Mulder and Scully wander into the thick brush, calling for the boy, scanning the overgrowth in the darkness.
“Isaac! Isaac, where are you?”
They stop, listening, but there’s no response.
He’ll freeze to death out here…if he doesn’t accidentally shoot himself first…
Scully concentrates on the sounds around her, swallowing her fear, the beam of her flashlight penetrating the growing darkness ahead. Mulder is on her left, still clutching the walking stick for support, calling out to him over and over.
She hears a rustling, something crashing through the brush. “Mulder—there!” She swings the flashlight toward the sound, somewhere off to her left.
“Go, Scully, I’ll catch up.” He leans down, grimacing in pain. “This goddamn knee…”
She doesn’t stop, making her way as fast as she can through thick growth. It comes again, a crashing, followed by a muffled sob. She’s closer. The flashlight beam bobs wildly as she stops, breathing hard, searching through a shadowy cluster of twisted branches and rocks…
There! She can see the faint outline of his shoulder, the blue of the boy’s jacket as he leans against a large tree.
“Isaac? Talk to me, Isaac! Are you hurt?”
“No! Get away from me!”
He’s hoarse, but at least he’s no longer running. She can hear Mulder in the distance behind her.
She approaches slowly, cautious, scanning for the gun. Not that he needs it, she thinks. He could take either of us if he wanted to…
Suddenly it occurs to her how odd it is that he’s chosen this primitive weapon, given the power he wields.
Fear grips her. “Isaac? Please, talk to me…are you OK?”
“You lied to me!” the boy rages, breathing hard. “You…you…” he hiccups.
“You’re right,” she says, moving slowly around the distraught boy in a wide arc, not wanting to startle him. “We should have told you the truth from the beginning.” She swallows with difficulty, her mouth full of cotton. She can almost see his face, and his head snaps around to look at her, eyes wide and terrified.
She puts her hands up instinctively, even though he must know she’s unarmed. Her eyes dart down to find the gun dangling from his right hand, watches his grip on the butt tighten as she comes into view.
“Please, Isaac. I…we’ll tell you anything you want to know. Please, put down the gun.”
“I can’t trust you!” The words come out raw, all sharp edges.
“I know. I know, and that’s my fault,” she whispers. She stops, standing less than ten feet away from the boy. From the corner of her eye she sees Mulder approaching with the same careful, calculated steps. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, Isaac, but I know I have…I don’t know what else to say, but I’m sorry.”
“It’s not…it’s not true,” he whispers. “You’re not my…I wasn’t…”
Scully swallows. “It’s true. I wish…I wish this were easier, I do.”
“My mom wouldn’t lie to me! She never lied! Not like you! She’s…she…” but he’s sobbing, unable to continue.
Scully feels her heart crack. “She didn’t know how to tell you. She didn’t mean to hurt you, she only wanted you to feel…loved. To give you a home. Your parents adopted you when you were ten months old.”
“I don’t believe you!” The boy brings the gun upward, hands shaking; the barrel wavers back and forth, it’s obvious he doesn’t know how to handle it…which only makes this more dangerous.
Mulder limps out of the trees to stand beside Scully, breathing hard with the effort, keeping his focus on Isaac. “It’s true, Isaac. I have proof, I can show you…if you’ll put the gun down.”
Isaac considers this, still trembling, eyes shifting rapidly back and forth between the two agents.
Scully glances over at her partner, confused. Proof?
“I’m going to get my wallet. Nothing funny, just need to show you something…OK?” Mulder says, in the same even cadence she remembers from hostage negotiations, slowly raising his hands in the air, maintaining eye contact. He turns to the side so Isaac can see, and reaches into his back pocket. Scully feels herself grow faint, realizes she’s been holding her breath; it escapes from her lips in a nervous rush.
Mulder flips open the faded leather wallet, digging into the recesses past old receipts and a crumpled five dollar bill that falls to the ground, until he pulls out a folded piece of paper Scully doesn’t recognize. It crinkles as he opens it, aged and torn along the creases.
“I saved this, Isaac…I’ve kept it for years,” he says, unsteady. “I want you to see it.”
He holds it out to the boy. Scully cranes her neck, but she can’t see Mulder’s offering, can’t imagine what it might be.
