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Fox Mulder is her partner, but he also means far more to her than a mere partner. This is a fact of Dana Scully’s life, and it is not one of which she is ever unaware. 

And some part of her that she refuses to acknowledge at work likes how he stands over her, looming and aware, always watching her back for any of the multiple threats that face them. She allows him his territoriality and his little touches to her back because those touches never hold her back, only push her forward. He treats their back and forth like banter, without condescension, and never gives her a hint that he sees her as anything less than his equal. 

At least, not consciously. Certain desk-related arguments, she sets aside. Names on doors and Mrs. Spookies and water cooler bets she’s overheard from the hallway are all annoyances that she simply doesn’t have the time to think about. Her partner values her work (most of the time), includes her (when he’s not running off on a whim), and their AD does the same (when he’s not ordering her to bring her partner under control). Casual misogyny in the FBI is not a problem she has the energy to address, though she enjoys slicing the men who speak down to her in half with her intellect and solve rate even more than Mulder loves to watch her do so. Usually, that’s enough. 

After all, she’s seen some of the other dynamics between male and female partners. She knows that, with Mulder, she got lucky. It’s a delicate balance; she knows that he cares for her beyond how much one should care for their partner, and she feels the same. It would be easy for protective to turn into possessive, for professional jealousy to turn personal, but they’ve gotten fairly good at toeing the line over the years. They keep each other in line with subject changes or weekends of no contact when one of them steps out of line. 

It’s as perfect a system as they can manage, and Scully is fairly happy. She has Mulder in her life, in nearly every aspect of it, and she loves their work. There are certain things that she thinks about in the dead of night, but in the light of day, she tells herself that those certain things are not worth throwing off the balance. She suspects Mulder tells himself the same. 

This unspoken understanding that provides the root of their partnership… this silent promise… is why current events are so troubling. 

 

-

 

Mulder and Scully are having a good morning. She brings him coffee, knowing from a 2am phone call that he found something he wants to explore in the files last night, and this means he hasn’t slept or thought of food in several hours. 

He accepts the coffee with an easy grin when she walks through the door, already standing at the projector, eagerly organizing the slides. Once the coffee is in his grasp, his free hand finds her hip as he edges her into a chair he had already pulled out for this purpose. She bites back a grin as he launches into his presentation on a series of mysterious attacks occurring in the great plains of Montana. He manages to stick to the facts for precisely one minute and twenty-two seconds - average, she thinks - before he brings up-

“A ghost buffalo?” She says, in her perfected half-amused, half-dismissive tone. 

He jumps to his own defense, and the battle begins. “Two of the three attacks occurred within half a mile of a sacred indigenous burial ground. But get this, Scully: no humans are buried there.” 

She fixes him with a long look. “Let me guess,” she says, gesturing vaguely towards his slide showing the injuries suffered by one survivor. 

He clicks the remote. A skeleton she assumes is a buffalo appears on the screen. “A whole herd, Scully,” he crows. “The Blackfoot tribe has a story about a woman who saved her people from starvation by driving a herd of buffalo over a cliff.” 

Scully is curious despite herself. “How did she manage that?” 

Mulder’s eyes twinkle as he leans against the projector stand. “Oral histories diverge on the reason, but the general consensus is that she stood at the base of the cliff and called out that she’d wed any buffalo that came to her.” 

Scully raises an eyebrow. “And the buffalo-”

“Jumped to their deaths and fed the tribe for many moons,” Mulder drawls, teasing. She does her best to keep an even look on her face, but the urge to roll her eyes is likely obvious. “Oh c’mon Scully, surely you know if we put you out on Pennsylvania Avenue in a white dress and all the good old boys of the FBI on the roof, it would have a similar effect.” 

“And where would you be?” She asks, cursing the words as they spill from her mouth far too quickly. When he gets into these flirtatious moods, she can’t help herself, but the pleasure she takes from shocking Mulder is not enough to curb the heat of embarrassment working its way up her neck. Somehow, she always forgets. 

Sure enough, Mulder’s forehead creases briefly as he thinks up a way to stay apace of her, letting out a soft hum in thought to give himself time. “You know me, Scully, I’ve been a permanent bachelor since we’ve met,” he says, an unfamiliar smile playing at his lips. It’s not teasing or sad or relieved, and she files away the feeling it gives her for later perusal. “Furthermore, it’s not so high that we wouldn’t have a few lucky survivors. I’d have to drive your getaway car,” he moves over to her, jostling her shoulder with his warm hand. “No FBI-styled buffalo would get past me, partner.” 

There’s so much to unpack there that she immediately plays chicken, and from his look, he anticipates it. Theirs is a familiar, circular dance, she thinks, even as she spins to watch him sink into his chair. “No ancient mythology, no matter how sensational, is going to convince me that there is something paranormal at work here, Mulder,” she throws out, waiting for him to present her with their airline tickets. 

Mulder opens his mouth, his hands already rooting around the desk, when the phone rings. 

At the moment, she’s happy for the reprieve. In hindsight, she will wish they were already on the plane to nowhere, Montana, hunting down an annoyingly present buffalo spirit that will probably result in an annoyingly unsolved case. 

As it is, though, she pushes out of her seat and reaches for the phone. “Scully.” 

“Agent Scully, is Agent Mulder there as well?”

Scully replies in the affirmative, mouthing ‘Skinner’ at Mulder, who sits back and studies her expression with a watchful gaze. “What can we do for you, Sir?” She asks. 

Skinner’s voice comes through, clear and concise as always. “I’m rejecting Mulder’s 402 form for travel to Montana indefinitely; I have a case that takes precedence for you here in the city. Be upstairs in ten.” 

 

-

 

The case is strange, Scully muses as she pours over the file. Mulder leans over her seated form, reading over her shoulder. 

Skinner has sent them to the DCPD, and they are currently taking up the corner of a conference room. The meeting starts in five minutes, and they’ll have to rely on their quick conversation on the drive over and this short time to read over the current file, and of course, their unspoken method of knowing how the other wants to approach a case. 

Three dead, one injured, by three different perpetrators. The crimes had not been linked by motive or a connection between the perpetrators, but by the DCPD crime lab: all three perps had been injected with the same unknown drug, causing extremely violent behavior followed by memory loss. The only material witnesses to the crimes are the girlfriend of the second perp, who is too distraught to remember much, and the victim in the third, who is in a coma at Washington Memorial after being stabbed. In all likelihood, someone is injecting these people to induce them to commit violent acts, but no connection can be found among either the victims or perps. So the FBI had been called, and Skinner had decided to send them.

The case is strange, but it’s not an X-File. 

This is a relief to Scully, if only in the context of how short their exposure to the case has been before they’re about to be thrown into a weeks-old investigation. Non X-Files, even ones that are being perpetrated by the worst of the worst, mean that their partnership will churn like a well-oiled machine. They trust each other implicitly with grounded evil: Mulder with his profiling skills and Scully with her understanding of the physical evidence. Working closely with a local police department also is an element that pushes them closer together. As much as Scully enjoys the constant, high-paced banter that comes with their dynamic on supernatural cases, these cases are a much needed breather. Mulder and she will always be one unit, but it feels nice to agree explicitly every now and then. 

Scully flips the page to read the details of the first case when the room suddenly fills with cops. 

One man makes his way to the front; he looks tired and impatient, and with the lack of leads Scully suspects he’s about to report, she isn’t surprised. 

“For those of you who are new,” he says, eyes flicking over Mulder and Scully, “I’m Detective Miles. I’m the lead on this investigation.” Mulder slides into the chair next to her, but not before pressing a hand to her shoulder. Once she’s seated, she turns so that she can keep both her partner and Detective Miles in her line of sight. She’s often found that Mulder’s reactions can tell her more about a case than anything else. Almost as if he’s read her mind, Mulder shifts so that he can tilt his gaze back to meet hers without too much obvious movement. 

Sure enough, there are no leads. As Miles pins different pictures and maps to the board behind him, Mulder’s eyebrows raise and his eyes dart back to hers. He sits up, but Scully places a hand on his arm, stilling him. 

“Team leaders, please report here for your assignments,” Miles finishes, and Scully realizes with a wince that she tuned most of his speech out after he announced a lack of new information. 

She’s far more curious about what Mulder’s come up with. “What are you thinking?” She murmurs. 

Mulder leans back and over so his mouth is hovering over her ear. “This case requires more than one profile, Scully.” 

Scully raises an eyebrow, though she knows he can’t see it. “You think there is more than one UNSUB injecting these people? Based on what?”

He shakes his head, his nose brushing against her hair. “I meant, we must first understand the motivations of the victims - that will tell us what this drug is meant to accomplish.” 

She pulls back at that, meeting his gaze. “It makes them violent, Mulder. It makes them act on feelings that they would otherwise repress.” 

Mulder looks pensive. “Tell me, Scully, if you wanted to create a drug that causes violent behavior, what would you do?”

“Well, I’m no pharmaceutical scientist, but many neuropsychotropic drugs can induce violent behavior: smoking cessation drugs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and dopamine agonist…” 

“Exactly,” he interrupts, “there’s plenty of drugs that would work, drugs that are much easier to come by - and far less traceable - than creating something new. Our UNSUB, he takes pride in injecting these drugs efficiently and cleanly, and the cameras found at two of the three scenes demonstrate his interest in observing the effects.” 

