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Only One Choice, Part One

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“Time passes in moments ... moments which, rushing past, define the path of a life just as surely as they lead towards its end. How rarely do we stop to examine that path, to see the reasons why all things happen, to consider whether the path we take in life is our own making or simply one into which we drift with eyes closed.”

May 1996


Yellow beams of light slip through the blinds, casting stripes across the comforter draped over her hip. She rolls onto her back, pulling in a deep breath as she flexes her wrists and ankles, waking her joints from a deep, dreamless sleep. An arm snakes across her belly, tugging her close as sleep-warm breath tickles her ear. 


“Good morning,” Ethan croons, his voice creaky from lack of use. 


She rolls to her other side, facing him. 


“Morning,” she returns with a soft smile. 


“What time is it?” he asks, his eyes blinking sleepily, threatening to close again. 


“Early. I have three autopsies today on top of four classes; I need to get a head start. You should go back to sleep,” she says quietly, brushing her fingers across his bare back comfortingly. 


He allows his eyes to fall closed and she watches him for a moment. His chocolate brown hair could use a trim, though he’s always preferred to wear it a little long to offset his thick, square eyebrows. She traces a finger along his jaw, landing on the cleft of his chin before considering the deep Cupid’s bow of his lip. She wonders if she has enough time to kiss him in that way that he knows means business. 


“I’m gonna get up and make you breakfast,” he grumbles, apparently not sleeping at all. 


“No, I’ll grab a muffin at work or something, it’s okay,” she implores. 


He pushes up onto his elbow with a soft groan, leaning over to kiss the skin in front of her ear. 


“You’re so full of shit, Dana. If I don’t force you to eat breakfast you’ll starve ‘til lunch and you know it,” he says as he gives her a playfully stern look. 


She twists her mouth into a suppressed smirk. Guilty as charged. 


He makes her eggs and toast while she showers and gets ready for her day, packing clothes for the time she’ll spend in the morgue as well as the classroom. They’ve talked about moving closer to Quantico to shorten her commute, but Ethan is only ten minutes from work so then it would just be him schlepping an hour to and from Georgetown every day. When they’re ready to settle down and start a family, they’ll need to figure something out. For now, it works. 


She eats quickly as Ethan studies her over his coffee cup with small, deep-set blue eyes, his expression soft and affectionate.


“What?” she asks around a mouthful of eggs, her eyebrows furrowed.


He shrugs and smirks at her. “Nothin’.”


She dips her chin and glares at him from underneath her eyelashes. “Ethan,” she says in a chastising tone. 


He shrugs again and laughs. “Can’t a man just gaze at his girlfriend over breakfast? You’re beautiful, I’m just taking in the view.”


She rolls her eyes and unsuccessfully tries to suppress a smile. “I gotta get going, thanks for breakfast,” she says as she stands and leans down to kiss him quickly on the mouth. He sets his cup down and grips her by the hips, pulling her to stand between his knees. She rests her palms on his shoulders and looks down at him expectantly. 


“Have a good day,” he says softly. 


She leans down again and kisses him more properly, wishes him a good day as well, and drives south. 



The blaring shriek of the alarm clock startles him awake, though it feels like he just fell asleep moments ago. After a few unsuccessful attempts he silences it with a forceful jab, then sits up with a groan. A fluffy black cat with a bob tail leaps up onto the bed, greeting him with a kitten-like mewl. 


“Good Morning, Priscilla, you hungry?” he asks as he scratches the cat behind its ears, smiling sleepily at the rumbling purrs that immediately start rattling her rib cage. 


Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he makes his way to the kitchen where he pours a quarter cup of dry food into a bowl on the floor, then starts the coffee. He opens and closes cupboards and drawers, procuring a cup, sugar, and a spoon. 


Every time he has to get into a drawer, cabinet, or cupboard, their sparse contents remind him of Valerie. Nearly a year later and he’s still living off the 3 spoons, 2 forks and one knife she left behind, and that’s just the silverware drawer. He doesn’t remember his apartment feeling this empty before she moved in, but now that she’s gone it seems like there’s a Valerie-sized hole everywhere he looks. As amicable and mutually desired as their split had been, it’s been hard to adjust to living alone again. Well, not entirely alone, given that he retained Priscilla in the breakup. She made it a bit easier to move forward after he and Valerie both admitted that while they cared for each other greatly, it wasn’t the kind of love that made you want to grow old on a porch swing together. They may have been best friends, but soulmates they most certainly were not. 


He’s grateful to have had her in his life for the time he did. When The X Files were shut down, he wouldn’t have made it through the transition back to the BSU without her patient support, much less her agreement to store the case files he was able to pilfer in their shared apartment. He may not love his job anymore, but it keeps the bills paid and he needs that kind of stability in his life. If it weren’t for Valerie, he probably would have just quit the FBI and gone to work with the Gunmen. 


He showers and shaves, consumes two cups of coffee and half an English muffin, then dresses in a charcoal grey suit and red tie. On his way to the door, Priscilla nearly trips him as she weaves through his legs, begging for affection. He stops and crouches down to pet her, and she flops onto her side, closing her eyes in satisfaction. 


“I’ll be back later, Prissy Girl,“ he promises, scratching her belly until she gets a wild look in her eye and clamps her pointy claws into the back of his hand. 


“Ouch!” he says with a laugh. “You’re not much different than a human woman, Prissy. You don’t know what you want, do you?” She looks at him with alarm as he withdraws his hand, emitting a meow in protest. 


He pats Priscilla on the head and locks the door behind him, driving into Washington for another glorious day of looking into the minds of murderers. 


Chapter Text

The Hoover building is still quiet at 8 am; weary agents are sipping their second cup of coffee and wrapping their brains around the task of the day. Studying the minds of murderers, rapists and sadistic torturers is enough to spoil anyone’s breakfast, and yet they approach it clinically, objectively. The reward of knowing that you helped take a monster off the streets is barely enough to keep them going, but they do. Maybe even more than that, they live with the guilt of knowing that if they stopped, it might mean one more murdered child or assaulted woman. One more man found floating in the river. So they get up every day and do it again. 


Mulder stops by A.D. Kirkbride’s office to say good morning and finds the man angrily shoving the phone back on its cradle with a plasticky crack. 


“Morning, sir. Going great so far I gather?” he quips from his spot in the doorframe. 


A.D. Kirkbride scoffs, running a hand through his short cropped sandy-blonde hair. Diminutive in stature, Kirkbride is someone to be taken seriously. His pointed features and gold-rimmed glasses convey the gravity of the work they do here each day in his ever-present frown. 


“These goddamn worthless couriers are on my last fucking nerve,” he laments, gathering the papers on his desk into one pile with jerky, frustrated movements. “This is the third goddamn time one of them has no-showed. We need that autopsy report from Quantico today, and because this worthless fucking courier decided to get the flu or something, we have to send an agent down there to get it.” He sighs and sits back in his chair, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Can you send Agent Wilkes in here, please, so I can let him know he has to waste two fucking hours of his day driving down there?”


Mulder shrugs. “I can go get it, I haven’t even started on the Marino file yet. It’s a nice day for a drive.”


Kirkbride eyes him skeptically. “You’re a senior agent, Mulder. You’ve earned the right not to be the bitch-boy.”


Mulder laughs good-naturedly. “I appreciate that, sir, but I really don’t mind. I just got the new Radiohead cassette, it’ll give me a chance to listen to it.”


Kirkbride nods and puts his glasses back on. “I guess it’s Wilkes’ lucky day, then. It’s the autopsy report for the Dugan file, you should be able to get it from the pathologist on duty. And don’t fuck around, we need it ASAP.”


Mulder puts a hand to his chest and makes a mock-wounded face. “Me? Fuck around? I would never, sir.”


Kirkbride shakes his head with a smirk and turns back to his computer. “Get the fuck out of here, Mulder.”


It’s a beautiful late-Spring day and Mulder really does appreciate the opportunity to take a drive to Quantico, even during the morning rush hour. Removing his suit jacket and loosening his tie, he pops in the cassette and merges onto I-395 South as Thom Yorke sings Paranoid Android


Ninety minutes later, he’s parked near the morgue; having worked out of Quantico for years before securing a spot on the small team of criminal behavioral analysts who operate out of the Hoover building, he knows his way around. He first pokes his head into the office the pathologists share and, finding it empty, he moves on to the autopsy bay. The slabs are all clean and free from corpses, which is a relief. As many crime scene photos as he’s seen, the live version always gives him the creeps. A young woman in blue scrubs is perched on a stool with her back to him, filling out a form by hand. He approaches her, speaking when he’s still several feet away so he doesn’t startle her. 


“Excuse me, I’m looking for the pathologist on duty,” he says, and she swivels on her seat, her shoulder length auburn hair swinging gently with the motion. 


When she turns to face him, he’s momentarily struck by how pretty she is. Her red hair is complemented by ivory skin, a light dusting of freckles across the bridge of her Grecian nose. Her eyes are a brilliant shade of blue, not unlike the morning sky he’d enjoyed on his drive down. 


“I’m the pathologist on duty, how can I help you, Mr.-” she looks at him expectantly. 


“Mulder, Agent Mulder,” he replies, stepping forward to offer his hand. 


“How can I help you, Agent Mulder?” she asks, taking his hand with a firm, confident grip, though her palm is dwarfed by his own broad paw.  


“I’ve been tasked with picking up the Dugan autopsy report. Seems like there was a snafu with the courier,” he offers, stuffing his hands in his pockets in an attempt to act casual. 


She stands, and he’s again struck, but this time by how short she is, barely reaching his shoulder in her sneakers. “That’s an odd task for an agent, isn’t it?” she says as she moves to a small filing cabinet and rifles through its contents. 


He moves to stand beside her, leaning against the wall. “I suppose so, but I don’t mind. Nice to take a break from profiling sociopaths now and then.” He feels his heart do a little leap at the small smile that quirks at the corner of her mouth in response. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” he continues. 


She turns to him, holding out a file. “I didn’t give it,” she says dryly. “It’s Dana Scully. I did this autopsy myself, actually, and I’d be interested to know what you make of it.”


He opens the file and leafs through its contents as she returns to her post on the stool, picking up her pen. She appears to see this conversation as concluded, but he doesn’t feel ready for it to end just yet. 


“Ah, yes, I’ve heard a bit about this case, though it’s not one I’m assigned to. What interests you about it?” he asks as he follows her back to where she’s sat down, taking the stool beside her without invitation. She quirks an eyebrow at him, but doesn’t say anything about it. 


“My findings indicate that though there is only one entry point for the stab wound, there were at least 15 distinct entries into that same location, which would suggest that the assailant stabbed him in nearly the exact same location repeatedly. I suppose I’m wondering what would possess someone to do that.”


He watches her speak with rapt attention, transfixed by the soft, sibilant S’s that pour from her pouty mouth. 


“Hey Scully, do you know of any good coffee places around here?” he asks hopefully, completely changing the subject. 


She gives him a curiously incredulous look. “Scully is my last name, my first name is Dana,” she answers. 


He studies her for a moment, then shakes his head slowly. “You don’t look like a Dana,” he finally says. 


Her eyebrows lift and he can see that she’s fighting back a smile. “Really? What do I look like then?”


“A Scully,” he says plainly, and his heart fills to bursting at the wry smile he gets in response. 


She shakes her head and turns back to the form she was filling out. “There’s a place called Cafe Adamo a few minutes away that’s pretty good,” she answers his question. 


“Great, are you free now?” he asks, forcing a calm demeanor even as his palms are becoming clammy. 


She snaps her head up from the form to look at him with an open-mouthed expression of surprise, and he sees a bit of panic in her eyes. Not a good sign. 


“Oh,” she stammers, “I’m sorry, Agent Mulder, I have a boyfriend.” Her cheeks are reddening in a devastatingly cute way. 


He keeps his expression neutral, and can’t resist messing with her a little. 


“I just meant as colleagues, Scully, to discuss the file,” he says matter-of-factly.


If she was blushing before, she’s morphing into a tomato now. She closes her eyes briefly and takes a breath. “I-I am so sorry, Agent Mulder, that was very presumptuous.”


He smiles broadly, no longer able to contain how much fun he’s having with this exchange. 


“I’m just messing with you, Scully. I was definitely asking you out,” he admits, and her eyes go big before she deflates a little with relief, biting her lip and looking away with a soft smile on her mouth. “Thank you for this,” he says, holding up the file. “I’ll get out of your hair.” 


He stands and moves to the door, stopping just before he exits. “Say hi to that boyfriend of yours for me,” he adds, “he’s a lucky guy.” 


She blushes again and he takes a moment to soak up the image before he returns to his car. Tossing the file onto the passenger seat, he flips the cassette to side B and hits the road back up to Washington, finding that he can’t seem to get his mouth to stop smiling. 



She slumps through the door at half-past six, dead on her feet. 


“Hey,” Ethan calls from in front of the stove, “dinner will be about twenty minutes, if you want to take a shower.”


He knows that she always likes to shower when she’s performed autopsies, not wanting the stink of the morgue to find its way onto any of their furniture. 


“Thank you,” she replies, toeing off her shoes and stopping by to give him a quick kiss before she moves to the bathroom. 


The hot spray of the shower is a welcome relief and she emerges feeling much more alert. They sit at the table, sharing the details of their days over shrimp scampi and white wine. They tend to be very thorough in their retelling of their workdays, and Ethan gives a play by play of a meeting with his boss before Dana tells him all about a student who challenged her in front of the class and how she shut him down. She doesn’t intentionally leave out the interaction with Agent Mulder, but it doesn’t come up somehow.


After dinner, they curl up on the couch to watch ER together. Ethan is on his back with his head propped up on the arm of the couch, and Dana fits herself into the vee of his legs, her back resting on his chest. He idly traces his fingers across her collarbone and shoulders while they watch George Clooney and Julianna Margulies grapple with being both coworkers and lovers. 


This is their favorite show, and yet her mind continues to wander to those hooded green eyes, and the boyish smile that played across his pouty lower lip. He was very cute, that’s without question, but she interacts with handsome men all the time at work; why is this particular one worming his way into her brain? She shakes her head to clear the thought, then rotates her body so that she’s belly to belly with Ethan, her head resting on his chest. He kisses the crown of her head and she sighs. She’s got a good thing here, that much she knows. 


Maybe she should have gotten coffee with him, though, as colleagues. Maybe. 

Chapter Text

A week passes, and her interaction with Agent Mulder fades into the recesses of her memory. She files it away under “times a cute guy hit on me,” alongside overly friendly waiters and optimistic students. 


She and Ethan’s anniversary is coming up next week and she’s been grappling with the best gift to get him; something practical or indulgent? He is a prolifically thoughtful gift-giver and she feels pressure on each special occasion to select the perfect thing to give him, though the pressure comes only from herself. She’s contemplating this as she finishes up an autopsy, replacing the organs in the chest cavity and suturing up the Y-incision. 


“Dana,” the pathologist about to come on shift calls out to her, “someone is asking for you.”


“I’ll just be about ten minutes, Trudy. Who is it?” she returns, gently settling the young woman’s liver back into her body.


Trudy shrugs. “Tall guy in a suit, cute, dark hair.”


She feels a flutter in her belly and then immediately chastises herself. 


“Tell him I’ll be right there, please.” 


She apologizes internally to the decedent as she rushes through the final steps, not taking quite as much care as she typically does. 


After scrubbing her hands and fixing her hair, she steps into the hallway to find Agent Mulder sitting on a bench. His back is against the wall, his long legs crossed casually as he studies the art hung opposite him. He looks so composed and confident it unnerves her. 


“Agent Mulder, what can I do for you?” she asks, forcing confidence she does not feel into her voice. 


The smile that lights up his face when he turns to look at her makes her flush, and she can feel the heat in her cheeks. Being unable to hide her emotional response behind her fair complexion has always been something she resents. 


