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05 November 2009 @ 04:09 pm
Machines of Freedom: Chapter 6  


December 10, 2012
5:47 PM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana

Mulder stirred in the dark, strange room, unsure for a moment where he was, what had happened, why he was curled against Scully completely clothed. But then he had heard a soft "Um" from the doorframe. He opened his eyes. William was standing in the doorway to their bedroom, his head bowed. "Um," he said again.

"What is it, Will?" he asked groggily.

"It's just, it's 5:45, and that woman, um, Monica, she said you had a meeting at six."

Mulder groaned slightly. "Thanks. Hey, Scully. Scully, we gotta go to our meeting." Scully made a noncommittal noise. "Come on, Dr. Scully. Time to save the world."

"I'm up," she groaned. She pushed herself to a sitting position and groped on the small bedside table for her hair clip. "Jesus. I don't want to sleep in a car ever again."

"Yes. Yes, I will agree to that."

He watched her stand and walk over to Will. She ran her hands over his head, and he wanted to remind her that the propensity for head trauma wasn't hereditary, though Sadie was providing increasing evidence it might be a learned behavior. She patted his shoulders. "Do you want to come to dinner with us?"

"I don't need to." He seemed--shy? No, awkward, and damn, who wouldn't be?

"No, come with us." She curled up her hair and pinned it in place. Her ability to do that without a mirror was scary. "Besides, I don't think we have any food."

Will had seemed embarrassed when they saw that the box of photo albums had been opened, and that they were splayed around the table. Mulder leaned over the open one. One of his, from his childhood, open to a picture of him and Samantha. He was eight, she was five, and they were on the beach. He smiled. Sadie looked like Sam, just a little; it was funny, she was built more like Scully, little and light, but her face was all Mulder, poor kid. "Is that your sister?" Will asked.

"Yeah," Mulder said. "Samantha."

"Is she coming here too?"

Mulder cleared his throat. "She died. A long time ago." Will ducked his head, obviously embarrassed. Mulder put his hand on his shoulder. "Let's go get dinner."

They had let William work the elevator; Level 2 was noisier than Level 3, with people standing in the hallway chatting, the doors to room standing open, or closed with notes tacked to them: "Your lab time is between 2-4 AM"; "We're watching Doctor Who in the shelter at 11 tonight"; "I got your box of organic groceries, it's in my quarters"; "I want you to double check today's Spanish translations." A few of the people seemed to recognize them, and there was a little hushed whispering. Mulder felt a little like a rock star. It was not a bad feeling.

The dining room was big enough to seat twenty, maybe; there was a buffet in the corner with steam trays of food, and a tiny kitchen in the back, where two young women were leaning over a sheet of paper and debating the finer points of ammunition design while the dishwasher ran. Monica, Doggett and Isabel were sitting at a large table in the middle; Doggett saw them come in, and waved. "Dana! Mulder!" He stood and walked over to them. Mulder suppressed his customary ping of jealousy when Doggett kissed Scully's cheek, and accepted his warm handshake. Then Doggett put his hands on his hips and looked at William. "Well, there, Mister William. You certainly are a sight for sore eyes." He glanced up at Mulder and Scully. "It is still William, right?"

"Yes, sir," William said politely.

"He goes by Will," Scully said, putting her arm around Will's shoulder.

"Sounds good," Doggett said. "My name's John, Will, and the last time I saw you, you could just about stand up holding onto your mom's couch. Seems you've grown some since then."

Will smiled this time. "Yes, sir."

"Well, get yourself something to eat, and come on. We're just talking, nothing formal." He gestured to the steam table.

They settled in at the table with food. "Not that I'm complaining," Mulder said, "but are we really going to be eating boxed macaroni and cheese for the next few weeks?"

"You're living in an underground compound, populated nearly entirely with geeks. You're lucky it's not the microwaveable kind," Monica said, spearing an overcooked piece of broccoli.

"We have twelve cases of Spaghetti-Os hidden under a tarp on the storage level," Isabel said, rustling through a box next to her. "If anyone knew they were there, they'd be gone before the apocalypse. Hi, by the way."

"Nice to meet you in person." Scully and Isabel had met a few times, but Mulder only knew her as a quiet presence on the conference calls. She was a little more energetic in reality.

