The rush of the pressurized air whizzes past his ears as the engine jostles him gently, the lullaby of air travel. It’s no wonder people doze off so often on airplanes; aren’t these the same tricks you use to get babies to sleep? It certainly works on Scully, he thinks as he looks over at her, head resting on the wall next to the window with a puny little airline pillow tucked into the crook of her neck. The ambient light on red-eyes always makes her look a bit angelic, he’s noticed. The gentle slope of her nose illuminated in a hazy yellow glow, her plush lips slightly parted while her eyelashes dance with her dreams.
She’d asked for the window seat, and he obliged, though he secretly loves it when she sits on the aisle or in the middle. Invariably, she falls asleep if the flight is more than a couple hours long, and he always leans towards her a bit to make his shoulder available as a pillow. There’s something about those moments where she’s so vulnerable and unguarded around him that make him feel special, because he knows how much trust feeds into her willingness to do so. She’s been this way around him nearly from the start, but it was only after a couple years working together and seeing how she was around other people, even her family, that made him realize just how lucky he is to get to see this side of her.
And yet he puts her through so much. It’s no wonder she’s so exhausted; after a night in jail and then flying down to Florida and back at the drop of a dime, they’d gotten on another plane the very next day for a case that turned out to be such a waste of time that they are returning to D.C. in the middle of the night rather than bother expensing a hotel.
His initial reaction when he learned that she’d been held in contempt of congress and chose jail over giving them any information regarding his whereabouts was pride that she believes so much in him and his cause, that she’s tough enough to withstand the questioning as well as the consequence of refusing to answer. Once he had time to really think about it, he felt ashamed and worried, because this very well may not be the last time she’s put in such a position.
It was just the most recent in a long list of reasons that he’s been thinking about asking her to set up a contingency plan, to protect them both. The feeling of helplessness they each experience when the other is hospitalized or detained is enough to make his stomach turn just thinking about it. How many times has he been asked “are you the husband?” and been turned away when he said no? Enough that he started lying and saying he was, at least when they were out of town and no one was around to fact-check the statement.
While she is the center of his universe in so many ways, to the outside world, she’s nothing more than his coworker.
Another thing about airplane cabins that he’s always noticed: they provide a strange sense of privacy. Maybe it’s only imagined, but it exists nonetheless. The ambient sounds of the engine and the air, the ruffle of peanut bags and slosh of watered down drinks being consumed; it gives you the perception that each word that falls from your lips lands only upon the ears of their intended audience. And so he reaches over and brushes his index finger over the exposed flesh of Scully’s wrist until she stirs and blinks her eyes open, furrowing her brow at his intense expression.
“Is something wrong?” she asks, her tongue thick with sleep.
He shakes his head and she plucks a water bottle from the seat back, taking a sip before returning it. Not for the first time, he laments that while his knees are crammed firmly against the seat in front of him, Scully has plenty of room to roam.
“Are we about to land?” she asks next, looking around them and taking in the scene. The cabin lights are still off, as are the fasten seatbelt signs. Many of the passengers are asleep, and the flight attendants are milling around the drink station chatting. She’s flown hundreds of times, enough of them red-eyes to know that they are still mid-flight.
“No, we’re still about an hour out,” he says, and she gives him one of her patented “are you kidding me right now?” stares.
“Care to share why you woke me up then?” she asks, barely concealing her irritation.
“I wanted to talk to you about something,” he offers by way of explanation, and she closes her eyes briefly.
“Right at this exact moment?” she questions, a bit whiny.
“It’s really important,” he replies, and that seems to get her attention.
She shifts her torso so that her back is against the airplane wall, one leg bent at the knee and tucked up onto the seat beside her. Once she’s comfortable, she gives him an expectant look.
“Okay, I’ll preface this by saying that your initial reaction to my proposition might be very...strong, but I really need you to hear me out. Can you promise to do that before you come to any conclusions?” he asks earnestly, keeping his voice relatively low, given the venue.
She quirks an eyebrow at him, intrigued but weary. “Is it absolutely essential that we have this conversation while trapped at thirty-six-thousand feet?” she asks, but her tone is just a little bit facetious, so he continues without directly answering the question.
