FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder leaned back and stretched the tight muscles in his shoulders, his reading glasses sliding toward the end of his nose as he did so. So far, his extensive research into the customs and habits of Cuban refugees wasn't giving him much help in trying to pinpoint a serial killer who was working Miami.
Deciding to take a break and check his e-mail, he switched over to that program and had just clicked on a message from Assistant Director Walter Skinner when his cell phone beeped. "Mulder," he answered tersely.
"Mulder, it's me," said the female voice on the other end. Mulder smiled as he recognized the tone of Dr. Dana Scully, his wife and former partner.
"Hey, Scully. What's up?" he said, his tone much softer than it had been when he originally picked up.
"Have you checked your e-mail yet this morning?"
"Ooh, this is weird, Scully. I am just in the process right now of checking it. I got a message from Skinner."
"I know, Mulder."
"What, now you're not even *pretending* to doubt that we have a psychic connection?"
Scully laughed and rolled her eyes. "Mulder, I know you got the message, because I got the same message. At the bottom of mine there's a little CC that let's me know it's been sent to you, too."
"Let's see what it says: 'If it's convenient, I'd like to see both of you in my office around 3 p.m. today. If that
time won't work for you, let me know when we can meet.' Wow, did somebody feed Skinner happy pills or something? He's not usually that polite. Most of his e-mails to me are more along the lines of 'I expect you in my office at 3 p.m. Be there.' And why does he want you? He's not even your boss any more."
"Your guess is as good as mine, Mulder."
"I'm thinking X-Files, Scully. Maybe Flukeman has escaped and we need to recapture him."
"Please, Mulder! Anything but Flukeman!"
Mulder chuckled into the phone and said, "I'll e-mail Skinner and tell him we'll be there. See you at three,
When Scully arrived outside Skinner's office a few minutes before their scheduled appointment, she was surprised to find Mulder waiting for her.
"You're actually here before me?" she asked with one eyebrow raised.
Mulder shrugged. "When we worked the X-Files together, most of our encounters with Skinner involved
getting our asses chewed out for policy violations of one sort or another. If that's what going to happen
today, I didn't want you to have to face it alone."
The two of them walked into the outer office, Mulder's hand resting lightly on the small of his wife's back.
She smiled up at him and whispered, "Seems like old times." Mulder smiled back and nodded.
"Go right in, agents," Kimberly said. "Assistant Director Skinner is expecting you."
Mulder and Scully took their places beside each other on the opposite sides of Skinner's desk. Skinner more or less took the place of a father in Mulder's life; their daughter, Melissa, seemed to regard him as a grandfather and showed almost as much affection toward him as she did toward Scully's mother. Still, that didn't mean he would cut them any slack if they'd screwed up.
"Thank you for making time to meet with me so quickly, agents," Skinner began. "A. . .situation has come
to the attention of the bureau that I thought the two of you might be uniquely qualified to deal with. However, whether or not you choose to take the case will be entirely at your own discretion. Because it
involves delicate personal matters, a refusal to become involved will in no way reflect negatively upon your records."
"Sounds intriguing," Mulder said. "What have you got?"
"For the past several years, an outfit called WellSprings in southern Virginia has aroused the interest of a number of different federal agencies. WellSprings bills itself as a "faith-based fertility clinic". They claim to
facilitate conception for couples experiencing fertility problems by a combination of medical treatment and prayer; it's affiliated, loosely, with a number of mainstream pro-life organizations. The operation is controversial in a number of ways. There have been law suits filed against it because they accept only Christian married couples as clients. So far, the courts have ruled in their favor; just as Catholic hospitals don't have to provide abortions, the doctors at WellSprings have been held to be within their rights of religious freedom to only aid in the conception only of children who are going to be raised in two-parent, Christian homes," Skinner said.
"Why would the clients who have been refused care so much?" Scully asked. "There are plenty of clinics
that offer fertility treatments. Were they just trying to make a point?"
"No," Skinner replied decisively. "That's another thing that has aroused our interest. WellSprings has an almost unbelievably high percentage of successful live births for the couples it treats. Their success range is near the 80 percent level. For most fertility clinics, a success rate of 50 percent is considered enviable; 35 to
40 percent is the industry norm. So a lot of couples -- married or not, Christian or not -- would prefer to become patients of WellSprings rather than of other clinics that offer similar services."
"I'm still unclear as to what has happened to make this a matter for the FBI to investigate," Mulder said. "I understand that some of the non-Christian or unmarried couples who have been refused treatment by the clinic may feel their rights have been violated, but isn't that a civil matter, rather than a criminal one?"
"Do you suspect the clinic of perhaps implanting aborted fetuses into the wombs of the women who have sought treatment at the clinic?" Scully inquired.
"That was one line of inquiry we were pursuing," Skinner said. "However, more than two dozen couples who had participated in the program agreed to undergo DNA testing for their babies. In every case, theDNA match was exact; the mothers had given birth to children who were the product of their ovum and their husbands' sperm."
"Okay, now I'm confused," Scully confessed. "Are we investigating them simply because they have anoutstandingly high level of success? That could be explained simply by using a more rigorous pre-screening method than similar clinics do. Maybe they just reject a lot more would-be patients than other places which offer fertility treatments."
"Even the 'faith-based' part of that could come into play there," Mulder said. "It's a well-known psychological fact that patients undergoing almost any kind of medical treatment do better if theyhave a strong support system. Happily married couples who participate in organized church activities would, almost by definition, be more likely to meet that standard than single adults or couples who have no significant ties to a community other than their immediate families or their work environment."
"No, that' s not the problem," Skinner said. "We came across a very strange and disturbing anomaly when trying to track down the various couples who participated in the program. In almost a dozen cases, one of the parents had died within a year of their baby's birth. The clinic has had 115 couples complete the course of fertility treatments in the past four years and nearly 90 have given birth to healthy babies. These were adults ranging in age from their late 20s to mid-40s; other than fertility problems, all of them were in excellent health at the time of their child's conception; indeed, WellSprings specifically screens for pre-existing mental or physical health problems that might take up an inordinate amount of the parents' time during the early years of their children's lives."
"So these couples realize their dream of becoming parents, but the mothers don't live to see their baby'sfirst birthday?" Mulder asked.
Skinner shook his head. "The mothers are fine, Mulder. It's the fathers who die. Why don't you two take these files," he gestured to a pile of folders and computer disks on his desk, "and look them over. Meetme back here at 10 a.m. tomorrow and we'll discuss the situation in more detail."
"My place or yours?" Mulder asked as he and Scully walked into the corridor, the files under his arm.
"Excuse me?" Scully replied with an arched eyebrow.
"You want to go to my office or your office to look over the files?" he inquired. The teasing glint in his
eyes, however, assured her that the sexual innuendo had been intentional.
"Well, considering that your office is just a short elevator ride away, while mine is over at Quantico, I'd say yours, Mulder."
Mulder nodded and they rode up to his office. When he entered he told Mildred, his secretary, "Agent Scully and I are going to be reviewing a case Assistant Director Skinner asked us to look over. When
Guilbeau gets in, tell him my profiling notes on the Miami murders are on his desk."
They walked into the inner office and shut the door. Scully looked around and said, "You know, Mulder,
I still have a problem believing this is *your* office. Where's the clutter? Where's the controlled chaos?
Where are the pencils in the ceiling?"
Mulder chuckled. "The pencils in the ceiling and the controlled -- or uncontrolled, at times -- chaos werethe signs of a lonely man who was desperate for any excuse to avoid going home and preferred to have a reason to stay in the office and shoot the breeze with his beautiful partner. My current work ethic runs more along the lines of: come in, work hard while I'm at the office, but do everything humanly possible to leave the place right at five so I can get home to my beautiful wife and equally beautiful daughter."
