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Times Colliding

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1998

These were her favorite dreams to wake up to; so much so that she tried her hardest to just linger in them for as long as she could. Scully found it oddly fitting, a full narrative arc created in her last and her first conscious moments of the day; she'd fall asleep imagining what it would be like being with Mulder, his arms holding her as they lay sated together, and on the best days, she'd wake up imagining he was there with her, peppering gentle kisses all over her face.

She squirmed against her sheets, the fabric rustling near her ear as she let the sunlight beaming through the curtains warm her. It was like she was cocooned by the blissful experience of being on the border between dreaming and consciousness. Scully had spent enough time around Mulder to imagine what it might be like to wake up next to him. The smell of his time-worn cologne, the sleepy grunts, how lazy his touch was when it was heavy from exhaustion.

The dream was so visceral that she felt goosebumps erupt on her body from the ghost of his touch on her arm, imagining the warmth of his breath on her skin. "Scully," Mulder whispered softly.

Scully hummed in the back of her throat, a lazy smile of contentment tugging her lips. She could stay here in this waking-dream forever and never want to leave.

"Scully," another, closer whisper rasped.

The warmth moved from her bare arm to her back, and she realized this was more than just her imagination. Her eyes slowly opened, her brow furrowed in confusion as she tried to get her bearings.

Only to immediately be met with the sight of Mulder's amused face as he bent next to the bed.

"Hey, sleepy head," he murmured with a boyish grin. He took his hand off her back and she immediately missed the comfort.

"Wh-what's wrong?" she croaked, appreciating the way he was backlit by the light like an angelic church statue.

"Nothing," he replied, shaking his head. Then added, "Your mom's on the phone." He motioned with his head and she followed the directive to see her cordless phone was face down on the bed spread.

Her head spun to the clock and saw it was 7:15am. "You answered my phone? Did you talk to her?" she asked, desperately trying to wrack her brain for how she could possibly explain Mulder being here and answering her phone while she was asleep.

A look of surprise took residence on his face as if he'd just realized for the first time that might've not been appropriate. He looked a little guilty, as if he recognized he had imbibed in something he shouldn't have but did anyway. "I-um, yeah."

"What did you say?" she whispered, easing up from her stomach into a sitting position. His mouth kept opening as if to answer, only to reclose to rethink what he was going to say. She cocked an eyebrow as this repeated a few times before she repeated, "Mulder, what did you and my mother talk about?"

"Um, I just asked her how she's been," he shrugged before grabbing the phone and handing it to her. "Here she is."

Scully took the phone from him and placed it to her ear. "Hi, Mom."

"Hi Dana, I just had the nicest conversation with your partner," her mother beamed from the other end.

She looked over and caught eyes with Mulder as she replied, "Yeah, I heard."

Mulder mouthed sorry to her before pushing off of the bed to stand up. Her hip dipped into the depression he'd caused until he removed his hand. Her eyes stayed on him as he walked out of the room and into the hallway, appreciating the sight of how his work attire complimented him as he retreated.

"That's awfully nice of you to let him stay over while he recovers from his concussion," her mom said in that all-knowing tone she liked to use.

"His concussion, yeah," Scully replied, going along with Mulder's cover story despite the fact a concussion wouldn't have lasted that long.

She slid out of bed and started haphazardly getting ready with the phone tucked between her shoulder and cheek. "Is everything okay?" Scully asked, uncertain of why her mother had called in the first place.

"Yes, everything's fine. I just hadn't heard from you in a while and you know how I worry," Maggie explained.

"Sorry, things have just been a little crazy around here," she sighed. Scully made her way into the bathroom and the smell of breakfast cooking hit her nose. She walked a little closer towards the kitchen and saw Mulder was working swiftly between several different tasks. With the surprised lift of her brow and a small smile, she made her way back towards the bathroom.

She listened to her mom tell her all the familial updates and the newest gossip at their church for a while before they both had to go. Scully quickly got dressed and finished her makeup before strutting into the dining room where Mulder had laid out a spread of different breakfast foods. She was about to remind him that they were running late, but was stopped short when she saw the pride in his eyes.

"I know we don't have much time," he replied, as if reading her mind. "I was planning on starting earlier, but I got carried away talking to your mom and I ended up delaying myself."

"I suppose I'm willing to be late if it means I get to try some of your cooking," she mused, sliding into a seat across from him. It wasn't as if this week had been enough of a mess already and it was only Thursday.

"That's the spirit, Scully," he replied in amusement.

She looked around the table and took in what he'd prepared. Eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, the whole nine yards. "Mulder," she mused, her head cocking to the side as slow realization dawned on her. "Did you go to the store this morning?"

He paused, mid-chew, and stared at her, a smile tugging on his lips. "Maybe," he replied teasingly.

The pieces slowly started to fall into place and she felt a smile mirroring his gracing her face. "Is that why my alarm didn't wake me up? Did you turn it off and run to the store to get all of this to surprise me, and my mother's phone call derailed your plan?"

