“Hey, so there’s probably no way to say this without sounding like a giant sap,” Mulder said, his voice soft and thoughtful in her ear.
“Quite the opener,” Scully replied. “I can’t wait to hear what comes next.”
“It’s bothering me, what you said before. That I might meet someone younger, who wants to have kids.”
“Bothering you?” She tried to turn backwards to try to see his face better, but his arms were wrapped too tightly around her, and he didn’t budge to make things easier for her. “In what way?”
“Well, I’m frankly amazed you don’t already know this, but I’m not going to meet anybody younger,” he said. “Or anybody older, or the same age. I’m not going to meet anybody at all.”
“Mulder,” Scully said gently. “I certainly hope you have several decades of life left. You also still have a reasonable amount of scoot in your boot” -- he nodded his appreciation of the compliment -- “and you know it’s not possible to see every bend in the road. I don’t know why you would assume you wouldn’t meet someone.”
“Because I’m a profiler, Scully, and I know this Mulder guy pretty well.”
“Oh? And, in his fifties, he has some new commitment to celibacy?”
“He definitely does not.”
“So what, he is just an aggressive self-saboteur when it comes to forming relationships?”
“Probably,” Mulder acknowledged. “But that’s not the point here. The point here is that for Mulder, there isn’t the possibility of just anybody. For Mulder, it’s always Scully. It’s always been Scully. End of story, forever and ever, amen.”
“That is pretty sappy, Mulder,” Scully said.
“I’m a surprisingly sentimental guy. When it comes to the Yankees, and when it comes to Scully.”
She paused for a moment again.
“Mulder, it has not always been Scully,” she said.
She couldn’t see his face, but she could still somehow feel Mulder rolling his eyes behind her.
“Oh, come on,” he said. “It’s been Scully so long now that it hardly matters what happened before. It’s been Scully since the first Clinton administration. Since before web browsers. Since I was a young, virginal, baby-faced agent.”
“You’re definitely rewriting that story a bit,” Scully said. Her lip curled into a little half smile that he couldn’t see.
“Maybe,” he said lightly. “But what I’m saying is fundamentally true.”
“Sometimes, for Mulder it was … the X-files,” Scully pointed out. She was firm, but her tone was kind. “Sometimes, for Mulder it was the work.”
Mulder’s head bobbed up and down. “Yeah,” he said, his voice a tinge wistful. “Yeah, okay, that’s true enough.”
“And yes, Mulder, I admit, it’s sweet. It’s … moving to hear. But when I think of the time since the first Clinton administration that we were not actually in a committed relationship…”
“Including now,” she agreed, “then it also seems … sad. Lonely.”
“Believe me,” he said, “I know. Nobody knows better than me. But what’s a fellow to do?”
They sat there in another silence. She ran her hand lightly up and down his bare arm, a comfortable and familiar gesture.
“Of course,” she said, “since the first Clinton administration, since web browsers were invented, since I was a young and baby-faced agent …”
“Yeah?” he said.
“I am just making a quick mental list of all the people I’ve met and had relationships with besides Mulder,” she said.
“Actually, I don’t especially want to know this.”
“It’s a very short list.”
“Well, we were together a while,” Mulder said, relaxing a little.
“But that’s not the only reason why,” she said, musing. “When I worked on the X-files the first time, before we were together, I very rarely dated, as you know, and I haven’t dated much since we’ve broken up. Not seriously -- I mean, yes, there has been some activity. I’m not a nun.”
“Didn’t I just say I didn’t especially want to know, Scully?”
“I tell myself I’m busy,” she said. “I tell myself I am married to my work.”
“Yeah,” Mulder said pointedly. “Sometimes, for Scully it was the work, too.”
“My work is important to me,” Scully said. Her voice had a thoughtful quality now, too, like she was trying to solve a puzzle. “And our relationship, well, our relationship could be fairly entangled with our work.”
Mulder’s sigh was almost imperceptible. “I believe that was one of your critiques.”
“I tell myself I don’t need a relationship at all,” Scully said. “That I’m enough on my own.”
“Very possibly that’s true, Scully.”
