Case X-1743: Unresolved Minishinoo Warnings: None. Safe as the movie was for younger readers, and a good deal less violent. Cross-over Details: YOU CAN read this story without extensive current knowledge of the X-Files or the X-Men, although if you're an X-Phile who hasn't at least seen the X-Men movie, you'll be confused. And if you're an X-Men fan who doesn't know who Mulder and Scully are, or why they were in the basement of the Hoover building, bail now. Otherwise, all that you need to know is below, or contained within the story itself . . . . X-Files details: This is an old-fashioned X File. As such, it's not dependent on the larger series mytharc. But there are a few things that one can't avoid. If we assume that events in the X-Men film occur (as it says) "in the not too distant future," then I must extrapolate from the X-Files season (2001). My solution is not to guess too much. Seemed safest. But the following details are important: - There are three people on the X-Files after 2001 but Mulder is no longer one of them. He was drummed out of the FBI in season 8. The current agents assigned to the X-Files are John Doggett, Monica Reyes, and Dana Scully (part time). Yet Reyes isn't in this tale, and Doggett only briefly. And yes, dammit, I LIKE Doggett. He gets only a small cameo in Part II because he doesn’t really fit into the story. This is a Mulder-Scully piece, though readers do need to know that by Part II, Mulder is no longer an FBI agent. - Also, Scully had a baby at the end of season 8, which is apparently Mulder's, although that was never spelled out in so many words. I've assumed here that the two did marry at some point after 2001. Naturally, the dynamics of interpersonal relationships among the X- Files crowd will have altered somewhat in the four years between the events of the 2001 season, and the events in Part II of this story. X-Men details: Anyone who's seen the film should be able to follow this, but a few points for clarity: - Events here are prior to or consanguineous with the early scenes of the movie. That means Rogue and Logan have not yet arrived at the mansion and do not appear in this story. - As in my "Five Pounds," I follow COMIC canon here, which makes Cyclops an orphan. The basic tale of Scott's foster parents is a MUCH modified version of "Little Boy Lost" (with thanks to Pugui for putting it on the Red Shades archive). As comic fans know, Scott spent years at an orphanage in Omaha, Nebraska. - Despite this Scott-as-orphan take, I do follow the movie novelization in which Scott's power manifested at his senior prom. The scene in the screenplay used for the novel was not filmed, but everything you need to know about it is related in the story. (Yes, I let Selena grow up in "Goddess of the Moon," but this is Selena as she was at seventeen.) - The snippet of initial dialogue at the beginning of Part II is taken directly from the beginning of X-Men: The Movie. This is for Naomi, for a lot of things. Cyke and Mulder in one story! And Scott gets a happy ending finally. A last note: fosterage is easy to demonize. But there are good foster parents, as well as bad ones. And not all foster kids are trouble. This story is dedicated to the foster parents who do it for all the right reasons. Disclaimer: The X-Files belongs to Fox Studios and Chris Carter, Mulder to David Duchovny and Scully to Gillian Anderson. X-Men: The Movie belongs to Marvel Comics and Twentieth Century Fox, James Marsden has made Cyclops his own, Famke Janssen played Jean Grey, and the amazing Patrick Stewart has brought to life Professor X, who will now forever have a British accent in my mind. :-) San Diego, California, May 26, 1996 Fox Mulder loosened his tie - the high school bathroom wasn't air conditioned - and tried again. "You want to run that by me one more time?" "Red beams, like, came out of his eyes, dude. Knocked a hole in the wall, like, all the way through to the girls' room." And there was a hole - certainly. One large enough for Mulder to put his head through. A double-row of cement blocks reduced to rubble, both this wall and one beyond. You could see into the gym. "Red beams out of his eyes, huh?" Mulder asked, running a hand over the edge of the rubble. No sign of burning. It looked as if someone had gone at it with a demolition ball. "Yeah, dude," said the kid, one Stan Hensey. "I'm not making this up!" His voice was affronted. "You can, like, ask the other two guys who were in here, too. Or Selena Ki. She was in the girls' room with some friends when it happened. They'll, like, tell you the exact same thing. Really friggin' weird, dude." Mulder turned from the wall and let his gaze cross with Scully's. She rolled her eyes. He gave her a faint smile. Neither asked the kid how much he'd smoked up in the bathroom the night of the prom. It sounded like something out of Star Trek. Or a bad episode of The Twilight Zone. High school senior runs off to the boys bathroom after fighting with his prom date, and subsequently blasts out two walls with some kind of red death-ray from his eyes. Normally, Mulder would have dismissed it all as an elaborate school-boy prank. Except that everyone's story matched, including those of the adults who'd been in the gym when the wall had exploded outward. More, the kid who'd supposedly done the damage was an A-student with no history of making trouble. He was described as cheerful and friendly - well liked. And he'd now been missingg for over half a day, fled right after the event even before the cops had gotten there. Fled blind - eyes shut tightly, according to all rreports. It didn't add up. Mulder checked the hole one last time, ran a hand over the dust, and then made a gesture for Scully to meet him out in the hallway. They walked a little ways off from the milling police and students, next to a wall covered by institutional tan and overloaded bulletin boards. Scully started in before they'd gone ten steps. "Don't tell me you're taking this seriously. It's too 'out there' even for you, Mulder." "So what do you think it is?" "A prank! We have a group of high school seniors pulling a prank at their senior prom." "Elaborate prank." "These are smart kids, or at least the gang leader is - the one now missing. Scott Summers. Don't tell me you never pulled a prank in school, Mulder." He grinned, but didn't answer, held up the hand with the crumbled dust on it. "Notice anything unusual?" "You have powdered cement on your hand?" "Scully!" "All right. No, I don't. I see white cement dust." "Exactly. Now think about what that kid said: our missing Scott Summers shot red beams out of his eyes. If this was a prank, what would you think they're trying to imply that the beams were?" "That's a serious question?" "Scully - " "All right. It sounds like laser beams." "Which are hot, right?" "Yes." He held up his hand again. "You notice any black in the dust? Any indication of burning?" She looked at his hand again. "No. But I wouldn't expect to. Mulder, they weren't using a real laser! They used a sledgehammer. Or something." "Or something. To do that kind of damage, it would have required more than a sledgehammer. But if they were so concerned about an elaborate prank, don't you think they'd have made some attempt to have it look like a laser beam?" She thought about it. "Maybe. But there's elaborate and then there's elaborate. I doubt they thought that far." Absently, Mulder wiped his hand on his suit slacks; it left a white streak. "What I want to know is why a kid set to graduate with honors and a scholarship to Berkeley - a model foster child if you don't count a couple of misdemeanors - would risk it all to play a prank at his senior prom? I've heard of going out with a bang, but this seems overdone, don't you think, Scully?" He nodded towards the stairwell where a pretty girl of Asian descent was standing at the base, giving her statement to the police. "Let's go talk to Scott Summer's date, Miss Selena Ki." "I don't know!" she was saying as they approached. She was clearly on the edge of hysteria. "I told you already! I don't know why he'd do anything like this! I didn't have any part in it! We told you everything we know. All of us. Why would we all lie?" "Because you were all involved?" the police officer - a woman - replied. She seemed bored and tired, straggling brown hair falling into her eyes. Mulder flipped open his ID wallet. "Can we talk with Miss Ki?" he asked, smiling at the police-woman. She rolled her eyes and walked away without further comment. Mulder turned the smile on the girl. Beside him, he could feel Scully bristle. She disliked his 'charm the witness' act. But it served. "I understand that you dated Mr. Summers for about a month or two before the prom?" "Yes." She was wary. This was a girl used to having men fall at her feet. She wasn't going to fall for Mulder's ploy quite so easily. He notched up the charm, and the smile. "Let's go get a coke, shall we?" At his side, he caught Scully hiking a brow, but they took Selena Ki to a local malt shop. "Scott and I used to come here," the girl said as they slid into a booth, Ki on one side, Mulder and Scully on the other. "We could walk to it after school." "You didn't have other transportation?" Ki glanced at Scully, who'd asked the question. "Well, I have a car, but Scott doesn't. He lives with foster parents. Lived with them, I guess." "So where is Mr. Summers now?" Mulder asked. Quick. Trying to catch her off guard. She just glared at him. "I have no idea. He ran away." "How was Scott's home life?" Scully asked. The classic approach. "Fine," Ki said, dragging at the malt through her straw. "He was really grateful to the people he lived with. They were nice to him. They might not be willing to buy him a car, but they were nice to him. So if you're thinking he was abused, he wasn't." Quick kid, Mulder thought. "Do other children live in the same foster home?" "Yeah. Two others. Scott's the oldest. There's a girl named Carley. She's fourteen - a real slut; she tried to come on to Scott once or twice, he said. It kinda freaked him out. The boy, Jeff, started as trouble, too, but he calmed down. He looked up to Scott a lot." Mulder glanced at Scully. "Do you think something might have happened with the girl?" "Do you mean did Scott run because he was afraid Carley was going to accuse him of rape or something?" Ki asked. The girl really was sharp. "Or something," Mulder agreed. "I doubt it. That's not her style, besides, nobody'd believe her anyway. Well, some idiot social worker might, but no one who knows Scott." "Did he ever make you feel afraid?" Scully asked in her best gentle voice. "You're a very popular young woman, yet you were dating - " "You must be kidding." Ki's expression was pure contempt. "He was All- Star Volleyball and has almost straight As." She shrugged. "He's cute, and has dreamboat eyes. I didn't date him because I was afraid of him, Agent Scully. And I'm not defending him now. I'm just telling you what I know, because I want you to find him so I can kick his ass. He ruined my prom." Mulder bit his tongue. Maybe they were asking the wrong 'who was afraid of whom' question here. In any case, it was clear that the girl had her priorities: athletic, good grades, and dreamboat eyes. Ki hadn't said much of anything about Summers' personality. "What was Scott like, Miss Ki?" "I told you," she said. "He was smart and cute. He had a great smile. He was funny." She dragged on her straw again, added, "The girls liked him - a little too much, if you asked me." Mulder glanced at Scully again. They'd heard that part of it from the other kid, Stan Hensey, an acquaintance of Summers'. Selena Ki's jealousy was infamous and the two of them had been quarreling right before the incident, because Ki had caught Summers talking to another girl and had flounced off in a snit to the girls' restroom. Summers had followed, but gone into the boys' room instead because his eyes had been hurting. And then all hell had broken loose. "What do you remember from that night?" Mulder asked Ki. She gave an abbreviated version of the fight - one that made her look right as rain - and then said, "Then I went into the girls' room. We were just talking, me and some friends. They were telling me I shouldn't take Scott so seriously. He flirts with everybody. The next thing I knew, the wall by the mirror just . . . exploded! You could see through into the boy's room. There were these red beams coming through the hole. They hit the opposite wall and it exploded, too, out into the gym. Then the beams stopped and we looked through. Scott was on the other side, leaning up against the sink. He had his hands over his face and Stan was shouting that Scott was shooting lasers out his eyes. Then Scott ran out of the bathroom. I haven't seen him since." "You do realize how strange that sounds?" Mulder said. "Yes! But I'm not making it up! Everybody saw it! The boys said he'd been complaining that his eyes were burning really badly. Then he opened them and they were red, all red, not just the whites. A minute later, those beams came out." "Had he suffered any similar pain in the month you were dating?" Scully asked. The girl shook her head, almost emphatic. She drank more malt and then frowned thoughtfully. "He did used to get a lot of headaches. But he never complained. Scott never complained about much. I guess because he was an orphan; he was afraid of pissing people off." She shrugged, then looked thoughtful and said the first semi-kind thing Mulder had heard from her. "I hope he's okay. He really is a nice guy. But