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No More Pretending

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It wasn’t that she minded all the touching. The familiar way he pulled her in close, or even when he looked at her like she was the most important person to him in the world. On the contrary: she really enjoyed it. Too much, probably. 

Especially considering he was only pretending.

They’d been at The Falls for a couple days now, blending in with the neighbors and trying their damndest to fit into a place that seemed to fight against every fiber of their respective beings. People were missing, crimes had been committed. She was supposed to have her investigator hat on straight, play the part, get the job done.

But it had been difficult. They weren’t Agents Mulder and Scully here; they were Rob and Laura Petrie, husband and wife. Playing the part meant living the part, and living with all this pretending was getting exhausting for Scully.

The touching seemed to become second nature to Mulder after only a few minutes, however. It didn’t seem to bother him whatsoever, or make him awkward. 

At first it felt like a game called How Much Can I Annoy My Partner? and Mulder was winning spectacularly. She was reminded a bit of her brothers when she was younger, how they’d tease her mercilessly, taunt her, poke and prod. Mulder was getting a rise out of her and she felt more resentful than anything else.

Admittedly, she had more-than-brotherly feelings for Mulder. And that was what was causing all the confusion.

At night she’d kick him out of the master bedroom, keeping a comfortable distance. She felt bad about it at first, but he didn’t even sleep in the guest bedroom, preferring instead the couch, as ever. And she wondered how much he would notice, how much of this she'd be able to get away with before he knew something was off.

It was starting to happen so often she wondered what would occur first: blowing their cover as undercover agents? Or blowing her own cover as a woman hopelessly in love with her partner?

 

 

***

 

 

Mulder!”

“Oof, sorry. Again,” he claimed as he spun around, waiting for her to finish dressing. He’d walked into the bathroom without knocking for what was probably the fourth time now. And this time it was definitely not on purpose. 

He tried to commit to memory the sight of Scully attempting to fasten her bra, arms locked behind her, an unfettered view of her lace covered chest on display.

Purple lace, he noted with a clandestine smile.

“Jesus, Mulder, knock much?”

“I blame this floor plan,” he protested, his back to her. “What kind of house has only one upstairs bathroom?”

“The kind that doesn’t have locks on the doors either, apparently,” she griped. He heard her struggling to get her shirt on quickly. “All clear,” she said. He turned.

“I wouldn’t have pegged you as a purple undergarment kind of gal, Scully,” he said, lifting his eyebrows a couple times. She exited the bathroom into the bedroom, brushing past him, buttoning her silk blouse. He could still see part of her bra as she walked past and he wondered if she was subconsciously teasing him. He’d completely forgotten what he even came up here for.

“Lavender,” she corrected begrudgingly. Leave it to Scully to correct his mistake in the face of her annoyance.

“Lavender. Sorry.”

“Happy to entertain you as always, Mulder.”

“Not entertained,” he insisted. “Illuminated.”

Their investigation was currently at a bit of a standstill. First the Klines months ago, then Big Mike had disappeared the other night, and they’d been attempting to gather evidence to prove foul play. 

“The Schroeders invited us for dinner again,” Mulder said, resting an arm in the doorframe above his head. They’d eaten at their neighbors' this week once already, but had gathered very little useful information. Going back seemed like a good idea.

"Okay," Scully shrugged. Win and Cami Schroeder had been less than forthcoming about the ins and outs of the neighborhood, but seemed to be extremely interested in getting to know ‘Rob and Laura Petrie’ better. Scully had mentioned the more involved they got in the network of neighbors the better off they’d be, and Mulder had readily agreed. 

“They're both home a lot. I’m starting to wonder if either of them have actual jobs,” Mulder mused.

“Well, you ‘work at home,’ Agent Mulder,” Scully said, making air quotes with her fingers. “What exactly are you hiding?”  

“Fair enough,” he said, “but working at home isn’t all it's cracked up to be. You’re gone all day and I miss you.” He made an exaggerated pout.

She rolled her eyes, which seemed to be her go-to expression as of late. But he wasn’t lying. It sucked being cooped up in this awful house all week while she got to interact with other normal humans at the San Diego field office. Pretty much everyone here was kind of creepy.

