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After She Left

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There were little moments Mulder looked forward to when they were finally together because these days, they were mostly apart.

On more than one occasion, she would make the drive out from Washington D.C. to Virginia to the home and space of memories they built together. It began as a place that was filled with light and hope but they had broken down and lost themselves to a darkness he couldn’t fight, nor did he want to if he was being completely honest.

When she did return, it was over an extended weekend she was taking from Our Lady of Sorrows. Often, she would arrive late on a Friday night after a long week with patients. Sometimes she just stayed one night and was gone before the coffee cooled in her first cup.

The visits weren’t of stated reconciliation or purpose as far as Mulder could tell. He missed her and she all but stated how much she longed for him. Having her home was a comfort of which neither of them seemed to be able to do without. Mulder, being uneasy about web cameras and cell phones, wouldn’t use modern technology to connect with her when he was feeling lonely. After all this time, he still held on to the idea that he was being monitored by the very group he worked to destroy twenty years ago. At least by using a landline, he could inspect the connections to his house for any tampering. If he learned anything from celebrity news channels, it was that a cell phone was easy to hack into.

Instead, he would call her office and if he didn’t hear back from her, listen to her message a couple times more than was acceptable. If she answered, he would expect to see her back at the house that weekend. On the rare occasion, she would invite him to see her in the city but those visits lasted thirty-six hours, tops. Mulder didn’t like being in the space she had built out of necessity after leaving him. It was easier for him to watch her stand awkwardly in the kitchen doorway and smile apologetically than to notice how much more she was decorating and taking ownership of the space that didn’t include him.

This time, she found him standing over the kitchen sink eating a peanut butter and jam sandwich. After more than ten years of living together, he had reverted back to the bachelor lifestyle that he had happily given up once he and Scully had started their relationship. While his body didn’t appreciate the lack of well-rounded meals now that his companion had left their home, he didn't want to cook for one and couldn't bring himself to dirty more than a knife.

It was April of 2015 and they had seen each other just last week for lunch near the home they once shared. He kissed her on the cheek and she looked at him, wondering what he was up to. He had been trying to emerge from the obsessions that overwhelmed him by getting his life in order. When he called up an old contact at the Justice Department, however, he wasn’t met with a warm greeting.

That evening as she stood on the edge of the kitchen they shared many meals together, he could tell that she was wondering about him. She set her keys down on the counter and he looked at her with a sadness he knew she couldn't bear.

Why? Why not anymore? She loved him. Her heart always belonged to him. No matter her geography, she would always love him even if she couldn't live there three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. A full time commitment from either of them at this point didn’t work for what they were still trying to work though. This way, she didn't need to live among his madness and obsession.

"I wasn't expecting you this weekend," he said and washed the butter knife, placing it in the wooden drying rack she picked out when they first bought the house.

He felt embarrassed she had caught him doing a mildly pathetic act of eating over the sink instead of something more functional like preparing a meal to eat at a table. Scully’s expression only looked worried and slightly remorseful but he couldn’t tell if she felt sorry for leaving or sorry for coming back.

He nodded towards the sink. "Old habits."

She nodded slowly with her chin clenched and crossed her arms in front of her. He knew that she wasn't trying to appear closed off but she had the tendency to run cold when he ran warm.

After twenty years, they were still on opposite sides of the line when it came to most things. It was the bleak side of someone being your perfect opposite. He kept the house cooler when she wasn't around. On the off chance that they had made a plan to see each other, he readied the house for her arrival. In anticipation, he would build a fire and close any open windows.

The only problem with anticipation was that it stung sharply when it wasn’t met. He stopped preparing the house every weekend because it made him too sad when she didn't come. He would get an email Saturday afternoon explaining she had a surgery run late, her mother needed her to help that weekend or another excuse Mulder accepted but didn't always believe.

"I have groceries in the car," she informed him after a beat of silence. "I can make a proper dinner if you’re still hungry."

He followed her to the dusty driveway she complained about and watched as she struggled on the gravel in her heels. Mulder put his hand out to steady her and she looked at him gratefully but with something else.

It was probably resentment towards never paving the driveway, even though she no longer had claims over the state of the property anymore. She told him he could do what he wanted with their ordinary house, let the grass get overgrown and leave dishes for days if it helped him search for the truth but she wouldn't be there to clean up the mess. It had been a rough transition for him to care for the house outside of his obsessions.

In the trunk, he spotted food for more than just a night and noted she had her overnight bag. She still had some clothes in their shared closet but a lot of them had migrated back to her place. He hated that.

"How long are you here for?" he asked as he picked up the cloth bags by their handles. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know but he had to ask the question.

"I'm off until Wednesday," she answered, picking up her bag and closing the trunk. "I can stay until then if you'd like."

He would always want her there. Since their informal and not quite reconciliation that never resulted in anything permanent, he spent most of his time wondering when he could refresh the smell of her on his sheets. He longed for her perfume to hang in the air and her make up to scatter over the sink.

It was never a question about wanting her to stay. Since she walked into his basement office, he wanted her with him. Unfortunately, he would never push her to stay longer than she felt comfortable or have expectations of long visits. Leaving became easier for her more and more these days. It was harder on him after she left and the spaces around him became reminders of his loneliness.

It was early spring of 2013 when Scully had moved out of their ordinary home to a downtown apartment in D.C. that was sleek and stylish. It was as far away from the life they had built together as possible. She paid monthly strata to ensure garbage removal and a housekeeper to come by twice a month to ensure the house was kept to her standards. Everything about her life was a stark contrast to the one she slipped back into when she came back to him. After she left, Mulder assumed Scully tried to shed her marital status to him as much as she did the quiet life but the indentation on her left hand showed that she had been wearing her ring when she wasn’t there.

It didn’t take long for her to settle into the kitchen with an apron around her waist and a hand towel over her shoulder as she prepared the dinner. Scully glanced in the ceramic utensil holder that sat near the stove. Wordlessly, Mulder opened a drawer and handed her a long wooden spoon.

He would tell her that he kept most of the items out of the air because they collected dust when she wasn’t using them but it was only a reminder of how fucked up their arrangement was.

While she worked in the kitchen, Mulder showered, put fresh sheets on the bed and cleaned up the bedroom he hardly used anymore. He couldn't sleep in a bed they used to share nightly. Even when she lived there before, if she slept at the hospital because of work, he slept on his couch in the office. As he was coming down the stairs, he ran a hand over the two days of stubble on his cheeks. It wasn't long enough for her to protest but he went back upstairs to shave anyway.

Pork chops were baking in the oven as mashed potatoes waited in a pot to be scooped out. She had steamed green beans and prepared a nice gravy with mushrooms and onions. He could hear her moving around the kitchen, humming to herself a song she probably heard on the radio while she drove there. It was bittersweet to watch her muddle in a kitchen and look so domestic naturally when it would only be for a night or two. It was familiar and yet this wouldn't last either.

"Everything will be ready in a minute," she called over her shoulder as she stirred the gravy.

Mulder came up behind her and kissed her neck, holding her by her hips and tasting the skin at her shirt collar. "Mmmmmmm."

He could feel her breath hitch as he held her and her skin flushed under his mouth. “Hi.”

"I miss you," he professed.

She closed her eyes as he nipped at her skin and moved one hand up to her breast. “I missed you too.”

This part of their reunions was easy to slip back into. His tactile nature called to touch her and feel her body against his. He spent seven years knowing he couldn't because of rules of work, friendship and personal quests. Now in their estrangement, he was grateful for this fragment of what they once had was still available for them to enjoy.

"Mulderrrrrr," she meant it to be a warning but he knew she was enjoying herself.

While it was easy to slip back into the domesticity of their relationship, she was usually with him for longer than an hour before he was pulling her clothes off her skin and enticing her to join him in bed. Scully needed a bit of wooing and frankly, so did Mulder. However, sometimes when she had been gone for a few weeks, they took solace in each other's bodies while sauce simmered on the stove and the egg timer buzzed on the counter, responsibilities pushed aside by the need to reconnect.

He knew that she missed him because she told him as much when she would come home. She stopped hiding the fact that she was lonely without him but she also wasn’t ready to return. The last time that his tongue danced along the inside of her thigh, she confessed that she missed the feeling of him above her, his hands on her body and the touch of his skin. They had grown accustomed to talking in the dark as they fell asleep or napping on the porch hammocks bathed in sunlight.

In the months before she left, sharing a bed at night had become a rarity and their sexual activity had dwindled to a nonexistent experience. It was partly Mulder’s fault - he could see that now.

For a man who had irregular sleep patterns for too long, his body had forced him to nap during the day when he stayed up into the late hours of the night previously. Turning fifty would do that to a man. He would fall asleep on the sofa, still holding on to a paper with one hand, catching up on the hours he missed at night.

When their relationship was less adverse to strife and anger, which was not often towards the end, Scully would crawl along the couch and nestle into the crook of his arm. He would wake at dinner time with her sleeping soundly to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. Her scent and the feeling of her body next to his was like a lullaby that he longed for but it wasn’t enough to keep him from endlessly searching in his quest for answers.

Mulder frowned as he recalled how far they had strayed from what was comfortable and loving to anger and mistrust. They had swayed from afternoon naps together to screaming over the same space as he accused her of the very thing he mistrusted in her at the beginning of their partnership.

“How are you feeling?” she asked him, her voice pulling him out of his contemplation.

"The timer on the oven says fifteen minutes," Mulder read the clock before going back to kissing her neck. "Simmer the gravy and come upstairs."

Scully shut off the burner and moved the gravy to the back of the stove. She turned around in his embrace and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a kiss.

She told him once in a moment of newness of intimacy that she liked how he tasted. She called it ‘a little like coffee, salt from a sunflower seed and an underlying taste of him.’ Mulder blushed at the comment then, telling Scully she should have been a writer. He wondered if she could taste any of that now or just the toothpaste that he had used after his shower.

“I want to eat,” she protested lightly.

“So do I,” he countered and he watched the pink in her cheeks flush a deeper crimson.

If he thought about the feeling of her too much while she was gone, his heart would ache. She was softer, sweeter and smoother than anything else he had ever had.

The kiss broke and Scully pressed her face into his chest to breathe him in. He leaned his cheek against her tresses and appreciated that her perfume and conditioner had lingered from her morning shower. It might be Scully who returned to an address she once held but for Mulder, her mere existence was like coming home. He only felt that with her. The thought that a man would feel like a visitor in his own home until the woman he loved returned was almost laughable.

"Come upstairs," he whispered into her hair.

"Dinner first," she bargained.

Mulder kissed her mouth firmly and looked down at her. She looked tired, worn out from her daily life and he worried she wasn't eating enough. Funny how the caretaker tendencies that she displayed for him were mirroring back to her.

"Dinner first," he agreed.


******


He washed the remaining dishes from supper as she sipped wine and relaxed on the couch. The old routines from their domestic life came back to them easily. Who would clean up and who would make the coffee for the next morning became usual patterns of comfort.

What surprised Mulder most was that being with her after a month of being apart didn’t feel new or different. Her body felt and tasted the same to him.

His eidetic memory served him well and he knew her body like he knew her mind. She would be responsive to him while putting her knowledge of human anatomy and their history of where to touch and what he liked.

The emotional need for finding comfort in one another outweighed the repercussions when they were apart. He ached for her when she left and the loneliness of his day-to-day life was a stark contrast from how much space she filled when she returned. He could only obsess over the lies their government and the media were spouting for so long. It only took her leaving to realize that his wife shouldn’t have been treated like a part-time hobby.

As Mulder placed the last dish in the drying rack and tossed the tea towel over his shoulder, he turned to look at her as she sat in the corner of the couch with a book open on her lap and her wine held up as though she might drink from it at any moment.

These were the times that were most confusing because they weren't back together and yet they weren't entirely apart. They were caught somewhere in the space between but their emotional limbo only hurt him during the long stretches when she didn't return to him.

Scully licked her lower lip as she read the pages in front of her and he felt himself stir in his jeans. One thing among their fucked up arrangement was true, his physical reaction to her had yet to waver.

Even as they joked about getting older, Mulder didn't feel like a middle-aged man when he was with her. It wasn’t just because of the amount of sex they had on during her visits but because she reminded him of what was good about himself.

Her presence was like a balm for everything that was wrong. Being away from her, being separated most of the time, these moments made it better.

Mulder hung up the tea towel on the hook by the sink and joined her in the living room. She bent her knees to give him more space as he sat in the opposite corner from her.

He nestled into his spot at the right end of the couch complete with wear patterns on the armrest from where he drummed his fingers, rubbed them nervously during live baseball games and sunk in the middle from his repeated weight. Scully set her wine down on the coffee table and the book she was reading next to it to scoot over towards him.

In moments like these as Scully crossed a space to be with him again, he had the reaffirmation that she was still missing him. She didn’t return to their home just to check up on him or alleviate her guilt over breaking their vows.

She sat in the bow of his arm, her back resting against his side with her feet propped on the couch next to her. “You look good, Mulder.”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. Scully wasn’t as demonstrative or verbal in their years together about his appearance. She could tell him a thousand times over that she appreciated his mind, his heart or his gestures but when she complimented how he was looking, it was almost like she was overcoming a mental block. Perhaps it was because she was raised that one’s heart, work ethic and mind were celebrated above more basic vainglorious pursuits.

“I’ve been running a lot,” he told her. “The basement gym is getting a lot of use.”

“I saw your sneakers by the back door as I was cooking,” she told him. “I wondered if you were.”

At times his exercise regime was for health reasons, but occasionally, it was fueled by anxiety and anger.

When she decided she couldn't stay there anymore, it had been a long time since he had taken care of his appearance. His beard had grown back and he stopped cutting his hair. He only ran to exhaust himself enough to sleep but he wasn’t eating a proper diet to maintain a healthy weight.

The argument that arose when she left was one of the worst ones they had ever had and probably the most painful thing he had to endure. It was late March of 2013 and he refused to look her in the eye. She told him she couldn't save him from himself if he didn't want to be saved and kept pushing her away. He yelled at her that if she couldn't take him like this, then she deserved to be lost with everyone else when the invasion came.

However, it never happened and he couldn't stop thinking about why.

Mulder could feel her thinking now about the issues they had dealt with in the past. Maybe it was the peace they were finally enjoying after so much strife but that conversation needed a pin put in it for the time being. Her visits had been infrequent. It was only natural that he would want to delay a possible fight if he could.

"Don't think about it," he said and kissed her hair.

Their past arguments would always plague them but it was time to bury some of their old issues and move forward. He understood that much yet he was struggling deep down. The bigger part of him argued that there was something sinister going on at the hand of the American government. That part of him couldn’t be happy and bury his head in the sand when more was going on than those in charge let on.

Due to that, Mulder feared they could never repair what they had broken between them. He looked at her knowing why she abandoned him long before she left. She disengaged herself from him, slowly extracting herself from his long tentacles of obsession and passion until she was simply gone from his life.

Maybe it was never meant to be repaired and living in a state of uncertainty with their relationship would have to become the new status quo.

For him, the not knowing drove him to ask for answers and Scully’s curious mind needed the truth as well. They lived at an impasse, using one another while also hurting each other with the distance they had grown accustomed to.

Scully got up from her place next to him and poured herself a refill on her wine. When she returned, she had a beer for Mulder. He gave her a kiss before she settled into the crook of his arm and the comfort of a quiet evening took over the living room once again.

After she left, he waited over two months before he even contemplated calling her. He had excuses in his mind like what the unlabelled meat in the freezer was but that wasn’t strong enough. He figured out how to manage and left her alone.

"I don’t know how much longer I can live in this early retirement," he admitted and she took a long sip of her wine. "I keep thinking I need to get back to work."

"Where? The FBI?"

"I contacted someone at the DOD," he admitted. “The reception was less than welcome.”

“Did that surprise you?” she questioned.

Mulder shrugged. “I suppose I assumed that getting back into government work would be a little easier. The FBI cleared me of all charges. I have experience in the field.”

“You also have a reputation,” Scully noted.

Mulder breathed quickly through his nose. “So do you.”

She turned slightly in her seat and clinked her wine glass against his amber-coloured beer bottle. He kissed the back of her head and they sat for a beat with the silence hanging in the air.

“Are you planning to live in the city if you get a job there?” she asked lightly.

“I thought maybe I could stay with you,” he said half jokingly but inside he worried she would tell him no.

"Oh,” she began. “I think-”

"Or not,” he tried to recover quickly. “I know I’m not the best house guest.”

He needed a change of scenery from this ordinary house and beautiful landscape. He wasn't falling into catatonic schizophrenia like she had said about him being in the suburbs but the peace and quiet had become too much for him for too long. The quiet and solitude that the remote farm used to provide as a refuge from the outside world had become unbearable without her. This wasn’t the life he wanted for them when they first moved in and he couldn’t continue in this limbo much longer. If he did move back to the city, living with her again was the ideal but obviously not the only option.

After his exoneration in 2008, he spent the next few years freelancing for newspapers and psychological journals. As he continued to submit his work, he made some more connections and eventually published a book. The political climate offered pleasing book sales and a lucrative return, however it wasn’t a career he sought for himself. He kept himself busy but it wasn't the same. He missed the city and, most importantly, her.

"I was contacted by a publisher who liked the first round of essays I published and I might have some work lined up..." he started. It was an excuse but he wanted to be with her. "It would be good to stay there when I'm in town."

“Mulder, you know that you’re welcome to stay with me any time you want,” she began and he watched the edge of her lips. “I’m just surprised you wouldn’t want to take a private helicopter into the city. You said it was so convenient.”

"Turns out after a hundred flights, they won't let you help fly the chopper, so who needs that?" Mulder joked and they shared a laugh.

They didn't have many of those days. He was trying to be less of a dark thundercloud that invaded the light and sunshine that he knew Scully was searching for since she all but ran from their home towards a different life than the one she had endured with him.

It had been ages since he had even mentioned living in the city again and when it had come up, it wasn’t done lightly or with serious intent.

"Would you… I mean, are you ready to have a roommate?" he asked tentatively.

There was a worry in his voice that he hated but she could reject his request too. The potential to be denied was heartbreaking.

He could see her deciding what to say next and turned to smile secretively at him. "I like my spaces better when you're in them."

Mulder was surprised again by another admission. Unless she was experiencing nirvana brought on by his oral talents, the compliments to him were few and far between.

He needed to express how he felt about her and to say the one thing that hadn’t changed for him since he let go of the barriers of distrust and had the privilege to call her his friend.

"I love you," he said, studying her profile.

