Badlands

by J.S. Michel

Title: Badlands
Author: J.S. Michel
E-mail: jsm25@hotmail.com
Web: http://www.geocities.com/js_michel/ Classification: Post-col. DRR. Implied MSR. Spoilers: William, The Truth.
Rating: R for language and situations.
Archive: Please let me know so I know where it's going. Disclaimer: Not mine. Thanks, 1013, for sharing your sandbox. Feedback: Always appreciated.
Completed: April 2003.
Summary: You gotta live it every day.

Thanks: To Meridy for the gentle prodding and much-appreciated beta.


The last Friday of every month is Grocery Night at the Reyes cottage. "On this night, Juan, I sleep with my rifle," Monica's mom has told him, in an English far better than his Spanish will ever be.

Grocery Night. After an early supper the boys each get a can of pre-war ravioli, 128 cafeteria-sized ounces, which they lug into town to barter for local staples from a list he writes up for them.

That's the official story, at least. In truth the list is rarely filled and John wordlessly accepts the token items they come back with and allows the guys an extra hour of sleep the following morning. He knows Mrs. Reyes disapproves, but there's no denying the R&R breaks up the routine of farm work and resistance training.

He watches them troop out of the kitchen, Chef Boyardee grinning at him from under arms and over shoulders. They're an odd lot: Terry, Gunner, Hazy Davy, Wild Billy, Rat, Jack the Rabbit, Lawman, Killer Joe, Easy Joe...

It was Terry who'd taken it upon himself to nickname them all, and only Terry could have gotten away with it.

Killer Joe and Easy Joe -- nineteen years old, they'd both claimed, though John wouldn't bet on it -- have stuffed their cans into slogan-scrawled backpacks, like fashionable students of an era long gone.

"Try an' get the coffee, at least," John calls after them. "Cafe..."

A chorus of "Yessirs," resounds back to him. Only on Grocery Night does it mean nothing.

For a few of them "Yessir" is the extent of their English, and he's aware they call him Spanish Johnny among themselves; a relatively mild jab -- their own nicknames aren't quite as innocuous. But they're good kids: quick learners, hard-working. Restless and bellicose and streetwise yet decent enough, given the world they've grown up in.

After they've gone he wanders out back, finds Monica sitting on the steps watching the sun set over the rows of corn and beans and squash they all worked their asses off putting in. Beside the tool shed stoops a small silhouette: Mrs. Reyes, weeding her beloved peppers.

Monica glances up at him. "Boys off to the sock hop?"

"I feel like Fightin' Joe Hooker," he sighs, plopping himself down next to her.

"Fighting who?"

"Fighting Joe Hooker. Commanded the Army of the Potomac during the Old Civil War. Turned a blind eye to prostitutes in the army's trains, boostin' morale and coinin' a new word all at once." He stretches his legs, studies Monica's worn work boots next to his. "I'm just dreadin' the day 'doggett' makes it into Webster's."

"You'll make Ten Most Wanted first." She pulls a flask from the inner pocket of her jean jacket.

"Where'd--"

She grins. "Terry. He traded me for that Mickey Mouse watch you found in the dresser."

Mickey for a mickey. Makes sense.

Terencio's fascination with lost American culture is weird, to say the least; in his free moments the boy likes to sit in the rusted pickup and blare those CD's he found in the glove compartment. Who'd have guessed that 1970's Jersey rock might mean something to a world-weary kid who'd managed to survive post-invasion Mexico?

He watches Monica unscrew the cap. "They're starvin' in the Midwest, you realize..."

"Then the last thing they need is this." She tips the flask.

"Probably methanol in there, Monica." But she's swallowed already.

"Mmm," she nods appreciatively. He peers at her, skeptical, refusing to bite. She takes a second swig, closes her eyes this time. It's an expression he's witnessed before and it's a little disconcerting to realize where.

Mmm indeed. Ever fake it, Mon?

He turns the question over in his mind, studying her, intrigued now.

She catches his eye. "Very smooth," she assures him as she passes him the flask, her face lit up with mischief: Double-dare you John.

He frowns, studies the clear glass, sniffs its contents; if that shit they'd cropdusted over those fuckin' bees hadn't managed to kill him...

His cautious sip goes down surprisingly easily. "I've had worse," he admits in grudging response to her smug smile. He hands the flask back. "I'll risk more tomorrow if you survive the night."

Her chuckle echoes softly in the quiet dusk as she recaps the whiskey. "If I don't, you can court-martial Terry."

"Or at least get him to return the watch," he grumbles.

She glances at him with amusement and suddenly it could be anytime, anywhere, the two of them fifteen years old and sitting on the back of a flatbed truck on a warm summer night in Georgia.

He pulls her close, gently kisses her head.

What kind of wise-ass god would allow him happiness in this fucked-up world? In his fucked-up life?

It's not something he wants to ponder too closely.

Her hand slides to his knee, her index finger absently exploring a small hole in his jeans as she murmurs something in Spanish. He struggles with the translation for a moment. "Run that by me again?" he mumbles into her hair.

"You're thinking in English, John," she chides. "Use your Spanish brain."

His Spanish brain studies the spark in her eyes and concludes she hasn't got grammar lessons on her mind.


The sound of drunken singing wakes him. Monica stirs beside him.

"Your troops are back, Fightin' Joe," she murmurs sleepily.

Boots scrape heavily across the kitchen floor, the screen door slams and the singers -- Jack and Rat, from the sound of it -- clunk their way down the porch and across the yard to the bunkhouse.

Another slam. Someone bumping the kitchen table, canned goods hitting the floor. Footsteps approach and suddenly the bedroom door is rattling, is bursting open as John's fingers close around the SIG on the night table.

"Back off!" he yells, aiming at the shadow in the doorway.