"It's these detective skills that make you an amazing partner, Scully," he nodded with a gleam in his eye.

The thought of Mulder trying to surprise her so elaborately made her chest ache in adoration. He brought her a coffee unexpectedly to the office every now and then and that was sweet, but a whole meal cooked exactly how she liked it was a luxury she wasn't sure anyone had ever done for her before.

"Thank you, this was very kind of you," she murmured before biting into herjam-covered toast. A hum of surprise resounded in the back of her throat. As far as she was aware, Mulder's wheelhouse included Mac and Cheese and orange juice - the fact he'd branched out and it wasn't just charcoal was a pleasant surprise. "It's delicious."

He smiled in appreciation and took a bite of his own food. "If anyone gives us a hard time being late, just put the blame on me. Though we've really been breezing through our paperwork as of late, so I think we really don't have much to work on since we can't take on a full case right now with the team-building conference coming up and… everything else," he explained.

Scully found it odd he'd seemed reluctant to mention his current predicament, but then again she wasn't exactly being subtle about the fact she was enjoying spending time with this Mulder. She'd had a hard time accepting it at the beginning, but the more time she spent with this thoughtful, kind, mature version of her Mulder, the more she wished he could stay - despite how much she still missed her own reckless Mulder.

She knew she'd reacted territorially when he'd mentioned it was a possibility they had switched somehow- she could barely wrap her mind around the idea herself- but she was worried for how her Mulder was handling this. It seemed cruel, the idea that everything he'd worked so hard to find out had taken place without him. This was their mission, and they needed to go through it together.

Glancing over, she caught the sight of Mulder looking at her, a lazy, soft smile on his face that made all other thoughts disappear from her brain. He was mostly dressed for work, but his overcoat was off and his button up was open a few buttons lower than normal, his sleeves rolled up to the crook of his elbows. He looked so comfortable and at ease that she couldn't help but celebrate it was because he was merely eating a meal with her.

Her eyes flitted back down to her plate, not wanting her stare to linger for too long. She took a few more bites before glancing back, only to catch his appreciative look again. "Mulder, you're staring," she murmured shyly, idly picking at the food on her plate.

He was doing that more often; unabashedly staring. It didn't seem to matter what she was doing, she'd just look up to get his attention, only to see she'd already had it. She was used to catching him gazing when he thought she didn't see, but now instead of his gaze flitting away, he'd just continue with a smile.

"I'm sorry," he replied unapologetically before genuinely adding, "I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I just love looking at you."

Scully didn't know how to react to that sentiment. It made her cheeks flush and she felt her mouth drop open in a stunted attempt to reply. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be inappropriate," he replied, looking slightly contrite.

"No, no," she replied, her voice a little too high, an audible tell to how much he flustered her. "That's um, very sweet. I was in a rush, so I thought I must've just looked haphazard."

"Never," he replied with a small shake of his head.

She met his gaze and offered him a bashful smile before turning to her food again.

Jesus, I'm acting like a timid schoolgirl with a crush, she mused to herself.

She'd been exhausted last night, but even then she remembered implying that she was jealous of the relationship they apparently had in his time. Scully couldn't remember how direct she'd been about that, as her memory was tainted through her need for sleep. Now that she was thinking about it, she couldn't remember how she got to bed either. Maybe he-

Oh my god.

Her eyes shot open as color rushed to her cheeks. All other concerns melted away as she remembered the tail end of the night. She hadn't done anything exactly, but she'd crossed a line. It was subtle, but the desire to have him be with her was so strong that she knew if he didn't see it in her eyes that he must've felt it in her touch.

And yet he'd pulled away.

Scully felt a small twinge of embarrassment twist uncomfortably in her chest before she willed it away. It's not like she'd actually invited him to sleep with her and he turned her down, she'd just sleepily grabbed his wrist and he wished her a goodnight. She just couldn't shake the way her heart raced at the thought of what would have happened if he hadn't left.

Jesus.

Realizing Mulder might be looking at her, and not wanting him to see slight panic on her face, she asked, "Why were you up so early anyway?"

Mulder shrugged and swallowed his mouthful of food. "I dunno, just couldn't sleep."

"Is it the couch?" she asked, a frown tugging at her lips at the thought he was in pain. As far as she was aware he normally passed out on the couch, and she figured hers had more support than his.

"No, your couch is comfortable," he assured. "I'm just restless, I guess."

Scully wasn't sure how much she believed him, but before she could say anything else, Mulder gasped, "My fish!"

"What?" she replied, her brows furrowing.

Mulder turned to her with a look of guilt and explained, "My fish haven't been fed since this all started."

His guilt-ridden pout seemed extreme for his confession, but she tried to bite back her smile lest he think she was making fun of him. "Um," she started, uncertain of what to say.

"Would you mind if we ran over there?" Mulder asked. "Since we're running a bit late anyway?"

It was so Mulder of him to be so concerned at the prospect of something being hurt, even fish, that his whole day came to a halt to help. "Yeah, that's fine. Besides, it might not hurt to get some extra clothes for you to bring over here," she nodded.