"Speaking of Melissa, let's get moving on this stuff, so we're not late to pick her up. Mom specifically asked me to be on time tonight; she has plans for this evening."
"What, she's got a hot date?" Mulder asked. Maggie had been a widow for years and she was an attractivewoman for her age, but this was certainly the first time her son-in-law had heard anything about a possible romance.
"Hardly," Scully said with a laugh. "It's something up at the church. A covered dish supper and then a nunwho worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta is giving a speech."
"Oh," Mulder said with a nod. This sounded more like it. Church and family were the mainstays of Maggie Scully's life. Between taking care of her granddaughter three days a week and the many hours she spentvolunteering up at the church, she was busier than some people with full-time jobs.
Mulder sat down at his desk with Scully beside him and began to sort through the files.
Almost an hour later, Mulder glanced up and said, "Anything jump out at you, Scully?"
"It's weird, Mulder," she said with a sigh. "There are certainly an unusually high number of deaths amongthe men who were patients of the clinic -- much more so than you'd expect in a four-year period among a random sample of men under the age of fifty -- but with one exception they seem to be natural deaths."
"What's the exception and what are the causes of death?"
"The exception is a man who was killed in a car crash. His car was hit head-on by a drunk driver who crossed over the center line. The drunk driver had a history of DWIs and was, in fact, driving with arestricted license that was supposed to only allow him to travel to work and back."
"That seems normal enough," Mulder commented. "Sad, and not exactly death due to natural causes, butnothing particularly mysterious about it. What about the others?"
"That's where it gets wonky, Mulder. They died of almost every conceivable natural cause you could think of: two of cancer, two of heart attacks, one of food poisoning, one of pneumonia, one of meningitis, oneof a stroke, one of liver failure and one of a ruptured appendix. In and of themselves, none of the deaths are remarkable; people, even otherwise healthy people, do develop cancer, do have heart attacks and do catch infectious diseases. But this *number* of men, all of whom have visited the same clinic within a four-year time span?"
"If they'd all had cancer, we might be on to something," Mulder said.
"If they'd all died of heart attacks or all died of pneumonia or, in fact, all died of *anything* that wasthe same, we might be onto something," Scully agreed. "We could be looking at anything from a contaminated water supply to outright biological warfare experimentation, with these men as unwitting test subjects. But there's such a bewildering array of causes of death that I'm at a loss."
"I'm thinking maybe some sort of post-hypnotic suggestions; something almost akin to voodoo. The powerthe mind exerts over the body can be a lot stronger than most people are willing to admit. Maybe all these men died of what they were most afraid of or what they assumed, based on their family history, they would die of."
"And this would tie in to the fertility clinic how?" Scully asked.
"Maybe some mental version of good cop/bad cop; more like, good thoughts/bad thoughts. The men trulybelieve their fertility is restored and so it is. But they also truly believe they're going to die before the baby's first birthday and so they do."
"But why would the fertility clinic want to kill off its patients, Mulder? That's hardly an advertisement for repeat business. This is also an outfit that's brought legal trouble upon itself by its refusal to accept would-be single mothers as clients. Why would they deliberately seek to *create* single-mother households byturning a high percentage of their female patients into young widows?"
"You've got me, Scully," her husband admitted.
"There's another thing," she added. "I'd assumed, based on the fact that they'd died, that in the particular case of these couples it would be the husband whose fertility was was impaired."
"All over the map, Mulder. In three cases, the problem was primarily linked to the husband. In three others, however, it was primarily linked to the wife. In two there were factors involving both spouses, neither ofwhich would have been a huge detriment taken separately, but which combined to make conception difficult; and in two others there was no discernible cause in either spouse, but they simply weren't getting conceiving."
"At least, not until they visited WellSprings," Mulder pointed out. "Anything else odd?"
"Well, among the couples in which the husband died, all the babies were the result of single births. In fact, of allthe successful pregnancies at WellSprings, only two have resulted in multiple births and those were both sets of fraternal twins. There have been no identical twins and no sets of triplets or quadruplets," Scully said.
"Isn't that about par for the course?" Mulder asked, slightly confused. "I wouldn't expect more than two pregnant women out of 90 to give birth to twins. And triplets or higher. . .isn't that more like a one-in-thousand chance?"
"It's perfectly normal for the general population, Mulder," Scully agreed. "But most fertility clinics have a high number of multiple births among their successful pregnancies. The average fertility clinic responsible for 90 conceptions which resulted in live births would probably have produced 10 or 12 sets of twins and at least one set of triplets or quadruplets."
"Maybe they use less invasive or more finely-tuned methods," Mulder suggested.
"I think that's what we're supposed to be finding out," Scully replied.
Tom Colton walked out of the main conference room and through the outer office where Mildred was sitting. "Where's Agent Mulder?" he asked.
"In his office, with Agent Scully," Mildred replied.
Colton had long suspected Mulder and Scully of occasionally indulging in sexual activities while on the bureau's dime. Seeing a chance to oust Mulder out of his position as head of the serial killers task force --or, at the very least, to provide himself with a good story to tell while out drinking with other agents -- he sprung forward and flung open the door to the inner office. He managed to stop himself from yelling "Aha!", trying to maintain a look of composure . . .which was good, because both Mulder and Scully were fully clothed and, other than the fact that their legs might have been in contact underneath the desk, weren't even touching each other.
"Hey, Colton," Scully said, looking up.
"Can we help you, Agent Colton?" Mulder said, his voice almost frosty. Colton had an uneasy feeling that his boss had a pretty good idea of why the door had been opened so quickly and unceremoniously.
"What are you two working on?" Colton asked.
"Something Assistant Director Skinner asked us to give an opinion on," Mulder replied. "Agents Guilbeauand Chan have taken over the Miami murders, so if you have information on that case -- which I believe is what you were supposed to be working on -- consult with them."
"Uh. . .yeah," Colton said, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Mulder and Scully were silent for a long moment after the door closed, but then they looked at each otherand burst out laughing. "Did you get the feeling he expected to catch us inflagrante delicto or something?"
"My thoughts were running along those lines, yeah," Scully admitted. "I'm insulted by his assumptionthat we'd behave in such an unprofessional manner."
"I'm insulted by his assumption that we'd be too stupid to lock the door," Mulder replied. "But let's get going, get over to your Mom's to pick up Melissa, and we can maybe work on this a bit more at home onceshe's asleep."
Melissa did what Mulder had termed the "dance of delight" as soon as he and Scully walked in the door. After first running to her mother to be scooped up and kissed, she ran around her father's legs chanting "Daddy, Daddy!" until he picked her up and tossed her high in the air, then smothered her with kisses.
"I always cringe when he tosses her up like that," Scully confessed to her mother.
"So did I when, Daddy did it with all of you," Maggie agreed. "It's probably a universal human experience; fathers play exuberantly and mothers play gently. By the way, did you and Fox want to come with me to thedinner tonight? I thought you might be interested in hearing Sister Joan speak."
"If you want to go, Dana, I can handle Melissa for a couple of hours by myself," Mulder offered.
"No thanks. It does sound interesting, Mom, but we've got a new case Skinner asked us to look into thatwe may work on for a bit after she goes to bed."
"Well, I hate to rush you out, but I need to get going; I promised I'd be there early to help set things up."
"We're on our way," Mulder said, positioning Melissa on one hip and slinging her diaper bag over his opposite shoulder, then placing his hand on the small of his wife's back to usher her out the door.
"Want to just stop someplace for dinner?" Mulder asked as they pulled out of the driveway. "Seems easierthan having to go home and cook, since we're all here and we'll pass dozens of restaurants between here and our place."
