Chapter 9

MARCH 27, 2015
2:25 P.M.
SCULLY RESIDENCE

She parks in the driveway, buzzing with caffeine, still brooding over the vestiges of last night’s argument. The key isn’t out of the ignition before there’s a tap at the window, and she squints up at Mulder, his voice muffled through the glass.

“Hey! You’re home early.”

“Just to shower,” Scully says, stepping out of the car. “Then I have to get back. We’re swamped.”

He narrows his eyes. “You OK?”

She forces a smile. “Everything’s fine, we’re short-staffed at work.”

“I wasn’t asking about work,” he replies, and she has the decency to flinch. She’d left the house on silent feet in the wee morning hours, sneaking out like an unfaithful lover. It’s an effective way to avoid a fight, but Mulder seems intent on dragging her through it. She takes a deep breath, forcing herself to meet his eyes.

“I know. What I said last night…I’m sorry. He just…I don’t think he even likes me,” she sighs, ducking her head, surprised at how much it hurts to speak the truth aloud.

Mulder’s tone is light, but it has the intended effect. “Give him a break. Give yourself a break, while you’re at it.”

He follows her into the house, wiping his hands on a rag. The front wall of the shed is shiny with a new coat of blue-gray, and he’s wearing an old t-shirt that smells of paint thinner and laundry soap. She steals a glance out of the corner of her eye, marveling at his ability to make sweat and smears of Cornflower Dusk look sexy.

The simple life looks good on him, but it’s two sizes too big on me.

“You’re working too much, Scully.”

Her thoughts must be shining in her eyes.

Either that, or clairvoyance is catching.

“Pot, meet kettle, Mulder,” she mutters, divesting her briefcase of patient records. She remembers a time when it was not unlike her partner to spend a Saturday, or even an entire weekend, in the basement of the Hoover Building. She remembers this because more often than not, she was there with him.

“We have a lot going on here. And you’re still recovering—”

“Mulder, I’m fine,” she sighs. “Dr. Chatham pronounced me fit for full-time work months ago, you know that.”

He looks down, absently flexing his knee, shifting his weight, and she knows it’s not the physical scars he’s thinking about. “Fair enough. But last I checked, eighty-plus only counts as full-time when you’re working in a sweatshop. I’m not sure this is what your doctor had in mind.”

She turns on him with a sigh. “Did you need me for something, Mulder? Because all I want right now is a hot shower and a change of clothes.”

“I always need you,” he says, chagrined, surprising her when he reaches out and takes her hand, giving it a gentle tug to pull her close. She stiffens, then softens against him. His chin rests on the top of her head, and she presses her nose to his chest, breathing him in. Even at their worst, they’ve always fit together.

The lack of contact over the last several weeks reminds her of a time when they deliberately avoided it, because of what it would mean for their work. Now she can’t believe they waited so long. The tension is damn near unbearable.

As if reading her thoughts, his head tips down, pressing his lips to hers, deepening the kiss until they’re both swaying. She wants to lose herself, but the clock is ticking, and his intentions are clear.

I really wanted that shower…

“Mulder, I—“

“C’mon, Scully, this is the best part of the fight,” he teases, smiling as his nose grazes her cheek, tickles the crevice of her neck, leaving a streak of cornflower blue paint she won’t find until she glances in the bathroom mirror at work.

“Mulder…” she sighs, though she can’t remember what she was going to say because he’s tracing soft, open-mouthed kisses along her collarbone. The shower looks further and further away with each motion of his lips and tongue across her shoulders, the tips of her ears, her mouth.

“We have the place to ourselves,” he continues, breath caressing her ear. “Kid won’t be home for another hour.”

Ahh. The silent but omnipresent thorn in their sex life.

He doesn’t wait for her response, doesn’t need to. She’s kissing him back, shower be damned, drawn to him like the moon draws the tides of Earth. Her fingers find the warm, taut skin of his stomach, and all thoughts of propriety are lost as she traces the line of his jeans on his hips.

More, she thinks, a single syllable of cohesion amidst a flurry of otherwise unintelligible thoughts, his hands burning lacy patterns along her ribs, undoing buttons, sliding under her shirt. She feels the back of their war-torn couch against her calves as he eases her down, never letting his mouth wander further than her throat as he murmurs something incomprehensible against her neck, a low and delicious hum. Her clothes are too restrictive, rough against her skin, and his growing discomfort is evident as his hips shift restlessly against her upper thigh.

She groans as the pad of his thumb connects with a nipple through the delicate fabric of her bra. He’s nuzzling at her neck again, licking and nipping at the soft, sweet-smelling flesh at the back of her ear, and she returns the favor, trailing kisses along his jaw, his face, meeting his lips with a rising urgency.

They’re so absorbed in each other that neither one hears the door open, followed by a startled gasp.

“Oh!”