“But then I crawl into your bed like this, looking for what? Comfort and intimacy and reassurance?” Scully said. “It makes me suspicious of my own motives.”
“What do you think your motives are?”
Scully said nothing, but continued to lightly run her fingers up and down his arm.
“It’s okay,” Mulder tried again, “just to want comfort and intimacy and reassurance from an old friend, Scully. And it’s no problem for me to give that to you.”
“That’s a kind statement, Mulder,” Scully said. “But I think it contains at least two untruths.”
“You’re not my old friend,” she said. “I mean, of course you are, but it’s too reductive to call you that and leave it there. Whatever we were… it was more than that.”
Mulder was quiet a moment. “Yeah,” he agreed.
“And of course it would be a problem for you to give me comfort and intimacy and reassurance,” she said, “if I were making myself feel better at your expense. At the cost of your feelings.”
And then she stopped stroking his arm. The implications of her own words slowly trickled into her, growing colder and colder each moment that passed.
Mulder felt the change. He tightened his hold.
“Hey,” he said, starting to laugh a little. “Hey. Come on. One thing I am always up for is being used.”
“Mulder,” she said, her voice nearly a whimper.
“No, really,” he said. “I’m your personal man doll.”
“Oh God,” Scully, twisting, buried her face in the pillow.
“When we’re old and gray, Scully, you can live your independent old lady lifestyle, and I am always glad to roll over in my wheelchair and service you sexually,” he said. “Or I could give you some good old-fashioned banter, or help you with your crossword puzzle, or whatever the situation calls for. And then I’ll just roll on back over to my porch so you can be alone again.”
“Mulder,” she said. “I know you’re trying to be funny, but I honestly think that scenario might make me cry.”
“Oh, Scully,” Mulder breathed into her ear. “It’s not like I don’t owe you that and more.”
Scully wriggled out of his hold and turned around completely, then, to give him an appropriately horrified look.
To her surprise, his expression wasn’t forlorn. His eyes were soft and shining.
“Why doesn’t this make you sad, Mulder?” Scully said, bewildered. “It should make you sad.”
“Eh, it just doesn’t sound too bad,” he said, with a crooked smile. “And to be honest, part of me...”
“Part of you what?” Scully said.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Part of you what?” Scully repeated, her eyes narrowing.
“You won’t like it,” he admitted.
“But you have to say it now,” Scully insisted.
“Well,” Mulder said, using a finger to stroke a piece of hair at the side of her face. “Sometimes, in the past, it has taken you a while to recognize when you’re experiencing particular feelings. Especially where your heart is concerned. Sometimes you just need time. I thought maybe … “
Scully’s eyes widened. “You’re saying you think I do feel the same way as you do … and I just haven’t realized it yet?”
“No,” Mulder said, carefully. “I did not say that.”
“That’s fairly dismissive of my agency, isn’t it, Mulder? To assume you know better than I do how I feel?”
“I don’t know how you feel, Scully,” Mulder said, simply.
Scully cocked her head suspiciously.
“I just … hope, that’s all,” he said. “That at the end, you might decide you belong with me after all. And if you don’t, well, who else would I want to grow old next door to anyway?”
His eyes had some lines around them these days, but really, they were exactly the same as they ever were, weren’t they? The same bright intensity as the moment she met him, she thought to herself. She held his gaze a moment, weighing his words.
“Mulder,” she said, with slow precision. “Let me be very clear. I have never, ever once needed your help with a crossword puzzle, and I never will.”
“Well, you might take some time to recognize you need the help, Scully, but I will be there for you when you do.”
She leaned forward in bed and lightly touched her forehead to his. This was an old, old way they had of lying down together on a motel bed — older than their sexual relationship, if not quite older than web browsers. A kind of chaste intimacy: joined at the frontal lobes, knees bent towards one another, hands placed at rest on the other’s arm. Symmetry. Especially appropriate for times of injury and illness and despair. (Less chaste variations also existed.)
“So you are suggesting that I don’t meet anyone else because there is no one out there for Scully but Mulder?” Scully whispered, her lips very, very close to his.
“No, I didn’t suggest that. I legitimately don’t know,” Mulder insisted. “But … that’s never even occurred to you?”
