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Manca Qualcosa

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Scully’s brain feels fuzzy around the edges. She squints up at Mulder and stifles a yawn. Mulder signals the waitress and she gives him a wink as she refills both their cups. She is gripped with a strong sense of deja vu, of the two of them meeting in a DC diner early on in their partnership, sharing bad coffee and a growing fondness of one another.

It’s happening, very strangely, all over again. She’s come from the hospital, he from the Library of Congress. They meet in the middle, between the secrets found in human bodies and in books.

“You look tired,” he says, ripping open a sugar packet and tapping the contents into his coffee.

“It’s my own fault. I stayed up too late watching TV.”

“What program could possibly be so engaging that it kept Dr. Dana Scully from her pre-appointed 10:00 pm bedtime?”

Of course he knows she keeps her early hours even now that she is on her own again.

“Hannibal.” He shakes his head.

“It’s a series based on Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon.”

“Liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti?” He does a poor imitation of Hannibal’s slurping noises in Silence of the Lambs.

She nods, smiling. “Something like that.”

“Would I like it?”

“Well,” she starts, sighing like she is about to say something ridiculous, like in the old days, “it’s got a cannibal, an interesting collection of serial killers and some fairly incompetent FBI agents. I think you’d find something to hold your attention.”

“What about women? Any hot babes in this thing? Clarice?” He waggles his brows.

She rolls her eyes and laughs. “There are women in the show. Yes.”

“Are they my type?”

She shrugs and glances at her phone. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got rounds in an hour.”

He nods. She reaches into her bag for her wallet. He taps her wrist to stop her.

“This one’s on me,” he smiles.

“Thanks for the coffee.”

“Anytime, Scully.”

*****

Her phone beeps. She tugs it from the pocket of her lab coat. A text from Mulder, ”SCULLY I JUST WATCHED ALL OF SEASON ONE AND I HAVEN’T SLEPT AT ALL.”

She is alarmed by the use of caps and the lack of punctuation. She wonders how much caffeine he’s consumed in the last 24 hours. She pictures him surrounded by a sea of empty Red Bull cans or maybe the espresso machine’s been working overtime.

“Mulder that’s not healthy,” she texts back. “That’s almost 12 straight hours of TV. Go take a nap.”

“JUST ONE MORE EPISODE THEN I’LL SLEEP I PROMISE.” He ends the text with an excessive amount of exclamation points and a sleeping emoji.

Just one more episode. The famous last words of binge-watchers everywhere. She pinches the bridge of her nose and drops her phone back into her pocket.

*****
Scully is relaxing in her neat apartment, finally, after a brutal two weeks at work. She tries to focus on the words on the page - her fifth time through Breakfast At Tiffany’s - but truthfully, every single combination of letters she encounters slides around and melts into some variation of microtia before her eyes. She needs some sleep, and desperately.

Her phone rings. “Hello?” she mumbles without even looking at the caller ID.

“These agents are idiots, Scully,” Mulder’s sleepy voice says. “They should have consulted us on this case. Also, this is… so gross.”

“Hm?” She’s in no mood to guess.

“This man… Scully, this person was sown… into the womb of a horse.”

“So?”

He gasps. “So? This doesn’t freak you out at all?”

“Mulder, remember the time you and I had a fun afternoon at work, knee deep in a medical waste container full of discarded spleens and limbs looking for the naturally shed head of a cancer-eating salamander mutant? That was gross.”

He is silent. “Wimp,” she mutters, and hangs up. Then she recalls what happened after their little dumpster dive, and feels a hint of regret at having made him remember.

*****

Her eyes blink open. She has no idea what time it is. Head still under the covers, a hand creeps out and scrabbles blindly on the nightstand for her phone. There is a text waiting for her. From Mulder. Sent at 3:33 am. “That Dimmond guy was deboned and folded into the shape of an anatomically correct heart… how does that not bother you?”

She sighs and stretches, her spine popping as her vertebrae slip back into place. She texts one word, “Flukeman,” before dropping her phone on the bed and heading for the shower.

*****

The hospital has been hit hard by the latest strain of flu and they are short staffed. She pulls her phone out to let Mulder know she has to push back their now semi-regular Hannibal e pasta night. Her stomach growls in protest. She has been looking forward to this evening–wine, Mulder and the baked ravioli from Ledo. Scully taps open her Messages app. She glances over the last few texts from him and sighs. His texts normally inform her of the latest UFO sighting in Oregon, the squirrel antics out at the house, or Bigfoot being spotted in the Everglades. Now they’re all about one thing: "I hope Bedelia gets away with it.” “Bedelia can kick Will’s ass.” “Bedelia, Scully.” “That. Fucking. Dress.” “BEDELIA.”

