Scully knew he was joking. At least, mostly joking. There had been something between them for a while now, not that they acknowledged it. It was there in the glances, the occasional touches, the hugs, the jokes, the rare laughter, and the absolute trust they had in each other even as they tried to prove each other wrong. Scully knew the right response to Mulder’s request—ignore it, making a joking remark, or just get back to the subject at hand.
But what slipped out of her mouth was “Yes.”
She immediately flushed and looked to the ceiling.
“I—what?” Mulder asked.
“Forget I said that. Let’s get back to--”
“No,” he interrupted. “Just wait a minute. Yes?” he asked incredulously. “Who are you and what have you done with my partner? You know I was joking, right? Well mostly joking,” he added in an undertone.
“No, I refuse to believe that now, of all times, you choose to give me a serious response to something like that.”
“You’re right. There’s a lot going on here, and I wasn’t thinking. It was a flippant response.”
Mulder paused before saying in a quiet tone, “Dana, you know I love you, right?”
Mulder could hear her sharp intake of breath.
“I’m in love with you, Scully,” he repeated. “I have been for years.”
She returned her gaze to the ceiling and tried to get her breathing under control.
He continued, “Tell me that ‘yes’ was all just a joke and I’ll forget about it. But if you tell me there’s at least some part of you that wants to address what we mean to each other and where we want to go from here, then I’ll take that ‘yes’ seriously.”
She was silent for a while. So long he began to think she had hung up on him. It came as a surprise when she whispered, “Okay.”
“Okay. I’m tired of denying myself what I want. Let’s do this, and maybe someday we can revisit that other question you asked me.”
They got back on the topic of the case after that. They managed to stay focused long enough to save the mother’s life and for Scully to return to D.C.
Walking into their office, her eyes immediately focused on Mulder at his desk.
“Oh, hey Scully. How’re you doing? How are you feeling? Rested?”
“I feel fine,” she said, approaching him. “But it’s been one hell of a weekend and I haven’t gotten much sleep.”
“Yes. And your declaration of love and marriage proposal.”
Mulder stood and walked over to her, taking something out of his pocket. The item was immediately recognizable. He handed her the ring box.
She didn’t open it, but just stared at it for a minute. “This is what I think it is?” she asked.
“If you think it’s an engagement ring, then yes.”
She briefly met his eyes before returning her gaze to the box in her hand. She opened it.
She stared at the ring silently. “This better not be a proposal,” she said half joking, trying to inject some levity into the situation.
“I thought I had already proposed and you said yes.”
“We’re not even in a relationship,” she said almost desperately.
“Are you sure about that?” he asked seriously. He brought a hand to her cheek. “All that’s been missing is some kissing. Some people get engaged with much less than what we have.”
“You’re not serious,” she said, but didn’t look away from his gaze.
Slowly he leaned toward her. Their lips were a hairsbreadth away when he hesitated slightly before closing the gap. She brought her hands up to his neck and shoulders, still grasping the ring box, while he ran one hand through her hair and continued cupping her cheek with the other.
When they ended the kiss they remained in each other’s arms, Scully’s hands slipping down to his back, and Mulders’ to her waist. “I still think we should try dating first,” she said. “Isn’t that how it usually goes? Dating first and then marriage?”
“What do you call the last few years?”
“A work partnership and friendship.”
“You must be really close to all your friends.”
“I’m not trying to pressure you. Take all the time you need. I don’t plan on going anywhere. But I know you feel the same way about me.”
Scully became entirely serious. “Maybe I do, but the fact doesn’t change that I’d like to spend some time just being us—just getting used to there being an us—before we take any more steps forward.”
He stroked her cheek. “Okay,” he said and gave her quick kiss. “But hold on to this.” He curled one hand around hers and the small black box. “You’ll have it for when you’re ready.”
“That’s rather presumptuous.”
“Is it?” he asked, a knowing look on his face.
“We’ll see,” she said, before a noise distracted him. “What was that?” she asked and looked behind him. Another pencil dropped to the floor behind Mulder’s desk. She looked up at the ceiling to see dozens of pencils embedded like small arrows.
“I got bored,” he said when she looked back at him.
Scully rolled her eyes as she smiled.