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Chapter 20

 

"How did people move into new houses before Home Depot?"

Scully pushes back the loose strands of hair that have escaped her clip, using her wrist, conscious of the packing dust. Her mother put more things in storage for her than she realized. Or than she actually needed. Though she is grateful for some of the furniture. She does not relish the idea of starting over to furnish an entire house.

"Local hardware store?" she replies, quirking an eyebrow at Mulder who stands in front of the hearth, his hair in minor disarray, t-shirt dusty, looking adorable and sexy in all his own unique ways. As much as she sees the charm in their new house, its age and "personality quirks" have come at the expense of an easy move-in. They have already done their share of fixes and upgrades.

"A local mom and pop place that, what, closes at six o'clock, five o’clock on Sundays, and for lunches any time the owner’s fishing buddies are in town? Scully, you of all people should know that moving-in and home improvement crises ALWAYS happen outside of conventional business hours. And then there’s the range of supplies. Odds are the local hardware store will NOT have that extra long hose you need to get your dryer to run properly in your older and slightly irregular house, and they will have to order the damned thing from the warehouse and it won’t be delivered for upwards of three weeks, and that's if it’s not on backorder. And if there’s no Home Depot, then there’s no Amazon, so the question is...what to do with all that laundry?"

"You scare me sometimes, Mulder."

"Just sometimes?" He tosses her a hint of a smile, and she lets a matching grin tug at the corner of her lips.

"Sometimes," she confirms. But the tone holds nothing but affection.

The truth is, she has had it for today. She is more than willing to call it, scramble together something like a nutritious dinner, flop on the couch, and stare at mindless TV until she can no longer stay awake. There had been a time when she had given great weight to creating and decorating her precious home, all her own, after all those years of sharing a room with Melissa. In her years at the FBI her private haven had been like a tangible piece of herself to hold onto, the sides of her beyond Agent Scully made corporeal in books and paintings. And when they first talked about buying this place, this little treasure of Virginia history in its pastoral setting, she relished the idea of creating a more permanent sanctuary, of building something all and uniquely their own. But after years of living out of a suitcase, being able to carry all she was responsible for in the back of a rental car, Scully has forgotten just how cumbersome things can be. A little part of her looks wistfully at the notion of packing up their modest bags, jumping in the car, and driving onward to the next adventure. But that is probably exhaustion and hunger talking. She does want this house.

Mulder’s latest trip to Home Depot was for screws to hold together the TV stand that somehow made it there minus a few essential parts. For now, the TV is balanced on top of a packing box.

Scully gestures with her chin toward the Home Depot bag resting at Mulder's feet. "What's that?" she asks. The bag clearly contains more than a few screws and a bracket.

Mulder whips his head around, looks at her, then follows her gaze to the item in question.

"Oh, that, yeah." He stoops down and lifts the bag.

She takes a couple of steps closer, as Mulder pulls a framed print from the bag.

"There was a kind of local art fair going on in the parking lot outside the mall. I saw this, and..." His words fade as he lifts the gold frame and props it carefully on the mantle. The print is from an intricate oil painting of a small cottage overlooking a dramatic seaside cliff. He turns to her. "I know you always wanted a place by the water," he says. "And someday we'll find that place, we will. But I just thought, maybe in the meantime..." He trails off and there is an adorable, boyish shyness reddening his cheeks.

Her lips spread into a smile. "I love it," she says, strolling forward until they are touching distance from one another. They've always functioned better that way. "Our cottage by the sea."

"In the middle of Virginia," he says, mirroring her smile.

"Thank you," she says, basking in the warmth of his eyes.

He kisses the top of her head and wraps his arm around her. "I want you to love it here."

She loops her arms around his waist and leans into his chest. "I love it here," she says, and he chuckles softly beneath her ear.

Three months later, they are dozing in front of a Simpsons rerun, empty plates forgotten beside their feet on the coffee table, when Mulder says, "Do you miss it at all, Scully?"

She blinks her eyes properly open, lifts her head lethargically from the back of the couch. "Miss what?"

"The x-files. Working in the field. The adventure."

