Fox Mulder is not—despite what some might think, judging by the company he keeps—hopeless with the ladies. He’s had his fair share of dates and kisses and, when the dates and the kissing have gone particularly well, warm bodies in his bed. Or his warm body in somebody else’s bed. Or, on one memorable and near-impossible occasion, the backseat of somebody else’s Volkswagen Beetle.
He even had Diana sophomore year—not his first girlfriend, but certainly his most serious. They had talked about grad school together and about the little apartment they’d rent above the private practice they would open someday. She had wanted to call it Fox & Fowley. He—infatuated but not dumb—had not. (This was, of course, before she took off for a semester abroad and never returned.)
All of this to say, he isn’t some sweaty preteen with his first crush.
He can’t eat. Can’t sleep. Can barely focus in class. He’s up at seven—seven!—even on days he doesn’t have to be anywhere until noon, just so he can be at the library by eight.
“Dude,” Langly said last week after Mulder spent a good—oh—forty-five minutes talking about the clips Dana wore in her hair on Thursday. “You’ve got it bad.”
And he does. God, he does. He’s never had it so bad. He’s seen the inside of the library more in the last two weeks than he has in the last three years. He’s never been so late to so many classes so many times in a row. It’s just impossible—actually, factually impossible—to walk away from her when she’s leaning towards him on her elbows, whispering words like special relativity and time dilation and inertial frame of reference.
She’s a physics major—pre-med!—and she reads James Joyce and string theory for fun, and three days ago, she wore her hair in the smallest french braid he’s ever seen and how—how—is he supposed to walk away from that?
He lies awake at night and thinks about her. Every night. All night. About library Dana and her big, blue eyes and her freckles and her sweet little waist. His hands would fit so perfectly around that little waist, he’s certain. He needs to know. That, yes, but so much more.
Where is she from? The closest approximation he’s been able to get out of her is not here. Does she have brothers? Sisters? A boyfriend? God, he thinks he would die if she did. What’s her favorite food? Is she a morning person? A night person? Does she snore in her sleep? Does she kiss the same way she talks, deliberate and measured and smart? What is her damn last name?
It’s become a game now, he thinks. He hopes. He hopes it’s a game and that she’s playing it too, this keep away, this Dana, who are you? He asks her daily. She rebuffs him daily with her self-satisfied smirks, her little pink tongue darting out to greet her lips.
(He dreams about that tongue. He—more than dreams about that tongue. A few choice magazines are collecting dust in his bedroom because of that tongue.)
He’s even asked around, but nobody seems to know a freshman named Dana with a tiny nose and a dry wit and a berry-pink mouth. (God, the mouth.)
Frohike tells him to take it easy. “She’ll come around,” he says. But Frohike doesn’t understand. Mulder’s going crazy. All day, every day, twenty-four/seven, it’s Dana. Dana Dana Dana. His brain is a radio that only gets one station: all Dana, all the time. She is a puzzle wrapped in high-waisted denim that he’s desperate to solve.
Which is why, after two excruciatingly Dana-less days, he approaches her on Monday with a stack of books and a smile.
“Mulder,” she says cautiously, in much the same tone one might reserve for a child who has just wandered in with something unnerving, like a dead rat. Or a bomb. “What are you doing?”
He pushes the stack towards her. “Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that this was a library.”
“Uh-huh,” she says slowly. “I just didn’t think you—”
“What? Read?” He rests his elbows on the desk and shakes his head. “Maybe you’d know that if you’d have dinner with me. It’s half-price pizza at the bowling alley tonight. What’dya say?”
Dana sighs, then lifts her chin and holds out a hand.
He grins as he hands it over and watches her do her thing. Her script is neat and tiny as she copies his name and student number onto the first date card. She stamps it and moves on to the next. She’s on the third when she pauses, her brow knitting together. He tightens down on his smile and tries to look innocent as she sits back in her chair and crosses her arms.
“Mulder,” she says, and god, he could listen to her say his name all day, even exasperated like that. “What is this?”
He drums his fingers on the countertop. “What is what?”
She quirks an eyebrow at him, a wry expression that says she knows that he knows what she’s talking about. She holds up the first book and reads the cover.
“Iron Town by Dana Chamberlain.” Then the second: “Fundamentals of Ecology and Society by Dana Rankin.” Then the third, the fourth, the fifth: “Dana Graham. Dana Olson. Dana Earle. Is this your idea of cute?”
“My idea of cute is you in that sweater,” he says, because she’s wrapped in some fuzzy, grey, oversized number today that swallows her whole and presumably guards against the fan blowing cold air behind the desk. Then quickly, before she can protest, he continues: “This is my idea of practical. You won’t tell me your last name.” He shrugs. “Thought I’d test out some possibilities. How’d I do?”
She looks nonplussed, but as someone who has devoted nearly two whole weeks to studying her face, he feels relatively confident that the little tic at the corner of her mouth means she’s at least a little plussed.
“Are you serious?” she asks.
He nods. “About you? Absolutely.”
