This oneshot is inspired by a song from the musical Waitress called You Matter to Me, by Sara Bareilles.
Not Too Late
It's about two in the morning when they enter his apartment. He lets her walk passed him inside. The sounds that follow are familiar to him: the echo her boots make against the hardwood floor as she takes them off, the rustle of the coat she lays on the armchair, the click of his bedroom door as she disappears behind it to change. The motions are automatic; unfortunately this has become a perverse routine of sorts. As he lingers by the door to lock it, he cannot help but think of the last time they have been staring in the face of the long sleepless night ahead. Only that time his apartment was the crime scene and hers the refuge. Now it is the other way around.
His bedroom door is still shut, and so he ventures into the kitchen and puts the kettle on. He isn't sure if she'll like some tea, but he embraces the distraction, something to keep his hands from shaking. They have spent nearly three hours at the ER, where she has been thoroughly examined. She hasn't spoken much of the assault following the initial questioning at the scene, but the devastation he has seen in her bedroom tells him everything he needs to know. She's put up one hell of a fight, and although he's witnessed the doctor giving her a clean bill of health, he knows he should prepare himself for seeing her all black and blue in the following days. Her skin is bruised so easily; the thought makes him cringe.
As he emerges from the kitchen with two steaming mugs, the door to his bedroom is open halfway, a wordless invitation. He knocks anyway, then lets himself in. She's made herself comfortable in his bed, all snug and warm underneath the covers, and she acknowledges the mug he places on the side of the bed she's claimed with a small smile. "Thank you," she murmurs sleepily.
He grabs some clothes from his dresser, and tells her he'll be right back. As he quickly takes a shower, washing the reek of violence and hospital off his skin, he muses at the long way they have come. There's been a time when he has considered the sight of her in his bed the wildest of fantasies. He can't remember exactly when things have shifted so, when he's stopped taking the couch after traumatic incidents of the sort, when their mutual need for comfort has become greater than propriety and regulations. He thinks that too can be dated back to Padgett, but he's too drained to be certain.
By the time he returns, she's sitting against the bed board with her knees pressed to her chest. She isn't wearing the satin pajamas she usually brings along when they're out on a case. Instead she's in dark sweatpants and a short sleeved tee shirt. The sight of her bare arms is somewhat of a revelation to him. They always seem to be hidden beneath a blazer or a coat, almost as if those are an armor of sorts. It's a silly thought, but she looks years younger wearing that tee shirt. It's in a shade of blue that make her eye color pop, even in the dim light.
She's halfway through her tea, drinking it one tiny sip at a time. He manages a smile at her as he pulls the covers back on his side of the bed. "Okay?"
"You got rid of the waterbed," she half says, half asks, and he chuckles because this is the last thing he has expected her to say right now.
"It brought me nothing but trouble. I passed it along to the Gunmen. Besides, how bad would it look if I lured my partner into a waterbed?"
She gives him a no-nonsense look, but he can see right through it. "If I walked in here and that bed was still here I'd ask you to take me to the office that instant."
"Fair enough." He reaches for his tea. He's shattered and just wants to get some shuteye, but the room is chilly and the warm liquid is soothing.
"My bedroom is a mess," she groans as if this fact has suddenly dawned on her. He tries not to flinch.
"Don't think about it tonight." He doesn't want her to worry. He'll go and clean up there himself if need be. "Let's just get some sleep, okay?"
They both place the mugs on their respective bedsides as if on cue. He turns off the lamp on his side of the bed, and the room is instantly wrapped with shadows. The sheets rustle as they lay facing one another. They don't touch – there's no need to. Her being so close is all the comfort he seeks. Suddenly he's wide awake. He's determined not to fall asleep before she does, just in case she needs him.
"How did you know?" she asks him huskily.
"I'm... not sure," he replies slowly. Because how can he tell her he just sensed that something was amiss as soon as he heard that song? When the police arrived at the scene, the Marshall said he had left a message on his answering machine, but he hasn't listened to his messages that evening. If only he has... "Seven years. I guess it's inevitable I'll get good at this, huh?"
But the intended humor in his comment is soon overshadowed by a sudden vision – a tub filled with blood, a lifeless arm hanging over its edge, a few of its fingers missing, the nails on the others painted coral pink. Beside the tub, on the otherwise immaculate porcelain floor, a few strands of red hair. The image is so vivid it sends a chill down his spine.
"Mulder, what?" she asks, leaning on her elbow to look at him.
"I was almost too late." His throat is constricted; he can barely speak. The metallic smell of the blood hits his nostrils full force. It's so overpowering he feels sick to his stomach. If he hasn't been lying down already he would have keeled over and pass out, for sure.
"Hey..." There's a shift, and her hand is suddenly against his shoulder, shaking him gently. "Hey, hey. Look at me," she says urgently. It helps, somewhat. He focuses on the sound of her voice, and it brings him back to the here and now. He blinks, meeting her eyes. She's very much alive, looking at him pleadingly. "Everything is fine. He's not coming back."
He nods placidly, still disturbed by his thoughts.
"Don't you think it's a little ironic that I need to comfort you right now?" she asks him, chuckling darkly. He doesn't find the energy to even crack a smile. The glint of humor is wiped from her eyes at once as her quip is left unanswered. She reaches for his cheek. Her palm is warm; he resists the urge to lean his face into her touch. "It isn't the first time we're in this type of situation." Him barging in in the nick of time, he presumes she means. Their gazes are locked on one another's. He knows she's waiting for some sort of a reply, an explanation perhaps.
