They’ve not long been partners. She still catches him looking at her out the corner of his eye sometimes, although it’s becoming less frequent. She finds it rather endearing, actually. Mr Spooky who can’t quite trust that, after all this time, there is someone on his side. She doesn’t entirely blame him. She’d found it irritating at first - you believe in so much, believe in me - but now she simply glances at him over her glasses and gives him a soft smile as if someone who smiles can’t possibly be plotting to turn his world on it’s head.
Mulder taps a pencil against his lip and seems to be considering something before he is suddenly overcome with a burst of energy and rises to his feet with a loud clap.
“Right. Come on, Scully. You’ve been writing away all morning. We’re going for lunch”. Scully can’t quite hide her surprise, both at the leap he had taken to his feet and his words. Lunch wasn’t something they did. She brought her salad with her each day and he stank the office out with whatever god-awful concoction he got his hands on. They were simply not partners who lunched.
“I’m kind of busy, Mulder” she told him, waving her pen at the papers in front of her.
“It can wait” he said simply, shrugging on his jacket. Scully let out a small huff of laughter. He probably had something pressing he needed to do and was procrastinating. From what she had already established from her partner, he didn’t exactly feel bound by deadlines.
“Yeah, it can. We’ll get back and it’ll still be sat there waiting for your fine penmanship. You’ll still have it done by the end of the day and Skinner will still want you to have handed in something more realistic and more detailed. The world will not spin off its axis because Scully decided to go for lunch with her charming partner. Come on.” Scully finally dropped her pen and crossed her arms over her chest. He had a point, but the thought of the bitter wind which had been blowing when she had come into work and the rain which had been forecasted to persist until well into the evening was a pretty good counter-argument.
“It’s raining” she told him, a petulant tone in her voice. Mulder looked at her blankly for a second.
“You don’t want to go for lunch because it’s raining. What, it’ll ruin your hair?” he asked, mirroring her crossed arms, his lips quirking with amusement.
“And I’ll get cold.” They stared each other down for a moment before Mulder rolled his eyes and nudged his jacket off his shoulders.
“Here. Warmth. Don’t say I’m not a problem solver” Pushing her chair back, Mulder reached down, grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the seat. Her shoulders slumped and she was unresponsive to him as he draped the jacket over her and then took her hand again, pulling her towards the door. Scully dropped her head back and groaned.
“I don’t want to go”
“This day will be forever remembered as the first day I saw Agent Scully throw a temper tantrum. Now come on. I’m paying.” He felt Scully lift her head and he could practically hear her perking up.
“Well you didn’t mention that. Lead the way”.
A tired Scully was not a happy Scully. It was something he had realised very early on and did his best to avoid, but sometimes fate intervened and what he was left with was a grumpy, irritable, tired Scully. What appeared to be a very promising case - to him at least - had turned out to be, quite literally, a wild goose chase, connecting flights had not quite connected and the coffee he had bought her turned out to be so bitter, she had rendered it completely undrinkable. He sees now that she was never going to appreciate him trying it himself, finding it perfectly pleasant and sipping on it happily, but in his defence, he was also tired. He couldn’t see his colossal mistake until he was being glared at.
“Again, I’m sorry, Scully. I’ll grab the files for you, maybe make a drink and then get you home” he told her as he slipped the key in his apartment door.
“I asked you so many times to make sure you had them with you” she moaned, her voice heavy and lacking the scolding he knew would be there were she more awake.
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry” he conceded, gently nudging her through the door and towards his sofa.
“Sit there. I’ll be right back.” Grabbing the file from his bedroom and then heading to the kitchen, he quickly made her a hot chocolate. He smiled whilst topping it off with the no calorie, no fat, no fun cream she liked which he kept in the fridge for her. Files in one hand and drink the other, he made sure not to spill the cream down the sides of the mug as he made his way to his exhausted partner.
“I was going to make coffee but -” Straightening up from where he had placed the drink in front of her, Mulder stopped. Her heels were kicked off to one side, her feet tucked underneath her, arms crossed tightly over herself in a hug and her head dropped back against the sofa. Scully was fast asleep.
He looked at her for a second and found a small smile spreading across his lips. He knew it was the oldest cliche of them all, but she looked so incredibly peaceful. It was amazing how this whirlwind of energy and intelligence could look so passive when sleeping. Looking down at the drink he had made, the cream melting and dripping over the side, he laughed quietly.
“Scully” he whispered, moving over to her. She grumbled and shifted in response. “Come on, Scully” he said, more insistent but still quietly. He dropped a hand to her shoulder and tried to get her to stand up. Scully’s eyes opened slightly and she pulled her arms tighter around herself.
