Shadows of Winter
Part III
By Jaime Lyn

Disclaimers, yadda yadda, all in part one.  This is part three.  Rated 'R' for language and sexual situations.  


Silence and darkness smothered the house, and Mulder felt like breaking something heavy to shatter the monotony.  He needed to prove that his life was still his, and he could still do what he wanted, and that despite a global conspiracy out to get him, nobody could take away his freedom to piss and moan and argue with his hard-headed partner.  He was part of this outfit, wasn't he?  His opinion still mattered, didn't it?  

A steady stream of light escaped from the end of the hall and Mulder followed it.  He paused at the door to the bedroom and peeked inside; a nightlight shaped like an Oyster shell had been plugged in, and the carpet alit in ribbons of light.

"I just thought you would want to know, I was ah, I was looking out the living room window." Mulder stood in the bedroom doorway, leaning against the frame, his legs crossed right over left. "And I think the Carvers just got back from Hawaii.  They're standing out there talking to the cops and the tow-truck guy. No knocks on the door yet, though, so I'm thinking that's a good sign. Nobody in here but us chickens, you get my meaning?"

"Good, that's good," murmured Scully, her back to the doorway, her knees cushioned beneath her.  She sat on the floor amongst a conglomeration of gray couch pillows, her arms folded on the edge of the mattress in un-spoken prayer.  Her shoulders were rounded, her hair spilling about her neck in soft, red waves that seemed much darker by nightlight.  She wasn't enraged with him, at least, he didn't think she was, but he wasn't entirely sure she was happy with him, either.   Mulder himself wasn't exactly getting ready to throw any parties in Scully's honor.

The baby, all night-scented and soft skin and dream-kissed cheeks, lay asleep in the center of the bed, fenced in on all sides like a bumper-secured bowling lane.  Scully must have gone and dug up some old pillows out of the closet.  His arms lay flat on the sheets, his red sweater crunched up like an accordion.  His delicate chest rose and fell evenly, almost rhythmic; it was the breathing that made him real.  

"Mind if I sit?" asked Mulder.  "It's like the crypt from an Indiana Jones movie down there."

Scully waved a hand to the empty space beside her, but otherwise said nothing.  Her cheek snuggled into the mattress, and she gazed sideways at William.  Mulder nodded to himself and crept forward, wondering how long this would continue on: Scully's unwavering bedside vigil.  This animosity between them over what to do about the baby.

"How is he?" Mulder asked, bending his knees until he slid down the base of the bed and landed on his backside.  

"He seems alright," Scully whispered, turning.   Her skin was amber soft in the void between darkness and light, tomorrow and yesterday. "A little scared, but I can't say I blame him.  Not that - we're all scared, but he's just a baby.  He doesn't understand what happened in that car or what's happening now, and he doesn't - He can't possibly remember who we are."    She shook her head at herself, brushed away moisture from her cheek.  "Mulder, I... I know you mean well and I understand you - maybe better than you do - but it’s different this time."

Mulder reached across the comforter for her hand.  "It’s a shitty situation," he said.  "And I feel the same way you do.  Really.  And I've been downstairs for two hours thinking about it, struggling to figure out which is the lesser of the two evils.  And the only conclusion I've come to is that it really fucking blows to have no idea what to do."  
Scully forced a smile.   "I know," she said.  "But let’s say, maybe for right now, just right now, that we can pretend this is safe?"  She gazed at him with pleading, blue eyes.  "He's here. He's ours.  Whatever happens tomorrow, he's ours right now."  She turned, touched the tips of her fingers to the baby's flushed, round cheek.  "I just wish I could make this better for him.  Maybe if he wasn't so frightened - if he knew who we were."  

"Hey, we're lucky we even know who we are," Mulder joked. "I think I've actually lost track."

"Oh."  Scully reddened, took a deep breath, closing her eyes.  "Oh my God. I was just standing there holding William and then I looked at you and I saw you looking at him, and I realized that he needed to connect with you - " She paused.  "That is, with you you and not -"

"It's okay."  Mulder waved her off, tickling the inside of her hand with his thumb. He knew what she meant, and he understood why she wanted to apologize for the indiscretion, but at this point, it made no difference.    

