APRIL 5, 2015
“So where is this place, exactly?”
Fox Mulder frowns, scanning the horizon, blue water and sky for miles. It’s warm, unusually so for April in New England, and his t-shirt sticks to his sea-damp skin.
“I think it was this way…” he starts in the direction of the water. The ground dips as grass turns to sand and tiny stones beneath their feet, and soon they’re looking at the rough Massachusetts shoreline and an equally rough wood dock.
His partner, Dana Scully, tosses a glance over her shoulder with a soft huff, looking for their son. “Isaac?”
They make their way down the slope to the dock, where a small motor boat bobs and sways in the tide. The sun is warm on her skin, but the water is deceptively cold; New England spring at its finest.
“Mulder, what are we looking for?”
“See that island? That’s Martha’s Vineyard to the east, the smaller island next to it is the preserve. No, over there…it’s behind that. A quarter mile out, maybe more.”
“I’m sure, Scully.”
Another sigh. Isaac, dark-eyed and sullen, still recovering from the infection, looks perpetually uncertain.
“Alright. Let’s go, then,” Scully finally says, making her way to the edge of the water. Neither Mulder nor Scully are strangers to boating, but looking at the small, dingy craft, she thinks, it’s going to take some time to get reacquainted.
“Hope the motor works,” Mulder mutters, squinting at the water while he loosens the knot that tethers the boat to the dock. “Isaac, over there, grab that rope for me; we can use this as an anchor once we get to the island.”
The boy does as he says, pale hands skimming the rough brown surface of wet rope, leaving dirty trails of seawater across the wood dock.
Mulder stands back. “Try the boat; I’ll grab our stuff from the car.”
“Got it,” Scully nods, eying the boat warily. It’s an older model, but the fiberglass base is intact, no cracks. Hopefully it will hold.
“How’re you holding up?” she asks quietly, when Mulder has left for the car. “Feeling sick?”
Isaac nods, his eyes ringed with dark circles. “Stomach hurts.”
Scully purses her lips in worry. “I’ll take a look when we get to the island.”
Isaac nods again, and Scully struggles to find the words to ask the question she needs to ask, but he already knows.
“Yeah, I can still hear them,” he whispers.
“Are they close?”
He frowns, eyebrows knit together in a moment of concentration. “No,” he sighs finally. “No, they’re not close. Not yet.”
She relaxes a little, but keeps an eye on him as she turns her attention to the boat’s motor. A sharp tug on the ignition produces a puff of black smoke and a low growl, then silence.
Another tug, another groan, but this time the engine gives a feeble cough and turns over.
“Yes!” Scully says, a brief moment of respite from the tense silence that’s followed them all the way from western Virginia.
Mulder returns carrying three duffel bags of supplies and black leather case.
“Still got it, Starbuck,” he says, earning a wry smirk from his partner at her long lost childhood nickname.
“It’s no Pequod, but I think it will hold water. Mulder, what is that?” she asks, gesturing to the case in his hands.
“Laptop. You never know,” he says, then abruptly changes the subject. “We’ll come back for supplies. I don’t want to leave the car…but it’s not like there’s anyone around to bother it,” he finishes, rubbing at the back of his neck, body language betraying his uncertainty.
Nothing human, at least, she thinks, the sentiment of victory replaced by a chill, one deeper than she could attribute to the spray of cold salt water that erupts from beneath the boat.
She shuts the engine off. “I think it will work for now. We have enough gas, but it needs a tune-up if we’re going to use it,” she says.
Mulder tosses the duffels into the bottom of the boat. “I should be able to manage,” he says.
The three of them climb into the boat, adjusting as it rocks beneath their feet when Mulder climbs in and throws their balance off.
“You do the honors, Starbuck.”
Scully cranks the engine again, manning the small craft as it pulls away from the dock. She points them toward the island, and it crawls closer over the water’s deceptive distance. She tries to let go, to experience the moment the way she might have when she was a child, let the rhythmic motion of the boat speeding across the waves relax her. Within minutes, her retinas burn from the glare of the sun on the water, the cloudless sky, the spray of sea foam. It’s a beautiful day, so crisp and clear, it’s almost possible to forget the circumstances.
They’d left the house at daybreak, and she’d allowed herself one last backward glance at their home before heading north. One look, one life abandoned for another, but the will to survive blotted out any indulgent self pity.