She hadn't meant that in whatever way elicited the smile on Mulder's face and she felt the flush creep back up her neck. "Thanks, Scully. I know you don't like having your life uprooted, but I appreciate how understanding you've been," he replied appreciatively.

She smiled at him before holding her hand out for his empty plate. "It's always an adventure with you," she mused before standing up and clearing the table with him. They gathered their stuff and headed out to her car in an oddly domestic tandem.

It took only twenty minutes to get to Mulder's place, a little longer than normal being she had to take extra detours just because he wanted to see if this store was there or if that building looked the same. She was willing to indulge him because it was so unusual to see him so enthusiastic about things other than work. It was a nice change. When she parked in front of his building and put a quarter in the meter, despite the fact he was the one who lived here, she felt like she was the one leading the way.

"Shit," he murmured as the elevator ascended.

"Hm?" she responded, checking her watch. It was only 8:20 now, and she was starting to think they might make it on time.

"I don't have my key," he explained with a grimace.

"It's okay, I have mine," she replied, fishing her key ring out of her bag.

"I'd be lost without you," he replied with a laugh.

They exited the elevator and Scully made a beeline to Mulder's door, opening it with practice as he harshly whispered, "Scully."

She turned and saw he'd paused outside of his neighbor's place. "Do you know who lives here?" he asked, pointing to apartment 44.

"No," she shook her head, confused to why he was asking. "Why?"

He glared back at the door before shrugging and walking to meet her. "No reason."

Figuring it was him trying to place a memory, she just ignored it and walked into the apartment as Mulder followed and closed the door. Scully watched as Mulder walked over to the tank and turned to her with a relieved smile, "They're alive."

"I'm glad," she chuckled, walking over to him.

He grabbed the fish food from the glass shelving unit and carefully sprinkled in the water. "I'm sorry you guys, here you go. That's it," he murmured. She smirked to herself at his display of sensitivity before excusing herself to use his bathroom.

When she came out, Mulder was standing in the living room, apparently so lost in thought he didn't hear her return. His eyes darted around with what looked like subdued resentment at the state of the place, almost like pity. She wasn't sure what that was about as when he was in her apartment, she'd caught him examining everything with the care and interest of a museum cultivated just for him. "Are you okay, Mulder?" she asked softly, walking forward and placing a hand on his arm.

He pivoted his head to look at her and he offered her a small smile. "A bachelor pad is a sad and lonely place, Scully," he mused.

Scully looked around in confusion, she'd always thought Mulder had a nice place for a single man. She always felt comfortable whenever she came over. "I like it here," she offered shyly, almost as if in defense of the Mulder who lived here.

"You being here is what makes it nice," he retorted with a woeful smile. "You can turn any apartment or house into a home, without you it's not the same."

He sounded so melancholy that she decided to shift the subject rather than ruminate on it. "Why don't we go get some extra clothes for you? Hm?" she prompted, nudging him playfully in the shoulder and motioning her head to his bedroom.

"Okay," he nodded lightly in agreement, not pressing any further.

She followed him into his bedroom and felt a mounting sense of curiosity. As far as she was aware this room was full of boxes. It wasn't her finest moment, but one of the few times she'd been here without Mulder, she'd been so curious to see his room that she opened the door, only to see it was being used as a storage room. While it made her worry for him, she figured there must be a method to the madness and now she was going to be privy as to what exactly that entailed.

She was surprised then when he opened up the door to a fully furnished bedroom. Scully gasped lightly in surprise, causing Mulder to turn back and see her surprised expression. "You okay?" he asked.

"I-uh," she stammered. "I thought you didn't have a bedroom. Well, I knew you technically did, but I thought it was full of junk."

"I think you mean treasures," he joked, walking further into the room. "It's so weird. I never did, but then one day we came back after following a dud of a lead and someone had fully furnished my apartment," he shrugged.

She walked over to the bed and pressed down on it lightly, shocked when the bed depressed into a ripple beneath her hand. "A waterbed!" she exclaimed in surprise. Never in a thousand years did she imagine Mulder owned a waterbed, and she found herself trying to repress all of the inappropriate thoughts it brought to mind.

"I'm just as confused as you are, even all these years later," he chuckled.

"Do you think it was the Gunmen?" she replied.

Between pulling out a few pairs of underwear and socks from his drawer he replied: "For a moment I considered that, but they denied it." He paused for a moment, clearing his throat and adding. "While it does seem like something they'd do, uh-look up."

She glanced upward only to meet her own gaze. "A mirror?" she asked, taking in the sight of herself sitting on Mulder's bed.

Mulder chuckled at her reaction. "Yeah, while I could see the merry band of misfits doing me a favor and getting me a bed for fun, I don't know if they'd want to go, um, that far into imagining what I might like."

She hummed while trying to ignore doing just that. She attempted to wrack her brain for who else it may have been before the seed of jealousy that had been planted in her brain months ago sprung a new leaf. "Was it Diana?" she asked, feigning innocent curiosity as she straightened her skirt with her hands and tucked her hair behind her ears in an act of nervous self-grooming.