"What's done is done.  I'm not even sure it matters anymore."  He gazed about the room as if expecting someone with a gun or a knife or just a lot of green, acidic blood, to pop out of the shadows and prove his point, because at least that would put a face to an invisible enemy.  

Scully yawned, watching him with an indecipherable look.  

"Besides," he waved his hand in circles between them.  "I kind of missed us."  

"I missed us, too."    

"Not that we were never still us..." He frowned at his logic.  

"No, of course not."    

Mulder tilted his head to one side, trying to understand himself.  It was much too late for heavy philosophy.  The blanketing warmth of the late hour pressed tightly to them, and silence came dancing in the air above their heads.  

Scully's voice finally cracked the darkness.  "I just keep thinking..." She frowned as if trying to gather her thoughts.  "I keep thinking that we could run forever, you know?  If we really had to?  Just go from place to place without identities or even a destination in mind, and wander, live for ourselves, moment by moment.  Or we could go buy some boat in the middle of the ocean where there'd be no chance of intrusion - "

"Criminal, I get seasick when I take a bath."

Scully smiled, and her eyelids drifted shut.  "But William complicates the equation."

"So what do you propose?"

"I don't know."

Mulder nodded, breathing oxygen into his aching lungs.  They were talking in circles, repeating the same worries, the same fears, going around and around again and again, and if they didn't stop soon, he was going to get dizzy and throw up.  

"Are you ever afraid, Criminal?"

Scully frowned at the change of subject.  

"Afraid of what?"

He shrugged.  "I don't know. Dying, not dying, never knowing - all of it.  Everything."  

She tilted her head, considering.  She seemed to think about it for an interminable amount of time before answering, "I used to be, yes."

Mulder tilted his head to one side. "You used to be?"

With her free hand, Scully patted his knee.  "There was a time, back when I had my cancer, that I used to think to myself, there isn't anything.  No God.  No higher purpose.  Nothing.  And then I'd think... what happens to me, then?  What happens when my body goes out on me?  My organs would shut down I suppose, and then I would die, and nothing would come from that.  The world would just go black one day, and I would die.  The thought terrified me."  

Mulder let his hand roam to her leg, and then her hip; Whatever happened, he wanted to be near her.  He couldn't fathom not being near her.  He nodded her on, "And then?"  

"And then I came close to death - so close to it - and I felt this...tugging.  Kind of the way I used to feel when I went to sunday school as a girl, and I imagined that God was in the sun, keeping everything warm. I felt that my sister was close to me, and my father, and I - I felt as if they were telling me not to be afraid."  Her eyes glazed in silent memory, and she took a breath.  "So now I think that...Much as death seems a certain, biological end, I don't believe I have anything to fear from it.  Perhaps this life is not the only life.  Maybe there's something more.  Something better, waiting where we can't see it."  

Mulder smiled, eyeing her cross.  "How very religious of you, Agent Scully."   

"It's honest," Scully countered, her whisper secure and haughty.  "I can't vouch for it, or validate it, but I believe in it.  In something greater than myself." She squeezed his hand a second time.  "Letting go of logic in order to make a sociopoetic leap... isn't that the kind of nonsense you're always blathering about?"   

"Blathering?" Mulder scrunched his nose in distaste, leaning down to press a kiss to her fingertips.  Her skin was warm.  
Scully raised an eyebrow, watching his mouth move across the plane of her knuckles. "I believe there is usually a good amount of blathering involved, yes."  

Mulder released a melodramatic groan.

"So let me get this straight."  He pulled back to a seated position, leaving her knuckles pink and wet, and eyebrowed her.  "You won't believe in Big-Blue, but you'll believe in an invisible afterlife that collects all the dead people."    

Scully rolled her tongue in her cheek. "If I told you I believed in Big-Blue, would you quit blathering about death?"  

"If I quit teasing you about the afterlife, would you quit using the word blathering?"

"I don't know.  Now what are you blathering about?"  

Scully smiled a wide, adoring smile at him, her cheek muscles stretching attractively until her entire face alit with all the things she must have felt, but never said.  Mulder sat, amused by this unexpected playfulness, and gazed at her until the smile faded into an exhale.  

"So you think..."  Mulder found himself stumbling over what he wanted to say next.  "So you think - heaven, angels, the whole nine yards - that's what saves us?  That it's God who has the final say?"

