Title: Befores and Afters
Fandom: The X-Files
Spoilers: several years post-IWTB
Summary: She only longs for more time now that the days are running out.
Their life has always been a series of befores and afters; moments of crises and tragedy segmenting time along with their relationship. Before her abduction. After Emily. Before her cancer. After his death.
Each section of time passing sanding down their roles like a grit of crystal caught between the lips of a mussel, forming them into an entirely new creation. Partners, friends, lovers. And so many times between when she wasn't even sure she liked him but found herself drawn into his cause regardless.
She can remember months of restlessness here and there when she had wondered if there was anything more than him, his truth. It seemed like the days were endless with her discontent then. Suffocating.
How foolish she had been.
When they had started this particular incarnation of their life together (another after, another before) she had marveled at the miracle they were given promising she would never take another minute with him for granted. And it had been so easy to fall into this normal life, so much simpler than she would have ever guessed.
They bought a house with money he had willed her when he discovered he was dying and he helped her study when she decided pediatric neurosurgery was where her heart resided. They took turns with the everyday repairs of their farmhouse, Mulder being so much more proficient with the electrical issues but not nearly so with the plumbing. She gardened and he learned to cook and somewhere along the way nine years had passed in the blink of an eye.
What she would give to go back to those early days in their partnership when she had resented so much, when they had wasted so much time. If she could do it all again she would take him to her bed sooner, tell him she loved him more. She never dares wish for more than that, doesn't let herself imagine what could have happened if she'd kept him from Oregon that day in May or hidden herself and William away where maybe no one could find them.
She only longs for more time now that the days are running out.
It's nothing they talk about. Once, that would not have been a surprise. There had been so many secrets between them before and virtually none after. None except this one.
The date was set. Nine years ago it had seemed a lifetime ahead of them and it had been so easy to pretend that old, evil man had been lying. But the truth was-- as ever elusive as it could be-- they had no choice but to believe him.
And if he was right, if colonization was set for December 22, 2012, then they had only a year left before the end of their world. One year.
Time was ticking away and Mulder, as best as she could tell, still hadn't come up with a plan.
She knew she was being unfair. She knew that even without the quick look of hurt flashing in his eyes before his face shifted into the mask she remembered so well from their days at the Bureau. But her day at the hospital had been an exercise in Murphy's Law, one bad thing happening after another until she felt raw with irritability and exhaustion.
All she had wanted when she pulled up into their long, winding drive was to have a glass of wine and settle herself in a hot tub full of scented bubbles and let aromatherapy do its job on her battered mind and soul.
She could have warned him of her mood although to his credit most days she didn't have to tell him; he always just seemed to know. They knew each other so well and had fit together so seamlessly these last years that sometimes she forgot he couldn't actually read her mind. (Although, even on her best days she couldn't quite wrap her own mind around the fact that he once could.)
It wasn't his fault. His obsession with the ever-growing paranoia of the History Channel was usually a source of amusement to her. Everything was aliens and nothing hurt when you were Fox Mulder. He delighted in every wild theory they presented, from alien angels to alien terrorists, and most days she relished teasing him, picking apart the weakest arguments until they wound up in bed together, solving their disagreements the old fashioned way.
But after a day of failure and mistakes, the very last thing she wanted to come home to was a reminder that time may be ticking so swiftly away from both of them. Everything she did, every thing she worked so hard for felt futile and she couldn't stop her glare or heated response as she made her way to their bedroom, shedding her clothes behind her like snakeskin.
She knew she had wounded him with her curt behavior and it only added to her dismal mood. They so rarely fought anymore, having maintained a strong sympatico once the stress of their partnership dissolved. There had really only ever been that one time, when he had first come out of hiding and she had felt that long-feared darkness encroaching on their lives again. She had known even then she wouldn't leave him. Couldn't. But she was loathe to let their normalcy go, even if meant sacrificing his freedom, his sanity, his happiness to hold onto her own.
