Scully's never projected much of a girly-girl image. She'd been a tomboy through-and-through as a child, detesting the plaid skirts of her Catholic school uniforms, longing to be allowed to wear slacks like her brothers, chafing at every frilly dress her mother had tried to stuff her into. In her teenage years, she'd buried herself in academics (and the occasional track and field meet), and as an adult, she's chosen a career where "girly" is the absolute last thing she wants to be seen as. Her heels make her look taller, her shoulder pads help her take up more space in a room, and her face is a smooth mask, her smiles shown only to a select few and her tears shown to no one. She knows what they've started calling her behind her back- in addition to "Mrs. Spooky," of course- and she doesn't care.
In her line of work, "Ice Queen" beats "Girly-Girl" any day of the week.
On nights like tonight, though, Scully feels a sense of relief, of freedom, in being allowed- in fact, expected- to indulge her feminine side. She spent hours at the mall last weekend before settling on this forest green velvet sheath dress, quelling her guilt over its price tag by reminding herself that she won't need to buy shoes, because she already has the perfect pair of strappy black heels to match it. She's brushed her hair into the fanciest updo she can manage on her own, applied slightly more dramatic makeup than her everyday wear, and adorned her ears with the emerald earrings her father gave her when she graduated from med school. She steps back and looks herself up and down in the mirror, and for once, she genuinely likes what she sees.
That feeling is reinforced tenfold when she walks into the living room, where Ethan is waiting, and renders him speechless for a solid minute.
"Wow," he breathes, when he finally gets his voice back. "Dana. You look...." He shakes his head as though clearing it. "I don't have the words." Scully can't help but grin.
"You don't look so bad, yourself," she says, giving his well-fitting suit an appraising look. "Ready to go?"
"Are you sure we have to?" Ethan asks, taking her dress coat from the closet and helping her into it. "I'd be more than okay with just staying here and taking that dress right back off of you." Scully giggles and takes his arm.
"Come on," she says. "It'll be fun. How often to we get the chance to go dancing?"
"I share you with your co-workers all week long, Dana," he says. "And that's when you're in those ridiculous suits you love so much. How am I supposed to handle sharing you when you look like this?" Scully's mouth opens in mock outrage.
"My suits are not ridiculous," she insists. "And trust me, none of my co-workers are going to care in the slightest what I look like tonight."
"Not even Mulder?"
"Last I heard, he wasn't even planning on going."
Mulder had honestly not had any intention of attending the Bureau Christmas party.
Years ago, when he was still the pride of Behavioral Sciences, it had generally been a good time, especially since usually, he'd had a date. Different women the first few years, and then Diana, for two years running. He'd had fun. He liked dancing a lot more than most people would expect him to, and he's actually not bad at it.
Last year, he'd gone stag, Diana having decamped for Europe some months before... and not one single woman danced with him. No one even spoke to him. He'd left in less than an hour.
This year, he'd decided, initially, to just stay home. It's more or less what he has planned for the entire holiday season: stay home, see as few people as possible, endure an uncomfortable Christmas Day phone call from his mother, and try not to be hurt when his father inevitably doesn't call at all.
But at about 5:00 on Saturday evening, he suddenly has a change of heart. Scully will be there, he knows, and even though she'll have Ethan as her date, she, at least, will talk to him. Ethan probably will, as well. He seems to be putting extra effort, lately, into proving how much he's not threatened by Fox Mulder's presence in his girlfriend's life. So Mulder dons his nicest suit, makes an attempt at styling his hair, slides into his dress shoes, and catches a cab to the party.
He's very, very glad that he arrives before Scully, and beyond relieved that she doesn't see him at first. This way, by the time she does catch his eye from across the room, he's had time to pick his jaw up off the floor and cram his tongue back into his mouth.
Holy fuck, but she looks incredible.
As she and Ethan cross the room to him, Mulder sees that he's not the only one who's noticed. Scully's leaving a veritable army of goggle-eyed men behind her, and he's pretty sure quite a few of them are regretting ever having called her the Ice Queen, Mrs. Spooky, or any of the other nicknames he knows are floating around.
