When his ravaged body can take no more, the silence rolls over him like an endless white fog, a soothing cocoon of nothing. Her voice comes from everywhere, falling on his shoulders like warm cotton.
Oh, Isaac. It’s you.
It’s OK, baby.
What happened to me?
You were sick, baby.
Did I…am I dead?
No. But they’re coming. You can’t stay.
We don’t have time. You have work to do.
But I don’t want to…Mom, please—
Go back, Isaac. Let them help you. You need them.
But I don’t understand—
Shhh, baby. You won’t, not yet. But you should go.
He reaches out, but her memory crumbles like brittle in his hands. A scream cuts through the fog as his mind shatters, and he doesn’t recognize the timbre of his own voice. Something jerks him backward, claws of agony pull him down, down, and the world goes from white to gray to a deep, oily black.
He’s pulled taut in every direction as his eyes open for the first time. It’s bright, cold, and there’s the hiss of a strange tongue. Everything burns, the stimulation too much, and he groans a mixture of blood and bile onto the floor in a rough coughing spasm that seems to go on forever.
“Breathe! Breathe, Isaac, you need to—“
The words sound foreign and strange, trapped between worlds. He wants to go back to the white quiet, but his mind is a throbbing hive of angry bees, every nerve on fire.
“Isaac, can you hear me?”
“Jesus, it’s killing him.”
“No…no, I think it’s working.”
His eyes roll in their sockets, unfocused, and the black syrup bubbles up again. He dry heaves, coughing and choking until his stomach is one massive cramp, until he’s finally able to draw a shuddering breath.
“That’s it, Isaac, breathe, just breathe…”
The hand is cool, rubbing long strokes along his back until he slips into unconsciousness.
APRIL 4, 2015
When he wakes, it’s blissfully dark. His stomach aches, his arms feel weak. The hissing in his head is still there, but distant now, lacking its former all-consuming insistence.
He turns his head toward the sound, the vague recollection of another voice, the same warmth—Mom? No, it’s the doc. But…she’s at the hospital. Where am I?
“Isaac, can you hear me? Can you talk?”
“Mmm,” is all he can manage. His throat aches, his eyes are tender and raw, and when the memories begin to surface, he finds himself swept up in fresh sorrow.
“You’re going to be OK, Isaac,” Scully whispers, and he feels her squeeze his hand. “You’ve been sick.”
He turns his head, because nothing about this is OK.
“Rest,” she says, as if it’s as easy as closing his eyes to make the monsters disappear.
But they do close, eventually. The hum in his head comes in waves, lilting and flowing, and he drifts on its patterns, the intersections foreign but eerily familiar…
His eyes fly open in the darkness, except it’s not complete. Moonlight has crept in, bathing the room in milky blue light. She’s sitting in the chair next to his bed, watching him.
She’s not the only one watching tonight.
“They’re here,” he croaks, the hollow edge in his own voice only scares him more.
“Who’s here, Isaac?” She leans forward, features lined with fatigue.
“I hear them.”
“What do they say?” Mulder’s voice, tired but strong, drifts from a shadowed corner.
“Can’t understand,” the boy whispers. “It’s…them.”
Scully’s head hangs, he can sense her resistance, already creeping between them. “Isaac…”
“They’re coming for us,” he says, challenging her, willing himself to find the strength to convey his fear. The light is harsh, all-knowing, there are too many possibilities within. He winces at the flood through the window, his vision hazy with the buzzing drone in his head.
“Isaac, you need—“
“No! You need to listen to me,” he gasps, struggling to sit up. “They’re coming, they’re going to find us—“
“I believe you,” she says, surprising him, stilling him with a hand to his shoulder. “I do. But you’re too weak, Isaac—”
“You need to rest,” Mulder says, leaning forward, his face catching the light. Isaac can read their worry, sense their fear, but he isn’t the one they should be worried about.
“Let us take care of you, OK?” Scully says, her fingers drifting across Isaac’s forehead in a careful caress.
He’s tired, so tired, but only when Scully draws the shades against the moon does Isaac allow himself to relax against the pillow, to close his eyes, to sleep.