“Scully, good to see you. I wanted to follow up on the Dugan case, you said you were interested in understanding the motivation behind your autopsy findings,” he says as he stands and walks towards her, his tall frame looming above her such that she has to look up at his face. He stands close enough that she can smell his aftershave and see the stubble coming in on his cheeks. 


“Oh, yes, I was curious about that,” she replies, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves. Why does this man make her so nervous?


“If you’d like, you can meet with the lead behavioral analyst on the case. They can tell you how they drew parallels between the wound pattern you observed and the perpetrator profile,” he offers, a slight tilt to his head as his green eyes jump around her face as though he’s trying to commit it to memory. 


“That would be great, thank you. You really didn’t have to do that,” she replies self-consciously, feeling as though she asked for something she shouldn’t have, even though she’d never requested this. 


“Do you have time today?” he asks, lifting his wrist to glance at his watch. She knows it’s just past 4 pm. 


“Um, yes, actually, I’m done with classes for the day and that was my last autopsy. I was just going to do paperwork for a bit, but I can defer it until tomorrow.”


A small smirk flashes on his mouth, but quickly disappears. 


“Alright, why don’t you meet them at that cafe you mentioned in, say, thirty minutes?” he asks. 


“Okay, that should work,” she replies, “what’s their name, so I can find them?” She should have just about enough time to change and get there by 4:30.


His eyebrows lift as though he just realized he forgot something, and he pauses before continuing. 


“Uh, Fox. His name is Fox. I’ll describe you to him, he’ll find you.”


“Fox?” she asks dubiously, “is that a real name?”


He purses his lips. “Sadly, yes.”


“Alright, well, thank you, Agent Mulder. It was, was good to see you again.” She extends her hand with her chin held high, trying to portray an air of professionalism and not one of a girl with a crush, which is how he makes her feel.


He takes her hand and smiles at her warmly, a little something coy behind his eyes.


“Likewise. I hope to see you again very soon,” he says confidently, and she feels her belly tumble yet again. 



He stands in the hallway until Scully disappears into the staff locker room, then books it over to Cafe Adamo to get a quiet table in the corner. He’s not sure exactly what he’s after here; she has a boyfriend after all. He just hasn’t been able to get her out of his head all week. When the lead analyst on the Dugan case had a family emergency and needed to take leave, he jumped at the opportunity to take over the case, getting a little thrill from reading over her report and incorporating it into his profile. It felt as though they were creating something together. 


He watches the clock, a pit in his belly as he wonders how she’ll react to learning that he tricked her into having coffee with him. He barely knows her, but gets the sense that she doesn’t take shit from anyone. That is, in fact, what draws him to her. Well, that and those plush pink lips. He hasn’t been this affected by anyone since he and Valerie split. 


When the door swings open and she steps through in fitted jeans and a black T-shirt, he feels a wave of nausea. She’s even more beautiful in street clothes than she was in scrubs, her tiny waist curving up into a modest bustline. She scans the room and when her eyes fall on him, she quirks her head to the side and her eyebrows knit in confusion. His heart starts to pound and he stays glued to his seat, watching her traverse the room until she reaches him and gives him an expectant look. 


He holds out his hand. “Fox Mulder,” he says with a guilty smile, and she lifts her chin before tucking it to her chest, taking his hand with a pensive expression. 


“I see,” she says, her tone skeptical. It’s clear that she is unsure of his intentions. 


“I am the lead behavioral analyst on this case, for the record. I am now, anyway,” he offers, and watches her doubt deepen. What the hell did he think was going to happen, catfishing an unavailable woman into a date? “Will you sit?” he asks hopefully, and she does, though he can tell by her posture that she is one wrong move away from fleeing the scene. 


Someone comes by and takes their coffee order, and he sets his profile on the table, getting right to the reason he asked her here lest she think he’s completely full of shit. 


“You noted that the victim was stabbed repeatedly in the exact same location, giving the appearance of one wound,” he explains, “we’ve seen something similar with the other victims, and at this time my theory is that the perp lost someone close to them in this manner, perhaps a family member or parent. I believe they’re re-creating the injury that killed their loved one, though because these crimes are so rage-fueled they feel compelled to injure the victim more extensively than just the one wound. The repeated stabbing in the same location provides an outlet for that rage while preserving the one-wound injury that is the cause of death.”


She reads over his profile with interest, nodding along as he speaks. “That’s very interesting,” she says, lifting her head to look at him, and he feels a swell of pride at her praise. “You had to trick me into getting coffee with you to tell me that?” she adds flatly, and now it’s him who is blushing. 


She smiles victoriously at having made him uncomfortable, a bright, dazzling, toothy smile, and he’s overwhelmed by how attracted he is to her. He opens his mouth to speak, but closes it again and just shrugs. 


Their coffee is delivered and he watches intently as she licks at the foam on her cappuccino. Her blue irises dart up to meet his and he startles at having been caught, picking up his own cup and taking a big gulp that burns the roof of his mouth. 


“Your name sounds very familiar,” she begins, “why do I feel like I’ve heard it before?”


“Uh, I had a bit of a reputation at one time,” he says with a regretful tone. “Are you familiar with the X files?”


Her eyebrows lift in surprise. “Spooky Mulder,” she says with realization, “that’s where I’ve heard your name.”


He grimaces. “Not my favorite nickname, but yes, guilty as charged.”


“But you’re in the BSU now? Not on the X files anymore? I’m surprised I’ve never seen you around Quantico,” she remarks, and he can see her relaxing a bit. 


“No, the X files division was shut down a couple years ago. I was in the BSU before I reopened the X files, and transferred back after I was reassigned. I’m part of a small BSU team that works out of the Hoover building, so I’m not down here all that often these days.”


“Why was the X files division shut down?” she asks before licking more foam from the rim of her mug, and he shifts in his seat. 


“Well, how much time do you have?” he asks with a shy smile, “it’s a long story.”


She returns his smile. “Not that much time. So you’re into aliens and all that paranormal stuff?”


“Well, let me ask you this, Scully,” he says, leaning in, “do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?”


She gives him an incredulous look, but answers. “Logically, I’d have to say no.” He nods and sits back, but she continues. “Given the distances needed to travel from the far reaches of space, the energy requirements would exceed a spacecraft’s capabilities…”


“Conventional wisdom,” he interrupts, “I just happen to disagree with it.”


“On what basis?” she asks, curious but not derisive, which is what he’s used to getting in response to his theories. 


“If you’d seen what I’ve seen, Scully, you’d understand why I believe in such extreme possibilities.”


She tilts her head expectantly. “Do tell, Agent Mulder. Or should I call you Fox?” she asks with a haughty tone, though a playful one, and he blushes again. 


“Please, it’s just Mulder. I even make my parents call me Mulder. I’m sure you can understand why with a first name like Fox.” She makes a face that says she can’t argue with that, and he continues. “I’ve seen things, Scully, things that defy all logic and can’t be explained by the laws of science. Repeat abductees, men who can stretch their bodies and travel through the slats of a heater vent, prehistoric monsters dwelling in the woods.” She’s giving him a doubtful expression, one eyebrow cocked suspiciously. He laughs a little. “I know I sound crazy, but it’s just crazy enough to be true. When convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?”


She screws up her mouth, politely suppressing the “you are certifiably nuts” expression that wants to present on her face. He’s used to it, and takes no offense. 


“What I find fantastic, Mulder, is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there, you just have to know where to look,” she says in a tone that is both playful and sincere. 


He smiles at her, sure he looks like a total dope. This conversation is more intellectually stimulating than any he’s had in months. 


“You should come see the X files sometime, Scully. Tell me how you make scientific sense of what you see.”


“You have them?” she asks with wide eyes. 


He shrugs guiltily. “I may have acquired a few on my way out.”


Her head dips lower in disbelief. “Is that allowed?”


“No, definitely not,” he answers with a chuckle. If only she knew the extent of his flaunting of bureau policy during his time on the X files. 


She smiles at him in a way that he can only interpret as openly flirtatious, an acknowledgement that she finds his insubordinate behavior a little bit enticing. As suddenly as the smile appears, it vanishes and she checks her watch. 


“I’m sorry, I have to go,” she says as she stands. 


“Right, you’ve got somebody waiting for you,” he says with a regretful tone. 


She looks at him guiltily, then thanks him for the coffee and leaves. He sits there for a long while, staring at the door she exited through. 


“Shit,” he says aloud to no one. 



Chapter Text

He knocks in a predetermined pattern; two short, one long, one short, pause, three long, pause, one long, two short, one long. There’s a short buzzing sound and then a series of pops as multiple locks are disengaged. The door opens to reveal Frohike in his flowered apron, a bowl of half-mixed guacamole in hand. 


“Mulder, perfect timing! Fajitas will be ready in ten minutes,” Frohike says, ushering him inside. 


“Hey, man, long time no see,” calls Langly from behind a computer screen, not bothering to look up. 


Mulder slumps heavily onto a worn orange couch and nods in gratitude at Byers, who hands him an open beer. 


“Where’ve you been, Mulder?” Byers asks, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. 


Mulder shrugs. “Around. Just working. Living the dream, as it were.”


“Bummer, we thought maybe you finally met a girl,” Langly says teasingly. 


Mulder puckers his chin and shrugs. Byers looks from him to Langly and back.


Did you meet a girl?” Byers questions with a serious tone. 


Mulder sighs, dropping his head to rest on the back of the couch. “Yes. No. She has a boyfriend.”


“That’s never stopped you before,” Frohike calls from the kitchen. 


Mulder shakes his head woefully. “Not with this girl. She’s...she’s something else. She’s smart, and gorgeous, and she’s not the type of girl you can steal away from a boyfriend. She’d probably kick my ass if I tried to kiss her.”


“That’s rough, man,” Langly offers in sympathy, and Byers nods. 


“What do you know about the boyfriend?” Byers asks, “should we run background on him, see what we can find?”


“NO. No. I appreciate the offer, but I’m not trying to ruin her life just to get in her pants,” Mulder replies sadly. 


“Wow, you must really like her,” says Langly. 


“Yeah,” Mulder responds, “yeah, I really do.”





She is disturbed by her coffee date with Mulder. No, not a date, she reminds herself. Just two colleagues getting coffee, talking about work. The fact that she feels drawn to him like a magnet is irrelevant. She has a boyfriend, a great one. He treats her well and has a stable job. He does half the housework and is decently good in bed. She’s happy. 


So why can’t she stop thinking about him?


He pops into her mind at the worst times, often in the shower or bath. Or when she’s driving, cooking, teaching, doing an autopsy. Anything, really. The last time she and Ethan made love, she realized she was thinking about Mulder and she was so thrown that she couldn’t finish. She actually had to fake it, and she’s not sure Ethan was fooled. 


Ethan is a good man. She loves him. She tries to parse out what about Mulder she finds so alluring; what is he evoking in her that Ethan doesn’t? Sure, he’s better looking than Ethan, but Ethan’s no slouch and looks aren’t that important to her anyway. There’s something edgy and dangerous about him. His cool, unaffected confidence and his wacky theories. He’s interesting and funny, but so are a lot of people. She tries to put Mulder out of her mind. 


June twenty-first arrives; she and Ethan’s five-year anniversary. After much deliberation, she bought him a first-edition copy of Catcher in the Rye, which made a sizable dent in her savings. She hopes it stands up well to whatever he’s gotten for her. As they like to do, he’s left the apartment so she can get ready alone, and he’ll come by to “pick her up” as though it were a real date. She shimmies into a snug blue tank dress that cuts at the knee, pairing it with black peep toe pumps. She puts on a little more eyeliner and mascara than usual, her lips painted soft pink. She hears three soft raps at the door and smiles. 


“Hello,” she says as she opens it, finding him there in khakis and a black button up shirt, the sleeves cuffed. 


He smiles broadly as he looks her up and down. “Hello yourself. You look beautiful.”


“Thank you,” she replies demurely, stepping forward to kiss him softly on the lips, not wanting to smudge her lipstick. 


“Shall we?” he asks, extending an elbow, and they head to dinner.


Dinner is delicious and lovely, and afterward they walk alongside the reflecting pool at the National Mall, the setting sun coloring the water deep red. It’s a comfortably warm night, the noisy chirping of cicadas drowning out the late evening traffic. 


“It’s such a nice night,” Dana comments, her fingers threaded with Ethan’s on one hand and her heels, which had begun to hurt her feet, in the other.


“It is. It’s perfect,” Ethan replies, then turns to look at her, “just like you.”


She dips her chin and smiles shyly. “I’m far from perfect, Ethan.”


He stops and turns to her. “You’re perfect to me.”


She feels a lump in her throat. Maybe it’s due to being overwhelmed by the love of this wonderful man, or maybe it’s because she’s spent the better part of a week thinking about a different one. He plucks her shoes from her hand and sets them on the ground beside her feet before he clasps both her hands in his. 


“I feel so lucky, Dana, every day. Every day with you is the best day of my life,” he says with such sincerity that she feels tears prick at her eyes. He drops one of her hands and stuffs his own in his pocket, looking over her shoulder to the Washington Monument. “The monument always looks so beautiful at sunset,” he comments, and she turns her back to him to look at it, tall and imposing against a scarlet sky. 


“Dana,” he calls from behind her, and she turns around to see him down on one knee, his hands extended with a small box perched between them. She gasps, her heart clutching before it begins to race haphazardly. 


“I love you so much, and the past five years together has only made me want fifty more. Will you do me the honor of being my wife, Dana? Will you marry me?” His eyes are pooling with tears, his voice quaking with emotion though his intention is clear. She feels as though she might pass out. 


“Oh, Ethan,” she finally replies, her mind scrambling for words, or thoughts. She had always imagined an overcoming sense of elation in this moment, and is surprised that what she feels is fear. 


His expression is becoming a bit worried; she’s taking too long to respond. Of course she wants to marry Ethan, they’ve talked about getting married. She’s been working towards this for years. Why is she hesitating?


“Dana?” he asks with trepidation, and she snaps herself out of it. 


“Yes, of course I will, Ethan. Of course.” The words feel like they’re coming from someone else’s mouth. 


He sighs heavily with relief, standing and pulling her into a hug. He plucks the ring from the box; a sizable round-cut solitaire with small diamonds along the band on either side. It’s a beautiful ring, and when he slips it on her finger it fits perfectly. 


“I can’t wait to marry you,” he says before kissing her, and she kisses him back, kisses him repeatedly so she won’t have to speak. 


This is what she’s always wanted. So why does she feel like running away?

Chapter Text

They’re sitting in the car outside her mother’s house, and she’s stalling. 


“Are we going inside?” Ethan asks with a confused smile, and she nods wearily. 


She’s been dreading telling her family. Well, not her mother; Mom will be thrilled, as will Bill. Charlie will act appropriately happy but doesn’t actually care that much. But Missy….Missy will see right through her. She always does. 


They exit the car and make their way to the front porch, her stomach twisting in her gut all the way. Ethan knocks, casting her concerned glances intermittently. She knows she’s not playing the part of “recently engaged” very well. She’s told Ethan that it’s just nerves, and that she hates making big announcements, which is true. She’s still trying to convince herself that’s all it is. 


The door swings open and Charlie greets them with smiles and quick hugs, and they make their way to the kitchen where Mom is still finishing up dinner. 


“Grab some wine and take a seat,” she directs them as they each kiss her on the cheek, “Missy should be here any minute.” 


She pours herself a very full glass of wine after asking Ethan if he can drive home, then plants herself in an armchair that only seats one. She’s been craving personal space lately. 


Ten minutes later, Missy breezes in the door, giving Dana a skeptical glance; leave it to Missy to immediately pick up on something being off. They better get this over with soon. 


They all sit down and say grace. Missy holds her left hand and she can feel the moment her fingers make contact with the ring. Missy yanks on her arm and gives her wide eyes as everyone else at the table thanks the lord for their daily bread. Dana glances at her briefly and then looks away. It will all be out in the open momentarily. 


