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This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Iolokus with MustangSally Series

The saga that began in Iolokus ends not with a bang but with a whimper. Mulder and Scully are involved in possibly the largest battle of their lives – fighting the unknown minions of the Project in family court for custody of their genetically engineered daughter Miranda.

We’re proud to point out that the final part of the Iolokus stories is the longest, in an attempt to wind everything up as neatly as possible. Long yes, but still shorter than Oklahoma, and, really, a bit less vomiting proportionally. Size does matter.

Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

Warren Zevon


1/

 

maybe i'm a little old-fashioned, maybe you're a little unkind maybe i'm a little impatient, we'll concede that in mind you won't give me your number, you won't give me your time you said meet me on the corner, and there's still no sign maybe i'm a little outdated, maybe a little out of time to believe your heart is in the right place despite what you're doing to mine so i'm standing on the corner, looking like i don't care d'you wanna crucify my feelings with your fingernails and leave the loneliest boy in the western world cruising the streets for an ice cream girl Lloyd Cole

"Scully, marry me."

"No!"

I continued mixing the spackle with short, violent strokes.

"It *has* to improve our chances of keeping custody of Miranda," he protested.

"You're such a romantic, Mulder."

"If I got down on my knees there's a good possibility that I might not get up again," he said in a voice of unsweetened iced tea.

This much was true, barely three weeks after his twin brother George had gone to that great cellblock in the sky, Mulder was still spotted with bruises and a necklace of scabbing around his throat from George's attempt to switch identities. He was still hampered somewhat by his hurts and it was going to be months before he stopped looking like Clint Eastwood in 'Hang 'em High'. For me, with the splint gone from my nose and the black eyes fading, I looked almost normal. Regardless, I was starting to wonder if the duel with evil brother George hadn't caused brain damage to at least one of us.

I took the container of spackle and headed to the top of the ladder, which wobbled nervously underneath me. I got a small putty knife and started filling in the uppermost grouping of bullet holes. Sitting on the re-upholstered sofa by the window, Mulder fidgeted in blatant impatience.

"It has to be soon, the court date is next Monday." I'd cleaned up most of the debris from the siege, re- painted the kitchen and had the sofa re-upholstered in preparation for the next round of abuse. Now I was working on the walls of the living room. The house was, more or less, starting to look like George had never darkened the doorstep. If I could figure out how to get the bloodstains out of the carpet I'd be a happy woman. Maybe I should just pull up the carpet and sand the floor down. Maybe I should just pull up the carpet, crawl underneath and pull the carpet over me with strict instructions not to wake me until the war was over. Bad idea- either the kid or the cat was likely to pee on me.

"I think we ought to get a real lawyer before any of this goes any farther," I said. Mulder's general- purpose lawyers had convinced the judge not to take Miranda away pending a full trial, but the trial was approaching and we still hadn't gotten a custody expert, which made me nervous as even Atticus Finch might have had some difficulty convincing a court that we were stable parents.

A pained squawk broke the conversation in two as Catzilla stalked into the living room wearing a tense expression and ruffled fur. A moment later, Miranda crawled in like a small pink Humvee, a telltale tuft of black fur sticking to her lower lip. She was crawling now. Her single incentive to become mobile was the leggy teenaged cat that she delighted in chasing. Catzilla had a bad habit of letting the baby corner him and then practicing nonviolence. Miranda let out a gleeful shriek and lunged for the cat again. Mulder caught her before pink hands made contact with black fur and scooped her up.

"No. Don't bite the kitty," he warned her.

Looking up at her Daddy, Miranda went round-eyed and innocent for about two seconds, then she wriggled and reached for the cat again. With injured dignity, Catzilla began to clean his back toes.

"Cat-cat-cat-cat-CAT!" she demanded and kicked her feet against Mulder's chest.

"I said 'NO,'" he repeated.

She set up a fretful wailing until hot tears ran down her madly red face and she sobbed like Susan Lucci. Which made me wonder exactly at what age the female brain realizes that the easiest way to manipulate a man is with tears. But give Mulder credit, he just gave her a squeeze and wiped the tears off her face before handing her a black cat beanie baby as a substitute. The toy wasn't a fair trade and she threw it to the floor with a snarl of frustration. She was stoking herself up into a full- fledged temper tantrum and I briefly wondered if maybe we should just let Bill and Tara have the full Miranda experience for a week or two and see if they didn't send her back in a FedEx box with air holes punched in it.

As the tsunami of infantile rage built force, Mulder plunked her in the playpen where she stood upright, grabbed the bars and began to shake them like a rebellious inmate at Sing Sing.

"Cat-cat-cat-cat-cat!" she howled.

"You know if you would just *bite* her a couple of times we wouldn't have this problem," he scolded Catzilla over the noise.

For his part, Catzilla blinked green-gold eyes at Mulder and went over to the playpen where be began to rub his lips over Miranda's knuckles. As quickly as she had become furious, she went into an ecstasy of cooing and babbling in fluid Gaelic to her feline companion, who made soft throat-noises at her.

"Scully, this is Virginia, conservative, marriage- friendly Virginia." Mulder said as if we'd never been interrupted.

"Isn't Virginia for lovers?" For some reason, the recitation of the official state slogan didn't make him happy.

"*Scully*. Virginia nearly elected Oliver North to the U.S. Senate because Chuck Robb got head from a beauty queen. Virginia does not look kindly on unconventional family units! You want to be in there as a live-in couple with Bill and Tara holding hands, him in his Navy uniform and her cradling that kid of theirs? They're the Cleavers, we're the Addams Family!"

"We're not living together."

He howled frustration. Miranda thought that was wonderful and urged him to do it again, patting her hands on the playpen cushion and giggling. Catzilla flattened his ears and ran for cover under the sofa.

"Will you stop avoiding the issue for *just one minute*? I'm not asking you for anything except the purely legal act. I've given up on the idea of a family, I'll settle for a Potemkin Village to fool the court."

I shook my head. Did he even consider the possibility that he'd just explained why I didn't want to say yes?

I cast an eye around the room, looking for work that remained to be done. Nothing but the bloodstained carpet; no escape.

Getting married certainly couldn't hurt our chances of keeping Miranda. And that, despite all the other shit swirling around me as my life went down the toilet, was something I was finally certain about. If I said no and we lost, I'd be irrevocably alone. He only tolerated me now because Miranda seemed to like having me around. Well, that and the prospect of regular sex when he got slightly more healed.

"Fine."

"What?" Mulder practically levitated away from the playpen and over to me.

"I'm sorry, was I supposed to keep saying no?"

As Hamlet or Oedipus said, 'it seemed like a good idea at the time'.

****

Between her home improvement projects and wandering around the house looking like a camel with a sore hump, Scully somehow made the time to accompany the Mooselet and me to City Hall and start the paperwork necessary for the marriage. I guess it would have been too much for her to feign enthusiasm. So, between the applications for variances in zoning, building permits and dog licenses, we filled out the papers and took turns supporting the Mooselet as she sat on the counter. Miranda was holding the chained pen in one fat fist and pontificating in MooseSpeak to anyone foolish enough to talk to her. The only positive event in the entire expedition was watching Scully try to take the pen away from her. Her Highness was NOT AMUSED and snapped at Scully like a turtle and growled. After a short gasp of surprise, Scully snatched the pen away from Miranda and ended up getting a ruby-faced wail in return. The clerks behind the counter looked up to see what abuse the woman was inflicting on the adorable baby and Scully went almost as red as her hair.

In the end, I rescued my intended from the baby of evil and plopped Miranda against my hip, handing her the black cat beanie baby that was now missing its eyes and whiskers for some reason. While the Mooselet sang to the toy and batted her eyelashes at the clerks, Scully scrawled her name at the bottom of the application with the enthusiasm of a woman signing her own writ of execution. I guess I should have been insulted, but truth to be told, I was so endlessly grateful for her willingness to go along with the charade that I couldn't even work up the mischief to tease her about it.

The late spring sky was overcast when we finally left City Hall and wandered down the street a bit for coffee. Scully had the Mooselet supported against her hip and was looking more comfortable with her human burden than she usually did. Was it at all possible that the Mooselet had managed to insinuate herself into the heart of the Queen of Rational Thought in a way that I never had? Then again, Her Highness was several points higher on the cute scale than I was.

Sitting at the outdoor table with the Mooselet perched on the table, I waited for Scully to come back with the coffees.

"Dak? Cat-Cat? Da Lee? Nah?" Miranda asked.

"Well," I started and the Mooselet looked up at me with great seriousness, "Scully and I are going to get married and that will make her officially your mom. This means that you have to treat her nice. No biting."

The Mooselet smiled and flashed her white baby corn kernel teeth at me.

"I'm serious. No biting."

"Na. Dak. Da. Lee," she reassured me and stuffed the entire head of the cat into her mouth.

I knew it was just the teething, but with my family you really had to wonder.

With a coffee in each hand and a bottle of juice balanced precariously on top, Scully returned to the table and handed me my cup.

"What are we going to do about rings? We have to have rings."

That's my Scully, as sentimental as a traffic cop.

"Somehow I don't see you with the traditional diamond solitaire."

I smiled to reassure her that I was joking.

"But diamonds are a girl's best friend," she said in something like her old manner.

The Mooselet was snapping her head to each of us in turn like she had great seats at Wimbledon. I uncapped the apple juice and held the bottle to her mouth. She gulped greedily at it and only a small portion of the juice went down my arm. Across the table, Scully blinked in disgust. This was probably her discomfort with the Mooselet from the beginning – babies are not clean. Maybe somethinng in the essential human character had been missed from the very beginning – women may allegedly be more nurturing, but men understand a baby's inherent messiness. After all, we're just big babies ourselves. We grok having food on our shirts, eating things that have fallen on the floor, and lounging around in our underwear. It's our way.

Whining, the Mooselet grabbed at the juice bottle and managed to spill a half a cup down the front of her shirt. Scully hadn't gotten enough napkins so I made do with the adult-oriented modest amount and sponged the juice off the baby. Miranda giggled and pulled at my watchband. To keep her happy, I unbuckled my watch and handed it to her. Like most things, it went straight in her oral orifice. I wasn't worried. Swiss Army watches are supposed to withstand amazing amounts of abuse, even though baby drool had not been listed on the brochure.

"Well, look at it this way, not much will change once we're married, we've been spending close to 24/7 with each other for the past six years. You'll actually spend less time with me because we won't be working together."

"I won't be working very much right now anyway. Skinner won't let me come back until the official account of George's home invasion has been approved," she said and sipped delicately at her coffee as though she was trying to prove that she wasn't the sloppy one in this outfit.

"There's landscaping to be done," I teased and drank my now cold coffee, "and if you decided that you don't want to work for the Bureau anymore, I think you have a bright future doing home repair."

"You realize, of course, that there's endless amounts of paperwork we're going to have to do at HR. Change of tax status, life insurance policies, and so forth. This is a fairly bureaucratic enterprise we're entering into."

"I suppose, " I started, stung by her analytical approach, "it doesn't seem that much of a chore when you're in love."

"I –" The man who approached us cut her off, an interruption for which I was momentarily grateful. He was in his early thirties, dark hair, dark clothes tucked and belted with a neatness that screamed 'cop.'

"Excuse me, sir, ma'am," he said, "but I'm going to have to ask you to come with me." He stood between us, his right hand not six inches from Miranda's head.

"What's this about?" Scully asked.

"Child protective services has received a report –" That was bullshit, if Bill had sicced CPS on us they never would have found us in the middle of the city, they would have come to the house.

"I'd like to see some identification, please." Scully stood and had her gun at his stomach in one unified move, smooth as chocolate mousse. His attention shifted mostly to her, which gave me the opportunity to pull my own Sig, hidden behind Miranda's body.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, ma'am," he smiled and how could the people around us not be noticing this? I was aware of the rest of the world trotting along briskly as if this deadly scene were playing on the TV in an electronics store window, unnoticed. In his right hand I could now discern an item that looked like a keychain but had the telltale holes of a miniature gun. Miranda twisted her head to see what had taken my attention from her and made a grab for the weapon; when her pincers closed around it the man smiled. "That's right, honey, you can play with that in a minute."

Adrenaline spiked through my veins as he stared at Scully. "Bend down and leave the gun on the ground." If I could push Miranda behind me and fire fast enough — the bullet might still pass through me and hit her.

Flicking her eyes over me and the baby like a lawnmower massacring grass, Scully slowly complied.

There would be one moment when he'd have to watch her carefully to make sure she didn't surge back up with the gun. If I could push his hand up just then, I could take him — it would have to be with my gun hand, I couldn't let Miranda crack her head open on the concrete to save her from kidnapping.

Slow as a replay of the Zapruder tape, Scully compressed herself downwards. Even I could feel the magnetic pull of her eyes as she willed the man to watch her, only her, she was the only threat that he had to worry about and if he took a fraction of his attention from her she might do something dangerous.

The tip of the gun barrel touched hot concrete. She was bending as if in fealty. I distinctly saw her index finger uncurl, and then the other fingers beginning to loosen. The man with the gun turned one degree too far towards her, overestimating his triumph.

As I rose, spun to take Miranda away from the line of fire, and struck upwards with my free hand, Scully moved at my feet. I felt a shock to the bones of my hand as my knuckles connected with the gunman's wrist.

His hand flew up like a bottle rocket, not releasing his grip on his weapon, but he was falling backwards and Scully had her gun again pointed his throat before he'd figured out that he had undergone a ninety degree shift of orientation. When I'd moved, she'd headbutted him. It was the simplest thing she could do from that position, and coupled with my attack he'd toppled like a stack of children's blocks.

Elapsed time? Probably less than two minutes from the time he first opened his mouth.

Scully already had him flipped on his stomach, hands wrenched behind his back. She was mumbling something about big guys who threaten babies and inflicting incidental damage to his balls as she patted him down. Miranda was now squealing because of her sudden trip on Roller Coaster Mulder, and *that* was enough to draw the attention of bystanders. Who noticed the guns. Cursing and fumbling with my gun, I found my badge and showed it around. "Don't worry, folks, it's all over now."

This only increased the crowds.

Even on regular duty, we don't carry handcuffs and we had to wait for a police officer to come and take our attacker, who had not yet said a word even as Scully hissed imprecations and highly specific threats in his now-bleeding and dirty ear. I would have joined her in her impromptu interrogation session only Miranda was bored and fussy and in any event I needed to maintain my sentry position to ensure that our assailant didn't have a friend waiting for a second chance.

We gave our version of the incident to an uninterested detective who, despite our strong suggestions to the contrary, wrote it up as an attempted kidnapping by a sex pervert. Our FBI credentials had been completely erased by our relationship to Miranda, who demanded to examine absolutely everything on the detective's desk, which included half-full cups of congealed coffee, empty bags of Cheetos, dull pencils, small butterfly clips, and the remains of an apricot danish. I tried to calm her with the cat toy, but her slobber had not yet dried on it and it was too wet and mushy for her tastes.

Scully was quiet on the drive back to the house and the Mooselet was complaining in fine voice about the fact that residential neighborhoods had a speed limit of only twenty-five. Scully being quiet is not a good thing, it means that packets of information are speeding along the network in the icy reaches of her brain and she's working on some plan that is sure to leave me open-mouthed with shock and/or horror. I didn't imagine for a minute that anything approaching domesticity was going to slow her thought processes down, nor did I think that cohabitation was suddenly going to turn her into Carol Brady (even though bell-bottoms had come back with a vengeance). However, I did hope that she wasn't planning anything that would endanger anyone's life or sanity. Even as I schlepped the Mooselet into the house and plunked her down in her high chair for lunch, Scully took the chicken salad out of the refrigerator with a pensive expression and continued to compile information while I performed the tricky task of feeding the Mooselet and myself.

"I have to go to Annapolis to get some more of my things."

I looked up from where I was wiping Moose-spit chicken salad off the floor. It seemed a small thing, but knowing Scully there was large wildlife swimming under the surface of that statement. Large wildlife with teeth willing to chew up foxes who stepped wrong.

The Mooselet grabbed a handful of chicken salad from her plate and began to rub it in her fringe of silky dark hair. Scully looked as me as though I was about to do the same thing. Catzilla began doing the slalom around the chair legs and sucking up chunks of chicken pink baby hands had flung to the floor. I let him, it was easier than mopping. If the Mooselet developed a better overhand pitch we were going to have get more cats to cover a wider area. "Take the Outback to Annapolis, you can fit more stuff in it." I offered.

Scully seemed surprised that I was so amenable to the idea of letting her escape my supervision. Actually, getting Scully out of the house wasn't a bad idea. I needed to get in touch with the Gunmen, find out who wanted Miranda, who was pulling Bill's strings and why. The attempt on her today had to be related to Bill's custody suit; someone wasn't sure that he'd win.

I had a thought as she headed to the front door.

"Also, you have to take Miranda. I'm not going to be home, there are some *things* I have to do, and Warwick's still not fully functional. You're a better shot than he is anyway. Besides, you need the practice."

She seemed a little dazed. I guided her over to the front closet, where we stored Miranda's traveling gear. "Here's the diaper bag, traveling with her is not that bad, just a little noisy. Just be sure to drive carefully. Remember, there's a baby on board." I gave her my best hunka-hunka-burnin'-love gaze. She blushed as she used to do when I first began teasing her all those years ago, and it managed to distract her enough to get her out the door, Miranda in tow. I was impressed that she was able to stagger down the path to the station wagon.

I watched her wrestle the car door open, shove all Miranda's appurtenances inside the car, then begin the long process of getting Her Highness into her throne, which was about as easy as nailing Jell-O to a tree, only you weren't allowed to use nails.

As soon as the baby was strapped in, she began to wail. I hoped Scully didn't make the speed = silence connection too quickly, the thought of combining their needs for acceleration made me very afraid.

Then I hopped in Scully's car, nearly kneecapped myself on the steering wheel, swore, pushed the seat back, and finally headed for the Gunmen's hideout.

*****

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 2/

Sweet confetti out looking for a saviour Finding it hard to break the change Nothing ventured nothing gained Ice cream beauty acting on her best behaviour Finding it hard to bite her tongue Feeling so old as the night is young Natalie Imbruglia

Theoretically, Arlington to Annapolis is a pretty easy drive, provided that it isn't rush hour or you don't have a screaming nine-month old strapped to a baby seat in the back. Miranda commenced howling when I put her in the car seat, which rattled my nerves so badly that my hands were shaking and I could hardly get the seat pulled forward enough to reach the gas and brake pedals. Delayed reaction to the near-disaster in the afternoon — not to mention the full-fledged disaster of the marriage license — might have been a contributing factor as well.

Maybe it was the chicken salad.

Miranda continued to wail all the way to Annapolis, varying only slightly in pitch like an electric saw going through different thicknesses of wood. It was horrible, and I deserved every mile of misery. In the past I had been guilty of reacting somewhat less than tolerantly to women in minivans full of children. I passed them at every opportunity and had been pretty colorful with my language as to their behavior on the road. Now I was getting my comeuppance in spades. I drove like a dowager, trying not to jiggle Miranda any more than necessary.

By the time I finally pulled up in the far parking lot of my apartment complex, I was ready to kiss the tarmac like the Pope arriving in an airport. When I released Miranda from the baby bondage of the car seat, her hot red face was soaked with tears that had wet the entire front of her T-shirt. She reached her hands out to me and wailed, "Lee! Lee!" with a heartbreaking earnestness that showed me that she had forgiven me for her original incarceration.

With Miranda cradled against my left shoulder and the diaper bag slung over my right, hand wrapped firmly around the comforting hardness of my gun, I staggered up the front steps of the building. Inside, I pushed past the mail that had clogged the doorway and sniffed musty, old air. I locked the door, plunked Miranda down on the carpet, and saw that the cleaning woman I'd hired to clean up after the forensics teams had scraped the place for evidence when Dr. Shimada had died in my bed had done a good job. Only I no longer had any plants. I had empty pots where plants had been.

While Miranda began crawling around the floor faster than a hungry cockroach, I looked around and groaned to myself. I no longer wanted to live here, too many ugly things had happened here. Melissa, Dr. Shimada, George. Even if I didn't have my new and unusual domestic situation I still would have been packing. Too much is too much. Whoever took up occupancy after me was going to have to get her own exorcist.

After five boxes, each one-handed with the Moose (she was not light enough to deserve the diminutive any more) on my other hip, I was tuckered out. To rest, I took a look at my answering machine, which was bravely blinking red. When was the last time I checked my messages? Oh, probably sometime in the month before George crashed my pity party – I had stopped listening to my messages in March after I figured out that Mulder was not going to call me back; it was too pathetic.

Despite the length of my delinquency, the tape was not full. Well, I never claimed to have a social life. There were a few random solicitations, two messages from Zippy about the case we'd been on just before George came, one message from my mother. My mother – I was going to have to do something about her shortly. Just hearing her voice made my stomach hurt as though I were trying to digest a stone.

The next-to-last message was from George. I had to go cradle Miranda, protecting her from the world, when I heard the dead man's voice slice through the air.

"Where are you, Scully? I really need to talk to you. I promise, I'll be good…I know what you need. Scully, pick up if you're there. If you don't answer, I'm coming over…"

Finally there was a click and an outraged squeak from Miranda as I loosened my grip and she began to slide downwards like a slow avalanche of baby powder. I readjusted and she slapped spit-slick fingers against my cheek, gabbling reassurance.

I was in a bad way if I needed support from a preverbal child over the promises of a corpse.

Nonetheless it was the last message that forced me to sit down. The pharmacy, calling to ask whether I was planning to pick up the birth control prescription that Dr. Shimada had written for me just before she did her final rounds, so to speak. Honestly, I'd forgotten about it. In my arms, Miranda was hot as a solar panel.

At least I was still underweight and under stress, both natural contraceptives. I could pick up the prescription shortly; in the meantime there were still plenty of condoms in the house. Mulder, perhaps because he wasn't eighteen anymore, had felt compelled to buy a lifetime supply, which he had stuffed into bathroom drawers that previously had housed my skin care products. So using them up would not only be pleasurable, it would be a blow for neatness in the Mulder household.

Hold on, the Mulder/Scully household. Mulder- Scully? Scully/Mulder?

Does anal retentive have a hyphen?

The Mooselet chose that moment to spit a milky glob of some bodily fluid onto my sweatshirt. I looked into her green-corn eyes. "Good job," I said. "Now what can you do about my hair?"

She fixed me with an evaluative look and, creepily enough, grabbed a hunk of my hair to stuff in her mouth.

It kept her quiet as I picked up the next box.

While I was packing my address book, I accidentally joggled the answering machine and George's voice whined flatly out from beyond the veil.

"Where are you, Scully? I really need to talk to you. I promise, I'll be good…I know what you need. Scully, pick up if you're there. If you don't answer, I'm coming over…"

It was my turn to spit up, but my aim was better and I got it all in the toilet. Miranda sat on the floor next to me and applauded.

After a trip to Alexandria that resembled the trip to Annapolis, only with less rear view because of the boxes, I put Miranda down for a nap and dragged the baby monitor into the study. There I made a telephone call that almost made me wail loud enough to challenge Miranda's concert in the car.

The Virginia police had no record of an arrest that afternoon for an attempted kidnapping. It could have been delayed record entry but I remembered the diligent tap-tapping of the desk sergeant when we came in, Virginia was trying to join the computer age and enter arrest data straight into the computer system. However, this incident wasn't in the system and therefore it had not happened. I checked the name of the patrol officer who'd come to our assistance and it turned out that Virginia thought he'd transferred to a job in Maryland last week.

Great. Fucking typical. It was too much to ask that something be handled normally.

There was one more errand to be done before I could rest. I had to go and deal with my mother. Mulder was not in evidence yet and so I packed Miranda up. She was slobbery and sleepy, but in a relatively good mood which improved further when I saw that traffic was light and pushed the Outback up to speeds approaching escape velocity.

She pouted when we stopped, but the spit bubble spoiled the pathos. "None of that, young lady," I said as I extracted her from the safety seat. "You've got to be charming for Grandma."

My mother answered the door on the second ring. Behind her I could hear the television and the telltale hysterical sobs of a young child. I winced in unwilling sympathy. For a moment I wondered whether we wouldn't all be better off if babies' howls could only be heard by animals, like dog whistles.

"Dana," Mom said, making it into an exclamation of surprise.

"Hello, Mom." We'd never really finished our discussion, that morning she'd showed up and we'd gotten served with notice of the lawsuit. "I want to talk to you about Miranda."

She held out her arms for her granddaughter and I hesitated long enough for her to take notice before shuffling the burden onto her. Miranda smiled and patted Mom's upper arm. She liked my mother more than she'd liked me at first and this hurt me in ways I didn't want to consider.

We walked down the hallway into the living room, where Tara was rocking Matthew, who was now a suety eighteen-month-old with the Scully blue eyes and Bill's own frown. We acknowledged one another with the subtlest of nods, as housewife and career woman we were mortal enemies and now we no longer had any reason to hide it.

"Where's Bill?" I asked with distant politeness, as if I was inquiring about a pet parakeet.

"He went to the store for some more diapers," my mother responded. "Dana, I wish you'd have listened to me earlier, it didn't need to come to this."

"It doesn't need to come to this, Mom. Bill and Tara have a lovely child," — a lie in the service of justice, I thought nastily — "and they have no reason to try to take Miranda."

If her hands had been free, my mother would have folded them primly in her lap to go along with the frown. Instead she just rocked Miranda, lulling her to sleep with her drool drizzling onto Mom's lavender sweater. "Dana, you know we've been concerned about you ever since you joined the FBI. But in the past few years — with everything that's happened — how can you expect to give a child what she needs?"

"I'm her mother," I said. At that moment I had never felt more unsure of the truth of that statement. Biologically, yes, but there are plenty of biological mothers who dump their babies in toilets and beat them senseless with electrical cords. I wasn't at that level, this I believed, but I wasn't exactly Mother of the Year material either.

"You were her mother when you abandoned her in Montana."

I stared at my mother resentfully. If I'd still had bangs I would have looked through them like the most rebellious of teenagers. "I did not *abandon* her. Emerson and Aileen –"

"Don't give me that! Fox isn't capable of taking care of himself and I don't believe that any brother of his would be any better. Bill's told me about all those insane twins –"

"Who gave him this allegedly damning information?"

Her voice flowed over the interruption like water over a rocky streambed. "– and I can only withhold judgment so long. How long before Fox follows the rest of them into madness and violence?"

It didn't help any that I'd had similar thoughts once or twice. Or three times, max. "Your crude genetic determinism doesn't change the fact that Mulder has always been –"

"A psycho?"

I turned and rose, my hand slipping back towards my gun, to greet my beloved brother.

"Bill."

"Dana."

Now that we'd admitted personal knowledge of each other's identity, there didn't seem much to say. I had one question, though.

"Why are you doing this?"

His face twisted in disgust. "I've seen the tape, Dana."

"Tape?" Which one, a surveillance tape of me and Mulder doing the nasty? Probably not, Bill might have learned something.

"The tape where you kill all the children. What kind of monster –?"

I don't know what I did to piss God off, and I guess I'd apologize if I thought He'd consider forgiving me. Even Mulder's mistakes didn't follow him around like this. But that tape of me in Roush's secret facility, destroying the deformed test subjects that had been created with my ova, had lured Mulder — and then me — into Jason's clutches, and it had apparently survived the destruction of Roush to continue to haunt me. Someone, someone who wanted Miranda in the hands of less careful custodians, had taken that tape and showed it to Bill. I needed to know who, and why.

"I don't know what you think you saw," I lied, "but it's part of a terrible scheme involving human experimentation and tremendous suffering, you're furthering that agenda by –"

"Don't give me that Woodward and Bernstein crap! I know what you and that sicko do, you fight against the very government that pays your salary — paranoid theories no better than the Freemen and that crazy comet cult –"

"I'm not against government, just against lying to citizens and killing them for fun and profit, I guess if you're an unthinking fascist that's acceptable but –"

Miranda's wail cut through the argument and, rattled, I scooped her out of Mom's arms to my mother's great distress. Miranda continued to wail for a moment and then settled down. I was so grateful that, had she understood it, I would cheerfully have paid her a fifty dollar reward; instead I kissed her hot silky head and she snapped at my hair with her newly budded teeth.

"Who got you your lawyer, Bill? Are you aware that he's with the same firm that represented a company whose illegal genetic manipulation and murderous plots Mulder and I exposed? What does he get out of this lawsuit?"

Bill flinched and I knew that part of him wondered the same thing. But he would pack those doubts away in a locked closet, confident that he could control the extent of his debt to Them. Dealing with Them is like taking a hit of crack — perhaps a few strong souls out there can stop any time they want. But I thought Bill was not one of those happy few, not with a wife and a baby who could be used against him. My brother – the sucker.

"None of that matters because Miranda is going to live with us, not some lawyer. We'll raise her right, far away from this insanity you've descended into. Dana," he said, and his voice was full of real pain, "why don't you listen to us? We only want what's best for you." Beside him, my mother nodded.

No doubt attracted by the male voice, Miranda looked over at Bill and when she realized that the red-faced red-haired man was not Mulder and not Warwick, she whimpered and burrowed her face in my neck, patting my cheek for reassurance. She didn't like this loud man yelling at her and she went to me as a source of comfort – even if I had put her in the car seat.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," I announced, feeling my daughter's approval buoying me up in this strange sea of family trauma. "I'm sorry you've believed the lies of strangers rather than trusting me to know what's best for me and my family. You should know that the men who've convinced you to turn on me tend to discard their tools when the job is over. So you watch yourself, because I'm not going to protect you."

I turned to go, but I could still hear Bill's voice clearly. "Listen to yourself, Dana, you sound just as psychotic as your crazy partner."

That really demanded an exit line, so I swiveled on my heel and smiled like Medusa finding a new victim. "Actually, Bill, we're getting married this Friday, so I think the correct term is 'fianc‚.'"

Miranda and I drove home in a state of well-justified moral outrage and renewed determination to win the fight. Okay, so maybe she was just happy not to be in pain from teething, but I felt that she shared my outlook when she gabbled and pounded her fist on the safety seat with such authority and firmness.

She fell asleep instantly when I took her back to her room.

The bloodlust from the argument began to wear off as I realized that the battle was going to be considerably more difficult than many of our other struggles. Skinner was used to hearing reports of the unexplainable and convoluted from us, but what would a family court judge think? Bill had a point, from the outside Mulder and I sounded like the kind of people who paranoid schizophrenics would avoid because we were too strange and dangerous.

I made the mistake of mentioning some of the day's events to Warwick when I went down to look at his shoulder. Mulder and I had agreed that having a nurse come every day was too dangerous; we didn't anyone whose credentials we'd have to take on faith in the house. So that left me checking his wound to make sure that the miracle of healing was proceeding on schedule. I bet Mulder would have been a lot more interested in trusting the help if *he* was the one checking which bodily fluids Warwick was leaking.

"I can't believe you're so calm about this!" he blustered as I handed him his latest dose of pain meds. "You act like it happens every day!"

I shrugged. "Well, every week, essentially. Except during the summers, for some reason. So I guess the timing is unusual."

He groaned. "Mulder never told me about this secret agent shit when we met."

I couldn't help but smile sympathetically. "Join the club."

"What did he tell you – at first."

"Go away, but not in so many words."

To calm my nerves, I boiled a box of pasta and ate two heaping bowls full, which calmed me enough that I could start on the ice cream.

****

The Gunmen's latest locale was a few blocks from Union Station, on the other side from all the government buildings. The office was an unmarked building in between the Peter Pan and Greyhound depots. The other cars parked outside were all too bad to steal, so I set Scully's Club and hoped that would be enough.

"Mulder," Frohike greeted me at the door. "I've got some info on that law firm you were interested in."

In my life, as in the movies, no one wastes any time with hello or goodbye. You have to save time for plot or people get bored.

I followed him back into the computer room where Langly and Byers were waiting.

"Roush was about forty percent of their business. In the months since the raid in Texas, they've laid off a bunch of associates. But, last month, they acquired a major new client — also a biotech firm, and all the partners who'd worked on Roush business have shifted to this new client. Patents, political donations, government contracts, there's a lot of legal work when you manipulate human DNA for fun and profit."

"Is this new firm made of the same people who were at Roush?"

Byers handed me a printout with a list of names on it. "That was our next thought. There were about twenty scientists who were supposed to be working at Roush who were never caught or discovered in the wreckage. They've all been missing since then. No credit card activity, no employment reported to the Social Security Administration, nothing."

"I need to know more about this company."

Frohike shook his head. "Not much out there, just a pretty prospectus, and a name: BioQuest."

Langly looked at me. "What do you think it is? More government experimentation disguised as a private sector venture to accommodate the popular passion for privatization?"

I shrugged. "I'll look into it. I also need you to check out a lawyer, one my firm recommended for my custody case, Laura Broder. I need to make sure that she's not connected to anyone who might have an interest in doing me harm."

"Custody case?" It wasn't surprising that Byers was the one to ask. He wore a ring, and he might have some interest in a personal life, unlike the others.

"Yeah, Scully's brother is suing us to get Miranda. He thinks we're weirdoes."

"That's crazy!" Frohike said with no sense of irony whatsoever. "Do you want character witnesses?"

The thought chilled me as though I had been jogging up and down the ice cream section at the supermarket.

"No, that's all right, really," I gabbled in a hasty voice which made Langly sniff at the implied insult.

I didn't tell them about the impending nuptials. I assumed that Scully would want to choose her own bridesmaids, and I didn't think Frohike would look good in pink taffeta.

The boys prevailed upon me to play with some of their new software. I'd only meant to stay for one game, but time flies when you're blowing xenomorphs away and trying to rescue buxom babes. As always, I didn't want to stop until I'd gotten the girl, as unlikely as that was to happen. Ultimately it was the realization that Scully had yet to call and ask where I was that made me nervous enough to leave.

When I got home Scully was pacing the kitchen like a leopard tired of its cage. In between circuits she was gobbling from a mostly-melted pint of Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. She ate with the same distracted fury that I often saw in bed and I suspected that similar dynamics were at work: pleasure but not enjoyment, stemming from a desperate need to shut her mind off and let bodily functions prevail. I was glad that she was gaining weight and I was no longer afraid that she'd suddenly crumble underneath my hard hands like an autumn leaf, but this didn't strike me as the right way to bulk up.

"You're late," she said when she deigned to acknowledge my presence, simultaneously giving the sodden iceberg in the carton a vicious stab as if it were my liver.

"I didn't realize we had an appointment." I didn't want to fight, but I wasn't going to be her punching bag either.

Scully sniffed, ready to claw back, and then her shoulders dropped as she reconsidered and put the lid back on the ice cream. "Our would-be kidnapper disappeared from police custody, there's no record he was ever even there. Also, Bill isn't financing this lawsuit himself, the Navy doesn't pay that well and Tara is wearing this season's Jaclyn Smith Collection, which might be a matter of taste but I don't think so."

"You think someone else is pulling his strings?"

She closed the freezer and I moved behind her, putting my hands on her shoulders where she was as tense as the cables on a suspension bridge. Her voice was low and I had to lean over her to hear her. "Miranda was a test subject before, there might be Roush survivors who want to see how well you've done with her."

"We've done with her."

She sighed and tilted her head back into my chest as I continued to push against resistant flesh. Flyaway hairs brushed against the scabs on my neck, tickling like wandering ants, but I didn't flinch. I worked over her shoulders and neck until she relaxed further, leaning her weight against me as I contemplated the pictures of Miranda and her cousin Samuel that were stuck to the fridge. Samuel was safe he was home brewed from Emerson and Aileen's unmodified chromosomes, just another reason to stoke the wry jealousy I had for my saintly brother.

"I think you're right," I admitted — but let the record show that Scully was being paranoid, and thus I wasn't acceding to the voice of reason. I've got my pride. "I've got the Gunmen looking for where the mad scientists have gone to ground. For the moment we need to focus on the court case, we can take more aggressive action when we have better leads than a disappearing kidnapper and a suspiciously well-funded lawsuit."

Scully turned in my arms and pressed her cheek to my chest, which gave me a strange, fluttery feeling in my stomach. "What do you think they want with her?"

"I think it's fair to say that they aren't interested in her developing motor skills."

"I used to want the truth, I used to want Justice. Now all I want is to be left alone."

By way of non-verbal agreement, I kissed her, and her mouth tasted appealingly of Heath Bar Crunch.

****

I woke in a cold sweat from a nightmare in which I was choking in green gelatin. Mulder's arm was draped over my midriff and his entire torso was pressed up against my back, undoubtedly the source of the breathing troubles. I rolled away and fled into Miranda's room where I checked to see that she was breathing and then watched her sleep. Sitting by her crib as she burbled was not quite as restful as sleeping myself, but it had a certain quiet pleasure.

She deserved better than I did. I knew I had made a number of bad decisions in the past year, so that I was in danger of actually lapping Mulder in the lifetime score. It was as if I'd had an enormous blade driven into my chest, right by my heart, when I discovered Emily. With a puncture wound like that you don't want to remove the foreign object until you're in the OR; otherwise the patient will bleed out almost instantly. The only problem is that you'd better get your victim to the hospital, because slowly bleeding to death is still bleeding to death. Emily was that sword and I had neither removed her nor repaired the damage in the months that followed San Francisco. Instead I'd stumbled from place to place, trying to pretend that I wasn't drenched in blood. My own and others'.

I needed to prove to the court and to myself that I was sane once more.

Could I really play hausfrau to pull this off? Mulder had adapted to his new babyfied existence. And anything he could do, I could do better, it was a guiding tenet of mine. Also I owed him and Miranda some effort keeping her safe from Bill and whatever his connection with Roush was, if only because Bill was my flesh and blood.

The slow liquid tide of Miranda's breathing eventually lulled me back into sleep, upright in the rocking chair beside her. I did not dream again.

Being up a ladder seemed to be an invitation to trouble these days. The next morning, I was wobbling near the front picture window, the ladder straddling the anemic impatiens I had planted to replace the bushes that the Arlington PD and FBI SWAT team had destroyed. I had a caulk gun in my hands and was trying to fill yet another spray of bullet holes when a rental Buick Regal pulled into the driveway. The Lariat sticker was clearly visible on the rear bumper and I wondered who from the Bureau had bothered to render a car so close to the office.

It wasn't an agent. The woman who emerged from the car was well dressed in an understated fashion that I saw in my nightmares. Obviously, I had been watching too many Disney movies because the first thing that occurred to me as Christina Mulder walked to the door was that she had the same hairdo as the wicked stepmother from Cinderella.

She stopped on the front step and gave me an assessing look. I wasn't exactly at my best prospective daughter-in-law mode right then and it registered in her pale eyes.

"Is Fox home?"

"Just a moment," I tapped on the window and caught Mulder's attention from where he was separating baby and cat for the millionth time.

"It's your *mom*," I lipped to him through the glass.

"Shit," he lipped back.

After plopping Miranda back in her playpen, he emerged.

"Hi Mom," he said in a slightly flippant tone, "run out of people to torment in New England?"

He didn't invite her in.

"What is this about putting your father's house up for sale?" she demanded in a tone that could have taught Queen Elizabeth a thing or two, "And you could have told me that you were getting married," she added, looking over her nose at me. I gave in and backed slowly down the ladder.

"And where did you hear that?" I asked.

"Fox told Ann Kelly at the real estate office, I play bridge with her mother. Funny that you should tell her, wasn't she the one that you were so close with that one summer?"

He actually had the decency to blush.

"I'm surprised that you noticed," he murmured.

Mother and son stared at one another for a moment, but thirty-eight years of behavior modification are hard to break and he backed down.

"Lemonade or iced tea?" he asked.

The back porch was shaded from the sullen Virginia sun so it was only as hot and muggy as an armpit as opposed to a bare back baked in the sun. I dragged Miranda's playpen out on the porch and she played with her black cat toy under the cool eye of her grandmother. Mulder sat next to me on the glider, unconsciously fiddling with the neck of his T-shirt where it rubbed on the painfully pink new flesh and matching black scabs where George had skinned his throat.

Through the entire interview, Tina never looked up from her appraisal of Miranda. On her part, Miranda looked up from her play from time to time to her grandmother with an incurious expression.

"Have you made any plans?"

Mulder took a drink to fortify himself. "First thing Friday morning at the county courthouse." And in the afternoon, we were going on our honeymoon — a meeting with our new lawyer. "It's a preemptive strike since Scully's brother Bill is trying to get custody of Miranda on the grounds that we're mentally unstable. I thought that if we got married that would help the cause somewhat."

I picked at the drying caulk on my jeans and looked out at the lawn steaming under the sun. The grass needed to be cut. From his place behind the screen, Catzilla pawed at the edge of the window frame and complained because he was stuck inside and all the good stuff was happening on the porch.

"We still don't have rings," I said grimly.

When I'd agreed it hadn't seemed quite so, well, sordid. I was brought up to believe in the sanctity of marriage, and though my recent sexual history wouldn't exactly make Father McHugh happy, I still got the heebie-jeebies when I considered bringing my relationship with Mulder under the heading "sacred."

"I have my father's upstairs," Mulder said and rose to walk into the house. He was talking over his shoulder as he left. "We can't really afford anything spectacular for you, but I think there's a jewelry store at the mall. It's probably still open."

At least he didn't offer me a cigar ring or the prize from a Crackerjacks box.

Mulder's mother had been watching us impassively, neither frowning nor smiling, her face as impervious as the ceramic tiles on a space shuttle. Tina looked down at her hands, then pulled decisively at the rings on her left ring finger. They slid off easily; her knuckles were still patrician and her fingers slim, not swollen with age or care. "Here," she said. "I hope you have all the joy of them that I did."

The diamond solitaire and matching thin gold band flashed like the fireball from a nuclear explosion in her palm.

She held out her hand and I stared at it.

I made it almost all the way to the toilet before I threw up.

Clinging to the cold porcelain bowl, feeling colder sweat drip from my hairline to the rim of the powder room toilet, I shuddered and heaved until I was relieved of the burden of lunch. It was a bad anxiety attack, vomiting, hyperventilating, racing pulse, feelings of dread and fear, paranoia, and claustrophobia. Almost like being back at work. The spasms continued until I thought that the toilet bowl was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, so cool and smooth and stable, the pivot around which my world was turning.

I guess that's why they call it worshipping at the porcelain altar.

I heard voices and footsteps in the hall and a moment later the door opened and Mulder poked his head in.

"Scully?"

"I'm fine Mulder," I moaned and another wave hit me.

After I was done and had flushed the toilet, I sat back on the tiles and leaned against the wall, afraid to go too far from the safety of the bathroom. Mulder came after me with a cold, wet washcloth and wiped my face off as though I was Miranda.

"Mom left," he said.

"Do you think that I'm mentally unstable? Do you think that I would hurt Miranda?"

Crouched on the floor, he rubbed his eyes until they were pink as a rabbit's.

"No. The only person you endanger is yourself. Come on upstairs, the Mooselet is down for a nap — join her."

I stumbled upstairs while hanging onto his arm like an old woman. I brushed my teeth and drank a gallon of water. Mulder helped me out of my clothes and poured me onto the bed where he covered me with a blanket. I lay there in the cool room, listening to the oceanic sound of Miranda breathing over the baby monitor, and I finally drifted off.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 3/

inside we can not feel what's fake & what is real lover of mine I deny I lie maybe it was in my drink maybe I'm the gypsy jinx maybe I am his meat at noon with spoons &spoons of ice cream creams creams fill my mouth with other things Shara

Scully slept like Miranda — so still that I occasionally had to check to ensure that she was still breathing.

After we got married, I'd be expected to watch her sleep every night for the rest of my life. I hoped she'd change her policy on TV or I'd be bored out of my skull in weeks. I couldn't believe how much of the Discovery, History, and Learning Channels the woman watched. I don't think she had ever watched a show with a laugh track in her life. Not to mention the fact that she had no idea where ESPN was.

There was a point in my life that I thought I might turn out to be Ted Bundy. Now — tragic irony or poetic justice? — it seemed I was more of an Al. But Scully wasn't nearly as well endowed as Peg, more's the pity.

It's not that I'd never thought about marriage. Hell, I'd even exchanged rings once. (She wanted both of us to be marked off from the herd, because she thought it was unfair that she was the only one supposed to be private property during the engagement. I suspect Scully would have the same objection if we'd attempted an actual engagement.) Then I'd started up with Dr. Werber and the relationship went downhill faster and messier than the Jamaican bobsled team.

I'd never been any good at happy endings. The difficulty of my quest had always substituted for my ability to visualize a final goal. Samantha, aliens, truth, magic, it all swirled around in a mist of fantasies and pipe dreams — a giant Hanukah list that I knew would never be fulfilled. I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd screw up or Scully would panic and bring our fragile union down like a UFO-buzzed plane.

I'd been mad at Scully for leaving, for treating her daughter like she was an impulse purchase that could be returned for store credit. Yet I didn't have a fantasy perfect life that I thought she'd destroyed with that decision. What I knew about being a husband could fit in the palm of Miranda's hand. Where it would probably get smeared on the floor like anything else she held did.

Shortly after dark, Scully's eyes melted open and she rolled over on her side to look at me. The blankness behind the blue made my chest hurt.

"It's going to be all right," I said to both of us.

Outside, the earliest of the crickets started chirping the insect aria of love. She put her hand on the side of my face and her skin was dry and warm as usual. Oddly enough, this was one of the Mooselet's affectionate gestures as well, only Scully's hands weren't wet with drool and the reaction that churned my stomach was nothing like the one that I had when Her Highness did the same thing. I leaned over and kissed her. Kissing had never really been a big part of our foreplay, and seemed to be an afterthought rather than an activity unto itself. The combination of the fear that was chilling the sexual centers of my brain and the dull ache in my ribs made it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Her hands spread out over the back of my shirt, warming against me and she kissed me back with a strange hesitancy that was sweet in the extreme. We lay there like teenagers on a picnic blanket, kissing and listening to the crickets outside, trying to think about anything and everything except what was looming up ahead like a barely submerged iceberg.

