A lifetime of searching had yielded results: truth, in its infinite cruelty.
He’d sent Samantha up into starlight: an innocent sprite turned celestial body. His entire life he’d dreamed nightly of her, of what felt like nothing but her: her face, haunted and terrified, as she was dragged away from him into the bright lights; her screams of Fox. Every day he hated the sound of his own name more.
He rarely slept, not really. And when he did, never well. He didn’t want to. Sleeping meant living there again and again. Whether real or imagined or simply a manifestation of guilt, the nightmare lived there, a constant within his mind, waiting to be set free.
Tonight, he’d wrapped his arms around his lost sister and let her go, up into the sky, for good. The tears he’d wept were real, but so was his freedom.
Scully drove them to the airport and as they sped closer to home he felt as if he were sleepwalking the entire time: the car, the motel. The airline counter. Security. A cup of coffee pressed between his chilled hands by Scully’s warm ones, the steam and smell of it encircling him. Scully’s blue eyes watching him over the rim of her own cup.
He drank, but tasted nothing.
They said very few words to each other for hours, but when the plane touched down in DC, he felt her take his hand and squeeze it. He looked over and saw tears in her eyes. She was the only other person in the world who could possibly understand where his head was at this moment, and he squeezed back and smiled, not really knowing what to say, but her eyes told him everything he needed to know.
“You gonna be okay tonight, Mulder?” she asked tentatively as she later pulled up to the curb outside Hegal Place.
“Yeah,” he said, and he really thought he meant it. “I’m okay.”
She nodded and he could tell she wanted to believe him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
When he closed the door of his apartment and dropped his keys on the dining room table, he heaved a sigh of relief. He was glad to be home again, but he’d never felt so alone in his life.
Sitting in Skinner’s office felt strange this morning. Mulder was having the distinct realization that his life had been composed of sections: the part before Samantha disappeared, the part while she was missing, and the part after. The now.
The now, the now, the now.
Scully had offered to close the file on Samantha for him, to help ease his transition into this new part of his life. But he’d insisted on doing it himself. It was the only thing that felt right.
Skinner closed the file and folded his hands in front of him on his desk, tilting his head sympathetically. “I’m very sorry to hear about your sister, Agent Mulder,” he offered.
“Thank you, sir,” Mulder said, somehow both robotically and earnestly.
“I know you’ve been waiting a long time to close this one. I’m sorry it didn’t have a happier resolution.”
“Happy resolutions are rare, sir, in our line of work,” Mulder pointed out.
Skinner nodded, perhaps a bit abashed. “Do you need to take some time off?”
Mulder hadn’t taken time off in years, at least none that he hadn’t been forced to. He hadn’t even considered it an option.
“I think… I’m okay,” he replied. “Working is probably the best thing for me to do right now.”
Skinner nodded, respecting that.
Mulder placed a new file on his boss’s desk, eager to get started. “Speaking of work, I believe there’s a situation in Los Angeles that requires my and Agent Scully’s attention.”
Skinner took the file, but still looked only at Mulder. “I’ll take a look.” He studied the younger man closely. “You know, Mulder... I think moving on from all of this will be good for you.”
Mulder eyed him questioningly. At first he wondered if perhaps his boss was crossing a line; if it was, in fact, any of the Assistant Director’s business what would be good for him. But he knew Skinner only said this out of genuine concern for his well-being, out of simple friendship.
He’d lost his sister, for good. He’d lost his mother. He was completely out of family. Friends were in short supply, so he welcomed Skinner’s sentiment.
“Thank you,” he said, smiling tightly.
Skinner nodded and dismissed him, with the proper assurances he’d give Mulder’s 302 and travel requests his attention.
Mulder closed the door behind him and walked towards the elevator, down the hallway. It had never felt so long before.
What would that look like?
Chapter One: In starlit nights
Mulder sat in his apartment, relieved it was a Friday. It had been an exhausting week, both physically and emotionally. As ready as he was to move on from the entire ordeal, he looked forward to a weekend of rest.
There was a knock at the door, and he knew instantly it would be Scully. He tried not to take that thought a step further, into who else would it be? territory.
When he opened it, there she stood, Chinese takeout in one hand, two DVDs in the other. He must have looked surprised, because her face fell immediately.
“Oh my god, I should have called,” Scully said, deflated. “Obviously you’re not in the mood for movie night tonight.”
“No, no, come on in,” he said. He had indeed completely forgotten about their weekly ritual but now that she was here, the last thing he wanted was for her to go. He reached out, took the food from her, and corralled her into the room by her shoulder.
