MARCH 30, 2015
Mulder finds Isaac with his legs flung over the arm of the couch, engrossed in his book and his MP3 player. The TV caws the in the background, and every light in the house is glowing despite the afternoon sun filtering through the dusty farmhouse windows.
He glances to the right, grimacing at the haphazard pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, a sticky orange mess splashed across the countertop, and the half-folded laundry creeping across the dining table.
“Hey, kid,” he says, with a trace of irritation. He’s lived in worse, the state of his office notwithstanding, but a hypocritical sense of responsibility calls. “Isaac, c’mon.”
The boy still doesn’t look up from his book, so Mulder reaches out and snaps his headphones away.
“I’m talking to you,” Mulder mutters. “I’m not sure what kind of hotel you think we’re running here, but—“
He doesn’t finish, as the television, still blaring, draws him away mid-sentence.
“Tragedy struck this afternoon at a local high school, as several students collapsed…”
The news anchor doesn’t seem particularly phased, but it sends a tendril of fear snaking down the back of Mulder’s neck, and he grabs the remote from the coffee table, turning it up so they can watch.
“Uhh, what are you—“
“Shh, I want to hear this.”
Isaac stands, frowning at the TV.
“That’s your school, isn’t it?” Mulder asks, though he knows it is. He stood outside the building with Scully just a few days before, but now students are gathered around the entrance, teachers trying to cluster the kids together as the EMTs wheel out stretcher after stretcher. Five in total, the bodies too still and pale to be alive, a glimpse of blood splashed across white sheets.
For all his prior experience, Mulder flinches.
Getting soft in your old age, G-man.
“Guess that suspension worked in your favor, huh?” he whispers, but the joke falls flat. Something tugs at his consciousness; empathy for the parents, tinged with relief that his own child isn’t among the dead.
His throat constricts when he realizes he’s come to see Isaac as a son rather than a charge.
They targeted his school…
Mulder turns to ask Isaac if he knows anything, but the boy is no longer behind him.
“Isaac? You OK?” He approaches the closed bedroom door.
“I said I’m fine! Leave me alone!”
Mulder pauses, glances back at the TV, where the newscasters drone on.
“…and authorities are conducting an investigation into possible contaminants at the school. It is yet to be determined whether they suspect foul play, but we haven’t received an official statement…”
“Alright. I’ll, uh…I’ll be outside,” he mumbles, intent on returning to his office, the mess at his back already forgotten.
The distinctly feminine shape of her body under the blanket, the contours of her lips, her nose, the shock of stubborn, dark hair that obscures her face. The television is old and the video is grainy, but Isaac would recognize her anywhere.
His stomach lurches, threatening to turn him inside out. Mulder is still frowning at the report, concerned but oblivious.
Isaac makes a silent and shaky retreat to his room, pressing his back to the door as if to barricade himself inside. Mulder isn’t far behind.
“Isaac? You OK?”
“I’m fine,” he breathes through gritted teeth.
“I said I’m fine! Leave me alone!”
He is anything but fine. He moves to the bed, dread washing over him.
Don’t let it be her. Please don’t let it be Alice.
It doesn’t register when Mulder tells him he’ll be outside, nor does he hear the sound of the front door close.
He’s concentrating. His head aches the way it used to when he was younger, and he stays like this for what feels like hours, rigid and focused. He reaches out, searching for her, picturing her face, recalling the lilt of her voice…but there’s only static. She’s too far away, or…
…or she’s not here at all.
And he knows at once this is the truth.
The black thoughts settle into their familiar corners, and he is rendered too weak to fight back. Images from his dreams, from his previous life, tumble over each other, entangled. He wields incredible power, but in this, he is helpless as a newborn.
Why did she have to be so fucking persistent? he thinks, denial and blame coiling in the pit of his stomach. Why did she—
Monster, his mind whispers in a voice he’d almost forgotten, but it is no less cruel now than it was a year and a half ago, when it said the world would be better off without him.
He falls back onto the bed, staring hard at the ceiling until wisps of smoke trail from the tiles above him. His skin is alight with a fever of loss, but all he can feel is cold.
The signal at the house is weak. Mulder walks to the end of the drive, holding the cell phone out like an old-fashioned television antenna. Two bars should do it, he thinks, marveling at how he used to take such service for granted. Out here in the middle of nowhere, it’s a luxury.
Mulder had protested when Scully came home with the slim, metallic touch device. It was light, thin, a world apart from his old Motorola which had actual buttons instead of a cold glass pane.
He’d looked at her as though she’d brought home a portal to the otherworld, as though a simple flick of his finger across the screen might summon all the forces of the Consortium to their doorstep.
“Congratulations, Scully, you’ve just given the NSA an open invitation to spy on us.”
She’d rolled her eyes, the same way she used to when she wanted to convey her deep disgust for one of his theories, even though this one isn’t far off.
“The trac phones don’t work out here, Mulder. It’s one thing for two grown adults not to have one, but with him,” she gestures toward Isaac’s bedroom, “it’s irresponsible not to have something for emergencies.”
He’d agreed, albeit grudgingly, and she’d all but said “I told you so” the first time she caught him playing Angry Birds.
He remembers this exchange with the clarity of a person who can’t easily forget. Today the memory only serves to make him more anxious to hear her voice.
He presses the first key, speed dial. Long before they were lovers, even when they were no more than partners, she’s been his number 1.
“Dana? There’s a call for you, line one.”
