When he attended Oxford, he would sometimes drive over to Portishead Beach on weekends or school holidays. He missed the briny smell of the ocean and the shriek of the gulls, and the soft lap of the waves against the shore echoing in his ears. He couldn’t accurately call it homesickness, because it wasn’t Martha’s Vineyard he craved, but the vastness of the sea. Much like considering how insignificant you are in an infinite universe, standing near the ocean reminded him that he is but a tiny speck in the grand scheme of things, and this could sometimes be a comfort when the weight of the world grew heavy on his shoulders. He spent so many hours walking the rocky beaches and staring out over the water, allowing his eyes to lose focus until he could imagine that the land on the other side of Bristol Channel wasn’t there. Looking back on his time there, he sees Portishead Beach as a sacred space that kept him tethered to who he really is, and who he wanted to be. It grounded him.
He sits now on a large piece of driftwood drug in by the tide, the whipping wind sneaking in around the collar of his jacket and roaring against his ears in little bursts. He takes off his shoes and socks and feels the cold stones press into the soles of his feet like marbles. He grounds himself to the Earth.
He wanted to bring Scully here. Crop circles were a convenient excuse, and on the FBI’s dime, but it was Portishead that called him back to the UK. He wanted to share this place with her, to introduce the person who grounds him to the place that once served the same role. He wanted to see her bare toes nestled in amongst the pebbles and hear her laugh carried over the breeze.
He wanted to ask her what it would take for her to really be with him, really be his wife.
In the time since losing his mother and understanding what happened to Samantha, he feels more at peace than he has in a long time, maybe ever. He’s unsure if something has changed in Scully, or if he’s only now freed up the space in his mind that allows him to see her turmoil. Her behavior as of late scares him because it’s familiar. The last time she was this distracted, this disengaged from their work, she ended up in the hospital with a new tattoo. Then it had been the fear of a truth she hadn’t yet confirmed, that she had cancer, that took her to that place where he could not follow. It had been the realization that her life wasn’t what she’d hoped it would be. He can’t help but wonder if she’s having that same realization again, and he’d be lying to himself if he claimed it didn’t hurt.
He wants to be enough for her, because she is so much more than enough for him. All the mental and emotional energy that had gone into looking for Samantha since he was twelve years old has sought a new outlet, and found its place in loving Dana Katherine Scully. He could write odes to the way she smells fresh from slumber, the timbre of her laugh, the pout of her mouth when she’s concentrating. He could burrow into the space between her shoulder and neck and live there happily for all of eternity. He could spend every Saturday morning for the rest of his life doing the New York Times crossword with her and it would never be enough.
But she’d asked him to stay still, and he’d run off anyway. There will always be some part of him that’s impulsive and reckless, there will always be a drive to learn and know and search. Even if what he’s searching for isn’t the answers to his own reality, there is always more to know, and to see, and experience. If it’s a choice between that searching life and Scully, he’ll choose her, but he wishes he didn’t have to. He wishes that it could be a journey they share.
He stands, brushing the finer pebbles from the seat of his pants and collecting his shoes. He walks barefoot back to his rental car, welcoming the way the sharper rocks jab at his tender insoles. Life is a rich tapestry of pain and joy, he knows this much is true. And, knowing himself, he won’t be able to rest until he knows whether it will ever be more than this, whether he will ever be enough for her.
He’s got an eight and a half hour flight to figure out how to ask her, again, to be his wife.
Something pulls her from sleep and she sits up, cringing at the ache in her neck. She must have fallen asleep, she observes, and Mulder draped a blanket over her. The bedroom door is open and light pours out from his bedside lamp, so she knows he’s still awake. He’d never leave her out here like this.
She stretches, rolling her neck around to release the tension caused by her odd sleeping position. She tries to recall exactly where the conversation left off. Something about fate, she thinks, and smiles to herself at how unlikely it all seems. Dana Scully, waxing poetic about fate having brought her from a military brat shooting BB guns with her brothers to a doctor, an FBI agent, and a woman who is head over heels in love with a man who is nothing like the husband she’d imagined herself having.
Daniel was everything she thought she wanted, aside from the fact that he was already married. A physician. A stoic, practical man who does what is logical and proven. Stable, predictable and safe. And here he’s walked back into her life with that one little complication removed.
The life she didn’t choose, offering her a second chance to take it.
She was surprised as anyone to find that it was no longer what she wanted. She realized in that moment just how much she’s changed. And then the second realization that even as she has morphed and grown with each new experience, each harrowing discovery, she never bothered to stop and consider whether she still even wanted the final destination that she’s been helplessly watching fade into the distance all these years. Perhaps she was so busy looking back that she never turned around to see what was right in front of her.