"Could be," she said. "I don't know if I believe it's necessarily 'God.'  But for me it's not even about God anymore. It's...It's wanting to defy the unknown.  After years of searching and sacrificing for it, needing to take back control of my life and just...live.  Just be. I'd rather die having really lived, and not live waiting for the sky to fall."

"Okay, so what then - you want to go skydiving and jump naked into European fountains?"

Scully took a breath, her lips twitching in revolt against a smile, and she extended her free arm in explanation.  "It's like this."  She paused for a moment, stilled in contemplation, and went on, "Maybe we die tomorrow or maybe it never ends for us, or maybe the world really is doomed and nothing else means anything.  No matter the outcome, I'd rather be here with you and my son than running from invisible men until I'm blue, or - or waiting for you and the truth at the foot of a mountain somewhere, wondering if anybody's hurt my child because I made a terrible mistake."  

Mulder pursed his lips, understanding.  "So then - you really believe we could protect him?"


He exhaled about a year's worth of misfortune, unsure of whether he himself could believe so blindly.  When in the world had Scully turned into him and he into Scully?

"Well, I don't know how I feel about that," he said honestly.  In his mind he kept replaying the conversation from the stairs.  

"I can't tell you what to feel, P.I," she answered. Her eyes searched him with quiet askance, her arms pillowing her cheek.  She blinked, took a breath, and whispered, "Do you love him?"  

Mulder stilled. "What?"

"Do you love him, Mulder?"

Mulder glanced over at the bumpered-in baby, so susceptible to any type of mundane or paranormal danger that the human brain couldn't even comprehend every possibility:

There were supersoldiers and alien hybrids, corrupt murderers within the FBI mainframe and pissed off CIA operatives with consortium contacts.

There were sharp objects in the kitchen and household poisons under the sink.  

There was a hairdryer in the bathroom that the baby could knock into the bathtub and get electrocuted by.  

And then the electrical outlets... a fuse in the bedroom could short out and the entire house could catch on fire, burning them all to ash.  

Towering stairs, guns, knives, small ingestible parts, plastic bags, beds that were too high -

For the first time since William was born, Mulder felt the first pangs of fatherhood.  He wasn't just afraid of the unknown, he was afraid of everything.

"Yes," he said, gazing from Scully to the baby.  "Yes, I do."  

Scully smiled in half-measure, her thumb pressing gently over his thumb.  "Okay then.  Do you love me?"  

Taken aback by her bluntness, Mulder frowned, but was unable to speak.  

Scully looked away as if utterly embarrassed by asking such a question, and her cheeks pinkened below her eyelashes.  Mulder gazed down at their intertwined fingers and turned her palm over.  With careful concentration, he ran his index finger along each indentation in her skin, up across the outlines of her fingernails and back to her wrist.  He traced her hand over and over, brushing, caressing, marking her as his, until he was sure he'd reached every crevice and imperfection. Then he looked back up into her eyes to see if she understood him.

She had.  

"Do you trust me?" she breathed.  

Mulder tilted her chin with his thumb, studying her.  "You know I do."  

"About this?"

"About everything."

Scully nodded. She tugged their hands to her lap, entwining her fingers throughout his and raising the mesh of them together so that their hands were eyelevel.  "So then we have this," she whispered, pressing his knuckles to her lips.  She tilted her head towards the sleeping baby.  "And we have that."  Her eyes opened and closed in lazy, measured rhythm.  "It may not be the secret of the Universe, but it's something.  Mulder, Scully, and William two points, Everyone else a-million, but we have time to catch up."  

Mulder shrugged, grinning.  Her presence made his ears ring and his hands sweat.  "Oh, I don't know."  He leaned in closer to her, heart thrumming.  "I think you're skimming on the point scale."  He wanted to touch her and he felt as if it had been ages since he had.  She smiled at him mischievously, unmoving, teasing, waiting for his next move.   

"For instance," he said, his chin tilting sideways, "I'd say the sex alone earns us a good twenty points."  She chuckled in short, breathy exhalations, and he added, "Per orgasm, per encounter."  

That, for whatever reason, flushed her cheeks a bright scarlet-red, but left her undeterred, with that ever-present raised eyebrow.

