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A Simple Equation

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Gibson was trying to concentrate on his homework. He really was. But with Mulder sitting across the room scouring newspaper articles in search of leads, focusing on algebra was difficult. The articles themselves were dull and easy enough to tune out; it was the thoughts that were interspersed between the reading that kept pulling at his attention. He did his best to ignore it anyway — on top of his own need to get his work done, Gibson liked Mulder and the constant window into the man’s thoughts felt like an invasion of privacy. It had never bothered him as a kid — he hadn’t asked for this gift, after all — but as he grew up, he was getting more sensitive to the fact that everyone had things that they’d prefer to keep to themselves. He did his best to avoid overhearing as much as possible, but some thoughts were too loud to ignore.

I wonder what they’re doing right now.

Problem number eight: sixteen equals…

I wonder how big Will’s grown.

… Sixteen equals three times x…

I miss them so much.

… three times x plus four.

What am I doing out here?

Subtract four…

I shouldn’t have left them.

Gibson gave up and put his pencil down. “Mulder…”

What the fuck kind of father abandons both his newborn child and his… his… the mother of his child?

“Mulder!”

“Sorry,” Mulder mumbled. Stop thinking about them; you’re driving this poor kid nuts.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean?” Confusion. Suspicion.

“Jesus, you are the most paranoid man I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. I’m on your side, man; just relax. I don’t understand how you can live like that.”

“Yeah, well, not all of us can read minds.”

The words were clipped and biting, but Gibson knew that the anger wasn’t directed at him, and didn’t take offense. Mulder had been fighting an acute sense of self-loathing since he’d arrived a few weeks ago, and lately it was becoming more and more evident that he was losing.

“I know,” Gibson said aloud. “But you gotta realize that this —” He waved a hand to indicate the room around them and, by extension, Mulder’s self-imposed exile in New Mexico, “— is killing you.”

“It’s keeping me alive,” Mulder retorted. “And it’s protecting my—” He stopped short, the rest of the sentence hanging in the air of the small room.  

“Family,” Gibson supplied. “It’s ok; you can say it.”

But he couldn’t. I left them. Abandoned them. I don’t deserve to call them family.

“You should go back,” Gibson said.

Mulder’s head snapped up, and his face was a mess of anger and hope and longing and fear.

“I mean it, man. Christ, you’re making me homesick, and I hate DC.”

Mulder wanted so badly to dismiss Gibson and go back to his newspaper articles and self-hatred, to stop this conversation in its tracks before it became more painful. But he knew by now that the kid wouldn’t drop it, and Gibson had just said the exact words he wanted to hear the most.

“That’s not why I said it,” Gibson said. “I said it because I mean it.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not? You don’t even know yourself what you’re hiding from out here.”

A series of vague words and ideas floated through Mulder’s head: conspiracies, shadowy government agents, alien bounty hunters, super soldiers… but nothing that Gibson could pick out as a specific, immediate threat.

“Besides,” Gibson continued. “What makes you think they won’t go after Agent Scully and Will to get at you? They’ve done it before.”

“I’m not in contact with her,” Mulder said, almost pleading, as if trying to convince the nebulous threats in his head rather than the teen in front of him. “They must know that. I would have no way of knowing if they did.”

His resolve was faltering. His last statement, intended to solidify his assertion that his family was safer without him, instead shot a bolt of fear through him. They might be going after them right now, and Scully doesn’t know how to reach me. Wouldn’t be able to call for help. And even if she could, by the time I made it to DC, it would be too late to save them. An image of Scully and William dead on the floor of her apartment flashed through Mulder’s mind, and all at once he was on his feet, his chair clattering to the floor, and he began shoving his things into his duffel.

Gibson almost protested — he hadn’t meant that Mulder should go right this second — but anything he said now would fall on deaf ears. Where half an hour ago Mulder was steadfastly against returning to Washington, he had just pulled a complete one-eighty and was now just as stubbornly set on going back. Gibson’s prodding and Mulder’s own overactive imagination had lit a fire under his ass, and now that it was burning there was no putting it out. He wouldn’t be able to rest until he’d seen Scully and William, safe and alive, with his own eyes. But his haste was going to get him killed if he wasn’t careful. Despite his assurances, Gibson was certain that there were men (and other forms of sentient life) who wanted Mulder dead; he just wasn’t convinced that Mulder was doing himself or Scully and William any good by facing the threat alone out here.

“I’ll arrange your flight,” he said, knowing that Mulder was now in far too much of a hurry — and in no state of mind — to drive himself two thousand miles across the country. Albuquerque was the nearest commercial airport at a hundred and fifty miles from Truth or Consequences. Further than Gibson would’ve liked, but it would have to do. The only other option was Roswell, sixty miles further away and a terrible idea for so, so many reasons. Albuquerque it was. Gibson knew a guy who could give Mulder a ride. He reached for the phone.