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A Companion Unobtrusive

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Dana Scully was running late. Flustered and out of breath from running the few blocks from the Metro stop, she pushed through the doors of the coffee shop, startling a young mom who was pushing a stroller out the door. 

“Sorry,” she said, apologizing, and then held the door open while the woman slowly navigated the stroller through the narrow doorway. When she was out, Dana finally stepped in and scanned the store, looking for familiar auburn curls. 

Her sister Melissa held up a hand and stood as Dana approached. 

“Missy!” Dana said, relieved to see her. 

Melissa gave her a long, tight hug before reclaiming her seat. Melissa’s hugs were the kind you always wanted to get. Like she’d cultivated them in a field, each one grown in a tidy row, just for you. 

“Everything all right?” Melissa said, as Dana, huffing and out of breath, shrugged off her jacket and swung her purse over the back of a chair.  

“No,” she said, laughing at herself and Melissa’s eyebrows came together in  sympathy, “but tell me about you first. How was your flight? God, it’s been so long!” She reached across and squeezed her older sister’s hand. 

Melissa had flown back to the States only the day before, having spent the last two years living in England. 

“I’m great!” Missy said, “living abroad has been incredible. I almost hated to come back.” 

“Oh, I’m so glad,” Dana said. 

In truth, she was glad. She’d missed her sister terribly, but Missy had needed a big change. She’d dropped out of college several years before, much to their parent’s horror, and Melissa had been too spirited to live long under their father’s roof. Her sister looked wonderful. Clearly the time abroad had been good to her. 

“But, what’s happening with you? What’s going on?” Melissa said.

Dana blew a raspberry. 

“I’m in a tight spot,” she finally said, “We just found out this morning that Ellen got the internship in Seattle for the summer. It’s the one she wanted, and I’m really excited for her, but it’s not paid, so she won’t be able to cover her half of the rent -- she leaves in two days and rent for next month is due in five. We’ve got three more months on the lease. I’ve got to find someone to sublease her room, like yesterday.” She felt panic bubbling up in her gut. “I don’t suppose you have any interest in staying in DC for the summer?” she asked Melissa hopefully. 

“Oh, I wish I could,” Missy said, “but I’m registered for massage therapy classes at the National Holistic Institute in Baltimore for the summer. Mom and Dad have calmed down and I’m going to stay with them while I get certified.” 

“Missy, that’s wonderful!” She tried to smile at her, but she knew it didn’t reach her eyes.  Dana was excited for her sister, but had been holding out a hope that maybe Missy coming back Stateside would be an answer to her prayers. 

“What about Ethan?” Melissa asked, lowering her voice unconsciously, “Couldn’t he move in with you for the summer? It’s only three months, Mom and Dad don’t need to know.”

Dana bit her lip. 

“We broke up,” she said. Melissa’s eyes widened. 

“June and Ward Cleaver broke up ?” Melissa said, in shock. “When? I thought….”

She didn’t need to finish the sentence. Dana knew what Melissa thought. What everyone had thought. She and Ethan, together since their sophomore year of high school and enrolled in the same post-grad program at Georgetown, were the all-American couple. They, and everyone else, had assumed they would be engaged after they got their PhDs, and married not long after. 

“Last month,” Dana said, looking down at her hands.

Melissa reached across the table and put her hand on Dana’s arm. 

“What happened?” 

“We grew up,” Dana said simply, “we’re different people, now. At least, I am. I’ve been thinking about making some changes at school and Ethan… was not supportive.”

Melissa squeezed her arm. 

“What kind of changes?” she asked. 

Dana looked up at her sister, “I’ve been seriously considering med school for some time.”

“But you’re so close to your degree!” Missy said. 

“That’s what Ethan said,” said Dana, “but he was just so… dismissive. Like he had this plan for me. Like what I wanted didn’t matter. It was bad, Missy.”

“God,” Missy said. 

“Yeah,” Dana went on, “he found out I took the MCAT and lost it. I broke up with him then and there. I haven’t seen him since. Not even on campus.”

Melissa gave her a shrewd look. 

“Can I say something that you may not want to hear?” 

Dana nodded morosely. 

“I’m so glad ,” Dana shot her sister a look, surprised. Melissa went on, “I never liked him, Dana. I know Mom and Dad loved him, but he’s had a stick up his ass since high school and he always thought he was better than everyone else. I used to sneak out and sprinkle catnip under his bedroom window in the summers.”

Dana’s jaw dropped. 

“He used to complain all the time about-” 

“-Tom cats in the neighborhood gathering outside his house and howling all night? Yeah, that was me.”

“Missy!” 

“He deserved it,” Melissa said, sitting up with an air of moral superiority, “I’m glad you broke it off with him.”

“To be honest, I am too,” Dana said, “but I’m in a real lurch with this roommate situation. I don’t want to take out another student loan and I don’t think I can ask Dad for more money. Especially when he finds out I’m abandoning the program.”

“So you’re quitting for sure?” Melissa asked. 

Dana nodded. “I just got the MCAT results and I did really well,” she couldn’t hold in a smile, “I told my advisor last week. I’m finishing out the summer. I’m going to start applying to med schools.”

“Well,” Missy said, “I’m glad you’re following your heart. And I wouldn’t worry much about Dad. He’ll be thrilled to have a doctor in the family. But maybe not so thrilled about bankrolling a degree you don’t intend to finish.”

Dana squirmed in her chair. 

Melissa leaned back, thinking. 

“What about…” she stopped, assessing Dana for a moment. “I have this friend. Someone I met in England last year. Moving to DC to be closer to family.”

Dana sat up straight. 

“Do you know if she needs housing? Oh my God, Missy, you’d be saving my life.”

“The thing is,” Missy said, “it’s not a she.”

Dana made a face. 

“He’s a great guy, Dane,” Melissa went on, “PhD in Psychology from Oxford. I met him when he was dating my friend Emma. His parents passed away recently and he’s putting his sister through school. She was a freshman at American this year. I can call him if you want.”

“I don’t know…” Dana said. 

“Dana Scully, you are a 25 year old woman and it’s almost 1990 for God’s sake. Surely you’re not so old fashioned that you wouldn’t consider a male roommate. Particularly one that I can personally vouch for.”

“I don’t suppose he’s… gay?”

“You heard me mention my friend Emma, right?” Missy said, “No, he’s most certainly not gay, and no one is going to care that he isn’t. This isn’t Three’s Company , Chrissy. You need a roommate, and he--last I heard--needs a place to live. It’s perfect.”

It was only three months. Surely in this day and age having a male roommate wouldn’t give her some kind of reputation. And she was desperate--she would at least meet the guy. She leaned back in her seat. 

“He isn’t cute, is he?” Dana asked.

Melissa narrowed her eyes. 

“Cute?”

“Attractive. Hot. Someone with pleasing facial symmetry who other people like to look at.” 

“Like you?” Melissa said. Dana gave her an exaggerated eye roll, and her sister asked, “Why?” 

“Because it’s the last thing I need right now,” Dana said. 

Melissa took a demure sip of coffee.

“No,” she said, not making eye contact, “he’s not cute.”

Dana considered her sister a long minute.

“Okay,” she finally said, “call him.”

XxXxXxXxXxX

At precisely 3:00pm, there was a knock on her door. Shave and a haircut.  

He was punctual -- more than she could say for herself that day -- and that usually boded well. 

Instead of sticking around to introduce them, Missy had said she had other friends she was supposed to see while she was in town and had taken off after setting up this meeting, though she promised Dana she would still come over for dinner. 

Dana opened the door. He was tall. At least a foot taller than she was, and he stood in the doorway with a smile on his face. He was wearing a black leather biker jacket, jeans and black boots and was carrying a motorcycle helmet under one arm. Dana was momentarily taken aback by his good looks. She would kill Melissa. 

“Dana?” he said, expectantly, reaching out for a handshake, “I’m Melissa’s friend. Fox Mulder.”

“I thought you’d be British,” she said,  the words fumbling out of her mouth before she could stop them. 

He smiled.

Dana shook herself, embarrassed, and extended a hand. 

“Dana Scully,” she said, “sorry. Come in?”

“I met your brother when he came out to visit Melissa,” he said as he shook her hand, “one more Scully and I win a set of steak knives.”

“You’re in luck,” she said, smiling, “we Scullys come in sets of four.”

He laughed and wiped his feet on the welcome mat before stepping past her and into the apartment. He stood a few feet in and looked around. 

“Wow,” he said, “this is a really nice place.”

Dana nodded and closed the door. It was a nice place. Much nicer than two broke grad students had any business living in. It had cathedral ceilings, hardwood floors and a large, spacious living room framed on one side with immense sliding glass doors that opened to a long balcony that ran the length of the room. On the other end of the living room sat a modern kitchen with a large island countertop that sat three people on the living room side, and had a 4 burner cooktop on the other. The appliances were pretty new. There was a hallway leading from the other end of the living room that led to one bathroom and a bedroom (Ellen’s), with a small in-unit washer/dryer at the end of the hall. Stairs led up from the left of the doorway to the master bedroom (Dana’s) and en-suite bathroom that had a separate tub and shower. The place was filled with hand-me-down furniture from various parents and siblings, but was decorated well and was quite comfortable. 

“Rent controlled,” she said, by way of explanation, “my roommate’s brother had lived here for years. We got really lucky.” He nodded, still taking in the space. “You want a tour?” she asked. 

“Sure,” he said, smiling. 

She showed him the living room and the trick to opening the sliding glass door, then ran him through the kitchen and on down the hallway to Ellen’s room, which was a disaster area filled with half-packed boxes. 

“This would be your room,” she said, “I promise to clean it before you move in.”

“Nah,” he said, peeking his head in the closet, “I’d be happy to do it. When would move-in be?”

“You could be in in two days,” she answered, “Ellen flies to Seattle tomorrow night, though you wouldn’t know it to look at her room.”

He smiled. 

“I don’t know if Melissa told you about my situation,” he said, “everything has been happening kind of quickly. You’d really be saving my bacon, here.”

“She told me a little,” Dana said, “I’m really sorry about your parents, Fox.” 

“Thank you,” he said softly. He cleared his throat. “Though, I uh, prefer to go by Mulder.”

“Fair enough,” Dana said. “Though there’s no way you ever got Melissa to call you anything other than Fox. I bet she was delighted.” 

He laughed, a melodious, warm sound. Upon hearing it, she decided she liked him. 

“And then some,” he said. “So what do I need to know?”

“Well, it would be a sublease for three months, until Ellen gets back. I may or may not be moving out in the fall, and our lease goes month-to-month after that.” He nodded. “Otherwise,” she said, “I mainly do a lot of studying. I have office hours and classes three days a week. I’m not big on house parties, and I like things quiet.” She looked at him, and he didn’t seem thrown by anything she’d said so far. “Do you…” she was sure how to put it, “have a girlfriend or anyone who would be coming over a lot?”

He smiled.

“No girlfriend at present,” he said, “though my sister is at AU and she may come over every now and then if she’ll deign to visit her stuffy older brother.”

His eyes crinkled with affection when he talked about his sister, and Dana found herself involuntarily charmed. 

“And what do you do for a living?” she asked. 

He winced. 

“I’m currently looking for work,” he held his hand up when she raised her eyebrows, “I have enough in savings to more than cover three months of rent,” he said, “so you don’t have to worry about that. But I only got into town a few days ago. I’m still trying to figure everything out.” 

“Melissa vouches for you,” she said, “that’s good enough for me.”

He fiddled with the helmet, which he was still carrying, and took a long, slow turn, looking around the apartment, as if making a decision. He finally turned back to her.

“Well, Scully Number Three?” he said, holding out his hand once again. “You’ve got a new roommate if you’ll have me.”

“No need to remind me of my place in the pecking order,” she said, “if you’re Mulder, I think just Scully will suffice.” Scully . She let it roll down her spine and liked the way it felt. She reached out and gripped his hand firmly. It was warm, dry, and completely enveloped hers. “Welcome home, Mulder,” she said. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

Melissa breezed past her in the doorway without a word, arms laden with plastic bags. 

“I brought take-out!” she said over her shoulder, kicking off her shoes and making her way to the kitchen to unburden herself of the bags. “Is Fox still here?” she asked, looking around, a little out of breath. 

“He left about an hour ago,” Dana said, coming to stand in the doorway of the kitchen. “Melissa,” she went on, and Missy wouldn’t look at her. “You said he wasn’t cute.”

Melissa opened the fridge and helped herself to a beer. 

“He’s not cute,” Missy said, finally turning to her, “he’s gorgeous . You’re welcome.” She twisted off the top and then shoved herself up to sit on the counter, taking a long pull.

“Make yourself at home,” Dana said sarcastically. 

“Thanks,” Missy said, brushing her off. “How’d it go?”

“You’re right, he was really nice. He’s going to take it,” Dana said, and then decided she could go for a beer as well. She opened up the fridge as Missy punched the air in a yes! gesture. 

“What did I tell you?” Melissa said, “kismet.”

