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Fox Mulder, Closet Romantic

Chapter Text

It all started with a paper cut.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Fox Mulder had seen this coming from a long way off. Years, really. He knew in the back of his mind that his growing attachment to Dana Scully would eventually entangle him beyond hope of release; that his fondness and respect for her would deepen to the point of devotion. That his attraction to her would ripen into a passion that he could neither act on nor contain. He’s been in free-fall since the day they met, and is only just now hitting the ground.

It isn’t a matter of if, but when.

And the when happens to be Thursday, February twelfth, 1998, at eleven twenty-nine A.M, when Special Agent Dana Scully sits opposite him at their desk, leafing through a sheaf of papers, and slices her index finger on one.

“Shit,” she mutters, observing the droplet of blood gathering outside the cut and reflexively popping her finger into her mouth.

Mulder, slouching over his own stack of documents, looks up at her in surprise at her utterance and promptly falls in love. Hard.

The sensation rolling through his body reminds him of going to a shitty carnival on the Vineyard one summer when he was eleven. He has a distinct physical recollection of riding a rickety old rollercoaster that had no business operating with human passengers, anticipation building with the climb of the car on the tracks. He can still feel the euphoria of cresting the rise and dropping down the other side, a vortex of giddiness twisting in his stomach.

Only now he is experiencing this as a thirty-six year old federal agent in an office chair, across a cluttered desk from the most beautiful, resilient, and achingly unattainable woman he’s ever known.

“You okay, Mulder?” Scully asks, rising from her chair and crossing the room to fetch their first aid kit from a cabinet. “You look a little flushed.”

“Hypoglycemia,” he says quickly, then mentally kicking himself because she’s a goddamn doctor and knows better than him what the symptoms of severe low blood sugar are. Symptoms he certainly doesn’t have. “I skipped breakfast.”

“Uh huh,” she replies absently, wrapping a bandage around her fingertip. “Well, once we finish this report we can go to lunch.”

He wants to take a bite out of her. Instead he picks up a pen and watches letters and numerals swim across the page in front of him.

He’s finally, absolutely in love with Scully. And he has no idea what to do about it.

 

Mulder stays late at the office that night, tossing pencils upwards at the ceiling before realizing Scully will notice them tomorrow and know he wasn’t buried in research or catching up on paperwork like he claimed.

Falling in love is pretty inconvenient, which is probably why he put it off for so long. He had overlooked his growing feelings in much the same way he’d ignored a hairline crack forming in one of his favorite mugs a few months ago. He kept using the mug until one day he found coffee seeping out the bottom of the cup and onto his newspaper, soaking the pages together. He had foolishly thought the crack would hold, and felt stupid for being even momentarily surprised.

He spins lazily in his office chair, listening to the bolts squeak.

In reality, he has only two clear options.

One: he could sit back and do nothing. Pine for her quietly, nurse an ache in his chest so deep that it cuts him in half right down the middle. Sleep alone on his sofa until he draws his last breath, never uttering a word to her because she deserves more than him, deserves better than he could ever provide.

But he knows and respects her. After everything that’s been taken away from Scully, the last thing he wants to do is deny her agency or choice. And because he’s an asshole, he desperately, selfishly hopes that she chooses him.

So that leads to option two: do… something.

This is where he falters; he hasn’t wooed a woman in years. And if he thinks on it, his last two relationships were fairly heavily driven by the female participant; almost as though he were just along for the ride.

But Scully is different; Scully challenges him, excites him, brings him peace. She keeps him in line while simultaneously setting him free. Sometimes she even smiles at his jokes. He’s never had the privilege of someone else’s trust and confidence in that way before.

Mulder doesn’t know if she wants him the way he wants her. Hell, it seems impossible for anyone to want another person that much, but here he is, chewing on the eraser end of a #2 pencil, ready to upset the entire balance of his professional and personal life on the off chance she might.

It’s worth a shot. She’s worth a shot.

He only hopes he’s worth one in return.

 

Chapter Text

He gives himself a pep talk on the way to work the next morning. It feels ridiculous.

Just ask her out, he thinks. Be casual. Invite her to grab a drink, act like you’re going whether she joins you or not. It’s just Scully.

That’s some bullshit; she’s not just anything to him. She’s everything.

Also he doesn’t go to bars much, and never alone, so he’s not sure how subtle this will be.

He pushes the thoughts out of his head until they’re leaving the office at the end of the day, gathering their things and donning winter layers.

“Buy you a drink, Agent Scully?” he tosses out casually, taking her coat from the rack.

“Hm, what’s the occasion?” she asks.

“Friday the thirteenth; I’m testing my luck,” he replies, holding her coat open for her.

She slips her arms into the sleeves. “I guess one wouldn’t hurt,” she decides.

Huh. That was surprisingly easy.

He chalks it up to beginner’s luck and ushers her out the door with a hand on her back.

They end up at Casey’s Bar because it’s close to the Hoover Building, and neither of them had wanted to walk too far through the cold February night. Mulder’s a little nervous, but not enough to let it show. At the risk of being overconfident, he thinks it’s actually going pretty well. This outing is markedly different from every first date he’s had in the past. There’s no need for small talk with Scully, no pressure to act more gregarious or charming than he naturally is. Scully herself is a refreshing presence, like a crisp spring breeze. Cool without being austere, gentle and yet invigorating.

Also she doesn’t know it’s a date, so there’s that.

They perch at the far end of the counter and shoot the shit, talk about work. She orders a draught beer, and seeing the large glass in her little hand makes his stomach flutter nonsensically. He orders one too, just to keep pace with her, though he suspects she could drink him under the table if the occasion ever arose. The thought is strangely erotic.

Mulder watches her full pink lips press against the edge of her glass and he clears his throat awkwardly. Down, boy. He scrambles for a diversion.

“Any special plans for tomorrow night?” he asks, taking a foamy swallow of beer.

“What’s- oh.” Scully sets down her glass. “No, not this year,” she says softly.

He suddenly feels like a prick.

“You?” she asks, because she’s a polite human being.

Diffuse the moment, buddy. “I’ve got a pretty hot date, actually.”

Her shoulders stiffen momentarily. Interesting. “Oh?” she says lightly.

“Yeah, the boys invited me over to pick apart some found footage they stumbled upon. Frohike’s making chili.”

Scully’s face breaks into a smile, and he feels a wash of relief. She shakes her head. “You know, for about two seconds I thought you might actually have a life. It was a surreal experience.”

“I have a life, Scully,” he insists. It’s you. Aliens, conspiracy, and you.

“Mhm,” she hums, licking a bit of stray foam off her upper lip, causing a twinge south of his belt buckle. “Mulder, can I ask you a highly personal question?”

He coughs awkwardly. “No guarantees that I’ll answer, but sure. Hit me.”

She suddenly seems nervous. “Well… we’ve known each other for five years now, and we spend a lot of time together. I’ve met your mother, your friends. And in all that time, I’ve not known you to go on a single date.”

Besides this one, he thinks. “And?” he prompts.

She absently wipes her finger through the condensation on her glass. “Well, I can’t figure out why not. Your - preferences - are quite evident, and I’m sure finding a willing partner would be fairly easy for you, at least for… casual encounters.”

I don’t want casual encounters, he thinks. I want to burn pancakes for you on Sunday mornings.

He huffs out a breath of laughter. “I have it on good authority that I’m not the best company, Scully. What makes you think it’d be easy?”

She takes a long pull of her beer. “Because you’re very attractive.”

His heart stops momentarily, then starts back up at twice the speed. He scrambles for some composure. “Oh, so you think I’m attractive,” he teases lightly. He hopes she doesn’t notice the sudden tremble in his fingers.

Scully nods, as though she hadn’t just dropped a bomb on him. “Yes, I do. A lot of people do, Mulder,” she adds quickly. The lighting in the bar is dim, so he assumes he’s imagining the flush on her cheeks. Or it’s the beer. “The women’s restroom at the Bureau is a cesspool of gossip.”

“Well I’m not the only hot piece of ass in the X-Files division,” he says, glancing at her over the rim of his glass.

“Don’t let Skinner hear you say that,” she quips. “He’s shy.”

Mulder grins, amused by her deflection. “People talk about you too, Scully. I’ve had to fend off suitors for you more than once.” Now it’s her turn to squirm, he thinks.

She blinks rapidly. “You’re joking.”

Mulder chuckles. “Swear. Every once in a while a guy will ask me something about you. I tell ‘em to ask you themselves, and I assume they usually chicken out.”

“What kind of things do they want to know?”

Mulder shakes his head. “Let’s just say they’re not asking me your favorite color,” he says simply, lifting his glass to his mouth once more. “You can imagine the rest.”

Scully presses her lips together. “I don’t have to, unfortunately,” she sighs. “Thanks for having my back,” she adds.

He shrugs. “I’m your partner,” he says. “I’ll always have your back.”

He suddenly remembers a conversation he had a little over a year ago, a month or so before Scully’s birthday. It seems like a fitting time to tell her.

“There’s only been one guy that I thought was alright,” he says. “I, uh, never told you this, Scully, because it was confidential, but seeing as the subject in question is now deceased…”

Scully turns to him on her stool. “Mulder, what?”

“Pendrell. He liked you.”

She knits her brows together in that adorable way she has. “I liked him too.”

“I mean, he really liked you,” Mulder emphasizes. “He asked me once if you were seeing anyone.”

“Oh,” she says. "What did you tell him?”

“I told him ‘Agent Scully’s personal life is her business, and any questions regarding it should be posed to her directly’.”

“Very formal,” she muses. “I should print that on my business cards for you to hand out.”

“The thought’s crossed my mind. Are you currently accepting applications for the position of ‘boyfriend’?” Mulder asks. “I’d be happy to field candidates.”

“Oh, I bet you’d love that,” Scully says with an eye roll. “Admit it, you like interrogating suspects. Especially when you think they’re mutants of some kind.”

“I promise that any potential boyfriends will be firmly terrestrial and completely unremarkable.”

The sentence hangs in the air for a long moment. “I don’t know that I want that after all,” Scully finally says quietly. “The husband with a nine-to-five, the picket fence, the priest over for lunch after Sunday mass. I’ve seen too much, done too much, to really fit into that picture anymore.”

Mulder feels a pang in his chest, the old familiar guilt creeping in. “This is a lonely path,” he admits. “Working nonstop to find evidence, only to have it be discounted offhand.”

“No closure, no arrests, no satisfying conclusions to leave you feeling a little bit safer knowing you did your job,” Scully adds.

Mulder rubs his hand over his mouth, nodding. “Just weird substances that nobody can explain and accounts of phenomena that nobody believes. Spooky shit.”

Scully raises her drink with a sudden levity. “To spooky shit,” she toasts.

Their glasses clink, and the contact chimes in Mulder’s ears. A kiss of half-empty pints.

Mulder bites his lip absently, gathering his next words. “So… what do you want?” he asks carefully, leaning in a fraction.

Scully shakes her head, sighing softly. “That’s the big question, isn’t it? I can’t even think about long term at this point. My life is so different from what I’d planned, and I’m still adapting.”

“Alright, forget long term for the moment,” Mulder prompts. “What’s something that you want that you can acquire within, say, the next month or so?”

“You granting wishes now, Mulder?” she asks coyly, taking a sip of beer.

“Depends on what you ask for,” he replies, voice low.

It feels as though they’re circling the truth, caught in each other’s orbit, traveling an ellipse of the unspoken. He wonders if she feels it too. The beer has him weightless, spinning out into the unexplored reaches of space between them. He wants to grab her hand on the worn bar counter, anchor himself to her sun-warmed earth.

“As strange as it sounds,” she says after a moment, “I’m… oddly contented. If I spent more time on it I’m sure I could give you a whole list of things I feel I’m lacking, but at this moment none of them really matter.”

His heart accelerates. “Must be some beer,” he jokes.

She smiles at him, a soft closed-lip turn of her mouth that warms him better than any liquor. “Company’s not half bad either. Despite whatever good authority has told you otherwise.”

He drops a hand onto hers then, gives it a brief squeeze before returning it to his glass and finishing his beer.

 

They walk back to the FBI parking garage, arms bumping each other as they brace themselves against the winter chill. Mulder escorts Scully to her car because he’s a gentleman and squeezing out every last second he can with her.

Scully ducks her head, seeming almost shy. “Thanks for inviting me. I haven’t been out in a while,” she says simply. “This was nice.”

Mulder shrugs, suddenly unsure how to orient his limbs. He wants to hug her, but he knows this isn’t the right time. “Don’t mention it,” he replies, shoving his hands into his coat pockets.

“Enjoy your ménage à quatre with the Gunmen,” she says with a cheeky grin.

“I’ll save some kisses from Frohike for you,” he replies with a wink.

They face each other, suddenly quiet. It feels as though they waded too far into the ocean and drifted down shore, losing sight of their picnic spot. They float in the silence, buoyed by their exchange, but uncertain as to where they stand.

“Goodnight,” Mulder says finally, because he can’t think of what else to say beyond that and ‘I love you’. Or ‘come home with me’.

“‘Night,” she replies, unlocking her car door and slipping inside.

He wanders aimlessly over to his car and bundles into the driver’s seat, heaving a deep, half-contented sigh. He considers the evening a tentative success, despite a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion.

He jerks off when he gets home, holding Scully’s sweet face in his mind’s eye as he comes shamefully into his own lonely hand.

Chapter Text

Mulder has forgotten Scully’s birthday every year but one. Actually, make that two now, since this year he’s determined to make the day special for her somehow. He’d asked her casually what her plans were, and she admitted that outside of a lunch with her mother and some church friends on Sunday the 22nd, she didn’t really have any intention to celebrate.

“It’s been a rough couple months,” she’d explained softly, and that’s all he needed to hear.  She’d gained and then buried a daughter within a few days’ time over Christmas, for fuck’s sake. He didn’t know how she managed to stay sane after that, and if he thought about it for too long the waves of powerlessness and guilt that rolled over him were debilitating.

So instead he focused on what he could do.

“You wanna do something after work on Monday? I promise to be as un-festive as possible,” he offered.

She looked uncertain, licked her lip. “Just us?” she asked.

“Just you and me,” Mulder assured her, the words giving him a tiny, shameful thrill.

She was quiet for a moment. “Sure,” she said finally.

 

Come Monday, February 23rd, it’s business as usual in the basement office. They finalize their reports from the previous week’s case, wrangle their receipts, argue over who broke the stapler (It was him, she insists; while he claims she jammed the staples in and made it impossible to use properly).

At three minutes to five o’clock, she clears her throat softly as she gathers her things, and he can feel her preparing to speak.

“Yeah, Scully?” he murmurs.

“We still on for tonight?” she asks, sounding almost cautious, and his heart fractures.

“I’ll pick you up at seven,” he confirms, leafing through a file. “Be sure to bundle up.” He looks up at her and gives her a reassuring grin.

She looks happy and… relieved? Huh.

“Well, I’ll see you then,” she says, shrugging on her coat as she leaves.

Mulder smiles at the door as it clicks shut behind her. He’s unusually giddy about what he has planned for the evening.

Over the weekend he had gone to the grocery store since his refrigerator was barren, then camped out in his building’s laundry room all day Sunday washing every blanket he owned. He even stopped at the little bakery around the corner from his apartment, purchasing a single chocolate cupcake and a loaf of rye bread.

After work he packs his car with a cooler, a duffel bag, a large thermos of coffee, and a pile of blankets.

 

He’s surprised to see that she’s waiting for him on the steps of her apartment, wearing a heavy jacket and thick turtleneck sweater.

“I got too hot wearing all this inside,” she explains, climbing into the passenger seat. She seems almost excited, and he strangely wants to cry. God, he’s so fucking glad he had the balls to invite her out again.

“Where are we going, Mulder?” Scully asks.

“It’s a surprise,” he replies.

Seven minutes and three wrong turns later, he reaches into the glove compartment and pulls out the map, handing it to her. “Rock Creek Park, please, Navigator,” he says.

“Aha! I thought the route we were taking seemed… circuitous,” Scully says with a smirk, unfolding the map.

“Just tell me where to go; I don’t need a running commentary,” he gripes, secretly relishing her needling.

 

In about twenty minutes, they arrive at the park’s nature center. Mulder pulls into the lot next to the field across the road and cuts the engine.

“We’re here?” Scully asks, looking around. “It’s deserted. Mulder, please don’t tell me we’re ghost hunting,”

“Ghosts? No,” he says, climbing out of the car and going around to the trunk. “Help me with some stuff?”

Scully comes around to the back of the car, where Mulder hands her the cooler and thermos. He slings the duffel bag over his shoulder and gathers up the pile of blankets. “Close the trunk, will you, Scully?” he says, walking towards the field. “My arms are full.”

They trudge out to the middle of the field, cold winter air biting their cheeks. Mulder stops abruptly and drops the blankets onto the ground in a heap.

“We’re here,” he announces, setting down the duffel bag. He picks up a heavy wool blanket and spreads it out on the grass.

Scully sits down on the blanket, cooler and thermos beside her. “What exactly are we doing out here, Mulder?” she asks.

“Well first, we eat,” he replies, reaching for the cooler. He opens it and pulls out two waxed-paper parcels, handing one to her. “Pastrami on rye,” he announces. “I went a little crazy with the mustard on one of them, we can trade if you want.”

“You made these?” she asks, unwrapping the sandwich and taking a bite. “Oh my god,” she groans. “Mulder, you’ve been holding out on me. This is delicious.”

The satisfaction in her voice makes him flush. “It’s pretty hard to mess up pastrami.”

“True,” she agrees, “but I was starting to doubt you could even make food. Your refrigerator is usually pretty sparse.”

Mulder shrugs, opening the thermos of coffee and pouring her a cup. “Cooking for one doesn’t hold much appeal,” he explains.

“Mm,” she agrees around a mouthful of sandwich, taking the proffered cup. “So Mulder, tell me; is there a reason we’re having a picnic in the dark?” She eyes the duffel bag beside him suspiciously.

“I’m glad you asked,” he replies, unzipping the bag and pulling out a tripod. “You know anything about constellations, Scully?”

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. He already knows.

“A thing or two,” she replies casually, clearly attempting to hide the smile sneaking across her mouth as she eats.

“Well that’s good, seeing as I lugged this telescope and a star map all the way out here,” he says, pulling the telescope case out of the bag.

 

***

Scully is enraptured, and Mulder thinks this might be the best thing he’s ever done for anyone.

“I haven’t done this in years,” she says, peering through the eyepiece as she adjusts the telescope’s position. “Not since…”

She doesn’t finish her sentence, but she doesn’t have to. He remembers her telling him once, on a long car ride to some anonymous, unremarkable town, about stargazing with her father when she was a child. Captain Ahab and his Starbuck, navigating the night skies by way of celestial markers.

The temperature’s dropping, and Mulder drapes the ratty tribal weave blanket from his couch around her shoulders as she searches the heavens.

“You want a turn?” she asks, drawing back from the telescope for a moment.

He shakes his head, plops down on the blanket and gazes at her instead.

They could be astronauts together, sailors of the stars. Dropping anchor in pools of the Milky Way, swimming through constellations and running their fingers through glittering strands of nebulae.

“I’m good,” he replies softly.

 

***

“Mulder?” Scully says from under a pile of blankets.

They’re lying on their backs now, side by side, eyes on the sky. Waiting for a meteor, or a passing satellite, or for God to wave hello.

“Yeah, Scully?”

“Do you give any credence to astrology, or is that too close to religion for you?”

“I appreciate its historical and cultural significance,” he replies. “Beyond that, I can’t say I have much of an opinion on it. Aren’t you a Pisces?” he asks, as though he doesn’t already know that she is, and that he’s a Libra, and that the shitty magazine he picked up in the dentist’s office says they’d be a tumultuous but passionate match. Not that he gives horoscopes any weight.

Passionate, though…

“I am. And I’m inclined to agree with you, though astrology’s link with early Christianity is fascinating. For example, did you know that Jesus is linked to Pisces? His birth coincides with the dawning of the astrological Age of Pisces, which spans from 1 AD to the year 2150. There are many scriptural references to fishermen, and early Christians used the fish symbol as a sign of their faith.”

“Huh,” he says, tucking a blanket more tightly around his shoulders.

“I don’t believe that the stars dictate my temperament, by the way,” Scully continues. “But there’s something beautiful about having a constellation in the sky that corresponds with your own birth. Missy knew more about this stuff,” she say wistfully. “She’d read me my horoscope every morning before school while we brushed our hair or whatever, in the bathroom where Mom couldn’t hear. It was fun,” she says with a sigh.

“Do you think she’s out there, in the stars?” Mulder asks and immediately regrets it. He didn’t mean the question to sound flippant.

Scully takes it in stride. “Is it crazy if I say maybe? There’s… there’s things I’ve seen and heard, Mulder, that I can’t explain. Who am I to say how God operates? Maybe He’s laid the stars out like a map for us to read. That’s probably wishful thinking, but life would be a hell of a lot simpler if everything was dictated by heavenly bodies.”

“Better that than by governing bodies,” Mulder agrees.

Their eyes drift along the razor-sharp curves of the crescent moon.

“My mom wants to set me up with one of her church friends’ sons,” Scully says without preamble.

“Huh,” Mulder replies, tracing Orion with his eyes. “Let me guess; he’s a dentist.”

“Emergency physician, actually,” she replies. “He’s nice.”

Mulder suddenly feels the weight of gravity pressing him down to earth. He can feel the rotation of the planet under his back, spinning him at a thousand miles an hour. “You’ve met him?” he asks.

“Yesterday, at lunch,” Scully replies. “He’s a widower, with a six-year-old daughter. I think… I think my mom thinks we could help each other.”

Mulder’s stomach churns, a facsimile of seasickness rolling through his body. “What do you think?” he asks, voice oddly hoarse. “Do you… agree with her?”

Scully pulls the blanket higher under her chin and sighs. “I don’t know, Mulder. I’m thirty-four today, and my career runs my life. I’m not sure how many chances at a family will come my way in the future. It’s not ideal, but maybe I’m past the point of getting to choose.” She pauses. “I’m sorry, I’m being fatalistic.”

Despite the near-freezing temperature, he’s got a cold sweat forming on his back. “You can always choose, Scully. As far as I see it. It’s-it’s important to me that you know that.”

She rolls onto her side, snaking a hand out of the blanket to prop herself up on her elbow beside him. “Mulder, I know you blame yourself for the things that have happened to me. But they’re not your fault.” He opens his mouth and she interrupts him before he can speak. “Don’t argue with me. It’s my birthday.”

He’s grateful for a change of subject. “That reminds me,” he says, sitting up and reaching over to open the cooler.

He pulls out a small pink bakery box and opens it to remove a single chocolate cupcake with a candle stuck in the middle. He digs a lighter out of his coat pocket and gives it a flick, igniting the candle.

“Happy birthday, Scully,” he says sheepishly, holding out the cupcake.

The single flame shimmers in her eyes as she takes the dessert. “Mulder,” she says softly, in a tone that makes his heart turn to liquid. “I don’t… I don’t know what to say.”

“Just make a wish and blow the candle out before the wind does it for you,” he replies. There’s only a bit of a breeze but he’s not taking any chances. She deserves a wish.

Her eyes fall closed, and she sighs contentedly, no doubt formulating her request. Suddenly she opens her eyes and locks her gaze with his over the flickering candle, and Mulder feels a thousand words rumbling in him like an approaching avalanche.

Before he can say anything she purses her lips and extinguishes the lone flame with a breath.

She pulls the candle out of the cupcake and pops the end into her mouth, licking off chocolate frosting, and Mulder thinks he might die right there on a blanket in Rock Creek Park. He’s been so good, keeping his feelings to himself, but in this moment his only thoughts are that he loves her and wants her; no, needs her. He needs to touch her, taste the icing on her lips, map the constellations of freckles hiding beneath her sweater. Shake the winter chill out of his bones, letting the flames of her red hair lick across his skin and light his whole body on fire.

She’s saying something to him, biting into the cupcake, chocolate crumbs falling onto the blanket.

“Hm?” he asks, returning to terra firma.