"Absolutely not," he said so firmly it drew her attention back to his face which was the picture of sincerity.

Despite how convicted of an answer that was, she couldn't resist the nagging impulse to be curt at the mere thought of that woman. "Are you sure? It doesn't seem that far out of her purview to do what she deems is in your best interest."

"Scully," he replied, stepping closer to her so he could rest his hand on her shoulder. "Let's just say between the two of you, I've only given one of you permission to come into my apartment whenever they want," he assured. She tried to smile in response, but it was weak. Diana was still a sore spot and this week of him being openly affectionate with her had been a nice respite from her own paranoia surrounding his former chickadee.

He let his arm fall as he made his way to his closet. "Um," he started, the hesitance evident in his voice. "Am I correct in thinking that at this point in time it's her and Spender in control of the X-Files?" he asked.

"No, I've just been bringing you to the bullpen all week because I like all the voyeuristic looks we get when we're trying to have a conversation," she deadpanned.

"Ooh, Scully. I thought it was a few more years before you developed that kink," he teased. Upon receiving no laughter in response, he changed his tone. "What was the last thing we did with her?" he asked.

She sighed and rolled her eyes behind his back. "She stole the X-Files from us, and you two went on a little adventure together wherein the subsequent case report she contradicts everything you said," she explained tersely. This was the last thing she wanted to be talking about right now, and she didn't really care if she made it obvious.

"You're mad," he replied, a statement rather than a question.

"I'm not mad," she said a bit too quickly, wiping her hand across her forehead. "It doesn't matter, we need to get going to the exciting job we've been subjugated to because of your friend."

She felt Mulder drape the clothes he'd been holding behind her on the bed and then her eyeline was filled by him kneeling in front of her, his hands reaching to hold her hands in his own as he got her attention. "It does matter, you're upset," he replied. "The other day you mentioned this wasn't probably the ideal time in our partnership to come back because we aren't on the X-Files, but maybe it was."

He paused for her to respond but she just cocked an expectant eyebrow at him, prompting him to continue. "I think this was a low point in our partnership, not because we weren't on the X-Files, but because I made you question my trust in you."

She let out an exhale of humorless laughter and consequently felt him squeeze her hands. Scully looked at him and saw lines on his forehead standing out prominently as his brows furrowed, his eyes brimming with sincerity. "I've told you countless times that you're the only person I trust, Scully. I mean that. In all my darkest moments, knowing that you have even a modicum of faith in me is what keeps me going. That's always been true, and it always will be. I'm so sorry if I've ever for a second made you feel less valued than that," he explained.

Scully felt her eyes stinging at his confession, an uncomfortable lump forming in her throat, but she didn't want to cry. "Then why won't you trust me when I say I think you need to be wary of her?"

"You need facts and science before you can make an accurate judgement, right?" he asked.

She sighed, reminded of how much she felt like that fact had been thrown in her face as of late. "Yes," she nodded.

"I just often feel like I need to see things for myself," he admitted.

She looked him in the eye and held his gaze. "That's reckless, and I'm just trying to prevent you from getting hurt."

He smiled sweetly at her before lifting their joined hands to his lips, pressing a kiss to both of her fists. "You've always been smarter than me."

Scully grinned halfheartedly at that and he removed one hand to cup her cheek. "I'm sorry I've made you feel bad," he apologized in earnest.

"I'm just protective of you," she murmured, reluctant to admit it openly but figuring it was fair trade for his openness.

"It's one of my favorite qualities about you," he smiled, standing up. He offered the hand that had just been on her cheek as he helped her to her feet. She was immediately pulled into a tight hug, and while she was initially surprised, she reciprocated by wrapping her arms around his middle and burying her face into his chest.

Mulder rested his chin on top of her head and she was struck, like she was every time they hugged, at just how perfectly they seemed to fit together. She felt his nose brush against the crown of her head as his arms rubbed up and down her back. "I love you, Scully. Never doubt that," he murmured against her head.

Scully took a sharp breath at his admission and smiled softly against his shirt. She knew it was true, but it didn't diminish how much it meant to hear it come from his mouth. Mulder kissed her hair for good measure before letting go of her. She saw him glance down at her crimson face before smirking and resuming packing his bag.

She looked around his room, taking in the small eclectic items of his life while he collected everything he needed. I love you, Scully was on repeat in her mind while her body was still thrumming from his embrace. In this moment, her animosity towards Diana diminished slightly. Sure, Diana might have the X-Files right now, but she was the one Mulder turned to when he needed help. Scully could take comfort in that fact. Besides, Diana may have been there with him at the start of the X-Files, but Scully had already more than doubled her time spent on them - her signature was on over half those case files right next to Mulder's.

"Ready to go?" he murmured, pressing his palm against the small of her back, her ouroboros burning as it metaphorically began a new cycle. They had work to do.

Together.

