Itís a Wonderful File

By Alison

NOTE: Yes, this is my entirely inadequate tribute to that great Christmas film, "It's a Wonderful Life."

"Strange isn't it. Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" (Clarence, from "It's a Wonderful Life")

11 pm, Christmas Eve 2001

"I wish I was dead."

Mulder leaned on the parapet of the river and stared down into the icy waters of the Potomac swirling past below him. Black, cold, deep and dark; just like his mood this Christmas Eve. But even the water had somewhere to go. "I don't have anywhere to go. No job any more, no-one cares if I live or die. I can't even see Scully and Will any more. I wish I'd never been born."

He stared across the river to where the floodlit tip of the Washington Monument was just visible above the trees. Strange to think that until, just a few months ago, this place had been his home. Till just a few weeks after Will's birth, when in a fit of reckless self-sacrifice he had told Scully he had to stay away from her, for her safety and that of her child. With no job to go back to, it had been easy at the time to tell himself he was doing the right thing. To turn himself into a rootless wanderer, crisscrossing the country revisiting the sites of some of his old cases, trying to tell himself he still had a purpose in life. Constantly travelling, but with his thoughts always pulling him back to Washington and Scully.

He had been relying on the Gunmen to keep tabs on her for him, and they had performed heroically, providing him with weekly reports of her welfare and of Will's progress. He had come to rely on the regular emails and phone conversations with them, usually Byers, as the one link to sanity.

Then, with Christmas coming, he had taken the chance of returning to Washington. Even if he couldn't see her in the flesh, to know she was so close by brought some comfort. And he could visit the Gunmen, catch up on what they had been doing. He hadn't realised how much he had missed seeing them.

And when he turned up at the warehouse earlier that evening, at first it had been like old times. Everyone was exactly the same; and it was reassuring to slap Frohike on the back and ask how the video collection was growing, to peer with mock concern at Langly's receding hairline, and pretend astonishment that Byers was wearing a new tie.

And the way they had clustered round him, slapping him on the back, welcoming him with the same old banter and showing him the latest edition of the paper. Eager to give him the latest news of Scully, to print out the latest picture of her with Will.

Over pizza the conversation had widened to what they had all been doing, and it had been good to pour out the experiences of the last few months. In return he had heard about their latest ventures. They had a new partner now; money for new equipment had enabled them to bring in some big stories. Life had been good for the Gunmen.

It took a while for Mulder to realise he was jealous; but the feeling grew on him as they recounted their travels; to Florida and Texas to name but two. He had been itching to tell them about what *he* had been doing; but their lives had been just as eventful. A bubble of resentment began to grow in his mind.

If he had been honest with himself, he had always slightly patronised the Gunmen even while he accepted their help. If he thought about it at all, he had told himself that they used him as much as he used them; but somehow he had always had a slightly superior, condescending attitude. But now it appeared that the Gunmen had been doing very well without his help. And they knew more about Scully now than he did. Envy, like an itch you must eventually scratch, niggled at him. How dare they talk about Scully so possessively, with such familiarity, when he had been out on the road, missing her desperately every day.

He tried several times to get them to realise how difficult it had been for him; how lonely he was without her, without their son. How much he missed her; how much he had given up for her. Maybe it was the long days alone that prevented him from hearing the whine in his own voice.

Perhaps he tried too hard; because eventually it was the usually even-tempered Byers whose patience snapped.

"Give us a break, Mulder. You'd think you were the only man ever who couldn't be with the woman he loved."

Ouch. Mulder remembered too late what lay in Byers' past; how uncomplainingly he had endured the last ten years without the woman he had loved for so long.

Somehow after that there was a barrier of uneasiness between him and the Gunmen; as if the last few months had taken him further away than mere geographical distance. As the time went on towards midnight he made as if to leave, half expecting them to urge him to stay; but they seemed grateful to see him go. And so by stages he found his way down to the river; with one vital detour to a liquor store where he found the comfort he had been looking for all evening.

He hiccuped and brushed away a tear of self-pity. Alone on Christmas Eve . . . alone except for the company of a now half-empty bottle of whiskey. "No-one wants me. Samantha's gone. Mom and Dad are gone. No-one would notice if I lived or died."

He leaned further over the railing. The water rushed by hypnotically. It would be so easy . . . lean out a little further, let gravity take him, let the water take him. It would be over quickly in the icy winter water.

He was jerked out of his reverie by a loud scream and splash below him as a large object hit the water a little to his left. Someone else was in the river! Instinct and training took over and his shoes and jacket hit the ground in an instant. Another second and he made a clean dive into the water.

