Scully wakes in the unfamiliar room, disoriented and cold. It takes a moment to register the previous night’s events, the attack, the long drive, the house. She rolls her stiff, aching body over and stares at the water-stained ceiling, letting it sink in.
Mulder leans in the doorway, watching her wake, smiling a little despite himself. Her robe has fallen open slightly, revealing the familiar curve of her breast beneath the thin fabric. He has the urge to go to her, wrap his arms around her trim waist, and pretend last night’s conversation didn’t happen, but it’s a physical hunger more than a desire for reconciliation. The set of his jaw and the cold flecks of doubt in his gaze reveal hurt that goes deeper than a simple embrace could soothe.
“Wakey wakey,” he says drily, rapping on the doorframe; she startles, turning around.
“Jesus, Mulder, you scared me.” She tucks the robe around her body, unusually self conscious. “How, uhh…how long have I been out?”
“Long enough. The natives are restless,” he says, tilting his head back toward the stairs.
“I’ll be right down.”
“K.” He lingers in the doorway for a moment, as though he wants to say more. The air is charged with yesterday’s emotions, so much unresolved tension. Just as Scully opens her mouth, not knowing what she’ll say but unwilling to suffer the uncomfortable quiet between them, he turns his back and is gone.
“She’ll be another minute.”
Mrs. Van de Kamp is sitting at the kitchen table, fretting with the paper napkin beneath an untouched bagel. Isaac is munching away at his second bowl of cereal, something that appears to be more food coloring than food, with a surprisingly healthy appetite under the circumstances.
True to Mulder’s word, Scully joins them after a short time, having traded her robe for a blouse and faded jeans, her gold-red hair pulled back in a loose knot at the base of her neck. Mulder hands her a steaming mug of coffee, prepared the way she likes—two creams, one sugar—a peace offering? she wonders, although his eyes regard her with cool detachment.
Mrs. Van de Kamp breaks the uncomfortable silence. “What do we do now? You said we should rest; we’re rested. Now I want some answers.” She glares at the former agents.
Scully sits at the table, takes a sip of her coffee, letting the hot ceramic warm her hands. “We need to figure out who’s after Isaac, Mrs. Van de Kamp. Did you see anything odd before the attacks? Anyone following you?”
The woman shakes her head, tightlipped. “Nothing. No one. We’re small-town people, we live a simple life.”
Yeah, and your kid can set a truck on fire by looking at it funny, thinks Mulder. A regular June and Wally Cleaver.
He glances at Scully; there’s color rising in her cheeks, visibly agitated by the woman’s lack of cooperation. Mulder shoots her a look in silent commiseration, a holdover from their FBI days. Let’s try a different approach.
“Look, Mrs. Van de Kamp…can I call you Gwen?” He smiles, taking a seat so he can look the woman in the eye, but also so he’s less imposing, more approachable—Scully recognizes it immediately, a classic “good cop” interrogation tactic.
The woman sniffs, but nods. “Gwen, we need to do some research. We have some time. Not much, but some. We need space to do our jobs, so we can get you and Isaac out of this alive,” he stresses the last word, trying to convey the full weight of their situation. “To do that, we need your help. Think about it for a while, k? The sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can all go home.”
He smiles again, this time a warm, earnest, almost boyish grin Scully knows too well; he’s used it on her a few times, though it’s less effective. She sits back in the kitchen chair and can’t help but smile herself, watching her partner turn on the charm; those damn puppy-dog eyes could melt the iciest of ice queens, Gwenyth Van de Kamp included. She can see the woman’s resistance crumbling as he covers her hand with his in a reassuring gesture of compassion.
Oh, brother, thinks Scully, forcing herself to smile wider instead of rolling her eyes. To Mulder’s credit, Mrs. Van de Kamp doesn’t resist.
“I…I’ll think about it,” she says, finally.
“Great. That’s great, Gwen, thank you. Will you excuse us for a minute?” He motions for Scully to join him in the entryway.
“Nice performance in there. Maybe you haven’t lost your touch after all, Mulder.”
He shrugs, the warmth gone from his face, hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.
“So, any idea where we start?” she asks, keeping her voice confidential.
He shakes his head. “I’ve got nothing. Even if we do manage to figure out who’s after him…”
“…how are we supposed to protect him?” she finishes her partner’s thought. “I’ll start looking through the records again. Maybe there’s a clue, something we missed.”
“Good idea. I’ll talk to the kid, maybe he’ll remember something.”
He turns back to the kitchen, approaching the table with the same affable charm. His earlier words with Mrs. Van de Kamp haven’t done much to melt her hostile exterior, but he’s decided she’s more bark than bite.
“Gwenyth, is it OK if Isaac and I talk privately? I’d like to ask him some questions.”
She bristles. “Anything you say to him can be said in front of—”
“Mom, I’m fine.” Isaac is already up, walking out of the kitchen and through the front door.
Mrs. Van de Kamp glares at Mulder, giving him a thin-lipped grimace, a terse nod in assent. He tips his head in sympathy as if to say, Kids these days. What can you do? before following Isaac out to the screen porch.
The boy snorts. “Hey. Sorry about my mom.”
“S’OK. She’s protecting you…it’s what moms do.”
“I guess. She doesn’t get it.” The boy thinks for a moment. “Do you have kids Mr. Mulder?”
Mulder smiles a little. For a few days, I had William. “No. Not in the traditional sense.”
“But you had a son. William?” Apologetic, the boy looks at his shoes. “Sorry. I can hear you thinking.”
Mulder swallows. Have to keep my guard up around this one. “Yeah, I did, once. That was a long time ago.”