“Yeah,” Dana said, tamping down her own enthusiasm, “I hope it works out.” 

“It’s going to be great!” Missy said, “He really is the best guy.”

“Did you guys ever…?” Dana asked, wondering if she really wanted to know. 

“Me and Fox? No,” she answered, “not that I wouldn’t have liked to,” she went on, “but I think the whole ‘thou shalt not date your best friend’s ex’ rule is pretty universal. Even across the pond.”

Dana was surprised to find herself relieved. 

“I am privy to some information, though,” Missy said, arching an eyebrow. 

“Do I even want to know?” Dana asked. 

Missy ran her tongue along the corner of her mouth. 

“He’s very well endowed,” she finally said with a grin.

Dana felt herself blushing and took a deep swig of beer to cover for it. 

“Unless it’ll help him pay the rent,” she said, swallowing, “I don’t see how that’s any of my business.”

Melissa shrugged, looking coy. “I’ve also heard he loves to eat out,” she said. 

“What does that have to do with-“ Dana finally looked at her sister, caught her eyebrows in the air, suggestively. “... Jesus , Missy.”

Melissa smiled, took a sip of beer. 

“I’m just saying,” Melissa said, “a generous lover is a generous man.” Dana looked to the sky as if for help. Her sister was clearly enjoying Dana’s discomfort. She finally jumped down off the counter and turned her attention to the bags of food. “You could do a lot worse than Fox Mulder.” 

“I’m not going to do Fox Mulder, Missy,” she said, and Missy let out a bark of laughter. “I need a roommate, not a boyfriend. And anyway, I’m going to be in med school soon. I won’t have that kind of time.”

“Make time,” Melissa winked, and then dug around in the bags, pulling out carton after carton of Chinese food. “You hungry?”

Dana set down her beer and hugged her from behind. 

“I’m famished, you snot,” she said into her sister’s hair. 



Chapter Text

On move-in day, Mulder showed up at her (their) door at 9:00am sharp, wearing a ratty Oxford University sweatshirt and an anxious expression. 

“Hey,” he said, when she opened the door, “I got a buddy downstairs with a truck. Where should he park it?”

“Follow me,” Scully said, and grabbed her keys off the hook by the door. She led him down the stairs and around to the back of the building. 

“We’ve got two parking spots,” she said, “though I don’t have a car. You can have him pull in here. The one next to it is yours. You ride a motorcycle, right?” 

He nodded and then jogged to the corner and called out to the friend he had waiting, who pulled into the alley and then leaned out of the open window. 

“Frohike, Scully, Dana Scully, my buddy Melvin Frohike,” Mulder introduced them. 

“Last name basis with everyone, huh?” Scully said to Mulder in a low voice. He smiled. 

“She’s hot,” was all Frohike said, and Mulder flipped him off and then directed him into the narrow space. 

Scully looked down at her jean cut-offs and baggy, laundry-day tee shirt. She wasn’t exactly dressed for Prime Time. 

Frohike cut the engine,  jumped out and they all gathered around the back of the truck. There were about a dozen medium sized boxes and no furniture. 

“Is this it?” Scully asked.

“I am but a humble nomad,” Mulder said, “taking only what I can carry.”

“What he means is that he sold almost all his shit when he left England,” Frohike said, “I hope you have pots and pans.”

Scully laughed. 

“I do, and you’re welcome to use them,” she said,  “Five bucks a pop for utensils, though.”

“I like her,” said Frohike, hooking a thumb at Scully as he pulled down the tailgate. 

They had everything up and into Mulder’s bedroom in less than ten minutes. 

“I’m off,” said Frohike, the second he set the last box down on Mulder’s floor. “It was nice meeting you, Scully.”

“Likewise,” said Scully, who was leaning against the frame of Mulder’s door. 

On his way out, Frohike paused by Scully and leaned into her confidentially. 

“If he tries to seduce you, let him down easy. The man’s got no game,” he said. 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Scully said and then cut a look to Mulder who looked more than a little glad to see the back of Frohike. 

“Where’d you pick him up?” Scully said, once the front door had closed behind him. 

“I collect strays,” Mulder said simply, peeling the tape off of one of the boxes. 

Scully took a step back into the hallway. 

“I’ll leave you to it,” she said. Then, “Oh! Here’s your key,” she stepped back into his room, and handed over the single key. “It works on the building doors and the apartment deadbolt. Sometimes you have to wiggle it a bit on the lock by the garage.” 

Mulder nodded his thanks and she backed out. 

“Let me know if you need help or anything,” she called out over her shoulder. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

A few hours later, she knocked on his door. 

“I come bearing gifts,” she said, holding up a pizza box and a six pack of Shiner Bock. 

“Marry me,” he said, and she smiled, looking around the room. He’d hung clothes in the closet, and had all his other meager possessions in various small stacks around the room. He’d broken down the boxes and had them sitting neatly by the door. He looked exhausted.

“There’s Spartan furnishings, and then there’s this,” she said, and he shrugged, chagrined. 

“I’ll need to do some shopping in the immediate future, I’ll grant you,” he said. 

“The good news is, I have a real table with real chairs not eight yards from your bedroom door.” She held up the pizza and six pack once again, “Come on,” she said, “your piles aren’t going anywhere.” 

He followed her to the kitchen and she gave him a quick rundown of what cabinets held what, pulling down plates and glasses. She pulled out two beers and slid the rest of the six pack back in the fridge. 

She opened them both and handed him one. He clinked the bottles together. 

“Happy housewarming,” she said.

“Slainte,” he said, and they both took a slug. 

A semi-comfortable silence descended on them, and Scully filled it by sliding a couple slices of pizza on her plate. Mulder sat back and pushed the sleeves of his sweatshirt up his forearms. They looked tanned even in the washed out light of the kitchen and were roped with muscle and sprinkled with dark hair. 

“Ever wonder why they call it a housewarming?” Mulder asked. 

“I never really thought about it,” she said, and then leaned forward. “But now I want to know.”

She looked at him and he smiled back.

“Fire is a classic symbol of strength and purity, which is why many European traditions involve lighting a candle or a fire on your first night in a new home. Doing so is said to ward off evil spirits by casting away darkness. It’s fallen out of practice with modern conveniences like electricity, but the name stuck.”

“Well,” said Scully, “aren’t you a wellspring of random and arcane facts.”

Mulder held up his beer.

“You have no idea,” he said, and she laughed. 

She peeled off a piece of pepperoni from one of her slices of pizza, and popped it into her mouth. 

“Be right back,” she said, and came back a moment later with a large white pillar candle and a box of matches. She struck a match and lit the candle, then held out her beer. He clinked the neck of his to the neck of hers. 

“To warding off evil spirits,” she said. 

“And casting out darkness,” he replied. 

They smiled at each other, the silence turning easy. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

A few days had passed. Enough for them each to get to know the other’s routines and for the excessive politeness of two strangers sharing a space to fade a bit. 

Scully was sitting on the couch going over classwork when Mulder emerged from his room in running shorts and a ratty tee shirt with the sleeves cut off. The skin on his upper arms was paler than that of his lower arms, but had a delineated curve where deltoid met bicep. It took a minute to look away. 

“Going for a run?” she asked a little too brightly. 

“I was hoping to,” he said, sitting down in front of the front door to put on his running shoes. “Are there any good places around here?” 

She set down the paper she was holding, thinking. 

“There’s a park a few blocks away, over by the… you know what, it’ll be easier if I show you. Mind some company?” 

“I’d love some,” he said, smiling. 

“Be right back,” she said, and ran upstairs to change. 

When she got back to the living room, he was stretching, one leg held up in a quad stretch, standing with the graceful ease of perfect balance. 

“Ready?” she asked, pulling an old baseball cap over her messy ponytail. 

He lowered his leg to the floor and swept his eyes over her once. 

“As I’ll ever be,” he said. 

They walked the first few blocks, with Scully taking the opportunity to point out various neighborhood hot spots -- the local gas station, the corner market. 

When they got to the park nearby, she ducked under a low hanging tree to find the running path that ran near the outskirts. 

“This way,” she said, and they started to jog. 

After a few minutes, she threw him a look. 

“I’m slowing you down,” she said, guiltily. 

He was taking short strides next to her, keeping pace with her. 

“Nonsense,” he said, staring straight ahead. 

“Muder, your legs are about a foot longer than mine, you could run circles around me,” she said. 

“Sounds like a good idea,” he said with a glimmer in his eye, and then pulled the hat off her head and started running in literal circles around her, hooting at her while she grabbed at the hat -- every time she got close, he’d pull it away, holding it behind his back or far above his head where she could never reach it. After a minute of keep away, they were both laughing and she pulled up, out of breath but with a smile on her face. 

“I knew I was slowing you down,” she laughed, and bent to put her hands on her knees. 

“Aw,” he said, putting the cap back on her head and pulling it low, “you’d have caught up eventually.”

He gave one last tug on the brim of the cap and they stood looking at each other, a moment passing between them. Scully felt something low in her belly, and there was a sharp look in Mulder’s eye. 

“Why don’t you go ahead and get your miles in,” Scully said, taking a step back and breaking the moment. “You know how to get back?”

Mulder nodded at her. 

“Sure you don’t want to come along?” he asked. 

“Pass,” she said, “I’ll see you at home.”

He took a few steps backward, holding her eye and then turned and loped off back down the path, eating up the distance in long, even strides. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

The days turned into a week and then two. Their schedules were pretty compatible, and they usually woke up and ate breakfast at about the same time, and then Scully would leave to head onto campus. 

She came back on a Thursday afternoon, holding a folder full of medical school applications, her gut churning in nervous anticipation. Her MCAT scores were good. Hopefully good enough to secure at least one full ride scholarship. She closed the door to the apartment with her head in the clouds, and it took her a moment to notice Mulder, who was standing in the middle of the living room, holding the telephone. He was just lowering it from his ear and he had a queer look on his face. 

“Mulder?” Scully said, “Everything okay?”

“I just accepted a job,” he said, looking a little surprised. 

“What? That’s fantastic!” Scully said, swinging her backpack down to the floor and plopping the folder of applications on top of it. 

“Yeah,” he said, and then moved to the wall to hang up the phone.

“You seem surprised,” Scully said, walking toward him. 

“I am,” he said, turning toward her from the wall. “It’s the one I was hoping for. I did not expect to get it.”

“What’s the position?” Scully asked, moving to stand in front of him. 

“I’ll be starting at one of the best Psychology practices in the Metro area. Low on the totem pole, but they’ve offered to train me until I get licensed.”

The surprise on his face melted slowly into happiness as the news started to sink in. 

On a whim, Scully wrapped her arms around him in a hug. He returned it, warmly. 

“Congratulations,” she said into his shirt, then looked up into his face. “This calls for a celebration.”

“Yeah?” he said, looking down at her with a smile. She felt color spreading up her cheeks. After a second they let their hands fall away from each other. “What’d you have in mind?” he asked, taking a step back. 

“Drinks,” she said, taking a step back, herself. “There’s a great dive bar right down the street.”

“When can we leave?” he asked. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

They were at least four drinks in, not counting the two tequila shots she’d insisted on when they first arrived. They’d both agreed their third drink should be water, and Scully had lost count after that. She had ordered a glass of the house Chardonnay (“It’s terrible, but also four dollars,”), and Mulder appeared to be pacing himself through a large gin and tonic, while Scully told a story.

“And then we said ‘follow that car!’” Scully said. 

“You didn’t,” Mulder said. 

“We did,” said Scully on a laugh, “but to our surprise the cabbie didn’t share in our excitement and instead slammed on the breaks half a block down the street and told us to get out.”

Mulder threw his head back and laughed. 

They had started at the bar, but moved to a dark booth in the back when the place started filling up with the after-work crowd. Rush was playing too loud on the jukebox nearby. The drinks were cheap, the tables were sticky and the lighting was bad. 

“I love this place,” Mulder said, looking around.

“Me too,” said Scully, watching the way his adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed his drink. “It’s the perfect dive bar.”

Mulder leaned back in the booth and leveled a look at her. 

“Tell me about Dana Scully,” he said. 

“There’s not much to tell,” she said, humbly. 

“Nonsense,” he said, “a smart, beautiful woman like you? I bet you’ve got a lot going on.”

She ducked her head at the compliment. She’d noticed that he peered rather than looked. There was a ribald quality to his gaze, though she found herself more intrigued than intimidated. Mulder looked at her as if she were a question to be answered and she found herself hoping to be worthy of his inquiry. 

“Boyfriend?” he prodded, taking a big drink. She rolled her eyes just thinking about Ethan. “Ha!” he went on, “there’s a story there. Tell it.”

He crunched ice from his glass, the dull sound brushing across her skin like a memory. He held the dewy tumbler in long, elegant fingers and for a moment she felt like a real, live grown-up. 

She told him about Ethan. She probably shared more than she should have. How they’d started dating in high school when her father retired from the Navy and they moved to Maryland. She told him about her dreams of becoming a doctor and how she’d broken up with Ethan over it. When she finished, he held up his glass. 

