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She emailed Mulder the night after an FBI agent tried to kill her son. It was a moment of weakness, holding William on her lap in her mother's house. He was gurgling happily, tugging at her hair like he hadn't almost died; her mother was in the other room making small talk with Monica, who was staying with them for protection or moral support. And Scully had just broken down. They'd been so close, so close to losing their son forever, and Mulder had no idea. They'd agreed that it was best that he stay in hiding after what had happened at the train station, but she couldn't help it. She needed him. She couldn't protect William alone. So she typed out a frantic email with trembling fingers, William wriggling on her lap. She hugged him tightly, pressed her lips to his head and thought, Your daddy might be coming home soon. Maybe. And he'll take us somewhere where no one can ever hurt you again.

That was before the FBI told her that Mulder might be dead. That was before she decided to send her son to safety with the Gunmen, before they took her baby away.

The next few hours swim before her in a sequence of broken glass and twisted metal and the Gunmen's pale faces and frantic apologies, the sirens of the ambulance taking Doggett to the hospital, the pathetic briefing of the task force assigned to find William. Skinner gently tells her to go home, and she answers, “To what?” in a defeated voice. They've taken her partner and her son and she doesn't have anything left. She has to save William.

She asks the Gunmen to come home with her as soon as they're out of their interviews. They stumble over themselves to offer their help, obviously very guilty about the whole thing, but Scully doesn't care. She doesn't want to linger on anyone's apologies or sympathies; she just wants her son back.

The drive back to her apartment is mostly quiet, outside of Frohike and Langly's assurances that they can find the woman who took William. Byers is quiet, rubbing at his eyes. Scully watches the road dully, the traffic lights blurring. It's unusual to drive without talking to William the entire time, trying to fill the silent car rides and keep him entertained.

“Have you tried contacting Mulder?” Langly offers suddenly. “He could probably track down the kid, you know, with the leads he has…” He sounds like he's found the solution to all of it. The Gunmen have been audience to her pain over this whole thing. Scully has dinner with them a couple times a week out of loneliness, and because they like to play with William. They miss Mulder as much as she does.

Scully swallows roughly as she remembers Brad Follmer’s words. Mulder is already dead. Says out loud in a quivering, harsh voice, “The FBI told me… that they've received reports of Mulder's death. By the same people who took William.”

A stunned silence falls over the car. Byers, sitting beside her, rubs at his face harder, lets his head fall against the window. Frohike and Langly sit back in their seats with a defeated air about them. Scully blinks back tears and flips on her blinker.

The rest of the car ride and the elevator ride up to her apartment is in silence. Scully shouldn't have broken the news this way, not after what happened a year ago. She has no idea who told them then. But somehow, she can't let herself feel too bad, not with this gaping hollow in the pit of her chest.

Scully is searching for her keys in her purse in a frantic sort of way—her fingers keep brushing across one of William's toys or pacifiers, and she keeps having to swallow back all-out sobs—when Frohike nudges her urgently. “Hey, Scully,” he says in an urgent sort of voice, and points down the hall.

Scully looks up and sees him. He's there. Mulder in a long coat and a baseball cap pulled down over his face. He looks up at them, worry flickering over his face. “Scully?” he asks in a soft voice. “Guys?”

Scully doesn't quite know what happens next. All she knows is that she ends up in Mulder's arms, leaning into him hard, letting him hold her up. One fist clutches at his sweater desperately. She is shaking all over.

“Scully…” Mulder wraps his arms around her, strokes her hair. “Are you okay?” he asks in a soft voice. A voice full of fear. She doesn't answer, just buries her head further against his chest. “Where's William?” Mulder whispers with horror, and she wants to throw up. She doesn't know how to tell Mulder about what happened, that she lost his son.

She can hear the Gunmen explain to him. She clutches his shirt harder, lets the tears fall. He's not dead. They might still lose their son, but Mulder is not dead.

Mulder's arms tighten around her suddenly, as Frohike comes to the end of his explanation. “They took him?” he whispers in astonished horror.

She nods, sobs quietly into Mulder's sweater.

---

They can't do anything until the Gunmen find more. Scully fills him in on the investigation, her eyes red from crying, and she basically says they have nothing to go on. Frohike and Langly insist that they sit down, rest, that they need to gather their thoughts. That they more than owe them both. Byers is quiet, but he nods along with them. Scully is quiet, teary and pale; her hands shake horribly as she lets them into the apartment.

Mulder is numb with terror. Exhaustion has permeated every corner of his being; he hasn't stopped moving since he saw Scully's email and almost threw up on the spot as he realized what someone had done to his son. But he never expected this . Scully's email terrified him, but she assured him that William was okay. He thought he would have his son in his arms by now, be able to reassure himself that it's all okay. He never thought that…

“I'm sorry,” Scully chokes out. They are sitting on the couch, and he looks over at her, and she is crying again. “I'm so sorry… Mulder, they told me you were dead. The artifact, the one I told you about in the email, it… reacted to William, and I thought you were gone, and I thought…  I thought that sending William with the Gunmen was the only way…”

He bundles her into his arms, buries his face in her hair, and she hugs him back hard. “It's not your fault,” he whispers. “It's not, Scully, it's… it's not.” He believes that. He has to.

Scully is sobbing, her shoulders shaking. He rocks her back and forth, his chin resting on her head. His eyes flicker over the apartment: the baby toys on various parts of the rug, the playpen against the wall, the pictures on Scully's fridge. He's missed too much time.

Tears rise to his eyes; he presses his mouth to the top of Scully's head. “We're going to find him,” he whispers. “I swear to God, we're going to find him.”  

He has to believe that, too. He has to. He can't lose someone else to this, his son he barely knows, who he left behind. If this is anyone's fault, it is his. He left William when he should've been here to protect him, him and Scully both. This is his fault.

Years of missing children. Years of police investigations and his parents sullen and full of grief, the house too quiet. Years of scoring through reports of found children, interviewing teary, worried parents, having to deliver bad news. He swore it would never happen to his child.

Scully cries in his arms until she's cried out, but she doesn't linger. She gets up and goes into the dining room where the Gunmen are set up, insists on trying to help, Mulder right on her tail. Frohike waves them off, insists that they need their rest. “You both look like you're about to fall over,” he says, and Mulder grips Scully's elbow as if taking his words literally. “Get some sleep, okay?” Frohike says softly, the gentlest Mulder has ever heard him. “We're going to help you find the little man, but you're no use to him if you're dead on your feet. Either of you.”

Scully's chin is trembling with determination. She doesn't look like she plans to move any time soon.

Mulder hates to go and try to sleep, when all he wants to do is tear the world apart, to look and look until he finds his son, but Scully needs to sleep. And he needs to sleep, he can tell. He tugs gently at Scully's elbow until she is moving with him. She doesn't resist; she simply says, “You wake us up if you find anything. Anything. You understand?”

“Course,” Langly says, lost in concentration. They're all throwing themselves into the task with a fervor even Mulder finds unfamiliar, despite everything they've helped him on in the past. They must really feel guilty about technically being the ones to lose William. He appreciates their devotion, if nothing else.

They go together into Scully's bedroom, and Mulder's throat goes thick at the sight of it. He's missed this room so much for months now, missed Scully and William; he feels slightly sick when he realizes that William was here the last time he was in this room, sleeping in the crib beside the bed. He can't picture William the way he must look now; all he can see is the tiny baby he held in his arms for three days. Someone took his baby away.

This can't be the end. He won't let it.

Scully curls up against him in bed, wrapping herself around him fiercely. “I thought you were dead,” she says into his neck. “I thought I'd lost you again. And now you're here, Mulder, but William… William is…”

Tears rush to his eyes and he rocks her back and forth again in a sort of desperation. “It's okay, it's okay,” he says. It has to be okay. “It's gonna be okay.”

“I couldn't protect him,” Scully says in a sleepy sort of sadness. She's sniffling, her face wet against his neck, his stubbly cheeks.