What was a house but a shell? By some stroke of luck, everything that mattered was still with her, flying down empty back roads in a battered Prius.
They didn’t pass a single moving car between the western Virginia border and their final destination.
“It will be cooler by the coast…it’s mostly summer homes up there, not a lot of locals…less chance we’ll run into one of them, at least not for a while.”
For once, Scully didn’t have the strength to argue with her partner, didn’t protest the destination even though his logic was questionable. Even the craziest of ideas didn’t seem crazy now. Her world had tilted on its axis overnight.
Because they’ll hatch soon. And then what?
When they ran from the FBI, at least they knew the enemy, could look into its face and recognize the pattern, the familiar facets of a biological equal. The new enemy has yet to be seen in the light.
Isaac had slept in the back, weak and bruised from the infection. She checked on him every five minutes, the way she had when he was a baby, to watch for the even rise and fall of his chest in his sleep. Eventually Mulder’s hand came to rest on her knee, as she was twisting in her seat to check him for the eighth time.
“He’s OK, Scully,” he had whispered. “Get some rest.”
She had, pressing her temple to the cool glass of the window, but her eyes refused to close, her mind worrying at their collective fragility.
In the grand scheme of things, humanity is a blip on the universe’s radar. Asteroid or virus, it doesn’t matter—the frailty of life has always been a coin toss away from death.
This time, the universe flipped the wrong way.
Mulder is gesturing starboard, so she redirects the motor, easing the boat over steadily churning waves. They’re approaching the larger island, circling it; she spots cabins and luxe summer homes with dark windows and drawn shades, once the sites of happy family vacations and July 4thbarbecues. Now it’s unlikely these homes will see any occupants.
“They were friends of Dad’s,” Mulder explains, shouting over the din of the motor. “We visited once when I was a kid…I don’t know if they still own the place, but I remember thinking the island was nice. Remote,” he says, with a knowing nod to his partner.
Isaac looks out across the water with the same pinched expression, another reminder that things are not what they seem.
He’s scared. You’re all scared shitless, Dana. And you should be.
She pushes the thought away as they come around to the back of the island; up ahead, she can just make out the outline of a much smaller piece of land, a house at the top of a low bluff.
As they get closer, she realizes she’d been expecting a camp, rustic and set apart from civilization, but that’s not the case. It’s a two-story, shuttered cape.
Mulder is grinning at something, a glimmer on the roof, but Scully can’t make it out.
“Careful here,” Mulder warns, gesturing to the rocks around the property. Scully slows, taking a wide berth around the shoreline until they reach a dock at the back.
“Think we hit the jackpot, Scully.”
She shields her eyes, and finds he’s right. She can’t help but grin a little herself at their good fortune.
“They’re in good shape, I think,” Mulder says. “We may have power out here after all.”
The boat rocks and bumps against the dock in the shallow waters as they step out, Isaac first; he tethers the small craft to the cleat without being asked.
“Think we should check it out first?” she asks, eying the big house with its dark shutters drawn against winter’s battering ram.
“It’s empty,” Isaac says immediately. “I’d know if they were here.”
Relief mixed with unease at this point-blank observation, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to hear monsters in his head.
Mulder doesn’t seem to notice their son’s quiet gaze; he’s already making his way up the hill toward the house with a shuffling limp, a holdover from last week’s brush with their imminent future.
Was it really only last week? she thinks with dismay, time interrupting and twisting around her like a boa constrictor. Her neck aches, the bruises there have faded to a dusky purplish-yellow, another painful reminder as she struggles to reach her pack at the bottom of the boat.
Mulder is picking the lock on the door; the last tumbler clicks into place as Scully drops their luggage onto the whitewashed porch. He glances over at her and grins.
“Shall I carry you over the threshold, Mrs. Spooky?”
Her eyebrow goes up, an involuntary reflex, though the new band on her finger suddenly feels warm. She coughs. “I think we can skip the formalities, Mulder,” she says, glancing down at his knee. “Besides, I’m not sure you can handle me.”
“Ugh, gross,” Isaac mutters, shoving his way through, leaving the two former agents to exchange a look behind their son’s back.
“Well,” Mulder says after an uncomfortable pause, “glad to see that whole virus thing hasn’t tainted his total and utter disenchantment with us.”
She snorts. “We should—“
“Right behind you.”
Isaac is already exploring upstairs. “This bedroom’s mine!” he calls from somewhere to her right, and Scully sighs, feeling the weight of a thousand worries settle back onto her shoulders.