She considers this for a moment, studies the longer story in Mulder's eyes. "Yeah, I miss it," she says softly. "I miss the challenge, the unexpected. The people we would meet. The travel. Well, some of it," she amends with a wry smile.

He returns the grin, and their gazes linger as memories of trashy motels, lumpy mattresses, rusty showers, and two station TVs dance between them. They have settled rather quickly into this place. There is a great deal to be said for a stationary home.

"But I don't miss the darkness," she says.

And Mulder closes his eyes and nods.

More than a decade later, Scully is at their house...his house...the house...picking up some medical journals she left in their closet...his...the... And while he is getting her coffee, she looks at the fireplace and the picture...their cottage by the sea...is face down on the mantle. Her throat is instantly tight. She tries to swallow and her eyes burn. She tells him to forget the coffee, she'll get the journals later. She has to go.

*****

"Agents. Thank you for coming." Sheriff Aster was emerging from his office just as Scully and Mulder stepped into the lobby of the Verdad station.

The air conditioning was almost too much after the strength of the sun. Scully reached out to shake the sheriff's hand. "No problem, Sheriff, we're happy to help."

"What time are you leaving?"

"Well, it was supposed to be about now, but weather delays have pushed our flight to this evening."

"Oh, sorry to hear that. That's never fun. Though I imagine the ins and outs of travel are old hat for the two of you."

"You might say that," Mulder chimed in, reaching out to shake the sheriff's hand as well.

"What can we do to help while we're here?" Scully asked.

The sheriff propped his hands on his gun belt. "As far as the paperwork, we would really just appreciate statements from each of you on what took place out in Miller's Clearing last night. The military put in a request this morning for a full report from us on the incident."

"We're glad to comply," Mulder said, "but I wouldn't hold your breath until you hear back from the military. Chances are any reports you give on this will 'suddenly and unexpectedly disappear'."

Aster's eyes narrowed, his sun-worn skin crinkling with the gesture. "And why's that, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder shrugged. "Just a hunch." He took a sunflower seed from the stash in his pocket and began cracking it with his teeth.

Sheriff Aster eyed Mulder until Scully said with an air of finality, "We'll be happy to give you what information we can."

After a moment's hesitation, the sheriff turned his gaze to Scully and gave a polite smile. "Appreciate it. Let me take you to the back."

As Aster led the way down the hall, Scully shot Mulder a disapproving look, and he gave her the innocent puppy dog eyes. He offered her a seed.

Behave, she mouthed. But she took the seed.

They spent the next hour relaying all they could recall of the previous night's events. Mulder's description of the men who had assaulted them held far more detail about their questionable origins than Scully's, as she had been attacked from behind and held face down in the sand most of the time.

When the formal paperwork was done, Aster brought Scully the last of the information she had requested on the loose ends of their own investigation. He excused himself for an urgent phone call, leaving Mulder and Scully alone in the interrogation room with the pile of paperwork.

Scully pulled the stack in front of her and began sifting through the pages. "They got the results back on the radiation tests on the burn on Joseph Garcia's arm."

Mulder leaned in as she spoke, giving a cursory glance toward the open file. "What's it say?"

"Inconclusive," she said, tossing Mulder a knowing look.

"And you don't think that's accurate," he confirmed.

She shook her head. "This report cites 'insufficient tissue samples'. I saw that burn, Mulder. There would have been plenty of tissue from which to gather the sample. Dr. Johanson didn't strike me as so incompetent as to botch that kind of specimen retrieval."

"So you think..." Mulder popped another seed into his mouth.

"I think this is a case of 'we can't get a clear result that makes sense to us, so we're going to push the blame back onto the coroner's office.'"

"So, you think there was something odd about the result?"

"I think we don't know anything unless the test is run again. Preferably by the lab at Quantico."

"And they've already buried the body."

"Exactly."

They let that sit in silence for a moment, neither of them willing to suggest any further emotional trauma to the Garcias. Mulder gestured toward the pile of papers. "What else is in there?"

