by waterfall

Disclaimer: The characters contained in this story are the creative property of 1013 Productions, FOX Broadcasting, and News Corp, and are not mine. Not even the dead ones.

Title: Return
Author: waterfall
Rating: PG-13 for mild swearing
Spoilers: through "The Truth"
Keywords: post-col
Summary: When letting go does not equate to giving up.

Written for the "War for the World" (post-col) X-Files Lyric Wheel. Lyrics used were from "Revolution" by Lennon and McCartney and were provided by campylobacter.

Setting: the southern area of what was formerly referred to as the Commonwealth of Virginia. Timeline: during the invasion / colonization alluded to in "The Truth".

He turned his back on the group of soldiers who had gathered for the evening briefing in the small meeting room and scanned the map taped to the wall for the umpteenth time. He was not reassessing the logistics or second-guessing the objective; he was waiting. Waiting for the inevitable comment about how he was going about all of this in the wrong way, about what should be the real focus of their attention. Doggett knew that it was coming, and he would not be disappointed.

Cue Mulder.

"What about the rock slides? Why bother to keep routes to the western camps if the earth just keeps relocating the mountain range?"

"We need a road west because we need an escape route. In case you hadn't noticed, we're getting boxed in here." Doggett waved off the rest of the group and waited for them to leave the room before continuing. "If you've got a better suggestion, we'd all love to see the plan." Piercing blue eyes met smoky hazel ones, but neither flinched. "Didn't think so. Mulder, just do your job and familiarize yourself with the highway." Doggett turned back to the map and began peeling the tape off of the concrete wall. "Now, you got suggestions about the slides, I'll hear them at oh-five-thirty, and we'll map it out, me and you. Until then, you're dismissed. And get some sleep. You look like shit."

Mulder nodded, did a slow about face, and left the room.

Doggett knew better than to expect a salute; his had been an informal command - no 'yes, sir' or saluting or standing at attention were required when they weren't interacting with other platoons; his men hadn't been soldiers before the world went to hell - but the day that Mulder saluted him was the day that Doggett knew he was going to die.

Whether he got it from that brain operation years back or as a byproduct from his time spent in captivity on an alien ship, Mulder's uncanny ability to know what would happen just minutes into the future unnerved Doggett. Mulder's sixth sense had kept their regiment alive on a number of occasions but only if his focus was in the here and now. The second-guessing and open defiance had worked in Mulder's favor when he was with the FBI; mix in the ability to sense disaster and he became that much more impossible to work with, but Doggett kept him on a taut leash. Better that he hates my guts, Doggett thought, than to have him eviscerated on some table for the entertainment of the invasion elite.

Mulder tugged on the string for the overhead light bulb in his room. That he found the Gunmen occupying various corners of the room did not surprise him as they had this exasperating habit of sneaking up on him, but he would wonder why they would never jump up and down and scream 'boo' at any opportunity. "So, what did you guys think?"

"About what?" Langly answered.

"About the plan."

Langly picked out one of the metal folding chairs and straddled it, settling in for the discussion. "Oh, you mean the Major's plan to take the highway?"

Mulder stood by the desk, fingertips touching the small stacks of paper in search of a specific report. "Yeah, that one."

"Like we should care?"

Byers, ever the pragmatist, explained. "We're not really here, you know."

Mulder shrugged his shoulders and kept looking through the folders on the desk. "I just thought that you might have some insight on it."

Frohike sat down at the foot of the unmade cot. "Mulder, what is it you really want? You want us to tell you that it'll be a disaster? That they're walking into a trap? That you're the only one allowed to come up with a coherent plan? Doggett's doing it right; he's got the surveillance, the numbers on the patrols, and the timing sounds good. You know it could work; you just have a problem with someone else calling the shots."

"You think I'm jealous?"

"You just don't like Doggett being the major," Langly joined in.

"You just don't like Doggett," Frohike added.

