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1985 - Providence

They met at Brown where both their families were close enough for driving visits, but far enough to leave them alone. It was a literature course. Victorian poetry. They made googly eyes from across the room over Christina Rossetti, and knew. By the end of the semester, fingers touching under desks, small hand-written notes scratched into the margins of each other’s notebooks, the promise of coffee, of something more.

After a year, they so badly wanted their families to meet, but neither felt ready. Samantha’s socked feet in Melissa’s lap, toes curled under a throw pillow, Murder, She Wrote playing on the small TV, she says,  “Too WASPy.”

Wrinkling her nose, “Too Catholic,” Melissa replied.

So they shared a Tofurkey roast and wine and each other over Thanksgiving dinner. Each called home the next day to say they were sorry they couldn’t make it.

“We missed you,” their mothers each said.

“Next year,” they each replied.

But the next year things were rough between them, and they spent their holidays apart. Melissa disappeared for a while, as was her wont, and Samantha cried in what had been their small apartment in Providence, and which now felt so empty without her tapestries and crystals and the musky spice of nag champa. She was on the couch, feeling a bit lost and boring, when her phone rang. She dragged herself to the kitchen to answer.

“H’lo?”

“Samantha?”

“Fox!”

“Hey kid, how’s it going?”

She was smiling already at the sound of his voice. “Oh, you know, neurosis and loneliness. You?”

He sighed, “Same.”

“You need a girl,” she said.

“So do you.”

Her smile fell when she thought of Melissa, and there was a pause. “Touché.”

“Hey, I’m sorry, Sam. She’ll come around.”

“You think? Last I heard she was in San Diego again.”

“She’ll be back. But, hey, I have good news.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’m back on the east coast, beginning next week. I’ll be at Quantico.”

“Not far from dad.”

“Yeah.” There was silence for a moment.

“Are you going to visit him?”

“Sam—“

“I’m just asking.”

He sighed. “Not at first. Maybe after training.”

“Come visit me, then?”

She could almost hear his smile. “You got it.”

 

1988 - Stanford

“Dana.”

“Hmm?” She didn’t look up. Dana was sprawled out on her small living room floor, surrounded by books and notes. Melissa, on the couch, put down her book and sat up straight, face serious.

“Dana,” Melissa said again, and this time her sister glanced up. “I need to talk to you about something.”

The younger woman straightened and pulled her glasses from her face, noting the worry line on her sister’s forehead. “Oh,” she said. “Okay,” and she moved to the couch, pulled a pillow to her lap. “What’s up?”

Melissa took a deep breath. “You know I’ve dated a handful of guys,” she began. Dana nodded and felt a plucked string of curiosity. So we’re talking about boys now, she thought. There was no way that her sister, Melissa Scully, had gotten serious enough with some guy for that conversation, but— “Well, I’ve also… Dana, I’ve dated some girls too.”

Dana’s eyebrows went up. That was not what she’d been expecting. “Oh,” she said again. “Um… oh. Okay.”

Melissa worried her bottom lip. “Yeah. And there’s one… one that I’ve dated quite a bit more than others. Off and on.”

Dana’s eyebrows rose even higher and she leaned forward, curious now. “Really?”

“Yes,” Melissa said. “Her name’s Samantha. We met at Brown years ago and dated for a long time. But I… I guess I panicked a few times and dated other people, I guess just because that’s what I do, but… well, we’re together again. And I think it’s serious this time.”

Dana sat with this for a long moment, thinking, adjusting. “How serious?” She asked after a time.

Melissa cleared her throat, eyes to the coffee table. “We’re living together again.”

“Again?”

“Yeah. But we’re thinking about buying a house.”

“What?” Now this Dana couldn’t wrap her head around. “You, Melissa, are thinking about buying a house. Like owning a piece of property that will require you to stay in one place presumably for more than a year.”

“Yes. In Baltimore, near mom. And near Samantha’s brother.”

To be near family, Dana thought. To be near both of their families. This was serious. She took in Melissa’s nervous fidget. “Well,” she began, searching her sister’s face, knowing how hard this must have been for her to divulge. “Melissa, that’s great.” She smiled, reached to take the other woman’s hand. “It sounds like… it sounds like you really love her.”

A smile, then, finally broke over Melissa’s face. “Yeah,” she said. “I do.”

 

1989 - Baltimore

“You like leggy brunettes,” Samantha said.

Her brother made a face, not liking to be pinned down so easily. So narrowly. “Yeah,” he shrugged. “I guess.”

“But have you tried short red-heads?”

Now he was confused. Samantha wiped the side of the wooden spoon with her index finger and licked it, eyebrows raised in question.

“What are you talking about?”

She couldn’t help the small turn of her lips, half sheepish. She turned away from him to stir the sauce again. “Melissa’s sister is coming tonight, too,” she said. “Her name is Dana.”

“What? Samantha…”

“It’s just dinner.”

“Are you kidding me? Is this a setup?”

“No!” She said, turning to face him again. “No. Not really.” The smirk grew back. “Just family. Just dinner.”

He tried to be angry. He did. He frowned and pouted and snarked for a full twenty minutes. But then a key turned in the lock and the door opened and first Melissa came through the door and then there was… her. Short, rumpled from the plane ride, dragging a too-heavy suitcase, she was all freckles and messy ponytail and an easy guffaw at something Melissa had said. She wore a loose sweater that hung off her shoulder, dark jeans, and her laugh was contagious. He forgot to be angry. He forgot not to smile.

“You’re here!” Samantha called from the kitchen, rushing to meet them, arms open, sleeves pushed up. There were hugs and kisses and “how was your flights,” and then Samantha turned to the side and gestured at him. “Dana, this is Fox. My brother. He’s in the FBI.”

Dana’s eyebrows went up and her cheeks went just a bit red. He stood, uncomfortable, at the threshold between kitchen and living room, for just a moment before stepping forward to shake her hand. “Fox,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah,” he said, because it was all he could say, because when he touched her hand he felt the strangest thing, like deja vu or a half-remembered dream. Her fingers were soft, but her grip was firm, and it lingered just a moment. “Nice to meet you,” he managed to get out.

Melissa and Samantha were sharing a look—a look like knowing. Like the same one they’d made at each other over a seminar table in Providence four years earlier.

She was nothing like her sister. This, he learned quickly. She had just finished her third year of medical school and she planned to specialize in pathology—forensics, specifically. Like him, she would spend her days with the dead. She spoke German. And Latin. And Greek. She knew nautical terminology and thought Melissa’s crystal fetish was bullshit. She told him he was probably wrong about his most recent case (“That sounds like porphyria, not occultism,” she’d said with a furrowed brow.) He couldn’t stop staring at her.

She caught him, once or twice, and he could swear she was blushing. After two glasses of wine, she tilted in her seat, head dropping to her sister’s shoulder.

“You tired, Day?” Melissa asked.

Dana yawned. “Long flight.”

Samantha offered her a sympathetic pout from across the table. “Guest bed is all made up if you want to turn in.”

But she shook her head, lifted it, and said, “No. No, I’m okay. I think I just need some air.”

Melissa gently nudged her sister so she sat up straight again, stood, stretched,  and began clearing plates from the table. “Why don’t you go for a walk? Let me just clean up here, and—“

“I’ll go.” All three of the women looked at him, and he cleared his throat. “I mean,” he said, “I kind of want to stretch my legs.”

He watched Dana’s face, which was red-red, and he didn’t think it was only from the wine. “Okay,” she said.

She didn’t know what was wrong with her. She didn’t even believe in this kind of thing, whatever this was she was feeling. She walked beside him on the sidewalk and felt the whole weight of his body beside hers, the heat of it, like vibrations of energy that made her want to reach out and touch, to feel the vibratory hum that seemed to move through his skin. She told herself that her life was too complicated for this. She was almost-dating her married instructor. She lived on the other side of the country. He was practically her brother-in-law. Everything about it was wrong.

Still. She hadn’t felt like this in… well, ever, she didn’t think. It wasn’t like this with Daniel. The hair on her arms stood on end, brushed against the inside of her sweater with every movement. She could feel all of her skin at once.

“So you have one more year,” he said. “And then what?” He was picking at his fingers as they walked, strolled really, around the block in the warm June air.

“Then internship and residency,” she said. “Another few years.”

“Will you stay in California?”

“I, um… I don’t know. Probably not. Most of my family is on the east coast right now, so…”

“So you’ll come back here?”

She smiled. “Maybe.”

He nodded, a small smile touching his own lips as they rounded the next block. She felt herself drift toward him, unthinking, and her shoulder bumped his upper arm. He looked down at her, and she up at him, still amused, confused, by this uncontrolled attraction. His eyes were so curious, so intense. He moved his hand, just a bit, so it brushed against hers. It was an invitation—subtle, easy to ignore. But she took it, let her fingers slide between his, her palm into his warm one, and they were both smiling sheepishly. She shook her head and laughed.

“What?” He asked.

“I don’t know, I… this is just so strange.”

He tugged her hand so she bumped against him again. “Strange how?”

She shook her head again. “I don’t know you. I don’t live here. I—“

“Have a boyfriend?” He asked, already looking disappointed.

“Well,” she said. “Sort of? I don’t know. It’s complicated.”

He was nodding slowly, still holding her hand tight. It tingled, made her warm everywhere, just that small point of contact. “That’s okay,” he said. “We’ll just keep this simple.”

“Right,” she said. “Besides, you’re kind of family.”

“Right,” he said.

They were quiet for several moments, walking comfortably, still hand-in-hand. But when they turned the corner back onto Melissa and Samantha’s street, she stopped. She glanced at the house, made sure it was still too far for them to be spied on, then turned to look up at him. She watched him watching her, those eyes still so intense, just a bit hopeful, and she thought about how smart it would be to do as he said and keep this simple. She told herself to thank him for the walk and then let go of his hand. She would see him again at holidays, feel a small twinge of sadness, and move on. Avoid confusion, Dana. Avoid awkwardness. Nip this right here in the bud. She would have. She should have.

But then, instead, she kissed him.

She reached up and pulled his mouth down to hers, pressed her lips to his with almost no pressure–just a glance of skin on skin. But the shock of warmth and electricity that had first passed between their hands intensified—doubled, tripled, drove them into each other with a need that felt otherworldly. One of his hands moved to hold her face, the other to her hip, and she found her body drawn against his, felt herself falling down and down and down and never hitting the bottom of whatever this was, head spinning instead in a whirl of feeling she’d not known before. Their mouths opened. Their tongues touched. Their noses brushed against each other. She smiled against his lips, overwhelmed with the sheer joy that was pumping through her body with every beat of her heart.

And then she caught hold of herself again, found her senses. She broke the kiss, pulling his forehead to rest on hers while she took a long, deep breath with her eyes closed.

Then she stepped back, wiped her lips with the back of her hand, face on fire, and said, “Sorry.”

She turned and started walking back toward the house, leaving Fox Mulder dumbfounded on the sidewalk until he could gather enough wits to turn and follow her.

Chapter Text

September, 1989 - Stanford

They sat in his car because nowhere else was safe, because people would talk, because, as if she needed to remind herself yet again, he was married. And he was her instructor. No restaurant or diner was secluded enough.

“Dana, tell me what’s going on. Things have been off all summer.” He put his hand on her knee, and she wished he wouldn’t.

She sighed and shifted her weight so she was farther from him. “I was away, and then you were away… I don’t know. I’m coming to the end stretch here, and I guess I’m facing some important decisions. I need some space to think.”

“You should stay,” he said, watching her expression carefully. With me, he meant. “You’d make a wonderful surgeon, Dana.”

Her eyes fell closed and she bit her bottom lip. She shook her head slowly. “I don’t want to be a surgeon, Daniel.”

“You want to be a lab geek your whole life? Doing autopsies? Telling people their uncle died of cirrhosis because he was a drunk? You could save people, Dana.”

“I could save people with forensics, too.” She was staring at his hand on the knee of her scrubs, willing him to move it away, wanting this to be so much easier than it was. “And I…” she began, marshaling her courage, collecting her strength. “I don’t think I want to do this anymore, whatever this is we’re doing. It’s not right.”

Daniel did move his hand, then. He lifted both of his hands to his face, pressed his fingers to his closed eyes and took a deep breath. “It’s not right that I love you?”

“Oh God,” she breathed, barely audible. “Daniel—“

“Because I do. We could be great together.”

“You’re married. You have a daughter. I can’t even believe—“ she shook her head, still dumbfounded that she’d managed to get herself into this situation. “I shouldn’t have let this happen. We shouldn’t have.”

“Is there someone else?” His voice was low, grave, and there was something in it she didn’t like at all.

“What? No. No.” She shook her head. “I’m not dating anyone else.” But even as she said this, she thought of Fox Mulder, of his warm hand around hers, of the magnetic pull of their bodies that had made her unable to resist the sweetness of his lips, his palm to her cheek, on an early June evening. She blushed at the memory and tried to push it away—she hadn’t spoken to him since her trip. It didn’t count, didn’t mean anything. She was sure he had forgotten her by now.

“Dana.” That gravity again in Daniel’s voice pulled her attention back to him. “Do you swear?”

Oh, but this was not good. She stared at him, this older man with his icy eyes, his cut jawline, his sense of entitlement. They were enveloped by the smell of leather in his little sports car, and it suddenly struck her what a farce this was. What in the hell was she doing? How had she thought she could want this? Dana breathed deeply, curbing her temper. This needed to end peaceably—for her own sake.

“I’m going to say three things,” she said, keeping her voice calm, “and then I’m going to get out of the car and go back into the building.” Another deep breath. “First, you have no right to that jealous tone. None at all, considering.” At this he winced and tried to interrupt, but she wouldn’t let him, stopping him with a raised hand. “Second. Despite the fact that I shouldn’t need to defend myself, the answer is still no. I’m not seeing anyone else.” She held his gaze firm. “And third, I need to know that I can trust you. That there won’t be… professional repercussions because of this.”

“Dana—“

“Please,” she said. “This is better for everyone. Especially for you.”

Daniel’s head fell back against his seat and his eyes closed again. “I suppose I knew,” he said. “I knew last month.” He turned to look at her again, reached to take her hand in his, raised it to his lips where he kissed her knuckles. “You can trust me,” he said.

She nodded, squeezed his fingers, then slipped out of the car. She hoped he was telling the truth.

Baltimore

He showed up at two in the morning, not drunk, but ragged and rough around the edges. Samatha knew when she heard the knock, reassured Melissa’s sleepy “Wassat?” with a kiss to her forehead and a hand on her back.

“I’ll get it,” she said. “It’s probably Fox.”

He stumbled in and headed for the couch, days of stubble on his face and eyes full of ghosts.

“Sit,” Samantha said. “I’ll make tea.”

He slumped with his face in his hands until she brought him chamomile and made him sit straight. She lay a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Bad?”

“Kids again,” he said. “Another monster.”

She nodded and took a sip of her own tea. “Do you want to talk about the case? Or the happy thing?”

After a sip, he set his own mug down and rubbed his temples. “Happy,” he said. “You first.”

Samantha leaned back against the couch and thought for a moment. “The last time I felt really happy… last week Melissa sent some flowers to me at work. No reason. Just because. Then she picked me up and we went down to the waterfront and just walked around. We had some dinner, then ice cream near the tall ships. It was like a real, old-fashioned date. We haven’t done that in a long time and it was just… perfect. You forget how important it is to do that kind of thing every now and then.”

She catches a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. “You’re so lucky, Sam.”

She is. She knows she is. She wants to tell him that they’ve been talking about kids, but it feels too soon, and maybe too sensitive in light of his terrible case. “What about you? When were you really happy last?”

He let out a breath that was also half of an ironic chuckle. “Well, I had a really good burrito a few days ago.”

Samantha smirked. “It was that good, huh?”

“It was a damned fine burrito.”

“And it made you really happy?” She poked his bicep. “Tell me really. When?”

He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “I think you know.”

She pursed her lips and thought back. “June,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said.

“You really like her.”

“Yeah.” He took another sip of his tea and Samantha watched his face soften as he remembered. “She kissed me, you know. On that first night.”

“She what?” Samantha laughed. “Oh, I was so right. Melissa owes me a coke. That little minx.”

“She told me her life was too complicated. And then she kissed me right down there, at the end of the street. And then she ran inside.”