APRIL 4, 2015
“He’s weak, but his lungs are clear,” Scully murmurs, hand to the boy’s forehead. “Temperature’s down. I think we can go home tonight.”
“We can’t stay, Scully,” Mulder whispers. “We have to get away from the city. You said it yourself, once these things hatch, we’re outnumbered.”
“I know.” Her eyes are dull with exhaustion. They’ve been watching over Isaac for hours, neither willing to leave his side. “Just for the night. Tomorrow—”
Mulder nods, biting his thumb. “Hide out somewhere remote, at least ’til he’s stronger.”
It’s hard to imagine a place more remote than their little farmhouse, with its sprawling fields and ambling tree line. There was a time when it had been strange to her, when she missed her tidy apartment in city. The sunny kitchen windows, the claw foot tub…
She remembers how unsettled she’d felt upon signing the mortgage—their first permanent decision after months of impermanence—and how she turned the key in the lock and walked into the dusty, drafty old place with resignation rather than excitement. The quiet of the country was unnerving, and she struggled to sleep without the hum of traffic behind her dreams.
It was on one of these sleepless nights when she’d wrapped herself in a robe and walked outside in a fit of homesickness and longing.
William weighed heavy on her mind then; he would have been a toddler, and his absence was felt acutely in every facet of their new home. From the precarious basement steps to the cast iron potbelly stove that sat unguarded at the edge of the living room, every unpadded corner, every unlocked cabinet was a reminder of what was missing.
It’s like he never even existed.
Mulder found her on the front porch, a sky full of stars reflected in her tears. The steps creaked as he sat down beside her.
“Not a bad view, huh? Can’t see the night like this, living in the city,” he’d remarked, squinting up at the sky, marveling at its razor-sharp beauty, the contrast of her pale skin glowing in the inky darkness.
She’d shaken her head, unable to speak through her sorrow, silence spiraling around them like a funnel cloud.
“You want to go back?” he murmured finally, asking the unspoken question that had hung between them for months. He’d wanted to beg her to stay, but couldn’t. It wasn’t a matter of self-respect—he given up his pride with Scully years ago. The last time he’d pleaded, bared his soul to her in that grimy, overheated hallway, she’d been taken and damn near killed.
He can’t beg, because her duty to him is too precious to risk. She’d honor it in a heartbeat, and he’d have no one to blame but himself.
“We can’t go back,” she’d said, knowing it was more than state lines and the threat of a death sentence that bound them to this tiny property in the middle of nowhere.
“But you could,” he swallowed, speaking his blessing to the ground, “if you wanted.”
She’d cleared her throat and looked at her partner, studying him as she’d studied the stars, sadness and love painting a mixed smile on her lips.
“I could…but then I’d miss the view.”
It took months, but one night she’d walked through the door to find a fire in the stove and her partner with his long legs over the arm of the couch. He’d looked up from his book with a wry smile, they’d made dinner, and later, love. Nothing unusual, just an ordinary, quiet evening, but something had changed.
At some point along the way, the house with the creaky front porch and the drafty windows had become a home.
Now, looking at Isaac’s face, she realizes they’ve reached another end, the future sprawled in front of them, perilous and uncertain. She brushes an errant hair from the boy’s brow, then bows her head at his side.
APRIL 4, 2015
“I don’t think anyone will miss these.”
Scully picks over the hospital pharmacy’s shelves, selecting antibiotics and painkillers as though shopping for produce.
Mulder hangs back at the door with Isaac, fighting the urge to check the boy’s pulse a fourth time, settles for placing a hand on his shoulder instead. Isaac hasn’t spoken since he woke up, rendered mute with fear or exhaustion, it’s impossible to say.
Isaac leans against the frame, barely upright. His eyes are hollow pools reflecting the flat gray walls. The bruise on his stomach has faded to a thick yellow, the color of pus, and Mulder watches him rub at the tender skin under his wrinkled t-shirt. The mark only serves to remind Mulder that they’re living on borrowed time.
We should have left hours ago. God knows when those things will come out to play.
