Title: Age Cannot Wither
Author: ML
Feedback: welcomed with open arms! msnsc21@yahoo.com
Distribution: Xemplary and Gossamer, yes; if you've archived my stories before, yes; if you haven't, please drop me a line so I know where it's going, and keep my name, email, etc. attached. Thanks.
Spoilers: Requiem
Rating: PG-13
Classification: Story, Angst, MSR
Keywords: Mulder/Scully Romance
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the recognizable characters. They belong to Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen, and Fox Broadcasting, not to mention the wonderful actors who bring them to life. I mean no infringement, and I am making no profit from this.

Summary: Once upon a time, Scully returned to Bellefleur.

Author's notes and acknowledgments at the end.

She is her own great-granddaughter.

She has outlived everyone she ever knew, or loved.

Except one. She still believes, has to believe, in his continued existence.

She can't die, doesn't even age. When she first began to suspect this, characteristically she denied the possibility. Never one to spend a lot of time on her appearance, she began examining her face for signs in every mirror, in every person who looked at her.

When she finally faced the truth, she did her best to hide it from those around her. Events had conspired to make her feel old before her time; she began to make her appearance match how she felt inside. No one seemed to suspect, not even her family. Skinner suspected something but became her co-conspirator. Never underestimate the power of guilt to get what you want.

She knew even then she wouldn't have to pretend forever. She had her first lifetime to figure out how she wanted to spend the rest of them. A couple of lifetimes later, she's still trying to figure it out.

It makes a tragic kind of sense to her. How could she die when she'd hardly lived? For a few precious, fleeting weeks, she'd laid flesh and spirit in other hands, and held his in hers. Then, nothing. Only the unbearable memories and the proof she carried in her womb. Proof that it hadn't been a dream, that he'd been hers and she was his. She is still his.

She fooled almost everyone, but she couldn't fool her son, hers and Mulder's. He waited until he was almost grown to seriously ask her the question she'd been dreading from him.

"Mom, you're not ever going to get older, are you?" His hazel eyes pierced hers, so like his father's. Even his voice, with just that slightly accusing tone, was Mulder to the core.

He'd grown up knowing about his father, how she'd loved and lost him, and she'd always managed to answer his questions truthfully in some fashion.

She matched his gaze. You'd be so proud of him, Mulder, she thought.

"No, I'm not," she said finally, honestly. "And I don't know why," she continued, anticipating his next inevitable question. She'd tried to find the answer over the years, conducting all sorts of tests on herself, but no answers were forthcoming.

For her son's sake as well as for her own, she kept a low profile. To her great regret, he never married, never gave her the grandchildren she'd always envied her own mother for. Like his father before him, he became obsessed with a need to know the truth. It broke her heart to see him expend his energies in that way, when all she'd ever hoped for him was that he would have a normal life. But in his way, he seemed happy. He may have inherited his father's curiosity and openness to new experiences, but he possessed his mother's rationalism. He seemed grounded, centered, in a way his father never appeared to be, and she never felt. He took everything in stride, including the knowledge that one day, he would die, and his mother would not.

Once her son knew the truth, Scully stopped trying to hide her unchanging face. They traveled the globe together, looking for answers. They never stayed long enough in a place for Scully's unchanging appearance to become a problem. She'd also learned a thing or two from the Gunmen about hiding her identity, though in the end she always went back to Scully. Always Scully. She wanted to be sure Mulder could find her, no matter what.

But though they found many things, and had many adventures, they never found the one thing they sought, and as far as she knows, no one ever sought them during that time.

When at last her son is gone and she is truly alone in the world, she goes on as best she can. Oddly enough, the world doesn't change as much over the years as she anticipated it would, or perhaps the changes occur so gradually she doesn't notice until they become routine. Governments rise and fall, but it changes nothing. New advances in technology arrive with fanfare, or controversy, or subtly work their way into everyone's life without warning until everyone takes them for granted. The world continues its wobbling, unpredictable course.

The aliens never do invade. Scully thought of a lot of different reasons for this. Perhaps Mulder gave himself as hostage to prevent it, a typical noble and extreme gesture for him. Maybe, like so many other things, the invasion occurred in such tiny increments it has already happened, and no one noticed ("What if they gave a war and nobody came?" she thought whimsically once, reminded of a slogan from a very early life).