Mulder. With all his eccentricities and demons. A wonderfully flawed man who drives her crazy and makes her happier than she’d ever imagined was possible.
She wouldn’t trade a thousand cookie-cutter lives with Daniel for one night ghost-busting with Mulder, arguing over ectoplasm and the existence of an afterlife. Right under her nose, the life she’d come to resent has become the only one she would ever want. She’d just never stopped long enough to notice. There are a million reasons it shouldn’t make sense, and yet it’s somehow the only thing that does.
She stands, discarding the scratchy wool blanket, her stockinged feet padding quietly into his bedroom. He’s just finishing making the bed, tucking the comforter under the bottom edge when he turns and sees her.
“Hey, sleepyhead,” he says with affectionate eyes. “Come on in, the water’s fine. Fresh sheets,” he adds with a pat to the crisp blue pillowcase.
She crosses the room wordlessly, threading her arms around his waist and resting her head against his chest. He envelopes her in a hug, brushing his nose over the crown of her head before placing a kiss there. She pulls in a deep breath and lets it out in a contented sigh, sinking further into the warmth of his body, her safest place. She tries to remember a time before she had a home here, and she finds that she doesn’t want to.
“You okay?” he asks softly, giving her a light squeeze.
“Yes,” she replies. “I’m really, really, okay.”
“That’s good,” he says with a smile in his voice. “There’s something I wanted to talk to you about, but you conked out on me. Did you get a second wind?”
She lifts her head, resting her chin on his chest and looking up at his face. His messy hair, the stubble coming in on his cheeks, that mouth that torments her one moment and takes her to heaven the next. Where would she ever want to look but into these eyes?
“Something like that,” she replies softly, and he quirks a curious smile. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore, Mulder,” she continues, emotion pitted painfully in her chest. Love, excitement, nervousness, fear. She’s trying to ignore that last one this time.
“You’re the bravest person I know, Scully,” he argues gently. “You’re not afraid of anything.”
“I am,” she insists, her voice wavering. “I’m so afraid, Mulder. Of this. Of us. Of trying. Of failing. But I want to do it anyway.”
His expression changes, something cautiously hopeful furrowing his brow, parting his lips.
“What do you want to do?” he asks gently.
“Be with you. And not as some backup plan or place holder. I don’t want to look up in another ten years and realize I threw away something great because I was afraid of what people would think, or whether it was the right choice. I don’t know what the right choice is, but I know that this is the life I want. It’s the one I choose. Maybe it’s the one I was meant to have.”
His eyes are wet, but his lips are curled into a pained little smile. He opens his mouth to speak but then closes it again, chewing his lip in contemplation. Finally, he brings his hands to her face, cupping her jaw gently and placing the softest kiss on her lips. He pulls away a little and kisses her nose, then her forehead, finishing with a kiss just in front of her ear before he whispers, “Thank you for choosing me.”
“Thank you for waiting for me,” she whispers back, and he chuckles a little.
Stooping, he wraps his arms around her hips and lifts her, carrying her to the bed as she giggles. He sets her down softly, switching off the lamp and then climbing on top of the blankets beside her. He trails his fingers along the hem of her shirt, dipping just underneath to tease at the smooth skin of her belly.
“I would have waited forever, you know,” he offers as he drags his eyes up her torso, resting on her mouth.
“I know,” she replies, reaching up to touch his neck and pull him down to kiss her.
There’s something so soft and safe in his kiss, something new. Maybe the change isn’t in him at all, maybe it’s in her. He kisses her whisper-soft along her jaw, her clavicle, his breath a warm tickle against her ear. His touch is reverent, delicate as he moves to unhook her skirt, peeling it down her hips before he does the same to her pantyhose. With each scrap of fabric, he clears the final remnants of the walls she built around herself so many years ago, the ones he started to chip away at the first day she met him. His fingertips sliding up her rib cage pull off her defenses, along with her shirt. He unhooks her bra and she takes in a fuller breath, inhaling his familiar smell and finally letting it become a part of her lungs. His lips follow her panties down to the place where they fall away from her feet, trailing kisses back up her legs and the insides of her thighs.
He stops and looks at her there, his eyes dancing over her vulva in the streetlamp haze, a longing look on his face. He sighs and bends to kiss the seam of her thigh, her belly, her breasts. He pushes his face into the crook of her neck and whimpers, “I love you.”