"Sounds good," Scully agreed. She enjoyed cooking on the days she didn't work -- it was a pleasant taskwhich Melissa often "helped" her with, usually by stacking and banging pots on the kitchen floor -- but after a full day at the bureau, she was more than ready to allow someone else to handle their meal.
The next few hours passed happily. After a nice dinner, they returned home to spend the evening doing all those things a married couple with a small child usually did -- checking their mail, playing with the dog, watching a bit of TV -- finally wrapping things up with Melissa's elaborate but unrushed bedtime ritualof bathing, reading and rocking.
Scully decided to straighten up the bathroom a bit, then went into their bedroom to put on a nightgown. She wasn't particularly tired, and assumed Mulder wanted to work on the case for a while, but she wanted to be more comfortable. Despite the fact that she'd changed into a T-shirt and shorts when they'd arrived home she was still more dressed than she liked to be at this time of night. She changed into a flowing turquoisenight gown with matching robe and wandered back downstairs.
Mulder was sitting with the lights off, drinking. Scotch, Scully realized with a sniff. Other than sheddinghis suit, tie and gun, he hadn't changed when they arrived home; he'd simply rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt and unbuttoned the top couple of buttons.
"What's wrong, Fox?" she asked, coming to sit beside him on the couch.
"What makes you think something is wrong?" he asked, sliding his arm around her.
"I've known you for nearly ten years now, Mulder. You drink wine with me at dinner or when we're having a romantic evening in front of the fire. You drink beer when you watch a ball game or go out with the other members of your task force. You drink Scotch, alone, when you're worried or sad or at least. . .perplexed."
"I didn't realize you'd picked up on my profiling skills, Dana."
"Only as they apply to you, Fox."
He was quiet for a moment then said with a sigh, "It's pretty obvious I suppose. This case. All these couples desperate to have children. It brings back some painful memories. For both of us, I'm sure." Hetightened his arm around her and dropped a gentle kiss on her bright hair.
"You're thinking about Emily?" she asked, hesitantly.
"Yeah," he admitted. "What our lives might have been like if we hadn't lost her. Melissa would have a bigsister, we most likely would have gotten married sooner, probably could have spared ourselves at least one near-death experience apiece."
Scully made a small choking sound and began sobbing.
"Dana, I'm sorry," her husband whispered. "I shouldn't have said anything."
"It's not that," she whispered between sobs. "I mean, not simply the fact that we lost her. It's just that. . .I've been so selfish."
"You, Scully? Selfish? I hardly think so. But in what way do you mean?"
"Because I never thought of it that way. That *we* lost Emily. I was so wrapped up in my own pain and confusion that I didn't even consider your feelings. But. . .you loved her too, didn't you?"
"Of course I loved her," he said, looking at his wife, perplexed. "How could I not? She was part of you."
Scully took one last, shuddering sob and relaxed against Mulder. "Fox., when you came out to California. . .everything happened so fast -- finding out she existed, then finding out she was mine, then having her die -- that we never really talked about it much. But I remember, after we'd met with the judge and before we went to the hospital, you saying you had a plan to increase my chances of gaining custody. What was it?"
"I was going to suggest we go ahead and get married then. Standards have relaxed a lot during the past 15 years or so, but a lot of people still feel the same way the staff at WellSprings does; that children are betteroff in a two-parent family. Also, there was the rather delicate matter of finances. Emily was really sick and she barely knew you. You probably would have had to take a leave of absence from the bureau, both to bond with her and to deal with her medical problems. I know how independent you are. It wouldn't have bothered *me* in the least to support you during that time period, regardless of whether or not we were married, but I figured the only way you would have agreed to letting me deal with the financial ramifications would have been if I were your husband."
"God, Fox, I.. . I," she stammered to a stop.
"Shhh!" he whispered stroking her hair and looking deeply into her eyes. "We ended up married and we ended up being the parents of a daughter we both love with all our hearts. The fact that Emily never got to be part of our family life is sad, but we can't dwell in the past."
"I know. I love you."
"I love you, too, Dana. With all my heart. Come on, let's get some sleep. We're going to have a busy and probably emotionally exhausting day tomorrow."
They climbed into bed and curled up next to each other. Neither was much in the mood for sex, but Mulder spooned Scully tightly against him and the warmth of his strong, loving presence soon soothed her to sleep.
The next morning at 10 a.m., Mulder and Scully were once again in Skinner's office.
"There's definitely something odd going on at that clinic," Mulder said. "Scully and I have talked it over and we'll be glad to go down and ask some questions of the staff."
"The bureau was actually thinking of a somewhat different approach to
the problem," Skinner said slowly.
"But whether or not you'd be willing to go along with it is, as I said yesterday, completely your own choice."
"What approach?" Scully asked.
"We have to move carefully; we don't have enough evidence to justify a warrant and we don't want to put them on their guard by being obvious about our suspicions." Skinner said. "The idea was to get a pair of agents who might be willing to pose as patients of the clinic. I happen to be aware that the two of you were under the impression that conception would be difficult for you prior to Agent Scully's pregnancy with Melissa. What I'm not privy to -- because, quite frankly, it isn't any of my business -- is whether or not the two of you want another child, whether you want it at this time, or anything of that nature."
"You want us to go down and pretend to be seeking help for fertility problems?" Mulder inquired.
"Pretend probably wouldn't cut it," Skinner explained. "We need to know what's going on down there and the only way it seems possible to do that is to have you two actually go through the treatment process. But I don't have the authority to order you to conceive -- or at least attempt to conceive -- a child."
"No," Scully said decisively. "Too many of these men are ending up dead. I'm not going to be party to risking Mulder's life that way."
"Putting his life at risk isn't really the part you have a choice about, Scully," Skinner replied gently. "Mulder's an FBI agent; he knew the dangers inherent in the job when he joined the bureau. If we need him to go undercover -- if we feel he's the agent best qualified for a particular assignment -- I've got every right to order him to undertake it. It's only the pregnancy part that's beyond my jurisdiction."
"Fine, then," Scully snapped. "I refuse to accept the assignment on the grounds that I don't want to get pregnant at this time."
"Can we have some time to talk about this?" Mulder asked, rising to his feet. "We'll get back with you in an hour or two."
Skinner nodded and watched the two agents leave his office.
"Mulder, absolutely not," Scully said as she and her husband sat on a park bench a few blocks from the Hoover building. "Don't even think you can talk me into doing this, because you can't."
"It's an intriguing assignment, Scully. . .almost like an X-File. It would give us a chance to work together again, which we always enjoy. And there's always the possibility of the bonus prize - another baby. Despite what you said to Skinner back there, I know damned well we want another baby. You were practically in tears when you got your period last week."
"Fox, suppose I visited my doctor and she offered me a chance to participate in a new fertility treatment that had an 80 percent success rate -- but also caused death within two years for ten percent of the women who conceived. Would you want us to try it?"
"Of course not, Dana!"
"Then don't ask me to put your life at risk this way!"
"If I don't do it, Allen will," Mulder said quietly.
"Allen? You mean Wayne Allen? The agent on your team I went to the academy with?"
"Yeah. He heard about the case somehow. Approached me first thing this morning and asked if he could
have the assignment."
"Why? Anyway, his wife's not even an agent."
"His wife's a former police officer; did undercover work when they lived in Omaha. I think the bureau would probably approve the two of them taking the assignment if we refuse it. As for why. . .the obviousreason, Dana. They want a baby and they don't seem to be having much success conceiving one in the time honored manner."
Scully was quiet for a long moment. This did put a somewhat different spin on things. She knew Mulder wouldn't feel right if he asked one of his team members to risk a danger that he himself had backed away from.
