MARCH 31, 2015
The door creaks open on tired hinges, where Isaac finds their bedroom tidy and dark. The bed is made, untouched for days; Mulder never sleeps here when the doc isn’t home. He glimpses the shed’s faint blue light glowing from the bedroom window.
A feverish chill ripples down Isaac’s back, the sensation tinged with loneliness and another, more sinister feeling he can’t place.
A blanket…need a blanket.
The thermostat reads 72, but he hasn’t been able to get warm since learning of Alice’s death. The cold goes deeper than bone, deeper than marrow.
Alice, he thinks. She is forgotten and remembered in a vicious cycle. Every rediscovery is worse than the first, and he rubs non-existent tears from raw eyes that have all but dried up.
He’s reaching for a quilt when he bumps the box on the top shelf. The lid slides to the floor, bringing with it a fluttering of pictures and papers. He frowns at a photograph that’s landed at his feet, reaching to pick it up.
A young girl of twelve or thirteen, leaning over the back of a chair, wild red hair curling around her face. She’s smiling at the camera, a look so genuine he can almost imagine her laughter.
He turns the photo over to read the unfamiliar handwriting on the back; June 23, 1967: Melissa at Great Aunt Alice’s.
Alice, he thinks, heart sinking in his chest like an anchor.
In a single-handed swipe, a futile attempt to banish her memory, he pulls down the rest of the box. Excitement sparks against his ribs in spite of his sorrow.
Sitting on top of the pile is a diary. It’s flowery but worn, the pages yellowed with time. He almost tosses it aside, but it’s flipped open to the middle where the binding has cracked, exposing a looping scrawl.
They did more tests today.
He swallows. The curled paper reads like his childhood, and a few gingerly turned pages reveal its original owner.
Mulder’s memories are well guarded, but the photograph in his office is not. She is a demigod in his guardian’s mind, as bright and untouchable as the sun; her life is a puzzle without corners or edges. He puts it aside, overwhelmed by its weight, heavy with memory.
She would have been my aunt.
The thought is strange and sad, another missed connection in a series of many.
He finds what looks like a mind-twister or a magician’s prop—two coins fused together in the middle. He turns the trinket in his fingers, testing its cool, coppery weight.
Junk. A souvenir, maybe. Why would they keep it?
There are stacks of photos and papers, layer after layer, like an archeological excavation.
Old pictures, a boy and a girl. The boy looks like Isaac, but with hazel eyes instead of blue.
A group of red-headed children laughing at the camera.
FBI badges with photos of the agents, fresh-faced and young, solemn.
There’s a paper ribbon—a hospital bracelet marked William F. Scully—alongside a handful of baby pictures that must be his. The dates line up, but no matter how hard he stares at the photographs, there’s no flutter of recognition or homecoming. He sets them down, a familiar disappointment pulling at his heart.
I don’t belong here.
More papers, Xeroxed copies of FBI files with large swaths of redacted text in black angry stripes.
Alice would get a kick out of this stuff.
The innocent thought brings a fresh wave of grief. Oh…Alice. Tears prick at his eyes, and he blindly swipes through photographs, papers, and clippings, but no amount of ephemera can still the ache.
At the bottom of the box, there’s a small, black velvet bag. He palms it, feeling its warm, slight mass in his hand, before untying the drawstring and shaking the contents into his palm.
He blinks at the rings, two simple gold bands.
They never said they were—
“I never gave them to her,” Mulder interrupts, startling Isaac, so absorbed in his research he doesn’t hear the hum of the man’s thoughts.
The box slips off his lap, its remaining contents scattering to the floor. He kneels, scrambling to put everything back.
“It was an accident, I—”
“It’s alright,” Mulder says, “it wasn’t exactly well hidden.”
“What is this stuff?”
Mulder shrugs. “We didn’t take much, there wasn’t time,” he murmurs. He leans down, picks up a photo, studying it with tired eyes.
They haven’t talked about the years in between, and Isaac hasn’t asked. Their relationship is precarious enough.
