Summary: A companion to Waking Hours, from Mulder’s point of view.
Mulder shuffles down the narrow corridor, every step an effort as he makes his way to her makeshift room at McMurdo Station. The windowless hallway doesn’t hint at the time, but his body cries for sleep. The lingering trauma of his head injury, jet lag, and the effect of full-body exertion have left him bone-tired and weary.
But she’s alive.
The thought moves him, draws him toward her like a moth to flame.
He knocks lightly, nudging the door open to find her curled on her cot. He doesn’t mean to wake her, isn’t sure what he would say if he did. The last sixteen hours are a blur of cold and pain, but he wants to see her—needs to see her—to convince himself it wasn’t a dream, that they really clawed their way out of the bowels of an alien craft, only to watch it disappear beyond the Antarctic skyline.
Her eyes flutter open before he can steal away, realizing he’s been standing in the doorway for what could be seconds or minutes or hours. Her very presence warps time, an X-File of its own, one he isn’t yet brave enough to investigate.
“Mulder,” she says. Her face is mottled, shiny from the ointment meant to soothe the frostbite across her cheeks. Her hair is matted, caked through with a yet-to-be-identified substance that wouldn’t wash out in the shower.
She is still the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
He shakes his head, the gesture so painful he has to suppress a wince. “They’re not expecting the plane for another six hours at least. Rest up.”
She closes her eyes and nods, a testament to her exhaustion that she doesn’t protest. Her voice cracks on each syllable like the weakened shell of an egg. “Stay with me?”
He takes a seat by the foot of her cot and tips his head back, resting it by her knee, a pose reminiscent of their first case in Oregon.
“Mulder…about before…I shouldn’t have left—“
His head spins, he’ll blame it on the angry red scab on his temple. “Don’t, Scully.”
“Listen to me—”
“You have nothing to apologize for. We don’t have to talk about this now,” he continues more gently, shifting on the concrete floor. He’s not sure if he’s more embarrassed about having tried to kiss her, or for lacking the presence of mind to think something as fleeting as a kiss could convince her to stay.
“Let me…finish,” she says, unexpected strength at the ragged edges of her voice. “I shouldn’t have quit. I was—”
“You have nothing to—”
“No,” she says, and he can see her desperation as she leans up on one shoulder to look him in the eye. “I’m glad you didn’t…let me off the hook.”
He swallows his protest, a hard, bitter lump in his throat. Her loyalty is too much to accept, but he nods and reaches for her hand. She sighs and eases back onto the cot, satisfied the message has gotten across.
“We have a long trip. You should rest while you can,” he murmurs. “I’ll stay.”
“Wake me…when it’s time to go,” she whispers, already drifting off.
Their breaths mingle in the stillness, but he can no longer sleep, heart thrumming with the miracle of her presence and the burden of his guilt.
They hadn’t even been drunk.
Sleep-deprived, sure. High on the natural antioxidants found in black tea? That was a stretch. But she was naked in his bed, and neither of them were intoxicated, injured, or otherwise traumatized.
He hasn’t dared close his eyes since she came to him, drifting into his bedroom like a hesitant spirit. If he closes his eyes, she’ll fade away.
She’d be unhappy to know she’s contributing to his insomnia, but watching her sleep is far more entertaining than staring at his reflection.
Her lips twitch and a furrow forms at her brow. Does she have nightmares? They’ve slept together once, and suddenly he doesn’t know anything about her. He wants to wake her to ask what she’s dreaming, what she’s thinking. He wants to know everything.
He looks away, feeling like an intruder. Unwilling to be caught staring, he eases out of bed, pulls on boxers, and goes to the living room. The blanket he’d tucked around his partner’s sleeping form is crumpled on the couch; he picks it up, bringing it to his nose. It smells like her; warm and sweet.
His stomach growls, reminding him that it’s been several hours since he’s eaten. He’s reaching for the fridge when her voice, rich and low, carries into the kitchen.
“Looking for a midnight snack?”
“You spying on me, Scully?”