Scully rifled through the stack. "The automotive analyses are running about a month behind schedule. But they sent a preliminary report on both cars to work from."

"Anything?"

Scully shook her head. "Nothing. No signs of tampering or defect. Nothing they would attribute to radiation damage."

"In other words, we still have a big pile of nada. And a couple of sore necks."

"That would be my professional assessment. Oh, and here's the transcript we requested of the last texts sent to and from Joseph Garcia's phone." Scully handed over a piece of paper.

Mulder quickly scanned the printout.

"He was discussing groceries with his wife," Scully said. "I don't know if that makes the tragedy better or worse."

"Maybe it just makes it real," Mulder said, returning the paper to the pile on the table.

Scully resisted the urge to pull out her phone and see what her last texts to Mulder had been. Once, when he had gone missing on a case, her brain had fixated through a full twenty-four hours of frantic searching--police stations, stale coffees, canvasing the woods, door to door interrogations of neighbors of the suspect--on the fact that the last words she had spoken to Mulder had been, "Stop stealing my hand lotion."

They had done all they could in this place. When Sheriff Aster returned, he walked Mulder and Scully to the lobby. He could no longer put off the traffic light outages that demanded his attention.

"I sure do appreciate all you've done for us here," Aster said with a nod. The words were clearly more than lip service.

"I'm not sure we did that much," Mulder said as they paused by the door.

"Believe me, you did. This isn't the kind of investigation any of us has experience running around here."

"Give us a call if there's anything else you think of we can do," Scully said. "Our best to the Garcias. I hope things look up for them from now on."

Aster nodded. "I do, too. That family deserved better."

As Mulder was pushing open the door, Scully moving up close behind, the Sheriff called out, "Agents?"

They turned in unison.

"Off the record," Aster said. "What's really happening in my town?"

There was a long moment of silence, and Scully could feel the deputy's ears burning from behind the front desk.

At last, Mulder said. "The important thing to remember, is that you're not the only one it's happening to."

Aster accepted this with an air of defeat that Scully hated to see. She had grown fond of this man and his professionalism and determination in the time they had worked together. But she knew the look of a person who could not accept the truth of his own memories. She saw that look in the mirror every day.

She offered Aster a tight-lipped smile, then followed Mulder into the golden heat of the afternoon. Another case that left more questions than answers. Sometimes it felt like all they ever did was watch the disasters unfold, then document the tragedies for future posterity.

*****

Mulder found it hard to believe so many flights could be backed up so far by storms when the sun was shining with unchallenged and arrogant authority over El Paso.

He and Scully stood with their carry-ons, leaning on a wall of windows, basking in the searing sun as they were deliciously soothed by the industrial airport air conditioning. They watched from their out-of-the-way perch as their estimated boarding time posted at the gate crept later and later with alarming regularity.

"I'm still not convinced, Scully," Mulder said. "I don't understand what happened to the Garcias. I don't think we ever explained it."

"I think we explained everything we can. Everything that's explainable."

"So you're saying the rest defied explanation, and was, therefore, by definition paranormal?"

Scully rolled her eyes. "I'm saying the rest was all together normal. Just weirdly coincidental, leading us to believe there was something more sinister at work. Something more than everyday military secrecy at a nuclear testing facility."

"Did we ever hear back from Veronica Garcia's doctor?" Mulder asked.

Scully shook her head. "No. But I don't think there's anything paranormal about not being able to get a doctor to call you back. I think we know all we're going to know of what happened here, Mulder."

"And you're happy with that?"

"Happy? Happy might be the wrong word. At peace, perhaps."

"And what about your own experiences? Your memories?"

Scully folded her arms across her chest. She sat back against the hand rail bisecting the window, ankles crossed, and frankly looking more like something on the cover of a women's glamour magazine than a travel-weary federal agent. She gazed off toward the far end of the terminal, eyes narrowed and brow furrowed. "I don't know. I don't if it was connected."

Mulder huffed out his incredulity. "What? How could it not be connected? You said the Black-Eyed Children spoke to you about Emily."

"They never used her name. I might have--"

"Scully, you told me you remembered seeing one of the Black-Eyed Kids during your abduction."