I'm still going to kick his ass." Mulder and Scully asked a few more questions, but Mulder had all the information he expected to get. Perhaps not all the information he needed, but all he expected. They took Selena Ki back to the school where her parents could collect her, then headed for their own car. It was midday Sunday, the sun high overhead; the prom had been the night before. Within hours of the first news coverage, Mulder and Scully had been on a plane for San Diego and had arrived early Sunday morning. They'd gone straight out to examine the scene of the 'crime' - it was still being called vandalism - and to interview any students or teachers who'd been there. Unfortunately, the star witness remained missing. No one knew what had become of Scott Summers, though how a blinded kid could evade a city- wide police sweep, Mulder had no idea. He just hoped Summers hadn't evaded it because someone had seen him as an easy target and cut his throat. "Still think it's a prank, Scully?" Mulder asked, as they reached their beige rental Taurus. "I can't see that it's anything else, Mulder. Human beings do not shoot energy rays out of their eyes. No matter how angry they are at their girlfriends." Mulder chuckled, unlocked her door, and opened it for her. Scully permitted him these small courtesies since he took her competence seriously in other things - most of the time. She felt no need to prove it in symbols, so she let him open doors for her, and hold her coat. He walked around to get in himself, put the key in the ignition, turned over the engine, and continued, "But what if someone could shoot energy rays out of his eyes. What if . . . something in his body metabolized energy, transformed it, and it came back out of his eyes when he was sufficiently upset?" "'If looks could kill,' Mulder? Be serious. Why not out his hands? Or his mouth? Or his nose?" "Roll with me on this. We've seen stranger." "Stranger, perhaps, but things which could marginally be explained by science - " "And maybe this can, too. If we could just find the subject himself." "So where are we going now?" "To talk to Mr. and Mrs. Franklin, Scott Summers' foster parents." "Mr. Franklin, I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder, with the FBI" - he already had his badge out and flipped open by force of habit - "and this Special Agent Dana Scully. We've come to ask you a few questions about Scott." "Is he okay? Did you find him?" asked a woman's voice from behind. The door was pulled wider and Elizabeth Franklin looked out, her face stitched with lines of worry and circles shading her eyes. Her voice held an edge of barely concealed fear. "You have to understand, this isn't like Scott! I don't understand why he ran. He's a good boy. He always was. He just needed a chance in life." "We're here to figure out what did happen, Mrs. Franklin," Scully said from Mulder's side. "We're not accusing Scott of anything." 'Yet,' Mulder could almost hear her add to herself. She still thought the Summers kid had pulled a spectacular stunt. But the more Mulder heard, the less sure he'd become of that. The Franklins invited them in, brought them coffee with all the nervousness of innocent people who fear they're about to get into trouble for something, and aren't sure for what. A young boy sat on the top stairs and watched as they were ushered in, then scampered off when he saw that Mulder had spotted him. A pre-teen girl skulked at the edges, half in and half out of the arched kitchen doorway. She looked hard already: used, and ill-used. But Mulder picked up no current sense of fear from her, and he'd made his career in the FBI by reading people's body language almost instantly. These must be the other two foster kids. The house itself was an older, middle-middle class two-story that showed a few attempts to modernize. Siding had been put on the exterior, and a deck added out back. Ceiling fans moved the torpid Southern California spring air. But the ceiling plaster still had those swirls and iridescent glitter so popular in the 1960s, and there was cheap dark-wood paneling in the dining room. The joints of the baseboards didn't match at the corners, and the rug was old, stained with the passage of time and feet. The furniture was old, too, but clean, and despite the family terrier, it didn't smell of animal. These people took care of things: houses, pets, and stray kids who needed a home. Good people. "So how long has Scott been living with you?" Mulder asked. "We got him when he was thirteen," Gene Franklin said, "so I guess that's four years, almost five." "We were in Omaha at the time," his wife chimed in. "We took Scott from Boy's Town there. Gene was at Offut Air Force Base." "You're retired military?" asked Scully, ever the Naval brat. She'd perked up. "Yeah," Gene Franklin replied. "I retired in '93, after SAC had shut down. We moved out here with Scott." He glanced behind himself, "That's when Carley came to live with us. And then Jeff, a year after." The girl Carley had slunk back into the kitchen to avoid Mulder's gaze. "How did Scott take the move?" Scully asked. "He was fine. He looked forward to it," Elizabeth said, still puttering about from nerves. "Honey, sit down." Her husband patted the couch beside him and her expression was caught for a moment, then she did as he asked, folding her hands between her knees. Gene Franklin said, "We talked to the police earlier. Scott's never been any trouble to us, Agent Mulder. He tried to run away from the orphanage once, and I understand he went to juvenile court - but he's never given us an ounce of grief. Not once. All he needed was a good home. He's been like our own son. If he hadn't been so old, we'd have adopted him." "We checked into it a few years ago," Elizabeth added, "but by the time the process would have gone through, he would have been almost eighteen. And he knew his own parents, so he wanted to keep his father's name. We could understand that." "He knew his parents?" Scully asked. "Are they still alive?" "Oh, no. Scott's an orphan," Gene Franklin said. "His parents were killed in a plane crash when he was eight. Scott and his little brother were the only survivors, and the other boy was adopted only a few months later, but Scott never was. His father had been Air Force, too. A test pilot. And no, before you ask, I didn't know him. But we connected, Scott and I, almost from the start. I was teaching him to fly, and he was ready to go for his license. He's been like the son I couldn't have. But he did have memories of his own family and we never tried to displace those, Beth and I. We thought it important that he should remember his parents." "Does he know where his little brother is now?" Mulder asked. "Adoption agencies won't release that kind of information - confidentiality issues. Scott himself had suffered a head injury in the crash and had some minor brain damage. We've never noticed anything unusual, but that sort of thing does put off people. Plus, he was older, so he was bounced around to a few orphanages and ended up at Boys Town. My wife was a friend of one of the social workers there, and Tracy brought him out to one of the air shows that the base holds late each summer. That's how Beth and I met him. We took to him right away; he was so starved for some affection. We'd never considered becoming foster parents, but Scott was different. He needed a family, and we'd always wanted a son. He came to live with us Christmas of '91, and we've never regretted it for a moment since." Mulder exchanged a look with Scully. It sounded like a match made in heaven, but - "One thing, Mr. Franklin . . . . You said that Scott ran away from the orphanage. Do you know why?" "Nope. He never told us. We asked once or twice, but he wouldn't talk about it." "If you push Scott, he clams up," Elizabeth Franklin said. "He rarely speaks about his time in the orphanage, or the accident." She looked down at her hands. "Gene and I always had some suspicions that he'd been ill-treated somewhere, but if so, it was before Tracy arrived. And Boy's Town has an excellent reputation. Still, maybe we should have pushed him harder. There just didn't seem to be a reason, and trust is hard for him. We were honored that he opened up to us as much as he did." "Since he gave us no trouble," Gene added, "we were willing to let bygones be bygones. The only thing we know about his time on the street - it was about four months - is that he ran cons at pool, for money to eat, but no charges were ever pressed." "There may . . . . Well, I - " Beth Franklin hesitated and glanced at her husband. "Go on," Mulder said, sitting forward. Gene Franklin just sighed and nodded. "He knew how to break into things, Agent Mulder. He's popped the car door for me when I've locked my keys inside, and he once picked a lock on an old truck that we'd bought at a yard sale. So he may have been a thief, too. But to our knowledge, he's never stolen anything since living with us. Whatever he did back then, to survive, we've never held it against him. We were, I confess, a little careful with money when Scott first came to live with us. Common sense. We didn't want to tempt him. But he's always been scrupulously honest." "Scotty's too much the Golden Boy," said a new voice from the kitchen. The girl, Carley. "He didn't do nothing wrong never. Spent all his time telling me and Jeff how lucky we were to be here." She sneered. Definitely a hard one. Mulder wished he knew her story; he doubted her life had been pleasant. "So you don't think he would have pulled a stunt like this?" Mulder asked her. "Why would he?" Mulder's question exactly. "Perhaps he wanted a last chance to set up a scam?" Scully suggested. "Or he wanted to impress some classmate? Or his girlfriend?" Carley just rolled her eyes and walked back into the kitchen. "Not Mr. Goodie-Two-Shoes. I'm glad the son of a bitch is gone." Both the Franklins looked embarrassed. "You'll have to excuse Carley - " Gene began. "It's all right." Mulder smiled faintly. "Carley is a bigger help than she realizes. And, uh, I saw your other foster son on the stairs. Would you mind if I went up to talk to him? Scully probably has some other questions for you." "Sure, go ahead," Elizabeth said. Scully was glaring at him. He knew he was ditching her again, but he wanted to talk to the boy alone. Climbing the stairs two at a time, he peered into the three bedrooms, found the boy sitting on his bed in one of them. "Hi." The kid looked up. "What's your name?" Mulder asked, though he aready knew. "Jeff." "My name's Fox. Can I come in?" "Sure, I guess. And what kind of a name is Fox?" Entering, Mulder ignored that as the obligatory schoolboy attempt at bravado, took a seat on the other bed in the room - by all appearances, that of the missing foster brother. It was not a very big room for two boys; the Franklins had larger hearts than bank accounts. Scott's tastes had been simple, judging from his decor. He liked the color green, and he had elaborate models of planes on his dresser, and airplane posters over his bed. On the headboard bookshelf sat Frank Herbert's Dune series, Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, and Greg Bear's Eon. Also a picture of Selena Ki. The other books were science- related or about planes. Scott Summers clearly had a thing for objects that went zoom through the air. "Your brother's into jets, isn't he?" "He's not my brother." Mulder glanced around at him. "You two don't get along?" "We get along fine." Stubborn jut of chin on the other boy. "He still isn't my brother." "Do you know why he ran away, Jeff?" "No." Very sullen. "Do you think he did run away?" The kid just glared, then abruptly he exploded to his feet. "Why can't you just leave Scott alone? He didn't do anything, okay? I don't care what they say, he didn't do anything wrong!" Mulder kept deliberately calm. "And I'm not accusing him of anything. I just want to know what happened and where he went, so maybe we can find him before he gets hurt." "Yeah, right. You're going to take him away and lock him up again. And you'll never find him if he doesn't want to get found." It was said with a mixture of resentment and pride. "He won't get hurt. Scott's tough." "I wouldn't be too sure of that, Jeff. He may be tough, but there are a lot of mean people on the street - people meaner and older than he is. He's not in trouble right now, but he could be if he stays out there for long. He could get killed. We've been told that he ran away blind; it's hard to defend yourself if you can't see. Are you sure you don't have any idea where he might have gone?" The kid chewed that over, then shook his head, sadly. "No." This time, Mulder was fairly sure the answer was honest, not merely rebellious. "If it were Omaha, I might know. But not here." "Where might he have gone, in Omaha?" "Downtown. There's some pool halls there and all. Down in the Hispanic area. He knows some Spanish." Mulder doubted Scott could play pool with his eyes shut - assuming whatever was wrong with his eyes had lasted - but even if the boy couldn't hustle pool, he still might return to Omaha if he knew the town better, or at least knew how to disappear there better than in San Diego. Whatever the case, the boy Jeff was acting entirely too skittish. He sat with his head lowered, his hands working nervously against each other and one leg jiggling up and down. Just waiting for Mulder to leave. He knew something he wasn't telling and Mulder had a suspicion of what it might be. "Did Scott return home last night, Jeff?" The boy must