"Oh brother," she scoffed. He poked a finger into her ribs getting an uncharacteristic squeal from her as she squirmed away but he held her close. There was silence for a beat and she kissed his left forearm that was across her chest, holding her shoulder to him. "I love you too."

"So...." he said slowly.

She stood up and held her hand out to him. "Let's go to bed."

He followed her up the stairs, leaving a few lights on in case. He didn't know in case of what. In case she changed her mind or in case she asked him to sleep on the couch. The doubt and worry crept into his mind often.

When she left, she told him she couldn't stay because she couldn't watch him destroy his life and hers over aliens and conspiracies. She lost that fight and it was over. He yelled at her that she should have more integrity and tell the truth. He guessed that he had finally stopped deserving her and she told him it wasn't about deserving or not being good enough. She said time and time again that he was a good man but this fear of what was coming was hurting both of them. But in all the darkness he brought into their home, she didn't want this obsession taking over again.

It was a long six months until they spoke again. They were forced to meet at the bank to discuss the renewal of the mortgage. There were many reasons to part ways after their appointment but they used that flimsy excuse to go for coffee. Coffee turned into lunch, which turned into dinner, which led to her spending three days in bed with him.

"Mulder?" Scully called from the bathroom and pulled him from his memories of how things fell apart. "Where's the bubble bath?"

"I threw it out," he answered and she made a disappointed face like it was done to hurt her. "There was a bee in it."

Scully nodded and turned the dual heads for the shower. After Mulder watched an HGTV marathon on beautiful bathrooms, he insisted for two weeks he could make their shower better. Scully wanted to point out his history with plumbing but he did the necessary research, he ordered the right tools and got to work. He re-tiled the backsplash, fixed the downstairs toilet and put in the second showerhead by adding a T-Galv pipe. They had to bathe in the guest bathroom upstairs for two months but when it was finished, they took a celebratory shower together that lead to bathroom acrobatics.

As she undressed, Mulder took in the sight of her body. It had been a few weeks and every time, he still responded like it was the first time. He told her she was beautiful while reaching out to her and she flushed at the compliment.

"I was just in there," Mulder pointed out as she pulled him towards the shower and pushed his boxers down.

"So come in and wash my back," she invited with a grin.


*** ***

 

After his exoneration in 2008, they lived their lives openly like a husband and wife without the formalities or jewellery. In a brazen attempt to be casual but make things official, Mulder proposed two weeks after he was cleared over spaghetti bolognese. The response he got from her was less than kind and the only way he could read it was disappointment as she made a face.

Eventually that night, she apologized for her response and lightly begged him not to ask her anymore.

It only took two weeks for things to come to blows when suppressing his hurt feelings finally stopped being possible.

"Why don't you want to get married?" he pushed as they unloaded the groceries from their recent shopping trip. "Or is it you don't want to get married to me?"

"I don't need to be married by a church or the law to think of us that way," she replied back as she knelt on the ground to unload the produce into the refrigerator drawers. "It's just a legality after all we've been through. I don't need to define how I feel about you with paper or a ring."

"What if it's something I need?" he challenged as he stopped putting the canned food into the cupboard and turned to her. "What if it's something I want to give you?"

"Mulder," she said in that tone that said so many things.

Mulder in that tone meant he was being ridiculous. It meant that his theory couldn't possibly pan out when it usually did. That inflection on his name meant that she didn’t have his back and when it came to marriage, she really should.

She stood up from the ground and closed the fridge behind her with the paper bag in her hand while she looked at him pleadingly. He didn’t want to hear that he wasn’t marriage material or wasn’t worthy to be called her husband but he’d rather hear it from her in that moment versus from a coworker, who didn’t know who he was, making an offhand comment about ‘Dr. Scully’s boyfriend.’

"Why can't we do that one thing like everyone else?" he cried, exasperated at her need to contend with him.

Scully narrowed her eyes on him and he walked around the kitchen. She tossed the dishtowel on the counter and crossed her arms in front of her. This time she wasn't cold, she was argumentative.

"Did my brother put you up to this?" she questioned as she began to fold the paper bags together for storage.

Mulder gave her a look that conveyed his opinions of her brother as well as the fact that he wouldn't be swayed by what Bill Scully thought of him. He did want the guy to stop giving him a hard time at family dinners but he wouldn't get into this much of a fit over the opinions of Bill Scully Jr.

Scully held her hands up. "Sorry. Okay."

"I just thought it was time," he confessed, crossing his arms as he stood in the centre of the kitchen behind her. "What's holding us back? We have that trip coming up. I'm not wanted by the FBI anymore. What's your hold up?"

She turned to face him and crossed the space to unfold his arms. He was unwilling to look at her while she looked up at him.

Scully sighed and put his arms around her back to force him to hold her. He gave in quickly and she wrapped her arms around his waist to end their disagreement with a small gesture.

"You know when you asked me the first time, I thought it was about banking stuff,” she admitted. “I thought it was a joke. Now I see you're serious."

"Scully, the first time I asked you to marry me was in 1998 and you scoffed at me," Mulder reminded her as he made eye contact.

"To be fair, I was dealing with a possessed doll and you were listening to me talk about the occult and black magic like it was phone sex," she retorted.

"That was better than-"

She held up a hand between them. "Let me stop you right there."

Mulder laughed gently and tightened his grip on her. He kissed the side of her head and let out a slow breath. "Marry me, Scully."

"No," she said, looking up at him sadly.

"Don't you love me anymore?" he said in a teasing tone. He had moved on past the idea at this point. He would goad her to hide his feelings, even though he knew she wasn’t a fan of that. She pushed on his chest and he pulled her tighter to him, kissing her neck. "Marry me, Miss Scully!"

"Oh, fuck off," she laughed and pushed on his body again.

"We could be Mulder and Mulder," he said brightly and let her walk away from him.

"If I ever agree to marry you, you are never calling me that," she replied and threw the dishtowel at him, leaving him to do the rest of the dishes himself.

The memory of that conversation drifted from his mind and Mulder looked around the bathroom as Scully lathered her legs in a scented lotion that Mulder could only describe as ‘girly.’ The flowery scents were mixed to the point of intoxicating him as it wafted under his nose when he held her.

Her glass of wine sat on her bedside table and he observed the lipstick on the rim. He remembered a time when such observances of her femininity would baffle him for a moment.

Mulder had become accustomed to the ins and outs of her routine and he no longer paused mid-sentence as she reapplied lipstick or looked at the packaging of pantyhose in wonder. He knew exactly what the nylons felt like in his fingers as he peeled them down her smooth legs and what the shade of her lipstick looked like on his mouth. The wonder of the female side of Scully had gone and all that was left was mixed bittersweet memories.

The evening was getting late and Mulder could see that Scully was growing tired. The drive in wore on her more than it used to. It was probably because of all the things she was anticipating getting into with him. He had to say that he understood that. When he knew that she was coming, he felt his anxiety work through potential fights and scenarios he wanted to avoid or hash out.

She told him once that it wasn't easy to be there as much as it used to be but leaving him was harder than everything else she did. He simply replied that she should just stay then but it was nearly impossible these days to be together full time.

She returned to the bed and pulled the sheets over her naked frame as she tucked into the space under his arm to warm up.

Mulder ran his fingers gently up her naked back. Her skin had cooled from their lovemaking after their shower but she was warmer than usual.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked, looking up from where her head lay on his chest.

"Proposals," Mulder said simply.

"What kind?" she clarified.

He kept his eyes on the ceiling. "Marriage."

"Mulder…" she began as she pulled away slightly.

"It's okay, I was just thinking of the last time I asked you," he told her reassuringly and she laid back down on his chest.

The last time he asked her, she said yes practically on a whim, thinking that he wouldn't follow through with a wedding license or anything serious. She didn't realize he was.

"What do you want, Dana?" Mulder asked. "I’m trying to offer normality."

Despite what most people assumed about them, he did call her Dana sometimes when they were alone together at night. He sighed it in the morning when the sun came in through the windows, even in the winter. When it was intimate and they felt close, he would whisper her name and it felt right. He had been calling her Scully for so long that it seemed out of order to call her anything else. Dana wasn't who she was anymore.

"You need to stop," she advised as an eye roll of epic proportions moved across her face.

"I’m trying to make myself more of who you want,” he explained as he continued to touch and kiss her.

Mulder needed contact after the sex was over versus the instinct to ‘deposit his seed’ and run. The caveman aspect of his biology was there but he had learned over the years that some instincts were meant to be fought against. He found comfort in opening up with her instead of rolling over and falling asleep.

“You are who I want,” she countered. “It’s just…”

“The darkness and my paranoia,” he finished for her. “This isn’t working.”

“What part?” she asked.

“The part where you leave and I have to live with your ghost around here,” he replied as he looked around the room where she had already brightened it with her things. It would be temporary until she packed up and left again.

“I’m not trying to hurt you by coming home,” she replied as she rolled onto her back on the bed. “I can stop if I’m not welcome-”

“No one said that,” he interjected as he rolled on his side to look down at her. “I just need us to be on the same page with where we’re going. This feels like limbo.”

"Because it is," she said for emphasis and he winced. “Limbo isn’t permanent, Mulder. But if we move forward, it’s because it’s going to take more than just a few good weekends together to actually fix what was broken. I’m not just talking about the normality of using our first names and sharing a car."

"Okay, I get it," he replied, feeling as though it could lead to another fight if he pushed it.

Fighting wasn't bad. Fighting meant there was still passion there.

They both knew he wouldn’t. That was his nature. It was why they weren't together. There wasn't just Mulder and Scully in their relationship, breaking them apart. Scully had told him that as long as he felt there was a truth he didn't know, it was like he was having an affair and that darkness was a burden neither of them knew how to contend with.

It wasn’t fair when his quest was for answers. Those truths, in turn, would save humanity and it was not some selfish pursuit of a better life with a twenty-year-old version of her. He only wanted her but he wanted resolution too.

They had separate residences for almost two years and Mulder found each day to be a struggle. His days began to blur together and became routine in the monotony of repeating the routine over and over again. After falling asleep on the couch the previous night in the early hours of the morning, he would wake up late, spend what was left of the morning catching up on news, trade theories online with some contacts and run in the afternoons before dinner.

Bad habits formed rather quickly. He cooked one big meal on Mondays and made it last throughout the week. If he was being honest, it was because he hated spending time in the kitchen. Everything reminded him of her. If he could bring himself to leave the house altogether, he would and possibly find solace in someplace less riddled with memories of them. Part of him still held on to the idea she would come home and they could pick up like she never left.

The house was virtually haunted by memories of her. There was furniture they had picked out together, pieces she had found at flea markets on trips alone and items he had ordered online that she wasn’t fond of but accepted anyway like the rest of his quirks. He corrected himself because she used to accept those quirks. At least when she left him, she had the decency or cruelty to leave their marital bed behind.

Areas of the house such as the bedroom were off limits. The kitchen was still a necessity but a reminder of where they were as a couple. When she returned, they cooked together in there, made coffee and discussed what was in the news. Over the years, they made love on the counter once or twice. Actually, it was more if Mulder was counting, which he promised Scully he wouldn't do. More than once, they ate ice cream on the floor in their underwear in the summer when it was hot.

After she left, they both knew it wasn't about their marriage or petty differences they couldn't solve. They didn't fight about the little things that made the big things unbearable such as who would fold the laundry or why the dishes weren't done. She needed to escape seclusion and the sadness his quest brought into their lives. For years, they had tried to keep their former demons out of their home but ultimately, the proverbial wolf howling at the door was too much. Eventually, he stopped trying and every day he brought more of what she didn’t want in their home. She called it depression and he called her a coward. The third party at their table set for two was a mistress she told him she couldn't compete with and didn't have the heart to keep trying. He didn’t blame her.

They were at an impasse since he had yet to be reinstated into any regular job that would sanction his search to prove or deny colonization. Consulting jobs with private investigation firms, writing a book and consulting with a few police departments were a far cry from the office he held at the FBI. It was a basement office but it at least allowed him access down avenues of investigation he was denied now.

Ultimately, he knew that she had yet to forgive him for choosing this quest over her and their happiness.

 

***

 

Mulder just wanted her to see that he could choose her as long as she continued to keep looking into the abyss with him. It was what he needed. He became that person as a young man when his sister was taken in front of him. While it took twenty-five years to work through the memories, he finally understood it wasn’t his fault. He just wanted to rectify that so it never happened to another child. It didn’t matter that what they knew of the syndicate burned in that airplane hanger and Spender had been killed. He felt deep down that something was coming.

In all the years Scully had been in his life, she had only once tried to quit on him and it was after five long years of struggle and losing their office. She stood in his apartment doorway and told him that a job outside of the X-Files in the FBI wasn’t holding the same interest for her. He knew she was tired but he needed her there with him. He believed in himself and what he was searching for because she grounded him. She peppered his theories with science and facts, made it into legitimate work and they found respect among his peers.

It took an Africanized honey bee carrying an alien virus to reinvigorate her determination to find and bring the men involved with colonization to justice. What else would it take to get her back into searching for answers?

It occurred to Mulder then. William.

“What are you thinking?” she asked as she turned over in the bed.

“About our son,” he answered quietly.

Scully put her hand on Mulder’s cheek and he pulled her arm towards his mouth to kiss the inside of her wrist. “I was thinking about him on the drive over.”

Mulder worried that the loss of their son was harder on her than she let on. “What were you thinking?”

She sighed as he kissed his way up her arm. “I was thinking he would be almost fourteen now and probably eager to learn to drive soon. I wondered if his hair ever darkened or if he stayed fair.”

Mulder looked at the red hair across the pillow by Scully’s head. “Your dad is a redhead and your mother is a natural brunette?”

She nodded.

“I am sure he kept your colouring,” he mused and she shook her head. “Why?”

“I would hope he would have your skin… and eyes maybe,” she said. She looked into his eyes and he could see that she was both embarrassed and happy. “I miss him… and I don’t know if he ever thinks about us.”

Mulder kissed her shoulder and on her collarbone. “I think about the same things sometimes. It’s hard because I want him to be oblivious to who we are but then selfishly, I think I would rather be missed than not known.”

Scully grinned at him as her fingers threaded through his hair. “You’re definitely not anonymous in the FBI but I wouldn’t have gone into that job with anyone else at my side.”

In the bed she bought in 2003 after a year on the run, she sighed and moved off him. She forewent her robe to walk naked to the bathroom and, as usual, Mulder was very encouraging of these naked moments. He appreciated that she could be free about her body and tried to whistle at her sometimes or just grope her when she was naked. She furrowed her eyebrows while she gave him a humouring smile as though he was being silly but appreciated the attention all the same.

When she returned to the bed, she gave him a look that said more than what she had expressed and he kissed her firmly on the mouth. Her mouth opened to him and he shifted on the bed to pull her on top of him. A hand moved down her back and he squeezed her bare backside, while the other toyed with her long scarlet tresses.

Over a decade ago, he made love to her hours before she made a speech to him in a hallway at the FBI. He didn't know it would be the last time they would be together before alien abductions, unplanned pregnancies, a death and resurrection. The next time they were able to be together, he joked if he had known the last time was going to be the last, he would have tried a little harder. Scully teased him that he tried just hard enough and he felt delighted after eight years, she was more open with her innuendo.

He rolled them so he was on top and he grew hard between them. Even in his fifties, his refractory time was on average fifteen minutes.

"Are you timing me?" Mulder asked after he saw her glance over at the clock on his side of the bed.

"I was noting no change in your health, actually," she replied, opening her legs so he could nestle in between them more. "Your doctor should note these things on your file."

"You know Doctor Scully, if you treat all your patients with this level of care, I wonder how you ever get any other work done," he teased.

"Mister Mulder, you're the only patient that gets this kind of care," she retorted. "Now shut up and kiss me."

"You're a bossy doctor," he whispered and covered her mouth with his.

They made love again with vigour and expertise. It was rougher than the first time that night in the shower but there was a tenderness she paid to his body as she pumped her hips astride his and cried out in ecstasy.

When she arrived home, it wasn’t just to make up for lost time together in bed, but they certainly didn’t hold back. Maybe this limbo they were in would be easier to move out of if the physical side of their relationship didn’t work so well.

They lay panting for a moment, their bodies hot from their activities and exhausted from the emotion of the day. Mulder released her wrist and lay his head on her chest.

“Did you miss me?” he asked as he tried to catch his breath. He could feel her nod yes from the movement of her chest and he kissed her breastbone softly. “Good.”

"I love you," she whispered, running her hands up his back.

Mulder looked up at her tenderly and noticed her chin wavering.

"I love you too," he said, his voice a little hoarse.

A single tear left her eye and she wiped it away quickly. "I'm sorry."

He waited for her to elaborate. He knew if he was going to get anything out of her, he had to give her time.

"I'm sorry I... I'm so sorry," she said, more tears falling down her face, towards her hair. "I forgot... I needed space and I'm sorry."

Mulder was shocked. "I don't begrudge you anything, Scully."

"Even though I left?" she asked, wiping away more tears.

"I am happy to do this until we’re both ready to reconcile without the demons weighing on us," he lied and she shook her head. “Why not?”

"That's not us," she said heavily. “We’ll always have them.”

"It could have been," he said, kissing her breastbone. "Maybe in another lifetime."

"Not with our names," she said sadly. "I don’t know how to stay and fight this problem with us. I'm sorry."

Mulder looked into her eyes. "I should never have let you leave. I promised before I would always find you, I wouldn't let you go. I lost myself. I left this place and went somewhere dark that I don't want to go back to. I’m not going to be that person ever again, Scully."

Whether they were marriage vows or hushed promises in bed, it was the best he could offer at that moment. He would do better, she wouldn't run away. They would try harder and it would work better this time around. It's what they did. It was who they were, always.

Chapter Text

The house they built together and the person she was for the last twenty years wasn't someone she recognized anymore. Neither was he. When she left, she was allowed to be Dana for a while and remember who that person was before she began working in the basement office and identified by her last name. Shortly after they began working together, she didn’t mind being known as Mrs. Spooky because the work she did in that basement office was more exciting as a scientist and an agent with the FBI than anything else she’d ever done.

Medicine was rewarding but not even close to as exciting. After the last twenty years with Mulder, she almost welcomed routine and mundane. She left him on a Thursday in the early spring of 2013 and spent the summer of that year burying herself in her work. It only assuaged her feelings of loss for so long. Work could only be so much to her when it wasn’t the X-Files and sometimes, regardless of the extreme measures she took to save a life, a child still died.