And he had let her play house all those years without complaint, hadn't he? She had felt selfish then, leaving him, especially when he was willing to let her go if she needed to, making the sacrifice she hadn't been willing to make.
The moment she came back to him, it had never been an option again. They were in this together, until death they did part. Regardless of the fact they had ever actually uttered those vows, he was as much her husband as any man could be and she would never let herself forget that. Just because she legally could leave without hassle, didn't mean she would. Or that she should.
Especially now, when they might have such little time together left.
Foregoing the bath, she stepped into the shower, turning the water to scalding as she leaned against the cool tile with a sigh, her eyes closing blissfully. She should apologize to Mulder when she got out and make everything fine again. He was the one thing in her life that was certain, on days when even her science failed her, she always had him.
Reaching blindly for her bottle of shampoo, she turned until the hot water sluiced down over her back, soaking her hair and massaging her scalp at the same time. She heard the bathroom door creak open, despite the fact that she had just oiled the hinges a few weeks ago, and a blast of air-conditioned coolness burst through the steam collecting around her like a wall. She could just make out Mulder's tall, lanky form in the doorway through the frosted glass and she hummed as she let the soap rinse out of her hair.
Think of the devil and he'll appear. Although he didn't seem to have any immediate plans on his agenda beyond that.
"Well?" she demanded after a moment, trying to make her voice less sharp than it had been before. "Are you going to join me or would you rather just watch?"
"That depends," she heard him murmur over the din of the water, but she saw his blurry figure begin to shed layers of clothing as he walked toward the shower stall. "What's the temperature like in there?"
He opened the door between them and she met his eyes as he stepped under the spray with her.
"Good," he nodded as he reached for her. "Things seemed a little chilly earlier."
"I'm sorry," she said contritely and let him pull her elbow until she stepped closer to him. He kissed her forehead and she melted against him. "Bad day."
"That was my assumption."
He let the subject drop and she smiled gratefully against the warm skin of his chest as he hugged her. It was so easy to let him make it better, to forget everything that had plagued her mind only moments before and just exist in his embrace. She knew she did the same for him, and how strange that was to know she had found that one person in six billion who was made just for her. She didn't need him to complete her; she just needed him.
"Here," he offered in the silence that followed and his long arm slipped around her to grab the bottle of conditioner she kept on the corner shelf. The smell of mint wafted up between them as he squeezed a dollop into his hand and rubbed his palms together. "Let me earn my keep."
She smirked but let him tilt her head back as he began working the silky conditioner through the long, wet strands of her hair. He was hardly a kept man; between consultations for the Bureau and his book advances, he more than paid his share of their bills these days but he never let her forget she had been the primary bread-winner for a handful of years. If it bothered him, she didn't know it and he wisely never let on.
If anything, he seemed to enjoy holding it over her, often referring to himself in those early years in this house as her personal handyman. A fantasy that took on a very memorable connotation once when he was supposed to be installing new cabinets in their kitchen and she had somehow ended up bent over one and clawing futilely at the granite counter top while his fingers and tongue plunged her into oblivion.
Now those same fingers worked magic of a different kind on her scalp and she felt the lingering tension ebb out of her body, only to be replaced by a throbbing heat low in her gut as she watched him.
His body amazed her. Always long and lean, she hadn't thought he could be in any better shape than when they had been chasing monsters together, but she was wrong. At fifty, Mulder resembled something of a Greek god. While he had been in hiding he'd had very little to do but work out, trading running and swimming for weights he could lift in their guest room and he had stuck with the habit.
Her own body was slender still, more from skipped meals between surgeries than from any radical diet fad. Before, she had exercised because her job demanded she stay in fierce condition and because it was the only method of stress relief available to her. Now she had Mulder for that.
She licked her lips unconsciously as her eyes followed a path of water down his abdomen. He was half-erect already, his long cock thickening with arousal under her gaze. It was obscene how much she could want him and how quickly. Still, after all this time.
