The stairwell glistened gray, a fresh coat of paint covering the walls. Scully sought refuge there on days when chaos consumed the hospital halls and patients came endlessly, as if they were manufactured on an assembly line in the parking lot.
She is remembering this day. She is trying to retrace her steps and map the route her life has taken, bringing her to this moment. How far back, when did it start, whose fault was it. How far back, what answers does the past have, does it have any.
That day was different; she was sitting on the stairwell steps for more than an escape. She was lightheaded and nervous. She was late. Her heart hammered with anxious elation. She wanted this, she did, but now, facing the possibility, she saw her want for it change to future tense.
How would she tell Daniel? They'd hardly discussed children. They'd been married less than a year. He had a daughter from his first marriage but did he want another? Or a son? Scully's cheeks burned, candent, glowing with sweat and hope. She was holding her breath, thinking of names, wondering how she'd tell her mother. She was holding her breath and spinning her wedding ring around her knuckle when her pager wailed, the sound of it like a skewer through both ear drums.
The day Daniel died, Dana Scully lost her husband. She lost her future and her footing. Every constant, every truth, everything he'd ever taught her fell away, felt squandered, was undone in an instant.
It was his heart, unforeseeably as any heart breaks or breaks down. She made it to the ER and he was still on the table. His forehead and temple and hands were still warm. The attending had just called time of death and Scully, refusing to accept that this had happened, with no warning and in the blink of an eye, yanked the paddles from the crash cart and charged and shocked him three, five, eight more times. Before the ninth, a nurse gripped her shoulders and pulled her away, away from the crowd that was forming, away from Daniel and all that she thought would be the rest of her life.
Tears brimmed, a dammed deluge, a flood of regret and then. Then she had no one.
The days after were a waxing perdition. Her pregnancy test was negative, her sister tried too hard to comfort her with causerie about Daniel's 'presence' and 'aura' and 'passing.' Medical school –– her lifelong love affair with science had prepared her for death, introducing it as clinical dissection, relegating it to a terminal prognosis, a necessary stage of life. Nothing had hardened her or warned her of this pain, this selfish anguish: the adverse effects of death on the living.
The tectonic plates of her life had shifted. The ground beneath her became a bleak rift. When she found the courage to look into it, all that looked back was an opaque uncertainty.
For a long time she went to bed early. At first, it was difficult returning to the hospital, that hospital, any hospital. Soon it became impossible. Her color would fade, like an overexposed negative, she would feel faint and panic. Being in this place, the place where she failed him, where she lost him, the place where biology betrayed both of them, it was too much. Finally, she quit.
This is how she remembers her past: the scenes like slides projected, fragments of dialogue broken off and out of place, echoing back to her like a scratched record skipping. Memories are stained glass, beautiful and variegated, a kaleidoscope constantly turning.
Familial pushback came first. She can still hear it. She could never heed it.
"You can't just quit, Dana. It's been almost twelve years of school, of studying and internships and your residency. You worked so hard, so long for this, to practice medicine. You can't just quit."
"I'm not quitting, mom. I'm reevaluating what I want to do with my degrees. My experience. With the rest of my life."
"What? What are you going to do?" Her father interjected.
"I don't know. There's a lot a doctor can do outside of a hospital. I could teach. There's research, pharmaceutical, forensic and non-clinical positions for people with MDs."
Her parents stewed in stunned silence. She was serious about this.
"I'm going to weigh my options, consider the possibilities, put myself out there and see what happens."
It was that obstinacy, that Scully-patented stubbornness that turned the page into the next chapter of her life.
The day she made the decision to join the FBI felt like the first day of spring. Or, the first stage in a long metamorphosis.
It was almost six months after Daniel's death when she began her training at the FBI academy, trading the curing of diseases for the solving of crimes, a laboratory for Logan's run, a scalpel for a holster and gun.
She wore her wedding ring through training. They assigned her to the Violent Crimes Section upon graduation and, in the transition from cadet to full-fledged agent, the ring came off. There was the phantom feeling of it for weeks as she adjusted. She had a partner. He would suffice as a distraction. He would fill the void. She would have to stop feeling the void.
"Agent Mulder? I'm Dana Scully, I've been assigned to work with you."
She extended a hand and he shook it.
"So, who did you piss of to get stuck with this detail, Scully? This can't be the first stop you wanted to make on your climb to the top."
"Actually, I'm looking forward to working with you. I've heard a lot about you."
"Oh really? I've heard a lot about you too."
"I know I'm new to Violent Crimes but if you have any doubt about my qualifications or credentials––"
"You're a medical doctor. You got your undergraduate degree in Physics. 'Einstein's Twin Paradox: A New Interpretation' Dana Scully's senior thesis. Now that's a credential, rewriting Einstein."
"Did you read it?"
"I did. I liked it. I'm looking forward to working with you. I'm just worried you're disappointed that you ended up here."
Scully paused, uncrossed her arms. The last part seemed existential, or personal.
"I know you applied to teach at Quantico. I know they hired a fat, pedantic doctor instead who will probably retire in five years."
