Exaiphnes VIIb: Coming To Terms
Written by Marti
AUTHOR'S NOTES: For those who felt that Part VIIa, "Fireworks," came to an unsatisfying end, here's the resolution! For a while I jokingly called this "VIIb: The Make-Up Sex," but it's about more than that.
This goes out particularly to Gerry, my XF beta reader who thought I was a little hard on Mulder in the first one. :) And, as always, thanks to Vali for making sure I don't get too expository, and to Rachel, without whom I wouldn't be doing any of this in the first place.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on the characters and situations created by Chris Carter, the Fox Network and Ten Thirteen Productions as well as NBC and Baltimore Pictures. As such, the characters named are the property of those entities and are used without permission, although no copyright infringements are intended.
If you had asked Mulder, I'm sure he would have told you things were back to normal. We got up, we went to work, we slept in the same bed, we rented movies and got take-out on the weekends. Routine, yes, but not normal as far as I was concerned. I felt like we were in some kind of suspended animation. Twilight sleep, maybe. There had been no blow-up, no dramatic exits, no absolution. He had just said, it's in the past, let's move on.
It had been a little bump in the road, but nothing that we couldn't roll right over. He continued to be civil, but guarded, returning my kiss goodbye in the morning but still sleeping with his back to me. I went back and forth between guilt so strong it made my stomach hurt, and anger at him for staying so distant when that was the whole problem in the first place.
Now that he was back on the X-Files in full force, his work week quickly expanded to fill sixty or more hours. And in Baltimore, as always, the murder rate increased with the summer heat. I had a few interesting cases now and again -- one redball, a guy holding his two kids hostage, took the whole squad's attention for a day -- but none of those sprawling cases that stretched out for weeks, just drug murders. Yeah, back to normal.
Since Mulder was gone a lot of evenings, I would volunteer to cover shifts at the Waterfront, but I don't think that was helping us get past anything.
I found that I didn't dare start a conversation with any customers, even middle-aged women. That's a great way for a bartender to be, huh? Mulder wouldn't ask me much about my shifts when I got home, but I felt like I needed to detail what had or hadn't happened. Every time I stepped out the front door of the bar into the humid July evening and turned to walk home, it was like I'd stepped into a movie reel of that night that wouldn't stop replaying.
When I'd been in this kind of a funk before -- most memorably, when I was first trying to figure out whether there was anything between Mulder and me -- Meldrick Lewis had always noticed it and tried to counsel me during shifts at the bar. This time, I guess it was so bad that even John Munch, that pillar of sensitivity, picked up on it. As I was closing one night, he said, "Tim, what the hell is wrong with you? You been draggin' your ass for a couple of weeks now." I just said I was fine and that I would see him in the morning.
There were still some hours, though, that we couldn't fill up with work, and then Mulder and I had to deal with each other. One of those times was a Saturday afternoon when neither of us had left the house all day. I think the plan for the day had been to take the recycling and vacuum the living room, but we hadn't progressed beyond sleeping in and then reading the paper silently over breakfast. I was putting some dishes in the dishwasher when Mulder came downnstairs and announced, "I'm going to shoot some hoops." He grabbed up the ball from the front hall and left.
I don't know why that should have been the last straw, but it was. I couldn't believe he was going without me! That was something we had always done together, right from the first or second date. It was *my* court, damn it -- I introduced him to it when he first came to visit me in Baltimore. Suddenly it seemed like a neon sign proclaiming the demise of our relationship. I tried to remember the last invitation he had extended to me, and couldn't.
When he came back to the apartment, I was sitting on the front stoop. He stopped in front of me, dripping with sweat, and raised the tail of his shirt to wipe his forehead. "What are you doing out here? Just sitting?"
"We need to talk."
He rolled his eyes. "Can I at least get some water first?"
"You can't keep putting this off."
"Two minutes. Then you can say whatever you want to."
