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locking out the ghosts

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After leaving the Bureau, Mulder goes home with Scully. It’s not a discussed thing, not planned; it just happens. His car is still in long-term parking at the airport, and so he simply rides home with Scully. He offers to take a cab when they get back to the apartment, fingers caught in the key ring, and she wrinkles her brow, says, "Don't be ridiculous, Mulder, come on up." And so he comes.

---

He's given a week-long suspension. Paid, incredibly enough—Scully suspects Skinner feels bad about everything that's happened. She doesn't take any days off; after Emily and her vacation days in January, she doesn't have any days left. She wishes she could, but she can’t. She goes into work and Mulder calls her from his apartment or her apartment or the Gunmen's loft to pester her about cases. He does his own thing during the day—anything to distract himself—but he always reappears at her apartment in the evenings, parking himself permanently on her couch. (He's been sleeping on the couch ever since they got back from Chicago; they haven't discussed it, and she doesn't know how to bring it up. She's fine with it this way, though. Fine with letting the knot they've formed unravel itself, slowly. She knows how he feels and he knows how she feels. All they can do now is wait, and she doesn't mind at all: she waited for four years.)

Mulder sleeps on her couch for four straight nights after their return from Chicago. On the fifth night, Scully gets home from work and finds the apartment empty, stacks of scribbled-on paper strewn across her coffee table. Lips pursed in amusement and annoyance (if it is possible for those emotions to be in conjecture), she sweeps them aside to one corner and goes into the kitchen to fix some dinner. Mulder has been late a few nights, not necessarily home when she got home, so she's not worried.

She's still not worried when she's worked her way through dinner and settled down to read in the living room. A little wistful, maybe, at the idea that Mulder has chosen to go home, but not worried. She goes to bed at ten, telling herself that he had to go home at some point. She falls asleep and wakes up an hour or two to the sound of Mulder staggering through the apartment. Her heart stutters, her first thought being: Burglar, and her second thought being: Oh, God, Mulder's hurt. Her third thought, as she stumbles to her bedroom door, surveys her living room and sees Mulder offering her a sheepish, apologetic smile from his position standing on the rug: He came back.

"Sorry, Scully," he's saying, shedding his leather jacket over the arm of her chair. His catastrophic untidiness would normally annoy her, but she's half asleep and finds it incredibly endearing. "I, uh, the Gunmen had a lead on the New Spartans, they thought... I think it was bullshit, but, um, I got caught up in things there, and then my phone was dead... I should've called or something, or just gone home, I woke you up..."

She's already shaking her head, smiling a little. "Mulder, it's fine."

He freezes a little in the motion of pulling at a shoe—though whether he's trying to take it off or put it back on, Scully can't tell. "Seriously?" he asks, a little incredulous.

She shrugs a little. "Well, I'd rather you called next time, I suppose... but you don't have to apologize for coming back, Mulder. You've been staying here for nearly a week, remember?"

"Right." He chews at his lower lip, yanks his right shoe off. "Sorry I woke you, Scully, go on back to sleep, I can get the stuff for the couch bed..."

The coming into her living room and clomping around like an elephant straddles the line between annoying and endearing, but his nervousness, in the moment, is just annoyingly endearing. She stifles a smile by pressing her lips together, says, "You don't have to sleep out here, Mulder."

His socked foot slides across the hardwood floor as he pulls off his left shoe. He looks up at her uncertainty. "Unless you want to," she clarifies, feeling awkward. Even after

"I, uh." He sheds the shoe, getting to his feet to face her. "I wasn't sure if you wanted me to. Sleep out here, or um, in there."

"Of course I..." She stops, hands sliding over the silk of her pajama top. Nothing is a definite with them anymore. She starts again: "I want to take things as slowly as they need to go, but if you're ready... if we're ready... um."

"I didn't think you were," says Mulder, rubbing the back of his neck. The bandages on his finger flash white through the air. "The night after the New Spartans... you stayed with me, but you were gone the next morning before I woke up... like in Dallas... and I dunno, that made me wonder if you, uh. If you regretted…”

"What I said the night before," she finishes, the reason for the awkwardness after those two nights dawning on her. She laughs a little in bitter realization. "Oh my god, Mulder," she mutters, rubbing her forehead. "We're both terrible at this, aren't we."

