"...in this separation I associate you only with the good, and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may." - Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
The world wasn't ending after all. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were headed home.
They found out in Wyoming. A message came to them through means they both thought had died with Langly, Frohike, and Byers. A note on a table, a locker in a public place, and then a masked voice on a tape recorder. A day passed, they left Wyoming for South Dakota, and another message was waiting for them.
"It's over. You can come back."
Scully sat Mulder down in their motel room, and talked to him in a voice she might have saved for a child.
"These are the facts, Mulder. We haven't seen any signs in over a year. We haven't had to use the stiletto, or the magnetite, for longer than that. We haven't been chased or followed, we haven't received threats."
"They could be better than we are, Scully."
"Mulder, we have these messages. Two of them. Will you at least give this a chance?"
In the end, Mulder convinced Scully to wait. If they heard nothing else, they would continue as they had been, on the run. Always moving, hiding their identities (Scully's hair was a dark brown right now, and Mulder had grown a beard), working occasional odd jobs and never staying in public for long. Totally dependent on each other, which suited Mulder fine.
Two days later, they received another message. This time, the voice was familiar.
"You can come home. It's safe. The world isn't ending."
Scully's eyes lit up in triumph, and Mulder conceded, but asked that they take it easy. They headed east, steadily, still below the radar but with the tiniest bit less caution. Scully washed the dye from her hair, and she almost convinced Mulder to shave. Except that she liked the way it felt on her skin, rough and kind of wild, so she gave up after a token try or two.
Mulder knew things like that now.
They got to Kentucky before they sat down to decide exactly how this would play out.
"Should we go to the FBI?"
"No, no government. They probably already know about this but why alert them further?"
"Yeah, you're right. So what do you think?"
Home, said Scully's eyes, pleading with Mulder to at least give her that.
"Okay. Home it is."
They separated in Virginia, each citing the need to clear their heads apart before continuing together. Their parting had an awful finality to it, a tolling of the bell for a partnership that was no longer a matter of course.
She was visiting her mother, a tearful reunion that he hadn't wanted to witness. After all this time, just thinking of Scully's mom and her brother created a hard knot of guilt to gather in Mulder's stomach. It was worse, too, with William lost to time. They would ask, curious questions with an edge of accusation. Just for flavor.
A part of him wondered if William might hold them together after all, but he never said it aloud. Scully hadn't wanted to seek out their child, telling Mulder it would be cruel to take him from parents he'd grown attached to. Tears slipped down her cheeks and gave her away, but he wisely stayed silent. It made some sense, and Mulder never had felt justified in making decisions about William.
Mulder had no family to seek out; he'd refrained from snapping at Scully about that, about how she was the only family he had in this world. It was melodramatic and after all, they'd had three years in the wilderness together. Scully had never been a wanderer at heart, she needed roots, and she'd begun to fade without them.
He retreated to a motel room in Alexandria, deciding to start with the familiar and work from there. He considered heading to Greenwich to tie up affairs that had gone neglected for so long, since before Bellefleur. He'd left lawyers with directions but he'd anticipated they would all be alien-human hybrids (or dead, whispers the blunt Scully-voice in his mind) by now. He wasn't sure he wanted to confront those ghosts quite yet, though, so he decided to sleep on it and make a decision in daylight.
Motels were so monotonous in design and decor that when Mulder inevitably woke at 3am, he had no idea where he was. Scully's absence from this bed gave him his answer quicker than he might have liked. He rubbed his eyes and stretched, considering a late-night run to take some of the fight out of him. It had been a long day and sleep had never come easy or stayed for very long. He swung his legs out from under the covers and as his feet hit the floor, he heard a familiar voice that had never been the harbinger of much more than doom.
"Agent Mulder, I presume."
The voice came from the dark corner and Mulder's heart leapt into his throat. Such a disturbing turn of phrase, his mind gibbered at him as he fumbled for a gun, a light, something.
"I guess it's not really Agent anymore, though, is it." The voice came into the stream of light coming from the parking lot, all blonde hair and white face and cold blue eyes.
"Marita," he said, gasping a little. "You scared the living shit out of me."
"Did I? I apologize." She walked over and turned on the standing lamp by the window, and shut the curtains all the way.
"I take it you got the message."
He nodded, the adrenaline fading slightly. "We did. I'm still not sure I believe you, though."
"You should. You never did pay any attention to what the aliens were truly all about. You just wanted to go after the conspiring hacks who made up the government."
Mulder wasn't quite sure how to respond. "I always figured the aliens would take care of themselves."
