Chapter 23

APRIL 1, 2015
2:30 A.M.

“It was a storage area,” Eileen explains as she unlocks the door, revealing a small room that’s more a closet than an exam space. No windows, just the one entrance.

Which means there’s only one exit, too, Scully thinks, pushing aside a momentary flutter of claustrophobia.

“Now they use it for patient overflow, sometimes training. We can use the table over there to block off the door.” She gestures to an unused exam table, an ancient model; heavy, no wheels; a perfect barricade.

They’ve moved Isaac to one of the smaller, portable cots. Scully hasn’t left his side since she first arrived at the hospital, and now she grips his hand, fearing this small, vacant room will become an unmarked grave.

They’ve stocked the corner cabinet with supplies—there’s more Tamiflu, syringes, a portable crash cart—though Scully knows none of it will be enough to save Isaac if Mulder returns empty handed.

Eileen helps Scully shift the equipment around until there’s just enough space to maneuver Isaac’s bed inside, and the two women manage to wrest the heavy exam table in front of the door, adding a metal filing cabinet on top for good measure.

“I don’t know if this will hold,” Scully murmurs. “Hopefully we won’t have to find out.” As she says it, she realizes it’s a faint hope at best.

They’ll find us, she thinks with a shudder. They’ll find all of us eventually. Pick us off, one by one, until there’s nothing left…

Stop it, Dana. It’s not over yet.

Eileen surveys the limited space with her hands on her hips, and Scully senses the woman’s determination beneath her shifting eyes.

“You should really let me take a look at that now,” she murmurs, and it takes Scully a moment to realize she’s referring not to Isaac, but to the wound on her chin. “The last thing you need is an infection.”

Scully is about to protest, but the nurse is already gathering swabs, ointment, sutures. She leans on the exam table, suddenly exhausted. All she can think about is Isaac.

And the bodies in the morgue. And Mulder…

She’s tried him twice, but his phone no longer rings through, and she wonders, not for the first time in her life, if he’s left her for good.

She winces but doesn’t pull away as the woman dabs at the stinging cuts with clean gauze and water, examines the bruises along her neck.

“He did a number on you,” she says finally, sitting back.

“I did a number on myself,” Scully murmurs, flinching at the memory of the sound her jaw made as it hit her desk. “And it’s not a ‘him’…it’s an ‘it’.”

The distinction seems important now. The more they think of Ybarra as a man, the harder it will be to kill him if it comes to that.

When it comes to that, Dana.

Eileen raises an eyebrow. “Well, whatever ‘it’ is, you’re damn lucky,” she says, gesturing to the marks around Scully’s throat. “How the hell did you get away?”

Scully swallows, coughs lightly, her voice raw from her earlier attack. “I have a background in law enforcement…and I was damn lucky,” she agrees, allowing herself the luxury of a faint smile.

“Law enforcement, huh? You a cop?”

“FBI.”

The nurse whistles through her teeth. “Ahh, no wonder…all the secrecy.”

“I’m just a doctor now,” Scully mutters, but her words hold no conviction. The look on Eileen’s face suggests she isn’t buying it, either.

Silence follows, and Scully takes the opportunity to change the subject. “You’ve done a good job…here. With him. Thank you for that.”

Eileen looks surprised, but nods slowly. “Your partner asked me to look after him. I couldn’t say no.”

Scully ducks her head, thinking of her missing half, how his smile had melted the walls of ice she’d built around herself—even if it had taken years. “Mulder has that effect.”

“No, I mean…I have a son, too. He’s…he’ll be six next week.” She swallows, and Scully feels a shift in the air, a slow unraveling of the woman’s hard-earned truth. She’s quiet, although envy visits her, an unwelcome but familiar guest.

I never knew Isaac when he was six.

“It’s been me and him since he was a baby. His father…he was never in the picture. I made it through nursing school with help from my mom, but she had a stroke,” she whispers. “I was lucky enough to get this job out of school, but with no one home to watch him, I thought…well, that’s that. Might as well send in the assistance application. But then my neighbor, Mrs. Callanan, she’s retired…she offered to take him. You can imagine what a relief that was,” she sighs, a soft laugh bubbling up. “He can be so…he’s a handful. Always getting into things. You know what it’s like.”