“Don’t you get enough of me on a regular basis, Mulder?” she asked, toeing on her flats to leave him all alone again for the day.

“I guess so,” he conceded, although it wasn’t true. He never got enough of her and he always missed her, even on ordinary days. The image of her in the lavender bra would help him get through this day, at least.

“I’ll see you tonight, then,” she said, making for the door of the bedroom.

“Kiss goodbye?” he said, waggling his eyebrows a bit. She arched an eyebrow and left.

The thrill is gone, he chuckled to himself. 


***

 

 

Upon returning from her second trip to San Diego to analyze some evidence, Scully came into the living room and found Mulder with his feet up, watching television.

“I see you’ve been hard at work all day,” she quipped. 

“I have been,” he protested. He grinned and offered her his bag of sunflower seeds. She declined. “Studying this enormous tome takes time.” He lifted the huge book of CC&R’s up proudly.

“Find anything?” she asked. After Scully had warned Mulder an excavation crew to search for the Klines in the front yard would certainly blow their cover, his plan was to find some kind of loophole. And from his grin, she could tell he’d found something. 

“Sure did." He put the book down, stood up and threw his arms out triumphantly. "Honey, we’re putting in a pool.”

She rolled her eyes again. “We can’t put a swimming pool in the front yard. There’s no way that’s allowed.”

“Not a swimming pool,” he corrected her. “A reflecting pool. I read the thing cover to cover. No rules against it.”

She stared at him dubiously. “And what exactly are we reflecting?”

“It’ll work, Scully. At least, it’ll buy us some time. If infractions are what’s causing the attacks, we won’t be making one.”

“So when are they coming to dig this hole?” She checked her watch. “It’s already past seven.”

“They’re coming in the morning. By the time I figured this out, it was too late for them to start today.”

She nodded, making her ‘impressed’ face. “Nice work, Mulder.” 

He grinned. “Win said 7:30, should we head over?”

“Yeah, I’ll just go put something else on.”

“Why? You look great.” 

She shook her head. "These clothes smell like a government building. It’ll just take a second.” She went up the stairs and opened the door to her closet, the closet she shared with Mulder. A rainbow of unfamiliar pastels looked back at her, and she liked the way they looked, feminine and masculine, next to each other in such a traditional, comfortable way. But the lack of her own clothes, and Mulder's too, only served to remind her how traditional and comfortable she and Mulder were not.

She found a yellow cap sleeved dress that she figured would look nice, and slipped it over her head, noticing she couldn’t quite reach the zipper. She strained and stretched her arms but they just wouldn’t go that way. As she was debating changing her outfit entirely, Mulder knocked softly and spoke through the crack in the door.

“Scully? It’s been a while, you okay up here?”

She sighed, her struggle with the zipper obvious. “I'm fine, but can you help me?”

“Of course,” he said, entering the room. He made his way over to her and she spun around, holding her hair up out of the way. He zipped her up slowly and carefully. 

She turned back around and watched as his eyes raked over her, up and down. “I’ve never seen you wear something like this before, Scully.”

“What’s the verdict?” she asked.

“The verdict is… wow.” 

“Wow?” she repeated, smiling.

“I can’t think of a better word. You look incredible.”

She blushed a bit as she turned towards the dresser mirror to put on her earrings. “Well, thank you.”

He was quiet for a moment, watching her, then spoke again. “Win asked if we’re fighting, by the way,” he said suddenly to her back.

Scully blinked, spun around. “What?”

“We were playing basketball this afternoon, inside the garage, I might add,” he rolled his eyes, “and he just... asked.”

“Well, that was bold of him to say,” she pointed out.

Mulder shrugged. “It’s not as if ‘incredibly nosy’ isn’t these folks’ milieu, Scully.”

“Why would he think that?” she asked cautiously. 

“Well, we came in for some water and he saw my pillow and blanket on the couch, which didn’t help,” he said, stepping closer. “But I honestly don’t think that’s it.”

“You don’t?”

“Nuh-uh.”

She blinked again. “What is it, then?”

“I don’t know, Scully,” Mulder said, giving her a pointed look. “Maybe it’s because you pull away every time I try to touch you? And generally treat me with far less tolerance than you normally would.”