She chuckles. “Seven years, Mulder. If I’m a spy, I’m doing a terrible job.”
“Or you’re playing the long game. Work your way into my good favor, get me into bed, make me spill all my dirty secrets in a fit of post-coital transparency.”
She arches an eyebrow in reply, and he shifts his weight, unable to hide what this exchange does to him. She’s standing in his apartment at three in the morning wearing nothing but his t-shirt and the smug, satisfied look of a woman who knows exactly what she’s doing.
“I, uh, think there’s leftover Chinese,” is all he can manage to say. “It’s breakfast in London.”
“A man after my heart,” she murmurs.
Minutes later, they huddle over steaming plates of fried rice and orange chicken. She’s curled into the corner of the couch, bare legs tucked underneath her, his shirt long enough to pull over her knees. There’s orange sauce on her upper lip, and he resists the urge to lean over and kiss it away.
“Y’know, we never finished our conversation…before we…before I passed out,” she says lightly. “And I don’t think there are any wrong choices.”
“So you’re saying you believe in fate? That the outcome is inevitable?”
She shakes her head, chewing thoughtfully. “No. I’m saying that when we get to a point isn’t as important as how we get there.”
He watches her, momentarily lost in time, thinking of the how; seven years of signs, all of them pointing back to her.
“Oh, I didn’t ask about your crop circles,” she says, licking an errant grain of rice from her thumb. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing,” he shrugs. “Kids with too much free time on their hands.”
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“It did, though,” he says, smiling slightly. “Just…not in the way I expected.”
Understanding paints her face like the dawn, a gentle blush across her cheeks in the dim glow of morning. The future spills out in front of them like sunlight.
The sun has yet to peek over the horizon, not yet stealing into their motel room through cracks in the curtains, when he wakes to her fingers splayed on his lower abdomen, her mouth lapping at the sensitive skin along his collarbone.
“Feeling better, I take it,” he whispers, a morning-rough voice that reminds him he hasn’t slept. He should turn over and try to catch a few more hours, he’ll be wrecked without it, but her hand slides lower and her tongue is worrying his earlobe, and he’s already forgotten what he was going to say.
“Mmm,” she purrs, intent on the task at hand.
He opens his mouth to protest, but five soft, tight fingers have already tugged down the front of his boxers and wrapped themselves around his cock. He pushes up into her fist involuntarily, barely suppressing a groan.
“Thought we had a rule about this.”
“You want me to stop?” she teases, deftly stroking her hand along his length with just the right amount of pressure.
“God no,” he gasps.
She brings him to the brink, circling the head of his cock with her thumb, sliding up and down until he has to push her away to settle the racing of his heart. He turns over, slipping open the buttons on her shirt as she settles back against the pillows. Her hair makes lazy red swirls against the crisp cotton, ivory skin against the arctic white of the sheets.
He returns the favor, letting his lips play along the line of her jaw, at the sensitive spot just behind her ear, before capturing her mouth in his. His fingers trail along her sides, her breasts swollen and heavy in his hands. She whimpers when his tongue scrapes the sensitive peak of a nipple, but shakes her head when he asks if he should stop.
He kisses the spot over her womb and has a blinding flash of intuition, and he knows—he knows—that something vital has shifted. It blossoms in his chest, faint hope pressing against his ribs. He smothers his words against the soft, sweet skin of her stomach. It’s not possible. He can’t drag her back into the darkness on a hunch, and their miracles are too few and far between.
The thought is lost in a pleasure haze as his mouth meets the juncture of her thighs, as her hands grip at his hair, fingernails scratching an erotic brand into his scalp. She tastes different, sweeter. The faintest sweep of his tongue along her clit renders her gasping, arching, hissing through her teeth. If he didn’t know better, he’d think it had been weeks since she’d been touched. With the diligent thrust of his tongue between her legs, she comes, stifling her cries in the pillow.
“God that was—was—“ she reaches for the words, the shock evident on her face.