"Fox, you have to understand, I'm not just. . .putting on a front for Skinner. Yes, it would be nice if *we* had another baby. But if we're only going to have three people in our family, I want it to be the three we have right now; me, you and Melissa. I don't want to raise our children without you. In addition to the fact that I love you and don't want to lose you, the sheer logistics of trying to raise two children alone while working, even part-time, would be overwhelming."'
"I know that. But I do think we're the two agents best suited to take this case. As for the danger I'd be placing myself in. . .we don't talk about it a lot, Dana, but there are certain risks I face every day when I go to work. We both know that. You faced them, too, when you were an active field agent working on the X-Files as my partner. You've never asked me to back away from a case before. Don't start now."
"And if I ever did?"
Mulder was quiet for a long moment. Finally he said, "If the strain of my working for the bureau as an investigative agent ever got to much for you and you asked me to quit, then I'd do that. I'd turn in my badge, seek some other line of employment; maybe work as a psychologist providing therapy for crime victims or something of that nature. But as long as I remain an FBI agent, I won't do a half-assed job of it. I'll investigate every case I'm asked to look into, regardless of the danger I'm putting myself into. I can't start picking and choosing cases based on whether or not they're safe; not even for you, Scully."
"Sometimes I forget that when I first began to fall in love with you, it
was because of your integrity," Scully said softly. "Because, no
matter how high the stakes were, you wouldn't back down if you believed you were
right. I can't ask you to do less than that now. I can't ask you to stop being
who you are. . .to stop being the man I fell in love with all those years
Mulder leaned forward and kissed Scully gently on the mouth. "I love you. Don't ever doubt that."
"I love you, too, Mulder," she whispered.
Several days later, Mulder and Scully sat in the office of WellSprings for an initial consultation. They'd both been temporarily relieved of their other duties to concentrate solely on this case.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Mulder -- or do you prefer to be addressed as Dr. Scully?" the doctor said, coming in and sitting down behind his desk.
"Mrs. Mulder is fine," Scully replied. Although she'd never legally changed her name, several of the neighborhood children referred to her as Mrs. Mulder. It didn't bother her; in fact, she actually kind of liked it.
"I'm Dr. Jim Forrester. I've gone over your application and I must say, I'm a bit confused. I understand that after a bout with cancer, you were diagnosed as sterile and believed you would be unable to ever conceive a child. Normally, that's just the sort of case we accept -- one where nothing short of a miracle is likely to lead to pregnancy. But, according to this, you have a 21-month-old daughter. It seems like you got your miracle without any assistance from us. Why are you and your husband here, Mrs. Mulder?"
"Melissa's almost two and I'm nearly forty," Scully said softly. "I want -- desperately want -- another baby." She was overstating her feelings, but only marginally.
"And how about you, Mr. Mulder?" the doctor asked.
"I can't honestly say I'm quite as desperate for another child as Dana is, but I'd certainly be thrilled if we conceived again. I'm not sure I quite understand what it is you do here, though. From your brochures, it seems like a combination of faith healing and marriage counseling, rather than medically-based fertility treatment," he said.
"We combine elements of medicine and faith, Mr. Mulder," Dr. Forrester replied. "We do a basic medical evaluation to make sure there aren't any obvious physical problems that have been overlooked. I'm a licensed obstetrician/gynecologist, certified by the State of Virginia. But our premise is that, often, when a marriage is barren it's the marriage itself -- the relationship between the husband and wife -- that needs healing; not the body of either the man or the woman."
"Our marriage isn't barren," Mulder pointed out.
"Which is why I'm unsure whether or not we can help you," the doctor said.
"You've never treated cases of secondary infertility before?" Scully asked.
"A few times," Dr. Forrester said. "The treatment is expensive and, because it's considered experimental, it's not covered by most medical insurance. Most couples who are already parents don't feel the expense is justified."
"What does it involve?" Scully asked. "Because of my religious beliefs, I'm not comfortable with in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination."
"We don't do in vitro fertilization here," the doctor assured her. "We have utilized artificial insemination for a few of our patients -- strictly limiting it to injecting a husband's sperm into his wife's body; no anonymous sperm bank donations. However, if that's a procedure you feel conflicts with your faith, then we'll make a note of it in your files. Actual medical intervention is something we undertake only rarely and then we limit ourselves primarily to the types of fertility treatments that were widely available before the whole test tube baby revolution; surgery to clear blocked fallopian tubes, for example, or high doses of certain vitamins to increase sperm production.
"Basically, if you decide to seek treatment here and we decide to accept you as patients, you'll spend a weekend here. It will include a medical evaluation and discussion with one of our counselors, but mostly it will involve the two of you working together to heal whatever problems there may be in your marriage. That and immersion in the healing waters."
"Healing waters?" Scully inquired, a note of skepticism in her voice.
"The springs here have long been believed to have therapeutic value," the doctor informed them. "That's why we built our clinic here and it's why an element of faith is necessary for the treatment to succeed. If you'll have your doctor and your pastor fill out these forms and bring them with you when you return, I'll explain more at that time."
The following weekend, Mulder and Scully were once again on their way back to WellSprings.
"What did you tell your mother?" Mulder asked. Since Scully was, essentially, working this Saturday, she'd spent the last several days at home with Melissa. They'd just dropped their daughter off to spend the night with her doting grandmother.
"Well I had to give her the name and number of the place where we'd be, of course, in case something arose with Melissa. But I downplayed both the work-related angle of it, so she wouldn't worry, and the fertility enhancement angle of it, so she wouldn't get her hopes up. I mostly made it sound like a spiritual retreat type of thing. . .which probably got her hopes up in an entirely different direction."
"What do you mean?'
"Mom loves you, Fox. You know that. But it's not exactly classified information that she'd be thrilled if you converted to Catholicism."
"Wouldn't you be, too?"
"Yes, if it was a genuine conversion. I'd love it if you could share my faith. But I'd never want you to pretend to believe something you didn't, simply because you thought it would make me happy."
Once they had arrived and checked in, they met with Dr. Forrester again.
"We received the forms from you pastor and your doctor," he said. "I have a few more questions, which I'm afraid are of a somewhat personal nature. I don't mean to embarrass you, but both faith healing and fertility treatment, by their very nature, involve the most intimate parts of our lives."
"We understand," Scully said.
"Mrs. Mulder, Father McKay says that you're an active member of your local parish and a regular Communicant. He says, however, that while your husband sometimes accompanies you and your daughter to Mass, he's not actually Catholic."
"That's correct," she replied.
"Mr. Mulder, exactly what *are* your religious beliefs?"
"I believe in God," Mulder said slowly, "an intelligent, compassionate being as the architect of the universe. My father was Jewish, my mother Presbyterian; I was exposed to both faiths while growing up, but we were never particularly devout followers of either one. For a long time, during my teens and 20s, I was basically agnostic; during the last ten years are so, I've slowly returned to a belief in God. But I'm not really comfortable with the idea of organized religion. Dana wants --- needs -- to worship in that way and I've always tried to be supportive of her. I've got no problem with our children being raised as Catholics. But if formal religious affiliation for both parents is a prerequisite for the couples you work with, I'm afraid we may be wasting your time."
"I think we can accommodate you, Mr. Mulder," the doctor replied. "Now, Mrs. Mulder, if you conceived would you be quitting your job to stay home with the baby?"
"I'd probably do the same thing I did with Melissa," Scully answered. "Take a six-month maternity leave, then work part-time, at least until both children were in school."
"While that is a personal choice, we prefer that children conceived through our program be in the care of a family member during their formative years," the doctor said.
"Our child would be," Mulder pointed out. "Dana's mother -- Melissa's grandmother -- is the one who watches her on the days we both work. I really think that's for the best, all the way around. Maggie is a widow who raised four children of her own, but who has never worked outside the home. Helping us care for Melissa. . .it gives her a purpose in life."
