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Humble magic

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Scully spent the days after her encounter with Petey from Appalachia thinking about the doll he used to take her sight. It’s a full week before she looks up the name of an occult bookstore in DC in the yellow pages and another before she goes, shaking the rain off her coat as she enters the musty shop. She refuses to tell Mulder.

The shop reminded her of Melissa and the thought twists in her chest. She’d nearly retreated when a brunette woman named Tree ducks out through a doorway of hanging beads, greeting Scully with an enthusiastic hello. “I’m Tree,” she said, holding out both of her hands in greeting. Scully couldn’t help but find the name appropriate given the woman’s willowy frame and bark colored hair. “Welcome in. What can I do for you?”

Scully licked her lips, uncertain of how precisely to begin. Without meeting Tree’s eyes, she explained her interest as best she could.

“I recently discovered folk magic. And I want to know more.” Tree ushered Scully to a corner of the shop adorned with candles and small books.

“I know exactly what you mean,” she started, pulling a few smaller booklets off the shelves. “Here’s some stuff to introduce you,” she said, pushing them across the cloth-covered table. “For you, I think you might also like some of the literature on healing. Right?” Scully’s eyes caught Tree’s in thinly veiled surprise.

“Why do you say that?”

“Healer’s energy. Right? I just feel it really strongly.” Tree shrugged.

Scully nodded. “I’d like to see that material.”

“Great!” Her eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled, pulling a few books down from a high shelf and spreading them in front of Scully in a small presentation. “That one is my favorite,” she said, pointing to a volume with abstract palm lines across the heather cover. “It’s about learning to harness the healing power within yourself. I think you’d like it.”

Scully didn’t reach for it, instead pointing toward the crystals and stones set up at the back of the table. “What would I use those for?”

“Energies. It’s actually all very simple. It’s energy, intention, and connection. We all have power, you know? It’s about finding power in yourself, and recognizing power in other things. Then you just have to decide what to do with it.”

“What do you do with it?” Scully asked.

“I just grow my garden.”

“That’s magical?”

“Well, why isn’t it?” Tree smiles. “Things grow for me,” she shrugs. “Thats all I really want from myself. To grow some greens. Some herbs. It makes me happy.” Scully nods.

“I want this book,” she said, holding up the grey book with abstract cover, “and the healing stones. And that,” she said, pointing to a large booklet of charts hanging on the wall.

“Ok,” Tree smiles again with the crinkling corners. “How about some tarot cards? My treat.”

“Ok. Those too. I’ll pay. I’m a federal employee. I shouldn’t accept gifts.”

“Not even from friends?” Tree asked, marking the ledger book she extracted from her pocket.

“We’re not friends,” Scully replied, extracting her pocketbook from her purse.

“Not even just for the federal government?”

Scully paused. Maybe Tree (and Mulder) were right.

“Ok. For the federal government, we can be friends.” Tree grinned and handed her a deck of green and gold cards adorned with decorative ferns, along with the rest of her purchases. Scully balanced them against her body as she finished writing out the check, sliding it across the table to  Tree, who simply smiled.

“I’m glad you came it today. I think you’ll be happy with what you find.”

Scully nodded her head for what felt like the hundredth time without knowing what to say in response, painfully aware of how out of place she looked in her navy pant suit and gold cross. Tree smiled at her, utterly serene and Scully wonders if her bliss is chemically or spiritual.

 

If Scully felt out of place in the magic shop, she felt especially so in her living room, looking at the things that were inexplicably now hers. Her chest tightened with the anxiousness that came from seeing the manifestations of her uncertainty laid bare. This was insane. She was insane. Led into a folie a deux by her own strapping, incredible, insane Mulder. Madness.

And yet.

Her fingers ran over the loose ends of the pages on the book laid out in front of her. What if it was true? What if these were the extreme possibilities she had been seeking out? Light and energy had always excited her, even as a student. It enthralled her, taking up so much of her own interest as to become central to her undergraduate thesis. She thumbed through the pages, still resting on the table top. What if?

Chapter Text

After a few days, Scully set the stones on her mantel, distributing them over the hearth in a decorative pattern. Magic aside, they lent the room a rustic quality that was decidedly absent from most the D.C. area. She thought for a moment about Mulder’s poster as she surveyed them. Did she want to believe? Or was she merely searching for something to ease the constant uncertainty of a life spent looking for answers that would never come? She didn’t dwell on it, instead turning her attention to the book, which she unceremoniously slotted into her bookshelf, and the tarot cards, which she shuffled and played in a makeshift game of solitaire. The card backs glimmered, and she allowed herself to be taken in by the first card in the line up, lonely with its face to the sky. The words “High Priestess” wound across the bottom of the card in looping script. She flipped the next card. And the next. And the next, until  all seven stacks bore face up cards.