Marita sat down on the edge of the other double bed, her slim figure barely denting the comforter. "And they have. Much like we almost did so many times." Her eyes darkened at that, and Mulder didn't have to guess what crossed her mind. "We didn't think it wise to reveal everything in our message, though we're reasonably sure the danger has past. The war had been going on since around the time of Cassandra Spender's first disappearance, and they had begun to fight it on our soil and in our skies, as you're aware. The rebels were
eventually defeated and the plan we all knew about was in place and on schedule. But another race came into the picture, around a year ago. From what we've been able to learn, there was was a power struggle, and the new race won. They have no desire for our planet or resources. The plan for our eradication is totally out of the picture."
Mulder pursed his lips and thought for a moment. "How do you know all this?"
The corners of her lips turned up ever so slightly. "Some of us have connections, Mulder."
"What kind of connections?" It came out in an accusatory tone, his Bad Cop impression.
Her smile turned brighter. "That's possibly the most interesting part of this whole thing. It's not what you think," she added, seeing his expression darken further. "I've been working with Jeffrey Spender and some of your former colleagues at the FBI. And don't underestimate the connections I managed to make while working with the Syndicate. There were survivors who had ways of communicating with the aliens."
"Which colleagues?" He ignored the mention of the Syndicate for the moment. Mulder and Scully had only occasionally received word from Walter Skinner during their absence, and he'd never mentioned anyone from the FBI.
"John Doggett and Monica Reyes."
He was more than surprised to hear that. "They survived?"
She nodded. "I can't say where they are now, as they travel quite frequently. They were the ones who passed on our message to you. They've been working at disseminating the information to whomever needed to be told. Without alternate forms of communication," Mulder wondered if she meant the Gunmen, "we have to rely on word of mouth."
Mulder brought his knees up and put his head down. This was a lot to take in, and Mulder felt Scully's absence all the more keenly. "You said you were working with Jeffrey Spender? And members of the Syndicate?"
"Yes. They would hardly like to have their identities revealed, but these were not men you ever had contact with or even suspected existed. Members from some parts of the former Soviet Union, and even more obscure places than that. I sought them out not long after." She cleared her throat and paused heavily, as if giving a moment's silence to a memory. "Jeffrey you knew was still out there. After your trial, he couldn't bear keep out of it."
She stood up and smoothed her jeans like she might have smoothed a skirt once.
"And he's waiting for me. I apologize again for our method; old habits die hard," she said with no small trace of irony in her tone. "There is someone who wants to see you, now that you're back."
"How do you know I'm back?"
"Mulder, the glint in your eyes is unmistakable. It runs in your family." Her hand waved towards the door.
She reached into her pocket, sending a quick thrill of alert up Mulder's spine, and brought out a folded piece of paper.
"This is from Deputy Director Kersh."
"For me?" Mulder's voice was full of derision. Kersh had never been what one might refer to as an ally.
"Yes. He wants to meet with you, and this is just directions. You've been away for quite some time, you know. D.C. has changed some."
She walked to the door, turning around as she grabbed the knob. "Another thing, Mulder. The world may not be ending any longer, but that doesn't mean there aren't things that go bump in the nght. We're never truly safe, you know." She pegged him with a stare for a long moment, and walked out the door.
Mulder got out of the bed altogether and made a beeline for his bag, because his immediate instinct was to call Scully and tell her everything, get her to analyze all of it with him. His cell phone was in the bag - and when he pulled it out, he saw the battery had given out.
Instead of plugging it in and calling her while it was charging, Mulder stopped in his tracks. It was after 3 in the morning, and she was at her mother's place. Undoubtedly she was detoxing from their life on the run. She did have three years of his constant presence to flush from her system.
He sighed heavily, which turned into a yawn. He would wait for the morning.
Mulder opened the folded piece of paper Marita had handed him, and found directions to what was probably a diner, an address that indicated it was in the District. He knew the street but had never heard of the place. In the corner was scrawled "8:30; do not be late."
He laid back on the bed and eventually dozed off, the lights still on.
"Scully, I hate to call and interrupt..."
"But you couldn't resist. What's going on? You sound exhausted."
"I didn't sleep much. I had a visitor in the wee hours before dawn."
Scully sounded alarmed. "A visitor? Who? What did they want?"
He was secretly glad she was worried. "Marita Covarrubias. She was delivering another message."
Mulder told Scully everything he'd been told. "I'm inclined to believe her, Scully."
She made a noise that sounded like agreement. "It's intriguing, certainly. Are you going to meet with Kersh?"
"I think I will. Not like I got a lot of plans, you know."
The pause was awkward and Mulder was reminded of times in another life when that silence might have met with a quick hang-up instead of Scully's attempts to keep the conversation going at all costs.
"You could have come up here, you know." Her mother was living in Baltimore.