*****

She is curled up next to him on the couch. Her bare feet tucked under his warm thigh. His and hers bowls of popcorn. His, buttered and heavily salted, much to his personal physician’s dismay. Hers, lightly dusted with truffle salt. He pauses the episode and stares at her.

“What?” she mumbles, mouth full of kernels.

“You and the lovely Dr. Du Maurier have very similar profiles.”

She looks at him like he’s nuts. He touches his thumb to her chin, turning her head so she is facing forward. He glances back and forth from her to the screen.

He runs the tip of his finger down her aquiline nose. “Yep. There’s definitely a resemblance.”

He pushes play. After a few minutes he says, “Scully, have you ever thought about becoming a blonde?”

She throws a handful of popcorn at him. He takes that as a “no.”

*****

The oven timer goes off and she pulls out the bubbling pan of lasagne. The air fills with garlic and onion, tomatoes and oregano. She walks into the living room to tell him that dinner is ready. He is snoring softly on the couch, hugging a pillow to him. The Yankees game is over and a beer commercial with girls in bikinis running in slo-mo to Warrant’s Cherry Pie screams in HD. She fishes around the couch for the remote, finding it wedged under his denim-clad ass. Her jostling doesn’t disturb him. She mutes the TV. He’s going to have a nice imprint of a seam on his face when he gets up. She puts her hand on his shoulder. He snuffles a bit and mumbles, “Tartuffi bianchi, por favore,” in a truly awful Italian accent. She claps a hand over her mouth and is able to restrain her laughter until she is back in the kitchen.

He shuffles in, rubbing his eyes. “What’s so funny?”

“Italian’s such a beautiful language, don’t you think?”

He wrinkles his brow, confused. “I guess.”

“The lasagne’s ready,” she says. “I hope you’re hungry.”

****

His eyes haven’t left the screen since Bedelia entered stage right. He’s entranced. Scully wonders if he’s forgotten she’s even there until he starts talking. He gestures to the TV with his beer bottle. “Look at her, Scully–cool, calm, regal. She’s a regular ice queen–”

Scully flinches as his choice of words, but he doesn’t notice.

“–she’s easily the smartest one in the room,” he prattles on. “One step ahead of Hannibal, of everybody. She’s toying with him, provoking him. She gets off on it. She’s got a master plan. You can see it in her eyes. She’s going to crush that psychopath.”

Scully rolls her eyes and stands up to get another beer. “Jesus Mulder, if you love Bedelia so much, why don’t you marry her?!” She snaps. What was meant to be a joke came out sharper than she’d intended.

He’s stunned by her words, at their tone. “Because I happen to like the wife I’ve got, Scully.”

***

Scully pulls up in Dr. Anita Balthazar’s driveway in leafy, genteel Manassas. So this is how the other half–the married, dual-earner, child-free mid-career professional households–lives. In another universe, one like hers but just a little bit different, she lives in a house like this. But, she tells herself, in this universe she is Dana Scully, secret sleuth, and she is on a mission.

“Dana!”, Dr. Balthazar exclaims from behind the screen door, motioning her inside, “come on, come in! How have you been? With all those wonderful double shifts you’ve been pulling? Ha ha!”

Scully finds herself sitting on a tall stool in a sun-flooded kitchen, gossiping about Our Lady Of Sorrows nurses and drinking tea.

“Does Rick still do any woodworking?” she asks her colleague after a comfortable silence.

“Well, he spends hours out in that shed and the brand new dining table he promised me seven months ago only has three legs, but sure, I guess he still does woodworking. Why?” Anita takes a sip of tea and doesn’t look up from her chopping.

Scully closes her eyes, transported back to Skinner’s office, to the moment right before she’s about to say something ridiculous, that happens to be true. “I, uh, I need some help with a, uh, a peg leg.”

Her friend’s face is puzzled. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s for a costume party. Halloween is coming up soon and I… you know, the kids on the ward…”

Anita’s face lights up. “Ooh, you’re going to be a pirate! The kids will love it.”

“A pirate. Yes. Do you think a peg leg is something Rick could do?”

“Well, it’s basically just a chair leg with a larger circumference, isn’t it? I think he could probably handle that.”

“I’d pay him, of course.” This is ridiculous. And Scully hopes this ridiculous plan will pay dividends to her, as well.

****

The house is quiet and moody on this quintessential Virginia fall afternoon. The leaves turned early this year, leaving the yard glowing red and orange in the siesta sun. Scully thinks that in a different year, she might take it as a sign to flee - the house surrounded by fire, danger, “no trespassing” warnings from nature. But not this year. Things are changing, and for the better.
She knows Mulder is out right now; he’s probably taken the truck over to Fredricksburg, where he’s lifting weights with the old Virginny geezers. He’ll be back at six or so, probably.