She began placing black, shiny objects on the tables. "These are your phones now--actually they're basically a half-phone, half-walkie-talkie thing, with a lot of bells and whistles. We hacked the iPhone 5G base. Which wasn't hard." She handed Scully one, then Mulder, then William. "We use the walkie frequency to communicate within the compound; it's shared, though, so you do the whole identify-by-ID code routine to call people."

"I think we do it because it makes us feel cooler," Doggett said.

"Has anyone formally complained about the lack of Star Trek doors yet?" Mulder said.

"Yes. Also lightsabers," Doggett grinned. "Honestly, Mulder, this is the strangest place I've ever lived."

"I keep telling Josh they're totally impractical for the kind of hand-to-hand conflict we're anticipating--" Isabel looked up suddenly, realizing it wasn't a serious conversation, and cleared her throat. "Anyway. If you want to call from your own cell phone numbers, that's the green call icon; if you want to call from the secure identities, that's the orange call button; walkie-talkie is the blue button. Plus you can use them to access the person-locator, and most of the work that's happening in the compound; it doesn't have a lot of processor speed, but you can at least read results."

Scully sighed. "I think I have to go call my mother."

Six-fifteen here meant eight-fifteen in Baltimore; Mulder snorted. "Do you really want a report from bathtime?"

"I would be willing to take bets that Sadie will arrive in Montana not having bathed for a week," Scully said, and stood up. "I'll be right back."

"So, Mulder," Doggett said conversationally. "What do you think of the place?"

"Haven't seen much. Apart from the vague sensation that I've moved into an MIT dorm or possibly a really low-rent space station."

"Funny," Monica said, "I'm pretty sure that was exactly the vibe we were going for." She glanced over at Will's plate; it was scraped clean, and he was trailing his fork through the remnants of cheese sauce. "If you're hungry, Will, go get more. Trust me, there's plenty."

Will looked up at Mulder, and he couldn't help smiling; yes, actually, I am the person you should be asking whether you can do something. "Go on," he said. Will climbed out of his chair and walked back over to the steam table.

"Mulder," Monica said quietly as soon as he was out of earshot. "What happened?"

He sighed. "Is the girl, what's-her-name, Casey, talking?"

"Yeah. I've got one of the security officers down with her now; she's giving a fairly thorough account of her actions, from what he said," Doggett said.

"Well, if it includes cornering us in a back alley with William's address and then letting us nearly get shot up by a bunch of black-hat commandos, she's pretty much told you what happened." He took another bite of his macaroni. "OK, is there some sort of kitchen rota I can be put on? Because I'm too old to eat like a twenty-year-old anymore."

"Once she's debriefed, we'll send you her statement to verify." Doggett flashed Monica a look. "I think we'll be confining her to quarters while we check the story out, but I'm not terribly worried about her as a security risk."

"I'm glad someone isn't," Monica muttered. She stabbed her last piece of broccoli.

"Mon--"

"Never mind." She pushed the plate away from her. Will was back, his plate again buried in macaroni and cheese. With three token pieces of broccoli on the side. Mulder found himself thinking that he should remember to thank the Van de Kamps, and then realized that there were so many things wrong with that thought he wasn't even going to begin to deal with them. "So, seriously," he said, "I know Scully's going to be in the labs, but what is there to do around here?"

Doggett shrugged. "We can pencil you in to take a couple shifts at the control level instead of me or Monica; I could use some more time to work on the supply count, I know that. Apart from that, there's a supply run happening tomorrow, if you want to be on it. I know your place is a little bare right now. And, well, there isn't a lot of competition for spots on the cooking schedule, so I guess you could take some of that on, if you really want."

"Is it wrong to start calling this the restaurant at the end of the universe?"

"Seems right to me," Isabel said. "Anyway, I'm going to get back to the lab. Can you tell Dr. Scully to come up when she's done with dinner? I want to run her through all the systems, and I know Matt wants to talk to her." She gathered up her box. "You have any technical problems, you call me on the walkie."

Mulder nodded at her as she left, balancing a plate of food, probably for Matt, on top of her box. "Any other excitement, folks?"

"I think you're the excitement." Doggett smiled at Will. "Congrats. You're the first kid to arrive."

Will smiled politely. "Do I have things to do?" He looked up at Mulder. "I mean, like, is there anything I'm here for?"

"Just to keep you safe," Mulder said. And also because possibly you can psychically perceive aliens, but that was a conversation he had to work up to. "You want to come on the supply run tomorrow?"

"OK." He took a small bite of broccoli. "Um. Can I call my parents?"

No, and you're never going to call them again. I'm your father now, he thought, and then forced his hands to unclench.