"So if you think about it," he finished, "We're at least half-a-million points ahead of the curve."  

"Are we now?"

"Mm hmm."  

And he bent down in agonizing slow-motion, nudging her cheek with his nose. Unmoving and silent, she seemed to close her eyes only at the last possible second, her watchful gaze trailing his movements as if unsure of herself, or of him, or of anything she ever wanted.

Her lashes fluttered shut over the side of his face, her lips tickling his jaw.  His mouth edged over hers in reverent delight, kissing her first with tender licks and presses, and then with harder, more insistent pressure, while she pressed back, her palm at his chest, fingers over his heart.  Her neck tipped to allow him a better angle, and he caught the base of her head in his hands.  She was soft and warm, and she tasted like a dozen unspoken truths and promises.  

His fingers played with the buttons on her shirt, flicking at them until a few finally came undone, and the silk parted to reveal pale, freckled skin above her breastbone.  She was so warm, and tasted so good, and somehow she was everything at once - or more than everything, if there was a word for more than everything - and he couldn't let go, couldn't stop touching, couldn't ever be without her, without this, not ever.  

His mouth trailed a wet line down her neck, and then to the opening of her blouse, and her fingers found the top of his head, massaging, pressing, skirting through the dark strands.  Her eyes were closed, her head tilted back, her spine arched.  She was incredible.  

The wisp of a moan escaped her through a heavy breath, and he touched his palm over one breast, smoothing his fingers over the outline of a nipple through the silk, as he kissed his way back up to her mouth.  

He undid some more buttons and pushed open her shirt, and realized suddenly that beautiful women wore black lace bras for evil, nefarious purposes.  

Scully shifted in his arms, lolled her head back, and then forward, her eyes foggy.  "Oh..." She exhaled darkly.  "Mulder?"  

Needed her, needed this, only this, only her, only... only now,  he needed it now.  Yes, he definitely needed it now. Some parts of him downright hurt.

Her hands gripping his shoulders, her eyes closed, her mouth opened, she pushed out breaths like she was drowning, and he trailed his mouth down across her chin, up over her cheek, up to her earlobe, up over the soft flesh.  Her hair was thick and soft behind her ear and dizzying with, what was that smell?  Coconut?


But enough of the ear, he wanted her mouth again.  And he wanted her naked.  

"Mulder," she bit more forcefully, and then she pushed hard at his chest, panting as if she might hyperventilate or burst into flame.   

"Scully?"  Mulder frowned, clouded to the point of pain with arousal, and trying like hell to focus.  

Her hands were braced on the floor on either side of her and her head was tilted towards her chest, her ribcage  heaving quickly and heavily.  Too heavily.  Much too heavily.  Mulder's eyes widened in horror.  Something was definitely beyond wrong with his partner.  She was going to pass out if she kept breathing like that.  

"Scully, what is it?  Talk to me - tell me what's wrong."  His hands moved helplessly over her, trying to calm her, to still her, to do anything, but her breathing didn't slow.  His arousal died in a hard moment, and he realized with a bite of frustration that she was the one with the medical training and he was the one with the psychology degree, and at the very most, this meant he could help her work through anger management over her weird breathing.  Or give her a Band-aid.  

"What's wrong?" he whispered, lifting her hair out of her face with his thumbs.  

"I don't know... what's wrong," she gasped, her shoulders angled towards her chest in a painful looking hunch. Between breaths she heaved, "I just...I feel...dizzy...need to stop...for a minute..."  

"Dizzy?"  Mulder leaned forward to search her face, and he pressed his palm to her forehead, feeling for fever.  "God, you're shaking, Scully.  Are you sick?"  

Her head lifted slightly then, the space between breaths growing more and more even, and she blinked cautiously, looking for her bearings and finding some of them still missing.  She reached for Mulder with one hand and he took the hint, grasping her arm, steadying her as she blew out a few test breaths through her mouth, inhaled through her nose.  She looked up at him, into him, and nodded.  "Yeah, I'm okay," she whispered.  "I'm sorry, I just... I got a little dizzy for a minute."