She wearied of that particular parlor game when there was no one left with whom she could debate it.

Her nomadic childhood prepared her in some way for her current existence. She takes care never to grow too attached to any one place, or any one person. Though there are places she returns to again and again, she leaves long intervals between visits. It is a lonely life, but she never seeks to alleviate that loneliness by too close a connection to another. In all honesty, she doesn't crave it. There is only one person whose closeness she craves, and he isn't here, so she does without.

She doesn't have to work if she chooses not to, but she does anyway. A lifetime--or several lifetimes--of idleness simply doesn't appeal to her. She keeps up her medical skills, and always finds work helping people in some capacity. she thinks with some irony.

She admits to a certain selfish motivation. She has long held the belief that Mulder will be returned the same way she had been: anonymously dropped off in some hospital. It is a crap shoot, she realizes, but she has nothing else to go on.

In her worst nightmares, she dreams he'd been returned long, long ago, and lived out his life either as a John Doe, or in fruitless searching for her. In the sane and daylight hours, she tells herself she'd know. Somehow, she'd know if he'd come back. It is the one article of faith she still clings to, along with her cross.

She tends to return to the same places over and over again, places she privately calls her "safe houses," places Mulder would know, that he might go to if looking for her. The Vineyard. Her mother's old house, though the neighborhood is almost unrecognizable now. Boston. Oregon. New Mexico, Nevada. Any place they'd gone for cases possibly involving aliens. She even spent a little time in Oxford, once, though more for her own curiosity than any conviction that she'd find him there. It is a part of his life she knows little about, and so she indulged herself.

Now it is Oregon's turn again. She applied for, and got, a job as an emergency room physician in the small community hospital. She found a little house on the outskirts of town, a place that has been empty for some years, ignoring the whispers that it is haunted. If it is, she is pretty sure she'd know the ghosts by name. She is in Bellefleur territory once again.

Oregon hasn't really gotten its fair share of her time. The memories are still too painful. She'd almost decided not to come this time, but she is tired of the east coast. Her last visit here was made when her son was still a young man. It had been a very short visit.

Bellefleur looks as unchanged as only a little backwater town can. Most of the buildings that were there on her previous visits are still standing, and very few news ones have been built. The hospital, however, is new and Scully is pleased to see how state-of- the-art it is.

No one gives any indication that they remember her, or remember hearing of her, and why should they? The oldest living resident probably wasn't even born yet when she last visited.

The people seem friendlier than they did on her first visit so many years ago, much less secretive and suspicious of strangers. In a very short time, she feels well-liked and respected at the hospital and around town, though the benign curiosity of her co-workers and others is a little hard to take. She lets the rumors flow around her. She's heard them all before. The stories everyone seems to like best are that she either is running from a failed love affair or an abusive marriage, something tragic or romantic. She never confirms or denies anything, but sometimes she lets someone see a certain expression that seems to confirm whatever theory they subscribe to. It doesn't concern Scully any more. They will never in a million years guess at the truth. She fervently hopes that she won't be around at the end of a million years, or even a thousand, to find out.

Her silence on the subject doesn't keep her friends from trying to set her up with any eligible male around. The cute new fireman. The sheriff's deputy who was widowed and left with two young children. The new doctor. She politely says no to all offers and inquiries. In time, rumors about her are supplanted by newer ones about someone else, in the way of such things. Eventually, her friends stop trying to set her up with dates.

Bellefleur still has a reputation among certain groups for being a hotbed of UFO activity though the locals maintain that it's all ancient history. Still, they try to capitalize it and market it as a source of revenue, a tourist destination for the gullible. The old timers of the community say that some generations ago, a number of people disappeared into the forest and strange lights could be seen for miles around. Scully, of course, knows the real story behind this, but she says nothing about it.

For a while, Bellefleur was the destination for any MUFON member in good standing. But when nothing new happened, the rush of UFO hunting tourists slowed to a trickle, and now it is only a footnote in the small village's history. Now the only UFO-related event occurs when the occasional visitor gets lost in the forest and is brought in to the hospital to be treated for dehydration and exposure.

