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Vox Mulder: Fired and Wired

Chapter Text

 

On a Friday evening, Scully had no sooner gotten through the front door of her apartment and toed off her shoes than her phone rang. She picked up the receiver as she sloughed off her coat.

“Scully.”

Usually she answered her home phone with the more customary “Hello.” It had been a long week, though—one of many in a series of long weeks—and she’d yet to slough off her work manners.

“Hey Scully,” Mulder said. “Guess where I am?”

“Let’s see,” she said, making her way into her kitchen. “An hour ago you were next to me finishing up an expense audit. Then I looked up and-Poof!-you were gone. My guess is, the ether.”

“Incorrect.”

“The woodwork?”

“Actually, that’s very close. Didn’t mean to ditch you. You were tied up on the phone and I had an appointment.”

“Not a big deal.” she said. “It *was* five o’clock.” She’d never been one to crack jokes, but she couldn’t resist the occasional opportunity to needle Mulder. She took a water glass down from her cupboard and began running the tap.

“How did it end?” Mulder asked. “I’m breathless. On what did we spend $36.48 in the third fiscal quarter of last year?”

“First aid supplies. Gauze, ace bandages, a finger splint, aspirin, and Tylenol 3.”

“Ah, there’s some memories right there. We should bill the New Spartans. They can withdraw it from their ‘Anarchy & Mayhem’ fund. Assholes.”

“I never got all the details on that.”

“We have our whole lives, Scully. I’ve got to save some material with which to entertain you in our dotage. You don’t want me to start repeating myself.”

She wanted to laugh lightly, but his comment had knocked her off balance. Did he think neither one of them was ever going to retire? She stayed quiet.

“Thanks for finishing up the audit. Those things used to take me weeks to do. BS, that is.”

“BS?”

“Before Scully.”

“Huh. Well, someone has to do it.”

“I was not recruited for my clerical skills.”

“And I was?”

“Of course not, Scully. I’m just trying to thank you.”

Ok then. Scully dropped two ice cubes into her water and untucked her once crisp white dress shirt from her suit skirt, the phone trapped between her ear and shoulder.

“All right, Mulder, I’ll bite. Where are you?”

“Doctor’s office.”

“You feeling ok?” she asked.

“No, but I’m not sick.”

“Who doesn’t love a riddle, Mulder?”

“I’m at Dr. Parenti’s clinic, actually.”

Oh. That doctor’s office. “Great,” Scully said, trying and failing to cover anxiety and awkwardness with cheer. “How did it go? Did he answer your questions?”

“I didn’t have many. You were pretty thorough in letting me know what to expect.”

“Did you complete the paperwork?”

“Earlier this week. It took two hours. Who memorizes the height, build, blood type, and health history of each and every relative? I had to call my mom three times.”

So that was where he’d disappeared to after lunchtime Monday. Not that she’d been keeping tabs. Scully laid her suit jacket carefully over the back of a chair, took a big swig of her water, and collapsed into her sofa.

She was still on light duty between cases, still recovering from her misadventure in New York with agent Ritter. Their most recent case, which involved murders where the hearts had been mysteriously and unaccountably extracted from victims’ bodies, had been unusually draining. It had been unsettling in more subtle ways, too.

The irony of light duty was how exhausting it felt to her. The more tedious and meaningless the work, the more it fatigued her. She propped her feet up on the coffee table.

“Did you tell your mom why you were asking?”

“Nah. She didn’t remember much. She’s not all that curious anyway.”

Sounded like his mother. When it came to Teena, Scully had to be careful in Mulder’s company not to telegraph her otherwise open scorn.

“Thanks for taking care of that Mulder. When will you go back to, uh, give a sample?”

“I’m still here. That’s up next.”

“Today?” Scully said, trying to keep the startle out of her voice.

“Time’s a wastin’,” Mulder said.

“Makes sense. You’re there anyway.”

“Yep.”

“Should I, uh, let you get going with that then?” Scully asked. Her voice seemed to have acquired a tiny squeak.

“That’s why I called. Unfortunately, I’ve hit a snag. I’m in one of the donation rooms. Have you ever been back here?”

“No. I’ve only seen the waiting room and the exam room.”

“I gotta admit, I’m not finding the atmosphere especially conducive to the task at hand.”

“So to speak,” she said.

“So to speak.”

“And why not?”

“Where to start? Let me paint you a picture, Scully. A windowless room only slightly larger than the broom closet across the hall from our office. The cheap linoleum flooring is cracked and yellowing. The furniture looks as though it’s been pilfered from a bus station.”

“Molded plastic,” Scully said. “Very chic. I’m sure that’s preferable to upholstery, though, given the purpose of the room?”

“Granted. But wait, there’s more. A pile of tacky magazines on a lopsided end table. There’s a VCR with a couple of lame tapes stacked on top. One of them is actually titled ‘Rockin’ ‘Ricans.’ I’m not normally one to object to porn on grounds of political correctness, but doesn’t that strike you as racist, Scully?”

“It does,” she said.

“Worst of all, there’s a post-it that reads ‘out of order’ over the tape slot.”

“Oh no,” Scully said with genuine concern.

“When I say tacky magazines, not only am I referring to the taste level, but also to the condition. Most of them are dog-eared, dated, and... sort of sticky.”

“Ewww.” Scully didn’t want to reinforce his apprehension, but what a nasty image.

“Not that I’ve touched them.”

“C’mon Mulder, you’ve got intrepid fingers.”

“And how would you know, Scully?”

“What I mean is, I’ve seen you swipe at many a vile looking unidentified oozing substance. Once you even tasted it.”

“That was because I wanted to identify it! Cases don’t solve themselves Scully. It’s part of the work.”

“Okay,” she said. “I hear you.” The volume and timbre of Mulder’s voice tended to serve as a rough metric for his anxiety. He had been particularly serene all week, available for her to lean on in the wake of the Padgett debacle. But his voice had been steadily rising since their conversation began.

“Any oozing substance I’d find in here I sure as hell wouldn’t taste. Not to judge anyone who would.”

“Of course not,” Scully said. Especially if the substance in question was his own, Scully mused. He probably would encourage tasting, in that instance. She was speculating, of course.

“I have my limits.”

“That’s good to know, Mulder. But in my experience, that office has been immaculately clean. Don’t you think they sanitize the donation rooms between, uh, uses?”

“I thought about that. You’re a scientist. How would you go about sanitizing a magazine?”

“Mulder, listen. They gave you a sample cup, right, as they presumably do with the other men? That’s the whole point, if I’m not mistaken. Given that, the magazines should be relatively unscathed.”

“Have you ever seen a toilet seat in a men’s room Scully? Not everyone has good aim. And this cup is tiny. Like it’s been scaled down for the likes of Frohike.”

“Mulder, I’ve come to appreciate the charms of Melvin. But summoning his image in this context has got to be a step in the wrong direction.”

“Good point.”

“Unless there’s something between the two of you I should know about?”

“Funny stuff, Scully,” he said humorlessly. “And why did they put this room next to the staff break room? Separated by more of a divider than an actual wall, no less. The microwave chimes every few minutes and the whole place smells like scalded cup-o-soup with an undersmell of rubbing alcohol. The combination is nauseating.”

Undersmell? He certainly was overstimulated. Just not in the way he needed to be.

“As we speak, I can hear the nurses laughing uproariously. I can’t get the idea out of my head that they’ve carved a peephole and are watching my pathetic attempts. Just for yuks.”

“Are you, um, attempting, right now?” Scully said, trying to mask her alarm.

“No! Jesus Scully. I’m complaining. And pacing. Which ain’t easy given the cramped confines.” Then, glumly: “I gave it a shot a few minutes ago and got nowhere.”

“Look Mulder…”

“You want to know the very worst feature of this room?”

“Why not?” She said.

“They pipe in muzak, allegedly to relax you. Also to drown out the buzz of fluorescent lights and the heckling nurses, I suppose. I ask you Scully: What kind of pervert would enjoy jerking off to Pachelbel's Canon in D minor?”

Oh no. When that big bad beautiful brain of his got moving in the wrong direction, it could be a challenge to slow the roll. Scully tore her own mind from contemplating Newton’s First Law of Motion and how it could be applied to non-corporeal processes. He needed help.

Chapter Text

It had been a regular week. She had worried, after she’d asked him to do what she’d asked him to do, and then again after he’d agreed, that things would be different.

They shipped out Tuesday to Mississippi to tackle The Mystery of the Bisected Prison Warden. The suspect was an inmate with a grudge--exceptionally psychopathic by all reports--who’d disappeared during a tornado.

As they worked the case, Scully performed an autopsy with thorough economy, provided the yin to his yang, ignored his adolescent jokes, neatly filed away their travel receipts, and worked methodically through evidence.

Mulder offered her seeds as he drove (though she had never once accepted one), provided an intuitive leap crucial to understanding the case, flirted with and teased her the requisite amount (but no more), communicated with the local police, and brought her cups of coffee just a little lighter and sweeter than when she made them herself. He took his black.

When their fingers brushed as he handed her a cup, they both pretended not to feel the current that inevitably arced between them. On the few occasions when she became frustrated with him, she alternated between wanting to punch him in the face and climb him like a tree. They solved the case, which ended gorily, and may have saved a life or two.

All in all, to her great relief, business as usual.

Chapter Text

“That sounds bad, Mulder. Here’s an idea. Why don’t you run home and get headphones and some of your own...material?”

“The clinic closes at seven-thirty. In Friday traffic I wouldn’t even make it back in time, no less have time to...to…”

“Gotcha. Why don’t you try again Monday, better prepared?”

He scoffed. “I’ll give you five good reasons why. I’m sure you read the fine print, so you know they ask men to forego sexual activity for at least forty-eight hours prior to an appointment.”

“Yeah, I saw that. I guess they are more likely to get a high-quality sample that way?”

“Exactly. I wanted to be conservative and double the waiting period. Just to make sure.”

Mulder wanted to be conservative? Since when? “Um-hmm,” was all she said.

“I came up a little short, but I figure ninety-three hours should do the trick.”

He sounded proud. Scully wondered if that was a personal record. She quickly did the math. Hmmm. She had spoken to him Monday evening on the late side. She flushed a little thinking about it. She couldn’t recall if he’d mentioned what he had been doing, or with whom. Mostly she hoped the one most treacherous and Fowl had been nowhere near his person Monday night.

“So you think it would be har... uh, difficult for you to continue to refrain from sexual activity all weekend?”

“All those empty, workless hours, Scully. You can only play so much basketball. How would I occupy myself? I can bury my nose in a case file or two, but I’m only human.”

Scully flashed to a vivid image of Mulder burying his nose somewhere else. God, she had to stop that. She shook it out of her head and turned her attention back to his plight. Their plight, she supposed.

“Look Mulder, I know you’re uncomfortable. I would be too. I can assure you, the nurses and other staff aren’t laughing at you, or thinking about you at all. What feels intrusive and awkward to you is quite routine for them. I’m sure they’re wrapping up their workday and discussing weekend plans.”

Actually she wasn’t sure. People who worked in healthcare could be wickedly twisted. And she could imagine that one or two of them had noticed Mulder.

“Are you laughing at me?”

Scully sighed. ”Mulder. Of course not.”

She often forgot how much her high regard mattered to him, as well protected as he seemed by his chain mail of arrogance and glib humor. Just when she got to thinking he really was impervious, he’d crack a little and she’d spy underneath the bright baffled boy, wild and lost and seeking purchase. Her heart twitched with sympathy for him.

“Hey, do you think I can take care of this at home? I don’t know if it’s gonna happen here.”

“I don’t think so, Mulder,” she said gently. “They need to analyze, spin, and freeze your sample soon after you hand it over. The sperm cells within seminal fluid die quickly outside the body. It’s pretty delicate stuff.”

“Oh,” he said gloomily. “Wait, how does anyone get pregnant then? Even the regular way?”

“Outside a body, I should say.”

“Ohhhhhhh.”

Mulder. Her genius. Who happened also to be her blithering idiot. A fresh swell of affection overtook her. This is how it was for her, even just talking to him. One minute standing in the shallows enjoying or enduring or surviving a day at the beach, whichever kind of day it was, the next walloped and rolled by the rogue wave of her feelings for him, then surfacing sputtering, salt-blind, struggling to find the steady line of the horizon.

“I guess stowing the sample cup in my freezer after my usual Friday night routine is out of the question then.”

“Um-hm.”

“Too bad ‘cause I was saving space for it next to the bag of frozen peas I keep around for the next time I get my ass kicked. Better than a ice pack.”

This was the man she loved, the person for whom she’d chosen loneliness. On a good day, he was an overgrown, freakishly articulate eighth grader. With whom, when she could believe it, she’d been tasked with saving the world. Though she’d accepted it, occasionally the absurdity registered anew.

“Mulder?”

“Scully?” he said.

“All this anxiety. Are you having second thoughts? You can still change your mind.”

“No,” he said quickly.

“Really, it isn’t too late. Sometimes I’m on the fence myself.”

“Scully. It isn’t that, I swear. I want to do this with you. And I’m sorry to saddle you with this. There wasn’t anyone else I could think to call. I know I’m being needy. Especially when I think about all you’ve been through to get to this point.”

“This is a big deal, Mulder. I’m assuming that attempting to conceive a child is not an aspect of your normal Friday night routine. And it sounds like the atmosphere isn’t helping. You’re allowed to be a little needy.”

“I am?”

“You are.” She rolled her eyes at having to pick up Teena’s slack again. He hadn’t been allowed to have needs, while she didn’t permit herself to express them. They were quite the pair.

“God, Scully. This was supposed to be the easy part! If I can’t even do this, after a lifetime of practice, how am I going to handle having a kid?”

Having a kid? She was going to be the one having a kid, right? And he was helping her out on the front end? As open as she was to the idea of his involvement, she was uneasy at having no idea what he was thinking.

For the umpteenth time, she wished that they’d actually attended that partner seminar on communication. Chasing Moth Men and wrestling with Mulder in the forest had been fun and all, but their disconnect was becoming ridiculous. And the stakes were only getting higher.

That, however, was a conversation for another day.

“Mulder, putting this kind of pressure on yourself isn’t going to help. Why don’t you just head home and try again next week? Another few days isn’t going to make a difference.”

“It might. They need to have at least three decent samples on ice before they attempt fertilization. We need to get this show on the road, Scully. What if we’re out of town on a case next week?”

“That could happen,” she said.

“Besides,” he muttered “I’d hate to waste all that abstaining.”

“It would be ideal if we could get started,” she admitted. Neither one of us is getting any younger, she added to herself.

“Scully, do you think I could at least go out to my car?”

“Oh, Mulder, no.” She said softly. “Any sperm they use to fertilize an egg has to be generated on the premises. Its a quality control measure. Kind of like maintaining the chain of evidence in law enforcement.”

“You really did read the fine print.”

She wanted to find a way to help him relax. They were on a deadline. She made a decision. A practical, rational decision. She took a final slug of her water and placed the glass decisively next to her feet on the table.

Chapter Text

The case in Mississippi had been the end of an era. It was as though the tornado that ripped through, upended, and forever altered the lives of those touched by that case had somehow followed them home.

It began with Phillip Padgett, via the apartment next door to Mulder’s. Soon the level, comfortable routines of their partnership had tilted inexorably.

It wasn’t that Padgett's characterization of Scully had been spot on; she was no one’s ingenue. It wasn’t either that Scully had been attracted to Padgett, though perhaps for a moment she had been. It was how, through his close scrutiny of her, he brought her own awareness to herself.

It shoked her, the vulnerability she exuded, despite the adamantine facade she so painstakingly constructed every morning. If Padgett, who hardly knew her, could see through her in this way, what must others see? What did Mulder see when he looked at her? And why did this thought preoccupy her so?

Prior to this inopportune awakening, she had firmly convinced herself that she lacked nothing she needed.

Chapter Text

When she spoke again, her voice was ever so slightly lower and raspier.

“Mulder, about those nurses?”

“Yes?”

“Did any of them seem particularly naughty to you?”

“Scully! I’m surprised at you. They are highly trained professionals. I’m sure they’d resent your presumption.”

“You’re right. I was just brainstorming.”

“Also,” he added, “not particularly.”

She was glad to hear some levity creep into his voice.

“Can I ask you another question.”

“Shoot,” he said. She resisted the urge to utter another “so to speak.” She hated puns, yet the inherent awkwardness seemed to be drawing them from her.

“Do you often retreat to your car for masturbatory purposes?”

“Do I... what?”

“I mean, when we’re on a case and you say that you have to “run out to the car” for some reason or other… is that just convenient cover story for your real errand?”

“Busted,” he said.

She could tell he’d stopped pacing and had dropped back into his body. She briefly wondered if there was anything she wouldn’t do for Mulder, or he for her. The thought unsettled her. She banished it.

“You really want to know?”

“I asked, didn’t I?”

“You did. The short answer is no. I don’t often use my car for... such purposes.”

“Just checking,” she said.

“Though,” he went on, “I’m not going to claim it’s never happened, either.”

“Oh?” she said, innocently. She had put a pillow behind her head and lay down on her sofa, getting comfortable. “When was the last time?”

Audibly, he gulped.

“Let’s talk about you Scully. Have you ever, uh, let your fingers do the walking in a car?”

She decided, under the circumstances, to let him redirect.

“That’s a hopelessly mixed metaphor, Mulder. I don’t know exactly what you’re asking.”

“I think you do. You want me to ask you again using less euphemistic verbiage? Or are you gonna tell me, Scully?”

She didn’t want to reveal herself in such a way. And yet. She could sense that he’d settled into one of the available seats in the donation room, however unacceptably revolting it had seemed to him moments earlier. Her plan, admittedly half-baked, seemed to be working.

“All right, fine. Yes.”

“Really?” She could almost see the smile light up his features.

“Yes. But it was a long time ago.”

“Wanna tell me about it?”

Hell no, she thought.

“I could do that. If you’d like,” she said.

“Oh, I’d like.”

“Ok.” It was the least she could do, she supposed, under the circumstances.

“Let’s see. I had just finished my third year of med school and was studying that summer for my licensing exam. It was important to do well in order to snag a choice residency. And there was just so much content. All I did was study. I slept poorly, forgot to eat, didn’t exercise, didn’t date...”

“You aced it, right?”

“I did well. But I didn’t know beforehand that I would. Not all of us absorb and store information like a solar panel does energy on a clear blue day, you know. Some of us occasionally have to grind.”

“Your mind could do what mine does, Scully. If you’d allow it to. You’d just need to practice letting it go with the flow. Create some space in there if you want to soak up information. Nature abhors a vacuum.”

“The flow, Mulder?”

“Yes. Your mind is laser trained to seek out cause and effect, to classify, contain, analyze, and explain away. It’s the Western way. The problem is, confirmation bias, sampling errors, and all manner of other fuck ups are inevitable, and thus we become overconfident in what we think we know. Hubris. And the tragedy is that by refusing to allow for loose ends, we miss all kinds of things. Out goes the baby with the bathwater. Associations. Deep patterns. Significant outliers. Gaps. A signal amidst the noise. It takes soft eyes to see the world properly.”

“Soft eyes?”

“Yep.”

“Maybe so. But you have to admit there are benefits to focused, orderly thinking as well, Mulder. At least twice in recorded history, the systematic application of policies and procedures arrived at by trial and error via scientific method has delivered humanity from abject darkness, domination, and depravity to periods of relative prosperity, order, and harmony.

“Relative is right.”

“I believe that rationality is the basis for order and order the basis for civilization. Thomas Hobbes characterized human life minus civilization as…”

“I know I know,” Mulder interrupted. “Nasty, brutish and short. Could you say ‘grind’ again, Scully?”

“Grind.”

“That’s better. I hate it when we fight.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

Underneath her tone of mock-indignation, even she could admit it: pleasure bordering on joy.

“There are other forces that bind societies together, Scully, besides reason and order. At least any society I’d want to live in.”

“Such as?”

“How about love? Not just romantic love, obviously, as many cultures downplay the notion. But love between parent and child, sister and brother. Love for friends and neighbors. In Christianity it’s called agape, in Buddhism bodhicitta. You know, for whom the bell tolls, the ties that bind, hands across the world? Love?”

Scully pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at the handset with pure confusion. Was Mulder for real? Did he not grasp the nature of the solitary, almost cloistered life he had chosen? Why was he suddenly sounding like some kind of feel-good humanistic minister? And where was his trusty paranoia?

“Do you want me to finish this story or not?”

“I do.”

“Where was I?”

“Studying. Wearing a sexy librarian outfit, hair pinned up off your neck. Glasses that you remove when the object of your desire walks in. You nibble on the temple as you regard him.”

“Um, sort of right.”

“As you regard her!?”

“ANYway. I was studying for my medical school boards. That was the most miserable summer of my life. Test day arrived at last, and I showed up with my number two pencils and my ponytail holders and my apple to eat during the midpoint break.”

“That’s kinda hot.”

“Pipe down, Spooky.”

“I only wish I was being facetious. You wouldn’t believe the details that utterly plague me.”

She had no idea what had gotten into Mulder. But her determination to move this process forward drove her on. She was trying not to let him rattle her.

“Sorry. Continue.”

“The test flew by. I’m not saying it was easy, but by the time I was halfway done I knew I’d be fine.”

“That must have been satisfying.”

“Strangely, it was the opposite. Walking to my car, it hit me with utter clarity that I had neglected several important and pleasurable aspects of my life in order to over-prepare for a stupid test. It made me sad. I started to cry, actually.”

“When does this story get good, Scully? I hate it when you’re in pain. It makes me look around for someone to punch.”

“So I've heard. You’re such a caveman.”

“Damn straight.”

“Patience, Mulder.”

“Not my most prominent virtue. But I’ll try.”

“So I sat in my car and tried to compose myself. It occurred to me to crank the seat back so my classmates who happened by didn’t see me sitting there whimpering.”

“You didn’t want them to assume you’d bombed it?”

“Exactly. Anyway, just as I flattened the seat, I was hit with a wave of...raw lust so potent it took my breath. I had to take care of it right then.”

“Ummmm. And did you?”

“I did.”

“Oh. What were you thinking about, Scully?”

“Hmm. Oddly enough, I remember. This guy from my study group. Jasper.”

“That’s kind of a weird name.”

“You think that should have disqualified him from my fantasy set?”

Mulder wasn’t usually a pot kettle black kind of guy. When it came to disparaging anyone who happened to be circling Scully, however, he made exceptions.

“Point taken. Shouldn’t be held against him.”

“I didn’t even really like him. Certainly, we didn’t have any emotional chemistry. Besides, his fiance was in our group. I hadn’t paused enough all summer even to realize I found him attractive. But he’s what I thought about. I thought about Jasper.”

“As you masturbated in the parking garage.” His voice had picked up a gravely edge.

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure you weren’t thinking about his fiance, Scully? What was her name?”

She huffed out a laugh. “Sorry to disappoint.” What was it with men and their lesbo preoccupation? Scully’d had a girlfriend her Junior year of college. She had mostly sweet memories of that relationship, and wasn’t about to offer it up for his tawdry interpretation.

“It was him, Mulder, all of a sudden in my mind, all over me, flooding my senses. His long, deft fingers. His thick knuckles. Full lips. Slim, square hips.” She exhaled, remembering.

“Did he happen to have dark hair? Like straight, brown hair?”

“Why?”

“No reason.”

“No, he was more blond. Wavy.”

Mulder uttered a dissatisfied grumble.

“On second thought, maybe it was dark hair. It was a while ago, after all.”

She didn’t think she was very good at this.

Then again, she thought she could hear Mulder panting a little, so something was going ok.

“What did he...do to you?”

“In my fantasy, he um, he pressed himself against me. I could feel that he wanted me. His hands were everywhere. First over my clothes, then under. A little rough.”

Mulder emitted a delicious little strangled sound from the back of his throat. As many hours as they’d logged together, she’d never heard that before. “What else?”

“God. His teeth were on my neck his hand was down my pants and he hadn’t said a word.”

On her sofa, Scully was slipping off her nylons, just to get more comfortable. she pulled an afghan from the back of the sofa over her legs.

“Were you...were you wet, Scully?” he asked, his voice tentative, hopeful like a supplicant.

“I was. Very. He, ah, he fingered me. Gently at first, just testing. His eyes on my face. Then harder. Faster.”

“Ahhhhhhh... Did you like it?”

“I did.”

A few beats passed.

Half of her could not believe she’d just casually imparted such information to Mulder. The other half thought talking like this with him was the most natural thing in the world. These parts of herself were feuding, filling her body and mind with an odd gray static.

“Scully?”

“Yeah,” she rasped.

“I thought you hung up.”

“Nope. Should I? Do you want some privacy?”

“No! Not unless you, uh, want to.”

“At some point that would be for the best. A few more minutes?”

“Sounds like a plan. So what happened next? With the guy?”

“Oh, yeah. Jasper. I imagined he was touching me, right there in the car.”

“And you were touching yourself?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you pull your pants down? Or over your clothes?”

“No. I had sweats on, so I just kind of slipped my hand inside. It didn’t take long. It had been weeks. I was wound pretty tight.”

He tried to smother a groan, making a sound twice as sexy at least.

“What happened next?” She could hear the tension ratcheting up in his voice.

She knew she should make something up, about Jasper taking her on the hood of her car, maybe with his fiancee joining in. Unfortunately, the only thing that occurred to her was the truth.

“That wasn’t as good. I sat up and straightened my clothes. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw Jasper and his fiance coming out the door of the testing site. They waved. I waved back. It was instantly humiliating.”

Mulder was laughing. “Aw, Scully. The first spontaneous moment you enjoy in months, with an orgasm no less, and it haunts you. Were you like ‘Hi! Hope you did well! I just rubbed one out thinking about you!’”

“Sort of. Yeah. I was pretty sure he somehow knew.”

“If so, I’m sure he was honored. At the very least.”

“In any case. Then I went home and attacked a pint of Cherry Garcia.”

 

Chapter Text

Padgett’s unwelcome intrusion was nothing compared to that of the psychic surgeon made manifest by his overwritten prose.

This man had come for her, Scully knew. As soon as she opened the door and encountered his blank-eyed determined stare, she knew. It had been written. He was here to complete the job of exposing her heart that Padgett had begun. He was here for her, a hooded golem with a terrible imperative, to spill her blood and render her dead on Mulder’s living room floor, to make what had been only figurative viscerally, irrevocably literal.

Her thoughts as she fought him, emptied her gun into him though she had already digested the futility, what she assumed would be her last thoughts, were of Mulder.

Please, don’t let him find me here, lifeless. Not here. Not now. No.

Then, blackness.

Chapter Text

“Sounds bad.” he said. “But I wouldn’t know about that, Scully.”

“About what?”

“Lucky for me, I’ve never had to interact with a colleague mere minutes after featuring that person in a sexual fantasy.”

“Oh, I see. Me neither. I mean, not since that one time.”

“Yeah. I’ve never had to suppress a smile when the fantasy was sweet...” Mulder said.

“That is lucky.”

“Or conceal a satisfied look when it was especially erotic, or a hungry look when it was interrupted.”

“That would be awkward.”

What had she gotten herself into?

“Or disguise a wild look when it wasn’t interrupted, but I wanted more anyway.”

Sweet Jesus. She tried to keep her voice even. “More huh?”

“Yeah. More. And I’ve especially never had to produce a blank look when I was sure she’d quit if she knew what I’d been thinking about her.”

“Oh, I doubt she would have quit.”

“She hasn’t heard what I was thinking about her yet.”

They were both laughing again.

“If you keep cracking me up, we’re never going to get anywhere, Mulder.”

“I don’t know. I love to hear you laugh.”

“Anyway.” Scully had to clear her throat. “When was the last time for you? That you made the beast with one back in the car, I mean.”

“Wait a second. Have we met? Who is this woman who sounds like Scully, weaving hastily rewritten Shakespearean dialogue into a conversation to reference self-abuse? That’s even sexier than your parking garage story.”

“Mulder. You’re stalling.”

“You’re right. Fair’s fair. I believe it was a few months ago.”

“Where were we?”

“I didn’t say it was on a case, Scully. But it so happens that we were. In Kroner, Kansas.”

“I’m listening.”

“The last night we were there, after the case was solved. The rain had stopped. Holman and Sheila were united at last. How often to we get a happy ending, Scully?”

“This phone call isn't going to have a happy ending if you don't quit stalling.” 

“Scully! Who knew the naughty nurse would turn out to be a doctor?"

"I do concede it was gratifying to see those two get their act together."

"Okay. We were packing up to bug out early the next morning.”

“I remember. We were stuck in the same hotel room. Because of the flying cow.”

“More like falling.”

“You said you had to make a phone call, Mulder. Padded out to the car in just your shorts. I wondered who you were talking to,” she said.

“Well, I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep. I’d already gone for a run and taken a shower. I didn’t have all that many options.”

“Did you make a phone call?”

“No, Scully I didn’t. Why do you ask?” The mock innocence dripping from his voice pissed her off.

“No reason.”

“So what did you do? Once you got to the car? What were you thinking about?” She suddenly realized how much tension she was holding in her body.

“What was I thinking about? You really want to know?”

“Mulder, if I ask, you can assume I want to know.” She worked hard to keep the irritation out of her voice. Her frustration was real, somatic and uncompromising, building toward her brain from pressure accumulating in her blood below.

“All right. I will. I was thinking about… Well, what were you thinking about?”

“Mulder!”

This conversation was beginning to resemble the tattoo on her low back. Round and round. Lacking meaningful forward momentum. The doldrums, sailors called it, stuck in a windless ocean, unpropelled and queasy from the undulating sea churning beneath the boat. It was a familiar feeling when it came to her and Mulder.

“Hey, I’m the friend in need here Scully.”

It was true. She supposed it wouldn’t kill her to let him drive the conversation. She took a big gulp of O2 and gathered her poise in order to continue.

“What was I thinking about when?”

“When I went out to the car that night. To make a fake phone call.”

“If I remember correctly, when you left I was a little bit wired.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep either.”

“So? What did you do?”

“You may not have noticed, Mulder, but by the time you returned, I was under the covers and pleasantly drowsy.”

“I knew it! So it wasn’t just me.”

So he did notice. How often did that happen, she wondered, that he’d paste a mask of bland indifference on his face and underneath be taking in all manner of lascivious details. If he did that half as often as she did, they were in real trouble.

In truth, after he’d left their shared motel room she’d killed the lights and peered out through the blinds, craning her neck and squinting like a nosy neighbor. Who could he be calling, and at this hour? She’d quickly jumped into bed when she saw him returning, pulled up the covers and pretended to be asleep.

“Earth to Scully. Yoohoo! You didn’t answer my question. What you were thinking?”

“You’re one to talk. You, Mulder, haven’t answered that same question, though I’ve posed it to you several times.”

“I guess our interrogation skills need work.”

“I guess they do.”

“It’s a professional embarrassment, really.”

“Only if one of us tells someone about it.”

They both laughed, but Scully again couldn’t help but think of Fowley. Is this the kind of thing he would discuss with her? His ex-lover? His friend?

“You know Scully, Dr. Parenti mentioned that it would be okay if you wanted to join me in the donation room.”

Wait. What?

Scully chose a measured response. “I suppose he assumes we’re more than friends.” Her voice betrayed neither her fear nor her excitement, she hoped.

“I suppose. I didn’t correct him, though I don’t mind if you do.”

“I don’t see as it’s any of his concern.”

“Any interest?”

“In correcting him?”

“No, Scully. In joining me. Here. For this.”

Chapter Text

“You’re ok,” he said as she tore at his back, clung to him and wept in her abject terror, the strong, stoic person she had always needed to be dissolving in his arms.

“You’re ok,” he said as he lifted her off his living room floor and placed her gently on his sofa, kneeled beside her and unfastened the slippery buttons of her dress shirt as best he could, looking for breaks in her skin, anything to explain her shirt and torso stained--impossibly--with her own blood.

His hands gingerly worked under the material of her bra, over her heart, deep concern etched into his face.

“You’re ok,” he repeated. “You’re ok,” his hands and eyes searching the tender blood-washed skin of her still heaving chest and stomach, removing her blouse and rolling her to survey her back, counting ribs as his fingers bumped over the notched flesh, probing for anomaly or weakness. Next he lifted each arm to look for any signs of external trauma there.

Finally he lowered his ear to her sternum and pressed, needing nothing less than to feel the mundane thump of her heart to confirm his assertion, “You’re ok.”

After sixty beats he found her eyes, still leaking hot tears, though she had stopped sobbing.

“You’re ok,” he said. After sixty more, he reached up to caress her face, her heart contracting strong as ever beneath his ear, but quick like a rabbit's.

"You're ok. Breathe, Scully."

She did as he suggested, taking in a big whoosh of air. She inhaled deeply again, and then again, and her heart rate began to decelerate under his ear.

But when his fingers happened upon the entry wound from Agent Ritter's bullet, dead center mass, and played over it lightly, her breath caught and held. 

It was easy then for him then to turn his head and place his lips on her--oh god Scully--still fresh scar. It was his turn to breathe, and he inhaled her deeply, alive both of them, exhaled hotly against her damp belly.

He was kissing her then, alive, rubbing his slack lips against her bare abdomen, tasting soft Scullyskin as he scraped against her pale flesh with his stubble. Her hands were in his hair and his hands were on her hips as he clambered up to the sofa to join her.

"You're ok," he said as he kissed her clavicles, her neck, holding himself carefully above her. She clutched handfuls of his sweater and yanked, needing to feel the carnal scritch of his bare abdomen against hers as he brought his hips down and brushed side to side.

"You're ok," he said, being sure to keep his weight off her, and began to suck and scrape one of her nipples over the fabric of her bra, pressing it with his tongue against the flat backs of his teeth. She moaned then, she did. Alive.

She ran a hand down his spine and under the waistband of his jeans, drifting over the smooth slope of his ass, then kneading and scratching at his flesh.

“Oh, Scully,” he said, kissing under her chin, the hinge of her jawbone, his hands working around to her back, starting to wrangle her out of her bra.

“Padgett,” Scully said abruptly, sitting up, snapping them both back to situational awareness.

“Padgett,” Mulder repeated. He shook his head sharply, stood, and made for the door, scooping up his gun on the way.

With his hand on the knob he treaded water, uncertain for a moment. Looking back toward where she was attempting to gather herself on the couch, then casing the room, he instead went toward the phone to call for backup.

By the time he returned she had pulled on and refastened the buttons on her shirt and swung her feet down to the floor. When he sunk down next to her on his sofa, she was holding her head, dry eyed, in her hands.

 

Chapter Text

Had he just said that? In so serious and earnest a voice?

She would proceed as though he had. She did, however, make a mental note to check if Eddie Van Blundht had been prematurely released from custody. Vestigial tail aside, his was not DNA she wanted mingling with hers. You couldn’t be too careful.

Her palms itched. She was sure that she wore her very own version of panic face. She did an involuntary sit-up from her supine position on the sofa until her feet were on the floor. She collected her wits and answered him frankly.

“Mulder. I’m happy you asked me. But even if I could get there in time, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Obviously,” he said. “And yet…”

“Attempting to conceive a child together, Mulder, whether we succeed or not, is going to change our relationship in unpredictable ways, don’t you think? We haven’t discussed how that will work, though we’ll need to if this takes.”

“There’ll be time for that.”

“As it is we already have an absorbing connection centered around our work, which is pretty important to each of us.”

“We do.”

“And it works pretty well. Mostly.”

“I agree.”

“I just think starting a physical relationship,” Scully continued “even one limited to the confines of Dr. Parenti’s donation room...”

“And that might prove tricky.”

“Exactly. I’m not sure it’s wise to add that to the mix just now.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said. He sounded disappointed, but not surprised or even hurt. “Basically, I agree. The full catastrophe could become just that.”

“Maybe you could ask someone else to help you out? For next time.” Scully held her breath.

“Nah,” he said, roughly. “Nobody else, Scully.”

Relief flooded her body.

“What do you mean, the full catastrophe?”

“Zorba the Greek called it that.”

“Called what that?”

“Having a family. Kids and a wife. Domesticity. Boredom. Strife. Bliss. The full catastrophe. He meant it in a good way, I think.”

“I see.” Did Mulder just say wife?

“Leonard Cohen said that until you had children and lived with a woman, it was all just dating for the Junior prom.”

He was taking this very seriously, the prospect of creating a child with her. Of course he was. He was never one to do anything halfheartedly. Still, his intensity—not to mention what seemed to be his intentions—threw her.

“So you’ve been reading up on this, giving it some thought.” Scully said.

“A bit,” Mulder said.

“I’m glad that you’re excited at the prospect of becoming a parent, Mulder. I am too. But we have a lot to figure out, don’t we?”

“Like what?” he said.

“Like, how do you see child-rearing meshing with our work?”

“I think we’ll need to wait and see about that. I know things will change, obviously.”

“Drastically, I’d imagine. At least for me. Therefore, for you as well, even if you didn’t want to be involved in parenting the child.”

“You don’t want me involved?”

“I did not say that, Mulder. You’d make a wonderful father. Or uncle, or whatever you wanted to be to him.”

“Or her,” he said.

“Or her,” Scully said, smiling a little. “It’s just that we have to talk.”

“Scully, I didn’t take four days to consider your proposition just to keep you hangin’. Before I told you I was down to do this with you, I thought it through very carefully. I know things will never be the same. I don’t want them to be.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m a selfish guy, Scully. And nothing makes me happier these days than an opportunity to make you happy. Especially when it involves a chance to make up to you something of what you’ve lost.”

“Ok. I’m wondering though. On our first case you told me finding Samantha was the only thing you cared about. I believed you. Has that changed?”

“Fair question. Finding my sister still drives me Scully, and will until I get some answers. But, yes, it’s changed.”

“How?”

“Incrementally, over time, like all things do.”

“That’s nice, but that’s not what I was asking.”

“I know. But I don’t know if I can describe how it’s changed.”

“Can you try? I’m curious, and not just for academic reasons.”

“Leonard Cohen also said only one thing made him happy. And then when it was gone, everything made him happy. I can’t get that out of my head.”

“What does it mean to you?”

“I think he’s talking about fixation. Compulsion even. It’s a hard way to live. And I’m starting to see that wanting something more than just to find her isn’t a betrayal.”

“What do you think she would want for you?”

“Wow.” Mulder sighed hugely. “That’s a powerful question. She was eight years old last I saw her. I’ll have to give it some thought.”

“I hope you do.”

“I’ve got my own question.” Mulder said.

Scully’s felt a flare of nervous energy.

“I’ve been wondering, if I hadn’t been able to do this with you for some reason, who would you ask instead?”

“There’s always Melvin,” she said.

“Heh.”

“I’m only half kidding. He’s a bit too old I suppose, but he wouldn’t be last on my list.”

“Not to mention a bit too short?” Mulder asked.

“There is that. I’m not the most superficial person in the world, but I admit that his stature combined with mine might put any child we would create at a disadvantage.”

“I knew there was a reason you asked me. You just want me for my extra inches, Scully.”

“Now you know.”

“Now I know.”

“Don’t you dare tell him this, Mulder, but Frohike is my favorite Gunman.”

“Really? I always thought it was Byers.”

“I’m fond of Byers,” she mused. “He’s got many good qualities. Manners. Intelligence, of course. And he’s just so very decent.” Good teeth, she almost added. Contemplating pregnancy had her evaluating eligible men like a horse breeder must look at thoroughbreds. “But it’s Melvin who has my heart.”

“Your secret’s safe with me Scully. Though I hope you noted that I didn’t promise I’d never bring it up with you again.”

“Why, oh why, did I just tell you that?”

“Better question: Why Frohike? Because he said you were hot that one time?”

“That hardly works in his favor, Mulder. No. I think it’s because…”

“Yes?”

“I think it’s because...he loves you.”

“Me?!”

“Yes you. Platonically, I presume. But thoroughly and properly.”

“Really?”

“Did I ever tell you he stopped by my place late one night when everyone but me thought you’d died in that boxcar?”

“Drunk I suppose.”

“Very. He was pretty broken up, despite the fact that I hinted I thought you were still with us. Since then he’s been my favorite.”

“You’re a generous woman.”

“I consider him to be one of the few people in your life who really deserves you.”

“Scully?”

“Yes?”

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Tears gathered in her eyes, threatening to spill. She didn’t trust her voice, so she didn’t speak for a minute.

“I’m glad we’re doing this.” She finally said. “Thanks for saying yes.”

“Thanks for asking. I’m afraid, though, that all this talk of Melvin has reversed any momentum I had going toward that aim.”

“You don’t think he’s even a little bit cute?”

“Hmmm. I’m trying not to make a crass joke referencing his height.”

“I appreciate that.”

“I don’t want you to think I have performance issues in general Scully,” he added quickly. “In the flesh I’m pretty reliable.”

“Funny, I’m not finding myself tempted to check your references.”

“Heh. Yeah, it’s a prickly bunch. And you? Cavewoman to the bone.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Unga-Bunga, Scully.”

“In any case, today was a start, Mulder. I’m sure you can figure it out for next time.”

“Thanks for your effort too. I know you were out of your comfort zone.”

“I did try. I don’t think I’m cut out for the phone hospitality industry. I have new respect. If I were forced to make a living this way, I’d probably starve.”

“Pa-shaw. This call alone would have cost me a week’s pay. You could do anything you wanted, Scully. And if you needed some help with the finer points, I could always tutor you...”

“At least I could tell my brother Bill I didn’t work for the FBI anymore. That would make his day.”

“Until he found out you were still working with me.”

“Yeah, that would ruin it.”

“Heh,” Mulder said.

“Hey. The clinic is about to close.”

“Yeah, any minute now I’m expecting them to flick the lights like a bar at last call.”

“Why don’t we quit for today? Live to fight another day. Let’s meet for dinner. There’s a new Eritrean restaurant in Adams-Morgan I’ve been hoping to try.”

When he didn’t answer, she wondered if she’d been too presumptuous. Too familiar? Was he needing space? Who even were they to each other now? And why couldn’t anything ever hold still?

 

Chapter Text

“Scully please. Let a doctor check you out. That blood came from somewhere. Your blood.”

“That remains to be determined.”

“Come on, Scully. What if you have internal injuries? Or need a transfusion?”

Her clothes had been bagged by evidence technicians. She swam in those she borrowed from Mulder, like a child playing dress up. After the first responders had examined her and taken a statement, she sat back down on his sofa, and soon he sat beside her, draping her shoulders with a quilt.

As they spoke in low tones, they gravitated toward each other until his arms encircled her and she was all but in his lap, holding each other steady and true as everything shifted, seat mates riding the earth as it hurtled through space.

Cops and paramedics milled around them, dutifully processing the scene, though several looked a bit puzzled. Scully had looked out the window earlier to see Padgett’s draped form being loaded into the Coroner’s van.

“You checked me out yourself. I’m ok, remember?”

“Scully that was more me playing doctor, not a legit medical clearance,” he said, wagging his eyebrows at her. He was reaching for their familiar benign flirtation, but not quite convincing either of them.

“Mulder, I just need to go home.”

“If the situation were reversed, would you want me to get a thorough exam?”

“Would you go because I wanted you to?” She had him there.

He was shaking his head trying to counter her parry. It wasn’t their usual dance. Fear and desperation flickered in his eyes.

Skinner walked in and nodded at them from the doorway. They nodded back but didn’t make a move to put any space between them. He stalked off, presumably to find the detective or lieutenant in charge.

“Mulder if I was bleeding internally I’d be shocky and pale. My pulse would be racing.”

He found her carotid artery with two fingers of his right hand and held up her wrist to count seconds on her watch.

“Ninety" he said. "Your normal resting pulse is, what, like 56?”

“That number is skewed from the stress earlier. Also, I was afraid you were looking down my shirt just now.”

“Actually, I was looking down my shirt, which looks much better on you. I didn’t mean to stare, but the view has never been so captivating.” His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat.

The terra firma of their partnership had become shaky ground. She felt it in her own desperation as she clawed at his scapula, at her harsh intake of breath realizing--yes--she was alive. She was here, and how glorious because he was here too.

She saw it in his eyes, watery with relief, then misted with lust, and finally slivered to slits with frustration with as he pleaded with her to go with the paramedics. She felt it in his mouth that had explored her flesh, disregarding the patina of blood on her skin as he opened to her; that they were fluid bonded was a given.

By the time she sunk into her own bed that night, she knew something raw and frightening had crowned between them.

Chapter Text

They soldiered on the following week not acknowledging it, but for once not ignoring it. Instead they were both tentative, uncharacteristically shy with one another, trying to divine the size and shape of the thing, calculating how to behave around it.

For a few days they worked with the VCU to generate new strategies for predicting and preventing crime by using a relatively new area of study called victimology. Academics were brought in to consult with a team of eight or ten agents. The work had been engrossing, for which she had been grateful.

Mulder seemed engaged too, though usually he resented any assignment that drew him up out of his basement lair. He listened carefully and asked good questions. The new models they were developing were the flip side of profiling, and he had a lot to contribute.

He was carrying himself slightly differently in a way she couldn’t quite pin down. He was more focused and patient, less indiscriminately provocative, less distractable. Agents who, at the start of the week, had been cringing in anticipation each time he opened his mouth were leaning in by the end.

When one of the researchers kept referring to the duo of perpetrator and victim as “the penal couple,” she was surprised he didn’t nudge her or even make a face. She wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it.

They had lunch together downstairs each day. He was solicitous, making sure she had what she needed--salad dressing, a pen, some privacy when she was on the phone with her mom--paying attention to how she might be feeling in the wake of the all the recent upheaval, but not so much that she was uncomfortable.

He called her every evening around the time she went to sleep, not ostensibly or actually consumed with the details of a file, but just to check in. Though she didn’t say so, she was still spooked from the case, seeing the psychic surgeon in the shadowed corners of her bedroom. The phone calls were a comfort. They would talk until one of them began to drift, then say good night.

While he wasn’t overtly flirtatious, she was aware that he was unusually aware of her, of her attitude in space, of her food and her clothes and her mood. Once she looked up and caught him looking at her with a faraway smile, as though peering into a crystal ball and liking what was foretold.

When an entire ream of paperwork related to an upcoming audit landed on their desks Friday morning, he dug in and did his share. That, she was sure, had never happened before. When he packed up and cleared out while she was on the phone, she was mildly surprised. And when she heard her phone ringing as she made her way into her apartment, anticipation and warmth bubbled in her solar plexus.

Humbled. That was the word that came to her. Not humiliated, as he seemed to feel so often. Just more aware of the universe outside his own skin and curious about his place in it.

She was pretty sure she liked it.

Chapter Text

“Mulder? You there? Do you want to get something to eat?”

“Not so fast, Scully. I think we might be in business here.”

His voice was different, a note higher, both closer and somehow more remote.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, we are definitely on the move. Ahh.”

His breathy little grunt spoke directly to her body, tingling in her arms, a liquid flutter in her gut.

“Oh, Scully...yeah...you want to hang up?”

“Not particularly,” she said. She wondered briefly if she’d regret that later. But oh, the way his voice aroused nearly broke over her name.

“Oh, good. ‘Cuz I don’t want you to.”

She closed her eyes and listened for a few minutes to his breathing, at first slow and deep, gradually quickening, the occasional hitch. She envisioned his bare chest. Furtively she loved his chest, wanted to explore it with her fingertips and lips, chart it like a lost continent. Now he was suffused with lust and it was filling and falling, filling and falling, her name on his lips. It was almost too much.

“Talk to me Scully. Doesn’t need to be sexy. Tell me the plot of a movie. Read me your grocery list. Just wanna hear…ahh...your voice.”

His stifled moan, like a bolt to her groin, and Scully realized she was pressing herself over the fabric of her underpants. How long had she been doing that?

“Broccoli, uh cinnamon. I have a confession, Mulder.”

“What?”

“You’re the only person I want to do this with.” Damp heat rose as she pushed her panties aside.

“Ah...Oh...Scully. That’s nice to hear. I don’t even care what ‘this’ you’re talking about.”

“All of them.”

“Yeah? I have a confession too...the VCR’s not broken.”

“Mulder!”

He laughed. “Sorry for the fib.”

“Why didn’t you pop in a tape, like, an hour ago?”

“Didn’t seem right. I don’t want to make a baby like that. A child should come from…ah...love. I needed you.”

“I’m here.” She was also exceedingly wet. When had that happened? Also, hyper sensitive to her own touch.

“Scully, have I ever told you that I find you to be quite beautiful?”

“No.”

“I do. Exquisitely... painfully beautiful.”

His speech was precise and clipped, truly strained, like he was barely able to command his voice. She found this almost more exciting than his confession.

“Actually, I didn’t think I was your type.” The husk in her voice, so low it sounded to her ears like someone else entirely.

“You’re not my type.”

“Oh?”

“You’re my Scully,” he said.

The tenderness in his voice moved her, almost to tears again.

“Oh,” she said, exhaling all the way through the word.

“Yeah,” he replied, his voice more breath than sound.

“Scully?”

“Mulder.”

“Scully. Are you touching yourself?”

“Yeah,” she laughed a little. “I am.”

“Ah...good. You should feel good.”

They traded exhales, their breathing growing rapid and ragged.

“Wish I could...ahhh...see you,” he said.

“Mulder…I need...I need…”

“What? I’ll give you anything Scully...everything.”

“Your hands...please…I love your hands.”

“Oh, Scully you have them...my hands can’t wait to love you back. My hands, my mouth...”

Now her finger was flying over her clit.

“Mulder...your big hands on me... you’re gonna make me come...”

“I am. You have no idea.”

“You are...ooooooooh yeah..I am...I’m coming right now,” She was astonished to be climaxing so quickly, bewildered that she was telling him all about it. “I am...God I needed it so bad...still...still coming Mulder...feels so fucking good.” She rode out her orgasm, huffing into the phone, and when the last waves had finally subsided, she laughed.

“I know,” he said, laughing a little bit also through his heaving breath.

Even after her orgasm, she was riddled with lust. “You come for me now Mulder. For us. I can’t wait to get my hands on you.”

Whoops.

That was all it took.

“Oh Scully. Were gonna be so good together. Oh honey me too….ah….ah...ah. He emitted this glottal rhythmic groaning, speaking from a feral place deep within him she had yet to encounter, as close as they were. It was the most arousing thing she had ever heard. “Scully...ugh...ahhhhhhh.”

They fell quiet together, recovering until they each were breathing comfortably into the phone. After a few minutes, he spoke.

“Scully?

“Mulder?”

“Is it too late to ask what you’re wearing?”

“It is. But only because I took I most of it off twenty minutes ago.”

“Dang. Missed my chance.”

“As long as you didn’t miss the cup.”

“Oh no! Where’s the cup?”

“Mulder! You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh thank God. You scared me.”

“Lid’s on and everything.”

“Good work. You know what else Leonard Cohen said?”

“What?”

“Hallelujah.”

“Heh. That he did, Scully. That he did.”

“Well, thanks for calling,” Scully said. “Who is this again?” She was loopy from lack of oxygen, was starving, and had to pee.

“It’s Marty, of course. I’m gonna button up and hand this over to the authorities. Do you still want to meet for dinner? What do Eritreans eat, anyway?”

She laughed.

“What?”

“It’s just that regular people go out to dinner and then have…whatever that was.”

“That was phone sex Scully. Take it from an experienced practitioner. Though that may be the first time for me where the woman was actually turned on.”

“You thought I was turned on?”

“Weren’t you?”

“Mulder, I was teasing you,” she said gently.

“I knew that. But to make sure, Scully, the next time I hear you come, I’d like to be holding you in my arms.”

This wasn’t his customary banter. His unusual candor, at once alarming and enticing, had left her speechless again.

“You know, Scully, I don’t think it’s a great idea for you to venture out tonight. You’re still recovering. You should rest.”

“You’re probably right.”

“How about I swing by that Thai place near you and bring over some Pad Pri King? Tofu, medium spicy, extra string beans?”

“You know what I like.”

“That’s a subject that merits further study. Hang on a sec.”

She listened to him in the background, talking to the clinic staff. The conversation was muffled, as though his phone was in his pocket.

“You still there?” he said, a few minutes later. “I’m in my car.”

“Hi,” she said. Suddenly she was embarrassed not to have hung up. She was in a drowsy post-orgasmic daze on her sofa, curled under the afghan.

“Is this Chantal? Or Epiphany?”

“Epiphany, Mulder?”

“I think she spells it with an -ie at the end. She’s nice. Sometimes we just talk.”

“I’m trying not to find that depressing.”

“I like talking to you better. But we both know you need a break from me now and then. In that way she provides a service to both of us, Scully.”

She wanted to pick apart the logic of that, but wasn’t quite up to it.

“Do you call Chantal just to talk too?”

“No. With Chantal I usually get right down to business.”

“I see.” Scully didn’t know which to prefer. Neither, she supposed. But why did she care about his porny phone habits all of a sudden? Maybe she did have a little bit of the cavewoman in her.

“So. Can I bring you dinner?”

“That’s not a good idea.”

“I’m talking dinner Scully. I can keep my impulses in check. I’ve been doing it this long.”

Again Mulder with the raw vulnerability. How long? She both did and did not want to ask.

“Maybe it’s not your impulses I’m worried about.”

“Scully! Now I definitely want to bring you dinner.”

“But...”

“But...it’s better I don’t. I suppose. Let me know if you change your mind. I’ll be on call.”

“Mulder?” she said.

“Yes?”’

“Even if you’d been watching the filthiest video you own, this would still be an act of love. You know that right?”

“Yeah. But it was really nice this way.”

“It was. Are you going to need my assistance next time, too?”

“I think I’ve got it from here. Thanks to today’s session, I’ve stored up enough intriguing tidbits to fertilize all the refurbished ova you could ever throw at me. My arousal and that pathetic room are forever fired and wired together.”

“All right then. Mission accomplished,” she said. So why did she feel a little hollow?

“Thanks, Scully.”

“Thank you, Mulder.”

“Get some rest. Don’t forget I’m on call.” With that he hung up.

Chapter Text

She did rest, going to bed shortly after speaking with Mulder and sleeping thirteen hours straight. He didn’t call on Saturday. On Sunday evening when the phone rang, she expected it to be him. They hadn’t gone two days without checking in in she didn’t remember how long. It was a sales call.

She thought of calling him, but couldn’t manufacture a work-related reason. She didn’t want to think she was taking him up on his offer. What she really was afraid of, she supposed—besides the horrifying possibility of Diana Fowley answering his phone—is that she’d give him the ok to swing by with food. And then…

Then what? Why did what might come next scare her so much? She had desired him as long at least as she had loved him. And she didn’t clearly remember a time before. Sometimes it seemed like a dream life lived in a different era by an entirely different person.

She tried to envision her decision to consummate her relationship with Mulder as a data point on the risk-return spectrum. Upper right quadrant, certainly: high risk, high return. But no more so than asking him to father her child, and so far that was going well.

She could imagine the immediate rewards and often did, vividly and intrusively. But could they hold their partnership together if their personal connection blew up? And what about, God willing, functioning as co-parents? Then again, would she be risking their friendship if she refused to act on what were, by this point, her embarrassingly conspicuous feelings for her partner?

She needed to bounce this off of another person. Not Mulder, obviously. Most of her older friendships had withered on the vine due to her infrequent contact. Suddenly and fervently, she missed her sister. A sister, if you got lucky, was a special kind of friend, but especially when your family moved around as much as hers had. It wasn’t just the loss when you a loved one died too soon; it was the continuing absence that was so devastating. Melissa would help her figure out what to do.

Monday morning, Scully awoke with a crisp sense of clarity. Driving to work, she gave herself a pep talk about keeping things normal between them, despite the fault line their encounter on the phone had opened in her. Mulder had been right, not to call over the weekend. They had probably grown too informal of late. They were, at the end of the day, just two friends doing each other a favor. It would be an especially good time to reestablish some professional boundaries.

When she arrived at the Hoover Building, Mulder was already seated among half a dozen other agents at Skinner’s conference table for their requisite nine am weekly roundup. Only after she’d issued a general greeting and settled into her chair did she raise her gaze to meet his.

At that moment he was looking down, adjusting the drape of his tie against his shirt. He lifted his head and, across the conference table, they shared a moment of penetrating eye contact. In a flash she felt jolted, irradiated, every cell transparent.

She glanced around the table at the other agents, who were sipping coffee, futzing on laptops, perusing the agenda, all waiting for the meeting to convene. Skinner was hunched over, scratching at a legal pad with a ballpoint pen. No one seemed to have noticed. When her eyes returned to Mulder's, he was (yes) gazing at her intently. Their eyes caught and held. Then the corners of his (oh god) mouth curled ever so slightly into a smile.

Chapter Text

The week entailed more productive work with the victimology team. They were still just them, Mulder still Mulder, infuriatingly elliptical, occasionally mercurial, and ever bossy, but the 2.0 version--with the more lacerating edges ground off his personality. His awareness of her, however, seemed to have been honed, his glances and touches fractionally lingering.

Neither of them mentioned their encounter on the phone, or any plans he might have for his next visit to the clinic. He resumed calling her in the evenings, but their brief conversations had the quality of a parent helping a child clear the room for monsters before bedtime. No dinners were arranged and no mention was made by either of them of him being on call.

And yet. On Wednesday during a stretch break she’d wandered into the basement office. He was there too, standing under the skylight, drawn up to his full height, eyes closed. He had the leather holster she wore at the small of her back in the field pressed to his nose. Their eyes met, and he slowly lowered it to the counter. She smirked. He walked away whistling, do do doo. Thereafter when he threw her the occasional charged glance from the corners of glistered eyes, the room would tip.

Then he summoned her into the office over the weekend on the thinnest pretense, deep media recon from 1947 Roswell not exactly being a time-sensitive, evolving situation. She played along because--if she was being honest--as nice as the day was outside, it was nicer to spend it within arms length of him. Then he ditched her, and she was just as happy to be off the hook.

That evening, however, he lured her to the park and taught her to hit a baseball using a spooning method that she was positive he made up. She was certain, at the least, that this technique would be likely to get any little league coach in hot water. Burned at the stake on the pitcher’s mound if outraged parents were to realize the extent of the slow drag and tug of his hips against her ass, the frisson generated by the friction. This was not even to mention the feel his arms encircling her, the rumble in his chest against her back as he growled into her ear.

Saying goodbye to her in the parking lot she knows he would have kissed her if she’d only let it happen. Walking there, his bat slung over his shoulder, in his nervousness he’d held forth on the intersections between physics and baseball.

He kept referring to the ball as an “arbitrarily rotating spherical projectile” when expounding upon how a pitch only appears to rise as it approaches the plate. He then explained how a longer bat increases power hitting for reasons beyond mass, the stiffness of a cylinder being roughly proportional to its length. She was half listening, wondering if he’d studied up for their date.

As they approached her car, he was holding the bat out to her.

“Remember those couple of swings where we really connected, Scully? No sting, no kick to the bat. It felt like nothing, right?”

“It did,” she said, nodding. Her keys were out and she had opened her car door. She turned to say goodnight, and he almost bumped into her. He stopped a few inches away.

“That’s because we hit the ball at the center of the bat, where vibrations aren’t significantly excited in either direction. They call that the sweet spot.”

As he said this, his eyes darted from her lips to her eyes and and back. The sweet spot.

“Good night, Mulder,” she said, dropping into her seat. “I had fun,” she said before she pulled the door closed.

She waved in his direction as she drove away, then spied him in the rear view mirror, standing under the light where she’d left him. His head was cast toward the pavement as though dejected, but still she could make out his smile.

Chapter Text

If she had been hoping their next case would reground them, she was disappointed. She found herself again sunk into her sofa after being released from the hospital with what, this time, amounted to a subterranean sunburn on acid, less than confident she knew with any certitude what had actually happened.

It began in an ordinary fashion: gruesome slideshow, sparring and banter over competing theories, Mulder producing two plane tickets from his lapel pocket. Her last clear memory is speeding and swerving toward Brown Mountain in a rattling borrowed truck. From there things got strange.