The kid is wobbling in the moonlight, unarmed, reeking of local hooch. "Why'd you do it?" Slurred and angry.

John is up and slamming him against the wall, pinning his arms behind him. "What the fuck you doin' in here?" he yells.

The kid, Wild Billy, struggles against him. "I'm not fuckin' dead, you sonofabitch! I wanna know! Why'd she do it? What happened, you run off on her? You dump her, you sonofabitch?"

"Billy, calm down!" Monica's voice is urgent but controlled; John glimpses her Glock held low.

"His son's not dead!" the kid grunts into the wall.

"Billy!" There's horror in Monica's voice now. John reels, but keeps the boy's arms locked behind him.

"Where were you born, you sonofabitch?" the boy shouts, twisting his neck to look back at them.

"Juan!" Mrs. Reyes is framed in the doorway, looking frightened but determined, the rifle steady in her hands. A stunned-looking Terry is peering over her shoulder at Billy.

"Tell 'em! Tell 'em where he was born!" Billy screams, struggling frantically.

For Chrissake. "Just fuckin' calm down, all right?" John orders. He yanks the kid away from the wall and shoves him face-down into the mattress.

The move seems to work; the struggling subsides.

"I was born in Georgia," Billy murmurs, all the fight suddenly gone out of him.

John doesn't release his grip. "So?"

"Democrat Hot Springs. May 20, 2001."

John blinks in disbelief.

"Oh my God," Monica breathes.


He's pouring boiled coffee with care out of the saucepan when Monica comes in. "How's he doin'?" he glances over at her.

She sits down at the ancient pine table, accepting the coffee with a grateful look. "He's going to be pretty miserable in the morning, but he's asleep. Mama's watching him."

The candle flickers among the odd array of groceries scattered across the table. John pushes aside a carton of 9mm rounds, the obligatory box of "Let's Shock Mrs. Reyes" condoms, and cans of unlabeled mystery meat to make room for his own mug as he sits down beside her.

"Jesus, Monica," he murmurs, "he's been here for nearly a year."

The boy's jumbled story replays in his mind. Half-burned documents, random clues: Birth date 2001 05 20. Birth place Democrat Hot Springs. Father's occupation FBI X-Files.

Monica's touch is comforting on his arm. She's silent, though.

"Y'ever wonder about your birth parents, Mon?"

She hesitates a moment. "Not so much anymore." He nods wordlessly; odds are her birth parents are dead. "But when I was his age," she continues, "yeah, I wondered a lot."

"What if somebody knew and didn't tell you?"

"God, John." Her face clouds over. "I don't know..."

He studies his coffee. "He's got nobody," he reminds her gently.

She's frowning, uncertain. "She gave him up for a reason, John. I mean, to have him wind up here... maybe it's a setup. Think about it -- he wasn't a drifter, he was recruited, wasn't he?"

He pulls the boy's papers from his pocket and hands them to her.

"Signed off in Santa Fe by Leonidas Polk," she reads.

"Polk is a Civil War reference. Not one of Skinner's usual aliases but he's used it once or twice before."

"Do you think Skinner would have--"

"I don't know. I been wonderin' about that. Maybe the boy'll be more coherent in the morning."


"Corporal." Because he really can't call him anything else right now.

"Sir."

"At ease, Corporal." John has learned that, to some of these kids who've found refuge in military life, the informal approach can be more intimidating than anything else he can think of.

He pulls up a chair, straddling it so he's facing the kid; studies the boy's nervous face. The kid looks the same as he did yesterday, though substantially different from his first appearance on the porch last year; brown hair shorter -- hardly high-and-tight but at least lice-free thanks to Mrs. Reyes' regimented treatment; face filled in, blue eyes less hollow, bruises faded; gangly arms and legs hardened from the months of training.

But even with the surface traces of his street-days gone, there's no evidence of the happy cooing baby they'd once risked their lives for.

A trivial subtraction last night had left John shaking his head, but then again, most of them lie about their age. As long as they pull their weight he turns a blind eye, knowing they're better off here than starving in the badlands or ganging in the ghost-towns or selling themselves in the crumbling cities.

"I'm not your father," he states quietly. "You understand that, right?"

"Yessir." Billy doesn't meet his gaze and John sees the concern in those hungover eyes. "Am I out of the unit?"

He goes for stern. "I haven't decided what I'm gonna do with you yet. I want you to answer some questions first."

The boy nods. "I'd like to apologize for --"

"Save it," he grumbles curtly. "What you told us last night about yourself -- you ever tell anybody else that?"

The boy shakes his head. "There was nobody to tell, Sir."

John nods, his throat dry. "And last night happened because..."

The boy takes a breath. "Me and Terry were shootin' pool at Rosa's," he mumbles, "and he got to talking about you, showed me some old copy of your war record he found I dunno where, an' it said right there in the bio that you were born in Democrat Hot Springs and that you were FBI before the war, X-Files whatever."

Christ. Mental note: latrine detail for Terry.

"Guess it seems pretty dumbass to you," the boy mumbles, "but I was floored. I keep forgetting how it was before."

John nods tiredly. "Big cities, big companies. Lotta people." Yeah. Regular fuckin' congregations flocking from Democrat Hot Springs to join the X-Files.

"Then when Terry said he heard you had a son that died I just..." The boy looks away, clearly embarrassed.

"I did have a son." He pulls the faded snapshot from his pocket. "He was killed, a long time ago."

The boy dutifully studies Luke's face a moment. "I'm sorry," he mumbles, handing the photo back. "Am I outta the unit?" he asks again softly.

"A few more questions." John tucks the snapshot away. "How'd you get recruited, Corporal?" Skinner and his men didn't exactly hang a sign on a street-front.

The boy hesitates. "I got picked up one night and this guy posted bail for me. Asked me where I'd rather be, dead or fighting."