“Mm Mmm” she sighed in protest and lifted a hand from her waist to rub at her eyes slightly.
“You’ve got to get to bed. You can’t sleep here” he told her. Her back would be aching from sitting in the airport seats as it is. If he left her to sleep on the sofa, she’d be in agony for the next couple of days and he was sure she’d find a way to make it his fault once she was more lucid.
“I don’t want to go” she mumbled, her forehead creased with a frown. Mulder smiled at her thick voice and he could see her so clearly as a little girl, not wanting to go to bed. Just five more minutes.
“You don’t have to. I’ll take the sofa. Come on” Another sleepy moan and she finally stood making it much easier for Mulder to guide her to his bedroom. As he pulled back the comforter, Scully managed to slip into the sheets, curl up on her side and pull the blanket back over herself, holding it tightly in her hand. Mulder looked at her for a moment, the enigmatic Doctor Scully, fearless and intimidating. Who’d believe that if they saw her curled in his sheets like this?
“Oh, stop being a baby about it, Mulder” she told him with a particularly enthusiastic eye-roll.
“I just don’t see the point,” he sighed, “it’s the same thing every year. Music which is too loud, people who are too drunk and hangover’s which go on way too long now that I’m getting older.”
“Well you can’t be a spring chicken forever” she smirked and then laughed at Mulder’s huff of a response.
“Why are you insisting we go, anyway? You’re usually all for missing the christmas party.” Scully shrugged. Honestly, she had no answer, but the idea of the Bullpen’s christmas party hadn’t turned her stomach this year and there was only person she’d want to go with.
“Missing the annual event of Skinner drinking too much punch would be a tragedy” she shrugged. Mulder looked at her with contempt.
“I’d like to remind you that last time we went, mistletoe kept mysteriously appearing above us every time we weren’t paying attention. We’re like a freak show every time we go to one of these things” he whined. Personally, he found the antics of his fellow agents kind of amusing when it came to him and Scully. They were like children who couldn’t stop staring at their favourite playthings. He was fully aware of the rumours about what happened down in their basement office, but it was one thing him overhearing talk in the mens toilets, and another for Scully to hear the crude comments directed at her.
“Mmmm. The mistletoe was particularly abundant that year” she mused. Scully knew far more than Mulder thought she did when it came to the rumour mill. As far as she was concerned, if grown FBI Agent’s had nothing better to do than speculate about who she did or didn’t fuck, she’d leave them to it.
“They just want to see us kiss, Scully. They’re pathetic” Mulder grumbled, expertly sending a pencil flying at the ceiling. He wasn’t entirely sure how much more temptation he could take. It had taken everything he had not to give in and pull her to him last time and he wasn’t sure he could be so restrained again. Scully rose to her feet, her things already packed away in her bag. Walking over to him, she looked down at her partner. His bottom lip was stuck out in a pout and she shook her head at him gently.
“I’m off home to get ready” she told him, to which he simply shrugged one shoulder. Scully rolled her eyes.
“Ohhh Scully, don’t make me” she whined in her best Mulder voice. “I don’t want to go. People will call me Spooky and want me to kiss my partner”. She laughed at her own mocking of him and ran a hand through his hair .“Who knows,” she said, returning to her regular voice, “maybe the mistletoe will be more successful this year.” She dropped a quick kiss to his hair before hitching her bag up on her shoulder and leaving the office without a backwards glance.
He can’t quite recall how long they’ve been gone for, but the initial relief of being together again, the unshakeable feeling they were in this together, had given way to resentment and bitterness. Nights were passed with him staring at the ceiling listening to her breathing. His stomach knotted each time he hears her deliberately regulate her breath, feigning sleep. To what, stop him from talking to her? Stop him from trying to touch her? He’d stopped the night he had seen her eyes scrunched shut against his ministrations, her teeth biting her lip. He knew her well enough to know the difference between her pleasure and pain.
He lay awake as long as he could, until her fake sleep gave way to the real thing and the soft whimpers and cries started. He no longer tried to comfort her as he used to do, an arm around her waist holding her to him tightly, quiet words whispered in her ear. It had worked for a while but somewhere along the line he had realised that his words which had soothed her before now caused her cries to get louder, her struggle to throw off the invisible monsters only growing stronger as he slipped his hands across her stomach. Now, he lies on his back and listens to her nightmares, punishing himself for what he has done to the bright new agent who had walked into his office so long ago.
