While Scully sleeps Mulder watches the shadows move. He thinks about the telescope he had as a kid. He hardly needs one now. The sky is so dark, the stars are so close.
His arm still aches from the graves he dug back in Scully’s town. She hasn’t said anything about it since they left, but she must have known them all.
After her abduction, after she came back, he’d felt like every day she’d been gone was a bridge he needed to cross. It was just a few months, but he felt those lost moments acutely. And this time they lost a year and a half.
He’ll never get those moments back, not any of them. And he knows — he does — that some part of Scully is always, has always been fundamentally unknowable, but now he can’t even pretend. Her white-knuckle grip on her Smith & Wesson, the steel in her eyes.
Mulder lies down and reaches for her, pulling her close. In sleep he knows her as well as he ever has. Her body curves against him, her fingers twine with his.
Eventually the humid air and the deep silence of the forest lure him into sleep, but what feels like just seconds later, he’s startled awake. Scully sits up shaking, bracing herself on her hands. Her eyes open, staring out into the night. He grabs her wrist. “Scully?”
“Will.” Scully breathes deep and closes her eyes again, like she’s trying to go back to wherever she was a few minutes ago. “He’s alive. He was reaching out.”
Yeah, he’s had that dream too. He tries to say it gently. “Are you sure it wasn’t a dream?”
The glare she turns on him is deadlier than any gun. “I know the difference.”
From inside Scully’s bag, something buzzes. They look at each other. What it sounds like is something impossible, a sound they both would’ve sworn they’d forgotten. It sounds like a cell phone, vibrating in the bag.
Mulder is the one who gets up to open it. It doesn’t take long to find the source; they don’t carry much. “It’s the radio,” he says, holding it up for her to see. “Just static.”
But Scully doesn’t seem relieved. She scoots back, away from him. “What’s powering it, Mulder?”
He swallows. “Oh.”
The radio buzzes and hums. It’s Scully’s hand-crank radio from back at the settlement; the dial is still set to the station Mulder was broadcasting on.
And somehow, his own voice comes out through the speaker. “This is Radio Nowhere—”
Mulder sets the radio down on the ground and steps away, like it might suddenly catch fire or spontaneously combust. His own voice keeps pouring out, things he remembers saying, days or weeks ago. When he turns to look at Scully her face is white.
And the voice on the radio changes. “Fox Mulder,” it says.
He shudders, then concentrates, trying to place the voice: the slight slurring, the way the voice hangs on the long consonants.
It says, “It’s not too late, Fox.”
Scully is quicker than he is. “Is that—”
He shakes his head, hard. It can’t be, he won’t allow it to be.
The radio says, “Do you think you can find him before we do?”
“Jesus,” Mulder exhales. There are enough horrors in the new world without the dead rising up to taunt him. “I’m hallucinating, right? This is a hallucination.“ It wouldn’t be the first time.
Scully’s lips are a thin line, grim. She doesn’t say a word.
It says, “Remember how long it took you to find your sister, Fox. Remember what was left when you did.”
They don’t crank the radio, but it runs on its own power now. They can’t turn it off, and he can’t bring himself to change the dial. The station goes quiet for hours at a time; when it broadcasts, it’s exactly the same as before. A recording, then. That doesn’t comfort him.
“What if we’re going the wrong way?” Scully asks. They’ve stopped to rest somewhere on the side of the mountain, in the shade of a particularly toxic-looking tree. They’ve barely spoken since the radio turned on hours ago. Their fear simmers in the heat.
He can’t stop thinking about Samantha. How she was taken from him so easily; how now, more than forty years later, the same men are trying to steal his son. It feels impossible. That part of his life was supposed to be over.
He is not supposed to still be so powerless.
“You’re the one with a direct line,” Mulder snaps. “Why don’t you ask him?”
Scully grits her teeth and ignores him, which is almost too bad. He feels like fighting — it has to be better than wandering through the woods with no plan.
Mulder cranes his neck back to stare up into the canopy. It’s silent, eerie, not a bird or breeze in sight. As he watches, a plume of smoke creeps up through the trees. The sight is so unfamiliar that it takes him a second to realize what it must mean.
“Scully,” he says.
Her eyes follow his. They watch the smoke dissipate. “Come on,” she says.
Walking as softly as they’re able, they make their way through the green to the source of the smoke. Next to him, Scully’s voice is barely a whisper. “There are men up here,” she says. “Up in these woods. We’d see their fires at night. People said they were killers, cannibals and worse.”
“People say a lot of things,” Mulder says. “Maybe it’s Will.” Probably not, but what other leads do they have?
After a few minutes they hear voices. Mulder puts his hand on his gun.
A baby cries.
He turns to Scully, but she’s already walking ahead of him, her footsteps getting quicker, less cautious. Mulder follows a few steps behind.
“I know them,” she says out loud, more to herself than to him.
There are a handful of people standing in a circle. Arguing, from what it sounds like. There are a couple of women Will’s age; one of them holds a baby. Mulder can’t see the source of the smoke.
One of the men facing away from them looks familiar: about Mulder’s height, young. For a split second he thinks it’s Will, but no: his hair is too light, his shoulders too broad.
The man turns around.
Through the trees they lock eyes. Mulder hears Scully’s footsteps stop, somewhere off to the side, but he doesn’t look away.
A dozen distinct emotions pass over Matt’s face before he finally settles on some toxic combination of sorrow and shame. It’s an easy expression for Mulder to read — he wore it for twenty-five years.
Matt shakes his head, just slightly.
And Mulder knows that Will is gone.