Midnight Train To Georgia

by Rose Campion

Disclaimers: standard disclaimers apply- not making any money off this, they belong to Fox, etc. yadda yadda. You know the drill.

warning: sort of au, in that the last half or so of season 9 never happened in this story. The Gunmen are still alive, Scully didn't give William up for adoption, etc. Spoilers: I suppose season 8 and a lot of season 9.

archive: anywhere, just let me know where.

Mulder wandered back into his life during the garage sale, just cool as you like. As if the only thing he wanted was the old, probably scratched Gladys Knight and the Pips album that he was contemplating. God, the man was still beautiful. No, more beautiful than he'd been when Doggett had last seen him. Mulder was tan, and his face was tranquil. It might be Doggett's memory playing a trick on him, but he thought Mulder was slightly broader through the shoulders, not that his athletic figure had needed any help to begin with. Early March was not the best date for a sale, but what had to be done, had to be done. It was really too cool for a sale and Mulder had the collar of his jean jacket turned up against the slightly nippy wind. Doggett forced himself to look away and a moment later, some stranger was in his face, wanting to dicker about the price of a couple of pieces of tupperware he'd bought mostly as a favor to his neighbor who sold it. Doggett accepted the pennies on the dollar price that was pushed at him, not caring as he took the handful of change.

This was the third and final sale. Everything that didn't sell today would go to Goodwill, or out with the trash. His cousin and her truck had been up last week to take everything that he wouldn't part with, besides. He'd close on the house on Monday morning, then by Tuesday, early AM, he'd be on the train. Leaving DC, probably forever. His ticket was already bought.

Temporarily, there was a break in bargain hunters and Doggett was alone to contemplate the fact that no matter how pathetic the remains of a life were, there'd always be the bottomfeeders there to pick at what was left. Mulder had been watching for an opening and suddenly Doggett was presented with a small stack of LPs and a small pile of dollar bills, held by the man who had been, for a brief time, his lover.

"Mulder, what the hell are you doing here?" Doggett hissed. "I thought it was too dangerous for you. I thought you were in hiding."

"It's okay, John," Mulder said, setting the albums down on the card table that Doggett had borrowed from one of his neighbors so he could have the sale. "The threat's over. I'm not in danger. At least in no more than the usual sense. What are you doing?"

Doggett had to think a while about what answer to give, the answer that was accurate and truthful, but gave away to Mulder no more than he really needed to know. Mulder caught his eyes and they stared at each other. Those hazel eyes were soft, more brown at the moment than green. Mulder smiled, that crack of a grin that made you forgive him anything he'd ever done and in the silence that held them both, he said, "I mean, wherever it is you're going, I don't see how you're going to manage without REO Speedwagon."

It wasn't that Doggett had even been angry at Mulder. Hurt, sure, that the other man hadn't communicated his plans, though the events of the past several months had made it clear as crystal that Mulder's heading to ground was probably not so paranoid. No, it had been a very good idea indeed. Doggett understood. Still, that didn't mean that the nights hadn't been long. He wasn't a man given to examining his emotions. He hadn't understood just how much he'd missed Mulder until this moment when the man returned and slipped under his radar again. Mulder had a way of doing that.

The albums, forgotten for a moment, were swooped up by some teenager who shoved money at Doggett and fled. The growing pile of small bills in the cash box and the disappearing piles of possessions were reminders that this never really had been his world, only one which he had inhabited for a while.

"I'm going home, Fox," Doggett said, as he tucked the bills into the cashbox.

Mulder hadn't believed what he'd heard from Skinner- that John had quit the FBI suddenly. "He resigned for personal reasons, he says," Skinner had told him. Skinner knew, Mulder had taken the risk of telling him of their affair, knowing he could trust the man. Skinner would tell Mulder anything important that was happening with John. "I don't know anything beyond that. I'm afraid of what he won't tell me. It just sounds like something bad. He's troubled and he won't talk about it."

Hearing those words had caused Mulder's attention to be drawn back to DC like a compass needle being pulled inexorably to the north pole. All his attention veered towards DC. Towards John. He could not help but drop everything, abandon the small apartment he'd rented in Santa Fe and return to the city that had been the center of his world at one time.

