material and the latest copy of Medical Yearly. Scully dug two fingers into the side of her neck and wished she'd taken Mulder up on his offer of an earlymorning massage.

Well, it wouldn't have mattered if she'd succumbed, since three seconds after she'd smilingly refused, William's morning howl of wetdiaper outrage had pealed out from the monitor and Mulder had sighed and squeezed her hands gently before heading out the door to take care of their son. Scully had sighed as well, and had wound up in a steamy shower, letting the hot needles of water pound at her. It wasn't much of a substitute for Mulder's talented fingers but it was better than nothing.

She snagged a fresh lab coat from one of the standing cabinets and slipped it on, then dug out several sterile masks and caps and two sets of surgical gloves. The morning class was large and filled with inquisitive students who asked intelligent questions. Three hours of intense communication with this group usually kept her hopping.

With an hour to prepare, Scully opened her briefcase and spread out her notes, intending to go through everything one final time. She leaned against a metal gurney and flipped through a folder, sipping at the latte she'd purchased from the kiosk downstairs.

Scully had been back at Quantico for almost three weeks and was quickly finding herself immersed in the routine of path lab work and classes, quizzes and grading. She was on a rotating schedule of morning lab two days a week, combined with a three-hour class every Wednesday. She could have gotten more days a week in the lab but she'd decided against it, preferring to ease back into the grind and gauge for herself how she'd react to being apart from her son. So far, she appeared to be the only one complaining.

William was doing very well without her on the mornings she arose early and took herself off to work. At first she had expected him to cry and fuss for her; in fact her maternal heart more or less demanded it. After all, when she walked out the door in the morning so did William's breakfast and lunch as well as his mommy. She'd been using her breast pump, filling enough bottles to get Mulder through the morning. She hated doing it, hated the significance of using the pump. It meant she could not be home with her child. Yes, she'd agreed to come back part time. She'd agreed to be whatever kind of eyes and ears she could, for Mulder.

Didn't mean she had to like it.

But of course she wanted Mulder to have this time with their son. He needed it. She knew he was enjoying these precious days, although he was also spending quite a bit of time working at trying to ferret out information concerning other abductees, people they hoped to recruit and persuade to help. John Doggett had called it an underground, but she preferred to think of it as a project, an operation... a resistance. Their resistance to the future they all knew with certainty was forming and growing. A future they'd band together against - and fight. Well, at least he could do that sort of networking at home, for the time being, whereas she more or less had to absent herself from their home and spend specified hours per week in a lab or a classroom, dealing with all manner of John Q. Public.

"Well, hello. Guess I'm early."

Scully's head jerked up at the vocal intrusion on her thoughts, and she looked toward the door and the man who stood there. John Q. Public, indeed...

He was dressed in jeans and a corduroy shirt, a pair of well-worn Weejuns on his feet. Dark blonde hair, brown eyes. A broad, pleasant smile and a good-looking face. Tall. Wide shouldered. About her age. And gazing at her as if he'd discovered extra raisins in his bowl of bran. Those eyes were fairly brimming with pleasure, and a fair amount of appreciation. She'd been out of the opposing-gender dance for some time now, but she knew what that masculine regard meant.


The last thing she needed right now was a potential admirer. Scully forced a smile of helpfulness, and stood up. "Can I help you? Are you lost?"

The smile flashed bigger as his eyes swept her from head to foot. He stepped inside the lab and offered a hand. "No, I'm right where I want to be, and quite happily, I might add. If you're Dana Scully, then I'm definitely where I want to be." There was a dimple in his left cheek that formed anew with each smile. And right now that dimple was deep enough to create a small pond.

Oh, brother. Scully would have liked nothing better than to ignore the proffered hand, but long-ingrained professional manners had her accepting his handshake. And immediately regretting it, for his hand was too soft, the skin clammy. The hand also held fast to hers when she discreetly tried to tug it free. Pulling harder, she managed to force him to release her fingers, and her eyes snapped with temper although when she spoke, her voice was mild enough. "That's Agent Scully. And you want to be here for some specific reason?"

His grin never faltering, the man lifted a battered leather briefcase to eye-level. "Well, for however many students want to listen to me drone on and on about Stress Management. Guess that's as good a reason as any. I'm an instructor," he clarified, noting her puzzled expression. "I have my first class in about a half hour, and I'm hoping the subject itself isn't so boring that nobody shows up." The smile upped a tad in wattage, and Scully fought the impulse to shade her eyes from the glare of his pearly whites.

She continued to stack her folders, also noting the man's attention had switched from perusal of her smock-clad body, to blatant staring at the papers in her hands. She cleared her throat delicately, and his regard immediately refocused on her. "If you're teaching Stress Management, you're on the wrong floor. Those classes meet one floor up, and if you hurry, you might have enough spare time to review your notes - as I am attempting to do. You do know this area is offlimits except for authorized personnel and students, don't you?"

It was more of a demand than a question, and he had the grace to look shame-faced. "Well, yes. I know that. I was briefed yesterday. But I couldn't resist coming down here, and taking a look. I find myself fascinated by forensics, Agent Scully. I'd really like to start taking the necessary courses to change my instructional focus. When I heard you're teaching Advanced Forensics, I just had to check it out. Your name is well-known in Federal circles. I've heard you're the best." Again the flashing dimple. "I didn't mean to bother you." The man stuck out a large hand again, adding, "Really, I'm harmless. I just wanted to take a peek. My name's Donald Ranken. Most of my friends call me 'Donny.'" He tried out another large-wattage grin.

It fell flat, as did his hand, when this time Scully refused to release the grip on her folders. She knew she was being rude, but she didn't care; there was an uneasy squall in the pit of her stomach from that first palm to palm contact and she trusted the feeling completely. It was more than a man giving her the once-over and acting aggressively, even though his demeanor had eased up a little since first stepping into an area he had no business entering.

Quite frankly, she found herself taking an instant dislike to Donald Ranken... and it went beyond basic repulsion at the reminder of another 'Donnie,' the one from her past whom she'd never quite been able to forget.

Nodding toward the door, Scully made it clear she felt he should be heading that way. "Mr. Ranken, I hope you find your experience here at the Academy rewarding and fulfilling. Now if you don't mind, I have a full morning and I must ask you to allow me to prepare for my class." She nodded again at the door, heaving an inward sigh of impatience when Ranken took his own sweet time ambling toward it.

"Maybe we could meet for lunch sometime... Dana." His eyes were once again locked on her body.

Oh, for... Scully could feel her temper rising even higher along with her level of irritation. "Mr. Ranken, I don't know you, nor do I wish to. And for the record, my name is either Doctor Scully, or Agent Scully. Those are your choices. Now, please excuse me." Finally herding him close enough to the door, she all but pushed him out, and shut it almost in his face. She locked it behind her, after flicking a fast check of her watch and noting she still had another forty-five minutes before her students would be pounding on it. Blowing out a breath of frustration, Scully reopened her folders and began flipping through her notes again.

But the unpleasant encounter with the persistent Donald-call-me-Donny Ranken was uppermost on her mind and she made a mental note to have Mulder check him out. She'd met some pushy men in her life, but he really did take the proverbial cake. The feeling in the pit of her stomach was not to be taken lightly. She knew it. She trusted it.

And on the other side of the lab, Donny Ranken smiled to himself and walked away, brown eyes gazing once over his shoulder at that door, as he headed for the elevators and one floor up.

10:00 PM

"Donald Ranken."

Mulder looked up from diapering William. "Who's that?" He snapped the baby's romper and picked him up, snuggling their son close as he walked over to the bed and joined Scully, who was still brushing her hair.

She laid the hairbrush down and leaned back against piled-up pillows, holding her arms out for William. Mulder obligingly placed the baby in the curve of her body and Scully helped him settle in for his nightly nursing session, waiting for Mulder to join her on the bed before answering. "That's what I think I'd like you to find out for me. I met him today. Some new instructor in Stress Management. Wandered into the lab an hour before my class."

There was a definite tone in her voice, Mulder decided. He slipped an arm around her shoulders and supported her gently as she fed William. "What was he doing on your floor? Did he bother you?"

Scully shook her head, resting on his shoulder and readjusting William for a nursing on the other side. "No, not exactly. I mean, he bothered me, but it didn't seem as if he was doing it on purpose. I suppose I found the encounter... unsettling."

She cradled the baby's head as he dozed against her breast. "First of all, he had no apparent business being in the lab area - you know it's restricted down there - and his excuse of being 'curious' was no excuse at all. I caught him eyeballing the folders I was holding, and his hands were clammy," she complained, as she shifted the sleeping William onto his back.

Upon hearing 'clammy hands,' Mulder was immediately on the alert. He demanded, "He touched you? More than just a handshake?"

Scully was quick to reassure him, "No, just a handshake. You know if anyone had the utter misdirection to put their hands in an inappropriate area, they'd draw back a bloody nub, Mulder!" She flashed a quick grin at his sigh of relief, adding, "When he shook my hand it was clammy. I consider it a dead giveaway of nerves, or anxiety. Lately I've been three times as suspicious as is normal for me. You know why."

Mulder nodded and kissed her forehead. "Yes, I know. And I won't lie to you and claim I'm not worried. You can take care of yourself, of course - but we're more vulnerable now than we ever were. And I wish like hell I could be with you, watching your back."

She snorted softly. "Well, how dangerous is teaching a three-hour class in Advanced Forensics supposed to be, Mulder? I should be safe at the Academy. And I do feel secure when I'm down in the labs. It's just that I wasn't expecting to see this guy down there. It threw me off, a little. His attitude was, well... creepy. Unsettling, as I said."

