The bright morning sun was intruding on his last efforts at sleep. He was loathe to open his eyes, but his arms were empty, and he needed to know why. One look, and he easily found her. They had become disentangled in the night, and she was now turned away from him on the other side of the bed. He quickly returned his world to its axis, rolling over and cozying up behind her. She sighed contentedly and snuggled up to him, but slept on.
From this angle, he could see the blue sky peeking through the slats of the blinds, not a cloud to be found. The weather here was beautiful, but he had to admit, he missed the seasons. Fall was on its way, and elsewhere in the country, leaves would be turning soon, adding vibrancy and fire before the long grayness of winter.
But the feeling of eternal summer was somehow fitting. Despite the losses they had both experienced to get to this place, it was the happiest he had ever been. Mornings like this, they could forget about shadowy figures and government conspiracies, and just be a man and woman in love. He nestled her a little tighter into his embrace, desiring never to be without her again.
Yet, for all their joy, there was a tugging at his heart. There were still battles to be fought. As much as they wanted to, they couldn't hide from the world forever. Sooner or later, it would catch up with them, and they would regret the time they had squandered. His one consolation was that, wherever they went from here, they would always be together. He would see to that.
He heard her exhale heavily and felt her stirring awake. Not quite to consciousness yet, just letting the day seep into her reality. He propped up on an elbow and leaned over to place a kiss on her cheek. She hummed and smiled.
"Almost," she sighed, her eyes still closed.
"I've been thinking."
When he said nothing further, she finally blinked alert and turned in his arms. Now that he had her full attention, he felt free to unburden his heart. "I think it's time for us to move on."
She returned a melancholy smile. "I guess we knew this couldn't last forever."
He lifted her hand from his chest and gallantly kissed the back. "*This* will last forever," he promised. "Just not here."
Her eyes focused on their hands for a moment, but when her gaze returned to his, it was full of mischief. "One more for the road, John?"
Only in bed did they dare to use their real names. It was a talisman to him, a reminder of who they really were and the past they would always share. He leaned his weight into her until she fell back and pressed her into the mattress. "Just one, Susanne?" he asked with a smile.
If she had a reply, it went unspoken. Her lips were otherwise engaged.
* * *
The trailer was quiet, filled only by the occasional sounds of clapping or a childish giggle. William sat in the center of the cramped living room, an assembly of colorful blocks set out before him. Opposite him, Gibson sprawled across the floor on his belly.
The boys were engaged in a game that was purely for the amusement of the younger: construction and destruction.
Gibson added a yellow block to his tower of red, green, and blue. William watched carefully for a moment; when the older boy made no further move, the toddler swept his hand across the stack and squealed with glee when it came toppling down. Gibson smiled and started the cycle again. This time, it would be his turn to knock over the pile, but the reaction from his playmate would be the same.
Blue on green, red on blue. But as Gibson reached for another block, he froze. His eyes went wide, yet his focus was internal. William went still and watched. Then their eyes locked.
Someone was coming.
The trailer door flew open, and both looked up at Mulder, hastily wiping his oil-covered hands on a towel. "There's a car coming down the drive. I don't recognize it." He anxiously searched Gibson's expression for some clue how to react.
Finally, the boy's features relaxed. "It's okay. He's a friend."
Uncertainty passed over Mulder's face. Scully had taken the car into town to run some errands, and Frohike and Langly usually rode up on mopeds. But with no further questions, Mulder turned and strode back into the bright daylight.
An old pickup truck rumbled through the gravel and slowed to a stop. First the passenger's door opened, then the driver's, and Mulder broke out into a grin.
"Byers! It's about time you showed up. We were starting to wonder if you'd moved to Mexico and started another newsletter."
Byers returned Mulder's genial handshake and then settled his hand onto Susanne's back.
"I'm afraid not, although I can't say I was lonely without you. You remember Susanne Modeski?"
Mulder smiled and extended his hand. "It's been a while, but I've heard stories. Especially that little incident in Las Vegas--you might want to avoid mentioning that around Scully."
Susanne cocked a shy half-smile as she clutched his hand. "I don't think either of us want to remember that. But it is nice to see you again."