In her ramblings about the town and countryside, Scully can find no fresh evidence of any UFO activity. No one tells her the forest is off-limits, her car doesn't behave strangely on a certain stretch of road. In fact, she feels a sense of peace in Bellefleur she hasn't felt anywhere else for a long time. She hopes she can stay for a while.

She fixes up her little house bit by bit, not wanting to draw attention to herself by any big expenditures. She is still cautious after all this time, though she is pretty sure there is no one left alive to really care what she does. Old habits die hard.

Life goes on and the months stretch into a year, into two years. Scully starts to think about the long term. Does she want to try and disguise the fact that she never ages, in order to stay here? It is the first time in many years she feels like staying put. She wants to retire here. She wishes it could be possible to live out her life here. She's never really stayed anywhere longer than she already has here. Maybe the pull is so strong because this is the last place Mulder was seen alive. She isn't sure; she only knows she feels closer to him here than anywhere else. Why has she avoided coming back here for so long?

She looks at the pictures on her dresser. She has only a few of Mulder, mostly cadged from the files before she left. Skinner had given her Mulder's badge before he retired. She sits on the edge of her bed and looks at the pictures. She has been doing this more frequently of late, trying to get his image to help her make up her mind.

She hears Mulder's voice in her head. "It has to end some time," he is saying. "That time is now."

She feels a chill at this pronouncement, just as she had the first time he said it.

Is this the final stop on her journey? Though she tells herself she still has hope, maybe it's more a habit of mind than a true feeling. Can she will herself into ending it here, in this place? It would be fitting to end where it all began, so many years ago. The thought shakes her. Is she seriously contemplating such a thing? She isn't sure. She isn't even sure it's possible.

Why she feels she has to make a decision now, she isn't sure either. It will be a number of years before anyone begins to wonder about her.

Her life settles in to a sort of routine. She is living the closest thing to a normal life she ever has, in her little cottage at the edge of the wood. Even the hospital work becomes somewhat routine. Fishing boat accidents, various ailments and accidents among the townspeople. Flu outbreaks. Childbirth, death by misadventure or natural causes. She sees them all through but remains untouched by any of it.

Sometimes it seems to her there's a barrier between her and the rest of the world, a thin, invisible wall that allows her to go on, to continue to function unscathed. She knows, for all that she is liked and respected, that she has a reputation for being detached. It's a kinder description than what she used to hear at the FBI, when she struggled so hard to keep a lid on her feelings, to not let them show. Now the opposite is true. She does her best to muster some emotion. She knows she makes appropriate responses, and it's apparent that most people are satisfied, but she is not. Her emotions seem stunted by the same process that stops her from growing older, and eventually dying.

One quiet summer evening she steps outside the ER for a breath of air. It's been a very quiet night; the most she's had to do is remove a large metal staple from someone's finger. She looks up at the stars and finds the one she picked out long ago, the one she considers Mulder's. She has been in Bellefleur for almost five years now.

Though she still has dark thoughts once in a while, she no longer thinks of ending the journey. She will stay here as long as she can, and leave when she has to. "I'm fine, Mulder," she whispers to the night sky, and finds as she utters it that it is true. She can accept her fate. Maybe, after all this time, she can even find a way to embrace it. Maybe she can think of actually living life again, instead of just enduring it.

As always when she thinks of the long stretch of days and years ahead, and never seeing Mulder again, her resolve quails. The stars start to swim before her eyes and she feels her brave face crumple a little as she comes to this point, as she has so many times before. But she thinks that she might find the strength this time. Coming to Bellefleur wasn't such a bad idea after all; it's given her closure. She smiles up at the night sky and to herself, brushing the tears away. She can almost see Mulder's face up there, smiling back down at her.

"Dr. Scully." One of the nurses on duty comes out to find her. "We got a call. Hiker found wandering along the county road. He appears disoriented. Almost got hit by a truck."

She turns away from the stars. It's the silly season again. She suspects this is the first of the summer UFO nuts to show up and then need rescuing. "What's the ETA?" she asks the nurse as they re-enter the building.

"They'll be here in ten."

"Okay, set up the usual. If he's gonna be our only customer tonight, we'll give him the red-carpet treatment."

The nurse grins. "You got it, Dr. Scully."