Mulder held William as she pulled back the covers, then he settled the baby between them, Scully curled on her side facing him on the pillow. He stroked one hand over her hair, fighting back a primeval urge to lock her in the apartment with him and hibernate. Stupid, really - for she could certainly handle herself. But she was a new mother, just recently cleared for duty after her maternity leave. Her emotions ran closer to the surface than ever before. His, too, he supposed. The current circumstances of their lives had shifted them, their priorities, what was most vital to them. It had softened them; that was as good as any a description. And the last thing they could afford to be was soft.

She was almost asleep when he mumbled, "Anything else I need to know about this clown, Scully? You want I should look him up, work him over a little... pay Guido to stick a horse's head in between his comfy sheets?" He spoke in his best Mafia voice.

She chuckled sleepily. "No, thank you. Although I appreciate the thought, 'Godfather.' Just check him out, please. And hold my hand, all through the night... okay?" She reached across the few inches separating them, and kissed him goodnight over the top of their child's head.

Mulder kissed her back tenderly, then entwined their fingers together. "You got it. All through the night. And beyond."

She nodded, barely conscious, going under fast. "Wake me in the morning and I'll give you definite sexual what-for, Mulder."

He sighed out a drowsy groan, "It's a date..."

Cuddled together in the warm bed with their son nestled between them, whispering dual 'Love yous,' they slept.

8:59 AM

Mulder tapped in a few commands and sat back, waiting for the server to do its thing. He rubbed a hand over his bristled jaw, realizing he'd forgotten to shave again. Propped against his jeans-clad leg, William was awake and cute as could be in a bright red cotton romper, a fist crammed in his mouth and eyes wide as he took in the flashing computer screen in front of him.

Mulder bounced him a few times, then pressed a kiss to his tiny ear and murmured, "What a big guy you are, helping Daddy do some covert investigating! I think we'll get you your very own badge, whaddaya say, Willy-Boy?" He snuggled his son closer as the server continued to process, grinning at the baby gurgles William emitted. When his adorable son cut a noisy milk-fart that was powerful enough to vibrate his diaper, Mulder laughed aloud in delight and gave his boy a gigantic hug, exclaiming, "Good one, Willy! That could be our secret weapon against all the baddies in our world, couldn't it?"

William seemed to be in complete agreement. Emitting a series of gurgling coos, he twisted his head around to lock those bright blue eyes on his father, all talcum-powder sweet and grinning big toothless grins. Obviously, cutting the cheese agreed with the 'big guy'... and thankfully their child's farts didn't stink.


With William still chewing his hand, Mulder thought back to the night before, and Scully's description of Donald Ranken. Just before she'd left a few hours ago for her morning lab session, she'd mentioned the creep had asked her to call him 'Donny.' Jesus... no wonder his poor baby had been so repulsed. It may have been years in the past, and that particular nemesis stone cold dead in his grave - but neither of them had ever forgotten Pfaster. And neither could even hear the name 'Donny,' regardless of the way it was spelled, without remembering one of the most frightening monsters they'd ever had to deal with.

Mulder had hugged her as she'd spoken, a pair of forgotten panty hose in her hand as she'd been beset once again by unwelcome memories. Silently he'd removed the filmy stockings from her fingers and he'd led her over to the bed, sitting her down on the edge. He'd knelt in front of her, placed a finger on her forehead and pushed at her gently, until she'd fallen backwards on the mussed sheets. Then he'd carefully slipped her bikini briefs down her legs.

Scully had propped herself up on both elbows and watched him, still pale-cheeked but with a returning glimmer in her eyes. "Mulder, what are you up to? I have to go! I have to be at the lab in an hour!"

He'd flung the lacy bit of silk over his shoulder and his eyes had locked themselves to hers, loving the way her cheeks flushed from pale to pink in about two seconds flat when his hands began wandering over her soft skin.

"You're not going anywhere, not yet. The roads are slippery with rain and I don't want you driving on them when your mind isn't completely... clear. I want you to relax, forget everything and everyone, and just concentrate on what I'm doing." He'd followed the trail of his palms with his lips, and by the time he'd reached her mouth she was gasping for breath.

She'd huffed against his lips, "This is how you 'clear my head' for me? You want me to relax, when you're about to - when you're going - oh, God, Mulder..." She couldn't even say the words; her face - as well as her upper body - was fully flushed and her limbs trembled when he nudged her thighs apart and his lips reversed their direction. One bite to the corner of her mouth and he was moving downward, touching lightly on several sensitive spots, until he'd reached the heart of her.

Against her dampness, he'd smiled. Fastening his mouth on her, he mumbled a heated, "When I'm about to what, Scully? Make you forget all your troubles? Turn you into my own personal lollipop?" To emphasize his words, Mulder ran a probing tongue in a dizzying series of circles, straight lines and short jabs all over her flesh, until she was moaning and thrashing; until she grasped his head with both hands and just hung on for the ride.

Any further thoughts of past horror or present irritant had floated away under the rich sounds of their mutual loving.

An hour later Scully had dashed through the nursery, nuzzling a drowsy William, had flung herself into Mulder's embrace one last time for a final nipping kiss, before bolting out the door. He noticed a run in her hose and had refused to tell her about it, thinking to himself how sweet it was to have your woman so shaken from your lovemaking that she'd put a thumb right through her nylons and never know it.

Now he sat with the warm weight of a drowsing William in his arms, and pondered the unsurprising revelation that a hard search of Donny Ranken had turned up total squat. Mulder's fingers drummed on the keyboard, his forehead crinkled in concentration. He'd tried every legal channel as well as a few illegal ones. Nothing. The man was apparently a ghost. And yet... maybe there were a few illegals left to be tried.

Two minutes later an irritated Langly was grousing into his ear. "Jesus, man! You got any idea what time it is? Don't you ever sleep?"

Mulder grinned at the traces of curmudgeon in Langly's voice. "It's nine in the morning, Sunshine. You should all be up and raring to go. I consider it my civic duty to drag your asses out of bed and assist you in becoming viable members of the working man's world."

Langly's tone - and attitude - veered counter-clockwise in a hurry. "You and your civic duty can go suck canal water, Mulder... after you both bite me, big-time. Now, what d'ya want?"

It was all Mulder could do to keep himself from laughing into the receiver; Langly was so entertaining when he was half-asleep and grouchy. "I want you to look up someone for me. I sent the name through legals and illegals - the ones I can access - and no luck at all. I need you to find out anything you can about a Donny Ranken."

Langly whistled softly at the surname. "Another 'Donnie,' huh? Does Scully know anything about this? That's a shitty name for her to be hearing." However grim Langly might be in the morning, his deep and genuine concern for Scully's welfare was always touching and welcome.

Mulder agreed, "Yeah, I know. She was getting ready for class the other day and this guy showed up in her lab and came on pretty strong. He claimed to be a Stress Management instructor, and had wandered down to the lab based on Scully's reputation as an agent and a forensic examiner. She got very creeped out, says the guy has clammy hands. Dead giveaway I guess."

Langly gave a hum of concurrence. "Yep, I'd have to go with clammy hands as well. If he had a damp upper lip, then he'd be a real piece of work. Only my opinion, of course."

Mulder echoed, "Of course. You think you can dig up something good?"

"Oh sure, man. No problem. I can find anything, don't you know that by now?" The puffed up pride in Langly's tone was just so like him that Mulder finally gave into his urge to laugh. The movement of his chest caused William to awaken, and the irritated baby began to snuff out a protesting cry. Mulder immediately got to his feet and started pacing.

Juggling the phone against his ear, Mulder stressed, "Yes, I know. Your kung-fu is the best. And yes as well to 'finding anything.' Even if you think it's kosher. Although I draw the line at trying to discover if his skivvies have the days of the week sewn on them, or the months of the year. Even I have my limits."

Langly's startled laugh was loud in the receiver, and Mulder chuckled along with him. He snuggled William against his shoulder and exacted a promise to be supplied with any and all info, PDQ.

Disconnecting the call, Mulder carried William to the nursery and settled him in, the baby now fast asleep and looking like the most perfect angel. Mulder stroked a loving finger over the petal-soft cheek, before tugging up the blanket and leaving his son to catch a morning nap.

Back in the living room he checked his watch. Scully would be kneedeep in cadavers right now, but without an actual class to conduct he knew if he called her she'd be willing to talk for a few moments, albeit somewhat unwillingly. When she was working she was all business, and nothing tickled Mulder more than the ability to rattle her over the phone when she was trying to concentrate. She pretended to dislike it and he pretended to be sorry. It was a game they'd been playing for years, their own coded way of saying, 'I love you and miss you by my side.'

He punched in the speed code and waited for her 'I'm irritated' voice. Didn't have to wait long...

"Scully." Yep, there it was. Irritated-Doctor-Mode. Perfect.

Mulder lowered his voice to a sexy rasp. "What're you wearing, Little Girl? Want a bite of my lollipop? Or maybe I could have another lick of yours."

Her snort was exasperated and affectionate. "You're an idiot. And I already had a 'bite of your lollipop,' Mulder. You're lucky there's nobody in here right now, listening to this. Did you call for something special, or did you just want to harass me? Is William all right?"

Her amused retort couldn't hide the subtle worry in her tone, and Mulder was quick to reassure her. "Willy's fine, baby. I just wanted to call, see how you're doing - find out what DeadBody Number One may have had for his last meal..." He cradled the phone on a shoulder as he sat back down at the computer and checked his email to see if Langly had found anything yet.

He wasn't a bit surprised when Scully saw right through his silliness. "An idiot, and sick as well. How lucky I am to have you in my life, Mulder." The words were meant to insult but the warm silk in her voice told him just how much she loved him. He smiled as she added, "Not to mention damned suspicious of your pitifully covert attempts to assure my safety. I'm fine. Really. Dr. Lewenstein is in the next lab and the connecting doors are unlocked. If for any reason an intruder got in, he'd be over here in an instant."