“You think the person who is injecting the drug is the same person who created the drug,” Scully realizes. 

Mulder nods. “Find out what the drug’s purpose is-”

“-and we find out what his motivation is in injecting it and observing the effects,” she finishes, unable to stop a small, satisfied smile from creeping across her face.

Mulder smiles right back. Then he gets to his feet, waiting for her to stand as well before leading her over to Detective Miles. 

“The FBI agents,” the man greets, managing to sound disapproving and disinterested all at once. Scully’s smile tightens at the edges of her mouth; it’s not their fault that this man’s captain asked for FBI manpower, but it appears that he’s going to make it their fault.

“Agents Mulder and Scully,” Mulder introduces. “My partner would like to take a look at the body of the second perpetrator.” 

“I’d also like to see any data you’ve gathered on your analysis of the drug compound,” Scully adds, deliberately not giving Miles a chance to interject. 

Mulder starts up again. “You said you’ve been combing through the labs in the area capable of creating this kind of drug?” Miles nods. “I think I know a way to narrow your search.” 

Miles opens his mouth, and Scully recognizes this dance. He’ll give them the runaround, but after a few minutes, they’ll get what they ask for. She sees it in his eyes; he wants to catch this man just a little more than he wants all the credit for it. 

 

-

 

It’s six o’clock before Scully manages to join Mulder on the stakeout he set up. He had called her a few hours before, detailing his theory of a brilliant scientist who was recently turned down for human subjects research. Adding a few more points onto his profile - unmarried, no family, violent death of a close, supportive influence - he had told her that they narrowed the suspects down to six scientists, Mulder’s favorite being a geneticist named Ron Stephenson whose parents had been murdered in front of him when he was a teenager. His lab was located in a tucked-away building on American University’s campus, where Scully now joins Mulder for what is probably a long night of waiting for something interesting to happen.

Stephenson had been the only suspect unavailable for questioning. When they called his lab, they found out that he is on the verge of being fired; he hadn’t been in for weeks. Miles, Scully suspects, in exasperation at having Mulder underfoot for longer than an hour, had told him that it was his theory, his stakeout. And she’s his partner, so of course she’s the one who gets to go sit in a car with him all night instead of snuggled up in her own bed. 

Mulder is studying the building when she slips into the passenger seat. “The DCPD has units at all other locations. Detective Miles says to check in if your theory ends up holding water; they’re still combing more sophisticated labs.” 

“Guess I’m too spooky to incur actual manpower,” Mulder says wryly. “Find anything?” He asks when she hands over his coffee, inclining his head in thanks. 

“Not much,” she admits, shutting the door gently before she sips her coffee. “I found traces of sediment underneath Andrews’ fingernails; the lab will rush the analysis, but there’s a good chance it’ll be nothing more than indicative of coal country.” She looks up at him. “Any updates on the profile?” 

He rubs his eyes once, rough and quick. “This is more than violence, Scully.” 

“Flint Andrews shot the man who delivered his pizza,” Scully points out. “George Brown raped his girlfriend’s identical twin and then killed both himself and her when his girlfriend walked through the door. Melanie Richards stabbed a teenager who helped her child when he ran into the street.” 

“I’m not arguing that each victim committed one or more violent acts. I’m merely suggesting that violence itself is not the end, but the means.” 

“Okay, Immanuel Kant, tell me: what is the end?”

Mulder sighs. “Andrews shot the pizza guy only once he stepped into his apartment. Brown raped his girlfriend’s sister, a woman who looks exactly like the woman he loved. They even wear the same perfume. Richards only saw someone grab her child from her porch, and she reacted.” 

Scully connects the dots he’s laying out for her, but she’s still skeptical. “Protectiveness?”

“No, Scully, I would argue that this drug does far more than induce violent acts in response to protectiveness. Stephenson couldn’t stop his parents from being murdered; he was too afraid, too weak. These acts induced by the drug - they were strong. Instinctual, primal…”  He trails off. “Scully,” he says, low as he nods towards a man in dark clothing slinking toward the door to the lab. 

“I’ll call for backup,” she starts to say, but Mulder is already out the door. “Dammit!” She curses, waiting for the phone to ring through. “This is Team 2 requesting backup. Male suspect has been spotted entering the premises. Agents Mulder and Scully are going to check out the building.” 

“Agent, please wait-”

But Scully has already hung up, quietly on the trail of her partner. 

 

-

 

It’s quiet. Too quiet. 

Scully clears three rooms in silence, afraid to call out for Mulder and give away her position. When she hears a pained yelp, followed by the familiar sound of a gun clattering to the floor, she bites her lip and follows her ear. 

It only takes her two more rooms to find Mulder, propped up between a decontamination shower and a lab sink. He’s groaning, tugging at his wrist, which is cuffed to the shower pole. 

“Mulder,” she gasps, eyes darting to make sure the room is empty before she runs to his side, fingers already pressing against his wrist, counting each heartbeat. “Mulder, tell me what’s wrong, can you tell me your symptoms…?” 

Mulder’s free hand latches onto her wrist. “Scul-” he tries, his eyes darting up and over her shoulder. She knows what this means, gun in hand, about to spin around, but it’s too late. 

Ron Stephenson - Mulder’s profile was correct, of course it was - brings the handle of a fire axe - how had she missed the sound of glass breaking - down on her head, catching her cheek and temple, causing her to crumple to the ground. He yanks the gun from her grasp. 

“FBI, huh?” He asks rhetorically, waving Mulder’s badge in her face before shoving her down, tossing the badge on top of her. Mulder’s shouting something, struggling to stand, but he can’t. Why can’t he? She thinks, staying down. Stephenson hadn’t hit her too hard, but while he has an axe and her gun, better he thinks that he did. “I’m not stupid. I’m not going to kill a federal officer,” he says, smug and certain. “Your partner, probably?” He adds, though she’s not sure which of them he’s talking to. “I’ll just let you two take care of each other.” He kicks her. “You better get some distance from him, missy. He’s not gonna be incapacitated for long.” 

Scully freezes. The compound… He’s injected Mulder with the compound. 

Stephenson leaves them there, and she can hear him close and lock the door as she struggles to her feet. She double checks the door and searches for other exits, but there are none. She left her phone in the car, but hopefully backup is almost here. They can wait it out, she thinks, moving back to Mulder to check his vitals.

He flinches when she comes close. “Scully, no” he moans. “Don’t wanna-” 

She pauses, unwilling to upset him further.  “The other men,” she says, nodding, “they were violent.” Well, she can wait this out. He can’t do much cuffed to a shower, she thinks, ignoring the tugging of her heart at the thought of him in pain and her, able to do nothing to help. 

He shakes his head, can’t stop shaking it, and her heart pounds in sheer concern and fear. She needs Mulder to be okay. Please let him make it out of this okay. “No,” he gasps, like he can’t get enough air, “profile - remember the profile.” The last word comes out as a gasp, and she winces as he slumps to the floor.

“Mulder,” she calls, stepping towards him. “Mulder!” She repeats, more shaky, giving up on her self-imposed distance to approach him. He wouldn’t hurt her. He couldn’t. 

She kneels at his side, brushing his hair back and pressing the back of her hand to his forehead. He is warm to the touch, but not feverish. She tries to move him so his head can rest on her lap when he jerks up in her arms, a large hand tight around her forearm as he whips her down onto the ground, pressing her down to the floor.

“Mulder!” She yelps, squirming. 

His eyes flick up and down her body, then land on her face. She shudders at the blank look in them.

Then, a flash of recognition. He opens his mouth, his lips and tongue working to form her name, though only grunts and odd sounds come out. 

Still she recognizes the shape of her name on his lips. “Yes, Mulder, it’s me. It’s just me,” she emphasizes. He allows her to move her hand to cup his cheek, though his hand stays on her arm, guiding and restraining. “It’s Scully. Now, can I sit up?”

He considers her for a long moment, but pulls his body off hers. She tries to sit up, only to be yanked under his arm and into his side. “Hurt?” He manages.

She tries to ignore the way her cheek throbs. “No, I’m fine.” 

He snarls, free hand coming up to her cheek. “Lie,” he accuses. “Hurt,” he repeats, running his thumb down her cheek. When she flinches, he removes it. 

“It’s not bad,” she amends. “You’re more hurt, Mulder. We need to get you out of here.” 

She squirms free enough to reach for his cuffed hand. Mulder is surprisingly docile as she tries to examine the handcuffs, but when she huffs in frustration at the awkward position, he goes from stationary to tugging her astride his lap. “Mulder,” she hisses, trying to rise to her knees to avoid any inappropriate touching. He has none of it, clamping his free hand on her hip and yanking her down and into him. 

“This is not appropriate, Mulder, and we certainly don’t have time for it,” she whispers, chancing a glance at the door. But she gives up at the resolute look at his face, and the way he waves his chained wrist in her face. He’s not wrong. It definitely gives her better access.