“You did everything you could.” He kisses her forehead gently, his lips salty with tears. “We're going to find him,” he tells her firmly. “We are. We're going to find him.” Scully nods fiercely, determinedly, and hugs him tighter.

Mulder falls into a troubled sleep, holding Scully in his arms. He doesn't want to dream of his son, but he does anyway: a strange dream of William in a car seat, nearly inaudible arguments in the front seat. William is quiet, but not comfortable; he is afraid, Mulder can feel it, somehow. He's on alert, even. He doesn't know if William can see him. He wants to snatch his son up and run away. He wishes this wasn't a dream.

William seems to look up at him, looking straight through him. His eyes are dark, Mulder realizes in a stunned moment, and it makes him want to cry. William extracts a little arm from his blanket and reaches for Mulder.

Mulder jolts awake, suddenly, to the feeling of Scully shaking him gently. “The guys did it,” she whispers. “They found the woman who took Will.”

Mulder blinks blearily, rolling over to look at Scully. “We can find her?”

“The Gunmen have a way to track her.” Scully is standing by the bed, her face stony and serious, her tear-smeared cheeks scrubbed clean. The only sign of the night they'd spent is her red, puffy eyes. She steps back as Mulder climbs out of bed, touches his shoulder gently. “I've called Agent Reyes over here to help us,” she adds.

Mulder blinks blearily, smoothing his wrinkled clothes. There's a stuffed rabbit upside down on Scully's dresser, the ears worn in a way that suggests that William has chewed on them, and it takes him by surprise. He looks away quickly. “What about Agent Doggett?” he mutters a little bitterly.

Scully gulps harshly. “Doggett's in the hospital,” she says in a guilty rush. “The woman who took William… she hit him with her car.”

“Oh my god.” Mulder has a quick rush of shame for his brief bitterness towards the other man. He can't believe that Agent Doggett almost got killed because of his son. “Is he going to be okay?”

Scully bites her lower lip. “I don't know,” she says quietly. “But… we can't do anything for him right now. We need to concentrate on finding William.”

Mulder swallows, nods. He couldn't agree more.

There is a knock on the door, and Scully turns and leaves the bedroom, scooping up what looks like a mugshot on the dresser. Mulder blinks in surprise; how long was he asleep here? How long has Scully been awake?

He smooths his hair, tries to make himself look alert when all he feels is numb inside. He doesn't know what to do. He's been gone too long and he doesn't know what to do. In the other room, he hears Scully open the door and say, “We found her.” A softer response, and then Scully adds, “The woman that took William.”

Mulder takes a deep breath that he hopes will calm his nerves and steps into the living room as Scully closes the door. The Gunmen are still gathered around Scully's table, still working at the computers like they had been before. Reyes stands in the threshold, and her eyes widen when she sees him. “Mulder?” she says incredulously.

He nods at her politely, not in the mood for pleasantries. “Agent Reyes.”

Reyes looks about as surprised as the Gunmen did the night before. “But Dana told me that there'd been reports of your…”

False reports,” Scully fills in sternly. “I emailed Mulder after Comer attacked William; he got in last night.”

“My god,” Reyes breathes in a stunned sort of way. “I'm… relieved that you're okay, Agent Mulder.”

“Just Mulder,” Mulder supplies a little irritably.

“Right.” Reyes blinks rapidly before looking down at the photo Scully had handed her, assumedly of William's captor. Mulder steps closer and gets a glimpse of a stern-faced woman whose expression makes his stomach turn. This woman has his son .

“She's a wanted felon and a part of the UFO cult that the FBI was investigating,” says Scully. “I need anything that you can find on her, Monica but I need you to get it quietly.”

Reyes doesn't say anything right away. Langly says something audibly from the other room, and Reyes looks towards them in surprise. She says finally, “If they ID'd the woman then why isn't the FBI investigating it?”

“I asked them not to tell the FBI,” Scully says.

Mulder is surprised, but not overly so; he doesn't know how much either of them have trusted the people in the FBI for years, and he's not ready to trust an organization littered with conspirators who hate him and Scully to bring his son back safe. Reyes looks more stunned, however, worried. “What are you doing, Dana?” she asks.

“I'm trying to get my son back,” Scully says in a vehement whisper.

There are a few beats of silence between the two women. Mulder clears his throat and adds in awkwardly, “I'm inclined to agree with Scully. We have almost as many enemies in the FBI than out, and I don't want to put the safety of my son in their hands.” Somehow, he doesn't quite feel like he belongs here—which is ironic, because he certainly belongs more than Reyes does, but after all the time he's missed, it feels strange. But whatever the case, he's going to express his feelings on what they need to do. It's his son on the line here.

They both look at him, Scully in a grateful sort of way, Reyes in confusion. He supposes she hasn't been indoctrinated as the Resident Paranoid Believer X-Files Member yet. Or maybe she just doesn't think he should be making decisions on a subject he's been entirely absent for since last May.

“We're locked out,” Frohike says suddenly from behind them.

“Like there was ever a doubt,” Langly adds.

“Which beings us that much closer to finding William,” Byers adds reassuringly as the three of them cluster around the table. “Langly's inside the system.”

“I'm hacked inside the phone company. Going to use their mainframe to scan the map for a locator signal,” says Langly.

“Explain to me what it is you're doing?” Mulder asks wearily. He feels as if he hasn't gotten enough sleep. He feels like he could scream, punch a hole in the wall.

“Before William was kidnapped, Byers was able to tuck a cell phone under the padding of the baby's car seat,” Scully says.

“Call the phone, and Langly can use the signal to find its location,” says Frohike. “Find the phone, find the baby.”

Mulder swallows dryly, nervous sweat lining his forehead. This plan seems too risky, too dangerous to risk his son on, how the hell will this help? There are so many ways it could fuck up. “You mean, assuming the kidnapper hasn't found the phone,” says Reyes, and Mulder is actually grateful to the other woman for voicing his feelings.

“And assuming the kidnapper doesn't hear the phone and decide to throw it out the car window? Or worse, hurt William?” Mulder adds severely. He's imagining all the horrible things that could happen from actively calling the phone they left with his son. The only way he can see this not going disastrously, outside of the kidnapper just not hearing it, is if the woman picks up and decides to negotiate. There's no guarantee that they'd be willing to negotiate, but that'd be a chance, a halfway decent chance, of getting William back alive. He'll give them anything they want. Anything.

Frohike just stares at them, a scabbed-over wound on his forehead too visible. Scully sniffles a little from beside Mulder, and he immediately feels a rush of remorse.  

The phone starts beeping from where Byers holds it. Mulder cranes his neck a little and sees NO SIGNAL blinking across the screen. “We'll keep trying,” Byers says apologetically.

Scully turns and walks out of the room abruptly. Thinking it has something to do with what he said, Mulder immediately follows in an attempt to comfort her, to apologize. But she's not walking off so that no one will see her cry; she goes to where she threw her coat over the couch earlier and retrieves her gun. Mulder leans in close to her, touching her elbow, and whispers, “I'm sorry.” She says nothing.

Reyes comes over to speak to them quietly. “This is madness, and you know it,” she says. “They failed you once with your child. They're going to fail you again.”

“Then we'll find him ourselves,” Scully says immediately, unphased.

Mulder feels a flicker of irritation in defense of his friends; he wasn't here when William was abducted, he knows only what they've told him, but he knows there was nothing they could've done. “They didn't fail us,” he snaps softly. “And they won't fail us now.”

Reyes looks a little embarrassed, a little apologetic. Scully doesn't seem to have an opinion either way; she's loading her gun with surprisingly steady hands. Regaining her footing, Reyes insists, “You can't do this alone!”

“She's not alone,” Mulder says firmly. He may not be an FBI agent anymore, but he more than has the experience, and he'd kill people to keep his son safe.

“What alternative do I have,” Scully asks, turning towards Reyes, “when the FBI is all but telling me they think that my son is already dead?”

Mulder flinches hard. For some reason, he hadn't expected that. He doesn't know why, he's seen it a thousand times before. But Jesus, it's William. It's his son and he's so little, this is what he feared.