He came back with a water bottle and took a seat on the stone step next to me. We both stared straight ahead.
"Mulder, if you don't want to do this anymore, I think you should just say so."
"Do what? Sit outside in this ungodly heat?"
"This. *This.* Sit here with me. Do anything with me."
"I don't know what you mean."
Probably he didn't...I had begun to think he really was that obtuse.
"You've been walking around here like a zombie for I don't know how long.
You don't talk to me. It doesn't seem like being here means anything to you. You might as well set up a cot in the basement of the Hoover building."
He was silent. What, no snappy answer?
"Well?" I prodded.
I'd been half expecting that answer, but it still sank to the bottom of my stomach. "You think so?"
"Things have changed."
"I don't know."
I paused to watch a couple of kids walk by with a dog across the street.
"Well, then, I guess...if you want to move out, I understand."
He whipped around to face me. "Is that what we're talking about?"
"Didn't you just say, basically, that it's over? I'm trying to make it easy for you."
"Tim, I...I don't want to move out." He sounded a little panic-stricken.
"No. I mean, where would I go? I don't want to go back to the way things were. Plus, god -- that means we'd have to have those guys back to help me move, and we all know how *that* turned out."
I had to smile. Then, a little more softly, I said, "It's just that you don't seem happy here, and I don't want to see that anymore."
"But moving out isn't the answer to that." He wiped his brow again.
"Listen, it's sweltering out here. Let's finish this in the air-conditioning."
Inside, we took up our posts at opposite ends of the couch. I was glad he'd said what he said, but I had some more questions I needed answered.
"Are you still mad at me? Is that it?"
"No, I...well, a little. I keep thinking I'm past it, and I thought I'd forgiven you, but then I walk through this room and there it is."
"What? The couch?"
"The fact that you wanted to be with somebody other than me. I mean, I guess you can *want* to, but the fact that it happened... "
I actually thought I heard his voice break a little bit. As if I didn't feel terrible enough, now I was realizing that stoic, impenetrable Mulder, was hurt.
"Mulder, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I don't know if I've even said that, but I feel it. All the time."
"I know you do. But then I also feel like it's my fault somehow."
"It's not. I mean, a lot of things are conspiring against us. Back in March, I really thought we were moving forward, and then the accident, and now I waylaid us again."
"There's more than that waylaying us." He closed his eyes and leaned his head on the back of the sofa. "What can we do about this?"
"I don't know." It was the simple truth.
He leaned forward again and looked at me for the first time. "Listen, why don't we go out and do something. I don't know what, a water taxi ride, or a late lunch."
"Yeah, sounds good." I breathed easily for the first time all afternoon.
Maybe for the first time in two weeks.
We hardly ever went to the Inner Harbor, but that day it seemed like a good idea to get away from home for a change of scene. We watched Fells Point fade into the distance as we rode the water taxi over, something else we hadn't done in a while.
It was still hot, but we got an outside table in the shade where it was bearable, which gave us a view of the ships nested next to each other in the harbor. As always, it took a little while to decide between crabs and crab cakes. After we'd ordered and gotten our drinks, we sat looking out over the water in silence. I realized how long it had been since we'd really had an extended conversation.
"So, you never really told me much about your trip to Ithaca," I ventured.
I wondered, briefly, if it might have been a sore subject, but his eyes lit up.
"It was *great.*" He had been sprawled back in his chair, half-facing the water, but now he drew his legs in and leaned over the table toward me.
"You make it sound like a vacation or something. Didn't you spend most of it with a dead body?"
"Yeah, but it was a fascinating case. I've seen cases of vampirism a couple of times before, but nothing like this."
"That's really what this turned out to be?" I took a swig of my iced tea and grabbed a roll out of the breadbasket.
"Yes, but not in the way people usually think of it. No fang marks or anything. But once we found the site of the exsanguination, in a wooded area near the campus, it became clear that this was a ritual where the point was to extract the blood, not to kill the victim."
