Chapter 8: Never Enough

     VAN DE KAMP RESIDENCE

     LANDER, WYOMING

     7:47 P.M.

     They arrive at the boy’s house at dusk, headlights off, fumbling with sandwiches and steaming cups of black coffee in the fading light. It’s not until the food is gone that the silence grows too heavy to comfortably ignore.

     Mulder is the first to break it. “You know…I was thinking. About William. Do you remember those first few days, after he was born…before I left?”

     “Mmhmm.” It’s not something she could forget, their brief time together as a family. She sips her coffee and welcomes the way it scalds her tongue, her throat.

     “I remember…one of those nights, he woke up crying, and I took him into the other room so you could rest. He’d kept you up—”

     “Colic. He didn’t sleep for weeks.” She smiles forlornly; memories of her first weeks with William are hazy shadows tinged with fatigue and, in the absence of her partner, longing.

     “Yeah. He screamed and screamed,” Mulder continues. “I patted his back, walked around…tried to change him, but I’m pretty sure I put the diaper on backwards.”

     She chuckles softly. “I wondered about that.”

     He returns her smile, although the effect is somber rather than cheerful. “I was clueless, Scully. No, actually…I was terrified.” He swallows. “For all my training, all the cases we worked, profiling some of the most horrific criminal minds…but the thing that scares ‘Spooky’ Fox Mulder is a newborn baby with an upset stomach.”

     Scully blinks, absorbing this sudden shift in their conversation. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

     He shrugs, picking at the rim of his empty styrofoam cup. “You had enough on your mind.”

     “But we’ve had years. All this time…?”

     The cup falls, scattering white flakes of styrofoam across his lap. He brings his fist down on his knee. “What do you want me to say?” he asks her hollowly. “That loving our son scared me? That part of me was relieved to run because I knew the further I got, the better off he’d be? Face it, I’d have made a terrible father, Scully.” He flinches slightly at his own words, the truth hard on his tongue. “I was a terrible father. I left him. I left you.”

     “You didn’t have a choice.”

     “Did I?” His voice softens, resigned, biting his lip the way he does when he’s troubled.

     She stares off into the distance, solemn, sharing his fatigue. “I guess we’ll never know.”

     They’re quiet again. Mulder leans back in the uncomfortable seat, stretching his long legs, knees bumping against the dash. Scully hears the repetitive crackling of sunflower seeds.

     “Just like old times, Scully. You, me, deep discussion and bad coffee, crammed into a compact. Remind me why we didn’t get the deluxe model?”

     She rolls her eyes. “Mulder, when you’re paying the bills, you can get whatever car you want.”

     “Is that what this is about? Money?”

     It takes her moment to realize he’s not talking about the rental car.

     “I showed you mine,” he says, nudging her arm gently with his own. “Now you show me yours. No more dodging the question–what’s up?”

     She purses her lips, closes her eyes. “It’s not about money, Mulder. It’s…”

     How can she explain? She’s followed him for 20 years, case after case, hunch after hunch, wild theory after wild theory. She’s lost much in his quest for the truth—her health, her daughter, her family, her fertility, her son.

     Looking back, she wonders if she’s living in the wake of his life, rather than living her own.

     “Still with me, Scully?”

     She looks at him, studying his face—so familiar, so safe.

     “Mulder,” she begins, measuring her words. “I love you. But don’t you feel like we’re…different? Since we left the FBI, we’ve settled. I suppose that’s normal, but it’s also…” she struggles to find the right words, to make him understand. “It feels wrong,” she finishes.

     He frowns at his lap, picking at a crease in his jeans. “I’m not following.”

     “I mean, are you really happy, Mulder? Hiding out in your office all day with your paper clippings and your internet research and…and your porn collection? Is this how you want to spend the rest of your life?” She realizes she’s clenching her jaw, there’s anger welling in her throat.

     He winces. “Ouch, Scully, cheap shot.”

     “You’re right,” she sighs, frustrated, siting back in the seat. “You’re right, I’m sorry.”

     “To answer your question…yeah, I’m happy enough.”

     “‘Happy enough’? Is that where you want to leave it?”

     “You were the one who wanted the ‘darkness’ to go away. Remember?” He shakes his head in disbelief. “Honestly, it sounds like you’re the one who’s not happy.”

