It’s been hours since Mulder stormed off, with no sign of him since their argument this morning.
He can’t have gone far, his leg wouldn’t hold out.
She tries to reassure herself, but Scully knows as soon as the thought crosses her mind that it isn’t true. Mulder is downright bull-headed when he’s angry. The sprain is relatively minor; it would take a full-fledged amputation to stop him.
And even then, he’d probably tie the bloody stump to a stick and keep going. He’ll be lucky if he can walk tomorrow, she thinks, irritated at her partner’s untoward recklessness. But the irritation doesn’t last, only gives way to greater worry.
A half hour passes. She finally gets up; rest eludes her, so she tends to the fire, stretches, examines and bandages her burnt hand again. It’s not healing fast, but it doesn’t appear infected. Ibuprofen takes the edge off.
Another half hour.
All the pacing and fretting won’t bring him back; it will be dark in a few hours.
You’re wasting time.
She doesn’t want to worry Isaac, but he can’t stay here alone. They’ll take the map and compass, head north, and hope their paths cross with Mulder’s before nightfall. She checks her pack, adding warm clothes and first aid supplies, then douses the fire.
He won’t survive the night in these temperatures, she realizes, shuddering at the thought.
“Isaac?” She approaches the boy’s tent. “Isaac, we need to find Mulder…I think he’s lost.”
There’s a rustling from within as Isaac unzips the door.
“How are we going to find him?” He wears a familiar and well-earned expression of skepticism. She doesn’t want to trek through the woods in the wee hours, calling for Mulder, potentially drawing attention to themselves in the event an unfriendly party is trying to find them.
“I’m not sure yet, but…” Her eyes widen.
Why hadn’t she thought of it before?
“Isaac! Can you…do you think you can hear him? With your mind?”
The boy crawls out of the tent, looking doubtful. “I dunno…don’t think I’ve ever read someone from a distance…”
“But it’s worth a shot, right?”
Isaac doesn’t have to read her mind to know her fear. He shrugs uneasily, sitting down next to the fire. “I can try.”
He shifts, tilting his chin in quiet acknowledgment, eyes closing to focus, listening for Mulder’s presence.
At first, all he can hear is Scully; she radiates fear so strong it drowns the world, and he struggles to move beyond it, beyond their camp, to avoid drowning with her.
Several minutes pass, but there’s nothing but dead air. Dead air, and a vague sense of restless energy, which he attributes to Scully…or perhaps himself, it’s hard to tell.
Scully watches the boy’s brow clench tight in frustration and he shakes his head, upset.
“I can’t…” he says, crestfallen, acutely aware of her disappointment. “I’ve never done this before! I don’t know how…”
She kneels down, placing her hands lightly on his shoulders, and narrows her gaze. “Isaac…can you try one more time…please? For me.”
Isaac looks at her doubtfully, but the desperation in her voice threatens to consume him. Her fingers tremble against his shoulders, betraying her composed exterior. He takes a deep breath, exhales, this time picturing Mulder’s face in hopes it will trigger something, anything.
There is no magic formula, no instruction manual for his gift; only intuition and blind hope.
He remembers the first time he realized he could hear people’s thoughts; he couldn’t have been more than five. His mother was having an argument with a cashier at the grocery store; she’d been thinking the girl behind the counter looked like cheap white trash, a common streetwalker in a strappy tank top and cutoffs, and Isaac had innocently piped up in defense of his mother, voicing her forbidden thoughts word for word.
His mother turned a deep shade of crimson and promptly turned on her heel, abandoning their full cart, leaving the girl with her mouth gaping open. She’d rushed them out of the store, maintaining a silent iron grip on his elbow.
Only when they were in the car did it occur to him that she hadn’t spoken aloud. She didn’t scold him, in fact they never spoke of it again, the first of many incidents that left her to cast furtive backward glances at her son in the rear view mirror, as though she were afraid of him.
Follow your gut. Trust your instincts.
Mulder’s advice rings true; instinct is all Isaac has now, so he follows it, shifting his focus to the sound of Mulder’s voice, listening intently. There’s so much dead air, static, but then, faintly, an inner voice…
His eyes fly open, turning his head toward the trees. “He’s here! Not close…but he’s out there…”
Scully’s face brightens with relief, a hopeful smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “Great,” she says in a voice almost too light, too airy to be believed. “Let’s start walking…can you guide us?”