He didn't mean to still love John. He'd never meant to fall in love with him in the first place. He'd never even wanted to like the man, but had felt drawn to the fire he saw burning in those blue eyes and the beautiful line of his strong jaw. As he'd gotten to know the man, he couldn't help but admire the integrity that was woven through him, like the weft in a rug- essential to the very structure of it. After the incident on the oil drilling platform, John had reached out to him, made a pass, then took him to bed. Mulder had let himself respond only because he was sure it would be a mere physical thing- the kind of rough comfort and ecstasy that can be in the arms of another man. Instead, afterwards, Doggett had held him while they slept. A few hours later, Mulder had woken, still in Doggett's arms. Slowly, not even realizing it at first, he had started crying, not knowing why. Doggett had woken, but didn't say anything. He only tightened his hold on Mulder and started stroking his hair. Then, when Mulder had control of himself again, he tried to apologize and Doggett would hear none of it.

"Hey, I ain't surprised with all you've been through. Losing your job today was the least of it and that alone would be enough to make most men crack," Doggett had said, then kissed his hair softly. At that moment, even though he'd yet to admit it to anyone, he knew he'd found his home in this strong-willed, hard-headed, courageous, slyly intelligent man. That he'd found his measure. His equal. His true North.

He'd done the man wrong, that much was plain to him now. Scully's baby had been born, and John had paid no small price and risked no small amount of danger to see that she and the child were safe. Mulder, fearing not just the forces that were threatening them all, but how much his heart ached when he was expected to leave John's side for Scully and the child that he had supposedly fathered, had run. Scully had understood, she always had. She might miss him, but she always seemed to know that he was never hers to hold.

John was the one who hadn't understood why Mulder had to leave, why Mulder, for the moment at least, couldn't be held. Mulder had heard from Frohike about the things John had done. Going after Kersh. Facing down supersoldiers. Looking everywhere and asking everyone where Mulder was. Not letting it rest. It had become plain that even though John had never said the words either, that the man loved him and was pained at his disappearance.

John looked up over the cash box, ignoring the pile of bills left by the teenager. The naked longing in John's face at the sight of him led Mulder to the conclusion that John still loved him. That he had never stopped.

"I'm going home," John had said. DC was obviously not his home, probably just another stop along the way, some place he'd gone because of his ambition. His career. Mulder knew the story. Had heard the details from others, from Frohike, Langly. Mulder knew about John's degrees, his career with the NYPD, his rapid rise in the Bureau. And that despite it all, John's integrity had caused him to be sidetracked into the dead end that was the X-files. Frohike had theorized that Doggett had been trying for section chief at the very least, possibly even AD or DD. He didn't get far on that particular road of ambition though, did he? It must have been difficult for him to discover the hard way that sometimes no matter how much you do, how good you are, how much you stick to your ideals, that life can be a dead end street. It was a lesson Mulder had learned long ago.

So, where then was home to John? Not here. Probably not New York where his ex-wife still lived, where his little boy had died. Georgia then.

"Are you okay, John? Skinner thought you might be in some kind of trouble."

Mulder could almost believe that, given the constant wrinkling of the brow, the frown that marred his guarded face, the clenched set of his jaw.

"No, I'm not in trouble," John said. "Troubled maybe. But not in trouble."

"Would you stay if I came back and stayed?" Mulder all but pleaded. He leaned forward, resting his hands on the wobbly card table until his face was only a few inches from John's. Their fingertips were almost touching, the closest they had come to touching each other since before Scully's baby was born. "I missed you, John," Mulder said. "I was wrong to leave and never send word. I want you back. I've had six months in the desert with nothing to do but think about how much I missed you. Stay here."

"I can't," John said, his voice deep and rumbly. The words were a sharp stab to Mulder and he couldn't help but turn away. He wasn't prepared for this like he thought he would be when he'd decided he'd come here and try and talk John out of leaving. He still had some pride. He wouldn't beg. He'd just walk through the piles of old paperback Tom Clancy novels and holiday themed gift tins, the ones that come filled with three flavors of popcorn, the gift people give you when they don't actually know you. He walked back to his borrowed car and to drive away.

Doggett couldn't stand to see Mulder walk away from him yet again. Some things a man shouldn't have to face more than once. "Mulder, no," he called out to the retreating form. When their eyes met, someone else tried to distract him, tugged at his elbow, asked him the price of some ashtray that had followed him around from place to place, even though he'd never smoked. "Just take it," he snapped at the startled suburban housewife. She scurried away with her little treasure, as if afraid he would change his mind.