"Traumatic memories are notoriously unreliable. The brain fills in the gaps with what's familiar. I'd been staring at pictures of these Black-Eyed Children for days before the memory surfaced, so..."

Mulder began lightly but deliberately tapping his middle finger on the side of Scully's head.

Scully swatted his hand away, but she tangled her fingers with his as she lowered their arms, squeezed for a moment before she let go. He got the meaning. Yes, Mulder, I'm ludicrously talking myself out of it, I know that, but I'm not ready to talk about this one so just let it ride. After all these years, he had at last become functionally fluent in Scully as a second language.

"What's your theory?" she asked, turning to look up at him as she shifted the topic. Gaining confidence as she took back control. "Do you believe our paranoid artist? Do you think the Black-Eyed Children and the abductions are connected? Do you think they're both products of government experiments with advanced genetics?"

Mulder shook his head. "That's one theory, and it may yet be proven true, but we don't have enough proof so far. I'm confident the two are connected, yes, but I'm keeping my options open as to how and why."

Scully took that in, still puzzling the pieces in her head. "Fair enough," she said.

And then it happened. A flash like a visual gunshot in a beam of sunlight. A drop of scarlet blood trailing toward Scully's lip. She immediately lifted a hand to her nose, brushed at the liquid, looked at her finger, and cringed. "Dammit..."

"Scully?" His voice fell flat, as though the terminal no longer carried sound.

"No, it's okay, I just--"

Mulder didn't know when he pulled the handkerchief out of his pocket. But he was helping her bunch it to her nose. He still carried the handkerchiefs. Twenty years had passed, and he still carried the handkerchiefs.

Scully gathered the cloth from his hand, dabbed at her nose, but he kept his hands reached toward her, unable to move. His heart was in his throat and he could have sworn every other soul in the airport had disappeared into the sunlight.

"Scully, you didn't let them in, right?"

"What?" She glanced at him, distracted, brow creasing in confusion.

He spoke more insistently, hearing the harshness slip into his tone, but unable to quell the urgency, the panic. "They didn't come into your room? The Black-Eyed Children. Or into the car? Did you have any direct contact with them? Were they gone by the time you opened the door?"

"Mulder, no--"

"You were exposed to the radiation, could that--?"

"Mulder!" She raised her voice enough to get his attention, and probably that of a few other bystanders if there were, indeed, still other people in the world. Scully grabbed at his wrist, willed him to look at her eyes, not her nose (where the bleeding was stopping, it did seem to be stopping), and he complied; he always complied.

"Mulder, it's the dry air! And the elevation. It happened before, there's a raw place in the lining." She shook her head. "It's just the desert. I'm fine. I'm fine." She stroked his arm. Stroked down his sleeve, grasped his hand.

For a moment he was too frozen to process her words. As the sounds gradually took on meaning, he blurted out, "You're sure?"

"I'm sure. I'm fine."

He pinned her with his gaze, absorbed the truth in her eyes, and when it finally settled into his bones and brought him back to the present, the letdown was rather drastic. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God, Scully..." There were people around the terminal, again. Voices buzzing without words. He was lightheaded, and he blundered a few steps to drop gracelessly onto a molded plastic chair. He propped his arms on his knees and let his head hang forward. "Jesus..." he breathed, covering his face for a moment, then rubbing down his cheeks.

Scully immediately dropped to a crouch in front of him, their bags forgotten by the window. He could see the doctor cogs ticking in her brain, feel her visual assessment. Her expression was part worry, part amusement, and maybe a little bit touched. "Mulder..." she began. "Are you okay?" She rested her hand on his chest. "Your heart's racing."

He drew another much-needed breath. Breathing, yes he'd forgotten about that for a bit. "Jesus, Scully, you scared the crap out of me."

She rested a hand on his knee, the other coming to his shoulder. "It's okay. Honey, I'm fine. I promise."

"'Honey?'" He lifted his head, dropped his hands from his face. "How pale am I?"