“I asked if you wanted a bite,” she reiterates.

Yes, his body responds. Please please please-

“It’s yours,” he says as a declination.

“Therefore it’s mine to share,” she declares. She holds it out to him, and his stomach flutters as he leans in and takes a bite. He thinks of his parents’ faded wedding photos, of them feeding each other cake in black and white.

Don’t date the doctor guy, he pleads silently as he chews. Stay with me. Show me galaxies.

 

She falls asleep on the car ride home with one of his blankets tucked around her, the car’s heater cranked all the way up. When he parks in front of her building she stirs, likely awoken by the sudden cessation of warm air on her feet.

“Scully,” Mulder says softly, “We’re home.”

“Mmm,” she responds. “What time is it?”

“Almost eleven,” he answers, glancing at his watch. “Can you walk or should I carry you up?” The question feels faintly suggestive, and he’s only being so bold because she’s drowsy and likely not registering the subtext.

“I can walk,” she says, sitting up and removing the blanket. Her hair is a fuzzy red halo in the glow of the streetlights.

“I’ll go with you,” he says, unbuckling his seatbelt. “Make sure you don’t pass out on your way up.”

“Thanks,” she yawns. “I don’t know why car rides make me so drowsy,” she says. “It’s like I’m five years old again.”

“Or it’s hypothermia,” Mulder suggests jokingly. “It got pretty damn cold out there.”

“Winter night picnics aren’t the most practical, it’s true,” she says. “But the blankets and coffee were a good idea.”

 

When they reach Scully’s apartment door she turns to face him. “Thank you for this,” she says, voice barely above a whisper. “I didn’t realize how much I needed it.”

He smiles softly at her. “Happy birthday,” he replies.

He’s mentally debating giving her a hug when she reaches out and pulls him in gently, arms looped around his waist. He wraps his arms around her and drops a light kiss to the crown of her head.

It’s over way too soon.

“Goodnight,” she says. “See you tomorrow.”

If he says anything else to her before she slips into the apartment and closes the door, he doesn’t remember it. His feet are firmly on the ground, carrying him out of her apartment building and back to his car, but his head is far above the atmosphere, adrift in space.

He’s so in love he feels as though he’s running out of air.

 

Chapter Text

Mulder is not feeling lucky.

In hindsight, he should have suspected something was off today; Scully kept looking at her watch.

It’s Friday, March 13th, and he thought it’d be cute to invite Scully out for a drink again, make a little joke about it becoming a Friday the 13th tradition. This could work, he thinks. His plan is simple; ask her out every once in a while, for some reason or another, with the intention of eventually coming clean and setting up a proper date. 

At five o’clock he stands up and stretches with performative nonchalance. “Buy you a drink, Scully?” he asks, cocking his head towards the calendar pinned to the office wall, surrounded by newspaper clippings and grainy photos.

She pauses with her arm halfway into the sleeve of her coat. “I…” She falters and presses her lips together, looking suddenly guilty.

“What is it?” he asks quietly, a pit growing in his stomach.

“I’d love to, Mulder, but I actually have a date tonight.”

The earth stops spinning and Mulder is thrown off balance, hurtling through the atmosphere.

“Oh,” he says softly. “That doctor guy?”

Scully nods, not meeting his gaze. “His name is Mark,” she says. “We’re getting sushi.” She looks up at him then, big blue eyes soft. “A rain check?” she asks hopefully.

She owns him; one look like that and he’d sell his soul to buy her a cup of shitty coffee. “Sure. Another time, then,” Mulder says, gathering up every scrap of composure he has left, patching together a smile for her. “Have fun.”

 

He goes home and throws himself face down onto the couch.

She has a date. A real date, with a presumably mentally stable human man with a high-value job. And a daughter. A ready-made family, just add water and stir. This Mark guy probably calls her Dana, asks her how her mother’s doing, feeds her bits of sashimi with no threat of aliens or shadow governments in sight. Maybe he’ll kiss her at the end of the night, softly with closed lips like a gentleman.

What stings the most is the fact that this Doctor Mark had the balls to tell Scully outright that he’s interested in her romantically, something Mulder has yet to do.

Mulder knows he should eat, but his stomach is churning and the idea of food sickens him. He’s being dramatic and irrational; it’s just one date. But the implications are weighty, the potential enormous.

He feels bad for being upset. This is good for her; she needs to get out of the basement, connect with other rational people, find some normalcy and balance in her life.

You need those things too, he hears her say in his head.

He brushes it aside. It’s different for him; he created this life for himself. He’s a collapsed star, a black hole of conspiracy and paranoia that sucks in everything that gets too close. The last thing he wants is for her to get lost in his darkness, swallowed by the void like some interstellar debris.

She’d told him that night in Rock Creek Park that she does’t blame him for what’s happened to her, but that doesn’t assuage his guilt. He carries the weight of what she calls her choices, a load she has no intention of sharing with him, awaiting no acknowledgement or thanks.

He’s doing it to himself.

 

Mulder whiles away the hours on the couch, gazing up at the constellations of pencil marks on his ceiling, tossing his basketball above his head. He drops it on his face twice.

He knows it’s probably only going to make him feel worse, but he’s a glutton for punishment; so at eleven-thirty that night he picks up the phone and calls Scully.

He waits for her to answer, his heart sinking lower with each ring. She’s not picking up. Is she still out? he thinks anxiously. The guy has a kid, so it’s unlikely that they’d stay out too late unless he’s arranged it with his babysitter…

“Hello?” Scully’s slightly husky voice cuts through his thoughts.

“Scully,” he says, tentative relief creeping into his body.

“Mulder, what is it?” she asks. “It’s late. For normal people, anyway. Are you alright?”

“‘M’ fine,” he assures he. “Just couldn’t sleep.”

He hears her hum in understanding. Late night phone calls between them aren’t uncommon, after all. “Have you tried counting sheep?” she asks, not unkindly. “Or slowing your breathing down, focusing on the cadence of inhales and exhales like I showed you?”

He’s wide awake, sitting upright on his couch, still in the slacks and wrinkled button-down he wore to the office that day. “Yes,” he lies. “It’s not helping. There’s too much going on in my head right now.”

“You work too much,” she says gently. “And yet not enough, when deadlines are involved. We’ve got an impressive paperwork backlog-”

“Can we not talk about work right now?” He reaches down and unties his shoes. “Otherwise I’ll never get to sleep.”

“Right.” There’s rustling on her end. She’s in bed, he realizes.

“Did I wake you, Scully?” he asks, trying to hide his surprise.

“It’s fine, Mulder, I was only dozing,” she replies.

“Oh, how was the date?” he asks, as though it only just occurred to him, instead of being the only thing he’s thought about all night.

“It was nice,” she responds, and he drops his head onto the back of the couch in defeat. Shit. Shit shit shit shit-

“We talked about medicine, about cancer, loss. His daughter’s name is Amanda,” she continues. “Her mother - his wife - died when Mandy was only two, so he’s mostly raised her alone.”

“That’s rough,” Mulder says softly. Please don’t make me feel bad for this guy, Scully, I can’t bear it, he thinks.

“Mhm,” she agrees. “And his work at the hospital is pretty grueling, so his mother helps out a lot. I… I told him about Emily.”

“How’d that go?” Mulder asks, concerned. “It’s not the most… plausible-sounding story.”

“I was vague,” she replies. “All I really said was that I had recently reconnected with a child I’d been separated from, right before she died. He didn’t ask for details; he could probably tell it was a fresh wound.”

They’re silent for a moment.

“Do you think you’ll see him again?” Mulder asks quietly. Somehow he already knows what she’s going to say, and he braces himself for the sting of her words as they pierce his heart.

“I… I think I will,” Scully says, sounding distant. “I mean, it’s worth a shot, right?”

She deserves this. She deserves a chance at something ordinary, safe, comfortable.

“Maggie Scully didn’t raise a quitter,” he says with a watery smile she’ll never see.

She chuckles. “No, I suppose she didn’t,” Scully muses. He hears her yawn. “I’m tired out, Mulder. Think you can sleep now?”

“I’ll try,” he says. He’s surprised to feel his eyes beginning to burn with unshed tears. “Thanks for talking to me,” he adds.

“Anytime. Sleep well,” she says warmly, and the line goes dead.

He supposes he brought this on himself by keeping his feelings hidden. He waited too long, playing it safe. He wanted to gauge her feelings before he made any overt moves, and someone else beat him to it.

It’s just one date. But there’s going to be more. By the sound of it, she wants there to be more.

There’s no way he’s going to sleep well tonight.

 

He’s in a sour mood when he’s summoned to the Gunmen’s… den? lair? headquarters? the next afternoon, by way of one of their patented cryptic phone calls.

Byers unfastens the dozen locks on the door and lets him inside. “Mulder,” he says, ushering him in. “Good to see you.”

Mulder flops down in a rickety desk chair, exhaustion permeating his muscles. “I’m not up for being social today, boys,” he warns. “You said you had information for me?”

“We took the liberty of looking into Agent Scully’s new… uh, friend,” Byers says.

“For safety reason,” Langly adds, seeing Mulder’s lips purse.

“She’s precious cargo,” Frohike says, wiggling his eyebrows.

“How did you find him?” Mulder asks. “I didn’t even know his first name until yesterday.”

“Don’t insult us with your surprise,” Frohike mutters. “We’re experts.”

“We knew he’s a part of the parish Scully attends-“ Byers begins.

“And we knew he’s an ER doc, has a 6 year old daughter, and a dead wife,” Langly cuts in. “That’s plenty to go on.”

“I don’t need to know more than that,” Mulder says, suddenly feeling guilty. “It’s not my business.”

“Maybe not, but we have the info,” Frohike says. “Look, all you need to know is that he seems legit. Name’s Einolander, if you were curious.”

“I wasn’t,” Mulder lies, taking a sunflower seed out of his pocket and biting it pensively.

“Of course not,” Byers says, sounding completely unconvinced.

“You alright, Mulder?” Langly asks. “You look rough.”

“Of course he does,” Frohike hisses in the least subtle whisper of all time. “Scully’s dating someone that’s not him. Cut the guy some slack.”

“You guys don’t know shit,” Mulder grumbles, then backtracks, running his hands over his face. “I’m sorry. I, uh... didn’t sleep well.”

“It’s okay, man,” Langly says.

Frohike nods sagely. ”We know how you feel about her. This can’t be easy for you.”

Mulder wilts in his chair. “How did you know?” he asks pathetically, realizing the jig is up. Has he really been so obvious this whole time? Fucking hell.

“Look, knowing things is our business,” Byers explains. “And we know you. We’ve been around the block with you a few times, and nobody’s meant this much to you. Not even Diana.”

“Plus, Agent Scully is a smokeshow, and you have eyes,” Frohike adds. Byers gives him a jab with his elbow. “Hey, I stand by that,” he declares, rubbing his arm.

“Well thanks anyway, fellas,” Mulder says, standing. “I should get going. The walls in my apartment won’t stare at themselves.”

“Do you want the file we put together on the guy?” Byers asks. “We can make copies.”

Mulder shakes his head. “Keep it. Draw a mustache on his photo or something.” He picks up his coat and slings it over his shoulder. “You kids have fun.”

“If you need anything, just flag us down,” Frohike says, patting Mulder’s back before unlatching the door.

Mulder steps out the door, then turns back. “How old is this guy?”

“Forty-one,” Byers says, flipping through the file. “Five-foot-ten, dark blond hair, brown eyes. Blood type-”

Mulder holds up a hand. “I don’t want to know. Bye, guys.”

 

He gets a petty, juvenile satisfaction from the fact that he’s two inches taller and four years younger than Dr. Einolander. It’s short-lived, but at this point he’ll take what he can get.

Because he can’t get Scully.

Chapter Text

Friday, April 3rd, 1998. Scully comes into the office in a flurry of coat and red hair. She doesn’t greet him, just drops her briefcase on the desk and sinks into her seat across from him.

“Mulder, I have a favor to ask of you, and you’re probably going to hate it, so just bear in mind that I have exhausted all my other options,” she says, somewhat breathless.

“You’re really selling it,” he deadpans. “What is it?” he asks, settling into his chair and leaning his elbows on the desk.

“You remember Mark,” she prompts, and he nods. Ugh. If only he could forget.

“Well, it turns out that Mark is extremely - almost agonizingly -  social, despite having a demanding job and a young child to raise.”

“Sounds awful,” Mulder comments.

“Hence my current predicament. He’s invited me and my friends out for drinks tonight, so his friends can meet me and I can meet his and he can meet mine… “ she rambles before refocusing herself. “He’s not aware that I’ve lost contact with most of my friends. You’re kind of the only one left.”

Mulder had suspected as much, but confirmation of her increasing social isolation is like a punch in the throat. “Are you sure there’s no one else?” he asks softly, not wanting to rub salt into any wounds.

She shakes her head, lips pressed together. “Unless the Lone Gunmen count as my friends,” she replies. “Which in this case is somehow worse than having none at all,” she muses, some humor in her voice.

“Good point,” he chuckles. “Sure, count me in.”

“Thank you,” she says sincerely, and he melts all over again. He’d do anything for her. Even if it means meeting Mark. Ugh.

“It’s worth mentioning,” Mulder says after a moment, “If you don’t want to go, you can always just not go.”

“Shockingly, I have thought of that,” she says dryly, opening her briefcase and pulling out a folder. “But I think it would be good for me to meet people and hold conversations that aren’t related to criminal or paranormal activity. Might be good for you, too,” she adds, glancing up at him.

He pulls a stack of files out of his inbox on the desk. “I’ll stick to ‘ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night’,” he says.

“‘Good Lord, deliver us',” Scully replies, finishing the old prayer.

Mulder looks up at her and finds her smiling at him, and his whole body flushes with heat and adoration.

“Let’s elope,” he says, and she rolls her eyes fondly before burying her nose in her work.

I’m not kidding, he yells inside the prison of his own thick skull.

 

After work he and Scully drive straight to the bar together, a yuppie place in Foggy Bottom near George Washington University Hospital.

“Have you ever been through their ER?” Scully asks, scanning the street for parking. “I imagine you’ve been through enough hospitals to warrant a map on the wall with little pins stuck in it.”

“I can’t possibly remember them all at this point,” he says absently, tugging at his seatbelt uncomfortably. Why is he nervous? He’s just here to show Scully’s man friend that she’s not entirely a basement-dwelling hermit.

And Mulder’s the best she could do? God, maybe she really does need to get out more.

She parks, and he feeds the meter while she touches up her lipstick in the rearview mirror. She looks sweet and rosy, flushed with nerves and traffic, and he could so easily scoop her up and kiss her-

“Alright,” she says, climbing out of the car and closing the driver’s side door a little harder than necessary. She smooths her hair down. “I’m ready for battle.”

“I’m prepared to fall on my sword,” he assures her, guiding her onto the sidewalk with a hand on her lower back before realizing he probably shouldn’t touch her so familiarly when her… friend might see.

“It’ll be fine,” she says over her shoulder as she grasps the bar door’s handle. “Just behave,” she hisses, and they enter.

The onslaught is immediate.

“Dana!” a voice calls out through the bustling bar, and Mulder sees a man waving them over. He’s got neatly styled dishwater blond hair, broad shoulders, and dimples at the corners of his mouth as he smiles at them. Not bad, Mulder thinks, unsure of how to feel about this new information.

He barely has time to process it before they’re enveloped in a tight swarm of strangers. The blond man, presumably Mark, loops an arm around Scully’s shoulders and gives her a side-hug.

“So glad you could make it, Dana,” he says, and proceeds to go around the circle of people and rattle off names Mulder has no reason to remember. Instead, he watches Scully, the way she greets each person as they’re introduced. She’s cool and calm, smiling politely, shaking hands and saying ‘nice to meet you’ to each of the five - no, six - people in the group.

“I’ll grab you two some drinks,” Mark says, glancing at Mulder. “What’s your poison?”

“Shiner,” Mulder says.

“Same for me,” Scully says. “I’m going to freshen up-”

“Sure,” Mark says, giving her shoulders a squeeze. “Two Shiner Bocks coming up.”

 

That’s how Mulder and this exuberant, Golden Retriever of a man end up sitting at the bar together, nursing sweaty beers and waiting for Scully to return from the bathroom.

“So you’re a work friend of Dana’s?” Mark asks over the noise of the bar.

Mulder was about to set his drink down, but he reconsiders and takes another swig. “In a manner of speaking,” he replies.

Dr. Mark Whatever-the-fuck seems confused. “I don’t follow,” he says.

“I’m her partner,” Mulder says flatly. Since 1993. I’ve seen her naked, cradled her injured body in my arms, saved her goddamn life. Have you?

“Oh!” Mark says, clearly making mental connections. “Oh. Sorry, I just- it’s nice to meet you… Fox?”

“Just Mulder’s fine,” he corrects him.

Mark laughs. “Sorry for the confusion on my end; I think Dana only said your name once and I went and assumed Fox Mulder was a woman. And you know what they say about assuming,” he adds with a nudge.

Once. Only once? Maybe that shouldn’t surprise him, but it does. Whenever he meets someone new in Scully’s life they always throw out the usual ‘I’ve heard a lot about you’ line, so he knows she talks about him to others. But not to this guy. Why not to this guy?

Mercifully, Scully returns from the restroom. Mark hands her her beer. “Thanks,” she says softly, giving him a small smile with her lips closed tightly, which strikes Mulder as odd. He knows she’s somewhat self-conscious about smiling with her teeth, but something he sees in her face doesn’t feel quite right.

Of course it doesn’t feel right to you, he thinks. She’s smiling at some other guy.

They’re swept along in a current of conversation, scrambled introductions, and drink orders. He’s introduced to a handful of people he’ll selectively erase from his eidetic memory,  standing across from Scully in their little circle instead of by her side. He doesn’t like it. Another man has his hand on her back, although respectfully keeping it between her shoulder blades. Any lower and Mulder would have to excuse himself to have a panic attack in the alley behind the bar. Or throw up.

He’s glad Mark’s friends aren’t particularly interested in making conversation with him; he’s tired and ready to go home. Luckily, the Doctor himself calls the night early, at half-past eight.

“I promised the little one I’d be home to tuck her in,” he explains, and Mulder’s stomach turns from the purity and sweetness of it. “She gets to stay up a little later on Fridays.” He gives Scully another half of a hug and says his goodbyes.

The group disperses pretty quickly after Mark leaves, and Mulder and Scully are left alone outside the bar.

“So, you met Mark,” Scully says simply.

“I did, yeah.” He can sense that she wants him to say something more. “He seems... nice,” Mulder adds.

Scully nods. “Yeah, he’s nice.”

Mulder’s beginning to think ‘nice’ is the only word anyone’s capable of using to describe this guy.

“I’ll bet Bill’s gonna love him,” he comments, hoping he doesn’t sound as bitter as he feels.

Scully shakes her head, smiling. “I knew there had to be a flaw in him somewhere,” she jokes.

Mulder surprises himself with a huffed laugh. This moment with her is strangely precious, despite the circumstances. He doesn’t know how many moments like this he has left, if he’s being honest.

“I’m happy for you,” he says tenderly, and maybe if he says it enough it’ll be true. She deserves this, he reminds himself. It’s become almost a mantra, a lead weight that keeps him from drifting away.

“Are you?” she asks, catching him off guard. “I caught you staring holes into him more than once.”

“I wasn’t,” Mulder says defensively. “This is just my face.”

She gives him a look that clearly says ‘I call bullshit’, and he folds. “He didn’t know who I was,” he says, and it sounds monumentally stupid out loud. “He though Fox Mulder was a woman.”

“I-I don’t know why he would have thought that,” Scully says, pensive. “I never implied-”

“Fox is an unusual name,” Mulder interrupts. “It’s an honest mistake if you just hear it without any context.”

Scully looks down at her feet. “I’m sorry about that,” she says softly. “About all of this. I owe you one.”

Mulder reaches out and squeezes her shoulder, and it seems to have a grounding effect on both of them. “I’ll put it on your tab,” he says.

“Do you want me to drive you back to work?” she asks. They’d left his car in the garage at the Hoover building.

Mulder shakes his head. “You’re almost home,” he says. “I’ll get a cab.”

He ends up walking instead.

The night air cleanses his senses as he makes the half-hour trek back to the Bureau. Their time in the bar had felt sluggish and hazy, despite the fact that he only had a beer and a half. He spend the entire evening focused on Scully, the only sharp image amidst the blur of patrons.

Mark hadn’t kissed Scully goodbye, and Mulder’s relief at not having to witness it was overshadowed by a morbid curiosity. She and Mark had been dating for three weeks; he’s not sure how often they’ve actually gone out, due to the doctor’s shift schedule, but he assumes they’ve seen each other a few times at mass in addition to whatever outings they’ve gone on in the evenings. That was ample time to get to know each other physically on some level, wasn’t it? A peck on the cheek at least.

Mulder’s biased; he’s touch-starved and in love with her. He spends most of his nights on his couch in the dark, touching himself and thinking about Scully. Kissing her, taking her clothes off, tasting her; his mental catalogue of scenarios is robust and well-used. If given half the chance to love her…

Maybe that’s it, he thinks somberly, stepping over sidewalk cracks. Maybe chances are taken, not given.

That’s not how he wants to love her. He wants her to choose him all on her own, and yet he never let her know he was a choice. And now there’s Mark.

But Mark doesn’t kiss her.

 

 

Chapter Text

It’s Friday, April 17th, and they’re eating lunch in the Hoover building’s cafeteria. They eat lunch together almost every day now, Mulder realizes. They’re practically joined at the hip.

Except in the fun way.

Today is different, though. Because today she invites him over for dinner.

Scully’s devouring a caesar salad, and Mulder’s heart is warmed by the evidence of her returning appetite. Five months ago, she was dying of cancer, and now she’s here stealing the occasional potato chip from the bag he got from the vending machine. He doesn’t mind; she could take his entire sandwich from him right now, and he’d happily watch her eat it.

“Do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow?” she asks, covering her mouth with her hand as she chews. “My mother got me a crockpot for my birthday and I’m thinking of giving it a test drive.”

His heart leaps, and he wants to shout yes, but instead he asks “What about Mark?”

She gives him one of her patented Scully looks. “I’m allowed to have friends, Mulder. And I still owe you for going to the bar with me that one time, remember?” She takes another bite of salad. “Also, he’s working.”

“Ah,” Mulder says knowingly. “Sure; what’s on the menu?”

“Pork roast,” she replies. “My mom’s recipe. The leftovers make great pulled-pork sandwiches.”

“Anything you’d like me to bring?”

Scully shrugs. “Red wine would go nicely, but I’ll be testing you at the door to make sure you’re not Eddie Van Blundht,” she says dryly.

“You gonna check me for evidence of a tail, Scully?” he says in a low tone, leaning in so they’re not overheard.

“Keep that up and I’m rescinding my invite and keeping all the leftovers to myself,” she replies, picking a wilted bit of romaine out of her salad.

 

It’s not a date, he reminds himself. Just friends sharing dinner.

Regardless, he takes a shower and puts on one of his nicer sweaters before heading to her place.

He knocks on her door at 6:30 sharp, a bottle of Pinot Noir in hand. His palm is a little sweaty, and he grips the wine tightly to avoid dropping it.

“It’s open,” he hears her call out.

He opens the door and is hit by the savory aroma of meat and herbs. His mouth waters instantly. When he turns and sees her in the kitchen, it waters for a different reason entirely.

Scully’s reaching into the cupboard above the sink, her soft green sweater riding up to expose a ribbon of creamy skin. He wants to wrap his arms around her waist, kiss her neck, tell her to forget dinner because he’s got something else on his mind.

Instead he just says “Hey”.

“Hi,” she greets him, bringing down two salad plates and setting them on the table. “Do you want to hear the good news first or the bad?”

Mulder blinks. “Uh,” he says brilliantly. That goddamn little sweater-

“The good news is that I’ve had the crockpot running for about six hours, and nothing’s caught fire,” she says, leaning against the countertop.