The case returned to her in a series of snaps saturated with bright hazy colors: Mulder pointing his glock at Skinner and firing, the shattering pistol report reverberating through the fine bones of her sinus: lacrimal, zygomatic, vomer, the terms from a long ago anatomy cram coming to mind as yellow goo spouted from Skinner’s chest.

Searching for Mulder but finding instead that he had been reduced--quite literally--to a pile of dry bones. And his funeral, bizarre and impossible as an Escher print, feeling gut wrenchingly real. She could still smell the flowers, and yet he lived.

She recalled the queer sensation of Mulder’s hand groping for hers across the gap between their stretchers in the ambulance, how she zeroed in on his bearing, despite her eyes clamped shut against the assault of acid. The moment their fingers locked and held was so strange, earthy and yet ethereal, like taking communion at church.

Was it any wonder she didn't keep up with her friends, with stories like these to tell?

Scully’d been discharged after a single night, but Mulder was still in the hospital in North Carolina. The duration of his exposure as well as the larger ratio of skin to blood volume made him sicker. Once she’d become confident his electrolytes and blood gasses were moving in the right direction, she headed home to her bathtub.

At the hospital they’d been put in separate rooms. That didn’t, however, prevent them from stealing off to Heuvelmans Lake. It was a dot on a map, a tourist attraction in rural Georgia significant to them because they’d once traveled there to investigate a spate of local deaths. Mulder had been sure that he’d be able to confirm local lore by finding a two-humped prehistoric creature among the muck and mire. Scully had lost her little dog there.

During a long soak--exfoliating scrub optional--Scully recalled how, still tripping and confederated at the frontal lobe, they had arranged the rendezvous. She found him on the cold wet rock where they’d washed up after being shipwrecked years before. Then it had been night; she had articulated her dawning understanding of his warped worldview; he’d wanted to shoot a duck. If they had been dating instead of FBI partners, this case would have marked the end of the really-in-love phase.

This time it was just before dawn on a clear spring morning, and he was sitting cross legged on a patch of moss staring out at the placid water.

“Hey,” he said as she appeared. She sat down next to him and, in silence, they watched the sun rise.

This time the dream was lucid, and for the first time in what felt like days, she relaxed. She could see her breath rise through the air, smell the fetid nearby bog, feel the cool rock beneath her tuber ischiadicum. Water bugs danced, carving geometric patterns on the surface of the lake. Mulder’s knee knocked against hers companionably.

She felt the trees that hung over them breathing in reverse, taking in carbon dioxide and exhaling the oxygen that supported sentient life. Why had she never thought of how elegant that was, plants and animals the perfect terrestrial compliment? Her thoughts turned to God. She prayed a bit as the frogs shut it down for the night and burrowed into mud, for strength, for peace. 

“Citrus?” Mulder said.

He hadn’t been bearing any fruit when she arrived, but now held in the flat of his palm a tangerine. He offered it to her and it was better than a key chain, the way it absorbed blue light and gave off a halo of cool orange flame.

She peeled it slowly, ripped it in half, and examined a section. It held her rapt, so corpulent and precise. She bit into it and tasted everything that had contributed to its actualization: groundwater and sunshine, the grit of earth and salt from the hands of the migrant who’d plucked it from the tree. It was a marvel to behold.

Mulder was eating grapes.

“I wanted to come out here to skip stones,” he finally said.

“How’d that go?”

“I still got a knack for it. It had been a while.”

They stared out at the water as the sun crested fully visible over the distant tree line.

“Big Blue showed up. He was magnificent, Scully. We talked.”

“You...talked?”

“Yup,” he said, grinning into his sleeve, but standing his ground. “Why not? You were talking to God, before I distracted you with the tangerine.”

“That’s personal Mulder.”

“That’s why the tangerine. As enticing as your brain on drugs can be, I didn’t want to eavesdrop.”

“I can’t quite hear your thoughts anymore. The shroom juice must be wearing off.”

“I’m still pretty fried.”

“In any event, I was talking to God. But unlike Big Blue, he didn’t talk back.”

“Were you listening?”

She scowled at him. He shrugged.

“What did you talk about? With Blue?”

“We just shot the shit. I asked him to tell me his life story. He asked about you.”

“Me?”

“He’d caught a glimpse of the two of us last time we were here, when he was being framed by that gator. He’s lonely, Scully. The last of his kind.”

“That’s sad. I’m glad he found a sympathetic ear.”

Mulder squinted at her. When he ascertained she wasn’t being sarcastic, he nodded. He stood and pulled a flat rock from his pocket. He winged it across the water and Scully counted eight touches, each radiating concentric waves.

“I told him we’re trying to have a baby. He was happy for us. A little envious, maybe. But he told me to tell you Mazel Tov.”

He skipped another rock.

She frowned and sighed.

He turned to look at her. “I’m paraphrasing. What is it, Scully? I’ll understand if you’re alarmed as the prospect of raising a child with me. I can be a handful myself.”

“That’s not it at all.” The lake spanned before her brown and settling to glass again. And yet, she felt seasick. “What concerns me is that your feelings seem to be coming out of the blue.”

“Huh. You brought this...opportunity to me, remember?”

“Yes. I understand you’re enthusiastic about it. To have a family.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I’m worried your desire for a child has transferred itself to me. If the IVF doesn’t take, then where are we?”

Mulder turned toward the lake and skipped another rock. This one went ker-plunk, one and done. Some nearby mallards honked and scattered.

He turned again to face her. “So you think my feelings for you are dependent on your becoming pregnant? And if you don’t, they’ll--what--go away?”

“Something like that.”

“Scully.” He shook his head, frustrated and rueful, but said nothing more. He sat down some feet away from her.

“What do you talk to Epiphanie about? When you just talk?”

“The only subject I don’t talk about with you.”

“Which is?”

“You. Specifically. My personal life in general.”

“So Epiphanie knows more about your time with Diana Fowley than I do?”

“She asked. You never have.”

“Maybe I don’t want to know.”

Mulder sighed this time. Silence settled between them again. She closed her eyes.

“What is it really, Scully, that you don’t want to know?” The voice sounded like Mulder’s.

Sitting there, she didn’t bat away his question, but considered it deeply. She tried to see the world for a moment as he did, with soft eyes. 

She heard the hum of cicadas, an engine revving across the lake. She sat for a long while in blind silence, softening her gaze. The morning sun was starting to get hot, she could feel it on her eyelids.

Then it hit her.

She’d practiced enough medicine to know that people doped up to the gills on pain relievers do not wake up and say, “I feel like hell.”

Ever.

She turned to him, but he was gone. She curled up on the warm spot on the moss he had left behind and fell asleep.

When she woke in her hospital bed hours later, her mouth felt like cotton and the colors were drained of their phosphorescent buzz. She reached through her mind to find him, but instead butted into the bony promontory encasing her own consciousness. She hit the call button for the nurse.

Chapter Text

When the phone woke her from sleep in the middle of the night a few nights later, she knew it would be Mulder. When he asked her to meet him immediately in Las Vegas, she knew it must be serious, as vehemently as he’d implored her to stay home and recuperate from the latest of the round of insults her body had absorbed.

She had asked him to do the same--he’d only been discharged from the hospital in North Carolina that morning. The fact that he was in Las Vegas hardly surprised her. She hauled herself out of bed and set off for Sin City.

When she discovered the truth--that she’d been hoodwinked by the Lone Gunmen into helping them track down Byers wouldbe girlfriend--she was pissed.

Mulder, however, was apoplectic. And so concerned for her welfare when he found out she’d been exposed to an experimental nerve agent that--despite her emphatic protests--he’d caught the next flight to Vegas.

“I’m getting on a plane, Scully. If we cross in the air mid-continent, so be it. But I hope you sit tight and wait for me.”

Of course, she did.

Which his how he came to be knocking on her hotel room door at five-fifty am. She was sleeping so deeply, having lost a night and a half to the geek caper, that he had to pound with his fist before she heard the knock. She was glad he talked her out of catching the red eye. She needed rest.

But so did Mulder. The only upside to having been lured to Vegas without Mulder’s knowledge was that he’d been home recuperating, unaware. Now even that wasn’t the case.

“Frohike still your favorite Gunman?” Mulder said, sitting on the end of the bed, tossing his gym bag onto the desk chair. Scully turned on a lamp.

His cheeks in a few spots were slightly pink and abraded, but other than that he looked good. He looked better than good. In his leather jacket, boots, and dark jeans it was like he’d dragged in a little piece of the Mojave night.

“My favorite Gunman is a dead Gunman,” she said.

She sat on the edge of the bed next to him. He smelled fresh and dangerous, like creosote and jet fuel.

“You're really fine?” he said. He lifted her hair from behind ear and inspected the nip from the puncture gun.

“I really am, Mulder. I don’t remember anything from the anoetic histamine. But I woke up from my little propranolol nap feeling like a million bucks. Then we caught a bad guy.”

“I saw that. It was on the local news as I passed through the airport. Never a dull moment, hey Scully?”

“I can’t remember the last one.”

She took his hand. “I wish you’d stayed home, Mulder. You just got out of the hospital.”

“I’m good,” he said. “I was going stir crazy, anyway.”

“Where did you go, the other day? When you ditched me at the lake?”

“To sleep, I think,” he said, smiling softly. “I’m glad you remember.”

“I thought about what you said. I’d like to talk to you about it.”

“Later,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing it, then dropping it and standing up. “Go back to bed Scully. I just wanted to check on you. I’ve got to see three guys about a size twelve and a half up their asses. I tried to grow another foot on the plane for the occasion.”

“Have fun with that,” She said, standing up.

“Can I have one of these?” he asked, gesturing to the six bottles of Evian on the nightstand. Gifts of attrition from the Gunmen. Suzanne had told them to keep her hydrated to help her kidneys clear the drugs.

“Of course. I hope you’re drinking a lot of water, Mulder. You’re body’s been taxed to the limit too.”

“I am,” he said, holding the bottle up and wagging it at her. He sat on the edge of the bed and took slugs from it. He finished it off and tossed the empty toward the wastebasket. It went in.

“Two points,” he said, and smiled like a kid.

Sometimes it took so little to please him.

She stepped toward him and stood between his knees, reached out and thumbed a rough patch on his cheek.

“I guess I can postpone that chemical peel I had scheduled,” he said.

“Thanks for coming, Mulder. I’m glad you’re here.”

He nodded. She looked at his lips, back to his eyes, and then his lips again. The sweet spot.

“You sure you’re a hundred percent yourself Scully?” he said, rising.

“I’m sure. Here’s to short half-lives,” she said. He peeled back the covers for her.

“We can clink glasses later,” he said as she climbed into the bed. “I’ll be back soon.”

She was asleep before she heard the door click closed.

 

————————————————————————————

 

When she woke again, high desert sun worked its way through the cracks in the curtains and there was a polite tapping at the door.

Mulder was sacked out in the other bed, his forearm slung over his eyes. Her room key was next to his gun on the nightstand. He’d thought to take it with him.

When she opened the door, a waiter pushed in with a room service cart.

“Champagne breakfast, courtesy of the gentlemen in suite 1714,” he said.

“Urgh,” Mulder said, covering his head with a pillow.

“I guess they’re still alive,” she said.

A few minutes later, Scully was bathed and belly up to the tray buttering a croissant.

Mulder smelled the coffee and rolled out of bed, snagged his gym bag and lurched toward the shower.

“This is delicious,” she said as he came out of the bathroom, rubbing his wet head with a towel. She was eating eggs spread on toast. She poured him some coffee as he sat down.

“Thanks,” he said taking a sip.

“I don’t think I ate anything yesterday,” she said.

“Don’t tell me that, Scully,” he said, pouring himself some orange juice. "I was just starting to think about forgiving those guys."

“No rush,” she said.

“This is a step up from our usual accommodations,” he said, looking around for the first time.

“I should have been suspicious immediately,” she said.

“Only the best for us, Scully,” he said, smiling and shaking his head at her.

“Too bad it’s almost check out time,” she said, popping a strawberry into her mouth.

Mulder shrugged and bit into a danish.

“How’d it go with the Three Amigos?”

“To tell you the truth, it was anticlimactic. By the time I got there Langley was passed out, Frohike was half in the bag, and Byers was bawling like a baby. They all turned white when I showed up. It was clear you’d instilled the fear of the Lord into them.”

“Good.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I read them the riot act. There was only so much havoc left to wreak on their pathetic lives.”

“Byers had to say goodbye to his sweetheart. He’s lucky they both weren’t killed. Those guys stumbled into some legitimately nasty business.”

“I heard. They’re lucky you showed up,” Mulder said. “I just wish they’d called me.”

“And I’m glad they didn’t.”

“We’ll have to agree to disagree about that.” Mulder was pouring champagne into two flutes.

“Mulder, it’s ten-thirty in the morning.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“And you hate champagne.”

“Yeah, and you can’t have any for a day or two. Not until we’re sure that crap is out of your system.”

“So why are you pouring it?”

“Well, it’s here. I thought we could toast, at least.”

“To what?”

“Are our lives so devoid of good fortune? We have lots of stuff to celebrate Scully.”

“Like what?”

“Well, we can start with short half-lives. From what Frohike said, you were fairly altered by the anoetic histamine.”

“Altered how?”

“Uh, he said you were loopy. Byers thought you might be drunk. Luckily Suzanne was there to figure it out.”

“Oh, God,” she said. “What did I say?” She buried her head in her hands.

“I didn’t get the gory details, Scully. I’m just glad it wore off.” He was smiling strangely. She had a feeling he was lying. She squinted at him, but he didn’t crack. She decided to let it go. She probably didn't want to know.

“Also, we were only partially digested by that mammoth mushroom.”

“Cheers to that,” Scully said, picking up her flute. They clinked glasses, and each took a tiny sip. Mulder made a face.

“That bad?” Scully said.

“It tickles my nose, tastes like cough syrup, and then makes me hurl.”

“Well, that's not very festive.”

“I’ve got another toast,” Mulder said.

“I hope it’s worth the steep price of another sip,” she said.

“It is. My boys can swim, Scully. And my girls.”

“Come again?”

“Not necessary. Yesterday I… generated my third quality sample at the clinic. They’re going to call you today, but they can start fertilizing those ova any old time you’d like.”

“Mulder,” she said smiling hugely. “That is great news.”

“I swung by on my way home from the airport.” He was smiling shyly but, she thought, proudly. They clinked glasses again. “No use wasting all that abstaining I did in the hospital.”

She leaned back and a stillness settled around them. It might have been a tiny bit awkward.

“Mulder, I wanted to talk to you about…”
,
“I know, Scully,” he said, glancing at his watch. “I want to talk to you too. But we have a plane to catch.” He stood up and started gathering his things.

“You booked our flight home already?”

“Uh,” he said, “not exactly.”

“What exactly? Mulder, if you think we’re heading off on some ghostbusting goosechase, you’re mistaken. I’m not going, and you’re not going either. We both need a break.”

“I promise, it isn’t that. But we have to get going or we’ll miss our flight. Can you trust me?”

She peered at him from behind her coffee cup.

“Please, Scully. Pack your stuff and I’ll explain in the cab.”

Chapter Text

After Mulder had expressed his sincere displeasure in no uncertain terms to the Gunmen, he’d sat down in the living area of their suite with Frohike and got caught up on the whole story. Byers was finally cried out and had gone to bed. Langly had been roused from his nap and was, as usual, half listening while tapping away at his laptop.

When Mulder filled them in on what the past few months had wrought for Scully, including being stalked by an unwitting psychotic killer who wanted to bone her as well as their recent brush with mortality on Brown Mountain, the guys seemed to feel genuinely awful for summoning her to help them. Mulder could not believe it had been Byers’ idea, but that seemed to be the case.

He confessed to being worried about her ever since she’d been gutshot by that punk Ritter. Even before that, her cancer had left her depleted. That she was too thin, too tired too often, and generally burning out. He didn’t go into the way the Padgett case had broken her down, but it was on his mind.

As Mulder got up to leave, Langly said, “Hold up a minute G-Man. It seems like you and your G-Lady need a little R&R.”

He told Mulder about a bungalow left to him by his dad that the Gunmen used as a safehouse slash getaway. It was in a cul-de-sac on a dirt road a stone’s throw from Kawakiu Beach on the island of Molokai in the state of Hawaii. Whatever that meant. Mulder had never been southwest of San Diego. Unless you counted Hong Kong.

Then Langly handed Mulder a map and an itinerary he peeled off his portable printer. He had booked them on a flight out of Vegas for later that day, rented them a four-wheel drive at the airport in Hawaii, and set up tickets for a flexible return back to DC.

“I don’t know Langly.” Mulder said, looking it over. “After what you clowns pulled getting her out here, I’m sure she wouldn’t want to take you up on this.”

“Suit yourself, Mulder, and no offense, but you look like hell. And it sounds like Scully needs a reboot as well. You know what they say about all work and no play.”

“Mulder, you have to do this,” Frohike said. “It’s an amazing place. I spend a week there at least once a year, just to get my head right. Sea turtles, rainbows, waterfalls, white sand beaches, huge stars in the blackest sky you could imagine, and the only sound you’ll hear for miles is the crash of the waves. Langly’s old man built the bungalow out of fallen hardwood, and he was quite a craftsman.”

“He wasn’t the most domestic guy or best dad, really, when I was a kid. Vietnam really fried his motherboard. He gathered no moss until he bought that little lot on Molokai. But he was great with his hands. And he always kept in touch.”

“If we had a brochure, the brochure wouldn't do it justice. She’ll love it. You could both use a break,” Frohike said. “Go.”

Mulder couldn’t quite believe it, but he was considering the offer.

“Are there two beds?” Mulder asked, shifting his weight by the door.

Langly and Frohike looked at each other and shrugged.

He was sincerely hopeful, thinking of sexy sleepy Scully at that very moment back in her room in her big pajamas and her little painted toenails, that they would only need one bed. He was pretty sure she’d given him a look that could have been construed as a green light to kiss her. It took every ounce of self-control he’d had, plus his burning desire to immediately kick some Gunman ass, to resist.

But he didn’t want to be presumptuous. And the Gunmen didn’t need to know their business.

“There’s a hand-carved king-sized bed under a skylight in the master, but the sofa in the living area folds out into a bed if you’d prefer. Linens in the hall closet. Caretakers come by on Wednesdays.The entry code for the front gate and the door is on the itinerary. So is the phone number for the landline. There are some cans and salted fish in the cabinets, but you’ll want to stock up on food in the general store a few miles up the road.”

“You could live for a week on the mangos, bananas, and avocados that grow in the backyard,” Frohike said.

“Laminated instructions are taped to the kitchen counter for how to turn on the power and water when you get there and how to lock up when you leave. There’s indoor plumbing and a chef’s kitchen, but an outdoor shower and a wood-fired soaking tub out back.”

“God that shower’s spectacular. Obsidian tile. You’re halfway there,” Frohike said. “Go.”

“I’ll see what she says,” he said. He suddenly fervently hoped she would agree to go with him. The idea of feeding Scully mangos picked from a tree out back in a hand carved bed under a skylight might have had something to do with it. Not even to mention the things he'd like to do with her in a soaking tub. The trip would be awfully spontaneous for Scully. He just had to figure out how to pitch it to her.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but thanks guys. Take care of Byers.”

“He’s toast.” Langly said.

“He just needs to go home, find someone who looks sort of like Suzanne and bang her,” said Frohike.

“One more thing, and pass this on to Byers for me,” Mulder said, putting a hand on the glock holstered at his hip. “If you use my voice to fool Scully again, or do anything at all to put her in harm’s way ever again, I’ll fucking kill you.”

“Got it,” they both said at the same time.

He left. They looked at each other and shrugged.

Chapter Text

Scully said yes. She had, of her own free will and with undoctored volition, said yes.

Which is how the two of them came to be killing a three hour layover in Los Angeles shopping for beachwear in the LAX terminal.

She was helping him select a pair of board shorts. He was leaning toward the plain navy ones. She’d picked up a red pair decorated with bright orange lightning bolts and blue lotus flowers, skewed an eyebrow in his direction.

“I don’t know, Scully. I plan on picking up a really loud Hawaiian shirt or two when we get to Hoolehua.”

That was the name of their destination airport according to their itinerary, and Mulder couldn’t seem to stop saying it. “Scully, did you ever think we’d be hopping a plane to Hoolehua?” or “What time is it right now in Hoolehua?”

“I don’t want to overshadow the natural majesty with my fashion choices.”

“Good thinking,” Scully said, putting them down. “Go with the solid.”

“Do you think they sell a replica of Elvis’s shirt from Blue Hawaii in Hoolehua?” he said.

She shook her head. He was pretty keyed up. He decided to try to take it down a notch.

“These compliment your eyes,” she said picking up a bathing suit with a simple slate and moss chevron pattern.

“Which color, the gray or the green?” he asked.

“It depends,” she said.

And she accused him of being cryptic. He decided to get that pair, too.

Naturally, she had been suspicious. First he had assuaged her her more blatant fears--that Langly’s bungalow had a mud floor or a roachy bathroom or was already housing an indeterminate number of wave-chasing, hash smoking subversives. She had endured too much recent inadvertent substance abuse not to be vigilant about avoiding a scene like that.

By the time he convinced her, as well, that he was not furtively hunting a molten lava monster or investigating a modern iteration of an ancient Pali curse, they were well on their way.

He didn’t talk the place up to her the way Frohike had to him because, well, Frohike. If it turned out to be the Shangri-La he’d described, they’d both be pleasantly surprised. If not, at least they’d get some peace and quiet. If it was an uninhabitable dump, he’d make a beeline for a nice hotel and reconsider the mercy he’d shown the Gunmen in Vegas.

In the cab, Scully had studied the itinerary.

“Langly did all this for us?” she said.

“I know. The guys feel real remorse. And concern.”

“Concern?”

“I filled them in on how things have been for us lately. The tough cases. The physical grind.”

Scully made an inscrutable face. The cab stopped abruptly at a red light and they both rocked forward.

“No work, right Mulder?”

“No work,” he repeated. “I promise, Scully. Just rest. An actual vacation.”

“There are two beds,” Mulder said, looking away from her, out the window. “I checked.” He wanted her to know both that he wasn’t making assumptions and that he’d been discreet with the guys.

She nodded vaguely. He hoped it was good news she hadn’t brought that up herself.

“All right, Mulder. Skinner has barred either one of us from darkening Hoover’s doorstep for at least a week. Let’s go to Hawaii.”

“Surfer Girl!” He held up a palm to high five her, but she ignored him.

“Why do I think I’m going to regret this decision?”

He bought a rash guard and a couple of t-shirts, a pair of low top Chuck Taylor’s and some lip balm. She picked out a sleeveless floral print sundress he liked quite a bit and a filmy beach cover the color of her eyes at night. They were piling their gear on a block at the feet of a mannequin.

They both got all-terrain Tevas and windbreakers that zipped up into a little pouch. She added a floppy sun hat and two one-piece bathing suits in different styles.

Hopefully, he’d held up a white bikini that was, in his opinion, quite tasteful.

“I shouldn’t get too much sun on my scars,” she said, shaking her head.

He nodded and put it back. He always forgot about her scars.

She picked out some strappy sandals, a tank top, and two levels of sunblock. When she wasn’t looking he added some boxer briefs. They both got khaki pants that zipped down to shorts and promised to wick away moisture.

As they stacked their merchandise on the checkout counter, Scully left to grab a long sleeved shirt to protect her fair Scully skin from the presumably hot Hawaiian sun. She’d never been there either. Just as she got back, Mulder was signing the credit card slip for their stuff.

“Mulder,” she said. “I can pay for my own bathing suits.” She didn’t sound happy.

“I know that, Scully. I have the receipt right here. We can square up later.”

The checkout girl at Rip Curl snapped her gum. She’d seen it all before and wasn’t impressed the first time.

At the bookstore in the terminal they bought two travel guides and a half a dozen paperback novels, titles one or the other had been meaning to read: Don Delillo, Cormac McCarthy, Donna Tartt, Sherman Alexie. When he picked up the latest by Brian Evenson, she put her hand on his forearm. “No horror, Mulder.” He nodded and put it back.

He walked right past the magazine rack, consciously averting his eyes from the top shelf and the mags covered for the sake of discretion in black plastic. He thought of buying a little something on the sly to “read” in case things with Scully didn’t go at all like he hoped they would. He decided against it.

He picked out an autobiography of a woman who’d had a profound near death experience called Embraced by the Light. Scully only made one tiny little face. She got the autobiography of Dolly Parton (Dolly!) and some travel writing by John McPhee and as long as he lived he would never ever figure her all the way out.

They meandered toward their gate, still with an hour to burn. Suited professionals strode past as though the two of them were standing still, pulling squeaky-wheeled carry-ons and checking their watches. A hipster couple walking the opposite way was playing One Two Three Whee! with a tow-headed toddler, swinging him between them as he laughed maniacally. His t-shirt read “I’m why we can’t have nice things.”

They made a stop at Keihls where Scully procured a few essential lotions and potions while Mulder busied himself smelling the samples. He decided to buy an astonishingly pricey little bottle of green aftershave lotion because he liked how it smelled and hated razor burn. His skin was proving to be more sensitive since fungal gut juice had stripped away three or four of the top layers. Scully put it in with her stuff and paid.

“Let’s just hang onto receipts and we’ll figure it out later,” she said.

“Sounds good.” he said.

Next they bought a backpack and a carry-on suitcase so that when they got to the gate they could pack up their new gear.

At the Duty Free shop Mulder bought two compact bottles of twelve-year-old, single malt whiskey. One for them to drink if they wanted, one to leave for the next guy, Mulder explained when Scully shot him a puzzled look.

At Hudson News they bought disposable razors, a tube of Advil, tampons, two huge bottles of water, three bags of sunflower seeds, and Trident spearmint gum for their ears.

Next they pulled up at a Starbucks kiosk to hydrate and caffeinate. They sat at a high table sipping their drinks, their purchases lumped in bags under the table.

“What time even is it? I feel like I’m dreaming,” Mulder said.

“I know what you mean,” Scully said.

“I don’t think I had this much fun last time were were stuck at an airport for three hours, Scully.”

“Let’s see. That would have been in Tampa-St. Pete, when airline schedules were all snafued from the hurricane. That was the old coot hears some chatter about a sea monster--whoops!--let’s deliver a baby case.”

“We were both drawing upon our entire skill-set that time. I got tentacled around the neck, if you remember. This is much better,” he said.

Neither one of them normally relished shopping, though she had a clear weakness for shoes and he was well-bred enough to prefer the cut and feel of an expensive suit. But in and out of their work-a-day lives they were and always had been functional creatures.

This little shopping spree, necessitated by having packed for a night or two in Vegas instead of week at the beach, was a flight of whimsy, improbable as it was delightful.

“So, Scully.”

“Yes, Mulder?”

“I didn’t mean to put you off earlier, when you wanted to talk. I’m available now.”

“It doesn’t feel so urgent now,” Scully said. “We’ll see enough of one another over the next few days that I’m sure we’ll cover all the topics.”

“All right,” Mulder said.

“I need to go in there for a few things,” Scully said, gesturing with her iced espresso toward a nearby Victoria’s Secret. You want to meet me at the gate?”

“Hmmm,” Mulder said, craning his neck to take in the featured display of lacy bras. “You sure you don’t need any help? Advice on colors or styles? Hip huggers, bikini briefs, boyshorts? I bet it can get confusing.”

“I’ll manage.” she said. Scully was actually blushing. Blushing about buying underwear at at a cheezy chain store in LAX. No one had ever been so adorable to him.

He was smiling at his hands because to show her his face at that moment, with the bright Angelino late afternoon light streaming through the walls of plated glass, would have been to reveal more than he feared either of then would have been comfortable with.

“Thanks for saying yes to going to Hoolehua with me, Scully.”

“If you don’t stop saying Hoolehua, I might change my mind and catch a flight to Nova Scotia instead, Mulder.”

“Look on the bright side, Scully. I have not yet made a single comment about the possibility of getting Lai’d.”

Chapter Text

The big jet lifted off directly into the sun, slung low on the horizon.

Their flight departed an hour late from Los Angeles, but it was worth the wait. They rode in coach from Las Vegas to LAX, but for the six hour haul to Honolulu their seats were in first class. From there they would catch a puddle jumper to the island of Molokai and pick up their rental car.

“This ain’t bad.” Mulder was playing with the motorized window shade, tipping his wide seat back until it was almost flat, then raising it again. “I think this is chamois leather,” he said, running his finger along the edge of the seat. “It’s nice to see how the other half lives.”

“Are we sure these plane tickets are legit, Mulder?” Scully whispered. “We’re federal agents. It would be embarrassing to be caught using scammed tickets.”

He stage whispered back, just because he couldn’t resist teasing her. “This nifty upgrade might be the product of Langly’s handiwork, but the tickets were purchased.”

He had no idea and hadn’t thought to ask, but there wasn’t much they could do about it now. Mulder lowered the privacy screen between the two seats. Scully didn’t object.

In fact she sat sphinxy and silky as ever next to him as the plane leveled off at altitude. Before they boarded she had changed from her dependable if drab black pantsuit into a sundress the color of new leaves with, like, little flowers stitched around the hem. He’d never seen her in anything remotely like it. Even after she’d pulled a gray cardigan over her shoulders, she looked delicious.

And he’d thought the tighter dress shirts she’d been wearing under her suits lately were torture.

A flight attendant came by with plates of fresh tropical fruit. Scully started nibbling a piece of papaya, evidently mollified if not completely certain that they weren’t breaking any laws.

“Here,” Mulder said, nudging her with a giant bottle of Evian. He’d been pushing the water all day.

“You know Mulder, I’m not going to bother telling you I’m fine again, but you can get sick from too much water. Hyponatremia. I’m not even peeing orange anymore.”

“You were peeing orange?”

She shrugged. “It’s always something,” she said.

For dinner they were served swordfish steaks with grilled vegetables and rice, and coconut cake for dessert. Mulder was quietly gratified to see Scully eating enthusiastically.

He suspected that food had become difficult for her since her belly wound, meals a chore. For weeks she couldn’t eat more than a half a cup of anything at a sitting, which she was supposed to do six or eight times a day, whether she felt hungry or not. More than once he’d seen her pull out some tiny little serving of something and sigh dolefully.

Every time she did this his palms itched with the urge to go find Agent Peyton Ritter and ring his smug little neck.

He didn’t want them to head home until she’d gained at least five pounds, or at the very least started to enjoy eating again. He knew better than to share this goal with her, however. Scully needed her little privacies.

The flight attendant cleared their dinner trays and brought them both coffee.

“My father used to talk about Hawaii,” Scully said, taking a sip. “How it teemed with life. He was stationed there for about a year before he met my mom. He was always threatening to take her there for a second honeymoon.”

“Did they ever go?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. Four kids on a military salary. And my mom didn’t want to put that much ocean between them and us, I don’t think. They might have gone later. They ran out of time I guess.”

Mulder reached between them took her hand. She flattened her hand against his much larger one, then laced her fingers through his.

“I talked to Skinner,” Mulder said.

“What did he say?”

“I called his cell. Better to keep our whereabouts off the record I think.”

She nodded.

“It was on the late side there and I planned to leave a message, but he picked up.”

“He’s been calling me every day to check in. He saved our lives Mulder, by getting that search team out to Brown Mountain so quickly. Your doctor said any longer underground and you would have been in real trouble. Sepsis, organ failure.”

“I told him where we were headed and gave him the phone number for emergencies. Our cells won’t get service at the bungalow.”

“Good thinking,” she said.

“He said that when he saw my name on his display he despaired of being able to finish his night’s sleep. He also said he was glad we’d be keeping our heads down for a change.”

“Was that it?”

“No, actually. Walter’s chatty when you wake him up. I guess. He said if we go hiking, we should stick to the marked trails. If we go fishing and catch a pufferfish, we should throw it back. And he said that if we fall into the hands of a heretofore unknown indigenous band of head-shrinking cannibals, he might not swoop in and save our bacon this time.”

“He said all that?”

“I know. I think maybe Kimberly was dozing next to him. Or someone. He was trying to impress with his clever repartee. Or maybe Skinner’s just funnier off the record.”

“What did you say?”

I said, “Will do, sir. By which I mean, won’t do.”

Scully snorted.

Mulder did not report to Scully that Skinner had ended the call by saying, “And Mulder? Don’t fuck this up.”

Mulder didn’t need clarification as to the referent for the pronoun “this.” He believed Skinner might actually be glad for them. But Skinner was also, until proven otherwise, a jealous dog. Mulder liked to hold the two truths, just to cover his bases.

He excused himself just as the plane was banking southward and listed toward the bathroom. When he was in there splashing water on his face the captain announced over the tinny intercom that they would be turning down the cabin lights and minimizing interruptions in consideration of passengers who might want to sleep.

The flight attendant arrived just as he got back to their seats. He overheard her ask Scully if her husband was finished with his coffee.

This happened to them all the time of, course. When they were veneered by their suits and holsters and badges it was easy to brush off. But this time Scully’s jaw hinged open and froze.

“I’m finished, thank you,” Mulder supplied from behind the woman. She smiled warmly at them as she carried away their cups.

Do do dooo, Mulder whistled as he snapped open the overhead bin and pulled down some fluffy, first-classy fleece blankets and pillows.

He tossed them on his vacant seat as Scully busied herself stowing their tray tables.

“I’m tired,” she said, picking up a blanket and spreading it on her lap.

“I’m beat, too.” Mulder said. It’s coming up on midnight DC time.”

They had gotten their bearings looking through Lonely Planet Hawaii at the gate, handing it back and forth, reading select passages aloud. Evidently they were headed to one of the more secluded and wind-whipped spots in the state, the west coast of Molokai.

“If all goes well we should arrive at the bungalow around eleven Hawaii Standard Time” he said, spreading a blanket over his own legs. “It’’ll feel like 5am to us though. If possible we should stay awake ‘till we get there. Otherwise it could take a few days to get over the jetlag.”

“That’s a solid plan,” Scully said. “Good thing I drank that coffee. What do you want to do for three hours?”

“Should I dig out a coupla those paperbacks from the overhead bin? We could turn on the reading lights...”

“Maybe.” she said.

But he didn’t.

Their high-backed seats were angled away from the aisle, which gave them each lots of legroom and a clear view out the window. The clouds were black limned against the deep blue sky. It could have been a porthole in a submarine and they might have just as easily been descending to the bottom of the ocean as soaring six miles above the earth.

Despite the sexual tension yawing and lurching between them at odd intervals, despite the resultant fluttery uncertainty, anticipation, and shakiness, despite this new tenderness, this new terror, they were still just them: hip to hip, lips to ears, shoulder to shoulder, cutting through the inky night toward some untried horizon.

She tipped her seat back a few degrees. A few minutes later, he did the same. They were each a little dreamy, half-lost in their own thoughts, the silence between them deep and comfortable as it was familiar. It felt strangely again like the world had been winnowed down to just the two of them.

She thought of something he had said to her years before, in a different context: I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide anything from me. Hand on her shoulder, literally an arm’s length away.

That as much as anything, as much as the dim interior and hush of the cabin, as much as this feeling of strength and peace between them born of countless hours of proximity, of test and tribulation kiln-firing their bond, helped her scrape up some courage.

“I fell for you a long time ago,” she said.

Chapter Text

He swallowed hard. Every cell in his body went on alert, hummed to life.

“My first clue was early on, when dates with other men became pointless. An exercise. Eventually I just stopped.”

He was nodding. Listening.

“For while I just ignored it. It was inconvenient, so I pushed it away. Which worked well enough, for a time.” She was speaking deliberately, eyes forward.

“Um-hm,” he said.

“Until my cancer diagnosis. Then it bubbled up. For a little while it burned. But it was like an unstable acid. It broke down to other things. Apathy. Fear. Bitterness.”

“I see.” he said. He was not sure he remembered enough from high school chemistry to follow, but he got the gist.

“I was angry, I thought with you, but really it was at myself.”

“Okay.”

“We both remember how I coped with that.” she said, raising her eyebrows.

He laughed a little, shaking his head. She smiled.

“At least you got a nifty tattoo out of the deal.”

“I don’t regret it, Mulder. Any of it.”

“I do,” Mulder said. “I’m not sure I was there for you, when you got sick. I regret that. I couldn’t let it be real to me. That you were dying.”

“I know,” she said. “But consider the possibility that your refusal to accept it might be the very thing that made it untrue.”

“Woah,” he said. “Where’s that mushroom dust when you need it?”

“Once I was in remission, I couldn’t unring that bell. I was keenly aware of the feelings I had for you, of the place you were holding in my life.”

“The place of a boyfriend. A lover,” Mulder said.

“Yes. Fully accepting that, I made a choice. To stay with you--to keep working with you--even if it meant that on some level I’d be lonely.”

“Why?” he asked. “Why did you stay?”

“I guess because was happy. Happy enough, anyway. I was a scientist exploring the very precipice of human knowledge, while simultaneously catching bad guys. It was, and is, beyond my dream job.”

He was grateful to hear that the work itself was so gratifying to her, for all it had cost her.

“The fact that I got to see you every day didn’t hurt.”

“It’s never hurt me either, Scully.” he said, “Not from the first minute you stepped off the elevator on level B.”

“I told myself a story, though, to make it easier for me. That a relationship with you wasn’t an option because you weren’t…capable.”

Mulder winced.

“On bad days, I suspected you were flirting with me just enough to keep me around.”

He wished he could honestly claim that had never happened.

“On good days I thought we were best friends, and a great team, and that I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“I hope there were a lot of those.”

“The point is, Mulder, that I...fixed you.”

“Scully, you’re the only woman who’s never tried to fix me. Ironically, you might be the only woman who’s ever come anywhere close to succeeding.”

“You’re not broken Mulder. But that’s not what I’m even saying. By fixed, I mean I made you solid, static. Not the dynamic, evolving person you are, but a thing I could put in a box and close the lid on when I needed to. And I see now that I was protecting myself.”

“How?”

“If you are incapable of a real relationship, that lets me off the hook. I don’t have to wonder about your feelings for me. Or wonder if, in light of my feelings for you, I should be doing something differently. Because in my mind, you aren’t available.”

“For a long time I wasn’t.”

“But then that changed,” she said, looking at him directly for the first time since she started talking. “Didn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve been trying to tell me for some time,” she said, looking back out the window. “But I couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. I trusted you with my life, but I didn’t dare trust you with other things.”

“What things?”

She sighed. “My needs, first and foremost. My feelings. My secrets. My body.” Her voice had dropped to almost a whisper.

“If I asked, could you start, do you think? Trusting me?” He was looking at her from the corners of his eyes.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s me who’s unavailable, who isn't capable. That’s what I figured out at Heuvelmans Lake, on the rock.”

“Can I see it?” Mulder said, pivoting toward her.

“See what?”

He just looked at her.

“Oh. Now?”

“Now.” he said. He twirled his finger at her. “Turn around,” he whispered.

“I guess so,” she said. She turned her back to him, twisting in her seat toward the window. “You’ve never seen it?” she asked over her shoulder.

“Not in real life,” he said, thinking of how he’d squinted at the fuzzy Polaroid in Ed Jerse’s case file. “I mean, I’ve caught glimpses. But I’d like to get a good look.”

He held the sleeves of her cardigan as she worked her arms out of it. He set it aside.

“Hmm,” he said, faced with her dress. It had a long zipper down the back. He rested his hands on her bare shoulders as he contemplated. She felt warm and pliant under his fingers.

She was quiet, hands in her lap, letting him figure it out.

He pinched the tab of the zipper and started to lower it, going slow to give her time to stop him. Her bra, he noticed, was the same color as the trim on her dress, a dark cherry red. He stopped when the zipper hovered just above the elastic of her underwear, the same red.

“Is this new?” he asked in her ear, drawing his knuckle up her spine and working a finger under the elastic of her bra.

“It’s fairly new.” she said, not flinching.

Looking down her body, he could make out a dark ring on her skin beneath the flapping dress fabric at the base of her back. He reached up above their heads and turned on the reading light, pointed it at her low back.

She was looking over her shoulder to see if anyone was coming up the aisle, on display as she was.

“Put this back on,” he said, handing her the cardigan.

She worked it on over her unzipped dress, tucked her chin in, leaning away from him, closing her eyes.

With one hand flat against her back he raised the hem of her sweater to reveal the bright orobus framed by the V of the zipper. He traced the circle round and round with his index finger. Scully was breathing quickly.

The distinct primary colors were so vivid against her milky skin. He was getting his hopes up that he’d be able to see it soon in better light. He imagined a naked Scully first thing in the morning squirming against his naked lap in an outdoor tub, brilliant colors refracting through beads of water. He swallowed hard.

“It’s beautiful,” he breathed into her ear, sliding his hand around her bare waist, and resting it on her stomach. He teased her belly button with tip of his thumb, scraped his chin against the crook of her neck.

“Somebody told me everybody gets the tattoo they deserve.” she said. Her voice was rough.

He let her sweater hem drop, reached up and turned off the spotlight. Then he slid that hand inside her dress too, pushing his dumb luck, not sure what he did to deserve it but not caring, lightly tracing the latitudes of her ribs. When he took her earlobe between his lips, she exhaled sharply and tilted her head to give him more access. He took it, lapping at the skin beneath her ear, breathing hotly and whispering, “the things I want to do with you, Scully…”

She nodded god bless him and his pinky was working its way under the elastic of her brand new underwear she maybe even bought for him and god, he could smell her sharp and clean in the canned air of the plane. He pressed his torso to her back, wanting to get closer even through their clothes, to climb inside her skin.

He slipped four fingers into her panties and there was a click and a squeak from her throat as he ran them so lightly through the hair there, just starting to get the feel of her, “oh Scully, how can you be so soft?”

Then he withdrew both hands and she was relieved and bereft, her chin still tucked firmly to her chest, eyes squeezed shut.

But his fingers were working the clasp of her new bra under the cover of her sweater and it was undone, gapping away from her body. Then his hands—had she told him she loved his hands? oh god she had!—were under the cups then but not touching her, just hovering over her breasts like he was reading her aura which didn’t exist but she imagined the light of hers was deep purple and a wash of blues anyway.

Just when she was about to fall forward into his hands, his two index fingers curled and found the very tips of her nipples and scraped across them. She moaned then, she didn’t care and and how did he have such proprioception to touch her blindly under her clothes yet so precisely? Oh he was capable and his belly was curling rhythmically against her lower back and his thumbs were on her tits too now and he was working the taut edges of her nipples with raspy little pinches.

She felt his low moan vibrate through both of them—this was Mulder—and her new undies were ruined and her toes were actually curling on the way to Hoolehua and he hadn’t even kissed her yet.

The seatbelt sign chimed and lit. They both jumped. The intercom crackled and the captain drawled that they were expecting some rough air so please fasten your seatbelts and they were laughing, their bodies shaking and he was holding her breasts and his chin was on her shoulder.

She turned her head and looked into his eyes full of mirth and still dark with want. He was hugging her tightly now and she looked at his lips. She wanted to pop every button on the fly of his jeans and sit on his lap, pushing the scrap of her soaked panties aside to fill herself with his hot thickness as he held her secure, letting the plane rattle and bounce around them.

Just then an older well-coiffed woman making her way briskly back to her seat paused and peered at them, curled around each other, the back of her dress open, her cardigan pushed up around her neck, still laughing.

“A-hem,” she said pointedly, and kept striding, her nose sniffing the air.

They both froze.

“Let’s walk this back a little Mulder,” she said, a little too giddy to be embarrassed, but locating her senses. “We’re pretty exposed, here.”

“Your right,” he said. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

He removed his hands from inside her clothes, hooked her bra, zipped her up, and kissed her neck chastely before sitting back in his seat. He arranged the blanket to cover his...uhh...lap.

She pulled her sweater around her and fixed her blanket too. They were both breathing hard.

She fastened her seatbelt as the plane started to wobble and dip.

“I don’t think I can manage that yet,” he said.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” she said, smiling and gesturing vaguely toward his crotch.

“Safety first,” he said.

“I think I need some water,” she said. “I’m a little parched.”

He widened his eyes at her, smiling. Scully.

“Allow me,” he said, reaching under the seat for the bottle.

They passed it back and forth, taking swigs.

“These blankets are nice he said. Do you think we get to keep them?”

She laughed. Mulder. He took her hand.

“You weren’t high, were you?”

“No. Only on Tylenol. And time travel.”

“I looked at your chart, and saw the saline drip. I know we don’t medicate for pain when clearing a head injury. And yet I believed you were."

“Wishful thinking?”

“No. But it shook me. You were so...earnest.”

“I meant it,” he said, smiling and shrugging.

“In my defense, you weren’t exactly oriented to time and place.”

“Yeah, but Scully. That type of assessment needs to be graded on a curve for me.”

“I agree,” she said.

“Maybe we should try to get some sleep. We’ve still got almost two hours to go.”

“What about jet lag?”

“That’s my second most pressing concern. If I don’t fall asleep, I’m going to kiss you. And not only will that upset the ‘walks on three legs in the evening’ set, but it will be uncomfortable for me as well.”

“How so?”

“Hmm. Sorry if this is TMI, but I’ve had one orgasm since we left for North Carolina almost a week ago.”

“At the clinic.”

“Yes. At least I made it count. And that delightful snuggle we just had, brief as it was, has me feeling a little...blue.”

“I see.” Scully said. “Thanks for letting me know. As your doctor and your...”

“Inspiration.” he said.

“Let’s take a nap,” she said. “We can still sleep when we get where we’re going.” His eyes, roving all over her body, suggested otherwise.

She unhooked her seatbelt and dropped her seat all the way back, and he did the same. The two seats together were level and almost flat, much more comfortable for sleeping than a tipped coach seat.

“We have to book our travel with the Ringo Langly Travel Agency more often,” he said, spreading the blankets over them. She was arranging the pillows by their heads.

Then Mulder was spooning her, his back to the aisle, his arm tucked around her waist.

“What does it feel like?” She asked.

“What? Oh, uh, it’s like a dull ache. Sometimes it radiates to my stomach or runs down my thighs a little.”

“It sounds like menstrual cramps. Does Advil help?”

“I’ve never tried it. I only know of one thing that helps--it’s curative actually--and that’s not an option at the moment.”

“I see.” Scully said.

“Some guys don’t seem to get it, but I’ve always been prone to that...condition. Why do you ask?”

“I’m just wondering. It’s easy for doctors to distance themselves from people’s pain. Something about our training, it almost becomes an abstraction. I try not to do that. Especially with you.”

He hugged her and kissed her shoulder. She nestled closer to him, brushing against the front of his jeans.

“Uh, Scully? This position, especially with all that wiggling, is becoming part of the problem.”

“Sorry,” she whispered, flipping onto her other side to face him, leaving some space between them.

They lay quietly for a few minutes side by side, curled toward each other under the blankets like quotation marks, not touching. Mulder was taking deep breaths into his stomach.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep,” he said.

“Should we get some books out?” she said. “I’m not sleepy either.”

“Nah,” he said. “Let’s just rest.” He closed his eyes.

Scully rolled onto her back and looked out the window for awhile.

When she turned back toward him she reached under the blanket put her hand on his hip.

“I think I can hold hands safely,” he said, picking up her hand and twining her fingers with his.

“I’m not trying to hold hands with you, Mulder.”

Chapter Text

Mulder’s jaw literally dropped, but he didn’t let go of her hand.

“Scully, are you trying to get us kicked off this plane?” The Gunmen won’t be mad, he thought, they’ll just be disappointed in us. And that will feel even worse. Even inside his own head, he was babbling.

Scully, for her part, was cool as ever. “I don’t think they can do that, Mulder. Pressurized cabin and all.”

She pulled her hand away from his and moved it to the crotch of his jeans. He’d meditated himself down to half-hard, but in a flash he was back to maximum tumescence. She scratched her nails lightly over his bulge. He groaned: half pleasure, half pain.

She worked beneath the blanket, facing him on her side, popping the top two buttons of his 501’s. Then she ran her fingers more firmly up and down his length. Her eyes were sleepy and flashing in the dim light of the cabin, and her teeth bit into her lower lip. Her hair was mussed and her makeup was smudged and that dress was continuing to kill him. Which is why his next move surprised himself more than her.

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand up between them.

He brought his face close to hers. “Scully, this isn’t a good idea.”

“Mulder, I actually think...”

He interrupted her. It was a subject about which even the lamest of her rationalizations might utterly convince him.

“I doubt you know this about me Scully, but I am not known for my impulse control. If you unbutton even one more button, I can’t be held responsible for what I do next. And we could find ourselves in a truly embarrassing situation.”

“But Mulder…”

“That woman who rebuked us earlier keeps craning her neck to keep an eye on us. I think catching me feeling you up is the most exciting thing that’s happened to her in years. Of course, the same could be said for me, so I’m not judging. But to my eye, she looks like a tattletale.”

“She also looks quite a bit like your mother.”

“I noticed that too. I’m not one of those guys who wants everything he does with his girl to be special. He made air quotes around the word, and Scully took the opportunity grip the waistband of his jeans at his hips.

He looked at her and sighed. She stared back, not giving an inch.

“What is it, early May? You can pencil it in that I will be idiotically and blissfully unaware of Valentine’s Day, Scully. But I lost my virginity at seventeen shitfaced drunk in the bed of a pickup truck with a girl who’d slept with half my basketball team.”

“Oh, Mulder.”

“I don’t mean to speak ill of her. She was a friend, but we were both kind of messed up kids, and it’s not a happy memory. For my first serious girlfriend, fucking was like an extreme sport. And that got old pretty quickly, actually, even when I was twenty-one...”

She brought an index finger to his lips. “I don’t want to have sex with you Mulder. Not at this time, anyway. Can I talk now?”

“I just want to do this right, Scully.”

“I know,” she said. Her finger was still on his lips.

“Go ahead,” he said.

“Thank you. I’m glad you told me all that. I really am. But let me tell you what I was thinking, staring out the window a few minutes ago, starting to doze.”

“Do tell,” he said. God, her lips. He was staring.

“I was thinking, Mulder, that you looked uncomfortable. In pain, even.”

“I was. I am.”

“And I was thinking about how you just got out of the hospital yesterday.”

“You’re right. That seems like a lifetime ago.”

“And I was thinking that you slept, what, maybe two hours last night?”

“About that, yeah. Maybe three.”

“And I was thinking we still have some travelling to do tonight. Another short flight, renting a car, driving to the place?”

“Um-hm.”

“So, as your doctor as well as your travel companion, I felt it was imperative you get a couple hours of sleep.”

“Let me get this straight, Scully. It’s your medical opinion that you should jerk me off over the South Pacific so that I can sleep?”

She sighed. “It sounds kind of calculating when you put it like that. Not to mention ethically questionable. I don’t mind admitting that I also just wanted to get in your pants,” she said, glancing down, biting her lip again. “Win win?”

“I can’t, Scully. It’s just, if you start touching me, god, I won’t be able to keep my hands off you I swear. I need to be able to touch you too. And I don’t want this to be in any way a bad memory.”

“I get that. It’s terribly sweet, actually.” She brought her hands up to either side of his face. “But putting my desires aside, I really think you should get some sleep. Do you think you can?”

“No,” he said. “I’m truly in pain and just too tense. I’m not the accomplished napper you are.”

“But you’re beyond exhausted.” She sat up on her elbow and looked around the cabin. “What about the bathroom?”

“Both of us?!”

“No, Mulder. Just you.”

“I thought about that. But it’s really small. And gross. And someone’s always waiting. And I’m afraid if the plane hit a bump I’d get tossed into a wall and hurt my wiener.”

“I’ve seen a penis fracture. It’s a healthy fear.”

“Oh, God. Keep talking, Scully. Better than a cold shower.”

“How about this, Mulder? You do it. Right here. The way your body’s positioned under the blanket no one can see your business. I’ll stand watch, tap you on the shoulder if you need to dial it down for a minute.”

He was skeptical, but the ache low in his gut and the thought of release won him over to the idea.

“Where will you be, though?”

“Right here,” she said, raising her seat a few inches and sitting up a little higher on her elbow, casing the aisle of the plane in both directions. His face was a few inches from her breasts, but her eyes were all business now.

“Okay,” he said.

“Go for it, G-man,” she said.

He did, making sure the blanket gave him good coverage, unbuttoning his jeans and pulling out his boner. The relief of just this was immense.

As he started rubbing himself he curled toward her and buried his face in her body, just below her breasts. She wound a hand in his hair, but when he glanced up her eyes were casting about the cabin.

Then he was jerking it, focusing on the sensitive head of his cock, trying to make this as quick as possible. But it felt so good and he was rubbing his face into her belly. Then he felt her bare leg work under the blanket and come up between his legs until her thigh was in contact with his groin.

“Oh, Scully” he gasped, pushing her skirt up out of his way. She was so soft and he rubbed the head of his cock against her leg, nipped at the bottoms of her breasts.

She tapped his shoulder. “Hold up,” she said.

He froze and let his body go slack like he was sleeping. A minute later he heard the flight attendant ask Scully if they needed anything.

“No thank you,” she said in a whisper. “My husband’s catching up on his sleep." Her hand was still in his hair. She was snickering. “All clear,” she whispered.

How many times had they been like this, one standing sentry while the other was vulnerable? It was part of the DNA of their partnership, this easy back and forth.

He resumed pumping the head of his cock, and she brought her other leg under his blanket and then somehow his dick was snug between her thighs just above her knees where she had a little meat to her. Then he was holding her legs together with his hands and thrusting into her.

“Jesus, Scully,” he breathed into her belly.

“Oh, you feel really good,” she said. “Mulder.” Her eyes were still on duty, but hand was under the collar of his t-shirt rubbing his chest, her face was half wrecked with desire.

“You do,” he said, “It’s you Scully.”

“Hold on,” she said, tapping his shoulder. He froze and collapsed, added a little snore this time. Scully had pulled away for a minute and got something out of her bag, but she was back.

“That was our friend,” she said. “I think we passed muster. I smiled at her.”

“Who?” he said. He held his penis in his fist and by feel rubbed it against the tender inside of her knee.

“Nobody,” she said. “Here.”

Under the blanket she handed him something cold. He held it up to his face before realizing what it was: Her brand new expensive hand lotion.

“You’re a genius, Scully,” he said, squeezing it liberally on his dick — cold at first — and smearing her legs and then he was lost, sliding in and out, fucking her tight thighs. It was so warm there and slick and he didn’t care if his mouth was gaping like his fishes and he was moaning and pressing her knees so firmly together he was afraid she’d break. But she never did. Scully.

She held her lower body perfectly stock still for him and her finger was tracing the shell of his ear and she was whispering, asking him to come for her. Then her tongue was in his ear and he was jamming his hips faster against her and she put her thumb in his mouth and he sucked on it not to make noise. He couldn’t stop now no matter what and he was coming then, on her, god he was coming on Scully, all over her legs and still coming until at last, at last, he came to rest.

As soon as he was able, he buttoned up and ducked down and cleaned her up as best he could. She was still vigilant above him.

Only when he was back up next to her did she relax and lower her seat again. He took her face in his hands, played his thumbs over her lips.

“It would be extremely impolite not to keep the blankets now,” he said.

She smiled. “Feel better?”

“I feel better than ever,” he said. “I’m going to kiss you Scully. But not right now.”

With that, he buried his face in her neck and was asleep.

Chapter Text

They didn’t make it to Hoolehua. Not that night, anyway.

After ninety minutes of sleep Mulder was nearly incoherent, the grueling pace of recent events catching up with him. Watching him squint through the concourse in Honolulu, rumpled and zombie-gaited, Scully made an executive decision that they should crash at a hotel for the night and make their way to the more remote island by light of day.

She re-booked their flight for the next day at one and steered him out of the airport and toward the shuttle bus stop. Her first taste of Hawaiian air was briny and rich, and despite the exhaust and chemtrail residue endemic to any airport arrival row, she inhaled deeply.

They got on the first hotel bus that came by, which is how they ended up at a Sheraton that edged right up to the beach.

They could have been the Motel 6 in Ames, Iowa for all either of them cared. She checked them in while Mulder listed on his feet, and she feared he might fall like a big tree right there in the lobby. In the room she pried his boots off and he was asleep over the covers before he knew where he was. She threw a spare blanket from the closet over him and turned off the light.

She attended to the bare minimum: teeth, face, pajamas, and was curled and dozing in the other bed within ten minutes. She considered climbing in next to him, but within their hierarchy of needs sleep was paramount. She wanted no distraction from that.

 

____________________________________________________________

 

And sleep they did, Scully catching nine dreamless hours in the uncommonly comfortable hotel bed. When she woke up at eight am local time, Mulder was still crashed out over the covers in the next bed, though he’d peeled off most of his clothes at some point. She made her way into the bathroom and got into a hot shower. She was still there many minutes later, luxuriating under the stream, when Mulder knocked at the door she’d left cracked.

“Can I come in?”

“Ok,” she said, snapping back to awareness.

“Is it ok if I brush my teeth and shave while you’re in there?” he said.

“Sure,” she said.

“How did you sleep?” he asked

“Great. You?”

“Like a rock.”

She finished up shaving her legs and rinsed off.

When she peeked around the vinyl shower curtain, his dopp kit was on on the edge of the sink and he leaned in toward the swath of mirror he’d swiped clean of steam lathering his face, clad only in his boxers and socks.

“I had the strangest dream last night.”

“Really?” she said.

She found people recounting their dreams boring, even Mulder. But she welcomed one of his monologues to take up the uncomfortable little gaps she was already feeling.

“Yeah. It was like opposite day. Everything was upside down. You and I woke up in the same room in a fancy hotel and ate a complete breakfast. Then we boarded a plane, but instead of flying dutifully back to DC, we headed a whole nother direction, due mostly to the thoughtful consideration of the usually out-to-lunch Ringo Langley.”

He was speaking loudly to be heard over her still running shower. “Hmmm,” Scully said.

“And during a layover, instead of you tapping out your little notes on a laptop while I brought you a wilted salad and annoy-tertained you, we went on a shopping spree. Isn’t that bizarre Scully?”

She turned off the shower and squeezed excess water out of her hair.

“Neither one of us has ever bought much more than a roll of breath mints in an airport before,” he continued. But I dreamed we bought everything. Including underwear.” He whispered this last part.

“Could you hand me a towel?”

“Sure,” he said.

He put it into her hand, which was reaching blindly through the curtain like a trash monster through a puddle of sludge.

“Then on the phone,” Mulder continued, some of his words malformed around the activity of his shaving, “Skinner was jocular and even sort of nice. For Skinner. ”

“Um-hm,” she said, drying herself thoroughly.

“We boarded the plane, where I had plenty of legroom. The airline food was delicious. My mother was somehow on the plane, and she seemed to take an active interest in what I was doing.”

Scully laughed a little at that. But not too much. She’d never heard him say anything of this sort about his mom, though this certainly matched up with Scully’s version of Teena.

Scully knotted the towel, much fluffier and more generous than they would have found at the Motel 6, above her breasts, and emerged from the shower.

“Here’s the really backwards part Scully,” he said as he squeezed toothpaste onto his brush. She slipped behind him and exited the bathroom. She felt his eyes trailing her.

“Hang on a sec,” he said.

When she heard noises consistent with vigorous tooth brushing she slipped into a summer robe she’d bought the day before. She dug out her nail scissors to snip the tags from the sleeve.

Mulder poked his head out of the bathroom. “I’m gonna hop in the shower.”

“Okay,” she said.

“To be continued.”

“I don’t know if I can handle the suspense,” she said.

“If you don’t mind spoilers,” he whispered, “I touched your boobs. And you all but begged me to rub my chubb!” He ducked into the bathroom. Clearly Mulder was pleased with himself.

Mulder. His “dream” wasn’t proving to be the distraction she’d hoped. She was glad for the intermission.

Last night at the end of an interminable if remarkable day he had been irresistible, the two of them awash in the dim light of the jet’s cabin, contained by the hammered aluminum of the fuselage, and restrained by the couple hundred other souls aboard.

Watching him pleasure himself—ok, she may have assisted—while she kept the coast clear had been had been exponentially sexier than her original scheme, to provide a quick quiet hand job. Which would have been sweet enough.