After three months in her a new apartment, Dana tried to create a life for herself outside of Mulder. She had to push beyond her comfort levels and remember what it was like to not live by the insistence of a recluse that the sky was falling. She wanted something for herself and a life she could be proud of. So much of her life prior to that was based around what Mulder’s quest had brought them. She made it her own and left the aspirations of her life behind for the truth. Leaving him was supposed to change all that but so far, all she felt was empty and distant from those around her.

The heartache she felt while living with Mulder made her feel like she was drowning and she desperately wanted to breathe without pain from the lack of his presence in her life. Mulder might snidely remark that she could still have him in her life if she just went home but she had too much pride for that. It had only been three months and he had yet to reach out for her too. At this point, she wasn’t sure if he would accept her return.

As she tried to find normality in her new surroundings, she made plans outside of work. Dana accepted invitations from fellow doctors for dinner. For a while, engaging in a small social circle helped quell the guilt she had about leaving. She focused on herself for the first time in twenty years and thankfully, her family didn’t ask why she was suddenly attending every event alone.

Two months into her relocation to D.C., there was a near miss with a mugger four blocks from her apartment that caught her off guard. Her senses to look for the usual dangers had been dulled after living out of the way in a safe bubble for too long. She renewed her firearm license to practice twice a week and took a refresher course in self-defence. She wasn’t going to be another statistic in a police blotter or a tragic story of a woman living alone. She didn’t care what other people thought of her as an FBI agent and she wasn’t about to start now so she bought a membership at the gun range where it was mainly a male, conservative mix of races. It surprised her for D.C., that felt less of a male-dominated city, however she assumed the clientele might have something to do with her new neighbourhood.

The crowd had stopped doing a double take as she walked down the aisle towards her lane when she arrived and a few of the fellow shooters had remarked on her impeccable aim. It was how she met Tad the first time.

“You’re a hell of a marksman,” he noted as she shed her protection ear muffs.

Scully looked up at the tall, handsome blonde in front of her and guessed he was at least five years her junior. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Are you new to the area?” he asked as she put the safety on her weapon, put it in her Bulldog case and shook her head. “Old to the area?”

Scully looked up at him and he grinned at her in that way that reminded her of Mulder when he made a bad joke. It had been a long time since a man made eye contact with her and attempted to pick her up but she could sense the intention.

“New to the area but not D.C. I used to live in Georgetown,” she confessed and immediately regretted sharing that information. “I work nearby.”

The man put a finger to his mouth and tapped on his lips a few times. “Lawyer?”

Scully raised an eyebrow and snapped her case shut. “No.”

“You’re not a businesswoman,” he surmised and she pulled her lips tight as she shook her head. “Something important. A doctor?”

Scully raised her eyebrows. “Good guess.”

“Third time is usually easier for me,” he replied and she studied his face to try to ascertain if he was making a bad come on. “So, Doctor, can I take you for a post-shoot beverage?”

“I don’t usually go places with men who have yet to introduce themselves,” Scully remarked and someone on the other side of the partition scoffed.

His cheeks pinked. “I’m Tad O’Malley.”

He said it as though she should know the significance of his name and she shook her head.

“I have a web show,” he continued as though it might jog her memory.

Scully smiled ruefully. “I don’t watch web-based television programs.”

“What about reality television?” he asked with a smile and found herself surprised she was smiling back.

“Does C-SPAN count?” she asked and he laughed. She didn’t mean it as a joke but she didn’t mind that he was laughing all the same. “Then I guess no.”

“So, doctor are you going to give me a hint at a name or do we have to do this a few more times before I get your initials?” he joked.

There was a moment where she thought about telling him no and walking away. Until recently, conversations with men who tried to pick her up were abruptly ended with the words ‘I’m married.’ She wasn’t technically divorced but she wasn’t wearing her ring anymore either.

She thought about the ways in which she had felt hurt and frustrated over the last few years. It pushed her out of her comfort zone because lately, her comfort zone had set her into a reclusive state with Mulder that wasn’t healthy for either of them.

“Dana Scully,” she said.

“Nice to meet you Dana Scully,” he said as he offered his large hand to shake. “I thought maybe the E! Network and Keeping Up With the Kardashians might have been your guilty pleasure. I’ll have to adjust everything else I assumed about you.”

“Who?” she asked.

“Not the Star Trek people, if you were curious. What about Real Housewives?” he offered and she shook her head again.

Suddenly, she felt like an outsider on the edge of society as she had around many of the staff tables at work where discussions of favoured television programs or things they read in frivolous magazines made her feel disconnected. In mid-2012, Mulder had stopped watching movies and enjoying the whimsical shows that he used to recite each line along with the actors. That should have been a bigger sign to her than it was now but hindsight was always 20/20.

“So Dana, is this your shooting day?” Tad asked as they walked out of the range and into the lobby.

Scully shook her head. “I don’t have that kind of schedule right now. Why?”

“I want to bump into you again but then work in a way for us to get something to drink afterwards,” he admitted with a laugh. He ran a hand along the side of his head through his hair and she saw the flush in his cheeks again. “I usually don’t feel like I’m so bad at this.”

Scully raised her eyebrows. “You’re still trying to pick me up?”

Tad nodded. “Dana, I thought it was obvious.”

She pulled her lips tight and looked down at her feet before looking back up to his face. “I think maybe we should bump into each other a few times before we socialize outside of this environment.”

“You can bring your gun if you want,” Tad offered and she chuffed. “That’s a maybe?”

“Maybe,” Scully replied but she wasn’t sure which way she was going to decide. She left him in the lobby of the Brothers in Arms Shooting Range with mixed feelings, hoping this wouldn’t be a repeat experience.

As she drove herself back to her apartment, she thought about the conversation with Tad. She knew who Rob Kardashian Senior was but she had to google the shows Tad mentioned when she got home. Scully immediately closed the browser window and walked around her apartment feeling more out of touch than before. It wasn’t Mulder’s fault she didn’t watch reality television or keep up on gossip magazines. The information inside of them were less interesting to her the more she learned about the true conspiracies. Being interested in frivolity and pointless television wasn’t who she was.

The next time she ran into Tad at the gun range, he had pestered her in the lobby while she bought two dollar ear plugs to go under her ear muffs. He was persistent, she had to give him that.

“Doctor Dana Scully,” Tad greeted as she pulled her purchase from the small bin at the bottom of the vending machine. “Back on a Sunday. This is a blessed day.”

The line was eye-roll worthy but she found herself giving him a humouring smile.

“How are you today, Mr. O’Malley?” she asked.

“That tone makes me feel like I’m a patient,” he said with a grin and she raised a questioning eyebrow. He put up is hands. “I don’t mind. I’ve always had a thing for women in lab coats.”

“Mr. O’Malley-” she began in a disapproving tone.

“Tad,” he corrected her.

“Tad,” she repeated and glanced around the small lobby. “I’m not… interested in being pursued in a social ...scenario.”

“You have enough friends on your social calendar?” he asked.

She probably didn’t but she could tell that Tad was interested in more than just a friendship. “Not entirely.”

“Then what’s the harm in getting coffee, Dana?” he offered. “My treat. Just two people talking.”

It had been a long time since she had stopped for coffee with someone outside of her family. She didn’t quite understand the point of a friendship with someone who was completely outside her social, religious and professional circle.

“I can’t imagine we would have much to talk about,” she mused as they sat on the bench adjacent to the vending machine. “I’m not a Republican.”

Tad grinned. “Did you google me?”

“You said your name as though it was someone I should know of,” she explained as a slight pink redness over her cheeks.

“I’m flattered,” he replied. “I guess being obnoxious worked.”

“I also googled Keeping Up With the Kardashians so don’t feel too flattered,” she replied dryly and he grinned at her. “What is your interest in me?”

Tad chuckled. “I admit to having a similar interest in your background.”

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, Mr. O’Malley,” Scully corrected him as she stood up. “That’s my former partner.”

Thinking about Mulder was a hair trigger with no warning. Her guard went up around anyone who brought up her former profession and partner. Occasionally, it came up at the hospital with veteran police officers or coroners who transferred in that knew her by her former job.

From the very beginning, Scully was used against Mulder as a tool to hurt a man who was hell-bent on the truth. She was his vice, his desperation and the only one who would ever believe him. Her belief in him was what kept him going. Scully eventually became part of that quest, a victim to a search for the truth and a thorn in the side of great men. When she left, she hoped they could stop being that for each other even if it meant living with a loneliness that hurt her beyond compare.

“If you are trying to get to him through me, you’re wasting your time,” she continued and wasn’t sure why she didn’t say husband. ”We’re not together anymore-”

Tad took her hand in his to stop her. “Hey. I’m not here to get to anyone, Dana. I saw you and wanted to get to know you better. Isn’t that the basis of how all men eventually approach a beautiful woman?”

Scully pressed her lips together. “Tad…”

“I’m attending a Conservatives for Clean Air Dinner in three weeks and I need a date that understands what I’m saying when I talk about fossil fuel emissions,” he said dryly. He took out a business card from the pocket of his high-priced pants. “I’d love it if I could go with someone who could carry a conversation and look great in a dress.”

Scully nodded as she took the card, her chin tucking down as she contemplated the offer.

Tad picked up the bag at his feet. “I hope to hear from you Dana.”

 

*** ***

 

While she had been determined to work through much of the problems she had with Mulder, at the moment she felt like there was nothing left but anger and frustration on both ends.

When she left the gun range on that cool September evening, she felt herself needing guidance. Knowing the church was still open, she went to Sunday evening Mass. She had prayed, sought counsel and spoken to her priest.

Father Kelly was in training to take over from Father McCue in the coming years as his advancing age began to prevent him from leading the church. He was familiar with the Scully family, however, Dana had spoken to him very little about their problems until recently. She was intensely private and sharing her failure as a wife was a hard thing to come to terms with.

She broke down in the confessional booth the morning after she moved from their house to her new apartment. He consoled her as best he could but just as she drew her strength, her faith in making the right choices had to come from within.

“Dana, I know you took the vows of your marriage seriously,” Father Kelly began from the other side of the partition. “You left your husband and are going through a separation…”

“Father…” she tried to interject.

“From the Church’s side of things, as a married woman who left her spouse, you’ll have to understand that you would be sought as the one to blame. You could still take communion,” he continued slowly. “You would still be welcome at our church but… from the Church’s standpoint-”

“I would be a woman of sin,” she finished. “We weren’t married by a Catholic priest.”

“Are you seeking permission and going to file paperwork to invalidate the marriage?” he asked her.

“No,” she answered quickly.

She didn’t want to annul her marriage to Mulder. An annulment erased it from her history with the church which would only be suitable for a regret. She only regretted not being able to pull him out from the ocean of his obsession. She couldn’t be a life raft to a man who wanted to drown.

“Have you spoken with your husband since you left him?” Father Kelly asked her through the partition in the confessional booth. “Is the desire to come home or are you choosing to end your marriage?”

Scully let out a long breath. “I called the house after I was almost mugged but there was no answer. I wanted… I tried for years to make it work. I don’t know if you know what he can be like… He’s difficult to convince of anything that isn’t his idea or something related to a conspiracy.”

The last part of the sentence tasted like vinegar on her tongue and she knew her bitterness was apparent. It wasn’t her desire to paint Mulder in a poor light but she was worn down by all they had gone through. She had to be to get to the point to leave him.

“Dana, it isn’t up to us to give up on those who need us most,” the priest advised. “I hope you hear me when I tell you that I can’t advise at this juncture for you to see another man socially or make a cuckold of your husband. You have to understand that.”

“I’m not asking permission to sleep with another man, Father,” Scully replied with a tone of disgust. “I wasn’t… I just miss myself. Who I was before I began working at the FBI.”

“Who was that?” he asked gently.

“I miss being Dana…” she said with a slight hiccup as tears dripped down her cheeks. “The woman who had a career she could be proud of, family and friends. There was so much light in my life then…”

“What did you have when you lived with him?” he asked her gently.

“Darkness,” she confessed as she used her tissue to wipe her nose. She held the business card Tad handed to her in her fingers as Father Kelly waited for her to continue. “He let it in and I don’t think he’s ready to let go of it.”

It had completely overwhelmed their life together. The utmost feeling between them was hurt - on his side for not being supported and on her side for being pushed away for this quest.

“You can continue to pray for him here and light candles,” he advised. “Pray for your own strength as we pray for your marriage to heal.”

That wasn’t the advice she wanted to hear. She wasn’t expecting much else from her priest however, she wasn’t expecting sole blame after he had let things crumble around them with his obsession into this conspiracy that proved to have not been true.

When she left, it was late March and after a long summer of feeling the longing for the company of another, she realized she didn’t want to continue to choose loneliness. She did that for seven years but it was an act of self-preservation. Once she let Mulder in, she didn’t want to have a life without him. As a woman alone, she had a harder time with her routine and solitude than she anticipated.

If she could be with Mulder, it wouldn’t be the man who shut her out, who called her names as she asked him to just step away from what he was searching for and see that he wasn’t himself anymore. She had few options except to move forward. She never thought she would choose this.

There had been no contact between them since she moved out. Two months into their separation, she called the house on a Thursday evening when she hoped he might be home and the phone rang until it disconnected. The answering machine had been shut off and he wouldn’t be returning her call any time soon.

It took two days of going back and forth before Scully called Tad from her work office with his business card in hand and her office mate pretending not to listen. She had been so frustrated and put off by the advice the priest had given her during her confessional that the petulant side of her personality, even at her age, wanted to rebel against it.

She was hurt by what she had gone through with Mulder. She felt broken and shattered. What she had done for the last year as he worked through his anger and depression was more than enough. She needed him to reach back.

The phone picked up after the second ring and a breathy voice answered, “Tad O’Malley’s phone.”

This had to be a joke. “This is Dana Scully-”

“Oh, Miss Scully,” the woman cut her off. “He’s been expecting your call.”

Scully opened her mouth to protest but she was put on hold immediately. The line clicked a few times until Tad greeted her.

“I thought she was joking,” he said when he picked up the line.

He was teasing her again as his form of flirting but she accepted it. “I thought you believed in everything.”

Tad chuckled. “Did you watch my show?”

“Just the last one with the scientist discussing GMOs,” Scully told him. “It was surprisingly insightful.”

“Does that mean you considered my offer to join me at the Conservatives for Clean Air dinner?” he asked and she hesitated to answer. It was a highly photographed event and she wasn’t sure how she felt being pictured as his date. “What about dinner, then? This weekend?”

She glanced at her schedule. “I have a light day on Friday…”

“Friday night?” he offered. “I could pick you up and take you someplace hip and trendy you’ve always wanted to try.”

“I’m not really impressed by such extravagances, Mr-”

“Oh just for that I’m taking you to Komi,” he cut her off and she let out a long breath through her nose. “Would you rather Marcel’s?”

“I don’t have a preference,” Scully replied because they were all too extravagant for a casual meeting. “I’ll be surprised if you can get a seat at either this late in the week.”

“I’ll pick you up at seven?” he offered and she agreed before hanging up the line.

Scully’s office mate, Dr. Amanda Maxwell, gave her a disapproving glare before leaving her in their shared space. The disapproval from that woman didn’t matter to her now. Dr. Maxwell was less than helpful through the years when her life felt as though it was falling apart. She learned to cry silently at her desk because the woman was more compassionate to the cadavers in the morgue versus the small human emotion of heartache.

It didn’t take long for Scully to feel like Dana again. She was able to remember what it was like to go on dates, to call people by their first names, to eat at nice places and have surface area conversations that no one called trite or boring. After twenty years of losing so much of herself for a quest towards the truth, Dana was out. Sometimes she wondered who was that person anymore but she was willing to give that woman a chance at happiness.

Before she left, she looked at Mulder with too much sadness and longing that he continually called her on it as he glanced up from a pile of newspaper clippings from green eyes that had seen her at her worst. If she went back to that house now, would he call himself Fox and be a better man with order and substance in his life? Would it be the same stacks of magazines on the stairs and resentment lingering in the air that the world didn’t end when he predicted? He stayed himself through all of what they went through and sought the truth that kept eluding them both. This version of himself wasn’t who she expected him to ever become and she could almost hear his voice saying he didn’t anticipate her being a quitter either.

It was hard when the voice in your head was the angry and bitter undertones of a man who used to make you quake with every touch. Sometimes that pursuit of the truth made her resent him the way he resented her goodness and purity towards wanting to be honest and right. Not all the disagreements and arguments between them were fair.

By Friday night, she was ready to at least try to enjoy the evening with Tad O'Malley. She wondered if it was possible for her to ever refer to him in her mind as just Tad, but the name was absurd as Fox. 

As she slipped the small belt into the fastening on her button up shirt dress and pulled her cream blazer over her shoulders, she wondered if she was too formally dressed. Maybe a light cardigan would look better, she wondered.

As she adjusted the fastening on her necklace to sit under the charcoal grey collar, she had the fleeting thought to cancel.

Her landline buzzed and Dana Scully steadied her nerves. It was just dinner.

“Hello?” she answered into the receiver.

“Tad O’Malley is here for you,” the front desk clerk declared.

“I’ll be right down,” she told him.

“He has - ahem - something with him,” Henry told her. “Can I send him up?”

The man probably bought flowers as a grand gesture of chivalry. Her uneasiness to their dinner intensified. “Um, yes.”

The line clicked off and she slipped on a pair of brown leather pumps as she waited for Tad to reach her floor. When he knocked, she felt her nerves fray further.

It had been a long time since Dana said yes to dinner out. Mulder wasn’t much for romance and show but he had made efforts over the years. This was entirely different. This gave her flashback jitters to her one date with Ed Jerse and that didn’t end entirely well for either of them.

“Dana,” he said as she opened the door. “You look amazing.”

He handed her a bouquet of pink peonies, soft yellow roses and white Calla lilies. It was feminine and understated but exactly what she would have picked if she went to the florist for herself.

“These are lovely,” she said as she took them from him. She glanced around as he stood on the edge of her apartment and opened the door further. “Would you like to come in while I put these in water?”

Tad entered her apartment and glanced around the space she had slowly been making her own. There was a print she purchased the week before sitting on the floor with a hammer and nail waiting to be hung and one box that had not been unpacked yet.

“Been here long?”he asked as he maneuvered inside.

“Four months,” Scully said as she pulled a vase down from above the stove and began to fill it with water.

“The one box on the floor surprises me,” he called to her and she heard a tapping sound like a finger testing the drywall. “I thought that you would have been settled in here within the week.”

“Do I come off as someone who is that rigid and structured?” Scully asked as she unwrapped the bouquet.