He nods. “And the bad news is…”

“I started the roast at almost half noon,” Scully admits. “I had to go to the grocery store first and that took longer than expected. So the meat won’t be done until eight-thirty.”

“That’s fine,” Mulder says, hoping his stomach doesn’t rumble loudly enough for her to hear. “Oh, and I brought Pinot Noir,” he says, reading the label.

---

They eat the salad she prepared; it’s spinach and apple with vinaigrette, and Mulder has to admit it’s pretty tasty.

“You’re a good hostess, Scully,” Mulder says as she pours him a glass of Prosecco. “Maggie should be proud.”

“Please note the size of crockpot she gifted me,” Scully replies, gesturing to the slow-cooker on the counter. “She fully intends for me to feed a crowd, not just you. I have a long way to go.” She sits across from him and takes a sip of her wine. “But this is a start.”

“Can I make a confession?” he asks.

Scully nods.

“I… I don’t drink much wine. So I have no idea if the one I brought is any good. I told the store clerk I was having pork for dinner and he recommended that one,” Mulder says, cocking his head toward the bottle on the counter.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Scully assures him. “I’m not a wine snob by any means. I’m kind of surprised you’re not one, actually, considering your background.”

Mulder shrugs. “I don’t drink much, aside from the occasional beer. But this is good,” he says, lifting his glass.

———

The Prosecco is… very good.

“How long until the meat’s done?” Mulder asks, resting his head on his hand.

“Half hour,” Scully replies, downing the last sip of her wine. “I’m sorry, Mulder. Do you want some cheese and crackers to tide you over?”

“M’good,” he says lazily, stifling a burp. He’s feeling warm and soft inside, and the wine’s put him in a charitable mood. “How are things with Mark?”

“Things are good… things are fine,” Scully says, then sighs. “He’s… god, he’s so nice.”

“Nice is good, right?” Mulder asks, toying with his empty wine glass. “People like nice.”

Scully narrows her eyes at him. “Are you feeling okay, Mulder?”

“We’re not talking about me,” he says, slumping in his chair and stretching his long legs out under the table. “We’re talking about Mark. Mark Eidolanterns.”

“Einolander,” Scully corrects him. “And yes, nice is good, generally,” she continues. “But sometimes I wish he weren’t so nice. I don’t know,” she says, exhaling. “I need more wine if I’m going to talk about this,” she says with a huff of laughter.

“Hey, we got it,” Mulder says. “Dinner’s almost ready anyway. Let’s try the mystery Pinot I brought.”

---

 

The pot roast is done cooking and they’re definitely a little drunk.

“Whew… I’m feeling this,” Mulder says, holding the bottle up too close to his face as he attempts to read the label. “It’s been so long, I forgot that wine does this to me.”

“Higher alcohol content,” Scully says. “And you’re a lightweight.”

“That your medical opinion, Dr. Scully?” he asks.

“Yes,” she mumbles, slicing a piece off of the roast and dumping it unceremoniously onto his plate. “Tada,” she says, pushing it across the table to him. “Meat.”

“I can see that,” he remarks. He takes another sip of wine. “Wine’s good,” he assures her, even though she’s already on her second glass of the red.

“Can’t say the same for the roast,” she admits, chewing. “I skimped on the salt and in hindsight that was a bad idea.”

Mulder shovels a piece into his mouth. “Tastes good to me,” he assures her. “But I’ve only had wine and salad since lunchtime so at this point I’d eat anything. I’d eat you,” he adds, pointing his fork in her direction.

“Pass that idea along to Mark,” she sighs, then covers her mouth. “I didn’t say that,” she says, face red.

“You did,” Mulder crows, too tipsy to feel jealous. “You did and I heard you.” He takes another draw from his glass. “The store guy was right, this is good with pork.”

“You’re going to have an incredible hangover tomorrow,” Scully says, chewing meditatively. “Wine’s a bitch.”

“You should swear more,” Mulder says. “It’s endearing.”

Scully shakes her head. “I can’t believe how drunk you are,” she says, almost fondly.

“I’m not that drunk,” he insists. Just in love with you.

Scully smiles. “No sober man has ever said that.”

---

“There’s no spark,” she blurts out.

They’d taken the rest of of the wine to the couch and are slumped on opposite ends, goblets in hand.

“No spark?” Mulder echoes. It was an admission he wasn’t expecting. He angles his body towards hers, careful not to spill his glass.

“With Mark. I like him, I really do. He’s kind, intelligent, a devoted father, and quite attractive; and yet…” She gestures loosely to her body with the hand not holding her wine. “Nothing.” She takes another sip. “I can’t shake the idea that I should be feeling more. And the fact that he hasn’t kissed me yet... I understand wanting to move slowly and let things grow with time, but not even a single kiss?”

“Th-that did strike me as odd,” Mulder stumbles. “You have nice lips.”

“I do,” Scully agrees, seemingly unfazed by the comment. “I should be kissed.” She drains her glass and holds it out to him.

Mulder pours out the last of the bottle into her glass. “Maybe if… maybe if you kissed, you’d find the spark.”

Scully shakes her head. “No. No, it does’t work that way. At least not for me. I don’t want to force chemistry that’s not there,” she explains. “It should come naturally, feel like it does with-”

Mulder waits expectantly for her to finish her sentence. “With?” he prompts.

Her face is flushed with wine, and she licks her lips. “Mulder, tell me honestly; do you think I’m settling?”

The room suddenly feels too warm, and he takes a nervous gulp of wine that does nothing to calm his body. “Scully, I- I’m the wrong person to ask.”

“You’re my closest friend,” she says softly, eyes cast downward. “Who else would I ask?”

She has a point. “Your mother-” he begins.

“She set me up with him in the first place,” Scully reminds him. “Clearly she’d be no help.”

“What do you want, Scully? If you’re honest with yourself.” He raises his glass. “In vino veritas, or whatever,” he says, taking another drink.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I always do this. I find a man I want to impress or gain the approval of, then resent the authority I let them have over me. This cycle of… of compliance and defiance is exhausting.”

He can tell she’s tipsy, and yet at the same time she’s strangely lucid. He’s never gotten to experience this particular kind of vulnerability with her before, and it gives him a thrill. He can feel the warmth of her body permeating him from across the sofa, her bright hair like a wood stove fire on a winter night. He wants to wrap her entire body around him like a blanket and have a long sleep.

“Yup, I’m drunk,” he declares, and throws back the last of his glass.

 

Chapter Text

It’s dark, and Mulder doesn’t know where he is. He’s weightless, surrounded by softness, a comforting scent filling his nose.

He has a passing thought; have I returned to the womb?

He feels cozy and peaceful, and he senses hands swaddling him in a blanket, briefly passing over his hair.

He blinks his eyes open and sees a smudge that looks like Scully, wrapped up like a present in pink silk pajamas.

“Scull...” he mumbles. His tongue is so heavy.

“Shh,” the Scully-Shape hushes him. “You’re okay, I’m just tucking you in.”

“Wha time’s it,” he mumbles, dropping a foot to the floor.

“It’s almost midnight. No, don’t get up, you’re not going anywhere. Go back to sleep,” she says, the round welcoming cup of her voice filled to the brim with warmth and tenderness. “I left a nightlight on in the bathroom. Let me know if you need anything.”

She’s chamomile and pepper, his Scully. He should drink her up.

“Promise not to spill you,” he informs her, pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders.

“Well, uh, thank you for that,” she says.

Mulder’s mind is churning sluggishly through sticky layers of memory. He remembers wine, their conversation, more wine...

“Scully,” he says as seriously as he can as the world tilts sideways.

“Yes, Mulder?”

“If he won’t, I will,” he declares, then lets his eyes fall closed.

She smoothes her hand over his forehead. “Sure you will,” she says, sounding tired.

He thinks he feels soft lips press against his temple, then everything dissolves back into nothingness.

 

Someone’s driving a stake through his skull.

Mulder opens his eyes slowly, a millimeter at a time, the morning sun pounding his headache deeper into his cranium. He’s on Scully’s couch, tangled with one of her blankets, a pillow smushed under his shoulder.

He rolls onto his side and sees that Scully left him a glass of water on the coffee table, along with two aspirin and a sleeve of saltines.

He hears the coffeemaker burbling, can smell the heady aroma. It’s too much for his senses to process; he wants to take out his brain and put it in a jar.

“Fuck,” he mumbles, mouth dry.

“Oh, you’re awake,” he hears Scully say. She leans over the back of the couch to look at him, wet tendrils of hair hanging down. “How’re you feeling?”

“I hate wine. And sunlight. And my mouth.”

Scully nods. “You’re extremely dehydrated,” she says. “Drink all your water, and then I’ll give you some coffee, alright?”

Mulder sits up carefully and groans. “How are you not horizontal right now?” he rasps, taking a tentative sip of water.

“Believe me, I don’t feel good either, but I’m more accustomed to wine than you are. That’s my saving grace,” she explains, sitting heavily at the table with a steaming mug. “Sunday is cancelled.”

“No mass today?” Mulder asks, gulping water. His stomach doesn’t appreciate it, but the rest of his body is grateful.

“It’s after eleven,” Scully informs him.

She’s wearing nothing but her fluffy bath robe…

“We need protein and carbohydrates,” Scully continues. “Once you find your sea-legs we should get breakfast. Have a few crackers before you take that aspirin,” she directs him. “Give your stomach a fighting chance.”

“Sure, Doc,” he says, gingerly tearing open the package. He carefully nibbles a cracker, crumbs cascading onto his lap.

“Do you want a shower? A lukewarm shower might help you feel better,” she suggests.

He’d prefer to just lie down and not move for a hundred years, but then he realizes that he gets to use her soap. “Sure,” he mumbles, munching another saltine.

“I’ll get you a towel,” she says, rising and heading down the hallway. “Also I have an unopened toothbrush you can use,” she calls out.

He’d be enjoying this attention from her a hell of a lot more if he weren’t massively hungover. You better appreciate this later, he tells himself.

 

This is technically not the first time he’s been naked in Scully’s apartment, but it is the first time he’s been naked in her domicile as the result of a social visit. The circumstances aren’t ideal, but he’ll call it progress anyway.

The water is both too warm and not warm enough, but the water pressure feels pretty damn good. He lathers up with her bar soap, some minty vanilla concoction that is both invigorating and sweet. He doesn’t know what exactly he’s smelling, and it’s almost too strong for his nose right now; but it’s a definite ingredient in the aroma blend that is Scully, so he finds the scent calming. Maybe he’ll ask her what kind of soap it is later.

He redresses in yesterday’s clothes, drags her comb through his wet hair, rubs a hand over his stubbled chin. He looks marginally better than he feels, at least.

He didn’t expect the night to go that way, ending with him falling asleep in a drunken stupor on her couch only to awake at midnight to her gentle ministrations as she made sure he was comfortable.

He feels like shit, but he also feels loved.

 

They go to a nearby cafe Scully likes, one that serves a lot of hippie food like egg white omelets and bran muffins.

She orders the same for both of them;  scrambled eggs, plain wheat toast, turkey sausage, and fruit cups with lots of melon. She looks sleepy, her damp hair pulled back sloppily with a hair clip, errant locks tumbling out. She’s wearing her glasses and a big denim shirt he hasn’t seen on her in years. Seeing her like this is almost, almost worth the nausea and jackhammering headache.

“When was the last time you got drunk?” Mulder asks, nursing a cup of black coffee.

Scully has her chin in her palm. “I’ve learned to pace myself, so it’s been years; why?”

“You’re so good at it. The after part,” he clarifies.

“I’m a medical doctor, Mulder,” she reminds him. “Helping people recover is part of the training.” She takes a sip of ice water. “And I was pretty reckless in college.”

“Now that’s interesting,” Mulder says. “Go on.”

She shakes her head. “You’re in a weakened state, Mulder. You can’t handle that right now,” she replies, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

His stomach flips for a decidedly non-alcoholic reason.

“I remember last night, but some smaller details are fuzzy,” he says, rubbing his forehead. “Did I say anything particularly embarrassing?”

“Nothing more than the things you say sober,” she murmurs, picking up her coffee and smiling behind the mug.

There’s something about her today, and he can’t quite place what. She’s all business, guiding him through this nasty wine hangover, and yet there’s a playfulness about her. She’s hung over too and has bags under her eyes, but she seems… lighter. Happy?

She’s also staring at him.

“What?” Mulder asks.

“Why are you staring?” she asks.

“Because you’re staring at me,” he replies.

“I’m not-” Scully pauses as the waitress comes by and delivers their breakfasts. “I’m not staring,” she finishes, almost defensively. “I’m tired, and my eyes keep landing on you.”

“This is the stupidest discussion we’ve ever had,” Mulder points out, taking a cautious bite of egg. He sneaks another look at her, just because he can. She looks drowsy and disheveled and her bare face is sprinkled with freckles and oh shit he’s falling harder right now in this trendy little diner in Georgetown and-

He hears someone clear their throat behind him, and Scully’s eyes go wide.

“Dana?”

 

Chapter Text

Well fuck.

Scully, to her credit, shifts gears immediately. “Mark, what a pleasant surprise!” she says, all traces of panic gone. “How was the overnight shift?” She gets up out of the booth and gives him a hug.

“Nothing notable aside from a couple reckless Saturday-night partiers and a childbirth,” he replies, dropping a kiss to the crown of Scully’s head. That’s my spot, Mulder thinks in a flash of petulance.“How about you two?” Mark asks, glancing at him. “Work late?”

Mulder is hit with a spike of nausea. He knows how this looks. They both have wet hair, and yet he’s got stubble and wrinkled clothes. They’re sloppy and drowsy and eating the exact same breakfast and oh shit this is not going to be good for her-

“You know how it is in fields like ours,” Scully says with an airy laugh, sliding back into her seat. “No such thing as a weekend.”

Damn, she’s cool as a cucumber. Mulder’s grateful, because he can barely hold himself together right now. He’s sweating down his back and his head is pounding.

“Would you like to join us?” Scully asks, gesturing to the place beside her in the booth.

Mark waves a hand. “Nah, I’m just getting a to-go order on my way home. I promised Mandy a banana muffin,” he explains. “I’ll call you later, Dana. Nice to see you again, Fox,” he adds, nodding to him.

 

“That was some fast thinking,” Mulder says, taking a minuscule bite of dry toast.

“How do you mean?” Scully asks, watching through the window as Mark walks down the street and out of sight.

“You acted like… like seeing him here, while looking like this…” he motions between them. “There was no shame.”

“Why would I be ashamed, Mulder?” she asks evenly.

He wilts under her blue gaze. “Forget I said anything,” he mumbles to his plate.

“No, go on. I want to hear this,” Scully says, leaning forward. “Is there something you think I should be embarrassed about here? Because the way I see it, I had a pleasant evening with my good friend, and we drank too much wine. He slept on my couch, and now we’re recovering with breakfast.” She takes a gulp of water. “Now, if there’s something you’re ashamed of…”

“No,” Mulder says carefully. “I’m just saying that appearances can be misleading, and the physical evidence - us, in our current states - is open to interpretation. However false those interpretations may be.”

Scully drops her fork to her plate with a clatter. “Jesus, Mulder, I’ve been trying to get that point across to you for years. Just because you see lights in the sky doesn’t mean they’re UFOs. Just because we’re both hungover and unkept, doesn’t mean that… that anything happened.”

“You gonna explain that to Mark? Because he looked a little suspicious.”

“If he poses any questions, I will. But from where I’m sitting, I see nothing to explain.” She picks up her fork and takes a purposeful bite of melon, punctuation at the end of the discussion.

 

His headache doesn’t start dying down until late that evening. He’s spent most of the day on his couch, alternately dozing and watching Animal Planet.

There’s a documentary about baboons on when the phone rings just after nine PM.

“Mulder,” he says tiredly.

“Fox? Fox, this is Mark Einolander,” the voice on the other end says. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything?”

Mulder sits up abruptly. “No, no; I’m just… i’m just watching this thing about baboons…” He scrambles to pull himself together. “Sorry, how did you get this number?”

“Maggie Scully,” Mark explains. “You’re one of Dana’s emergency contacts. I’m sorry to bother you, this not being an emergency, but I was hoping to talk to you about something.”

Mulder winces. It’s fine, he can’t punch you over the phone, he coaches himself. “I’m all ears,” he says, leaning back against the couch arm rest and reflexively clenching his fist in anxiety.

“First of all, I’d appreciate it if this conversation could be kept confidential,” Mark says.

“Then I should warn you, my phone’s been tapped a few times,” Mulder notes.

Mark chuckles. “I’m not worried about the government or whomever in this case,” he assures him. “I’d just prefer if Dana didn’t know.”

Mulder’s internal alarm bells start ringing. “Oh? Hate to break it to you, Mark, but you missed her birthday by nearly two months.”

Mark laughs. “I’ll make note of that,” he replies. “But I was actually hoping you could provide me with some clarity regarding a few things.”

“Such as…?”

“Well, you and Dana have been friends and partners for a long time, and I know she trusts and confides in you,” Mark says. “You of all people should know she’s a tough nut to crack, so to speak.”

“Uh huh,” Mulder replies, eyes cast to the ceiling.

“My relationship with her is very new, and we’re still getting to know each other; which means there are things I don’t believe are yet appropriate for me to ask.”

So don’t ask them, Mulder thinks with an eye roll. “Is there a point here, Mark? Because if there is I’d love for you to reach it,” he sighs.

“Of course. Sorry. What I mean is… this is very uncomfortable, I’m sorry. Has she… been with anybody? Recently? She told me she hasn’t dated in a long time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she hasn’t… been around,” Mark finishes.

Mulder lets a stunned silence hang in the air for a moment. “Wow,” he says finally. “I was not expecting that,” he admits. His nausea from earlier has returned, and he gets off the couch and carries the cordless phone with him to the kitchen.

“Again, I’m sorry to ask, but I’m thinking long term. I want a future with Dana,” Mark rationalizes, “And insight into her character is invaluable to me. I have a young daughter, as you know. ”

Holy shit. Mulder tucks the phone between his cheek and shoulder, opening the refrigerator and pulling out a bottle of ginger ale. “If you want character references, just ask her for a copy of her latest resumé,” Mulder says flatly, taking a swig of the soda. “Or call her mother. Hell, you know her priest, right? Ask him. Or skip the middle-man and dial God directly.”

Mark is quiet for a moment. “Oh. I see,” he says softly, and Mulder braces himself. “I suspected this morning, but I wanted to give you both the benefit of the doubt-”

“I don’t want to have this discussion with you,” Mulder cuts in.

“You fucked her, right? Maybe not last night, but it’s happened before, is that correct?”

The doctor’s sudden change of tone and word choice is jarring, and Mulder’s stomach turns over. “Look, Dr. Einolander, it’s late, and I’m not feeling a hundred percent today. I’d prefer to save this frankly offensive discussion for the day we meet in hell.”

He hears Mark intake a breath. “And it’s Mulder, not Fox,” he says, and punches the off button on the phone.

He barely makes it to the bathroom.

Mulder rinses his mouth in the sink, stares absently at his own haggard face in the mirror. Who knew nice, caring, Good-Father Dr. Mark was such a massive tool?

He brushes his teeth and puts on a fresh t-shirt before returning to the couch.

He has to tell Scully, right? He has to. Friends don’t let friends date judgmental douchebags. But he doesn’t want to get involved, he really doesn’t. He’s had reasons for not wanting her to date Mark since day one; tonight’s revelation is almost a gift, but one he feels like garbage accepting. He fears his personal feelings for her are going to skew his judgment in one way or another.

No matter what he does, he’s going to feel like shit.

So he does nothing; just lies on his couch like the coward he is, watching baboons fight over a mango.

Chapter Text

Even being a coward takes effort.

Mulder’s been stressed for days, trying to forget his phone conversation with Mark and attempting to hide his agitation from Scully. It’s not going well. He hasn’t successfully kept many secrets from her since they met, and at this point it’s practically impossible. If Mulder acts at all furtive or suspicious, she catches on like a shark smelling blood in the water and circles him until he surrenders.

Maybe she’s deeply perceptive; maybe he’s just not that subtle.

His resolve to keep his mouth shut lasts until Wednesday, just after lunch.

He’s built himself a fortress of stacks of newspapers on the desk, leafing through them with a magnifying glass. Scully’s in the annex, looking at some fibers under the microscope. They’ve got a case, which usually sucks up all his attention, but the phone call from a few days before is still buzzing in his ears.

“Hey, uh, has Mark mentioned the cafe incident?” he asks from across the room.

Scully keeps her eyes on the microscope. “No, he hasn’t, actually. It was hardly an incident,” she adds, switching out the slide. “You need to relax.”

Clearly, she’d picked up on his nervous energy. For once, he wishes Scully could just read his mind. Then I wouldn’t have to figure out how to tell her, Mulder thinks.

There’s no easy way out of this.

“Have you seen him since then?” he asks, trying to sound casual.

Scully huffs out a breath. “We went out last night. Mulder, I’m trying to focus-”

“He called me,” Mulder admits suddenly. “On Sunday.” Whelp, consider the beans spilled, Mark, he thinks. You dick.

Scully looks up at him then, brows furrowed. “He did? Why?”

“First of all, let me make it clear that I wanted nothing to do with any of this,” Mulder says, setting down the newspaper. “He dragged me into it. I wasn’t going to say anything but it’s been pissing me off.”

Scully gets up from the little table and walks over to the desk, perching on the edge of the chair across from him. “Mulder,” she says slowly, “What are you talking about?”

“Mark called me on Sunday night, saying he had some questions for me regarding your character.”

“My character,” Scully echoes, eyes sharp and questioning.

“That’s what he said,” Mulder says, picking up a pencil and rolling it between his fingers nervously. His heart is leaping in his throat. “But what he really wanted to know was if you… um. Sleep around.”

The words land heavily, their weight sending ripples through Mulder’s body.

Scully’s face turns to stone. “Really,” she says tightly. “I don’t see how that is any business of his, or yours,” she adds.

Mulder’s blood pressure has to be at a record high. “He mentioned something about planning for long term, and his daughter. And he thinks we, um.”

Scully crosses her arms, and Mulder’s never seen such an icy, quiet rage. “He thinks we what, Mulder? Tell me exactly what he said.”

Mulder digs the point of the pencil into the desk until the sharpened lead snaps. “He thinks I fucked you,” he says quietly, not looking at her.

“Oh,” she says, louder than he expected. “Well, that’s lovely, Mulder. Did you happen to tell him that it’s not true?”

“I essentially said ‘see you in hell’,” Mulder admits.

“Right,” Scully says, pressing her lips together so hard they turn white. “And you weren’t going to inform me of this because…”

“Because it’s none of my business,” Mulder explains. “I didn’t want to overstep.”

“A first,” Scully says sharply.

“Hey, I learned from last time,” he replies, feeling suddenly defensive. Why am I in trouble here? “You made it pretty clear after Jerse that this is your life, and I’m genuinely trying to honor that. But your boyfriend called me, Scully. I didn’t ask to get dragged into this shit.”

She’s angry now, and he can’t tell if it’s directed at him or Mark. It feels like both. “You didn’t think I might want to know about this, Mulder? You didn’t think to give me a heads-up that the man I’m seeing thinks I’m an easy lay?”

“Whoa, whoa, nobody said that,” Mulder says quickly. “And I’m telling you now because I think you should know I had this conversation with him. I’m sorry I waited but I was unsure how to-”

Scully’s eyes are red, and Mulder stops. “Scully?” he asks quietly.

“He kissed me,” she says hoarsely. She takes a deep breath. “Can’t think why… don’t really want to think why.”

Mulder feels hot and cold all at once.

“It’s funny,” Scully continues, “I-I could tell he wanted more. It was surprising, and not entirely unwelcome, but I stopped it because something felt off.” She emits one small sniff before setting her jaw firmly. “I guess now it makes sense.”

“Scully…” Mulder says softly.

She gets up from the chair. “Thank you for letting me know,” she says woodenly, before returning to the annex and sitting behind the microscope once more.

Well that went perfectly.

 

They barely speak for the rest of the day, buried in their respective piles of research.