Mulder thought a moment, as he clicked on an incoming email. "Lewenstein, huh? How big a boy is he?"

Scully sighed noisily. "Big, Mulder. Six-foot four. Ran defense in college for the Buckeyes. About as broad as he is tall, as well - and not an ounce of fat on him."

Mulder adopted instant attitude, and an exaggerated pout. "Big and non-fat, huh? I suppose you like him better than me." He clicked on another email and waited for her to react.

Another sigh, this one brimming with humor. "Oh, yeah. I like him lots better. I especially like it when we do the horizontal bop using the body of one of my cadavers as a mattress. In fact we have a session scheduled for five minutes from now so I really must be going." She chuckled, "You feel more reassured, now? I truly am all right, and as much as I adore you getting all protective and manly on my poor old weakened feminine ass, I need to cut this short. I have a ton of class paperwork to get through as well as preparing tomorrow's autopsy lesson, and - oh, hell..." Her voice broke off in a snap of frustration, and Mulder could hear a male voice in the background, muffled and faint.

He didn't like the sound of it but kept his tone light. "Scully, is that Dr. L, checking up on you?"

Her response was very low - and angry - in his ear. "No. It's Ranken. I've got to go, Mulder. I have to bounce this moron out of my lab."

At the name 'Ranken,' Mulder immediately went on red alert. As always, the labs were off limits on non-class days to anyone in the Academy who wasn't actually taking Forensic classes, or teaching them. Or cleaning them...

Mulder barked out a worried, "Scully!"

The phone went dead.


He ran to the nursery, gathered up a sleeping William and wrapped him in a thick blanket, then snagged the diaper bag in the foyer, flinging the strap over his free shoulder. William never woke up as Mulder punched in a code with one unobstructed finger.

"Langly? Don't talk, just listen. Meet me at the FBI Academy; I need you to take William off my hands. I'm on my way now - I think Scully may be in trouble. Yes, at the Academy! That asshole Ranken just got in her lab. Thanks, I owe you. Later."

He jammed the cell in his pocket and ran out the door.

10:45 AM

There wasn't a glimmer of anything but deep distrust on Scully's unsmiling face as she stared at Donald Ranken, standing just inside the lab with another wide grin thrown in her direction. She cursed herself for not locking the damn door; she just wasn't used to any sort of intrusion in the Academy labs. She'd remembered from past experience that no one bothered the labs unless they were taking classes; it had always been a non-issue. Now it seemed because of one jerk with an unpleasant name, her comfort level and on-the-job security would be threatened.

She hated it.

Scully untied her mask with one hand, the fingers of her other hand still gripping a scalpel and clenched by her side. "Can I help you, Mr. Ranken? Or perhaps ask you what you're doing down here when you know the lab is off-limits?"

His eyes remained locked on hers, apparently unaware of the potential weapon clasped in her palm. In their depths she detected amusement and confidence - and more unwelcome admiration. His voice was so pleasant and friendly it set her teeth on edge. "Good morning, Dana. You're looking lovely." As if she stood before him draped in exotic black lace instead of a baggy white lab-coat and surgical cap.

Jesus. The man had to be a complete moron, to provoke her ire this way. Not to mention his utter disregard for accepted protocol and professional courtesy. Scully was seething inside, but forced herself to exude absolute calm. "Mr. Ranken, I suggest you keep your personal opinions to yourself, turn around and walk back out the door. Not only are there no classes today, but the lab premises are off limits, as I believe I mentioned the other day." She kept her eyes locked on his and her hand hidden as she nodded toward the door. "I have a full load of coursework and precious little time to finish up."

Ranken tilted his head to the side as he took another step closer to the nearest examining table - which happened to be between Scully and the door. He inquired, "Do I make you nervous, Dana? I don't mean to. I suppose I come on a bit strong, with women I find very attractive. And I find you very, very attractive. I'd like to take you to dinner." Another step closer; Scully held her ground, her anger escalating rapidly to fury. It must have shown in her eyes, because Ranken stopped in his tracks, his smile faltering just a little. "Money's no object; we can go anywhere you like. It isn't often I find a woman that I feel so... in tune... with."

Another step.

Goddamn it! Fury won out over anger and Scully raised the scalpel, now clutched in her fist like the weapon she knew from experience it could be. Ranken's eyes widened as he took note of it, finally comprehending his tactical error in pushing her. He retreated a step; she was the advancer now. And in that instant her momentary fear crystallized into power and strength. This jerk didn't know who he was dealing with. He didn't know... but he was about to find out.

Her voice was low and biting. "Get. Out. NOW. I mean it, Ranken. I warned you the other day, when you came down here uninvited and unwelcome. As you have done yet again. I don't know where the hell you're from but if you think you can act this way around the female agents in this facility, I'd advise you to think again. Your regard is insulting and your insistence upon acting the macho male will get you into more trouble than you could ever imagine. I can promise you I would have let it go had you pushed the issue just once. I won't let it go this time." Blue eyes glittered dangerously at brown, as she added, "The door is behind you. Use it."

Her voice remained steady; her hand never faltered or trembled. Her entire demeanor was on the offensive. Ranken tried to stare her down for a few seconds more; she refused to allow even one moment of insecurity, at the look in his eyes.

Finally he shrugged, turned and walked to the open lab door. He sent one more look over her, still acting the aggressive male. His performance fell flat when Scully refused to drop her defensive stance. He cleared his throat. "I'm going to be here a long time, 'Agent' Scully. A long time. I'll see you around. Maybe the next time we meet, you won't be holding a potential weapon. Maybe next time you'll be more... amenable... to my friendly personality."

The words were brave but his shoulders were tense as he walked through the door. Before he disappeared down the corridor, he tossed a final comment her way.

"Have a good afternoon with your little boy - Dana."

Scully's arm dropped in reaction to the words he left in his wake; her shoulders sagged. She was chilled to the bone. How in hell had he known she had a child? She never talked about her private life, at the Academy or at the Bureau. It simply wasn't her way, and especially in light of what she and Mulder had just discovered about William and his budding abilities, Scully had become borderline paranoid where her family was concerned. Unless the bastard had found a way to nose into her personal files or had followed her home recently and watched her place until he'd seen her emerge with William in his stroller or baby carrier, there was no way he should have known.

Scully could feel the reactionary trembles start in her hands, her arms. She felt as though she'd been through a small battle in an even bigger war. Donny Ranken would not leave her alone; this she knew. It was in his attitude, his smile - those eyes of his. He'd retreated not because he was leery of her but only because he'd known she wouldn't hesitate to use the scalpel in her hand. Because he had to know the kind of damage she could do to his face, if he got close enough to really threaten her.

She wondered what a threat from him would contain, wondered why in hell he had chosen her to harass. It didn't make any sense at all. Scully walked swiftly to the lab door and locked it securely, then sank into the nearest chair.

She hoped that Mulder and Langly had managed to find out something about Donny Ranken. In the meantime, she'd have to report him to Skinner, the sooner the better.

Ranken was obviously a bully. One who thought he was God's gift. One who wouldn't hesitate to force a woman into compliance, who would probably stoop to drugging - or worse - to get what he wanted.

Scully refused to think about the 'worse'... but she did wonder if Ranken had some sort of set agenda, and if that agenda was somehow connected to those enemies of hers and Mulder's that she knew were still out there.

One way or another they'd find out the truth.


Her name was accompanied by thunderous pounding on the lab door; Scully stood and walked swiftly, unlocking the door and staggering back a little when Mulder burst through. He grabbed her shoulders, worried eyes boring into hers.

"Where is he? Did he hurt you? Scully?"

She stared up at him blankly for a few seconds, before her eyes cleared and she wound her arms around him, needing to feel him, wanting to crawl inside him. Mulder pulled her into a fierce embrace.

His demand vibrated against her temple. "Tell me."

Scully pushed away and dragged a hand through her hair. "Well, he was here. Walked in as though he owned the place. He asked me to dinner of all things, told me he found he 'very attractive' and more or less intimated he wanted me, that I was his new choice of girlfriend." She rubbed at her eyes, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. "He's unstable, Mulder. He has to be. Nobody in their right mind would put the moves on an armed Federal agent."

At the confusion in Mulder's eyes, she hastily clarified, "I had my scalpel in my hand, pointed at him like a weapon. If he'd come any closer I would have gotten in several decent carvings before he took me down - and he knew it. He backed off, left. But not before mentioning William, and wishing me a 'good afternoon' with my child. The expression on his face when he said it was not... pleasant."

Mulder's own expression was furious enough to harness lightening. "FUCK! Okay, that's IT - we're going to talk to Skinner. Now." He grasped Scully's arm and started pulling her toward the door.

She dug her heels in, cautioning, "Mulder, you can't go see Skinner! You know that. You're not even supposed to be anywhere near the Academy." She caught his hand, squeezed it. "We can have Skinner come over, tonight. We can tell him what happened today, as well as the incident the other day. We can lodge a complaint."

Mulder slowly nodded, clearly unhappy to have to let it go when he was worried and angry and out for blood. "All right. I'll let it go for now. But I want you home. With me and Will."

She nodded and slipped out of her lab coat, gathering up her papers, resigning herself to working from home at least for the rest of the day. She folded the coat and laid it on the examining table, then walked over to Mulder and wrapped her arms around him again, looking up into his face. She pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "So, take me home, Mulder. And by the way, who's got William? Or don't I want to know?"

Mulder chuckled, "Langly. In fact, he's probably in the parking lot, still holding the cab I took. I told him to meet me over here and I dumped Willy in his arms and tore down two floors like a madman."