Scully’s eyes fly open. Mulder sits up too fast, thrown off balance, and his bad knee slams into the hardwood floor. “Ahhfuck!”

“Yeah, I’d say,” Isaac mutters, still standing in the doorway, one hand shading his eyes.

Scully sits up, cheeks flaming, and scrambles for the afghan on the back of the couch in an effort to cover her unbuttoned blouse.

Thank God he didn’t get my bra off.

“Isaac! You weren’t supposed to—”

“Got out early,” he mutters, staring at the floor with pink cheeks.

“You could’ve knocked,” Mulder chides with more than a twinge of disappointment at the interruption, as well as another familiar feeling—there will be a shower for him later, but it will be cold. Scully turns away, buttoning up, face flushed from arousal and embarrassment.

“Didn’t think I had to knock at my own house,” the boy grumbles, sliding toward his room, eyes averted. “I’m, uh, gonna go.”

Mulder follows. “Hey, not so fast. You said school got out early?”

Isaac tosses his backpack at the bed with surprising force, slamming it against the wall. His voice is flat. “Last period study hall, so I left.”

Mulder narrows his eyes. “You don’t have a study hall.”

No response. Scully comes up behind them, arms folded. “What’s going on?”

Isaac sighs, shoulders heaving with frustration, but suddenly Scully’s phone trills from within her briefcase. She groans, hissing through her teeth, “Damn…the hospital, hang on…”

But it’s not the hospital.

“Hello, is this Dana Scully? William’s mother?”

Fat Skinner.

She ruffles at the man’s stubborn insistence on using Isaac’s first name, looking over her shoulder at the subject in question. He’s staring back at her with an expression of pure dismay.

Like an animal caught in a trap, she thinks, acid swirling in the pit of her stomach.

“This is she. What can I do for you?”

“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

She listens to the principal’s grim retelling, the details clouded by her growing rage.

…broken shoulder, collarbone…second-degree burns…

She swallows, light-headed, as she realizes there was no way Isaac could have inflicted that kind of damage without…

…without using his power.

“I want to impart on you the seriousness of this situation, Ms. Scully. The Millers could press charges, and they’d be well within their rights to do so. William is not welcome at this school for the rest of the year. The board will hold an evaluation at the start of the next school year to determine whether he will be allowed back after that time.”

She closes her eyes to the unending drone of his voice. “Yes. I understand. No, I…we understand. I’m sorry for the trouble.”

She hangs up the phone, keeping an iron grip on the phone long after the conversation ends.

“Scully?” Mulder is peering at her with concern.

“Suspension,” she intones, wheeling on her partner and their son, realizing she’s equally furious with both of them; Mulder, for not telling her about the fighting in the first place, and Isaac, for flaunting his ability, sabotaging the precarious new life they’ve built for him.

Understanding glances across Mulder’s face as he turns to Isaac. “Something you wanted to tell us, kid?”

The boy looks from him to Scully and back, searching for sympathy, but there’s none to be found. Scully’s arms are folded across her chest in defense, Mulder’s jaw is set in a tense line.

“He…he attacked me first! He and his stupid friends, they pinned me, I couldn’t…I couldn’t get away,” he explodes into the silent room. “I tried to do what you said, I tried to walk away,” he implores, directing his attention to Mulder. If anyone is an ally, it will be him, but this time the man’s eyes are black with disappointment.

“I didn’t touch him,” Isaac continues, voice wavering.

“We both know you didn’t have to,” Scully shoots back, her words rough and unsteady.

“I didn’t mean to! You have to believe me.”

Scully’s eyes alight with a fury that makes even her partner blanch. “No more excuses! You’ve made a huge mistake. Huge, Isaac, I can’t even tell you how bad this is for us.”

“But I—“

“No! I don’t want to hear it. Go to your room,” she growls. “I don’t want to see your face right now.”

She regrets the words instantly, but the intensity of her anger and fatigue have combined to form the perfect storm, and Isaac stands in the eye of the hurricane.

His chin trembles, but he doesn’t break her gaze. “No! You won’t listen to me, so I don’t have to listen to you!”

“You will listen to me, Isaac, or—“

“Or what?” he fires back, lips shining with spittle. “What else could you possibly do to me?”

She swallows, blinks, gapes.

“I fucking hate you!”

Her confirmation comes loud and insistent as a gunshot fired point-blank. Isaac has already fled to his room, hinges snapping with the force of the slamming door.

Silence settles around them, a smothering blanket over the flames. Scully sinks to the couch, covering her face with weary hands. “Oh, my God,” she whispers into her palms, “That was horrible.”

Mulder winces. His hand goes to her shoulder, but she doesn’t feel it. “I’ll talk to him.”

Her temper flares, a retort poised on the tip of her tongue—because that worked so well last time—but Isaac’s outburst has ripped the fight from her, left her raw.

“I need to get back,” she says flatly. “I’m going to get changed.”