Scully said nothing for a moment. “Of course it has.”
“Ah. You just hope for a more rational explanation,” he said. The comment was playful, but it was there, she heard it: the old hurt.
Scully moved her fingers into his hair, raked her nails slowly and affectionately down the side of his head, as she had so many times in so many different roles and contexts.
“Don’t you worry ever, at all, about this relationship, Mulder? Whether it is good for either of us? Intimacy born of trauma? Whether you are always seeing some out-of-reach, absent kid sister in me? Whether I am always seeing some emotionally-withholding father in you?”
“Yowza, that’s hot, Scully.”
Scully smiled a little, sighing, and closed her eyes.
“I won’t say you and I aren’t affected by our experiences of trauma,” Mulder said, his voice low and suddenly serious. “I can’t even prove my feelings for you aren’t affected by them. I am sure they are. But I do know that’s not … all my feelings are.”
He leaned in and kissed her. His lips were warm, so soft, and their touch whisper-light.
“I don’t know many things for certain in my life, but I do know that,” he added, a wistful smile.
“You’re convincing,” Scully whispered. “You have always been very inconveniently convincing.”
And when she moved to kiss him in return, it felt like releasing a pent-up breath.
“Yes, but this is the kind of convincing that won’t last,” Mulder said, pulling back from her kiss, surprising her. “I will convince you now, and you will torture yourself worrying about it later.”
Scully traced the line of his jaw with her finger tip.
“I am finding that right at this moment, I don’t much care what I will do later,” she said, her voice low.
“But I do,” he said. “So that’s why I have to say this — this, us, right now? This is just the comfort and the intimacy and the reassurance, Scully. No other strings.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “I need you to know, so later you don’t worry. We do this because we need to, and we want to. No expectations. That’s got to be clear to both of us.”
Scully was ridiculously distracted by her desire for him. Much more distracted than a woman her age should be by someone she had been intimate with countless times. Her eyes and hands kept straying to his bare shoulders.
But she managed to take in his earnest, bright-eyed expression. So similar to the expression he had worn frequently back when she first knew him -- back in those days of endless partnerly touches and cold showers and the first Clinton administration and no web browsers. Yet unquestionably, there was something unfamiliar about it, too.
And she realized something else she probably should have already known.
“You are different, Mulder,” she whispered, moving her fingertips to the stubble on his face, her voice a little awed. “You aren’t quite the same.”
He gave her an odd, fond look. “Of course I am,” he said. “But the important pieces, I hope, are unchanged.”
She wondered if that were entirely true. She wondered if he even knew all the ways he was different. She wondered if she knew all the ways she was different.
“I understand what you’re saying,” she murmured, caressing his face. “No expectations.”
“No expectations,” Mulder repeated, leaning in to kiss her again at last.
He directed the attention of his beautiful mouth to hers single-mindedly, as though it had been the only thing on his mind for years. And perhaps it had.
They both kissed one another eagerly at first, holding on to each other imperfectly like first time lovers, a little nervous and a little needy. But of course they were not first time lovers, and so they slowed down, remembering, and marking each sensation and look and gasp and breath, because no one knew better than they did that these moments are finite and not to be taken for granted.
As he slid on top of her, Scully felt her arms stretch out, felt herself reach very far around his back, felt herself pull him closer to her with all her strength. It is impossible to stop feelings like this for someone, she thought. It is like trying to stop time from passing. It is like trying to stop Mulder’s foolish and persistent love.
Later, when they were resting with skin pressed flush against one another, she opened her mouth to tell him something sappy, but stopped.
“You have something to say, Scully?” Mulder, ever the mind reader, whispered deep into her ear.
Maybe you are right. Maybe it should be only you for me. Maybe it is not just a matter of fate, of all of our choices leading up spectacularly to one moment, as I once thought. Maybe it is only a question of me quietly making a choice once and for all.
“Not now, Mulder,” she said, burrowing her head affectionately into his shoulder. “Maybe later. Let’s sleep.”
"Okay." He placed a tiny kiss on the top of her head. “Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be listening.”
She closed her eyes, certain he would be.