"Scully," he murmured, drawing her attention back to his face. A storm of desire and amusement played across his face and she met the challenge. It had been a long time since his nudity had been able to make her blush.
"Sometimes, I think you only want me for my body."
She arched her eyebrow. "Only sometimes?"
"Nice, Scully," he nodded and his hands abandoned her hair to slip over her breasts. His fingers were still slick with conditioner and she sighed as his thumbs designed crop circles over her flesh. "I'm wounded."
No, he wasn't, but she took him in her hand just to be sure. "Want me to kiss it and make it better?"
"Yes. But I thought that's what I was doing."
Technically, he hadn't kissed her yet at all but mentioning that would just be splitting hairs when his hands were doing sinful things to her body. She stepped closer to him instead, shrugging slightly as she licked a droplet of water behind his ear. His cock twitched in her hand. If she had known that was his sweet spot all those years ago, she would have won a lot more arguments. "We're partners."
His arms wound around her waist and he pulled her down to the bench behind him. "The best."
Their mouths met and she hummed as his tongue penetrated her, sliding erotically against her own. The bench was more of a low, tiled shelf and not the most comfortable place to make love, but it allowed her opportunities she wouldn't have if he had lifted her up against the wall. She liked the way her body could dominate his this way, her thighs tightening against his legs to control their pace, her arms around his neck keeping him where she wanted him. He was at her mercy and, Jesus, did that work for her.
Mulder didn't seem to have any complaints. Not that she gave him much chance to voice them if he did; she kissed him until they were both left panting, only breaking away when the need to have him inside her became an unbearable ache she could feel all the way to her spine.
"Now," she demanded, letting her fingernails scratch over the taut muscles of his abdomen as her hand drifted down to his cock. She swallowed his groan with another kiss, biting his lip and then pulling away again so he could watch as she sheathed him inside her. He loved that and she loved to watch him. His voyeurism had always intrigued her, turned her on. His unabashed sexuality resonated deeply in her, igniting that dark, rebellious part of her that she had always struggled to repress.
"God," she moaned when his gaze met hers again and she rocked her hips against his, bracing her hand on the tile next to his head as she fell into another kiss. She was unaware of the water beating down on her back, growing tepid as slick skin met, collided. His hands were everywhere, spanning her back, palming her shoulders, her ribs, his fingers found the tightened tips of her breasts and she mewled, then bit his neck in retaliation.
"That's it, Dr. Scully," he growled, cupped her ass, ground his pelvis against her own and made her see stars. "Just like that."
"Oh, Mulder," she sighed, a half-laugh, half-sob sound that caught in her throat as she clenched her thighs to keep from moving them any faster. Their pace was driving her insane; a delicious, slow friction building inside her with every thrust and she buried her face against his neck, breathing in the scent of water, sweat, and Mulder as she burned.
"Fuck me," she begged, once, twice, then again and again before she lost count. Nothing else existed beyond the hot pull of his cock inside her, her own wet arousal coating her thighs, and the give and take of their bodies as they ascended to ecstasy. Together.
Partners. The best.
He was already in bed by the time she finished drying her hair and she could hear the television set shut off before she opened the bathroom door. Ancient Aliens, then. Mulder simply couldn't help himself; she knew that. And really, at least he was only watching them on TV instead of chasing them down all over the world.
"You didn't have to turn that off," she murmured as she exited the bathroom, resting her back against the door frame and giving him her most chagrined look. He did it better; she usually tried not to put herself in situations that warranted an apology.
"No, actually, I did," he smirked at her. "Apparently the only intelligent life involved in the making of such farcical bullshit are the television executives banking off us gullible and delusional fanatics."
She sighed and crossed to the bed, letting him pull her down beside him. "I said I was sorry."
"You did," he agreed, kissing her forehead as he pulled the duvet up over her, tucking the edges in around her. Their house was always a little too cool in the winter despite multiple attempts to fix their furnace over the years, and Mulder was pretty good about sharing his warmth as long as she kept her cold feet off his shins. "And the sex was pretty good, so I'll forgive you."