She is reaching for a pin in her hair when the door behind them slams open. Mulder starts at the noise and growls, releasing her hip and trying to wrap his arm around her. Scully anticipates the protective move, however, and pushes back, blocking her partner from whatever is coming for them. Hopefully the DCPD or FBI, actually listening to Mulder for once. 

Scully inhales at the image of Stephenson, her own gun in his grasp, stepping through the door. She should be so lucky. 

“He’s not going to kill you, is he?” He muses, eyes narrowed on Scully as she rises to stand. They both ignore Mulder’s wordless protests echoing before her, but Scully winces at the sound of him tugging against the handcuffs, praying he doesn’t break his wrist trying to free himself. “Interesting.” 

“The police know it’s you,” Scully says evenly, creeping forward. “They’re on their way now. You were right earlier, Dr. Stephenson. You haven’t killed anyone, not directly. If you ever want to get out of prison again, put the gun down and tell me how to help my partner.” 

Stephenson studies her, seemingly considering her proposal, when Mulder lets out such a wretched sound that Scully can’t help but turn to make sure he’s okay. By the time she’s ascertained that his pain is only mental, Stephenson is behind her, grabbing her by the wrist and jamming the gun in her back. Mulder proceeds to lose his mind, yanking desperately at the chain, his eyes wide and afraid. “Scul-” he tries, loud and high, reaching for her like if he could just wrap himself around her forever, he’d be content. She has to swallow the lump in her throat, focusing on the situation and not the overwhelming urge to find a way to comfort him. 

“Is this what you want?” Stephenson taunts him from over her shoulder. Mulder nods frantically, straining against his bonds. But all that Scully can think is that the gun is loose in his hand, that she could see earlier that the safety is still on, and now’s her best chance. 

If she stops and thinks about the fact that she’s what Mulder wants, oh god, does he want her, how does he want her, they might never make it out of here alive. 

She steps down hard on Stephenson’s instep, following it up with a jab up to break his nose, and a quick grab for the gun. He is not in the best shape, and it’s over quickly. While he’s still disoriented, she shoves him into the hallway and frees her own handcuffs, cuffing him to the bannister. 

If Mulder’s sounds were bad before, he’s keening now that she’s not within his sight, yelling broken versions of her name. “Where is the key?” She demands, holding the gun in Stephenson’s face. For all his earlier bravado, he’s clearly unused to not being the one in control, nodding to a nearby table. Scully snatches the keys, hurrying back to Mulder. 

He stops yelling when he sees her, now wide eyed and whimpering. She quickly detaches him from the shower, allowing him to pull her down and into his embrace, heart breaking at the way he shudders and and vibrates in her arms, digging his fingers into her hair and pressing his lips to her forehead. “Safe?” He murmurs.

Scully shakes her head. “Not yet,” she says, turning her head out of the crook of his neck and toward the door, where their perp is locked up tight. 

Seconds later, she realizes this is the wrong answer. 

Mulder’s expression goes from plaintive to enraged, and he releases her, climbing to his feet in his flash and taking off for the door. Scully scrambles behind him, getting there just in time to see Mulder deliver a punch to Stephenson’s sternum that sounds like it cracked a rib. 

“Mulder!” She shouts in horror, starting forward. She watches at his gaze alights on the fire axe Stephenson had used against her, and she doesn’t have to see his eyes to know the retribution in them. He scoops up the axe, starting back for their perp, when she ducks under his arm and between them.  

He stops, but he looks furious at her intervention. 

“Move,” he orders, his voice low and gravelly. 

She hears sirens outside, but neither of them move to acknowledge it. She has to de-escalate this situation before more men with guns burst into the building. She can tell from Mulder’s demeanor that he’ll aim that axe at anyone who surprises him, and SWAT is nothing if not surprising. She knows they’ll wait a few minutes to assemble and assess the situation, so that’s all she has. “Mulder, please, let’s just go. I cuffed him to the bannister, and backup is outside. Please, Mulder.” 

“He-” he cuts off, wrapping a large hand around her bicep and pulling her aside. She struggles against him. 

Remember the profile. 

The other victims hadn’t been violent for violence’s sake. The first had been defensive over his apartment space, the third her child. Reduced to their basic instincts, they had fallen back to protect what they had considered theirs. 

She needs to get him out. And as much as she hates appearing weak, she knows exactly how to get him to leave. She knows exactly what Mulder considers his. 

“I don’t feel safe,” she blurts out, resisting the urge to immediately take it back. She knows she’s probably turning as red as her hair. 

He pauses. Looks at her. 

Okay, Dana. You’ve got his attention. Now what? 

Taking a deep breath, she moves into the circle of his arms. “I’m afraid,” she whispers, feeling sick to her stomach as she presses her palms against his chest. She can feel the heat of his skin through his shirt, and she flinches before peering up at him with purposefully wide eyes. The chest beneath her hands exhales, and something in the clench of his jaw softens. “I feel… exposed here,” she adds, fighting the urge to turn so that her back is not to their captor. She knows Mulder won’t let him get within a foot of her, even if he could escape his cuffs. She knows, but to be consciously dependent on her partner like this makes her uncomfortable. “Let’s go home.”

She can feel a grumble rise in his chest, and ignores the brief flash of heat it causes in her. Mulder’s eyes narrow, but after a short moment of consideration, he lets the axe fall to his side. Their captor is whimpering behind her, but she doesn’t look away from Mulder’s black gaze. She has a feeling he wouldn’t like that. 

She exhales, trying to give him a shaky smile, when he steps into her body and presses his mouth against her temple. Her hands reflexively clutch at his shirt. He breathes in, wet and close and primitive; he’s not kissing her skin, but the open mouthed press of his lips is almost more intimate. He inhales once more, slow and deliberate and long, his free hand coming up to cup the back of her neck. His hand is large enough to cover her skin from her first thoracic vertebrae to her hairline, and she shudders at the sensation. It feels primal. Possessive. “He. hurt. you?” He grinds out each word individually, painful and rough.

She stills. “He’s nothing,” she dismisses, trying to stop from shaking. She doesn’t want him to think she’s lying. He pulls back, tilting her head back so she has to meet his eyes. She does her best not to look away, not to gasp at the heat of his hand on her neck. “I’m okay, and I trust you; you’ll keep me safe.” The honesty is crippling her, and she prays that he’ll never bring this up again. Maybe she can plead off if he does, claim she was lying to prevent him from going berserk. 

If she doesn’t meet his eyes when she tells him, maybe, just maybe, he’ll believe it. 

“Safe?” He asks, moving her head to the side and ducking to press his jaw to hers. She knows he’s looking past her, at Stephenson on the floor. 

“Home, Mulder. You can… keep me safe when we’re home.” 

As Mulder has softened against her, Stephenson’s fear has turned to anger. “You bitch,” he spits. “You ruined-” 

Mulder growls. Scully wraps an arm around his waist. “Shut up if you want to live,” she retorts, hard and steady. “C’mon Mulder,” she pleads, so soft she winces, “please, let’s go.” 

He allows her to guide them outside, and Scully is relieved to hear their boss ordering the cavalry to stand down when they come into view. “Stay back,” she calls as they exit through the front door, injecting as much command into her voice as possible. It thankfully works. 

“Agent Scully, are you two - is that an axe?”

Mulder growls, and Skinner does an almost laughable double take. 

“Stephenson is cuffed to the bannister. Both of our guns are in there; mine’s in the second room on the left, and you’ll need to find Agent Mulder’s,” she tells him, trying to ignore the way that Mulder is winding his way around her, his free hand flat on her stomach and his other tightening on the axe. She nearly jumps out of her skin when she feels his lips press on her shoulder, nuzzling as if in comfort. “Mulder was injected with the compound, and I’m taking him home.” She tries to keep a steady tone, but she can feel her skin turning red with a combination of embarrassment and - god Mulder’s mouth is on her neck oh fuck - arousal. 

“You both need to go to the hospital-” Skinner begins, stepping forward with his hand stretched toward them, his eyes on her. 

This is a mistake. 

Mulder’s soft nuzzle disappears instantly as his arm tightens around her waist, spinning her so she’s pressed against his back. He brings her arm up, encouraging it to curl around his elbow. The axe rises menacingly, and Scully hears the click of safeties being flicked off as members of the SWAT team raise their own weapons. 

She fights to get in front of Mulder, but he doesn’t let her. She always forgets how strong he is, maybe because he’s never used it against her. “Put your weapons down!” She yells against his back, his muscles hard and pronounced from tension. One wrong move, and she knows that axe is going through someone’s head. Mulder would never forgive himself. “He’s sick - he’ll only attack if you don’t let us leave.”

Skinner’s voice comes through, serious and concerned. “Dana, are you sure?” His invocation of her given name is deliberate, and she can feel Mulder’s bicep tense up under her hand. 

It’s her instinct to yell, to take control, to get between Mulder and the guns. But she has to be smart, even if it hurts her. If the normal Mulder is overprotective when they face danger, then the drugged Mulder might act out in a way she can’t control. So she rubs Mulder’s arm, letting her head fall in the space between his shoulders. “Mulder… Mulder please, everything’s okay,” she soothes, stroking his arm. “Take me home,” she pleads. 

