JUNE 21, 2015
It’s dawn when they pull onto the main road, heading southwest. Mulder drives, and Scully and Isaac take turns reading the map spread across their laps like a veined paper quilt, plotting their route. There’s little discussion save for the occasional murmur as they trace the winding roads with a yellow marker.
Eventually there’s nothing left to do but wait, and watch the desert roll by. They stop past the Arkansas border to switch drivers so Mulder can rest, his jacket bunched up against the window as a makeshift pillow.
Isaac sits between his parents in the scarred seat where his handprint is permanently burned into the upholstery. Scully keeps looking at him when she thinks he doesn’t notice, and eventually he crawls into the truck bed, nesting himself amongst their supplies, wishing he could escape the constant worry of her thoughts.
He notices the change as they’re crossing northern Texas, a couple hundred miles east of New Mexico. An emptiness, a calmness, the sudden absence of pain so abrupt it’s disarming. He opens his eyes, blinking into the blinding, orange-red landscape.
“Hey guys? I can’t…I can’t hear anything.” He reaches out, seeking Them, seeking anything. The Doc’s thoughts are there, but cloudy. Static, like he used to hear when he was younger, before he knew how to focus.
“What do you—“
“The voices,” he insists, looking at Mulder with guarded eyes. “They’re…quiet.”
Isaac shakes his head. “I can’t tell you what you’re thinking,” he says. “Something’s blocking me.”
The strange sensation grows stronger as they close in on their destination. Mulder pulls the truck into a neglected rest area outside Portales, the sign from the highway proclaiming itself the last stop before Roswell. Some clever bystander has pasted a sticker next to the city name, faded and worn around the edges, but still legible. A jaunty green alien with large black almond eyes gives the peace sign from within a tiny spaceship, exclaiming: I visited Roswell, and it was out of this world!
Between them lies miles of desert, much of it uninhabited, dotted with nothing but rocks and shrubs. Even the rest stop seems to sag in on itself in surrender, the cracked pavement overgrown with sand and weeds.
Scully puts her hands on her hips, stretches, scanning the horizon. “Are we close?”
Isaac kneels, watches a scorpion skitter away into the shade of the truck. That he can’t hear the creatures coming bothers him more than the unnatural stillness that makes his head swim. Without his abilities, he’s vulnerable.
They all are.
Mulder takes a long draw on a bottle of water, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “Not yet. About two-hundred miles that way is the reservation where Gibson and I stayed. We’ll start from there, make circles outward. It was northwest of the reservation, but I don’t know how far we walked.”
“You OK?” Scully asks Isaac, passing him a bottle of water, watching him the way she used to when they were first reunited; as if she can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
“I’m fine,” he says.
“We’ll be there soon,” she says, flashing a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.
“Think you’ve got another three hours in you?” Mulder asks, turning to Scully.
“No point in stopping until it gets dark. It’s too hot to sleep.”
“Alright. Let’s skip the city, though. I’ve seen enough UFOs for one lifetime.”
They’re fifty miles outside the reservation when Scully spots a disturbance ahead. At first she thinks it must be the wind, picking up dust off the road and reflecting the setting sun, but it doesn’t let up, doesn’t grow faint. Suddenly there’s a glimmer of flashing lights, too distinct to be a reflection. She draws in a sharp breath, killing the truck’s headlights and pulling off onto the soft shoulder.
Isaac and Mulder are dozing against each other as twilight turns the sky a deep reddish purple. She reaches across the boy to rouse her partner.
“Mmwhat? Where are we?”
“There’s someone out there,” she whispers, as though the people might be able to hear.
He’s instantly alert, his movements jostling Isaac awake, too. Mulder digs into the pack at his feet, pulling out a pair of binoculars. The three of them climb out of the truck.
Mulder peers through the glass, panning slowly across the desert. “S’ too dark. I don’t see any—wait a minute…”
He fiddles with the settings, puts them back to his eyes. “Damn,” he breathes. “Scully, look.”
She takes the binoculars, and sure enough, there’s activity on the horizon; a plume of dust, and behind it, faint lights, possibly the taillights of a vehicle. They shift left, then fade out of sight.
“You think our interstellar visitors have learned how to drive?” Mulder says drily, casting a sideways glance at his partner.
“Other people?” Isaac says, excitement creeping into his voice.
“Military, maybe,” Scully says, squinting through the lenses once more, increasing the magnification until the scene dances in her vision. “For there to be that many…they must be military.”
“We should backtrack before they see us,” Mulder says. “We’re sitting ducks out here.”
