I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.
–Bilbo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring
They’re old. They feel it when dust collects on their files; they feel it getting out of bed on cold mornings; they feel it after a stressful workday, when they fuck like teenagers on Mulder’s dying box springs and their backs ache from being pressed against the headboard.
Scully is relieved to see the crow’s feet around her eyes—she’d never forgotten the final promise of Clyde Bruckman, the countless moments she nearly died but looked away at the last moment. What a tragedy it would be to stand over the graves of her husband, her children and grandchildren, to live for so long you saw the aging of rock and shift of the continents beneath your feet, and to know nothing that is true will remain so.
Mulder takes it a little less gracefully, but that he’s old means he didn’t die young. He still protests the wrinkles in his forehead and the thinning of his hair.
They feel old when they move Scully’s things back into the Unremarkable House, grunting and clutching their backs with each piece of furniture they haul up the front steps. They feel old when Scully bakes cookies but rations Mulder’s to keep his cholesterol down.
They feel old when they grumble about Daggoo digging up the garden again, and they have to fill in the little paw-scrapes and massage each other’s joints afterward.
They feel old when they find their son, and he stands a foot taller than Scully and grows a stubble on his chin. And it’s hell at first—they’ve all suffered casualties; William’s adopted family is dead at Spender’s hand and it shatters Scully to know she couldn’t protect him. It shatters Mulder to hug William and then ask him to save the world. It’s unfair.
They feel even older when it’s over. When they fill Spender with bullets and then help William move into his new bedroom like the whole world hadn’t almost gone up in flames. They want him to be a kid for once. He obliges, and they feel old when William asks “what the fuck happened out there?” over pizza dinner.
They tell him everything. They feel old thinking about the Flukeman, Clyde Bruckman (this one gives Scully a pause) and the time they posed as a married couple because back then, they didn’t think they’d live long enough to marry in real life, and they certainly didn’t think they‘d be eating Domino’s with their lanky, eye-rolling teenage son.
Mulder never feels older than he does locking the basement office for the final time. He knows it’s satisfying for Scully to see that door—the door she deserved her name on but never got—closing at last. It means Spender is dead; it means nothing in that room can hurt them anymore. It means they no longer carry seven billion lives on their shoulders.
They hand their resignations to Skinner one evening in May, only to find him penning his own letter of resignation and retiring to a beach somewhere. They each carry a stack of case files they couldn’t let go—some of them solved, some of them to be explored if only for the hell of it. They can do that now.
Scully always said the X-files were his One Ring, keeping them both young but imprisoned. Sitting beneath his tattered poster in the basement office, he was forever the embittered thirty-year-old who trusted no one and lived for the search. (He hesitates for a moment, closing that door. He’s fond of that cracked young seeker of truth. But he’s fonder of the middle-aged husband and father and hobbyist cryptid hunter he’s become.) They watch Fellowship of the Ring that night, and he decides he would much rather be Bilbo than Frodo.
Scully feels old when she slices a dead body in front of twenty horrified medical students. Mulder feels old when his students call him ‘Professor,’ but at least it’s better than ‘Fox.’
They crack open a case file on William’s summer vacation—it’s a maybe-bigfoot type of case, deep in the middle of nowhere. They book three plane tickets and break out their flashlights for old times’ sake. William teases them mercilessly and breaks out his phone instead. Huffing and puffing, outpaced by their son, chasing shadows through the woods, they feel young again.
And he lived happily ever after, ‘til the end of his days.
–Bilbo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring