It first meets Dana when she’s fifteen.
Braces, freckles, awkward teenage-ness. It’s comfortable against her chest, nestled against her heart, hearing it beating. Slow and steady while she sleeps, then faster when the boy with sandy hair in homeroom touches her hand as he passes back a pencil.
It’s just a small piece of gold but it stays put, constant, like her faith.
At first her faith is in Him, that ubiquitous Him she’s known since childhood. He watches over her, He keeps her safe. He is there when no one else can be. And this particular faith ebbs and flows with age.
High school, college, medical school. Worn, unworn. Sometimes she is faithful, on nights when her heart is broken by some insufficient male and she misses her mother and it’s too late to call; those nights she wears the cross, holds the cool metal between her fingers and imagines Him, protecting her, guiding her.
And other times she is not so faithful, those days where her scientific rigor is put to the test, where she knows in her mind He simply cannot be but somehow He is there on her shoulder anyway, ever-present, judging her for leaving the cross in the small dish on her nightstand.
The length of its chain changes over time, as does its vantage point from her neck (although not by much). But the cross remains: part of her, steadfast and true.
It first meets her partner thirteen years later.
Only from across the room at first, but it always knows him by the way Dana’s heart beats faster, like it used to when she was younger. It happens so rarely anymore.
Her faith has never been so tested in all of her life: faith that first was confronted by hard evidence in various labs that shattered it to pieces. Now, with Mulder, the reverse seems to occur: her hard evidence is continually being shattered by miracles, by doubts. It’s difficult to know what to believe anymore.
Trust is fleeting, oblique. But not with him. From the very beginning she has faith in him. And it is true faith, genuine faith, because she cannot explain or quantify it: it just is.
Perhaps it’s simply her faith transitioning naturally from Him to him, but soon she wears the cross all the time again. And just as it settles back into its comfortable place at the hollow of her throat it is ripped away from her neck, discarded onto the itchy fabric floor of a stranger’s trunk.
And she is gone.
Her partner’s hand is the next thing it feels. Closing around it, larger, rougher than hers.
He calls for her desperately in the chill of night, his hand clutching the cross as if it were a piece of her; his only piece of her.
He knows so little about her yet that he places the cross into the shaking hand of her mother, a piece of Scully he is not familiar with. He feels strongly the cross belongs with her family.
But Margaret Scully knows that her daughter’s faith doesn’t come from the cross; it comes from Fox Mulder. And it doesn’t belong with her.
It belongs with him.
Putting the necklace on is strange for him. His family was never religious so neither was he. Funny how that happens.
But he worries if he doesn’t wear it, he will lose it. He’s already lost her; he can’t bear the thought.
It’s been difficult going into the office every day. Even before her abduction it was difficult; knowing she wouldn’t be waiting with a stack of research and those reliable indulgent eyes he’d become so accustomed to. But now, it’s worse. Everything just hurts all the time. He feels solely responsible, the only person who might have prevented this and he couldn’t.
Just like Samantha. Once again, he couldn’t save her.
The responsibility of finding his partner consumes his every thought. He doesn’t realize the weight of this immediately but day after day, the cross hangs heavier around his neck, against his chest, under his shirt; a constant reminder of her absence. His heart beats but something is different; empty. He is not himself.
Head down, eyes forward, he continues the work, because it’s the only thing he can do for her.
Malibu Canyon. Santa Ana winds. Blazing fires that will grow out of control, much like his own judgment. A choice that becomes a mistake.
“All I know is normal is not what I feel.”
He isn’t normal, not really. It’s clear he is in a dark place, an unfamiliar place. Just like Scully.
Just like her cross, he thinks, touching it.
This stranger is dark and mysterious. He’s drawn to her, because he is Fox Mulder, and he gravitates toward darkness more often than he’d like to admit. But more likely, he feels deserving of the dark right now.
“You’ve lost someone. Not a lover, a friend.”
The stranger isn’t wrong. His devotion extends to their partnership, it's purely professional.
Or is it?
He’s barely learned to know Scully, and to uncover the precise depth of his own feelings for her. It’s a band of elasticity, constantly pushing forward and back, one feeling one day, an entirely new one the next. He doesn’t know what he’s allowed to feel for her, what he should allow himself to feel.
Perhaps that’s why he lets the stranger in tonight: to feel something, anything; to take a brief moment of pleasure within this hellscape of pain. Nearly two years into his partnership with Scully and he’s only just realizing he’s subconsciously avoided sex with anyone else.
What does this mean?
Maybe he wants to save Kristen because he wants to save Scully. Like he wanted to save Samantha.