"Fox, don't go," he said. Mulder had frozen, face turned towards him, but his body still in the act of walking away. "Let me explain."

So Mulder had turned back to him. He found a spot by the garage and leaned against it, indicating with a nod that he was ready to talk.

"My Ma's sick," Doggett said. "Really sick. She's starting to die. I have to go home and take care of her. Tell me that makes a difference to you. She did it for her parents. I have to do it for her. I can't just stick her in a nursing home."

"I...I," Mulder began, but he was hardly able to start before he ran out of words. The great Mulder struck speechless was not a common sight. He finally started again. "I had no idea. Of course you need to go. How long does she have?" he asked cautiously, as if afraid that the answer would be that it was immediate, and painful to him.

"It could be years," Doggett said, thinking over the long duration ahead of him, the long, slow slope to ruin and death she was facing. He'd watched his grandma die the same way when he was younger, his aunt was in the middle of that decline as well. He knew how it went and it was neither easy nor graceful. "It's Alzheimer's. She's just starting to get to be a danger to herself."

"I'm sorry," Mulder said, touching Doggett on the shoulder and squeezing. "So sorry. I understand. My mom..."

Without really thinking about the intervening steps, Doggett found himself in Mulder's arms, crying on the man's shoulder.

Luckily, it'd gotten to the tail end of the afternoon already and they were alone in the back yard with the detritus of his life, so he could weep in peace, feeling protected for the first time in many, many months. Feeling so right, despite the fact that everything else seemed to be shattering around him. Mulder's body was so solid, so strong. It felt so good to be allowed to rest in that strength after having to hold it all in and hold it all together so long.

"You don't have to do this alone, John," Mulder said after Doggett managed to shut off the faucet of his tears again and pull himself out of Mulder's arms. Yeah, it felt good to be there, but he couldn't let himself think that he could stay there. "You have friends. People who are worried about you. Skinner. You could have told Skinner. He would have made sure you got at least some family leave time. The guys. They'd have auctioned your stuff off on Ebay. I'll bet you didn't realize that the ashtray you just gave to that woman was a collectors item. It probably would have got you a hundred or more."

"Fuck the ashtray," Doggett said. "It's just more junk. Doesn't matter. It's all meaningless."

He checked his watch. Three in the afternoon. He decided to call it quits even though he'd advertised until five. "Make yourself useful and start bagging up stuff. My neighbor said I could borrow her car to take the rest of this to the Goodwill."

"I heard you sold your truck. I wondered," Mulder said.

"I don't have a job anymore. I couldn't keep up the note," Doggett said by way of explanation. Not that he owed Mulder anything, much less to justify himself. "I'll be able to use my Ma's car once I'm down there."

"Don't bother your neighbor, John. I've got a car I borrowed. We can take your stuff to the Goodwill in that."

Together, they worked silently, to pack up the rest of the junk. As they worked, Mulder set aside a couple of things now and then, explaining it might be worth it to let the guys try and auction them off. "Byers is surprisingly good at running an auction," Mulder explained as they worked. "He's got a good hand with a digital camera and knows how to phrase the description just right. He got rid of a lot of my stuff for me at a really good price."

"Whatever," Doggett said.

Then after a while, Mulder asked, "I don't suppose you know where Scully and the baby are, do you? She told the guys not to worry but she wouldn't tell them where she was going."

"No," Doggett said, shaking his head as he rocked back on his heels. He'd been nesting gift tins inside each other to conserve space. "Not at the moment. There was that trouble while you were gone. Monica took her down to Mexico. They were going to stay with friends of friends. Supposedly if something goes wrong, Monica's parents will hear."

Monica had thought that they might end up in Guanajuato, which was a lovely old city. She and Scully would have a nice, quiet life down there among the colorful, ornate colonial era buildings.

"They're safe though?" Mulder asked.

"As safe as anything is these days," Doggett said. Mulder seemed to relax just a little, a tension that Doggett hadn't even noticed until it was lifted leaving the set of the other man's shoulders.

The old microbus was finally fully loaded and Mulder was in place behind its wheel. They drove mostly in silence to the Goodwill. John spoke only to give directions. Mulder concentrated on driving. Though it was a homely, crotchety vehicle, it was also the prized possession of his good friends. He was unclear as to whose it had been originally, but now it was equally shared by the three of them.

