There are nights, when Scully comes to his room, sits at the end of the bed, folding her legs underneath herself and ask questions about the case, poses ideas, doubts and theories. He turns down the volume on the tv and talks, or listens, or jokes, anything to keep the silence from scaring her away. He pretends he doesn't know she's afraid of nightmares waiting for her, when there's no one around to keep them at bay.
Her greatest weakness is inability to acknowledge weakness but he wants to help. He wants to help but is too scared to offer.
Sooner or later she's stretched across the foot of his bed, edge of comforter wrapped around her back, one arm folded like a pillow under her head. She falls asleep and Mulder watches over her.
Does he think it means anything? Not really, and it costs him nothing to give her what she needs. Formally it might mean something, technically they are working but there's no one there to care. No FBI regulation would force him to close the door between them, no office pretense of professionalism would keep him from her. In these ratty motels they are people trying to help each other, going through this together. Two edges of one blade, cutting their way through to the truth.
One night, after twelve hours in autopsy bay, she stumbled into his room and without thinking it through, he turned down the comforter on the free side of the double bed.
"Mulder, I," she trailed off, puzzled by his gesture.
"We both know you'll fall asleep in four minutes, might as well nap comfortably." He didn't pat the pillow, didn't even look at her directly, just turned down the volume on the TV.
"Sorry, I shouldn't have come, I have my own room," she said, averting her gaze, turning to leave.
"Scully, please, we’ll talk, just, " he hoped his words sounded innocent, "later."
She didn't turn to him, but she didn't leave either. "I won't tell anyone, if you don't."
A stalemate, if she’d leave, she'd be running away. If he’d insist, it would be forcing it, and there's no real reason for it. Mulder almost accepted the fact that he pushed too far, that she won't let him in tonight. She turned and left, through the doors between their rooms. He could hear the zipper on her suitcase, clank of heels on the floor, creak of mattress as she sat down to take off her pantyhose. How did he know that? Because she left the door open. He heard the water in the bathroom, the toilet flush. Was he a pervert by keeping track?
The bathroom door closed, and a second later, she was there, climbing into bed next to him, in her silk, navy blue pyjamas, eyes cast down waiting for comment. He had none.
"Give me ten minutes," she mumbled, hugging her pillow. Her pillow, how natural it felt to call it that. Her side, her pillow, her bedside lamp. Were those things always there? Just waiting to be claimed and properly named?
"Whatever you say," he agreed, looking through the autopsy reports she brought back with her, "now rest."
"Ten minutes," her tone was sleepy, body shifting under the covers, almost comfortably.
"Sleep Scully, you need it."
He kept watch over her for ten minutes, then the next, then another, reading, taking notes, listening to her breathing, slow and relaxed. Given the nature of the report it was quite remarkable that she could sleep so peacefully, this woman had the nerves of steel. They were both trained, but it took a special kind of person to take it in stride and Dana Scully was that person. After his time in the VCS he had nightmares for months, and yet, considering the fact that since they started working together the number of bodies he saw doubled, he also took it a lot better, more calmly. Maybe it was a control thing, maybe it was experience, or maybe it was her, letting him hide behind her professional gaze and steady hand. He had complete trust in her.
The clock showed 11:30pm when he finished with the report. Scully turned in her sleep, now curled on her side, facing him, her unruly hair falling across her cheek. Would she wake if he touched her? Would this tranquil moment fall apart like a house of cards, blown away by her gasp? Does it tickle, a little annoyance that would inevitably wake her, anyway? Would she wake if he watched her for a moment?
Switching the bedside lamp off, in a faint, blueish glow of the muted tv, he laid down next to her. Not overly cautiously but not abrupt, either. It’s the unnatural things that feel out of place, make us look up, a flash of movement in the corner of the eye, a gust of cold wind inside a warm house. Abandoning the report, he mirrored her pose and studied her features, trying to deduce the state of her mind from the arc of her brow, curve of lips, the tiniest frown. Little beauty mark over her lip distracted him, his Marilyn Monroe in scrubs. How long did she have these circles under her eyes, her naturally creamy complexion looked ashen, or maybe it was the light.
