She is so tired. So, so tired. Her feet ache. Her head aches. Her spine aches. Her shoulders ache. The back of her jaw aches from clenching her teeth. On loan to Quantico, she’s been on her feet all day, lecturing, autopsying, lecturing some more, autopsying some more. All she wants to do when she gets home is to pop something quick into the microwave, sink into a hot bath, and then sink into bed. She tells Mulder all of this hours before she’s even finished with her day at Quantico, so when she walks in her door and finds him waiting for her, the irritability she already feels skyrockets to new levels.
“Dammit, Mulder,” she mutters, dropping her keys into the glass bowl on the table behind the couch. He’s already by her side, taking her bag from her shoulder and trying to kiss her cheek, but she leans away. “I told you I wasn’t up for-”
“I know,” he interrupts, nodding profusely. “I know, I know, I know. But, I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“I don’t want any surprises.”
“Go ahead and change. Something casual.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’ll like it, I promise.” He tries to take her hand and she yanks it back with a scowl.
“No,” she says, firmly. “You never listen, Mulder. You just never listen.”
“Of course I listen.”
“Do you? I told you how badly I needed the night off less than three hours ago.”
“I know. But-”
“No, buts! I don’t want to hunt aliens with you and I don’t want to visit a haunted house or search for sea monsters or investigate any ridiculous fairy tales, myths or legends. I don’t even want to hear the word ‘x-file’ tonight, I just want to be left alone.”
He stands in front of her, incredulous, his mouth opening and closing and Adam's apple bobbing like mad. She’s about to tell him to get out. To just go home and give her one night to be annoyed and exhausted and call her in the morning, but he sets his jaw and narrows his eyes like he has the audacity to be angry with her and she sets her own in response.
“You never said you wanted to be alone,” he says.
“It was implied.” She huffs and crosses her arms.
They stare each other down. He pushes the sleeves of his sweater up to his elbows and then crosses his arms as well. It’s her favorite sweater too, the dark green one that brings out the green in his eyes. The one that’s so soft that she can’t help but rub her cheek into his chest when they lie together on his couch. That stupid sweater makes her lick her lips unconsciously and want to give in to whatever scheme he has going on and that pisses her off even more.
“You always do this,” she says, shaking her head. “Dammit, Mulder.”
“ This . Show up where you’re not wanted. Nag me into following you into places I don’t want to go.”
He purses his lips, but says nothing. He nods his head and his gaze drifts away before he drops his arms and heads for the door. She opens her mouth and then holds her breath and fights off the urge to tell him to stop, to call him back and apologize for something she doesn’t feel sorry for.
While she’s not quite sorry, she does feel bad. She doesn’t want to fight with him, but she told him how tired she was. She told him she just needed to relax tonight. And still he showed up, with surprises no less, and left without even a goodbye or an apology. She stops feeling bad immediately and instead just feels angry all over again.
She hastily yanks her blazer off, tosses it towards the couch, and untucks her shirt from her slacks. She kicks her heels off, the ache in the soles of her feet even more prominent with every step she takes across the hardwood floor to the kitchen. She grabs the first Lean Cuisine she spots in the freezer and rips the box open. The cutlery rattles in the drawer when she yanks it open and she grabs a steak knife. She stabs her aggression out into the plastic covering of the frozen chicken and rice meal, puncturing it far more than necessary before she finally drops the knife onto the counter with a clatter and throws the sad little meal into the microwave.
She’s startled when she hears the front door open and whirls around, her right hand moving automatically to her hip where her holster would be, if she’d worn one today. But, it’s only Mulder, bogged down with a picnic basket that he looks like he’s struggling with. He doesn’t look at her, simply hefts the basket up onto the table, rattling the contents inside, and then walks out again.
Frowning, Scully walks over to the basket and flips open the top. There are plates and cutlery inside, a bottle of wine, glasses, take-out boxes with the familiar red lettering of her favorite Italian place. She can smell garlic bread and her mouth waters. Where did he get this picnic basket from? Where did he go?
