Mulder lays on the couch in the early morning hours, hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. He’s supposed to wake Scully for her shift soon, but decides against it. He won’t be able to sleep anyway, might as well let her rest.
He’s considered calling the whole thing off, letting the FBI take the kid into protective custody…not like they did a great job in the first place. If they had, we wouldn’t be here.
Scully won’t have it, though. She’s found William, she’s not going to let this go. Not going to let him go.
Scully. He closes his eyes. The thought of her is usually a comfort, but tonight it creates an uncomfortable unraveling within him. She’s shut him out, locked herself away in a proverbial room and thrown away the key.
He misses her. Not only in a physical sense (although there’s that, too), but in a spiritual one. He missed her long before their anonymous friend dropped a tip at her office door. He’d been too stupid and blind to admit that she’d pulled away from him a long time ago.
He wanted to believe they could have a normal life together.
He wanted to believe he was enough for her.
The truth is out there…and sometimes, the truth fucking hurts.
He drapes an arm over his eyes, letting his thoughts wander at random, in the way it does when he’s trying to solve a case, putting the pieces together, processing the last few hours.
Skinner isn’t telling them everything, but that’s not unusual. He’s put himself in a precarious position, handing Bureau resources to non-agents; he’s covering his ass, business as usual.
And who sent Scully the note? Whoever it was had to have some connection with the FBI, familiarity with their son. It was the kind of thing Spender and his ilk might have tried, if the Cancer Man was still alive.
Unlikely…but not impossible. Nothing is impossible, Fox.
More and more, he’s convinced this is some kind of trap.
But why now? The FBI has had access to us for years.
He’s still pondering this when he hears a soft knocking, so quiet he almost writes it off as nothing—the settling of the floorboards, maybe a radiator kicking on. But it comes again, a soft, stealthy tapping from behind him.
Someone’s at the door.
He’s instantly alert, heart thrumming in his ears. Rising from the couch, he draws the gun from his belt, quickly but quietly pressing his back against the wall, moving toward the entrance. He can make out a shadow, the faint outline of a person behind the curtain in the dim light. Whoever it is tries the door, finding it locked—Mulder watches the knob shift back and forth in rapid, jerky movements. Then comes another knock, louder, more insistent.
Mulder slides carefully along the wall until he gets to the front window; peering out, he can see the form of a long dark coat, black shoes. Government, probably male, judging by the size, but the face is in shadow.
Did Skinner send someone from the Bureau to check on us?
No, he would have called to let them know.
There’s the audible creak of a stair on the other side of the room; he whips around, begins to draw the gun, but finds only Scully.
“Mulder? I heard a…”
He moves a finger to his lips. Don’t talk. He points to the door, mouthing “outside.”
She freezes, nods slightly, hand tightening on the banister. He gestures toward the landing where she stands and jerks his thumb upward, but she already knows what to do.
Go. Keep them upstairs.
Taking a deep breath, gun at the ready, Mulder walks over to the door. “Who’s there?”
No response, but the figure doesn’t move.
He tightens his grip, preparing to aim through the glass. “Who is it?”
“Don’t shoot,” a voice speaks, muffled but familiar, from the other side. “I’m a friend. That you, Mulder?”
“Who are you?” Mulder repeats, heart racing, finger hovering over the trigger.
“It’s John Doggett, from the FBI.”
This gives Mulder pause, but he doesn’t relax his grip. “How do I know you are who you say you are?”
“I know the boy who’s with you, Agent Mulder…he’s your son.”
Mulder shakes his head, thinking of Isaac’s FBI file, stashed in Scully’s bedroom. Anyone with access to the Bureau’s records could have made that connection. “Seems that’s not news to anyone lately. Try again.”
The man on the other side of the door sighs, frustrated. “Until recently, you were a fugitive. We haven’t spoken since New Mexico. Remember New Mexico, Agent Mulder? Got my ass chased out of there by black helicopters. You’re not going to find that in the FBI records, though. They redacted most of my report when they shut down the X-files.”