     She swallows, searching for the right words. “I…think you may be right.”

     There’s a long pause as she tries to gather her thoughts, to express everything she’s held back. He’s looking at her with concern, waiting for her to explain.

     He waited for years, she reminds herself. He’s always waited, Dana. You’ve built a life together. Is it worth this?

     When she finally continues, her voice is thick. “I don’t know who I am anymore, Mulder. I’m tired of being the guardian of the sick, when I’m not strong enough to fight for myself. The hospital administration, the bureaucracy, it’s worse than the FBI. And every loss…it’s like I’ve lost him all over again.”

     “I don’t understand. People live because of you, Dana. Don’t forget that. You’re a good doctor, those glorified penguins are lucky to have you. And I fail to see what this has to do with my happiness…or my porn collection,” he says, lips cocked in a sly smile, but she doesn’t acknowledge his levity.

     Her voice goes hollow, she ducks her head. “I lost a patient this week, Mulder. A little girl. She was only four. I can’t…I can’t do it anymore.”

     “Then don’t,” he says softly. “Hand in your resignation, walk away. We’ll figure it out. You’ve given enough—”

     She turns to him, willing him to understand. “It’s never enough. It will never be enough, because it’s not my work that’s the problem. It’s…I feel lost, Mulder. My life’s accomplishment is your search for truth, but where’s my truth? I don’t know who I am without you…and I hate myself for it.” She’s surprised at the venom that comes with this admission. He recoils, stung, but the words continue to pour out of her in an uncontrollable flood.

     “I think…maybe we both need some time to figure out what it is we want, whether that’s together…or apart.” She swallows hard, head down, unable to meet his gaze.

     The reality of what she’s said sinks in, the incredulity in his voice is heartbreaking. “Are you…leaving?”

     “No…no, not exactly, I just…” She reaches for him, but he turns away, hurt.

     “So…what, you had a bad week, and that’s grounds to call this off? After everything we’ve been through, just like that, we’re done?”

     “You’re making it sound a lot simpler than it—”

     “It sounds simple enough to me,” he frowns. “You want out? Fine. But none of this ‘maybe we will, maybe we won’t’ crap. Tell me what you want…and that’s it.”

     “Fox…don’t make me do this.”

     The unexpected use of his first name registers like a slap to the face. He stares at her as if he doesn’t recognize her, as though she were a stranger.

     It takes a moment for the shadow to register in her peripheral vision. A flicker of light draws her attention to a point just behind Mulder’s ear. There’s a faint glow in the upstairs window, probably a nightlight of some kind, but…no, there it is again, a shadow.

     “Mulder…someone’s in the house,” her mouth goes dry as the shadow morphs, changing into that of a broad-shouldered man.

     “What?”

     “Someone’s in the house—there’s a man—in the window.” She fumbles for the door, not taking her eyes off the house.

     Exasperated, he turns to look; she’s already outside, crossing the lawn toward the front door.

     “Scully!” he hisses, trying to get her attention, to call her back, but as he looks up at the window again, he sees the figure for himself, a chill slipping rapidly up his spine.

     Too big to be a boy, or a woman. Another attack…

     He follows Scully’s path across the lawn to where she’s standing on the porch, wide-eyed, waiting for back-up.

     What the hell are we going to do? We don’t have a weapon between us. He scans the rundown deck, finds a baseball bat leaning against the side of the house. It’ll do.

     Before they can decide how to proceed, there’s a scream, followed by a brilliant flash of light from the windows above. Scully tries the front door.

     Shit, locked.

     Acting on instinct, Mulder slams his shoulder into the door, splintering the frame. They enter the small, dark kitchen just as a scuffle begins upstairs. Isaac’s mother is shouting, but there’s no sound from Isaac himself.

     Where is he? Scully looks around, trying to get her bearings in the dim light. Mulder gestures toward the doorway across the room, indicating for her to follow.

     They creep through the house, up the stairs. They can hear Mrs. Van de Kamp now, keening, “Oh, no. Oh oh God,” but still no audible sign of the boy. The brief commotion has settled, the house is silent, save for the woman’s dark moans.

     Panic rises like bile in Scully’s throat, but she forces it back, focusing on the next step, and the next, until they reach the second floor.

