Title: The Long Goodbye
Summary: The day he had to leave had arrived, but - despite all the arrangements and preparations - she was far from ready to let him go.
She'd known it would be awkward, difficult...painful, even. *Of course* she had known, even as she had stood in Kersh's office and listened as they were told that her partner would be killed if he stayed in town. But how could she have begun to ever comprehend that she would feel this crushed, desolate - desperate for any way of making it possible to keep him here by her side - as she stood on shaky legs with their son resting against her shoulder and stared through bleary eyes at his packed bags?
The day he had to leave had arrived, but - despite all the arrangements and preparations - she was far from ready to let him go.
The warm water spray shut off. Wet hands reached up and wiped his face, but his eyes remained shut.
'Listen to me,' she had told him that evening after the meeting with Kersh as they sat on her couch - his hands tightly clasped in her heavily sweating ones. 'Please, Mulder, just...just listen to me for a moment.'
Tears had stung his eyes then, and he found them doing the same again as his forehead dejectedly rested against the tiled wall of the shower and her words echoed in his mind.
'When you disappeared I never gave up - I never stopped believing that I *would* find you. But when they found you in those woods...' She had paused and he had seen the tears welling in her own eyes. 'I just wanted to lay down and be buried with you. You're my other half, Mulder - my *better* half - and to get you back was the ultimate answered prayer, as well as this baby. I can't lose you again, but I would rather be able to believe that one day we'll be back together than see you die...I can't let you stay if that means you'll be killed...I *won't*, but please don't even think about asking me to!'
His hands had rested gently on her distended abdomen and he had stared into the depths of her soul through her sad, blue eyes. 'I'd never ask that of you, Scully, but...but you can't ask me to leave you...leave you and this child? You're everything I've got, and I wanna protect you...You can't seriously want me to leave you in danger-'
'Yes, I can, because we're not the ones in danger. You *are*.' She had swallowed hard before dealing the blow she knew would be the thing to convince him. 'You'll be putting us in danger if you stay...'
"God!" Mulder exclaimed in a choked breath, slamming a fist against the shower wall.
Their son had been born since then. Their love and commitment to each other had been set in stone since then. The whole idea had torn at his insides back when he had agreed to do as she'd asked. Now? Now he couldn't help but slightly regret ever being dug up out of his grave.
The bathroom door slowly clicked open and Scully turned in time to see him move into her bedroom, with his head lowered, to get dressed into the clothes she had left out for him before they went to bed together last night.
He seemed to think she didn't want him here - that she had a choice in this - and she couldn't believe that even after the love she had told him she felt and the tender, affirming moment they had shared in her bedroom two nights ago he could still doubt the fact that she never wanted him to leave her side again. Of course, he hadn't voiced those doubts, but their silent communication had grown stronger over the years, and even just the smallest of looks spoke volumes, so watching his body language had helped her notice the rift that had appeared between them at a time when she wanted to be as close as possible.
What would it take to make him realise just how much she really did need him?
Heavy silence as eyes locked.
Mulder stared at her as she stood in the living room, slowly rubbing her right hand up and down the baby's back.
Scully stared at him as he stood in the doorway (dressed in a pair of worn blue jeans, his ubiquitous grey t-shirt and black leather jacket) and simply stared back at her.
"Mul-der..." His name slipped from between her quivering lips and within a couple of long strides he was in front of her, wrapping his arms around the two of them.
After a moment he released them and reached to take William from her.
"Shhh. In a minute," he whispered, cradling the boy against his chest. "I'm just gonna put him down."
Scully watched as he turned and moved into their bedroom, and then slowly followed - pausing in the doorway as she listened to his almost choked voice softly speaking to their child.
"You're definitely a miracle and a half...A very special one, too," he whispered, laying the baby down in the bassinet. "Looks like I've got to miss a little bit of you growing up, though...I've gotta go on a little journey. I won't be gone long, so please try not to grow too quickly, but I've gotta go slay some monsters and aliens and flukemen and--...Well, I'm sure Mommy can tell you stories about those." He paused and stroked a finger down one of William's soft cheeks as his head bowed even lower (his chin almost resting against his heaving chest). "Don't ever think I don't love you, 'cos that couldn't be any further from the truth - I love you and your mom more than life itself, and that's why I'm going: to protect you both."
It became too much to listen to any longer, so Dana walked back into the living room, wiping at her wet eyes.
"You look out for Mommy while I'm gone," Mulder smiled as he heard the slight shuffle of Scully's feet on the carpet behind him. "Her scientific rationale can't hide her feelings all the time, so keep an eye on her, and make sure no other men come sniffing around, okay? Not even Uncle Skinner or Doggett...And when I get back I promise I'll teach you how to play baseball as well as your old dad does." It was time to bring this to a close - he should be gone from the apartment already, but he was yet to deliver possibly the most painful goodbye imagineable to the woman in the other room. He kissed the tips of two of his fingers and then lowered them to rest against the baby's forehead. "I'll miss you, Will...Son..."
"You listened in on our private father-to-son conversation. That's a federal crime, you know?"
Scully looked up from where she sat on the couch at the man that towered above her. "What's my punishment?" she sniffed - knowing nothing could make her feel any worse than she did right now.
He gave an awkward smile and then outstretched a hand to help her to her feet. "Oh, this time you just get a caution - I think you've suffered enough already."
"I'm *still* suffering!" she cried, nuzzling her face against his chest as his arms enveloped her and held her close. "Mulder, I don't have a choice in this - I *don't* want you to go, but at the same time I want you to be safe!"