Mulder softens imperceptibly, but Scully can still feel the shift. He’s her partner, after all. “Let us through, Sir,” she says, trying to stay quiet and gentle to avoid antagonizing Mulder, but still with enough command and certainty that Skinner will actually do as she asks. 

She wishes she could meet Skinner’s gaze, reassure him with her eyes that everything is fine, but all she can see is the white fabric of Mulder’s shirt. 

“Let them through,” Skinner agrees, and she exhales. 

“Let’s go,” she tells Mulder, who carefully lowers his axe and brings her back in front of him, winding his long arm around her waist once more. If they hadn’t worked together for seven years, hadn’t already been experts at managing their distinct height difference while remaining close together and in step, she would probably have already fallen on her face with how he’s hovering. She keeps up a distracting, steady stream of soft murmurs, nonsensical nothings about possible traffic and take-out and visiting her mother next weekend, trying to ignore the tense, armed agents around them. He says nothing, but when she chances a glance back, his head is tilted as if he’s listening closely.  When they reach the car, he boxes her in as she climbs into the driver’s seat, taking his keys; she’s not sure he can drive in this state. 

Once she closes the door, he reluctantly peels himself from his position blocking the window, moving swiftly and cat-like around the vehicle to climb in beside her. She doesn’t waste a moment pulling out of the parking lot, not sparing a glance to the many FBI and DCPD personnel surrounding the area.

Mulder is silent on the drive, and Scully’s embarrassment only grows and grows. Not only is Mulder not himself, but now that they’re both safe, she’s struck by the fact that she’s not herself, and she hasn’t even been drugged. Playing the damsel in distress is not a role she enjoys; she knows that, Mulder knows that, though she knows it hurts him when she won’t allow him to comfort her. 

The truth is she’s afraid. Casting Mulder as someone who will lose respect for her if she allows herself to break in front of him is the only way she can make herself strong enough not to break in front of him. If she gives him her complete vulnerability, he’ll have the last piece of her that she’s keeping from him. He’ll own her, body and soul. Her life is already so wrapped up in him, in his desires, in his hopes and dreams. If he sees her at her worst, if he knows her completely, there will be no turning back for her. And if she loses him, she’ll lose herself.

God, if somehow, he’s different… if he remembers this… if he wants to talk about this… 

She shakes her head, putting that thought out of her mind. Get him home, she thinks instead. One crisis at a time. 

She takes them to his apartment, his home turf. She coaxes him into leaving the axe in the car, allowing him to press her into his side with an arm tight around her shoulders as they enter the building, ride up the elevator, and spill out into Mulder’s hallway. Thankfully, none of his neighbors are around. He is still silent, alarmingly so, as he covers her back, allowing her to reach into his pocket for his keys, crowding her against the door as she shakily unlocks his apartment. She feels more than sees him scoping out the other doors, the multiple points of entry, and as a result, his full body presses against her as a shield. 

The effects last for about five hours , she tells herself. Come on, Dana, you can make it four more hours.

The door unlocks, and she slips inside with him on her heels.  

He turns almost immediately, pushing her back so she is in the corner between his door and the right wall. “Stay,” he orders her, and though a part of her is furious, a deeper part understands this command of his more than anything else he’s said to her tonight. With their enemies, their apartments are not always as safe as they seem at first glance. So, taking a calming breath, she nods. 

He fixes her with a hard look, a brief peek into the Mulder that knows her, knows she hates to be told to stay behind, before creeping into the living room, the bedroom; she hears him yank back the shower curtain in the bathroom. After five minutes of him checking crevices and covering windows, he comes back for her. 

“Scully - hungry?” The words sound painful, and not for the first time, her heart goes out to him. She shakes her head, though her stomach betrays her instantly with almost comedic timing.

He looks very concerned for a long moment before his eyes begin to search their immediate area, alighting on a banana she left on the table for him two days ago. It’s browning a little, but he looks at it like it’s a treasure. Taking her by one hand with the banana in the other, he pulls her to the couch. 

She tries to sit a short distance from where he sprawls himself in the corner of the sofa, back to the fish tank, but with a disgruntled huff, he uses his superior strength to pull her onto his lap. “Mulder,” she protests, squirming, “Mulder, please, this is unnecessary, I can sit on my own-” 

“No,” he tells her firmly, but she doesn’t listen, continuing to struggle her way to freedom. His arm around her is unmoving as he spreads his legs, one planted on the floor and the other parallel along the back of the couch, making it so her hips drop between them. 

“Scully,” he complains, still hoarse and deep but there’s an element of exasperation and amusement to his invocation of her name that is so Mulder that she quits her struggle, giving up. He hums a thankful note, maneuvering her to lay on his chest. She doesn’t acknowledge the slight bulge against her hip. She can’t. 

Her body, of course, is in disagreement. A small knot grows in her low abdomen. It’s been years, and Mulder is… he is… 

Her train of thought is abruptly broken off by a small piece of banana suddenly at her lips, pressing gently. 

And, god help her, the opening of her mouth against his long, tapered fingers is automatic. 

He feeds her the whole banana, piece by piece, his other hand rubbing slow circles on her clothed stomach. She hates herself for how much she likes this: being surrounded by him, accepting his comfort and care knowing that she won’t have to face his questions in the morning. She can feel his breath on the back of her neck, hot and steady, and she fights the urge to sink into him completely the way he so clearly wants her to. 

After the banana is gone, he stands them both up, ushering her into the unused bedroom with a familiar palm on her low back. Shutting the door behind them, he undresses swiftly, seemingly uncaring about her presence. His shirt is the first to go, and she’s surprised when he hands it to her. She opens the closet, intending to drop it in the hamper, when he stops her. “No,” he says, thrusting it into her chest. “For you.” 

She blushes hard, retreating into the bathroom to change. He huffs at the distance, and when she tries to close the door, he’s there in an instant, banging it open. Then he fixes her with a chiding look before retreating a little. 

Knowing he’s probably watching, but unwilling to turn and prove her own suspicions, she changes faster than she ever has before. Throwing on his shirt - it’s not the cleanest, smells like his sweat, but she’s not going to fight him on this - just in time, he appears in the doorway, taking her elbow and guiding her to the bed. He’s wearing only his boxers, and she swallows hard. 

He tucks her into the bed, fussing over her positioning until she tells him gently that she is comfortable. Then he climbs in behind her, heavy enough that the mattress dips, sliding under the covers so his chest is pressing up against her back. He shoves an arm under her pillow, bending at the elbow to wrap it around her chest, pulling until her head tilts back into the space under his chin. Scully, tired of fighting him at every step, allows this. It reminds her of the first time he held her close, the first time she accepted comfort from him, and she closes her eyes and pretends this is merely that. Two colleagues, two friends, one seeking some platonic comfort from the other. They’re in the same pose, but reversed and lying down. She can handle that.

At least, she could until Mulder lets out a dissatisfied grunt, throwing his free arm and leg heavily over her body, spooning her so completely that she goes from feeling slightly warm to on fire. The position of his leg causes her to roll deeper into his body, slotting them together from head to hips. Every time he inhales, she can feel it in every part of her body. She’s just thankful that his head is above hers; she thinks if she felt his lips on her when they were lying like this, she’d have no choice to prove his theory that spontaneous human combustion is possible. All she wants, all her hindbrain is screaming at her, is to let herself melt into his embrace. But this is Mulder. 

Oh god, this is Mulder. There’s no way she’s going to sleep like this. 

“Sleep,” he orders, as if he’s reading her thoughts. After all they’ve been through together, she wouldn’t be surprised.  

She squirms back against him for a mere moment, trying to give herself a little more space, before she comes into contact with something hard.

Mulder hums behind her, thrusting forward almost lazily, like this is normal and expected and real. She gasps, a bolt of heat shooting up her spine; each vertebrae seems to have a mind of its own, forcing her to arch so that her shoulders and hips press harder against Mulder’s front. At her involuntary movement, he sighs louder, the palm of his left hand spreading across her low abdomen. She tries not to think about how much of her skin he covers with only one hand, forcing her own body to still completely. “Mmmm, Scully,” he murmurs, rolling his hips against hers. “Mine,” he growls, low and deep in his throat, and Scully can’t help the whimper that escapes her lips. 

The second victim flashes through her mind. She tears that image away from her brain as fast as possible. Mulder wouldn’t hurt her. She trusts him, even in this state. He’s taken care of her, fed her, protected her, tucked her into bed… 

He shifts his hips against her one more time, but it’s a gentle movement. He’s holding her down, he has full control, but god help her, Scully doesn’t feel trapped beneath him.  

No, she feels safe. God, she hates the way she feels so safe. She especially hates how much, deep down in the part of her that adores the way he protects her, feels territorial over her, trusts only her… she loves it. 

Still, she makes an effort not to respond to his advances. Sure enough, when she freezes against him, he hums one more time, ducking his head to press a dry kiss to the back of her neck. “S’fine,” he agrees at her stiffness, a faint rasp still echoing underneath his softer tone, because of course even Mulder at his most primal wants only as much as she wants. “Later,” he decides, warm and sleepy, and she both wants to laugh and cry at the certainty in his voice. If only Mulder was so certain about seducing her when he’s lucid. 