She stared at him, shocked he’d actually put it out there. She’d been overcorrecting and she knew it. And now she knew for sure that he knew it, too.

“Oh.” She felt stupid that she didn’t have more to say. She desperately scrambled for a reason that wasn’t the truth. Maybe a joke would help. “I thought that’s how married couples act.”

He laughed. “Unhappy couples do, is that what you’re trying to be?”

She opted for honesty. “No.”

“Okay, then,” he said. 

“Okay.” Truth be told, she didn’t want him to stop touching her, to stop pretending like she was the most important person in the world. She was supposed to be his wife, and he was only doing his job. It wasn’t his fault she was nervous. This wasn’t a Mulder problem, it was a Scully problem.

“This shouldn’t be a big deal, should it?” he continued.

She shook her head. “It shouldn’t.”

“So…” he moved towards her slowly. “It shouldn’t be a big deal if I do this.” He reached out both hands and placed them on her shoulders. His hands were large and warm, and even though it was such a simple touch she felt him everywhere.

“It isn’t,” she said.

“Or this,” he continued, sliding his hands down both of her arms, squeezing them gently.

She looked up at him. “No.”

“Or even this,” he was practically whispering now, his voice deep and throaty, settling his hands on her hips and encircling her waist as he pulled her towards him ever so slightly. The moment had suddenly become so charged she wasn’t sure what to do with herself. 

She couldn’t speak, so he did instead. “This is what married couples do, right?” His hands fit perfectly over her hips. He was just so calm about all of this, so relaxed. It made her feel the opposite. “No big deal.”

“It’s not a big deal at all,” she whispered back, although it was. It was a huge fucking deal.

He pulled her against his chest and wrapped his arms around her like he had so many times before, and she willed her body not to react to this new context, this new version of them. The version where they were supposed to do this openly, willingly.

She sighed deeply into his T shirt, then breathed him in. He smelled like laundry detergent. Like grass and sweat. 

Like a husband.

“Sorry, I’ll switch up my… approach,” she said. They stood there holding each other for a minute. Then she had to ask. “Mulder, do you think of me as cold?” Her words were muffled against his chest.

“Cold?”

“Yeah. Standoffish. Stiff. Frigid,” she said, hating the word.

“Not at all,” he said, and she believed him. “At least with me. That’s why I’ve been surprised at how you’ve been acting the past couple days.”

She didn’t want to tell him the next part, but she felt so awkward. She wanted him to understand why. “I just feel it around, you know? At work. It’s like I have a reputation. Dana Scully: Ice Queen.”

“Well,” he chuckled. “I haven’t heard that, nor do I endorse it. But I do know from reputations. I’ve just learned to embrace mine.”

“But you’re comfortable being Spooky. You are spooky,” she said, a smile finally forming. “I’m not comfortable with this. It’s not who I am.”

“Then prove it wrong, Scully,” he grinned. His silent challenge remained unspoken. Prove me wrong. “That’s what you’re best at.”

She smiled and rested her head against his chest again, nestling into his arms. She didn’t hate it there.

 

 

***

 

 

Mulder had been glued to her side the entire evening, his arm around her, touching her thigh, being far more handsy than he probably had to be. She was certain he was trying to make her more comfortable after having put the awkwardness out there earlier that evening, but she again found herself putting walls between them, flinching on occasion, although unconsciously. She couldn’t help it.

Win and Cami disappeared into the kitchen to prepare dessert and Mulder turned to her. 

“You’re doing it again,” he said. “Are you okay? Is this about me, or is it… something else?”

It occurred to her Mulder might be worried his behavior was triggering for her in some other way. Images of Donnie Pfaster and Gerry Schnauz and countless others flashed through her mind, and while she was nervous about his touch, she certainly didn’t want her nervousness to be mistaken for fear. “No, it’s nothing like that. I’m sorry. I’m trying, Mulder.”

“Look, the investigation is going nowhere,” he said under his breath. “This assignment is difficult enough without having to worry about blowing our cover. What can I do to get you to loosen up a little?”

“I don’t know,” she said, frustrated. “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

They were quiet for a minute, the clattering of dishes and general sounds of domesticity wafting from the kitchen. She wasn’t uncomfortable around Mulder, she never had been. So why was she acting this way?