“But you came back for her. Twice.” Fox had shown up after work the next night, looking sheepish, but Dana and Melissa had already left for dinner at their mother’s house. He tried again the following evening, this time with case reports in tow. Samantha laughed, remembering. “And you brought her homework.”

“Autopsy reports and photos. Oh, you should have seen her eyes.” He was really smiling now. “And she’s damned good at what she does. She spotted something in the photos the medical examiner missed.”

“Yes, but the important question is whether or not there was more snogging.”

“Hmm.” He pursed his lips, leaned back against the cushions. “Seems rude to kiss and tell”

“Well,” she said, “as long as there was more kissing.”

His smile turned sad and his eyes unfocused. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Her life is somewhere else.”

Moments of silence stretched out in the dim-lit room while they finished their tea. The smell of chamomile clung to their mugs and softened the edges of their thoughts toward sleep. Samantha rested her head in her palm, elbow against the back of the sofa, and regarded her brother—her sensitive, sad, smartass brother who loved too easily and too hard and had only ever been hurt. He needed someone good like Dana. Someone as smart as him who wouldn’t let him crumble like this, who wouldn’t hurt him.

“She called a few days ago,” Samantha said.

“Oh yeah?” He looked startled. Interested.

She nodded. “She was kind of upset. Apparently she finally broke it off with some professor she’d been half-dating.”

At this, his eyes lit up, as she knew they would. “Really?”

She smiled and took his mug from him, carried both back to the kitchen and set them in the sink. “Give her some space,” she said when she came back into the living room to stand behind the couch. “But then give her a call.” She patted him on the shoulder one last time before turning toward the steps. “Guest bed’s all yours.”

Samantha went back up to bed, leaving her brother on the couch to think. He’d come in broken and Sam had patched up his cracks as usual. She was good to him that way. He stood from the couch and turned out the downstairs light on his way up the stairs. He thought of Dana. He thought of that second and final night they’d spent talking, out on the porch, before he’d been called away to another case in the morning. He remembered how he’d said “I want to kiss you again,” before boldly cupping her face in his hands and lowering his lips to hers—how she’d let him, kissed him back, tucked her fingers around his and squeezed before pulling back and shaking her head.

“It’s too much,” she’d said. “I’m sorry.”

But she’d given him a hug before he’d gone home and whispered into his ear, “If things weren’t the way they are…” And her nose had brushed the skin just below his ear; he’d shivered. Then she’d pulled, back, looked him in the eye with the weight of everything she felt and seemed to want, and left it at that. She turned and went back up to bed while he stood there wondering, longing, and bleeding his heart out right there in the foyer.

Now, though, things might be different. Had she broken things off because of him? Of course not. Arrogant, he thought. Stupid, he thought. She probably hardly remembered him. He pulled off his shoes and stripped out of his rumpled, many-days-old work clothes to slide into the bed. He thought of her freckles and her blue eyes and her warm hands and her lips. He thought of how her hair smelled and the curve of her hip under his hand when she’d kissed him the first time. He thought he would wait a little bit, and then find a reason to call her. Maybe even find a case in California. By the time he fell asleep, the thundercloud of suffering, the torturous case of the previous days, had faded almost completely, and it was only her he saw in his dreams.

October, 1989

“Hello?” She answered the phone on the third ring, trying not to burn herself on the pasta she was draining.

“Is this Dana?” The voice was familiar, and she felt an immediate jolt down her spine—was it?

“Yeah,” she said, suddenly out of breath.

“Hi,” the voice said. “This is, um, Fox Mulder. Samantha’s brother.”

She almost dropped her colander, almost burned herself on slightly undercooked rotini. “Oh!” she said, trying to pull it together. “Hi! Um, how are you?”

“Oh, you know. Saving the world from the worst of humanity while barely keeping it together. Same old. How’s med school?”

She was grinning, cradling the phone to her ear like a precious thing, overwhelmed to hear his voice again after so many months. “Oh, you know.” She said. “Saving lives and removing catheters when all I want to do is poke dead things with a sharp stick. Same old.”

He laughed, and she felt the sound of it deep in her belly, in her elbows, in her fingers, in her feet. She left the pasta in the sink and moved to sit at her tiny kitchen table, lest she swoon and hit her head on the counter. Had it been like this in June? (Yes, she remembered. It had.)

“So I have this case,” he began. “And I thought maybe you might want to take a look at the autopsy report. Maybe help me out?”

“Oh,” she said, a little disappointed. “Okay. But you know I’m not a real doctor yet, right? I’m not really qualified.”

“Hmm. Could’ve fooled me.”

There was a brief pause as she thought. The power of intrigue was strong—a real FBI case, probably a murder, and he wanted her to review it. Even if that’s all he wanted from her, how could she say no? “Okay, I’ll take a look.”

“Good.”

“But…”

“But?”

“Um, I guess… is that the only reason you called?”

“Ah,” he said, and she could practically hear him smiling. “Well. Not quite.”

“No?”

“Well,” he said again. “I guess I missed talking to you. Missed you.”

Dana felt a blush move down her face like a waterfall. “You did?”

“I did,” he said, serious and sheepish at once. “When are you coming back to Baltimore? You know, in case I need you. Ah, your expertise. Professionally.”

She laughed and fingered her spiraling phone cord. “Unfortunately, not for Thanksgiving. Our break is short and I’m low on funds.”

“Oh.” He sounded disappointed, sounded ready to fork over a few hundred dollars for a cross-country plane ride, and she blushed even further at the thought.

“But my term is up in December, so I’ll be back for Christmas.”

“Christmas,” he said and sighed. “Okay. I guess I can wait that long.”

“No cases in the Bay Area?”

“No,” he said. “Believe me, I looked. Nothing the Bureau would justify my consulting on, at least.”

She’d been half-joking, but the thought of him trying to find an excuse to come see her made her heart beat faster, made her wish she’d bought a ticket home for Thanksgiving anyway. “Well,” she said, “maybe you can call again soon? At least after you send me that file.”

“Absolutely,” he said. “Let me get your address.”

After she’d given it to him and they chatted for a few more minutes about family and work, she told him, “Things are a little less complicated now. Just so you know.”

“Does that mean you have room for new complications?”

“I… maybe.”

“I could be a good complication.”

“You could?”

“Yeah. The kind that brings you autopsy reports and good coffee and lets you shoot down all his stupid ideas.”

Her ears were hot and she couldn’t stop smiling. She wanted to reach right through the phone and kiss him, to drag him right across the country and into her bedroom. “Hmm. That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“It wouldn’t be. It might even be kind of nice.”

If he kept talking to her like that, with that voice, this conversation was going to take very different turn, and she was sure he was already racking up his long-distance phone bill. Save that for next time, Dana, she thought with another hot flush. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said. “And I look forward to reading about your case.”

“Right. The case. I suppose I should let you go.”

Don’t, she thought. “Okay,” she said.

“Goodbye, Dana.”

“Goodbye, Fox.”

They hung up.

Two days later, an envelope arrived with his case notes, photos, and an autopsy report. On top of the file was a handwritten note on scratch paper:

 

Dana,

Your brain is amazing—what does it think about this? I can’t wait to hear your voice again. How many days until Christmas break?

-FM

 

Chapter Text

November 23, 1989 - Baltimore

The Scully household was full of sound and light and laughter. Nat King Cole was already singing, despite Melissa’s protests—“At least wait until after dinner!”—but Charlie had insisted and his mother backed him up.

“I don’t see how it could hurt,” she’d said. “It’s nice.”

Melissa rolled her eyes and Charlie snuck a bite of stuffing off her plate while she wasn’t looking. There were two new guests this year, Samantha and her brother Fox, though the family was one short in Dana, a fact they all lamented (one of them, in particular, perhaps more than the others).

“How’s the house, Melissa? How’s that porch roof?” Bill Scully, who still pretended his daughter had only moved in with a friend, stuffed a bite of mashed potatoes into his mouth.

“It’s fine, dad. The inspector said it had at least another five years.”

“Huh,” he grunted. “Well. You keep an eye on it.”

“Fox, do you want sauerkraut?” Maggie held the bowl up to him, and he tried not to make a face.

“Um,” he said. “No thanks.” He couldn’t get used to that particular Baltimore turkey-day tradition. She smiled at him and passed the bowl to her older son. The younger Bill kept glaring at him uncomfortably, and at Samantha, too, as if trying to puzzle them out. As if these Mulders were working some angle on the Scully family.

They were all scraping their plates and debating seconds when the phone rang.

“I’ll get it,” Maggie said. “It’s probably Dana.”

Bill Sr. stood up as well, anxious to talk to his youngest girl, and one by one, each of the Scullys popped into the kitchen to say their hellos and happy thanksgivings. Fox’s knee was bouncing, and he was chewing on his bottom lip. Melissa smiled at him from across the table.

“You wanna go say hi? Mom called her back so she’s not running up her long-distance.” She could tell he wanted to, could read his eagerness like a book.

“Does she know I’m here?”

Melissa nodded and Samantha shook him by the shoulder. “Go on,” she said. “When’s the last time you talked to her?”

He cleared his throat. “Ah.” A sheepish smile. “Yesterday.”

Melissa laughed and shook her head while he scooted around the table and into the kitchen.

“—I mean, if you’re able to come then. Melissa said she wants to have a Christmas Eve party? You know you’re welcome to stay here, too.” Maggie looked up, surprised to see Fox tiptoeing into the kitchen. He gave her a shy wave, then stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Uh huh,” she said. “Okay, honey, if that’s what you want to do, that’s fine.” She raised her chin at him in question.

“Melissa said I could say hi,” he explained, and Maggie’s eyebrows went up.

“You want to say hi?” Then back into the phone, “Dana, Samantha’s brother is here and he said he wants to say hi, is that alright?” A brief pause, then she smiled. “Dana says only if you promise not to talk about work.” She passed the phone to him, and he took it with a quick thank you before Maggie headed back to the dining room.

“Hey,” he said into the phone, smiling already.

“Oh hey,” she said, mock-surprised. “Long time no talk.”

“Hmm, it feels long.”

She chuckled. “So you’re at my parents’ house, huh? That’s kind of weird.”

“It is, it is,” he said. “Your parents are so nice, though. Your mom, especially. She kept checking on me all through dinner.”

“She’s sweet. No flack from dad?”

“Nah, he’s too concerned about Melissa’s home repair schedule. I think your brother hates me, though.”

“Bill, right?”

“How’d you guess? Charlie’s alright. They’re all great, really.”

“Well,” she said. “You know what this means, don’t you?”

“What?”

“I’m going to have to go over to each of your parents’ houses while you’re not there and just hang out with them. Maybe I’ll bring Samantha.”

“Oof, Dana, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

“They’re that bad?”

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you some day.”

“Good. I want to know.”

“Did you book your flight yet?”

“I did. I fly in on the fourteenth… But here’s the thing.”

“Uh oh.”

“No, it’s good. I got my first interview for my residency. I’ve applied to a few on the east coast, so it’s a good sign. But I’ll be busy my first week or so before the holiday.”

There was a brief pause. “Oh,” he said. “That’s great about the interview.”

“Are you disappointed?”

“Only a little. And I’m happy you’re applying out here.”

“Me too.”

“Hmm, your brother is giving me a look from the other room. I think he’s suspicious. Is he gonna kick my ass?”

“You can probably take him. But, you know. Family dinner.”

“Right.”

“Will you call me again soon?”

“Of course.” He was tucked into the corner of the kitchen, talking into the phone like it was her ear, like they were completely alone. “Hey,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“I miss you,” he murmured. “When I see you again… I’m going to kiss you, okay? I don’t think I’ll be able to help it.”

Her breath sounded just a bit louder on the other end of the line. “Okay,” she said.

“I’ll talk to you soon. Bye, Dana.”

“Bye.”

Much later, after everyone had eaten pie and Fox had headed home to D.C., Melissa stood with her mother in the kitchen, drying and putting away dishes.

“Fox seems nice,” Maggie said. Nonchalant, as if it were just chitchat.

Melissa smiled. “He is. He’s a good guy. Sweet. Really smart.”

“How does he know Dana?”

“They met at our house last summer.” She put a plate in the cabinet.

“And?”

Melissa smirked, looked at her mother. “And what?”

Maggie crossed her arms over her chest. “And?”

“And they hit it off. I think she helped him with some work thing.”

“Are they dating?”

Melissa sighed and leaned back against the counter. “Mom. You need to ask Dana. Who lives in California, in case you’d forgotten, making ‘dating’ something of a complicated term.”

“Alright, alright!” Maggie raised her hands in the air, then went back to the dishes. “It’s sweet, though. Dana and your roommate’s brother.”

Melissa’s spine stiffened. “Mom—“

Maggie’s face looked pained. “I know.” She sighed.

“She’s not my roommate.”

Maggie nodded and took a deep breath, but didn’t look at her daughter. “I know.”

Melissa squeezed at the dish-towel in her hands until her fingers hurt, stared at her shoes. After a moment, Maggie looked back at the other woman, took the two steps across the kitchen to stand beside her, and put her hands on Melissa’s arms. “I know, sweetheart. It’s hard for me, but just… know that I love you. We all do.”

Melissa’s eyes burned. She sniffed. “Dad too?”

“Yeah,” Maggie said. “Dad too.” She held her daughter’s eyes for a long moment, rubbing her upper arms. “Come over again next week,” she said. “I think we just need to get used to it.” Another brief pause, as if Maggie were thinking through something. “But she’s lovely, Missy. I really like her.”

Melissa’s lip wavered, just a little, and she nodded, sniffed again. “I should see how she’s doing with the boys.”

She gave her mother a watery smile, and slipped out of the kitchen.

December 24 - Baltimore

Their timing was awful. It seemed a truly grand failure of fate that kept them apart for over a week after Dana arrived in town, despite their efforts to meet. First, she had an interview in Philadelphia, and then a case took Fox out of town until the twenty-third. Once, he showed up at his sister’s house and found he’d missed her by only ten minutes and he nearly beat his head against the wall in frustration. And then finally—finally—on Christmas Eve, the stars aligned. They would be in the same place at the same time—but only for one night. He and Samantha were driving to Connecticut to see their mother in the morning. Once again it felt like cruel fate was holding them forever apart.

Still, they would make of tonight what he could. He knocked on the door at 7:23, and stood shaking in the frigid air. The temperature had plummeted, but at least there had been no snow to slow his drive from Alexandria. Sam opened the door with a cry of delight and a “Come in, come in, it’s freezing!”

Inside it was warm and the lights were low and golden, the Christmas tree glowing, fireplace lit, that terrible Wham! song playing for the nine millionth time of the season. “Merry Christmas!” He told her, wrapping her into a hug with his free arm. She wore a red dress and a Santa hat, her long brown hair curling over her shoulders.

“Merry Christmas! Here, I’ll take your bag,” Samantha said, pulling his duffel from his shoulder so he could strip off his coat. He hardly noticed. He was scanning every space he could see, eyes everywhere at once. “She’s in the kitchen, Romeo.”

He looked at his sister and offered a sheepish smile. “Thanks,” he said.

He was sweating, though it was barely 20 degrees outside. His heart was hammering in his chest, blood rushing his ears. She was here, somewhere in the same house as him, after all these months. He walked, hands shaking, head buzzing, through the living room and toward the kitchen.

Sam waited to put away his bag and instead rushed to grab Melissa, who was chatting in the living room, by the arm. “Wait wait, look, come here!” Conspiratorial, she dragged Melissa to the doorway that led to the hall.

Fox was not halfway to the kitchen door when Dana appeared in the corridor and stopped cold with a little gasp.

“Oh!” She said when she realized it was him.

She wore a deep green crushed velvet dress, long-sleeved, to the knee. Her hair was pulled back away from her face. Her lips and cheeks were red, with surprise or wine or makeup, he couldn’t tell and didn’t care. The world had gone black-and-white but for her: radiant, in full color, a beacon of warmth and light in these cold, dark days of early winter. Quiet hung between them for a long moment until he could speak.

“Hi,” he said eventually, feeling stupid. It was like he could hardly breathe in her presence, like no words could possibly do this moment justice.

Her lips turned up into a nervous smile, and she took a small step toward him, eyes drinking him in just as openly as he watched her. “Hi,” she replied.