     Mulder nods toward the end of the hall, toward the sound of the boy’s mother. They approach carefully, listening for any sign of the intruder, any indication Isaac is OK. 

     Mrs. Van de Kamp is standing in a bedroom with her back to the door. Mulder enters first, bat at the ready, but his second step causes the old wood floor to groan in protest, and the woman wheels on him, panicked.

     “Oh gahhAHHHHHH,” her moan becomes a frightened screech, but Mulder immediately shakes his head, bringing a finger to his lips in silent command. Be quiet. His eyes scan the room, looking for the boy…there. He’s curled on the floor in the corner, head on his knees.

     “It’s clear, Scully. I’ll check the floor.”

     She brushes past him, her voice tight with fear. “Isaac? Are you—”

     “I’m fine,” he mumbles, but his voice has the hollow quality of someone who isn’t fully present.

     He’s in shock.

     “What happ—” but then she sees it, the body. A dark hand lying on the floor, on the other side of the boy’s bed. It doesn’t move…but that doesn’t mean anything, she thinks, still on edge.

     “Mulder!” Her cry of alarm brings him running back to the room. “Think we’ve found our guy.” Her fingers reach down to the man’s neck, fleshy and cold, searching for a pulse.

     “Yeah…he’s gone.”

     The boy’s mother emits a terrified squeak, but Scully ignores her, moving around the bed to kneel next to Isaac, still curled in the corner, trembling. 

     “He OK?” Mulder asks.

     Scully nods, resting her hand lightly on the boy’s back, brimming with a fierce, protective intensity she normally reserves for her patients, and looks up at his mother. “Hand me that blanket. He’s in shock.”

     The woman does as she’s told, grabbing a blue afghan from the bed and tossing it toward Scully, who wraps the boy. She looks over her shoulder at Mulder, wondering what to do next, but his bewildered expression tells her he is as lost as she.

     “What…what did you do to my son?” All her former bravado has disappeared, replaced with timidity and fear.

     “Let’s get out of here,” Mulder says, ignoring her, taking a step back from the man on the floor. “I don’t think we want to stick around for the grand finale.”

     Already there’s the faint odor of burning flesh, a distinctly sour-sharp chemical tang to the air. The floor around the body has turned black at the edges, dissolving the white painted wood, tendrils of smoke drifting upward. The sizzling sound is back. Soon there will be a man-shaped hole in the floor.

     Like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, Mulder thinks, but not funny. Not funny at all.

     Scully leads Mrs. Van de Kamp, still confused and stammering, out to the hall, while Mulder picks up Isaac. The boy doesn’t protest, doesn’t speak at all, just lays unnaturally still in Mulder’s arms. He’s warm, slender, surprisingly light.

     They move downstairs to the living room, Isaac curled into the couch, his mother perched next to him on the edge of the seat like a pale gargoyle. There’s a fireplace, a stone hearth lined with framed family photos, and Scully scans them absently, realizing this may be as close as she gets to seeing the boy’s childhood…when her eyes fall on one frame, a photo she recognizes as being taken by her, shortly before William was adopted. It must have been sent to the Van de Kamps along with the paperwork.

     She’d taken it when he was sleeping, pudgy fists raised above his head, long brown lashes closed—the picture of peaceful slumber, oblivious to the great changes that await him.

     She has to force herself to look away when Mrs. Van de Kamp finally speaks.

     “What…what happened? What did you do to my boy?”

     “You’ll have to tell us,” Mulder says, neutral, looking at the woman intently. “What did you see?”

     “I…I was sleeping, I heard a noise…,” she begins, rubbing the boy’s back in slow, soothing circles. “Then Isaac was yelling for me, I ran to his room, saw that…that man…” she’s dazed, her words grow faint.

     “What did he look like?” Scully prompts.

     “He…it was dark…but at first…” the woman hesitates, unsure how to describe what she’s seen, “…he looked like he was cut out from the space around him.” She says. “Like he was…empty. Then the light. He flew, flew across the room, like he’d been thrown.”

     The woman lifts her gaze to Scully’s, staring blankly, then looks back to her son. “Isaac…he was just sitting there. He was so still…” Her brow furrows. “I thought he was…,” she can’t finish the thought, but goes quiet, still rubbing the boy’s back.