Scully smiles a little, but it’s hollow. Her heart sinks, and she looks back to Isaac, watching the rise and fall of his chest. Would knowing her son at six have given her the insight to weather this?

Would it have changed anything?

“I always felt bad about having to leave him at home, you know? But it was the only way…and if I’m being honest, I love it here,” she murmurs her confession. “I love my son, but I love the work. It’s hard, but…it’s what I do.”

The woman is rambling now, offering her life story in more words than she’s spoken since Scully arrived, but Scully herself can’t escape the cloud of her own grief to ask more than a simple question.

“Where is he now?”

The woman’s arms are folded across her chest, and Scully watches as she picks at the skin along one ragged fingernail, recognizing the same hollowed-out look on the woman’s face.

“Home,” she says finally, and it takes a moment for the full meaning of the word to register.

Home. Oh.

There’s no room in Scully’s heart for more grief, but here it is, gripping at her without mercy.

“His name was Thomas.”

“I…I’m sorry.”

The nurse is looking at Isaac with sad but dry eyes. “Keep him close, Dr. Scully. Protect him.”

Her throat constricts, unsure if she’s hurting more for this young woman or herself.

I couldn’t do that before, Scully thinks, helpless, treading water in a sea of quiet sorrow. How the hell am I supposed to do it now?

“It’s uhh…it’s just Dana,” she murmurs, the first thing that comes to mind. If they’re going to die in this tiny room, they might as well be on a first-name basis. “You can call me Dana.”

Isaac twitches lightly in his bed, and Scully is instantly alert, but there’s no further movement. A spasm, an electrical impulse, nothing more. There’s no more coughing, though she knows the virus ravages his body in silence. She can hear the telltale wheeze of fluid in his lungs. The medications they’re pumping through him have all the effect of bailing a sinking ocean liner with a plastic pail—an apt metaphor for their current situation.

Eventually, we’re all going to drown.

#

APRIL 2, 2015
4:21 A.M.

Eileen and Scully take turns recording Isaac’s vitals. The work helps Scully to gather her bearings, the hard facts a small comfort amidst an expanse of unknowns.

They have water from the exam room’s sink, but no food, save for a few packets of saltines. Scully isn’t sure she could eat the bland, pasty crackers even if she wanted to.

The other woman is withdrawn, stoic, with a carved-out look about her features that probably mirrors Scully’s own stunned expression.

All the survivors will look like that, Scully thinks, wondering how many of them are left.

She paces the tiny room, stretching, willing her phone to ring. She calculates and re-calculates the distance between Baltimore and their remote stretch of Virginia countryside, unable to account for what he might have found upon reaching his destination.

He should be back by now.

Their son’s complexion is beginning to worry her. His lips are blue-gray and his eyes have gone the color of coal.

“What is it about him, Dana?” Eileen asks, startling her out of her thoughts.

She blinks, distracted. “About who?”

“Isaac. You wouldn’t tell me before. What is this…this thing? Why is it after you?”

“I said I can’t—“

“I know what you said. I just thought, if it had any bearing on Isaac’s care…”

Scully’s jaw aches, she realizes she’s gritting her teeth. “While I appreciate your concern, his care is not your problem. I’m his…his…”

Mother. I’m his mother.

Eileen is staring at her expectantly as Scully opens her mouth to speak, but she can’t say it out loud. The label is a lie she doesn’t deserve.

Eileen shifts, uncomfortable in the silence. “Does it have something to do with the virus?”

Scully tips her head back to stare at the ceiling, her gaze tracing the line of a faint water stain on the tile. “I don’t know,” she concedes with a sigh. “But Isaac is…different. I don’t think I understood just how different until now.”

Eileen frowns, considering this, rubbing at her shoulder with hesitant fingers. “Would you…could you look at something for me?”