He looked up at her. "They should have hired you."
"Are you saying you don't want to work with me, Agent Mulder?"
"No. I'm saying that you're young, intelligent, you have experience enough to teach and it was your first choice."
"I'm glad to be here," Scully said trying to convince him, and remind herself.
"Maybe," he interrupted in his psychoanalytical tone. He still didn't know why she quit medicine.
"What else do you know?" Scully felt exposed, all cells under a microscope.
"I know you're an organ donor. You go the speed limit. Your dad was in the Navy. And you were born on a Sunday."
There were no revelations in the last part. Most of the information was flat on her driver's license. The dilemma was in knowing whether to be flattered or insulted by his background check.
Here, with him, she was a young widow, a sailor's daughter, a girl trying impossibly to be a woman in this bureaucracy of men. But she was not out of place.
"Come on," he said, punching a hand into his jacket as he stood. His shoulder brushed her shoulder as he walked past her. She followed him into their first case.
Fast forward four months. Scully had learned only that you cannot put two people of the opposite sex in hotel rooms, in cities too far from home with nobody to talk to or cling to or rely on but each other and not expect at least one of those two people to come to the most obvious conclusion.
When she found herself falling for him, she would exercise the futility of trying to grasp at a fixed object. There were heinous crimes, photographed and in folders, categorized and reported on and sometimes solved. She would stare blankly at the field reports, at the blinking cursor in the middle of some revised addendum. She wanted desperately to remain detached, to stoically withstand the rest of her life alone. At least that was what she thought she wanted. Through all these nights, close to but not with him, she had no idea what she wanted anymore. Daniel was gone almost a year. She wasn't even thirty yet.
Mulder was on the other side of the wall, watching softcore porn on HBO and thinking of what, her? Never. Scully struggled with the paradox of the professional distance agents are supposed to keep from their partners who they entrust with their lives. How do you protect a person without connecting on some level? How can you trust so blindly?
She failed him, like fate, when he was shot investigating the killer he was certain was working with Luther Lee Boggs. At the side of his hospital bed, Mulder first saw it. She was scared or sickened by being there. He saw it and didn't say anything except that he was fine and she should go home.
While he recuperated, Mulder finally had time to spend curating the pet project he'd dug up. The X-Files. When he was fully recovered he submitted an official request to reopen the X-Files and his request was granted.
Scully assumed that this was the end of the road, that he was leaving Violent Crimes and her behind. A part of her was relieved. The rest of her filled to the brim with despair. She felt like she was being robbed of some opportunity that had not yet presented itself. The matter of time. The end seemed premature and there was nothing she could do.
His office moved from the sixth floor to the basement. She went down to say goodbye.
"Mulder," she said quietly.
"Scully, come in."
"How do you like the new digs? I'm officially on the FBI's back burner."
He was pinning up a poster, organizing and reorganizing files.
"I wanted to talk to you about that."
He turned then, giving her his full attention. Scully looked paler, adrift. She initiated her maladroit farewell.
"I just wanted to say I've enjoyed working with you. I mean it's only been months but I feel––"
"Are you quitting?"
"No. I just mean you're on the X-Files now. I'm still––"
"You're not going anywhere. I've requested that you be transferred to the X files, with me."
He nodded. She beamed, caring about nothing less than trying to hide her relief.
"Blevins hasn't told you yet?"
Mulder picked at his bag of sunflower seeds, nibbling.
"He will," he extended a hand full of shuffled miscellaneous papers. "Want to help me move in?"
She took the load of paperwork and deposited herself on the floor beside him. Whether he liked her or loved her or just hated change, his request to Blevins allowed things to trip forward. With a girlish eagerness to see where it would lead, she inched closer to him. For the first time in a long time, Scully felt a sense of belonging.
Her meeting with Blevins came as a shock. They were transferring her, true, but with the caveat that she work to debunk the X-Files project. Her mission was covert: to reign Mulder back in to the FBI mainstream and restore the basement office to its paper storage capacity. Blevins was blind to seeing her fidelity was fixed. Nothing would change that.
Their first X-file took them to Oregon. She remembers his backwards Georgetown hat, exhumed graves, blankets of rain. There were the marks on her back, the fathomless fear that Mulder was right and then his arms around her.
The whole beginning stands like a beacon in her memories for the first time they got close.
Outside, on the windswept concrete, a Pacific storm. And what was this thing they had forming, their own private galaxy of trust, of allegiance? What was it but a leaky faucet, some abandoned running tap? When would they come to critical mass?
She went to him in terrycloth and cotton. He knelt and breathed against the small of her back and she flinched into his touch. She would always be flinching into his touch. The closeness of him, the constancy and care, his everywhereness made her feel that everything she would experience from that day forward waited for him to give it sense. He confessed to her by candlelight and it was the most romantic, most physically proximal night she had spent with anybody since Daniel.
That night lingered like a remanence, a sense of falling and falling and believing she had one person who would always catch her.