She didn’t know what to make of the ones with suits, instead stacking them in an intuitive order before she stopped herself, hand hovering over the pile.

She walked out. She felt like she was suffocating in her own apartment, unable to fully process the feeling that overtook her as she maneuvered the cards. It felt like power. The same kind of power she felt when she fired at the shooting range. Like she was tapped into a more potent like of action than her body itself could muster. But it wasn’t that. Not entirely. It felt like operating, when she was mending corporeal trauma. It was the power of potentiality — to kill, but also to revive.

She drove to the magic shop, blundering in without any real plan to speak of. Tree’s eyes smiled at her, kind and knowing.

“Hi Dana,” she said. “How are you?” Scully immediately realized hadn’t thought this through.

“Why did you give me those cards?”

“Did you use them? They’re very pretty. I thought you’d like them.” Tree sat like a cat curled up in a large circle chair as she spoke. Scully could practically see the flick of a feline tail. She wondered if she might be drugged.

Tree slowly stretched from her chair, reaching into a small jar by the cash register to retrieve a letter opener and an envelope, still sealed. Scully noted it looked like a utility bill.

“I looked at them.” Scully confirmed. “I feel uncomfortable having accepted them as a gift,” she added lamely, as though that warranted her visit across town at quarter of ten at night.

Tree shrugged, “I just felt generous,” she assured, touching Scully’s hand gently. “Did you like them?”

“They make me uncomfortable,” Scully repeated. Tree nodded in thought.

“Maybe they’re not right for you. What don’t you like?” Scully shakes her head.

“Like you’re disconnected?” Tree asks, eyes drifting over Scully’s impassive. “Or like you’re too connected?” Scully’s lips pursed slightly and Tree smiled once more. “That’s not a bad thing.”

Tree continued to smile, hand grasping loosely in Scully’s. “Really,” she assured softly. Scully didn’t notice the letter opener slicing across her palm until the sting of the air on the cut hit her.

“Back away. Now! Assault of a federal agent is a felony!” She shouted, jumping backward. Her gun was at home. Stupid. She’d been very stupid.

Tree didn’t move, nor did her serenity shift in the slightest. “I’ve surprised you,” she acknowledged. “I’m sorry. I only meant to demonstrate what you’re feeling more acutely. Look at your hand,” she instructed.

“Do not move,” Dana countered. Tree nodded, setting the letter opener back on the counter without looking, hands open to her.

“Just look,” Tree encourages. It’s bleeding, a single trail leaking onto her wrist. “Remember what you felt seeing the cards. Remember and remember your hand. Before.” Dana stared at her hand. It felt warm from the blood and tingling from histamine flowing with adrenaline. She felt the tremoring shakes, too. The potentiality. “Just look,” Tree insisted. “Feel it?”

Dana didn’t know what she was supposed to be feeling, but out of control was certainly one emotion rioting through her. She felt like she was vibrating, eyes sweeping over the cut again. She should clean it, she thought. She didn’t move. Her skin felt tight. She tried not to think about it.

“Just concentrate,” Tree instructed. “You have it in you. I know it.” Her voice felt distant as Scully registered the sensation of a slow zipper gliding across her hand, teeth closing one at a time around one another. Scully felt the sudden urge to vomit as her skin slowly knit back together, a silvery scar forming as the remaining blood congealed and dried. Tree nodded, mouth upturned softly. “I knew you could. You see?”

Chapter Text

Scully doesn’t mention it to anyone. In fact, she actively tries to forget the whole event. The crystals and everything else are thrown in a box in the closet, all except the High Priestess card she uses as a bookmark in the copy of Nature on her kitchen table. The whole thing was stupid, she decides. A fantasy bolstered by confusion and disbelief of her own illness and recovery.

Her pivot of belief almost works. It would have, if not for Mulder. Mulder and his ankle, to be precise.

He comes in on Monday morning hobbling and limping on what is clearly a sprained ankle wrapped in amateur bands of Ace bandage covered by a suspiciously bulging dress sock.

“Mulder, what did you do?”

“Now, now Scully. Always a tone of admonishment.”