have jumped six inches off the bed. "No!" "Jeff, you need to tell me the truth. I'm not here to arrest Scott. Like I said, I'm trying to find him before he gets hurt. But you have to help me. If you know where he went, or saw him after the prom . . . . " He trailed off and waited. The atmosphere in the room grew heavier and heavier. Finally the kid caved. He was just a kid, after all. "Okay, yeah, he came back last night. There's a tree outside our window. Last night, he climbed up it to knock on the glass. I let him in and helped him pack his things 'cause he couldn't see. He had his eyes all squeezed shut and said he couldn't open them or he'd hurt me. I didn't understand what he was talking about but he was scared and really nervous. He said he had to get out of here and asked me to put some of his clothes in his backpack, and get his money. He had some saved. He made me order the bills, too, so he knew how much he had - fold the corners and stuff, in different ways for ones and fives and tens and twenties. Then he had me get him some scissors, duct tape and his sunglasses. But honest to God, he didn't tell me where he was going. I asked, but he wouldn't tell." "What time was this?" "I don't know. Not long after the accident, I think. We hadn't heard it on the news yet, and the police hadn't come. Nine o'clock? Ten o'clock, maybe?" Mulder nodded. The high school wasn't that far from the Franklins' house. If the Summers kid had come home as fast as he could get here, he might have managed to make it before anyone had figured out what was up and come after him. "And he didn't open his eyes while he was here? Not once? Even by accident?" "No, sir. He said he'd hurt me bad if he did. He was all white, like a sheet. I've never seen him that scared." "What else did he say?" "Nothing, really. He said something awful had happened at school, and he was in trouble again so he was leaving before he hurt me or Gene or Beth - um, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin. We call them - " "That's fine, Jeff. Please go on." "That's about it. Most of the rest of what he said was 'get this' or 'get that.' He was in a big hurry. The scissors and duct tape was the weirdest, until I heard what happened at the school. I guess he put it over his eyes, didn't he?" "Probably so." And at that moment, Fox Mulder decided that he liked Scott Summers. Panicked as the boy had been, he'd been thinking of how to keep himself from hurting anyone else by accident. "What kind of clothing did he take?" "Huh?" "What kind of clothing? Did he take warm clothes, or summer clothes? Did he take a jacket?" "Just t-shirts and jeans and stuff. But yeah, he took a jacket. And his red hooded sweatshirt. He likes that stupid thing even though it has holes under the arms, calls it his lucky shirt." Mulder stood up, fished a business card out of his wallet, wrote his cell number on the back and gave it to the boy. "If Scott comes back home, even briefly, I want you to call me. See if he'll talk to me, but if he won't, you call me just the same. I think you realize that I don't want to hurt him." Mulder caught the boy's eyes and tried to put all his conviction in that look. "Tell Scott that I know he didn't destroy that wall on purpose. I want to help him. Will you tell him that for me?" The kid accepted Mulder's card and studied the front. "Yes, sir. And I know he didn't, either." Mulder left the room, gathered Scully with a glance and they made their farewells to the Franklins. "So?" he asked her as soon as they were in the car. "What did you find out?" "Lots of stories about what a good boy he was. Not much else of use, but I took copious notes. You can review them later. I'd still like to know why he ran away from the orphanage the first time. And you?" "I found out that he went home right after the dance, had the younger kid pack him clothing, his money, some duct tape, scissors, sunglasses, and then took off for parts unknown." Scully smiled. "And you're always telling me that you don't have a way with kids, Mulder. But - duct tape and scissors?" "For his eyes, Scully. To tape his eyes shut. You still think this is a hoax?" She didn't reply. After a moment, Mulder added, "I think he's protecting them. That's why he ran. Did you get a picture of young Mr. Summers?" "About twenty of them." Mulder smiled. "Any of him in sunglasses?" Scully didn't reply, just studied Mulder's profile. "So if he's not going home again, where is he going?" "Back to Omaha. It's the one place where he knows how to live by his wits." Scully didn't question that. Before taking over the X-Files, Mulder had worked as a profiler in the Bureau, had built a reputation on his instinct for second-guessing the criminal mind. Trouble was, Mulder didn't believe this boy's mind was criminal, just confused and frightened, and he hoped that his instinct was still leading him in the right direction. He wanted to find Scott Summers before anyone else did, anyone inclined to see him as a potential weapon. Still, the kid was not going to be easy to find. Mulder would bet his next paycheck that however Summers might have spent the last four years with the Franklins, he was inherently distrustful of authority, and now was desperately frightened, too. If he contacted anyone, he'd contact the boy Jeff. Mulder didn't think he'd take Jeff's word and call Mulder directly, but Mulder had covered that contingency anyway. What Mulder did hope was that Scott would listen to Jeff long enough so that when Mulder did finally catch up with him, he wouldn't bolt before Mulder could get past introductions. That Mulder would catch up with him, Mulder never doubted. Omaha, Nebraska, June 1, 1996 "Any luck, Mulder?" Scully asked, as he slid back into the passenger side. "Not yet." "And how many places does this make?" "Eleven. But we've still got a few to go, plus the downtown." Mulder checked the map. "Head to Farnam Street and then east to 13th . We'll ask around the Old Market. Probably too high class a neighborhood, but you never know." The Old Market was a revitalized area of downtown Omaha, off the Leahy Mall Park, not far from the old railroad yards by the Missouri River. Interesting area. High class, despite the age of the brick buildings, some of which dated almost back to the city's founding. Omaha, dead in the middle of the Heartland, had been the new gateway to the West after St. Louis had become too settled. Corn and cattle country, and surprisingly hilly here on the very edge of the Great Plains. For several days now, Mulder and Scully had canvassed the bus and train stations and the low-rent districts, with no luck. Now, they walked around the Old Market with a picture of Scott Summers, asking a lot of questions. Some, they asked each other. "Are you sure he came here, Mulder?" "I'm sure of nothing but death and taxes, Scully." "And little grey men." She grinned, almost against her will - one of her trademark Scully-smiles that so delighted him. "I'd say the probability's high that this is where he'll turn up," Mulder told her. "Nonetheless, we may have beaten him here. We had the advantage of plane tickets, and he's traveling blind." "You seem awfully convinced of that." "Why else take duct tape?" "What if this is just an elaborate ploy to get away from his foster family?" "Like the girl Carley said, Scully - why? It doesn't add up. He was about to graduate from high school with honors. He had a college scholarship waiting for him. If someone can give me a good reason why he'd pull a prank like they're crediting him with and then run, I'll entertain the idea. Until that time, I'm going to assume he ran because he's scared and doesn't think anyone's on his side, even his foster parents. They're foster parents, after all. No matter how sincerely they care, he'll doubt them. He spent a long time on his own; he's going to revert to that. We need to find him before someone else does. I doubt we're the only ones looking for him. Can you imagine what Cancer Man could do with a kid able to pulverize a wall just by looking at it?" He caught her shudder out of the corner of his eyes. It was later that same afternoon when they finally ran across someone who'd seen Scott Summers. "Yeah, I remember the kid. Blind kid, right?" The speaker was a caricature artist who'd been working the Market sidewalk for several years. "He showed up two nights ago - first time, sat around playing guitar for spare change. We get us a lot of musicians here; they all kinda blur after a while. But I remember this one. People stopped to listen to him. He in some kind of trouble?" "No. We just want to talk to him," Scully assured the man. "Do you know if he'll show up again tonight?" "No idea, ma'am. You sure he's not in some kind of trouble?" "No, why do you ask?" "Well, there was another guy here earlier, asking if anyone had seen a blind kid. He didn't have a picture, though." Mulder and Scully traded a glance. "This man asking about him," Mulder said, "did he smoke? Was he thin, with graying hair and a long, kind of craggy face?" "What? No, not at all. Guy was in a wheelchair. Bald as home plate, too. Real well-dressed sort, y'know? Old money. Biritish accent." Mulder blinked. He'd never met, seen, nor heard of anyone in the Consortium who matched that description, but he was under no illusions that he knew everyone. "Thank you for your time." And he and Scully walked away. "So, we wait for tonight." "Who do you think the guy in the wheelchair is, Mulder?" "Your guess is as good as mine. As long as Krycek doesn't show up with him, I'll be happy." They went back to their hotel, and Mulder left Scully at the door to her room. "Dress casual. If we're not the only ones seeking Summers, I don't want to draw attention to ourselves. But let's get there early. I'll pick you up at five." She nodded and they parted. At five, they met again in the hotel lobby, in jeans and khakis and long-sleeved shirts. Their guns were holstered out of sight. Mulder prayed they wouldn't need them. "Ready to find our mystery kid?" She made a wordless gesture towards the door and they went out together. Even so early, the Market was crawling with people by the time they arrived. It was a lovely June evening, the Midwestern sky a clear blue quartz overhead, though a few clouds shaded the western horizon, and the wind had picked up. "Might rain," Mulder said. Scully just looked at the sky, and raised an eyebrow. "This is Nebraska, Scully. Want different weather? Wait fifteen minutes." "And what would you know about the Midwest, Mulder? You grew up on Martha's Vineyard." She paused and looked around. They stood outside a restaurant with an old train trolley parked beside it. 'The Spaghetti Works,' announced the sign. The man at the hotel desk had said it was a fixture, then confided privately that the food wasn't all that good. "Go to the Upstream," he'd said. "They brew their own beer." Across the street, three horse-drawn carriages had parked, ready to take young lovers, or families with kids, on a nostalgic road trip through the brick-laid streets. "Do you want to split up?" she asked. "We'd probably cover more ground that way. You go north and west; I'll go south and east. Keep an eye out for that guy in the wheelchair. Or Krycek, for that matter. If you find Summers, call me before you approach him." "Why?" "Just trust me on this one." They parted and went their separate ways. Mulder had been moseying around the sidewalks for about half an hour while the sky overhead had gotten dark, when he thought he caught sight of a wheelchair half-in the doorway of a wine shop. But by the time he got through the crowd and over to the shop to see, he found no one. He was about to phone Scully, to let her know, when the cell rang in his hand. He flipped it open, "Mulder." "It's me. I've found him. He's got his guitar and is wearing a red sweatshirt. I'm at the corner of . . ." - she paused to look - "Howard and 12th Streets." "I'm on my way." "Hey, Mulder." "Yeah?" "He really can sing." "Be on the look-out, Scully. I think I saw a guy in a wheelchair." "Noted." Mulder had already been moving in the direction of Scully; now he closed the phone and slipped it back into his belt holster, picked up the pace, jogging a little. It had begun to sprinkle and overhead, lightning split the dark sky. A deep excitement thrummed in him. He felt on the edge of learning something remarkable. It was the same sort of feeling that often gripped him near the end of a chase, but on the X-Files, there was the added element of wondering just what they'd find. This was what he lived for. Mulder arrived at the corner of Howard and 12th just as the skies opened up with a heavy rain. But there was no blind boy in red with a guitar. And there was no Scully. There was not even a man in a wheelchair. "What the hell?" He turned round and round in his tracks. "Scully!" he called out. "Scott Summers!" It probably wasn't smart to alert the kid that there was someone here who knew him by name, but maybe it would scare him into bolting. Unfortunately, nothing moved beyond the slow rolling pace of the crowds. People eyed him sideways, opened their umbrellas, and continued their peripatetic evening despite the weather. Mulder stood in the street while rain filled his leather loafers, and cursed. He finally found Scully a block south, wandering aimlessly. Grabbing her arm, he hauled her to a stop. She looked . . . drunk. "Scully?" "Mulder?" Abruptly, she came back to herself, shook her head. "Where are we? What's going on?" She shook her head again. Mulder was frankly alarmed; what