“Fuck that guy,” Mulder said, and clinked her glass with his. 

“I did,” Scully said, and Mulder choked on his drink, laughing. While he recovered, Scully handed him a napkin and leaned back. “I tell you,” she went on, “I’m thrilled to be single right now.” 

Mulder cut his eyes to her. 

“Tell me about Fox Mulder,” she said, diverting the conversation, “smart, handsome guy like you? I bet you’ve got a lot going on.”

He smirked at her as he brushed the front of his shirt with the napkin. 

“You said no girlfriend, right?” she asked, feeling brave.

“I’m thrilled to be single right now,” he said, giving her a look she couldn’t read. The silence stretched for a moment.

“Missy said you moved back for your sister?”

“That, and it was time to come back,” he said, sighing. He started shredding bits of the napkin onto the tabletop.  “Sam is doing well in school, but that’s about it. She’s at the age where you leave home and strike out on your own but always have that parental support, that thing to fall back on, that place to go home to. Mom and Dad died just after she left for college, and… I think she feels like she was just expelled into the world before she was ready. She’s sad and angry, and I don’t quite know what to do for her. PhD in Psychology and here I am flapping in the breeze, not even able to help my own sister.”

Scully reached across the table and squeezed his arm. 

He smiled self-consciously and stood. He looked brooding and slapdash in the half-light of the bar, stippled with 5 o’clock shadow and flecked with chips of light from a distant, dusty disco ball. She found herself wanting to run her hands through his sable hair and brush her lips over his cheek. She threw back the rest of her wine instead.

“We need another round,” he said. 

“We really don’t,” Scully said, reaching up and feeling the end of her nose. When she had too much to drink, it went numb. She couldn’t feel it. 

“Are we out celebrating me or not?” he said. 

“We are.” 

“Then I say we need another round,” and with that he walked to the bar, though when he came back, he was carrying two waters. 

“Bartender insisted,” he said. 

“He’s a good guy,” Scully said, waving in the direction of the bar. A nod from the bartender. 

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, drinking water and watching the bar fill up. Then Spirit of the Radio came on the jukebox and Mulder leaned back his head as if in ecstasy.

“I love this song,” he said. 

“I had you pegged as an INXS guy,” Scully said.

“You wouldn’t be wrong,” he replied. He looked at her steadily. “Let’s dance.”

Scully looked skeptically towards what passed for a dance floor.

“Mulder, no one has danced here in at least a decade,” she said, thinking of a fifty-something barfly swaying by herself to Jolene

“All the more reason,” he said, sliding out of the booth and holding out his hand. There was a rakish glint in his eye and his renegade jaw clenched once. 

“I’m not drunk enough for this,” she said, though she put her hand in his and let him pull her up.

“Yes, you are,” he laughed and led her to the middle of the floor. 

She was definitely drunk enough because it took nothing at all for her to start dancing. The bartender, who knew her from more than a few nights out with Ellen, smiled at her and bent down under the bar. A second or two later the volume of the music went up and he stood, giving her a thumbs up. She laughed and let herself go.

When the guitar solo started in the middle of the song, Mulder leaned back and started playing an air guitar, throwing his head into it with enthusiasm.

“You’re such a dork!” Scully yelled to him over the music.

“You love it!” he yelled back.

She had to admit, she kind of did. She liked that he seemed to live his life not caring what other people thought of him. It was a lesson she should probably learn herself. 

When the song ended and Tom Sawyer came on, she took a step back, and looked up at him. She was sweaty and suddenly self-conscious, feeling like a goldfish in a bowl. 

“We should go home,” she said, feeling a lot drunker than she thought she’d been, “get some food.”

He stood up straight, as if gauging how he felt and swayed just a bit. 

“You’re right,” he said, “we should.”

They strolled to the bar to settle their tab, and he wouldn’t hear of letting her pay. 

They walked out of the bar and were surprised to find that night had fallen. The sudden silence settled over them like a heavy blanket. The air was so fresh it almost hurt to breathe it. 

“You should have let me pay,” Scully said, speaking too loudly, her ears ringing with a brief tinnitus from the music. She lowered her voice, “we’re celebrating your accomplishment.”

“Well, my accomplishment is going to pay a lot better than your post-grad stipend, I guarantee you.”

“Still…” she said, and then tripped over the curb.

Mulder reached out and grabbed her arm, saving her from a face plant.

“All hands on deck!” he said, and she smiled and looked up at him gratefully. He slid his hand down her arm and took her hand. “Two blocks to go,” he said, “we got this.”

His hand was warm in hers, dry. She squeezed it. Inhibitions lowered, she could feel herself falling for him a little, against her will. 

When they got to their building, there was a young woman sitting on the steps out front with her arms crossed, looking like she was on the verge of tears. When the woman heard them, she turned to look and her face registered surprise and, when her gaze dropped to their linked hands, unhappy confusion.

Scully suddenly wondered if Mulder actually did have a girlfriend and she felt her stomach reel.

“Sam!” Mulder said, dropping her hand. He lurched forward and grabbed the woman in a bear hug.

“Get off, Fox,” she said, pushing him back, “you smell like a frat party.”

Mulder’s face fell. 

“What’s wrong?” he asked. 

“What’s wrong ?” the woman’s voice went up an entire octave, “you told me to come here at 7:30. I’ve been sitting out here for an hour and a half!”

“Shit,” Mulder swore. “I’m so sorry.” His apology did nothing to improve her demeanor.

Mulder then seemed to remember Scully’s presence.

“Oh,” he said, “Sam, this is my new roommate Dana Scully. Scully, this is Samantha, my sister.”

“Scully?” Samantha said, and made no move to shake hands. “You’re still doing that last name thing?” Her eye roll was implied. 

“Let’s go inside,” Scully said, for something to do, and pulled out her keys to unlock the building’s door. When she got the key close to the lock, she dropped the whole ring. She could hear Samantha sighing in annoyance behind her. 

“So, you went out partying instead of meeting me,” Samantha said, her voice flat. “Awesome.”

Scully recovered, got the door open and they all trooped up the stairs to the apartment in silence.

Once inside, Scully knelt to pick up the backpack and envelope of applications she’d dropped by the door earlier and made her way to the stairs. 

“I’ll let you two catch up,” she said, excusing herself. 

Mulder threw her an apologetic look. She flopped on the bed when she got to her room, applications forgotten until tomorrow.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Mulder met Scully in the kitchen and wordlessly handed over two Tylenol and a glass of water. She threw back the dusty pills, and assessed him over the rim of the glass. 

“Thank you,” she said, and he nodded. “Did your sister forgive you?”

“I’ve been granted a temporary reprieve,” he said, and Scully walked around him to pour herself a bowl of cereal. “She’s interning with the local police department this summer, she asked me to come down to the station in a few days so she can show me around. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be scared straight or if she’s letting me off the hook, but either way I promised to be on my best behavior.”

“What kind of internship?” Scully asked, spoon halfway to her mouth.  

“I’m not exactly sure. Some kind of Women in Law Enforcement thing. She’ll mostly be getting coffee for dispatch, I think, but occasionally she’ll get to shadow a female detective, so she’s pretty stoked.”

“Sounds cool,” Scully said. Then, “...I don’t think she likes me.”

“She was just upset last night. Totally my fault. She’ll come around.”

Mulder plopped down next to her and poured a bowl of cereal for himself. 

“What’s on the docket for today?” he asked her. He poured milk into his bowl slowly until it submerged the flakes like a rising tide. 

“Med school applications,” she said, her mouth half full.

“And who are the lucky schools?” he asked. 

“Stanford, UCLA, Michigan State and Columbia,” she said, “they’re amongst the few still accepting applications for this fall.”

“Not Georgetown?” he said, casually. 

“Georgetown, too,” she said, “I love it here. I would love to stay. I do plan to apply, but…”

“But?”

“But when I inquired, they said their spots were filled and that they rarely make exceptions.”

“Too bad,” he said. 

“Too bad,” she agreed. 

They ate the rest of the meal in silence. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

It had taken days to fill them out, but Scully had left the post office after mailing her applications and felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She was finally going after what she herself wanted and felt jubilant at the prospect. For too long she’d let other people’s expectations for her guide her life. She walked down the sidewalk feeling lighter than air. 

The dull roar of an engine on the street pulled her attention and she turned to see Mulder sitting on his motorcycle next to her, pulling off his helmet. 

“I thought that was you,” he said with a smile, which she returned. “You get all your applications out?”

She nodded, grinning. 

“You make it out of the local police station without having to post bail?” she asked with a smirk. 

“Just barely,” he said, then reached back and unsecured a second helmet, holding it up to her. “Want to go for a ride?” he asked. 

She looked at the bike skeptically. Motorcycles had always freaked her out a bit. 

“Come on, Scully, it’s a Saturday, live a little.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Why not?” she said. 

“Atta girl,” he said, grinning. He helped her fit the helmet over her head, securing it under her chin. He lifted her visor before putting his own helmet on, and said “Hold on tight, okay?”

He mounted the bike and she climbed up after him, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist. The leather jacket he wore was warm from being in the sun. 

He kick-started the bike and it roared to life beneath her. She felt a thrill as he pulled away from the curb and picked up speed, the wind teasing the hairs on her bare arms. She wondered if Mulder could feel her heartbeat as it pounded against her chest and into his back. 

They crossed the river and he merged onto the parkway, the bike surging forward like a tracer round. She rested her helmeted head onto his back and watched the city give way to forest, neither knowing nor caring about their destination. After about ten minutes, he pulled off into a the small parking lot of a scenic overlook, the brown water of the Potomac rushing past them at the base of the hill they were perched on. He cut the engine and she slid off the side of the bike, reaching up to take her helmet off. 

Mulder followed, his gaze piercing as she shook out her hair. She set the helmet on the seat, and he did the same. She turned to look around. 

“This is pretty,” she said, “I’ve never been out here.”

“Me neither,” he laughed, and shook the jacket off his shoulders. 

The June day was approaching full heat and the breeze that came up off the river was muggy and rich. They walked a little way past the lot and into the shade of several large maple trees. There was a neat rock retaining wall that ran the length of the lookout, and they each hopped over and sat down on it. Far below them the river purled off toward the Chesapeake, dotted occasionally with a kayak or sailboat. The air held the decadent smell of petrichor from rain the day before.

She looked over at Mulder, at his strong profile, the chiseled set of his jaw. He turned to her and caught her looking. Smiled. 

The heather grey tee shirt he wore looked overwashed and soft. She had to stop herself from reaching out and rubbing it between her fingers. 

“How’s Samantha doing today?” she asked. 

“Better,” he said, relieved. “She’s thrilled with this internship. It sounds like she’s really taken to it.” 

“I’m glad to hear that,” Scully said. 

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Hey, when do you start your new job?” she asked.

“Monday,” he said, his eyes wide. “They already have patients on the schedule.”

She put her hand on his shoulder. 

“You’re about to be a real live grown-up, Mulder,” she said, “you ready?”

“Do I look ready?” he asked, pushing his shoulders back. If he’d been wearing a tie, he would have straightened it. 

She turned to face him. Took the opportunity to look her fill. 

“Mm… yes,” she finally said. 

“There was a hesitation there, Scully,” he said playfully.

“There was no hesitation,” she played back.

“There was a decidedly skeptical hesitation.”

She pursed her lips.

“Listen, far be it from me to undermine your confidence…” she started.

“But?” he led.

“But don’t most grown men own furniture?” she teased, bumping her shoulder into his companionably.

He tilted his head back, busted. 

“If that’s how you feel about it, how about you come shopping with me tomorrow?” he said.

“For furniture?” she laughed.

“That doesn’t sound like a good time?” he deadpanned.

“Let’s just go now,” she laughed again, “we’ll stack it on the handlebars and taunt the traffic cops.”

“You joke, but I’m serious. Come furniture shopping with me tomorrow.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. 

“I guess it depends,” she finally said, “will we need Frohike’s truck?”

He laughed. 

“How about if I borrow the truck, but not the Frohike?”

“Deal,” she said, “And all joking aside, is there any reason in particular we can’t go this evening? I mean, I’m free, and I’d hate for a newly minted grown-up like you to develop back problems from another night on the floor.”

She bumped into him again, enjoying their repartee. His face got an odd look to it. 

“Actually, I have plans tonight,” he said. 

“Oh?” she said, “hot date?”

“I don’t know about hot,” he said, “but I do have a date.”

She felt her stomach drop, then remembered telling him I’m thrilled to be single right now . She felt a small moment of grief.

“Oh, do tell,” she said, sounding entirely too cheerful.

“The uh, detective that Sam is shadowing, asked me out today. I felt kind of cornered, couldn’t say no.”

Mild relief. 

“Aggressive, huh?” she said.

“Something like that,” he answered. “Anyway, are we on for tomorrow? I’ll buy you lunch.”

“Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse,” she said. 

The warm breeze sloughed through the trees and settled between them.

XxXxXxXxXxX

True to his word, after breakfast, Mulder went out and rolled back an hour later with Frohike’s truck, but not Frohike. 