"The recruiter posted bail for you?" John frowns.

"Yessir," the boy nods.

"A bald guy? Wore glasses, with a Glock holstered on the left?"

The boy shakes his head. "No Sir. He had gray hair. Carried something in an ankle holster, I don't remember what. Tall guy. Said his name was Peg Leg Joe."


"Peg Leg Joe is a Civil War reference, Mon. Obviously not Skinner, but somebody who knows the aliases he picks. Could be a mole, but from the boy's story and the description..."

Monica frowns. "Assuming you're right... why send the boy to us?"

"To keep him safe?"

She nods. "And now that we know, he may not be safe anymore."

"Maybe it doesn't even matter anymore, Mon. The invasion was stopped." We've seen the enemy, and he is us.

The air rings faintly with hammers; across the ocean of cornstalks they can see the boys working on the barn.

"We have to contact them, John," she finally sighs.

"We have to find 'em first."

She nods, and he recognizes his own worry mirrored in her eyes. Harvest is coming up, the barn's roof isn't even begun and his guys are far better soldiers than they are homesteaders.

Plus they're opening up a chapter that, for the boy's own safety, might've best been left closed.

Monica's mouth is against his ear. "John, even if you're right about who sent him here, it's possible Dana may not know about it."

He blinks; the thought hadn't occurred to him. Jesus Christ.


"You're supposed to be sleeping," Monica's voice admonishes gently.

He shrugs.

She closes the bedroom door behind her. "Mama and Terry have the car packed."

He nods and turns back to stare out the open window into the moonless night. The past twenty-four hours have been a blur of activity and suddenly there's nothing to do but wait for the goddamn sun to rise.

He feels her come up behind him, her arms sliding around his waist, her chin resting on his shoulder.

He gives her hand a squeeze. Through the window he sees a lantern dancing across the field and his worries come rushing back as he tries not to imagine his eager boys diligently harvesting in the rain, the barn unfinished, a season's worth of hard labor rotting by the end of the month.

"Make sure the guys put up that roof," he sighs. "Make sure they stay sharp." Ghost-town gangs sighted twenty miles from here; rumors of a new swarm, of a resistant strain; the northern border falling...

"You've trained them well, John," she assures him.

The bobbing lantern disappears into the barn. Not too late for some last-minute pointers. "I should give Terry a hand."

"You should get some sleep."

"I'm not tired," he insists, trying to shake the sense of dread that's been creeping over him. Jesus, was it just over twenty-four hours ago that they'd shared Terry's whiskey on the back porch?

Her breath is warm as she nuzzles his neck, her lips barely grazing the skin, tracing a path up to his ear. His eyes drift closed; his pulse, on autopilot, quickens expectantly as she frees his shirt from his jeans, fingers slipping under cotton.

He stops her gently. "Thought you wanted me to sleep," he jokes but the false levity hangs empty between them.

Her mouth moves away from his ear, just a fraction of an inch. He shakes his head in apology.

"John," she sighs.

He closes his eyes, feeling wretched.

"John, look at me." She moves around to face him, her eyes tender as she touches his cheek. "We'll be just fine." She cracks a small grin. "Mama's got her rifle," and then he nearly does smile, grateful for the strength he sees in her, grateful for the fact that he's always had the good sense to fall for women who could run circles around him when they had to.


The shack's porch stinks of sun-baked shit. Behind him the children crowd around the crumbling front steps, eyes wildly vacant. Crazy woman, they said, or something like that. You're still translating, Monica's silent voice reproaches. You have to think in Spanish, use your Spanish Brain, John.

A shadow behind one of the barred windows stops his breath in his chest. "Hello?" he calls through the cracked glass. The kids crowd closer; a grimy foot tests the bottom step.

"Go on, get outta here," he orders them in English, his Spanish Brain failing anything even remotely civilized. They're just kids, he reminds himself. He'd broken his share of windows, tossed his share of crap in the ignorance of youth.

But one of the punks is siphoning his tank. "Hey!" he yells, reaching into his jacket, and at the sight of the gun the children scatter like roaches, disappearing into the heat-crusted landscape.

Beside the car an abandoned soup can is bleeding gasoline into the parched ground.

"Sonofabitch," he mutters. Snickers echo from the rocks; their English is better than his Spanish.

He confiscates the can and heads back up the front porch. Christ, the last thing he needs is to get stranded here. But all he can do is hope there's enough gas left in the tank to get him back. Back to the nearest town, for more gas.

He keeps his voice low. "Scully, it's John Doggett."

Only silence from inside. Though the wooden door looks flimsy, he knows better, knows he's likely to end up with a bruised shoulder and ego to match but he gives it a trial shove anyway and suddenly there's a click -- not a fractured collar-bone but the lock -- and then the door is swinging inward as if in delayed aftershock.

It's dark in there, and it reeks. By the time he's adjusted to these facts she's got a Beretta in his face. Three years since he's seen her and the reunion seems fitting somehow.

Except the gun is trembling; he remembers how she'd sliced, rock-steady, into mangled human flesh and hybrid skulls.

"Dana," he frowns, but she won't meet his gaze, staring instead at a spot on his chest.

"What's in the can?" Her voice sounds rusty from disuse.

He glances down at the forgotten soup tin in his hand. "Nothin'."

"You've brought me an empty can," she nods, lowering the gun, like everything makes sense now. But her tone is as hollow as her face and he realizes it isn't that she's avoiding his gaze, rather her eyes just aren't focusing. Her cheeks are flushed, twin sunsets on bleached sand, and she's not lowering the gun, she's dropping it.

He eases her down against the wall, reaches to touch her forehead but her eyes panic and he withdraws his hand. "It's okay..." he reassures her. "Lemme get you a drink. Where's the water?"

She's slumped against the wall and doesn't answer.