“Mulder, what did you do.”

“I twisted it playing basketball. I’m not as young as I used to be!” It would have sounded more sincere, had he not looked quite so Adonis-like in the dim glow of lamplight that lit their basement lair.

“You should see a doctor, Mulder. Sprains can be serious if not healed properly.”

“You’re a doctor. I see you. You see me. We’re all good,” he shrugs, shuffling to his chair before collapsing into it with relief.

“You can’t do anything like that. If you won’t see a doctor, at least get some crutches.”

“I’m fine, Scully.”

“Can you walk without pain?”

“No. But I don’t need to. I have everything I need right here,” he grins, using his good foot to slide his rolling chair to their own personal cabinet of curiosities. “See?” He says, patting the the side of the file cabinet. “There’s a million cases in here.”

“Sometimes it feels that way,” Scully acknowledges wryly. “Just don’t expect me to do your able-bodied dirty work while your nursing your bum leg.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it!”

By the end of the day, he is singing an all together different tune, all but refusing to leave his office chair for anything less than a full bladder. Scully imagines that if he could make her do that too, he probably would. His ankle looks like small melon and she can’t help but worry that he’s torn something, although he rejects her concern with his typical cavalier, “it’ll be fine, Scully.”

By the time she parks her car in front of her apartment, she’s made her mind up. If Mulder won’t take care of himself, she would take care of the problem herself. She’s scarcely got her coat off before she’s pulling the crystals back out of the box of banishment and thumbing through her sole magic book. It’s only when she comes across the instructions she’s looking for that she pauses. What exactly was she was doing? She feels her resolve withering. Magic. Of all things. Of all the stupid, idiotic, downright illogical things she’s ever thought up, this has to be one of the most outlandish. Magic. She sneaks a look at her palm and the faint pink line running across it. Idiotic. But what if? She thought about Petey. What if Petey could have healed his daughter? Didn’t she owe it to Mulder to explore her very own extreme possibilities? Her fingers trace the chain of her necklace. She had faith. Why couldn’t she have this faith? Pressing the cross between her fingers, she knows.

She crafts herself an altar before she can lose her nerve, lighting the candles and sweeping the “old air” from the space. It’s all a bit makeshift and she has to stop between steps to reread the directions as she cleanses the area and maps the crystals into a circle. By the time she’s done, her hands and voice seem to act of their own accord, unencumbered by her internal debate between her split minds of science, faith, and exploration. Momentarily, she thinks about the Apollo 11 commemorative key chain resting in the bowl in her entry way. Now isn’t the time. Instead, she peels off her blazer and does as the instructions demand.

She expected she might feel foolish after its all said and done. But she doesn’t. She closes the circle, and without dwelling much at all, wanders off back toward her bathroom, suddenly hit by the exhaustion of the day and the stale feeling that comes from working in a basement and pant suit. She doesn’t think about it.

She doesn’t until the next morning, when Mulder comes in with a jaunty spring in his step announcing, “See Scully? I told you. Right as rain! Just needed to wait it out.”

She feels momentarily lucky she wasn’t drinking coffee. If she had been, she may have spit it out from the shock.

“Mulder, are you sure you’re fine? If it hurts, you shouldn’t keep walking on it.”

“I’m fine! Doesn’t hurt a bit. Just needed the night to get the swelling under control. I’m good as new!” He reclines in his chair, the picture of health. Sneaking a glance a glance at her he puts his feet up on the desk, leaning his head into his hands, “See? A-okay.”

“Alright, Mulder, if you say so,” she says with an eye roll and a swig of coffee.

“Cheers to your a-okay ankle.”

“Thank you, Scully,” he grins. She busies herself with the file in front of her before excusing herself to the small one stall bathroom. Peering at herself in the mirror, she surveys the facts. She expected herself to feel differently. Perhaps afraid or uncertain, shaken by this turn of events. Maybe disbelieving. But she doesn’t. She touches her cross absently. She doesn’t feel shy or uncertain. Or faithless. Not in God and not in certainly not in herself. She feels vivacious. Viscerally alive. She feels godly.

Chapter Text

Scully had never considered herself particularly powerful. She new she was capable. But capability and power were two different things. She hadn’t realized she was powerful too. Now she knew better.

She tries to ask Tree more about magic and about whatever she’d done to herself and to Mulder, but Tree just smiles blissfully and tells her that everyone’s practice is different and that she’ll find out for herself in her own time. It’s not the answer she was looking for, but she buys two more books and bundle of sage before she leaves anyway. Tree tries to sell her a broom, but even newly magic Scully has her limits.