A little dizzy? That was a little dizzy?  Mulder was positive he'd seen steadier looking drunks.  "Not exactly the kind of ticker tape parade you want to throw a guy," he joked, hoping to God she got the meaning behind the unspoken question.  

"Seriously, I'm okay."  She shook her head as if trying to get out the cobwebs.  "Just a bit of vertigo.  It's just been a stressful day and I wasn't...wasn't feeling great earlier and I haven't eaten all that much today.  It's nothing."  She gazed up at him with stark apology in her eyes, and, as if to reassure him, leaned in and slanted her mouth over his.  The resulting kiss was deep and powerful, but short, and when she pulled away, Mulder searched her expression for anything she might not be telling him.  It was damn hard to read her and worry about her when all he wanted was to fuck her.

"Are you sure?" he asked.  "Do you - do you need something to eat?  A glass of water?  Some, um, ice or - or a cold compress or asprin?  I think there are Band-aids somewhere..."

Scully shook her head, an amused smile stretching the corners of her lips.  "Everything I need is right here in this room," she whispered, and then she tugged on him with one hand until he followed her down to the floor.  


In his lifetime, Fox Mulder had faced and conquered the crown-royalty of all monstrosities; murderers, vampires, mutated animals, mutated humans, aliens, alien-human hybrids, conspirators hell-bent on taking over the world, and a particularly nasty bunch of FBI auditors.  Any of which would have sent a normal man screaming and running for the hills with his nether regions shrunken into unmentionable size.  But Fox Mulder, he was a man's man, an unafraid, purpose-filled man, and Fox Mulder never backed down from an injury, a monster, or a challenge.  Nothing would break him; nothing had or ever could.  

Until his partner set a squirming child at his feet, slipped on her overcoat, and announced that she had a midday shift at the hospital and would be leaving Mulder to entertain their son for the day.  

And Fox Mulder, man's man, abduction survivor, went almost catatonic with panic.  He froze in mid-step, his mouth open, his hand white-knuckled around a glass of orange juice, and found he had forgotten how to form complete sentences without his voice cracking.

"Good grief," Scully muttered, kissing the top of the baby's head, and then the top of Mulder's head, before she crossed the living room for the front door.  "Do you need some smelling salts, Mulder?"

Mulder blinked.  Not only was he terrified of his own son, he was also operating on an hour's worth of sleep.  Plus, the house was still freezing from lack of electricity the night before.  

"I don't think - "  Mulder looked down and found William sitting on the tile under his feet, gazing up the length of his father's legs as if considering the urge to scream. "I don't think he likes me, Lily."  

Scully paused in the foyer, rummaging through coats on the side-rack, turning over magazines and opening drawers, flipping through some extra memo-pads and pens and slips of paper. She shut the drawer and patted down her overcoat, frowning.   "He doesn't even know you."  

Mulder made a face.  "He doesn't know you and he likes you."

Distracted, Scully bent down to search beneath the end table by the door, and her arm disappeared under the bottom shelf. "That's because when I pick him up, I don't hold him like I'm about to pull the pin and throw the grenade.  He's not a biological toxin, he's a child, Paul -" She paused and glanced up.  "Have you seen my car keys?"  

Mulder sighed.  "Second drawer on the left."

"Thank you."  

She pulled open the drawer, fiddled under a few items, and extracted a tiny gold keyring. "You know,  you might want to take this afternoon as an opportunity.  I think your son is about as stubborn as you are, but you won't make any headway if you act like you're afraid of him.  Why don't you just play with him?"

"We um, we don't have any toys," was all Mulder could think of to say.  

"Then why don't you get out your baseball volumes and read him the box scores?"  Scully shot him a lopsided grin.  "At least that way you could put him to sleep all afternoon."

"Funny," he muttered.    

William crawled into the living room and tugged at Scully's pant hem, extending his short arms and wriggling his oatmeal-sticky fingers in 'baby-up-speak.' The plea was stark in his big blue eyes.   With an exhale of defeat, Scully scooped up William and rocked him in her arms, whispering to him that she would be back soon.  She stroked his soft brown hair with the tips of her fingers and tickled his ear. Apparently, Dana Scully, former FBI Agent and forensic pathologist, was just as good a parent as she was a medical doctor. And Mulder found the ease with which she slipped into motherhood something of a wonder, if not the slightest bit infuriating.  