“Stop thinking of me as your partner, okay? I’m your husband,” he said, and the words stung because he most definitely wasn’t. “Just go with it.”

Just go with it.

She wondered why this was so easy for him; to just pretend this way. It clearly wasn’t affecting him like it did her. He was simply allowing himself to fall into the role.  

And then she realized that very thing was exactly what was making her uncomfortable: this was just another assignment to him, just an undercover case. Not a life-defining exercise that taxed his every impulse. This realization hit her hard, and she suddenly felt a bit ill.

Suddenly he reached out and took her hand. It was a small gesture, a simple one, but as usual with the two of them she could feel actual electricity conducting between their pulse points. 

“...Laura?” he suddenly asked, quietly. Her mouth ran dry and she didn’t want to look at him, but she had to.

She practically whispered. “Yes, Rob?”

He looked her right in the eye. “I dare you to kiss me.” 

His words took her by surprise, that he’d suggest such a thing at all, surely, but that a baptism by fire approach seemed to be what he was aiming for. 

There was a playful glint in his eye but something else as well; something dark, predatory. And she felt drawn in instinctively, in spite of herself. Although right now he was Rob and she was Laura, that didn’t stop her from wanting him the way she wanted him. The way Scully wanted Mulder; the way she’d always wanted him.

She could hear Cami talking in the kitchen and knew the other couple were bound to re-enter the dining room at any moment. If she didn’t take Mulder up on his dare it would be far more telling than if she did. At least, that’s what she told herself as he leaned in even closer and before she knew it their lips were touching. 

It was just a peck, a small thing, but the contact between them had been off limits for so many years. It didn’t feel small. 

It felt so nice she probably wouldn’t have pulled away if she hadn’t heard returning footsteps.

“Look at you two,” Cami said as she and Win came into the dining room carrying coffee and strawberry shortcake. “Such an adorable couple!”

Mulder was still looking deeply into her eyes, the playful glint gone. Now there was only desire. “That’s us,” he said. He reached down underneath the table to rest his hand on her thigh and she could feel her body trembling.

What just happened?

They ate their shortcake and drank their coffee, and as the other couple departed again to clear the dishes, Mulder leaned in. “I’m gonna go snoop around a bit. Cover for me.”

Oh, right. They were still here on a case. She nodded and he got up. 

“Hey Win, where’s the bathroom?” Mulder called into the kitchen. 

“Down the hall, second door on the right,” Win poked his head out. “There’s air freshener under the sink!” he added cheerfully.

Mulder nodded, throwing a baffled look and a shrug Scully’s way as Win disappeared back into the kitchen. “Gonna make myself at home, then,” he said to her underneath his breath. “Got a magazine?” He disappeared around the corner.

Win and Cami returned and after they’d talked about current affairs for a while Scully realized Mulder had been gone for at least ten minutes. 

Cami noticed, too. “Is Rob all right?”

“I’m sure he’s fine,” she said. “Maybe something disagreed with him. I’ll go check.”

She padded down the hallway to the bathroom and knocked quietly. “Rob?” The door opened and he pulled her inside, shutting the door behind her.

“Scully, look,” he said, pointing at the small window above the sink. “Notice something?” The window was too high for her to see through so she clambered atop the toilet to peer out. She wobbled a bit and Mulder grabbed her around her legs to help keep her balance. 

“What am I looking at?” She could see a clear view of the street, cookie cutter house after cookie cutter house, manicured lawn after manicured lawn. Nothing looked out of place, at first. But then she noticed the lamps. Every single one was lit except the one in front of Big Mike’s house.

“Big Mike's lamp,” she said. “It’s out.”

“Not very aesthetically pleasing, wouldn’t you agree?” Mulder said. "Think that's a coincidence?" His head was nestled against her thigh. The intimacy of it was almost overwhelming. 

"Yeah, I'll agree it's odd."

“Now look at the Schroeders’,” he added. She peered around at the front porch where she could see their front walkway light was on.

“It’s on, Mulder,” she pointed out.

“Yes, but look beneath it.”

She glanced at the bottom of the lamp and saw broken glass. “Looks like it was recently broken.”