Instead, she studies the books she’s bought like textbooks, resolving not to practice again until she knows what she’s doing. She makes a single exception for Mulder, who she crafts a charm for. They’re partners, after all.

Mulder, for his part, continues his life, blissfully unaware of Scully’s newfound power and skills. A piece of her is grateful, but another piece — one which she’s expended no small effort to bury — is disappointed. Isn’t that always the way? Mulder, so attentive to every other kind of irregularity and inexplicable thing, hasn’t even noticed the witch under his nose. She tries not to take it personally, willing herself to believe that its something other than the obvious. He just doesn’t see her.

Almost succeeds in letting it go, focusing instead on the myriad of other oddities in her life, not the least of which being the never-ending succession of strangeness that is her job. Almost.

They’re out at a bar, Mulder scarfing down a burger while Scully picks at his fries and her salad. It’s not the worst meal, or the worst day, but it feels long. Scully wonders if there’s such thing as a magical pick-me-up. She doesn’t know. She just wants to take a bath and go to bed. Mulder, who has been waxing poetic about geomagnetic anomalies, pauses mid-sentence. Scully doesn’t really notice until she looks up at his face between skewering bites of salad. He’s cartoonishly taken up with the woman at the bar divesting herself of her coat. Blonde hair is all Scully really registers, rolling her eyes with a “really Mulder?”

“Hey, now, no judgement.”

“I reserve that right,” Scully gripes, remembering — among others — Bambi. She stabs another chunk of romaine. By the time she looks up, the woman has already noticed Mulder — not that he was being subtle. Mulder is grinning, but Scully feels like she has the wind knocked out of her. Although never having felt powerful, she knows power when she sees it. The blonde’s eyes flick over her, then Mulder and the corners of her mouth twitch up ever so slightly. Scully averts her gaze and shoves the very full fork into her mouth.

“See?” Mulder nudges her foot under the table.

“No, Mulder, I don’t,” she replies, pushing his foot away with her ankle. Had she not been stuffing her face with salad while being stared at by both her partner and a wolfish looking woman at the bar, the mild game of footsie might have been sexy, but in reality it just made her redden. Mulder shrugged and dabbed a few fries in ketchup.

With the woman’s back now turned to the bartender, Scully felt like she could breathe again, putting down her fork to glance at her watch. Not terribly late, but enough that she’d probably skip the extra trip to the occult shop. She’d finally decided to retire her pocket knife and buy an athame, but she found it difficult to entertain a sense of urgency. Although she did recognize that she had some sort of skill or power that enabled her to heal herself and Mulder, she found it difficult to be absorbed by a great sense of rigidity about magical practice itself. It worked for Petey, who was certainly not buying imported athames, without the trimmings and trappings, and it worked for her. She lost herself in thinking about the bizarreness of it all, startled when Mulder kicked her again under the table.

“Ow! Mulder!”

“Hello,” a woman’s voice replied, voice low and distinctly accented, “I’m Stella.”

Scully tried not to look as surprised as she felt.

“Can we help you with something?” She replied.

“No,” Stella answered, holding out a napkin in Scully’s direction. “I’m visiting Washington for work.” She paused and glanced at Mulder, who sat in rapt attention, before returning her cool gaze to Scully. “I’m staying at the Fairmont. Room 1110.” There was a number on the napkin. Scully accepted slowly. The woman smiled, eyes flickering between Scully’s hand and her face, and turned, making her way back to the corner where her coat was still hanging, a plated burger and fries now placed in front of her stool.

Once the shock had worn off, Mulder was off like a flash, rapidly whispering. It took her a moment to catch up.

“Scully, do you know what that is? Is this — did Cancer Man send her? Do you remember her? Is she one of yours? I’m going to call the Gunmen.”

“Hang on Mulder,” Scully hushed him. “Let’s just pay and go.”

Mulder obliges her, but only because she has the napkin and he’s trying — failing — to play it cool. Sitting back in the car, Mulder resumes his thinking aloud.

“Are you going to go?” Scully looks at him like he’s gone temporarily mad.

“Why would I?”

“Don’t you think she could be trying to tell us something? Give us a sign? Aren’t you at least a little bit curious about why some random woman is coming up to you in a bar?” he asks as he puts his arm over the seat and begins to back out. He’d picked her up that morning so they could debrief about debriefing. Scully’s mouth falls open,

“What the hell is that supposed to mean, Mulder?”