The water was so cold it burned; but as he surfaced he was already looking around for the other man. The current was already taking them both downstream, but miraculously his reaching hands almost immediately grabbed something heavy thrashing in the water. He took a firm grip and struck out for the bank, turning on his back and kicking.

Several minutes later he crawled out onto a narrow stony beach, dragging the struggling, retching body with him. At least the stupid bastard's still alive . . . he struggled to his hands and knees, coughing and spitting out what seemed like half the contents of the river. Several minutes seemed to pass before he was in a fit condition to worry about his companion, but he heard the person beside him struggle to their feet first.

"Are you okay?"

The voice from above him was a complete surprise. Female: and English. And entirely self possessed and calm, not the voice of someone who had just been dragged out of a freezing river in the middle of the night. Mulder looked up in confusion. The young woman standing over him didn't look the slightest bit wet or bedraggled. In fact she looked perfectly normal, except for the fact that she was dressed in a highly inappropriate skimpy top and miniskirt on a freezing winter night. But she didn't seem to feel the cold in the slightest. She was looking down at him with her arms folded, frowning disapprovingly.

"Are you okay? I was worried about you there for a minute. I was only just in time!"

"What do you mean? I pulled a guy out of the river . . . where is he? Who are you?"

The girl shook her head. "You've got it the wrong way round, Fox. *I* rescued *you*!

"Hold on a minute! Someone jumped in the river, and I jumped after him! Then you turned up. Where's the guy in the river?"

"That was me. I jumped in . . . to save you."

"C'mon now, what do you mean, you saved me? And how do you know my name? "

The English girl sat down beside him on the bank, and jumped up again quickly with a pained expression. "Shit, it's cold out here. Come on, we should get you dry. Let's get back to the car. I'll explain as we go."

Mulder scrambled up and squelched after her as she walked briskly back towards where he had left the car. The cold seemed to have penetrated to his very bones, his brain felt numb and slow. But . . . how DID she know his name? How did she know where his car was? And how was it - if she'd been in the water - her clothes were dry?

She was twenty yards ahead of him by the time she reached the car, and waited impatiently for him, leaning on the hood. ""Come on, we haven't got all night!" He fumbled with numb hands for the keys in his pants pocket. Oh fuck, they must've fallen out in the river. "Sorry" he mumbled apologetically.

"Oh, for goodness sake . . ." and she snapped her fingers in the direction of the car. The doors sprang open. "Get in, before you freeze!"

Mulder slid into the driver's seat as the girl took the passenger seat. He was shivering so hard now he couldn't speak. She frowned and reached across, putting one hand on the top of his head.

Instantly a bolt of glorious warmth shot through Mulder's whole body, tingling, like he'd been dipped in hot water. He gasped in shock, losing his eyes for a second. When he opened them, he felt completely normal, Warm through, dry, relaxed and alert. He gaped at her in astonishment. "How did you do that?"

She waved dismissively. "Oh, it's easy. Do you feel better now?"

"Yes . . . hey, my clothes! My clothes are dry! How . . . how did you do that? Who are you?"

"Um. Well, this is the hard part. Er . . ."

"Come on, what's this all about? You make me jump in the river, then you say you saved me, and then . . ."

"I suppose you could say that I'm your guardian angel."

"Oh shit."

Mulder rested his head on the steering wheel, his eyes shut. Oh god, I'm hallucinating. Too much JB . . . I dreamed I jumped in the river and this freaky girl pulled me out and . . . He opened his eyes.

"Oh shit."

She was still there, looking at him with a worried frown.

"I'm sorry, I thought you just said you were my guardian angel."

"Well, I suppose that's the best way to describe it. On a kind of temporary basis."

"Oh yeah? What happened to the regular guy? Oh, wait a minute. It's Christmas Eve. I forgot, you're all real busy this time of year."

"Well, I suppose you could say you're a special assignment. I . . . I have to show you something."

"Sorry, lady, I'm not interested. You should have done your research better. I'm off the X-files, if you didn't know. Now go away and quit bothering me. Go find Agent Reyes instead."

"Agent Reyes isn't the one who was thinking of killing herself tonight."

"I didn't . . . hey, how did you know . . . "

"You would have, if I hadn't stopped you. You said you wished you were dead. You said everyone would be better off if you'd never been born."

"It's true . . ."

"So that's what I'm here to show you."

"Huh?"

"You're about to get your wish. You've never been born. And I'm going to show you what that would mean for all the people who care about you."