Doggett cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, I don't think you can do that, Will. If the bad guys knew where you lived, they probably have your folks' phone tapped. We'll try to get them a message to let them know you're safe, but you can't call them; it might be traced. I'm sorry."

Will looked down at his fork. "OK. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it," Mulder forced himself to say. Because Scully was right, she usually was when it came to things that didn't involve aliens or zombies or something. That didn't mean he had to like it.

Scully walked back into the room. "Love you too, Mom. Talk to you soon. Uh huh. Uh huh. OK. Bye." She sighed and hung up. "Well. Sadie did, in fact, take a bath tonight, though it was at five PM, for some reason. She is refusing to talk on the phone, or to allow Grammy to talk on the phone uninterrupted."

"So, standard," Mulder said.

"Basically. Where's Isabel?"

"Lab. She says to meet her there."

Scully looked down at her plate of cold, congealing macaroni and cheese. "You know, maybe I'll just head up." She looked over at Mulder, and he could see the question--are you OK?

He nodded. "Have fun with your new toys."

"Thanks." She pushed her plate over towards him, and then stood, brushing her hand over Will's head on her way to the door.

Will was engrossed in pushing the buttons on his new phone. "Cool," he said.

"What?" Mulder leaned over to see the screen.

"It's got Space Invaders on it." The little ship bounced back and forth, firing up at the descending attackers.

Mulder looked pointedly at Doggett, who just grinned. "Like I was saying," he said, "this is the strangest place I've ever lived."

***

10:46 PM Mountain Time

Will was slumped on the couch with Mulder's copy of I, Robot in his hand when Mulder came out of the bathroom. His face was slack in sleep. OK, their sleeping children all looked like Scully; good to know. He sat down at the foot of the couch and watched him. They had spent the evening unpacking, placing the two boxes of books and all the photo albums on the small shelf in the living room. Will hadn't asked any more questions about the photo albums, and Mulder wished his first question hadn't been about Sam, hadn't been about his family at all, that he'd picked some cheerful, yet recent photo of the Scully clan, one that didn't have a dead sister in it but contained lots of cousins.

After all that, Mulder had gone to be a responsible grown-up and unpack his and Scully's clothes, and then stock the incredibly small bathroom with the toiletries Scully had sent ahead, while Will read. (He'd never read I, Robot, but had seen the terrible movie version; Mulder had almost delivered a little imperious monologue on the subject of bastardizing Asimov for profit, and then guessed that was not such a good idea to come across as hopelessly pedantic on his first day of fatherhood.)

He sighed, and fought the temptation to carry Will to bed. He was a kid, nearly a teenager, old enough to want autonomy; the fact that all his parenting habits were set to preschooler was unhelpful. He reached out and ran his hand across Will's hair. "Will? Hey, buddy?" Will twisted into the arm of the couch for a moment, and then opened his eyes and blinked. "You should go sleep in bed. Couch's a bad habit to start."

"Oh. Yeah, okay," Will said, and rubbed his eyes.

"You want to come with me on the supply run tomorrow? Probably beats sitting around here doing nothing." He rubbed his shoulder gently.

"Okay. Sorry about the book," he said, looking down at the new bend he'd put in the spine.

"Meant to be read. Come on, go sleep."

Will stood up and wandered towards the bedroom, but then stopped at the door, and looked a little embarassed. "Oh. I didn't bring pajamas."

For the first time, Mulder thought of Will packing--what had he thrown into that backpack? How had he decided what to bring? He sized Will up. "How tall are you?"

"Five feet," Will said, which Mulder guessed was a rounding-up type answer.

"Hold on, I'll get you something," Mulder said, and went into his room. Scully had packed a few pairs of sweatpants, and thankfully wasn't prone to girly colors; he found a pair of black ones and carried them out. "We'll buy you more clothes and things tomorrow when we're out," he said, and handed them over.

"Thanks," Will said, and smiled up at him, a little awkwardly. Mulder contemplated hugging him for a moment, but then Will said, "Well, good night," and turned and went into the bedroom. Missed opportunity, but there was time to figure it out, he supposed.

He lay down on the couch himself--yes, bad habit, but at least he was too old to be expected to break them. Besides, he was waiting up for Scully, he told himself, as he picked up the book Will had creased and began to read.