"Yep," she replied with a smile, making her way out of the apartment with her heart lighter than it had been for a while as she locked his door behind them.

Apparently they'd completed more paperwork than they'd realized, and the work day was relatively uneventful. Her desk was behind Mulder's, so when she found her mind wandering, she'd end up inadvertently watching him. Mulder, however, seemed to be occupying himself by responding to various emails. She was too far away to pry that much, but she saw him go through his address book and compose a series of lengthy paragraphs.

Occasionally, Mulder would turn around and play with some of the adornments on her desk and chit-chat with her, but inevitably they'd catch someone staring at them and he'd swivel back around and try to find something else to occupy his time with. The day monotonously went on like that until 5:00pm when everyone started gathering their stuff and leaving.

"Where do you want to eat tonight, Mulder?" she asked in a hushed volume, trying to get his attention without drawing anyone else's.

Mulder rolled his chair around to hers and stole one of her pencils, holding it against his nose with his upper lip as he thought. His eyes lit up and a smile caused the pencil to fall into his lap. "Can we go to Chi-Chi's?" he exclaimed.

Her brows furrowed in amusement as she replied, "You want us to go all the way to Alexandria for inauthentic Mexican food?"

"I haven't had it in fifteen years," he replied, the sparkle of excitement still in his eye.

"I'd consider that a mark of triumph," she laughed, grabbing her bag. "I didn't even know you liked Chi-Chi's."

"They don't have them in the U.S. in my time," he replied, standing with her oblivious to the looks that comment received.

"Why?" she asked, meeting his pace as they made their way to the parking garage.

"Uh," he stammered. "I think that's something you'd rather not know being we're about to go there."

"That's ominous, and I never said yes," she teased, pressing the elevator button to the garage.

"Come on, Scully," he whined playfully, being relentless since they were alone. "You never know what you have until it's gone. It's like my own version of your Goop-O A-B-C, only without the nostalgia and sentimentality."

Her jaw dropped as she turned to him with an incredulous look on her face. "Oh my god, I completely forgot about that. How did you know?" she asked. He grinned at her and she rolled her eyes with a smile, "Oh, yeah, yeah, lifelong partners, you know everything about me. How could I forget?"

"I wouldn't say I know everything, but I'm sure working on it," he replied before adding, "What do you say? I can get a good ol' inauthentic-authentic Chimichanga, and you can get a strawberry margarita."

"Okay, I'm sold," she laughed stepping off the elevator.

The drive there was relatively uneventful, but she felt Mulder's excitement mounting as they got closer. They had lunch together quite frequently, but going out together outside of work hours was always a special treat - especially when he was beaming like that. When they got inside the tacky, ridiculously colored establishment, they were seated at a booth in the far corner, next to a wall painted with various vegetables wearing sombreros - a culturally insensitive version of VeggieTales.

"Is it how you remembered it?" Scully asked after the waitress took their drink order.

"Somehow far more inappropriate than I remember it," he chuckled, grimacing at the Americanized menu.

She looked up and smirked at the series of bright, multi-colored banners hanging from the ceiling. Her attention was drawn to the other side of the restaurant as the wait staff gathered around a bashful young woman with a decorative sombrero on her head. "Happy, happy birthday. To you, to you, olé!" they cried out before cheering.

"I remember doing that to you once," Mulder chuckled, pulling her attention back to him.

"Once better be the operative word there," she teased pointedly.

"I know better than to test my luck twice," he smirked, glancing through the menu.

She didn't respond as the waitress lowered his water and her much larger strawberry margarita. "Do you know what you want to eat?" the teen asked.

Mulder motioned to Scully and she ordered Seared Vegetable Fajitas while he got the Chimichanga Dinner. The waitress took their menus and they were left sitting under the harsh light of the overhead lamp. She stirred her drink before taking a sip, wincing as the bitter taste of tequila hit her tongue.

"Strong?" Mulder asked, amused in response to her face.

"Very," she laughed, struggling through another sip to try and taste a hint of strawberry.

He took a drink of his water as he watched her. "I forgot about that," he admitted with a laugh.

"A drink's a drink, I can't complain for $2.99," she shrugged, her chest warming with the speed in which she was drinking.

He made a sound of agreement before tapping her foot under the table. She locked eyes with him and saw he'd taken on a more serious expression, causing her to put her drink down. "Everything alright?" she asked.

"I just wanted to apologize if I haven't been as respectful of your boundaries as I should be. You said this was overwhelming and I don't know if my actions have done much to abate that," he stated sincerely.

She was shocked by the tonal switch, but could see in his eyes this was something that apparently had been bothering him. "I think it was just a quick learning curve," she shrugged, idly moving her straw around the pink sludge. "It was off-putting at first just because it was such a stark contrast to what I was used to, but now that I'm accustomed to you-um, it really doesn't bother me."

Scully didn't know how to tell him she quite liked his behavior as of late, but based on the smirk on his lips, he picked up on that fact either way. "I just don't want you to think I'm being pushy. I want to abide by your terms, despite the fact I obviously have a hard time resisting flirting with you," he joked in self-deprecation.

