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It starts with a pie. The last fruits of summer sparkle like gems under the grocery store lights and draw Mulder in. Maybe the fact that he’s been falling asleep to the cooking channel has something to do with it, too. Regardless, Mulder finds himself baking on a Saturday evening, mixing sugar with fruits and persuading butter and flour to become dough.

It turns out that no matter how good a pie may be, eating it alone is in equal parts depressing and sickening. Mulder opts to bring the remainder, about half of the pie, in to work with him on Monday. It sits on the desk innocently, its top covered in cellophane and juices leaking into the empty side of the dish like syrupy blood. When Scully walks in, she eyes the pie with suspicion.

“What’s this?”

“A pie,” Mulder shrugs, already focused on setting up the slides in the projector. “I made it over the weekend.”

“I didn’t know you baked.” Scully remarks, hanging her coat at the door and sitting down in front of the projector screen.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Mulder winks, switching on the projector and sliding the pie and a plastic fork her way. “Think of it as breakfast and a show. Eat up.”

She does, shoveling a bite into her mouth and humming blissfully around the tines of the fork. Mulder gives himself a shake and pointedly does not think about her tongue poking out to dab at the juice at the corner of her lips. This isn’t about that, can’t be about that, because he has to show her a presentation about sinkholes in Iowa and she’s eating and-

There Scully sits, eating and smiling and looking very much alive.

Mulder grins at the sight of it and Scully catches him watching her. She freezes, mouth full of pie and a smudge of raspberry juice on her cheek. “What?”

Mulder shakes his head slowly and tries to quiet his inner excitement. “Nothing, I’m just glad you like it.”

The sight of Scully ravenously eating a slice of pie wouldn’t have been out of place a year ago, but he’d watched her melt away, shrink and shrivel during her chemo and radiation treatments. At first, the changes had been subtle. But then he’d noticed how tightly she’d cinch her belt, several loops more than usual, how much her cheekbones stood out on her face, and all the little changes had added up to a sickening conclusion: Dana Scully had been wasting away.

Coaxing her into eating had been a Sisyphean task. Here Scully, have some toast. Just a few more bites, he’d say over the plastic table of the myriad interchangeable diners they frequent when traveling. I’m too full to finish my burger, he’d lie, do you want the other half? I’ll wrap it up and take it back to the hotel just in case. More often than not, Scully would shake her head and turn away from whatever was being offered to her in favor of water or weak tea, maybe a little broth if the post-chemo nausea wasn’t too terrible.

Watching her eat his cooking feels like a victory with each bite.

After that, cooking with Scully in mind and bringing food to the office becomes a habit. Only in cooking semi-regularly does Mulder realize how much he’s let the little joys of life subside to work over the past few years. In that time, his fridge has seen substantially more takeout containers than home-cooked leftovers. It’s funny and almost staggering how quickly that changes once he realizes that if he plays his cards right he can cook for two.

He cooks a few times a week, whistling to himself while chopping onions or listening to talk radio while kneading dough. It’s a surprisingly domestic task, a one-man show with spices and fresh vegetables as props. Sometimes he has a glass of wine after. It’s all very nice.

Each time Mulder brings food into the office, he is rewarded with a wide smile from his partner before she digs in. Apparently, her appetite has come back with a vengeance. He always makes sure to take a few servings of the food for himself before bringing in each dish lest she catch onto his diabolical plan to nourish her. A rotating door of excuses helps, too. Hey, Scully, I had dinner with the Gunmen and made way too much macaroni and cheese, or I heard that if you make homemade pizza and perform a certain ritual, you can see Asmodeus’ face in the cheese. What do you think? Well, might as well eat it while it’s here.

It works four times out of five. Mulder learns what she likes, what she eats out of politeness, and what she gently refuses to touch. Scully hates tuna but will devour anything covered in sharp cheddar. Only after making a peach cobbler does he find out that she’s allergic to peaches, but the folks upstairs in the forensic analysis lab are all too happy to take the dessert off his hands (if he gets results back slightly faster for the next few weeks, it must just be a coincidence).