He woke from his doze to the feeling of someone climbing all over him. He was a breath from saying "What do you want, Sadie?" before he realized that, first, Sadie was in a different state, and second, this person weighed a little too much to be Sadie. Scully rested her head on his chest. "Hi," he said. "What time is it?"

"One thirty," she said, and kicked off her shoes.

"Hmm. How was it?"

She sighed, put one hand on his shoulder. "It's all a mess, Mulder, you wouldn't believe. I mean, Isabel's brilliant, and Matt's been doing amazing work, but it's like no one with any organizational sense has ever been up there." He made an affirmative noise. "It's bad enough that I'm thinking about getting Wendy out here, honestly. We just need more hands."

"Sounds good."

She paused and stroked her hand down his side. "Is Will OK?"

"Yeah. He stole your clothes, though."

She tipped her head up. "Are you OK?"

He kept his eyes shut. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Yeah, fine." She pushed off him and stood up. "I'm going to sleep in the bed. God, I can't believe I'm this stiff."

"Sadly, I'm pretty sure we're old," he said, and groaned as he rolled himself off the couch.

***

December 11, 2012
9:45 AM Mountain Time
Montana Route 93, Northbound

Mulder hated pickup trucks. He'd driven one for a few months when he was in hiding; it had been good cover, and convenient, but they were uncomfortable as all hell, and just seemed uncivilized. He realized this made him an unforgivable snob. He was OK with this.

Will, on the other hand, looked perfectly comfortable in the cab. How far had his life in Wyoming been from what it would have been in Virginia, with them? Don't think that way, he lectured himself. Life with you would have been life on the road and in danger. He was safe. He's happy. But it didn't stop him from driving faster than he really should, and wondering what Will was thinking every time they passed a ranch.

They had been driving an hour and a half, and were nearly to Polson, a resort town north of Stark. There was a large and elaborate rotation schedule for who went where on supply runs; no one had been to Polson in a while, since it was so much further than Missoula and there was too much to do at the shelter, but since Mulder didn't have a real schedule yet they wanted to take advantage of it. At least they were doing something useful, he thought, reflecting on the giant shopping list he had in his phone. They were maybe half an hour out, and neither he nor Will had spoken since they'd gotten on the road.

Time to break the silence, he supposed. Mulder cleared his throat, to give Will some warning. "We need a cover story."

"A what?"

"I mean, I don't think anyone is going to be watching us. But just in case, we need to have a story about who we are and what we're doing."

"Oh." Will looked out the window. "So what's the story?"

Mulder tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. "My first thought was father-son camping trip, but the shopping list has too many electrical things for that to be plausible. So I'm thinking, new cabin, having to set it up for vacation, staying through the holidays."

Will thought for a minute. "What about your accent?"

"What do you mean?"

Will gave him a look as if the answer were obvious. "You don't sound like you're from around here. I do."

He chuckled. "That's a good question." He thought. "I'm a professor in Bozeman. Married a local girl. Never lost the back-east accent. How's that?"

"Works." Will grinned. At least he liked playing spy. The truck grumbled on while Mulder tried to think of other things to say.

Will's voice was sudden and quiet when it came. "You said you drove all night."

Mulder startled. So this was where they were going. Well, he'd used the locked-in-a-car effect on Scully for years, he might as well be prepared to have it used on him. "Yeah, we did. From Baltimore."

"Is that--is that where you live?" He was studiously staring out the window, avoiding eye contact.

"That's where your grandmother lives. Scully's mom. We left Sadie with her." He flickered his eyes over Will, but then made himself turn back to the road. "We live in Virginia. Scully works in Richmond, but we live out west of the city. In the middle of nowhere."

"Oh." Another long pause. "What do you do?"

Mulder consciously relaxed his hand on the wheel. "Scully's a doctor, a neurologist these days, though she was a pathologist when we met. I consult for the FBI a little, but mostly I stay home with Sadie." Will seemed prone to long pauses; was it nervousness, or a generalized shyness, or something else? Mulder wondered which of the obvious questions he'd go for.

"What did you do at the FBI?"

This was a story. "I started out as a profiler for a while; that's what I do now, sometimes. But your mother and I--" He caught Will's little tense at that but plowed on forward. "We worked together in our own division. We worked the weird cases. Anything people couldn't figure out, they sent to us."

"Like that show Fringe? Really?"

He smiled. "Less Leonard Nimoy, and your mom's hotter than Anna Torv, but basically yeah."