“We've got a signal,” Byers says suddenly. “In Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania, off the interstate.”

Warfordsburg. Only an hour and a half away. This could all be over in a few hours. They could have their son back, or… Mulder swallows anxiously, not wanting to consider the alternative. Any alternative.

Scully turns fully towards him, meeting his eyes. “Your gun is in my bedside table drawer,” she says, and he realizes that she must've gotten it out of the locked box she kept it in before he left, after the attack yesterday. “I'll get the keys and meet you downstairs.”

“Scully, how much sleep did you get?” he asks cautiously, ready to offer to drive if that means he can avoid her falling asleep at the wheel.

She's already moving, pushing past the Gunmen. “Mulder, I'm fine,” she snaps without turning around.

He catches a glimpse of the clock: 2:45 am. They only got into the apartment close to 11:00. He supposes neither of them slept very long anyways, and he isn't willing to wait either.

He goes to Scully's room to retrieve the gun. Passing by William's room, he stops briefly, and the sight is like a gut punch. The empty crib, the stains of dried blood on the floor. He feels like he might throw up. He wipes his mouth with one harsh motion and goes back into the living room.

Scully is putting on her coat. “I'm coming with you, Dana,” Reyes says, like she's been weighing whether or not she should.

“Come with us or don't come with us, Monica, but either way, I'm not lingering anymore than I have to.” Scully holsters her gun. “Mulder, you ready?” she asks. “Your holster is in the hall closet.”

Mulder nods and goes to retrieve it. The feeling is stunningly familiar, a familiarity he thought he'd never experience again. Certainly never in the context of losing his son. He lets the gun drop into the holster and goes back into the living room.

Scully is standing at the door, keys clutched in her hand. She opens the door and leaves as soon as Mulder approaches,.Reyes awkwardly on her heels. “Be careful,” Frohike calls from the dining room. Mulder nods, closing the door behind them.

---

They find the woman's car empty, parked at a cluster of phone booths. The car seat sits abandoned in the backseat.

Scully breathes hard, on the verge of tears. Mulder punches the side of the car and swears fiercely, kicking the door a few times for good measure. The sting in his knuckles is nothing compared to the way his heart froze when he saw that empty car seat.

It's almost morning. It feels like an eternity, but he's only lost his son for one night. He doesn't know how much longer he can go on like this.

---

Scully drives them back to her apartment. Reyes leaves as soon as they get there, mumbling something about visiting Doggett in the hospital. Mulder and Scully trail upstairs in silence, not gravitating towards each other or away from each other. Scully misses the weight of William in her arms, balanced on her hip and gripping handfuls of her hair. She always thought she would be able to give William to his father when he came home, let them reunite for the first time in over six months. She never thought she would lose him like this. She wants to kill them: Comer, the woman who took her son. She pictures putting bullets through their skulls as she unlocks the door, steps aside so Mulder can enter. He goes straight to the kitchen for some reason. The Gunmen's heads pop up like gophers as Scully closes the door. Worry flickers across their eyes when they see Scully alone. “Did you…” Frohike starts.

“Car was abandoned. Car seat was abandoned.” She wipes her eyes even though they are dry. “I need some water,” she adds, pushes past them into the kitchen.

She finds Mulder standing in front of her fridge, staring at the front with wide, watery eyes. She doesn't linger on it. She is filling a glass with tap water when she realizes what he is doing: looking at the pictures she's put on the fridge. Pictures of William.

Tears flood her eyes and she walks over to stand beside him, nuzzles her head underneath his arm, presses her cheeks against his ribs. “I'm sorry,” she whispers.

He says nothing, hugs her back from the side and sniffles. He reaches out with one hand to touch a picture of Scully with William at Christmas, taken just a week or two earlier. She's wearing his Oxford sweatshirt; William sits up in her lap, clutching her finger in one tiny hand. Mulder runs a finger over their faces gently, presses his chin into the top of her head. “He's so beautiful,” he says in a rushed breath, like he's been punched in the stomach. “I should've been here.”

There's a picture of all three of them stuck in the center of the fridge. Scully loves to look at it, even if it makes her tear up half the time. Mulder brushes his fingers over that one, too, wipes his eyes. “I shouldn't have left,” he whispers.

“You had to leave,” Scully says, but she is crying anyway. She can't tell him how many times she wanted to tell him to come back. She told herself again and again that it was ridiculous to be this upset, that plenty of women are single mothers and are perfectly fine, but it was just so lonely. She hated waking up without him, going through the day without him, raising their son without him. The pictures are largely a fluke, largely her mother's idea; she has a framed photo of Will on her desk at work, a couple more in her room, but she always feels guilty doing things without Mulder: taking photos, commemorating things, all of it. She hates that it is so hard to take pleasure in her son's childhood without Mulder. She hates this whole ugly situation: she finally has Mulder back, but their son is gone, and they may never get him back.

She buries her face against his chest and he smoothes her hair with a trembling hand. “I'm so scared we're not going to find him,” she whispers. “I'm so scared we're going to lose him.”

“I know.” His lips brush the top of her head. They hold onto each other in front of their fridge.

“You should sleep, Scully,” Mulder says finally, and his voice is trembling, he sounds like he is falling apart. “I know you didn't sleep very long last night.”

“How can I sleep?” she mumbles. She should be doing more, she should be fighting for her son. She can't sleep, but she is so tired. Mulder fell straight asleep last night, tangled up in her arms, but she hadn't been able to. She dozed restlessly for about an hour before getting up to hover over the Gunmen. She doesn't resent Mulder for being able to sleep at all; she knows he must have much more practice than her at being able to sleep during these crisises, and he is exhausted. But she can't rest.

“You have to sleep some, okay?” Mulder mutters, tugging at her gently. “You're going to be a wreck if you don't. You've already been up most of the night.”

She stands up as straight as she can, rubbing at her eyes. “What about William?” she whispers.

“We'll regroup in a little while, okay? We'll find him. Reyes will help us, and so will the Gunmen.” He tugs at her again, and this time she goes. She is so tired that she doesn't even really feel tired anymore. She drove all the way to Pennsylvania and back, and she didn't breathe once the whole time. It seems impossible that it hasn't even been twenty-four hours since they took her son. It feels like forever.

Mulder says something over her head to the Gunmen, suggesting that they, too, go home and get some rest. Frohike pats Scully's hand sympathetically as they go.

“Don't want to sleep,” she mumbles as she and Mulder go into the bedroom. Her eyes fall on William's bunny where she left it on the dresser—she’d brought him in here last night, before they went to meet the Gunmen, and let him play on her bedspread. William loves to play on her bed, crawling around and tugging the bunny in hand. She can't believe she left it. She should've let him take it, so he'd at least have something comforting with him. He's all alone now.

“We'll take turns.” He kisses her brow gently as he helps her onto the bed. “I'm going to call Skinner, okay? Let him know I'm back, see if he has anything new. I'll wake you up if he has anything, okay?”

Scully curls up on the bed, her knees pulled up to her stomach. “How are you so… held-together?” she whispers in a way that she hopes is not accusatory. She realizes with a pang that it is likely from experience and wants to cry all over again.

Mulder's eyes are sad as he smooths hair off of her forehead. “I'm not,” he whispers, cupping her cheek gently. “Get some sleep, okay, honey? We're gonna find him.”

Her eyes fall closed as if some magnetic force is urging them to. A tear slips out from underneath them. Mulder strokes the side of her face with his thumb, and then she's falling asleep.

---

She dreams of her son, strapped into a strange car seat, covered in blankets with his little hat on his head. She calls out his name on instinct, her voice cracking, even though the sensible part of her knows that it is only a dream and William can't hear her, but he gurgles when he hears her voice, kicks excitedly at the blanket. She feels like she is going to cry. “William,” she whispers, and reaches for him, but she wakes up before she can touch him, quivering under her comforter where Mulder has covered her up. Mulder is curled up beside her, underneath the blanket, half on his side; he mutters something like their son's name into the pillow.

Scully blinks back tears and touches Mulder's forehead. “Mulder,” she whispers. “Are you awake?”

