Title: The Hard Edges of Things
Spoilers: Requiem
Category: AU post-Requiem

Summary: When Mulder returns from his abduction three years later, he's burdened with a horrific secret.

Author's Note: This story greatly diverges from canon after season seven. The prequel, "Ashes Bitter on Her Tongue" might shed some light on parts of the plot. Or not.

When the wind shifted overhead he could feel it blister his bare skin. The heat of it, a flame that would consume him, though poor fuel his body must be. If there had been air in his lungs, he would have screamed. There wasn't. The distance he'd been dropped, flung like a cigarette out a car window, had winded him on impact. All he could do was stare up at the craft with eyes that burned with the rest of him.

The craft didn't acknowledge the broken human that it left on the ground below. Instead it lingered a moment while its pilot punched in coordinates, then zoomed off leaving a trail of colored sparks that could have been fireworks but weren't.

Breathing shallowly, Mulder watched it go, and hoped that he would never see it again. Eventually he reached out one hand to touch a blistered leg. He pulled his hand away, bewildered. All his fingers had found was smooth, slightly hairy skin. No burns or blisters. He ran his hands over his thin body and found more of the same. He hadn't burned. Not even a little. The scars were still there, but he'd expected that. The craft had been full of shiny surfaces to show what they'd done to him with their sharp blades. Like scalpels, but not quite, just like all the dream (or nightmare) familiar objects they'd had. Earth-like objects designed by a fevered artist who lingered too long over the Guernica.

He waited on the cold ground. Maybe someone would come along to help him. Maybe he'd die and no one would have to bother. No one came, and the sky didn't lighten. It just stayed dark and mercifully empty but for a few half-hearted stars.

So he got up, trying not to moan out loud though there was no one to hear him. There were houses up and down the road but he knocked on no doors. A clothes line along his path found itself light a sweater, drawstring pants, and a fleece throw. The owners didn't notice. No one noticed the first naked, then oddly clothed man who slowly limped down the long winding road.

He knew where he was. It seemed odd, that he might have been left somewhere vaguely familiar, but he half way trusted that his mind wasn't just playing a cruel trick on him. A single-minded determined was the only thing that kept his feet moving. His destination wasn't far, perhaps just six or seven miles, but that was a least five miles more than his body was up for.

By the time he got where he needed to be, the blisters were real, at least on the soles of his feet. He meant to raise his fist and knock on the door, but in the end his courage failed him.

Early the next morning Skinner nearly tripped over the man sleeping on his porch. He had it in mind to wake the bum and tell him to move on when he realized that the man shivering under the half-sized blanket was his missing agent.

Bending down, he gently shook Mulder's shoulder to wake him. Eventually Mulder cracked his bloodshot eyes open and stared at him. To Skinner's relief there was recognition in that gaze.

"Skinner," he rasped, and the surprised look on Mulder's face clearly telegraphed his thoughts: Mulder was also wondering how long it had been since he last spoke.

"Can you stand?" Skinner's voice was gruffer than he intended, but Mulder nodded.

When he stood trembling before him, Skinner was horrified that even through the tight sweater he could occasionally see the outline of Mulder's ribs as he moved. "Let's get you inside. It's too cold out here." It was unseasonably cool for August, promising rain later in the day, but he suspected that it was a lack of body fat, not the temperature, making the other man so miserably cold.

Mulder was clearly stiff from his nap on the porch because he had the shuffling gait of a man in leg irons. It took three times as long as Skinner had patience for to get him to the kitchen table and put a mug of coffee into his hands. Mulder gave him a grateful look, and Skinner almost warned him not to offer thanks until after his first sip.

Instead of asking any of the thousands of questions crowding his head, Skinner went to the fridge and took out a carton of eggs and a pound of bacon. He occupied himself with the mundanities of cooking while Mulder slowly drained his mug.

"How long." Mulder's voice was so quiet that Skinner didn't realize he'd spoken at first.

When he glanced over at him, the other man was looking at him expectantly. "Mulder..." The rest of the words died in Skinner's throat. How would he explain?

Mulder looked away. It seemed as though he realized that he had just placed a great burden on Skinner. Still looking out the window he said, "I have to call Scully."


"She needs to know that I'm back."

"She doesn't need to know right now," Skinner objected.

"Yes, she does," Mulder insisted.

"Mulder..." Skinner broke off, frustrated, wondering how he could explain. Just do it, he told himself firmly. It's kinder if you don't pussyfoot around it. "If you call her now, you'll wake her kids."

This made Mulder looked up sharply. "Kids? She said...she said the IVF didn't work."

Skinner sat down heavily. "It didn't. There was a moment, right after you were abducted that she was given false hope. But no. It didn't work."

"Then she found someone else," Mulder said in a dead voice. His eyes got that faraway look again that suggested that he was shutting down.

"Not the way you're thinking," Skinner protested. "About a year after you were abducted she got a phone call. Two toddlers had been orphaned after a car accident. The lawyer for the family's estate had insisted they do a DNA search because they thought an uncle might have donated bone marrow and was in the system. They didn't find a wayward uncle. Instead they found Scully."

Mulder stared at him, face painted with disbelief. It was only when Mulder began to rant that he understood what he'd said wrong. "About a year? Scully found two more of her children about a year after I was abducted? How long have I been gone? Answer me, God dammit!"

"Three years."

Skinner's statement hung in the air for a full minute before Mulder said anything more.

"Tell me about these children. Are they healthy?" Mulder asked, sounding both interested and oddly urgent.

At least that was something positive he could talk about, and allay any worry Mulder might have that they were like Emily. "They're obscenely healthy. Tommy's five, and Grace is almost three. Someone from the consortium placed them both with the same parents. It is Scully's theory that the consortium was no longer interested in trying to create human-hybrids, but no one knows what had been the intended purpose for them..." As he said this, he wondered if Mulder even cared about those sorts of details right then.

A pause stretched out between them. Then Mulder broke it by quietly asking, "Are they mine?"

Skinner shrugged helplessly. "As far as I know she's never done a paternity test against your DNA."

"She doesn't want them to be mine."

"I don't think it's that," Skinner shook his head quickly. "I think she's afraid. Afraid that they're not. And if they're not wh-"

"Maybe she should be afraid."

"What do you mean?" Skinner demanded to know.

His erstwhile missing agent started at him with dead eyes. After a few seconds Skinner realized that Mulder was not going to explain his statement. It was hard to remind himself that he had to be patient, because he wanted to ask Mulder 10,000 questions, starting with "where have you been?" and ending with "what are you going to do now?" all at once.

The scars on Mulder's body suggested that he'd been thoroughly tortured already, so Skinner reminded himself that an inquisition after that would be unfair. He turned back to the stove, reminded by popping noises coming from the frying pan that he had a task to finish.

a/n: hi new readers! Fanfic writers long for your feedback, so please comment on any chapter you'd like to, not just the newest ones.