So many different feelings are bouncing around his mind, and faced with the attractive and eager stranger he lands on sex as the answer. Fucking Kristen is not an acceptable substitute for saving Scully, not at all, but it’s what she seems to want.
And what he wants is to feel something.
The cross dangles between his sweaty chest and the stranger, making it impossible to forget his partner even for a moment. And he hates himself for doing this; for failing Scully, for the time he’s spending not searching for her, and fucking some random stranger instead.
What does this mean?
Afterwards he extracts himself from her grasp, collecting his clothes from the couch and resuming his position in her living room. The silent sentinel.
The silent, useless sentinel.
The cross goes back to its rightful owner. Mulder is tight-lipped, almost bashful as he places it into her palm. Scully wonders about this.
She’d felt him when she was in the white place, wherever it was, whatever they’d done to her. She’d known somehow she would see him again. It was the only thing that kept her going.
Their work, the quest, the truth. These are the things she’s convinced herself she needed to come back for. But now, as he opens her door for his second visit, she sees the face of a true friend. Her truest friend.
He is who she’s come back for.
“I watched your football video,” she greets him.
“No.” She smiles.
“Sorry,” she smirks. “When you’ve stared death in the face your priorities tend to change.”
He chuckles. “Mark my words, one night you’ll run out of things to watch and in an act of desperation...” he trails off.
“Stranger things have happened,” she admits. He sits, gingerly, in the chair beside her bed. “Thanks for coming, Mulder.”
“Of course,” he says. His hands rest on his thighs. He appears restless, uncertain.
She thinks about her necklace, how he kept it safe for her all these weeks. Mulder isn’t the tidiest of bachelors. Was it in his pocket? Strewn across his nightstand? Dangling from the edge of the framed picture of Samantha on his desk?
“How did you manage not to lose this?” she asks, holding the chain of her necklace taut. “I’m amazed it didn’t disappear forever into one of your piles of stuff.”
His hand goes to the back of his neck, awkwardly. “I, uh… I wore it, actually.”
Surprise floods her heart. “You?”
“Yeah, I never took it off.”
She smiles, touched. “Wow, Mulder.” She doesn’t say it, but she thinks it: I never left his mind.
“I can’t believe you’re really here,” he breathes, as if the words have been bottled up inside his chest.
“Me neither.” She is reflective. “There was a moment when I felt like letting go.”
“But here you are.”
Her hand goes instinctively to the cross. “Here I am.”
“What made you change your mind?”
Does she tell him? “I felt you with me, Mulder. You believed I wasn’t ready to go, and I believed you.”
I had the strength of your beliefs.
He nods, smiles. There isn’t much else to say. She made it home, and so did the cross. Her faith in him has been rewarded.
A stormy night in Philadelphia. Raw, newly inked flesh. A choice that becomes a mistake.
The cross dangles between herself and a stranger. She hadn’t planned this, not at all, but it’s happening just the same.
“Sounds a little like your time has come around again.”
The stranger isn’t wrong. She’s earned attention, but isn’t getting it from Mulder. The stranger is here, though.
As unfamiliar hands grip her hips and unfamiliar eyes look into hers she instead sees Mulder, thinks of Mulder. Feels Mulder. And she hates herself for doing this; for failing him, for spending time not being honest with him, and fucking some random stranger instead.
This all began with a strong urge to prove that she is desirable, that she is wanted. That she is worthy of attention.
But she’s discovered she only wants that from Mulder.
What does this mean?
When it’s over she and the stranger lay awkwardly strewn across the floor of his sparse living room. He offers her the bed, because for now, he’s a gentleman. Her hand goes to the cross Mulder wore while he searched for her years ago.
He never leaves her mind.
They sit in the dim lamplight of a motel, him propped against the headboard, reading a book. She sits cross legged at the foot of the bed in his Yankees shirt, a pillow in her lap, just watching him read, which apparently serves as a legitimate activity these days.
“How many women have you been with, Mulder?”
He looks up, surprised. “Oh god, are we doing this?”
He can’t recall, he doesn’t really want to recall. But he isn’t afraid to. Being on the run from the law makes these heart to heart talks between them unavoidable. For the first time in nine years they are no longer afraid of the truth.
“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” she grins.
He removes his glasses and sets them on the bedside table, raising an eyebrow. “Ooh, really? How many women have you been with, Scully?”
She throws the pillow at him. “You know what I mean.”
The temptation to find out if she’d actually slept with Ed Jerse is too great so he agrees. “Okay. You go first,” he says.
“Hey! This is my game, I asked first,” she grins.
“Consider it my only condition.”