****

When I was a little girl I imagined that I would have a big Barbie doll wedding with a creampuff dress, a horse and carriage ride to and from the church and my bridesmaids, who were my best friends would wear pink satin dresses. When I was a teenager, I imagined that my father would escort me down the aisle of the chapel at Annapolis in his dress whites while I wore an ever-so sleek white cocktail dress and impossibly high heels. I had miraculously grown five inches just in time. The face of the groom waiting in either fantasy was directly related to the actor who was the top box office or the singer who was at the top of the charts that week. When I was in medical school, I still thought wistfully about that arch of crossed swords a Navy bride gets to sail through, and my fantasy groom continued to look like Alec Baldwin, but he was a surgeon.

Yes, all right, I thought about Jack when I was first with the FBI. It's terribly embarrassing now.

Even when we started having sex, I never imagined marrying Mulder. God — I could hardly stand living with him.

And none of my fantasy weddings ever took place at the county courthouse, sandwiched in between the wedding of two lovesick, jailbait youngsters, one of whom (the female I assume) was visibly pregnant — I didn't know that people still got married when that happened — and an obvious Green Card couple. "Do NOT Take Pictures in the Waiting Room," the sign warned, as if anyone would want to.

The county clerk recited the words of the civil ceremony without much interest. Mulder mumbled at the appropriate moments, and I grunted agreement. Warwick and Ingveld witnessed; Zippy had refused to go along with our pathetic scheme, as he termed it. Meanwhile, standing there in her pale blue suit from Talbot's, was Christina Mulder. I like to think that she was trying to atone for the hell that she'd put us through over the past year, but I suspect that she needed to witness the event for herself – kind of like making that last trip to the funeral home to view the body. She had to make sure that it was dead.

Mulder, bless his pointed head, was decked out in the suit he'd forgotten at the dry cleaners, the only one that had survived George's image makeover. He looked slightly more festive than usual due to the wilting salmon-colored rose from the garden pinned to his lapel. The high collar disguised the scabs, though he'd had to insulate the shirt with a layer of tissue to guard against seepage.

I had my own wilting rose pinned to my suit as well. Yes, the bride wore a suit. What else would I wear? It was a pencil-gray suit, double-breasted with a slightly shorter skirt than I usually wore, which meant that the skirt would have been obscenely short on a normally proportioned woman. The thing that cheesed me off was that I had bought a *beautiful* cream silk and linen suit when I was dying from cancer. I mean this was a to-die-for suit, as a matter of fact I had told no one that I had put a provision in my will that it was what I wanted to be buried in rather than whatever nightmare my mother picked out – anyway, the suit no longer fit. I huffed and I puffed and I squeezed my stomach in, but the skirt zipper refused to go the last few inches for me. It also made me look like a sausage around the hips now that I had gained weight back.

Damnit, that was a great suit. Depression hadn't soured my carefully attained fashion sense.

Since I had no intentions of going back to that emaciated size again, I gave the suit to Ingveld, and it amused her if nothing else. I was appalled that it actually fit Ingveld, even if the skirt was a little short. No one was allowed to be that long and narrow.. It made me wonder if the end product of all the genetic tampering I had witnessed in the past two years was to create a race of greyhound people, long and lean and lovely. There was not going to be a place for pygmies like me in the New World Order. But even I can't hate anyone as sweet as Ingveld. She made me go shopping with her and seemed genuinely upset that I was not looking for some tissue paper and lace fantasy. The gray suit was a viable replacement for the cream one, and it had trousers as well which made it more valuable as a wardrobe staple.

Ingveld herself was turned out in a retro sixties sundress that showed the tattoos on her arms and back, and Miranda was encased in a frothy pink monstrosity courtesy of Grandma Mulder. Actually, Miranda was the only one who seemed to be enjoying herself.. She babbled and squawked throughout the breakneck speed ceremony and broke into inappropriate laughter when Mulder jammed the ring on my finger.

". . . you may now kiss the bride."

Which he did with lips as sensual as a Kleenex.

Miranda squealed and let out a stream of baby giggles. The clerk even smiled.

My stomach heaved and bile burned the back of my throat. It was too horrible. It was not supposed to be like this, he was not the man that I was supposed to marry, and it was not supposed to be for this reason. My wedding was supposed to be traditional and romantic, not invested with the same level of intimacy as getting lunch at the McDonald's drive- through.

Ingveld took pictures and I hoped that the film jammed in the camera.

We had a celebratory lunch for our non-celebration. I don't remember anything about it. I tuned back in when, in the day's crowning glory, I got volunteered to drive my new mother-in-law back to her hotel while Miranda alternately complained and cooed in the back seat. At least someone was having a good time.

Mulder's mother was just as hard to deal with one on one as when Mulder was around. I'd been hoping that he'd provoked her like he provoked me and that she was a sweet little old lady in her spare time, but no such luck.

Part of my dislike had to be the class difference. My father spent his life defending his country; for this we lived on base housing and frequently ate Spaghetti- Os for five straight nights at the end of the month when one of the four kids had some special expense. Mulder, by contrast, sweats money, it's more common than oxygen to him, and his family got the big house in Martha's Vineyard because his parents helped deceive a trusting public and participated in human experimentation. Okay, maybe that just funded the *summer* house. The rest of the money probably came from bribes from sub-contractors.

For whatever reason, the woman made my skin crawl. As I was pulling into the driveway of the Marriott, she put her hand on my arm. "I'm going to go to Philadelphia to see an old friend tomorrow," she said. "I may want to show you something in a few days."

"What would you possibly have to show me that I'd want to see?"

She smiled without teeth, but there was still a threat present. "I'm interested in why outsiders want control of my granddaughter, I think you ought to be as well."

"Who are you going to see?"

"Come to Philadelphia when I call you," she let the doorman help her out of the car with the stiff formality of the old and well-bred and disappeared into the air-conditioned shelter of the hotel.

"What do you think about that? Should we trust your grandma?" I asked Miranda. I could see her in the additional mirror Mulder had attached to the rear- view for just such purpose.

Miranda stuffed her fist in her mouth and declined comment.

****

Mom took all parties involved out to brunch at a white-tablecloth restaurant in Old Town Alexandria just as if we'd had an orthodox (or Reform, for that matter) wedding. The place wasn't particularly baby- friendly but the maitre'd caved under Mom's icy control. I filled her bottle with apple juice and sat her on my lap to keep her involved in the festivities. Sitting next to me, Scully was as pale as the linen napkins and sipped at her orange juice with a hand that shook under the new burden of the rings.

Actually, I was proud of the compromise that we had reached regarding the rings. Not far from the old apartment at Hegal Place there was an antique store where I had spent hours looking for the more obscure occult books, and I had remembered that they had estate jewelry. Scully wasn't opposed to having someone else's wedding band and engagement ring provided that it wasn't Mom's. In the end, Scully was the proud owner of a large blue topaz ring that was almost the same shade as her eyes and a plain gold band with someone else's wedding date engraved in it. April 15, 1912 to be exact. It seemed oddly appropriate, we didn't have enough lifeboats either.

Someday, if any of this fucking mess turned out to be anything other than an obscene farce, I'd replace the ring with a new one with the correct date so she would be sure she was throwing an accurate symbol down the toilet.

While Scully drove my mother back to her hotel, I stewed. I needed physical activity, I was sick to death of being cooped up in the house and my face was no longer plastered in every grocery store in town so it was probably safe to leave. I laced up my sneakers and went out.

Careful of my various hurts, I jogged a couple blocks, working with the pain in my ribs, the pain in my neck and the pain in my chest that had nothing to do with nerve endings. The well-manicured lawns and gardens of the other houses seemed artificial as a movie set. Were there really people living in those houses or soulless clones as artificial and mindless as the TeleTubbies? I liked to think that my intelligence made me feel more than other people, you have to be self-aware to feel pain, right? Not that I was negating the suffering of non-Mensa members, but wasn't intelligence necessary to heighten the suffering?

I reached the playground where Ralph Williams had been stabbed. I stopped and stretched. Where Ralph had fallen there was no plaque, no flowers, and no candles. No sign that a man had taken a knife in the chest for my daughter and me. And should Bill take Miranda away from me, Ralph would be dead for no reason. I didn't think Bill would kill Miranda the way George would have, but I suspected that he'd break her spirit.

I knew that taking my gun over to the base housing at Bethesda and making Bill disappear was not the answer, but it was a nice fantasy nevertheless.

I jogged home.

Scully met me at the door with the Mooselet on her hip and a look of nuclear annoyance in her clear blue eyes.

"Where the hell have you been?" she asked.

Wait a minute. Were those rings we had put on in the ceremony or tiny handcuffs?

"Went for a run," I took the Mooselet who patted the side of my face with her fat little hands and asked me long and important questions in MooseSpeak.

"You could have told *someone*, left a note, sent an e-mail, or even hired a carrier pigeon," she snarled.

"Passenger pigeon."

"They're extinct."

"I guess that's why you didn't get a message."

The Mooselet knew I was teasing by the tone of my voice, but Scully wasn't as sure. The Mooselet wiggled and jiggled and giggled in my arms but Scully glared at me and put her hands on her hips which made the sweat ice up on my body as the ambient temperature in the room took on Antarctic proportions. I looked around but failed to see any penguins.

"In the future, if you should decide that you need to be elsewhere, please inform *someone*. Someone with thumbs and a command of the English language. This means someone other than Catzilla or Miranda until she is older."

The Mooselet gave out an apprehensive spit bubble and stared at Scully as though she had grown an extra head.

"Sure, fine, whatever." "You better shower. The lawyer will be here any minute," her nose wrinkled, "you smell."

****

Laura Broder appeared at five of four armed with a tape recorder and a briefcase. From her voice on the phone I wasn't surprised that she looked young. Frighteningly young, even though her years in practice indicated that she was only a year younger than I was. In her light cotton sweater and jeans, she looked like a college student, with long red- brown hair falling loosely past her shoulders in a careless swirl that made me think about growing my hair again.

"Hi there," she said. "Is that Miranda?"

Sure enough, I had the Mooselet clinging to my hip again, I suppose as my badge of good parenting. I suppressed the snide "No, it's her twin Susan, but they're only suing for custody of Miranda," that bubbled in my throat and nodded.

When had I started to hate other people so much? It had something to do with the fact that everyone I met seemed to have some new way to hurt me. Or if they were nice like Ralph Williams I made them dead. But we were paying Laura Broder to be nice to us. Hopefully the fact that it wasn't voluntary would protect her from a bad end.

"Come in," I offered and reset the alarm behind her. We went to the dining room, which had suffered very little in the assault on the house. Mulder was waiting, idly chewing his way through a bowl of sunflower seeds, which were probably ruining his new caps.

"So, your folks at Arnstein Porter called me in because you have a custody problem. I do have a copy of your brother's motion, but it's not terribly informative, though it reads like science fiction at points. I read about the Roush hearings, and I reviewed the public record last night."

"This part did not make it into the public record. Roush's human experiments produced one living subject, Miranda. Genetic tests revealed that she was created using my ova and sperm that — that are genetically indistinguishable from Mulder's. Might have been his." Laura raised her eyebrows, but I continued, "The records were destroyed and were probably falsified in the first place. I also legally adopted her."

I didn't want to say anything that would upset Mulder, so I let him take over.

"Part of what the public didn't know about was that Roush's earlier experiments involved the splitting of preembryos to create multiple copies of the same genome. I had … a number of brothers. Roush had access to some of their sperm and might have had access to mine." "That helps to explain the recent newspaper stories about your twin."

"You wanted them to call him my dectuplet?"

That earned a sharp look. "Okay, I'll need to see the adoption papers, but I'll just assume for now that everything's in order. Even if it isn't, we're probably okay. They're not challenging *your* relationship to Miranda, Dr. Scully, because they need the blood tie to have any interest in her themselves. I'll have to do more research but I think we can do okay on Mr. Mulder's fatherhood if she's been living with you as your daughter. So, when you found out about Miranda you got married?"

I reddened and Mulder looked down. "Actually we got married this morning. Scully and I thought it would be a good idea, considering."

"That's not good."

Perfect, a lawyer with a talent for understatement.

"But we need to discuss your objectives for the case. They are arguing that you abandoned Miranda, Dana, which means you aren't entitled to the normal presumption of fitness that parents get. Combined with the claim that Fox isn't really Miranda's father and the other attacks on your stability and fitness, that could be devastating. What we do now is you tell me everything you think they might use against you. Please try to be as honest as possible, the only way I'm any use is if I can prepare against their best case."

She paused and drew breath while we absorbed the caution. "One more thing. I notice that you use each other's last names. It's a charming idiosyncrasy. Charm is good; idiosyncrasy is not, particularly for two people who just married to stave off a lawsuit.. From now on it's Fox and Dana, even when you're alone. Get into the habit. You'll need to talk to a number of experts and testify before the judge, and if you slip it will look very bad."

Mulder's face had taken on a look of horror that rivaled the one he'd worn when I made him rummage for Leonard Betts's head in the biohazard container.

"You let Bambi call you 'Fox,'" I reminded him. Broder's face whipped back and forth between us, trying to gauge the emotional temperature in the room.

"Doesn't count, she was an animal too," he said. "Besides, I wanted to get lai –"

He stopped and rubbed at the scars.

"Whatever," he muttered.

Laura Broder was with us all evening as we tried to explain all the events that had led up to this point — Samantha's abduction, the multiple generations of experimental subjects, the Mulders that had been cc'd around the country, and so on. We also had to explain the X Files and all the tricks we'd pulled over the years. Anyone with two neurons to rub together would bring Mulder's employment file (not to mention his hospitalization records) into court when trying to prove that we weren't fit to take care of a child. Mulder's employment file was enough to make someone hesitate before letting him take care of a houseplant. We didn't bother to mention the many fish that had hit the sewers over the years.

Laura took it pretty well, considering.

We talked through dinner, through coffee and dessert, and through Miranda's bedtime. The lawyer didn't ask many questions, but they were always embarrassing when she did. She was particularly interested in our mistakes, the times we went against orders and protocol. She really didn't like the Roche incident (yeah, take a number).

When the baby monitor screamed bloody murder, Mulder left to check on Miranda. I followed Laura's gaze. "While Mu — while Fox is gone, there's something I want to ask you. Are you a lawyer or a personal trainer?"

"I'm a lawyer?" Her uncertainty didn't make me particularly confident.

"Then stop watching his ass, all right? That's not part of your job."

She turned scarlet and hid her eyes with her hand. "Okay, I admit it, you got me. But cut me some slack — I work with lawyers all day, it's noot often I'm actually in the presence of a man like that. One that hasn't spent the past ten years glued to a desk. I've just got my nose pressed up against the glass — I'm not trying to get any closer."

"Yeah, well, do your window shopping on your own time."

"I could not charge you for the time I spend looking," she joked and I smiled at her thinly.

I really hated this whole situation — nothing was under my control, I was out of my area of expertise in every imaginable way, and I had to make nice to anyone who could potentially screw me over if I didn't behave. This is why I became a FBI agent in the first place — so I could be the one asking the questions and determining the answers. We needed Laura Broder or someone like her. But she seemed to want to be my friend, too, and I just wasn't interested or even capable of reciprocating. Certainly not as long as she looked at Mulder with that little gleam in her eye.

Wait a minute, we were married. Should that have made a difference? Should I have been more annoyed or less? This was like driving in New Jersey without a map.

Mulder returned and we continued explaining our twisted history to her. We got all the way to George when she declared that she was completely overwhelmed and we'd have to finish tomorrow. I wanted to tell her to try living it, if she wanted to know what 'overwhelmed' was really like.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata

4/

You don't want to talk So baby shut up And let me drink the wine from your fur tea cup Velcro candy, sticky sweet Make my tattoos melt in the heat Well, I ain't no veggie Like my flesh on the bone Alive and lickin' on your ice cream cone Alice Cooper

I was lying on the bed, reading a field report from a barely-literate rookie who had made a royal mess out of working a child molester profile up in Vermont, when Scully came out of the bathroom wearing my favorite Yankees shirt and a pensive expression.

"What do you think of her?" she asked me around the dental floss she was rhythmically drawing through her teeth.

I found public dental hygiene borderline disgusting, and habitually shut the bathroom door to brush my teeth. What was the deal with that, anyway? No matter how hot and heavy things had gotten in hotel rooms over the continental US, we'd never been big on sharing our grooming rituals. I wasn't sure if I liked this new level of intimacy. The next thing that would happen was she'd think nothing of busting into the bathroom to pee while I was shaving.

"She seems to know her law."

"I mean what do you think of *her*," she prodded.

There were briars around the last word, and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do to get around them. Sometimes the direct approach is the best.

"Your point is what?"

"She's an attractive woman."

Oh great. Fan-fucking-tastic. We'd been married less than a day, still hadn't had sex and she was asking me if I was interested in another woman. If Scully kept up with this shit, I could be tempted to become interested in another woman. And Laura Broder was definitely do-able.

"You're tired, it's late, come to bed," I took off my glasses, put away the report and shut out the light. Feeling petulant, I flopped back into the pillows and took my time getting comfortable. She snorted and padded back into the bathroom.

Scully takes a long time getting ready for bed. There are obscure rituals and incantations to the skin care gods. There are unguents and powders, sponges and brushes and things I can't begin to understand. She has more mud than Pigpen, though admittedly it looks better on her. If I had known how much work it took to get that perfect skin of hers, I probably wouldn't have fixated on it so much.

This night, though, she lasted beyond the full spa treatment. I had the feeling she was waiting in the bathroom so that she wouldn't have to come to her marital bed. That annoyed me. It's not as if she was a real newlywed; what would she be nervous about?

I thought that I might do well to cut her a little slack. She'd been very calm about the whole wedding, and given her issues surrounding independence and commitment I should really be pleased with that. Also, we still hadn't resolved any of the outstanding issues surrounding my dead brothers Jason and George. Our next-to-last sexual encounter involved me playing George and her playing quiescent corpse, which was extreme even for us.

By the time she came creeping back into the bedroom I was feeling less superior and more sympathetic, which might have been part of her plan.

I could see her outlined in the faint light from the security perimeter that seeped through the shades. She was still wearing the goddamn shirt as she tossed back the comforter and slid into bed. I got a kick out of her using it as loungewear, but it left a lot to be desired, so to speak, when we were actually in bed together.

"Hey," I said softly, turning onto my stomach and reaching out to put a hand on her breast, "What's going on?"

She gave a choked chuckle, sounding like Miranda when she was about to spit something up. "This is very strange."

"I would have carried you over the threshold but I wasn't sure my back would hold out."

"It doesn't matter." Her voice was back to its strangled huskiness, as if — could it be? Perhaps I had skipped a few steps by going straight to her chest like a local cop's gaze. Her face was a furnace against my fingers but the wetness around her eyes hadn't yet evaporated when I touched it.

"I'm fine, Mulder," she whispered.

Liar. Suddenly the darkness was composed of broken glass, sharp edges everywhere and I was afraid I might get her sliced up if I moved wrong.

I hauled myself over until I was half on top of her, braced precariously on my forearms with my face hooked over her shoulder to whisper in her ear.

"Dana?"

"Dana?" she repeated with the exact wry incredulousness with which she'd greeted my first- ever use of her Christian name. Still, her knees bent and her legs spread wider around me, letting me settle my weight more comfortably on her.

"What do you want me to do?" I was drifting on the open ocean that is Scully, the water choppy around me and no land in sight.

Asking Scully a direct question usually only works when it relates to someone else's dead body, but she surprised me: "I want to pretend that this is my wedding night." Through the shirt, I could feel her breasts flattening against me as she struggled to keep her breathing even and my cock hardened in response.

Only Scully could ask me to pretend the truth. Surely she didn't want some godawful speech from me. My brain revolved in blood-deprived circles, the wheel spinning but the hamster MIA.

Reverence rather than familiarity, that had to be what she was after. I guess she didn't understand that even in the darkest moments of our sex life, the ones crossing the lines between normal and deviant, reverence was my MO. How could I not be reverent with a strange and wonderful creature like her?

I moved away and she made a non-sound, an indrawn breath that was the only sign she was hurt. Scully could probably take a bullet and not make more noise than that. She exhaled again when I ran my hand from her throat to her thighs, skimming with the lightest of touches over the tropical-warm seascape of her body.

Her forehead tasted like face cream or something. Her lips tasted of toothpaste. I relearned the contours of her face, feeling the fine invisible down on her cheeks against my lips.

"It's going to be all right," I said. Her breast was heavy and warm underneath my hand and I swirled my thumb around until I caught her stiffening nipple.

The mattress shifted as her body twitched. "Your ribs…" she slurred, but it was part of the game; she didn't want me to stop or she'd be pulling doctor rank on me.

"Don't worry about it." I let my fingers walk down the cotton front of the shirt until I hit the bare skin of her thighs. Shirt up, underwear down, and things were looking a lot better. She felt cooler than usual as I licked the undersides of her breasts and stroked my hands down her sides. I snagged a pillow and used it to lift her hips, giving me a better angle that didn't jog my nose. I would have liked to bury my snout in her, but that wasn't the kind of pain that interested me so I was careful, tasting the sea-salt of her flesh but controlling her so that she didn't surge into my broken cartilage.

The short grunts she made let me know that this was going to take a while. I moved my mouth up to the soft skin between her navel and the beginning of her pubic hair and nibbled a little.

"F–fox?" she stammered and then laughed nervously. I could feel the tight muscles of her abdomen jump underneath my lips.

"We could stick to moans and groans in bed, honey," I suggested and she jerked like an electrocuted frog. The press of her knee against my abused chest muscles was enough to make me regret the endearment even without her outraged face in the bad light.

"Okay–" she said in a half-voice and I felt her force herself to relax.

I separated her knees with my hands and bent to the task. It's a good thing I enjoy oral sex because my ever-wagging tongue was tired by the time she had her climax; I was about ready to ask her to fake it when she finally jerked, gasped and went boneless above me. She took deep relieved breaths as I pulled myself up the bed to reach the headboard, lay on my back beside her, and let my hand stroke the hot skin of her belly. After a minute, she shot me a that-was-it? look.

"The doctor okayed the female superior position," I whispered, trying to sound sly and sexy.

"That's not a position, it's a way of life," she whispered back.

I wondered if we were subconsciously trying not to wake the baby, two doors down the hall. In any event she took the hint and rummaged impatiently in the nightstand for a condom, smoothing on the latex with gratifying yet finely controlled haste. She straddled me, lowering herself onto my cock with a series of grunts. Hot as a lava flow around me, she settled her weight on my thighs and reached forward to brace herself against the bed, but I caught her falling breasts in my hands and pushed back. Her arms were too short to reach all the way down so I was supporting her upper body, her nipples pushing aggressively into my palms. Supposedly the woman is in control in this position but I liked to watch her flailing for balance, liked how she was caught in my hands. She gave up and tossed her head back, her nearly unmarred throat gray in the dimness of the light as she surged up and down, relying on my hands to keep her from falling.

The beauty of having her on top of me is that I get to see almost everything at once — her face lax as she concentrates on riding me into the ground, her hair brushing her shoulders like phantom kisses, her breasts above and around my grasping fingers. The dimple of her navel, the fierce wildness of hair that my cock disappears into, the columns of her thighs as they bracket my chest. It's complete visual overload.

With her closed down around me, and her incredible blue eyes dipping down to meet mine, I thought I could die right then and there from sheer animal pleasure. Maybe that piece of paper, that pair of rings was going to take the acid out of our relationship, maybe she would stop hating me for making love to her. With a jolt, she flung herself forward, until her face was a millimeter from mine, and the look in her eyes in the darkness of the room wasn't entirely sane. Her elbows were locked on either side of my head; her breasts smashed up against my chest like hot water balloons. She gasped as she slammed down and around me, the hair clinging wet and stringy to her face with effort's sweat. I swirled my hands over the glazed surface of her back, skimming over the place I knew her tattoo was, although I couldn't feel a difference in the fine calfskin of her back. Her lips were barely grazing mine, her fingers clutching my skull through my hair, as though she could force something out of me by manually liquefying my brain.

"You are – " I started to say but she cut me off, her mouth hard on mine as resuscitation.

Locked inside her, never intending to leave, I let her squeeze around me, providing the last necessary bit of unbelievable white-hot sensation that sent my hips towards the ceiling and my cock jetting out a couple weeks' worth of hot semen frustration into her. My hands grabbed her hips and pulled her down tighter onto me. She moaned into my mouth and started to shimmy around me as her climax flared along her hot little body. I clutched at her trying to keep her from flinging herself off me like a rider on a mechanical bull. Finally, she ground to a halt and flowed onto my chest, any worries about my cracked ribs forgotten.

Rubbing the skin on her back, pushing her hair away from her face, I looked down at her beautiful little face crushed against my chest, her delicate Roman nose bent against my breastbone. Unexpectedly, one eye opened and gave me a little flash of mischief that hadn't been there for weeks.

"Whoa," she muttered and kissed my left nipple.

"You know what they say – absence makes the heart grow fonder."

"I thought it was absence makes the dick grow harder."

"Talking dirty to me? You're turning me on."

"Mulder, Diet Coke turns you on."

There wasn't much of an answer for that so I just put my fingers over her lips.

"It's late. Go to sleep." I warned in the same voice I used on the Mooselet for the same reason.

She snorted into my chest and did, on top of me, and although it made my bones ache, I didn't move, just listened to the barely audible pattern of her breathing until I was lulled asleep myself.

*** The birds were unnaturally loud that morning, and for a change, I awoke first. The light seeping past the shades was blue-gray, indicating that it was not much past six and we had hours until we had to go face Bill and the judge. Still sleepy and languorous, I huddled down in the sheets, up against Mulder's warm body and didn't want to get up.

I hate courtrooms, I hate trials, and I especially hated that I was going to be the one on trial. Mulder must have been more used to the concept, having been on trial in one form or another most of his adult life, and he slumbered on, his breath faintly whistling through his damaged nose. I wondered if he'd deviated his septum, as this noise was a recent development. I picked up my head and looked down at him, examining the line of his nose to see if it lacked more symmetry than usual. He was sprawled on his back, one hand curled limply against his chest, and the other one flailing off into the vastness of the sheets like a postmodern St. Sebastian with bruises replacing arrows. For once all the points and angles had rounded out on his face and he looked almost peaceful. That was the one time that I could look down at Mulder and admit that part of me could love him – but only when he was asleep and not getting either or both of us into trouble. There was a time that I thought that Mulder would have been perfect if he didn't talk. Then I met his mute twin Emerson and I realized that he'd only type or sign his patented flippant insanity.

Feeling chilled in my head and in my body, I curled tighter around him, soaking up the warmth from his skin. There had been times in the not-so-distant past that I thought the only way I kept any measure of empathy with the human race was by absorbing it from his body. I nuzzled closer, smelling the rich yeasty smell of the sex we'd had overlaying his usual book and body smell. I had kept one of his shirts during the dismal six months that we'd been apart and slept with my face in it more nights than not, until my own smell permeated the fabric and I'd slept in it instead. He grunted and twitched in his sleep, moving closer to the shore of wakefulness. Strange that before we'd become lovers I'd heard him at night, calling out at whatever midnight horror movie ran through his brain while he slept, but the nights that he slept with me he only murmured non- sentences in what sounded like a tone of aggravation. I imagined that he argued with me as strenuously asleep as he did awake.

Sliding my hand over the dry smoothness of his chest, tangling my new rings in the soft hair that grew like an afterthought of a secondary sex characteristic, I felt his heart beat against my palm, slow as a sleeping bee's buzz. Under my hand, the flat and useless nipple tightened from the stimulation. Intrigued, I flicked my fingernail against it and watched the darker skin wrinkle in dismay at being disturbed. He whuffed deep in his throat and stirred a bit. Moving downwards, I stroked the flat length of his stomach, counting the ribs and feeling the hard muscles of his abdomen move as he breathed. It was sheer vanity that made him do all those sit-ups in the morning, run those miles, the only thing he'd ever tended with care before Miranda had been his own body – and I had to admit that he did a good job. The skin under his navel was soft as the baby's and cool, warming as I moved my hand along the faint line of fur that ran from his navel to genitals. Under my hand, the skin twitched, and the sleep-dazed length of his cock dragged itself drunkenly upright.

I'd been awakened by his mouth between my legs more often than I could have imagined, and it seemed that this was an opportunity to reciprocate.

Slinking underneath the sheets, I let my shoulders make a tent as I knelt next to his hips. I dragged my fingers across the slightly moist skin of his cock and felt the pulsing blood rise up to meet me. Leisurely, I licked at him, feeling the jump and sway against my lips and tongue. There was something about going down on him while he was mostly asleep that appealed to me. Besides, we were married now and if one were to believe the popular press our sex life was rapidly approaching the end of its shelf life. Finally, I peeled my lips over my teeth and engulfed him with my mouth. Funny how his cock that always felt like an endless ivory pole capable of elongating to unbelievable lengths inside of me during intercourse took on more manageable and fleshy characteristics in my mouth.

Outside the hot, fermenting tent of sheets, came a small, surprised sound followed by a low chuckle.

"Oh Laura, what if Scully finds out?"

I choked and started to laugh.

I had to pull my mouth off before I castrated him.

With the sheets still over my head I sat up and laughed, laughed until my diaphragm was sore and my eyes were watering. At the head of the bed I could hear that Mulder was equally helpless at the effects of his own wit. When I had managed to get myself back under control and could breathe again, I seized his cock at the base and slid my mouth over it again. The laughing stopped when I started sucking at him in earnest, sliding my mouth and tongue up and down over his shaft in the rhythm that I knew he liked. He groaned, and his hand caught my shoulder, fingers tightening in synch with my movements. While I tightened my fingers at the base of his cock, he pulled back the sheets from our bodies and the weak morning light made me squint. His hands were shaking when he pushed my hair away from my face. I know he likes to watch, it must come out of his video obsession. I looked up at him and saw that he had gone soft-mouthed with bliss over the scabbed battlefield of his throat, and his eyes glimmered amber in the fresh light. Our eyes caught and latched and the connection was shockingly lewd, staring at him unblinking as I moved up and down, my saliva dripping onto his balls as he watched. I was getting wet myself just from looking back at him.

"Oh God," he husked and flopped back into the pillows while his hips urged me into a faster and more frantic tempo.

He groaned and surged up, shuddering and filling my mouth with the saltwater/sweet taste of his jism.

He subsided weakly, breathing hard out of his beaten throat.

"Are you trying to kill me?"

"Not unless I'm going to be a wealthy widow."

"I guess I'll be alive for a good long time yet."

I sat up and scooted up to the head of the bed, trying to wipe off my lips as discreetly as possible. But Mulder caught my chin and swept his thumb across my mouth which would have been sexy, if I hadn't seen him do it to Miranda a thousand times. I settled back against the headboard and Mulder laid his head back onto my chest, his body nestled between my knees, my hands draped over his shoulders and onto his chest. He was holding my hands and examining them as if for powder burns.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Afraid," I admitted, "if this doesn't work, they'll take Miranda away from you. It will be all my fault."

"They won't."

"I wish I had your optimism."

"Tenacity, it's all in the tenacity."

His chest hitched as though he was about to speak, but he thought better of it and relaxed again. I rubbed my foot up and down his hipbone and tried not to think. This was the kind of quiet moment that we never had much opportunity for. Stolen humping in hotel rooms, angry sex over long weekends, stealth fucking in bathrooms. What was lawful sexual congress going to be like? Part of the charm had been the fact that the affair had been forbidden. He was nominally my superior and *thou shall not fuck thy superior agent* was pretty well carved in stone. When I think about it, that Bureau policy was the one that we had adhered the longest.

While I sulked, Mulder's dangerous hands swept up and down my thighs, my calves and my feet like feather fans while the weight of his head pressed into my chest like a curse from a Grimm's fairy tale. With my pelvis pressed firmly into his spine, I could probably bring myself off with a few well-timed undulations. There was so much aroused blood pooled around my pudenda that I was getting lightheaded. He was digging his thumb into the arch of my foot, making me grumble under my breath. He started wiggling my toes one after another while chanting deep in a chuckle-thickened throat.

"This little alien went to market, this little alien stayed home . . . "

I giggled and kicked my foot free of his tickling grip. Mulder snickered and rolled over, pushing me down against the mattress. His morning beard scored the skin on my shoulder and neck, making me laugh harder as that tickled as well. I rolled underneath him, hooking my feet behind his knees.

"Ticklish much Gopher-girl?"

"Make my day Gopher-boy," I snorted into the crinkled cartilage of his ear.

Hands gripped my waist, pinning me down with tolerant amusement that was about as threatening as one of Miranda's toys. He breathed into my ear with a low growl that I assumed was the mating call of the giant mutant gopher. If it could only always be like this, I wouldn't have had such reservations about the entire matrimonial state. I pulled the speaker plug in my head and the critical voice went silent and all I could hear was my own heartbeat while Mulder's pulse thrummed in counterpoint.

I sighed and pulled myself up against the ropy hardness of his torso, gathering him into my arms and pulling him gently down against me, rubbing, sticky with sweat and other body secretions. I ran my hands up and down the hard bridge of his back, the beads of his spine vibrating against my fingers, the unfamiliar metal of the rings jarring my phalanges. He sighed and purred under my touch, arching his back like Catzilla, but grinding the stiffening length of his cock up against my thigh. The scratchy skin on his face scraped my breasts when he began to savage at my wide-awake nipples that felt hard enough to scratch glass. He leaned away to grab a condom, swift as a snake taking a mouse. I moaned and his hands impatiently parted my thighs, my head fell back into the hot pillow and my moan tightened into a growl when he finally pushed inside me.

God. No one would understand, the worse the situation got, the better the sex got. It was like Hansel and Gretel clinging together in the witch's oven in a pornographic movie.

My quad muscles started to shake.

"Your ribs-" I hissed.

"It's a good hurt," he said in a swirl of amusement and lust.

I arched up against him, trying to draw him in deeper, to fill me to oblivion, pulling as gently as possible on his still-bruised torso. He covered my face and eyes with hard lipped kisses almost stinging my skin. While he kissed me he slid into me with a slow carefulness that made me whine with need. His hands pressed my hair into the pillow, so I couldn't move my head away from him. His mouth flowed against mine while his cock moved with teasing slowness inside me. I whined like Miranda grasping after a toy or a sweet and he looked down at me with a dazed indulgence which was nothing like the indulgent look he wore when she made the same noise.

The restless motes in his eyes pulled me in like quickmud in a swamp. I fell into the hot forest inside his head, seeing shapes and things moving through the green and brown darkness and I saw my own eyes looking back at me. Don't hurt me, love me, make it turn out all right, make it all go away. At least for the next ten minutes. I think there were tears building up in our eyes and I couldn't tell whose. I tried to turn my head but his hands prevented me, and the deep stroking inside was making it harder to think than usual. I was gasping and squeezing hard handfuls of the bedclothes so I wouldn't hurt him any more, he glided in and out, somehow managing to graze my clit on each and every stroke. Building pressure, building pleasure radiating out from my pelvis until my toes curled and my breathing fluttered like a trapped moth. In me and around me and through me running like mercury through my nerves.

And I looked back into the things creeping through the space behind his eyes, I saw his lips form the words that I didn't want to see, right before those lips closed with sharpening teeth on the spot on my shoulder that never failed to send me into oblivion. But I didn't go alone, Mulder came with me, shaking and crashing into my body. I held his head against my shoulder and listened to our raw breathing in the quiet morning room. We lay that way until the trembling stopped, and fell asleep again while he was still inside me.

Years later, I staggered to the bathroom and had a quick shower. I still didn't know what I was supposed to wear to a pretrial conference, and I settled on a pantsuit that, I noted with some pleasure, fit much better than it had a few weeks ago. Say what you will about Mulder, he keeps me fed.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 5/

There's a reason for your silence tonight There's a reason for my fear There's a reason for the violence tonight There's a great decision here I am waiting in the calm before the storm. When it comes down to this You never seemed so lonely Just like the one with an ice cream smile. Big Country

Laura rode with us to court. She kept up a running stream of commentary, explaining how a platoon of strangers was going to march through our lives to evaluate them for suitability. She wanted me to get a Thirtysomething makeover, blue jeans and sneakers and ponytails; mommies seemingly do not wear tattoo-baring tank tops, at least not when they're being scrutinized by psychologists and social workers. Apparently mommies don't sweat in Virginia.

We arrived at the new courthouse downtown with only minutes to spare, and had to surrender our sidearms before we were allowed in. We weren't acting in our federal capacity, and so Virginia was unwilling to let us participate in any shootouts that developed. If Ingveld hadn't found the right corridor, we would have been late for our own high-tech lynching.

That first morning in court was anticlimactic in the extreme. We listened without comprehension as our lawyer and Bill's traded multisyllabic near-insults and spouted names of court cases with the ease of Mulder listing recorded UFO sightings. I'm not sure why we were even present except as live exhibits.

Laura had wanted me to testify about the circumstances of Miranda's short stay in Montana with Mulder's twin Emerson and Emerson's wife — I'd left her there when I could no longer deal with the two of us. God knows I would have left myself there too if I could have gotten away with it, but that was beside the point now. So there I was in my gray wedding suit, stiff and anxious and terrified that I was going to vomit all over the court reporter. But the judge refused to hear me. I didn't understand what had happened until Laura came back to us, her skin pulled tightly across her face like a victim of excessive plastic surgery, and informed us that he'd ruled that I'd abandoned Miranda as a matter of law, without needing testimony about my reasons. Miranda couldn't comprehend those reasons at the time; why should the law?

We sat like stumps in a clear-cut forest and waited for her to finish up. The second time she returned she was much happier. Mulder had won his separate battle to be declared Miranda's lawful father, apparently because Bill didn't really have a good alternate candidate; the most likely sperm donors were all dead, and so the court wanted to assign her a living natural parent. Especially since I'd ditched her.

Then we had to agree to a schedule of home visits, interviews together and separately, appointments for experts to watch us take care of Miranda and grade us on our performance, appointments for Bill and Tara to meet Miranda and see how she reacted to them. I hoped she bit their smug faces off.

As with any court case, this took an incredibly long time. Or maybe it was just the renewed depression that stretched time out like Eugene Tooms. When we got out, the pounding summer sun was sliding down towards the horizon, to match my mood. I let Mulder drive back. He was better used to Miranda's howls and *he'd* been vindicated by the judge.

I would have headed straight for the liquor cabinet, but I was queasy enough without alcohol. Instead, shaking and sweating, I rushed into the downstairs bathroom and disposed of the undigested parts of a lunch I never should have eaten.

After I dried my hands and fixed my make-up, I found Mulder lurking near the door with a speculative look on his face.

"You all right?"

"I'm fine," I reassured him.

Mulder grunted and took Miranda upstairs to get her changed. I kicked my shoes off and shuffled out onto the porch in my stockings. The least thing I had to worry about at that moment was runners. I sat on the glider and looked out over the bee-buzzed and dreamy early evening backyard. The scars from the Giant Mutant Gophers had been filled in with topsoil and planted with impatiens (the official flower of Casa Mulder), giving undulating lines of color spreading out from the house to the edges of the yard. The roses that climbed up the side of the porch had come with the house and the main branches of the bushes were as big around as my forearm. There was no use crying to the roses that the judge said that I no longer was due the rights of a parent. At the same time Mulder (freer of murdering pedophiles and willing to have holes drilled in his own skull) was. Some things are beyond ironic.

Between Leonard Betts and George Naxos I changed into someone that I didn't recognize – and someone that I wouldn't have wanted to spend any time with.

"I have to go to the city. To see what the Gunmen have found out about Laura." Mulder said from the shadow of the house.

The back yard was steaming like a jungle and I wondered what was stealthily slipping through the overgrown bushes. I needed to call a landscaping outfit. The back yard wasn't fit for Miranda to play in. She needed a sandbox and a swingset, and a little house to hide from the grown-ups in. She needed a thick lawn to cushion her tumbles, where she could run, chase butterflies, blow bubbles and build a snowman in Virginia' s rare but not unheard-of snows. All the things that I'd never had in the utilitarian base housing. Maybe a pond with frogs to catch and big, lazy carp to overfeed, and a tire swing. And a big fence full of sensors to keep the kid in and the monsters out. Maybe if the case went well I'd make the call. So much was depending on convincing the judge that we could make Miranda safe from me. God, I had spent the past six years of my life trying to make the country safe for truth, justice, and the American way, and my reward was that I had turned into one of the monsters.

I'd watched a child of mine die and felt only an intellectual frustration because I hadn't been able to solve her medical problem. I'd taken out my frustration on Mulder's mind and body afterwards. I had set fire to the end result of experimentation on my ova – I couldn't even think of the twisted mutations as children – and I'd have to defend my position to God about that later on. Again, I'd used Mulder as my willing whipping boy. Was I really going to be able to recite fairy tales after this? Could I tell a child that Baba Yaga wasn't going to eat her or that Sleeping Beauty could be revived with a kiss if she was in a deep coma with no indication of brain activity and the best thing to do was see if she had a donor card?

I just couldn't see myself as a cuddly, comforting mommy the way that my mother had been. I couldn't tell a child that everything was going to be all right when there are pedophiles, smallpox, killer bees carrying viruses, Ebola, pollution, SUV's, and dangerous men in dark suits to contend with.

But Mulder could. He had the nurturing routine down cold – and it fit him as well as his boxer briefs did. And, as much as I hated to admit it, it was equally as attractive. The only female that you don't mind seeing in your lover's arms is his baby daughter.

"Dana?"

I was still so unused to hearing my first name in his voice that I looked up after the third repetition.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

I managed a wry smile.

"Yes, you must go and make sure that we haven't gotten fucked over once again and that Laura is exactly as advertised – an earnest young family lawyer and not another minion of darkness."

I stood up and shuffled barefoot over to the door where he loomed in the darkness. Barefoot, the top of my head barely reached his shoulder, but I was still able to put my hand on the center of his chest. Through the wear-wrinkled cotton of his shirt, I could feel his heart beating through the flesh and bone casing. This calmed me somewhat.

"Go ahead, we'll be fine."

In an awkward, bobbing motion that showed me the gangly over-bright teenager he had been, he bent down and gave me a quick kiss. My momentary surprise evaporated after I remembered that we were, after all, married now and such domestic expressions of affection were considered normal.

Shit. Normal. What a joke.

****

Scully being passive is not unlike a shift in the barometer before a major storm front comes through. Although we'd had an appallingly wet spring, early summer storms are not uncommon around the Potomac. The sky around the Capitol looked like one of the psychedelic light shows that accompanied Grateful Dead concerts. In a funny way, I missed Dead shows. A couple nights a year I could put on a t-shirt and melt into an amorphous contact high of happiness. I wasn't crazy about the music or the drug culture; I just liked being an anonymous part of an entity for a few hours. Deadheads, like Trekkers, are an incredibly *pleasant* subculture. I'd take a long bus trip with a group of Deadheads or Trekkers over conspiracy theorists any day of the week. The food was generally better too.

Just to underscore the theme of predeterminism that was pervading my life like the smell of urine in a Manhattan summer, Langley was wearing a dancing bear t-shirt and Frohike was sporting an IDIC button on his work vest when I rolled into conspiracy central that evening.

It occurred to me that the Lone Gunmen's war room wasn't a family-friendly place. Standing in the computer-monitor-lit darkness, I could still make out half a dozen objects small enough to choke a baby and a host of unprotected electrical outlets. Not to mention that the caseless server with the blinking lights and running processors looked like it had great potential to have Teletubby bodies shoved into the works. AGAIN! Babies confounded technology on a regular basis. Miranda had already figured out that the rubber bands that I had wound around the knobs on the lower cabinets of the kitchen would break if enough force were applied. This meant that she had open access to the cleaning supplies underneath the sink until I had figured out her MO and replaced the rubber bands with genuine toddler locks. Now *I* couldn't get the cabinets open. Yet another reason to keep Scully around.

I'd have to lock down all my bookmarks when Miranda got tall enough to reach a keyboard. Actually, I'd have to lock them down that night since Scully was tall enough.

"Your lawyer's clean," Langley announced and looked at me from over his glasses, which were pink with diamond rhinestones for some reason.

"About the only connection she has with Roush is the fact that she used their brand of birth control pill when she was in college. Must have been the standard issue for the Ivy League dispensaries," Byers finished, "but I consider that an extremely tenuous link – more than six degrees of separation."

"She's a legal babe," Frohike added with one of his more lecherous smiles.

Unaccountably, I was annoyed and shoved my hands in my pockets.

"Speaking of babes," Langley moved a little closer to me, "we have a general net search run on your name as part of our daily server routine."

"How thoughtful."

"We received information from the database on the Arlington County server that a marriage certificate was issued to you and one Dana Katherine Scully, MD."

"Not that we were surprised," Frohike added, fiddling with a keyboard until the bare Oracle database fields from the courthouse server were displayed like bones in a filleted fish, "you've been heading that way for years with the grace and skill of that downhill skier on the 'agony of defeat' segment of Wide World of Sports."

"You could have told us," Byers chimed in with his customary gentle tones.

"It's none of your business," my voice came out like chipped ice, "it happened because of the custody battle over Miranda."

"Mulder, you should quit deluding yourself. You've had it bad for her for years," Frohike said, "Do you want copies of your changed tax status forms?"

My heart was banging around in my chest like a loose filter on an air conditioner.

"I want whatever additional information you have about Roush. I have to get back home."

"What's the matter, the wifey not letting you out at night?" Langley mocked.

The banging got louder as the AC in my chest went into Antarctic mode.

"I guess this means that the Red Dwarf marathons are over." Frohike said with a sad shake of his head, "what a shame, I just got the latest transferred over to VHS format."

"We would have thrown you a bachelor party," Byers handed me a sheaf of papers, "there's not much new here. Just some additional detail like telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for the BioQuest staff."

I realized that they had effectively surrounded me in the dark and dirty little room. I wanted to be back home with Scully's stupid throw pillows and scented candles instead of this dingy burrow. Underneath my wrinkled shirt, I could feel agitated sweat condense on my skin.

"Right. Thanks."

I took the papers and fled to the steaming street. The watery air clogged my lungs and the now-dark sky had taken on the gouty complexion it gets before the rain comes like the wrath of God. I stared at the monstrous sky over the Washington monument which looked it was going to lance the swollen clouds. Jeez, even the sky looked evil that night. Rubbernecking at the view probably saved my life. I clicked Scully's little gadget that unlocks the car and flashes the lights but I was still staring at the sky when the car exploded, knocking me to the ground like a doll brushed by a giant's shoe.