He took a step forward to match hers, and they were only a few feet apart now, standing at the event horizon of their gravitational pulls. They hovered there, awed by the electric buzz of their attraction. Then they both moved forward at once, like slow motion, and his hand was reaching out to her face and he was bending down and she was leaning in and going up on her toes… and then he was kissing her. She tasted like white wine and her fingers were in his hair, touching him as he touched her. His free hand came to her waist and guided her body to rest against his. He felt her back arch, her breasts press against his sweater, and he was already embarrassingly hard, like a teenager with no self control, but he couldn’t help it, nor did he care. Not when this was really her, solid and true, flesh and blood, soft lips and warm skin after six months of wanting. He imagined hoisting her over his shoulder and dragging her upstairs, party be damned. He wanted to make love to her slow and soft behind closed doors.

There was a squeal behind him, the sound of Samantha’s feet hopping up and down on the hardwood as she still gripped Melissa’s arm. He heard Melissa mutter, “Come on, give ‘em some space.”

Dana’s arms came around his neck, and he wrapped his own around her waist so he could lift her momentarily, holding her tight to him, wanting all of her at once. Her feet dangled by his shins, and she giggled into his mouth, making him laugh too. When he worried they were making a scene, when he felt capable of maybe surviving a separation of a few inches, he set her back down and their lips parted. Her hands went to his shoulders, and his moved back to cup her face. Her eyes looked wet—as overwhelmed as he felt.

“You’re here,” he said.

“So are you.” One of her hands splayed across his chest, and she could probably feel his heart pounding under her palm.

“I’ve been waiting so long to do that,” he told her.  “I’ve been thinking about it forever.” One of his thumbs brushed across her lips and she kissed it. He was utterly, stupidly in love with her.

She nodded. “I know. Me too.”

Then she leaned in again, wrapped her arms around his waist, and tucked her body into his, her head resting on his chest like it belonged there always. She smelled so good, like clean shampoo and sweet perfume; the velvet of her dress carried the warmth of her skin to his fingertips. He didn’t want to let her go, even when party guests began making their way past them to and from the kitchen.  

“Come help me meet people,” she said, and took his hand in hers. “I’m not great at parties.”

He laughed and let her pull him toward the living room. “If you’re looking for a social butterfly, I have some bad news for you,” he said.

She tossed a smile at him over her shoulder, and he felt a kind of click in his mind—like he’d snapped a photo of her wearing that smile, in that dress, that he would keep with him for the rest of his life.

It was a smallish gathering, maybe fifteen in total, but for Dana, it felt like a massive crowd. All she wanted to do was be alone with him. Maybe have dinner, talk for a few hours, make out in his car afterwards. A normal date, she thought. They managed quiet moments here and there, a few stolen kisses under mistletoe, a handful of slow dances to Bing Crosby where she pretended not to notice how he grew hard when she pressed her belly against him. It was nice. But she was glad when the party began to thin around eleven and she didn’t have to explain to any more strangers why she was studying pathology, where she was applying for residencies, what she hoped to do when she finished, all while fully aroused.

By midnight, the last of the guests had left, and the four siblings were straightening up, carrying dirty cups toward the kitchen and throwing away paper plates and napkins. When the clock struck twelve, Samantha called out “Merry Christmas!” to the whole house. In the living room, she grabbed Melissa and pulled her into a kiss.

Fox and Dana were in the kitchen, rinsing egg-nog cups. He glanced at the clock and leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Merry Christmas.” She flushed and angled her body toward his. He rested his forehead on hers, brushed their noses together.

“Mmmerycrims,” she mumbled against his lips, half kissing, half laughing.

Sam walked in then, barefoot now and sans Santa hat, carrying an armful of dishes. “Hey, get a room,” she said. “Just kidding. Dana, can you go help Melissa for a minute? I want to get these washed up before we go to bed.”

In the living room, Melissa was pushing furniture back into its usual place, out of the corners, angling the couch back toward the TV. Dana helped her carry the coffee table back into the center of the room. “There,” she said. “Looks good.”

Before heading up to bed, Melissa turned to look at her sister. “Hey,” she said. “Can I say something, Day?” Dana dropped a throw pillow onto the sofa and watched her sister carefully. Melissa lifted both hands to Dana’s shoulders and spoke softly. “He is wonderful and I love him. I want you to be happy. But remember to listen to yourself and what you need, too. Think about where you are and what you want, and don’t feel pressured.”

Dana nodded, eyes wide, suddenly grateful for her sister’s words. “I know.”

“Good,” Melissa said. “Now that I’ve said that, there are condoms in the top drawer of the night stand. Be safe and make good choices. Love you.” She squeezed Dana’s arms then turned and walked to the stairway, calling toward the kitchen on her way up, “I’m headed to bed, Sam!”

“Coming!” Samantha’s voice echoed from the other room.

After Sam went up a few minutes later, it was just the two of them for the first time, standing several awkward feet apart in the living room. Dana felt suddenly nervous, like the weight of the past six months had settled onto this moment, these hours that would follow now that they were alone. She watched him watch her, felt his expectations, and felt suddenly unsure. She chewed the inside of her cheek and looked toward the stairway. Her feet hurt. Her makeup felt old. She suddenly wanted very badly to be wearing pajamas and to be curled up in bed.

Fox took a few steps toward her, reached out to touch her elbow. “Are you okay?” He asked.

“Yeah,” she said, perhaps too quickly, fingers fidgeting, swallowing hard. She was shaking. Afraid of what tonight might mean, of what he might think of her. Were they really going to do this?

“Hey,” he said, pulling her into a gentle hug, just enough so she felt warm—safe. He pressed his lips to the top of her head. “It’s a lot,” he whispered. She leaned back to look into his eyes, and he touched her face again. “Too much, too soon?”

She didn’t want it to be, but she was overwhelmed. She felt her eyes filling with tears against her will. She nodded, her bottom lip wobbling.

He leaned down and kissed it, just a reassuring press of his lips on hers. “Okay,” he said. “It’s okay.” He hugged her again and spoke into her hair. “We don’t need to do anything. It’s late, and I’m just glad I got to see you again.”

She let out a little choked sob into his sweater. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just… there’s a lot going on right now.”

He pulled back again so he could hold her face in his hands, look into her eyes as he spoke. “Dana,” he said. “I am standing in the same room as you. That makes this the best night I’ve had in six months. I’m sleeping on the couch—right here. So I’m gonna go brush my teeth and put on sweatpants and watch old movies until I can’t keep my eyes open. If you want, you can put on your PJs and join me. If not, I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast. Okay? You don’t need to be sorry. You don’t owe me anything.”

His eyes were serious and blue-green, softened by affection and concern. Was this what love was like, she wondered? This careful kindness, this swelling of the heart at the very sight of the other? Wasn’t this too soon for love?

“Okay,” she said. “I’d like that.”

Dana wanted this man very badly. More, perhaps, than she’d ever wanted anything else in her life. And that scared her. This thing they had was still soft and fragile, no mere lust, but the seed of some great flowering organism. She was grateful that he seemed to want to care for it as much as she did. In the upstairs bathroom, she washed her face and brushed her teeth and changed into comfortable pajamas. Perhaps it was too soon for flannel-love, too—perhaps she should have kept her makeup on, maintained the illusion a little. But she didn’t think so. As she walked back down the stairs, she thought, This feels right.

And it was.

Chapter Text

December 25, 1989 - Baltimore

7:46 a.m.

The morning broke cold and gray, but inside there were flannel sheets and the amber light of the Christmas candle that stood in the window. In the master bedroom, Samantha came awake first and rolled to wrap herself around Melissa. Groggy, the other woman burrowed deeper into the pillows.

“Do you think Santa came?” Samantha whispered.

Melissa laughed once, a muffled sound under the pillow, and shook her head. “No, but I think Dana probably got a few presents.”

“Ohhh, that’s right!” Sam laughed and kissed Melissa’s shoulder, tucked a hand under her ribs. “Speaking of. Do you know what Fox said to me last night in the kitchen?”

“Hmm.”

“I told him things seemed to be going well with Dana, and then he turned to me, dead serious and said, no kidding, ‘I’m going to marry her.’ And then he had the stupidest smile on his face. Is that weird? I told him it was sweet, but maybe, like, take her to dinner first.”

Melissa pulled the pillow off her head and rolled to face Samantha, eyes wide. “He said that?”

Sam nodded. “He’s usually pretty guarded, but I don’t know. I guess your sister is especially enchanting.” She moved her whole body atop Melissa’s and rested her palms on the bed to either side of her shoulders. “I mean… all the Scully ladies are pretty enchanting.”

“Yeah?” Melissa said, suppressing a smile. Then she laughed again. “You’re such a sap.”

Samantha sighed and lay her forehead against Melissa’s. “I am,” she said, letting her eyes fall closed. “I can’t help it.”

Later, when they emerged from their room, Melissa noticed that the guest bedroom door was open. She peaked in and found the bed still made—unslept-in. “She’s not in there,” she whispered.

They tiptoed down the stairs and into the living room, where Fox and Dana were spooned on the couch, fully clothed, and fast asleep. Sam’s hands came up to her mouth. “Oh my God, it’s the cutest goddamned thing I’ve ever seen,” she whispered.

At the sound of her voice, Fox’s eyes opened. He smiled at his sister and brought a finger to his lips. She wondered how long he’d been laying there, probably uncomfortable and needing to pee, just so he could keep holding her. Melissa shook her head and turned to head for the kitchen, smiling in spite of herself.

The smell of coffee brewing woke Dana several minutes later. She was surprised, at first, at the heavy arm hooked over her ribs, before she remembered. She brought her hand to cover her face. “Oh,” she said.

She felt the rumble of Fox’s chuckle against her back, and then his lips on her temple. “Good morning,” he said.

“I fell asleep.”

“Hmm. S’okay. You don’t snore too much.”

She rolled to look at him, frank denial furrowing her brow until she saw his face. His eyes were sleepy and smile-crinkled and she thought he might be the sweetest thing she’d ever seen. Her heart hurt to look at him. She reached up to touch the stubble on his cheek.

“Well,” she said. “I guess we slept together.”

He nodded and turned his head to kiss her palm. “We did. It was nice.”

“I usually aim for higher praise than ‘nice.’”

He covered her hand with his, squeezed her fingers. “It was perfect.”

She frowned. “And now you have to go.”

He shook his head, pulled her to his chest so she could feel his heart beating, could smell his laundry detergent and deodorant and warm, sleepy sweat. She wondered if she could steal his t-shirt without him noticing before he left. “We’ve got a couple hours,” he said into her hair.

Bundled against the frigid morning, they took a walk arm-in-arm. He told her about his parents, about how his mother had an affair with a man their father worked with. How Bill Mulder was an angry, jealous drunk who hit his cheating wife. How Teena took the children away when Samantha was only six. How Fox didn’t see his father again until he was fourteen. How none of them talked about any of it again. Birthday cards and money in a college fund—that’s mostly all he’d known of his father after that terrible summer in 1971.

“Dad moved to D.C. after that, and he’s been here ever since. He doesn’t talk about his work, but he does something deep in the State Department.”

“Is he why you decided to join the FBI?”

Fox shook his head. “No… at least I don’t think so. I was recruited, but I don’t think he had anything to do with it.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes. Dana’s hand, curled around his bicep, squeezed his arm. “I’m sorry.”

Fox shrugged. “It is what it is. They both did terrible things. Sam and I have survived.”

“Because of each other.”

He looked down at her and she studied his hooded grey-green eyes, immeasurably deep, just a little lost. He nodded.

“I’m glad you have each other.”

They got muffins and coffee at a shop down the street, and by the time they returned, their faces were ruddy with the wind, eyes wet and stinging from the cold, hearts warm with each other’s company. Samantha was packing the car, Melissa on the phone with her mother, and Dana, holding Fox’s hand, quietly went up the steps to the guest room.

She closed the door with a soft snick and turned around to face him. The room was quiet and smelled of cinnamon and vanilla from a small bowl of potpourri on the dresser. “I know you need to leave,” Dana said, heart pounding. “But I just…”

She watched him watching her, his eyes caught somewhere between concern and wild hope. “Just what?” He asked.

She couldn’t find the words, so she stepped forward. She felt desperate, like the seconds were rushing too quickly, sprinting to take him from her. She had no idea when she would see him again, but knew that she needed to be with him him now, alone like this. She crossed the small distance between them and went up on her toes to kiss him. He tasted like coffee and blueberry and their cold Christmas morning together. She thought of his warm weight behind her on the couch, his forearm tucked under her breasts, his quiet you don’t owe me anything the night before, of her tiny and solitary apartment in Stanford where she’d miss him night after night for who knows how long after this. Her right hand was in his hair and, lord help her, her left was hooked through a belt-loop of his jeans, pulling his hips against hers. He was kissing her like she were the last person on earth, like the universe was about to collapse in on itself and he would die this way, with his lips on hers. The tips of his fingers slipped under her sweater to touch the bare skin of her back and she gasped—from the chill of his skin or maybe its electric heat. Her knee lifted, just slightly, so she could wrap a socked foot around his calf. He pulled her tighter to him, and she felt the growing heat of his erection against her belly.

He slowed the kiss to small nibbles and nips, moved his head back to look at her, touched her face with his right hand.

“Dana…” She sensed his hesitation, his worry.

“Please,” she whispered. “Next time we can go slow. But I need… I can’t say goodbye for so long again without…”

He studied her for a moment. She could see his own warring judgment and lust. “You’re sure?”

She nodded. “Yes,” then smiled. “But we need to be quick.”

He laughed and kissed her again hard, as she began tugging at the bottom of his sweater. “Something tells me that won’t be a problem.”

Giddy now, she laughed too, stripping his shirt over his head and splaying her hands across his chest. When he did the same, stripping off her purple sweater and tee at once, and she stood before him in her white satin bra, she felt the flush move across her face and down her chest. Slow, he drew a finger from collarbone to collarbone and then down between her breasts, which rose and fell with each heavy breath. “You’re so fucking beautiful,” he said.

Her blush deepened at his language, at the intensity of his gaze. Her own fingers were touching his chest again, the sparse hairs between his pectorals, over his heart that thrummed under her palm. She dove up to kiss him again and then they had no problem rushing—tugging and stroking and pressing fingers against skin, unhooking and unbuttoning and shucking each other like slippery cornsilk until they were naked in the late-morning light. He backed her to the bed and she fell back across it, giggling and dragging him atop her. She felt the need for him in every neuron—in the bones of her fingers, in the tip of her nose, in the whoosh of blood in her belly, in her elbows, in her scalp. She wanted him everywhere, with every part of her.

“The next time I see you,” he said, “I’ll make this part take hours.” He kissed each of her breasts in turn, laving his tongue across her nipples until she arched and reached between them to hold the smooth warmth of him, heavy and hard, in her hand. She stroked slowly and arched toward him. He moaned into the skin of her ribs and she vibrated with it.

“But now?”

“Hmmph.” A grumble, lips against her skin. “This time we’ll be quick.” He kissed her, hot breath against her lips and cheek, and his fingers dipped between her legs where she was sliperywet and throbbing.

“Oh god,” she gasped, then reached blind into the bedside drawer for the condoms Melissa had promised would be there.

He looked startled, then smiled. “Were you planning this?”

She laughed again as they worked together to get the thing out of its packaging and on. She shook her head. “No.”

His eyebrow went up.

“Melissa, the girl scout.”

“Hmm, thanks, sis.”

Dana smiled, and then they were looking at each other in the thick tension of anticipation, where the weight of the moment settled around them. His eyes asked the question and she nodded. “I’m ready,” she whispered, guiding him with her knees and her hands. He pressed into her, gentle, small strokes, filling her slowly, reading her face. And then he was all the way in. She almost came just from the sense of such sweet fullness, of his careful restraint and curious eyes. Her lips turned up again, and she rocked her hips. HIs forehead fell to hers and he groaned.

Then the sound of movement in the house, of feet on the steps, reminded him that there was more to the world than Dana Scully. Her eyes went wide at the same realization.

“Fox, you ready?” Came a call from outside the door, from the stairwell. She’d locked the door right? Fox bit his lip.

“Be right there,” he called, and Dana couldn’t help but laugh. The movement generated a delicious friction that made them both arch and moan. “Next time,” he whispered to her. “Slow.”

Later, after they’d scrambled back into their clothes between hasty kisses and hushed whispers, she remembered again that they had to say goodbye. Dana hurled herself into his arms. He held her, eyes closed, nose tucked against the top of her head, for a full, quiet minute—as if they could absorb something of each other to take with them when they parted. And then Dana swiped at her sex-mussed hair, smoothed her sweater, and followed him downstairs.