He jolts awake, breathing unsteadily next to her. “Scully?” he mumbles.

“It's me.” She runs her fingers through his hair. “How long have you been asleep?”

Mulder rises up on one elbow and checks the digital clock on her bedside table: 5:00 pm. “Few hours,” he says, rubbing his neck. “I called Skinner, who was pretty surprised to hear from me. He said he'd send the Warfordsburg PD down to check out the car, and he'd call me if they got anything.”

Scully climbs out of bed and heads straight for the phone to check her messages. Nothing from Skinner, but there is a recent message from Monica. “Dana, I'm headed over,” she says. “I hope you and Mulder are still at home… I haven't told the FBI that Mulder is back, since I figured you two would want discretion, but I did get another offer. I… I have something to show you.” Monica pauses awkwardly before adding, “I'll be over in a little bit, okay?”

As the answering machine beeps, there is a knock at the door. “That's convenient,” Mulder observes in a bitter voice. “I hope whatever it is she's got to show you had to do with William.”

“I'm sure it does,” Scully says, crossing to open the door. “Hi, Monica,” she says in the most cheerful voice she can muster—which isn't very cheerful right now. “Come in. How's John doing?”

“I'm not sure,” says Monica, coming in and stepping aside so Scully can close the door. “Better, I hope. Hi, Mulder.”

Mulder nods at her. “Agent Reyes.”

Scully crosses her arms over her chest. “Okay, Monica,” she says softly. “What is it you wanted to show me?”

Monica hesitates for a minute before pulling a piece of paper out of her pocket and handing it to Scully. Scully turns away to read it, exchanging a nervous look at Mulder—she has a sudden fear of ransom notes, of people who want impossible things for her son's life—but it only reads Jacket in large, scrawling letters.

She has a sudden memory of Comer, the FBI agent who tried to kill her son… he had on a jacket, and in the jacket, she found a piece of the alien artifact from Africa. The artifact that had flown across the room at her son.

“Where did you get this?” Scully says without turning around.

“I was hoping you would know something about it,” Monica says.

Scully scans the paper again, looking for any little detail she missed, before turning back to Monica. “Just tell me where you got this,” she says firmly.

“You know what it means?” Monica replies, surprisingly coy.

“Wait, what the hell is it?” Mulder asks, and then he is crossing the room in just a few strides to look at what Scully has in her hands. “What does it mean?” he asks urgently, looking between Scully and Monica like he doesn't know who to ask.

“Robert Comer wrote this, didn't he?” Scully says to Monica. “The FBI Agent who tried to kill our son—and how did you get it?”

Mulder noticeably flinches beside her, leaning closer to study the piece of paper.

“I got it under the condition that I share what I learn from you,” says Reyes.

Scully hands her the scrap of paper. “Take it,” she says, pushing past her.

Monica grabs her arm before she can get too far. “What is it? What does it mean?”

“I'd like to know, too,” Mulder cuts in, his face full of irritation and worry, “seeing as how it concerns the man who tried to kill my son.”

Scully shoots Mulder a look intending to say, Wait a minute. She's trying to keep things from Reyes, not from him. “If I don't tell you you're good on your word, right?” she says meaningfully. “That means that you've learned absolutely nothing from me.”

Monica nods a little, tucks the paper back into her pocket. Scully turns fully to Mulder, says, “Mulder, can I see you in private for a minute?”

Monica looks between them as if she expects them to do something stupid. The kind of look Scully is used to giving, or only receiving from higher-ups. Mulder nods. She takes his hand and pulls him into the bedroom. She speaks in a whisper: “Mulder, do you remember the artifact I told you about in the email I sent? The ship in Africa?” He nods again, his expression serious. “Well, I found a piece of it in Comer’s jacket,” she says significantly. “Comer is the FBI agent who tried to kill William, who infiltrated the cult who was threatening your life. The one I believe has William.”

Mulder’s eyes widen. “So this guy, Comer…” he says slowly. “He's conscious. He can tell us what he knows.”

“Something along those lines,” says Scully. “He crashed his motorcycle on the border of Canada. He should've been dead before I ever shot him. But he's not, despite being in critical condition at the hospital right now.”

“Because the artifact has healing powers,” Mulder says in immediate understanding. “So if we take it to him, then we can talk to him… do you have it?”

Scully turns and retrieves it; she hands it to Mulder, who stares at it briefly with all the wonder he'd had two years ago before it almost killed him. “I assume you're okay…” she says quickly, remembering Mulder prone on the bed, unable to speak and able to hear everything. She doesn't want that to happen again. “It's been in here all day, you haven't…”

“I'm fine,” Mulder says distractedly. “Whatever that fucker CGB did to me back in 99, I think it made me immune to this shit.” He looks up, tucking the piece into his jacket pocket. “You ready?”

Scully nods. “Let's go get our son back.”

There's no guarantee, she reminds herself, that this Comer lead will go anywhere, but they have to try.

---

Reyes insists on coming along. Mulder suspects it's because she doesn't trust either of them in this state, but he doesn't particularly care. All he wants is his son back, and he doesn't know if that involves holding back when he comes face to face with a man who tried to murder his son.

The three of them walk through the hospital, Scully pushing Mulder in front of her in an attempt, he thinks, to hide him in case anyone is looking for him. He isn't sure how effective it is, but it doesn't matter; no one says anything to them all the way to Comer’s room.

They slip in quietly. The bastard is on a respirator, unconscious and pale, and even though Mulder has never met the man, he feels a rush of instinctual fury.

Scully steps close to the bed and he goes with her, standing at her side as she surveys the monitors and Comer himself. She pulls out the artifact gingerly, fidgeting with it; she looks at Mulder, as if for encouragement, and he nods gently. Scully moves it closer to his chest, waving it over his body the way Melissa waved her hands over her own body all those years ago. The monitors beep faster, the numbers rising, and Comer's body trembles. Mulder breathes in a little shakily, in excitement or awe or fear, he isn't sure which.

Suddenly, Comer's hand flies out and grips Scully's wrist hard. Mulder’s hand flies out on instinct, closing hard over the man's own wrist as Scully tries to pull back. “Back off,” he snaps in a low voice.

“My god,” Reyes whispers.

The man isn't letting up. “Let go of my hand,” Scully insists, yanking harder.

Mulder pries at his fingers in a desperate sort of way, hissing, “Let her go!” at Comer furiously. This bastard tried to hurt his son, and now he has ahold of Scully and won't let go.

“Turn off the monitors, or they're going to alert somebody,” Scully instructs Reyes firmly as Mulder finally manages to peel Comer’s fingers off of Scully. He pins the man's hand to the bed, disgusted, and holds him down as Scully pulls the tube out of his mouth. He coughs as it comes out, a wet sound.

The three of them stand over him, Scully by his head, Mulder pinning his arm, and Reyes on the other side. Comer takes several shaky breaths before he speaks, raspingly, to no one in particular. “The father is alive,” he says, motioning to Mulder with a tip of his chin. “I didn't know.”

“That is none of your fucking concern,” Scully snaps in a frigid voice that she only uses on murderers or men who have tried to hurt them. “Now, tell me who sent you to kill my son or I will take that pillow from under your head and make them the last breaths that you take.”

“I thought… that your son had to die,” Comer says unsteadily, and Scully's hands are on his throat so fast that Mulder halfway thinks it must be a reflex. Just as fast, Reyes is reaching towards Scully to stop her, but Mulder’s other hand flies out to hold her back, he'd be doing it himself if Scully hadn't gotten there first.

“I'm not what you think,” Comer chokes out, and Mulder has no sympathy for this worm, but his earlier words ( The father is alive ) haven't left his mind. He wants to know what the bastard has to say, so he lets go of Reyes and signals to Scully to back off with a hand on her shoulder. “Please… please…” Comer pleads pathetically. “The FBI sent me uncover on a man named Josepho to get inside his cult whose followers believe an alien race will rule the world.”

Scully removes her hand reluctantly. “This the same cult that was making death threats against me?” Mulder snaps. “Why the hell do they want me dead and what the hell do they want with my son?”

