"Damnit, Fox, quit being stubborn and open your eyes. Don't tell me Dana's completely rubbed off on you."
There are few people that Mulder is okay with calling him Fox. Admittedly, they're all named Scully.
His Scully is a given. It would be laughable to try and stop her now, after everything they've been through. And he'd never want to, if only for the solace it offers him when she dares utter it.
Her mother is a given, too. It feels wrong to ask her to call him something made of sharp edges in her careful tongue, like asking a priest to take the Lord's name in vain.
Her sister isn't, though. She would have been, had they been given all the time they should have been, what they had been promised until they weren't. In life, her calling him Fox felt like a chastisement, in death it was something other than.
But somehow, some way, he doesn't mind. He thinks he should--does it sully the people who have sought and been granted silent permission?--but there's something about it that reminds him of Samantha and camaraderie and he can't bring himself to ask her not to.
He thinks it's the way about Melissa. Like when she says Fox she doesn't mean it to trivialize, she means cunning and glowing eyes in the dark. She is crystalline, made of vials of that extracted, and she gets down to his core for samples with every flick of her quartz tongue.
She also knows how to press every button he has.
"Fox," she says again, snapping her fingers in a quick, ringing succession--directly in his ear, by the sound of it. "I haven't got all night."
(He remembers Scully telling him that Melissa had always been the one to joke she'd haunt the other Scully siblings once her time came; he thinks she already has without lifting a spectral finger.)
She sounds just like Scully in the way she tells him of her clear-cut schedule without the barest trace of a whine. Her voice is well-fortified, but he can tell she's irritated. Oddly enough, that makes him smile, the fact that he knows her, too.
"I'm up," he promises, blinking hard until she fades into his vision. It knocks the breath out of his chest, how not a day has passed across her face since she barged into his apartment and showed him what was what, but he knows somewhere in a part of his mind that doesn't want to speak that it's been far too many years.
"No, you're not," she tells him matter o' factly, her mouth curling up into something between a smile and a frown. She pulls off the contradiction easily. "But I think you know that."
"The couch tipped me off," he acquiesces as he sits up, the notches of his spine protesting. At this, her expression turns to a smirk. He knows that look more personally than he'd like to.
"I wonder why," she says, leaning back enough for them to not knock heads. He can't see where she's holding the couch, but he can almost feel her weight around him, and it's comfort, that she still takes up space. "I figured you'd be comfortable here."
He scratches the back of his head thoughtfully, only half eyeing her out of the drop of self-preservation he still keeps bottled away for a rainy day. "That so?"
"Not really. But I am, and I think my thing voids you being a little bit out of sorts because you traded this place for one with my sister a long time ago." She says it briskly as she moves to sit on the opposite end of the couch, her legs crossed under her. Or he thinks they are, but the longer he looks anywhere but at her face, the more a dull headache thumps away at the base of his skull like a midnight lumberjack on a cuckoo clock.
She doesn't seem perturbed, though; in fact, there's something almost serene about the way she's holding herself. Her hands are quiet in her lap, holding down what he glimpses to be a long, black skirt before it slides away from his memory; her hair falls steadily around her shoulders, only the top of it drawn back, making sure not to shutter her crisp, intelligent eyes.
"I'm sure you can guess why I'm here," she says once he's settled, his back against the arm of the couch, his own arm thrown up on the back of it, a chance in irony.
"I could," he hedges, head tilting a twitch to the side, and it brightens her face, makes her eyebrows round and her mouth pull into a pleasant shape.
"Glad to know you've still got your wits about you in your old age, Fox."
And it's such an innocuous comment, but it flares the acid reflux he's picked up in his breadcrumb trail to his fifties--reflux and bifocals and joints that chatter for pain killers. He should be saying the same about her, he should be watching her embrace her fifties, tending a garden with one of those big sun hats on, coming around for dinner and making her sister laugh with inside jokes and mischievous looks, gifting out crystals and oils and whatever else is like fruit cake on Christmas, but makes her happy enough that no one dares dispute her.
But instead she sits before him at thirty-three, and it hurts so damn much.
There are a lot of people who should still be here.
(He thinks, Sam, Melissa, Emily, Mom, Will. He hopes she can't hear him, but swears she does when he face twists into a true frown.)
"Hey, none of that Hallmark movie sadness, Fox," she snaps at him, drawing him back out, but there's no heat, just a casual kind of bittersweetness. "We've got business."
"Don't let me stop you."
"Oh, you couldn't if you tried, old man."
