MARCH 26, 2015
Scully returns from the hospital to find Mulder and Isaac so engrossed in a video game, they don’t hear her over the din. She smirks, setting down her bag and coat.
What passes for bonding between two of the most emotionally isolated creatures known to man.
No response. She bites her tongue against a twinge of annoyance.
“Mulder?” His name comes out more harshly than she’d intended, a snap rather than a greeting.
“Hey! Gimme a sec, killing walkers,” he mutters. “Get that one, kid, we’ve almost—“
“I said just a minute, we’re—ah, shit!” There’s blood and gore splashed on the screen, and a groan rises from the couch.
“Language, guys,” she mutters.
“Yeah, yeah. The world has been overrun by flesh-eating undead, no thanks to you, Dr. Scully,” he gripes, but his tone is light. He tosses the controller on the coffee table.
“Hey,” Isaac says, not looking up from the TV. The headphones have already come on, like an invisible wall between them, and Scully sighs. She wonders if she’ll ever get used to life with a teenager.
Or Mulder, for that matter.
She arches one perfect eyebrow at her partner, who shrugs, grimacing as he rises from the couch. His limp is subtle, but years as a practicing physician have given her a sharp eye for broken things.
He places a kiss on her reluctant lips before heading to the freezer. “Frozen pizza?”
She’d hoped for something substantial after a week of cafeteria dinners, but she’s too tired to argue. Even the thought of frozen cheese on a cardboard crust makes her stomach burble. “Sure. I’ll make a salad.”
She washes the lettuce and begins chopping cucumbers as Mulder unwraps the pizza from its plastic womb. “Good day?”
“Glad to be home,” she sighs, avoiding the question. “ER duty this week, and something’s going around. Every parent is dragging their kid in for the sniffles. If I have to talk one more crazed helicopter mommy off the ledge, they’ll have to hook me up to a morphine drip.”
She takes a vicious stab at the cucumber in front of her, and Mulder winces in sympathy. He leans against the counter, and she can feel him watching her, taking her in.
She’s lost weight. Her eyes are tired, the lines around her mouth more defined. She hasn’t been sleeping well. Given the amount of coffee she’s drinking—measured in gallons rather than cups—that’s not a surprise.
The rest of her colleagues are fresh-faced thirty-somethings, as young and tender as she’d been on her first day out of Quantico. At fifty-one, she should be looking forward to a position of seniority, but the hospital board doesn’t trust her after that case with the Fearon boy. She’s a wild card, Mulder’s understudy until the very end.
I learned from the best.
“So compassionate,” Mulder says, settling on a familiar brand of dry humor. He reaches out, navigating around her to grab a chunk of cucumber, popping it into his mouth. “Remind me not to call you next time I have a cough.”
She snorts, but her lips twitch upward in a smile. “I should be so lucky. You’re insufferable when you’re sick.”
“Am not,” he growls, snaking his free arm around her waist. She relaxes into the warmth of his body against hers, but her stomach protests the delay. She turns her attention to the tomatoes, flaying them with surgical precision.
“And what did you do today?” she asks, shrugging and tilting her head as his stubbled chin grazes the nape of her neck.
“Oh, y’know. Stuff,” he replies, reluctantly unwinding himself from around her. He opens the fridge, gaze roaming the shelves without looking at anything in particular.
She narrows her gaze, interrupting her work and craning her neck to meet his eyes around the refrigerator door. “Stuff?”
“Mmm.” He pulls out a bottle of salad dressing, frowning at the print on the back. It’s then she realizes he’s avoiding the question. She’s never seen him look at a nutrition label, certainly not for something paired with salad.
“What kind of stuff?”
He swallows, glancing toward Isaac, then back to the table, making a show of lining up the forks and knives. If her intuition were a siren, it would be deafening.
“Just some research.”
She pauses, crossing her arms. “It wouldn’t happen to be the kind of research you can’t do without assistance from a certain team of Stooges, would it?”
“Hah! Stooges. They’ll like that one, Scully.”
She sighs. “So it was the Gunmen. What are you getting into, Mulder?”
“I’d tell you…but you’ll do that thing.”
She rolls her eyes. “What thing?”
“That thing,” he says, gesturing to the look on her face. “The thing you’re doing right now, where you get all—“
Her eyes go wide, a challenge, and his mouth snaps shut before he takes the thought any further. He takes a deep breath. “I don’t want you to get worked up if this turns out to be nothing.”
“So there’s something I should be worked up about, then?”
He can’t lie to her, but the look on his face suggests he wishes he could. “We’ve been looking into Isaac’s history.”
She sags a bit, bracing her back against the counter. They’d barely talked about it since Isaac moved in.