“He wanted me to pass along his love,” Mulder said when Scully hopped into the cab.

“Is that all?” she asked, pulling the seatbelt across her lap. 

“Definitely not,” Mulder said, “but I value my life.”

The truck was a late ’70s Chevy Silverado in metallic brown. It had a manual transmission and only got AM radio. A corner of the floor was rusted out and she could see the road flying beneath them. 

“What’s our first stop?” she asked, fiddling with the radio to try to get a signal.

“I’m thinking bed,” he said, “in deference to my old man body.”

She smiled and the truck rumbled on, the transmission tacky. He had to kick the clutch at every stop light.

“Know where you’re going?”

He tapped the side of his head.

“Got it all mapped out.”

The only radio station that would come in was transmitting a baseball game, so they listened to it in silence for a few minutes. Finally her curiosity got the better of her. 

“So,” she said, “how was the date?”

“Not bad, actually,” he replied, stealing a look at her as if to gauge her reaction. 

She made sure to keep her expression neutral, pressed the vee of her toes hard into her flip-flops. 

“Oh?”

“She’s intense, but funny,” he said. “Not sure if I see it going anywhere, but she asked if I wanted to go out again.”

She could feel his eyes on her and kept staring straight ahead. 

“You should go,” she said. Stop talking, Dana

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” No .  

“Oh, we’re coming up on the mattress store,” he said, “see if you can see a parking lot.”

They walked into the mattress store, eyes practically bugging out of their heads. It looked like close to an acre of nothing but bare white mattresses as far as the eye could see. There were SALE! Posters hanging above almost every section and cardboard cutouts of showcase models leaning against every third mattress.

Mulder took a step back. 

“I’ll keep sleeping on the floor,” he said, “nothing is worth this.” 

Scully grabbed his arm. 

“Mulder,” she said, “you need, what? A bed, dresser and desk?”

He nodded. 

“Then we’re practically a third of the way there. Come on.”

She pulled him along like a recalcitrant toddler. 

It took about 10.2 seconds before they were met with a smiling salesman. By that point, Mulder seemed to have recovered. 

The man was short, balding and entirely too chipper for his own good. 

“You and the missus looking for a new mattress?” the man asked, “You know mattresses expire after eight years.” 

She opened her mouth to correct him, but Mulder grabbed her arm.

“Yes,” he said, “the missus and I are looking for a new mattress. You have any newlywed discounts?”

The salesman waggled his eyebrows.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

He marched off ahead of them and Scully hissed “what are you doing?”

“Trying to save a little money,” he whispered back, “go with it.”

The salesman stopped in front of a row.

“Now, this here line is your best bet for what we like to call active sleepers ,” at that he gave an exaggerated wink, “you folks looking for soft or firm?”

“Oh, my wife likes it firm,” Mulder said. Scully rolled her eyes.

The salesman moved to the end of the row.

“These are going to be the firmest on this end, getting softer as you move to the left. Why don’t you two lay down on a few and see if any of these speak to you.”

A new customer walked into the store then, and the salesman excused himself and ambled over to greet them.

“I’m not going to speak to you if you keep that up, Mulder,” she said. 

“Keep what up?”

My wife likes it firm ,” she repeated in a low voice.

“What?” he said, all innocence.

“I’m leaving,” she said and he grabbed her wrist as she turned. 

“Wait,” he said, laughing, “I’m sorry. He’s just lobbing these softballs out there, and I gotta take a swing. I’ll stop.”

She gave him a look.

“I will,” he said, putting on a straight face, still holding onto her arm, “just help me pick out a bed and we can get out of here. Scout’s honor.” 

She relented and they cautiously sat on a few mattresses before getting comfortable. Eventually they were sprawled out next to each other, debating the merits of quilt-top vs foam. 

The salesman finally came back over.

“Y’all have any questions?” he asked. 

“Just one,” Mulder said, propping himself up onto his elbows. The salesman looked at him expectantly, “is that newlywed discount still on the table?”

XxXxXxXxXxX 

They pulled into the parking space behind the building a few hours later hauling several large boxes containing the unassembled pieces of a matching set of a dresser, desk and nightstand. The bed would be delivered later that afternoon.

They were able to haul them up the two flights of stairs with a minimal amount of arguing which both pleased and surprised Scully. 

They dumped them on the floor of the living room before plopping wearily onto the sofa. 

“Oh God,” Mulder said, eyeing the mess of cardboard before them, “We have to assemble them.”

“What do you mean ‘we?’”

Mulder looked at her, his lips almost pouting and she laughed. 

“Oh come on, it’s not like you have to build them from scratch, they give you directions,” she said, “If you’re lucky, they’re even in English.”

“You’re making this worse.” 

“And enjoying myself immensely,” she said, “Do you have any tools?” 

“Do you?” he asked.

“Of course, I do,” she said. 

“Please grant a moment of silence for the death of my masculinity,” he said, dropping his head. 

She swatted his shoulder. 

“Stop being patriarchal,” she said, “I’ll help. Let me grab my tools.”

Three hours later they were drinking iced tea on the small loveseat on their balcony while the sun sunk slowly below the horizon, the cotton candy clouds a riot of color above them. 

“I’m never moving again,” Mulder said, “tell Ellen she can sleep on the couch when she gets back. Or she can sleep with you. I’m done.”

Scully chuckled and wiggled down lower into the cushions. The temperature had dropped with the sun and she was still wearing a tank top and shorts, her feet bare. 

“You cold?” Mulder asked her. 

She shrugged. 

“A little,” she said.

“Here,” he said, and pulled off the sweatshirt he was wearing, handing it over to her. 

“Thanks,” she said, pulling it over her head. It was still warm from his body and smelled like sandalwood and a little like sweat. She wanted to pull it up to her nose and give it a big whiff, but she resisted. When he put his arms back down, he rested one on the back of the loveseat behind her. He wasn’t touching her, but she could maybe tell he wanted to. 

“You nervous about tomorrow?” she asked. 

“A little,” he said, smiling. 

He had a tee shirt on under his sweatshirt, and it was riding up a tiny bit, the skin of his hip showing. He took a sip of tea, and she wondered for a moment what he might taste like. 

“You’re going to do great,” she said. 

He turned to look at her, serious.

“Thanks, Scully.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said dismissively.

“I mean, for everything.” 

The moment felt weighty. She could practically feel the heat from the skin on his arm above her, and knew if she touched it it would be warm and exquisitely soft. 

“Tell me another random and arcane fact,” she said, settling further into the loveseat, the collar from his sweatshirt brushing her jaw. 

“In New York City,” he said, turning his face to hers, “on Broadway medians between 63rd and 76th streets, biologists discovered a new species of ant.”

She raised her eyebrows at that. 

“They call it the ManhattAnt,” he smiled.

“Naturally,” she smiled back. 

If she let herself, she could fall in love with him; absolutely, irreversibly. It’d be as easy as taking a breath. 

He drained the rest of his tea and stood. She sat up. 

“You want your sweatshirt back?” she said, her hand on the hem. 

He waved her back down. 

“Keep it,” he said, “I know where you live.” He then jerked a thumb in the direction of his bedroom. “Gonna try out that new bed,” he said, and opened his mouth like he was about to say something else. He shook the ice left over in the glass and looked down at it. “I… I had a good day today, Scully. Thank you.”

She gave him a close lipped smile. 

“Night,” he said, drifting slowly off toward his bedroom. 

“Night,” she said back. 

She waited until his bedroom door closed before going inside. She slept in his sweatshirt.

Chapter Text

Mulder had been on four more dates with Detective What’s-Her-Name (she didn’t ask) in the last five weeks (not that she was counting). He was always home by 11:00 pm, alone (not that she was paying close attention). 

She’d usually be sitting on the couch studying when he walked in the door. 

“How was your date?” she’d ask. 

“Good,” he’d say, and wouldn’t elaborate. 

Twice he sat on the couch with her after he took off his shoes, and they’d talked until they were both yawning and wondering aloud where the time went. Once, he just went to bed. Once she’d been asleep and woke up hours later to find an Aztec print blanket draped over her on the couch. 

Tonight was date number five. Earlier in the day she’d gotten her second response from med schools (Michigan State had accepted her, but had been unable to offer any financial support) -- this one from Columbia, which regretted to inform her that they had already filled up all their remaining spots, but asked her to please apply again next year. That disheartening rejection on her mind, she had a nervous, anxious feeling in her gut about Mulder’s date, and was planning to go to bed early--if he came home and he wasn’t alone--or didn’t come home at all--she didn’t want to know. 

At 9:03 pm, she was getting a glass of water from the kitchen in just a thin worn-out tee shirt and an old pair of running shorts from high school when she heard the key in the lock. 

Mulder slid in through the door and closed it behind him. He was alone. 

“Hey,” she said, surprised. “How… was your date?”

“Meh,” he said, bending over to get at his shoes. “She got a call about a case halfway through dinner and had to leave. To be honest, I was relieved.” 

A lightness bubbled up from inside her, and she had trouble containing a smile. 

“Oh yeah?” she said lightly. 

He moved to plop heavily onto the couch, giving his lone remaining shoe a perplexed look. 

“Damn lace is knotted,” he mumbled, “I can’t get it.”

She sat on the couch next to him. 

“You probably need a decent fingernail,” she said, flicking hers together with the satisfying click of keratin. “Gimme your foot.”

He turned and swung his foot into her lap. She started picking at the knot, which he’d managed to pull even tighter with his efforts. 

“Relieved, you said?” she tried not to sound too interested. She kept her eyes on his laces. 

“Yeah,” he sighed, “She’s nice enough--pretty--but I think it’s run its course.”

“Aw,” she said, and patted his leg, “your somebody is out there, Mulder. I just know it.”

“Yeah,” he said, softly, “I’m sure of it.” 

She had just gotten her thumbnail into the knot and started to get it loose when there was a knock on the door. They looked at each other, expectantly. Neither were expecting anyone. 

She set his foot on the floor. 

“I think I loosened it enough,” she said, “you get it from here, I’ll get the door.” 

“Success!” he said, when she was a few feet from the door. He pulled off the shoe triumphantly just as she threw back the lock. She turned to smile at him, and pulled the door wide, turning toward it with a big grin still on her face. 

Her face fell as soon as she registered who was standing in front of her. 

“Ethan,” she said, “what are you doing here?”

“Dana,” he said, and held out a small posy of flowers toward her. She didn’t reach out to take them. “I came to apologize.” 

She stood there, debating. 

“Can I come in?” he asked. 

She looked at him, sighed.  “I don’t need an apology, and it’s late, and… Ethan, I don’t want to do this.” 

He brushed past her and came in anyway. When she turned toward him, Mulder stood from the couch, his eyes narrowed. Ethan stopped in his tracks. 

“What is this?” Ethan asked. 

Scully sighed, annoyed. 

“You tell me, Ethan. What is this ?” she asked, pointing to the flowers, “What do you want?”

“I was coming to…” he looked back and forth between her and Mulder. He looked her up and down and she suddenly felt vulnerable and small. She wasn’t even wearing a bra. She crossed her arms in front of her. 

“This wasn’t about school, was it,” Ethan said, his tone turning quarrelsome. “You were cheating on me.”

“Ethan, Jesus Christ ,” she said, taking a step toward him. 

“Fucking ‘ med school ,’” he said, his face melting into a sneer, “right. It was a fucking excuse. You wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for me-” at that, she went from annoyed to irate.

“Are you kidding?” she said, “I wrote half your papers in undergrad-” 

“You barely proofread them,” he interrupted snidely, and turned to Mulder. “What’s she got you doing for her?”

“Hey, man,” Mulder said, taking a step forward, “Don’t. 

“Oh,” Ethan said, slapping the posy of flowers against the side of his leg. A few petals fell to the floor, “maybe I should ask you what she’s got you doing to her.”

Mulder took another step forward. 

“Scully,” he said, connecting eyes with her. 

“Ethan, you need to leave,” she said. 

He ignored her. 

Scully ?” Ethan said, then reached out a hand and grabbed her arm. “What the fuck? You fucking slut-”

Before he could finish whatever he was about to say, Mulder’s fist came flying over Scully’s shoulder and connected solidly with Ethan’s nose. The force of the punch sent him spinning a few paces away from Scully almost into the open doorway, and when he turned and straightened blood was running down his face. 

“Whad da fuck?” he said, his words garbled and nasally. He brought a hand to his face and looked to Mulder. “Good luck wid her. Frigid bitch.”

Scully was so furious she was shaking. 

“First I’m a slut, now I’m frigid? Make up your fucking mind, Ethan. And get. Out.” 

With that she gave him a shove and slammed the door in his face. 

She leaned against it and took one bracing breath. Then she looked to Mulder, who was holding his right hand awkwardly.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Are you?” he volleyed back, concerned. 

She shook her hands out, trying to release some nervous energy. Anger and horror and embarrassment all fought to get out, coming together in a clod in her throat that choked her. Tears sprung out instead. 