Scully sighed as they walked to the elevator. "Langly, huh? Wonder if he's ever changed a poopy diaper?"

Mulder grinned at her - a truly evil grin. "I'd say 'yes' to that, Scully... since Will had a very decent load in his britches when I passed him over to Langly. I'd say Goldilocks got his lifetime diaper fix." The elevator doors swished open for them and Scully was laughing out loud as they stepped inside.

That laughter sustained them both, all the way down to the parking garage.

8:30 PM

The knock on their door was expected, although Mulder was surprised it had taken Skinner so long to drive over, considering they'd called him hours ago and over the phone he'd promised he was on his way.

Mulder answered the door; Skinner stood there in his overcoat and suit, clearly having come directly from work. Mulder raised a curious eyebrow. "You still haven't been home, Sir?"

Skinner brushed past him, unsmiling. "Not yet, Mulder. Where's Agent Scully?"

Mulder closed and locked the door, then turned to take Skinner's coat. "She's just putting Willy down for the night. Want a beer?" Without waiting for an answer he led the way into the kitchen, snagging two bottles from the fridge and handing one to Skinner.

They sat at the kitchen table, and Mulder quickly filled Skinner in on the events of the day. "She was rattled as hell, Sir. This Ranken asshole knows about Will. The only way that's possible would be if he'd followed her home and watched her coming and going, long enough to see her with the baby - or if he'd been snooping in her files, which we both know is illegal as hell. She never says anything to anyone at the Academy about William; it was the same when she worked at the Bureau, before she delivered. And most of her coworkers have been polite enough not to ask. Scully is intensely private about William - and about me."

Mulder took a long pull from the bottle and rubbed at his eyes. "You and I both know she has nerves of steel. It takes a hell of a lot to shake her, but this shook, and hard. I don't know what to do."

Skinner set his empty bottle on the table, then reached into his suit pocket and extracted an envelope. He passed it to Mulder, commenting, "Take a look at this. We all need to talk about it."

Mulder was scanning the pages just as Scully came into the kitchen, carrying a small load of laundry. She sent a smile Skinner's way and leaned in to kiss Mulder's cheek, before setting the laundry basket down and glancing at the papers in his hand.

"Sir, thanks for coming over so quickly... and what's this?" She bent in closer, one hand closing over Mulder's as he sifted through the forms in his hand, reading over his shoulder. She raised her head and stared at Skinner in shock.

"He's lodged a formal complaint? Against ME?"

Skinner nodded, then reached out a hand and pressed her arm until she sat down in the nearest chair. "I got served with those papers about two hours ago, that's why it took me so long to get over here. Mulder just told me what happened. I'd like to hear your thoughts about Ranken."

Scully scrubbed her fingers over her face and raked them impatiently through her hair. She had to consciously force her voice to remain calm and even. "Truthfully? I think he's borderline psychotic. I think he's a bully and potentially dangerous to women. I think he's been following me and I think he's working for someone who might want to cause harm to me, Mulder and William. In other words, I think he's a dangerous man. And I don't believe for a minute that he's an Academy instructor."

Skinner gestured toward the papers Mulder still held in his hand. "And the scalpel? Did you threaten him with it, Agent Scully, as it states here?" At her affirmative nod, Skinner sighed in frustration. "Look, I understand why you felt threatened yourself. I really do. I have no reason to doubt yours or Mulder's account of what happened. I've known both of you long enough to accept you don't blow things out of proportion. If this clown Ranken made overtures toward you that were unwanted and gave you the kind of unease that would cause you to feel the need to protect yourself with any available weapon... then I believe you were justified. But I'm not the one you have to convince."

Mulder tossed the papers down on the table and stood, crossing over to Scully's side and settling comforting hands on her shoulders. His stare was direct and even Skinner could see the worry there, as he inquired, "So who's the one? Who's Ranken's boss?"

Another sigh from Skinner did nothing to reassure either of them, nor did his answer. "Dr. Ralph Livengood. Who answers directly to Alvin Kersh. I can just about guarantee Kersh would love a reason to boot you out of the Bureau, Agent Scully. He's been on shaky ground for several months, with OPR. There's residual disapproval still sitting on his head, from the way he dealt with the X-Files during Mulder's absence. He's been slowly gaining his ground back, but Livengood is a personal friend of his; they go way back together. Kersh will support Livengood - and for what it's worth Livengood is a real chauvinist throw-back who doesn't believe women should have ever been allowed in the Bureau. You talk about the "Old Boy's Club," you're pretty much talking about Ralph Livengood. In fact, I think he invented the club."

Mulder massaged Scully's tense shoulders gently, as he considered what they'd learned so far. "So this Livengood would no doubt think Scully got what she deserved, so to speak - and whatever Ranken tells him about the incident in the lab, Livengood would accept it and then convince Kersh to follow suit. A jumpy female agent who uses scalpels to ward off harmless guys who just want to make friends... who needs that kind of hassle in the Bureau?" Under his hands Scully had stiffened, and Mulder hastened to reassure her. "Scully, I'm just saying what I'm afraid you'll hear if there's an inquest. You know that."

She let out a breath, relaxed against him. "Yes, I know. Just as I know I'm not going to back down on this. I assume Ranken wants a formal apology, in writing, or else he'll push forward with the inquest? It's standard procedure." She glanced at Skinner, noting his reluctant nod. "Okay. Then I suggest we find out everything we can about Donald Ranken. Because as I said, I don't believe he's an instructor. I think he's a plant of some kind. Of course, I'm going with simple gut instinct; a trick I learned from you, Mulder." She squeezed the hands still resting on her shoulders and smiled when he chuckled and brushed the top of her head with his mouth.

"That's my 'little woman.' Taught her everything she knows." He blithely ignored her muttered, 'Oh, brother,' and turned to Skinner. "I've got Langly and the guys digging through every avenue for whatever can be found on Ranken. So far the man is a total ghost. But they won't give up."

Skinner stood up, stretching his long legs, waving away the offer of another beer. "I need to get home, but thanks. Listen, Dana," his use of her first name was rare, and an indication of his caring and concern for his fellow agent and friend, "I can spend some time over at the labs, whenever I want to." He ignored her negative head-shake and protest and continued, "It's not because I don't think you can't handle yourself. You know me better than that. But if this jerk is dangerous to you then he'd be a danger whether you're a woman or a man. You're in that lab alone for hours on end. I'd feel better if Mulder could be with you but we all know that's an impossibility. So, the offer's open, if you want it. Thanks for the beer."

He sent each of them a fast smile. "I'm just going to head into the nursery for a minute or two and say goodnight to William, if you don't mind?"

Scully returned the smile, full-blown and genuine, and gave his arm an awkward pat. "We don't mind at all. And thanks... Sir."

"He's finally asleep."

Mulder climbed into bed and smoothed the covers over his legs as Scully laid aside the book she'd been flipping through. She snapped off her bedside lamp and turned on her side as he slipped an arm around her and tugged her close. "How Willy knew Skinner was in the room is beyond me; I'd swear that boy was fast asleep when you left him the first time."

Scully yawned and rested her cheek on Mulder's shoulder. "Well, he was. Out for the count. But you've seen what's going on with our son, Mulder - he's got that extra sense that we're still learning about and trying to accept. It doesn't show signs of easing off, either."

Both were silent for a few minutes, recalling the amazement on Skinner's face when he'd walked out of the nursery and reported to them the sight of William in his crib, transitioning from fast-asleep infant to wide-awake and cooing baby, as soon as Skinner had stepped close enough to peer over the railing. The boy had immediately stretched up both arms in a demand to be held, a wide smile on his little face. Did babies so young actually grin like that? Did they reach with their arms? Skinner had wanted to know. He'd swung William into his embrace and the child had snuggled his head underneath Skinner's chin, one tiny hand clinging to his collar as he'd nestled there.

The moistness in Skinner's eyes couldn't be ignored, any more than the thickening of his voice as he'd recounted the scene. He'd stood there for several minutes snuggling William, the baby hanging on tightly, before gently placing him back in his crib and covering him with the soft blanket. William had stared unblinkingly into Skinner's eyes for a long moment, before gracing him with one last smile and letting his own eyes droop in contented slumber. The tough ex-Marine had left their apartment with residual emotion clouding his sight and the lingering warmth of their son still resting on his wide shoulders.

"That's my boy. Knows who the good people are on this earth." Mulder's low rasp stirred against her temple as he held Scully wrapped in his arms.

She nodded, almost afraid to trust her voice. "Yes. William can tell. Of that I have no doubt. Do you recall the first - and only - time he saw Kersh? Remember I told you about the fit he threw? I'd bet Kersh still thinks about it."

Mulder chuckled aloud at the memory. "Oh, yeah. I remember. That one afternoon you took William to the lab with you, right before you started back to work part-time. You said you weren't expecting to run into anybody since it was a Sunday, and there ole Alvin was, walking down the corridor. You said Willy took one look at him and started screaming."

"That's right. I could barely manage to keep hold of him, Mulder. He was thrashing about so hard I was afraid I'd drop him. Then he'd pause, stare at Kersh again, and start thrashing anew. It was really and truly bizarre. Poor Kersh, for all of his basic nastiness I have a feeling he has a soft spot for children. He was crushed, I think."

In truth, it had been very odd. William had never taken such a fit against anyone before; their son had been just a little over seven weeks old. At that age babies would barely have the presence of mind to differentiate between warm bodies, just as long as someone was holding them. And Kersh had done nothing more than look at William; God only knew what the child would have done if she'd actually have placed him in Kersh's arms. Scully had stammered out an apology and had rushed William down the corridor and into the nearest elevator, the red-faced infant screeching non-stop. Yet as soon as the doors had slid shut and they'd started their ascent to the lobby, William had turned off the tears and screaming as effortlessly as he'd begun, and had smiled up at his mother with the most angelic little face.