“Do you promise, or not?” he asks flatly, and she rolls her eyes but then nods. “Okay,” he begins, “I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Years, actually, since you were returned after your abduction. We end up in these situations where one of us is incapacitated, or at risk, or otherwise unsafe. And as your FBI partner, there’s only so much I can do. Only so much you can do, and I think we could better prepare ourselves for future such situations. If we had different legal entitlements, or abilities…protections, different protections...” He’s trying to back into it, to set it up such that by the time he gets to the meat of it, she’ll understand. But her eyebrows are all bunched up in the middle of her forehead and her bottom lip is pushed out like she thinks he’s crazy, so he decides he should just get to the point. “What I’m saying is, I think we should get married.”
She blinks at him, her expression cemented in that same “you’ve really lost it now” look that he’s seen more times that he can count. She lifts her hand and presses the backs of her fingers to his forehead.
“Did you have a cocktail, Mulder?” she asks, slipping her hand down to feel his pulse just under his jaw. His heart is racing, but it’s not because he’s having a medical emergency. He reaches up to pull her hand away, holding it in both of his own.
“I know it sounds crazy, but you promised to hear me out,” he says, and she gives him an incredulous look to top every incredulous look she’s given him in the nearly four years they’ve known each other.
“You’re serious?” she questions, her eyebrows now nearly kissing her hairline.
“Yes, I’m serious, Scully. Think about it; you wouldn’t have had to testify against me if we were married. The law protects spouses from having to testify against one another. And for medical reasons, all the times you’ve needed to make decisions regarding my care and had to fight tooth and nail. If you were my wife, you’d have the legal right to make those decisions.” Her expression is softening just a bit, and he shifts in his seat to mirror her posture, so he can face her fully. “When you were in the ICU after your abduction, it was terrifying to know that your family could have decided to pull the plug on you or have you transferred to a different hospital too far away for me to keep you safe, or any other number of things that I had no control over. I don’t ever want to be in that position again, Scully. I don’t want you to be either.”
He can see the wheels turning in her head, accepting the benefits that legal marriage would allow them.
“But what about...are you...are you speaking in a strictly legal sense or are you suggesting that we live as…?” She doesn’t finish her sentence, but he understands what she’s asking. He shakes his head emphatically.
“Strictly legal sense, nothing else about our relationship or our partnership would change at all. In fact, it would be important that we keep it a secret given that spouses can’t be partnered. Everything would be exactly as it is now, except that when we run up against one of those moments where the legal protection is needed, we can play the marriage card, so to speak.”
She nods softly, her eyes unfocused and dreamy as she contemplates. He’s unsure if he should keep talking, say more about why he came to this conclusion, but just as he’s about to open his mouth, she speaks.
“Okay,” she says, then turns to meet his eye.
“Okay?” he asks, not quite believing that she could come to agree with him so quickly.
“Yes, Mulder, okay. It makes sense. How do you want to do this?”
Their arrival at Reagan National Airport becomes a layover as they stay only long enough to procure tickets to Las Vegas and board another plane within the hour. Scully is exhausted but unable to sleep as her mind races with a million questions, chief among them being what the hell are we doing? She knows that it’s crazy, but at the same time it’s exceedingly practical. They’ve been lucky to escape some of the situations they’ve found themselves in with limbs and lives in check; at some point, that luck will run out. Who knows what decisions Mulder’s mother would make on his behalf were she in the position to do so? Scully shudders at the thought. Crazy as this is, it just makes sense.
Mulder glances over at her intermittently from his window seat, perhaps grappling with the same kinds of questions, though he’s barely spoken to her since they boarded the plane. She has the distinct impression that he’s afraid if he says too much, she’ll change her mind. Not being the type to move forward with any big decision before properly vetting it, she finally speaks.
“So how do you imagine this playing out, Mulder? The next time I'm inevitably hospitalized you’ll just say you’re my husband so they let you in? I think my mother might have some questions for me, if that’s the case.”
He snaps his head over to look at her as though he hadn’t realized she was there.
“No, not necessarily. We’ve made it work the last few years by sheer will and the occasional white lie, so I think we can continue to do so. If we reach a point where we need to disclose our marital status it should be a situation dire enough that the consequence of revealing it is a better alternative than not,” he replies levelly. He’s clearly given this a lot of thought.
She turns away for a moment, staring blankly at the Sky Mall brochure tucked into the seat back pocket in front of her.