She flickers in and out then, for just a moment. One second she's there--smiling at him like she knows his secret, but feels bad about it--and the next she snaps back into her half-focus, her hands clasped around a mug he recognizes as one that showed up in his possession while he was at Oxford and never left.
"I'm going to her next, before you start feeling too important," she starts, looking down at her mug. It smells like some kind of herbal tea he knows he never kept stocked in this apartment, or any other place he's lived. "But I know she'll try to comfort me, and I need to make sure of a few things about her."
She gives him a knowing look with the top of her eyes, like she's levelling it at him over the thin frames of those reading glasses all librarians seem to wear on the edges of their nose. He tries to look like he knows anything.
Her start is a little bumpy, but the stride comes soon enough. "I took her to see that movie--what was it? With Michael Keaton--" she snaps her fingers rapidly, nervously, at the forgotten name. "Beetlejuice!" she exclaims before he can offer. "I took her to see it when it first came out, and she got so upset about Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin's characters. Even though the whole point--I don't know if you've ever seen it--is that they find a good life even after death. Or that's what I like to think the point is. But Dana always had this knack for knowing sadness, even when there was hope."
He knows what she means by that, how there can be moments when he sees the light of the world in her smile, and the next second she's weighted down by every long gone face. For a woman who doesn't believe, Dana Scully is the most haunted of them all. But so is he, isn't he?
"I think her working the X-Files taught her a lot about it. Hope, I mean. Dana always had faith, but I think she got the two mixed up more than she ever cared to admit; even when we were kids."
"Is there really a difference?" He knows there is before he asks, but he wants to know what she thinks about it.
"Faith is putting your belief in someone else, but I think hope is putting your beliefs in yourself. You can have faith things will be okay, or you can hope they'll be while you try to change it. The destination's the same, but the road's different."
There was a time where he would have disputed that, when none of it ever felt like an eventuality and he thought this was it, just a tenured pain to keep him up at night. But he remembers sitting in a motel room, a first night and a last, and how he found hope again, after it all, each time. He's never had much faith, it's hard to catch and harder to hold, but hope--that's something he picked up along the way.
"I still don't know how she does it." How she keeps her faith. He hopes she knows he means it in awe, in awe of this woman that has had life take so much from her, but she still believes in something, in someone.
"Where's your belief, Fox?"
"Where is it?" she asks. "Because it looks to me like it's been with her for twenty-two years."
"It's been with her since I ever learned I had it."
She gives him a small shrug as her lips tug in amusement at his whip-quick reply. "Sounds a lot like faith to me."
He smiles roughly, rubbing a hand from his jaw up the side of face. There's more stubble than he went to sleep with there, a few more pronounced lines. He isn't sure how, but he knows she did it on purpose.
She sips at her tea to stifle a laugh, but her burgundy smile reaches over the lip of her mug, and she has to duck her eyes to reign herself back in.
"So how are you two?" she finally asks, leaning dangerously over the side of the couch to place the mug on the edge of the coffee table. The drape of her blouse shifts, and for a second he swears he can see blood spatter in the crook of her neck.
He turns his eyes to the wall just over her head. It's a question he can't escape, not even in his sleep. It's the one question he asks himself more than anything, even though he knows. He knows she comes home to him at night and he knows she presses a kiss every morning and every night to the corner of his mouth and then square on.
"It's been a few years," he says, because that's the cover story they decided on, and he can't bring himself to rehash that safety, even in the walls of an apartment that were as much a guardian to him as they were an adversary. Even across from the woman who had seen and been sacrifice.
He doesn't know why he even tries to lie to her, though, because she starts shaking her head before he can even finish, her lips pursed slightly. "You know I don't believe that for a second, Fox."
She cuts him off with a hard look. "Do you know why I picked this place? And not Dana's old place, or that house you two try to act like you don't keep together?"
He doesn't try to correct her. "Because you think the atmosphere is so inviting."
"No, because this is the first place after Dana decided to go into the Bureau that I knew she was going to be okay."
She says it so easily, something almost wistful to her mouth. Her fingers tap against her knee, and she continues before he can ask anything of her.
"I got a call from my mother and I didn't know if my baby sister was ever going to wake up, if she was going to live or die. She was lying in a hospital bed, the first time any of us had seen her in weeks, and I thought that was it. And I'd heard so much about this Fox Mulder, this man that she'd followed time after time, and I hated him with a passion on my drive out, I didn't understand why she would put us behind her to run alongside you. Not until I saw how you looked at her.