While Scully had garnered nothing but clingy affection from William, Mulder had only incited tears and shrieks of horror any time he stepped within three feet of William's personal space.  The lack of any headway he'd made as far as bonding went was appalling.  

With a sigh, Mulder stood in the kitchen doorway like the picture of rumpled sleep, glass of orange juice still untouched in one hand, wrinkled sweatpants lodged in odd places. Behind every movement either of them made with the baby, there were a hundred unsteady variables pushing at their heels. William was either safe here or he wasn't safe here, just as the three of them either would end up dead or they wouldn't.  Mulder couldn't help but feel as if he'd been playing poker with the wrong in-crowd, and now his debts had mounted and it was payback time.  

"I'm emailing Agent Doggett this afternoon," Mulder said.  He didn't say why, and he hoped Scully wouldn't ask him.

But her expression darkened, and her hold on the baby tightened, and Mulder knew immediately what she was thinking.  

"Just be careful about it," she answered, pressing her lips to William's ear.  She gazed up at Mulder, and her resolute blue eyes communicated all that she refused to say: Despite whatever love she felt, if Mulder requested special care or protection from Agent Doggett, if he tried going against her wishes concerning William, she would make sure he lived to regret it.  

"I know what I'm doing," said Mulder, feeling suddenly as chilled as his glass of orange juice.  "I can handle the situation.  I can handle an afternoon alone with a baby."

Scully pursed her lips, switching the baby to her opposite hip.  "I never suggested you couldn't."  

A long silence crept up upon them, and Mulder stared into the swirls of his juice.  Many unspoken problems still laid between them like a puddle of gasoline waiting for a match.  

Scully cleared her throat.  "Are you going to drink that or just stand there with it?"  She motioned with two fingers to Mulder's orange juice.

Mulder shrugged.  "I don't know.   You didn't drink yours.  You also passed on the coffee.  You sure you're feeling alright?"

Scully softened slightly, but her shoulders didn't relax.  "I'm fine," she said, not offering much else.

Mulder finally took a sip of his juice and the taste was bitter, with bits of pulp sticking to his teeth and lodging in the crevices between his gums.  

While the previous evening had been ethereal and lazy, and while they'd spent the bulk of it lying naked, pressing and sating and kissing each other into blessed, pristine ignorance, Mulder was still unable to get the image of Scully's sudden spell out of his mind.  Every time he closed his eyes there she was, hyperventilating with panic, trembling with vertigo.  He'd meant to question her about it, but was unable to find the right moment.  Between her using William as a buffer to avoid interrogation, and the excuse that she was getting ready for work, Scully had grown quite skilled at not letting a free moment slip.  

Scully rubbed William's back, her cheek pressed to his pale forehead.  "Maybe I should just stay home with him. With both of you."

And now she was changing the subject again.

William pressed his small palms to Scully's cheeks, giggling his delight at her texture, and Scully smiled a toothy grin, tickling the baby's chin with her index finger.   "He needs some new clothes and another bag of diapers - I don't think the one I picked up this morning's going to make it through the day.  And I think -"  

Mulder just stood there with his orange juice in hand and a blank stare on his face.  "You can't just play hooky, Dr. Selden," he said.  

Scully nodded despite herself; she knew Mulder was right, and Mulder knew Mulder was right, but William, on the other hand, he was a hard temptation to resist, with his little button nose and his big blue eyes, and - Mulder wasn't the least bit conceited about this - his father's infamous, 'Scully, do this because you love me' smile.  If Mulder hadn't already been annoyed over Scully's pick-and-choose method of disconnecting from him, he might have found her inability to resist second-generation-Mulder-charm quite amusing.

"I'll see you both when I get home then," Scully finally said - loud enough for both William and Mulder to hear - and she set the baby on the floor beside the couch, eyeing Mulder with a thin cross between love and mistrust.  "I'm taking that green toxin to the lab to be analyzed - I'll do it at lunch and call you with the results. Just...Don't go anywhere with him."  Pulling on her gloves, she added, as an afterthought, "I know you hate the cold. It's ah, supposed to be miserable out there today anyway."

But their gazes caught and held, and Mulder understood her real meaning with stinging accuracy; Don't you dare take my child out of this house, Mulder.  