Scully's expression was somewhere between confusion and hurt. "Wel--na--you're okay...I...I used to...I called you...." She seemed unable to find a sentence in her choppy sea of words.

"Used to," he clarified. He meant only to sound firm but knew he was bordering on resentful.

Scully took this in, still crouched before him, hand resting supportively on his knee. Even now, when his focus was primarily on clearing the last of the spots from his vision before passing out in the fucking El Paso airport, he could not help but see that she was breathtakingly beautiful in the sun. Her eyes were so blue they seemed lit from within, freckles bright and playful, jaw line elegant and brave and deadly. She had managed to wipe away any trace of the blood from her skin. He had yet to fully wipe it from his brain. "Well, when we weren't," she began, "in a relationship, anymore, exactly. And then we started working together again, I couldn't be in the habit of..." Her lids lowered with the increasing sobriety of her words. "It's another way I've been keeping you at arms' length, isn't it. Pretending we could go back to before."

Mulder relented. He truly had not said this to make her feel bad. He was barely making sense at all right then. Overhead they were announcing another delay to their flight in Spanish. "Scully, you can call me Mulder, you can call me Charlie Brown if you want to, as long as you're okay."

"I'm fine," she said, patience and kindness warming her tone. "I'm just fine."

*****

Between the delayed flight and the lost time flying east, they didn't hit Reagan National until far after midnight. The halls of the terminal were dim and eerie, the shops darkened and uncomfortably still. He and Scully each ordered an Uber, and Mulder took advantage of the shadows and Scully's fatigue-dampened inhibitions to kiss her goodnight before sending her off in her ride.

The next day they were hit with a mountain of casework that had piled up while they had been gone. A case from a year prior was getting ready to go to trial, and there were at least a dozen possible x-files coming in from local law enforcement that Skinner had lined up for them to screen for worthiness.

On the second night, Mulder and Scully managed to sneak in a pleasant dinner at one of their favorite haunts, no work talk allowed. At the end of the night, they made plans for another meet-up on Saturday night.

On their third night back in D.C., Mulder was sitting in his living room, some sort of generic ghost hunting show running at low volume on the television, when he heard a large car pulling up the driveway. He rose and moved to the window near the door, pushed back the curtain, and in the day's last light, he saw Scully's monster of a sports utility parked in front of the house. Mulder pulled on the aging, dusty boots he kept beside the door, and by the time he stepped outside, Scully had emerged from the car, a duffle bag over her shoulder, and she was hefting a rolling suitcase from the backseat.

"Hey," he said, taking the few steps down from the porch. The night air had turned markedly cool. Scully was back in her long winter coat, no doubt missing the desert warmth.

She whipped her head around when he spoke; she must not have heard him while she had been leaning inside the car. "Hi," she said. She let her rolling suitcase drop to the ground with a thunk. Over her shoulder, shadowy shapes showed more items loaded in the far back of the vehicle.

Mulder stepped up, cradled her elbow and leaned down to kiss her cheek. Her skin was cool. "Didn't expect to see you tonight."

Scully looked up at him and he could feel the buzzing nerves, the suppressed anxiety. Clearly, he was missing some information. "Yeah," she said. "I'm sorry I didn't...call...I--"

"Scully, you don't have to call."

"No, I know, it's just..." She gripped the handle of her suitcase, stared up at him with her unfathomable blue eyes.

He lifted his eyebrows, prompting her to go on. "Are we going somewhere? A case I don't know about?"

"No, there's no case." She raised an eyebrow, held her silence for a moment, then she said simply, "Can I move home?"

Oh, God, Scully. Mulder closed his eyes, let go a heavy sigh.

He reached out his hand, and she reached back. He swung their linked hands between them. "Scully, there is nothing I would like more. But you don't have to do this. If you don't want to live together, if that's too much for you, I will still be here for you, wherever you need to call home." They held gazes in silence. He couldn't quite follow her internal train of thought. "But if you really want to be here," he continued carefully, "I will always want you."