He takes in the surroundings, searching for what he doubts he has the skill to find. Stained formica table. Chrome-legged chairs spewing yellow foam. A mattress on the floor. Empty cans stacked floor to ceiling: a monolithic post-modern tribute to Chef Boyardee.

He slides the mattress, topples the cans. No luck.

A tattered blanket hanging from a doorway reveals a bathroom of sorts where a faucet coughs sediment down an open drain in the floor.

Fuck it. "I'll be right back, don't move." Like she's going anywhere. But it was a job to find her and he's seen how things vanish in the desert.

The children are all over the car but he doesn't pull the SIG this time, just flaps his jean jacket in warning. He unlocks the trunk, ignores Terry's whiskey in favor of a jug of water and a plastic cup. Closes up, carefully tests that the latch is engaged before heading back up the porch.

She hasn't moved. He pours tepid water, brings it to her lips.

Twenty seconds later it's all coming back up. He holds her burning head in his hands and watches thin clear vomit disappear between dusty floorboards under pale bare feet.

Through the window he sees Siphon Boy at it again. No soup can now, just malicious intent.

Rock striking metal. The tinkling of a broken taillight.

"I need to get outta here, Dana." He can't afford to lose the car. "I'll leave Mulder a note."

Her body is racked by another wave. Let it just be pollen-fever, he prays. Or at least something she's been inoculated against.

"You're sick, Scully," he murmurs, and as if to confirm his words she tumbles forward.

He doesn't hesitate. Carpe diem.


"It's so hot in here, Mulder," she mumbles.

The air conditioning hasn't worked in four years, the power windows in three. He leans across the torn vinyl seat, shoves her window down the rest of the way before putting the Regal in gear. Two barefoot kids, fire-walkers maybe, leap from the shimmering hood. As he pulls away he sees they're already swarming the porch; through the barred window an avalanche of gas cans taunts that budding pit-crew but he knows nobody's getting in there, not with that fucking Fort Knox door he locked up with the keys around her neck.

He makes it the ten miles to the next town, refuels, splurges on a room with a sink and toilet. The clerk at the Casa del Sol knows an opportunity when he sees one. "Electric fan, Senor? Three speeds."

Yeah: Slow, Pause, Off, judging by the condition of the solar-panels on the roof. But he forks out the extra hundred anyway. Hot damn, they're going all out tonight, this gringo and his plastered woman fleeing the devastation of the North.


Monica's voice is lilting and warm against his ear and he's understanding every word until his English Brain butts in to inform him that his Spanish just isn't that good.

Sunlight is streaming through the window and her words, foreign now, evaporate like dew on his sleep-fogged mind. Use your Spanish Brain, John, her voice echoes in English.

But he's awake and it's all gone.

"Mulder..." Scully is stirring, reaching. He moves her burning hand from his arm and rolls off the mattress for the water he'd brought in from the car last night.

She drinks on her own this morning. She's still flushed with fever but her eyes are focused on him for the first time.

"You're not Mulder," she observes dully.

"No," he shakes his head. "I gotta talk to him, Dana. When's he due back?"

Her eyes cloud over again. "Why did you bring me here, Agent Doggett? I have to get back."

He hasn't been agent anything in years, but at least she recognizes him.

"I have to get back," she repeats. He's feeling old and tired now and she makes it to the door before he stops her.

"You don't have any shoes," he points out lamely. Years ago, in a town not much different from this one, he'd risked his pathetic ass for a shoe. But she's not him -- she's barely herself -- and she doesn't give a shit about her footwear.

He locks the door behind them, follows her down the hallway and out into the narrow street, past a tiny market square of sleepy vendors and carts of cancerous fruit.

She's weak from dehydration. Her feet've gotta be burning on that pavement. Plus she's looking lost.

She turns to face him. "Take me back."

He takes her wrist and leads her back to the Casa del Sol.

"No," she objects, pulling away from him. "My house. If you won't take me I'll find my own way."

He doesn't doubt she'd try it, shoes or no shoes, ten miles across a desert road. But he's still got her wrist; skin and bones yet pulsing life.

"You gotta eat first," he insists. Even to him the argument sounds stupid but she follows him back inside.

He lets her have the mattress to herself, settles himself against the wall for lunch. The outing took its toll on her. She ignores his Pop Tart offering and stares blankly at the open window until she falls into a fevered sleep.


"You know, I tutored Spanish in college."

Lucky students. Monica's educational philosophy had nearly sent him skidding into the cactuses and he's thought of it often these past few weeks:

The lonely two-lane is quivering with heat as they leave the border behind.

"Honest, Mon," he insists without taking his eyes off the road, "my Spanish is a menace -- I went through Boot Camp with a joker named Ruiz who told me 'Chingalo!' meant 'Cheers!'"

She glances at him, straight-faced. "It doesn't."

"Well yeah, I know that now." Imagines himself, wine glass raised high at the Reyes dinner table.

Monica smiles reassuringly. "You've got nothing to worry about, John," but there's a gleam in her eye as she leans across the seat towards him. "I'll teach you what you need to know."

And before he can pull over she's teaching him a mouthful, all right, and by the time they finally make it to her mama's house he doesn't trust himself to say a single word in any language.

He's awake, still sitting against the wall. He squints into the setting sun, shields his eyes to see Scully leaning against the west windowsill watching him with mild curiosity.

He gets to his feet, turns to the supplies. Busies himself with the motions of the evening: Food. Water. Try to resist the temptation to haul his tired ass back home.

Today is Wednesday: soccer night, out-voting football three-to-one much to Terry's disappointment. He's wondering if they've started harvesting yet when he feels a hand on his shoulder, turns to see Scully holding a warning finger up to her lips and for the first time since he found her she looks something like the woman he once knew.


