When a twelve-year-old boy goes missing in a small town with no evidence of foul play, people say he ran away. Boys will be boys.
When he leaves behind the eight-year-old sister he was babysitting, traumatized and talking about bright lights that picked her up off her feet and swearing up and down that he saved her, you'd think someone would at least suggest kidnapping.
But no one ever does.
The first year or so, Sam gets all kinds of special treatment. Her teachers let her off the hook for homework. Her parents don't ask her to do any chores. Her classmates always pick her first for teams on the playground.
She hates it.
They're all doing it because she's the kid whose big brother left and now she's all kinds of messed up, and none of them believe her when she tells them what she saw that night. Except maybe her mother. But her mother cries every time Sam tries to talk about it, so eventually she stops. She doesn't like seeing her mom cry. And now that Fox isn't around to help make things better, Sam has to do it, but she doesn't know how to take care of grownups.
There's so much she doesn't know.
She misses her brother.
I got you. Under the bed. Hide. Stay there, Sam.
Eventually the novelty wears off and people start treating her normally again. Sort of. They stop treating her extra-nice, and some of them even seem to forget why they were treating her nice in the first place, they just go back to the way things were before. But for others, there's an odd little edge now, of something like impatience -- why can't she just get over it? So he ran away. She's not the first kid whose brother ran away from his privileged home and feuding parents. Grow up, Sam.
Her dad decides to clean out Fox's things from the room he and Sam shared, which Sam is still too young to realize is very strange for a parent dealing with a runaway child. But the clothes get boxed up and given to charity; the books get taken to the library; the model planes and bits of Halloween costumes are thrown out.
Before her dad takes it all away, Sam sneaks into the pile of boxes and recaptures the game of Stratego that they were playing that night. She's not sure why. She stashes it under her bed where her parents won't see it, and it's not like she's going to invite any friends over to play. But as long as she's got that game, there's still a weird kind of hope -- that maybe one day Fox will be back and they can finish their game (and this time she'll let him win, he won't accuse her of cheating, it won't go so horribly wrong) and everything will be okay again.
She's old enough to realize that's probably not going to happen.
But she still clings to the hope that whatever force took him away will send him back.
When Sam is thirteen, her parents get divorced. Her mom gets a new house in Chilton, a house Fox has never set foot in. Her dad gets an apartment in Boston. The house in Quonochontaug is closed up. She starts going to a new school, a school where nobody knows her and nobody knows about her brother.
She tells everyone to call her Samantha.
I got you, Sam.
It's Samantha. Not Sammy. Never Sam.
She's not very popular. It's true that she's not the weird kid obsessed with her runaway brother -- at least not so far as her classmates or teachers know -- but she's still pretty weird. Too prickly, too sarcastic, too intense. Too smart. She blows off half her work, still passes near the top of each class. She eats lunch alone, reading a book and glaring at anyone who tries to talk to her. She joins the swim team and then quits; she likes swimming but the teamwork stuff isn't her thing, and it's not like the rest of them like her, anyway.
It's that year that she finds a book about alien abductions in the school library, and everything clicks into place: the bright light; the paralyzing force; the way Fox disappeared without a trace.
He was abducted by aliens. That simple.
He was abducted by aliens who were trying to take her instead.
Her mom suggests she invite her new school friends over for an end-of-year party.
Instead she bikes to the used bookstore and buys everything she can find about UFOs.
Samantha is sixteen when she goes on her first date. He's nice enough, she guesses, and kind of cute, and he asks her, which is the main thing. He actually suggests going UFO spotting, so he's probably been asking people about her. Which is either flattering or creepy.
The date itself is fine. Nothing special. They don't see any UFOs. She lets him hold her hand -- it's kind of sweaty and gross but that probably comes with the territory -- but doesn't let him kiss her, and when he drops her off at home she doesn't wait for him to walk her to the door.
Her mom asks how it went and she says, fine, and goes to her room.
She thinks if Fox were here she could tell him about it and he would give her advice, but it's been so long since she had a brother that she's no longer sure that's true. How do brothers and sisters talk to each other, again?
She graduates high school the same year, because she's kind of scary smart -- it's a Mulder thing, her dad says with a broad proud smile, and it's been so long since either of them even said Fox's name, he'd be in college now, her dad would be bragging to his friends about all the advanced courses he would be taking (wouldn't he?) -- and is accepted to almost all the schools she applied to.