“I’m just saying, you know. How many times has a woman like that given you her number?”

“Am I so grotesquely hideous to you? What if she just thought I was cute?” Mulder huffs,

“You are cute, Scully. You’re cute. I’m just saying that women like that do not usually slip little redhead agents their number. That’s it.”

“When was the last time someone like that gave you their number?”

“You wound me, Scully,” Mulder jabs, cracking a grin. “Come on, I said you were cute. Will you just forgive me and see what she wants?” Scully folds her arms but avoids slumping into the seat like a moody teenager.

“I’m not going, Mulder. There’s nothing there. She’s just a woman in a bar.”

“Scully,” he groans.

“Not everything is a clue, Mulder. She was probably just seeing if you’d bite.”

“Alright, alright,” he concedes, holding his hands up in mock surrender. “I know when to shut up.”

 

Scully thought she’d left the napkin on the table with the rest of their trash, so it’s an unexpected surprise when she feels it folded up in her coat pocket on top of her keys. The numbers are pressed into the soft paper. She scrapes her nail through the shallow valleys of ink. She probably was just trying to get a rise of out Mulder, maybe get him to give her his number discreetly as they left. Women found him irresistible, it seemed. Scully shrugged it off, hanging up her coat and blazer before kicking off her shoes — sensibly low heels, of course. She could hardly blame Mulder for being incredulous at her suggestion that the woman had been propositioning her. She didn’t exactly light up a room.

Still, she admired the intentionality and confidence the woman possessed. Scully wandered back to side table she’d stowed the indented serviette on. Maybe it was worth a call.

Stella did not pick up immediately, or even on the third ring. By the fourth, Scully was about to hang up when a breathless British lilt answered the phone, “Room 1110, Stella Gibson.”

“Hello, Stella,” Scully answered, hoping her voice didn’t giveaway her surprise.

“Oh,” Stella replied. “Yes. I didn’t get your name at the bar,” she continued smoothly.

“Scully. Dana.” She paused. “Did you mean for me to call you? I’m not sure what you meant.”

“This is what I meant. Although, I’d rather hoped you’d come by.”

“By?”

“The Fairmont. I’m just headed down for a swim. Perhaps I could see you when  I’m done.”

“Are you propositioning me?”

“Would you like a proposal instead?”

“Mulder isn’t with me,” Scully clarified, suddenly afraid that perhaps she would disappoint this woman — Stella — if she arrived on her own. Despite her assurances, Scully still wasn’t sure she entirely grasped what Stella truly meant.

“I didn’t ask him to come to my room.” Scully allowed the line to sit quiet, momentarily unsure.

“Alright.”

“Good.” Scully felt that she could hear the tiny smirk of her upturned lips through the phone. “I’ll see you soon, Dana.”

Chapter Text

Scully almost leaves as soon as she arrives. She’s out of her mind. Dana Scully did not call random women from bars and certainly didn’t meet them at 11pm at their hotels. She’d well and truly lost it.

Stella opens the door before she has a chance to flee.

“I thought I heard someone outside.”

“Hello,” Dana nods curtly.

“You shouldn’t lurk in hallways.”

“I wasn’t lurking,” Scully protests. “I was making a decision.”

“And did you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you come in. I’ll pour you a drink.” Stella’s eyes wander over Scully’s jeans and dress shirt. “I won’t hurt you.”

The statement strikes Scully as somewhat presumptuous. Perhaps Stella just understood herself. Scully nods, somehow reassured, and Stella steps aside.

Shutting the door softly, Stella watches Scully survey the room, appraising it.

“You’re a strange one,” she acknowledges, folding her arms over her chest. Scully realizes for the first time that Stella is wearing a robe and little else. Under the weight of the older woman’s gaze, Scully is suddenly reminded of the sensational presence of power Stella seemed to carry about her.

“You are, too,” she replies, nearly reverent. Stella reaches for her, her hand sliding from Scully’s elbow up her shoulders and finding its way to her hair. She doesn’t pull, simply rests her hand there. Scully allows herself to gaze into Stella’s eyes for the first time. They’re so expansive and blue.

“I want to have sex with you,” Stella tells her, voice low but matter of fact.

“I want to let you,” Scully admits. She imagines Stella might kiss her, but she doesn’t, instead planting her lips at the junction of her neck and shoulder, scraping gently with her teeth. The rest of it seems to pass in a blur until Scully is half naked on the king bed and catching her breath in pants. Stella lays on her side, hand resting on Scully’s ribs.