“Before we dig into this lovely meal Mom has prepared for us,” Ethan begins, “Dana and I have some news to share.” 


Oh god, here it comes. Maybe the huge glass of wine was a bad idea. 


“Am I gonna be an uncle, D?!” Charlie says excitedly, and both she and Maggie shoot him an unamused glare. 


“Not just yet, Charlie,” Ethan says with a cautious smile. “Dana and I got engaged. We’re getting married!”


Dana holds up her left hand with a thin smile, and Maggie and Charlie both provide appropriately big, happy reactions complete with hugs and congratulatory slaps on the back. Missy raises her eyebrows and looks at her baby sister with a bemused expression. 


“Oh, this is such happy news, I wish your father could be here,” Maggie says, clutching her hand to her chest. “We’ll have to call Bill and Tara after dinner.”


Dana forces bites of pot roast down her throat and avoids her sister’s eye for the following twenty minutes, then leaves Ethan and her mother to share the news with Bill as she escapes to the back porch. Charlie, as usual, finds his way to the couch with a beer. 


She’s sitting on the steps of the porch, working on her second glass of wine, when she hears the creak of the screen door behind her. She doesn't need to look to know that it’s Missy; she can hear the swish of her flowy skirt and the jangle of her stacked bracelets. Missy sits down beside her and they are quiet for a few minutes, the dark night illuminated by a waxing crescent moon. 


“Is this really what you want, Sis?” Missy asks in a tone that’s soft and concerned. 


“Of course, Missy. Ethan and I have been talking about getting married for years,” she says, hoping it sounds more convincing than it feels. 


“I know. But…” she trails off and sighs. 


“But what?” Dana prods her. 


“Look, Sis, Ethan is great. I love him, and he’ll make a great husband. I’m just not sure he’s the right one for you .” Dana can feel her sister looking at her in the dim light, but keeps her eyes on the blooming hydrangea bush at the bottom of the stairs. 


“He’s a great guy, Missy. He’s kind, and generous, and he has a stable job. He treats me really well. There’s no reason NOT to marry him,” she offers, taking a big gulp of her wine. “Dad loved him; he’d be so happy to know we got married,” she adds. 


Missy scoffs. “Two years underground and you’re still trying to please Dad?”


“He was cremated, Missy,” she replies deadpan, avoiding the point. 


“Okay, so two years underwater, then. Doesn’t change the fact that Dad liking him isn’t a reason to marry someone. Neither is them being great husband material. The only reason to marry someone is because you want to marry them. Do you want to marry Ethan?” She can feel Missy’s eyes on her face. 


“Yes,” she says in a weak voice, unwilling to elaborate. 


Missy sighs. “Okay, if this is what you want, I’ll be here to help you in whatever way you need. But if you change your mind-”


“-I’m not going to change my mind, Missy,” she cuts her off. 


“Well,” Missy continues, “whatever happens, I’ll be here. Thick and thin, right?”


Dana looks at her sister then, and smiles as they clasp hands. “Thick and thin.”





The following week, she takes herself out for Sunday afternoon coffee to one of her favorite places near the apartment. She likes to go out alone for coffee or lunch sometimes, just to have some space to think. Lately, she’s been needing a lot of it. The cafe is bustling with the after-church crowd, which makes her feel guilty for not going to mass with her mother. It’s difficult to talk to Mom right now; all she wants to do is talk about the wedding, and that’s the last thing Dana wants to discuss. Ethan wants to get married soon, this fall, and the whole thing is so overwhelming she shuts down every time they try to talk to her about it. She wishes she could pause life for a while, until she can sort out her feelings. 


“Fancy meeting you here,” she hears a familiar voice call from beside her, and she looks up to see Mulder, dressed casually in jeans and a grey T-shirt. 


She smiles reflexively, the first time she’s felt a real smile tug at her lips in a week or more. 


“Mulder, hi,” she says, genuinely pleased to see him. “What are you doing here?”


“Oh, this place is right near my dealer’s house,” he responds, and flashes her that boyish grin at her shocked expression. “I was actually just checking out a record store around the corner and decided to grab some coffee. How are you?” The question feels so real, like he actually wants to know how she is. She doesn’t want him to leave. 


“I’m well, would you like to sit down?” she says as she gestures to the empty seat across from her, pulling her hand back when she realizes that he’ll likely notice her ring. She surreptitiously slips it off her finger and tucks it into her pants pocket. 


He sits, and she can’t help but take in the way his shirt hugs his broad shoulders, and the hint of defined pectorals underneath. He is a seriously good-looking man. 


“So, whatcha been up to?” He asks, taking a sip from his to-go cup. 


She should tell him the happy news that she’s gotten engaged, but she very much doesn’t want to. 


“Not much, just cutting up dead bodies and teaching others how to do the same,” she responds dryly. 


“Slicin’ and dicin’,” he says with a nod, and she feels a sense of relief at being able to make such a crass joke to someone who understands the kind of work she does. 


“Exactly. How about you, working on anything interesting?” she asks, and never has a social nicety been more genuine. 


“That depends on your definition of interesting, I suppose,” he begins, “we’ve got the face mutilator, the acid thrower, and the super-stabber, who you’re familiar with.”


“Quite the line up,” she retorts. 


“I realize I didn’t get the chance to ask how you ended up at the Academy,” he inquires. 


“Oh, um I was actually recruited out of medical school,” she replies, taking a sip of her coffee. 


His eyebrows jump and he leans forward a bit. “You’re a doctor, then?” he asks, and she gauges only that he’s impressed, not surprised, which is a nice change of pace. People don’t seem to realize that it’s not a compliment to express disbelief that she, of all people, would be a medical doctor. 


“Mmhmm, all pathologists are trained medical doctors,” she confirms with a nod. 


“Your parents must be very proud,” he offers, and she makes a face. 


“Not exactly. My father actually passed away a couple years ago, but he was less than pleased with my decision not to pursue medicine as a career. My mom is moderately more supportive, thankfully.”


She catches his eye and is surprised by the intensity of the look he’s giving her. 


“I’m sorry to hear about your father,” he says as though he knew the man, and it catches her off guard a bit. She changes the subject. 


“What about the X files, anything interesting happening there?”


“Well, no, given that they don’t exist anymore. You wanna hear about an old one I investigated?”


She nods emphatically. 


“There was this team of researchers up in Icy Cape, Alaska. They were geophysicists, drilling ice core samples. They’d been up there a few weeks when there was an odd video communication received from one of the research team members saying “we are not who we are” before he shot himself in the head, then all communication went dark.”


“What happened to them?” Scully asks, leaning towards him. She’s immediately drawn in. 


“Well, that’s what we went up there to find out; myself a physician, toxicologist and a geologist. When we got there, the whole crew was dead, only a dog that belonged to one of them survived. He appeared to be rabid, and he attacked me and our pilot. When we examined the dog, he had these black nodules on his skin.”


“That sounds like a symptom of bubonic plague,” Scully offers. 


“That’s what Dr. Hodge thought too. Anyway, the pilot ended up getting infected as well, and we had to restrain him and remove this worm-thing from his neck. He died immediately after we removed it.”


“A worm-thing?” Scully asks, “what was it?”


“I’m still not entirely sure. The geologist found an ice core sample that was probably over 250,000 years old, and I think the worm came from the ice. Some kind of prehistoric parasite that overtakes its host. We eventually figured out that to kill it, you have to introduce a second worm into the host, and they’ll destroy each other.”


“Why haven’t I ever heard about this? It seems like the kind of discovery that would make the news, at least in the science community,” her mind is reeling, now with excitement. 


“Well, that’s the thing. After we were evacuated, they destroyed the drill site and all the evidence.”


“They?” she inquires. “Who is ‘they’?”


Mulder smiles knowingly and she has the overwhelming urge to touch him. 


“That’s the million dollar question, Scully. That’s what the X files sought to answer. Who, or what, is behind the mass coverup of information that would prove the existence of extraterrestrial life?” He says it so casually, like it’s the most irrefutable fact in the world instead of some half-cocked conspiracy theory. 


“Huh,” she sits back in her chair. “Are there a lot of cases like that one? In the X files?”


Mulder’s mouth quirks, and she can tell that he’s pleased by her interest in his old work. 


“Hundreds, though I only have about fifty in my possession. I took the juiciest ones, of course.”


“What else is there? Tell me about another one,” she asks unabashedly. She’s fascinated. 


Mulder looks at his watch and makes a face. “I wish I could, but I have a prior engagement. I have them stored at my apartment, I could show you sometime, if you’d like. Do you like cats?”


Her eyebrows lift. “Is there an X file about cats?” she asks, and he laughs. 


“No. Well, actually yes, but I’m asking because I have a cat. You aren’t allergic, are you?”


“Oh, no,” she says as she feels her cheeks warm.


He reaches into his wallet and hands her his business card. “Give me a call, or shoot me an email. I’ll show you what the FBI doesn’t want you to see,” he punctuates this with a wag of his eyebrows as he stands. “It was really good to see you, Scully,” he says with an earnest look, those eyes seemingly seeing right through her. 


She swallows hard. “You too, Mulder,” she replies, and watches him walk out the cafe door. 


She looks down at the business card in her hands: 


Fox W. Mulder

Criminal Behavioral Analyst

Behavioral Science Unit


She wonders what the W stands for. She wonders why she cares. 

Chapter Text

Mulder stands at the coffee pot in the bureau break room, pouring a mug full of the shitty burnt bean water and thinking back to the look on Scully’s face as he told her about the Icy Cape X file. 


Valerie had always shown interest in his work, but she had her limits. She listened politely, but if he mentioned details like black nodules she made a face and told him he was going to ruin her dinner. It’s understandable that people would be turned off by the nitty gritty of his work; heck, even the Gunmen ask him to tone it down sometimes. But Scully displayed only fascination and curiosity. He suspects he could tell her about the Tooms case and she’d be more interested in discussing the plausibility of a one-hundred-twenty year old man than she’d be disgusted that he stuck his hand in bile. 


“Who is she?”


He turns to see Agent Kissop, one of the more senior analysts on the team, smiling at him over her bifocals. 


“I’m sorry?” he asks. 


“You’ve been staring at that coffee pot with a shit-eating grin on your face for the last ten minutes. Only reason a man does that is if he has a lady on his mind. So who is she?” Kissop asks pointedly. 


Mulder blushes and her smile broadens. 


“I’m glad to see you putting yourself out there again, Agent Mulder,” she says with a maternal pat to his arm. “Sweet guy like you deserves to be with someone who makes him happy.”


He smiles politely and escapes to his desk, disappointment gripping his chest. He’s got someone on his mind, alright, but he’ll never be with her. Trying to put Scully out of his thoughts, he logs in to check his email. Among requests for updates on various cases, a message from HR about his 401k, and a reminder not to store entire gallons of milk in the shared refrigerator, he sees an email that makes his heart leap into his throat. He swallows hard and opens it, hoping against hope that it is what he thinks it is. 


Sent: July 1, 1996 10:36am


Subject: X Files


Hi Mulder, 


I hope you enjoyed the rest of your sunday. 


If the offer still stands, I’d love to take a look at those X Files of yours. Perhaps one weekend? It’s hard for me to squeeze anything in on weeknights with my commute to Quantico. It just occurred to me that I don’t know where you live, either.


Anyway, let me know. Take care. 



If Kissop thought he was smiling like an idiot before, she should see him now. He feels like doing a fist-pump, or a touchdown dance. Oh god, she’s going to come by his apartment, he needs to clean. What if Priscilla takes one of her colossal stinky shits while Scully’s there? Jesus Christ, he’s getting ahead of himself. 


He hits reply and spends forty-five minutes writing and rewriting his response. 


She’d written the email the moment she got to the office at 7:00 am, then left it in drafts for hours, re-reading it and changing a word here and there, adding and removing different parts. Should she sign it “sincerely, Scully,” or maybe “regards, Scully”? Or should she sign it Dana? He doesn’t call her Dana. 


Maybe she shouldn’t send it at all. Isn’t it inappropriate to meet with a male coworker alone in his apartment, given that she’s engaged? But this is about work. It holds scientific significance. She wants to see the files, not Mulder. Right?


Finally she couldn't take it anymore and hit send, immediately going to her outbox to see if she could still call it back, but it was too late. Now all she can do is wait. Wait, wait, wait. She checks her email compulsively between classes and autopsies. What if he never responds? Finally, just after 1:00 pm, it arrives. 


Sent: July 1, 1996 1:19pm


subject: RE: X Files




I’d admonish you for discussing this via a monitored channel, but then you’d remind me that I very specifically told you to email me. 


I’m free this Saturday, if you’d like to come by. Anytime is fine, but let’s say 6 so we can justify having a drink. I hope you’re partial to shitty beer. 


I live in Alexandria, at 2630 Hegal Place, apartment 42. Don’t let the dilapidated exterior fool you; it’s a very respectable slum. 


Talk to you soon, 


She bites at her lips, trying to fight off the flush of delight she feels as she reads his reply over and over. Should she just admit that she has a giant crush on him? Probably. It’s not illegal to have a crush as long as she has no intention of doing anything about it. Maybe his apartment will be filthy, or plastered with Star Trek paraphernalia, and it will effectively quash her affection for him. She can only hope. She hits reply, and this time doesn’t hesitate to send it right away. 


Her reply is waiting for him when he returns from his lunch break, and he smiles before he even opens it. 



Sent: July 1, 1996 1:31pm


Subject: RE:RE: X Files




Forgive me for neglecting to speak in code. Perhaps we should establish one for future need?


Saturday at six sounds great. Who told you about my affinity for low-quality malt beverages?


I’m not overly concerned about your questionable neighborhood. I may not be a field agent, but I’m still typically armed. Consider that a warning. 


See you on Saturday,


He leans back in his chair, his love struck-face shining up at the ceiling like a full moon. Why he is torturing himself by spending more time with her he doesn’t know, but he can’t seem to resist. 


“What about October thirteenth?” Ethan says, and she turns to look at him, confusion pulling at her face. 


“What about it?” she asks. 


Her mind was wandering again as they chatted over chicken and rice. Wandering back to Mulder, to their email correspondence and their plans for Saturday. Plans she hasn’t shared with Ethan. 


“Dana, are you okay? I feel like you’re not listening to me,” Ethan replies with a wounded tone, his expression equally concerned and hurt. 


She sets her fork down and takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Ethan, I’m just distracted by some work stuff. What’s happening on October thirteenth?”


She focuses on giving him her full attention. 


“For the wedding, Dana. The church is available October thirteenth. It’s a Sunday.”


Suddenly she’s not hungry anymore. 


“Oh. Um, okay. Why do we need to get married this year, again? Isn’t that a pretty short engagement?”


He makes a quizzical face. “I guess...when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible?” he offers with a soft smile. 


When Harry Met Sally is one of her favorite movies and he knows it. She can’t help but feel a swell of affection for him, with a hefty side of guilt. 


“October thirteenth sounds perfect,” she says with a forced smile and a squeeze of his hand. 


Ethan beams. “Great. I’ll go by and put a deposit down to hold it for us. We have a date, babe, that’s big progress!”


She holds the smile steady, excusing herself to the bathroom as soon as he stands to clear the table. 


That night he goes down on her for an eternity, and she is sure that she is the absolute worst fiancée that has ever, or will ever live. She does not deserve this man’s love, but she wants to. She’ll try harder. 

Chapter Text

Saturday brings an unexpected heat wave, the high temperatures uncharacteristic even for D.C. Dana has grappled all week with how to explain her Saturday evening plans to Ethan. Her instinct is to lie, to tell him she’s getting dinner with Missy or has to go into work for an emergency autopsy. But lying makes it impossible to tell herself that what she’s doing isn’t wrong; if she has nothing to hide, why would she be hiding it? In the end, she goes with vague truth and tells him that she’s meeting up with a colleague to discuss some interesting new research they shared with her. Never mind that said colleague is a very handsome and apparently very single man. Never mind that she feels a rush between her legs whenever she pictures his cocky smile. Meeting with a colleague. Interesting research. Nothing more. 