That same day he'd gotten his first knee-bouncing session in Frohike's lap - and had loved every minute of it. To this day any of the Gunmen could come into his small view and be greeted by coos, smiles and two tiny arms reaching for them. And now, it seemed as if Walter Skinner had been allowed inside that charmed circle.

"What are we going to do about Ranken?" The question rumbled against her temple as she ran slow fingertips along his collarbone.

Scully sighed and pressed her lips into his skin. "I don't know. I hate to think it would go as far as an inquest. I don't want to back down, either. In fact, I wanted to lodge a complaint myself. I never thought Ranken might beat me to it. And it's just the sort of attention I don't want aimed at us."

She shifted in Mulder's arms until she could look into his eyes. "I know how the Bureau looks at maternal agents, Mulder. It may read equality on the regs but you and I both know how untrue that is. As a mother the Fed powers-that-be could decide my judgment can be skewed, especially if I go back into field work and have to be assigned a partner. I may be teaching and researching right now, but I'm still considered an agent. As long as I have that title I'll be watched carefully for any signs of job dysfunction. And overreacting to another Academy faculty is not the way to assure proper professional function."

"You didn't overreact to him, Scully -"

"I know that. You know that. Those who support us know that. But you heard Skinner. Ranken's superior is "old school" and therefore biased as hell where female agents are concerned. He thinks women have no place in the Bureau, probably as anything more than administrators and receptionists. How he's managed to survive in the Academy with that attitude, I have no clue. But he's a high-ranker. And his opinion will carry a lot of weight, if there is to be an inquest."

Mulder turned on his side until he could face Scully, both of them sharing her pillow. "Why don't we forget all about it, right now? We're tired and need sleep. Willy's going to awaken in a few hours, wanting a feeding and a dry bottom. We've both got a long day ahead of us... and I don't want you to worry any more about this, Scully. Okay?"

She nodded, then leaned in and caught his bottom lip between her teeth. She tugged at it and pushed up against his body at the same time, one hand snaking around his waist to hold him tightly. Mulder huffed out a laughing groan and deepened the kiss, arms suddenly clenching hard around her.

When they finally came up for air both were breathless and grinning at each other like fools. He rubbed an impressive erection against her satin-covered mound and inquired hoarsely, "Okay, you got Johnson's attention. Now, what're you gonna do about it, woman?"

She slipped an eager palm between the press of their bodies, and cupped him ardently. "Why, I'm taking your excellent advice, Mulder. I'm going to stop worrying and forget all about it... after I talk your, um, Johnson into giving me some severe what-for. You got a problem with that?"

Her fingers moved on him, wriggling and stroking, sliding, until Mulder was almost cross-eyed with need. He flipped her over on her back and pushed down imperiously, finding himself trapped front and center when her legs coiled around his waist. He groaned into her open mouth, "I got no problem, Johnson's got no damn problem, only problem around here would be getting you out of those pajamas before I eat them right off your body." To emphasize his point he took the collar of her shirt between his teeth and tugged on it, hard.

Scully shook tangled hair out of her eyes and fisted her hand in the thin cotton bottoms he wore. "Any eating that commences around here will be accomplished on skin, not on clothing, Mulder. Got that?"

"I got that. Got you..." He yanked at the satin covering her, managing to remove it without tearing, then shucked his own pajama bottoms and threw them over his shoulder. He rammed every inch of himself against her soft flesh and growled into her ear when she opened up and let him slide home, very deep. Her arms clamped around his neck and her lips bit at his mouth, no more words needed as they thrust and melded, a fit made in heaven. Down the hall their child slept with a tiny smile on his adorable face, securely in slumber-land while his parents gave each other severe what-for.

9:05 AM

"Assistant Director Skinner, you're overstepping your boundaries, I hope you realize that."

Alvin Kersh's tone was rigid and implacable as he faced Skinner across the expanse of his polished desk. Like the man, the desk surface was impeccably groomed. No stray pencils or wayward papers marred its surface; no photo frames or personal mementos cluttered its bland perfection. Likewise, Kersh sat in an expensive black leather armchair with his well-suited arms crossed in front of his subtle, pin-striped Armani tie. Behind steel-rimmed glasses his eyes were hard and shrewd.

There had always been a struggle for power between these men. Walter Skinner might have been the junior AD, but he was nail-tough, and Kersh resented it as much as he respected it. Skinner got the job done, he was fearless and under his guidance his agents' solveratio was damned impressive. But he had an annoying habit of defending his agents to the point of blindness. And that had never been Kersh's way.

Kersh saw in terms of black and white and was proud of it. His nonbending attitude had been the driving force behind his swift rise toward the top echelon within Federal hierarchy - another fact he was proud to claim. He hadn't been at Headquarters very long and he'd stepped on his fair share of more worthy candidates as he'd moved up the chain - one of whom was now standing before him, trying very hard not to clench his fists in frustration.

As far as Kersh was concerned, stepping on Walter Skinner to nab the Deputy Director brass ring had been a regrettable but necessary climb. Skinner would have made an inferior Deputy Director; he was too zeroed in on the well-being of his people. Of course, to be a good Deputy you had to have compassion. Not too much, though - just enough to keep them relatively safe in the field. But Kersh felt that after more than eight years dealing with the dynamic duo of Mulder and Scully, Skinner had much too large a soft spot in his head for them. Those soft spots could really get him in a world of hurt, someday.

Kersh reined in his thoughts and faced off with Skinner, noting the other man hadn't the courtesy to sit in the chair he'd been offered but instead chose to stand over Kersh, forcing him to look up. Well, whatever.

"AD Skinner, you and I both know that Agent Scully is especially emotional right now. She's barely back from maternity leave, no doubt worried about having to leave her child at home, even parttime. Although I've had nothing but glowing critiques from her lab students, I'm certain her current... attitude... toward the professional overtures of Mr. Ranken could perhaps be misconstrued as something else entirely."

Kersh steepled his fingers in front of his nose and narrowed his eyes warningly at Skinner when it became apparent the other man was trying to interrupt him. "I've had a full report of the aforementioned incident in the Forensic lab last week, and I can tell you that I found that report to be conclusive and non-partial."

Skinner gave in to the urge to clench his fists as he noted the condescending tone Kersh employed. What small bit of temper he always tried to corral when in the presence of his superior was rapidly dissipating and once gone, there would be little hope of gaining it back.

He tried to choose his words carefully. "Sir, I've known Dana Scully for many years. I've had the honor of her unswerving dedication to the projects she's been assigned to and witness to the most impressive solve-rate in FBI history. She's one of the best we have to offer. I trust her judgment without question. If she says Donald Ranken harassed her and gave her sufficient reason to produce a scalpel as a potential weapon in defense of his 'professional' overture, then I've no doubt at all that reason was sound."

Kersh made a point to sigh out loud, then leaned back in his chair. "Assistant Director, are you implying I'm sexist? That because of my decision to trust the statement given to me by Mr. Ranken, I am in fact denigrating Agent Scully's rebuttal? Because I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. I merely state that within the report presented to me, I saw no evidence that Mr. Ranken was being anything other than professionally cordial, as I would expect any Federal employee to be. I'm satisfied with that report."

He pulled off his eyeglasses and made a show of wiping them with his handkerchief, while Skinner stood there and stewed. "Now, as for the complaint that Mr. Ranken has filed against Agent Scully... I have to take that as seriously as it has been presented to me. There will be an inquest into the matter. Agent Scully will be advised to have a prepared statement in hand, and to report promptly to court on the assigned date. She will be given adequate opportunity to either plead 'no contest,' or to refute the charges as stated in the complaint. I would recommend you apprise her of her responsibilities, Assistant Director."

Kersh slipped his glasses back on his nose and his dismissive, "That will be all," was firm. He opened a file drawer and began flipping through folders, and Skinner forced himself to nod and turn, walk away. The set of his shoulders was stiff and the expression on his face was a warning, to refrain from speaking to him. Those who knew him and who passed him by in the few minutes it took for him to reach the closest elevator, knew by his scowl that Walter Skinner was in one hell of a foul mood. He was given a wide berth, all the way down to his floor.

Once in his suite, Skinner barked out a, "Get me Dana Scully on the phone," to his secretary, who scurried to fulfill his request. Skinner slammed into his office and flung himself down in his chair. He was showing his temper and that simply wasn't like him, not at all.

Skinner had always prided himself on his ability to remain outwardly calm and unruffled, even when deep inside he was steaming with fury. In all the years since he'd been assigned the monumental migraine that was the X-Files, he'd been able to hang in there, even against Fox Mulder and whatever his prized agent could fling his way. Skinner figured he'd racked up enough brownie points in Heaven to see him through for the next twenty or so years... but his daily dealings with Deputy Director Alvin Kersh were rapidly disintegrating those points.

And there wasn't a thing to be done about it. That was the true pisser. Kersh had him by the short hairs and he knew it.

"Sir? Agent Scully on Line three." Kim's soft, concerned tones filtered through the intercom, and Skinner made a mental note to apologize for his rotten mood by taking her to lunch as soon as possible. He pressed a button and picked up the receiver.

"Agent Scully. I'm headed over to the Academy in about thirty minutes, and need you to meet me at Lab Section One, for a quick meeting..."

3:52 PM

Dana Scully packed an extra handful of folded-up diapers into the cavernous bag, then tossed in a few empty glass bottles. Walking to the refrigerator she pulled out bottles of juice and breast milk, adding them to the bag, as well as several rattles, a pacifier and William's favorite stuffed bear. Her hands and body worked on autopilot; her mind was thinking of other things.