“You’re really strong,” Scully tells her. She’s never been especially good at pillow talk. Stella’s lips quirk in silent amusement.

“Thank you.” Scully states at the ceiling. She feels unbridled, as if she could say or do anything in this moment. She kicks her jeans the rest of the way off her legs and lays there, watched all the while by Stella. “You’re magnetic, Dana.” It makes Scully laugh out loud.

“Have you ever seen a mirror?” Scully retorts.

“Have you?” Stella fires back.

“So what do you do, just hang out at bars and slip your room number to random women?”

“Sometimes.”

“I don’t understand women like you,” Scully admits, risking a glance up at Stella. She bristles

“Because we’re virgins and whores?” Stella needles. Scully shakes her head, still in the pleasant haze of afterglow.

“No,” she shakes her head. She feels a bit drunk, in spite of her sobriety. “You’re so powerful.” Stella looks down at her once more, jaw softening as Scully peers up at the ceiling.

“You haven’t got a clue,” she tells Scully,

reaching out to stroke her hair.

“Let’s go again,” Scully prompts her suddenly. Stella does not need to be asked twice.

 

Scully is late. Late late. Mulder is pacing around the office when she finally turns up, blustering and wearing a turtle neck and talking about traffic and being stuck in it.

Scully is lying, but she’s not anywhere close to being ready to tell truth. She’s still not quite sure what happened last night, except the obvious. She can’t quite make sense of it, or Stella. She’d been in such a rush, she hadn’t left a note. She’s mulling this over when Mulder snaps in front of her face.

“Are you in there, Scully?”

Scully frowns. “What, Mulder? I was thinking.”

“Would you like to share with the class?”

“Not especially. Now, where were we?”

“Birds, Scully. Birds.”

“Birds?”

“Birds,” Mulder confirms.

“What kind of birds, Mulder,” Scully says, folding her arms over her chest.

“Ornithomancy,” Mulder announces.

“Let me guess, magic with birds?”

“Not really magic, more like divination. See, some people think you can find patterns in the behaviors of birds that can help us understand the future.”

“Like natural disasters.”

“Not only that! It’s the magnetisms, Scully! If magnetism is as important as we think it is, why wouldn’t birds respond to it?”

“This is all well and good, but why are we talking about birds?”

“Strange bird migrations and bird patterns over the northeast. Could be a foretelling. A woman disappeared last week. I think we should check it out.”

“People disappear all the time, Mulder. The birds don’t make it an X-file.”

Mulder slid a photo across the desk to her, looking at her the expectant smirk he wore when he knew he had an ace.

Scully looked at it for a moment before passing it back.

“Birds?”

“Every bird in the county, Scully! All on top of this lady’s house! Now, if that isn’t an x-file, I would like to know wha other unexplained phenomena you’ve been investigating without me.” Scully blushed, ducking her head in a vain and ineffective attempt to hide the color in her cheeks.

“Alright, Mulder. It’s weird. I don’t know what you want me to do about it, though. We are not bird experts, nor do I think that the appearance of birds qualifies the federal government’s interest.”

“Aw, come on. A woman disappears, a bunch of birds show up. Maybe...” he drew out the word in anticipation, “maybe there’s something more to this woman’s disappearance than meets the eye.”

Scully sighed. “Mulder, I concede that there might be something strange happening there, but it’s not an X-file yet. Why don’t we sit on this one? I know there’s got to be countless others you have in mind. And, Mulder? Maybe we could try staying a little closer to home this time?”

Mulder’s brow furrowed, his voice dropping slightly, “Scully, are you sick again?”

“No! No. I’m not. I’d just like to sleep in my own bed for more than a few nights in a row.” Mulder nodded.

“Ok. Close to home. You got it.”

 

She had not expected to hear from Stella again. Her whole demeanor seemed to read like a warning sign and Scully respected that. Instead, she drove back to the magic shop where she was quickly becoming a regular and browsed through the back section of books on energy and the natural world. Tree, the thin man at the counter had told her, was out sick. “Food poisoning,” he told her in a stage whisper.

“Can’t you heal that yourself?”

“Not exactly. You can grow and mend far easier than you can destroy things. Even little tiny things in your own belly.” Scully nodded and retreated, mind pondering this new bit of information.

“I hope she feels better.”

