Disclaimer: I do not own Mulder, Scully, William, or Skinner, although I truly wish I did. I am not making money on this endeavor, although I truly wish I were.
Reviews are welcome.
The dark-haired boy was quite tall and long-limbed for his age. It seemed like it would take years for him to fill out, if he ever did. Despite this lankiness, he looked unexpectedly coordinated as he ran, a product of six years of martial arts training. He ignored the sting of the green-gold Wyoming prairie grass whipping around his knees below the ragged edges of his long jean cut-offs, and fell into a sustainable rhythm as the swishing sound filled his ears. The rhythm lulled his senses, and he reached a sort of trance state as he ran, a peaceful passivity settling on his features. He gained a slight rise, barely noticeable under the waving stalks, and stopped dead. His sudden and complete stillness was as remarkable as his coordination, simply unnatural in an eleven-year-old boy. He stood frozen like an antelope and listened, a faint frown etching a tiny line vertically on the sun-browned skin between his finely sketched brows. The sun stained the sky red and orange, and sank lower, gilding the waving grass in the fields and emphasizing the golden brown of his bare shoulders. He didn't even know what he listened for, but he went to the same spot every day, as if he might hear something new. Of course, he didn't really believe that, once he returned to his house each day. When he was at his house, at school, in town, anywhere but here, he thought the lure was simply the promise of going somewhere beyond this, beyond the placid modesty of rural Wyoming. He dreamed big, he knew, but dreams were … just dreams. And dreams were insubstantial, without real form. But, there was something about this field that made him think that it was possible to accomplish those big dreams, something he didn't feel anywhere else. His lids drifted over his eyes and blocked out the colors, although he could still perceive the faintest echo of the sunset through his closed eyes, and he turned his face to the brightest spot to let the dying sun's warmth wash his face.
The boy turned his head imperceptibly towards the thin sound carried to him on the ever-present wind of the prairie. He suddenly had the air of someone trying to listen to more than one conversation at once; the distraction was unwelcome. His breath huffed out as his tension melted into defeat, and his shoulders drooped a bit below their normal proud station.
Will sighed and turned fully towards the faint sound of his mother's distant voice, yelling out, "Coming, Mom!" He felt his words being whipped unceremoniously away by the wind in the wrong direction, and he knew that his mother couldn't possibly have heard him, so he waved instead. He started reluctantly back towards the sprawling white farm house, temporarily tinted a peachy red by the setting sun. The scrub brush on the hill behind the house was so dark that the house appeared to glow in contrast. Looking back over his bare shoulder towards the rise, he acknowledged uncomfortably that he would rather have stayed there, than to face his mother right now. His reluctance to return to the sprawling house was expressed in the lethargy of his footsteps. As lithe and energetic as his run had been towards the rise, his walk back was just as sluggish. He dragged his sensitive long fingers through the waving grass, feeling the heavy crispness almost as a pain, both physical and mental. Will felt depressed, drawn, and listless. It was summer, for crying out loud! Why did he feel this way? He took a last lingering look at the rise behind him and plodded on, staring at his feet.
At the sharp sound of a slamming door, he looked up from the mesmerizing sight of his large feet thumping along between the grass stalks. The stock manager, Jack, was coming out of the large brown equipment barn beside the house. A huge, gruff man, Jack had been hired after Will's father had died three years ago, and he took care of most of the stock-related chores for Will's mother. He also hired the temporary labor, managed them, and generally turned a profit for Gwen Van de Kamp. He was a decent guy, but Will couldn't get close to the brusque rancher. He missed his father's easy camaraderie, and felt distant and disconnected from everyone lately, even his mother. He knew that his reticence hurt his mother; he could see it in her expressive brown eyes, but he couldn't pull himself out of it. He went through the motions of chores and daily routines without sensing that he was part of any of it. He felt a strange sense of being meant for something else entirely, but of being trapped, like he'd missed the last transport ship off of a dying planet. The only thing he seemed to connect with was his martial arts training, and he trained as if his life depended on it. He spent part of every day at the dojo, and practiced at home as well. He felt tranquil as he went through his patterns like a kind of meditation. His sensei seemed to understand that he was unusually driven, even if he did not understand the reasons for it. Will himself didn't even understand what drove him.
Will slowed further and watched Jack make his way to the house, where he usually ate with Will and Gwen when there weren't any ranch hands in the bunk house. Will had a feeling that Jack knew something about him that he himself didn't know, and this bothered him. Maybe he would bug him about it after dinner again. Every time he tried to get the man to admit it, he clammed up. Of course, with Jack, the difference between being clammed up and not was barely discernible. Jack started up the back stairs, and Will saw his petite mother come out the door in welcome. She seemed to be moving a bit slower, lately, as if his father had taken some of her life force with him. Dad had died so suddenly, and his mother was all that Will had, now. It scared him that a link like that could be so precarious, there one day, gone the next. Will watched the pair talking, although he couldn't hear their words.