She goes upstairs, padding past the stacks of books that still adorn the steps like fallen dominoes. On the top step, she notices and laughs, is a clue as to why she is here: A TV Guide lounges on top of an encyclopedia, its cover screaming DEADLY DEPARTED. She picks it up and brings it with her to the bedroom, tucked among the supplies in her overnight bag. The article, of course, is about the series finale of Hannibal. Bedelia Du Maurier’s haughty stare on the page holds Scully’s, her arrogant top lip presents her a challenge. Pull this off.

Scully plucks her dress, her wig, and her shoe from the bag and lays them out on the rumpled sheets. She regards them like Ahab did his crew, stern and unwavering. We’re going to do this. She brushes Mulder’s discarded workout clothes off the side of the bed to make room, and gets to work.

***

The lace cascading down the chest of her low-cut, black cocktail dress itches a little, as does the wig, but she does not move a muscle, just sits quietly at the head of the table with a bubbling mirth playing on her lips. She clears her throat and neutralizes her expression, making sure her right eyebrow is arched in a way that screams disdain.

The headlights flooding the kitchen go out, leaving the room bathed in candlelight. The front steps creak with the weight of a 180lb body, and she hears him hiss “Goddamnit!” when he drops the keys to the porch. Some fumbling later, the doorknob turns.

Scully takes a deep breath in anticipation, and allows herself a small giggle.

Mulder enters the room looking like a very clumsy star of a perfume ad, his hair shiny and his dress shirt sleeves rolled up past the elbow, tie carefree and loose around his neck. The huge stack of files under his arm wobbles and tumbles to the floor. He curses quietly and is alert, all of a sudden, to the intruder in the house. He stands up and takes in the scene:

A petite blonde with platinum barrel curls halfway down her back, body autumn-pale in black lace, sits at the head of the dining table he usually has stashed away in the shed. Two place-settings take up most of the room on the surface in front of her. There are two bottles of beer, mismatched drinking glasses, and a large platter of fried oysters with dipping sauces. Linen napkins, their nicest home good, that were a gift from her mother. She straightens her back and pushes out her chest in a decidedly un-Scully manner.

“Scully?” he croaks. “I wasn’t expecting you. What–what is all this?”

“Oh, there you are,” she says without looking at him, and puts some extra breath into her voice. She tries hard to round her r, to make it sound like she’s got her mouth around something substantial. “I dropped my napkin under the table. Could you get it for me?”

Confused, Mulder pads over to her and crouches down beside her chair… and he sees it. Her left foot is encased in a shiny, intimidating black pump with a switchblade heel, the seam of her stocking running up the back of a toned, smooth calf. The other foot… isn’t there at all. The ivory of her right thigh peeks out from under the hem of the silk dress, but below it, somehow fastened to her knee with satin ribbons, is an intricately carved wooden leg. A lacy, floral pattern circles the tapered shape, and at its end is a carved and polished foot on a high heeled pump. Its delicate scrimshaw swirls catch Mulder’s eye right away, and he leans down further, brings his face closer to her legs.

“Oh. My. God,” he whispers, awed by what she has done. He grasps her delicate stockinged ankle, running his thumb around the bone. Paying homage to the living limb before he worships its delicately carved companion, a work of art. “How did you-?”

Above him, a throaty giggle escapes Scully’s - no, this exquisite woman’s - throat. “Get up here,” she creaks in a voice like dark chocolate and poison.

He’s on his knees next to her at the table, draping the linen napkin across her lap. His fingers are warm. If this were Scully, she would break frame now, say this is foolish, but it’s not her there in the chair at this moment. She gets into character, embodies the razor-sharp platinum blonde with the mysterious past and the murderous secrets.

“As a psychiatrist, I know not to let my disability define me to impede my life,” she explains, eyebrow arched at his obvious excitement and awe, “and after I exacted a bloody and righteous revenge on Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, I decided it was time for a more… simple life. So here I am. I moved to this charming house and took a lover.”

She pops the lid off a bottle of beer and holds it out to him. He takes it from her with trembling fingers, eyes glittering with disbelief and delight. “My lover has a highly sophisticated palate,“ she tosses her hair a little and nods at the Virginia nanobrew.

"What is this?” His voice lets her know he’s playing along with the little fantasy, smooth as whisky in his throat.

“Chocolate vanilla stout,” she says and takes a swig of her own. “I understand men enjoy sweet things.”

"They do. He is… he’s very particular about how you taste,” Mulder says, carefully brushing aside her unfamiliar hair and nibbling along her collarbone before fastening his lips to her neck. He is definitely part of the game now, his heat warming up the air in the room.

“Tell me about him,” he says in a low voice against her neck. “Your lover. Is he stylish? European? Suave?”