The printed pages fluttered the dirty pavement like oversized snowflakes as the Ford burned away like a backyard barbecue. I believe in spontaneous human combustion but not spontaneous automotive combustion. At least they shouldn't combust when the internal combustion engine is not running. Damn Henry Ford anyway. Ford: "Found On Road Dead – Fix Or Repair Daily". Fox On Road Dead. Had I actually been in the car, Miranda would have, essentially, been an orphan. I doubted that the judge would have granted Scully even temporary custody after he had decided that she had abandoned Miranda in Montana.

While the heat from the fire tongued my face, I resolved to be more careful with my driving. Then I sat up on the pavement, pulled out my trusty cellphone and dialed Triple A, 911, and the voice mail of my insurance agent in that order. Then I sat on the pavement and waited for the cavalry to arrive, making one last call.

"Hi honey, I blew up your car."

****

Miranda was cooing along to Trout Fishing in America's rendition of "The Window" on the one of her kiddie tapes I'd pulled out of her baby stereo in her room. It was raining; big fat early summer raindrops a bucketful of water each pounded the Outback. I pulled up at the scene of the crime, identifying it by the flashing red and blue of DC's finest, and the flashing yellow of Buddy's Towing Service flatbed. My car looked like a marshmallow that had been left in the fire too long. Plastic had melted into the soggy asphalt of the street, the paint was scorched away, and the chassis looked like it had gone through a garbage disposal. The driver's seat was a distant memory. Even without much explosives expertise I could tell that the blast began there, brushing glass away like cobwebs and pushing metal out into a giant blackened orchid. If Mulder had sat down — I'd seen a few of the Unabomber's victims, I'd worked on some Mafia types who hadn't been able to adhere to witness protection guidelines, and I was quite able to imagine what would have happened to his too, too sullied flesh.

Therefore, I made myself concentrate on the car. That topic allowed annoyance to fill the hole that terror had just bored through me. I was going to have to go through the whole paperwork dance with the insurance company and we were down to one car during the interim. At least we had racked up enough frequent driver points with Lariat over the years to rent a Porsche Boxer for a month. Damn.. I couldn't get a baby seat in a Boxer. I had an unsettled-stomach feeling that there was a minivan looming on the horizon. The station wagon was bad enough, but a minivan . . .

Mulder opened the passenger side door and collapsed wetly onto the seat. From the back seat Miranda started a running commentary to the world at large. I'd had her down for the night and had to bundle her up in a blanket and shove her into the car seat in the rain, which had done nothing for my black mood. Ingveld and Warwick had been spooned together on his bed like babes in the woods and I didn't have the heartlessness to roust them out of bed when I was capable of handling this myself. Almost. My hands were white on the wheel.

"Da da da Lee Da. Nah?" Miranda asked.

"I blew up your mommy's car," Mulder told her, turning around in the seat to poke her in the fat pouch of her belly.

"Voon?" she asked and her eyes rounded, impressed.

"Voon," he agreed.

"M — Fox, she'll never learn to speak properly if you talk baby talk back to her," I snapped, feeling a little rattled at the fact that he had referred to me as Miranda's 'mommy.'

"You weren't carrying any plastique under your seat, were you?" he asked and turned back around.

"Not this week, no. I might have had a flat fix aerosol can and ice melt spray, but my cargo of accelerants was low." I pulled out and began to drive home.

Gradually the red, blue, and yellow lights faded and were replaced by the cool gold lights of government.

"Zen I azzume zat it waz a bim," he said in the worst Inspector Clouseau impersonation I had ever been unfortunate enough to experience.

"Bomb?"

"B-B-B-B-B AhAhAhAhAhAhAhAhAhAhAhAhMMMMMM!" Miranda enthused from the baby seat.

"Oh shhhhhh – sugar, M –" I had to stop to breathe, between the baby and the forced renaming I was stuttering like the shyest kid in first grade. "Taking us to court isn't bad enough, they have to blow us up as well? Isn't that, pardon the pun, overkill?"

"She shouldn't be doing that yet – she shouldn't be mimicking words for at least three more months."

"MULDER! Someone has tried to kill you and NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO DO THE PROUD DADDY ROUTINE!"

"Why do you assume they were trying to kill me? It's your car," he pointed out, leaning through the gap between the front seats in an extremely dangerous manner so that he could continue to pay more attention to Miranda than to me.

"Which you were driving at the time. And with the court's ruling today, getting rid of you would be sufficient to get Miranda handed over completely aboveboard. Maybe they've decided that kidnapping causes such a fuss that it's worth the effort to do it legally."

"Bahm bahm baaaahhhmmmmm!" Miranda continued, thumping her fat pink fists on the bar of her baby seat. "What was it?" Mulder asked her.

"Bahm!"

"Who loves the Mooselet?"

"DA! Lee! CAT!"

"BAHM!" she added a moment later.

At a red light, I put my face down on the steering wheel. I had not come out on a rainy night with a baby in the back seat after hearing that my car had exploded and me braless in sweatpants and one of Mulder's T-shirts to have to listen to the infant explosion chorus at full volume from the back and passenger seats. There was a serious lack of sobriety about the whole enterprise. I knew I wasn't over-reacting. This would have been annoying in any state other than my post-abduction coma.

Miranda giggled herself asleep before we crossed the river. I let Mulder get her out of the car seat and watched her sleeping, deflated rubber balloon face disappear upstairs over the dark fabric of his T- shirted shoulder. I went into the kitchen and found solace with Cherry Garcia and a Pop Tart. When Mulder finally loped in, he grabbed a spoon before sitting in the chair across from me. He correctly interpreted the glacial quality of my silence and poked his spoon into the carton of ice cream as well in a companionable silence that we hadn't experienced in months.

"The social workers and the psychologists are coming tomorrow."

He looked up at me and his rain-flattened hair flopped across his forehead.

"You're nervous."

"Apprehensive."

"You want to do everything right, score a perfect hundred on the test, get the Summa Cum Laude in parenting."

I shouldn't have been surprised, he'd gotten his psych degree from Oxford, not from a Cracker Jack box, and we had known each other for over six years. I just thought that I had my apple-polishing obsession under control these days. I must have made some kind of face because he gave me one of his special edition boyish smiles out from under his hair before he reached over and ran the cool bottom of the spoon over my bottom lip. My thighs shook inside the warm cocoon of the sweatpants. Mulder slid out of his chair and around behind me, his fingers were cold from the ice cream and my nipples jumped to as his hands moved around to cup my breasts, pinching me with practiced skill. His breath was warm against my ear as his ice-cream sticky tongue lapped at my earlobe, circled my ear canal, nipped behind my ear and pulled at my earring until a tiny spark of pain/pleasure made me shudder.

"You know we really should get some sleep, it's been a *long* day," he growled.

I knew that. I also knew how long since he was rubbing his pelvis into my back between the rungs of the Ikea chair. There was melted ice cream on my fingers but I laced them through his soft hair so I could pull his mouth down on mine, he tasted of cherries and vanilla over his usual un-nameable coffee mocha Mulder flavor. His teeth were cool as glass against mine and I sucked on his lips as his now-warm fingers headed south underneath my sweatpants until he had the heel of his hand against my pelvic bone and his fingers where I was melting like the ice cream.

"We shouldn't do this," I murmured into his carotid artery and my teeth scraped over the shadow stubble there.

"Old boring married folk don't do things like this," he muttered back.

The world swirled for a second and the tabletop was hard underneath my back. I was so stunned by the fact that he had been able to lift me that the fact that he was pulling my sweats down over my hips was almost incidental. Once my panties had landed near the refrigerator and the t-shirt was wadded up underneath my arms, he looked down with a sly and self-satisfied expression. I was spread out on the table like cookie dough waiting to be cut, gripping the sides of the table that wobbled threateningly on its center support. Thank God Ingveld and Warwick were notoriously heavy sleepers. The sly smile deepened into a smirk as his right hand dipped down into the carton of melting ice cream.

"Do that and you're a dead man, Fox Mulder."

"Who wants to live forever?"

The ice cream was cold on my breasts, but not painfully so. Nevertheless, I did wiggle and squirm as he continued to drizzle the sticky goo all over my torso. Bits of cherry, darker than my darkest lipstick speckled the liquid that was beginning to run down my sides and onto the tabletop. Grinning, he leaned down and began to lick the ice cream from my skin with short cat-like laps of his entirely too-talented tongue. I continued to grip the table to keep both of us from landing on the floor, even though my back arched and I groaned low in my throat as he cleaned my collarbones, breasts, nipples, and delved into my navel to retrieve a few flecks of cherry.

"I'm going to kill you." I hissed.

"I'm counting on it," he mumbled into my belly and pressed my legs open with his own.

My inner thighs scraped against the denim of his jeans as he moved and I caught my breath before he painted a line of ice cream over my lips and licked that off as well. While his tongue darted over and into my lips, he scrabbled somewhere on the table and I wasn't shocked when I felt the coldness of the ice cream pressed up and inside me. I squeaked into his mouth and he laughed back into mine while his long fingers anointed me as far up as they would go.

"Mulder!" I warned.

He pulled up his head and his eyes were green with mischief.

"This is the only way that I get your cherry."

After the cold of the ice cream his mouth was almost unbearably hot on my nether regions. He sucked at my clitoris, making me choke back a series of wails, and his long tongue plunged inside so he could slurp the rest of the ice cream and cherries out along with my own juices. My head thumped back against the table when the ice of the ice cream and the talented heat of his tongue whipped me into a climax that I had to close my mouth on. Yelps were smothered into thickened grunts as I shuddered and spasmed on the dancing tabletop. While I was still partially out of my right mind, he slid into me, hot and hard. With his hands braced on either side of my head on the table, he drove into me with the precision of a finely tuned engine. I moaned and his mouth, sweet and cool, covered mine again. The buttons of his jeans scraped my leg as we gasped into one another's mouths and the heat between our bodies ate up all the air in the room. I came again like a mousetrap snapping on helpless rodents, biting his shoulder to keep from waking up the household. This made him pound deeper and harder into me, until the table bumped and ground underneath us. I held onto the roller coaster tabletop as he growled his gopher love call and nipped at my shoulder as he finally came with a tremor that threatened to send us careening into the dishwasher.

Panting, sticky with sweat, body fluids and melted ice cream, he collapsed atop me and breathed as though he had brought the news from Marathon.

"Who's there?"

At Warwick's voice we snapped apart like Lego blocks and I bolted, mostly naked, into the darkness of the dining room. I heard Mulder's fly being zipped just before bare feet slapped on the kitchen floor.

"It's you," Warwick said and I heard the refrigerator door open, "I was afraid that more of your family had come to visit."

"Can't sleep?"

"Shoulder hurts. Want a beer?"

Warwick should not have been drinking with his meds, but this wasn't exactly the right time to point this out. Instead, I pulled the t-shirt down far enough to cover all the vital areas, frowning as it stuck to my skin and headed upstairs through the living room. I was desperate for a shower and I didn't want to know where Mulder had hidden the used condom.


the moon showed up and it started to show tonight there'd be ice cream
ice cream for crow
ice cream for crow
sun cream by day
ice cream for crow
ice cream by night
ice cream by day
the sun ain't stable
Captain Beefheart

 

The interviewers the court appointed were just social workers and psychologists. Unlike everyone else who conspires against us, they didn't have access to surveillance equipment and deep background. They actually had to ask us questions to get to know us. As instructed by Laura, I had offered them all soft drinks and/or coffee. That was to show that I was nurturing.

We'd also scattered family photos around to show that we were family oriented, which had been difficult because I wasn't going to let Bill into my life even in two dimensions. We ended up with some pictures of me and Missy, Charlie and his brood, Mulder and Sam when they were still clueless kids, dozens of Miranda moments and a few of Emerson, Aileen, and their baby Samuel. At the last minute, Mulder ran to the store to get frames for the wedding pictures. I wasn't too sure about them — we looked like suspects in a line-up in most of the shots, though there was one nice picture where I was holding Miranda. Mulder had his hand at my waist and his downturned face looked, at that odd angle, intensely tender. The only picture on display that actually hit any resonance for me had been in the office for years – at a crime scene, arguing over something in our dark suits with our dark expressions. That was the us that I knew, the other pictures from the wedding with our pale clothes and earnest expressions were as familiar to me as the photos of strangers that came with the picture frames.

I was glad we'd made the effort as our unwanted guests wandered through the house. For all I knew they were running white-gloved fingers over mantles looking for dust, but Laura had said that excessive cleanliness was bad because it was child-unfriendly, and I just hoped they noticed that Mulder had put blocking devices in every unused outlet to prevent accidental electrocution.

Mulder sat beside me on the couch, on the center pillow that we'd reversed to hide the bloodstains. His legs spread wide in stiff blue denim, his elbows poking into his upper thighs, he looked like a college professor who'd just found out that yes, the sophomore was pressing charges. "So what would you like to know?"

A kindly-looking woman with carefully styled grey hair leaned forward in her chair and asked, "Perhaps you could tell us a little about your family, what their childrearing style is like, and your brothers and sisters if you have any."

"Maybe it would help if I could draw a chart."

Instead of glaring, I put my hand on his thigh, and he gave me a startled glance, then recovered to his standard blankness. "Well, I was raised with one younger sister until I was twelve…"

I tried to tune out the horror story as best I could while still maintaining a sympathetic and understanding demeanor. The sufferer is allowed to distance himself from his suffering, people understand that kind of defense mechanism, but his loving wife is supposed to manifest the symptoms of his trauma for him. I guess Mulder would have a name for it, a socially approved transference, but I had enough trouble feeling my own emotions without projecting Mulder's.

Nevertheless I needed no artifice to make my voice hesitate and drop when they asked me the same questions and I had to talk about Missy. I have blocked out as much of the interrogation as possible, but a few highlights remain in my mind.

"And how did the two of you meet?"

Even I knew the right way to respond to that question, by turning to Mulder and smiling shyly; he'd figured it out too and I felt a surge of hope.

I looked at my hands as he gave a Reader's Digest explanation of the X Files, trying to make them sound about as harmless as the Goosebumps series for children. (Though I hear some people blame Goosebumps for the rash of schoolchildren shootings, so maybe the comparison was apt.)

"And what attracted you to each other?" This from a slight gentleman with a neat mustache and a disarmingly friendly style, like so many of the cold- blooded killers we'd known.

And how was that relevant to the inquiry? I smiled in the general direction of the professional voyeur's feet, as if I were shy about it. "His intelligence, his passion for his work." Thinking: His ass, his bedroom eyes and barroom stubble, are you blind? Can't you feel the fact that the man radiates sex? Not just a good fuck, but a smart one. I realized uneasily that the official story might have just as much truth as the unofficial story, and then I thought I shouldn't be analyzing myself at this juncture. "He challenged me, both to prove myself as an agent and to discover the answers behind events that were on their face inexplicable. Um — he's got an incredible sense of humor, he has unending compassion for the victims of the crimes we investigate."

The appalling thing about the interrogation was that it not only removed my self-respect, it made it impossible for Mulder to credit any of these nice things I was saying. Humiliation without the upside of tenderness. I cleared my throat and looked the questioner in the eye, wanting to seem honest and friendly. "Fox has supported me through some very hard times for me both personally and professionally. He's brave, insightful, and incapable of giving up. And he is never, ever sick at sea."

The matronly type smiled at me. I was surprised that she was the one to take the bait. "Never?"

I grinned back; it was a real love-in. "Well, hardly ever."

Mulder squeezed my hand. "Dana is brilliant and challenging in her own right. She made me work to get results. She took me seriously even when she didn't believe my crazy theories. She trusted me." And I suffered for him so he felt honor bound to suffer me, because no one else would after what we've been through.

A younger woman, the third of the Fates, cleared her throat. "What do you think are your husband's strengths and weaknesses?"

I really wanted to laugh and point out that he had an endless capacity for abuse which was a stellar quality in any husband and an even more endless capacity for going down on me.

Whatever platitude I muttered I don't remember.

"How do you settle conflicts when they arise?"

With considerable difficulty, I thought, and smiled a smile so plastic that Barbie would have been envious. "Vigorous argument, usually. We've got five years of experience compromising to make final reports of case dispositions, and that helps."

We endured over six hours of interrogation before they left. I'd actually had to reapply deodorant during my bathroom breaks. I suppose I should be grateful that bathroom breaks were allowed, since they'd failed to read us our Miranda rights and were probably violating some international human rights treaty with their prying questions.

I had been too nervous to eat in the morning or when we served a simple yet nutritious lunch, so when they left I rummaged for food while Laura, who'd been lurking in the background, discussed strategy with Mulder. After a few minutes, I heard the red beep of the alarm announcing her departure. I stood in the kitchen next to the refrigerator, sticking celery stalks into a jar of peanut butter and scooping globs out. I had a bowl of raisins to dunk the combination into and then I'd eat the whole thing. My mother used to make these snacks she called "ants on a log," which was the same thing only with much more organization. Maybe someday I'd do the same for Miranda but I didn't have the energy to smooth peanut butter into the grooves of a celery stalk when it was all going to get mixed together in my stomach anyway.

Mulder wandered in and his face screwed up like a pug dog's. "I'm going to have to buy a new jar of peanut butter," he complained, "it's not sanitary to be communal like that."

"You get all my germs anyway," I pointed out.

"And what are those? Raisins?"

"They just look like raisins, they're actually ants."

"Oh, okay," he took a handful. "Mmm, folic acid. Well, I was going to ask what you wanted from the store, but now I think I don't want to know. I'll add peanut butter to the spreadsheet though."

"Miranda?"

"Napping." He turned on the ubiquitous baby monitor resting on the counter and the room filled with soft susurration.

"Ben and Jerry's," I called out as he left. He pretended not to hear.

I went to sit in the dining room, staring back into the kitchen and looking through wallpaper samples as I stuffed my face. My impulse to decorate was worsening now that I needed it to distract me. Especially since I'd given up the Annapolis apartment. This wasn't my home away from home anymore, it was a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.

I didn't clean out the entire jar of peanut butter, but I ran out of raisins and so I stopped eating anyway. It's not the same without the right balance of ingredients. There was a pile of case files on the sideboy that I sorted through diffidently, putting them into rough piles for discard or further consideration. I'd had a search run to find out what other vermin Roush's law firm had represented; since they were helping my brother attempt to steal Miranda I could only assume that they were still in the arsenal of the Dark Side of the Force. Danny's first efforts hadn't produced anything useful, but he had generated a list of client names and I was trying to determine which ones were high-tech enough to give off that conspiratorial bouquet.

When Mulder returned he brought Wavy Gravy and New York Super Fudge Chunk, which earned him bonus points. I returned to the kitchen to help him unload; he had to do everything that went in a cabinet, but I could put away things that belonged in a refrigerator. When the blue-and-white rectangular package landed in front of me, I first thought that it was a tube of toothpaste. I couldn't really read the label through the glare of cellophane.

"Oh, no," I said when I figured it out.

He simply looked at me. I wanted to say: no, really, the prospect of testifying in court has always made me throw up, and also I've liked ants on a log since childhood.

"So go use it and prove me wrong," he said, reading my mind. "It's what you like best anyway."

I had to brace my hands on the counter to keep upright. Thoughts churned in my mind like a pod of dolphins breaching in the ocean, bobbing and then disappearing as they threw up spume. Could this be God's best joke yet? Could I still take my Zoloft safely? Would Bill and Tara try to take this child away too?

What the hell was I going to *do*?

I picked up the package, sharp cardboard corners pressing red lines into my palm, and staggered into the downstairs bathroom on legs as rubbery as beef tongue.

They make home tests entirely too easy and too reliable these days, I couldn't even wrap the possibility that it could be wrong around myself to keep my denial warm. When was the last time I menstruated, anyway? Before George came back and killed my gynecologist – what was that, four weeks before? Five? Shit. There had been a time, when I was seeing Jack, that I had dutifully noted each cycle in my Franklin by scribbling the Pill prescription code on the day. Then I'd had cancer and I had quit taking the hormones, and then I had been pronounced sterile and that was the end of that. Then the sex had dried up and I hadn't bothered.

I'd been snookered by part of my own subconscious that hadn't let me pick up the prescription, and hadn't reminded me to use condoms. Although to be fair my subconscious had plenty of other things to worry about the time we went bareback, such as the fact that Mulder was acting the part of his psycho brother George and I was playing victim better than Janet Leigh. Dead girls generally don't interrupt the proceedings to ask about protection.

Shitshitshitshit!

I must have stayed in that bathroom for almost an hour, trying to figure out what I was feeling. When I gave up, I opened the door and Mulder was there waiting. As usual, he could read me like a fortune cookie and he knew immediately. He pulled me into his arms and for once I had no impulse to resist him.

"Everything's going to be fine," he whispered into my hair as I shook against him.

It was all too much, my legs finally went out like Miranda's when she was too tired or too lazy to even pretend to walk. Even with his arms under my arms, I slid down Mulder's body until I was sitting on the floor. I knew I was crying because my face wouldn't have been wet otherwise.

***

I woke up alone with the alarm clock registering two in the morning. My first chest-tightening thought led me to the window and I looked out to see both cars sitting in the driveway shining in the light of a waxing moon. So she hadn't left, or if she had she'd gone by foot. In the back of my mind hummed the image of Scully wandering the weak-moonlit night with her feet torn to shreds by red shoes. She didn't have red shoes. God, that was about the only color shoes that she didn't have.

Oh I used to be disgusted Now I try to be amused But since their wings have got rusted You know, the angels want to wear my red shoes.

Elvis Costello, the only Elvis I could stand these days thanks to George.

The things that Scully had brought from her apartment (besides the aforementioned footwear) included her photo albums, and these were spread out on the living room floor in front of her when I padded downstairs. She was hunched over one so intently that she jerked when I put my hand on her warm shoulder.

"Hey," I said.

"Couldn't sleep."

Sitting down on the floor next to her, I could smell whatever strange cream she put on her face at night. She smelled like vanilla wafers and honey. She smelled like the Mooselet when she had been eating sweets, just before the sour milky baby spit and baby pee aroma hit. She twisted the unfamiliar rings around and around on her finger, as though they were lined with barbed wire. The flashing of the topaz was making me sick and I wanted to slap her hand away from it. I settled for putting my hand over hers and she stilled.

"I feel like a fucking pawn. Just when I think I get it all straightened out; it gets fucked up again," her voice was as flat as a tortilla.

I squeezed her hand to let her know that I was listening, but didn't dare comment.

"What am I going to do now? Just start having babies like a machine so they can be taken away? This isn't supposed to happen to people like me! I'm not some breeding mare so the bad guys have a fresh set of infants to manipulate the way they did you and your brothers!" she snarled and her eyes sparked like fat dripped into a gas jet. I could feel the heat coming off her face like a fire.

"This is wrong, this is evil, Mulder, evil. They turn your family against you, they turn my family against me, and they try to take Miranda. They'll try to take this baby too, just so they can cut it apart and see what makes it tick."

"Did it occur to you that this baby has nothing to do with any of their plans? It wasn't engineered – it was made the low-tech way. They don't know about it, it's safe."

"Jesus Christ, Mulder, how can you be so fucking na‹ve?!" she shouted and jumped up from the floor, the long T-shirt flaring around her like a chiton.

"You don't think that they haven't bugged this place? The telephone? That there isn't videotape of us re- enacting George's last great crime! My God, Mulder, I can't even entertain the thought that we could have conceived that night!"

She wouldn't be alone. How was I going to be able to face another little pink creature knowing that it had been made the night I'd squeezed half the life out of her before indulging in yet another round of destructive sex? On the other hand, I seemed to remember her impaling herself on my resuscitated member and not complaining. But this was hardly the time to mention it.

"And how are we to know that I don't get a little shove on the stairwell at the Hoover Building one afternoon. 'Oh, Mr. Mulder, we're so sorry but we weren't able to save the baby' and they go and fucking implant my fetus into some zombie like Emily's birth mother, Miranda's birth mother! You think maybe the third time's the charm?"

I'd taught her an awful lot about the fine art of paranoia. She lunged at me, slamming her head into one of the more sore spots in my chest, like Catzilla looking for a place to nest. She was shaking against me and it wasn't with laughter. Her fingers were knotted in my shirt as though she were trying to strangle me with it – and I wouldn't have been surprised if she had wanted to kill me.

"We can't tell anyone," she hissed into my ribcage.

"What are you going to do? Hide behind furniture and trenchcoats for nine months? You're going to look like a seahorse this time next month." I pointed out, my hands sliding over her shoulders like shadows on grass in a vain attempt to make my words more calming.

"Not until we get Bill and his keepers contained, that can't take all that long. They like to get custody cases wound up quickly to prevent psychological damage to the child."

"But pre-natal care and-"

"I'm a doctor, not a high school student. I know what I can and can't do. I'll review the texts," she muttered into my body, sounding reassuringly like her old self.

I rubbed my hands over the soft cotton covering her back, feeling the beat of her heart like a drum muffled in a funeral procession. We slid down to a kneeling position like penitent and priest, like lovers whispering through a chink in the great wall separating them. I wanted to tell her that I loved her, that everything was going to be all right, that I would protect her, Miranda, and whatever new person was busily growing underneath her liver. Frankly, I was scared shitless. The possibilities were all too frightening. Something about the strange circumstances of Miranda's birth and life with me had made her more *my* child than Scully's even though we'd both been in absentia at her conception and gestation. That was a dry run, this was the whole nine months.

It was terrifying, and exciting at the same time – like bungee jumping.

While I was going through my own uncomfortable wash of thoughts like cold rainwater running through gutters, Scully gradually stopped shaking against me and started to soften, her body conforming to mine like an electric blanket, giving off her own candy sweet heat. I kissed her forehead, trying to impart the same kind of comfort and reassurance as I had in the hospital, the night that she had realized that she was dying. She caught my forearms and ran the dry palms of her hands up over the guard hairs standing erect on my skin. Breath heated my throat as she rubbed her fingers upward through my hair. A thrill like a knife blade running up my spine shot from my toes to my scalp, making the blood rush out of my head and into my groin. Her eyelids trembled underneath my lips, her lashes pricking at me like spines while her hands reached underneath my T- shirt where my stomach muscles jumped obediently under her touch. She pinched at my nipples until I winced into her mouth and she gave out the satisfied growl of a lioness hunched over a downed antelope.. I stretched my neck as trustingly as a maiden in a vampire movie and let her soft mouth and tongue explore the borders between healed and raw skin on my neck. Over my thighs, her hands ran up and underneath the loose legs of my boxers until she was stroking my cock with her hot little hands.

I found her ass with my hands and ran my palms over the smooth skin covering her voluptuous little backside, until she pressed closer and nipped at my collarbone. While my left hand circled the extra erogenous zone of her tattoo, the other slipped over her rump and between her legs where she steamed for only me. I used my knee to press her thighs farther open so I could wiggle three fingers inside her and rub at her clitoris with my thumb. She gasped at the invasion, although I doubt if she was in any way surprised. Kneeling there with her hair standing out around her face like a fiery milkweed pod, and her eyes watching the thoughts in the back of my skull, she grabbed at my shoulders to keep herself upright. I slid my fingers out of her, trailing a deliberate path of her own wetness across her ass and thighs until I could reach her from the front and slipped them inside again. This time, my other hand squeezed her breasts together so I could bite at each nipple through the thin fabric of her shirt.

She groaned and tightened around me, and I could feel each movement of my fingers inside her echoed in her body. I stroked her inside and out, making her shudder and sway against me. And when I looked up from her breasts for a moment I saw the blackened blue of her eyes and her uncommunicative mouth lust-swollen and half-open.

"You are incredibly beautiful," I stammered like a pimply teenager with his first date rather than a thirty-eight year old man with his knocked-up wife.

"You've never said — oh," and her eyes flew open wide as she started shuddering her climax around me.

I could see myself reflected in the blackness of her pupils.

Scully is a like a radio that I can only tune in to certain channels, and the sex channel always comes in the clearest.

****

I was still reeling, exhausted from the day's events and the tendon-popping orgasm I'd just had. Vague thoughts about what I should do to Mulder in return were scudding across my brain like clouds before a summer storm.

Miranda's wails cut through my musings with her own personalized test of the emergency broadcast system. The baby monitor was still on in Mulder's bedroom so that her shrieks fell down the stairs in stereo.

"I'll go," I mumbled. I was weak-kneed but Mulder was having a harder time, no pun intended. He grimaced and nodded with the same pained face he used when he was getting stitches. I was just amazed this hadn't happened sooner.

The baby was clean and dry, and she wasn't hungry. She was just crying on general principles, as far as I could tell. If she didn't want competition for our affections, she was a few weeks too late. I circled her room, asking her to calm down and wondering if I could do this twice. We needed another nanny (preferably another heterosexual man or a lesbian; but with my luck we'd get an Alicia Silverstone type – - or worse, Alex Krycek — who'd blow MMulder for one of his ironic smiles).

Miranda's wails cycled down after a few minutes. "Ka — ka — kat?" she asked and gave me a suspiciously familiar whipped-Dalmatian look.

"Oh, no you don't," I informed her. "That doesn't work for your daddy and it's not going to work for you." To be honest, that pathetic face worked quite well for Mulder, but I was hoping that I could keep Miranda unaware of her hereditary gifts for a little while.

She pouted, blew a spit bubble, and lapsed back into semiconsciousness. I put her back in the crib and backed out of the room.

Mulder had returned to the bedroom; I could see the light trickling out around the closed door.

I wasn't sure what the etiquette of the situation was. Maybe he'd taken care of the problem himself. I had, after all, broken up a stable and committed relationship between Mulder and his own right hand.

I pushed open the bedroom door and stepped hesitantly through.

Mulder was under the covers, curled up in his standard spiral-shaped sleep pose. I put my hands on my hips and surveyed the territory. Mulder blinked at me with the sleepy eyes I had just seen in the other room.

I must have registered disappointment, because he smirked at me. "Cut me some slack — er, bad choice of words. It's the middle of the night, it's been a big day, and I'm pushing forty."

Looking over the flowing lines of his shoulders and back, it occurred to me that forty was not pushing back very hard. "I could write you a prescription for Viagra," I suggested.

He groaned and flung the sheets back, inviting me in. I could have walked around the bed to get to my side, but it seemed simpler just to crawl over him, checking to see that he was in working order as I went. His skin was slick and cool under my fingertips, fine hairs rising at the eeriness of my touch. I bent and sucked at a patch of skin just at his waist and he yipped a complaint.

"Dana, I'm tired," he whined. "Can't I just get a rain check?"

I needed a brain check. Yes, I was attempting to connect with him through raw sexual energy, which was irrational and desperate; would you blame me? I felt as unstable as a comic book villain. At this point, I had a history that would fully justify a funny costume and a descriptive moniker, not to mention a weird-ass MO: I had been abducted, had my sister killed, been given cancer, had my genetic material used to make monsters and other people, had been raped by my lover's twin who had also created said monsters, and I was now the unwilling bride of that aforementioned clownish clone and now, like the malignantly unnatural cherry on top of the sundae of Life, pregnant by him. I deserved some coolly nefarious toys, I deserved to have a city of my own to terrorize, and I deserved a sidekick. One shorter than I was. And Miranda didn't count.

What I had was Mulder, who was asleep again before I'd really processed his rejection.

Ah, the joys of marriage. I finished tumbling over him to my side of the bed, pulled the sheets up to my neck, and sulked until sleep ambushed me and held my brain for ransom.

 

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 7/

All there is left is a photograph You smile and the ice cream`s meltin` down your pants And I keep living on, you`re in the past, it`s been so long Since the Ice Cream Summer, it`s forgotten now it`s gone Hanoi Rocks

The morning after we realized Scully was pregnant was interesting in the extreme. I was sitting in the kitchen drinking my post-run, post-shower coffee and reading the Post while the Mooselet crawled around on the floor with her stuffed Po. Catzilla was sitting on the table, washing his back toes — which would have reduced Scully to vermilion-faced rage since she doesn't realize that Catzilla is cleaner than most people. All was all right with the world. Of course I had butterflies in my stomach the size of Pterodactyls and my hands were shaking around the coffee mug, but that was pretty much what it was like to be me. The Mooselet was winding my sneaker laces around a cartoonish pink horse and I almost killed myself getting up to answer the doorbell. There had been a few flower arrangements and a couple of gifts as I have been congenitally unable to keep my mouth shut about anything that didn't have a life or death consequence. I'd e-mailed Emerson and Darien, and out of some perverse sense of revenge e-mailed both Phoebe and Diana through their work accounts. I'd actually used stamps and mailed a couple notes to the vague friends I had left over from Oxford and my tutor, who had retired to Greece. I figured that Dr. Arenson would get the letter by the time Miranda was twelve. I also dropped a note to Mrs. Schwartz who had lived next door to me at Hegal place and had brought me soup when I was sick and had saved my life by dialing 911 on more than one occasion. I thought that some of these peripheral people in my life would be amused to know that I was having the ball and chain welded around my ankle with good grace.

I sloped out to the front room with Miranda under my arm and answered the door, expecting another bored teenager with a mouthful of gum and a flower arrangement, or an efficient Fed Ex guy with a Pepsodent smile. Instead, I found myself looking at the face that I had dreamed about for years, first in the agony of loss and then in the agony of shame. "Sam?"

She looked like hell; one side of her face was bloody and raw, her black feather hair sticking into dried blood, her eye swollen shut and her lip dripping fresh blood down along her chin. Hanging onto the doorjamb she looked like a glare would send her shattered to the floor.

"Hey big brother, sorry to crash the festivities," she said with a bitter smirk and collapsed into the foyer.

The Mooselet started to wail. I put Miranda in her playpen and carried Sam, who only weighed slightly more than Miranda, over to the recovered sofa where she bled onto the new upholstery, while the Mooselet stood up in the playpen and appealed to a higher power.

"Lee! Lee!"

Great, my own kid was ratting me out. I growled to myself and scampered off to the kitchen for the emergency first aid kit which, thanks to Scully, was as well stocked as a small ER. My blushing bride was waiting for me in the living room, looking down at my battered sister with the look of caustic loathing.

"Oh shit," she muttered.

Samantha's eyes flickered open and she looked back up at Scully with a mirrored expression.

"Congratulations," she hissed.

"What are you doing here?" Scully demanded and pulled up a footstool alongside the sofa. I handed her the First Aid kit and stepped back out of the fray.

"Where the hell else was I going to go? They're trying to kill me."

"Who?" I asked over Scully's head.

"I don't know their names, you dick. *Them*, the men that Dad worked with. Men without names. I was going to visit Mom in New England, she told me that you two were married and about the custody battle. I was in the airport and they grabbed me in the parking lot. Beat the shit out of me and told me that even if you *got* custody of the baby, they'd take her from you."

"And we're supposed to believe that?" Scully snapped, ripping open a packet of alcohol wipes which she then used to scrub at Sam's bleeding face.

Sam winced and flinched away from her. This is one of the reasons Scully only works with the dead – her in-bed manner is exceptional, but her bedside manner lacks certain warmth. When I broke my thumb on a case in Iowa she cracked it back into alignment without disturbing a hair of her own shining coif. I, on the other hand, turned sea green with pain and slid to the floor like a colloid. I was on the verge of doing the sea-green colloid routine again, but didn't want to lose face in front of my impressionable progeny in the playpen. I didn't want her growing up thinking that her Daddy was a *complete* wimp.

"Why should we protect you?" a voice that sounded more like one of my brothers' emerged from my mouth.

"Because you're my brother," she snarled.

Like that was foremost in her mind the night she tried to seduce me while Jason was raping Scully.

"Blood runs pretty thin around here, Sam, George's only stained the carpet. You have to give me – give us — a *very* good reason not to sling your skinny ass out into the street."

Her eyes slid away from mine and she was staring at Scully, which was not the place to look for sympathy no matter how cozy Scully looked in her butter- yellow toweling bathrobe.

"The former Roush scientists still have some of your ova, not all were destroyed during your clumsy mass abortion."

"I don't believe you," Scully said, and I could just about see her ears flattening back against her head. "Haven't you ever heard the story about the boy who cried wolf?"

"Tell that to your *children*," she snapped.

"Sorry. Not good enough. If you can't drive, I will call you a cab," I offered, "but you really don't fit into our lifestyle right now."

For a second, I saw hurt in her eyes, and it brought back all the bad memories of how I had taunted and tormented her before she had been taken away. Taken away and I hadn't been able to save her – not from the aliens as much as what the humans had done to change her into this polished stranger.

She narrowed her reptilian eyes at me.

"You know I'm the only one who knows exactly what has been hardwired into that baby's–" she glanced over at the Mooselet — "genetic code. And if you won't help me I'm going to have to cut my own deal with whoever will."

"I think you better leave." Scully said.

When Sam had finally been whisked away in a taxi I felt safe enough to scoop up the Mooselet in my arms as if that was going to shield her from the evil spores that Samantha had left in her wake. Scully merely gathered up the detritus from the first aid kit and threw it all out in the kitchen garbage as though she could clear away the memory of Sam with her bloodstains.

"Coffee?" Scully asked.

The Mooselet pulled on my ear with her wet fingers.

"Coffee, Mulder?" Scully prodded.

"No thanks. I'm experiencing an adrenaline rush right now-."

Snorting, she dumped the half-pot down the drain and watched it swirl into the black hole of the pipe.

"You know," she said in a carefully cool tone, "from my experience, all of your sister's injuries were consistent with damage that had been self-inflicted."

"I am, " I said to the Mooselet, "going to buy you a set of Russian dolls to show you how lies work."

"Doesn't it seem awfully suspect that your sister shows up today in light of the information we received yesterday?"

It took me a moment to realize that Scully was referring to her pregnancy, but subtlety and sneakiness have never been my strong points. It was funny how Sam managed to show up right after we'd gotten an ETA on the stork's next run. Funny as a condom with a hole in it.

"Of course it's suspect, it's another plot complication just in case the custody issue wasn't enough to sustain interest."

Scully paled and I thought my paranoid hypothesis had made her suffer an epiphany, but when she bolted for the bathroom and I heard the sound of retching I realized it was just nausea.

***

Monday morning came early. Far too early. I usually hung on to sleep with the tenacity of a rock climber whose safety harness had snapped, but for the past few days I'd been awake with the gray blush of predawn. Maybe there was a physiological explanation, the hormones of pregnancy were pretty potent. Add the rage and frustration brought by Samantha into the mix and I was ready to go up like fuel oil and fertilizer.

Ingveld was soldering the case of a computer back together when I stumbled downstairs to check on Warwick. He was sleeping through the noise of Ingveld's construction with the ease of the young. Unlike the rest of us, she couldn't afford to take time off of work every time a monster invaded her life. She was under deadline for a federal agency whose identity she couldn't reveal to us. She didn't have American citizenship but she had a security clearance; there was something wrong with that but Uncle Sam had adopted the philosophy that if you can't catch 'em, hire 'em.

"Vill you mind if I attend the trial?" she asked as I collected a few of Miranda's toys that had migrated to their level of the house. "I do not know much about the American justice system, it is much discussed in Europe but not well understood. It seems quite complicated."

I shrugged agreement; Ingveld was mostly harmless and maybe the judge would like her. Ingveld was hard not to like.

"Americans are so violent and yet you have so much law, is it not strange?"

Never one to let a simple rhetorical question go, I reverted to standard lecture mode. "It's two sides of the same coin, we want our own way in everything and so some citizens make the laws for their own aggrandizement while others break them to satisfy their contrary wills. America has a strong individualist tradition that isn't quite as healthy as many people like to believe."

"Perhaps," she conceded. "You have so little trust in one another. I write the security protocols for one of your courthouses, even the guards do not know the right codes to open doors at night. They must patrol locked in so they do not betray their employers. That is the job that brought us here, vhy Varvick became Miri's nanny," she looked so sad, she hadn't even been the one who'd shot Warwick but she felt guilty because her job had indirectly led him to this household of insanity.

"Ingveld," I said, trying not to sound condescending with my fifty thousand light years' more experience, "you can't blame yourself. You couldn't have known, you couldn't have done anything but what you did, and Warwick is just happy that you're with him. I'm sure he feels that he put you in danger by being here, but the truth is that no one is to blame but the vicious criminal who assaulted you both."

She nodded slowly. "I try to think that. Is that how you feel?"

Well, no one ever said the girl lacked brains. "I try," I admitted. "Often I ask what I might have done differently. But we make our decisions with imperfect knowledge and it's unfair to judge ourselves entirely by the outcomes of those decisions. You and Warwick were caught at the edge of a whirlwind, not of your own volition, and you should take pride in your survival."

Ingveld sighed and looked back at the slumbering man on the bed. "I try also," she said and I nodded goodbye.

I wondered if Mulder envied the easy unity between them. I certainly did.

While Mulder dressed Miranda in one of the dresses his mother had given her, which was not unlike stuffing all the arms of a large and unhappy octopus into a mesh bag, I grabbed a quick shower and got dressed for the next set of unwelcome guests. I had styled my hair and was dabbing foundation on the circles under my eyes when the wave of nausea hit me like a tsunami wiping out a small city in Papua New Guinea. I leaned over the open toilet and became re-acquainted with my breakfast. Mulder must have heard my un-ladylike gagging because he burst through the door of the bathroom with the subtlety of a SWAT team making a target.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine, Mulder." I spat and choked on bile.

He hovered, an Armani-clad mosquito, buzzing and annoying me.

"You should have crackers."

"I don't want crackers," I said and flushed the toilet with undue force.

"I'll get you some saltines."

"I don't WANT ANY SALTINES!"

Buzz buzz buzz, he darted around, unsure if he should land and finally settled on the edge of the bathtub and looked up at me with eyes like healing bruises. I ignored him and brushed my teeth to get the sour taste out of my mouth. "I just want to help," he whined.

"You can go away," I snapped and spit out toothpaste.

With an injured sniff he left in a cloud of Hugo Boss, which made my stomach heave again and the entire process was repeated sans well-dressed interruptions. It's a shame that the genetic experiments of the Project hadn't made it possible for the Mulder line to actually bear any of the spawn that they sired. I certainly would have appreciated it.

We spent the day with Bill's hired dog and pony show, answering loaded questions (and not with our loaded guns, which would have been my preference). Sometimes the ludicrous questions were the same and sometimes different. How did I *feel* about having shot Mulder? What would we look for in playmates for Miranda? Did I think that doing autopsies made it harder for me to relate to the living? (If it had been an FBI event I would have said, "Only some of them," with a significant look, but I was trying to hide my acid under a bushel and so I smiled demurely. I think. I don't have a terribly good idea what demure looks like, but I think it's a lot like Mom.)

When they'd gone, we collapsed onto the couch. I felt like I'd been strapped to an examining table as the doctor brought round after round of medical students to examine my exposed innards. Miranda had come up from Warwick and Ingveld's lair and began pulling the candles off the coffee table and seeing what they tasted like. I was to tired to stop her and I watched thirty dollars worth of natural beeswax alpine flower pillar candles from Crabtree and Evelyn become decorated with dental impressions.

Mulder had a bit more energy than I did and he scooped her up and cuddled her on his lap. She cooed and batted her eyelashes at him. He couldn't help but smile. He's such an optimist, and I mean that in the nicest possible of ways. "Can you hold down the fort here for awhile? I need to run a couple of errands." "Real errands or Mulder errands, the kind that end up with a trip to the emergency room?"

He smiled a bigger, genuine smile rather than the smug one that the rest of the world usually gets.

"Real errands. Suit at the cleaners, diapers, and there's Ben and Jerry's in it for you if you're a good girl while I'm out."

"Dilbert's Totally Nuts — the official ice cream of this family."

"The baby is going to think that ice cream is the only food on the planet."

"At least we'll know where she got the taste for it."

Mulder made no reply but I watched as the tiny capillaries hiding just under his skin dilated and filled with blood.

"Why, Fox Mulder," I crowed, "I do believe you're blushing."

Five minutes after he left, Tina called. "Fox isn't here," I said, but she didn't take the hint.

"I wanted to speak with you, Dana — I may call you Dana now?"

"Why not, everyone else seems to."

"Meet me at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia at eight o'clock tomorrow morning."

"I can't, we have a home visit in the afternoon –"

"There will be plenty of time for that." She hung up. Now I knew where Mulder got his phone manners.

****

Scully woke me with early morning vomiting, which was apparently being integrated into SOP, right before brushing her teeth and styling her hair. For a moment, I thought that Catzilla was coughing up a hairball, but when I realized what was going on I stayed put. Scully was unlikely to ruin the carpet. After a few tries at being comforting, I was keeping my remaining extremities as far away from her viciousness as possible. "If you don't want me worrying, you could at least close the bathroom door," I suggested from the safety of the bed.

All I got was a muted snarl. After a few minutes, she did stagger to the door and shut it with no further comment, a disturbing sign in itself. She couldn't keep on like this — I'd flipped through enough books to know that we should at least consult an OB-GYN if the nausea continued unabated. There was a real danger of dehydration. Not to mention, there was still the question of what the lingering residue of her abduction would do when combined with the multiple physiological changes of pregnancy. If Sam had offered to share her knowledge about *that*, I would have been much more tempted to let her slither into our garden.

The clock by the bed asserted that it was nearly five in the morning, which used to be bedtime but now reminded me more of barking my shins on half- hidden objects as I stumbled to feed Miranda, who would slobber half-asleep in my arms. I was not looking forward to replaying those months.

Wait, what was Scully of the snooze alarm doing up at this hour?

"What's going on?" I called, rising and grabbing a pair of shorts from the floor. "Dana?" I rapped on the door.

She opened the door in my face, her high-gloss finish almost dry, and I felt so scruffy in comparison that I had to suppress the urge to scratch my balls. "I have to go to Philadelphia. Your mother's got some mysterious information she wants to share."

"You could have mentioned this yesterday."

"I'm mentioning it now, telling you yesterday would just have upset you. Go back to bed."

"The psychologists –"

"I *know*. I'll be back in time. Your mother's not exactly flexible, you know."

"You're a fine one to talk."

"'I know you are, but what am I?' Go to sleep, M — Fox, not even the insult sector of your brain is working."