She snapped her fingers again. Mulder gasped in shock as the cold night air hit him. They were standing in the road - exactly where the car had been. "Hey! Where's my car?"

"You don't have a car. You don't exist. You weren't here tonight."

"Buh . . . how'd you do that? My car!"

"I told you, Fox, you don't have a car. You don't exist, remember? Now come on, we've got a lot to do tonight." She fumbled in a pocket and pulled out what looked like a cellphone or a handheld computer, and pressed a couple of buttons. "Let's see . . ah yes. First stop . . . Takoma Park. Come on, take my hand."

Mulder flinched back as she took his hand in a firm and very real grip. "Hold tight now, it wouldn't do for me to drop you!"

Mulder's breath was taken away as the landscape faded to black.

Their surroundings came back with a "pop" and a jolt as if they had dropped a few inches into the familiar back alley just down the road from the Lone Gunmen's lair. Mulder whimpered. "How . . ."

"How did I do that? Never mind, come on."

The girl turned abruptly and marched off towards the Gunmen's HQ. Mulder stood looking after her in astonishment for a second, then rushed to keep up.

"You know, you don't look like any angel I've ever heard about. I know what an angel is supposed to look like. Where are the wings, the long white robe, the long blonde hair?"

She looked momentarily taken aback. Mulder felt smug. Certainly she didn't look much like any angel he had ever seen in a Renaissance painting. Angels weren't supposed to be short and plump and wearing glasses.

She looked embarrassed. "Actually, I haven't got my wings yet. That's why I'm here. I help you out, and I get my wings."

"You mean . . . you're some kind of intern? Couldn't they even send a proper angel?"

"You're hardly in a position to complain, Fox! You're lucky to get anyone to come out on Christmas Eve. Now, stop behaving like an asshole!"

"It's MULDER!

"Okay, MULDER -"

"And for an angel you're awfully bossy."

"How would you know?"

"And angels aren't supposed to swear like that!"

"What, you think we're all supposed to go round saying stuff like 'Lo' and 'Behold' and 'Fear Not'? I talk like I did when I was alive. I haven't been an angel very long you know."

"Oookayokay . . . what's your name, then?"

"Um . . . it's Lucy."

"Lucy! Whoever heard of the Angel Lucy!"

"I didn't choose it, right? Any more than you chose FOX!"

They glared at each other for a minute, standing face to face in the alley.

They were interrupted by the chirrup of a cellphone. Mulder automatically searched his pockets, but the girl shook her head. "Not yours . . you don't have one, remember? It's mine. Yes, hello . . hi Joseph. Yes, yes, everything's okay here. Yeah, he's a real pain in the backside, isn't he? Yeah, talk to ya later. Bye."

Mulder fidgeted and shivered. "Hey, it's cold out here. If we're here to see the guys, let's get indoors." He led off towards the Gunmen's high security door. The girl followed, a serious expression on her face. "It's about to get a lot colder."

Lucy leaned against the wall, watching Mulder. He had been hammering on the door for the last five minutes. "Frohike! Byers! Langly! It's Mulder, let me in!"

"They don't live here, Mulder. They never have."

"What do you mean, of course they do! If I could just get in . . ."

The girl sighed. "Oh, we can get in, if you want to." She pointed at the door and snapped her fingers again. There was a click and the door swung open. Mulder plunged inside. "Guys! Where are you?"

Dead blackness met him, the cold dankness of a place that hadn't been lived in for a very long time. He stumbled in the dark and nearly fell. Abruptly light filled the room, and he turned to see Lucy standing there with her hand raised. The black box had turned into a glowing globe in her palm.

"Look around you, Mulder. No-one lives here."

Mulder forced himself to look around the familar room. Huge, echoing and empty, littered with broken pieces of furniture and packing cases, piles of trash of all descriptions. Broken panels hung from the ceiling, rustles and squeaks from the piles of trash indicated that the warehouse was not entirely uninhabited.

He turned full circle, a terrible suspicion amassing in his chest. "Where have they gone? What have you done with them?"

"They were never here, Mulder. The Lone Gunmen only got together because of you. You were never born, so they never got started."

He crossed the space between them in two swift strides, grabbed her shoulder. "Where are they?"

She looked down and away, uncomfortably. "I can show you, Mulder. But you won't like it."

They rematerialised on a street corner in downtown Alexandria. Mulder looked round uneasily; he knew this area and knew it was best avoided at night. Lucy patted his arm reassuringly.

"It's okay, Mulder, no-one can hurt you while you're with me. And they can't see me at all."