Byers stepped up to the desk as if to aid in the search. "If you hadn't kept running raids behind the colonel's back, you'd be the major now instead of Doggett."

Mulder loudly slammed the desk drawer shut, shifting several of the paper piles. "I don't need a rank to be right, damn it. I got people out of that death camp, didn't I? I got Doggett out of there, too, the ungrateful bastard."

"You know it, he knows it, and we know it, but that still doesn't answer the question as to why it should matter so much to you that others are taking their orders from Doggett and not you."

"That's not it."

"Really?" Langly snorted.

"Why are you still here?"

"You need us," Frohike quietly explained, "for the moment. It's as simple as that. When you've got things right, when you stop questioning every little thing and stop looking for validation, we'll be on our way."

Mulder stooped to pick up the stray pages that had fallen to the floor. "Why don't you guys really make yourselves useful and help clean up around here?" He stood up and looked around to find the Gunmen gone. "Figures."

"We all want to change the world, Mulder, but it's just not gonna happen overnight." Doggett set aside his morning caffeine ration to join the other man at the map wall. "Why are you so dead set against this raid?"

"I'm not. Not really. This highway . . ."

"This highway," Doggett interrupted, "will give us access to supplies and food, and we're low on both." He glanced over at Mulder to find the man's attention fixated on another section of the map. "We can't go back there, Mulder. We can't go to Base One. We don't have the numbers. It's a suicide mission."

"Then send just me."


"You said it yourself, it's a suicide mission. I've got to keep trying, and if I fail, then you'll finally be rid of me."

"I'm not sending you in there alone. Listen, Mulder, I get it. You don't think I do, but I understand it. If it were Luke in there, Luke and Barbara, I'd be leading the charge early, often, and always, but then I'll be dead before I even hit the perimeter cause they'd know that I wouldn't stop until either I got my family out of there or they killed me." Doggett took several steps to stand behind Mulder, hoping that the close proximity would lend credence to his words. "William is important to them. They're not going to hurt him or risk damaging him, but they'll obliterate anyone coming within ten miles of that place who has any thought of rescuing him."

When Mulder's attention did not waiver, Doggett headed down another avenue. "Scully tried and failed. End of story. You gotta hang on for when the time is right for a rescue, and I'd think that William would let you know when that is." Doggett knew that bringing up Scully was like twisting the proverbial knife in Mulder's gut, but he felt the aura of darkness beginning to envelope the other man and it had to be broken.

"I could've gotten Scully out."

Doggett detected no overt bitterness in the remark, but he knew the meaning of those words. "But you got me out instead, that's what you're thinking. She's still alive, that's something to hang on for."

"No, they would have killed her. Once they found out who she was, they'd have killed her."

"William would have known. The woman taking care of him these past few years is Scully and not some clone or shape shifter. He'd know the difference."

"Do you ever wonder if they both are imposters?" Mulder finally turned around to face him. "What if they've been dead all this time, and they've been parading clones around just for show, just to draw me out?"

Doggett was having none of this self-pity parade. "They're not dead. We're going to get our world back, and Scully and William will be a part of it. You know all this, Mulder. You know all this, and yet, you won't accept it. You think all of this - the invasion, William and Scully being locked up - is your fault, and you're the only one who can fix it. Well, tough shit. Suck it up and contribute, damn it. You do what you do best, and we can end this just that much sooner."

Mulder nodded, gave the main map one last look, and started for the door. "For a second there, you sounded just like Frohike."

"And how is the unholy trio?"

"As annoying as ever."

Frohike was his usual tactful self. "You look like crap, Mulder."

"So I've heard."

"We'll go." Byers was apologetic. "You need to sleep."

Langly was puzzled at Mulder's reaction. "What's so funny?"

"That 'we'll go' part." Mulder stretched out on the cot but had no desire for sleep. "You three never leave me alone."

"Say the word, Mulder, and we're gone. Just say the word."