On the porch, Will's mother turned to look at her manager, and asked him, "What's wrong with Will, Jack? He seems … I don't know … distant, off somehow. What's going on with him?" Her light brown eyes drilled into the gray ones of the taciturn farmer standing before her, as if she thought she could make him solve the mystery, simply through force of will.
"Dunno, Gwen." Jack turned his gaze to the approaching boy. "Maybe he's just starting to grow up. Boys change."
"No … it's something else." Gwen Van de Kamp watched her son slowly make his way through the fields to the house. She turned to go back into the house as the gnats started clouding over her head in the slowly cooling air. She stopped without looking back at her friend. "Do you think he suspects?"
"That he's adopted? Maybe. You gonna tell him?"
"I … I don't know. I can't decide. Ray wanted to, when the time was right." She fidgeted with her apron. "But … what if I lose him? What if …"
"Don't borrow trouble, Gwen. It comes for you soon enough." Jack laid a heavy hand on his friend's shoulder and gently squeezed.
Gwen glanced over her shoulder briefly at the big man, quickly clasped and released Jack's hand, acknowledging the comfort intended in the touch, and moved into the kitchen. Jack stood outside, waiting for Will. Eventually, Will made it to the bottom of the stairs. He came out of his stupor and glanced up, surprised to see Jack still outside.
"Hey, Jack." Will tossed a stubborn hank of hair back off of his brow in annoyance. It was a silky chestnut color that tended to gain a reddish tint in the sun, and it made him look like a rich prep school dropout, no matter how it was cut.
"Will." Jack nodded, and then tipped his head down so that the brim of his cap obscured his features.
"There's a lot of bugs tonight," Will commented. "We need a new bug bulb."
"Uh-huh. Listen, son." He glanced up uneasily at Will. "Your mother is worried about you."
Will nodded, not speaking.
"Something going on?" Jack didn't beat around the bush.
The boy turned his troubled gaze on the man. "Jack? You know something about me that I don't know. What is it?"
Damn, Jack thought. Will's gaze was a little too perceptive, and the clear blue-green color shocked Jack every time he met the boy's eyes. It was too adult, too intense, too discerning for his years. He had seen just about every expression that the boy could produce, and every one of them cut at him. "You'll have to have that conversation with your mom."
"Yeah. It'll upset her, though." Thankfully, the kid dropped his gaze, releasing Jack from its power. Jack looked thoughtfully at the boy. What was up with this kid? Did he seem so much older because he was raised as an only child? Because he was so intelligent? Or was something in his unknown heritage coming to light? "Let's go eat." He turned and went into the house, holding the screen for the boy behind him.
The two of them entered the kitchen, a warmly decorated, homey place that Will felt completely comfortable in, despite his earlier reluctance to return to the house. He circled the table to the sink, where he picked up a heavy glass tumbler from the dish drain. He downed a glass of cold well water in one breath. Refilling the glass, Will took it with him to the heavy oak table that his father had built with his help in the barn. The lingering pink from the sunset streamed through the window over the sink and made the entire room glow with its warm color. Glancing at his mother, he saw that the oddly enhanced light suited her and made her seem less tired and less drawn.
Gwen had dinner on the table, and Will suddenly felt famished. He looked over the dishes and saw mashed potatoes and green beans from last year's garden, and a roast that set his mouth watering. He realized that he had hardly eaten that day, and he had worked very hard. He had been in the barn at daybreak, doing his assigned chores, and went straight to the dojo from there. He reached for the biscuits, and felt his mother slap at his hands. "Your turn," she reminded him.
Will said the familiar words of the grace automatically and without thinking about them, and waited for the small chorus of amens before reaching for the bread again. His religious training was a matter of some discussion between him and his mother, not always congenial. He put up with it most of the time, so as not to distress her, but he had a hard time believing in something so contrived. Still, he knew it comforted his mother to believe that someone was watching over them, so he didn't usually make a big deal out of it. But the very idea of someone watching made Will uncomfortable, as if he had no control over his own destiny. The ensuing sounds of dishes clinking and the concentrated effort of eating kept him from having to make conversation with the two adults.
Gwen looked from under her lashes at this child of her heart, wondering what was troubling him. He should be carefree; it was summertime, and he had nothing pressing on him. Gwen had worried from the beginning that something was wrong with the child. But he was perfectly healthy, in fact, he was never even sick. Who would give up such a beautiful and healthy baby? And he was beautiful. He grew more so, as he grew older. As a baby, he had come to the Van de Kamps with flaxen hair, and those startling long-lashed eyes, taking in everything around him. His hair turned a gleaming shade of copper-penny red as a toddler, and had steadily darkened to the rich chestnut color he sported now. He would become a very handsome man, Gwen thought. What had his birth parents been like? Had they been handsome people? They had to have been, to create such a child.