“Shh,” he murmurs, nuzzling his way back to her, his mouth skittering over the gentle swell of her belly, hips coming to rest in the cradle of her pelvis. She kisses him with a thirst reminiscent of their first time. Soon she’s writhing underneath him, reaching between them to stroke his cock. “Need you,” she gasps. “Now…”
“Easy, easy,” he whispers, letting her guide him inside with a mutual groan of pleasure, shuddering at her soft, wet heat. He rocks into her at a languid pace, content to watch her expressions, her swollen lips open and inviting. He leans down until his chest is pressed to hers, hungry to taste her, to enfold and protect her from the inevitable harm that awaits.
She hums her approval into his mouth, the hollow of his throat, her breath coming in short pants as he feels her swell around him. She comes with a whimpering cry, muffled by his collarbone. The graze of her teeth against his skin and the shuddering contractions around his cock send him over the edge.
In the aftermath, he won’t remember the strange and unspoken flash of insight, or the hope so briefly ignited inside him. He drifts off with her back to his chest, fingers absently tracing the curls at the juncture of her thighs before coming to rest over the gentle swell of her abdomen and the nameless beat of a second heart.
She’s in the bathroom again.
It happens every night; he counts the seconds, and tonight he gets to somewhere in the six-hundreds before he throws off the scratchy blanket and meets her at the door.
She blinks, hiding her shock, a fleeting glance of fury buried from the moment she meets his eyes.
It’s been weeks, faceless motel to faceless motel, pseudonym after pseudonym. She only leaves the bed when she thinks he’s asleep, but he never sleeps. The muffled sound of her keening is an abysmal lullaby.
Their son should be resting between them, but they only have a phantom, a ghost, invisible and impenetrable as steel.
He’s blocking her way; she shifts left, he goes right.
“What?” she snaps. Her eyes go from dull, muddy gray to bright, angry blue. “Mulder, move.”
He shakes his head. “Scully, we need…I need…”
“Sleep,” she says. “We need to sleep.”
“We won’t sleep,” he sighs. “We need to talk.”
“There’s nothing to say,” she says, ducking her head. The line of her jaw pulses with unspoken rage.
“There’s…everything,” he insists, the words refusing to come. “I can’t…we can’t do this. If we’re going to live like this—“
“This isn’t living,” she says. “It’s nothing. Nothing,” she spits, brushing his left side roughly as she squeezes between him and the narrow wall.
He grabs her arm, spins her around. “Scully, I need you to talk to me. It’s been six weeks—“
“There’s nothing to say, Mulder,” she says, voice rising, eyes shimmering like the pavement on a hot day. “Everything is the same. Every day is the same, there is nothing to say, nothing to talk about that we haven’t talked about a hundred times, and even if there were—“
She stops herself, clenches her fists.
“Even if there were, what?” he whispers, readying himself for a blow that doesn’t come.
She wavers, barely restrained. “Just…let’s go to sleep.”
“No, Scully. I’m not losing you over this. I need you with me, I need to know you’re—“
“I’m with you! I can’t be anywhere else because I’m with you. What else do you want from me?”
There’s a banging from next door, muffled voices yelling through the thin walls. “Keep it down!”
Mulder glares at the source before turning back to his partner. “I want…I want this to be OK.”
She looks at him incredulously. “Things are not OK, Mulder. There is nothing even remotely OK about this.”
“You think I don’t know that?” he hisses. “I’m just trying to help.”
“Our son is gone,” she says, each word sharp enough to cut. “Gone. There is nothing you can do. There is nothing. We have nothing.”
“We have each other.”
The tilt of her head and the ragged rush of breath in and out of her lungs reminds him that it isn’t true. It isn’t enough.
The words escape before he can stop them, born of too many sleepless nights, of bitter resentment and despair. “You gave him up!”
The slap barely registers; the sound of her hand meeting his cheek, the sting at his jaw. He stares at her in dumb disbelief.
The knock at the door is like a gunshot in the aftermath.
Mulder glances through the peephole. “What do you want?”