He had been sensible in his reluctance. It was all she could do—seeing his face strain and crumple with arousal, feeling his hips grind and twitch against her thighs—not to throw herself on top of him like a widow on a funeral pyre. Her promise to keep her eyes on the horizon had quite likely prevented a scene. Maybe that’s what people mean when they say everything happens for a reason.

Holding him, weaving her fingers through his mussed hair, she had been deeply moved after had collapsed in her arms, replaying how he coiled blindly into her in his need like a fuzzy caterpillar touched at its center. His lanky body, dense and steamy, breathing against hers. God.

And then he was sacked out beside her, his hair poking out in all directions, his face slack with utter tranquility not only from his much needed physical release, but also because he knew she was sitting sentry. Her tenderness for him was at that moment boundless.

Then he woke up.

Rested and revitalized, crowding into the bathroom with her, doing his...talking thing. And he was just so very Mulder. His body long and spry and visceral in the tropical morning sun which streamed in through the hotel balcony door, ten times brighter at least than their basement office. For Scully, it was just a lot. He was a lot.

It wasn’t that she regretted the confessional confab she’d initiated on the airplane. She’d been intending to have that discussion with him since the revelation had come to her as she baked on the rock at Heuvelmans Lake.

But the physical contact that had immediately ensued had been startling, not in it’s scope as much as in the deep feelings it stirred in her. It unsettled her to realize that she’d nearly lost control of her own behavior in a public place. That had never happened before. She wanted to be sure it never happened again.

Scully dressed when Mulder was in the shower, slipping into a casual cotton skirt she’d bought along with her lingerie, and a tank top. She threw on a white dress shirt too to fend off the sun and her self-consciousness.

Mulder came out of the bathroom whistling off key with a towel knotted around his waist. Scully didn’t raise her eyes above his knobby knees, and was keenly aware that they were alone among two unmade beds with three hours to kill before their flight to Molokai.

As he dug through his bag, he was glancing at her sideways as she sat on her bed rearranging the items in her suitcase, trying to get everything to fit just so with maximum efficiency and minimum rumpling. He seemed, for once, to be taking the temperature in the room before plowing forward. He picked out some clothes and, to her relief, brought them back into the bathroom with him to change.

 

____________________________________________________________

 

An hour later, they wandered into one of the innumerable cluttered souvenir shops that adorned the main drag that ran parallel to the beach. Mulder had been serious about those loud Hawaiian shirts, and he was on a mission.

“Where are we Scully?” he had asked, having emerged from the bathroom dressed in shorts and a v-neck tee, lacing his sockless feet into blindingly white Chucks. He seemed to have no inclination to continue narrating his fake dream.

When she caught him up on the specifics, he suggested they drop their luggage in the lobby and explore the local landscape, then pick it up on the way back to the airport for their flight.

She’d been relieved. It would be easier to be in public.

But then it wasn’t. The novelty shop smelled of floor wax and sandalwood incense and seemed to stock the essentials: lacquered driftwood plaques bearing comforting platitudes, pasty seashell brooches, shot glasses stamped with gaudy enamel palm trees. And, to Mulder’s endless delight, racks and racks of tacky Hawaiian shirts.

Like a taxi driver has an impulse to pull over when he sees someone hailing a cab, even when tooling around in the family car, Scully expected the eyes of the two sales clerks to fall warily upon them as they entered the establishment. She was used to such a reception, showing up as they typically did in no-nonsense suits and sharp profiles, packing heat, flapping badges, aiming to get to the bottom of whatever trouble there is.

But today they were just a couple of tourists, not even agents working under some complex if quotidian cover as tourists. Just tourists.

The sales clerks, just opening shop for the morning, went briskly about their work without casting them a second glance. Scully’s inclination was to case the joint and hypothesize on sight which of the two would bear up better as a witness. She had expected to feel more at ease, escaping the close confines of the hotel room. She found herself stunned to realize she no longer had any notion how to behave like a regular person.

Over breakfast earlier--strong coffee, pink grapefruit, and poached eggs at an outdoor cafe near the beach--he’d gingerly inquired if she’d heard from the fertility clinic. She’d gotten a message from them, but hadn’t called them back. She put him off the discussion.

“Everything okay, Scully? You feeling okay?” he’d asked, after the third or fourth cumbersome hush descended.

“Yeah,” she said, looking into her coffee cup. “I’m fine.”

Mulder had actually grimaced. He seemed to consider a few times since then to try to broach the topic again, but each time he’d swallowed whatever he’d been about to say.

“What do you think, Scully,” Mulder said, holding up two matching shirts, one in his size, one more like hers. She had to admit, it was one of the more stylish prints available: an abstract design that suggested pineapples against a navy background. It would probably actually look good on him. She was sure it would make her look like she was wearing a tablecloth from a Chinese restaurant. She shook her head at him.

He seemed to be hoping lighthearted banter would snap her out of her funk. Either that or he’d decided just to try to have some fun himself. She had no idea what was the matter with her.

Maybe the boob comment, he thought, which he intended humorously--obviously--had been a bridge too far. He could admit that. And referencing her desire (articulated! By Scully!) to get in his pants had perhaps not been the wisest course he’d ever set in his bumbling, charmed life.

When he had woken up in a strangely bright hotel room he didn’t recognize, he thought the fragments of the previous day as they returned to him had been part of a dream, or maybe a flashback from the unwitting shrooming he’d done.

But then Scully was (naked!) in the shower and hadn’t closed the door, not all the way. As he got to his feet, reality solidified around him. He was on vacation with Scully. More than that, she’d confessed what he’d suspected--or hoped at least--that she had feelings for him.

What had happened next wasn’t even something he wanted to utter to himself. He felt it instead, a buzzing in his body, a soft smile starting in his gut and settling dumbly on his lips. He hadn’t felt lucky like this in a long time.

But, alas, things with her this morning had been off from the jump. She was quiet. Strangely, uncharacteristically quiet. Usually, when she wasn’t really really pissed at him, his teasing loosened her up, reminded her of the big picture when she was hyper-focused and stressed.

Either she was really really pissed at him, or the old guidelines might not apply.

Or maybe it had been a dream.

When she had been so withdrawn at breakfast, he was concerned she had changed her mind, came to her senses, and that when they returned to the airport at lunchtime to hop a Bombardier to Hoolahua, she’d bolt on him.

By the time they’d left the souvenir shop, however--him with a bag of stuff, her with a vacant stare--he’d developed a darker vision. Was it possible that the intimate contact the night before--the ineluctable pleasure of which remained with him this morning--hadn’t been entirely consensual?

He thought she’d been enjoying herself. She had initiated a certain amount of what had gone on between them. And she had seemed fine last night. But Christ, he’d humped her leg like an unfixed dog who’d slipped his lead, hadn’t he? Then he passed out on her like a plastered fratboy. Did she feel disgusted? Used? And if so, would she ever speak to him again?

As they walked aimlessly through the pebbled streets, the sun started to climb in the sky and more people were emerging from hotels and taffy-hued homes with sun hats and beach toys to enjoy the day; Scully only seemed to be retreating further into herself.

“What’s up, Scully?” he said. They were stopped at a crosswalk and he turned to face her.

“I don’t know, Mulder. I just feel strange. I don’t quite feel like myself. I’m sorry.” She put her head down. She was giving him nothing to work with. He scanned the horizon for help, for an idea, for anything.

An ice cream shop was unfurling it’s colorful awning. No help there. There were surf shops, clothings stores, and hair salons with bad puns for names galore. Mane Squeeze--the placard outside read “We’re Hair For You.” Jeesh.

Then, peering down a side street, Mulder spied a blocky ornate building totally out of place amid all the tropical breeziness. He didn’t know what it was, but he took Scully by the hand and pulled her toward it.

It was a museum. A few tourists decked out in Bermuda shorts and visors -- the kind you get free with a magazine subscription -- were grouped up and kibitzing outside. School children lept lemming-like from the steps of a cheese bus parked at the curb. It could have been a nursing home, or a Greek Orthodox church, or a mausoleum. But he’d lucked out.

He led her toward the entrance, ignoring her questions--Mulder, why are we here? And already she should be feeling more like herself--paid the twenty four bucks to admit them both, and hoped for the best.

Once inside, he led her into the vestibule leading to the main hall, a narrow hallway lined with totem masks crafted from bamboo, each one more hair-raising than the next. She stopped walking, so he did too. She looked at him and at last he saw something he recognized in her face: irritation.

“Mulder, where are you taking me?”

“I was thinking I’d like to look at some traditional Hawaiian artifacts and furnishings, Scully. I hope you’d like to do that with me. I want to tell you, sincerely, that I’m sorry if I’ve offended, imposed upon, or hurt you in any way."

She shook her head and toed the floor.

"In about an hour, we’re going to leave for the airport. At that point, I’m going to fly to Hoolahua, as we had planned, and then drive to Langly’s place. If you want, you can get on a plane back to DC. No hard feelings. Truly. Maybe this was a bad idea. If that’s what you’ve decided, I’ll respect that. But I need to rest for a while, to eat and sleep and swim and read and not think about the X-files for a while. I hope that you come with me because I think you’d benefit from these things too.”

“Mulder, I…”

“And I hope you come with me because I’d like to spend some time with you.”

She was shaking her head.

“And I hope you come with me, Scully, because I love you.”

With that, he strode off, through the large echoing chamber toward the rocks and minerals.

_________________________________________________________________

 

When people show you who they are, believe them. Oprah had imparted this to Scully, via the conduit of one her mother’s post-mass brunchtime homilies.

Though she valued her mother’s wisdom, much of what she said in moments like these didn’t stick. Who wants to internalize a set of bromides and abide dutifully by them? What’s the point of living, if not to figure these things out for yourself?

But this one hung with her. And when she applied it to Mulder, it had been invaluable.

Scully wandered over to a full-sized model of an ancient hand-carved skiff, thought about what Ahab might have thought of it, running her hand along the smooth hull. Precise and perfectly formed to its function.

On her first X file case, ensconced with Mulder in some faraway candlelit motel room, she was disarmed by the strangeness: teenagers reduced to empty husks, a creature in a coffin, nine missing minutes.

More than that, she’d felt drawn in by Mulder’s singular manner and obvious intelligence. His outlandish suspicion of her, and how it seemed to be dueling with his curiosity about her, his yearning for a friend. It was undeniable, how much they just flat liked each other from the get go. It just was.

More than disarmed, she’d been disrobed in that motel room, if only for a moment.

Then he’d told her that finding his sister was all he cared about. She believed him. And despite the fact that her world had seemed to crack open in unimaginable ways over those few days, then months, then years, she resolved not to expect anything from him that competed with that.

Over the course of the intervening years, he’d shown her that it was true, over and again: He’d go anywhere, risk anything; his need to find Samantha and upend every sinister endeavor that might be linked to her disappearance was paramount.

As her feelings for him deepened, she reminded herself of this regularly. She knew he had come to care about her too, that he was more protective toward her than a pitbull, that she could trust him utterly. But she tried not to want more from him. He cared about his work, about finding Samantha, more than he cared for her.

More difficult for her, as she had come to love him, was that he cared about his quest more than he did himself.

So, for him, she had chosen loneliness. That was her story and she was sticking to it.

But now he was telling her otherwise. More than that, with his little gestures of consideration and concern, with his carnivorous eyes and his slow hands on her body, he was showing her. If this was indeed what she wanted all along, why was it so hard for her to accept?

Because… Because…

Because it wasn’t what she wanted. The truth hit her like a bus. She wanted to be alone. On some level, she had always wanted it. Anything else was too much.

Her father had nudged her toward the Navy. But she chose medicine, where colleagues tended to compete with one another and patients were, on much more than a superficial interpersonal level, off limits. And within the confines of medicine, she’d chosen pathology. Yep.

Then she’d gone on to law enforcement. She dealt with the public, sure. But perps obviously were never glad to see them. And victims were often so traumatized that even the grateful ones were hard to spend time with.

More than that, she worked as a field agent for the FBI, which pretty much precluded relationships with other peace officers. Local cops were often threatened by them, marking their territory with unhelpful half-answers, if not outright hostility.

For these reasons, camaraderie among cops of the same station tended to be a source of comfort. She knew going in that being female would complicate that, however. And it had.

And of her love life? Her previous intimate relationships had been with workaholics, younger men with whom she was unlikely to get serious, and--to her enduring shame--a married man.

The only conclusion she could honestly come to was that she’d chosen a solitary path long before she met Mulder.

And there he was across the way, picking up rocks and holding them up the the light, squinting and poking at each specimen. She was positive he was ignoring a sign asking people not to touch. He was beautiful. And he was hers.

Somehow--by being unavailable himself perhaps--he’d breached her perimeter, ducked under her police tape. He had cracked her turtle shell. And even though she still wanted to be alone, the idea of being apart from him felt awful. She walked toward him.

“Why are you crying, Scully?” he asked as she approached.

She hadn't realized she was.

“How long did it take you to find the key?” she asked.

“What are you talking about?”

“In my blazer pocket, the other night in the hotel room in Vegas. You found the key before you went to see the Gunmen so you didn’t have to wake me up when you got back. How long did it take you?”

“A few minutes. I looked on all the surfaces, in your bag. Then I found it in your pocket.”

“That was so thoughtful, Mulder.”

“Oh Scully,” he said, smiling. “I am so, so confused.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, laughing, wiping the tears from her cheeks.

He was shaking his head at her.

“What are we looking at here,” she asked, clearing her throat, gesturing to the object he held in his palms.

“Geodes,” he said. “Can you believe it took hundreds of millions of years for these to grow inside here?” he asked, running his fingers along the jewel encrusted interior of what looked on the outside like a plain old rock.

“Most of them look like vaginas,” she said.

“I knew there was a reason I was drawn to this exhibit.”

She took his arm and they explored the far wall, checkered with photographs of a stunning variety of species indigenous to the islands.

Because if was still early on a Wednesday morning, the museum was nearly empty, with a total of three or four other people smattered around the cavernous main exhibit hall.

The photographs were mesmerizing: close ups of butterflies with intricate, crayola-like wing designs, insects that imitated leaves or rocks or twigs for cover, fish with zebra stripes, red and yellow polka dots, or intricate piebald bellies.

“Maybe I can catch a few of these for the tank back home,” Mulder said, pointing at a fat-lipped, primeval looking fish.

"That's hideous," she said. He looked at her. She smiled dopily up at him. Mulder.

He was making himself look at some of the more otherworldly insects. “Ewwww, God,” he said, shaking his head. “It never gets any easier.”

This is always what fixed them; just going on being together righted every wrong, soothed every irritation.

“Look at this one,” Mulder said, pointing to a starfish that looked like the hand of a chubby baby.

Scully sighed.

“Check this out, Scully,” he said, pulling her toward a low-roofed straw hut that had been erected in the center of the rotunda.

They ducked inside. Mulder slid onto one of the plank benches that lined the perimeter. Scully sat carefully across from him, crossing her legs. She spied him over a fake fire pit that rose from the center of the floor.

“It’s dark in here,” Scully said, fingering an intricately woven textile draped over the back of the bench. Silk.

“Isn’t that where we always end up?” he said.

“I guess so,” she said.

“This ain’t bad though, is it Scully? Why don’t we just build one of these on the beach and hang out for a few years.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said.

He looked up and smiled shyly. She could feel the relief coming off him in waves.

“God, it could be thousands of years ago in here. People have lived like this for a long time. Let’s go spear some fish, Scully, and roast them over this fire.” He was kneeling on the packed earth floor and holding his hands over the fake wood as though it were giving off heat.

“Mulder, you know it’s not thousands of years ago, right? And those logs are made of plaster?”

“I believe I am currently oriented to your dinky unimaginative Cartesian zipcode, yes Scully.”

“Good. Just checking.”

“Did you know that before the Europeans landed there were no mosquitoes or roaches in North America?”

“We should be together,” she said quietly. “Because I love you too.”

He looked up sharply. He stood up, dusted off his knees, and slid onto the bench next to her. The straw from the thatched wall was tickling her arms. She made herself stay.

“Hey Scully, did I ever tell you I kissed you? In 1939?"

“No. Did I kiss you back?

“At first. Then I caught a right hook to the cheekbone.”

“She laughed. Sounds plausibly like me. But Mulder, even if, as an exercise, I accept you were on The Queen Anne in 1939, I’m pretty damn sure I wasn’t.”

“So you’re trying to tell me we’ve never kissed?”

“Oh the lips? No. Mulder, we have never, in any warp or woof of time, kissed.”

He was right next to her, looking from her lips to her eyes, and back to her lips. Suddenly the little hut seemed a lot smaller.

"Scully, I think an experiment is in order."

She started to ask him what he had in mind, but then he was there before her. His lips hovered over hers without contact. She could feel cool air from his nose alert the fine hairs on her upper lip. His head bobbed and weaved over her mouth like a boxer looking for an opening. But soft.

Finally he landed a kiss on the fat center of her lips. The sweet spot. He lingered before pulling back and resting his forehead against hers. They breathed like that for a moment, his eyes closed. He looked happy. Then she brought her hands up to his face. She tilted her head. Slowly and with great deliberation, she mashed her lips against his.

A few minutes later, she was on his lap and her rogue tongue roved along his jaw. Then she probed his ear.

Here was an experiment: every time she stuffed it in, he moaned.

One of his hands was feeling her up under her shirt but over her bra, while the other was up her skirt toying with the elastic of her panties. For his experiment, he was trying to determine where her thigh became her ass. Then it was sliding up and under to where she became something else entirely.

Two of her fingers were in his mouth.

He was touching her then under her clothes, just grazing her with the backs of his fingers. Little high pitched noises were coming from the base of her throat. Then, with the broad pad of his thumb, he began circling her clit.

“God, Mulder,” she said in his ear, then scraped and sucked his earlobe with her teeth.

“Hey, Eddie, let’s go in here!”

Abruptly, she dislodged herself from his lap.

Two kids who looked to be about eight climbed through the narrow entrance, followed by three or four more.

“Cool!” they cried out, one after the other.

Mulder and Scully were each hastily straightening their clothes.

A chubby kid with a crew cut looked them over. “Hope we’re not in-ter-rupt-ing anything,” he said. The other kids tittered.

“Hey Scully, did I mention that people used to live in these little huts with their whole extended families?”

“I won’t let go of my lease just yet,” she said.

They emerged from the dark museum into the bright late-morning light, holding hands.

Like a couple of tourists, they left for the airport.

 

 

Chapter Text

“The driveway should be right here” Scully said. “We’re three point eight miles from the main road.” She craned her neck to be able to read the odometer from the passenger seat.

The itinerary included good directions from the airport, which turned out to be little more than a landing strip, a grid of bolted chairs, and a snack bar. Good thing Mulder had bought his tchotkes in Honolulu.

“Woah,” he said, mashing the brake pedal. “The foliage is so thick you almost couldn’t see the turn.”

They both swayed left in their seats as they made a hard right turn into the drive, which sloped steeply uphill.

As they had settled into their cozy seats on the small regional jet earlier that afternoon, a family of six filed in behind them, including four kids under ten. “It’s only a forty minute flight,” the mother said. “I hope everyone can keep their hands to themselves.”

“Did you hear that, Scully?” He whispered. “I think she was talking to you.”

“I hope so too,” she said, crossing her legs and eyeing him archly.

“This is it,” he said, downshifting then accelerating up the dirt driveway, pressing them back in their bucket seats, skirting potholes left and right. “I hope it’s a step up from the straw hut at the museum.”

He had been circumspect regarding the details of the exact nature of their lodgings. She harbored a healthy suspicion. As long as he wasn’t trying to shoehorn any type of work into their respite, she was up for almost anything. She didn’t, however, tell him that.

The first thing they noticed was how secluded and lovely the property was, adorned as it was with flowering trees of every variety, with their waxy dark green leaves and vines draping the drive.

The second thing they noticed was that the iron gate, to which Langly had given them the code, was unlatched and swinging open.

Rather than driving up to the house, Mulder cut the engine and pulled off fifty yards up the road. He parked, yanked the emergency brake into place, and they each exited the vehicle, closing their doors simultaneously. He dug his service weapon from his bag and tucked it against his lower back. She stowed hers in her daypack.

They made their way toward the open gate, nodded in unison as he entered and started up the blue shale driveway which angled steeply toward the front door. She hung back slightly, just in case he needed cover. Neither had said a word since they’d seen the open gate.

Parked in the driveway was an old Ford pickup, sky blue over white. He noticed, edging past it, it was in immaculate condition. White leather seats. The front door to the house was open a crack. Instead of entering, he nudged his head to the right and headed around the house on that side. She took the other.

They met around back at the foot of a three meter ladder leaning against the back of the house. Perched on a rung near the top was a weathered looking older guy wearing ear-protecting headphones. He revved a hand-held blower he was using to clean out the gutters. Yellowed leaves and debris drifted down at their feet.

“Caretaker,” Mulder yelled, just as the blower cut off. His voice bounced off the back of the house and echoed through the yard.

“Well, hello to you too.” the man said, lowering his headphones to his collar and making his way down the ladder.

“Hi,” Mulder said, said smiling wanly, introducing the two of them and shaking hands. “We’re friends of Langly. He said we could stay here for a bit.”

“We were expecting you, he said. Richie called this morning to let us know. Mulder and Scully exchanged a look. Richie. Mulder was glad he had thought to call headquarters that morning to let the guys know they were, in fact, heading to the bungalow.

“You can probably put that piece away,” the man said said as he hopped off the last rung, holding up his hands in mock surrender. He must have seen it tucked in Mulder’s waistband from his vantage point on the ladder.

“Sorry about that. We’re federal agents. Badges are in the car. I forgot Langly said the caretaker would be here Wednesday.”

“No harm no foul. Richie has all sorts of friends. I’m Bane. My wife Alameda is inside making up the beds and all that.”

“We’ll let you get back to what you were doing,” he said.

They started to walk away.

“You can go in this way, through the lanai.” He pointed to the door of a screened porch at the corner of the house.

“I guess lanai is Hawaiian for porch,” Mulder muttered over his shoulder.

But Scully wasn’t behind him. She was wandering toward the back corner of the lawn. Only then did he notice the aforementioned soaking tub, on a wooden pedestal in the far corner of the yard. Scully walked over to it and ran her hand along the sanded lip, inside to the solid wood bench.

“You like that?” Bane said, following behind her. “I’ll fill it if you want, and start a fire. It’ll take a few hours to get to a hundred degrees.” Mulder trailed after them, a soft smile on his lips.

“I think she’d like that,” he said. It seemed so far that the place was living up to Frohike’s hype. He knew the tub would get her.

“Richie’s dad milled the tub from a koa tree he uprooted to pour the foundation,” Bane said, cranking on the spigot for the hose and dragging it toward the tub. “That was back when Dick lived on the lot in a little camper van. So the tub was here before the house.”

Scully seemed entranced, running her hands over the buttery wood, lifting the cover and peering in like she was peeking at a Christmas present. An intricately etched bench sat on the platform next to the tub, apparently--judging by the color and grain--carved from the same tree.

“This place was off the grid at first. But when they put in those timeshares up the road and ran the cables right by the lot, Dick said what the hey. Life got a little easier, I suppose. He bought fewer candles, anyway.”

The hose was filling the tub, and Bane kneeled at its base feeding small logs into the fire box. “Keep an eye on the temperature gauge,” he said, “and vent the fire if it gets too hot. It’d be easy to boil like a couple a peanuts if you get lazy.”

As Bane showed Mulder the ins and outs of operating the tub, Scully wandered a few feet away and looked out beyond the fringe of fruit trees that encased the tidy yard. The view sloped gradually away from the house for maybe half a mile, the ground covered by lumpy green brush and the occasional scrubby tree, then tumbled into the vastness of the Pacific. She could make out a crescent of beach off to the right.

Bane looked over toward Scully, standing up and dusting off his painter pants. The fire was lit, and a plume of smoke seeped out of the stovepipe that rose above the tub.

“There’s a trail down through the brush to the beach,” Bane said to Scully, pointing to the place it began off to the right.

Scully nodded.

“Does she talk?” Bane asked Mulder.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just so lovely here. I guess I’m speechless. Thank you for your hospitality.”

“That’s what we’re known for. I’ve known Richie since he was a kid. He’s a weird bird, but a good boy. We run the general store out on the main road. We take care of his friends when they come through. Alameda is stocking your fridge with some provisions we brought over. You can come over to the store for whatever else you might need once you get settled in.”

“Will you run a tab for us?” Mulder said, “If not, I have some cash…”

“Normally we’d run a tab. But this first box of food is on John. He insisted, told us to stock you up good. We like all of Richie’s friends, but John’s a favorite. Well, the little toady fellow can get salty, but we’ve worked something out with him too.”

Mulder and Scully both smirked.

“I see you’re familiar with him,” Bane said.

Mulder sat down on a bench that matched the one by the tub, this one at the edge of the yard facing out toward the Pacific. “Check out this view, Scully,” he said, noticing it for the first time.

“So who’s minding the store?” Scully asked.

Bane squinted at her for a few seconds. She made him out to be nearing sixty. Handsome. Kind.

“Until you asked me that, I’m not sure I believed you two were federal agents. None of my business either way, of course. But that there, that’s a cop question. Just making sure my story holds together. You two don’t spend much time off the job, do you?”

“You could say that,” she said.

“Well you’re off now. Enjoy it. Trouble shouldn’t find you here.”

“That would be a welcome change,” she said.

“This is the most pleasant place in the country, and I don’t have to leave very often to be sure of that. Our daughter and her husband run the store. We’re mostly retired these days. We goof off and play with the grandkids while they do the heavy lifting. We live out behind the store though so make sure you swing by and say hi.”

“We will,” she said, warming to him. Mulder couldn’t remember the last time that happened. Unless he counted that buck tooth vamp of a sheriff in Cheney. He didn’t.

“Takes one to know one by the way. I was a cop in Honolulu for twenty years. Retired as a detective.”

“You moved over here when you retired?” Mulder asked.

“Yep. Full time. Kids spent all summer and vacations here before that. We took over the store from Al’s bachelor uncle. He lived with us till he died a few years back. You two look like you need some sun and some food and some rest, not necessarily in that order. Let me show you the grill and the washing machine, and we’ll get out of your hair.”

_____________________________________________

 

She curled into the corner of the big stuffed sofa, drawing her feet underneath her, dusk. There was more window than wall in the main room, all wide open. Outside the birds enacted their evening rituals, calling to one another through the trees. The air was peculiar, perfumed with blossoms wafting through the room, but something else too. She couldn’t put her finger on it.

“Not too shabby, is it Scully?” He settled into the other corner of the sofa.

“Not too shabby,” she agreed.

“Do you want to go for a walk? Check out the beach before it gets dark?”

“Nah,” she said. “Tomorrow.”

“Me neither,” he said.

Bane and Alameda had only left an hour before. She had been so friendly she’d insisted on preparing them a meal, warming up some pulled pork. Kalua pig, Bane explained, which they’d cooked by submerging a whole hog in a four foot deep pit lined with fragrant wood, lava, and basalt. Then lighting it on fire.

Alameda served it on little soft slider buns. Their store had a bakery as well as a pig pit, she explained. There was pineapple salsa, a huge salad, and fruit from the trees out back too.

“You’re so skinny!” Alameda kept saying to Mulder, shoveling more food onto his plate as he ate. She told Scully she looked like she needed iron once, but seemed to sense she shouldn’t be pushed. Scully ate two sliders along with plate after plate of salad, which for her constituted a Bacchanalian feast.

_________________________________

 

“It’s probably going to be an hour until that tub’s all the way heated up. You want me to check on it?”

“That tub is something. Did you know about that?”

“I heard tell of it. But, you know, Frohike.”

“Let’s do that in a little bit,” she said.

Slowly the light receded from the room.

_________________________________

When Alameda was showing them around, she’d come to the linen closet. “There are extra towels in here, both for the bath and for the beach. A picnic blanket too. There’s a basket on the high shelf in the kitchen. It’s nice to walk down to the beach with lunch.”

“That does sound nice, thank you,” Mulder said.

“Watch out for the riptides, though,” Bane said, touching Scully's elbow. “They’re gnarly in the morning especially.”

“Will do,” Scully said. “Mulder used to be a lifeguard. He tells me.”

“You call him Mulder? And he calls you Scully?” Bane asked her.

Scully shrugged.

“That’s unusual,” he said. He was teasing her. Mulder was wondering if this geezer was trying to step to his girl.

“Now, I’ve made up the bed,” Alameda said. “Richie said you’d be needing the couch too?”

“We’ll take care of that,” Scully said.

“All right then. The queen sized sheets for the sofabed are on the left, king sized on the right.”

Mulder studied his shoelaces.

Bane and Alameda looked at each other and shrugged.

_________________________________

 

“You want to watch TV? There’s no TV TV, but there’s a VCR and dozens of tapes.”

She raised an eyebrow at him.

“Nothing that would be caught dead in my collection, Scully. Mostly classics of various genres from before 1975. Five Easy Pieces, The Bad Seed, Bridge over River Kwai, It Happened One Night. The Thing. The really good tapes are probably hidden away somewhere. Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time to snoop around.”

“Maybe later,” she said.

_________________________________

 

When the couple left, Mulder and Scully walked them to the truck. Alameda hugged them both like she’d known them for years, kissed each of their cheeks. “You’re too skinny,” she said to Mulder. “Take care, Dear,” to Scully. They honked twice as they headed down the driveway.

They walked back to the car and pulled it up to the front door, brought in their stuff and dropped it by the door.

_________________________________

 

“Mulder, do you have that scotch?”

“Yeah, it’s in my bag.”

“Pour me a drink,” she said.

“Will do, Scully.”

He dug through his bag and pulled out the bottle as she went into the kitchen for a glass.

“You want one?” she said

“Sure,” he said.

“Ice?”

“Nah. This is the good stuff, Scully.”

She brought out two iceless glasses.

He had the bottle open. “Single or double?”

“Definitely single.”

He poured them each two fingers of scotch. They sat on the sofa sipping them as the light faded from the room, keeping to their corners, acclimating to the quiet.

Scully could feel herself depressurizing, gasses and humours shifting steadily in her blood, being released through her skin, her lungs. It had worked out for the best that they stopped in Honolulu for a night. Going from Vegas to the west coast of Molokai would have given them the bends.

_________________________________

 

“It’s nice here.” She was standing at the edge of the yard watching the sun fizzle into the ocean. He was checking on the tub.

“I know it.”

“Look at all this fruit. Bananas, avocado, papaya, mango. All right here for the picking. It’s like Shangri-La.”

Mulder stood up.

“The tub’s at one-oh-one, Scully. Should I bank it to maintain the temperature for a couple hours? Or do you want to go hotter?”

“That sounds perfect.”

“You want to get in? I’ll give you some privacy out here.” The last light of the day streaked low on the horizon.

“Yeah, I do. Can you bring me my robe, Mulder? It’s in my suitcase.”

“Sure.”

When she heard the porch door close she removed her clothes, folded them on the bench and climbed in.

It felt to her, almost literally, like heaven. As close as she could imagine, anyway. The breeze, the smell of flowers and fruit. It was then she figured out what had been puzzling her, the quality of the air. It was what was missing: the lack of exhaust fumes, asphalt, sweat and the sound waves of dogs barking, helicopter blades whirring, barges keening, people talking, talking, talking.

The stars emerging overhead, spectacular.

Mulder came back out a few minutes later. He carried two towels, her robe, and a glass of ice water.

“Look up, Mulder.” she said as he approached.

“Jeeze,” he said. “Holy Planetarium. I thought the stars were bright on the Vinyard. The moon looks like a disco ball.”

“How’s the tub?”

“It’s...it’s something else.”

“Good. Enjoy it. I’ll be inside.”

“Stay for a minute,” she said, gesturing to the bench. He moved the towels aside and sat down, his back to her. He leaned his head back to bring it within a few inches of hers.

“It’s really something out here,” he said. “The trees, the sky. The air. You can taste the ocean. And the birds. It’s like a concerto or something. And yet it’s so quiet. I feel like I’m on Mars.”

“No engines anywhere. No alarms. No sirens or screams. It’s stunning. Thanks for bringing me here,” she said. She dipped her hand outside the tub and found his chest. He put his hand over hers.

“Thanks for coming with me.”

“You want to get in?”

“You don’t have to ask me twice,” he said.

“You sure you want to share?” he said, peeling his shirt off.

“There’s plenty of room in here,” she said.

He took a swig of water and handed her the glass. She drank half of it and handed it back to him.

He took off his shorts. Then he hesitated with his thumbs in the elastic of his underwear. “Should I leave my skivvies on?” he said.

“Nah,” she said.

He pushed down his boxers, toed off his sneakers, and hopped in.

He sat across from her in the oblong tub, so they were toe to toe. He stretched his legs out, flexed his feet above the surface. The water that dripped from them looked silvery.

“It’s nice in here.”

“The water’s mineral rich, she said. It’s feels heavy. Slick.”

He swallowed hard. She noticed.

They both tipped their heads back and watched the stars, a satellite slowly blinking along the arc of its orbit and a flashing meteor the only air traffic.

“I’m getting kind of drowsy,” she said.

“I hope you’re not turning into a peanut. What was he talking about? Who boils peanuts?”

“I have no idea.”

“They were quite a couple, though. Who knew Langly of all people would have such cool friends?”

“I don’t think they knew what to make of us,” she said.

“He might be a little sweet on you.”

“I’m sweet on him too, I think. In a platonic way, of course.”

“That’s a relief.”

She ran her foot along his instep, up his ankle.

“I’m more than happy crashing on the sofa, Scully. I’m not in any hurry. It’s enough just being here with you.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that,” she said.

They both nodded and tilted their faces toward the sky, moonbathing.

“But Mulder?"

"Scully?"

"Get your skinny ass over here.”

She didn’t have to ask him twice.

He slipped through the strange dark water to her end of the tub.

“You’ve slept on the sofa enough for one lifetime,” she whispered.

“It’s true. You can ask my back,” he said.

She made space on the smooth bench, a cozy fit for both of them even with his arm around her shoulders. They stared ahead toward the ocean they could only hear pulsing against the rocks below.

“What was the experiment?” she asked, “In the museum?”

“I was just making sure it was you I kissed. In 1939.”

“Your conclusion?”

“Further study warranted. Sorry I didn’t get back to you with the result earlier. I got distracted. My intrepid fingers, at it again.” They were surveying the ridged bones at her elbow as they spoke.

“Yeah, that didn’t surprise me.”

What had surprised him was how deliciously wet she’d been. Wandering as she had in a fugue state all morning, then bursting into tears, then making out with him for like three minutes amidst a corny museum exhibit. Pleasantly, of course. He rubbed his thumb against the tips of his fingers remembering the texture of her skin there, the snug slippery warmth.

“Apparently not,” he said.

She elbowed him in the ribs.

“I swore I’d never wash this hand again, he said, raising his right hand off her shoulder. But here we are.”

“Mulder…” she warned.

“I’m being flippant because I’m nervous,” he confessed into her ear.

“It’s just me,” she said. “It’s just us.”

He nodded.

“I’m nervous too.”

“I know.” he said. “I was thinking about the worst case scenario on the plane this afternoon."

"I've been engaged in some casual catastrophising myself," she admitted.

"The way I feel about it, we’re friends first. And partners.”

“What, like friends with benefits?”

“No. Benefits, I hope. But not causally. Monogamously, if that’s agreeable to you. Not that I have been seeing other people lately. It’s been years.”

She exhaled some deep ancient tension. He hadn’t hooked back up with Fowley.

“It would be an odd time to start.”

“It would.”

He held private aspirations to marry her, actually. One full catastrophe please. With everything.

“Yes, monogamous. Agreed.”

“No matter what I want to stay friends. And no matter what I want to be here for you if you decide you want to try to have a baby. And for the baby, of course. If we get lucky that way.”

“I appreciate that. But if the physical aspect of our relationship doesn’t work out, it might be naive to expect we can just go back to being friends. Not many people pull that off.”

“That is true. And that is what we’re risking. But we’re not many people, are we?”

“No we’re not.”

“We’ve been best friends for six years, Scully. Unless I feel betrayed by you in some truly unimaginable way, I am always going to be your friend. That I know.”

She was quiet.

“Are you afraid we’re making a mistake?”

“This might sound strange, but I’m not sure we have a choice except to see where this leads. Something shifted between us.”

“Padgett.”

“Yes. Then. I think to deny that would damage us more than failing at this.”

“I don’t want to fail at this. I’ve been thinking about what you said about what Samantha might want for me. Don’t make fun of me, but I talked with Big Blue about it.”

She curled into his side and put her hand on his chest, twined her legs with his at the ankle. It had taken him years to get used to someone who took him so seriously. He hadn’t even known he wanted to feel real.

It might have just been evaporation from the tub, but his eyes had filled with water.

“I tried to talk to Samantha when I was tripping in the hospital. But it just wouldn’t happen. Somehow a prehistoric lake monster in Georgia was easier to summon.”

“What did you discover?”

“Blue thinks she'd want this for me. But either way, this is more important to me now than anything.” He put his hand between her knees, drew his fingers lightly up her thighs, eddying the water around their bodies. He knew what he was saying. He hoped she could come to believe it.

“Let’s commit to being as honest as we can with one another. If the physical relationship isn’t working or interferes with our friendship or our work, we have to talk about it.”

To quote Eddie Van Blundht, she made it sound so romantic.“Should we shake on it?”

“No,” She liked his hand where it was, edging up her thigh.

“Ok then. I’ll start the sharing, Scully, by saying that so far our fledgling physical relationship been a lot of work. Clearly we’re lacking any real chemistry. I’m not sure what to do about that.”

“Are you still nervous? Or are you just being a jerk?”

“Both.” he said. “But mostly I’m being ironic.”

“It’s not a good look,” she said.

“How can I ever make it up to you?” he asked

 

Chapter Text

He made his move, attempting to grab her up in his arms.

But she slipped his grasp and pushed off the bench, submerging her head with a dolphin kick toward the other end of the tub. She stood then, exposing her bare back to him through the dappled dark, shook stannic rivulets from the ends of her fingers, tucked her hair behind her ears and turned to face him.

He wished then he could transmute into some nocturnal predatory beastie, a hawkmoth or great grey owl, or at least master one of their neural-retinal tricks so he could take in more of her body in the low light. She ducked back into the water and popped up near him, her hair otter sleek.

A name came into his head then: Nawahine. A female water spirit he’d read about years before on his stag sofa late at night, a protector, a warrior. Hawaiian? Maybe Samoan? Strong as a sunrise, soft as the moon, sweet as a naked garden, pure in her ways.

Scully. His woman.

He hadn’t always known it. Maybe the understanding began years before as a tingling disturbance at the base of his spine, some realignment of particles unseen, a chafe to his heart. From there it had grown, the way a pearl forms laminous around an irritant, becoming over time a thing of strength and beauty.

He knew it now. And, miraculously, she seemed to know it too.

She floated on her belly, her face inches from his, her hands gripping the sides of the tub. The aqua pura provided a supportive atmosphere for their bodies, a protean heft and warmth. Then her lips were dense and cool against his, so different from the water; he scooched lower for a better angle to meet her surging toward him, loosening his jaw to receive her, their mouths the only point of contact. Hers was compact and precise, advancing and retreating, riding the waves, alive with possibility.

But when? Could he locate the genesis? It didn’t matter, really. And yet he recalled a learning so subtle he gleaned it only much later. The case with his ex, and the fire. Phoebe had consumed him for years, then she was there in the basement, statuesque and superior next to Scully. His newish partner, strategically adversarial but becoming a friend.

She was smart and even cute in her way--which just didn’t happen to be his way--and she had seemed to him that day the commoner, Phoebe the alluring aristocrat. Phoebe with her silly cassette pranks and her mind games. Legs for miles. Arrogance and duplicity. He had been so stupid.

He’d ditched Scully but she was on his back anyway, doggedly working the case without ego, finding him in the smoke-clogged corridor in the hotel, looking after him, keeping him company in his humiliation. Later she flanked him as he overcame his mortal fear. Just quietly and clearly being Scully while seeing him as he was. And staying.

As it happened she’d solved the case single-handedly, as well.

“She hates me,” Phoebe had stage whispered to him, more of her bullshit, but she was wrong. Phoebe was nothing to Scully, no one worth acknowledging, not a good use of their time. She hadn’t said a word to or about her, just given him the space to figure it out on his own.

As spacious as she was, everything about Scully was a little smaller than he was used to, like a three-quarter scale model of a girlfriend. She was smoother, too, and strong as hell. Her boxy little mouth on his made him want to to swoon like a girl. Her breasts bobbed in the water before him like jellyfish in their radial symmetry, their bright formless form. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep from touching her.

Already, whatever she had been feeling for him--only friendship back then, and probably a dose of pity too--she was loving him. Love being what she did for him, for everyone. Love being the root from which her actions flowed. Love being who she was.

Though it took him years to feel himself even possibly eligible, this was his first evanescent glimpse of what a woman could be, could do.

And here she was, floating above him, melding her mouth to his: woman, warrior, goddess, healer. Ravaged and marred, yet strong enough to show him the places, to let herself want him, need him.

He gave in first, his hands gripping her head, and she curled her body into his, chin against chest, belly and breast, sliding and colliding, unimaginable softness.

He held her tightly, grounding her, displacing the water between them as he caressed her mouth with his, hands on her back.

He looked to the sky as she suckled his neck, up at the countless bodies of light and he wanted to pray, or at least to say hey, to give voice to his fathomless gratitude that they were truly and actually here, despite the scrapes and scars, at last laid bare--the two of them--beneath the stars.

He had never said a prayer but he gave it a shot anyway: Dear sky and all sentient beings contained on any plane of existence without or within: Thanks for the girl. Sincerely Fox Mulder.

More like a thank you note his mother back in the day made him write than any prayer he’d ever heard. But it was the thought that counted.

He supposed he could scrape up some props for the ghost of Padgett as well, the man who put the love whammy on them. Not that he’d created anything, his putrid prose aside. It was all there from the start, gathering and swirling, smoldering but contained, waiting for a crack. Padgett had only been a catalyst, the oddball hipster mope that he was, the lightning strike that sparked life itself from ancient sludge, the cold that could give you cancer.

Scully, when the cops and paramedics had cleared out, when even Skinner had left, had retreated to her home like he knew she would. He’d paced, unrested, dispossessed, afraid. His furniture was shifted around by the investigators and he no longer even knew where he lived.

But he needn't have been scared. She really was uninjured. And it was such a relief once he settled in, a pleasure to find ways ways to demonstrate the subtle shift of allegiance he felt, from the past to the future, from just him to this.

It was a gift. He strove, however imperfectly, to be worthy. Sometimes he even managed to feel that he was.

They weren’t kissing as much as feasting now, lapping and nipping at the mouth of the other without art or coordination, his long fingers rounding her ass as hers scraped along his jaw.

She grounded her knees on the bench on either side of his thighs and rose from the water. Enraptured by her breasts, looking, tracing, touching, tasting, he failed to notice her hips inching forward until--jesus--she was on his dick. Smooth against him like the rosy egg cockles he’d collect on the beach as a kid, then hot as she hinged open, bivalvic, slick and more viscous than even the water.

How lucky, to renounce his solitary stratosphere and meet her here. In her element she was brilliant, soft as the moon and--yes--pure in her ways.

Her ways. He was still learning. She rolled her hips and slid up his length pinned against his belly, an arrow pointing true north. She clutched his triceps and huffed hotly into his mouth, her own mouth a surprised little o, and oh her hot little slit gliding along his shaft, Scully.

He clenched his jaw, needing to brace himself against the pleasure of her there. He did not want to blow his cork now. She spread her legs and bore down, dragging her clit against his fat head, then centering, circling, rising and rocking.

If he were to tip his hips even a fraction or she did she’d swallow him whole, and it took all his resolve not to do this. Because once that happened might as well flip an egg timer as turned on as he was. Besides, he wanted to see her first in the light, before being inside her, every compact curvy smooth strong ivory inch. He couldn’t wait to claim her.

He worked her nipples and met her gaze bottomless in the primordial cast of the moon, nipped and soothed, nudged and urged, stroked and swayed as she moved over him, whispered incantations into her hair, his very own creature.

She found a steady concise rhythm with her hips—like hula hooping, a tiny repeated movement creating a much larger effect—her clit bumping bumping bumping against his head. In the dark he could almost feel the red of her hair sparking in his hands and see the blue in her eyes pitching and rolling. He reached down through the water and with his thumb anchored her hood, and she was losing it then, mumbling and flushed, rubbing her chin hard against his wet chest, tendrils of her hair flying around her face.

The tension coiled and rose until, oh oh Mulder, it broke and her ragged pleading nearly broke him, as did the warm wet circles rippling through his groin and belly too as she pressed into him, harder, slower, and oh oh oh her cracked voice joining the birds, piercing the dark.

The night was rearranged, but settling again as they fell back together, panting.

“I love it when a plan comes together.” he said, hugging her close.

“What plan was that?” she asked, sucking wind like they’d been playing one-on-one full court.

“I told you the next time I heard you come I wanted you in my arms.”

She managed a laugh, boneless as she was, draped against his frame.

A few minutes later they stood on the wood platform and dried off in the thick night air. She pulled on her robe and he stepped into his boxers, still half hard. He toweled her hair dry in the moonlight. She sat on the bench to put on her sandals.

“Don’t bother with those, let me give you a lift,” he said as he lifted her, his arm under her knees, hers slung around his shoulder.

She actually giggled as he hauled her across the lawn. “Mulder! I can walk.”

“If you couldn’t this wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Trust me, I know.”

He set her down inside and went back out to retrieve the rest of their clothes and cover the tub.

When she came out of the bathroom he was shaking out their vestments, peering with deep suspicion into the toes of his sneakers.

”Bugs?” she said, suppressing a smile.

“You can’t be too careful. There’s some freaky outlaw invertebrates in these parts,” he said.

A few minutes later she was in the bed, still in her robe over the covers.

He had locked up, brought their things into the bedroom, refreshed their water. Their guns were side by side on the top of the tall bamboo dresser, their books mingled and stacked on one of the nightstands.

He meandered in eating a piece of pie in his underwear, licking the back of a fork. “I don’t know what’s in this. Coconut and, like, walnuts? Taste this, Scully.”

“Come’re Mulder,” she said, whispering. He put the plate down with a clank on the nightstand and slid onto the bed next to her. She was staring toward the ceiling.

He edged closer to her and rolled up onto one elbow, looking down at her. He smoothed her hair off her cheek.

“You sure are beautiful in Hawaii, Scully.” he said.

“The real show’s up there,” she said, not taking her eyes from the skylight. “Langly’s father knew what he was doing. I barely noticed all the glass in here today, but at night it’s mesmerizing.”

“Yeah,” he said glancing up, then bringing his eyes back to her face. “Mesmerizing.”

“I bet it’s even nicer with the lights off,” she said, gesturing to the lamp in the corner.

“Not everything is,” he said, plucking lightly at the tie of her robe. “You tired Scully?”

“A little. It’s only nine, but I guess that makes it three am in Georgetown. Are you tired, Mulder?” she asked, raising an eyebrow, rolling toward him.

“No.” he said. “I’m somewhat wired, if anything.”

“Must be the sugar in the pie,” she said.

“Must be,” he said.

“So what do you want to do?” she asked. “With all that energy?”

She was running the backs of her knuckles from his xiphoid process to the top of his boxers and back.

“Well, Scully, I’m glad you asked. I’m submitting all of this for your approval of course.” His lips were brushing her ear, though they were nearly as alone as they’d ever been.

She nodded.

“I think I’d like to take that robe off you and get a really good look at your sweet little body.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, nodding.

He kissed her. On the lips. In the bed. Just to seal their agreement.

“Then I was thinking maybe I’d touch you everywhere.” He'd let the water be his inspiration for that.

“Okay,” she said, running her hand down his bare abdomen, wedging her fingers under the waistband of his boxers, scratching the matted hair there.

He didn't let it distract him in the least.

“Maybe then, uh, unless you decide you’d rather watch a movie, or, uh, play Parcheesi, I’d like to eat your pussy.”

She swallowed hard, dipped her palm into his shorts then, and his cock lurched and twitched against the back of her hand. Her other hand was playing with the shorn hairs at the back of his neck.

He kissed her again. Just to confirm that they were still on the same page. Her hand shifted lower and she took his balls into her cool little hand.

“What else?” she asked, a bit breathless.

”Then I’m hoping you’ll spread your legs so I can fuck you.” He jammed his tongue in her ear.

“Why don’t we start there?” she asked, taking his now hopelessly hard cock in her fist and deftly tugging--and oh she was good with her hands, he could tell already--yanking at the elastic of his boxers with her other hand.

“No no no,” he said grabbing her wrist firmly and pushing himself away. “The order is important. Your turn first.”

“I already had a turn,” she said, gesturing with her head toward the back yard. “Remember?”

“Yeah, I remember,” he said, smiling. It was written on his very being, etched into the tiniest kernel of himself he'd carry forward into the next life. “But Scully. It’s still your turn.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, our phone tete-a-tete, which was lots of fun by the way, was all about how I couldn’t get it up.”

“Okay,” she said. “Eventually we solved that problem, though. Either that or you’re an excellent actor.”

“And our messing around on the airplane--one of the highlights of my life so far, if that isn't too pathetic--was all about how I couldn’t get it down.”

“I’m starting to see your point.”

“Tonight’s allllllll about you, Scully.”

“If you say so,” she said, shrugging and rolling onto her back. She closed her eyes.

“I say so. And I like how readily you agree with me, by the way. It's a nice change from your office persona."

He was pushing his luck and he knew it, but she just lay there all Mona Lisa like, waiting to be loved.

"Be afraid, Scully,” he said, pulling at the tie of her robe, “Be very afraid.”

 

 

Chapter Text

The beach, when they arrived just after noon, wasn’t much larger than it had appeared from above, just a rind of bronze sand backed by low sandstone cliffs and coconut palms. Two jetties constructed of inky black boulders encased a spring-fed lagoon where seawater and groundwater mingled; pooled brackish glowed aquamarine against the sandy bottom. Further out the water grew deeper and a brisk steady wind whipped and frothed the tops of the waves as they rolled in.

A lack of vehicle access combined with the fact that it was a Thursday during the off-season ensured a sparse crowd. The only other humans who seemed to be afoot included a possibly honeymooning couple--shiny wedding bands flashed in the sun--who bickered as they inflated a portable sea kayak, and a young family. Two preschoolers in windbreakers waded through a tide pool, pointing, splashing, and squeaking as their mother looked on.

The cognitive dissonance that would have been generated by packing a picnic basket and embarking on a carefree outing with Mulder proved too much to overcome.

Instead they had stuffed some fruit and sandwiches into a plastic grocery bag and set off down the path.

Just going for a walk with him was nice enough.

It was nicer, even, than that.

___________________________________________

 

The evening had gone more or less as planned. More and less, maybe.

He had, in fact, divested her of her robe. Check.

Apparently in no hurry, he tossed it leisurely aside. Rather than being all over her like she might have expected--from someone more predictable anyway--he leaned back and looked at her. She rose up on her elbow and faced him on the bed, mimicking his posture down to his sly little smile.

He blinked slowly. She did as well. His eyes traveled over face, then moved down her body as she looked on. He was taking his time, taking her in, still wearing his boxers and that grin.

She heard crickets chirruping through the open windows and the breeze picked up outside, stirring the air in the room. It was that or his slitty ribald eyes on her body that made her nipples harden to tight peaks under his gaze. Could have been either.

She heard him exhale sharply as he shifted his hips, a quick sexy hitch she recalled from other occasions when she’d been fairly certain he was fending off an erection.

Then his eyes were back, and his smile broadened. He reached out and traced her jaw with his fingers.

“Hi Scully,” he said.

“Hi yourself,” she said.

“You have a spectacular body,” he said gruffly.

She lowered her chin, finally succumbing to a wave of bashfulness.

“And I’ve only seen the front part,” he whispered.

They collapsed into each other laughing then, like the tinder of a teepeed campfire once it’s blazing, kicking up sparks. He rolled on top of her, still laughing.

He kissed her. Softly at first, dropping sweet little giggling kisses on her lips, one after the other. Kisses that grew less soft and less sweet. Then less little. Then they weren’t laughing anymore. Mulder.

______________________________

 

“Not a bad spot,” he said as they both sunk down in the sand.

“I’ve seen worse,” she said.

He dipped his head and laughed.

She laughed too. What else could they do? It was true.

_________________________________

 

With his hands and his lips, he was mapping her body. From the arches of her feet to the tops of her knees to the small of her back; from the hollow under her jaw to the downy hairs on her belly to the seams on her scalp; from the curves of her hips to the insides of her elbows to the very ends of her little painted toes.

He had felt so good on top of her a few minutes before, crushing his mouth to hers, unabashedly hard against her thigh, pinning her to the bed. Then he’d rolled off her and since then he’d held his body away from her, teasing her with this diabolical touching.

“Mulder you’re driving me crazy,” she complained at one point. It came out as more of a gasp than a whine, but in her heart she was whining.

She was bellied down on the mattress, head to the side, eyes squeezed closed in frustration as he skimmed and trawled her flesh, moving from her knees up her inner thighs, rising over her backside then bumping up her spine, his fingertips the only points of contact between them. His touch on her puckered bullet scar felt tingly. He lay next to her, a soft smile on his face.

“That’s the plan, Scully. It gets old being the only crazy one in this relationship.”

 _______________________________

 

He was leaning back, his palms dug into the sand behind him. He had finished eating, but the sea air must have stoked her appetite, because she was still hungry.

She sat cross-legged a few feet away looking out over the water tearing into a mango. The kayak at long last launched by the newlyweds appeared as a red needle on the water, halfway to the horizon.

Finishing the mango, she tossed the pit and rind into the grass behind them and licked her fingers, sucked the sticky nectar from her thumbs and her wrist. He was eyeballing her.

“Thanks for lunch, Scully.”

She threw him a suspicious look over her shoulder, pieces of her hair lifting in the breeze.

“What?” he asked, smiling, talking over the breeze which had kicked up and was rattling the waxy fronds of the trees. “That wasn’t a lewd comment. You packed lunch. It was good. I was just expressing appreciation for your cooking.”

“Mulder, it was fruit and sandwiches. The trees out back did more work than I did.”

“For your food preparation, then.” She shook her head, grinning. “Hey,” he said, wiggling ten fingers in the air, “I’m an innocent man.”

“I didn’t take your innocence last night?”

“You did. Not even to mention this morning. Already I’ve been deflowered by you in three or four brand new ways.”

She felt, oddly, the same way. She nodded.

“Let’s go for a swim,” he said, standing up and dusting sand off his legs, pulling his shirt up and off.

He extended his arm and she gripped his wrist. He helped her up. She was slightly stiff. He gathered her beach cover in handfuls at her hips and peeled it off over her head. She took it from him and folded it neatly, placed it on top of her daypack.

They strolled to the edge of the water, holding hands.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

“What? Oh. Thanks for breakfast, too,” he said.

They hadn’t eaten breakfast.

He took off running. She chased him into the surf.

___________________________________________________

 

It was worth the wait, his hands on her with a purpose, one pinching her nipples, the other languorously rubbing her pussy, his face hovering above her like a waxing moon, mottled by his stubble and three quarters lit by the single lamp in the room.

Enough light that she could see he was enjoying this as much as she was.

His strong sensitive hands had been the first part of him she’d brought to mind, many lunar cycles before, in her own bed late at night. She’d often felt embarrassed and even guilty in his presence the next day, using his hands that way.

They were, however, living up to the hype.

She’d since practically confessed. He hadn’t seemed offended.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me how juicy you are, Scully?” he’d asked her as he sighed into her belly, just after he’d tucked his fingers into her. “You smell really good."

“What, I didn’t mention that in 1939?”

After that, she no longer had much higher brain function available for witty banter.

Above her, his weight on his forearm, he watched her face as he deftly explored her, registering fractional changes in her expression as he altered the pressure, placement, or angle of his touch.

As he worked her up, he nodded and smiled at her with damp eyes. He paused to kiss her tenderly from time to time, or to murmur sweet things in her ear. What she would have missed if they had never surrendered to this.

Mulder taking his time--and being a genius after all--had managed to divine in a short frame of time some important data: that firm direct pressure on her clit was too much; that she was inordinately, immodestly fond of his thumb; that his brisk twisting pinches to the tips of her nipples made her stupid, and that just one of his well-placed fingers inside her was perfect.

Either he was particularly good at this, or she’d been hanging around with the wrong guys.

Some of her previous lovers--being honest, one or two of them had been geniuses as well--their divinations of her preferences seemed to have been less thorough.

Generalizing, she could break down their process into three stages, progressing from obligation do downright laziness: tell me how you like to be touched; touch yourself for me (while I focus on my own pleasure); and, finally, where do you keep your vibrator?

He was a different kind of cat, Mulder. Of course she was a puzzle to be worked, right up his alley. Even so, his commitment to figuring out what made her tick was laudable.

Also, meow.

He brought her to the very edge twice, then backed off, toying with her as she panted and writhed, a smug smile on his lips.

Each time, she had to admit, the pleasure and anticipation gathered and swelled higher than the time before.

As she rose to his ministrations a third time and rolled her head against the bed desperately, she wondered how was it even fucking possible he could he frustrate her even more in bed than out? This guy.

She grabbed a fist of his hair, not gently. “Don’t. Stop.”

The time before she had more--well--begged him not to. That backfired.

She thought a stronger tone, augmented with just a hint of threat, was justified.

This time, he didn’t.

______________________________________________________________

 

Did she even want to go swimming?

It was an odd thought to have as, having given up the chase, she waded into the lagoon. But it was a strange, new day.

He was a few steps in front of her wearing the chevron bathing suit she’d all but picked out for him. She had, in fact, liked the colors for him, but the real appeal had been that it was skimpier and lower waisted than the board shorts he was perusing.

Right now they was affording her a good look at a physical feature of his she’d long covertly admired: how the thoracolumbar fascia of his low back dipped down and--heartlike--framed his strong glutes.

He was a fine specimen. As a father to hers or any child, he would do nicely. But, you know, hers.

He threw a glance over his shoulder at her, checking on her, flicking his eyes from where her thighs skimmed the water to her face, taking in all parts between. He’d been doing that on the low for quite some time, she caught him often enough to know. The sudden cant of her equilibrium that resulted often jarred her.

He had joked about their chemistry, but it had always been about chemistry, for them. Their magnetism, the glances and touches that passed between them--as between any two people--subtly altered the cellular makeup of the other. There were at least three measurable states that could exist between lovers, and couples often progressed through them.

Like nearly everything, they’d done it ass backwards.

The deep, abiding attachment--mediated by oxytocin and vasopressin--which more typically takes years to arise and amplify between people, had been in evidence near the very start of their partnership.

And basic bestial lust--drummed up mostly by phenylethylamine and the sex hormones--which could be reliably observed ascendant and gushing between flat-out strangers in their natural habitat on any given weekend in any old bar anywhere--had started flowing for them only recently.

But it was the attraction she was thinking of now, the medial state. Ever-present for them. And perplexing to her.

As she followed him into the ocean, only half sure she wanted to, she knew her body was laying down and picking up dopamine and norepinephrine.

Every time the tell-tale surge flooded her synapses she’d follow him out the door of the office despite his evasiveness as to where they were headed; she’d follow him into a lunch joint with questionable hygienic standards--not even to mention nutritional--because he swore it was the best.

She’d followed him into abandoned mineshafts and improbable bee aviaries, to one small troubled corner of the country after another, into a boxcar stuffed with carcasses, to the middle of the molten earth and to the center of the ice-bound Norwegian Sea.

She’d followed him against orders, against the law they had sworn to uphold, and sometimes in opposition to her sense of self-preservation and training. She’d followed him to investigate, catalog, and contain one unqualified horror after another.

She followed him like a runner ran, like a tweaker tweaked, and for the same reasons.

Chemistry.

And she knew she wouldn’t stop.

She wasn’t sure, given all that was new between them, how she felt about that.

It had never been her favorite subject.

__________________________________________

 

After she’d pulled herself together, she donned her robe and they went to the kitchen for what he termed a pie break. To keep up their strength.