“I mean your hand,” she finally said, moving to his side. She wiped the tears away hastily,  gingerly lifting up his hand. He winced, sucked in a breath.The skin over two knuckles was split, blood dripping lazily down three fingers. It was starting to swell.

“I think I hit a couple teeth,” he said. 

“I hope you knocked them out,” she said. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up,” she went on gently, glad she had something to do, and pulled him lightly toward her bathroom up the stairs. 

He stood at the threshold while she rummaged around for her first aid kit and looked around. 

“I’ve never been in here,” he said quietly. “You have a nicer shower than me.”

She finally felt her mouth tug up into a small smile. She gingerly grabbed his injured hand and pulled him to the sink. 

He let her wash and rinse his hand without words. She could feel his eyes on her, he never looked away. Finally, she sat on the edge of her tub with the first aid kit, and pulled him down next to her. She rested his hand gently in her lap as she worked butterfly bandages over his knuckles. She then wrapped it gently with gauze, securing it with a quick tuck. 

“You’re going to make a great doctor,” he said earnestly, and she tucked her chin to her chest.

“This needs ice,” she said, finally raising her eyes to his. Tending to him had given her mind something to do, and now looking at him made her feel vulnerable all over again—he’d heard every accusation made in her fight with Ethan—the words were coming back to her. She looked back down, willing back the tears that threatened to spill. 

Finally, she felt the fingers of Mulder's other hand lightly on her chin and she looked up. The second their eyes connected, her tears started to fall. 

“You’re not frigid, Dana,” he said, his voice rumbling and soft, “you might be the warmest-hearted person I’ve ever met.”

His eyes were mossy in the bright light of her bathroom, and she felt herself tipping forward until her forehead was resting against his. 

“Thank you,” she whispered. 

They were still for a moment, breathing each other in. She felt a pull to him like the tide chasing the moon. 

His fingers were still resting tenderly under her chin, and all it took was the slightest, smallest pressure from them and they crashed into each other, their lips tangling in a sudden, passionate kiss. 

They were still sitting side by side on the edge of her bathtub, and Mulder brought his arm around her and pulled her up until they were standing, bodies pressed together in a line, their mouths all tongue and teeth. 

She reached up and weaved her fingers into his hair, pulling him down to her like he was a source of water and she’d been thirsty for days. 

She felt him harden against her belly, and she reached down and grabbed him over his jeans, rubbing. He moaned into her mouth and thrust against her once, twice. His injured hand was wrapped around her backside, pulling her closer, while his good hand crept up under her tee shirt and cupped roughly over her bare breast, squeezing her nipple between his thumb and the vee of his hand. 

He dragged his mouth away from hers and started biting and licking at her neck. 

“I want you, Scully,” he said into her skin, “God, I’ve wanted you since I first saw you.”

She was so het up in a fervor of desire and sheer wanting that she could barely form words. 

“Ye-” she said, struggling to get the whole word out, “yesss.”

He leaned back for a moment and used his good hand to grab his shirt behind his head and whipped it up and off. She took the opportunity to do the same, and when they came back together, the heat from his bare chest on her nipples sent a frisson of energy down the length of her spine. Her skin broke out in gooseflesh. 

“You’re cold,” he said into her mouth, and she was too interested in kissing him to answer. 

Their tongues tangled together and he reached down and started pushing off his jeans and boxers, kicking them away without breaking contact with her. She was short enough that when she reached down to do the same, she had to bend down away from him, and when she stood back up, he was standing in her open shower door, turning the water on. 

He turned back toward her, his cock pointing at her like a divining rod. 

“I’m going to warm you up,” he said, looking at her like a cat stalking prey. 

She rove her eyes over him once before he got to her, and her mouth went dry at the sight of him. He was all lean muscle and smooth skin; he looked like he’d been cut from marble. 

He got to her and pulled her tightly to him, his skin like fever along the length of her. He pulled her with him slowly backwards, and when they got to the shower, it was steaming. He maneuvered her inside the stall and positioned her under the hot spray; she felt her nipples pucker in the air. 

He leaned down and licked water off her shoulder and then lowered himself slowly to the floor, pausing at her breasts to suck one nipple into his mouth, and then the other, water sluicing down his face like rain. When his knees finally reached the floor, he ran his hand gently down her thigh until his hand was around the back of her knee, which he lifted slowly, his eyes going to hers for permission. 

She could only look back and lick her lips as he pulled her leg up and over his shoulder. His mouth was an inch from the throbbing, aching skin at her center, water running down over her breasts and into his hair. 

Ethan had gone down on her only a few times in all their years together, regarding the act distastefully as something of a chore. But here was Mulder, kneeling before her, who looked at her reverently, as though he were about to unwrap a gift. 

Scully reached behind herself to brace a hand against the shower wall, feeling dizzy. When his tongue darted out to part the folds of her labia, she gasped. Her other hand went to his head, threading her fingers through his dark coiffure, which was as thick and smooth as a martin’s.

He reached his hands up and under her, pulling her by the ass tightly to his face, a long train of gauze unraveling from his injured hand and hanging limply in the wet spray. 

In high school, Melissa had loaned her a romance novel where a pirate referred to his conquest’s genitals as a “cunny,” and that word was all she could think of as Mulder lapped at her, making her feel as flushed and ripe as a rum wench.

Mulder licked and licked, making small, satisfied noises, the shower pushing needles of heat into her hair and back. Cunny , she thought.

He removed his hands from her ass only long enough to yank the rest of the gauze off his hand, and before she could utter a protest, he had stuck one long finger slowly up inside of her and began rubbing at her G spot in time with his tongue. She let out an involuntary moan, and could feel Mulder’s answering smile on her tender flesh. 

“Let go,” he said gently into her, and then proceeded to suck her clit against his tongue. She came so suddenly and unexpectedly that she felt her knees go limp under her, and Mulder grabbed her and held her steady while she rode out the waves of pleasure, his name a prayer on her lips. 

When she came back to herself, he was standing, one arm wrapped around her middle and the other in the wet tangle of her hair, looking at her with satisfied affection. 

She reached down and grabbed him boldly, his cock hot and thick in her hand. His eyes fluttered closed and he rocked into her. 

“Bed,” she said, and reached around him to shut off the water. That seemed to rouse him and he reached down and grabbed her under the ass, lifting her easily up so she could wrap her legs around him. His mouth descended on hers as he walked her out of the shower, the air hitting the water on their skin. She suddenly felt cool everywhere but where their bodies were touching: their mouths, her legs around his waist, his cock bobbing up into the cleft between her legs. 

He lowered her gently onto her bed, perched in between her legs, her hair fanned about her head in thick, wet ropes. He leaned back. 

“Condoms?” he asked. 

“Drawer,” she said, and nodded her chin toward her bedside table. She propped herself up on her elbow and pulled a hair off of her tongue.

He rolled away from her and pulled a condom from the drawer, tearing it open as he settled himself back between her legs. He had started to roll it down over himself when he paused. 

“This, uh,” he said, somewhat sheepishly, “might not fit.”

She looked down at him in alarm. 

“Do you have any?” she asked him, and he nodded at her, a smile coming back to his face. 

“Be right back,” he said, and leaned down to give her a quick kiss before he tumbled out of her bedroom door. 

Scully looked around her room and expected to see it changed. Everything looked exactly the way it had, she realized, and found that the only thing that had changed was her. Her breathing started to even out and she flitted her eyes to her bedroom door, doubt suddenly creeping into her subconscious. Should she be doing this?

Before she could plumb the depths of that feeling too closely, Mulder filled the doorway suddenly, an adonis in all his naked glory, and he smiled at her triumphantly. She smiled tremulously back and had a thought to say something when he grabbed her foot in his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. His touch calmed her nerves and she felt suddenly re-centered. 

She pushed herself up onto her elbows while he rolled the new condom down and then he was back on the bed, crawling up her body like a panther, and his mouth found hers once again. 

As soon as his body pressed itself toward hers, she lifted a leg and wrapped it around his waist, her psyche entirely back in the moment. 

“You ready?” he asked her, his honey-over-sandpaper voice rolling over her skin like a cat’s tongue. 

She nodded and he reached down and guided himself into her slowly. As wet as she was, she still felt tight, too tight, and when she winced, he stilled instantly. 

“Am I hurting you?” he asked in concern. 

“No,” she said quickly, “it’s--just go slow.”

She willed her muscles to relax, one set at a time, starting at her toes and working her way up her body and after a moment she felt him slide in more and they both hissed with pleasure. 

The more he moved, the better it felt, and after a while she wondered how she’d ever managed to live without this. Without him. 

She bit her lip and suppressed a moan, and his pace increased, just a fraction, the look on his face one of either pleasure or pain. He hooked his thumb into her mouth and she sucked it, licked it clean. It tasted of salt, a little bit like her, the dry tang of latex. He pulled it out of her mouth and reached it between them, sweeping it urgently over her clit. 

“Come with me,” he whispered into her ear, then pulled back to look into her eyes. 

She concentrated on the sensations, trying not to lose herself in his gaze, and soon enough she felt another orgasm coming on, bit her lip and nodded at him. He surged up into her hard and they were both gone, eyes clamped closed, blood roaring in their ears.

He slumped down next to her, shifting his weight to his side, his penis still inside of her. 

“Jesus,” he said, his tone reverential, “ Jesus .”

She remained silent, feeling the bed under her, her duvet cover damp from shower water. She felt tears prick her eyes, overcome with emotion and release. She was afraid of what had happened, of what would happen, of the feelings he evoked inside of her. 

He kissed her temple and then stood to dispose of the condom in the bathroom, coming back to the bed with water in her cup from the sink. He handed it to her. 

“Here,” he said, and she smiled gratefully at him and drank the whole thing. 

He reached for the empty cup and set it down on her bedside table, then sat on the edge of the bed. 

“So,” he said, smiling at her, half amused, half anxious.

“So,” she said, and had trouble meeting his eyes. 

“I think your ex-boyfriend is a bit of a douche,” he said.

At that she laughed and looked at him.

“Yeah,” she said.

He held her gaze a moment.

“You okay?” he asked, “I get that tonight,” he waved his hand around as if encompassing everything, “was a lot.”

“Yeah,” she lied, “how’s your hand?”

He looked down. 

“Bleeding again,” he said. 

She winced. 

“Worth it,” he said.

“Ethan was lying,” she said suddenly, turning her face away, “I’m the one who carried him through school. God, that-” 

“-Hey” he stopped her. Put a hand on her knee over the covers. She pulled the sheet up over her breasts, sniffling, feeling exposed. “It’s okay,” he said, “don’t give him another thought. He doesn’t deserve it.”

She took a deep breath, nodded. 

“Did the band-aids at least stay on?” she asked him nodding toward his hand. 

He looked down and held up his hand. 

“Yes,” he said, smugly. 

“Let me rewrap it,” she said, and grabbed the nearest thing to the bed to throw on. It was his Oxford sweatshirt. She put it on, realized what it was and looked to him guiltily.

“It looks better on you,” he said, “I meant it when I said ‘keep it.’”

It fell halfway to her knees, so she didn’t bother with anything else and padded softly to the bathroom. She peed quickly, washed her hands and brought fresh gauze to the bed. She found Mulder under the covers, sitting against the headboard, smiling at her shyly. 

“This okay?” he said. 

She paused a moment and then nodded to him. It only took a minute to rewrap his hand. 

“This really needs some ice, Mulder,” she said, getting into the other side of the bed. The second she was settled, he reached for her. 

“But that would mean leaving this bed,” he said, “and that is the last-” he paused to kiss her behind her ear, which sent a shiver down her spine, “thing I want to do.” 

She turned in his arms so that she was the little spoon, and settled in, feeling his large hands on her stomach and his breath in her hair.

“Good night, Mulder,” she said. 

He squeezed her. 

“‘Night.”

He was asleep long before she was, her thoughts swirling and echoing in her mind. Eventually, his long, even breaths calmed and centered her, and she drifted into a dreamless sleep.

 

Chapter Text

When she woke the next morning, it was to a soft kiss on her neck. It was the Saturday morning of the long Labor Day weekend, she remembered. She inhaled and rolled over. Mulder was kneeling onto the bed over her, wearing his boxers and holding onto the clothes he’d shed the night before. 

“Morning,” he said, smiling. “I gotta go take a shower. Sam’s coming over this morning.”

“Okay,” she said, and he leaned down and kissed her on the lips.

He pulled back and gave her a long, fond look.

“Maybe we can all eat breakfast together,” he said, then shot her a toothy grin, “I’m starving.”

She hadn’t seen Samantha since that first night when they’d initially met, when she and Mulder were tipsy and Samantha was irritated with them and upset. She felt a low throb of embarrassment and anxiety in her gut. She got up to take a shower as well. 

When she got downstairs, she was hit with the smell of coffee and toast and found Mulder already banging around in the kitchen. 

“Hey,” he said, “I just buzzed Samantha up. She said she has a surprise. I hope it’s donuts… You want some eggs?”