Beyond Bellefleur, Scully sighed often at the passage of time, the endless corridor of it, how its walls washed by her, on either side––darkly, fast, ever and ever. They never stood still. Days and nights and months and years whirred together. They raced toward the next mystery or conspiracy or crime scene. They zigzagged across the country, flying north and then south, east and west, over mountains and deserts and along coastlines they could never stay to see sunsets fade into. Scully in the passenger seat and Mulder on a mission. How was she ever supposed to tell him how she felt if they never stopped moving?
Through all of the journeys, returns, triumphs and defeats, all of the changes and their own stasis she never gave up hope.
Could they keep the X-Files open? Could they keep each other alive? The day to day challenges enthralled her in the same way they sometimes terrified her. After more than a year, when she knew the X-Files were about to be closed, she took his hand outside their hotel. They were miles from where the bureau thought they were. She felt a clock ticking with her heart, urging her to tell him to turn around, to leave with her. She wanted to put her arms around him and stand tip-toe to kiss him and never look back.
She should have.
Instead they ignored jurisdiction, broke protocol and returned to D.C. to face the consequences.
Her abduction by Duane Barry came weeks later, then her strange return. The world narrowed to what she didn't remember, and to Mulder at the side of her hospital bed. She trusted nothing more than his eyes, green-gray and uxorious. Nothing of him evaporated while she was gone. She grew content to have what they had, the intimacy and willingness, the risk and revelations. The X-Files were reopened.
All the love that had overwhelmed her, that had consumed her like quicksand, all the love she had fallen into with him would have to be a memory, a truck on the interstate speeding up from the left lane, a thing she must let pass.
The years wore on them, fraying both of their beliefs, testing hopelessly the amount of pain they could endure.
Then, one day, a nose bleed. The MRI and her life flashed before her eyes. The suspicion and then the confirmationn opened up something dangerous and endless in her, like a universe or a cliff.
The tumor was not a focal point of her self-pity. It was a chance to paint her own sundown. It was her very own appointment with death. It forced her to assign meaning to the entire affair, all of the secrets she never thought she'd share. And who was the first person she told? Not her mother or brother or priest.
Mulder came to her with roses and smiling––the smile of denial. He came to her with roses and she knew she was truly a knotted saint, a bleeding angel, dying for his cause. Her job had become her life and now it would be her death.
She was able to reflect, to write down almost five years worth of emotions and try to express what it, and he, meant to her. She was willing to destroy her reputation to save him, admit to a murder she didn't commit and he wouldn't let her. Mulder couldn't believe this was her end, and she hoped, he couldn't believe it was their end. Their lives irreversibly entwined, they had been through so much, seen the impossible. They had nearly forgotten they were mortal.
Except the man who could not disgrace her would prove to be her savior. He brought back the microchip and the cause negated the effect. A safe return to the way things were graduated into an epiphany.
These are the scenes that come to her, shards of their shared past, vivid and sudden as summer lightening:
It was in her apartment weeks after her remission. Regrets floated, crowded and clouded the entirety of her mind. She invited Mulder over on a whim and wondered what she would do next. Every page of this chapter was still unwritten. He knocked and she answered and she had just showered and smelled fresh and floral and had applied her make up more heavily than usual so as to not look like a woman recovering from terminal cancer.
Their potential was Pandora's box. It was something that must and would be opened and somehow she foresaw suffering in it. She smiled and let him in anyway.
"How are you?" He asked.
"Fine," she answered and he studied the way she said it, her front teeth catching on the inside of her lower lip. Scully still seemed so delicate to him, pale and small, a box labeled "FRAGILE: Handle with Care."
She poured wine, trying to remember the nuances of seduction. She sat on the couch and Mulder settled on the floor in front of it. The television flickered some old black and white movie.
"What are you watching?" He asked.
"Escape from something, or invasion. I forget."
"Who are those metallic figures in the background?"
Scully shook her head. Something in her chest constricted. Looking down at him, watching the shadows cast across his face, the glisten of wine on his lips, she knew she loved him more than anything she had ever seen or imagined in this life, or hoped for in another.
"Mulder," she started nervously. "What am I to you?"
A crutch, a pillar, the voice of reason in his world of chaos.
"Scully," he said instead, his face reading the unexpectedness of her question.
"You're my partner, and my friend––"
"I mean, we've been together five years. I've never seen you with another woman. Is there fidelity there or am I imagining it?"
"There is," he said without hesitating. "You're the only woman in my life."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know. I love you. I think you know that. We've been through dark, impossible places together. Our partnership has depended on some objective distance, on maintaing a platonic, professional dynamic."
Scully canted her head, listening, waiting for a but.
"I've always imagined you as chaste anyway," he added.
"Because you're Catholic, maybe. Or because you're a doctor. Isn't there some part of the Hippocratic oath that says doctors cannot lie with lay people?"
Scully threw her head back against the couch and laughed. A moment later she hurled a pillow at him and turned off the television. The streetlight outside seemed to brighten, softening the room at the edges, shifting the night in and out of focus.
"Mulder," she said after a long quiet beat. "The cancer, while I'm grateful I've recovered from it, I've realized has reinforced a long list of regrets."
"A long list?"
