There are nights, when Scully comes to his room, sits at the end of the bed, folding her legs underneath herself and ask questions about the case, poses ideas, doubts and theories. He turns down the volume on the tv and talks, or listens, or jokes, anything to keep the silence from scaring her away. He pretends he doesn't know she's afraid of nightmares waiting for her, when there's no one around to keep them at bay.
Her greatest weakness is inability to acknowledge weakness but he wants to help. He wants to help but is too scared to offer.
Sooner or later she's stretched across the foot of his bed, edge of comforter wrapped around her back, one arm folded like a pillow under her head. She falls asleep and Mulder watches over her.
Does he think it means anything? Not really and it costs him nothing to give her what she needs. Formally it might mean something, technically they are working but there's no one there to care. No FBI regulation would force him to close the door between them, no office pretense of professionalism would keep him from her. In these ratty motels they are people trying to help each other, going through this together. Two edges of one blade, cutting their way through to the truth.
One night, after twelve hours in autopsy bay, she stumbled into his room and without thinking it through, he turned down the comforter on the free side of the double bed.
"Mulder, I" she trailed off looking puzzled by his gesture.
"We both know you'll fall asleep in four minutes" he didn't pat the pillow, didn't even look at her directly, turning the volume down "might as well nap comfortably"
"Sorry, I shouldn't have come, I have my own room" she turned to leave.
"Scully, please, we’ll talk, just later" he negotiated, trying to make her see that his reasons were innocent. She didn't turn, but she didn't leave either "I won't tell anyone, if you don't"
It was a stalemate, if she’d leave it’s running away. If he’d insist, he's forcing it, and there's no real reason for that. He almost accepted it, he pushed too far, she won’t let him in tonight. She turned, leaving through the connecting doors between their rooms. He could hear the zipper of her suitcase, clank of heels on the floor, creak of the mattress as she sat down to take off her pantyhose. How did he know that? Because she left the door open. He heard the water in the bathroom, the toilet flush, was he a pervert by keeping track?
The door closed, and a second later, she was there, climbing into bed next to him in her silk navy blue pajamas, her eyes cast down, waiting for his comment. He had none.
"Give me ten minutes" she mumbled, hugging her pillow. Her pillow, how natural it felt to call it that way, her side, her pillow, her bedside lamp. Were those things always there? Just waiting to be claimed and properly named?
"Whatever you say" he agreed, looking at the autopsy reports she brought back with her "now rest."
"Ten minutes" her tone was sleepy, her body shifting under the covers, almost comfortably.
"Sleep Scully, you need it"
He kept watch over her, for ten minutes, then the next, then another. He read the report, taking notes, listening to her breathing, slow and relaxed. Given the nature of the report it was quite remarkable that she could sleep so peacefully, this woman had the nerves of steel. They were both trained, but it took a special kind of person to take it in stride and Dana Scully was that person. After his time in the VCS he had nightmares for months, and yet, even considering the fact that since they started working together the number of bodies he saw had doubled, he also took it a lot better, more calmly. Maybe it was a control thing, maybe it was the experience, or maybe it was her letting him hide behind her professional gaze and steady hand. He had complete trust in her.
The clock showed 11:30pm. He read the report, Scully turned in her sleep, now curled on her side facing him. Her unruly hair falling across her cheek. Would she wake if he touched her? Would this tranquil moment fall like a house of cards blown away by a sharp intake of breath? Does it tickle her, a little annoyance that would inevitably wake her anyway? Would she wake if he watched her for a moment?
Switching the bedside lamp off, under faint blueish glow of the muted tv, he laid down next to her, not overly cautiously but not abruptly either. It’s the unnatural things that feel out of place, make us look up, a flash of movement in the corner of the eye, a gust of cold wind inside a warm house. The report abandoned, he mirrored her pose, studying her features, trying to decompose the state of her mind from the arch of her bow, the curve of her lips, the squint of her eyes. The little beauty mark over her lip distracted him, his Marilyn Monroe in scrubs. How long did she have these circles under her eyes, her naturally creamy complexion looked ashen, or maybe it was the light.
