Shadows of Winter
by Jaime Lyn

* And we're back to PG again.  I know - darn, right?  ;-)


Sated, Mulder laid on his back, hands cupping the back of his head.  The beam from the flashlight was steady, a dusty beacon bubbled on a darkened ceiling.  Scully lay on her back beside him, Knick's t-shirt draping her breasts and bunched around her thighs. She was quiet, goose-bumped, tranquil.  One arm rested behind her head, the other on her stomach.  

Once they'd finally disengaged from one another, both had been exhausted, drained, and had simply flopped back onto the carpet.  Scully had shivered, and pulled her shirt back over her head.  Mulder closed his eyes and reveled in a pattern of sounds and textures - the fabric of Berber versus the occasional burst of color behind his eyes: blue, red, green, yellow, rough, soft, rough, soft.  

Scully's tears had dried in tracks against her cheeks, but her eyes remained open, unfocused, the pink around her irises evaporating into eggshell-white as seconds stretched into minutes.  

The house was silent, replete.  Only the whistling of winter discontent flitted through the walls: branches tapping stucco, wind hissing at trees, snowflakes dueling.  Time was ticking, warning them, prodding them.  But even if they wanted to leave - wanted to leave right now - there was no way out.  The roads would be blocked off, the lawn covered in thick, white hills.  Cold was closing in, contracting around the heart of November, and soon they would have to go get William and move the party downstairs, where a fireplace could promise warm flickers of heat.  

"Scully, do you remember why you wrote your senior thesis?"

Scully turned to him, leaned over on her right side, braced herself on an elbow.  Her thick red hair fell over her shoulder like an un-tethered drape.  "My undergraduate paper?" she asked, her chin pressed into her hand. "The one you flung at me like a false credential when we first met?"  

"Hey now."  Mulder raised an eyebrow.  "There was no flinging involved."

Scully smiled.  "Perhaps it was your distaste for me that gave the appearance of flinging."   Her free hand secreted towards him, drew swirls over his knuckles, her lids heavy.  "Why do you ask?"  

"I don't know," said Mulder.  "Einstein's Twin Paradox - it was the first thing I wondered about you, after we worked on that first case together.  Why would such a staunch scientist choose one of Einstein’s most outlandish theories as part of her graduation requirements?"

"Did you even bother to read it?" she asked, amused.   

Her suspicious tone was so familiar that Mulder felt momentarily transported.  A quiet basement office, once a copying room, and then a storage closet, and finally a joke to anyone who passed and saw his nameplate on the door.  Slides and files hanging off the desk, photos littering the floor, unfilled expense reports sticking out the corners of drawers.  Piles here, piles there.  The scent of fast food hamburgers, hot coffee, and ketchup.  An unwelcome, red-headed urchin, so green from inexperience it was frightening, daring him to contradict her, arguing with him that nothing existed beyond the realm of science: the answers are there, she insisted.   You just have to know where to look.  

It took her a week to re-file the office, him another week to re-file it back, and her a third week to clean it once last time: she left him post-it notes in strategic places and threatened death if he dared rearrange anything in a way that would create more work for her. The loopy swirls of her handwriting coupled with the no-nonsense practicality of her messages made him smile; he'd kept every single one of those post-its.  He still had them, somewhere.

"I did read it," he insisted, opening his palm to her. Her fingertips traced the lines in his skin.  

When her eyebrow refused to back down, Mulder gave in and bit his lip, sheepish.  "Okay, I tried to read it.  And I kind of got it.  But I had no idea why x equaled v and t equaled x - "

"Actually, I think I wrote that 'x' was a position in time, assuming that time moved relative to any object in motion with a constant velocity of 'u' - " She waved a hand as if lecturing - " 'U' being the constant velocity of earth, for example - and that this was in fact equal to the constant x times u, plus the constant of a second body, we'll say anything at motion on earth - "

Mulder tapped her arm, jolting her.  "Hey - braggart, you just lost me."  

Scully frowned, seemingly confused as to why anyone would have problems understanding the variables of physics.  "Which part?" she asked.

"Everything after 'Actually,' " he answered.  Scully smacked him on the arm.  

"Well, seriously, then.  What didn't you understand about it?"   

Mulder turned on his side to face her, mirrored her posture.  "I think I just need a refresher course, Agent Scully.  Explain to me how the theory works in your expert opinion," he said.  "Without forcing me to dig out my Scully-to-laymens dictionary."

Scully tilted her head to one side, a few red hairs skirting into her face.  She swatted them over her shoulder, brushing her cheek with her knuckles.  The brows above her blue eyes converged, and she looked wholly unconvinced of his seriousness.  