"So you found the killer?"
"It turned out to be a group of students. They had done this sort of thing before, but no one had died. They panicked, moved the body."
"No kidding." I still had moments of being incredulous over the cases he worked on, though nothing like when I'd first met him. But it was great to hear him talk about them. On the one hand, he made them sound totally plausible and part of the everyday landscape; on the other, you could tell he thought this was the coolest stuff in the world. "Sounds like you're glad to be back at work, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. I mean, I've been spending every waking hour on the X-Files for so long. When I was stuck at home in bed, I thought I was going to go crazy."
If he thought I sounded accusatory, he didn't show it, but went blithely on. "It would be one thing if I had some hobbies. But I couldn't play Nintendo, because of my eyes...and you won't let me watch the porn anymore." He raised a corner of his lips and looked up at me from under his lashes.
It was true that I wasn't crazy about the porn, but I didn't enforce the rule very strictly. "Hey, I don't care what you do when you're at home by yourself, I just don't want to hear about it," I teased.
He leaned back in his chair, smiling. "If only I'd known...think of the missed opportunities."
The food came then, and the conversation paused while we moved things around on the table, buttering rolls and passing the ketchup back and forth.
"You know, Mulder, I tried to keep you from being bored when you were stuck at home."
"I know you did, Tim. I was just in such a foul mood that whole time that nothing would have helped. Even Scully had enough of me."
"Yeah, didn't she finally get to the point of turning off her cell phone since you kept bothering her?"
He smiled, eyes aimed down at the table as he tried to work the meat out of a crab leg. "She never would bring me any files to work on."
"But she did come to visit you. That was nice. It's a hike up here from Georgetown. Not all partners would do that. Frank wouldn't have done that."
"She does go above and beyond the call of duty. To say the least. I've never doubted she'd be there for me," he said firmly.
I thought about the implications of this as I moved the food around on my plate. "But you know *I'll* always be there too, right?"
"Sure, Tim." He looked up, surprised. "What makes you say that?"
"I don't know...just, sometimes, when you were sick, I felt like you wouldn't *let* me be there. You let Scully do stuff you wouldn't let me."
"She is a doctor, you know. She's more equipped for some things."
"Right, but it doesn't take a doctor to administer eyedrops or change bandages."
For a moment, he didn't have an answer to that. He just ate the last piece of crab and sucked the remnants off his fingers. Then he wiped his hand, set down his napkin, and looked at me. "I know. It just felt weird to have you do those things. I'm used to having Scully look out for me, but with you it's different."
I didn't see how, exactly, but I took his word for it. "Well, I'm glad you have her, then. She's good to you."
"Yeah. I don't know what work would be like without her."
As he said that, I had a sudden flash of the squadroom, now so dark and cold after being repainted the year before. Even though I liked working with Diane Russell, it was nothing like the partnership he had with Scully.
"You know, I haven't looked forward to going to work for a long time now."
"Really?" He raised an eyebrow. Clearly, it was news to him. I could tell he was mentally going through the last few weeks, trying to see if he'd missed any signs. "What don't you like about it? I thought this was your calling, your vocation."
"I used to think so too, but lately I don't know. You know what Falsone said?"
"That greasy-haired weasel?"
I ignored him and kept going. "I heard him tell somebody 'we work for God.' Frank used to think of it that way too. But I don't."
"I don't either, for that matter."
"No, but you do see it fulfilling some kind of higher purpose."
"I guess so...I don't know what to tell you, Tim."
There was really nothing he could say. "Yeah, well, it's just good to have a weekend off. Maybe I'll feel revitalized come Monday morning."
We paused again to debate whether we should have dessert, and decided to have split a tiramisu. I watched him lift a bite to his mouth, swallow, lick a dollop of cream off the corner of his lip. Then he spoke up again.
"See, that was the worst part of July 4th. Well, maybe not the worst part, but..."