#

Her footsteps are heavy on the stairs, leaving Mulder at a loss. He’s sitting on the couch tapping a nervous patter on his knee when she comes back, fresh from the shower, wearing new clothes. She looks like she’s been crying.

“Scully—”

“I can’t…not now,” she murmurs, gathering her briefcase, repacking the files within. “I need to go.”

“Just…listen to me. I know that was hard, but this is…this is progress. He’s testing us, Scully. He trusts us enough to to say that because he knows we won’t abandon him.”

She glares at her partner incredulously until it clicks. “You read the book.”

He tests a smile, sheepish. “Yeah, I did.”

“You said it was stupid.”

“I say a lot of stupid things.”

She stops short with her hand gripping the doorknob, closes her eyes. “Mulder…I can’t…”

“It’ll be alright, Scully. You’ll see.”

She gives a watery sigh, leaving a rush of bitter air in her wake. He waits until he hears the crunch of her tires fading down the gravel drive before approaching the door to the boy’s room.

“Isaac? We need to talk.”

There’s a muffled thud from within, then silence.

Those damn headphones…

He waits a beat, raising his voice in hopes of being heard over the din. “I’m coming in.”

To his surprise, the door swings open on its own before he can act. Isaac is laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling with his hands behind his head, a posture that bears a striking similarity to his father’s.

Mulder pauses, uncertain. He didn’t think the kid would open the door; now he doesn’t know what to say.

Isaac solves the problem for both of them. “I get it, I’m in trouble.”

“Yeah, you made yourself a pretty shitty bed today,” Mulder agrees. “Want to talk about it?”

“You mean you want to yell at me some more?”

“No. Although what you said to Scully back there…that was a mistake, Isaac. And we both know you didn’t mean it.”

The boy doesn’t respond, just stares at the ceiling, but there’s a flicker of something—regret?—in his bright blue eyes.

Mulder looks up to find a circle of pencils floating precariously above Isaac’s head, and the sight temporarily stuns him. Those pencils used to be lodged in the ceiling, but now they’re floating—no, spinning, like a mobile—above them.

It’s easy to forget just how much this kid is capable of, and seeing the boy casually making magic takes his breath.

They both watch for a full minute, until Isaac makes a quick jerk with his index finger and sends the pencils across the room, bouncing off the wall. One embeds itself point-first into the unfinished sheetrock.

“Well,” Mulder says drily, “that’s new.”

“You wanted to know what happened,” Isaac whispers.

Mulder blinks, making the connection. “You sent the kid flying?”

“He didn’t give me a choice. I told you, he and his jerkface friends had me pinned.”

Mulder nods, carefully, equally impressed and dubious. “You know it’s dangerous—and stupid—to do that.”

“I know. But she doesn’t listen to me. These guys…they don’t care, they just keep coming back, and I can’t…I don’t know what to do. The teachers aren’t paying attention.”

“That’s a hell of a way to get their attention, Isaac.”

“Yeah, well.”

Mulder sinks slowly onto the end of the bed, wondering if there’s more to Scully’s fears than he’d wanted to believe. He bites his lip in frustration. “You know she’s doing the best she can, right?”

Isaac sniffs but doesn’t respond.

“You do,” Mulder says, “or you wouldn’t have said it. I get that you’re pissed, I get that you want to make the other guy pay. But there have to be limits, Isaac. There are rules. And in this family—because that’s what we are now, whether you like it or not—we have to take care of each other.”

They’re quiet. The word “family” is shifty and unpredictable. The boy will always think of his adoptive parents as his family. Mulder will always equate family with drunken post-bedtime arguments and violent separation.

For both of them, it’s inevitable loss.

Isaac sits up. “What about the information you found?”

Mulder presses his lips together, shaking his head with quiet relief. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to pursue that.”

“You said it was my choice.”

“I did, I know. But this…changes things.”

Isaac looks disappointed, but not surprised, and he flops back onto the bed. “Yeah. I figured.”

“If you can’t control yourself around the school jerk, what makes you think you’ll make sound decisions when you come up against one of the real bad guys? You can’t just…react,” he says, struggling to explain, his voice growing soft. “I shouldn’t have encouraged this, I’m sorry I did. She was right about that.”

Isaac is stone-faced, sullen. The silence grows too heavy, too thick, and eventually Mulder stands to leave.

“Mulder?”

“Yeah?”

But Isaac doesn’t know what to say. I’m sorry would be a good start, but he can’t bring himself to feel sorry about Buddy. What he said to the doc, on the other hand…

Mulder seems to understand the boy’s conflict, and simply shrugs, resigned. “Looks like it’s just you and I for a while, kid.”

The disappointment flickering in Mulder’s eyes is worse than the school suspension. Long after he’s left, the words loop like a broken record until even the headphones can’t drown them out.

Family, whether you like it or not.

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