Summary& Disclaimer: Please see previous chapters.
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Scully gently fingered the laminated hospital bracelet as she sat on the edge of her bed, enjoying the way the soft plastic rims flapped against the pads of her fingers when she moved them. She could see warm afternoon sunshine filtering through the slats of the brown Venetian blind on the opposite wall. She had slept almost fifteen hours, judging by the time, and her head swam and her tongue was gummy.
After a moment, she cut the hospital bracelet with a soft click, and left it on the bedside table. She could hear soft voices in the adjoining room, and, wincing from the pain of her back, she shuffled through the doorway. Mulder, Dan, and Paring were sitting on her couch, cold cups of coffee clutched in their hands, speaking in low tones. They all looked up when she came in, and Mulder's gaze came up to meet hers.
He still took her breath away. They held the memory of their kiss like a precious talisman, warm and safe and treasured.
A noise came from the bathroom, and, to her amazement, Rob stepped out. He stopped dead when he saw her, a bright flush creeping up his neck. In a few steps he was over to her, and had swept her up in his arms, cradling her with gentle caring.
"Dana," he murmured. "I was so worried." She felt shame churn in her gut, hot and burning. He must have felt her body tense, and he pulled back slightly, dipping his chin to look at her face. "It's okay," he whispered. "I know what you choose. I'm here to say goodbye." He smiled at her, the smallest glistening of tears in the bottom rim of his eye.
Gratitude swarmed through her, and she hugged him fiercely. He laughed thickly, and took her hand.
"Let's talk," she said. "I want to talk to you, please." Her own eyes were burning now, and her throat was husky. Mulder was tense out of the corner of her eye, stiff and unmoving on the couch. As Rob began to lead her towards the bedroom, he almost catapulted out of his seat, but Scully placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. She met his eyes again, seeking to pour through them everything she felt, to let him know.
He knew. Of course he did. His eyes softened again, and he sat back down with a gentle sigh.
"By the way, Dana," Dan said quickly. "The boy from the playground? His name was Andrew, the last name to complete the set. He found all twelve."
Scully closed the door behind her with a quiet click, and sat down on the edge of the bed, across from Rob. The afternoon light highlighted his features with gold, and he fixed her with a steady gaze. He noticed the hospital bracelet with a change of expression, and his eyes clouded with worry.
"You okay?" he asked anxiously. She nodded.
"I will be. He just sliced me a couple of times across the back before I shot him. The hospital put stitches in, and they'll heal. It's more than I can say for Jude Hoffman. I can't even imagine what he's going through." She was lost for a second, but regained her composure after a beat. "Did you know he still won't believe his father did it? He's convinced it was 'another man' who took his daddy, and then him. He'll probably never be okay…" Her voice trailed off. Rob took her hand gently, and traced the faint lines that crisscrossed it absently.
"But he's alive," he added finally. "Which he wouldn't be if you hadn't found him. Who knows if Hoffman would really have stopped after him?"
Scully gazed intently at the bedspread. "What would he have had to live for?" she said after a moment. "Judas was his twelfth Disciple, his master work. What was left for him after that? Nowhere to go but down."
How much like herself, she thought bitterly. Defying protocol, searching without a warrant, killing a man… Where was there to go but down? What else could possibly touch this experience, its depth of emotion, its pits of fear and heights of joy. It was the last stand of a rickety soldier.
As if sensing her train of thought, Rob raised her chin with a firm hand. "Dana," he said. "Dana, listen to me. Because of you, he will never, ever hurt another child again. You have saved people. You've made the world a better place, a safer place. There is one less fear in the darkness, and you lit that match, Dana. For you, there's nowhere to go but up." He smiled shakily. "I'm just a little sorry I won't be there to see it."
"No. Don't say anything. I love you, and that means loving you no matter where you are, or who you're with. I would rather have you be happy with Mulder than miserable with me. I made a lot of people miserable when I lost Julia, because I refused to believe that I could be happy in world without her. When I met you, Dana, I realised that wherever she was, she was free from pain and hurt, and I owed it myself and to her to do my best to have the same. I'll live, I'll be happy, you'll be happy, God knows Mulder'll be happy… I'm willing to let you go without making you feel guilty. But don't…" his voice broke, and a single tear spilled over. "But don't think for one minute that I'm happy right now, or that I'm trying to get rid of you. Like my dad says: if you love them, let them go. I love you."