Isaac nods, trying to reflect her hope, but his heart is pounding.
What he hears is definitely Mulder. The agent is in pain, but this isn’t what makes Isaac’s heart race. What the boy doesn’t tell Scully is the fear her partner feels at this moment; fear of some undefinable, unexplainable thing, fear unknowingly passed to Isaac, planting a cold seed of unease in the boy’s gut.
He pulls on a sweatshirt, following in Scully’s dutiful footsteps, wishing they didn’t have to venture deeper into the woods tonight.
“He’s close,” Isaac says, finally. “I can hear him.”
Scully nods encouragingly, sweat on her brow. Isaac went quiet after they left the camp, she was starting to get nervous.
“That’s good. Any sense of direction?”
Isaac shakes his head.
Scully considers this, then decides to risk it, the chance of finding her partner overshadowing the chance they might call attention to themselves.
“Mulder!” She waits a moment, then tries again. And again. Desperate, she scans the trees around them for a glimpse of his jacket. Maybe he’s unconscious and can’t answer…
“Mulder!” Isaac joins her, cupping his hands around his mouth, his voice carrying surprisingly well for someone so small.
“Here,” a feeble voice finally speaks up, so faint Scully wonders if her ears are playing tricks, but she sees Isaac’s eyes widen in recognition and knows he’s heard it, too. It sounds like it’s coming from their right, and she veers in that direction, straining to hear over the rustling of the foliage around her.
“Mulder! Keep talking so we can find you!”
Silence. She stops, frustrated, but calls again, “Mulder! Talk to me!”
“I’m over here,” he responds. He sounds weak, but they’re closing the distance. They find him seated on the ground behind a large boulder, resting with his back against the rock.
“Oh, thank God,” Scully kneels down, her medical training kicking in as she reaches to examine him, but Mulder brushes her off.
“I’m fine, Scully, I’m fine. Leg hurts, that’s all. I realized I was lost and sat down to rest. I knew you’d come.”
She sits back on her knees, incredulous. “‘You knew we’d come?’ Jesus, Mulder, you’re lucky we found you at all. We’re at least two miles from camp, the brush out here is so thick…you could have been anywhere!” she explodes, the pent-up anxiety of the last several hours finding an outlet at last.
“I don’t need a lecture, Scully. I’m a grown man, I can take care of myself,” he growls through gritted teeth.
She blinks at him. “Of course you are. I didn’t mean to imply…I was worried…”
“What, worried you might have made another mistake?” he snaps, dealing a swift low blow.
She swallows, making a show of brushing herself off, standing, trying not to let the hurt show on her face.
It dawns on Mulder that Isaac is standing behind her, hands shoved deep in his pockets, staring uncomfortably at the ground. It reminds him of the weeks leading up to his parents’ divorce, so many harsh words exchanged as a young Fox looked on, weary from the constant bickering. He feels a pang of guilt; the kid doesn’t need to be party to their relationship’s messy end.
Scully’s pointed stare conveys a similar message, and he offers a terse nod, suddenly contrite. We need to put this away for now.
“Scully, I found something out here I think you need to see.”
“Yeah? The only thing I want to see is the inside of my tent. Let’s go.”
He brushes her off mulishly. “It’s out that way, probably another mile, at least. I’m not leaving until you see it.”
She sighs, turning her face to the sky in frustration. Sometimes dealing with her partner is like negotiating with a defiant toddler. “Mulder, can you even walk?”
“I can if you help. It’s important, trust me.”
This gives her pause. Trust him. After all that’s changed between them, does she trust him? The answer that comes to her is undeniably “yes,” which is why she knows they won’t be heading back to camp yet.
“Help me up,” Mulder says, raising his arms above his head. She obliges, grasping him by the wrists, acting as a counterweight, pulling him to his feet. He steadies himself with one hand on her shoulder, surprised when he feels Isaac come around to his other side; the boy’s found a branch, sturdy enough to act as a makeshift crutch.
“This might help,” he mumbles, handing it to Mulder, who looks over at Scully, brow raised.
“Alright. It’s this way. Watch out, the ground is soft.”