Her face was relaxed and calm, unguarded, but why did that make him feel like a thief in the night? Stealing the secret layout of freckles on her nose and cheeks, like a treasure map, like a map of stars. She’s so beautiful, his partner, that he could open an X file on how her smile can spontaneously combust all thought in any man’s mind. Her proud nose, majestic, royal, perfect in shape and form, a mountain range between two lakes of blue eyes.
Suddenly her long eyelashes fluttered, brow furrowed, he panicked. She’ll catch him breaking confidence, a creep with the face of her partner. Scully sighed heavily, eyes scanning the dreamscape unfolding under her eyelids. She’s dreaming, of what he wonders. What monster was hiding under his bed and chose to haunt her, instead of him tonight. Is it Pfaster? Memory of cancer, is it Emily, or Missy? Mulder cringed at how shamefully long that list had become.
Then a smile curled her lips, forehead smoothed and features softened, just as unexpected as was her frown, the dream seemed over. Lips parted to move soundlessly. Her breath didn’t reach far enough to warm his lips, but whatever it was she was saying amidst the dream, it wasn’t a scream nor a cry for help. A faint tug of the corner of her lips, was exactly what he wanted to investigate, gathering plenty of empirical evidence, personally.
“Muhh,” she sighed, shifting slightly, sinking deeper into the pillow, probably meaning her mother, “Mul-dehh.”
The sound knocked him breathless, this breathy rendition of his name. Never before had he heard something so deep; not from lovers nor friends, and not from family. It was a frequency, that resonated within the deepest parts of him. His deepest sense of self rang like a bell, in the lonely tower of his heart.
Mulder studied her face again, trying to give meaning to it, some context. Was she calling him, admonishing him, teasing him? There was so much color in her tone when she was awake, that he could puzzle whole sentences from the way she spoke his name. She looked fluid in motionlessness, the tension gone from her shoulders, and her face? It wasn’t joy, it was something more, contentment. Her fingers twitched on the pillow, searching for purchase, missing something she wanted. The faint crease returned, small but threatening, palm moved a fraction and he realised, she was searching for him. When amidst rubble of whatever case they were working, her fingers sometimes did find his, but were they allowed to touch like this? Her frown deepened asking a question, a question he dared to ask himself. Should I answer? Was I imagining it? The four inches of space between his pillow and hers, felt like a chasm, a pilgrimage, a fork in the road he took, a road to her.
Slowly, steadily, he slipped two fingers into her hand. She didn’t wake, her palm closed and her features relaxed. It’s subconscious, he told himself, some repressed fear born out of responsibility for each other, we’re partners. Her lips twitched again the moment he thought that, a small huff of air, fraction of a chuckle. Scully didn’t talk in her sleep, not often, so he didn’t count on anything else from her, but this, whatever it was she was dreaming about, was something she enjoyed and he was a part of it. He and his hand, in hers. That was a good dream. Before Mulder fell asleep, her hand covered his completely, their fingers loosely twined.
Unnoticed, the tv died, plunging the room into darkness, into a mild mid-July night on the east coast of the US. If Mulder wasn’t so focused on the woman beside him, he’d hear a faint echo of waves crashing against the shore and screams of seagulls circling around fishing boats.
He had no illusions, it wasn’t a big thing. A small indiscretion, an accident between close friends with years of practice in invading each other’s space. A medical doctor and a psychologist could explain it to themselves in their own watertight ways. But the truth was, when she moved, he followed, when he shifted, she held on.
The next morning, when Scully woke up, he had already let go of her, leaving only a vague, dreamlike memory of strong arms wrapped around her. She didn't realise then, that his limbs, now scattered between sheets and pillows, were waiting, ready to take her back, like a cocoon. Like Thumbelina and her nocturnal flower.