     Scully and Mulder exchange a look, an indication they both know what the other is thinking without having to say it aloud. One attack could be brushed off as a random coincidence…but they both know this is no coincidence. They’ve known it all along.

     “I’ll get him some water,” Scully murmurs, leaving the woman to her thoughts as Mulder gestures for her to join him in the kitchen. She finds him standing against the counter, arms folded.

     “Everything suggests the boy used his power to defend himself,” he says in a low voice.

     “I’d say you’re probably right about that.” She opens a cupboard, searching for a glass, one eye trained on the living room door.

     “I don’t think he can control it. And given his current state, I don’t think he can withstand another attack…not soon, anyway.” He nods toward the living room, where Mrs. Van de Kamp is holding her son on the couch. “He’s damn near comatose.”

     There’s a pause as Scully fills the glass at the sink. “We can’t stay here,” he continues. “Whoever this is, they’re not going to stop until they get to the kid. They’ll come back. They’ll be stronger next time, prepared. We need to get Isaac and his mom somewhere protected, somewhere remote.”

     She turns to face him, arches one perfect brow. “We can’t get much more remote than this.”

     Mulder snorts in bitter agreement. “Sure picked a hell of a place for a romantic retreat, Scully.” 

     Ahh. There it is.

     She’d nearly forgotten their earlier conversation, but obviously he hasn’t.

     He ignores her pained expression, pulling his phone from his pocket. “I’ll call Skinner. He can set them up at a temporary safe house.”

     “Skinner told us to drop it, Mulder; what makes you think he’ll help?”

     “He may be a hard-ass, but the guy has a soft spot for me.” A hollow smile turns up the corners of his mouth. “Besides, I don’t think he’ll let the kid suffer. Especially when I tell him who it is.”

     She considers this, skeptical. “Skinner’s too close to the top, they’ll be watching him.”

     “We have to take that chance, Scully. I don’t see any other choice—do you?” His eyes are a challenge, cloudy and dark, looking for a fight.

     She doesn’t. She turns back to the living room, where their new charges have yet to move from the couch. The boy’s mother takes the glass of water without comment.

     “Mrs. Van de Kamp, we’re going to take you and Isaac to a safe house.”

     The woman blinks, shock creeping across her face. “I don’t understand. You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”

     They can hear Mulder on the phone in the kitchen, speaking quietly, making arrangements. Scully continues, “As I told you, we used to work for the FBI. We investigated strange cases, unusual happenings…events like what happened tonight. We had a feeling yesterday’s attack was not an isolated event, so we were watching your house for suspicious activity. I saw what looked like a man in the window, heard a struggle…that’s why we’re here,” she finishes.

     Mrs. Van de Kamp remains mute, eyes wide and owlish in her narrow face.

     “I don’t mean to alarm you, Mrs. Van de Kamp, but your son…”

     The woman turns toward Isaac, her face softening with affection. “I’ve always known he was different. I told him, ‘God’s burdens for each person are what—’”

     The boy interrupts her, speaking for the first time since the attack, his voice hoarse, but firm. “God didn’t do this to me, Mom. If there is a God, He doesn’t care about me.”

     The woman’s lips tighten to a thin line; it’s obvious to Scully that mother and son have had this discussion—this argument—many times. She fingers the small gold cross around her neck, a symbol of her own religious upbringing, but she can’t remember the last time she attended mass, or spoke with her priest. Working in a Catholic hospital has done nothing to restore her faith; if anything, it pushed her away from the church.

     Mrs. Van de Kamp turns back to Scully, expression dark and steely. She’s regained some of her composure. “What do they want from him?”

     “We don’t know,” Scully says, honestly, “but we can’t wait around to find out.”

     “But…but where would we go?”

     Mulder interjects, entering from the kitchen. “We have a contact at the FBI. He’s setting us up about 300 miles north of here, outside Lewistown, Montana.”

     “Montana? But…but I have work, Isaac has school, he can’t miss any time or he’ll…” the woman doesn’t finish. She looks around, helpless, hands twisting in her lap.

     “Right now, our main concern is getting you to safety,” Scully explains. Mrs. Van de Kamp ducks her head in silent assent. “Pack some clothes, only the essentials. We’ll take our rental, hopefully that will throw them off, buy us time.”

     Mulder leans against the hearth, arms folded, face grave.  “Skinner will have an unmarked car waiting for us at the halfway point, in Billings.” He’s talking to Scully, but doesn’t make eye contact.