“I don’t think I would have disclosed it in the congressional hearing,” she says, turning back to look at him. “I think I would still have taken the night in jail, being held in contempt.”
He gives her a little smile and a nod. “I think that probably would have been the right call, at that point. However, if I hadn’t made it back from Russia, and if a night in jail turned into the possibility of a longer stay in prison…” He gives her a pointed look.
“Yeah, I think that would have been the right time to play the marriage card,” she says, returning his smirk.
They hold eye contact for a moment until it starts to feel a little awkward, and she looks away again. They had agreed to visit the chapel tomorrow, after they’ve each had a chance to get some sleep; should she be thinking of tomorrow as her wedding day?
It’s certainly not the way she imagined it would be, not that she’s imagined it all that much. The idea of marriage and children was never one she could visualize without knowing who would occupy the role of groom, husband, father. There was a time she’d considered such a future with Daniel, and even with Ethan, but never very seriously. The other girls at her Catholic high school were putting together scrapbooks full of wedding plans and dreaming about their wedding night, including romanticizing their first time with their future husband, while she was applying to undergrad and researching medical schools.
Their wedding night.
She feels a flush of heat rise to her cheeks at the realization, and she glances over at Mulder. He has to know that a marriage is only legal if it’s consummated, right? Or was this a detail he was going to spring on her later? The beverage cart rattles by on its way back to the front of the plane.
“Excuse me,” she calls out just as the cart passes their aisle. “Can I get a gin and tonic, please?”
Mulder gives her a surprised look. “You don’t usually drink on the job, Scully,” he teases, and she gives him a deadpan expression.
“We’re not exactly on the job anymore, are we?” she retorts, and he shrugs.
“Make it two,” he says to the flight attendant.
Scully downs her drink in four long gulps as Mulder eyes her suspiciously, taking small sips of his own. She waits several minutes until she feels warmth spreading in her belly, and then she turns her head just enough that he’ll know she’s speaking to him, without making eye contact.
“Mulder, are you aware of the fact that an unconsummated marriage isn’t considered fully legal and can easily be annulled?” She uses her professor voice, her talking-to-a-lazy-small-town-sheriff voice, her strictly-business voice because this topic is far too fraught to make light of.
“I am aware of that, yes,” he answers coolly, and she turns to look at his face, which is unreadable.
“And?” she asks with raised eyebrows.
He meets her eye. “And, what? I mean, it’s not ideal if we leave such a loophole in place, but it’s not my decision to make. How would you like to handle it?”
“Handle it?” she repeats, and she sees him fight off a smile.
“No puns intended. It’s really your call, Scully, I’m fine either way,” he replies, taking a sip of his drink.
“That is incredibly unfair, Mulder,” she admonishes him, wishing she had another drink herself.
“How so?” he asks with a perplexed wrinkle of his brow, and she knows he really doesn’t get it.
She shakes her head and busies herself stirring the ice in her empty cup. If she says that yes, they should consummate it, that’s as much as saying she wants to have sex with him. And if she says no, she may as well reject him, in addition to risking voiding the whole transaction if anyone ever found out.
“It’s not a choice I’m comfortable making for both of us,” she finally answers, turning to face him again. “We have to make a decision together.”
“Okay…” he says, considering how to proceed. “Pros and cons? What are the pros of...consummating?” he asks, carefully choosing his words.
She draws in a deep breath.
“Well, it would eliminate the risk of annulment, which would be a serious issue if we were in a position to need to call spousal rights into play,” she responds, pleading with the universe that Mulder does not throw out ‘getting to have sex’ as a pro.
“And cons?” he asks, thankfully not offering any pros of his own.
“Um…it would be quite awkward, I imagine,” she says plainly, and she sees him nod from her periphery.
“So,” he summarizes, “we’ve got possible annulment and whatever consequences come as a result of that, versus...temporary awkwardness.”
They are both quiet for a beat.
“I suppose that decides it,” she says quietly, then steals a glance at him. He gives her a sympathetic little smile.
“I suppose it does,” he says.
The flight attendant passes by again, and Scully turns abruptly, touching her arm to get her attention.
“I’m sorry, can I get another one of these, please?” she asks, holding up her glass.
“Better make it two,” Mulder adds.