Skinner had met her in the lab and had warned her that Kersh was not going to back down, was in fact supporting Ranken completely. She was to prepare a statement and have it ready for the inquest - which was scheduled for only ten days away. Skinner had kept his voice neutral but she'd been able to hear the worry in his tones.

Scully was worried, too.

She had good reason to be. She'd threatened a colleague on federal property, with a potentially-dangerous weapon. Because she was a medical doctor as well as a Federal agent she stood to gain even more reprimand, because above all she had to know the level of damage a scalpel could inflict on another human being. That she was also a mother was another layer that had the power to decimate her world, because with the chance of declaring her unfit to assume her professional duties, she could also be declared unfit as a mother. She could lose William. She and Mulder were not married, and Mulder technically had no viable job and therefore no recorded means of financial support for a child. If she lost William then so would Mulder.

Scully fought against scalding tears as she finished packing William's diaper bag.

Goddamn it... always something to fuck up the works. Sometimes she wondered if she and Mulder had never been meant to get a break in life. At the very least, she'd expected a somewhat normal ebb and flow of normalcy, what most everyone else on this planet could count on. Even in her darkest hours, when the roles she and Mulder had been chosen to play in life had been the most difficult to portray, still Scully saw herself as aiming her boat toward a fairly normal shore.

Now because of some asshole and his prejudiced boss-man, paired with the absolute worst Deputy Director in FBI history, Scully stood a very good chance of losing it all.

She zipped up the bag's main pouch and peered out the window, duly noting the drizzling rain spattering against the pane. Oh, great... rain and wind. Normally Scully liked rain, but this time of year when the weather was warm one day and cool the next, windy rain meant colds and sore throats, two common afflictions she caught easily. She'd have to get a flu shot, and soon. Lovely -

Scully shrugged into her lightweight raincoat, then walked into the nursery to collect a gurgling William. Wide awake and cute as could be in his red striped one-piece romper, William waved his tiny hands around and his gappy grin was irresistible. Scully scooped him up and cuddled him close, carrying on a one-sided conversation as she brought him into the living room.

"You ready to spend the night at Grandma's, Willy-Winkie? I've got all your favorite stuff packed and Grandma has a new Pooh movie for you to watch. You're going to have so much fun." William blew saliva bubbles at her as she wrestled him into a matching red jacket, deftly pulling up the hood and fastening it under his chin. She hitched him up tightly with one arm and snagged the diaper bag with her other hand. Backing out of the door, she let the auto-lock catch behind her and shook the knob once to assure it had caught.

Right after William's birth, she and Mulder had exchanged her groundfloor apartment for a larger one that opened up into the main corridor instead of to the outside, feeling they needed that extra bit of security. The inner apartments had a double locking mechanism on each door plus an outer entry with a cipher lock. Since moving in, she'd felt a lot more secure.

Scully hoped her new-found security wasn't going to be ruined by Donny Ranken, or anyone else.

They caught the slow-moving elevator down from the third floor and Scully jiggled William in her arms while they waited, making silly faces at him and loving the coos that erupted from her big boy. It had been Skinner's idea - well, almost a command - that had made her decide to bring William to her mother's for the night and afford her and Mulder some down time.

"Agent Scully, you and I both know you need a break from the added stress of looking over your shoulder, especially with this damn inquest looming over you. I suggest you take a day or two, whatever you feel you can spare. Drop William off with your mother, I've no doubt she'd love the chance to spoil her grandson. I can check in on them as well, if you're worried about leaving William for a spell," easily reading the worry in her eyes as he'd mentioned someone other than her or Mulder caring for their child.

Scully had been pink-faced with guilt. It was true she hadn't let Willy out of her sight and that included much time at her mother's house. To date her mother had come to the apartment to see William and she'd only sat for him once, when Mulder had insisted on taking Scully out to dinner. Of course she'd fretted about William all evening and had finally talked Mulder into leaving early, before dessert. It hadn't required much talking, she recalled; Mulder had been almost as paranoid as she. They'd brought home a container of chocolate bread pudding for her mother and an apology for being nervous parents.

Scully had nodded reluctantly, and under Skinner's watchful eye she'd called her mother and had asked her. Her mother had been thrilled and thought it was an excellent idea for Skinner to stop by and check on them. With both reassurances ringing in her ears, Scully had found no reason to refuse.

Now as she stepped off the elevator and waved a cheery 'hello' to the security guard in the lobby, Scully was glad she'd agreed. A night alone with Grandma would do William a world of good - and a night of relaxation and romance with Mulder would have her back to her old self in no time. Once she dropped the baby off at her mother's, she'd have roughly an hour to make herself perfumed and presentable, before Mulder got back from his meeting with the Gunmen and Doggett.

Scully found herself humming softly as the guard buzzed her through the outer door and she hefted the diaper bag to her shoulder, raising her free arm to hail a taxi.

"Well, hello, Dana. How wonderful to see you and your delightful son. Going somewhere?"

That voice... Scully whipped around, her face pale and the hum dying in her throat as her eyes locked on Donny Ranken, standing perhaps fifteen feet away, his hand resting against the roof of a taxi. He gave it a quick, hard pat and the taxi roared away, the only taxi on the block or anywhere near the apartment complex.

Oh, hell. Scully took a step backward, her free arm dropping the heavy diaper bag onto the wet pavement, automatically snapping around the body of her child. She hugged him tightly and William started squirming and fussing. She shushed him gently, holding his face pressed to her shoulder, and retreated another step. Ranken slowly advanced; now they were both out of eyeshot of the main door of the complex... and the guard inside, who'd probably retreated to his station in the lobby.


Ranken wore a Red Sox sweatshirt jacket and jeans, his head was bare and wet with rain and his face was open and friendly. But those brown eyes of his were narrowed, steady and watching every small move she made. Scully forced herself to remain calm.

"What are you doing here, Ranken?" Her voice was strong and firm. So far, so good...

He quirked an eyebrow at her. "That's 'Donny' to you, Dana. I think we know each other well enough to be on a first-name basis, don't you?" He gave William the once over and smiled. "Cute boy you have there. His name's Fox, right? Named after his father, no doubt." The tone was so dripping with friendliness and intimacy that Scully felt a cold spear of panic shoot straight up her spine.

She held herself tall and held her ground. "I doubt the name of my child has any bearing on why you're here, Ranken. As I have no doubt you know what his given name is." A quick glance around to see if any taxis had driven up. The street was silent and devoid of traffic.

Son of a bitch.

If possible, Ranken's grin expanded even further, and his eyes narrowed a bit more. "Oh, everything about you is fascinating to me, don't you know that by now, Dana?" His gaze took her in hungrily. She was a beautiful woman. They hadn't told him just how beautiful, and the pictures he'd seen of her did her little justice. Her hair was damp and curling around her face, her eyes were so blue. And she had a lot of spunk inside that curvy little body of hers. He'd made up his mind before he'd ever met her face to face, that he'd have her.

Donny Ranken always got what he wanted. He wanted Dana Scully. He wasn't supposed to want her, or anyone, for that matter. It hadn't been in him to feel that kind of desire for another person, not until he saw her, got close enough to her to smell her perfume and see just how perfect she was. Not until now.

He wanted her, and the baby. Oh, he really wanted that baby...

Two more strides forward and he was within touching distance. Ranken pulled his hand out of his pocket and she saw the glisten of a knife blade. Scully's eyes widened, this time in genuine fear. Sweet Jesus, a knife in his hand, trained on both of them. She was a fighter but her child was resting confidingly in her arms and pushing aside the fighter in her soul was a mother, who'd do anything in the world to keep her baby safe. She knew it.

Ranken knew it.

He gestured to a car parked against the curb, only a few steps away from her. "It's unlocked. Why don't you just step inside, Dana? Get that cute baby of yours out of the rain. We can have that dinner date I asked you for, just a few days ago. I don't mind if your son comes along. I have a healthy appreciation for children." The knife gestured along with the hand that held it.

She tensed and took another hasty step backwards; Ranken's face hardened to granite. "Don't be stupid. There's nowhere to go. You and I both know I'm close enough to hurt the boy. My aim is very accurate, I promise you. My knife would be sticking out of his back in no time flat. Be a good girl, and step up to the car."

Though her heart was pounding in her chest and a film of fright had coated her from head to toe, Scully knew if she even tried to resist he'd make good on his promise to hurt William. Yet if she didn't fight, he'd have them both at his mercy. There wasn't a single doubt in her mind that for whatever reason, Donny Ranken meant to kill them both.

She couldn't chance him taking them. If it meant putting her son in danger, she had to find a way to run.

Scully half turned, shielding William from the knife in Ranken's hand; she crouched and prepared to drop to the ground, intending to tuck, roll and then gain her feet and run like hell... when Ranken, second-guessing her, hissed out a rough obscenity and reached out his free hand, latching onto William's small, romper-covered leg.

Two seconds later he was on the wet ground, gasping and convulsing... and William had somehow twisted his little body around in Scully's arms, wide eyes locked on Ranken - and screams of baby outrage pouring from his rosebud mouth.

Scully stared at Ranken in shock. Where he'd touched William, his palm was raising up in red welts and sores; in his frenzy of convulsing he'd flipped over onto his stomach and even under the sweatshirt he wore she could see the frantic ripple along his vertebrae. What the hell -!

Oh, God. Her eyes widened even more. His vertebrae... rippling and shimmying under his clothes. Pushing up underneath his skin, like it wanted to rip itself out of his flesh; like nothing she had ever seen. Or had she? A vision of another moment like this, in her memory; a woman bent over in a small, dark homemade delivery room, her spine undulating, moving. Scully was almost reeling in disbelief.