“Sleep,” he repeats, and however hot and sweaty and overwhelmed she feels, it’s far too easy to allow her body to relax in his arms. A wave of exhaustion comes over her and she sinks to sleep. 

 

-

 

When she wakes, light is streaming in through the windows, and he is gone - no, he is in the shower, she can hear it, he hasn't cut and run.

No, she thinks, that’s your move, isn’t it?

She makes for his closet, pulling out the go bag she keeps in there - he keeps a matching bag in her closet, and it’s always felt strangely intimate. Listening to confirm the continuing sound of the shower, she quickly sheds his shirt, reaching into her bag and feeling relieved she doesn’t have to choose between informal and formal dress: the only clothes in the bag are two pantsuits and pajamas. She chooses the dark blue pantsuit, dressing quickly. 

Mulder has already made coffee, and she sips at a cup before seating herself on his couch and waiting. The urge to leave is crippling, but she knows her best chance to show him nothing’s wrong is not to run off like a thief in the night. She can’t go through her other morning absolutions until Mulder leaves the bathroom. When she hears the shower shut off, she stands, moving back into the bedroom. 

Mulder steps out, a towel slung low on his hips. His gaze finds hers automatically, searching and affirming her presence. “Morning,” he says, gravelly and low, though she’s relieved to hear he is no longer struggling to get words out. She’s not so relieved at the return of his probing intellect, and she flinches at the way his eyes narrow and dart up and down her body, tracing her figure. She subconsciously straightens, tilting her chin up. 

“Good morning,” she says primly, wincing when he smirks at her professionalism. “May I-?”

He shrugs, moving slightly to the side. “Mi casa es su casa,” he teases, “you know where your toothbrush is.” 

Irritated at the way he makes it so she has to brush up against his half-naked body to get into the bathroom, she says nothing as she shuts the door behind her. She uses the bathroom and brushes her teeth with the brush he keeps for her, washes her face and spends a good five minutes staring at her reflection in the mirror. 

It’s just Mulder. You know how to handle Mulder. 

When she reenters the living room, she knows he’ll recognize the stoic look on her face and respond accordingly. But however much he teases and prods, this is a better move than leaving herself vulnerable to his emotional attack. She can take a few suggestive comments, but there’s no way he’ll get the full story out of her. 

Sure enough, he looks up from where he’s flipping through channels with the remote, grinning at her. “So Scully… couldn’t find any of my clean shirts last night?” He wiggles his eyebrows. “You know you’re welcome to any of my clothing, any time. No need to dig through the hamper.” 

She rolls her eyes, seating herself on the couch as far away from him as she possibly can without it being obvious. She picks up her mug, noticing that he’s refreshed her coffee so it’s hot and steaming. “I didn’t want to go through your things. One of the many common courtesies one partner owes to the other.” 

He makes a funny sound in his throat, eyes lazily drifting her way, though he’s still channel surfing. “Oh? And is full bed service another common courtesy you’re willing to offer? Not that I’m complaining,” he leers. 

She tries her best not to blush, but she’s not sure she’s all that successful. It hadn’t taken him long at all to get straight to the point. “Mulder!” She chastises, setting her mug down. “I had to get you, drugged and all, from that lab all the way back here last night to prevent you from doing harm to yourself or others. We still have no idea whether there are serious side effects to this drug, nor did I have any idea with what dosage Stephenson injected you. I had to be close to monitor your vitals.” 

“You can monitor my vitals any time, Scully,” he teases, though his smile flickers when she doesn’t respond in her usual way. Instead, she can’t help but look away from him, barely suppressing a flinch; she can feel his eyes cataloguing her every move.

After a long, assessing gaze, he drops this line of inquiry, and she relaxes ever so slightly. “Maybe you should be our token psychologist, Doctor Scully,” he says instead, “I should be reading your famous monographs.” 

“You’re saying you want to do more autopsies?” She deadpans, but she knows her slight smile betrays her. She takes a sip of coffee, hiding the smile beneath the rim of the mug.

He scrunches up his nose. “On second thought, it was my profile you used, wasn’t it? So technically…” 

She grins. “Sure, but I used it on you.” 

He smiles at her, innocent. “How’d you figure?” 

It’s in this exact moment that she realizes she’s been led into a trap. Token psychologist, indeed. 

She sets down her coffee, shifting as if to stand. “I should let you rest.” 

He stops her with an outstretched hand and a serious look that tells her she’s not leaving until he’s satisfied she won’t start avoiding him. “Scully, did I… is there something I…”  He pauses. “This morning…” 

She exhales. He’s not going to let this go. “Your profile was correct,” she says primly, determined to ignore any mention of the way he probably woke up with her in his arms this morning. “Violence, senseless or not, was not the primary target. You responded well when we arrived here, where you could…” she trails off. 

“Protect my territory?” He teases, gesturing lazily to his living room.

She blushes. “Precisely.” 

“But you stayed.” 

She sighs. “You were… protective.” 

He pins her with an unreadable gaze. “I suspected that might be the case,” he tells her. 

She tries to smile. “It’s okay, Mulder. You’ve always been that way about our work.”

“Our work?” He says, careful. 

“Of which I am an extension,” she clarifies. She half means it, half is offering him an out, a way to write off any awkwardness, any closeness, like they usually do. 

He’s not having it. He purses his lips, his eyes narrowing as he clenches his fist around the remote still in his hand. “You mean more to me than an extension of our work, Scully.” He spits out the word ‘extension’ like it disgusts him.

She’s not sure how to respond; they’re in uncharted waters. Usually he’d either take her out or offer up a joke, but this anger is unexpected. “I know that,” she says hurriedly, resisting the urge to lay a comforting hand on his forearm. She swallows a lump in her throat at the realization that she doesn't want to touch him. “It’s just - I know you can be protective of it - us,” she concedes, twisting her fingers together in her lap. “I merely wanted to assure you that I was not… reluctant to stay, to be here for you.” She inhales, sharp and shaky. “I’m just glad you’re alright,” she adds. There. That’s a partnerly sentiment. 

She manages to look up at him, wincing when she sees his expression. He’s not at all satisfied with any of this. “And you’re… alright,” he checks, a question that comes out as a statement.

She smiles for real this time. “Of course,” she assures him. She attempts a move back to levity: “if your attitude bothered me, I would’ve kicked your ass a long time ago.” 

He knows there’s something she’s not telling him, but he’s thankfully not pushing. She cringes at the thought that he’s withholding because he imagines some wrongdoing, but she’s paradoxically grateful for it. She’s not ready to address the way that he protected her, loomed over her…

The way, she must admit, that she slept better than she has in years trapped in his embrace.

“Okay,” he allows.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if she liked it. It’s inappropriate, he has no memory of it, and it will never happen again. 

He lets her leave, trying to shake the feeling that these omissions are more than her normal omissions, their normal dance around whatever-this-is-between-them. 

She doesn’t look back, trying to shake the feeling that, however much she wants this behind them, it’s not over. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

-

 

she is so small compared to him. 

the strange feeling that has encompassed him, cloudy and primal and instinctual, hums in satisfaction at the thought. she is so small that she fits just under his chin, as if she is meant to shadow him, be his shadow, a natural extension of his mind and body and soul and he doesn’t much care for the particulars as long as she stays just here, warm and safe and within his reach. 

she might fight the intimate contact, the sheer proximity, but he knows she’s drawn to him the same way he orbits her. her narrow shoulders are lined with tension, but it’s the easiest thing in the world to press his hand to her stomach and his lips to her neck, the vital parts of her he wants to take as his own. she needn’t bear a single burden, not when he can do it for her, not when he can press her underneath him until she comes apart, loose and pliant in his embrace, oh 

Scully-

 

-

 

Fox Mulder wakes with a gasp. 

He’s quite used to dreaming about Scully. Her lips on his, her body under his, on top of his, in the office, in the car, in one of their many motels. He dreams about cuddling her on his couch, gathering her up in an exuberant hug and swinging her around when she tells him it’s a miracle, I’m pregnant-

Okay, so sometimes his imagination gets carried away. The point: he wants the whole nine yards with his beautiful, logical FBI partner slash best friend. He decided a long time ago that the second she gives the signal, he’ll snap up whatever she’s willing to offer him. He hopes it will be everything. 

It’s been surprisingly easy to be patient. He knows he can be reckless, uncaring of regulations and timing and all those little things that can make or break the kind of lifelong relationship he wants with Scully. All the little things that he knows she’ll take into account before giving him an opening or - God help him - making a move herself. 

It takes one morning waking up with her in his arms, her small frame bundled in his shirt, for his patience to rapidly disintegrate. 

Just in time for Scully to make a tactical retreat from their friendship. 

She avoids him, but it's in the quiet, subtle way that makes him really panic. If Scully is angry, she lets him know: pursed lips, noisy door slams, leaving the office at 5pm on the dot in a flurry. He doesn’t mind this kind of avoidance more than the slight perturbation it causes. By that, he means it’s always uncomfortable to be at odds with his partner. He likes to know she’ll receive him at all hours, just in case he needs her for a case, needs her opinion on something, or maybe just needs to hear her voice in the middle of the night when he wakes up, panicked, terrified that she’s not in his immediate line of sight.