“Bag’s already in the car,” Sam told him as she handed him a small thermos of coffee. “You driving?”

“Thanks,” he said. “Sure, I’ll drive.” She handed him the keys.

Melissa came in, barefoot and licking sticky-bun frosting from her fingers. Hands held away from hair and clothes, she leaned in to kiss Samantha. “Be safe,” she said.

“Will do. Give your brother some shit for me.”

Dana watched them, suddenly so envious of this casual goodbye, of this calm assurance that they’d be together again soon. She looked at Fox, juggling keys and coffee as he slipped into his coat, and told herself not to cry. He turned to her and cupped her cheek, a gesture she was beginning to associate with him.

“I’lll see you soon,” he said. “I promise.”

She nodded and swallowed hard, but couldn’t make words at that moment. She worried that she might blurt out something stupid, like that she loved him. He kissed her once, just a quick press of his lips on hers, and turned to go.

When they were alone, Melissa turned and propped a forearm on her sister’s shoulder, elbow hanging at her back. “So,” she said. “How was it?” And Dana blushed so hard she almost matched her sweater.

January, 1990 - Washington D.C.

He’d been called in to meet with the Assistant Director, a man named Skinner, with whom he’d only ever had brief interactions. He sat before the man now—bald, stern, scrutinizing—and listened to the news that he was being assigned to work with another agent on what Skinner described as “difficult” cases. He heard the scare-quotes in the man’s voice and wondered what they could mean. More difficult than child murderers and serial rapists?

“Is this a task force, sir?” He asked.

“Not exactly. Your paper on occultism a few years ago caught some attention, and a fellow agent has requested your assistance. Every year the Bureau comes across a dozen or so of these cases that are… unconventional, for one reason or another. Usually they go unsolved, but the FBI would like to up those numbers.”

“And one of those cases has come up now?”

Skinner nodded, his jaw clenched. “I’d rather the other agent fill you in. Are you familiar with an Agent named Diana Fowley?”

Fox’s eyebrows went up. “Ah, yes sir. We met while I was in the Academy.” Agent Fowley was a few years his senior, also a psychologist, though one who specialized in some fringe areas he didn’t know much about. She was fierce, took no prisoners, from what he remembered. And she’d flirted with him, somewhat aggressively, if he recalled correctly. Fox’s collar suddenly felt tight.

“Well,” Skinner said. “She’s waiting for you in her office. Third floor. You’ll work this case and then return to Behavioral Science, unless another comes up, unless you have some objection?”

Fox Mulder shook his head no, chewing on his lower lip, and wondering what the hell he’d walked into.

Chapter Text

January, 1990 - Stanford

She was down to the wire now, and the pressure was on. Surrounded by books, diagrams, and piles of notes in a cocoon of preparation for her second licensing exam, Dana had barely made time to eat for weeks. Studying was both necessary and the only thing keeping her mind off of the deep, lonely ache inside her. In bed at night, she oscillated between feeling crushed by the weight of the uncertain future, which seemed to press her down into the mattress… and the light fluttering of hope, the pulse of joy and desire when she thought of Fox Mulder. She imagined him as he’d been on that last morning, touching her face, his eyes searching hers, the solid feel of his hips between her knees. Her mind was a storm of medical facts and the interrupting image of his face in her memory, lowering to touch his lips to hers as he made love to her on her sister’s guest bed.

Then, inevitably, she would think of the residencies she might be offered in St. Louis or Albany. She thought of the fact that long-distance relationships rarely worked out, in the end. She thought of Fox getting tired of late-night phone calls, and of all the other women who were right there in D.C. already. She thought of Daniel, who had found her twice now at the hospital, pulled her into an alcove, and dropped less than subtle hints that he thought she should stay with him.

(“You’re a brilliant doctor, Dana. Just imagine what it could be like, the two of us.”)

She’d been firm, but he’d dogged her about why, and she couldn’t answer. She thought of his teenage daughter, of his wife who’d done nothing to deserve this, of the sharp jealousy she’d heard in his voice the day she’d broken things off. (“Is there someone else?”)

“Damnit,” Dana mumbled when she caught a mistake in her work. She erased, blew away the pink-gray shavings, scribbled another string of names and symbols. She appreciated the clarity of the answers on these tests: there was right and wrong, true and false. Nothing like the foggy, dark path toward her future, which she could not see.

It was past four in the afternoon when the phone rang—she’d been hovering over her coffee table working on her notes the whole day, and the low-hanging sun through the kitchen window surprised her with the hour.

“Hello?” She answered.

“Ah, there you are.” Fox’s voice, like a cool breeze cutting through humid air, made her smile. “I thought maybe I’d imagined you.”

“I’m here,” she said, nearly breathless with the pulses of joy the sound of him brought her. “And you? Are you real?”

“I’m real. Lonely, but real. You okay?”

She hesitated a moment. “Yes. Yeah. I’m fine.”

“Hmm.”

“What about you? How’s that strange case you’re working on?”

“It’s fascinating. I wish I could get your opinion on some of these medical files, but I’m not sure how this other agent would feel about outside opinions. She’s kind of territorial about her work.”

“Oh.” Dana turned that sentence around in her mind several times. Territorial. She. “But it’s, um, it’s going well? Your new, ah… arrangement?”

“Yeah. It’s good. I can’t wait until I can tell you more about it. Speaking of which, I may not be able to call for a few days. We’ll be out of town. Out in the field, I mean, for the case.”

Dana swallowed and sat down on her kitchen chair. “Oh,” she said again. “Where will you be?”

“Ohio. Near Columbus.” There was another pause where she could hear him thinking, even as the image of him on the road with this other woman elbowed its way into her mind: on a plane, in a rental car, face to face over a table at some diner in some small town, in a motel room… “Dana,” his voice was a gentle interruption. “Are you really okay?”

She wanted to tell him that she was fine. It was silly, she thought: there was nothing to be done right now, and worrying could only make things worse. But the soft tug of his voice, the concern at its edges, made her want to confess. “I’m so scared,” she whispered.

He was quiet a moment. His voice, when it came across the line, was so soft she barely heard it. “Scared about what, Dana? About us?”

She squeezed the phone cord, wrapped its loops so tight around her index finger that her skin turned red. “About the future,” she said. “And yes. About us. I mean, is there an us? What will happen if I get placed in Reno or Boston? Won’t you get tired of this?”

She heard his deep breath over the line, heard the rustle of him changing positions. “Are you tired of it?”

“No!” She said, perhaps too quickly. “No. But you have another kind of life. You must want something more than whatever this is.”

“Dana, what I do… It takes a lot out of me. You haven’t seen that part of it yet, but it’s hard. I’m a mess most of the time. And Sam, she’s pretty good at pulling me out of it, but the thing is…“ he took another deep breath. “Since I met you, you’re the only thing that makes it better. Remembering you. Thinking of you. So no. I’m not going to get tired of it. Even if I only see you twice a year, I’m not going to get tired of it.”

Dana’s face was hot—she could feel its flush. Her heart hurt. “Really?”

“Yeah, really,” he said. “So if you want there to be an us, there’s an us. At least until you get tired of me.”

She imagined him broken after a case, unshaven and rumpled with those sad eyes looking at her. She imagined how she would hold him, kiss his eyelids, let him cry if he needed to. She imagined a lab where she might work, where he’d call her in the middle of the day, excited to tell her some impossible thing. She imagined a world where they fit together like this: Complimentary. Interlocking. Seamless.

“I do,” she said. “Want it, I mean. I think—yes. I want it very much.” Her flush of affection was so surprising and strong, she’d almost said she thought she loved him. Too soon, she thought. I can’t possibly. But somewhere inside her, she knew that she did.

“That’s good. Then we’re an us. And the next time I see you, I’m going to show you what a good us we are. With wine and maybe some dancing and a kiss so long and slow you’ll forget your own name.”

“Oh god,” she said, glad she was sitting down.

“Yeah,” he said. “With some of that too.”

Then she was laughing and missing him so hard she felt it in her bones.

January, 1990 - Ohio

“Agent Mulder, tell me more about yourself. Why did you join the FBI?”

Agent Fowley drove the rental across a flat suburbia. They were outside of Columbus, now, heading to the site of three unexplained deaths. Fox fidgeted with the map in the passenger seat, aware of his new partner’s curious energy.

“I was recruited out of my PhD program,” he said. “I showed an aptitude for behavioral science, and I enjoy the work. Profiling, I mean. It’s like puzzles, only when you get it right, you save people’s lives.”

She nodded, with a half-smile that said she understood. “No power fantasies, then? No grand heroic ambitions?”

He smirked. “No.”

“That’s good,” she said. “I’ve known enough men in the Bureau like that. Not married?”

He cleared his throat. “Ah, no. Not married.”

“Hmm. Me neither.”

He watched her drive, svelte in her black suit and carefully adorned with understated but expensive jewelry. She carried herself well, shot daggers with her looks when she felt disrespected (a fact he’d learned while visiting the Arlington PD with her last week), and she missed nothing in the case reports. She was intimidating as hell, but she seemed kind at the same time. Kind in the eyes, and in the way she angled herself to listen.

Unless that was flirting. God, he was bad at this. As clever as he was at profiling, Fox had always had a terrible time discerning for sure if a woman was flirting with him or just being nice. With Dana it had been different, a kind of immediate magnetism that made every glance and word and gesture feel charged. It hadn’t been deliberate or game-like at all. He thought of Dana’s frank curiosity, her sharp confidence in her work that softened into subtle apprehension about him—about them. Because they were a them now. She was maybe even sort of his, and this realization warmed a place low in his abdomen. He could flirt freely with Dana just by being himself. But he would need to be careful around this other woman.

Hard-frozen and empty soybean fields appeared around them, gray and frostbitten, as they passed beyond suburbia. The fields then gave way to strip malls that dotted the lazy, rolling hills outside their small-town destination. He and Agent Fowley dropped their things in two adjoining motel rooms, then met at the diner across the street to go over their case notes. She was all business, strategizing the order of their interviews and examinations—except when she ordered a slice of pie with a guilty smile. “Just this once,” she said, offering, for the first time, a hesitant vulnerability. She offered some of the pie as well, but he declined.

Later, in a farmer’s small kitchen, she wielded questions like knives while he collected careful observations. They worked well together, a harmony between studious and persistent. By ten, they were back at the motel with more interviews planned for tomorrow. “You were good out there today,” she told him. “Insightful. I wouldn’t have picked up on that thing with the pen.”

He shrugged. “I’m sure you’d have figured it out.”

Her eyes lingered, perhaps just a little too long as she fiddled with the key to her room. “Well,” she said, and now her voice was husky, just a tad playful. “Good night.”

He swallowed hard and wasted no time with his own key. “G’night,” he said.

In his room, he double checked that the adjoining door was locked and dropped onto his bed, face first into his pillow. It was definitely flirting, and that was bad. Bad news bears. The Danger Zone. He was terrible at rejection, miserable at letting women down easy, probably because he’d so seldom had to do it. He was usually the one undergoing the rejection. In some other time, some other version of the world, he knew this would play out differently. A weaker version of himself would give in, would fall toward her like a desperate lost animal until she grew tired of him and left.

But he had Dana now, and just the thought of her made him feel strong. He remembered the feel of her pajamas under his hands while they slept on the couch, how she’d come down the stairs in soft flannel, nervous at first, like he might change his mind when he saw her. But when they looked at each other across the living room, her socked feet quiet on the carpet, it was as if the tumblers of a great lock clicked into place and they were just them again. They watched A Christmas Carol on TV with her head on his chest, like they’d known each other a thousand years. He needed her now (needed her always), so he drew on the strength he’d found with her that night.

In the morning, Fowley drove again. “Is it a left up here?”

He checked the map. “The second one.”

“Agent Mulder,” she said. “Can I call you Fox?”

“Um.” He cleared his throat. “I, ah… I’d like to keep this professional. If that’s alright with you.”

“Of course,” she said, stiffer now, sitting upright in the driver’s seat. “I just wanted to say thank you. For taking time out of your work in BSU to do this, I mean.” She put on her blinker and made the turn. “Agent Mulder.”

He nodded, and they were silent for the rest of the drive.

Three days later they were on their way back to D.C. When Fox got home, he put in a request for two days off (a long weekend) and booked a Thursday morning flight to California.

Chapter Text

January 18, 1990 - Baltimore

Melissa Scully came awake with a strange feeling. A hunch. It was a thought rubbing raw at the edge of her mind like a loose hangnail. It was Dana. Something bad. Something good? She wasn’t sure. Thursday morning, barely four a.m. in California. She rolled to look at Samantha’s dark head on the pillow, reached out to brush her fingers over brown curls, soft skin peeking from her nightgown. Sam didn’t move (she slept hard, like she wanted to get her money’s worth). Melissa bent to kiss the back of her arm before forcing herself out of bed and toward the shower.

Where are you, Dana? She thought. What’s written in your stars today?

The shower steamed. Under the spray, the intuition faded and thoughts of Dana slipped down into the drain. Later, though, she would remember the feeling she’d had. When the whole story came together, she knew that she’d sensed its inklings.

Stanford

Dana carried a brown bag of groceries up the hill from her car to her apartment, stretching her neck as she went, trying for that satisfying pop. She’d finished her rotations for the week, but was exhausted from squeezing her shifts in so she could finish before Friday. She was doing fewer hours in preparation for her final tests and her remaining interviews, but it was still tiring. There were cold noodles in her fridge, the broccoli she’d just bought, and long hours of studying in her near future. She shifted the paper bag on her hip and fumbled for the right key inside her bag, not even looking toward the doorway.

“Need some help?”

At first she thought she’d imagined it, that some cruel and hopeful part of her brain had put his voice into her head. But when she looked up, the jolt of wonder and surprise that shot through her nearly made her drop the rough brown bag. “What—“

Fox.

Standing at the door to her apartment building with rumpled hair and a nervous expression on his face.

It was him. It was really really him, right there in person, leaning against the side of her building in jeans and a button-down, with a duffel slung over his shoulder like he was some kind of world-weary traveler that just happened upon her. But his eyes—the look in them solidified his presence. I’m real, they said.

“Oh my god.” She swung her purse off her shoulder, set down the groceries, and moved in what felt like slow motion toward him, watching the smile spread out on his face. He scooped her up in both arms, into a full-body hug, and she buried her face in his neck. He smelled so good. His arms came up and to her back, squeezed her to him. “Oh god, it’s you,” she murmured. The muscles of his shoulders were solid beneath her hands, his palms heavy on her own back. Real. He was real. She moved her head to look at him. “How did you get here? When?”

He kissed her hair, her shoulder, the soft place behind her ear that made her shiver. “Flew in late this morning. Couldn’t stand to be away from you another second.”

Dana felt the beginning of tears at the corners of her eyes, swelling to the surface at the overwhelming joy of his presence, felt her heart pounding into the space between them. He leaned his forehead against hers and set her gently back on the ground so his hands could reach up to hold her face. “I can’t believe you’re here,” she whispered.

“I missed you,” he said, and she laughed, though her eyes were wet.

“God, I missed you,” she said. His jawline was rough under her fingers as she smoothed over his cheek and lay her fingertips over his lips. He kissed them, then took her hand in his to thread their fingers together atop his heart. They moved at the same time to kiss, and it was like being lifted by the waves of a warm ocean. She floated weightless. She bobbed on a sea of disbelief and wonder, like a dream, as they drank from each other out in the open air, for all the world to see.

“Come inside,” she said when they finally parted lips. “I need to take all your clothes off.”

“Uh uh,” he murmured against the side of her mouth. “I’m gonna go slow, remember?”

The sound that came from her throat was something like a growl. She stole his lips with hers again, pressed her body against his, ran her tongue along his bottom lip. Fox reached up to hold her face in his hands again and pulled back to rub his nose against hers, as if to say, I won’t be rushed again. She smiled at the sweetness of it. He carried her groceries inside.

They didn’t know. They couldn’t know from where they stood. Daniel Waterston watched from inside his car as she threw herself into the arms of some other man. He was young. His smile was lopsided, his hair a bit askew. And it was clear, even from across the street, how much he loved her.

There’s no one else, she’d said.