Scully is waiting by the doors when the ambulance backs up, and she helps the EMTs open the doors and lower the gurney to the ground. The hiker has an oxygen mask on and is wrapped in a thermal blanket.

"Tell me about it," Scully requests as they guide the gurney into the ER.

The EMT recites, "White male, appears to be late thirties, no obvious recent injuries. Pulse is there but weak, breathing labored. Trucker at the scene says he was weaving down the middle of the road on foot. He thought the guy was drunk. He stopped his truck and got out to help and the guy collapsed."

"How long has he been unconscious?" The nurse starts setting up the IV line, anticipating Scully's orders. Scully runs her fingers through his thick, dark hair, looking for head injuries.

"He revived enough in the rig to try and pull the mask off, but he went out again just before we got here."

The EMTs help move him onto the table and Scully begins to give her orders, peeling back the blanket to inspect him for any other injuries. Why hadn't they mentioned he was found naked? He has a long, lean body. There is some scarring here and there; a pucker near his shoulder and another on his thigh. There is something familiar about this. Scully bites back a surge of hope and tries to remain calm and in control. She looks at his face, obscured by the mask, and his eyes flutter a little, trying to open.

"Just lie still, Mr....what's his name?" The nurse calls to the retreating EMTs.

"Don't know," a voice drifts back. "He kept passing out."

Scully bends over him and his eyes open briefly again, and shut, then open wide. He looks panicked, and tries to claw at the oxygen mask.

Scully grabs one arm and the nurse grabs the other. His grip on Scully's hand is surprisingly strong. She leans down to whisper in his ear. "If you'll just stay calm, Sir, we can take the mask off and see if you can breathe okay on your own." Staying calm would be good advice for Scully to follow, too; her heart is pounding so hard she can feel it in her ears. The patient nods slightly, his eyes never leaving Scully's. His grip relaxes and Scully reaches up to remove the mask.

Oh my God.

It can't be.

It just can't be.

She's not seeing this, it isn't happening. She didn't just hear a whispered, "Scully," from a mouth she hasn't seen for decades upon decades, a voice she's only heard in dreams for too long.

This time, it's Scully who faints.

Later, she will hear the story over and over again how the unflappable Dr. Scully keeled over right in the middle of a fairly routine case. She will hear in humiliating detail the whole story of how she fell, taking the crash cart with her, how suddenly the patient was on his feet, hollering her name and threatening bodily harm if anyone so much as touched her; how he cradled her head in his lap, stroking her hair until she revived again. Then, his job done, *he* fainted once again.

Her first sight after fainting is Mulder, lying on an adjoining bed, asleep or unconscious. Reassuring beeps are coming from the monitors. She sits up too quickly, and it makes her dizzy, but when she looks again, Mulder is still there. She scoots to the edge of her bed and takes his hand, warm and alive. The nurse bustles in and sees Scully sitting up, and tries to get her to lie down again, but Scully won't. She sits and holds Mulder's hand until he wakes up again, and she can hear his voice once more.

Much, much later she will hear some of the more interesting stories that start circulating in the town before nightfall the next day. People who were *actually there* will relate how staid Dr. Scully literally fell at the handsome stranger's feet in the ER. How he revived her with a kiss. How later, when the nurse went to check on them in their adjoining beds, she found their hands entwined across the short space between them. Without ever knowing the true story, people have concocted a fairy tale and don't even question that there might be more to it. The truth isn't necessary to them, even though Scully could tell them it's as unbelievable as a fairy tale. The stories they come up with are exciting enough. And though part of Scully wants to set the record straight, a larger part of her is relieved that she is spared embarrassing questions.

She tells a couple of versions of the story to Mulder on one of her frequent visits to his room. She loves the way his eyes light up as soon as he sees her, and she feels the smile on her face radiate warmth all through her body. He reaches for her hand and she gives it to him. Until she felt Mulder's hand again, she'd forgotten how good a simple human touch could make her feel.

She sits on the edge of the bed. "How is it, when I'm the doctor here, the story is that you saved me?" she complains good-naturedly.

"Didn't I save you?" He gives her a wide-eyed look, a slight grin playing about his mouth. He's still feeling a little weak, but his mind is as quick as ever.

"I like to think," she says, taking his hand and holding it to her cheek, "that we saved each other."

