Chapter 17: Another Long Road

     “Look, Byers, I don’t have much time. I need everything you have on Project Ultimam. It’s some kind of—”

     “Oh, I know what it is; we’ve been following it for months…the military’s latest foray into human cloning, creation of supersoldiers from human DNA. Same story, new tricks. But Mulder, I don’t know if we can hack this; they’ve heightened security, they know we got into the Bureau—”

     Mulder groans to himself. “Just do it, OK? Send me what you can. I’ll try to get to a computer in—” he looks at the map, “—in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.”

     There’s a pause on the other end of the line.

     “Byers?”

     “Yeah, Project Ultimam, got it. I’ll see what I can do.” Click.

     Mulder walks outside, into the crisp night air. They’re not going to have long before it becomes too cold to hide out in the woods.

     Then what?

     Scully’s right. He’s always followed his instincts, they’ve served him well in the past…but he’s out of practice, they can’t keep this up. He can tell it’s wearing on Scully, too—there’s a hollow, desperate fear in her eyes he hasn’t seen since some of their worst cases.

     That we’re barely on speaking terms isn’t helping…but she’s still here. That must mean something.

     Then there’s the kid. Mulder tried to remain detached, treating this as though it were any other case, but his cool exterior is crumbling. He watches Scully tend to Isaac and finds he has to clear his throat, swallowing emotion. The magnitude of the boy’s situation hits too close to home, and empathy washes over him.

     He’s lost everything.

     Mulder and Scully had sacrificed much, but that had been a conscious choice; to pursue the darkness willingly, at any cost, the price they’d paid was often dear, but purposeful. Scully had her family, and Mulder had Scully, and what they had together was worth the fight.

     But this child hadn’t been given a choice, brought into the world by two lonely people with a dark past and good intentions…

     …and now he has nothing.

     Mulder’s childhood hadn’t been the greatest, but he’d had his parents. If they weren’t exactly the warmest people he could have asked for, if their marriage wasn’t the happiest…at the end of the day, he knew they loved him in their own dysfunctional way.

     As broken as his family was after the loss of his sister, it pales in comparison to what the boy faces now.

     Scully interrupts his thoughts, tossing Mulder the keys. “You’re driving. I want to keep an eye on him, make sure someone’s with him when he wakes up.”

     She’s made the boy comfortable in the back seat of the car, wrapped in a faded blue wool blanket she found in the upstairs closet. Isaac stirs, tossing and turning, moaning softly.

     Doggett stands next to the car, hands Mulder a wad of bills. “It’s not much, but you’re going to need supplies, gas. Keep to the back roads and don’t stop for anything. I’ll hold ‘em off as long as I can.”

     Mulder accepts the money, acknowledging the favor with a terse, “Thanks.”

     Doggett nods. “Good luck.”

     They pull out of the drive, riding in silence for a few minutes. Isaac wakes up shortly after they cross the town line, coming out of unconsciousness with a gasp, bolting upright. He looks at Scully, grimacing. “My…stomach…think I’m gonna…”

     Anticipating this, she hands him a bucket and turns her face to the window so he can have some privacy. He retches, but not much comes up.

     He leans back in the seat, closes his eyes. “My mom…she’s…”

     “Gone,” Scully says, softly. “I’m so sorry, Isaac. We’re taking you somewhere.”

     Isaac snorts but doesn’t respond, turns his head away, curling in on himself in the seat, wrapping his lean shoulders in the rough blanket.

     Scully’s eyes meet Mulder’s in the rear-view mirror, and for one brief and painful moment, he can read the story of the last few days on her face. She eventually looks away, exhausted, and leans her forehead on the cool glass of the window.

     He sets his jaw, turning his attention to the long road ahead.

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