"Nah, take your time. You earned it, after all. Listen, I've got to go. Kersh said not to be late, and, well, you remember how he is."
Scully sighed the sigh of the long-suffering and put-upon lover who knew all too well that the conversation was, for now, at an end. "Okay. Take your weapon, Mulder."
He supposed it would have killed her to say "I love you."
True to Marita's word, Alvin Kersh was sitting at a booth in the diner, his hair more liberally flecked with gray and his jowls a little heavier.
"Deputy Director Kersh?" Mulder walked up and waited for the man to answer him.
"Mulder." Kersh looked up from his paper and swept an appraising glare over Mulder's being. "You look like shit, young man."
"Don't I know it, sir."
It was an odd exchange for two men with such enmity between them, but Mulder suspected from Kersh's glance that he, at least, had laid down arms for the occasion.
"Sit down. We have things to discuss."
Mulder ordered migas and Kersh stuck to coffee, and they enjoyed breakfast in silence for a few minutes until Kersh finally spoke up.
"You've heard the news, I take it."
"You know I have, or I wouldn't be here."
"Time was I never would have expected you to show. Time was, I would have waited until dark and found you sauntering into my office or waiting for me at the elevator in the parking garage."
"Time was, I didn't know who to trust. I still don't, but my years have been long and my patience short." Mulder brushed his coat aside to reveal his pistol, to make a point with Kersh.
"So you haven't changed altogether. That's good to know. Of course, if you had gotten sloppy, you would have been dead when the danger was still near."
Mulder drained his glass of orange juice and signalled the waitress for another glass. "I'm still not sure why I'm here."
Kersh took his glasses off and wiped them clean with a napkin. "The world doesn't need heroes, Mulder. But it does need guardians, people standing in the line of fire and doing the dirty work. You've been told that the threat is over, and so it is. But there are other threats, and dirtier work to be done."
"Are you recruiting me to go back to investigating fertilizer purchases in the midwest?"
A smile. Mulder had once believed Kersh's face was incapable of this strain.
"No, I'm recruiting you to run the X-Files division at the FBI."
"It's true, Scully. Kersh led me down to the office himself. They're reopening the X-Files. The division will be under Kersh, but I would have leeway to hire at least one other agent and have discretion over cases."
"There's a catch."
"I'm sure there is, but when has that ever stopped us?"
They were at a park in Baltimore, two weeks after Mulder's initial contact with Kersh. Mulder had done plenty of wrestling with this idea on his own, but he'd come to the conclusion that being "back" meant finding occupation. He'd never cottoned to the idea of teaching or doing something utterly unrelated to his background. And even on the run away from their resources in Washington, they had seen plenty of evidence of the paranormal. No one had been around to work those kinds of cases after they'd left; Doggett quit the Bureau and Reyes had been transferred out of the Washington office, and they'd poured their energy into solving the question of the supersoldiers and hunting down alien clues. The division
had closed and was mostly forgotten; just like before, after Arthur Dales, people gradually forgot that which they had never understood.
Except for Kersh. The incident with Mulder and the trial was swept under the rug, though Kersh was never given another promotion. He oversaw the Violent Crimes Unit and Behavioral Science, which meant that X-Files continually cropped up and were shuffled into an increasingly large "unsolved" pile. When the opportunity came to get Fox Mulder and Dana Scully back, he made every effort to smooth the way.
Marita had tipped him off. Mulder had learned, through various channels and old sources he thought had dried up, that she was the Syndicate now, if such a description applied. She was the guardian of secrets that never need surface now, but she was also guardian of secrets she believed should be exposed. When the threat of invasion was confimed past, Marita started a chain of events to get back the only two federal agents who had ever been brave enough (stupid enough?) to question the status quo and expose the lies.
It probably never occured to her that she'd only get one of those agents back.
Scully hadn't answered Mulder's question. It had been meant rhetorically, but she was clearly musing an answer.
She looked up at him, taking his hand in hers. "I'm not going back."
The world spun and Mulder's hearing failed him as she explained all the reasons why.
They kept in touch, at first. A phone call here, an email there. Once they met for dinner, and Scully told him about her job offer at Johns Hopkins, teaching forensics to post-graduate students. He said something sly about it, something stupid about wasted talent, and Scully's expression hardened because she knew that it was really just Mulder wanting her to follow him, wanting her to want to be with him.
It baffled him, why that was such a bad thing.
After three months, the calls tapered off altogether, and it became sporadic emails, and no more visits or rendezvous.
Mulder chased a vampire clan in Arkansas, and picked up a phone to tell Scully he thought he'd found Lucius Hartwell, but he dialed only four number before hanging up.