"Just as well."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well . . . the way you're dressed . . ."

"Don't tell me . . . not proper attire for an angel? Okay, how about this." She clicked her fingers again, there was a brief flash and she reappeared in jeans, teeshirt and a leather jacket. "Better now?"

Mulder mumbled. "I just thought you might be cold like that."

"Don't be ridiculous. Come on."

Mulder trailed after her, wondering why it was he always got involved with bossy women.

METRO DINER14th & Arlington

"I know this place. I was here couple of years ago, there was a shoot out."

Lucy nodded. "A drugs bust that went wrong, wasn't it? And don't tell me an angel isn't supposed to know about drugs busts. Some of us spend half our time picking up drugs victims."

Mulder sighed and took a place across the table from her. "What are we waiting for?"

"'Who'. Wait and see."

The waiter came by offering coffee to Mulder, but he didn't seem to see Lucy.

"You should't drink that stuff anyway, it's terribly bad for you."

Mulder grunted and watched her as she played with the black box. "That's another thing. Since when have angels had computers?"

She looked up with a smile. "Cool, isn't it? I't something Alan Turing's been working on. He's a sweet guy, but so shy! He runs like a rabbit every time he sees me coming!"

"Why am I not surprised?"

She was saved from answering by the phone beeping again. "Yes, Joseph. No, we're waiting in a diner. Well, it's a sort of bar. What? no, of course I won't!"

She put the phone away. "My boss . . . poor guy, just can't get him to delegate. You'd think I shouldn't be allowed out on my own!"

"Please, just don't tell me this is your first assignment?"

Lucy's reply was certainly not one expected from an angel.

Ten minutes later Lucy sat up straighter. "There."

Mulder looked behind him. A familiar figure was standing in the doorway, looking round warily.

"Langly!"

A hand came down on Mulder's forearm. "Be quiet!"

"But it's Langly. What's he doing here . . ."

"Shut up!"

Mulder watched in amazement as the tall lanky blonde walked past with no sign of recognition. He approached a table at the back of the room and talked quietly for a minute with a nondescript, casually dressed guy in a heavy gold necklace and dark glasses. Mulder saw a small packet passed across the table to Langly, and Langly passing something back. His heart sank. Round here, that could be only one thing. God, Langly, no!

He started to get up. "Gotta stop him!"

He found himself pushed back with a strength greater than his own. "No. You can't interfere. You don't belong here. All you can do is watch."

Mulder's felt nauseous. He couldn't stop watching. Langly was heading towards the door. Mulder tore away from the girl's grip and ran out the door. He saw Langly disappearing into an alleyway on his left.

"Langly!"

His yell stopped the blonde man in his tracks. Mulder found himself looking face to face at his old friend. Facing a blank, completely unrecognising stare. Langly looked almost the same, but not quite; some how he looked thinner, haggard and much older. His hair was shorter, ragged and dirty. His sweatshirt sleeves were pushed back, and Mulder saw with a sense of inevitability the needle tracks on the inside of his forearms.

"Langly, it's me, Mulder! Don't do this!"

A hostile, cynical face glared back at him aggressively. "Who the fuck are you?"

"It's Mulder! Don't you remember me? Langly, I've known you for more than ten years! Ever since Baltimore -"

Langly's hiss of indrawn breath was his only reaction, and his stare was like that of a snake. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Langly, don't you remember? Baltimore, me and Frohike and Byers -"

Langly backed away. "Oh, fuck . . . I never been to Baltimore, okay? You got the wrong guy. I never seen you before."

Mulder made a grab for him. "Langly, think! The Lone Gunman . ."

Langly looked scared and backed away further. His voice rose to a hoarse shout. "Get off of me! I don't know nothin' about any gunman. Leave me the fuck alone, okay!"

He twisted his arm out of Mulder's grasp and was gone, racing away down the sidewalk as if his life depended on it.

Mulder stared after him, breathless. He turned to find Lucy looking at him compassionately.

"He doesn't remember you, Mulder. He never met you."

"But . . he knew something about Baltimore. And he knew the names of Byers and Frohike."

"Yes . . but it happened differently, Mulder. You weren't there."

Mulder shook his head. "I don't understand. Frohike and Byers . . he remembered them. Where are they? What happened to them?

Lucy had the black box in her hand again. "Melvin Frohike . . .yes, I know where we can find him. Come on, it's not far."