She nodded. Mulder moved to the couch then, too close, his arm behind her, his eyes attentive.
"On my wedding day, I thought I was finalizing the rest of my life, cementing it, permanent, etched in stone."
She put her glass on the coffee table. Her empty hand settled beside his and he stroked it.
"And then Daniel died. And nothing has been certain since."
"Are you unhappy?"
"No. No, I love my job. I feel like something is missing though, or was lost along the way."
"You've not been with anybody since your husband."
It wasn't a question. Scully shook her head, the bashful flutter of her eyelashes shutting into a drowsy blink.
"Not a single date."
She'd never mentioned Daniel before, not really. She squirmed into the cushion feeling suddenly denuded by the confession. A coarse flush had now replaced the pale doubt in her cheeks.
"Some days I feel like you're all I have," she said finally.
"I know," he whispered. "I know you're all I have."
A suspended moment hung from the crescent shape of fate. She felt like all of the pieces were falling into place. Scully leaned in, closing the space between them and kissed the corner of his parted lips. She kissed him again, tiny tentative sips becoming smothering and urgent. His mouth was receptive and his hand glided from her ear to her neck, testing the reality of her, like this.
Scully grappled for the tactile hem of his t-shirt. Her palm slipped under it, pressing against the heat of his back. Mulder's skin touching any part of her felt like a homecoming, familiar and long-awaited and right.
A bomb exploded in Mulder's heart. He could not resist the bitter sweetness of wine and want on her lips. Still, the solicitous psychoanalyst in him worried why she was doing this now. He broke the kiss with a lamenting moan.
"Scully," he strained. She looked bewildered when he pulled away, like maybe she was sleepwalking and he just woke her.
"I would love to sit here and do this, to be led in to your bedroom and start this. But––"
"I'm afraid. Afraid of this coming between us, afraid you're doing this now for the wrong reasons. If this is an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction to recent events––
I don't want you to regret doing this more than not doing it. I want to know that your rational mind wants this. Give it some time, stand back and take in the whole picture and, if you still want to do this, I'll be here."
Scully bowed her head and swallowed. The taste of him lingered on her lips.
"I don't know what I was thinking," she sighed.
"I do. I've thought about it a thousand times in the last five years."
His words echoed like a promise. They had had their first kiss in her unlit living room on a Thursday night, ordinary as a dream. The ache remained. It throbbed dully in the empty spaces, the dusky corners of her apartment, her half-empty bed every night.
"Why have you never said anything?"
"I didn't know how. I didn't know how you felt. There's so much I've never said," he paused then, not wanting to say too much, or the wrong words for the right reason.
"It's a long list of regrets," was all he could concede.
She smiled at that and he leaned forward, trying to stand and whispering, "I should go."
"No, don't," she pleaded, reaching for and catching his wrist.
He felt a dangerous kind of loneliness in her and felt it in himself too, the tug of war between heart and brain. He came back down to her, resting into a corner of the couch. His thumb daubed her chin. He leaned and kissed her forehead and she swayed into the sprawl of his arms and they were both asleep, together, in minutes.
This is what Scully knows: memory and experience will always be superimposed. She can instantly evoke, with closed eyes, on the dark inner side of her eyelids, the objective, absolutely optical replica of a late night conversation, a love scene, the liberating point of no return.
Time had passed. She considered and reconsidered, that night, their future, her past. Mulder was right. If they followed through with it, connected the incomplete ends of the thin line they'd been walking, it would change everything. It would complicate the commitment. It would force a digression.
She still had no idea what she was to him. Scully the young widow, the casualty of his crusade. Would ever be anything more?
Skinner sent them to Florida for some team building workshop. Really, it felt like a federally enforced double date. Mulder got out of the car this time, only out of curiosity, to investigate instead of suffocate in the obligatory herding of government employees into a convention center.
There was still the push and pull. His compulsion to dig into a mystery meant dragging her into the woods. They ended up alone together, exhausted and lost under the starlit cobalt sky.
Scully in her stubborn vigilance stayed awake. Mulder, curled fetal into the sling of her arms, remembered, all at once, how many sleepless nights, brushes with death, threats to her career––censures and reprimands and reassignments––she'd suffered for following and believing him. This woman was willing to forfeit everything. Even now, in the middle of the night in a Florida forest with red-eyed mothmen closing in, she had the mettle to hold him and her eyes open, to doctor him instead of leaving, wringing her hands of his insane ideas and walking away.
He knew that the unrealized hope, the yearn she had for them to be more, would one day become pain. He couldn't stand the thought. She deserved more than cob webs woven from tree limb to limb, the translucent canopy above them; she deserved more than his injured body in her lap, more than all of this. If she wanted him, Mulder decided as he drowsed off, he would surrender himself to her at the first opportunity.
In the morning they wended there way back to civilization, caught the culprit and prepared to escape the Tallahassee heat. Scully packed his things, feeling conjugal unfulfillment at sight of his boxerbriefs, gray and folded, his travel-sized toothpaste and shaving cream. She remembered her husband, the little things she took for granted, like ghosts in natural colors. How long ago it was.