"That's true enough," Scully agreed. "My mother already talks sometimes about how empty her life was before Melissa was born and how lonely she'll be once she starts school."
The doctor nodded, then said, "Now for the questions most couples find the most difficult. How frequently do you have intercourse? Nearly daily, three or four times a week, twice a week, once a week or what?"
Both Mulder and Scully were quiet for a moment then Mulder answered, "It would average out to three or four times a week, but that's a bit deceptive. I'm usually out-of-town approximately one week of every month on business; so, obviously, we don't have any intercourse that week. And we abstain during Dana's period, simply because it's off-putting to both of us. When we're both home, and she's not having her period, it's more like five or six times a week."
The doctor nodded then said, "Any particular position you favor?"
Scully felt silly. She was a doctor, she ought to be able to discuss this matter without embarrassment, but she just felt uncomfortable in this situation. Mulder, after a glance at her, went ahead and said, "Primarily, with Dana on top. She's quite a bit smaller than I am -- I'm sure you noticed our height difference -- and that's easier and more pleasurable for her. Sometimes we use missionary and sometimes rear entry."
"While you're here, I'd suggest you use the missionary position. For most couples, it's the position most likely to lead to conception," Dr. Forrester said.
"So what, exactly, do we *do* this weekend?" Scully asked, finally finding her voice.
"Basically, you spend the rest of today alone together, in conversation and prayer. Feel free to walk through the grounds or stay in your room or a combination of both. Meals are served in the dining room from noon to 2 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m. Tonight, you'll enter the healing waters and have intercourse there."
"In the water?" Mulder asked.
"Well, within the grotto," the doctor replied. "Some couples find intercourse actually within the water a tad bit difficult."
"Don't you do a medical examination first?" Scully asked. She wasn't exactly enjoying the though of a pelvic exam, but assumed it would be standard procedure for any woman undergoing treatment for infertility.
"Actually, we do the exam post-coital; we've found that most problems can be detected more easily that way. We'll schedule yours for first thing tomorrow morning. Just be sure not to shower or bathe between the time you have intercourse and your exam. One more thing. . .sometimes the miracle you ask for isn't the miracle you get. We've had clients for whom the treatment has been, from a fertility perspective, unsuccessful but who have reported healing in other areas of their lives; reconciliation with parents or siblings from whom they've been estranged for years, or things of that nature. It's a bit of a cliché, but try to remember that God does sometimes work in mysterious ways."
"Healing waters?" Scully said, as soon as the two of them were alone in their room. "*That's* the big secret this fertility clinic is hiding? Sounds more like voodoo to me."
"Attributing healing powers to specific bodies of water is tradition within many faiths, Scully, including your own," Mulder pointed out. "Don't tell me you've never heard of Lourdes?"
"Yes, but well, that's different," she spluttered.
"Don't see why," Mulder replied stretching out on the bed. The position pulled his white cotton shirt snugly across his chest. Scully reached over, almost absently-mindedly, and undid an extra couple of buttons so she could trace her fingers through the curly hair revealed by the open-necked vee.
"You coming onto me, Scully?" he asked, his voice amused.
"Isn't that the whole point of why we're here, Mulder?"
"Yeah, but I think we'd better wait until tonight before taking things too far. I'm over 40, you know. If we get frisky now, there's the embarrassing possibility that I won't be up for a repeat performance less than 12 hours later."
"Can I at least have a kiss?" Scully asked. For some reason, her body had chosen this moment to go into hormonal overdrive. Occasionally, in the day-to-day rush of being agents and parents, she almost overlooked the fact that she was married to an *incredibly* handsome man. But his sexiness was impossible to ignore when all six feet of him was lying next to her.
"Sure," Mulder replied. He drew her down next to him and molded his mouth to hers in a kiss that managed to be both gentle and passionate at the same time. It went on and on, tongues stroking and teeth nibbling, until lack of oxygen, not lack of desire, finally forced him to end it. Scully gasped for breath, opened her eyes to look deeply into his, then sighed blissfully and closed them again.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty, you've got it wrong. The kiss is supposed to wake you up, not knock you out!"
"Fox, have I ever mentioned that you're an *wonderful* kisser?"
"It takes two, sweetheart." He leaned down and dropped a final, quick kiss on her forehead, then said, "Let's work on some of this stuff they told us to fill out."
"A lot of the questions they ask on these forms remind me of the ones from when we did our pre-marital counseling with Father McKay," Scully commented a few minutes later.
"Which, of course, we didn't actually do until after we were married," Mulder pointed out.
"Well, you know what I mean. Before we had the Catholic ceremony. Like what are you going to put for this one: what's one benefit you've gotten out of marriage that you didn't expect? I put financial," she said.
"Hey, that's the same thing I put!
"Mulder, what kind of financial benefits could you possibly get out of our marriage? You're the primary wage earner *and* you're the one who had all the inherited wealth."
"Yeah, but you handle all the bills and stuff. I never have to mess with any money matters and I no longer get those nagging phone calls informing me that some utility or another is about to be cut off due to lack of payment. It never occurred to me when we got married that, in addition to someone to share all my dreams and fulfill all my sexual fantasies I'd also be getting what amounts to my own personal accountant. And it's one of those things I just take for granted; I don't know that I've ever even bothered to thank you for doing it."
"I certainly don't mind," she replied with a shrug.
"What did you put for this one: what's one area of your married life that could stand improvement. I couldn't think of anything."
"Well, it's not a major issue or anything, but I put our social life," she answered.
"Our *social* life? What's wrong with our social life?"
"You mean other than the rather obvious fact that we don't *have* one? We've got great careers and a great relationship with each other and with Melissa but, let's face it, we don't really have. . .friends."
"Of course we have friends. What about the Gunmen? And Skinner?"
"Skinner's our boss. I'm not denying he's a friend, too, but it's primarily a work-based relationship. As for the guys. . .yes, they're our friends, but that's not exactly what I mean. I mean other couples. People we have over to the house or go out to dinner with or stuff like that."
"What about Bill and Tara? Or Jimmy and Yves?"
"I guess those count, sort of," Scully agreed. "But Bill and Tara are relatives and we don't actually see Jimmy and Yves all that often. I guess I was thinking it would be nice if we had a relationship with another couple in the Washington area kind of like. . .well, remember when were on temporary assignment to the Honolulu office right after we were married? Remember John and Marnie Lau? We used to go over to their place or have them over to ours, or meet them at the beach and stuff. But we don't have anyone like that around here."
Mulder nodded. "You mentioned once, years ago -- long before we were married -- that you'd pretty much given up on a 'normal' life in order to dash around the country with me, hunting aliens and mutants. I thought we'd embarked on a normal life by marrying, acquiring a dog, buying a house and becoming parents. But I guess there are still a few lingering after-effects. Given what I do for a living -- even just what I do *now* as a profiler, not getting into what we did for all those years on the X-Files -- it's a little hard for me to relate to guys whose biggest concern in life is whether or not they're going to move up to the next level of mid-management. But I can make more of an effort, if it's important to you."
"It's not really," Scully replied with a shrug. "I've got a terrific job, a wonderful relationship with my own mother, an adorable daughter and an incredibly sexy, sweet, smart husband. It's not like I sit around crying in my coffee over a lack of girlfriends in my life. I just put it because -- unlike, say, our sex life -- it's an area where there is some room for improvement."
"Speaking of our sex life, at least tangentially, I thought this was an interesting question: what physical feature of your spouse do you find attractive but don't mention very often? I put your toes."
"My *toes*?" Scully asked with a laugh.
"You've got cute toes," Mulder replied with a grin. "I don't mention it much, because areas of your anatomy above the ankles tend to distract me. What did you put?"