She sat down, running her hands over the fine-grained table as he banged around the kitchen, rustling her up a plate of food that, when it arrived, was endearingly strange: a little pile of macadamia nuts, slices of tomatoes sprinkled with vinegar, artichoke salad, a salt-fish spread, and some seed studded crackers.

And the pie. He, in his Mulderish monomaniacal zeal, was more interested in deducing the ingredients of this pie--Cherries? Pineapple?--than Padgett had been in her.

She took a bite, and had to work hard not to spit it out, some sickly sweet coconut concoction. He kept trying to get her to taste more pie, sitting backwards on his chair, waving the fork at her.

“C’mon Scully. One more bite. It’s for science.”

She adamantly refused.

“Fine,” he said, sniffing aloofly. “I’ll ask Alameda.”

He got up to clear the plates. As he brushed past, she hooked a finger in the leg of his boxers, stopping him in his tracks.

“Hey,” he said, looking down at her, eyes glinting, a plate in each hand.

“Mulder,” she said, serious as a heart attack, “it’s time for these to come off.”

 _____________________________________________

 

He was splashing her in the lagoon. And she was squealing. He looked goofy and gangly all wet and no matter how mature and skilled he was proving to be as a lover, her eighth grader with a crush was still on the scene.

The seabirds that had been feeding on the beach scattered, but the two little kids beelined from the tidepool to the lip of the water to see what all the glorious commotion was about. Their mother restrained them by the hoods of their jackets to keep them from charging into the sea.

“Mulder, no!” she called out. A crush, and, she couldn’t help but notice, a boner.

Had it even been two hours since he spurted all over her stomach and keeled over on top of her? Wasn’t he supposed to be pushing forty?

He ducked under the water and grabbed her ankles, causing her to lose her balance. Then he came up under her and scooped her up. She slung her arms around his neck and he strode unsteadily into deeper waters.

“Hey Scully, I caught a mermaid.”

“I’m not a mermaid, Mulder. And I doubt we’d be having as much fun if I were.” She pointed her chin toward the parts of her womany anatomy to which she was referring.

“You’re right,” he said. “Mermaids are overrated.”

“I’ve never understood the fantasy,” she said.

“I do, in all seriousness, think you might be the embodiment of a female warrior water goddess named Nawahine, though.”

She laughed and kicked her feet in the air. Just for the pleasure of being held by him in the breeze. Her very own lunatic, both of them escaped from the asylum that had become of their lives.

He kissed her some, then put her down, waist deep, in the placid lagoon.

“You think we should rent a coupla surf boards, Scully? This isn’t a surf spot, but there’s one a mile or two south. We could take a lesson. Might be fun.”

“It might be. But the windward surf’s pretty rough. And Bane warned us about the riptides. I’d like to go a day or two without one the other or both of us in mortal peril.”

“Fair point,” he said.

She also wanted to do absolutely nothing with him for another day or two. Well, she thought, glancing over at him, staring out to the horizon, his eyes picking up the greens in the deeper rougher water, maybe not quite nothing.

_______________________________________________

 

“Now?” he said.

“Now.”

He shrugged and placed the plates back on the table.

She edged his boxers down over his hips and they fell to the floor. He stepped out of them and kicked them off to the side.

At eye level he was beautiful, a just-right size and, within a minute of her taking him in her hand, spectacularly hard.

“Is this for me?” she asked.

He nodded.

“I like it. This is better than a tangerine. Which was delicious, by the way. But this," she peered up his long body at him, shaking her head, "You shouldn’t have, Mulder.”

She took him lightly in her fist. With her other hand she reached in to weigh and tease his sac.

“Please, Scully. Take it easy. I don’t want to embarrass myself.” His naked belly rose and fell unevenly.

Why did every man seem to believe his penis should behave like a well-trained circus animal? Every one she’d ever met had more in common with a mutt just home from the pound. Cute, but might or might not respond to commands. Bad habits. Mind of its own.

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about.” Her eyes were huge on him, she knew. She realized she was running her tongue along her lower lip.

She had actually made Mulder blush. Given how shameless he was, she counted this as an achievement.

She started stroking him slowly with her thumb and two fingers, root to tip.

“Scully,” he warned. “Tonight’s all about you, remember. I’m not young, you know.”

Wasn’t she supposed to be the Catholic schoolgirl here?

“Shut up, Mulder,” she said as she took him in her mouth.

He did.

 

Chapter Text

Afterward, they were curled up under the same blanket on the actually somewhat comfortable wicker sofa on the porch sharing a beer, the tropical night song sounding around them in three directions.

She yawned and rubbed her forehead against his chest.

He yawned too.

“What do you think, Scully? Should we hit the hay?”

“Let’s make a baby, Mulder.”

He started slightly, then hugged her, smoothed his hand over her hair.

“Do you want to hold off a bit? See how this goes?”

“Not if you meant what you said. That when this gets complicated, we can keep that separate.”

“I don’t know if I can keep the two things separate, or if I want to. But I did mean it that even when this gets complicated, even if we break up or whatever, whether we still work together or not, I plan to be here for you and for any babies we might make. Physically, emotionally, financially. All the ways.”

“We can’t imagine what it will be like, can we?”

“No. We can’t.”

“It’s scary.”

“Well, we know we can handle scary.”

“It’s exciting too.”

“It is,” he said.

This kind of nervous hope was new to him.

He flashed to being in the bed with her earlier. He had actually felt bad for a minute, when she’d seized his hair, at how infernally painfully frustrated he’d made her.

But the orgasm, when it finally broke over her face, was such a sight to behold--ecstasy and joy and relief, and her giving it all to him without reservation--that he felt redeemed.

He felt better than that. For all the times he’d felt scotched and stymied, wretched and woebegone, renounced and despised, he felt like Pele the fire god stalking through the bubbling floor of a volcano, bolts in his hands.

When she used that handhold of his hair to pull his face down to hers and cover it with sloppy kisses, he felt like young Elvis, in argyle socks and a skinny tie, thrashing his guitar on stage.

And after all the cool slightly hollow evenings taken up by tinned soup and televised sports and porn, he felt like he was finally maybe getting something right.

“Even though we’ve hardly followed the traditional route to having a family together,” he felt her noiseless laugh against his chest, “I think we’re pretty well-suited.”

“How so?”

“We know each other. We like each other. Most days. For all our myriad differences, we have things in common. About what's important to us. What we might want for her. Or him.”

“I agree,” she said.

“People, even people doing this the normal way, take this kind of a leap with a lot less going for them.”

“It’s true. We have to keep talking though. Even about the awkward or difficult parts. And keep being honest about what we each want.”

“Ok. I’ll start now, with something awkward and honest.”

She looked up at him.

“There’s money, Scully. A big pile of money. Left to me by my father.”

She was listening.

“It’s literally a pile of money. I mean, in his will he left me property and cash and stocks and all that regular stuff for people of his station.”

“Sounds like a nice station.”

“But there are also sixty avoirdupois pounds of gold buried in Chilmark. And sixty more in a safe deposit box in Boston. There are government bonds from Bulgaria and Austria, as well as two offshore bank accounts. All told, millions and millions of dollars. Ten or twelve? I haven’t even counted.”

Scully was actually speechless.

“The old bastard left me an honest-to-god treasure map, as well as a key for the box and an account numbers sealed in a business envelope. I don’t think the lawyer even knew about it.”

She was looking around, glances that would have seemed to indicate paranoia to anyone less familiar with the kinds and types invasions they had incurred.

“I think we have some privacy. What, five people know we’re here? Still, I’m glad we’re outside.”

She nodded. “Just my mother, the guys, and Skinner.”

“I’ve never spoken of it to anyone. I’ve had no idea what to do about it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Some of it’s blood money, I assume.”

“For Samantha.”

“Yes. And for whatever else.”

“Where is it now?” She was whispering, fingering the chip at the back of her neck.

“Same place, really. In my lawyer’s office this time, in a big manila envelope with your name on it attached to my will. You have his business card still, right? There’s one in the center drawer of both my desks too.”

“Right,” she said.

“There’s a note in the envelope for you. Unlike my dad’s, which was just the facts Jack, this one has some sweet stuff in it too.”

“Yeah well, I hope I never get to read it. At least not anytime at all soon.”

“Me too. The note might be kind of dated, come to think of it. I’d make it even sweeter now,” he said, nudging his hips against her.

“Don’t bother. And don’t die.”

“You know, I almost tossed the envelope and everything in it, right after my Dad got shot. And Melissa. I was just so sickened by it. All of it."

She leaned in and gave him a squeeze.

“I’ve since thought about having all that gold melted into a bust of Elvis for the office. What do you think of that idea?”

“Wow,” she said, the information sinking in.

“Yeah. It’s a stunning image. I didn’t get rid of it because I liked the idea of leaving if for you. In the event something...final happened to me. An insurance policy, in case things get crazy. Now, considering we could be three, I’m really glad it’s there. However dirty it might be.”

“Ok,” she said. “Then I am too.”

“And, for the really awkward part. Even with just the regular New England monied elite inheritance--not going near the hinky money--there’s enough that I don’t want you to think twice about taking some time off with a baby. If that’s what you want to do.”

“I have savings, Mulder.”

“I know. Of course, I know. And this is a conversation for another time. But I understand having a baby can be, in addition to a real Hallmark moment, a serious drain on the resources. Especially the way we’re needing to go about it.”

She nodded and sighed.

“I just want him or her to have all the good things. Most importantly you. At home for as long as you might want to be. At this stage of the game, I just don’t want you to feel like you have to sweat the math, Scully.”

“Thank you,” she said, “Come on.” She stood up and pulled him up off the sofa and toward the bedroom.

“Mulder?” she said, once they were settled dozily under the covers.

"Um-hm?"

“You’re turning out to be kind of a catch.”

Chapter Text

Scully was busy. She didn’t like to be gnatted at when she was concentrating.

And he was afraid of her, a little. In bed earlier she had all but threatened to scalp him if he didn’t stop tormenting her with his little ways.

Which were two reasons why he didn’t try harder to discourage her attentions--or her intentions--at the kitchen table directly following the pie break.

Another reason was his dick? Was in her mouth.

Her mouth. Where, in the years since first meeting his new partner and noticing the peculiar, precise, full, and (yes) utterly lovely set of her lips, he had: never -- just this once -- on special occasions -- chronically -- routinely -- steadfastly -- desperately -- and, most recently, hopefully envisioned his dick would be.

He appreciated all the parts of Scully, seen and unseen. Even the parts that bickered with and frustrated him. It was safe to say, however, that he had a special affinity for her mouth.

Her mouth, at this late date, had been a featured player in sets and subsets of his fantasies for years: transportation fantasies, elevator fantasies, seedy motel fantasies, couch fantasies. All the places, her mouth was there.

And now it was here, if he could believe it, with Scully seated under the weak hanging bulb at Langly’s dead dad’s kitchen table in Hawaii, him standing with two plates in his hand. Three or four loose macadamia nuts rolled around on one of them, slippery like marbles.

It was not a scenario he ever could have predicted.

But then he was finding also that he could not ever have imagined the hot wet slide of her tongue on the underside of his cock as she took him in her mouth, not really.

Because those fantasies were based on previous experience, absorbed and filed away during other blow jobs given by other women--nothing against them of course--but this was Scully. Scully’s mouth, engaged but relaxed as she wrapped her lips around him, and he wobbled a little, gone soft in the knees.

Once he found her lipstick left behind on the counter next to the sink in the office. She was gone for the day. As a joke told by himself to himself, he picked it up and drew a lucious pucker on the kisser of his fist.

Later, home by himself by the flickering light of the tv, he rubbed at the greasy pink residue with the thumb of his other hand and realized it was more sad than funny.

He wanted to touch her, but instead steadied himself with a hand on the tabletop. She looked at him, her gaze running up his body until their eyes caught and held. There was so much in her eyes, lust and fear and something else, yet none of it false or posed or for his benefit.

But then she was back at it, taking him deeper, truly and really busy, holding him at his base and lathing the ridge of his cock, engaged in the work of transforming him from a pleonastic, hyperkinetic aging boy wonder who a minute before had been cracking wise while fervently trying to reverse-engineer a piece of pie, into the man he was now: a weak-kneed, slack-jawed, mute acolyte. Her magic was profound.

Her other hand came up and she placed two fingers just below his navel, as though she were taking the pulse of his pleasure.

But this was about her pleasure too, he realized, and as he watched her exploring him with her mouth, her cheeks flushed, her eyes flickering open and closed, a purr in her throat as his his most sensitized skin brushed against hers inside her fixed slick channel.

Then her lips closed over his shaft and she was truly sucking him so soft and close and ripe and his nerve endings all ignited at once and it was all he could do not to grab her by the ears and drive his hips forward.

And exactly where did Scully (Scully!) learn to suck a dick like this? But no no no that was not a constructive question at this moment. Then she reached around and gently scraped her pointy nails against the fine grain of his sac and He. Did. Not. Care.

She brought her fingers back to his high belly, seeming to monitor their feedback loop via his central meridian and he laughed out loud, thinking about how he would tease her later for her practice of Eastern medicine. Maybe she could submit a monograph summarizing her foundational work on the essence of head chi.

He popped out of her mouth into the rude cool air. Shut up Mulder had been, as usual, good advice. 

“What?” she said, squinting up at him, working him with her hand, mercifully slowly, but with the perfect rolling twist of her wrist. The friction was fucking perfect. He knew it.

“What!?” he asked,” shrugging helplessly and laughing again. “My plan for the evening has been hopelessly derailed. That’s all.”

She smiled then too, impish and pleased.

“Sorry about that,” she said.

“Uh-huh, yeah, me too,” he said, nodding at her “How could you, Scully?”

And she swallowed him again and slid toward him, relaxing her jaw till his head wedged in the back of her mouth. They traded groans and the vibrations reached his spine. Then she did it again.

His hands at his sides were making fists, fighting the twitch to twine in her hair.

But then she was touching him there, her hands on his, cool and solicitous, drawing them to her face. He wanted to pick her up and carry her to bed then but god she was sipping at the tip of his cock with just her lips, flicking his little slit with her tongue as his pinkies found the underside of her jaw, his thumbs on her cheeks.

“I loved watching you come for me Scully. God your face. And your mouth...”

She placed her hands over his, looking into his eyes as she bobbed her head on his cock, and nothing had ever been so erotic as holding her like this as he was being held in her, feeling himself fill her from both sides, bottoming out against her tight throat. He was going to have to improve his prayer.

Then she stopped.

“You ok? Did I hurt you?”

She shook her head no then tipped it back, relaxing her jaw completely, closing her eyes. An invitation.

He started slowly, holding her face gently but firmly as he butted against the textured roof of her palate. She gripped his wrists and the feel of her—hard teeth and muscular tongue and the rest warm receptive wetness—was so visceral and real that he figured, moving carefully but picking up the pace, that he must be too.

How could it be like this between them, after the spats and irritations, smirks and miscommunications, after he’d left her for hours and days at a time and she’d left him three, four times, almost for good?

Then again, how could it not?

Then he was rolling and popping his hips and holding her head and just flat out fucking her hot little star of a mouth, and far from being offended she was digging her nails into the the cheeks of his ass.

“Scully,” he said, twitching into her with brisk short strokes, “Scully, oh honey, please…”

He snapped back and grabbed himself, his eyes darting around in a panic.

“Shhh,” she said, and she was there, closing her lips around his pulsing head and nursing, nursing, nursing until she was fed.

He fell back into his chair.

She stood, tightened her robe, and went to pick up their plates but he was all over her, lifting her onto the kitchen counter bringing his mouth down on hers.

As he kissed her, he opened the fridge with one hand and extracted a beer.

He handed it to her and she, looking satisfied with herself, leaned back and twisted off the cap.

“Hey Scully,” he said, working his hands under her robe, wanting to touch her everywhere at once.

She took a sip and kissed him and he could still taste himself salty and bitter and her own saliva slippery and sweet, and her little mouth filled too with cold hoppy bubbles was otherworldly. What else, he wondered, could this one person possibly contain?

“Hey Mulder,” she said, draping her hands around his neck, tapping the cold damp bottle against his spine, nipping at his chin.

“You know what’s funny, Scully?”

“That the girls I went to high school with didn't count that as sex?”

“That is funny,” he said, smiling broadly. “That’s quite the loophole.”

He rubbed his nose against hers like the smitten idiot he was.

“But I was going to say something else.”

Her eyes on him made him shy.

“What?’ She whispered in his ear.

“I was gonna say that I was in love with you even before you sucked me off like that.” He whispered back. “Now I don’t even know what to call how I feel about you.”

“I get that all the time,” she said.

 

 

Chapter Text

Dear Reader,

Ok that was corny.

I do not have a new chapter today.

Remember when Mulder and Scully went on vacation to Hawaii but you went on vacation to Scranton?

That is me right now.

Not some figurative Scranton—as in a place unglamorous—but the literal Scranton, that one that smells like burning looseleaf when the wind is right.

I’m not sure what it means about the state of my life, but I am having fun.

I actually have one of those Bill Scullyish brothers who would frown upon my nose in my laptop during a visit. Plus nieces, nephews and my own toddler, it might be a day or three till the next installment.

I hope that adding this note as a chapter doesn’t violate any rules or conventions AO3. If it does lmk and I’ll change it.

But a few things: Thank you thank you thank you for the feedback and for your own writing here, which is so good it inspired me to write more fanfic.

I am too set in my ways (read: old) to fully comprehend Tumblr, but I love that people are still so into XF and swapping prompts and art and all of it. These characters have always needed to be rescued from the bumbling clutches of those who own them, and that writers are doing this important cultural work every day is amazing to me, and fun. You are heros. And I appreciate the shout outs from there.

I have never written a WIP or posted anything anywhere as I was writing and it is an interesting and gratifying experience.

That said, I have never been to Hawaii, and the story is structurally complex. If you notice errors of continuity, confusing bits, or if I am getting something about the settings glaringly wrong, I will not be offended if you let me know. I would appreciate it. I am not touchy and don’t have anything resembling a beta.

Eventually I am going to re-organize the story into two stories, the first one (VMFW) ending after chapter 13 and the second one called The Sweet Spot starting in chapter 14.

I’ve been wondering what Mulder and Scully are doing in Hawaii. I mean, besides the obvious :) It just didn’t seem like the kind of fic I’d write. Yet I am.

Till today I guess I supposed they needed a vacation so I was writing them one. And writing myself one maybe. (My own last vacation, before Scranton, was quite a while ago and—I-swear-to-fucking-god—-to Cleveland. Which is lovely, but no kinda tropical paradise).

On my drive today, though, I got it: this is my attempt to rewrite Amor Fati. To me, this is a more plausible “comfortable bed with the devil outside” scenario for them to encounter at this point in the story arc. Not to mention sexier, sans Fowley. IMHO. I just never bought Mulder and Fowley.

As I wrap this story up, they’ll have a big decision to make. I feel so ambivalent about the canon between AF2 and the revival that I don’t feel beholden to it.

Which is to say I have no idea what they’re going to do.

Any thoughts welcomed.

Hope you are loving your fate, whatever it is this Memorial Day weekend, as I am loving mine. In Scranton.

New chapter soon.

Peace and love,

D.

Chapter Text

After their swim, they dried off and suited up to explore the perimeter of the island. The breeze made the air pleasantly cool on their skin, but the angle of the sun and its strength, Scully knew deep in her Irish bones, made it menacing. She applied two layers of SPF 50 everywhere she could reach.

Mulder had been more than agreeable about helping her cover her other places, working the lotion into her back and shoulders thoroughly and evenly.

But when it came time to apply sunblock to his own body, he slapped two palmfuls haphazardly around his torso and handed the tube back to Scully.

“No, Mulder,” she said, taking it from him. “This sun is serious. Even with your swarthy Mediterranean roots you could get in trouble out here. Don’t forget, your skin is still tender after Brown Mountain.”

He sat on the towel submitting to her concern as she slathered him, making the vexed faces of a six-year-old. Had anyone done this kind of thing for him, even when he was six? Scully didn’t think so, not thoroughly and consistently enough. Mulder.

They had always each given the other so much space. Too much, maybe.

What would it mean, to try to really and truly love someone who didn’t understand what it was to care for himself?

She didn’t know, but she did know she was going to find out.

________________________________________

 

That morning she’d woken up early to find a hollow in the bed where she expected him to be. She’d stirred briefly several times in the night and oriented herself to Mulder’s deep even breathing and the heavens through the skylight. The view was different each time, as though someone had pivoted a telescope.

The stars at dawn were not as luminescent but still visible, thin white pricks against a pale blue sky.

She pulled on her robe and went out to the porch. Mulder, fresh from the outdoor shower, stood steaming and naked with a towel in his fist, leaning over a patch of bright flowers. He seemed to be studying something she couldn’t make out in the shadows. Probably a bird. She’d seen a few technicolor species flitting about the flowers the evening before, surprisingly uncowed by her human presence.

He didn’t seem aware of her as she sank down into a woven chair. She enjoyed stalking him stalking birds around the yard like a merciful cat. A naked merciful cat.

Maybe, she thought, getting her first good long look at how he was put together, because he identified with the birds. Their legs, at the least. His were tapered from the hip to the ankle and, though toned from his regular runs, long and lean.

His torso, in contrast, was powerfully built, striated with well-delineated muscles. Square beefy shoulders. A stripe of sable hair down the middle of his abdomen to his groin; no manscaping for him. Masculine, natural. Nice full glutes. And his broad platypul hands and feet, with which she was plenty familiar. She shivered, though the air was warm, thinking of his long flat fingers.

She tried to imagine how these traits would combine and compete and collide with hers in another being. Closing her eyes, she clicked through a slide wheel of imagined possible faces like mugshots. His thin upper lip, her peculiar nose. What a crapshoot.

Then, just as an exercise, she tried to construct from their disparate individual components the homeliest little potatohead she could fathom. Her small face, his prominent nose, her ginger hair cropped and sprouting out at all angles.

When the summoned image came into focus, she was taken aback by an uncomplicated wave of adoration for this unfortunate creature. The muscles of her pelvic floor undulated ichorously as it occurred to her that before long she could have such a piece of him inside of her.

She should probably do something soon to get ahold of herself.

He knotted the towel around his waist and headed her way.

“Hey,” he said, pushing through the screen door, “you’re up.” A gentle smile. Shy but expectant.

“Yep.”

“That shower’s nice. It’s like getting rained on in a grotto.”

Scully had become so enraptured by the tub she’d barely noticed the shower, tucked in the other corner of the yard. The exterior of the stall was made of plain wood so as to be unobtrusive, but the interior lined dramatically with black metamorphic stone.

“Mmm.” She said, looking him up and down. His skin looked dewy up close. Sweet.

“How’d you sleep?”

It felt like Christmas morning, his hips wrapped in a towel like that. She was aware she was staring, but couldn’t seem to stop.

“Pretty good. I woke up a few times, but not for long. You?”

“I slept great, but woke up a half hour ago pretty keyed up. My body clock is screwy. It’s noon in DC.”

“Where?” she said.

“Scully? You’re not going south on me again this morning, are you?”

“No.” she said, “Not like that.”

“Should I make some coffee?”

“Yes, you should,” she said. “In about three hours.”

_____________________________________________

 

The walk was not taxing, even though the carved trail became intermittent. The ground cover, low and sparse against the loamy soil, yielded easily as they picked their way along the shoreline. From time to time they’d stop to glug water and absorb a new angle of the iridescent, ever-mutable ocean below.

“You know, I think today was the first time I ever swam in the Pacific.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You know us East Coasters, Scully. It’s like the Atlantic is the only ocean in the world.”

“What did you think?”

“Well, context is everything. But I liked it.”

She nodded.

“I guess the closest I came was that dip I took in the Sargasso Sea awhile back. Similar latitude, anyway.”

“That dip you took?”

“Um, well, the boat was wrecked. I didn’t have much choice.”

“Mulder, that was more sinking than swimming. Trust me, I was there. And you did make a choice. To go at all.”

“Okay. And you’re upset?”

“I guess I am, yeah. You take off on a lark and almost die, Mulder.”

“Well, not exactly a lark. But I take your point.”

“Not a lark, but not FBI business either. That dip you took.”

“Scully, this was half a year ago. What am I supposed to do about it now?”

They had stopped walking and squared off, the conversation suddenly having become intense, oppositional. She was shaking her head.

“What?”

“I don’t know. On the one hand, I never want you to change. I never ever want to ask you to.”

“Okay.”

“That dip you took?”

“There must be another hand, Scully.”

“On the other, I wonder what I could possibly be thinking falling in love with someone with so little regard for his own well-being. Not even to mention the possibility of starting a family.”

He sighed and crouched down, scooped up some sandy black dirt and sifted it between his fingers.

“I understand,” he said, looking up at her. “I don’t know what to say or how to fix it or even if we can. But I do hear what you’re saying.”

Scully snorted huffily at him and started walking again. After she cleared a dozen steps, he followed.

After ten minutes of light climbing they turned a corner and came upon an outcropping that offered a two-hundred-seventy degree view of the sea below. They both stopped and soaked it in.

“Scully?”

“Yes?”

“I think we just had our first fight.”

At least she was laughing. What else could she do?

____________________________________________

 

Back when she was making up reasons not to want to have sex with Mulder, she figured he might be the kind of guy who’d lack attentiveness and patience in bed. Maybe switching positions three times every ten minutes, always seeking a new angle, some fresh stimulation. He could be like that out of bed, after all. Also, all that porn. She’d slept with a couple of guys like that when she was younger, and didn’t particularly enjoy it.

But he wasn’t like that.

Either that or he’d be hyper-focused and overly goal oriented. He often entered that zone with their work. Even when the goal was her orgasm, sex with guys like that could easily became a chore. When absolute success or failure of the encounter--and by extension the self-esteem of the guy--became caught up in whether or how often or how hard she came, it didn’t exactly encourage her to let go.

But he was not like that, either.

And she’d already established that he wasn’t the kind of guy who just went through the motions when it came to pleasing her.

When they passed through the door of the bedroom he tossed his towel casually onto a chair. He held the shoulders of her robe as she slipped out of it in the same way as he had helped her off with her coat dozens of times before. She realized that, for some reason, she wasn’t at all nervous.

She might have expected him to ravish her or pick her up and toss her on the bed like the lust-ridden primitive he was. That would have been fine. But he didn’t.

Instead he stepped back and looked at her, narrowing his eyes, inscrutable behind them. She could feel though that he wasn’t nervous either. They were past that.

Then he pulled her in and hugged her. It was the kind of hug they’d shared before, in moments of strife or grief. His hands rubbing up and down her back, hers around his waist. He kissed her hair and they rocked slightly, standing together at the end of the bed for long minutes.

Gradually the character of their contact began to shift—they were, after all, naked—and as their skin rubbed together some heat began to build between them. Their minds and hearts were already well acquainted, intertwined. But for their skin, the other was new. They were like like two dogs meeting at the end of their leashes, snuffing and rubbing as their owners stood patiently by.

His touches went from feathery to firm, still without urgency, feeling the solidity of her, the depth. Hers went in the other direction, softer and lighter, trailing her fingers maddeningly along his spine, gently raking the sensitive cleft of his ass.

He grew hard between them, but his erection didn’t exert any particular gravity, nestled as it was against her soft belly. It was simply there, just another part of himself he was no longer keeping from her.

_____________________________________________

 

“Tell me something, Mulder.”

“Anything, Scully.”

“In Bermuda. When you woke up in the hospital. And when you said what you said.”

“When I told you I loved you?”

“Yes. Then. Was that when you realized it? Was that the moment this suddenly changed for you? That you became available?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“There was a blinding moment of realization, but that wasn’t it.”

“Okay,” she said.

“You’ve come close to dying, Scully. Like, press your nose against the glass from the other side close, right?”

“You know I have.”

“After you were shot by Ritter,” he spat out the name, “did you know how serious it was?”

“Yes. Immediately. Blood in my throat. The shredded edge of my liver palpable through the wound. People don’t survive that. I was sure I was going to die. So sure when I think about it I’m surprised to be standing here talking to you.”

“This is a personal question. Feel free not to answer. But what did you think about? Did you have any… regrets?”

“Hmmm. Not exactly. Not regrets. I thought of my mother. Her pain. My guilt. And I thought of you and felt...sorrow. And grief.”

“Grief?”

“Yes. At losing you. In an instant, it was over. I’d never see you again. Sorrow because I knew how it would be for you, losing me like that.”

“Did you?”

I prayed for you. For your soul. That you wouldn’t seek revenge.”

“I guess you did. I don’t think I would have done so well with that one.”

“I’ve never imagined you would have. There was no peace, I’ll say that. I wasn’t ready to go. But I didn’t feel regret, exactly. Why do you ask?”

“I had a somewhat similar experience a few months before you fished me out of the Bermuda Triangle.”

“What experience?”

“I’ve never told you. Or anyone. But those New Spartan motherfuckers were going to execute me. The day all that shit hit the fan. I had some time to think about it. Then a nice slow walk. I was on my knees, muzzle to my brainstem.”

“Jesus Mulder.”

“It was different from other guns on me or other close calls because I had no move. No strategizing. No distraction.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t really know. The ringleader wasn’t what I thought he was. Some deep state operative, I think. He shot the other guy--the animal who broke my fingers—and told me to take off.”

“Oh my God.”

“Tell me about it.”

“So that’s when you realized how you felt about...us?”

“No. I had known that for a while. That was more gradual. And I had all kinds of reasons I thought I shouldn’t mention it. Some more valid than others.”

“I can relate with that.”

“When I knew I was dead, when it was over, I thought only of you. And I felt only regret. With a background of, like, cosmic irony or something. But that’s when I realized I was an utter coward for not telling you. And the idea that I would die like a dog behind the barn and you’d never know was unbearable.”

“I knew.”

“But not like you know now.”

“No. That’s true.” She blushed. She could not have guessed then what she knew now. The valuable thing he’d been holding for her, growing and protecting. She was glad she got to live to receive it.

“Running away, realizing I was actually clear of that mess, I vowed to tell you. I never wanted to feel like that again.”

“But you didn’t tell me until it almost happened again?”

“What can I say, Scully? That kind of thing happens to me a lot. Also, I’m a huge pussy.”

_____________________________________________

 

They should have been ruined for this. Ineligible.

By all rights, applying logic or instinct, you would have come to such a conclusion.

The world-worn pair of them, battered and tattered, equally impossible, both pathologically self-sufficient, each inveterate anomics. Two terrible perverts, him constitutionally, her shackled and muzzled too often not to have it permeate the cracks. Bordering states stubbornly sovereign, perfect parallel lines.

This couldn’t be happening to them, Scully thought, feeling herself dissolve into one deliciously liquid moment after another, crossing, converging, merging.

He was eating her pussy, applying all the good intelligence he had gathered, his thumb tucked in her cunt circling tightly from the elbow, stirring her. His other thumb swiped over her clit as his tongue bathed the places between with sloppy licks.

She craned her neck. “Mulder, what are you doing to me?”

He paused briefly, found her eyes. “Payback’s a bitch.”

She fell back to the bed.

When she started to come he pressed his face into her and she could feel his smile against her as she broke. She surged toward him helplessly again and again, grasping at his hair, mewling and yelping.

As they grew still he didn’t climb toward her. Instead he rested his head against her thigh and gazed dreamily up at the brightening sky, turning every so often to and nudge her folds with his nose, tenderly lick her labia. He held one of her feet absently in his hand.

“Hey,” she said, after a while.

“Hey.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“Not much. That was nice.” He kissed the meaty part of her inner thigh, released her foot.

“I liked it,” she said.

“I noticed,” he said.

He made his way toward her, squirming up till they were face to face.

“It’s too weird,” he said.

“I’m available for weird.”

Weird. This from the guy who, the night before, had confessed to discussing his missing sister’s hypothetical thoughts about their relationship with a freshwater sea monster. You couldn’t spend much time with Mulder unless you were down with weird. But if he was calling it weird, it meant he was afraid to tell her.

She had to admit some trepidation. If he was about to tell her he could only fuck her if she wore a ball gag or that he needed to call her by the name of his favorite pornstar, it would be disappointing.

Not a deal breaker. They had both arrived here with plenty of checked baggage that would need to be claimed. But disappointing.

“You can tell me,” she said.

“I was just thinking about being a teenager. About all the time I spent alone in my room after Samantha was gone. Trying to sleep, flipping around in my bed. Looking out the window at the trees. Jerking off, which helped a little, but never for very long. I was too sad to cry, Scully. I didn’t cry for years.”

She was holding his face, trying not to cry herself. She nodded at him to continue.

“Just now looking out the window I was thinking that if I would have known for just one second back then that I’d be like this with someone, that someday I could feel happy like this, it would have made it easier.”

“Oh Mulder,” she said.

Now she wasn’t trying not to cry and neither was he, his face burrowed in her neck.

She cradled him with her body, wrapping her arms and legs around him and rocking, her spine a fulcrum.

“Could you come closer?” she whispered. She kissed the salt from his cheeks, his lips.

He nodded.

She reached down to stroke him and he was already hard.

She spread her legs.

Letting out a shaky breath, he centered himself and pushed into her.

It wasn’t fucking yet, or even making love; it was something simpler, a dance slower than slow, a connected embrace. It was a fullness of hearts and throats and down there too, thick as he was. She could feel him everywhere.

“Mulder?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m here now. And so are you. And I’m happy too.”

Chapter Text

Just like regular people, they were sitting on canvas lawn chairs in the backyard of Bane and Alameda’s spread on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The pair of them, usually so sedulous and morose, two among ten or twelve other regular people--plus at least as many kids scrumming and swirling about--drinking beer and smiling and eating ribs.

She was wearing the sun dress from the plane. That had been the first image he’d absorbed that morning, as she slept and he crept outside through the porch, her dress slung over a makeshift clothesline flapping in a coastal breeze.

They had finally made it to the store for provisions on Saturday, three days after arriving at the bungalow. The General Store was just that, an airy open room immaculately clean that sold one or two types of everything he could imagine needing in Hawaii.

Scully was selecting sensible food items which they could combine to make nutritious and tasty meals and placing them in their basket.

He was picking things up and putting them back down.

He picked up a jar of locally produced pink sea salt and held it up for inspection. Tiny humid flakes gummed together as he rolled the jar. Could have used a few more days on the evaporation mat. He set it down.

He picked up a straw fedora, spun it in his hands. Maybe in ten years, he thought, and put it back down.

He picked up a tin of sardines packed in garlic and mustard and almost added that to their basket, then decided they were too smelly for this phase of the relationship.

He picked up a fluffy grass hula skirt on the small rack dedicated to apparel. “What do you think?” he said, shaking it at Scully, who was palming a sweet red pepper by the vegetable bins along the wall. Eyebrow wag.

“I think almost anything would look good on you. It’s not my favorite thing about you.” Deadpan plaster, alabaster. His girl. He put it back.

He picked up a Leatherman tool and flipped out the pointy awl. Some people might see it and think about craft projects, but he tested the point with his thumb and absorbed instead its lethal potential, bringing to mind misty green blood. And the howlers.

How did the saying go? I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

He’d rather punch this pick through a thousand skulls before dinner wearing that hula skirt than have Scully waylaid by even one more twitchy-eyed bedlamite.

Didn’t have the same ring to it, but it was equally true. Since he didn’t want to have to do that and his fervent desire to protect her couldn’t do so perfectly anyway, it was possible a lifestyle change was in order.

Up to her, of course. But he was moving things around inside himself, adjusting to new possibilities.

As he was folding it back up Bane appeared from the back.

“Don’t go getting handy on us, Mulder. You’re here to relax.”

“Very little danger of that. Even if we weren’t.”

He put it down and they shook hands. He figured the man had noticed his soft city hands the first time they met. Dexterous, exceedingly competent guys intimidated him. Bane probably already made up a nickname for him he didn’t want to ever overhear.

Actually, as they stood there each taking the measure of the other, he was surprised to find himself liking the guy. His highly sensitive system of suspicions and alerts didn’t kick in when he was around, at any rate. Probably because the relaxed friendly way he called him Mulder, and how he’d kept his easy cool when they’d shown up armed and amped the other day.

Alameda had appeared as well and chatted with Scully near the cash register, which Mulder gathered was being worked by the son-in-law of the couple. Scully cooly extended her hand to him. Tall skinny guy. Kino.

He and Bane discussed some of the quirks of the bungalow. Then, when Mulder noticed the half dozen or so types of pickles stored in big jars on top of the deli counter, Bane recounted the elaborate process they went through to make them. He found it surprisingly interesting.

On the ride home, she’d informed him that they’d be attending the barbecue after church the next day.

“Church?”

“Yes. They’re Catholic. They have people over after mass every week. Mostly family, I gathered. But we’re invited.”

“Are we expected at church, too?”

“Well, I’d like to go. I assumed you wouldn’t, so somebody is going to pick me up at 10:30. If you want to come to church, I can call and let them know I don’t need a ride…”

“No, that works. I’ll just meet you after.”

He was, in fact, working on his prayer. Even so, he was far from becoming any sort of theist.

______________________________________

 

As she dressed for church, he sat on the edge of the bed and the scene was oddly reminiscent of watching his mother prepare to go out.

He tried to convince her that they should wear the matching shirts he’d gotten them in Honolulu, the blue with the pineapple print. No way, no how. But as a tiny amends for being so checked out in the store, he thought, she tried it on for him.

She looked good in anything and better in nothing, but he had to admit the dress was way sexier.

“I’ve never been to a luau. Do you think they’re gonna scorch a pig in a pit for us?”

“It’s not a luau. It’s like a lunch. A barbecue.”

“I’m trying to figure out what to expect. I only want to fit in, to get along Scully. Aren’t luaus traditionally where people get lai’d, by the way?”

“I don’t know, and nobody said luau. You shouldn’t either.”

“What’s wrong? You don’t want to be seen with the bumbling white guy in the obnoxious shirt?”

“Besides, we’ve got the laid part covered. Unless you really are insatiable.”

She had accused him of such not an hour before. He could cop to that. He'd been called worse things by women. Much worse things by this very woman, actually. Megalomaniacal. Crazy on more than one occasion. Much, much worse things if you listened carefully to what she muttered under her breath from time to time.  Insatiable he could live with. 

She was biting her bottom lip as she buckled her watch, which worked like a crude signal to the lower, more atavistic parts of his brain. As she was walking by, he grabbed her around the waist and slung her to the bed.

“Mulder? We just got out of bed.” He was kissing his way down her shoulder where it wasn’t covered by her dress. His thumbs were circling lightly on her hip bones.

If he had been the one driving her, he would have tried harder to make her late for church. But, in consideration of the fact that she was catching a ride, he released her. Scully didn’t like to be late or keep people waiting.

His motivations were more mixed. As far as he was concerned, Bane might be an ok guy. But he didn’t want Scully climbing into his rad, spotless truck looking any more irresistibly ripe and debauched than she already did. Even to go to church. He was secure enough in her feelings for him, but not stupid enough to think he and Padgett were the only ones to notice her.

He grabbed the spare bottle of scotch on his way out the door to meet her a few hours later. Although it had been years since he’d been to someone’s house like that, he had been raised with certain codes and customs he didn’t try very hard to shake. He didn’t like to show up, for example, empty handed. They didn’t have a bottle of wine and it seemed like the food would be covered.

Flowers, another option, had occurred to him. But what good was it to bring a fistful of severed dying ones when they were everywhere, unfolding at dawn and tucking themselves back in for the night. Thousands of flowers of endless shapes and variety encircled the yard shifting and spilling in the wind, relinquishing their dusty seeds back to the earth. How many in a billion actually took root? Nature’s redundancies blew the mind. What a miracle it ever happened at all. He’d never, before visiting this place, thought so deeply about the clearly rich inner life of flowers.

Flowers. The afternoon before they had been intertwined in some or other ecstatic way and something in Scully shifted, moving her to hold him in intimate hostage. She hovered above him in the female superior position, her labia lips brushing against his dick which strained toward her as he worked to keep his hips still.

She got a flinty look in her eyes and asked him, “Did you really steal those flowers from a guy with a broken leg?” She centered herself over him and kissed the tip with the sweet damp opening of her pussy, pulsing her pelvic muscles to tease him.

“I’m not sure what the best answer is here, but I’d rather get this right than guess final jeopardy correctly every day for a month.”

“The truth,” she said.

“I bought them from a vendor just outside the hospital entrance.”

She sunk down on him, and oh god, watching her swallow him like a magic trick. But just one swipe, then she dangled above him again. He groaned and dug his fingernails into the wooden headboard.

“Why did you lie?” Scully had missed her calling. The CIA would have been lucky to land an interrogator as merciless and creative. Her only chink was her sweet scully wetness beading over the head of his cock, blowing up her spot of cold indifference.

“Because I’m a guarded asshole. And because I wanted to spare you. I had noticed by then that you don’t like to be worried over.”

It must have been the right answer because of how she fucked him then, clenching and swiveling on his dick, milking his cock with her tight silky box until he popped off inside her like a Roman candle.

He had to agree. They had the laid part pretty well covered.

Chapter Text

Mulder pulled the jeep up behind the General Store and found six or seven cars and trucks parked along the dusty lane, including Bane's sky blue pickup. He got out and followed the rabble of voices around to the back yard.

Bane and Alameda were sitting like a king and queen holding court among in a loose circle of ten or so lawn chairs. Bane waved him over. He leaned down and Alameda, who was much shorter than Scully, gave him a peck on the cheek.

“I’m glad you could come, sweetheart. Maybe next week you can join us for church?”

“Stop prothletising, Al.” Bane said. “She’s trying to save your soul. I hope you don’t take offense.”

“None at all. I’ll tell you what? I'll think about it,” Mulder said to Alameda.

“Good,” she said. “I’ll save you a seat.” She sat back down and Mulder handed the bottle of scotch over to Bane.

“Thank you Mulder. That's thoughtful of you. Have a seat.”

Mulder sat down. He looked around, but didn’t see Scully.

“My kids will be more than glad to have a nip of this, I’m sure.” Bane waved the bottle across the yard at a man who looked astonishingly like him--with wavy dark hair and straight large teeth--only half his age.

The younger man made his way over and Bane introduced him as his son Stan. Mulder wondered what it might be like to have such a blatant piece of yourself stalking the earth at the same time as you.

“Thank’s man," Stan said, eyeing the bottle. "This is the good stuff.”

He ducked into the house and nearly bumped into Scully as she was coming out. He’d worn the shirt. She saw him right away.

When she walked over he stood like the southern gentleman he wasn’t. He wanted to lean in and kiss her hello to assuage the pain of the interminable two hours since he’d seen her. He had to get a grip. Instead he offered her the chair next to his.

“Thank you, Mulder,” She said. "It’s nice to see you. How was the rest of your morning?”

“Good,” he said. Why did he suddenly feel nervous around her? She looked stunning in the stippled light of the yard guarded from too much sun by a row of conifers.

Stan appeared again with a tray of shot glasses and had already cracked the bottle he’d brought. These people seemed to like to share.

Scully and Mulder each took one, as did a half dozen other people sitting around. Kino, the son-in-law from the cash register, was working the grill, but paused to offer a toast.

“Welcome to the friends who brought this nice drink. Ola.”

“Bottom’s up,” Stan said.

They all threw back a shot. Well, Scully got hers down in three hearty sips. Stan collected the glasses and took the bottle back inside.

“No shot for you?” Scully said.

“I don’t partake,” Bane said.

Mulder looked at him, sensing they were being offered something.

“I laid off the sauce a few years after I got home from Southeast Asia in 1971. I was lucky because I already had Noe here,” he said, gesturing to a lovely woman with straight dark hair and large chestnut eyes.

“Hi,” Noe said, waving at them shyly. Mulder noticed for the first time that she was nursing a baby that looked to be less than a month old.

He and Scully waved at her.

“Alameda and my kids held me together. We live a sweet simple life these days. But I honestly don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t met her before I got shipped out. Or if she hadn’t stuck by me that first year or two after I got home.”

“Were you drafted?” Mulder asked.

“Yep. Lottery number 13. Lucky me.”

Mulder laughed. He really did like this guy.

“July 8th, 1944 11:35 pm. If I'd been born a half hour later my draft number would have been 277. I never would have been called."

"That is astonishing. How do you even wrap your mind around that?" Mulder said.

"I've had a lot of years to get used to it. The funny thing is, I did get lucky in some ways. Richie’s dad didn’t do as well. Richie was born when he was over there and he shipped out as a newlywed. Getting married and adding a baby are both huge adjustments in life. He didn’t have a real chance. And then he felt like a failure for leaving his family.”

“Did you meet there?” Scully asked.

“No, here. Over on Oahu rather. But the shared sense of experience bonded us.”

“I can imagine,” Scully said.

Now Bane’s son, that Stan, was making eyes in Scully’s direction. What was it with these guys? How much and what kinds of things did they like to share, exactly?

She was radiant, that’s what it was. Her red hair brushing her pale shoulders. And in this company she was the one with exotic looks.

Mulder was relieved when Stan’s own lady came over and plopped on his lap. She took his chin between her two fingers and swiveled it toward her. They both laughed and he kissed her. She was fairly pregnant, he noticed. A few minutes later a two year old waddled over to them and pressed his face into Stan’s knees.

“I guess I can tell you since I’m long retired and he’s gone that I used Richie’s dad as an informal CI in Honolulu. We were friends, so it was complicated for both of us. I could have just as easily wound up living the marginal life he did. I never forgot that for long.”

“Seems like a valuable perspective,” Mulder said.

“He was a good guy. He fell in love with this island when he came for a visit with us, to see Alameda’s uncle. He scrimped and saved for a year or two to buy that piece of land, driving cab and probably doing some things I turned a blind eye to. He was in sales, put it that way.”

“I didn’t know that about Uncle Dick,” Stan said.

“Yeah, he slowly gave up all that crap, including getting off the drugs himself, as he built that place you’re staying in. That bungalow should have some good vibes. I believe it saved his life. For a while at least. And it gave him something to leave to his boy, which mattered to him. He carried the war in his bones till the day he died. I hate when people say shit like he’s in a better place, but he is.”

Mulder thought about what he knew about Langly, and how it meshed up with the story of his complicated progenitor. He supposed everyone had a story. How his adherence to his work had narrowed his vision.

Alameda joined them again. She’d brought out a tray of the most delicious deviled eggs he’d ever tasted and offered them around before setting it down and joining the circle. Stan brought over a beer each for Mulder and Scully.

“I better not drink this too fast,” he whispered to her. “You look so exquisite that my inhibitions are my only line of defense.”

A gaggle of kids walked through the circle of grown ups.

Scully was about to answer him when a they were interrupted.

“Hey! I know you!”

A little girl, about four, was standing in the center of the circle of adults pointing at Scully.

“Hi there,” Scully said.

“You were at the beach,” she said smiling broadly. Then her gaze narrowed suspiciously. “I saw you kissing in the water.” She was still pointing.

“Scully!” Mulder said, wagging his beer at her. “What have you been getting up to?”

The little girl scrutinized Mulder’s face to see if she recognized him as the other culprit.

Her mother, Mulder soon realized, was Bane and Alameda’s daughter Noe. Now she handed the tiny bundled baby off to her mother and pulled her daughter gracefully toward her for a whispered chat.

Mulder could be kind of blurry to kids, all tall and ordinary looking. Scully, more on their level and with her dramatic coloring, often snagged their attention. He looked over at her and wondered if she was uncomfortable. He didn’t think so. He brushed her fingers with his. She took his hand.

Bane and Alameda looked at one another and nodded.

The little girl approached Scully and stood bashfully by her chair.

“I’m sorry for pointing and shouting,” she said.

“That’s ok. I saw you too, at the beach. You had on a red jacket, didn’t you?”

“I did!” she smiled hugely, as though discovering for the first time she wasn’t invisible. “I was with my friend Ben and his mom. My name is Lilo.”

“Nice to meet you,” Scully said. “My name is Dana, and this is my friend Mulder.”

“Hi,” Mulder said.

Lilo looked at him slightly less dubiously, but really she only had eyes for Scully. That was fine by him. She should revel in the attentions of people other than half-baked psychos projecting their mayhem onto her.

“I’m not going to do kissing. I think it’s kind of yucky. My mom says I’ll change my mind, but I won’t.”

Noe rolled her eyes in comic exasperation behind her.

“That’s ok by me,” said Kino, coming away from the grill, wiping sweat from his forehead. He plopped down next to Noe with a beer. He was Lilo’s dad. Mulder was sketching together the limbs of the family tree.

“It will be your decision when you get older,” Scully said.

The girl nodded gravely and took off running toward the house. She came out a minute later wearing her red windbreaker. She dragged a doll by one hand and squatted on the ground between her mother and Scully and started whispering and tending to her.

Mulder and Scully smiled shyly at each other over sips of their drinks.

Bane dug a beer out of a barrel and brought it to Mulder. He hadn’t realized his was almost empty.

“Thanks,” Mulder said, cracking the seal. The beer tasted better in Hawaii. Everything did.

“You two look good,” he said. “Seems like you’ve taken it down a notch or two since you arrived the other day.”

“We have indeed,” Mulder said. “It’s just so peaceful here.” Their fingers brushed between their chairs. Scully nodded.

“As a rule, we don’t ask too many questions when one of Richie’s guests is over. But my son Stan here was wondering if he might speak with you about the Bureau.”

Stan had leaned forward and was nodding. “Doesn’t have to be today, depending on how long you might be staying,” he said.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other and shrugged.

“He’s a cop in Honolulu,” Bane said, “two years out of the Navy, six years out of USC, and he’s thinking of applying to the Academy.”

“Sure,” Scully said, looking at Stan for the first time. “Ask away.”

“I don’t want to bombard you,” he said. “I don’t like to talk about work too much around the kids. Maybe we could go for a walk after we eat? I’ll be around next weekend, too.”

“That sounds good,” Mulder said. “I need to warn you though that I’ve had a bit of a downwardly mobile career arc at the Bureau.”

Scully was smirking.

“I may have, at times, dragged Agent Scully along with me in that direction. But if you promise to take my career advice with a grain of salt, I’ll answer all your questions.”

"How long have you two been partners, if I might ask?" Bane asked.

"Six magical years," Scully said, smiling ruefully.

So what if she was puckering her lips sarcastically? For him the years had, in fact, been chockablock with magic. Mulder leaned in and kissed her on the mouth, which was like scratching a bad itch he'd been suffering for hours. What did anyone here care? What did he care if they did?

He was maybe a little bit drunk. But Scully had ever so fleetingly slipped him some tongue, so it was ok. She was tipsy too and tasted like boozy pinecones and the breeze. They were total lightweights. Lightweights with heavy karma, both of them.

"Well, thank you for your honesty," Bane said. "What are you smiling about, Scully?"

"I'm just imagining what our AD's face would look like if he were overhearing this conversation."

Chapter Text

She didn’t know quite what she was going to say to this kid about the Bureau.

Since she and Mulder had joined up so much had happened to them.

Between the two of them they’d been set up, shot down, chipped, drowned, bitten, drugged, spied on, lied to, showered, mugged, taken, burned, replaced, and slugged. They’d been fooled, infected, hypnotized, suspected, doubted, ridiculed, suspended, cut, hospitalized, transferred, sterilized, stuck, tattooed, cuffed, run down, and roughed up. They’d been scratched, sequestered, seduced, infested, bugged, duped, doped, used, bawled out, embarrassed, shot and abused. They’d been tricked and traded, lured and invaded, paired and separated, kissed and baited, fired, burned, quarantined and decontaminated, starved and sated, jailed and placated, audited, abducted, injected, stung and disrespected, stripped, shaved, abandoned and saved…

This was just a partial list. And it didn’t begin to capture the horror.

Or the thrill.

She was drunk.

 

Chapter Text

Their sex life, the part of it that included the official deed anyway, had begun inauspiciously.

On the plane he said he wanted to do this right. Safe to say he hadn’t envisioned entering her for the first time while simultaneously bawling into the crook of her neck.

As he slowly pulled himself together, he started to feel embarrassed.

He tried to push away, but she caught him by the shoulders and held him there.

“Stay,” she said.

He shook his head no. He felt a little desperate to escape. She didn’t let go.

“Shhhhh. Stay.”

He collapsed on top of her again. He pondered his next move, how to salvage some dignity, a few hot oily tears still leaking from the corners of his eyes.

He wiped his drippy nose against the sheet and took deep breaths as she stroked his back, her legs loose around his waist, him still buried in her.

Slowly, as he regained his breath, his composure returned.

He turned his head to whisper in her ear.

“When I used to dream about making you wet, it wasn’t like this at all.” He dabbed at her blubbered-on neck with the edge of the pillow case.

“It’s not so bad,” she said.

“Could I go out and come back in and have a do over? Like a mulligan?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No do overs.”

He wondered if she was thinking of that stupid fucking bee.

He sighed. Her hands were on the back of his neck, her fingers lightly scratching, teasing the nape.

He shifted some of his weight to his elbows and knees, becoming more fully conscious of where they were engaged. She felt incredible, so alive beneath him.

“Hi,” he said, picking his head up to look at her.

“Hi,” she said. The arousal in her fluttery breath was a relief. This was not pity.

“I’m inside you,” he said.

“I know.” She arched and contracted around him, just a quick pulse. “You feel really good.”

“Are you usually turned on by dudes who cry?”

“Just this one guy,” she said, scratching her fingers lightly across his chest. “I work with him. I’m turned on by a lot of stuff he does. He’s sensitive and brilliant and beautiful. He’s funny and kind. He really does it for me. It’s torture.” She bit his nipple, craned her neck and gripped at his dick again. She was strong everywhere. “I love him.”

He smiled and kissed her softly on the lips. One, two, three times, each time lingering a little longer there.

“He’s a lucky guy.”

“He is at the moment, yeah,” she said.

“Ummm,” he said, kissing her again. Her mouth tasted like spring.

“I’m admittedly rusty,” he said, “but I think this would be even more fun if we were moving.”

She nodded her head. “I read that somewhere.”

“Should we try it?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” Her voice shook a little.

He pulled out of her a few inches and was overcome by delicious friction as he slid back in, baring his teeth.

“Ahhh,” she said, throwing her head back..

“How’d that go?”

“I think we’re onto something.”

He did it again.

“Yeah,” she said airily, “we're doing this right.”

She hinged her knees back and he was drawn deeper into her. He had forgotten —how could he have forgotten?— how good this felt. It had been so long.

And this was Scully, her mouth vital underneath his, her breasts feathery against his ribs while mindfully, slowly he slid in and out of her, curling his hips, his hands framing her face, ranging a little deeper each time.

She was squeaking a little and holding his shoulders, her head still angled back. But oh she had a slippery little cunt and she felt so real and he was fighting the urge to go harder. He did not want to hurt her.

The tip of his cock inside her felt like an ember the color of her hair, the heat and pleasure building with every stroke. He reached between them and pressed two fingers on either side of her opening, felt himself shifting in and out. The tight wetness. Real. He felt tears well up again but he didn’t care.

“Scully,” he breathed into her hair, rubbing a strand between two fingers. Fire.

She nodded.

He started thumbing her clit. She grasped and stilled his wrist, pulled his hand up between them.

“That’s too much.” Her eyes were bright on his face. She opened her hips wider. “Just this.”

“Ok,’ he said, fucking her less tentatively. She was soft and so snug and seemed to go on forever. He was trying to go slow but his hips had been accelerating at a gradual, regular rate and he was venturing deeper now.

“Ok?” he said.

“Good.” she said, nodding firmly.

Her voice had a little strain to it and he could see he strafed her but didn’t want to stop. She didn’t seem to want him to.

“You want to...?” he gestured with his hands switching places.

She shook her head no.

“Stay there. Come in me. I want to watch you.” She was breathless and flushed.

“Can do,” he said. He didn’t need to go slow. Not this time.

The world narrowed down to the intersection between them and her hands on his ass.

The ember grew brighter as he fucked her, tension and bliss climbing up, up. Her eyes on him. He knew what she wanted.

“You feel so fucking good,” he said. “Scully. Your pussy. My God.”

The veins in his head were pulsing and he was straining as he imagined his dick glowing, growing hot inside her and he jammed himself in, faster, he couldn’t help it.

She was all eyes, beyond any pain, her own breath heaving, and she locked her legs around his back, pulled at his hair.

Then he caught fire, flashed over, saying her name again and again, the only prayer he needed as he spilled into her. Ahhhh. She loved him and he believed it and it billowed out from his hips to his heart to his head and beyond.

He felt it everywhere.

 

Chapter Text

After they had eaten and sobered up, they set off on their walk. The other guests--most of them members of Kino’s family--had gone home.

They left from a trail that led away from the backyard and ran six miles west to the water, according to Bane, though they wouldn’t be going that far.

Scully changed into the hiking gear she’d thought to toss in the back of the jeep. The little girl Lilo was shadowing her everywhere and even tried to follow her to the bathroom to change. She was adorable with pigtails and dark onxy eyes. Mulder, who was already appropriately casual, distracted her with some lame magic trick. She kept looking over his shoulder for Scully to come out.

He wondered if she was thinking of Emily--this girl was about the same age after all. He couldn’t tell. She seemed to be feeling okay.

Bane and Noe and Stan came along for the walk. The five of them strolling on the wide gentle path created a nucleus around which the children buzzed and circled like particles. There was Lilo of course, who was striving to keep up with two boys, fraternal twins of about six that seemed to belong to Noe and Kino as well. The babies had stayed behind at the house.

“Thanks for agreeing to speak with me,” Stan said. “I guess it’s easier said than done, shaking the kids. Some aspects of my work are disturbing and they get nightmares. But they’re not listening anyway.”

“No problem,” Scully said. “We’re not exactly designated recruiters for the FBI, but we’d be glad to help if we can.”

The landscape was less lush than the path by the bungalow, which was closer to the water. There were few trees but lots of scrubby brush sprouting up from the dark earth. Every once in a while they came upon a tumble of large black boulders. Mulder tried to imagine the forces that might have deposited them there.

Stan described how he liked his job as a cop, but also how he could imagine it would wear him down over time, encountering the seaminess and vice every day. He had collaborated with some field agents on a kidnapping case and was intrigued with the work they did.

They spoke with him about the application process and Academy, the hoops he’d need to jump through. He wanted to stay in Hawaii, and they told him that he couldn’t count on it but he’d likely be assigned there after a year or two.

He asked thoughtful questions, seemed to have realistic expectations and an appropriate work history. Mulder thought he seemed like an ideal candidate.

Scully suggested he come visit DC and they could show him around, introduce him to Skinner so he might have a viable reference from within the Bureau.

“Actually, I think you should come too,” Scully said to Bane. “Our boss and you might have a lot to talk about.”

“Maybe I will,” Bane said, winking at her.

“So why did you join the Navy?” Scully asked Stan. “I grew up in the Navy because of my dad. Now my brother’s a career guy too.”

“No kidding? His name Scully too?”

“Bill Scully.”

“Oh THAT guy?”

Mulder and Scully both looked at him in astonishment.

“Just kidding. I don’t know him.”

“But if you did know him you’d probably say the same...exact...thing,” Mulder said.

“Sounds like a story there,” Bane said.

“He’s not fond of Mulder,” Scully said. “Which is unfair. But he does have some redeeming qualities.”

“Anyway,” Stan said. “I was never thinking about a Navy career. Just like those two--he pointed to the two young boys who had climbed a boulder and were holding hands on top--I have a twin and we wanted to go to school together. He got a tennis scholarship at USC, but I wasn’t good enough. I had to do the ROTC thing. No sense going into debt.”

“Boys, that’s too high. Come on down.” Noe stepped toward her sons, atop the boulder, and extended her hand to help them back to earth.

Lilo came up next to Scully and took her hand.

“Hi Dana,” she said. “Are you sleeping at our house?”

“No, Honey,” Bane said. “Dana and Mulder are staying at the bungalow. But they’ll come back to see us soon I hope.”

“We will,” Scully said, squeezing the little girl’s hand.

“Tennis?” Mulder asked.