“One day, God told Josepho to lead us a thousand miles north to find a ship buried in the ground,” Comer continues, seemingly ignoring Mulder’s question. “You have a piece of that ship in your hand. Josepho believes that that ship is a temple which houses the physical manifestation of God.”

“Are you saying that god asked you to kill my child?” Scully asks in horror.

“No. Josepho said God spoke to him of a miracle child. A future saviour coveted by forces of good and evil. Josepho believes your son is this child.”

“Then why does he want to kill him?” Scully demands, in tears. “Why does he want to kill Mulder?”

“He doesn't want to kill the child,” Comer says. “He wants to protect him. Josepho believes your son will follow in his father's path and try and stop the aliens' return.” He nods to Mulder again, who is stunned, his heart pounding so hard he can feel it everywhere. This is happening because of him ? Because William is his son?

“Unless his father was to be killed,” Comer adds, and Mulder’s stomach twists painfully. “That is the prophecy.”

“You came here to kill their son against this man and his cult? To stop them? Are you saying you believe this prophecy but acted alone?” Reyes asks.

Scully is breathing tumultuously beside him, clearly on the verge of tears; Mulder's heart thudding, he brushes his fingers over her hand and says softly, “He's saying that he thought William had to die because he believed I was dead. The way the FBI does, and the way this cult of his likely does. And if I'm dead… then he believes that William will…” He can't finish somehow. He's believed these things again and again for years, believed in them wholeheartedly, but he can't believe in them now. Not when it's William on the line.

“I believed that your son had to die, too,” Comer says. “Or everyone… all of mankind will perish from earth.”

Mulder swallows dryly, his throat sore, his head pounding. His son . Savior or condemner of the world. All decided by whether or not he lives or dies. He can't believe it. He won't believe it. He never wanted this for Will.

“I believed it was necessary to save the world,” says Comer, almost apologetically. “I believed the father was dead. But if he's alive…”

“Then you have nothing to worry about,” Scully snaps, her voice still full of tears, but steely enough to still be commanding. “Then you should have no problem telling us where this cult would've taken my son so that we can go and get him. To ensure that he remains the savior or whatever bullshit like that. Should you?”

Comer’s eyes dart between Scully and Mulder frantically. “The artifact,” he says pleadingly. “Give me the artifact and I'll tell you. Please.”

“No,” Scully says steadily, stepping away from the bed. “Not until you tell me.”

“Please. Please.” Comer gropes for the artifact, trying to reach Scully, almost coming out of the bed.

Mulder pins him back down with an arm across the chest. “You stay the fuck away from my family,” he hisses, nose to nose with Comer, fury pounding in his head, but Comer just looks at him. Just looks.

A door opens suddenly behind him. “What the hell is going on here?” a nurse demands.

Oh, fuck, Mulder thinks briefly, stumbling away from the bed in fear. Comer doesn't move when the pressure is relieved; he just looks at Scully expectantly.

A man in a suit who looks an awful lot like FBI material is right on her heel. “What are you doing in here?” he demands, looking between the three of them. “Is… is that Agent Mulder ? Fox Mulder?”

“They turned off all the monitors!” the nurse says, going to the bed quickly. “They removed his intubation, and this man here was attacking him.”

“We were asking him questions,” Mulder snaps, automatically defensive. The last thing he needs is to be arrested, not while his son is out there and he might be the one person who can save him. “He tried to hurt Agent Scully.”

The man crosses his arms, staring Mulder down. “Agent Mulder, the last we heard of you was reports of your death,” he says shortly. “Now we find you here, attacking an injured FBI agent? With Agents Scully and Reyes assisting you? What are the three of you doing in here?”

“This patient does not need support. He's breathing on his own,” Scully says defensively, as if that explains it.

“Step outside,” says the men. “All of you.”

Reyes goes immediately, but Mulder and Scully hang back. Scully looks down at the artifact in her hand. Mulder starts to move towards her, but the nurse grabs his arm hard, glaring at him.

“Let's go, ” the man says pointedly, taking Mulder by the arm and yanking him towards the door. Mulder looks over his shoulder in time to see Scully slip Comer the artifact, just before the man shoves him out of the room. “Agent…” he says warningly to Scully. The nurse yanks her away from the bed; Scully pulls her arm away, glaring, and walks out on her own.

“Get me ADs Follmer and Skinner,” says the man to the two FBI agents accompanying him outside the room. The two other agents walk off, somewhat reluctantly. He offers Mulder a searing glare before closing the door behind them.

Mulder and Scully start off down the hall automatically, Mulder's head bent towards hers in an attempt at subtly. “What did he tell you?” he asks softly.

“Calgary,” Scully says. “Calgary, Canada.”

“Hey, wait!” Reyes demands, trying to keep up with them. “Where are you two going?”

Mulder turns towards her in an instant, says, “You stay here, Agent Reyes. It'll be better that way. Tell them we went rogue, you couldn't stop us. Blame it on grief or something.”

He meets Scully's eyes briefly. The only acceptable outcome to this is to find William, but whether that happens or not, he thinks they won't be coming back.

“Wait,” Reyes says. “You can't…”

Scully steps forward and embraces the other woman. “I'm sorry, Monica,” she says. “But I do thank you for everything you've done to help us. And… if John makes it…” She blinks back tears as she pulls away, wiping her eyes. “Tell him that I appreciate everything he's done as well. More than he knows.”

“Dana, you aren't really…”

“We don't have a choice,” Mulder says in a soft, frantic voice. They don't have a lot of time to get out. “When we get our son back, we have to make sure he's safe. That all of us are safe.”

Scully kisses Reyes on the cheek briefly before taking Mulder's hand. “Tell them you tried to stop us,” she whispers, before she turns around.

They walk quickly down the hall, take off into a run when they hit the stairwell, still holding hands like newlyweds. “Do you have the car keys?” he whispers, and she nods. They exit at the parking garage, run until they reach Scully's car where she parked it. Scully pushes the key into his hand, so he takes the driver's seat. He pulls out of the hospital, tires squealing.

---

It is a few minutes before they speak, when it's clear they won't get caught, at least not anytime soon. Maybe even that no one is looking for then. Scully says in a quiet, quivering voice, “It takes over a day to drive to Calgary, and we don't have that much time.”

“I don't think anything we've done is severe enough that the FBI will be looking for us,” Mulder says. “We can drive up to Philadelphia and fly out from there. Do you have your passport?”

“It's at home. You?”

“I have it in my jacket.” He's carried it on him since he left home six months ago. Paranoia or something, but it comes in handy. “We can go by and get it. Easier to disappear in another country, once we have William back.”

“Yeah.” Her voice is soft and quaking; she is crying, softly.

The adrenaline goes out of him with a whuff , and Mulder exhales hard. “Scully,” he whispers softly. “Scully, hey.”

He takes her hand gently, and she sniffles. He starts to pull off in a parking lot, but she shakes her head firmly. “We have to keep going,” she says firmly. “We can't stop.”

Mulder flips off his blinker. “I know… none of that was easy to hear…” he says, and his voice breaks. It's because of him. Comer tried to kill William because of him. None of this would've happened if he wasn't involved.

“I should've known this would happen,” Scully whispers tearfully, and Mulder bites his lower lip so hard he tastes blood. “I mean, it's-it's exactly what I feared. That there's something terribly wrong. From the very moment that he was conceived.”

Mulder inhales sharply, maybe a little hurt. Mostly scared. “Scully, I know t-that William is a miracle,” he says unevenly, blinking back tears. He can't, he can't believe his son is anything other than a good, miraculous thing. “But that doesn't mean that… they don't know what they're talking about, okay? They're conspiracy theorists. It doesn't mean that William's meaning in life is to…”

“He moved his mobile,” Scully says harshly. “I hadn't turned it on, and he looked at it, and it moved. The artifact that I gave Comer flew across the room at him, and floated around above his head. William isn't normal, Mulder, and he'll never be able to be. We won't be able to protect him.”

