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Fox Mulder, connoisseur of the Playboy centerfold, has never had a playmate before. He has had friends. He has had lovers. He has certainly been played with, though not in the fun way. Fox Mulder doesn’t have fun. Fox Mulder sits in his basement office for fourteen hours a day reading rotting casefiles from 1953. He enjoys the work, but his single-minded focus has nothing to do with enjoyment, and everything to do with a desperate and somewhat self-abnegative feeling of necessity. He has a sense of irony so well-cultivated that an outside observer might mistake it for a zest for life. In reality, it is the final recourse of the smart and painfully sincere. He thinks he jokes at the world because he’s given up on it joking back, but Fox Mulder is nothing if not a compulsive seeker of wonder, and deep down his ill-guarded, latchkey heart murmurs Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Dana Scully has never had a playmate before, and never knew she wanted one. But she has had a small, persistent sensation of mental claustrophobia for a long time. She doesn’t get lonely, and she doesn’t quite get bored. Working comes too easily to Dana Scully for her to get bored. She interprets any nagging dissatisfaction as a sign to write an article, clean a gun, read a book, advance a career. She has the purpose of the purposeless: a foggy calling to do good. The wonders of the world are too rich for her Catholic, military blood, and it no more occurs to her to seek them than it would occur to her to join a burlesque sideshow. Yet she is no joyless, austere Protestant. She simply transubstantiates this secret, vulgar, monumental curiosity of hers into sufficiently holy vessels: a medical degree, a government institution, a symbol of the sublime at her throat. That cross glitters there like a pirate captain’s key, whispering promises of buried gold. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

“Do you believe in the existence of extra-terrestrials?” he asks, a waggish pantomime of himself. The question is ridiculous, but it doesn’t occur to her to not take him seriously. For some reason it is his humor that makes her begin, unconsciously, to respect him. Dana Scully dreaded some false, self-ignorant prophet, and while she knows that she is supposed to find his mannerisms arrogant, she detects an uncommon humility in them that surprises her. Fox Mulder is in on the joke of himself, and this, more than his mystical profiling reputation, is what makes her unable to dismiss him.

“Logically, I would have to say no,” she replies, with the naive amusement of the doctrinaire. A little smug, but not mocking. Logically, she says. For all that she is defending an unimaginative position with the overconfidence of the untested, she has not given him a stock answer. And despite the tight beam of his attention, she does not preen as if she’s been flirted with. She treats his serves like casefiles, folders of evidence to sift through and reconcile with considered, customized solutions. It should not surprise him that the FBI has produced an investigator, but it does. He is charmed by her charmlessness. Fox Mulder does not attract guileless people, and he has almost forgotten that they might exist. He is not hopeful about Dana Scully, but he finds himself wanting to be.

As she packs her bag for Oregon that night, it occurs to her that in anyone else, she would wonder if he had been trying make her feel small and unproven in some sexual way. She felt a bit unbalanced by Fox Mulder, but she didn’t feel dirty afterwards. Whatever his reasons, she believes he actually wanted to see what she would say. The thought warms her.

As he flips through the office’s casefiles that evening, dousing for something interesting to contemplate on the plane, the image of an amused Dana Scully floats to the surface of Fox Mulder’s mind. He realizes it’s the first time in years that someone has found him funny for reasons other than thinking he is either laughable or insurmountably alien. He finds a file in the Postmortem Reanimation section, and puts it under his arm with a quiet, pigtail-pulling kind of glee. Wait until Dr. Agent Pathologist, MD gets a load of this.

They are a bit giddy with each other, in these early days. Not that they realize it. It is the giddiness of too much adrenaline, the chemical byproduct of discovery and suspicion. At bizarre, embarrassing moments, Fox Mulder feels like a boy at sleep-away camp, wanting to write his mother long, starry-eyed letters about the new friend he’s made. “Scully and I made s’mores last night.” “Scully and I caught toads by the Big Elk River.” “Scully and I found the Jersey Devil, Mom. She was incredible.” Subject ambiguous. He does not acknowledge this instinct to himself, not least because the idea of showing his mother the white belly of his enthusiasm has an air of the grotesque. Not least because wanting to like Dana Scully makes him feel pathetic. Spooky Mulder: dupe.

But he does post on the private Lone Gunman message board. A colleague and I recently experienced time loss on Route 20 near Bellefleur, Oregon, he writes. The posters know that trustno1 is in law enforcement, though only the Gunmen know for certain that he is Fox Mulder of the FBI. A bitter, familiar debate begins, first about the reliability of his claims, and later about the prudence of committing them to official government record. It almost doesn’t matter that Scully’s report could not “validate or substantiate” what happened, or that it was ultimately disappeared. These things now happen to a colleague and I.

He thinks of it as always being content to see her. He forgets about her, sometimes. He cuts her out. But being glad that she is there is the easiest thing in the world. Even at his most inflamed and her most unsparing, the thought “I want you gone” never enters into his head. Not really. Being around Dana Scully is like being able to breathe. She is the Iron Lung that contains his gaseous, fugitive thoughts and pumps them back to him so he can use them. With Dana Scully he finally knows the boundaries of himself because she treats them as if they exist.

She thinks of it as anticipation. She finds herself looking forward to her days with Fox Mulder the way one looks forward to sneaking out to drink by the train tracks with teenage friends. With Fox Mulder, even staid government work takes on the thrill of the clandestine. And yet, despite the fact that she associates thrills with irresponsibility, Dana Scully has never felt less trivial in her life. It’s as if she’s been batting at T-balls for years and could never figure out why her hits never got her more than a double. But suddenly she’s swinging at a fastball and she watches with awe and satisfaction as it clears a distant fence.