“But…but what if they’re like us?” Isaac asks.
Mulder shakes his head. “For all we know, the military was involved with the project, too—”
The boy swallows hard. “You…you don’t know that.”
“And neither do you,” Mulder says. “You said it yourself—for whatever reason, your powers aren’t working out here. We don’t have any warning, and if they see us before we see them…”
Isaac groans in frustration, staring hard at the ground as Scully interjects. “We don’t know they’re part of the project. And if they’re still alive, Mulder…they’re protected, somehow. Maybe they already have…maybe they have facilities, we could…contribute. We wouldn’t be alone.”
Mulder looks at her in quiet disbelief, then to Isaac, realizing he’s outnumbered.
“Let’s try to get closer,” she amends before he can protest, holding up the binoculars. “Tomorrow, when there’s light. We’ll backtrack a few miles, camp out of sight…come at it with fresh eyes.”
Mulder’s jaw tenses, but he ducks his head, climbs back into the truck. “Fine, OK. We’ll check it out. Let’s get out of here before they see us.”
They do, retracing their route, veering south at the next available turn, putting space between them and the mysterious lights in the desert.
Their campsite is open, without any nearby forests or cliffs, and the lack of cover makes Scully uneasy. The sky is a never-ending expanse of black, and she stares up into the unimaginable depths of space until she’s dizzy with it, her heart racing with unspoken fear.
At 4 a.m. she makes coffee, grateful for the heat of the mug against her restless fingers as she waits for Mulder and Isaac to wake. Mulder crawls out of the back of the truck before the sun peeks over the horizon, the shadows under his eyes suggesting he hasn’t slept much, either, and accepts a mug of coffee for himself. They sip their drinks in silence, watching dawn paint the sky red.
“I see what’s coming,” Mulder says finally, swirling errant coffee grounds in laps around the bottom of his cup. “No matter what happens out there…I’m going to be outvoted, aren’t I?”
There’s no menace in his voice, just thoughtful contemplation.
“You don’t need to explain yourself, Scully. I trust you, and I know where you’re coming from. Really,” he insists when she grimaces. “I’m not as stubborn as you think.”
She arches an eyebrow in a disbelieving gesture that makes him smile.
“I won’t let this separate us, and if it’s what you and Isaac want…that’s where I am, too. Just…let’s be cautious,” he murmurs, nodding in the direction of their imminent future. “We both know how deep this goes.”
She swallows, purses her lips, but her thoughts are interrupted by the squeal of the truck’s door opening. Isaac steps out, hands in his pockets, hair ruffled from sleep, but his eyes are sharp, focused. He doesn’t bother with a greeting.
“So…when are we going?”
They park a mile from where they’d first seen the lights, but today there’s no sign, not even with the binoculars. They drive at a snail’s pace, and Isaac watches the skyline until his eyes burn, but no figures appear, no dust storms, and no lights.
It’s not until they reach the reservation that something catches Isaac’s attention; a road, verging to the right, unpaved but somehow distinct. Isaac, perhaps channeling the last vestiges of his extraterrestrial intuition, speaks up.
Scully pulls the truck onto the shoulder. “This?”
Isaac nods, squinting with the effort of focusing his mind on whatever might be out there, but he’s not strong enough to sense it.
After a pause, Scully turns the truck onto the dirt path, throwing a cloud of dust behind them. A mile passes, then two, and suddenly there’s a blur of activity on the horizon, barely noticeable save for flickering shadows that weave in an out, and a dark black line that stands out from the rest of the landscape like a sore thumb.
“What should we do?” Isaac asks.
“Somehow I don’t think they’d appreciate us just walking in.”
Scully sighs, peering through the binoculars. “Let’s leave the car,” she says, “If it goes bad, we’ll have an out.”
They walk. The dirt path goes on for what seems like forever, the limited foliage around them providing minimal shade. Isaac’s hands and face are coated in a film of red-orange dust; he spits red-tinged phlegm onto the ground.
He notices tire marks along the ground; an old access road, perhaps, but it’s been used recently. They’re approaching mile four when they reach a padlocked chain-link fence across the road.
“End of the line,” Mulder says, pacing along one side of the fence, searching for an alternate entrance.
“Can you pick it?” Isaac asks, peering at the lock.
He shakes his head. “My pen was in the laptop bag.”
Isaac groans and sits down in the shade of a large cactus, careful not to touch his back to the spiny plant. “Now what?”