She and Ethan spend the morning lying around in their underwear, too overheated to do anything else. The air conditioning hums and sputters, trying to keep up, but it's no match for the sweltering heat. 


“Do we have ice cream?” Ethan asks, splayed out on his back against the hardwood clad in green boxer shorts. 


“Nope, I ate it all when I was PMSing last week,” she replies from the couch, arms and legs draped off the sides so that no part of her body is touching any other.


They are quiet for a bit. 


“Wanna have sex?” Ethan asks offhandedly, and she feels a flush of dread. 


“Too hot,” she replies with an equally offhand tone, glad he can’t see her face. 


They are quiet again. 


“Are you okay, Dana?” he asks hesitantly, his eyes on the ceiling. She waits a little too long to answer. 


“Yeah, why?”


“You don’t seem like yourself. Since we got engaged, I mean. You seem kind of distracted. Distant, maybe?”


She takes a steadying breath. She knows he’s right. If she were honest, she’d tell him that she feels crushing guilt for being so infatuated with another man. That she feels like a horrible girlfriend, fiancée, almost-wife, for continuing to seek out interactions with him, but she can’t bring herself to stop. That she loves Ethan, so much, but can’t deny the pull that Mulder has on her. That she feels like she’s cheating when they have sex, because Mulder invariably takes his place in her mind. But she can’t tell him any of that. 


She rolls to her side so she can look at him. 


“I’m sorry, Ethan. I guess I’m just feeling overwhelmed lately, with work and the wedding. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”


He rolls his head to the side to meet her eye.


“So you’re not having doubts? About getting married?” The pain and worry in his voice is like a kick in the gut. 


“Of course not,” she implores, crawling off the couch and across the floor to where he lays. She gingerly throws a leg over his hip and straddles him, placing her hands on his sweat-damp chest and leaning forward to kiss him on the lips. “I can’t wait to be your wife,” she says with a soft smile, and the twist in her belly alerts her to the fact that this might be a lie. 


They make love, there on the living room floor. She keeps her eyes open, not allowing her mind to wander from this moment, this man. Not allowing herself to admit that this is a consolation, an attempt to prove to them both that she is in this, with him, for the long haul. Her orgasm is weak and brief, not the same. Nothing is the same, anymore. Not since Mulder waltzed into the autopsy bay and complicated her life.



The heat has abated only slightly by 5:30 as she’s preparing to leave her apartment and head to Mulder’s. She debates what to wear for an agonizingly long time; the temperature calls for a dress or shorts, but she fears sending the wrong message if it looks like she’s intentionally bearing skin. She finally settles on a black maxi dress, a compromise in coverage and air flow, paired with flip flops. Casual, not trying too hard, but not frumpy either. 


As she makes for the door, Ethan stops her with a gentle grasp on her wrist, pulling her to him. 


“You look beautiful,” he says with an affectionate gaze, and that guilty feeling in her belly is back. Their impromptu living room floor love-making seems to have assuaged his concerns over her demeanor for the time being, but it only served to deepen her own inner turmoil. 


“Thank you,” she replies before kissing him on the cheek and escaping the emotional heat of their apartment for the temperate heat of the DC evening. 


2630 Hegal Place is a stately brick building that has been decently maintained. It’s not as nice as her neighborhood in Georgetown, but it’s hardly the slum that Mulder suggested it was. She feels a little sick as she rides the elevator up to the fourth floor, taking in the dark wood trim against the yellowing walls of his hallway. She finds apartment forty-two and pauses outside the door for a long while. She has a feeling that walking through this door is a decision with consequences, one she shouldn’t take lightly. She realizes she’s not wearing her engagement ring; it’s likely sitting on the bathroom counter beside the sink. A simple oversight; she’s not yet used to wearing it. Certainly not a Freudian slip of the mind...she has the sudden overwhelming urge to flee. Perhaps she knows exactly what she’s doing after all. She turns to walk back to the elevator when the door swings open, startling her. 


“Scully,” he says with a lopsided smile. 


He’s wearing dark wash jeans, his top half bare, a bag of garbage in one hand. Her eyes immediately light on the broad expanse of his chest, smooth and dappled with a light dusting of hair. His abdomen is solid, sleek and defined. A swimmer’s body, she thinks with a sigh. 


“I was just taking the trash out, you’re a little early,” he says with a hint of embarrassment, passing her to stuff the bag down the chute at the end of the hall. 


“Oh, sorry, am I?” she looks at her watch; it’s 5:55.


“Or maybe I’m just running a little behind,” he replies sheepishly, then lifts his arm and gestures for her to enter the apartment, “please, come in.”


She enters a combination foyer and dining room, the kitchen tucked off to the left and the living room straight ahead. The ambiance matches the hallway, dark wood and yellow walls, the ceilings impressively high. The decor is sparse; nothing on the walls and only small trinkets littering the surfaces, a fish tank burbling near the window. She waits to see where he directs her to go. The dining room table seems like a suitably professional place for two colleagues to review work files. He brushes past her to the living room, the shower-fresh smell of him drifting into her nostrils; Irish Spring and Old Spice. 


“You can take a seat,” he says gesturing to the couch, “let me just grab a shirt and the files.” He disappears through a door that must be his bedroom.


She sets her purse on his cluttered desk and sits on one end of the worn leather couch, looking around at his few furnishings. She startles when a black blur springs onto her lap with a high-pitched meow, and Mulder re-enters the room with a bankers box tucked under his arm, his torso now covered by a black T-shirt. 


“Jesus, Priscilla, don’t assault the woman,” he says as he sets the box on the coffee table and plucks the cat off her lap. “Sorry about that, she has an affinity for pretty girls,” he continues, then directs his next comment to the cat. “We have that in common, eh, Prissy?” 


She feels a flush to her cheeks and he takes the cat with him to the kitchen, returning with two beers in its place. 


“I hope your boyfriend doesn’t mind me borrowing you for the evening,” he says as he hands her an open beer. 


She looks at him with a mildly shocked expression, his mention of Ethan feeling out of place and somehow obscene. Noticing her discomfort, he changes the subject as he sits on the opposite end of the couch. 


“This is all I walked away with, one box of the best, brightest, and weirdest X files I came across during my time. About half are those I investigated myself, the rest were left from the previous agents who started the division,” he slides the box down the coffee table towards her and she plucks the lid off carefully to see dozens of neatly labeled orange folders. She pulls a random one out from the middle and sets her beer on the coffee table, opening the file across her lap. 


“So tell me why the X files division was shut down,” she says as she leafs through the pages.


“Well, the official reason is that an investigation into a man with green blood resulted in multiple deaths, which was just the last in a series of...mishaps. But the real reason is that I was too close to the truth.” 


She lifts her head from the file to look at him. He has his bare feet propped up on the coffee table, his elbow resting on the arm of the couch. He seems so at ease all the time, so comfortable around her.


“The truth about what?” she asks, working to peel her eyes from his plush lower lip. 


He takes a deep breath. “A lot of things, but namely a government conspiracy to conceal the existence of extraterrestrial life, even as they’re conducting experiments and research on said extraterrestrials. Perhaps even working with them.” 


It’s that same even, factual delivery. Her mouth blossoms into a slow smile. 


“Working with the aliens? To do what, open a KMart on Mars?” she teases, and he returns her smile with one that is so devilish it makes her pelvis twitch. 


“Read on, Scully. The more you see, the less crazy it sounds.” 


He stands and goes to the stereo, and after a few minutes of fiddling around she hears Radiohead begin to play. “You like Radiohead?” he asks, and she gives a half shrug, half nod. Doesn’t love ‘em, doesn’t hate ‘em. 


“So this one appears to be about some kind of tree-dwelling insect?” she asks, reading over details of a dead man sucked dry of all fluids and bound up in a giant cocoon. 


Mulder returns to the couch and sits beside her, much closer this time, their thighs nearly touching. The heat of his body on top of the warmth of the air makes new sweat prick at the back of her neck. 


“Indeed, prehistoric insects that were released from the inner rings of the tree when they were logged. I nearly got eaten up by them myself,” he remarks, reaching over to turn the pages that lie across her lap. She shivers a little despite the heat. 


“And what does that have to do with aliens and government conspiracies?” she asks, keeping her head down, knowing that if she looks up at him he would be close enough to kiss. 


“It’s not that straight forward, Scully. There are things, many things, on our planet that are unexplainable, and having control over that which can’t be understood by science and intelligence gives you a certain degree of power. Unfortunately, it’s a power that’s most often used for evil instead of good.”


She does turn to him then, getting an up-close look at the greenish, almost-hazel of his irises, the pronounced bridge of his nose. 


“There’s nothing that’s unexplainable on this planet, Mulder. Just because we can’t explain it now doesn’t mean we never will. Consider how much science has progressed in the last fifty years alone. Who knows what we deem unexplainable now that will be perfectly understood in another fifty?”


He tilts his head closer to her and her heart speeds up, her lips parting unconsciously. His smirk is devastatingly sexy, and she suddenly doesn’t trust herself. 


“May I use your bathroom?” she asks abruptly, looking away.


“Of course, it’s through the bedroom,” he says, hitching his thumb to the door behind and to their left. 


She carefully makes her way into his bedroom, which contains a queen size mattress on a mahogany frame, a dresser, and not much else. He’s a man of simple means, it would seem. The bathroom is clean and devoid of skid marks and stray pubic hairs; the seat is even down. When she returns, he’s placed several of the files in a neat stack on the coffee table. 


“These are the ones I’d recommend you read. At least they may be the ones you find most compelling,” he says as she returns to her seat, inching just a bit further away from him than she’d been before. 


She takes the first from the stack and opens it. “So how’d you get into all this, Mulder? Have you always been into aliens, or did you see E.T. too many times when it came out?”


He doesn’t answer and she looks at him. He’s considering her, pondering. Deciding whether to tell her something. 


“When I was twelve, my eight year old sister disappeared out of her bed one night. Just vanished. No note, no phone calls, no evidence of anything.” His tone is even; he’s clearly told this story many times before. She feels a sick wave of sadness at the thought of something like that happening to Missy, or one of her brothers. 


“You never found her?” she asks, resisting the urge to touch him, to comfort him. 


Mulder shakes his head. “It tore the family apart. No one would talk about it. There were no facts to confirm, nothing to offer any hope.”


“What did you do?” Suddenly she’s less interested in the files than she is in Mulder. She sets the open folder on the coffee table and picks up her beer, turning her body to face him. 


“Eventually, I went off to school in England. I came back, got recruited by the bureau. Seems I had a natural aptitude for applying behavioral models to criminal cases. My successes allowed me a certain freedom to pursue my own interests, and that’s when I came across the X files.” He takes a long swig of his beer and Priscilla jumps up onto his lap, pawing at the tops of his thighs. 


“By accident?” she asks, envious of the cat that is now curling up against the fly of his jeans. 


He weaves his fingers gently through her fur as he continues. “At first, it looked like a garbage dump for UFO sightings, alien abduction reports, the kind of stuff that most people laugh at as being ridiculous. But I was fascinated. I read all the cases I could get my hands on, hundreds of them. I read everything I could about paranormal phenomena, about the occult. Eventually my research led me to a doctor who does deep regression hypnosis. I was able to go into my own repressed memories from the night my sister disappeared. I can recall a bright light outside and a presence in the room. I was paralyzed, unable to respond to my sister’s calls for help.”


He looks at her with a plea in his eye. A plea to be listened to, to be believed.


“So you believe…” she trails off, waiting for him to finish the thought. 


“I believe my sister was abducted by aliens, yes. And yes, I am aware that it sounds crazy. I’ve been told as much a time or two,” he offers her a small smile and she returns it with a sympathetic one. 


“I’m sorry, about your sister. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been.”


He pulls in a deep breath and changes the subject. “Do you have siblings?”


“Uh, yes, three actually. Two brothers, one sister.” Priscilla has vacated Mulder’s lap and is now sniffing around hers, deciding if it’s a suitable place for a nap. She’s never had a cat as a pet, she’s always been more of a dog person, but there’s something about a single man with a pet cat that she finds endearing. 


“Dang, your parents were busy,” he says, and she makes a face at the double entendre. 


“Catholic,” she offers by way of explanation, and he nods. 


“She likes you,” he says, jutting his chin towards Priscilla, who is curled into a furry black donut in her lap. Scully slides her hand over Priscilla’s back in long strokes, smiling at the vibrations of her purrs against her palm. 


“So….this boyfriend of yours, he has a name I presume?” Mulder asks, again violating the space with a mention of Ethan. 


“Ethan,” she answers, keeping her eyes on Priscilla. 


“How long have you and Ethan been together?” he asks, and she suspects that he’s not making polite small talk. 


“Five years.” She isn’t inspired to elaborate, and in fact would prefer not to discuss this at all. 


“It’s, uh, it’s pretty serious then?” he asks, and her head snaps up to meet his eye at the question. He’s looking at her longingly, like a kid staring at the cookie he’s been told he can’t have. 


She purses her lips and gives him a pained expression. That’s all the answer he needs. He nods, smiling sadly. 


“Just thought I’d ask,” he says, standing to take their empty beer bottles to the kitchen. 


They spend the next two hours picking through files that detail a mountain community who could change their gender, a man whose shadow could kill people, and a bank robber who entered the body of a detective after he was shot, among other impossible things. They’ve each polished off three beers and sit side by side on the floor in front of the couch, using the coffee table as a desk. Priscilla keeps making herself comfortable on top of the sheets of paper and Mulder keeps moving her, only to do it again a few minutes later, much to Scully’s entertainment. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever known a single man with a cat,” she remarks, her head buzzing with booze and unexplainable phenomena. 


“Well, I wasn’t single when I got her, perhaps that explains it,” he says in reply as he lifts Priscilla off another file and she growls in protest. 


She looks at him expectantly, but doesn’t ask. 


“I got her with my ex, we broke up about a year ago now. I kept the apartment and the cat, and Val kept…” he gestures around at the underfurnished room, “pretty much everything else.”


“Ah, I just assumed you were going for a minimalist look,” she replies with a smirk, resting her elbow on the table and the side of her head on top of her fist. 


“Nah, if I had it my way, this place would be decked out like Graceland. Maybe a jukebox in the corner, a white jumpsuit in the closet,” he looks at her with that grin that makes her stomach do backflips. 


“An Elvis fan,” she observes, then points to the cat as her eyebrows lift, making the connection.


Mulder nods. “It was that or Lisa Marie.”


She smiles broadly at him, and he meets her eye, his expression falling a little into something intense and desirous. They hold eye contact for a beat, and she can feel the electricity coursing between them, the pull. Her heart begins to race. 


“I should get going,” she says, standing. Escaping as the alarm bells of an impending Bad Decision go off in her head. 


Mulder looks a little startled and stands as well. “Are you okay to drive home?” he asks, “I can drive you.”


The thought of Mulder dropping her off at her apartment where Ethan is waiting for her makes her eyes go big. 


“No, I’m fine, thank you. Thanks for showing me the files, I really enjoyed it,” she says as she slings her purse over her shoulder and moves to the door.


He follows, opening the door for her with a slightly desperate look on his face, as though he’s trying to think of a way to get her to stay. 


“Anytime. You’ve only barely scratched the surface, there’s a lot more to see.”


The promise of another reason to meet makes her ache with anticipation and guilt. She stops in the hallway just outside his door and turns to face him. Priscilla attempts to make a run for it and he scoops her up, holding her under his arm as they say goodbye. 


