By the time dinner is over — a little sick from all that sweet tea, not to mention the admittedly amazing peach cobbler, which Deputy Weller insisted she get — Scully is no closer to solving anything. She is, however, fed completely up with Mulder. She knows he bailed on purpose, and she has a decent idea why; Weller does resemble a young Robert Redford and has a near-obscene amount of charm, which never fails to make Mulder little-boy-in-a-sandbox jealous, as baseless and ridiculous as that is.
But A) Weller’s not her type, and even if he were, what business is it of Mulder’s, and B) she’s pretty sure he’s gay. Well-closeted, of course — no small-town Texas cop who wants to keep his job is going to be out, after all — but she’d gotten a definite vibe, which was part of why she felt so comfortable with him.
Which of course brings her back to Mulder’s adolescent bullshit. He had interpreted that comfort as interest, and their easy rapport as flirting. Three days so far of his huffiness, his snide remarks, his rudeness (to herself, and to Weller and the rest of the PD), and finally this — not showing up for dinner at the Big House with Weller, Sheriff King, and MaryNell Burden, the retiring DA who’d first contacted them about the bizarre circumstances surrounding the disappearances of a dozen defendants released on bail in this county in the last two years.
Scully thanks MaryNell for the ride back to the B&B — the town’s only place to stay, besides an ancient, murdery-looking motel out on the highway — and notes that their rental Ford is still out front; at least he hasn’t lit out for Oklahoma in search of jackalopes or something. Their rooms are next to each other, the only two in an outbuilding that used to be the ranch foreman’s cabin. It’s a few feet off the ground (1890’s air conditioning, Mrs. Carroll had explained), with five steps up to a small porch bordered by a wooden railing. There’s an old sweatshirt draped over the rail at the bottom of the stairs — it’s Mulder’s, she’s pretty sure, although why it’s out here, she has no idea. There’s no light in his room, the place is quiet except for the sound of crickets in the grasslands beyond the B&B’s property.
She drags herself up the stairs and into her room, stripping off her suit, hose and shoes the second the door closes behind her — ugh, how can it still be this hot at 9:00 p.m.? Off goes the underwire bra, too — she’s sweated it into uselessness. She pulls on a stretchy cotton bra, the one that’s just barely more supportive than going without, and the one tank top and pair of pajama shorts she brought; she really hadn’t counted on staying this long and was getting to the bottom of the suitcase. She washes off her clammy, sticky-feeling makeup, brushes her teeth, considers and rejects a shower on grounds that she’ll just have to take another in the morning to wash off her night sweat so why waste water.
Restless and annoyed, she decides the warm air outside will at least be better than the stuffiness in her room. She goes to stand at the edge of the porch, looking out into the nothingness beyond. Millions of years ago, this was all underwater, and still looks like the gently undulating bottom of the sea. There are tiny dancing lights down near the barely-trickling creek, 50 yards off; any other time, she’d be charmed by the sight of what Weller called “lightnin’ bugs,” but right now the fireflies’ glow just reminds her that she’s irritated enough to want a cigarette.
“Where the hell are you?” she mutters into the humid darkness, wondering again how they got into this apparently permanent interpersonal stalemate. But she doesn’t question herself too deeply, because stuffed tightly down — under layers that shift most inconveniently at times to reveal a corner of the thing — she knows, and she thinks he does too.
It’s because of that night, the night before she stopped treatment for her cancer. Her memory of it is relentlessly, mercilessly vivid.
She’d been at Mulder’s place, allegedly just hanging out (i.e., a cover story for him watching over her, a fact neither of them acknowledged), playing Scrabble with National Lampoon’s Vacation on in the background. He didn’t know about the appointment she had the next day: Good news, they’d tell you over the phone; bad news, they sat you down and told you in person; the worst news, the meeting would include a counselor and hospice pamphlets.
She was useless at the board game, unable to concentrate, shaky and strange. He’d stopped asking her if she was OK after she’d snapped that she was “fucking FINE,” but he was clearly puzzled, and worried. The only thing that grounded her was keeping her eyes on him. She followed the angle of his arm reaching for tiles, watched his lips as he smiled at a particularly clever play he’d made, adored the kindness in his eyes as he gently mocked her for playing an “A” and an “E” on either side of a “T” to form “ATE”.
Gradually she began to be aware that looking wasn’t going to be enough; she wanted to touch him. Wanted him to touch her. This wasn’t a new sensation, but that night, it was blotting out reason, and fear, and prudence, and insecurity, and every other thing that had ever stood in the way of her reaching for him. He, of course, seemed unaware as always — if he had desires like hers, which she doubted, he had no problem controlling them; she was his partner and friend, and she knew he loved her in a platonic, almost brotherly way, but that was where it ended.
She spoke less and less, every nerve aware of him, her breath coming shallow and rapid, the effort of seeming normal costing her more by the second.
The movie finally ended, and at her request, he went to the kitchen to get her a glass of ice water; perched on the edge of his couch, she folded herself in half, putting her head on her knees, doing yoga breathing, trying to stop the tears pricking at the backs of her eyelids. Get up, go home, this is ridiculous, don’t be such a baby, he doesn’t want you like this, especially not now, she berated herself silently.
He came back, saying “Took me a second to find two clean glasses, but —” and then, catching sight of her, sprang to her in sudden alarm. He knelt before her, panicky.
“Scully? God — are you OK?” She nodded, but he was unappeased. He gripped her shoulders as if to keep her from falling. “What happened? Did you get a nosebleed? Do you need to lie down?”
She shook her head no, then sat up to face him, her throat constricted with a rush of emotion. I’m not OK, she thought madly, I’m not going to be OK, but I know what I want, right now. Please let me have it.
Some kind of realization dawned in his eyes, and his touch changed, relaxed, became gentler. One hand lifted to her cheek, the other glided to her back; he couldn’t read her mind, but he recognized need, a different thing than pain or simple distress. And in the next instant, she knew that need was being mirrored back to her; she felt a heat rise between them, the same heat she’d ruthlessly tamped down inside herself innumerable times before.
It was strange; she used to feel substantial enough — sometimes too substantial, earthbound and perplexingly unable to catch the zephyrs that bore him so easily along. But since her diagnosis, she’d felt less and less so, and that night, it was as if she were made of paper and blown glass, as if a single spark, a single mislaid touch would disintegrate her — as if she were already almost gone.
Mulder, though — he was warm blood, solid bone, yielding flesh — his vitality, instead of being impossibly separate, seemed suddenly contagious. Something dormant inside her came awake all at once.
She leaned forward, slid her arms around his waist, kissed him — shivered as he inhaled against her — closed her eyes and whispered, breath just barely forming sound: “Please.”