He pulled up to the drop box as John had indicated. They got out and worked together to toss bag after trashbag of things into the drop. John finally got to the bag that Mulder had set carefully aside- the collectibles, the things that he couldn't believe John would just toss. John was also ditching several suits that would probably pull in a good penny at a consignment shop.

"John, are you sure that's a good idea?"

"It's gone, Fox. All of it. Tomorrow morning, I sign my name on the dotted line, then it's gone. Except for a suitcase and my sleeping bag, everything I still want or need went down home with my cousin already."

"You're sure?" Mulder said. He ached to see John like this, so hurting. Pruning away everything as if by doing that, he could cut away the thing that was causing him pain. Mulder remembered what it was like to see his mother die- kneeling at her bedside, torn with an agony that was far worse because it had no physical cause, knowing that nothing would ever be the same again. Knowing that the foundation of his world was crumbling, its very underpinning slipping away, never to be better, ever again. To see one's parents die was to have the core of one's world shaken.

"I'm sure," John affirmed. He put his hand on Mulder's and together, they lifted and tossed the last items into the bin.

Mulder had insisted on stopping at a drug store on the way back to the house. "I need a few things," Mulder had claimed.

So John wandered the aisles while Mulder shopped, looking at this and that, feeling a certain disconnectedness as he realized that not only that did he not need any of this, that it would be foolish to buy any of it. That he'd stripped down to the necessaries and all else would be excess baggage to weigh him down on this important journey.

He turned down an aisle and came across Mulder who was talking to someone on his cell phone while contemplating different brands of toothpaste. Doggett turned away as fast as he could, but he still caught Mulder saying, "Yeah, it's not what you think. I'm not saying don't worry. His mom's sick."

In a way, he was glad it was Mulder making that call. He didn't think he could stand to make it himself, to tell any of his friends the real reason for his sudden flight home. To admit the truth out loud again would only give it more power over him. If he said it too often, he just might crack. Doggett retreated to the magazine aisle and flipped through one of the car magazines. One thing he'd gotten very good at over the years was pretending that everything was okay, that everything was normal. After a while he startled as he felt a hand on his shoulder. Mulder, carrying one bag from the drugstore.

"No need to fear," Mulder said, opening it and showing him that it contained shampoo, a stick of deodorant, toothpaste and a small bottle of Listerine. No condoms or lube.

"I think I'm disappointed," Doggett found it in himself to say. Actually, even if it was just one more night, he wouldn't mind sleeping with Mulder again, losing himself in that beautiful body. He wanted that touch, if only for one more time.

Mulder touched him on the chin, lifted his chin a little actually, then stared him in the eyes, direct and brutally honest need in them. Doggett realized suddenly that Mulder had been holding back, holding out, not for his own sake, but because Mulder was worried about him. About his mental state. That he thought that Doggett must be too clouded by grief to allow that kind of sunshine to get to him.

"Well, if that's what you want," Mulder said, "We might as well get the stuff while we're here."

They went to the right aisle together. Mulder's hand went unerringly to Doggett's favorite brand of condoms, only hesitating between the three pack and the twelve. Doggett had reached out for the lube. But as he watched Mulder try and decide between sizes, he realized that the box of single use packs might be a better idea. Then Mulder grabbed the twelve pack.

Doggett tried not to wince as he thought about who Mulder might use the extras on once he was gone. Mulder took the pack of single use lube packets from Doggett and put it back on the shelf, picking out a medium sized bottle instead. Then he took his selections back up to the register and paid for them without any comment.

Back at John's house, Mulder walked around from empty room to empty room while they waited for their pizza to arrive, it finally sinking in that John really was leaving. The house already seemed abandoned. John had been camped out in the living room, the only room beside the bathroom that had any of his possessions left in it. The bathroom had only John's shaving kit open on the toilet tank.

When it arrived, they sat on the floor and ate pizza. When Mulder set his slice down, John said, "Hold on."

Then he reached out with one of the napkins the delivery guy had brought and wiped away a tiny smudge of tomato sauce from Mulder's lip. It turned, somehow, naturally, into a kiss, which melted down, in turn to them coupling right on the floor. Grief, Mulder had learned, can be transmuted, transformed into nearly any other emotion, even into the shuddering lust that possessed them both, made them cry out with passion that sounded like agony as their embraces lasted into the lengthening night.

Passion spent at last, they were chilled already before they discovered that two naked men couldn't find shelter in one mummy style bag. Mulder started gathering a few clothes. "I think the guys have a couple of blankets in the van. I'll go get them."