“Did he die?”
“Oh.” They sit in silence for a moment. “So…what do you want to talk about?” The boy is suspicious. “You already know everything about me. You have a file. She said so.” He tilts his head back toward the house, referring to Scully.
“That’s true, but in my line of work, I’ve found personal accounts can be more helpful than official records.”
“What do you do for work?” The boy is looking at him intently, and Mulder finds himself staring back into Scully’s bright blue eyes.
It really is William, he thinks, momentarily taken aback, cursing himself for letting his thoughts slip again. “I uhh…I worked on what were called the X-Files—unsolved cases, unexplained phenomenon…”
“Psychokinesis and telepathy fall into that category, yes.” He pauses. “I met another boy, like you, once. He could read minds, too.”
Isaac’s eyes light up. “Really?”
“Really. He’s grown now.”
“Did he…could he move stuff, too?”
“No, but he was in danger because of his abilities. Agent Scully and I helped to protect him…the same way we want to help you, and your mom.” He pauses. “Isaac, do you think you can tell me about your father?”
Isaac’s face falls; he tries to conceal it, but the emotion is too raw. “He…he died when I was three. Car accident.”
Mulder nods, “That must have been difficult. For your mom, too.”
“Yeah. I dunno.” The boy shifts in his seat, fidgeting.
“Isaac…what we’re trying to determine is whether your father’s death and these attacks are connected somehow.”
The boy looks up, shakes his head. “No. No, I…I don’t think so.”
“What makes you say that?”
The boy shifts uncomfortably. “I just…he…he wasn’t like that, I guess.”
Did your power have something to do with his death? Mulder thinks, trying to find the words to ask the difficult question without outright asking it, but the boy’s head snaps up, eyes shining.
Mulder realizes what’s happened; Isaac’s anxious silence says it all. “You read my mind, didn’t you?” He tips his head down, nodding to himself. “You were a baby holding the equivalent of a loaded gun. You couldn’t control it.”
The boy’s eyes widen in fear at hearing his secret spoken aloud. “Please…don’t tell my mom. She…she thinks it was a faulty fuel valve. That’s what the police said.”
“Your mom doesn’t know?”
The boy swallows. “No. I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t remember what happened for a long time, I was too little. Then, when I did…I…I couldn’t…” He turns away, wiping furiously at his eyes.
Mulder pretends to be interested in a point somewhere in the distance, giving the boy some space.
After a moment, Isaac speaks again, his voice a hollow whisper. “It was my fault. But she was so sad after Dad died, I couldn’t…I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t want her to hate me more than she already does.”
Mulder winces a little in sympathy. He remembers his childhood after Samantha’s abduction…the cold chill that surrounded his father and mother…the immeasurable guilt at not being able to repair his broken family. His sister’s disappearance became his life’s work, and some part of him has always known it wasn’t entirely about finding her, but about restoring his parents’ love and affection.
And what good had it done? For all his flailing about at the Bureau, his parents are long gone, buried under the weight of their secrets, and his sister was found but never returned.
At least I had Scully, he thinks, but now…well, he doesn’t know what he has, exactly.
He realizes he’s been silent, lost in his thoughts. Isaac is looking at him, waiting, worried Mulder will spill the proverbial beans to his mother.
“Look, Isaac…I’m not going to say anything. That’s your business, not mine. But…I do know your father’s death wasn’t your fault. For what it’s worth,” he continues gently, “I think you should tell her. Your dad wouldn’t want you to carry this for the rest of your life, and it’s obvious your mom cares about you, or we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Isaac doesn’t respond, just stares at the floor, the toe of his sneaker dragging across the porch, scraping at the peeling blue paint. They sit quietly like this for a while, oddly comfortable in each other’s company.
And why not? Mulder thinks. We’re both genetically programmed to brood.
“It’s just Mulder, Mr. Mulder was my dad,” he smiles.
“Uh, OK. Mulder…I’ve been having weird dreams. Is that…is that normal? For people like me?”
“Well…everyone’s different,” Mulder says, hedging. “What kind of dreams?”
“That man…who attacked me? I’ve seen him before. He’s been in my dreams…more like nightmares, I guess.”
“It’s not unusual to have nightmares during times of stress—”
“No, not like that,” the boy interrupts, struggling to find the words. “I mean…I dreamt what happened…before it happened. And now I keep having these dreams where I’m outside, I think in the woods? And there’s a light…” The fear on the kid’s face is so earnest it makes Mulder’s stomach clench. “Do you think it has anything to do with the attacks?”
Mulder finds himself at a loss for comforting words. What the boy had seen over the course of his lifetime was infinitely worse than the imaginary monsters that lurked under the bed. He suspects this journey of theirs, whatever the outcome, will get much, much worse before it gets better.
“Isaac…I wish I could tell you it doesn’t. The truth is, I don’t know. I do know that even normal people have dreams that feel precognitive, and most of the time it’s the subconscious speaking more clearly than usual.” He pauses. “But…follow your gut. If you have more of these dreams, write them down. Tell me about them, if you want,” he says, “but you’re a smart kid, Isaac. Trust your instincts.”
They sit a while longer in comfortable silence. Isaac pulls a paperback novel from his jacket pocket, something by Stephen King, and begins to read. A sideways glance at the cover makes Mulder smile.
Ahh. The Shining. Of course.
Mulder realizes after some thought that this conversation is probably the closest he will ever get to doling out fatherly advice. He glances over at the boy, feeling an unexpected surge of affection.
Maybe I wouldn’t have been so terrible at this after all.