She flushes the prettiest pink and drops her gaze, toying with the ripped edge of the Dana Olson paperback.
“You don’t even know me,” she mumbles.
“And whose fault is that?” He leans in a little closer, trying to catch her eye. “In case you haven’t noticed, you’re not exactly an open book.”
He realizes this was the exact wrong thing to say a moment too late as her forehead wrinkles and her lips draw up into a tight pucker.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says, slamming all the Dana books back into a pile. “I didn’t realize I owed you my whole life story. Do you need my original birth certificate, or will a copy be enough?”
She starts to slide from her chair, but he reaches out and catches her arm. Her face is red, and she doesn’t look at him.
“Whoa,” he says. “Hey. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I didn’t…it’s not a bad thing.”
She continues to glare at the countertop, and he takes a chance. He swipes his thumb across the inside of her wrist once, back and forth.
“I like you, Dana,” he says, “but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. If I’ve been too pushy… I’m sorry, okay? Tell me to go, and I’ll go. You don’t owe me anything.”
She settles back into her seat and sniffs. For a brief, horrible second, he thinks he’s made her cry. But when she finally looks up, her eyes are dry and clear.
“Scully,” she says.
He cocks his head. “Sorry?”
“My last name is Scully.”
The relief, the giddiness that floods him nearly knocks him off his feet. This is what winning the lottery must feel like. Dana (Scully!) brushes a little curl behind her ear and gives him an uncertain smile.
“Scully,” he says, liking the way it rolls around on his tongue. “Dana Scully.”
She nods. “Yes.”
“You wanna get some lunch, Dana Scully? My treat. You can tell me absolutely nothing about yourself. You don’t even have to talk. We can sit in total silence and pretend we’ve never met.”
She narrows her eyes at him but they’re playful, maybe even a little impish.
“Don’t push your luck,” she says.
But when he comes back half an hour later with turkey sandwiches and potato chips and two bottles of lemonade, she doesn’t kick him out. She also doesn’t kick him out when he follows her outside to the picnic tables behind the library, and she continues to not kick him out as she picks one in the shade of a big oak tree. He watches (with what he hopes isn’t slack-jawed amazement) as she pulls her fuzzy sweater over her head to reveal a little blue t-shirt and pale, smooth arms, and still, she doesn’t kick him out.
They sit on the same side of the table and watch other students lounge in the grass, toss frisbees, eat their own lunches. A warm September breeze ruffles Mulder’s hair, and occasionally, Dana’s knee brushes his thigh. He tries not to choke at the contact, electric even through his jeans.
True to his word, they don’t talk, but he eats slower than ever, savoring the nerve-wracking feeling of her next to him, the occasional touch of her elbow as she reaches for her drink. It turns out they don’t really need to speak anyway. She teaches him things even in total silence.
For example: when she finishes her chips, she steals the rest of his. She doesn’t ask permission; she simply watches him from the corner of her eye as she dips her fingers into the bag. He files food thief away in his mental rolodex of Dana facts and nudges the bag closer to her. (She also doesn’t say thank you, but the way she licks salt from her fingertips is thanks enough.)
When all the food is gone, they linger a little while longer, sipping the last of their lemonade. Beside him, she is serene, her eyes heavy-lidded, her face tipped up into the breeze. He wants to ask what she’s thinking about, but he bites his tongue. He promised her a silent lunch. He needs her to know he means what he says.
Finally, after what feels like an eternity or maybe only a minute, the black plastic Casio on her left wrist beeps. Lunchtime over.
Dana stands and does a little stretch. Her t-shirt rides up, baring an inch of milky white stomach, and Mulder is suddenly, painfully aware of the blood in his veins. He forces himself to look away. The last thing he needs is to ruin whatever modicum of progress he’s made this afternoon by ogling her belly.
He stares off into the middle distance until she begins gathering her things. She drapes her sweater over her arm and balls up her trash. After a moment’s hesitation, she takes his trash, too, and dumps it all in the nearest garbage can. Then she wanders back and hovers at the edge of the table, touching the corner with her fingertips.
“Um,” she says. “Okay. Well…”
Her cheeks are pink—though from what, he’s not sure.
“Thank you for lunch,” he says, and she flushes darker.
“You bought it.”
He just shrugs. “You know what I mean.”
She licks her bottom lip, then draws it between her teeth. He tries—really, he does—not to stare.
“I need to…” She gestures vaguely over her shoulder.
“Yeah,” he says, not rising. As much as he wants to follow her back inside and whisper to her for the rest of the afternoon, something tells him to take her earlier advice and not push his extraordinary luck any further.
“Okay.” She raps her knuckles lightly on the table and holds his gaze for a moment longer, then heads for the doors.
The sway of her hips is enchanting, and he can’t help himself.
“Hey, Dana Scully,” he calls.
She pauses and turns around, eyebrow quirked. “Yeah?”
“Okay if I come see you tomorrow?”
She purses her lips (against a smile, he thinks) and begins walking backwards.
“I dunno,” she says with a little shrug. “Guess you’ll have to ask me then.”