"Well, I don't think that's necessarily new," she chuckled, adding, "But, it is nice knowing you really mean it."

She took a big swig of her drink as she watched his eyebrows do that disbelieving scrunchy thing. "Do you think I normally wouldn't mean it?"

Scully slid her jacket down her arms as she started getting warm, setting it carelessly on the booth seat next to her. "Well, I mean, you're always charming-"

"Thank you," he smirked.

Rolling her eyes she continued, "But, you're charming with everyone. I figured it wasn't anything special when you did it to me." She shrugged and took another swig, a nervous habit that was making her cheeks flush and her lips loose. Her light salad from a few hours ago wasn't much help absorbing the straight alcohol in this drink.

"I don't remember flirting with other people," he replied, seemingly wracking his brain.

"It's not even flirting per se," she replied, licking her lips as she contemplated her next words. "Maybe it just feels different to me because I can see how the women react to you just being nice, attentive, etcetera." Because I react the same way, she mused to herself.

Mulder seemed surprised, almost disbelieving of her words. "That always happens to me with you," he countered.

She wiped the drink from the corner of her mouth. "I don't follow?" she replied. Mulder was openly charming during cases, making people who often felt neglected feel appreciated and validated. She was polite, but she wouldn't consider herself as amiable as him.

"Do you know how many times I had to watch the lab geeks fawn over your every word? How often I saw a smile from you turn into someone else's blush?" he asked.

"Flatterer," she denied before smiling at the waitress who set another drink down next to her almost empty one before walking away with a smile.

"See, even our waitress is so charmed by you that you didn't even need to ask for a refill," Mulder teased.

"That's not-," she started, pausing as he shook his empty glass, causing the ice to rattle around.

"And I'm the one in her line of sight," he smirked.

A laugh erupted at her throat from this, causing him to laugh with her. "Well my drink costs more than yours," she mused.

"If that's what you want to tell yourself, Scully, but I still stand by the fact that I've watched people all across the country be enamoured with you. You can hardly blame me for wanting to toss my hat into the ring to get your attention," he smirked.

"Mulder, you're the focal point of my attention at all times," she retorted, throwing back the dregs of her first drink and setting it to the side in favor of her fresh one.

She watched him turn pensive at that, looking down into his melting ice with a small nod. "I meant that in a good way," she offered, nervous she'd accidentally misspoken and offended him.

He smiled at her, as if to dissuade her worry. "I know. And I know you wouldn't be anywhere you didn't want to be, but sometimes I worry you've felt like you had to stick around with me because your women's intuition knew I'd be lost without you."

"You think I'm with you out of pity?" she asked in surprise.

Her voice rang in the following beat of silence before an uncomfortable voice said, "Um, so I have your food." They both paused their discussion, but were too invested in it to make small talk, resulting in them just staring as the girl slid their meals in front of them.

"Uh, okay," the waitress laughed. "Let me know if you need anything else."

"Oh," Scully replied. "Can my friend get a water refill?"

"Absolutely," she beamed, taking Mulder's glass.

He cocked a teasing eyebrow at her before she repeated herself. "You think I'm with you out of pity?"

Mulder shook his head, as if he regretted being so open. "No, I don't mean pity. I just-our jobs are different than the rest of our coworkers' are. It's far more personal for us and I fear that made it harder for you to leave if you ever wanted to because we're so close."

"Have you ever told that to me? Like future me, your wife?" she asked.

"Here's your water," the waitress murmured, sliding the water to Mulder as she took furtive glances between the two.

"Thanks," they both mumbled, staying quiet until she was gone.

"You-uh, she says I'm being ridiculous," he replied.

"Because you are," she retorted. "I hate it when you do that."

"Do what?"

Scully stabbed the prongs of her fork into a stray pepper and brought it to her lips. "You act like I'm a wild animal tethered to you, desperately seeking escape back into my natural habitat."

She aggressively chewed her pepper while he responded. "But there are so many other things you could be doing if you wanted to."

"And I could be doing them right now," she replied, sipping her drink. "Work sucks right now, I'm so bored, and I feel like we're squandering away our talents. I also hate not having a space that's just ours."

"Then why not go-" he started, being interrupted but her leaning forward to emphasize her point.

"Why don't you? You're brilliant. If you asked to be relocated to the BSU or VCU they would die to have your profiling skills and you'd excel over all of them," she countered.

"Because I-we can't give up now," he replied with a gentle nod.

Scully pointed her fork at him with a triumphant smile. "Exactly," she replied. "I just don't like your mindset of if I wasn't with you that my life would be some perfect fantasy when joining the X-Files was the first thing that made me feel like I had a purpose. I was unhappy with my life and felt lost before I became your partner. Now I come-came to work every day challenged and tested and it was thrilling. Sometimes it feels like you're diminishing my feelings when you negate that by saying I'd be better off elsewhere when it's my life, and I don't think that's true."