She shook her head and went for the pot of coffee, fresh anxiety coursing through her. Mulder came up behind her and put his hands on her hips, kissing her neck, and she shied away sideways like a nervous filly.

“Scully?” he asked, concern etched on his face. 

The doorbell rang. He backed away from her, looking confused, and Scully couldn't bring herself to make eye contact. She busied herself by pouring a cup of coffee.

She heard the door open and excited female chatter, then Samantha’s voice said “Surprise!” 

“Debbie,” Mulder said, his voice filled with dismay. 

Scully moved to the doorway of the kitchen and watched Samantha and another woman come into the apartment. Sam had a small stack of paper in her hand and the other woman was holding a bottle of champagne. The women were laughing and she watched as the older woman leaned in and pressed a kiss to Mulder’s surprised lips. 

“Hi!” she said, sweetly, “Sam told me she was coming over here this morning, and I thought I’d tag along and apologize for last night.” She held up the bottle, “Mimosas, anyone?” She looked over at Scully expectantly.

Scully finally got a good look at her and her jaw almost dropped. Mulder had said she was pretty, but the woman was downright stunning. She was at least 5’9”, with long, thin legs that reached up into verdant hips. She had an almost pinched waist, a full, high bust, and a long elegant neck. High cheekbones, lush lips, gorgeous, big, brown eyes and a cascade of wavy brown hair completed her look. It occurred to Scully that she herself was wearing an oversized tee shirt and a ratty pair of sweatpants, her hair hanging wet and limp over her shoulders. 

Mulder seemed to snap out of his surprise. 

“Ah,” he said, shaking his head, “welcome. Um. Deb, this is my roommate, Dana Scully, Scully, this is Detective Debbie Winther, Sam’s mentor at the police department.”

And your girlfriend , Scully couldn’t help but finish for him in her head. 

“Nice to meet you,” she said instead, feeling rooted in place.

“Oh my gosh, you too!” Debbie said enthusiastically, moving over to give Scully a buss on the cheek and a tight hug. 

She even smelled like heaven, Scully thought, an expensive perfume like Chanel or Hermés.

“Can I throw this in the fridge?” Debbie went on, holding up the bottle of champagne, and then moved past Scully without waiting for an answer. 

Mulder caught Scully’s eye and threw her an apologetic, horrified look. When Scully cut her eyes to Samantha, the young woman was watching them closely, a shrewd look on her face. 

“Here,” Samantha said to Mulder, her tone a little frosty, and pushed the stack of papers into his hands, “your mail was falling out of your box. I grabbed it.”

Sam shot a look at Scully and then moved to the couch. Mulder shuffled absently through the stack, moving slowly into the room. 

Scully felt like she’d been caught cheating and could feel her cheeks burn red.

“Oh!” Mulder said suddenly, his eyes still on the mail in his hands. “Scully.” He looked at her, held up an envelope. “Stanford,” he said. 

He walked over and handed the envelope to Scully, then said in a low voice, “Do you want some privacy to open it?”

She looked at him in thankful relief when Debbie walked back in from the kitchen. 

“What’s this?” she said brightly.

“A letter from Stanford, apparently,” Samantha said, her eyes boring into both Scully and her brother. 

“Something exciting?” Debbie asked. 

“Uh, Scully applied to med school there, she’s been waiting to hear back,” Mulder said. 

“Oh my gosh, you have to open it!” Debbie said. Mulder looked pained. “What?” Debbie went on, “bad news, we drink; good news, we toast!”

Scully held the envelope in front of her. 

“Yeah,” she said, unable to take her eyes off of it. 

She took a breath and tore it open. She held the letter, reading it, the paper in her hands shaking. She suddenly felt weak, and sat down heavily in the chair next to her. 

“Scully?” Mulder said softly. 

“I got in,” she finally said shakily, “full ride scholarship.”

XxXxXxXxXxX

Mulder bent down to get a better look at her face, his eyes shining. 

“You did it…” he said. 

She felt a tremulous smile rise up her cheeks. 

“Amazing!” Debbie said enthusiastically, then ducked back into the kitchen. She emerged a moment later with the bottle of champagne and ripped the foil off, then expertly twisted off the cork. A little bit of bubbly ran out the top of the bottle and foamed down her fingers. “To Doctor Dana Scully!” she said, and then handed Scully the bottle. 

Scully took one look at Mulder and then brought the bottle to her lips, knocking back a slug. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and handed him the bottle. 

“I’ll get glasses,” he said, and disappeared into the kitchen. 

Scully looked back down at the letter, and continued reading. 

“Congratulations, Dana,” Samantha said flatly, “will you be moving to Stanford soon?”

“Uh,” Scully said, her eyes rising to Mulder’s sister, “yes. In just a couple of weeks, it looks like.”

Samantha nodded at her and then cut her eyes to her brother, who was emerging from the kitchen with three juice glasses. 

“I couldn’t find champagne flutes,” he said apologetically. 

He poured Scully a glass, and then one for Debbie. He then looked at Samantha. “You’re not 21,” he said. 

Samantha rolled her eyes. 

“Oh, come on,” Debbie said, “we’re celebrating. Anyway, you could legally drink when you were younger than she is now. She should be grandfathered in. Pour her one. It’s not like I’m going to arrest you.”

“You can have mine,” Scully said, and held it out to her. 

“No thanks,” Samantha said. 

The tension in the room got thick quickly. Debbie was having none of it. 

“She’s having mine,” she said, and walked her glass over to Samantha. She then took the glass that Mulder was holding and leaned into him. “We need to toast the accomplishments of your incredible roommate, Fox, I’d hop to and get yourself a glass.”

Scully couldn’t help it, she liked the woman. 

When Mulder came back in, he raised his glass and gave Scully a significant look. 

“To Dr. Scully,” he said. 

“To Dr. Scully,” the others repeated after him. 

Scully brought the champagne to her lips. It felt like fire all the way down.

XxXxXxXxXxX

When Mulder closed the door on Samantha and Debbie, he immediately turned to Scully.

“God, I am so sorry. I had no idea she was coming and-”

“It’s fine, Mulder,” she said, though it was not fine. She was not fine. 

“I’ll call her later, break it off with her,” Mulder said, moving over to her, and Scully cut him off again.

“Don’t,” she said. Mulder peered at her. 

The whole morning would have been incredibly awkward had Debbie Winther not been engaging, enthusiastic, and an altogether fun person to be around. Whenever she stood next to Mulder, Scully couldn’t help but think what a handsome couple they made. Samantha eventually warmed up a little under Debbie’s gentle prodding. 

The only really awful moment was when Debbie excitedly told Mulder that she had managed to get a cabin out on the Chesapeake for the long weekend and hoped she could take him out there this afternoon for a romantic getaway for a couple of days. 

Mulder politely told her he would probably have to move a few things around and would call her. 

“Scully?” Mulder said, breaking into her thoughts. 

“She’s really nice, Mulder,” Scully said, “in fact, she’s great.”

Mulder looked at her in confusion. 

“Mulder, I’m going to be leaving in a few weeks and-”

“I don’t care,” said, interrupting her, “Scully last night was… I don’t care if you’re leaving, I want to be with you .”

Scully’s heart felt like it was going to beat itself out of her chest. 

“It was a mistake,” she whispered. It hurt just thinking it. Saying it made her sick. “Last night was a mistake.”

He stumbled back, as if stung by a jasper. 

“What?” he said.

“It was a mistake. I’m leaving for Stanford. How could this even work?”

He saw an opening. Moved back toward her and grabbed her hand. 

“We’ll make it work,” he said, “we’ll figure it out. Maybe I move out there.”

“Mulder, your life is here, your job,  your sister-” Scully thought of the way Samantha had looked at her that first night. How easy she’d been with Detective Winther this morning. It was almost as if he was reading her thoughts. 

“Don’t worry about my sister. She’ll come around. She’s incredibly loyal— she thought I was still dating Debbie, knew something had happened between you and me-”

“How?” she cut in.

“She can read me like a book, Scully. Listen, don’t worry about her, I’ll talk to her-“ he said.

She pulled away from him. 

“Your sister aside, medical school is going to be all engrossing, I won’t have time. I -- It’s the first thing I’ve ever done for myself.” 

“And I would never get in the way of that, Scully. Med school can come first. Should come first. I’ll take whatever you have left, even if it’s just scraps.”

She didn’t want that for him. He deserved so much more. 

“No,” she said.

“But I thought-” he said. 

“No,” she whispered and took a step back. 

His jaw clenched and rippled under the surface of his skin, like the groundswell before a volcano blew its top. 

He put his hand on his chest. “I know you feel this, too,” he said, his voice somewhere between anger and a caress. 

She said nothing, but turned and walked up the stairs, tears spilling down her cheeks. She was doing this for him. Wasn’t she? 

She looked over the railing and he was still standing there watching her. 

“I don’t,” she said, and ran the rest of the way to her room

XxXxXxXxXxX

A few minutes later, she heard the front door slam and then the sound of his motorcycle tearing up the street. Her world felt foggy and unreal. Not knowing what else to do, she picked up the phone. 

When Melissa answered her call, Scully could barely talk through her tears. 

“Dana?” Melissa said, her voice tinny through the earpiece, “Dana, slow down. What’s going on?”

She told her sister everything. Melissa listened patiently, asked pointed questions. 

“Missy, I feel like I made the right choice and the wrong one, all at the same time,” she said when she was done.

“Sometimes there’s no one right answer, Dana. I haven’t learned much in my short time on this earth, but I have learned that.”

Scully sighed into the phone. 

“Tell me, then,” Missy said, “What have you made the right choice about?”

“Med school,” Scully answered definitively. “Everything inside myself tells me that’s the right choice.” 

“Then what’s the wrong one?”

“Mulder,” she said, with equal determination. “What I just said to him. Driving him away. Everything about it feels wrong, but I can’t consolidate the two. His life is here. And mine is about to be eaten up on the other side of the country.”

“Relationships have survived worse,” Missy said. 

“Are you saying I made a mistake?”

“I think you said it, Dana,” her sister said gently. “I think you owe it to yourselves to at least give it a chance.”

“I need to talk to him,” Scully said, almost to herself. “I hope it’s not too late.”

XxXxXxXxXxX

She waited hours for him to come home. She mostly sat on the couch chewing her nails to the quick, imagining every scenario under the sun. Dark clouds moved in just before sunset, and the sky took on an ominous color and mood. 

She was standing to switch on a lamp when she heard a soft knocking at their door. She rushed to it, swung it open, hoping it was him. 

It was a different Mulder. Samantha stood there, her hand still raised from knocking. 

“Dana!” she said in surprise, and then got a good look at what Scully assumed were her red-rimmed eyes and pallorous skin. “Are you okay?”

Scully sniffed and wiped her nose, didn’t answer. Sam stood there a beat and pushed on. 

“I came to apologize,” she said, her words in a rush, “I was being a shit, and what you and my brother do with your lives isn’t any of my business. I know you’re leaving town soon, and I wanted to just… clear the air.” 

“You don’t have to do that,” Scully said, looking down and away, embarrassed. 

“I do. So… I’m sorry.” 

Scully gave her a weak smile. 

“Do you... know where your brother is?” she asked.

Samantha looked chagrined. 

“I haven’t talked to him, but… Debbie said he had called and said he’d go up to the Bay with her this weekend. She left a couple of hours ago, I… I think Fox went with her.”

Scully nodded dumbly. She felt like the floor had opened under her.

“My shift at the station starts in a few minutes,” Sam went on, “I’ve got to get going.”  She reached out and squeezed Scully’s arm briefly, then turned away and left. 

When Scully closed the door and turned back into the apartment, she felt like the air had gone out of the room. Everywhere she looked, she saw a memory of the two of them. She needed out, she needed air. 

She grabbed her running shoes and slid them on, not even tying them very well. She took her keys from the hook and fled out onto the street. 

The sky was still lit, but barely, a yellowish ozone tinge to the air. She walked with her head down, not really having a destination in mind. She found herself at the mouth of the local park. 

Moths were barnstorming the streetlamps that were scattered throughout it, and there was a steady crowd of people streaming toward the street; a soccer league had just finished for the night. 

There were kids sucking on orange wedges, cleats with laces tied together draped over shoulders and around necks. A boy chased his sister, trying to get her to smell his shin guards. Somewhere off in the distance a coach or referee blew one sharp bleat on a whistle. 

Scully shouldered her way past them all, feeling numb. There was a low rumble in the distance--either a truck or thunder, Scully could not tell which, and did not care. Once she was away from the thinning crowd, she walked deeper into the park and eventually sat on a bench under a large maple tree, the bottom of the leaves lighter than the tops, like the belly of a fish. 

Time passed as did people, and both seemed to get fewer and farther between, the minutes slowing like dull drawn out heartbeats. A teenager gave her a disinterested glance and pulled his hood up over his head and walked on. A woman walking a pomeranian passed the other way, the dog pausing to sniff at Scully’s shoes. 