*Tap tap tap!*

Scully walked out of the kitchen to see Tad putting a nail exactly where she had marked and hanging her picture.

“I can do more than just call out conspiracies online,” he quipped as he stepped back from the picture. He reached out to adjust it slightly so it was level. “You are a fan of Degas.”

“I think most women are,” she replied as she left him to finish the flowers. "Not to generalize my gender but he's an amazing artist that gives a feeling of nostalgia to better days."

He stood in her kitchen with his hands in the pockets of his expensive suit. Mulder would have leaned against the doorway or the counter two inches too close to her.

Scully pushed the thought from her mind and brushed her hair back from her face with her index finger. She set the flowers in water and discarded the wrapping in the bin under the sink.

“Thank you for the flowers,” she said as she put them on her coffee table. “They really are lovely.”

“They seem to fit right in here,” he noted. He held his hand out to escort her. “Shall we? I thought I could spoil us with something overpriced from Komi.”

“I’ve never been,” she admitted.

“Well you’re in for a treat,” he announced as they stepped onto the elevator.

Scully thumbed the place on her left ring finger where her ring used to encircle and sighed as they rode down. She wasn’t cheating and this was just dinner. She hadn’t committed adultery or done anything yet that she should feel guilty about.

That was a lie she was telling herself to allow her an evening with a man who hadn't once checked his phone in her presence. If Mulder was doing the same thing she would be upset or jealous.

As they crossed the lobby, she noted that Tad O’Malley picked her up in a limo. Once inside, he handed her a glass and pointed to the chilled champagne that was waiting to be served.

“Because, why not,” he said as he popped the cork and poured her a glass.

This was an extravagance that she wasn’t used to and she sipped cautiously on the beverage as they rounded the corner of her block.

“You seem apprehensive tonight, Dana,” Tad noted. “Are you still cautious I’m looking to get to your former partner-”

“I’m not,” she interrupted. “I’m… it’s been a long time since I’ve done this.”

Tad took a sip of his champagne. “I rarely do this so we can be inexperienced daters together.”

Scully tasted the sweet bubbles of the beverage slide down her throat. “I find that hard to believe.”

“When you’re in my line of work Dana, it’s hard to know who wants to know you or your power and money,” he explained. “I have rules about my life to protect myself but when I saw you, I had to talk to you. It’s been a long time since that’s happened to me but you’re a beautiful woman with a strong mind. I have my weaknesses.”

She felt her cheeks flush at the compliment. “I have been told I’m infuriatingly stubborn.”

“I never shy away from a challenge,” Tad replied.

She enjoyed the menu at Komi and before they finished their appetizers, he asked for a second date at 1789 or Marcel's. Both were equally as extravagant and pricy as their current dinner location. She surprised herself when she accepted. It wasn’t the extravagance or the money he was spending that night that enticed her. There was something about him.

In this version of her new life, Dana went on dates with a man with a funny first name but he didn’t correct her to call him by his surname. She wore dresses and heels out and had two glasses of wine at dinner. Thaddeus O'Malley- Tad to his friends- was, of all things she couldn't believe, a Republican. But when you're searching to be the opposite of who you're escaping, you allow semi-famous Republican commentators to court you sooner than the last man. Granted, the last man took four years before he even tried to kiss her and another two after that to finally plant one on her lips.
 
Over the course of their meal, she allowed herself to enjoy the witty jokes he told and laugh along with him. They delighted in light political conversation without it leading to a global conspiracy that was dreamt up in the 60s by the American government. Tad definitely had his own theories about the government and ran a show dissecting everything but he kept some things separate. She had to appreciate that.

They discussed what was in the news without the dirty underbelly and wise-ass remarks about politicians. Tad knew most of them personally and he usually confirmed most of them were "good guys" who were "probably misquoted" but everyone in politics is full of themselves.

When he winked at her, at their private table, she felt charmed instead of sickened and she wondered if this was Dana enjoying herself or Scully. She let him hold doors for her and allowed a hand at her lower back. Chivalry wasn't dead and it didn't feel bad in its familiarities to the way she had grown accustomed after all the years with Mulder.
 
Tad kissed her on the cheek after the first date when he walked her to the door of her building. He wished her good night and she walked upstairs to cry in her tub as she soothed the feelings of overwhelming guilt to have enjoyed a romantic evening with someone other than Mulder.

The following morning as she was getting ready for her run, she impulsively dialled her old house number to see if Mulder would answer. The phone clicked off after the second ring and she pounded her feet along the pavement for five miles to work through her anger at being rejected by Mulder before she even said hello.

The rejection she felt prompted her to call Tad and accept his invitation to the opera and dinner the following week.

It got entirely out of hand. It became easy to see him and talk to him. He talked about himself, his family and asked about hers. On their third date, when he took her to the opera and dinner, she told him she couldn't have children. Tad looked at her gently as he told her he was more of a dog person. She suspected he was lying. Men often started families in their forties and she pointed out if he found someone in her thirties, their children would graduate a year or two after he retired. Tad winced at the math.
 
"I think I'm too old to start a family," he said, taking a sip of his $20 glass of whiskey in the lobby of the Kennedy Centre during intermission. "Women in their twenties and even some in their thirties are exhausting. I feel like their dad explaining items on the menu and they always have gum in their mouths. Anyway... I wouldn't mind getting a dog eventually. No cats, though."
 
"Why not a cat?" she asked, wondering if he even liked animals.
 
"Oh, I'm allergic," he answered simply. "Something in the dander makes my throat close up."
 
These were the kind of conversations she had to learn how to have again. It wasn't a patient's medical history or asking polite questions in the doctor's lounge to pass the time. This is what normal people did. She almost forgot that.

After the opera and dinner, Tad rode up in the elevator without an invitation. He walked her to her door and kissed her confidently on the lips. It surprised her again that she let him.

She opened her mouth to his and allowed him to thoroughly kiss her. What was even further surprising was that she enjoyed it. She wanted fresh air in her life from the darkness and musk of conspiracies. Tad felt like a summer breeze.

Their exaggerated height difference made a kiss more challenging and when he lifted her slightly, she felt the length of his desire press into her stomach. She broke the kiss and covered her mouth with a shaking hand.

Sex wasn’t new to her. She wasn’t a prude or a virgin. She was a woman in her early fifties who had an active sexual life prior to the breakdown of her marriage. Yet the act of even kissing another man felt like a betrayal to Mulder and the vows they took.

“I should go,” he said as he panted against her.

She looked into his eyes and nodded. She wanted a man in her bed but she didn’t know herself enough right now to be sure if it was Tad or Mulder she longed for. It angered her that even outside of their home, the first response to someone else was of the man she left behind.

There was too much uncertainty to live a life as a woman she hadn’t been in over twenty years. Dana wasn’t someone she trusted completely and that scared her. This woman was too impulsive and reckless. Dana got a tattoo with a virtual stranger and let him bed her in his barely furnished apartment after too many drinks in her system.
 
Dana didn't spend the last twenty years arguing and debating, searching and struggling. Dana quit the FBI after her first case with Spooky Fox Mulder, went back to being a doctor, married a nice man, had two kids and a chocolate lab. Dana's curiosity wasn't sparked from the moment she saw the slide show. She made her parents happy and her brother didn't call the romantic partners she had a sad, sorry son of a bitch. Dana had possibilities that Scully had lost. Eventually, she realized she missed being herself. She missed Scully. No matter how charmed she was by Tad and this life, it wasn't one she could live in.
 
She realized she missed who Dana could have been, even if Dana wasn't a part of her anymore. She wanted them both to have fresh air and happiness and when she left, Mulder wasn't leaving the house at all. Even in the darkness that their home had become, he refused to believe he had gone too far.
 
Was she just Scully now? This person she saw in Mulder's eyes who held her happiness and showed her the truth? If she thought about who Dana was, she wasn't that woman anymore. That woman was gone from her daily life and her overall identity. She came out of hiding for her mother and family when they needed her but when she thought of herself, it wasn't as Dana. She evolved from the girl with freckles and curious questions, who collected bugs and rocks in jars, to a woman on a search alongside a man with no first name.
  
Dana was a book she hadn’t memorized every line from. It scared her that the woman with her first name was more foreign to her than the man she had shared a bed with and said vows to on a beach in the tropics.

Being Dana for a while meant being afraid in ways that excited her. She wasn’t sure how much adventure she could take but at the moment, she was happy to have it. The happiness was a foreign friend too and she welcomed it in.

Chapter Text

Since Dana Scully first met Tad O’Malley at the gun range, over two months had passed and she felt like she had experienced much of the life she missed while being secluded in Virginia. She didn’t wake up with a feeling of fear or dread at what the day would bring or how Mulder would react to the latest news cycle. It was late in the year and for the last six months, she put herself first. There was nothing more that she needed but time to repair herself from the brokenness she felt when she moved to Washington D.C.

In the six months since she left Mulder, there had been a confusing relationship brimming with Tad before Dana saw her husband again. Some events had transpired that prevented her from wanting to meet with the handsome Republican again but they were hardly to do with Mulder.

It wasn’t the most idealistic reason to see the man she spent the last twenty years with but it was a necessity. They were tied together in marriage and finances. Neither of these situations had been rectified since her absence in their marital bed and they were being called to deal with one aspect of it today.

The mortgage on the house was up for renewal and their financial advisor stipulated they meet for a conversation about the most basic of concepts: money. They were called individually about a joint meeting that needed to take place and she cleared her schedule for the afternoon to meet with Mulder and their new financial advisor.

On a rainy Wednesday morning in late September, she drove to Cradock Marine Bank where they had set up their joint accounts. Mulder had been dealing with them for years and somehow he convinced her to move her finances to the same bank after they returned from their trip to the Bahamas.

The night before their meeting at the bank, she was tossing and turning at their pending appointment. As she sipped from her travel cup of coffee on the drive, her body was dragging to wake up.

Scully didn’t see his vehicle nearby as she tried to find parking and she wondered if he took a taxi to get there. It would be a careless expense for a man without steady income but it wasn’t her place anymore to tell him how to spend his money. She wanted to admonish his lack of preparation but since he hadn’t answered a call, text or email since she moved out, she took the hint that she was hardly the person to lecture him on life decisions.

She felt dread, worry and fear but mostly she was unsure. The uneasiness and tension in her was now manifesting into a trapezius muscle that she was rubbing with her fingers repeatedly as she waited in the lobby. Mulder was sitting in a deep armchair near the receptionist desk with a mug in hand he had brought from home. She recognized the black and white paisley pattern from a set she picked out and it certainly didn’t belong to the establishment she was at. All of the visible mugs held by employees and sitting on desks said Cradock Marine Bank: For Your Financial Needs.

Scully sat in the chair opposite to him in the lobby while she waited for the service associate to get off the phone and notice her.

“Do you want a little more coffee for your cup, Mr. Mulder?” the young woman asked sweetly from behind the receptionist desk.

Mulder had shaved that morning, dressed in a button down blue shirt and a pair of poorly pressed pants. He had dress shoes and a leather jacket on, a splash of cologne and the aftershave she bought him for their last anniversary. He had pushed his hair back from his face and a pair of reading glasses were perched on his nose as he looked over the folder in his lap.

He looked good.

“I’m fine, thanks,” he said and cleared his throat. He looked over to Scully and she squared her shoulders a little as they made eye contact. “Hi.”

“Hi,” she replied quietly.

Scully took a deep breath and looked down at the paperwork she brought with her for their meeting. Mulder had been put on the mortgage in 2008 and given financial freedom over certain accounts in their joint name but they both had to sign for anything to do with the house.

In the last six months, he had ignored six of her phone calls, multiple text messages and five emails. If she wanted to feel rejected or hurt, she could count on his lack of interest in her communication to ensure she knew her words weren’t important to him.

She spent the morning deciding what to wear, what to say and how to behave towards him. As she dressed herself, she had come to the conclusion that she should mirror his behaviour and take it from there. When she arrived at the bank in her pressed grey suit, however, she only wanted to lash out at him for suddenly being a functioning member of society. Deep down, she wished she could make him understand how much he hurt her with his obsession into something that had been only rumour and nothing more.

There was a part of her that still wanted to crawl into his lap, find solace and comfort in his touch and smell the sweat on his neck if it meant she could just feel something familiar.

“Mr. and Mrs. Scully?” a smartly dressed man called out across the lobby.

“Mulder,” he said as he stood up.

The man looked at the file. “Oh, I see. Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Mulder.”

No one had actually called her that since they got married and she felt her heart contract.

Mulder glanced in her direction but didn’t make eye contact. “Ready for us?”

“I’m Jeremy Reddy,” he said as he extended his hand towards Mulder and then Scully. “I’m glad we could all find a time to meet! Do you want a coffee or anything?”

Scully and Mulder shook their heads in unison. He held up his mug, “I brought my own.”

“Okay let’s head back to my office,” he said and began to lead the way.

Scully felt a familiar brush against her lower back and she looked at Mulder quickly as he cleared his throat again and tucked his hand into his pocket.

“Old habit,” he muttered as he glanced down at her.

It was harder than she anticipated to be around one another and not be together and that small exchange just proved it.

“I don’t mind,” she offered and immediately regretted it.

She saw a grin flinch across Mulder’s face before his expression went to a neutral gaze again. This would be so much harder than she expected. If she could read his face or his thoughts, she might think he was panicked but he seemed to be indifferent. His aloofness towards her now felt similar to the anger and callous nature he had towards her after returning from Antarctica. The man was so frustrated yet distant towards her that she spent much of their time under Kersh with an equal desire to slap his face or sit on it.

Jeremy stood in the doorway of his office and held his hand out for them to enter first. “Please, have a seat.”

She pushed the crude thoughts from her mind and sat down calmly on one of the chairs opposite Jeremy as Mulder sat down to her right. The only touch to bring her to a release in the last six months had been her own. The months leading up to her departure had been a lonely stretch as well.

Scully took a slow breath to focus herself in the moment and adjusted the jacket on her suit. “Thank you.”

“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Mulder or can I call you Fox and Dana?” Jeremy asked with a grin as he logged onto his computer. “And do you have a valid drivers licence with you?”

“Dana is fine,” Scully agreed as she handed over her ID and waited for her estranged spouse to respond.

“I prefer… Just Mulder,” Mulder explained as he pulled out his own driver’s licence and Jeremy nodded. “Wouldn’t you, with a name like Fox?”

“Jeremy is my middle name,” their advisor explained as he double checked their information in his system. “My mother is German and her maiden name is Winter and my father was born and raised in India. To try to keep some sort of heritage for both, I was named Winter Jeremy Reddy… I am right there with you.”

Mulder visibly relaxed. “I tried that in university but William was a pretty common name over there. It was so confusing and we just started calling each other by our last names.”

Scully was surprised at how much Mulder was sharing with this man but then again, he was usually better at small talk like this when surface information was the only thing being shared.

“Okay, now that we know what to call each other, I’m glad we could all sit down and talk about your finances,” Jeremy began. He pulled up a file on the computer and turned the screen towards them. “This is your mortgage, assets and investments as they stand-”

“What is that?” Scully asked as she pointed to the large lump sum of money under her name. It was a mutual fund she didn’t recognize or remember setting up at any time. “I never-”

“I did,” Mulder spoke up. “After… uh after I was cleared and got my finances sorted out. You didn’t notice a deposit of a few hundred dollars going into the joint chequing account every month?”

“I rarely use that account,” she said as she shook her head. “I was leaving it in case… I guess that’s not really necessary…”

She felt slightly sick. There was over half a million dollars sitting in an investment account in her name with an equal amount in Mulder’s. She had a pension through the FBI, an RRSP she started when she began working for Our Lady of Sorrows but this was a very large sum of money. There was a joint investment account with slightly more than their individual ones at the top of the screen and her arguments over frivolous spending on a taxi cab were suddenly gone.

“I realize now it would have been more prudent to have the interest go back into the investment but Mr. Mulder stipulated with my colleague that he wanted cash going towards you on a steady basis,” Jeremy spoke up. “We might want to change that to let the investment build a little more.”

“Sure thing,” Mulder agreed with Jeremy. The keyboard was noisy with activity while Scully thought everything over. “She’s got steady work now so that makes sense. I just want nothing locked in.”

“Of course, Mr. Mulder,” Jeremy assure him.

“Why… You never mentioned this when we got married,” she said quietly.

“I wanted you to be protected in case something happened,” he replied gently. “If something happened to me and it took a while for you to get what I had set aside… For your mom… or William…”

“Why did we mortgage a house when you could have paid it off regardless of a penalty?” she countered as she turned towards him.

“Paying a mortgage is great for your credit,” Mulder answered quietly with his eyes on the mug in his hands. “You told me that when we were looking at places. You had been sort of off the grid for a while so I thought it was important for you…”

“I didn’t think you could buy the house with the money in your savings account,” she scoffed and looked at Jeremy apologetically. “I’m sorry. This is awkward.”

“Money usually is,” he said with a kind smile. “This is usually a conversation that happens when a life change occurs.”

“We’ve had that,” Mulder panned and Scully snapped her head to look at him as a flush took over her cheeks. “We recently separated.”

“Mulder-” she protested.

“It’s mostly my fault,” he continued as though she wasn’t there.

Mulder,” she insisted.

“Are you here to take over the entirety of the mortgage?” Jeremy asked quizzically and Scully felt her heart sink further. “You qualify with your finances to be the sole title owner.”

“I’m the primary resident,” Mulder explained. “I’m happy to take it over in just my name if she wants to be off the title-”

“I don’t,” Scully cut him off and he finally looked at her with his intense green eyes. “It’s my house too.”

Mulder looked at her with an ache she recognized. She expected something snarky to come out of his mouth next to protect his feelings. Rather, he asked her, “What about your apartment?” 

“It’s a lease,” she reminded him. “The house…. it’s my home or… it was. I don’t… I’m not ready to leave that behind.”

They held each other's gaze for a beat. There was a silent conversation they had just with their eyes and she hoped he understood the regret she had for causing him so much pain by leaving. He hurt her too with his actions and words but in the end, it was her who left.

“Well our interest rates right now are better than the last time you folks came in to meet with us,” Jeremy continued lightly. “I can get you a great rate, very competitive for the next five years.”

“Do it,” Scully told Jeremy and she looked at Mulder. “Okay?”

Mulder shrugged. “If that’s what you want.”

His voice had the same disconnected tone he used with her before. Mulder’s indifference was clearly anger and hurt as well but she had been the one reaching out recently and heard nothing back.