"I put your stomach."
"My *stomach*?" Now it was Mulder's turn to be surprised.
"It's nice and firm and flat," Scully pointed out. "A lot of men, once they reach their early 40s, have those big guts that hang out over their belt buckles. I'm glad you don't."
"What about this question," Scully said, "when did you know that you and your spouse were destined to spend the rest of your lives together?"
Mulder was quiet or a moment, then he said, "Remember when you underwent the hypnoregression session with my old therapist?"
"Okay, this is something I never told you, but while you were under some of the memories frightened you and you started sort of scrambling your hand around. It took me a second to figure out what you were doing but then I realized you were reaching for me. . .seeking me. I took your hand in my mine and you squeezed it and immediately calmed down. I'd known for over a year at that point that I was in love with you, that I needed you desperately and that my life would be incomplete without you in it. But that was the first time I understood that, on a subconscious level at least, you needed me as much as I needed you. And I knew we'd be together forever. That even if our relationship had to remain platonic for the rest of our lives, I was never going to leave you."
"That's sweet, Mulder."
The rest of the day passed quickly and quietly, with a combination of long walks, leisurely meals and intimate conversation. Finally, around nine that evening, Mulder said, "You about ready to head over to the magic grotto and do the Naked Pretzel? I'll show you my nice, flat stomach if you'll show me your cute little toes."
Scully smiled and said, "In just a minute. There's something else I'd like us to do together, first, if you don't mind."
"Well, I know your beliefs and mine don't correspond exactly, but if we're expecting a miracle I think it probably makes sense to actually *ask* for it. I think we should pray that we're successful, both in conceiving a child and it solving this case."
"Okay," Mulder agreed reluctantly. It wasn't as if he never prayed. He'd prayed fervently during those awful weeks, years ago, when he thought he was about to lose Scully to cancer. And he'd sent up prayers of thanksgiving for months afterwards that she'd been spared. But that had been a private exercise, strictly between him and a God he still wasn't *quite* sure existed. To pray aloud with another person seemed, in some ways, an intimacy deeper than sex.
Scully begin by making the sign of the cross, then grasped Mulder's hands and said quietly, "Dear Lord, if it be Your will, please allow us to conceive a child tonight. We really love Melissa, and thank You for the gift of her life, and would be eternally grateful if she could have a brother or sister. Please help us, too, to find out what is causing the deaths of these men. Amen." Scully also added an almost automatic silent rider, to the effect of Mulder being allowed to share her faith.
After Mulder's deep voice added his "Amen" to hers, they rose.
"I guess we should bring towels, huh?" Scully asked, trying to lighten the mood a little.
Mulder nodded. They grabbed towels and headed out toward the grotto, holding hands.
"I'm a little nervous," Scully said. "I feel like how I imagine a virgin bride feels on her wedding night."
"It reminds me more of the first time we made love after Melissa was born," Mulder replied. "I worry that I'm going to do something wrong."
When they entered the grotto it was almost dark, the lighting provided only by a few candles placed in sconces high along the wall and streaks of moonlight coming in through cracks in the ceiling.
"Oh, the water's warm," Scully said, reach down to swirl her fingers in it. "I'd expected it to be cool."
"Probably a natural hot spring," Mulder replied. "That may even be why it was originally credited with healing powers."
"Well, let's get to it," Scully said, beginning to unbutton her blouse.
"Easy, Dana," Mulder said quietly, his big hands coming to rest over her smaller ones, stilling them momentarily. "I don't want to rush this. Let's take things nice and slow."
"Why not?" he replied, flashing her a smile she could see even in the darkness. "Our sex life is always fantastic, sweetheart, but just lately we've fallen into the habit of sort of rushing through things. We tend to have quickies in the shower or on weekends when Melissa is napping. Now, that can be exciting in its own way -- there's a certain thrill to backing you up against a wall or throwing you down on a bed and simply ravishing you -- but making love for hours on end is not without appeal, either. Tonight, we don't have to worry about being interrupted by a fussy toddler or an important call from the office. We can relax and enjoy each other."
"God, Fox, you're making me wet just with the sound of your voice," Scully moaned softly. "If you don't let me take my panties off soon, they'll be soaked through before you even begin touching me."
"I'm not letting you take them off at all. I'll take them off. When I'm ready."
Shit, Scully thought, she was done for now. She loved it when Mulder got bossy during sex. She called it his "cave man" attitude and, had it not been for the absolute love and complete trust she and her husband had for each other, her response would have frightened her. Even now, a small part of her brain always coolly informed her that, as a well-educated, liberated woman she ought to be turned off when he acted this way. . .but that part of her mind was always outvoted by her body, which was busy responding to his tone of voice by pooling moisture between her legs, raising her temperature and practically swooning.
"First, I'm going to kiss you again," Mulder said huskily. He drew into her closer to him, his hands on her face. It reminded her of the first time their lips had ever met, that tantalizing touch of an almost-kiss all those years ago, in the hallway outside his old apartment. This, time however, she wasn't deprived of the satisfaction of feeling his mouth move slowly and deeply over hers, his tongue teasing and his lips sucking, while she stretched up on tiptoe to investigate his taste with the same vigor he was seeking hers. When he finished with her mouth, he trailed a tiny line of kisses across her cheek and down her neck, then back up to her ear. He nipped lightly at it, causing her to whimper.
"Do you know what you're doing to me?" she asked as he begin to slowly unbutton her blouse, caressing her breasts though the thin lace of her bra.
"Yeah, I'm kind of getting a clue from the way your nipples are peaking," he responded. His tone of smug satisfaction might have been off-putting, were it not for the shaft of moonlight that illuminated his face and showed the reverence in his eyes and the softness of his smile as he gazed at her.
Scully decided to elucidate on the manner anyway. "You make me crazy," she explained. "You make me feel safe and exuberant, wild and protected, all at the same time. Most of all, you make me feel very, very loved."
"Good," he replied. "Want me to take off your bra?"
"Please." He did as she'd asked, tossing it onto a ledge where her shirt was already lying. He proceeded to tease her breasts, first by molding and tweaking them with his hands, then dropping to his knees and drawing first one nipple, then the other, into his mouth and flicking it nimbly with his tongue.
"Can I take off your shirt now? I really, really want to feel you."
"Be my guest," he said, rising to his feet.
Scully began to unbutton his shirt with the same exquisite slowness he'd given hers, stopping to kiss and caress each newly bared inch of warm, slightly hairy skin. Eventually she slid his shirt off his shoulders and tossed it onto the ledge with hers, then knelt and nuzzled his belly. "Mmm, hard and firm," she said.
"That's not the only thing that's hard and firm at the moment," Mulder commented.
"I know," she answered, nuzzling him again, a bit lower. "Want me to take your pants off, too?"
"In a minute," he said. Sitting down on a low ledge, pulled her into his lap. "Let's take off our shoes and socks first."
"So you can look at my toes?"
"Among other reasons."
When they were both barefooted, Mulder moved his hands to the snap of her jeans. He undid it and unzipped them, then slid the denim down her legs. Scully shook her hips a bit to help him, which elicited a growl from her husband. Then he slid her panties off, as well, stopping to plant a few kisses on her bottom as he went down.
He turned her to face him again and stood up. "Okay, now you can can help me with my pants." Scully complied eagerly, pushing his jeans and boxer-briefs down in one swift movement and watching him step out of them. Then Mulder swooped her up in his arms and waded into the water.
"Will I sound impossibly girly if I say something about being impressed by how big and strong you are?" Scully asked.
"You can talk girly around me if you want, Scully. While you can track down criminals with the best of 'em, I've been aware for a long time that you're not *exactly* one of the guys."
"I love you, Mulder."
