Scully’s reaching for the coffee pot when she realizes someone else is also reaching for it. She draws back politely. Bullpen coffee isn’t worth a fight. She doesn’t really need to be more awake right now. She just wanted something warm. The heating in the basement is being repaired, and her sweater only does so much.
“Oh,” she says when she actually looks at the face of the person who wants the coffee. “Colton.”
He looks up. “Dana? I haven’t seen you in years.”
“Decades,” she says with a tight grin that shows her canines. She hasn’t missed him.
“How’ve you been?” he asks.
She considers the range of her options. Abduction. Cancer. Loss of a daughter she didn’t know she had. Infertility. Near loss of Mulder. Loss of Mulder. Death of Mulder. Revival of Mulder. Birth of a miraculous son. Loss of a miraculous son. Gain and loss of two new partners. Years on the run. Attempted redemption. Breakup. Therapy. Renewal of relationship. Second chance at redemption. Mother’s death. More therapy.
“Fine,” she says. “You?”
“Oh, still busting my ass,” he says, sticking one hand in his pocket.
“Still not assistant director,” she says, feigning politeness.
“Well, looks like you aren’t either,” he says.
“No,” she agrees. “We took a leave of absence.”
“We?” he asks.
“Oh, yes,” she says, gesturing. Mulder’s clearly been lurking; he saunters over and leans over her shoulder. “We took a leave of absence for, oh, almost a decade, but we were asked to reconsider. We’ve reopened the X-Files. You remember my husband, Mulder.”
“Sure,” Colton says, holding out his hand to shake and grimacing as Mulder squeezes a little too tight. Scully would roll her eyes, but that’s the only kind of conversation men like Colton seem to understand. “Wow. Congrats. I guess you’re Mrs. Spooky for real.”
“We actually changed our legal names,” Mulder says blandly.
Colton narrows his eyes. “Yeah, well, good luck, I guess.”
“You too,” Scully says. “It must be frustrating to climb the ladder all these years and still be on the bottom rung. Maybe you’ll get your big break soon.”
“I for one found our sabbatical really refreshing,” Mulder says. “You might consider it. Right, honey?”
“Definitely,” she says, leaning against him. “It really put everything in perspective and gave us leverage to negotiate when they asked us back.”
“Wow,” Colton says through gritted teeth. “Sounds great.”
“Should we step out for coffee, since there’s no more here?” Scully asks Mulder.
“It’s a date,” Mulder says, smiling at her. “Stretch our legs, knock out this case. Third one this week - they just keep piling them on when you’ve got a solve rate like ours.” He shakes his head regretfully. “See you later, Colton. Nice catching up with you.”
“Yeah, great to see you,” Colton says. He takes a long sip of his coffee. Scully’s fairly certain he burns his tongue. She smiles.
“You didn’t have to completely annihilate him,” Mulder murmurs as they walk away.
“He had it coming,” she tells him.
He whistles in quiet admiration. “I like this killer instinct of yours.”
“Thank you,” she says.
“I’d pay money to watch you tear down men brick by brick,” he muses. “Just one thing, Mrs. Spooky. We’re not married.”
“Maybe it’s time to change that,” she says.
“What inspired this?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
She sighs. “Seeing my mother in the hospital again just reminded me that as it stands, we have no right to see each other. I’m your doctor, but what if I get sick? There are too many scenarios, too many factors. It would make things so much easier if we had legal protections.”
“How romantic,” he murmurs as they walk out of the Hoover Building.
“How’s this for romantic?” she says, and takes his hands. She uses her grip as leverage as she slowly kneels on the sidewalk, glad she stopped wearing hose sometime in the mid 90s. “Fox Mulder. You and I have been through hell and back. You understand me like no one else has or ever will. You’re my one in seven billion. Will you marry me?”
“People are staring, Scully,” he says, amused.
“Let them,” she tells him, gazing into his eyes. It’s an interesting perspective, one she’s rarely seen outside the bedroom.
“Is this real?” he asks.
“Mulder, I’m kneeling on a sidewalk in Washington D.C. and it’s almost lunch time,” she tells him. “There’s no way I would do that if it weren’t serious.”