The swerve of her old life into this one, the head-on collision of it, still took her breath away. Mulder, too. She would never not want him.
He came into the hotel room then, anxious and rushing her out and they drove to the airport. They navigated the landside terminal and boarded in enough time. From their seats a voice came over the intercom explaining that the wrong bags had been loaded onto this plane and that all of the baggage for the entire flight had to be checked and possibly resorted. After two hours of unloading and reloading and waiting patiently, wading through the crowds back in the terminal halls and shops, they returned, ready to reboard and missed the departure by five minutes.
They spoke to a customer service agent who advised them that they were ineligible for accommodations since their flight was delayed due to weather. Scully, in her I-have-a-loaded-gun-and-would-be-glad-to-use-it voice explained that they were victims of a baggage mishap. The agent eventually gave them hotel and meal vouchers for one room and four meals. Their rescheduled flight would leave at 8:15 the next morning.
Scully tried to argue for two rooms but Mulder had to use his credit card to pay for his own. At least they were on this same floor.
This was their rendezvous, he knew, their one chance, consummate and unplanned.
They trudged to their hotel rooms, a short distance from the airport. They were restless, the rest of the day was wide open. Scully showered. Her room was uncomfortably hot and she still felt nature glued to her.
An hour or two after, her hair damp at its ends, a knock at her door broke the silence she lay sweating in. The day had drifted to the cusp of dusk. Outside, the broken yolk sun bled into the tempera sky. A jet's pink trail dissected the horizon. Inside, Mulder was on the other side of the door, a man on the threshold, a man always on the threshold.
"Hey," he said softly, unsure if he'd awakened her. "There's no HBO. And no AC. Some accommodations."
Stepping into her room he asked, "Are you hungry? Do you want to order something to eat?"
"Something cold," Scully said shrugging. "Ice cream or a smoothie or something."
He grinned in agreement. Scully wondered if she'd ever remarry. If he'd ever marry her. These were the thoughts now that interlaced with every other. She couldn't control it.
Mulder picked up the phone and placed an abbreviated order. He asked about the AC and was told in an unconvincing voice that they were working on it.
Dropping the phone onto the receiver, he looked up and took in the breathtaking sight of Scully in satin pajamas, her combed hair curling and moist at its tendrils, the blush of her overheating cheeks and the pajama top two sizes too tight and exaggerating the absence of a bra. For a disorienting moment he couldn't speak or look away.
"The minibar is cold," he finally stammered, bending to and opening the fridge. He plucked out two tiny bottles of vodka.
Scully settled into her bed, back against the headboard, body on top of the covers. Mulder poured the chilled vodka into papers cups and sat on the edge of the other side.
Their love, she realized, was the kind of trauma, not tragedy. It was the kind that would wind up wounded and not dead. It wasn't invincible, just unyielding. Theirs was a love that dragged itself, gut-shot and with two broken legs towards the ends of the earth for no reason other than that one person who would do the same.
Their love refused all other loyalties. And, Mulder was right, it was a chaste love. It was metaphysical, never taken for granted, a tacit agreement that terrified her on nights like this.
"Mmm," she said sipping. The vodka went down smooth and cold. She patted the space beside her letting Mulder know he could move closer.
The muted television broadcast some car race, a colorful speeding haze neither of them was really watching. He inched toward the center of the bed and stared down at her naked ankles, her stockingless feet.
"I can't believe we're stuck here," she sighed.
"It's just an extra day."
"I want to sleep in my own bed."
"Me too," he told her, hoping she might misunderstand. A minute later he added: "I can't believe you shot a mothman."
"He wasn't a mothman. The coroner's report will show he was just a man, freakishly well-camouflaged into his environment, but still with ten fingers and ten toes and the same physiology as any of us."
"You shot him."
"Shut up Mulder, or I'll shoot you. Again."
This banter had the peculiar effect of making him want to cleave to Scully, and desperately too––to start a warm new colony, build their own civilization, away from all of this, in a foolish house with turrets and a mote.
Room service knocked on the door then. By this time the heat had succeeded in stifling their appetites. Mulder stabbed his milkshake with his straw. Scully let hers melt, instead raising her paper cup, signaling her request for a refill. Mulder traipsed to the fridge and back, pouring her, and himself, another shot. She saw his t-shirt was clinging to him, a dark gray cross soaking through on his chest. She wanted to tell him to take it off. She guzzled her drink instead. She thought for what felt like a long time about what she wanted to say to him. She watched the cheese on the pizza congeal and the contents of the ice bucket shrink. Finally, she spoke.
"Whenever I was about to start training––at the FBI academy, I had to make a decision. I had to decline all the other openings I'd applied for. They were all in other states, or countries," the alcohol had begun to temper her voice.
"I thought I wanted to get away from the sore sad experience I'd just gone through. That I wanted to get away from medicine and hospitals and other doctors. The FBI gave me that. Each new case takes us to a different town, some strange new place."
Mulder nodded. His right leg was touching her left. Scully was unfolding beside him on a bed. Her words made sense. It was beginning to feel like progress.