Once his hand was relinquished, Mulder looked down at it with chagrin and wiped it on the towel again. "Sorry about that. I've been trying to fix up this bike." He gestured toward the disassembled ten-speed sprawled across the dirt. "C'mon inside. I'd offer you something to drink, but there won't be much to choose from 'til Scully gets back from the store."
"Are Langly and Frohike around?" Byers asked, his hand remaining on Susanne's back as they followed Mulder toward the trailer.
"They're in town. I'll give them a call. I know they'll be happy to see you." Mulder came to a stop, just shy of the front steps, and turned around. "Did they know you were coming?" he inquired suspiciously.
Byers looked toward Susanne with concern before replying. "Uh, I take it they didn't tell you?"
Mulder's eyes narrowed. "Those two have some 'splainin' to do." The poor attempt at a Ricky Ricardo accent muted the threat in his expression.
Byers fidgeted. "To be fair, I didn't say when we were coming, only that we wanted to make sure where they were before we set out."
"And I thought the only secret being kept around here was the special ingredient in my chili recipe." Mulder smiled at the two uncertain faces staring back. "Don't worry, I won't feed it to you on your first night." He turned and mounted the steps, reaching for the trailer door. "Maybe on your second."
* * *
Warm firelight danced over the happy faces, painting them in rosy tones as the sky shifted from indigo to salted black. There were more than enough burdens to be shouldered among the clan, but tonight, they were just reunited friends and long-lost acquaintances.
"...and then Blondie here pulled out his rosary and started chanting 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'." As he spoke the accusation, Frohike gestured toward Langly with the stick he'd been using to poke the fire.
"Hey, it was the best I could come up with on such short notice," Langly said.
Frohike scoffed. "Didn't 'Hail Mary' ever occur to you?"
"I was supposed to be praying, not playing football. I needed lyrics."
Their squabble was interrupted by Mulder's laugh. "I can't believe you guys traveled incognito in penguin suits. Are there a couple of nuns tied up naked in a train station somewhere?"
Frohike cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter on the log that served as his stool. "No, we, uh, acquired them from a costume shop."
Mulder leaned back and draped his arm over the chair next to him. The shift in position gave him better access to Scully's ear. He said quietly, "You should've tried that one, Scully."
She smirked at him before returning her attention to their son drifting to sleep between them on her shoulder. "You have fantasies about that, don't you--me dressed up as a nun?" But as Mulder opened his mouth to reply, she cut him off. "Never mind, don't answer that."
"I guess it's a good thing I left you two when I did," Byers was saying. "I would never wear a habit as a disguise." He glanced sideways and offered a sheepish grin to Susanne, who squeezed his hand joined with hers.
"You could've been the priest," Mulder joked.
Langly leaned back in his chair and rested his head against his fingers woven together behind him. "Scoff all you want, but we dodged the ninja dudes."
"Do you really think someone was following you?" There was a hint of anxiety in Mulder's voice.
Frohike prodded a log on the campfire, chasing sparks into the sky. "Who's to say? But we weren't going to take any chances."
Mulder looked over at William, now sound asleep in his mother's arms. "And I greatly appreciate that. None of this would be possible if you hadn't been incredibly careful--all of you." His eyes lifted to meet Scully's and settled on her intensely. "You've made a lot of sacrifices to get here."
William made a small noise and shifted in her arms, and she quickly broke the connection with Mulder. "I need to get him changed and put to bed."
Mulder nodded and stretched. "It's late. We have a lot of important things to catch up on, but it can wait until tomorrow."
Scully sat forward and moved the slumbering child to her other shoulder. "We need to discuss sleeping arrangements."
Frohike spoke up, explaining to Byers, "Langly and I found a room at a boarding house in town. We only have the two beds, but we could see if the landlady has any extra space."
Byers looked to Susanne and then answered, "Thank you, but we'll be fine sleeping in the back of the truck. We've got a couple of sleeping bags in there, and a tarp in case the weather turns. It's suited us just fine for the last few nights." He glanced back at her for confirmation, and she smiled in return.
"You can use our bathroom and kitchen," Scully offered. "You're welcome to sleep in the living room if you need to, but we only have the couch, and there isn't much room on the floor. I'll see if we have any extra blankets, at least. It can get pretty cold out here at night." She stood, and several of the others took the cue that it was time to depart.