"I love you, too, Scully."
They floated beside each other in the pool, which was about five feet deep in the center, sloping gently shallower toward the edges. Scully wrapped her arms and legs around Mulder and kissed him deeply. "This is great! We can kiss standing up and I don't have to worry about neck strain."
"We can kiss naked, too; I always enjoy that," Mulder added.
Eventually, they moved to a wide area in the shallow end of the pool. Mulder lay Scully down on her back and knelt between her legs. He leaned down and captured her mouth in another slow, lingering kiss then began to gently enter her.
"Mulder that feels *so* good," Scully said, sighing blissfully. He kept up the pace for quite a while, not in any hurry to bring things to a conclusion. Scully whimpered and moaned beneath him, drawing her fingernails lightly down his back and nipping lightly at his neck.
Just as Mulder could feel Scully began to tighten around him, a small geyser erupted near them, spraying water up into his face. After the first startled moment, he simply gulped the water down and resumed his lovemaking. A minute or two later, Scully climaxed, whimpering out his name while her eyes went wide with wonder.
Mulder lifted her legs higher on his back, so that her ankles were almost up to his shoulders, thrust into her with renewed vigor. The geyser erupted again, but this time he gulped it down without even slackening his pace; he was too close. Finally, he spasmed within her and collapsed on top of her.
"God, Fox! That was intensely erotic."
He chuckled and planted a series of soft kisses along her neck and hairline. "I agree. Now aren't you glad we took this case?"
"Shut up, Mulder," she murmured sleepily.
The next morning, Scully headed over to the clinic for a medical evaluation.
"I can ask a nurse to come in or you can have your husband present for the examination; whichever you're more comfortable with."
"I'd rather have my husband stay."
Mulder thought briefly that it was a weird position to be in: standing by and watching while another man touched his wife's genitals. Scully's obstetrician for her pregnancy with Melissa had been a woman, so even though he'd been present for the birth, this particular aspect of medical care was new to him.
After the examination, the doctor smiled and said, "Things seem to be progressing quite well. Prior to last night, when was the last time the two of you had intercourse?"
"Let's see, last night was Saturday. Um, Thursday evening," Mulder replied.
"Were we supposed to have abstained for longer than that?" Scully asked.
"Normally we suggest a three-day waiting period, but I don't see that any harm was done. Your ejaculate seems more than sufficient in terms of both quantity and sperm mobility, Mr. Mulder."
"Uh, thanks. I mean, er, that's good, right?"
The doctor nodded and said, "The two of you are welcome to head home or to spend another few hours here. Come back in three weeks and we'll see whether or not the treatment was a success. While we do have a remarkable record of success here at WellSprings, not everyone conceives with their first treatment. Some couples have to return for several months before they conceive. And, being as we're only human despite doing what we feel is God's work, we do have some failures."
Mulder and Scully spent the following week continuing to work on the case. Writing the report for Skinner had proved to be somewhat difficult. As agents, they knew that it was important to document their activities as thoroughly as possible. As a married couple, however, there were certain events that had happened at WellSprings that they didn't particularly want to become part of the permanent record of their case. They finally agreed on including a single sentence about their activities in the grotto, referring to it as "marital relations".
They also arranged to interview several of the widows whose husbands had died within a couple of years of receiving treatment at WellSprings. Early one afternoon they talked to a young woman named Susan while her daughter, a few months younger than Melissa, napped upstairs.
"This is a picture of Jim," Susan said, holding out a framed photograph of her husband with their newborn daughter in his arms. He was an attractive man, despite being almost completely bald.
Scully happened to glance around the room and her eyes settled on another picture, this one obviously of Susan and Jim's wedding day. In this one, the groom had a full head of hair.
"Were you married for quite a long time before you sought help for your fertility problems at WellSprings?" Scully inquired.
"Not really. We both knew we wanted children and I was already over 30 when we married, so we never used any kind of birth control. Shortly after our first anniversary, I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss the fact that I wasn't pregnant. My doctor is also a member of the church we attend and she recommended we visit WellSprings. We conceived Darcy on our first visit there."
After a few more questions, Mulder and Scully left.
"Was there a point to being so specific about how long a time elapsed between when they married and when they sought help for their fertility problems?" Mulder asked.
"I was just curious as to how long it took him to go from a full head of hair to nearly bald. That's usually a gradual process, but it apparently took place for him in less than two years."
"Is that significant?"
"I don't know, Mulder. It's an anomaly and that's always worth looking into."
The same pattern played out in virtually every other case they investigated, now that they knew what to look for. Although the men had died from a variety of causes, they had all experienced significant hair loss during the time between conception of their child and their own deaths.
A few days later, they were lying on their bed playing with Melissa. Mulder was gently head-butting the toddler in the tummy, while she squealed and grabbed her father's hair. Melissa giggled and sat up triumphantly, clutching fistfuls of her father's hair.
"Good grief, Melissa. You're a strong little girl," Scully said. "You pulled out a bunch of Daddy's hair. And Daddy, you must be tough to let her yank your hair out without even a murmur of protest."
"It didn't hurt," Mulder said with a shrug.
Scully was seized by a horrible foreboding. She ran her hand through Mulder's hair. Not pulling, just playing with it the way she often did. When she was done there were a dozen or more strands of his hair clinging to her fingertips.
"Fox, I think you're going bald," she said quietly.
"Happens to the best of us, I suppose," he replied. "I can't say that I'm crazy about losing my hair, but I'd rather experience that than a certain *other* problem common to middle-aged men; you know, the one that requires viagra to fix."
"I don't think this is part of the normal aging process. I think it's connected with our visit to WellSprings."
"Shit!" Mulder said, collapsing on the bed.
"You want exhumation orders to run autopsies and tox screens on *all* the men who were clients of WellSprings who have died in the past four years?" Skinner said, staring at Scully.
Scully outlined it for him in step-by-step detail. The discovery that all the men who had died -- seemingly of a variety of causes -- had experience significant hair loss in the year before their death. And the fact that Mulder was now experiencing the same symptoms. "There's *got* to be some sort of biochemical catalyst for these deaths; something that's mimicking the symptoms of a variety of fatal ailments. I need to know what it is. . .before I lose my husband."
Skinner was quiet for a moment, then nodded. "I'll get on the phone to the various county officials where the victims are buried. You get Mulder into a hospital and start running some blood work on him."
Mulder refused to enter a hospital, on the grounds that he didn't feel sick and that he'd spent enough time in hospitals during his years on the X-Files, anyway. He did consent to going to Scully's lab and letting her draw some of his blood, then running a tox screen on it.
"Nothing?" he asked after a few minutes.
"Nothing obvious," she said quietly. "But, Mulder, there are literally hundreds of substances that can prove fatal if taken in high enough doses or when combined with other substances or with a person's individual body chemistry."
"Maybe we could cross-reference it with drugs designed to enhance fertility?" Mulder suggested. "I mean, that is our working hypothesis, right? That there was some sort of substance at WellSprings that was increasing fertility but also resulting in death among at least ten percent of the patients it was successful with?"
Scully nodded and began working again.
Finally, when it was nearly five, Scully said. "Do we head over to Mom's to pick up Melissa or call and say we need to stay here later?"
"Let's go get her," Mulder replied. "We're not going to accomplish much here until we have those bodies to autopsy and that won't be 'til tomorrow at the earliest. And if I am about to. . .get sick. . . .I'd like to spend as much time at home with you and Melissa as possible."
Scully nodded. They were quiet on the drive over to Maggie's house, although they reached out to clasp hands and lock gazes more than once.
When they arrived, and as soon as Melissa had calmed down a bit from greeting her parents, Maggie said, "What's wrong? You two both have these looks of utter despair on your faces. Dana. . .you're not having a recurrence of your cancer, are you?"
