Title: Intimate Stangers
Author: Ceilidh Paul
Summary: Time had been crueler to her than to him, and now they were intimate strangers, given the miraculous chance to know each other again. (Post-"Truth")
Disclaimer: Nothing in is mine. Chris Carter and 1013 own everything to do with the X-Files, including the mess they made of Mulder and Scully, without which I wouldn't have written this story. So thanks, guys!
Special thanks to April, Devon, and the Neil Young album "Harvest Moon", to which this story was written.
Time is cruel, Mulder had realized. Time and experience could sap the life out of anything. He felt that more than ever now, getting older and slower as he was, and with all the impossible weights of his experience carving out lines in his face and his mind. Time had worn on for him, and for her, in uneven stops and starts, some moments frozen into gentle, soft-edged obscurity and others worn into stubs of memory eroded and worn from remembrance. Time was what they didn't want, what they didn't have, and yet its passage was all they felt.
Time had been crueler to her than to him, he knew, or at least its relentless incursions had changed her differently. There were more times when she seemed lost in the ebbs and flows of the past; others when she seemed hopelessly in the future. He felt mostly the ache and drag of the present time, the weight of each moment as it passed. Maybe she had more to dwell on; maybe the present was too painful. But whatever the reason, their matchless disparity in mental time had driven far more concrete wedges between their far more concrete physical selves.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd really touched her. He saw her every day and every night, of course; he knew the surface of her body better than his own. Periodically they went through the motions, but that's all it was. He saw her now more as a series of bright images: her face lit by sunlight straight on through the windshield, her hands neatly folded in her lap, one thumb absently scratching her palm; her lips sunburned and pink, peeling slightly, pursed in a frown; the arch of her back and stomach beneath him in the moonlight. That's all each day was, really, a slideshow of still images and each second falling into the past with an almost audible drip.
She'd left him once, almost two years ago now, in a town somewhere in Nevada. She'd stepped out of the car in the parking lot of a motel, told him she'd meet him in an hour, and just disappeared. When he'd finally found her a week and forty-eight miles away, she'd just climbed back in the car and said in a quiet voice that she didn't think she loved him any more. He didn't know what to say, so he just said 'oh', and asked her to stay anyway. Once or twice, when he'd caught her crying over a photo folded over and over, or surprised her with a sudden kiss or unasked for shared sweet reminisce, she'd smile in her way, and he'd be sure she'd changed her mind. But he could never be entirely sure.
But now, he reflected, casting glances at her out the corner of his eye, times had changed. Their time was running perilously short, and soulless, touchless, endless ambiguity was not enough anymore. Something had to change. He watched her where she sat at the motel room desk, her hair falling slightly in her face, eyes round behind her glasses, loose strands and pale skin lit gold and yellow by the lamp. Standing slowly, he shut off the TV with a snap of white noise and crossed to stand behind her, one hand drifting down to settle lightly on her shoulder. Her expression changed slightly- not quite a smile. He cleared his throat.
"Scully," he said. "Will you talk to me for a second?"
Her eyes sharpened briefly at the change from routine, then reverted. "What is it, Mulder? Did you get some kind of news?"
He knew that she knew perfectly well he hadn't, and he wondered again at how things had gotten to the point where they were supposed to have an excuse to talk to each other. He wrested a few words from his mind, and knew immediately how pathetic and inadequate they were. "I know that things aren't… aren't exactly like how we thought."
She looked at him incomprehensibly. "Nothing ever is."
"I know. But you gave up so much and are now getting so little." He stepped away from her, and went to sit on the edge of the bed, a few feet apart. She followed him with her gaze, and turned her chair slightly to track his motion.
"I don't know exactly what this is about, Mulder," she said evenly, "but I'm fine."
Anger pricked at him slightly with the hated phrase, but one look at her calm exterior convinced him of the necessity of suppressing it. "I don't think I believe you," he said. An eyebrow twitched in response.
"Well, that's very interesting, but incorrect. I think I'm capable of determining my own emotions." With a finality of motion, she turned her chair back to the desk, her eyes settling on the paperwork before her. He gazed down at his hands where they lay on his thighs, clenching slightly. Frustration filled him, a mix of terrible anger and misery, a childish annoyance with the constant disappointment she thrust at him. Raising his eyes again, he made a decision.
"Do you love me?"
She froze, but did not turn. "I think you know the answer."
"No, I don't. That's why I'm asking." He stood up, hope dying with every moment she sat frozen. He reached out his hands and pulled her chair around to face him. Shock and a touch of anger flashed out of her eyes.
"It's not an easy question, Mulder. There's a lot to consider, and I won't do this right now."
He stayed where he was, leaning over her, hands gripping the arms of the chair, his face not far from hers. "It shouldn't be, Scully. It should be a very easy question."
She stared at him, emotions flicking faintly across her features, and then, amazingly, she seemed to resolve on the truth. It made his palms sweat in fear. "You're not who you were."
"Neither are you."
"And this isn't what I thought I was getting into." She could have meant all kinds of things by that.