SULLIVAN'S BAR

This time round the surroundings were more familiar, as Mulder recognised the bar that was one of the Gunmen's favorite off-duty haunts. Lilting Irish fiddle music burst from the door as a customer exited. Mulder hurried forward, leaving the girl trailing behind him, and pushed inside, recognising the young Irish barman on duty. "Hey, Dermot! How ya doin?"

The barman looked at him with a pleasant inquiring expression. "Sorry mate, should I know you?"

"Aw, c'mon Dermot, you know me! Fox Mulder, I've been in here loads of times with the Gunmen!"

"Gunmen? Who would they be, then?"

"Jeez, Dermot, don't mess me around! The guys - Byers, Langly and Frohike! You know, the guys I call the Three Stooges! They come in here most Friday nights."

The Irishman shook his head. "Fro-hickey? You got me there. What's he look like, then?"

Mulder bit down his rising impatience. "Short guy, five-four or so, receding grey hair, glasses. Always wears fingerless gloves."

The young man raised his eyebrows. "Hey, sounds like that old guy, what's his name . . ." He turned and called through the kitchen door. "Hey, Billy, what's the name of that old drunk hangs round here trying to blag free drinks?"

Mulder bristled. "He's not that old . . ." he was distracted by Lucy pulling his arm. The barman snickered and gestured in the direction of the door. "Talk of the devil . ."

Mulder swung round. "Frohike?"

But he hardly recognised the wasted figure swaying in the doorway. "My god - Mel?"

The man who had been Melvin Frohike blinked at him with bloodshot watery eyes. He seemed even smaller than Mulder remembered. Diminished, stooped and crushed. His hands shook. He looked without recognition at Mulder in front of him. Mulder grabbed his shoulders in both hands and recoiled at the stink of cheap alcohol and unwashed flesh that hit him in the face. "Mel?"

Frohike squinted at him as if he had trouble focusing. "Who are you . . . nobody knows me by that. Do I know you? Memory's not so good now . ."

"Frohike, you remember me? Fox Mulder!

"Fox . . . Fox . . . buy me a drink, Fox?"

"Sure, yes, Mel! You remember me, don't you?"

They were interrupted by the barman."Okay, that's enough, old guy. Outta here, now."

Mulder protested. "Hey, wait a second, I'm talking to him. Mel, what happened to you? What happened to Langly? And -"

Dermot came round the bar towards them. "He'll say whatever you want him to say if he thinks he'll get a drink out of it. He's trouble. I don't want him in here. C'mon, grandad, on your way."

He took Frohike's shoulder and pushed him, not unkindly, towards the door. Mulder protested. "What do you mean, trouble? What do you know?"

Dermot shrugged. "He's an old lush, been nothing but bad news for years. They say he was involved in some murder case up in Baltimore few years back. He was lucky to stay out of jail. Lost his business after that, went downhill fast. He's been in the gutter for years. Poor old guy." He looked sympathetic. "Just get him out of here, okay?"

"Okay, wait a minute, willya? Mel, talk to me. Do you know who I am?"

Frohike blinked blearily at him with sunken eyes. He looked twenty years older than the man Mulder had known. Drink and despair had etched deep lines in his face and forehead. His skin was blotchy and unshaven. His mouth trembled and a line of spittle ran down from one corner.

"I dunno, man. Can't remember so good now. S'funny, I can forget all sorts of things 'cept the things I want to forget . . ."

"What do you remember, Frohike? Do you remember Langly? I've just seen him. What happened to him?"

Frohike frowned, his head shaking. "Langly . . . hippie jerk . . . screwed up after Baltimore . . . "

"What about Baltimore, Frohike? Do you remember Baltimore? Do you remember meeting me there? Me and Langly and Byers?"

Frohike's head jerked. "Whassat . . . Byers . . . no man, don't know nuthin' 'bout that. I wasn't there, didn't see nuthin . . ."

"You must remember, Mel! I was there, I saw it. We talked, remember? You and me and Langly and Byers?

"Shut up about them! I tell ya I don't know nuthin!"

Frohike pushed Mulder violently away fromhim and he fell backwards. The old man stood over him, his face twitching. Tears were streaming down his face. "Why did you make me remember? I'd almost managed to forget. Why did you remind me!"

"Frohike? What happened? What happened in Baltimore?"

But Frohike was stumbling away from him down the street. "Bastard, why did you make me remember!"

Mulder looked after him, a terrible suspicion crystallising in his mind.

He sprang up and grabbed the girl's arm, pushing her back against the wall. "What happened to Byers? Where is he? Don't tell me he's not here. Show me!"

"All right, Mulder. But we need to go to Baltimore."

It was raining in Baltimore.