“I say we get the hell out,” Mulder says. “This doesn’t feel right. We’re either locked out, or they’re locked in; either way, there’s a reason for it.”
Isaac sees the muscles along Scully’s jaw tighten in frustration, realizing that, for once, he wishes he knew what his parents were thinking. He takes a swallow of warm water from the bottle in his pack and closes his eyes against the unforgiving desert sun. If they turn around now, the return to the vehicle they left behind will be hot, exhausting, painful.
He’s thinking about this when the ground beneath him begins to shudder. The vibration is slow at first, growing stronger, and in the distance, he can see dust billowing.
Scully faces away from the gate, trying to decide what to do, when Isaac points over her shoulder. “Someone’s coming!”
Sure enough, there’s a vehicle approaching from the other side of the locked gate.
“They must have seen us,” Mulder says, looking wary. He suddenly grabs Scully’s hand. “Give me your ring,” he says quietly.
“Just…give me the ring.” He slips the wedding band off her finger; Isaac can see a pale circle of skin where it used to be.
“Mulder, what the—“
He kneels to Isaac’s level, holding him by the shoulders. “You and the Doc were together, OK? You met me on the road.”
He’s holding something out to him; the hard drive; he must have pulled it from his pack, and now he pushes it into Isaac’s hands. “Hide that, quick. Back pocket.”
Isaac does, slipping the disc into his jeans pocket, nesting it in the folds of a weathered paperback.
Scully raises an eyebrow. “I don’t get it, Mulder.”
He stands. “If anyone’s looking for us, they’ll be expecting a couple traveling with a boy. As far as they’re concerned, we’re strangers. Got it?”
Scully pauses, then rubs out the clean spot on her finger with spit and a handful of sand, masking the place where her ring used to be. Mulder’s fingers briefly entwine with hers until the truck pulls up.
“Shh, they’re here.”
Isaac’s pulse picks up speed as the old truck coasts to a lazy stop with an audible creak. There are men inside, two of them.
They have guns.
The men get out of the vehicle, one large and muscular, the other tall and scrawny. They’re clean, save for a day’s hard work on their clothes. The silence draws out until Isaac is certain they’re going to kill them on the spot.
And I can’t fight back this time, he thinks, heartbeat steadily creeping upward.
“Howdy,” Mulder says, faking a light country drawl.
The larger of the two steps forward, resting his hand on the chain-link gate. They haven’t drawn the guns slung over their shoulders.
They wouldn’t have brought them out of the cab if they didn’t think they might need them, Isaac thinks. It’s two weapons against one, and theirs are much bigger.
“Howdy,” the man finally echoes, staring at the three with steely gray eyes. “Not a lot of folks come out this way.”
Mulder nods, swallowing hard. “We saw your camp,” he says, not bothering to lie. “Wondering if you had room for three more. We’re pretty tired.”
The men share a neutral look. “You have a car?” the scrawny one asks.
Scully shakes her head. “It broke down. We’ve been walking since Portales.”
“Where’d you come from?”
“East,” she says, the lie rolling off her tongue easily. “My son and I left Philadelphia a few weeks back.”
Isaac feels Scully’s hand on his shoulder, pulling him gently backward, protective. For once, Isaac welcomes the gesture, even if it’s for show, a subtle shift in body language to establish their relationship.
“We were heading for the coast, I have family there…but I don’t think they made it,” she finishes, ducking her head in mock sorrow, letting her voice drop and tremble a bit.
The men don’t appear moved. “And you?” the burly one says to Mulder, narrowing his eyes.
Mulder half-smiles, “I’m just along for the ride.”
“We met him south of Little Rock,” Scully interrupts, making sure to distance herself from her partner slightly, again, drawing invisible lines. “I thought we’d have a better shot at surviving if we had a man along.” She smiles weakly. “My husband…my son’s father…he’s gone.”
She’s playing dumb, Isaac thinks. He feels Mulder shift beside them, equally uncomfortable at Scully’s act. This may have been Mulder’s idea, but she’s the better actress.
“You gotta name?” the scrawny man speaks up, tilting his chin at Mulder.
“Hale,” he says. “George Hale. And this is Mrs. Scully,” he says, granting her silent permission to use her given name.
“What about you, kid?”
“Umm…Isaac,” he says, and Scully gives his shoulder a brief squeeze.
Right answer. Good job.
There’s a long pause as the men turn their backs, mumbling in low tones. Isaac wishes more than anything he could hear what they were thinking.
When they turn, their expressions are surprisingly open, if not friendly.