Mulder is shifting back and forth on his feet, making the floorboards creak horribly. "What... do you mean?" he asks slowly.

"I didn't regret what I told you that night," Scully says. "Of course I didn't, Mulder... I know that with everything that's happened, it might not have been the best time to bring it up. But I wanted you to know that I felt the same way." He's still looking at her with a question in his eyes, so she plunges on: "Mulder, the only reason I bolted that morning was because it had... just dawned on me that you almost died because I showed up at your apartment. Skinner told me to stay away or risk blowing your cover, and I didn't listen, and blow your cover is exactly what I did. And I felt... awful, Mulder, for putting you through that... if anything had happened to you..."

He's already shaking his head. "I thought you left because you weren't ready... because you were angry at me, for putting you in danger by telling you, because if Bremer heard it then he could go after you because you knew..."

She laughs—not because it is particularly funny, but because it is slightly ridiculous. For all their assuming, they've built a facade that couldn't be further from the truth. Karen Kosseff was right when she said they need to communicate. "God," she repeats, shaking her head as well, "we're really terrible at this, Mulder."

"Absolutely fucking shitty," he says, and then he's closing the distance between them, cupping her face in his hands and leaning down and covering her mouth with his. She responds with an enthusiasm that makes him seem to go weak at the knees; he scoops her up, hand cupping the back of her head, and whirls towards her bedroom. 
---

In the morning, Mulder scrambles the last two eggs in Scully's refrigerator while Scully spreads light cream cheese over a bagel. (He raises his eyes at her, and she slugs him in the shoulder.) She pulls the newspaper across the table and flips it open to the crossword. Behind her, Mulder switches off the burners. Scully tries her pen against the side of the paper. No ink. She shakes it a little, scribbles again with a renewed fervor. Still nothing.

"22 down should be 'Iambic'," Mulder says smugly, hovering over her shoulder.

She throws the inkless pen at him. "If you're going to offer unnecessary hints, than the least you can do is get me a new pen."

"Unnecessary, huh?" He's already halfway to her desk in the living room. I seem to remember plenty of times when you tried to get answers out of me without telling me you were trying to get answers out of me." Her desk drawer squeaks on the background.

She scoffs. "I never have."

He doesn't speak for a moment. She looks up from her newspaper. "Mulder?"

He's standing at her desk, his back to her, with something in his hands. He turns to her, and she sees the little white square with her daughter's face on the front. She swallows, surprise hitting her like a gut punch. "I, uh. I didn't know you had this,” he says.

Scully nods, a little numbly. "Yeah," she mumbles.

His hands fumble with trying to put the picture back into the drawer. "I'm sorry, Scully, I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's..." She waves her hand in dismissal. "It's fine. Really. I've been..." An unsteady breath. She pushes her face back into its neutral stance. "I've been working on putting that behind me."

Several Karen Kosseff sessions, and it's gotten easier to think about Emily, to talk about Emily. Several Sundays at church, and she can admit that Emily is in a better place. But it still hurts. Every single time, it hurts. She doesn’t know if it will ever stop hurting.

He crosses the room and kneels beside her, hand covering her knee. "I know..." he starts uncertainly. "I know I wasn't the most supportive with Emily. I was worried that if you adopted her, they'd come after you." She looks down at his hand on her knee. "That was wrong of me," he says. "I'm sorry."

She swallows back the lump in her throat, starts, "I know..."

"I would've been there for you two." His fingers tightening over her knee. She lifts her eyes to meet his. "You and Emily. If you had adopted her... I would've been there as much as you'd wanted me. Done anything for either of you. I'm sorry if I ever made you doubt that."

Tears burn at the back of her eyes. Scully sniffles a little, seizes his hand and squeezes it. "Thank you," she whispers.

She pulls at his hand until he's crouching in front of her, level with her, and wraps her arms around his shoulders. He holds her to him with a certain gentleness. She wipes her eyes, leans the side of her head against his and says, "I just wish I could've gotten to know her. I wish I could've been her mom."

"I know." She can't see his face but his voice is as soft as his hand on her hair, the motion of his stroking fingers. "I do, too."