had happened to Scully? "Scott Summers, remember? We're in Omaha, looking for Scott Summers. Mr. Laser-Eyes from San Deigo." She shook her head again and rubbed at the bridge of her small Roman nose. "I . . . feel like I've had two pitchers of beer on St. Patrick's Day, Mulder. Scott Summers - I don't - Oh yes, I remember now. We were . . . . My god, where is he?" She started swinging her head around. "He was right there, dammit! But this isn't even the same street!" "No. We're about a block away. What happened?" "I don't remember." "Did you see a man in a wheelchair?" "What? No. Nobody in a wheelchair. Scott was sitting on a little folding chair against a wall, playing, the case open in front of him. It was easy to get near him under pretense of listening. He appeared to be okay, but you're right - he had on dark glasses and acted as if he were blind. I called you immediately, and the next thing I knew, here I am. What is going on?" she asked, peeved. Scully hated to be played for a fool. Now, Mulder looked up and down the street, though he didn't really expect to see anything. "I don't know. But I'm sure as hell going to find out." Famous last words. For two more days, they searched Omaha with no luck, and Mulder became increasingly convinced that Scott Summers had been abducted - but not by aliens. The man in the wheeelchair had managed, somehow, to drug or mentally confuse Scully, and then get to Summers before Mulder could show up. A mere matter of minutes. The more Mulder thought about that, the more anxious he became. Who was this guy? And more importantly, for whom was he working? Exactly two days after they lost Summers in Omaha, Assistant Director Skinner phoned, recalling them to Washington. "The case is closed, Mulder." "What! On whose authority?" "Mine." "Mr. Skinner - " "No arguments, Mulder. I want you and Scully back in Washington by tomorrow, and your reports on my desk the day after that. This case is closed." "And unresolved. Sir." "And unresolved. But I see no further use in having two of my agents chasing shadows in Omaha." "We saw him, sir; that's not a shadow. Why is this case being closed?" "I said no arguments. Get back to Washington, Mulder," and Skinner hung up. "Damn," Mulder said, snapping his phone closed. "What'd Skinner have say?" Scully asked from where she'd been working at the table in his hotel room, typing notes into her computer. She often worked in his room, so they could share the file. "He's closed the case and wants us back in Washington by tomorrow." Startled, Scully glanced up. "But we haven't found the boy." "And we're clearly not supposed to, Scully." Mulder collapsed on the side of his bed and bitterly related his full conversation with Skinner. "What do you think he's covering up?" Scully asked, when Mulder was done. "I've no idea. And I doubt he's going to tell us, either." He got up and paced around, his way of releasing his frustration. "Do you think they have Scott - ?" 'They' didn't need to be defined. 'They' were the faceless men in the shadow conspiracy whom Mulder and Scully had been fighting since the beginning of their time together on the X-Files. "I don't know," Mulder said now. "Maybe." But in truth, he doubted it. Even the Consortium couldn't muddle Scully's memory in a matter of moments and whisk away a street musician without causing a public scene. Whoever the man in the wheelchair had been, he had resources and abilities even more alarming than those of Cancer Man. Mulder could only hope that the boy, Summers, didn't wind up his pawn in some elaborate, concealed power game. It was a few days later, once back in his office in Washington, that Fox Mulder called the Franklin residence to inform Scott's foster parents that he hadn't been located, and that the Bureau had closed the file. "But why?" Elizabeth Franklin asked, sounding lost. "I'm not sure, Mrs. Franklin. Those orders came from over my head. But if you should hear from Scott again, please call me immediately." It might be the leverage he needed to get past Skinner's block on the case. "I will," she said. "And Agent Mulder?" "Yes?" "If I sent you a letter, for Scott, would you keep it? Just in case you find him? We want him to know that we're not angry at him, that he can come home. We'd like to know if he's okay." "Sure, Mrs. Franklin. Send me the letter and, if I find him, I'll be sure that he gets it." "Thank you, Agent Mulder." Floor of the US Senate, Washington, DC, Spring, 2005 On the television, a theater-sized screen slid closed silently behind the speaker, a pretty woman in a fire-engine red suit and hair that glowed soft auburn under the high, bright lights. She concluded her presentation: '. . . . We are seeing the beginnings of another stage of human evolution. These mutations manifest at puberty and are often triggered by periods of heightened emotional stress.' 'Thank you, Ms. Grey. It was . . . quite educational. However, it fails to address the larger issue, which is the focus of this hearing. Three words: Are mutants dangerous?' 'I'm afraid that's unfair question, Senator Kelly. After all, the wrong person behind the wheel of a car can be dangerous.' 'Well, we do license people to drive.' 'Yes, but not to live. It is a fact that mutants who have come forward and revealed themselves publicly have been met with fear, hostility, even violence. It is because of that ever-present hostility that I am urging the Senate to vote against Mutant Registration. To force mutants to expose themselves --' 'Expose themselves? What is it that the mutant community has to hide, I wonder, that makes them so afraid to identify themselves?' 'I didn't say they were hiding.' 'Well let me show you what is being hidden, Ms. Grey. . . . ' Mulder sighed and got up off the couch - his old black leather couch, which he'd insisted on bringing to their new home along with his fish. Scully hadn't quibbled. Much. "He's eating her alive," he muttered to his wife, as he passed behind Scully's chair to get cold pizza out of the fridge. Married three years and he still hadn't changed his eating habits. Seeing the pizza box, Billy chanted, "Pizza, pizza, pizza!" from where he was playing with a wooden Brilo train set in the rec room. "He's definitely your son, Mulder," Scully said without looking up from the paperwork she was doing at the kitchen table. "Was there any doubt?" Scully just grinned. These days, it was a joke. Once, it had been anything but. "And," Scully went on, "I think Dr. Grey is doing quite well, considering." "Considering what? That Kelly is a jackass?" "That, among other things. Her position may be reasonable and perfectly scientific" - high praise from Scully - "but it's hardly popular. People aree easily frightened, Mulder. As we both know." Sighing, Mulder got out two slices of Little Caesar's Italian sausage for himself and one for his son, heated them in the microwave and brought them into the rec room where the television had been set up. The nice couch was in the living room. His couch was in the rec room. He never spent time in the living room anyway. "Pizza," he said, and set down Billy's plate beside him, along with a tippy cup full of "green juice" - that is, Tropicana kiwi/white grape flavor. How the kid drank that stuff escaped Mulder. It looked vile. But he'd long ago concluded that child taste buds were a true X-File. "Mulder!" Scully said from the kitchen table. "Did you get napkins?" "Yes, ma'am." And, in a stage whisper to Billy, "Be careful or Mom'll skin us both." Billy just blinked up at Mulder, then took plate, tippy cup and paper towel and - with exaggerated care brought them in to the coffee table so he could join his father on the big black leather couch. Watching him, Mulder wondered idly if their miracle baby would turn out to have this mutant X-gene. And if he did? It wouldn't matter to Mulder, but it wasn't something he'd wish on anyone, especially his own child, in the current socio-political climate. There were always reasonable people, but fear made a ready weapon for the hate-mongers. Given the peculiar circumstances of Billy's conception and birth, Mulder had no idea what to expect as his son aged. Already, the boy showed signs of advanced talents - better than average fine-motor skills for a four-year-old, especially a boy; better than average verbal skills, especially for a boy. But neither Mulder nor Scully were average, so why should it surprise if their son was exceptional, as well? Who needed mutant genes for that? Or alien DNA, for that matter. He returned his attention to the television. The Senate hearings had fast devolved into a rhetoric platform for Senator Robert Kelly. Dr. Grey had been silenced, and stood, frustrated, on the speaker's bema, the podium. She couldn't get a word in edge-wise. There was much shouting from the floor. "Bastard," Mulder whispered under his breath, then, louder, "You just know that jerk is going to run for president." "Probably," Scully replied from the kitchen table, but her voice held no interest in pursuing it. Mulder crossed his arms and sulked in front of the television. Kelly annoyed him, and he needed a good argument to release the tension. Scully wasn't giving him one, and Billy was too young. Mulder sighed loudly and flipped the channel, listened to Cokie Roberts analyze first Dr. Grey's points, then Senator Kelly's points. She was perceptive as always, but it still bored him because he didn't get to participate. He flipped to another channel. It showed Dr. Grey leaving the platform, disgust written all over her fine features as she exited into the hallway. Outside, she was assaulted by reporters but turned her head down and pushed through. There was a young man waiting to help her keep the reporters at bay. A pretty boy with model looks and a pair of stylish red-mirrored sunglasses. Seemed odd for a genetics researcher to have a bodyguard dressed in GQ-casual. Abruptly Mulder sat up while his brain did one of its famed abstract tap-dances across the synapses of his memory. He knew that face, dammit. He knew that face. Not Grey's. The man's. From where did he know that face? It hit him full on just a few moments later when the good doctor and her companion were met outside at their limousine by a balding man in a wheelchair. "Oh, my God . . . ." Mulder said. Then, "Scully!" "You want what?" said the gravelly voice on the other end of the phone line. Mulder switched his cell phone from one shoulder to the other while he sorted laundry. "X-File number one-seven-four-three. There's a letter in it. I need that letter." "Mulder, you know that releasing material from a federal case file - " "Shove it, John. The letter doesn't belong to the government. It belongs to Scott Summers. I put it there for safe-keeping." "Fine. But you wanna tell me why you're so sure a guy you saw for - what, a minute? - on C-SPAN this morning is the same kid who went missing nine years ago?" "It's the same kid. I'm sure of it." A heavy breath from John Doggett on the other end. "Okay. I'll release the letter. But I'm giving it to Dana." "Doggett - " "Don't push me, Mulder. The letter goes to Agent Scully. You do this her way. You can't just go busting into these people's lives. If it's been nine years, don't you think he's contacted his family if he wanted to?" "Maybe. Maybe not. Consider the current climate for mutants. If he is a mutant - and that'd explain a hell of a lot - he might not want to have run the risk. Some kids are getting kicked out by their natural parents. He was a foster kid." "So what makes you think his foster parents would want to talk to him now, if he is a mutant? It was nine years ago, and as you said, some natural parents are rejecting their own kids. Myself, I don't get that, but I know it happens. Wouldn't it be cruel to set him up to get hurt?" "It's not going to happen. Trust me." "Mulder, it really worries me when you say that. 