“We’re going to open things up. But first, we need to see your weapons.”
Isaac feels tension drawing lines along his back, and watches Mulder bite his lip, shifting his stance, visibly agitated. Isaac wonders if he’ll do it.
“You’ll get them back, don’t worry,” the other man says with a smile that’s almost sheepish. “We just want to make sure it’s a smooth ride for everyone.”
Isaac watches Mulder’s Adam’s apple bob at his throat, his nostrils flare, but he pulls the revolver from his back pocket. Scully’s hand tightens by a fraction on Isaac’s shoulder.
“Drop it at the gate and step back,” the man says, and Mulder does, casting a sly look in Scully’s direction that says, We’re all in.
“That’s all I’ve got,” Mulder says evenly. “They don’t have anything.”
“Mind if we do a pat-down? Just to be safe,” the man grins again, and Scully flinches, the tiniest of twitches against Isaac’s back, but she keeps her head down as the men open the gate, bending over to pick up the gun.
“Easy does it,” the burly man says, approaching Scully, whose face has gone stoic and closed. She gently pushes Isaac away with a soft, “Go ahead,” and raises her arms.
Mulder is watching his every move, and Isaac can see the dull rage in his eyes when the larger man runs a hand up Scully’s inner thigh, then back down the other. It’s quick, perfunctory, but Isaac himself almost launches himself at the man in retaliation. Scully gives a quick shake of her head.
“She’s clean,” the man says over his shoulder, then, “Sorry m’am, we can’t take any chances.”
She gives a tight nod, but her eyes shine.
The other man makes quick work of Mulder, and gives Isaac a cursory pat-down. He pauses over the bulge in the back pocket of Isaac’s jeans, where the hard drive remains tucked away under the paperback’s worn pages.
“S’one of my favorites,” Isaac murmurs, hoping his nervousness doesn’t show. The man grunts a noncommittal response, and Isaac breathes a silent sigh of relief when he moves away.
“We still don’t know your names,” Mulder says, trying to keep the edge from his voice, although Isaac can sense his agitation.
“I’m Bruce,” the large man says, a name fitting for his stature; he doesn’t offer his hand. “And this is Jay.”
Mulder snorts. “I’d say ‘nice to meet you’ but I think we’re beyond pleasantries,” he mutters, and Scully shoots him a warning look. The men don’t seem to notice.
“Just a formality, Mr. Hale,” Bruce replies, turning his back, gesturing for them to follow. “Y’all climb in back. We’ll take you to the compound.”
“Compound?” Scully mouths as they climb into the bed of the pickup. The window between the cab and the back is closed, and they sit along the sides of the bed so as not to be heard by the two men. Dust swirls around them, and Isaac wipes at his eyes.
“Nice acting back there,” Mulder murmurs in quiet appreciation, nudging Scully’s shoulder. “You had me convinced.”
“Better for them to underestimate me.”
“You expecting this to go wrong?”
She sighs. “Just being careful.” She rubs at the empty spot on her finger, then reaches back, undoing the clasp on the gold chain that holds her cross. “Here,” she murmurs, passing the necklace to Mulder. “Keep the ring on this, so you don’t lose it.”
He smirks, glancing at the cab window to ensure the men aren’t watching, then back to Scully as she strings the ring and fastens the chain around his neck, tucking it beneath his shirt.
“What makes you think I’d lose it?”
“I know you.”
His smirks in agreement.
Isaac leans over the side of the truck bed to catch a glimpse of their destination, a large grey and black structure that creeps closer and closer. The sharp clunk of the cab window opening startles him, and he’s thrown back by the force of the truck’s momentum.
“Watch it, kid,” the man called Jay laughs.
“You’re lucky,” Bruce calls over his shoulder; he’s driving, not taking particular care, and the truck bounces and bumps over the rough dirt. “We don’t get out this way often, it’s the furthest gate at the perimeter. You would’ve been out there a long time.”
Mulder tips his head back with a grimace but doesn’t say anything. Bruce continues, “Not the kind of place you want to spend the night.”
“You’re telling us,” Mulder mutters.
The compound cuts a gray-black angle against the sky, looming. Isaac’s heart throbs in his chest, his hands slick on the sides of the truck as they pull up to the structure.
“Home sweet home,” Mulder murmurs as they slide off the truck.
“This way,” says Jay. The two men saunter toward the entrance easily, waving to a young woman in the distance, who’s stopped to stare at the newcomers for a moment before going back to her work.