One more low rumble, and Scully finally came back to herself; thunder. The wind had picked up and cooled off, the sounds of the trees above her gradually turning from a salubrious psithurism to an ominous rattle. She wasn’t wearing a coat and was starting to get cold. 

She stood and looked around, trying to get her bearings. It wasn’t a large park, but it was long, and she was fairly far from the exit to the street. After a minute of walking, she thought she heard the shuffle of footsteps behind her and turned to look--there was no one there. When she turned back there was a person standing directly in front of her, appearing as if out of thin air. It was the teenager who had walked by her before--he looked older than she originally thought and his hood, which she realized now was more of a cloak, was pulled low over his face. He was holding a knife, and his gaze was intense. She felt the dump of adrenaline in her bloodstream. 

He didn’t say anything, just stood in front of her, staring at her darkly. 

“What do you want?” she finally asked him, sounding braver than she felt. 

He mumbled something she couldn’t make out, shifting on his feet. 

She had taken a self-defense course her sophomore year of undergrad, and her mind reeled trying to remember all that she had learned. 

She felt the cold bite of her keys in her hand and tried to shift them as subtly as she could to get them between her fingers. He noticed and raised the knife. 

“Don’t,” he said in a heavy accent, and she froze.

Scream, scream, scream the voice of her instructor came back to her, and she took a deep breath, just as the man in front of her started to twitch. She got the first “H-” of a blood curdling HELP ! out before he made a move, and everything after that seemed to happen in both slow-motion and fast-forward. 

He swung out with a fist which glanced off her stomach, rendering her scream mute and then slashed at her with the knife. She managed to get her arm up and out of the way and took a swing back at him with the fist holding her keys. Her punch glanced off his elbow and he moved forward towards her. Instinct took over and she brought her knee up for a groin shot. Her aim was off and she kneed him in the thigh instead, grazing it off the inside of his leg as he moved to defend himself. 

Momentum carried her forward and him back, and she felt a dull blow to her left arm that didn’t hurt much. His free hand reached out with the speed of a snake and grabbed her wrist, yanking it back. Her keys went flying. 

“Bitch!” he shouted at her and twisted her hand back until it was behind her and he was holding her from behind, his chest to her back. Adrenaline thrummed through her and her ears roared. She could feel the point of the knife just pressing into her side.

In one last ditch push of effort, she lifted her right foot up and slammed it down into the arch of his foot, connecting with a sickening crunch, just as her left elbow smashed into the arm holding the knife, which he dropped. It tinked onto the pavement of the path below them just as he gave a hollow grunt, his grip on her loosening. 

She twisted away and ran, another dump of adrenaline boosting her forward. After a quick burst of speed, she risked a look behind her. 

Nothing. Her attacker seemed to have dissolved as quickly as he had appeared, and she tripped in surprise, landing hard on her knees and hands. 

It was then she noticed the blood on her arm. It was bright red and running thickly from a gash just below her elbow. The realization brought her back to herself, and the cramp that had been forming in her side from what she had assumed was running turned into a burn. She reached around herself with her uninjured hand and it came away dark with blood. 

She felt another wave of panic and bile rose in her throat. She looked around. Her attacker was still gone, but so was everyone else. The park was empty and she was nowhere near the exit. 

She rose to her feet and stumbled a few paces before catching sight of a small outbuilding, backlit by a dim light. The building was most likely used to store lawn mowers and the other horticultural implements needed to maintain a park. She made her way toward it, feeling a little weaker with each step. 

Another low rumble of thunder cut through the air and she felt the first few stinging drops of rain start to fall. She finally got to the building and lurched around the corner toward the light. 

The first good fortune of the day: a phone booth stood sentry beside the building, the blue plastic binder that should have housed a phone book hung down empty, limp as a dead bird. She threw up a silent prayer that the phone itself worked. 

She floundered forward and picked the receiver up off of the hook. Dial tone. A relieved sob fell from her lips. 

She dialed the operator and asked for emergency services just as the rain came down in a deluge. She slumped to the ground under the booth, giving halting, hissed information to a dispatcher, blood seeping into the ground beneath her knees.



Chapter Text

She was separated from the rest of the patients in the ER by only a thin curtain that was occasionally thrown back with a curt shhtt! by any number of hospital personnel, quickly and at random. She flinched every time. 

She was wearing an ill-fitting grey sweatsuit provided to her by the police officers who came to take her statement and her clothes, as evidence. She was allowed to keep her shoes, for which she was grateful. They were almost dry, though marked by a Pollack-like splatter of blood, mud and rain water. She had eight stitches in her arm, nineteen in her side, and a prescription for an antibiotic which she clutched tightly in her hand. 

Shhtt! The curtain pulled back once again, this time admitting a nurse named Carmen--the woman was in her 50s and overweight, her hair pulled back in a dark bun with wiry strands of silver running throughout. She smiled at Scully, revealing a mouth full of crooked teeth. She’d had a tendency to call Scully “honey,” which Scully wanted to attribute to her sweet, maternal-like nature, but probably had to do with the fact that she couldn’t remember her name.  

“You’re almost out of here, darlin’,” she said, mixing it up a bit as she dipped her head to look Scully in the eye. “The doctor is filling out your discharge papers, now. These,” she handed Scully a few pieces of paper that were printed in faded dot-matrix ink, “are your after-care instructions. Ibuprofen for the pain. You can take up to 600 ml safely, every six hours.”

Scully nodded mutely and folded the papers around the smaller prescription. Nurse Carmen patted her leg gently. 

“Do you have someone you can call to come get you? It’s late.”

Scully glanced up at the clock on the wall -- it was nearly 3:30 am. She flipped through her mental rolodex and came up empty. 

“I… I don’t have my keys,” she told the woman in a halting voice, “he knocked away my keys.”

“Do you have a Super or a roommate that can let you in?” 

At the word “roommate” Scully felt tears burn in her eyes unbidden, but nodded at the nurse. Gary, their building manager, would be cranky as hell about it, but would let her in. She tried not to think about Mulder, and of course could only picture him on the porch of some oceanside cottage, sitting in a bench swing with Debbie while they fed each other crabcakes and drank red wine. 

Shhtt! This time the curtain produced her doctor, who had been kind enough, but always seemed too busy or distracted to meet her eye. His head was always buried in a chart or steeped in concentration six inches from her skin, sewing her back together. 

“All right Miss Scully, you’re free to go,” he said, snapping a folder closed. “Have you been assigned a detective yet for your case?”

“No, they said they’d call me,” she answered, and thought but with my luck…

He nodded and walked away, and Carmen touched her elbow and told her which way to go to get to the hospital exit. She passed by a pay phone near the door to the outside, but realized she didn’t have any change and gave the nurse at the nearest station her sob story before the woman, looking bored, handed her the station phone’s receiver and let her call a cab. 

She headed outside to wait. 

There was an ambulance idling just outside the emergency bay, the EMTs leaning against the side of the rig, drinking coffee and joking with each other. She couldn’t remember if they were the ones who had helped bring her to the hospital, so turned the other way and walked forty feet down the sidewalk, embarrassed. 

She hadn’t asked how long it would be until the cab showed up and wondered how many were even on duty this time of night. 

The pavement was damp, as if it had only just stopped raining, and it was still cold. She rubbed her hands together and stamped her feet to keep warm, the movement jarring the wound in her side. She felt close to tears. 

She heard the roar of a motor coming up the empty road, but a quick glance proved that it wasn’t her cab, just a motorcycle tearing up the drive, going too fast for conditions. She wondered if maybe the driver was hurt when he skidded to a stop under the overhang directly in front of the ER doors. 

The rider swung off his bike just as the two EMTs pushed off the ambulance, chiding him and telling him he couldn’t park there. The rider ignored them and whipped off his helmet, about to trot into the doors of the hospital when Scully recognized him and shouted his name. 

“Mulder?!”

His head whipped toward her voice and then he came running, his face a mask of worry. 

“Scully!” he shouted as he approached. He slowed only when he was nearly on top of her and reached out two hands, only to whip them back, as if afraid he might hurt her. “Scully,” he said again, “God! Are you okay?”

“How-” she said, not quite believing it was him, “what are you doing here?”

“I just found out,” he said, stopping short then stumbling into speech again. “That you were attacked. Jesus, I thought the worst.” He reached a hand out again, but didn’t touch her. “Are you okay?”

He must have driven in the rain. His jeans were soaked through and his hands looked red and chapped. 

“Scully,” he said, again, “ are you okay ?”

“Yeah,” she said, slowly. She wanted to be dismissive, but she was in too much pain. “I’m -- I’m cut,” she said, raising up her arm to show him the stitches. “And here,” she said, pointing to her side. 

“Jesus,” he said, “Will you be able to ride the bike? I need to get you home. Shit.” He looked around, “you can’t ride like this, we need to get you in a car.”

“No!” she said, and his head whipped back to her. “I can ride. Just… Please just take me home.”

He looked at her a long moment and then nodded, shrugging off his leather jacket to put around her shoulders. He helped her gingerly get it on, and then reached down to zip it for her. The inside of the jacket felt like silk, and was dry and warm. He put his arm around her and led her to the bike, the EMTs looking on silently, sipping their coffee and staring unabashedly. 

He got her on the bike first, unzipped her jacket a bit to put her care instructions and prescription in the inside pocket, and then delicately lowered the helmet over her head, securing it before putting on his own. He got on, careful not to jostle her.

She was able to wrap her arms around him--luckily even the injured one--without much pain, and his body felt wonderfully warm and solid in front of her. He kicked the bike on, and he drove as carefully back to their apartment as he had driven pell-mell to get to her. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

When they got back to the apartment, she was stiff, bone tired, and she wanted to tell him she’d made a terrible mistake, but she couldn’t find the words. 

He escorted her to her bedroom door and hovered there, an energy radiating off of him that fairly trembled. She turned to him, one hand on the doorknob, and looked at him expectantly. 

“Did he… hurt you?” Mulder asked. “Other than…” he gestured vaguely to her arm. 

“Hurt me?” she asked, confused, and the look on his face broke her heart. Oh. Oh. “No,” she rushed out, and put a hand on his arm. “This is the extent of it. I got mugged, Mulder. That’s it.” 

He must have rushed to the hospital without any information. She could only imagine all the dark scenarios running through his head. 

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. 

“Okay,” he said, “Okay…”

“Goodnight, Mulder,” she said, and he nodded. 

“Call out if you need anything. At all.”

She took her hand off the door handle. 

“I’ll leave the door open, just in case,” she said.

He nodded and backed away slowly, throwing her several concerned looks as he descended the stairs.

She fell into bed and slept for 12 hours. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

At 4:00pm, she hovered at the top of the stairs, her tongue thick with sleep in her mouth, her side and arm hurting. Her hair was a mess and she was afraid of what lay at the bottom of the stairs. Of facing the day, facing Mulder, facing her future. She thought of the dolly zoom in Hitchcock’s Vertigo , and placed her foot on the first step. 

Mulder was waiting on the couch and leapt to his feet when he saw her. 

“I was getting worried,” he said.

“Post-shock sleep,” Scully shrugged. 

“How are you feeling?”

In truth, she was feeling so many things they seemed to bottleneck in her throat and render her speechless. 

Finally, she just said, “Fine.”

He nodded at her, letting the silence settle around them, and it occurred to her that he was using a psychologist’s trick--waiting for her to fill the silence. She smiled to herself and let him have the round. 

“How did you know?” she asked, wanting to know since he’d shown up at the hospital on his motorcycle like Steve McQueen. “That I’d been attacked? Where to find me?”

He sat down on the couch and she gingerly lowered herself next to him. 

“Sam called,” he said, “ she was working at dispatch when your call came in. When I walked in the door, the phone had been ringing off the hook. She called and called. I’m so sorry I didn’t get there sooner.”

“You drove all the way down from the Chesapeake? In the rain?”

He looked at her, confused. 

“I never went to the Bay,” he said, cocking his head to the side. 

“You- what?” Scully said, sure she hadn’t heard right. 

“I never went to the Bay with Debbie,” he said, “I went over to talk to her and break things off, like I said I would.”

Scully felt like the top of her head had lifted off and floated away. 

“But Samantha said-” Scully started.

“Sam only knew what Debbie had told her the last time she saw her. We never went to the Chesapeake. I told Deb I wanted to see her before the trip, but only so I could break it all off. I ended up telling her everything. We sat and talked for hours…  She helped me figure out what to do.”

“What to do?” Scully said, feeling like pages had been torn out of an instruction book she’d been trying to follow. 

Mulder looked down at the floor and then raised his eyes to her. 

“I’m not the kind of guy who can date a woman… when I’m in love with someone else.”

Scully felt a surge of hope and happiness so overwhelming she wasn’t sure what the look on her face was. Mulder read it as something else all together. 

“Look, I’m sorry. I know you don’t feel the same way. And I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable, and I swear going forward I will keep it to myself, but for weeks I’ve felt like this and I thought there might be a chance you felt it, too. But you don’t, and I respect that. I just… I needed to say it. I needed to say it out loud. Once.”