"It's not me, Mom. I'm fine. But Fox. . . .we think he ingested some sort of substance on one of our cases that may be slowly poisoning him. The only thing is, we have no idea what it is."
"Sit down and tell me *exactly* what's going on here," Maggie said in a tone of voice that had helped her raise four teenagers during a time when their father spent six months a year at sea.
So Dana explained everything to her mother, starting with when Skinner first asked them to look into the case. When she finished, Maggie said, "I think it's thallium poisoning."
"What?" Dana demanded. She'd expected sympathy from her mother, not a possible solution to the case.
"I've never heard of thallium," Mulder volunteered. "What is it?"
"You two have to promise to take this seriously, even though my source may be a little. . .unorthodox," Maggie said.
"Maggie, you should know me well enough by now to know that I never reject any theory outright, no matter how implausible it may sound to begin with," Mulder pointed out. "And, while Dana might rule out something in the course of a normal case, she'll leave no stone unturned when it comes to saving me."
"You know how I'm a big fan of Agatha Christie mysteries?" Maggie asked.
They both nodded.
"Well, in one of her most famous novels, the death is due to thallium poisoning. It apparently produces a wide variety of symptoms, and the deaths were attributed to a bewildering array of causes, but one symptom was a constant: the victim's hair *always* fell out."
"Is there a cure?" Dana asked.
"If it's caught in the early stages, yes," Maggie replied.
"I think we should head back up to the lab," Scully said. "Mom, can you give me a copy of the book that deals with this?"
"We just got here," Mulder said. "Melissa will cry if we turn right around and leave. She expects us to take her home now."
"Mulder, as much as I love Melissa, saving your life takes precedence over keeping her from crying!"
"Why don't you both stay here for an hour or so," Maggie suggested. "I'll whip up something quick to eat, because you need to have dinner anyway. And, with Beltway traffic the way it is, you'd probably get to the lab at about the same time regardless of whether you left now or an hour from now."
Mulder and Scully glanced at each other, then nodded. "Mom, have I mentioned recently how much I love you?" Dana said.
As soon as dinner was over, Mulder and Scully raced back to the labs. Melissa would just spend the night at her grandmother's house; she kept a spare nightgown and change of clothes there for just such contingencies as this.
Now that they knew what they were looking for, the thallium in Mulder's blood was fairly easy to isolate. Scully was on the phone to Skinner and the local poison control center as soon as had made the diagnosis.
By midnight, she had her husband in a hospital room with an IV antidote dripping into his bloodstream.
Skinner came by with a couple of the other agents from Mulder's task force to coordinate with them. "We've got a subpoena to serve on WellSprings first thing in the morning. We'll get a complete list of their clients, so we can contact all the couples who have undergone fertility treatments there and see if any of the other men are experiencing hair loss or any other possible symptoms of thallium poisoning. I'm still unclear as to whether we're dealing with a crime or simply a public health threat, though."
"I'm not quite sure of that myself, sir," Scully said quietly. "But, absent proof of any intentional wrongdoing or knowledge of the possible toxic side effects of their treatment on the part of the staff of the clinic, I think we have to treat it simply as an accident. I'm sure they'll be a number of civil malpractice suits brought by the widows of the men who died, but I can't see that there's any basis for criminal charges unless we find more information proving the doctors knew about the thallium."
"We're still kind of taking a shot in the dark here," Skinner said. "We can reach the men who may be suffering from thallium poisoning and save their lives if their cases aren't too far advanced. And the resulting bad publicity and malpractice lawsuits should be more than enough to shut down WellSprings. But we still don't know exactly what substance at the clinic was responsible for the poisoning, why it effected only men and not women or why it only effected about ten percent of the men who were patients there."
"I think I know," Mulder said weakly. "It's in the grotto itself. There's a kind of. . .small geyser that shoots up. I think the thallium is probably in that."
"Okay, we'll give that area special attention," Skinner agreed.
A few days later, Mulder and Scully were once again relaxing on their bed with Melissa. He was still a little weak, but was well on the road to making a complete recovery. The investigation had uncovered three more men -- two with new babies and one with a pregnant wife -- who were infected with thallium poisoning. WellSprings had been shut down.
"Mulder, how did you know those geysers in the grotto were linked to a vein of thallium?" Scully asked.
"Lucky guess; it was the only thing during the course of the entire weekend that I ingested but you didn't. Also, given the layout of the grotto and the instructions to have intercourse within it, that shallow space was the most logical place for most couples to choose. Except in rare cases involving some sort of deformity of the woman's womb, the missionary position is always going to be the one most likely to lead to conception, so that would mean that every couple was lying as we were. . .the wife on her back and the husband above her, where he would catch the geyser in his face every time the erupted."
"We still don't know -- may never know -- whether the thallium was responsible for enhancing the fertility of the couples who visited WellSprings or whether there was some other, totally different, reason for the clinic's astoundingly high success rate," Scully said.
"Maybe some things are meant to remain a mystery," Mulder replied.
"Fox, there's something else. . .I didn't want to mention it while you were still in the hospital but, of course, you'll have to know sometime. The treatment didn't work. I'm not pregnant. My period started yesterday."
Mulder was quiet for a long moment, staring deeply into his wife's eyes, tracing his fingertips down her face, tucking as strand of bright hair behind one ear, then leaning down to kiss her, very gently, on the lips. "I'm sorry, Dana," he finally said, softly.
"It's okay. Really. I can't deny that another baby would be a nice bonus but. . .I almost lost you last week, Fox. I meant what I said when we were first discussing whether or not to take this case. I love you. If I have a choice between having you live to a ripe old age with Melissa as our only child or becoming a young widow with two children, it's no contest. When I think of all the long, lonely years I thought I'd never have a chance to become a wife *or* a mother, it seems foolish of me to be upset at this juncture of my life. I've got you and Melissa; it seems almost selfish to ask for more."
"I understand why you thought you might never be a mother; I mean, I was there throughout the whole infertility/cancer ordeal. But what led you to believe you might never get married?"
"We've been through this before, Mulder. For so long, even as our professional partnership flourished and our friendship grew, we were operating at cross purposes when it came to our personal life. Whenever one of us wanted to get romantic, the other one backed away; I'm not blaming you, I was as much -- maybe more -- responsible for that than you were."
"Okay, Dana, maybe the medication I'm on is dulling my thought processes, but I still don't see why you thought marriage was out of the question for you."
Scully picked up a pillow and playfully bopped her husband on the head with it. "Dingbat. If I couldn't have you, I wasn't going to get married at all. It wouldn't have been fair; any other man would have paled in comparison to my smart, sexy, sensitive partner who'd risked his life for me on more than one occasion."
"Dingbat is right, Dana," Mulder said. He pulled her down for another kiss, the bestowed one on Melissa, as well. "Only an idiot would have spent so much time obsessing over aliens, conspiracies and vampires instead of cooperating with his beautiful partner in achieving a normal life."
"Shh, Fox! No more regrets."
"There's something else I want to tell you," Mulder said, reaching out to finger the cross she wore around her neck. "You know how I spent so much time searching for 'the truth'?"
"Sure," Scully agreed with a nod.
"And you remember how the doctor at the clinic told us that the miracle we ask for isn't always the one we receive?'
Scully nodded again, hoping her husband was heading where she thought he was.
"I think I'm ready to stop thinking of God in amorphous terms and think of Him as a human being. One who died for our sins and wants a personal relationship with each of us. You know those inquiry classes up at the church that you're always suggesting we take, just so I can learn more about Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular; when they start a new session, let's go ahead and sign up."
Scully smiled and nodded, then snuggled down between her husband and daughter, sending up a silent prayer of thanksgiving.
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