"Only pretty good?" she quirked her eyebrow and rubbed the smooth cotton of his t-shirt over his stomach. It had been phenomenal and he knew it. "Really?"
"Well, I was giving you some of my best moves but it was like you were just phoning your performance in."
She laughed and pinched his side, twisting her fingers until his hand caught her own and brought it up to his mouth. "Mulder, shut up."
"Mm," he hummed and bit into the fleshy pad of her hand before running his lips over the reddened marks soothingly. "How about this? I'll shut up and you tell me about your bad day. And then after, if you're a good girl, I'll let you sit on my lap and we can discuss whatever pops up first."
"I'm always a good girl and I can't tonight. I have to wash my hair."
"You already used that one, remember? It didn't work." He kissed her hand and laid it on his chest. "Scuh. Lee."
"Fine," she sighed, burying her face against his neck. His fingers combed through her hair, working carefully through the slight tangles at the end and she took a deep breath. There was very little else she hated about herself than having to admit she made mistakes. Or didn't have the right answers.
"I think I'm treating Alyssa wrong."
"The little girl you told me about the other day?"
"Yeah," she nodded and picked at a small ball of lint from the dryer on his shirt. "She seemed to be improving but last night she took a turn for the worse. She needs another operation but I don't think her body is strong enough."
He tightened his arm around her waist. "It wouldn't be the first time you needed a miracle and got one."
She smiled in spite of the tug she felt at her heart. Mulder the Believer. "That's true," she agreed and she wondered if he knew how many of those miracles she credited to him-- his faith-- instead of her own. "But this is the point in her therapy where I would put her on hospice, do everything I could to ease her pain, and let her go home to say goodbye to her friends and family."
He made a soft noise in his throat out of empathy for a life ending too early. "What do her parents want?"
"They want me to keep trying. But Mulder, how many miracles can I ask for? Doesn't there come a point where I'm just being selfish trying to prolong this little girl's life just to see if I can?"
"Scully," he murmured, and she felt him nudge her chin so she was forced to meet his eyes. Her own burned at the tenderness she found in his. "You are the most selfless person I've ever known. Nothing you do for those children is out of arrogance or some sort of need to stroke your own ego. You'll make the right decision for Alyssa. And her parents."
"I hope so," she sniffed. His skin still smelled good and she nuzzled his neck before pressing an open mouth kiss there. He tasted good too.
"You will," he assured her and she found it so easy to believe him. She wanted to believe him so badly. "I have faith in you."
She hugged him again and he kissed the crown of her head, his hand rubbing long strokes down her back as the two of them fell into drowsy silence. Eventually, she turned on her side, spooning back against him and his arms followed her, keeping her in his embrace. Keeping her warm. Keeping her safe.
He had always done his best there, hadn't he? He had always done everything in his power to keep her safe. She knew he didn't see himself that way. That if she mentioned it to him he would argue all of the times he'd failed to do exactly that. He was it though. He was her constant. The faith he had in her mirrored hers in him. They were partners. By every definition of the word.
Opening her eyes, she looked out the window and could just make out a handful of stars sprinkled between the branches of the oak that stood cold and naked outside their bedroom like a sentinel.
"Mulder," she whispered and for a moment she wondered if he had already fallen asleep. She watched as one of the stars suddenly flickered into darkness. Clouds? A plane? Or had the light of a burnt out star finally crossed thousands of years of galaxy and finally blinked out?
Mulder's voice was thick when he answered, his fingers caressing her side as he stirred. "Yeah?"
"We're running out of time," she said quietly. And there it was. The first time they had spoken of it in almost ten years. The idea was hard to breathe around.
She shifted until they were nose to nose, a memory of a long ago hotel room drifting in the silence between them. What a difference nine years could make. Then, she had had just gotten him back. Now, she wondered where they would be in a year. If they could possibly keep each other safe or if they had run out of miracles.
Mulder's sigh ruffled her hair and she knew he felt as hopeless as she did. "I know."