"We'll be okay," he said, forcing neutrality into his voice.  

"Good," she said.

And then she was out the door, and nothing more could be said.   


Four hours, six glasses of orange juice, three children's programs, three Advil later, and there Mulder sat, bone-tired and cross legged on his living room carpet, making paper airplanes out of the sports' section with a one and a half year old.  

Since neither he nor Scully had any toys lying around, and since William seemed to be rather content with wailing and shrieking his displeasure over Scully's absence, Mulder had tried everything he could think of to amuse the child or, at the very least, preoccupy him.  Nothing, however, had worked until he'd unearthed last week's newspaper and begun compulsively folding the local sections into paper fans; William was fussy as hell, but he seemed thoroughly enraptured by crumpling paper.

Not that William smiled for Mulder the way he had for Scully, despite a newfound common interest in crushing the personal ads. At this non-development, Mulder had first been resigned, and then annoyed, and now he careened wildly towards frustration.  Fox Mulder seemed to have a singular genius for being unable to bond with the one person left in the world still genetically related to him.  

"Hey, check this out - " Mulder wiggled a paper swan at William, pulling on its base to make the wings flap.  "You like birds?  We could give this one to Mommy."

William took the swan from Mulder as if he expected Mulder's fist to close in on him like a sea anemone upon a crab.  Mulder grinned at the improvement - William not being afraid to touch him, that is - and set to work on another swan.  William turned the first swan over, examined it carefully, and set it on the floor. Then he pounded the swan with his fist until the swan looked as if it had gotten caught swimming in between the Titanic and the iceberg.

Mulder sighed.  "Everyone's a critic," he said, ripping another page out of the newspaper.  With a yawn, he glanced at his watch: five-twenty-two.  He shivered and tried shaking off his unease; the house was still not warm enough for his liking, and he'd have to turn up the heat or clean out the air vents or...something.    

Scully called him every hour on the hour, and she emailed him every half hour, and while she insisted to no end that she trusted him but distrusted everyone else, Mulder couldn't help but think that Scully didn't actually trust him at all. Or - that is, she trusted him with her life, but not with the child she had raised from birth.  

And that knowledge stabbed at Mulder harder than any gunshot or knife wound he'd ever received.  

Maybe Scully was terrified he would make good on his argument to call Skinner, just completely disregard her wishes, and give William away during the break between his lunch and his afternoon snack.  Not that Mulder would ever do such a thing without her expressed consent, but the fact that Scully actually considered he might sent a sliver of anger up the base of his spine.  If Scully didn't trust him enough to accept her judgment, and if he couldn't trust her to be honest with him...

Well, then perhaps the real motivation behind William's return to them was simply a psychological ploy: confuse he and Scully into such a state of un-trust that they killed one another.


William reached over and repeatedly jabbed the tip of a Classified-Ad paper airplane into Mulder's knee, and Mulder yelped as the edges dug into his skin.  William jumped in surprise, obviously unprepared for such a reaction, and he skittered away towards the couch on his hands and knees, his tiny nose scrunched as if he wanted to wail at the heavens again.  Again, for the fiftieth time in one afternoon.  

Cursing silently to himself for erasing hours of father-son progress in the span it took to inhale, Mulder tried on a wary smile.  "Hey," said, still testing out this never-before-used 'Daddy voice' of his.  "Hey, no more - none of that, okay?  It's not a big deal, Will.  Look -" He grabbed one of the airplanes and jabbed it into his other knee, wincing at the sharpness of the airplane's tip.  "See?  I do it, too.  Daddy's just a big... a big dumb airplane man.  Look -" He jabbed the airplane down again and tossed the crumpled leftovers into the air, arms akimbo.

William, seemingly unconvinced by any of these antics, sat huddled by the couch, eyebrow raised, thumb in his mouth.   

Mulder sighed.  "Yeah, your mother wouldn't buy it, either."  

Pushing down onto his hands, Mulder crawled closer to the child, all the while making goofy faces to try and distract the baby from his encroachment.  William watched Mulder with wary blue-violet eyes, his thumb securely stuffed in his mouth, his free hand wrapped around the first hand.   He looked for all the world like Scully, after being forced to sit through one of Mulder's paranormal slideshow-fests.  The lack of confidence was stunning.