“Was there anything else you wanted to talk with us about?” Scully asked as she picked up her purse from the floor and set it on her lap.

Jeremy shook his head and handed them each a list of required documentation. “I’ll need updated income documents and what is on this list.”

Mulder glanced over the list and handed him the folder in his lap. “I had it ready in case I was going to take over the house in my name.”

“I brought some of this,” she replied and swallowed heavily. “I can have what’s not on here ready by tomorrow.”

“You can leave it with Tiffany at reception,” Jeremy said cautiously. “I’ll have to call you back in to sign all the documents… If you want it to be together or separate…”

“It was kind of a hike for me to get here,” Mulder admitted. “But I’ll come in whenever.”

“Where is your car?” she asked him quietly.

“I sold it,” Mulder replied flatly.

The used Jeep Wrangler was an impulse purchase after his freedom had been granted by the FBI. It worked well when he needed to get around but the two-door vehicle wasn’t exactly something she considered to be suitable for a man his age. Mulder had spent so long driving FBI-issued vehicles and then nothing that she felt like he earned to drive something that looked like a Lego car for a while if that was what he wanted. She always pictured him in something sleeker like a BMW but his tastes never quite made sense to her.

“I can take you to get a new one,” she offered. “You have the money-”

“I don’t need a car,” he cut her off.

Scully looked down at her lap and realized this wasn’t going how she hoped. He was agreeable to her staying on the house but spending any time with her beyond these appointments was clearly not on his wish list.

“Okay.”

Jeremy cleared his throat. “I have an appointment next week that should work.”

“I’ll make myself available,” Scully said as she stood up. “Thank you.”

As she exited the office and made her way towards the receptionist desk, the anger and frustration she had felt bubbled inside her. She willed herself to calm down. She wouldn’t cry about him in public, especially in a bank of all places.

Mulder caught up with her as she reached the desk.

“Scully…” Mulder called after her.

It was a mistake to think she should stay on the mortgage like it would suddenly change his anger or indifference towards her. It wouldn’t erase the last year of their lives when things took a swift downturn or hide the fact that she had recently been spending time with another man that wasn’t her husband.

She had been wrestling with so many different levels of guilt on that last part that she could hardly stand herself. Dana Scully wasn’t a cheater. Even entertaining the idea of another man in her life while she was still married was absurd but the way her life had spiralled apart wasn’t exactly what she envisioned for herself either.

What she would classify Tad as these days was more of a confusing friendship. His interest in her seemed to flirt with more than romantic however when they attended the Conservatives for Clean Air dinner, he introduced her as an associate versus his date.

Mulder was so possessive that he laid a claim on her before he ever kissed her. Tad was an entirely different person she wasn’t sure she wanted to get to know better. Every time she felt herself relax around him, her guard went up that his intentions might not be entirely sincere. It had put a stop to his hands on her body when he kissed her good night after their last dinner and prevented her from returning any of his phone calls since then.

“Dana,” Mulder said louder. “Dammit, would you stop for a second?”

Scully placed her purse on the counter at reception as she adjusted her suit jacket. “Did you have another bomb to drop in my lap?”

“Money isn’t a bomb,” he panned. “You should just say thank you like anyone else might in this scenario.”

“Mulder, not every woman wants to be given over half a million dollars without her consent,” she admonished as she dropped her voice to a whisper.

“Speak for yourself, honey,” the receptionist scoffed.

“It’s technically about one point two million dollars with the joint investment,” Mulder muttered.

The receptionist whistled in appreciation. Scully gave the young woman a disapproving look before she took her purse and left them both in the lobby of the bank.

“Dana!” Mulder called again as he ran out the door after her and she turned on the steps of the bank to look up at him. He caught up to her quickly and shook his head in frustration. “It’s just money.”

“Don’t you want it back now since you clearly don’t care to spend any time with me?” she asked. “You were ready to take my name off the house.”

Mulder pulled a paper from under his arm and handed it to her. The society page was open with a photo from the Clean Air dinner. She was smiling as she held a glass of champagne as she stood with a group of similar minded individuals to herself that she hadn’t expected when she arrived that night. It had been taken while Tad had just told a punchline to a tasteful joke.

“That’s why.”

Her heart sank again. The caption read, “Tad O’Malley and friends (UNKNOWN) enjoy a light evening for the sake of the environment.”

“Mulder-” she started.

“Is this why you’re not at home on Friday nights?” Mulder asked. “I mean, I thought it would take a little longer to get over what we had but it’s not like I was just some guy-”

“I’m not-” she cut him off and shook her head. “I’m not dating anyone.”

“What’s this?” Mulder pointed at the paper. “This wasn’t slipped under my door like a forgery to send me down a path I can’t come back from. I got it at a coffee shop in town and almost had a heart attack. At my age, that’s a lot more likely to happen from shock.”

“Is this why you haven’t answered my calls?” she asked him.

Mulder shifted his weight and lowered his face down to hers. “You left me.”

“I’ve wanted…” she stopped the sentence before she could finish it. She looked down at her feet. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…”

Scully took a wavering breath and licked her upper lip as her eyes searched the pavement under her shoes for answers that it wouldn’t provide.

“Don’t do that,” he ordered her tersely and she glanced up at his face. His pupils were dilated and focused on her mouth. Her teeth captured her lower lip and he took a long breath. “Scully…”

“I’m not doing anything,” she defended but she could feel that just their proximity was something. She lowered her chin and took another steadying breath. “I’m sorry you had to see-”

“I have some apologies of my own to make,” he cut her off and when she glanced up to see him, he was looking back at her kindly. “Not just about the way I acted but my… I have my own forgiveness to ask for. I think it would be good if we sat down and had a talk.”

He seemed so different than the last time she saw him. His eyes were clear and focused on her. While he wasn’t back to his former fighting weight, he had been taking better care of himself than he had been when his obsessions and paranoia drove her from their house.

“Coffee?” she offered and glanced at her watch. “It’s a little early for lunch.”

“There’s that cafe around the corner…” Mulder began.

There were a lot of their usual haunting grounds in this neighbourhood that she had avoided until now. Every place they used to frequent that she went since she left had been triggering. She could picture how he would run his finger up her back as they waited to place their order at Au Bon Pain on Pennsylvania Avenue. She still felt his fingers as he tickled her knees while they discussed case notes at the New World Cafe. When she walked into Esprinto, she could still hear his voice as he whispered in her ear how much he wanted her right there. She couldn’t even stop in to Lincoln’s Waffle House to get breakfast to go because of the numerous times they frequented there after making love.

She should have moved across the country to forget about him but California had not felt like home in far too long. Maybe it felt foreign when her youth pastor was shot or maybe it was when she had started to see home wherever he was but either way, she stayed on the East coast because of him. That much had always been true.

“A cafe?” she repeated.

“Coffee,” he said simply.

“I could use a coffee,” she said breathily.

“Then let’s get you a coffee,” Mulder said with a tone that went straight to her belly.

If he was still reading her mind, he knew exactly what she had a craving for and it wasn’t the chocolate pastries they sold at Compass Coffee on F Street. Coffee or a flaky pastry could be the pseudonym for sex at this point but they weren’t going to put that out on the table right now.

“Okay,” she agreed.

Mulder looked around the sloshy city that was damp with an early fall rain and pulled a small umbrella from his jacket pocket. As the wire spindles opened to a much larger brolly than she expected, he grinned down at her.

“What?” he questioned with a shrug. “You never shop on Amazon? They have everything.”

“I love Amazon,” she said quietly as she tucked herself next to him under the parasol. “I didn’t realize you went on there.”

“I like the internet,” he said lightly as they rounded the corner to the cafe. “Who needs a car when Amazon delivers everything to your door?”

“What about your mug, Mulder?” she asked as she glanced down at the cup in his hand.

He looked at her with his ‘what can you do’ face and shrugged. “Maybe they’ll serve me in my own cup and I can save ten cents on my overpriced latte.”

When they entered the small establishment, there were few people waiting in line and they joined the queue. As she looked over the board to decide what she wanted, she could feel his eyes studying her.

“Do you know what you want?” she asked as she glanced up at him.

“Yes,” he said clearly.

She looked up at him and saw in his eyes a familiar look but this wasn’t the time to sink onto her knees and comply. “I mean for a drink.”

She wasn’t sure how she got herself feeling fluttery in the middle of a cafe while the details of their finances were being sorted out and they both were walking around without their wedding rings.

“That too,” he replied, his voice laden with innuendo.

She cleared her throat. “I’ll have a half sweet toffee nut Ameri-”

“Americano misto,” Mulder cut her off. “I remember. Where are you going?”

“I need to use the ladies room,” she said quietly. “I figured since you were so rich, you could buy me a cup.”

“Ha ha,” he replied sarcastically and she grinned a little as she walked away.

As she entered the bathroom, she wondered if she must have been feeling less angry than she initially realized. Mostly, it was just shock. She didn’t know herself well enough to decide anything one way or another these days. She had chosen the paintings and furniture in her apartment but if she was asked how she felt about her own heart, she wouldn’t be able to decide.

Inside the bathroom as she washed her hands, she looked at herself in the mirror and felt as lost and lonely as she had when she left California to set out on her own and define her life the way she truly saw it.

The last two months had been miles off target from what she had anticipated for her life at this point. After the opera, Scully sat across from Tad at dinner and looked at him with a detachment she knew she shouldn’t be feeling on a third date. She was looking at him with interest but more for who he was as an individual than a potential lover. It didn’t make sense to her why she kissed him and she felt the guilt from that action carry with her for weeks afterwards.

If she was comparing things with Mulder, she thought about how on their third date, she could hardly contain her giddiness to finally be in something with him that meant so much more than anything she experienced in her entire life. Mulder kissed her on New Year’s and it all sort of came to blows when they were forced to take a train from St. Louis to Washington after a long case. That felt like a lifetime ago.

So much had changed in her life since then but ultimately, she should still be the same person. She wasn’t the woman who cheated or lied. She chose to walk away from the potential-affair with Daniel to keep herself from being the mistress in a man’s marriage. She respected him and the institution of vows far too much to take it to the next level. In her entire life, she had felt so strongly about why the bonds of marriage were sacred. What was she doing with that man besides betraying the husband she walked out on?

It wasn’t enough that they were estranged and he wouldn’t answer her calls or reach back. She had to make an effort with Mulder or ask for a divorce.

When she realized that she didn’t want one, then she knew her heart wasn’t going to be free to be with anyone else. It made her hate Mulder a little bit because she ultimately wanted him but not the version of him she had grown to resent.

When she went to the Clean Air dinner, she had insisted on meeting Tad there. He must have sensed a change in her feelings because he kept his hand lightly on her waist in posed pictures and referred to her as his associate. If they were anything that night, it was on awkward terms and she left the event before him after he lamely asked her to stay. She compromised and took his car instead of calling a cab and kissed his cheek goodbye.

Scully wiped at the edges of her mouth and applied a fresh treatment of lipstick to her lips. She ran her fingers through her hair and decided she was going to look how she usually did but she could try to relax a little. A small bottle of Motrin in her bag might be necessary to dive into if the tension in her shoulder persisted.

She told herself to get a glass of water with her coffee and found Mulder sitting at a corner booth in the centre island of tables. It was the least crowded she had seen it there in a while but maybe it was the time of year with a lot of the normal patrons back at school.

Mulder was blowing on the foam they had served to him in his mug and he held it up proudly to her. She slid into the bench next to him and her knees brushed against his as she adjusted her position.

“So,” he began as he slid her cup and a plate with a chocolate croissant towards her on the table.

“So,” she repeated as her fingers wrapped around the paper cup her drink was served in. She opened the lid to let the steam escape and glanced around the cafe for the water station.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

“I needed some water,” she explained. “I have a headache.”

Mulder held up a finger and left the table carefully to return with two glasses of ice water. When he sat down, he looked at her expectantly. “Are you comfortable?”

“Yes,” she said cautiously. “Are you?”

“Frankly, I’m not but I want to be,” he said. He put the newspaper on the table between their cups and tapped it with his finger. “What is this?”

“I was invited by someone I know socially,” she said lightly as she searched for reasons to be there besides Tad. “There were other doctors from work there.”

That was true but also not the point. Scully was honest usually to a fault and he had to know she was lying.

“You’re not a Republican,” he pointed out.

“No, I’m not,” she agreed. “Mulder…”

“I’m not here to ask you what you’ve been doing with your free time but if you’ve converted to some form of weird Republican nonsense political views since you left-”

“Mulder,” she cut him off. “I’m still a registered Democrat.”

“Then what the hell are you doing at this dinner?” he asked. “Are you seeing someone else? This guy?”

“No,” she said quickly. “Not… no.”

“I know you left and I’m an asshole because I pushed you out but-”

“Mulder,” she cut him off.

“Scully… we said vows,” he said quietly. "I know I didn't honour all of them with the shit I put you through but-"

“Mulder, I didn’t-” she began and looked around the space if anyone was listening. “I didn’t sleep with him or anyone else.”

“I’m pretty sure that the vows we took didn’t include being wined and dined by conservative poster boys for conspiracy theory shows,” he panned. “Or is that your type? Crazy but still a functioning member of society?”

She squared her shoulders and placed her hands into her lap as she said acerbically, “I suppose if he dropped over a million dollars into my name without telling me-”

“Hey,” he cut her off. “I did that for you.”

“It felt like another thing you did behind my back because you didn’t trust me,” she replied. “I wouldn’t have married you for money or stayed for money, Mulder.”

“I know… Believe me, you’re the last person I would ever think I would be able to buy their loyalty or affection,” he acknowledged honestly. His eyes searched hers for answers and she hoped he saw them in there. His hand reached under the table to brush against her knee. “Scully… I know what I said when you left-”

“I don’t want to talk about that,” she interrupted him as she held up her hands defensively. “I think we both have regrets.”

“What are you doing with these people?” he asked.

“It was a social engagement,” she promised. “One I’m not looking to repeat any time in the future.”

She meant that. She realized that she would rather be alone than with anyone who barely measured up to Mulder. It was a curse of falling in love and not being able to extract herself from a man that did more for her mentally, physically and emotionally than anyone else in her life. It was a blessing and a curse.

“I’ll believe that when I stop seeing your face in the society pages, Scully,” he said glibly.

“That’s fair,” she replied.

“I want you to know I haven’t stopped searching for answers,” Mulder said earnestly as he reached around their drinks and pulled her hands under the table with his. “I know there is something coming. I can’t explain it but I just feel like… what if the Smoking Man is involved?”

“He’s dead,” Scully said firmly but her insides were feeling persuasive to his touch.

She missed his tactile nature. There was so much of her that longed to be hugged and touched by him and she felt herself regretting the last six months of zero contact. When she left, it was because she couldn’t be in a home that was filled with the darkness he was consumed by. Now, looking into his eyes, she saw a light that had gone out earlier that year.

“I just… I can’t keep doing this alone.”

He told her that once before too and she knew she couldn’t leave him then either. Scully licked her lower lip and pulled one hand from his to bring her coffee to her mouth.

Carefully, she took a sip of her coffee and replaced the lid on the paper cup. As she smoothed her fingers along the wooden table, she said diplomatically, “I can’t look into that anymore.”

Mulder ran a hand across his mouth and the sound of a low growl came from his stomach. “Well.”

She looked down at his abdomen. “Did you skip breakfast?”

“Not at all,” Mulder said with a shake of his head and her eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I ran six miles this morning after a good sized breakfast but that wasn’t enough.”

Scully pulled her watch into view. “It’s almost noon.”

“Oh then it’s definitely time I ate,” he replied with a grin.


*** *** ***

The elevator dinged with each pass of the floor up to Scully’s apartment but the only thing she could think of that moment was the feeling of Mulder’s urgent erection pressing into her thigh as he kissed her with the fervent passion of being apart for too long.

One of his hands thread his fingers familiarly through her hair while the other had slipped inside the V of her jacket to palm her breast. He was holding her against the wall of the car with his breath filling her lungs and his tongue exploring her mouth. She felt alive for the first time in maybe a year and her sex was throbbing in anticipation at his touch. They had barely made it from the restaurant to the cab and into a private space before they were pulling at each other’s clothing and tasting the sweet familiarity of their tongues.

What were they doing? Her mind screamed as he ground himself at her centre and she felt a burst of excitement rush through her body.

Her body felt hot and she wanted to scratch at his skin as his mouth continued to explore hers. She was grasping at his leather jacket and Mulder broke the kiss to sink his teeth into the flesh on her neck. The man was marking her the second he could and as much as she hated covering up the marks his mouth would leave behind, her nerves were on fire as he licked and tasted the skin across her collarbone.

He took her mouth again with his as the elevator car stopped at her floor. The doors opened but their kiss remained paramount. His tongue massaged hers and she could taste the spicy sauce from his lunch but the underlying flavour was all Mulder.

His hand left her hair and moved down to her backside as he gripped her flesh through her sensible suit. She wanted to feel him underneath the layers of clothing separating them, to feel him push and stretch her flesh with his. She longed for the pain of the first push inside and all they had done yet was kiss.

The elevator car dinged its arrival again at her floor and she barely managed to pull her mouth from his to tell him to stop.

“Wait,” she breathed as he pressed his mouth against her cheek. “My floor.”

Mulder grunted and turned his face slowly towards the doors as they opened again. “Right.”

“If we get inside-” she said breathlessly.

“I can get inside too?” Mulder guessed as he looked back at her with a grin that made the ache inside her deepen.

It was a grin he gave her before pulling her panties down and taking her mind off the weight of the world while they hid from authorities. When he gave her that grin, she knew her troubles would have to take a backseat to the talents of his hands and mouth.

“Yes,” she whispered and he stepped back from her long enough to push her through the elevator car door and into the hallway towards her front door.

They were acting as though they were the only two people in the building or it was at least the middle of the night. This was a family building with tenants and maintenance staff that frequented the hallways during the day. Their behaviour was reckless and shameless but she couldn't stop it.

As she pulled the keys from her purse, Mulder pressed himself against her backside, ran his hands up her jacket and began opening each button, one by one. His hands were quick to palm each breast as he thrust against her backside and she moaned loudly as her forehead dropped back to the door. Mulder repeated the action and her key finally found its way into the lock.

“I thought waiting to get inside you was agonizing,” he quipped as his hand left her breast and opened the door.

She scoffed but her break in emotion was brief. Mulder had her against the door inside her apartment while his mouth covered hers and his hands pulled at every piece of her clothing. The kiss broke as her jacket left her body and fell to her feet. His hands made quick work of her pants next and she left her heels on to kick the material aside. When he pulled the camisole over her head, he tossed it over his shoulder and it landed somewhere close to her couch.