Scully watches as the other woman pulls up her sleeve, revealing the handprint, the shape of Isaac’s fingers a red kiss across her clavicle.

“He was having a fit…a bad dream. I got a…a shock, I think.”

She doesn’t need to examine the skin to understand, doesn’t need to close the distance between them to see what’s happened, and her stomach sinks.

He burned her. Jesus.

“Hey, it’s not like I’m not going to sue. If we’re lucky, all the ambulance chasers are dead by now,” Eileen smirks. “It’s just…if I can help…” she glances at Isaac, then back to Scully. “I’d like to help, is all.”

Scully blinks, thinking of the shape of the burn on the woman’s skin, the uncontrollable fire that will consume them all. She looks away. “You can’t.”

“I don’t under—”

“It’s not safe,” she says.

Eileen snorts. “Have you looked around lately?”

Scully shakes her head, still looking at Isaac. “If…when Mulder gets back, you should go…somewhere remote. Stay away from the victims,” she insists.

“But we could help people, together, we’re both trained—“

“No!” Scully says, voice booming in the tiny room, forcing herself to make eye contact. “The best thing you can do is get as far away from the city as possible. Find others, but stay away from us.”

“OK, I…OK. Fine. Sorry I asked,” she says, visibly stung, shifting in place. “Can I at least ask what you’re going to do?”

Scully swallows hard, closing her eyes against a future she can’t divine. “What we always do. We’ll run.”

“And what if your partner finds a cure? What happens then?”

“Even if he does,” she murmurs, feeling the weight of the dead on her conscience, “he’s already too late.”

#

APRIL 2, 2015
6:55 A.M.

She’s propped in a cramped corner between the wall and Isaac’s bed, having drifted off with her cheek pressed to the cold metal rail. The noise wakes her slowly, teasing at the edge of consciousness.

“Sculleeee…”

At first she thinks it might be the beginnings of a dream, but it comes again, and again, a familiar voice calling her name, pulling her slowly away from slumber.

“Scully!”

Her eyes fly open. Mulder!

Eileen is awake now, too, blinking owlishly in the dim light. “What is it?”

“Help me,” Scully says, scrambling to her feet, using all her strength to shove the heavy metal cabinet before turning to the exam table in front of it. “Mulder’s back…we need to…open this…door.”

“Are you sure—“ Then she hears it too, and a spark of recognition lights her eyes.

Scully continues wrenching on the exam table, and Eileen joins in, until they’ve given the door enough room to let Scully’s arm slip through. “Mulder! We’re in here!”

“Scully! Don’t move, I’m coming for you!”

She waits, heart lightening with each second. They’ve watched Isaac’s condition deteriorate, his fever raging against the invasion. At some point during their confinement, the telltale yellow-purple stain spread, grew darker.

She’d conducted the exam with cautious fingers, unable to forget the corpses, their blackened abdomens taut and rippling. She’d had to stifle a sob when the bruise once again revealed itself beneath his hospital gown, grateful Eileen was not awake to watch as she slid to her knees, pressing her forehead to Isaac’s arm, washing it with tears.

Hours of waiting and watching the mark grow more vicious, with the mounting fear that her partner was too late.

But he’s back, oh, thank God—

A hand shoots roughly through the gap between the door and the wall, grabbing and clawing for purchase, narrowly missing her coat. She can see the faint imprint of what looks like a tire tread across the forearm. Scully reels back just in time to dodge the faceless attacker once more, realizing her grave mistake.

The arm belongs not to Mulder, but to Ybarra.

It tricked me, she realizes, dread gripping her lungs, forcing the air out. It tricked us, it used Mulder’s voice…

“Come…out,” the voice growls from the other side of the door Scully is now frantically trying to shut, throwing herself against it, but their attacker is too strong.

“Help,” she moans, a strangled cry to the confused nurse.

“What the…but you said—”

“It’s…not him!” Scully gasps. “We…need…to…”

Eileen pales, but she throws her weight against the door until the thing on the other side lets out a painful screech. Its hand appears to shimmer a glistening black, tendrils of shadow snaking out from the fingers like smoke.