Mulder hesitates. “Did Skinner send you?”
“Not exactly, but he pointed me in your direction. I’ve been following you. I want to help.”
There’s another long pause before Mulder responds. “I’m going to open the door. Put your weapon on the ground, I want your hands up where I can see them,” he instructs. “I want to see your badge.” Holding the gun to the edge of the doorway, he slips the deadbolt out of the latch and eases the door open.
Doggett stands on the porch, irritated but otherwise compliant. He holds up his badge in one hand, while his weapon lies on the floor, kicked to the side. Mulder’s shoulders relax the tiniest bit, but he doesn’t relinquish his hold on the gun.
“What do you want, Doggett?”
“Nice to see you, too, Agent Mulder.” Agent Mulduh.
“You can drop the ‘Agent’, it’s just Mulder.”
“Whatever you say. You’re the one with the gun,” Doggett replies, nodding at the weapon still trained at his head. His eyes shift to a point beyond Mulder’s shoulder, where Scully is descending the stairs a second time, now dressed in a T-shirt and sweats. “Hey, Dana, long time no see. Mind calling off your dog?”
“Mulder, put down the gun. It’s him.”
He shoots her an icy look, but reluctantly lowers the weapon.
“Gonna invite me in?” Doggett asks, a smirk pulling up the corners of his mouth.
Mulder steps aside, but barely, forcing Scully’s former partner to enter sideways. They stand for a moment, face to face, sizing each other up. Scully watches, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes at the unnecessary display of machismo. “They’re still sleeping,” she says, referring to the Van de Kamps, in an effort to draw Mulder’s attention away.
“I see you’re just as paranoid as ever, Mulder,” says Doggett.
“Yeah, how does it go? ‘It’s not paranoia if they’re actually out to get you.’ I’ll ask again—what do you want, Doggett?”
“It’s a bit of a story. Mind if I sit?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, walking over to the couch and lowering himself onto the seat with a tired grunt. Mulder and Scully follow, but neither joins Doggett; Scully stands in the archway, Mulder paces the floor.
“After the X-files were shut down, they reassigned me to Violent Crimes. I’ve done alright, kept my nose clean. Agent Reyes was reassigned, too, but we lost touch a few years back. She resigned, couldn’t take the bureaucracy, I guess.” He leans forward, face lined with fatigue.
“I’ve been working a case for the last few months. It’s a strange one, Agent…I mean, Mulder. You’d probably appreciate it—rampant pyromania, but it looks like spontaneous human combustion. I’m talkin’ temperatures that melt bones, there’s no trace evidence to be found. Honestly, I dunno why they don’t reopen the X-files, save themselves the trouble of putting good agents on cases like this. Damn near impossible.” He’s gruff, and Scully detects a hint of bitterness. He’s a tough man, Doggett, but his career hasn’t been kind to him.
Mulder fidgets, annoyed at the man’s choice of words. “Good agents” meant agents who followed the book, played by the rules; Mulder had never been one of them. “What does your case have to do with us?”
“In my research, I came across this other case, a man from Wyoming killed in an explosion a few years back. It fits the profile of this pyro we’ve been tracking, so I looked into it. Turns out it’s a coincidence, the two cases weren’t related…but the old case referenced an X-File, which caught my attention, as you can imagine.”
He sighs, weary. “I wouldn’t bother, except we’re running on empty, I’m jumping at every lead I can get my hands on. So…I jumped again. And there he was, ‘William Scully.’ Brought back memories. I got curious, started digging…didn’t like what I found.”
“You left the note,” Scully interrupts, understanding.
“Yeah. Yeah, I did. I thought…if it was my kid, I’d want to know.”
His face is sympathetic, but Scully crosses her arms, vexed. “Why the cloak and dagger routine? Why not come to us directly?”