Scully grabs her shoes off the floor and opens her front door. The elevator doors at the end of the hall are just closing and she catches a glimpse of her partner inside, which is strange considering she’s on the second floor and only a short flight up. He never takes the elevator. She hops and stumbles to get down the hall and put her shoes on at the same time. The numbers on the elevator go up to six, the top floor.
“Come on,” she mumbles, smashing the call button with her thumb over and over again as she watches the numbers fall back to two. When the elevator arrives, she rushes in before the doors fully open and then she smashes the number 6 until the doors close again and she paces in a circle as it ascends.
Directly to the right of the elevator is the door to the stairwell. Next to it is a small silver plaque stamped with ROOF ACCESS. The door is open and she peers inside, looking down towards the fifth floor and then up to the roof. The outside door is also open. She hurries up the stairs and spots Mulder near the edge of the roof, kneeling on the ground with his back to her. She heads towards him, walking briskly.
“What the hell are you doing up here?” she asks. There’s a folded blanket on one side of him and two pillows stacked on top of the pile. She can’t tell what he’s kneeling in front of, but the closer she gets, she realizes he’s dismantling a telescope and nestling the pieces into foam inserts inside of a carrying case.
Mulder doesn’t respond or turn to look at her. He finishes what he’s doing, closes the case he’s working with, and then gets to his feet. He slaps dirt from his knees and stoops to gather the pillow and blankets before he walks away.
“Mulder?” she calls, following just a few steps behind.
He stops suddenly and she comes to a halt, nearly running into him. He glares at her, or tries to, but there’s a wrinkle between his brows that betrays the set of his jaw. He might look angry, but he’s not angry. He’s hurt.
“What are we doing?” he asks her.
“If I’m such an inconsiderate asshole, then what are we even doing?”
“I never said that.”
“It was implied.” There’s venom in his tone as he throws her words back at her.
“Mulder, I never-”
“Why be with me? Why lead me on? Why stay? Why?”
A wind kicks up and blows her hair into her face which she blows back and shakes her head once. The wrinkle between his brows grows deeper and his eyes squint nearly shut. She blinks at him, unable to answer such ridiculous questions. He turns his back on her and walks away.
She’s slow to follow this time and takes the stairs all the way back down to her floor. The blanket and pillows that had been tucked under Mulder’s arm are dropped in front of her door, but he’s nowhere to be found. She kicks them inside ahead of her and calls his name, but there’s no reply. She stands silently in the same place for a long time.
Finally, she steps out of her shoes again. Her knees are shaking and she has to hold on to the table so she doesn’t fall. It’s not from hunger or exhaustion either, it’s from fear. She’s disturbed and frightened by her argument with Mulder. This sort of thing was something they’d both feared in taking their relationship to the next level. If it didn’t work, they would both lose everything.
Scully feels dizzy and her stomach rolls. She heads to the bathroom and stops when she flips on the light. There’s a large white towel folded over the lip of the bathtub and a blue plush robe folded nicely and arranged on the closed toilet seat. A little brown paper bag rests on top of the collar of the robe with a handmade tag identifying it as lavender bath salts. New candles are arranged along the windowsill and corner table next to the shower.
“Shit,” she whispers.
And it only gets worse when she goes into the bedroom. More candles are on her dresser. The comforter is already turned down. Another towel is spread out in the middle of the bed and there’s a bottle of massage oil on one of the nightstands. Just behind it, her portable CD player has been moved in and an Enya CD is at the ready.
A laugh bubbles up from Scully’s chest, which immediately turns into a sob. She sits down at the edge of the bed and squeezes her eyes shut. She allows herself a full minute to cry and then she wipes her cheeks and picks up her phone. He doesn’t answer and she doesn’t have the courage to leave a message.
Instead, Scully trudges back to the living room, pushes her aching feet back into her heels as penance, grabs the picnic basket she can barely lift, and heads to her car. In the time it takes to drive to Mulder’s apartment, she berates herself for her callousness and her carelessness. When she starts feeling sorry for herself and reminds herself that he isn’t blameless, that he has a history of doing and saying the wrong things at the wrong times, it’s his voice she hears in his head also reminding herself that this wasn’t one of those times.