John shook his head. He remained huddled in the sleeping bag, making no move to get out. "Just go on home. You should probably be getting the van back to your friends anyway. "

When John turned his back, as if he were rolling over to fall asleep, Mulder finished pulling his t-shirt over his head, then said, surprised at the righteous fury that seemed to roll from his lips, "That's it? You're going to send me on my way again? Not even tell me where you're going? Not even going to tell me when you're leaving so I can see you off?" He turned on his heel, paced a few steps so he stood just over John's sleeping bag. He crouched down then said, "Uh-uh. No way, mister. The story doesn't end this way."

"How else can it end, Mulder?" John said impatiently, sitting up. "Let's end this gracefully. Tomorrow night, right after midnight, I'm on a train to Georgia. It was nice, but this just ain't happening."

"Yes," Mulder said. He'd never before spoken with such conviction, he was sure. He could not afford, would not allow this to happen the way John was envisioning. "It is. I'm going with you."

"Oh, that's rich," Doggett said. "You got any idea what neighbors in rural Georgia are gonna do if I bring home a man like he's my wife or something? What my family would say?"

"Are you ashamed of us? Of what we are? Of what you are?"

"No, but..."

"But what?"

"Give it a rest, Mulder. It's not going to happen. Just go on, get on with the rest of your life. It's too late." He gathered up the last of Mulder's clothing and threw it at him.

Mulder picked up socks and a sweatshirt, but he didn't put them on yet. "I don't believe this. How can you do this to us? I want to be with you for this. For the rest of forever. I was wrong to walk away in the first place. After today, I thought maybe you'd be willing to give me a second chance."

John just turned his back to Mulder and wouldn't face him again, no matter how he pleaded, no matter what imprecations he used, how he cursed him or wept. In the end, there was nothing to do but wipe his face off and get dressed. The goddamn stubborn jackass that he'd had the misfortune of falling in love with was doing a good imitation of being asleep, though Mulder could tell he was faking.

He left the empty house. Even though there was still one inhabitant in it, the man's sorrow had caused him to turn in on himself so thoroughly, that it was as if he'd left it already. Mulder got back in the Microbus and did the only thing he could do. He drove back to Maryland and turned to the friends that he did have left. Part of his world, though tattered and incomplete, still existed. That would have to suffice. He would get by. Broken hearts mended themselves with time, and a little help from one's friends.

The door to the Gunmen's headquarters opened even before he had to start the usual rigamarole of waiting for entry into the inner sanctum of the three stooges. They must have been waiting for him, because the dented metal door was flung open as soon as he hit the stoop.

"How did you..." he started.

Langly ushered him into the building hurriedly and slammed the door behind him. As Langly threw the deadbolts closed one after the other, he said, "Know you were here? Our parking space is even more closely surveilled than the front door, Mulder. I take it your evening with the Dogman did not go well."

"You could say that," Mulder said, feeling not so much tired as utterly crushed.

"Mel made huevos rancheros again. We had extra salsa. Maybe he'll whip up a few eggs for you," Langly said, leading the way into the main room of the Gunmen's headquarters.

Once they were inside, Frohike rose to his feet, drew himself up to every inch of his short stature and took charge of Mulder, taking him by the arm and leading him across the room. He sat Mulder down in a chair and turned to Langly. "Langly, go play Doom or something," he said, dismissing the blond. Then he turned the not inconsiderable force of his personality on Mulder. Like many short men, Frohike was six feet of person somehow put into a body that couldn't have that been much taller than five feet. Yet, Mulder had never found that the man's confidence was anything less than justified, except in the matter of a certain redhead. The man was brilliant, empathic, and the best friend a guy could have. Langly shrugged, flipped his hair over his shoulders and settled himself at one of the many computer screens scattered all over the place. Byers had looked up briefly from his own computer screen, nodded, and then left them alone. Always a quiet one, keeping his own counsel was one of his better practiced traits.

"I take it by your presence here and the look on your face that John is going to his mother's alone," Frohike said gently. "God, I'm sorry, guy. You don't deserve that."

Mulder stood up, "I know what you're trying to do, Frohike, but forget it. Look, I just wanted to thank you for the car. I'll be on my way."

"Not so fast, Mulder. You're not going anywhere in this state. You look like you're about to fall over. You're taking our offer of a bed for as long as you need it," Frohike said. And he stepped in Mulder's way, blocking him from leaving the room, ready to enforce his offer by physical force if necessary, it looked like.