Mulder had shut his eyes when they transported. The first thing he was aware of was the sound of rain through the bare trees; the crunch of a gravel path under his feet, and the smell of wet earth.

He stood still, afraid to open his eyes. He knew suddenly what he was going to see.

Lucy tugged at his hand. "Come on Mulder. You have to see this."

"No, please, no."

The gentle tug was insistent, and he opened his eyes, afraid of falling.

They walked hand in hand through the darkened cemetery. Lucy's hand was warm and comforting in his own. She led him to a grave under a tree, in a corner where a few withered wild flowers still grew in patches in the grass. A gravestone with a simple, stark inscription.

John Fitzgerald ByersBorn 11-22-63 Died 05-20-89

Mulder sank to his knees in the wet grass, reaching to run his fingers over the inscription, needing the physical proof of the smooth marble under his fingers. He looked up at Lucy, amazed to see tears on her face.

"What happened?"

"That day in the warehouse when the man you call X came to supervise the clean up operation. He shot him.""But why only Byers? Why didn't he kill them all?"

"It wasn't necessary. Killing Byers was enough to scare the others off. But you saw what it did to them. They were both scared to go back to what they were doing before. Langly went underground, ended up hacking in exchange for money for drugs. And Frohike . . he never got over seeing Byers shot in front of him. He started drinking and never stopped."

"But if I was there . . . how did my being there change everything? I was out of it, drugged. I didn't do anything."

"You did, just by being there. X knew who you were. He knew who your father was. He had to protect you. So that meant no more deaths to connect to you, no more inconvenient bodies to dispose of. So he figured he could just scare the Gunmen off. Wrongly, as it happened. But you being there, that saved Byers' life that day. And changed the lives of all three of them."

"Oh God." He buried his face in his hands. "Byers. I'm so sorry."

Lucy waited quietly beside him, one hand on his trembling shoulder. After a while Mulder looked up, wiping his face with the back of his hand. "What happened to Susanne?"

"Nobody ever saw her again. But look, there are always fresh flowers on his grave."

Mulder reached out a fingertip and touched the simple bunch of white roses. "At least he's not forgotten."

Lucy squeezed his shoulder. "Better than never existing at all. You had a good life, Mulder. A wonderful life."

Mulder stared at the grave, his numbed mind beginning to work again. There was a void in his brain, a gap in his memory he couldn't fill.

"Scully."

"Who?"

"Scully! Agent Dana Scully! Where is she! What happened to her!"

"There's no such person as Agent Dana Scully."

Mulder felt as if she had kicked him in the stomach. "Is . . . is she dead too? Please, no . ."

Lucy stood up. "No, she's not dead. Come on, I'll show you."

It had started snowing back in Washington. Just a light covering so far, making the sidewalks slippery and the roads slick.

This time it was a quiet residential street in Georgetown. Mulder looked around wildly for something he could recognise. "This isn't where Scully lives!"

"Haven't you been listening? She's here. But she's not Dr Scully any more -"

Mulder wasn't listening. He ran down the street to where a homecoming commuter was parking his car. "Sir . . . do you know a Dr Dana Scully? She's supposed to live round here."

The man shook his head. "Dana *Scully*? No. There's a lady doctor, Dr Dana Pendrell though, lives just over there."

For the second time that night Mulder felt like he'd been punched. "Pendrell? Like . . . Danny Pendrell? She married Pendrell?" He felt obscurely betrayed. He swung round. "How? What happened?"

"Think it through, Mulder. You weren't there to reopen the X-files. No Fox Mulder for her to come and work with in 1993. This Dr Dana Scully came from the FBI Academy to Washington in 1993 to work in the forensic department at FBI headquarters. Alongside Agent Daniel Pendrell. She married him in 1995 . . . and was widowed in 1997 when he was killed in a bar-room shooting."

Mulder winced. He didn't think the pain could get any worse. Scully . . . a grieving widow. And not for him. He stared across the street at the small house where only one light shone in the hallway.

What happened then?"

"She left the Bureau, she couldn't bear to go on working there. She works at Georgetown Central Hospital. She's very highly regarded there. It's a very different sort of life - but a good one. She's devoted her life to her work. She may never save the world, but she's made a lot of difference to a great many people's lives."

"And . . . . Will?"

"Was never born. She never had children."

"But I have a picture of Will! The Gunmen gave it to me this evening!" He fumbled in his pants pocket, panicking.

"You haven't got a picture, Mulder. Will doesn't exist."

He had been wrong. The pain went on getting worse. Mulder started to walk. "Where is she now? I gotta talk to her!"