“Are you sure?” she asked cautiously. He was so used to this routine by now; him going through something traumatic, her constantly checking in. Now that he thought about it, it was a little strange she’d turned up with takeout and movies as if nothing huge had happened.
“I’m sure. What did you bring?” He gestured towards the DVDs.
“The Jerk or Donnie Darko, ” she said, holding them up. “Although now I don’t really know what I was thinking.”
“Yeah, that’s quite a divergence,” he chuckled.
Mulder typically chose a comedy whenever it was his pick. Scully’s laughter was a rare creature he sought out like the most diligent of birdwatchers, and he took it as a personal victory whenever his movie selection could elicit some. But instead he felt compelled to point towards the bunny with the macabre Cheshire Cat grin.
“I think fate is telling me this one.”
“Fate, huh?” she grinned. “Well, that’s appropriate, I guess.”
He nodded. “You cue it up, I’ll go get us some plates.”
“Okay.” She slipped off her shoes, which was unusual. She rarely got too comfortable in his apartment, and for some reason he felt a flutter he hadn’t expected, as if something had changed. He wondered what it was.
He dished out the food and brought it over, setting down two beers next to the plates, cracking them open with a fizz-pop . He sat on the couch, and she situated herself on the floor by his coffee table, sitting cross legged.
“So… what did Skinner have to say this afternoon?” she asked, placing a napkin on her lap and taking a bite of lo mein. They hadn’t seen much of each other that day, as Scully had been stuck finishing up some overdue paperwork.
“Just… asked if I need some time off.”
Scully looked over at him. “Do you?”
He shook his head, mouth full. “I don’t think so, I really don’t.”
She nodded, sipped her beer. “I’m glad to hear that, Mulder.”
Work was good for Mulder, and it had been doing the trick at distracting him all day. But something was nagging at him about his future on the X-Files, and although he knew not what, he knew he would need to face it at some point.
“Can I ask… what happened?” she asked carefully. “Out in those woods? What did you find?”
It hadn’t been the first time Scully had missed seeing something, and it wouldn’t be the last. He wanted to tell her everything but he was afraid. Afraid of what, he wasn’t certain, but perhaps that the finality he’d been granted could be snatched away at any moment by her ever predictable skepticism, regardless of how much she cared about him.
“Confirmation, Scully,” he told her. It was as much as he wanted to reveal at the moment, and she didn’t push.
Looking at her now, it felt like some kind of invisible weight had been lifted from them both. She appeared at ease, relaxed. Her body language felt different, and it was hard to describe, but he noticed.
“I can’t begin to imagine how much relief you must feel, Mulder,” she said softly. “Back when Melissa died…” she trailed off, reliving it. “It hurt like hell, but I remember being somewhat thankful that at the very least, I knew what happened to her.” She looked up at him. “You never had that... until now.”
His eyes met hers. They shared that certainty: their sisters were both dead. Their fathers were both dead. Scully hadn’t been orphaned like he had, but it still felt like they were soldiers returned from the same side of the same war.
“I’m okay, Scully,” he said. Maybe it was simply having her by his side, but for the first time since he’d let Samantha go, he truly believed it. “Really.”
Her eyes softened and she nodded, almost as if she’d needed confirmation as well.
As they finished up their dinner, Mulder pressed play on the remote, and the discordant strains of Echo & the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon permeated the living room as Jake Gyllenhaal rode his bike along the Carpathian Ridge towards his own fate.
Mulder settled back into the couch, his eyes taking turns between watching the movie and watching Scully. She was right. Relief flooded his veins that that part of his life was indeed over.
He would wait until fate showed him what it had in store for him next.
She’d been here before so many times.
Not just in his apartment, the stale scent of his sweat and aftershave as familiar as her own. But here, in this position of which way do we go. It was a choice she’d never made because they’d never been forced to make it. Perhaps they never would.
She’d opted to take the floor tonight, her back against the couch, and because of this Mulder had sprawled out across it, his arm resting just behind her shoulder. Every so often his fingers would brush her back and whether it was an accident, whether he meant to or not, she couldn’t focus, she couldn’t think of anything other than his fingers touching her, so she turned her head ever so slightly to surreptitiously study him.
He hadn’t noticed her staring, as his eyes were fixated on the glow of the screen. In all the sci-fi-fantasy films he liked, the guy always got the girl: even this particular movie was romantic, albeit tragic. But never in real life, not in this life, as much as she hoped for it. She wanted to laugh at the irony: they were practically living a sci-fi fantasy and still, years later, nothing.