Mulder sighed. Why not? He'd rather not inflict his misery on his friends. An anonymous hotel room would be better for that, but it didn't look like he'd be able to make his escape, at least not for a few days, until the three of them judged that he was better. "A space on the couch will do," he said.

"You'll eat first," Frohike said. Frohike guided him by the elbow to a table and with great fuss and flourish, eventually a dish of poached eggs topped with salsa and cheese was pushed at him, with the order to eat.

"You said his mom has Alzheimer's?" Frohike asked as Mulder pushed the food around on his plate and even ate a few bites, more to appease Frohike than from any hunger.

"That's what he says," Mulder said.

"He thinks he's sparing you," Frohike pronounced. "That's a long, hard row to hoe, Mulder. He knows it's his duty to go, but he's not going to impose it on you, or anyone else."

"It doesn't matter. I need to be with him."

"Oh, guy. You don't know what you're getting into there. And maybe he's afraid that when the going gets tough, you're just going to disappear on him again."

This would be different. Before, that was another situation entirely. He wouldn't screw it up this time. He'd gathered his strength during his retreat. He was ready to face whatever life brought to him this time. He had the reserves again. And he knew that just being able to stand by John would be enough for him to face whatever life brought on. He thought about a case he'd worked once. A fungus from Asia. When given in closely controlled doses, it worked a miracle cure on senile dementia. They'd arrested the man who'd been giving it. He could find it again. He would do anything for John. If only John would allow it.

"No, not this time," was all he said. "I don't care how bad it is. I'd rather live in his world, than live without him in mine."

"I know that, buddy, but I don't think he trusts easily. Just like you. The pair of you are so like each other in some ways," Frohike said. "Eat now. It'll get cold."

Then, finally, after shovelling food that he didn't taste into his mouth because it was easier to do than arguing, he was allowed to get up from the table. He found his way to a couch that had surely been purchased from the same Goodwill that John had dropped off his unwanted possessions at. It seemed to make a certain sense to lie down on the rough herculon plaid and lie there bonelessly, not really watching the TV that was on in front of him. The both of them, he and the couch, became alike in his mind, both of them somehow John's unwanted castoffs. Eventually, a blanket was thrown over him, a crocheted throw of the kind made by someone's auntie and the remote control taken from his limp hand. The TV was turned off. It didn't matter. He'd been too busy obsessing over his internal misery to be really watching it. The room lights darkened.

Eventually, the lights came on again. Eventually, he found the remote, left on a table nearby. He turned the TV on, and while his eyes were glued to it, he was millions of miles elsewhere. Over the course of the day, food was pushed at him. Sometimes he ate some of it, sometimes he pushed it around the plate. Sometimes his bladder demanded attention and he got up and took care of it in the grungy, cramped room that the Gunmen called their bathroom. There were clumps of blond hair stuck to the wall in the vicinity of the trash, kind of like hairballs that had been projectile vomited. Mulder surmised that Langly probably had gathered them out of the drain of the shower stall and just flung them in the direction of the trash, without bothering to see if they made it. After that, he returned to the couch again.

Suddenly, the television was turned off and the crocheted granny blanket pulled off him. Frohike was the cause of the interruption of his contemplation of his own misery. "Get out of the way, Mel," he snapped. "You know, I really was interested in seeing which bachelor she was going to kick to the curb."

The only response Mulder got was Frohike thrusting his jean jacket at him. When Mulder didn't sit up, Frohike said, "Hurry. It's already past eleven but I figure we have just enough time to get you to the station."


"Just get going, Mulder. You can thank me later," Frohike said. Suddenly, all three of them were there. Langly finished stuffing the last of his things back into his bag. Byers held out a paper envelope with an Amtrak logo printed on it.

"Both broadcast radio and the police frequencies seem to indicate that traffic is light," Byers said. "We should be able to make the trip to Union Station in well under an hour."

"If it's as important to you as you say it is, Mulder, you'll be on that train, whether he says he wants you there or not," Frohike said.

"And I'm not having you cluttering up my sofa, watching my TV forever," Langly said. "Obsessing about the should have beens."