     She waits for him to look at her, to give her some indication that they’re still partners in this, despite their earlier conversation, but he remains stoic, unresponsive.

     “Why should we trust you?” asks Mrs. Van de Kamp, a hint of rancor in her voice.

     “Because,” Mulder answers flatly, “you don’t have anyone else to trust.”

#

     Twenty minutes later, they’ve fled the Van de Kamps’ home, crammed into the compact with their hastily packed luggage. Scully drives while Mulder stretches out in the passenger seat and faces the window, pretending to rest, making it clear he doesn’t want to chat.

     Scully glances in the rearview; Isaac and Mrs. Van de Kamp sit in the back, the boy laid across the seat, head in his mother’s lap as she strokes his hair.

     They stick to back roads, Mulder navigating with the map spread over his knees, occasionally stirring to direct Scully to take a right or a left. The rental has GPS, but Mulder disconnected it before they left the house.

     “They could trace us.”

     Under normal circumstances she might chide him for being suspicious, but tonight she’s thankful for his paranoia.

     It’s well past midnight when they pull into the dimly lit parking lot of the Chesapeake, Montana BusiMart, where a nondescript white Ford is waiting for them, keys tucked under the driver’s seat. 

     “The plates are fake, it’s unregistered,” Mulder says. “If we get stopped…well…don’t get stopped.” He makes a point of looking at Scully, and she bites her tongue to keep from reminding him that she’s not the one in their floundering relationship with the lead foot.

     He reaches into the car and unlocks the glove compartment, revealing a gun. “There’s only one,” he glances at Scully, questioning.

     “You take it,” she says coldly. “I’d be tempted to use it.”

     She can hear the grinding of his teeth as he tucks the weapon into his belt and slams the door shut, leaving Scully to regret what’s she’s said.

     We don’t have time for this.

     She helps Isaac and Mrs. Van de Kamp throw their belongings in the Ford while Mulder drives off with the compact, intending to hide the car in the woods. They’ll pick him up about three miles outside the city center at a designated meeting point. If all goes according to plan, it will be several days before the authorities find the rental, and by then…hopefully by then we’ll actually have a plan, Scully thinks.

     She stretches, her muscles already protesting the long hours ahead. She’s exhausted, but too keyed up to sleep, unable to see their next move through the haze of fatigue. She wishes Mulder would talk to her. The thought makes her sad, so she pushes it away, turning her attention to the boy and his mother instead.

     “How is he?”

     Mrs. Van de Kamp’s face mirrors Scully’s exhaustion and worry, dark circles under troubled eyes. “He’s fine, sleeping,” she says, voice dull and expressionless. “Feels a bit warm.”

     Scully nods. “That’s normal, it’s the shock. Let me know if he has any unusual symptoms…headaches, vision problems. I’m a doctor,” she explains.

     “Well, isn’t that convenient,” the woman says, her words thick with cynicism. “Maybe you can tell me why he’s like this, since you’re such an expert, then.”

     Scully’s temper flares; she opens her mouth, ready to give the woman hell.

     I could tell you things that would turn your narrow-minded little world on its head. I could tell you about extraterrestrial viruses and population control and abductions that leave women barren and men dead. I could tell you your son is a pawn in a game we’ve been playing since well before he was born. I could tell you what he looked like the moment he left my body and took his first breath, and how it felt to have my heart ripped out when I gave him away…

     This is the thought that douses the flames of her anger, leaving her empty. The woman is scared for her child. They want the same thing. Fighting will only make it worse…and she’s not ready to reveal the nature of her biological relationship to Isaac. Not yet.

     “Unfortunately that’s not something I can answer right now,” she says, the words sounding hollow to her ears. It’s not entirely the truth, but not a lie, either.

     Mrs. Van de Kamp snorts, doesn’t respond, and Scully presses her lips together tightly in an effort to control the animosity that roils at the back of her tongue. “We should get on the road. He’ll be waiting.”

     They find him at the appointed meeting spot, an abandoned rest stop off the highway. He climbs into the passenger seat without a word, and he’s snoring before they’ve reached the first turnoff.

     “Not bad for an insomniac,” Scully mutters under her breath.

     If he hears her, he gives no indication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.