"I've already lost you once - twice in a way - and--"
"Shhh...It's okay," he whispered, kissing the top of her head and stroking his fingers through her hair.
It was kind of surreal: two FBI partners clinging to each other as if they had been a married couple for years and he was going off to war. And yet that was pretty much the situation they were facing (reluctantly). So great had their bond always been from the start, and so natural had the metamorphosis from friends to lovers been that his new quest for safety away from his new family might just as well be a great battle and another nail in his coffin.
"I'm sorry I've been cold at times over the past couple of weeks. I thought...I thought that if I could push you away emotionally this would be a tiny bit easier..." he apologized, quietly. "But...You're everything to me - everything I could only ever dream of having and about a million things more...And now with William...I've been gifted with perfection, only to then have to walk away from it..."
She pulled away a little so that she could stare into his eyes. "Just remember, when it's safe, to come back!" she slightly smiled.
Mulder nodded and returned the smile as he continued to gaze into her eyes (yes, he had to confess: he *did* gaze at Scully!). "I'll be painfully counting every second that passes until that moment arrives," he vowed.
"'Cos I don't know what I'd do if--"
He cut her short by covering her mouth with his. And for the next thirty seconds nothing else mattered except them two and this moment - this kiss.
Sadly - as they had frustratingly come to realize time and time again over the years - the good thing had to come to an abrupt end, so they stepped out of each others' embrace and joined hands as they both glanced down at the packed black bags.
"Promise you'll write," she pleaded, squeezing his hands as she turned back. "Even if you can't write a long message...Even if it's blank...I need to know that you're okay - that you're alive."
"Well, the Gunmen have worked to set up a secure e-mail address, but--"
"I'll try to as much as I can...Only if you promise to write me with as much news as possible on how you and the little one are as often as possible!" Mulder retorted - his voice telling her that he was joking around; his eyes crying complete sincerity.
It was her turn to nod. She did so and then released one of his hands so that she could reach up to touch the side of his face. "My constant--"
"My touchstone," he added, resting his cheek against her palm and then tilting his forehead down to press against hers. "My family."
"I love you."
"Is that a rational love, Doctor Scully?" he half-laughed, holding back the tears that were trying to make this even longer, more painful and more difficult than it could be.
She squeezed his hand even tighter. In honesty she wanted to wrap her arms around him, but she knew that the instant they were back in each others' embrace they wouldn't be able to part again...In a perfect world that would be fine, but he *had* to go - he had to go *now* - to protect himself, to protect her and their child so that one day they could be together again, safely. The time to end this had already been and gone at least twice, so they had to start moving away from each other before it was too late. "Maybe not 'rational' in every definition of the term," she joked. "But...Okay, let's just settle for 'true' and 'right' and..."
"A long time in development?"
"Mmm," she mused with a smile before the seriousness of the matter at hand returned. "Kind of like this goodbye."
"Ah! But this isn't really 'goodbye'," Mulder told her, lifting his head away from hers. "'Cos the minute I walk out that door I'm gonna be working my way back...So, it's more like a, uh, 'I'll be seeing you' ...'See you later'..."
Scully gave a nod of her head, released his hand and then moved to help shift his bags down to the Volkswagen bus parked outside that the Lone Gunmen had been patiently waiting in for the past half hour.
"No!" Mulder suddenly exclaimed, jumping forward to pull her hand off the handles of the duffel that rested against her couch. "Let me do that. I...I don't know if I can do a 'goodbye'--"
"'See-you-later'," she corrected.
"...I can't do it in front of the guys...I'm having problems doing it now, so God knows what I'd be like with an audience!"
That was when William decided to voice his disapproval at being left alone for more than five minutes.
Scully glanced over her shoulder toward the bedroom doorway, but then turned back to face Mulder.
"Go tend to him," he told her, with a wave of his hand.
"Will needs you now...Keep him safe, tell him every day how much I love him, and make sure he's always happy - just 'cos his parents can't be shouldn't mean that he has to suffer." He paused for a second and then added, "And make sure you enjoy every minute with him so you can fill me in when I get back...Go on, go."
"You'll come back up once you've finished loading your bags into the van?"
"I'll be back before you know I've even gone," he slightly nodded. He leant over to kiss her on the mouth and then watched as she moved to tend to William in the other room. "I love you, too," he whispered, picking up the first pair of cases to take outside. "Always."
All the bags were gone by the time Scully had calmed William back to sleep and re-entered the living room. There was no sign of Mulder, though, so she bowed her head slightly and sat down on the couch - waiting for him to come back up.
Five...Ten...Fifteen minutes of deathly silence passed.
Struggling to remain composed, she raised to her feet, walked to the window and looked through at the sidewalk just outside the building. The Gunmen's bus had gone, meaning Mulder had gone, too, without coming back for one last hug.
Nevertheless, she sat back down on the couch and waited, because it hadn't been a goodbye...He would be coming home very soon so that they could live 'happily ever after'...He would be back before she even realized he'd gone...
...At least, that was what she hoped...
FIN...'All done, Bye-bye!'
Author's Note: I read a theory posted on the OS message board a couple months back saying that when Kersh sacked Mulder in 'Vienan', that was actually when the warning was given about the danger Mulder's life would be in if he stayed (the sacking being a kind of smoke screen to everyone else and thus giving Mulder more time to spend with Scully and plan his departure). Seeing as I'd always been suspicious about how everything (warning, arrangements and parting) was expected to have happened in the 48 hours between 'Existence' and 'NIHT', this theory has grown on me and is the reason why Scully is still pregnant in the flashbacks to when she told him to leave in this fic. Long explanation, I know, but thought I'd fill you in!