Well, the only explanation he's got will surely drive her away.
It's been nearly two weeks since the IVF, and he feels as if he's been holding his breath ever since. When she showed up for work two days after the procedure, he wanted to yell at her to get her ass back home, but held back. He didn't want to go all caveman on her; he was just the unassuming sperm donor after all. But the truth is that ever since she's asked him to father her child, as worried as he's been at the time about the repercussions such an act will have on their partnership, the more he thinks about it, the more he warms up to the idea. Because if he can't have her for all sorts of reasons – his own cowardice, first and foremost – at least he can give her the one thing she has yearned for, which has been denied from her as a result of his personal quest.
It feels as if he's been consumed by anxiety from the moment he has given her his consent. Right from the start, he wasn't optimistic about the whole thing. Something about her doctor, about his conviction in the success of the procedure with complete disregard to medical history, didn't sit right with him, but she was so hopeful that he didn't dare to discourage her. And so he tried to be supportive, eased their case load and chose to focus on cases closer to home so that she'd have no choice but take things easy. If she guessed what he'd been doing, she neither showed any inclination of it nor resisted it, but it put his own mind at ease, at least.
And then, out of nowhere, this case.
He tried his damndest to leave her out of it, be it by throwing hints at Skinner or using the poor excuse of the trauma Pfaster had left in his wake the first time around, but she was persistent. She wouldn't heed to his warnings, as subtle as those were. She plunged ahead as ardently as ever. Normally he had appreciated her zeal and devotion; in this case terrified him beyond reason. He figured she needed her closure, and while he couldn't argue with that, he wished she wasn't so damn stubborn. Throughout the investigation he'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it did, it dropped big time.
She must have some idea what she means to him, beyond the obvious, which is evident in their seven year partnership. That kiss on New Year may have been innocent, but there has definitely been a spark there. Most of his previous attempts to tell her how he feels have been disastrous, which is hardly encouraging. So what can he possibly say now, after all this time? How can he explain that chilling dread that won't abate? How can he tell her what losing her will do to him? And this time, she isn't the only one he's been at risk of losing, but maybe – maybe – their unborn child, as well. Because however insignificant his role is meant to be in all this, he's begun to think of this baby as his own, and the thought of losing it causes him unimaginable pain.
There's the tiniest pressure on his wrist. She's still watching him, still waiting. He needs to say something.
"I was afraid... You wouldn't make it." He pauses for a moment, letting his eyes drift to her midriff for just a second. "Neither one of you."
Understanding begins to flicker in her tired eyes. She seems speechless. Then she shakes her head. "It's sweet of you to worry, Mulder. Really, it is. But you heard the doctor – "
"Yes, I heard him," he cuts her off abruptly, knowing that hearing the familiar I'm fine will surely send him over the edge. He remembers the state of her bedroom, shies away from it. He can't fathom how she's found the strength to get up and fight back. "He tossed you around as if you were a rag doll, Scully," he whispers, overwhelmed with horror. "If I got there fifteen minutes later, who knows..."
His voice trails off when he notices the look in her eyes, full of intention. He's seen this look before. A warning bell goes off in his head, but before his weary mind can register what's going on or make sense of it, her lips suddenly brush against his.
He kisses her back almost without realizing it. One of his arms finds its way to her waist. The other he places at the back of her neck to pull her closer. Her fingers clutch at his shirt, leaving behind goosebumps as if they're roaming against his skin. It tastes nothing like the kisses from his countless fantasies, hungry and frenzied and desperate; nothing like that ghost of a kiss aboard the Queen Anne. Rather, it is reminiscent of the kiss they have shared on the cusp of the new millennium, albeit not as chaste. And yes, that spark is there, alright.
When they pull away, almost simultaneously, they're both breathless. "What... What was that for?" he asks her as he finds his voice.
"A reminder," she replies softly. There's not a hint of regret in her eyes. "That you weren't too late."
He leans in ever so slightly again, feeling emboldened. The kiss has given him that boost of confidence he has so desperately sought. "I may need another affirmation if you don't mind," he murmurs. But before his lips so much as graze hers, she places her thumb on his lips, stopping him. Even in the semi-darkness, her cheeks are flushed.
"I haven't been completely honest with you... about the reason I asked you to do this."
"This... the IVF this?"
She nods without breaking their gaze, but doesn't say anything else. Her eyes tell him exactly what she means. "Well..." He hesitates, then decides it's worth a shot. "I haven't been completely honest about the reason I agreed to do this."
He doesn't say more, but he can see she gets it. They have the art of wordless communication mustered to perfection; it's as if everything has led them to this very moment. They have an entire conversation without words.
"So... it's not too late?" For us, he wants to add; doesn't dare to.
"I sure hope not."
He feels his lips curl in a smile of relief at the implications her words carry. He touches her chin to bring her closer for another soft kiss, but pulls away shortly after. There will be a time for this, a time for them. For now he just wants to sleep off today. He shifts a little, and she scoots against him, somehow knowing exactly what he needs without him having to stumble through a request. She rests her head against his chest. Serenity washes over him as he presses his nose to her hair and feels her body relax against his. Tomorrow is going to be hell; an investigation, a possible autopsy, and those damn bruises that will surely appear. But for now he couldn't care less about all that. She's alive and well and safe. Everything else can wait.
Soon she's fast asleep, her soft breathing lulls him to sleep as well. He lays there surrounded by her scent, her essence, and as he finally drifts, the words repeat in his head like a mantra.
It's not too late.
He wants to believe that they hold true.