Daniel’s fingers gripped the hot plastic of his steering wheel. She’d made no applications in California, had sent most to the east coast. He noted the duffel slung over this other man’s shoulder. A lover from back east, then.

Who was this lanky man who got to touch her like that? Whose very appearance at her door made her face glow in that way?

When they disappeared inside, Daniel felt a pulse of hot anger inside him that set his heart speeding. Had she lied? Had she been with this man the whole time? He would find out, he decided. And then they would have a chat.

Dana gave him the tour of her apartment: tiny living room full of books, tiny kitchen with tiny table, bedroom with rumpled bedding and scrubs tossed over a chair. He set his bag down beside her bed, wondering if he were being presumptuous, swallowing and wiping his hand on the back of his jeans. He glanced at her. She was smiling, eyes on her own feet.

“Is this okay?” He asked.

She nodded, reached out to place her hand on his forearm, and guided him back into the kitchen. “We can make dinner?” She said. “You can tell me about your case.”

So he helped her cook in the small space, stealing kisses and touches, still surprised by the mere presence of her, and of how easy this felt—this simple domestic task of preparing a meal by her side while he explained that the subject of his last investigation was some kind of genetic mutant that killed by telekinesis. She gave him this look, with her eyebrow almost at her hairline, that made him laugh, made him feel like he needed to convince her. She asked questions he wished she’d been with him to ask a week ago. She scooped sesame noodles onto his plate and said “Pass me that bottle?” like they did this every night.

After, on the couch, he helped her study. He read her questions while holding her feet in his lap and running his fingers along the skin of her calves.

“You’re ready for this,” he said.

Her cheeks were red from a glass of wine. She squeezed a pillow over her chest, rested her chin on its hemmed edge. The hair from her ponytail was slipping out in little tufts at the back of her neck. A little smile appeared on her lips, but her gaze was far away.

“What?”

Her eyes refocused on him. “This was kind of our first date.”

He smiled. “Hmm. Third, I’d say.” He scooted closer to her and she put her feet on the ground so she could sit up and lean against him.

“How do you figure?”

Fox brought his arms around her, fingers at the hem of her short sleeve tickling over her bicep. “Well,” he said. “The first one was a setup. Samantha’s doing, I’m sure.”

“Hmm, she’s sneaky. So that was a date?”

“Well, there was dinner.”

“Right.”

“And then a walk.”

“Mm hmm.”

“And then you kissed me and ran away.”

Dana laughed and turned her face to bury it in his chest. “I’m sorry.” She shook her head. He held both arms around her small frame now: careful, gentle, slow, he was finding the edge of her t-shirt, seeking skin. She was warm, and her body curled so precisely against his.

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “Don’t ever be sorry.”

He felt her breathe deep. She kissed his chest. “And the second date?”

They were playing a game now. Her leg had slipped slowly up and over his so she was almost on his lap. His thumb was dipping dipping down to the waistband of her pants and then pulling away. They were pretending these were innocent touches. The game was to ignore the hum of arousal between them, the stiffness of his growing erection, the way her pupils had dilated and her lips parted with the puff of each breath, how the smell of her made something inside him ache.

“Christmas morning,” he said. “The coffee shop and… other things”

He felt her breathe out a laugh against his chest. “Not the party?”

He shrugged. “Well. We can call it four if you want.”

She shifted her leg, her hips, so her weight was fully on his lap now, and his hands came down to cup her bottom and hold her over his thighs. When she raised her head, they were eye to eye. “Should I have played harder to get?” In her face he saw not modesty, exactly, but a kind of quiet curiosity. “I mean I’m not usually… I’ve never… felt like that. So soon. Whether it’s one date or four.”

His fingers tightened around her hips and he couldn’t help the smile that came onto his face. “Dana,” he said. “It’s not just you. I mean, I felt it too. Whatever this is… is something else.”

She shifted her weight higher and he sucked in a gasp. “Something like…?” Her face moved by millimeters toward his.

“Like magic,” he said, and he moved his lips to hers. He kissed her long and deep and hard and felt her body respond, moving closer, arching, offering up little gasps.

“I don’t believe in magic,” she whispered into his lips.

He laughed because of course she didn’t.

“But I want to,” she added. “I want you to help me believe.”

He kept his promise: he made love to her slow. He walked her back into the bedroom with his arms wrapped around her middle and his lips tickling the skin behind her ear. Then he removed every piece of her clothing at a pace that made her want to cry out with the agony of anticipation. But he made it up to her. Dana had never been so turned on in her entire life. She’d never wanted to strip down and ravish another human being so badly, lest the feeling light her body on fire in front of him. She took her own time, this time, getting to know the feel and taste of him, too: how his pulse beat quickly through the weight of his cock in her hand, how smooth and hard it felt in her mouth—a thing she usually had no fondness for, but could not help herself from doing for him. It made her burn hotter, ache harder, to hear and feel him: the sounds he made when she pushed him back onto the bed and moved down his body…

“Dana—“ he said, a strangled murmur of her name. She lifted her head and crawled back up to him, straddling his hips so her sex hovered just over his straining erection. They were both breathing hard. She felt sexy, looking down at their bodies like this, thinking how flesh itself could want and need in equal measure with the heart. She teased him by dipping her hips, letting him brush her entrance, and he gasped. “Dana,” he said again, like it was the only word he could form, and then, “Condom?”

She shook her head, brushed her center against him again. “Birth control,” she said, and then felt a sudden uncertainty. “I mean, unless…”

He groaned and pulled her mouth down to his. Her nipples brushed his chest and the sensation made her whimper. “No,” he growled. “Only you.”

So she slipped down onto him, clasped both of his hands with hers, and rocked her hips, slow at first, then faster. They watched each other, fueling their cycle of desire through eyes and skin and muscles and nerves, wanting the moment to last. But when he reached down to brush her clit, she came, suddenly and hard over him, arching her back, and then slumping onto his chest. She laughed with the surprise of it and his arms wrapped tight around her.

“Jesus, Dana,” he whispered into her hair. She kissed every place on his skin that her lips touched. He rolled them, still inside her, and looked down into her flushed face. She touched his stubble and urged him to move with the heels of her feet. As he pulsed and slipped and pumped inside her, brow furrowed in concentration, beads of sweat at his hairline, she let herself think it: she loved him utterly. Too soon or not, this feeling was world-moving, heart-crushing, head-over-heels love. It filled her to the brim and spread out across every molecule of her being. She came again in the warm-washing wave of it, and this time he came too, with a groan into her neck and a desperate jerk of his hips against her pubic bone. She squeezed him to her, letting the wave wash back out and the air prickle her cooling skin.

She felt his lips on her clavicle, then he shifted again to tuck her along the length of him. She was enveloped, surrounded, engulfed. “I wish…” she said, trailing off in thought.

After a moment, he rubbed her back. “What?”

She pressed her nose into the soft hair of his chest. “I wish you could stay forever.” She felt the anguish, already, of his parting, though they still had two full days together remaining.

His arms only tightened around her. “Me too,” he said.

They slept entwined. They loved even in slumber.

Late January, 1990 - Washington D.C.

Diana Fowley took her work seriously. She understood that the vile things the universe was capable of producing took many shapes, both human and inhuman, and sometimes in the form of things that walked that border between the two. She also understood that the only way to protect what was good was to make sacrifices, to swallow some of that vileness. The poison could become a cure.

“Agent Fowley, where do things stand now?”

Before her, Section Chief Blevins held a stern expression, knee deep in the muck of human villainy. Behind him stood another man whose name she had not learned. A quiet observer who, she intuited, had more power even than Blevins.

“He seems interested in the cases,” she said, keeping succinct.

“But not in… pursuing them further?”

She cleared her throat. “His focus is not entirely on his work. His insights were good, but he didn’t seem interested in the broader implications. He left town just a few days after the case. Took some personal days.”

“Personal days? Do you know what for?”

“No, sir.” She hesitated for a moment, then pushed on. “But I think it may have to do with a personal relationship.”

Blevins made a low sound of disapproval.

Fowley took another risk. “Sir, can I ask why the Bureau is so interested in him? In making sure his interests are… directed?”

For the briefest of moments, the man behind Blevins looked surprised, but the expression slipped off his face quickly. Blevins’s body language shifted. “No,” he said. “You may not.”

She nodded, understanding that it was above her pay grade. For now.

“That will be all, Agent Fowley. I’ll be in contact.”

She nodded and slipped out the door, back to her own office to scare up another case, perhaps something a bit more remote. Something strange enough to hold is attention for longer this time.

Chapter Text

February 2, 1990 - Stanford

Dana Scully said “Thank you,” and hung up the phone, but when the receiver settled into its cradle, she found herself unable to think. It took her a moment. She wobbled on her feet, and then sat heavily in the chair beside her kitchen table. She couldn’t quite breathe. She didn’t know what this meant. She didn’t know who to call first. Melissa, she thought, maybe, but then… no. Fox. She needed to talk to him first. He answered on the fourth ring.

“H-hi,” she stammered.

“Dana?”

She looked at the pad of paper where she’d just scribbled down some notes: dates, a list of questions, the words 18 weeks and fitness test. “Did you do this? Is this because of you?” Her fingers felt numb gripping the phone and she was suddenly cold, even under the fuzz of her purple sweater.

“Do what? Hey, are you okay? Dana, what’s wrong?”

“I—“ she began, but faltered. “I just got off the phone with the FBI,” she said. “They, they’re, they said… They want me. I mean, they want to recruit me. They got my scores from the last exam, and they said they’re looking for pathologists, and… was it you? Did you tell them to do this?”

“Dana, that’s so… oh my god, we could work in the same building. God, that’s incredible!” He laughed. “And no! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it, but no, this was all you! I don’t work in recruitment.” He laughed again, his excitement buzzing through the phone line, and then he seemed to pause. “But,” he said. “Are you happy about this? Is it something you might want?”

This made her stop and think a moment, which she hadn’t yet had a chance to do. Was it? She thought of the FBI’s resources, the kinds of cases she’d come across, the excitement of looking over Fox’s case notes when he’d shared them with her. This wouldn’t be overdoses and liver cancer or small-town average deaths. This would be murders, strange deaths, important cases. Her answer seemed so easy. “Yes,” she said “God, yes. More than anything, I want to do something important.”

There was a sound behind him, someone else’s voice, and then his hand must have come over the mouthpiece because he offered some kind of muffled response.

Dana frowned. “Who’s that?”

“Oh,” he said. “Partner. We’re heading out on another case tomorrow. Georgia this time.”

“On a Saturday?”

He chuckled. “Hey, murderers don’t take weekends off.”

“And neither do telekinetic mutants?”

“Nope. This one’s no mutant, though. At least I don’t think. Hey, are you coming out to interview? Get a tour of the Hoover building?”

She smiled. “Yeah. Thursday. It’s all happening so fast. Will you be back by then?”

“I’d damned well better be. I don’t want to miss you.”

If he were out of town, she thought she might scream—to be so close, to be where he worked, and not see him. The FBI. Working side-by-side with him, or at least in the same city. It was… perfect. Maybe too perfect. There had to be some catch. And of course, she supposed, there was.

“Oh God,” she said. “What will I tell my dad?” She thought of Ahab’s stern frown when she’d said she was interested in pathology, how he’d said Now, Dana… like she were a child. He would cross his arms and frown and make her feel small again. Like Daniel had.

“Don’t worry about that now.” Fox’s voice was warm, and she imagined him behind her, talking into her ear, lips in her hair. She missed him, couldn’t believe he’d been here only two weeks ago. “I’ll try my hardest to be there.”

“Okay,” she said.

He sighed, and she could sense, suddenly, his distraction. “Hey, I have to go. But I’ll call you from Georgia, okay? I got one of those calling card thingies for when I’m out of town.”

“Alright,” she said. There was a tinge of melancholy seeping in at the edges of her excitement. Because this partner was taking him out of town at just the wrong time. Because of her family. If she flew east and saw them, if she told Melissa, she’d have to tell her parents, too. She could already sense their disapproval, from across the continent.

But.

But if it worked out…

“Hey, Dana?” His voice was low, murmured, as if to keep between just them.

“Yeah?”

“I’m so excited for you.”

“Me too,” she said. “I— I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

And they hung up.

Her parents, it turned out, were not the most pressing problem she had to deal with. First thing Monday morning, scrubbed and starting rounds, she looked up to find Daniel stalking toward her like a bull. Pen to the chart she was reading, Dana’s jaw fell open at the sight of his determination.

“Daniel, what—“

“I need to talk to you,” He said.

Dana blinked. She glanced at the patient whose chart she held, then back at Daniel’s red face. “Excuse me a minute,” she said to the patient, and placed the chart back at the end of the bed.

Daniel practically dragged her out of the room, hand firm on her elbow.

“Please let go of me,” she said. Her words seemed to startle him. He checked himself, dropped her elbow, and gestured toward his office door. Before it had even closed, he was turning that hard look on her again.

“Where are you going?” He asked.

Dana’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“You requested off three days this week.”

She stiffened, crossed her arms across her chest. “Yes,” she said. “I have an interview.”

“With the FBI?”

Her eyes widened. He had inched closer to her, and she involuntarily stepped back. “How—“

“They requested my letter. I had half a mind to send them a different one.”

Dana felt her face getting hot. “You can’t do that. You said you wouldn’t let this—“

“Who is he?”

Those eyes. She’d never seen him this way. For the first time in his presence, she felt not just irritated by his territoriality, but threatened. Unsafe. Against the fear, she straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. “Who is who?”

He leaned in again. “Don’t play with me, Dana. That man you were with. You were kissing him outside your apartment. Does he work for the FBI? Are you fucking him to get a place there?”

A red streak of anger plunged through her, head to toe, at his words, and she squeezed her hand shut to keep from raising it to slap him. She breathed deep, held his furious gaze with her own. The worst thing of all was that she had wondered the same thing at first, wondered if Fox had put her name through to someone. But that wouldn’t have been as low as what Daniel was suggesting now. And he hadn’t, anyway. “Are you following me? You were watching me?”

“You said there was no one else.”

“When I said that, there wasn’t.”

“How’d you meet him?”

“Daniel, it’s none of your business.” She’d backed up further, and now she gripped the door’s handle behind her back.

“When?”

“Daniel,” she said again, slower this time. “It’s none of your business.” Eyes fierce, ice blue, hard as stones, she wouldn’t back down.

“You’d be stupid to join the FBI.” His words were bitter things. “You’d be throwing your life away. You’ll be nothing, just some lab rat. Is that all you are?”

His shift in tense didn’t go unnoticed, and his vile words stung. She saw, then, that he thought he was losing something of his own making in her decision to leave. He saw her choice as his failure. Part of her wanted to feel pity for this man and his crippling pride. But she did not. “I’m not yours,” she said. “You didn’t make me what I am. My future is my own.”

“Your future’s in some cinderblock basement without any heat, surrounded by dead things.”

“I’ll bring justice to those dead things,” she said with her own version of venom, which was truth and not poison. “And you’ll send the FBI the first letter, because it’s what you promised.” She swallowed. “And my future is with someone I love.”

With that she twisted the handle and swung open the door. Dana turned on her heel and kept her shoulders straight as she could down the length of the hallway. She pressed the barred door that led into the stairwell and, when she saw that it was empty, collapsed against the railing. Her hands came to her face and she let out one solitary sob, a single choked concession to her overwhelming emotions while she bent at the waist over disinfected tile. Then she tucked them back into place and stood, if somewhat unsteadily. She wondered how many more men like this there would be in her future. How many in the FBI, how many in the labs, on the training field, in her own parents’ living room. She imagined her spine stiffening like rebar, her heart growing brittle with ice as it steeled itself against cutting onslaught of their judgment. Then she thought of Fox, how his face crumpled slightly when he spoke with empathy for his victims. She thought how he’d said It takes a lot out of me. She thought how his eyes could thaw the ice and melt the rebar before they could make her rigid and cold. If he were there, she could be a different kind of strong.

Still braced against the railing, Dana swiped at her eyes, pushed some escaped hair back toward her ponytail, and took a deep breath. She went slowly down the stairs, regaining herself as she went. She’d caught the FBI’s attention on her own merit. She loved someone who didn’t want to possess her, but to listen to her. She was flying toward him, and a new future near him, in two days. She would be okay.

Tuesday - Athens, Georgia

“Diana, this case designation is strange.” He had loosened his tie, and was slouched at the motel’s small table, looking through the file for a hundredth time. “I meant to ask earlier—why does it begin with an X in stead of a number?”