The interior of the facility is just as cold and impersonal as the outside—white and gray walls, nondescript tile floors, drop ceilings with fluorescent runners down the middle.
“It ain’t the Ritz,” cracks Bruce, amused at his own originality. “Welcome to the compound.”
They pass several gray, unmarked doors; Isaac can’t tell if the others are nervous or playing along. He’s lost without his third eye, his stomach turns at the sickly sweet smell of antibacterial soap. The long, empty hallway reminds him of his dreams.
“In here,” Bruce says, stepping aside at one of the unmarked doors. “Not you,” he amends, gesturing for Mulder to follow him. Scully’s hand grips Isaac’s shoulder hard enough to leave an imprint and he sucks in a sharp breath.
They’re going to separate us.
“You’ll see your friend again, Mrs. Scully,” the man continues, sensing her unease.
“He stays with me,” she says fiercely, and Isaac realizes she’s talking about him, not Mulder.
“Sure, no problem,” Bruce shrugs. “You two wait in there, I’ll get the doc.”
Mulder casts a meaningful glance over his shoulder before following Bruce further down the hall.
The door closes behind them, and Scully visibly shrinks, as if letting out a long-held breath.
“You OK?” she whispers, hand to Isaac’s back.
He nods. “Are you?”
“So far so good,” she looks around, noting three empty chairs, a rolling cart, a box of cotton swabs. “This must be some kind of medical intake, to ensure we’re not infected. They can’t be too serious about it, though. No masks.”
“I don’t think they get many people like us,” Isaac says, frowning at the thought of the miles of perimeter. “What about Mulder?”
She smiles, but it’s not particularly reassuring. “He’ll be fine. I think they’re just being careful.”
Isaac snorts. “That’s ‘cause we’re not a threat.”
“You still can’t hear anything?”
He shakes his head. “Can’t move things, either.”
She bites her lip, and the door opens before she can continue. A woman enters, an oversized white coat draped over her petite frame, giving the impression of a little girl who hasn’t quite grown into her new clothes.
“Hi, I’m Carol, I’m here to do your intake?”
The statement comes out as a question. Scully frowns at the embroidery on the woman’s oversized coat—it reads Janitorial—and Carol looks down in confusion, then laughs.
“Oh, that,” she chuckles, wild gray hair bobbing around her heart-shaped face. “We make do with what we have. I’m a doctor.”
Her glasses slide down her nose, and she pushes them back. Unlike the men who brought them to the compound, she holds out her hand in greeting, and Scully takes it.
“I’m Dana,” she says. “This is my son, Isaac.”
“Welcome, welcome,” the woman says. “I have to ask, how did you find us? We haven’t seen anyone new in weeks.”
“We were heading west, to see family. We took a wrong turn somewhere back at the reservation and…here we are,” Scully says, her voice light.
“Seems like it was a right turn rather than a wrong one,” the woman says brightly. “You’re lucky to have found us.”
“And…what is this place, exactly?” Scully asks. “The men who brought us here weren’t very forthcoming.”
“It’s something, huh? Especially after what you’ve been through, I can understand why you’re curious.”
Scully purses her lips, waits through an uncomfortable pause until the other woman continues.
“We all felt like that when the virus hit, of course. Unmoored.” There’s a pause, a chink in her cheerful demeanor. “But then Mosely found us, brought us here.”
“He’s our…well, he’s our leader, I suppose. He found survivors. He knew about this place, knew the…the things wouldn’t come here. Without him, we would have been goners. The…the creatures don’t seem to like it out here.”
“How many live here?”
“We’re 156 now,” Carol says, once again smiling. “After you and your son, and your…”
“Friend,” Scully interjects.
“Ahh, yes,” Carol demurs, an awkward pause, then continues. “Before we get you settled, I need to do a medical exam.”
Scully narrows her eyes. “You’d know if we were infected.”
“Oh, we don’t think you’re infected, but you’ve been traveling a long time. It’s standard procedure,” she reassures. “Then you’ll be given rooms, a place to stay. We hope you’ll stay.”
Scully smiles, but doesn’t offer anything further.
The exam is quick, like a checkup at the doctor’s office. Carol’s hands are soft against Isaac’s throat as she checks his lymph nodes, and she momentarily blinds him with a penlight, testing his pupils’ reaction. He gasps lightly when she presses the cold stethoscope against his chest.
Scully’s turn is next.
“Oh, your shoulder!” the nurse remarks, removing the bandage from Scully’s healing wound. “That’s a nasty scratch. How…?”