She realized she'd really unloaded there and felt a flush creep across her cheeks that wasn't caused by the alcohol. He was smiling at her, a wide, toothy smile that was contagious. "I-you're right, I'm sorry for all the times I've invalidated you on accident. It makes me happy to hear you say that. I guess I just have a hard time believing I'm so lucky for you to be invested alongside me."

Scully raised her glass up to him, waiting for him to clink his cup against it. "Always," she replied with a toothy smile of her own.

"I didn't mean to get on my soap box while you were trying to enjoy your Chi-Chi's," she giggled. "Try your c-chimichanga."

"No, I really appreciated hearing that," he replied, cutting off a bite-sized piece to shovel into his mouth.

She watched him chew in anticipation. "So?"

"Just as average as I remember, and it's really hitting the spot," he chuckled.

"Good," she smirked, eating her own meal.

There was a nagging question that was churning in her gut that she wanted to ask. They'd just been open, so she could capitalize on the moment, but she was also nervous to hear the answer.

"You're being ominously quiet," he replied after a few minutes.

"WWhy haven't you made another move on me since we've been back from Antartica?" she pouted. He choked a little bit on his food and took a drink of his water to recover. "Is it because of what you just said? With your whole I-think-I'm-holding-back-Scully-thing?"

Mulder raised his eyebrows a little before cocking his head. "That was a big component I'd say."

"Why else then?" she prompted, attempting to nudge his leg only to accidentally kick his shin. "Sorry."

He laughed in response as he flushed. That was new, she felt like blushing had become her go-to over the past few days. "You're going to laugh," he replied.

"Maybe," she nodded, swigging her drink.

"You make me shy," he shrugged.

"What?" she replied, worried she'd finally asked and now she was too tipsy to understand.

"I had such a crush on you, still do, but back in those early years the thought of making a move made me weak in the knees. I think I finally got guts in the hallway because I felt like I was losing you. I couldn't let you resign without telling you know how much you mean to me," he replied.

She nodded lightly, poking at her food with her fork. "But… why haven't you again?" she murmured, looking up at him through her lashes nervously.

"Like I said earlier, I like you to set the terms," he shrugged. "That and everything we were just talking about regarding my debilitating lack of self-confidence."

That was as attractive as it was nerve wracking. "Can I ask how long it takes until I, um, make a move?" she asked timidly, downing the rest of her second drink.

"If you're asking when we become intimate,if memory serves, May of 2000," he replied, sipping his water.

"May of 2000," she repeated, louder than intended due to her shock, causing a small hush in the dining room.

Mulder laughed at her response and nodded. "It may seem like a long time, but I think it was perfect."

She looked at him in disbelief, unable to wrap her mind around the fact she still had so long to wait. "Perfect?" she repeated, trying to focus on the positive.

"I think we both needed to work some things out before we were ready to take that plunge, no pun intended."

"Ew."

"Sorry," he laughed. "But there were all sorts of things that we both needed closure on before we could do it right."

Scully nodded, taking another bite as she ruminated on his words. Samantha. For her, at least, that was something that had always held her back. She didn't want to give him all her love only to be shoved to the back burner when a new development occurred. It was important, she would never deny that, but she knew he'd throw his all into any lead - and she couldn't be left with nothing after giving her all to him.

Part of her wanted to ask him what really happened to Samantha. She already had a hint that she would be finding out within the next year and a half, but while she wanted to know, finding out without Mulder felt like the utmost betrayal. They needed to find out together.

"Was it good?" she decided to ask instead.

Laughter erupted from him once more and he put his hand to his chest in amusement. "Yes, better than anything I'd ever imagined. You're um, you're so perfect," he replied honestly, a sentimental smile taking over the prior amusement as he looked lost in a memory.

Upon his praise, she felt a warmth bloom in her chest, like a spark that was travelling through her veins and lighting her up. She always thought highly of what Mulder thought of her, but since this switch happened it felt different. It felt akin to how she'd feel in her relationships with Jack Willis and Daniel Waterston, an unabashed pride at having impressed an older man she respected.

But this was different.

In those relationships the power disparity ran underneath her like the humming of an electric current. The age difference, the status difference, a marked inferiority felt, on her part, like she had to be as smart or charming as possible to even gain a semblance of equal footing - something Mulder never made her feel. Mulder was a bit older than her, now even more so with his current mental state, yet he still went out of his way to let her know she was in control. His equal.

"I tend to give as good as I get," she lilted, wiping her mouth and hiding her smirk.

"I'm feeling things I never thought I'd feel in a Chi-Chi's," he replied, laughing when she did.

"When my Mulder comes back I'll have to bring him here more often. Gotta make sure he can get his fill before he can't experience this fine cuisine."

"Refer to him as your Mulder and he'll go anywhere with you," he joked.

"I'll keep that in mind," she replied, putting the cool back of her hands to her cheeks.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Um," she replied, laughing slightly. "I think I'm a little drunk."

"Oh yeah, you definitely are, but you're handling it like a true Irishwoman," he praised, passing his water over to her.