Still, the obvious avoidance only lasts for a few days at the most; it’s usually cleared up by a coffee and croissant from her favorite bakery that they both know is far out of his way in the morning, or in extreme cases, a bit of groveling. It’s okay because Scully is relatively fair; she’s only upset if he’s really messed up, and his ego happily stays out of the way when his screw ups are unmistakable. 

But this is not that, because Scully is trying not to let on just how much she doesn’t want to be around him. She forces herself through their usual banter, tight smiles taking the place of warm, hidden ones. She stays past 5pm, but she glances at the door every five minutes until he sighs and leaves first so she feels like she can go. Worst of all, she is fully receptive to his calls but ends them before he can work up the courage to invite her over.  

This strange avoidance is much worse because he’s never seen it before, and therefore he has no idea how to fix it. 

He tries apologizing, but she waves him off after turning an unfamiliar deep red. He gets her a special coffee and croissant three days in a row before she tells him that she’s going on a new diet. He even sends them on two cases where even he isn’t too sure about a paranormal element. They solve both in a few hours, shorter than the time it took them to travel to both locations, and Scully calls him on it immediately. 

“I don’t know what you’re doing,” she tells him, staring at a spot on his forehead, “but it needs to stop.” 

“What do you mean?” He asks, eager to draw her into conversation. 

“These cases were not worth our time, and you know it,” she says, cutting straight through his bullshit. He loves it, leans forward, his ass on the edge of his chair as his whole body betrays him. He’s eager to get through to her. He’s even more eager for her body to be in the orbit of his body; for all their connection is cerebral, there is also a latent, electric physicality to it. His body is aware of hers at all times, and he knows she feels the same. 

“Every one of these cases is worth our time,” he says loftily. “I would’ve thought you’d be happy to find the truth so quickly.” 

Scully doesn’t fight back. “Don’t,” she says softly, and his whole body slumps. “Mulder, I need-” She cuts herself off abruptly. 

“What?” He asks, sensing they are no longer speaking about the case. His tone drops, all traces of playfulness gone in an instant in hopes of getting some answers. “What do you need?” 

“I need you to leave this alone,” she says, meeting his eyes in a flash, her first moment of honesty in weeks. He’s taken aback by all the things he sees in her expression. Frustration, embarrassment… longing. 

He has to crack this. His whole life depends on it. 

 

-

 

he doesn’t know what he wants more: to cover her with his body, or to pull her atop him and bask in her warmth. he settles for arranging her on her side, snuggling up to her back. his breath heats up the back of her neck, remembers another time where he had laid his hand there as she turned her back to him, exposing her nape, vulnerable to his strength. he’s felt the heat of that moment for years now. he grips her with both hands, widening his fingers until they are splayed as far as they can go, digging his nails ever so slightly in the patch of skin between her sternum and clavicle. his other hand finds her hip bone, massaging her hip flexor until she hums. there is a moment of possessive pride when he thinks of just how much of her skin he can cover with only his hands. 

 

-

 

“Can I help you, Agent Mulder?” 

Mulder tears his gaze away from where Scully has just torn out of Skinner’s office like a bat out of hell, perturbed by the case they had just been assigned. Mulder, on the other hand, is thrilled at the idea of being volunteered for a stakeout because it guarantees him hours alone with his partner. Surely he can wear her down with her exits cut off. Of course, he wouldn’t put it past her to single-handedly solve this case in the next twenty-four hours to ensure the need to be with him in close quarters is rendered obsolete. 

“No, Sir,” he tells Skinner, standing with a sigh. 

Skinner leans forward in his chair, clasping his hands on his desk. “Are you sure, Mulder?”

Mulder pauses, turning back to face Skinner. “Actually, could I ask you a question about Scully?”  Skinner looks down at his hands for a long moment before nodding. “You were… there. When we caught Stephenson.” 

If anything, this clarification makes Skinner look even more nervous, clenching his jaw before nodding again. “Scully told me I acted… overprotective.” He hangs a soft question mark on the end of the statement, hoping that Skinner is in a sharing mood. 

Skinner huffs once, but Mulder can’t tell if it’s rooted in humor or frustration. Finally, he presses his hands on the desk, standing. “Agent Mulder… I saw you. You were far more than protective.” 

Mulder isn’t sure what answer he had been expecting, but it certainly isn’t that. “What was it, then?” He asks, trying to read Skinner’s expression and body language for any hints. 

But he just shakes his head once before looking Mulder straight in the eye. “Ask your partner,” he advises.

Mulder scoffs. “You’ve known Dana Scully about as long as I have, Sir.” He sees the reluctant agreement in Skinner’s eyes, and doesn’t feel the need to explain further. They both are intimately familiar with the difficulty of talking to Scully about things that make her uncomfortable or embarrassed. 

Skinner just shrugs. “It’s up to Scully, Mulder. It wasn’t easy for her… what happened,” he admits, and the hairs on Mulder’s arms stand on end. What wasn’t easy? “On this, I plan to follow her lead.”

Mulder glares at him and storms out. It’s times like these where Skinner’s soft spot for his partner is extremely inconvenient. 

 

-

 

Sure enough, Scully does two autopsies for the case they were meant to perform a stakeout for the next day, and when she drops the completed case file on his desk - because of course she cracked the case, of course - Mulder has had enough. As her hand retreats from where she placed the file, he reaches up and strikes, catching her wrist in his grip. 

“Mulder,” she begins, trying to tug her hand from his. 

“I’ll let you go,” he tells her, “but we need to talk. Now.” 

“No,” she bites back. “You can’t… bully me into-” 

He stands, letting go of her wrist, instead moving to subtly block the door. From the red color rising in her cheeks, he is nowhere near subtle enough. “Can’t I?” He says, raising his voice. “You’re driving me crazy, Scully! Something is obviously wrong, and you don’t trust me enough to tell me.” 

“It’s always about trust with you,” she retorts, moving to put their desk between them. She crosses her arms below her bust, and it’s a bit of a struggle not to allow his eyes to drop. She’s wearing one of his favorite suits today: deep maroon with a delicate, silk white top underneath. “I trust you, Mulder. But you’re not entitled to my personal thoughts. You’re not entitled to everything. If you’d just stop pushing, we could go back to normal.” 

But I want everything, he wants to say. I want more than normal. Better than normal. But he knows she’d kick him in the balls, or worse, retreat from him completely. He steps forward, pushing some files onto the floor so he can rest his palms on the other side of the desk, leaning toward her.  “Don't you see? I can’t, Scully. Every time I close my eyes, I remember… waking up with you. Not knowing how is killing me.” 

“I told you how,” she says. “I was worried about you. You weren’t yourself.” 

He’s almost offended that she thinks she can get away with such a half-assed explanation. “Why were you wearing my shirt that morning?” He accuses, blunt and sharp all at once. 

He has to hold back a smirk when her eyes widen, when she sputters in response. Gotcha. “I told you - I didn’t want to go through your things-”

He scoffs. “That’s a lie, Scully.” 

“Mulder-”

“If you’re lying to me, you’re working against me.” 

She rolls her eyes. “Dammit, Mulder, this isn’t about work or trust or anything where I owe you an explanation. There’s no great truth here.”

“Isn’t there?” He says, leaning forward, his eyes alight with mischief. He tamps down on the soft waves of arousal that arise when she swallows hard in response. “I think there is. I think it might be the greatest truth ever discovered in this little office of ours.” 

“What do you want me to say?” Scully says, heated now. “That I was wearing your shirt because I wanted to? Because I almost lost you and I was scared?” 

Mulder’s heart rises to his throat, and a small smile begins to spread across his face.

“What about that you forced it into my hands and watched me change into it?” 

His smile falters as a bolt of icy horror travels up his spine.   “Scully, I - I would never -”

“Well, you did, Mulder,” she interrupts. She’s not looking at him, but he can see tears burning in the corners of her eyes and a red flush spread across her cheekbones. He wishes he could feel heat, even if it’s the heat of embarrassment. Instead, he’s frozen. “And you know what else?” She continues, speaking around a lump in her throat. “I let you.” 

He stumbles back at that revelation, and she takes the opportunity to dart around the desk and out the door, leaving her coat and purse. He can hardly breathe.

That’s what this is. She’s afraid of him. 

He’s made her afraid. 

 

-

 

He contemplates a few things that afternoon. He tries to imagine what this basement office would look like without a partner. He stares at Scully’s area, mentally removing her things until his eyes water and his knuckles hurt from the tight fists he presses into the armrests of his chair. Because if Scully fears him… truly… she won’t stay. She’ll leave him.

Nausea clogs his throat and airways, choking him. Scully. Gone. The words trigger something in him, something horrible that has taken hold of him every time she has been stolen from him. The slight comfort that he knows she’s not in immediate danger is cancelled out by the fact that, this time, she will be gone of her own volition. 

God, no wonder she left. He’s such a selfish bastard that for the briefest moment, he imagines it would be better for her to be in danger than just gone because she hates him. He doesn’t deserve her. 