Befuddled, I ran a hand through my hair. As she dodged past me, I grabbed her by the elbow and spun her back. Our faces almost collided with the momentum of my pull as I opened my mouth to swap my morning breath for her toothpaste. The hint of digestive acid under mint was no worse than it had been during some of her chemo days.

When I let her go, she reached up a hand to brush my wet lips. The pads of her fingertips came away stained with pink. "How very like you," she said. Her voice was being broadcast from somewhere beyond the moon.

"Hunh?"

"Fox, sometimes I think you want me to come to you perfect so that you can see when you've made your mark." She found a tissue in her purse and wiped her fingers clean, then handed it to me. "Save me some lunch, all right?"

***

I was at the museum by 7:50. If I could leave by noon, there was a good chance I'd make the home visit on time. Tina, however, waited until eight exactly to show. The museum wasn't yet open to the public, but she had a key for a side door. She wouldn't answer any of my questions as we walked in.

The Mutter museum is full of medical oddities and the remains of various deformed creatures, some of them human. I thought she had excellent taste to schedule our meeting there.

She led me down a hall, past the woman whose adipose material had transmuted into something approaching soap, past the conjoined fetuses in jars with their faces fused into one another. Up until a few decades ago, people believed that a pregnant woman who saw such things might through her fears transmit the deformity to the baby budding inside her, and I felt a stab of that atavistic superstition. Hell, I couldn't remember the Mulder boys' birthdays and I had no idea how many other Mulderbabies had been cooked up to date — for all I knew this one inside me was the seventh son of a seventh son and his coming would announce the Apocalypse. Or maybe I was mixing myths. Nevertheless the fact that the museum's current installation featured Siamese/Conjoined twins was ominous; I felt the dead eyes watching me, doubled and doubled again in the ghost reflections against the protective glass cases.

And then there was the wall of skulls, theoretically showing the structural differences between nations and ethnic groups watching me as a bare bone jury.

Tina led me down a hall, into a small office that smelled of old coffee, and sat behind the desk, gesturing me to take a seat on the other chair that took up almost all of the remaining floor space.

"In the past few months, I reviewed the files Fox left with me." Her hands ruffled the surface of the desk, disturbing a few papers.

"Five stone killers, a child molester, a prostitute and three who only hurt themselves. You must be proud of the success stories."

"Don't be snide, Dana. In any event you and Fox have killed more people than any of Fox's brothers."

"Was there a point to this harassment?" I was ready to leave right then, I could make it back in plenty of time for lunch.

"I've also been reviewing the records of the Project after I left it. An…old friend let me have them."

I could have said something nasty about the nature of that friendship, but speculating about your mother-in-law's sex life isn't my idea of bonding. "And what have your investigations uncovered?"

"I believe that, after I left the Project, research went in many unproductive directions. The original aim was to create more robust versions of humanity who could survive whatever plagues and disasters the Grays could inflict upon us, or we could visit upon ourselves. There was some thought that the new breed should be able to live in irradiated environments without significant mutation as well as having heightened healing powers and resistance to disease.

"But the aim changed over time, to creating new life that would have capacities known only to legend and fantasy."

"So-called psychic powers."

Tina nodded shortly. "The theory being, I suspect, that if we could imagine such powers, there must be a way to bring them into existence. The Grays seem to have mental powers that we do not share, and so the thought was that increased hybridization combined with selection of donors who seemed 'sensitive' would create the desired subjects. Unfortunately, hybridization is tricky, and human DNA can't take too much of it. So the results were mainly nonviable or short-lived."

Emily, I thought.

"The problem is, there is still a grave threat that the Grays will attempt to colonize this planet, and we've spent the past few decades trying for perfection when we simply needed a viable arsenal. From what I've deciphered of Samantha's notes, her test set down in Austin was an attempt to return to the early days of the Project and create normal children with advanced immune and healing responses in an attempt to counter the perceived threat of viral or other biological attack."

"And you think whoever's left from the organization that was Roush wants to continue that by gaining access to Miranda?"

She nodded again. "I wanted you to come here so that you could look at something."

Tina swiveled her chair to reach a dusty cabinet and pulled the middle drawer open. At her behest, I stood and edged into the sliver of space between the desk and the opened cabinet, in which a number of vials rested. "What is this?"

"Smallpox vaccine. I want you to take a dose and give it to Miranda. Just to be safe."

"How could this — the CDC should — " I let myself sputter out. No one vaccinated for smallpox anymore because it was a dead disease. But I knew it had some connection with the Project because of the smallpox scar markers that Agent No-First-Name Pendrell and I had identified, and Mulder had made cryptic comments in the past that suggested he knew more. "I don't understand. If the genetic engineering is designed to enhance viral resistance, why the need for vaccination?"

"The modifications merely enhance the subjects' ability to fight off infection. Naturally, they don't develop antibodies until they're exposed to a disease. And some of the viruses being stockpiled now are deadly to anyone with no prior exposure. Fortunately, I believe that this vaccine resembles the first cowpox vaccine in that exposure to it will protect against the more virulent forms, including the genetically enhanced supersmallpox."

As little as I wanted to believe that any group, however power-hungry, would want to unleash a supervirus on the world, I couldn't make Miranda hostage to my skepticism. With trembling fingers, I reached into the drawer and withdrew two vials. Tina gave me a Ginzu-knife look.

"You know, the cancer you suffered from was caused by the manipulation of your reproductive systems. I don't think anyone has the slightest idea what the consequences of a subsequent pregnancy would be for your remission; the Project never tracked such things. I hope you're not going to let Fox get you pregnant."

I gave her the most unblinking stare in my repertoire. "I can assure you that the chance of that happening is zero." It was true; she *had* put the statement in the future tense.

Tina also gave me a number of Samantha's records. From what I could glean on a quick readthrough, Sam had been following in her mother's obstetric stirrups, abandoning the goal of creating the half- and-half beings that had led to the monstrosities I'd seen in Arizona. Sam's theory seemed to be that alien DNA should be scattered on top of a human genome like chocolate sprinkles on a sundae. This seemed to work with far less incidence of deformity and nonviability than full hybridization — though the other babies down in Texas had been stillborn, the autopsies I had performed had suggested that they would have lived if their mothers hadn't been slaughtered.

Sam was trying for a a hardiness that would allow the new beings to survive under extreme conditions. She wanted it all: enhanced general intelligence, survival in baking heat and Frigidaire cold, resistance to radiation poisoning, extended functioning without water and food, and so on. The kids were supposed to see into the infrared without benefit of night vision goggles. If Miranda were actually so equipped, we'd need to insulate the bedroom a little better.

"I'll need copies of these," I told Tina as I checked my watch. I had about fifteen minutes to get back on the interstate.

"I can't make any promises. But now you know what you're protecting, and why."

True, except that nothing she'd shown me had given me that knowledge.

We exited the small room and went back towards the main exhibit hall. The lower floor, where we were, was dimly lit and crowded with funhouse exhibits, while the J. Everett Koop Family Health Center, beyond the brass and cherry wood display of the nineteenth century, was white and shiny as an orthodontist's favorite smile with high-tech displays about modern medicine. It seemed fitting to be down in the atavistic depths of the museum where conspiracies and messiness lived along with the two headed baby skeletons and the plaster death cast of the torsos of Chang and Eng.

The first shot exploded a display case over Tina's right shoulder, filling the hallway with the stench of preservatives and corruption. Slick gray fluid gushed over my calves as I dropped to the floor and struggled to find cover. The shot came from upstairs — I'd been wrong about the moral divission between above and below.

Kneeling in a shooting stance, I stuck my face and my gun around the corner of the wooden case I was using for cover. The whine of a bullet drove me back. One shooter, it sounded like, but there could be others.

Where was Tina? Shit, if I got her killed it would be Mulder's father all over again.

"Mrs. Mulder?"

A nervous ladylike laugh came from about ten feet down the hall past the display case that was protecting me. "Call me Tina." With a crash the glass in my case disintegrated, dumping shards all over the floor. Jars of deformed human organs scattered like gumballs. The one that bumped my knee held an ear attached to a vestigal third eye, milky with death. Agitated, its fine fringe of lashes bobbed as if it were winking at me.

This was an untenable position; all the gunman had to do was walk along the gallery upstairs until he had the right angle, like shooting abductees in a barrel. I bolted towards the corner of the room, hearing glass shatter as I dodged past the case that held a small intestine the size of a baby elephant. I slammed into the far wall because I had too much forward momentum to make the turn on my own and clung to the side of the case filled with preserved animal and human brains to prevent myself from sliding to the floor.

After a moment spent regaining my balance, I spun and scanned for the shooter. I couldn't see anyone on the upper level from my vantage point. If he were still in his old position, we were now at a ninety degree angle from one another. I wished very much for an M-16, which would allow me to get under him and make the floor into a cheese grater; unfortunately even with my extra clip I doubted I had enough ammo for the job.

Now what? Continuing forward was the natural move, but he could shoot me as easily as I could shoot him once we saw each other again. I had few hopes that the cavalry would arrive; they so rarely did. "Dana," Tina's panicky voice shrilled out, "he's coming for me!"

Decision made. I sprinted back to the misnamed small intestine, pushing over the velvet-roped barriers that prevented people from getting too close in an attempt to create some distracting movement. I caught a flash of a slim dark figure with a rifle on the upper level before I dropped to my knees behind the center display case featuring the skeletons of a giant man and a dwarfed woman along with the crushed-skull skeleton of the baby she had died trying to deliver. If I hadn't been so concentrated on Tina and the shooter, the resemblance to the "family" unit in the case would have brought my morning sickness back with a vengeance.

"Dana!" Her voice was a wail now.

I took a deep breath and ran out into the open, firing up at the upper level almost at random. The shooter spun and dropped back behind a glowing model of a diseased lung and I jumped in front of Tina, shielding her with my body which was only possible because she was huddled into a fetal crouch.

Our nemesis popped back up like a Whack-a-Mole, swinging the rifle back to face us. Then, inexplicably, he tilted it up, away from me, and from fifty feet away I could see his mouth forming curses.

I took aim and prepared to take advantage of his sudden hesitation when a hot fingernail scratched my shoulder and the gunman crumpled and hit the banister. His rifle went over first as his grip on it relaxed, and then he tumbled over, slamming into the marble floor with redundantly killing force.

I turned around.

Tina Mulder, looking not at all like a woman who'd just been screeching helplessly, put her tiny Smith & Wesson back into her purse and blinked up at me. "Help me up," she requested, "My joints aren't what they used to be."

I held out my hand and we rose together. I think she liked me more when I didn't comment on her aim. She'd sliced a nice tear in my jacket with the bullet, but the skin underneath was only burned to a gardening-in-the-sun level.

The dead man's face, when I examined it, was as surprised as mine. I don't really need to explain that he wasn't carrying ID, do I?

"I need to go," I said, "the authorities will be here soon and I can't be cooped up answering questions from the locals while psychologists judge my fitness in abstentia."

"I'll take care of it. I have . . . friends here."

"So you've said, but it seems that your friends may be carrying some concealed grudges."

"I doubt my friends are behind this — you noticed that he wasn't supposed to shoot *you*. With you dead, Fox would be a very sympathetic widower in court."

How reassuring to think that my enemies would guard my physical safety because I was more useful to them alive to be vilified.

Tina smiled at me knowingly. "Go on, get to your appointment. I'll be in touch."

I left her as she produced a cellphone from her surprisingly well-stocked purse and began dialing.

Fighting my way out of the city, I pondered Tina's cautionary advice about pregnancy. My thoughts kept circling around the worst of cliches, which were Mulderishly suggestive in this context — horses, barn doors, and all that. It wasn't as if visiting my friendly neighborhood Planned Parenthood would eliminate the risk. Some studies have suggested a connection between abortion and breast cancer, the theory being that pregnancy causes breast cells to begin differentiation and the interruption of pregnancy prevents natural shutoff signals from being properly processed, so the cells proliferate without regulation, which is the definition of cancer. If my nasopharyngeal tumor was the result of reproductive invasions, then the same process might operate for it. So, while Tina might be right that pregnancy was a special health hazard for me, a return to eating for one might be even more dangerous.

Not to mention the fact that I had no idea what Marita had done to me to restore my fertility. Either she'd somehow managed to generate germ cells from other cells with a full chromosome complement, or she'd taken the pattern of a few straggler eggs that had missed the earlier vacuuming and replicated them. It was possible that one or two had been left behind, perhaps because they were malformed and stuck to the walls of my ovaries. God, this child had more strikes against it than the Phillies.

If Tina mentioned any of this to Mulder, he'd throw a tantrum that would cause Miranda to give up the habit in defeat. Maybe we could keep his mother away from us for another year and just pretend the stork brought the next one, or that we found it in some other kidnapped woman's womb. Oddly enough, as I drove back, I thought about the cabinet in the lower level of the Mutter Museum, the one that held, in low, flat drawers, all the objects that a nose and throat specialist had removed from his patients' stomachs and nasal cavities through the years of his practice. Everything was in that cabinet, from apple seeds to tiny toy zebras. I wondered if he had unwittingly removed an implant or two and caused a female patient to die from the engineered cancer.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 8/

Did she break you did she Break your heart And break your bones And tear your life apart? Forget the ice cream, it was really just a whim Fumble as I try to back out the same way I came in The Charms

While Scully was having her covert meeting with my mother in Philadelphia, I had arranged a covert meeting of my own.

With the Mooselet in her stroller, I couldn't very well expect the Park Ranger at the FDR Memorial to believe that I was on duty and to forestall any problems with the fact that I had my sidearm shoved in the waist of my jeans, I showed him my ID which he examined briefly but seemed more interested in the Mooselet. He crouched until they were face to face and she grabbed the brim of his Smokey the Bear hat.

"An' what's your name?" he asked in deep Southern.

She smiled and batted her eyes at him, the little flirt.

"Miranda." I explained.

"That makes you Prospero, huh?"

"Something like that."

"You gonna' be an FBI Agent when you grow up?" he asked her.

God, I hoped not.

She giggled and flirted away from him and gave him a sideways look that would get her into shitloads of trouble when she got older.

"You're gonna' be beatin' 'em off with a stick when she's a teenager."

"I'm looking into convents now."

"Y'all have a good day."

Bill was standing near the statue of the first dog with Matthew in his stroller. Showdown with babies. Ten paces and the one with the dirtiest diaper wins.

"Bill."

"Fox." Now, I had never given him permission to use my first name and this started the unplanned and rapid decent into terrain.

"I shouldn't be talking to you without my attorney present," he began, "this is probably illegal." "I just wanted to ask you why you suddenly took such an interest in Miranda after almost ten months."

Matthew looked at me with a dull expression. The Mooselet looked up at my face as if to say; "I'm related to that? You've got to be joking."

"I saw the tape. I know what my sister did. She's dangerous and it's all because of you."

I sucked in a breath. Bill was like any of the worst fanatics I had ever come across, fixated on a single concept and unwilling to even consider alternatives. Not unlike Scully in that respect, but at least she had the intellectual/academic interest to listen to a well- structured argument, even if the chance of changing her mind was nil. Even in a polo shirt and chinos, Bill still looked like he was in uniform and had the posture of a man with a yardstick well and truly rammed up his ass.

"How did you get the tape, Bill? Was it in the Barney videotape jacket?"

He sniffed and looked over to where the Ranger was politely chasing children out of the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.

"It was forwarded to me with a note suggesting that my niece was in danger. I am concerned about her welfare, Fox, although you don't want to believe it."

"Be concerned with your sister's welfare as well. This suit is not exactly causing a stress-free environment. She was happy until this all started. It would be unreasonable of me to suggest that she's finding total fulfillment in motherhood – Dana's too complicated a person for a simple answer – but she is content and we're building a home for both Miranda and Dana."

"I don't care what your rental shrinks say. You have caused my sister nothing but trouble and pain since she started working with you and no rose-covered cottage is going to change the fact that *you* have ruined her life. I care about my sister, I care about her and my niece enough to want both of them away from you and your crazy theories and the stupid, dangerous things that you do. Dana won't listen to reason and Miranda isn't old enough to make up her own mind. The baby is the only one that I can protect."

"You can't protect Miranda! Jesus, Bill you're at sea half the year! How is Tara going to cope if something happens?!" My voice and blood pressure were shooting into the stratosphere. "You have no idea what you're talking about. Men with guns, men who blow up cars and murder children and adults. Is Tara going to be able to protect Miranda and Matthew when a dozen men with machine guns show up at the door? She can't! They'll kill her and they'll kill Matthew."

"You're crazy."

"If I thought for a minute that you could keep Miranda safer than I can, I'd let you have her. But you can't protect her."

"From enemies in your imagination. You're a danger to your daughter and my sister."

Attracted by the shouting, the Park Ranger drifted closer. He knew I had a gun, and was no doubt concerned that I was going to pull it on my dickhead brother-in-law. Not that I wasn't tempted. By that time was I shaking and stuttering with anger and any information I had imagined that I was going to get from Bill was shot to hell by our mutual animosity club.

"This is bullshit. I'll see you in court," I snarled and turned the stroller around on two wheels.

The Mooselet squealed with joy as we fled to the far end of the Memorial and the Park Ranger trailed us at a discreet distance. I knew what he was thinking – - DISTRAUGHT FBI AGENT SHOOTS DAUGHTER,, SELF IN FDR MEMORIAL, imagining his fifteen minutes. I let him down, however, when I wheeled the stroller out of the Memorial and onto the grass of the Mall. There were a variety of picnickers and other family groups lounging on the grass in cozy little knots. I imagined that someday Scully and I, the Mooselet, and the Baby to Be Named Later, would be one of those groups, flying kites, eating cold fried chicken, and spreading sunscreen on each other in America's front yard.

Bill was right, I had only managed to screw up Scully's life from the moment that I had met her, but this was the chance that I had to make things right. The only three good things in my life were Scully, the Mooselet, and whoever was growing inside Scully even as the flags around the base of the Washington Monument fluttered, and I was not going to let Bill, Roush, or Samantha take any of that away from me.

****

Even though I failed to respect the speed limits in any of the jurisdictions I traversed — it was such a relief to be Mirandaless and able to hit the gas — I arrived back at the house after the psychologists. This set was supposed to be friendly; we were paying them, anyway. But I suspected that showing up late was still a bad idea. They were sitting inside, watching as Mulder and Miranda played out on the porch.

Unnoticed, I ran upstairs and got into my Mommy drag. Jeans, pink T-shirt with smiling teddy bears on it, pink socks and white canvas sneakers. I shoved my hair into an untidy clump at the back of my head, secured it with a flowered scrunchie and reflected that it was only for a good cause that I was wearing clothes from Wal-Mart. The jeans were huge with the hope that I'd be able to wear them for more than a week or two. Now that I was aware of my impregnated situation, I found myself monitoring my waistline on an almost hourly basis. With my height and build, it was going to be impossible to keep this under cover very long. I gave my hair one last tug for that mommified (mummified?) look and groaned at my reflection. Exit Special Agent Dana Scully and enter Yuppie Mom. Jesus, the things I do . . .

I hurried downstairs and onstage.

Mulder had gotten out one of Miranda's wooden pull toys, a Crayola-red dragon with yellow and green spikes and a lolling mouth that opened and shut as it moved. Miranda was dragging it back and forth on the floor by tugging on its string and then pushing it away so it headed behind Mulder's body. When it went out of Miranda's range of vision, she squealed with mingled pleasure and anxiety. Then she'd bring it back and gabble with glee as if she'd never seen it before. Back and forth, as monotonously as that strange British television show she watched where the puppets did everything twice. I shook my head, convinced more than ever that children were the real space aliens.

"Having fun?" I knelt nearby to join them, but made no move to edge close enough to force him to move. I didn't want to get into an argument while the psychologists were watching.

Mulder never looked up, apparently fascinated by Miranda's game. I shouldn't be surprised — this was a man who enjoyed watching baseball, a game with slightly less variation than Miranda's diversion. "Sure — this is your basic fort/da game, Freeud wrote about it and then Lacan really took the ball and ran with it. The object represents the mother's body — psychoanalysis isn't big on gender neutrality — and the idea is that it's the child's attempt to work through the anxiety of separation from the mother by exercising control over the representative object. It's a first step into the symbolic sphere, the first story she ever tells herself."

I scrutinized him. He seemed completely serious. "Couldn't we just play pattycake or something?"

"Just be grateful we don't live in New York. There, the waiting list for the better preschools starts at conception. We'd have to do flashcards, make sure she knew her multiplication tables before she finished toilet training."

As if she'd understood us, Miranda stopped the game, gave us both assessing looks, and then her face pinked like a blooming rose. The resultant smell was anything but rosy.

We looked at each other. "Your turn," we said simultaneously and I had to smile.

I did take her upstairs in the end, followed by the quartet at a discreet distance. Miranda didn't help matters by waving at them. She'd started waving a day or two earlier and practiced her new skill on everyone and everything. Catzilla made a kamikaze run at my legs as I reached the baby gate at the top of the stairs and I had to make a grab for the banister and nearly dropped the baby in the process. Jarred, she let out a screech and grabbed at my hair with more strength than an adult.

"Shhh," I said, trying to sound soothing rather than the one that needed to be soothed, but she started wailing, the combination of strangers, dirty diaper, and my own fear making her unsettled.

Somehow I made it into the nursery and plunked her down on the changing table. I unsnapped the crotch of her overalls and pulled the denim back. She promptly grabbed the flapping fabric and began to examine the snaps. The diaper shredded in my hands and I almost gagged. The sweet little bundle of joy was caked with fecal matter from her navel down to her knees. I surmised that she must have moved her bowels before the smell escaped and had managed to squirm around enough to get herself coated. This was well beyond the ability of mere baby wipes to handle. I needed a biohazard team, preferably with a helmet and breathing mask for myself.

Miranda started to wail again, louder than the chorus in Aida, her face going brilliant red with effort.

I pitched the dirty diaper into the pail and carried her, at arm's length, into the bathroom; the psychologists scattered like frightened birds. Let them run: I am a pathologist, I've dissected people from throat to anus. I've autopsied an elephant from inside. Miranda smelled bad, and she didn't look too fresh either, but if I could just keep her *happy* there was nothing to fear except a bad report card.

In the bathroom, I filled the sink with body- temperature water and stripped off her clothes, managing to get her mess all over my first sweatshirt of the day. I scraped off the majority of the mess with toilet paper and threw it in the toilet. Then I sat her in the sink and washed her with the hypoallergenic soap that Mulder bought for her. I was worried about e.coli infections so I made sure that I carefully washed every nook and cranny of her pink little folds and fat wrinkles. With my luck, the psychologists would think that I was being unduly sexual with her and I could feel my face burn at the public display of my ineptness. Miranda kept screaming at full volume.

I felt like I was flunking a lab practical in baby hygiene.

I towel-dried her and plopped her naked and pink onto a bath towel and scrubbed the sink out with bleach-fortified cleanser. I had to stop twice to keep her from playing with the toilet brush. I gave her a rubber duck from her stock of bath toys and that seemed to satisfy her. Once the bathroom was cleaned up, I scooped Miranda up and trucked her back into the nursery where I re-dressed her in a green and patchwork onesie and brushed her hair. In the past few weeks, her hair was getting thicker and darker, and was even starting to hang over her forehead like Mulder's. This annoyed me to no end so I dabbed a little of Mulder's mousse on her forelock and combed it back into a curl before anchoring it with a green plastic barrette the shape of a seahorse too big for her to swallow. The barrette was a little off-center, but at least I could see her eyes.

She looked at me with utter amazement. No matter what magic Mulder could do with the dragon, I could make her hair disappear! She looked down at her legs, registering that they were covered with different fabric, even patting one chubby thigh to make certain, and looked back up at me. Holding up her arms to be picked up, Miranda blew Laura's carefully constructed guise of normalcy.

"Lee! " she demanded, "Lee! Lee Lee Lee Lee Lee!"

Not mama, not ma, not mom, but 'Lee', which was as close to her nine month old mouth could get to 'Scully'. I picked her up and took her downstairs. She might have been wide-awake and ready for another round of developmental theory play with Mulder, but I was ready for a nap.

****

"What was that shit?" Laura was pissed, seriously pissed, and her voice was high and whiny.

"What are you talking about?"

"That Freud bullshit. Look, I don't care how inferior you make the average person feel in casual conversation, but these people are going to be reporting to the court. You want them on your side, not resentful and vindictive because you made them look dumb. These fellows were ours and we don't have to use them if they don't make you look good, but I want you to *behave* and act like a normal father, to the extent that you can."

"Ah, there's just one thing."

"What?" she snarled, sounding almost as pissy as Scully could get. Maybe, I thought, it's me.

"I don't exactly know what a normal father is like."

"Go watch some reruns of the Cosby Show," she ordered and pivoted on her heel to leave.

Stung, I locked the front door behind her and set the alarms before starting my nightly rounds. Downstairs, Warwick had become one with his PC and was doing the Java jam with his headset on. Through the quiet of the rest of the house, I heard the dentist drill whine of Kraftwerk. On the sofa, Ingveld was curled up in a ball with her hands, marked with festive menhdi, folded under her cheek. Out of reflex, I pulled the afghan off the back of the sofa and settled it over her body. Warwick didn't move his gaze from the monitor. Catzilla caught up with me in the living room and began rubbing amorously around my calves, his tail wrapping around my leg in the feline equivalent of a hug. I picked him up and he draped himself over my shoulder with his paws brushing my back. Thus loaded, I trudged upstairs.

The Mooselet was sleeping on her face like a shrimp again, in the pool of light from the nightlight on her dresser. I didn't want to wake her up, but I turned her on her back anyway to decrease the risk of SIDS. She didn't even twitch. The additional people hanging around the house had kept her in performance mode all day and she had fallen asleep in her high chair between mouthfuls of spaghetti. I knew exactly how she felt. It had been just about all I could handle to shovel the dishes into the dishwasher and close the kitchen for the night.

I found Scully lying on her stomach crossways on the bed, her feet still sheathed in her much-hated sneakers hanging off the edge. I think she could have dealt with the whole makeover in good grace if it hadn't been for the sacrifice of her lethal shoes. I put Catzilla down on the pillow and he promptly went over and sniffed her hair, which was his way of taking her emotional temperature. Apparently it wasn't good, as he raised himself up on his toes and arched his back like a Halloween decoration and skittered across the bed to the nightstand, where he began checking to see if my glasses had play value.

"I made a complete fool out of myself today. The psychologists now know exactly what an inept parent I am," she muttered into the comforter.

"Many have fallen before the horror of a diaper."

"Yes but I should have handled it better." She was looking at her hands again, twisting the rings as if they were pimples she couldn't bring herself to pop.

I understood about needing to be the best at the job, whatever it was. But taking care of a child quickly disabuses you of the idea that you *can* be the best. If Scully still thought that she needed to do it perfectly or not at all, there was a good chance she'd be hitting the road within days.

I reached out to flick her shoes off and began to rub her left foot through the sock. When I dug my thumb into her arch she shuddered and flexed her hands against the comforter.

"My shirt is ruined," she commented distantly as I sat down facing away from her and tugged to get both her feet in my lap. "The stain won't budge."

I responded with a general sound to indicate I was paying attention without expressing an opinion. I guessed from prior experience that the shirt could be saved, Zoula at the dry cleaners was Romanian and I'm pretty sure that witchcraft was part of the service.

The HEPA filter in the corner gave out a whoosh of fresh air guaranteed to blanket the room with a layer of white noise (courtesy of an upgrade from Frohike) to befuddle any prying ears and we could talk in private.

"What did you find out?" I asked.

"Roush wants Miranda back as the only living survivor of the newest generation of alien-influenced humans. Actually she's retro, she's like you and Samantha — fewer genetic modifications, no green pustules, no toxic blood. They're trying to go back to basics because it was a success."

"If you call George, Jason, and the rest of the freak show a success."

"Genetically it was a success. What fell apart was the nurturing of the infants as they grew, Darien's all right, Emerson's overcome his environment and you're all right."

"That's debatable." In a way Emerson was the worst news of all: It's not so bad to have eight loser brothers if that makes you the best one, but Emerson had survived worse than me and he had turned out better. Not only was he sweet and kind but he had also made ten million dollars churning out software before I darkened Bill Patterson's doorstep. Some might find that intimidating, but I've lived with low self esteem for a while.

Scully's tiny feet twitched under my hands. "I have some of Samantha's records, I haven't read through them yet, and I also have two vials of what is allegedly smallpox vaccine suitable to protect Miranda from genetically engineered viruses. I think I should vaccinate her."

"You trust my mother?" Let's face it, standard in-law jokes weren't really sufficient to cover the situation.

"No, but I think she's telling the truth about the vaccine. Her story about your enhanced resistance to disease jibes with what we already know about your swift healing and may also help explain why you didn't die in Russia like so many of your co-test subjects."

"If you think it's a good idea," I moved up to her calves and she groaned, whether at the massage or at my submission to her recommendation I'm not sure.

She twisted away from me and sat up, bringing her knees to her chest as she scrunched up against the headboard. I caught her ankles in my hands and slid her back down the bedspread, and she looked at me as though I'd pulled her tail. A little more roughly than I should have, I plunked her feet back into my lap and started working on her instep again. Noticing that when I touched her instep her toes spread out from the hard ball of her foot like Miranda's did something that made it hard for me to swallow.

"I talked to the Gunmen and they've managed to track down some of the scientists that used to work for Roush," I told her and peeled off her socks and found her toenails cherry cough drops. "I thought I would go and see if they had any connections with Bill or were continuing any of the human genetic projects."

"*You're* going to find them? Leaving me here with Miranda and the press? I'm now a weak and helpless woman because I'm *gestating*? As if that lowers my IQ or efficiency rating?" her voice began to get harder and staccato, which is the Scully version of getting shrill.

Sometimes I wished she'd get shrill just for variety.

Catzilla picked up on her tone and fled underneath the bed.

"Hey, hey, " I warned, walking my hands up her hips to where I could grab the belt loops of her jeans, "you're still suspended for shooting George. We can't both go – Warwick can't *lift* the Mooselet yet and Ingveld works all day. You stay here and run interference with the lawyers and the evaluators. I'll take Zippy and it will be fine."

"You are *ditching* me."

She got a stranglehold on the unbuttoned Henley neck of my shirt, which hurt my still-healing neck and reminded me of the many circles of hell that the genetic manipulators had put us through. I didn't like the look in her eye, it reminded me of Texas, Arizona and when things had been as bleak as a desert landscape.

"I'm telling you what I'm doing. That does not constitute a ditch." I put a hand on her breast. Obviously, massage was not doing the trick.

She turned her head away from my questing mouth. "Let's not do this," she mumbled.

"Do what?" I was now up on one knee above her and if sexual activity didn't commence shortly I was in severe danger of falling over.

"Is this how you want Miranda to settle *her* disagreements?"

I released her instantly and rolled to sit alongside her. "You're good."

"Thanks." She almost smiled.

"If I get delayed it's not so bad, but you've *got* to show up for all these appointments. I promise I'll be good, Velcro my cellphone to my jacket, duck when I see the punch coming, all the things I never do."

The corners of her lush little mouth drew further together. "Could I talk you into an electronic monitoring device?"

"Matching leashes for me and Miranda?"

She arched a rusty parenthetical eyebrow. As far as I knew she was taking the proposition under advisement.

"I want a phone call every three hours or I'm coming out there."

I grinned raffishly at her. "So, now can we have sex?"

She snorted. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea, I think I'm going to start a diet."

"Dana, food products are so *yesterday*. Why can't you live in the *now*?"

The first actual smile I'd seen in days graced her lips. "Actually I have a present for you." She scooted to the edge of the bed and jumped off, shedding her sweatshirt as she went.

A large flat object covered by a sheet was propped against the wall. I'd vaguely noticed it when I'd entered, but Scully's emotional state had been at Defcon One and I hadn't devoted any brainpower to it.

"I ordered a full length mirror for the closet," she said, tugging at the sheet so that it pooled onto the floor, "but I thought we might try it out before it gets permanently installed." Lengthwise against the wall, the mirror was longer than she was tall and about two and a half feet wide.

It took me a few seconds to figure out her intent, and then I thought I'd been abducted and the aliens were feeding me fantasies to get my seed. She looked at my gape and shrugged. "If you're not interested . . ."

"No!" I squawked. "I mean, yes! Yes!" Way to go, Molly Bloom, I thought to myself but we were married now and theoretically I no longer needed to impress her with my cool.

Standing on the fallen sheet, she tugged at her scrunchie, which pushed her breasts out and made my dick throb as if she were pulling pasties off of her nipples. Through a smog of lust, I watched as she undressed and followed her lead.

She laid down on the sheet (clever Scully, no rugburn, I thought) and turned on her side to peruse her naked body in the mirror. "Well?" she asked and ran her hand over her breast, as if to see what it looked like.

I could have told her: it looked good. I shed my clothes as if ejecting from a doomed fighter plane and joined her so that I could see us both in the mirror.

Not without regret, I decided to skip going down on her, which wouldn't provide much extra visual stimulation.

Slipping down behind her, I reached a hand around and watched as the devilishly handsome man in front of me squeezed his partner's breast. She pushed her head against his marred chest and the soundtrack added a soft sigh. I could feel her humid skin along my body as I watched her breasts flush and swell under my hand.

I pried her up so that I could get one hand underneath and around to pinch the nipple closest to the floor. My other hand dove between her legs and I watched her legs part. While I wouldn't recommend red on pink as a fashion statement ordinarily, on Scully it drew me like an insect to a full-bloomed flower. The mirror showed a man's fingers disappearing inside his lover, then slowly returning, slippery and glistening. I repeated the motion because it looked so good. And again, so slowly that she tried to push against the bunched-up sheet to urge me on faster.

Her legs scissored closed around my hand, trapping me in her hot butterscotch depths. It felt good, like my hand was being melted down to blackened bone, but it obscured the view and so I tugged my hand out, trailing heat and wet down her thighs.

I could see her reflection looking up at mine as I stared at her mirror-face. My doppelganger was busy coveting the real Scully as she watched me. This cat's cradle of gazes was somehow less raw, less painful, than directly watching one another.

Time for action. With both of my hands, I tugged at her shoulders to get her up on her hands and knees. The reflection prevented her from hiding the momentary hesitation that swept over her features like a flash fire, but she gamely braced herself against the slip-sliding sheet and allowed me to observe her.

I pulled her elbows back a little so that they didn't obscure my sight line for her breasts. Stretched by gravity, tight little nipples stabbing downwards, they were unutterably gorgeous, and my hands trembled with the memory of touching them.

With a clumsy paw I scraped the hair from her neck, directing it all to the side so that in the mirror her face was framed by a gleaming magician's curtain. In profile her face was as perfect as a Greek statue's. She was Galatea in reverse: my love for her had made her stone.

But she wasn't stone now. Not when she was surging back against me with a hungry growl as I stared. Her breasts swung with the motion and I grabbed at this newly legitimate fruit, keeping one hand on the ground so that I wouldn't crush her.

The mirror-Scully's eyes were wide and pleading. It couldn't be real, the real woman would never willingly make herself so vulnerable, but the movie playing behind the silvered glass was convincing and I lowered my head to her neck, still watching the show. The man in the mirror was draped over her body like a rowdy fur coat. He reached in between his partner's legs to rub the head of his cock against her.

"Please- " the doppelganger woman in the mirror moaned.

And she was hot-wet but the films are always cool and dry. The film was still playing and I was watching it and acting it out, following the lead of the man in the mirror, thrusting slowly, watching her vertebrae shake and the red brand on her back shimmer as she sucked in air.

"Please – harder – faster – more – " the woman begged on broken gasps between the hungry thrusting of the man.

The line of her body was still catlike but the pride had fled in the desperate overriding want to be fucked. Her head was raised, her hair flaming and her ass was raised high in the air like she was in heat. The man, he was watching my Scully with such consumptive passion that I thought he might break the wall between us and seize her.

No. He couldn't have her, nobody could have her but me. No image, no brother, no enemy or friend would take her away. I think I was saying all this but I can't be sure because I was convulsing deep inside the wet tight depths of her like an electrocuted fish, hanging on to the soft chamois covered bone of Scully's hips to keep myself on the planet.

When I collapsed on her, she lost stability and sank to the ground underneath me. I had enough higher brain function remaining to push my hand towards the general area of her clitoris and let her grind against me until she came as well with a wail that sounded more like pain than pleasure, her body stretching out as the shocks raced through her, her throat white as a line of frost through the wave of her hair. As a result, she didn't push me off, despite the fact that I must have felt like 10 G's on her back. When sanity returned, I rolled off to the side so that I wouldn't kill her.

"Dana?" I panted, spooning up against her back so that I could see her body stretched out like the naked Maja as her sweat cooled on my skin.

She tilted her head up. In the mirror, I could see the feather fall of her hair as it hit the sheet beside her ear. "Mmm?"

"Order another mirror, leave this one here."

She chortled and then yawned. Evidently I'd worn her out. Well, a short hospital stay for convalescence purposes wouldn't be out of place on my end, either.

"Dana?"

"Unh?"

"Did I mention I bought a video camera?"

I know she was tired because she gave a bark of laughter and then rolled over, obscuring her silver- backed competition. "We should get in bed or you'll be too stiff to sit in your seat tomorrow." She rose, wobbling only slightly, and gave me a hand up.

We'd made up too well, now I didn't want to leave her side. Or her legs, or her breasts, or the mirror. I clutched her to me like an insecurity blanket and slept.</


9/

 

Stretch your eyes a little closer I'm not between you and your ambition. I am a poster girl with no poster I am thirty two flavors and then some. Ani DiFranco

It was a tough call to make, figuring out what I was going to wear to the Hoover Building while toting a baby. A suit was out, as Miranda had a tendency to really pump out the fluids and food crumbs with vigor on anything with a Dry Clean Only tag. I was also technically suspended for shooting George Naxos, and ostensibly going in to update HR on my recent change of marital status. Or was that martial? I settled for a white cotton oxford-style shirt and a pair of chinos. All I needed was a tie and I would have looked like I was waiting tables at Friday's. The buttons on the shirt were just on the right side of stretching over my swelling breasts. I had to blouse out the shirt over my straining waistband and reflected that I had a week or two before I had to start replacing my wardrobe in earnest. My leftover 'fat' wardrobe was starting to run out.

Miranda took up her car screaming the minute I pulled out of the driveway and I popped my old Abba Gold tape in the cassette player. That seemed to placate her enough for me to drive without killing both of us. I parked in the garage under the building and hoisted Miranda on my hip and her diaper bag over my shoulder. Thank God, Mulder's idea of a diaper bag was a worn computer satchel rather than something covered with frolicking bunnies. I didn't think that I could have handled that at all. The trip to Human Resources was fairly painless, since I hardly knew any of the clerks; they accepted the fact that I was toting a baby as commonplace.

Miranda was passed through the clerks, male and female alike, letting them cuddle her and coo at her while she smiled and cooed back with the feigned sincerity of a politician. Of course, I'd rather she walk the streets as a career rather than seek public office. I was touched to notice that each time she was passed over to another person, she looked to me for reassurance. I'd been reading Mulder's child development texts behind his back and now knew that she was exhibiting the classic insecure bonding behaviors which was common for children with working parents. Had she not been bonded at all, she would have been more anxious and begun to fuss or whine since she would have believed that she was in danger of being left with strangers. On the other hand, she was far better bonded to both Mulder and Warwick than she was to me, which was understandable since I'd only been with her full-time for about a month after six away and she didn't trust me 100% yet. She wouldn't be the only one.

No one was surprised that I wasn't changing my last name. I had the suspicion that the official policy was that one Mulder on the payroll was more than enough. Let me amend that, one Mulder pushing the boundaries of the health care plan was more than enough. My now-husband probably had his own commemorative file drawer between the commendations and chastisements that he had accumulated through his tenure.

After the paperwork was done, I took Miranda up to the executive level and gathered myself to face the lion in his den. Kimberly greeted me with open- mouthed shock, which she quickly covered with an embarrassed smile.

"The e-mail just came through from Human Resources," she said and turned a darker shade of rose, "I guess I should say congratulations."

Her happiness was feigned, I knew. The water cooler rumor for years had been that she had a thing for Mulder. Frankly, I was pretty sure he had encouraged her office crush as a means to get better access to Skinner. This willingness to use his good looks and charm to get what he wanted was not one of Mulder's more attractive character traits. We were going to have to talk about this. One of the things we had not discussed was how much of the marriage was going to be a legal fiction and how much was not. Maybe I was being sensitive since I was looking at being the size of South America come fall.

"Thanks. Is the AD in?"

She hit the intercom and I was admitted to the Inner Sanctum in short order.

I don't think that Skinner expected me to bring Miranda with me since he looked at her as though I was carrying an armful of biological waste rather than a small human being. Unaccountably, this irritated me. Skinner stood and shook my hand, eyeing me with an expression of distrust as though either Miranda or myself were going to make a mess on his nice beige carpet. Hell, I'd been toilet-trained for years and I'd gotten quite good at throwing up into trash cans when the morning sickness hit. I sat in the visitor chair and Miranda stood up on my legs to tug at my hair and stare at the shiny-headed man behind the big desk.

"You'll have to forgive me for bringing Miranda, Warwick isn't quite up to full nanny duties. His physical therapist doesn't want him lifting heavy objects until his shoulder is rehabilitated."

"She's getting quite large."

"She's crawling now and starting to cruise from pieces of furniture on her own. I estimate that she will be walking before the end of the month."

"I understand that you've been to Human Resources."

He wanted me to say it. He couldn't just accept the facts of the matter as though I had simply changed my withholding tax so I would owe more money to my employer in April. I had to admit what I had done – what Mulder and I had done – as thouggh it was yet another one of our classic field fuck-ups like losing a body, a gun, or annoying local law enforcement.

"Yes. Because of the custody issues with my brother, Mulder and I were married last week. It was a *very* small affair with only sympathetic family in attendance."

"Congratulations," he said in a voice that indicated he was deeply regretting yet another mistake that I had made in a chain of many.

"Bill raising Miranda rather than Mulder is a non- option. I would marry Newt Gingich to prevent that. Mulder and I no longer work for the same division and have virtually no contact at the workplace so there should be no conflict of interest."

"That would be the least of my concerns."

I swallowed and Miranda squirmed around in my lap like a wet cat, stretching out a drooly hand to reach for the brass bulldog on Skinner's desk, knocking over his nameplate, coffee cup, desk lamp, and pen holder in the process. Mortified, I bent over and started picking things up from the floor while Miranda complained at her inability to capture the shiny bulldog.

"Na na na LEE! NA! CAT! LEEEEEE!!!!!!!!" she bitched, in pretty much the same tone Mulder adopted when I'd told him that he couldn't do something.

Sometimes, I swore that if I hadn't run the test myself, I would have thought that Miranda had been an X-chromosome clone of Mulder.

"Just leave it, Agent Scully."

Defeated, I sat back and bounced Miranda until she giggled and clapped.

"Sir, our lawyer is going to be in contact with you to testify at the custody hearing. Please keep in mind that Miranda was created in one of Roush's labs as one of their experiments. Mulder and I believe that some distaff branch of Roush is using Bill as a vehicle to gain access to Miranda, which will not be healthy for her in the least. Understand that whatever you may think of either of our abilities as parents, her alternative really isn't Bill, but Roush."

"You have proof of this?"

I almost laughed, when did we ever have proof of anything?

"We're researching it now. You don't even have to assign a case number, as it still falls under Miranda's original case file."

"And Agent Zipprelli is working on it as well?"

Translation: is there anyone sane involved in this?"

"Yes."

"Have your lawyer contact me with the schedule for testimony."

I didn't want to push my luck, but I was painfully aware of how little Skinner likes surprises.

"One other thing, sir."

The frown told me that I was tap-dancing in a puddle of nitroglycerin.

"I'll be taking some leave in January. Agent Zipprelli will be up to speed on all open case files at that time. From November on I will be available for consultation, but not field assignments."

I watched him do the math. It only took a moment for him to count backwards nine months.

"Once again, congratulations."

In the elevator, headed for the parking garage, I wondered how long it had taken Skinner to reach for the Scotch he probably had hidden in the credenza. Miranda looked at the floor numbers flashing by over her head and broke into delighted peals of laughter. I inhaled her sweet baby smell and realized that it was better than any aromatherapy candle in the world.

****

Twenty scientists at the top of their respective genetic sub-fields disappear into the ether and no one notices. Money answers a lot of questions, closes numerous eyes, and shuts mouths.

But, what if five of those scientists had spouses and/or children? And what if, by coincidence, all five of those familial units moved to the greater Chicago area four months after the initial disappearances?

It just goes to show that family values and conspiracies really don't mix.

BioQuest was too new and small to have its own building. Instead they leased a floor of a nondescript downtown office building. I got into the offices on the floor below by judicious use of my badge and then waited for closing time, at which point I headed one floor up. Security was less than it might have been and I ended up in a gray-toned hallway dotted with abstract art, the kind that scientific types generally preferred.

Even minions of darkness need to know where each others' offices are, and I found the workplace of one Justine Barnabas, whose name was close enough to that of Dr. Judith Barnaby, last seen in Roush's Texas research enclave, to make me confident that I'd found the right place. On Roush's organizational chart, Judith had worked directly under Samantha Mann, my erstwhile sister and the mad scientist who'd merged sperm and egg to create Miranda (among others).

Judith had left her lights on; I closed the door and turned everything off but one lamp on the desk. The large banks of filing cabinets lining one wall of her office were mostly empty, as befitted a young corporation. She had company prospectuses, her employment contract, and a stack of incomprehensible technical reports that ostensibly dealt with lab mice. I just wasn't sure that lab mice wasn't a euphemism for cute little babies.

I heard motion in the hallway, two women's voices. Judith returning? Well, I was no Holofernes and I wasn't afraid. I settled into the comfy chair behind her desk, waiting for her to come in. With the lights down and shadows on my face, my non-surgically enhanced nose wouldn't be as noticeable and I tried to recall Jason Lindsay's smooth whiskey voice.

The door opened and a woman stepped in; I recognized her as Judith from a picture on her desk, Judith with a young girl. Straight black shoulder- length hair, a little plump but succulent, with a wide wry mouth that promised both wisecracks and great head. (God, was the wedding ring on my finger responsible for these recent hints of sexual awareness of other women? Maybe it contained another microchip broadcasting evil thoughts.) She closed the door behind her and then turned, her face blanking with shock as she took in my darkened form lounging proprietarily in her chair.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," I drawled in Jason's voice.