"Thank you," Byers replied, remaining seated. "I think we might sit out here by the fire for a while, to keep warm." He and Susanne shared a smile, the secret language of lovers wrapped up in a world of their own.
Frohike smirked at them, but his expression soon sobered and he cleared his throat. "We better get the kid home before we bore him to death." His nod toward Gibson drew all eyes to the teenager slumped on the steps of the trailer. His ears were covered with large headphones, and the tilt of his body away from the fire obscured his walkman in the shadows.
From his position behind Scully, Mulder spoke softly into her ear. "Too many voices." Scully looked away from the boy to gaze up at him. He didn't elaborate, but the sympathy in her eyes showed that she understood.
Byers responded to Frohike's comment. "Is Gibson staying with you two?"
"No, he's been living with a friend in town," Frohike answered.
"Eric Hosteen," Mulder added. "Albert's grandson. I can't say enough about what his family has done for us since we've all started showing up on their doorstep. Considering some of the grief they've suffered because of their involvement with me, I expected a little more reticence, but they've been very welcoming."
"I just hope they don't mind that we keep multiplying." Scully's comment was lighthearted, but it evoked a look of concern from Byers.
"Maybe it's best if we looked for somewhere else to settle down," Byers said. "In a nearby town, off the reservation."
Mulder shook his head. "We need to stay close. Albert's still here." He swept a hand to the sky. "He's watching out for us. And his family knows it. I think we could use a few spirits on our side."
The group descended into a thoughtful silence, as though listening for the spirits to announce their presence. But only the hiss and pop of the fire answered.
Scully was the first to break the moment, speaking her goodnight and turning toward the trailer. As she arrived at the steps, Gibson looked up, seeming to notice for the first time that the evening was over. He moved off to join the two Gunmen on their trip back into town.
Langly spared one more glance toward the couple by the fire, but Byers didn't notice, his eyes fixed solely on Susanne. Mulder soon followed his family into the trailer, leaving the flickering firelight to stand chaperone.
* * *
With the three heads crowded around the monitor, it was almost like old times again--only, now, there was just one computer to be shared among the trio. And that was only when they came by the trailer to visit Mulder.
While the Gunmen pored over data on the screen, Scully and Susanne were seated at the table, looking over chemical formulas and medical records.
"I can't believe how much information you managed to accumulate. No one ever suspected?" Scully looked up from her page in anticipation of Susanne's response.
"There's a good deal less than I had hoped. This is all I've been doing for three years. I wanted to take more risks, but if I got caught, all of this work would've been in vain."
Byers stood up from where he had been leaning over the back of Langly's chair. "You were right to wait. We know how things went the last time you tried to go public. You couldn't risk the same thing happening again."
Scully glanced back at the pages in front of her. "But why did you decide to track the use of chloramine? It was introduced as simply an alternative to chlorine. The use has become so prevalent that I have a hard time believing it's all intended as some nefarious government plan."
"I know that the Department of Defense intended a number of tests on the public to be disseminated through various methods by air and water," Susanne answered. "I kept tabs on as many of these as I could. I wasn't involved directly in the chloramine project, but I knew enough to realize there was more to it than simple water purification. It's part of a much larger scheme. So large, in fact, that no individual is allowed to see more than pieces of the whole. Even with the research I've been able to do, I still know very little about the overall scope."
"So you've been keeping records of all the locations where chloramine has been introduced into the water supply?" Scully asked.
"Along with analyses of the water samples, when I can get them, and data on birth rates and health trends among the local population--especially reproductive health."
Scully went rigid at her statement. "Why reproductive health?"
Susanne and Byers shared a look. He approached the table and took a seat with them before answering gently, "I told Susanne about the ship, the secret lab, the ova, everything that Shannon McMahon told you about the Super Soldiers and the water--"
Scully interrupted. "That woman was one of Them. We can't trust a word she said." She stood abruptly and crossed to where William was playing on the floor. He looked up as she approached, and she gathered him into her arms before taking a seat on the couch.
Mulder had been watching the whole scene quietly, standing at a distance behind the Gunmen but near enough to see the screen. He now joined Scully on the couch and drew her close under his arm. "Byers, there's something you don't know, something that happened to William after you three disappeared."