Sure, Scully hasn’t acted afraid of him the past few weeks. Nervous and uncertain and sometimes cold, but he hasn’t read that white hot fear in her eyes that blazes out at him in his worst nightmares. Then again, he’s proven before that he’s not always the best at reading Scully. Every time he’s certain she could do nothing to surprise him, she reminds him that he could spend the rest of his life figuring out Dana Scully. 

Could? He scoffs at the thought. He’s going to spend the rest of his life figuring out Scully. He’d just prefer to do it at her side, in her bed, in their home - a dream that’s growing less and less likely. 

He really thought they were inevitable. No, he knows they were. Now he’s ruined it all. 

He goes through the rest of the day in absent motion, deciding after staring at the ceiling for six hours that his only recourse is to beg her forgiveness and do his level best to earn it, even if that means supporting her if she needs to report him. Whatever it means as long as she doesn’t leave him permanently. He spends three of those six hours with her coat in his lap, stroking the fabric like he’ll never get to stroke her skin. He stops short of bringing said coat to his nose, trying to inhale as much of her scent as possible. He doesn’t deserve to have that soft, strawberry aroma floating around in his head, blocking out the destructive thoughts that clamor for attention. 

He’s selfish enough to beg her to stay, but he loves her enough that he’ll respect her wishes. Even if it means that he loses everything. 

The living room lights are on when he parks his car outside her building; he tightens his hands on the steering wheel for a painful five seconds, releasing it and exiting the car before he chickens out. He grabs her purse and coat and makes for her door, suppressing the urge to run a staying hand through his hair or straighten his coat. He comes to her as he is, as he always does. 

Scully is still dressed when she answers the door, but her makeup has been wiped off and her eyes are faintly red. He swallows hard at the implication that she’s been crying. Her suit jacket is hanging over the back of the couch, uncharacteristically not tucked away in her closet. Her eyes don’t meet his, but she does take her things from his loose grip, draping them over the kitchen chair. She leaves the door wide open, so he takes the implied invitation and walks a few paces inside his favorite location in the world, shutting the door gently behind him. 

He eyes her quietly for a moment until she turns to face him, his hands at his sides, palms forward. He is torn between supplication and taking her into his arms, and this is the middle ground. “You should report me,” he says finally. “I-”

“No, Mulder,” She says, emphatic, her eyes wide with honesty, and he’s overcome with sheer relief that at least she isn’t looking at him with betrayal and horror. “You didn’t have any control over your actions.” She pauses, the passion with which she tried to exonerate him fading. “Can’t we just-” 

He’s afraid to push her, but he won’t let her walk away until they’ve fixed this. He refuses to live in the world they’ve inhabited the past few weeks. “I’m sorry I hurt you,” he interrupts, cutting off her plea to leave this alone. “You have to know… you’re the one person in the world I never want to hurt.” 

She sighs, padding back into the kitchen. “Would you like some coffee?” He shakes his head, and she purses her lips. He trails her into the kitchen, watching as she puts the kettle on. Her back is to him, and he keeps his distance, leaning against the counter and watching her. Finally, she turns back to him, though she keeps her eyes at a distant point behind him. “You didn’t hurt me,” she says, like that admittance should be the end of it. 

He scoffs. “You didn’t feel like you could turn me away!” He resists the impulse to pound his fist on the countertop, throw up his hands, anything to deal with the sickly sensation that he might’ve put his hands on her without her permission. From his dreams, he knows he enjoyed it regardless of consent, and it makes him want to throw up. 

She shakes her head. “That’s not it,” she says, turning to pull a mug out of the cabinet.

“Then what is it, Scully?” He pushes.  

A long pause, then: “I felt weak,” she whispers. 

Mulder feels dizzy. “I made you… weak?” 

“No, Mulder, I can’t let you think -” She stops, thinks, as she turns to fix her coffee. He stares at her profile, hoping her face will give him the answers she won’t. “You were practically docile,” she confesses, a strange light in her eyes. A faint blush spreads across her high cheekbones. “Of course I was slightly uncomfortable, but you didn’t make me do anything. You stopped when I asked you to.”

“Stopped what?” He asks, quiet and low. 

She clutches the mug like it’s a lifeline. “Oh, um, when we were in bed, you were behind me and you… you.”

Oh. Oh. “We did that and I can’t even remember?” He blurts, kicking himself at the words that spill from his mouth. 

“Mulder, the point is that you thought I was in danger, and you reacted. But it was in front of our colleagues, and Skinner, and I’m not comfortable with that.”

She exits the kitchen, and he follows closely. “And when we got home?” It all feels a bit like he’s interrogating a suspect, but it’s not his fault the truth needs to be dragged out of her. 

She stops by the coffee table, looking truly confused for the first time tonight. “What do you mean?” 

He ignores her gesture for him to sit; he won’t pretend this is like the normal conversations they have at opposite ends of her couch. His refusal to comply off-balances her, and she leans over to deposit her mug on the coffee table. Then, just like he anticipated, she straightens and faces him head on. That’s his Scully. 

He stops at the arm of the couch, allowing her a few feet of distance. “Scully,” he entreats, shoving his hands into his pockets. He pins her with puppy dog eyes, and he can tell from the way she purses her lips that she’s doing her best to resist him. “Look - I recognize how hard you work to make sure no one in the FBI sees you as...  lesser. But it’s me, Scully. I would never treat you differently.”

“It’s not you, it’s me!” He raises an eyebrow at the cliche, and she closes her eyes briefly, trying to gather herself. Flustered Scully is such a rare creature, and he drinks her in. “You were… you…” She blushes again, and in a brief moment of clarity, the world grinds to a halt. The embarrassment, the careful avoidance, the dance she’s doing to keep him from the truth - it only adds up in one way. 

She isn’t angry that he did these things. She’s angry that she liked it. 

“Scully,” he whispers, leaning in her direction. He can’t help it; his whole body warms with hope. “I don’t remember it, but I’ve dreamt… I think I’ve dreamt about it.” He catches her eye. “And Scully, it felt so good to hold you.” She turns bright red, and a smirk steals across his face. “I know.” He doesn’t recognize the sound of his own voice, cajoling and careful and anticipatory. “I liked it too.” He holds his breath and waits. 

She doesn’t burst in anger at his presumption like he fears, but she also doesn’t jump into his arms like he wants. Well, he can admit that would’ve been a bit of a stretch. “I don’t like… needing people,” she admits, slow and quiet, like the mere admittance hurts her. She doesn’t say it like it’s a revelation. She knows he knows this. He’d be the worst profiler, the worst best friend, the worst man-in-love if he didn’t know this about her.

He studies her for a long moment. “I like the idea of you needing me.” He pauses, letting his words sink in until he realizes he wants to take it a step further. “No, Scully, that’s - it’s more than that. I think I need you to need me.” 

Scully exhales. “Mulder…” 

“No, Scully, let me-” He sucks in a breath. “You let yourself rely on me. Do you know how many times you’ve allowed me to hold you? I can count them on my fingers. And they were the best moments of my life. Not because you were hurt, or scared, but because you’re only vulnerable with me when you’re hurt or scared.” 

“I always tell you the truth,” she argues, eyes darting to the mug, clearly wanting a distraction. In lieu of something to hold, her arms fold across her chest. The resigned look in her eyes tells him that she knows he’s reading her body language like a cartographer reads a map. 

He laughs helplessly, shaking his head. “Sure, with work. But not about you .” He pauses here, taking one step back. Briefly, he allows himself to recognize that he’s placing himself closer and closer to her bedroom, even as Scully herself is physically further away. 

He suppresses a smile at her wide eyes, knowing she expected him to go on the offensive. Well, he’s not a caveman anymore. He’s an FBI agent, a renowned profiler and psychologist, and most important of all, he’s Dana Scully’s best friend. All the protective instincts in the world aren’t enough to seal the deal, but he thinks he might be. “You’ve been my best friend, my partner, for years. There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do for you. Be for you.” He gives her a meaningful look, and she inhales sharply. Yeah, Scully. Back down now. I dare you. “But if you can’t let yourself need me, then I should leave. We can pretend this conversation never happened.” 

There is a long silence; something unfamiliar working behind Scully’s eyes. “I did show you,” she barely whispers. 

He tries to tamp down on his frustration and anger, but it still leaks into his voice. “I don’t remember it! God, don’t you think I want it all to come back to me?” He rubs a hand across his face, trying to hide his excessive reaction at the idea of a night in Scully’s arms. It’s been what he’s wanted for so long that the knowledge he had it and can’t remember is actually painful. She’d be so soft. So warm. “I spent a whole night holding your body against mine, and I only remember waking up,” he says, torn on whether he hopes she picks up on the traces of arousal in his voice. “According to Skinner’s face, I must’ve done even more than that in front of the FBI and DCPD!”

“Don’t remind me,” Scully mutters, and she’s adorable but he can’t allow himself to melt now. 

“Give me that opportunity again and I won’t let you down.” He lowers his tone, making it soft and rumbly, relishing in her involuntary shiver. “Scully, you know we’d be so good.” 

She visibly swallows. It’s a little indecent how long it takes for him to tear his gaze from her throat back to her eyes. “For how long?”