And so he allowed himself to be bundled into the Microbus, Frohike at the wheel, sharing the bench seat in the back with Langly. Frohike drove fast and furious, making Mulder wonder how the hell the man managed to coax so much speed out of the little engine. They darted among traffic on the expressway like a sparrow, hoping from open spot to open spot. Mulder was sure several times that whether they would catch the train or not would be an entirely moot question, that instead, he would end up as Mulder-butter, smeared across the beltway. With a dramatic squeal of wheels that was entirely unncessary, they pulled into the kiss and ride at the train station. Mulder found himself standing on the curb, blinking and confused still.

"Godspeed, my friend," Frohike said.

"Good luck, Mulder," Byers said.

"Hey, we got to get out of here before the parking Nazis come by," Langly said, throwing Mulder's bag at him. "You know the number of the casa if it turns out you miss the train."

There was nothing else for it but to gather his bag off the pavement and, as the Gunmen sped away, turn towards the big, ornate building that was DC's train station, past the big fountain, with its statues. Inside, the station was almost quiet. Few trains left at this time of day and the police, thinking of appearances, kept the homeless from populating the space like they did in a lot of city's stations. He set his bag down at his feet when he came to a screen that announced departures. He examined the ticket Byers had handed him- it was a one way ticket on a midnight train to Atlanta, Georgia, leaving from platform 3B, in ten minutes. He found himself suddenly feeling light, almost hysterically happy. Fuck what John thought he wanted. It would be okay. They would make it. It had to be. He picked up his bag again and started walking to the right platform. Then he couldn't stop himself from running.

He made the train in plenty of time. He boarded, then started walking the cars until he found the seat indicated on the ticket. It sure beat the last time he traveled by train, Mulder thought. As the conductor called, "All aboard!" Mulder entered the last car, the one that had to have his seat. About midway down the aisle, he found it. Someone had already claimed the window seat and was staring out the window out into the dark station, even though he certainly saw was his own reflection in the glass. Yes, the Gunmen had more than come through, Mulder thought, recognizing the man who was his seatmate instantly. Admittedly, it probably hadn't been that hard to arrange on a mostly empty train, but it was the thought that counted.

The man looking out ranhis hand over his forehead, as if warding off a headache. He didn't look up right away as Mulder took the seat next to him. Instead, his hand clenched and he lightly pounded at the glass. Finally, some small motion caused him to look up at Mulder.

Instead of the anger Mulder had expected, John choked up. He wasn't crying, quite. But it was a long time before he could talk, and when he did, he seemed grateful, like Mulder's presence was some kind of benediction, some prayer made and wished for without conscious thought. "You came," he whispered, finally. "You came."

"I came," Mulder said. "Did you think you were going to ditch me that easily?"

"I shoulda known better," John said. His voice was still harsh and quiet.

"Whatever happens, no matter how bad it gets, I'll be right there by your side," Mulder said, meaning the promise with every ounce of conviction he possessed. "I'm with you on this train, and I'll be there for as long as you'll have me. You can trust that much."

"I know," John said. "I...I'm sorry. Your friend, Frohike. He tracked me down. Right before I was supposed to go in and close on the house, he found me and gave me seven different kinds of hell. Told me exactly what I'd done to you. Told me I didn't deserve a man like you. He's right."

"I don't know about deserve," Mulder said. "All I know is about what I need. And that's to be with you, wherever you are."

"You ready to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, Bumfuck, Georgia, for me?" John asked.

As the train pulled out of the station, Mulder grabbed John's hand, not caring that they weren't the only ones in the car. "Anything," he said. Then, with that manic happiness that had struck him earlier, he laughed and smiled. No, suddenly, the lightheadedness was gone, replaced by a certitude that seemed to go down to his bones, lacing him through right to his very soul. Yes, they would share one world, one strength, one love. They would face down the tragedy of John's mother's impending death together. He thought ahead: to nights where John would rage and cry, to an inevitable day by a graveside, to the long years that would stretch between, to learning to love a woman for John's sake, only to know she was slipping away even as he grew closer. They would know together that the price for loving is, in the end, always pain and loss, but also that the price is always worth it, indeed, a bargain in comparison. He squeezed John's hand and reached over and kissed him. "Anything. Besides. It's too late now. You're stuck with me."

Mulder saw some trace of a smile cross John's face, and he was sure he heard the man mutter, "God help me," under his breath. But he kept a hold of Mulder's hand and said out loud, "We'll be there before morning. My cousin's meeting me in Atlanta. I suppose I'll figure out some way to explain you before then. What else am I gonna do?"

What else indeed?


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