She picks Stanford, because she wants to get as far away from Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the memories that follow her as she possibly can.
It turns out the memories follow her to California, too.
But at Stanford she's everybody's little sister, just young enough to provoke protective instincts, not so young that they get offended by her presence or feel like they can't talk freely around her, and she can't help it if every time a guy talks to her with that mildly patronizing you're-just-a-kid tone she imagines Fox in his place. She's spent years trying to age up her mental image of her brother to keep up with time passing, and it's probably not an accurate image anymore, but it's all she has.
It's easier with the girls.
She's never had a sister before.
Samantha finishes grad school and the FBI comes calling. Turns out being a genius with a knack for pattern analysis makes recruiting agents drool.
That or her dad put in a word with his contacts to extend a job offer.
Could be both, actually.
Her dad doesn't confess to any such thing, but she still feels a little weird when she takes the job. But screw it. Even if her last name got her in the door, she knows she's capable of being good at it. And she is. Even if she's prickly and intense and obsessive to the point of overwork. Even if her coworkers find out about her fixation on UFOs and alien abduction stories and tease her endlessly, unaware of just how deep that fixation goes. Even if it's a job full of death and pain and not being able to help enough people.
Her first year on the job she helps reunite a fourteen-year-old kid abducted by a perverted asshole with the family that was terrified they'd never see him again and, God, she is never leaving this job.
And then she finds the X-Files.
Goodbye, career advancement and sterling reputation.
Hello, answers. And questions she didn't even know she was asking.
At first it's all right with her superiors. Nobody else is handling these cases. Having an agent's name to stick on the files means the Bureau can pretend they're taking them seriously, and they seem to expect she'll get bored of never solving cases soon enough.
She solves more than they expect, even if most of her reports raise skeptical eyebrows.
She doesn't get bored.
The cases with kids are the hardest. Not just because she's projecting about Fox. Not just because she remembers how it felt to be eight years old and helpless and believed by absolutely no one. But because kids aren't prepared to defend themselves from all the shit the world is intent on throwing at them. They don't have the barriers and the protections that grownups learn to build around their identity. When bad things happen to adults, they adjust, or they strike back, or they analyze it. When bad things happen to children, their sense of self is shattered.
But the answer to that isn't to hide away and refuse to admit these cases exist.
It's not to say "he ran away".
It's to go out there and put the bad guys behind bars. Or six feet underground. Whichever.
I'm Agent Scully, your new partner?
Sorry! No one here but the FBI's most unwanted.
Samantha doesn't need a goddamn partner.
She's got a solve rate comparable to anyone in the Bureau, working on cases a hundred times less comprehensible. And she does it alone. She's fine alone.
And in any case, this Agent Scully -- the Bureau's young bright shining star, so smart, so much potential -- has clearly just been sent here to find enough evidence to shut her down. A month or so, and then goodbye X-Files, goodbye Agent Mulder, hello FSRTC or something like that, some unit that could use medical doctor and physicist Dana Scully and let her shine.
But she doesn't get a choice in it, which is the unfortunate reality of working for someone else. So she applies herself to convincing Scully that the X-Files are legitimate, that the work she is doing is work that needs to be done. She pulls out her pet project -- maybe not the smartest move but it's the one she's most passionate about, the one she's gathered the most evidence for, the one she can point at and say explain this any other way. Dozens upon dozens of abduction cases identical to Fox's.
In the other cases, the unknown force seemingly succeeded in taking away their original objective. Samantha's never found another case of one person pulling another away from the bright light and sacrificing themselves instead.
She probably ought to feel proud of Fox for that. It's all she can do not to hate him for it. He should have just let them take her, and then he'd be here.
She doesn't need Dana Scully or a psychiatrist to let her know that this is called survivor's guilt.
That doesn't make it any easier to bear.
It doesn't actually take her very long to warm up to Scully. She's earnest. She thinks. She takes these cases seriously instead of laughing them off as Spooky Mulder's imagination. She's cute. And she's a smartass.
It's probably that last that really endears her to Samantha.
An obsessive pain in the ass.
Can't argue with that.
And who knows? Maybe with a little help on her side for once, she'll actually be able to get to the bottom of the mystery that has dominated her life.
Or at least make an actual friend.