He rented an apartment even smaller than his old one had been, and had less of a life than he had then. But he worked with a renewed spirit that Scully would have recognized for self-defense and Diana might have thought unhealthy zeal. He didn't hire anyone for almost two years, and only then because he'd broken a leg in an incident with a rabid dog and a faith healer. Kersh had generally left him alone, but came to Mulder's hospital room to lecture him on his "advancing age" and inability to do all things at once.
"Advancing age?" Mulder was incredulous.
Kersh just raised his eyebrows and looked pointedly at Mulder's graying hair to drive his point home.
Mulder went through two or three agents, never really convinced that he wasn't being made fun of behind his back by each one, and wished like hell that Scully would have listened to reason.
They saw each other once, in the airport. Scully had grown out her hair and looked satisfied, if a little tired. Something only Mulder would have known. It was nothing, she demurred.
"I'm fine, Mulder. I've done okay without you."
Damn, those words stung.
Once, in the beginning, they were in the Arctic investigating something that had gone wrong in the Ice Core Project, and they'd been locked in a room together. There was this moment of pure heat - Mulder had grabbed Scully and rubbed her neck, presumably to be sure she wasn't infected, but really to try and tell her he was who he was. He thought that if he touched her, he could communicate with her. Convince her.
It was a method that worked for their entire partnership, and it had carried into their coda roaming around the country.
But she wasn't close now; Mulder had reverted to sleeping on a couch just to avoid waking up in a bed without her by his side.
He'd once told her she made him a whole person.
He was beginning to wonder if he'd underestimated her power.
So weird, hearing those words fall from someone's lips again. Especially those lips.
Skinner smiled. "You can call me Skinner if it makes you more comfortable."
Truth be told, Mulder didn't think he would ever get used to this man in front of him being an equal, a civilian instead of FBI. But he smiled back and tipped his beer in a salute.
"I didn't think I would ever see you again."
"I didn't either. But the powers that be, well, sometimes they knew when they'd gone too far." Skinner gestured to burn scars on his left arm; they'd done a much better job covering those on the other arm and his face.
"I wish I could..."
"Don't." Skinner waved him off. "We were all pawns, Mulder. In someone's big scheme and we couldn't so much as make a decision to shit that they didn't somehow know about or manipulate." Mulder grimaced at the imagery and Skinner shrugged. "You know that's how it was."
"Yeah, I practically wrote the book on it."
They chatted for awhile, catching up like the old colleagues they were, only with a decidedly more colorful history than any other patrons in the bar that night. Skinner saved the million-dollar question for the end.
"So where's Scully? I would have thought she'd be here with you, telling you there's no such thing as ghosts just as one materializes behind you."
Mulder had to laugh at that; it might have been the beer. "She's saving the world in an entirely different way, molding young minds. I haven't talked to her in ages."
"Uh-huh." Skinner gave Mulder the "I know more than you do" look that Mulder had long recognized in his informants and occasionally in the Assistant Director who broke more rules than he kept.
"What do you know, Skinner?"
"She's saving the world, just like you say. But I thought you knew she'd taken a job at Maryland General, as a resident. She's a regular doctor now, just like her father always wanted." He didn't tell Mulder about how Maggie Scully had suffered a heart attack last year and passed away, how Bill Scully had been sent to the Mediterranean to fight the war and how Scully was keeping it together by overworking and refusing to have a social life. They were so much alike, and stubborn to their cores.
"Well, good for her."
"You need to call her, Mulder. She said the same about you. Call her."
Mulder took another swig from his beer, Scully's last words to him ringing in his ears.
"Yeah, well. I will."
Skinner fixed him with a patented surly glare, and they changed the subject.
Mulder never did make that call.
The world didn't end.
Scully watched the news every night with a silent unacknowledged desire to find disaster, something to call her back to Mulder's side in an instant. But it was all the usual chaos, nothing that she and Mulder would have been called to work on. She tried reading between the lines but her old instinct was rusty, and she didn't have the heart to second-guess every Hanta virus tale she heard.
She willed him to call, willed the phone to ring at ungodly hours and her door to shake with his knocking just as her eyes finally closed after a long day. She longed for nights in motels, sweaty between the sheets, guns with the safeties off and sitting on the nightstand just in case they hadn't been careful.
She tried once to go on a date. It was a disaster from the beginning, she was never really into the conversation or the dinner or the wine.
She tried going to a firing range, she tried driving as fast as her car would let her on open stretches of highway. Tried skydiving once and got a broken wrist to show for it.
Her mother died and it was a lonely funeral, so many people who called her Dana and whispered about the prodigal daughter. Scully went every week to leave flowers, but really she went just to feel like she had some company.
But the world didn't end.