The room was hushed, waiting for Mulder to elaborate. After a moment, Scully responded to his silent prompting and softly, yet clinically, told of her encounter with Jeffrey Spender, and the injection he had given William.
After she had gone quiet, Byers prompted, "Do you think it's related somehow to the chloramine?"
The question was directed toward the couple on the couch, but Susanne was the one who answered. "I think it is. They're all pieces of the puzzle. I'm just not sure yet how the pieces fit together."
"Ms. McMahon said that the chloramine initiates a genetic mutation during fetal development," Byers added.
"I can't verify that, but the data seems to support the opposite result." Susanne grabbed a piece of paper from the table and gestured with it. "In all the areas where the water has tested positive for a particular strain of altered chloramine, there is a commensurate rise in infertility rates and reproductive intervention."
Frohike had turned away from the computer to follow the conversation. "The ova in that secret lab?"
Susanne nodded. "It's another necessary component in the project. If the chloramine alone can't produce the mutated offspring, that combined with the manipulated ova--"
"They're not mutants." The room went silent at Scully's harsh words. "They're innocent children."
"I didn't mean to imply..." Susanne offered apologetically, but Mulder held up a hand to stall her words.
Mulder spoke gently to Scully, although the words were spoken loud enough for the whole room to hear. "They're Super Soldiers. Or, at least, that's what they're meant to become."
Scully looked up at him with sad, watery eyes. "Not William. He's okay."
Mulder held her gaze for a moment, then nodded and looked back toward the table. "What about the magnetite? Can that somehow reverse the effects of the genetic engineering?"
Susanne sighed. "I don't know how, but it sounds like it's possible. I just wish we knew more." Byers reached across the table to take her hand, and she smiled weakly at him.
Mulder replied, "Well, then maybe that's where we need to focus our attention. Learn more about the magnetite and if it can help us gain an advantage."
Scully spoke up, although her attention was still concentrated on her son. "Susanne was right to trace the chloramine. We need to put a stop to this if we can. No child deserves to be born as part of an agenda."
"That's a big project," Mulder responded.
Her eyes shot up to meet his. "But an important one."
He nodded, then turned toward the rest of the room. "Well, gang, it sounds like we have our work cut out for us."
* * *
"You coming, Byers?"
Mulder paused in front of the couple, twirling the Frisbee in his hands. Frohike and Langly had already passed them by, headed for the clearing designated as their field of play. Only Mulder had stopped to ask casually if Byers was interested in joining their game.
John's response was to look immediately toward Susanne. She knew without words that he was asking her permission. Apparently it was obvious to Langly too, because she caught his eye roll, although John couldn't see it from where he sat.
Trying to remain unobtrusive in front of their audience, Susanne simply squeezed his hand and released it as her reply. John smiled warmly at her, then practically bounded from his chair to go join his buddies. She knew how important it was to him to feel included.
Susanne's hand felt bereft, resting alone on the arm of the chair, and she quickly withdrew it to entwine with the other hand in her lap. Her eyes wandered over the empty seats and the scene of their meal. Mulder had been true to his offer of regaling them with his chili, and the evidence of it lay in empty Styrofoam bowls scattered around their makeshift campsite. The meal had been cooked in the trailer, but with so little space inside, the random assembly of chairs out front had become their dining and living room.
Away from the fire pit, Gibson sat stretched out on a blanket watching William play with a plastic truck. Scully knelt by her son, straightening his ball cap. The shadows had lengthened and the heat of the day was dissipating, but the attentive mother was still sure to protect the boy's fair skin from the sun.
Scully stood then and approached the circle of chairs, beginning to pick up the bowls and utensils left behind from dinner. Susanne looked down at the chili she had hardly touched, which sent her stomach roiling again. She pushed aside the half-full bowl and stood to approach the other woman.
At the sound of her name, she turned abruptly. "Just 'Dana' is fine. Besides, I'm not an agent anymore."
Susanne recognized that rueful smile. Too often she had worn a similar one herself.
"Dana, I want to apologize for my comments this morning. I didn't mean to imply--"
"Don't worry about it. I understood what you meant. I just overreacted, I guess. Mothers tend to be rather sensitive where their children are concerned."