Speechless, Scully pulled him into an embrace, tears streaming in rivulets down her face. "I love you, too." She choked out. "I'm going to miss you so much."
"You won't have to," he mumbled into her shoulder. "I damn well intend to be in your life, as your friend. If you'll let me…"
She laughed through her tears, and held him for a long time, as the sun slowly set in the world outside.
"So, where to next?" Mulder asked as they sped down the I-15, two days later. "We're on 'leave', we're in the desert, and the open highway's in front of us. Where to next?"
Scully laughed, and let the wind pull back her hair as it whipped through the open window. "I know what you really mean. Washington or Salt Lake City, I move or you do, the city or the desert…"
He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively over his sunglasses. "My place or yours?"
Her smile widening, Scully ruffled the hair at the back of his head, admiring him in profile as the dry land sped by outside. "Don't be an idiot."
He looked at her sideways. "Can't deny nature, Agent Scully."
With a sudden rush of feeling, Scully turned her head and kissed him, her lips salty with the wind. Her happiness was like a giant bubble rising inside her, choking and delighting her all at once. She could feel his matching emotion run through her in current, almost bringing tears to her eyes. As they gently drifted apart, Scully smiled as whole-heartedly as she ever had in her whole life.
Words struggled to lips, and in a sudden burst she said:
"Watch the road, Mulder." To her surprise, he laughed and grinned, and turned back to the front.
"Scully," he said. "I know exactly what you mean."
The motion of the car soothed Scully into sleep as they flew along through the night. She fell into dreams as swiftly as the cliffs and rocks flashed by the window, streaks of silver and moonlight.
In her dream she stood once again on the harsh plain of her nightmares, the Eyes two glittering eclipsed suns burning in the sky above. Like a clockwork, as regular as a pulse, the mutilated bodies flashed into being in front of her, dissolved and swept away by the immutable wind. But this time, she did something she had never done before.
She reached out and touched the body as she saw its essence begin to loosen and drift, and at once it was whole again. She saw in a rush that it was Judas; it was herself; it was Rob; it was Mulder; it was Jamie and Thomas and Matthew and the others, all of the dark, broken angels whole again, healed and ascending, their brightness burning away the dark, all-seeing orbs from the sky, letting the light stream down onto Scully's upturned face. Her soul drank it in after so long in the dark.
And Scully knew that whatever happened, she would always be solid, here and standing tall. She would never let herself be borne away again.
The wind slowed to a caressing, loving breeze, and in the humming moonlight of the car, Dana Scully's mouth twisted gently upwards in a delicate smile of bliss.
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A/N: Well, that's all, folks. I've had a great time writing this, and I hope you enjoyed reading it too. I can't thank you enough for all the feedback; it's the reason the story kept going. It means so much to me that you like it, and that you were so generous as to spend your time reading and reviewing. Even to everyone who didn't review, but only read: that's okay, I still love that you read, especially through 13 (very slowly updated) chapters.
I'm going to be doing a huge edit on this story, just going back and fixing all the little mistakes, so check back in a while if you get a chance: it might be better than ever!
I'm also planning to write more stories (possibly including a prequel to this one, with Scully soon after her arrival in Utah. Tell me what you think…), in both Buffy and The X-Files, including, hopefully, some co-written with my lovely friend April. As well, a final plead for attention (ie a shameless pimp), of my poor, neglected vignette, Ardet Evanescit. Please, give it a shot. It's developed an inferiority complex, and becoming hell to live with. ; )
Almost finally, a big, huge, thank you to everyone who reviewed up to this point (in chronological order): Theresa42, Claire5, AJ Arsenic, Wookie Devil, Bethie, X_MulderScully_X, dim, ali, SandyT, kkatz, Downward Sunshine, Puddlejumper, Melissa, willerine, fireangel, Missiongiraffe, Amber, snosamie6, beca, OoBarracuda, brennan mulwray, K, spooky sami, Daphne Lane, Jamie, CB15, Ginger Lane, BelieveTruths, Angel LeeAnn, Maverick Point, Sam, PixieDustBunny, fae-de-luna, Shadow's Echo, pallas1, Erin, miccy, malinmalinching, AngelicDevil1, Gillian Leigh, toni, Samantha, nina, apioni, none, Zelnin, Person, BekaJWP, lauren, and, last but not least, erin.
A final goodbye,