“Mulder” he hears his name whimpered and he feels like he’s about to hear truths he doesn’t want to know. Pain laces her words and he wonders if he should get up and go for a run. He knows she keeps her feelings back from him, pushes the vicious thoughts down to protect him, instead letting them poison her from the inside out in an act of self-destructive unselfishness. He decides against the run. He can’t leave. She can’t so easily run from the pain he has caused her. Home truths may be what he needs.
“I’ll… I’ll follow you anywhere” she says, her words thick and barely understandable. She shifts and turns towards him. He studies her face for a moment, forehead creased and a small tear escaping from under her lashes. He watches as it drips down her cheek and lands on the pillow. She shakes her head ever so slightly, her face distorting in emotional pain and he can’t look anymore. He scrunches his eyes shut tight.
“But… I don’t want to go” she whispers. “Don’t make me.” He hears her shifting and burying her face further into the pillow, feels her clutching the comforter and pulling it tighter towards him. He barely notices she has pulled most the blanket from him in the process.
He’s already cold all over.
He stands in the hallway, arms wrapped tightly around him as she struggles with a suitcase. Each thump as it hits the next stair pounds through his head and he briefly thinks that he should help her but quickly dismisses the idea. He wonders if that makes him strong or weak.
As she reaches the bottom, she stops and huffs, swiping the hair from her eyes with the back of her hand. Her cheeks are flushed and she glares at Mulder, directly in front of her and lent against the hallway wall, casual as you like. He looks back at her, perfectly passive, immune to her big angry eyes. They used to be so effective but now, it’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s just that, Sorry, Scully, to work, they would need to tap into some form of guilt, some kind of emotion. He’s not sure how to do that through the numbness inside him. He’ll let her know when he finds out.
Scully lets out a sardonic puff of laughter and crosses her arms over her, one hip stuck out in her signature angry pose. Nope. Nothing.
Slowly, her features soften and she tilts her head to one side, shaking it slowly. Her brow furrows slightly and her stony expression dissolves into one of unfiltered sadness. Her eyes fill and oh. Oh, there it is. Trust you to break through an impossible wall. She pulls her lips in and bites them, fighting against the tears that are dangerously threatening to spill. He’s almost relieved when she looks away from him, focusing instead on the suitcase by her side. Her hand is resting on the handle and she taps at it twice with her finger, a distraction which sounds far too loud for such a tiny action. He wonders if she’s checking it’s really there next to her. He wouldn’t blame her; he can’t quite believe it either.
She takes a shuddering breath and the then her eyes are back on him and he’s suddenly sort of breathless thinking that this is it, this is it, this is it. She shakes her head again and runs a hand through her hair, her blue eyes taking in everything about him, his ragged shirt which he’s worn for the last 4 days at least, his beard which he know she hates, knows it reminds him of times when they were on the run and anyone but themselves. When they’d bought the unremarkable house, they had thought they would be able to get back to who they were - said goodbye to his beard, said goodbye to her blonde hair - but it turns out he had only managed to be her Mulder for a while and somewhere along the way she had learnt to live without him. At least, she was going to try.
“I don’t want to go” she says so quietly it takes him a moment to realise what she had said. She’s looking at him as though she’s begging for him to say something to stop her. As if he can erase the complete neglect he has shown her for the last… god knows how long. It’s a bit of a blur. He know’s he has to say something. Give it a go, Mulder. What’s the worst that can happen?
“Then don’t” he says softly. Years ago, she would have been able to hear the pleading in his voice, would have heard him telling her that without her here, he’s nothing, just a man chasing lights. She would have felt his utter need for her, his desperation, his desire to do anything to prevent her from stepping out that door with her hurriedly packed suitcase. But now, he wonders if it’s her who has forgotten how to hear him or him who has forgotten how to tell her all that with just two words. Either way, her eyes close for a moment and when she opens them again, a tear is racing down her cheek and her hand is tightening on the suitcase handle.
Oh, right. That.
She takes a step forward and places her hand on his cheek, her thumb ghosting over his bottom lip.
“I have to” she whispers and then turns, dragging the case behind her, across the shards of smashed coffee cup which she had slammed against the wall, what, half an hour ago? Thirty minutes since she had reached her limit, launched her coffee out of his office and across the hall and then proceeded upstairs to chuck her life in a suitcase.
It seemed far too little time, really. And yet he knew it had been coming forever.
She holds her cup to her lips with one hand and flicks a page of a file over with the other, her eyes scanning the page.
“You know, it’s easier just to email me” she says, glancing up at him and grinning behind the rim of her mug. Mulder shrugs.
“I’m old school. We’ve established that.” Laughing gently, she rolls her eyes good heartedly.
“Well you being old school isn’t making the trees particularly happy.” Mulder walks over to the sink and places his own empty cup down.