"I thought you weren't coming!" she exclaims when she finally reaches him. He grins, gives her a lopsided shrug.
"Hey, there's an open bar, right?" She laughs. Ethan shakes hands with him, and for awhile, their conversation is far less awkward than it has any right to be, given that Scully and Ethan were fighting less than a month ago, and Mulder openly declared his feelings for Scully just last week (though he assumes Ethan doesn't know this- Mulder's sure he wouldn't be quite this cordial if he did). They talk a little about the case in Alaska, which Ethan had been fascinated by, and he and Mulder talk basketball, both of them teasing Scully when she tunes them out.
After awhile, Ethan leads Scully out onto the dance floor, and Mulder is left alone again. He wanders over to the bar for a drink and takes it to an empty table where he sits alone, gazing out over the crowd, trying very hard not to look at his partner in her boyfriend's arms... but his eyes are drawn to them, again and again. They seem happy, for now, and Mulder chastises himself inwardly for being upset at this. He's made his feelings clear. Scully knows the door is open, and that should she choose to walk through it, he'll be waiting for her.
He's looking towards the door, thinking about leaving early, when Scully suddenly materializes at his side.
"Are you just going to sit here all night?" she asks, sinking into the chair next to him. He shrugs.
"Not much else to do," he says. "I don't know if you've noticed or not, but I'm not exactly Mr. Popularity." He looks around. "Where's Ethan?"
"Over at the bar," she says, pointing. "He ran into Colton, and they got to talking... and I'm not really inclined to spend any more time around Colton than I have to these days." Mulder glances over and sees the two men perched on stools in front of the bar, talking animatedly.
"They know each other?" Scully nods.
"Ethan used to come with me when I went out for drinks with my Academy classmates," she explains. "He and Tom hit it off, and they've stayed friends." Mulder grimaces.
"Sorry to hear that." Scully laughs. On the dance floor, one song ends, and Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" begins. Scully's face lights up.
"Oh, this is my parents' song!" she exclaims. She looks over at Ethan, but he's still engrossed in conversation with Colton, clearly not about to come back and sweep Scully back out onto the dance floor. Mulder spends all of three seconds considering whether or not it's a good idea before standing and holding out his hand.
"May I have this dance?" he asks. Scully looks up at him dubiously. "Oh, come on, Scully, it's just a dance, in a room full of people. It's not even a slow song." Tentatively, she takes his hand, stands, and allows him to lead her through the crowd. Keeping hold of her hand, he winds his other arm around her waist and tries not to shiver as she slides hers over his shoulder. As they begin to sway together, her eyebrows lift in pleased surprise.
"You can dance, Mulder," she comments.
"I've got all kinds of skills you'd never expect, Scully," he says, and she blushes. She starts to babble, trying to change the direction of the conversation, telling him about how this song was playing when her father's ship docked and how he asked her mother to marry him right then and there. The story gets them through the rest of the song. As it ends, a new song, a much, much slower song- U2's "All I Want is You"- begins. Mulder and Scully stop moving and look at each other. Scully bites her bottom lip, and Mulder barely suppresses a moan.
"We shouldn't," says Scully softly.
"Yeah, probably not," agrees Mulder.
So, of course, they do.
Scully steps closer to him, much closer, and tucks her head into his neck. He rests his cheek against her forehead, and it's pure bliss, swaying slowly with her in his arms, breathing her in, feeling her warmth, running his fingertips over the soft velvet of her dress, imagining how much softer the skin underneath must feel. He's scarcely breathing, afraid that if he inhales the scent of her too deeply, he'll lose all control and try to kiss her, right here, with everyone watching.
And they are watching, he realizes suddenly, catching sight of the people closest to them. The rumor mill is going to go crazy... but still, he can't bring himself to let go of her, can't quite make himself step back and put some space between them.
At least, not until an outraged voice at his shoulder forces him.
"Dana, what the hell?!" Scully jumps, startled, jerking out of Mulder's arms and spinning to face Ethan. "What do you think you're doing?" Scully's face is bright red, her wide, blue eyes full of panic.