Scully fixes her gaze on Isaac as she talks. “It was foolish, really. We were hiking…I fell, caught myself on a tree branch on the way down. Thankfully it didn’t get infected.”
“You’ve taken good care of it,” the nurse muses, unaware of the silent conversation going on behind her as she redresses the wound with fresh gauze.
The most invasive part of the procedure is the drawing of a single vial of blood from each of them—“Just a regular CBC,” the nurse says. Isaac doesn’t tell Carol about his good vein the way he did with Scully, a show of good faith. It takes two tries to get the needle into the wrong arm.
“You’ve got a stubborn one there,” the nurse jokes as they watch the blood spurt into the tube. Isaac makes a noncommittal sound in his throat while Carol chats idly.
“There are other kids here, you know,” she says. “Several, actually. We’ve even set up a school. Do you like school, Isaac?”
“You’re so lucky to have your mom here, you know.”
“Mr. Hale was there, too,” he returns. “They both protected me.”
Scully’s lips quirk upward, softening at his loyalty. “Speaking of…where is George?” she asks, the timbre of her voice betraying her nerves.
“Oh, he’ll be out soon,” Carol says absently, offering Isaac a Band-Aid. She turns to Scully, applying a tourniquet above her elbow.
“I’d like to see him, and thank him for helping us out back there. We’ve grown quite close…”
Isaac watches Carol’s face, looking for signs of deception, but the nurse is focused on finding a vein. “I’m sure, I’m sure. Think that’s it…just a pinch,” the nurse says. Scully winces as the needle goes in, and there’s no further talk of Mulder’s whereabouts.
“All done! Now, let’s go see your new rooms.”
Carol leads them deeper into the compound, chattering lightly as they go.
“The cafeteria is that way,” she says, gesturing to a hallway on the right. “You’ll be staying in the dorms back here; the accommodations aren’t much, but we have hot water and real beds.
“It used to be a research facility,” the nurse continues, ducking into what looks like a supply closet to grab two plastic cards. “Mosely worked here until he retired; the scientists would stay in the dorms for months at a time, we think they were studying nuclear weapons fusion, which probably explains the remote location.”
Scully raises an eyebrow. “Isn’t there concern about radiation?”
“Oh no, no no, that project was retired years ago, any of the nukes were cleared out. No one was using this place at all by the time the infection hit. Just another empty funnel for taxpayer dollars,” Carol says drily.
“Right,” Scully murmurs.
“Well, here you go,” Carol says, pulling up to the door of a nondescript room. “I assume you’d prefer separate rooms?”
Scully looks down at Isaac, questioning, and he shrugs.
“You’ll be right next door to your mom, OK, kiddo?”
“Yeah, sure,” he says, watching the nurse put the keycard into the door, punching in a series of numbers.
“There, the key is active now,” she says, handing it to Isaac, who tucks it into his pocket. “Don’t lose that.”
“Won’t,” he mumbles, as the door opens on a small, gray room, a twin bed.
“There’s a dorm bathroom down the hall,” the nurse says. “It’s shared, but there are three showers. I’d suggest going at night to avoid the morning rush,” she smiles. “Why don’t you get settled in, and I’ll show your mom to her room. It’s that one,” she says, pointing to the gray door a few feet to their right.
The room is decorated like a military bunk, which is to say, devoid of decoration; there’s a metal bed frame with the springs built in, a thin mattress rolled on top. The sheets are scratchy but clean and white, the pillow is brand new, the blanket rough wool. There’s little else save for a small desk, a lamp, and a closet.
When the door is closed behind him, Isaac breathes out a soft huff, normalcy catching up to him in a wave of exhaustion. The mental strain of reading people was difficult, but now he looks into eyes that give away no secrets, minds that keep their thoughts locked in. So this is what it’s like to be normal.
He sits down on the bed, testing its buoyancy, and hugs his backpack to his chest.
Carol takes her leave, but not before offering to take Scully and Isaac to the cafeteria.
“Dinner starts at 6; tonight is soy meatloaf. If I’m being honest, you’re going to want to stick to the mashed potatoes and salad,” she says.
Scully chuckles. “Thank you, but I think I’d rather clean up, get settled. I’m not very hungry,” she admits, and this, at least, is the truth.
“Suit yourself,” the nurse says. “Someone will be by to check in on you in the morning, make sure you’re settling in. It was nice to meet you!”
The woman has already left before Scully realizes she’s forgotten to ask where Mulder is staying.
Damn. He’ll have to find me.