His smile broadens and he strokes her cheek. "So we did, Scully," he says softly. "So we did."

Mulder's recovery is rapid. How could he help but get better under Dr. Scully's attentive and tender care? She spends any spare moment she has in his room, and the staff learns quickly that it's the first place to look for her. Besides, everyone is curious about the man who seemingly fell from the sky and swept their Dr. Scully off her feet.

Because of the constant parade of well-wishers and the merely curious, they have little time to themselves. Scully tells him what she can, but promises to fill him in on the whole story once they can be assured of some privacy. Mulder acknowledges the unspoken with a nod, telling her with his expression that he has much to tell her, too.

It is not many days before Mulder is discharged and Scully can take him home. She has literally been living at the hospital during his stay there, showering in the doctor's locker room and taking meals and catnaps in Mulder's room between shifts.

Scully smiles as they pull up before the door of her little house. It's really home now, because Mulder is here with her.

They are barely inside the door when Mulder takes her in his arms, tilts her face up to his, and kisses her. It's their first real kiss since his return, and Scully invests in it all the pent-up fear and longing she's stored up and hidden away for so long. The earth has circled the sun too many times since the last time she felt his arms around her and his lips on hers. Nothing else matters in this moment but their universe of two.

"Wow, Scully," he gasps when they finally break the kiss. "Maybe I should go away more often."

She hits his chest with her fists. "Don't you even *think* that, Mulder," she threatens. "You know, because of you, Bellefleur is thinking of changing its motto from "UFO Capital" to "Fairy Tale Town."

Mulder kisses her again, taking his time over it, lingering over her eyelids, her cheekbones, the edge of her jaw, but returning to her lips again and again. "Maybe we should get a head start on the happily ever after part," he whispers against her lips.

Scully nods, her eyes shiny with unshed tears. "You are my happily ever after, Mulder," she whispers back. "This is the happy ending I didn't think I'd ever get to have."

"Not a happy ending, Scully," Mulder corrects her with another tender kiss. "A happy beginning."

When Scully wakes up in Mulder's arms the next morning, she is still not certain it isn't a dream. The man next to her seems real enough, down to the slight snoring and the way he's hogging the covers. It still seems too good to be true.

The long, lonely years without him have begun to fade into insignificance. But she can't help but wonder how it finally happened that she was in the right place at the right time. Was it her acceptance of the way things were that finally opened the door to Mulder's return? Maybe all the signs pointed to Bellefleur all along and she just hadn't been ready to see them.

She wonders, with an almost overwhelming regret, if she should have come back to Bellefleur long before this. Would she have gotten Mulder back sooner? She tries to shake off the rush of guilt this thought brings. It won't do to think that way. She's through with regrets and sorrows.

She gets out of bed quietly and pads down the hall to the bathroom. Later, as she dries off from the shower, she catches a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror. She sees one white hair amongst the copper strands. A few tiny lines she doesn't remember seeing before show at the corners of her mouth and eyes. She is mesmerized.

"Mirror, mirror," Mulder says from the door, and comes to put his arms around her. "Yes, you are the fairest. Trust me." He kisses the top of her head. "The coffee's ready."

She turns in his arms and looks at him, really looks at him. He hadn't aged a day while he was gone, and now she can see the first little signs in him, too. She is greatly comforted by this. They have both started to live again.

Mulder looks back at Scully solemnly, then grins and leans forward to kiss the tip of her nose. "C'mon, Scully," he says, and tugs at her hand playfully. "You've got a lot of 'splainin' to do."

Without another look in the mirror, she allows Mulder to pull her along into the rest of their lives.


Author's notes: If it hadn't been for Squirrel's wonderful "Etched Upon My Skin," I wouldn't have gotten the idea for this story. Thanks, Squirrel, for writing it, and for letting me do a variation on your premise.

Yes, I know it's sappy, but it's a fairy tale, see?

You can find all my stories at: http://angelfire.com/ak3/kimpa/mlfic.html, maintained by the fabulous Kimpa. Check out the Kimpart X-perience while you're there!

"Joan Wilder, you are now a world-class hopeless romantic."

"Not hopeless, hopeful. Hopeful romantic."

-Romancing the Stone

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