"And now, I feel like I've crossed the median and I'm going in the other direction. I want to sleep in my own bed every night. I want normal daylight hours. I want to start a family and settle somewhere."
"Where would you be now if you hadn't joined the FBI?"
Mulder bit his bottom lip, crooking his neck in contemplation. His eyes accidentally glanced her cleavage, burgeoning in the thin lilac-hued fabric. He always liked Scully's body most when it was a vague reveal.
"Do you want to quit?"
"No. I'm sure it's just a mood. I'm sure that if I did settle, I'd be bored. People never want what they think they want."
"Almost never," he said quietly.
"I think it's my brothers and cousins and friends from college. They're all on their second kid, talking about mortgages and station wagons and family vacations."
"You feel like you'll never have those things."
"I feel like I was supposed to. And now I feel like I'm too far gone, like it's impossible."
"It's not, you know," he said reaching, unblinking and tender, to stroke the length of her forearm.
Scully turned to him then. Her eyes anchored him. They were wet azure, wide and bare and begging. The stretch of a long silence and Mulder knew he stood with one foot over the precipice. He looked away to see the eleven o'clock news was ending.
"I should go," he pulled the words from his mouth like rotted teeth.
"Mulder," she started. There was worry in her voice, fear they weren't on the same page. She wondered what he was thinking. She wondered if he knew something she didn't.
"Goodnight," she said instead of what she was thinking and watched him walk away.
The door closed. She sighed to herself. This was such a strange stalemate.
A knock echoed a few minutes later, deja entendu.
Scully went back to the door. As soon as she turned the handle, unlocking it, Mulder pushed it open, wordlessly taking her face in his hands, crushing his lips to hers. Her unsuspecting mouth melted under the pressure of his jaw, the prod and interrogation of his tongue. She had no time to react. She tried only to hold on. Her nails dug into his shoulders. He staggered into the room without disconnecting from her. The door slammed shut.
"Stop me," he breathed. "Stop me if you don't still want this."
Scully could sense her own brain firing in a slow underwater way. The clean lines of rational thought tangled in the seaweed of desire. She answered by driving her pendulum hips into his, the inertia of it expiring into a sightless, sloppy, sucking kiss on his upper lip.
She was his one last lost-and-found hope. He lunged forward.
The backs of her knees met the edge of the bed and buckled. Scully sat eye-level with his navel. Her hands crept like a sin under the waist of his jeans. She tugged his t-shirt up and he pulled it off. The rivet and zipper undone, he stepped out of the denim and Scully laid back on the bed.
The saccharine strawberry of his milkshake met the acerbity of the vodka still coating her mouth. They kissed with the ardent, exploratory slowness of teenagers. They molded into the embrace with a willingness to die this way. Mulder's hand clutched at her hip and even if they did nothing more than this, kiss sideways in some humid beige hotel room, Scully knew it would be enough. He clutched at her hip, her shirtless sentimental other half. He tried to hold onto the moment.
Scully's hair was in her eyes. Damp ends had matted to her face. Mulder kissed her forehead and her eyelids and reached across her for a piece of ice. Hardly a cube, it was more like a pebble by then, round and polished as crystal. He dragged it along the length of her neck and heard her gasp. Another piece he pressed to the curve of her lips. A third traced a wet trail along the brim of her cleavage.
She wanted to glut herself in his touch. She was intoxicated and empty, invulnerable to everything except this: Mulder's cold fingers prying each button of her top open, exposing her body like a cherished secret.
With a shrug she was completely undressed, a pale sway, deviant strands of hair curling in honeyed coils. He shifted to be supine beside her and in the middle of the bed. He tugged on her arm, pulling her onto him. The moist cotton of his boxerbriefs still separated them and Scully ground down against the fabric, feeling like a girl again, steeping in the sensation of frottage and friction, this bluff from which both their hearts might plummet.
He concentrated on her neck and she knew it would leave a mark and she didn't care. Mulder latched onto her, or inside of her, clutching or convincing her was what she needed, all she needed, ever. She rose enough to inch the cotton down, not even off, just to the midpoint of his thighs and then she eased into the triumphant sting of penetration. The relief, after so long.
Scully began to move, conscious and grateful that there was nothing between them. She could feel his heartbeat, a disarming throb, the blood in his veins like years of unrequited want pushing into her. She kissed Mulder in every place she never thought she'd kiss him. She swam in the salt rivers of his sweat, born at the hollow of his neck, channeled along the meridian of his chest, detouring down the little fuse of hair that halted where their bodies met.
She rode him with agonizing slowness, drowning in the nearly-forgotten sense of being filled and emptied, control and capitulation and the weightless gravity of sex.
She heard only his ragged, spiraling indrawn breaths. The way he held her was like he was afraid of letting go. His thrusts were fluid and cadenced; they lifted her body off of the bed. The rough texture of the bedspread grated her knees on impact. His fingertips rubbed her sweat-drenched nape. He kissed her jaw and her neck and her nose. When she seemed lost in the moment, weary and unbelieving, he whispered her name. She felt beautifully exposed and whole for the few moments their eyes held each other's. She tried to stave off the inevitable, to prolong the climb toward oblivion but he felt the muscles of her walls flutter around him. Her nails dug into the bare flesh of his back. He pumped into her harder, pulling down on her hips, the urgent strain amplifying the pound of his pulse in his ears. He thought about what he was doing to her, what they were doing together, how close they both were to some cathartic turning point.