Diana sat across from him, transcribing notes from a recorded interview. She paused the tape and pulled the orange padded headphones from her ear. “Hmm?”

“The case file,” he said, tapping the number on its outer file-folder. “Its designation is strange. I haven’t seen that before.”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “This one came directly from Blevins.”

Fox looked up. “From Blevins? Why so high up?”

Diana shrugged. “The second victim, he was ex-military. Maybe some government big wigs wanted to push it through?”

Fox chewed the top of his pen, tried to use this information rethink the connections, the motive. “You think the killer could be military too?” The deaths seemed random, but too strange to be unconnected: localized burns, charred like stripes across four men’s torsos.

“Could be,” she said. “It’s worth checking. Unless you’re in too much of a hurry to get out of here. You have a date back in DC or something?”

She said it jokingly, but Fox looked up sharply, caught in the headlights. He supposed he was pretty obvious, and she’d been there when he got the phone call, but he didn’t want his love life to affect his work. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Diana shook her head with a half-smile. “Who is she?”

“She’s—“ he thought about how to describe Dana Scully, what words he could possibly use to talk about her. Then he thought about the fact that she may be joining the FBI and thought he’d better keep her name to himself. She didn’t need to start out in this minefield already surrounded by rumors. “She’s a doctor. Brilliant. But it’s long-distance right now.”

“Must be hard.”

A small, tight nod, followed by an awkward silence. He looked back at the report.

“Do you think…” he said after a moment. “You think there are more cases like this? Marked with an X in this way?”

Chapter Text

Wednesday - Stanford

He didn’t call her on Monday, after her terrible day, or on Tuesday, when she really hoped he would. On Wednesday morning before her flight, she tried his apartment, but got only his machine. She left him a message.

“Hi, it’s me. I guess you’re not back yet from your case. My flight gets in in at 7:30 tonight, and they’re putting me up in a hotel downtown, the, um… Hotel Harrington. I guess it’s just around the corner from the Hoover building. Anyway, I hope the case is going well, and, ah… I’ll talk to you soon.”

She hung up and tried not to be disappointed. She reminded herself that he was busy, that he was saving people’s lives, that he could even be in a dangerous situation for all she knew. Dana would not be the jealous type: not of his job and not of his partner. She would do some reading on the plane and she would wear her good suit tomorrow, and she would make a strong impression at the FBI, even if Fox couldn’t be there. So she ignored the mild ache in her heart, the sense that everything was somehow turning sour. She wasn’t even sure why she worried. Because she couldn’t reach him? Because recruitment by the FBI seemed too good to be true? She didn’t believe in signs and omens. She wasn’t Melissa.

Dana double checked her light switches and plugs and gave her single, sickly plant a final splash of water. Suitcase in hand, Dana locked up and went down to meet her cab.

Friday - Baltimore

Melissa Scully returned home later than she’d wanted. There had been a difficult case involving a drug-addicted mother and disputed custody: a grandmother trying to keep two sweet-faced children fed and looked-after. As she hung her coat and scarf, pushing down the static of her hair and stepping out of her shoes, she noticed something different in the feel of the house. Its air seemed thicker, and not just with the warm smell of dinner. Then, voices from the kitchen: a visitor.

“Sam?”

The voices quieted and Sam called out, “I’m here.”

There were two familiar bags beside the stairs, but she was still surprised to see Dana perched on a stool, slump-shouldered and tired-eyed. “Hi Missy,” she said.

Melissa felt her mouth drop open. “Dana? Oh my god, are you okay? What are you doing here?”

Dana tried to smile, but her lips trembled, and Missy quickly enveloped her sister in a hug. Dana melted bonelessly into the embrace and breathed in deep. So much fear, she sensed. And an angry wad of shame, balling itself up inside of her. Something must have happened.

Over Dana’s head, Melissa looked to Samantha. What is it? she mouthed, but Sam just made a face that said, I don’t know.

“Day,” she said again. “What’s up?”

Dana shook her head, red hair turning to fuzz against Melissa’s shoulder, words muffled into her sweater. “I took the train from DC. It was stupid. I shouldn’t have changed the ticket, but I thought he’d be there.”

“Who, Fox?”

A nod.

Missy looked again to Samantha, who shrugged and then waved her hands at the sisters, shooing them out of the kitchen to talk in private. Melissa tugged on her sister’s arm. “Come on,” she said. “Couch.”

Dana refused to cry while the whole story came out: Daniel (a name she hadn’t known before this) first spying on them during Fox’s surprise visit, and then confronting her with threats and accusations; her recruitment by the FBI; her fear about their father’s reaction; and finally Fox, promising to be here, or at least to call, but then leaving on a case and not returning her messages for days.

“I know it’s not his fault,” she said. “I shouldn’t have changed the ticket without talking to him, but I would have hated to not change it and have wasted the opportunity for time together.

“You mean your plane ticket?”

“Yeah,” Dana said. “I’m flying back Sunday.” She looked up at Melissa, eyes wide and blue and sorry. “Can I stay here until then? I don’t want to have to explain to mom and dad.”

Melissa sighed and drooped an arm around her little sister. “Of course,” she said. “But you know you’ll have to tell them soon, right? I mean, did the recruitment go well?”

Dana nodded. “It did. It’s actually really exciting. Scary, but in a good way.”

A little squeeze around the shoulders. “Then let’s be excited. Let’s have a beer and some dinner and I’ll read your cards and then we can watch sad movies, hmm? A cry always helps. You can sleep ’til noon tomorrow.”

Dana laughed and nodded and they went back to the kitchen where Sam was hanging up the phone, a little too quickly.

“Who was that?” Melissa asked, eyes narrowed with a skepticism all the Scullys could do.

“No one,” she said, again too quickly, and began handing them plates piled with vegetables and rice and tofu.

Saturday - Alexandria

It was a short flight, but it had been a long week, when Fox Mulder finally unlocked the door to his apartment and dropped his bags on the floor at just after nine in the morning. He’d returned with more questions than answers, and a dead suspect, but the case was by all outward appearances (and filed paperwork), closed. Most of the answers he wanted would require military information, but all inquiries in that direction had been shut down right quick. Fox wiped a hand over his face and went to start a pot of coffee: the dinky cup on the plane had done little to relieve his week-long headache. Good work it may have been, but the non-answers at the end of walking in circles didn’t leave him with much sense of closure. The worst was that Diana had set up long hours of stake-outs throughout the first half of the week, and by the time he’d gotten to a phone with his calling card, he got no answer at Dana’s apartment. He’d missed her before she left, and he didn’t know where she was staying to call her once she got here.

While the coffee pot dripped, he went to his answering machine where the number 6 was flashing at him in anxiety-inducing red. First was a call from his landlord, reminding him about some work on the smoke detectors. Then one from Dana, letting him know about her flight and her hotel—he grabbed a pen and paper to take down the name, but then realized it was Saturday and that he’d probably already missed her. “Shit,” he said. Then her voice came back in a second message from early yesterday morning:

“Hi again. I’m sorry to bug you. Just an update: I’m touring Quantico and the labs this morning and then I was supposed to have an afternoon flight home, but…” There was a brief pause, and her voice was a bit cooler when it returned. “I’ll be checked out of the hotel in a few minutes. I’m sorry I missed you.” And then a quick click and the message was over. But what? He thought. “Goddamnit,” he murmured. He had fucked this one up good. She’d been here, just minutes away from where he now stood, and then at the same airport he’d flown into less than an hour ago. But they’d missed each other like ships in the night.

Two more messages played, first a hang-up, and then an automated call offering new long-distance pricing. He took a deep breath and started to do the math on when he could reasonably make a call to California, when his sister’s voice emerged from the machine in its final message:

“Fox, you dope. Your girl is here and she looks pretty fucking sad. What did you do? She flies home late Sunday morning. Don’t be an idiot,” and then the click of the receiver as Sam hung up in a hurry.

A smile spread out over his face as his heartbeat caught up to his mind’s realization. He hadn’t missed her. She’d just gone to Baltimore (and not told him). He could be there before noon. Fox barely waited for the machine to stop dripping before he sloshed some coffee into a travel mug, grabbed his keys, and ignored his still-packed bags on his way out the door. He thought maybe he could still salvage this mess of a week.

Saturday traffic in February wasn’t bad, but he may have committed a few minor misdemeanors on his way. He pulled up in front of his sister’s house at 11:48, swallowing the last of his now-lukewarm coffee. He thought for a moment, popped a mint into his mouth, then hurried for the front door. He was going to scoop Dana up, take her back to his place (six hours of travel today be damned) and make love to her until they both fell asleep from exhaustion. When they woke, he would feed her (preferably by hand, preferably naked) and listen to every single minute of her life over the past week.

“Oh hey,” Samantha said as she opened the door, looking smug. “Got my message?”

“I did,” he said. “Is she here?”

Sam stepped back to let him enter. “Mmhmm. Couch.” He was already walking toward the living room, but Samantha caught his arm before he could plow past her. Her eyes were brown and serious. “She’s had a week, Fox. Be gentle, okay?”

He frowned at that, a little confused. “Okay,” he said, wondering if the recruitment hadn’t gone well, if some jackass had said something to her. God knew there were enough sexist pricks at the FBI.

In the living room, Dana was curled around a throw pillow on the couch, eyes glued to the TV, freckled and beautiful and still in pajamas. Fox stood awkwardly a moment in the doorway before she caught sight of him and her eyes went wide.

“Oh my gosh,” she said, pushing herself up to sit.

He smiled, letting the warmth of her proximity wash over him. “Hey you.”

“You came back. I thought… How’d you know I was here?”

He pulled off his coat and tossed it over the back of a chair. “Sam left me a message. Mind if I sit?”

She shook her head and shifted to make room. He lowered himself beside her and hooked his index finger over her pinky, gave it a little tug. Something seemed off, he noticed. She seemed… hesitant, a little less excited than he’d hoped. He thought of Sam’s warning: be gentle.

“I’m sorry,” he said after a moment of her fiddling with his fingers with her left hand: rubbing them, staring down as if she were nervous.

“For what?”

He tugged again at her hand, trying to get her to look at him. “For missing your calls.”

Dana shrugged and moved her eyes to the coffee table, to the remains of her breakfast cereal and a worn paperback. “You were working, it’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have… anyway, it doesn’t matter. How was your case?”

“Frustrating. Too long. Hey.” With that, she finally looked at him, and he could swear she looked afraid. Fox raised his hand to her cheek and was relieved when she leaned into it. “Tell me about you.” He leaned in and touched his nose to hers. She smiled, just a little twitch of her lips, and it warmed his hopes. He braved a kiss, and she responded with a gentle pressure of her own lips. There she was. “Hello,” he said with another little kiss. “I missed you,” he murmured, and he let his fingers toy at the hem of her top. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

“Hi,” she said. “I missed you, too. And it’s okay.”

“Were you sufficiently wooed by the FBI?”

Dana smiled again. “I think so. I toured the Hoover Building first. Very impressive. Many important men in suits.”

“Hmm, yes.”

“And then the labs at Quantico.”

“And?”

“Amazing.”

“They let you slice up any dead bodies?”

Dana sighed, in mock regret. “Unfortunately no. I brought my own scalpel and everything, but I guess they want me to go through training first.”

Fox laughed and tugged her into his arms. She fell heavily against his chest with an “oomph” and a little laugh. He squeezed her tight, relieved at the warmth of her, here and solid and his. “And you will, you think? Go through training?”

She leaned her head back to look at him, and though she smiled, there was some distant and foggy look in her eyes. “Yeah,” she said.

The sight of him in the doorway should have overwhelmed her with joy, as it had three weeks ago when she’d found him waiting for her. But it was as if the earth had undergone a tectonic shift, or a tilt in its axis, that changed their orientations toward one another. Or hers toward him. She wasn’t sure. The feel of his palm on her cheek still set beating the small wings of her heart, but it was with anxiety now, as well as excitement. His lips on hers still felt exactly, perfectly right. And yet, she was afraid. Seeing FBI Headquarters, imagining herself there, stiff-backed and strong under the daily onslaught of authoritative men and their rigid expectations, was a thing difficult enough. Imagining him there, too, as one of those wielders of authority,  who could sway the opinion of those who judged her… He could touch her in a hallway out of only affection and accidentally ruin her.

(Are you fucking him to get a place there?)

Daniel’s voice was a poison in her memory that she tried to shove away. But her recruitment by the FBI changed them, she realized. It gave Fox a kind of power over her she hadn’t considered at first, even if he would never use it. She would be, once again, sleeping with a colleague, and that recent burn still stung. Now, as she rested her head against his chest and felt his arms around her back, she wondered once again if she’d been too hasty with her affection. Take a step back, Dana. Armor yourself.

They both said goodbye to Melissa and Sam. She thanked them for the cozy room and dinner, and let Fox bring her back to his apartment. She was quiet on the ride, listening to him unravel the details of his case. She tried her best to offer words that didn’t want to come.

When they pulled up at his apartment building, Dana felt the tingle of nerves again, all the way into her fingers. She tried to carry her own bags, but he waved her away from the trunk. She bit her lip, surprised by her own irritation. This small gesture, meant with affection, now felt weighted down with assumptions and misguided chivalry. Inside, he juggled the bags and his keys to unlock the door. His apartment was much larger than hers, but a bit dim, even with the lights on. Well-decorated, though. Her lips twitched up at the sight of his fish tank. Fox nearly tripped over his own bags on the way in, then carried them all, waddling awkwardly, into his bedroom. When he came back, he stopped and stood before her, watching her watch him there in his foyer, still in her coat.

“I won’t bite,” he said after a moment, a little sheepish. “Mi casa, and all of that.”

She tried to smile, and tugged off her coat, hung it on the coat rack.

“Dana,” he said while she fiddled with the pockets and straightened the fabric. Slowly, she turned, and the worry on his face hurt her heart. “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “I’m okay.”

“You’re not okay. Sam said you had a week. Will you tell me?”

Dana closed her eyes and breathed. Telling him would mean explaining the situation with Daniel, the whole situation. And what would he think of her then? Fox stepped closer, and his fingers brushed her elbow.

No, she thought. She wouldn’t break in front of him. She wouldn’t cry and tell him about her mean ex and beg his comfort and let herself be held, she who had stupidly thought he might rush back to see her. He couldn’t want this much complication, not so soon, and she suddenly couldn’t imagine letting herself seem so weak in front of him. So she swallowed and put what she hoped was a smile on her face. “Work stuff was stressful, that’s all. Because I had to take the three days off.” She tucked hair behind her ear and tried that smile again, but she could see that he didn’t quite buy it. It wasn’t a lie, she thought, not exactly—the trip had set off some trouble… which had unfolded at work. “And I’m not great at flying,” she added. “Cross-country trips stress me out a bit.”

Fox nodded, lower lip tucked between his teeth. “Okay,” he said, and ushered her into his living room with his hand on her back. His fish tank burbled and his couch was green. She sat down on it and looked out over his desk through the window. “Should I order us some lunch? I don’t have much here.”

“Okay,” she said, not looking back from the window. “That sounds good.”

So they ate in unfamiliar awkwardness, their noodles and egg-drop soup and chicken, and Dana felt she had maybe ruined everything. Here was this man who seemed to genuinely like who she was, not who she might be or who he wanted her to be, and she would either ruin it all with her neediness or push him away with her coldness. Dana swallowed a lump of baby corn that felt like a brick in her esophagus, knowing suddenly that she had done wrong. She had loved too much too soon at a time when she was too unsettled. Now, she was sure, they would suffer for it.

They spent the afternoon watching TV, and she clung to him wide-eyed, face against the warm cotton of his shirt, while he kissed her head and she convinced herself this might be the last time they shared this kind of quiet comfort. He hummed pleasantly against her scalp while she fought back tears, unnoticed. They took a walk to a small park down the street, and she twined her fingers around his like they were a lifeline, like they could save her from ruining this.

Shouts echoed on the playground until clouds purpled the sky. Children on skateboards and bikes wheeled home to their dinners, and soon she and Fox turned back, too. When it grew late, they swallowed leftovers and she curled into his bed in the dark. His fingers found her. His words poured into her ear: Dana, you feel so good, while skimmed his heavy palms over her body and she pressed her flesh to his. He slipped her panties down, and god she wanted him to, more than anything. She was glad of the dark that hid the depth of her love and sadness: the crease in her forehead, the wobble of her lips. She moaned into his clavicle, arched against his fingers, spread her legs and accepted him inside of her, all while thinking she could not keep him.