'Trust me' is usually followed by some hare-brained stunt that gets somebody hurt or almost killed." "This isn't that kind of situation - " "Maybe not. But I'm still giving the letter to Dana. She's the one with the badge." "Mulder, please relax. You're twitching like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs." Mulder tried to glare at his wife but couldn't suppress a grin. After nine years, the hunt was back on and he stood the width of a single door from his quarry. He might not have the badge any more, but he could still feel the thrill. "Knock, Scully." She sighed and did so. There was a long pause. No doubt the people beyond weren't expecting visitors. They counted on hotel security and privacy acts to protect them from intrepid reporters. And normally, such things would. Scully's badge jumped a lot of hurdles. The door opened. It was Dr. Jean Grey looking a bit dazed, as if she'd just woken up from a nap. Her auburn hair was mussed in a tracery of fine webbing around her face. "Yes?" she asked, cautious. "How may I help you?" Scully flipped open her badge. "I'm Special Agent Dana Scully. This is my husband, and former partner, Fox Mulder. Could we have a few words with you, Dr. Grey?" Grey looked shaken, but opened the door to let them enter one of the more ritzy suits at the downtown Hyatt. Thick carpet and forest green curtains. Decor in tasteful wood. "Of course." Mulder grinned at her as he passed. She was a stately woman, pretty in a dignified way, mouth and eyebrows distinctive and well formed. Maybe a little stubbornness about the chin. "What is this about?" she asked as she closed the door. The best defense is a good offense. Mulder admired that. "We're here on some very old business," Mulder said. "A case from nine years ago, in fact." Grey had tipped her head sideways. "I can't imagine what that would be." Scully sighed grandly and elbowed Mulder. "Ignore him, please. Dr. Grey, this isn't an official investigation, and we haven't reopened the case. We've come only because we have some information that may be of interest to one of your associates. I also want to say - while I have the opportunity - that I found your presentation this morning quite fascinating. I'd love to talk to you some other time about your research." "Talk to me about it?" Grey was still wary. "I'm a medical examiner, and I've worked with some . . . unusual cases . . . for the Bureau. I'd love to discuss your research into mutant chromosomes and the possible ranges of mutant manifestations." "Ah." Grey was relaxing a little. Trust Scully to know how to put another woman scientist at ease - compliment her research, not her dress. Mulder grinned. "For seven years, my husband and I worked together in a section of the FBI called the X-Files," Scully continued. "We dealt primarily with cases concerning unexplained phenomena." "And you've come to talk to me about one of those cases? You think it might have involved a mutant?" Mulder's grin widened. "We're fairly sure it involved a mutant, but actually - " "Mulder!" Scully snapped. He ignored her, " - we've come to talk to the young man I saw you with outside the Senate house the morning. A guy in glasses? Kind of clean- cut? Is he here?" Grey's face blanched. "Scott? What do you want with Scott?" It took every ounce of Mulder's control not to crow in victory. After nine years, he'd finally tracked down Scott Summers. And right under his nose in Washington, too. Beside him, Scully hastened to assure Grey, "He's not in trouble, doctor. But we think he may have been involved in an old case file, and my husband has some information for him." Grey sat down on the hotel suite's couch as an older man in a wheelchair motored out of one of the ante-rooms. "Agents, please," he said with a faint smile. "I'm afraid you're alarming Dr. Grey. Jean, they mean us no harm." Mulder narrowed his eyes at the man. "Who are you?" "Mulder!" Scully snapped again. She had a way of making him feel like an errant child at times. But the older man just came further into the room, joining the three of them by the couch. The faint smile had grown to one of genuine pleasure. "I'm very pleased to meet you at last, Mr. Mulder. Assistant Director Skinner has told me a great deal about you. My name is Charles Xavier, though most of my students call me Professor X. You've come looking for Scott Summers, I believe. You have a letter for him." "How do you know that?" Mulder snapped. Then, "You were in Omaha, nine years ago, weren't you?" "Indeed, I was. I apologize, Mr. Mulder, Dr. Scully. But at the time, it was imperative that I make contact with Scott without outside interference. He was . . . in a delicate frame of mind." "What did you do to me that evening?" Scully asked, frowning. Mulder knew that look and usually sought cover when it showed up. "Absolutely nothing permanent, I assure you. It would be very much against my ethics. But I was born with certain gifts." Then, continuing in Mulder and Scully's heads, Like Scott Summers, I, too, am a mutant. "My God - " Mulder muttered, unsure if he was more alarmed, or more delighted. After all, he'd been briefly telepathic himself, even if it had nearly fried his synapses. Whatever the case, he found himself grinning at full wattage. "So you were the one who had Skinner call us off the case and close it down." "Yes," said Xavier, "I am sorry but it was critical that the case be closed and left unresolved. There were entirely too many people interested in you at the time, Mr. Mulder. I had to deflect any attention from Scott. He was already being pursued by a man named Jack Winters, another mutant - but one inclined to use his mutation for harm. He had read about Scott's mutation manifestation and was on the hunt to use him for his own criminal purposes." "You realize his foster parents were worried - " "Scott writes to them once a month," Jean Grey interrupted. "They know he's fine." "So he doesn't need this." Mulder fished out Elizabeth Franklin's old letter - a little yellowed now- from his raincoat and held it up. "Ah, but he does, Mr. Mulder," Xavier said, smiling a bit enigmatically. That smile could start to get on a guy's nerves, Mulder decided, even as the letter lifted itself out of Mulder's fingers and floated across to the hand of Jean Grey. She was smiling, too. "My mutation." "I should have guessed," Mulder said. "Or guessed that you were all mutants, in any case." "Does that bother you?" "No," Scully said firmly from Mulder's side. She'd been keeping mostly silent, observing. "But if Scott keeps in touch with his family - " "- why would he need the letter?" Xavier completed her question. He glanced at Grey, who'd risen to take the letter over to her briefcase - "Jean, a moment" - then his eyes flicked back to Scully. "Because while he writes to them faithfully, he refuses to put a return address on the envelope. I think it time for Scott to quit running from his past." Mulder could see that Grey's back had stiffened. She clearly wasn't comfortable talking about Summers this way behind his back. From that, and a few other clues - not to mention the diamond on her finger - Mulder was fairly sure that Scott Summers was more to her than a sometimes bodyguard and fellow staff member at this private prep school that Xavier had told them about and which he directed. It was a subtle affection, but Mulder knew personally just how deep that kind could run. Grey would protect Summers by choosing the time and place to give him the letter. And Xavier was not going to let her get away with it. "Please bring that back, Jean. It's not yours to deliver. Mrs. Franklin entrusted it to Mr. Mulder, and I think he should be the one to give it to Scott." Grey spun around. "Professor - " But she didn't go further. The two of them stared hard at one another a few minutes, and Mulder exchanged a glance with Scully. Was Xavier speaking to Grey telepathically? Mulder could see that Scully was wondering the same thing. Then again, maybe they didn't need telepathy. Maybe they simply knew one another very well, the same way Mulder knew Scully. In any case, Grey's lips had gone thin in annoyance, but she brought the letter back to Mulder and handed it over without any display of mutant abilities. A mark of her reluctance to let go of it. "When will Mr. Summers be back?" Mulder asked as he took it. "He won't," Xavier said, and Mulder jerked his head up. "Scott went back to Westchester," Grey said, sitting down. "He drove to DC last night, so he could be with me this morning, but he can't leave the school for long and he went back right after we had lunch." Xavier had been resting elbows on the arms of his wheelchair, and now folded his hands in front of him. "Scott runs the school in my absence, you see - although in truth, he runs it most of the time." He smiled faintly, a smile that Grey echoed more fully. "Forgive me, a slight private joke. Scott's organizational talents are famous - or infamous, depending on whom you ask. But the school simply would not function without him. I am too often occupied with other matters, and he is effectively our headmaster even though my name is still on the school brochure. I should probably change that one of these days." "You should," Grey said and Mulder had the impression that she was using his and Scully's presence as covert cover to deliver an overdue nudge. "So," Mulder said, holding up the envelope and getting back around to the main point. "If you want me to deliver this, just how am I supposed to do so if he's not here?" But truth was, he wanted to deliver it, wanted finally to meet the elusive Scott Summers face-to-face. "By coming to Westchester, Mr. Mulder. Jean and I shall ourselves return tomorrow morning - I fear that we have accomplished all here that we currently can. It would be my pleasure to show you both around Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, if you and Agent Scully would care to accompany us back to New York. Given your interests, I believe you would find it quite . . . educational. And," he added, glancing at Scully, "it would give Dr. Scully a chance to discuss research with Dr. Grey." He smiled warmly. "The two of them can cloister themselves in the basement with the microscopes while the rest of us enjoy the sun, tulips, and hyacinth in the garden." Mulder chuckled, because Scully and Grey had each turned beet red, and in both cases, it clashed with their hair. Despite the invitation, Mulder and Scully couldn't simply pack their bags and go, as they might once have done. That was the flip side of having a child; they needed Margaret Scully to take Billy for the weekend. And both agreed even without discussing it that - as benign as Xavier might seem - they were not about to take Billy to Westchester without knowing a good deal more about the mysterious professor. Undue suspicion perhaps, but it was a suspicion dearly bought. Xavier had not quarreled at all, simply given that annoying enigmatic smile of his and said that they were welcome any time. Mulder was sure the man knew why they weren't bringing their son, and equally sure that he was amused by it. But the mutant community tended to be wary, too, as witnessed by Grey's public concealment of her own mutation. "Dammit," Scully had said later that same evening while crawling up on the kitchen counter to reach a Corning dish on a top shelf. "I want that woman's gift! She's tall. What does she need telekinesis for? She can reach her dishes!" "I'm sure she finds a use for it," Mulder had replied, slipping a hand past Scully's shoulder to nab the out-of-reach cookware even while he'd swung her down off the counter. "And I saw her eying your red hair. Jealousy, thy name is woman." She'd popped him - hard - with the back of her hand. So it wasn't until Friday that they were able to leave for Westchester County, New York. Before departing, Mulder made a visit to Skinner's office. For someone no longer an active agent, he still spent a god- awful amount of time in the Hoover building. Skinner returned from a meeting to find Mulder waiting in his outer office. He raised an eyebrow. "Can I help you, Mulder?" "Five minutes." "Mulder, I - " "Charles Xavier has invited Scully and I to Westchester." Breathing out sharply, Skinner made a gesture for Mulder to follow him into his inner office, then shut the door behind. Mulder sauntered over to lean insolently against Skinner's desk. "So what do you know about Xavier?" Skinner didn't reply immediately, then grunted, "Not a lot," and came over to take his seat behind his desk, pushing files around. "You're in my way, Mulder." Mulder turned and bent over the desk, placing one palm on top of whatever file Skinner was trying to hide in, forcing the AD to look up. "Then how long have you known him?" "I'm not sure I'd say that I 'know' him now. More know of him. He has a great deal of influence." "Like Cancer Man did." "No, Mulder, like a man with money does. I've never seen anything that would lead me to believe that Charles Xavier is dangerous in the same way as the Consortium. Rather the reverse." "He's a mutant telepath. That's not dangerous?" Skinner dropped his pen, or really, threw it down, and gave up on trying to work. "Don't tell me that you, of all people, buy into the current mutant hysteria." Straightening up, Mulder crossed his arms and glared absently at the couch on the far side of Skinner's office. "Of course not. But I dislike secrets." "Tell me something I don't know, Mulder. As for Xavier, the few times he's had dealings with the FBI, it's been to assist in the apprehension of criminals with mutant capabilities." "And sometimes, to protect them - like Scott Summers nine years ago in Omaha, Nebraska." Leaning back in his chair, Skinner just studied Mulder a minute. "Xavier has occasionally asked that we deep-six certain cases involving mutant teens and the unintentional accidents arising from the manifestation of their powers. As with Mr. Summers. Sometimes, those have been X-File cases. More often, they haven't. But I've never heard of Xavier interfering in a true criminal investigation in order to protect a mutant who was using his powers for harm. Remember Robert Modell? The Pusher? He was a mutant, Mulder, had the gift of autosuggestion. I hadn't met Xavier the first time Modell showed up, but the second, in '98, I did know Xavier. In retrospect, I should have called him in on it immediately, but I didn't fully realize, at the time, what that man can do. When I told him later about Modell and Linda Bowman, he wanted absolutely nothing to do Bowman, was glad to see her put away. Charles Xavier, Scott Summers and others like them are not Robert Modell and his sister." "Can you be certain of that, sir?" "Go to Westchester and meet Summers for yourself. You ought to like him. He's a Knicks fan." "Of course he doesn't, Mom. You have to make him go sit on the potty or he'll forget and wet his pants." Pause. "Yes, Mom, I know. We'll be back Sunday, or maybe Monday. Love you, too. Bye." Scully snapped closed her cell and slipped it back into her purse, looked out the car window at the passing Maryland countryside: leaves budding again on oak and maple after winter hibernation, and dogwood and cherry in bloom - brilliant white and