Scully nodded, but her eyes were filling with tears, and she still wouldn't speak. The intensity in her gaze was almost devastating. Mulder took the heavy bag from her shoulder and set it on the stone behind him. He stepped close, slipped a hand beneath her open coat and rested it on her hip. "You really want to be here?" he asked gently.

She nodded. Bit her lip. "I really want to be here."

The evening breeze ruffled her hair, fluttered it across her cheek. He reached out and smoothed the rebellious strands behind one ear, caressed her wind-chilled cheek with his thumb. "You want a home where we fight to keep out the darkness."

Scully took a long moment to consider her words, her gaze fixed upon his dusty boots. "Mulder, the theory says that the Black-Eyed Children are coming to learn, right? That...they want to understand how human parents care for their children. They want to learn empathy."

She looked up at him, awaiting confirmation.

"That's one theory, yes. That the aliens themselves are learning how to successfully raise the hybrids, what their human sides need."

She nodded. "Well, if everyone is afraid of them...if everyone pushes those children away...they'll never learn. I think sometimes...you have to approach the darkness in order to bring light into those shadows."

He offered her a wistful smile. "That may be true, but Scully, you've already done your share. More than. You don't have to sacrifice any more. If you want to live in peace, you deserve to."

"Resting in peace is for when you're dead," she said. "Life is movement. Action. And what I deserve...is to live with the person I love the most in the world. And who hopefully still loves me the most."

"You know the answer to that."

She nodded, squeezed his hand. "I always wanted to be here," she said, words so soft he could barely hear. "But I just...I was scared. I got scared." Her voice was quivering and deeply intimate. Her chin trembled. She drew a wet breath, and a rogue tear spilled across his thumb.

"It's okay," he soothed. "We'll figure it out. Together."

"Together."

Mulder stroked her cheek, then he leaned in for a lingering and tender kiss. He could taste her tears. Her hair blew around them like a feathery shelter. "Don't be scared," he whispered.

She shook her head, tucked herself into his arms, and held on.

"Come on," he said, as the light dimmed and the wind gusts grew icier. "Let's get you and your stuff inside."

They carried everything into the house. Mulder discovered she had packed quite a lot for this first gesture. He found this oddly comforting.

When Scully had warmed up just enough that he could pry her out of her coat, he went to the kitchen to make her some hot tea. He returned to the living room with their mugs and found her standing at the mantle, carefully righting the gold framed print of their cottage by the sea. She dusted off the treasured object with her sweater sleeve. Then she carefully placed the picture just as it had always been. Mulder set the mugs on the end table. He stepped up and wrapped his arms around her from behind.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

"Sssshhhh..." He kissed her hair. "You still want to find a place by the water?" he asked, nestling his mouth against her ear.

"Maybe some day," she said. "But right now, I just want to be right here. It's our home."

*****

Work got crazy, again. They spent three days in Minnesota (fucking freezing Minnesota, dear God) chasing after a werewolf that turned out to be a crazy guy in a furry suit, albeit a murderous one, so time well spent.

When they were home, they barely managed to eat, change, and catch some sleep. But it proved surprisingly simple to fall back into a comfortable norm. They each knew their tasks around the house, knew what to expect from the other.

On Scully's tenth day back , she was sitting on the old and beaten-up couch, her back to one of the ends, hair tied up, blanket across her legs and laptop balanced on her knees. She had gotten properly absorbed in an article she was reading. A small notebook hovered on the back of the couch where she was scribbling occasional notes. She had been getting more and more interested in genetic evolution of late, wishing she could apply some of the...unorthodox evidence she had gathered in her years on the x-files to the current field of research. She had actually been contemplating shifting her focus to research for a while now. Perhaps when her body would no longer play up to her standards in the field she would go back for her PhD, try to contribute something lasting to the literature in the later years of her life.

She had gotten so engrossed in what she was reading, she hadn't even realized Mulder had returned to the room until he crouched down beside her. She looked up at him , mildly startled, and broke into a smile. She pulled out one of her earbuds. "Hey," she said softly.

Mulder's eyes crinkled in response, but he did not speak. He reached up and tenderly pushed back the tendrils of hair at her temple, rested a hand on her leg. There was a depth and intensity in his eyes that made her forget Dr. Dario Valenzano and the short lifespan of the African Turquoise Killfish.

