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Mulder is making 44 clove garlic soup. 

In the steamy grotto of his kitchen, Scully cuts a witch-like figure; black-clad and bent-nosed, her hair whipped into a fetching nimbus by the rain. She has been hovering over the pot while she sips at her second glass of wine, driven to industry by her skepticism of his ability to feed her. 

“The onions are going to burn,” she needles, thieving a shard of gruyere from the cutting board.

“Get outta there,” he scolds, bumping her with his elbow. But she’s right as usual, and he turns his attention back to the onions, shoving them around the pot with a spatula. He’s been trying to be extra good to her lately. It would not do to burn the onions. Between the thing with the smoker and that ill-advised stakeout, he really owes her one. 

Scully checks on the garlic roasting in the oven, releasing a zephyr of heat into the room. He strips a fragrant sprig of thyme between his fingers, observing her ass as she bends over and pries the crimped tinfoil bundle apart with a pair of tongs. 

“This seems like an awfully convoluted way to flush out Hegel Place’s resident vampires,” she quips, letting the oven door clang shut. He grins at her, feeling another fragment of the lingering tension between them shake itself out. He can’t help it; her bad jokes make him feel loved. 

Mulder had thought a stakeout would be romantic. A few long nights alone together in a neutral location, scratching notes, complaining amiably. Indulging in the cozy candour that is always inexplicably summoned by paper cups of burnt corner-store coffee. It had been off to a good start, Scully working herself up to one of her standard-issue grouches, getting all slouchy and pouty and sarcastic. But then Skinner swooped in on the wing of a raven and a mystery, and Mulder found himself suddenly, irrevocably in Vermont. 

He had to admit that Ellen and her monster were rather Aesopish in their timeliness. In any case, her rabid domesticity had clearly rubbed off on him, because here he was, professing devotion in the form of soup, a damp dish towel slung over his shoulder, carefully pouring chicken stock into his mom’s prehistoric Osterizer Galaxie blender. 

He might be a monster, but just like those 44 cloves, he wants to prove he can turn the pungent things inside of himself into something sweet and rich, something that can nourish her. 

Across the kitchen, Scully sets down her wine and shoves her hand into a tattered oven mitt, rattles the tray from the oven and rests it on the burners. She shakes off the glove and impatiently picks open the foil with the tips of her fingernails. A bloom of aromatic splendour billows out from it, and he can’t help but follow it to the source, placing his hand on the small of Scully’s back as he leans over her and inhales. Together they peer down into the dark. The garlic resembles four papery nests of caramel-coloured hummingbird eggs. 

“Ready,” he confirms. 

He lets her squeeze out the flesh from the skin over the steaming blender while he transfers the onions. Scully is adorable, exsanguinating her alliums with a warlike, satisfied expression, the same one he’s seen while she’s elbows-deep in an autopsy. 

“They say garlic’s an aphrodisiac,” he purrs into her ear, adding the thyme. 

“You know, Mulder,” Scully says, eyes still glued to her task. “I find it a little strange that you seem so enamoured of an outmoded patriarchal institution like marriage.” 

He feels a grin inhabit his mouth. “That’s one hell of a non-sequitur, Scully.” 

“Indulge me.”

He leans against the counter, thinking.

“Well, there’s the fact that I love you, of course,” he offers. 

“Big deal. You’ve loved me for years. Next.” 

Mulder pulls open the fridge door, peering inside. “I dunno, don’t you think there’s something nice about the formal, ritualistic binding of two souls in front of the eyes of men and gods alike? The publicly-sanctioned promise to do right by one another, to go forth and bear fruit, to share the yoke?” He locates the carton of coffee cream, grabs it, pours a few good lugs into the blender. 

“Did you share the yoke with Diana?” She asks lightly. It only stings a little. 

“C’mon, Scully.” 

“Anyway, marriage across nearly all cultures was traditionally the exchange of a woman as property from father to husband. It doesn’t have some primal, ancient spiritual significance. It was business.”

“Well,” he replies warmly, “I’ve got great news for you. It’s the year 2000.”

“We wouldn’t be able to continue our work.” With this, she sets her empty husk of garlic down and looks up, pins him with her Aegean eyes. 

Here was the big one, the colossal Moby-Dick truth of it lurking under the water, threatening to crest in a heave of spectacular violence and suck down the Pequod. He hits the puree button. The Galaxie screams to life, buying him some time. The slop whirls and liquefies, like a magic potion. 

The kitchen is very quiet when the blender jerks to a stop. 

“I know now what happened to Samantha,” he says. His voice is softer than he intended. Like sharing a secret, like hiding from god. “Lately… lately it feels like the rest is… I dunno, recreational. I know you’ve got your goals with this work, too. I’m just thinking of what comes after.” 

Mulder reaches over to briefly cradle her wine-flushed cheek in his palm. She leans into him like a stray cat, fierce and purposeful in her affection. 

“And what if this is the thing that makes us?” She asks. “What if without this, without the X-Files, we lose ourselves? What if we become people that we are incapable of recognizing? What if nothing is important ever again? What if, what if, what if you don’t—” 

“Hey,” he interrupts, utterly humbled by her integrity, her allegiance, the wide, wet ocean view of her eyes. “Hey.” 

He fishes out a spoon from the drying rack and scoops up a mouthful of soup, floating it over to Scully with a hand cupped underneath it to catch any overflow. He tips the spoon against her lips, and she receives it like communion. 

“Nothing would ever make me stop loving you,” he promises. “Nothing.”

He bends down. He kisses her soundly. “Even garlic breath.”