“Goodnight, Mulder,” she says with a tight smile, then steps forward to scratch Priscilla behind the ears. “Goodnight, Priscilla,” she says to the cat, then looks up at Mulder to catch a remarkably hungry expression. 


“Goodnight, Scully,” he says huskily, and she pulls away from him, away from the magnetic reach he has on her, and forces herself to get in her car and drive home. 

Chapter Text


Sent: Monday, July 8 1996 9:14am


Subject: Sorry


Hey Scully, 


I’m really sorry if I made you uncomfortable on Saturday. You booked it out of there so fast I get the impression that I came on a bit strong, which wasn’t my intention. I think it’s fairly obvious that I have more than a passing interest in you, but I understand that you’re unavailable and I promise I’m not up to something. I really enjoyed talking about the X files with you and I’m more than happy just being friends. 


Would you like to get coffee or lunch sometime? There’s a file I think you’ll be interested in. I won’t spoil it for you but it includes both a liver-eating mutant and the ability of a man to stretch himself through a heater vent. 


Take care, 



Sent: Monday, July 8, 1996  3:14pm


Subject: RE:Sorry




There’s no need to apologize, you didn’t do anything inappropriate. I appreciate you making your intentions clear and being friends sounds great. 


We can do coffee sometime; will you have any cause to visit Quantico in the near future? If so, let me know. You know where to find me. 


A liver-eating mutant and an incredibly stretchy man walk into a there a punchline coming?




Sent: Tuesday, July 9, 1996 8:58am


Subject: RE:RE:Sorry




To be clear, the liver-eating mutant and the stretchy man are one and the same. He was a man of many talents, may he Rest In Peace. 


I think I might actually be down that way tomorrow, if you can sneak away. Let me know what time works best; I’m flexible. 




Sent: Tuesday, July 9, 1996, 9:03am


Subject: Heading to Quantico Tomorrow


Hello Sir,


I need to drive down to Quantico tomorrow to get some additional information for the Marino file. I’ll be gone most of the day. I’m going to head straight there from home so I won’t see you in the morning. 


Agent Mulder


Sent: July 9, 1996, 9:47am


Subject: RE:Heading to Quantico Tomorrow




I don’t give a shit. Just make sure to track your goddamn mileage this time. 




Sent: July 9, 1996, 2:24pm


Subject: RE:RE:RE:Sorry




I have a class at 9:00 and two autopsies after that. I think I’ll be free around 1:00, if that works?


Please bring the liver-eating mutant stretchy man file, because thus far I think you’re full of shit. 




Sent: July 9, 1996, 4:33pm


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:Sorry




Sounds like a plan. I’ll see you tomorrow. 


I am full of shit, but not because this case isn’t real. I’ll bring it and you can decide for yourself. 




Chapter Text

He meets her in the hallway just outside the autopsy bay. She’s changed from scrubs into jeans and a green t-shirt with cap sleeves and his heart leaps when she enters his line of sight. He stands up a bit straighter, buoyed by her presence. He wants to hug her, but he stuffs his hands in his pockets instead. Off limits, he keeps reminding himself. Unavailable. 


“Hi,” she says with a nervous little smile. 


“Hey,” he responds with a broad grin. “Shall we?” he says as he tilts his head toward the exit. 


It’s a wonderfully mild day and they walk the four blocks to Cafe Adamo, the orange Tooms file tucked neatly under his arm. They are mostly quiet as they walk, enjoying the warm breeze and lack of traffic noise. Scully lifts her hand to hoist her purse strap up on her shoulder and his stomach lurches when the sun catches on a large diamond ring on her finger. The ring finger of her left hand. It shouldn’t matter, unavailable is unavailable, but knowing that she’s getting married takes his already dashed dreams and stomps them into dust. 


They sit at the same corner table they had on their previous visit and this time she orders an iced coffee, much to his relief; he’s not sure he can sit still through more foam-licking. He orders a drip, and as soon as their waiter leaves the table he has to say something. 


“Looks like congratulations are in order,” he says, gesturing towards her hand with his chin. 


She looks down at the table and startles a little, as if she herself hadn’t known the ring was there. 


“Oh, yeah, um, thank you,” she replies tersely, avoiding his eye. 


“When did that happen?” he inquires, morbidly curious. 


“Uh, in late June, the twenty-first.”


His eyebrows lift a little. He’s sure she wasn’t wearing a ring the other times he’s seen her. 


“That’s, uh, that’s great. Do you have a date set?” Why the fuck is he asking her about this? Right, because that’s what a friend would do. 


“Yes, as of recently, it’s October thirteenth, this year.”


He chuffs a laugh, his head dropping close to the table. 


“What?” she asks, her eyebrows knit in confusion. 


He lifts his head to look at her with an ironic smile. “That’s my birthday,” he says flatly, and pink immediately rises to her cheeks.


“Oh,” she says as though she’s committed an embarrassing faux pas. 


“Here, check this out,” he says, changing the subject and sliding the orange file across the table to her. “Eugene Victor Tooms, a seemingly typical, if not a little strange, man who was in fact a liver-eating mutant. He would eat his victim’s liver to sustain his own life, and then build a nest from newspaper and bile where he would hibernate for thirty years before repeating the pattern.”


“Bile? As in stomach acid?” Scully says with a doubtful tone that matches her expression. 


“Yes ma’am, I had the unfortunate experience of coming into close contact with it and I can attest to its authenticity.”


“Mulder, humans don’t hibernate, much less for thirty years.”


“Well, Eugene Victor Tooms was hardly human, Scully. At one-hundred-twenty-one years young, he was on a steady diet of three livers per hibernation break.”


Their coffees are dropped off, but the conversation continues despite the interruption. 


“The oldest human who’s ever lived is one-hundred-nineteen years old. On top of that, even if someone were to live to be one-hundred-twenty-one they certainly wouldn’t be healthy or fit enough to murder people and eat their livers, then have enough energy left over to build a bile-nest.” She’s animated, her hands punctuating her statements as her face quirks into an ‘I can't even believe I’m even having this conversation’ expression, and he can’t help but smile. 


“Okay, if you don’t agree with my conclusions, Scully, then tell me what you think happened,” he says gently. 


She pulls in a deep breath and lets it out in a huff, her shoulders deflating. “I don’t know, Mulder. I’d need access to the biological materials, to analyze them in a lab. We’d need to do a full physical work up on Mr. Tooms, genetic testing.”


Mulder bobs his head. “Well, that will prove difficult seeing as Mr. Tooms met his end under the teeth of an escalator,” he replies, and her eyes go big for a moment. 


She shakes her head, closing the folder and sliding it back across the table towards him. “Didn’t it bother you, to work all these cases and never have any real answers?” she asks.


Mulder shrugs. “Yes and no. For me, it isn’t as much about the answers themselves as it is the journey towards the one great truth. Doors are opened along the way, avenues cleared, and it all lends itself towards moving me further along on my quest.” 


She’s looking at him with soft, affectionate eyes. She’s really listening and it feels so fucking good. It’s not very often that anyone really listens when he talks. Really hears him. 


“What do you consider to be your quest?” she asks gently. 


“If I were really to narrow it down, to find my sister. Or to understand what happened to her.” His hand is sitting on top of the closed file and he startles a little when she reaches out and rests her palm against his knuckles. She gives him a sympathetic smile and then pulls it back, sitting up a bit straighter in her seat and busying herself stirring her coffee with a straw. 


“Priscilla misses you,” he says, changing the subject again, and her delighted smile makes his heart swell. 


“How can you possibly know that?” she replies skeptically, even though it’s clear that she wants it to be true. 


“You think I can’t communicate with my cat?” he asks in mock offense, “what kind of roommate would I be if I didn’t learn to speak her language?”


Scully shakes her head, the smile still playing on her lips. “So how’d you end up being the one to keep her, anyway?” she asks, “she’s such a sweet cat, I’m surprised your ex was willing to part with her.”


Mulder takes a sip of his coffee before continuing. “At the time that Valerie, that’s my ex, moved out, she was planning to spend some time bumming around Europe so she really couldn't take Priscilla. I think by the time she got back, she felt too guilty about taking her away so she just let me keep her. Prissy always preferred me anyway, so I think she was satisfied with the custody arrangement.”


“So, you’re still in touch with her, then? Your ex?” She’s not making eye contact, trying to act casual, but he can tell she’s curious to know if they’re still involved. He’s curious to know why she cares. 


“Oh, yeah, we’re on good terms, always have been. We don’t spend a ton of time together, but I would still consider her a close friend,” he answers honestly. 


Scully frowns a little. “Then why did you break up, if you get along so well?”


Mulder sits back in his chair, considering the question for a moment. “I guess there just wasn’t a spark, you know. We looked great on paper, very compatible technically speaking. She was my best friend, a great partner. There was just something missing, for both of us. I loved her, still love her, but not in that way that makes you go ‘shit, I could spend the rest of my life waking up next to this person.’ And we both wanted that, and thought maybe we could have it with someone else, so we broke up.” He leans forward again, elbows on the table top, and takes in her stoic expression. 


After a moment of contemplation, she speaks. “How would you know, if you had ‘the spark’ as you call it? What does that even mean?” There’s a mild defensiveness to her tone and it confuses him. 


“I think...I think you just know,” he says, meeting her eye. She swallows and then drops her gaze, picking up her cup and sucking noisily at the last drops of coffee that cling to the ice. 


Chapter Text


Sent: July 11, 1996 10:15am


Subject: A message from Priscilla


Hey Scully, 


It was good to see you yesterday. Priscilla asked me to inquire as to whether she might make your acquaintance again at any point. It would seem as though she requires more feminine energy in the apartment than I can supply. 


Do you like baseball, by the way? Playing and/or watching. 




Sent: July 11, 1996 3:06pm


Subject: RE:A message from Priscilla 


Hi Mulder, 


I’d love to see Priscilla again. Presuming that you also need to be there for Priscilla and I to get together, I suppose we can work out a date and time. I’m unavailable this weekend, but maybe the one after?


As for the baseball, I’m not much for sports generally, though I take in a game now and then as a purely social activity. I suppose I’ve had more productive things to occupy my time with than slapping a horse hide with a stick. Why do you ask?




Sent: July 12, 1996 8:36am


Subject: RE:RE:RE:A message from Priscilla




Raincheck then. Let me know when you’re free. I’ll check Priscilla’s calendar. 


No reason, just curious. Have a good weekend. 




Sent: July 12, 1996 12:43pm


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:A message from Priscilla


Thanks Mulder, you too. 



Chapter Text



She watches Ethan from the couch as he pulls a tin of muffins out of the oven, arranging a few on a plate. She’s been thinking a lot about what Mulder said about not having a spark with his ex. She wonders if she and Ethan have a spark, or if they did at one point. When she thinks about her relationship with Ethan, what stands out to her is commitment, dedication, stability. And love, of course, she does love him. 


When they first met through mutual friends, she wasn’t particularly interested. He was perfectly nice, and good looking enough, but struck her more as a potential friend than a boyfriend. He was steadfast, kept showing up, kept gently working to get to know her, and eventually she started to grow fond of him. They’ve joked that while his attraction to her was immediate, hers to him was more of a slow burn. This is what mature, adult relationships are like, right? Measured, practical, logical. When you’re young, wild, and free, you date whoever you have the most fun with, chasing the next exciting experience and the rush of a first kiss. But the person you marry should be someone who you know will be a dependable partner, a good parent, and a lifelong support. That has always been her belief. 


Ethan returns to sit with her on the couch, setting the muffins on the coffee table to cool. He picks up her feet and puts them in his lap, casting her a brief smile before he goes to work pressing his thumbs into her arches as he watches TV. 




Is that what she feels when she’s with Mulder? A spark? Is that why her stomach goes into knots when he looks at her? Why she feels the overwhelming urge to touch him? The sensation that there is an electrical current passing between them is not one she’s ever felt with Ethan, that’s for sure. There was no adrenaline in their first kiss, only contentment. Comfort, safety, security. These are good feelings, ones you can build a life on. Can you build a life on a spark?


“You still going to try on dresses tomorrow with Missy?” he asks, his eyes glued to the TV screen.


“Mhmm,” she answers over her book, which she hasn’t gotten through a page of in over thirty minutes. 


“Are you gonna let me see what you pick?” he asks, glancing at her from the corner of his eye with a surreptitious smirk. 


She sets the book on her stomach and gives him a chastising smile. “Of course not, Ethan. That’s against the rules.”


“Who made that rule, anyway? I’ve already seen you naked, I should be able to see you in a fancy dress before the big day,” he says with a pointed look. 


She swats him with the book. 


“The fact that you’ve already seen me naked is also against the rules, so I guess we’re 0 for 2. Don’t tell my mother that,” she lectures playfully.


“I’m sure she has her suspicions, given that we live together,” he says dryly. 


“Leave the woman to her ignorant bliss,” she retorts, and they hold eye contact for a moment, exchanging affectionate smiles. 


Not a spark, but maybe an ember. Burning steady, carrying them through the dark nights. Sparks die out quickly. She only hopes her spark with Mulder fades soon, because right now it’s burning so bright it’s distracting her from the ember sitting right at her feet. 




She frowns at herself in the mirror.


“This one is really pretty, Sis, you don’t like it?” Missy asks, tugging at the train to straighten it out. 


“I don’t know. Maybe. No.” 


She looks forlornly at the rack of dresses she’s already tried on. Every length and cut, style of bodice and neckline. They all seemed wrong. 


“I mean, I know you’re generally hard to please, Dana, but this is getting ridiculous,” Missy laments. 


“I know, I’m sorry,” she replies, casting Missy an apologetic look. 


“Which one do you think Ethan would like? Would that help you decide?” Missy offers helpfully.


Ethan. Right. She realizes that she’s been thinking about what Mulder would make of her in a white dress. She suspects he’d go for the mermaid fit. 


“Can we just try again another day, maybe? I think I’m just not in the right headspace for this,” she pleads with her big sister. 


“Sure, whatever you want. Let’s go get coffee or something,” Missy says as she ushers Dana back into the changing room. 


They go to her favorite local spot, finding two open armchairs near the fireplace, which is off for the summer. Dana tucks her legs under her torso, sipping at an indulgent white chocolate mocha; she feels the need for small pleasures right now. Missy eyes her appraisingly, and she can feel the third degree that is about to commence. 


“So what’s up with you?” she finally asks, her tone inquisitive but not abrasive.


“What do you mean?” Dana asks in reply, avoiding her eyes.


Missy’s head drops to the side in exasperation. “Are you really going to make me spell it out for you, Dana? I’m trying to be supportive of your decision to marry Ethan, but you’re making it really hard being so openly miserable all the time.”


Dana looks at her with surprise and indignation. “I am not miserable.”


“Coulda fooled me,” Missy says sarcastically.


Dana shakes her head. “I’m just...I don’t know, I have a lot on my mind.”


“Care to elaborate?” Missy asks with an expectant look. 


She sighs and sets her shoulders. She needs to talk to someone about this, and Missy is literally her only option. 


“Okay, but first I need you to promise me you’re not going to make a big deal about this, because it’s really not a big deal,” she prefaces with a stern look. 


“You know me, I don’t do big deals,” Missy replies, working hard to hide her anticipation for whatever her little sister is about to reveal. 


“Okay. So, I met this man at work,” she starts, and Missy’s eyes go as round as oranges. “Missy, don’t look at me like that.”


“I didn’t say anything,” Missy defends, “go on.” She’s leaning forward in her chair, creating less space between them. 


“He’s an agent, he was just picking something up for a case he’s working on, but he asked me out, and we’ve kind of been...we’ve become friends,” she says hesitantly, glancing at Missy to gage her reaction. Missy is forcing a blank expression. 


“’re dating him?” she asks flatly. 


“No! Oh god, no. I mean, he asked me out and I told him that I have a boyfriend, but now we’re just kind of friends, and….Jesus Christ.” She drops her forehead into her palm. Even describing what’s going on with Mulder is apparently impossible. “We are just friends, but...but I’m having a hard time reconciling how I feel about him.”