Mulder stood in front of her with his jacket and pressed shirt on and his raging erection filling out the front of his suit trousers. He looked hungry and dangerous in all the ways she appreciated about him. His eyes were wild with desire and she knew that this was going to be the kind of experience she felt for the rest of the week.

“I want you,” he said as his eyes took in the sight of her in her pale pink bra and panties set.

They hadn't made it out of the foyer of her apartment and she was ready for him. His kisses ignited a passion inside of her that had been dormant for too long.

The pad of his index finger ran down from the strap to the lacy overlay to the cup of her bra towards the centre clasp and then down her abdomen towards the top hem of her underwear.

Scully whimpered as he put the tip of his finger under the waistband and tugged the lacy undergarment down her hips.

“I missed looking at you,” he said honestly and dropped his jacket from his shoulders before dropping to his knees. Mulder pressed his face into the front of her panties and breathed in. “I missed the way you smell.”

“Mulder-”

“I did,” he admitted as he looked up at her. “I pressed my face into your pillow to try to remember how your perfume smelled on everything. I think it was easier when I was travelling around the States and looking for answers about those super soldiers. I didn’t have anything of yours to remind me of you. I should have stolen a sweater or your nightshirt.”

“You told me you were lonely then,” she reminded him.

“It was nothing like the last six months,” he countered as he looked back at her abdomen in front of him. “I knew more about what I was missing this time.”

“Mulder-” she began but her voice caught in her throat as he kissed the apex of her thighs next to where she really wanted his mouth.

He pulled on the waistband of her underwear until they were falling to the floor at her feet and he put one calf over his shoulder. His tongue slipped between her folds and found her bundle of nerves quickly.

“God!” she cried and her eyes closed as the overwhelming emotions and sensations began to take over her body.

Mulder hummed against her slick folds, slowly brought his hand up to where he was tasting her and pushed his finger inside her swollen walls.

“Oh god!” she cried out again.

The lone knee that was holding her weight was about to give out but she didn’t want Mulder to stop. Her mind was focusing on the sensations her body was feeling as he began to quickly lap at her centre while his finger crooked forward in search of her elusive G-Spot.

She could see his plan laid out in her mind. He was going to make her come hard and so intensely that she would be pliant and agreeable. Mulder was generous in every way as a lover and his determination to make sure she was satisfied was parallel to his search for the truth. He was relentless as much as he was selfless.

It was one of the reasons she fell in love with him. Mulder cared for the humanity on a planet that would no sooner ignore his absence than mourn it. It was heartbreaking to see a man put forth his efforts to be validated time and time again.

When they worked together as partners, he found that endorsement through her science. When they became lovers, there was no need for him to feel inadequate. The man measured up in every single way she could have asked for.

“Muh-” she tried but her voice caught in her throat while her one free hand held the door handle for balance.

Her mind tried to ignore the voices at the elevator and the shuffle of feet long the carpet. She could smile politely to her neighbours in the hallway with a twinge of embarrassment another day. Right now, she was only concerned with the tongue and fingers dancing along her sex.

Her inner walls began to swell and she felt the sensitive nerves begin to ache for his attention. She tilted her hips slightly and his tongue came into contact with the inner folds that longed to be tasted. Her hips twitched as he pushed his tongue against her and she shuddered as a slow release took over her body. It washed over her again and again as he continued to flex his tongue along her sex and she felt a rush of fluid flow from her. She was so desperate to be possessed by him but she wanted to ride out every orgasm before he had her completely.

Mulder wouldn’t stop at this but she knew him well enough that he wouldn’t push her now. The man was territorial. He would want to make her come and have her on as many locations in her apartment as possible. Scully imagined them tangled in the sheets for an hour or two before they had to face the hard realities of the world.

This was only the beginning of what was to occur. She knew that much.

As his hand moved down her thigh from her sex and his mouth moved across her pelvis to her hip, she pulled her leg from over his shoulder to rest her foot on the floor. She didn’t feel much steadier but she had both feet on the ground.

Mulder wiped his mouth with the edge of his thumb and grinned up at her. He put his hands on either side of her body as he stood up from the floor and kissed the edge of her mouth. His left hand brushed slowly up her belly and towards her breasts where he reached the clasp on the front of her bra.

She was in her heels and a lacy pink bra, feeling like she was about to explode from the urgent need for his body to envelope hers when suddenly he stopped and stepped back.

She took a heavy breath. “What?”

“I can’t do this,” he said with a shake of his head.

“You look like you can,” she countered as she glanced down at his cock straining in his pants. She was holding the door with her knuckles white with anticipation and the other went to her mouth as she wiped at the edges of her lips.

“I need to know…” he began and adjusted himself in his trousers. “Fuck…”

“Don’t do that if you’re about to make ultimatums,” she said breathlessly as her eyes moved from watching his face to the hand holding his cock. She licked her upper and lower lip and pushed herself off the door. “That’s not fair either.”

“Scully,” he said as a warning and took a step back from her as she walked forward in her heels and bra. “I’m serious.”

“So am I,” she replied quietly. “Like a heart attack.”

“I can’t control myself around you,” he told her. “I want you too badly.”

“Good,” she said as his knees hit the back of the couch. She continued her slow approach towards him, feeling predatory and wanton. “I don’t want you to control yourself.”

“I shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have touched you earlier, Scully,” Mulder tried to explain. “I missed you but… you-”

“You did a little more than touch me, Mulder. You fucked me at my doorway and now I want you,” she said as she reached him and her fingers undid the clasp of her bra. “I missed you too.”

Mulder looked down at her breasts and gulped loudly as she made quick work of his belt. “You left…”

The slice of the zipper in one sharp motion was harsh against the silence of the room and she slid both hands inside his trousers. Each palm and ten fingers wrapped around the length of him and he let out a guttural moan.

“Scully,” he sighed.

“Better than when you do it?” she asked coquettishly and he swallowed with an emphatic nod. She gave his hardened flesh a squeeze. “I know the feeling.”

Her hands regretfully left his cock to begin to undo the buttons on his shirt. She wanted to strip him down and taste him the way he had tasted her. She pushed his pants over his hips and they fell to the floor as she knelt down in front of him. Never mind that she was still in her heels, his shirt was hanging open and his shoes were still on his feet, she was about to take him in her mouth for all it was worth.

It was a funny thing to miss about being with another person but in their relationship, there was always give and take. Scully wanted him in her mouth as much as she wanted him between her thighs.

The outline of his cock was inches from her face and she looked up at him with a grin as she pulled the waistband on his boxer briefs carefully over his member.

Mulder grabbed her wrists and pulled them up between their bodies for her to stand. Scully gasped as he gripped her harder than necessary and his face was inches from hers.

“Scully,” he warned her emphatically.

“I have needs too,” she reminded him as she pushed herself against his flesh.

His face showed the struggle he had to maintain his control. “What does this mean for us? I can’t… I can’t just sleep with you.”

“It wouldn’t be that,” she whispered. “This isn’t just sex for me.”

Mulder took a deciding breath and his lips brushed against hers. She whimpered as his mouth captured hers again and she tasted the familiar flavour of her own desire on his tongue.

He broke the kiss and shook his head. “We can’t…”

“I never stopped loving you, Mulder,” she sighed against him. “I never fell out of love. I felt hurt… I felt like you stopped caring about me and our future together.”

“Scully no… I still love you,” he told her as he gripped her wrists a little tighter.

“Then show me,” she whispered challengingly.

His mouth covered hers again while his hands left her wrists and pulled her body flush to his. He was hard and twitching against her belly. She had been stopped from tasting his flesh on her tongue and she was determined to hear him breathe her name while she took him all the way into the back of her throat. That desire would have to go unfulfilled because Mulder was releasing her from his grip, turning her around and spinning them so her hands were gripping the back of the couch.

She heard him shuffling behind her as he kicked off his shoes, his pants and underwear. He held her steady with one hand and glanced down at the pointed Jimmy Choos on her feet.

“We've dressed appropriately,” he quipped as he rubbed the head of his cock against her swollen folds.

Scully spread her feet a little wider and arched her back as she looked over her shoulder. “Didn’t we do this once before like this at work?”

Mulder thought for a moment and she could see the memory of him taking her from behind in the basement of their office in a quiet morning at work. “Against a desk? You weren’t this naked.”

Scully tried to recall what instigated that morning tryst but memory escaped her mind as soon as he began to push inside her. This wasn’t soft and forgiving sex. They would find their way back to one another with something rough and animalistic their first time. Maybe if they made it to a bed, it could be more tender but right now, there was something else to work through. Anger and resentment lingered in the space between them and it was all coming to blows as he pushed inside with one hard thrust.

Gah!” she cried out.

Not the most sexy of noises she was known to make but his forceful act surprised her. Mulder rocked against her backside for only a moment, as she stretched for his girth and length, before retreating and repeating the motion.

Ah!

“I can’t be gentle right now,” he said in a low growl as he began a hard and steady pace of fucking her.

“Oh…oh god,” she whimpered. She didn’t want something soft and tender at this moment. “Don’t… don’t be…”

His hips were slapping against her backside with each forward motion and she could feel the head of his cock reaching up deep inside. She needed to feel another orgasm wash over her while he did this to connect it to her own desires and not just let him get out some anger that he was obviously working through.

Scully put her left hand on the cushion halfway across her body and used her right had to find the slickness at her sex. She pushed the pad of her finger roughly across her clit and her inner walls trembled.

“Fuck, that’s unfair,” Mulder growled as he paused inside her. “You get so tight.”

She gripped the cushion tighter and Mulder slowed his pace while they began to enjoy the mutual benefits of her pleasure.

“What’s…unfair… about… it?” she asked as her words were punctuated by each thrust.

“Nothing feels as good as you do,” he said as he rocked his hips against hers.

It wouldn’t be long with the overwhelming sensations of her own touch and him inside her to find release. She hoped they might find it together but she was appreciating the tenacity of his actions right now.

He was sliding into her hard and fast while the temperature of their bodies rose from their exertion in her living room. She didn’t know if she would be able to stand at that spot again and not think about what he did to her there. Before she left, she found herself occasionally looking at the kitchen table in longing for the love they made on that surface rather try to figure out what to make for supper.

If they ever felt distant from one another, the sex they shared brought them back to some middle ground. It seemed to be an equalizer once their work stopped being the thing they had in common and they were two people sharing a home instead of a quest.

“Come on,” Mulder urged her as his pace picked up.

She was nearing the precipice of another release. Her sex swelled just a little more and suddenly she felt herself falling over the edge into the abyss of what could only be described as one of the most intense orgasms of her life.

“Fuck!” Mulder cried out as she felt herself getting tighter and tighter.

Her eyes closed and her jaw dropped as she felt her insides clench and throb. It was almost too much but she kept moving her hand across her clit. She needed this release to take the wind out of her and fry every nerve ending.

It was the first time in almost a year that she felt true passion from Mulder and she was elated that he wasn’t complacent for something quick and effortless. He was ensuring this was good for both of them, even with his rough approach.

She finally moved her hand from her sex and moaned as she grabbed the back cushion of the couch. “Jesus, Mulder…”

“Yes?” he quipped as he kissed the side of her head.

“I’m… I feel like I need to sit down,” she managed.

He was still rock hard and ready for more but her senses needed a minute to recover.

When she looked over her shoulder, she saw Mulder observing her pristine apartment, the light grey couches and then focusing on a leather armchair she had picked out because it reminded her of Mulder’s old leather couch.

“You wanna sit on that?” he asked as he nodded at the chair.

The leather chair sat next to an end table with a box of tissues, remotes and a picture of Scully and Mulder on the beach. She didn’t understand why she displayed a picture taken hours after their wedding in the Bahamas but she had put it out after her last encounter with O’Malley. She needed a reminder of what she really wanted. In the end, it would always be Mulder.

She wondered why he hadn’t pulled out of her and thrown her over his shoulder to take her into the bedroom but she realized that a man who had been rejected so much in his lifetime, after she left him, wouldn’t do that. If she was going to have him in a bed, it would have to be on her invitation. As much as she wanted him, taking him into her bed might change too much for them, especially when they still had a lot to work through.

That probably meant she shouldn’t be leading him across the living room and climbing onto his lap while their marriage was still on such uncertain terms but she wasn’t ready to stop everything now.

She brought his hands up into view and undid the buttons on his sleeves. She pushed the garment off his shoulders and sat him down on the chair. Mulder pressed his face into her belly and placed an open mouth kiss below her navel.

“I miss everything about you,” he murmured as her hands played with his hair.

He took a deep breath and lapped at her skin. She pulled his head back and looked down into his eyes. She lessened the distance between them as she stepped out of her shoes and there was a slight shift in the air. Her hands cupped his face and he looked at her as though he was seeing all of her. The lies about Tad, the kisses they shared and any moment her heart strayed from thinking of Mulder.

Her knees made contact with the cool leather on either side of his hips as she kissed his lips softly and positioned herself above him.

“Do you remember what we said to each other when we started all this?” he asked quietly.

“There were still answers we both need,” she whispered. “I told you that I wasn’t going to be your yes-man just because of sex.”

“I wasn’t anticipating any personality changes,” he repeated himself from a vow he made on a train car on their way back to Washington. “I shouldn’t have expected you to try to pull me from the darkness when I looked too deeply.”

Her chin clenched and she kissed him softly. Mulder placed a hand on her waist and pulled her towards his body. Her breasts were under his chin and then slid down his chest as she slowly lowered herself onto his cock.

“God you feel good,” he sighed as she settled herself on his thighs with his member buried to the hilt.

Scully hummed in appreciation as he kissed her and she felt herself relax around him. A slow and steady rhythm of their hips on the chair began to work towards their mutual release. Her hand slipped between their bodies and her pace never faltered as she began to work her bundle of nerves into a frenzy. Her hips continued a steady downstroke and a slight angle forward on the upstroke. Mulder groaned as she paused a the top before sliding down again on him.

“Scully-” he started as his fingers dug into her waist a little harder.

Her head dropped back and she looked up to the ceiling as she tried to concentrate on everything inside of her. She wanted to find her release again but this one was escaping her. She moaned as her eyes closed and bit her lip at her frustration over not being able to come.

“Dana,” he said more sternly and she closed her eyes briefly before focusing on him.

“What?”

“Kiss me,” he urged her.

Her mouth covered his and they shared a long and passionate kiss that brought her release closer. His kisses trailed along her jawbone and down to her neck where she felt a surge of excitement. Her hand began to move in unison with her hips at his silent instruction with a push of his fingers into her sides. They fucked with a slow and steady pace of two people who wanted to reach the edge of their desire together.

“Oh!” she cried out as the waves of her orgasm began to wash over her. “God! Oh my god!”

Mulder grunted and groaned loudly as he began his own tumble into the cavern of his release. His mouth captured her nipple and he sucked on her hardened nub as he shot into her and he sighed against her breast as he finished.

Fuck,” he whispered.

“Yes,” she agreed quietly.

“I mean…” he began but the words were obviously escaping him.

She kissed his hairline and ran her fingers tenderly through his hair as his member twitched inside her. Eventually, she looked into his eyes and they both smiled hesitantly.

“What now?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” she questioned.

“I mean… things have worked better for us when you’re the driver-”

“Mulder,” she protested.

“I mean it,” he cut her off. “When I was the driving force, I got us on a most wanted list and lost you after finally getting my freedom.”

She had always felt in their relationship that they had been partners, on equal footing. Looking back on the years after his release from the FBI’s wanted list, if she was being honest with herself, Mulder took her lead on much of what became their home life. He deferred to her because he admitted his childhood nor his parents' marriage wasn’t one to emulate. When they had a fight, if she insisted on space or time away from him, he tried not to push. He had instincts that worked well for them in romantic parts of their life but he fell back and allowed her to determine the household chores or whether or not they would visit family at the holidays.

“I thought you resented when I took control,” she admitted.

“I resent what I became as a man when I allowed myself to be obsessed with one thing,” Mulder said as he shook his head. “I’m not willing to stop looking but I don’t want to push you away from me now.”

“I’m not ready to come home, Mulder,” she admitted and grabbed a tissue from the table to hold against herself as she got off his lap.

She left the living room to clean herself up in the bathroom and he followed behind her to do the same.

“Are you planning to divorce me?” Mulder asked with a twinge of panic in his voice that would only be discernible to her.

“No!” she answered quickly as she washed her hands. “No…. I just… I think you’re not ready for me to live with you full time and neither am I.”

“You… you’re not ready to come back home?” he questioned.

She slowly shook her head. “I’m sorry…. but no. I’m not ready… I think if you’re still looking into these things… I just need space. I think… we should try to…”

“You want to date?” he asked her with a hesitation in his voice that actually hurt her. He leaned against the sink in her powder room and breathed out through his nose as he obviously contemplated her offer. “I don’t know…”

“I’m not wanting anyone else,” she offered to him.

“Then want me,” he countered. “Just choose me and come home.”

“You’re not…” Scully sighed as she tried to choose her words. “I don’t think the person I would be coming home to is the man I built a home with.”

Mulder’s eyebrows rose in surprise and she felt horrible for saying it but it was the truth. He had changed into someone she didn’t recognize and this was beyond the ‘for better or for worse’ portion of their vows.

“What about-”

“Don’t quote the vows we exchanged,” she cut him off.

“So what?” he asked. “You want to date your husband? Exclusively?”

She nodded emphatically, not wanting to be with anyone else. Two dates with another man should have convinced her that she wasn’t free to love anyone else. Since she walked into his basement office, she should have known it would always be Mulder.

“I just think we need a reset, Mulder,” she explained.

“We didn’t really have a clean slate the first time,” he pointed out quietly as he pulled her towards him and kissed her forehead. “But… I can’t be without you. I’ll show you I’m worth coming home to, Scully.”

Scully looked up in his eyes and hoped he understood what she was asking for. She would pray for their lives to come back together but right now, there wasn’t a strong enough catalyst to inspire that. There were arguments and insults they had yet to forgive and time would need to heal that before she could come home to him.

Chapter Text

“My life has become a punchline,” Mulder said over the phone and she could hear the squeak of his chair through the line. “What’s happening out there, Scully?”

He hadn’t been to D.C. to visit her since after Christmas. The recent visits they had together were an effort she had put forth but they had become few and far between over the last six months. Work had gotten in the way and he seemed less inviting when she returned home. It started to feel like a place she was visiting instead of returning to.

Since they reconnected before his birthday in 2013, they had made a solid effort with one another. Until it just stopped. 