At the airport, she managed not to cry, and if he mistook the shine of her eyes for the sadness of temporary partings, she did not correct him. Again, she wanted to tell him she loved him, but hadn’t the courage. He palmed her cheek and kissed her lips in that way he had, like he was holding a secret. “Call me when you get in,” he whispered. And though she nodded (feeling ripped open, feeling hollowed out, feeling like she’d stepped on something beautiful in her clumsiness and broken it), she did not.

Chapter Text

March, 1990 - Baltimore

It was late and the TV was muted and there were takeout containers on the coffee table. The two of them were entwined on the couch: work clothes abandoned for soft cottons, hair pulled back, soft cheek touching cheek amidst the sofa cushions. Samantha held Melissa’s hand in her own, splayed the fingers, pressed their palms and aligned their digits, measuring—her own a few millimeters longer.

“You think I’m too young?” She asked, voice husky and quiet.

Melissa shook her head, brought Sam’s knuckles to her lips. “No, it’s not that.”

“You’re worried about your family. About the legality of it. About the rest of the world.”

“Not all of that. I worry about you.”

Sam looked up, searching for the knot of worry in her partner’s face. “Why me?”

With a sigh, Melissa pressed their foreheads together. “You had a difficult childhood. A lot of that will probably come back up. Some of it may even be shaping this desire right now.”

Samantha frowned, not particularly fond of this psychoanalysis. “My childhood wasn’t so bad.”

“Sam.”

“So you think I want to fix my broken past with a baby? It’s not that, Melissa.” Fierce brown eyes met blue. “That might be your worry, but it isn’t true. If I were desperate to create some nuclear-family bandaid, don’t you think I would have married some sensitive guy with a trust fund right out of Brown and been miserable by 25?” Melissa frowned, then chuckled and shook her head. She’d seemed hesitant to have this talk, brushing it off for weeks, and Sam couldn’t figure out why. At Christmas she’d seemed excited about the idea, and they had even started looking into clinics. Sam leaned closer, placed a kiss over Melissa’s heart. “I want this because I love you. And I think we’d be really good at it.”

Melissa’s arms came up around Sam’s shoulders and she breathed another deep sigh. “We would be good at it,” she said. “You’re so damned cute with kids.”

“I love them.”

“I know you do. And I love you.”

“So what’s wrong?”

A brief pause. “I… I’m not sure. Something feels off.”

“With us?”

Sam could feel Melissa thinking, trying to psychically work things out in that way she had, to intuit her way to the truth. “I don’t think so,” she said finally. “I don’t know.”

Pushing up on one elbow, Sam lifted her head so they were eye to eye, watched Melissa’s face for some sign of doubt (in her, in them), but found none. “We don’t have to rush,” she said. “I trust your intuition.”

Melissa touched her cheek, kissed her once on the lips. “But you want this. I know.”

Sam nodded and leaned in for another kiss. A moment later, there was a knock at the door and the two women regarded each other in puzzlement. Sam glanced at the clock: almost eleven. She pushed herself up from the couch and went to the peephole. “It’s Fox,” she said, and pulled open the door.

He looked terrible. His eyes were red and his face was unshaven. He appeared not to have showered for a few days. “Oh my god,” she said. “What happened?”

“C’n I come in?”

Brow furrowed, she stepped aside, then locked the door behind him. “Are you drunk?”

“No,” he said, then amended: “Only a little.”

Melissa appeared then, and her hands came up to cover her mouth in surprise. “What happened?”

Fox walked past them both, into the living room, and both women followed. They watched him collapse onto the couch. “She won’t talk to me,” he said, curling up on his side, head in the cushions. “She said we shouldn’t… talk right now.” His voice was muffled by the fabric and stuffing, but Sam heard it break.

Carefully, she sat down beside him. “You mean Dana,” she said, and he nodded. “Did something happen?”

This time his head shook side-to-side amidst the pillows, face still buried.

“I’ll make some tea,” Melissa said, heading toward the kitchen, but before she could leave, Fox pushed aside a pillow and looked at her.

“Melissa,” he said, desperation in his voice. “Did she say something? Did I do something?”

Melissa bit her lip and shook her head. “She didn’t say anything to me,” she said. “But Dana is… reserved about these kinds of things. Anxious.”

The look in his eyes was pleading, and Sam felt for her brother: so ready to love, so easily hurt. “She doesn’t want me,” he said. It was pitiful.

Again, Melissa shook her head. “She does. I promise. Let me make the tea, and then we can talk.”

It began after her recruitment visit, or maybe during. He could feel her pulling away, trying to forcibly cool the spark between them. First, she didn’t call, then wouldn’t answer her phone. He got hold of her a few times, told her he missed her, said he wanted to visit for her birthday. But she’d said, “What about your work?” And though he’d wanted to protest that he didn’t care, she’d been right, because Diana called him the next day with another case. He sent Dana flowers, and she’d called to say thank you: polite, detached, a million miles away, rather than three-thousand.

“What is it?” He’d said, but she’d always said “Nothing,” until he’d finally broken down on the phone, got angry, got sad, and demanded she tell him.

“Dana, please,” he’d said. “Is it because I missed your calls? Was it my shitty apartment? Is there someone else?”

She’d frozen, silent on the line for almost a whole minute, before she’d answered. “I think,” she said, her voice tight and restrained, “I think it’s probably not good for either of us to be together. Not if I’m going to the Academy while you’re working important cases for higher ups.”

“Why the hell not?” He’d practically shouted. He’d thought he heard a swallowed sob, but he was too angry to think about what it meant.

Now, at his sister’s house, Sam hovered, her hand on his shoulder, while he recounted the whole story.

“When was this?” Melissa asked.

“Two days ago,” Fox said into his palms.

Melissa swallowed a sip of her own tea and considered what he’d said. “She’s worried because you’ll both be at the FBI, because she’ll be in training and you’re an agent.”

He hadn’t considered this, and it made him raise his head to look at her. “It’s not like I’ll be her superior. I don’t do any teaching, and I’ve been working out of the Hoover building the last few months. Miles from Quantico.”

“Is there any reason it could make things hard on you? Either of you?”

“No,” he said, adamant. “The FBI doesn’t even have a policy about relationships.”

“Did you tell her that?”

Fox frowned. No, he hadn’t told her that. He hadn’t realized he needed to. “I didn’t think it mattered. I didn’t think it would matter.”

He’d spent the last month in agony, and now he felt like there were hot coals in his chest. What did she think could happen? What did she think he would do?

Beside him, Samantha sighed. “Probably because of that other guy. Daniel.”

Fox looked at her, struck. “Who?”

He caught a look between the two women, caught Melissa’s surprise, a kind of wide-eyed uh-oh. “She didn’t tell you?” Sam murmured.

“Tell me what?” Now he was starting to panic. “Who’s Daniel?”

Melissa breathed deeply and sat down on the armchair across from him. “It’s not really my story to tell,” she said, but perhaps reconsidered after she saw what look must have been on his face. “She’d been dating a  doctor, one of her instructors, before she met you. He confronted her and made some threats—to her career and her reputation—just before she came out for her interview.”

“Wha—“ but he was speechless. Threats. Just before she flew out… oh. And he’d missed her calls in that time, hadn’t talked to her until after she’d been dragged through the halls of the Hoover building by countless stern-looking men. Dana who, he was sure, owned precisely one suit and had been expecting a life in scrubs and sneakers until just a week before. Shit. It was starting to make sense to him—her fear, her need to push him away. “Oh god,” he said. “Why didn’t she tell me?”

At this, Melissa smiled: knowing and sad. “Dana has always been one to carry her own burdens. And then some. She told me about it, but I think that was about the limit of her opening up.”

Fox thought of her in his apartment, distant, but leaning into his touch; quiet, but desperate to be close. “What do I do?” He asked, perhaps more to himself than to either of the women.

“Talk to her again,” Sam said, but Melissa was shaking her head.

“No,” the other woman said. “Don’t push. She’ll only push back” She chewed her lip, then took another sip of her tea. “Can you be patient? Will you wait for her to come around?”

Fox laughed into his palms, fingers splayed across his forehead. “I can’t promise to be patient,” he said, lifting his head. “But I’d wait forever.”

Sam hooked her arm through his and rested her head on his shoulder, nothing but sympathy in her eyes. “Oh Fox,” she said. “It’ll be okay. Just let her know you’ll wait until she’s ready.”

He slept off the worst of his misery in their guest room, a space that held the fond, if painful, memory of their first lovemaking. If pressed, he’d say he didn’t cry into those pillows that night. He was a grown man with a good handle on his emotions, not some lovesick Romeo. That’s what he’d say, anyway.

Stanford

Dana punished herself with long hours at the gym. She kept thinking the words fitness test and remembering austere hallways lined with square-jawed giants. She pinched at the flesh of her upper arm, timed her miles, practiced her push ups, even though she hated them. She stopped putting sugar in her coffee. She woke at five. She did her rounds without complaint and took extra shifts when she could. By the time she climbed into bed at night, she didn’t have the energy to think about anything else. That was her plan, at least.

Her birthday flowers sat in yellowing water on her table: purple daisies with drooping petals, a half-dozen wilted roses, brittle baby’s breath. She refused to throw them out, thinking there was some cold metaphor in their slow decay.

Every time her phone rang, a jolt of fear shot up her spine. Maybe the FBI, rescinding their invitation. Maybe Daniel, calling to threaten her again. Maybe Fox, angry with her and demanding answers.

When it rang on Saturday evening, she was eating a limp spinach salad on her couch, listening to The Cure’s “Pictures of You” on repeat and pretending she was fine. She turned down the stereo and answered with no small amount of trepidation.

“Hi Dana.” Melissa’s voice said, soft.

“Hi,” she said, somewhat surprised. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine, mostly. What about you?” By the way she asked, Dana knew she knew something. Her eyes narrowed and she scooped dead flower petals off her small table. They sat in her palm like twisted tissue paper.

“Fine,” she said.

“Mm hmm.” There was a brief pause. “Fox stopped by last night.”

Dana tried to stop the strangled sound that clambered out of her mouth, but she didn’t catch it in time, so she cleared her throat to cover it. “Oh.” She swallowed. “Is… is he okay?”

“Well, Dana, not really.”

“Oh.”

Rather than walk to the trashcan, she dropped the petals back onto the table and sat down. “Did he seem angry?”

There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. “No, Dana. He seemed heartbroken. Why didn’t you talk to him about what happened?”

Against her will, Dana felt her eyes burn and her lower lip wobble. It was a moment before she could answer. “I couldn’t,” she said. “He wouldn’t… what would he think? How could I explain about Daniel?”

“With words, Dana. Words about your feelings and why you were scared and how you missed him and wanted him to be there for you.”

“You make it sound easy. What if I scare him away?”

“So instead you push him away? Besides, you wouldn’t. He loves you.”

“No he doesn’t.”

There was laughter on the other end of the line, dumbfounded, eye-rolling laughter. “How can you… he… Oh, Day.”

From farther away, shouted toward the phone, Samantha’s sing-song voice: “He’s in love with youuuu! He wants to marry you and make little Fox-and-Dana babies! Caaallll him.”

At her words, Dana broke into a laugh, but one that was also a half-sob. She covered her face with the hand not holding the phone.

“Sorry,” Melissa said. “Sam’s been at the zinfandel and she’s loopy.”

“Have nooot!” Sam’s voice called, sounding farther away this time.

“Just call him, okay? Tell him you want to talk. You get a break at the end of the month, right?”

“Yeah.” The laugh-sob had faded, but her voice still sounded wet. She cleared her throat again.

“Good. Maybe you can visit?” Melissa’s voice softened. “We love you both. Don’t fuck it up because you’re scared, okay? Call me if you need to talk.”

“Okay,” Dana said, swiping at her eyes. “Sorry I’m so stupid about these things.”

“You’re not stupid. You just need to talk to him. You know, about feelings. With words.”

A little chuckle. “Right.”

“Love you, Day.”

“Love you, too.”

And they hung up.

Dana tossed out the rest of her salad, pulled the ice cream from the back of the freezer, and rewound her cassette. Feet up on the couch, double chocolate fudge on her spoon, she stock-piled her courage against the sound of Robert Smith. She’d call him tomorrow.

Chapter Text

March, 1990 - Alexandria

Diana Fowley parked around the corner from his apartment and watched. His lights were on: he was awake. She adjusted her bra, swiped the pad of a finger under her eyeliner, tweaked the rear view mirror back into place. There was something wrong with Fox. He’d been more morose than usual, and she could only assume it was girl troubles. Maybe that was good, she thought. It was an opportunity to redirect his attentions. 

Someone up high wanted him interested in these files, which meant she needed him to forget about his long-distance doctor. She could make him forget, if that’s what they wanted from her. Diana didn’t particularly enjoy being told to use her body to advance some puppet-master’s designs, but she wasn’t above it, if that’s what it took to get what she wanted. She needed to dig down to the why of it all: the pieces of the puzzle the men above her wouldn’t let her see. Maybe together, they could fit some of those pieces together..

Besides, Fox Mulder was attractive–in a kicked-puppy kind of way–and they’d told her she was his type. 

Diana climbed out of the car and walked to his apartment. He pulled open the door after her second knock.

“Agent Fowley?” He looked surprised to see her in his rumpled jeans and fraying tee-shirt, looked like he hadn’t shaved in days.

“Hi, Fox… um, Agent Mulder.” She gave him a small smile and tightened her grip on the folder she was holding—her reason for coming. “Are you okay? Are you sick?”

“I’m alright. What’s that?” He raised his chin at the folder.

Diana raised it to show him the outside of the folder. “Can I come in? I’d like to show you something.”

She sat next to him on the couch, the hem of her dress riding up above the knee, file folder spread in her manicured hands. Her voice rumbled low as she drew the connections between three cases, where key pieces of evidence had gone missing in each. Fox scratched at the back of his neck, frowning in confusion.

“Diana, I don’t understand. I work in BSU. Is there something to profile here?”

“Not exactly.” Her brown eyes locked on his, searching. “But aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know who removed this evidence? And why?”

He looked down at the file again, and she pushed it closer to him, scooting her own body closer as well until he could smell her lotion. “Two missing women who were later returned, and a man who turned up dead. Wildly different MOs, hundreds of miles apart. What am I not seeing?”

“Exactly. It’s what you’re not seeing. What’s not there to see anymore.”

“The missing evidence.”

“Each had unexplained scarring that corresponded to pieces of metal found under the skin, all of which have since disappeared.”

He sighed. It was interesting, but he didn’t know what to do with it. “Even serial killers don’t work in a range this wide. You think one person did this?”

Her eyes sharpened. “No. I don’t.” He was surprised to feel her hand on his knee. “Fox, something bigger is happening here. Maybe something at a national scale. Don’t you want to know what it is?”

He swallowed, wondering how to extricate himself from their position on the couch without making it seem like he was rejecting her ideas. Her thumb brushed against the denim of his leg and he pulled in a quick breath. He nudged the file aside and stood up, running a hand through his hair. “Um,” he said. “I don’t know. I… maybe. There’s someone I might show these medical files to, though, if you think they’re connected.”

Diana sighed and leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest. “Your doctor friend?”

Fox chewed on his bottom lip, nodded.

She pushed herself off the couch to stand in front of him, eyes imploring. With one hand, she tentatively reached out to touch his elbow. “These files are sensitive.” She inched closer and he backed almost imperceptibly toward the desk. Her face fell into shadow, but her eyes shone through it, watching him. “I don’t know that we should take them outside the Bureau.”

“But she’s—“ He stopped himself before giving away Dana’s new and tentative relationship with the FBI, but he saw the spark of curiosity on Fowley’s face.

“She’s what?” 

When he didn’t answer, she continued. “You’ve seemed upset lately,” she said, even closer now. “I thought maybe you’d broken up.”

Her words startled him, and a sense of something, like ice water down his back, took hold: surprise at how transparent he must have been, a sense of danger at what that might mean. Fox shook his head, aware again of their physical proximity. He realized what was happening: she was here to seduce him, to make him forget about Dana and move on to whatever this was she seemed to want from him. He held out a hand to stop her movement forward. “What is this?” He asked, realizing of how planned this all felt. “What’s happening here?”