At the end of the day Scully packs her briefcase with short, sharp movements, her shoulders rigid. She slips into her coat, and Mulder sees her mouth set in a grim line.

“Scully,” Mulder says quietly.

She shakes her head once, the smallest negative movement. “I have a phone call to make.”

 

He leaves the office about forty minutes later, a parcel of newspapers under his arm; homework he knows he won’t be able to focus on.

He takes the elevator to the fourth floor of the parking garage, and sees Scully standing at the far end of the row of cars, leaning against the cement wall, cigarette in hand. He walks to her and rests his elbows on the wall, looking out at the twilit city.

“How many of those have you gone through?” Mulder asks, peering around her in search of burnt stubs.

She doesn’t answer, just holds the cigarette out to him. He hesitates, then gingerly takes it and raises it to his mouth. There’s smudges of lipstick on the filter, and he’s not a good enough man to ignore the eroticism of it.

“I haven’t smoked since ’89,” Mulder says, exhaling. He passes the cigarette back to her.

“Sorry to break your streak,” she murmurs, taking a puff. He watches the smoke escape her full lips, her angelic face profaned by tobacco and a dishonest man’s kiss.

“You didn’t,” he says softly.

They watch the world rotate below.

“I broke it off,” she says, eyes tracing the skyline. He doesn’t need to ask what she’s referring to, and she doesn’t elaborate.

Mulder shifts his weight awkwardly. “That night we got drunk… you asked if I thought you were settling.”

“Mm,” she hums. “No spark,” she recalls.

He nods. “It didn’t feel right to say at the time, but the answer was yes. You should be with who you want to be with, Scully. Someone who makes you… makes you feel things. Not the guy who seems good on paper.”

“It would have been right to say,” Scully says. “I asked you. I don’t- I don’t know why you’re suddenly hellbent on staying out of my life, Mulder, when I’m asking you to be in it. I appreciate your respecting my privacy and boundaries, don’t get me wrong; it’s a welcome change from past experiences. But I… I need a friend.”

There’s a tightness in his chest at her words. “I guess I’m overcorrecting,” Mulder admits. “You’ve been through so much hell, had so much taken away… I wanted to let you choose for once.”

Scully shakes her head. “This mentality you have of letting me choose isn’t much better,” she says softly. “Someone else still controls the information. You trying to protect me by omission doesn’t give me much more agency, Mulder.” She stubs out the cigarette and turns back to the rows of parked cars. “You of all people should know the most empowering thing you can give someone.” She starts to walk away.

“What’s that?” he asks.

She looks back at him. “The truth.”

Chapter Text

Thursday, April 30.

Mulder and Scully don’t often get to spend a day in court; it almost feels like a treat. An exhausting, headache-inducing, occasionally disheartening treat.

The only real upside is that they usually drive together.

They’re in Baltimore, and even though the drive back to the office is less than an hour, Mulder can feel his energy flagging.

“You hungry?” Mulder asks, sliding into the driver’s seat. “We can grab dinner before we head back.”

“Mulder, I’m wiped out,” Scully sighs.

“Alright,” he replies, subdued. He puts the keys in the ignition and starts the car.

They’ve gone two blocks when Scully speaks again. “I could go for pizza,” she says softly.

Mulder takes a steadying breath. This is progress.

 

It’s been only a week since the Great Mark Implosion, and things between Mulder and Scully have been thawing slowly. There’s residual awkwardness around them, like the last compacted piles of old snow in the shady places on the sides of the road. Slow to melt, but not a real impediment.

They find a little brick hole-in-the-wall pizza shop not far from the district courthouse. Scully took an appraising sniff when they walked in, declared the scent inside “pizza enough”, and they proceeded to make their order.

 

“So, how’ve you been?” Mulder asks. It’s a stupid question, but he’s hungry and tired and a little nervous, picking the mushrooms off of his slice of pizza before taking a bite. Scully always insists on ordering one with everything. Thank god she hates anchovies.

“You tell me,” she replies. “You’ve seen me practically every day for the past week.” She takes a first bite of pizza and moans softly. Mulder’s cheeks warm at the sound.

“I mean… in regards to what happened last Wednesday,” he clarifies. Broaching this subject feels suddenly dangerous, and he wants to take his words back.

“You can say break-up, Mulder,” she says gently. “It’s not a secret. And I’m fine,” she says, chewing, then raises a finger. “I know historically I say that when I’m not fine, but I mean it this time,” she explains. “I’m not hurt, just… disappointed. Tired. A little annoyed.”

“With him, or me, or both?” Mulder asks.

She shrugs. “Both,” she says candidly. “But you provided me with sustenance, so my annoyance with you is diminishing.” She takes a sip of diet Coke before she continues. “I’ve been thinking, and I’ve determined that the part of this that bothers me the most is the fact that Mark, or anyone, would base their summation of my character off my sexual history. I’m thirty-four years old, a fully-matured and capable human being, and yet I felt like I was stuck in a web of high school gossip. It’s insulting, being subjected to outdated moral codes by men who have no business passing judgement.”

“I have an impertinent question,” Mulder says. “You don’t have to answer.”

“I’m bracing myself,” she replies, taking another bite of pizza.

“From an outsider’s perspective, these outdated moral codes and judgment seem like a fundamental part of Catholicism. So I guess I’m wondering… why are you still Catholic?”

Her answering sigh is deep and slow. “That’s a big question, Mulder; one I ask myself all the time. I think it boils down to faith. I believe in God; everything else is just window dressing. My relationship with my faith, with religion, is complicated. But ultimately, that’s between me and God. Everyone else, namely Mark, can fuck off.”

He loves her so much in this moment, this tiny self-possessed scientist voraciously eating pizza. “Fair enough,” he says, removing another mushroom from his slice of pizza and putting on the edge of her plate. “So faith in God is intact; faith in men, however…”

Scully chuckles. “It’s at a low plateau,” she jokes, “and yet this may actually be the best break-up I’ve ever had.”

“Ouch,” Mulder says with a wince. “I’d hate to imagine the worst.”

“I egged a guy’s car once,” she says around a bite of pizza.

“No, really?” Mulder asks in surprise. “What’d he do?”

She swallows, wipes her fingers on a crumpled napkin. “Let me be clear, this was when I was in high school,” she says, “So all the emotions were heightened. My boyfriend cheated on me,” she explains. “I was seventeen and wanted to wait to have sex, and he didn’t. It was pretty traumatic for teenage Dana, so I reacted with criminal mischief.”

“Did you get caught?”

Scully shakes her head, picking up one of the stray mushrooms on her plate and popping it in her mouth. “No. I was stealthy,” she says. “And a good church girl. I think most people assumed it was a dumb teenage prank by some local boys.” She pauses. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this,” she says in realization.

“Your secret is safe with me,” Mulder vows, passing her another mushroom.

“So what about you?” she asks, serving herself another slice of pizza. “What sort of romantic entanglements did you get into in high school? Any horror stories?”

“Not much,” Mulder says with a shrug. “Though I was pretty in love with a girl when I was sixteen or so. Her name was Laura and she was the older sister of one of my friends; I think she was probably 18? I was at their house all the time but I hardly ever talked to her.”

“Why not?”

“I was, uh, actually pretty shy back then,” he admits. “Especially with girls. She was really pretty and kind, but every time I opened my mouth to speak I’d get nervous and end up just saying nothing. Once I almost threw up.”

“That’s actually very sweet,” Scully assures him. “Trust me, she probably thought you were adorable.” She chews thoughtfully. “Did you ever tell her how you felt?”

Mulder shakes his head. “Not really. I wrote her a letter confessing my feelings and was halfway to their house to leave it in the mailbox when I chickened out. I took it home and burned it in the kitchen sink. Then she left for college.”

Scully hums in understanding. “A tale as old as time.”

“I looked her up once, after I finished at Oxford. She was married with a baby,” Mulder says, chewing a piece of crust. “Nothing would have happened if she weren’t, but part of me kind of wondered.”

Scully is silent, and when he looks up at her she’s got her cheek cradled in her hand, a soft smile on her lips, watching him.

“What?” he asks, suddenly self-conscious.

Her eyes are gleaming. “I don’t know why it never occurred to me before, but… you’re a romantic, Mulder.”

He swallows. “Is that... is that a bad thing?”

She drops her hand, shakes her head. “No, it’s not a bad thing at all,” she says softly.

Scully’s face is awash with blue and red from the neon sign in the window, and her eyes are deep and glimmering. He has to look away to steady himself before he says something he’s not ready for her to hear.

“I think I assumed you dislike romance,” he says, dipping a toe into shallower, yet unexplored waters. “It seems to me that science is somewhat at odds with the concept, when you can explain away all these feelings as chemical reactions with evolutionary precedent.”

“These feelings?” she asks, and he freezes.

“Romantic feelings in general,” he clarifies, recovering quickly. “The heart palpitations, fluttering stomach, desire for physical contact, all those things we felt as teenagers.” All those things I’m feeling right now.

“Some things aren’t meant to be examined through a purely scientific lens,” she counters. “I also firmly believe in instinct and trusting your gut in certain cases. Hell, that’s why I broke things off with Mark. No matter what he said, I knew things didn’t feel right.”

Mulder’s puzzled. “What he said?” he asks.

Scully licks her lip. “When I called him after work,” she explains. “I told him what you told me, and he claimed you twisted his words. A misunderstanding, coupled with manipulation born of jealousy,” Scully sighs.

Mulder’s heart stutters. “And you didn’t believe him?”

“No, I didn’t. It was his word against yours,” she says, voice gentle and firm. “There was no question.”

Mulder feels the weight of her words drape over his shoulders like a warm blanket. She trusts him, believes in him, chooses him.

He’s floored.

“Scully, that offer to elope still stands,” he says with a grin, and she smiles back.

 

Scully predictably falls asleep on the drive back to DC. Mulder glances over at her periodically, drinking in the sight of his partner curled up in the passenger seat. Her head is resting against the window, rosy cheek pillowed on a small hand.

Scully trusts him, rests in his presence, weighs his words. He doesn’t deserve what she gives him, but he realizes then what he needs to do anyway; fear and uncertainty be damned.

She deserves the truth; she is the truth.

 

Chapter Text

He has to do this right.

Mulder’s written some hefty works in his life; term papers, theses, monographs, case reports. But none have made his heart pound quite like this.

He actually went to a stationary store this Saturday morning and spent forty-five minutes browsing different textures of card, weights of letterhead, holding up watermarked sheets of paper to the ceiling lights for further scrutiny. None of them were quite right.

He can’t possibly give Scully an illuminated manuscript with gilded edges, so he goes home and digs around on his desk until he finds a usable, albeit leaky, ballpoint pen.

He cracks his knuckles absently. It’s been decades since he’s done this, and he’s out of practice, but what he lacks in finesse he’ll make up for with devotion.

He’s going to write Scully a love letter.

Romance isn’t dead, but it’s certainly on life support; he’s hunched over at his desk in his boxers and a wrinkled t-shirt, trying to pour his heart out onto a sheet of copy paper while his neighbors are arguing down the hall.

 

Dear Dana,

He never calls her Dana, and he doesn’t want this to sound too out of character. And the word ‘dear’ doesn’t really seem right either. He crumples up the page and pulls out a fresh one.

He should probably write the date, first off. That’s what he learned in grade school, writing letters to his assigned penpal in North Carolina or someplace.

May 2nd, he thinks. He checks his watch, squinting at the tiny date dial to make sure he has it correct. He does.

 

May 2, 1998

Scully,

He nods to himself. The greeting is to-the-point, yet familiar. Not overly formal or sentimental.

 

I’ll bet you didn’t expect to be accosted by my purple prose in your mailbox, did you? As though my case reports aren’t enough.

He’s been told his writing style is at times florid to the point of excess; Scully often takes to his reports with a machete, unbidden, and crosses out phrases, begs him to reword things so he can pass as a sane person during review. But hell, this is a goddamn love letter. He’s going to be as melodramatic as he wants.

 

In all seriousness, however, recent events have shown me that I can no longer afford to deny the longing of my heart, body, and soul.

I know I have shown my dedication to you over the past five years we’ve spent together, and received your loyalty and trust in kind; but some months ago I discovered a new dimension to the deep regard I have for you, a faceted gem previously cloistered in stone.

I am disastrously, deliriously, desperately in love with you. My feelings are not platonic, and are deeper than our current partnership. I want to be partnered with you in all things. I ache for you in new ways, hunger for things I don’t deserve, dream of things my eyes may never behold. Nevertheless, I yearn. I yearn knowing that I may never be sated, never taste that which I thirst for. I don’t want to die without knowing your touch, without holding you, but I will carry empty hands to my grave if that’s what you want. I lay myself before you now as an offering, to serve whatever purpose you see fit.

I know my timing is never good, and I’ve been overly cautious in my attempts to make my intentions known. Even now, part of me is hesitant to reveal my feelings, since you’ve only recently split from someone else. But you were right; there is power in the truth, and I gift my truth to you now.

I cannot shake the feeling that everything I’ve worked for, every truth I’ve sought, has led me to you; not by way of any conspiracy or government manipulation, but because I am destined to love and honor you. I am an imperfect man, changeable and obsessive, unreliable and stubborn. Many of my quests yield no fruit, my efforts culminating in failure. But I want to be better for you. I am already better because of you. You are the fire that refines me, melts me down and burns away the bullshit. You make me golden.

You can do what you wish with this letter; burn it in your kitchen sink, and we can pretend I never said a thing. Hide it under your mattress, stick it to your refrigerator, whatever you want. It won’t change how I feel about you.

I love you, Dana Katherine Scully. My heart is yours; say the word and the rest of me will belong to you as well.

Always,

Mulder.

 

He signs the letter and puts down his pen, wiping his thumb on the hem of his shirt in an attempt to remove the ink smudged on his skin. His eyes scan the page, rereading his missive.

He can wad up the letter and try again, but he knows deep down that no rewrite will be sufficient; words can only convey so much. He blows on the ink to make sure it’s dry, then folds the paper into crisp thirds and slips it into a plain legal-size envelope.

That evening he slips the stamped and addressed envelope into the post box outside his neighborhood minimart. He’s decided to mail the letter; that way he won’t know when, or if, she receives it. It’s completely out of his hands; all he can do is wait.

He has a moment of panic when the envelope leaves his grasp, disappearing into the slot and out of reach, but he lets the momentary wave of anxiety roll through him and dissipate.

He thinks of sixteen-year-old Fox, biking to Laura’s house, so overcome with nerves that he has to go home.

This one’s for you, buddy, he thinks, and walks home in the spring twilight feeling one ounce and thirty-two cents lighter.

 

Chapter Text

 

Maybe he wrote her address wrong.

The odds of that happening are pretty damn slim; Mulder’s had it down by heart for years, but he’s grasping at all possibilities right now.

He had sent the letter through the postal service in an attempt to keep himself from stressing out over its delivery, but that plan backfired the minute the envelope left his hands.

He dropped it in the mail on Saturday evening. It’s now Wednesday, and Scully has made no mention of it. There’s been no indication in her demeanor at all to suggest that she’d received any revelatory mail-pieces.

He might live the rest of his life in this horrific limbo, a purgatory of his own construction. He’s been on pins and needles all week, filling the basement office with nervous energy, furtively glancing at Scully in attempts to read her facial expressions. Did she get the letter and throw it out? How is she so calm? Maybe it got stuck in one of the sorting machines…

Before he knows it, Scully’s bidding him a friendly “goodnight” and shutting the office door.

Say what you will about anxiety, but it sure spices up the workday.

Mulder drives home in a fog; he’s exhausted from the mental exertion of thinking in circles and jumping to conclusions. Inside his apartment he flops down on the sofa and calls for takeout from the Thai place down the street that has his order memorized.

The next time he confesses his undying love to somebody, he’s going to use e-mail.

 

A knock on his door shakes him from his reverie.

 

“How much do I owe-” he begins as he opens the door, then freezes.

Scully is standing at his doorstep, a high flush on her cheeks. She looks somehow startled, as though he surprised her by opening his own front door.

“Scully,” he says, concerned. “Are you alright?”

“Mulder,” she replies, voice cracking on the edges. Her big blue eyes are full, ready to spill over her lower lids.

Oh.

“You read it,” he says softly. He feels his chest tighten into a tight knot of anxiety, and he swallows hard.

She nods. “Can I- I need to come in.”

He stands aside, ushers her into his living room.

She’s vibrating with nervous energy. Mulder motions to the couch. “Would you, uh, like to sit down?”

“I’d prefer to stand, thank you,” she says, voice tight. She grips her elbows.

“Well, I guess I’ll sit,” Mulder says softly, lowering himself to the couch. “Scully, I-“

She holds out a hand. “You got to say your piece, Mulder, now it’s time for mine.” Her lower lip crumples slightly, and he wants to get up and hug her.

She takes a deep breath, pulling herself together. “Mulder, when I received your letter today…” She blinks back tears. “I was completely overwhelmed. I’m not even sure how I managed to drive here,” she admits. “And I appreciate that in it you acknowledged the inopportune timing of your confession. Things just keep piling up,” she says. “But now I just want to know, need to know… why the hell did you wait so long?”

There’s pain in her voice, and he aches in return.

“I didn’t know how you felt,” he says simply, “and then Mark happened.” It’s so insufficient, but it’s all he has.

“I wish you’d told me before,” she says. “I wish I’d known. I dragged you into this mess with him, and the whole time you… you felt that for me.”

“Scully,” he says slowly, “If I had told you I loved you, would you have still gone out with Mark?”

She doesn’t answer right away, and his heart falls into his stomach.

“How can you ask me that?” she says, voice a rough whisper. “What do you want me to say?”

Say no. Please. “I’m only interested in the truth, Scully. You of all people know that by now.”

A tear spills down her cheek, and she wipes it away roughly. “I… I don’t know. Do you have any idea how long and hard I worked to not feel? I’d wake up every damn morning thinking about you. I’d scrub myself raw in the shower so you couldn’t smell me, sense how much I wanted you all fucking night. I’d come to work and turn my heart off, bury my feelings so deep that even now I can barely scratch the surface of them. I did it for years, Mulder.” She takes a deep, shaky breath. “So when my mother introduced me to a nice man with a little girl, I decided to go for it. And I almost forget how to really feel something. But you… you never let me forget. And the rational choices cease to make sense.” She sniffs noisily. “You turned my entire world upside down.”

He hangs his head. “I’m sorry-” he begins.

“No,” Scully interrupts. “No, Mulder. I don’t want your guilt, or your pity; I don’t need it. I want you, and me. I want us to be the two broken people we are, healing. We can’t keep hurting each other with misguided attempts to protect each other.”

“What do you mean, then? How do we stop?”

“By being honest,” she says, coming around the coffee table and perching on the edge of the couch. “We start here. Right now.”

“I-I don’t know how much more clear or honest I could possible be,” Mulder stammers. “The letter spelled it out. My cards are on the table.”

“They are,” she agrees, “But you wrote under the assumption that I wouldn’t reciprocate. You left no room for alternatives.”

“Alternatives being…”

Scully’s eyes are pleading. “Mulder,” she whispers, beseeching.

 

There’s a knock on the door.

Mulder glances over his shoulder, startled out of their moment. “I ordered Thai,” he explains. “If you’re here, then that must be the delivery guy,” he says.

Scully nods. “Likely.” She gets up from the sofa and crosses to the desk, fetching the tissue box there. “You should-”

“Answer the door, yeah,” Mulder agrees absently, standing and feeling his pockets for his wallet.

 

The bored teenager on the other side of the door holds the bag out. “Sixteen forty-nine,” he says.

“Give him a twenty,” Scully instructs from the living room, blowing her nose.

Mulder digs a bill out of his wallet and hands it to the delivery guy. “You and the Mrs have a good night,” the boy says, stifling a yawn as he shoves the money into the pack on his waist.

 

“That tip was what, twenty-five percent?” Mulder grouses, setting the bag on the coffee table.

“Oh, so you can do math,” Scully says, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “So what’s your excuse for being a lousy tipper, then?”

“Spoken like a former waitress,” Mulder mumbles.

“You’re goddamn right,” Scully says. “Best IHOP server in San Diego.”

Her bravado contrasts sharply with her puffy eyes and watery voice, and Mulder wants to pull her into his arms and never let go.

“You want any of this?” he asks, pulling steaming cartons out of the bag. “There’s plenty for both of us, and if you don’t eat I’ll feel like a crappy host.”

She sits back down on the couch, setting the tissue box on the coffee table. “If you don’t mind sharing,” she concedes.

“I’ll grab you a fork,” he replies, giving her knee a squeeze.

 

They eat quietly, passing cartons between them, migrating together until they’re shoulder to shoulder in the center of the couch.

“So,” Mulder says, “Before the food got here, we were talking about something pretty important.”

Scully nods, turning her fork to wind noodles around the tines. “That we were,” she agrees.

“About honesty,” he prompts. “Alternatives.”

Scully sets her fork down, closes her eyes. “This… this is difficult for me, Mulder. It’s surreal; I didn’t expect this outcome for us. For you to… to feel the way you do,” she clarifies.

“On the contrary,” Mulder says, “I feel like this was always going to happen, from the day we met. Somewhere deep in my mind I knew I was going to fall in love with you.”

Scully looks at him then, eyes wide.

“Th-that’s the first time I’ve said that aloud,” he says in realization, eyes not leaving hers.

Scully nods. “How’d it feel?” she asks softly.

Mulder licks his lip. “Kinda depends on how it felt for you,” he responds, voice low.

She takes a deep breath. “Call me crazy, but I think I need to hear it again.”

He nods, then on impulse leans in until his mouth is next to her ear, strands of coppery hair tickling his cheek. “I’m in love with you,” he murmurs.

Scully reflexively grips the edge of the couch cushion. “Don’t,” she warns, voice husky and breathier than he expected. “I’m not ready.”

He draws back. “Ready for what?” he asks.

She smoothes her hair behind her ear. “You,” she says simply, looking him up and down out of the corner of her eye. She picks up her fork and takes another bite of noodles. “I’ve spent so long in denial, Mulder, I feel… flammable. Like the smallest spark could just…” she motions to herself. “Destroy my equilibrium, or something.”

“Is this the official medical terminology? Because I’m not familiar,” he quips.

She huffs a laugh. “No, Mulder. What I’m trying to say is that I think we should go slow. Whatever ‘going’ means, in this case.”

“But we are a we,” he clarifies.

“Yes, I think we are,” Scully says tenderly, facing him again. “I… I want to be. But I’m processing things, so I need you to give me time.”

You can have my whole life. “That’s fine by me,” he assures her. “So you think we have a spark, Scully?”

She licks her upper lip, nodding. “Oh yes,” she says, eyes flicking down to his mouth. “Yes, we do.”

He leans back into the couch cushions. “Well then,” he says, eyeing her lazily, “When you feel like starting some fires… I’m your boy.”

 

Chapter Text

“So, now what?” Mulder asks, scooting empty takeout cartons aside with his foot and propping his feet up on the coffee table.

He’d told Scully there was enough food for them to share, but he’s still hungry. He hopes she doesn’t hear his stomach growl.

“Now what, what?” Scully replies. She’s slumped comfortably into the couch cushions, head resting ever so slightly against his shoulder. He glances down at her and his chest aches.

“What comes next for us?”

She puts her feet up on the table next to his, delicate ankles crossed. “Do you mean tonight or in the general future?”

Mulder pauses. “Actually, both.”

“Well,” she says slowly. “I guess we have to figure out what all this means. How we want to proceed.”

Mulder nods. “Okay. For clarity’s sake… do you want to have a romantic relationship with me, Scully?” he asks carefully. “I’ve made it pretty clear how I feel, but I want to make sure I understand your side.”

She looks up at him then, cheek brushing his shoulder. “Yes, I do,” she replies.

His stomach swoops like a shore bird. “I, um, I’m glad to hear that,” he says, suppressing a grin. “That being established…” He coughs awkwardly. “Um. Do you want to have a sexual relationship? I don’t mean tonight. It doesn’t have to be right away,” he adds hurriedly, “But I think we should be clear about what a romantic relationship entails to each of us.”