He understands his grandmother on a new level, now. Though she’d passed when Mulder was seven, he has strong memories of visiting her on holidays and being stuffed to the brim with food. In her eyes, her grandchildren could never eat enough. The woman would always send him and Sam back to the Vineyard with pockets full of hard candies and arms laden with casserole dishes.

Similarly, Mulder weighs Scully down with leftovers at the end of the week. Though she might not always be up for midday lunch, as the child of a large family on a Navy paycheck, she appreciates the need to stop food from going to waste. It’s a trait that Mulder shamelessly exploits.

“How ‘bout we split what’s left?” he says at the end of a Tuesday, appraising the remains of a chicken pot pie. “I think I have extra tupperware around here somewhere.”

“Are you sure you don’t want the rest of it?” Scully asks. “You made it, after all.”

Mulder shakes his head, pulling a plastic container out from the bottom drawer of his desk. “Nah, I won't be able to finish it while it’s still good. We might as well make sure it gets eaten. You’d be doing me a favor, honestly.”

Scully shrugs and accepts the leftovers, but not before eating another piece. Mulder leans back in his chair, pleased with himself.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to fatten me up and eat me.” Scully says after swallowing a bite, giving Mulder a smile that could be knowing. He shrinks in his chair a little bit, feeling found out, but she doesn’t elaborate or accuse him further.

The weather changes. Mulder brings in hot cocoa so thick it could be cut with a knife as snow kisses the pavement outside. Scully hums as she slurps it down, the sound low and sinful. With a grin, he reaches across the desk and wipes the cocoa mustache from her upper lip with his thumb.

He watches Scully wrap herself in layers before leaving each night and the sight reminds him a little too much of when she’d shiver constantly while teetering on the brink of death. It had been like her inner fire had gone out, its dying coals simply not enough to warm her. Or perhaps her body had not seen fit to spend energy on warmth, likening the task to rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

One morning shortly after this chilling comparison strikes Mulder, he brings beef stew in a crockpot and lets it warm in the back corner of the office. When Scully arrives with snow still melting in her hair, she perks up at the smell, little dimples forming on her ruddy cheeks.

“My mom used to make something like this,” she remarks over lunch, sipping broth from her spoon and humming appreciatively. “It’s so good.”

“Great minds think alike.” Mulder says, smiling to himself. Maggie, his partner in crime, had been all too happy to share her recipe over the phone.

“So what’s with the recent adventure in cooking?” Scully asks casually. “Are you practicing for someone?”

“Practicing?” he asks, cocking his head to the side and fumbling for her meaning.

Suddenly, the remains of the stew in Scully’s bowl must become very interesting, because she pokes at them with her spoon and refuses to make eye contact. “Are you cooking for someone outside of work? Like a girlfriend or something?”

Oh. Mulder’s eyebrows raise involuntarily before he schools his face back into something resembling calm. “No, uh, no girlfriend. Why do you ask?”

Scully shrugs, and though she takes a moment to sip the rest of the broth straight from the bowl, the act poorly conceals her blush. “I’m just curious. You never really struck me as a cooking kind of guy, so I figured there must be a reason.”

He shakes his head. “I just like cooking, that’s all.”

“Well I feel bad that I’ve been taking so much of your food-”

“Scully, for the last time, I want you to take leftovers.”

“I know, I know!” she waves his interruption away. “I’m just trying to say that I’d like to make up for it sometime. Maybe we could switch places and I could cook for you?”

And her line of questioning finally clicks into place. If Scully had been asking about whether he has a girlfriend before inviting him over for dinner, does that mean that-

“It’s a date.” Mulder grins, retreating to the back of the office awkwardly to clean out the crockpot.

He can’t be sure that it’s a date, per se, but Mulder still cleans up before going over to Scully’s on Friday night just in case. He presents her with a bottle of wine when she opens the door. Scully smirks and puts her hands on her hips.

“Where have I seen this before?”

“It’s the real me this time.”

“Tell me something only the real Mulder would know, then.”

He digs around in his mind for some good material before leaning in slightly and whispering, “When you had your first kiss, your date had to go to the emergency room because he split his tongue open on your braces.”