"Oh my God, Jason–?" From the look on her face, I could tell they'd been lovers. The man certainly got around.

Her hand flailed against the wall until it found the light switch and we both blinked, inundated by the fluorescent glare.

She drew in a shaky breath. "You're not — you're not Jason."

Regaining some equilibrium, she advanced further into the office, so that she was standing on the opposite side of the desk from me. "Which one are you?"

"I'll give you nine guesses and the first eight don't count."

"Fox Mulder," she said, leaning forward to examine me. "You've got that facial mole, we've never been able to figure out the minor variations in pigmentation."

"Yes, I'm sure that's very interesting, but I'm here to find out what you nice people want with my daughter."

She blinked. "In light of recent events, I'd be a fool to answer that question, wouldn't I? I think you ought to leave before I call security."

"Don't bullshit me, I can have a team of agents here in fifteen minutes if I wanted to disrupt your operations. I'm offering you a chance to do this quietly."

"I will not talk to you. You are wasting my time."

The sensual mouth tightened down harder than Scully's and made dangerous wishes undulate underneath the surface of my mind. I pushed the chair back from the desk and carefully placed my sidearm on the blotter, next to the mouse pad.

"Dr. Barnabas, you must know enough about me to know that I tend to be a little excitable. Tendency of the breed, I suppose. Now right now I am a micro- millimeter away from losing my daughter and that makes me very anxious. You don't want me to be anxious."

"All right," she said, "I'll tell you what you want to know, because we have nothing to do with your concerns. We are interested in your line's enhanced resistance to other alien organisms, I have to admit we've had endless difficulties making it breed true. In some ways the destruction of the Texas facility was a godsend, we had to try a number of more aggressive strategies and we believe that some of them have paid off. We don't need your daughter, as you call her."

"Then what's BioQuest's new law firm doing in the custody suit?" I was definitely not going to think about the phrase 'other alien organisms,' no siree bob.

She shrugged. "Do I look like a lawyer? We've got enough to deal with trying to rebuild without buying trouble from you and your friends in government. If you want someone to blame, I suggest you look to my former boss — Samantha Mann. Her departure nearly got us all killed, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that she was still manipulating events. She apparently made her own…side agreements, I guess…with those 'higher up.'" She jerked a thumb at the ceiling to indicate the possibility of alien involvement. "If Sam wants to restart a breeding program on her own initiative, even if she's got backing, she needs the raw material."

"And you don't?"

"Please, Mr. Mulder. Your line's sperm has gone more places than Bill Clinton's. I could populate a small Asian nation with your relatives, if I wanted to. We've played that hand out," she smiled, the reference to Jason and Ian's more-than-brotherly relationship making my stomach lurch.

I felt as perceptive as office furniture. None of this made sense. Even if they'd had huge stockpiles of genetic material, so much was destroyed in Texas that I couldn't believe that Miranda held no interest for them. Could Judith be imputing her organization's own motivations to Sam? Other informants had made similarly misleading statements to me before.

"I don't suppose you've got a phone number for Sam."

She flipped a hand toward her nearly empty Rolodex. "I'm afraid not, but we're always happy to cooperate with law enforcement."

I'll bet. She was watching me now as if I were a martini after a bad workday. I suspected that if I asked she'd enact one of my videos' more common boss/secretary scenarios. But she'd probably been present when Miranda and all the other created children were inserted into the wombs of kidnapped women. She was a manufacturer of merchandise, a purveyor of flesh, and that was as effective to dampen my libido as saltpeter.

"Leave my family alone," I said, unhappy to hear the words come out with more pleading than piss and vinegar. "You stay on your side of the line and I'll stay on mine."

"Threats, Mr. Mulder, should only come from a man in a position to make good on them."

"If you take away Miranda I've got nothing to lose. You and your handlers should think about that for a while," I stood and my gun was steady in my hand, I used it to gesture to the photograph of herself and her dark-haired daughter on her desk, "You have a daughter as well, I suggest you imagine our situations reversed." Reaching in my pocket, I handed her one of my cards with the Batphone number on it.

"In case you change your mind, or remember anything, I'd appreciate a call."

I pointed at the picture on her desk.

"You're lucky she didn't inherit the nose."

When I left she was already reaching for her phone to call security.

***

That afternoon the moving van came and unloaded all the contents from my Annapolis apartment, which filled up the garage to the bursting point. I embarrassed myself by dithering over what box went where in a stereotypical female fashion, but the moving men only smiled and toted the boxes and furniture in with indulgent smiles and deliciously Diet Coke commercial brawny bodies. I paid them and tried not to notice the effect all the excess testosterone was having on my already hormone- swamped body. They were probably used to dealing with flushed and stammering women anyway – an occupational hazard. After they had gone, I stood amongst the boxes and the furniture with Miranda glued to my hip, and suffered a few anxieties. With the Annapolis apartment now a thing of the past, my escape route had been cut off. I had nowhere to go should things not work out. On the other hand, should things work out I was faced with an even more appealing possibility – I was going to have to organize a yard sale.

Still in pro-active mode, I took Miranda upstairs and wandered through the bedrooms, trying to settle in my mind what was to be done with the incipient child. Having grown up in base housing and having to share a room with Missy, there was no way that I was going to inflict this on Miranda and the Baby To Be Named Later. That was another issue that made me sink to the floor in shock. We hadn't talked about names, hadn't really planned, hadn't intended this child at all. I'd been so wrapped up in the trial and stunned by the sheer facts of the marriage and the pregnancy that I hadn't bothered to think that far ahead. I had, in the past, set a plan to my life. I was supposed to become head of Forensic Pathology at Quantico by the age of forty-five, I was supposed to marry a surgeon and drive a Volvo station wagon with one darling child and one darling Golden Retriever in the back. I was supposed to alternate holidays between my family and my husband's family, and my father would tell my child the same stories he had told me at the same age.

Then I met Mulder and that shot that plan to hell.

I now had a legal sham of a marriage, no father, no sister, a mother who had sold me up the river in the nicest way possible, a cat, a daughter conceived in a dark laboratory somewhere as part of a foul plan, and a second child that might or might not be killing me as it grew in my body.

I suddenly missed Mulder with a pang so physical that I nearly vomited in the hallway.

Miranda, sensing my mood, crawled over and pulled herself up on my body until we were nose to nose.

"Lee Dah?" she asked.

And when I started to cry, she did too, as misery hates to be alone.

Then we went downstairs and had ice cream. I couldn't believe how empty the house was without Mulder. I had thought that I would use this time to soak up whatever kind of privacy I had without having him hanging around my neck like the fallen angel he had been so often in the past. But to tell you the truth, I was starting to feel as though he had a better grip on the realities of life than I did. His nonchalance in dealing with Miranda, the exasperation with the lawyers, the irrefutable logic of our bizarre wedding, and the casual way that he had accepted the fact that I was pregnant was nothing short of a miracle. His acceptance was a miracle; the benefit of the pregnancy was still under consideration. Actually his acceptance was also questionable. After all this time, after all we'd been through the one thing I knew for sure was how little I actually knew about him.

Happiness is not a warm gun, it is cold ice cream and I needed a lot of happiness that night.

****

Despite the implicit promise I'd made to Dr. Barnaby, I had the Chicago Bureau sweep in an hour after I left and shut the place down. Regrettably for Roush, not only had they engaged in illicit and deadly human experimentation, they'd *also* run afoul of the federal forfeiture laws. This meant that Roush's assets became the property of the government; a corollary was that any attempt to hide such assets behind a new corporate identity was itself illegal. While normally the government's much-expanded power to define and adjudge crimes made me nervous, it was a definite asset in this situation. When Dr. Barnaby as much as told me she still had access to Roush's resources, she provided probable cause to shut BioQuest down.

Naturally, a few of the Roush refugees slipped through the Bureau's greedy fingers, including the lovely doctor herself, but we had an office full of data and a lab full of things the field agents couldn't even describe. Not bad for a day's work.

This was beyond my level of scientific competence. Okay, so light bulbs are beyond my level of scientific competence, I'm not ashamed of it. The upshot was that Scully's assistance was required, so I called her and told her to get to the airport. She could bring whatever looked interesting back to Quantico so that she'd be able to analyze it and still jump through hoops for the childcare experts. She greeted the news with the expected enthusiasm.

We did the great baby trade off in National, which might have amused anyone who noticed. Scully met me in the main section of the airport, lines of exhaustion around her mouth and her carry-on bag and laptop hanging over her shoulder, Miranda clinging to her neck. I had my own laptop and carry- on bag. She handed me the baby; I handed her a travel mug full of coffee. Remembering that the rings glittering on her finger meant that we were now allowed to acknowledge our relationship in public, I leaned down and kissed her. She returned the kiss with more relief than passion and her mouth tasted like cookies. She kissed Miranda's hot little head and jogged off to catch her flight, a slim little figure in black, exiting stage left like one of Shakespeare's girl-boys off to save the day. The entire process took less than five minutes. The Mooselet greeted me with a squeal of delight and patted the side of my stubbly face to reassure herself that I was really there. I rummaged around in my pocket for a minute and pulled out the little Chicago Bulls baseball cap I had gotten her at O'Hare. The hat fit and she looked out from under the brim at me with a sarcastic confusion as if to remind me that a Teletubby hat would have been more welcome.

I just wanted whatever good luck we could get from affiliation with a winning team.

"Da da da Lee Da," she reminded me.

"She'll be back tomorrow. Were you a good little gremlin while I was gone?"

Her toothy grin indicated otherwise.

We could do this, it could work.

****

I caught up with Zippy at O'Hare. His expression indicated exactly how far Mulder and I had pushed him with the latest of our stupid schemes. Pride had forbidden him to get the services of the go-cart for the officially disabled, and with his crutches and the blue binding of the cast extending to his foot poking out from under his suit trousers he looked like a professional athlete sidelined at the championship game. Poor guy, he was being traded off between Mulder and myself in very much the same way Miranda was, only she was young enough not to realize that this was not the way that things were supposed to work. Zippy knew it was crazy and he was jangling with annoyance as he hobbled up to me.

"This has got to be the most fucked-up piece of shit plan that has ever lurched out of Mulder's sick head."

"Hi Zippy, how's the leg?"

"Bite me Dana," he grunted and began hopping alongside me.

"Excuse me for a minute. Bio-break." I said and ducked into the ladies' room.

Morning sickness is a misnomer in the extreme. Morning, noon, and night sickness was more appropriate. The only good thing about it is that unlike vomiting from excess of alcohol or a viral infection, I genuinely felt better after I'd thrown up. I wanted to tell Zippy simply because I was afraid that he would start some diatribe about eating disorders if I didn't. I also couldn't tell him that I'd given up the Zoloft for fear of fetal damage. Since baby #3 was starting off au natural, it seemed best to keep it that way.

"What's the deal?" he asked as he slid into the passenger seat of the Bucar he had purloined from the Chicago Field Office.

I pulled the seat forward.

"Mulder wants me to take a look at whatever BioQuest was growing in the lab."

"You know, Mrs. Zipprelli's little boy has got to tell you a couple things," he said as we headed down the brilliant morning rush hour toward the city. "What the fuck is wrong with you and Spooky? Are you fuckin' nuts or what?"

"That's what my brother Bill seems to think."

"Hey, I've been your goddamn audience through this fucking circus. I remember when you took the baby and left us in Texas, he drank himself stupid in my guestroom for two months for missing both of you. What happened next? You left the baby with his brother and he threw the computer at you, then you called him several zillion times and didn't leave messages, then the postcards, then you're face to face again and I'm thinking that I'm going to have to call in a squad in riot gear. Now, now not only are you living at his house after almost being killed by his brother and you're married and making like happy ever after? I don't get it."

"You forgot the custody battle." I reminded him. "Yeah, don't call me for a witness. I think you're both fucking nuts – and I mean that with the deepest affection. I also hate perjuring myself. It makes me sweat. Sweating messes up my hair. "

"Thanks Mike, you're a prince."

"You should have married me when I asked you."

"Probably."

"Do you love him?"

The Sears Tower poked up over the other buildings in the bright distance.

"Give me an empirical definition of love and I'll tell you. I trust him, I value his opinion, most of the time I enjoy his company, and I know that I was unhappy when we were not together."

"That's a cold analysis."

I shrugged and looked down the street at the stoplight.

"Down here?"

"Three blocks."

"Zippy?"

"Yeah?"

"One more thing — I'm pregnant."

Half a dozen expressions chased each other over his face before the final one settled over his features and one again I found myself bathed in the blinding light of a full-force Zippy smile.

"Cool," he said.

I didn't know humans had that many teeth.

****

The batphone rang at midnight and I snatched it off the bedside table before it rang a second time.

"Have you ever thrown up in an airplane bathroom?" Scully asked.

"As a matter of fact, I have. Don't give me shit about there not being enough room to puke because I'm taller than you are."

"I hadn't noticed," she said and I heard the unmistakable rustling of bedclothes.

"Anything good?" I asked. "Little pitchers have big ears," which was her way of reminding me that the lines could be tapped, I made a note to have the Gunmen check it out in the morning.

"The Mooselet misses you. I'd let you talk to her, but she's down for the count." "You probably shouldn't call her that, she might end up confessing it an eating disorder group when she's a teenager."

If that was the extent of the Mooselet's psychological problems, we were ahead of the game.

"What have you found out?"

She sighed into my ear, which made the short hairs rise on the back of my neck.

"We did find some embryos – but they weren't human. They were porcine. Fetal pigs that were being grown in that green medium that we've seen before. My theory is that they have been trying to replicate the gene or genes that gives the viral immunity and the acceleration of cell regeneration. If they could manufacture it through the pigs the way insulin is manufactured and inject it into already living people they would have a lot more flexibility in shaping the new regime. Not to mention the fact that it would be very hard for even sturdy hybrid babies to survive if all their caretakers died of plague."

"Pigs — that's not kosher."

"After the viral epidemic, Jews, Muslims, vegetarians, and other non-pork or non-meat eaters by theology, choice, politics, or cuisine, will be wiped from the face of the planet. "

"Which reminds me, did you eat a real dinner or are you living on coffee ice cream again?"

"Moo Shu pork, actually. Securing my place in the New World order. Zippy says hi, by the way."

"The bed's too big without you."

"I was thinking the same thing," she said and yawned.

"Go to sleep. You have to be bright and cheery for court tomorrow."

"Bite me."

"As soon as you get home."

She laughed softy into the phone and cut the connection.

It wasn't easy falling asleep alone. I wondered if Scully was thinking the same thing in the hotel room in Chicago, or if she even noticed the lack of a snoring lump next to her. Catzilla hopped up on the bed next to me and began to knead my shoulder with his paws, looking seriously at me with his sulfurous eyes and purring as though making me as soft as pizza dough was the most important thing in the world. Other parts of me were far from soft and I briefly entertained the thought of indulging in my favorite one-player sport but decided I would let the pressure build until I got Scully alone again. Planning what I was going to do to her on her return was worth the dull ache of want in my cock. With Catzilla snoring in a surprisingly Scully-like fashion into the pillow next to me I finally fell asleep.

Alone in my big bed I dreamed a classic Lewis Carroll dream. Scully had the baby, and was quite pleased. Proud even, with the little creature's head enclosed in a white lace cap. I took the baby from her arms and was stunned when I realized that it had the bristle-eyelashes and angry red eyes of a piglet. No one else noticed. I stood there with the pig-baby in my arms and began to sweat with horror. I was trying to explain to the judge that it was the wrong baby. Scully eyed me with contempt and began to breast-feed the beast in the courtroom while the bailiffs dragged me away in horizontally striped prison garb with an enormous ball and chain weighing my leg down.

No, I wasn't having any anxieties. Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 10/

The sky coloured perfect As the man slipped away Waving with a last vanilla smile … One more ice cream river body Flowed underneath the bridge Underneath the bridge The Cure

If it's in the newspaper, it must be true, after all they wouldn't lie to a credulous American public, would they?

After the first one paragraph story in the Metro section, I knew we didn't have enough luck to keep the story from going national.

FBI Agents in Custody Battle over Miracle Baby.

Just in time for the first day back in court, when the experts would vomit their carefully acquired knowledge of our parenting skills in front of the world.

Fuck.

Somewhere they had dug up an old picture of both Scully and myself in that black year when she was eaten by cancer. From her haircut and the gauntness of her face I placed it at the time she'd gone into the hospital to die. She was white and haggard in her cool black suit and I was hovering next to her looking like I had something pinching my balls. It wasn't a picture to inspire any kind of image of nurturing. By contrast, the photo with the inside story was of the two of us leaving the courthouse with the Mooselet a few days earlier and at least we looked human there, even though the line of scabs was clearly visible on my throat. Give the Post credit, the story was pretty much factual as much as the facts were public knowledge, but some uncomfortable questions were raised to the effect that our "privileged position as government employees might unduly influence the verdict". Which was kind of bizarre considering the fact that Bill Scully was a government employee as well as being a highly respected Navy officer. The fact that Bill was respected by anything of higher intelligence than a chickpea was bizarre in and of itself.

The Miracle Baby decided that she really wanted to chew on the side of the newspaper and I had to pry it out of her fat hands before she ingested any ink, which I suspected would not mix well with the Cheerios and banana she had already eaten.

There we were in the renamed Ronald Reagan National airport, and the Mooselet was drooling, not unlike the former president. There was a certain pathos there, former leader of the free world in the kaleidoscope of Alzheimer's spending the golden years of his life on a park bench like Forrest Gump. I just hoped that Miranda would be kind to me when I was too old and feeble to take care of myself. I hoped the Mooselet would understand that should I find out that I was incapable of taking care of myself I'd floss with Smith and Wesson.

"Voon?" the Mooselet asked, pulling on my tie.

"Voon." I agreed.

I folded up the paper and shoved it in the diaper bag before stretching my legs out in the uncomfortable chair in the airport lounge. Scully's flight was ten minutes late but there was still enough time to make it into court even if there was a tremendous back-up on the Beltway. I bounced Miranda on my thighs while she clung onto my fingers. The morning e-mail from Danny hadn't been promising; enough of the BioQuest crew had decamped before the net had been dropped which made me consider that there was a very large leak in the Chicago field office.

"Who's coming home?" I asked the Mooselet.

"Lee!"

"Say 'ma-ma'" I encouraged.

"Lee!" she corrected me and frowned at me as though I were suggesting that Scully's name was now 'Beaufort' or 'the Artist formerly known as Prince'.

It wasn't unheard of for children to call parents by their first names, but even in my experience, calling a parent by their last was a bit odd. Of course, in many traditional households where the parents had the same last name this could have caused some confusion. Additionally confusing was the fact that the Mooselet was Miranda Scully since Miranda Mulder sounded ridiculous. What was the new baby going to go by? Frankenbaby Mulder? What name went with Mulder anyway? Not a lot.

This was another one of the questions that we were going to have to discuss when this farce with Bill was finally over and done with. There were also some serious closet space issues that had to be handled before I replaced enough suits to feel well- dressed again.

The light board at the airline registered that Scully's flight from O'Hare had come in and I gathered up baby and diaper bag and schlepped over to the gate. About halfway through the string of crisp government types and some bovine tourists was my own crisp government type with her hair shining like a new copper penny.

"Hi." I said and the Mooselet reached out both hands.

"Lee! Lee!" she greeted Scully and patted her face with both hands.

We did an awkward yuppie shuffle where I kissed her on the cheek and took her overnight bag while she received an armful of baby in return. While Miranda sucked most of Scully's make-up off with baby kisses, we made our burdened way out to short term parking. Was I imagining things or did she really seem glad to see the Mooselet and me? I had finessed a used Ranger out of Lariat on an extended rental that could turn into a purchase if we liked it. I figured after one good Mooselet mess we'd be too embarrassed to return it. It was in excellent condition and had more than enough room in the back seat to accommodate another baby seat. Besides, it was only logical for us to get a vehicle big enough to accommodate the growing tribe. I even had a fantasy of driving north to the summer house in August and the Outback had claustrophobia- inducing tendencies for a drive of that length. I opened the back hatch and popped her bag, briefcase and laptop inside. The Mooselet, kicking and squirming, went into the baby seat in the back.

"Mulder, it's *enormous*," she gasped.

I batted my eyelashes at her.

"Why thank you."

She turned as pink as the Mooselet's onesie.

"How *Yuppie*," she stuttered.

"Laugh all you want, you're driving it." "Driving it? I won't be able to reach the pedals."

"Drive, Scully, drive."

It took her five minutes to get the seat and mirrors adjusted but she managed and we set off, with her smirking a little over the grandiosity of the vehicle. True, it did look like a normal SUV swollen from steroid abuse but wasn't that part of the fun? Once we were out on the highway, she slipped through the morning traffic with the skill and ease of someone who had commuted from Annapolis to DC for six years. I had the feeling that Scully would be able to handle the M25 – right-handed driving and all. Maybe, before she got too uncomfortable in her pregnancy, we could go to England, I could show her Oxford, we could look at crop circles, take the Mooselet to Stonehenge (she would probably want to put one of the standing stones in her mouth) and climb Glastonbury Tor. God, I was such a sappy romantic.

"Find anything interesting?" I asked.

"Pigs in jars, pigs in tanks, pigs in pieces, little bits of pig on slides. If they're performing human experiments it isn't at the BioQuest location. I also went through their files to see if there were any references to off-site locations and I found something."

"What?"

"There were some locked down files in a subdirectory called 'segue'. I copied it onto a DAT tape and overnighted it to Danny. For all I know it's their accounting files, but I thought it was worth a shot."

"Sounds promising. Now, forget about that for a couple of hours. I talked to Laura last night and she said that Bill and Maxwell have lined up some pretty heavy hitters for this morning. The child psychologists and some more specialists. All we have lined up is Skinner."

She took a deep breath and the big SUV wobbled for a moment. The Mooselet chortled with glee.

"He knows," she said.

"You *told* him."

"I *implied*. I needed to indicate the seriousness of the situation, also that it was connected to Miranda and the Roush file."

I rubbed my neck. The only problem with Skinner is that he changes teams more often than a farm- league outfielder.

"Keep doing that and the scarring will be unmanageable," Scully instructed sharply. As far as I could tell, she'd never looked away from the road.

When we pulled into the lot, I had to shield Miranda from the camera flashes with her own diaper bag. Scully fended for herself, sailing through the reporters shouting their intimate questions as stiffly and proudly as the carved lady on a ship's prow.

It was rough sailing inside, too. Bill's experts had completed their evaluations and they were Not Amused.

Watching psychologists testify was enough to make me highly grateful that I'd never gone into private practice. At least when you're a profiler there's a certain mystique, a "how did he do that?" glamour that allows you to make what seem to the hoi polloi like highly specific and un-evidenced predictions even though they follow naturally from the facts of the case. By contrast, most average citizens believe that they can tell the difference between a fit and an unfit parent, so psychological expertise doesn't go all that far.

Bill's experts thought that we were mad, bad, and dangerous to know. (Okay, so they were right on two out of three, but I still thought they didn't have a clue.) I was a big clumsy puppy, full of goodwill but lacking real knowledge or stability. There was something about my attention span, I think, but my mind drifted . . . Scully, by contrast, was cool and competent: too cool and competent, a robot nurse instead of a warm, fuzzy nurturer. She was distantly inaccessible; I was over-involved and hyper-vigilant. Together we were guaranteed to produce a child with more neuroses than the DSM-IV listed. A kid of ours would probably be a lesbian and an intellectual (it's not clear which is worse in Virginia). And that was only if said child didn't blow her brains out first with one of the many guns in the household.

These folks weren't thrilled with working women, particularly women in law enforcement. I think they probably suspected Scully was gay even though she was married, she wore skirts and lipstick, and her hair was nearly shoulder-length — lesbians can be tricky that way. Several of these jokers suggested that, lacking the experience of sustaining life inside her for nine months, Scully could never form a true maternal bond with Miranda. I wondered how Tara would do if that were true, and what these people thought a father's bond should be, and to give our lawyer credit she was quite effective on cross examination on those points. Unfortunately, the judge, who reminded me disturbingly of Archie Bunker, seemed to take all this quite seriously, and nodded sagely when the experts talked about the importance of female figures fulfilling the traditional nurturant roles so as not to confuse the developing child's sense of self. Laura also made fun of some of the more dramatic predictions, but the damage would be done as soon as they brought up the choicer moments from my past with the X Files.

Tara testified that she loved Bill, loved little butterball Matthew, adored Miranda, and would be thrilled to raise another child while waiting to have more of her own. I was sure there was a real person under there somewhere, like the bit of grit at the center of a pearl, but I didn't have the luxury of smashing her open to see.

Bill was more interesting. He wasn't allowed to testify about seeing the tape of Scully in Arizona. However, he did explain that he'd watched the two of us suspiciously for years, and though as the head of the family after his father's passing he was naturally concerned for Scully he hadn't felt justified in intervening until Miranda appeared.

Laura walked up to him with the intensity of Catzilla stalking a squirrel from behind the screen door. I hoped she didn't bounce off like he did.

"Could you tell me what this is?" She handed him a piece of paper.

He blinked down at it. "Looks like a credit report."

"Whose?"

Her tone made him frown. I bet the men under him didn't talk to him that way. Or the women either, as few as they were. "It's my credit report. Mine and Tara's."

"And is the statement of your outstanding debts accurate to the best of your knowledge?"

He scrutinized it as if translating it from the Russian. "Yes, I think so."

"So, you pay over $600 a month servicing your credit card debt?"

Good God, what were they doing, eating caviar and truffles every meal? Maybe he went to Hooters and tipped really well every time he was on land. Maybe he had a mistress who wasn't happy wearing K-mart markdowns like his wife. Sex lines? Lap Dancing? The possibilities were endless, but one thing was for sure — he wasn't spending the money on his wardrobe.

"Yes," he admitted.

"And are you aware that Miranda Scully's legal guardian will be responsible for her trust fund?"

"Yes."

"About how much is that per year?"

Bill looked over at his lawyer, then at the judge, who looked down expectantly. "About twenty, twenty five thousand a year, I guess."

"You guess? Money like that will fund a lot of expensive new toys, won't it, Lt. Scully?"

"We'd use that money to make Miranda's life better!"

"And your life would be her life, correct?"

"I don't see what this has to do with anything," he complained. "This isn't about me, it's about Dana and that fruitcake destroying the life of my niece."

"So your motives are perfectly altruistic here? Tell me, Lt. Commander Scully, the day after the judge made his first rulings in this case, did you go to the Ford dealership in Annapolis and arrange to purchase a Ford Explorer?"

"We need that car," Bill whined.

I thought about the Ranger in the parking lot and tried not to cringe. Well, that was a little different, Scully's car had been blown up, and we were fixin' to put another youngin' in the back.

"Yes, of course. And before the court-ordered evaluation with Miranda, how many times had you met her?"

Bill was now as stiff as week-old bread in his seat, looking past Laura towards the back doors of the courtroom as if he would really rather be elsewhere. "At her christening, and then again when Dana brought her over to my mother's a few weeks ago."

"So, that's about forty minutes, total?"

He sneered. "It was more than that."

"Fifty, then? What makes you so confident that you should rip Miranda away from the only parents she's ever known?"

He stared lightning bolts at me and Scully. "Because I know these parents, and I wouldn't leave a pet rabbit with them." Beside me Scully twitched as if he'd sawed through a long-healed scar.

"Well, that's another interesting question. Since your sister joined the FBI, about how much time have you spent with her and Fox Mulder?"

"I'm in the Navy, Miss, I don't get as much time as I'd like to visit my extended family around the country."

"So, you were with your sister a week last Christmas, a week when Dr. Scully was in the hospital, maybe a few weekends more in six years — and you're confident that you know her and her husband well enough to judge her unfit?"

Bill clenched his hands on the wooden witness protection barrier and leaned forward. "I'm a military officer, trained to observe a situation and make a quick judgement. That's the only way to save lives in a conflict and it's just as relevant here, with Miranda. I know as much as I need to."

"I have nothing further," Laura told the judge in a way that indicated she thought it was a waste of time talking to this moron.

She had to tread a little more softly with Maggie, who expressed great concern for "Dana's mental health after all the troubles of the past few years" and thought that "she hasn't taken the time to be a real mother." I think Mommy Scully was pissed that Scully didn't turn Miranda over to her tender mercies when Scully decided to take a vacation from parenting.

I used to like Margaret Scully. From the outside, she seemed like the mother I would have wanted for myself. Scully found her overinvolved at times, but since my mother was about as involved with me as Saturn is with the Earth's moon I thought it was charming.

What Maggie's testimony made apparent was that there was a serious control freak under that matronly, warm exterior, which shouldn't have been surprising to someone who knew Scully. When Scully decided not to move in with Mommy Scully, who would babysit while Scully switched to a real job at which she could meet some nice Catholic (breathing) men, Mom decided that Scully was a bad girl in need of correction. (I had a fantasy that went that way, but it really had very little to do with Miranda.)

Laura did her best, suggesting that Maggie was infected with just a smidgen of religious prejudice and that she was retaliating against Scully because her daughter cut the apron strings, but it's not that easy to attack the morals of a smiling grandmother.. And there was no way we were going to counter Maggie's testimony with my mother's; the judge would have stopped right there and awarded Bill custody.

Bill's final witness was Scully's oncologist. I hadn't even considered it, but the fact was that from the perspective of everyday science there was no reason she'd gone into remission, and the oncologist was very clear that the cancer could reappear at any time to claim her. So, Maxwell's assertion was, it was better never to let Miranda get attached in the first place.

Laura wasn't great on cross-examination. There were no good numbers on survival rates after remission because nobody but Scully, apparently, had ever gone into remission from a nasopharyngeal tumor after the cancer metastasized into the blood. And Laura didn't want to dwell on the microchip in Scully's neck as a source of protection. As alternative medicine went, it was hardly acupuncture.

I don't remember that night. I think we might have all slept in the SUV, because I have absolutely no idea what happened between the time that we fled the cameras at the courthouse and the time we pushed through them the next morning. Hell, it wasn't my first experience with missing time and I would have welcomed a free trip to Alpha Centauri at that point. But no, Scully, we're still in Virginia.

As promised, things moved rather swiftly, family court not being subject to the kind of delays that made the Simpson trial into a long-running soap opera. Our experts took the stand and swore up and down that we were as stable and loving as the average suburban family. Their main contention, though, was that a "good enough" parent with a bond to a child was better than any wonderfully doting stranger. This is why Emily never really warmed to Scully despite Scully's best efforts; she was always waiting for Roberta Sim to return. Though Scully had been absent for six months — indeed, maybe because of that — Miranda needed the stability of caretakers she knew rather than more disruption.

It sounded good to me. Maxwell sneered and pranced and asked whether the fact that children usually love and bond with their abusive parents means those parents should be left alone to destroy young lives. I wanted to smack him but decided it wouldn't look good in front of the judge. Miranda was too young to know what was best for her, that was the point of the trial. We were paying our folks well enough to hold their ground, though, and they did, asserting that Miranda was not showing the definite signs of suffering associated with abuse. She was developing well despite the fact that she'd been the main event in a three ring circus for the past month. If we had lingering parenting problems, they claimed, we should be ordered to take parenting classes instead of losing custody. I had no enthusiasm for sitting through lectures by underpaid social workers along with parents who hit their kids with broomsticks, but I'd happily do it just to piss Bill off.

I don't know exactly what voodoo Scully pulled to get Skinner to testify, but it was clearly the high point of the trial.

God bless his shining head. He sat up on the stand looking like authority incarnate, like Mr. Clean testifying against the forces of Dirt. If I could have pulled another ace out of my sleeve, it would be a Skinner clone. My former boss would stop just short of perjury to paint my portrait as a dependable agent and to give the court a different picture of Scully — strong, compassionate, full of sympathy for victims of crime. I knew this was only because he wanted the whole sordid mess tidied up as quickly as possible to prevent any other bad press for the Bureau. He was a company man, after all. The fact that he was a former Marine and Bill was Navy must have had something to do with it as well. Service rivalries were ingrained more deeply than school rivalries, it seemed.

"Agents Mulder and Scully are the most creative and tenacious investigators I have seen. I would hesitate to call any case unsolvable without first invoking their expertise."

"So you consider the two of them valuable and reliable members of the Bureau?" Laura asked. "Yes. Though I have supervised them through a very difficult period, I have always relied on their commitment to one another and to their jobs."

This was really skirting lying under oath, but through the years I have learned that Skinner is capable of telling the truth with the appropriate spin for the situation.

Maxwell, when he got his turn, brought a file folder an inch thick over to the stand. "Do you recognize these?" he asked.

Skinner flipped through the papers quickly and frowned down at the lawyer like the Lion King telling off a bad hyena. I really had to widen my video viewing.

"They're discipline reports for Agent Mulder. I signed them."

"And these?" Another file folder, thicker than the first.

Skinner didn't even bother to look. "I assume that those are the rest of the official reprimands."

"And you still think this man is stable and reliable? How many other agents have discipline records like this?"

"I am not aware of any," Skinner conceded, "and I am not aware of any others with the resolution rate or the –"

"And how many other agents have killed as often as Agents Mulder and Scully?"

"I wouldn't have those statistics at hand." Skinner didn't like being interrupted, but I hoped he'd stay copacetic and keep the judge sympathetic to his masculine authority.

"And how many agents have been allowed to stay with the Bureau after at least four psychotic breaks, one of which resulted in an attack on you?"

Skinner leaned forward and stared into Maxwell's eyes. "I would draw your attention to the fact that the FBI has officially classified that incident as an assault on Agent Mulder through the use of covertly administered psychoactive drugs in order to thwart his investigative activities. I believe that the other incidents to which you refer are similarly being distorted."

I wanted to stand up and applaud.

The Mooselet applauded for all of us.

Then only Scully and I were left to tell our side of the story.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 11/

Let be be finale of seem The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. Wallace Stevens

The next morning, I was standing in the kitchen, trying to choke down a prenatal vitamin the size of a robin's egg (I'd chided but Mulder insisted that he'd paid cash which was enough to keep Them off the trail if it was at all possible to do so) when it happened. Not a post-abduction gusher like the girl on our very first case. Just a regular drippy nosebleed. No sweat.

No sweat, just blood. Pregnancy increases blood flow to the mucous membranes, and bleeding from the gums and nosebleeds are perfectly common consequences. I'd just gotten a clean bill of health and the cancer couldn't possibly have resurfaced so quickly. After all, even though the remission happened almost instantaneously, that doesn't mean that it would end with the same speed…

And I'll respect you in the morning, and nuclear weapons are only for deterrence, and Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are making tea for the Easter Bunny right around the corner.

As soon as the bleeding stopped I cleaned up the few drops that had fallen on the kitchen table. The sweatshirt I soaked in cold water; I'd have to throw it out unless the residue was unrecognizable before Mulder did the laundry. I planned to get out the Vaseline and use it at night, when my nose got a little less tender, to prevent the delicate tissue inside from drying out. Pregnancy-based nosebleeds are most likely when the air is dry and cold. And, hey, even though we were sitting on a filled-in swamp with humidity running 90% every day, it was perfectly possible that the air conditioning was causing the problem.

Everyone needs a few foundational delusions. Mine are very concrete and limited, compared to Mulder's.

I booted up the laptop and fixed my will so that Zippy got my guns and Mulder got everything else.

Mulder returned from his stress-reducing run (he must have jogged to Asbury Park and back) and grabbed coffee, kissing my head in passing, not knowing what was going on underneath my morning fright-fest hair.

The psychologists had been right on one count, Mulder was a big clumsy puppy, full of goodwill, with a short attention span when he wanted. When he needed to be, he was as canny and cunning as a stray in any city of the world where poached pooch appears on the menu. He stopped in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes flicking over towards the laundry room for a moment before he looked back at me, irises more brown than green with canine awareness.

"Something wrong?" he asked.

"Same old morning sickness," I lied.

He wasn't satisfied and he sniffed the air suspiciously before trotting off upstairs. Court time came, and with it the revelation that an appeals court had ordered the courtroom open to the press. Apparently Miranda was too young to be negatively affected by the trial publicity, and Bill's case raised important questions of open, democratic government by challenging the FBI's willingness to tolerate our shenanigans and exposing our misbehavior. The First Amendment uber alles, never mind that the media presence added a new ring to the already world-class circus in progress.

It couldn't have come at a worse time as far as I was concerned, when only Mulder and I were left to testify. We'd achieved the dubious distinction of having CourTV actually schedule a daily show about us, thus guaranteeing us a place in the OJ Simpson/Louise Woodward pantheon.

I'd forever be haunted by my pale morning sickness face on video. It would be a depressing addition to Miranda's baby book.

Laura couldn't help but give last-minute advice as we pushed past the cameras and the shouted questions. "They'll try to bait you and make you lose your cool. Remember that the entire gist of their argument is that you are mentally unbalanced."

"That Scull– er — *Dana's* mental stability is under question never fails to amaze me," Mulder muttered.

"And do not be fooled by how Maxwell looks or acts, he's an absolute piranha who has cultivated the outward appearance of a goldfish."

Her bitterness was the most emotion I'd seen from her yet. I looked at her curiously as she straightened her skirt and sat down at our table, but she was staring straight ahead with a brave and confident demeanor that was probably worth fully half of what we were paying her, just for the image.

Mulder looked good on the stand. He looked slightly nervous and there was a suspicious wet spot on his tie, which could have been coffee, but I suspected that it was baby drool. There were lines of tiredness under his murky eyes and his shirt and tie really couldn't hide the raw healing skin on his neck. If Laura was hoping to prey on the judge's sympathy, Mulder was playing the part to perfection.

Laura and Mulder went over the story just as they'd rehearsed it. Oh, no, I wasn't supposed to say 'rehearsed.' They'd discussed his testimony, that's all. His background, his education, his career with the FBI. His medical history. Some of the worst incidents from his employment files, to get them out in the open before Maxwell could introduce them and make us look like we were hiding something.

"This quest for your sister and the machinations of the men behind her disappearance seems to have consumed your life, Fox," Laura said as she got to the end of the story. It was nearing lunchtime and she was obviously planning to break soon. "Why did you give it up?"

Mulder's eyes collapsed into isosceles triangles of pain. No matter how many times he heard the question, he couldn't prevent the wince.

"I discovered that some things are more important. I was pursuing the past, a past that never truly existed, and…suddenly I was confronted with the possibility of a future. I want to make sure that Miranda never feels alone, or uncertain or afraid. I want to keep her away from the kind of people who created her by force and fraud. I want…I want to do one small thing right…" Laura let him ruminate, the pauses increasing the impression of deep thought. It would have impressed me too had I not seen it in the bedroom the previous night. "Raising a child is such a small thing in a world of five billion people. But I've discovered that it is also the largest thing in my existence. I know that I've made mistakes in the past. In many ways I've been reckless because I did not know what I had to live for. But since I've had Miranda, everything seems clearer–more in perspective."

I could not prevent the small stab of jealousy that pinned me just above my heart. Such a small thing in a world of five billion people, really.

After lunch we had cross-examination. I'd seen the like before, it was the way the average Bureau inquiry went on a contested X File, but it was still difficult for me to watch without trying to intervene to save Mulder from himself.

Maxwell began where we'd all expected him to, at Spooky Central. "Before the so-called 'X Files' were opened in 1991, you were a profiler for the FBI's Violent Crimes Unit."

"That's what my file says." I winced inside at Mulder's obstructionism, but maintained the standard composed face I always kept on while Mulder was being questioned.

"Now, Mr. Mulder, I've seen 'The Silence of the Lambs' but other than that I don't really know much about profiling. From what I understand, your objective is to understand serial killers, to think like them?"

Mulder leaned forward, placing the tips of his fingers on the wooden half-wall in front of him, in full lecture mode. "Not to think like them, but to know how they think so that their behaviors can be predicted. It's the Bureau's long-term goal to know enough about the kind of people who are capable of such repeated vicious acts so that we can engage in comprehensive prevention strategies." He sounded like a TV commentator, pleasant and simplifying things just a little bit for the listeners.

"But you, you were one of the best at really getting into their heads, in a way that was much more than theoretical. Tell me, is it true that you can find murder sites as you drive along the road just by looking for the kind of place a murderer would put a body?"

Mulder winced. "Okay, that story has been stretched *far* out of proportion to what really happened."

Really? That's not what I'd heard when I was at Quantico.

He shifted in the hard wooden seat and adjusted his tie away from his neck. "It was an accident, I was answering the call of nature when I stumbled on a crime scene, and then my boss decided to scare all the trainees by telling them that I'd done it on purpose. And then the other times after that we already had reason to suspect the presence of remains in an area."

Hmm . . . Having met Bill Patterson, I found it plausible that the man would exaggerate his golden boy's achievements just to make the other agents work even harder to please the master. Nonetheless, I wasn't entirely convinced — Mulder was wisely downplaying his spookitude for the court, but get him out on a deserted highway and he'd find a body faster than Michael Jordan finds the net. Mulder was also conveniently forgetting about Addy Sparks — the missing victim in the Roche case — but since he wasn't in ISU anymore by then I suppose he thought it didn't count.

"But profiling does demand that you immerse yourself in the lives of serial rapists and murderers. Do you think that has had an effect on you?"

Once again, Mulder rolled out the prepackaged answer. "Of course, it's impossible to be unaffected by the sheer horror of the crimes we investigate. I'd have to be a monster myself to be oblivious. One of the reasons the X Files appealed to me initially is that they were a change from ISU, where sometimes it felt like catching one killer only opened up a slot for two more. I think what I've taken away from the experience is how precious and fragile life is."

We'd visited cattle mutilation sites with less bullshit around, but the judge was listening carefully. Maxwell favored Mulder with a tight smile that suggested that the lawyer hadn't expected Mulder to be such a good actor. "And yet you maintain that immersing yourself in the twisted thinking of these criminals for years on end has not warped your view of the world in any way?"

Mulder sighed. "Doctors don't have to be sick to diagnose disease. That's essentially what I *did*" — I thought the subtle emphasis was a good trick — "in ISU."

"I'm going to show you a list of magazines now," the lawyer passed a sheet to Mulder, whose hand twitched as if he wanted to crumple it and use it for a three-pointer. "Do you recognize these names?"

"They're names of pornographic magazines."

"Did you subscribe to these magazines for the purpose of 'diagnosis'?" Maxwell casually handed a copy up to the judge, who frowned over the tops of his glasses at Mulder. For his part, Mulder blanched and visibly swallowed, trying to formulate an answer.

"I, uh, before Dana and I were together I occasionally used some of these magazines for, uh, for myself," he euphemized. "They're fantasies, not reality. And they have nothing to do with how I raise my — my child." That stutter at the end, by the way, was Mulder almost broadcasting the news about Baby X to the world — he wasn't doing well.

"You subscribed to 'Tit Torture'?"

I looked down at the table so that I wouldn't have to watch. Though I never voted for Hilary Clinton or her husband, I felt a sudden surge of sympathy for her public humiliation. If I could have, I would have stuffed cotton in my ears as Maxwell made Mulder say "yes" to a revoltingly long list of disgustingly named periodicals. The upside, I suppose, was that none of the titles even hinted at pedophilia.

Eventually the list was done. Mulder was gasping like a landed fish and like a good angler the lawyer changed tactics. "So you and Dr. Scully were partners for over six years?" Maxwell asked in a voice that sounded like old Southern money.

"About six and a half."

"During which time you carried on a clandestine affair. How long did that go on before Miranda entered the picture?"

"Objection, cumulative," Laura chimed out and the judge nodded.

"I'll rephrase," Maxwell said smoothly. "How long had you and Dr. Scully been having sexual relations before you discovered Miranda's existence?"

"About a year, give or take a few weeks."

"And did your superiors know about this relationship?"

"*Someone* did, given the camera that was covertly installed in my apartment."

"Just answer the questions, Mr. Mulder."

Up on the stand, Mulder reddened a bit and went silent again, his hands knotted tightly together in his lap.

"Given that Section Chief Blevins was implicated in the series of events surrounding that unlawful surveillance, I think it's fair to say that he knew."

"Yes, the unlawful surveillance. That's when you shot a man in the face and left him to be identified as you?"

"Yes."

"And Dr. Scully lied to your superiors, confirming the misidentification so that you could break into a Pentagon facility with the dead man's credentials?"

Mulder swallowed. "Yes."

"Is that standard FBI practice?"

I was glad to see that he'd remembered Laura's instructions: breathe before answering, every time. "Dana was dying and I had reason to believe that a cure for her could be found in that research facility. I was right."

Maxwell looked down on his pad. "So, the object you stole from the Pentagon was the chip in the back of her neck, the one of unknown origin that you and Dr. Scully ordered her physicians to implant because it might have some relation to the cancer?"

Laura didn't object and Mulder said, almost inaudibly, "Yes."

"Please speak clearly so that the reporter can get your responses. Does anyone other than yourself and Dr. Scully endorse the claim that this stolen chip can cure cancer?"

"I was told that the chip would work by a man who has been involved in secret government projects of this sort for decades."

"What sort is that? No, never mind. Who is this man?"

"I don't know his name."

"Well, can we find him and ask?"

"No, he was shot soon after he told me about the cure. His body has never been found."

Maxwell paused and looked around the courtroom so that we could all understand exactly how implausible Mulder sounded. This piqued Mulder enough that, against advice of counsel, he added to his reply voluntarily. "Exit wounds are a perennial problem in our line of work." The cameras loved it, which did little to discourage him from being snide no matter how the judge frowned.

It went on like that for a while, from Arecibo to Wisconsin and back. Even I almost laughed when Maxwell asked Mulder to list every time he'd been arrested or custodially detained by some other government agency and Mulder had to ask whether he should include state or just federal.

I was confused by the finale, though.

"Let's go back to your early employment records now. During your tenure in ISU, you managed to accrue a substantial number of commendations for difficult cases and your reviews from your superiors are downright fawning. Then you reopened the 'X Files.' It was to this division that Dr. Scully was assigned shortly thereafter."

I looked over at Laura, but she was concentrating on whatever she was writing on her legal pad and seemed to be only paying slight attention to what was going on at the front of the courtroom.