He watched her try to grab hold of the situation with a faltering smile. “I thought maybe you felt lost. I thought maybe you needed something to center you. Here, in this work.”

“Well, I don’t,” he said. “I’m happy in the work I do, and my relationship is… fine,” he lied. Whatever he and Dana were going through was none of Diana’s business. “Did you come here to convince me? Why do you keep… dragging me toward these cases?”

“Dragging you? I thought you’d be interested.”

“Why? I mean, I am, but at first it was strange phenomena and occult overtones, which I understand because of my other work, but… Now it’s what? Some kind of conspiracy? What is this? Why me?”

Something in Diana collapsed, then, and her mask fell, the seductive glint in her eye falling to disappointment. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “There’s more to these files,” she said, and he nodded.

“I can see you think that.”

She shook her head. “It’s not just me. They won’t tell me what the connection is, though, or why it’s happening. They want you looking into them.”

Fox was suddenly very confused. This was more than just one woman’s desire for his help on a series of cases. “Who is they?” He asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, Fox. You’ve no idea.” She slumped down onto his couch and dropped her head into her hands. “If I tell you…” her words, muffled into her palms. She looked up and he was surprised to find fear in her eyes. “I can’t have failed,” she said.

“Failed who?” His anger at her manipulation was dying down, and his voice was gentler now. “Failed at what?”

Her mouth fell open, like she wanted to speak, but then she shook her head. She gathered the file folder and began readying to leave. “Just please work this case with me,” she said as she stood. “Maybe we’ll both know more then. All I’ll say is… there’s something in the State Department worth knowing. Something others want you to discover.” She gave him a long, knowing look, then turned for the door.

Fox was so dumbfounded that he hardly registered her receding footsteps, or the sound of the opening and closing door, or the ringing of his ears in the silence that remained. His father worked at the State Department. His father who had beat up his mother in a furious rage and then abandoned them all for years, who barely remembered he had children at all.

The shape of the world wobbled. Its edges bent, and holes opened up where there had seemed solid ground just moments before. Could there be a connection? Could someone be pulling strings all around him?

Fox wandered into the kitchen in search of something. His apartment felt stale, its dim light enclosing and suffocating rather than secure and comfortable. He picked up a bottle of whiskey off his counter, barely touched since he bought it six months ago. Then he set it back down and took a beer from the fridge. Dana, he thought. What have I gotten into?

Stanford

Dana Scully had spent most of the day up to her elbows in human organs. She had fended off two sleazy come-ons at the gym and a sexist remark from a doctor doing “very important work” at the hospital. She’d felt neither afraid nor small during any of it, but staring at her telephone now, she felt overwhelmed by what lay on the other end of the line.

This was the path she wanted for her life. The FBI had recruited her and she had accepted their offer. It meant more training, but at the end would be something far more fulfilling than she’d dare hope for. She’d be near her family, too. And Fox… For the first time, she felt like she had absolutely everything to lose. 

But she missed him. If she were to let him slip away… would any of the rest of it mean as much? Would she risk those other things for him? She would, she realized. If he’d have her back, she’d risk the FBI. And there was only one way to know if he would: she needed to pick up the phone.

So she did. She dialed. She held her breath and listened to the sound of his far-away phone ringing, her own heart beating, her throat swallowing.

“H’lo,” he answered, sounding aloof and sleepy.

“Oh,” she said. “Um, it’s me.”

“Dana?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he returned, sounding more alert now. “How are you? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Are you? I mean, how are you? I’ve been thinking about you.”

“I’m okay. Mostly fine.”

“Mostly?”

“Mostly. I’m a little… well. It’s okay.”

There was a long pause as Dana considered his words. Had she waited too long? She didn’t know how to bring it up, what had happened between them. She felt tears gathering at the back of her throat, stinging the tip of her nose. She squeezed at the receiver and tried to make herself say something normal, but nothing would come.

“Dana?”

She swallowed. “I… I ruined everything, didn’t I?”

“You… what? No,” he said. “You didn’t ruin anything.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice was strained.

“Don’t be sorry.”

“I guess… I can’t very well make it worse. I guess I owe you an explanation.” She sniffed, pushed her hair back from her face, stared at the pattern made by tiny scratches on the surface of her table.

“You tell me whatever you’re ready to tell me. I’m here.”

Dana took a deep breath, and then slowly, everything came out. Daniel, and her fear of disappointing him, her fear of letting down her father, of failing at the FBI, and of course, of disappointing him. How she feared what he’d think of her. “And so I thought it would be better to just step away, to let things cool off so we wouldn’t get hurt.”

“So we wouldn’t?”

“So… so I wouldn’t.” The sound of her breathing seemed too loud in the silent apartment. Yes, Fox, because I was a coward, she thought. So I wouldn’t have to show you how weak I really am.

But when he spoke, the forgiveness in his voice surprised her. “Dana, I would never do anything to hurt you. I just need you to talk to me.”

Talking, she thought. With words. About feelings. Yes, she could do that. Was doing that. “Okay,” she said.

“Where is this Daniel guy? You want me to come beat him up?”

Dana thought of two men brawling in the street over her—or more likely some hospital corridor—and laughed. “Yeah, would you?” The thought and his voice warmed her from across the continent and she felt an overwhelming need to see him again, to touch him and watch his eyes so she could believe him that this all wasn’t lost.

“You just say the word,” Fox said. There was a beat of silence and then, “Is your term almost over?”

Her heart quickened at the question. She swiped at her eyes. “Yeah.”

“Come see me.”

“Okay.”

Washington Dulles International Airport

March 18, 1990

They were two beating hearts in a crowd of strangers, looking for each other. The man, tall and lanky, went on tip-toe to see above the heads of others, to stare at the door of deplaning passengers. She, small but fierce in her determination, clutched her bag and willed her heart to slow. He spotted her first, of course, from his better vantage, and his smile glowed with earnest, involuntary joy. Her own face was anticipatory nerves with a touch of guilt, another of hope. But when she saw his smile, her own broke the tension of her worry and she hurried to him, dropped her bag at his feet, let herself be scooped into the air, crushed against his chest.

“You came,” she whispered into his ear, lost to the world around her because there was only only him.

“Did you think I wouldn’t?”

Yes, for him it was the same: only her. There were the subtle freckles on her cheeks, the green sweater soft under his fingers, the smell of her hair, which had been pulled back for travel but was slipping from its holder to lay across her neck. She filled all of his perception.

“I wasn’t sure,” she spoke into his collarbone, clinging to him in fistfuls, sucking deep through her nose like she could pull him into her pores.

“You can be sure,” he told her, letting their bodies slip apart so their eyes could meet. “You can always be sure.”

His palms were on her cheeks while two pairs of eyes shone with unshed tears under the world-tilting weight of their gravity. Then he was kissing her. Or she was kissing him. Both, of course. They were woven together on the bland carpet of the airport terminal, four cheeks growing pink with the flush of lust and as-yet-unspoken love. In her lips was her apology, which he would not accept but only swallowed and offered back his understanding, acceptance, gratitude.

On that bland carpet he tasted her and felt her cling to him and then broke their kiss before he could reach a point where he would not have the will to stop, but also because he could not contain the truth for a second longer. Across from a Sunglass Hut and a pretzel stand, in the anonymity of that wide, flat place between places, he told her he loved her.

“Dana Scully,” he said, and shook his head in wonder. He kissed the small divot between her eyes, then the freckled ridge of her nose. “I love you so much.”

She swallowed hard, heart quickened with his unexpected, so-desired words, and watched his face—found it all true. Her lips wobbled and she nodded, but could not speak. Instead she grabbed his head, tangled fingers in thick brown hair, pressed palm to stubbled cheek, and pulled him down to kiss her again, fierce and grateful and so in love.

Chapter Text

March 18, 1990 - Alexandria, VA

He trailed fingers along her salty back and watched her breathe. She seemed to have hardened in the weeks since he saw her last: her muscles had firmed, her bones sharpened. She was making herself a stone that would not crack under pressure at the FBI, he supposed, but she was smoothed out and loose-limbed now across his sheets. “I love you,” he whispered to her sleeping form, just trying out the words again. She did not stir. She slept much harder than he.

Fox made himself a pillow and pulled her to lay against him. Dana moved willingly enough, despite the depth of her slumber. She made only soft murmurs with strawberry lips, rubbed her cheek on his chest and hooked her knee over his hip. He held her with both arms and felt the cogs of some great universal wheel settle back into place. Dusk turned to night. He let himself drift with her, though it wasn’t late.

When he moved upward out of slumber some minutes or hours later, her fingers were in his hair and his head was heavy on her breasts, his jaw pressing stubble into the skin over her sternum. He pressed his lips to her skin instinctively as he woke, smelled sleep and sweat and the remnants of some clean powder or soap. He murmured, tasted her, and listened to her breath catch in her throat.

Raspy and low, she asked, “You awake?”

“Mmhmm, getting there.” He lifted his head to meet her eyes in the dim. She smiled at him, blinking sleepily, raised her hand to curl fingers along his jaw. He thought how this was all he really needed, how he could muster the will to battle human monsters forever if she would be the engine of his determination and his refuge. We will be each other’s strength, he thought. Counterpoints and balances, science and intuition. He moved to let her body slip over his, to hold him firm in his place while she kissed him.

“This is right,” she said when she’d broken the kiss.

“It is,” he assured her, hands on her hips, drawing small circles with his thumbs.

She bent her head again, but instead of another kiss, pressed her forehead and nose to his. “It’s love,” she whispered. “I love you.”

He felt the words like the tingling of nerves coming back awake. They felt strong, like forged iron, like truth. Whatever happened, this would be their bedrock. Her knees slipped to either side of his hips and he said the words back to her before his lips pressed to hers again.

April, 1990

The machinations of select men, his father included, brewed alongside the presumption of Fox’s settled love. There were other hands at work, fingers steeped in a project content to murder children and scrape the wombs of women under the guise of great sacrifice for an even greater purpose. He neither knew nor wanted anything of these plans, yet they irrupted around him like weeds connected to some vast underlying structure. Beneath his feet, the sidewalk was beginning to crumble.

In Arlington, Fox confronted his father about the upsetting conversation he’d had with Diana Fowley: cases the State Department wanted him working on, connections to something bigger.

“Roping you in, are they? I should’ve figured.” The older man settled in his armchair and gestured for Fox to sit on the sofa across from him. The air held the faint scent of bourbon but there was none in sight now.

“It wasn’t you?”

“Me? No, not me. I didn’t want you involved, that’s why I left.”

Fox considered this. He’d thought his father left because Teena Mulder threw him out. Or dragged the kids away and told him never to come after her. He felt something like an uncomfortable itch, a call to remember something buried deep in the past: dinner parties with strange men and a handful of wives, Fox and Samantha sneaking glances from the stairwell. “But you know these people.”

Bill Mulder grunted.

“What do they want from me?”

The old man rubbed his chin and looked at the ceiling. “To use you, most likely. Or to pull you in, get you to do something they can use against you. It’s a dangerous game, Fox, and one you shouldn’t play.”

“Dangerous to me?”

He nodded. “To you and to everyone you love.” He looked over his son, half squinted at him. “You got a girl?”

Fox swallowed and felt something cold in his belly. Dana was in Stanford, finishing her last two months before FBI training and residency at Quantico’s labs. Her family knew about their relationship, but he and Dana were hardly flaunting it in front of State Department officials. “Why should that matter?”

“These are old men with old ideas, Fox. They see a woman as a vulnerability, a means to get at you and nothing more.”

Fox thought back to the panic in Diana’s face when he’d rejected her invitations to the case. The vague coldness in his gut turned to dread. You’ve no idea, she’d said. She’d been afraid. He dropped his face into his hands and rubbed at his eyes.  “They don’t know this woman. She’ll be FBI soon.” But even as he said the words, they felt hollow. Fowley was FBI too.

“Doesn’t matter.” His father’s words were terse, almost angry. “You can’t have anything to do with them, Fox. Their game will ruin you, just like it ruined me.”

A future that Fox had been half envisioning—he and Dana in a little house in Virginia, polishing their guns together, sharing notes over spaghetti and meatballs, making love on the couch in front of bad movies, maybe even, someday, ending up with some precocious, brown-haired and freckled Mulder babies—all of it seemed naïve now. She’d worried that her relationship with him could make her vulnerable, and she might have been more right than she knew. The thought of pushing her away, though, was impossible. He could no more do that than he could perform open heart surgery on himself. But the thought of putting her in danger felt no better. “What do I do?” He asked.

His father sighed, as if he had no great answers either. He’d ended up this way, after all: alone. “Fly straight,” he said after a moment. “Do good work. Keep your hands out of any messy business, and maybe they’ll leave you alone.”

Fox thought back to a strange case he’d worked the year before, to the way he’d been used to catch a woman named Susan Modeski and the three mismatched men who’d tried to uncover the government’s lies. Could he make himself complicit with that? Could he walk on with blinders, knowing others were being hurt, just to save his own skin? To save Dana’s? He nodded at his father, though he was nowhere near sure. He stood, somewhat awkward, and held his hand out to his father. “Thanks, Dad.”

The old man shook it and nodded back at his son, but did not get up to see Fox out.

“You tried to push me away to protect yourself… maybe you were right.” Fox held the phone to his ear in the dark, sucking on his third beer and feeling miserable.

“Don’t do that. Don’t make me a victim or a pawn.”

“What if they try to hurt you, Dana? To get to me?” God, it made him sound so self-absorbed.

He heard Dana’s breathing change, sensed her frustration building. “I won’t be some damsel, Fox. I’ll have FBI training. I’ll know how to protect myself.”

He winced, not knowing how to make her understand. FBI training wouldn’t matter if they were always three steps ahead. “What if it’s not enough?” Fox thought about his father. He’d always thought of him as a terrible man, but what if he’d only been protecting them? “Maybe my father pushed my mother away to save our family.”

“And you want to push me away, too?”

He shook his head, which swam with the effects of the beer. “No.” He was emphatic. “No, I don’t want that.”

His words seemed to ease her tension somewhat, and her voice was gentler when it came back through the line. “So what do we do?”

He breathed and thought of her face, felt the depth of their connection and its surety. The path cleared in front of him. He would begin with whatever truth he could get his hands on, but he would not act on it. He would talk to those three men but play dumb for the FBI. He would follow Fowley’s lead, but not let himself be caught in a trap. “Right now, nothing. You finish your term and come back to me. Then you start your time at the Academy, and we’ll be careful, okay? We’ll be careful.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay,” he said, like he was reassuring them both. “It will be okay.”

--

May, 1990

In a Baltimore fertility clinic, Melissa Scully overcame her resignations—hesitations based on some sense she could not name—and purchased donated sperm for Samantha, who swore to her that lesbians had been doing this for years. She’d been warmed by Fox and Dana’s reconciliation, grateful for siblings and would-be in-laws, full to the brim with the feeling of family. She kissed her love, held her hand while the doctor performed the quick procedure.

“What’s next?” Samantha asked, knees still in the air. Melissa squeezed her fingers.

“Well, now you wait a few weeks and take a test,” the doctor said. “Just like most folks. You can follow up with your own OBGYN.”

“It’s that easy?”

The doctor smirked. “Well, for some people it’s even accidental. You can head out to the front in about five minutes. Just get changed and meet the nurse at check-out.” Then she walked out of the room, leaving the two women alone.

Samantha brought her hands to her face to cover her grin, brown hair spilled out all around her on the paper of the exam table. She laughed and Melissa couldn’t help but smile too. “Did we really do this?” Samantha asked.

“Seems like it.”

Samantha peeked between her fingers. “It doesn’t feel real.”

Melissa bent to kiss Sam’s head and began collecting up her clothes. “Let’s give it a few weeks,” she said, though she had a sense of fate’s tumblers clicking into place. A February child, like Dana, if this worked. A little pisces maybe, lord help her. Another dreamer in the house. Sam sat up and began tugging on her underwear, careful to line it with a tissue first. She made a face at Melissa and laughed again.

Had Samantha’s last name been on the forms to set off the alarm bells of those same complicit men Fox was determined to avoid, things may have gone differently. Perhaps worse. But the families were deeply entangled now, and one sister-partner was as good as another to those men. A plan unfurled, rolled out like a carpet before them, and each stepped to a place on its pattern.