She lifted her hand to encircle Mulder's wrist, frowned, asking her question with her eyes as much as her words. "What?"

Mulder shook his head, still looking at her with a sincerity and reverence that quickened her breath. He blinked slowly. Then, he shrugged one shoulder and said softly, "You're here."

On their couch. Living their life. As they had for so long. And had not in so long.

Scully drew a long breath, relaxed beneath the steady pressure of his touch. She held his gaze without waver, lifted her chin and let her lids slip to half mast. "I'm here," she said, voice low and steady.

She closed her eyes and leaned in, shifting until their foreheads touched. She pushed her laptop behind her legs and lifted a hand to cradle Mulder's cheek. She kissed his eyebrow, his temple. He kept his eyes closed and continued to breathe in this intimate space with her.

"I'm here," she whispered, lips brushing his ear. "I'm here."

After a long moment simply existing in each other's presence, Mulder kissed her tenderly on the lips, then he pushed to his feet saying, "Get back to work, Dr. Scully."

She watched after his retreating figure, feeling the lingering vibrations and the significance of the exchange. Then she pulled her laptop back onto her leg and tried to remember what she had been reading. She heard Mulder rooting about for the supplies to make tea.

*****

Sunday mornings might have been what he missed the most. At least the Sundays when they weren't off on a case, or running from one town to another. Sunday mornings in their home. When they would wake up to sunlight instead of an alarm, luxuriate in the simple pleasures, explore, touch, share.

This particular Sunday morning, Mulder had awakened Scully by trailing kisses in circles over her breasts. She had smiled before she even opened her eyes, kissed his lips before she spoke.

When they both had been thoroughly lavished and satisfied, Mulder had settled with his head in Scully's lap, and she had started reading headlines to him from her Kindle.

He was more tuned into the soft skin at the side of her ribs than the state of the world. But he realized the second time she asked, that she had changed subjects. "Hmmm?"

"The clippings on the table," she said. "What are they about?"

Oh. He had been researching an x-file. He had pulled out some old clippings from a storage box in the den, left them on the table last night.

"Oh, those?" he said. "That's nothing. Just an old x-file I was taking a look at."

Scully nudged his shoulder. "Come on. What are you onto?"

He shifted against her, rolled until he was resting his head in her lap, looking up at her. "Do you...you really want to know?"

She pursed her lips. "Were you going to bring it to me as a case?"

"Well...yes. When I had enough to show you."

She lifted an eyebrow. "So?"

"Well, I didn't think you would want it to intrude, outside the office."

Her eyes softened and she offered a muted smile. "Thank you," she said clearly. "And sometimes that is going to be true. But you're excited about this one, I can see it. So, tell me."

He stared up at her. "You want to hear? You want to hear about an x-file?"

"Like I said, Mulder...right now, I want to be on the x-files. So, show me what I'm getting into next."

He held her gaze for another long moment, then he pushed up and gave her a lingering kiss that made her smile. He flipped around, reached down beside the bed, and came up with a Chromebook, already open to the relevant file.

"You gotta see these pictures, Scully. I sent this to Kyle, he went over this stuff with a fine tooth comb, he can't find any evidence of alteration."

She settled against the headboard beside him, still only in silk and black lace, but focused and professional in manner. "What am I looking at?"

"You are looking...," he paused for dramatic effect, "...at the first legitimate, documented sighting since 2011 -- of the Fresno Nightcrawlers!"

"The Fres--the what?"

Mulder blinked. "You haven't heard of the Fresno Nightcrawlers?"

"No. Mulder. No, I haven't. But I'm about to, aren't I?"

"Hey, you asked me to show you this."

"Yes," she said, a sweet and self-satisfied grin creeping across her lips. "Yes, I did. Mulder?"

"Yes?"

"What are the Fresno Nightcrawlers?"

"Get ready for this, Scully, 'cause these things are creepy as hell."

*****

#

(End of Chapter 20, End of "Bridges")