"Ethan... I... it was nothing, we were just dancing-"
"Dancing? Dana, if you were any closer, you'd-"
"Ethan, please," hisses Scully. "You're making a scene-"
"I'm making a scene?" Mulder steps in, against his better judgement.
"Look, it's my fault," he says. "It was totally inappropriate and unprofessional of me and I'm sorry." Ethan doesn't even spare Mulder a glance.
"I'd like to leave now," he says to Scully, his voice like ice. "Are you coming with me, or not?" Scully risks the briefest of glances at Mulder before she follows Ethan from the room, her head down.
Mulder heaves a sigh, cursing himself over and over for his idiocy, and makes his way slowly to the bar. Colton is still there, surrounded by his buddies, drinking a scotch that, judging by the color of his face, isn't his first.
"Nice going, Spooky," he sniggers, and his friends laugh.
It's a choice between punching Colton and getting the hell out of there, so Mulder leaves. It's a tempting thought, shutting the obnoxious prick's mouth by breaking his nose... but he's already caused enough damage to his reputation tonight- not to mention Scully's- and so he leaves without another word.
She's supposed to celebrate Christmas at her parents' house, he knows, and then head to Ethan's parents' house for the following week. He's not expecting to see her until New Year's.
When she leaves a message on his machine on the twenty-ninth, telling him about her father, he thinks it might be even longer than that... which is why he's shocked- but pleased- to find her in the office the very next morning.
She says nothing about what happened at the Christmas party, and he doesn't know how to bring it up.
He's sitting far too close to her on the lumpy hotel bed, holding the newspaper bearing the article about the gas chamber being tested. She wonders what it will feel like for Boggs, watching the chemicals reacting, trying his best not to inhale but knowing that it's futile, that even though the air he's craving will be what kills him, he's powerless not to take it into his lungs. She wonders how much of it he'll be able to feel as it happens.
She wonders how much her father felt as it happened to him.
She's much, much too aware of Mulder's leg where it presses up against her own. Why is he sitting here, next to her, instead of in one of the chairs across the room? She wraps her arms protectively around herself, and Mulder lowers the newspaper, looking at her with concern.
"You okay, Scully?" he asks. She nods. He places a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You're shaking." He's right, she realizes, looking down at her trembling hands.
"I, uh...." She swallows, willing the tears away. "It just keeps hitting me in waves, you know? I can keep myself from thinking about it while I'm working, but... once I slow down...." She draws a great, shuddering breath. Mulder puts a tentative arm around her shoulders, and she relaxes into it, desperate for comfort.
"Would you rather be home, Scully?" he asks. "With your mom? And Ethan?"
"Ethan's not there," says Scully quietly. "He's still at his parents' place." Mulder is flabbergasted.
"He didn't come home to be with you?"
"I told him not to." She glances at Mulder, who's frowning. "I just... we haven't talked since... since the Christmas party. He didn't come to my parents' with me for Christmas, and I didn't go with him after. And I'm not... I'm not ready for that conversation... but it's going to be on my mind until we have it. My mom was leaning on me pretty heavily before the funeral, before my brothers got to DC. I didn't want anything to be distracting me."
"So who are you leaning on, Scully?" asks Mulder gently.
"I'm fine, Mulder," she says, and he tightens his arm around her.
"It's okay if you're not," he whispers... and that's all it takes for her to break down.
Scully hasn't cried, not really, since she first got the phone call from her mother. She's been so focused on getting through it, on doing what needs to be done, that she hasn't allowed herself the luxury. But something about Mulder's arm around her, something about the concern on his face, the expression that says all too clearly that he won't judge, that he won't think her weak... it breaks something within her, in the best way possible. For the first time in days, she lets down her guard and allows the tears to come. Mulder, who seems to have been expecting this, puts both arms around her, cradling her head tenderly against his chest.
He says nothing, but there are no words needed between them, so this doesn't bother her at all. He lets her cry herself out, stroking her hair soothingly, and when she's finally done, she feels... not better, exactly, but lighter.