Her face is relaxed and calm, unguarded, but why does that made him feel like a thief in the night? Stealing the secret layout of freckles on her nose and cheeks, like a treasure map, like a map of stars. She’s so beautiful, his partner, he could open an X file on how her smile can spontaneously combust all thought in any man’s mind. Her proud nose, majestic, royal, perfect in shape and form, a mountain range between two lakes of blue eyes.
Suddenly her long eyelashes flutter, her brow furrows, he panics, she’ll catch him breaking confidence, a creep with the face of her partner. She sighs heavily, eyes scanning the dreamscape unfolding under her eyelids. She’s dreaming, of what he wonders. What monster was hiding under his bed and chose to haunt her instead of him tonight. Is it Pfaster? A memory of cancer, is it Emily, or Missy, he cringes at how shamefully long that list is.
Then just as unexpected as was her frown, smile curled her lips, her forehead smoothed, her features softened and the dream seemed over. Her lips parted and moved soundlessly, her breath didn’t reach far enough to warm his lips but whatever it was she was saying amidst her dream, it wasn’t a scream nor a cry for help. The faint tug of the corner of her lips, was exactly what he wanted to investigate, gathering plenty of empirical evidence, personally.
“Muhh” she sighed, shifting slightly, sinking deeper into her pillow, she was probably meaning her mother “Mul-dehh”
The sound knocked him breathless, this breathy rendition of his name, never before he heard something so deep, not from lovers, nor friends, not from family. It was a frequency, that resonated with the deepest parts of him, his deepest sense of self rang like a bell in the lonely tower of his heart.
Mulder studied her face again, trying to give meaning to it, some context. Was she calling him, admonishing him, teasing him. There was so much color in her tone when she was awake that he could puzzle whole sentences from the way she spoke his name. She looked fluid in her motionlessness, the tension gone from her shoulders, and her face? It wasn’t joy, it was something more, contentment. Her fingers twitched on the pillow, searching for purchase, missing something she wanted. The faint crease returned, small but threatening, her palm moved a fraction and he realized, she was searching for him. When amidst rubble of whatever case they were working, her fingers sometimes did find his, but were they allowed to touch like this? Her frown deepened asking a question, a question he asked himself. Should I answer her call? Was I imagining it? The four inches of space, between his pillow and hers, felt like a chasm, like a pilgrimage, like a fork in the road he took, a road to her.
Slowly, steadily, he slipped two fingers into her hand. She didn’t wake, her palm closed and her features relaxed. It’s subconscious, he told himself, some repressed fear born out of responsibility for each other, we’re partners. Her lips twitched again the moment he thought that, a small huff of air, a fraction of a chuckle. Scully didn’t talk in her sleep, not often, so he didn’t count on anything else from her, but this, whatever it was she was dreaming about, was something she enjoyed and he was a part of it, he and his hand, in hers. That was a good dream. Before he fell asleep, her hand covered his completely, their fingers loosely twined.
Unnoticed, the tv died plunging the room into darkness, into a mild mid-July night on the east coast of the US. If Mulder wasn’t so focused on the woman beside him he’d hear a faint echo of waves crashing against the shore and screams of seagulls circling around fishing boats.
He had no illusions, it wasn’t a big thing. A small indiscretion, an accident between close friends with years of practice in invading each other’s space. A medical doctor and a psychologist could explain it to themselves in their own watertight ways, but the truth was, when she moved, he followed, when he shifted, she held on.
The next morning when Scully woke up, he already let go, leaving only a vague, dreamlike memory of strong arms wrapped around her. She didn't realize that his limbs scattered between sheets and pillows were now waiting, ready to take her back, like a cocoon. Like Thumbelina and her nocturnal flower.