“Yep,” Stan said. “We have three surfaces right here on Molokai. Clay, grass, and asphalt. There was nothing else to do, so he and I used to beat the tar out of the ball all day every day.”

“And each other,” Bane said.

“Is he still in Hawaii?” Scully asked.

“Nope. He’s in California for now. He launched a startup. Doing the dotcom thing. He lives in Simi Valley. He’s smarter and a better athlete. Luckily I’m a little bigger. I had no choice but to beat the crap out of him.”

“Don’t let Stan’s humble pie crap fool you,” said Noe, returning from getting her sons resettled on the ground. “He had a full-ride four-year scholarship from the Navy anywhere he wanted to go. They’re not easy to come by.”

“And don’t let my sister’s meek shopkeeper mommy act fool you. Noe’s a Merit Scholar. She graduated UofH in three years.”

Mulder remembered seeing a sign outside the store: Taxes Prepared on Premises.

“Wow,” Scully said to Bane. “It must be gratifying to have raised such accomplished, friendly, and well-rounded children.”

“I’m proud of all my children.”

Mulder noticed a an edge in his voice, something brumal and bleak he remembered from his own home.

“Tutu! Tutu!” The boys were yelling. Apparently they had found a rather large lizard.

“I’m being paged, excuse me,” Bane said, jogging ahead to catch up with the kids. Lilo dropped Scully’s hand and ran after him.

“I hope we didn’t say something wrong?” Mulder said.

“No,” Noe said, sighing. “We have a little sister. She’s twenty-two and she’s already been on the streets in Honolulu for five years. She’s an addict. It’s painful for him. He blames himself.”

“That must be difficult,” Scully said.

“It is. Lilo is her daughter, actually. God knows who the father is.”

“I thought she belonged to you,” Scully said.

“She does,” Noe said.

“She belongs to all of us,” Stan said.

“But Kino and I raise her with the boys and now baby Jules. Tutu and Puna on the other side of the duplex, of course. She’s lived with us from almost the start. But our sister breezes in every six months or so and it’s confusing to Lilo, I think. It’s a tough time for her, with the baby. I think that’s why she’s so taken with you. We appreciate your patience.”

“It’s nothing,” Scully said. “She’s a sweet little girl.” She was blushing.

Mulder took her hand. She let him.

“About a year ago,” Stan was saying, “Our sister came by on a Sunday--a day like today--and tried to take Lilo. She’d met some shady white guy--no offense--” Mulder and Scully both waved him off “and they were supposedly clean and moving to the Big Island and wanted to take her along.”

“Kino was shitting bricks,” Noe said. “There’s no blood relation but that’s his little girl. We all were pretty panicked. We convinced her to get settled first then send for Lilo. Luckily it never happened.”

“I see her along my beat sometimes,” Stan said. “I used to give her a hard time, but I don’t anymore. Bane hated that, so I stopped. She usually ignores me. We used to let her crash with us once in a while. Feed her. But then shit started disappearing. I’m just glad when I see her she’s still alive.”

Noe said, “If anything…”

“Shhh,” Stan cut her off. Bane was walking back to them.

“So Stan,” Scully asked, “You and your family live in Honolulu?”

“Yes. That’s where the work is. Jennie’s a nutritionist. We come over on weekends when I don’t have to work. Right now I’m on every third weekend, so it isn’t bad. We like to get our boy here as often as possible. We have a small boat to get back and forth.”

“What do you say we turn around?” Noe said. “These kids need a bath before bed.”

They walked homeward in comfortable silence for a few minutes, Bane pointing out landmarks between them and the sea, naming the birds swooping overhead. Lilo came up between Scully and Noe and took both their hands.

“Please let me know if I’m overstepping, but I’m curious,” Stan said. “Did you two get together before you went into the Bureau? Is it unusual to have partners be… partners?”

Mulder stayed quiet for a minute, seeing how Scully wanted to handle the question.

“It isn’t usual, that’s for sure. Nothing about our path at the FBI has been typical. Scully and I met in the Bureau six years ago, when she was assigned to an oddball department in which I am the only other agent. We’ve worked closely together and our work has been unusually... intense. Eventually, recently actually, our personal relationship evolved to what it is now. But there’s nothing official between us, as far as the FBI knows, beyond our working relationship. We’d prefer to keep it that way.”

He hadn’t thought about it, but he didn’t want this kid popping off about their personal business if he should meet anyone from the FBI in his travels. They had too many enemies who didn’t need more ammunition. He was glad to address the topic.

Scully was nodding. “That about sums it up.” Quoting Eddie Van Blundht could come in handy surprisingly often. The guy had a way with words, Scully had to concede that.

“I get it,” Stan said. “No worries.”

Mulder was surprised, as contrary to his official policy as it ran, to find himself trusting these people a bit.

“We specialize in discretion,” Bane said. “You two seem like a good fit, though. It isn’t good to be alone too much. I’m glad you’ve worked something out.”

“I’m glad too,” Scully said, quietly.

“I’m glad too,” Lilo said, swinging Scully’s arm.

They all laughed, bursting the bubble of tension that had built up around them.

It was moving toward evening when they rounded a turn and could see the house again. The boys were out ahead of them and were waving from atop a boulder even more imposing than the one Noe had helped them off of earlier.

“Those guys,” Noe said, shaking her head. Just then Lilo’s much shorter head popped up next to theirs and she was waving too.

What happened next happened very fast; one of the boys turned around and didn’t see Lilo. He bumped her and she tumbled off the front of the boulder, somersaulting ten feet to the ground.

They all took off running. Scully got there first and unzipped her red windbreaker. The girl was wailing, which Mulder knew was a good sign. Her entire face was splattered with blood, which obviously wasn’t.

Noe went to scoop her up, but Scully, who had whipped off her white shirt and was dabbing it gently against the girls headwound, said “No!”

Mulder took Noe’s arm and pulled her away to give Scully room to work. “Scully’s a doctor,” he said.

Puzzled looks all around.

“Mulder, hold this,” she was speaking very calmly. “I’ve got to check her for a spinal injury before anyone moves her,” she said over her shoulder. “Go get something flat so we can transport her if necessary,” she said to Stan. “And bring towels. And a scissor.” He took off running toward the house.

Mulder knelt down and applied pressure to the cut on Lilo’s forehead, careful not to jostle her neck. The blood had already seeped through Scully’s shirt.

“Bane, take your shirt off.” He was doing it before she finished the sentence. “Give it to Mulder.” Mulder put the shirt on top of Scully’s and pressed a little harder.

Scully was palpating the girls extremities, talking to her, asking her where it hurt, looking for breaks. The girl was beyond speech, still howling. Mulder knew it was good she was not twisted up. She was flat on her back and seemed to be moving everywhere. He felt Scully relax fractionally.

Scully ran her hands up under the girls neck and felt gingerly along her spine. She pulled her hands out and relaxed a little more.

“Mulder, press harder. The bleeding is our biggest worry I think.”

“Noe, sit by her head and see if you can get her calm and talking. Ask her where it hurts.”

Noe sat next to Mulder. “Can I touch her?” She was crying too, though she had kept her cool.

“Yes. Gently.”

Noe cooed at and soothed the child while Scully removed her shoes, checked her feet.

The bleeding was starting to let up, Mulder thought. Lilo was calming down, answering Noe’s questions between fresh sobs.

Stan and Kino were racing back toward them, makeshift supplies in hand.

Mulder craned his neck around and saw Bane, who had one crying grandson plastered to each of his sides. His eyes were huge on Scully’s back where her still somewhat fresh exit wound was clearly visible beneath the strap of her sports bra. Mulder assumed he had seen the even more greusome scars on her front, too.

He made eye contact with Mulder, whistled softly, and shook his head.

Chapter Text

First thing Monday morning, and they weren’t at work.

Even so, the bungalow phone had already rung three times.

Margaret, checking on them, woke them up. He’d groggily said hello, handed her the phone, then went outside take a peek at the tub.

Skinner, the same. He talked to Mulder. He was moving them from sick time to vacation time, which suited them both fine. He hadn’t asked when they’d be back. They hadn’t discussed when they might be leaving at all.

And Bane, letting them know what they had figured before they left, that Lilo was—thirteen stitches and a lollipop later—fine. He invited them for dinner Friday, as a thank you. They had accepted.

The night before, after the day’s harrowing turn, he’d fired up the soaking tub thinking it would be just about perfect in the morning. It was.

He was holding her in his lap, which was perfect too. The morning air was crisp, a breeze at their faces.

“I’ve gotta call my Mom back. I wasn’t ready to make words when she called earlier.”

“I guess she knows…”

“We’re doin’ it? She does now. Unless she’s trying to pretend we’re literally just sleeping together. Ten years ago she was capable of that. Melissa and I used to laugh about her denial skills. It’s one reason I hung up so quickly.”

“Sorry. I wasn’t up for subterfuge at seven am.”

“It's not on you. If you’re going to call your thirty-five year old daughter that early, you better be ready to accept the consequences. She may have lost track of the time difference, in her defense.”

“I hope I didn’t mess things up. I like her. After New York, and the other times, we've been through a lot together. And I’m hoping to be in the mix for some time to come.” He wrapped his arms around her.

“It’s fine. She likes you too. She wants me to be happy. She knew I was here with you, and that I want to be here. It’s just that she’s a devout Catholic. It’s jarring to her to think in too much detail about... my choices.”

“Well, I like your choices.”

“You know, maybe she didn’t lose track of time. I don’t want to fix her like I fixed you for too long. She’s changed a lot since my dad died. And I hung up with her, after all… Anyway, it’s fine.”

They were quiet, just breathing together for a while.

“You really think so? Skinner and Kimberly?”

All the little things they were now free to discuss; that was a pleasure in its own right. How she really felt about Skinner. Respect bordering on love, but not her type. (Phew.)

“Given how often you pull my hair,” he had said, “I can imagine why Skinner might not be your type.”

“Yeah, I get a little carried away with that.” He noted that she didn’t apologize.

Sunday morning in bed, he’d confessed to her about the first time he let himself fantasize about her, when they were trapped above the Arctic Circle with those officious scientists and the pugilistic worms. They’d practically just met. And already the solid structure of their partnership was firming up. He didn’t want to mess with that.

Still. Her hands kneading and searching his back. His hand cold on her toasty bare neck. How it had startled her. It had done him in. After the danger was past as they waited to be rescued, he felt so cooped up. Just this once, he told himself as he beat himself off in that depressing little chamber lined with pictures of a dead guy’s wife, thinking of her through the thin wall, her adorable white ski bunny parka, her face without makeup (freckles!). Imagining what it would be like. Just this once.

He’d told her all about it as she lazily sucked his dick. She was fun that way.

“I was too hyper-vigilant up there to even think of dividing my attention like that,” she had said. “All I did was watch the door.”

She sucked his dick some more, her lidded eyes on him, watching his responses, teasing him, working him out.

He considered revealing how, a few months later, finding her all flushed and bothered and barely buttoned under that dork of an Amishy alien guy had added texture and layers to his tortured imaginings about her. But he needed to make sure she wasn’t traumatized by the memory. He didn’t think she was. He’d test the waters first.

He wanted to propose marriage when, after about an hour of this, sucking and talking, laughing, sucking some more, he finally came on her tits. He really did want to. He almost blurted it out.

But he didn’t. Too soon, baboon.

Then they ate a huge breakfast. Then she got dressed for church.

“I think he may be taken, Scully. I do.” He was nuzzling her wet shoulder.

“It isn’t like you to gossip.”

“What you really mean is, nobody tells me anything.”

“Right.”

“First of all, he’s been suspiciously less than sanguine about our vacation. Given how into you he’s always been.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Nothing. He inferred. He seems... supportive.”

“That’s good I guess.”

“But that’s not really why. I saw something. A few months back.”

“What! You saw them doing something?”

“Nothing like that. Long story.”

“We got time,” she said, dragging her hand slowly along the surface of the water.

“Ok. But do you want to hear about the chaos that ensued after you got shot? Because that’s when it was.”

“Why not?” she said. “I’m ok now.”

He thought of Bane’s eyes, huge and horrified, on her scars. He winced, glad her back was to him. He tightened his arms around her.

“Ok. Let me know if you want me to stop.”

“I will,” she said.

“What a shitshow. Most awful day of my life. I got to Felig’s in time to see you being loaded into an ambulance.”

“I remember. You were frantic, but I was so happy to see you. I thought I’d never get to see you again. But I did.”

“I’m glad it made you happy. But it was terrible for me. I followed the ambulance and sat in the chairs lining the hallway outside the operating theater for a couple of hours. Just holding my head. Not moving. Dreading that the door would open because it was too soon.”

“Oh Mulder,” she said, wrapping her arms and legs around him under the water. She kissed his ear.

“Then Skinner showed up. An hour later, Kersh turned up with Ritter.”

“Oh no.”

“It was ok at first. Besides my updating Skinner when he first got there, and him updating them, none of us spoke at all. We sat there like altar boys with folded hands. Waiting. For hours.”

“Then the doors cracked open and you were pushed out. They stopped to let me at you for a second. I was so glad you were alive, but I could barely see you through the tubes and wires and drains and bandages. And what I could see looked very sick. You were so pale.”

“I was very sick.”

“And the next thing I know, there’s a huge ruckus behind me. Ritter had punched a nurse in the face. A guy nurse. But still.”

“What!?”

“I found out later the man had said something awful.”

“What?"

He shook his head.

“Tell me.”

“Okay, Scully. He said, ‘This one’s all over but the crying.’ He apparently thought we were a gaggle of pharmaceutical reps. Not friends of the patient.”

“Still. Jesus. How unprofessional. And Ritter punched him?”

“Yes. And as they wheeled you away, I grabbed Ritter and put him down, my knee on his chest, telling him it was all his fault. I was wound up from how weak you looked and just all of it. I hadn’t heard what the nurse said. Skinner made sure that douche apologized in writing to all of us later. I have your letter if you ever want to see it.”

“I'm good,” Scully said.

“So I had Ritter on the ground, smacking him around, which I almost felt bad about later. Kersh went to pull me off, just to break it up. But Skinner lifted him up by his collar and nearly put him through the wall. I was so shocked I quit slapping Ritter. For a second, at least.”

“Oh God. I’m glad I didn’t wake up until the next day.”

“Yeah. It was bad. It was like saloon fisticuffs in a cheesy Western.”

“What happened?”

“What happened was, Kimberly showed up.”

“Really? What was she doing there?”

“Skinner had sent her to pick up and escort your mother to the hospital.”

“What? She never mentioned that. She must have been pretty dazed.”

“Yeah. We all were. God Scully. We were all losing our minds. So Kimberly comes around the corner, sees all four of us huffing and fighting and says, ‘Excuse Me! Mrs. Scully stopped at the restroom but she will be here in two minutes.’”

“That broke the spell. We brushed each other off, straightened our lapels, and sat down like it had never happened. By the time your mom showed up, we were just four suited professionals waiting quietly again. It was bananas, Scully.”

“What happened between Kimberly and Skinner?”

“Oh yeah. The point. After she made her announcement, she pinned Walter with a look icier than I have ever been on the other end of. Even from you.”

He kissed her.

“It was very clear to me, at that moment, who was the boss of whom.”

“Huh. That’s compelling evidence. It doesn’t rise to the level of proof, but still. Very interesting.”

“I’ll rise to your level of proof Scully. Say the word.”

“You really think they’re together?”

“I think they might be. It makes sense to me.”

“Huh.” she said. “Let’s go back to bed.”

“I’m not tired, Scully.”

“Good,” she said. “Because I want you to fuck me.”

In bed, inside her, he told her more things. How much he’d always admired her physical courage, as itty bitty as she was. And her marksmanship. And her doctor skills. How he’d been reminded of that yesterday with the little girl.

He kissed his way down her body, pausing in the late morning sun through the skylight to get a good look at her scar. She’d guarded it before now.

“Mulder,” she said, squirming when he was kissing the red raised flesh. Between the bullet and the surgeries there was quite a bit of damage to her narrow torso, surgical incisions in an x marking the spot of the oval shaped entry wound. 

“Let me,” he said, running his fingers over her wounds, kissing her there. She gave up and relaxed.

“Does it still hurt?” he said.

“Sometimes. It pulls, if that makes sense. I’m less flexible, which is frustrating. And I’m worried about adhesions and other complications if I get pregnant.”

“What do the doctors say?”

“It’s ok. But I’ll need extra monitoring.”

“We almost lost you,” he said, moving lower, still kissing her, scraping his light beard over her lower belly. The baby place. “I don’t want that to happen again.”

She sighed.

"Do you think you would have hurt someone? If I'd died?" 

"Maybe Kersh. Not Ritter. That bit with the nurse earned him some points. Even though he was mostly scared for himself, I bet."

”He was a twerp. But it’s hard to know what’s in another person’s heart.”

”Mmm,” he said, kissing her belly again, creeping lower, eyes on the prize.

"Can you promise me, if we have someone depending on us and something happens to me, that you wouldn't put yourself at unnecessary risk?"

"Yes," he said. He was surprised to find he meant it. Then he was there and her hands were in his hair and they didn’t talk for a while.

There were things they weren’t discussing, of course. He wanted to ask her things, but he held back.

Did you fuck Ed Jerse? He’d often wondered, with some strange combination of jealousy and fascination. That was a Scully he didn’t know.

What are your feelings about butt sex?

What about your living situation?

Do you like the name Calamity Hopscotch for a girl? Robert Bacon Blight for a boy?

She hadn’t brought up Fowley since they were tripping. And he hadn’t asked her where she disappeared to the other morning in Honolulu. He thought he knew; she needed to be alone sometimes.

Monday evening he’d finally cracked one of the books they’d bought and was stretched out on the porch reading. It seemed like the temperature was always perfect for being outside.

They’d made love all morning, been at the beach all afternoon, then feasted on a box of food that had been left at their door.

Those people were really quite grateful for what Scully had done. She kept saying she hadn’t done anything.

She didn’t settle down, after dinner. In the kitchen, she inspected dishes he’d just washed. They’d relit the fire to heat up the tub, but it would be an hour or more till it was ready. He could see her carrying tension, her body worrying.

“You want to go for a walk?”

He did, of course, now that the seal on his isolation was broken he was like a big dopey Labrador Retriever. He wanted her to pat his head feed him and toss him a stick twenty-four seven. But he said nah, held up his book. You go ahead.

While she was gone he enjoyed the solitude and reflection more than the book, rubbing his hand over his chest, thinking of how she liked to let her head rest there, of the things they’d been up to. The ways and places they’d touched each other. Him and Scully. He still couldn’t believe it.

She was gone a half hour and came back looking much more clear. She laid down at the other end of the sofa and opened a book of her own.

Chapter Text

They fell into a loose routine, diurnal repetition and variation, enjoying the the long temperate days and cooler nights, filling them in with their new way of being together.

They got up early, crashed for a big nap, and went to bed late.

In the morning they packed up some food and either trekked to the beach or set out in the jeep to investigate other vistas on the compact island--smaller than San Diego and sparsely populated--yet replete with novelty and oddness and wonder.

Created by two fused shield volcanoes, the island had two distinct halves, the lower western half on which they were staying was marked by rolling dusty hills dotted with and overgrazed by cattle and goats. The eastern half was more dramatic, rising to almost five thousand feet above the ocean and teeming with cataracts and craggy cliffs, wetter and lusher, glutted with unfamiliar flora and fauna.

One day they toured a defunct leper colony. Another day they stumbled on a flower farm--field after field of bright plumerias, delicate and fragrant up close as they traversed through the furrowed rows. They strolled into a large barn-like structure and discovered a dozen women working at long tables. It seemed almost superhuman, the rapid precision with which their fingers could stitch together a flower necklace or finely detail the edge of a skirt or brim of a hat.

Kino had hooked them up with a friend of his who gave them a boardsailing lesson; he operated an adventure rental company on the southern rim of the island, guarded by a reef.

He wouldn’t take their money. Apparently, along a grapevine of certain locals, Scully’s role in helping Lilo when she’d fallen had grown in dimension and scope until it reached mythic proportions. She had quit even trying to tell people she hadn’t done anything. The girl had been stitched up and x-rayed in the ER after all.

She just smiled and nodded as she was thanked, his hand steady on her middle back.

Scully was a quicker study than Mulder, having done her share of sailing and skateboarding in her youth--he wrestled against the mast and stood up too tall--while her lower center of gravity worked to her advantage.

She felt freer than she had since she was a kid, swiveling the boom and hanging on as the sail filled, whisking her away. Stiffness had worked into her body, not only only due to the more major traumas--being gutshot never helped--but also the product of years of low level stress and travel and deskwork.

But the cricks and hindrances were lifted away by the wind as she learned the new skill. Soon she was skimming the surface of the water, bumping and pivoting, riding low on the board, coming about into the breeze roaring in her ears and kicking up spray.

The second time Mulder wiped out, she riffled past him, weaving in a braggy way.

The fifth time, she hopped off her board and joined him in the water where he bobbed in his life vest, still tethered, but sodden and defeated. She wrapped her legs around his waist and kissed him till he felt buoyed, gifting him his confidence back. That was the kind of thing he needed sometimes. And faith in him—in his resiliency and competence—was something she had in surplus. Mulder.

He got the hang of it after that. Watching him laugh as he wheeled into the wind, his hair blowing around and already drying, she soared with him.

Kino’s friend told them to come back and borrow rigs anytime—it was the low season. They did, but insisted the second time and after on paying the rental fee.

They often swung by the General Store on these outings to pick up supplies. Sometimes they stayed for hours. When business was slow Mulder played one-on-one with Kino at the hoop that was sunk into the edge of the parking lot. They were evenly matched, and the games friendly but competitive; when the twins were around they played loosey-goosey, one twin per side.

Scully would watch him play for a while--he loved brandishing his skills for her, she could tell. And he really was quite good at basketball. She especially liked watching when the boys joined and he was on the skins team, his well-defined obliques and sweat-dampened back muscles shifting and tilting in exertion under the sun as he goofed around.

Soon enough, though, she’d slip off to the house or store to visit with Noe and the newborn or Alameda. Usually she ended up with a book in the gazebo at the center of her small but well-tended vegetable garden.

Bane would sometimes come out with a pitcher of lemonade for a chat, Lilo following hot on his heels. She loved letting Scully in on all the little particulars of her life—her brand new big girl bed, the progress of the scar along her hairline, how she’d be going to school on the bus with Ryan-n-Hale in the fall. The twins--cute, but Scully couldn’t reliably remember which was which.

Lilo had two special friends--a babydoll named Patches and a cheap plastic inflatable doll, the kind you get at a circus at the end of a stick—of a lime green alien figure with big silvery eyes she’d named Don.

Mulder’d once ambled back after a glut of business at the store had ended his game to find the five of them around the table in the gazebo having a tea party.

“Scully?” he said, gesturing to Don the alien. “We said no work. I’m trying to be on vacation here.”

Bane seemed to try to make sense of that exchange, before giving up with an amused shrug.

When Lilo introduced her friends to Mulder, he shook their little doll hands hands and sipped gamely at his pretend tea.

And when Alameda came in and told Lilo it was nap time, she’d allowed herself to be led away, calling over her shoulder, “I like you Dana and Mulder, even though you do kissing.”

“Did you hear that Scully?” he said, “It’s nap time.”

Even when Mulder’s games went on and on she was rarely itching to leave. They were treated almost as part of the family, and it was a comfortable place to be.

When they got back from their morning adventures they often rinsed off in the shower, and always got into bed for an extended siesta. That moment when they both slipped under the cool sheets with their skin roughened and warmed from the morning outside became her favorite of the day, his body pressed naked against hers with the sun still high overhead an impossible luxury.

The late afternoons and evenings were mellow. She’d soak in the tub and he’d sit on the bench and read to her. Or they’d take walks together or separately. Sometimes Mulder would go for run or else a drive. They usually prepared and ate a big meal—she cooked, he chopped then did dishes.

There was an old fashioned hi-fi system and lots of vinyl: all stripes of jazz; Woodstock era rock and folk; a few Motown records; everything by Elvis. Once as they were making dinner he’d pulled her in to slow dance to one of the ballads; no matter how mawkish she found Elvis’ velvety crooning, it didn’t prevent her from going all gooey in his arms.

Just as often they sat on the porch and listened to the waves and the birds and the quiet that filled in behind the natural sounds, still stunning.

Nighttime was spent on either end of the sofa, playing footsie and reading. They had devoured the airport books within a week, but borrowed from the duplex; Bane liked anthropology and history and Noe kept them stocked in novels and biographies.

If they weren’t reading they were watching selected titles from Langly’s dad’s collection of old movies while sharing a big bowl of kettle corn popped on the stove--butter on his side only--or they played board games at the kitchen table. Scrabble and Monopoly were out; too cerebral, too involved. Chess was definitely out.

They leaned toward games that rewarded luck or had some element of drama--Jenga, Battleship, Sorry!--the one with the dice encased in the little plastic dome of the playing board. Nothing that required any strenuous mental effort. They both seemed to need to be released from angling and analyzing as they each dropped down to a place deeper and more elemental in themselves.

Days became weeks became a month, then longer. Mulder’s skin bronzed over and his hair started to curl against his collar. On the rare occasions he wore a collar, mostly on Church Day, as he called Sundays, when he’d get decked out to attend the after-mass barbecue in one of his small but growing collection of tacky shirts. He was adorable.

Neither had mentioned returning to their lives. The closest they’d come was one time when Mulder started as though waking from a dream and wondered aloud if his fish were dead.

He put down his book and called TLG Headquarters. Frohike answered like he’d been sitting hands folded at a reception desk, though it was four in the morning there.

Yep, he’d been feeding Mulder’s fishies. One had gone belly up, but the others were still living quality lives.

What that meant to a captive aquatic craniate, Scully didn’t know. But Mulder looked relieved.

“You guys having fun? Getting away from it all?” she heard Frohike ask through the handset. His voice seemed devoid of lechery. Warmth for him she’d expulsed in Vegas trickled back into her heart.

“I gotta admit,” Mulder replied, “this place is as advertised.”

Byers got on. Nothing that might concern them had popped up on their radar.

Langly was sleeping.

Skinner called Sundays from his home landline, checking in, and seeing if he should put them down for another week of vacation. They both had months in the bank, and he never nudged them to return. Neither of them asked what was new around the Hoover building. She wondered, though, if Mulder wanted to.

She talked to her mother once or twice a week; one time he handed her the phone and resumed, evil as he was, going down on her. Maggie didn’t seem tense about the blatant fact that her daughter seemed to be shacking up indefinitely with her gray-hatted-on-a-good-day FBI partner, chatting easily with Mulder when he happened to answer. It was then she realized how worried about her her mother had been.

She was feeling better, her stiff carapace of functionality and habit crumbling bit by bit and blowing away in the wind. She was gaining back weight she’d lost, all of it heading to her hips and ass.

Mulder liked the couple of pounds, she knew, for more reasons than her wellbeing. They gave him a better handhold from behind; he grunted approvingly as he kneaded her flesh, stilling her with his clutches as he pushed into her. On her knees on the bed, her head pillowed on her forearms, he made her feel so full.

She dipped her back lower as he smacked his hips squarely into her ass, jarring her teeth, her bones as she opened--ringent and feral--needing him deeper. He grabbed a fistful of her hair and tugged as a parallelogram of sun fell away from her on the bed.

What kind of a thing was this they were creating between them, away from their lives? And could it survive reentry intact?

Chapter Text

Their seventh Sunday on the island--the week of the summer solstice--the post-mass barbeque was a bigger affair, with several dozen friends and family members milling about, talking, drinking, and dancing. A small band of three local musicians played traditional instruments in the gazebo, reedy melodies that wafted through the air.

She and Mulder ended up seated at the picnic table after the other guests had left, talking to Kino and Bane. Noe and Alameda were inside getting the kids settled for the night. Stan and his family had shoved off to Oahu.

“Kino,” Mulder asked, “did you go to college?”

“No. Noe and her siblings went to Catholic school on Oahu, which geared them up for college. I grew up here on Molokai helping run a restaurant with my folks, over by the harbor where you guys sailboard.”

“We had lunch there the other day,” Scully said. “Your sister told us about it. It was good.”

“Most kids who want to stay local don’t bother with college, and our schools are pretty basic. The jobs are in hospitality and tourism. You don’t need a degree, so it doesn’t pay. Besides, my folks still needed me when I was eighteen. My sisters were only eleven and thirteen.”

“Do you ever wish you had? I bet you could have played division two basketball. At least.”

“I don’t think about it. Well, sometimes I do. It’d be nice to be considering opportunities like Stan is. But I’m happy here. Just being the big dumb guy married to Noe is good enough for me.”

“I wish,” Bane said shaking his head and laughing. “Don’t have kids, Mulder and Scully, if you want to hang onto a shred of ego in this life.”

Kino was snickering, toeing the ground under the table.

“He’s so stupid that when he took over inventory and ordering for the store a few years ago, our profit margin shot up seventeen percent. And we didn’t hike prices.”

“Just on a few lux items,” Kino said. “And the tourist fare. Souvenirs and that. But only ten percent.”

“How did you do it?” Scully asked, taking Mulder’s elbow. It was starting to get chilly as the buzzing trill of a million crickets rose. She’d go for her sweater in a minute. He swung his arm around her and pulled her into his side.

“We eliminated waste and drag. Streamlined. They were always afraid to run out of anything,” he said, popping his thumb toward Bane, “so we had too much spoilage. Sometimes now I have to tell Mrs. Palakiko that we won’t have melons till the day after tomorrow. But people know everything’s fresh. It works.”

“We made eleven thousand in profit last year when a tropical cyclone blew through here,” Bane said, “Without gouging. We don’t do that. All because he had generators and other emergency supplies stacked in a shed. He just has a sense of what people are going to need.”

“Common sense mostly,” Kino said. “and planning. Noe majored in marketing and accounting and we put our heads together and figure things out. She has a tax business too, I focus on the store.”

“Sounds like a nice partnership,” Scully said.

“We’ve been together since we were fourteen. On and off. Mostly on. We married at twenty-two”

“Yeah,” Bane said, popping his thumb back at Kino, “I’ve been dealing with this one for a while.”

Kino smiled shyly. “We have some aspirations beyond what we’re doing now as well. All in good time.”

“Like what,” Mulder asked. “I’m curious.”

“We’d like to open a barbecue stand next to the store. Where the hoop is now. Just five or six tables to start, with a grill. A coffee shop. There isn’t one restaurant in all of the west of Molokai. And ninety percent of us over here are employed by the big developer who owns most of this half of the island. I’d hate to see what would happen if they pulled up stakes. It would be nice to diversify around here. Employ a few people.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“Capital. It’s slow going, saving with the kids. The new baby now. There’s no comparables, so there’s no way to tell how successful the place might be. We don’t want to be on the hook with a bank.”

“What about small business grants?” Scully said.

“Funny you should say. We got one last year. Noe drew up a beautiful business plan and prospectus. But it was for only a third of what we needed. We decided to wait until we have more saved, then re-apply.”

Noe called out to him from the house. “That’s my cue,” Kino said, tipping back and draining the last of his beer. “I bet I’ve got a pair of sixes inside to wrestle into bed.”

After Kino carefully extricated his gangly legs out from under the picnic table, kissed Bane on the cheek, and said his goodbyes, a pleasant quiet emerged among the three of them.

“You two are looking better and better,” Bane finally said. “Healthy and happy, like young people should.”

“Thank you.” Scully said, nodding.

“When I first saw you, it was bothering me. You reminded me of something. Both of you pale and twitchy and too thin. Every situation seeming spring loaded to trap you. Fight-flight-fight-flight-fight-flight, flashing in your eyes.”

“It’s safe to say we really needed this vacation,” Mulder said. “And we’ve made good use of it.”

“I’ll shut up anytime you tell me to. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. But I think about you two a lot. When I’m walking and fishing. When I’m praying.”

“You don’t usually attend church, Bane,” Scully said.

“I go when I can. To be with my family. I went more often when the kids were young. A united front and all that. But that particular God and I parted ways in the A Shau Valley in July, 1970.

Mulder was nodding.

“When I pray now it’s to something bigger. Something older. Something that makes sense to me.”

“I’ve been trying to pray,” Mulder blurted out.

Scully cast a look his way, surprised.

“But I’m not a believer. Either.”

This, she thought, was a strange way for him to characterize himself. Though she knew what he meant. She fixed her eyes on a citronella candle so they didn’t roll. She didn’t want to discourage whatever strides toward a personal spiritual orientation he might be making.

“Feel free to come fishing with me. Or on a walk, if you’re looking for pointers. It’s as simple as that for me. I wait until I feel like a tiny but significant piece of something grander. Then I ask for strength. Turn over the confusion. Say thank you. ”

“Maybe I will,” Mulder said.

"You're welcome to anytime, though I’m sure you’re figuring it out for yourself."

"Thanks."

"What was bothering me was, when I put it together, that you two looked and carried yourselves a lot like men did coming off a year-long combat tour.”

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Scully said.

“I have my own kids, and I’m not nosy. But those bullet holes--two for you,” he said, pointing at Mulder, “and one big bad one for little you?” he said, pointing to Scully, “Those tell me you weren’t kidding when you said your work was--how did you put it? Particularly intense?”

“To give you a sense of how complex and dangerous it’s been,” Mulder said, pulling up the sleeve of shirt on the left side, exposing his shoulder scar, “this one is from her. She shot me to keep me from doing something terminally stupid when I was altered, being drugged.”

“You shot him?” Bane asked, pointing at Scully.

Scully nodded.

“Who was drugging you?”

“Our enemies.”

“Your enemies?”

One thing kinda led to another.

They told Bane every single important event that had occurred since they’d joined up together. They told him more than that. They told him about Samantha and about the X-files. About Melissa and Mulder’s father and the piles of money. About Duane Barry and Scully’s cross Mulder held for her while she was gone. About the smoking man, the shapeshifters, and the black oil. They told him about Deepthroat and Krycek and X and Pendrell and Max. About the boxcar and the codetalkers, the tails and the bugs. About Scully’s cancer and her chip. About mothmen, goatsuckers, shadows that swallowed people, and people who--one way or another--lived on and on. About Skinner and Kersh, Spender and Fowley and Gibson Praise. About what had been stolen from Scully and about Emily. They told him about the mushroom the size of Manhattan, about Boggs and Tooms and Roche and Pusher and Felig and Padgett and Phaster. About the ship in Antarctica and the bees in Texas. About the bridge in Allentown and the toxic green blood and the home in Home. About Mulder’s visions and Ritter’s bullet.

Hours later they were still talking.

And Bane was listening, asking the occasional clarifying question and pouring them cups of tea from a pot Alameda had brought out.

But mostly he was just listening.

Chapter Text

The discussion with Bane stirred the easy air they’d been breathing, reminding them as it was bound to do of the work and lives they had all but abandoned. Exchanges that had been breezy between them now crackled with tension. The dream had become lucid.

Neither of them wanted to acknowledge the change, however, or let go of the way things had been. An awkward tension arose between them. The next day they drove aimlessly around the island and skipped their nap.

By evening they were both restless, not wanting to settle down or snuggle up with a book or a game. They headed out to find something to do, and wound up at the only movie theater on Molokai.

The theater was nearly empty on a Monday and small, and they took two seats near the back. Before the lights went down, they bickered about how much butter he’d slathered on the popcorn. She felt surprisingly bitter about it.

When she wouldn’t let it go, he got up, stalked to the lobby, and brought her back a tub of dry popcorn.

“I don’t want that,” she said as he held it out to her.

“Fine,” he said. He walked to the back of the theater and deposited the popcorn in the trash bin.

For the first half of the forgettable film, they each sat stiffly in their seats, holding their bodies away from one another like they’d have done early in their partnership. When they would not have taken in a movie together. So it was strange.

Scully ignored him when he offered her the popcorn tub or sips from the soda they’d bought to share.

Then, halfway through the film, he ripped into a box of peanut M-n-M’s. He offered the box to her, but she shook her head, not even looking at him. She wasn’t sure she even knew what was going on with the movie. But it was so stupid she didn’t care.

A few minutes later, the way he was shaking the box of candy and chewing too loudly perturbed her.

“Could you stop making so much noise with that candy please?” she said.

He stopped in mid chew. “I’m sorry,” he said.

He placed the box on the floor at his feet next to the popcorn, swallowed the bite in his mouth, and slumped down in his seat.

She had hurt his feelings.

Now she felt bad.

Sure she had been brittle and dismissive.

But why did he have to be so touchy?

A few minutes later, still thinking about it, she grew confused, not sure why she was watching this unwatchable movie if not to enjoy spending time with him. She put her hand on his leg to apologize.

He turned his head slowly to look at her hand. Then he swiveled his head back to the screen.

Okay then. Her hand was stranded on his leg. She wanted to pull it back into her own lap where it belonged. If he didn’t want to accept her apology, fine.

But then where would they be? Miserable and disconnected with half a bewilderingly bad movie left to sit through. Plus his leg felt really good, so she left it there.

After a few minutes her hand started to sweat against the nylon fabric of his hiking pants. She moved it to a new, cooler place up closer to his hip. Toward his knee wouldn’t have been as comfortable as her arms were fairly short.

A bit later when this spot got clammy, she did it again.

He shifted abruptly, away from her, resting his head on his right hand propped up by the headrest, keeping his eyes on the screen.

She considered removing her hand if he really was that upset. But then she noticed that he’d opened his hips to her. And that inside his pants he was perfectly and completely hard. Just from her hand on his leg.

Wet heat throbbed between her own legs at the sight of him.

Feeling like a lecherous teenage boy on a date, enraptured and literally moved, she slid her hand to his crotch and felt him through his pants. His expression didn’t change as she ran her fingertips over the thin fabric, scraping up and down the shaft, pressing harder with her index finger and circling the tip. His breathing, however, did.

The next time he moved, it was to casually pick up his windbreaker he’d tossed onto the seat next to him; in one motion, he scooped it up and laid it discreetly over his lap.

She unbuttoned and unzipped his pants then, drawing his penis out and beginning to stroke him. His breathing intensified some more, and yet his eyes were still on the screen, the images flickering in his pupils, his face a mask.

She wanted to stop and sit back in her seat, to gather her poise, feeling disrespected by his treatment of her. She’d only asked him to chew more quietly. It was a reasonable request.

But he felt amazing and alive in her hand. And the way he was ignoring her--she absolutely hated to admit--was turning her on. Something about the juxtaposition of the stark evidence of his desire for her and his feigned indifference.

She relaxed, knowing that what he had said was true: payback really was a bitch. She’d get him for this. Perhaps soon.

“Excuse me,” she said to him mildly. “Could you pass the popcorn?”

His face twisted into a smirk. “Sure,” he said, reaching down with a long arm and putting it in her lap, not taking his eyes from the screen. In the process he had shifted his hips under his coat to give her more access and a better angle.

She pulled her hand away from him and pawed through the popcorn, coating her fingers and palm with the slippery butter-like substance.

“Thanks,” she said, handing the bucket back to him. “I changed my mind.”

He full-on smiled, cracking for just a second, as he placed it back on the floor.

She took him in hand and began working his cock in earnest with better lubrication, swiping her thumb over the tip, rolling her wrist to create long swirling strokes.

He gripped the armrests and pushed back against his seat, his lips pursed, his eyes on the screen.

Then she narrowed her range and pace, setting up a rhythm shorter and quicker, her hand tugging firmly and gliding over his velvety knob. Within minutes he was panting and close.

She stopped suddenly and gripped him near the base. He surged forward in his seat, like she’d been driving and slammed on the brakes.

She kept her hand there, made her face impassive, and turned her attention to the movie. She looked over at him and he was doing the same, his face blank, his body taut and twitching. It was some combination.

She kept watching the movie as the minutes passed--a car chase now--and wondered who could hold out the longest, his dick still consummately hard and clasped in her hand.

“Mulder?” she whispered.

“Scully?”

“I’m sorry I was rude.”

He nodded.

A few more minutes passed. Onscreen someone was pursuing someone else through a crowded square. Every few seconds she’d give him a tiny little squeeze or tease his tight sac with her nails. But, other than that, she wasn’t moving an inch.

“Scully?”

“Mulder?”

“Please.” He breathed the word to her, his voice straining, imploring her.

“Please?” Now was as good a time to get him back as any.

“Please rub my dick more,” he whispered. “You do it so good. I love you. Make me come. Please.”

He was babbling and she was sorry and happy she wanted him to be happy too. She resumed jerking him.

His eyes were on his lap now and he watched bigeyed as she worked his knob, dragging up his shirt to expose his soft belly, pushing the jacket away.

“You win, Honey,” he said. 

In no time his breath grew ragged and she kept pulling on him even after her fist was bathed in his warm cum as it oozed over his head and ran down her hand to her wrist.

“Napkin,” she said, after he’d stilled her hand with his own.

He handed her what they had and she cleaned them up as well as she could given their limited resources.

She watched the rest of the truly terrible movie under his arm. She grew sleepy and nestled deeply into his side. For the moment, at least, she felt content.

Chapter Text

Scully was sitting on the lanai in front of the General Store keeping Noe company as she nursed baby Jules. Lilo sat nearby playing an elaborate game with her dolls.

Two days after the movie, the edginess had not dissipated. If anything, it had intensified.

Mulder’s game of one-on-one against Kino was close, and growing heated. It was tied at twenty, but she gathered that you had to win by two.

Mulder faked right, went left, and missed a layup. Kino rebounded, but Mulder called a foul. As he headed to the top of the key to take the ball out again, Kino rolled his eyes in disagreement, though he tossed him the ball. Scully could see the staunch tension in Mulder's body. He didn’t want to lose.

The twins burst out of the duplex, finished with their lunch. They rushed the court chirping and hopping, asking to play.

“In a minute guys,” Kino said. “Mulder and I are almost finished with our game.”

The boys sat down cross-legged behind the hoop to watch.

Mulder missed a jump shot, and Kino put the rebound back in.

The twins cheered.

Mulder took the ball out, started dribbling.

“I’m gonna drive left, Stockboy,” he said, “Think you can stop me?”

Kino went flat footed for half a second, and Mulder stepped back and launched a shot that fell sweetly through the hoop.

”Nothin’ but net,” Mulder said.

“Stockboy, huh?” Kino said, after receiving the ball, dribbling at the top of the circle.

“Yep,” Mulder said.

“What’s your name again? Fox?”

Mulder nodded.

“Ok, Fox. Here’s where I kick your pasty ass.” He spun by him and laid the ball underhanded softly into the hoop.

Scully looked at Noe, who rolled her eyes. They both snickered.

They went back and forth, rutting and clashing, the jibes escalating.

“Who names their kid Fox?” Noe asked minutes later, dribbling deliberately, needing only to score to win.

Scully had asked herself the same thing. So. Many. Times.

“That would be my mother. Sure you want to go there?” Mulder said, gesturing to the boys.

“Sorry,” Noe said, dipping his head. The filial piety evident among this family inhibited even trash talk. It was moving to Scully.

Mulder laughed.

“Dad-dy! Dad-dy! Dad-dy!” The boys were chanting. Lilo, picking up on the excitement, sat down next to her brothers and joined in.

Kino, still dribbling, looked over at Scully, then back to Mulder. “So everybody calls you Mulder? Like, ALL the time? Fox?”

“Nonna ya business. Lunch lady.”

Kino drove and Mulder tripped over his own feet guarding him, landing squarely on his ass. The ball swished sweetly through the hoop, ending the game.

His kids mobbed him, cheering.

“We got customers, Champ. Go help Mom.” Noe said to Kino.

Kino helped Mulder up. They man-hugged. Mulder whispered something in Kino’s ear, patting his chest, and they both laughed. Kino set off toward the store, his kids trailing.

___________________________

“Mulder?”

They were bouncing around in the the Jeep an hour later, treading the beat up roads on the way back to the bungalow.

“Scully?”

“Did you lose on purpose? Because of the kids?”

“Guys don’t do that, Scully.” She noted he didn’t say no.

“What did you say to Kino? After the game?”

Mulder shot a puzzled look her way. “Can’t that remain between him and me? Why are you asking?”

“I don’t know.”

They rode in silence for a few minutes, the road on a ridge smoothing out.

“It’s bugging me Mulder, so I’m going to say it. You told me a long time ago everybody called you Mulder. But that’s not true.”

“Oh,” he said. He’d been waiting for this.

“So you think I told Kino, after he beat me in street ball, that my real girlfriend Diana Fowley calls me Fox? In the sack?”

They certainly had gotten straight to the point.

“No. But does she?”

“No. Not in bed. Out of bed she does, but she’s, like, grandfathered. I met her before I made the rule. Do you want to call me Fox? Dana?”

“If I wanted to call you Fox, I would.”

“Fair enough. Do you want me to ask Diana not to? Because to do so would be to engage with her on a personal level, which I’ve been avoiding.”

“No.”

“Look, Scully. I did have an intimate relationship with Diana some years ago, as I believe you know. But that did not resume when she returned to DC.”

“Fine. But I don’t think she can be trusted. And I don’t want to be out of the loop when she’s around. Furthermore, that shit you said to me in front of the Gunmen, chastising me for taking it personally? That pissed me off.”

“Why are you telling me now?” He pulled the jeep over into a turnout to focus on this conversation.

“The better question is why didn’t I tell you then. Because it bothered me. A lot.”

“Well why didn’t you?”

“We were shut down, off the X files. I thought you might be rekindling that relationship. I was evaluating my options. It bothered me, but I didn’t think I had any grounds.”

“You did. Furthermore, I had already told you so.”

“The point is, moving forward, if we’re planning to combine this,” she pointed at him and back to herself, “and the work, that kind of thoughtless arrogant bullshit isn’t gonna fly.”

“I know,” he said. “I understand what you're saying. But you put me on the spot that day, Scully.”

“Whatever happened that day, she still has feelings for you Mulder. As of this day.”

“So? I’m not interested. And I’ve made that clear to her.”

“Have you?”

“You don’t believe that I have? If you think I’m lying about that, we have bigger problems than Diana.”

She got out of the car and slammed the door. She started walking along the road.

“Scully, c’mon,” he said, rolling down the window and pulling up next to her. “Don’t do this.”

She stopped walking and seemed to gather herself.

“I need some air,” she said. “I’m walking. It’s not far. I’ll see you soon.”

“Ok,” he said, looking at his hands. “I’ll see you soon.”

He didn’t know what else to do, so he pulled away and returned to the bungalow.

Chapter Text

When Mulder pulled up to the drive, the gate was open and Bane’s truck was in front. Wednesday.

He went around back to where he was cleaning the tub, scrubbing out the bottom with a soft broom.

“Hey,” Mulder said.

“Hey,” Bane said. “Gotta do this once a week or the beasties take over.”

Mulder nodded. “Scully appreciates it. Even though doesn’t tend to believe in the beasties, as you are now aware.”

Bane chuckled. Mulder had no idea what this man had made of the stories they’d told him the other night, though he instinctively trusted him to hold the information with respect and discretion. He left feeling like he’d been deeply attended to. Heard. But Bane hadn’t said much.

And even though it had stirred things up between him and Scully, he was glad to have gone through their history--such as it was--with another person. They needed to figure out their next move. Their banked vacation time wouldn’t last forever.

They had already offered to maintain the property themselves while they stayed there, but Bane seemed to like to keep an eye on things. Which was just as well considering his general level of handiness.

He sunk onto the bench next to the tub as Bane worked. He was surprised, after so many years of preferring isolation--especially in his pain--to find himself glad not to be alone there.

Bane gave him a good once over, seemed to take in his general state of frustration and angst. But, to Mulder's enduring gratitude, he didn’t ask where Scully might be.

She came up the driveway an hour later. He heard her footfalls crunching the blue shale as she approached. She came around to the backyard rather than entering the house.

“Hey,” She said.

“Hey,” Bane said.

“Hey,” Mulder said.

She walked up to Bane, who was now chopping wood with an ax at a stump at the back of the yard. He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

The Hawaiians liked the kissing as a greeting, Mulder noticed. One warm smack on the cheek, different from the grazing Euro double cheek version, which could be very cold. Very different, also, from his people. Who waved politely from halfway across the room.

Scully seemed to have taken to it, though. He felt a vague twinge of jealousy.

Mulder was still sitting on the bench. He’d kicked off his shoes and was flexing his toes in the wind. She sat down next to him. He put his arm around her. She leaned into him, rubbing her face against his chest. He kissed her hair. Ran his fingers through it. In this climate it was growing not just longer, but lighter, looser. Curling at the ends.

She sighed. “You smell good,” she murmured.

Then he sighed, too. Scully.

“I’m starving,” she said then, standing up.

_________________________________

Inside, at the kitchen table, the three of them shared a meal: black bean chili that had been simmering in the slow cooker all day, big chunks of fresh pineapple, iced tea, and cornbread.

“That was delicious,” Bane said as he finished. “Thank you for cooking.”

“You’re very welcome. You’ve certainly fed us more than a few times,” Scully said.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about our talk the other night.”

“We have too,” said Mulder, rising and moving their plates to the sink.

“Correct me if I’m wrong. But it seems to me like you two are at a bit of a crossroads.”

Neither of them corrected him. Mulder sat back down.

“Who else knows all this? Who do you talk to about what you do? About all you’ve been through?”

Mulder and Scully looked at each other blankly.

“Well, our boss obviously knows a lot of it,” Mulder said. “But not all. And we rarely talk to him, as such. He’s our boss.”

“A lot of people know bits and pieces,” Scully said. “But mostly we talk to each other. If that.”

“I’m not big into giving advice or holding forth like the omnipotent asshole patriarch. So, promise me, you’ll tell me to shut my trap if my thoughts aren’t helpful or wanted.”

They both nodded.

“The thing is, I think my first impression was right. You two have been at war. And I know something about war. I have no idea what you should do next or even what all your options are. But if I share with you some of what I know about war, maybe it will help you figure it out.”

“Go on,” Mulder said.

Bane took a sip of water before continuing. “War can be fun. You hate it beyond words, but it can be a blast. It wipes out whatever came before it and whatever might come next. You’re off the hook. It bonds you to the person standing next to you like no other experience. And that’s real.”

Mulder and Scully looked at each other across the square table uneasily.

“You’re always in the moment, always riding some kind of wave. Sometimes it feels like a high. And even when it’s miserable, it’s a visceral, immediate experience of bad. So the lines between terror and beauty and pain and pleasure all get blurred.”

“Go on,” Scully said.

“And once you’ve been in a war for a while, like really in it, it’s hard to escape it. I hated being in Vietnam, cutting my hair, becoming a soldier, all of it. I hated the daily grind of it, not even to mention the violence. And yet a moment came as I was leaving--after a year in combat--that I wanted desperately to stay.”

“How come?” Mulder asked.

“Because, how do I put this?" Bane folded his hands in front of him on the table. "If it was important enough for me to be there to begin with, to leave my wife and little girl for fifteen months, to lose twenty-three brothers out of forty in my platoon, then how can I possibly leave to do something else?”

“Huh,” Mulder said. They were the ones just listening now.

“Anything else makes no sense. And we’re not even talking about shell shock or combat sickness or PTSD or whatever they’re calling it now. All of that happens, too. But before that we’re talking about everyday addiction.”

“I think a lot of that applies to us,” Scully said.

Her father had seen combat in Korea as an eighteen year old enlisted man, and as an officer in Vietnam. He never spoke of it— a choice he made she understood —yet she felt it’s presence in her family. It took up a seat at the table. And it had become a part of her, too, before she’d ever joined up with Mulder.

“War talks to you. It gets inside you and tells you that it’s the only thing that’s real. But that’s a lie. If you can break from its spell, turn your head a few degrees and focus on something else, you’ll realize that. You’ll probably be looking at something very different. If you’re lucky--and the two of you are lucky--then it will be something, ironically, that you’d die to defend.”

“Wow.” Mulder said.

“Just food for thought,” Bane said.

“Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned about war: Wars end. That’s what they’re designed to do. You can ask me or check the books on the shelf in my study. In ways big and small, they end everything and everyone they come in contact with. Then they themselves end. They’re unsustainable. Finite.”

Bane reached out and covered each of their hands with his own.

“I don’t, my dears--if you’ll forgive me saying so--want this one to end you.”

Mulder and Scully both lowered their heads.

“Promise me this,” Bane said, rising from his seat and slipping on his jacket. “Before you jump back in, promise me it will be for the right reasons. My two eggheads back home learned in their business textbooks that the more you invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it."

“The fallacy of sunk costs,” Mulder said.

“I guess I have a soft spot for eggheads. You’ve both lost a lot to this thing you’re up against. I get that. But you also have a lot to do, a lot to give. If you go back to what you were doing, don’t do it because you’re chasing after what can’t be retrieved.”

“Mulder,” Bane said, “I never kiss white guys. Sometimes they take it the wrong way. But you’re getting one today.”

He leaned down and kissed Mulder on the cheek. He had to steel himself not to wipe it away.

Then he kissed Scully.

“Thanks Bane,” she said, kissing him back.

“We call that the kiss of the clan. And clan is bigger than blood. Remember that when you think about starting a family. Which, in my opinion, you should.”

With that, he left.

Chapter Text

Bane gave them a lot to talk about.

But that’s not what they did.

After he drove off she walked down to the beach, then took a bath. He went for a drive.

When he got back, he found her in bed, fully clothed over the covers, watching the sky go from blue to black.

He kicked off his shoes and lay down next to her, flat on his back. “In yoga this is called the corpse pose,” he said, shaking out his arms and letting them fall to his sides.

“Hey,” she said.

They lay there in silence for a few minutes.

“I was thinking, on my drive.”

“What about?”

“About what Bane said. About what comes next. About what I want. About what you might want.”

“Me too,” she said.

They were speaking in hushed, measured tones.

“You know, you’ve said a few times we need to keep talking about awkward, difficult stuff. To be honest and all that. But we’re not very good at that, are we?”

“I guess we’re not. We have lots of practice doing the opposite, I think. Avoiding sticky topics. Letting each other off the hook.”

“Yeah. I was thinking, Scully. When I was at Oxford, I interned with a professor of Clinical Psychology who worked with couples. She found that when they sat down in a therapist’s office, either it was like ringing a bell at the start of a boxing round and they’d just fight. Or they didn’t have a way to start useful conversations. So they’d just chit-chat for fifty minutes.”

“That’s an expensive chit-chat.”

“Yeah. She found that therapy didn’t help a lot of couples. Instead it just reinforced what was already not working between them.”

“Makes sense.”

“She developed a technique that provides a structured way for people to talk about sensitive topics without going off the rails. I was wondering, on my drive, if we should try it.”

“You want us to go into couples therapy?”

“No, Scully. I observed tapes of dozens of her sessions as part of my internship. I thought we could try it more unofficially.”

“How does it work?”

“It’s like a game. One person makes a statement, then asks a question. The other person answers. Then it’s their turn.”

“Sounds pretty simple. Are there more rules?”

“Just a few. You want to give it a try? We’ll figure them out as we go.”

“It’s worth a shot.”

“Okay. I’ll start. Statement: I missed you this afternoon. What did you do with your time?”

“You don’t have to talk about awkward and difficult topics?”

“No. This professor was a Neo Freudian. She thought it worked best when there was an element of free-association. The idea is to say whatever comes to mind.”

“What if you don’t want to answer the question?”

“Then you say ‘I don’t want to answer that because…’ And you say why. How come, Scully? You don’t want to tell me what you did today? Were you doing kissing with that other guy? The one Lilo saw you with?”

“Let’s start over.”

They were still lying side by side, their bodies quiet, the sky above them almost black. A scrim of clouds obscured most of the stars, but a few blinked and sputtered through.

“Okay. Statement: I missed you this afternoon. What did you do?”

“I went down to the beach then took a bath.”

He nodded.

“My turn?”

“Yeah. You can start the new round by saying ‘statement’ till we get the hang of it.”

“Statement: I missed you this afternoon as well. What did you do, on your drive?”

“I took in the sights on the east side of the island. Ran some errands.”

“What kinds of errands?”

“No back and forth, Scully. Them's the rules. My turn. You smell delicious. Did you get a new lotion or something?”

“Bane brought over some bath salts Alameda and Lilo mixed for me. Grapefruit eucalyptus. To hold the bacteria in check in the warm water. This came with it.”

She reached to the bedside table and handed him a crude crayoned picture of Scully with fire-engine hair and Lilo with squiggly pigtails, both of them smiling broadly under a waxy yellow sun. He turned on a bedside light to look at it.

“Cute,” he said, grinning, touching crayon Scully’s hair. “Who’s that?” he asked, pointing to a smaller smudged figure off to the side.

“I think that’s you,” she said, snickering. “Statement: I’m really curious. What kinds of errands?”

He put the drawing aside and turned out the light.

“I don’t want to answer because one or two of them were secret errands.”

“Is that allowed?”

“Yep. This isn’t an interrogation technique. Though if you wanted to get answers out of me we both know you could.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Don’t tempt me to tempt you. Statement: I like watching you with Lilo. Does it make you sad? Does, ah, does she make you think of Emily?”

She sighed. “Sometimes. But I think of Emily anyway, sometimes. It isn’t painful for me to spend time with Lilo. It’s the opposite.”

He took her hand. The clouds had were moving aside like a curtain, the early evening stars materializing.

“I realized today you haven’t eaten a sunflower seed in weeks. What gives?”

“I don’t know. I’ve lost my taste for them. Too much salt. Too messy. They’re part of the adrenaline driven existence I left behind. Besides, I have other outlets for my oral fixation. Do you feel different here?”

He leaned over and kissed her.

“Is kissing allowed in this game?”

“People usually didn’t, but they were paying a buck fifty a minute to be there. They can kiss at home for free.”

“I see,” she said. He had worked his hand up under her shirt, rested it on her belly.

“I do. I feel in sync with my body.”

“I feel in sync with your body too.”

“I haven’t felt my scar pull in weeks. I feel stronger everywhere, but especially in my core. And more flexible. Between sex and sailboarding, who needs Pilates? You need calories to build muscle, and that hasn’t been a problem here. I don’t pace. I laugh all the time. I sleep well. I even breathe more deeply.”

He ran his lips over her scar, then rested his head on her there. Center mass. Scully.

“I’m really glad I didn’t try to get pregnant before recuperating here. I didn’t realize how weak and depleted I was. I feel ready now, though. Did you call me from the clinic that night to seduce me, Mulder?”

“Did I seduce you?” he asked, looking up at her.

“You absolutely did. With my enthusiastic participation. Is that why you called? Or did we just bumble into this whole thing?”

He was laughing.

“What?

“I’m thinking of this thing that happened. The winter before Samantha was taken. She had this purple and blue striped wool scarf she loved for some reason. Prized possession. And one day it disappeared from the coat room in her school.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. A day or two later she came home from school crying. She had it on good authority through the little girl grapevine that her close friend Janine had swiped her scarf.”

“Treacherous.”

“Yes. If my mom was home she would have called Janine’s mother and the scarf would have been hand-delivered to our door within an hour. But my dad was home. He wanted, like dads do, to fix it.”

“But he had no idea what he was doing.”

“He was in over his head. He suggested Sam call Janine and speak with her about it. So Samantha dials and Janine gets on. And Sam gets this blank look on her face. She looks up at my Dad in a panic and was like ‘What do I say?’”

“My dad said, ‘Say: I understand you have my scarf.’”

“Little kids don't talk that way.”

“Right? My dad thought they could settle it like men. So Sam says in a squeaky little voice ‘I understand? You have my scarf?’”

Scully laughed.

“And Janine goes ‘I do not.’ and hangs up.” Mulder cracked up again.

“Not a happy ending.”

“No, it wasn’t. More crying. It was worse for my dad than for Samantha, I think. Within a day or two she and I were joking about it. She was a funny kid, Scully. You would have liked her.”

“I bet I would have. But Mulder? What does this have to do with you seducing me?”

“Oh yeah. I had a similar moment of panic, when you picked up the phone. I had called to find something out, but then I realized that I had no idea what to say.”

“What did you want to find out?”

“Whether you wanted my genetic material, or the rest of me too. When you asked me for my sperm, Scully, I was honored. But it just kind of confirmed for me that you didn’t want a relationship with me.”