Donny Ranken was an alien. He was one of Them.

Amid her son's screaming and the thrashing of the enemy on the ground before her, Scully suddenly understood somehow the incipient powers William seemed to possess had extended into a way to identify and perhaps destroy the alien replicants. She couldn't imagine how, could barely wrap her mind around the fact of Ranken's damaged hand, not two seconds after he'd touched the baby. Was this William's gift, his legacy? Would her child grow up to be the downfall of the planned Armageddon?

She turned William in her arms and looked into his tear-soaked eyes. And swore she saw the reflection of an ageless hatred. Not directed at her but aimed at the creature on the ground, still in the helpless throes of convulsions. When William wriggled in her arms, it seemed as if the infant was actually trying to shift himself around, to stare again at Ranken. Incredible. Unbelievable.

She couldn't accept it.

She had to accept it... had no choice but to accept what was happening right before her horrified eyes. And no choice but to do everything in her power to protect her child, and herself.

Scully turned and ran in the now-pouring rain, leaving the diaper bag behind, away from the guard who'd finally heard all the screaming beyond the soundproofed walls of the complex and had ventured outside to see what all the fuss was about. Away from several people who'd crossed the street to investigate. Away from her apartment, which she'd once thought was so very safe.

She ran, and as she ran with William hiccupping in her arms, she managed to pull out her cell from her pocket and punch in a code.

"MULDER! Come home, NOW! I need you!"

She turned into the revolving doors of a bank three blocks away from her complex and sank onto the nearest bench; with William snuffling into her neck, both of them finally calming down a little, she told Mulder what had happened.

"I'm at the bank, three blocks down on the corner. I'm staying here until I see you. Hurry, Mulder..."

She sat huddled on a cherrywood bench just inside the doors of First National Bank of Virginia, a sleeping child in her arms. Scully's damp hair was falling down around her weary face; her limbs still trembled in reaction to what had happened. William's diaper was soaked, but the child didn't seem to be bothered and in fact slept like the dead. He was so limp with sleep that his small weight seemed to have been multiplied, and her arms were aching. She would later understand they ached from holding William so tightly. In truth it was a wonder the child hadn't awoken from the pressure.

That was how Mulder found her, just twenty or so minutes after her frantic call to him. He hit the revolving doors running, spun into the lobby and rushed to her side, dropping to his knees in front of her. Scully raised her head, eyes so tired, swimming with unshed tears. She didn't say a word, just leaned forward and let him envelop her and William in his arms. She pushed her face into his neck and breathed in his warm skin, soaked in his life, his vitality.

In that position they remained for long seconds, reconnecting. Resurfacing from what she'd had to face just blocks away and less than an hour ago, it seemed impossible to her that so much had happened in so short a time. She felt as if she'd lived a lifetime in that small block of minutes.

Finally she raised her head, meeting Mulder's worried eyes. She tried a shaky smile; it curved up one side of her mouth, just enough to afford him a healthy dose of relief. Mulder hugged her even closer, William in the middle. The baby made no protest, still fast asleep.

"We're flattening our son, Mulder." Her voice was scratchy and rough. Scully pulled away and they both had to smile at the sight of William curled between them like the filling of a very emotional Parent Sandwich. "I think he's snoring." Sure enough, the baby was indeed snuffling in his sleep, little Willy-snorts that made Scully want to laugh and cry all at once.

Mulder pressed his lips to Scully's temple, then eased her back onto the bench, sitting down beside her with an arm around his family. "Scully, you're drenched and shivering. We need to get you and the baby dried out."

"Well, I was out bopping around in the rain, Mulder. Stands to reason a raindrop or two would actually fall on me." It seemed safe to joke a little now that Mulder was holding her, so she made an attempt at levity.

He hugged her tightly. "Har de har har. Okay, tell me. Where is he... It, Ranken, the bastard?"

She rubbed at her damp eyes. "I don't know. He was on the sidewalk and people were starting to nose around. My only thought was to get the hell away and call you. I ran in the other direction like a crazy person but no one tried to stop me. I never heard any sirens so I can only assume the police weren't called."

She handed William over to Mulder and he cuddled the sleeping child close while Scully massaged her numbed arms. Her voice dropped to a low whisper. "He's injured, Mulder. His hand was scorched and blistered, the hand that grabbed William's leg. I have no idea if he can regenerate new skin but what I saw was severely damaged. As if he'd suffered third degree burns."

"Well, I have a feeling if we go back to the apartment and look for him he'll be gone. I think what contact he had with William's abilities was enough to render him temporarily helpless, enough for you to get away. I'd bet his skin will heal and I'd also bet he's off somewhere licking his wounds and making a report on his little 'adventure.' We'll need to call a meeting of our own, and soon."

"I agree."

They stood up and walked out the door, Scully holding Mulder's arm. The rain had finally stopped and to anyone looking at them, they might appear a normal couple taking a walk with their young baby. Looking closely into their eyes one might see the residual worry and fear, touches of weary acceptance and traces of renewed strength and determination. At that moment, they were both. The most normal family you'd ever expect to see, and a unified threesome bound together by circumstance and a certainty that their future was on very shaky ground.

Maybe their future, but not their love and commitment Never that.

The street in front of their apartment complex was empty of writhing aliens, curious pedestrians and police when they rounded the corner. The wet diaper bag lay on its side where she'd dropped it; Scully was surprised nobody had taken it. She walked up to it and snagged the handles, hefting it to her shoulder. She looked up at Mulder, noting his keen regard as he looked up and down the street.

"Should we go in? Or should we just go to the Gunmen's? I think I'd feel better if we didn't go in right now, Mulder."

He nodded, "I agree. Tell you what. I'll hail a taxi, you call the guys. Might as well call Skinner while you're at it. Hell, call everyone. We'll all meet at the lair and thrash this out. Okay?" His fingers caressed her cheek for a moment, before he turned to face the street, looking for a cab. Scully pulled out her cell and started punching in codes.

5:30 PM

"You're shitting me. Right? You ARE shitting me - aren't you?"

John Doggett had such a look of disbelief on his face that it was all Mulder could do not to laugh. After the events of the day he was mildly surprised to find he actually wanted to laugh. But he did. It would have been such a blessedly average and normal thing to do, he thought - laugh his head off, chuckle himself delirious, get it out of his system. Instead he kept a serious face, knowing Doggett was trying to absorb and accept what he and Scully had told him, understanding John had to find a way to work it out by himself.

"No shit, John. Honest. Believe me, I wish I was shitting you, I really do. We have another replicant in our midst, this one wellconnected to Quantico. And this one has a protector, maybe two. Scully left him convulsing in the street with a damaged hand. I have no doubt he recovered as soon as William was out of range... also no doubt he went running to Livengood to whine and moan. As I see it, our immediate problem is two-fold."

Mulder drained the last of his beer and set the bottle down, looking over at Scully who nodded and picked up the narrative. "Problem number one is what Ranken unwittingly revealed when he touched William. We all wondered how far our child's power might reach, and to my thinking this is only the beginning. Willy is very young. We need to assume his abilities are also as young, and will develop and get stronger as he grows. In what way those abilities develop, we can only guess."

Mulder continued, "What Ranken knows, the aliens hiding in plain sight will also know. That William has powers they didn't count on, the night he was born and they stood there and waited to see what sort of new life was being delivered. I think they underestimated William's value, seeing only a normal-looking, human baby. They left him alone; they walked away. They thought he was nothing special. They'll know differently, now."

Langly had been sitting on the floor, listening quietly. Now he spoke up. "This Ranken is a nowhere guy. I found no evidence of him existing anywhere, until about six months ago when he magically shows up in the personnel files over at Quantico. He was interviewed and hired by the same person: Ralph Livengood. Now, Livengood's been around for a lot of years. If he's also alien, he's been out among the people for a hell of a long time. He's established, trusted. He's also Kersh's bestest buddy. Might mean nothing - might mean something. Definitely warrants watching Kersh, I'd think."

Skinner was in agreement. He sat on the sofa next to Monica, arms full of freshly-diapered William, who'd fallen asleep with a bottle hanging out of his mouth. Skinner had gently removed it and had shifted the baby to his shoulder, and was now rubbing his little back gently. "Kersh has always required monitoring. Now, more than ever, we have to be on our guard around him. Luckily we've been given an opportunity to see evidence of what makes these replicants: that weird vertebrae of theirs. It moves and shifts around under their skin, seemingly on a regular basis. And obviously, exposure to someone like William causes it to freak out. I'm with the rest of you - I think as this child grows older his special talents will expand, get stronger - and consequently he'll become a major danger to the replicants. We have to do everything in our power to protect him. I hate to say it Agents, but William's life will be in danger for a very long time. As will yours, Mulder... and yours, Dana."

Neither parent pretended to misunderstand Skinner's meaning; they knew. Scully gave voice to it calmly, "Yes. Because if we've been fortunate enough to create one very special child, then it stands to reason we could create another, equally special. And perhaps another. Maybe there are other people out there, male and female, who have been exposed in similar fashion, to what Mulder and I were exposed to. They may very well find each other and fall in love - and make more very special babies. It's only natural."

"And the world could slowly fill up with humans who have that special touch. Humans who can band together, hide in plain sight, find ways to fight a future that threatens to overtake us all. If we can set up a way to protect these future saviors we can do our part to help harness the power; we can find ways to keep them safe. Starting with this little one, right here." Monica laid a caressing hand on William's downy head, and the baby snuffled a little and sighed in his sleep.