“You might be a doppelganger,” he says, “but yes, Scully, obviously I’ll marry you.” He pulls her up and into his arms for a lingering kiss. She lets herself melt into him. People around them are applauding.
“You really gave the tourists a thrill,” he says against her lips.
“As long as I still thrill you,” she says breathlessly.
“You do,” he tells her, and kisses her again.
+ + + +
Scully gets on Etsy. It seems like there are a hundred thousand people offering hand-lettered signs, and she browses for more than an hour, looking for just the right style. She finally chooses someone who paints on reclaimed wood. It’s trendy, appropriately rustic. She feels reclaimed herself. She and Mulder are still buffing away each other’s rough spots, but raw edges are in vogue. She knows how to slide her hands over him without getting any splinters by now.
It’s reasonably priced, all things considered, and they can deliver it by Mulder’s birthday. Mrs. and Mr. Spooky, it says. She thinks he’ll like the less-than-traditional order of it, an omen that she’s adopted the identity fully. They aren’t hanging in the office, though. There has to be some modicum of professionalism..
+ + + +
“Rounding the bases toward 60,” he says, after they’ve had cake and opened presents. “I wouldn’t be here without you, Scully.”
“Sure you would,” she says.
He leans back in his chair. “When I was young, I thought I was the light that shine too brightly. I just assumed I’d die young. My sister was gone. All I had was my passion. And then Diana left and some part of me looked for ways to martyr myself.”
“I remember,” she says. “We were always running pell-mell into dark rooms.”
“You showed me it didn’t have to be that way,” he says, taking her hand. “You showed me storms could be weathered. Lives could be rebuilt.”
“We rebuilt each other,” she says. “Up from the foundations.”
He turns her hand over in his and kisses her palm. “We’re stronger for it.”
“Happy birthday,” she tells him, smiling.
Outside rain patters down, chill and grey. They’re snug and warm under their own sturdy roof. Later they’ll slide together into bed, damp from the shower, and share a slow caress. It’s October and they’ve come around again: slung full circle around the sun, from the basement to the stars and back.
+ + + +
They hang the sign in the entryway, over the hall table with the mail basket and the bowls for their keys.
“I like it,” Mulder says judiciously. “It’s the first thing I see when I walk in.” He flourishes his hand at it, palm open.
“Of course you like it,” she says from the front steps. “It’s very tasteful. Can I come in?”
“I have to carry you over the threshold,” he tells her.
“Mulder, you’re going to throw your back out,” she says, but she knows her eyes are soft. “I don’t think you have to do that for a courthouse wedding anyway.”
“A courthouse wedding is still a wedding,” he chides.
“In the eyes of the government, yes,” she allows. “Nobody else cares.”
“I care,” he says, coming out to the front stoop. He leans down to nuzzle at her neck; her hair is pulled up and his nose and lips are warm against her skin.
“I know we should have waited until tomorrow,” he says.
“A Halloween wedding would have been a little on the nose,” she tells him. “This is perfect.”
“A nip in the air,” he says, nipping at her neck so that she shivers. “Falling leaves. Apple cider and ghost stories.”
“Very atmospheric,” she says. “Are you going to carry me inside or not? It’s chilly out here and this dress isn’t very warm.” It’s a cream-colored silk sheath with russet trim: something traditional but updated, a wedding dress for a bride who took the long road home. She’s wearing her mother’s coin necklace around her neck and blue earrings. The old rhyme feels like a prayer. She knows it’s how her mother and Missy would have dressed her.
“I thought that’s what the shrug was for,” he mumbles against her collarbone.
“The shrug only does so much,” she says.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he murmurs. “I’ll warm you up.”
“I know you will,” she says, twining her arms around his neck. He bends his knees and slips his arms under her. She feels so safe in his arms, as if the weight of the past has been, well, not lifted, but made light for the moment. Their memories are draped over them the way her shrug is draped over her shoulders. There’s a warmth in them, despite it all.
“Happy wedding night, Mrs. Spooky,” he says, as he carries her into the house.
“Happy wedding night, Mr. Spooky,” she tells him, and he nudges the door shut with his foot while Kismet barks from the den.