His eyes search hers for a long moment, reveling in the way she stares back, right into the very heart of him. There’s no hiding anymore. Not for him. “Forever,” he swears, and his heart thumps hard when she barely blinks. “If you’ll have me.” 

Scully inhales sharply, her arms dropping from their folded posture. Her mouth is moving silently, and he cheers her on in his head. “Mulder… I do need you.” She says it with her eyes closed, her body tense, and he knows she’s preparing for him to stomp over there and take her as his. 

Nope.

“Prove it.” 

Her eyes crack open. “What?”

He opens his arms, arching his eyebrows. “You heard me. Prove it.” 

She hesitates, like he knew she would. And if it were anyone other than Scully, he would be afraid. Would feel unadulterated terror at not only putting himself out there this way, but also demanding more than an answer. Demanding a choice. One that can’t later be written off when their world falls off its axis, as it so often does. He should be paralyzed. 

But this is Scully. The first person to ever hold him and not hurt him. He trusts her with everything he is. His life. His heart. Jesus, she’s held his heart for years now; it’s only right that she knows it.  

So really, standing here with all his cards on the table, Mulder feels at peace. 

Scully rocks back on her heels, just barely - if he were not a trained investigator, he wouldn’t have noticed a thing. 

But then she takes a step in his direction. 

He resists the urge to tease her, to press her forward with his words, knowing he’s perfectly capable of silencing the mental calculus performing gymnastics in her head. No, he forces himself to stillness, arms and expression open, easily vulnerable. 

He needn’t have worried. Scully’s first step is her hardest. Then her hands twitch. Then a step. Then two more. Then he gets a whiff of her sweet perfume as she collides with his chest, one hand clutching the front of his shirt and the other winding around his waist. 

In return, he happily folds his body around hers, enveloping her against him until the only visible part of her is the bright auburn of her hair. “See,” he rumbles, trying to ignore the jolt of arousal her clear admission has inspired in him. Nothing, nothing in his life has ever felt as good as Scully choosing him with arms and eyes open. “Nothing to it,” he adds lightly, like this hasn’t come at the end of weeks of angst and pain.  

She shakes, laughs wetly against his chest. He’d be worried if she wasn’t clutching him so tightly. “It’s just a hug, Mulder.” 

He is almost angry until the tease in her tone registers. “And on the bed the other week?” He can be playful too. “Was that just a hug?” He asks, mouthing very different words against her hair. I love you I love you thank you for choosing me choosing us I love you. 

“Mmm,” she hums, unaware of the praises he is singing into her hair, curling against him like a contented kitten. “No. You made it very clear you were coming onto me. After feeding me a banana.” 

He huffs out a laugh against her, loving the way her body melts even more into his in every passing moment. That is not a confession he had expected. “Sounds sexy,” he says, fighting the urge to go get another banana from the kitchen. He wonders if she’d be interested in a do-over. He’d love to lie Scully down, drape her across the bed, and feed her all sorts of food. Bananas, oysters, chocolate-covered strawberries; hell, just chocolate syrup…

He clears his throat, shaking away that train of thought. Scully has all but admitted her feelings for him. He should be able to prove to her that he has more than one thing on his mind. Even if that one thing has been years overdue. 

She shifts against him, brushing very purposefully against a certain part of his body. Okay, maybe waiting isn’t in her cards either. “In the interest of… disclosure,” she replies, low and warm, “it was actually very thoughtful. Even in that state, my needs mattered.” 

“Your needs always matter, Scully,” he tells her, serious for a moment. “So we spooned, freaked out Skinner and the DCPD, and I fed you a banana. Anything else I should know?” He murmurs against her hair.

She burrows closer to him, a sure sign he’s onto something. “Scully?”

“You, well, you called me yours.” 

He suppresses his gut instinct immediately. Aren’t you? He thinks helplessly, challenging words that he knows he can’t speak. Aren’t you mine, Scully? Who else could you ever belong to?

Who else could I ever belong to? 

“And how did that make you feel?” 

“Mulder…” 

The hug has been enough, he figures. It’s his turn. “Did it make you feel good, Scully?” He says lowly. “Did you like it?” 

“Mulder,” she warns again. 

He pulls back, taking one hand away from her low back to tilt her chin up. Her eyes are a deep emerald green, darker than he’s ever seen them, and the involuntary moan that escapes his lips is a little embarrassing. “This is your show, Scully,” he tells her. She nods, and a spark of understanding jumps between them. She knows he’ll stop if she’s uncomfortable. 

Okay then. Time to have some fun. 

He tilts her chin up a little more, bending over until their foreheads meet. Scully’s shoulders hitch as she takes a deep breath, and he grins. “You don’t have to tell me, you know,” he says, dragging his nose along hers. God, her skin is so soft, he thinks, as his other hand finds the bare skin between her skirt and pants.“You don’t have to tell me what you like,” he adds, soft and intense, “I know.” 

Her breath hitches, but she still makes an effort to regain the upper hand. “If I’m such an open book,” she retaliates, “why did it take being drugged by a serial killer for you to come onto me?” 

“Good question,” he says, releasing her chin and tucking her further into his body. “Better question: did you like it when I called you mine?” 

She lets out a soft sound that is somewhere between protest and surrender. He drops his hands to her hips and pulls her up and closer, dropping open mouthed kisses along her hairline. “I get it, Scully,” he breathes, pressing his thumbs into her waist to anchor them both. “I’ve asked a lot from you tonight. Let me take the driver’s seat, hm?” He hums against the skin of her temple, hands tightening on her hips when she lets out a soft, involuntary moan. 

“I know you liked it, honey,” he whispers, answering his own question as he trails kisses down her face and to the right. “Because it’s true,” he rasps directly in her ear. 

Then she moans his name, and suddenly his hands are on her ass and he’s hoisting her into his arms and her fingers are raking through his hair and his tongue is inside her mouth and he’s in a place that must be better than Heaven because Scully’s mouth on his is divinity. Her body beneath his hands is holy. 

“No. One. Owns. Me,” she struggles to say between wet kisses. 

He spins and presses her against the wall, pulling back so they’re panting into each other's mouths. “Oh Scully,” he breathes. This is important. “We belong to each other,” he says fiercely. “We need each other. That doesn’t make you weak; it makes us strong.” 

She whimpers at that, eyes glassy with affectionate tears as she presses soft kisses to his face, petting his hair and stroking his shoulders. He happily allows this, content to put the growing heat in the pit in his stomach on hold while she showers him with the kind of love he hasn’t seen in decades. The kind of eternal love between two people pursuing life as one. 

He barely notices the tears running down his cheeks until she stops them with her kisses, and oh, it’s time, he can’t hold back any longer:

“I love you, Scully.” She gasps, meeting his eyes. “It’s not the kind of love that goes away, or wavers, or sours. You’re it for me.” His voice fades as she stares at him in shock. “I just… thought you should know.” 

“Oh Mulder,” she murmurs before kissing him again.

He nips at her lower lip. “You’re the strongest person I know.” He waits for her to nod. “But…” 

“But…?” She presses, giggling when he peels them off the wall and stumbles into her bedroom. 

He thinks Scully’s delirious-with-happiness giggles are actually making him harder than anything else has in his entire life. He wonders if that’s the sort of half inappropriate, half sappy thing she wants to hear, deciding to hold off until he really needs to earn some points. He deposits her onto the bed, stripping off his jacket and belt as she watches with hungry eyes. “I’m going to turn that brilliant mind off for a while,” he announces, rolling up his sleeves, waiting for her to reach the last button on her shirt before helping her tug it down and off her arms. 

She smirks up at him, rolling her shoulders back. His vision is filled with white lace, a far cry from the cotton bra of that night so long ago in Oregon. “And how…” she begins, low and sultry, looking up at him from underneath her eyelashes. 

He doesn’t let her finish, moving quickly to press her hands above her head and circle her wrists together in one hand. He runs the other down her body, relishing in her soft, frequent gasps. She’s tiny underneath him, hot and yielding. It might be vaguely unseemly, but he likes the way it makes him feel, like she’s his woman, along with all of the civilized love and affection and respect and awe pouring out of him. From her wide, dark eyes, he knows he’s hit the mark with her too. 

He trails kisses down her body, undoing her slacks with his free hand. “Like this.” He murmurs his reply into the skin just below her navel. He chances one last look up at her eyes, wide and dark with anticipation and arousal, before releasing her hands and pressing her hips to the bed to keep her still. 

Then, to a chorus of whimpers and pleas and moans of his name, he sets about making her forget there’s anything left in the world but them two.

 

-

 

Skinner receives a two sentence email on Monday morning excusing both Mulder and Scully from work. It’s devoid of Scully’s thorough explanations, Mulder waxing poetic. Nothing more than a line about catching something from each other, and a request for the week off to recover. 

He grants it; they both have enough time saved for a month off. The X-Files will stand for a week, and if he’s reading the situation correctly, he’s not sure he wants them back until they can control themselves in the office. 

God knows, if he were Fox Mulder, he’d want everyone to know Dana Scully is unavailable - if it were ever in doubt. 

“Lucky bastard,” he mutters, but he smiles nonetheless.

About time.