“Before you came home last night, that creature tried to attack Cami. And it happened right after that light went out.” She tried to ignore the way he’d so casually said the word ‘home.’ “I hadn’t noticed Big Mike’s light. This creature must have attacked him, too.” 

She knew he was probably right; he usually was. And she was far too distracted by the entire situation to argue in the moment. “Worth checking out, I’d say,” she agreed as he helped her step down. 

He didn’t let go when she was back on the floor, facing him. As if he was silently daring her again. And he smelled so good. This assignment would be the death of her. Goddamn Skinner and his clever ideas.

*knock knock knock*

“Are you two okay in there?”

 

 

***

 

 

Everything happened so fast. Mulder was holding Scully close, and the door actually began to open. His mind boggled at the audacity of these people, the nosiness they’d already established, but all he could really worry about was not getting caught snooping.

“Come here,” he hissed between clenched teeth, as the door slowly opened. She obeyed, appearing unsure of what to do. In an instant, a hundred thoughts scrambled through his brain but the primal part told him there was only one thing to do in this moment that wouldn’t give them away. Only one thing, a simple thing, that would make this appear the way it was supposed to.

He could tell she was not expecting him to grab her by the shoulders and pull her into him, planting a kiss on her lips. It was meant to be a cover, a stolen kiss between a husband and his wife, but as their lips touched again he instantly knew that wasn’t the case.

Between any other agents, any two at all, this would have only been a kiss. Just something two undercover agents would do to prolong a disguise.

But for Fox Mulder and Dana Scully this was not that kiss.

This was a thousand untaken chances, a million unspoken feelings. Countless truths passed from his lips to hers that were being propelled to the surface now, unstoppable; like he was a diver in search of oxygen. Up and up and up until his chest was about to burst, then the sweet relief of life rushing through his veins, awakening him.

This was the kiss that should have been, months ago in his hallway. The kiss that would have undoubtedly changed everything.

 

 

***

 

 

“Oh!” Win said, alarmed at the couple kissing in his bathroom. “Sorry.” He pulled the door closed and they were alone again but Scully didn’t really notice or even care. All that existed right now was her, Mulder, and this unexpected kiss.

It was indeed completely unexpected but as his lips moved against hers she suspected that was the only way this would ever have occurred. And she let it happen, softly, slowly, allowing it because even though it would probably turn out to be a mistake, she wanted it to happen. She’d been wanting it to happen for years. 

His lips were feather soft and pliant, which she could discern now that she moved her own over his in a decidedly non-friendly, non-necessary way. They were exactly the way she'd always imagined they would be. 

He hadn’t deepened the kiss and she found herself wanting him to. She wanted him more desperately than she’d wanted anyone but she did not dare make that move, make that shift from Rob and Laura to Mulder and Scully. This felt serious now. It was hard to explain, and perhaps it was the way he brought his hand up to her jawline, tracing it softly with his thumb. Perhaps it was how he kissed her so reverently, like he was taking communion.

Or perhaps it was the mere fact that the door had closed, their audience had long disappeared, and yet here they were, still kissing each other. 

This wasn’t a show, she decided. She wasn’t kissing Rob Petrie anymore. She, Scully, was kissing Mulder.

Finally.

She was loathe to pull away but she had to, she had to look into his eyes and find Mulder there, not Rob. She had to be sure. His fingers moved into her hair against the back of her head, and as she opened her eyes, he did too. Their foreheads were locked together, their mouths still touching just barely, and they could only look at each other for a moment, her heartbeat thudding deep within her chest. 

Wow… ” she breathed, barely able to form words. She’d never been so close to his eyes before. Flecks of green and blue and gold; hazel quicksand that sucked her in without hope of escape. And he gave her a single look that told her escape was the last thing on his mind.

“Wow?” he grinned.

“I can’t think of a better word.”

“I knew you had it in you, Scully,” he murmured, his breath hot against her mouth. He’d been terrible at using her undercover name in general but his usage of her actual name in this moment sent a flutter into her gut. She thought for a moment he was poking fun at her, that maybe this had all been a test, or a game of some sort. Maybe everything she was feeling wasn’t welcomed the way she thought it was. 

She pulled away a bit. “What was that, Mulder?” she asked, using his name as well. She wanted to be clear. She was so tired of these games. “Was that just part of the dare?”