She laughs darkly, lapsang tea over hot coals, and takes another swig of beer. “I went for something different this time. Change from my usual. He is a cop, a tall Yankee cop with terrible taste in movies and a lot of cargo pants in his bureau.”

Her fingers slip into his hair, and his under the hem of her dress.

“Hm,” he sniffs, “what’s so great about this new guy? What’s the attraction?”

She scratches her nails softly along the nape of his neck. He shivers. “He’s got silky hair I like to run my fingers through. Generous bottom lip, mmm,” she rubs her thumb over his mouth, “eyes you can lose yourself in–do you want to hear more?”

He leans into her touch, then stretches out of reach to pluck a fried oyster from the plate. He brings it to her lips and she bites down, chews thoughtfully while regarding him with amusement and not a little heat.

“Sounds like a stud,” he whispers and draws his fingers across her collarbones, arrow-fine in the plunging neckline of her dress, “but I can’t imagine he satisfies your intellectual appetites.”

She toys with his loosened tie. “You don’t think an Oxford-educated psychologist with an eidetic memory can intellectually satisfy me?” She wraps the tie once, twice, three times around her delicate hand and tugs him toward her.

“He could recite all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets if I asked him to. Name every shortstop who’s ever played for the Yankees, chronologically or alphabetically. He knows the date and location of every UFO sighting that has occurred since Roswell. Or tell me what’s on page 134 of the owner’s manual for that fancy espresso machine in the kitchen. In Italian. So you see I’m very,” she presses her lips to his. “Very,” she repeats the kiss with slightly more pressure. “Satisfied.” She pulls him roughly against her and drops the tie, twining her fingers in his hair.

“Dr. Du Maurier,” he breathes against her lips before succumbing to her insistent kisses, melding his mouth with hers and savoring her brown sugar breath, coming up for air only when she turns slightly in her chair to face him more fully. It would be easy to break the whisper thin fantasy now but it’s Friday night and the good doctor has the weekend off.

“You may call me Bedelia,” she purrs and takes his hand, places it on her right knee, which is un-stockinged and bent deeply, hiding her calf under the spread of her dress, foot tucked under her buttocks. His fingers play over the bones of the joint under the elaborate ribbons she’s used for the designer limb, circle her patella. She watches his lips glisten in the candle light.

“Take me upstairs,” she says barely above a low groan, and wraps her left leg around his hip, stiletto digging into a taut hamstring.

He picks her up with ease, and she barely hears the creak of his knees or the thump of the wooden leg as it hits the floor.

****

“Are you coming on to me, Doctor?” Mulder growls into her ear as he sets her down at the top of the landing. His hands span the width of each of her thighs, drawing up her dress and exposing her stocking. She laughs. She remains standing on one foot, swaying a little. He picks her up again, a little rougher this time, and carries her across the threshold to the darkened bedroom.
She has put clean sheets on the bed, fluffed the pillows, and arranged the clutter artfully around the room, suggesting a sophisticated lair rather than a neglected one-time marital bedroom. A silk robe lies nonchalantly across the armchair in the corner; a pillar candle burns on the night stand.

She lounges on the bed in her dress, finer than anything in this room except perhaps his skin, while he tugs off his tie, his shoes, and prowls toward her with larger gestures than normal and a predatory smile on his face. He falls to his knees again. As she’s reaching for him, he darts out of her grasp and opens a nightstand drawer. He fumbles for something, but she stops him.

“Doctor…” he starts and seeks her gaze, a bit embarrassed, “I thought you’d want to…”

For a second her breath catches and she is ready to stop this charade. He thinks they need to worry about protection now, that things are different. There hasn’t been anyone else, of course, not for nineteen years and counting. The game is not the place to discuss this. She takes his hand and draws it to her lips.

“No,” she whispers, “only you.”

“Me too,” he mouths silently and moves closer. Their kiss has something in it now, conviction, like permission has been given. When they give in, they give in together.

***

There is a blonde wig on the floor and pillows tossed around the room. They’ve managed to tangle themselves up in the sheets, worn soft with years of familiar friction. Mulder lets his fingers play lazily with her right calf that rests across his waist - she’s got all her limbs back, and feels more fully herself than she has in a long time. This, she thinks dazedly, was fun.

His voice is rough and full of amusement. “So Doctor, there’s one thing I need to know.”

“Yes?” A whisper of the sophisticated, the deadly, the unattainable Dr. Du Maurier remains between them in their bed.

“Earlier you said you moved…to this charming house.”

“Yes?” she repeats.

“But someone already lives here.” He kisses the top of her head, which is again the color of hot coals.

“He won’t mind,” she says with a kiss to his throat and points, a little shyly, across the room. He follows her immaculately manicured finger with his gaze, and lets it rest upon the suitcase that sits, expectant, next to the closet. “Will he?”