“How do you feel about him?” Missy asks.


Dana shakes her head. “I don’t know how to describe it, Missy. I love Ethan, I’m not having doubts about him, but this man...I feel so drawn to him. Being around him feels...almost electric.”


“Like you have a spark?” Missy asks, and Dana’s head snaps to look at her. She’s open, curious. 


“Yeah...exactly like that,” she replies regretfully. 


Missy nods in understanding, and it somehow makes Dana feel a little better, like she’s not totally crazy. “Tell me about him,” she requests, and Dana can’t help but smile. 


“Um, he’s a criminal behavioral analyst, in the Behavioral Science Unit. Oxford educated. He’s funny, but in a dry, intellectual way. He has some pretty outlandish ideas, but he’s so passionate about what he believes in, it’s impossible not to take him seriously. He’s kind of intense, but really alluring.” She pauses, knowing she can’t go on much further without veering into gushing. 


“Is he cute?” Missy asks, and Dana closes her eyes. 


“SO good looking. Painfully so.” She opens them and Missy is smiling knowingly at her. 


“Sounds like a real catch, Sis.”


“Yeah, but I’m engaged to someone who is also a great catch in his own right. I feel like I’m in a romcom.”


“So what are you gonna do?” Missy asks earnestly. 


Dana looks at her with surprise. “What do you mean? I’m not going to do anything. It’s just distracting, but obviously nothing can or will come of it.”


Missy gives her a doubtful expression, but then raises her eyes to meet with someone over Dana’s shoulder, giving them a questioning look. Dana turns to see Mulder standing beside her, a cup in his hand and that damn boyish smile on his mouth. 


“Hey, Scully, we meet again,” he says, glancing between her and Missy. 


“Mulder, hi,” she stumbles, bringing her feet to the floor and squirming around as though he’d caught her in a compromised position. “Um, Mulder, this is my sister, Melissa. Missy, this is Fox Mulder.”


He steps forward and extends his hand to Missy, and she shakes it with a flirtatious smile. “Nice to meet you, Fox.”


“Oh, please call me Mulder,” he replies. 


“Alright, Mulder, would you like to join us?” Missy asks, and Dana shoots her a look. 


“Um, yeah, I can hang out for a minute,” he replies cautiously, pulling up a chair between the two of theirs. 


“So, how do you and Dana know each other?” she asks, and Dana isn’t sure if she’s asking because she realizes who he is, or because she doesn’t. 


“We work together, technically speaking. I’m a criminal behavioral analyst in the Behavioral Science Unit.” Missy gives Dana a good look that tells her it was the latter. “What are you two up to today?” he asks, running his palm over a stubbled cheek. She can hear the scratch of the short hairs against his skin and it sets off a tingle at the back of her neck. 


“We were just doing some wedding dress shopping,” Missy offers, watching his reaction closely. 


“Ah,” he says, only moderately concealing his dissatisfaction, “sounds like a good time.” His tone is dry and not at all genuine. “So, Scully,” he says, directing his words to Dana, “Priscilla was wondering if you could stop by next weekend. She has something to show you.”


She smiles coyly. “Does she? Not a hairball, I hope?”


Mulder chuckles. “No, it’s a file, actually. Her personal favorite, she’d love to share it with you.”


“I think I might be free on Saturday,” she replies, “I just need to check, um…”


“Check with Ethan, right,” he finishes, his smile fading a bit. 


“Right,” she confirms, her own smile quickly extinguishing. 


Mulder stands. “I’ll email you, to confirm.” He turns to Missy, “It was nice to meet you, Melissa.”


Missy beams at him. “Likewise.”


Mulder turns to Scully and gives her a longing glance, then leaves. They watch him go, waiting until the door has closed behind him to speak. 


Missy slaps Dana’s arm. “Oh. My. GOD, Sis!” she exclaims with wide eyes and an open mouth. 


“What?” Dana returns. 


“Spark? That is a goddamn bonfire. Even I could feel it,” she says with a look of wonder. 


Dana gives her a pained expression then drops her head into her hands with a groan. 


“Why does he call you Scully? And who the hell is Priscilla?” Missy adds. 


Dana lifts her head, looking at her sister regretfully with a shrug. 


“He said I don’t look like a Dana. Priscilla is his cat.”


Missy closes her eyes for a moment and gently shakes her head, her eyebrows furrowing like she’s trying to reconcile all this information in her brain. 


“Whoa, so you’ve been to his place?” Missy asks incredulously. 


Dana nods hesitantly. 


“Sis, what are you doing? If you were to tell me that you’re going to break it off with Ethan and run away with that beautiful man I would honestly support you. But if you’re trying to keep things on the up and up here, a private rendezvous at his apartment seems like a really bad idea.”

Missy is deeply confused, not used to being in the position to tell her sister what decisions are unwise. That is typically Dana’s role in their relationship. 


Dana glares at her sister defensively. “We’re just friends, Missy. Men and women can be just friends.”


Missy shoots her a ‘do you think I was born yesterday?’ look. 


“Sure they can, if they aren’t insanely attracted to each other. That man practically devoured you with his eyes, Dana. He wants to be more than your friend,” she says emphatically.


“Well, he’s not going to be. I’m with Ethan. And I’m an adult who can control myself enough to maintain boundaries with a platonic friend who happens to be an attractive man. I’m not a Neanderthal, Missy.” She’s using her professor voice, presenting the topic with supporting evidence. Only the facts, folks. 


“Okay,” Missy says, acquiescing. “If you trust yourself then great, have fun with your friend. Does Ethan know you’re gallivanting around with a sexy behavioral analyst?”


The guilty look that overtakes Dana’s face is answer enough. 


“Well,” Missy continues, “just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” she brings levity back to the conversation with a little smirk. 


“That leaves me with a lot of options, Missy,” Dana retorts, and Missy slaps her arm again. 


Chapter Text


Sent: July 15, 1996 9:06am


Subject: This weekend




It was good to run into you yesterday. Your sister seems nice. Is she older or younger? I remember you said you had three siblings; where do you fall in there?


Let me know if you can come by this weekend. Priscilla promises to provide a better beverage selection this time. She was unimpressed with my hosting abilities. 


Sent: July 15, 1996 10:23am


Subject: RE:This weekend




I was surprised to see you in Georgetown again, what brought you by? Not your drug dealer again, I presume (disclaimer to anyone reading this that it’s a joke). I’m the third of four; Missy is two years older than me. Our oldest brother is Bill and little brother is Charlie. Do you have other siblings, aside from the sister you told me about?


As for this weekend, I’m free in the evening on Saturday. I had the thought, though, that it’s perhaps not appropriate for us to be spending time alone at your apartment. Not that I think you have or would behave inappropriately in any way, just for propriety’s sake. Sorry if that seems old fashioned. Maybe we can get dinner? Send my regrets to Priscilla. 


Sent: July 15, 1996 4:45pm


Subject: RE:RE:This weekend


Given the later half of your email, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to admit that I went by that coffee shop hoping to see you there again. So let’s just say it was indeed to pay a visit to my dealer. 


Nope, Samantha was my only sibling. Mom and Dad divorced after she disappeared. It was far from a Hallmark movie, but I turned out okay (I think). 


Scully, if you don’t trust yourself around me behind closed doors, all you have to do is say so. Jokes aside, I can respect that. I actually have an idea of something we could do that is very public and not at all inappropriate. Will you trust me if I tell you it’s a surprise?


Sent: July 16, 1996 9:36am


Subject: RE:RE:RE:This weekend


I go by that coffee shop most Sundays, sometimes with my sister or mom, sometimes alone. I’m not sure what your dealer’s typical hours of operation are, but I tend to be there around noon. For future reference. 


I’m sorry to hear about your parents. I would say you turned out pretty well, but then again I hardly know you. 


I will trust you with a mystery public outing so long as you let me know what to dress for and also if there will be food involved. Something you should know about me; if you don’t feed me I turn into a Gremlin. 


Sent: July 17, 1996 8:56am


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:This weekend


Hey, sorry I never got back to you yesterday. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say that criminal profilers are not immune to workplace drama. 


As luck would have it, my dealer runs a blue light special at 11:30 am on Sundays, so I tend to be in the neighborhood around that time. A stunning coincidence. 


I think you know me better than the vast majority of the people I interact with at this point, save for a select few. I’m not sure if that speaks as much to the fact that I like hanging out with you as it does to the fact that I don’t have many friends. My spooky reputation tends to scare people off, but I’m not exactly crying in my cornflakes over it. 


I wouldn’t want you to turn into a Gremlin on me, so refreshments will be provided. Wear something you can move in, definitely not a dress or heels (it pains me to say this). Can I pick you up at 5:00?


Sent: July 17,1996 2:31pm


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:This weekend


Workplace drama knows no bounds. I’ve been getting the silent treatment from one of the other pathologists because I questioned whether they’d calibrated the scale before weighing internal organs. 


I think you’re overestimating how well I know you, Mulder. I know next to nothing about you, outside your interest in the paranormal and a bit about your childhood. 


I’m resisting the urge to ask what you have planned. Why don’t we meet somewhere? If you’re taking me UFO sighting...we better see a UFO is all I’m saying. 


Sent: July 18, 1996 9:10am


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:The weekend


I want to make a comment on the fact that weighing internal organs is part of your job description, but I spent an hour today debating whether someone sticking pencils in their victim’s eyes is some kind of Freudian penis envy thing. 


You know more about me than you think, Scully. You know I’m a cat person, and that I have terrible taste in beer. Also that I like Radiohead and am not beneath asking a woman out while she’s trying to do her job. I’ll offer you a bonus fact, or more accurately a confession: I didn’t really need to come down to Quantico last week when we had coffee. I just wanted to get coffee with you. Don’t tell my boss. 


Now you have to tell me something about yourself. It’s only fair. 


If there were any good places to spot UFOs around here, I’d take you in a heartbeat. If you’re ever up for a road trip out west, let me know. Washington State is a hotbed of UFO activity. Plus they have really good coffee. 


Can you meet me at the Hoover building? I’ll drive us from there. 


Sent: July 18, 1996 1:19pm


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:This weekend


So what was the verdict on the pencil/penis eyeball situation? Fruedian or no?


I’m touched that you’d go so far as insubordination to have coffee with me, however I hope you won’t make a habit of it. Next time you come down here I’ll have to email your boss and ask him if you got permission to come out and play. 


Something about me...I like to read a lot. I think I’d say Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time (not that you asked). I’m also addicted to bubble baths. Actually, reading Jane Eyre IN a bubble bath is pretty much my idea of heaven (ideally with a glass of wine). 


I’ve been to Seattle once. Too much rain, though it was very green and pretty. Isn’t that where Bigfoot lives?


I’ll meet you at the Hoover building on Saturday at 5, wearing my very best ball gown and stiletto heels. 


Sent: July 19, 1996 8:13am


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:This weekend


No verdict will be reached unless and until we catch the guy and have occasion to ask him if he was using his pencils as...pencils. Profiles are all theory, which can be both interesting and frustrating. 


I wouldn’t advise you to contact my AD, he’s kind of a dick. I’ll ask him to write a note excusing me from work next time. 


Jane Eyre? I wouldn’t have expected that from you. It’s a very romantic book, and entirely centered around two people who never should have worked as a couple coming together despite numerous obstacles. Is that something you’re into?


You get 95 points for knowing that Bigfoot lives in Washington (you lost 5 for calling him Bigfoot; he’s known as Sasquatch out there). My dream vacation is lurking around the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Squatchin’.


It’s a date. 


Sent: July 19, 1996 3:46pm


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:This weekend


Don’t ruin my favorite book by overanalyzing it, Mulder. If you’d like to trash Wuthering Heights, be my guest. I pledge my allegiance to Charlotte. 


Your dream vacation sounds like it might end in death from exposure, or perhaps a good old fashioned bear mauling, but who am I to tell you how to spend your paid leave?


See you tomorrow, at 5. And it’s not a date. 


Sent: July 19, 1996 6:55pm


Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:This weekend

I would always rather be happy than dignified.

(A little Charlotte to arrive to on Monday)

Chapter Text

“Explain again why you’re doing this to yourself, Mulder?” Byers asks with a pained look of concern. 


He’s sifting through his closet, deciding what would be appropriately friendly for his outing with Scully. What kind of outfit says “I have no intention of trying to seduce you,” but also doesn’t leave him looking unworthy of seduction?


“I wish I knew, Byers,” he says as he pulls out his Greys jersey. Sports attire is very casual, but Val had once told him that he was devastatingly sexy in this jersey, so he tugs it off the hanger and puts it on over his white T-shirt. “I guess the idea of never seeing her again is even worse than being around her and knowing we’ll never be more than friends.”


Byers shakes his head slowly. “You’re a glutton for punishment, Mulder. Are you sure you aren’t secretly holding out hope that you can steal her away?”


Mulder buttons up the jersey and considers the question, his mouth quirked to the side. “I mean, I’m not actively trying to do anything, she’s way too smart for that and she’d see right through it. But the hope is there, sure.”


Byers nods sadly. “Well, good luck. Here are the keys, by the way.” He pulls a small key ring from his pocket and hands it to Mulder, who deposits it into his jeans pocket.


“Thanks, Byers, I appreciate the favor. I owe you one,” he says, clapping the man on the back. 


After Byers is gone he brushes his teeth, considers and then decides against pounding a beer to calm his nerves, then says goodbye to Priscilla and heads to the Hoover building. 


Scully is early, leaning against the passenger side door of her car when he pulls into the lot. He lets out a pained moan when he sees her, clad in flared jeans and a peasant-style flowered top that is cinched under her breasts. While he knows that realistically no human is perfect, Scully is about as close as it gets. He tries not to imagine what she’s got on under there, lest he embarrass himself. 


He pulls up beside her and she opens the door, smiling at him shyly as she lowers herself into the passenger seat. 


“Hi,” she says, and just the greeting makes his heart ache. 


“Hey,” he returns with what he hopes is a casual, friendly smile. Do not leer at her. Do not gaze. He’s been giving himself frequent reminders. 


“So, what do you have planned?” she asks as she pulls the seatbelt across her lap.


Mulder smirks in reply, backing out of the lot. “All in good time,” he says, and she gives him an appraising look. 


“I’m not even sure why I’m instilling so much trust in you here, Mulder. Don’t push it,” she says with a playful tone, though it’s clear there’s some truth to the statement. 


“Okay, okay, I’ll give you the preliminary details,” He acquiesces. “First we’re going to The Queen Vic, which has the best fish and chips in DC, in my humble opinion. Have you been there?”


She shakes her head. 


“Perfect. Then we’ll head down to the wharf and get some ice cream.” He suddenly wonders if he’s made incorrect assumptions about what she likes, and casts her a concerned glance at a stoplight. “Do you like ice cream?”


She looks at him like he has three heads. “Who doesn’t like ice cream?” 


He feels a little wave of relief. “I’m sure there’s someone out there who doesn’t like ice cream,” he replies, “but frankly, whoever they are, I have no interest in knowing them.”


She chuckles and there it is again, that ache in his chest. He wonders if it will fade over time. 


The Queen Vic isn’t very busy just yet, given that they’re having an early dinner. They are seated at a small, dimly lit booth and each order a beer, fish and chips. Scully opts for an IPA and he feels a retroactive flush of embarrassment at the beer he served her, now knowing what her tastes are. She’s looking around, taking in the ambiance and British paraphernalia papering the walls, and he is looking at her. The cut of her top reveals the soft swell of her breasts, pale and inviting. Even her neck is beautiful, smooth and long and god, he wants to kiss it. Has he ever been taken with someone’s jawline before? Well he has now. Devastatingly beautiful, she is. Ache. Ache. Ache. 