“Just makin’ sure I don’t need to call the cops,” the motel manager drawls, the threat ringing clear.
Mulder closes his eyes, clenches his jaw. “We’re fine. Sorry for the trouble.”
A long pause. “M’am?”
“Fine,” Scully says. “Everything’s fine.”
Another heavy pause as they wait for the verdict.
“Alright then. But if y’all can’t keep it down, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.”
“Won’t happen again,” Mulder says, catching Scully’s eye. She nods in silent agreement.
He waits for the sound of retreating footsteps before reaching for their bags. Scully is already gathering supplies from the bathroom. They’re packed and heading west within minutes, Mulder at the wheel, Scully curled in the passenger seat.
They drive the long road in heavy silence, until a glimmer of golden light spills over the horizon. When they’ve put another two-hundred miles behind them, Mulder pulls over at the side of a narrow desert road. He opens the door, unfolding his long legs and stretching away the hours.
He leaves the car and walks to the edge of the unending landscape. His cheek burns, marked by his own shame.
There’s the creak of the car door opening behind him, footsteps in the gravel. Her arms come around his waist, face pressed to his back.
“He’s gone,” she whispers, so soft he almost doesn’t hear.
He looks over his shoulder, catches a glimpse of her rusty, tangled hair. His voice is thick from the dry air and lack of sleep. “I know we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me. I know you…you did what you had to do,” he murmurs.
Her fingers knot in the fabric of his t-shirt, and he feels her tears seeping through. He doesn’t turn around for fear of what they’d have to face, but he can hold her, if only for a moment.
His hands find hers, stroking over the familiar ridges and valleys of her knuckles, the landscape of his heart cupped in the palm of his hand.
He’d planned this trip as a celebration of their freedom. Two weeks of white, sandy beaches and the warm blue waters of the Caribbean, and yet, something hovers over his partner like a black cloud. He can feel it when he sits beside her, when she barely shifts at his presence, instead staring off into the distance. It reminds him of a not-so-distant past, lonely motel rooms and endless desert highways.
They’re supposed to have put that behind them.
He walks onto the balcony, perching on the lounge chair next to hers with his hands clasped between his knees.
“Hey. You lost the sun.”
She looks surprised at his presence, as if she doesn’t expect to find him here, as if they hadn’t made love on that same chair not eight hours prior. “Hmm?”
Mulder gestures to the encroaching shadow. “You’re in the shade.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Scully murmurs.
“Mm. I was thinking we could walk down to the beach later. See if the water’s as warm as it looks.”
“Sure,” she says distantly. “That sounds nice.”
He swallows, looks out at the rolling ocean, trying to see what she sees.
“I was reading the hotel guide—we can rent a rowboat and explore the bay,” he says, attempting to draw her into conversation.
She shoots him a look. “The last time we rented a boat, it ended up at the bottom of a lake. They docked our pay for six months.”
“This is a much smaller boat, Scully”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“C’mon, Starbuck. I thought you were the sailor.”
“You’re thinking of my father.”
“No, I’m most definitely thinking of you. I don’t think your father would fit into that skimpy little outfit I saw in your suitcase, either.”
She forces a smile but doesn’t take the bait.
“What’s wrong, Scully?”
It’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking on the best of days, but today her eyes are hidden behind dark glasses, her brow shaded by the wide brim of a hat. At first he doesn’t think she’ll speak up; when she does, her voice is flat.
“He didn’t make it.”
He swallows hard.
“He passed in his sleep,” she continues. “I got the call Wednesday night.”
They’d left Thursday morning. “You didn’t say anything,” Mulder says. “Why?”
“There wasn’t anything I could have done. His parents aren’t pressing charges, but they didn’t want to see me. Father Ybarra suggested I take the time off. We’ll discuss the consequences when I get back.”
“Consequences? What, like—“
“It was a risk. I knew that going into it,” she frowns, toeing at the sand. “It’s done.”
“The parents signed a waiver, right?”
She nods. “But I went against the hospital board. And I don’t think I could stay there even if they weren’t planning to fire me.”
