Chapter 5

MARCH 26, 2015
6:03 PM

Mulder sits with his feet propped on the makeshift desk, staring at the blank white screen with a measured amount of disdain. The book is an inadvertent lie, and like most good lies, he’s practiced it well. The shell of a sunflower seed flies from his lips, narrowly missing the trash can in the corner, joining its comrades on the damp, dusty floor.

It’s easy to ignore the mess. The shed is more a lean-to than an office, but its dreary, haggard appearance has grown on him. The rough wood walls hold his paper clippings just as well as the den ever did, though the change of scenery hasn’t done much for his writing.

Not that there’s any of that happening.

Memory pulls him back to his conversation with Isaac, to the way the boy’s face had almost glowed with reverence at the thought of…

Of what? What does he want?

But he knows, much as he doesn’t want to admit it. When Mulder agreed to do the research, he hadn’t thought this far ahead. He just knew he couldn’t say no. He knows what it’s like to need answers and not know who to turn to.

Email is a welcome distraction, and he opens it for the third time. There’s the usual assortment of junk, and something new from Frohicke, Subject: “Thought you might be interested…”

Nothing like a little paranoia with your procrastination.

He clicks on it, but it’s contents are less paranoid than perverted, a lewd video accompanied by a Seussian note: 1:03 is the place to be.

Mulder smirks. At first glance, the video is right up his alley, but he has other things on his mind.

‘Hicky, you perv.

His cursor hovers over the trash icon, debating, before moving over to click Archive.

Maybe later.

He leans back in a stretch, scanning the desk for something else to occupy his frenetic thoughts. A short stack of beige folders lays askance on the plywood surface, profiling cases for the Bureau. Consulting doesn’t pay well, but he’s never done it for the money. Not a labor of love so much as a labor of necessity.

Because it’s who you are. But you’re not ready to admit that, either.

With a final glance at the blank document, the cursor taunting him with its slow, steady blink, he reaches out and snaps open the first folder. The photograph clipped to the top is slick and shiny, in stark contrast to its dark image. The victim is young, male, his body so disfigured as to be rendered almost unrecognizable. Sub-human.

For one horrific moment, all Mulder can see is Isaac’s face, matted hair, distended abdomen, and gray-blue skin.

Jesus. You still know how to pick them, Spooky.

He blinks away the vision, mentally setting himself apart from the crime. It’s the third case to cross his makeshift desk in so many weeks, a suspected serial murder. The FBI has few leads, can’t discern a pattern from the victims. If it is a serial case, he’s a traveler; the bodies have been found in Nevada, Massachusetts, and Washington state. He skims the report’s pages.

Fifteen. Homeless. Body found washed up south of New York City, likely dumped in the Hudson. Puncture marks along the veins suggest drug involvement, organs in an advanced state of decay, water saturation…

He loses himself in the details, taking notes, occasionally pausing to consult the records again. He opens a new email, and the hour passes in a blur as he writes the profile. The findings are addressed to an anonymous Bureau contact—some unlucky sap on bullpen duty, Mulder thinks—and after a final read through, he hits Send.

Another one for the round file.

He won’t receive a response, will probably never see this boy’s beaten and bloated face again, but the Bureau has never missed a direct deposit.

Blood money.

As long as he’s on their radar, they’re on his. As long as they keep him in cases, he gets a taste of his previous life, a sly finger on their venomous pulse.

He sighs, returning to the victim’s photo one last time, studying it, allowing himself a brief moment of empathy; a sorry ending to a sad story, reduced to another unsolved case in a dusty filing cabinet.

Once again, he thinks of Isaac, and an electric finger of nervous energy skims the surface of his back. He’s reaching for the sunflower seeds, his anxious companions, when the boy appears out of nowhere, as if summoned by Mulder’s thoughts.

 “Knock knock.”

Mulder instinctively shuts the folder with a flick of his wrist, caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

“Uhh…hey! What’s up?”

“Not much,” Isaac leans in the doorway, “What are you working on?”

“Just a case,” he says, tossing the folder over his shoulder without looking back. It misses the garbage can by a foot, scattering papers across the floor.

Isaac cocks an eyebrow. “FBI stuff?”

Mulder nods, ducks his head. “Yeah.”

“Can’t talk about it…right?”

He clears his throat uncomfortably. “I could, but I don’t want to.”

Mulder thinks of the murdered boy’s photograph, marveling at the irony of protecting Isaac from this one atrocity in the face of everything else he’s been through.

Because that’s what a good parent would do.

He shakes off the thought. He can’t think of himself as a father; doing so conjures too many conflicting feelings about his own father.

Fathers, Fox. Plural.

The boy nods, hands in the pockets of his jeans, scuffing his foot against the blackened shed floor. He looks up, eyeing the walls. It takes Mulder a moment to realize he’s reading the clippings he’s tacked up, his own personal X-files.

“You don’t get out here much,” Mulder says, changing the subject.

Isaac shrugs. “What was it like?” he asks, wrinkling his nose at a yellowed newspaper clipping.

“Hmm? Oh…yeah, that was an interesting case,” but the words sound false to his own ears.

He surveys the room, trying to see it through Isaac’s eyes, but the past is a distorted lens. Most of Mulder’s memories have sharp edges. They’d sacrificed so much to uncover the truth, but in some respects, it remains buried. Every day he asks himself if that’s for better or worse.

“Weird,” Isaac breathes, peering at another clipping. “You must have liked it, working on this stuff.”

“I did,” Mulder admits, a slight smile crossing his face. “But I wasn’t exactly Mr. Popularity.”

“You left ‘cause they were going to arrest you…right?”

More like kill me.

Mulder looks at his lap, purses his lips. “Something like that. They made it clear my time was up.”

“But you found your sister,” Isaac says bluntly, and it takes a moment for Mulder, in all his deductive power, to see where this is going.

“Yeah…yeah, I found Sam. But look at everything we lost,” he says, meeting Isaac’s gaze after a heavy pause. “I thought the truth meant finding her, but I still couldn’t save her.” His voice drops, making the connection he couldn’t accept when he worked for the Bureau, when he was too young and headstrong to see beyond his own stubborn belief.

“The past is the past, Isaac. You can’t change it, no matter how much you want to. Eventually…you gotta move on.”

The boy’s jaw clenches but he doesn’t break eye contact, acknowledging Mulder’s underlying message, the answer to the question he hadn’t asked.

Mulder’s head dips with a sigh, the tension between the two snapping like a fine twig. “But that’s not what you wanted to know, was it?”

Isaac shrugs, stony and resolute. “I dunno.”

More silence.

“Well, if you ever have questions…or if you just wanted to talk…” Mulder trails off, flinching at his own words.

Christ, I sound like my mother.

“Yeah,” Isaac says, but his disappointment is palpable.

Mulder watches him retreat, slight shoulders bent against the rain, unruly dark hair curling at the base of his neck; the boy who wields all the power in the world, with nowhere to go.

He turns back to his computer, but the book hasn’t written itself in his absence. He hesitates for a moment before putting the computer to sleep, then follows Isaac back to the house.

“Hey, kid, wait up. Want to play Dying Light?”

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