Chapter 2: Opening the Door

     SCULLY RESIDENCE, VIRGINIA
     2:25 A.M.

     It’s well past 2 a.m. when Scully pulls into the driveway of the old farm house she shares with Mulder. The place is still, dark except for the porch light, a lone beacon against the night. She sits in the car for a few minutes, fingers gripping the steering wheel, wondering how to tell him.

     She’ll find him either in his office—the windowless den where he plucks away at his novel without much interest, and occasionally lends his investigative talents as a consultant to the FBI—or sleeping on the couch. They’ve shared a bed for years, but he claims the couch is more comfortable when she’s not around—one of the vestiges of his former life.

     She smiles to herself, remembering him, remembering the years they spent working on X-files cases from his cramped basement office; they were some of the best and worst of her life, and somehow over the course of seven years, against all logic and reason, her perfect opposite became her constant. She can still picture him standing in front of that damned projector, the husks of sunflower seeds falling off his lips, a steady burning intensity in his eyes.

     But that was years ago; there have been what feels like a lifetime of changes since they fled the Bureau. He gave up his ties for t-shirts, case files for half-finished house projects, and a longstanding career for a home with the woman he loves. He hasn’t complained, but she can’t help but wonder if this is the life he’d imagined for himself.

     At least we don’t have to run. That’s something.

     She supposes their simple lifestyle holds more appeal after two years living out of hastily packed suitcases, sleeping on motel beds, drinking burned diner coffee, and eating meals from styrofoam boxes. But for someone who claims to be content, he spends a lot of time on his computer. She doesn’t pry, and he doesn’t talk about it, but if she had to guess, he’s searching for answers, reading between the lines, looking for the virus, the invasion that was said to become humanity’s doom. Waiting.

     He may not have a gun or badge, but he hasn’t given up fighting the future.

     She sighs, her key turning hard in the lock, opening the door to the familiar scents of cinnamon and wood smoke.

     Home.

     It’s the couch tonight. The muted TV casts blue-green shadows on the living room walls as it plays a B-movie she’s seen a hundred times.

     Which means he stayed up waiting. Again.

     There’s a twinge of guilt; she usually calls when she works late, but after the evening’s strange events, she’d forgotten.

     He’s snoring lightly, peaceful, and she hesitates to wake him—the simple life cured many of their past’s ills, but did little for his insomnia. The sight of him is both comforting and disquieting; dark hair mussed with sleep, a week’s worth of stubble on his cheeks, worn gray shirt and jeans. For all her misgivings, he is as much a home to her as the house they share.

     She leans over him, brushing his cheek in a light caress, the hint of a smile on her lips, before remembering why she rushed home in the first place.

     The note.

     “Mulder.”

     His eyes flutter open, he greets her with a soft, dazed smile. “Hey.” His voice is thick with sleep, his brow furrows. “I was worried…called your office. What time is it?” He sits up, rubs his face with his hands.

     “It’s late.”

     He studies her face, blinks. Even after so many years together, it’s unnerving how easily he reads her. She’s a strong woman, but he’s always been able to find her tender spots; tonight he hits a nerve. 

     “Third time this week. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re avoiding me, Scully.”

     She breathes a silent sigh of relief. They have a bigger problem to talk about; her inner demons will have to wait.

     “I know, I’m sorry, I lost track of time. But Mulder…something happened.” 

     This gets his attention; he sits up straighter, narrows his eyes in concern. “Everything OK?”

     “I’m fine,” she responds, a practiced lie, and hands him the note. “Someone left this outside my office tonight.”

     He frowns, turning the paper over once, twice. “Who?”

     “I don’t know. They ran, I couldn’t catch up. I figured it was a prank, kids looking for drugs maybe, but then…I found this.”

     “Is it a joke?” He tosses the note on the table without much consideration, peering up at her with deep hazel eyes. It’s difficult to tell if he’s genuinely confused or just playing dumb.

     “Mulder…I think William might be in trouble.”

     He raises an eyebrow at the mention of their son’s name. “You don’t think—”

     “I know he’s supposed to be protected. But what if they’ve found him?”

     Thick silence falls between them as Mulder considers this. “What’s this address?”

     “I don’t know yet. I wanted you to see it; to tell me this is what it looks like…”

     …and that I’m not crazy, she thinks, keeping this part to herself, unwilling to lay herself bare just yet.

     “Scully,” he pauses, choosing his words, “what if someone’s toying with you? Drawing you out with the promise of seeing him?”

     The idea occurred to her, of course, but she shakes her head. “You were pardoned, we don’t have anything to hide. The FBI already know where we live, where I work. What would they want with us?”

     Mulder stands, stretching, hands at his hips. “Who knows? But this smells like bait—rotten bait.” He presses his lips together. “Why do I feel like you’ve already taken it?”

     She tenses under his scrutiny, suddenly defensive. “Mulder, how many times were you contacted by a shadowy figure with ‘top secret’ information? How many times did you take the bait yourself?”

     “Too many to count, and that’s why I think we should leave it alone. Most of those leads weren’t leads at all, but decoys.”

     The only words that come to her are bitter, stinging the back of her throat. She screws her mouth shut, fixing him with an icy stare, willing herself to stay calm.

     Sensing her resistance, he softens. “Look, I know how much you want to see him. I know this is personal. But he’s safer without us. If we find him, that means the government, or…someone else…can find him, too. We risk more trying to get to him—”

     “What if someone already has?” She indicates the address on the note, stabbing at it with her finger. “If this were an X-file, you’d jump at it, personal involvement or not. Why is this different?”

     She’s got me there.

     He searches her face, pleading with her. “What if you’re right? If we find him…knowing how difficult it was to give him up…” he lets this hang there, the reason William’s name comes up so rarely in conversation; their son is the wound that never healed. “Do you really want to open that door?”

     “Mulder…there isn’t a day where I don’t wonder if I made the right choice. I thought, more than anyone, you’d understand.” Her eyes meet his, willing him to hear her words. “I have to know he’s safe. I understand if you need to sit this one out, but I can’t. I won’t.”

     He considers this, realizing his efforts to convince her to stay are futile. There’s a hardness in her eyes. It’s rare his partner gets tunnel vision—that’s usually his M.O.—but she’s already made the decision to go, whether he follows or not.

     If he’s being honest, part of him wants this as much as she does, but for different reasons. She’s right, not that he’d admit it to her in this moment, but he misses the thrill of the chase, the mystery and intrigue that goes along with the next big break. Consulting does little to satisfy his curiosity; if anything, it’s intensified. His research is conducted from home, and he’s not allowed access to the final case reports. It’s a compromise they’d agreed on after the Monica Bannan case; he can have his darkness in small doses.

     But this is different. This isn’t just another case, Fox. Be careful.

     He relents with a sigh. “You look up the address. I’ll see if we can get a flight.”

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