Scully looks up at him like he’s grown a second head. “Mulder, do you think I don’t have sex with my romantic partners?”

He raises his hands. “Hey, I didn’t want to assume. After that bullshit with Mark, and what I know of Catholicism, I wanted to be sure-”

“Yes, Mulder, I want to have sex with you,” she replies, cheeks blooming a pretty pink. “I can’t believe you just asked me that,” she mutters.

He wonders if she hears his pulse quicken. “Okay, good to know.”

“I take it you want to have sex with me?” she asks, nudging his right foot with one of hers.

His body is practically humming at her words and close proximity. “I-I…”

“Don’t bother answering,” Scully cuts him off, almost smug, looking down at her hands. “It’s written all over your face.”

“Well, I’m glad we cleared that up,” he says, swinging his feet off of the coffee table and onto the floor. “So what were your evening plans, Dr. Scully? Before I threw a wrench in them.”

“It’s Thursday,” she replies, as though the answer is obvious. “I didn’t have anything on the agenda.”

He looks at her slyly. “Hm… you wanna make out?”

“Mulder,” Scully admonishes, voice stern and fond in equal measure. “That’s not exactly going slow, is it?”

“Fine,” he concedes, rising from the couch with a grunt. “Consolation prize: we go get ice cream.”

 

More accurately, he gets ice cream, in the form of a Drumstick with a caramel center. Scully opts for some unholy vegetable-based excuse for a dessert. It’s getting late, after nine PM, so they’d elected to just walk to the little market down the street from his apartment and pick from whatever they had laying in their chest freezer.

“What is that thing again?” Mulder asks, unwrapping his Drumstick.

“Nonfat Tofutti Rice Dreamcicle,” she replies. She hands him her wrapper, and he tosses them in the trash bin outside the shop.

“Shall we walk?” he asks, biting through the shell of nuts and chocolate covering his ice cream. “Or we could loiter outside, bum some smokes off of passersby.”

“Let’s walk,” Scully says, giving her fake ice cream a kitten lick. Mulder tries not to watch her tongue.

He fails.

“There’s a park a few blocks that way,” he says, motioning eastward.

 

The park is small, but peaceful, dappled with cherry trees clinging to their last blossoms. A lighted cobblestone path meanders through the foliage.

“I think we should set some ground rules,” Scully says, bumping his arm with hers as they walk. “Concerning how we interact while on the clock. We don’t want to give the Bureau any more ammunition against our partnership or our work.”

“Business as usual,” Mulder concurs.

“Yes. Our personal and professional lives should not mix,” Scully says. “And I think we should keep - whatever we are - a secret, at least for now.”

“Scully, are you suggesting we sneak around?” Mulder asks. “That’s pretty sexy.”

“I’m just saying we should be discrete, compartmentalize. Keep things professional when we’re in the office or on assignment.” She takes a last bite of her ice cream cone. “Nothing’s sexier than keeping our jobs.”

“You say that now,” Mulder murmurs, looping an arm around her shoulders. “But I can think of a few things-”

“Oh, I’m sure you can,” she cuts him off.

“I’ll show you sometime.”

“You think I won’t show you first?”

Mulder bites back a growl deep in his throat. She’s going to kill him at this rate.

They abruptly stop walking, standing in the middle of the path partway beneath a lopsided willow. “Mulder,” Scully whispers.

“Mhm?” he replies, eyes searching her face.

“I think you should kiss me now.”

His heart is pounding as he steps forward into her space. “It’s been a while since I’ve done this,” he warns her unnecessarily. He doesn’t put much stock in his interpersonal skills much of the time, but he knows he’s a good kisser. And her mouth is so plush and full-lipped, and he’s been dying to taste her-

He reaches out and slips one hand around her waist, the other around the back of her neck, drawing her closer as he leans down. Her upturned face is serene and pale in the night, a reflection of the moon, and he wishes he could slow time down and savor every millisecond of what’s about to happen.

Her eyes fall closed, and his follow, and then there’s nothing left in the universe but her small, warm body in his arms, her gentle exhale across his skin, and their lips meeting for the very first time.

Her mouth is cool and sweetened by dessert, and he can barely taste a hidden heat just beyond the seam of her lips. He feels he might drown in sensation, caught by irresistible currents pulling his body towards hers. He presses her closer, and it feels as though his palm could span her entire waist.

Scully loops her arms around his neck, angling her head slightly and parting her lips briefly before pulling away.

“That,” Scully whispers, almost in a daze. “That’s a spark.”

Mulder can no longer form words; he can only nod.

She slides her hands down his arms, grasping his hands. “Come here,” she murmurs, pulling him further beneath the canopy of willow branches. “One more.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Mulder awakes the next morning with his face crammed into his pillow, squeaky leather couch cushions groaning, and for the first time in years he thinks maybe he should get a bed. For his own sake, of course; sofas aren’t meant for long term sleeping, and his joints aren’t getting any younger. It seems prudent to invest in a bed frame, a good mattress, maybe some nice sheets.

And hell, if a certain small redhead happens to come by…

He has a slight crick in his neck, but it fades into the background as his memory replays the night before. Pad Thai, Scully’s big blue eyes, ice cream, soft lips under the cover of branches. Requited affection at last.

He doesn’t know where they’ll go from here, but he’s eager to find out.

 

He waltzes into the basement office, freshly showered and shaved and wearing his least offensive tie. Scully’s already there, digging through her briefcase.

“Morning, Scully,” he says cheerily, dropping into his chair and searching her face, attempting to make eye contact.

“Morning,” she replies, not looking up.

“I had a, uh, good time last night,” he says in a low voice. “Best night I’ve had in years.”

She nods, cheeks faintly pink. “It was nice,” she says carefully.

Something’s wrong.

“Scully, are you okay?” he asks, leaning in.

“I’m fine, Mulder,” she replies, exhaling softly. “But I don’t want to talk about this now.”

Disappointment and dread creep into his chest, spreading a chill like midnight frost.

“Are you having second thoughts?” he asks, voice suddenly small.

“No,” she clarifies, finally meeting his eyes. “I’m not, I promise. It’s just that things look different in the light of day, and I’m adjusting.”

“That doesn’t really make me feel better,” he says, worrying the end of a pencil between his teeth.

“It’s not meant to,” Scully replies. She sits down opposite him and reaches into their inbox on the desk, hauling out a stack of files. “It’s just the truth.”

They’re quiet for a long moment before she reaches out and places a hand atop his on the desk, squeezing gently before withdrawing it and returning to leafing through files.

She knows exactly how to comfort him, to communicate that things are alright, they’re alright, and that he doesn’t need to worry right now. A paragraph in the touch of a hand. Their eyes meet, and she gives him a tentative smile, causing warmth to bloom in his chest once more.

 

They sort through potential cases for an hour before Mulder makes a triumphant sound in his throat.

“Got one, Scully,” he announces, handing her a file. “Equine mutilations in Gettysburg. Wanna go check it out?”

Scully opens the folder and immediately frowns. “Not really, but if I say no you’ll go anyway,” she sighs, flipping through the pages. “And then when you get lost in some cave or stuck in the bottom of a well or something and are in need of a rescue, who’ll inform the local authorities? Oh god,” she says in realization. “I’m Lassie.”

“There’s a filthy joke in there somewhere, Scully-”

“-And right now’s not the time to find it,” she cuts in, giving him a patented eyebrow arch.

“Let me know when that time’ll be,” he says in a low tone. “I’ll clear my schedule.”

“Dead horses, Mulder,” she reminds him, waving a gruesome photo. She sighs. “Let’s get this over with.”

 

Mulder’s in a great mood. The sun is out, they have a case, and he kissed Dana Scully last night. Twice. He’s actually humming as he drives, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Nothing lights you up quite like mutilated livestock, Mulder,” Scully observes, shaking her head. “What are you hoping to find? More vampires?”

“Civil War ghosts, actually,” he replies, adjusting his mirrors. “Think about it, Scully. Those wounds lacked the consistent placement and patterns we usually see in ritualistic killings, nor did they resemble animal attacks. I’ll bet if we compared the wounds with weapons and ammunition from the era, we’d get some matches.”

“To what end?” Scully asks.

“If I’m right, we’ll see some ghosts. If I’m wrong, we’ll stop some sicko from slaughtering more horses. We can’t lose.”

“Hm,” Scully replies, the brief exhalation steeped in skepticism. He knows the meaning of each little hum and sound of hers at this point.

Well obviously not all of them, he thinks, pulse quickening. But soon.

“So,” he says, cracking a sunflower seed between his teeth, “About last night.”

“It happened, if you were unsure,” she confirms. “It was real. I was there.”

“Funny,” he quips. “No, I know it happened. I just wanted to make sure you were okay that it did. You seemed a little uncomfortable when I came into the office this morning.”

Scully sighs deeply, and Mulder braces himself for a rejection he’d always feared would come.

“Mulder, yesterday I told you that I spent years repressing certain facets of how I feel about you,” she reminds him. “And only yesterday I found out that… that I don’t need to do that anymore. I’m simply adjusting. It’s all very new, and seeing you this morning in our office… you looked the same, everything looked the same, but I felt different. Frankly, it was jarring. It was like watching two planets collide; Mulder the colleague and friend, and Mulder the… the lover,” she says quietly.

Lover. The word gives him a thrill. “Am I your lover, Scully?” he asks softly.

“Well, you did kiss me twice,” she replies matter-of-factly, “So I think you’re on your way.”

“Then that makes you my lover,” he says, almost to himself. “You’re right; this does feel kind of weird.”

“Not a bad weird,” Scully clarifies. “Just… new. I think we just need practice.”

“Lots and lots of practice,” Mulder agrees, flashing her a grin.

Scully rolls her eyes, turning to look out the window as though to hide the smile creeping across her face. “Just drive, Mulder.”

 

They get to East Cavalry Field at half-past noon, just in time to enjoy the sights. Namely, the latest victim, a Clydesdale named Morris. The warm spring sun pours down on them and the fallen animal, illuminating the gore spilling from its lifeless body.

“Well, Mulder,” Scully says flatly, snapping on a pair of gloves, “You sure do know how to show a girl a good time.”

 

They drive home six and a half hours later, having gathered little new information. A musket ball, borrowed from a local museum, rolls around one of the cupholders.

“Mulder, are you sure they said you could take that thing back to DC?” Scully asks, glancing at the ball. “Why didn’t they put it in some kind of bag or envelope?”

“What are you implying?” Mulder asks, plucking the ball out of the cupholder and awkwardly tucking it into his pants pocket.

She just gives him a look.

“Civil War musket balls aren’t that rare, Scully,” he informs her. “You can buy them off history buffs for a couple bucks.”

“Mulder, my feet hurt, and I’m exhausted. At this point I don’t care anymore.” She doesn’t even bother to stifle her yawn. “And I spent the day poking around dead horses, even though I’m not a veterinarian or a munitions expert. You owe me.”

“Alright, what do you want in reparation?” he asks. I can think of a few things, but we’re not there yet…

“I don’t know. Take me out on a date,” she says flippantly. “We never do anything nice. Preferably something with no mutilated corpses.”

“Damn, that really narrows down the options,” he jokes. “But sure; we’ll go do something nice.”

“Let me know what it is ahead of time,” she adds. “So I know what to wear.”

God, she’s adorable.

“It’s a date,” he confirms, and he can feel his heart pulse.

They’re doing this for real.

Chapter Text

A real date.

Mulder hasn’t been on a blatant, show-up-with-roses, ‘I’m into you and would like to get laid maybe’ date in a good five years. Possibly longer; he really doesn’t remember at this point. His life before Scully seems strangely two-dimensional in memory these days.

Part of him thinks that fancy dinners or elegant nights out don’t really seem like their style, but he figures they can decide together after the fact. They have to try it at least once, right? God knows she deserves it.

They’re busy with Mulder’s Gettysburg ghost case for the next few days (he was right, which Scully would not accept), but by Wednesday things have settled down, and he’s able to plan.

“Saturday, May sixteenth, at five,” he announces without preamble on Thursday morning. “I’ll pick you up. And don’t be alarmed, but I’ll be wearing a tuxedo.”

“Okay,” she says, surprised. “I take it this is the date I requested?”

“Yes it is,” he replies. “But that’s all I’m going to reveal. The details are a surprise, and if I recall correctly, somebody wanted to keep personal discussions outside of working hours, so by that metric I’ve already said too much.”

Scully presses her lips together, nodding. “Say no more,” she says. “Now where’s your report?”

-

 

He’s not nervous. He’s a grown man; a federal agent, for fuck’s sake. This is nothing compared to some of the tense situations he’s been in throughout his career. Knocking on his partner’s door with a bouquet of red roses under his arm doesn’t even make the list.

Regardless… he’s a little nervous.

Scully opens the door in a flurry of dark blue silk and delicate perfume. “Wow, hi,” she breathes, stepping back and opening the door wider. “Nice tux.”

“Thanks,” he says faintly, drinking in the sight of her.

She’s wearing a silky floor length slip dress with teeny little straps, and he has the fleeting image of snapping them with his teeth, leaving bite marks on her smooth shoulders. She sees him staring and smiles.

“Navy blue; exciting, isn’t it,” she says, gesturing sheepishly to the dress. “I can only handle one fashion adventure at a time.”

His eyes travel her body, appreciating the way the fabric skims her hips. “You look incredible, Scully,” he says, voice oddly hoarse. He clears his throat. “These are for you,” he adds unnecessarily, holding out the bouquet.

“Thank you,” she says, taking the roses. “These are gorgeous, Mulder. Let me put them in water.” She steps into the kitchen and sets the bouquet on the counter. “You know, the last time somebody gave me flowers, I was dying of cancer,” she says conversationally, bending to retrieve a vase from the cupboard under the sink. “Needless to say, this is a preferable occasion.”

“Mark didn’t…?”

“No,” Scully replies, filling the vase under the tap. “I think flowers happen less in real life than they do in movies, at least in my experience. I can count on one hand the number of times a date brought me a bouquet.”

“Nobody’s ever gotten me flowers, so I think I have you beat,” Mulder says.

“I’ll get you some sometime,” Scully says, and it doesn’t seem like she’s joking. She unwraps the stems and places them in the vase. “I’ll give them food and a fresh cut later,” she says, and Mulder nods as though he understands flower care. So water’s not enough…?

“So where are we going?” Scully asks, taking her wrap off the back of the couch and draping it over her shoulders. “I’m assuming - actually, hoping - there’s food involved.”

“I would never neglect to feed a lady,” Mulder assures her. “We have reservations somewhere, but that’s after this.” He withdraws an envelope from his jacket and hands it to her.

Scully peeks into the envelope and pulls out two tickets, scanning the tiny print.“The Kennedy Center?” she says in surprise.

He nods. “The National Symphony Orchestra is playing a selection of Vaughan Williams,” he replies. “Thought you might like it.”

“Mulder, this is amazing,” she says. “I haven’t heard live music in ages. It’s one of those things that’s hard to prioritize.” She slips the tickets back into the envelope and hands it back to him. “So, are you ready to go?” she asks, picking up her little evening bag, gathering the long chain in one hand. She loops the other around his elbow.

He tucks the tickets back into his jacket pocket. “Let’s go paint the town.”

 

In Mulder’s estimation, one of the best things about going to the symphony is that there’s not much to watch aside from the waving arms of the conductor. Therefore he feels free to close his eyes, absorb the music, daydream a little without risking missing anything important.

The most important thing, after all, is sitting right next to him.

He glances at Scully often, taking in her beautiful face, the rapturous look in her eyes, the elegant curve of her nose, her tender mouth. He loves the way she wore her hair tonight; it’s shiny and wavy, pulled back on one side with a little comb. He fantasizes about slipping the comb out of her hair, sifting his fingers through crimson strands as he draws her in for a kiss. Feeling tendrils brush his face as his lips travel to her earlobe, her neck…

She’s looking at him now, an eyebrow arched. He shrugs, heat in his cheeks as he faces forward again.

He feels something brushing his finger and glances down to see her small, manicured hand creep on top of his, their little fingers intertwining.

The music soars, and he floats away with it.

 

“That was wonderful,” she says as they walk out of the theatre. “The last piece especially, The Lark Ascending,” she notes, glancing at the program. “It was magical. I’m so glad we did this.”

“Not bad for our first real date?” Mulder asks, hand on the small of her back. He secretly relishes the slip of the fabric beneath his palm.

“Not bad at all,” she replies, smiling up at him. God, what did he ever do to deserve that smile? He’s grossly inadequate.

Mulder glances at his watch when they reach his car. “I expected the concert to be longer,” he admits, wincing. “Our reservation isn’t until eight, at that French place on northwest M Street.”

At that exact moment, Mulder hears Scully’s stomach growl.

She looks up at him apologetically. “You can ignore that, can’t you?”

“How hungry are you, Scully?” he asks, leaning against the car. She grabs his elbow and pulls him forward. “Mulder, you’re going to get dusty,” she warns. “And I’ll admit I haven’t eaten much today… I’ll admit I was a little nervous.”

“You were nervous? Why?” he asks, concerned.

“Well, nervous and excited. Because this… this is new. It’s a good thing,” she explains, “But it’s going to take some time to get used to.”

He nods. “Adjusting.”

“Exactly.”

Her stomach lets out another rumble.

“Scully, we should eat now. We can save the restaurant for another time,” he says. “I can’t have you passing out on me; you’re the doctor in this partnership. What’re you in the mood for?”

She licks her lips. “Don’t laugh,” she warns. “Actually, let’s just start walking,” she says, looping an arm with his. “There’s a spot not far from here that I really like. It’ll be a surprise.”

 

This is incredible.

Mulder wasn’t aware that it was possible to fall this hard for a person, but Scully never ceases to amaze him. Of all the places she could have picked, she chose an ancient, cramped little fish and chips shop down by the Potomac. So here they are, dressed to the nines at a tiny table with two heaping baskets of fish and chips between them. Their ten minute walk had made them both a little warm; his jacket is off, shirt sleeves rolled up, bow-tie undone and hanging loosely around his neck. Scully’s shawl is draped over the back of her chair, her arms enticingly bare as she cuts tender sections off of a slab of crispy battered cod.

“People are staring at us,” she says in a low tone, dipping a bite of fish into the saggy paper cup of tartar sauce. “You think maybe we’re overdressed?”

He grins at her. “Might be. They’re all looking at you,” he insists. “A gorgeous redhead in a silk gown, chowing down on greasy seafood? It’s like spotting Halley’s Comet,”

She locks eyes with him as she chews, a smile quirking her lips. “You think I’m gorgeous?” she teases.

“Of course,” he replies easily, pouring ketchup over his chips. “And brilliant, and compassionate, and adorable, and-”

“Stop,” she implores, holding up a hand. “I can only handle one compliment at a time.”

“Then we gotta increase your stamina, Scully, because I could easily go on.”

“Oh could you?” she says, raising a brow. “I’d like to see that sometime.”

“I’m ready when you are,” he replies.

“Mm,” she hums, busying herself with her fork. “I’ll keep you posted.”

He leans forward, knees bumping hers beneath the postage stamp-sized table. “Can I confess something?”

“Sure,” she replies, popping a chip into her mouth and brushing salt off her fingertips.

“I can’t stop thinking about kissing you again. I would have earlier but your lipstick looked really nice and I didn’t want to smudge it.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Wow,” she says softly. She drops her hand to the table, runs a fingertip over his knuckles. “Well, when we get out of here…” she trails off suggestively.

He hopes she doesn’t notice him start to chew faster.

 

Chapter Text

“You know what amazes me,” Scully says as they walk along the waterfront. “That day we first met… I never would have guessed we’d end up like this. More than partners, more than friends.”

“I didn’t expect you to last three months with me,” Mulder admits, hands in his pockets. “Part of me wanted to drive you away, make you request reassignment.”

“And the other part of you?” she prompts, gently taking ahold of his wrist and drawing his hand out. She laces their fingers together, and their entwined hands swing between them as they walk. He likes it.

“I came to admire you,” he admits. “I read your thesis, for starters, but getting to know you personally was a transformative experience. I saw your strength, your dedication to your principles, your loyalty. I came to depend on your perspective; you were always matching me, challenging me.”

“I thought you hated that,” Scully points out.

“I definitely did on occasion,” he agrees. “But I needed it. I still do. I need your rationality and clarity and willingness to listen, even when you disagree with me. Especially when you disagree,” he amends.

“Respecting the journey,” Scully concurs.

“Exactly.” He glances down at her. “What did you think of me when we first met?”

“Hmm… I’d heard a lot about you, so that definitely colored my view in the beginning,” she says. “But walking into the basement office for the first time, I thought… well, for one, you were much more attractive than I was expecting,” she confesses. “I was actually a little awestruck; that is, until you started talking.”

“Why until I started talking?” he asks, voice amused and defensive in equal measure.

“You were really laying it on thick, playing up the ‘Spooky Mulder’ image. It seemed like you’d been alone down there for a little too long,” she says cheekily.

“I’d argue with you, Scully, but I think this time you’re actually right,” he concedes. He stops walking, gives her hand a gentle tug to guide her closer.

“Are you glad they sent me to spy on you?” she asks softly, taking his free hand into her other one.

He nods and leans down, dropping a soft kiss to her lips. “Best thing the Bureau’s ever done for me.”

“We should head back to the car,” Scully says. “My feet are starting to hurt.”

“It’s impressive, the things you manage to do in heels,” Mulder notes.

“You don’t know the half of it,” she says with a sly grin.

“Scully, please, be gentle with me,” he pleads. “It’s been a long time.”

“Hm,” Scully presses her lips together, stifling a smile. “I like when you beg.”

Jesus H Christ.

 

The drive back to Scully’s apartment is short, and before he knows it, he’s pulling over in front of her building, not ready to say goodnight.

Scully must sense this, because she turns to him with hopeful eyes. “Would you like to come in?” she asks. “I’ll make some tea.”

Mulder bites his lip, considering. “Are you inviting me up for a drink or are you ‘inviting me up for a drink’?” he asks.

She shrugs, smiling. “Only one way to find out,” she replies.

He has to at least walk her to her door, right? It’s the chivalrous thing to do. He might as well stay for tea…

 

Scully seems far more relaxed than she had at the start of the evening. She undoes the straps of her little heeled sandals and kicks them off by the door, tossing her bag and shawl onto the couch.

“What kind of tea would you like?” Scully asks, going into the kitchen and opening a cupboard.

“Uh... you have any black tea?” Mulder asks, sitting on the couch. He knows he should probably be more specific, but the majority of his tea experiences are iced and made by someone else, and he frankly doesn’t know what to ask for.

“Several, actually,” Scully answers, rearranging cartons in the cupboard. “I’m making an executive decision,” she announces, pulling out a box of Constant Comment. “Missy and I liked this one best.”

He watches her over the back of the couch as she starts the kettle, takes two mugs out of the cupboard, drops a teabag into each one. Her hair is a little mussed, and the hem of her dress is dragging on the floor without the added height of her heels. He decides that seeing her all put together at the beginning of the night is no match for watching her come undone at the end.

 

If only every night could be like this; them sitting on her squishy striped couch, cups of spicy tea in hand, talking about the profound and the mundane. Maybe, somehow, we can have this, he thinks. Pore over case notes on the sofa, kiss each other goodnight, wake up in each other’s arms.

He decides that Constant Comment is, in fact, a very good tea.

Cup empty, Scully sighs contentedly as she rests her head on his shoulder. “This is nice,” she says. “I wish we hadn’t waited so long to do this.”

“What, sit on your coach and drink tea?”

“Well, yes, but more than that. I meant just being together, without holding things back.”

“Maybe we weren’t ready,” Mulder muses. “We needed to grow into what we wanted and needed from each other. I know it took me a long time to figure it out, and even longer to get the courage to tell you.”

“Well, I suppose not knowing how I felt didn’t help; I was too subtle. I took what I considered a big swing in Florida,” she admits, “And when you didn’t respond I decided to back off.”

“A big swing? What are you talking about?” Mulder asks.