“At least he’s making himself at home.”
“I’ll grab our stuff.”
She nods, grimacing a little, looking around. The place is cozier than it looked from the outside, furniture covered in white sheets and a film of dust. “I’ll see what we’re dealing with.”
It’s dark, the shutters are boarded and probably nailed shut. The light switches don’t work, and the empty fridge door hangs open. No electricity, but that’s not discouraging.
They probably turned everything off when they left for the winter.
She picks the sheets off a sofa, a chair, shaking off the dust and an errant cobweb. There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study, and a kitchen that puts their old farmhouse’s cramped quarters to shame.
She feels a twinge of homesickness, but pushes it aside easily. Mulder reappears in the doorway with two gallons of water, a duffel slung over one shoulder.
“We’ll go back and get the rest tomorrow…go hunting for supplies. I want to see if we can figure out the solar stuff before it gets dark. Hopefully they were using it for more than just hot water.”
“I’d settle for living in candlelight if I could take a hot shower,” Scully says, trying unsuccessfully to stretch the ache from her muscles.
“Amen,” Mulder mutters, heading for the kitchen. “Is there a basement?”
There isn’t. Slab foundation construction, not uncommon for an island home where the topsoil is shallow, but further exploration reveals a shed out back. Mulder makes quick work of the padlock.
“Boom,” Mulder says as the door swings open with an audible creak.
There’s what looks like a large battery alongside a water heater, with a breaker panel on the wall to the left.
“Let’s see if this thing has any juice,” he says. The switches flip to ON with a loud clack, and they exchange a look. Scully runs outside, calling out to the back of the house.
“Hey Isaac! Try the lights!”
A few seconds later, there’s a warm yellow glow emanating from one of the upstairs bedrooms, and Scully can’t help but grin.
The shed also contains a pump, presumably for the house’s water supply. The water from the tap runs a foul-smelling dirty gray for a few minutes as the sludge at the bottom of the pipes comes up, but eventually it clears.
“We can’t drink it,” Scully warns them. “It’s seawater, I saw the intake around back. We’ll have to haul fresh water from the island, but we should be able to shower.”
The rest of the evening is spent unpacking their meager belongings into two of the upstairs bedrooms. Scully finds a bucket of cleaning supplies under the sink and starts working on the kitchen, scrubbing countertops and appliances until they shine under the light of the lamp.
Her thoughts are a fog of disconnection, the cleaning a feeble attempt for her brain to return their lives to a level of normalcy that will never exist.
They haven’t eaten since they left the house, but no one complains. Her stomach rumbles, but it’s a distant roar compared to the rush of her anxious heart. She’s been fighting nausea since they left, and suspects Mulder and Isaac are similarly uninspired by the thought of food. She opens one of the cans of fruit they’d brought, picking at the sugary, syrupy pears and peaches half-heartedly as she works.
She catches a glimpse of Mulder from the window over the kitchen sink. He’s exploring the property around the house, the island and the bluff out back, while Isaac is drawn to the study, pawing through the books and examining vintage knickknacks.
It’s late by the time they convene in the living room, withdrawn and exhausted, but wired.
“I’ll keep watch tonight,” Mulder says, rubbing at his eyes. “No point in all of us losing sleep.”
“Do you think they’ll hatch soon?” asks Isaac.
Scully frowns, “It’s hard to say what kind of biology we’re dealing with, but the infected I saw weren’t full term. I think we have some time.”
Mulder looks at him, murmuring, “You’ll know before we do, kid.”
The boy seems to accept this, but his face pales slightly.
“How’s your stomach?” Scully asks.
“Still hurts a bit,” Isaac mumbles. “It’s prob’ly nothing.”
“I have my med kit upstairs. Let’s check you out to be sure.”
Isaac wrinkles his nose, but doesn’t protest.
“I’ll be up soon,” Mulder says. “Going to lock up.”
Scully finds Isaac in the bedroom at the far end of the hall, and she can immediately see why he chose it. It’s darker than the others, more sparse. It has the air of a den, a lair, and it reminds her of his bedroom at their old house. He’s made up the bed with some sheets from the linen cupboard, a brown duvet thrown haphazardly on top.
Isaac is sitting on the edge of the bed with his hands in his lap, like a patient in a doctor’s office.
“I just want to listen for a minute, OK?” Scully says softly, gesturing to the stethoscope in her hands.