pink - on the little square lawns of little square suburban houses. "If she tells me one more time how all four of us were toilet trained by the time we were two, I think I'll scream." "Billy's toilet trained," Mulder said, defensively. He didn't like it when anyone criticized his son, even Margaret Scully. "Billy is likely to use the toilet if someone catches him in time and makes him try. That's not quite the same as toilet trained, Mulder. He just wet my mother's good couch." She looked off out the window. "Mom's right. He should be better trained by now. He'll be four in a month. This is ridiculous. We've been lazy. We let him use diapers too long because it was easier and we were busy. Toilet training takes a concerted effort." She sighed. Mulder didn't reply immediately, just hunched his shoulders and kept his eyes on the road. "Well, this is a vacation. You don't need to be calling your mom every few hours about Billy." She smiled faintly. "Only you, Mulder, would consider a trip to visit Mutant High a 'vacation.'" "Don't tell me you're not looking forward to getting your hands on Jean Grey's research." Her smile deepened. "Oh, I am. But that doesn't make this a vacation. If it were a vacation, I'd be wearing jeans and a t-shirt, not gray wool Amanda Smith with matching heels." Grinning, Mulder popped a sunflower seed into his mouth and bit down on the salty shell, said around it, "Your choice, Scully." He wiped salt off his fingers onto his blue jeans, pushed up the long sleeves of his t-shirt and adjusted the New York Knicks cap on his head. He glanced behind him as he swung off the access ramp onto I-70, accelerating to match traffic. "Feels like old times, doesn't it?" "Yes, it does. Except we only need one room now." "Wow," Mulder said, at their first sight of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, off in the distance down a little private roadway. "Mmm," Scully agreed. "Wonder who mows their lawn?" The 'school' was actually a mansion on an extensive estate not far outside Salem Center, New York. 1407 Greymalkin Lane. He and Scully pulled up on the main drive circle in their Honda Pathfinder and just stared at the front for a bit. "I think we're under-dressed and under- carred, Scully." "You're under-dressed, Mulder. I told you to wear a suit." She popped her door. "Let's go." And she was out before he'd turned off the engine. She seemed eager. But then, once they'd all gotten past the initial shock and wariness in the hotel earlier that week, Scully and Jean Grey had hit it off like a pair of long lost fraternal twins. They'd sat on the couch and chatted in medicalese for an hour until Mulder's eyes had crossed. Himself, he felt a bit more ambivalence. He couldn't shake a lingering annoyance at Xavier's long-ago interference in his case. And maybe, just maybe, he was afraid finally to track down something extraordinary - afraid that if it held still long enough for him to satisfy his curiosity, it would lose all sense of wonder, turn out anti-climactic. Scott Summers was just a man, after all. A mutant, true, but still a man. He taught math at a private high school, coached basketball, and kept the school's books. What was so extraordinary about that? Scully had stopped in the middle of the walkway at the foot of the steps, to look back at him, still standing by the car. "Come on, Mulder." "Yes, ma'am, G-woman." "Oh, I like that," said Jean Grey from where she stood in the now-open doorway at the top of the stairs. "You have him well-trained, Dana." Then she leaned back in the door just a little to call behind her. "You hear that, Scott? He comes when she calls!" "Yeah, yeah," said a voice from the depths of the mansion. Grey was grinning. "Please, come in." And she stood aside to let them enter Xavier's School. Hand in its customary place at the small of Scully's back, Mulder followed his wife inside. His first impression was of expensive oak paneling everywhere. A wall of great windows behind them let in the butter-yellow light of a late April afternoon. This appeared to be a den-turned-game-room for the kids. There were a few students hanging around, sacked out or sprawled on couches watching the television, or playing table hockey. They glanced up as Mulder and Scully entered, then went back to whatever they'd been doing. Judged and summarily dismissed as Too Old to be of interest. Mulder grinned. The kids seemed to be normal teens. One had blue hair, but Mulder wasn't sure if that owed to a mutation or to a peculiar notion of fashion sense. "Once an FBI agent, always an FBI agent," said a pleasant tenor voice laced with good-natured amusement. "Canvassing the place?" Mulder looked down to meet the eyes of the speaker. Well, not quite meet them. The other still had on the eye-wear Mulder had noted in the hallway outside the Senate - fashionable sunglasses with shiny red lenses and what looked like dull-metal blinders to either side, enclosing his eyes completely. Must be hell on his peripheral vision. Otherwise, he had the boy scout good looks of Middle Americana as dressed by L. L. Bean. Coal gray cardigan over a black turtleneck, dark hair, pale skin, small nose, dimple in the chin. He held out a hand to Mulder. "Welcome to Westchester, Mr. Mulder, Dr. Scully. It's good to have you both." It seemed sincere enough. And after a nine-year chase, Mulder reached out to clasp the hand of Scott Summers. "Thanks." Dana shook his hand, too. "And it's Dana, please." He nodded. "Call me Scott." Then he gestured to Mulder's hat. "You're a Knicks fan?" "When the Knicks are playing," Scully said, "all life stops and rotates around the television." "As it should," Summers replied with an irrepressible grin that made Scully smile back automatically, as if dazzled. And Mulder found himself wishing for a very big truck to drop on Summers. Maybe we should put a collar and leash on them both. Came an unexpected - and very feminine - voice inside of Mulder's head. She likes his smile, he likes her hair. Mulder jerked his chin upward to stare at Jean Grey. The professor isn't the only telepath, I see, he thought back. She only smiled. Aloud, Summers said to Scully, "They're talking about us behind our backs." "They are?" Scully seemed surprised. "Jean has a thing for subversive telepathic commentary. She forgets I can still hear her." "I don't forget. I meant you to hear that." "So what did she say?" Scully asked, glancing around at the taller woman - a little doubtful. "She said that you like my smile and I like your hair." Scully blushed, but Summers seemed mostly amused. "She's right. I do. You have very pretty hair." "Thank you. I think." "Um" - Summers clapped his hands together and glanced at Mulder. - "You need help with your luggage?" Mulder blinked. From telepathic side-commentary to unloading the car . . . this had gone past anti-climax into suburban blasé with head- spinning rapidity. Grey seemed to pick up on that. "Slow down, Scott. And Dana, Fox - we're sorry. We're so used to our gifts, we forget other people aren't. And yes, like the professor, I'm also a telepath, if not one so powerful. But I never read people's thoughts without their permission. In fact, I try very hard not to." "You didn't just read my thoughts?" Mulder asked her. She smiled, showing pretty dimples. "Well, I read the ones you projected. Please" - she gestured towards the door behind Summers - "let's go into the kitchen and get some coffee. And talk. We can unload the car later," she said, glancing at Summers. Slightly embarrassed, he shrugged. They were led down a long, wide marble-paved hallway to an industrial kitchen. Off to one side, near a large set of windows, was a pair of eat-in tables. Grey seated them at one while Summers set about making cappuccino, frothy milk and all. "It's the only thing in a kitchen he can handle," Grey confided in a stage whisper. "Hey! I resemble that remark!" Mulder exchanged a small smile with Scully. Grey and Summers were trying very hard to put them at ease. When Summers was done with the four cups, he brought over two himself and Grey lifted the other two without moving from her seat, set them down one each in front of Mulder and Scully, then followed with the sugar bowl. Scully was grinning with a kind of childlike delight. "You didn't spill a drop. I told Mulder the other day that I want your mutation." Grey smiled back. "Actually, it took a long time for me to learn to do that. It's easier to shove things around than move them gently. When my powers first manifested, my parents thought they had a poltergeist. I was throwing chairs into walls, ripping down the curtains, breaking the dishes. It was terrible." "So you think most poltergeists are mutants?" Mulder asked, curious and leaning forward. Scully gripped his hand on the tabletop and squeezed tightly, "Shut up, Mulder," then to Grey and Summers. "Excuse him, please. Mulder is never off-duty, even though he's not in the Bureau any more." "That's okay," Grey said, grinning over the top of her cappuccino cup. "Scott's never off-duty, either." Summers elbowed her, but lightly so she wouldn't spill her coffee, and took a sip of his own. "I doubt," Scully said, "that being on duty for Scott includes alien abductions and little gray men." Summers actually snorted coffee out his nose all over the white Formica tabletop, apologized and wiped it up with a napkin, then glanced at Mulder. "Alien abductions?" "This from a guy who shoots laser beams out his eyes?" "They're not laser beams," Summers corrected. "They're optic blasts. No heat, just force. And I don't blame them on little green men." "Little gray men," Mulder corrected. Remembering the crumbled bathroom wall at a San Diego high school, he leaned his elbows on the table. "All right. I've been waiting nine years for this. Just how do these 'optic blasts' work?" ". . . and awaaaay we go . . . . " Scully muttered beside him, rolling her eyes. "He has the bit in his teeth now, folks. But I confess I'm curious, too." "It's okay." Summers was smiling. "Jean should probably be the one to explain this, but essentially, my body metabolizes solar energy and transforms it into force beams, which are then released through my eyes." "Why the eyes?" Summers shrugged and sunlight flashed off the red of his glasses. "You got me. It's damn inconvenient." "That's why you wear the glasses?" "Yes. I sustained brain damage as a boy, in an accident. Well, I guess you know; it was the plane crash that killed my parents. My brother and I were the only survivors. My parachute caught on fire when it opened, so I hit the ground hard, had a cracked skull and a bad concussion. The part of my brain that normally would have controlled my mutation was damaged. So the beams are stuck in permanent on. I can't turn them off. The glasses - they're ruby quartz - dissipate the force of the blasts, so I don't hurt people, pets, the furniture, the wall, the ceiling . . . . " He gestured absently to encompass everything. "You have to wear them all the time?" Scully asked. "I have to wear them all the time," he answered, nodding, then tilted his head. "The professor told us that you and Dana were the FBI agents sent out to investigate what happened at my high school, the, um, night everything hit the fan." "Yes, that's right. We chased you all the way to Omaha. Then your professor intervened." He couldn't quite keep the irritation out of his voice. Frowning, Summers ran a thumb up and down the side of his white mug. He wasn't looking at Mulder, and didn't reply for a long minute. Grey watched him, then reached beneath the table to pat his knee. "I know it's not exactly kosher," Summers began, "what Charles did, but you have to understand, I wouldn't have listened to you. I'd have been too scared to hear anything you said. And you probably wouldn't have known what to say, anyway. You wouldn't have known what was happening to me. Not many people did, in '96." "That was before the public became aware of mutations," Grey put in smoothly. Her hand still rested on Summer's knee. "Scott and I were some of Charles' first students. Charles taught us what we were, helped us learn to control our powers, and most of all, taught us not to be afraid - or ashamed - of being different. If you saw my presentation - " Scully and Mulder both nodded. " - then you know that mutations typically manifest during adolescence under the pressure of a stressful situation. In fact, it's a build-up of stress, triggered by one specific, tense event. In my case, my mutation manifested very young. At ten, I witnessed the death of a childhood friend from a car accident - I felt her die, through my telepathy, and went to pieces. I spent years in and out of sanitariums diagnosed as schizophrenic because of the voices in my head. No one could help me until I met the professor. By contrast, Scott's powers manifested quite late." She stopped to glance at him, let him tell his own story. Or not. He stared out the window instead, and the silence hung heavy for a while. Dust motes danced in the slanting light, and in the distance, Mulder could hear the voices of students, rising and falling. He remembered what Elizabeth Franklin had said, years ago. Pushing Scott didn't get far. Grey hadn't quite pushed him. She'd just walked him right up to the edge and was going to see if he'd jump across on his own. Mulder doubted that he often did. But this time, he sighed and said, "I was under a lot of pressure about school." He'd gone back to rubbing a thumb up and down his cup. "I couldn't go to college without a scholarship; my foster