"Thanks," she smiled, taking a drink from his glass.

Mulder paid for their food before helping her out of the booth. She wasn't sloppily drunk, but she definitely appreciated the added stability of his arm around her. He helped her into the passenger seat with care before sliding in the driver's seat. It took a while to leave as Mulder had to exaggeratedly move everything to accommodate his height, and then he struggled to back up 'the old fashioned way.'

Mulder asked if he could take a few more detours just to look around the city, and she said it was fine as long as he went through the McDonalds drive thru and got her an ice cream cone to which he happily agreed. It was relaxing to just drive around aimlessly with Mulder as he talked about some of his favorite memories of them in the city. She could tell he was purposefully making sure to talk about things she'd remember, and it was oddly poignant - moments to her that were just 'Friday nights getting Chinese with Mulder' or 'that frustrating time last year where they spent all day trying to find where Mulder's car was towed' had managed to become endearing, sentimental reflections that he clearly held close to his heart.

She passed by these buildings everyday and didn't think anything of them, and to Mulder they were reflections of moments that made them who they were. "What's your favorite place in the city?" she asked after about an hour of driving.

Mulder pulled over and parked the car on the side of the road and turned off the engine. He looked over at her and smiled. "This one."

Scully looked around and realized they were back at her apartment. She smiled to herself as she unbuckled her seat belt, taking his hand as he opened the door for her. It was relatively early in the night, but she could tell they were both exhausted as he unsuccessfully tried to stifle his yawns on their way up the elevator and to her door.

"This was fun," she said, walking into her entryway.

"I agree," he replied, closing the door behind them.

She watched as he stretched before walking over to the couch. The thought of him laying here all night struggling to sleep made her feel bad, and it seemed ridiculous when there was such an obvious solution.

"You can sleep in my bed with me. Since you've been having a hard time sleeping out here," she offered, looking at him once to convey she was serious before her focus dropped to her nails.

"I don't want to make you uncomfortable, Scully. I'm intruding enough as is," he replied through a yawn.

"You're not intruding, nor making me uncomfortable. I wouldn't ask if I wasn't okay with it, but if you don't want to then you don't have to," she shrugged.

"I didn't say I didn't want to," he clarified. "I just don't want you to offer if you're not-"

"I am," she replied shortly, cutting him off.

"Oh, well, then yes. I appreciate that, Scully," he responded kindly.

"Good," she nodded.

"Good," he repeated, his voice brimming with mirth.

She looked up and saw he had an amused, almost gleeful smile on his face. It made her smile in response and she let out a little chuff of laughter. "I missed you," he blurted, gentle adoration in his gaze.

"From the sounds of it you're used to spending a lot of quality time with me," she lilted before adding, "Future me, that is I suppose."

"Yeah, but we've both changed over the years. It's fun seeing how different you used to be," he shrugged.

"Did I change for the bad?" she asked, feeling a little self-conscious.

"No, not at all. I think you just got more direct with age."

"How am I not direct?" she asked.

He smirked before shrugging, "Maybe I'm just tired. But, no, I love every iteration of you. You're the person I fell in love with after all," he replied.

Scully felt herself smile, and she knew she could get used to this continual affection. The words of reciprocity burned on her tongue, wanting to be released, but this Mulder had said them to her a thousand times. She wanted to share the moment of tension with Mulder when he told her himself for the first time.

Mulder must've taken her silence as a bad sign. "I'm sorry, was that too far? Am I back on the couch?" he joked even though he was sincerely checking that he hadn't pushed too far.

She shook her head once definitively. "No, not at all," she murmured with a soft smile. "But you're lucky I'm letting you sleep near me after how many Chimichangas I just watched you eat," she teased.

"That I am," he nodded.

"I presume you know where everything is?" she asked, smiling as he nodded. "I'm going to get ready for bed, I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Okay," he nodded, mirroring her.

He followed her down the hall with his bag in hand, going to the side of the bed she never used as if it was second nature. Scully grabbed her pyjamas, ducking into the bathroom to get ready.

Her makeup had worn a bit so that her freckles were more visible than usual, but other than that she looked pretty good for getting slightly drunk on a weekday. She quickly slipped into her silk pyjama set before finishing up her night routine. They'd shared a bed in the past before, usually one overstaying the welcome in the other's motel room ending up in them both passing out, but the fact it was in her own room made her nervous. Not that Mulder would try anything, he'd been nothing but a gentleman, but just the pure fact that the man of her dreams would be in such an intimate setting with her.

Deciding to enjoy the experience rather than get anxious over it, she walked into the bedroom only to see he'd passed out already, hugging the pillow she'd used last night against his chest with his nose buried in it. Like a jolt, she realized it wasn't the couch, it was that he'd become accustomed to sleeping with her. The thought made her eyes widen and a blush creep onto her cheeks that her presence could have such an effect on him.

Based on how she fell asleep a few minutes later, her arm reaching out towards him, it was safe to say the effect was mutual.