Her shack is deserted now, windows shattered behind the bars but the front door unbreached and the Siphon Gang hopefully gone on to more promising pastures.

She leads him inside, barricading the door behind them, bypassing the filth and shards of glass scattered about the front room and heading to the bathroom for what turns out to be an expertly-concealed passage in the floor. Jesus, he never would've found that one.

More locks, a wooden staircase, and they're in a subterranean lab, expensively equipped and sterile-looking. Bio-research; he'd suspected this would be her post-war niche after her work with the Morphs and the pollen. High price to pay, though.

"We can talk here," she tells him at last. "It's shielded."

The haze has lifted and the old Scully is obviously back.

"You sure I'm really me?" he deadpans. A paranoia joke; the Morphs were wiped out early on, in great part due to her research.

She evaluates him for a moment. "I considered that possibility," she nods. "But the shape-shifters we captured never talked in their sleep."

This afternoon's dream comes flooding back to him. God almighty.

Her expression softens, a hint of humor in her eyes. "Luckily for you I studied German in college."


In the hour they've spent catching up she hasn't dropped the slightest hint about William, and he's decided Monica was right: she doesn't know.

Christ, Mulder. Plus the guy's not due back for another week.

They've run out of news for each other, and as the conversation lulls she studies his face.

"Why did you risk coming out here, John?"

He hesitates. He has to tell her something, but lying's never been his strong point. "Mulder a Civil War buff? Old Civil War?"

"Not especially," she frowns. "Why?"

"He ever use the name Peg Leg Joe out there?"

"Peg Leg Joe?" she repeats quizzically. "That's one I haven't heard, but... it's possible." She shakes her head, smiling at some distant memory. "In fact it wouldn't surprise me. Why?"

"A little while ago somebody usin' that name sent me a recruit," he explains. "I thought it was Skinner. Turns out it wasn't, so now I'm hopin' it mighta been Mulder. I need to make sure we haven't got a mole."

She shakes her head again. "If he did he never mentioned it." Her brow furrows thoughtfully. "You should hide your car; I'll show you where--"

"I can't wait for him, Dana. I gotta get back." He's been away for too long already.

"I'll give him the message, then," she reassures him. "You'll hear from him."

He doesn't question how. Based on the impressive set-up, she and Mulder seem to have things well under control here.

Mostly.


Goddamn desert kids.

He should have run a thorough check before he left Scully's. The nick in the line had been a small one; it would've been easy to jury-rig a fix and he had more than enough water in the trunk to top up the coolant if necessary. But he'd been in such a goddamn hurry to be on his way.

Sonofabitch. Of course he was lucky the engine seized just five miles past a town, but he's feeling anything but lucky to be stuck out here, nearly a day's drive from Scully's now.

Years ago he would've happily driven a thousand miles, ten thousand miles, a hundred thousand miles for Dana Scully. Would've considered it a badge of honor to get stranded in the desert for her.

Monica had gently steered him from such a dead-end road, for all the good it's done her.

He sits on a piss-smelling mattress with all the supplies he could haul in a blanket from the doomed Regal. The car's likely stripped already; no chance he could have rebuilt the engine in this nothing town anyway.

No way in hell has he got enough cash to buy any kind of replacement car. He knows his best bet is to buy a ride from somebody driving through, but rumors of the border crumbling are everywhere and the trickle of traffic generally heads south.

Maybe he can get his hands on a motorcycle?

"Perhaps a bicycle, sir," the day-clerk suggests mockingly.

But the night-clerk is a decent kid who says he'll ask around, assures him someone heading north should be by eventually.


Once again the road stretches out maddeningly through the smoldering countryside but finally he's screeching the phantom Regal to a halt in front of the blackened remains of the Reyes cottage.

Somehow the barn is still standing in its fields of embers. His numbed brain registers that while he was away they'd finished putting up the roof.

Their names echo hoarsely off the ceiling.

Among the mess in the burned-out kitchen he finds Guevara's "Notas de viaje", a gift from Mrs. Reyes to help improve his Spanish. "You will like, Juan. Motorcycle." And in surreal slow-motion he bends down, peels the worn paperback off the floor, pries the sticky pages open but the words don't make sense anymore and the young revolutionary's bike is obscured with Reyes blood.

He's sinking to the floor, too old, too tired to grieve all over again...

His eyes snap open, his heart pounding as the smell of the mattress confirms where he is.

By the time his breathing has returned to normal he's caught the glint of moonlit glass in the shrinking pile of supplies near the window. Terry's whiskey. He's resisted every night this week.

Double-dare ya, John.


"Doggett."

He gropes for the SIG but comes up empty as his eyes scrape open too bright too bright. Methanol might be welcome this morning if only to shut out the goddamned sunshine.

"You might want to take it slowly," a familiar voice cautions him.

With an effort he squints into the white light, sees the silhouette against the window. "Mulder?" he croaks, his voice as hoarse as in his nightmares. "What the hell you doin' here?"

"I was on my way to pay you a visit."

John licks parched lips with a sandpaper tongue and hauls himself up to a sitting position. "My gun..." he frowns against the throbbing sunlight.

"I have it." Mulder's tone is neutral but he makes no offer to return it.

"How'd you get in the room?" John asks wearily.

"The desk-clerk is a crook."

"Guess I won't be leavin' him a tip." He presses a hand to his pulsing forehead. "How the hell'd you find me here?"

"I recognized the plate on the remains of your Buick. The rest was easy enough." Mulder picks the flask up off the floor, sniffs it. "Looks like I missed the party, though."

"Be my guest," he mumbles as the room lists around him.

Mulder puts down the bottle and shakes his head. "I'm driving. I'd offer you a lift, Doggett, but you smell like shit and I just had the seats reupholstered."

John could kiss the sonofabitch. Almost.