Innocent - vulnerable. Weak, at least for now... but backed by fiercely protective parents and friends who were already falling in love with the sweet, blue-eyed boy. Friends who would do anything to help him grow up to be a strong force against the alien invasion.

In that moment everyone in the room vowed silently they'd do whatever it took, to assure William lived a very long life.

9:50 PM

"I'm so tired. I could sleep for a week." Scully pulled back the comforter on their bed and climbed in, resisting the urge to yank the covers over her head and not come out for a month.

Next to the bed a portable crib had been unfolded and made up; William was already zonked out, his belly full of mommy-milk and his little bottom dry. Mulder tucked a soft blanket around him and kissed his rounded cheek, then shucked off his tee shirt and toed off his shoes, before approaching his side of the bed. He sat down and unbuttoned the fly, ran a tender hand over Scully's hair, then leaned back into the pillows and wrapped her in his arms.

She tugged at the jeans he still wore. "You intend to wear your 501s to bed, Mulder?" Her hand curled around his thigh and anchored him to her side.

He chuckled. "Nope, just going to do a fast walk through the apartment and make sure it's all locked up. Figured I'd do it partially-clothed. After all, I'm now a respectable father. I have an image to uphold."

She tweaked his leg. "Is that so? You think wearing a pair of tight blue jeans - and no underwear - renders you respectable?"

"How do you know what I've got on underneath my jeans?"

A sleepy snicker. "Mulder, you left the bathroom door open. I saw you take off your jeans, slip out of your boxers and then pour yourself back into your jeans. I'd lay money you left that door open on purpose. You wanted me to watch... didn't you?"

"Oh, yeah. A half-naked woman in my bed, watching me shimmy my Johnson into a tight pair of Levis? It's a real turn-on, Scully." He left the jeans in place and pounced on her, wriggling with exaggerated abandon over her, letting his warm weight press her into the sheets. Scully coiled her arms and legs around him and shoved up against him with enthusiasm, all traces of exhaustion dissipated.

"I thought you could sleep for a week?" He was teasing her and she loved it.

Scully pretended to give it some serious thought. "Well... I could have, quite easily. But you know how tough it is to resist a man in a pair of skin-tight, unbuttoned Levis and nothing else? I mean, any moment that beast inside your denim could leap out and demand my attention. I figure I'd better do my best to stay awake for it. Wouldn't want to damage his little ego."

Mulder, busy trying to squirm his way out of his 501s, caught the pointed slur and immediately grabbed her hand, pushing her fingers into the opening, not satisfied until they were wrapped around his flesh. He groaned as she stroked him and her softly murmured, "Oh, I do beg your pardon, Mulder... for saying Johnson has a 'little' ego," had him shaking with mirth as well as with desire.

Only she could make him feel that way; only she could raise his temperature with a touch and then have him laughing out loud the very next moment. If he had his way, Scully would do this to him for the rest of their lives.

"I love you. So much." The low words were deep and raspy, uttered against her lips as he kissed her passionately. She responded with everything she had, winding herself against him, wanting to crawl inside him, under his skin, through sinew and muscle until she could attach herself to his heart and live there, always.

As if she were not already there... of course, she was. Already there, in his heart and soul, bound up in him, looking out through his eyes, a part of Fox William Mulder. For as long as they could be together, whether it be one more day or fifty more years. What they had together, would build together with their precious child - it was the only important thing.

In the warm room on soft cotton sheets, their baby snuffling quietly in his little crib next to the bed, the parents of a future fighter made slow, delicious love to each other and in doing so renewed their resolve, their determination and courage to live their lives the best they could possibly live.

It was the right thing to do.



He threw the envelope across the desk. "Take it."

When the man sitting across from him made no move, his eyes brightened with impatience. "You have no choice. Take it, and count yourself fortunate I'm feeling benevolent towards you." He pushed back in his chair and got to his feet, a tall, slender man with a thick shock of pure white hair and matching bushy eyebrows showcasing piercing slate-gray eyes. Dressed to the nines in a formal suit. Expensive, urbane, intelligent and wealthy. A cultured, albeit gruff voice, and ice water for blood in his veins.

The man on the other side of the desk hated him, feared him, respected him - and wished like hell he could kill him.

Ralph Livengood raised one white eyebrow, easily reading the jumbled thoughts flashing his way. "Yes, I've no doubt you do. You'd like to kill me, this moment, right now. You should be instead contemplating your own suicide, shouldn't you? After all, I'm not the one who fucked up."

Livengood smiled at Donny Ranken, who sat in his visitor's chair visibly shrinking from the polite words falling on his ears. The younger man knew he'd made several very bad tactical errors. He knew his existence was in serious debate. Knew it hung on a single phone call his mentor could place whenever he desired. Knew the envelope in front of him held redemption, another chance. He didn't want to take it. Didn't want to leave.

Leaving meant abandoning his chance with the woman.

Livengood sneered at him. "Forget her. As I said, you fucked up. You let your emotions rule your head, and in doing so you almost destroyed our plans, our mission." He placed his hands flat on the edge of the desk and leaned over Ranken until their noses almost touched, enjoying the sight of the other man cowering away from him. "Do you have ANY idea how long I've had to live in this cursed world, pretending to be on their side, practicing false smiles, false concern for their pitiful welfare, making them think they were my equals, worthy of my professional courtesy?"

He pushed in closer and sweat popped out on Ranken's forehead, an unfortunate by-product of being more or less 'human.' "Years, you piece of useless shit. Many, many years. I've done my duty to the cause. I was close. So very close... and you blew it. You. Fucked. Up." Each word was punctuated by the hard prod of Livengood's finger into Ranken's chest.

He leaned back, allowing Ranken to take several gulps of air. "But I'm going to let you continue your existence. Because along with the unending mistakes you've made, you've also provided us with invaluable knowledge... the identity of a Destroyer. For that, I can almost forgive you the rest. Almost."

Livengood straightened, once more pushing the envelope within reach of Ranken's hand, still a bit red but healing rapidly. "As I requested of you: take it. Fly to your destination, use the credentials to set yourself up and don't ever contact me again. You'll be assigned a new mentor. You'll remain in your new position until you're needed again. That is, IF you're needed. I'm afraid that may not be up to me. Thanks to your... antics... I must also make myself scarce, and relocate to another destination."

Livengood walked to the door of the office, leaving Ranken no choice but to pick up the envelope and follow him. The door pushed open; Ranken stared once more at his former mentor, so many thoughts whirling in his brain that for a moment Livengood's head jerked in reaction to their jumble. Then he smiled again, showing all of his excellent white teeth... and to Ranken that smile had the taint of a predator. He shivered and walked through the door. Throughout the 'meeting' he'd not spoken a word; he'd not been allowed to.

But he could think, oh yes. He could think all he liked, and to hell with Livengood's ability to read him, read his anger, his fury, the feeling that he'd been deprived of what he'd most wanted. He was on his way to a new location; banished, so to speak. But at least he'd been allowed to continue. He'd settle, do his duty, find his tasking and blend in once more -

Maybe he'd come back, someday soon. Maybe he'd find his way back to DC, and maybe he'd run into Dana Scully, someday.

The thought of that day made Donny Ranken smile all the way to the airport.

Livengood picked up the cell phone and punched in digits.

"It's done. He's on his way. I wanted you to know."

"Good." The gravelly voice in his ear was as familiar to him as his own. Livengood allowed himself one moment of human regret. He'd miss this life. For all its many frustrations and shortcomings, he'd grown accustomed to the privilege, the comfort. Of course he'd find comfort and well-being regardless of where his destination placed him. But Ralph Livengood would miss this place.

He cleared his throat. "I'm leaving tonight. I wanted to say goodbye, and to offer my apologies for the way Ranken bungled his assignment. If I'd had any idea, any idea at all -" He broke off at the impatient huff in the receiver.

"Of course you had no idea. How could any of us? It's never been a cause for concern, up until now. That is neither here nor there; you've handled it admirably. I congratulate you."

"Thank you. And all is not completely lost, as you well know. I suppose in a way, Ranken did us a favor." Livengood locked up his desk with his free hand, turning off the lights, walking to the door. "About the others..."


"I wanted to reassure you. We'll find them. All of them. We're reinvested now. I promise you: we'll flush them out."

"I know you will. I have the utmost confidence in you, my friend."

A few moments more of low conversation and Livengood gently closed the lid on his phone, and locked the door behind him. He'd taken precisely three steps, when the office - and entire tenth floor - exploded into a fiery ball of shattering glass and burning drywall, throwing him back against the huge plate window on the outer side of the corridor. Shards of plexi pierced him, fierce plumes of fire engulfed him, combusting his body instantly.

In the distance the sound of fire engines could be heard racing to the once-elegant office complex. In the tenth-floor corridor a raging blaze ate through offices and reception areas, obliterating all evidence that any living being had ever inhabited its quiet opulence.

On the other end of a dead phone line, a regretful sigh was heard; the receiver was replaced carefully in its cradle and a man took off his glasses, pinched at the headache brewing between his eyes, and mentally shook off the day's many disappointments.

After all, tomorrow was always another day, wasn't it?


If you enjoyed this story, please feed the author.

Title: Project:TruthSeekers Alt Season Nine: Protagonists
Author: Char Chaffin and The Truthseekers
Details: 101k  ·  R  ·  Series  ·  01/01/06  ·   Email/Website    pending
Gossamer Category(Keywords): X-File   [Romance, Angst]  
Characters: Mulder/Scully  
Pairings: Mulder/Scully romance
SPOILERS: Through Season Eight
SUMMARY: alternative to S9 wherein Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, with the assistance of Agent John Doggett, Agent Monica Reyes and Assistant Director Walter Skinner, establish and lead a global resistance to the impending alien colonization.

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