“I can see that. Though that wasn’t what I was thinking.”

“But then Padgett happened. And I caught a glimpse or two of your feelings for me. I knew already you loved me. But I felt the depth of your attraction. Your passion. I hadn’t known. That fucked up day in my livingroom. And I knew any questions you had about my feelings for you were cleared up.”

“Yeah. I was there too.”

“So it mixed me up. And I got to that little room and I froze. I couldn’t get it up, truly. One way or the other, I had to know.”

“Now I know how uncharacteristic that is.”

“Thank god for small favors.”

“It’s not such a small favor. Are we still playing?”

“Yep. My turn. I really like this bra, Scully.”

She’d gotten three bra and panty sets at the airport, a red a white and a green, each a little different. She liked them too. It had been years since she'd given a second thought to undergarments.

“I like how sheer the fabric is and how it’s cut kind of low.” He had hoisted her shirt up and was tracing the edge of her bra with his index finger.

“But it’s plain too, without scratchy ruffles or ribbons.” He wrinkled his nose. He was was toying with the tip of her nipple. Just the edge, the way she liked to be touched. She closed her eyes, absorbing the sensation.

“I like the way that, in not trying to be too sexy, it becomes sexy as hell. Just like you. Were you thinking of me when you picked it out?”

“Some.” Now he was rubbing his palm in warm circles over her breast and she was having trouble coming up with an answer. “I was…I was thinking of me. And I was thinking of underwear, of course. In terms of functionality.”

“It’s very functional,” he said, pressing the flat of his tongue against her nipple through the thin fabric.

“Comfort,” she continued. “And value.”

“Value,” he said nodding. Then nipped at her with his teeth.

“But you might have been in the back of my mind. When I was picking out underwear.”

“You were most definitely in the front of my mind when you were picking out underwear. I walked by the store three times, strolling along the concourse loaded down tith shopping bags, trying to cop a peek.” He made a move to unhook the front facing clasp of her bra.

“Hang on Mulder,” she said. He paused and looked at her.

“I think we’ve gotten pretty good at taking each other’s clothes off. Not that I'm complaining. But let’s keep doing this other thing for now.”

“You’re right,” he said. “I guess that’s why people don’t kiss while doing this technique. It’s like our mothers told us. Kissing leads to things.” He kissed her jaw fleetingly and peeled himself away, laying down next to her again.

“It pretty reliably does for us.” She stifled a laugh.

“What?”

“It’s just that a couple of months ago I probably thought the fact that we were bad at taking each other’s clothes off was our biggest interpersonal problem.”

“It definitely was,” he said.

“Statement,” she said. “I can’t stop thinking about what Bane said, about sunk costs. Do you think we’re chasing things that are lost to us? Or are we seeking justice?”

He took in a deep breath and released it. “I’ve been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if there’s a difference.”

“How do you mean?”

“Even if Samantha is alive, she’s been taken from me, and me from her. The years, the experiences we’d have shared, those are irretrievable.”

“Okay,” she said.

“But what is justice? Justice is people getting what they deserve. Samantha deserved to go on living with her imperfect but loving family, just being her quirky, sweet, unremarkable self. Your sister too, for that matter. And Pendrell. And Max. And Penny Northern along with her entire sewing circle. And on and on. Innocents, all.”

She sighed.

“So I don’t believe justice is on the table. Justice too, is irretrievable.”

“I think you’re right,” she said.

“Speaking for myself, I think I just want to honor my sister, in my seeking. To refuse to go on with my life like she never existed. The way my parents did. They way everyone does. Because she did exist. She was important.”

She threaded her fingers through his. If someone had been up in the stars looking down on them through the skylight they would have looked like two starfish splayed on the beach, touching only at the tippy end of one appendage.

“But it’s also possible I’m seeking vengeance, at this point. And if I am, I’m not sure that’s compatible with the life I want to live, moving forward.”

With you, he wanted to say. But didn’t. “Do you think Samantha is alive?”

“Oh, Mulder. I guess I don’t. Though I hope I’m wrong. I’d never ask you to stop looking for her. Do you think she’s alive?”

“I just don’t know. If she is I hope she’s found some happiness.”

They lay in the quiet for some time.

“Statement: I’m quite accustomed to your secret errands. But knowing where you’re off to more often to would help keep both of us safer in our work. Would be willing to be a little less mysterious?”

“I don’t always like stopping to explain everything. It messes with my thinking. But I can be more mindful of keeping you apprised of my whereabouts, yes. Statement: I’m not sure I want to go back to work. Do you want to go back to work, Scully?”

“Hmm. I am starting to miss being a productive person contributing to society in a meaningful way. But I’m not sure I can continue to swallow darkness like we’ve been doing. Without it changing my basic composition. What Bane said really rung a bell in me.”

“Me too,” he said.

“I’m surprised to hear you say you might not want to go back to work. I thought it was just me. What might you want to do instead?”

I want to be with you, he thought. “I want to continue my work,” he said. This was also true. “Somewhere, someway, somehow. I’ve never thought the FBI was the only possible place. It gives us access, but it also exposes us. What might you want to do, if you didn’t go back to the Bureau?”

“Oh, be a doctor, I guess. Conducting research, ideally. But involved with patient care as well. Or maybe I just want to stay right here and take a job at a clinic treating surf rash and prescribing amoxicillin for ear infections. I’m starting to think that might be enough for me. And I don’t know what that means for us. Are you hungry?”

“A little. I wish we had more of that pie we had the first night. They must sell them at the store. I keep forgetting to ask Alameda about it. Why wouldn’t you take a second bite, Scully?”

“Because your incessant badgering didn’t change the fact that I found it to be vile. Also, if I remember correctly, I was in the mood for something else. Something a little less sweet.”

“That’s not how I remember it,” he said, turning toward her, balancing on one elbow. “I found it to be very very sweet.” His hand was rasping over his two day beard, his thumb covering the big freckle on his right cheek as he leered at her. She loved kissing him there. Seeing as she’d been wanting to for years.

“My turn,” she said, rolling toward him and putting her finger on his lips. “You have really nice lips. Why didn’t you try to kiss me again after the time in the hallway?”

“Crap. I was afraid we’d have to talk about this. I mean, it went so well the first time, Scully. Maybe I was hoping the next time we’d be instantaneously vaporized.”

“Is that really your whole answer?”

“No. Not long after, I did come on to you, you’ll recall, in the strongest possible terms. When you didn’t respond, I was reluctant to make any more moves. I didn’t think you’d go running to OPR or anything, Scully, but we do work together. And as I mentioned earlier, I’m not exactly brave about these things. Did you want me to try to kiss you again?”

“Hmmm. Yes. And no. More yes than no. Statement: In addition to being worried you’re too trusting, I get rabidly jealous when I think of you and Diana Fowley together. Did your reluctance have anything to do with her?”

“I don’t know Scully. In all honesty, maybe it did. But it wasn’t because I wanted to get back with her. I didn’t think of Diana much over the years after you showed up. But when she reappeared, I was reminded of reasons to be wary of getting involved with someone I work with.”

“Because it had gone badly between the two of you?”

“Yeah. Well, it was fine, until she up and left. And of course I took it hard. I thought it had something to do with me. Seeing her again, being reminded of that, it may have given me pause. Why did you think I didn’t try to kiss you again?”

“I guess I figured it had been an attempt to keep me from quitting, to keep me on the hook.”

“I was afraid it looked that way to you. Maybe it was that way, even, for a minute. But my attraction to you was genuine. And not fleeting. I tried to mend things, in the hospital in Bermuda.”

“Okay Mulder. But after we got back from our adventure at the bottom of the world, whenever Fowley was around you’d act all pissed and dismissive toward me. Evasive. What was I supposed to think?”

“Regarding the pissed and dismissive? Sometimes I’m just a dick, Scully.”

“Newsflash.”

“Yeah, I know. But to be fair, I had just tracked you to Antarctica and hauled you out of a ship the size of Rhode Island with alien pupa literally nipping at our heels. Those things made velociraptors look like Barney the dinosaur, Scully. And every time I brought it up, you looked at me like I was off my rocker. Like you’re humoring me. I get that you need proof, but in the meantime could you consider taking me at my word once in a while? I think I’ve earned that. God, I’m getting pissed again talking about it now.”

“Okay, Mulder. I get it. We’ve been through this.” She rolled away from him, onto her other side.

He was behind her, the big spoon. He threaded an arm under her body, wound it around her waist, and strapped her roughly to him.

“Take these off,” he said, popping open the button at the waistband of her shorts, pressing his chest into into her back.

“Whose turn is it?” she said, unzipping the fly and pushing them down, kicking them off.

“Ours. These too,” he whispered in her ear, snapping the elastic of her underwear.

She did what he asked.

He lapped at the hollow beneath her earlobe as she worked her underwear off, as he’d first done on the plane, which spoke directly to her brain’s pleasure center, sending molten zaps through her body. She didn’t know if he discovered or installed it this spot, but she was crazy about his tongue there.

“That feels good,” she said. “I love when you lick me there.” She turned her head toward the pillow to let him caress her with his tongue, liking also of his hot breath in her ear. She felt like she could come from just this. Ridiculous. She groaned when he stopped.

“I get that you’ve been jealous about Diana, Scully. Sometimes, I even got off on it. After I felt you blew me off. Maybe I hoped it would push you in some way. I’m sorry about that now. I am.”

Was she supposed to thank him? Tell him it was okay?

“Being jealous sucks. It’s a terrible feeling. I’ve had a taste of it lately myself. Half the dudes on this island have had impure thoughts about you. You know that don’t you?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. A few had noticed her, of course. More so since she’d been feeling so much healthier. But he was exaggerating. He was shedding his own pants and boxers using one hand, keeping her trapped against him with his arm around her waist.

She stretched out her legs, felt desire for him along every inch of her body.

“Well it’s true. I pay attention. You should see how they look at you.” He reached under her shirt and snapped her bra clasp undone with one hand. The front clasps were easy. He pinched her one nipple, then the other.

“I care about Fowley as a friend, and will until she gives me a reason not to. I trust her to a degree. But to me she’s a player. That’s what she always was, really, though I didn’t always get it. And I see no reason to alienate her if she could be helpful to us.”

”Hmmm.”

“And maybe she wants me back. I’m sure you can understand why that might be, Scully.” He pressed his full naked turgid length against her then, along the cleft of her ass.

“Really, Mulder?” She almost wished she had no idea. Almost. He did have some nice equipment. And, more importantly, the skills to operate it.

To her relief, was shaking with laughter.

“The truth is,” he whispered, “I’ve never been this good at sex before. I think you’ve bewitched me, Scully.” He slid one of his legs between hers, opening her. “Has it been like this before for you?”

“No,” she said. “This is new.”

He took his penis in his fist and rubbed it against her from behind, still clasping her to his body. She felt exposed the way he was immobilizing her, but scissored her legs apart anyway. He felt smooth and firm, sliding against her.

“You’re soaking wet, Scully. You’re all over me. I love how wet you get.”

“Take your shirt off,” she said. “I want more skin.” Still holding her, he managed to get them both out of their shirts and strip her of her bra too.

Then his warm chest was on her back he was rubbing his satiny head up and around her clit, all the way down her slit. Back again.

“You feel so goddamn good, I could come just from this.”

“Me too.”

“I think I’d like to fuck you though,” he said, pausing at her opening, nudging her there. “Would that be okay?”

“Yeah,” she said.

He plunged into her, deliberately and deeply, the only part of him that could be described as fat wedging her open. She pressed the sole of her foot to the bed in front of her knee, agape, bracing herself.

“It’s only you I want, Scully. Believe that. Jesus that feels good. It’s you.”

“Ahhhhh,” she said.

“This is gonna be slow.”

It was.

His fingers glossing her clit, his tongue on her ear, him filling her heavy and regular like a boom from behind, he made her come at will. Three times. Then again, though she didn’t think it was in her.

“Scully?,” he said, almost breathless. “I wish we could make a baby this way. Can I say that to you?”

“Yeah. You can. I know you do. I want that too.”

“I want to knock you up,” he said, bringing his hand up to her neck, ramming into her.

“Harder,” she said.

“Harder?”

“Yes,” she said, placing her hand over his at her throat, squeezing. “Harder.”

Later he sat up against the headboard. She was curled fetally on the bed between his legs, exhausted, her head in his lap. She was purring, licking, cleaning him like a cat. He rubbed her back and his sac was delicate and salty in her mouth and she never wanted to leave this place.

“I went to see a realtor today,” he said, raking his hand through her hair. “I think maybe we should stay.”

 

 

Chapter Text

The phone rang as they were sitting down to breakfast, luxuriously late on Saturday morning. Their eyes met across the table.

In a moment of portent, she knew it wasn’t Bane asking if critters had broken into the garbage hutch again, or a telemarketer hawking aluminum siding. Her mother had called the day before.

Mulder had cooked while she took a shower, which meant scrambled eggs. It was all he knew how to make, but he had perfected his technique.

A few weeks before when she had spent a day sidelined with cramps, she was too nauseous to eat anything in the morning. But he had brought her breakfast in bed for both lunch and dinner, on a tray with cut flowers in a bud vase, fruit he’d picked and pared himself, slightly burned toast, and a bottle of advil.

She perceived it, knew it deep in her bones. Someone was calling the question.

____________________________________

 

Since they’d talked on Wednesday, they’d been keeping to their relaxed vacation routines. But at the same time, casually exploring the possibility of relocating to Molokai. If such a momentous decision could be explored casually.

Thursday the real estate agent drove them around, bumping them along the rutted roads in her Mercedes. They looked at the three available properties on the west side of the island within walking distance of the beach.

Though the east side had more dramatic views and obvious natural grandeur as well as more available properties--as the agent repeatedly pointed out--they had taken to the arid, sparser west side. It invited fewer inhabitants and hosted far fewer visitors, which was a plus. More than that, it offered a subtle sloping wind-swept beauty she had come to prefer.

One of the houses they toured was small and dank and needed a lot of work. Another was six bedrooms of ostentatiousness and out of their price range besides. Though they hadn’t spoken in any detail about how that would work.

But the third she liked. He liked it too.

It sat on the same bluff as Langly’s place but a half a mile to the north. With three bedrooms, two bathrooms, plus an office, it was a workable size for them. It was full of light and air with a combination of hardwood flooring and limestone tile. Big kitchen. Five acres, including a rambling backyard with a koi pond in case Mulder missed his fish. A fireplace to warm up the occasional cool evening.

It was a nice spot. She could imagine them there.

On Friday they dropped in to the only hospital on Molokai and poked around, asked some questions. Before long Scully found herself whisked into a meeting with the Chief of Staff and the head administrator, which was telling as to the need in this remote place for qualified and experienced physicians.

She was pleased to discover that her specialization in pathology wouldn’t be a barrier to her seeing patients in Hawaii. She would be able to practice general medicine as long as her institution of employment remained confident she could do so competently.

There would be, however, few opportunities to participate in research, or even professional development and reflection. It was a bare bones operation, dedicated to basic patient care. Trauma. Chronic diseases. Essentially all the interesting cases would be referred to larger institutions on more populated islands, or else to the mainland.

Should that matter to her? Did she go into medicine to help sick people, or to scratch the itch of her own curiosity and ambition? If it was a bit of both, was that ok?

One of the things she’d learned from watching the people who lived on the island is how much satisfaction was available from doing something humble or small with great patience and attentiveness. Was that an attitude she could adopt? And if she could, would it work for her in the same way?

She wondered also if Mulder could realistically work from this place, as remote as it was. They could get an internet connection through the phone line, sure. So far they’d been content to keep an eye on their email by occasionally firing up the desktop in the store’s back room. But he wouldn’t be positioned to dash off at a moment’s notice to chase flukemen through sewers. Which was the kind of activity he seemed to thrive on. To need, even.

Mulder’s curiosity was a stable personality trait that attached itself to whatever he came into contact with, the way someone constitutionally irritable could be bothered by anything. He’d spent an hour one afternoon discussing pickling recipes and techniques with Bane. But would that type of puzzle be enough stimulation for him?

What would it be like, to live here? To live with him? To leave for the hospital and put in a shift, to come home to where they both abided and put her feet up? Day in and day out, would she become bored? Would they get sick of each other, without their work to engage and unite them? And where would a child, if there was to be a child, fit in?

So different was it from the life they had left behind, it was hard to fathom.

And yet, and yet. The idea intrigued her. Having him all to herself at home without someone taking a shot at one of them through a window, without either of them being stalked or snatched or endlessly called away to work. Sitting around with a few friends on a Sunday after church without the sense that a hellhound lay in wait, crouched and ready to bound through the barbecue, scorching and devouring everything in its path.

Was that too much to ask of this life?

________________________________________________

They climbed into the tub together when they got back to the bungalow at noon. She leaned back against him and as he wrapped his arms around her, she recalled their first night on Molokai. How in the dark she hadn’t wasted any time familiarizing herself with the... contours of her formerly off-limits partner.

Whoops.

So much for playing it cool, her trusty strategy for years.

“Can we play some more?” she asked.

“You know me, Scully,” he said, sighing contentedly, tightening his grip on her. “I’m up for anything.” He nuzzled the back of her neck, touching the tip of his tongue to the tiny scar over her very own personal implanted microchip, a gift from him, in fact. She hadn’t been as aware of it as usual, these last weeks.

“Statement: We seem to be considering quitting our jobs, buying a house, and moving to Hawaii.”

“Oh, *that* game. All right. I did say I’m up for anything.”

“Does any of this give you pause, Mulder?”

“Sure it does. Of course. But I don’t want to head back to work hoping something will magically be different. To throw our shoulders against that huge wheel and just let it grind us down again, Scully. I think we’d be selling ourselves short not to consider all our options. We’re just collecting information at this point, right?”

“Right. Yes. That makes sense. But Mulder, I need to tell you that it feels like a fantasy to me. As we talked about before, I have some money saved. But nowhere near enough to afford simultaneously buying half a house in Hawaii, moving across the country in the extreme, and undergoing IVF. All while quitting my job. I doubt we’d even qualify for a mortgage, just beginning our lives and work here. How do you imagine this actually happening for us?”

“Okay. I would like to buy the house, in both of our names, if we decide to go that route. With the money my dad left me. What are your thoughts about that?”

”The shady money?”

”It’s my family Scully. I doubt there’s any other kind. The distinction is more legalistic than moral, don’t you think? Same pie, different piece. The desperation and avarice are baked in.”

“Mulder. I don’t think that’s a good idea. For one thing, that’s your money, not ours. For another, you’ve recently confided in me that you’ve feel uncomfortable about having it at all. How has that changed?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, Scully. I have.” He leaned back and she resettled in his arms, tilting her head back against his chest to look at the cloudless sky.

“During the Dark Ages, in Europe, after the Roman Empire fell, society was pared down to the most basic elements. Clans.”

“Feudalism.”

“Yeah. Serfs farmed or otherwise worked for protection, and wealth was concentrated at the top, with the king and his noblemen.”

“Sounds like a good deal for the king and his noblemen. What a racket.”

“Unfortunately there weren’t any RICO laws the cops could use to prosecute them.”

“Yeah. Nineteen Seventy was a long way away. Not to mention an ocean.”

“In fact, Scully, there weren’t any cops or courts either.”

“Are we digressing, Mulder? I thought the point of this game…”

“No. I’m answering your question.”

“While helping me brush up for my World History exam. I have the best boyfriend ever. I hope he asks me to the Spring Formal.” She rotated in his arms and started nibbling his wet pectoral to entertain herself.

“I’m a catch, remember? Bear with me Scully.”

“Mmmmm,” she said.

“So without cops or courts or jails or even neighborhood watch groups in this crude society, without lawyers in Mazaratis even, the kings had to find ways to maintain order, when problems arose among their people.”

“Umhmmm,” she said, and latched onto his nipple. His were sensitive. She liked that about him.

“Ahhh. Scully. You’re not playing fair.”

“Mmmm,” she said.

“Anyway. When someone was murdered, say, the guilty party, the murderer and his family were ordered by the king to compensate the victim’s family. In money and goods and work if necessary. It was referred to as the death price.”

Scully released his nipple and looked up at him.

“The purpose of the death price was to keep the peace. To discourage the victim’s family from seeking vengeance. In that way it was a force for civilization. A way to slow the roll of momentum that leads to war.”

“I’m listening.”

“We’ve both lost so much, Scully. We’ve lost and lost and lost, beyond any sense or measure. This money, this dirty money, won’t ever begin to touch that or heal it.”

“No it won’t,” she said.

“I realize that. But we have lives to live. Things to do, like Bane said. Things to give. Do you think it’s a terrible idea to utilize some of that money--while leaving most of it for a rainy day-- toward those ends? It’s not like we haven’t earned it.”

“I don’t, Mulder. And how you want to spend that money is up to you. I wouldn’t ever judge that. But I’ve got to think more about how I feel about it. As it applies to me.”

“I get that. We’re just kicking ideas around.”

“Is there anything else you might want to do with that money? Now that you’re considering drawing on it?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. I recently heard about an intriguing business opportunity right here on the west end of Molokai. How would you feel about investing as a silent partner in a small family business? Say, a barbecue stand?”

She pushed away from him and smiled broadly. She brought her palm to his cheek.“I think that’s an amazing idea, Mulder. I really do.”

He kissed her.

“I think I’d like to take a nap now. You still up for anything?”

______________________________________

 

After their snooze, they headed to the harbor to rent sailboards. Usually they went in the mornings, but it was pretty also being on the water as the sun was starting to ride low in the sky, the way it glittered and sparked across the silvery surface.

There were more people afoot in the area of the harbor, a new buzz and bustle with the summer tourist season kicking into gear. After they’d checked in their rigs, they were heading back to the jeep when they ran into Stan and Jenn, who’d just docked for the weekend.

Their two year old son Zach saw them first. “Hi!” he hollered, waving from across the dock, still strapped into his little orange life vest. He didn’t quite know their names, but he beamed at them anyway.

They were all starving and decided to get some food.

On a patio overlooking the water, they ate cheeseburgers and club sandwiches as Zach zipped around, moving from table to table like a groom at his wedding, making friends with the other patrons. That bellowing “Hi!” seemed to be his salutation of choice. Jenn was trailing him, keeping him out from underfoot of the waitress carrying heavy trays, occasionally swinging by the table to take a bite of her food.

Stan talked about how he’d need to work the next two weekends in a row, with the Independence Day holiday coming up. “That’s a busy time for a beat cop. And usually not in a good way.”

He asked them about their plans to return to DC.

“We’re still working that out,” Mulder said, dragging a french fry in ketchup. “We’re considering making some changes.”

“It’s been good for us to get away for a good long while,” Scully said, stealing one of Mulder’s fries. “We’re evaluating our options. We may decide to stick around for a bit.”

“As in move here,” Mulder said.

“Cool,” Stan said, surprised but nodding, sipping from his soda. “Very cool.”

“I guess you have options,” he said to Scully. “You could work as a doctor or work in law enforcement, right?”

“That’s right,” she said. “I’m leaning toward going back to medicine.”

“What about you, Mulder?” Stan asked.

“I mentioned that Scully and I work in an odd little department of the Bureau, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Stan said.

“One of the things we do is investigate cases that involve unexplained phenomena. The paranormal.”

“Wow,” Stan said. “That must be kind of cool.”

He really hadn’t batted an eye. She wondered if Bane had told him some of what they’d shared with him, about their work. But then, she doubted it. He and a lot of the people they met here just seemed to have a lot of room for things. She hoped Stan did decide to apply to the Bureau. He’d make a good agent.

“It has been interesting,” Mulder was saying, “among other things. If we move here I’ll look to continue this work, but as a civilian. We’re still hashing out the details.”

“Right on,” Stan said. “I hope you guys stick around. Keep me posted.”

“Sorry,” Jenn said, arriving back at their table and depositing Zach in Stan’s lap. “It’s hard to socialize and keep an eye on him. He’d fuss if we strapped him in. He’s been cooped up all afternoon.”

“Hey,” Stan said, “Maybe you two will get to meet Zach’s little sister, if you’re still around in September.”

“That’s coming up soon,” Scully said. “You guys feeling ready?”

“One thing we learned from having Zach is that there’s no such thing as ready,” Jenn said, laughing. “But we’re looking forward to meeting her.”

Scully thought of something her own sister once said to her. Love is not knowing what’s going to happen. She hadn’t understood what it meant at the time. Just more Melissa feel-good babble. But apparently she’d filed it away. She would have loved to talk to Missy about it just then.

After their friends left, the two of them sat quietly. He jutted his legs out, crossed them at the ankle, and gazed out over the water. Across the channel the high rise hotels on Maui were flickering to life.

He looked relaxed. Content. Missy would be happy to see the two of them here together. Like this. She had known.

She sipped her coffee.

“What do you think, Scully?”

“I was just thinking how freaked out we both were. About doing this.”

“I assume you don’t mean going for a burger.”

“No,” she said. “The other this.”

“It was terrifying,” he said. “I didn’t want to risk what we had.”

“Yeah,” she said, smiling a little. “It’s going okay.”

“It is,” he said, nodding, smiling shyly.

This intimacy between them had been folded into their existing relationship like a new child joins an already solid family, causing new hastles and questions to arise maybe, but adding to it in profound and immeasurable ways. Growing it, but not fundamentally changing what it is.

“It makes me less nervous. About whatever comes next. Or doesn’t come next.”

“Cheers to that,” he said. He didn’t have a drink, so he leaned over and kissed her. Then they went back to watching the water.

______________________________________

The phone rang a third time. Then a fourth. She pushed back from the table, crossed the room, and picked it up the handset.

“Scully,” she said.

It was Skinner.

 

 

Chapter Text

Skinner was just calling to check in, to see if he should put them down for another week of vacation. Mulder still had roughly seven weeks to use at his discretion, and she had about five. That was all he wanted.

“Yes sir, we’re planning to stay put for another week. Thank you for your flexibility regarding our return date.” She felt a pang of guilt. Small but definite. “How have you been, Sir?”

Mulder had answered the phone every time Skinner had called before, which usually happened to be while she was at church. It was strange to hear his voice.

“Same old, same old. How are you doing? Mulder says you’re feeling well...”

Something halting and tender crackled between them. Unspoken, as ever. “I am, Sir. Much better.”

“Good,” he said. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“Thank you.”

“Listen, Scully.” Back to business. “I want you two to take as much time as you need. That you come back healthy and ready is priority one. But there’s a case. If the two of you had been considering coming back soon, now would be a good time.”

“What kind of case, Sir?”

Mulder looked up from his eggs, his attention pricked.

“The case is in California. It’s a murder. With certain elements, you could say, that cry out for the particular matrix of abilities you and Agent Mulder bring to the table. You could even work it and return straightaway to your vacation, if you were so inclined. Instead of coming all the way back East.”

“What’s he saying?” Mulder was now standing next to her, tapping her elbow, reaching for the phone. “Could I talk to him?”

“I’m talking to him, Mulder. There’s a case. If you want in on the conversation, go pick up the phone by the bed.”

Scully had forgotten to cover the handset or even to ask Skinner to hang on. Her social skills pertaining to the finer points of professional decorum might be a bit rusty. And, like her mother, Skinner now knew there was only one bed in their cozy tropical getaway. Just on the off chance he hadn’t been certain. She felt her face flush ever so slightly.

“Sorry about that, Sir. Agent Mulder is picking up the other line.” She felt her professional persona click into place.

“No problem,” he said. Do doo doo.

“Hello Sir,” Mulder said. “What’s this I hear about a case?”

“Hey Mulder. I was starting to tell Scully about a murder case in Orange County California. A young man was found in the trunk of his own car in a in a reservoir outside Costa Mesa. It only happened yesterday, but we’ve already been called in to investigate. The CEO of Lucky Boy Incorporated…”

“Lucky Boy?” Mulder said.

“Yes, as in the hamburger chain that has franchises up and down the West Coast.”

“Oh,” Mulder said.

“Anyway, the CEO has quite a bit of suction here in the Capital apparently, and one of their employees may be involved. He would like it solved quickly and quietly. For obvious reasons.”

“One of their employees may be involved?” Scully said.

“Probably is. The trick is going to be --among other things-- figuring out which one.”

“Why is it that you think this case would benefit from our particular mix of skills?” Scully asked.

“It’s… odd. It doesn’t make any sense. The victim doesn’t have a record or any known enemies. And there’s something else. A forensic detail I don’t want to share over the phone, but it’s right up your collective alley. Obviously there’s pressure to solve it expeditiously. For my part, I’d like you on it because I just have a feeling it’s going to get weirder. And that there’s going to be more blood.”

“I’m sorry, Sir,” Mulder said. “We’re not going to be able to take the case. We’re still on vacation. We’re not available. And we’re not anticipating being available anytime soon.”

She could hear his voice two ways: echoing shrilly through the bungalow, and over the telephone line.

“Okay Mulder. That’s what I expected. I thought I’d try. I’ll send Mendez and Cross. Not a problem.”

“Mendez and Cross?” Mulder said. “Sir, I hardly think…”

Dirty pool, Scully thought, smiling stiffly. Skinner was good. Mendez and Cross her ass. He must really want them on this case.

“Mulder, you’re not trying to tell me how to do my job are you? From your... vacation?”

“No sir.”

“Okay. I hear that you’re not available. I respect that.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Scully said.

“I need to ask, though. Would the two of you be willing to take a look the file? And simply share with me any thoughts you might have? Off the record of course. As a favor to me.”

“Sir, I don’t think…” Mulder said.

“I’d be happy to, Sir. Speaking for myself. Please send it along.”

“Thank you, Agent Scully. I appreciate it. I hope it doesn’t take up too much of your time. Mulder?”

“Sir?”

“Should I copy you on this email?”

“That would be fine. Sir.”

_____________________________________

 

They finished their eggs, even though they had gotten cold. Scully was doing the dishes, and they were talking loudly over the faucet.

“Mulder, if you don’t know by now what’s wrong with the fact that you feel empowered to unilaterally make decisions that directly affect me, then I don’t know what to say.”

“I know. I know. But Scully…”

She twisted the knob and turned off the water.

“Scully,” he continued more quietly, “I swear. I thought we were on the same page.”

“That’s not the point, Mulder. The point is…”

They heard a noise coming from the porch.

A human noise.

Coughing.

“Did you lock up last night?” Scully whispered, wiping her hands on a towel, already creeping toward the bedroom.

“I did. I’m sure. Were you in the yard this morning? Did you unlock the porch door?” he whispered back. He was right behind her.

“No. Did you?” More coughing. Which segued into more like retching.

“No.” They retrieved their weapons from where they had been stowed, in the top drawer of the dresser.

It felt strange in her hand. But then she remembered the feel of it, the cool weight. She gripped it with confidence.

Quietly, they pushed out onto the porch.

A young woman in a tank top was curled on the sofa in a filthy sleeping bag, her scapula pointing sharply toward the ceiling, throwing up into a bucket.

The bucket that had been on the floor of the hall closet.

A stuffed backpack leaned against the end of the sofa.

“Hey,” she said, spitting once, then raising her black eyes to address them. “I’m Lucy. Do you have a hair tie?”

_______________________________________

 

The guns were tucked back into the dresser, and Lucy and her backpack and her bucket had relocated to the sofa in the living room. The sleeping bag stayed outside.

“Here you go,” Scully said, handing Lucy a small black band from a pack she’d recently bought. “It’s new.”

It occurred to her that this was a strange thing to say about a hair tie to an urchin. But Lucy had lovely long wavy black hair. Like Bane’s if he were to grow it out.

Scully’s own hair had grown unruly. Mulder seemed to like it, but it bothered her, how it blew in her face when she was on the water. It suddenly occurred to her, as she tucked her hair behind her ears, that she’d like to have it cut. By her stylist. Named Syntax. Who was in Georgetown.

“Thanks,” Lucy said, pulling the wool blanket Mulder had retrieved from the top shelf of the closet tightly around her shoulders. She was shivering violently. “I hate getting puke in my hair. My last band broke yesterday. I usually wear them around my wrist.”

She held up a bony arm to display her birdlike, bandless wrist. Scully handed her three or four more bands, and brought the pack back into the bedroom.

While she was in there she collected their firearms, ID’s, and wallets and placed them in Mulder’s gym bag. She looked around for other valuables, but that was it. The only jewelry she had with her was the cross currently around her neck and the watch on her wrist. Mulder was wearing his watch too. She went out through the porch, walked around to the front, and tossed the bag on the passenger seat of the jeep. She grabbed her doctor kit out of the boot and went back into the house.

When she rejoined them, Mulder had poured Lucy a glass of water and taken a seat across from her. Scully sat down next to her on the sofa and handed her three Advil from the bottle she’d put in her pocket. She put the bottle on the end table.

“Thanks,” Lucy said. She put them in her mouth and took a shaky drink of water. Sweat was dripping from her brow, though she was still shivering. She was going to need a shot of compazine to have any hope of holding down any medicine, Scully thought. She already looked sallow and sunk eyed from dehydration.

“Lucy was telling me that she often stops by here for a few days on her way home to Bane and Alamedas. To clean herself up, and to get through the worst of the sickness.”

“I assume you two are friends of Richie’s?” Lucy said.

They nodded.

“His dad, whose place this was, used to help me through it. The tub helps. And the quiet. He had some remedies he learned overseas. Some plants he grew. And his movies. He was a good guy. But he died three years ago.”

“It isn’t a good idea, Lucy, to spend time alone when you’re this sick. Ideally, you’d get medical support.”

“There’s a three week wait for detox at county on Oahu,” Lucy said. “I’ve done it there a few times. But usually when I sign up, three weeks later I’m not in the mood to go to my appointment.”

“I see. Why don’t you go straight home? We’ve gotten to know your parents a bit, and I’m sure they wouldn’t turn you away…”

She was shaking her head emphatically no. “I have a girl...”

“Yes,” Mulder said. “Lilo. We’ve gotten to know her too.”

“I can’t let her see me like this,” Lucy whispered.

“I see,” Scully said.

“I didn’t mean to bust in on you two,” she said. “My ride had pulled away by the time I saw your car. I camped in the yard, but then I was shaking so bad I had to come in. I tiptoed through so as not to wake you. I just need a day or two and I can move along.”

“Don’t worry about us,” Mulder said. “It really is okay.”

Lucy was staring at the floor. Scully couldn’t shake the idea that the young woman somehow looked simultaneously like a very young girl and a haggard old woman. It reminded her of an optical illusion she'd seen once, a drawing that-- looked at from different angles --contained both contradictory images.

“I happen to be a doctor, Lucy. I’d like to examine you.” Scully said, placing her hand on her doctor kit. “Then maybe we can get you some medicines to help you through.”

“You’re a doctor? Who carries a gun?”

“Scully’s also an FBI agent. As am I,” Mulder said.

Lucy shrugged. “I’ll be alright. I’ve detoxed on my own at least a dozen times. Don’t go out of your way.”

“It’s not out of our way,” Scully said. “I would like it, though, if you’d call your folks and let them know where you are.”

“I’m sure they’ll be glad to know you’re safe,” Mulder said.

“Okay, I guess. I'll call them,” Lucy said. “And, uh, thanks.”

 

 

Chapter Text

They were again sitting in canvas chairs in Bane and Alameda’s backyard, talking and drinking along with a dozen others on a balmy Sunday afternoon. But, unlike the first time--when they felt like they were imitating regular people having a regular time--this time they didn’t think about it at all. They fit right in.

Bane had shown up to the bungalow that morning to keep an eye on Lucy, who --after a rough night-- was sleeping deeply, getting the rest she’d need to recuperate.

Mulder dropped Scully at church, then went for a drive, meeting her afterward.

She squelched a yawn against the back of her hand. She had slept fitfully for the first time in quite a while keeping an tabs on Lucy, who rode the sofa, lurching and heaving her way through the night.

 

———————————————————

After she’d examined the girl, Scully called the pharmacy and sent Mulder for the compazine. Plus clonidine for the shaking and sweating and other parasympathetic symptoms, a muscle relaxant and Tylenol for body aches, ativan for restlessness and insomnia. There was already a bonus size bottle of Imodium in the medicine cabinet.

All of it, Scully knew from spending part of one rotation covering a detox, would reduce the severity of her symptoms by only half if she was lucky. As long as she could hold down some fluids and get snatches of sleep she wouldn’t be in medical danger. Gradually, she’d start to feel better. Even with medicinal and family support, however, she had days of abject suffering ahead of her. Scully knew this. She realized, though, that Lucy knew it better.

What a bitter irony, that what began as a quest for pleasure or relief by this girl could result in such agony.

Shortly after Mulder left she’d helped her into the shower. She was emaciated and brittle, moving more like the denizen of a nursing home than a twenty-two year old. She stayed under the spray for half an hour. Once she emerged, Scully loaned her clean sweats and a T-shirt. Lucy was malnourished, needed an oral antibiotic for an infected track mark--an angry red welt on her inner elbow threatening to bloom into full blown cellulitis--and Scully thought a pelvic examination was likely in order. But first things first.

A few minutes after Mulder got back with the medications, Bane and Alameda rolled up. Scully wasn’t sure what she expected, but she had been surprised by how understated the reunion was. Both her parents greeted Lucy, who was tucked under a blanket on the sofa, with a kiss and a hug. But little was said.

It took two doses of compazine injected intramuscularly into her thigh for her to stop vomiting. A little while later she huddled deeply under the blanket and closed her eyes, the oral medications beginning to deliver a glimmer of relief.

Bane went into the kitchen and unpacked a few supplies they brought over: A hot water bottle, a jug of lemonade, three quarts of frozen soup, some packaged protein shakes, ropes of red and black licorice, two pints of ice cream.

He brought her some broth in a mug. The girl took it between her palms and huddled around it for warmth.

“Where ya at?” he asked.

“Day three,” she said.

“Good deal,” he said. “Hang in there. Tomorrow will be better.” Bane kissed her again and went out back to fire up the tub. The water would help with her aches more than the Tylenol.

Alameda filled the hot water bottle and brought it to her. She asked if she wanted her to wash her stuff. Lucy nodded, and Alameda took her pack and sleeping bag out to the yard and started shaking things out.

“Thanks Mom,” she said when Alameda came back in to start a load of laundry, the girl’s rank damp clothes bundled in her arms. The sleeping bag was catching air over the clothesline outside. “I appreciate it.”

There was love and respect between them. But also stoicicism, a sense of reserve.

Very different, Scully observed, from the high drama that had played out in her own home when her younger brother Charlie had started dabbling in drugs his first year in college. Her father's pink faced tirades, her mother’s weepy pleading. Within a year he had dropped out and moved to the west coast.

That night, Scully got out of bed when Lucy began vomiting again in earnest. She loaded up a syringe and gave her another injection of compazine. She sat on the sofa and held her feet as it took effect, readying another round of pills to give her by mouth.

“Thank you,” she said, swallowing them one at a time with sips of broth, then putting the mug down. It was maybe the tenth time the girl had thanked her. She displayed a quiet intelligence despite her symptoms, and the same soft pride and graciousness as the other members of her family.

“You’re welcome,” Scully said. “Try to rest.” She went out to the yard and hosed out the bucket, then brought it back in and placed it next to the sofa.

“You don’t even know me,” she said, as Scully sat down in a chair opposite the sofa. “I’m interrupting your visit. And you guys are, like cops? I mean, These are your clothes,” she said, pulling at her sweatshirt. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

After a minute, Scully answered.

“You did the right thing coming here, Lucy. Your folks have helped me and Mulder, since we got here. We showed up here skinny and sick, too, in our own way. And when you feel up to it in a few days, you can help someone else. That’s how this works.”

“Lilo,” Lucy muttered.

“Yeah,” Scully said. “She’s a wonderful little girl. And she’s well cared for. But she needs you as well. I think you probably need her too.”

When her breathing became slow and even Scully rose to return to bed.

“Scully?” Lucy said softly.

“Yeah?”

“Tomorrow? Don’t leave me alone here with anything of yours I could take. That I could sell.”

“Just sleep now. You’re okay.”

Scully went into the bedroom and softly closed the door. She crawled under the covers and burrowed into Mulder’s side. His sleepy arms came around her. He held her close as she cried quietly into his chest.

—————————————————————————

“Hey,” Mulder said, tapping her arm with his sweaty beer. “You look sleepy. Why don’t you go inside to the spare room and have a rest?”

“Nah,” she said. “It’s nice out here.” She breathed deeply, pine cones and mesquite and sunlight, fighting off another yawn.

“Why don’t we go inside and take a peek at that file, though Mulder. With all the excitement I almost forgot about it. Skinner will be expecting a call.”

Mulder was shaking his head.

“I don’t think we should, Scully.”

“Why not?”

“One thing will lead to another we'll just get wrapped back up in the whole deal. I guarantee you we’ll be back in Washington within a week. Right back on the hamster wheel.”

“Because we looked at a file? I don’t ever want to get back on the hamster wheel Mulder. But I'm not sure I agree that looking at a case as a favor to Skinner will have such automatic dire concequences."

“I don't want to take any chances,” he said.

“Speaking of Washington, I wouldn’t mind checking in with the rest of my wardrobe and laying eyes on my mother. Maybe seeing if my car still starts and getting a professional pedicure? What about you?”

“You don’t like how I do your toes?”

He actually looked wounded.

“I like it very much,” she said.

She did. An image arose of him naked on the bench in the yard with her feet in his lap. Holding that little bottle in his big hands, brushing the color inexpertly across her toenails. Making a face when he went outside the lines. Thinking back on it made her want to drag him to the spare room for a… rest.

“Mulder I’m seriously considering moving to Hawaii with you.”

“I’m all but sold on the idea myself,” he said, taking a healthy swig of his beer.

“But, Mulder? We’ll actually need to move here. To go back to Washington and tie up loose ends? Pack a box or two? Were you planning on just abandoning all that? Having Frohike feed your fish forever?”

Leaving his life’s work mouldering in a basement, abandoned to the powers that be, she did not say.

She saw from the slightly exposed look on his face that he hadn’t thought all the way through the particulars. Still her blithering idiot. More than ever her love.

“Okay Mulder. I’m going inside to check out that file and call Skinner.”

She kissed him twice and walked inside.

Five minutes later he joined her in Bane’s study. Craning his neck over her shoulder to get a look at the glossies.

Mulder whistled, appreciating the clean hole in the young mans skull, through which his entire brain had been extracted.

“Tough case,” Scully said, paging through the file. “Other than one fast food uniform bling button found on the body, no leads. Water washed away any trace evidence. I don’t know what I might have for Skinner.”

“Mendez and Cross?” Mulder said. “The only special skills those guys bring to the table are, like, padding expense reports and cutting corners.“

“Maybe Skinner also admires the way they shirk responsibility and brag about their infidelities?”

“Cross boasts about the women he bags. Mendez will hold forth on his workout splits and his vintage Mustang if you let him. I don’t know which to prefer.”

Scully looked at him quizzically.

“They were part of that organized crime task force supervised by Skinner Kerch made me sit in on the first week I was back. After you got shot. We were up on several wiretaps, and I spent too many hours in too small rooms with those guys. Did I mention I missed you?”

“No. But I had some idea.”

He stayed in New York till she’d been discharged, then wound up at her place almost every day at some odd hour. He’d bring her pints of congee or sherbert, help her move clothes from the washer to the dryer, put away dishes. He’d tie her shoes and they’d go for slow walks around the block. He’d grab her hand to steady her over a curb, not always remembering to let go.

She vaguely recalled him bitching about that assignment. She had been glad Skinner was keeping an eye on him in her absence.

“Mendez and Cross. Even though you’d nearly been killed in the line of duty, those two douchenozzles ribbed me for taking a couple weeks off to help you get back on your feet. Like it made me less of a man or something. Cross found a novel way at least twice a day to ask if we were fucking.”

“Huh. How’d that go?”

“The first eight times I put him off. The ninth I told him to cut it out. The tenth I smacked a taco out of his hand and shoved him. Which was my last act as a member of that particular task force. Worked out well.”

She stared at him. Those fucking jerks. The idea that they even bumbled around with badges that looked like theirs irritated her.

“Those guys barely make the cut as warm bodies on a stakeout, Scully. Do you think he’ll really assign Mendez and Cross?”

To Scully it seemed like an obvious ploy. She didn’t, however, say a word.

"Let's go back outside," she said, kissing him. "I'm starving. Kino's making beer can chicken. And you promised Lilo and the twins you'd play hide-and-seek."

Chapter Text

Outside again, Scully was looking for Bane. He had been planning to come back over for lunch, and bring Lucy if she was feeling up to it. Mulder cracked another beer and allowed himself to be dragged off by little hands to play with the kids.

Scully sat at the picnic table near the barbecue with Noe and Kino. He brought over a chicken leg for them to taste, smoked with a new type of wood chip. It was tender and flavorful.

She asked Kino how he prepared it. He slid onto the bench next to Noe and they spoke for a half hour about barbecue techniques and recipes. She was surprised how much science he applied to his craft, both in his method --he kept a series of neatly labeled notebooks she admired-- and by way of applying known principles.

When she looked up again, Mulder was being chased around a skinny pine tree by Lilo. She caught him and he hoisted her up on his back and carried her over, her pigtails bobbing with each step, her arms around his neck. It had taken a while, but Lilo seemed not to be as immune to the charms of Mulder as it had first appeared.

“Hey there,” he said. “Special delivery.” He put her down on the bench between Noe and Kino.

“Thanks for the lift, Mulderrr!” she said as she dashed off.

Stan had taken over his place playing with the kids, and Jenn was sunning herself in a lawn chair, dozing with her hand draped over her belly, looking more pregnant than she had even two days before.

Bane showed up an hour later, emerging from the back door of the duplex with Alameda, holding hands, just as food was being served. They all made plates and sat back down, and the six of them chatted for a few minutes. Scully wanted to ask about Lucy, but it didn’t seem like the thing to do.

“We want to thank you for looking after Lucy,” Bane said finally, to her and Mulder. “She decided to go back to Honolulu. She’s on the ferry right now.”

Kino and Noe exchanged a look that Scully thought might be relief.

“A friend of hers, her on and off boyfriend, overdosed on Wednesday. The last she knew he was being loaded into an ambulance. She took off, not wanting to get locked up again. But she felt she had to go back and find out what happened. See how he might be doing.”

“It was no trouble,” Mulder said after a pause, taking a sip of his beer. “She’s a nice kid. Obviously she’s struggling, but helping her was no hardship to us.”

“We tried to talk her into staying, of course,” Alameda said, “but she has her own mind. My most willful child from minute one, good ways and not so good. Sometimes she stays for a day, sometimes a month. Once or twice for a little longer. All we can do is pray for her.”

“I’ll do that then,” Mulder said to her, putting his hand over hers and squeezing. “I’m sure Scully will too.”

Alameda leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Scully was glad Mulder had spoken for them. The bite of food she had taken had gone rubbery and dry in her mouth. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to swallow it.

An awkward silence descended upon them. Mulder, who had finished his food, started taking bites from Scully’s plate.

“You know,” he said, “Scully and I have been talking about staying here on a more permanent basis.”

“Stan and Jenn filled us in,” Noe said. “We were all happy to hear it.”

“We were wondering if you might be interested in taking us on as a business partner? We’d like to talk to you about investing in your restaurant.”

“Really?” Kino said. “Do you have experience in opening a restaurant?”

“The only experience I have pertaining to restaurants is eating in them. And I have a lot of that. Because--Scully will confirm this--scrambled eggs aside, I don’t cook. Like at all.”

“It’s true,” Scully said. She had gotten that bite of food down with sips of water and was glad to discover her voice worked.

“I’m proposing a fifty-fifty split. We provide the start up capital, you provide everything else. The expertise, the labor, the land.”

“What?” Kino and Noe said at the same time.

“Furthermore, you’ve heard of a silent partnership? Well, our involvement in the business would need to be invisible. As in sealed over a beer with a handshake only. No paper whatsoever.”

“Why is that?” Noe asked, her eyes narrowing.

“It will be safer for you and your family. Scully and I do dangerous work, and--while we have no reason to think you’d be touched by this--sometimes those close to us have been drawn in. This offer might sound appealing, but it comes with risks. You might decide against it. Bane knows some of the details of what I’m talking about. I’m sure when all of you talk it over he can help you figure it out.”

Bane was nodding.

Scully was glad he’d thought this through. Protecting this family from any fallout that could ensue from being connected to the two of them was paramount. They’d endured enough collateral damage already.

“I’m going to duck into the store and grab a copy of our business plan,” Noe said. “You should have a sense of what you might be getting into as well.”

“Sounds good,” Mulder said. He knocked beers with Kino, who still had a surprised smile on his face, and they both took a swig.

Scully and Bane left the four of them there a few minutes later, looking over plans, discussing possible scenarios. Mulder was excited, but she had other things on her mind.

She suggested to Bane that they take a walk. They set off on the path that ran west toward the water.

“Thanks again, Scully, for your help with Lucy,” Bane said as soon as the kids were out of earshot. “From me and Al of course. But Lucy wanted me to pass along her gratitude as well.”

Scully nodded. “You drove her to the ferry?”

“Yep. And bought her a ticket. She would have gone anyway. Called up an undesirable for a ride. Snuck aboard. God knows.”

“Are you worried about her?”

“Always,” Bane said. “But I’m not surprised. I’m pretty sure she’ll be taking the twenty dollars I pressed in her palm and selling the rest of the meds you prescribed her to get high. Tablets that help with withdrawal are popular on the street. She might be high already.”

“I didn’t even think about that,” Scully said. “Was it a mistake, to prescribe her those medications?”

“No. They helped her, and now they might even help someone else. You can’t think like that. It’s hard, but you can’t.”

“Like what?”

“When she was in rehab in Arizona--she’s been to treatment three times--they had a week long family program. We went, and they told us we couldn’t help her at all unless she’s at least ninety days clean. No food, shelter, money. Nothing.”

“Sounds harsh.”

“We thought so. You can see what they’re trying to do. A lot of loved ones enable addicts to keep on going. But we didn’t buy into such a severe world view. We’re not supporting her habit, but the way we figure, she needs to know we love her, that she has a place to come home to if and when she wants to give this up. We’ve tried to stake out some territory in the middle of the road.”

“I’m sorry Bane. I like her. It’s tragic to me, her hurting herself like this. It’s a waste.”

“Yeah. Thank you. Tragic’s a good word for it. She was a great kid. Stubborn and tough and funny as hell. Never ever backed down. No fear.”

“She still has a strong presence, even as weakened as she is.”

“It’s funny. I tried to talk Stan out of joining the Navy. We had some money saved for his college. But he wouldn’t hear it. Of course I was proud as can be when he went his own way.”

Scully laughed, thinking of her own father. “I can understand that.”

“But Lucy would have thrived in the military. She’s was always our little soldier, our warrior. She still is. When I told you I was proud of all my children, I meant it. I think our other kids are the bees knees, you know that. But Lucy’s had a more difficult path. And it’s made her strong.”

“How so?”

“She was born with this edginess. An unrest. I could feel it in her, holding her as a tiny baby. I remembered it from myself right after the war. On bad days, I suspect it somehow jumped from me to her. Not that my guilt helps anyone.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Scully said.

“Probably not. The way she bears up under physical pain, and all the other little hells of her addiction? My other kids --thank fucking god-- couldn’t imagine.”

Scully nodded.

“Last year she showed up with this boyfriend--the one who overdosed--and the two of them wanted to move with Lilo a couple islands away for a fresh start.”

“Stan mentioned something about that,” Scully said.

Bane nodded. “The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell her she couldn’t take Lilo. She was a hundred something days clean and I was afraid it would crush her. For all I know, it did.”

“She’s not crushed,” Scully said, shaking her head. “She’s still got some fire. She’s in there. She talked to me about Lilo a little.”

“Good. I’m proud of her for still wanting that, for holding that dream in her heart, of being a mother to her little girl. And I’m proud of her for being strong enough to stay away.”

“I hope she makes it back, Bane. I hope she stays next time.” They were holding hands.

“I hope so too. She’s good and hooked, but she’s makes choices, as well. The fourth and fifth days are the hardest. About half the time, that’s when she leaves.”

“Why?”

“Because she feels well enough to get back out there, but bad enough that the cravings are still overwhelming. It really is a vicious cycle. It’s vicious for us too. Like the guys in the MASH hospital, we fix her up only to watch her march right back to the front to get hurt again.”

“I think I know how she feels,” Scully said.

“How’s that?”

“I think that’s where Mulder and I are right now.”

“Hmm,” Bane said. “How do you mean?”

 

——————————

 

“Hey!” Mulder said, as she and Bane climbed into the gazebo. He sat at the table with Kino and Noe.

At dusk, the space was lit by strands of soft white bulbs threaded through the rafters. The kids were tucked in bed, and Alameda was inside listening for them. Bane ducked inside to check in with her.

Kino and Noe had their chairs pushed together and were peering at the screen of their laptop, pointing and debating.

When she walked over, Mulder grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into his lap.

“I missed you,” he said, kissing her neck, running his hand up under her skirt.

“Mulder?” she asked, grasping his wrist and extracting his hand, giving him a sniff, “Are you drunk?”

Kino and Noe looked up and laughed.

“I may have been marginally overserved, yeah.”

He and Noe and Kino had busted out the second half of the bottle of scotch they’d brought over on their first visit to toast their budding collaboration.

He’d had a few shots, and on top of the several beers he’d already put away, it had pushed him over the edge.

“I told him most guys who went to college at least learned how to hold their liquor,” Kino said.

“He did,” Mulder said, nodding.

“Since when do you have a problem with PDA Scully?” he asked her, putting a hand on her knee again. “You should have seen her at the movies,” he whispered loudly.

“Mulder!” she said.

“We did,” Noe said, not looking up from her spreadsheet. “We were sitting right behind you.”

She looked up at their startled expressions. “Just kidding. Jeez you two are easy.” Kino choked on his beer laughing.

“You’re too cute, you two,” Noe said shaking her head. “Seriously. It’s adorable.”

“Thanks,” Mulder said. “It’s all her though.” He kissed her cheek.

“That’s right Mulder. You’re not cute at all.” She relaxed and curled into his lap.

Noe laughed at that.

“How did I keep my hands off you for six years, Scully?”

“That does seem like a long time,” Noe said, tapping at the laptop. “Just sayin’. Then again, we haven’t been to the movies in six years...”

“Six years Mulder?” Kino said, “You learn your moves in college too?”

“It was complicated,” Mulder said primly. “But now it’s easy.” He rubbed his face in her hair.

“I’m confiscating this,” Scully said. She took his beer out of his hand and took a sip.

“Maybe you should have a coupla kids,” Kino said. “That way you can quit making the rest of us feel bad about our love lives.”

Mulder and Scully both froze. It got very quiet.

Noe picked up on the vibe and looked up. “Kino puts his foot in his mouth when he drinks,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” Kino said. “I’m an ass.”

“It’s okay,” Scully said. “That is something we both want. It’s just that it isn’t going to be so simple for us. For various reasons.”

Kino and Noe nodded soberly.

“I hope you get what you want,” Noe said. “It’s pretty clear you’d make great parents.”

“Cheers to that,” Kino said.

They clinked bottles lightly and took small sips.

Bane came out. “How’s it going out here?”

“Good, Dad,” Noe said. “We’ll have a lot of ideas to run by you tomorrow. I’m interested to hear your thoughts.”

“Looking forward,” he said. “Al and I are heading up to bed. She says goodnight. Long day.” He handed her a compact baby monitor.

He kissed them all, even Mulder, who didn’t make a face this time. He was starting to look a little dozy.

“What’s in the bag?” Noe asked. Bane clutched a small plastic shopping bag in his fist.

“I almost forgot. Don’t get old. This is yours,” he said, handing it to Scully. It had the name of the souvenir shop they’d visited in Honolulu printed on it.

“Lucy took it with her, when she left the bungalow, but had second thoughts. She dug it out of her pack before she got on the ferry. She told me to give it back to you and apologize.”

“I don’t know why she would have taken this,” Scully said, peeling it open. There were a few postcards, some shells plucked from the beach…

“Oh, Hey!” Mulder said, sitting up and snatching it out of her hands.

“That’s just some junk I got on the way here,” he said quietly, folding the edge of the bag. “And a souvenir for my mother.”

“Okay then,” Scully said.

Noe and Kino looked at each other and shrugged.

He folded the lip of the bag a second time and stowed it under the chair.

She resettled on his lap.

“Noe’s a genius,” Mulder said, that little shot of adrenaline, whatever that was, waking him up a bit.

“Not really,” Noe said.

“She figured out how we can stay under the radar here. We can buy into their business AND buy the house using a couple of shell companies. El-el-cees,” he slurred.

“That sounds promising,” Scully said.

“One of the Gunmen—Frohike probably—will help us repatriate some money by stopping by the bank in Costa Rica on his way here for a visit. Then he’ll sign the papers as our nominee. It’s bulletproof. She’s gonna draw up a cash offer for the house tomorrow with a broker she knows. We won’t need the money for a month. And we won’t even be at the closing.”

“Wow,” Scully said, pushing off him and standing up.

“Come back,” Mulder whined, gesturing toward his abruptly empty lap.

“That all sounds amazing,” Scully said to Noe. “You’re sure your family won’t be linked to us through these transactions?”

“I’m sure,” Noe said, nodding.

“And this is all legal? No offense, but we’re federal agents.”

“Not for long, Scully.” Mulder said.

“Of course,” Noe said. “None taken. But I’m not that kind of accountant. I have a licence to protect as well. The money will be declared. Uncle Sam will take his bite. It’s all legit.”

“Great,” she said.

“Mulder, I have a question. Did you look at that file again? That Skinner sent us?”

“Huh?” He said drunkenly. He was starting to fade again.

“Did you open the file again? Since we looked at it together?”

Kino and Noe were watching their conversation like it was a tennis match. It surprised her that she didn’t mind.

“I did,” he said. “But just for a few minutes. The laptop was right here, and they were putting the kids to bed…”

“It’s okay,” she said, leaning down and kissing him. He looked shrunken and pathetic. But not unhappy.

“Drink this,” she said, pouring him a glass of water from a pitcher on the table and handing it to him.

“I will,” he said, taking a sip.

Scully went into the house.

A few minutes later when she came back out, he was passed out cold in the chair. Noe and Kino were gathering their things, preparing to go inside.

“Let’s go Mulder,” she said, shaking his arm. “You've got to get up. We’ve got places to be.”

“Alameda made up the guest room for us," he mumbled. "Sorry I drank too much Scully.”

“It’s okay. But please get up. Help me out here. Drink some water and get in the Jeep. We need to be in Costa Mesa by Tuesday. I just talked to Skinner. We’ve got a case to work.”

“Scully, no. It’s all set. We’re moving to Hawaii.”

“I didn’t say we weren’t. I said we have a case to work. A fetishistic killing. Don’t forget your little bag. Let’s go.”

He got shakily to his feet.

”Okay. But Scully. I don’t think it’s about a fetish. Someone wanted that brain for some other reason. It was practical...”

 

 

Chapter Text

Back through the wormhole, they landed at LAX Tuesday early afternoon — they'd decided hopping the red eye would be unnecessarily exhausting — and went shopping.

He didn’t have a suit or even a sport coat with him, having packed lightly to escort her home from Vegas. For her, the leaden drab jacket and skirt as well as the high collared shirts she had worn months earlier still basically fit, but no longer suited her.

Time being an issue — they were due at Costa Mesa police headquarters to be briefed -- they divided and conquered. She ducked into a boutique and bought some separates off the rack. Mostly she stuck with black, but selected sheer fabrics and longer, slimmer cuts. Unused to having so much skin covered, she picked out a few scoop-neck blouses to wear under her jackets.

After she’d purchased the items she needed, she met him at the Emporio Armani airport shop. Small, but full service. She leaned against a marble column in her new duds, chewed on the straw of her iced espresso, and watched him shop.

He picked out a brown leather belt and a half dozen pairs of dress socks, handed them to the clerk. He held up one tie for her to see, then another, padding around in his stocking feet, wordlessly soliciting an opinion.

None was forthcoming. Her eyes on him — foxy, unreadable — made him fidgety.