He sat with his head propped under one arm, his collar unbuttoned, tie loosened, shirt untucked. His half-drunk beer sat on the floor within his reach. Work-Mulder was one thing, but Home-Mulder was a far more elusive animal for her to witness in captivity. She imagined him doing this very same thing night after night regardless of her presence, and wondered if her being here meant anything, changed anything.
She was so tired of waiting endlessly to know the truth. Seven years together and she felt like she knew him so well, but at the same time barely at all. It was confounding.
Perhaps it was the gentle brush of his fingers, or his reliable steady breathing, but something had awakened inside of her and she felt a bravery she didn’t recognize. At first she wanted to blame the six pack they’d been sharing but she knew she was not drunk, not at all; the Shiner Bock swam inside her like a friend, like someone she’d needed for years to tell her to go after the things she wanted, the things she deserved. Like Missy in her ear telling her she was worthwhile no matter how her parents made her feel.
No… this was something else. And in a flash, the answer came to her. She suddenly realized she’d been subconsciously planning what was about to happen, that she’d known it even before she came over, and had no idea until this moment. All of these years, she’d waited. She’d known not why, but she’d waited.
Now, she knew why.
It was because of that deepest, darkest shadow in Mulder’s heart, the Samantha-shaped one she feared she’d never get out from behind. And for the first time in their partnership, she could finally see the sun.
“Mulder, can I ask you a question?”
He looked down at her. “Sure.”
She took a deep breath, and then out it came. “Are you lonely?”
He blinked, surprised at this personal affront. She expected this reaction; they so rarely discussed their emotions with each other. “Why do you ask?”
She didn’t want him to think this was still about him; about his having lost so much. It wasn’t about him. This was about her.
She looked directly into his eyes and told him the truth. “Because I am.”
His expression changed just then, not to pity or sympathy but something else. She knew his face, every line, every pore. She knew it better than she probably should. And what she saw was complete and total understanding.
Her gaze fell away, unable to muster the courage to hold his own, and landed on his arm instead as it rested on the edge of the couch. It enchanted her; the shape of his extensor digitorum, traveling from his wrist to the crook of his arm, the dimple it created where his elbow bent. His sleeve, rolled up and resting between bicep and forearm, where it always landed at the end of a brutal day. His skin: the tint of it, like the sand she’d once trod to find a cure to save his life halfway around the world.
She’d lain awake night after night and thought of little else since then: those long hours spent in Africa when she’d feared for his life. At the time, it felt like they still had such a long way to go to reach each other.
But there was no distance tonight, not this time. He was here, now. He was inches away from her, his aroma intoxicating, his breathing audible even over the sounds of the television. He was real and she was real and somehow she knew that this thing between them was real, too; this thing they’d denied themselves over the years was real and it would not go away, it would remain, lingering in the air like a cloaked spacecraft.
She couldn’t see it, but it was real. In this she wanted to believe.
He hadn’t answered her question, just stared at her, his expression unreadable, perhaps wondering how to respond. She turned towards him from her position on the floor and her hand reached out to touch his forearm, her fingers curling around it. It felt so freeing, just making this decision to touch him, an active decision, and following through with it. There was no reason, no excuse.
This was it, this was the moment of no return, and it was no longer a choice but a compulsion. She was tired of being lonely. She wanted to be touched by someone. She wanted to be held by someone. And she wanted that someone to be him.
She couldn’t pretend the spacecraft didn’t exist, not anymore.
She rose up onto her knees to face him. The remote rested beside his head on the arm of the couch and she took it, muting the notorious dance stylings of Sparkle Motion, setting it back on the table.
He stared at her with a look she couldn’t figure out, but it wasn’t a look that said don’t. It was the furthest thing from that look she could discern. So she leaned into him, all the way in, and she felt him inhale ever so slightly as she took the biggest risk of her life.
When their lips touched, he kissed her right back, and all the things she knew were wrong with the world disappeared from her mind; everything bad that had happened in their lives was simply gone, and what remained were Mulder’s lips pressed against her own; nothing but the sweet taste of victory.
His eyes closed and she could hear a small sound from deep within him, the tiniest sigh of satisfaction, maybe even relief. This was exactly the way she’d imagined it happening all these years, right down to the gentle gurgle of his fish tank beside them, ethereal green light dancing on the walls. Here, right here, is where she’d pictured it.