"With the reassignment and the addition of Dr. Scully as your partner, I notice that you have more reprimands than anything else in your files. To what do you attribute that sea change?"

Mulder's face tightened. I knew he was trying to figure out what he could say that would deflect Maxwell from whatever course he was taking, and he wasn't much enjoying being put on the defensive.

"My charming personality."

Someone in the back, possibly one of the clerks, snickered.

"Really? Answer the question please."

"The nature of the cases require a more extreme approach than a normal case would warrant. Unorthodox methods need to be used and such methods do not generally meet with the approval of the higher-ups."

"You initially regarded Dr. Scully as a 'spy' sent to discredit your work, did you not?"

"Yes, but she quickly proved that she was interested in the truth –"

"So interested that you were able to take risks you hadn't before, with her to back you up when you got in trouble?"

Mulder saw the trap close, but he was already inside. "It's not like that –"

"Isn't it? I submit to you that your once-harmless conspiracy theories became dangerous to yourself and others once Dr. Scully came on the scene. I submit to you that she pushed you to further and further extremes, whether simply to impress her or to convert her to your beliefs it's not clear."

Laura was on her feet now, objecting, but Maxwell continued to talk.

"I submit to you that no matter how intelligent and brave the two of you are individually, the combination of your energies is explosive and deadly."

The judge banged his gavel. "That's enough, Mr. Maxwell!"

More than enough. "I have nothing further, your honor," he said and sat, concealing a smirk behind a serious facade; he knew he'd made his point.

Mulder staggered off of the stand like he'd been shot again.

Their strategy was clear now: divide and conquer. If they could successfully argue that Mulder and I together were like hydrogen introduced to chloride, then we'd be condemned for our loyalty to one another rather than rewarded for it.

My own testimony loomed before me. Tomorrow. I didn't think I could face that kind of questioning when I couldn't make myself entirely believe our side of the story.

I couldn't let Mulder lose Miranda because of his connection with me. We still didn't know whether the judge would admit the videotape of me in Arizona or what it would show; Mulder had been distressingly silent when I asked him what he'd seen when Jason showed him a copy those many months ago. And this morning's ill-timed nosebleed suggested that I might be as bad a bet as a Powerball ticket, even without the custody battle.

I looked across the table, where Mulder was greeting Miranda — he'd been away from her for so long and Miranda demanded to be reacquainted with his nose — and hurried over to my brother and his entourage. I felt Laura following, trying to control the interaction.

"Bill," I caught his arm as he began to walk out of the courtroom with Tara. Maxwell looked at me speculatively. "I have something to say to you. An offer."

Laura made a warning noise behind me, but I ignored her.

"What kind of offer?" He loomed over me, still believing that his height somehow made a difference to me. How could I blame Bill for being the same kind of person I was — afraid of the unknown, determined to make the world conform to his sense of reality?

There were conference rooms scattered throughout the courthouse for just this kind of activity. We found an empty one and sat down, Laura at my side in roughly the same way as my gun.

"I think it's obvious to everyone that the main problem you're having here is with me," I said as soon as his ass hit the chair, "You don't want me around Miranda. You don't really care about Mulder. And you're not going to find anyone to say he's a bad father. You're flailing around with things he did five years ago, and you know the court's not going to think that's enough. So this is my proposal. You drop the lawsuit and I'll agree to leave them alone. I will stay away; I won't play any role in her upbringing. Mulder will have sole custody."

Maxwell immediately opened his mouth, but Bill put his hand up. Tara looked at him worriedly. I was starting to get sick of her Tammy Wynette routine. "Will you wait out in the hall while we discuss this?"

I nodded and Laura and I left. As soon as she shut the door she started in on me: "Dana, this is a problem."

"You're the one who told me that I was hurting Mulder's chances of retaining custody." I realized that I wasn't bothering with the first-name thing anymore; it didn't seem as if it would be necessary.

"If you want to do this, you really need to get separate counsel. Your interests and Fox's are diverging here, and I'm not sure I can represent you both."

"Our interests are exactly the same — what's best for Miranda. And that's being with Mulder, not *them*," I waved my hand contemptuously at the closed door. "Now you know I don't have the money to pay someone else to sit in there with me. I want you to make this happen. I want you to make sure that they can't ever challenge Mulder's custody. And I'll do whatever it takes."

She shook her head and nibbled at her lower lip, thinking.

"I knew I should have been a criminal defense attorney," she said as the door opened. Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 12/

But she's giving him an ice cream headache And I don't know why he's gonna take it Anymore, anyhow, anywhy, and he tried to take it back But it was much too much too late for that Well, they're headed down a rocky road And she's got a chocolate chip on her shoulder She's giving him an ice cream headache She said, "I always fake it" And that might have been the last strawberry Ilios

Testifying wasn't nearly as bad as I'd thought it would be. Maxwell almost had me a few times, and the allegation that Scully and I were dangerous together but not apart was a little worrisome. But I had admitted my mistakes when Laura asked me about them; I was a changed man these days. At least as far as the court was concerned. I felt that I'd explained myself tolerably well, especially with all the evidence Laura had introduced about the conspiracy against us on direct examination. She'd gotten me to discuss Blevins, and the missing evidence over the years, and the revelations from Roush, and the look on the judge's face when he realized that Bill's side could not disprove any of it was priceless.

When Scully had peeled off with Laura to discuss her upcoming testimony, I'd been a little hurt that she didn't want to do it at home. But then I realized that she needed the familiarity with the courthouse. She gets nervous in courtrooms, she'd never admit it but I can see her twitch and I know that her skin isn't always quite so pale. And that's just when she's testifying as a federal agent, upholding the law. It must have been even worse for her to be in court as a citizen, as a defendant.

Feeling reassured, I spent the afternoon filling out personnel evaluations and working on a proposal to put ISU personnel in the major field offices. Crime was being federalized faster than crimes were being committed; what with the Violence Against Women Act, every serial rapist and murderer in the country was suddenly our responsibility whether or not he crossed state lines. Getting agents in field offices would be a good way to improve our responsiveness, maybe catch some patterns we wouldn't have seen otherwise. I was very excited about the proposal, and it occupied my time painlessly until Scully returned.

She still had Laura in tow. I was a little surprised but there was room at the dinner table, so what the hell?

"Mulder," she said. Her voice had the sooty flavor of disaster in it.

"*Dana*," I said, just to remind her, but she shook her head.

"I talked to Bill. He's willing to make a deal –"

"Goddammit, Scully, no! I'm not sharing custody with that rat b–"

"No shared custody. All yours."

I blinked in confusion. That wasn't a deal, that was surrender. "How?"

She gestured towards Laura. "Laura will explain. I'm going to — I'm going to take a look at Miranda."

I sat heavily on the couch. "What's going on?"

Laura perched on the edge of a chair and leaned forward, her hands braced on the seat. "Dana offered a trade. You get full custody, uncontested, and she signs an agreement giving up all rights to Miranda and agreeing not to see her or communicate with her in any way until Miranda is sixteen."

"*What*?"

She continued as if I hadn't spoken. "I think the communication provision is gratuitous cruelty, but she agreed to it in order to get you full control over visitation, if any, with any other member of the Scully family. To enforce the agreement, you and Dana not allowed to live in the same area and are not to spend the night under the same roof, even on a visit. You may talk to Dana but not carry messages between her and Miranda. Break the agreement and Bill and Tara get custody, though that's not completely enforceable. Dana also agrees to submit to psychiatric evaluation at a facility to be named later, and to comply with any inpatient or outpatient treatment regime recommended." She paused and we were silent for half a minute. "He hates her, Fox. I don't know what to tell you."

"Bill suggested this?"

Laura folded her hands in her lap and wouldn't look at me. "No, it was Dana who made the initial approach. We worked out the details over the last few hours."

I felt like someone had taken an ice cream scoop and applied it diligently to my chest. She was abandoning us. Again. Didn't think us worth fighting for. Didn't want to be Miranda's mother. All my delusions — the hopes that this crisis would bring us together, the satisfaction of knowing that she cared enough to oppose Bill — were crushed and broken by her indifference, screaming and bleeding in my mind. I should have put them out of their misery a long time ago, but I was never good at mercy killings.

"So that's what she wants." My voice came out as flat as ever. I suppose I should be grateful that no emotion came through.

Laura slammed a fist down on her knee. "No! Dammit, I knew this was going to happen. No, it's obviously not what she wants, you don't have to look very hard to see that. But she thinks that the judge will see her as an unfit mother and give Bill and Tara custody, at least joint custody, unless she agrees to this."

I looked towards the stairs. Was she saying good- bye already? Was she packing? How long would it take before she forgot Miranda's face, her bright clear eyes, her perfect fragile skin?

"What do you think I should do?"

She sighed. "Look, if that tape shows what they say it shows, a judge is going to have a hard time with a custody arrangement that involves Dana. He'd probably refer her to the authorities for prosecution. And if you're endorsing her, supporting her after she did something like that — it will be hard for him to believe that you've really stabilized and become an upright citizen after all."

"So you're saying that our chances aren't good."

"Let's put it this way — imagine that this case was about someone else. Would you want a child to be raised by people with your backgrounds, people who are struggling with these incredible burdens? We've got a fair shot of proving that you're an excellent father — at least for the past half a year. But that's only a little over one percent of your lifetime. And, honestly, you look good because you responded well when Dana did the thing that looks so bad — she left Miranda halfway across the country, in good hands of course but it's hard to get around the fact that she abandoned her daughter. Who's to say that she won't take off again when she recovers from her latest problems?"

When I didn't say anything, she prodded. "As your lawyer, I can only tell you about your options. I don't know what the right thing for you to do is. Maybe you'd be better off if Dana had never proposed this deal. But here it is, and you need to decide. We're supposed to go in front of the judge tomorrow to get his approval. Because the best interests of a child are at stake, the judge has to approve our agreement. And your consent is required, too. So you'd better know what you're going to say when he asks whether you've agreed to this."

After about five minutes of strained silence, she got up and made her goodbyes. I was paralyzed more effectively than if I'd been staring at the Medusa and I didn't even bother with the alarm behind her.

The sun slowly dissolved into the earth as I sat, trying to comprehend. The sunset was spectacular, clouds at the horizon glowing pink as the water running down an ax murderer's drain. The new- summer sky darkened into hot night as I sat.

I went to the study, my knees protesting at the sudden motion after hours of disuse. She was there, curled up on my couch.

"So when are you going to leave?" I heard my voice come out before my brain had completely engaged.

She looked up from where she was reading the Post and the light flared off the lenses of her glasses.

"Excuse me?" she asked in a lemon sorbet voice.

"Well, you're going to fuck my brains out tonight and then vanish before sunup aren't you? Did you call the airline yet? Or is this going to be a local escape?" I marched over to my desk and dropped down like a thrown rock, swiveling the chair so I could face her.

Her eyes were round as the Mooselet's.

"Alaska is nice this time of year, except for the mosquitoes, and you can get a one-way ticket to Juneau with no problem. You could even rationalize a trip up there for an X-File. I think there have been pipeline workers missing again. I never bothered to check it out because I froze my ass off once up there," the ichor in my voice surprised me.

"Mulder–"

"That's what you do, isn't it? When the going gets tough, Scully bails. You take off so fast that you scorch the flight deck."

"Does the word 'ditch' mean anything to *you*, Mulder?"

"I had to stop doing that when you took the Champion's Cup for taking off," I had my fingers so tight on the arms of the chair that I was probably leaving fingerprints in the hard foam of the armrests.

I tapped an imaginary button on the chair arm. Prepare deflector shields, Mr. Chekov, incoming photon torpedoes.

"I'm sorry if my family is disturbing your quiet little island of domesticity here. I didn't ask for this to happen."

"I'm getting really tired of that song, Scully. Really tired. You didn't ask to be abducted, you didn't ask to have your ova taken, and you didn't ask for the cancer. You didn't choose to have Miranda, and when she inconvenienced your life you dumped her with Emerson and Aileen. You didn't provoke George into stalking you and you certainly didn't *aid* him when he tried to strangle you," I continued, trying to keep my voice under control even though it was crackling like a cheap stereo speaker. "When things don't go your way, you cave like a house of cards."

"I don't!"

I snorted.

"This is bullshit, Mulder. I'm trying to do what's best for Miranda. You were *there* today, you heard yourself rationalize and it's not going to get any better tomorrow when that lawyer crucifies me alongside you. I'm offering you a way out and as usual you just resent my attempts to help."

"Hey, I was dealt a bad hand here too, Scully, and I'm just trying to bluff my way through it. I used to think that you were one of the strongest people that I know, and in the past year I've realized that it wasn't strength that I was seeing. You're self-centered, emotionally straightjacketed, and utterly inflexible to change."

"Sounds to me as though you've taken the psych findings to heart — or ego as the case may be. You're believing your own press. You are *not* Saint Mulder and you are *not* the poster boy for emotional stability. Aren't you paying attention? There's a good chance we're going to *lose* this case, and then what will you do?"

Okay, so she had a point. It wouldn't be the first time. Fortunately I still had ammunition.

"And what are you going to do about the fact that you're pregnant? You think no one's going to notice? Maybe you could go away and visit an aunt like girls in the fifties used to."

Her spine stiffened — she seemed to grow an inch — and when she began to speak again she had the precise tone of her case reports. "RU 486 is available in Virginia. Chemical abortion works in the home and I will be able to verify that this child will not be anyone's experimental subject."

She stalked forward a few paces, until her hand was resting on the doorknob. "For the record," she said and turned back so that I could see the bone-white cheeks below her bruise-bright eyes, "going upstairs does not constitute a ditch."

I sulked in the study for awhile until my natural curiosity got the better of me. Catzilla, who understood these things, shadowed me as I crept up the dark stairway and stopped.

Scully's voice was soft and I had to strain to hear it. What made her good with children was that she treated them like real people, albeit with different interests and talents than adults had. The mewling newborn Miranda hadn't been amenable to such attentions, but she was old enough now to respond to Scully. She was silent for the moment as Scully spoke to her.

"Neither side of your family is any good at forgiveness or understanding, so I'm not going to ask you for that. I know you'll be angry when you figure out what happened. I'm angry too, but — I had to make sure you were safe. And you could never be safer than with Mulder. Whatever you think of me, you should know that Mulder loves you more than a thousand mothers and fathers. He –" her voice caught, and then Miranda whimpered. Scully was probably holding her too tight. "You've got the best Daddy in the whole wide world, you know that? He'll make sure you grow up big and strong and nothing bad will ever happen to you –"

I could hear her heaving breaths as she was unable to keep the tears from coming. I heard her walk across the floor, then a rustle of plastic diapers as Miranda was lowered into the crib.

She'd taken a few steps away when Miranda began to cry. "Lee," she wailed. "Lee!"

More rustling, then, and her voice faded in and out as she began to circle the room. Each word was thick, forced through salt and bone. "It's okay, baby. I'll just stay until you fall asleep –" But Miranda wouldn't shut up. She was picking up on Scully's distress and responding the only way she knew how, by fussing. After a few minutes, Scully spoke again.

No, not spoke. She was singing, her voice flat and stumbling over every other word.

"Take me out to the ball game, Take me out to the show. Buy me some peanuts and Crack-er Jack I don't care if I never –"

I broke and ran, my brain pounding against my skull, desperate for escape. There are some things that no human being should have to face.

Just for a little variety, *I* went into the hallway bathroom and threw up. Of course morning sickness was soon going to be a thing of Scully's past. Why would she want a child when the one she had now had brought nothing but pain? It was Emily all over again, but worse. Scully had actually bonded with the Mooselet in a way she hadn't with Emily. Well, the Mooselet was better looking, had more personality, and was smarter than Emily, which was probably due to the infusion of Mulder genes. (The only one of my brothers who hadn't been vain about his appearance was Ian, and he'd been insane.)

I couldn't let her go. It was that simple. No matter what the judge ended up with as a verdict, no matter what white rabbits Maxwell was able to pull out of his tailored pocket, no matter if I had to keep Scully in a locked room and force-feed her prenatal vitamins for nine months in whatever place I managed to find without an extradition treaty to the US, I was going to keep this strange little family unit intact. Period. Full stop. She could go along willingly or not..

**** I was surprised to find Mulder in bed when I came out of the bathroom. I would have thought that he'd gone to ground on his sofa in the study. But there he was, lying on his side of the bed on his side, with the covers pulled up to his hairline as though I hadn't promised to leave both him and Miranda and abort the embryo I was carrying like a concealed weapon. I hovered in the bathroom doorway for a moment. He had to be up to something but I wasn't quite sure what. I'd played this scene out in dozens of hotels through the past two years: the argument was going to be worked out on a purely physical level once again. I had a fairly good idea what loomed in the next hour or so.

The tickling in my nose warned me just in time. I put my hand up to my face as if I were trying to cover my mouth, blocking my nostrils incidentally, and spun to return to the bathroom. Running the water to cover up the sound of me not puking, tilting my head forward so that I wouldn't choke, I knew I was doing the right thing. I couldn't let Mulder run the risk of losing Miranda because he dreamt of reconstituting a family from my freeze-dried life. The last time I was dying I'd launched us into this terrible cycle, and I could get him out this time. Whatever he was about to do to me, I could take, with pleasure.

I knew that I was enjoying the role of martyr, of beautiful dying sacrificial Camille and all the other tubercular operatic heroines. But what is there to embrace about dying but the martyrdom? I had hopes that Mulder would one day look back on my choice and see that it had been about love and not weakness. I couldn't wish him permanently damaged, though, because about one thing he was entirely correct: Miranda had a chance to escape her legacies, and Mulder could make it happen through the power of his convictions.

Clean and bloodless, I emerged to face him.

The mattress creaked underneath my weight as I settled into my side (the 'passenger' side, mind you) of the bed. I could tell that he wasn't asleep by his breathing. I reached out to touch the warm skin on his back. He flinched away from me as though my fingers gouged his flesh. Stung, I inched to the edge of the mattress and clung there like a burr.

"I'm only saying this once – don't do it. Don't leave Miranda and me again."

Damn the hormones, I started to cry. And damn Mulder, after barely five minutes of listening to me sob into the extra-firm pillow, he got up and left.

**** I slept on my old couch in the study. When I heard the shower going, I snuck into the master bedroom to grab my outfit for the day, then used Warwick and Ingveld's bathroom to prepare. I gave a garbled explanation of what was going on while I tried to make my hair behave without mousse.

"The videotape, the lawyer thinks it will hurt you so that you will both lose if the judge sees it?" Ingveld asked again.

"That's what she says."

"And this is why Dana has made this deal?" she asked and handed me a tube of hair gel which would do in a pinch.

"That's what she says."

In the mirror I saw Ingveld's face contort, trying to puzzle out the ways of adults. I looked like the Hanged Man of the Tarot, the tie choking my scabs no matter how loosely I knotted it. I gave up and loosened the tie. It wasn't as though I had a single fucking secret with these people anymore anyway.

Warwick watched me impassively from the bed where he lay with his keyboard cuddled against his side like a favored stuffed animal.

"So this is all going to be settled and everything will go back to normal, right?"

"Oh, yeah, sure, it'll be normalicious." I gave one last swipe at my hair and plodded out to the car where I waited like Fred Flintstone for the rest of the family to arrive.

Scully came out with Miranda and I realized, too late, that I had probably added insult to injury by making her bring the baby out. The steering wheel wavered in my untrustworthy eyesight as she opened the back door and put Miranda in the kiddie seat. Then Miranda began to scream, demanding motion, while Scully tried to decide whether it would be worse to sit next to her or next to me.

I won, I guess, and she got in the front seat.

I won another round when she had to speak first.

"Last night…"

I remained as impassive as a crashed computer screen.

"…You never said you would accept the agreement."

I darted left, in between two Tauruses. Fucking Tauruses.

"Well, are you?"

I couldn't very well leave her in suspense until the moment arrived; it would look too bad to the judge. More's the pity.

"No."

It took her four exits to recover from that.

"Mulder, you're . . . not making a decision based on all the relevant information."

"What, it's really Zippy who knocked you up?"

Her hand twisted on the door handle as if jumping out at forty miles an hour would be safer than staying with me.

"You want to take this risk so that we can stay together, and I appreciate that. But . . . I believe that . . . it may be the case that . . .."

If I hadn't needed both hands to swing in and out of traffic, I would have strangled her. "Spit it out, Scully, you're getting so good at that."

She took a lungful of air-conditioned baby-scented air. "There is a not inconsiderable possibility that I am out of remission."

First I didn't process it because I was trying to avoid plowing into the asshole attempting to cut me off, and then my operating system suffered fatal errors.

"So you see," she said, emboldened by my obvious inability to respond, "it would be highly unwise to risk losing your custody when it may not guarantee my presence even if you succeed."

I caught a look at myself in the mirror. Red, ugly eyes stared at me from a low circle of Hell. And then there was the courthouse parking lot, and we pulled into our spot.

"Nice try, Dana," I said lightly as I unlocked the automatic doors. "But you're going in there and you're going to testify that you want to be an adoring wife and mother. It's too damn easy for you to sacrifice yourself for us and I'm not going to let it happen."

Laura trotted up as I liberated Miranda. "I was expecting a call last night," she chided.

"No deal," I informed her, and she went over to Scully's side, comforting her with a low feminine murmur as Scully pulled away to hide her confusion and hurt.

Scully's oncologist had just testified the other day to Scully's recovery and I refused to believe that this much misfortune could befall us. Scully would call it a statistical improbability; me, I just determined to keep her in good health by sheer force of will. If I had to go hunt down an ET and kick its ass into submission just to make the damn microchip in her neck work properly, I'd do it. Maybe they had a tech support line I could call — "excuse me, but this microchip is still under warranty, can you send someone to replace it?"

Laura gave Scully the hurried rundown of tips on testimony that I'd heard too many times before. Then she shuffled over to the Dark Side to explain that there would be no deal and there were a few self-righteous noises on that side.

I tried very hard not to listen to Scully and Laura's very public conversation about our life and times. I was too busy projecting whatever psychic powers I had into the destruction of any cancerous or precancerous cells that might be lurking in the vicinity. Even if that benefited Bill accidentally. I could still hear my voice echoing in my ears from the time Scully first discovered the spate of cancer among the Allentown abductees. But you're all right, aren't you Scully?

Aren't you, Scully? Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 12/

white pepper ice cream it's like a line drawing it snipped my heart white pepper ice cream in my mouth it stings my lips it's like an eclipse as if i'm in the crossword puzzle but i can't fill in the blank Cibo Matto

Give him his due, Maxwell didn't waste any time before going for the good stuff. He quickly reviewed all the times Scully covered for me, disrupted Bureau protocol against her better judgement, defied Skinner, or otherwise participated in the effective investigation of X Files.

He asked her about events in Bethel, Arizona, and she averred that she hadn't been allowed past the front gate of Roush's facility there because she didn't have a search warrant. She claimed that the lab had been destroyed while she was there in order to hide evidence of human experimentation that she would have discovered had she been successful in her attempt. Though this was the kind of naked assertion that usually got me in trouble, here there was a public record of the dirty work Roush had been doing in Texas and Maxwell didn't press her very hard. I assumed that he was merely waiting for the tape to prove her a liar.

Scully had very little trouble with the professional part of the story. But when it turned personal, she was running on fumes.

"Did you have sexual relations with Edward Jerse, the man you'd met only that afternoon and who the next morning tried to kill you?"

"No, I did not." How I hoped she was telling the truth. She hadn't let the folks at the hospital do a full exam; evidence of intercourse, if any, had disappeared with her next shower.

"Is it usual for you to stay overnight with a man you've just met, a man who was a suspect in a murder case?"

"First, there was a blizzard outside, and second, Edward Jerse was not at that time a suspect, his behavior was not overtly psychotic."

"So you just stumbled into this murder case? Bad luck seems to follow you around."

"I would think your presence is empirical evidence of that proposition," she muttered and someone in the press corps emitted a bleat of laughter.

Maxwell then got her to restate every trauma she'd experienced in the past six years, Duane Barry, Leonard Betts, Luis Cardinal, Donny Pfaster, Gerry Shnauz, Jack Willis, Mighty Morphin Bounty Hunters (okay, so that's not alphabetical, but I wasn't really sure where they fit anyway), et cetera. The little bastard referred to each one by case number.

Finally he spiraled in to Miranda, the eye of the storm. "Instead of abandoning your child entirely, why didn't you simply reach out and get some assistance? Your mother, Mr. Mulder, Mr. Mulder's brother, they were all willing to help you. But instead you chose to give up entirely."

Scully swallowed and straightened infinitesimally. "Even with their assistance, I was overwhelmed. I'd lost Emily not long before, and I was still devastated. I…couldn't acknowledge my experiences, couldn't make myself open up to others."

"But you can now?"

"Yes," she enunciated clearly, and I winced as she realized the problem. It didn't make me feel any better that I'd been suckered the day before, though.

"Well, then, let me ask you some questions about your reactions to the troubles you encountered. Now, you testified that after the death of your daughter Emily and the discovery of Miranda and the rape, you suffered understandably lingering trauma. You've been taking antidepressant and anti- anxiety medications, correct?"

"I have been," she said carefully. I tried not to squirm in my seat. Being a lawyer, Maxwell was highly sensitive to the nuances of speech and he paused.

"Are you doing so now?"

"No."

"Why not?"

She took a slow, careful breath like a dolphin preparing to dive under water and hide. "The medications were very helpful, but now that I can do without them I prefer to do so."

Not in the least untrue, yet incomplete; a letter- perfect Scully answer. But there was blood in the water, despite the fact that she showed no signs of injury, and Maxwell tilted his head slightly. "Isn't the usual minimum prescription for six months?"

"Yes." Laura's hands twitched on her legal pad and relaxed when Scully didn't volunteer further.

"And did you discontinue taking the medications before that time on the advice of your physician?"

"No."

"So you decided that you were recovered from your depression based on your own evaluation, is that right?"

"Yes." Watching Scully choke back explanations was incredibly difficult, even knowing that Laura would allow her to say more under redirect if the cross went badly. I could understand how people tripped themselves up this way. The temptation to justify, expound, and elucidate was enormous.

"Independence is very important to you, isn't it," he said softly, sympathetically. "Your strength is your strongest asset."

Her eyes grayed with puzzlement.

"When you had active cancer, you continued working against medical advice up to the point at which you collapsed during an important meeting, isn't that correct?"

"I fainted," she conceded.

"And when you discovered Miranda you took care of her all by yourself for three months, despite what had just happened to you and despite Mr. Mulder's availability. You only stopped when your maternity leave ended and you had to return to work."

"I…"

He put his hands on the wooden barrier separating the witness box from the courtroom floor. "It was a relief to go back to work, wasn't it? To be confronted with a choice between a job that demands twenty- four hour commitment and a baby with the same requirements — no one could fault you for choosing only one, could they?"

"I don't know what you mean," she whispered, eyes flickering like the whirring of a countdown timer on a bomb.

"You want to be in control of your life so much that you take action even though it's physically or emotionally too taxing for you, isn't that true? With the cancer, with your daughters, with your medication."

She shook her head, but he didn't pause to tell her to speak up for the court reporter.

"If the court decides that you're just not healed enough for custody, if someone other than you makes that decision, won't that be a relief? You've done your duty to your daughter and to Mr. Mulder, you've fought the good fight, but wouldn't it be just a little bit reassuring to have someone else take up the burden of caring for Miranda while you get yourself back together?"

Now, finally, the first tear track shone, like a freshly cut scar, on her face. "No," she denied, finally bowing her head to preserve whatever dignity she could imagine she had left. When she straightened, she had her voice under control, but the price was that her tears were flowing more freely. "You may be right that I can't be as strong for myself as I want to be. However, what you don't understand is how strong I am for them. How strong I am with him." She turned to the judge, her raised face beseeching despite itself. "Don't make a decision to protect me. You can judge me or punish me, but if you decide against me out of some twisted version of solicitude you will have done a terrible disservice to everyone involved." She swiveled her head back to glare at Maxwell. "So don't attack me for what I've done and tell me that defending myself is simply proof that I don't know what's good for me."

She took a breath to say more but seemed to realize that she'd already broken the cardinal rule of cross- examination and subsided into her chair with an interrupted gasp.

Maxwell shook his head, almost indulgently. "One more thing, Dr. Scully."

She looked at him warily; as if he were brandishing a gun at her and she had to hold him off for a few minutes so her backup could take him out.

"You've testified that your relationship with Mr. Mulder has been tempestuous at times. Are there any lingering difficulties caused by the fact that when you wake up in the morning you see the face of the man who raped you?"

I stood up at precisely the moment that Laura shouted out an objection. She grabbed onto my sleeve and hung on despite the fact that she had to tilt halfway out of her chair to do so. Maxwell gave me a look that suggested that physical violence was exactly what he expected from me, and I tumbled back into my seat as the judge spanked his gavel on the bench.

With one last snide look at me, Maxwell turned to the judge. "Goes to the stability of the marriage, which is important to the family environment."

"I'll allow it, Mr. Maxwell, but I understand why a gentleman might object to having such a question put to his wife. Answer the question, please," he told Scully in a tone nearly as severe as the one he used on the lawyer.

Scully glanced at the judge. I may be the master of puppy-dog looks, but her 'I'm disappointed that you failed me but not terribly surprised' face should have pride of place between us.

Maxwell put his hand on the half-wall between him and Scully and leaned forward so that he was invading her personal space. "I can repeat the question if you'd like."

The shellac of long-suffering motherhood had worn off under Maxwell's previous assaults, and Scully gave him a look that should have disassembled him into his component atoms. "No, it does not cause any 'lingering difficulties.'"

He let that unlikely statement have a moment to plummet to the ground. "And what about the more recent attempts on your life by yet another of your husband's criminally inclined brothers?"

"No 'lingering difficulties' there either. Evil isn't a matter of blood, it's a matter of volition," her left eyebrow explained exactly what she thought of his manners, intelligence, sexual prowess, and personal hygiene, "Like most career choices."

"Of course, of course." He waved his hand; she was talking in trivialities and platitudes while he wanted to have a serious discussion. "But if none of that bothers you, how can you expect this court to imagine that you have the sensitivity necessary to raise a child?"

This is the point at which, if we were animated figures, little clouds of steam would shoot out of Scully's ears. Her patience was somewhere in Canada by now. "Make up your mind," she snapped. "You want to portray me as a broken- down victim and a heartless witch at the same time."

Maxwell pulled away from her with a satisfied nod. "All right, which is it? Withdrawn," he said before anyone else could react. "We'll continue cross- examination tomorrow. At that time we intend to present videotaped evidence that Dr. Scully has been somewhat less than truthful about her activities in Arizona."

"Sidebar, your honor!" The judge beckoned and Scully got off the stand. We stewed for a long time as the legal beagles argued back and forth and the cameras targeted us, looking for reaction shots. Miranda was trying to eat Laura's abandoned pen and Scully was offering numerous other objects for her edification; each was satisfactory for about a minute, and then Miranda wanted the felt-tip pen again.

When Laura returned, her face was so expressionless that I knew the news was bad. Over at the other side, Bill and the others began arranging their things to leave, jauntily confident.

"They've found someone they say can verify the tape," Laura whispered in a voice of dry autumn leaves. "Some security guard who escaped the fire and then worked in Vegas for the past year. They just tracked him down and he's flying out tonight."

"What does that mean?"

"It means very little if Dana's testimony was accurate."

I let her stew, refusing to feed her the next line.

"And if it was not, if the tape does show her after she testified that she never made it beyond the outer perimeter of the compound–it will go badly."

*** Dinner was ugly. Ugly in the extreme. Ingveld had made Warwick an early dinner and run off to take care of some consulting work she was doing for the feds or some other mysterious project. This meant that Mulder and I ate alone, Miranda having collapsed into a sack of potatoes not long after we returned home. The trial was wearing on her usually good nerves. She was getting whiny and clingy by turns, clearly sensing the stress and tension that her adoring public was undergoing on her behalf. Whatever damage the psychologists thought my alleged abandonment of her had done was compounded by their presence and the custody battle.

We'd given up any pretense of domesticity and reverted to our old bachelor ways, a pizza on the floor of the study with the television muttering CNN in the background and cans of soda sitting on the top of the open pizza box. For some reason, the tomato sauce tasted strange to me and I had to scrape it off with my fingertips and then replace the cheese like a bad toupee. The green peppers were inedible and I had to pile them on a napkin. Catzilla had stolen a chunk of green pepper that he was playing paw-hockey with underneath the desk and I was so tired and depressed that I had no energy to try to stop him.

Rumpled and tired, Mulder leaned his back up against the sofa and wiggled his toes dangerously close to the pizza box. It was unhygienic and he knew that it drove me crazy. He looked entirely too calm, too accepting and I was wondering what was going on in that pretty head of his, assuming that it wouldn't be good and not sure if I wanted to know.

"Are you going to eat that pizza or just dissect it?" he asked in a sharp voice.

"Pardon the hell out of me. I'm pregnant and my taste buds are doing strange things."

"You asked me to order green peppers and now you won't eat them. Didn't you know you didn't want them?"

"They taste wrong. Do you want me to throw up?"

"That's your excuse for everything now, isn't it?"

"Fuck you," I snapped and climbed to my feet. "If you want a dartboard you can get your ass out to the sporting goods store and buy one. You didn't marry one."

I made for the door. After a day spent being filleted by Bill's lawyer I would be damned if I was going to undergo Mulder maceration.

****

"Do not walk out of this room."

Goddamn, it wasn't even my voice that snapped out of the hole in my face.

This, at least, gave her enough reason to pause like a cat who isn't sure if the shine on the kitchen floor is wax or water, one paw raised for disappointment.

When the lies get too hard to keep straight, one must resort to telling the truth.

"Don't leave me," I croaked, "I've lived without you and I don't like it. You've proved to me that you can live without me, but I can't do the same."

She blinked, which was not quite the reaction I had been looking for. I was hoping for something more positive since I was spewing my heart's pumping blood out all over the hardwood floor. The door was only a few steps away from where I sat and the area stretched for miles of tundra while I slogged to cross it.. Her body was vibrating at a higher pitch than usual and I could hear her breath catching in her throat.

"The tape," she muttered.

"Fuck the tape. Fuck it all, Scully, just think for a moment. Were you happy? Are you happy? Can you even entertain the thought that I'm something other than an annoying but necessary plaything."

The blinking continued and I considered the possibility that she'd gone into mental vapor lock. I reached out and touched her forearm where the downy hairs had jumped erect as though there was entirely too much random static electricity in the room. "You can't make this work," she said, "Even if the tape doesn't show what we both know it does, you heard them, the psychologists. I'm not cut out to be anyone's mother."

"So? I've been through it with the Mooselet and if I can be a parent, anyone can." I tried a smile and got yet another blink in response.

I slid my hand up her arm, working my way from fabric to flesh, and cupped the searing heat of her cheek in my hand.

"You know I lay awake at night wishing that everything that has happened to you because of me hadn't happened. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for it all. I'm sorry I love you. I'm sorry that causes you pain. But that's one thing that I don't want to go away."

Breath warm against the underside of my wrist, Scully shut her eyes, which made everything easier for a moment. My knees were trembling like the skin on a saucepan of hot milk. She gave no comment or argument (mark your calendars) when I led- shuffled her over to the sofa and pulled her onto my lap. Her head curled between my shoulder and jawbone and she went soft as Catzilla in midmorning snooze. We had trained each other really badly, no wonder I felt free to hurt her if she'd forgive me so easily. Or was that vice versa?

"You need a haircut," she muttered into the scarred terrain of my neck.

"Yeah, and — " I prodded.

"And what?" Her cool fingers played over my stubble as if she were sanding her fingerprints away.

"And I've just gotten emotionally naked and you could at least point and laugh," the palm of her hand smelled like pizza but I kissed it anyway.

"I'm sorry, was I supposed to confess undying love or something?"

"If it's not too much of a problem."

Sitting upright, she looked into my eyes with an expression as warm as Mont Blanc.

"Oh Fox, I have loved you since the beginning. My life is incomplete without you. Oh you big beautiful stud, you," she recited in a flat, level tone, "you had me at hello."

My outraged squawk was muffled by her lips.

Then she moved back to get the space to pull my shirt off. She looked at me quizzically before she obscured my face. "You understand that it is now officially my turn. You will not begin another fight until I have done so."

I could live with that.

But there was something that still bothered me. I pushed back from her bathwater-warm mouth as I realized what it was.

"I *never* said hello!"

"M — Fox, what did I just tell you?" "All right, but can we make up again like this?" "Maybe," she said and threw my shirt over into the corner.

Then she knotted her fingers in my hair and pressed my head into the sofa back while her tongue darted into my mouth with teenage frenzy. Her back was smoothly warm under my hands and I pulled her closer until she was straddling the growing bulge in my sweatpants, her breasts hot and soft against my chest. It had only been a matter of days since we'd had sex and it felt like months. She nuzzled along my jaw and stuck her tongue in my ear which seemed to be attached to my dick by a thin strand of enraged nerve. I was hard as quantum physics in the warmth of her thighs even before I squeezed the deliciously soft curves of her ass. Breathing on the banding of scars around my neck, she reached down between our bodies and squeezed me with her hot little hand. I grunted greedily into her hair and she chuckled softly into my shoulder.

"When all else fails," she teased.

"Hasn't failed yet."

"Pride goeth–" she said and slid her hand up and down with consummate skill.

I growled and ground my teeth.

"Now," she demanded.

Well, that was a hardship. I wiggled out of my sweats and shorts and they joined the rapidly growing pile in the corner. Finally she was gloriously naked, and smiled back at my appreciative gape. She undulated over to me and climbed into my lap, her finely shaped legs twining around mine. I groaned in gratitude when the smooth bulk of her ass warmed my upstanding cock. I squeezed the pale skin of her breasts, watching her tight peach nipples compress between my fingers. I looked up and into the lasciviously glowing depths of her eyes and finally saw through the wall of control and distance she'd always erected there. And what did I see? Bemused indulgence, some need, and a hell of a lot of lust.. This was better than any cupid and rose-bedecked declaration of love.

On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt for Scully to go Hallmark on me just once.

"What?" she asked and gave me a shy smile.

"Tell me you love me."

The color rose from where my hands darkened her breasts to her hairline.

"It doesn't count if you're naked," I prodded.

"I think this couch has certain aphrodisiac properties."

She smiled and flicked her hair back away from her face with one hand in a heart-stoppingly wanton gesture before leaning over and beginning to cover my face with sloppy, sultry kisses.

"I wouldn't be surprised if I had gotten pregnant from sitting on the sofa. For all we know your spermatozoa can live through an autoclave," she murmured into the shell of my ear and sent a thrill down my left side that made me jump and shudder. "Do you?" I asked again.

"I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it will incriminate me," she said and chuckled, and the chuckle followed the murmur down my neural network.

I pressed her down into the tired leather, her skin white chalk on the blackboard underneath. I reached up and killed the table lamp which was trying to strike me blind, and she glowed in the yellow light from under the door. Wantonness gone, she shivered underneath me suddenly shy, and her skin was cool, smooth milk glass under my fingers. I traced her face, the proud line of her nose, her stubborn chin, and her closed eyes like butterflies. The lush line of her mouth, the swoop of her eyebrows, like swords – beautiful in repose with clean line and delicate tracery that were deadly in use. Her breath stuttered in her throat and her legs scissored on the dark water of the couch. Her fingers stroked my back, running down my shoulder blades and spine like silken tails. I kissed her throat, her shoulders, her breasts, every scent and texture sweet and familiar. The soft skin of her wrapped around me and underneath me, I drowned in her vanilla peach rich and wild smell. Ivory on onyx with amber inlay she stretched out below me and I polished her with my hands, my mouth, proving my worship. When she finally parted the slim columns of her thighs and invited me inside she was hot honey and wine. Smooth, delicate, barely moving I slid back and forth within her. Opening her mouth underneath mine, she suckled on my lips, darted her tongue inside my mouth, mirroring what my cock was doing inside her, sleek thrust for sleek thrust. Dazed and drunk on her, by her, through her, with her, I looked down into her endless eyes and saw what I had been begging her to say.

I could feel her climaxes, delicate tremors around and through me, in a narcotic haze. I was swimming through her skin, through her blood, and curving through and around her heart used for so much more than mere circulation. Filled with the warm wet wine that I drank from her mouth, I coursed into her with a dreamy gold fire from somewhere in my marrow and sank half onto her like a man in an opium dream. Smooth-handed, she polished me, my back and shoulders and as much as her small hands could reach. I wanted to cry at the enormity of it all, rail against anything that would deprive me of *this*. It wasn't going to happen. Things simply could not be that cruel.

I shifted on the sofa, pulling her around and over me like an undersized blanket. Her hair streamed over my face and she sighed in my chest, sounding for all the world like a happy housecat. I smoothed her fur and listened to her purr.

She followed me home.

I just had to keep her.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 13/

Cherry on the top Like a nuclear warhead Nuclear bomb Gonna lift the trigger I had a Dog Fly Religion Neutron On a chocolate sundae King Missile

Mulder came back from his morning run while I was re-experiencing breakfast in our bathroom. Although he was being nicely unhelpful, the smell of his sweat (which I have to admit I usually enjoy) made my stomach heave harder. With his tail between his legs, he went to see if Miranda was available to play with. After I managed to get my stomach under control I wandered downstairs and found Ingveld in the kitchen, sitting at the table grazing her way through a bowl of granola and a peach. I grabbed some coffee (I was planning on having a high caffeine baby, thank you.) and plopped down across from her.

She looked up at me with the most serious expression her fresh young face would handle.

"I haff three older sisters," she said.

The smell of the coffee only made me feel sick again.

"My sister Marta had a baby when she was sixteen. She was not married."

I put the cup down because my hand was shaking so badly that I couldn't trust myself to spill it all over the floor.

"What are you saying?" I asked.

"I think it will be good for Miri to have someone to play with. Too much loneliness makes you go inside your brain, yes?

Okay, so she'd figured out the covert pregnancy, but no one said that Ingveld was stupid, even though she was a natural blonde.

"Ingveld, I don't know if you understand, but there's a good chance that Mulder might not only lose Miranda, but I'll end up in jail."

"You worry too much," she shrugged a graceful shrug as though we were discussing nail polish colors, "So you know what you are going to wear today?"

Sackcloth and ashes would have been a good choice, but I had a couple suits left that still fit and I let Ingveld help me choose the black one with the slim pants and a pale pink blouse which kept me from looking like one of the living dead. I drove to the courthouse that day, while Mulder tied his tie in the mirror on the sun visor and Miranda screamed in the back seat. He decanted the baby and we walked the gauntlet of cameras into the courthouse. Laura met us in one of the small conference rooms and managed to give us a stern look, which didn't rest easily on her young features.

"I take it that you have solved your issues here on the proposal with Bill?" she asked.

"Yeah," Mulder said.

"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't throw me curve balls in the courtroom. It doesn't help your credibility at all. It goes to Bill's argument that you two are unstable."

I sighed and got up, the morning nausea returning with a vengeance. "Excuse me, I need to use the ladies room."

After I had thrown up breakfast, I was washing my hands at the sink and chewing a handful of breath mints when Laura came through the door. I thanked God or Fate or Whatever that she hadn't walked in on my vomiting. She smiled and started running a brush through her hair.

"Miranda is a cute baby. She was trying to eat Fox's tie," she commented. "She seems to have a lot of personality for such a small person."

I knew what she meant.

"She's been an education." I agreed.

Looking in the mirror, our glances met.

"Can I ask you a question?" she said in a tentative tone.

"It's not like we have any privacy anymore."

Blushing, she looked down. "I was just wondering, when you and Fox were working together, and you were involved, how did you manage to keep your personal and professional lives separate?"

"Is this going to haunt me on the stand?"

"My own curiosity only. This doesn't pertain to the case in the least."

"Well, there was never any formal agreement, but when we were working there wasn't any mention of the personal aspect. It isn't Hoover High where you can go cow-eyed and make out in the hall. We worked when we worked and that was all. On the other hand, it wasn't as though we couldn't discuss elements of a case outside of work."

Actually, I could remember a couple of times when the fog had cleared on certain cases immediately after some truly astounding sex and on several occasions I'd done autopsies with toilet paper wadded between my legs to catch any stray drips from the morning encounter. The sex had been for tension release more than anything else, just as Mulder had gone on his runs and I'd taken to the bathtub. There hadn't been much overlap between work and play. We were either fucking, working, or sleeping, and to think back on it the hollowness of it all made my teeth hurt. Empty calories, with no nutritional value.

"The one thing that Bill's psychologists said about me that I heartily agree with is that I have always been able to keep my emotional life under strict control."

It was a sideways look that she gave me, full of questions.

"Well," I amended "in all honesty, I was able to keep it under control. The rules are a little different now."

There were no rules, that was the problem.

****

A shadow fell over the table in front of me and I looked up. "I didn't expect to see you here," I told my sister, "aren't you still hiding out?"

"I heard things were going badly, no big shock, and I wanted to see my niece again before she gets legally severed from the family," Sam said and bent to the stroller where Miranda made a grab for one shiny silver earring. Sam hissed, lips peeling back from teeth, and she the Mooselet growled back. They stared at one another, mongoose and cobra well-matched.

Scully came up behind Sam and I could tell that she had rarely regretted her inability to carry a gun during this trial more. "Come to examine your handiwork?"

"I did good, don't you think?" Sam pivoted on one rapier heel and looked down at Scully, who stiffened and seemed to expand like a cat with its fur on end.

"What do you want? We're somewhat busy at the moment," Scully pointed out, and Sam shrugged and turned to kneel in front of the stroller.

"You're my sole survivor," she said to the baby, almost wistfully, and then stood up, straightening her charcoal-gray fitted jacket where it had rucked up. "I can't stay. I'll call you when I have information for you."

I was obsessing about the videotape and Sam's revelations were not at the forefront of my mind. "Sure, whatever."

As Sam receded like Kaiser Soze into the distance, Scully came and sat next to me, frowning. Around us, people were settling in for the day, the clerk and the bailiff splitting a donut as Bill huddled with his entourage. "This isn't right," she said, discomfort working through her face like worms under the skin.

I tried to read the Post as if there were absolutely no doubt in my mind about the contents of the videotape, which in fact there were not though not in the way I'd like. My hands were sweating so badly that the sports pages smeared dusty black onto my palms.