He lies back, and she listens. The rush of air in and out of the boy’s lungs is mesmerizing, the thrum of his heartbeat is strong and soothing. “Everything sounds good. You said your stomach hurts?”
He winces. “Yeah, a little.”
“Can I check?” He nods, and she places her hands on his abdomen. “Let me know if you feel any pain, OK?”
He nods again, and she prods at his stomach, palpating the areas around his gallbladder and appendix. She watches his face out of the corner of her eye, but he doesn’t move, doesn’t indicate she’s causing pain.
Skin is cool, no fever. No swelling. Even the bruising is gone.
She holds back a shudder as she remembers the victims’ distended abdomens, the bruise growing like a storm cloud across Isaac’s midsection…
“It may be stress. You’ve been through a lot,” she murmurs. “It may take some time for your body to forget. Take it easy, drink lots of water, and tell me if it gets worse. Promise?”
“Yeah,” he agrees softly, but he doesn’t look relieved. If she could see her own expression, she’d probably find she doesn’t, either.
“Let’s get some rest, OK? I’ll check again in the morning.”
He swallows, pulling the duvet over his shoulders, curling onto his side in the double bed. Night has settled around the unheated house, leaving it damp and a touch cooler than is comfortable.
She packs away her kit and gets up to leave, but he stops her.
“Would you…can you stay with me for a few minutes? Like you used to?”
Something hard within her, the fountain of inner strength she’s leaned on since they left the farm early yesterday morning, begins to unravel at the timbre of his voice.
“I didn’t think you knew about that,” she whispers, sitting back down. “Of course…I’ll stay.”
And she does, letting herself think of the good things, the memories, the softer moments of their tumultuous relationship.
The scent of William’s downy hair after his bath, watching Mulder hold him for the first time, his laughter…
His voice, thick and sleepy in the darkened room, startles her, and she blinks back tears, wondering if he can sense the bittersweetness these memories bring with them. “Yeah?”
She waits until Isaac’s breathing is deep and even before she retreats, heart and head too full, a whirlwind of emotions threatening to overflow the careful walls she’s built around them. Her hands won’t stop trembling, her ribs and neck ache.
Mulder is making the bed in their room.
“Hey, found the sheets. Figured you would—“
She meets him at the edge of the bed with two quick strides, stopping his mouth with a kiss, urgent and deep.
“Whoa, OK,” he gasps when she finally pulls away, both of them struggling for breath. Her arms wind around his neck, pulling him down to her once more, gentler but insistent, demanding.
…forget I just need to forget make me forget…
She undresses him with skilled hands, his t-shirt ruffling his already unruly hair as it slides off his body with a whisper. He’s laid flat on the bed before he can speak, strong thighs straddling his hips.
“Scully, are you—“
“Shh,” she murmurs, tongue drawing a hot line from the base of his ear to the hollow of his throat, meeting his mouth again.
“Wait, what about…Isaac—“ he gasps, struggling for comprehension as blood rushes to regions south.
“Asleep,” she mutters, panting softly. “Mulder…please.”
Two little words, so much power. It’s intoxicating, and his hands find the ridges of her spine arching beneath her shirt, the warm weight of her breasts, the taut skin of her nipples rising to meet his eager fingers.
He gently traces the bruises on her throat, the scar along her ribcage, looking at her too deeply, with something akin to pity. She stills his hands, pushing them away. It can’t be slow if this is going to happen.
The moment is a mess of buttons and denim and skin. His eyes are black with desire when she slides down his length, rocking atop him without mercy. He grasps at her hips but there is no controlling her, there never has been.
She comes hard and fast and silent with her face pressed into the crescent of his neck, teeth grazing the tendons at the top of his shoulder, her jeans still tangled around one calf. The air around them is heavy with seawater and sex.
His voice rumbles against her cheek. “If I’d known putting a ring on your finger would do that, I’d have asked you to marry me fifteen years ago.”
She snorts softly, eyes closed, willing her breath to steady as his hand rubs her naked back. She’d wanted an escape, wanted to forget, but now she feels raw, exposed, torn open.
Mulder is still chattering beneath her, pleasantly buzzed. “You know, if they’re counting on us to repopulate the earth, I’d be happy to die trying.”
Her sob is whispered onto the skin of his shoulder, and his hand stills instantly.