Scully covers her face with her hands. “It’s so embarrassing now,” she groans. “Remember when they tried to send us to that team-building conference? And I came to your room with wine and cheese?”

“Yes,” he says slowly. “Wait, was that a come-on?”

“Yes!” she exclaims. “I came in with this stupid plate of cheese and minibar wine, trying to… to telegraph that I was interested, and you just kept talking about culling techniques all the way out the door.”

“What were you hoping would happen?” Mulder asks.

“I don’t know,” Scully muses. “I was newly cancer-free, and we had just been through that whole ordeal together... I wanted to take a chance and see where it went. Maybe make out a little bit, at least? I’m not sure if... if I would have been ready for more, even if you expressed an interest. But I definitely wanted it.”

“I had no idea,” he says.

They sit silently for a moment.

“I don’t suppose... we should make up for lost time?” he suggests, looking down at her.

She licks her lips, and his eyes follow the movement of her tongue.

She tilts her chin up to him, and he places his hands on either side of her jaw. He leans in, their noses brushing as he tilts his head and presses his mouth to hers. She sighs into the kiss, bringing her hands to his shoulders.

Her lips are so soft and warm, faintly flavored with spices and orange rind from the tea, and he parts his lips reflexively. Hers follow, and the sensation of their mouths slotting together makes his head spin.

Suddenly he feels the slip of her tongue again his bottom lip and he’s in a free fall. They part with a gasp.

“Too much?” Scully asks.

“No, not at all,” Mulder says quickly. “Just surprised me. It was good,” he assures her.

“Good,” she replies, taking a deep breath. “Sorry… I feel like a clueless teenager,” she says with a huff of a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever cared this much. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling out of my depth all of a sudden.”

“I’ve never cared this much for anybody either,” he admits. “But like you said. We’ll go slow.”

She licks her lips. “Okay,” she whispers.

He angles himself towards her, sliding a hand around the back of her neck to draw her closer. “Try again?” he whispers, lips brushing hers.

“Yes,” she breathes.

He’s been holding back from this for years, he realizes; all those times his eyes caught on her lips, watching her mouth shape his name. Occupying his tongue with sunflower seeds to distract himself from what he really wanted. Leaning close, furtively whispering, convincing himself that he really needed to be in her personal space. It was all an elaborate buildup for this moment.

He has a hand in her hair, the other tentatively resting on her waist. Emboldened by her previous eagerness, he opens his mouth, inviting her in with a soft lick. She responds by looping her arms around his neck, one leg hitched across his kneecap as their tongues meet.

They kiss like kites dancing on air, ribbons twisting and tangling in the wind, all silk and cotton and hot breath. He’s not sure if he pulled her onto his lap, or if she slid across his knees of her own volition; but she’s there now, her compact body bundled against his chest. She cards her fingers through his hair, sucking his lower lip, grazing his tongue with her teeth.

Mulder wants this so badly it aches. He might die if they stop, but something below the belt is bound to make itself known, and he needs to regain control before his body gets ahead of his mind.

“Scully,” he pants, pulling back. Her cheeks are flushed, lips swollen, and his hunger intensifies. “Scully, if we’re not going to take this further tonight we need to stop now.”

She nods, lips parted as she catches her breath. One strap of her dress has fallen down her shoulder, and he tenderly replaces it with the slip of a finger.

“Don’t touch me like that,” she whispers. “It’s too dangerous.”

“I know,” he confesses. “But… sometimes I want dangerous.”

“So do I,” she says. “But you were right. We should stop.” She slips off of his lap, standing. “It’s getting late,” she say, glancing at the clock. “I have mass in the morning.”

“I hope I gave you a few things to confess,” he says, rising.

“I may add some to the list myself,” she murmurs, and his knees threaten to give way.

“You’re going to get me in trouble,” he warns her, picking up his jacket and walking to the door. “The more you talk, the harder it is to leave.”

“Then my lips are sealed,” she says. “Goodnight, Mulder.” She opens the door for him, rising onto her tiptoes to receive one more kiss.

It’s brief, but sweet, and Mulder impulsively pulls her into a hug after their lips part. “Goodnight, Scully,” he mumbles into her hair.

He's ascended; gotten high on her lips, floating through the cosmos.

 

Chapter Text

This could be a disaster.

It’s been a long time since Mulder attempted to cook a full meal for someone. Hell, it’s been a long time since he cooked for himself. But he’s in love and feeling delusional and thinking that maybe, just maybe, he can pull this off.

He’s got Dana Scully’s kiss swimming in his veins, making his blood sizzle as it pumps through his body. Every inch of him is ignited with need for her.

So naturally, he plans to woo her with food.

He’s got a simple meal planned; baked chicken breast, asparagus, rice pilaf. Maybe real, full-fat ice cream for dessert.

Mulder had presented the dinner idea on the Tuesday after their symphony date, as they waded through heaps of files.

“Not to monopolize your weekends, Scully, but d’you want to come over for dinner on Saturday night?” he asked, pushing his sleeves up. “Nothing fancy, but I may be wearing an apron.”

“Sure,” she replied, turning a page, and that was that.

 

That’s how he ends up in Safeway on Saturday morning, mildly adrenalized as he traverses the aisles with his shopping cart. He’s got a list clutched in one hand, scrawled with his own indecipherable handwriting, and he’s standing in front of canned goods trying to recall what ‘rhcc a romt’ could mean when he hears his name.

“Fox?”

Mulder looks up to see Maggie Scully in front of him in the aisle, shopping basket hanging from the crook of her elbow.

“Hi, Mrs. Scully,” he says in surprise. “What are you doing in Alexandria?”

“Well, I had Bible study, and I thought I’d stop and get a few things on the way home. It’s nice to see you outside of a crisis, Fox,” she adds tenderly. She glances down at his shopping cart. “How are you? Any plans for the evening?”

Mulder wonders in a panic if the box of condoms in the cart prompted the question. He glances down quickly and notes that they’re mostly hidden under asparagus and Rice-a-roni. Thank god. “Actually, I’m doing well. I’m finally dusting off the oven mitts and making dinner for Sc- Dana,” he says. “I’m a little rusty in the kitchen, so wish me luck.”

A look passes over Maggie’s face, one he can’t quite decipher. “Oh! That’s very sweet of you. Well, I’ll let you get back to your shopping,” she says, squeezing his forearm as she steps around him. “But please know that you and Dana are always welcome to pop in for a visit.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Scully. Have a nice day,” he replies, wheeling his cart the opposite direction.

His heart swells a little at the idea of him and Scully visiting her mother, enveloped in Maggie’s kindness and maternal warmth for no reason other than they felt like stopping by. Nobody dying or missing, just comfortable chats over banana bread and coffee on a Sunday afternoon. Maggie seems like the type of woman who has a spectacular banana bread recipe, he thinks.

An oft-ignored part of Mulder aches for domesticity and peace; for the welcoming arm of a mother around his waist, a soft hand on his cheek. Someone to read his face and suggest sleep remedies, tell him to take better care of himself, remind him to eat a good breakfast. He hopes someday Maggie could be that person; the mother he never quite had. A mother who’s present, vital, thriving amongst the living. One who fights for him.

He’s not a religious man, but he suspects if there’s a god, it looks like a Scully woman; clear as gold, strong like oak, immovable and merciful in the same heartbeat. He knows he’s undeserving, but he can’t help but crave their affection, their approval, their headstrong love.

So tonight he plans to earn it with chicken.

 

He cleans his apartment for Scully; he dusts, for fuck’s sake. That alone is a testament to his devotion. He clears a pile of books off the table in the front room, baptizes it in lemon-scented furniture polish, adorns it with candlesticks and the only two matching plates he has.

He’s only just put the chicken in the oven when there’s a knock on his door. He slings the dishtowel over his should and goes to answer it.

Scully’s standing outside his door, holding a bundle of sunflowers and looking somewhat rankled.

“Scully,” he says in surprise. “Are you okay? You’re early.” It’s half-past five; he didn’t expect her until six.

“I’m fine,” she says, handing him the flowers and going into the apartment.

“Alright, good. Now the truth, maybe?” he says, setting the sunflowers on the table. “I know when you’re upset, Scully, so don’t bullshit me.”

She pulls out a chair and sits heavily. “You told my mother,” she sighs.

“I told her that I was making you dinner,” he says, puzzled. “Was that- was I not supposed to?”

Scully licks her lips.

Oh.

“Scully,” he says, sitting across from her, unlit candles beside them, “Did she not know you and I are… actually, I’m not sure what to call us,” he admits.

She shakes her head. “I hadn’t told her yet,” Scully confesses. “She called me this afternoon and said she saw you at the market, and that she’s happy for us, but that she wishes I’d keep her in the loop about things like this. But I don’t even know what this is, at least in terms that I can explain to my sixty-three year old Catholic mother.”

“I’m sure love is a concept your mother is capable of grasping,” Mulder points out. “That’s all she needs to know.” He chews his lip, studying her face. “Scully, bureau policies notwithstanding… are you ashamed of being with me?”

Her shoulders sag at his question. “No,” she says, eyes locking with his. “Not at all, Mulder. I just… I needed more time. I’m ashamed of me,” she notes. “It’s difficult for me to admit I have feelings for people, especially to my family. I wanted to get more comfortable with us myself before figuring out how to tell her. And it seemed sensible; I only broke things off with Mark a month ago.”

“It doesn’t sound like she was all that surprised to discover us.”

Scully sighs. “No, she wasn’t, really, which is embarrassing. And puzzling, since she was the one who set me up with Mark in the first place. Maybe she thinks you’re a rebound,” she muses.

Am I a rebound?” Mulder asks quietly.

“No, Mulder, you’re not,” she says, voice gentle yet firm. She lets a corner of her mouth tick upward. “Believe me; if you were, I definitely would’ve had sex with you by now.”

Heat flares in his belly. “You’re welcome to use my body any time,” he offers. “Day or night; I’m available.”

“Of course you are,” she says fondly, then sniffs. “What’s that smell, Mulder? Do you have human food in this apartment?”

“There’s chicken baking in the oven. You showed up before I could start the sides.”

“I’ll help,” she suggests, rising from the chair. “We can do it together.”

“I was going to impress you with my homemade rice pilaf,” he says, a hand to her lower back as he ushers her to the kitchen. “Now you’ll know it’s from a box.”

 

There’s a kind of ecstasy in this domesticity, a disorganized perfection. He and Scully puttering about his little kitchen, elbows bumping as they tend to the stove. She cooks the asparagus, he browns the rice, they both sustain minor burns on fingertips. He grasps her hand and kisses her wounded finger in a surge of affection, and she swats him away with a little smile.

She’s soft and comely in her little cardigan, the top button undone to reveal a shadow that denotes the slope of her breasts. He secretly hopes that maybe, if he’s good, she’ll let him touch her tonight. He’s behaved himself so well, even though her collarbones are enticingly bare, her neck smooth and achingly kissable.

“Hey Scully,” he says, opening a drawer and pulling out a box of matches.

“Yes?” she replies, removing the pan of rice pilaf from the burner.

He goes into the front room, striking a match and lighting the candles. “I know your hands are full,” he notes, blowing out the match, “but when you have a second, kiss me.”

“Just a minute,” she says, spooning the pilaf into a dish.

 

They meet in the kitchen doorway.

“Hi,” she says, looking up at him. Soft candlelight glows in her eyes.

“Hi,” he replies, his stomach fluttering wildly.

“You need to lean down a little,” Scully notes. “You’ve got ten inches on me.”

“Now there’s an idea,” he murmurs as he slides his arms around her waist.

She rolls her eyes fondly, bringing a hand up to grasp the back of his neck.

Their kiss is sweet and warm, a setting sun, potential energy.

The timer on the oven buzzes. She draws back too soon, running her little hand down his chest. “Save the rest for later,” she says softly, slipping out of his arms. She retreats into the kitchen and picks up the dish of rice pilaf. “Are you going to stand there all evening and let the chicken burn, or…”

“Right,” he says, grabbing the oven mitts off the counter.

 

He didn’t do half bad, all things considered. The chicken breast is a tad on the dry side, but it’s flavorful and crusted with fresh herbs, and a little extra squeeze of lemon juice on the cutlets goes a long way. His table is simply set, with a few flickering tapers, wine glasses he hasn’t used since the late ‘80s, and an old jug holding the sunflowers Scully brought him.

“Sorry there’s no actual wine,” he says, filling her glass with sparkling white grape juice. “But the effects of last time put me off of it for a good while.”

Scully hums in understanding. “That’s valid,” she agrees. “But I personally think the hangover was worth it.”

“Worth the wine?”

She shakes her head. “Worth it to spend an evening with you,” she admits, glancing up at him as she cuts a bite of chicken. “Tucking you in on my couch, taking you to breakfast… the fallout of Mark showing up. It led us here.”

“I’ll drink to that,” he says, voice intimate. He takes a sip of juice. “I did really enjoy that night, regardless of the outcome. Being with you in your home, watching you start to relax, felt like a privilege. You unfold so beautifully; the more of you I get to see, the more I want.”

Her eyes shine on him from across the table. “Mulder,” she sighs dreamily. “When you talk like that… I want to give you everything you want. Regardless of the consequences.”

“What consequences are those?” he asks.

“Being known by you, completely,” she says with a thoughtful sigh. “Intimately. We’re so close already, there’s the tiniest part of me that wants to keep the last secret places of myself hidden away, just to have something you haven’t touched.”

“Do you mean emotionally or physically?” he asks.

“A little of both,” she admits. “They go hand in hand.”

“Intimacy is daunting,” he agrees. “And risky. But Scully, I want you to know that I will always respect your choices. And you’ll always have mystery to me,” he assures her. “I could spend a lifetime trying to figure you out, and you’d still manage to surprise me.”

Her answering smile is shy, and he hates that there’s an entire table and several dishes between them.

“While we’re on an adjacent subject, there’s something I think we should discuss,” Scully says, taking a steadying breath as she puts down her fork. “Before we engage in any eventual sexual activity. So we can be prepared for when the time is right,” she says.

“Seems reasonable,” Mulder agrees, scooting his chair forward minutely. His heart rate goes up a few notches.

Scully licks her lips. “As you know, pregnancy is… not a concern or possibility for me.”

Mulder reaches across the table and rests a hand over hers. She gives him a tiny nod, and continues. “Therefore… I think we should both get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and provided we’re both cleared…”

Mulder waits for her to continue, and when she doesn’t, a lightbulb goes on in his head. “Scully,” he says cautiously, “Are you proposing that we…?”

“It’s preferable, in terms of sensation,” she says quietly. “If you’re not opposed.”

Mulder’s brain short-circuits, and he thinks he may burst into flames. “Uh, I-I am not opposed,” he assures her. “I’m due for a test; I haven’t been with anyone since ’94, and that was the last time I got one, so-”

“Really?” Scully interrupts his rambling. “Huh.”

He frowns. “What?”

“Nothing; I’m just… surprised it’s been that long,” she admits. “Since you’ve been with someone.”

“I told you before, I’m not very good company,”

“Mulder,” she says, giving him a Look.

He rubs his face. The truth. "I don’t sleep around, Scully, because it’s just not for me. I get attached too easily. And for the past four years there’s only been one person I really wanted. Even before I knew I loved you… who else can exist for me when there’s you?”

“Is that why me sleeping with Ed Jerse made you so upset?” she asks.

“Scully, he tried to kill you,” Mulder says, then reconsiders. “But that was part of it, yes. I was jealous, scared, confused.”

“We have different ways of dealing with wanting what we can’t have,” she says, picking up her fork. “Your methods are oddly monastic for someone so… so vividly hedonistic.”

“Is this how you talk dirty? Because it’s kinda working,” he quips.

She shakes her head, chewing. “I’m serious, Mulder. You’re quite a paradox. You deprive yourself of so many pleasures and yet your porn collection is expansive. You have this- this air about you, of charm and flirtation and sadness. It’s incredibly appealing,” she concludes. “And it works on me. As much as I tried to deny it.”

He hopes she doesn’t hear his breath hitch. “You don’t have to deny it anymore,” he says in a low tone. “Anything you want from me, you can have.”

She takes a coy sip from her glass, eyes caressing his face. “I don’t know if you’re ready for me.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Dinner was a success, judging by their cleared plates. Mulder is inordinately pleased with himself, filled with a primal satisfaction. He’s a hunter-gatherer, providing for his mate, feeding her. He should do this more often.

Scully stands and begins clearing the table, stacking empty dishes.

“Leave the dishes,” Mulder says. “I’ll do them later.”

“Are you sure?” she asks, continuing with her task regardless of his reply. “It’d be easier to do them now,” she points out. “And faster with two of us.”

He considers her offer. She’s right, obviously. “I wash, you dry?” he suggests.

 

They’re elbow to elbow at his little kitchen sink, heaps of suds spilling over the edge of the basin. Mulder may have slightly misjudged the amount of dish soap required.

“This is actually really nice,” Scully says, wiping a plate dry until it squeaks. “Don’t ask me why.”

“Domestic bliss,” Mulder suggests. “A taste of that normal life you always talk about.” He realizes after the fact that his word choice sounds dismissive, and he cringes inwardly.

Scully seems unfazed, taking a clean glass from his soapy hands. “What’s normal for you, Mulder? Say you actually do uncover the truth someday, find the answers you’ve been looking for all your life. What will you do then?”

Her tone is neutral, curious even; and he has a fleeting, but not unfamiliar feeling that he’s not good enough for this patient woman.

He ponders this for a moment, hands stilling in the sudsy water. “I think... I’ll ask new questions,” he says. “I think I’ll always be searching, Scully; the universe is so vast and full of things I don’t know, that no one knows. My life may reach a point where I’m not seeking the truth as part of my paycheck, but I’ll always be looking. Eyes on the sky,” he explains. “It’s part of who I am.”

Scully lets out a little puff of breath, blowing a wisp of hair out of her face. “That’s the trouble with you, Mulder. The things I find the most frustrating about you are also the things I love the most.”

That’s the closest she’s gotten to saying outright that she loves him. He smiles. “What things are those, Scully? My spookiness?”

“Your obsession,” she corrects him, setting the glass on the dish rack. “You’re dangerously passionate, and while worrying over you running off to chase a lead will cause premature gray hairs for me... I can’t help but find that focus and single-mindedness very appealing.”

“How about this; the next time I run off, I’ll take you along with me.”

“I’m not sure that’s an improvement,” she says dryly.

“I am who I am, Scully,” he says with a shrug. And I’m all yours. He flashes her a grin, which she reflects back with an answering turn of her mouth.

 

He hands her the last dish and pulls the plug out of the drain. “So, do you wanna watch a movie?” he asks, drying his hands.

Scully gives him a knowing look. “Is that really what you want to do? Watch a movie?”

“No, but I’m trying to subtly relocate this evening to the couch, and a movie’s a good excuse.”

“What are you planning here, Mulder?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he says innocently, stepping into her space and taking the dish towel from her. “Just wanted to show you some of that focus and single-mindedness you’re such a fan of.”

She licks her lips, and he wants to chase her tongue with his own. “Let’s put the dishes away first,” she says quietly, looking up at him from beneath her lashes. “Or it’ll never get done.”

“I don’t know if you can reach the cupboards,” he says in her ear as he scoots past her.

Suddenly her hand is knotted in the front of his t-shirt, hauling him down to her eye level. “I can climb,” she whispers, hot breath on his mouth.

His heart is pounding, hands settling at her waist. “Show me,” he replies, dizzied by her boldness.

Her arms wind around his neck and he bends like a willow branch, bowed by her clinging form as she presses the fronts of their bodies together. Her tongue sneaks out and flicks his lower lip teasingly, and his mouth falls open in a gasp.

Scully grasps his hair and pulls him impossibly closer, her mouth warm and lush on his own. He feels her kiss all the way down to his pelvis, racing down his spine like a spark along the fuse of a firecracker. He’s lost in the press of her soft lips, the scrape of her teeth, the salacious dance of their tongues.

One of her hands slips under the collar of his t-shirt, nails scraping his shoulder, and he ignites. He bends further, scooping her up, and she yelps in surprise into the corner of his mouth.

“Mulder, wha-” she begins, but before she can finish her thought he lifts her up onto the countertop, next to the dish rack. Her head bumps the cupboard door behind her and he draws back suddenly.

“Sorry, are you okay?” he asks, smoothing a palm over the back of her head.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she pants, drawing him back in with her ankles pressing into the backs of his thighs. “Come here.”

Mulder surges into her, one hand cushioning her head against the cabinets, the other gripping her thigh. Her fingers crawl across his upper back under his shirt as they kiss, and he feels goosebumps prickling his skin.

He breaks the kiss. “Should I… should I take this off?” he asks, ducking his chin in a gesture towards his shirt.

She nods, withdrawing her hands from under the worn cotton. “May I?” she asks, pupils blown and lips swollen.

“Please,” he murmurs.

Her small hands skim his chest as she reaches down to the hem of his shirt, lifting it with something near reverence. Their frantic pace has slowed, her breaths deep as she reveals each new expanse of skin.

When her arms can no longer reach, he takes over, bundling the shirt under his arms and lifting it over his head. He drops it onto the floor behind him, eyes fixed on her face. She’s studying him, lips parted.

“It’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” he says sheepishly.

She shakes her head, placing a hand on his sternum. “Not like this,” she says softly. Her other hand slides up his waist. “Your skin is so much softer and warmer than I’d let myself imagine,” she marvels.

Mulder lets out a small groan, hands grasping her waist as he buries his face in her neck. He tucks an open-mouthed kiss beneath her ear, drags his lips down the column of her throat. “I want to feel yours too,” he murmurs, words shaped like kisses against her collarbone.

“On one condition,” she counters, rolling her head to the side to grant him more access. “Pants stay on.”

“Party pooper,” he quips, scraping her clavicle with his teeth. He rolls the second button of her cardigan between his fingers before slipping it through the buttonhole, revealing the tops of her breasts. He undoes the third, kissing her sternum as he opens the sweater.

At the fourth button, he stops, all the blood in his body rushing south.

“Scully,” he says hoarsely, fingers stilled atop the button, “Are you wearing anything under this?”

She shakes her head, pursing her lips in an attempt to tame a smile. “Keep going,” she urges, running a hand up his bicep. “I want you to see me.”

His knees buckle, and he takes a deep steadying breath before undoing the button. He leans down, nuzzling his nose in the space between her breasts as he unfastens the cardigan all the way down, revealing her belly.

Scully caresses his neck and shoulders, hands traveling his exposed skin as he slowly opens her sweater. His mouth goes dry at the sight of her bare breasts, small and shapely in the dim light of his kitchen. He carefully parts the cardigan further, sliding the sleeves down her arms as she shimmies out of it.

This moment means something, the two of them marveling at each other’s bare skin, fingertips traversing the expanse like whispers. He wraps his arms around her in a warm embrace, naked flesh melting together, drawer pulls digging into his thighs.

“So much for the couch, huh?” Mulder says into her hair. Scully huffs out a laugh, tilting her chin up to him like a flower facing the sun. He kisses her indulgently, palms sleeking up her bare sides. He runs his thumbs along the underside of her breasts and she gasps.

“Can I touch you,” he asks against her mouth. It’s barely a question, more of a plea.

“Please,” she replies, flinging her arms around his neck and pulling him closer to her.

He grazes a rosy nipple with his fingertips, feels it tighten under his touch. He’s certain she can feel his growing erection nudging her thigh, but he’s too turned on to be self-conscious about it. He cups her breasts, circles the pads of his thumbs around her nipples, and relishes the moans she sings into his mouth.

 

Her breasts are so soft and his cock is getting so hard and she’s rolling her hips forward into him and he’s bending down to lick her nipple and is that his heartbeat or-

“Mulder,” Scully gasps, freezing in place, “Someone’s knocking.”

 

Chapter Text

God dammit.

Someone is definitely knocking on his door, and it’s a knock Mulder instantly recognizes.

“For fuck’s sake,” he mutters. “It’s Frohike.”

Scully is hastily pulling her sweater back on, fumbling with the buttons. “How do you know?” she whispers.