The heavenly delirium of his mouth against hers thrilled her enough to spur her on, to part her lips and see what he would do. She wanted him to go further, not to end the kiss sweetly at the stroke of the New Year but to fill her mouth with his tongue and push her down to the floor, put an end to this persistent ache she suspected they’d both felt for years.
But he didn’t. He kissed her gently, almost reverently. Like he didn’t want to break her. Like he was holding something back.
She pulled away, a flush of uncertainty spreading from her head to her toes.
“Say something,” she whispered. His mysteries were endless, including his feelings for her. She pulled her hands together protectively, resting them on the couch between them.
His free hand moved to cover her own, the warmth a comfort, but still he did not speak. Suddenly a terror grabbed hold of her that perhaps she’d done something wrong, that maybe this was a huge mistake. Maybe he’d abstained all these years for a reason and now she’d lose him forever.
“Mulder, speak to me.”
His eyes then revealed a new expression, and it was not hesitation or discomfort. It was not regret. It was absolute wonder. It was shock and amazement. It was discovery.
His mouth hung open, eyes softening. His voice cracked as he spoke. “I’m afraid... if I say something I’ll wake myself up,” he said, more quietly than she’d ever heard him speak.
It didn’t feel real, any of it, although she knew it was. She smiled, taking his forearm, and with two fingers pinched it softly. He reacted but neither of them woke up, as she knew would be the case. She brought his arm up to her lips and kissed where she’d pinched him, just wanting to touch him, needing to feel the heat of him, wanting him more badly than she’d ever wanted anything in her entire life. Needing him to know this was real.
He reached out and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, his hand curving, cupping her face, lingering there for a moment. He pulled her towards him and she prepared for another kiss, another step towards their nirvana, but instead he brought his mouth up close to her ear.
“Scully…” he whispered. “Are you sure you want this?” His voice hitched, hesitating, and she could tell he didn’t want to say the next part. But he did. “Are you sure you want… me?”
The idea that she could possibly want anyone other than Fox Mulder hadn’t occurred to her in years, and his humility in a moment where that was clearer than ever humbled her in turn. She was in awe of him, of his concern that her loneliness was perhaps misplaced.
“Yes, Mulder,” was all she could think of to say. Yes, yes, yes. I will tell you yes until the end of our days. “I only want you.”
She leaned back to read his face. There was a flicker in one of his mossy irises, the way he always looked when he was turning something important over in his mind, and for a moment she wondered if it was indeed the answer he’d expected. It was all she wanted to say to him, and that he wanted her back was all she wanted to hear.
His silence frightened her but she had to know. She had to. She took a deep breath and asked him. “Do you... want me?”
He shook his head, incredulous. Sitting up, he shifted his body so she was locked between his thighs. He took her hand and laid it against his heart. It was absolutely racing.
“What do you think?”
She nodded. She felt dizzy with euphoria; this was happening and what was only a dream a few seconds ago was now a reality, transforming before her very eyes. She’d never believed in the paranormal, and just as he’d slowly worked at convincing her of such over the years, this too, perhaps the most improbable, mysterious force of all, was coming to fruition.
“Are you scared?” she asked.
“Terrified,” he laughed. “Are you?”
“Yes,” she admitted quietly, because as long as the truth was coming out she may as well let him hear it.
“Of what, exactly?”
“I don’t really know,” she said. That I don’t know what I’m doing. That this could be a mistake. Of this entire thing, whatever it is, swallowing us whole.
“You know what I’m thinking about right now?” he asked. She shook her head. “I’m thinking about all the times I’ve been afraid before, all the times I’ve wandered into some dark, scary place… and how knowing you were right there beside me eased my fear.”
She grinned. “Having a flashlight helps.”
Laughing, he nodded. ”You’re right.” He let go of her hand, moved both of his own to her face. She could see him studying it, as if he were seeing it anew.
“I believe in us, Scully, wherever we go together,” he said. “I want to believe this thing between us is real, and good, and true.”
She was happy, genuinely happy, an emotion so foreign to her she almost felt like crying. He wanted her. This was destiny, something cosmic, she knew it. It was in moments like these that her faith felt completely justified: in fate, in God, in love. In him.
She exhaled, slowly, attempting to control her emotions. “I want to believe that, too.”
He cocked his head, gave her that patented Mulder grin, and rubbed her cheek softly with a thumb. “Then let’s shine a light on this, Scully.”
This time, he was the one who leaned in, and their second kiss was even better than their first.