The tailor emerged from the back with the navy summer suit he’d selected. It had needed to be altered to cover his wrists and bony ankles.

He came out from the dressing room a minute later and sized up the fit in the three-way mirror. The tailor stooped down and smoothed the creases and the hem. His eyes met hers in the mirror. She was still leaning against the post, now crunching ice from her coffee between her molars.

“Feel free to weigh in, over there.”

“You’re doing fine.”

“Fine?” he said, turning his attention back to the drape of his suit. “Fine’s fine. I guess.”

“I will say that we could be mistaken for vice cops from Miami circa nineteen eighty five if you’re planning on sticking with that vee neck tee underneath the suit jacket, though.”

“Good point,” he said. He wandered toward the tidy display of dress shirts. “Is this a three shirt case, or a five shirt case, Scully? Since it was your big idea.”

“Not four?”

“No. It’s always three or five. I don’t know why.”

“I’m feeling lucky. How about three.”

He got four, since they were aiming to do some things differently: a white, a blue pinstripe, a lavender — she had nodded almost imperceptibly when he picked that one up — and a baby blue.

________________________

Suited up, they waited at the Lariat car rental counter. The clerk finished tapping at his keyboard and handed over the keys to their Taurus.

“Thank you,” Mulder said. He palmed them, slipped them into his front pocket.

After the briefing, they figured they’d be heading out to inspect Lucky Boy franchises, moving outward in a spiral from the point at which the body had been found. Scully had mapped it on the plane.

She pivoted toward the big glass doors that would take them to their car.

He hooked her lapel with his fingers, stopping her progress.

“Scully. Once we walk through those doors, we’re back on the job. You sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure.”

He looked pained. “Why?”

“Because of Donald Edward Pankow and the people who cared about him. Because of Cross and Mendez. Because I want to know what happened to that brain, and you do too.”

Tearing a page from his book, she’d been terse and elliptical since two nights earlier, offering half answers to perfectly straightforward questions.

He made a mental note for the next time he was tempted to behave in some likewise fashion: deeply annoying.

“But Scully…”

“Okay, Mulder. Answer honestly. Do you want to work this case today? Do you want to find out what happened to this kid and try to prevent it from happening to anybody else? If you truly don’t, say the word and we can turn right around and go back to Hawaii. I mean it. If your heart's not in this anymore, we’ll do something else.”

He looked away from her.

“It is. I do.”

“I do too.” She ran her hand down his new tie, gripped his belt buckle.

“I know there are some big questions swirling around us right now. But let’s just keep things simple. Let’s focus on this case today.”

“Okay,” he said, nodding.

He pulled the handle of the heavy door and held it open for her. They found their car, got in, and drove off.

_______________________________

They found their groove again by canvassing one Lucky Boy after another, seven fast food joints in three hours, flashing badges, sniffing for leads with guns strapped, reaffirming their names and titles over and again. Exhausting. But also, he had to admit, exhilarating.

By early evening she wanted a peek at the body to see what might have been missed by the county medical examiner. He dropped her at the morgue and headed to the home of a promising suspect. Just a little pop-in visit, turning over rocks, seeing what might be underneath. She took a cab to their hotel when she finished interrogating the corpse and checked them into adjoining rooms.

Arriving there himself, he entered his room and set down his bag. The connecting door was slightly ajar. He knocked lightly and pushed in, peering around the door.

Her suitcase was on the bed, her things neatly stowed around the room. All in all, a familiar scene. The bathroom door was closed and he heard the shower running. He knocked and poked his head in to ask her what she wanted to do about dinner.

They types of cheap motels that were quirky in more remote places became seedy in densely populated areas-- driving around they had concluded that this part of Orange County qualified. They’d decided on a mid-market chain hotel, which was at least clean, lacked obvious signs of illicit activity, and had an adjacent restaurant.

“Hey there,” he said. “Room service ok?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Perfect. Thanks.”

He went back to his side. He couldn’t help feeling dismissed. He turned on the TV for the first time in months. It seemed strange, all flashing images and baubles of dialogue and music, an infernal racket. He almost couldn’t make sense of it. He turned it off.

He ordered a rib-eye and a Cobb salad they could split. A side of spinach for her. Cheesecake for dessert. The idea of a beer made him nauseous two days and counting after he’d tied one on. He ordered a glass of red wine, though, in case she was having trouble relaxing.

He was. The stimulation of civilization such as it was — the speed of traffic and sounds of horns and sirens and smells of black tar wafting off the asphalt and sickly sweet greasy fast food — it all had his head spinning and his ears buzzing.

Speaking of relaxing, he sincerely hoped they’d be fraternizing later.

Between Lucy’s unscheduled visit, his no good whiskey dick, and preparing for their hasty departure, it had been days. Days! He wasn’t sure what the rules would be now, working together again. He pulled off his tie and undid the top button of his shirt, kicked off his shoes and flopped on the bed.

She showed up at the same time as the food, damp haired and covered neck to ankle in the boxy flannel pajamas he hadn’t seen since Vegas, with her robe knotted over them for good measure. Not promising.

Over dinner they talked strictly about the case. Dueling theories — his a bit more… speculative — hers grounded in known facts, hugging the contours of conventional wisdom. The back and forth was an old comfortable pair of shoes they slipped into. She was playing her part, but to him seemed less wedded to it. Just weighing down her side of the teeter-totter, balancing the scales.

“I’m tired,” she said, putting down her fork, clasping her arms above her head and stretching.

“Long day,” he said.

“Not literally,” she said. “Our travel against the sun shortened it by three hours. Though since we were up and out by five am it doesn’t feel like it.”

“Strange day,” he said. “Everything’s so loud and moves so fast. I’m sure I’ll get reacclimated. But I’m tired, too.” He scrubbed his face with his hands.

“I hope we don’t get too used to it. Did you talk to Melvin?”

“Yes, actually." he said, looking up. "And I spoke with Noe. Our offer on the house was accepted. Frohike’s rearranging his schedule to arrive on Molokai via Costa Rica next week. Langley’s going too. They’ll see to the inspection, and stick around through the closing if all goes well.”

“That’s good news,” she said. “Cheers.”

He tapped her wine glass with his water glass.

“Scully, help me understand. How are we going to both move to Hawaii and go back to work? Have you discovered a wrinkle in the space time continuum you’d care to share?”

She sighed. “No. All dimensions remain in tact as far as I know. And if they weren’t you’d most likely notice before I did. I’d find some way to explain it away.”

“True. Good thing I find you adorable when your being pedantic.”

“I don’t know how, exactly, Mulder. Talking to Bane the other day, it came to me that we need to do this. And we need to do that as well. I’d like to try to find a way.”

“Scully. The worst case scenarios for us, of doing this work. The things that have happened already...”

He flashed to how she’d looked coming out of surgery in New York, her pallid face waxen and still streaked with watery blood, the drain coming out of her side, her blood still trickling away. Receiving her gold cross necklace sealed in a small white envelope from the surgical tech.

“Then we have to make sure they don’t happen.”

“Okay,” he said, “But… okay.”

“What time is it?” She was changing the subject.

“Nine. Six on our body clocks. Still, I’m ready for bed right now.”

“We should go to bed at a regular time to avoid jet lag. We don’t want to be wide awake at three am.”

“You’re right,” he said, sipping his water, eyeying her over the rim of the glass. “Whatever would we do?”

She didn’t answer. She was examining her fingernails. “I need a manicure,” she said.

“We could watch TV for an hour or two,” he said. “We haven’t done that in a while.”

She shrugged, still perusing her fingernails. She looked up and flicked her eyes over his body.

“How’s your new suit working out?”

“It’s ok. A new suit’s always a little itchy." He pulled at the starchy scratchy collar of his new shirt. He hadn’t worn anything so constricting in a while.

He unbuttoned his shirt, peeled it off and tossed it on a chair, leaving his t-shirt on. For now.

“You seem to be wearing a lot of clothes, Scully.” A neutral observation. She had, after all, introduced the topic.

“Well, we are working. It wouldn’t do to prance around half naked.”

“That would be terrible.”

He slipped out of the chair went into the bathroom. He shaved and brushed his teeth, then walked back into his room, stretching to work out the knots in his back from all the seat time they’d logged.

He could hear her moving around on the other side of the door. Her cell phone trilled and she answered it.

He sat on the end of the bed and peeled off his socks, tossed them in the corner.

She passed within a foot of him when she walked by with her briefcase, her cell phone pressed to her ear, updating Skinner.

“Yes Sir,” she was saying. “I appreciate that.”

He pulled his undershirt off, balled it up and threw it in the corner with his socks. She shot him a look. He shrugged. His room, his rules.

She collected her notes and the autopsy report, carefully feeding them into her bag.

“Yes, that’s consistent with what we’re finding,” she was saying.

As she passed by him again he grabbed her, corralled her loosely in his arms.

She set her briefcase down next to him on the bed and pressed her hand flat against the plane of his chest, standing between his knees.

“I don’t think so,” she was saying.

She trapped the phone between her ear and shoulder and with her other hand began pulling at his inexpertly shorn hair, her bottom lip protruding in mild consternation. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen her pout before. If she hadn’t been talking to Skinner he would have needed to kiss her. He almost did anyway.

Apparently, she was not a fan of his haircut.

They had swung by the duplex Monday evening to say their goodbye for nows. Kino and Alameda were still in the store, closing up.

The family had expressed no reservations about moving forward, and earlier that day on the phone they reached a handshake deal regarding their business venture. Once the money was delivered by Frohike and the paperwork was in order, they planned to break ground, ideally by the end of the summer.

Mulder was in the office holding a cardboard box they were going to stow there until their next visit. It was filled with wardrobe and personal items they'd acquired since they arrived, but wouldn’t need until they returned: most of his hawaiian shirts, her bathing suits and covers, sandals, flip flops, sunblock, swim goggles, and other island necessities.

He set the box down on the desk in the office where Kino was working at the computer, then picked up a sharpie from the pen cup and wrote “M&S” on the front and top. He stood on a chair and tucked it away on a high shelf in the closet.

“Alameda?” Mulder said, stepping down and picking up a basket that contained hair scissors and clippers from a lower shelf, “Can I ask you a favor?”

“Oh, I don’t really cut hair, Mulder” she said. “I just give the boys and Kino a buzz about once a season. Trim up Lilo’s bangs. Stan hasn’t let me near his head since he was twelve. Even Bane has his wavy locks cut at the barbershop by the harbor.”

“I need a trim for work. It doesn’t need to be perfect.”

“All right then. I'll see what I can do.”

“Mulder no,” Scully said. She was pressed into a corner in the small office, standing with her arms crossed.

“Why don’t you want me to get a haircut, Scully? I don’t understand. You’re all for taking this case. I can’t show up tomorrow looking like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, can I? No such thing as a surfer dude G-Man.”

“Hmm,” she said.

“Not even with you so Daphne like,” he said, standing over her, rubbing a lock of her hair between his fingers. “I used to think about her from time to time.”

Alameda pushed a chair to the middle of the office. He sat it it.

“Velma was the smart one,” she said.

“She would have been welcome too. Though she didn’t seem as available for some reason…”

"Maybe not to you."

His mouth fell open.

“Let’s call it Velma’s,” Kino said, looking up from what he was typing for the first time.

They all stared at Kino.

“We gotta name this business. Actually, Noe says we need two names for branding and advertising purposes. One for the coffee shop slash bakery, another for the barbecue stand.”

“I see,” Alameda said. She was spritzing Mulder’s hair with water and combing through it. “I don’t think Velma’s is very catchy…”

“You’re right, Mom. With you being an invisible partner, Mulder, Foxies is out.”

“It can’t be out because it was never in,” Mulder said.

“What about you, Scully?” Kino said. “Do you have any ideas? A nickname or something?”

“My dad called me Starbuck.”

They all thought about it for a second, then burst out laughing.

“I’m sure you all make a mean skinny caramel macchiato, but we don’t want to attract litigation,” Mulder said. “Do you have a nickname, Kino?”

“My coach in high school called me Slim. But it never really caught on.”

“Slim’s BBQ. What do you think, Scully?”

“Not too short,” she said. Alameda was snipping at the hair on top of Mulder’s head. “Slim’s has potential.”

“What about you Mulder? You got a nickname?”

Mulder and Scully stared at him.

“You DO have a nickname. And you don’t want to tell me, which means I need to find out. Scully? What’s Mulder’s nickname? You can tell me.”

“Um,” she said. “Well, people call Mulder various things.”

“Most of them not printable on a sign,” Mulder said.

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Alameda said. “but quit squirming.”

“Hey there,” Bane said, entering the office, giving Alameda a smooch on the cheek. “Kids are down.” He looked at Mulder. “Getting ready to suit up, I see.”

“We were just discussing Mulder’s nickname,” Kino said.

“Spooky?” Bane said.

Mulder swiveled his head around to pin Scully to the wall.

“Hold still or you’re gonna lose an ear,” Alameda said.

Mulder faced forward again. “Eu tu Scully? Really?”

“Sorry,” she said.

“Whoops,” Bane said.

Kino had slid off his chair, laughing. “Spooooooky!”

“Unfortunately, I’m better known by that name than Fox, Slim, so you can’t use it. Scully, I can’t beat this guy one-on-one as it is. Do you realize the fresh fodder you’ve just given him for trash talk?”

She was covering her face with her hands.

“A little more off the top please,” he said.

“What are we talking about here?” Bane asked.

“Trying to name the shops. So they can file the permits,” Alameda said.

“What about to honor your two sisters?” Bane said.

“Melissa and Samantha,” Scully said.

“Sam’s Barbecue?” Alameda said. "Slim Sam"s?"

“And Sweet Melissa’s,” Kino said. “For the bakery. What do you think?”

Both Mulder and Scully were nodding. He was smiling a little.

“I was sorry to hear about you two losing family like that,” Kino said. “Bane shared with us some of what you told him.”

“Thank you,” Scully said.

“Are you sure those stories don’t give you pause?” Mulder asked. “You haven’t filed those permits yet…”

“We don’t scare so easy,” Kino said. “If we did, this island would be stacked with hotels and casinos and crap like Maui. If anyone comes around looking for you, they’ll get nowhere. You can relax here.”

Chapter Text

She stood in the v of his legs, between his naked feet, her hand on his bare chest.

“Thank you sir. We will. Yes. We’ll be in touch.”

In touch. Um-hm.

She ended the call and tossed her phone on top of her briefcase. She smoothed over a thin scar on his chest wall. “What’s this one? Mothman?”

He nodded. “One still at large.”

“Sounds plausible.”

“So,” he said, looking down at her hand on his chest, then up at her. “What does Skinner have to say?”

“The usual, more or less. He wants a progress report in a day or two.”

“We should have that for him.”

He leaned back on his hands, his arms extended behind him. She raised her hand to cup his chin, swiveled his head, surveying the damage. His hair was a disaster, uneven and spearing out around the crown of his head. Mulder harbored his vanities, but they didn’t extend to his physical appearance.

She wrinkled her nose. At least he still had the sideburns. A she thumbed a fresh razor nick on the underside of his mandible.

His eyes were appraising as well, surveying her apparel.

“I think we could still hope to keep things professional if you were wearing one less layer. Don’t you, Scully?”

“Could we?”

“I mean, there’s nothing in the DOJ Code of Ethics about needing to dress... bulkily around your partner. When consorting in his hotel room, that is.”

She had checked the handbook a year or two before. Just out of curiosity. It had surprisingly little to say regarding what they were about to do.

She nodded. “Ok then.”

He leaned forward, snagged the tie of her robe, and pulled. She slipped it off her shoulders and tossed it on the chair.

“Haven’t seen these in a while,” he said, touching the hem of her plaid flannel pajama top, testing the fabric between his fingers.

“Flannel isn’t needed very often in Hawaii.”

“You were rarely cold,” he said. “If ever.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Last time you wore these pajamas, I wasn’t allowed to take them off you, was I?”

“No.”

He slipped his hand up her shirt, above her hip. He looked up, surprised not to have encountered skin.

“Wow, Scully. Another layer? Here on the mainland you are a paragon of propriety.”

“You sure about that?”

His eyes darted toward her face. Quickly he began unfastening the buttons of her top.

“No?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

She reached down to his lap and rubbed him where he was beginning to stir, giving his cock a friendly squeeze over his suit pants, feeling him growing hard in her hand. She’d been wanting to do that all day.

Also, for years.

He had eased her shirt from her shoulders and was working the waistband of her pajama pants over her hips. When they hit the floor, she stepped out of them, still dressed in a creamy silk camisole and matching shorts. An impulse purchase at the airport boutique. Simple spaghetti straps. Panties edged with lace. Nothing fancy.

His eyes took her in. “Nice. Did you put these on for me? After your shower?”

“Yes.”

“Your place or mine?” he said.

“Yours is closer.”

He crab crawled backward toward the headboard. She picked up her pajamas, folded them, and placed them on the chair. Then she turned off a couple of lights and peeled back the covers. They both climbed into bed.

He rubbed his face against her silky middle. “You’re like one of those Russian nesting dolls, Scully. Anything else under here?” he asked, plucking at the fabric of her bodice.

“Just, you know, skin. Bones. Organs. A bullet fragment or two.”

He slid his hand under her top, just to confirm. “All good stuff,” he said. He kissed her. She ran her hands through his hair, pulling it out in all directions, nuzzled his nose.

She liked how his chambray pants he’d neglected to take off brushed against her bare legs under the covers. His cold belt buckle pressed against her hip.

“It’s been a hectic few days,” she said. “Thanks for doing this with me. I know you weren’t sure about it.”

He nodded. She curled into him, rubbed her face against his ribs like a cat. He brought his knees up and encircled her with his arms, gave her a squeeze. As active as his mind often was, he had a quiet body. Warm and solid, he anchored her, provided a refuge from the frenetic world they’d abruptly reentered. Shed been utilizing his body in space as a reference point for years.

“I wasn’t sure taking this case was the thing to do. I’m still not. But the fact that you seem sure is good enough for me. For now at least.”

She nodded.

“How you doing?” he whispered.

“Better now,” she said into his chest, scraping her nails along his abdomen. “You feel really good. I have a pain in my low back, though. Not used to all the sitting in cramped spaces, I guess.”

“Try this,” he said. He sat up and grasped her foot in his hand. He raised it up toward the ceiling, then bent her leg at the knee and firmly pressed. She felt pressure through her hip then a gentle pop in her sacrum. He did it again. She felt much of the of the day’s tension draining away.

“Wow, that worked,” she said. “Do the other leg.” As he did, she felt a release along the other side of her spine too. After he’d finished, she lay flat on her back, feeling liquid and tingly through the hips, twice as relaxed at least.

“You’ve got skills, Mulder.” She wanted to ask him where he’d acquired them, but wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer.

“Maybe if this FBI thing doesn’t work out, I can teach yoga.” He was propped on his elbow above her, toying with one of her nipples over the fabric of her top.

“I want to be your only student. I’m not liberal like that.”

“Namaste Scully,” he said, pressing his hands together and bowing to her.

“Really?” she said.

“Ohmmmmm,” he said, maneuvering his body so it hovered above hers plank-like, his weight on his toes and forearms. His forehead was pressed against hers.

“Mulder?”

“Ohmmmmm,” he said, keeping his eyes closed.

“Why don’t you quit fucking around and fuck me?”

“Okay,” he said, his eyes snapping open.

He fell to his knees, peeled back his belt and unlatched it. He grabbed it by the buckle, his eyes on her, and yanked it out of the rings of his pants.

“I do think we should experiment with tantric yoga practices sometime, though Scully,” he said, falling on the bed next to her. “If you’re interested. Maybe not during a case. But I’ve read some things…”

“Books with actual words? About sex?”

“You might be surprised,” he said. “I’m a curious guy. The ancients left behind tomes about sex. The Greeks, Egyptians. The Romans of course. Total depravity, there. Fascinating stuff.”

“Hmmm.”

“Some Tibetans believe that sexual union with an appropriate consort can clear away all emotional and mental obscurations. That ordinary passion can put us in touch with the great bliss, bottomless compassion. If we do this right, Scully, we we can achieve enlightenment.”

“No pressure.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” he said, laughing. “That’s just one example. Not like a sex goal for the evening.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“We could also, via specific acts of sexual congress, attempt to summon malevolent spirits, if we get in the mood. Or protectors. They have inner, outer, and secret qualities that work both ways in the non-dual world. Mahakala, Kurukulla, Ekajati.”

“Ekajati, Mulder?”

“She’s fierce. Wrathful and pacifying, like you. Those are her inner qualities. Her outer qualities include red hair, like you too. But with three breasts. And twenty-four arms.”

“More to love. I understand how she might her appeal to your imagination.”

“You beckon these beings with sex acts, but you don’t necessarily have sex with them. We could, though. If they’re down. Why not? Mahakala is is said to be hung like a horse. If we really want to party, Scully, we can conjure him too.”

“I’m good,” she said.

He nodded.

Maybe if he managed to remember her birthday he’d plan her a surprise gang bang with various Tibetan emanations. He could be sweet that way.

She smiled into his bicep.

Her last normal date, years before Jerse, had been with a soil scientist who worked for a golf course conglomerate. He’d gone on and on over Thai food about how cutthroat his industry had become, how vanguard the proprietary science. She couldn’t remember his name.

“I wonder sometimes if sex was better,” he was saying, “before the advent of photography, the mass production and distribution of pornographic images.”

“Huh. That’s an interesting question,” she said, turning toward him. “But is it an odd one, coming from you?”

“Maybe,” he said, nodding. “I’ve consumed a lot of porn, that’s for sure. I’m planning to scale that back, even after I’m reunited with my collection. I’m not promising I’ll never look at another naughty picture, Scully…”

“To be clear, I’m not asking you to promise that…”

“I know,” he said, leaning in and kissing her. “You give me a lot of room to figure these things out. I appreciate that.”

“I’m not even promising I’ll never look at another naughty picture, Mulder. Though I’ve never made doing so a routine practice.”

“Fair enough. Maybe we could even look at a naughty picture or two together, Scully.”

“Maybe we could.”

“All things in moderation. But I think I was hiding, with all that. Compensating. Staving off loneliness. Papering the walls of my dank musty cocoon with naked ladies.” 

“People do what they need to do to endure their lives. Consciousness is heavy. Rumination inevitable, and often excruciating. We all have our ways.”

“Some people collect Hummels,” he said, poking her ribs. “But I don’t want to retreat to that cramped little space anymore, Scully. Walled off, just hoping to endure. I think It’s time for a change of venue.”

She smiled, ran her hand along his jaw, and kissed his lips, his ear. “I love you,” she whispered.

He nodded. He unzipped his fly, reached in and drew his erection out through the gap in his boxers.

“I like your new outfit, Scully. But I think I want to defile it now.”

He brushed the head of his penis up and down against the wispy material of her camisole. He reached underneath and gripped himself, rubbing the fabric along his length.

She hooked her leg over his hip. She took him in her hand and rubbed herself with him over her panties. He was giving off serious heat. Through the thin membrane she felt him throbbing against her clit. He reached down and tugged the crotch material aside and rolled on top of her, pushing roughly into her.

She tucked herself under him and locked her ankles at the small of his back. Did he know this was a kink of hers? Fucking him through their clothes like this? Was it something he’d thought about too?

Still, the scratchy suit fabric bunching and brushing against her clit, the cold teeth of the zipper pressing against her folds as he jammed himself in her was not ever part of it, the reality of them together always so much more textured and complex than her late night musings.

She was sure they’d eventually run out of little avenues and scenarios to explore, bits they’d stored up over years of wanting to do this, but not. They were bound to, at some point.

“Mulder?” she said, a thought occurring to her. His face was deep in her neck, he was inhaling her, eyes closed, shifting in and out of her like a tide.

“Hey? Are these your only pants?”

“Huh?” he said.

“Your pants. You need them tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” he said, blinking. “Yeah. You’re right.” He was drunker than he’d been the other night, though since then he’d stuck to water, shot through with lust.

He pushed away and pulled his pants and boxers off. She was undressing too, all the way. He tossed his pants over the chair then joined her again in the bed.

_____________________________________

 

They woke at five am in her bed to loud music, a steady bass beat percussing the wall, tickling the tiny bones in her ear.

“I guess the afterparty just ended,” she said, pulling the blankets up to her chin.

“Those ain't birds,” he said, rolling over. “But the local fauna is what it is.”

“Yep.”

“Hey,” he said, grinning, his eyes sliding away from her. Farouche. Wild and shy.

“Hey,” she said, chewing on her lower lip. She rolled away from him and smiled into the mattress.

“So,” he said, hugging his pillow. “How did you happen to tell Bane about my nickname?”

“I’m sorry about that. It’s a compliment, though, Mulder. I was telling him about you. About how you work.”

“And how’s that?”

“Come on, Mulder,” she said, turning toward him. “You know. Skinner thanked me on the phone for rousting ourselves to take this case. He told me that we closed six or eight cases a year that wouldn’t otherwise get solved. No matter who else he sends.”

He shrugged. “You and Bane were gone a long time.”

“Yeah. We talked about Lucy. And about you. About work. We prayed. He told me I would know when I knew, the next right thing to do. To trust the answer when it came.”

“Is this the answer, Scully? You and me in another claptrap hotel, up at five am with an interminable day ahead?”

“Who was the best baseball player ever, Mulder?”

“Why?”

“Soft eyes, Mulder. A little something I learned it from you.”

He smiled. “Depends. We talkin’ pitching or hitting? It’s hard to compare players from different eras. Then there’s the knotty problem of segregation. Plus, now performance enhancing drugs. The guys hitting all those home runs? Their dicks have gotta be shriveled. Bigheaded showboat bitches. Its crap, Scully.”

“Who was one of the best, then? Unequivocally. Your favorite.”

“Mickey Mantle.”

“Okay. Mickey Mantle. When was he in his prime?”

“Nineteen fifty-five to sixty. Some say sixty-one. Consistent. Versatile. Brilliant. What he coulda done if he weren’t injured, though. He played half his career with a torn ACL.”

“What if he had quit, Mulder? Just dropped his bat and walked off the field, halfway through the fifty-six season, say. Just found a nice fishing hole and told everyone to buzz off.”

“Where we going with this, Scully?”

She rose up on her elbow and looked at him levelly.

“Fine. That would have been sad. Tragic even. He never would have put together two of the greatest back-to-back seasons in baseball history. He got on base more than he didn’t, those years. Do you know how extraordinary that is?”

She nodded.

“But his greatness transcended numbers. He wore it. Exuded it. He was an artist. Same as Hank Aaron or Ted Williams. Unique rare talents, moving the game forward. Providing us mortals with a glimpse of what’s humanly possible.”

They were both quiet. Someone was pounding on the door of the next room. Muffled shouting.

“Mickey Mantle, Scully. So what?”

She rolled away from him.

He brought his hands up to his face. “Don’t do this to me.”

“You’re that good Mulder. Mickey Mantle good. As an investigator. Don’t tell me you don’t know that.”

“Not by myself.”

“Maybe not. We do it together, I know that. But you’re not by yourself. And this isn’t a game, Mulder.”

“Neither is baseball. It isn't just a game, anyway.”

“Maybe our losses are irretrievable, Mulder,” she said, rolling onto her belly, peering at him through the hair falling over his eyes. “But what we do about it is, we save people from similar outcomes. Did you ever take a minute and think of the lives we may have changed for the better, even with all our failures, with our work? Have you ever reflected on that?”

“No,” he admitted, sitting up against the headboard.

”I don’t usually either. But maybe we should. To balance out the psychic weight of all we’ve seen and done, the darkness we’ve been steeped in. Remember Trevor, the son of the inmate who was... transformed by that tornado? He was eight years old.”

”Pinker Rawls.”

“Nobody else would have pieced that together. Not Mendez and Cross, not anybody.”

He nodded.

“What would have happened to the boy, Mulder, if we hadn’t intervened?”

”With his undifferentiated rage, plus his newfound powers? Whatever he meant to do, Pinker would have killed him within two days.”

“Where is Trevor now, Mulder? Right now.”

”Most likely? Asleep in his bed.”

”And his mother and his Aunt June are too. Though they think once in a while about that terrible bullet they dodged, the one with Trevor’s name on it. Eight years old.”

”Huh.”

“Like Kino barbecues, we protect and defend. It’s in my blood to do this, in my bones, and yours too. Kino and all the people in the world who are at liberty to cook and sailboard and go to church and attend book club? They’re able to do so because we do what we do. Us and people like us, the free world over. But together, we do it particularly well. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Mulder sighed.

“And, as much as I hate to bring it up?”

“Go ahead,” he said, waving his hand at her.

“We are two of the very few people who might just have the luck and pluck to throw up a shield between humanity and catastrophe.”

“If I’m Mickey Mantle, who are you, Scully? Not his wife, who he cheated on and humiliated. As he slowly drank himself to death.”

“Fine. If you’re Mickey Mantle, I’m Marie Curie. A scientist before women were allowed to be scientists. She fell in love and got married and everybody assumed she’d knock it off, stay home where she belonged. But she kept working, had two babies and kept working. Her husband was killed in an accident, and it was impossible because all their endowments were in his name, but she kept working. Till she had two Nobel prizes. And two successful grown daughters. Till she saved thousands of lives by running X-rays in field hospitals in the trenches. Till her work revolutionized physics and chemistry. For years, sick and hobbled by radiation poisoning, she kept working.”

“Okay, Marie. Now we know what names to use next time we go undercover. But what about us? We can’t do this if we’re incapacitated or dead. And what about little Hootenanny Horace Mulder Scully? Or Victrola Vivienne? If she’s a girl. Or whatever you want to name ‘em.”

“Not that,” she said.

“We’ll talk.”

She turned to face him. “Ok. Fox. Ahem.”

“Oh God," he said a minute later, bringing his hands to his face. "You’re right. It’s beholden upon us to create some fresh hell for our children. Not the same ole same ole.”

“I knew it’d hit ya.” She curled up and rested her head in his lap.

“You always tell me the truth, Scully.”

“The truth is, I want to have your baby. Fox. And we should keep working. We have to find a way to do both. To be here and be there. To work, but to keep a piece of what we found in Hawaii. The spaciousness and quiet.”

“The sex.”

“Hell yes, the sex.”

“Even on a case.”

“Especially on a case. We have to stay connected and relaxed, Mulder. That’s how we do this better.”

“I’m starting to get on board with this getting back to work thing. Besides, Scully, can you believe Skinner found us a mutant?”

——————————————————————-

Naked in his room she was cantilevered under him, his elbows hooked under her knees, her feet on his shoulders. He pressed into her, crushed his mouth against hers, bounced off and drove himself harder into her. She was so small under him, trapped, contained.

She was groaning from deep in her throat in this tired stale room, her head tossed to one side, then the other.

Inside her at this angle he could feel that spot with his dick, the rough button she liked him to rub with his finger as he nibbled and sucked her clit. He slowed down and delivered sharp deliberate thrusts as she thrashed beneath him, digging into that spot, ringing it like a doorbell. Oooooo fuck Mulder she said as he gnashed her hood with the heel of his hand, then she was panting, breathy and tense then ahhhhhhhh she was coming, her whole pelvic floor undulating against him in a familiar cadence.

Then there was an unfamiliar warmth, succulent and serous, spreading around his groin. He reached between them, intrepid as ever, and felt warm syrupy liquid soaking his pelt, navel to nutsack, pooling in the hollow between her hip bones.

“Scully did you just?”

“Yeah. I don’t know. I think I did…”

“I’ve never…”

“Me neither.”

A slow smile was spreading across his face.

But beneath him she was returning to herself, looking skittish and confused, her hands pressing against his chest.

“Oh God,” she said. “That’s never happened to me.”

He unhooked her legs and rolled both of them to the side, away from the surprisingly big puddle collecting on the sheets.

“Shhh,” he said.

“But Mulder I…”

She was starting to sit up, push him away.

“Stay here. Please.”

“I need a minute. I just…I...”

He leaned into her, grounding her with his weight. He grinned, kissed her lips, eased her hair away from her face with his palm.

“That was sexy. Please don’t go.”

“That was, uh, yeah.” She smiled a little.

“I loved it.” He reached down and grasped his penis, rubbed it against her wet belly.

“It felt really good,” she said, covering her face with her forearm.

He slipped inside her again and moved gingerly in and out, dropping kisses on her cheeks, under her ears.

“There’s no part of you I don’t want, Scully, nothing you could think or make or do I wouldn’t be interested in.”

When her knees were splayed and she had relaxed again all the way he started humping her raggedly, as sticky wet and open as she felt.

He kissed her neck, rasped into her ear. “It’s not just your theories, I want, Scully. Or your tight little pussy. I want your stories and your tears and your grim smiles, that chip in your neck and your doubts and fears, your facts and figures, your juicy cum all over my stomach. Don’t keep yourself from me, Honey. I want it all, ok?”

“Ok,” she said.

He fucked her savagely, his insides liquid and lurching as he surged into her, jammed his tongue in her mouth. After he let go, he collapsed on top of her and felt himself dissolve, losing for a moment any real sense of where he left off and she began.

___________________________________

“I’m not sure we have a mutant, Mulder. It’s more likely we have an ex-con, angry at working his low-status job, taking it out on a pushy customer.”

“By extracting his brain, Scully? Did he learn to do that at Folsom State?”

He ducked under the sheets and lapped at her belly, still sticky and sweet from the night before.

“She could fit right here,” he said, rolling off her and putting his hand, fingers splayed, on the sliver of bed between them. “But what if they use her against us? Or him? They’re not above it.”

“I’m afraid of that too. I’m afraid of everything. But we have to live our lives. We can't cower in fear. Or live in retreat. And while we can’t eliminate the risks, we can mitigate them.”

“How?”

“By staying closer. By picking and choosing. We’ve been tools sometimes, chasing blindly after shadows and illusions, seeing what others wanted us to see. We have to become more discerning. And we have to let other people help us.”

He’d carried her through the connecting door to her bed half asleep instead of trying to fall asleep himself on the cold wet sheets.

Over the course of their partnership in the years that followed, when she’d chide him for messing up her room, he’d give her just enough side-eye to convey his unspoken rejoinder. For him, it was funny every time.

He knew, because of the way she always relaxed just a fraction and smiled a secret smile only he could see, that she liked it too.

Chapter Text

She answered the phone on the third ring, “Scully.”

“Hey Scully. It’s me.”

“Mulder.” They went through this, even though he was the only one to regularly call this number. They preferred to talk via landlines nights they were apart. Just because.

“How’s the packing going?”

“It’s going. We don’t need much from here.”

She was doing more unpacking than packing, actually, having sliced through the tape on a couple of boxes sealed months before by movers: knick-knacks from her mantle -- those that hadn’t been destroyed -- some rarely used copper pans and crockware from the low cabinets. Gifts and hand-me-downs from her parents dating to when she’d graduated medical school and set up her apartment in Georgetown. Eight ramekins and a souffle dish. She removed a porcelain tureen from its newsprint nest and held it up, squinting as though it were an artifact from a obliterated civilization.

“What was that?” she said. She had lost the thread of what he was saying.

“I was asking if you were planning on coming back tonight or in the morning.”

They were still settling into the house in Fairfax County they’d purchased a few months before, unremarkable except for the fact that it was the second house they’d bought together in under a year. Twenty acres and eighteen hundred square feet of ramshackle coziness and rolling meadow an hour from DC in traffic, a half hour west of his same old bachelor pad in Arlington, where he was calling from.

He hadn’t gone with her to their place because he wanted to spend the evening in the office, battening down the hatches.

They never needed to pack much when they were going to Hawaii.

__________________________________

The case in Costa Mesa hadn’t provided the gentle reentry they might have hoped. Mulder had used his firearm to put down the suspect — a flesh eating mutant, in point of fact — when he had lunged at them. Suicide by good cop slash insane cop.

It was fortuitous, though, in a way, to come back with a case like that. Clarifying. It became apparent to Mulder, over the course of the investigation, as it had to Scully earlier, that they were back. It didn’t even need to be discussed.

Now the trick was going to be retaining what they’d gained. Moving forward in a way that wouldn’t circle around to leave them back where they started.

They decided, parking at the hotel after the case had been closed, to change clothes and take a walk to the beach. Talking as they walked, they confirmed their decision to return to DC rather than resume their vacation, feeling the break had provided them with sufficient rest and clarity for the moment. It was clear, for example, that they might want to reserve their remaining vacation time.

They planned to speak with Skinner about temporarily cutting back on their work in the field, both hoping to step into teaching the incoming class of summer recruits at Quantico -- her forensic science, him profiling and victimology.

He -- and to a lesser degree she -- would still be available to take the occasional case, but Scully needed to stay close to home to undergo the weeks of hormone therapy and monitoring that were required for each cycle of in-vitro fertilization. The clinic had let them know that there were enough viable embryos for three or four tries.

Rather than rushing out of town on next available flight when the case wrapped as had always been their habit, they agreed it would be better to get some rest and catch a flight home in the morning.

That decided, they took their shoes off and walked in the sand, ate fish tacos from a food truck, waded ankle deep in the Pacific. One last touch to hold them over until they could be back.

Finally they sunk down in the sand and sipped at beers shrouded by paper bags as the sun set.

The beach, penned in by by condos and shops, was already buzzing in advance of the upcoming Fourth of July weekend; all day it had been wall-to-wall sunbathers. Deep into the evening, it was still jumping.

Off to their left a few individuals among an assemblage of teenagers were detonating illegal fireworks. The rest were squealing and shoving one another into the surf. Nearby a man with two school-aged kids at his flank piloted a neon box kite in the stiff ocean breeze.

An older couple had spread a picnic blanket twenty yards to their right. They seemed to have brought a full spread, including a bottle of champagne and two flutes they kept tapping together before they sipped. She figured either they had been together a very short or a very long time.

Scully caught some movement out of her eye to the right and behind them. She tapped Mulder's elbow. He paused, mid draw of his beer, to look. A young man, clean cut in kakhis, thin, was walking toward them. As he passed by, he studied the older couple carefully. Their backpack was behind them against the aft edge of their blanket. They were facing the water, completely unaware. 

They watched the man walk by as he passed behind them. Then just as they were about to look away, he doubled back, walking toward them again, his eyes still on the picnic.

"Hey there!" Mulder called out to the guy as he came within twenty feet of them, closing in on his target. He jumped as though struck.

"Why don't you head back that way?" Mulder pointed toward the shops and the boardwalk. "You're not even dressed for the beach. There's nothing for you here."

The guy's eyes got big. He pivoted and walked quickly away from them in the direction Mulder had indicated.

Mulder shrugged.  

Further down the beach, an encampment of straggling surfers lounged around a hibachi. They beat lambskin drums and passed a joint or two, encircled by their boards which jutted up sarsen-like out of the sand.

“Look Scully,” he said, “Hippie Stonehenge.”

She shook her head and smiled, then slouched sideways until she was in his arms. As differently as they saw the world, they both viewed it as a place rife with strange beauty and compelling riddles, even considering their regular exposure to ugliness and menace. A place worth saving.

About the mutant, he didn’t say I told you so. He rarely did.

She brought it up.

“I wish I knew how you did it,” she said. “You took one look at that kid and saw right through him. The way you pieced together the story of this crime with so little to go on, Mulder. I’m tempted to use the “S” word.”

“Don’t do it.”

“I don’t tell you very often but -- seeing it with fresh eyes -- it’s astonishing.”

A few yards away the kite slashed and dipped in the wind, anchored by a girl at the shoreline holding the spool.

“That’s you, Scully,” he said, pointing to the girl. He raised his finger to indicate the kite. “And that’s me.”

He was unmoored, leaping in the wind, viewing the world from an uncommon angles. Which worked best when he stayed tethered to her on the ground, where she did her best work. She’d reel him or give him slack as necessary. If cut loose he’d often be lifted up and away or else end up tangled in the trees.

She nodded.

The sun touched down on the water. As if on cue they got up, dusted off their clothes, and started back toward the hotel. 

They stopped by the picnic blanket to advise the celebrating couple to keep their possessions in front of them. It turned out their first grandchild had been born that day, in Belgium where their son lived. They’d be departing the next day to visit, and their passports were in the backpack. The couple was extremely gracious and offered them a cupcake, which they politely declined. 

The boardwalk — really just an asphalt path that separated the beach from the buildings— which earlier had been crammed with strollers and kids, was now crowded with couples and groups of friends out for the evening.

“Do you think we would have fallen in love, Scully, if we’d met some other way?”

“Hmm. I don’t know. I think it depends. On a lot of things. Why do you ask?”

“No reason at all. Even after such an intense bizarre day, I’m just feeling kind of... normal.” He squeezed her hand when he employed this word. “On the boardwalk, walking with you, alongside all these other couples out for the evening. Wondering where they met. Holding your hand. That’s all. Not a high stakes question.”

“Do you know when I think I fell in love with you?,” she asked. “Not all the way, but when I knew I would.”

“When?”

She cast a distant look out over the water, wrinkling her forehead. “We were stuck in court all day. Three months into our partnership? Less? And by in court I mean in an eight by ten prep room.”

“Ah. One of those days.”

The made a left toward the hotel at a tattoo shop, passed by a store that sold tricked out chrome rims and other conspicuous accessories for cars. California.

“And even though we had been told we probably wouldn’t be called to testify, and even though we only had an ancillary role in this rinky-dink mail fraud case -- not even an X file -- and even though it was just a hearing, you prepared yourself like no one I’d ever seen. You sat in a folding chair at this rickety card table weighed down and swaying with thick volumes of law books in that stuffy room. You rolled up your sleeves and took pages of notes on the applicable jurisprudence, ran through the most pertinent facts with me, debating which would be most comprehensible and persuasive to the judge.”

“Huh. Why was that so… attractive to you?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’d heard, before working with you, that in addition to being very sharp you were arrogant. A certain kind of hotshot who cared only about his own pursuits. But there you were, in possession of this unique intellect that separated you from everyone around you, outworking every single grind who resented you for being so much smarter. And just because it was the right thing to do. I was deeply impressed.”

“Huh. I’m glad that worked. I staged the whole thing to try to get you naked. Those weren’t law books, Scully. I was paging through reference books on the occult. Grimorium Verus, The Malleus Maleficarum. Plus The Baseball Cyclopedia…”

She shoved his shoulder and he swerved, almost knocking over a sandwich board advertising the specials outside a cafe, then was back at her side.

“I think I remember the day you’re talking about,” he said. “And it’s interesting, because I believe I had a similar glimpse of you around that time, of what you’d eventually mean to me. That was the day Phoebie Green showed up at our car right? That shit with the tape. And we got pulled into that arson case?”

“I think it was, yes.”

“Was that enough food?” he asked as they passed a deli. “I think I’m going to be hungry in an hour. Should we stop and get some salads or whatever?”

“Sounds good,” she said. They ducked in, conditioned air pricking their sun-warmed skin. He took a number and handed it to her to hold. Even at this hour the store was sardined with people in sun hats and swimgear. The air smelled of salami and coconut tanning oil.

This is our normal life, she caught herself thinking as they peered through the deli case at the prepared foods. Of course it is. Mow down a murderous mutant in the afternoon, go for a romantic stroll in the evening, buy spanakopita and watermelon to eat in bed. Wake up and fly home. What had she imagined it would look like?

“I think that case with the fire was when I realized just what a... good person you are,” he said, grabbing a water from the cooler and twisting off the cap. “And what an excellent agent. And how those things are connected. Not to mention -- thanks to how Phoebe stacked up against you -- I was liberated from ten years of off and on romantic and sexual obsession over the course of forty-eight hours. I basically haven’t thought of her since. And I didn’t even have a proper crush on you yet.”

“Huh,” she said. Their number was called.

“It’s good to be back,” he said as they passed through the doors of their hotel room, brushing sand from their feet.

“To the room?”

“Well, yeah. That too. Back to the job. Wars end, Scully, like Bane said. But this one isn’t over and neither are we. And we have work to do.”

“That about sums it up,” she said.

“You saw that when I couldn’t. Thank you.”

After all the time she’d wasted fretting she was following him merely out of habit and need, she felt gratified. He’d followed her this time. And they both ended up where they belonged.

“You’re welcome,” she said. “It’s about time I return that particular favor.”

————————

“Oh, she said. I hadn’t thought about it, I guess. I figured I’d stay here. Our flight’s at what, eight thirty?”

“Yeah. There’s only one nonstop to Honolulu so we can’t leave later. But should we switch our tickets, push it back a day or two?”

“For what reason?”

“I don’t know. This last minute wrinkle has really thrown me. I don’t want someone poking around our office. Not for thirty minutes, no less the entire thirty days we’ll be gone. I hate it. And how did this happen again?”

An agent on general assignment had been tagged to cover their office while they were on leave. Apparently it was FBI policy that no department or division be left unstaffed for any length of time.

They had spent the afternoon briefing the agent. Well, Mulder glowered at the man through much of the briefing while Scully briefed.

The irony was, they had arranged to take unpaid leave of absence -- a total of three months per year -- to save the X files division from certain death by beancounter. An aggressive audit had been in progress and seemed destined to conclude they could not justify their existence. They were, once again, on the cusp of annihilation.

Before things got that far, they proposed a novel solution. They were looking for ways to spend more time in Hawaii without giving up their badges all together. The pro-rated pay cut they would each absorb would bring their departmental expenses down to a number deemed acceptable by the beanied disciples of Big Data — people who seemed to hold more and more sway throughout the Bureau. The solution had been win-win.

It was so simple and suitable they had been amazed it had cleared channels at all. In fact, Skinner had needed to call in a favor to make it happen.

“The office needs to be covered. I get that. In theory. But won’t that cost money? What kind of sense does this make, Scully? It has me fearing the worst.”

“The money to pay the covering agent technically is drawn from another department’s coffers. It’s a separate process, tracing back to different branches of regulation. Bureaucratic logic.”

“Perfectly oxymoronic. Do you think he’s gonna sit in my chair, Scully? It’s taken me years to break it in. It’s adjusted just the way I like it.”

“That hard plastic swivel stool in “my area” is very comfortable. I doubt it.”

“Really, Scully? How many times do I have to offer to requisition you a desk?”

“I’ll let you know when to stop.”

“If I offer to buy you a soft leather chair to go with it, could I be off the hook for the petulant self-serving myopia I occasionally displayed in my formative years? You seem to have made a man out of me, after all. It’s not healthy to live in the past.”

“Hmm. While I appreciate the offer, I don’t happen to like to sit when I work. It isn’t good for the circulation to sit too much. There are studies.”

“My lap is always available. For when you want a little break from all that health-affirming standing. Just for the record.”

She snorted. “That’s generous.”

“Why thank you. I’ve got more than that for you, Scully. I’m your big fat sugar daddy. Why don’t you get yourself back here? Quit packing. I have everything you need.”

She choked on her lemon verbena tea, laughing at him.

“Scully, why are you pretending you didn’t ride my dick in that very chair just this afternoon? And after all those lectures about professional boundaries around the office.”

“Hmmm?”

As indelicate as it was of him to mention it, she had. They had. What he said was true.

Prior to that, they had been fastidious in their office conduct. Adult. Mature. While she hadn’t, in fact, been called upon to lecture him about this much at all, she did have to explain once or twice her thoughts on how the privacy of their motel rooms while on a case differed from the office. Or the car. In regard to their personal conduct.

Scully had walked the covering agent to the elevator. On her way back through, she locked the door. He had gone to the back to begin putting things -- files and clippings and photographs -- inside a cabinet he planed to secure.

She kicked her shoes off and sat in his desk chair, her leg tucked up under her body. She fiddled with a pencil he hadn’t yet launched toward the ceiling. He approached her, opened his mouth to speak. She reached for his belt buckle.

“Remember Scully? I had to stuff my fingers in your mouth so you didn’t bring the house down on us?”

“I think that was a parallel universe a Mulder. Or you were drugged. One of those.”

“Dream on, Starbuck. I think you wanted to mark our territory. It’s sad how you won’t admit you’re a cavewoman. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Maybe I just missed you,” she said.

They hadn’t connected all week, burning it at both ends as they had been, first with the audit, then preparing to skip town for a month, and finally then with the twist of this guy. Unless they were avoiding one another on purpose, they had usually managed to spend more time together outside work.

They had so far only one time purposely sidestepped one another for more than a night or so.

The rift started when she’d been made an offer she felt she couldn’t refuse. This, despite that fact that it contained inherent risk. He thought, considering especially the source of the offer, she should most certainly refuse. He didn’t understand how she didn’t see it his way. Vice versa, as well.

In the end, they could not work out a way to come anywhere close to guaranteeing her safety. So she refused.

But, oh, it had burned her.

Fortunately, they had just closed on the house. She spent most of the following week prospecting for black mold and unpacking boxes.

He gave her some space. It blew over.

“I’ve missed you too. Jeezus, what a week. Fuck it. Let’s get out of here tomorrow as planned. Que sera sera.”

“Good. Let’s. It’s late already, Mulder. It took you a long time to tidy up the office for company. Did you find a less conspicuous place for your adult entertainment? I’d hate for this guy to think it’s mine.”

It had, in fact, taken him a long time to fix up the office. But he’d also fielded a significant interruption. He had no plans to mention it to her, however. Ever.

“There’s a lot less of that than there used to be, Scully. As you know. And I locked it up a while ago actually. For the optics.”

“So to speak. But since when do you care about optics, Mulder?”

“Look. People have surmised we’re together, don’t you think?”

“I do. It’s common knowledge.”

They had made a decision -- upon returning to the Hoover building the previous summer from matching two month vacations with matching healthful glows -- to reverse and subvert the slogan of their adversaries and deny nothing. Though neither one of them exactly confirmed their relationship status in idle conversation, either. It was an odd little dance they did. Still, the FBI didn’t typically induct idiots into their training classes. Everybody knew.

“It’s nobody’s business. But I don’t know. I don’t want my collection -- the location of which had also been at times common knowledge -- to seem disrespectful. To you. Optics.”

“Oh. Okay. That’s thoughtful. And yet, I’m going to sleep here. I'm tired and my stomach hurts. I’ll meet you at the airport.”

He growled his dissatisfaction.

—————————————————

The headed for LAX in relaxed good spirits.

The way he had woken her up she’d take over breakfast in bed any day. Then he’d called room service when she was in the shower and they’d had breakfast in bed.

Once they boarded the nonstop to National, however, things got strange.

For one thing, two large college cheer squads traveling to DC for a competition took up the entire back third of the plane. It seemed, further, as though they were unconcerned that excessive drinking on this Friday would affect their weekend performance. Also, a feud seemed afoot.

As the kids got hammered, the back and forth cheers emanating from the rear of the aircraft escalated in frequency, duration, and volume. Each time they began a conversation, it was drowned out by a rising cheer. It was giving her a serious headache. There were too many of them to be reigned in by the flight crew, who flitted about squinting apologetically at the unaffiliated passengers.

It addition, their flight had been delayed by a few hours. That plus the time difference meant it would be dinner time when they landed. They had agreed that morning that they’d separate at the airport and each check in with their own residences.

Scully could hardly believe it, but she was nervous to return to her own home.

The sun behind them, Mulder grew restless and paced the aisle, which was unlike him. Typically he was a mellow flyer.

“Kids today,” Mulder said, slipping past her back into the window seat. “I’ve got spirit, Scully, yes I do. I’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”

“I’ve got a gun and a badge, Mulder, yes I do. And I just ordered a vodka tonic to keep myself from going back there and waving them around.”

—————————————————-

“Look Mulder. I’m not comfortable with the idea of someone else in our office either. My name is in more than one of those files, and not just as an investigating agent. As you have pointed out.”

“I locked those up.”

“Fine. But Mulder, there could be an upside. Even just someone to actually answer the phone. When we were gone in December, we could only check our messages."

They had spent the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas harmonizing with their new digs in Molokai -- which had been customized as supervised by Frohike to include a skylight in the master bedroom and a large jetted tub in the bathroom -- sapping nearly the last of their vacation time. When they had planned to spend the holidays there, they probably had each been hoping they’d be celebrating the fact that Scully was pregnant. But it didn’t break that way. They had left a week after absorbing the fairly crushing news.

"Did you get a load of that accent? What was he, like an extra in Goodfellas? Hey buddy, the first syllable of my name is mul- as in think over, not mold- as in better not eat that peach.”

"As hesitant as I am to believe it, Mulder, I think he might be okay. I checked.” Before she drove home to pack, she'd conducted some deep background on this guy. John Doggett.

“Okay how?”

“Okay as in he has a strong record as an investigator. He’s no rookie. Served in the military. NYPD. All of his time is accounted for. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think he might be what he says he is."

"Which is what?"

"An agent between regular assignments. Willing to take this on because he’s curious about what we do.”

"And why would he be?"

"You were. I was. Maybe he has his reasons. Like I'm always telling you, Mulder. You have to keep an open mind."

____________________

Chapter Text

____________________

Pulling their individual wheelie bags through the concourse at Reagan National, they could have been returning from any case at any time over the past six years.

She heard the chunky heels of her shoes clack against the tile and reverberate through the corridor with each step she took. Had they always made such a racket? She couldn’t remember ever noticing before.

“You smell that, Scully?” Mulder asked, taking a deep whiff as he tugged on the heavy glass door that led to the taxi stand, “Fresh trash, hobo pee, and crab exoskeleton. The Potomac in July.”

The stench as she passed through the doors, accompanied by a wall of humidity and automobile exhaust, almost knocked her off balance.

“Here we are,” she said. The sun was getting ready to set and the world felt calmorous and abuzz in every direction in a way she had forgotten about.

The second vodka tonic on the plane had bought her the measure of repose she’d needed to ignore the bedlam brought about by the dueling cheer squads, but she was paying the price. Her throat was parched, her skin grainy, and the acid in her stomach was creeping up her esophagus. Worse yet, her headache had ticked up a few notches.

As she followed Mulder’s footsteps along the sidewalk outside the arrival gate, she kept her eyes on the ground six feet in front of her. The wheels of her suitcase bumped along on the concrete behind her. She had no idea why she was feeling so strange and sad, but she wanted to get home and into her bathtub before she started to cry. Or at least into a taxi by herself.

She wasn’t even sure if she could still picture her bathtub, come to think of it. And had the guys really retrieved and paid her bills? What if they forgot, or missed a few? Would she have hot water and lights? Would it affect her FICO score?

Even the idea of -- best case scenario -- confronting dead houseplants and layer upon layer of dust at this hour on a Friday made her cringe. She had never in her life been gone from home so long.

Well, that she remembered.

Mulder pulled up short. “Shit,” he said.

She looked up. They had reached end of the line for the cab stand already, which was still fifty yards away. From here -- she knew from prior experience -- it might take an hour to be loaded into a cab. Some agents simply waved their badges and jumped the line. She and Mulder hadn’t ever discussed it, but tended to wait unless seriously pressed for time.

As they queued up, she noticed members of the orange cheer squad in front of them, while the royal blue team was filling in behind. She didn’t know if she could handle being caught in the crossfire, and reached into her coat pocket to locate her badge. Then she noticed that the weather and maybe the flipside of the booze seemed to have doused the competitive fire between the two squads. They stood around in line chatting like everyone else.

Mulder was on the phone, checking in with Frohike, who’d left a message while they were in the air. Their business in Hawaii, and Melvin’s involvement as their nominee, was administratively complex. He ended the call and tucked his phone into his front pocket.

“God,” Mulder was saying, “those cheer guys are all really buff. I guess cheerleading is a tougher sport than you’d think.”

“I bet they anchor human pyramids,” she offered. “Catch the flyers. Stuff like that.”

He nodded. "Looks like some of these girls could handle those responsibilities as well..." He was all but ogling a statuesque woman with long dark hair and biceps the circumference of lamp posts.

She looked up at the sky. Though it was nearly dark she didn’t spot a single star.

“I hope these two teams kept some gas in the tank for tomorrow,” Mulder was saying as he folded his jacket over his carry-on. He loosened his tie. “They look pretty peaked.”

She looked at him like he was the mutant, and was about to tell him just how much she cared.

But then she noticed that he seemed to be feeling unsteady as well, chewing the insides of his cheeks, shifting his feet, casting his gaze out over a sliver of black river they could see from their vantage, illuminated by the runway lights. His place was just across the bank.

That was when she started crying.

“Hey Hey Hey,” he said when he looked down and noticed her swiping away tears before they could dribble down her cheeks. “What’s this?”

He touched his index finger to her chin and tipped her face to meet his gaze. It was the first time they had touched since they deplaned. It steadied her a little. As had a plan she’d hatched a minute before, to stay at a hotel and reckon with her apartment by the light of day.

“I’m fine, Mulder.” They were both anxious. She didn’t want to unload on him.

He scoffed. “I’m sure you don’t think that’s gonna fly. Those days are over, Scully.”

“I am, though. It’s just jetlag. And hormones, probably. And whatever the opposite of homesickness is. I have a little of that too.”

“I know what you mean,” he said. “I think I’m similarly afflicted. Except for the hormones. Imagine me with PMS, Scully? More moodiness. Even saltier, greasier food. Talk about adding insult to injury.”

She didn’t particularly want to feel better, but he had her laughing anyway. They picked up the handles of their bags and shuffled forward five more feet.

“Look, Scully. If weren’t for my socialization, which trained me and all the other boy childs not to cry in public, I’d be a puddle right now. It’s weird to be here.”

She nodded dumbly and set her chin, fighting the impulse to cry even harder.

“What is it, Honey?” He stepped toward her and wrapped his arms around her. She rolled her forehead against his chest, letting the soft cotton of his shirt absorb her tears.

“A-hem!” Someone called out from behind them. A ten-foot gap had opened up in the line in front of them. They slid themselves and their bags forward.

“Should we flash our badges and speed things up?” he asked. “We can conserve and take one cab. My place is practically on the way to yours from here.”

“No,” she rasped.

“You sure?”

She went back to swiping away her tears and not looking at him because if she started to talk she was going to lose it for real.

He put his arm around her, leaned down and kissed her eyelids, her nose, her lips.

“Get a room!” someone else yelled. They slid their bags forward again, inching toward the kiosk.

She took in a breath of sour, soupy air in an attempt to steady herself. She had vowed not to disappear on him again, like she had the day they landed in Honolulu. She didn’t remotely want to, but she knew she had to try to communicate, even just a little.

“I’m going to take his advice,” she said. “I don’t think I can face my place tonight.”

“What? Why?”

She confessed her fears about the bills and dust and plants.

“Okay. So that’s why you’re so upset?”

“That. And I don’t know. Maybe it’s wrong, coming back here. Back to work. It just feels so familiar to be here with you, and not in a good way. What if our… thing we’re doing now doesn’t transfer. Like if we planted a papaya tree in our yard here if we had a yard here, does that mean it would grow and make fruit? No. It would die, Mulder.”

God, she wasn’t making sense. She shouldn’t have tried to explain.

He was squinting at her.

“Mulder, quit staring at me. I’ll be okay.”

Then he ducked down was digging through his gym bag at his feet while he mumbled to himself.

He straightened up, holding something in his hand.

“I got you something, Scully. A souvenir.”

He handed it to her.

She started laughing.

It was an oyster shell of they type that littered their beach in Molokai. They were big and purple, coarsely textured on the outside and veined with inky designs, pale and glossy on the inside. She had several times commented on how pretty she found them to be, how they picked up on the blue tones of the water, the way the sun glinted off them as they lay on the sand.
.
“Mulder,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear and taking it from him. “That’s thoughtful of you. Thank you.”

“I wanted you to always have a little something to remind you of our time there. And to remind you how I feel about you. Which is I love you. Scully. Geography and work and whatever else gets thrown at us, nothing’s gonna change that. Not ever.”

She laughed again, running her fingers over the grooves in the fluted shell.

“What?” he said.

“Just you,” she said, shaking her head. “And your weird presents. Which I love. An imaginary tangerine. A twenty-five percent stake in a barbecue stand slash bakery. A keychain. A Super Bowl video. Now a seashell. Some girls are all about the bling, but they’ve got it all wrong.”

“Well,” he said, looking off toward the oily black surface of the river, “You might not want to open it then.”

“What? Wait. What?”