The injustice burns in his chest, but he bites the inside of his cheek. “Hey, it’ll be alright. We don’t need the money.”
“He was twelve,” she says hollowly. “A boy. He didn’t deserve—”
She doesn’t finish. Mulder reaches over to take her hand, to touch her through the fog. “You did what you could,” he whispers.
She shakes her head and pulls her hand away, a tear sliding from beneath the dark shades. “It wasn’t enough.”
It seems too bright to be discussing this; the sky is offensively blue, the sea a perfect turquoise against the white sand beach. No amount of darkness should be able to touch them here.
She swipes at her eyes, then gets up, signaling the end of the conversation. “I’m going to get a drink. Want anything?”
You, he thinks. Our son.
He follows her to the kitchen, watches as she pours herself a glass of wine. His new passport lays open on the countertop, but the face glaring up at him is unfamiliar. It’s been years since he’s had a form of ID that wasn’t forged and delivered in a plain manila envelope with no return address. The man on the sleek plastic paper is old, weathered—a far cry from his younger self.
The lines around Scully’s eyes and mouth tell a similar story. Without the glasses, she looks tired. She leans against the counter, sipping her wine. There’s a sigh, as if in resignation, before she squares her shoulders and forces a smile. With the gesture, her mask falls firmly back into place.
“We should be celebrating,” she says. “Take me out, Mulder.”
Something in the back of his mind cries for him to confront the ghost in the room, but outside, the warm water beckons. The prospect of smoothing sunblock onto his partner’s naked back weakens his resolve.
“Why don’t you put on that skimpy little outfit, and we’ll go find that boat rental place?”
She puts down her drink and takes his hand. “Only if you promise no sea monsters.”
Age has only served to worsen his insomnia, so Mulder is awake when she shows up on his doorstep on a Sunday morning just before dawn, carrying a tray of fancy coffee—hand ground, fair trade, and nothing like the Folgers crystals he buys in bulk.
“Can I come in?”
He steps aside, opens the door. She moves carefully, like a guest rather than the name on the deed.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I, um…I went out for coffee and got halfway back to the apartment before I realized I’d bought two.”
He quirks an eyebrow. “So you drove an hour out of your way? It’s probably cold…”
“If you don’t want it—“
“No, no, I’m glad you came—thanks,” he says, cursing his big mouth, reaching for the proffered cup and taking a long sip. It’s lukewarm, barely palatable, but he’ll drink the whole thing. Both of them, if she asked.
God, he’s hopeless.
She watches with a mixture of hesitation and amusement, shrugging off her coat before taking a sip from her own cup. Extra cream, no sugar, he thinks. He knew her coffee order long before he knew what kind of underwear she wore, before he knew what color toothbrush she kept by the sink. That was a lifetime ago.
Lightened of the coffee, she stands by the table, eyes flitting about the room. He’s suddenly glad he cleaned up yesterday. It never used to bother him that she was privy to his mess, but after she’d left…well.
A lot of things changed after she left.
She glances down, tilts her head in a silent question. He follows her gaze, realizes he’s wearing his workout sweats, the knees stained dark with soil.
“Oh, uh, I was pulling weeds. The garden,” he gestures outside to the overgrown vegetable patch.
“You never liked gardening.”
“I don’t. I mean, I didn’t. But there’s only so much running I can do at my age, and my therapist says it’s good to keep busy,” he shrugs.
“Ahh,” she nods, ducking her head. They talk around these things now; therapy, co-dependence, the impossibility of them.
“Mulder, about the other night…I just wanted to say thank you. For being here,” she says, and he can tell from the flush in her cheeks how much it took for her to come. Knows the coffee was an excuse, rather than a reason.
“I’ve always been here,” he says, hoping he sounds kind, rather than bitter. He’s not bitter, he realizes. It had taken them working together to see that.