Occasionally, he called to check in but he had become reclusive over the last year. Long-term solitude wasn’t good for men like Fox Mulder with fascinations in paranoia and the unexplained. She was sure that he had left the house less and less even with the weather turning warmer. If he was getting out, it was probably for the essentials and maybe to run along the edges of the property. She knew he had been keeping active since their separation but he preferred not to leave home if he could.

She put a hand on her hip as she tried to relieve some of the pressure on her feet but it was a useless effort. If she sat now, she might never stand back up. The surgical ward was busy around her with doctors and nurses preparing patients to go in for long and gruelling procedures with the end result of a better life.

“Skinner is looking for you,” she reported.

“Why doesn’t he just call me?” Mulder asked.

“He doesn’t know how to reach you, Mulder,” she explained. “I barely know how myself.”

That was more of a dig at the phone calls and texts she sent that went unanswered more than not. He was engaged and brighter in person than he was over the phone.

“He wants to know if you’ve been watching something called Truth Squad with Tad O’Malley on the net,” she continued as she skipped through the name of a man who had wined and dined her on several occasions. She was hoping he wouldn’t remember the newspaper clipping or bring that up.

"What does your friend want with us?" he asked.

 Scully closed her eyes to steady herself and tried to remember why she was calling him. It would be so easy just to hang up, give Skinner the address where Mulder was sequestering himself from society and let him go alone. Doing that was usually more dangerous than going with him so she pushed her hand into her lower back to appease the tension from standing in a surgical room for five hours and took a breath. “Apparently, he’s reached out to us through the FBI.”

Scully heard the keyboard click a few times and Mulder breathed out through his nose loudly. “Hold on. I’m bringing him up.”

She heard the video clip through the line as O’Malley spoke to the camera, “It’s the mainstream liberal media lying to you about life, liberty and your God-given right to bear firearms.”

“Why would I watch this jackass, Scully?” Mulder asked acerbically.

Scully wondered if he was calling Tad a jackass because of being photographed with her at the Clean Air dinner or because it was what Tad was saying. Either way, Mulder was right.

“9/11 was a false flag operation. It was a warm-up to World War III. Now, hear me on this. It’s all part of a conspiracy dating back to the UFO crash at Roswell…”

“I thought you were done with UFOs,” Mulder interrupted the rant Tad was making. “The stranglehold they put on your very existence, I believe is how you put it.”

“I’m just the messenger, Mulder,” she reminded him. “Apparently he is desperate to meet.”

“Tell Skinner to set it up,” he said quickly.

“Seriously?” she questioned.

“And don’t pretend I’m going alone,” he said in a tone he had used so many times with her.

He knew how to get his way when it came to so much of their lives when he was out in the world and thriving. This was reminiscent of the drive Mulder used to have so she would agree to go. It meant Mulder would get out of the house and maybe he would remember what he was missing by being among people in a city he once loved. More importantly, she missed spending time with him and this would be an easy excuse to check up on him.

“I wouldn’t let you go alone,” she replied and immediately regretted her choice of words.

Mulder cleared his throat. “Let me?”

“I didn’t…” she started and cleared her throat uncomfortably. She shook her head. “You know what I mean.”

Mulder’s chair squeaked. “I appreciate the sentiment.”

She had to clear her schedule for that afternoon to meet them downtown in D.C. but O’Malley was eager to see Mulder. There was a feeling of dread and worry filling her stomach as the hours drew closer and she realized that Tad might act as though they knew each other better than Scully had let on.

A car pulled up to the curb where Mulder had instructed her to wait and she saw him getting out of a black sedan. It wasn’t his. It wasn’t a taxi and she questioned his transportation.

“Uber?”

“Hitchhiked,” he deadpanned as he came to stand across from her. “Relax, Scully. I’m kidding.”

Her mind began to run through the possibilities. He had the means to hire a car if he wanted to and could very well have. Mulder wasn’t frivolous with his money so her mind went back to thinking that maybe he did take an Uber. It would bother her to not know.

She shifted her feet and looked at him with concern. “I just worry about you, Mulder.”

“Not to worry, Doc,” he said casually. “I’m taking good care of myself.”

“It’s good for you to get out of that little house every once in a while,” she said with a grin.

“It certainly was good for you,” he remarked.

His zingers were sharper when she wasn’t visiting as often and she made a mental note not to let their visits be as few and far between. There was a moment she thought that maybe he wouldn’t want her back but she pushed the thought aside as quickly as it entered her mind.

She smirked a little and kept her arms crossed. “I’m always happy to see you.”

“And I’m always happy to find a reason,” he replied.

He pressed his lips together like he was going to lean in and kiss her cheek but something stopped him.

It was the sound of Tad O’Malley’s limo pulling up that caused him to step back from her and she glanced nervously at the tall Republican as he stepped out of the car.

“Fox Mulder,” Tad asked as he approached with an outstretched hand.

“Yes,” Mulder confirmed and extended his hand.

“Tad O’Malley,” he said as they shook hands. He looked to Scully and smiled as though they had never met. “And you must be former agent Dana Scully.”

“Yes,” she answered and she wondered if the surprise in her tone was evident to more than just herself. “That’s quite an entrance you make there.”

“She’s shot men with less provocation,” Mulder quipped.

Tad gave Mulder a full smile and nodded. “Funny. I heard you were funny.”

He had heard that from Scully when Tad asked about her former partner. She was waiting for him to mention that he knew her and expose them both. Maybe Tad was smart enough to know Mulder wouldn’t go anywhere with him if he knew that he had tried to pick up his estranged wife at a gun range.

Mulder and Scully exchanged a look and she wondered how much he was able to read about her emotions right now.

“Join me for a little ride?” Tad invited.

“I’d be happy to talk to you, Mr. O’Malley,” Mulder assured him. “Right here is fine.”

Mulder did have more history of getting into a limo with a well-dressed man and almost being killed than most so it was a solid theory as to why he was anxious to stay on the street.

“Allow me my small precautions,” Tad exhorted. “Low flying aircraft often employ what they call ‘dirt boxes’ to record conversations that I prefer private.”

“Aircraft employed by whom?” she questioned.

Men like Tad O’Malley and Fox Mulder had similar theories when it came to how the government spied on its people but their precautionary applications were different. Mulder put a piece of duct tape over his webcam whereas Tad O’Malley preferred to take meetings in a limo fit for a president.

Scully gave Mulder a skeptical look before climbing inside but she refrained from making a comment.

Once they began driving down the road, Tad reached into an ice bucket and pulled out a bottle of champagne. “Because, why not?”

“None for me, thanks.” Mulder made a face. He was never much of a day drinker. “Scully?”

Scully kept her legs crossed and hands clenched together as she shook her head no. She wanted a stiff drink but worried alcohol would let something else slip she didn’t want to.

“I take it you have enemies,” Scully noted.

It certainly never came up in their casual conversations but neither did his web show.

“Well not always of my choosing, Dana,” Tad replied slyly.

She looked at him with strained patience but tried to smile politely. Mulder’s fingers pressed on the control for the window next to him but nothing happened. Mulder clicked on the button on his door to lower the window.

Click, click, click, click click.

He couldn’t just try anything once to make sure it didn’t work.

“Air’s getting a little hot in here,” Mulder said flatly.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Tad apologized smoothly. “Those don’t roll down. I had the vehicle bulletproofed.”

That was a new development since she last saw him and she wondered if it had anything to do with a change in his relationship situation. Scully glanced at Tad’s hands and saw he was not wearing a ring, not that wearing one changed someone’s marital status. She was technically still married but was without her solitaire diamond.

“’Cause you never know when a gun-toting liberal might go Hinckley,” Mulder shot back.

It was usually the conservatives who were gun-loving and unstable but men from Tad’s side of the aisle usually looked at men like Mulder as the unstable ones. With the rise in mass shootings, liberals weren’t usually the ones to be wary of or the ones carrying the guns but that was more of Mulder’s commentary on hot button issues, not hers. She was sure the men who killed her sister and his father didn’t have a political party.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” Scully apologized for Mulder before Tad could reply. “How can we help you, Mr. O’Malley?”

“I’m not some Johnny-come-lately to the UFO phenomenon, Mr. Mulder,” Tad said in a way to put it out on the table and measure with Mulder. “Like yourself, I’m a true believer.”

If that line was for her or Mulder, she wasn’t sure.

“No, I only want to believe,” Mulder disagreed. “Actual proof has been strangely hard to come by.”

Not exactly the argument he had when he was shoving newspaper clippings in her face and asking her to believe in the truth about what was coming. He told her the apocalypse was on its way and they needed to get out of Virginia to a safer place. He said he was holding proof in his hand but all he seemed to have was theories and conjecture.

“You ran the X-Files,” Tad reminded him. “You were the X-Files. You all but wrote the book.”

She wasn’t sure if the flattery was going to get Tad anywhere. Mulder was a child who grew up with little praise and as such, compliments often made him uncomfortable.

“I’m afraid that book is closed,” Mulder replied but without a hint of regret.

“As are the X-Files,” Scully chimed in.

She couldn’t tell if he was trying to brush off Tad or prove something about his mental well-being to her but she was going to support Mulder now. As much as she could, she would agree that the search into the paranormal was long over. They were working towards a better life and hopefully, eventually, that would be together.

“For better or worse, we’ve moved on with our lives,” Scully continued.

“Yes, we have,” Mulder agreed as he looked over to her. “For better or for worse.”

If that wasn’t a dig at broken vows, she didn’t know what was. She let out a breath and wished she could be anywhere but where she was at that exact moment. She would rather retake the M-CATs in her forties after ten years out of the field of medicine than sit in the backseat of a limo with Fox Mulder and Tad O’Malley in that very at that moment. She looked over to Tad, who was studying them closely and she wondered if he could figure out just by the way they were sitting in the limo, how often or how little she and Mulder saw one another lately.

“Well, that’s beside the point,” Tad replied as he jumped over the hint that Mulder and Scully had said vows at one point in their lives. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be reminded of the fact that Mulder was more than Scully’s estranged partner.

“What is the point, Mr. O’Malley?” Mulder asked sharply. “And how does a man with your conservative credentials count himself a believer in UFO’s and 9/11 false flag conspiracies?”

“I take it you consider my message disingenuous?” Tad clarified.

“Conspiracy sells,” Mulder shot back as he glanced around at the luxurious decor. “It pays for the bulletproof limousines.”

“You think I do it for the ratings?” Tad asked with a smile.

“I think you’re The O’Reilly Factor with a shopworn little gimmick,” Mulder replied.

“What Bill O’Reilly knows about the truth could fill an eyedropper,” Tad sneered about the fellow conservative commentator.

Mulder smiled over to Scully and she met his eyes, seeing in him that he was about to challenge Tad. He frowned as he considered an obscure trivia piece of ‘believer’ history.

“The Kelly Cahill incident,” Mulder mentioned as to ask Tad to fill in the blanks.

If he failed, Mulder would ask them to pull over and they could say goodbye to O’Malley forever. She hoped what he knew of Mulder’s personal favourite topic would also fill an eyedropper. Scully looked at Tad in wonder if he would live up to his own hype and he grinned smugly back at her before setting his eyes on Mulder.

“Kelly Cahill and her husband were driving home in Victoria, Australia, when a craft appeared overhead,” Tad began and she felt her heart sink. “The Cahills lost an hour of time and Kelly was hospitalized with severe stomach pain after discovering a triangle-shaped mark near her navel. As I said, my interest is real. What I need is your expertise.”

“Our expertise for what?” Scully asked.

“I’m rattling some pretty big cages in the intelligence community,” Tad explained. “But I’m prepared to go all in, prepared to blow open maybe the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known.”

This could be Mulder in 2013 but he was clean-shaven and holding down a steady job. The words were the same but he wasn’t shaking her with anger in his voice and desperation in his eyes. This was a calm and smooth description of what he believed was inevitable.

She realized as she looked at the man across from her in the limo that it didn’t matter the way it was delivered. Scully didn’t buy this brand of bad news.

“That’s quite the assertion, Mr. O’Malley,” she noted. “What’s stopping you?”

“If I’m putting my ass out there, I need to know it’s hanging by more than a very slender thread,” Tad reasoned.

Mulder turned to Scully in the limo. “Apparently, he has something to show us.”

“Something,” Tad confirmed. “And someone.”

Tad tapped on the glass partition and spoke in a low, hushed tone to the driver about their next stop. Scully looked over to Mulder and they held a look as she tried to ascertain how interested he was in moving forward with Tad on this adventure. Mulder’s mouth twitched up to a grin and she knew his curiosity had been piqued.

“We’ll leave when you say the word,” Mulder promised her and she glanced over to Tad who had snapped his head back to watch the exchange. “We’re leaving when she says the word.”

Tad nodded. “Okay, Dana, you’re in charge.”

Mulder’s jaw clenched at the usage of her first name and they drove the rest of the way to Low Moor, Virginia with tension-fueled conversations and awkward silences. It was the longest three hours of her life.

On the last road to their final destination, they passed a two-floor brick school where children played in the bright green grass field. Scully smiled quietly to herself at the sight of young boys playing a pick-up game and kids hung on fences for their turn at bat. When she looked to Mulder, he was watching her face instead of the boys but she wondered if he was reminiscing about the time he asked her to smell a baseball while she discussed remains.

The remote location was less than ideal to travel to by car. It was quiet, idyllic and small. It reminded her of places in Home, Pennsylvania that Mulder idealized as a place to settle down. Their joint property was a compromise to something in between with a slightly larger town nearby but with the quiet privacy that their expansive yard provided. Where Sveta was felt like a throwback to all the towns she and Mulder visited during the X-Files when progression stopped in 1972.

“Cozy place,” Mulder commented as they drove down the gravel road.

“Interesting word choice for a man who lives in a small house on the edge of the woods,” Tad remarked.

“I get better service than Ted Kazinsky,” Mulder retorted. “And most of the places near me deliver good take-out.”

“Aliens couldn’t find this place,” Scully noted as they stepped out of the car. “How did you, Mr. O’Malley?”

She thought that making a crack about aliens might relax Mulder towards her but he didn’t make a comment after hers.

“A man in my position finds himself contacted by interesting strangers,” Tad replied slyly.

Scully followed Tad with Mulder close behind her as they approached the house. She could see Sveta watching them from the window and she looked up to Mulder to see him looking curiously back at the young woman.

Mulder gave Sveta a kind greeting and Scully felt her dander rise at her previous encounter to Mulder. She could feel his embarrassment when he assumed they met under different circumstances. The first time they met, he had interviewed her family when she was a child. The age gap between the old partners and the beautiful young woman in front of them became more painfully apparent.

Inside the home, he was interested in Sveta’s story but allowed Scully to lead the questions. It wasn’t until Sveta claimed to have alien DNA that Mulder spoke up and asked Scully to validate Sveta and Tad’s claims.

“Something you could test?” Mulder asked from the opposite end of the couch. “Dana?”

Scully knew what he was doing by mocking Tad but it was to irk at her also. She tried not to react by calling him ‘Fox’ but instead she cleared her throat. “Of course. Are you available to come to the hospital I work at?”

Sveta glanced to Tad and she nodded at Scully. “I can do that.”

“I won’t have time until tomorrow morning. I have patients waiting…” Scully glanced at her watch as she stood up from the couch. ”I need to get back to Washington. I didn’t realize this would take so long.”

Tad stood up from the couch. “I can have my chopper pick you up, Dana.”

Mulder stood up as well and looked slightly panicked he would be left alone in a car with Tad O’Malley. The expression wasn’t obvious to everyone but his clenched jaw and eyes off to the side were an indicator of his worried feelings.

“Uh,” Scully began. “I told Mulder I would drive him…”

“I’ll drop you off, Mulder,” Tad offered with a slick smile.

“How long…” Scully began to ask.

“Thirty minutes,” Tad said as he typed on his phone. “My pilot is going to meet us at the elementary school.”

She didn’t really want to take the ride from him but when she cleared her afternoon for this, she hadn’t anticipated it taking the entire day. The sun was beginning to descend from the sky down towards the horizon. A pink and orange hue began to wash over the clouds.

“Sveta,” Mulder began as they approached the door and he pulled out a piece of paper with his number hand-written on it. “I hope we keep in touch.”

She looked from Mulder to Sveta and then to Tad who was watching Scully closely. She pushed past Mulder as he was extending his arm to the young woman and walked out to the car where the driver was waiting quietly.

“How long does it take to get to the school from here?” she asked.

“Ten minutes,” he answered quietly as he opened the door for her. “Nice to see you again, by the way, Ms. Scully.”

Mulder and Tad were standing on the porch discussing something quietly and she looked up to the man in sunglasses. “Nice to see you again, too.”

She felt her cheeks burn with frustration and embarrassment as she waited for Tad and Mulder to join her in the limo. Getting Mulder out of the house for this was more of a trial on her nerves than she realized and she prayed the rest of her travels would be uneventful.

 

*** *** ***

 

Sveta had gotten into her head during the exam. Scully’s mistake was anticipating that it would be quiet and indifferent as every other patient exam she had done as an intake intern. Sveta was scanning her mind for memories and feelings about Mulder when she came off as skeptical towards Sveta’s claims regarding her abduction.

She would have been able to ignore much of what she had claimed, mind reading and the telekinesis, if Sveta hadn’t mentioned the endogenous depression Scully had muttered under her breath as a possible misdiagnosis of Mulder’s condition.

She didn’t want a stranger poking around in her mind and prodding through the painful and poignant feelings of her failed marriage. She didn’t want that kind of proof that meant Sveta was speaking the truth about alien abductions. Nevertheless, she found herself possibly believing what Tad and Sveta had sold her on.

She believed it so much so that she spent every free moment for the next two days calling Mulder. His phone disconnected after the second ring each and every time she called. His intentional rejection of her attempts to communicate with her was akin to immediately after she left their home for good. Back then, he kept his phones off and her emails went unreturned. It was a time she was too afraid to come to the house in person in fear of a dismissal face to face.

The longer she worked and waited for test results from Sveta’s exam, the more she felt her heart break that the small progressions they had made were possibly nothing and she had been fooling herself.

The loneliness she felt when she was apart from Mulder was evident to even her family. Her mother asked her why she couldn’t work it out with him and she felt disappointment in the fact that she didn’t know why.

Moments like these reminded her of the answers that slipped from her mind when she had spent a weekend tangled in bed with Mulder. They worked everywhere in their lives except for the reasons they came together with her science and his paranormal theories. Those reasons became bigger than them and she didn’t know how to push back against it anymore. Sometimes she didn’t know what those were anymore.