"Well, you're not who I thought I was getting into this with," he spat, and then ripped himself away, turning his back on her, arms vibrating with tension, heart pounding with desperate misery. So this was it. This was her answer.
There was a moment of silence, then she spoke again, her voice touched with a rawness he hadn't felt from her in a long time. "I thought I could fix you- your spirit. You were never the same after… after you knew. After you knew for certain."
He turned back to face her, slowly, his eyes searching her face. "You weren't the same person either, after… after him, after I left."
"We both experienced primal things, Mulder, and we kept them from each other for too long."
"The beginning of a life, and the certainty of the end of all lives. They're not the same thing."
"But they change you, both of them. I wasn't there for your change, and you weren't there for mine. It ruined any real chance. We were just too in love to realize it in time."
Sadness, unexpected, child-like sadness, rose in his throat in a lump. He saw his new future rise before him, heard for the first time the drip of present fall away. He saw tomorrow night with no one in the bed next to him; he saw next year with no one in the passenger seat beside him; he saw the end of the world silent and unspoken, with his cold hands reaching into the emptiness and vacuum at his side.
Scully dipped her eyes for a moment, and when she raised them again, they were glossy and glittering. "You were broken, Mulder. You may only have been pretending in that cell, in that moment when I needed you, but nothing really changed when the guard wasn't there. I ran to you, and you stood frozen. That didn't change; you never really held me ever again."
He swallowed, hard. "You were broken, Scully. I saw that, right away. I couldn't bear to give you more to break what was left of your heart."
"It wasn't your choice to make."
She flinched back, hard, betrayal cresting like a wave in her eyes. "Don't."
"Scully… not even an e-mail? And to hear it from Skinner…"
"I never even knew him, and you won't even… From Skinner, Scully?"
"You were so broken."
"So were you."
"We weren't ourselves any more. Mulder, I didn't really know anything about you any more, did I?"
"No. And I didn't know you. We weren't in our right minds. We hadn't been for a long time."
A single tear welled from her eye and spilled down her cheek. He ached to touch her face, to wipe it off and to kiss her mouth.
"Mulder, I don't know who you are. You're a stranger."
"So are you."
He reached out to her face, covering the ground in a few soft steps, and pushed the tear away in a slow drift of his thumb. He could see her eyelashes flutter. Pulling back slightly, he choked on the mass in his throat and held out his hand.
Without waiting for him to finish, she clasped his hand, her skin sliding simultaneously soft and raw across his, the touch rattling across his nerves and muscles. In the next instant she was standing and in his arms. He wrapped them around her in an instant, holding her to him as tightly as he could without hurting her. Her head burrowed under his chin, her hair catching for a moment on his stubble. He laughed, low in his throat, and somehow it came out in a muffled sob. They stood in silence, clutching each other, eager to connect flesh with flesh, every empty inch of their bodies yielding to the warmth of the other like vines growing to the sun. He felt a patch of dampness grow steadily on his chest, through his shirt, right above his heart.
As they stood, a faint tremor of music made its way into their hearing through the thin wall. Without thinking, the natural tremors of their bodies began to take on slow, shifting rhythm, both different, but moving together with long practice and patience. Time seemed to fall away as he moved his hand up her warm back and into her hair, his opposite hand falling to her hip, the thumb moving in quiet circles over the gentle jut of her bone there. She moved as if oblivious, but he felt her eyelids flutter closed, achingly soft against his collarbone. He wondered at the gentle motions of her body; wondered where she was, who had first instilled this natural dance in her muscles, this gentleness in her arms, the soothing warmth and gentle press of their circle. He had an idea of the tiny body who had brought this wonderful tenderness out of her depths, but he also knew that it didn't matter now. It was just another thing he had to be grateful to his son for.
Time suddenly seemed to lose its identity as brutal taskmaster of fate. What had felt before like a wild rush or a slow water torture toward the inevitable seemed somehow less amazingly omnipresent. The slow drip and drag of the present moment felt now like nearly sacred opportunity to hold this woman in his arms.
Time had been cruel, yes, and crueler to her than him. Time had changed them, but so had life. They were not who they were, or had been, but now they were intimate strangers who had been given the rare opportunity to meet again, to do it better from now on. They were not who they were, but he was inclined to think that was a good thing. He liked them better now.
He knew he would always remember them like this, in a soft moment worn away at the edges by time's erosion, but he liked to think that from now on he could just take her in his arms and remake the moment in spite of how many seconds, minutes, days, years had past. He could remake the moment, if he so chose, at the end of the world that was so rapidly approaching.
"Scully?" he said. Her muffled voice murmured an assent against his chest. "I'm still in love with you."
Her arms tightened around his body. She didn't say anything, but he knew that was all right. He marveled again at the wonder of her body's secret rhythm against his, the tenderness and serenity of her arms, the private dance of her feet upon the worn-out carpet of the floor.
"Scully?" he said.
"Can I dance with you?"
Her arms came up, her hip opened, and suddenly, blissfully, he was moving with her. He felt his eyes close, eyelashes gentle against her hair, and right then he knew that they had all the time in the world.