She sighs, leans over, stretching herself on her stomach across their bed. As she does this, his shirt rides up her back, revealing one of his favorite views. White cotton panties have never looked so exciting. She drags her finger along his leg. “I already know, Mulder.”
“Which one you want to know about.”
“Am I that transparent?”
“The answer is yes,” she says quickly, and the words sting. He knew; deep down he thinks he’s always known. But it’s always bothered him; that maybe if he hadn’t behaved the way he did none of it would have happened. The one night stand, the subsequent attack, all of it.
“Can I ask... why?”
She catches his eye. “You can ask me whatever you want, Mulder. But that’s not really part of the game.”
He searches her eyes. He has to know. “Why?”
She moves to sit up on her knees. Her fingers move to her cross and it reminds him instantly of Kristen, and why he has no reason or excuse to be angry with her about Ed Jerse.
“I was lost,” she shrugs, looking at the cross. “I didn’t know at the time how I felt about you. I was acting out, like a kid, like I was stealing my mom’s cigarettes again.”
“So… nothing to do with me, then?”
Her eyes drift up to his face and she pins him with a look. “It had everything to do with you, Mulder. I just didn’t realize it until afterwards.”
He nods, wanting to understand. He thinks maybe he does; his own situation with Kristen was surprisingly similar. He mentally prepares for the impending divulgence he hadn’t anticipated tonight.
“It feels good to tell you, though,” she says, absently fingering the necklace. “Finally.”
“It feels good not to wonder anymore.”
“Now you go,” she says. He doesn’t press her for more tonight; this feels like enough.
“Are we counting the 1-900 women?”
“No. We’d be here all night,” she laughs. It’s not as if they have anywhere else to be, anything else to do, but he’s relieved nonetheless.
“Well, a few girls at Oxford.” Post Phoebe Green.
“I had no idea you were such a player, Mulder.”
“I wasn’t,” he admits. “Bit of a self-destructive streak, you know.”
“Ah.” She’d met Phoebe. She knows. “What about after you met me?” In her haste to avoid all mention of his past with Diana she’d inadvertently put him in a position to either be completely honest about Kristen or lie to her face. He will not do the latter, not anymore.
“There was one,” he confesses. “While you were… gone.”
She is silent. She had absolutely no idea. He suddenly feels like maybe he shouldn’t have told her at all, but then where would they be? What kind of honesty, what kind of trust could they claim?
He reaches out, touching her chin, making her look at him. “I was lost, too, Scully.”
She exhales softly. “Who was she?”
“Does it matter?” he asks. “She wasn’t you.”
She smiles, seemingly satisfied. Then her expression changes slightly. “But… you said you wore my cross while I was gone. Are you telling me…?” her eyebrow goes up.
Oh… yikes. “Um.” He can feel his face turn white and knows he could never tell a lie of the same color. “I’m sorry. Are you upset?”
“Why would I be upset?” she asks, perfectly seriously.
He shakes his head, opening his mouth, but he can’t form words. His guilt exists, but he’s unable to explain it properly. His heart had been hers already, he just hadn’t known it.
“It was so many years ago, Mulder,” she reassures him. “Before us. Before any of this. Besides...” she says with a smile, touching the tiny gold cross that settles into the hollow at her throat. “I was closer to your heart than she was.”
Her words touch him: his Scully, endlessly devoted to him. Finding the good in every shitty thing he’s ever done. Will he ever deserve it?
“You were, you know.”
She nods. She knows. “We were both stupid for so many years, Mulder,” she continues. “I’m not about to make a checklist and keep score.”
He chuckles. “Well that’s a relief.”
“Because you’d lose?” she grins.
“Because I’d lose.”
She laughs in response, gazing into his eyes. “I hope you know this isn’t a contest,” she says. “It never was.”
“I still think I’d lose, Scully.”
She runs her fingers through his hair. “I think we’ve both won,” she whispers, and she's right, as usual.
He smiles, but his eyes turn serious. “I really should have been more careful with it.” He takes the cross between his fingers, softly dipping his index finger into the hollow at her throat and she shivers. Her eyes darken and she brings her hands to the back of her neck, unclasping the necklace. She then leans forward, putting it around his own neck.
"You'll be careful with it," she says. "I have faith in you."
He raises an eyebrow in question and, in answer, she draws him in for a kiss, long and decadent. He closes his eyes, savoring every last bit, and her kiss absolves him; the cross no longer feels heavy around his neck.
They move together, his hands squeezing her flesh, her fingernails embedded in his back. He whispers her name into her ear, she moans his in return.
The cross dangles between two hearts now, two hearts that beat wildly only for each other.