Isaac looks down at the rings in his palm as Mulder approaches; he’s quiet, almost wistful.
“I put them in one of the few places she’d never think to look…in the past.”
“So you’re not…?”
“No. Never thought we needed to, I guess. Or, she didn’t.” He smiles wryly. “Scully’s not much for grand symbolic gestures.”
Isaac snorts, and he picks up a photograph of the agents outside a nondescript gray building, both draped in dark coats, looking at something together. “What was she like?”
The question catches Mulder off guard, and he takes a seat at the edge of the bed, biting his lip.
“She was…she was everything I wasn’t,” he says, unaware of how his face softens when he talks about her, the laugh lines around his eyes smoothing. “Smart. Skeptical. We argued about everything, but it was something, watching her work. Still is,” he qualifies, “but we were different then.”
Isaac doesn’t say anything as he considers the artifacts of another time, feeling the burden of his words to Scully hanging over them.
“The X-Files hardened her…everything that happened to her, to us…it changed things,” he murmurs. “I don’t think either of us realized how much until you came along…or until she lost you.”
But she didn’t lose me…she gave me up.
Isaac’s voice is diluted in their silent circle. “I guess I fucked everything up, huh?”
Mulder shakes his head, hands clasped between his knees. “No. No, you…you have no idea how much she wanted you,” he whispers. “I don’t think she ever forgave herself.”
Isaac goes quiet, staring at one of the baby pictures. Suddenly the reasoning behind his seemingly innocent question becomes clear. He wants to know how one person could create another who is completely different in every respect.
Born from opposites.
The thought comes from nowhere, errant and oddly comforting.
Mulder clears his throat. “Her dad was military, you know. Your grandfather? If she’s hard on you, you can blame him for that. She expects no less than perfection from herself. You’re part of a family tradition of good Catholic guilt. Unfortunately for you,” he continues, smiling a little, “you’re also half Mulder. Which means you’re as imperfect as they come.”
Isaac’s face falls. He’d hoped his desire hadn’t been so obvious…for her to look at him as more than a piece of her past gone awry, a great guilty weight.
“But,” Mulder continues gently, “she’s put up with me for years, and she’s still here. So, you and I, we must be doing something right. That’s the best I can figure.”
“Did you ask her?” He’s fingering the rings again, brow furrowed and pale.
Mulder looks down. “I meant to. But I’m not even sure she’d take me up on the offer at this point.”
“She’ll say yes,” Isaac fires back.
Mulder frowns to cover a secret rush of pleasure at the thought. “No peeking.”
Isaac shrugs, murmuring, “I don’t have to read her mind.”
The way he says it, a statement of simple fact, leaves Mulder quiet. Why should he be surprised? He and Scully have always been obvious to everyone but them.
“Well…thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Where is she?”
Mulder blinks, and Isaac knows without asking that he’s considering bending the truth, is relieved when he doesn’t.
“She’s at the hospital, under quarantine. Apparently this infection, whatever it is, is worse than they thought.”
Isaac asks the question for Mulder’s sake; he already knows the answer. “The thing at school? Is it bad?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s bad,” Mulder says, wiping his hands across his face, haggard from fatigue. “I think you were right, when you said things were changing.”
Thinking about the virus reminds Isaac of Alice; her smile, her voice…her soft lips pressed against his for that one endless moment.
Her hand, limp and drawn with blue veins, peeking out from under the sheet…
His head swims with fatigue. Suddenly this room is too small, the walls too close, smothering. He shoves the box to the side. “Sorry I snooped,” he mumbles, but he’s not sorry at all.
“Suit yourself. For what it’s worth, it’s yours, too.”
Isaac swallows, aware that his biological parents have given him the chance to be part of something; a family, a history, a place.
He’s just not sure it’s a gift he can accept.
“I’m gonna go,” he mutters. He grabs the extra quilt and bypasses Mulder without looking back, heading for the safety of his room, where he shuts the door against his complicated past.