Will smiled to himself, fleetingly; Mulder caught it in the reflection in the side view mirror. He spent the next ten miles trying to work up the courage to do something fatherly, like ruffle his hair, but then the turnoff for the Walmart was here.

They parked, and Mulder checked the clip on his gun and reholstered it. "Like I said, I'm not expecting trouble. But be paranoid, when in doubt. Stick by me, and if anyone bothers you, or you get a bad vibe, let me know. You ready?"

"Yeah."

Mulder reached for the door handle.

"Wait," Will said. He gestured at Mulder's hand. "You married a local girl. But you don't have a ring."

"Good catch." Mulder dug through his pocket, and pulled out his keychain. On one of the rings was a plain gold band. He twisted it off and put it on.

"You don't normally wear it?"

Mulder grinned. "I'm not married."

Will looked a little shocked. "You aren't?"

"It's a very long story. I'll tell you it sometime. Come on, the car's freezing."

The Walmart was a little surreal. The list was short, but then Will needed more clothes, and he thought they should probably get some stuff to keep them occupied in the compound besides two boxes of books and whatever Will had packed, and suddenly, as if in a fugue state, he found himself at the cash register, hoping that Sam Anderson's card didn't have a limit, because he was pretty sure the flat screen TV would have maxed it out if the Wii 2.0 with extra gameplay functionality hadn't. Will grinned at the cart like it was suddenly Christmas, which, well, it almost was, and he hadn't bought him any Christmas presents in a decade, so to hell with it.

At Radio Shack, he bought all the little fiddly bits on his list ("lots to fix at the cabin," he said to the clerk) and was waiting at the counter when Will appeared with a radio controlled car and a hopeful look in his eye. Mulder sighed in as put-upon a manner as he could manage, and said, "Go get another one for your sister." Will grinned, dropped it in the counter, and brought back what appeared to be a pink camouflage 4x4. Mulder shook his head. And handed over the card.

Will had opinions at the hardware store, which was pleasant, since his few experiences taking Sadie to Home Depot had resulted in carnage and a lot of disgruntled employees. And going through a grocery store with someone old enough to have impulse control was a totally foreign experience, though Mulder was pretty sure the three pound bag of peanut butter M&Ms in the cart was Will's doing. On the drive back to the compound, they put the bag between them, and a tube of Pringles, and munched in companionable silence.

***

3:37 PM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana

Back at the shelter, they had unpacked, set up the technology, and then Mulder had left William to his own devices, which he was fairly certain was going to include figuring out how to work the Wii. He'd put a few lasagnas in the oven, including, against his own better instincts, a vegetarian one, the need for which he had derived from the six boxes of something called "buffalo nuggets" and three different brands of soy bacon on the list. Honestly, it was a crime against humanity, but he bought them, because he was a good little soldier these days, apparently. Having then found himself with nothing to do, he'd ended up at the gym. He'd been surprised that the gym was on the lab level, but Matt had explained, sheepishly, that it was because the gym was functional; the treadmill, the bikes, the elliptical, even the weight machines were all converted to charge batteries, generally commercial-grade standard batteries to run small electronics in case of a broader power failure. They tried to discourage folks from going for jogs on the surface, to avoid being too visible, and they needed the stored power; this way they killed two birds with one stone. He pushed himself into his third mile. It wasn't so bad, running inside, but he'd go crazy if he had to do it for the next two weeks.

His phone kept chirping, with little announcements--Doggett checking the security rotations, Monica coordinating with the translation and international relations staff, the science geeks passing results back and forth. At least half of those calls seemed to be directed to DKS-4671, or originate from her; he loved hearing her voice over the little speaker, calling meetings, asking for copies of progress reports, redirecting people. There was something terminally warped in him that loved her as the queen of a fleet of mad scientists.

He rinsed his face in the gym sink and stared in the mirror. Will really didn't look like him much; Scully was maybe right about the cheekbones, but that was it. The phone chirped again: "DKS-4671 to IRY-8345. I'm going to be in the med lab, and I need a little time to work through these reports. Can we hold off for a while?"

Isabel's response was quick. "That's fine, Dr. Scully. How about at four-thirty?"

"Sounds good." There was just the slightest tension in her voice. Now would probably be a really great time to go bother her.

The labs started just down the hall from the gym. They were little sealed rooms, but the doors had been taken off of most of them, so people could yell across the hall to each other. Which they seemed to do. There was music blaring form about half of them. A dark-skinned woman walked out of one of the open doors and right into him. "Sorry," she said, not glancing up from her phone, where she was poking a file.