“Don’t you think things were so much easier in the 90’s when we didn’t know about all that stuff? Or care, at least? I swear, Facebook has so much to answer for.” Scully finally gives up pretending to be interested in the file in front of her and flips it closed.
“Mulder, Facebook isn’t the reason why people don’t print things out on paper anymore” she smiles, sliding said paper file back across to him. “Besides, I can guarantee Facebook is your ‘anonymous source’ for that very case you have there.” Mulder at least had the good grace to look sheepish as he grabs the file and puts it on top of the pile next to him.
“But it’s responsible for so many lies and so much confusion. Just imagine how many couples have broken up because of Facebook.” He read a particularly interesting article recently which had highlighted the struggles of dating in the modern world. As he’d finished it, he’d mumbled a ‘no thank youuu’ to the empty room and then decided perhaps he wasn’t one to judge others on their messed up relationships.
“Yeah, but think of how much easier it would have been for you back in the day, Mulder. Meet a girl in a bar, check her relationship status on Facebook and voila. You would have saved yourself several black eyes” Scully teases, drinking the rest of her coffee and moving to put her cup in the sink next to Mulder’s.
“That was one time Scully and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have been ‘Facebook offish’.” He looks pleased with his use of the slang, but Scully turns, leans against the worktop and shakes her head at him blank faced.
“Never use that word again” she says simply and Mulder nods in agreement. A moment of silence falls between them and Scully seems to be contemplating something, a small smile at the corner of her lips.
“Penny for them?” he asks and she waves her hand dismissively but speaks anyway.
“I was just thinking how often our relationship status would have been updated had we had Facebook when we were younger” she muses. Mulder thinks about it for a moment and then takes a tentative step closer to her. He shrugs.
“Oh, I don’t know, Scully. I think it would have stayed as ‘it’s complicated’ for the last 20 something years. Not a lot of change there.” Scully lets out a small laugh.
“I guess you’re right” she tells him, suddenly aware of how close he now is to her. He has crossed the comfortable line they usually keep between them and is looking down at her, a tenderness in his eyes which she knows so well and makes her heart skip.
Over the last year they have settled into a strange kind of routine which neither of them really knew the meaning of, nor have they questioned it. She still has her job at the hospital but he comes round most evening’s to get her thoughts on his latest case. Sometimes he leaves shortly after she dismisses his latest theory, sometimes he stays well into the night until her eyelids are drooping and the beer he’s always surprised she still drinks is slipping from her fingers. They have a whatsapp conversation which never goes too long without being used, little updates on her patients, silly pictures to cheer him up on his bad days, a nightly Sleep well, Mulder x. He’s saved in her phone with a little alien emoji next to his name and he still doesn’t think he’s stopped smiling about that. He takes her out for lunch every Sunday and makes her coffee every Sunday evening - he bought her decaf so she gets enough sleep. She stays late and they watch a film or sit and chat and sometimes, if she feels like the moment is right, she kisses him goodbye at the door.
Sometimes the moment is right when she’s not saying goodbye and she kisses him then too. She’d kissed him as they sat curled on the sofa once and she’d ended up straddling his lap, fingers running through his hair and his hand deftly running up her back under her shirt. She’d pulled away from him slowly, a lazy smile across her face, her forehead rested against his and told him she had better go. Despite her words, he thinks she was kissing him hello that day.
Now, he’s standing directly in front of her and if she reaches her hand up, it would land on his chest.
“It’s as if ‘it’s complicated’ was made for us” he says, his voice low, his eyes looking directly down at her. She nods and her tongue darts out to lick her lips.
“Mmm” she hums in consent. “It is.” And he’s not sure if she’s referring to the status being made for them or the fact they’re 25 years of complication.
His hands reach out and fall either side of her hips on the work surface, effectively trapping her in front of him. She looks down at his hand on her left side, his wrist brushing her hip, and then back up at him, a smirk on her lips and a glimmer in her eye.
“I’ve finished my coffee” she tells him with a raised eyebrow. Mulder nods slowly.
“And I should go” Mulder nods in agreement.
“You should” he says, almost a whisper. Scully looks at him for a moment and then rises onto her tiptoes, pressing a long gentle kiss to his lips. As Mulder shifts his hands from the counter behind her to her hips and tries to deepen the kiss, she drops back to her normal height and takes a deep breath.
“I don’t want to go.” she tells him and his face is broken by a slow, splitting smile.
“I don’t want you to go either.” Scully lifts one shoulder and shrugs, moving her arms to wrap them around his waist.
“Not that complicated, really”.
He laughs gently but doesn’t respond.
The moment is right.
She doesn’t go.
She never really does.