Susanne realized she had unconsciously moved her hand to her belly and drew it back. "I was wondering if you have anything to treat nausea."
"I take it Mulder's chili didn't sit too well with you? By the way, don't worry about his 'secret ingredient': it's Hormel."
Susanne returned her smile. "Actually, my stomach's been a little unsettled since this morning."
"I think I have something in the bathroom cabinet. Let's go take a look." Scully dropped a stack of bowls and plastic spoons into the black garbage bag next to the stairs and headed into the trailer, with Susanne following a step behind. "Have you had any other symptoms? Any diarrhea or vomiting?"
Susanne was taken aback by the clinical question but quickly remembered that Dana was trained as a medical doctor. "No, just the nausea."
"Did you get a piece of meat last night that wasn't fully cooked?"
"The meat was fine. I don't think it was anything I ate."
Scully entered the bathroom and rifled through the cabinet over the sink. "It looks like all we have is Pepto. But I'm not sure how old this is." She scanned the label. "Are you taking any other medications?"
"Is there any chance you could be pregnant?"
At the pause, Scully looked up, her eyebrows raised. "Susanne?"
"I'm almost two weeks late." She found that she had let her hand meander to her abdomen again.
Scully set down the pink bottle and pivoted to face her squarely. "Does John know about this?"
"No, and I'm not sure whether I should tell him. I don't know how he'll react."
"I'd think he'd be overjoyed," Scully said.
"I don't doubt that he wants this for us, someday, but the timing...things are so complicated right now."
Scully smiled slightly. "Children have a way of coming along at the least convenient times." Her smile faded. "I won't argue that having a baby doesn't make things more challenging, but it's also incredibly rewarding. I can't imagine my life without William." Her eyes became more distant, focused on some unseen time and place.
The shift made Susanne uncomfortable. She knew only the most cursory details about the recent events with Mulder and Scully's child. She hastened to steer the conversation down another path. "It only makes it more difficult that we can't get married. I know how much that would mean to John."
"Well, not legally, anyway." Scully's gaze came back into focus, and she turned to Susanne with a pensive look. Behind those eyes, an idea was clearly brewing.
* * *
All attention was fixed on Susanne as she entered the doorway to the hogan, her hands filled not with flowers but a basket of corn mush. Mulder had referred to the ceremony as a non-traditional traditional wedding. Aside from the rings tucked away in his pocket, there was nothing to identify this with typical American matrimony.
But from the bliss pasted on Byers' face, it was clear that he felt nothing was lacking from the ceremony. He sat cross-legged on a blanket opposite the entrance and raptly watched his bride approach to set the basket in front of him.
Once Susanne had moved far enough inside the door to allow a clear view of the next person in the entourage, Mulder's eyes became glued to his own prize: Scully entered close behind carrying an identical basket. Her gaze met his upon her entry and remained there until the basket was deposited at his feet. She moved to sit at his right side, hesitating to watch how Susanne gracefully seated herself next to Byers, smoothing her long skirt and keeping her knees together and her legs bent to one side. Scully imitated her, attempting to be just as graceful, and pointedly ignored Mulder's amused smirk.
The last member of the party to enter was the elder presiding over the ceremony, Albert Hosteen's son Michael. In his hands was a jug of water, a clay jar with twin spouts, which he set on the ground before seating himself to the right of Scully.
The words he chanted were unintelligible to the non-Navajo attendees, but the meaning rang through clearly in his expression and tones. Lifting the jug, he proceeded to pour small amounts of water over the hands of first each groom, then each bride, symbolically cleansing them.
After setting the jug aside, he pulled out a small pouch. Over the baskets, he methodically shed a pinch of corn pollen toward each of the four points of the compass. He gestured toward Byers and Susanne, who followed the instructions they had been given before the ceremony. From each of the four sides just blessed, they took turns using their fingers to scoop a portion of mush from their basket and consume it.
Mulder leaned over to whisper to Scully, "Since we don't have a wedding cake, it only seems fair that we should feed each other. It's my conjugal right to smear food on your face as part of the ritual."
"Mulder," she warned just loud enough for him to hear.
It was then their turn to follow suit, partaking of the corn mush that represented their table and hearth, although Mulder behaved and kept his fingers to himself. Next, both baskets were passed around the circle to the left, to be shared by each of the guests in turn.