"No problem," he said. "Where's the med lab?"

"1F," she said, gesturing down the hall and wandering away.

He could see why Scully had picked it; it still had a door, and the lab next door was quiet. He opened the door and poked his head in. "FWM-8201 to DKS-4671," he said.

She was leaning over the workbench, eating a granola bar, with her face in profile to the door. She didn't even glance up. "How was your supply run?"

"Four hours of driving through nowhere, punctuated by a trip to Walmart. It was fascinating. I picked up some stuff. Oh, and more frappacinos." Better to foreground the thing she'd be interested in. He shut the door behind him and went to stand behind her. She was flipping through a stack of paper reports. Designs for the aerosol distributors of virus-neutralizer; analysis of different levels of sound waves that have the ability to disrupt the viral distribution patterns; test results for various chemical compounds against the cloned alien tissue samples they had; schematics for switching signalers for keeping the frequencies of the entire network clear.

She ran her hand over her neck. "It's frustrating. Everything's at eighty to maybe ninety percent of done, and they're just...fiddling. It's like no one here's ever done applied research. I don't care if you've got the most elegant possible solution to the problem, if it's not ready by December 19th, we're all dead, so just finish the goddamned structural components."

He leaned back against the workbench and watched her tired face. The lines by her mouth were set, but her eyes were soft despite their focus. "Did you get lunch?"

"No, and I'm starting to doubt I'm going to get dinner either."

"We'll bring you something."

She sighed and kept turning pages. "What did you make?"

"Lasagna."

"They'll be glad to have you."

"At least I'm good for something."

She looked up at him then, and reached out a hand to rest on his chest for a moment. He covered it with his, and she smiled. "Did John find you?" she said, turning back to her pile, turning pages one-handed.

"Not yet."

She pulled out a file folder from beneath the stack of reports. "They're keeping this classified to just the four of us--they aren't even sending it to Skinner. It's what that girl brought out of the Consortium compound on the memory sticks. I haven't read it yet, but it needs to be gone through. You up to it?"

He took the folder. "You got chairs in here?"

Twenty minutes later, he closed the file and sighed. He had found a folding chair, and was sitting with his feet propped on some sort of large centrifuge-looking thing. "They've gotten really stupid lately."

"Really?" She looked over at him from her position at the workbench.

He dropped the file to the floor. "There are sixty pages of technical specs that I can't follow, but I don't think they look like anything we haven't figured out from testing of the samples we got. Probably you'll be able to narrow your focus a little better, but that's it. There's no big battle plan with an X marking the spot of alien invasion, so that's a loss. They're on to us in Andorra and Canberra, but nowhere else, which is insane, because our security is so lax in Africa that it's like we're holding a neon sign saying Alien Counterinsurgency At Work."

Scully snorted. "Europe and Australia. Why would we protect the developing world? I think they're the type who think it's expendable."

"Well, joke's on them, I guess. Andorra is highly compromised; nobody's inside yet, but they've tapped internal communications. We should have a staff meeting about how to handle that. They've got a series of shelters set up, but they're only going to have about two hundred and fifty people in them. And there's a snippet of something high level that seems to imply that only one of the shelters is actually going to survive, that the rest are cannon fodder, though I can't be sure about that."

"Close enough." Scully took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "They were smarter than this back before El Rico, right?"

"Definitely. Remind me to send the faceless guys a card for New Year's."

His phone crackled, but then there was a slight pause as the line remained open. "Um. WVK-7520 to...."

He and Scully reached for their phones simultaneously; she got to hers first. "Go ahead, Will."

"Um. Sorry, I know you're working."

"That's fine. Are you OK?"

"Yeah, I'm just. Um. Lost."

"Lost? Are you still in the compound?"

"Yeah." Will paused again. "There's a tank?"

Mulder snorted and pulled up the person-locator program on his phone. He put in Will's number, and a little blinking dot appeared in the middle of a set of squares, labelled STORAGE B, R7. He nodded. Scully said into her phone, "We've got you on the locator. Mulder will come find you. Just stay where you are, OK, Will?"

"OK. Thanks. Sorry."

"No problem."

He brushed his hand over her back as he went to leave. "We'll bring you dinner. And you have to sit down and eat it and be social."

She leaned back into the touch. "Sounds like a plan. Maybe around 5:30? I should be done with Isabel by then."