She jerks awake to stare at the nurse who’s materialized in the doorway of her office. She blinks once, twice, eyes heavy with sleep, having drifted off at her desk.
“Sorry to wake you, I thought—“
“No…no, it’s fine. Thanks,” she yawns, swiping at her eyes, a futile attempt to brush away the sleep. The phone is cool against her ear.
“What’s up, doc?”
She closes her eyes, picturing him, building a mental image of his face from his voice, miles away but always with her.
“Mulder. It’s late,” she whispers, and though there’s no accusation in her voice, he’s immediately apologetic.
“Did I wake you?”
“Mmm. It’s OK,” she squints at her computer clock. “I needed to be up.”
“Still on call?” he asks, and she knows by the tone of his voice he hasn’t called for an idle chat, but the sound is comforting nonetheless. She lets herself drift to his familiar cadence.
“Yes,” she sighs. “I’m here for the foreseeable future.”
“Is it the virus?”
He’s trying to sound cavalier about it, but she knows better.
“The guys sent me a video, Scully; now they’re talking about it on the news,” he pauses. “Why don’t you come home?”
She swallows thickly, because this is the thing she wants more than anything, but she carries the weight of too many on her conscience. “I can’t.”
He sighs, an impatient huff. “Scully, you don’t owe them anything. Come home.”
“I can’t,” she repeats, closing her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. “We’re under quarantine.”
“You’re what? Scully—“
“The CDC shut us down twelve hours ago.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?” he asks, disbelief and anger warring for prominence on the other end of the phone.
“What good would it have done?”
She can picture his expression; set jaw, eyes closed. “Who got the feds involved?”
Her pause tells him exactly what he’d feared, but she needs to say the words aloud to remind herself that she’s done the right thing. “I called the CDC.”
Silence. She feels her resolve wavering. “The administration was going to sit on this, dozens of people could have—“
“You think the government is going to help?” he snaps. “Scully, they manufactured this thing. Remember Antarctica? You think the CDC didn’t know about that?”
She closes her eyes, willing herself not to return his rant with one of her own. “Mulder, it’s done. I’m not going to argue,” she says. Her hand goes to the familiar spot at her left side, massaging the ache, absently running her fingers along the scar.
“Of all the times to play it by the book, Scully, this…this is—“
“It’s done,” she repeats more firmly, gritting her teeth against her partner’s stubbornness, once again met with silence.
“They don’t deserve you,” he sighs finally, waving his solitary white flag.
“It’s not about them, Mulder. I’m not a pathologist anymore, I’m a doctor. I took an oath. I owe it to these people to help if I can,” she says. “If I can save one life, it makes this worth it.”
“What about yours?” he whispers, but he knows she never counts herself.
“I’m fine, Mulder. I’ve shown no symptoms—“
“That you know of,” he counters. “I don’t need to be a doctor to see that this thing hits fast, and when it does, you’re as good as dead.”
“Trust me…I’m well aware of what the infection can do.”
If it weren’t for his steady breathing on the other end of the line, she might have thought he’d hung up.
“I know you are,” he murmurs finally. “Christ. Just be safe.”
“What did the Gunmen find?”
“They don’t know for sure yet, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not pretty. If this is Purity…or its mutated grandkid…I don’t want to stick around to see what the next generation looks like.”
She considers this, recalling how the black blood had coursed down the woman’s chin, the way her bony hand gripped Scully’s wrist. “Isaac? Does he know?”
There’s a hitch in Mulder’s breath. “I haven’t told him anything he hasn’t seen on TV.”
“Is he OK, Mulder? Are you?”
Another pause, a moment too long for comfort, and the words come out in a tired rush. “The guys think this might have something to do with the project Isaac was part of. There may be a connection to Isaac’s former doctor, Baray. We’re looking into it.”
“What? Oh, God…Mulder…”
“We’re fine, Scully, he’s fine,” he mutters. “We just want you to come home.”
A pause as her breathing turns ragged, pained. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she murmurs in a rush. “I have to go.”
She hangs up before he can reply.
He stuffs the phone back in his pocket, troubled, footsteps crunching gravel on his way back to the house. The sky has turned gray and cold, and an early spring snow has begun to fall, an oddity for this time of year. Now it feels like a bad omen.
Death, at a time when the world should be coming to life.
The house is warm and still, too quiet. He looks toward the boy’s bedroom, the solid presence of the wall between them, a divide thicker than plaster and wood.
And you’re always standing on the wrong side.
“Hey, Isaac. You there?”
No response. He knocks once, twice, but stops short of turning the knob. Scully’s words during their argument choose this moment to seat themselves firmly in his consciousness.
Be a parent for once.
He presses his forehead to the door but makes no move to enter, torn between two worlds, neither of them within reach.
Fuck. If I knew how, I would.
“Hey, Isaac. You there?”
Isaac closes his eyes, willing the man away. If he has to endure one drop, one iota of pity, he might go mad. She was his secret, a bright spot in the darkness. Without her, the world has gone black.
Eventually Isaac gets his wish; Mulder’s steps are heavy as he retreats, but the tightness in Isaac’s chest is unrelenting. Memory launches an assault, and every bone and muscle in his body aches, his blood throbs a familiar beat through his veins.
It’s not memory, but a single wretched thought that deals the final blow.
Why did she have to see me?
The tears come, curling him like a burnt leaf in his bed, shivering with the force of his own sorrow.