He nods, acknowledging her anger. “The more I found, the more I realized this goes deep. Like I told ya, I’ve kept my nose clean. I’m up for a promotion soon. Unearthing something like this, making too much noise…I could lose more than just a rung on the ladder, if you get my drift.”
“But you’re here,” Mulder mutters. “That can’t be good for your career, Agent Doggett.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Doggett glares at him, then back to the floor, lowering his voice. “Conscience got the better of me, I guess. I heard how things went down the other night, Skinner hinted at trouble. Since I’m partly responsible for your being out here, I thought you could use a hand.”
Scully considers this. It was true, they could probably use the help. If nothing else, it was one more trained weapon, one more pair of eyes. Mulder doesn’t say anything, looking at Scully as if to say, Your game, your decision. What do you want?
That question is as loaded as the gun he still holds in his hand.
“You said this goes deep,” Mulder continues. “How deep? What does that mean?”
Doggett looks at Scully, then back to Mulder. “Have you ever heard of Project Ultimam?”
They haven’t. Doggett continues, “I hadn’t either, ’til a few days ago. It’s military. From what I can tell, it’s some kind of genetic experimentation, a cloning program, conducted under the guise of pharmaceutical testing,” he shakes his head. “You’d be proud of me, guys…ten years ago if you’d told me there was a government-sanctioned program for human cloning I’d have said you were crazy. But after everything…I read the files, didn’t even blink.”
“What does this have to do with Isaac?”
“The kid? Imagine what they could do with someone like him. Or multiple someones like him.”
Scully considers this; the extensive genetic studies begin to make sense. “They want to clone him.”
Doggett nods. “From my investigation of the X-files, it’s not the first time we’ve met with something like this. But I think…I think this time is different. This time, they have the perfect human-alien hybrid.”
“But why go to all this trouble?” Mulder retorts. “They’ve had access to him since he was little. Why pull us into it?”
Doggett shoots him a pointed look. “I couldn’t say. Conspiracy theories are your area of expertise, Mulder. I’m just the messenger.”
There’s a creak from behind as they realize they’re not alone; Isaac has been watching from the stair landing, and now he speaks up, “What’s going on? Who’s that?”
Scully whips around, gaping at the unexpected intrusion.
How long has he been standing there?
There’s a tense pause as she tries to recover. “He’s a friend, Isaac. An old friend, from the FBI. He’s here to help,” she says, casting a sideways glance at Doggett, silently confirming his place in their group.
The boy looks perplexed, maybe even suspicious, but doesn’t say anything. Scully realizes her heart is racing, her pulse frantic against the taut skin of her wrist.
What did he hear? What does he know?
They haven’t been quiet, but that’s less concerning than what he might have heard with his mind. She turns to find Mulder staring at her, silently asking the same questions.
Mulder nods at the boy, forcing a smile that looks more like a grimace, an unconvincing nothing-to-see-here gesture. “You should get back to bed, kid. It’s late.”
Isaac shrugs. “I don’t sleep much.” But he turns and walks back upstairs without argument.
They wait, listening for the click of the bedroom door before Mulder turns to Scully, his voice low. “We can’t keep this up. We have to tell them.”
Doggett observes them with growing disbelief. “Wait…he doesn’t know?”
Scully crosses her arms and looks at the floor in response.
“Ouch,” Doggett whistles under his breath.
“I’ll take this shift,” Scully murmurs coldly. “I’ll talk to his mother in the morning.”
She walks to Mulder but doesn’t make eye contact, holding out her hand for the gun. He relinquishes the weapon in stony silence before she storms out to the porch; he winces as the door slams behind her.
Doggett cocks an eyebrow. “I was going to ask how you two lovebirds were getting on, but…I think I know the answer.”
Mulder snorts, but doesn’t take the bait. Fatigue hits him hard and sudden, the events of the day catching up with him, and he doesn’t have the energy to answer Doggett’s questions, to field the other man’s snide remarks about his deteriorating partnership.
“You can have the couch,” he mutters drily, turning toward the kitchen. “I’m not going to need it.”