"Deal." He kissed the side of her head, and caught the faint smile at the corner of her mouth as she opened the folder to find the technical specs. He slipped his phone back into his pocket, and went to find his lost son.

The storage levels had ceilings thirty feet high, no interior walls, and floors marked in a big grid pattern with electrical tape. The phone beeped out little directions to where he was going, but he didn't need them after a few minutes, because there was a dull metallic thump thump thump resonating through the space. He followed it, until he found Will, bouncing a baseball off, yes, a tank, and catching it in a gloved hand. Mulder stood back and watched him for a moment. "Nice form," he said finally, unable to keep still any longer.

Will turned around. "Thanks," he said, and twisted the ball in his glove.

"Do you play?" Mulder asked.

Will nodded. "My coach says I can pitch next year." He threw again, a high arc, and the ball ricocheted off the angled side of the tank towards Mulder. He caught it, the sting of the leather against his palm sharp and sudden. It had been years since he played ball with anyone, longer since he played without a glove. He threw the ball in the air and caught it again, then threw it casually back to Will. Will looked at him for a brief moment, considering, and then pitched it back to him, slow and straight.

Mulder caught it; a little off center, but pretty clearly in the strike zone. "What position did you play before?" He lobbed it back; really, a gimme pitch, but Will had the instinct, put his glove right where the ball would be.

He shrugged. "Shortstop."

The next pitch was harder, and closer to center. Mulder returned it a little faster. "How's your batting?"

Will had a struggling-not-to-brag look on his face. "I was team MVP last year." He threw the ball in the air once, and then back at Mulder.

"Not bad." He threw as fast as he could; his shoulder twinged, and the ball went a little wild, but Will managed to get his glove around it. "I played right field."

Will seemed to consider this for a moment, and returned the ball with a slow, gentle curve. "You gotta have someone in right field."

His laugh was involuntary. "You are exceptionally polite," he said, twisting the ball in his aching palm.

"I'm from Wyoming." Will blinked, as he realized what he had said.


"I'm from Wyoming."



Mulder looked down at the ball. "I suppose you are." When he looked up again, Will was watching him warily, trying to gauge just how badly he had screwed up. And as much as Mulder wanted to somehow assert his paternal authority, he couldn't do that to this kid standing in front of him, this kid who didn't even know him. His next throw started off wildly off center, but Will stepped into it, and it somehow found his glove. They passed the ball back and forth for a few beats. He had to say something. "Did your dad teach you to play?" he finally choked out.

Will stared at the ball. "Yeah."

Of the many minor betrayals of William's adoption, this was the first to be made concrete, and Mulder felt it. Sure, he was the conquering-hero father, but another man had taught his son to play baseball. And was, apparently, good at it, judging from Will's performance. It was just wrong, and he didn't have any words to make it right. He looked up again at Will, who seemed pleased to, at last, be able to throw the ball, rather than standing there waiting for this--he should admit it to himself--this stranger to be ready to catch. His returning pitch this time wasn't even close to well-aimed, and he felt something in his shoulder crackle as he threw. It arced over Will's head, and bounced away behind the tank. "I'll go get it," Will said.

Mulder's palm was burning from the friction of the ball, and his shoulder was making itself heard. He sat down and leaned back against the tank, closed his eyes. He heard Will's return, quiet and slow; he thought they'd just barely gotten past the unsure stage, but here it was again. He patted the floor next to him, without opening his eyes, and felt Will sit. When he opened his eyes, Will was fidgeting with the ball, scraping his fingernails over the stitching, and Mulder remembered what it was like to be a kid trying to fix his parents, and what a failure it was always set up to be.

"None of this is your fault," he said quietly. "You probably know that intellectually, but that doesn't make it any easier to believe it. It's just that I have missed you for eleven years, every day, but in a sort of vague, imagined way, you know what I mean?" Will nodded, never looking away from the ball. "And all of a sudden nothing about this is abstract. It's all very real, and that means it's hurting. But it doesn't mean I'm not incredibly happy that you're here, and safe, and that you've been happy and loved." He cleared his throat. He wished he could ask Will for something, some sense that he, too, had been missing them his whole life, but that wasn't something he could demand. It would make him feel a shitload better, though.

Will was quiet for a good minute, and Mulder suppressed every instinct he had to fill the space with talking, with something. When he spoke, finally, Will's voice was quiet. "I never knew what to think about you. Either of you. I mean--" He paused. "I didn't think about having another father."

Sure, kid, twist the knife, he thought, but didn't say anything.