He shook his head. “Not to me, it wasn’t.”

She felt her heart expand, her cheeks flush. “It was... nice,” she said. It was only a half truth. The whole truth was it had been absolute perfection.

He nodded and she could see his face was flushed as well, the tips of his ears pink. She waited for a quip, some kind of joke to break the tension. Then certainly they would carry on as if nothing happened, the way they always did. But none were forthcoming. He just gazed at her, entranced.

“It was,” he agreed. He tilted his head, just a tiny bit. “I’d really like to do it again.”

She smiled. There was nothing on earth she wanted more than to do that again. There was nothing on earth she wanted more than to do it over and over again until their lips were raw. She wanted more, she needed more. She wanted to taste him, to know him as well as she could.

“I’d like that, too.” The words were out before she could stop herself and she was grateful in that moment her rational side hadn’t stepped in to take over. She actually wasn’t sure where that side of Dana Scully had disappeared to; she seemed to have left the building.

He didn’t wait for any more green lights, and suddenly they were fused together once more. This time she crushed her lips against his, hungry for him, feeling stupid that the permission she’d sought from him, from herself, had been right here for the taking all along. All they needed to do was lean into it. 

And oh, did she lean.

It was funny; this had taken years to happen, years of buildup and frustration and nothingness and in the end, all that existed were his lips against hers. This wasn’t for the benefit of any nosy neighbor, this was for them and they both knew it.

She weaved her hands into his silken hair and pulled, wanting to feel it between her fingers. Birds sang in the suburban trees outside and squirrels chirped. It felt like a dream, like they were truly not themselves anymore, and this was their house, their street, their bathroom. 

She cast all thoughts of Win and Cami Schroeder and Big Mike and Glen Gogolak and CC&Rs and imported occidental furniture out of her mind like demons; unwelcome entities in their Mulder and Scully bubble, situated in the tiny bathroom of this seemingly innocuous home in a neighborhood with a dark underbelly. And she could feel her own dark underbelly expanding within, unfurling like tentacles that reached every part of her, all of the parts that wanted him. She wanted him badly, so badly that when his mouth finally opened she claimed him instantly, her tongue seeking the pressure of his own.

She’d been his for years. She wanted to show him, and show him he belonged to her as well. 

After what felt like minutes of making out like teenagers, Mulder pulled away, breathless. He stared at her, his eyes wide. “We just made out,” he said. Her face was hot and her thoroughly kissed lips swollen. She could swear he’d hear her heart pounding out of her chest. “...Is that okay?” he asked.

“It’s more than okay,” she whispered, and he smiled in relief.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, Scully.”

She had, too, obviously. Probably for even longer than she was willing to admit. But she had a question she needed answered. 

“Then why haven’t you?”

As she looked into his eyes she knew the reason. It was exactly the same reason she hadn’t, either. And as he opened his mouth to surely admit that he, too, had been afraid all these years, there was another knock at the door.

“Um. You two? I think it might be time to call it a night,” Cami’s voice came. Scully looked at him and covered her mouth, wondering what the other couple thought of them in this moment. They’d gone from a couple they believed might be fighting to one that might be about to have sex in their guest bathroom.

“Yes, sorry,” Mulder called. “We’ll be right out.”

They listened as Cami’s steps disappeared down the hallway again, and he turned to her. “I think we’ve passed the test as a believable couple tonight, wouldn’t you say, Scully?”

She laughed. “We’d better go.” She suddenly remembered the single extinguished lamp in Big Mike’s yard. “We have to get somewhere safe to discuss… the case,” she said.

“Right. The case.” There was disappointment in his eyes, and she wasn’t sure what it meant. But she wanted to believe; she wanted to reassure him that this wouldn’t be a forgotten moment in a bathroom on that one case they had in Southern California that one time.

She leaned in again, pulling him in by the neck, and planted another kiss on his already wet lips. “I’m not going to forget this happened if you won’t,” she said softly.

He exhaled in relief. “I won’t, either.”

"Promise?"

"Promise."

“Let’s put a pin in this discussion, then?” she smiled.

“You mean, a discussion about you and me? Are we actually going to discuss this?”

“Yes, Mulder,” she said, taking his hand and leading him out of the bathroom. “I believe we are.”