She pushes aside her unease and steps into her new room. It’s decidedly larger than what she glimpsed of Isaac’s bunk. There’s a double bed, a wardrobe, all of the furniture cheap and military issue. Inside the wardrobe she finds a change of clothes—a t-shirt, sweatpants, and socks—too big, but they’ll work until she can figure out how to get something fitted.
It must have been a lab once, she thinks, judging by the size and the arrangement, as strict and straight-edged as the building’s gray facade. Even the desk looks like a lab bench.
There’s a bathing area in the corner, tile floor and walls surrounded by a thin curtain, with a large metal sink and a single bar of white soap on the shelf; an old emergency shower. Curious, Scully pulls the chain, starting the flow of water, strong and steamy.
Suddenly she realizes just how dirty she is; her hair stringy and matted, her skin covered in a shellac of dust and sweat, and the undersides of her fingernails are black.
Self-consciousness is a luxury she can’t afford, but in this sterile, barren room, she feels out of place; like someone might scold her for mussing the furniture. She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror—the first long look after days of seeing herself reflected in the side of the car, the rearview, scant glances that give her no idea of the greater picture—and the color of her eyes against her sun-browned skin is startling and unfamiliar.
Within minutes, her clothes are piled next to the door, and she’s watching the brown-gray bubbles wash down the drain, flowing off her body in warm, soothing rivulets. When the water runs clear, she begins working on her hair, removing the worst tangles with help from the soap, making a mental note to look for a comb when she’s done.
She doesn’t hear the room door open, nor the footsteps approaching. Suddenly there’s a shadow at the corner of the curtain, and a warm, low voice. “Room for two?”
Her shriek is worthy of a horror movie, and Mulder grins from behind the curtain.
“Shh, sorry, sorry,” he says, but he doesn’t look sorry at all; a self-satisfied smirk tells her he’s enjoying the view. “The question stands, Mrs. Scully. You got the good room, mine doesn’t have a private shower.”
She arches an eyebrow at the honorific, but draws the curtain aside, indicating for him to join her.
“Thanks,” he says, already undressing, his clothes leaving dirty trails across the floor.
“How the hell did you get in, anyway?” she says over the rush of the water.
“The locks on these doors are old; the guys showed me how to get around them once. Came in handy when we were breaking into certain unnamed government facilities.”
She pokes her head around the curtain, met with her partner’s sly grin. “It’s true,” he continues. “You put a slip of foil over the magnetic strip and press the same number in rapid succession to overload the circuit and the thing unlocks. It’s painfully easy.”
Scully can’t help but roll her eyes. “The nurse said the facility was used for nuclear testing back in the 70’s.”
“That explains the outdated security,” he agrees, calling out from behind the curtain. She can see the vague outline of him hopping on his good leg in an attempt to get one dirt-encrusted sock off.
“You know, it’s going to look suspicious if anyone sees us sharing a room, Mulder, let alone a shower.”
“Mmm,” he says, stepping in. “Tell ‘em we’re environmentally conscientious.”
She snorts, but smiles and hands him the soap. He waggles his eyebrows suggestively, and her smile becomes a broad grin, heady from finally feeling clean for the first time in weeks.
His soapy hands slide around her waist and she yelps in mock surprise. “Mulder, you’re still filthy.”
“You could help with that,” he says, leaning forward, his voice dropping an octave, its husky timbre registering somewhere deep in her belly.
His lips are touching her ear, and she shivers a little. She doesn’t protest when his hands slip around her once more and his mouth meets hers in a familiar kiss.
When his tongue grazes the edges of her lips, asking permission, she sighs and the release is almost instantaneous. Her body softens against him, but she doesn’t let go so easily. She grabs the soap back and begins working it into his chest, revealing a deep tan beneath the crust of dirt. She can almost hear the muscles of his back sighing with relief as she works her fingers into the tender spots.
“The service in this place isn’t half bad,” he says, watching her hands with dilated eyes as she circles one nipple, trailing down, down…
“Oh, you haven’t seen service yet,” she murmurs. His Adam’s apple bobs at his throat beneath a week’s stubbly beard.
“Then show me.” His hands are on her shoulders, spinning her roughly around to face the white tile wall, his body pressed to her back like a hot, wet, muscular blanket.
“Ahh,” is all she can manage when he brings his hands around to caress her breasts. His hips grind against her back, undulating against the sensitive skin, and she lets out a soft moan as she’s pressed firmly into the shower wall, taut nipples making contact with the cold tile, sending shivers up and down her spine.