She held it before her eyes and peered in through the gap between the shells. She held it up to her ear and shook it. She only heard a soft wooshing sound.

“What’s in here?”

“Open it and see.”

She pried the shells apart and pulled out something small tightly wrapped in a tissue.

“Mulder?” she said, handing him the shell and peeling away the tissue. “What did you do?”

Then it was in her palm. A ring she’d admired at an antique shop by the harbor. A solitary pearl the size of a pencil eraser set in an intricately patterned Art Deco platinum band. The prongs holding the pearl in place looked to her like little lava flows.

“What is this, Mulder?”

“It’s a ring, Scully. One you liked, remember? You had the guy pull it out of the case for you?”

Yeah, she had liked it till she saw the price sticker. “I remember.”

She was holding it up to the light.

“Why did you get this for me?”

“That’s up to you. But I... Ah, I’d like to marry you.”

She looked down at the ring in her palm. His eyes were on their shoes.

“Does that idea freak you out? Because I don’t want that. This can just be a ring. It’s just that things have been moving pretty quickly for us, Scully. With the house. And the maybe baby. And I’m aware that you come from a traditional family. And you yourself go to church every week. And if it’s too much or too soon, just say so. But if it’s not too much, than I was wondering if you’d like to marry me. Someday.”

She looked up. “Yes.”

“Wait. What? Yes? Just yes?”

“Just yes. Yes I want to marry you someday.”

He plucked the ring out of her palm.

“Hellooooo!” someone called from behind. Fifteen feet of concrete lay in front of them, though neither of them noticed. Or moved.

He slipped the ring on her finger as people started to squeeze by them on both sides between the cordon and the curb.

She held up her finger, and rolled her wrist, getting a good look.

“Wait,” said a young woman pushing past. “Did you just get engaged?!”

Scully nodded and smiled at him.

“Oh my God! They just got engaged! They just got engaged!”

A scrum formed around them.

“Oh let me see…”

She held her hand out and fluttered her finger without taking her eyes off his.

All around them, people were commenting: Is that a pearl?... oh it’s vintage… gorgeous… my mother says it has to be a diamond… I wonder if I’ll ever get engaged… awww, she’s crying… engaged is like pre- pre- divorced… can we cheer at your wedding?

“You’re full of surprises, Mulder.”

He took her face between his hands and kissed her soundly on the lips.

Both teams busted into a number that involved the saying and spelling of the word awesome, plus some rhythmic clapping.

It was kind of catchy, but neither of them heard it, really.

An attendant came back to see what the ruckus was about, and when he heard the news they were whisked to the front of the line and put in a cab.

When the doors were closed and they had pulled away, they rode in silence for a few minutes, catching their breath, holding hands.

“I know you’re planning to stay at a hotel, Scully. Might I recommend a property on Hegel Place? It has many fine amenities…”

“Such as?”

“A rickety elevator. A fuzzy bathtub. Bad light. Creepy neighbors.”

He was glad she laughed. They hadn’t yet joked about Padgett.

“A fish tank with possibly still alive fish. A coupla cans of soup. A bed I was thinking of you when I picked it out.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I was trying to remember if your bed was soft or firm.”

“When were you in my bed?”

“Back when I was drugged and shot. A long time ago. But I might have tried it out that night I was waiting on you too. When the dead guy was in my apartment and you were really sick. I might have cried into your pillow a little, actually. Before I pulled myself together and sat in the corner like a spook.”

“I thought my pillowcase seemed a little damp and boogery that night.”

“Really?”

“No. But I did hear you crying later out on the sofa. I wanted to go to you, but I just couldn’t. I was really really sick. That headache made this one feel like a Swedish massage.”

“That was a bleak hour. I’m glad you didn’t die.”

“You know what I didn’t realize till recently? That if you’d done what I asked and pinned that body on me…”

“We’d be needing to tie the knot in a prison chapel?”

“Yeah. There I would have been. My whole saved life ahead of me.”

“Lots of twists and turns, Scully.”

“But here we are.”

She was holding up her finger, examining her ring in the headlights of other cars. It was a little big so she was keeping her hand in a loose fist. They would need to look into having it resized.

“Is the ring ok? Do you want something more traditional? Like a normal engagement ring?”

“Not if that would come with a normal fiance.” She elbowed him in the ribs. “I love it. It’s perfect. I like the shell too, for the record.”

She’d keep it on her dressing table for years to come, a receptacle for pins or clips.

He smiled wolfishly at her.

“I got a firm mattress thinking of you, Scully. But with a removable pillow top, in case I was wrong.”

“That sounds inviting.”

“Good cause you’re invited. We can go check on your place tomorrow.”

 

—————————————————-

Chapter Text

_________________

“Okay, Scully. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll keep an open mind that this Doggett guy isn’t some sort of plant or foil...”

“Good deal. I’ll take it.”

“IF you come back to Arlington tonight.”

“Tonight? It’s already ten, Mulder. I’d like to finish up here and go to bed.”

“Yes. But if we stay here, we’re fifteen minutes from the airport, tops. You’ll have to deal with traffic in the morning if you stay in out there. And are you going to leave your car at the airport for a whole month?”

“I already ordered a car service for six am. Furthermore, we talked about this, before I left the office this afternoon. What’s going on, Mulder?”

“C’mon Scully. We haven’t snuggled in, like, weeks.”

“The office today? That didn’t count?”

“What? Oh, of course that counted. But you have to concede a quickie and a snuggle are apples and oranges, Scully.”

“I do?”

“We haven’t been in the same bed awake at the same time since before we left for Missouri.”

“Well, we’ve been busy all week, with the audit and the proposal then trying to get out of town. And before that? I believe you had a... houseguest for a few nights.”

“She wasn’t a houseguest.”

“What would you call an allegedly five-hundred-year-old alleged genie with a nasty sense of humor?“

“She didn’t stay here, Scully.”

“Yeah, well, neither did I.”

“I noticed.”

”This time tomorrow, Mulder, we’ll be in Hawaii. A full month of nothing but snuggling is imminent.”

“Still, how bout we start tonight?”

“Mulder?”

“Scully?”

“You’re officially acting funny.”

“Funny ha ha?”

“Funny strange. Why do I get the feeling there’s something you’re not telling me?”

“It’s just… I’d just like to see you.”

“It’s a deeply familiar feeling. A bad feeling. Though not one I get nearly as often as I used to...”

“It’s okay, Scully. Okay. You’re right. Just sleep there. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay Mulder. If you say so. Goodnight then?”

“Goodnight. Love you. See you at the airport.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

She hung up.

_____________________________________

 

After spending the first night in their new digs, on Thanksgiving morning they walked down to the beach at the first light of dawn. They took a similar path from a different angle the led to the same beach as when they stayed at the bungalow.

Their bodies still on DC time, they had already been awake for a couple hours checking out the crannies and corners of their new place, opening closets and cupboards, flipping light switches on and off, checking the water pressure in the shower. Frohike and Bane had done a nice job setting the place up for them.

And yet the giddiness of several months before, of them together and then getting engaged and trying for a child, had soured into disappointment.

Once they returned to DC in the summer, they put aside ideas of immediately getting married or combining their residences. Being back at work -- as a couple now -- and doing it differently, overseeing the dealings in Hawaii, and the process of trying to conceive a child via IVF was enough change to cope with at one time. Though they lived separately, they spent more nights together than apart. Things had been going smoothly.

But with each IVF cycle that didn’t take, they grew less excited and more anxious. The process, which eventually ended in futility, had taken its toll on both of them. Between them there was no forced cheer. They were sad.

The night before they had talked in their new bed under a familiar night sky about what they might do next. Their teaching responsibilities had wrapped up just before they left, and they agreed that they would return to the field, which they both missed. They also planned to look for a place together outside the city. A little more repose and remove from their hectic work lives couldn’t hurt. One of them — they hadn’t decided which one -- would keep their apartment closer to the Hoover Building for when they were working long hours. And, though they hadn’t said it, for when one the other or both needed some space.

Finding the beach first thing in the morning pleasantly deserted, they sunk into the deep sand back toward the cliff and gazed out onto the water, dark blue at this hour, and the sky pinkish and thick.

Later they were planning to go to Bane and Alameda’s for the holiday dinner.

“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody,” Scully said. “And the restaurant. That happened so fast. I can’t believe they’ve been up and running over a month.”

“I know it. They were motivated.”

“Lilo started school in September. She’s probably a big grown up girl of the world now.” She was twisting her ring like she did when she was thoughtful or nervous.

“I’m sure she’s saved a place in her heart for you, Scully,” Mulder said, leaning in and giving her a nudge.

They hadn’t had her ring resized because the jeweler couldn’t do it without risking damage to the tiny colorful jewel stones embedded in the band. It fit perfectly on the middle finger left hand, so she wore it there.

When she conducted an autopsy she would take it off and thread it through the chain that held the cross she wore around her neck.

“I wonder what they’ll cook. Do they even make pumpkin pie here?”

“I hope they made some space for the basketball hoop. I’ve been working on my moves. Also I’m banking on the fact that Kino is depleted from those long days at the store and the restaurant.”

Kino had tagged along with Stan and Bane on a four-day whirlwind boys trip to DC just before they opened. Bane had all but forced him to get away, alarmed at the hours he was putting in between the store and the restaurant. He and Mulder had both refreshed their rivalry and renewed their friendship.

The three guys stayed at Scully’s when she still had her place in Georgetown because it had a fold out sofa and room for an air mattress besides. It was also closer to the sights.

Mulder and Scully showed and introduced Stan around Hoover and Quantico -- he sat in on classes taught by each of them -- while Bane and Kino made the most of their short visit, taking in museums, touring the Capitol and the Supreme Court. Neither man had ever been east of Denver.

Bane spent some time at the Vietnam Memorial first thing every morning, leaving tokens for remembered friends at the base of the wall under their names: a deck of cards, a picture of a boat snipped from a magazine, a handwritten note, a pack of smokes.

Mulder slipped away from the office one morning, walked across the mall and met him there, not even really realizing he’d been seeking him out. Sitting on a bench amid the green grass trimmed with rows of geraniums, he found himself telling Bane about how they IFV wasn’t going so well, how they were on their last cycle and if that didn’t take they’d be finished.

Bane didn’t say much, just nodded sympathetically, but it was such a freighted topic, it felt good to speak of it with someone besides Scully. It was what he didn’t say that made Bane so easy to talk to. Things like ‘Everything happens for a reason’ or ‘You can always adopt’.”

“I walk by this wall,” Mulder said, pointing at the monument, “and see all these names. It’s hard to imagine. The way behind every single name, there a whole lot of devastated people.”

“Yeah,” Bane said. “I lost a lot of friends. I lost myself. For a while at least. When I got back I used to just sit in Alameda’s garden all day. On a bench we had out there. I couldn’t work. Couldn’t be around Noe without losing my temper. Stan and his brother were on the way and I couldn’t deal with that. It was bad. I drank. I inhaled. I’d go down to the harbor for a beer and not come back for days, and when I did I’d just sit on the bench. I broke my vows to Alameda on several occasions. I didn’t even have the decency to hide it. Her uncle was about done with me. I was lost.”

“What changed?” Mulder asked.

“Well, Alameda stuck by me, for one thing. Against a lot of good advice to do otherwise. Sometimes when her devotion gets on my nerves, I remind myself that her faith is what gave her the strength to stay with me then.”

“I know what you mean. The things that drive me nuts about Scully are the very things that make her perfect for me.”

“You two seem particularly… complimentary, as a couple. I don’t doubt you’ll get through it together, whatever it is.”

Mulder nodded.

“I quit going out for a beer or whatever else. That helped.”

Mulder nodded.

“But I think what helped the most was just sitting on that bench. Then I added my walks. And the cardinals.”

“The Cardinals? The baseball team?”

“I’m a Dodger fan. The birds, Mulder. You know the red-headed birds that won’t leave you alone? They cluster and dive at the garden, aren’t afraid of a thing? More than once they plucked a strand of hair out of my head for their nests as I sat there. That’s why we built the gazebo, to have some cover from them.”

“How did the birds help you?”

“I’ve never tried to explain it. But I hated them, you know. They messed with the vegetables. They were loud and dirty. They came over from the mainland and just took over so they didn’t even belong. I just wanted my peace.”

“That’s understandable.”

“But it isn’t realistic, is it Mulder? It isn’t life. Sitting there with them, I came to understand something. I named one bird anger, one sadness. Named one regret, another shame. Named one ‘this fucking thing’ and another ‘that goddamned guy’.”

Mulder laughed.

“And I just hung out with them, got used to their shitty company. I realized that I could make room for them on the bench. That, while they were annoying, I was bigger than they were. That they would come on their own schedule and I could move over a little. But they would go, sometimes, too.”

“Huh.”

“After that, I was okay.”

It was such a strange little story, but Mulder found himself thinking about it a lot.

“I told Bane that the IVF wasn’t going so well, last month when he visited,” Mulder said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“I did too.”

He nodded.

She sighed.

“I’ve never actually liked Thanksgiving,”  

“No?” Scully had learned to create some room for him when he wanted to talk about his formative years.

“Halloween you dress up and get candy. I mean, ghouls and twizzlers.”

“What’s not to love?”

“Christmas came with presents and a week off school.”

“That was always fun.”

“But on Thanksgiving, you’re supposed to get excited for a surplus of food and like four football games in a row. Staying inside all day. Blah.”

“Did you celebrate it at home? Or visit family?”

“Before Samantha, we always had people over. My grandparents when they were alive, my mom’s sister and her family. Friends. Probably some of those guys who were... killed at the El Rico Air Force base.”

He was going to say turned into crispy critters, but he caught himself. The same thing had almost happened to her, after all.

“Um hm.”

“But after, we didn’t do anything. We just stopped, with all the holidays. So Thanksgiving was just like a normal day, only a lot emptier. I almost wished I could go to school. That’s why I pretty much work through the holidays now, I guess. To stop and reflect would just shine a spotlight on what was lost.”

“How do you feel about doing it differently this year?” Assuming nothing was the best way to go.

“Good. I suppose. Things are so different now, to be here, and with you. It isn’t triggering any of that sadness I was trying to outrun before. And if it does, that won’t kill me. So, yeah, good.”

She linked her arm around his.

“What about you? Are you sad not to be doing the same old thing, going to your mom’s this year?”

“Actually the old thing isn’t even there anymore. My mom always filled up the house at Thanksgiving with friends and family, especially in the years since my dad died. It was fun. But she’s shifted a lot of her attention to Bill and his family since Matthew was born. And with Tara pregnant again. Which is understandable, I suppose. She’s in San Diego now and is staying through Christmas.”

“You don’t want to be there?”

“Not especially. But also, I’m glad to be here. It’s weird but it already feels like home. Especially in the water. Or when I look up into the night sky. People used to orient to the sky so completely, making up characters and stories, using it to tell time and determine the season. I get that now.”

Her eyes filled with tears that didn’t spill. She leaned back against him.

“I’m getting used to the quiet again,” Mulder said.

“I know you’re disappointed,” Scully said. “You’ve spent a lot of time comforting me the last week or so, but I know you wanted to start a family just as much as I did.”

“I am,” he said, his throat tightening. “Thanks.”

They listened to the waves for a few minutes, her head in his lap.

“Mulder?” She said, sitting up.

“Scully?”

“When we started this, said we have to talk about difficult things. And be honest about what we want. We even learned to to that when it didn’t come naturally.”

“We did. We do. So?”

“So. Maybe you should think about whether you want your own kids. If you don’t allow yourself to consider that now, you could end up resenting me…”

“Stop,” he said. He placed two fingers on her lips, silencing her.

She looked up at him, wide-eyed, surprised.

“Really. Stop.”

She nodded.

He drew his hand back. She held her head and looked down between her knees at the ground. Tears rolled off her cheeks and splattered onto the sand.

He sifted sand through his fingers, picked up the pebbles left in his palm and tossed them in the direction of the water.

“Scully, I…”

“What?”

“I was going to say that I’m still hopeful to start a family with you. And I am. Two people as resourceful as we are, I’m sure we can come up with a couple of kids if we really want to. There are ways. And we can talk about our options anytime you’d like.”

“Sure. Not yet. But sometime soon.”

“But what I really want to say is, in my eyes we’ve already started a family. Kids or no kids. The way you think of the stars here, I think you do that for me. I look at you, and I know who I am. I stand next to you and I know why I’m here. I get off track, you light my way back. It’s more than I could have hoped for, Scully, in this life. And it’s enough for me. You are enough for me.”  

She was staring at him.

“Can you deal with that? Because I don’t want to have to rebut crap like that from you again.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I can.”

Their bathing suits were still in the box at the top of the closet in the store, but they went for a swim anyway. She felt light and limber, releasing her tears into the great body of the ocean.

Mulder, floating on his back, buoyant in the salt water, both did and did not want to tell her about the boy from his dream.

He looked like a cute mash up of him and Scully. A pugnacious little Irish nose, a smattering of freckles over the span of his cheeks. White tube socks pulled up almost to his knees and sneakers, hazel wide set eyes and a reddish cast to his straight brown hair.

To Mulder’s surprise, he’d visited again last night for the first time in weeks.

“I’m still coming, you know,” he said.  

Whether the boy was a product of his unconscious of something else, he felt strongly this was their child.  

But in the event he had it all wrong, raising her hopes seemed unacceptable.

He dove deep and scooped her up as he surfaced, held her up over the water and mustered a quick prayer as she draped her arms around him and kissed his jaw.

Then he knew for the first time they would be okay, they would heal.

For now he’d keep his dreams to himself.

“What you said back there?” she said into his ear. “I feel the same way. About you. I do.”

He nodded. This was not news to him.

He put her down they were both standing in waist deep water of the lagoon, eyes on the horizon, the morning sky beginning to show blue.

“So let’s make it official, Scully,” he said, picking up her hand and pressing it to his chest. “Let’s get married. You and me. What do you say?”

“Alright. I suppose so. Why not? When?”

“What’s wrong with now?”

 

____________________________________



Mulder stood outside the front door of a newly updated building in an historical district off DuPont Circle.

Scully had been onto him, of course. He had wanted her to come stay with him because he was afraid, left to his own devices, he’d end up here.

Their flight left in the morning. If he could get through the evening and go to sleep, he wouldn’t do anything stupid.  

When he’d finished packing for their trip, he’d attempted various strategies to distract himself: talking on the phone to Scully, paging through some files he’d brought home to shield from the prying eyes of this John Doggoneit whatever guy, popping in a porn tape or two, the old standards.

When none of that worked, he went down to the Y to see if he could get a pick-up game together. He wound up shooting hoops by himself, but the building closed a half hour after he arrived.

He wasn’t one, under normal circumstances, to suffer from indecisiveness.

But outside the etched double doors of the apartment building, he was literally pacing. He put his finger to the buzzer -- 6D a well-appointed condominium he’d already visited once this evening -- but pulled it away before pressing it.

When an older woman exited the building and stepped onto the red brick sidewalk holding her fluffy Pekingese, she held the door for him, despite the fact that the dog was snarling at him. He took it as a sign.

He went in.

 

_______________________________








Chapter Text

 

When he rang the bell, he heard nothing for a long minute, then shuffling noises on the other side. It cracked open.

The small bald man peered through the latched chain. “Oh, you.” He released the chain and let him in.

“Hang on,” the man said to Mulder, buttoning his pajama shirt over his wispy chest. “Agatha!”

Mulder finger combed his hair, still wet from the Y shower, and looked around at the tasteful decor of the living room. He hadn’t stayed long enough to absorb his surroundings when he’d been here earlier.

“You’re name's Agatha?” Mulder asked the tall dark-haired woman who was tightening her silk robe as she entered the room.

“It is. I believe I mentioned? Fifteenth century France?”

He nodded. “Sorry to come by so late. And, ah… I didn’t mean to be rude, when I left so abruptly earlier...”

“No offense taken.”

“Good.”

“I’m not surprised to see you,” she said. “Until earlier this evening, no one had ever left a wish on the table.”

“Indeed,” the man said. “Between the two of us we’ve been in this business for over a thousand years…” He was fined boned, olive skinned, and kept his balding head neatly shaved.

“I didn’t catch your name earlier,” Mulder said to the man, who had literally appeared in the basement office that evening, summoning him to this address.

“Damiano di Cosimo de’ Medici. Born 1349 to a wealthy and influential family in Florence. Recruited -- tricked really -- in 1382 by an ifrit…”

“Ronny. The same bastard who got me…”

“...into this life of conscription, this purgatory. Believe you me, Dante himself — who happened to have been a school chum of my father’s — had no idea.”

“Star fucker,” Agatha muttered.

“Oh,” Mulder said. “Those Medici.”

“Please sit,” Agatha said, ushering him toward a Barcelona chair in their living area. He sat.

“These days I go by Cosmo Trinity Mead,” he said, settling next to Agatha on the sofa. “Or I will. As soon as I lose this.” He pointed to the glittery pear shaped tattoo under his right eye.

Mulder leaned in and squinted. The mark of the jinn.

“Anything else you want to know about me you can find in there,” Cosmo said, waving his hand at a thick folder sitting between them on the coffee table. “Espresso? Prosecco? Limonata?”

“No thanks,” Mulder said absently as he paged through the file.

It contained essential documents for him and Agatha: birth certificates, immunization and school records, passports, the deed to the condo in which they were sitting, a lease for a storefront around the corner, and a checkbook from a joint checking account from Marine Craddock. The balance in the account was just shy of fifty-nine thousand dollars.

“What’s is your intention, regarding the retail space?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Cosmo said. “By day it will be a beauty salon, in which we plan to offer high-end cut, color, and styling services to the neighborhood clientele.”

“In the evenings,” Agatha said, “the space will evolve into a cultural salon.”

“A cultural salon?” Mulder said.

“You’re not familiar?” Cosmo said. “We hope to offer a venue bedecked with art and music where like-minded friends can gather with their affable hosts to discuss pressing social issues and ideas pertinent to today’s world. It’s a tradition dating back to eighteenth century France. Perfectly revolutionary.”

“We just need to figure out how to get rid of the rancid perm smell by the time the intelligencia roll in. But... it’s all about the journey,” Agatha said, smiling warmly. It was a warmth that had not been present behind her eyes two weeks earlier, when Mulder had first encountered her.

“Trinity?” Mulder said, holding up Cosmo’s birth certificate.

“Drag name,” he said, waving his arm and snapping his fingers.

“I see,” Mulder said.

“You’ve had a busy week,” he said to Agatha. “I thought your wish was to drink a great cup of coffee?”

“I did that. It was delicious. And I need to thank you for that. If that were the only kindness you’d ever bestowed on another being in your life, it alone would earn you a great accumulation of merit.”

“You’re welcome,” Mulder said.

“But then I had to figure out what came next. And this,” she said, raising her palms in front of her and gesturing to the room, “is it. A hag and her fag living out their precious human lives in relative harmony, in pursuit of boring old everyday bliss.”

“But Cosmo is still a genie, right?” Mulder said, pointing to the corner of his own right eye.

They both nodded.

“And what you were offering me earlier was a single wish…?”

“Yes,” Agatha said. “After you liberated me, I went right away to find Cosmo, my bestie for the last -- what? -- four hundred years or so?”

“Where did you meet?” Mulder asked.

“In current vernacular, we have the same pimp,” Agatha said. “Ronny has a sort of a cosmic break room set aside for us. Think torn loveseats inherited from your grandma’s sitting room. Rickety end tables with outdated magazines and ashtrays. He’s a class act, Ronny.”

“A broken soda machine,” Cosmo said.

Agatha burst out laughing. “Sorry,” she said. “Inside joke.”

“As soon as I became human -- and thank you again for that -- I located Cosmo. This was according to a pact we had made. He didn’t have a client at the time, so I unrolled him.”

“Imagine my surprise!” Cosmo said.

“How did you find him?”

“I knew where he had been, last we talked.”

“Can you believe I wound up in Alberta Canada! I’d been stuck there all winter beholden to the whims of an indecisive cattle hand.”

“Sounds like a bitch,” Mulder said.

“Anywho,” Agatha said. “I went up there, then I followed the breadcrumbs. As you and your partner discovered, we jinn at work -- through no fault of our own -- tend to become conspicuous.”

“If you know what you’re looking for,” Cosmo said.

“In this case it was an oil geyser which had suddenly appeared and remained temporarily uncapped, during which time it spewed a half mile into the sky and spoiled the grazing ground for thousands of head of cattle.”

“I see,” Mulder said.

“So,” Agatha said. “I used my first wish to get us a life. Everything you see here, and what’s in that folder. And I plan to use my third wish to emancipate Cosmo as you have done for me.”

“Squee!” Cosmo said. He picked up the remote from the coffee table and flipped channels until he landed on the haggard face of Bette Davis in black and white.

“Can you believe I get to watch whatever I want?” He said to on one in particular. “All that cattle hand ever watched were John Wayne movies, Sportscenter, and soft-core het porn. Six months I was stuck there!”

“Why are you here?” Mulder asked. “Instead of France or Italy?”

“Sorry,” Cosmo said, turning off the television. “I normally have excellent manners. The novelty hasn’t yet worn off.”

“This is a new country,” Agatha said. “Rough around the edges, but more friendly to those of us starting over.”

Mulder stood up and strolled around the edge of the room. He was investigating. “How did you shoehorn all this into one wish?” he asked, gesturing around him. “Isn’t this an original Warhol print?”

He pointed to a picture on the wall signed by the artist of ten nearly identical Marilyn Monroe heads, each saturated with different neon hues.

“Have you read Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction?” Cosmo said. “Original print is a nominal distinction. In fact, that’s rather the point Warhol’s making with the work itself. Oh, the irony!”

“Don’t mind him,” Agatha said. “He’ll tone it down once our salons start. He’s been rolled up or exiled a long time.”

Cosmo sniffed in their direction and turned the tv back on.

“It is an original Warhol. My first wish was fairly comprehensive. We wanted to reserve a wish in case we overlooked something we needed. We didn’t, which is where you come in. When you know how to phrase a wish, it helps. The devil’s in the details.”

“That’s exactly why I left earlier. The ‘conspicuousness’ you left behind at the Mark Twain Trailer Court cost two men their lives. They weren’t great men, granted. But they didn’t deserve that. I don’t know exactly how that explosion happened, but you can understand my wariness in considering your offer.”

“I can. I didn’t kill those knuckleheads. But perhaps I could have been a shade more empathetic. Offered more guidance. To say I was burned out is an understatement of epic proportion.”

“I suppose I can understand that.”

“You told us earlier that there’s nothing you want that you don’t have. But I gather from your presence here now that isn’t true?”

Mulder sank back into the chair. “Why donate your wish to me? Why not get a grand piano for your salon? Or whatever the fuck. Why don’t you use it for yourself? There must be something else you want.”

“Sure there is,” Agatha said gently. “I wouldn’t mind a chocolate milkshake or lifelong financial independence. To be free of difficulties, or even just a boyfriend at this point. Even though you yourself exude unavailability, Agent Mulder.” She wagged her eyebrows at him theatrically.

“Shame,” Cosmo said, not taking his eyes from the television screen.

“But Cosmo and I have been around the block a few times. We’ve learned a lot about how these things work. If we take much more than we need, we get lazy, lose our drive. Dissipation and sloth set in. And the things I want will only make me happy if I achieve them. That’s the deal. That’s being human.”

“So aren’t you damning me, by offering me this wish?”

“On the contrary. We are offering it to you because you’re one of the very few people ever to understand the basic principle. The secret to happiness that seems to be so elusive.”

“A shinto monk once summed it up for me,” Cosmo said. “He said if you want to be troubled, think of yourself. If you want to be happy, think of others. We were fucking. But whatever.”

“Regardless of the source, that’s how it seems to work,” Agatha said. “Easy to say, hard to do. But you, my friend, did it. For me, someone you didn’t even know.”

Mulder shrugged.

“I believe your wish -- at the very least -- won’t add to the chaos and avarice that are running rampant everywhere as we speak. I also suspect that by returning the favor to you, by gifting you my wish, I will get off to a better start in resuming my human life than if I were to use it for myself.”

“I’m not sure I buy it,” Mulder said.

“I have an idea,” Agatha said. “Why don’t you tell us what it is that you so badly want. And then tell us why you’re so afraid.”

He sighed. “Sure. Why not? My partner. You met her. Long story, but in the course of our work she was abducted. Tests were done, and her fertility was taken from her.”

“I’m following you,” Agatha said. “I’ve been alive a long time. I’m sure I’ve heard stranger things.”

“Well, if I were to make a wish, which I am not yet doing, it would be to have her fertility restored.”

“Why didn’t you ask for this last time?” Agatha said, “Instead of freeing me? It fits your criteria. It’s altruistic.”

“Not so much. She’s also my wife. And the only person I want to have children with. So it’s my fertility too.”

“Ahhhh,” she said. “The plot thickens. No wonder. She’s got quite a scowl when she’s defending her territory. ”

“This is finally getting good,” Cosmo said, flipping the television off.

“We could do that,” Agatha said. “It wouldn’t be complicated.”

“But what if she ended up carrying sextuplets? What if some other creeping horror worked its way into the fulfillment of this wish?” Mulder’s fists clenched involuntarily. “If we do this and this goes wrong, I’ll find you and make you pay.” He was shaking.

“Oooooo. Smell you,” Cosmo said.

Mulder lowered his head into his hands.

“Have you always been free?” Cosmo asked.

The question startled Mulder. He looked at him levelly.

“I don’t mean philosophically — that’s a thornier question— but materially. Actually physically free, to go where you wanted and do as you pleased?”

“Mostly yes,” Mulder said, “but there was a moment that I wasn’t.”

He thought of the concrete cot on which he shivered the night through in the Uzbekistani prison, the hazy weak light coming in through the high barred windows at midday.

“So you have a taste,” Cosmo said, “Of what it’s like to be released, after such an experience.”

He remembered his return home, the feel of his arms around Scully, how solid she was, her breath for a moment on his neck.

“Yes,” he said. “Maybe a taste.”

“Then you might understand, Agent Mulder, that we’re grateful. We are not trying to hurt you. We want to thank you, no strings attached. The wish is yours to do with as you’d like. I’ll do my best to carry it out according to your intentions.”

“Here’s the thing, tough guy,” Agatha said. “Even if we do everything right, it could go wrong. Way wrong. Women used to die in childbirth all the time. Ask anyone born before nineteen hundred or so. Maternal death occurred quite regularly.”

“Death and sex are a inextricable pair,” Cosmo said. “Ask also any gay man who has survived the last fifteen years. Why do you think the orgasm is called le petit mort? Modern technology being what it is, your ladyfriend will probably make it through childbirth. But then your child might choke on a jax ball or become a serial killer. If you have two they might treat each other like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis...”

“Or maybe,” Agatha said, “Just maybe your pretty partner will love junior just a little bit more than she does you. Or maybe you’ll love junior just a bit more than you’re prepared for.”

“What do you mean?”

“The man who has everything has everything to lose,” Cosmo said.

“I’m guessing, just by looking at you right now, you know what kind of losses we’re talking about. And I’m wondering if you feel like you couldn’t handle another.”

Mulder was staring at her.

”Maybe you feel lucky enough, to have the devotion of a woman you clearly adore. Maybe you don’t think you deserve that much. Maybe you’re not afraid of what we might do. Maybe you’re afraid to push your luck.”

“Maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mulder said.

“And maybe I do. We can grant this wish,” Agatha said. “I’d be glad to ask this for you. But there are no guarantees. Were still operating in the human realm. We’re all subject to the laws and vicissitudes contained within. I hope you’re prepared to assume those risks.”

“I gotta go,” Mulder said.

“You have till this time tomorrow,” Cosmo said, walking him to the door. “Then we’re cashing out.”

_________________________________________

Chapter Text

They got married. They did.

A few weeks later, when they were back at work filling out three-oh-twos, catching flights, and eyeballing suspects, she had to keep reminding herself. He’d asked and she said yes. She was married. A married person. It was strange.

After they announced their intentions during a toast at Thanksgiving dinner, it all began to happen.

They set the date for Saturday the eighteenth, a week before Christmas, which gave them three weeks to pull it together. They wanted to keep it casual, get married in the church, then celebrate with a barbecue bash at the duplex.

Scully called her Mom, who was thrilled. That was Margaret’s word she kept repeating. Which evolved to ‘overjoyed’ when she learned there would be a church ceremony. She talked to both her and Mulder on the phone.

Her brother Bill’s ship wouldn’t be docking till the twenty-second so he wouldn’t make it. Mulder tried not to make a face. Tara and soon to be two-year-old Matthew were a maybe. Her brother Charlie was in Australia for six months — she was fuzzy on the details — so he was a no. But still, her mother was coming and Scully was surprised how much that meant to her.

Mulder decided to call his mom later from home.

Kino and Alameda were more than happy to prepare the food -- a traditional Hawaiian feast -- and make a cake. Check. Stan volunteered to select and procure the booze.

Father Ordonez happened to be a guest at Thanksgiving as well, and he gave the ok for that day. He just asked that she and Mulder stop by for a chat sometime soon. Which begat Mulder’s first panic face of the wedding season.

Back at their place the following day they lit a fire in the fireplace. December was the rainy season and a chill clung to the corners of the house.

“You want some privacy?” Scully asked when Mulder picked up the phone to call his mom. He shook his head no.

“Mom,” he said, “I’m calling with good news. You remember Dana Scully, my partner? Well, as you may know, she and I have become very close. And… we’re getting married.”

She wondered if Mulder realized how carefully he treated his mother, heading off her inappropriate or callous responses before she could wound him with them.

She decided it didn’t matter. He was a devoted son. And his mother had certainly been given a lot to bear. Scully was pleasantly surprised Teena agreed right away to attend. Mulder looked relieved when he hung up.

She only called back once to make sure he didn’t want to move the wedding to Martha’s Vineyard.

All three Gunmen were in. Scully wondered briefly who would feed Mulder’s fish.

In an act of gratitude and mortification for tricking her, Byers had tenderly looked after Scully’s affairs when they’d been away the first time. When she’d arrived home she found her cabinets lined with new contact paper. Her carpets had been steam cleaned and her ficus looked better than it had in years.

Frohike was excited to give them a tour of their own house, to talk them through the twists and hitches of the renovation.

Mulder called Skinner from their new bed over the weekend and told him they’d be getting married. Then he said nothing for long seconds. She was perpendicular, resting her head on his stomach, looking up his long body at him.

“Yes,” he said into the phone. “Really.”

Another long pause.

“You can stop saying ‘that’s amazing,’ Sir.”

“Thank you Sir.”

“Yes we’ll file the appropriate paperwork with OPR the day we get back. But Walter? We’re calling to invite you.”

They doubted he’d come; neither could remember the last time he took a vacation. But after all they’d been through together, the three of them, it seemed like the right thing to do.

They were both shocked when he called back a week later and said to expect him. Tara and Matthew would be making the trip as well.

“It’s on like Donkey Kong!” Mulder said when Scully hung up the phone.

They asked Bane and Alameda to pass along invites the other parishioners — it was a small congregation with about fifty regular attenders — and other neighbors they’d gotten to know. They had no idea who among those folks would turn up.

Scully wasn’t one of those girls that daydreamed all that often about her wedding. And as she grew into an adult, considering the unorthodox turns her life took, she did so less and less often. The innumerable weddings she had attended sometimes seemed hollow to her, with their adherence to traditions that seemed hopelessly wrested from their antecedents.

So she was surprised to find herself looking forward to hers. She didn’t want to have a lot of stilted nonsense, and there’s only so much planning you can cram into three weeks, but she wanted it to be a nice day. It seemed important for them to go ahead and claim the moment.

To make it legit, they had to schedule an appointment with the licensing agent on the island. With a population under seven thousand people, Molokai didn’t qualify for a state government office.

They met him on him on his front porch and filled out the forms. He also hung a shingle as a taxidermist and his wife offered in-home electrolysis. People in remote areas cobbled together a living in curious ways.

“You have to indicate now if you want to change your name,” the agent said to Scully. She looked at Mulder, wrinkled her nose and shook her head. That was decided.

“Can I change my first name, using this form?” Mulder asked.

“Um, I don’t believe so,” the agent answered.

“Dang,” Mulder said.

“Scully,” Mulder said as they were both filling in the forms with ballpoint pens, “if we file this paperwork from here, we’ll leave breadcrumbs. So far we've kept our presence here pretty well under the radar.”

Scully thought about it for a minute.

“I think it’s good we’re not linked Bane’s family on paper. But,” she said, lifting her hair and baring the back of her neck, “I’m never off the radar.”

He looked at her gravely. He nodded, kissed her cheek and took her hand. Then they went back to the forms.

They picked out matching plain silver wedding bands at a jewelry store by the harbor. Scully probably wouldn’t wear hers. She had her ring from Mulder, and a second ring on the same hand might interfere with her pistol grip. Besides, it wasn’t good in the field to telegraph personal information. A lot of married agents tended to forgo wearing rings at work. She wasn’t sure if Mulder wanted to wear his, but at least they’d have them for the ceremony.

She had been thinking she’d wear a dress she already had, but Noe convinced her to take the ferry to Maui with her and Lilo to shop for something dedicated to the occasion.

They ducked in and out of the the chi chi boutiques there, weaving through Christmas crowds. She was almost ready to give up when she tried on something she liked: a tea length tank dress made of a rich white on white brocade fabric. It was modest and simple, but had a back that dipped low for a little sexiness. She felt good in it, and bought sleek heels and silk stockings to go with the dress. Check.

For Lilo -- the only person in their wedding party besides she and Mulder -- they purchased a wicker basket she carried around the rest of the day clutched in her fist, and a flouncy flower girl dress in a Tiffany blue color.

Mulder would wear the one suit he’d brought in case they got called away on a case, medium gray she happened to like him in quite a lot. She bought him a crisp white shirt and a tie to match Lilo’s dress. He might want to wear something else, but whatever.

He planned to change into his replica Elvis Blue Hawaii shirt — which oddly was red— for the reception. Scully’d found it in a thrift store on 14th street and wrapped it up for his birthday. In Maui she bought him a pair of white jeans to go with it.

“Are you missing your sister?” Noe asked over lunch.

“I am,” Scully said.

They both looked over at Lilo, who had finished her grilled cheese. She was engrossed in The Little Mermaid on her portable DVD player, headphones over her ears.

“It’s sweet of you to include Lilo,” Noe said. “She talks about it all the time. I think Don the Alien has married Patches about a dozen times in our practice sessions.”

“Well, she’s a special friend,” Scully said, her cheeks coloring a little.

“Lucy was only twelve when I got married, but she was my Maid of Honor. It was a pretty great day. I’m glad that we had that together.”

“My sister wasn’t a traditional person,” Scully said. “But I think this wedding would be exactly her style. Also, she’d be happy for me.”

“To our absent sisters,” Noe said. They clinked water glasses.

“Thanks for encouraging me to do this,” Scully said. “It’s nice to have some special clothes.”

“Sure it is,” Noe said. “It only happens once. If you meet the right person in this world it’s call for a celebration. I had a blast at my wedding. I hope you enjoy the day.”

She and Mulder went and met with the priest. Some officiants required a series of meetings or even classes for couples intending to be married in the church. But at this outpost the priest was informal and kept things looser.

Mulder was as nervous going in as she’d ever seen him, wiping his palms on the front of his thighs. But it was mercifully quick. Father Ordonez was a regular at the post-church barbecues. It helped that he’d gotten to know Scully a bit and seen the two of them together over the course of several months.

The only hitch in all the planning was that the local hotels were full with waiting lists, the tourist season peaking the week before the holiday.

They needed more furniture to turn their spare rooms into guest rooms, and a fold out sofa for the office, so they took care of that. Skinner would stay at Bane’s and the Gunmen in the bungalow.

In what seemed like no time, the wedding was days away. Their mothers and Tara and Matthew arrived Thursday. They stopped at the restaurant on their way back from the airport. It was beautiful in there, mid century hip meeting island cool.

Kino and Noe greeted them warmly. Bane and Alameda came out and they all ate from platters of food, family style.

Back at their place everybody settled into guest rooms and freshened up. Maggie and Teena sat on the porch and chatted for a while. Scully was surprised to hear her mother’s laugh ringing through the house. She’d never found Teena to be all that entertaining. Then again she’d only ever seen her in times of strife.

She and Mulder exchanged raised eyebrows when their mothers left for a walk down the path toward the beach. A hour later they brought back big bundles of wildflowers with which to decorate the tables at the reception, stowing them in a bucket of water to preserve them.

It started to rain as the sun set. They lit a fire. Tara, six months pregnant, snuck off to lie down. She looked exhausted. Matthew was charming, dashing between the grown ups, initiating conversations with his favorite sock puppet.

In bed that night Mulder asked her if it was at all hard to have the little boy around.

“Not really. He’s gotten so big. He’s adorable, that red hair. Stubborn. A true Scully.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said wistfully, “he’s cute.” Matthew’s face reminded him of the boy from his dream. He’d been visiting every night. Just saying hey, playing in the sand, throwing a ball around.

“I’m still sad,” Scully said. “But we’re moving forward, aren't we? Teaching has been fine, but I’ll be glad to start catching cases when we get back to work. I couldn’t do that if I were pregnant. Not for long, anyway.”

“That’s true,” Mulder said. “Like they say, you can’t have it all…”

“I’m glad we’re doing this now. Thanks for suggesting it. It’s a tough time of year anyway. My dad died shortly after Christmas. And Emily. It would be hard not to wallow otherwise.”

“It’s like you said about reflecting on the people we’ve helped,” Mulder said. “You gotta mix some good in with the bad. Or it gets too heavy. Let’s enjoy this, Scully.”

The next day they picked up Skinner at the airport to drive him to Bane’s. The two men had, in fact, hit it off when Bane had visited DC.

“Thanks for coming Sir,” Mulder said as Skinner climbed into the back of their Jeep.

“Thank you for inviting me. I know it would have been easy not to…”

“We’re glad you’re here Sir,” Scully said.

“I wanted to personally give my blessing. Though the Bureau doesn’t always get it, I understand what an extraordinary team you make. Separately you are both good agents, but together you’re an irreplaceable resource, as well as a constant pain in my ass. I’m glad to see you taking care of each other like you’ve been these last months. I hope that continues.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Mulder sounded surprised.

“That’s nice of you to say,” Scully said.

“Also, I wanted to get away. The timing was good for me.”

“I’m glad it worked out that way Sir,” Mulder said.

“We can drop the ‘Sir.’ For the next few days anyway.”

“You’re right,” Mulder said. “People might get the wrong idea about the nature of our relationship. Could be awkward.”

“Jesus you’re an idiot,” Skinner said, laughing, looking out the window.

“Yet here we are,” Mulder said. “Walter.”

“Maybe go back to Sir. At least for you Mulder.”

“You know he’s an idiot, right?” Skinner asked Scully.

“I do,” she said, nodding.

“No plus one, Sir?”

“Mulder!” Scully said.

“No,” Skinner said thoughtfully. “That didn’t work out. She... Ah, she was looking for something else.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mulder said, catching Skinner’s eye in the rear view mirror.

Skinner nodded. “Thanks, Mulder.”

It rained the morning of their wedding, but dried out in time for the ceremony. There wasn’t much else to do in Molokai on a rainy Saturday, they supposed, because the church was full of people.

Scully remembered the day in fuzzy flashbacks saturated with deep emotions that took her by surprise.

The ceremony was short and sweet. There was no mass, but her mother read from Peter, Alameda from Corinthians.

She remembers Mulder’s deep even breathing as they rose for the ceremony itself, his eyes on her face. Lilo leaving the little church in front of the two of them, tossing flower petals from her basket gleefully into the air.

The party was raucous and boozy. Byers circulated with a mini amp and mike and people gave toasts. Bane said something sweet and introduced their mothers, Noe and Kino roasted them, Byers himself said something sincere.

Langley seemed to know everyone there and worked the party in green board shorts and a Santa hat. How strange, Scully thought, watching him, that they wouldn’t be here if not for him and his father’s connection to this place.

Frohike volunteered to sit behind the makeshift bar and mix drinks. He seemed happy there chatting up a lovely woman only a few inches taller than him. Every time Scully looked over she was laughing. She wondered, if he managed to seduce her, where they’d go with the bungalow full to capacity. She hoped they’d stay out of what she still thought of as her tub.

Tara had to leave on the early side to put Matthew down. Scully thanked her for coming, pregnant and with a toddler.

“It was no hardship, Dana. It’s beautiful here, your friends are great, and I’m having a ball. Margaret wouldn’t even let me pay for the plane ticket. Matthew is the light of my life, but with Bill gone it gets dull.”

Scully was nodding.

“Besides I had to represent. Bill wishes he could be here.”

Scully was glad to have had a few drinks for this conversation; her reduced inhibitions made it impossible not to burst out laughing. Which was the only reasonable response.

Tara looked relieved and laughed too.

“Well Matthew and I are happy for you,” she said, hoisting the boy in her arms. Scully kissed his fat little cheek. “And your brother will come around.”

She went back to the party.

A little later when most of the neighbors had cleared out she got herself some cake and looked around for Mulder’s loud shirt. He was sitting around a small fire pit along with Kino, Noe, Stan, Jenn, and Bane.

“Hey,” she said. There were no more chairs, so she sat on his lap and started eating her cake.

“Hey,” he said, kissing her cheek. She felt like she hadn’t seen him in hours.

“Thank you all so much,” Scully said, looking at the faces around her. Their friends. “It was a beautiful day.”

“It was our pleasure,” Bane answered for all of them.

Kino raised a beer in her direction. He looked deeply tired. He looked like a hospital intern after five months of thirty-six hour shifts. Scully made a mental note to talk to Mulder about providing additional startup cash to hire more help for him.

In bed that night they lay side by side, still dressed in their wedding clothes. Their mothers and Tara were still milling around the house, settling down for the night.

“We’re married, Scully” Mulder said, holding his ringed hand up to the skylight.

“We are,” she said.

They were a little bit drunk, and whispering.

“How thick are these walls?” Mulder asked. They’d kept to snuggling in bed since their house had filled up with family a few days before. “I’ve never had sex in the same house as my mother.”

“Neither have I. Even though we’re allowed, it’s weirding me out.”

They were both giggling.

“Should we wait till tomorrow to consummate this deal?”

“We could go for a walk down to the beach...” Scully speculated. “It’s a beautiful night.”

Mulder made a face.

“As idyllic as it is here, we’ve never made love outside. Why is that, Mulder?”

“Scully. I’m half Jewish, half patrician WASP. If that’s the kind of action you’re looking for, you married the wrong guy.”

She laughed and pulled a pillow over her face.

“Also,” he whispered into her ear, “bugs.”

She cracked up.

He pressed his erection into her hip.

“Hello there,” she said, rolling toward him.

“Could you be slightly more quiet? Than usual?”

“Maybe. Could you be less… vigorous?”

“We could move the bed away from the wall...”

“Good idea.”

They did.

He unzipped her dress and she hung it in the closet. He worked himself out of his clothes, and met her back in the bed.

She was under the covers, eyeing him pointedly.

“Hey,” he said, sliding between the sheets, twining his body with hers.

“I don’t know why, but I was just thinking about that time I tracked you down in Puerto Rico. After we were split up the first time. Arecibo Observatory. I thought you were dead when I saw you laid out on the floor.”

“Would have saved you a lot of aggravation, Scully. You have to admit.”

“True that,” she said. She was still looking at him. Remembering the car chase and the DoD jerks tailing them. Barely getting out of Puerto Rico alive.

“What?” he said.

“Just, I couldn’t stop thinking about you, after we got back. I had it kind of bad for a little while there. That’s when I gave up on dating and all that...”

“Physical risk is an aphrodisiac. The fight or flight wires get crossed.”

“Yeah. That must have been what it was.” she said. “Or else it was you. Your desperation and your nobility. The injustice of the dressing down you got for even going there. God, you were boyish and lost and had this pointy prep school hairdo and eyes for days. I couldn’t take it.”

“I was still a kid,” he said. “Still messed in the head. You didn’t want me then. I wasn’t ready.”

“Which freed me up to want you even more,” she said.

He laughed.

“That’s the first time I felt like it was just the two of us. Just me and you against it all,” she said.

“Me too,” he said. “I couldn’t believe you’d been cut loose but didn’t head for the hills. You saved my ass down there. And not for the last time. I knew how lucky I was, even then Scully, how important you were.”

She kissed him. He seemed to draw into himself a little.

“What?”

“I don’t know. I’m just thinking about you back then. Before you were taken. Before your sister. Your cancer. This,” he said, resting his hand on her abdominal scar.

“And?” she said.

“I just sometimes wish, for your sake, I’d told you to get lost. You must think about it too. Regret it.”

“No,” she said.

He looked away from her.

“Mulder, look at me,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a day. Not a minute. Believe it.”

He rolled on top of her, took her face between his hands. “How is that even possible?”

“It just is. I’m where I’m supposed to be. And so are you. I know it.”

He kissed her.

She was as quiet as she could be, under the circumstances. Which wasn't very.

"Hey Mulder, we got married," she said as they were drifting off to sleep.

"We did," he said.

__________________________________________

Chapter Text

Mulder was walking. He had parked his car at his place in Arlington and -- sleep being problematic -- set out in the direction of the Potomac.

After midnight on his usual jogging trail, the environs that blurred by in daylight seemed gravid with shadow and scourge. Traffic on the Parkway behind him roared in his ears as the river slid by below, sludgy and slow. The lights of the District along the opposite shore winked and gleamed on its stygian surface.

He didn’t want to sleep. He was afraid to see the boy or to not see the boy. Grief stabbed at him. This fucking wish.

The reason he’d fled earlier was he couldn’t abide the risk they’d be taking using it for themselves. The images of it going wrong so horrific—Scully pregnant with a litter of gerbils. Or worse. He leaned out over the railing and dug his knuckles into his eyes.

He had been half hoping, during his visit, he would surmise that the genie -- Agatha or whatever her name was -- and her sidekick had contacted him with the intention of playing a mean jinn type trick. One for the road. He came away convinced, however, that their offer to him was straightforward.

One wish.

He needed to talk to Scully, probably. Possibly maybe. About this wish, about what to do. Or not do.

After all the rude intrusions she had survived, he certainly wasn’t prepared to make a move that could affect her body so intimately without her knowledge and blessing.

Why didn’t he want to? Was he afraid it would go wrong?

Or afraid it would go right?

He had to admit, Agatha might have been onto something in her analysis of his motives.

He had been genuinely all in for starting a family with Scully.

But when that wasn’t to be, they had metabolized the failure of the IVF. Gotten married. Moved on.

He was married to Scully. And she was, God. She was Scully. And she was his. In his bed, in Hawaii, in the office, on the road. And now at their place outside of town. And he was hers, all those places and more.

And yet, as close as they were, he still had so much room to breathe, to move, to work. To be himself. She accepted him as is, loved all his disparate and confounding parts, as he did for her. It would have been unimaginable to him, before. To be so intimate with someone, yet so at home.

They’d spent three days there between cases planting two dozen apple tree saplings on the sloping hillside above their house for chrissakes, the two of them.

It had been hard work; to show for it he had a blister on his foot where the back of the spade bit into his boot each time he sliced into the earth. Before long sweat had been sluicing down his back, despite the cool spring air.

In canvass overalls she measured the ph in the soil in four places, sketched out the grid in even paces. She added granular peat as he sifted upturned earth back into the holes, covering the gnarled snaking roots. Her cheeks mottled with windburn, her eyes especially blue.

The soil berms around each trunk reminded him of the mounds they’d found out behind Santa’s workshop. He blinked and they were just trees again, freshly planted. Pink Ladies and Golden Delicious.

Like them, compatible varietals. His hands had been ripped up too. It could be eight years, before they saw any fruit.

In the months since their wedding they’d been taking cases at a breakneck pace. In some respects, the time had been as fraught as any they’d spent together. His mother had died, for one thing. Killed herself. He had come to accept it.

And he was confident he’d resolved the mystery Samantha’s fate. She was dead too, he now knew. Her vanishing had been the fat black heart pushing sick blood through his veins for so long, poisoning him even as it drove him, that he wasn’t sure he’d know what to do, after. How to be.

Instead of devastating him as it might once have done, though, the knowledge had — if not liberated him entirely — at least lightened his burden.

After standing by the river with a blustery spring breeze eddying trash on the ground, his hands grew stiff with cold. He rubbed them together and turned toward home.

Their work remained dangerous, to be sure. He’d nearly been drowned in a bathtub a perfect hostess who’d morphed into the ultimate cavewoman, for example.

During another case, his lungs had been full of bugs. Thank fucking god he’d been sedated through that shit, as Scully saved his carcass yet again. He’d picked his seed habit up again to quit the nicotine she’d used to kill the beetles, but it was a small price.

She’d talked Scully out of an encounter with Old Smokey he’s sure would have ended badly. She was pissed, and he didn’t get any for a week, but it was worth it. And Pfaster had almost gotten her, after all.

But he didn’t. She’d gotten him instead.

After she’d put him down like the sick animal he was, she abandoned her Georgetown apartment. Like a heavy metal band leaving behind a trashed hotel room after an exceptionally raucous all nighter, she just moved along. Had movers pack up her things. Installed the boxes in a storage locker and herself at his place. Which, gradually as they circled and sparred, became theirs. At the end of the day, he lost nothing carving out a space for her.

That settled the question of which of them would give up their apartment. And it prompted them to find their house outside of town, which had already served as a refuge.

The final missing piece had fallen into place only that week.

Scully came up with the move: some brilliant inter-office Aikido. They had turned the aggression of their detractors against them, securing a work schedule of three months on, one month off. Time to reset and regroup in Molokai. Relax, eat, and sleep before returning to the fray.

He couldn’t have drawn up a life more ideal if he’d tried.

And then Cosmo showed up in his office. Boink. Since then he’d been twisting in the wind.

He’d meant it when he told the jinn he had everything he wanted. How would a baby fit into that puzzle?

A baby. A real live squalling shitting drooling baby. What did he know about a baby? The last baby he’d even ever held was probably Samantha.

More than that, he didn’t get to almost forty without realizing a baby changed everything between two people. Just listening to the guys at work bitch about the steep drop off in sex...

He’d held Emily. His jaw ached and he closed his eyes, thinking of it. Of her. Not a baby, but Scully’s child. Feverish and floppy in his arms. So vulnerable, already shattered by loss. Yet still open, a little bit, to being loved. Being claimed. She smelled like lemons, fabric softener or something. Her face, intelligent and resolute as Scully’s own. He could tell how fragile she was, could feel her slipping away from them as he held her. He never cried.

Emily had been the heaviest casualty. And Scully had retreated from him for weeks afterward, months even. He felt gangly and redundant, knowing she counted on him to not stop, to press forward with work. But wanting a way into her world on fire, longing to ease her all consuming, oddly illegitimate grief. To share it.

Almost home, he made a decision. He’d to go to sleep, wake up, delete his dreams, meet Scully at the airport, and get on a plane. Forget forever the wish. Not worry about it going wrong or right. Never think of it again.

He let himself in, and nearly tripped on a big suitcase.

She’d come. He felt her presence right away, though she was sleeping. Perceived her steady exhales altering the composition of the air, smelled her shampoo.

He brushed his teeth, stripped down to his boxers and slid into bed, trying not to wake her.

“Hey. You’re home.” She was mumbling. He wasn’t sure she was fully awake.

She rolled toward him and he put his arms around her.

“Mmmm. My snuggle. You’re cold.”

“Yeah. I was walking. Played some hoops.” He kissed her temple. “Go back to sleep.”

“Walking? Y’okay?”

“Yeah. I am. What are you doing here? I didn’t see your car.”

“I took a cab. I’d rather leave it out there for a month.” She was awake, the fuzziness clearing from her voice.

“Makes sense. Why’d you change your mind?”

“I don’t know. You asked. It seemed like you needed something.”

“Thanks.”

“Did you?”

“I just missed you.”

“I couldn’t sleep anyway. My stomach hurt.”

“What do you mean, your stomach hurts?”

“It’s nothing. Too much coffee and nerves. This crazy week.”

“Aw honey. Did you eat something?” Ne kissed the crown of her head. He was now practically allowed to express this much care and concern.

“A little something. It’ll be good to get away. How often can we say they’re playing right into our hands, Mulder?”

“Usually it’s been the other way around.”

“Are you worried about missing something?”

“Hopefully Doggett will take good messages.”

“It was a good idea, having him compile them in an email every few days,” she said. “That way we won’t be tempted to check in here all the time.”

“I hope he calls if something seems important. But how will he know what’s important?”

“I guess he won’t. But it’s still better than not having the office covered at all.”

“It might work out that way. We’ll see.” He buried his face in her belly. “You smell good.”

“Mmmm.”

“I think I owe you one. In the office when you, ah, sharpened my pencil...”

“It was a weird angle. And quick, by definition. I got what I needed.”

“Still…” He rubbed his chin against her underwear, “unfinished business.” He hadn’t been close to her like this in weeks. He felt heady with the scent of her, losing himself, his heavy rumination slipping away.

“I’m not gonna argue if you see it that way,” she said, smiling down at him, scratching him behind his ears.

He kissed her just below her belly button, kissed her one hipbone, then the other as he worked her out of her panties.

He lay his ear against her skin and listened to her internal sounds just below her navel. A faint rumble, a gurgle, the whoosh of blood through her veins. The muffled cadence of her stubborn heart far above, pushing and pulling.

He slid his ear lower. The baby place. This is what he would hear every day for forty weeks, her inner symphony. Her blood, her lungs filling and unfurling, the tones of her voice reaching him, soothing him. This place was meant for him; she deserved this chance, and so did he.

He got it then. It wasn’t about whether he wanted a baby. It was about her health being restored to her. The choice should be hers to make, the risks hers to contemplate.

“Scully?”

“Hmmm?” Her hand clutched at and smoothed his hair even as she was fading, slipping in and out of sleep.

“You remember the genie?”

“Yes.” She was alert again, her eyes on his.

“I have another wish. And I realize you’re skeptical. But nevertheless, I’m wondering if you’d want me to ask to, ah, have your fertility restored.”

“Huh. I thought you made your third wish.”

“I did. Long story.”

“Why didn’t you wish this before? When you had three to burn?”

“Too risky. It seemed like a bad idea to use a wish selfishly.”

“What changed?”

“I’m not sure it’s selfish, for one thing.”

“What do you mean by that?” She rolled away from him and looked at him evenly.

“I wasn’t even going to tell you, about the wish. If we want to use it we have until tomorrow. We have to meet the jinn at a swanky condo off DuPont Circle...”

“You were under no obligation to tell me. But why didn’t you want to?”

“Because it just feels like trouble to me.”

“How come?”

“What if I can’t do it, Scully? Be a parent. I’ve had bad models and zero applicable experience.”

“I know you, Mulder. You have so much to give. Do you think I would have asked you to do this with me if I wasn’t sure?”

“No,” he said.

“What made you change your mind? About telling me?”

“I guess I just realized that you being healthy again had nothing to do with me…”

She rose from the bed and started pulling on some clothes. “Let’s go, Mulder. Let’s check this out.”

“You sure? I thought you didn’t even believe she had the power to grant wishes…”

“Officially, I don’t. But he was invisible, Mulder. Anson Stokes?” She pulled a sweater over her head and sat on the edge of the bed, pulling on socks.

“What else was notable about him?”

“Huh? Nothing. Unremarkable twenty-something white male.”

“How did you come to meet Anson Stokes, Scully?”

“Oh. Well, I mean, he was dead. Blunt force trauma. But the real cause of death was his own stupidity.”

“I want you to be sure. It may be a trick. And as far as I’m concerned, we have a lot to lose, Scully.”

“And a lot to gain,” she said, tying her shoe and leaning over and kissing him where he lay still in bed. “Get up, Mulder.”

He did.

An hour later they were ringing the doorbell.

Cosmo answered the door. Mulder was relieved to see the mark of the jinn still glinting under his eye.

“Surprise, surprise,” he said. “Agatha! The breeders are here!”

Scully gave him a wide eyed look. “Really?” she said.

“Yep,” Mulder said, nodding.

Together they passed through the door.

 

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