"You really think you'd leave me alone?"

"Fuck, Mulder, make up your mind." Frohike sounded pissed. "If you don't want us here, do something about it."

Mulder sat up, looked around and noticed that the other two had gone, leaving Frohike speak for them. "I'm not sure what I want anymore."

"You can't keep going on like this. You have to decide, Mulder."

"What are my choices?"

"There's only one option. You know it. It's all you ever think about, and it's not going to go away. You just need to walk out that door and find them."

"I can't walk out right now. Doggett's given orders that I'm to be locked in my room every evening."

"He knows that, without that locked door, you'd go straight to Base One. You have to make a break for it first chance you get."

"I've tried that a number of times. Doggett calls me 'his lucky charm' because every time I run off, try to get away from the others, I end up saving the group."

"Then keep running and don't stop to save them."

Mulder was stunned at Frohike's bluntness. "You know, just because you're dead doesn't mean the rest of them are ready to join you."

"I note that you didn't include yourself in that statement."

Mulder would have voiced his apathy about his continued existence on this side of the curtain, but he found himself alone.

Mulder sensed them before he could see them and reacted. He grabbed Doggett's arm and ran to the other side of the road. "Jesus Christ, find cover."

The two men tumbled over the edge into a gully that ran for about a hundred yards along the highway. "Where the hell did they come from?" Doggett whispered.

The lights in the sky hovered for a moment while the two crouched and tried to become one with the clay dirt of the ditch. They strained to listen for sounds from the rest of the scouting party, hoping that they had been able to scatter before being sucked into the vortex. The lights suddenly appeared to be dividing, one set dissipating into space while another seemed to lower to the ground. The two men slowly stood up and peeked over the grassy edge. An alien craft, fully visible, was set just off in the distance.

Doggett sensed a movement beside him and grabbed Mulder's wrist before he could pull himself up over the edge and risk being noticed. He watched as Mulder fought an internal battle - to stay hidden or run to the craft that would take him that much closer to Scully and William than he was now. With his jaw clenched and tears pooling in his eyes, Mulder appeared to be agonizing over what he hoped would be a swift and certain death over the slow, torturous one he was currently enduring.

Doggett's sympathies overwhelmed him; he wouldn't think twice about making a run at death if Luke and Barbara were still alive for just one more moment to hold them both close. And though he knew better, Doggett would grudgingly admit that a sighting of Monica Reyes at Base One would warrant a look-see on his part in the off chance that she hadn't really died back in the camps.

His grip on the other man's wrist loosened. As Mulder slowly began to inch away, Doggett grabbed again at his hand and tugged on the ends of his fingers. "Don't go," he whispered.

There was a look in Mulder's eyes that Doggett had seen a few times before - a sickened pet on a cold steel table that stretches out its paw towards you, accepting the inevitable needle that will end its life while forgiving you at the same time. 'It's okay to let me go,' it tells you, 'it's gonna be all right.' It seemed to Doggett that Mulder had wanted to die for some time and kept finding ways to place himself in harm's path only to miraculously find safety at the last moment. Each time that Doggett dragged him back to their headquarters, the timer would start again on the death watch. This time, Doggett let him go.

Mulder crawled his way down the ravine before pulling himself onto the asphalt, placing distance between himself and Doggett so that, should he be spotted, he would draw the focus of the attack.

Doggett watched the running figure, anticipating the worst, but the craft seemed not to notice the approaching human. Perhaps it sensed that it was Mulder and recognized him from his previous exposure to their race. Maybe it read his thoughts and knew that he didn't mean them any real harm; he just wanted to be with his family even though it meant captivity and torture.

Perhaps the craft was waiting for him, had always been waiting for him. Maybe this was why they always seemed to be seconds from capture - the aliens had been pursuing Mulder, ignoring the rest of them, and waiting for him to decide to join them again.

Maybe, Doggett hoped, it was gonna be all right.


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