"Gimme a minute." He hauls himself up, concentrates on not tripping over his own boots, reaches for the crusted towel on the windowsill. The edges of his vision are shimmering as he heads for the common bath down the hall. Maybe it's just another bizarre dream, Mulder pulling in on a fucking flying carpet.

Under the unheated spray he stands as long as he thinks would be necessary to wake himself up, then forces himself to stand five minutes more. Three hundred steamless steamboats. But Mulder is waiting patiently when he gets back to the room, hands him back his gun.

"You get off on rolling drunks?" John grumbles.

Mulder is already piling the remainder of the supplies onto the faded blanket. "Only if I think they might hurt themselves."

Christ. In another age John would've found it touching that Fox Mulder had feared he might blow his own plastered brains out. Misguided, but touching, and soon they're checking out of the Casa del Shit and dumping the blanket onto Mulder's back seat.

"Peg Leg Joe, that was you?" John finally ventures as they leave the town behind.

Mulder keeps driving, stares at the horizon ahead.

"You sent me the boy without tellin' Scully..."

Mulder's jaw tenses.

John slumps tiredly against the passenger door. His head is still pounding, and the rattle of the engine has almost lulled him to sleep when Mulder's voice drags him back.

"She keeps a picture of him, you know. Eight months old, sitting on his blanket hugging Eeyore."

John opens his eyes; studies Mulder's profile.

The words tumble out into the dry heat of the car as the desert landscape whizzes by. "I looked for him every chance I got, Doggett. Scully didn't know. I told myself I just needed to find out... if he was alive, if he was safe. If he was normal. I'd hoped I could at least tell her that much, give her some peace of mind. Or some closure."

John swallows wordlessly.

"Finally tracked him down, John, and found this two-bit fucked-up hustler who'll probably get himself killed before he turns eighteen--" his voice cracks.

John sees again the jaded kid who'd shown up on the porch last year; tries to imagine Luke like that and finds he can't. "So you sent him to me while you decided what to do."

"I just wanted him off the street." He's talking to the windshield.

"It was a good call," John assures him quietly. "He's workin' out okay, Mulder. He's a smart kid, a resourceful kid who did what was necessary to survive." Realizes it won't help any to preach to Mulder that he should be fuckin' grateful William's even alive.

Mulder is silent for a long moment. "How'd you figure out who he was?"

"He knows some of his history, Mulder."

From the look on Mulder's face it's clear this is news. "How much?"

"He found some documents when his home was destroyed. Just burnt fragments, but enough: Birth date, birth place. He knew his biological father worked for something called the X-Files."

"Shit," Mulder mutters. "Did you tell him who I was?"

"No, of course not," he shakes his head. "He still thinks you're one o' my recruiters." He omits the boy's parental mistake for now.

Mulder nods, but John was an investigator long enough to catch the sliver of disappointment.

"Mulder, he's curious about his past," he says quietly. "Is it even necessary anymore to keep that from him?"

Mulder's knuckles whiten around the steering wheel. "Yeah. Just not for the same reasons."


Music is wafting in from somewhere through the open window of the filthy rooming house.

"You know, you don't have to drive me all the way back," John says to the darkness. "Monica has a cousin in Mexico City. If you can get me there I can make my own way after that."

"I said I'd drive you."

No need to guess Mulder's motivation, so John just nods in the dark and tries to get comfortable on the room's twin-sized mattress. They'd flipped for it, and now he's not sure if he won or lost; apparently Mulder is even worse at picking these dives than he is.

Someone has cranked the volume up, scratchy hits from another millennium and now he's reminded of Terry's musical obsession, of the boys hollering across the fields, of the bustling sounds of the cottage in the evening and of Monica warm and close in the quiet of night.

Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.

Mulder's voice pulls him from the edge of sleep; something about enlisting?

"What was that?" he manages.

"The Marines. Did you ever regret it?"

"Not once the morphine kicked in, no," John grumbles tiredly. His stint in the Corps had prepared him for the rest of his rose-strewn life like nothing else could've. "It's late, Mulder. Go to sleep."

"Why'd you enlist in the first place? I mean, was it a genetic thing or a learned thing? Did you just grow up wanting to be G.I Joe your whole life, saving up your allowance for that Footlocker Of Soldiers you saw in the back of your Superman comics? Or did you spend hours hearing war stories and staring at the butt-scars and the Purple Hearts your uncles brought back from Korea?"

The flash of memory is remarkably vivid. The old man's frown, the weariness in that gravelly voice: "The Marines, boy?" And his own hopeful nod; thrill and fear and seventeen-year-old shit-headed bravado converging, such a relief to have voiced the decision. The old man studying the USMC age-waiver for a long minute, finally sighing an acknowledgment: "Could be your ticket outta here, Johnny."

The old man lived long enough to see the lumberyard shut down but never made it to retirement, never got to enjoy the meager pension he'd slaved his life away for. Then again, he never had to struggle with his grandson's sick murder, never had to witness the invasion and the post-war fallout. Never had to see where that USMC ticket had taken his son: three careers and a marriage, each cut short by disaster.

John turns away on the mattress. "I guess I just fuckin' missed the application deadline to Oxford, Mulder." He's tired and irritated now and doesn't give a shit if it's showing. Semper Fi, Mac.

For several minutes the only sound is the music.

"The reason I was asking," Mulder's voice is quiet, "is that you said William's working out okay out there."

Oh. John's irritation dissolves instantly. "He is. He's a good soldier."

"You know," Mulder adds, "when I found him in Santa Fe he reminded me of Scully's brother, and it scared the shit out of me."

"Why's that?"

"You never met Bill Scully, did you?" Mulder's sarcasm is clear as a bell.

"Just once," he recalls. "Career Navy, right? He seemed all right."

