It's been awhile
Since I've seen the way
The candle lights your face.
It's been awhile
But I can still remember just the way you tasteā€¦
Staind--It's Been Awhile

He tossed a pile of bills on the dingy motel counter and took the room key. To another room in another motel in another nasty corner of town. He'd signed in as George Hale. He'd used so many names over the past months he couldn't remember how long it had been since he'd used that one, but it seemed safe enough.

The room smelled funny. Most of them had smelled funny. He dug the Lysol out of his suitcase and sprayed it around haphazardly, then turned his attention to more important things.

He opened his laptop and turned it on, then waited impatiently for it to boot. It had become a lifeline of sorts. In spite of several carefully arranged and screened sessions with the Lone Gunmen, they hadn't worked out a reliably safe means of using voice lines.

Not that the Internet had proved so reliably safe. After last month's security breach, he'd stayed offline for a few weeks, until the Gunmen contacted him through a coded message on their website. Since then he'd set up four anonymous email accounts, as had Scully, and she only accessed messages through public computers, never, anymore, on her own machine. It meant fewer messages, less news, more general aloneness for him. And for her. But she had Doggett, and Skinner, and William. He had nothing but his memories.

The memories were the only thing keeping him alive these days. Without those, he would have taken a header off the ninth or tenth floor of one of these damned stinking hotels months ago. He might have, anyway, if it hadn't been for William.

One of the memories he clung to was the argument they'd had before he'd left. He hadn't wanted to go. It seemed a strange thing to hang onto, but the shouting and weeping had been motivated by love, and that was what he felt whenever he remembered it. It was love that seared him, stabbed through him and made him hurt so intensely he could barely stand it, but it was love. He'd never experienced love like that in his life. Not before her. And now William.

"What difference does it make, Scully? They kill me here or they kill me somewhere else. If they kill me here I'm with you and William."

"We can keep you safe, Mulder. I know we can. We can keep you safe long enough that you can come back."

"And what if we can't?"

"We have to try. I want my son to have a father."

And that had brought him up short. Never mind the information had come from Kersh, and so was suspect to begin with. Never mind he doubted he'd be able to avoid assassination for more than a couple of weeks. He had to do everything he could. For William. And if he left, William would be safer, and so would Scully. And maybe, just maybe, things would work out so they could be a family again.

The laptop had finally booted up, and he activated the cellular modem. Something else the Gunmen had set up, smuggling it to him via an anonymous post office box he'd held all of thirty-six hours. The modem was outfitted with some kind of scrambler or another, something to keep anyone from intercepting the signal. He didn't understand the particulars. It took forever to connect, though. He scratched his face. He'd grown the beard a couple of weeks ago and he hated it. He also hated the way his hair had grown past his collar, but it offered some sort of half-assed disguise. At least the shitty clothes were comfortable.

Finally, the Lone Gunmen's homepage appeared. The message indicated which addresses they felt would be the safest for them to use today. He hopped over to that page and sent an email to Scully's "safe" address. Now for more waiting.

So he thought about Scully. The way she smelled, the way her mouth tasted, the way she moved under him in the dark. The same thoughts that had gotten him through innumerable unending nights. And then about William, the soft baby sounds he made when he nursed, the way the top of his head smelled, the indescribable softness of his skin. For a few days they'd all been together, and he'd cuddled William against him, and kissed him, and wondered if his own father, hard and cold as he'd always seemed, had ever felt that kind of indescribable, all-encompassing adoration.

And then he'd had to go.

He clicked on the "New Mail" button again and finally got a message. Not from Scully, but Byers. It was a URL and instructions to log into an anonymous chat room.

A chat room. His heart jumped. Real-time conversation. He couldn't believe how excited he was at the prospect. His hands actually shook as he typed in the URL, a screen name, then a quick message: Hello, anybody home?

The message appeared on the echoingly blank screen next to the name he'd chosen: FoxNSox.

And a message came back.

LPetrie: Reading Seuss again, are we?

He sniffed back sudden tears. He could almost hear her voice. "Just practicing."

"That's a tough one. Try Hop on Pop instead."

"Are there foxes in it?"

"I think so. There are in Green Eggs and Ham."

"Ah, yes. Would you, could you, with a fox?"

"Yes, I would. As often as possible."

He folded his hands against his mouth until the surge of emotion subsided. "How's the munchkin?"

"He's good. He smiled today."

"First time?"

"I'm not sure. I think he smiled a few weeks ago, but it might have just been gas." There was a slight pause. "He looks so much like you."

He couldn't answer that. He didn't know what to say.

"Still there?" she inquired.

"Yeah. Sorry."

"It's okay. I miss you. So much."

Another name popped up and for a split second his face went cold, until the screen name clicked in his brain: GrsyKnll.

"Five minutes."

"You're eavesdropping?" He typed it too fast and misspelled "eavesdropping."

"Just monitoring. Carry on."

He rubbed his face, wondering which of the Gunmen was monitoring. Probably Frohike. Just reading away. No such thing as a private conversation in this world.

Screw it. He only had five minutes.

"I love you."

Her answer came back quickly. Apparently Frohike's presence didn't bother her. "I love you."

"Kiss William for me."

"I will."

Three minutes. There was so much to say, but nothing he could express. Not here. Not now. "I need to tell you, there's hope now. I know things now. It won't be long. I'll be home."

"That's enough," said GrsyKnll.

"It's okay," Scully put in. "I'll go now."

"Time's up, anyway." He had a few more seconds. "Remember. Hold on. I swear to God I'll be home."

"I love you."

And then he was kicked out of the chat room before he could answer.

He stared at the error messages on the screen, letting the pain run through him. So precious, these moments, so hard to let go of when they ended. Slowly, he typed in the URL to check the email account again.

There was a message, from GrsyKnll. "Next time we get you a webcam. Follow all instructions and we can probably give you fifteen minutes."

He smiled. A webcam. Jerky, out-of-synch pictures of his son. Of Scully.

And he would be home. Pieces of the puzzle were starting to fall into place. He'd learned more in the quarry than he'd ever imagined he could. His work would continue until they found the answers, and then he would come home. To William. To Scully.

He logged off. He'd been online long enough for now. He could go to the library later and log in there, do a little more research without having to worry as much about being traced. The pile of papers in the folder in his suitcase got thicker every day.

It was only a matter of time.