“C’mon, Doc,” Mulders sighs, glancing uneasily over his shoulder at the empty corridor. There’s a swollen body crumpled in the corner at the end of the hall—nurse, doctor, or patient, it’s too far away to tell.
Doesn’t matter now.
The sight reminds him of the waiting room, the corpses he’d blindly stepped over in haste, and a shiver caresses his spine. There’s the smell of stale blood in the air. He could swear he sees the body twitch, the abdomen black and undulating.
“C’mon,” he repeats, this time with more urgency, “let’s get out of here.”
The sky is an inky purple cloak by the time they pack themselves into Scully’s beat-up Toyota. They drive through solemn, empty streets, passing dark houses that loom, eventually giving way to rolling fields. Mulder glances in the rear view mirror to find Isaac staring out the window.
“They’re all dead, aren’t they?” the boy croaks, a rasping sound that startles Scully from a light sleep.
Mulder glances over at his partner, but her tired eyes reflect his disquiet. Neither know what to say. When the boy speaks again, his voice is low and broken.
“I can’t…I can’t hear them anymore.”
Mulder opens his mouth to reassure him, but closes it after a moment’s thought, realizing he has no false comfort to give.
“I dreamt it,” Isaac continues quietly, “this is how it begins.”
Their eyes meet in the mirror. “How what begins, Isaac?”
A measured pause, and the boy returns his gaze to the outside, his last words barely a whisper. “The end.”
The house is dark when they arrive. Mulder takes a flashlight to the basement to check the breaker, but all three seem to understand this is a formality. Scully is already searching the cupboards, withdrawing candles and flashlights.
“Nothing thrown,” he says, confirming her fears as he clomps up the stairs. “Power’s out.”
It’s going to stay that way, she thinks, but her partner has already moved on.
“Clothes, non-perishables, tools…we’ll pack tonight, leave first thing in the morning.”
Scully turns to their son, shivering in spite of the blanket draped over his shoulders. “Let’s get you to bed.”
He lets Scully tuck him into his bed without protest.
“Mmm?” She’s distracted, packing clothes into a duffel bag, back turned at his dresser. Her hand pauses over a sweater, wondering how long they’ll be gone, if they’ll ever come back. She’s full of nervous energy, unable to forget his earlier words, paranoia heightened in the eery half-darkness.
I can’t hear them anymore.
His voice is faint in the tiny room. “Is it true?”
She turns, setting aside the clothes with careful movements. “Is what true?”
“You’re both thinking it. That you saved me because…because I’m supposed to do something. Something important.”
She swallows, failing to dislodge the painful lump in the back of her throat. “We saved you because you’re our son, Isaac.”
“But… but you think I’m supposed to save us,” he whispers, a distinct tremor in his voice followed by the impossible question. “How?”
He’s sitting up now, frightened and pale, still so pale.
“How?” he demands, an accusation wrapped in a sob. “I don’t…how am I supposed to save us? Tell me!” His fingers clench and unclench, gripping the quilt, twisting it. She can still hear the faint whistle of fluid in his lungs.
“Isaac…I…” she whispers, sinking to the bed, trying and failing to still his frantic hands with her own.
“I don’t understand! Why me? I don’t want to…I can’t—”
Sorrow and fear transform him, his face so young, so vulnerable she can’t stand it. She reaches out, pulling him into her arms, wrapping them around his slight frame.
He shudders against her, and she presses her nose to the crown of his head, taking in the scent of him, sweet and primal. Mother and son separated by time, connected by blood.
Mine, she thinks as her hands rub his back, trying to soothe him the way she used to when he was small. The world can’t have you, they can’t have you, because you’re mine.
“I…can’t…” he hiccups. “They’re…here…can’t get them…out…”
“Shh, I know, I know…”
She rocks him, a subconscious motion, a reflex born of sleepless nights and a deep, unwavering connection to this being to whom her body gave life.
He’s just a boy.
He quiets, and as the tears dry he pulls away, embarrassed. He sinks back against the pillows, coughing weakly, and she reaches for the glass of water on his nightstand, grateful for the distraction.
“You’ve been through a lot,” she says as he sips. “Do you remember getting sick?”