---

She has to go to work shortly after, when the tears have stopped and the ache in her stomach has faded. Mulder gets up off the ground with her, walks her to the door like they're some bizarre reversal of a couple from the fifties. He must get the same impression, because he leans down and kisses her briskly on the mouth, says, "Catch a monster for me today, honey." Clearly trying to lighten the mood.

"Ha ha," she replies dryly, but she’s smiling a little when she says it. "I'll see you tonight, Mulder."

His grin is huge, makes her want to stay home. "See you tonight."

Sometime after lunch, he calls her from his apartment. She knows it is going to be fucking ridiculous and a total waste of time as soon as he says, "Hey, Scully, so I was watching this documentary on the Loch Ness Monster, and I think there's some substance to this..." and it's exactly what she needs. She lets him talk, tapping the tip of her pen against her teeth and smiling behind her hand.

---

Mulder has to go back to his apartment to check on the fish over the weekend. Scully goes with him, in the car he’d eventually retrieved from long-term parking. They spend the weekend on his couch, playing cards or old, cheesy board games across the cushions, watching bad B-movies, Scully usually wrapped in a blanket or two because she manages to be cold even in May. Friday night, they fall asleep sprawled on opposite ends of the couch, feet touching in the middle, Scully having stolen both blankets. On Saturday, they sleep closer together. It is a challenge not to fall off, but they make it work.

They don't talk about their relationship. But then again, they've never been very good at that.

On Sunday night, Scully has to go back to her apartment. "I need clothes for work tomorrow," she tells him, and Mulder doesn’t argue. He does, however, suggest they get dinner first.

She scoffs a little. “What, like a date?”

“Sure, like a date.” He nudges her shoulder. “You deserve to go somewhere nice, Scully.”

She laughs, shrugging a little. “I dunno if we’re very ‘somewhere nice’ people, Mulder.”

He shrugs back. “Who cares.”

She doesn’t say anything for a moment, so he nudges her again. “C’mon, Scully. Even if you don’t want to go to dinner, at least let me drop you off at home. You shouldn’t have to take a cab all the way to Georgetown.”

Scully smiles in spite of herself. “Dinner sounds good,” she says. “It’ll give us a chance to talk.”

“Talk?” he asks. No malice in his tone. No overeagerness, either; just a question. Asking for clarification.

“Yes,” Scully says. “About… things. Us. Anything.”

Mulder smiles. “Sounds good. You pick.” He touches her shoulder briefly before standing and heading towards the door.

Scully watches him go, getting to her feet and reaching for her bag. She's reminded of the fact that she's a little in love with him. That she doesn’t want to lose him. That it’s starting to look like she won’t have to. Like things are finally starting to work out.

Mulder slides the key in the lock, turning it to the right. “You ready, Scully?” he says over his shoulder.

She knows it's just a clarifying question, but it sounds too much like the question she's been asking herself again and again the past few months. She smiles, getting to her feet and going to join him. She grabs his free hand, pulls it to her mouth and kisses his callused fingers before squeezing it and lowering it between them. She doesn't let go. “Yeah,” she says. “I'm ready.”

 

 

a note: i’d call this fic a labor of love, and i’d mostly be right, but as much as it is a labor of love, it’s also a labor of anything but. i thought this fic would be about 20k and that it’d be done in mid-november. i now find that idea absolutely hilarious. this fic is mostly the reason i won’t finish my rewatch before season 11′s premeire. this fic took over my life for the past month and a half, and likely would’ve been finished a lot sooner if not for the hell of finals season. it’s a relief to be done with.. and that being said, this was also incredibly fun to write.

- the origin of this fic was soft yellow, a ficlet i wrote in response to a prompt in the spring. the origin of that was a headcanon i came up with sometime last year: scully was ready to begin a relationship with mulder as early as season 5 (based off of redux ii and detour), and the reason they didn’t was because of scully’s devastation at losing emily, which became “what if they did begin a brief relationship in early season 5, and scully ended it after emily to give herself time to process things?” soft yellow was never intended to have a sequel, because i more or less assumed things went normally from there on out as the show portrays them and scully and mulder reunited in season 7, but people asked for a sequel. and almost six months later, i gave it to them. sorry!