“He has this stupid knock pattern he uses to signal it’s him,” Mulder hisses, picking up his shirt off the floor and yanking it back on. “Don’t move; I’ll get rid of him.” He exits the kitchen, closing the kitchen door partway to obscure any view of Scully from the front door. He blows out the melting tapers as he passes the table and opens the door with a sigh.

Frohike’s fist is poised to knock again, and Langly is standing behind and slightly to the left of him.

“Dammit,” Mulder says. “I specifically requested a tall brunette this time. You boys better be cheap.”

“Not cheap enough for a tightwad like you,” Frohike retorts. “Besides, we can’t stay.”

“We were in the neighborhood and decided to go bowling,” Langly explains. “You interested?”

Frohike sniffs, narrowing his eyes at Mulder. “Hm… I don’t think he is,” he says suspiciously. “I smell freshly extinguished candles.” He cranes his neck to see into the apartment. “You having a seance in there?”

“Without us?” Langly adds.

“I didn’t think you guys were allowed out this late without adult supervision,” Mulder says dryly. “Where’s Byers?”

“In the van. Designated driver,” Langly answers. “And your shirt’s backwards.”

Mulder tugs at his t-shirt. He’s right; the neckline is riding up his throat in the front.

“Did we interrupt something?” Frohike asks, raising his eyebrows suggestively. “On second glance, you do look a little sloppy.”

“Byers would say ‘unkempt’,” Langly chimes in.

Mulder ignores their ribbing. “Enjoy your bowling,” he says flatly, closing the door.

“Bye, Agent Scully,” Frohike calls past him as the door swings shut.

 

He leans his forehead against the closed door for a moment. Those fuckers, he thinks.

He returns to the kitchen and finds Scully standing, leaning against the counter, chewing her lip. Her cardigan is buttoned all the way up, and his heart sinks a fraction.

“Bowling,” he explains, throwing a thumb over his should to point to the door.

“So I heard.” She fingers the hem of her sweater. “That was nice of them to invite you along.”

“They’re good guys,” he shrugs. “I used to spend every weekend alone save for them inviting me to some nerdy thing or other.” He purses his lips. “I, um, didn’t mention this… us… to them, but they’ve known how I feel about you for a while, so calling your name was a lucky guess,” Mulder explains. “I’m sorry; I know you want to keep this fairly private.”

“It’s fine,” she says with an exhale. “I know it sounds crazy, but at this point I feel like they’re some of the most trustworthy people we know. At least in terms of not leaking things to the Bureau.”

Mulder nods. “Paranoia is a tool, Scully. Don’t fight it, utilize it.”

She looks down at his shirt and her lips twitch into a smile. “I can’t believe you answered the door looking like that, Mulder,” she says. “You’re not fooling anybody.”

Mulder sighs and pulls his arms out of the sleeves, turning the t-shirt around. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he says, wrestling with the fabric. “I got dessert.”

“I thought I was the dessert,” Scully says slyly, reaching out and smoothing Mulder’s shirt down as he elbows his way through the sleeves.

“Hm… not a bad idea,” he murmurs, reaching out and grasping her waist. He leans down and slides his nose along hers. “And perhaps I can interest the lady in a slice of Mulder this evening?”

She nuzzles his cheek, her face aglow with what might be contentment. “Maybe if Mulder tells her what he got for dessert.”

“Ice cream,” he replies, kissing the tip of her nose. “Pecan praline.”

 

They make it to the couch after all, just in a different context. Mulder’s not complaining.

“I have a busy couple weeks ahead of me,” he says around a spoonful of ice cream, “what with scheduling an STD test and cleaning out my spare room.”

“You mean your bedroom?” Scully says, using her spoon to motion to the wall behind them. “You know what those are, right? Though usually people put beds in them.”

“You can be as glib as you want, Scully, but I’m doing this for the both of us,” he argues. “I fully intend to take you to bed, and it sure as hell won’t be on this couch. At least not the first time,” he amends.

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” she says, licking her spoon. “But may I remind you that I already possess a bed, and having you in it is not an unappealing concept. We can always use mine.”

“I know,” he says, suddenly serious. “But I think it’s important that I do this, like some kind of ritual to mark a significant change.”

“And what change is that?” she asks quietly, tucking her feet up on the couch and resting her ice cream bowl on her knee.

Mulder leans his head back on the sofa. “I don’t entirely know,” he confesses. “But I feel different. More like I’m living, not just waiting for something. I feel like I have the power to change things for myself.” He absently stirs his melting ice cream. “I don’t know if… if that’s something I’ve ever really had the chance to feel.”

Scully doesn’t say anything, just sets her bowl on the coffee table and curls into his side, resting her head on his chest. He’s surprised by the intimacy of it, of Scully letting down her guard and allowing herself to be perceived as the petite, soft woman she is. She’s nestled beneath his arm, breath warming his sternum, and he allows his eyes to slip closed as their heartbeats slow to a steady rhythm, a coronary waltz.

This feels like peace.

“Scully?” he mumbles, fingertips gently scratching her scalp.

“Hm?” she replies into his shirt.

“Am I really a tightwad?"

 

Chapter Text

This means something; Mulder can feel it.

This signifies a shift in their relationship; a step forward, from platonic partners to a romantic couple. It’s a shared experience that has the potential to change their dynamic forever. Years of trust, fighting together against a common enemy, seeking the truth… it could all come crashing down today, in a shopping mall in Woodbridge, Virginia.

They’re going to IKEA.

Summer is on the rise, and the humidity is close to stifling as they buckle into his car. Scully’s wearing a little striped t-shirt, capri pants, and sandals, revealing sky-blue painted toes. For a disorienting moment Mulder wonders if he’s going to develop a foot fetish. Probably not, but Dana Scully could make even the most vanilla of men want to do crazy things.

“Do you have your shopping list?” Scully asks as he starts the car.

He pulls the folded scrap of paper out of the chest pocket of his white t-shirt. “Right here,” he replies, eyes darting over to her for one more look as he holds out the list.

She takes it, catching his eyes momentarily. “Why do you keep looking at me like that?” she asks.

I want to suck your toes. “You look nice today, that’s all.”

“Oh. Well, thank you.”

Scully can probably tell he’s desperate for her; she can read him like a dog-eared, yellowed paperback. He’s simultaneously grateful for her sharp instincts and embarrassed by his carnal desires. He hasn’t gotten laid in four years, and he fears he’ll be too eager when the time comes. As it is, he can barely believe she’s let him have even the smallest glimpses of her as a sexual being. She’s intoxicating, and he’s dizzy with the knowledge that this beautiful, brilliant, downright edible woman actually wants him. Him, a mortal man of aliens and bad ties and a porn collection that’s gradually becoming least seventy-five percent redheads. A man without a bed.

Hence their Saturday morning pilgrimage to the shrine where all new couples journey to find furnishings, low prices, and themselves.

“So, we’re looking for one tall bookshelf, a locking filing cabinet, a bed, and two night tables,” Scully reads. She refolds the paper and reaches across him to tuck it back into his shirt pocket. “That’s clearly not all going to fit in this car,” she notes.

“I’ll get the bigger stuff delivered,” he says.

 

It’s only a twenty minute drive from Mulder’s place, and they have the air-conditioning on. Mulder is starting to relax; it’s been a long time since he’s had a partner, in the domestic sense, and he’d forgotten that it makes the mundane more bearable.

Scully clears her throat almost imperceptibly. “I’m proud of you, by the way.”

“Really? Why?” Mulder asks.

“You managed to get rid of a lot of stuff,” she says, turning up the dial on the car’s air conditioner. “And organization is very clearly not your strong suit, so progress should be acknowledged and celebrated.”

“Yippee,” Mulder deadpans.

“You know, it’s odd; we’ve known each other for all these years and I never asked… why don’t you have a bed, Mulder?”

There it is, the question he knew would come up at some point. He clears his throat, grips the steering wheel a little tighter. “I, uh… I lived with someone, around ‘91. Another agent, actually. We were together for a while, and then one day she took some assignment in Europe and that was that. I got rid of everything that was hers, and that, uh, included the bed.” Technically our bed, he thinks. He winces. He’s never talked to Scully about Diana before, and he wonders if she’ll be upset that he was withholding such a large piece of personal information.

Scully is quiet. “I’m sorry,” she says softly. “That’s… I didn’t know.”

“Sorry I never mentioned it,” Mulder says. “It’s not like it’s some big painful secret. I just… don’t really think about her anymore.”

“It’s alright,” Scully says. “I think it’s best for these kinds of things to come up naturally. And… I was dating someone when we met,” Scully confesses. “We broke up as soon as I got back from Bellefleur.”

Mulder looks at her quickly. “Really? Why?”

She furrows her brow. “Multiple reasons, but primarily I realized that this job, my assignment, was bigger than I’d anticipated. And the things you and I went through together, the things I’d seen… when I was honest with myself, I didn’t want to be tied down to him. To have to go home and have this man ask me how my day was, as though he could ever understand even half of what we do.”

“So you chose the job over him,” Mulder muses.

“In essence… I chose you,” Scully points out. “Whether I knew it then or not. I’d never be able to turn my back on you.”

Mulder exhales slowly. He’s strangely moved.

“Take a left at the next light,” Scully prompts softly. “And yes, I do realize the irony in breaking things off with a man because of his normalcy, only to continue trying to date so-called ‘normal’ men.”

Mulder shrugs. “No, it makes sense. Maybe he just wasn’t right for you, but the next normal guy could be, right?”

“Right,” Scully sighs. “Einstein’s definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.”

“I’ve been led to believe that being with me is another type of insanity,” Mulder points out. “And objectively, I can’t disagree.”

“You do make me crazy,” Scully agrees, voice low. “But that’s not always a bad thing.” He feels her small hand squeeze his thigh. “And I fully intend to return the favor.”

Mulder lets out a quiet groan, hands sweaty on the steering wheel. “You planning on giving me some roadside assistance, Agent Scully? Because I’m gonna need it if you keep doing that.”

She removes her hand, tucks her hair behind her ear. “I didn’t do anything,” she says innocently.

“Uh huh.” He pulls into the IKEA parking lot. “Well, we’re here. You ready?”

“As ready as a person can be for a labyrinthian furniture store on a muggy Saturday,” she replies.

-

 

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Mulder says from his spot on the bedroom floor, surrounded by scattered pieces of a ‘HOLLEBY’ bedside table. “These instructions are useless and-” he flips through the booklet, “-thirty-two pages long, Jesus.”

Scully doesn’t respond; her eyes are glued to her own manual as she assembles a drawer from the second of the two nightstands. “Shh,” she hushes him softly. “I’m concentrating.”

“How have you managed to put any of these pieces together?” he asks, scooting across the floor to her. “There aren’t even words, just vague illustrations.”

She has a screw between her lips as she lines up two of the wood pieces. “I took wood shop in high school,” she says around the metal pin. She removes it and inserts it into a pre-drilled hole. “I guess that was some kind of preparation for assembling flatpack furniture?”

“That’s adorable,” Mulder says, rising to open a window. The room is stuffy with the day’s heat, and his t-shirt is glued to his back. “Do you still have any of the things you made in class?”

“The step stool in my kitchen,” she replies. “And my mom might have some things I’ve forgotten about.”

He casually strips off his sweaty t-shirt and tosses it in the laundry basket. “Remind me to look at that stool the next time we’re at your place,” he says. “Also I’m gonna order a pizza, you interested?”

Scully looks up at him then and is seemingly surprised by the absence of his shirt. “It’s hot in here,” Mulder explains, almost defensive.

“Oh, I’m not complaining,” Scully says, eyes shamelessly traveling his torso. “And I’m always interested.”

“Are we still talking about pizza here, or…”

“Make my half one with everything, please,” she says, attention returning to her project.

“Wait a minute,” he says, dropping to his knees next to her on the carpet. “I’m not done here.” He leans in and presses his mouth to the juncture of her neck and shoulder, tasting the salt on her skin. How she can still smell so good on a sticky June day, he doesn’t know; but he wants to lick her entire body.

“Mulder,” she sighs, putting down her screwdriver, “You’re distracting me.”

“That’s the idea,” he says, lips wandering up her neck and behind her ear. He flicks his tongue against her earlobe. “Forget the furniture, honey,” he says, all hot breath and lust. “We don’t need it for what I have in mind.”

Suddenly she’s facing him, looping her arms around his neck. “I’m doing this for you,” she purrs. “Do you think I like putting together IKEA furniture? No one likes it, Mulder. It’s like a multidimensional jigsaw puzzle.”

He pulls her onto his lap. “Oh, but I think you do,” he says, nibbling her ear. “You like being capable Doctor Scully, in charge of things… showing me what those hands can do.”

She leans in, licking his full lower lip. “Not everything is about you, Mulder,” she says, pressing a scorching kiss to his mouth. “I’m just doing my coworker a favor.”

“Is that what they call this nowadays?” he asks, hands clasping her hips as she grinds down on his lap.

She shuts him up with a kiss, the furniture and pizza forgotten.

 

Chapter Text

Mulder’s thirty years past kindergarten, but the anticipation he’s feeling in his body is reminiscent of the excitement he felt as a child over bringing his new model airplane to school for show-and-tell. Except the context is very, very different.

He’s got an envelope tucked into the inner pocket of his suit jacket, and he’s highly aware of every crinkle it makes as he strides through the halls, making his way down to the basement.

He’d expected to receive a clean bill of health, so the contents of the envelope weren’t a surprise. Even so… he’s fuckin’ thrilled.

 

“Morning, Scully,” he says cheerily, waltzing into the office and peeling off his jacket. “Another hot one out there, huh?”

“Mhm,” she responds, already elbow deep in paperwork. She’s always got her nose in some pile of documents, his Scully. God, she’s so cute, it’s unbearable. He thinks of when they first met, how rosy and round her cheeks were. He regrets not having done something earlier; he missed out on kissing her adorable baby face.

He really wants to kiss her now, but they’re at work, and she’s made it abundantly clear that At Work Scully is not open to the physical demonstrations enjoyed by Off Duty Scully. Instead he sidles up beside her, holding out the envelope in front of her.

She takes it, clearly noticing that it’s already been opened. “What’s this?” she asks.

“Just a little something, from me to you,” Mulder replies, going around the desk and plopping into his chair. He clasps his hands behind his head casually, grinning at her as she slides the folded paper out of the envelope.

Scully unfolds the page and scans it, nodding to herself. “Congratulations,” she says, glancing up at him. “This is… welcome news. But you didn’t need to bring me the physical test results, Mulder. Your word is enough.”

“Oh, but I know how much you enjoy solid evidence,” he says with a wink. “So, uh… do you have your results back yet?”

“This is definitely not an office-appropriate conversation,” she warns him, slipping the page back into the envelope.

“Sorry,” he says, lowering his voice. “But…”

“Yes,” she says quietly. “Last week. I’m in the clear.”

He smiles even wider at her. “So, given this new information, what do you suggest we do, Agent Scully?”

She holds the envelope out to him across the desk. “Right now, our jobs.”

He licks his lips, nods. “Of course.”

 

Ten minutes later, she gets up to put a file in the filing cabinet. As she closes the drawer, she lets out a soft cough.

“Friday,” she says in a low tone. “My place.”

Mulder feels a thrill roll through his stomach. “Now how am I going to get a single thing done around here ’til then?” Mulder asks. “All I can think about is-”

She gives him a warning look.

“-You,” he finishes. “Every moment, Scully.”

Scully gives him a little pout. “I’m sorry, Mulder. That must be very difficult for you. You know what you need?”

“What?”

She picks up a stack of folders out of their in-basket and drops it in front of him on the desk. “A case.”

 

 

Mulder doesn’t find them an actual case, but he does manage to annoy Scully with conjecture and conspiracy for two whole days until it’s closing time on Friday night.

This could be the most important romantic encounter of his life, and he wants to make sure he’s adequately prepared. He takes a cold shower when he gets home, scrubbing every inch of his body until his skin tingles. He clips and files his nails, plucks some stray hairs, trims a few scraggly ones down south. He almost shaves his face before deciding to leave it be. He suspects Scully likes a little stubble, after all.

It’s a warm evening, so he throws on a gray t-shirt and jeans and bounds out the door with damp hair and crisp, soap-fresh skin.

As a rule, he doesn’t sing while driving; but today, he’s humming just a little.

He knocks on her door at quarter to seven, bouncing on the balls of his feet, trying to shake out a little anxious energy. This isn’t a prom date, he chides himself. Calm down and be an adult.

The lock is turning and the door is swinging open and there Scully is, looking soft and inviting and dangerous all at once. “Hi,” she says, giving him a little smile.

“Hi,” he says softly, eyes drawn immediately to the low neckline of her simple wrap dress. He snaps his gaze back up to her face again. “Hi, sorry, I’m-”

“A little distracted?” she asks slyly. She opens the door wider. “Come in,” she says, beckoning.

“I, uh, didn’t bring anything,” he says awkwardly, following her into the apartment. “And now that I’m here that feels kinda thoughtless.”

“What would you have brought?” Scully asks.

He shrugs. “Flowers, wine, something that says ‘I want to get laid but I also respect you’,” he says.

“Well, that’s unnecessary,” she says, going into the kitchen and opening her junk drawer. “I already know that.” She pulls out a small stack of takeout menus. “I’m assuming you haven’t had dinner yet?”

I was kind of planning on having you for dinner. “I have not,” he replies.

She hands him the menus. “Pick a place, we can call something in,” she says. She takes a box of matches out of the drawer and walks over to the fireplace.

Mulder glances over the menus, but he’s mostly watching Scully. She seems relaxed and comfortable, lighting a few candles atop the mantlepiece.

“You want a little music?” she asks, blowing out the match.

“Sure,” he replies. “Surprise me.”

“Promise you won’t tease me for this,” she says, flipping through a stack of CDs.“Any of those restaurants sound appealing?”

“The Italian place sounds good, but I don’t want my garlic breath to put you off,” he admits sheepishly.

She glances over her shoulder at him, giving him a little smile. “That restaurant usually sends a few mints in the bag; and you have a toothbrush here, if it’s that big of a problem.” She puts a CD into the stereo.

“I don’t mind if you don’t,” he says. “You want me to call it in?”

“Sure,” she replies. “You can order me a chopped salad and some of their spinach ravioli. And get garlic bread,” she adds.

 

When he hangs up the phone, he sees her standing by her stereo, nodding her head in time to the music. The song is slow and sensual, and somehow familiar. He goes to her, places a hand on her lower back. His spot.

“Marvin Gaye?” he guesses.

“Mm, no. Al Green,” she replies.

“Ah,” he says, nodding. “Never took you for a Motown fan, Scully,” Mulder says, pulling her in by the waist. “You always keep me guessing.”

She closes her eyes, sways in his arms. “I save this one for very specific moods,” she admits.

“And what moods are those?” he asks, running a hand up her back.

She opens her eyes. “I’ll show you later,” she whispers.

She’s looking at him with so much heat and adoration, and her lips are so full and soft, he can’t speak; only lean down and kiss her.

They drift together, interlocking shapes moving through space, rearranging patterns of hands and lips.

“We’re going to get interrupted by a delivery guy again,” Scully says against his cheek.

“Mm… kinky,” Mulder whispers, lips brushing her ear. “This is gonna become a pattern for us. Are you an exhibitionist, Scully?”

“Baby steps,” she says, patting his chest as she pulls away. “I need to leave a few mysteries for you to discover later, right?”

 

They sit cross-legged on the floor next to her coffee table, knees touching companionably as they eat their dinner.

“You know,” Scully says around a bite of garlic bread, “This makes me think we should go on another picnic. Since the weather is more appropriate.”

“What, sitting on the frozen ground at night in February wasn’t your idea of a good time?” Mulder jokes, tangling his fork in linguini.

“I didn’t say that,” Scully points out. “In fact, that was one of my better birthdays in recent years.”

“Really,” Mulder says, surprised. “Why?”

She absently toys with a hole in his sock. “Because… because I’d had a rough year,” she explains, “And you put thought and care into doing something special for me. And it was perfect, in all its perceived imperfections. It made me feel that for once… you were finally paying attention. You saw me.”

“Saw you?” he asks softly, turning his head to look at her.

Her eyes shine into his. “Yes. You were there for me through my cancer, with Emily… you were becoming more attentive. And I felt like you were considering me, caring for me, knowing what I needed. Seeing.”

“I-I think that’s called love, Scully,” he says, chewing pensively. Part of him is surprised this is even happening; them sitting on the floor in her apartment, eating pasta out of styrofoam boxes, talking about their feelings. Hell, he just said the ‘L’ word without breaking a sweat.

“You’re right,” she says, leaning over and resting her head on his shoulder. “It is.”

 

Supper completed, containers emptied, candles burning down to stubs on the mantle, Scully sitting across his thighs as they kiss slowly. She was right about the mints, it turns out.

“Mulder, I’m a coward,” she sighs, running her fingers down his jaw. “I’ve been in love with you for years and I still haven’t said the words.” She presses a kiss to his lower lip. “Even though I know you reciprocate.”

“Take your time,” he replies, carding his fingers through the hair at the nape of her neck. “I already know. And you technically did just say them,” he adds. “Besides, there’s more than one way to have a conversation.” He smoothes a hand over her kneecap, inching a finger beneath the hem of her dress.

“Mulder,” she murmurs into his neck, his name sweet in her mouth. “I’m ready. I want to be with you tonight. Completely.”

He can feel his pulse throbbing beneath her lips. “I… God, Scully, I want you so badly,” he sighs. “I can’t think of any other words. I'm all out.”

She kisses his nose, untangles herself from him to stand. “Come on,” she says softly, holding out a hand. “I think it’s time for a different kind of conversation.”

 

Chapter Text

It’s happening it’s happening it’s happening-

Scully is holding his hand, leading him to her bedroom, and his heartbeat is threatening to bruise his ribs from the inside. He’s waited years for this; kept his hands and his eyes mostly to himself, chasing release alone on his couch. And now the woman he wanted all those years has invited him into her bed.

She lets go of his hand at the threshold, crossing the room to turn on a lamp by the bed. The room fills with a soft glow.

“You can come in,” Scully says, seeing him hanging back in the doorway. “It’s hardly the first time you’ve been in here.”

“No, but never like this,” he says softly, throat dry.

“Are you nervous?” she asks quietly, walking back to the doorway.

Mulder takes a tentative step forward. “A little,” he admits. “I want to do this right. It’s you,” he says by way of explanation.

She nods. “I know,” she says. “But it’s also just me.”

“Just us.”

She reaches out and takes his hands in hers. “Just us. We can start slow, and go from there. And we can always stop if we want.”

She tips her head back in that way she does when she wants a kiss, a subtle angling of her head that beckons him down to her. He cups her cheeks in his hands, smoothing his thumbs along her jaw. “I can’t believe I get to do this,” he whispers, pressing a gentle kiss to her mouth.

She breaks away softly, reaching out and patting the bed. “Sit,” she says. “So I can reach you better.”

Mulder perches on the edge of her bed, pulling her towards him. She surprises him when she climbs onto his lap once more, draping her arms around his neck.

“I’m beginning to see a pattern,” he murmurs, rubbing the tip of his nose against hers. “You really like sitting on my lap.”

Scully nods, running her hands through his hair and guiding his mouth to hers. She rocks forward, deepening the kiss and sending jolts of sensation through his pelvis.

 

Mulder loves how Scully kisses; with rolls of her body, wandering hands, and an adventurous tongue. He relishes the scrape of her teeth against his bottom lip, a move he recognizes as one of her favorites.

With her in his lap, he has better access to her neck. He drags his lips away from her mouth, smearing them across her cheek and down to her jaw. He presses open-mouthed kisses to the hollow beneath her ear, teasing the delicate skin with a flick of his tongue.

“Ohh,” she moans softly, and the sound is electrifying. He wraps one arm tighter around her waist, the other hand in her hair as his lips travel further down her neck.

“Undress me,” she sighs, reflexively tilting her head to the side to give him better access.

“Gladly,” he murmurs, giving her collarbone a brief suck before releasing her.