I need you to help me find them. The people who killed my parents.
His adoptive parents, she reminds herself, unable to ignore the sting that goes along with the thought.
Mulder approaches, resting his hands on her shoulders tentatively, as if she’s a feral animal ready to bite. “He asked me to look, I couldn’t say no,” he says, lowering his voice. “The guys recovered some names.”
“I don’t believe this,” she says flatly, an angry ache flaring beneath her ribs. “We agreed we wouldn’t do anything until he was eighteen. Then he can make his own decisions—”
“But what if it’s too late then? Scully, these men are out there now, they’re getting away with using people like lab rats. We could—“
“No, Mulder, we couldn’t. He’s a child, he can’t get involved in this. It’s too dangerous,” she whispers, a low hiss against his rumbling monotone, “and you shouldn’t encourage it.”
“Child or adult, he deserves to know what happened.”
“In time. Not now. Please,” she whispers, “you know this isn’t a good idea. You’re letting yourself get carried away, but this isn’t a case. If you’re bored, finish your book. Paint the house again. I don’t care, but don’t get him mixed up in this.”
He winces. “That’s not fair, Scully, this isn’t about me.”
“Isn’t it?” she spits, Irish temper flaring as bright as her gold-red hair.
She blinks, eyes watering, realizing the room has gone cloudy. The whine of the smoke detector is loud enough to make Isaac take off his headphones, sniffing the air, “Is something…burning?”
“The pizza!” Scully cries, brushing past her partner to open the oven, where their dinner lays charred and inedible on the rack. “Fuck.”
“Language,” Isaac warns, breezily ignoring Scully’s glare.
Mulder tosses the phone to her. “Looks like Chinese tonight. You call it in, I’ll pick it up.”
“I’ll come with,” Isaac volunteers, grabbing the keys to the truck off the hook beside the door before they can respond. Mulder turns back, ready to ask for her dinner order, but the question dies on his tongue.
Her back is turned, arms locked around her willowy frame, a wall of hurt shimmering like a heat wave between them.
Forty minutes later, the three of them sit at the dining table amidst a half-dozen take-out boxes. Mulder pushes his lo mein around on his plate while Scully picks at her chicken, all of it served with a side of uncomfortable silence.
Isaac twirls his chopsticks on the table sans hands, an act that might impress under normal circumstances, but tonight it only serves to enhance their disquiet.
Scully drops her fork into her unfinished dinner with a sigh. “I need to know what you’re planning, Mulder.”
“I’m not planning anything. I just did some research. Whether we act on it—“
“Whether you act on it?”
There’s a heavy pause. “I’ve left that up to Isaac,” he finally replies, voice softening. “We haven’t decided anything yet.”
Scully presses her lips in a thin line. “I think you should leave it alone,” she says, struggling to keep her voice steady. “You’re too young,” she says, directing her gaze to Isaac before turning back to Mulder, “and you’re walking a fine line with the law as it is.”
“It’s my choice,” Isaac interjects. “They were my parents, and they died because of these people.” His eyes shine in the low light, angry and abused; she knows where he gets his stubborn streak.
“Isaac, you don’t know what you’re asking. You don’t understand. We’ve been there, it’s too dangerous—”
“I do,” he shoots back. “I do understand, and it’s my choice.”
“As long as you live here, you need to respect our rules. I can’t let you do this, Isaac, I can’t let you risk—“
He jumps up from his chair, his eyes a startling, icy blue, her perfect match. “No! You don’t…you can’t tell me what to do! You gave me up.”
She reels back as if he’s slapped her, just as Mulder’s hand comes down on the surface of the table. “Hey, that’s enough—”
“Go to your room,” she whispers, the words smooth and cold on her lips, but Isaac is already there, letting the door slam behind him.
She glares at the door, then at her partner, furious. “You could have backed me up!”
“After it counted,” she growls, gathering the take-out boxes and stuffing them into the trash.
“Scully, dammit. I want to be on your side on this,” he says, “but I can’t blame him. I know what you’re afraid of…but I know what he’s afraid of, too.”
She shakes her head, slamming dishes into the sink. “So dust off that psychology degree and help him deal with it, preferably in a way that doesn’t get you both arrested or killed.”
“I think you’re overreact—”
She wheels on him, eyes glittering with hurt. “Chasing monsters is not the answer this time. Be a goddamned parent, Mulder, and tell him ‘no’ for once.”
Now it’s his turn to feel slapped.
She holds his gaze for one second, two, before turning away with a sigh. “I’m going to bed.”
Her footsteps echo on the stairs, and he’s left standing in the kitchen, the smell of burnt pizza and dashed hopes lingering in the air.