Mulder blinks hard, lets go of Scully's hand in a sudden motion. He wipes his eyes with a quivering hand. “I can't let myself believe that, Scully,” he says to the steering wheel. “I have to believe that he's going to be okay, and that he's going to have a good life. I do.”

Scully sniffles again, almost sobbing beside him in the seat. Mulder takes a deep breath, stares straight out of the windshield. “They want you dead so William can destroy the world. Comer wanted William dead so that he can't. And I… I don't know what to do. What I would do if I lost you. Either of you.”

Mulder sniffles again, shakes his head hard. “You won't,” he says.

“You don't know that,” Scully whispers. “Several people seem pretty damn determined to have one of you dead.”

“You won't,” Mulder says again. This is his fault, he thinks again, he's the reason this is happening, but whatever happens from now on, he is absolutely not going to let anyone fucking hurt his son. He's ready to kill everyone who already has. To do anything to get William back. “I promise, Scully. You won't.”

Scully grips his hand in hers again, kisses his knuckles, bruised from the night before. Her tears trail down between his fingers. Mulder sniffles, his tears going unchecked with one hand on the wheel and the other in hers. She reaches up and wipes one away with the tip of one finger. He drives until he reaches Scully's apartment, throws the car into Park and turns in his seat. She's embracing him before he can move towards her, kissing his wet cheek and hugging him hard. “I'm sorry,” he chokes into her hair.

She shakes her head. “Not your fault,” she insists. “It's not.”

He's nearly sobbing, his shoulders shaking, clutching her hard over the center console. She strokes the back of his head again and again, shushes him gently, crying herself. “It's going to be okay,” she says determinedly, like she's reassuring herself as well as him. “We're going to find him, and it's going to be okay. He's so big, Mulder, you won't believe it. He missed you so much.”

---

They eventually get upstairs. Scully retrieves her passport and begins to pack a small bag. She wants to take some things of William's, she says—the bunny on her dresser, a few of his favorite toys and pacifiers, some of the pictures of the fridge. She tucks the one of the three of them that Maggie took, a few nights after William was born, into her wallet. Mulder picks through various things in her apartment, asking her if she wants to keep them. She packs two suitcases quickly, one for each of them to carry, even if Mulder doesn't have anything. And then her phone rings on the dresser.

“Will you get that?” Scully asks softly, folding a shirt. “It might be Monica or the Gunmen with news.”

Mulder goes over to the dresser and picks up, says, “Dana Scully's phone.”

“Who is this?” demands an unfamiliar voice on the other end. “Is this Fox Mulder?”

Mulder freezes, uncomfortable, his hand clenching around the phone. “Who is this ?” he asks gingerly, motioning Scully over and putting the phone on speaker.

“This is Fox Mulder, isn't it,” says the man on the other end. “The boy’s father.”

Mulder's throat goes dry with horror, unable to speak. Scully snatches the phone from Mulder furiously, bites out, “This is Agent Scully. What do you know about our son? Do you have him?”

“Agent Scully, I want you to listen carefully. You and Mr. Mulder. You want to see your son? The two of you come alone, and you both follow my instructions to the letter.”

 Scully's face contorts with horror, worry at his words. She looks over at Mulder, who nods. Normally, as a former FBI agent, he might advise against negotiating, especially since they have a location, but he is not an FBI agent. He is a father. “All right,” Scully says softly. “What do we need to do?”

---

They're supposed to meet with the man, Josepho or whatever, at a diner in Calgary the next day. He won't tell them what they need to negotiate for William, but Scully has a sneaking suspicion of what it is he wants. And she isn't going to bet on a negotiation. Neither of them are. As soon as they hang up, they agree they need to make a plan.

They call the Gunmen on the way to the airport and ask for their help. The guys agree immediately, decide to fly out of DC and meet them in Calgary.

On the drive to the airport, Mulder is largely quiet, driving with steady hands. Scully wipes her eyes, but they are already dry. They have been dry for hours.

“Mulder,” she says suddenly, as they pass into Pennsylvania. “I think we need to talk.”

He grunts, somewhat non-committally. “What is it?”

“I just…” She takes a deep breath, bearing her nails into her knee. “All I can think of Josepho wanting in exchange for William… is you. Especially now that he knows you're alive.” This is her fault, she shouldn't have let him answer the damn phone.

Mulder chews the inside of his cheek uncomfortably, like he doesn't appreciate the reminder. “That… might not be the case,” he says slowly.

“How could it not?” she asks, hating herself for bringing it up. But she can't, she can't risk the idea that Mulder will try to sacrifice himself for William. She can't risk losing them both. And she can't fathom a cult that—supposedly, if Comer was telling the truth—took her son to protect him being willing to give him back to her. Their plan, to track whoever comes to meet them if they don't have William with them, is a long shot, but it's their best shot. She won't lose Mulder, too. “Mulder, Comer plainly said that they wanted William to destroy the world, and they believe that you have to… die…” Her voice breaks off. “What else could they want?” she whispers.

“They… they could bring William with them,” Mulder says softly. “We could get him back right away.” But there's a tremble in his voice that gives him away: he's already thought about this. He might already have a plan.

“Please, Mulder,” says Scully, nearly begging. “I… I don't want you to sacrifice yourself. I don't think that's the way to solve this, I…” She breaks off, a tear rolling down her face. She can't stand this, the idea of losing either of them, of losing both of them.

Mulder reaches for her hand and squeezes it tightly. She sniffles. She has cried so much over these past few days and she hates it. She just wants her son back.

“What if…” Mulder squeezes her hand gently, carefully. “What if that's the only way to save our son? What if I don't have another choice?”

“What if it were me?” she demands angrily, because she knows he would be furious if she tried to sacrifice herself. “What if it were me they wanted dead? Would you be okay with me sacrificing myself?”

Mulder’s face goes completely white, his fingers tightening around the wheel. “That… I wouldn't let it come to that,” he says in a strangled voice.

She'd sacrifice herself in a second if it meant William and Mulder were both safe. She wouldn't think twice. She'd beg them to take her instead. And she knows Mulder is the same way, if not more so; he has a martyr complex that runs deep. Which is what scares her. It absolutely terrifies her.

Is it horrible that she doesn't want her son back enough to sacrifice Mulder? Probably. She is a terrible mother. But she can't lose him, not again. She can't lose either of them. She hates this, more than anything. She wants to scream.

Mulder squeezes her hand again. “Scully, it's okay,” he says softly. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. We have another plan, and it'll work. You don't need to worry about this.”

What if it doesn't? Scully thinks absently. She can't imagine if it doesn't. She's spent over a day without her son and she feels like she is going insane.

“Okay,” she says softly.

They drive silently the rest of the way to the airport.

On the plane to Canada, Mulder sleeps, his head nestled against her shoulder. For a half-second, it almost feels like old times. Scully is so happy to have him back, even in the wake of all these terrible things. She's been so lonely.  

She spares a moment on the plane to pray: for herself, for Mulder, for William. That everything will be okay, that they can get him back safely. That whatever their new life is—hiding out in Canada, going back home to DC—it will be good.

And then she goes to sleep herself, leaning heavily against Mulder.

---

She dreams about William again, in the arms of strangers. Anger rises up inside her when she sees them, these people who took her son away. William is crying, wailing, and the woman who is holding him makes no attempts to soothe him. The anger only grows, but Scully forces herself to hold back. Reminds herself that it's only a dream again and again as she draws closer to the woman, who makes no indication that she sees Scully. Scully reaches out to touch William, gingerly, and is surprised to find that she can. So she does: a fingertip along his chubby arm, her hand stroking the side of his soft cheek. William keeps wailing, so she soothes him in a voice she doesn't know if he can hear. She whispers to him that it's okay. She tells him that she is coming, that his daddy is coming, that they're going to take him away from here. She promises him. She wants to pick him up and run, but she knows that's not possible. She hums to him in a low voice. And slowly, William stops crying. He blinks up at her with big, dark eyes and Scully shushes him again. It should be impossible that he can hear her, she thinks, that he can feel her, but then again, it is a dream.