Gwen herself was rather nondescript, a short, solid woman with graying brown hair, light brown eyes, and regular features. Ray had not been very tall either, but was well-muscled, honed from the hard physical labor of ranching. He had had thinning light brown hair and eyes. Neither had been handsome or striking. The goodness in Ray's heart, his non-threatening friendliness, and his uncompromising work ethic had been enough to snag her attention, and Ray had loved her for her gentle kindness, her calm and trusting heart, and the caring way she looked at him. The two of them had used these qualities to instill in their adopted son the same kind of compassion, kindness and love of work that they embraced. But still, there was something else in Will, something that longed to fly free. Gwen had seen his increased restlessness lately, his need to be somewhere else. It was probably his frightening intelligence. She saw that he perceived things she had no hope of understanding, with a natural and absolute ease, and his facility with language left her speechless. His vocabulary stumped her and his memory was effortless, which meant that he hardly had to put any energy into his school work. He alleviated his boredom with the regular classroom routine by reading anything and everything voraciously, after he had finished his prescribed work. He was never a problem at school, but he started bringing his own reading material in the third grade, when he outgrew the topics in the elementary school library. He read with equal interest topics such as astrophysics, space science, robotics, engineering, medical science, paranormal psychology, aeronautics, and mechanics. He seemed to steer clear of fiction, unless it was science fiction, preferring to read about how things worked, both mechanical and bio-mechanical. And he loved professional medical journals, the kind that documented newly tested drugs and surgical techniques.
Beyond his love of learning was his innate integrity. He was empathetic to the point where he almost couldn't stand other people's emotions without experiencing them as his own. He had a calm serenity that extended to people around him and the ability to soothe people with his voice and still reason. His sense of morality was likewise developed beyond his years.
God, he was only eleven! It was obvious that he was so far beyond what they had to teach him at the local school. Maybe this was simply the crux of his problems this summer. He knew what was in store for him, if he returned to that school in the fall. His teachers had been talking to her about him, since he started kindergarten, already reading at a 5th grade level and discoursing in topics clearly beyond his cohort. But she knew that in this rural area, her only options were to home-school him, or to send him away to some academy for brilliant children. The home-schooling option was appealing, if only because he would be near her. But how could she teach a child who was so plainly already beyond her abilities? And the option of sending him away in elementary school didn't bear consideration. So, she simply encouraged him to read, and his teachers did the same. He had been advanced through the grades early and was poised to start high school in the fall. But even their local high school would be child's play for Will. She had a difficult decision to make, and she had to make it soon. Perhaps it was time to let him go. Perhaps this was all she could do with her love for her son. She knew instinctively that he was somehow destined for a future she couldn't understand. Her job as his mother was to help him fly, wasn't it? She finished her meal in silence, as she surreptitiously contemplated her son.
After dinner, Gwen began to clear the table, and said, "Will, could you help me tonight?" She felt Jack cast her a knowing look, saw his nod, and accepted his "good night, Gwen," as he headed for the door. As the sound of the latch clicked loudly in the ensuing silence, Gwen set her armload of dishes on the counter, and said to Will, "I need to tell you something, Will."
Will froze, holding a handful of silverware in one hand and an almost-empty bowl of mashed potatoes in the other. He looked at her, uneasy for some reason he could not yet understand. "What is it, Mom?"
"Fifteen years ago, your father and I found out that I was pregnant." She looked at Will, whose eyebrows had drawn together in confusion.
"You … had a child?" he asked her.
"No … that baby … I miscarried." She met his eyes, accepting the compassion she saw written in them. Will felt the depth of the sadness in her eyes as if it were his own. He gave himself a moment by turning to put the silverware in the sink before sitting back in his chair and meeting her eyes again. She went on, "The doctors told me that I would never carry a baby to term. I wanted a baby so badly, and so did your father. I became so sad, that I could barely get from day to day. Your father brought up the idea of adopting a baby, and the idea seemed so perfect, that I could hardly wait to apply."
Will looked steadily at his mother. She seemed distressed about what she had to tell him. "Are you trying to tell me that I'm adopted, Mom?"
"I … yes." She looked beseechingly at him, willing him to understand. Her worries were wasted. Will stood and came to her, looking her straight in the eye, his height matching hers. She was snagged by the jeweled beauty of his eyes and his serenity momentarily became hers. He laid his hands on his mother's strong shoulders.
"Mom. I love you. I don't care if you found me in the rain barrel. You are my mother, however that came to be. Did you think I would love you less?" Will pulled his mother to him and hugged her hard. He felt the distance he had experienced momentarily lift between them. He felt her shaking against him, and pulled away. "Mom, please don't stress about this. I already knew."
"What?" Gwen looked horrified. "Who told you?"