In an abrupt sweep, his fingers wound tightly in her hair, startling her feverish heart. Something caught fire between them, it smoldered in the empty spaces where their bodies weren't touching. It singed the sheets. There was no air in the room, just smoke and fire, the combustible finality of them coming together.
She closed her mouth over his and the first languid shudder rolled up her body. The world dissolved into muscle and sinew and for a few glorious moments they pretended that this was their honeymoon, a happy ending.
Her back arched and she stiffened. Her parted lips trembled. The steam of her breath tasted ecstatic in his mouth. He bucked deep and erratic and followed her with a searing gush and a stifled groan and a barrage of breathless kisses.
The sweat in her eyes, or maybe they were tears, blurred her vision. Aftermath was a sublime dissolution. She crumbled and broke into his arms and he dissolved into the soaking wet sheets and they fell asleep, wanting to say everything but not uttering a word.
In the morning she was awakened by Mulder's hand tracing the underside of her breast. The AC must have started working while she slept because her skin was cool and dry. At first it felt like last night was a dream, that when she opened her eyes the other side of the bed would be empty, his touch would evaporate. Except the silhouette of Mulder's naked body through her half-lidded eyes, the fine form of his calf sticking out from under the sheets was real.
Scully feigned sleep a while and let him touch her. She thought about how unplanned this was. Five and a half years. Yesterday she awoke his friend and colleague. Today, when she did sit up and dress and speak, it would be as his lover. She wondered if the exchange of bodily fluids flipped some invisible switch, if it forced them both into a new contract with pages and pages of fine print.
He kissed her then, knowing she was awake. It was a consolatory kiss, one that said don't worry. Everything will be alright.
They left Florida. Arriving home, Scullly feared there would be obligations and awkwardnesses, arguments and silent treatments, a fall into marriage or a fall out completely. But nothing changed. He still called her Scully and she still called him Mulder and they worked together slightly more than they slept together. They never called what they had a relationship. They were best friends, partners, lovers last.
They returned to their subterranean office, with its one desk and its one nameplate. They investigated the same strange things. Sometimes she would adjust his hideous goon tie in the hallway. Sometimes his arm would linger around her a little too long and a little too low and people would notice. Their love was semi-private and well-traveled. It resided in her apartment and on the cushions of his couch, against paper thin hotel room walls and on long drives in compact rental cars.
She remembers it well: waking to the smell of stale sweat and the shower they took together the night before, the perfect balance of clean and dirty, right and wrong. She remembers the nights that they couldn't wait until they made it to their rooms and her hand would seek out the arousal pinched tight in the crotch of his jeans. She'd squeeze the swollen outline of it with her palm and he'd squirm deeper into the driver's seat. The car would swerve and her mouth would drop and Mulder would let go into the dense atmosphere at the back of her throat. Or they would exercise some self-control, arriving to pack after some difficult case. He would double park in the hotel lot and rush to the passenger side door and pull her to him; they would bump heads and step on each other's feet and mumble obscenities, finding a crawl space behind a vending machine. They kissed like kids breaking curfew. Seasons changed. Miles were crossed and recrossed.
She remembers road signs and root beer bottles and the sudden advent of the rest of their lives.
Scully would always blush at the sight of ice in a hotel room. He would press his lips to her encrimsoned cheeks and they would drift to sleep staring out frosted windows to see the cold stars disintegrate into the dawn.
Being in love with Mulder was like sleeping in the middle of the interstate. There was a nearness to total devastation, a compulsion to cuddle with the threat of it. That thrall was the attraction, the thrill of what they were doing, wherever it might lead, however it might end. She would sit beside him on his couch and watch him sleep, the light from the aquarium projecting pale green wave haloes across his face. She would watch him sleep and she would think that there would be nothing better than being made his enigmatic bride, saying a formal I do in front of rows of pews and being carried away knowing what they had was vested in more than their job descriptions.
Mulder would never give her children or write her vows or undo any of the things that were done to her but he could do this much and offer up some allusion to normality: a man in her bed, a hand holding hers, a mouth to remind her what it felt like to be kissed. All of those mornings after, those middle of the nights after did something to her emotions. They surfaced, latent and razor-sharp. She had Mulder under the covers on nights when she invited him. What she didn't have was his arm around her, in public, at work, or at holiday dinners, possessively around her in the boyfriend, husband, more-than-lover/colleague/friend way that she wanted. She didn't know how to tell him she needed more, to question the legitimacy or lack thereof what they were doing.
The sound of her biological alarm clock woke her most mornings. She could only hit snooze for so long.