"Ruining that long weekend off. I mean, it was a great trip, but I missed you."
I stopped short, fork poised halfway to my mouth. "You did?"
"Is that such a surprise? When you told me you had all that stuff planned, I really hated not being here with you. And I figured, at least we'd have that Monday, but then..."
"You can stop there, I know what you mean."
"Well, I guess it's all spilled milk under the bridge."
"Something like that."
It appeared that was the last serious declaration I'd get for a while. On the way home, Mulder kept up a more or less steady stream of commentary on the people we passed by, so the heavier conversation seemed to be over with. I just counted myself lucky we'd covered as much as we had in the restaurant; hadn't we made some progress? As we headed back to the apartment from the water taxi, it seemed that he walked a little closer to me than he had on the way over, almost like he would have held my hand if we did that kind of thing.
It was still only early evening, and the summer sun was just starting to fade. When we got home, I asked him what he wanted to do next.
"I don't know. What's on HBO? Don't they have new movies on Saturday?"
"You'd know better than I would. I'm going to get something to drink."
As I walked into the kitchen, he was sitting on the couch fumbling with the remote, but then I heard him come in behind me. "Do you want something too?" I was reaching into the cabinet for a glass when I felt him against my back, arms on the counter on either side of me. "Is that a yes?"
His breath brushed across my ear as he whispered, "I figured out what I want to do now. Make up for lost time."
"I'm guessing this will be better than the movie on HBO." I was breathing hard, and he'd hardly even done anything.
"Way better. More like Cinemax." The tip of his tongue brushed my ear.
His hands slid around my waist, then down to the bulge in my shorts which was already hard as a rock.
Man, I wasn't going to last any time at all if he kept this up. I'd had this in the back of my mind as I watched him all through lunch, wishing I could lick that tiramisu off him myself.
For a few minutes I just stood there, pinned to the counter, as he covered the back of my neck with his wet, sloppy kisses. But then I turned inside the circle of his arms and kissed him back, slow and deep, like I'd been dreaming about. My hands were in his hair and his crept up my back, under my shirt. We barely moved, like there was some kind of force binding us together.
How, I wondered, could I have done this with anybody else? Nobody tastes like this, slick and sweet and musky. Nobody else knows intuitively where I want him to put his hands next -- oh, yeah, right there, I affirmed silently as he worked one hand, slowly but deliberately, between my legs.
Nobody else makes that sound, that little whimpering in the back of the throat that you wouldn't think would ever come out of Mulder, but it tells me he wants me to kiss harder, press harder, keep doing what I'm doing.
It briefly occurred to me to go somewhere more comfortable, but there was no time. Within seconds, I had pulled his shirt up and over his head, watching it peel away from his tawny skin, then took my own off so I could feel him against me. Hands and mouths were everywhere as we explored places we hadn't touched in a long time. Soon he drew back, panting, and made me face the counter again, reaching around to unzip my shorts and then his own. He took me in his hand again, skin on skin this time -- god, I was so close -- and then he leaned in to whisper in my ear.
"Are you ready?"
Like I hadn't been ready for the last month. But all I could muster was a nod and a choked sound, hoping that was enough to signal him to plunge in and take me, right now. It worked.
A few seconds later, we were both folded limply over the counter, Mulder holding me in close with strong arm around my waist. When I thought I could move again, I turned back around for another long, slow kiss.
He reciprocated, then stopped and rested his forehead against mine. "Tim."
"Tim, I love you."
"Oh, sure, you get laid for the first time in months and you'll say that to *anybody,*" I teased.
"No, Tim, I'm serious." His hazel eyes locked on mine. "I love you. I don't want you doing this, here, on the couch or anywhere else, with anybody but me."
"Mulder, I *won't.*" I touched my lips to his again, wondering how many kisses it was going to take to convince him. "I only want it to be you. I just wanted you back."
"I know. It's good to be back."