She rolls off him, turning away, but she’s too late to fully retreat. She grips the side of the bed hard.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, lips drawing a light kiss against the back of her shoulder. “Hey, I’m sorry, that was stupid. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s not that,” she says finally, drawing her hand against her eyes. “I just…what are we going to do?”
The million dollar question spoken aloud.
He’s quiet. “I don’t know,” he admits, reaching around to draw her closer, her back pressed to his chest like a chrysalis.
“They know where Isaac is, They’ll find him. We can’t…we can’t hide. We don’t know when they’re going to spawn, we don’t have any idea how many people are still alive…”
She babbles, the fear overflowing her lips faster than she can contain it. “And Isaac! He’s so weak, God knows what the vaccine did to him. We don’t know anything, Mulder, and yet we’re…we’re acting like this is some kind of family retreat, like a goddamned vacation…”
“I know, shh, I know,” he soothes, his arm like a vise around her waist, anchoring her to the bed.
“I called my mom right before the virus hit,” she whispers, and she feels the hitch in his breathing as the realization sinks in. “She was sick when I talked to her, she. She…Mulder, she’s probably dead. My family…everyone…”
“You don’t know that,” he says, but it’s a knee-jerk response, full of false hope.
“I keep thinking it’s not real,” she continues, ignoring him. “I keep thinking this can’t be happening, but it is, and I don’t…I don’t know what to do.”
Mulder swallows hard. “You sleep. That’s what you do. Tomorrow…”
He doesn’t finish the thought, but the promise of a new day is enough to ease her mind, and the weight of him against her is a comfort.
Eventually she dreams.
She’s breathing deeply when he pulls the quilt over her bare, sun-freckled shoulders. Mulder pulls on what’s left of his clothes, leaving the bedroom door open a crack in case she wakes. The house’s floorboards creak under his weight.
He can’t remember seeing his partner so fragmented, and he can’t admit to himself how much it shakes him. Remnants of childhood memories play a sharp contrast to the situation in which they find themselves, nostalgia and fear a volatile combination.
Isaac is sleeping soundly, just as Scully said he was, before she….
Attacked me, Mulder thinks, smiling a little. Not that he’d fought her off. In truth, he’d needed it as much as she had. Since they’d left the farmhouse back in Virginia, it was hard to believe any of this was really happening. Nothing kept him grounded better than Scully, except maybe sex. With Scully.
Mulder peeks into the boy’s room, and finds the boy tucked under the covers in a rare moment of peace. He’s drawn to him, approaching the bed and kneeling down. He’d been so sick, but now his breathing is slow and regular, his cheeks flushed with sleep.
Mulder finds himself reaching out, letting the back of his hand graze the boy’s light brown hair, but doesn’t linger for fear of waking him.
Let him sleep.
He should sleep, too. It’s not as though he expects the grays to attack tonight; the aliens, assuming that’s what they are, have better things to worry about right now.
He shudders, wondering how many bodies lie between them and the west coast.
He walks downstairs, rubbing at the back of his neck, where the muscles haven’t unwound since they crossed into Massachusetts. They’d driven for hours without a destination until he’d remembered the house on the island. Instinct pointed him here.
His family had come here for a party when he was young, some stuffy Bureau affair put on by one of the higher-ups whom his father reported to, once upon a time. This was long before the Mulder family had been torn apart, back when his mother and father were still speaking to each other, and, most importantly, Samantha was still alive.
He and Sam had spent the day alongside a handful of other Bureau officials’ children, running along the beach, taking cannonballs off the dock, and swimming until they were sunburned and drowsy. He’d dozed off on his mother’s lap while they sat around the campfire, and he hadn’t woken until his father was pulling the blanket over him in his bed at their home in Chilmark.
Sam would have been three. Three years old.
It was an uncharacteristically happy time, and if it weren’t for his inability to forget, he might have thought it happened to someone else.
The place has aged some, but otherwise it’s as Mulder remembers. A fair hiding spot until…
He wanders outside, walking to the edge of the beach, heedless of the way the tiny stones cut into his feet, how the damp sand rubs his toes raw. The sea is rough, angry, as if the planet were trying to toss off its unwelcome inhabitants.
Mulder frowns. So many years spent examining his past and dwelling on the future, and now the impending threat leaves him uncomfortably in the present moment, with nothing to fight and nowhere to go.
He’d offered Scully tomorrow, but now, watching the waves’ unrelenting onslaught, he realizes his error: Tomorrow was a promise no one could make.