Byers handed his basket to Frohike, who took his portion and passed it to Langly. Gibson followed, with William on his lap. As Gibson took the basket, William helped himself, thrusting his fist into the mush, then shoving the whole handful into his mouth. He was totally oblivious to the scene he had just made until a round of laughter broke out at his actions; he froze, fist in mouth, and looked around wide-eyed at his audience.
Scully said to Mulder, "He obviously gets his manners from his father." He gave her a mock glare, but it was too tempered by amusement to hold much force.
The baskets continued the circuit to each of the guests, including a few of the Hosteens and other community members who had helped make the small enclave of renegades feel at home. Although the wooden hogan seemed small from the outside, the inside was spacious, dwarfing the modest gathering.
Once the baskets had returned to the couples, the ceremony continued with a Western flare. Byers and Susanne went first, exchanging the rings they had been wearing since that solemn separation in Las Vegas. Only a few quiet words were spoken between them, softly uttered and intended exclusively for each other.
Rather than the traditional gold and diamonds, the rings Mulder and Scully exchanged were silver and turquoise, crafted by local artisans. As he slipped the ring onto her finger, Mulder said simply, "My touchstone." Scully opened her mouth to respond but no words followed. She instead communicated her vows through the depth of her glistening eyes.
Mulder looked over to Michael Hosteen. "May I now kiss the bride?"
Gentle laughter rippled through the assembly. "Yes, you may," said Michael. Mulder wasted no time complying. Byers was more hesitant but didn't squander the opportunity.
After the ceremony, the small crowd spilled out into the bright afternoon sunlight. Michael had held Byers back to speak with him, so the other three newlyweds waited outside the entrance. Before long, Michael exited, smiling to each of them in departure. When Byers emerged behind him, he looked a little shell-shocked.
"John, what is it?" Susanne asked.
He watched the tall Navajo walk away before answering his wife. "Mr. Hosteen just offered to let us stay in this hogan for as long as we're living here."
Mulder explained, "Traditionally, the hogan where the wedding took place had been built as the couple's new home. I suppose they're just carrying on the custom."
"They've already done so much for us," Susanne said. "I don't know what to say."
"You should probably say you'll take it," said Scully. "You can't live in the back of your truck indefinitely. And you saw the amenities built into that hogan--the appliances are a lot newer than what we have in the trailer."
A touch on Mulder's shoulder brought his attention to an elderly woman standing outside their small circle, and he stepped aside to accommodate her. She made her way directly toward Susanne as the curious wedding party watched on.
The old woman extended her wrinkled hand, holding out a chain of tiny white beads with a turquoise pendant hanging from it. Susanne looked around shyly at her companions, then reached out to take the gift.
The woman motioned for Susanne to put on the necklace. "For babies," she said in a heavy accent.
Susanne blushed but obeyed, pulling the chain over her head. The old woman smiled a satisfied grin, showing her fragmented teeth. Then, as quietly as she had come, she tottered away.
Susanne smoothed a hand over her abdomen. She didn't meet the others' eyes as she said self-consciously, "I'm not showing yet, am I?"
Scully leaned close and said quietly, "It's probably just for fertility. I imagine they give that to all new brides."
No one voiced the obvious, that Scully herself had not received such a token.
Mulder watched the elderly woman cross the street and enter the Hosteen home with Michael. "I think that's Albert's mother. I've heard mention of her, but I've never actually seen her. She's highly venerated by the community." He turned back to the group. "She must be well over 90 years old. I don't imagine she gets out much. A visit from the matriarch is an honor indeed." He tilted his head back and looked toward the heavens. "I wonder if it's a message."
The other three turned to the sky, watching silently in contemplation, while Susanne fingered the pendant suspended from her neck. A cool breeze swept through their circle, ruffling hair and sending a chill down Scully's spine. And then the air went still again.
End Part 5
Notes: For more information on the Navajo traditions mentioned here, including pictures and links, see this page
I tried to portray the Navajo customs as accurately as possible, but my research was based entirely on the internet, not personal experience, so I apologize for any significant details that I may have gotten wrong and defer the blame entirely to my sources. :)
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