Mulder grinned.  "Okay.  So one person leaves the sphere of gravity and makes a trip to Pluto, and then returns fourteen years later, except he's younger... or can he actually return older? It's all about traveling at the speed of light, right?  Is that... am I close?"  

Scully took a breath.  "We'll start with general relativity," she said.

Mulder groaned into his arm, flopping back to the carpet.  

Scully chucked, sideswiped him with the back of her calf.  "You're the one who asked me."  Her toes tickled up and down the inside of his leg, and she smiled a very naughty smile, adding, "Big baby."      

Mulder peeked his head out from his arm, pressed a kiss to the outside of her elbow.  "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought it was recess." He waggled his eyebrows.  "Preach on, Sister Spooky."  Another kiss at the arch of her elbow.

At the very least, science lessons with Dr. Scully were much more productive than science lessons in high school, especially since, in this class, fucking the professor into bowlegged contentment was an acceptable excuse for forgetting to do your homework.  

Scully took a moment; her lips quirked, and Mulder couldn't be sure whether she was trying not to laugh.   

At last, she began, "Without getting too deeply into uniform gravitational fields - "  She paused a moment, as if waiting for more grumbling from the class.  When Mulder proved he could actually keep his mouth shut, she continued, "Say you have two identically constructed clocks. You synchronize them -date and time - and send one off in a spaceship, traveling at the speed of light, while you keep the other here on Earth.  Theoretically, since both Earth and the spaceship travel at a constant speed, and since time is a universal invariant, the same amount of time will pass for both Earth and the spaceship, but the clock on the spaceship will register that less time has passed, even though time has actually been a constant variable. It's rate that fluctuates, since the speed of light is faster than the speed of Earth's revolutions."

Mulder tugged on Scully's foot with his, his toes skirting her ankle.  She was hot when she was scientific.  "Okay, I think... Yes, I get what you're saying. But let's say I were to blast off in a ship to Pluto traveling at - oh, ninety-nine percent the speed of light - would I notice the passing of time as years or minutes?  I mean... would my body recognize the change, or force biological growth at a faster rate?"

"In scientific theory or psychological theory?"  

Mulder shrugged.  "In your theory," he said.  "It was your thesis."  

"Okay..."  Scully exhaled a chuckle.  "Special relativity generally debunks the idea that I would be younger than you, since I was traveling on Earth at the slower speed, and I couldn't feel the momentum - and since you obviously had thrusters on your spaceship.  As far as your other question goes, biology shouldn't change just because velocity does."  Her toes ran the length of his leg, and the smile she sported dimpled her cheeks.   

"But the argument in your thesis had more to do with the bigger picture," Mulder said.  "What an effect like that could mean in a more metaphysical sense.  If I'm remembering correctly - you said something about... parallel universes?"  

The arch of Scully's foot played along the inside of Mulder's knee, her fingers dancing, intertwined with his, along his palm. If Mulder didn't know any better, he'd argue that she was flirting with him, dirty-talking him with her science, arousing him in her own, intellectual, deranged strategy.  He certainly wouldn't put it past her.  She hummed to herself, sing-songing, "Close, but not close enough, P.I."  

Mulder grinned, certain his jaw would break from stretching;  Good God, she was flirting with him.  

"I argued that proper time would belong to you - you being the passenger in the spaceship traveling at the speed of light, me being the one left behind on Earth.  My interpretation of time would be merely as an observer, and in that case, I was perhaps traveling in the wrong gravitational loop."  Her cheeks reddened slightly, and she held their intertwined hands at eyelevel as she spoke.  "In other words, you would cease to exist in my gravitational frame of reference because we'd be traveling in different loops.  If the speed of light was the law by which we judged actual time, then all other life forms existing at a point less than that speed would be on other planes, measured by other frames of reference."  

"Parallel Universes," translated Mulder, satisfied with this conclusion.  

Scully snorted.  "You make it sound like something out of Heinlein."  

"Nah." Mulder grinned.  "Not Heinlein.  Maybe Ray Bradbury, though.  You must have been one groovy nerd to hang out with in college, Scully."  

Scully shook her head.  "God, I was so young."  She smiled, wistful.  "Idealistic, naive..."

Mulder brushed his finger across her cheek, understanding the sentiment. Nine and a half years, three abductions, a pot of paranormal hodge-podge, five gunshot wounds, a dozen alien encounters, a cancer, a baby, an adoption, a death, a murder trial and a break from the law later, and she was not the person she'd once been.  And neither was he.  But he rather liked this person that she was now, just as he'd liked any incarnation of her throughout the years.  