"There wasn't a father listed on the birth certificate. My original one." He shook his head. "Which I'm guessing now is totally fake."

"Scully needed to cover your tracks. Make sure you couldn't be traced back to either of us, if we wanted you to be safe." Which worked so very well, he thought, thinking of the sheer amount of bullets scattered across the Van de Kamp's front lawn yesterday morning.

"I don't know, you think, no father on the birth certificate, mother giving up a nine-month old; something's wrong, something's really wrong with her, you know? Maybe she died, but it didn't say she died. Maybe she had cancer or something and was going to die and didn't have any family. Maybe she was, like, a drug addict or a criminal or something. Or--" And Will smiled slightly. "Or maybe she's, like in the CIA or something, and has to go undercover in Latin America for the next decade, and didn't want to have her baby raised in the jungle by people with bones in their noses and poison frogs and whatever."

Mulder couldn't help the laugh, which started off short and barky but turned into a real laugh when he saw Will's honest delight in the fact that they were laughing together. "I mean, wrong government agency, and I think the worst we ever saw in our fugitive days was black widow spiders, but that one's not bad."

"I just..." Will shook his head. "I never thought about having another family. Like, a real family, with parents and a sister and..." He threw the ball in the air and caught it. "History."

He took a deep breath and forced the right thing out of his mouth. "You didn't have a choice in whether or not we found you, and if you would rather we hadn't, we can act like that."

Will looked over at him, and arched one perfect little Scully eyebrow. Goddamn, their kid. "I'm in an underground bunker. With a tank."

Mulder knocked his knuckles against the metal. "The tank is kind of awesome." He looked back at Will. His hair was hanging in front of his forehead, and, without thinking, he brushed it away. Will smiled at him, and that was it; Mulder put his arm around him and pulled him in close.

Will pulled away after a moment, but didn't seem to be brushing him off. "Um. Can I ask something?"

"Anything."

"What's happening? I mean, why did commandos come try to kill my parents? My other parents? Or, well, all of you? And why are we in a bunker with a tank?"

Mulder sighed. "OK, but this story is going to sound totally crazy, and you're going to want to go back to your normal parents immediately upon hearing me tell it." Will just nodded. Mulder thought for a moment about the best way to pitch it, and went for direct. "Aliens. Aliens are going to invade early on the 21st, and they have a plan that would basically wipe out the human race. The only humans who know are either working with us, or working with the aliens to try to save themselves. We're not going to let it happen. That's the short version."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously." Mulder waited for some sort of doubt, question, argument, something.

Will looked around him, at the rows and rows of military equipment, as if assessing their odds. He nodded solemnly. "Awesome."

He smiled. Will was eleven. Aliens seemed totally plausible at eleven. Plus, well, he couldn't discount that William had apparently had the spooky mojo back in the day, so this might seem extra plausible to him. He kept his arm around Will, wishing he never had to let him go. But then the boy's stomach growled, loudly. Mulder sighed. "Hey, I promised your mom we'd bring her dinner. You want to go see what's up in the labs?"

Will nodded and stood up. He threw the ball in the air and caught it as it fell back down again. "Let's go."



Click here for Chapter 7
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colebaltblue on February 20th, 2010 12:48 am (UTC)
Ok, this chapter was basically one nerdy orgasm of geeky references. Yes, I'm a geeky nerd who got all of them too. Excellent :-)

Now I'm really hankering for some good action after these last two chapters. When are we going to see the end of the world as we know it?

I like how comfortable Mulder and Scully are with one another but I'm also ready for some good old fashioned romance (or just plain sexy teims, I'm not picky here).

I'm also ready to experience more Sadie - I like her.

And, poor Scully in the lab. I hope everyone/thing will be ready for the apocolypse.

It's almost here!!!
All the letters I can writewendelah1 on September 16th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
She ran her hands over his head, and he wanted to remind her that the propensity for head trauma wasn't hereditary, though Sadie was providing increasing evidence it might be a learned behavior.

Ha ha. Your Mulder always slays me. I love the little moments of humor.

Followed by more emotional devastation.

When he spoke, finally, Will's voice was quiet. "I never knew what to think about you. Either of you. I mean--" He paused. "I didn't think about having another father."

Sure, kid, twist the knife, he thought, but didn't say anything.


Followed by more scifi geekiness.

What amazes me is how well you balance all of these elements. Many people can do one or two, but you can keep all of the balls in the air.