"Thank you," she whispers into his chest.
"Anytime, Scully." She sits up and looks at him, smiling tremulously. He returns it, cupping her cheek gently, the same way he had in the office.
Seconds later, she's kissing him so hard it hurts.
He's clearly surprised, but he doesn't pull away. He wraps her in his arms and returns the kiss, his fingers digging into her sides as he presses her against him. She sinks back onto the bed, pulling him to lie on top of her, never breaking the kiss, spreading her legs so that he can settle between her thighs. She can feel him pressing against her, hot and hard, and she moans. Her fingers begin to scrabble at his tie, at the buttons of his shirt... but moments later, he withdraws his lips from hers and takes her hands, stilling them and pulling them away from his clothing.
"Dana," he says, his voice impossibly tender, "not like this."
That's all it takes for her to shut down. She pulls herself out from under him and sits up, batting his concerned hands away, and smooths her clothing.
"I'm sorry," she says shortly. She can see on his face that he expected this reaction, but that doesn't stop him from trying to explain.
"Scully, I only meant that-"
"Mulder, I don't want to-"
"Dammit, Scully, will you just listen to me for a minute?" He runs a hand through his hair distractedly. "I just meant that... if you come to me... when you come to me like this... I want it to be because it's what you want, not because you're trying to escape your grief." She nods shortly, not looking at him.
They don't speak of it for the rest of the case. They're becoming experts in not talking about things.
Scully foregoes her Benadryl on the flight back to DC. She doesn't have much of a choice: Mulder is in her care, and he is barely coherent thanks to the plethora of painkillers she's foisted on him to help him get through the trip home. He had put up an embarrassing fuss over being pushed to the gate in a wheelchair, but when he'd attempted to maneuver his own way down the aisle of the plane, he'd nearly fallen four separate times, banging his injured leg the last time and swearing so loudly and so profusely that Scully's sure the flight attendants would have thrown him off the plane if they hadn't known he was FBI.
She doesn't hesitate to drug him to the gills.
He sleeps for most of the flight, thankfully, his head lolling onto her shoulder. But even in his Vicodin-induced haze, he still takes her hand and squeezes it as the plane takes off. His woozy smile tugs at her heartstrings, and she's relieved when he passes out.
Once he's asleep, she's free to study him at her leisure. He's so deeply asleep that she can even touch him without waking him, and she does, tracing the lines of his face, running her fingers through his hair, holding his hand- so much larger than hers- in her own, studying the lines on his palm, the shape of his knuckles, committing each tiny mole and childhood scar to memory.
She knows why she's hesitating. She's known it for awhile.
Her relationship with Ethan is not passionate. It's not all-consuming. It's comfortable, enjoyable, pleasurable, and above all, safe. If Scully needs to, she can hold him at arm's length. She doesn't need to let him all the way in.
She knows enough to be well-aware that it would not be that way with Mulder. Not at all. If she is to let him into her heart, into her life, it will not be in increments, in degrees, in bits and pieces. She's felt the energy between them, the electricity, and she knows they will burn hot and furious, an inferno from which she's not sure she'll ever be able to escape.
She thinks there's an excellent chance she'll never want to.
She knows what they'll be like should they come together; that part is not in question. Nor is the fact that she wants it, desperately. The part that she can't see, the part that holds her in check (except for moments of weakness like the hotel room, like the Christmas party, like Oregon, like moments in the future she can't yet name but is sure will happen) is that she doesn't know what happens after. Is that kind of passion sustainable? Or will they burn hot and fast, destroying everything they have now and possibly destroying each other in the process?
It's a big risk. It deserves careful thought, examination, a thorough study of the evidence in either direction. And if there's one thing Dana Scully is good at, it's being careful and thorough.
She wishes, though, as she gazes at her sleeping partner, that she could be more like him sometimes: impulsive, a little reckless, ready to take risks when the payoff might be worth it. Because in her heart, she strongly suspects- no, she knows- that being with Fox Mulder would be worth the risk.
She knows it in her heart. It's her head that needs to catch up.