Will flashed his mom a quick white grin, showing off the endearing imperfection of his slightly crooked front teeth. "Mom. No one told me, and I didn't know the details you just gave me, but I've read enough about genetics to know that I couldn't be yours and Dad's natural child. Look at me and tell me I have your genes! I'm as tall as you, at eleven. The tallest person on both sides of the family is Uncle Jim, and he's only 5 foot 5! By all measures, I'm on track to be over six feet tall! And look at my face! You have small even features, Dad had small features. I have full lips, these weird blue-green eyes, a cleft chin and what's up with this nose? My face is nothing like anyone else's in the family. I figured this out a couple of years ago. Don't stress! You are my mother. I'm fine with this. Do you know anything about my birth parents at all?" Gwen looked at Will fearfully, as he segued into this question without warning. "Just curious, Mom."
"Well, all I know is that they were both quite intelligent. I was told that your father was an Oxford-educated psychologist who worked as a criminal profiler for the FBI, and your mother was some kind of doctor who also worked for the FBI.
"Wow. That sounds … different. Oxford-educated… is he English? Do they still work for the FBI?"
"I don't know. I just got that little bit of extra information, when I went back to the adoption agency to get some more background. I thought I should check when it turned out that you were so gifted. But it was a closed adoption, so that was all I could find out."
Will rolled his eyes. "Well, sounds like I come by my brains honestly enough. I was beginning to think I was some kind of mad scientist's genetic experiment. But, really Mom, anyone can probably come by brains and my kind of charming good looks by a genetic fluke, as well. What I got from you and Dad, that was more difficult. It took work. That's what matters." His uneven toothy grin made another appearance.
"What do you think you got from us, Will?" Gwen asked carefully, looking at him in apprehension.
"You taught me to be compassionate, kind, fair, to work hard, to stand up for the underdog, and to give everyone a fair chance. Dad taught me to give a girl a hug if she's upset, to look a person in the eye when you talk to him, to shake hands firmly, to pay attention to the truth, to never give up, and to make sure you choose something to stand for. I could list a lot more stuff, but you're already crying, so I'll stop. I love you, Mom, and it isn't going to change. Better get used to having to feed my rapacious teenage appetite. I think it's gonna start early." He paused thoughtfully. "You know, if I thought you were at all full of guile, I would suspect that you timed this announcement to get out of having to feed me as a teenager." He shot her his patented puppy-dog-eyed expression that always made her laugh, the intensity of his gaze muted by the silly look. Gwen smiled at him through her tears. This was her Will, his dry sense of humor was back, and he had momentarily lost the distance that had plagued the first two weeks of summer break.
"I have something else to talk to you about, too, Will. It's something I just this minute made my mind up about. I've been struggling with it for months, and I think I've made the right decision."
Will scowled. This sounded more dire than the first part of the conversation. "What is it, Mom? You and Dad are aliens, right?"
"Good guess, but not quite." He could always make her smile, even when she was stressed. "Do you remember last fall, when you did all of that testing to get into high school early?" She waited for his nod. "Well, I took that stuff and sent it off to several academies for exceptional students. Unsurprisingly, you were accepted at every one. I wasn't sure I could let you leave me. But it's time. Do you understand?" The tears were gathering in her eyes, and her voice broke, but she looked into the sea green of his eyes and knew that she had made the right decision.
"Mom?" Will felt tears sting his own eyes, forming at the thought of what this had cost her, and blinked them rapidly away. "Are you sure? I'm okay with staying here, you know."
"Will, you obviously have some destiny beyond what lies in store for you here. It's been clear since you came here. It's like we were only protecting you for a short time, letting you get old enough to go out and chase it down. It's time for you to fly." Her back was straight, and her shoulders were squared against the hurt to come from allowing him to go. Her voice had steadied. She believed her words with her whole heart. It was the only thing that could allow her to let him go.
"Where are these schools?" Maybe, he thought, they were close enough to visit a lot. She would be so lonely without him. She seemed so sure that it was right, but he wasn't there yet.
"The closest is in Seattle, and it also seems to be the best. It's called the Jackson Calhoun Science and Medical Magnet. It has a national reputation, and also has a program for younger students, where they can board with local families instead of in the dorms with the older kids. I checked into it pretty extensively …" She trailed off and sat down at the table again, looking out the window. Incongruously, she noticed that it had gotten completely dark outside. She watched her son, who had begun to pace back and forth in front of the window, muttering to himself.
"Take some time to think about it, Will. Don't decide right now. We'll talk about it again. Go help Jack." She stood and went to the sink to work on the dishes, and waited for him to leave.
The snick of the latch let her know he had gone, and she let the tears finally fall unchecked. She had had such a short time with this extraordinary person, her son. But he had to go. She knew that, and it wasn't forever. She couldn't be selfish. She wouldn't let herself be selfish; she was his mother.