When the lights in the plane come on, Scully wakes up to find that there are cold tears on her face. A few aisles back, a baby is crying.

She wipes her face and looks down at Canada, the little buildings below them. She starts to pray again.

---

They go to the diner that Josepho directed them to, nodding at the Gunmen where they are hunkered down in a rental van. They sit inside and wait for what seems like forever. Hours. Mulder’s knee jiggles under the table and Scully steadies him with her hand. They're both wired, nervous, fidgety. Both exhausted and angry and vengeful.

Mulder can't stop considering what Comer said. What Josepho said. What it will come down to, in the end. He can't sacrifice himself because he can't do that to Scully, but what if. What if it's the only way?

He can't stop picturing his son, the baby he held in his arms all those months ago. Never getting to see him again. What it will do to Scully. Losing Emily was bad enough; losing William will kill her. And he… he can't imagine losing someone else, either. Not Scully or William or anyone else, not after he lost the rest of his family. He can't let them kill William. He'll do anything to prevent that. Anything to keep William and Scully safe.

Finally, a man with a menacing look on his face enters the diner, approaches and sits down across from them. Nobody says anything for a few beats. Scully is breathing uneasily, like she's going to cry again; Mulder's hands are balled into fists below the table. He wants to kill this man. He'd like nothing more.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” says the man—Josepho, the voice on the phone, Mulder recognizes it. “But I had to make sure you were alone. I only wish to protect the boy from those who'd harm him. He's a very special boy.

“We came here to take him back,” says Scully.

Mulder’s hands uncurl under the table and he touches Scully's knee briefly, gently. An attempt at reassurance.

Josepho is babbling, some cryptic shit. "’Behold, a whirlwind came out of the north and a brightness was about it. And out of the midst came the likeness of four living creatures. And they had the likeness of a man.’ That's the bible. Did you know it?”

“Do me a favor and cut the religious crap, okay?” Mulder snaps. His patience has been more than pushed to the limit. “You told us we could see our son. It's time to deliver.”

Josepho looks right at him, as if calculating, and Scully's hand comes down on his, either in a “hold back” signal or a protective manner. “So you're Fox Mulder,” he says, calculating. “You don't look like much of a Biblical hero to me, but whatever the case, Fox Mulder… your son is very special indeed. And your presence here is only holding him back.”

“We want to see our son,” Scully bites out, furious and holding it back.

“You struggle to believe,” says Josepho. “It's so incredible but your son will lead this alien race. He was put here to lead. And he can only do this if his father dies.”

“Think again,” Scully hisses, tightening her hand on his. Mulder strokes her knee with one finger, attempting to slow his own breathing. Josepho wants him dead, and that may be the only way to save William. It may be the only way. If he has a chance to save William, then who is he to deny it? Even if he doesn't want to die, doesn't want to leave his family.

“I'll bring you to him, to see your son,” Josepho says, as if generous. “But the both of you must be willing. You—” He points at Mulder. “—to die for the sake of the greater good. And you, to let him. To let your husband die so that your son can fulfill his true destiny.”

“Go to hell ,” Scully hisses. “You told us we could see our son. You lied.

“I did no such thing,” Josepho says insistently. “I told you that you could see him if you followed my instructions. These are my instructions. Give your husband over, and the boy is yours.”

Scully opens her mouth again, but Mulder beats her to it. “So you're telling us…” he says slowly, tumultuously, “that if I give myself over… I give my life for William’s… that Scully can have him back. You won't interfere.”

Josepho shrugs.

Scully is staring at him incredulously; she snatches her hand away from his under the table. He takes his hand away from her knee, swallowing laboriously; he knows he is hurting her, but he can't risk it. Can't risk William.

“Are you willing?” Josepho asks. “Are you willing to give his son over to his true purpose?”

“No,” Scully says, so softly it's almost inaudible. “Mulder, no.”

He knows he shouldn't look at her, knows that it'll be enough to change his mind, but he does. He looks and he sees the anguish layered underneath her fear for William. The pleading. She's trying to hide it all from Josepho, but it's there. He remembers, in a split second, that she has already buried him; he realizes that if something goes wrong, that she will have no one left, not him or William. And he can't do that to her. He can't leave her again.

He looks away, takes a deep breath before answering. He bluffs, the only thing he can do to ensure that William isn't lost forever if this plan doesn't work. “I need to know that William is alive, and I need to make sure he and Scully are safe,” he says in a tight, angry voice. “You bring William here, whole and unharmed, and I'll go with you. Willingly. You have my word.”

Scully makes an inaudible, hurt sound; he reaches for her hand to reassure her that this is only a precaution, a back-up plan in case what Frohike is putting together doesn't work. Her fingers are stiff in his, almost angry; he squeezes her hand in reassurance.

Josepho looks between them cautiously, as if he's expecting one of them to go back on it. “Tomorrow,” he says finally. “Here, at breakfast. No arguments. You'll remember I have the upper hand here. Someone needs to die.”

Scully makes the sound again, terrified and vulnerable, and Mulder grits his teeth to hold back a flinch. “Fine,” he says tightly.

Josepho gets up and leaves, without another word.

Scully turns on him, as if to argue, to protest, but they don't have time. Mulder reaches into her pocket and takes the phone, presses the button to call Byers. “You ready?” he asks softly, watching Josepho walk to his truck.

“Getting there, Mulder,” he says on the other end.

Josepho starts his truck and begins to move. Mulder hears Frohike on the other end: “His car is wired.”

“That our cue, Byers?” Mulder asks.

“Yep. Go on!”

Mulder brushes his fingers over Scully's shoulder, putting the phone down. “Scully, I know you're upset with me, and you have every right to be, but we need to take the opportunity now if we don't want to go through with tomorrow,” he says. She looks up at him, fury clear in her eyes, nods tightly. They clamber out of the booth and towards the door.

“I'll drive,” Scully says as they go. “You stay on the phone with Byers.”

Mulder climbs into the passenger seat, bringing the phone up to his ears. “How subtle were you, boys?” he asks irritably as Scully turns the car on and puts it into reverse. “Any experienced kidnapper would know to look for people following him.”

“Did he seem suspicious?” Langly retorts on the other end.

“I was careful, Mulder, believe me,” Frohike throws in. Byers must've put it on speakerphone. “I did my part. You two have to make sure he doesn't see you.”

Scully flips the headlights off with a jerk of her wrist. “Stop fucking arguing and focus,” she snaps at him. “Would you tell me which way to turn?”

“Right,” Byers supplies calmly.

“Right,” Mulder repeats, but she's already turning, at a break-neck speed he'd normally hate, but that he appreciates considering the circumstances.

They drive for a moment, barreling down the dusty road, before Byers adds, “He's about a mile up, turning off of the highway.”

“Byers says he turned off the highway a mile from here,” Mulder says to Scully.

“What about these hills? Are we going to lose him in these hills?” Scully asks.

Mulder repeats the question to the Gunmen. “How are we in terrain?” Frohike asks.

“That transponder will track this guy driving under water to Brazil,” Langly says.

“Fantastic,” Mulder replies with a bitter sort of dryness, but just then he hears Byers’s pointed, “Langly!” and a beeping sound on the other end.

“What just happened?” Mulder demands worriedly. Scully looks towards him in a panic.

There are a few pounding sounds on the other end that emit frustration. “There's a turn coming up here,” Scully says. “Mulder…”

Mulder sighs heavily. “We're at a turn. Is this the right…”

“Uh… yeah, sure. Turn,” Frohike says uncertainly.

“Turn,” Mulder relays, and Scully turns. “The uncertainty is not helping, Frohike,” he says into the phone.

“Mulder, what's going on?” Scully asks.

He sighs, rubbing at his eyes as he moves the phone away from his ear. “They lost the damn signal.”

“Well, they have to get it back!” Scully says insistently.

“Piece of crap!” Langly says frustratedly on the other end. Mulder groans. If this doesn't work, then he's going to have to give himself over to the cult tomorrow. Scully will be furious. He wants his son back, and he wants to be alive to see him grow up.

“We're working on it, Mulder,” Byers says.