Scully smiles self-deprecatingly and shakes her head, beckoning him inside. “You’re never going to let me forget that I told you about that, are you?”

Mulder steps into her apartment, taking in the inviting smell of food and handing her the wine. “That’s what you get for picking truth instead of dare.”

“When will I learn?” she deadpans, leading him to the kitchen and donning oven mitts. “Dinner’s just about ready, have a seat.”

“Is there anything you need help with?” he asks, surveying the pots simmering on the stovetop with interest.

Scully shakes her head and bumps her hip against his playfully, motioning for him to back up a few steps so she can open the oven door. “You’ve done more than your share of cooking lately, Mulder. Sit down.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A few minutes later, they clink their wine glasses together gently and tuck in. After the first bite, Mulder freezes and closes his eyes for a moment.

The food is divine. The pork chops are so juicy and flavorful that they feel like they’re melting in his mouth with every bite. She’d mashed the potatoes by hand, making them fluffy and creamier than he can believe. He leaves his body for a split second as the sensory experience overwhelms him before opening his eyes and grinning.

“Dana Scully, you’ve been holding out on me.”

“I could say the same to you,” she says, watching him eat with a small smile on her lips. “I don’t think I’ve eaten so well in years compared to the last few months.” Mulder freezes with his mouth slightly open and a forkful of potatoes held in front of his face. “Isn’t that lucky?”

A few drops of the mashed potatoes fall and splatter on his plate. Mulder sets his fork down slowly. “Lucky?”

“Lucky that just as I’m recovering from an illness that made me drop a quarter of my body weight in a matter of months, you decide to make cooking your new hobby and bring every dish into the office to share.”

A blade of something like panic slices through Mulder at her words, but Scully doesn’t sound upset. Instead, her eyes watch him kindly, softly.

“That is a devil of a coincidence.” Mulder says before admitting defeat. “Although it may not be entirely coincidental.” There it is, the little secret that’s been nagging at him for weeks, finally out in the open. Contrary to the guilty little voice in Mulder’s head, the admission itself does not spell his downfall. “It was just nice to see you eating again, and then it kind of…snowballed.”

Scully smiles fondly. “Why didn’t you just tell me why you wanted to cook for me?”

“I was afraid that you’d be upset, that it would come across as infantilizing or controlling if I was forthright.” He stabs a piece of his pork chop with his fork.

“I might have, before everything happened,” she says pensively. “Before the cancer. But recently I’ve realized how foolish I’ve been by keeping everyone at a distance. It’s held both of us back.”

“Hey, it takes two, Scully. Open communication has never been a strong point in our partnership.”

“I want to make an exception to that tonight,” Scully says, reaching across the table to squeeze his hand. Her words are slow, deliberate. “It means a lot, how much you care, how well you know what I need without even needing to ask.” Mulder’s throat constricts with the weight of all the things that have gone unsaid between them over the last year. He squeezes her hand back.

“If you knew why I was cooking all that food, why did you ask me if I had a girlfriend?” he asks, suddenly curious now that all the missing pieces of their own poor communication are coming together.

“I didn’t know, but I did suspect. Especially after you used that excuse about seeing a demon in the cheese.” she smiles and shakes her head “I just wanted to be sure, before…”

“Before what? Confronting me about it?”

“Before this.” Scully wipes the jokingly accusatory look off Mulder’s face by leaning in and kissing him soundly.

It only takes a moment before his mind catches up to his senses and he kisses her back, arms reaching out to encircle her waist and pull her onto his lap. As far as first kisses go, this one is explosive. Years of longing must have built up a considerable powder keg between them. One extreme to another, he supposes, moaning involuntarily as the tip of her tongue nudges at his lips. As he opens his mouth and grants her entrance, the heady taste of Scully floods his senses. His hands travel down Scully’s waist to her hips and he kneads the warm flesh gently as she presses herself closer to him.

The dinner grows cold on the table as they hold each other. Later that night, she sends him home with leftovers, a kiss, and the promise of many shared meals in their future.