She nods, sips at her drink, thinking. “I also wanted to apologize…”
“When I left…” she says, drifting off, not meeting his eyes. “I wanted you to know how much it hurt that you couldn’t…stop searching. I wanted us to be enough, and when it wasn’t…”
She trails off, and he waits, afraid to move for fear of breaking the spell.
“The hurt didn’t go away,” she murmurs. “It was still there, under all the resentment.”
She bites her lower lip hard enough to leave a mark, the skin turning bright pink. The silence stretches out, winds itself around Mulder’s ribs, makes it impossible to breathe.
“I thought—“ she begins, but fumbles, hands betraying her as her coffee cup hits the floor.
“Fuck,” she gasps. She drops to her knees, plucking the cup from the growing puddle.
“Here,” he grabs a roll of paper towels from the counter. He kneels beside her and begins to wipe up the mess, studiously ignoring the way her shoulder brushes his and lingers. He’s had a lot of practice at ignoring her proximity.
“I’m sorry,” she says, and he knows she’s not talking about the spill.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get the rest.” He stills her hands with his own, the touch eliciting a careful in breath from her.
They stand, and she makes a show of brushing off her slacks. Her lip pokes out in a frown. She catches him watching, and he resists the urge to smooth back his hair, wonders if he has something between his teeth.
He clears his throat. “I can make a fresh pot.”
“I’d like that.”
He goes to the kitchen, finds the canister of grounds. He takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in measuring out a portion for two, and is reaching for the mugs when she speaks.
“I didn’t know you had a copy…”
She’s staring at something with such intensity that for a fleeting moment, he’s envious, then guilty when he realizes she’s holding the picture of William. He’d pulled it out after their conversation, suddenly desperate to see their son, to remind himself that the person they dreamed of was real, and not a shared figment of two troubled imaginations.
“Yeah,” is all he can manage. “It’s, uh, him.”
Her face changes then, an expression so unexpected he wonders if he’s dreaming. She smiles.
“I took that a few weeks before the adoption…he was so riled up that night, I couldn’t get him to sleep. He wanted to play, he was talking…he always reminded me of you when he was like that,” she says. “Once he got started, you couldn’t calm him down.”
“Babies don’t listen to reason either, huh?”
“Not ours,” she snorts, fingering the softened edge of the photograph. “No, I think he inherited a double dose of stubbornness. He came by it honestly.”
“I wanted more,” he says, surprising himself.
She looks up at him in disbelief.
“More kids. One more. If you’d wanted…once things settled…I mean.”
“You never told me.”
“I never…there was your residency and I wasn’t…exactly, uh, legal,” he says, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I guess things never really settled.”
She considers this with something like curiosity and sorrow. “Would having another child have changed anything?”
He swallows. “It wasn’t about that…about us. I mean, it was about us, but it wasn’t…I wanted to be a dad. I wanted to be his dad.”
This earns him a sad smile. “I know.”
Something about the way she looks at him gives him hope. When the coffee has finished brewing, they sit at the table, the picture of William between them.
“Look, Scully…I can’t let you take the blame. I should have said something when it mattered. Maybe if I had…you’d be here. And you wouldn’t have to bring me cold coffee.”
She smirks. “Well…this isn’t so bad. I can think of worse ways to spend a Sunday morning.”
When their mugs are empty and the conversation slows, she reaches for her coat.
“I should get back. It’s laundry day, and I still have a stack of case reports to read. I’d forgotten how much of the FBI is paperwork.”
He resists the urge to ask her to stay; tamps down on it, wrestles it into submission. “Oh, sure.”
She lingers by the door. “Thanks, Mulder. This was nice.”
He stuffs his hands in his pockets, nods as she’s turning to go. “Hey,” he blurts out, only faintly aware of what he’s going to say before he opens his mouth. “What if we made it a date? Same time next week?”
She arches an eyebrow. “A date, Mulder?”
He swallows, a subtle heat creeping up his neck. “Not a date-date, just a—“
“Sure,” she cuts him off, smiling. “I’d like that.”
He returns her smile, feels the delicate burn of hope in his chest. “I’ll have the coffee ready.”