She’d made it out with only three books, only one of which was on birds, and bought a bag of groceries on the way home. By the time she reached her apartment, she felt the day. She wondered if there was any magical means of putting the pep back in her step, but put that thought aside as she played out her answering machine messages and unpacked her bags.

“Dana. It’s Stella. I star sixty-nined your number. Perhaps you’d like to come back for a nightcap? I never got you your drink, though I much enjoyed our time last night. You have my number. Call me back. I’m in town until Friday.”

Dana continued unloading her veggies, setting them gently in the crisper drawer as she considered the options. Having never expected to hear from Stella, she was now uncertain if she wanted to open this particular can of worms. It had been fun, a refreshing moment of play and spontaneity. Part of her worried that seeing Stella again might ruin it. But, she was so lovely, so unusual. Seeing her again was a hard opportunity to pass up.

Dana hadn’t been planning to call her back. She’d all but decided not to revisit Stella at all, but there was something inexplicable and unnamable that drew her in. By the time she called, it was far too late to go over. She imagined Stella might even have found other company by now. Somehow, Scully imagined she was never at a loss for lovers.

“Gibson,” she answered.

“Stella, it’s me. Dana.”

“Hello, Dana.”

“I’m sorry to call you back late. I was — out.”

“Not at all. I assume it is too late for you to want to come over.”

“It is.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I thought maybe you’d have found someone else.”

“Not tonight.” Scully could hear Stella breathe through the phone. “Are you sure it’s too late, Dana?”

Scully looked at her lap for a moment, struggling to find a good reason not to go. “I need to be able to shower in the morning.”

“I have a shower. You’re welcome to it.”

“Alright.”

“Yes, Dana?”

“Yes,” Dana affirmed. “Yes. Pour me a drink. I’ll be there in a bit.”

 

For the second night in a row, Scully sleeps blissfully well, tired and naked and sated from bedroom escapades. The alarm beeps far too soon and it’s only once she can feel the bed shifting as Stella stirs that she’s able to will herself out of bed.

Stella lets Scully use the shower first, although turn-taking devolves quickly once Stella steps into the shower next to her. Surely they’re saving time somehow, Scully reasons, allowing Stella to press her against the glass, hands roaming.

“You’re frisky this morning,” Scully murmurs against Stella’s neck.

“I’m an opportunist,” Stella replies, twisting to slide her mouth down Scully’s neck, dipping further until Scully says,

“Don’t do that. You’ll bruise your knees in here.”

“I don’t care,” Stella replied, gently settling her weight onto her knees and curled toes, face resting on Scully’s thigh expectantly.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No, of course not,” Scully breathed heavily, reaching for Stella. Stella expected to feel the hand in her hair, a guiding tug here or there. Dana’s fingers brushed her cheek as Stella watched her, eyes unreadable. Stella shifted her face inward and Dana’s eyes no longer watched her.

They left together. The morning still felt young and invigorated as Stella walked Scully to her car, smiling. Stella sipped her coffee, idly inquiring about the area and the weather. Scully sensed she was building some sort of information bank to be used at a later date, but thought it best not to pry.

A crow swooped down from a nearby tree, landing squarely in front of Stella, startling them both. It squawked and hopped toward them, tiny head tilting as though trying to make eye contact.

“People must be feeding them,” Scully dismissed, stepping toward the bird, which merely hopped to one side, as if letting them pass, squwaking again Stella strode past it to follow Scully.

“I can drive you somewhere,” Scully offered.

“That’s not necessary. The fresh air will do me good. I’ll walk.”

“Alright.” Scully looked down at her feet momentarily. Shifting to meet Stella’s eyes, she continued. “Should I expect to see you again, Stella?”

“Would you like to?”

“Yes. I would.” The words sounded much more confident than she felt.

“Then I think you can expect to see me.”

“Alright.”

“I’ll call you,” Stella assured, leaning in for a soft kiss.

“Alright,” Dana sighed into her lips before ducking into her car. Stella stepped back from the vehicle, waving gently as Dana pulled away. Behind her, the crow rested on the concrete base of a lamppost, head still cocked. 

Chapter Text

Mulder is suspiciously quiet when Scully arrives into work, curled over an open file folder with a pencil perched between his index finger at thumb.

“Mulder,” she begins tentatively. “What are you doing?”

“Hm? Oh, uh, reading.”

“About what?”

“Would you be angry if I told you birds?”

“Angry, no. Annoyed, yes. I thought we settled this, we’re backing off of this one until we have more to go on.”