The slightest touch is enough to make her gasp—she’s oversensitive, her body untouched. She’d been too concerned with their survival to think about it, but now her libido is in overdrive, trying to make up for lost time. If the hardness at her back is any indication, Mulder knows the feeling.
“God, Scully,” he moans, his breath on her neck, kissing and nipping at the salty flesh, soap-slick hands sliding across all the places she wants to be touched.
When she can take his teasing hands no more, she turns to face him, her breathing coming in shallow pants. “Now,” she murmurs. She’s pressing him to her, hands on his ass, but the height difference makes a more intimate connection impossible.
“Can’t,” he pants, mouth still on hers, and she regrets every second he has to tear it away, “my leg—”
“Mmm, bed then,” she says, reaching up to turn off the shower, her words coming out in a love-drunk slur (mmmbedthen) as she tugs on his wrist.
It’s five steps to the bed, and each one feels like an Olympic feat. She doesn’t want to stop touching him, doesn’t want to stop being touched, but at some point they find their rhythm and she falls gracelessly onto her back on the mattress. He’s on her and inside her before she can finish saying his name.
His hands wander her body like travelers across unmapped territory. Her soul holds the ancient mysteries of the universe, and her body is the combination lock, opening over and over with reverence. He rocks his hips forward and she thinks of ocean waves, cresting and withdrawing, cresting and withdrawing, the ebb and flow of their own universal tide…
He’s murmuring in her ear, whispering sweet words of encouragement and love, and the tidal wave drowns her in one long, endless stretch. Mulder isn’t far behind, collapsing on top of her with a soft groan. She gives it a minute, two, before nudging the back of his bare calf with her foot.
“Mulder, you’re crushing me.”
“S’cause you killed me,” he slurs, lips brushing the shell of her ear, sending pleasant goosebumps down her arms and legs.
She snorts, running her fingers through his damp hair, drawing her thumbs gently along the scars at his temples until he stirs, heavy-lidded and smelling of her. “In my professional estimation as a medical doctor, I’d say you’re very much alive.”
“Wanna second opinion,” he says, but he lifts himself up and crawls to the head of the bed to pull back the covers.
“I don’t think you’re ready for a second opinion,” she smirks, following him into the recesses of the bed, which, despite the thin, industrial mattress, is infinitely more comfortable than the back of the truck. She wants to talk, to recount the events of the last several hours, to ponder the surreal circumstances leading to this moment, but Mulder is already drifting, the wear and tear of the last several weeks catching up to him. She finds herself lulled by the steady rush of his breath, and soon she, too, is asleep.
She wakes feeling stiff and groggy, her inner thighs aching with a pleasant heat. The room is dark, Mulder’s arm is heavy around her. She chides herself for allowing him to stay.
So much for our cover.
Her next thought is of Isaac, and she extracts herself from Mulder’s grasp to pad to the wardrobe, pulling on the loose-fitting t-shirt and sweatpants. There’s a threadbare robe, and she throws this on as well, stepping over her and Mulder’s dirty clothes and into the dimly lit hall.
She knocks softly on the door, then uses her spare key to open it just a crack; she’s surprised to find the light on, Isaac sitting up in his twin bed with a book in his lap.
His head snaps up, and she’s greeted with a soft smile.
“Hey, how’re you doing?”
“I’m good,” he says, holding up his book, something by Stephen King. “They have a library.”
“You’ve been exploring?” she asks, taking a seat on the end of the bed.
“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep.”
“It’s late,” she says without admonishment.
“I know. Hey, Doc?”
“I…I still can’t hear anything,” he says, and the worry is back on his face, a complete transformation. “And I can’t move things. Watch.”
He concentrates on his book, willing it to move, and she can see the determination in the furrows of his brow, but nothing happens. “I don’t know why it doesn’t work,” he says. “I…is that bad?”
She swallows, realizing she doesn’t know. She knows so little about him, really, and doubts that science would ever be able to uncover such a mystery in her lifetime. Possibly not even in his.
But she pushes the thought aside. “Let’s not worry about it yet, OK? How do you feel?”
“I feel…good. Great, actually,” he says. “It’s…so quiet. I can actually hear myself think.”
“And what are you thinking?” she asks.
Isaac pauses, then grins again. “That it’s nice to have a real bed.”
She laughs. “Amen to that,” then, standing, she says, “Get some rest, don’t stay up…we have a big day tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I know. Just want to finish this chapter.”
She nods, feels unexpected emotion well up in the back of her throat.
Maybe being among the living will do them all some good.