parents sure couldn't afford to send me. They'd already given me more than I'd ever expected. I had a rap sheet, and even though juvenile records are sealed when you turn eighteen, I wasn't eighteen yet. On every college application, I had to explain myself, convince people that taking a chance on me wasn't a mistake." "But I thought you were accepted at Berkeley?" Mulder asked. "That's pretty prestigious." "Yes. But I kept expecting the admissions office to call me back and say there'd been a mistake, they hadn't realized everything I'd done wrong. When you're an orphan, you get used to having the rug yanked out from underneath you." Grey had, Mulder noted, slipped her arm around the back of his chair and now patted his back unobtrusively. Consciously, he seemed oblivious, but his body language had relaxed again and he'd quit rubbing his cappuccino mug. These two knew each other as well as Mulder knew Scully and he wondered how long they'd been together. Summers was younger than Grey - notably so. Grey must have been graduating from medical school when Summers was graduating from high school. "The fight with my date at the prom wasn't that important," Summers continued, "just a last straw kind of thing. When I blew out the bathroom wall, I didn't understand what had happened, but I was sure no one would believe a JD if he said he hadn't done it on purpose. Everything I'd planned on was shot to hell. So I ran. That's why I wouldn't have listened to you. I needed someone who could explain to me what I was, what had happened and - most importantly - someone who could fix it, give me back a chance to show I wasn't a screw-up." Looking from Summers to Mulder, Grey said, "That's why Scott is so effective here. More than half our students are run-aways, or have criminal records. He can talk to them in a way I can't. He understands, on a completely different level, what they're going through." "And I can usually catch them at whatever they're planning before they pull it off, too," he added with a smile. "They think I have eyes in the back of my head." "No, they know you have a telepathic fiancée." "You didn't have that much of a criminal record, Scott," Scully said. He shifted in his seat, glanced at the table. "No, not really, not compared to some. I have a little more perspective now, but when you're a foster kid, there's an assumption going in that you'll be trouble. It doesn't take much to justify that assumption in people's eyes." "I thought the Franklins were supportive?" Mulder asked. "They were. Very much so. I owe them a lot. But it's one thing to be supportive when your foster son stays out of trouble and brings home As. It's another when he wrecks his high school bathroom. That was a whole different level of trouble from a few arrests for shoplifting or theft when I wasn't old enough to know better. Without the professor, I'd have lost my scholarship, and Gene and Beth would've been stuck with me living there until I could get some kind of two-bit job. I'd have been a burden on them. I didn't want to be that." It was said with complete frankness, not as a plea for pity, and struck Mulder hard. He shared a quick glance with Scully, and reached behind him to fish in his jacket pocket, pulled out the letter that had been waiting for nine years. He laid it on the table - face up so that "For Scott" was clearly visible in Elizabeth Franklin's fine handwriting - and pushed it across to Summers. "I don't think they'd have seen it that way." Summers stared at the letter a minute, as if Mulder had set down a viper in front of him, then laid a hand down on top of it. "How'd you get this?" "During the course of our investigation, we interviewed your foster parents. The first thing out of your foster mother's mouth when we arrived at the door was, 'Is he okay? Did you find him?' She wasn't mad at you; she was worried. When we found out that the case had been closed - by Xavier, I now know - I called them to explain. She asked if she could send me this letter, to give to you if I ever did find you. It's been nine years, but . . . this is yours. She wanted you to know that you could come home. Call it a hunch, but I doubt that's changed even after nine years." Summers grabbed the letter and stood up so fast he almost knocked over his chair, then he was gone. Grey watched him go, turning back after a moment to smile softly. "Thank you, Fox. This means more to Scott than you can guess. If you'll excuse me?" "Certainly." And she left them to themselves at the table. As it turned out, Xavier had to show Mulder and Scully around his school, as Summers and Grey remained missing. The professor brought the tour to a close at their guestroom. In the meantime, a pair of students had carried in their luggage, and parked their car. "Do I tip the valet?" Mulder asked the boy, who Xavier introduced as Bobby Drake, when Drake handed over Mulder's keys. "Only if you don't want me to freeze your underwear," Drake replied, grinning. "Master Drake is our resident ice man," Xavier explained as Drake turned to Scully and gestured for her to hold out her hand. She did so and he placed his over it. Mulder watched Scully's eyes go wide and her mouth open in surprise. When Drake took his hand away, there was a single, perfect ice rosette nestled in the cup of her palm. "It's beautiful," Scully said. "It's how I welcome all the girls." He was still grinning. "Even the married ones. Enjoy your visit, Dr. Scully, Mr. Mulder." He nodded to them both and took off down the hall to join the other student, a young Indian named Neal Sharra. "I'll leave you both to rest. Dinner is at seven o'clock, and after that, I believe Jean will have time to show you around her lab, Dana." "I look forward to it," Scully said, still holding the rose, which had begun to melt from the heat of her skin. Xavier motored out and Scully shut the door behind him, smiled down at the rosette and then went to lay it in the bathroom sink. When she came back out, Mulder asked, "Well, what do you think, Scully?" "That we walked into a permanent X-File? Or no, if this were an X-File, they'd be disappearing into the woodwork without an explanation, not giving me ice roses, parking our car, or making us cappuccino in their kitchen." "Yeah." He turned around in place and studied the room. Very nice. Very Victorian. And very expensive decor. "How do you feel about it, Mulder? This must be like a dream come true for you. The X-File you got to solve." He shook his head. "We've solved a lot of X-Files, just not with reports that the directors wanted to read. This is more up your alley: scientific explanation and documentation for the apparently impossible. Human beings really can shoot force beams out of their eyes, at least if their bodies absorb solar energy. He sounds like a plant - mutant photosynthesis." She took off her suit jacket and sat down on the bed, patted the cover. He sat beside her and she rested her palm on his knee. It was, Mulder thought, an unconscious repeat of Grey's earlier gesture with Summers. "So what do think of Jean and Scott?" she asked. "He's younger than her. By more than a few years, too." "Don't be archaic, Mulder. And y'know, he reminds me a lot of you." "He does?" "Mmm, yes." "Like?" "Oh, little things. I get the feeling he might chew the erasers off his pencils, too." "So I should worry about Mr. Ultrabright Smile, huh?" He was only half- joking. She just laughed at him. "You don't need to worry about anything, Mulder." When he and Scully arrived in the mansion dining hall for supper, they were introduced to more students and a teacher named Ororo Munroe, a black woman with spectacular white hair and an even more spectacular bust line that she didn't seem to mind showing off with a push-up bra. Scully caught Mulder eying the woman's cleavage and glared. The two of them then ate dinner at a table with Munroe and Xavier while the professor explained his hope that one day, mutants and non-mutants would be able to live together peaceably. Xavier had clearly taken a page from MLK, but Mulder found himself nodding along. Neither Summers nor Grey turned up until supper was almost over, when Grey came in looking miffed. She helped herself to some garlic bread and a cup of coffee, and joined them. "Don't tell me," Xavier said by way of greeting, "Scott is being stubborn." "Completely unreasonable." She sat down, a little bonelessly, between Xavier and Munroe. "I need some aspirin." Scully fished in her purse and pulled out a bottle, set it in front of Grey. "Here. I always carry some." She thumbed at Mulder. "He's no better." Mulder wisely kept his mouth shut as Grey sighed and poured out three white tabs into her hand. "Scott can be the king of angst, sometimes." "He would not be Cyclops, otherwise," Munroe said enigmatically from Grey's other side. She had a slight African accent. "Cyclops?" Mulder asked. "Cyclops is his nickname," Xavier explained. Then, to Grey, "I take it that he is still refusing to call the Franklins?" "Yes. He's convinced they won't want anything to do with him, since he's a mutant. The letter was written nine years ago, he says." "But he's been writing to them himself in the meantime," Scully said. "Yes. Scott's like that. He writes so they know he's okay - just in case they're worried - but then convinces himself that they don't want anything to do with him. Classic double-think. He's very good at it, at least when it comes to his own irrationalities." "Most men are," Scully muttered with a sidewise glance at Mulder. Munroe put a hand over her mouth to hide her smile, and rose. "Please excuse me. It was nice to meet you both, but I promised to chaperone some of the students to a movie, and we must depart soon. So until tomorrow . . . ." She glided off, gathering students in her wake with a few glances, as serene as a goddess. Jean pushed away her uneaten garlic bread and rose, too, coffee in hand. "Dana? Shall we go deal with rational DNA instead of irrational males? At least DNA behaves in consistent fashion." "The males don't get any better, either, the longer you know them," Scully said, also getting to her feet. "You just get used to their own unique brands of irrationality." Mulder glanced at Xavier. "Isn't this supposed to be our conversation about the opposite gender?" Then, to Grey, he asked, "Where is Scott?" "He went jogging down by the lake." She turned away. "See if you can talk some sense into him, Fox." And she left with Scully. "Do you mind?" Mulder asked Xavier, who made a gesture of gracious assent. "By all means. You do remember how to get to the lake trail? Or never mind, how foolish of me. Fox Mulder forgets very little, I think." He winked. "We all have our own unique gifts, don't we? Mutant and non- mutant alike." Going back to his room, Mulder changed into his jogging sweats, then headed outside. It was almost dark, despite the fact that the time had recently changed over to Daylight Savings. The lake wasn't big, but the trail around it measured about a mile. Mulder stretched out while he waited for Summers to approach in the distance, then jogged out to meet the younger man. Summers was sweating under his baseball cap, but a long way from worn out. Even in his preppy clothes earlier, it had been clear he was in good shape - better shape than Mulder these days. "You run, too?" he asked as Mulder caught up to him. "Or did Jean send you to chastise me?" "Yes." "To which?" "Both." Summers laughed and didn't reply further. They circuited the lake twice before stopping. Summers had brought water, which Mulder had forgotten, and they shared it. "I usually only do five miles," he said as he stretched to cool down. "That was five for me. You can go on if you want." "I usually run in the morning," Mulder told him, "so I've already done mine for the day." "In short, I'm not getting away from you that easily." Mulder just put the cap back on the water bottle and handed it to him. "Charles said you have a psych degree from Oxford," Summers went on. "I should probably run screaming into the hills before you psychoanalyze me." But he just collapsed in the grass. Mulder collapsed across from him. "I have a B.A. in psych, which is generic enough to mean nothing at all. My masters is in criminal justice. So unless you're a serial killer in disguise, I'm not going to play counselor." "And if I were a serial killer?" "I'd just recite you your rights and arrest you." Summers didn't reply to that, grinned faintly and looked off. His glasses had been replaced by a funny-looking contraption that strapped over both ears and across his nose, but appeared to fit more securely on his face. It had one long, narrow aperture of red quartz instead of dual lenses. Mulder pointed to it. "Is that why they call you Cyclops?" "Wha-?" He appeared startled. "Who told you that?" "Ororo Munroe called you Cyclops; Xavier explained it was your nickname." "Oh. Yes." He tapped the right ear-piece. "The glasses just stop my power. This allows me to control it. The visor also has less of a tendency to come off, when I'm doing anything active. So I wear it, or goggles." Mulder gestured towards the visor. "Will you show me what you can do? I confess, I've been curious ever since I first saw the wall in your high school bathroom." Summers' infectious grin had come back. "Sure." Getting up, he looked around. "Let me find something . . . " He came back with a couple of fallen tree branches of differing sizes. They were almost rotted from the passage of winter. "Here. And, um, you might want to move back behind me so I don't hit you with splinters." Then he showed Mulder just how he'd blasted a hole through a concrete wall - only with a good deal more control and precision. He cut up the branches into little pieces with red beams ranging in size from the width of a straw to the size of Mulder's thumb. "Maybe I'm the one who should run screaming into the hills," Mulder said when he was done, and realized immediately that it was the wrong thing to say. Summers had turned away, his face coloring slightly. "I won't hurt you, Fox. I've spent nine years of my life, learning how to avoid hurting anyone." Mulder set a hand on his shoulder. "Sorry. Sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain." He wasn't normally good at apologizing, but felt it was crucial here for a variety of reasons ranging from Summers' obvious insecurity to Xavier's earlier expressed hope that non-mutants could learn not to fear mutants. 