“Work faster,” Mulder snaps, drumming his fingers on the dashboard.

Nothing comes from the Gunmen for several minutes. Mulder and Scully drive in a tense silence, Scully running into a field because they run out of road. But there is no sign of Josepho, or of his truck.

Mulder swears under his breath as Scully rolls to a stop. “We lost him,” he says with disgust into the phone, just as Scully climbs out of the car as if she hasn't heard him. And then he sees a mass in the distance. A large white mass, like a tent. “I'll call you guys back,” he says, hanging up and dropping the phone in the seat.

He gets out of the car just in time to hear Scully call out, “William?” in a frightened, vulnerable voice.

“Scully…” he says in a low voice, as if to stop her, but her eyes are glued to the tent. She calls out for their son again and takes off at a run. His heart thudding with adrenaline and worry, Mulder takes off after her, praying they're in the right place.

As they run, a small, bizarre part of Mulder thinks he can hear a baby crying.

A light comes up through the tent, like an alien abduction in reverse. The ground is rumbling. “William!” Scully shouts, and she's running faster.

Mulder’s chest burns from the exertion, but he wants his son, he wants his son to hear him, so he adds in his own voice, bellowing, “William!”

And a UFO bursts through the top, setting fire to the material, and it stops them both in their tracks.

For a second, Mulder can only watch the ship fly away. Please, he thinks absently, his stomach churning, please don't take my son.

And then the tent collapses in on itself, the burning tent, Scully is whispering, “No,” with horror, and Mulder understands: William isn't on the ship, he's… he's…

The tent is a burning shell now, blackened, and all Mulder can do is run towards it and pray. He can't breathe and he never prays unless it is important, but goddamnit, he is praying now. They reach the edge of the dirt ditch that the UFO rose out of and Scully is speechless, she is picking her way through blackened corpses. It's Ruskin Dam all over again, unidentifiable burn victims with someone Mulder loves in there with them, and he is going to throw up. He's too late, he's always too late. He should've fucking gone with Josepho. William, he thinks desperate, pleadingly. Oh, god, William, I'm so sorry.

“Oh my god,” Scully whispers and she's moving closer to the edge, she's getting closer and she's going to see…

Mulder grabs her arm. “Scully,” he whispers, and he's crying, the tears are dripping down his face. She looks on the verge of tears herself, oh god, Scully. “Scully, don't…”

And they both hear it at the same time: the piercing sound of a baby's cry. Scully looks at him, moves towards the sound instinctually. “Oh my…” she whispers under her breath. “William?”

They move together, picking their way down the craggly slope, to the baby lying on the ground, the baby who is perfectly fine, kicking at his blankets without a scratch on him, and Scully is gasping, running straight for him, and it's his son, it's William, right there, right…

Scully is scooping him up, crying herself, and she's holding him close, kissing his head again and again as she cries with relief. Mulder is frozen. He doesn't know what to do. William's head is against Scully's shoulder as he wails, angrily, and he looks just like the pictures, just like the strange dreams Mulder has been having, and Mulder can't believe it, he can't…

“Mulder,” Scully says, turning to him, her chin trembling as she cries, but she is smiling… “Mulder, he's okay. It's William . He's…” She lifts the baby and hands him to Mulder. Mulder’s hands are shaking but he wraps his arms around his son, solid and real and warm, one hand to support him and another to tentatively cup his head, and Scully's hand is still on William's back as she leans into them both, sobbing. Mulder is holding his son and he's not dead. He's not dead. He hasn't lost him.

“William,” he whispers, his voice cracking, and he is sobbing, too. “Oh my god, William.” He kisses his son's forehead, swaying back and forth in place and his son wails and the three of them stand together in the burning ruins.

---

Scully won't let go of the baby.

They don't have a car seat, so she cradles William in her arms in the backseat, puts the seatbelt around both of them and holds on while Mulder drives to the nearest hotel carefully, her hand covering his head protectively. She insists on going into the hotel—”In case someone's still looking for you two,” she says in a shell-shocked voice, touching the inside of Mulder's wrist in a possessive sort of way—so she hands William to Mulder. William wedges his thumb in his mouth and rests his cheek against Mulder's chest, his feet with their tiny socks against his ribs. Mulder holds him close, rocks his son back and forth. He's so big and yet so small, and Mulder will protect him with his life. William curls a hand around the hem of Mulder's shirt and holds on tight; a tear drips down Mulder's nose, and he kisses the top of Will’s head. “I love you, buddy,” he whispers. William mutters some nonsense words around his thumb. They rock together in the car.

Scully takes the baby back in the hotel room and the two of them crawl onto the bed, Scully half on top of Mulder, William smushed between them. William gurgles in a happy sort of way, like he's already forgotten everything that happened to him, like he's just happy to be with his parents. He doesn't seem to be averted to Mulder at all; Mulder thinks it must be impossible that William actually recognizes him, so he's guessing it's because he's not a hostile kidnapper. Either way, he's grateful. More than grateful.

William crawls onto Mulder’s chest and mouths at Scully's hair; Scully's brow furrows as if remembering something, and she kisses William's head and balances him better on top of Mulder before climbing off of the bed. She retrieves the bunny from her suitcase and brings it to William, who drags it over by its ear and begins to suck on one. Scully laughs softly, nestles her head against Mulder’s shoulder and cups William's tiny foot in one hand.

Mulder’s hand is against William's tiny back, his heart thudding so hard he can feel it everywhere. He's missed so much. He can't believe it.

“I'm so glad he's okay,” Scully whispers. “I was so scared, Mulder…”

“I know.” He kisses her hair, tears pooling in his eyes. “I was, too.”

It feels impossible, with William lying on his chest, chewing on the ear of a stuffed bunny without a mark on him, that anyone could ever try to hurt him. Scully tickles his stomach a little and William giggles. Scully laughs again, wetly, and buries her face against his neck. “You weren't really… you weren't really going to… let them kill you, were you?” she whispers.

“I'm sorry about that, Scully,” he whispers, wrapping a free arm around her and tugging her close. She sniffles, stroking her thumb across the top of William's little foot. His feet are so tiny, Mulder thinks, and his throat is suddenly thick with tears. “I'm sorry, Scully, I just… I didn't want them to hurt him,” he says, voice cracking. “And I didn't want to leave you again, but… I didn't want them to hurt him…” And he's crying again, he can't help it. Scully kisses his temple gently, mumbles, “It's okay,” into his hair, and they're both crying again, and their son is right here.

William seems to be tired; as Scully hauls him back into her arms, he lies his cheek flat against her chest, his eyes half-closed. Mulder kisses the top of his son's head again before wrapping his arms around the both of them. “I can't believe everything I missed,” he whispers. “Scully… I never should've left. Look what happens when I leave.”

“Not your fault,” Scully says sleepily but firmly, her cheek pressed to the pillow, burrowing against him. William yawns a little, sucking on his thumb again; the bunny slips out of his hand and down to the mattress. Mulder pulls the covers up and around them. “And you're here now,” Scully murmurs. “Will’s here. That's all that matters. You're both safe. ” She tightens her arms around William, snuggles harder against him. “And we're going to be together,” she says firmly.

“Ah-guh,” William says sleepily from between them, as if agreeing.

Mulder laughs a little, strokes the top of his son’s head. “And what are we gonna do now?” he whispers. “Go back home? Disappear together? Do you think it's still dangerous for us to…”

“I don't know,” Scully says. Her eyes are closed, her voice groggy, and her son is half-asleep in her arms. Mulder strokes a finger down William's cheek and he mutters some nonsense words that sound grouchy; it reminds him so much of Scully he wants to laugh. “But whatever happens, we'll be together,” she tells him sternly, tiredly. “That's what matters. We're together.”

Fatigue hits Mulder in a rush—even now, with his partner and his son in his arms. He's finally found someone, he's finally saved someone. He cups his son's head in one hand, lays his head down on the pillow and lets his eyes fall shut to the sound of Scully and William's steady breathing. “We're together,” he agrees. That's what matters. That's it.