Stupid! Scully thinks, her hair flung wildly around her face. Stupid, stupid, Dana!

His arm withdraws, only to be followed by a strong thud as the figure on the other side connects with the door.

“Can’t…hold it!” Scully pants, pushing against brute force as Eileen tries to wrestle the exam table back into place.

“Move!” Eileen gives the table a final shove, leaving them all of two inches’ clearance.

Not enough room to get out. Fuck…

The arm is back, a scrabbling black shadow against the frame. Scully struggles with the cabinet, and together they manage to wedge the door shut as the creature withdraws once more, howling his inhuman rage into the empty chamber of the hospital corridor.

“What the fuck was that thing?”

“We need to get out,” Scully gasps, muscles trembling from the effort. She’s studying the vent at the top of the wall. “Where does that lead?”

“How should I know?” Eileen retorts, wide-eyed.

Scully ignores her, dragging a chair over to the vent. She’s just tall enough to reach it, and the grate wiggles out.

Thank God it’s not screwed in.

The opening is barely large enough, but Isaac will fit.

“It’s an air duct! We can hide,” she whispers, mind racing. The hall outside has gone quiet, but that doesn’t make her feel better.

It’s coming back. We’re trapped, and it’s going to get in. It’s going to kill him.

The nurse is shaking her head. “No. No, what about the kid? He can’t…he’s barely alive as it is…”

“We don’t have a choice,” Scully hisses. “Help me get him up there. Quick!”

The woman blanches, but does as Scully asks, disconnecting the boy’s IV, lifting Isaac’s limp frame from the bed. “This is fucking crazy,” she moans, handing the boy to Scully, still standing on the chair. “Watch his head there—“

“Got it, I got it.”

Scully and the nurse manage to feed Isaac’s body into the vent, grunting at his unconscious bulk. He doesn’t stir, and they break only for a moment to check his pulse, his breathing. “He’s still with us,” Scully murmurs through gritted teeth, a roaring pain in her chest, her ribs. “Let’s keep it that way.”

She turns back to Eileen, realizing she doesn’t have the strength to pull herself up. Her encounter with their attacker coupled with heaving Isaac’s body into the vent has left her muscles useless, wrung out. She can barely lift her arm without swooning.

Probably tore something, she thinks dully, one hand gripping the edge of the vent above her, the other wrapped against the space just under her left breast, pressing hard where the stitches used to be.

“Can you climb up?” she gasps to the nurse, trying to conceal her hurt.

“I think so…”

“I need a boost. Thread your fingers—yeah, like that,” she says, slipping off her heels, using the woman’s hands as a step, giving her just enough height to put the vent at neck level.

“Put the grate back on behind you,” she grimaces looking over her shoulder at the door with growing worry. “Hurry! We don’t have much—“

She’s interrupted by a loud thud against the wall, a growl at the door. The heavy exam table shudders across the floor on rubber feet. Another hit and he’ll be inside.

Not yet not yet…

Her heart leaps into her throat. “Going!” She kicks off with a strangled cry,  launching herself upward and into the dark, narrow cavity. Her head swims with the pain of each fiber of stretched muscle and tendon, but she’s still conscious, focused as she is on Isaac’s still form ahead.

breathe, breathe, go, move move

She grasps the edge of seam, pulling herself along as her ribs scream in protest. Her feet have barely cleared the opening when there comes a loud crash, a scream from behind

“No! Get away from—”

A louder thud, a strangled cry.

Damnit!

Another thud, this time as Eileen’s body is thrown. Scully backs out of the vent in time to see the nurse sliding down the far wall, unconscious.

She doesn’t think, doesn’t realize she’s cried out until she feels her vocal chords straining, a desperate effort to get the monster’s attention. “Hey!”

The director’s likeness turns toward her, and she feels its distant, muted terror, a deadly magnetic pull. She’s unable to tear her eyes away from Ybarra’s flickering, wavering shadow.