Finally, Mulder's backside hit the couch, and, unable to go any farther, he sidled up next to his son.  Both little Mulder and big Mulder gazed at one another with uncertainty.  If William had no idea what to make of this weird, goofy guy claiming to be his father, then the weird goofy guy had less of an idea what to make of William.  William didn't utter a sound, but he didn't look reassured either, and he didn't take his eyes off Mulder, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop.  

"Okay, kiddo, here's the deal," said Mulder, "I'm going to pick you up again and take you into the office upstairs so I can check my email, so that your mother's head doesn't explode, but I need you to not cry this time. I know I'm not Mommy and you're intent on reminding me of this fact over and over, but I think I've exceeded my dosage of Advil for the day."

William blinked, his tiny mouth squeezed around his thumb.  On the one hand, silence wasn't the best answer, but on the other, it wasn't a high pitched scream.  

"Okay," said Mulder, nodding to himself.  There wasn't any reason why he couldn't do this without scarring or injuring both of them.  

William froze in mid-thumb-suck as Mulder reached out with nervous hands and touched William's back, and then his side, trying to figure out the best angle to hold the kid.  He certainly couldn't throw William over his shoulder in a fireman's grip, or hold the kid like a dirty towel, but every time he tried picking William up any other way, screaming erupted as if Mulder was poking him with dinner forks.  

William's lower lip jutted in a pout, just a slight waver that stretched all the way to his eyes.  In a moment of panic, Mulder reached under William's arms and quickly pulled the child up, settling him onto the side of his hip as he'd seen Scully do earlier. William seemed to like that position whenever she held him that way, and Mulder supposed it didn't seem all that uncomfortable or impossible to execute.

"You doing okay?" Mulder asked, practically on the verge of crying himself. "You ah, you like the weather up here?" When there was no protest from his son, Mulder breathed a sigh of relief. "See?  Look how good I am at this."

William, thumb still stuffed in his mouth, cocked his head to one side and examined Mulder like an agent examining a suspect.  Mulder cocked his head to the other side and did the same.  The tentative look on the child's face still seemed to indicate unshed tears, and Mulder realized that lack of shrieking did not necessarily translate into winning the war.  

Frowning, Mulder glanced about the room for a distraction.  Four Advil would definitely be pushing the envelope of decency, and he refused to call Scully.  There were no toys lying around, no dolls or games or shiny objects, nothing but crumpled newspaper and -

"Aha!"  Quite pleased with his own brilliance, Mulder bent at the knees and scooped up a framed photo from the coffee table.  

It was a Polariod picture of he and Scully from a rest stop somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.   Mulder had been sucking on a ketchup drenched french fry, and Scully rummaging around through the miniature backpack she occasionally carried in those days.  Mulder bent over to whisper something in her ear, and whatever he'd said must have made her laugh, because Scully's head was tilted towards his in suspended amusement.  It was one of the only pictures he and Scully had ever taken together, mostly because it had been completely unexpected; a young girl somehow snuck up behind them and froze the moment on kodak paper.  

"Look," said Mulder, holding up the picture for William to see.  "Who's this lady?  I think you know her."  

William blinked a few times, glanced back up at Mulder, and seemed to consider this peace offering.  Mulder held his breath; negotiating peaceful coexistence with his son was like negotiating a peace treaty between two children fighting over the same animal cracker.  

Curious, William patted the cool glass over the photo, examining the texture of the frame.  His heart-shaped mouth screwed up on one side, and then his tiny brows furrowed, and finally, he giggled for the first time all afternoon.

"Yeah."  Mulder smiled.  "Pretty cool, huh?"

Seemingly delighted by his new discovery, William clasped his hands together, and the musical vibration of the child's giggle carried like fresh air to Mulder.  The secret moment between father and son warmed the still frozen places inside Mulder's muscles, and both little Mulder and big Mulder laughed as they shared in the one thing they undisputably had in common: uncensored adoration for Dana Katherine Scully.  

"Let's say we take Mommy upstairs," Mulder offered, gripping William from underneath with one hand, and keeping both the child's body and the photo secure with the other.  

William gurgled at this, and Mulder translated drooling as a 'yes.'