- the headcanon that sprouted this story/the story itself are more or less intended to be interpreted as canon compliant, but also as a “what if this had happened” rather than a “this definitely happened”. i think this could’ve happened (and fit into my idea that there’s no way that chaste millennium kiss is their first), but i don’t necessarily think it did? if that makes any sense? i’ll leave it up to interpretation

- anyone watching my tumblr (@how-i-met-your-mulder) over the past couple months has likely noticed my countless rants on how weird season 5 is. and it really, really is. whereas season 6 has the tension between mulder and scully present in most episodes, season 2 has something of a fallout of scully’s abduction (through literally bringing it up or an interpretation of m&s’s actions) in most episodes, season 4 has the cancer arc, etc etc, season 5 has none of that. it’s a constant shifting of weird tension between m&s/mulder kind of being useless or an asshole and them being fine and bantering as normal. i don’t know if this was intentional or not, but there remains little to no trace of the emily arc in s5 (outside of all souls) and mulder is kind of all over the place. i tried to make the canon of season 5 (strong in its standalones, crazy when you put it all together and try to make it coherent) make sense all together, and also in the context of a recent breakup. it was hard as shit. i hope i’ve managed to do that.

- i tried to put in as much from the episodes as possible, but there are four episodes i kind of wrote around: schizogeny, chinga, bad blood, and mind’s eye. most of the reason i did this is for lack of emotional significance. schizogeny is just terrible, so i didn’t see any point in going in depth. mind’s eye is excellent, but that mostly is due to lili taylor. (there isn’t even any conflict! scully doesn’t believe mulder, as usual, but then the evidence shows that he’s right about marty glenn being innocent, and she’s literally like, “ok. cool. hey, mulder, you were right.” nothing to dramatize.) chinga had a similar lack of emotional significance, outside of mulder flirting with/annoying the shit out of scully, so i skimmed over that one. bad blood i saw more potential with, but, as excellent as the episode is, it’s like 70% unreliable narration! i can see why there’s barely any freaking fic about it. it was daunting as hell to write the fandom’s most beloved episode. daunting as hell.

- another reason that this season was hard to write as fresh out of a breakup was the fact that mulder and scully are presented with around four potential love interests! (this number is kind of arbitrary; sheriff hartwell and jack bonsaint are more overt, while marty glenn is mostly subtext and esther/invisigoth is mostly headcanon--but c’mon, she and scully had a ton of chemistry.) i tried to make the stuff make as much sense as possible: jack bonsaint was largely one-sided, there was a largely muted attraction between scully and esther that could’ve led somewhere if they weren’t both extremely hung up on their boyfriends, sheriff hartwell was a small crush that got over-exaggerated by mulder and scully both in their petty retelling of the events in chaney, texas, and mulder’s potential attraction to marty is mostly a thing noticed by scully that goes nowhere because of where the episode leaves them. (another reason season 5 is weird: scully and mulder get little to no romance, and then they get a ton right on top of each other? it’s a conspiracy to give me a headache.)

- this fic also had a root in my irritation at my rewatch of the emily arc and its seeming pointlessness (a rant of which can be found here). i wanted to give scully space to grieve, and i wanted to confront how that loss would affect her. that’s a big part of why i wrote this fic.

- that being said, this is kind of the yang to the yin of my emily au, part of which runs parallel to season 5 (the unspeakable fear of things). if looking for something lighter, ufot deals with a lot of the same events in this fic through the lens of scully as a single mom, awkwardly navigating her relationship with mulder. 

lotg was almost a very different fic; i couldn’t decide between this premise and an AU where the emily arc never happened, which would explore the rest of season 5 from a lighter perspective where scully is trying to figure out how to make a move on mulder. i eventually settled on this one, and never looked back. this fic was very much uncharted waters--because we’ve never seen a breakup for these characters outside of s10, where they’re in a very different place than s5--which made it both very fun and very scary to write. i kind of like how it turned out.

- this fic holds the record as the third longest thing i’ve ever written, and the fastest i’ve ever done it. i started lotg on november 3 and finished december 20. i’m very proud of how fast i managed to write it. i hope it has been enjoyable.