“Yeah, but I think maybe we’re missing something here. Birds don’t just do that for no reason.”

“Birds do a lot of things for no reason, Mulder.”

“Not like that!”

“Well, are they still there?”

“No?”

“Well then, how do we know it’s not just a fluke?”

“I’m glad you said that. I got us an appointment with an ornithologist at the Smithsonian.”

“Mulder, really. The zoo?”

“You said close to home. I’m keeping it close to home.” She has to give him that.

“Alright, alright. We’ll go, but can we please reserve questions to relevant topics?”

“Such as?”

“Birds and geomagnetism.”

“I make no promises.”

 

The ornithologist reminds Scully of Bambi, but more compact. She’s bright and agile and pretty in spite of the brown uniform that hangs on her in a way that is almost unflattering, but not quite. Her name is Debra. It crosses Scully’s mind to wonder if she would be Stella’s type, but she doesn’t pay it heed. Instead, she listens as Mulder fires question at her about birds, flocking, and lay lines, a term Scully wished she didn’t know. Debra shrugs and Scully burrows her hands further into her pockets.

“Do you want to see some of the birds?” Debra asks. Scully glances up to see Debra smiling at her expectantly.

“Uh, sure. Lead the way.” Mulder shrugs just out of view as Debra turns to lead them into a block of enclosures behind the exhibits.

“This is one of my favorites,” she says gesturing to an expansive indoor enclosure linking to a larger exterior pen.

“What is it?” Scully asks, brows furrowing as she perused the large bird in the corner.

“It’s a long-eared owl. Her name is Teddy.” Debra practically beams. Mulder, looks on, as if suspicious. Scully suspects he harbors some residual animosity toward owls in general as a result of their common role in explaining paranormal encounters. Looking into the pen, Scully can imagine why. The birds big eyes bored into them, emotionless and impassive.

“She’s a rescue,” Debra continues. “We helped rehab her, but her foot was too injured to continue hunting in the wild.” Scully nods, then ducks, startled by the sudden flap of wings as the owl sailed toward them. “Sorry, Agent Scully,” Debra apologized as Scully righted herself, “she just thinks its time to eat.”

Debra trots them around to a few more enclosures before bringing them back to the exhibit entrance. Mulder thanks her a little too profusely and Scully fights the instinctual rolling of her eyes.

“Anyway,” Debra recaps helpfully, “your first step should be figuring out if the flocks are migratory or not. And let me know if you need help! I love getting to talk about this stuff!” Scully reaches her hand out with a courteous nod.

“Thank you for your time, Dr. Dentin.”

“Are you happy now?” She murmurs as they leave the zoo, her sensible suede heels clacking against the pavement

“I guess,” Mulder shrugs.

“Mulder, you guess?”

“Maybe the question isn’t about the birds. Maybe it’s the house. Magnetic anomalies are commonly reported in close encounters with extraterrestrial craft and beings.”  Scully slides into the passenger seat.

“I know, Mulder. Can we please just go now? I’m hungry.”

“Only get the light cream cheese this morning?” he goaded as he started the car. To be fair, Scully realized at that moment she hadn’t eaten anything all day, not even Stella. The thought made her blush.

“Hello,” Mulder waved, eyes still watching road as he pulled onto the thoroughfare. “Earth to Scully. Do you copy?”

“No Mulder, I’m just hungry. Let’s go.”

“Ok, ok. We’ll stop and get something to eat and then I can drop you at the Bureau.”

“Where are you going?” Mulder shrugs.

“I think I’m going to go up to that house after all.”

“Why?”

“Feeling. But, I can go solo. Be back in a day, no problem.”

“No, Mulder. If you insist on going then we will both go and be done sooner.”

“That the enthusiasm I like to hear,” he said lips quirked upward in a wry mirth. The thought only occurred later to her as he drove away having dropped her off at her car that she might miss her last opportunity to see Stella on account of their trip. She got the machine when she called. With a sigh, she waited for the beep.

“Stella, it’s me, Dana Scully. I’m going to be out of town for work for the next day or so. Um, I hope that we can see each other when I get back. I’ve been having a nice time. Ok. Well, you have my number. Bye.” A nice time. Scully mentally chided herself. She sounded so utterly juvenile. Stella probably wouldn’t call anyway, Scully mentally consoled. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have other options. Scully bit her lip and dumped a box of pasta a pot of boiling water. It didn’t matter.