She slips off the bed and stands in front of him, arms out slightly to her sides. “Untie the bow,” she explains, referring to the knotted belt of her wrap dress.

“Like opening a present,” Mulder says with a grin, gently tugging the end of the sash. The dress falls open, revealing an expanse of smooth skin.

Mulder reverently pushes the dress down her arms, reveling in the sight of her breasts in creamy lace. Scully lets the dress drop to the floor, stepping forward until his knees press into either side of her thighs.

Mulder rests his hands on her hips, thumbs massaging little circles into the lace band below her belly. He wants to put his mouth on every inch of her body.

“Scully,” he sighs, nuzzling the space between her breasts, “You are so beautiful.”

She smiles and reaches down, tugging at his t-shirt. “Off,” she commands.

The authority in her tone makes his cock twitch. He eagerly pulls his t-shirt off and tosses it onto the floor.

“Jeans too,” Scully adds.

Mulder stands, and she surprises him by reaching out and grabbing his belt, deftly unbuckling it. The sight of her hands at his waistband is painfully erotic, and he feels pressure build against his zipper.

“Scully, I’m…”

She stops midway through unfastening the button on his jeans. “Mulder, are you okay? Is this okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. More than fine,” he adds. “I just… it’s been a long time since someone touched me there.”

She nods in understanding, rubs his belly comfortingly. “Would you prefer to unzip yourself, or-”

“No, go ahead. Just go slow,” he replies.

Scully pops the button open, carefully grabbing the zipper pull and drawing it downwards. Mulder inhales sharply as Scully slides her hands beneath the waistband of his jeans, pulling them down.

He kicks them off and sits back down again, guiding Scully to stand between his legs. He reaches behind her and unhooks her bra- with minimal fumbling, thank God- and gently pulls it down her arms.

“Fuck,” he whispers, cupping her breasts.

“Please,” she urges him, pulling him closer.

He presses a kiss to one pink nipple, and she whines in the back of her throat. “More,” she pants, fingers cradling his head.

He sucks one nipple while his fingers tease the other, and Scully is making sounds he never dared hope to hear.

“Lay down,” he says breathlessly. “I want to taste you.”

Scully nods, climbing up onto the bed and laying back with a luxurious sigh.

 

He kisses his way down her body, marveling in the softness and warmth of her skin. This is Scully, his Scully, vibrant and alive and nearly naked for him. The thought makes him dizzy.

He flicks his tongue into her belly button, eliciting what he delightedly realizes might actually be a giggle. He kisses along the waistband of her panties, exhaling a hot breath just above that spot he wants to touch the most. “May I?” he asks, fingertips skimming the lace at her hips.

“Yes, but next time I want you to beg,” she says with a little smile.

Mulder feels a surge of heat in his groin at her words. “Fuck,” he mutters, running a finger under the waistband of her panties. “You’re going to ruin me, Scully.”

She lifts her hips off the bed in encouragement. “Not if you ruin me first,” she says.

Mulder takes a steadying breath and slowly pulls down Scully’s underwear, revealing a soft thatch of hair above… oh god. Oh god.

Words fail, breath leaves his chest, reason crumbles, because he is inches away from Dana Scully’s vagina. It’s flushed and swollen and glistening slightly and he thinks this may be the greatest singular moment of his life, until the very next moment when he hears a soft “please, Mulder” drift down from the head of the bed.

He parts her tenderly with his fingers, brushing her outer labia with his lips. Her thighs are quivering as he lowers his mouth to her, indulging in a slow lick up her slit. She’s hot and honey-sweet on his desperate tongue, and his eyes roll back as her thighs tighten around his ears.

He’s always been good with his tongue.

 

His jaw aches and his chin is slick with her arousal when she eventually yanks his hair mercilessly, beckoning him up to her. “Mulder,” she pants, “now. Please, I need you now.”

His cock is so hard he thinks he might die. He wipes his mouth sloppily with the back of his hand and hastily shucks off his underwear.

Scully props herself up on her elbows, eyes traveling the length of his penis. She reaches out and grazes the head with a fingertip, and Mulder inhales sharply.

“Is it okay if I…” Scully trails off, hand outstretched. Mulder swallows hard, nodding.

She exhales softly as she closes her hand around his length, giving it a long stroke. “It’s perfect,” she murmurs. “I realize that’s a strange thing to say, but my God, Mulder…”

“It’s fine,” he says hurriedly, pressing his lips together. “Uh, thank you.”

She swirls her thumb around the head, pressing down gently, and he shudders. “Scully,   I want to be inside you,” he confesses. “And I don’t know how long I can last like this. It’s been a long time.”

“I’m ready,” she assures him, letting go of his cock and spreading her legs wider. “Just start off slow.”

His heart is hammering in his throat now, all the blood in his body rushing south as he takes himself in hand and lines his penis up with her opening. She gives him a nod, and he slowly presses forward.

It’s the birth of a new star, the split of an atom; a burst of heat and creation and impossibility as he enters her body. He draws back slightly before pushing further, throwing his head back with a gasp as she envelops him.

Her breaths are shallow, hands gripping his ass as he slowly pushes deeper.

“Are… is this okay?” he pants.

“Yes,” she breathes. “Keep going.”

She’s so slick and hot, he wants to melt into her, be reduced to a puddle between her legs. The squeeze of her inner walls is ecstasy, and when he bottoms out inside her he buries his face in her neck.

“Oh my god,” she moans, and he feels suddenly feral, sinking his teeth into her shoulder.

“You have… the tightest, most perfect little cunt,” he groans. “Fucking incredible, Scully.”

“Show me,” she says, rolling her hips against him. “Show me how good I feel. Make me believe.”

 

Someday they’ll make love, he thinks. Lay down together, kiss and caress each other for hours, join together lazily with soft panting and hushed pleas.

But not tonight. Tonight, they fuck.

And god, she’s perfect. She fits him so well, and every roll of her hips meets his thrusts at the apex and sends him into orbit. It’s messy, noisy, heavenly, human, sweat-slicked skin sticking and their cries and exclamations cluttered together in the air between them.

He hopes they fall asleep after this, wake up in a few hours and do it all over again. He wants to spend the night in her bed, watch the sun rise behind her as she sinks down on his cock, morning light blazing in her sex-mussed hair. He wants her mouth on him, her tongue teasing his length, her cunt on his face. He wants it, and with every punch of his hips towards hers he sees the possibility of it bleeding into his vision.

Scully is trembling, her heels pressing into his ass. “Mulder,” she gasps, “I’m-I’m close.”

“Yeah?” he says, sweat dripping down his forehead.

She nods, bites her lip. “Come with me,” she breathes. “Can you-”

“Yes,” he groans, hips stuttering. “Yes, yes-”

He feels her walls flutter around him, and he shatters above her. His ears ring as she cries out, fingernails scraping his back, and he thinks he hears himself sobbing in release.

It feels like creation.

Chapter Text

Muscles relax, heart rates slow. She draws back the blankets, inviting him into the cool cotton drifts of her bed. They lie together, facing each other, knees touching.

Mulder doesn’t know if Scully likes to cuddle after sex, and he’s shy about introducing the concept. Somehow, holding each other naked post-coitus seems more intimate than the act itself.

“What are you thinking about?” Scully asks softly, hand tucked under her cheek on the pillow. He can feel the slightest wisp of her warm breath on his face with each exhale.

He chews his lip. She’s opened the door for him, so to speak; made space between them for honesty. Hell, he just orgasmed inside her body. She’s been filled with him, and it’s simultaneously filthy and achingly sweet. They’re one; the time for playing it cool is long past.

“Come here,” he replies, lifting his arm for her to tuck into his chest. She doesn’t hesitate, just scoots into the space he created for her, nose pressing against his sternum. He wraps his arms around her and breathes deeply, relishing the softness and warmth of her bare skin against his. It’s comfort and ecstasy and a deep ache he can’t reach.

“I… I wish I could give you what you want, Scully,” he whispers. “I mean it.”

“You already do,” she murmurs, her muffled voice stirring his chest hair.

He takes a steadying breath of her warm hair, her shampoo. “More than this,” he says hoarsely.

He thinks of Biblical creation, of Adam’s rib. If only there were a tangible piece of himself he could give her, a piece on which to build, replace what’s been stolen from her body. All he has is a pile of dust and a seed of faith, but this time it’s not enough.

She doesn’t ask him what he means, and he doesn’t offer an explanation. Maybe she knows. Maybe she’s thinking the same thing.

Mulder presses a kiss to the top of her head, anchoring himself in the present. “So… how was it?” he asks. “For you. Worth the wait?”

Scully lets out a little snort against his chest. “I was under the assumption that my uncharacteristically loud orgasm spoke for itself,” she says.

“Uncharacteristically loud?” Mulder asks. “Do you usually come quietly?”

“I think I’ll just let you find that out,” she mumbles. “Don’t want to ruin all the surprises.”

He holds her until she falls asleep and his arm aches. He shifts carefully, trying extract his arm without waking her. It doesn’t work.

Scully burrows deeper into his embrace. “No… stay,” she sighs against his skin.

He smiles into her hair. “I’m not leaving, honey,” he assures her. “My arm’s just numb.” He wiggles out from under her, throwing his other arm over her shoulders.

“Stay the night with me,” Scully says around a yawn.

She doesn’t have to ask him twice.

 

Deep in the night, he awakens. He’s lying on his back with Scully curled into his side, her small hand caressing his chest. One bare leg is thrown over his thigh, and he can feel her hot, wet center rubbing his hip.

He seeks her lips in the dark, blindly pressing their mouths together.

Drowsiness and darkness blend together in a liminal space between her warm thighs. She sinks down on him with a sigh, rolling her hips in a dreamy rhythm, sparking flares of color behind his eyelids. He smooths his hands over her naked waist, gently pressing her down on his cock.

He thinks of the man he was five years ago, meeting Scully for the first time. That man had no idea that the studious little redhead in polyester pant suits would one day be riding him lazily in the dark, tracing gentle patterns into his sides with the tips of her fingers. Fox Mulder never got that lucky.

When she comes this time, she slumps forward on his chest, taut nipples grazing his skin as she pants into his neck.

“Come on, Baby,” she urges him softly. “Come on.”

He does as he’s told, and as he unravels she hides three words in the hair behind his ear.

 

Chapter Text

Mulder wakes on a mattress much softer than his newly-acquired one, surrounded by Egyptian cotton and the scent of sex and laundry detergent. It takes him a moment to remember where he is, and another to recall what got him there.

He and Scully had sex. Twice. Which makes this the best morning of his entire life.

Because realistically, what pleasures in heaven or earth could ever compare to the bliss of waking up in Dana Scully’s bed? None, perhaps, except rolling over in said bed and finding Dana Scully sleeping naked next to you.

She’s on her right side, facing away from him, the exquisite curve of her back draped in a tangle of bedsheet. The morning sunlight filtering through the blinds throws bars of glowing light across her skin, illuminating a scattering of freckles on her shoulders.

Mulder scoots up behind her, snaking an arm around her naked waist and tucking a kiss under the fall of her hair at the back of her neck. She stirs, mumbling into the pillow.

“Good morning,” Mulder whispers against her skin.

“Mm… it is,” she sighs. She rolls onto her back, stretching. “You sleep alright?”

“I did,” he says, propping himself up on an elbow. “But somebody woke me up in the middle of the night.”

Scully furrows her brow. “That’s too bad,” she replies in mock seriousness. “I’m sorry your sleep was interrupted.”

“I’m not,” he rumbles, lifting her chin with a finger as he leans down to kiss her.

“Mulder, I didn’t brush my teeth,” she protests, turning her face away from him. His mouth lands on her cheek.

“I don’t care,” he insists, peppering her face with kisses.

“Fine, but I do,” she counters, sitting up. “And I feel very sticky.” She pushes back the covers and gets up, standing naked beside the bed. “I’m going to brush my teeth and take a shower. You’re welcome to join me,” she adds quietly.

Mulder feels a surge of arousal at the suggestion.

 

That’s how they end up standing naked at her bathroom sink, brushing their teeth as the shower heats up.

When Scully leans over the sink to rinse, Mulder’s eyes travel downward and land on a somewhat unexpected sight.

“Mmph,” he exclaims around his toothbrush.

“What?” Scully asks, glancing at him as she shuts off the tap.

Mulder motions to her back with the handle of his toothbrush. “I, uh, have never actually gotten a good look at… it.”

“It,” she echoes flatly.

“Your tattoo.”

Her cheeks flush slightly. “You’re not missing much. It’s not the highest quality tattoo, risk of ergot poisoning aside.”

“Can I look…?” Mulder asks, and she hesitates before nodding.

Mulder sinks to his knees behind her, gently cupping her hips with his hands. He suddenly remembers being in this same position five years earlier, searching her skin by candlelight.

The ouroboros is fitting for them both, he realizes. They always circle back.

“It’s beautiful,” he tells her, tracing the blur of colors with the pad of his thumb. “Looks great on you.”

She lets out a huff of breath. “It was… impulsive,” she admits, glancing down at him over her shoulder. “It was like I was fourteen again and had something to prove.”

Mulder runs his hands down the sides of her hips. “Do you still feel that way?” he asks, leaning in and brushing his lips against the ink.

She doesn’t respond, only lets out a little sigh as he kisses her lower back. “Mulder,” she breathes, “The shower’s going to get cold.”

“You should be impulsive more often,” he says in a low tone. “It’s sexy.” He traces the snake with his tongue and she grips the edge of the sink.

“No more,” she breathes, turning between his hands. “I have twelve hours of sweat on me right now and god knows what else-”

Mulder nods, giving the tattoo a quick kiss. “I’m bookmarking this spot for later,” he says with a wink.

 

He’s back in Scully’s shower, enrobed in steam and the invigorating scent of her soap, except this time he’s not hungover and not alone. It’s ecstasy.

They take turns under the water spray, and he’s transfixed by her as she bathes. Scully’s body is perfection, softly returning to its pre-cancer fullness and vitality. He wants to kiss her belly, her hip bones, the smooth curve of her thighs; worship every inch of skin, thank her for letting him see and taste and feel her. She’s an oasis in the endless desert; the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.

She’s also hogging all the hot water, but he doesn’t care; just stands in her shower with her, damp skin faintly chilled, holding a bar of soap as he watches her. She pushes her wet hair out of her face, eyes closed as she rinses her shampoo. She looks like a nymph as she tilts her face up to the shower head, streams of water sluicing over her skin.

When it’s his turn under the water, Scully takes the soap from his hand. “May I?” she asks, water droplets trembling on her lips.

His cock pulses, and he nods.

Scully begins to wash him, and he feels as weightless as a soap bubble as she strokes his skin. He’s surrounded by clouds of soap and her gentle hands caressing his body as she lathers him up, and he can feel blood and energy pooling below his belly.

“Sorry,” he says tightly as the head of his penis brushes her waist. “You can ignore that.”

Scully’s hands slip down his torso, tentatively cupping his balls. “And miss all the fun?” she teases, giving his cock a squeeze.

Then suddenly she’s kneeling in from of him and her warm, soapy hands are on his hips and oh my god is she-

Mulder groans, his voice echoing off the tile as Scully licks a long stripe along his cock before wrapping her lips around him fully. Her mouth is small, but she’s eager, and she’s good. So fucking good.

He’s dreamed of this, fantasized about it while slouched at his desk, watching her scribble little notes in the margins of reports. He’s whiled away hours thinking about her beautiful mouth and all the places he wants to feel it, the ways in which she could take him apart. He always knew she’d be good at this, suspected - more hoped - that those neat little suits and stiff upper lip hid a woman of passion and skill. Scully’s mouth challenges him, berates him, corrects him, comforts him, makes love to him.

She has a Midas tongue, words and licks turning him to gold.

He’s falling fast, losing control, and his hands scrabble at her shoulders as he feels his climax cresting the horizon. He expects her to back away, release him, maybe take his cock in hand and finish him off. But no. No, Dana Scully grips his hips tighter, sucking harder, making it very clear exactly what she wants him to do. And where.

He sees constellations being born behind his eyelids, feels a hot tide rush through his body as he grasps a handful of her wet hair and comes and comes and gasps and oh fuck, how is this real-

It’s been moments - years, maybe - when he finally opens his eyes and looks down at Scully, water pelting her face. She rises carefully, bracing herself against the cold tile wall of the shower.

“So,” she says, almost sheepishly. “I, um, am a little out of practice.”

Mulder can’t speak, so he draws her in and kisses her, their lips wet from the shower spray. The get lost in the slide of hot tongues and soapy skin; mold their bodies around each other like clay, mixing colors to create inseparable swirls of pigment. He is her and she is him and they melt together until the water runs cold.

Scully draws back, reaching out to turn off the shower. She looks dazed, lovesick, a little shy. “So, do you want breakfast?” she asks, feigning concentration as she wrings out her hair.

She glances at him with big blue eyes, and he finds the truth shimmering there like a penny in the bottom of a well. They were joined long before last night; they’d been tethered to each other for five years. And in the hazy shower light on a Saturday morning, Mulder sees the last fragments of caution and fear melt away. This is it, he thinks. We’re finally here.

He smiles at her. “I’ll make you pancakes.”

 

Chapter Text

Five Months Later

Friday, November 13th, 1998

 

“I can’t believe you,” Scully hisses as they exit Skinner’s office. “We’ve discussed this, Mulder. Multiple, no, countless times. You can’t just accuse someone of being a supernatural entity based off a… a wild hunch!”

“A hunch? Scully, we have concrete evidence. It’s literally documented in the folder you’re holding right now.”

“That ‘evidence’ is obviously subject to interpretation,” Scully retorts, stomping down the hall in an attempt to keep pace with Mulder’s long strides. “An interpretation I thought we’d agreed upon before going into that meeting. And I don’t appreciate you abandoning a solid hypothesis, that we discussed at length, in favor of whatever the hell that just was.”

Mulder stops outside the elevator, turning to her. “That was the truth, Scully. It’s out there, if you would just open your mind a little and accept that there are things science still can’t explain.”

“But science can-” She reaches out and punches the button for the elevator, “-explain it. You just like the sound of your own theories and ideas better than fact. Fox Mulder, the champion of truth, the only man willing to consider the extreme.”

“You know you like it,” he says in a low tone.

Scully’s eyes go wide, and she grabs his elbow. “Do not-”

The elevator doors open, and they scurry into the lift. Mulder presses the button for the basement.

“Do not use my weaknesses against me at work, Mulder, that’s not fair,” she says as the doors slide closed.

“Weaknesses?” Mulder asks casually. “Am I your weakness, Dr. Scully?”

“I’m serious. We’ve have a few close calls in the past few months; if we’re not careful, we’re going to be found out.”

“How, by arguing? We did that before we started fu-”

She gives him an imploring look.

“-working after hours,” he corrects. “Besides,” he continues, angling his chin downwards to reach her ear, “I happen to know arguing turns you on.”

Scully licks her upper lip. “I’m just saying we have to be more careful,” she insists, staring straight ahead.

“Then I guess this isn’t the best time to invite you out for a drink,” Mulder says.

Scully glances at him out of the corner of her eye. “It’s Friday the thirteenth,” she notes with a twinge of a smile. “Don’t you think it’s a little risky?”

Mulder shrugs as the elevator doors open into the basement. “Historically, the thirteenth is my lucky day.”

 

“You know, it’s been nine months since our first date,” Mulder says conversationally. They’d walked to Casey’s Bar from the Bureau and are now perched on stools at the far end of the counter, nursing a beer each.

Scully furrows her brow, obviously doing some quick mental math. “February… that was a date?” she says, somewhat amused. “You should have told me at the time. I wouldn’t have waited so long to put out.”

Mulder raises his eyebrows. “Dana,” he says in mock surprise. “I thought you were a good church girl.”

“What gave you that idea, my penchant for kneeling?” she mutters into her glass.

Fuck, she’s good.

They’ve been together for six months now, and it’s surprising how little has actually changed between them, in the practical sense. They’ve been pretty good at keeping their relationship a secret, Mulder thinks. It helps that everyone in the Bureau already thought they were crazy, codependent, and tanking their respective careers. Apparently, bad reputations make the best cover.

He and Scully arrive at the Hoover building in separate vehicles, squabble over conflicting viewpoints, have lunch together almost every day. He rests a hand on her back, guiding her through the halls, and she gives him withering glances and dramatic eye rolls when appropriate. From the outside, they’re still the same Mulder and Scully.

And then they go home to one of their respective apartments and tear each other’s clothes off.

Well, they usually make it home. That quickie in the office annex was an outlier.

Nine months seems significant somehow. The length of human gestation, Mulder thinks absently. It seems like a length of time worth celebrating.

“Would it be terribly corny of me to propose a toast?” he asks.

“A toast to what?”

He’s suddenly shy. “Us,” he says softly. “How far we’ve come. And how much,” he adds, giving her a nudge with his elbow. She rolls her eyes at him, and it feels overtly fond.

Scully lifts her glass. “To us,” she says warmly. “And to spooky shit.”

“You remember,” Mulder says as they clink glasses, recalling that first toast in Casey’s all those months ago.

“Mm,” she replies, sipping her beer. “I do. It was a… notable evening.”

“What made it notable for you?” he asks.

“We had an actual conversation, for one,” Scully muses. “About our personal lives, attraction, about how we relate to the outside world; and by extension, how we relate to each other. I remember very clearly feeling like we were close to something.”

“So did I,” Mulder admits. “So what happened, on your end?”

“I don’t know,” she sighs. “The spell wore off, maybe? When I got home that night I remembered all the reasons it would be a mistake to let myself feel. And then Mark happened, and you know the rest of that story.” She turns on her stool to face him more fully. “What happened for you?”

“I took you on a very cold, very dark picnic,” Mulder reminds her.

“Which was wonderful,” she offers.

Mulder nods. “But then when I asked you out again, you had a date. I don’t know, maybe I was going too slow, being too subtle. But when you started going out with that jackass it felt like… in a way, you were saying that what I had to give wasn’t enough.”

Scully doesn’t say anything, just stares down at her glass.

“And I realize that it’s selfish of me to project that onto you,” he amends. “Your choices aren’t about me. But fuck, I wished they were.”

“You’d be surprised how many of my choices actually were about you,” she says softly. “I surprise even myself. You told me before that you didn’t think I’d last a full year working with you, remember? There was validity in that. This job… it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. So much is at stake for us, so much has been taken. But I chose to continue because I believed in you, and in our work. We have different methods and come to different conclusions, but we’re working towards the same thing. That’s what I believe.”

He reaches over beneath the cover of the countertop and takes her hand, clasping it atop his knee. They sit in silence for awhile, taking sips of their drinks, palms pressed together.

The truth hides in many places, Mulder is learning. Places more secret and sacred than dusty file folders or abandoned warehouses, more mundane than the locked rooms of the Pentagon or trapped beneath thousands of years of ice. The greatest truths are scattered pieces he stumbles upon every day; reflected in his bathroom mirror, scribbled on post-it notes in their office, hidden under Scully’s warm tongue. He knows he’s an obsessed man, prone to irrationality and impulse; but in quiet moments with his partner, he finds small fragments of peace he never thought he could reach.

“Where are you?” Scully says softly, drawing him back into the present. A dim barroom, a sweating glass, her soft hand in his. He wonders if the day will come when his mind wanders too far for her to follow.

“I-I know how crazy this is going to sound, Scully but bear with me… do you ever think that we’re… that we’re bonded somehow? Like we were always supposed to end up here. Together.”

“Like here, here? In this bar?”

“Maybe. Maybe less specifically this bar and more generally this time and place on earth. This universe, this dimension. With each other.”

She shakes her head gently, smiling. “Mulder, it’s been a long week. If we’re going to talk about the metaphysical I need to either have more to drink or be under the influence of a postcoital surge of oxytocin.”

He leans closer to her. “Do you have a preference as to which, because I’d gladly provide either.”

Scully pushes her half-empty glass away from her, eyes dark and soft. “Take me home, Mulder,” she whispers.

His heart squeezes. “Will you stay?” The night, the rest of our lives, until our boat drifts over the edge of the earth?

She nods, and another piece of the truth slides into place.