"M–Fox, the people at BioQuest think she's cut a deal to work against them, if she thinks we're going to lose and Miranda will be turned over to them –"

I looked up as Scully jumped to her feet, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. I followed her eyes down to the floor, by the stroller.

Where Sam's calfskin briefcase, so appropriate to her professional image, still sat.

I rose as if ejected from a crashing jet. We didn't have to look at each other to know the score: my legs were longer, I could push past crowds better, I had to take Miranda. Scully was already striding to the center of the room, her hand grazing her hip to flash her missing badge, as I reached over the briefcase, careful not to dislodge it, and ripped Miranda from the stroller. She began to howl at precisely the moment Scully began to yell to everyone that they had to evacuate, now. I caught Bill's incredulous look and the judge's somewhat disapproving curious face as I spun and began to run.

Out the narrow corridor between the dark wooden seats for spectators, through the double doors and into the hallway where witnesses and lawyers and security guards lounged. "We need a bomb squad," I yelled as I dodged past clusters of people rooted like trees in the hallway. People who'd been sitting on the hard benches lining the walls began to rise as the lights flickered and an alarm began to blatt. Scully had apparently convinced someone that she was serious. The hallway darkened as if my vision were going in a faint, and then the emergency lights began to spin, flashing red and white.

I was still moving fast away from the courtroom — I didn't know how much destruction could be packed into one briefcase, especially if Sam did have friends 'high up' like the doctor from BioQuest said. On the other hand she'd delivered it personally so it probably wasn't more than one city block's worth of destructiveness. The slippery marble floor was obscured as litigants and court personnel poured out of other courtrooms; ahead of me a jury room door opened and twelve more wild-eyed citizens added themselves to the crush. Underneath the harsh quacking of the alarm, the babble of confused voices was like putting your ear to the world's largest conch shell.

Police officers were everywhere, some escorting handcuffed felons and defendants, others just with their hands on their guns, trying to figure out the problem. One saw me and evidently thought I'd taken the crisis as a chance to kidnap a bundle of joy; he pulled out his gun and started after me.

I felt Miranda's body shaking with outraged sobs but I couldn't hear her over the rest of the noise. Now we were in the main atrium, and the crush of reporters refusing to leave the building saw me. More strobes exploded in my face and I couldn't raise my arm to shield myself without loosening my grip on Miranda, so I spun and looked for another way out. The cop was yelling at me to halt, but he wouldn't fire at the baby and I was safe for the moment.

People were running everywhere, like a box of ball bearings spilled on the floor. No, ball bearings would at least be controlled by the rules of physics. I was buffeted by glancing blows as people hurried past me, trying to find a free door, spun around and around in the middle of the elegant circular room like a billiard ball with very poor English as I screamed for Scully. She should be out here by now, directing traffic, getting things under control. Pressed up against my chest, Miranda's wet face soaked into my shirt.

There was a whump like a grocery bag bursting as it hit the ground, and the hallway we'd come from exploded into fire. I saw a hall bench come free of its moorings and sail into the air, arcing over the jetting flames and landing right on the main information desk, which collapsed into a thousand expensive splinters. I turned to keep Miranda away from the fire and felt a hot fist of heat against my back, pushing me away. Then a body hit me right behind the knees and I collapsed, barely able to stick out an arm in time to avoid crushing Miranda beneath me. In my peripheral vision I saw that I'd been assaulted by a semiconscious police officer, maybe even the one who wanted to arrest me.

While I was down and squirming away from the groaning body half on top of my legs, more debris thudded against my back and I almost lost hold of Miranda twice before I could struggle to my feet. Screams filleted the air through the now absurdly slow and repetitive sound of the alarm.

The fire was already dying as I staggered upright, sprinklers pissing lukewarm water onto the scorched and unscorched alike. As more people managed to escape the building, I searched for Scully among the refugees. It would have been impossible to hear me, but I yelled her name anyway, howled like Brando demanding entree to Stella's bed, as more and more people swept past me towards the blinding summer light of open ground and safety. A kaleidoscope of humanity, flashes of shoulders and waists and eyes, swept past me, and all I could do was sift the fragments and ignore all that was not Scully.

It was when the first firefighters pushed upstream and passed me, running down the blackened hallway to see if anyone still lived in that part of the building, that I began to panic. The smell of chemical smoke was heavy in the air and I couldn't keep Miranda here, her infant lungs were in danger.

Scully's name died into an undifferentiated howl in my throat.

The hot damp baby in my arms swung furious fists against my chest that seemed to thud directly against my heart as I loped towards the door. I'd just find somewhere safe to put her –

Where was that? Sam had to be nearby, waiting to see if she'd succeeded.

The roaring in my ears had nothing to do with the explosion or the people panicking around me. I should have made Scully take Miranda, she's short but she's determined, she would have gone through the crowds like Michael Jordan through a double- team defense, I should have been the one alerting the others to the danger and clearing the courtroom. Hell, we should have let them all die, let God sort them out and save ourselves a lot of trouble.

The sunlight smacked me across the face and I stumbled out the door where spectators were clotting. I looked back into the building and Scully was still not there.

I shuffled gracelessly down the granite steps, mumbling reassurance to Miranda. She had to be all right, Scully's always fine, she doesn't die. I can't let her.

More firetrucks, more ambulances, the police were already setting up barriers. I felt the chill of incipient shock as the hot morning sun melted my skin and I wasn't sure I'd be able to hold on to Miranda.

When Zippy materialized and caught her from my Gumby arms, propping his crutches under his armpits to free his hands, it didn't surprise me in the least.

"What did you do this time?" he joked and then blanched when he got a look on my face.

"You armed?" I managed to croak.

He nodded.

"Shoot anyone who approaches you. Keep her safe."

I fled into the darkness as I began, finally, to hear Miranda's cries.

Inside, stretchers yawned hungry mouths. Many were already being fed by victims who'd been too slow to escape the hallway. No one challenged my presence. I was ambulatory, barely, and the rescue workers had better things to do.

In front of our courtroom the marble floor was black as Sam's hair. The impressive wooden doors had disappeared, blown into the next century. The room was nothing but a gutted shell, charred lumps where chairs and tables might have been stuck to the floor like rotted teeth. Nothing in that room during the explosion could have survived.

Breathing the fouled air, I entered Hell's antechamber. The floor was still smoldering in places, and my shoes felt like they were red-hot iron. The image of the room as it had been fifteen minutes before, whole and unmarred, flickered in my vision, layered over the new reality like a hologram. This was the sign that the profiler part of my brain was trying to send the idiot part a message.

There, behind the bench. Where the judge always emerged from in the mornings and after lunch, where the lawyers had their private conferences. There had been a door, once.

Now it was a wall, solid metal distorted in its frame by the force of the explosion but not blown apart. Its strength puzzled me until I figured that it had to be part of the enhanced security many courts were investing in, in these days of Freemen and McVeigh. And Samantha Mulder, apparently.

I pounded on the door and screamed Scully's name once more.

Silence. Dead silence.

The wail of denial piped through my head at about a hundred and twenty decibels. She was there, she had to be there, surely she was on the other side pressing her hands against the blast-rippled door directly parallel to mine.

I was pounding with both fists now, I could feel new bruises and cuts explode as my knees began to give out and I started to slide toward the floor, unable to breathe. I looked away and realized that some of the things I'd thought were just burnt chairs had merged with bodies.

Blackened tears dripped from my nose as I lay against the hot door.

Vibration, not of my own makings, under my helpless hands and I pressed my ear to the door.

The sound was muffled, but I knew it was my name.

I wept as I pulled myself up like Pinocchio under Gepetto's control and went for the firefighters.

****

I can yell pretty loudly when I have to, and I could feel my throat going raw when I called for a bomb squad and an immediate evacuation. The press is fairly sensitive about the danger after so many terrorist incidents in past years: naturally, they want to report on tragedy happening to others, but they decidedly don't want to *be* the news. My yells produced a Niagara-sized rush through a Rock Creek-sized outlet.

Looking at the crush of people (reporters, anyway) stopping up the main doors like a cork in a bottle, I decided that the judge would never make it. I ran back to him and grabbed his shoulder. His face tightened and reddened with outrage. "I'm sorry, your Honor," I said as I half-dragged him back to the door to his chambers, "but it's not safe for us to stay in this room." Whatever he said to me over the confused foaming of the others in the room involved the phrase "young lady," but that's all I know.

I noted that Tara and Matthew made it to the real exit, but Bill must have suspected a trick of some sort and followed me. Our loyal counsel, somewhat like dogs, stayed by our sides — or maybe they just figured that, starting from the far end of the room, their chances of making it out the main doors were slim indeed.

My stomach shrunk into a black hole when I realized that there was no through exit. We could be trapped like a microwave dinner when the bomb went off. I bolted the door and the lawyers backed away from me as if I were the potentially explosive element. "We should get behind the desk, it may protect us from the blast."

"These doors are supposed to be bomb-proof," the judge said sharply, as if I were letting the American justice system down by not trusting their strength.

"Yes, your Honor," I agreed as I urged him to the back of the room behind his desk.

We all hunkered down behind the judge's enormous mahogany desk, the judge in the middle and the lawyers flanking him to provide maximum possible distance between me and Bill. Just as we got uncomfortable, the blast door groaned like a lion roaring on the veldt.

The judge's bronze statue of Justice weighing empty air leapt off the desk in her own need to escape and smacked into my left hand, drawing blood which I hardly felt as I stared open-mouthed at the Legal Eagles crouched next to me. Laura and Maxwell were arguing about whether the judge should end the hearing and recuse himself as sirens wheeped and water began pouring from the ceiling. More books and soft-backed supplements fell off the shelves as the building shuddered. Laura took a hit, continued yammering, and only paused when she and Maxwell both leapt to protect Hizzoner from assault with a deadly casebook. They collided, the judge got slightly bonked anyway, and I almost laughed. It was worse than watching the Gunmen at play.

Maxwell gave Laura a hand back up and looked like he wanted to object when I checked the judge's pupils and made the older man track my index finger, but my nemesis undoubtedly realized that looking as if he didn't care if the judge was concussed was even worse than letting me earn brownie points by playing doctor. The judge was well enough to snap at me for asking him to do silly tricks, in any event.

When I'd pronounced the judge fit for work, Maxwell and Laura began to argue about the legal import of recent events. All three of them ignored the sirens and the smoke in favor of legal argument, while I tried to determine whether there were any operative exits. I was beginning to think that lawyer jokes substantially understated the differences between the profession and the rest of the human race. Bill sat with his hands over his knees, disgusted with life, while I peeked at the judge's smoldering books on the far wall and guessed that we'd been spared the brunt of the blast. The frailer doors on the other side of the courtroom must have exploded and channeled the explosion outwards.

Mulder ruined my new suit when he grabbed me after the firefighters finally knocked the door in. I couldn't actually work up any annoyance, though, not when he was still crying (from the smoke, of course) and his chest shook against mine like a car that had lost its shocks. I rubbed his soot-streaked face with the heel of my hand and accepted life without breathing while he attempted to squeeze me back down a dress size.

Zippy was waiting outside for us. His badge was flipped open and hung at his waist so that everyone could see it. He was leaning against a local squad car with his crutches propped up beside him, one arm around Miranda and the other ever-so-casually training his gun towards the ground in case someone tried to dispute his right to babysit.

As we approached, Miranda waved at us, looking from Mulder to me and back, awed by the incredible amount of dirt and debris Mulder had accumulated. She was reporting on her impressions of the whole incident in triple time, but when I took her from Zippy she grabbed a hank of my now-stringy hair and said, in exactly Mulder's tone when I'm not playing along with his latest joke, "*Scuh*-lee."

Ever the gentleman, Mulder took Miranda from me just before I vomited, narrowly missing both Zippy's cast and the hood of the squad car.

Miranda applauded. MSNBC and CourTV both showed me getting sick, damn them, but the broadcasters didn't. I guess puke is against Standards and Practices.

"Baahhhhm!" Miranda yodeled happily.

She made it into prime time.


Well I never get to do the things they wanted to do to you, I have to do them to myself, or go find someone else, Well if you were so good, I wouldn't be so bothered by you, I like to drink your nose, and suck your little toes, Strawberry sundae is mine, Only funday, it's the one day I can lie and dream about you. BMX Bandits

 

Still life with old magazines, me leaning against the wall in the triage unit at the local emergency room. This was the same emergency room we'd gone to after George had taken himself out of the line of succession courtesy of the FBI SWAT team. The way things were going we would be rating our own curtain. Scully was sitting in one of the waiting room chairs with a makeshift bandage around her injured hand. The Mooselet was clinging to her like a limpet and cooing at her in soothing tones of Moose- Speak. With her eyes shut and the black smudges from the soot marking her haggard face, Scully looked like one of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing who had managed to get her child out of the wreckage. I wished that the fucking TV cameras had been around to get a shot of that, it certainly was a blow to the balls to the argument she wasn't attached to the Mooselet.

How could she not be when the Mooselet had inherited the old Mulder charm, right?

We waited while the badly injured went in and were whisked to ICU or wherever. Scully had already diagnosed the possibility of a green break to the small bones in her hand and she definitely was going to need stitches, even I could tell that. I'm sure she would have been just as happy to suture herself in the privacy of our kitchen, but the EMT's had gotten hold of her before she could escape. Which was pretty much the way I had – before she could escape.

The judge, bruised on the head from where a flying law book had beaned him on the noggin, was sitting across from us in the waiting area, with his gown folded neatly in his lap. I bit back the urge to walk over and plead my side of the case without the benefit of legal counsel, because I had the sinking suspicion that a pissed-off Laura could give Scully a challenge for the crown of Queen of Bitchiness. Instead, I put my hand on Scully's messy hair and tried my best reassuring smile on her.

She opened her eyes and frowned.

"What?" she asked in a nasty tone.

"How're you feeling?" I asked.

"Very nauseous. Go away," she said and shut her eyes again. "You want a soda or something? Flat Coke always helps me."

"And how often have you had morning sickness?" she asked in the same precisely vicious tone, but did not open her eyes. "I just want you to promise me no x-rays. X-rays would not be a good thing."

Of course she was right, no point in asking for trouble with her incipient Mulder-mutant by having the fetus irradiated on top of any already present mutations – like my sense of humor, for instance. I tried the smile again and the Mooselet smiled back at me and started pulling at Scully's hair.

"BAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMM!"

"Mulder, we really have to teach her some more words," Scully sighed and smoothed down a stray lock of the baby's hair.

"No time like the present."

I crouched down next to them and went eye to eye with the Mooselet's baby jades.

"Say 'ice cream'."

The Mooselet tracked from my face to Scully's, checking to see if it was all right. Scully nodded almost imperceptibly.

"Yiiiii Cweeeeeeeem."

"Close enough for government work," I agreed.

I held the Mooselet while Scully got her stitches. The Mooselet craned her head around to watch the blood and the gore, while I watched her watch.

"If you're a good girl there's some Chunky Monkey in it for you." I offered.

The resident pursed her lips.

"You shouldn't feed babies sweets."

"I was talking to my wife."

"Skuh-lee," the Mooselet explained.

Scully smirked when she gathered up her rings and held them out to me in her right hand. I think I must have been wearing one of my more stricken expressions.

"Help me put them on the other hand. My fingers are numb."

For the second time that month, I slid the rings over her knuckles and into place. Although they were on the wrong hand, I was just glad she was willing to wear them.

We were a sad little crew that piled out of the Ranger that evening, Scully bandaged and sooty, me sooty, and the Mooselet both sooty and drooling asleep against my shoulder. Warwick and Ingveld had made it home and had dinner on the table and I was so grateful that I could have kissed them both, but I only kissed Ingveld and thumped Warwick on his good shoulder.

"That was pretty fucking spectacular," he said, "I can't see how they would deny you custody after you saved everyone's lives."

Scully was balancing the Mooselet on the counter and trying to wipe the worst of the soot off her red puckered face, the Mooselet wailed and flailed, nearly sending both of them into the dishpan.

"You are going to bed, young Miss. You are too tired and cranky to be with humans." Scully told her and scooped her up against her chest.

"You can't trust lawyers. Maxwell will probably make out that we set the bomb for just that reason," I went to the refrigerator and got a beer, "Rat bastard."

"What do you call a boatload of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?" Ingveld asked.

I looked at her.

"A start," she said.

I realized that it was a joke and smiled at her. Warwick looked over at his ladylove and rolled his eyes.

"She's been looking at lawyer jokes on websites," he explained.

"I would think that you would need funniness now."

"Yeah, that's about right."

"Come on," Warwick tugged at Ingveld's arm.

"Was it not funny?" I heard her ask as they went downstairs.

I sighed and drank the beer. God, it tasted good. Nothing like a cold beer after a hot day of trauma and a major explosion. It almost made me regret ever leaving the X-Files.

Catzilla rubbed against my shins in greeting and jumped up onto the counter so I could rub him from ears to tail. While the rest of us had suffered over the past few weeks the now-neutered cat was getting fatter, sleeker and silkier by the minute. (Scully took him – I didn't have the heart. I had the suspicion I was next in line to get fixed.) I know I felt guilty for not giving him enough attention and made up for it in cat snacks, and I suspected that he also hoovered up everything that the Mooselet threw to the floor.

"What's that cat doing on the counter?"

Guilty, Catzilla and I both started when Scully came back in. "Down." She ordered and he leapt gracefully from the counter and glared greenly at her before he went after Warwick and Ingveld, his tail held high with offense.

Too tired to talk, we ate the pasta salad in silence, and she went upstairs afterwards while I fed the dishwasher and closed up the house.

Up in our bedroom, I shucked off my shoes, jacket, and socks and went into the bathroom. The room was dark save for candlelight flickering from a votive candle resting on the side of the sink. Scully was submerged with a froth of bubbles up to her chin and her bandaged hand resting on the side of the tub. I could see the ruby tips of her toenails through the bubbles as well as a couple of more strategic places, such as the auburn shadow of her pubic hair and the salmon tips of her breasts. Her eyes were shut and she had a folded washcloth draped over her forehead. The room smelled of strange floral perfumes and the water had a decided lavender cast to it. I sat on the closed lid of the toilet and picked up the bottle that sat on the tub rim next to the spigot.

"Quiet moments – for relaxation." I read.

"I should buy it by the gallon," she murmured, her voice dreamy in the steamy room.

"I should drink it," I put the bottle down and looked at the tub, measuring it for size, "Room enough for two."

One eye opened and considered me. I was in dangerous territory, knowing that Jason had raped her in the shower of his family estate. But that was miles and months away. She shrugged and half sat- up to make room, the suds running intriguingly down her breasts and back into the tub. I stripped down to my scar collection and eased into the water with her. The water in the tub was hot enough to burn my balls but I manfully lowered myself into the boiling depths. By careful angling, we were able to fit face to face with our legs overlapping. I leaned back and felt the faucet nudge the back of my head before I wiggled around to avoid it. Water splashed out of the tub and onto the bath mat.

Scully, unexpectedly, graced me with one of her zillion watt smiles and leaned back into a wreath of bubbles.

"If anyone had told me in 1993 that I was going to end up in a bathtub with you, let alone married to and pregnant by you I would have told them that they were delusional."

"So you weren't immediately captivated by my charm?"

"I thought you were an arrogant bastard."

"And your opinion has changed?"

"No."

"So you lied to the shrinks?"

"Every word of it," she said and blinded me with the smile again.

I snorted and realized that her good hand was walking up my thigh in a manner that was anything but relaxing.

"We'll drown," I pointed out.

"Spoilsport," she said and gave my cock a friendly squeeze before withdrawing her hand.

We lolled in the water until it grew cold and emerged, water-wrinkled and thoroughly boneless with the effects of Scully's magic bath oils. Damp and naked, we tumbled into bed. Scully had her injured hand pillowed on my chest and her head on my shoulder, our legs wrapped like ropes around each other's. I listened while her breathing smoothed out and she grew limp and heavy against me, pulled down into sleep's waters like a swimmer with no plans to survive. The old demon of insomnia came and sat on my left shoulder, reminding me that the worst was yet to come, I'd once again been betrayed, and there was no assurance that Scully would stay a minute longer than was necessary. There was no assurance that she could even if she wanted to, now that the specter of that bad old astrological sign of infinitely proliferating cells had returned. Exhausted in both body and mind, I lay there and listened to the demon whisper poison into my ear until the morning sun changed the colors in the room.

****

The telephone rattled me out of my cozy post- trauma snooze, I slid out from under Mulder's arm and flailed at the nightstand until I grabbed the telephone and dragged it to my head. "S'kly?" I groaned.

"Dana, " she corrected me "the trial has been adjourned until Monday pending investigation of the explosion." Laura, sounding entirely too chipper for what had to be the middle of the night burbled into my ear.

"Wh' time izzit?" I asked as Mulder's arm re-velcroed itself to my middle

"After nine. The judge called me at six if you can believe that. The old fart must not sleep at all. But I talked to Maxwell already and he's begun making noises about how the judge can't possibly have an unbiased opinion after what happened yesterday – which might give them cause to call a mistrial." "Fuck," I groaned. Mulder, who must have thought it was a command, slid his hand between my legs and homed in on his intended target while I concentrated on what Laura was saying. He nuzzled the back of my neck and began nipping at the semi-ticklish scar from my chip implantation.

"I don't know if we can go through all this again." I admitted, and squirmed under the dual assault on my nervous system. I batted ineffectually at his hand but Mulder only made a low gopher noise and started wedging my legs open like the jaws of life opening a crashed car.

"Unless you have some incredible piece of information that you want to share with the class, I can't see how we can avoid it – unless he's so sure of himself with that tape that he won't use the bombing against the case."

It was getting hard to think while Mulder's entirely too-talented tongue started working its way down along my ribcage and towards my stomach, the soft fur of his hair dragging along in the wet trail from his mouth like a paintbrush. I tried to arch away from him but he was insistent.

"It all comes down to that damn tape." Teeth grazed the inside of my thigh and I bit my lower lip to choke back a moan.

"Do you know what's on the tape?" she asked.

"No." I lied and received a reward for my falsehood in the form of a hot mouth sliding onto my already aching center.

"There's only so much I can do – your brother's squeaky clean other than his finances."

Squeak. There was a squeak building up inside my throat while Mulder's teeth and tongue worked merrily away on my clitoris. My body was shaking like a car going over rough terrain and Laura's voice was filling with a static that had nothing to do with the cordless phone. My heels drummed helplessly against his shoulders as he bent me nearly in two.

"I know who set the bomb," I offered as the bomber's brother set my body on fire.

"Who?"

"Samantha Mann. Samantha Mulder, Mul — Fox," the name came out in a muffled choke more related to what he was doing than the name itself, "sister. A woman with a black bob, black suit, left a briefcase near Miranda's stroller. That's where the bomb was. Someone blew up our car right before the -"

I had to stop and catch a shaky breath.

"-psychologists came. – "

Bad word choice.

"There's a police report with the DC Police. You can —"

God damn him anyway! I was shaking like one of James Bond's vodka martinis.

" – just check it out Laura."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. . . " my back was at least six inches away from the mattress and I swore that my toes were curling upwards with the strain of keeping my voice under control, "I gotta go – something's come up."

With a vengeance.

Just as I hit the disconnect button, Mulder slid into me with the efficiency of a bullet entering a gun chamber. That was enough to send me over the edge. I grabbed at his shoulders and dragged him in as deep as he would go as I clutched down and around his cock which felt as though it were filling me to the brain stem. He slammed hard inside me, breathing as though he had done the four-minute mile. I shuddered, grabbing his hips and squirming until each and every thrust grazed my clitoris and I came in a blinding burst of snow and ice that ripped me down to the bone. I was moaning his name – I don't know which one — as the shock waves coursed through me for what felt like a decade. I was dazed and limp as he continued to thrust in and out of me, his narrow hips so thinly covered with skin that I could see the layers of muscle, the bunching of the muscles in his arms and shoulders, corded forearms, and the emerald insanity lighting his eyes that pinned me into the rumpled sheets. And I came again with a sudden violence that made me wail like a cat with a trodden-upon tail. He growled his gopher growl, lip turning up, and shot hot and hard and heavy into me while I went up like the courtroom in a glorious burst of flame and destruction.

Manners forgotten, he collapsed on top of me like a pile of hardback novels falling from the top shelf.

I wanted to kill him for pulling that stunt, but instead, I slid my legs around his and kissed his sweaty hair. Grunting, he adjusted his weight so I could breathe again and burrowed between my breasts. "Scully, Scully, Scully . . ." he muttered.

"You forgot to call me Dana in the courtroom, when the bomb went off." I chided him, "goes against our pose as a quote normal unquote couple." "There's nothing normal about us."

"True."

He looked up at me with a half-smile twisting his eminently fuckable lips.

"Sweetheart. Darling. Pumpkin. Honey-Bunny. Precious. Babycakes," he taunted.

"Don't push your luck, Gopher-Boy."

"Poopsie."

The good thing about Mulder's nose is that it makes a good target, and he squawks if you pinch it hard enough.

I slid off into a woozy sleep with his head on my chest. I didn't feel him leave, but rather when he came back and flopped onto the mattress hard enough to make me bounce. Groaning I pushed my hair out of my face and rolled over on my stomach so I could watch him wiggle snakelike out of his sweatpants. Underneath he was smoothly naked, long and lean with his narrow hips and lean muscles. The Gopher stirred inside me.

"The baby?" I asked.

"Is being tutored in C++ downstairs. Warwick and Ingveld decided that we needed the day off," he pulled off the sweats the rest of the way and bundled under the sheets with me, his legs knotting around mine.

"How do you feel?" he asked in a voice that had nothing to do with the stitches in my hand.

"Worried. Exhilarated."

"Nauseous?"

"Maybe later. I'm worried about the tape on two counts. The first is should the tape show what I believe it does, which is Marita and I setting fire to the fetuses in Bethel. There is no way in hell that anyone would let you retain custody since you willingly suppressed evidence that a crime had been committed. That crime could be construed as either murder or illegal abortion and destruction of property at the very least. The other possibility is that the tape is only of you and me stealing the Power Point presentation from Jason's office and this all has been much ado about nothing. This means that you and I are still married, I'm still pregnant, and I still have to do something about the things from my apartment in the garage."

"Yard sale?" he asked.

I wrinkled my nose.

"I think I'd rather go to prison."

"Okay, this is the plan, you have the baby and I'll run the yard sale."

"Be serious."

"I am." He reached over and twined his fingers in my frightening morning hair.

"We just keep going. Cross the bridges when we find them and burn them behind us. C'mon, Scully surely family life is less frightening than liver-eating mutants or six foot intestinal worms," his tone was light but his eyes were dark with emotion, "how bad can it be?"

I couldn't answer that. I didn't know. I wanted to plan but so much depended on a shiny black videotape and an older man in a black dress and I was left feeling small and helpless again. Struggling on in the face of adversity and against the tide of common sense was Mulder's realm of being, not mine. I liked answers, endings, closures, even if it wasn't the hero and heroine walking off hand in hand into the sunset. I just wanted to know that it was over. I wanted to know who the key grip was. The only problem was that the minute I wet my feet in Mulder's dark pool of reality the chance of having a satisfactory conclusion to anything was virtually nil. And now I was in it up to my neck. A neck that he was nuzzling and making seductive gopher-noises into.

I sighed and relaxed. At least the water in Mulder's pond was warm and comfortable, and the local wildlife was *very* friendly.

"You know, we really do belong together." He stopped nuzzling and went as still as a taxidermied fox over the jukebox at Kelly's.

"Excuse me. I thought you just said that we belonged together," he looked up at me with the usual mischief. "Who are you and what have you done to Scully?"

"At this stage of the game, after the mutants, the rain of frogs, the black oil, the toilets full of dead rats, sentient viruses, the Conundrum, and your brothers, who else would have either of us?"

He blinked and the fringe of his eyelashes brushed my face.

"Can you imagine getting involved with someone else and trying to explain all that?"

"For richer, for poorer, for flukeworms, mutants, and parasitic twins, until aliens do us part?"

Or something like that.

It was a good day, all in all.

By the afternoon, we'd managed to make it out of doors and the sunshine was making my eyes hurt in the back yard. Miranda and I were lolling on a blanket while Mulder was trying to put together a mini-playhouse for Miranda. I suppose he figured that he would be able to move into the four-foot square pink plastic palace if things got too rough for him in the big house. The Mulder equivalent of the doghouse. If he ever got the damn thing together. Despite all of his stellar qualities, stated at the psychologist's interview and unstated at the same interview, skill with tools is not one of them. I let him struggle for another half-hour until he became sweaty, frustrated, and commenced using language unsuitable for Miranda's tender years.

I finally had pity on him, exchanged Miranda for hammer, and worked on the playhouse myself. He lolled on the grass and watched me with a slightly outraged expression while it took me a half an hour to get the thing together. However, I cheated – I read the directions.

When the pink cube with the bright yellow roof and door was finally complete, I crouched next to it and pointed, Miranda watched me with her usual bright, curious gaze. She was standing upright, holding onto Mulder's shoulder and blinking at the bright pinkness of it all.

"This is your house. Just for you. This is Miranda's playhouse."

She let go of Mulder's shoulder and carefully walked across the lawn to me. She didn't wobble or toddle, but took the measured steps of a woman in high heels on an uneven surface. When she finally crossed the ten feet between Mulder and me, she put her arms out and caught me around the neck rather than going to the house. On the blanket, Mulder was trying very hard not to look like he was sniveling. At least I could bury my face in Miranda's sweet-smelling neck and hide my own watering eyes that way.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 15/

They're Justified, and they're Ancient, And they drive an ice cream van. They're Justified and they're Ancient, With still no master plan. KLF

The Giant Mutant Gopher Kings Sing Songs of Love woke me up Sunday morning. Mulder was burrowing his snout into the tunnel between my legs and growling happily to himself. I was growling in return as he continued to nibble at me, making the transition from sleep to wakefulness more than bearable. I groaned as he worked away, setting fire to my pelvis like a dry hillside and the flames swept along my nerves and into my brain. My legs were shaking as I shut my eyes and let the morning light fill me.. The soft wash of his hair against my legs, silky as Catzilla's underbelly, his stubble scraping for contrast, the hardness of teeth against the softness of his lips and the insistent, flexible tongue. It was enough to make me sing an aria in praise of the man's mouth. Since there was nothing but time, he teased me to the point of climax twice, until I was shuddering, sweating and mewling with need like an angry kitten deprived of a toy.

"Will you still want me when I turn into a blimp?" I muttered into his ear as he pushed his way into me. (In the morning I generally let him do all the work; it's much easier that way.)

He chuffed like a startled horse and failed to begin his usual rhythm. Instead he cupped my face in his hands and stared into my eyes, which unnerved me. "I wanted you when the X Files were shut down and you turned into a little porker." I must have snarled at him because he laughed at me. He began to thrust irregularly, like an engine missing strokes, and I squirmed under him. "Also," he said, breath teasing my lips, "your breasts are going to get bigger, too."

Wait one cotton-pickin' second, what was wrong with the breasts I had? I pushed against him, annoyed, and he just smirked at me. Which was less aggravating up close than from across the room, but still… I closed my eyes and grabbed his narrow hips, rubbing up against him like a cat with a particularly inviting scratching post.

He yipped as my claws found him and he came.

****

The soap bubble of happiness lasted almost throughout the weekend.

The e-mail I received Sunday morning looked at first like one of the average cashew-and- macadamia sort — the kind that show up in my mailbox on a regular basis, like utility bills. It came from an anonymous remailer, a standard sign that the person trying to contact me was a few peanuts short of a full Planter's cocktail mix, though the title "Deal?" lacked a certain paranoid panache.

"Mr. Mulder," it said.

"You've shown your ability to make things difficult for us, and we for you. A compromise might serve our separate interests equally well. We will de- fund the legal battle against you. In return, you will provide samples of Miranda Scully's blood on a regular basis, no more than three times a year. We will take no further action against you or any member of your family as long as you continue to comply with our requirements.

"Call 312 555 1013 by 9 am Monday morning to confirm your agreement.

"JB"

That had to be Justine Barnabas/Judith Barnaby, the woman I'd so briefly met in Chicago. The woman with the dangerously sensual mouth.

Did she mean it?

Of course I wouldn't trust her, per se, but we'd only just missed being blown up; there were dead people who'd been alive yesterday morning because of me and even if I didn't know them I was part of the reason they died. That sort of thing would only continue as long as we were playing this game with the Conspiracy.

It's blood, I thought. It's not as if they're asking for *her*. Not like giving up a whole daughter.

Blood has many uses. Clones. Antibodies. Vaccines, mutagens, DNA extraction, thousands of Scullywords that boiled down to one: complicity. Just what I liked over the Sunday Post – a moral dilemma. Scully was still stretched out on the bed like a Parrish painting and I stood and stared at her for a few moments, knowing full well that the minute I mentioned the e-mail she was going to go off like a M-80. The fragile peace of the weekend was going to end with a sickening thud.

At least Scully was still asleep on her face. Maybe sex could stave off morning sickness; every morning we'd started the day off right, she had foreborne the vomit comet act. It would be fun to try out the theory, anyway.

"Hey," I poked her shoulder with a tentative finger.

She grumbled and grabbed onto the pillow as if I were trying to pry her away from it.

"We need to talk."

Reluctantly, she turned her head and blinked like a thoughtlessly awakened cat. "Yeah?" Sad to say, this was the nicest morning greeting I'd ever received without presenting both coffee and a pastry.

"C'mon and read the mail I just got."

Grumbling like a poorly tuned engine, she staggered out of bed and pulled on my Knicks shirt. Pouting and rubbing her hand through her morning hair, with the shirt nearly to her knees, she looked cute enough to get her own ABC sitcom – Dana Mc Scully. If she started to do the Macarena with the Mooselet I would be waving goodbye as she headed out to Los Angeles.

As if she could read my mind, she turned and bared her teeth at me, but the intimidation factor was lessened when she yawned.

The e-mail woke her up faster than an amphetamine injection to the heart.

"This is from the person you met at BioQuest?"

"At least we're supposed to think so."

"Jesus wept, M — Fox," the stutter was beginning to get slightly annoying, as I was having no reciprocal problem getting *her* first name right. One might be tempted to think that she had a problem with intimacy. On the other hand it was cute as hell.

There is something terribly cute about Scully, once you peel away the layers and layers of professional detachment and the designer suits – she's as cute as a bug's ear. Her cuteness is directly linked to her size and her big blue eyes, and if I ever opened my mouth to remark upon it I would be de-balled in a blink of said big blue eyes. In any event, when she was being so cute with her hair mussed and rumpled, wearing the big shirt, and when I knew that I'd well and thoroughly fucked her silly before sunup, it was impossible for me to keep my hands off her.

I reached out and touched her shoulder. Through the cotton she was as hot as sunburn. "What do you think?"

She brushed her flyaway hair away from her face with an aggravated grimace. "Have we ever met anyone who's made a successful deal with these people, one that doesn't end with a dead body in an alley and missing evidence?"

"I don't think we ever found any traces of the *successful* deals, we only got leads when something went bad," I replied.

"So we're just supposed to drain her blood periodically and trust that the deal will stay put? And that's if we don't care what happens to her genetic material. What am I going to tell her when I draw the blood every quarter, 'don't worry, this is just mommy and daddy's version of an IRA'?"

"I'll get some coffee," I suggested, and fled.

In the kitchen, Ingveld was fighting with Warwick. Who knows, maybe Scully and I were giving off pheromones. "I *know* the algorithm is not sensitive enough, this is why I give the problem to you!" she said. "It is no different than one of your QuickTime movies!" I backed away slowly, shutting the door so that they wouldn't know they'd been seen. Much more can be forgiven in private than what's memorialized in public.

I jogged out to the 7-11 for coffee instead, which gave me a bit more time to think. I didn't mind getting bent, folded, spindled, or mutilated, and I guess Scully was able to make her own choices, most of the time, but Miranda had never chosen to be in danger.

When I returned to the house I entered the bedroom with the coffee and the maple frosted donut held out in front of me like bait. Scully snatched them away with a look that told me she knew exactly what I was attempting and was not impressed, but she ate the donut anyway.

I sipped my own coffee tentatively. I didn't want to have this conversation. "There's a question we haven't really asked."

"Enlighten me." Her voice was as sharp as if I'd told her that the solution to an X File loomed in one of my famous slide shows.

"We have to consider the possibility that the people behind Roush and BioQuest are acting on what they believe to be legitimate motives. Though their methods are unconscionable, everyone involved seems to believe that there is a distinct possibility of hostile alien intervention into human affairs. If they are trying to defeat colonization, is it wrong to oppose that objective?"

"You want to say yes."

"I think we should consider it."

"Like father, like son."

That was low.

"Dammit, Dana, you think I don't *know* that?"

She chewed on her donut and glared at me, which was somewhat diluted by the fact that she was sitting on the bed wearing only my shirt, which had ridden up to her waist. I think I might have lost even more fights in the past if Scully had argued with me in the nude.

She sighed and looked away as I sat down beside her, as tentatively as a kid with a fake ID trying to sneak into his first bar. She still smelled like sex; it was distracting. "You know, I never used to worry about what was happening to my stray genetic material. I brushed my hair, I scratched when it itched, I flushed. Now I wonder when the next clone is going to turn up."

I gulped hot coffee, wanting it to hurt. "It's obvious that we can't just agree to their terms. We need to know more. I propose that we call them and suggest further negotiations. If you're going to stick a needle in Miranda's arm on a regular basis I think you'll earn the right to know what purpose the research serves."

Her hand burned through my sweat-sodden shirt and into the knobs of my spine. "I wish I had a better plan," she admitted. "Make the call. The risk is that after they play the tape our negotiating position may change, but we can't make a decision right now.."

Relieved, I trotted downstairs to get more food for Scully. At some point, I was going to have to suggest to her that, though she was eating for two, the other person was the size of a lima bean, not Alfred Hitchcock. For the moment, though, being able to do nice things for her made me feel too good to tease. Ingveld and Warwick had made up — what was that about pheromones? — and she was just finishing the punchline of yet another lame joke: "– and the bartender says, I don't care what you do with the fish but the lawyer has to go!"

"Let me guess," I said over Warwick's tortured groan, "comedy was a new thing with the fall of the Communist empire."

Ingveld frowned prettily. "I live almost half my life under capitalist government."

"Never mind," I said and got some orange juice out of the fridge. It would be better for Scully than coffee, though I wasn't sure that being the bearer of healthy beverages was going to be good for me personally. "How's tricks?"

Ingveld twitched (prettily, too, I might add) and gave Warwick a Significant Look. I looked them over as if they were the kind of food I found in my refrigerator after long hospital stays.

"Everything's good, Mulder," Warwick informed me, patting Ingveld's rump reassuringly. "We're all just a little wound up, looking forward to ending this whole court case."

I nodded, unwilling to find out what forms of lesser illegality my young friends were basing out of my home. Instead, I picked up my morning offering of juice, cereal, and eyeball-sized vitamin and turned to go back to the bedroom.

"It's just a *phrase*," he was saying to her as I left.

"Breakfast in bed? You should get untenable offers more frequently," she sniped as I slid the tray over her lap.

I squinted down at her and tried to read the Magic 8 Ball of her face while she dug into the Cheerios. No good, the Ball wasn't talking. Answer Unclear; Try Again Later.

****

Scully's efficiency, and I think feminine wiles, made a truck filled to bursting with over-muscled workmen and rolls of grass sod appear. Under Ingveld's watchful eye the men set to work and eyed her back. Meanwhile we escaped to the local kid emporium. While I trundled along with the Mooselet in her stroller, Scully went through the store picking out the swingset and kiddie pool we would acquire should the court decide our way. The Mooselet went moon- eyed at the vast array of toys and *things* all child- sized and brightly colored. Scully selected a few items that the Mooselet had to have, including a Cat in the Hat stuffed toy almost as big as the Mooselet was. We ate lunch at Mc Donald's and I enjoyed watching Scully put french fries on the tray of the high chair; the Mooselet picked them delicately up one by one before jamming them in her mouth. Then it was over to the mall and I had my first real taste of married life as I tried to keep the Mooselet entertained outside the women's fitting room at Petite Sophisticate while Scully tried on clothes. Nothing she liked fit and everything she didn't like did fit. While I had been secretly pleased with the voluptuousness pregnancy was bringing out in her small body, she wasn't. Finally, she found a couple of suits that she could tolerate and had room to grow into. By that time I was so stressed out that the baby and I decamped to look at ties. I had to buy a somewhat less than satisfactory yellow and green golf-ball printed tie since the saleswoman spotted the Mooselet shoving the pure silk monstrosity into her mouth. No child of mine is going to suck on artificial fibers. Scully took Miranda to GAP KIDS and I went looking for some new CD's. I met up with Scully again in front of a jewelry store where she was eating an ice cream cone and looking through the glass with chocolate on her chin and a wistful expression above the chocolate. The Mooselet was even more coated with chocolate and so was the new pug dog beanie baby in her fists.

"What you got there?" I asked crouching down next to the stroller since it was easier to deal with an infant female of the species than the fully-grown variety in front of a jewelry store.

"Yiiiii Cweeeeeeeem."

What can I say? She was brilliant.

"Mulder, I miss my crucifix," Scully admitted.

That's right. She hadn't had it since Bethel.

"Do you want another one?" I asked. Wouldn't that aggravate my mother? I liked the idea already.

"I don't know. I have the feeling that God and I have entered into a non-aggression pact."

"Something else? A charm in the shape of an ice cream cone?"

"Solid gold UFO with diamonds for lights?"

"One of those charming charms in the shape of a stick figure with Miranda's birthstone in it?"

"Baaaaahhhhmmmm," Miranda suggested.

"Dr. Scully, Mr. Mulder."

We turned, Scully moving behind the baby and me in front as we went for our weapons. The portly man who'd addressed us waved soft hands and chided, "Please, be calm. I'm here in response to your message of this morning."

"Now, that's service," I said. Scully inched closer to the baby. I couldn't place the man in the rosters of conspirators I'd met. I might have heard his voice over my cellphone once, but I couldn't be sure. His face was ringed with oval rolls of fat and he had just the right avuncular twinkling eyes to make a decent Santa Claus.

"Your concern for the uses of your child's unique genetic material is perfectly appropriate," he continued, gesturing expansively at Miranda, "and we would be delighted to show you the vital work we're doing for humanity, to convince you of our good intentions."

"You'll have to work pretty hard to do that after trying to blow M–my husband up," Scully bitched and stared at him as if wondering what his pancreas would look like under her microscope.

"Please, Dr. Scully, we didn't know you were willing to be rational about this, and also we believed that Miranda would be safer with us than out in the world with so many dangerous enemies against her. But if you help us, we can help you."

"What are you offering?" That's my little forensic pathologist, straight to the gelid heart of the matter.

"I would be pleased to show you our laboratories, the work we're doing to fight the black cancer and the other threats from…foreign outposts. Dr. Scully, I believe your expertise would be most appropriate. If you'd come with me while Mr. Mulder watches the child? It won't be more than a few hours."

She slashed her eyes at me and I could tell that I was about to experience that most rare of creatures, the Ditch in Partner's Physical Presence, no cellphones in sight. I bowed to the inevitable by taking her shopping bags, like Dagwood helping Blondie, and lugged the purchases and the baby back to the car so I could go home and brood while the contractors fixed the lawn.

****

It was an insane weekend. Somehow we'd come to an unspoken agreement that we were going to try acting like the normal family that we had been posing as since the custody war began. Nevertheless, the bones of the matter were always holding the structure together, smiling like a skull back at me.

Deals.

Enough fucking deals. Really. I've been dealt with more than a casino worker. I've played hands that would make the best card shark weep and run from the table like a wet baby. Mulder wouldn't let me deal with Bill and I didn't want to deal with these Roush people. As if my deal wasn't good enough, he had to show me up with a better offer – a more palatable one. It's easier to hand over a vial of blood than an entire human being.

The man from the mall told me to call him Joseph. "Do you have a last name?" I asked him as we pulled out in his chauffeured Mercedes limousine.

"That's not really important," he said. "Drink?"

"No thank you. That's not conducive to a high level of trust on our part," I pointed out, but he only smiled and folded his rounded pink hands over his midriff.

The trip took half an hour. The underground facility was located under another mall; I always knew there was something sinister about those places with their cloned Gaps and Expresses and Tower Records, though I'm not sure if I would have guessed that a mall would be the staging ground for the New World Order. Lurking under the shoppers and strollers was a world of morguelike cool, gleaming silver and drowning in fluorescent light.

I was shown a virus that Joseph averred was more lethal than Ebola, with a week-long latency period so that the infection would spread like gossip before the 95% fatality rate kicked in. I was shown alleged victims of said virus, as well as casualties of the "supersmallpox" Tina feared. Injected into animal tissue, the supersmallpox deformed and destroyed with the swiftness of acid.

Joseph told me that these were not entirely earthborn creations. That They wanted to protect humanity. That They were trying to find vaccines and cures, but with pitiful success so far. We stopped in a room filled with clean suits so that he could chat with one of the workers.

"How's your little Jennifer?" he asked and the woman smiled, pleased that he'd remembered the girl's name. I suspected a veiled threat — They really liked children, especially with tomatoes and lettuce — but LabGirl just pulled out baby pictures.

He took me to see rabbits that had supposedly been infected with "black cancer," in varying stages of the disease/infestation. I couldn't be entirely sure the victims weren't elaborate puppets stolen from the Alien 5 set, but it *looked* as if the cancer took over the invaded organism's entire respiratory and cardiac functioning, keeping it paralyzed yet somewhat alive as the body was otherwise dissolved from the inside out, leaving only collagen and water surrounding a nest of new cancer-worms. I touched one with a gloved hand and the body parted under my fingertip like a spoonful of jelly. Not a sensation that would soon replace the cotton in Miranda's Pat the Bunny book, that's for sure. It was more disgusting than a frat house bathroom.

Mulder, Joseph intoned, was immune to the black cancer thanks to his mother's black arts. Miranda might be as well (and what did that mean for the Young Jedi Knight inside me, I wondered?) and was designed to have even stronger resistances to alien vices. If her blood was appropriately productive, it might save humanity. Joseph even "confided" in me that They had hopes of counterattack: if we were vulnerable to hybridized viruses and green blood, might not the Little Gray Men wither like H.G. Wells' Martian invaders if the right pathogen could be found, perhaps aided by the insights provided by Miranda's zebra constitution?