What the hell is he doing?
Isaac sets his jaw, defiant, but uncertain. “I’ll look…but I’m not letting go of the gun.”
Mulder nods, eyes downcast, still holding out the ragged paper. Isaac steps forward carefully, enough to reach for the paper before snatching it out of Mulder’s grasp and retreating back against the tree, unfolding the scrap with tentative, shaking fingers.
They watch the boy’s face as he holds it, stares at it for several seconds.
Mulder clears his throat. “Scully sent me that picture…of you…when we were apart. Do you recognize it?”
She looks at Mulder, lips parting in surprise as she catches a glimpse of the photo from a distance. She remembers sending Mulder a handful of pictures of William via email during their forced separation, but she had no idea he’d kept one.
It’s a tattered copy of the one she saw in the boy’s home, the framed photo on the hearth.
She knew Mulder grieved for their son in his own way, but he’d been so stoic; this unexpected sentimentality is both bewildering and touching. She stares at her partner in shock.
Isaac looks at the photo, then at Mulder, then back at the photo. “You…you could have gotten this anywhere…it doesn’t prove anything…” but they can tell by his expression that his determination is wavering.
We’re getting through, she realizes, faint hope filling her chest.
“Your birthday was March 13th, 11:07 p.m.” Scully hears herself speak, but her voice sounds distant. “You weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces. You had…you had light brown hair, but it got darker. Your eyes were gray, but they changed when you were six months old…now they’re blue,” she swallows, “like mine.”
She can picture him vividly, remembering how he looked when he was first born, the glow of the lanterns in the abandoned cabin filling the room with warm light, the sweat dripping from her face, the pain already fading to a haze as Agent Reyes places the sweet, squalling bundle in her arms.
She wills him to read her mind at this moment, to see for himself the image she sees, to feel what she feels, fear and joy tightly entwined, emotion so powerful she can’t describe it in words.
You were mine, once.
He’s staring at her. “You could have…I mean, you have a file on me, any of that information could be there already…” he whispers, but the gun has dropped back to his side, his eyes are glistening.
“Your name was William,” she continues. “William Scully. You were named after your grandfather. Both grandfathers, actually,” she whispers, her throat raw. She feels Mulder reach out, touching her shoulder in support.
There’s a weighty pause, but the gun remains clutched in the boy’s hand. In the other he holds the photo, the paper crumpled into a sweaty palm, proof of his past.
“Isaac,” says Mulder. “It’s not worth this. We’ll tell you whatever you want to know. We’ll take you home, if that’s what you want. No more secrets. Just…put it on the ground.”
He’s not going to do it, it’s too much, he won’t do it. Scully’s mind races, but nothing useful surfaces; only this frantic, powerless panic. A panic of waiting.
His knuckles go white as his hand tightens around the weapon, relaxes, and tightens again; a nervous spasm. Part of him is frightened, cornered, and wants to run. The other part, the part that knows he is different, and has always been different, is curious.
He can hear them in his mind; the partners don’t realize it, but they’re thinking the same thing.
Please let it go. Let it go.
So he does.
Scully feels her knees go weak with relief as Isaac bends down, rests the gun gingerly on the damp earth, and takes a shaky step back. There are tears shining on his cheeks but his voice is strong. “I…I want to know everything. From the beginning.”
“Everything,” she agrees without hesitation. “We’ll go back, we’ll make a fire. We’ll talk. Everything. OK?”
Isaac doesn’t respond, just walks away, plodding toward camp with all the enthusiasm of a prisoner facing execution. Scully watches this with a mixture of relief and uncertainty, hoping that what they offer will bring him peace and not anguish.
“You did good,” Mulder says under his breath, squeezing her shoulder. His face reveals similar worries, though, and his attempt to reassure her falls flat.
She looks to where Isaac is already making his way back. “Did I? God, I hope so,” she whispers. She moves over to the tree where the boy stood only moments before, threatening his very life, and picks up the gun with a shaking hand.
“He’ll come around. The truth can be hard to swallow…and we just handed him a horse pill.”
She purses her lips but doesn’t reply, only holds out her arm, letting Mulder lean against her as they make their way through the darkness, following Isaac’s lead.