It’s not him it’s not him it’s not human

“Where is the boy?” he hisses, and Scully finds she can’t form a coherent response in the face of infinite darkness.

It doesn’t know where Isaac is, she realizes dully, a fleeting moment of clarity. She scrambles down from the chair, keeping her back to the wall, sliding along the perimeter and away from the vent in an effort to hold his attention.

“Hey!” Her voice sounds thin, weak to her ears. A quick glance at Eileen tells her she’s hurt—badly. There’s blood streaking the wall where her head hit and slid down.

“Where is the boy, Agent Scully?”

She swallows, fear gripping her heart in ice. “You can’t have him,” she means to sound strong, but her voice is little more a reedy croak.

“You cannot fight the future, Agent Scully. The child must die.”

“No!” There’s a gnawing sensation at the base of her skull, a thick curtain of silence as he consumes the last of her will to resist.

“Where is the boy? The boy, Agent Scully, you will tell me–“

“Scully!”

No please no

Mulder’s voice is an anchor thrown from the darkness, and she feels her knees buckle. Ybarra’s impression is too cruel, too real, and she can’t reconcile the monster before her with her partner’s familiar tenor.

“Scully!”

Isaac, oh Isaac, I’m so sorry…

She sinks back against the wall, tears stinging her cheeks, salting the gash on her chin. Ybarra’s form flickers rapidly from shadow to light, oily trails mapping his face. His body sways, and her eyes follow, unable to look away.

Please…please don’t let it find him

The vent is wide open, the grate discarded on the floor alongside Eileen’s body. One glance inside the shaft and Ybarra will see Isaac’s body.

“Scully!”

She doesn’t make the connection until Mulder himself is standing at the threshold, disheveled and frantic, but alive.

…alive!

She can’t speak, can’t move from her place against the wall to warn him, but her heart surges.

“Scully! Cover your eyes!”

There’s a flash of metal in his hand, and before Ybarra can turn, Mulder drives a scalpel into the base of the other man’s neck, eliciting an inhuman shriek that fills the room with a ghastly echo.

The monster snarls, acid blood dribbling over his collar, revealing a brown-green trail of dissolving flesh beneath. Scully turns her head to the wall, chest heaving with shallow gasps, feels the stinging sensation play across her lids, her cheeks. Her lungs burn with the tainted air as the body sizzles and pops behind her. She hears Mulder’s labored breathing in the background.

He’s back! Alive!

“Scully! Are you hurt?”

“No,” she gasps, not daring to open her eyes, reaching out blindly, “Mulder, I…we…”

“Keep talking, I’ll come to you.”

Her words come out in a flood. “Isaac, he’s in the vent, we were trying to get out, he was—”

“I…yeah, I see him. Keep talking, almost there.”

“The nurse, Eileen, she’s hurt, she’s—”

She feels his hand on her shoulder, warm and solid, relief as he pulls her close, the engine roar of his breath against her ear. “Jesus, Scully, I thought I was too late.”

Ybarra’s body is already melding with the floor, burning through the tiles and into the concrete underneath.

“She’s hurt, Mulder, we have to—“

“Isaac first.” His voice is rough, rumbling against her cheek. She feels him pull away, watching through sore, slitted eyes as he climbs onto the chair, favoring his knee.

“Got him.” He drags Isaac’s body gracelessly back through the vent’s opening by his feet, before laying him over his shoulder. “He’s not moving,” he says, worry lines across his brow.

Scully grasps at the boy’s neck, feeling the tender flesh for signs of life. A thrumming under her fingertips, a gentle, almost imperceptible rise. Dark brown lashes fan over pale cheeks and she feels her gut twist. “He’s breathing! Lay him down, over there.”

“Is he—“

“He’s been unconscious.”

“How long?”

“About sixteen hours. His vitals are stable, but weak. The fever came back. His lungs are full of fluid, and he has…he has this.”

She pulls back Isaac’s gown to reveal the ugly purple bruise, and Mulder draws back with worry.

“What is it?”