"No, Mulder, don't. She doesn't know you. You'll only hurt her!"

Mulder ignored her, racing across the road and up the path to the door where a Christmas wreath hung, bright with ribbons. He drew a deep breath, trying to hang on to a semblance of calm though his hands were trembling. He reached out and knocked on the door.

Somehow it was a shock to see Maggie Scully looking much as she always had. She looked at Mulder with the same calm gentle expression she had always had for him. "Yes?"

"Uh . . . I need to see . . . Scu- I mean . . . Doctor . . . Doctor Dana Pendrell?"

"I'm sorry, she's not back from the hospital yet. Can you call back a little later?"

"No, wait . . . Maggie, do you remember me? Fox Mulder, from the Bureau?"

A flicker of apprehension crossed the older woman's face. "I know all of Dana's old friends from the Bureau. I don't think I ever heard her mention you."

"But we were partners for eight years! Maggie, you must remember me!"

Maggie Scully retreated, pushing the door closed. Mulder lunged forward desperately. "Maggie, please! Let me see her. If I can just see her . ."

He could hear his own voice rising to a hoarse shriek, and with half his mind he knew he was making a terrible mistake. The door slammed in his face and it was like his only chance was being snatched away. He screamed in desperation and threw himself against the door. "Maggie, let me in! Let me see her!"

"Mulder, come away!" Lucy was pulling at his arm, but she might as well have tried to pull the house over. Mulder swung round and stared at her with eyes that might have been looking out from hell. He pushed past her and ran down the path. "Scully, where are you?"

Out in the street he began to run. He had only the haziest idea where the hospital was from here, but his whole being was fixed on finding Scully. She must be there, he would find her and everything would be allright.

He didn't see the car behind him till it was far too late. He didn't feel it hit him, didn't hear the screech of skidding tyres or Lucy's cry. He didn't feel himself hit the ground.

He lay on his back on the cold ground, aware of the chatter of many voices coming from a distance, and the far off sound of police sirens. He couldn't move, but there was no pain.

Footsteps sounded close by, and a face swam into his field of vision, looking down at him. Red hair framing the familiar luminously beautiful face, and blue eyes looking at him with deep pity but no recognition.

"Lady, do you know who he is?"

"No. I've never seen him in my life before."

Mulder felt himself slipping away. There was something he had to say . . . the most important thing he had every said in his life. But he couldn't make a sound come out, and the numbness in his body seemed to be spreading to his brain. What did he have to say . . . who was she . . . who am I . . oh, the dark . . .

Hearing came back first. Voices at first a long way away, then becoming clearer and more recognisable.

"He's coming round!"

"Hey, let me see. Mulder!"

"Give him some air, guys, stand back a bit!"

Mulder groaned. Not another dream . . . please, make it stop! But the voices didn't stop. There was a light shining in his eyes, and a headache like someone was trying to dig his eyeballs out with a blunt knife.

He tried to focus on the blurry figure in front of him. It slowly resolved itself into . . . "Frohike!" Melvin Frohike, in his battered leather jacket, unshaven as always but real and *normal* in the surroundings of the Gunmen's warehouse.

"Hey, man, you okay?"

"Frohike . . you're the most beautiful sight I've ever seen . ."

"Oh man. He must have taken a whack!" There was no mistaking that grating voice. "Langly!" He grabbed the blond man's arm, needing the reassurance of physical contact. Langly was real too; same *old* Langly in his Ramones teeshirt and black glasses.

"Guys, you're okay!"

The two exchanged glances. "Sure, Mulder, we've been right here all evening since you left."

Mulder pulled himself into a sitting position and stared atFrohike. He sure *looked* like he should. "Mel . . you're really okay? You're not drunk?"

Frohike leaned forward, sniffing. "No, not yet. But I know who is . . man, you really tied one on, didn'tcha?"

"Oh man, you wouldn't believe . . I had this weird dream . . . hey, how did I get here?"

"Dunno, man. The doorbell rang and you were there, sittin' on the ground by the steps. Don'tcha remember?"

Mulder grimaced. "No . . . I was in Georgetown . . . then I was here. Wait . . . did you see a girl?"

The two Gunmen exchanged another weary look. "What, another girl? What did this one look like?"

"Kinda freaky, short, fat . . ."

"Doesn't sound your type, Mulder. Where d'ya meet her?"