"Yeah, well, this guy hated my guts--"

"If you were dating my sister I can guarantee I'd hate your guts too, Mulder."

Mulder laughs dryly. "Scully herself admits he was a self-centered prick and it served him well in the military."

John sighs, suddenly realizing what this is all about. "William's no choir boy," he admits, wondering how much Mulder knows about Wild Billy's street days. "But he's a good kid. I know it's hard for you to believe after what went down in the Bureau those last weeks but 'prick' and 'military' don't always go hand-in-hand."

Mulder is silent.

The music drifts in again, some Spanish ballad with words his English Brain can't make out, and the last thing John is conscious of is his hazy attempt to estimate the miles still ahead of them.


Nine-hundred-and-seventy-nine. Give or take a couple.

The fields surrounding the cottage are barren, brown instead of green, and for one horrible moment he sees his nightmare playing out again, but then he catches a glimpse of the soccer game behind the fully-roofed barn and the truth hits him: The fields haven't been torched; they've been harvested.

"John!"

He's stepping out of the car before Mulder has pulled to a stop.

"Oh god, John," she's murmuring against his neck and it's all he can do not to crush her against him.


"Nice homestead, Pa," Mulder comments after they've cleaned up and eaten their first decent meal in days. "A regular Walnut Grove."

John tries in vain to place the name.

The sun is setting behind the well-stocked barn. The three of them are sitting on the steps, sharing Terry's welcome-home whiskey and watching the soccer game in the distance.

Monica chuckles, her legs stretching across the steps below. "If you're very good, Mulder, maybe John'll play the fiddle for us after baby Carrie is asleep."

"You run a school for blind kids in your spare time?" Mulder shakes his head.

John frowns between them in total confusion. This is as bad as trying to follow those heated Spanish arguments between Monica and her mom.

Monica smiles at him affectionately, using his knee as leverage to pass the flask to Mulder. "Little House on the Prairie, John. I thought everybody watched that show."

"I guess I had a life," he grumbles. Directly behind the soccer field Wild Billy is cleaning out the cistern under Mrs. Reyes' watchful eye. One week remaining in his six-week probation.

Mulder is watching the scene. "He seems to be tolerating this G.I. life, Doggett." There's an undercurrent of regret in his voice.

Monica glances at John, says nothing, but he knows her well enough to guess her gears are turning.

Mulder toys with the flask in his hands. "You know Scully's been sick."

"Yeah," John nods quietly. He sees Monica frown in concern.

"Sick how?" she asks.

"She was exposed to one of the retroviruses during her research," Mulder explains, his voice carefully controlled. "It was caught in time so it's not life-threatening, but it's been recurrent."

"God," Monica shakes her head.

"She's been through hell already, I don't want to bring her any more grief..." he trails off. "I'm afraid if she finds out what-- what his life's been like since the invasion, she'll never forgive herself for having given him up."

"What she did might be the only reason he's alive," Monica says gently.

Mulder shrugs. "Maybe. Or maybe we could've protected him. She'd never know for sure, would she?"

They sit in silence, watching the soccer players silhouetted against the last of the sun.

"Mulder," John ventures, "when we found you dead in that field way-back-when, I tried to stop Dana from seein' your body. She was six months pregnant, I wanted to protect her from any more pain." He shakes his head at the memory. "Wanna know how much she fought me?"

Mulder studies the flask. After a minute he takes a sip of whiskey, his eyes on the soccer field. "According to Gibson, things are going down," he says in a tone which makes it clear he's changing the subject. "They're negotiating on the border. Three, four months. Maybe sooner."

It's what they've been dreading all summer.

"So what now?" Monica sighs. "Honduras? Nicaragua?"

"Not necessarily," Mulder shakes his head. "The government's looking to rebuild its image, garner support; that means feeding the survivors, and it's going to hand out contracts to anybody who can grow anything. The land up north just isn't recovering from the spraying, so they're looking south."

John processes this. "You got all this from Gibson?"

"Last week. It'll be public soon enough. You've got the perfect cover here, Farmer John. You can land a contract, probably even get benefits for your farmhands, and if you play your cards right who's gonna know what your crew does in its spare time, playing soccer or crazy-eights or G.I. Joe or whatever. And this way your guys'll still be close to the action, if Skinner needs to deploy them in a hurry."

John frowns uncertainly, glances at Monica. "We're no farmers, Mulder. This," he nods toward the fields, "it was just to try an' get us through the year. We worked our asses off and still probably barely yielded enough."

"So you work your asses off twice as hard next year."

"Maybe," John concedes.

The sun has set; the game is over and the players are scattering. Mrs. Reyes has released Wild Billy from cistern duty -- John sees him and Terry lighting up on the steps outside the bunkhouse; knows Mulder is watching too.

Monica looks over at Mulder. "What about you and Dana? How safe will you be if the border's redrawn?"

"We've got our bases covered," Mulder shrugs.

Monica glances at John, her silent question urgent and clear. He shrugs in reply.

"We've got lots of room for a lab here, Mulder," she says softly.

Mulder's gaze is unreadable. Christ, the years of stress have wound this guy up so tight. But John notices his jaw soften almost imperceptibly.

"Monica's right, Mulder."

Mulder's attention still seems focused on the activity around the bunkhouse. "It's a possibility," he nods quietly. He's silent a minute as Terry and William finish their smoke and disappear inside. "Something to think about." He takes a sip of whiskey and passes the flask back before getting to his feet. "Much obliged for the moonshine, Uncle Jesse," he drawls. "Now if y'all don't mind, I'll take a rain check on that fiddle-playin'. I'm just plumb tuckered-out."

"You got it," John nods gently. "See you in the mornin', Mulder."

"Good-night, Mulder," Monica echoes.

"G'night Ma. G'night John Boy." Mulder sighs as he heads up the steps to the storage-room off the kitchen, where Mrs. Reyes has set up a cot for him.