She’s looking at him now, and he smiles guiltily, having been caught. Fuck. He promised himself he wouldn’t do that. She bites her lip and fiddles with the salt shaker as though she’s not entirely sure what function it serves. What would a friend do? What would a friend ask? He needs to act like a friend, if he wants to be one. 


“So, how’s wedding planning going?” he asks, the words feeling sour in his mouth. 


She gives him a quizzical expression. “It’s okay. Fine, I guess.”


He nods. “And how’s Ethan?”


Her eyebrows furrow. “Um...fine. He’s fine. Mulder...why are you asking me about that? About the wedding, and Ethan?”


He dips his chin a bit, giving the pepper shaker a similar assessment. “I guess I just figured if we’re friends, a friend would ask about things like that?” He chances a glance at her and her expression is sympathetic, perhaps even pitying. 


“You don’t need to do that, Mulder. We don’t have to talk about my relationship to be friends.” She’s running her finger over the condensation on the side of her glass, and he finds it disturbingly arousing. 


“Fair enough, how’s work? Is that a better topic?” He is rewarded with a smile. My god that smile. She could melt permafrost with that smile. 


“Work is great, no complaints,” she says coolly, an apparently genuine answer. 


They drink, and eat, and talk. They talk about why she loves teaching, and how she got into pathology. He shares a bit about his methods for starting and then adjusting a criminal profile. They talk about med school, and his time at Oxford. He tells her about Phoebe and she admits a proclivity towards dating older men, with the exception of Ethan. It is so easy between them, and so right. He wants to scoop her up and steal her away in his car. Take her to a faraway place where there is no Ethan, where they can see this thing through. He notices how she often tries to hide her smiles, and the major role her eyebrows play in her facial expressions. She has a little mole above her lip that she’s attempted to cover with makeup, and her fingernails are perfectly manicured, like she has them professionally done. He wonders if she has tattoos, or piercings. If her bellybutton is an innie or an outie. If she prefers breakfast or dinner. If she likes morning sex. If she trims her pubic hair or takes it all off. He wants to know her, every bit. But he can’t. He never will. It hurts to think about it. 


He drives them down to the wharf and they get ice cream cones from a stand near the water; she picks cookies and cream and he opts for rocky road. The evening is warm but not uncomfortable, the sun holding steady as it makes its descent towards the horizon. These are the dog days of summer, the daylight stretching well into the evening. No cover of darkness for a lover’s confession, not that he has any business making one. Friends meeting in daylight, above board. Never anything more. 


They walk along the boardwalk, continuing their conversation between sweet licks, and he avoids watching her, but not entirely successfully. He must have been putting too much effort towards not staring and too little towards rotating his cone, because suddenly his ice cream flops over the side of its perch and lands on the ground with an audible smack. 


He stops walking and stares at the now empty cone in his hand for a beat, and then he hears her giggling. When he looks over to her, she has her hand firmly planted over her mouth while she struggles to contain her laughter, the titters shaking her shoulders gently. The resulting swell of affection is overwhelming. 


“You think that’s funny, huh?” he says dryly, and she works even harder to stop laughing, her face contorting into a grimace as tears pool in her eyes, shaking her head as though she could possibly deny her amusement. 


He chucks his cone into a nearby trash can, then approaches her. 


“Looks like you’ll have to share yours with me,” he says, moving his hand as though to take her ice cream, and she pulls it away with an open-mouthed expression of shock. 


“Get out of here, it’s not my fault you licked yours right off the cone,” she says, wiping at her eyes with her free hand. 


“Come on, Scully, friends share, don’t they?” he teases, maneuvering around to where she’s moved her arm, swiping at it playfully. 


“Mulder, knock it off,” she replies, still smiling, and they are now moving in circles, him towards her ice cream while she artfully moves it out of his grasp. 


Suddenly he swoops behind her, his long arms circling her waist and pulling her flush against him, pinning her stationary while he wraps his hand around her wrist and brings her ice cream cone to his own mouth. She shrieks in protest as he steals a big bite, and once he’s accomplished his goal, he becomes aware of their proximity. The feel of her pressed against him, the taper of her waist under his forearm, the smell of her shampoo in his nose. He grips her tighter, ever so briefly, but then releases her suddenly. He has no right. He crossed a line. She steps forward slowly, turning to look at him with pink cheeks. 


“Sorry,” he says sheepishly, his arms dropping to his sides, woefully empty. Missing her already. 


She shakes her head gently. “It’s okay,” she says, and they continue walking. 


As they approach his car, the sun is just beginning to kiss the horizon. It’s nearly 8:30. 


“This was really fun, Mulder, thank you,” she says with a shy smile, and he grins at the affirmation. 


“There is one more thing I had planned, Scully, unless you have to get home right away,” he says cautiously, and she regards him with surprise, but not unpleasantly so. 


“I don’t know, let me call my mother and see if I can stay out past curfew,” she jokes, but then adds “I suppose I’m curious to see what else you’ve got up your sleeve.”


“Great, let’s go,” he replies as he opens the car door for her. 



She watches streetlights racing past as Mulder drives them to their final destination and feels a swell of guilt for how wonderful this night has been, then tries to talk herself out of it. She’s done nothing wrong, nothing inappropriate. She’s allowed to have dinner and ice cream with a man who is not her fiancé; he doesn’t own her. Given, the moment with the ice cream cone was a bit more flirtatious than might be ideal, but they were caught up in the moment. She tries not to remember the feel of his compact body pushed against her back, the strength of his arm around her waist. Tries not to imagine how it would feel to have him hold her like that without their clothes on. She closes her eyes and swallows. 


They pull up in front of a darkened sports complex and she turns to look at him, questions communicated through her eyes. 


“You don’t have something more worthwhile to do right now than slap a horsehide with a stick do ya, Scully?” he says with a smirk. 


Her eyebrows lift. “Perhaps not, Mulder, but it looks like they’re closed.”


“A mere technicality,” he replies as he parks right in front of the main entrance, not even in a parking spot. 


They approach the doors and he produces a set of keys from his pocket, holding the door open for her before he locks it behind them. There are security lights faintly illuminating the shuttered games and concessions, and she startles a little when she feels him slip his hand into hers, pulling her towards a hallway. His hand is broad and slightly callused, and she unconsciously threads her fingers through his. He glances at her, a slight cast of surprise in his features, but doesn’t say anything. 


When they reach a large room, he flips on the lights and she sees rows of batting cages, five or six lined up on either side of a walkway down the middle. 


“Are we supposed to be in here?” she asks him suspiciously, and he shrugs. 


“The cops aren’t going to roll up or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he says as he gathers a bucket of balls and two bats. “Even if they did, a couple FBI badges should send them off right quick.” He winks at her and she feels a flutter in her belly. 


He motions for her to follow him to one of the cages, and she waits nervously while he loads the pitching machine and turns it on. When he turns around, he sees her trepidation and smiles warmly at her. 


“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you everything you need to know,” he says reassuringly, and she forces her mouth into a tight smile. 


He directs her to stand just outside the cage and demonstrates for her how the pitching machine works, talking her through his stance and movements for seven or eight pitches. He hits every single one, sending the ball crashing into the back wall with a padded smack , and she has the unsettling feeling that she’s about to embarrass herself. 


“Alright, batter up!” he says, handing her the bat and sending her in. 


She gives him a doubtful look. 


“It’s easy, you’ll get the hang of it,” he encourages her, then shows her where to stand before he steps out and starts the pitching machine. 


When the first pitch sails by, she winces and lets out a little squeak, but doesn’t swing. She can hear Mulder chuckle a little, but waits for the next one. When it comes, she swings way too early, and it flies past her head and bounces off the back wall. Three or four complete misses later, she looks at him woefully. 


“I’m terrible at this, Mulder,” she whines. 


He shakes his head and smiles at her. 


“You just need some minor adjustments,” he offers, then comes inside the cage. He steps up close behind her and she startles a little at the contact. 


“Sorry, is this okay? It’s the best way to show you,” he offers, and she nods, the back of her head brushing against his shoulder with the movement. He’s just showing her how to hit a stupid baseball. It’s the least romantic thing on earth, as far as she’s concerned. 


He steps close again, wrapping his arms around hers as the length of his torso presses firmly against hers from her shoulder blades right down to her ass. She can feel his breath hot on her ear as he speaks. 


“Now don’t strangle the bat, Scully, just shake hands with it,” he says as their palms brush over one another, vying for real estate. “We want to go hips before hands,” he continues, “stride forward, and then turn.” He motions with a hand in front of her towards the pitching machine, and she nods in confirmation. “It’s hips,” he places an open palm against her hip bone and physically turns her torso. She feels a rush between her thighs. “Before hands,” he replaces his hand on the bat and guides them through a mock swing. 


“Okay,” she says, taking a steadying breath. 


“Again, that’s hips,” there his palm is again, hot and firm and pressing into her flesh as he tilts her pelvis forcibly, “before hands. What is it?”


“Um, hips before hands,” she says breathily, resisting an overwhelming urge to press her ass back harder into his lap, to slip that hand beneath the waistband of her jeans so she can feel it on her bare skin. She has a vision of her riding him on the floor as the pitching machine flings balls aimlessly against the back wall, no one caring enough to hit them. She shivers. 


“We’re gonna wait on the pitch, keep our eye on the ball, and then we’re just gonna make contact. We’re not gonna think, we’re just gonna let it fly, Scully, okay?”


“Okay,” she says shakily, her heart thrumming in her chest. 


They take several swings, the bat making contact with the ball with a sharp crack. Mulder is murmuring in her ear about letting your mind go blank and forgetting about all your worries, but she’s too distracted by the heat of his body and the smell of his aftershave to hear him. If not for the risk of getting pelted by a ball, she just might turn in his arms, push him up against the wire-fence walls of this batting cage, and show him how she prefers to handle bats and balls. 


The grip of his hands over hers on the bat pinches the skin around her engagement ring and she jerks. Mulder steps away from her a bit. 


“You okay?” he asks, and she nods. 


“Um, maybe I should try by myself now. Thanks for showing me,” she says without looking at him, and he steps back into the walkway to watch her. She hits the next three balls, then turns to smile at him victoriously. The pain and longing in his expression makes her heart sink. 


After shutting the place down, they drive back to the Hoover building in relative silence, tension hanging thick between them like a curtain. He puts the car in park and gets out, walking her to the door of her own car, which strikes her as unnecessary. She stands by the open door, sensing that there’s something he wants to say. 


“Scully….” he stops and shakes his head gently, talking himself out of it. 


“What?” she asks, desperately wanting to know what he was going to say. 


He clenches his jaw, fighting an inner battle. 


“Scully, I know I shouldn’t say this to you. I know that you’re...with someone. I just-” he purses his lips, then closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them, his eyes are so full of emotion it makes her breath catch in her chest. “I think about you all the time. Every second of every day.”


“Oh,” she responds lamely. There’s that urge again, the one she has to resist. “You seem like the kind of guy that believes in reincarnation, Mulder,” she says softly.


He gives her a quizzical look. “I don’t NOT believe in it,” he offers. 


She smiles sadly at him, reaching out to grasp his hand and give it a brief squeeze. “Maybe in another life,” she says, then climbs into her car and shuts the door. 


As she drives home, tears run down her cheeks freely. If she had to identify a reason for them, grief would be the closest one. 

Chapter Text


Sent: July 22, 1996 7:56am


Subject: [no subject]


Scully. I don’t know what to say.


Sent: July 24, 1996 4:58pm


Subject: RE:[no subject]


I’m sorry I put you in that position, Mulder. That was unfair. 


It’s been really lovely getting to know you, but I think it’s clear that being friends is not something we can successfully do. It’s probably for the best that we not continue spending time together.


Please take care. 



Chapter Text

I would always rather be happy than dignified.


Arriving Monday morning to both that quote from Jane Eyre, as well as Mulder’s other email after their...whatever that was, had effectively broken her heart. She could not, in good conscience, continue to spend time with him knowing that he was torturing himself pining away for her. He made clear that he would never stop trying; he couldn’t. So she’d sent her reply, and he has not responded as of Friday at 4:00pm. 


There is a feeling of relief, of moving forward from this odd and confusing chapter, but greater than that is a feeling of loss. Part of her wishes he’d fight for her, demand to be given a chance, but then she’d just be in the position to reject him again, to choose Ethan again. She feels cruel and heartless for desiring this man’s affection even though she has no intention of accepting or returning it. 


She powers down her computer and goes home for the weekend. 




He reads her email so many times the words stop holding meaning. He prints it off so he can take it home and read it again and again while trying to watch TV, to read, to sleep. He convinces himself it’s a secret cry for him to try harder, that it’s only meant to be temporary; surely she doesn’t mean that they can never see each other again. He writes and rewrites potential responses hundreds of times; in his head, on paper, in drafts and drafts of emails. The only thing he can think to say is: I love you. Please choose me. But how could she believe he knows her well enough to love her? They’ve barely known each other for two months. In the end, he doesn’t reply at all. He decides to let her go. 


In truth, she was never his to try and hold on to in the first place. 

Chapter Text

She stands on the rain-soaked sidewalk, staring up at the silhouette of the steeple against the grey sky. Church has always been a place to come home to, and yet she’s dreading walking through these doors.


Ethan slips his hand into hers, all long fingers and soft palm, and she looks at him. 


“Ready?” he asks softly, and she nods once. 


They push through the imposing wooden doors and enter the anteroom, turning to the right to find Father O’Dowell’s office. Ethan raps thrice on the door frame and a gruff voice commands them to enter. 


“Dana, Ethan, please sit down,” he directs as they enter the room, and they take the seats across from his desk. “You’re ready to begin your Pre-Cana, then?” he asks over his bifocals, and they nod in unison. 


Ethan reaches across the armrest to take the hand in her lap and she holds it limply, her stomach twisting as though it’s attempting to turn itself inside out. She probably should have eaten breakfast. 


“As you both know,” Father O’Dowell begins, “marriage between two baptized Catholics such as yourselves is a sacrament. Much as Jesus turned water into wine in Cana, your marriage will be a miracle, becoming something greater and more powerful than you are alone. Your marriage will be a symbol which reveals the Lord Jesus and through which his divine life and love are communicated.”


He pauses to consider them, and she works hard to keep her expression neutral, if not leaning ever so slightly towards pleased. She can’t let the panic in her belly find its way to her face in front of this priest. 


“Have you discussed your sacramental marriage commitment to each other, under all circumstances? You are each entering into this union with the intention to die married to one another, forsaking all others?” he says, giving her a pointed look. 


Is she imagining it, or is he directing all of this towards her and not Ethan? She swallows and then nods softly. 


“Alright,” he continues, opening a folder and sifting through several sheets of paper, “let’s talk, then, about how to prepare for a successful marriage, so that you might spend eternity as man and wife.”





“You okay?,” Ethan asks, sitting down beside her on the couch and resting his hand on the back of her neck with a brief squeeze. 


She nods. “That was just...a lot,” she replies with tired eyes. 


Two hours spent talking to Father O’Dowell about how they’d raise their children, how they’d keep Christ present in their marriage daily, what holiday traditions they wanted to create for their family, how they will approach conflict resolution. As a private person, these conversations feel invasive and embarrassing, but even more than that she is shell shocked by how many times he used the word eternity . Of course she knows that what she is signing on for is the rest of her life with Ethan, but the hammering home of the eternity bit along with the fact that divorce is out of the question was a bit jarring. 


“You want me to stay?” Ethan asks with a concerned look. “I can cancel, it’s no big deal.”


“No,” she replies with a wave of her hand, “you should go, I think I’d actually benefit from some time alone.”


“Right, before we spend ETERNITY together,” he replies with a smirk, and she knows it’s supposed to make her laugh, but it only makes her want to run. “Okay. I’m gonna get going then, and I’ll see you tomorrow evening. I think maybe around 7, but it’ll depend on traffic. You don’t need to wait for me for dinner or anything.”