“Not really,” he says. “I was cold…after Alice…and then Mulder picked me up, I think. I dreamed…” he trails off, leaving the thought unfinished.
Her empathy is a ragged nerve. Nine minutes or nine years, she knows what it’s like to miss time, to feel the emptiness between moments as negative space.
I wonder if it’s possible to make a complete person from all our missing pieces.
“I’m sorry,” he blurts out, a watery confession directed at his lap.
She blinks, brow furrowed, not understanding. “Isaac, none of this is your fault.”
“No, I mean…for what I said. Before.”
Scully feels her throat tighten, her breath catch. The argument that had seemed so critical at the time has been rendered inconsequential, but to think her last words to him were hurtful makes her cheeks flush with shame.
“Isaac…you don’t have anything to apologize for.”
She presses her lips together, tries to keep her voice from shaking. “I should have listened to you. I should have stood up for you. I…I’m not very good at this.”
“You’re alright,” he sniffs, but he can’t look her in the eye. His fingers toy with the frayed edge of the blanket.
“And you’re a terrible liar,” she returns, smiling a little. “You get that from me.”
His face turns a faint shade of crimson, the same color as the quilt in his hands.
“Isaac…we were without you for so long. I wanted more than anything to have you back…but I don’t think I understood what that meant for us, or for you.”
She continues, traversing this uncharted territory, afraid to lose momentum. Her body remembers how his hair felt pressed against her cheek, soft as down.
“There are things we haven’t told you…things about your past…things I still can’t explain…”
“You said no secrets,” he whispers.
She nods, a soft huff against her own unwavering dedication to proof before belief. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to believe it…because I didn’t think we’d see you again. But now…” she sighs, looking out the window. The field outside is barren and gray, a reflection of a desolate future.
He follows her gaze, finishing her thought with a hollow whisper. “Things are different.”
She turns back to him, staring intently at the silhouette of his nose, his lashes, his brooding eyes, wishing she could lift the burden from his shoulders.
“Isaac,” she reaches out to cover his hands with hers, “you’ve shown us so many things. Astounding, unbelievable things. You’re not…you’re not what I expected. I always dreamed we’d find you someday, but I didn’t think it would be like this.”
He frowns at her pause, expecting disappointment, but her voice is soft and full of love.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she continues, “and I’m…I’m proud of you. No matter what, I hope you know that.”
He doesn’t respond, but his fingers tighten imperceptibly, holding on a little bit longer than before.
“I know you’re scared,” she murmurs, “but whatever happens…I’m here.”
He ducks his head in silent assent, and she has to look away. There is too much loss and love to be contained within these stark, unfinished walls.
“Get some rest,” she chokes out, “we’ll leave in the morning.”
He settles back against the pillows, reluctant, but too weak to argue. “Where will we go?”
Her eyes drift back to the landscape outside, to the cold, faceless earth. “I don’t know. But we’ll be together.”
She retreats on light feet, hoping to have her moment in private, but someone is waiting. A shadow leans across her path, and she has a flashback of Ybarra’s black tendril arm scraping and scrabbling at the wall, and suddenly her ribs can’t take the incessant flailing of her heart against them.
“Jesus, Mulder!” she says, hand pressed to her chest, the words coming out in a frightened hiss, “You scared me.”
“Sorry. Thought I’d check on him, but then I…you two were talking…I didn’t wanna crash the party,” he finishes carefully, searching her face.
“Ahh,” she sighs, ducking her head, the softest catch in her breath, “you heard.”
He nods, cocks a knowing eyebrow, eyes shining. “This is the part where I get to say ‘I told you so’, right?”
“Never,” she whispers, trying to be coy, but there’s no force behind it. She’s too tired to play this game. Instead, she lets him pull her close, forehead pressed to the hollow of his breastbone.
“What do we tell him, Mulder?” she whispers, words muffled by the fabric of his sweater, his steady beating heart beneath. She’d asked the same question of him months ago, and once again he has the answer.
He tucks a finger under her chin, tilting her head to his, and the love reflected in his face makes her throat constrict all over again.
“It’s like you said, Scully. We’ll be together.”