Once, Mulder said that he'd never seen her as a mother before. He did this to reinforce, indirectly, that he did see what a wonderful parent she would be, now. He did it to gauge her response to the prospect. Truthfully, he had imagined what their children might look like, where they'd raise them and what they'd grow up to be. A family with her felt like a faraway false hope. But he thought about summers with Sam on the vineyard, eating bologna sandwiches, sand in their shoes and sunburn on their shoulders. However imperfect his parents were, they provided enough that he had these memories. Sunshine was starting to make him nostalgic. He felt a lancing pain when he held Scully. He wondered if she felt it too, the encroaching empty space in their lives that needed desperately to be filled with the sound of children's laughter.
They ran through corn fields and across a blinding white arctic. They laid awake at night thinking of the years they'd spent together, of time travel and telekinesis, of walk-ins and voodoo and reincarnation. They'd spent so long chasing flukemen and fiji mermaids, the monsters that gave her cancer and the men that took his sister and what did they have to show for it?
Scars nobody will see. Stories nobody would believe.
Scully remembers her brother one Christmas saying: "Mulder could ask you to walk across hot coals or do a back flip off of a balance beam and, let's not shit ourselves Dana, you'd do it."
She smiled at that. Since she'd joined the FBI and taken up Mulder's cause, she felt a glass wall between her and everybody else. Her brother, the rest of her family, friends from college and the academy, they didn't know the whirlwind of inspiration, the furious dance with the unknown, the malevolence and tenderness of the truth that has transported her and Mulder to indescribable brinks, to deceptive dead ends and staggering abysses. They have had moments where the clouds were at their shoulders and the sea at their knees. Her life was freedom now, saving lives and solving crimes and nobody understood.
Her love and loyalty to Mulder was the most incurable thing she could ever contract.
This is where their story stands and where she is remembering: from the passenger seat on an Arizona highway. Mulder has been acting strange since they left Tempe. Scully is staring at his hands, clasped around the steering wheel, the familiar thumbs slung low in a slightly simian way. She has her suspicions, but mostly she just has her memories. The last time they drove through the desert, they stopped miles away from where they were supposed to be.
Mulder pulled the car over and got out and she followed him, to the ends of the earth, really, on the edge of a narrow canyon, staring out at the red-orange acres of quarry, the sandstone boulders, the vastness and the beauty that they were just passing through.
Scully took in a deep breath, having a fleeting fantasy that he'd bend to one knee and propose. The vista widened; the cerulean sky seemed to go on forever. His arm wrapped around her and they stood in wistful silence until Mulder broke it.
"Scully, what are we doing here?"
She shook her head, her grinning lips pressing against the lobe of his ear, "I have no idea."
"What do you want to do?"
She didn't know exactly what he was asking but she was frustrated at the everlong stagnancy and answered without thinking.
"I would like to remarry, one day. Retire before this job drives me crazy. Go to a waterpark while we're in the southwest. Spend more time with my family, start my own family—a boy and a girl and a house in the suburbs of Bethesda, or Arlington or Baltimore."
Mulder nodded, a dim surprise filling his expression. His arm around her brought her closer.
"I love you."
"I know," she folded her hands, leaning into him. "I love you too. I think I always have."
Mulder kissed the corner of her mouth and it felt like a promise, a plan. She wanted to compare their love to something ineffable and infinite, a sunset or starlight. The fields of agave they'd passed earlier were what came to her mind first though.
"It's sort of like getting the swig of tequila that has the worm in it, you know? You're put off for a minute, hold it in your mouth. You didn't ask for or expect it. But eventually you give into the idea, accept it was you who was meant to have it, and swallow."
A beat. Mulder swallowed an ebullient giggle and asked, "Scully, did you just compare our relationship to eating an invertebrate?"
"That," she said nodding, "Is why I majored in Physics and not Poetry."
He took her hand and they walked back to the car. They drove for hours, going nowhere, and made exasperated love in a motel shower, dressing only in the morning, resuming their investigation, forgetting recent confessions and feeling homesick when they weren't together.
Here they are again, in the land of dry heat and rattlesnakes, flying saucers and the first time he told her he loved her. Scully is still holding her breath. She is pregnant. She doesn't know it yet. The morning nausea is a vague hope, the number of weeks late she is a silent countdown, to disappointment or to the happiest day of her life. She can't think about it. She has no idea how to tell him. The possibility that has kindled between them for so long could finally be reality and she has no idea how he'll react or what they'll become after.
Mulder, like always, knows more than she thinks. A ring case is bulging in his jacket pocket. It is a token of gratitude, an acknowledgement of everything she's done for him, lost for him, the circles of hell she's descended and escaped with him. It's a proposal. They will drive through the night. He will put it on her finger in the morning. They will start over like this:
In a small chapel in the New Mexico desert. There will be no doves and no music. They will have strangers for witnesses. It will be nothing like she imagined and the one thing she'd always hoped would happen. They'll return to D.C. with a marriage license. A blood test will confirm her pregnancy. They will move into a three bedroom house on an almost ordinary street. They will paint the nursery baby blue. They will think about all that they've seen and know for once where they are going. They will have this montage of memories behind them and, in front of them, they will have a future they don't have to fight.