She sighs deeply. “Okay, have fun. Be safe.” She forces a weak smile. 


He kisses her twice, whispers I love you into her ear, and leaves with a suitcase in hand for his college buddy’s bachelor party in Philly. 


She flops to the side so that she’s laying on the couch, and spends a long while staring blankly at the ceiling. 




That’s a very long time. The unequivocal unacceptability of divorce makes it feel longer. Realistically, of course catholic people get divorced, it happens. But how could she put her mother through that? And why is she moving forward with marrying a man if she’s considering the possibility of divorce before they’re even married?


Sitting up, she runs her hands over the skirt of her baby blue dress, the church-appropriate outfit she wore even on a day that is unseasonably cool and dreary. Always dressing for the occasion, doing what is expected of her. Always making the right choice. 


She stands, grabbing her purse and keys, and leaves the apartment. She needs to be somewhere else, anywhere else. She needs to escape for a bit. 


She’s been driving aimlessly for some time with the radio off when she finds herself parked in front of 2630 Hegal Place. She exits the car and walks around the block, letting the gentle rain soak her shoulders and seep into her heels. Three times. Four times. On the fifth trip, she approaches the front doors of the building. 


She pauses with her hand on the door handle, too afraid to ask herself what she’s doing here. She just wants to stop thinking for a little bit. About Ethan, about marriage, about eternity. She just wants to exist for a little bit as Dana, just herself, without any of that baggage. She pulls the door open. 


Mulder greets her with a dazed expression, wearing grey sweatpants and no shirt. He stares at her for a long moment, taking in the beads of water trailing off the ends of her soaked hair and her chattering jaw. He looks a little afraid, like a grenade with the pin pulled just appeared on his doorstep. All she has to do is let go and the explosion is inevitable, along with the destruction. 


She opens her mouth to speak, but she can’t find words. She searches his face, looking for some reason to stay or to leave. Looking for an answer. His eyes darken a little and at that moment she lets go. She feels the tick tick tick of the timer; it’s already too late to stop. She moves one step beyond his threshold and drops her purse on the floor unceremoniously before threading her wet arms around the back of his neck, their mouths coming together like sea and shore. His lips are warm and pliant, hints of coffee and salt slick on his tongue as he slides it against her teeth. She sighs deeply, a silent moan, a giving over of control and higher reasoning, melting into the sturdy man before her as rays of sun into an oak tree. 


She feels his hands warming her back, sliding down to her hips. Hips before hands , she thinks, and her pelvis bucks towards him. His hands slide down over her ass until they find the backs of her thighs, hoisting her up and onto him, carrying her like a wounded soldier into his bedroom. Her weight is dead against him, seeking only to be taken, to be had. She has nothing for him but she wants to give. Oh but she wants to give. 


He sets her there on the bed, damp as a dish towel and quivering with the cold and the adrenaline. His hot lips transfer his heat to her neck, chest, face, arms. He breathes his life onto her skin, igniting her square by square until she feels like a checkerboard of warmth and chill. She’s pushed her legs wide open, welcomed the solid weight of his body to rest against her heat, and he is sending her dress higher up her thighs with eager but gentle hands. 


They have not spoken a word. 


As he kisses her, his fingers play tentatively at the hem of her panties, seeking permission or watching for objection. Finding none, he allows one index finger to slip behind the gusset that covers her soaked vulva, the flat of his fingernail brushing along her lips and sending shockwaves down her legs. He lets out a long, staggered breath and repeats the movement quickly a few times, groaning as her breath catches and she bucks into him. She has never wanted anyone more in her entire life. Has never needed anyone as much as she needs him now. 


And then his head is between her legs, and he’s pulling her panties to the side as the rigid tip of his tongue flicks at her experimentally. She gasps audibly, a half-cry escaping her throat that catches as his finger delves inside of her, stealing the breath from her lungs. Her head lolls back, mouth agape and rapidly drying out as she struggles for air. His lips are sucking and nipping, his tongue prodding and stroking, while his fingers flutter against a place that she is only just now realizing exists. She feels a warm tingle in her toes, a flood of dopamine coursing through her, rendering her incapable of rational thought. She is high on sex and pleasure and Mulder and if this were a drug she could buy, she would go broke tomorrow. 


Gathering, building, peaking, she is a swell on still waters, giving nothing away of the chaos that rages below. When she starts coming, she cries out “oh,” which is the first word either of them has said. Oh, and she’s exploding around him, and across his tongue. Oh, and he’s flexing his finger inside her, drawing it out. Oh, and as the tidal wave of release begins to recede, the awareness of what has just happened settles over her. Oh, oh, oh. 


Oh, what has she done?


Oh, god. 


Oh, no. 


She recoils from him, pushing up into a sitting position on the bed as her hand comes to her mouth in horror. 


“Scully?” he asks, reaching for her, and she pushes his hand off her knee. 


She’s shaking her head, her eyes wild and unbelieving. She has to go. She has to get out. She slides off the bed and makes her way wordlessly to the foyer. 


“Scully, what’s going on, are you okay?” He follows her, his fading erection still nudging the front of his sweatpants, his lips glistening with her wetness. She can’t look at him. 


Her wet shoes are returned to her feet, her purse hanging haphazardly from her elbow. Mulder is looking at her with fear and confusion. She thinks he might try to stop her from leaving. 


Swallowing hard to bring moisture to her throat, she forces out a strangled “I’m so sorry,” and then she goes, she runs. Down the stairwell because she can’t bear to wait for the elevator, out into the now pouring rain and behind the wheel of her car. She drives fast and recklessly, nothing left worth trying to protect. 


Oh, what has she done?


Chapter Text

Missy’s eyes go big when she opens the door to find her little sister there, soaked to the bone and sobbing. Dana can see a thousand possible situations pass through her mind; something happened to Mom, to Ethan, to Bill or Charlie. Missy ushers her inside, opening her mouth to ask what’s wrong when it all comes pouring out. 


“I did something awful, Missy,” she chokes out, collapsing against her sister’s shoulder as guilt overwhelms her nervous system. 


Missy holds her and listens quietly with concerned eyes as it spills from quivering lips; her doubts about Ethan, her date with Mulder, what happened at his apartment tonight. When she’s done, when every last sordid detail has escaped the confines of her conscience to burden her sister’s ears, Missy gives her a dry change of clothes and pours her a glass of wine. They sit quietly on the sofa for a bit, each contemplative in their own respect.


“What are you gonna do, Sis?” Missy finally asks, her words gentle and compassionate. There’s a reason Dana confided this in her; Missy never judges. 


Dana shakes her head slowly. “I don’t know what I should do. Every option feels wrong. No matter what I do, someone gets hurt.”


“Maybe,” Missy offers, ”you should think about what you want to do, rather than what you should do.”


Dana’s chin puckers. “Doing what I wanted instead of what was right is how I ended up in this situation to begin with, Missy.”


“You made a mistake, Dana, I’ll give you that. But maybe this was your mind and body’s way of telling you that you’re on the wrong path. I know you love Ethan, but maybe loving him isn’t enough. It’s okay if it isn’t.”


Fresh tears slip silently down Dana’s cheeks, and she swipes at them before taking a long drink of her wine. 


“I can’t imagine breaking it off with him, Missy. What would be the reason? I’ve already cheated on him, and then to dump him two months before our wedding on top of it? He’s a good man, he doesn’t deserve that.” She’s directing her words to the coffee table, her voice flat and resigned. She’s drained of emotion, good or bad. She feels empty. 


“What about what you deserve?” Missy asks gently, tucking her toes under Dana’s thigh on the couch. The physical connection says that she’s on her side, they’re in this together. 


“What I deserve?” Dana asks, looking at her sister with an anguished expression. “I’ve just strung along one man who made exceedingly clear that he’s romantically interested in me, up to letting him go down on me and then running from his apartment in tears. All while cheating on another man who has been a dedicated and loving partner to me for the past five years, who I am set to marry. What I deserve is to languish alone for the rest of my life.”


Missy sets down her glass and scoots over to sit close beside Dana, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and pulling her into a hug. 


“You’re being way too hard on yourself, Dana. Why don’t you stay here tonight, take some time to clear your head, and in the morning we’ll make a plan, okay?”


Dana nods against her shoulder, and Missy pulls back to meet her eye. 


“Thick and thin, Sis. We’re gonna figure it out.”


Dana gives her a weak smile then collapses back against her, somehow finding a reserve of more tears to wet her shoulder with. 


Tomorrow. She’ll figure it out tomorrow. 




Mulder is lying in bed, weary eyes trained on the ceiling as it plays in his head over and over. The feel of her wet skin against him, the hungry way she kissed his mouth, the heady taste of her as she quaked around him. It had been a dream come true, until it turned into a nightmare. As many times as he’s re-lived it, he cannot understand what happened, why she changed so suddenly. The feeling that he did something wrong won’t fade, and yet he has no idea what it was. He’d call her, but he doesn’t even have her phone number; they’ve only communicated through email at work. The night had been long and sleepless, and now as it nears noon he is attempting a nap, Priscilla curled up on his chest like a security blanket. 


Even though he’s only hearing it for the third time, he recognizes her knock on his door. His heart surges and begins to race as he deposits Priscilla on the bed beside him and she meows in protest. When he opens the door, he finds her there in jeans and a grey T-shirt, her eyes red and swollen and already pooling with tears. His stomach drops into his knees. 


“Scully,” he says, not able to form words beyond that. 


“We need to talk,” she says in a strained hush, and he opens the door wider for her to walk through. 


She stands in the foyer by his dining room table, wringing her hands and avoiding his eye. 


“Mulder,” she begins, pausing to swallow, “I am so sorry for what happened last night. I’ve been very unfair to you.” She chances a look at him and he works to keep his expression neutral as he sees the anguish in her eyes. “I should never have continued to spend time with you, knowing that you were interested in me romantically. I just came here to tell you that I never meant to…” she pauses to swallow again, fighting against a throat that is constricted with emotion. “I never meant to hurt you, or lead you on. You’re a good man, and you didn’t deserve that. Obviously, we can’t, shouldn’t, see each other again, but I didn’t want...last night, to be the final interaction we had. So...I just needed to come here, and to say that. And to say goodbye.”


As she speaks, panic builds in his chest, activating his fight or flight response. In all the possible scenarios his mind had conjured about what would happen next, her slamming the door shut again wasn’t one of them. Didn’t she come here last night because she realized they had something undeniable between them? His best case scenario had been her leaving Ethan and giving them a chance. His worst case had been carrying on in secret, an illicit affair. He would never have anticipated wanting to be the other man, but anything with her is better than nothing; he’ll take what he can get. But this? Never seeing her again? It’s not an option. 


“Scully, how can you say that? How can you-” he runs his hands through his hair in frustration. “How can you deny this, what we have? You feel it, I know you do.” He steps closer to her and she takes a step back, closing her eyes.


“I am getting married, Mulder. It doesn’t matter what I may or may not feel about you. I’ve made a commitment and I intend to honor it.” Her tone is gravely serious, defensive, final. 


“That’s bullshit, Scully. I don’t accept that. I have never felt this way about anyone in my life, and I’m not going to just let you throw it away because you feel obligated to follow through on a fucking engagement!” 


He steps closer again, and she runs out of room to retreat as the backs of her legs meet with the table. They are millimeters apart, him looking down at the top of her head as she breaths laboriously. 


“Mulder, don’t,” she says in a whisper, and he can feel it, the electricity coursing in the space between them. He knows she feels it too. 


He presses his body against hers and she stiffens with a little gasp. He brings his palms to either side of her face, forcing her to look at him. Her eyes are wild and afraid, but not afraid of him. Afraid of this, of them. He presses his lips against hers and she whimpers, kissing him back briefly before he feels her hands on his chest, pushing him away. 


“Please don’t make this harder than it has to be,” she begs, slipping from his grasp and making for the door. 


He rushes past her, blocking her exit, dropping to his knees in front of her. Undignified, he knows, but he will always choose happiness over being dignified. He’s not sure if happiness is available to him, but he has to try. He threads his arms around her waist, the side of his head pressed against her belly. 


“Please don’t do this,” he wails against her stomach as he feels tears threatening his own eyes. He’s not a person who cries easily, but it feels like his heart is being physically ripped from his body. “I-” he starts and then stops. These are words he will be glad he said if she stays, but will undoubtedly regret if she doesn’t. “I love you,” he gasps out, and he feels the sharp intake of her breath under his cheek. 


“I can’t, Mulder,” she keens, her hands threading through his hair. “I can’t, I’m so sorry.”


She is gently pulling his arms from around her waist, pushing him to the side, opening the door. She’s gone, and he sits on the floor alone and broken. Angry and helpless. Standing, he grabs at his hair and paces the room, needing to take action. In a surge of anger, he grips the edge of the table and flips it on its side. Priscilla, who had been approaching him, scatters from the room as papers fly and a mug breaks. The sound seems to coincide with his heart splitting in two. 

Chapter Text

She sits on an overstuffed chair in her childhood bedroom, avoiding the mirror. There is much she has to be grateful for; that they hadn’t yet sent out invitations when she convinced Ethan that a small, backyard wedding was more suitable than the full affair at church; that Charlie was already ordained after marrying some friends last year, and agreed to do the honors; that she wouldn’t have to risk bursting into flame as a priest presided over their nuptials, her infidelity scorching her white dress like a scarlet letter. So much to be grateful for and yet she feels everything but gratitude. She made her choice; honor her commitment and lock away her indiscretion with Mulder in a secret bank of memories only she and Missy know exists. It is the right thing to do, the right choice. Doing the right thing was never meant to be easy, and it’s not.


There is a gentle knock on the door and Bill pokes his head in, looking sharp in a black suit and blue tie. 


“Ready?” he asks with a nervous smile, and her belly does a sickening flip. 


She nods tersely and stands, smoothing out the fabric of her simple white dress. Nothing fancy, nothing bridal. She does not deserve a beautiful perfect dress. She doesn’t even deserve Ethan, but here she is. 


Bill takes her elbow and guides her carefully down the stairs where they fall in line behind Missy, Ellen, and the two of Ethan’s friends who make up their small bridal party. Missy gives her a sad smile and she pulls in a deep, shaky breath to try and calm her nerves. 


Canon in D begins and she feels her mind go blank as the bridal party disappears from before her, trailing out and down the porch to the small altar Ethan and Charlie constructed together. She just has to get through this, to come out the other side and build a life with Ethan. Something new, something better. To Ethan this is a continuation of their last five years, but for her it is a blank slate, a second chance. This time she won’t mess it up. She can’t. 


Bill guides her down the hallway and out the back door to where Ethan stands in his suit and tie, beaming at her under the sun of an unseasonably warm day; the perfect day for an outdoor wedding. She feels her mouth form a smile back at him, her heart willing her body to be here, to be present. To move forward, and never look back. How lucky is she to be able to take this second chance? 


They arrive at the altar and Bill gives her a hug and a kiss on the cheek before she steps forward to join Charlie and Ethan. Charlie moves through the ceremony they mapped out together, but she doesn’t hear a word he says. She keeps her eyes locked on Ethan’s, on the loving gaze of the man who will be her husband. His lips move as he commits his life to her and the knot in her stomach grows firmer, tighter, threatening to steal her breath. She breathes slowly in and out; she can do this. 


“Dana,” Charlie says her name and she looks at him for the first time. “Do you take Ethan to be your husband? To love, honor, and cherish him, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, for as long as you both shall live?”


She swallows and looks at Ethan. His eyes are wet with tears of joy, his hands gripping hers fiercely as though he never intends to let go. 


‘I-” she starts, then pauses. She feels a little bit dizzy. 


The right thing. The right choice. 


“I-” she begins again, forcing the image of Mulder out of her head, of his crooked smile and his confession whispered against the flesh of her belly. 


She closes her eyes. 


“I do.”