She knocks on his door and waits just a few beats before letting herself in. He’s sprawled on his couch, clearly there was no intention of letting her in. He doesn’t even move the arm bent over his eyes or ask who it is. The only light is from the fishtank, bathing his chin and torso in an emerald hue. She leaves the picnic basket and her shoes by the door.
“Mulder,” she says.
He doesn’t acknowledge her. She picks up the hand resting limply on his abdomen and lifts his arm to slide into her spot at his side. He doesn’t hold her like he usually does, letting his arm fall away from her and empty fingers that normally are full of hip or thigh dangle loosely above the floor. She rubs her cheek against his chest and then her nose. Little eskimo kisses to the point of his v-neck collar.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
He swallows and still he says nothing, still keeps his face hidden under his arm. She keeps nuzzling him, making her way up his neck to his jaw. She presses her mouth to his chin, just below his bottom lip and near the corner of his mouth, and gets no response.
“Do you want me to go?” she asks.
“I’d like to know why you even bothered,” he finally answers.
“I overreacted. It was a rough day, but it’s no excuse. I should have-”
“Not tonight. At all. Why did you bother at all .”
She props herself up against his chest and looks down at him. She pulls his arm away from his face and he stares up at the ceiling.
“It’s still so new,” she says. “I haven’t learned yet to determine when you’re being my partner and when you’re being my...boyfriend.”
His jaw tightens a little and without warning, he sits up. She has to catch herself from falling off the couch in addition to his chest and sits up as well. He bends over with his head in his hands and then rakes his fingers through his hair and blows his cheeks out.
“I’m not two different people. I am who I am, Scully, and if you’ve never even liked the person I am, then why are you here?”
“Because despite the fact that you piss me off sometimes, you also managed to make me fall in love with you somewhere along the way.”
He grunts a little in response, but says nothing and doesn’t look at her. She turns towards him and slides a little closer, putting one hand on his knee and the other on his shoulder. She leans down and rests her chin on her own hand, putting her lips close to his ear to whisper to him.
“I love who you are, Mulder. I love you for your passion and your dedication and your empathy and your brilliance, even for your stubbornness. I love all of that about you.”
“Except I don’t listen and apparently I’ve forced you to follow me this whole time into places you never wanted to go.”
“You have to admit...Mulder, you have to admit, you’ve dragged me out into all sorts of-”
“I just thought it was part of the dance.”
“The dance we do where you feign disinterest in whatever it is I present to you so you can temper my enthusiasm and be the yin to my yang. You moan and grumble and then you show up. If you never wanted to be there, why did you keep showing up?”
“You’re my partner.”
“Or your obligation.”
“No, never. Well…” She sighs a little. “Maybe sometimes.”
“Sorry I’m such an asshole.”
“You’re not.” She takes her hand off his knee and cups his face, bringing him closer so she can kiss his cheek. “Mulder, you’re not.”
“Yeah, I am. I’m the asshole that ruined your night. I should’ve known you wanted to be alone.”
She sighs and rests her forehead against his temple as she strokes the side of his face. “No. No, Mulder, you listened to me bitch about the day and what you heard was that I needed to be taken care of. It’s me that’s sorry I’m so bad at being taken care of.”
“You are pretty bad at it.”
She smiles and he tilts his head into her just a little. Enough though, that she can tilt her own head and bring her mouth to his. He’s pouting, but she feels his resolve weaken as she sips tiny kisses from his lips.
“Think you can just kiss me and make it all better?” he asks.
“Yeah.” He turns to her and wraps his arms around her to pull her into his lap. She yelps a little in surprise and then brings her arms around his neck. They stay there, forehead to forehead, chest to chest.
“I am sorry that I missed this up,” she says.
“So am I.”
“No. Don’t give up on me, Mulder. I love you for trying.”
“I would never give up on you, Scully. Not ever.”
“Can I stay?”
“If you want.”
“I want,” she whispers, nodding against him. “I want nothing more.”