“Show me,” she tells him, her own voice tight. It suddenly feels like their first time.
He makes his way back down her body, lapping and licking and kissing each place along the way. He stands briefly to quickly disrobe, and then presses his face into the nexus of her. The sweet slip of his tongue, his silken hair between her fingertips, his contented hums and moans as he devours her, push every thought, worry, and fear out of her mind as she exists only here with him, only in this moment. He grabs her hands, threading his fingers between hers and pushing them hard into the bed as he takes her over the edge. Before she has begun the descent back down he is inside of her. He cradles her legs at his sides such that his cock brushes up against her front wall on each upstroke, prolonging her orgasm enough that they end up coming together, passing the baton of release from one to the other.
Breath still heaving, he tows her up to the head of the bed and pulls back the blankets, tucking her underneath and disappearing long enough to retrieve a glass of water and a towel for her to clean up with. She accepts both gratefully, and then curls against his side. She relishes the feel of his thigh planted firmly between her legs, the dampness of their joining radiating against his quadricep something that is prone to making him frisky in the morning. She rests her ear against his pectoral, lulled by the rush of his breath and the thrum of his heart. Rain begins to wet the window and she snuggles closer, for warmth and for comfort. For love and for acceptance. For everything she’s denied herself, and him, for the last time.
He wakes to a knock at the door and sits up, confused and disoriented. It’s dark and dreary outside, and a look at the bedside clock shows that it’s after 11:00 am. Scully’s side of the bed is long since cold and he frowns a little. Perhaps he’d imagined all that.
He stands, and is searching for his boxers when he hears the front door open. He pauses momentarily with surprise before calling out, “Hello?”
“Hey,” she replies jovially, appearing in his bedroom doorway with a smile.
He startles and reflexively covers his genitals with his hands, to which her smile broadens.
“You got all that?” she asks with a playful dart of her eyes down to his groin and back. “Looks like you might need another hand,” she observes.
He laughs and drops his arms to his sides, moving across the room to wrap his naked frame around hers, which is clad in jeans and a sweater.
“Where’d you go?” he asks softly, kissing her neck to save her from his morning breath.
“Just home to shower. You were so jet-lagged I thought you might want to sleep in a little,” she replies, leaning into him.
“I was surprised to see how late it is,” he remarks, turning his head towards the window. “It looks like midnight out there.”
“It’s a bit wet,” she agrees, “but I thought we might go get breakfast. Or brunch, as it were. You aren’t due back in the office until tomorrow, and I decided I’m playing hooky today,” she adds playfully.
“Sounds great, give me fifteen minutes.”
It’s an ordinary place, one they’ve been to many times. They serve ordinary breakfast foods: pancakes and waffles, bacon and sausage, eggs and hashbrowns. The people there are ordinary ones you’d expect to see at a diner: tired truckers, families with small children, delinquent teenagers. There’s nothing ordinary, though, about the way that Scully grabs his hand as they walk from the car to the front doors of the diner. There’s nothing ordinary about the fact that she slides into the booth beside him, instead of taking her typical spot across the table.
He smiles at her in a kind of cautious, curious way. It’s best not to guess with Scully, he’s learned. There are bound to be rules he’s expected to play by.
“So what’s the catch, Ms. Scully? Should I dust off those old gold rings, or what?”
She screws up her mouth thoughtfully, and it’s clear that she’s making it up as she goes along. A level playing field for once.
“I don’t think so. Not because I don’t want to, but I think as long as we work together it would be best to keep that particular detail under the rose, if you will.”
He nods, starting to wonder if anything has actually changed, or if it’s more about the philosophy than the function. But then she leans into him and presses her lips against his, right here in this ordinary diner on an ordinary Tuesday that just became anything but ordinary. He kisses her back, chastely but with so much feeling, never having imagined how good it would feel to be accepted by her like this. To be seen, not to be hidden. Spooky Mulder, who no one ever wanted, is wanted by her, the most incredible creature he’s ever discovered.
He smiles against her mouth and looks up, expecting to find an impatient waitress standing by their table, but instead he sees Maggie Scully with an amused smirk on her face. He leans away from Scully a little, cursing every god he’s ever heard of that the one time Scully kisses him in public they’re caught.
“Hi Mom,” Scully says with a smile. “Thanks for coming.”
He gives Scully an incredulous look as Maggie slides into the other side of the booth, eyeing them curiously. Scully lays her hand over his on the table top and gives him a reassuring squeeze, then turns to her mother.
“Mulder and I have something we need to tell you,” she begins. “Something we probably should have told you a long time ago.”