“It looks like the beginning stages of a massive invasion of the body’s abdominal cavity.” Her words are slow, clipped, as she rewraps the wound. “It’s using the body to reproduce. The infected victims become hosts.”

“The oil,” he says thickly, and her nod is almost imperceptible.

“We got him into the vent just in time,” she murmurs. “It broke in, it was going to kill him. It used your voice, Mulder.” Her chin drops, her voice catches in a hitch. “I thought it was you, I didn’t even consider…I opened the door.”

“It could have been, Scully. It came through the waiting room, there was glass everywhere…”

“It was stupid. I never should have—”

“No…no. You didn’t do this. You kept him safe.”

Eileen is not so fortunate. A brief exam reveals the woman’s face is burned, eyes raw from exposure to the poisonous blood, features frozen in an acidic slumber.

“I had to, Scully. I couldn’t take the chance.”

“I know,” she murmurs, kneeling, reaching for the woman’s wrist, knowing she won’t find a pulse. “It was her idea to hide here. God, we wouldn’t even be alive right now if she hadn’t…” but she trails off, unable to say it.

Bought us time.

Mulder ducks his head, fidgeting with something at his side. The silence that passes between them is heavy with sacrificial blood.

“What happened out there, Mulder?” She straightens, facing him, eyes shining like emeralds in the faint green light. He doesn’t know how to answer, and fear creeps across her bone white skin. “Did you find it? The cure?”

“I have this,” he says, voice like sandstone as he palms the vial.

Her eyes widen. “You found him? Kent?”

“No. But I did find an old friend.”

“I don’t understand.”

He turns the glass in his fingers, watching as it reflects the dim amber light. “SRSG,” he says quietly.

Understanding dawns on her face. “No…you can’t be serious. Mulder, she disappeared…after your trial. They were going to kill her.”

“And they did,” he says, bitter anger beneath a ragged exterior. “She’s dead…the infection…”

Scully gapes, but the pain on his face is too fresh. She pauses, choosing her words. “Marita? She gave you this…why?”

“She said Isaac needs to live. If there’s any hope for our survival, it’s in him.”

Scully reaches out, taking the vial from his weathered hands, holding it away as though it might sting. “How could she know? Mulder, she worked with the Cancer Man. We don’t know what kind of influence he had on this…this…thing…and how did she even know about Isaac? It doesn’t make sense.”

He shakes his head. “She wouldn’t tell me. I just…I was hoping you could run some tests on it,” he says, shifting his weight, favoring his bad knee. “You’re right. I don’t have good reason to trust her.”

“Mulder, we don’t have time,” she says, hating the pleading, desperate note in her voice. “Even if there were enough of a sample here to test, I don’t know what I’m looking for.”

“Yeah,” he whispers, hand at the back of his neck, sucking in a shaky breath. He turns to Isaac, reaching out to touch the back of his hand, the puncture where his IV used to be. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

“It could kill him,” she murmurs, feeling the weight of the glass chamber pressed into the line of her palm.

His voice breaks, and her heart breaks with it. “He’s going to die, Scully.”

She remembers during her cancer, how he’d had walked into her hospital room with a vial not unlike this one, a vial given of untrustworthy hands, and how there had been no question in her mind. She would accept the treatment, no matter how far-fetched or unbelievable, because it was the only option left.

Now she understands how Mulder must have felt in that desperate moment. She’ll blame herself forever if what’s contained within makes Isaac worse. She’ll blame herself if he dies because they choose to do nothing.

We can never win.

“A syringe,” she says, the words coming out as a soft croak. “I need a syringe. In the cabinet, over there.”

Mulder narrows his eyes in a silent question, but doesn’t argue. He notices the clench of her jaw, the slight tremble in her chin, but her hands are steady as she uses the needle to draw the liquid from the vial.

“Wait,” he cries, startling her before the tip can puncture Isaac’s paper-white skin, but he doesn’t know what he’s asking her to wait for, so he steps back.

The injection takes seconds. They both flinch a little as she depresses the plunger in the boy’s upper arm, a heavy pause when the deed is done, and all that’s left to do is wait.

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