'Most people,' Xavier had said, 'want to do the right thing, want to be good people - regardless of their DNA makeup. Most people are not monsters, and power need not corrupt, unless it's feared.' God knew, Mulder had seen his share of monsters down the years, seen enough of them to know that it didn't take a mutation to make one, and seen enough of them to know that Summers was about as far from a monster as it was possible to get. But a simple apology wasn't going to cut it. "Hey, at least 'Cyclops' is better than 'Spooky,'" Mulder said. "Spooky?" "It's what they used to call me at the Bureau. Spooky Mulder." "Why?" "My penchant for chasing little gray men from outer space." He waved a hand dismissively. "Well, not at first." Then he pointed to the dock. "You want to go out there?" Summers shrugged. "Sure." They grabbed towels and water and went to sit on the dock, watch the stars blooming now that the sun had set. "So why Spooky?" "When I first started at the Bureau, I worked in Violent Crimes, profiling." "Ah - the serial killer crack." "Yeah. I did that for a couple years, till I burned out. I can take a lot of diverse information, let it stew in my head, and something pops out that's usually right. I make unconscious analogies and connections that don't make sense to most people. But they make sense to me. It's the weird way my brain works." "So they called you Spooky." "So they called me Spooky. I didn't exactly make friends. I was a little too good, a little too young, and a little too cocky about it all." Summers snorted but didn't reply immediately, slapped away a bug. "I can do that, with tactics. Well, I do it with trigonometry, too, but that's related to the mutation. My ability with tactics isn't. I think it runs in the family. I come from a long line of military officers, and inherited whatever they had. I didn't realize it until college, when I kept beating the pants off my friends at war games." "You do war games?" "Yup. You?" "Occasionally. You want to play, later?" He grinned. "Sure. Jean'll make fun of us, though, for playing with action figures." Mulder chuckled. "So will Scully." "What is it about red-headed women?" "Red-headed doctor women." "Red-headed doctor women with tempers who swear up and down they don't have one." "Exactly." "'You can't live with 'em, you can't live without 'em,'" Summers sang in a fair Kermit imitation. "'There's just something irresistible-ish about 'em.'" Which laid out Mulder on the dock, laughing. After a while he sat back up. Summers was drinking from the water bottle, passed it over. Somewhere out in the lake, a fish jumped in the dark. "Y'know," Mulder began, "this is really none of my business, but I think you should call Elizabeth Franklin." "I had a feeling you weren't really going to let me get out of this conversation. So I'll tell you the same thing I told Jean. It was nine years ago. Whatever Beth thought then is a lot different from me calling her now. I'm a mutant - one who can't pass. Not for long. This" - he tapped the visor again - "pretty much guarantees me my own seat on the subway. Even at rush hour." "Not all people are fools." "Maybe not. But a lot are." It was very bitter, and Mulder could hear an embryo of his own highly developed sarcasm in Summers' young voice. And Mulder wanted to abort it. "One thing I've seen, over and over," he told Summers, "is that when people lose something they care about, they start reviewing what's really important." He hesitated, then went on, "We didn't think Scully would ever be able to have a baby." He didn't bother to explain why; it was too weird, too convoluted, and wasn't important to his point. "When she did get pregnant, it was . . . a miracle. Plain and simple. But it was also completely unplanned for. When Billy was born, it meant she had to give up a lot of what she did for the Bureau. The section we worked together for seven years - the X-Files - is being run by different people these days. But that doesn't matter. Billy's worth it. He's worth everything. If getting pregnant hadn't been an issue, though, we might have been a little less sanguine about an unexpected pregnancy that threw our lives into disorder, made me lose my badge, and changed both our jobs." Summers had turned his head to listen, but it was hard to tell what he was thinking - and not just because of the visor. He had a good poker face. "You're saying that a brush with tragedy rearranges our priorities." "Something like that. Not exactly an original insight, but true enough." "That still doesn't mean the Franklins are going to want to hear from me." "I think they will. Remember, I have this 'spooky' ability to profile people. Trust me on this one, Summers. The people I talked to in San Diego aren't going to give a damn if you're a mutant or a little gray alien. They'll want to hear from you." With a small smile, Summers turned away to stare out across the lake. "I'll consider it." "You do that." Mulder enjoyed his visit more than he'd thought he would, but couldn't escape the feeling that he was being sized-up by Xavier. And he came away convinced there was a hell of a lot more going on at that school than teaching mutant kids a bit of history, math, grammar, and how to control their sometimes catastrophic powers. Yet his suspicions gave him none of that hair-raised-at-the-nape-of-the-neck feel that Consortium business always did. Whatever Xavier and his teachers were hiding, it wasn't sinister. And Mulder was content to play their game a bit - bide his time - in part because he was fairly sure that Xavier knew he'd put two and two together and come up with six . . . and had gone poking around the mansion after dark on Saturday night before they left on Sunday. He still hadn't found anything. And he was sure Xavier knew that, too. The man was uncanny. But not creepy. Quite. It annoyed Mulder nonetheless. There was something here to be found. For instance, the little sub-basement infirmary where Scully and Jean Grey had whiled away most of the weekend was too suspicious. And Mulder had caught Summers coming up from the sub-basement once with grease all over his hands - and Mulder was pretty damn sure he hadn't gotten that from fixing medical equipment, whatever his lame excuse. One didn't use engine grease on CAT scanners, and besides, according to Scully, everything ran perfectly. When Summers had said he'd been fixing broken equipment, Mulder had simply looked him in the eye (behind the glasses) and replied, "Of course you were," then walked away. He'd heard Summers chuckle behind him. So nobody really fooled anyone, but everyone politely pretended that they had. For the time being. On Sunday, Mulder and Scully packed their bags, loaded their Honda, and prepared to go rescue Margaret Scully from an energetic pre-schooler. "We hope that you will return soon," Xavier said to them as Summers shook Mulder's hand and Grey leaned against Summers' shoulder - one of the more open displays of affection that Mulder had yet witnessed between them. Like he and Scully, they didn't need to touch to convey that they came as a unit. It was in their posture, in the way they leaned a little towards each other, or were always aware of the other's placement in a room. They didn't need to touch any more to claim ownership. "Bring your son next time, too," Grey said. "We'd like to meet him." Summers nodded. "We will," Scully said, and hugged Grey, though she had to reach up and Grey had to bend down. The woman wasn't that much shorter than Mulder. And Mulder and Scully went home. They agreed, privately, that they would be back to snoop out whatever was going on up there. It was a few weeks later that Mulder was once again watching television from his black couch in the rec room. The incident at Ellis and Liberty Islands was all over the news. "A mutant attack on world leaders!" was the New Special Headline, with looping repeat footage of the bizarre white light that had spread out across the bay towards New York City and Ellis Island from Liberty Island, but had never reached its targets. There were also half-baked analyses to fill up air-space and conceal the fact that nobody really knew what the hell had happened. Scully was in the kitchen on the phone with John Doggett, who'd been called in to assist with evacuation and mop-up - not as head of the X- Files, just as a warm body because they'd needed a lot of them. After a while, she moseyed back into the rec room and sat down beside him on the couch. "So what'd John say?" he asked. "They still don't know what happened, exactly. John's old friend Craig Downer led the securing of Liberty Island. The statue is missing her torch and some peculiar machine was put up in its place. The inside of the head is trashed, too, metal all bent up, and there are three huge gauges in one of the statue's headdress spikes. Very bizarre. A man was left behind, unconscious - an elderly man, apparently a mutant-- and some rather peculiar orders came down the pike to Downer not long after they found him. The man should not be permitted to wake until he was secured in a cell made entirely of plastic. No metal within some given amount of distance, I don't remember how much. Now, I wonder - from where did those orders originate?" "His name begins with X?" "Mmm. No one's saying, but I bet Skinner knows. In any case, the real question is, Who left Metal-head conveniently unconscious and all trussed up like a Christmas turkey, for the FBI? Downer is as curious as a cat who smells tuna. And now John's suspicious, too. But I don't think Xavier could get to the top of the Statue of Liberty, do you Mulder?" "I'm not putting any limits on what that guy can get to." "Well, let me give you the last interesting tidbit. This mysterious machine that had been installed where the torch had been? It was blasted apart. Downer described it - and I quote John - 'It looked like a cannon had hit it. But no evidence of burning.' And witnesses said that they saw a 'red blast' coming out of the statue. Sound familiar, Mulder?" "Scott Summers." "My thought exactly. Just what are they doing up there, at Westchester?" "Playing mutant vigilantes, it sounds like." "Maybe it is time to visit them again. But should we warn them about John, or take him along, do you think?" "Maybe we should ask Xavier first." Yet when Mulder tried to call, all he got was the school answering machine. For three days. And no reply to his several phone messages. On the fourth day, Ororo Munroe answered finally. "The professor is currently unavailable," she said. "But we do have your messages and shall have him call you as soon as he is able." "Let me talk to Scott," he said. "Scott is currently unavailable, as well. But I can have him return your call." Frustrated, Mulder just hung up. "Dammit. Prep schools aren't supposed to give you the run-around." When he'd waited three more days with no return call, he tried again. This time, he got Jean Grey. "I thought Scott was supposed to call me? Or doesn't anybody get his messages up there?" "Hello, Fox," Grey said, amusement edging her voice. "It's nice to hear from you, too." "Don't hand me that. I've been trying to get in touch with Xavier, or Summers, for days. Where's Scott?" "He's in San Diego." That stopped Mulder cold. "San Diego? How long has he been in San Diego?" "Since yesterday." "So he called his foster parents finally." "Yes. We had . . . a little excitement around here. He decided it was time to quit putting it off before he didn't have a second chance. They were tickled pink, and wanted to see him immediately. Of course." "Of course. And as for the 'excitement' - Scott blew up a machine on the Statuue of Liberty, didn't he? And then left a fellow named Erik Lehnsherr for the FBI to find." Complete silence for a good ten beats. Finally Grey said - clearly shaken - "Scott didn't exaggerate. You do put puzzles together on spit and a shoestring. But it's a little more complicated than that." "Yeah? Well, tell Scott that he has some explaining to do, when he gets back from California. Or I'll sic John Doggett on him and he'll wind up as another X-File." A tinge of amusement again. "I shall tell him." "Tell him, too, that I'm glad he called the Franklins." "So am I, Fox. So am I. Good-night." "Jean - " "Yes?" "It's Mulder. Nobody calls me 'Fox' except for Scully's mother." A laugh over the phone line. "Noted. Mulder. Good-night." END Yes, obviously, I plan to write another cross-over story at some time. I still haven't done my Scully - Jean Grey X-File. But I won't do it just yet. If anyone else has a hankering to write X-Men/X-Files, I'd certainly encourage it. Feedback is always welcomed and greeted with ecstatic squeals of glee.