The song and dance was nice, but I was a highly dubious investor. The claims of beneficient intent rang as hollow as a chocolate bunny. We already *know* how to make AZT and antimalarial drugs, we know how to purify water and yet millions upon millions of people worldwide can't get treatments, whether simple or complex. As far as the fat and happy nations, we can't get people to get tested for STDs or even convince them to watch their weight. Even if this secret project did come up with a vaccine or a treatment, They'd need an authoritarian government and an unprecedented manufacturing base to implement it.

Thus, perhaps, the secret government spanning across the conventional nation-state boundaries, in place since at least World War II.

Power does not subside when the occasion for its exercise has passed. The scheme's anorexic chances of success might lead only to a thousand year Reich, this time aided by postnuclear weapons and implanted microchips to monitor and control the populace.

And yet — as a scientist, I wanted to believe that knowledge moves only forwards. If there *was* a protection against these bioweapons, surely it could be publicized, replicated, shared as widely as possible. If the weapons already existed, would we be wrong to assist in the effort to control them?

Joseph offered me the opportunity to participate in the research project. "Nonhuman animals only, naturally," he said with a twinkle in his eye. Somehow the animal-rights political correctness was terribly jarring coming from him.

Despite what Mulder thinks, I don't actually know everything about medicine; in particular I'm not a virologist, though I might enjoy playing one on TV. "If we agree," I told him, "I'll want to monitor the work, but I'm not interested in becoming a Lab Tech in Black."

"But of course," he said in a faintly injured tone, lowering his lashes at me. "Are you sure I can't offer you a snack?"

I was beginning to suspect that he knew I was pregnant. And it would be very convenient for Them to have a control subject, with the same genetic background but without Samantha's enhancements, to see what the real source of any special resilience.

"Mulder and I need to discuss this," I told him. "We'll need assurances of your reliability before we let you play God with Miranda's genetic material."

He nodded. "I understand that, as you must understand that if you no longer have custody we will have no further reason to negotiate."

I nodded confidently while terror tangled in my insides like a razor-edged strand of tinsel.

Joseph offered to ride with me back to the house, but I declined. I let the chauffeur take me two blocks away from our address, then walked the rest of the way in case a media flack was watching. I didn't want to give the impression that I was tootling around in a limo while I was in grave danger of losing my daughter.

That night Mulder and I went to bed right after Miranda did, and lay there in the darkness like two tomb sculptures, trying not to think about whether or not the judge was going to sunder the fragile peace that we'd fostered like an exotic bloom. My cold hand was on my stomach and I wondered what was growing inside.

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 16/

Fingertip sun at sideshow stalls, they throw the balls At coconut fur that hides behind Coloured shades that blind your eyes Every child's mother holds an ice-cream cone, they circle round Perceived unknown by an eye that peers from a hole in the tent where no one goes David Bowie

They rolled out the VCR first thing next morning. Holding hands in the conventional manner wasn't good enough for Laura; we actually had both hands wrapped around each other's fingers like Romeo and Juliet about to be separated by fate. Alternatively, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth before the shit hit the fan. This made it difficult to face forward but we twisted ourselves around so that we could watch the disaster unfold.

Langly was waiting in a blue Ford Taurus outside, press pass around his scraggly neck. If the tape was sufficiently bad we'd be in Havana with Miranda in twenty hours. I still hadn't told Scully because she'd have wanted to pack shoes, and that might have alerted someone. She could always buy more, Imelda did.

Laura argued with Maxwell and the judge, but she knew she was beat and the tape went into the machine like prison doors closing out the light of day.

The tape lacked the scratchy look of most security tapes that have been recorded over every week; Roush must have been willing to invest in replacements. Or maybe the tape was actually a fake. However, wouldn't they have made it look more realistic then? I pondered the question as Maxwell fast-forwarded through about an hour of shots of tanks, corridors, lab rooms, bathrooms, and the like.

He started playing the tape at regular speed before anything out of the ordinary occurred, to give himself time to talk. "When Dr. Scully and her accomplice entered the secure area of the facility, the security guard switched the camera in that area to go full- time." Sure enough, the black-and-white door on the screen opened and let through two women and the camera focused in on them instead of switching away after five seconds.

At least, I think they were women.

They might have been aliens, though, except for being too tall. Hell, even Scully was Wilt Chamberlain compared to the little gray men. But the figures were as blurry as Leonard Betts' aura. If I'd seen the tape in any other context, I would have speculated that it showed a Sasquatch or other humanoid; though I'd mainly be doing it to annoy Scully, it was true that it would have been hasty to identify the figures as human beings.

Maxwell blanched and stopped the tape, ejected it, and reinserted it. When he began playing it again, the clarity was still the same.

Now, when I needed it most, my famously uncommunicative visage threatened to dissolve into an unashamed gape. This was most definitely *not* the tape that Jason had shown me in Texas, the tape that clearly showed Scully setting fire to a bunch of kids stuck in their green baths like bananas in Jell-O. Yes, the two figures — one Scully-size, the other Marita-size — were poking around, and then the little one got an ax and began to break the tanks that were visible as the camera swerved to follow them. But what came from the tanks when they were broken was unidentifiable. It might as well have been bundles of dirty laundry waiting for the dryer.

Laura had risen to her feet as Maxwell played hopelessly with the color and tint functions of the TV, as if that would help.

"That person could be *anyone*!" Laura gestured around the room, taking in the spectators and the judge with the sweep of her hand. "This tape entirely fails to identify anyone of any import to this action. Nor does it show these supposed 'infants' in the tanks; they look more like aquatic plants of some sort."

On screen, the little one was pouring gas.

"Your honor," Maxwell said with a thin edge of desperation, "this tape has obviously been tampered with."

"Obviously?" Laura's voice was rich with contempt. "During our last session counsel was most forthcoming about the careful chain of custody in which this tape has been kept."

Maxwell tried again. "We have copies that clearly show –"

Unnoticed the laboratory exploded into fire, and then into static.

"This was admitted into evidence as the original. If other copies look different, can we have any confidence that they have not been tampered with?"

"Counsel," the judge's voice boomed and they looked up at him, seemingly having forgotten that he was going to decide and that the issue was not going to be settled by personal combat between them. "It's obvious that this tape does not show exactly what was claimed. If you," he pointed at Maxwell, "adduce evidence of tampering with the original, I'll look at it. In the absence of such evidence, I must agree that the tape, verified or not, contains nothing that bears upon this case."

"May we have a brief recess?" Maxwell asked in a defeated voice.

"Fifteen minutes," the judge waved his hand, it was purely charity. And we all decanted into the hall where reporters rushed towards us, shouting questions.

Maxwell's hand reached out and snagged Laura's arm. "I'm going to have you disbarred for this," he warned.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Laura replied calmly, pulling free and continuing to walk towards the exit. Her face was transparently innocent, and I was once again glad we hadn't let her in on everything. She didn't have the necessary guile.

"You and your clients tampered with that tape, and I'm going to find out how!"

Laura stopped walking and turned to face Maxwell directly. "Don't blame me because *your* client jumped to conclusions based on a blurry tape and some innuendo against his sister. Gosh, Andy, you should never believe the client — next time, try some independent investigation."

Maxwell's face went studiously blank for a second as he shifted gears and his charming smile came back into play. "You know this isn't over."

"I'm looking forward to continuing it."

****

The sign on the door read "Janitor" but the disinfectant-stinking utility room was unoccupied save for the alien shapes of the mops hanging in the corner, I finally released Mulder's arm when the door closed behind us.

"What the hell was that all about? What did you do to the tape?" I hissed.

He shrugged, wide-eyed, and ran a hand through his hair.

"I didn't do anything to the tape."

"Frohike?"

"He never said — Holy fuck," he said with something like awe although he was clearly not having a religious epiphany.

I waited.

"Ingveld. Her mysterious project –"

Suddenly it all made sense — her skulking (inasmuch as a giant blonde goddess can skulk), the strange errands she had run, her questions, her intimate knowledge of the courthouse security, and her odd assurances that all would work out well. I had thought she was merely being na‹ve and guile-less. Here La Femme was living up to her television twin's sneaky skills. I didn't care so much as Mulder's mouth descended on me with the subtlety of a backhoe.

I managed to pry my mouth away with only as much difficulty as resetting a dislocated joint. "This isn't why I dragged you in here," I explained as my body melted like ice cream in the sun.

"It's why I came," he smirked and tugged up my skirt.

"You haven't yet."

There was a stack of sweeping compound canisters piled against the far wall, big 25 gallon containers which you can't use for buckets at home as toddlers tend to fall in and drown like chipmunks in a swimming pool, but they were the right height for our purposes. With my ass on the top line of canisters, the height difference was rectified and he clawed my hose and panties down past my knees.

I had forgotten the thrill of the forbidden. Dimly, I hoped that we wouldn't feel the need for even riskier sex to compensate for the newfound legality of intercourse itself. But mostly I just moaned as he squeezed my breasts through my shirt, holding me up with his hands and his cock. My legs wrapped around his thighs and my hose acted like bondage gear, making it difficult for me to move independently as the nylon hissed against his summer-weight trousers. My pumps slipped to my toes and then clunked to the ground by his feet. I trembled against his thrusts and clutched his scratchy wool shoulders.

I wasn't going to come like this, and I was running ahead of his orgasm count by an order of magnitude, so I attacked the fragile cartilage of Mulder's ear, running my tongue along the curve of flesh and down to the scarred-over earring holes. When I bit the lobe he groaned and gave in, pumping into me his relief.

He staggered away from me and sat down on the floor, his pants still around his thighs. He panted as I patted my hair, hoping against hope that it was still in place. He watched proprietarily as I stripped off the overstretched hose — it was summer in Washington, surely no one would make too much of it — and stole a roll of toilet paper from the state of Virginia to use to contain any untoward leakage. I handed him the roll and then put my shoes back on.

"I'll go first," I commanded and cracked the door. No one was visible so I stepped out as confidently as Dr. Who from the TARDIS. I headed back to where we'd left Laura et al. She was looking around frantically. "Where's Fox? We've got about thirty seconds — And did you have anything to do with the way that tape looked?"

"He's coming, and no I didn't." I said.

Well to be completely correct, he came and I didn't but what was quibbling at this point?

I examined Ingveld, who was studiously readjusting the lace on Miranda's collar, which was a brave thing to do considering that the spit and half-chewed food there were probably an excellent medium for new and unusual microbes.

Mulder returned and distracted Laura — part of me hoped that she could smell me on him — so I leaned over and took Miranda from Ingveld. "That was you, wasn't it?" I whispered.

She blinked. "I have lived many places," she told me as we headed back to the courtroom, "done many things. You think I am so young but inside –" Her voice dropped to a nearly inaudible thread among the bustling of newshounds. "It is not the worst I have seen or the worst I have done. You saved our lives," and now didn't seem like the time to point out that she and Warwick wouldn't have needed saving absent us, "and you should have Miri."

Miranda smiled at her, in total agreement.

"BAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMM!" my infant terrorist enthused.

"That was not needed." Ingveld said with a small frown.

****

Maxwell paced even though there was no jury for him to impress, head down as if he were actually gathering his thoughts. Did anything ever happen in public, in the halls of government, that was unscripted? Certainly nothing I'd seen.

After a minute he raised his head, shaking back an impatient lock of hair, and began. "It is probably correct to think of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as heroes," he said mildly and I looked at him in surprise. Scully frowned at him and then smoothed her face like spilt milk when Laura tapped her on the hand. "Certainly their investigations have saved lives and brought criminals to justice. All this despite suffering torments that the Devil might personally have dreamed up.

"They are heroes; they are larger than life.

"The problem is that children, babies, need real people, not giants. Giants can sometimes fail to see the little things in their way. They crush smaller people. These heroes' flag of victory is planted on a mountain of dead bodies.

"We've heard extensive testimony from both sides about Fox Mulder's incredible sensitivity to others' suffering, his passion for truth at any cost to himself. Both of them are willing to do anything in their power so that evil might not prosper, wherever it may hide.

"Where is Miranda in that calculation? What happens to her the next time a tantalizing lead comes along? We know what Dana Scully will do — what she has done before. And Fox Mulder admits that, since he took custody of Miranda, he has deliberately avoided learning any more about the conspiracy he fears lurks behind every doorway. How long will that willful blindness last? Until Miranda is old enough for day care? Until a new informer shows up on his doorstep?

"We have also heard testimony from both sides about the various traumas to which these two people have been subjected. The important point to remember is not whether they 'deserved' any of it, or how sorry we should feel for them. It's a sad thing that fighting darkness can cripple a person inside, so that he or she can no longer function entirely in the light. But the sadness should not deter us from putting Miranda Scully's best interests first, and those interests lie with adults who can devote themselves to her without having to fight their own deeply wounded souls.

"Dana Scully has a computer chip of unknown origins in the back of her neck. She and Mr. Mulder think that it cured her cancer. What experiments will they subject their daughter to in the name of open- mindedness?"

That one made me flinch a little. But if he had known about the smallpox vaccination, he would have asked us about it on the stand.

My nose twitched like a rabbit's and I suddenly needed an excuse to leave, right then, before anyone else noticed that I was bleeding.

Beside me, Miranda wailed as if she'd been switched on.

I had no time to wonder about the fortuity of the event; I grabbed her and pressed her to my face, closing off my leaking nostril. I hoped that being used as a human Kleenex would not unduly traumatize her in the years to come. She screeched like Courtney Love as we hustled out the courtroom doors. As soon as they shut, she stopped sobbing and I ran into the ladies' room.

With one hand pinching my nose, I used the other to clean Miranda off. The door opened and I flinched back against the wall.

It was only Ingveld, sticking her head in to confirm our presence. "You are alone?" I nodded. "I vatch at door until you are fine."

That might take a few years, my friend, I thought as the door swung shut on her shapely behind. Thirty seconds later, I heard her voice raised outside. "I am sorry, but in here is sewage. You must use the bathroom in the next hall."

I loved her, then.

It's too bad that Maxwell was wrong about the chip, since I was no longer confident that it could do anything but set off airport metal detectors. My blood thickened quickly enough that I made it back to the courtroom in time for Maxwell's big finish. He frowned at me for my inattention and continued.

"In closing, I must remind the court of our new surroundings, necessitated by recent events that no one denies were targeted on Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Their love, however sincerely felt, is no shield against bombs. Whether it's cancer or explosives, Death is stalking these two. They chose to live in danger, but Miranda Scully has not, and we should ensure that she remains safe even if the two of them do not."

****

Here we were again facing judgment. This time not merely to determine the survival of the X Files in a dark paneled room on a high floor of the Hoover Building, but to be judged as human beings under the all-consuming gaze of the American public.

I didn't concede the right of any court to judge me for what I'd done. Maybe it was different when George Washington, that wily old Mason, was running the government, but truth and justice were decidedly not the American way at present. When I wanted to be judged, I was my own best critic; I knew when I'd failed myself and failed to find the truth. No one — not even Scully — could evaluate me better than that.

I was still coming up short in the Finding Truth department. I knew now that my leaving the X Files didn't keep Miranda safe. Moreover, Scully had no plans to abandon the quest, and therefore I was bound to continue as well, even if it was while I was pushing a stroller.

The quest was going to have to proceed differently, though. The public Roush hearings had made less of a splash than speculation on what the presidential genitalia looked like. I no longer desired to expose the truth behind the secret government to the public; that undifferentiated mass was more interested in Scully's haircut and lurid details of my porn habit than anything substantive I might say to them about trust and self-rule. The truth that I sought, like the judgment, would have to be private. Yes, I wanted to foil evil plots, but I now understood that fighting Them required more than just accurate information and some interested reporters; it required counterattack. I would begin the real battle as soon as this latest skirmish ended.

Even though I didn't concede the court jurisdiction over my soul, the prospect of being publicly weighed and measured for fitness was occasion for some self-evaluation.

There are many things I wish I'd done differently. I wish that my last memory of my innocent baby sister wasn't of me harassing her. I wish I'd treated Phoebe like she was camp instead of high drama. I wish I'd figured out that Duane Barry was going to go for the chip and that Krycek was a traitor. I wish I hadn't listened to John Lee Roche for more than a minute. But most of all, I think, I wish I hadn't kissed Scully that night she drove me home from getting my brain reamed by Dr. Goldstein.

Understand that I would not change loving her, or being sexually attracted to her, nor could I. But it was not a constructive way of dealing with her impending death. Even then, we could have worked through it and found an equilibrium, I like to think, were it not for Emily's subsequent appearance and equally rapid disappearance. So instead we used sex as another of our finely honed weapons against one another.

If we had waited — maybe Miranda could have brought us together in some way less terrifying to Scully. If we had only waited, then when Jason Lindsay came into her room that night and impersonated me she would have shot him. Or she would at least have investigated, and unlike Brad and Janet from Rocky Horror, Scully wouldn't have ignored a mistaken identity for a good orgasm.

My mistakes weren't that important when they only hurt me. But I seemed incapable of confining them to that level. It was only the confidence that Miranda was infinitely safer with me than anywhere else that gave me the balls to fight — I'd promised myself that things would be different with her, and I've always been able to believe in my own passions.

The judge cleared his throat and looked at the papers in front of him as though he was looking at something about as important as a grocery list. Next to me, Scully was breathing like Catzilla did when he chased rabbits in his sleep. My mother, returned just in time to catch the last act of this farce, was resplendent in Nancy Reagan red on my other side.

"I'm an old man, and because I'm an old man who grew up in a far different world than we have today, I don't understand anythin' about babies bein' made in laboratories, host mothers, dectuplets, and e-mail. I can barely figure out how to set the clock on my VCR. I get my son to do that," he looked up over his half-moon glasses at the motley assemblage in the courtroom.

In my lap, the Mooselet stood up and started waiving at Ingveld and Warwick in the back of the room.

"So when I look at this case, I try to put all that behind me and look at things that I understand. I'll tell you what I see. I see a young woman who has gone through hell a couple of times over, and she's been hurt by all this. Hurt to the point where she knew that she couldn't take proper care of a baby so she abandoned it – in a very good home. Let's not confuse the issue and make it look like she left the baby in a basket on their doorstep," he looked over at Maxwell who had gone the color of tofu.

"Then the young man takes the baby to Virginia and proceeds to set up a home and support system for the child down to rearranging his work priorities to the child's convenience. The young woman returns and they begin trying to negotiate a family after they get married. On the other hand, I see some strange things in both their pasts, which might indicate that they are something other than perfect parents. I'm sure that most of the married couples in this room wouldn't pass that kind of scrutiny with flying colors."

Bill now matched Maxwell in skin tone.

I wasn't sure how I felt about the judge characterizing Scully and I as 'young'. I felt an eon old sitting in that chair. Scully's fingernails were piercing the bones in my hands.

"I see assertions that this child is endangered by her connection to her parents. And if you believe all this fancy conspiracy talk maybe she is. But anyone, enemy or friend, could take one look at this couple and see that vestin' legal custody elsewhere would not make them a whit less vulnerable to threats against their daughter. If the girl's in danger, there's no one better suited to protectin' her than her parents. And, despite the inflated claims of counsel, I see nothing in this case relating to a blurry videotape with unidentifiable people doing mischief to unknown objects. Other than a waste of the court's time. I see nothing that indicates to me that Bill and Tara Scully would be any better parents than Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. Therefore, custody of Miranda Julia Scully resides with Fox Mulder and his lawful wife. Bill Scully will pay the associated court costs relating what I feel is little more than a nuisance suit rather than genuine concern for the child. Court is dismissed."

I was going to need to get my heart jump-started.

****

The reporters fell back — I couldn't tell why they'd ever let us get away, and then it became obvious as my mother emerged from the forest of taller people and their video cameras. Of course they'd let her through, it would make a better story.

I turned away, but she hurried over to me and pulled at my arm. "Dana," she said.

I refused to look at her. At that moment I believed all the terrible things they'd said about my cold- heartedness. I *wanted* to feel something, and on an intellectual level I could identify all the symptoms of pain, but that's not the same as really feeling it. It was like watching a person with whom you couldn't empathize suffer. Only that person was me.

"Look at me!" she commanded, her voice harder now. From force of habit, I swiveled my head. Mulder stopped walking, prepared to swoop in between us. Tina perforce halted as well, hanging on to his gentlemanly arm. I felt the cameras move in closer, to catch every nuance of this moment on tape for the world to see.

The lines around her mouth were deeper now than they'd been weeks before, like mine. Her eyes bled sorrow; she truly believed that she'd been trying to do the right thing for all her children. She truly believed that injustice had been done in that courtroom. "I'm still your mother," she said softly — though not so softly that it wouldn't play on CourTV.

"I don't have a mother." I turned back to Mulder and his mother and took Tina's free arm. Tina glanced at me, her face blank but nonetheless I got a distinct feeling that she was hiding a small smug smile.

What the hell, we were more alike than me and my biological mother. But if she thought I was going to call her "Mom," the brain damage from her years of tranquilizer use hadn't been fully repaired.

The encounter with my mother dampened the euphoria, but only for a short while. When we were all ensconced in the Outback I felt as lightheaded as if I'd spent the day on a rollercoaster, looping the loop.

There were still things I needed to settle. I would return to the oncologist and find out if our carelessness in bed was going to kill me yet. (And it was possible that pregnancy hadn't mattered, that someone had broadcast a deadly message to the metal in my neck. I could imagine both of us deciding to believe that rather than conceding that one unlucky fuck destroyed us when a planetary conspiracy couldn't. If I had to die I was going to uncover the truth about that chip first.) I would integrate my stuff with Mulder's and make the best approximation of a household I could. I would take Miranda to Emily's grave so that she could visit her sister.

I would thank Skinner for his support.

I would disrupt the conspiracy and make them beg for mercy. Which would not be forthcoming. I would kick ET ass if necessary.

I would have a yard sale.

The emotion I felt was more alien than Mulder's little gray men. Maybe I didn't get it right, because I was awfully out of practice. But I think it was hope.

****

Iolokus IV: Res Judicata 16/

Close your eyes and let's pretend We're little children once again Sticky fingers, dirty minds When I touch you, girl I come alive Let's fall in love It's exciting I'm gonna make your mouth A sunny sundae smile My Bloody Valentine

I have spent entirely too many hours of my adult life in health care facilities. The waiting room at Scully's oncologist's office had good magazines but I was in no condition to read any of them. Scully had the Mooselet in her lap and they were going through The Cat In the Hat with the thoroughness that Scully usually reserved for reading other people's autopsy reports. I was just as happy to see the Mooselet pointing at the cat and the hat and the fish in the dish while Scully asked her the names of the items. In a way, I was glad that Sam had engineered Miranda to be intelligent, as the Mooselet was certainly giving Scully a run for her money. I was also glad that Scully had decided to stay with us since this meant that I could actually get a break from MooseDuty from time to time.

Julie Graff was expecting me back to work the following Monday so I had to get all the loose ends tied up. First there were the doctor visits – I booked Scully oncologist and gynecologist appointments practically back to back. I think she called someone to get an estimate on having a contract on me after that. Through bitching and judicious badge-waving, I got past the office manager and the doctor returned my call himself. When I explained that Scully was pregnant and we couldn't wait, we got an appointment for the next morning and the promise that any test results would be expedited. He also seemed to think that there wasn't much to worry about. But then he hadn't expected her to go into remission either.

While I listened with a mouth open in dumb shock, she told him about the nosebleeds, and I kicked myself for not noticing. The doctor nodded and listened to her shopping list of symptoms couched in medical terms that I didn't understand. He took blood and made friends with the Mooselet during Scully's MRI as though it were only a routine visit. Scully watched him seal off and label the vial of blood.

"I know it's not terribly professional of me to say this, but I was less than happy with the testimony that I had to give for your brother's case. I would have lived a happier life without having to aid his cause against you."

The Mooselet squirmed around in my arms so she could watch the nice bald man talk to her mom.

"There's no adequate medical reason for you to go into remission in the first place, by the same token, there's no adequate reason for you not to remain in remission for five years until you are pronounced cured."

"There's more at stake now. I have to worry about people other than myself. I have responsibilities." Scully said and her eyes looked suspiciously sparkling under the lights.

As for me, there felt like there was a brick lodged in my throat.

"Dana I've seen people die who had only a mild form of cancer, and I've seen people live who shouldn't. All I know is that there are some things that defy medicine. Call it faith, call it will to survive or call it a miracle."

Docile, she nodded her head.

"I'll have the lab rush the results." In the Ranger, Scully's eyes were red but she didn't say anything as we drove the half-dozen miles to the next appointment.

****

With the verdict from the oncologist pending the blood work-up the last thing that I wanted was to go to the gynecologist, but Mulder dragged me with the same kind of amused stubbornness that he used when Miranda refused to eat her vegetables. I think he was disappointed that I left him in the waiting room during the exam, but regardless of his predilection for oral sex, I didn't feel comfortable with him getting an up close and personal view of my cervix. Call me old fashioned, but a girl likes to retain some kind of mystery in sexual matters, and I was willing for him to forgo seeing his favorite bodily orifice cranked open with a speculum like a car with the air filter open.

After the demise of Dr. Shimada, I was looking for a sturdier gynecologist and ended up with a former Navy doctor with the unlikely name of Blaire Wellington. She was cool and efficient and had the upper arm muscles of a woman who worked out with weights – she was serious. I didn't feel that I was endangering her all that much. George was dead, after all, and Dr. Wellington looked as though she would be able to bounce any unquiet ghosts out on his ear.

"Well Dana," she said as she peered below the sheet covering my stomach and the cold air from the air conditioning unit made my thighs break out in gooseflesh, "From the home test and the change in color and texture of your cervix, you are definitely pregnant."

"I'm not sure how it happened." I muttered.

"You need me to go over the birds and the bees for you?" she said with a wry little smirk.

"No, in regard to the fact that I was considered sterile a year ago."

She shrugged, "The test may have been incorrect. It's possible that your chemotherapy caused you to go into a premature and temporary form of menopause. Now that time has passed and your body has been able to re-regulate the hormones, you may very well have begun ovulating again. I notice that you didn't actually have a laproscopic examination of the ovaries so the physician may have been drawing conclusions from incomplete data."

"Can you tell me when I got pregnant?"

"Not exactly. We establish a due date by the date of your last period and subtract three months from that date which is the due date the following calendar cycle."

When had been my last period?

Before George came which had been in the beginning of spring and now it was nearly summer and —.

Wait a minute.

Condoms don't have a 100% success rate, which is what any high school health teacher will tell you. With the various manipulations that the Mulder gene pool had gone through at the hands of the scientists who created them, it might have been possible that his sperm might, in fact, have somehow penetrated the latex? Wasn't that also part of the plan of the cold war mad scientists? Be fruitful and multiply, breed the New World order and spread hybridized genes hither and yon? Was it possible that every time that we'd interrupted the natural course of sex for condoms it was habit rather than help?

Imagine the paternity suits. Oh God. That meant that I could have gotten pregnant at any time since we had gotten back together. Which also meant that the George fantasy might not have been the seminal (ha!) event. The worm of hope buried a little harder into my heart, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to kill it.

"What about the nosebleeds?" I asked.

"When I had my first, my nose was like a spigot. I'd be performing an exam and gush all over the floor. And it was like 'excuse me, I'm bleeding on you." And I'd run for the tissues. The morning sickness should pass after the first trimester, but with the weight that you've put on and the fact that you haven't lost your appetite–" God no, I could now out- eat Mulder at any meal — "It's an inconvenience more than a danger. I'm going to give you some literature and you'll need to set up a schedule of appointments with Allie up front, but other than that, there's not much to do but let your body do its job."

Like grow cancer cells, like consume an entire freezer worth of Chubby Hubby, like throw up for the next three months, and like die before Miranda or this baby was old enough to vote.

Let my body do the job. Great. My body was one of the things that I didn't trust anymore.

"You don't even want to do an amniocentesis?" I asked.

"No. I don't think it's necessary."

I wanted a warranty on the fetus that promised that it would be replaced if it was defective in the least. A five-year warranty, an extended service agreement, and product insurance. Dr. Wellington wasn't even going to try to make me feel better. Still she did, ostensibly, know her job and had given birth herself so I should believe that she was making the right decision.

I was still fairly dissatisfied by the whole appointment.

Feeling bruised, I let Mulder drive home, even though he did seem to take the slowest route possible and let every car possible out in front of him. Maybe he thought we needed the good karma. While he took Miranda to her room for her afternoon nap, I roamed around for awhile, before going to ground in the bedroom. I shucked off my clothes and put on the rattiest pair of sweats and ugliest oversized t-shirt in my collection of 'go to hell' clothes, and collapsed on the bed. The final verdict from the judge and the gynecologist had been given and now I was waiting to see if the oncologist was going to come back with death or life imprisonment. Well, I guess that wasn't entirely accurate. I was getting used to the idea of being legally joined to Mulder. Not much had really changed since we'd gotten married other than the fact that we were habitually getting out of the same bed in the morning and could show affection for one another in public. He was still stubborn, narrow-focused, and annoying, but I didn't think that marriage was supposed to change an essential personality anyway. Actually, from what I had heard from listening to my married friends over the years, he made a pretty decent husband. He was domestic, supportive, didn't appear to have an interest in other women, and was more than willing to change dirty diapers. And the best thing was that he wasn't expecting me to turn into Donna Reed.

I rolled over onto my stomach and sighed.

"You're sulking," he observed as he pulled off his ironed henley-neck shirt and traded it for a worn gray t-shirt spotted with baby stains.

"I am not sulking," I sulked.

He crept across the bed with his eyes flickering green in the warm sunlight melting in between the blinds until her was straddling my hips and began working at the aching muscles in my shoulders and upper back. "The doctor didn't seem too concerned about your cancer coming back and the gynecologist gave you enough stuff to read that you won't have time to worry for the next nine months. And once the baby gets here you'll be too busy to worry."

"What if I die?"

"We're all going to die eventually. I don't know when I'm going to die, why should you know? Don't you think that's an unfair advantage?" he purred into my ear. Damn him, the sulk was slowing to a crawl like Washington traffic to be replaced with a drowsy contentment and a lazy kind of pleasure. I stretched under him and decided I would explore the contentment for awhile.

"I'll bet you twenty dollars that your blood test won't show any abnormal cells. And I should know. I'm composed entirely of abnormal cells." "Especially your brain," I muttered into the bedspread.

"It's good to see that pregnancy hasn't spoiled your sense of humor," he said in a sour tone and flopped onto the mattress next to me, "Let's celebrate."

"What?"

"Well, we've been married for almost a month and we haven't killed each other. We've been co- habitating for two months at least and we haven't killed each other. We get to keep the Mooselet, and we haven't killed each other. Also, you're pregnant and we haven't killed each other."

"Modified rapture."

"You are planning on staying, aren't you?"

"You promised you'd take care of the baby to be named later. I'm only slightly unfit and I wouldn't want to abandon another helpless infant."

"The infamous nurturing Scully." He ran his hand over my back and I sighed, my obstreperousness was partially feigned, the rest of it was post-trauma crankiness. Mulder knew that and knew me well enough to indulge me while I was being grumpy. His caress gained a little intensity and I could feel my nerve endings perk up a bit.

"Is that the only thing you ever think about?" I asked.

"Sometimes I think about food," he admitted and I could tell from his voice that he was grinning.

I rolled over and looked across the bedspread at his crooked, goofy smile and wondered exactly how we had gone from frustrated, secret, and angry sex to this domestic idyll. The answer was painfully simple. Once we had finally gotten past the posing, the posturing, and the delusion that we should not be together in the traditional male/female way and realized that we were – in some perverse design of fate, really — the only proper mate for one another, we had finally succumbed to the inevitable. Not that this made me happy, but it certainly made me less miserable than I was when I was alone. And he could make me drip like melted chocolate down the side of a sugar cone. I buried my face in the skin of his neck and smelled his Muldersmell, and I could feel the wrinkles smooth out of my mind. He needed my control, I needed his passion, and we fed off of one another's strength. Maxwell had been right, we were dangerous together but it was a controlled danger. Apart we were as dangerous and unpredictable as a tropical storm gaining strength and building into a hurricane. When I pushed him over onto his back, he whuffed deep in his throat and his eyes glowed green gold under lashes fit for a girl. I licked his neck, teasing his tendons with my tongue and his fingers dug into my ass. He breathed wet and crackled into my ear, making me shudder and my nipples turn into bullets. I growled gopher-speak at him and he growled back in the same, grabbing at my swaying breasts through my t-shirt and sucking on my mouth until my lips almost hurt. I straddled him and ground my pelvis against him, feeling the hard rod of his cock prod up at my rapidly soaking crotch as I dry- humped him like a teenager in the back of a car.

"You really have to stop it with this sexy wardrobe," he growled into my ear.

I pushed his head to my breasts, luxuriating in the softness of his gopher fur, and felt his teeth nip at me through my shirt. The heel of his hand ground against my pubic bone through the layers of sweatpants and panties and I could feel the spring start to wind tight inside my stomach. He could make me wet with one glance over a dead body, practically make me come when his fingers brushed the back of my hand, and make my knees turn to pasta with a filthy thought telegraphed across a polished conference table.

I grabbed the hem of my shirt and hauled the whole thing over my head, and he grabbed my breasts, his hands hot and dry the moment they sprang free of the fabric.

"Come on gopher-girl. Do your worst," he teased and gave my left nipple a meaningful, painful pinch.

"Oh yeah?"

"I triple-dog dare you."

He shouldn't have said that, really.

I bounced off him and pulled his sweats down to his knees with a brusque jerk. He yelped at the rough treatment but started to laugh when I dug my fingers into the ticklish part of his stomach between his hipbone and the thin line of hair running to his cock. I danced my fingers over the delicate skin of his stomach and he whooped with outrage, his cock doing the Macarena as he moved.

"That's-not-fair!" he choked.

"Of course not."

I traced the vein on the underside of his cock with my fingernail and enjoyed watching him shudder. Mulder has a body like a tightly stretched drum and I can coax different sounds out of him depending on where I touch. I tongued him a few times, enjoying the feral taste contrasting with the baby skin of the one eyed trouser snake. He moaned and his hips jerked a few times, encouraging me to take all of him in my mouth, which I did in short order. I worked him hard, making him wince from time to time with my lips and sucking until my cheeks went concave, while I pumped at his base with a tight ring of my fingers. With shaking fingers he pushed my hair away from my face and our glances met with incendiary effect. I could feel that I was soaking my way through the fabric of my sweats. I pressed my mound against the bed and felt a pre-orgasm shudder run through me like razors on my bones. He groaned and bucked underneath me. Twice, when it seemed that he was on the verge of coming, I clamped my fingers tight around his base and he slackened for a moment.

"Oh Jesus, Scully," he whispered, "you're killing me."

In the end I took pity on him, since his cock was beginning to look a little sore, and I shimmied out of my drenched pants and climbed on top of him. He cried out when I eased him in as far as he could go. It felt so good to have him filling me to the utmost degree, pressing on my spine, impaling me as far and as deep as possible. I leaned forward so when I moved, the shaft of his cock scraped deliciously on the burning center of my clitoris. I pressed down on him, slid up, pressed down, and so on until the sweat was dripping out of my hair and onto his face. Mulder's hands on my breasts were the only thing keeping me upright. This kind of fucking was harder than digging ditches. Finally, the spring wound tighter and tighter inside me snapped with a ping that made me screech with agonizing pleasure and I clenched down and around him as I started to shudder and sway with my climax. Dimly, I heard his own gopher cry of delight as he surged up and into me with his latex-defying semen.

Like the Energizer Bunny given Duracells by mistake, I fell onto him, sticking to him with a variety of bodily secretions and we lay there in a cooling puddle in a state of blissful brain-death.

"Love you," he muttered in my hair.

"What you said." I grunted.

I drifted off then and must have stayed that way for the rest of the night. I was vaguely aware of Mulder moving around later after the baby monitor started to snivel, but I rolled over and went back to sleep while he dealt with it. That was a good thing. When the other baby came, I was likely to push on its nose thinking it was a snooze button. When the warm lump I idenified as Mulder came back I curled up against it and went back to sleep.

Light. Banging. Grumbling. Me blinking and making out movement somewhere.

"Well I knocked-" was Warwick's voice, sounding aggravated.

Well, it was re-run season after all.

"What?"

I foused on Mulder whose hair was doing truly amazing things while he glowered at the younger man.

"The doctor – the oncologist is on the phone."

"Oh God." I said and pulled the comforter over my head.

I couldn't handle it, didn't want to know that I was going to die, not with the morning bubble of nausea starting to fill my throat.

"Talk to him," I groaned to Mulder.

"Right."

Warwick shut the door behind him, and Mulder picked up the line on hold.

"Mulder. Yeah. She's asleep. You can talk to me. No, really."

Like a Charlie Brown cartoon all I could hear was disjointed honking noises coming from the other side of the conversation.

"Okay. Fine. I'll tell her."

I heard him put down the phone.

I held my breath.

A hard finger prodded me in the ass.

"No abnormal cells. Go back to sleep."

I wasn't sure which sentence gave me more pleasure.

****

After the right and proper order of things has been restored, it is traditional in the plays of Shakespeare for there to be some kind of celebration to mark the re-unification of the community. All the characters gather together for food, drink, and song while the audience plots the quickest way out of the theater and the way to avoid the rush at the parking lot.

We had our post-drama celebration catered. The weather had tapered off to a manageable level of heat and humidity and the tent the caterers had erected on Scully's emerald-green sod looked prettily festive in the dying daylight. The gold twinkle lights in the bushes flashed like horny fireflies and were reflected off the incredibly ugly swan ice sculpture sitting on the main table. Scully had gone apoplectic when she'd seen the frozen monstrosity and was threatening not to pay the catering company since she'd specifically asked *not* to have a swan ice sculpture. She also hadn't liked it when I pointed out that the nice Korean family catering the 'do' had probably just misunderstood her. This led to a prolonged bout of sulking in the bathroom but I was finally able to lure her out with the promise of ice cream cake. Marriage and pregnancy were making Scully weird, but not unmanageably so. At least not so far. Eight months into the fight for the future and weirdness might be too mild of a term.

In any event, I'd extended an olive branch and invited Bill, Tara, the rotund Matthew, and Mrs. Scully which provoked another bout of bathroom incarceration. But once I'd removed the doorknob, Scully had seen reason. I'd also promised that the ice swan was going home with Bill which perked Scully up immeasurably. The Gunmen were there in their motley finery; Byers surprised one and all by bringing a woman with him, a small woman with a wealth of curly hair who I recognized as being the savior from the deli department of the supermarket.

A rental car brought Charlie and his wife and their tribe, but Emerson, Alieen and Samuel were too busy in Montana to come. With the three babies (the Mooselet, Matthew, and whatever Charlie's youngest was named) in pretty much the same age bracket, we plunked them all down in the playpen while Warwick kept an eye out to make sure no one killed the others.

Zippy brought a woman I had never seen before (and I suspect, was *not* the home health care therapist) and immediately delivered her into Frohike's clutches so that he could hit on Laura. I soon saw our lawyer giving him her number. Skinner came alone, Julie Graff brought a smoothly pretty African American woman of the same vintage as herself, and although nothing was said other than the woman's name (Anna Franklin) and the fact that she worked at the Smithsonian as a curator. I had the distinct feeling that the two were a couple. No wonder she never said anything about my unusual domestic arrangements. After darkness fell and everyone was feeling somewhat the better for alcohol, Maxwell showed up. To my great surprise and Scully's sudden look of total comprehension, he immediately stalked up to Zippy and Laura and puffed his chest out; if he were a Daschund, he'd have been yipping and peeing in circles around her. My man Zip is not exactly easily intimidated, particularly not by bantamweight blondes who pay more attention to their suits than their biceps, but then Zippy wasn't really the target of his odd behavior. It was Laura.

I knew the mating dances, having fluffed my feathers on more than one occasion. Then I met Scully, and she clipped my wings but good. Maxwell was doing the dance of the jealous male with his attention focused on Laura who returned his with the smile of a Renaissance femme fatale. She looked really pretty with her hair down too. Interesting.

"What," I said to Scully as she fluttered by with a champagne flute of what had damn well better have been ginger ale, "the hell is going on with the lawyers?"

"It's what Jackson Browne calls lawyers in love."

"God." I said and shook my head.

"No worse than Gophers, Gopher-Boy." She said and laid one of her zillion watt smiles on me.

Hanging around her neck was the gift I'd presented her with that morning in bed – a gold gopher charm with blue topaz eyes. Yeah, I'm a romantic slob who's willing to get jewelry custom made.

Bill watched all this and glowered at his former attorney from the other side of the ice sculpture. Matthew unwisely made a grab at the Mooselet's onion ring at that moment and got bitten for his trouble. Tara tried to separate the youngsters who both began to scream blue murder. I grabbed the Mooselet and Tara and I stared at one another over our screaming progeny.

"All this could have been yours," I pointed out.

She smiled over Matthew's wails.

"You realize of course, it was mostly Bill's idea."

I believed her.

"Dana's lucky," Tara remarked, "I don't think that Bill has ever touched a dirty diaper."

"Hey everybody. Just a minute here!" Frohike announced and climbed up on top of a chair.

Zippy's dish du jour looked embarrassed.

"I just want to say that Justice has finally been served, and both Mulder and Scully have gotten the punishment they deserve – each other."

Which was another reason no one asks Frohike to be their best man. There were some scattered applause and the Mooselet, riding on my hip joined in.

"Any words Spooky?" Zip yelled "anything you want to share with your near and dear ones?"

"You're an asshole," I shot back and Scully stepped on my foot.

After hopping around for a moment or two, I picked up my own champagne glass and watched the fairy lights strung on the trees dance through the bubbles.

"I can't imagine a worse punishment than this. I always thought that I would have a wonderful house, a beautiful wife, and a brilliant child. Of course this is what I get stuck with."

Laugher all around.

I didn't tell them that the only reason we were here and not in hiding was that we'd given in. Scully would supervise anything done with Miranda's blood to ensure that it really was antiviral research and not more cloning and breeding; it would give her something to do with her maternity leave. We were in and we wouldn't get out alive; no one does. But maybe we could tell the truth and shame the devil, once we knew the truth. Then again, it wasn't our way to live a life without extreme complications.

"And just in case anyone was wondering, yes it was a shotgun wedding and Scully is not just getting fat."

Bill looked like I'd spit in his champagne and Scully (I shit you not) blushed like a Victorian virgin.

"Warwick has the sign-up sheet for babysitting, and if you can't give your time, we do take checks."

This time I got laughter and applause. The Mooselet, who may or may not have understood most of it, clapped and giggled in my arm. Scully shook her head as if both the baby and I had gone mad, but only smiled – and there was no edge to it. The barbed wire she'd wound around my heart pulled tighter, but it was a good hurt.

"Laugh while you can Gopher Boy. I know where you sleep."

In front of the world, I kissed her and tasted the sting of ginger ale on her lips. If an asteroid had hit Arlington at that moment and reduced it to a smoking crater, I would have died the happiest man in the world.

Then I smelled it – the fragrant aroma of dirty diaper. I sighed and headed off to the house to deal with reality. Mom had cornered Scully near the desserts and they were hissing at one another, two cats in the same territory.

"I should have known better than to think you were sensible," Mom said, looking my wife over as if she were Jerry Springer trailer trash.

"I worked with Fo–, with Mulder for five years," Scully pointed out, and only then I realized that she no longer had to fake the unthinking use of my first name. Which would return a weapon to our arsenal, and so I smiled graciously at Mom. She stared at Scully as if large boils had begun to swell on her face. Who knows, maybe that was a normal symptom of being pregnant with a Mulder.

"If it's a boy there will have to be a bris."

"Is that like a Jewish christening?" Scully asked, widening her eyes innocently.

Mom made a strangled noise and stalked away, shaking her head.

"That wasn't very nice," I said over Scully's shoulder, I couldn't help smiling. "I think you're going to have to eat an extra serving of dessert to make up for that." "I'm fully prepared to be the daughter-in-law from hell." Scully reassured me.

The next time I saw Mom, she was hitting on Skinner, which fit her MO perfectly.

In the dirty diaper, Miranda started to whine and I hastened into the house.

In passing, I heard the tag end of the joke that a very drunk Ingveld was telling Maxwell.

" . . . and the frog zaid it started as a pimple on my ass and it haf turned into a lawyer."

 

***** Rivka says: Res ipsa loquitor. Sally says: Omni mutantur, nos et mutsamur in illis.

*Well almost. . . * At nineteen weeks it is customary for the expectant mother to undergo a sonogram. The theory is to check fetal size and development, but more often than not it fulfills no other function than to sex the fetus and allow yuppie parents to start picking names.

"You have got to be fucking kidding!" was all that I could manage.

"No," the ultrasound technician said, continuing to rub the wand over the freezing cold goo on my now- protruding stomach, "women of your age have a marked tendency to ovulate more than one ova at a time and the occurrence of fraternal twins is not uncommon after age thirty-five."

I swallowed and looked at her earnest young face, trying to block out the horrified hyperventilating that was coming from my right. I swear that if Mulder squeezed my hand any tighter bones were going to break.

"Well," my OB-GYN added from where she was lurking in the doorway, "you can't really blame your husband either since he's an identical twin and that indicated one ova rather than two. I hope you're prepared for a high-risk pregnancy. With your age and health history, I'm going to watch you like a hawk so we can get these babies to term in the best health possible."

"Thanks," I muttered.

"Looks like we have one of each." The technician sounded delighted, good, she could take over the rest of the pregnancy.

He gloved finger indicated the image on the screen – two bulbous headed forms, looking likke bad fake alien photographs from Mulder's collection. One of the little creatures was proudly sporting a penis and the other was not. I caught my breath and looked up. Dear God, *two*? I hope you're having a good laugh over this. The acoustic tiles on the ceiling began square dancing and I had the feeling that I was in a rapidly descending elevator, descending rapidly because the steel cables had been severed.

"Scully?"

"I'm fine, Mulder."

"Good."

And the sound was that of paper and fabric rustling followed by a thump as he hit the floor.

End

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