"Mulder," she said.  "Seriously.  Why do you ask?"  

"I re-read your thesis a few years ago," he said, tucking a long red curl behind her ear.  "When you were pregnant with William.  I sat at my computer and leafed through it, looking for something - I don't even know what.  I think I missed a lot of the technical stuff, but I got the general idea, and I kept it out - you know, where I could reach it easily."  

Scully cocked her head to one side.  She whispered, "Why?"

"Oh, I don't know.  Just because," he said, and now he was the one who blushed.  His thumb dropped to her shoulder, and then to her wrists.  "I think I was at a point in my life where I was trying to figure us out.  A lot was going on professionally and I - I wondered whether it was fate or coincidence that I'd found you, and you found me - that we were partnered together.  If I could have known in the beginning that it would end this way."  

She nodded, her eyes unreadable.  "And what did you come up with?"

"I thought - " He sighed.  "I thought that maybe I had done something to you, robbed you of something important.  And that the reason you believed in me was not because you wanted to, but because you had been forced to by circumstance."

Scully inhaled sharply, her fingers squeezing his.  "Mulder - "

He held up a hand.  "It's okay," he whispered.  "Just wait until you hear the whole thing."

She nodded, silent.  

"So I was sitting there, out of work, out of distractions, and reading your thesis because I found it in my desk, and I was bored, and I thought - "  He smiled, covered her fingers with his.  "It wasn't a matter of me dragging you out into the thick of ludicrousness - you'd always wanted to be there.  You liked the ludicrousness.  You wanted to believe - or at least, I think you did, but you didn't want me to think you did. You know?  When I first met you, the curiosity was there.  And the drive was there.  And in the end - "  He raised a hand and cupped her face with his thumb and index finger.  "There could never have been anyone else, or any other way for me.  You were just...someone I would have fallen in love with in any universe."  

"Nice," said Scully.

"You like?"  Mulder grinned, self-satisfied.  

"All this from my senior thesis, Mulder?"

"Yeah, that."  Mulder cocked an eyebrow.  "Plus, you've got an amazing ass.  Cosmic, really."  

A smile tugged at her lips, and she leaned closer, bridging the gap between them with a sliver of shadow.  Her eyes swam out of focus, her fingers splayed wide over his cheek, tickling the cartilage of his ear.  Her mouth found his and tugged, searched, angled. Her tongue entered, and there was a sudden merging, a crashing flash of desire. She was soft, and warm, and breathing life into his lungs.  Her red hair ran like smooth, gold spun silk beneath his fingertips.  She tasted like nine and a half years of familiarity, and at least six lifetimes of tears, sweat, and loyalty.  

When she pulled away, his eyes were still closed.  "Impressive," she murmured.  She brushed his cheek with the back of her hand, and he opened his eyes. "I think that was even better than your 'one in five billion' speech, and that's really saying something, Mulder."

Mulder grinned, unabashedly giddy.  "Yeah, well, I aim to please."  

"Really?" Scully's eyebrow shot up.   "If I recall correctly, I was your 'one in five billion' because you wanted me to do an autopsy I didn't plan on performing.  And before that, when 'I completed you,' it was because you wanted me to stop that pesky global conspiracy thing."  She clucked her tongue, rising to her feet.   "Always something with you, Mulder."  Her lips were swollen, hair wild and tousled.  She looked ravished.  "So what do you want from me this time?"  

Mulder tapped her ankle, marveled at the stripes of darkness that flitted over her.  With a tilt of his chin, he said, "Woman, go make me a fire."

Scully rolled her eyes.  "I'll be downstairs," she muttered.  "You can lay here like a lump if you want, but I don't feel like listening to you complain all night about your ass contracting frost bite. So give me a few minutes. Then I suggest you grab the Tater-Tot and meet me in the living room."  

"Or what?"

Scully folded her arms.  "There are plenty of theories concerning time dilation.  I'll start with Galileo, move on to Newton - "

Mulder groaned, tossed an arm over his eyes.  

Scully chuckled.  "Get dressed," she ordered, and turned on her heels.  

Mulder pulled himself to sitting, grasped her wrist before she could go any further.  His heart cracked out a wild, erratic drumbeat; he couldn't explain the tension.  That encroaching feeling took over, that powerful, almost hallucinogenic thought that the walls were closing in on them.  Scully frowned, questioned him with squinted eyes.  

"I love you," he whispered suddenly, looking her square in the eyes so there could be no debate.  "I mean it, Scully.  I love you."

Scully nodded slowly.  She hooked her fingers into his, squeezed, and then let him go. "I know you do," she said.  

And then she turned and walked into darkness, disappearing down the inky hallway.