"She . . " Mulder broke off, aware of how weird his story would sound. "Guys, you wouldn't believe it. This dream . . . Mel, you were a drunk, and Langly . . ." He looked round, suddenly realising that something was missing. "Where's Byers?" Frohike and Langly looked at each other again, and Mulder felt a chill. "Where is he? He's not dead, is he? God . . please tell me he's not dead!"

Frohike pushed him towards the couch. "Chill out, man. He's just gone to make a phone call. He'll be right here."

Mulder looked round wildly. "I dreamed he was dead."

But the next minute Byers appeared from the back of the warehouse. Mulder leaped unsteadily to his feet and stumbled towards him, wrapping both arms round him and hugging him hard. "Byers, you're alive!"

Byers patted him on the back awkwardly and Mulder held on to him even tighter. Somehow it seemed terribly important not to let Byers go. "God, Byers you don't know . . . I had this dream, I thought you were dead."

Langly coughed loudly and ostentatiously in his ear. "Er . . .Mulder, Byers . . . would you like us to give you two guys some privacy?"

Mulder let go self-consciously. "Sorry . . . it was so real. You guys wouldn't believe what happened."

Frohike pushed him back towards a chair. "You think *we* won't believe you? Remember who you're talking to. C'mon, give."

"Wait, one more thing . . is Scully okay?"

"Sure, Mulder. We told you earlier this evening, she's fine. Will too. Don't you remember, we showed you the photos?"

Photos . . . he pawed frantically at his pocket, almost crying with relief when his fingers found the piece of paper. Scully's face looked serenely up at him, with Will cradled sleepily in her arms. He stared at the two faces for a long moment, before the faces blurred as tears filled his eyes. "I lost them."

"What's that?"

"This dream . . . only it wasn't a dream. It was like I was erased. Taken out of history. Scully didn't know me. Will was never born. Everyone I care about . . ."

He started to tell them, disjointed sentences at first then managing a more coherent story as bits and pieces started to come back. The Gunmen sat in a row on the couch opposite him, rapt as if he was telling them about seeing an UFO land on the White House lawn. When he had finished there was a silence, till Frohike got up. "Hell of an X-file, Mulder."

"I know . . . but it was so real. Scully . ."

He looked up at Byers sitting opposite him. "She's okay, Mulder. Trust me."

"I do . . . Byers, I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"For what I said earlier this evening. I was so focused on *my* problems I forgot all you've done for me and Scully. I forgot that you've gone through exactly the same experience. We neither of us can be with the woman we love. But at least I know Scully is safe, and there's Will. I didn't realise till tonight how lucky I am."

Byers leaned forward. "Then what would you tell her, Mulder, if you could talk to her now?"

"How sorry I am, for *everything*. For the way I've treated her, taken her for granted for the last ten years. For taking so long to realise I loved her. For leaving her when she needed me."

"What else?"

"God . . I'd want to tell her that I'd never leave her like that again. That I'd find *some* way for us to all be together - at least some of the time."

"Then tell her."

The voice came from behind him. The one and only voice in the world.

Mulder whipped round. Scully was standing there like the fulfilment of all his dreams. Standing as she had stood so many times before here in the warehouse with the dim lighting burnishing her hair and making her eyes shine. Only never before had she looked like this, with Will nestled against her shoulder. He could only stand and stare, looking at this woman and her child on this night of all nights.

She turned and deposited Will carefully in the arms of a surprised Langly,who nevertheless took him in a surprisingly competent grasp. Byers gestured to the others towards the kitchen. "C'mon, guys."

He found his voice at last. "You came."

She seemed hesitant too. "Byers called me."

"You heard what I said."

"Every word."

"I meant it."

Another long silence.

"Welcome home, Mulder."

And she walked into his arms like a tired traveller reaching home after a long journey.

Out in the kitchen the Gunmen grinned inanely at each other. Will was dribbling sleepily down Langly's chest. He grimaced. "Why is it I'm supposed to be the baby expert round here?"

"Chill out, Langly, it won't be for long. Something tells me they'll be making tracks outta here pretty soon."

Byers had another thought. "I gotta feeling they're going to be calling on us from now on for babysitting duties . . . if Mulder's going to be sticking around."

"Mmm . . . hey, did you ever see that film, "Three Godfathers?"

"Oh man, Mel, you watch too many old films."

And further away, in the alleyway outside, a set of footprints tracked away into the first fallen snow. Led away from the front door . . . and disappeared.

Only the chirrup of a cellphone tone echoed in the night. "Hi, Joseph, I'm on my way, the wings are great! Can I fly back? Hey, whadddya mean I have to take a test . . . an instructor? Oh no, anyone but Clarence . . ."

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