"You always looked at her like she was everything, everything and everyone, but you were just too stupid to do anything about it. How long did it take for you two to kiss?"
"Seven years," he says automatically, and it amazes him that he ever went that long. He would've done it the day she walked into his office with her science and her settlement, he would have done it any and every day after if he would have known that she knew he meant it as a seal for the feeling in his chest like he'd known her his whole life and wanted to continue to know her for the rest of it.
"You've even got it right now. If you'd been around when we were teenagers I would've given you hell about that face, Fox; I've never seen anything more moony. And back then, even when you were angry, when you were on that self-righteous kick, shaking your fist at the heavens, I saw it.
"When I left, after coming here and calling you on your bullshit like you needed someone to, I stood in the stairwell and I told myself, Melissa, Dana is the strongest person you know, she's going to pull through. And when she does, that man in there loves her with everything he has, even if he doesn't realize it, and he's going to look out for her when she forgets to look out for herself.'"
"And when I-" her voice folds up like hands to prayer, but her gaze never leaves him. "I knew Bill would take care of my mother, and I knew Dana would take care of Bill, and I knew that you would take care of Dana, and I had my peace."
There's a part of Fox Mulder's heart that's made for breaking when a Scully's heart breaks. It's not a mirror image so much as it's the pulse of the ragged heart line across his palm. Oh, do his hands ache at the way Melissa's face passes quickly along the axis of pain and regret.
"I tried. When I was here and when she'd let me, I tried," he offers, but he doesn't add that he still doesn't know if it was ever enough. He rests his hands palm up against his legs in a motion motion that asks forgiveness.
"I know you did." Her mouth stalls, hitching up and over her teeth--there's one in the front with a scrape of lipstick on it, and he almost points it out, but the humanity in it sews his throat shut.
"Thank you, Mulder." He hears a thousand things. Thank you for the years, thank you for the love, thank you for the family, and the happiness, however fleeting, thank you for the want and the belief.
He thanks her too, for everything he's always been too scared to admit. She smiles, winks, and he grieves for the years they never got, but rises still in thanks for this. Her mug disappears from the table and her smile disappears from his eyes, and when he wakes up, it's because his phone's ringing.
He scrabbles tiredly for it, groping around in the dark until he feels the cool screen against his palm. Sliding the answer button, he tips it against his ear without ever checking the caller I.D.
He hums quietly into the speaker, and he hears a jerky sigh in response. "Mulder, it's me."
For a moment, he still resides somewhere between dream and wakefulness, and it's in that framing he forgets and recollects the conversation he's just had. "Scully," he starts, but she doesn't let him finish.
"I just needed to hear your voice," she tells him softly, and he knows instantly her mouth is pinched up in that way it gets before he starts to sob. He wants to press his thumb there, on the edge of her chin, and smooth out the creases, but she's two thousand miles away for a conference in some second-hand bed instead of theirs, her glasses on some other nightstand, her pajamas against some other sheets.
"She called me old," he says, the first thing he can think of. "I'm not old, Scully."
And she laughs, she laughs so brightly and with such a deep sadness tinting it that he feels the curtains draw.
"She told me to stop coloring my hair," she replies, face no doubt scrunched in a laughter that shakes her whole body.
He clucks. "At least your gray makes you look refined."
She smiles, he can hear it, feel it, but something about it ebbs and flows. He doesn't realize why until she says, "Sometimes, I wonder if we'd look the same. If I'm still getting her hand-me-downs."
He wonders it about Samantha too, every time he sees his nose, or his eyes, he sees her, wonders if her crow's feet would have been as pronounced, if her temples would have gone gray first like his, or if she would have had a full head of white hair by 45 like their mother.
He understands all of this, though, on a level that's closer to the surface than Scully's will ever be, because for all of their differences, Scully and Melissa were peas in a pod, Scully women through and through.
Expelling a breath that blows his thoughts away, she says, "Stay on the phone with me?" as if there were any way he would ever say no to a request so simple.
"Where'd she take you?" he asks as he settles back in against his pillow, facing her side of the bed, resting a hand where her side would be any other night of the week if it weren't for a Californian conference she hadn't wanted to miss.
He can hear her shuffle too, her nightgown loud against harsh hotel sheets, and then her quiet breathing as she tries to bring herself back into focus.
"We walked down one of the streets we used to live on when we were kids, all the way to the old movie theater," she starts, adding with a small laugh, "I swear they were playing Beetlejuice."