She felt light and heavy all at once, elemental. Lit from the inside, like she’d swallowed a mouthful of ginger. 

He stood suddenly and ran his hands through his hair until it stood on end. 

“This is all my fault,” he said, pushing the heels of his hands into his eyes. 

Scully was taken aback. 

Your fault? Mulder-” she said. 

“I shouldn’t have pushed myself on you,” he said, “after Ethan was here. You were hurt and vulnerable and- you said it was a mistake. It was. The mistake was mine.”

He looked to the ceiling, shoved his hands into his pockets. 

“You didn’t push yourself on me, Mulder,” Scully said, refusing to let him take on responsibility for anything that had happened in the last 24 hours. She took a bracing breath. “And the only mistake was mine. When I told you that that night didn’t mean to me what it did. When I let you think for one second that I don’t feel the same way you do.”

His eyes snapped to hers. 

She stood and walked to him, his mossy eyes searching and perspicuous.  He was miles deep and a fathom tall. She realised in that moment--and she would be able to look back and remember it clearly--that to love him had an inevitable feeling. Inevitable as gravity. As death and taxes. She grabbed his hand. 

“My life right now is as tumultuous and up in the air as it has ever been and might ever be. I’ve been figuring out who I am on my own. I’m giving up what I thought I wanted out of my career and life for what I know I want. I’m about to move 3,000 miles away. And somewhere in the middle of all of that, I fell in love with my roommate.”

As he looked at her, a smile blossomed on his face and reached his eyes. He squeezed the hand she was holding. 

“I’m sorry I pushed you away. Frankly, this,” she put her other hand on his chest, “scares me. But I also know I would regret not at least trying to be with you. I’d regret it until the day I died. I didn’t realize that until I thought I was about to.”

He leaned down and rested his forehead against hers, took a deep breath. She felt everything inside her click into place. 

He leaned down and pressed the gentlest kiss to her lips.

XxXxXxXxXxX

They slept together that night--only slept. Mulder had gone out and picked up her prescription earlier in the day while she slept and the pills made her queasy. 

Mulder tucked her into his own bed downstairs, brought her Saltines and ginger ale. When she awoke the next morning, he was curled around her. He helped her change her bandages and tie her shoes--she still couldn’t quite bend over. 

At noon that day -- Labor Day -- the phone rang, it was Ellen calling from Seattle. 

“Dana?” she said. “God, how are you?”

Scully didn’t have the first idea how to respond to that particular question, so she deflected. 

“Ellen!” she said, “how are you ? How goes the internship? You ready to come home yet?”

“It’s fabulous! And that’s actually why I’m calling. Dana, they offered to hire me on full-time. They want me to work out here while I finish my degree.”

“Oh Ellen, congratulations!” she said, feeling genuine joy for her friend. 

“Thanks,” Ellen said, “I know you were counting on me to take the lease back over, and I can still probably help out for a few months now that I’m getting paid, but I thought I’d see how the new roommate is working out? Any chance he might want to stay for a bit longer?”

The roommate in question was currently tidying up in the kitchen, and came to the room’s doorway to eavesdrop on her conversation. 

“The new roommate?” she repeated for his benefit, and then gave him a tart look, “He’s working out okay, I guess.”

At that, Mulder feigned insult and promptly whipped off his shirt and started doing push-ups. 

“I take that back,” Scully said, maintaining eye contact with him while he exercised, by which she couldn’t help but get a little turned on. “He’s definitely working out.” Mulder stopped doing push-ups, sat up, and kissed his bare bicep. Scully let out a guffaw. “I’ll ask him.”

Ellen laughed too, without knowing why, and said “I’m so glad. And thank you. Oh, I’m going to miss you! Listen, I’ve got to get going, but we’ve got so much to catch up on. Talk soon?”

She watched Mulder as he disappeared back into the kitchen, still shirtless. “Sometime next week?”

“Done. I’ll call you. Bye Dane!”

“Bye!”

Scully rose to hang the phone back up on the wall and drifted into the kitchen, leaning against the doorframe to watch Mulder as he put dishes away.

“You do that a lot?” she asked him.

“Do what?” he asked, without looking away from his task, “Housework like a helpful roommate, or exercise hard to maintain my girlish figure?”

She came up behind him and kissed his bare back.

“Your figure is decidedly non-girlish, Mulder,” she said, ignoring his question, “for which I am increasingly thankful.”

He turned suddenly in her arms and she found herself staring at his bare chest. He rubbed his hands up down the tops of her arms, careful not to get too close to her cut. 

“Oh yeah?” he asked, leaning his face down into hers. 

She nodded into his kiss, “Yeah,” she said, right before his lips met hers. She deepened the kiss immediately, remembering the way the big muscles on his upper back had moved beneath his skin as he did push-ups, the way he’d looked at her with intent the entire time he was doing them. 

He let her lead, doing nothing more than returning her enthusiastic kisses and dropping his hands to rest lightly on her hips. 

She reached down and tipped her forefingers into the tops of his jeans, pulling him closer and then running her fingers to his fly. He pulled back, just as she popped the button. 

“Hey,” he said, nudging her face with his nose, brushing his lips lightly against hers. “What are you up for, here?”

She looked down at him with intent, at where his erection was pressing against the fly of his jeans. “Whatever you’re up for, flyboy,” she said, and nipped at him. 

“I just,” he leaned back a little bit more, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She unzipped his fly slowly. 

“You’re not going to hurt me,” she said. 

“You pop a few of those stitches, your doctor might say otherwise,” he said, putting his hands on hers to still her movements. 

“But I want you,” she said, licking her lips, reveling in the concupiscent lustiness he brought about in her. 

He smiled at her slowly. 

“We can figure this out,” he said, “we just need to be creative.”

“I have, so far, been both pleased and impressed with your creativity,” she said. 

“Then allow me,” he said, and turned their positions so that she was standing with her back to the counter, then bent down to shimmy her sweatpants and underwear off, while she stood, patiently, wondering what his plan was. 

When he straightened back up, he leaned forward, bracing his arms on the counter on either side of her. 

“What,” he said, leaning forward to kiss her, “can you do that doesn’t hurt?”

She grabbed his head and brought his mouth back to hers for a deep, thorough kiss, then she released him. 

“That,” she said, “didn’t hurt.”

He smiled at her.

“Noted.”

She reached forward and grabbed his fly again, and then started to lower his jeans down around his hips when she suddenly hissed in pain. Mulder grabbed her and straightened her. 

“So no bending over,” he said. She nodded, a little disappointed. “Can you sit?”

“As evidenced by sitting on my ass nearly all of yesterday evening and again this morning, all information points to sitting being a medically approved position for Patient Scully,” she said in her best med student voice. 

Mulder chuckled. 

“Okay,” he said, and then surprised her by reaching down and easily lifting her up and onto the surface of the counter, which was cold against her aforementioned ass. She let out a startled yelp. 

“Mulder!” she said. 

“Was that pain, or the temperature of the counter?” he asked. 

“The temperature of the counter,” she said through gritted teeth. 

He smiled wickedly. 

“The longer you sit on it, the more it’ll warm up,” he said. 

She shook her head. 

“Mulder, counters are for glasses, not for a-”

“Shh,” Mulder cut her off with a finger to her lips. “I promise I’ll clean up,” he said. 

She tilted an eyebrow at him, but complained no more. 

He put his hands on her thighs, spreading her legs apart so he could step in between them, their faces now perfectly level for kissing. He ran his hands lightly up her legs until his thumbs were just brushing at the crease where her legs met her pubis, sending a shiver down her spine. 

He had pulled his jeans back up, but hadn’t zipped them, so she reached down and slipped her hand inside, grasping the silken steel of him, and he hissed into her mouth. 

“You first,” he whispered, and then lowered himself to the floor, now at the perfect level to lean forward and press his face into her sex, giving her an open-mouthed kiss and inhaling deeply through his nose. “I love the way you smell,” he said, and then darted his tongue out to press into her labia. “I love the way you taste.”

She reached out and ran her hands through his hair, digging her nails into his scalp when he gently parted her labia with his fingers and started running his tongue softly over her clit, gradually with more speed and pressure. 

She concentrated on keeping her torso immobile, which was difficult when all she wanted to do was gyrate her hips into his sumptuous mouth, chasing the orgasm she could feel building even now. 

Just as he’d done before, he pressed one long finger and then another up and into her, and moments after he started rubbing the rough pad of her G spot, an orgasm surged up within her. She let go of his head and braced her hands on the countertop, holding herself as steady as she could as the waves crashed within her, and he gently lapped at her, slowing as she came down. 

He stood when she exhaled, and she rolled her head from one shoulder to the other, letting the ringing in her ears lessen with each breath. 

“How are you so good at that?” she asked, her tongue all lassitude in her mouth. 

“I was a double major,” he said smugly, his cocksure grin charming as a flop-eared terrier. 

She shoved him in the shoulder and he fell back a step, then moved forward to carefully help her down from the counter. She stood in front of him, still in a shirt with no pants, and he pressed a finger under her chin and tilted her head back until she was looking up at him. 

“I like this look,” he said, “it’s very Donald Duck.”

She laughed and shoved his shoulder again. 

“You know, I was going to push for reciprocity, but I think I just changed my mind,” she said. 

“Nah,” he said, and leaned down to nip at her nose, “plenty of time for that.” He then leaned over sideways to look at her aftercare instructions, which had been stuck to the fridge. “When do you get your stitches out?” 

“Friday,” she said. 

“Gonna be a good weekend,” he mumbled into her lips. 

She felt herself deflate. 

“I leave for California the Friday after that.” 

She hadn’t even begun starting to pack.

He leaned his head forward until it once again rested on hers. 

“We’ll figure it out,” he whispered. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

That night, they sat on the loveseat on their balcony, watching the stars wink on in the sky, Venus emerging brightly from the ecliptic. They drank iced tea (Mulder may have had a beer or two) and talked about how they’d handle being long distance, Scully tucked into Mulder’s side. 

They had yet to come up with a plan that excited them both. The pull of sunny California started to wane. 

“Have you ever found a place you felt like you belonged? Somewhere you just felt at home? Where you knew it was where you were supposed to be?” she asked him after a few minutes of silence. 

He squinted his eyes, thinking. Then, 

“It’s not down on any map,” he recited to the stars. “True places never are.”

Melville. She gave him a look, thought of her father.

“Yeah,” she said, “I’ve been searching for it my whole life. And I think… that place might be you.”

“You gotta go, Scully,” he said, looking down at her, knowing what she was getting at. “Med school is your dream, so it’s my dream, too. I won’t let you not go.” 

She took a breath, knowing he was right. 

“Besides,” he said, “I don’t want to be the only doctor in this house,” he said, then shrunk away from her, knowing what was coming. She swatted at him, then let him settle back against her.

They sat in silence for long minutes, until Mulder finally shifted. 

“Be right back,” he said, and stood, her side going cold from where he’d been. 

He came back a minute later, carrying the large white pillar candle that Scully had lit for him his first night in the apartment. He produced a lighter from his pocket, flicked it on and touched it to the wick, then set the candle on the small table in front of them.

“I’ll make you a deal,” he said, settling back onto the loveseat and gently tucking her back into his side. “Take this with you to California. I’m going to get one just like it. And when either one of us is doubting, or when things get too lonely or dark, we’ll each light the candle.” 

She glanced up to look at his profile, her heart constricting in her chest with love for this man. 

“To cast out the darkness?” she asked, her voice quiet. 

He nodded, then rolled his head to look at her. 

“I mean, we should have a go at the evil spirits, too,” he said, chuckling. 

She smiled at him, and leaned her head against his shoulder, watching the flame dance in the light breeze of the DC night. 

XxXxXxXxXxX

When Mulder got home from work the next day, Scully was on the couch trying to study, her stitches itching madly. 

“Hey,” he said, swinging the door closed. He hung his keys absently on the hook by the door, and kicked off his shoes. He had something in his hand. He was radiating a nervous energy.  “Something came for you in the mail.” He looked at her significantly. “From Georgetown.” 

“Probably paperwork for the end of term,” she said, barely looking up. “I’ve got a lot of crap I’ve got to fill out. You can put it in the kitchen.”

He sat down next to her. 

“I don’t think that’s what it is,” he said, and held out a standard white envelope. 

She looked at the return address. Georgetown Medical School

She felt her eyes go wide and looked at him. 

“Go on,” he said, and she wasted no time tearing into it. 

She read the letter twice before leaning back into the couch and finally looking at him. 

“Don’t make me guess,” he said quietly. 

“Accepted,” she said, the smile blooming on her face mirrored back at her. “Full ride scholarship.”

“You get to stay,” he said, mirabile dictu. 

“I get to stay.”

The sunlight coming through the sliding glass door behind him glinted off his hair, turning it into a filmy halo of gold. He reached out and hooked her thumb through his pinkie, pulling her hand up until it was against his chest, pressing against his beating heart. 

She felt the thump and swish of it, its heat and birr, and she knew what it felt like to be home.

 

THE END