John shuffles down one step. Monica leans back against him and he wraps his arms around her.

He kisses her hair, rests his chin lightly on her head.

She slides a hand over his faded jeans and gives his knee a squeeze. "Ready for bed, John Boy?" she murmurs.

"Yes ma'am."


EPILOGUE

Her breath is warm against his ear. "Are you awake?"

"Depends," he mumbles contentedly.

"Have you ever thought that sex was a little, you know, absurd?"

He cracks an eye open. "You, uh, tryin' to tell me somethin' Mon?"

She chuckles softly. "I mean the whole human concept of it. We think we're so evolved, but basically we're just following the same procreation instincts as any other animal. We dress it up with these romantic euphemisms but --"

"No," he interrupts with a quiet laugh. This is almost as bad as sleeping with Mulder. Okay, scratch that.

"No what?" She props herself up on an elbow and studies his face.

"No, I've never thought sex was absurd. Ever," he emphasizes.

"Not even the first time --"

"Especially not the first time."

"-- that it dawned on you that your parents had to have done it?" she finishes.

He stares at her, baffled.

"Made me so relieved to know I'd been adopted," she deadpans.

He blinks at the memory of his horrified nine-year-old self and finds himself chuckling in quiet disbelief. He pulls her close and kisses her head. "Missed you, you know that..."

Music blares suddenly from the barn, the lyrics pulsing through the open window: Ain't no sin to be glad you're alive...

Maybe not a sin, but Terry won't be glad to be alive much longer. Not with the volume so loud this close to lights-out.

The kitchen door slams. Monica clucks softly, settling against his shoulder again. "I remember arguing with Mama one time," she adds in a more sober tone. "About doing the dishes or something. I told her she'd be sorry for treating me like a slave once my real parents finally came for me after years of searching."

He shakes his head in sympathy.

"I know most kids go through that phase," she sighs. "But when it's actually a possibility..."

They're silent for a minute, her fingertips tracing small patterns on his chest.

"Do you think he'll consider it?" she asks quietly.

"I dunno. Mulder's independent-- I think he's always prided himself on bein' out in left field." He shrugs. "Maybe for Dana, though."

"It wouldn't be just for Dana," she assures him. "You saw the way he looked at William..."

He nods. He'd seen the look-- envied it, even.

"You ever regret not having kids, Mon?"

She lifts her head to look at him.

"I don't mean just you an' me," he amends. They'd discussed it more than once, back when there'd still been time; decided their lives were too unstable. "I mean you an' anybody. Before the X-Files. Brad. Anybody."

Her face quirks in the moonlight. "God, you're so romantic, John."

"I'm just talkin' Procreation Instincts here," he shrugs innocently.

She nods, affection in her eyes. "Sometimes," she admits. "When I look at you. When I see how good you are with those boys out there. Or when I see Mama ruling over them like the matriarch she always wanted to be," she shakes her head. "I can't help but wonder..."

He sighs, swallows a pang of regret.

"Did you and Barbara ever consider it again?" Her voice is gentle.

He pauses for a long moment before answering. "Yeah. Probably woulda been a mistake."

Somehow Barbara had understood him better than he'd understood himself.

He can still recall the scent of her moisturizer; the shape of her feet; the graceful way she stretched her body in the morning and the small noises she made in his ear just before she reached orgasm. But there are moments now when he can't see her face, has to conjure up their wedding portrait in his mind to recall her features.

Jesus. All those years they'd been together -- who else's face might he come to forget some day? Luke's? Monica's?

Scares the shit out of him.

He realizes Monica is studying him; hears Barbara's quiet voice again: Monica'd be good for you; help you get on with your life, John. He'd just sat there in awkward silence. A bit too damn weird, really, to get that kind of advice from your ex. But she was something else.

"Barbara liked you, you know that?" A strange thing to say. And out of context, he realizes after the words have left his mouth.

But Monica simply nods. "The only thing I could ever reproach her for was divorcing you," she touches his cheek. "Catch-22."

He gazes at her wordlessly; slides his fingers over still-damp skin to cup her face. Tastes sweat on her lips and himself on her tongue.

From the barn the music is suddenly cut short by a string of stern Spanish, the words clear even to his distracted English Brain.

Monica smiles against his mouth. "Poor Terry," she murmurs. "Maybe it's best Mama never had any grandchildren."

He reaches down, tugs the blanket up over them against the cooling night air. "She makes a helluva Drill Instructor though," he admits.

"Yeah. Aren't you relieved to know I was adopted?"

He chuckles and draws her close, feels her warm and solid against him and he knows Terry's right; what Barbara had tried to tell him all those years ago.

That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.


Author's Notes:

The Fighting Joe Hooker reference was cribbed from Stokesbury's "A Short History of the Civil War". Kenneth C. Davis, in "Don't Know Much About the Civil War," refutes the "hooker" etymology (so I ignored him on that one) but describes the legend of Peg Leg Joe.

The book Mrs. Reyes gave Doggett was Che Guevara's "The Motorcycle Diaries".

The Church of Bruce stuff wasn't at all premeditated so I'll deny any songfic accusations, but for the record Wild Billy was taken from "Spirit in the Night" (not "Circus Story") and Terry himself came from "Backstreets"; interpret that as you see fit, just don't waste your breath flaming me about it. "Ain't no sin..." and "You gotta live it every day" are from "Badlands", and Roy Orbison sings for the lonely in "Thunder Road"... ;)

John Boy and Uncle Jesse and Baby Carrie are from... aw, forget it; if you don't remember these, you're too young to be reading R-rated fic ;)

Thanks for reading. Feedback is welcome as always!

JS Michel (jsm25@hotmail.com)
http://www.geocities.com/js_michel/


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