They had seen each other so little over the last six months and she felt him slipping away from her all over again. She wasn’t sure what changed since Christmas but he stopped tolerating their distance and she feared coming home would only result with a door slammed in her face.

You don’t know what it’s like to be abducted,” Sveta said with the ignorance of someone who hadn’t prodded much further into her mind. “To be taken against your will. You don’t know.”

Scully stepped closer to Sveta and looked into her eyes as she recalled what she could stomach of the memories of her own abductions.

“Well…” Sveta began. “Maybe you do.”

Scully pulled the vial of blood and removed the needle from her arm. “I’ll call you directly with the results of your tests.”

She placed a small cotton swab on the puncture point and adhered a piece of tape across her skin.

“You don’t need to,” Sveta said as she got off the exam table. “I know what they’ll tell me.”

She choked back a scoff and watched the young woman leave the exam room where a man from Tad O’Malley’s security staff was waiting for her.

The interest Tad held in Sveta lingered in her mind the rest of the day. While she assisted Dr. Reagan with their surgery on Lucas Moore, a young boy with Microtia, a comment the doctor made sparked a thought in her mind.

“I’ve taken DNA samples of every child we’ve performed surgery on,” Dr. Reagan said as he tossed his curved hemostat in the metal pan.

“Are any of their ancestries linked back to Navajo Indians?” Scully asked as she tied her last suture on Lucas’ new ear.

“Good work,” Dr. Reagan praised her as he watched over her shoulder to observe her work. “I’d like to think that it would be that simple. I’m wondering if it’s an environmental exposure from the mother to the child while in utero.”

“How could you determine that?” Scully asked.

“Well, I have some OBGYN’s coming forward making observances of this,” Dr. Reagan said as he stepped back from Scully and shed his surgical gloves. “I think if we can look to the mothers, maybe we can see why these children were born with such an affliction.”

“Hopefully not to lay blame,” Scully commented as she placed her curved hemostat in the pan quietly next to his. She could tell Dr. Reagan was grinning behind his surgical mask by the shift in his cheek. “I mean, to determine a cause is helpful but a mother isn’t always at fault when a child is born under circumstances beyond her control.”

Dr. Reagan approached Scully and put a hand on her shoulder. “Dana, I never look at a mother as someone we can blame. Even the ones who are careless about conceiving a child.”

Scully swallowed and tried to hold Dr. Reagan’s gaze but she faltered, looking down at her bloodied gloves. His attentions never made her feel quite comfortable but not in the ways that Mulder’s attentions upset her insides. Dr. Reagan was married with four children and often made comments of a more than friendly nature. There was talk among the staff he had affairs but Scully had so few friends at the hospital, she was often left out of the gossip. Mulder’s attentions, during the entirety of their partnership, never crossed a line no matter how low his hand travelled on her lower back. Dr. Reagan seemed to test every boundary, especially since she stopped wearing her wedding ring to work.

“You have some splatter on your throat there,” Dr. Reagan said as he stepped back and gestured to her neck. He began to back out of the surgical bay and pulled down his mask. “Good job today, Dr. Scully.”

When Dr. Reagan left her alone with Lucas, she signalled to the nurse in the observation room to come in to take their young patient to recovery. As Lucas was being wheeled away, something inside her decided to run her own blood for the same markers as Sveta’s. If there were any similarities, she would want to know.

As soon as she had changed her scrubs but before she could clean herself up, she administered a needle into her own Median Cubital vein. As the vial filled and she turned away from the door to remove the needle from her arm, a voice startled her from a few feet away.

“Testing yourself for alien DNA?” Tad asked from the doorway.

“High cholesterol,” she lied as she pulled out the needle and applied a bandage.

“Sorry to barge in on you like this,” he started as she approached him. “It looks like you’ve had quite a day.”

Scully let out a long, tired breath as she passed him to the adjoining room. “The usual around here.”

When she glanced back over her shoulder as she spun the vial slowly in her hand, Tad’s eyes were fixated to Lucas’ portrait.

“Doesn’t look so usual to me,” he said as he entered the room.

He was drawn to the sight of Lucas’ profile and she knew where his mind might wander. Mulder’s did the same when she first began this job working under Dr. Reagan. He asked at least fifty questions about Microtia and the children in the case. Scully answered as many as she could as she stood tiredly in that very room. Mulder kissed her forehead and told her he missed hearing her ‘sciency talk’. It was only a year ago but it felt like decades.

“It’s a disease called Microtia,” she explained to Tad as she bagged her blood sample. “Children born without ears.”

“You operate on these kids?” Tad asked.

“I assist the surgeons, who are really doing God’s work,” she explained and wished whatever was scratching the back of her throat would clear out. She needed to drink hot water with lemon and lay down for eighteen hours. She filled out the form for the blood work and ticked off the same boxes she had asked for on Sveta’s. “Giving kids what their biology neglected.”

“So it’s a genetic deformity?” he asked.

He was a journalist and he sounded like a man on the street trying for a story but there was something else in his voice such as genuine interest in Lucas and others like him.

“Possibly but not conclusively,” she wavered. “It’s most common in Navajo Indians.”

“What’s so striking is how alien it looks,” he noted.

Of course, Tad would relate it back to her previous work experience.

“I assure you that is simply a random coincidence, Mr. O’Malley,” she replied flatly.

She was waiting for him to correct her to call him Tad.

“You mean, unrelated to your previous work experience?” he queried and Scully turned slightly to look at him.

“Far, far from that experience,” she replied.

It was so far from that previous work experience that no one asked her to believe that a flying cow was caused by anything other than a small tornado from temperamental weather. The children she worked on looked for science to help them where their biology failed. Nothing paranormal was mentioned and not once had a single doctor inside those walls mentioned little grey men.

“Do you miss it at all?” he asked. “The X-Files?”

If this was any other man in front of her, she would state firmly that she didn’t. She would obfuscate the truth about her past work with Mulder and hopefully send him on his way. Maybe it was because she was exhausted from a long day or because she knew him previously, but she answered him honestly.

“As a scientist, it was probably some of the most intense and challenging work I’ve ever done,” she admitted. “I’ve never felt so alive.”

“You mean, working with Mulder?” Tad clarified.

Of course, Mulder would come into this. She didn’t know if he was there for answers about her former partner or if he held a genuine interest in her. Nothing about her seemed to be singular from Mulder - since she was assigned to his office over twenty years ago to now. Sometimes she thought the most interesting things about herself were tied to him and part of her resented him for that.

“Possibly one of the most intense and challenging relationships I may ever have,” Scully said. “And quite honestly, the most impossible.”

Scully felt regret immediately oversharing that information about Mulder. He always kept his cards close to his chest when discussing anything about her with others. She should do the same. Maybe if Mulder could return a damned phone call…

She brushed away the thought.

“Yeah, I got that impression,” he acknowledged.

“Are you here for a reason?” Scully asked him pointedly.

“I needed to know that you weren’t upset with Mulder putting you on the spot with this Sveta business,” he said in almost a plea for forgiveness.

Tad had done his research about Mulder but what he didn’t know was that he would refuse to go alone on most ventures.

“No, it’s fine,” she said as she thought back to the conversation between her and Sveta earlier. “I’m… used to it.”

“And I just wanted to see you again,” he finished.

Scully turned slowly to him. The look in his eyes was familiar to her and he smiled nervously.

“Did you?” she asked.

“When you told me your past with your ex was complicated, I didn’t realize the enormity of it,” Tad replied.

“I suppose I could have told you that my former partner and my estranged husband were the same person,” she admitted.

“Is that how you see him?” Tad asked. “An estranged husband?”

“I don’t know what we are,” she cut him off. “I thought… I thought we were moving back to a place we could but he’s…”

Scully stopped speaking and clenched her chin as she stopped herself from speaking ill of him.

“Dana,” he said as he closed the gap between them. “Join me for a drink.”

“I’m… not sure that’s a smart idea,” she said reluctantly as he took her hand.

“I’m just asking to spend some time together,” he clarified. “I’ll be a gentleman.”

Scully pulled her hand back. “Let me make a phone call.”

Tad pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “I’ll wait over there, where the comfortable chairs are.”

Her mind wasn’t justifying going with Tad because Mulder ignored another phone call of hers. Her heart was asking for a sign but she couldn’t find clarity in what was unknown. She loved Mulder, she wanted them to work things out but he seemed to be determined now to focus on new truths buried in lies. He wasn’t interested in reconciliation as long as he had another quest to occupy his time and she became rejected by a man who chose the mistress of his work over her, yet again.

Scully took a shower in the staff locker room and emerged in a black suit she had put on for her morning meeting with Father Y’barro. When she emerged into the small waiting area, Tad was sitting patiently with his hands folded in his lap.

One drink,” she bartered.

Tad stood up. “Just so you know, I don’t think of champagne as a drink so the count starts when we get to the bar.”

But they wouldn’t make it to dinner uninterrupted. Mulder finally called her back with his voice tense and sounding like he had in 2013 before she left.

“Scully, listen to me,” he said through the phone. “I’ve been misled. We’ve been misled.”

Her heart sank. Scully knew he was on the verge of something but she wasn’t sure she could be a party to it. If all she needed to do was to calm him down and help him see he was off on a tangent that was made up of lies fed to him by unknown sources, maybe she could talk some sense into him. However, right now, she was tired of putting her life on hold for him. It had to end sometime.

 

Chapter Text

His voice scared her and she couldn’t stay in the car with Tad. The more he spoke, the more she realized how much he did need her. He was darting off through major tangents that needed science and facts. As always, her specialty would show him the truth or add any credibility to his wild assumptions. Her mind raced through the possibilities of what he could have been told. If she could go to him in the morning, she hoped she could at least talk some sense into him.

“What if everything we’ve been led to believe in is a lie?” Mulder posed the question. His voice was tense and she could practically feel his manic state through the phone. “What if there is no alien conspiracy?”

Scully asked Tad to pull over and she handed him the champagne back before exiting the limo.

“Mulder what are you talking about?” she asked as she took a few steps away from the car in an attempt to provide some privacy.

“I’m talking about everything we’ve been led to believe,” he began. “Our work, the X-Files, everything.”

“Can we talk about this later?” she asked. “Tomorrow? I can come by…”

“I know why O’Malley came to us Scully,” Mulder said, ignoring her offer.

Tad approached Scully on the street with concern in his eyes and put a heavy hand on her shoulder.

“And that girl is the key, Scully,” Mulder continued. “Sveta is the key to everything.”

“Couldn’t you be jumping to conclusions?” she asked delicately as she took a few steps away from Tad.

“I can’t do this over the phone right now, Scully,” Mulder replied quickly. “I gotta go.”

“Mulder where are you going?” she asked just like she had during their first year together. Just like all those times, he hung up and ignored her. The line went dead and she stood on the street feeling the frustration that he was trying to pull her back into this quest all over again.

“Mulder, talk to me!” she pleaded but it was useless.

Scully turned around with her hand still holding her phone to her ear. She felt so foolish how easily he could rope her back in.

“I’m not going,” she declared as she put it into sleep mode. “I’m not helping him.”

“Dana,” Tad began as he held a hand out to her. “Is he a danger to himself or others?”

Scully shook her head. “No….He’s not like that. He’s… he’s worked up over something but he’s never done anything harmful.”

“Then he’ll be fine,” Tad replied as he took her hand to lead her back to the limo. “Let’s get something to eat.”

She looked at his face that showed only hope and kindness. She felt tired and her stomach clenched as it reminded her she was hungry. She nodded.

Tad O’Malley was right. There wasn’t anything she could do right now. When she called Mulder’s phone back, it went straight to voicemail. She had no way of tracking him down and she couldn’t put an X on her high-rise apartment window in hopes he would reach out to her. Those days were over.

“He’s got a ways to go before he’s ready to appear on my show and testify to anything,” Tad said as he held the door for Scully to get back inside.

Although that comment was odd and questionable, she didn’t prod any further. It took her two glasses of champagne and a glass of wine at dinner but by the time Tad dropped her off at her door, she had let go of the worries over Mulder. Her heart ached as she came to the realization that Mulder would never choose her over the work, even after all they had been through.

She had made up her mind and she wouldn’t be jumping back into his quest to know how and why the dark underbelly of their government was conspiring against its people. This was not her life anymore. She didn't have much of one outside of Mulder but she needed to move on.

If he wanted her to be a part of his life, he would have to come to her with more than just the possibility of undiscovered science while enticing her to explore new truths. It would have to be with an outstretched hand and the promise of more beyond their quest.

She awoke the next morning with a slight headache and three patients to prep for surgery. She took a cab to the hospital with an overnight bag in case her day ran long and planned to sleep in the on-call room. Being at work right now would be her solace as her heart ached at the realization Mulder was finished with her too. He needed science to explain his theories but he wasn’t asking for her help as he usually did. He was pushing her away for not believing. Every hour that passed that he didn’t reach out to her was another nail in the coffin that was their marriage and life together.

She was all but ready to let it go when Tad made his news report about the work she had been doing with Dr. Reagan. She felt somehow exposed and her privacy violated even though what he was doing could possibly lead to more funding for Microtia research.

She slammed the laptop shut and asked the nurse to rerun her results for a new marker that her previous test had not checked for. It occurred to her that the junk DNA Gibson Praise held wouldn’t show up on the regular screens she had run. Against her better judgement, she would be looking into precisely what Mulder had asked. He knew exactly how to spark her interest and send her mind down winding paths of unknown science while he relentlessly charged full steam ahead. If she was going to stop the train on this pursuit, she wanted to make sure this was a dead end.

As she suspected, the results came back and the alien DNA she swore up and down that she had wasn’t there. Any of the same ‘junk DNA’ that wasn’t active in her or Mulder didn’t even appear on her genome sequencing.

She had to tell him. If only to warn him and save him from himself. She had a feeling that something was about to happen and Tad was riling Mulder up with a long rope to hang himself with.

She dialled his number as she got onto the highway but the line was busy. She tried Tad next but he didn’t answer his phone either. Nothing was making sense. She was tired of being a pawn between the big players. She wouldn’t be used by Mulder or Tad any longer. 

If he wouldn’t listen to reason, she could say goodbye for good. She couldn’t save a man who would save the world but not save himself.

She made the decision to drive to him if he was going to continue to ignore her. She would tell him that she couldn’t put her life on hold any longer while he put his focus into this quest again. He would have to give her some closure if she saw him face to face. You can’t hang up on a person in front of you. On the drive to see him, she told herself to stay strong and not to be swayed by any persuasive arguments he may have. She had to do what was best for herself. Her decision had nothing to do with men like Tad O’Malley showing an interest. She could no longer live in this limbo with him. It was too hard.

When she showed up at his door, the moon was bright outside the house that they had refurbished into a home from an ordinary property. It became one filled with memories and trinkets of their new life that began with him still a fugitive and her living a lie. The house was a place he still inhabited instead of trying to move on. Scully considered that maybe Mulder wouldn’t ever move on from her and she wasn’t sure she ever wanted him to. It was difficult to decide how you wanted to live the rest of your life when the person you vowed to forsake above all others made your life at best exciting and filled with passion. At its worst, the time together was impossible and frustrating.

Anger pumped through her veins as she frantically approached the steps of the house. She could hear the television on inside, a baseball game that was entirely too loud. That infuriated her more. She had just spent the better part of the day worrying over Mulder and he was watching a damn game.

“Mulder!” she called as she opened the door, annoyed it was unlocked.

He came into the living room from the kitchen, holding a bag of seeds and wearing a surprised expression. His stubbled cheeks and trimmed hair told her that he had shaved in the last day. The black cotton shirt stretched over his muscles and she felt conflicted in that he didn’t seem as worked up as she thought he would have been when she arrived. He looked calm, surprised and sweet - her mind pushed away any desirable urges towards him. This wasn’t the time.

“What’s wrong?”

“You hung up on me last night!” she cried, throwing her keys to the table. They slid across the dusty wood and landed on the floor next to the wall with a thunk. “You call me in a panic, talking about the X-Files, hang up on me when I don’t agree with you and then I don’t hear from you all day!”

Even apart, she hoped for more from him. She expected him to return a damn phone call or explain more than “she’s the key” without explaining what Sveta had told him that day. Scully knew that when she went on that ride with Tad and Mulder yesterday that this was inevitable but it still frustrated her. She had been dragged back into talking about paranormal activity and Mulder would anticipate her to follow him like it was any other investigation almost twenty years ago.

She could live her life knowing there were answers that still needed to be found but she chose another path when she left. She chose to tamper down curiosity of the unexplained because of how much it had cost her. Her sister, her chance at motherhood, her relationship with her brother and temporarily, her mother for a while too.

“Scully, you have to believe what I’m telling you,” he started.

She held up her hand to stop him. “No!”

The fact that she drove forty-five minutes and arrived just as angry as she was when she got in her car said something. She wasn’t just worried for Mulder, she was livid.

“What?” he asked.

“This is ridiculous!” she snapped, her voice tense and full of distaste. “You want to believe something sinister is happening so badly, you’ll create this scenario out of nothing!”

“It’s not nothing!” he shouted back. “Sveta is telling me the truth and if you opened your goddamned eyes for one second you could actually believe it!”

Mulder rarely shouted at her - not since she left. However, when he did, it was because he was on the verge of something or he felt like he was.

“You only call me when my help would prove some wild theory! After twenty years, I’m still just some encyclopedia of information for you! Use Web MD, Mulder. Take her to a doctor for any more tests. I’m done!”

This was what tore them apart, what pushed her out the door. This is what made her want to leave. This fucking quest that never seemed to end. They didn’t come. He could believe in anything except for that the world wasn’t ending. All he wanted to focus on in his life was the dark labyrinth of conspiracies that seem to only live inside his psyche.

“Now hold on just a goddamned minute!” he crossed the space between them and grabbed her arm, stopping her from leaving. “I’ve been testing her all day and everything she’s telling me is exactly what happened to you! You think I would call you and try to get you to come here if I hadn’t done some fucking research!”

“Isn’t that what you use me for? The science?” she shouted back. “You get to jump to a wild conclusion and hope it pans out while I’m actually doing something!”

Sveta came down the stairs, carrying an MP3 player and headphones around her neck. Scully looked at Mulder with confusion and distaste and pulled her arm from his grasp.

What would she be doing upstairs? Scully wondered. Was this another Samantha substitute?

Would every female she saw with Mulder, that he wanted to save, need to make her feel somehow threatened? There wasn’t anything to be threatened about anymore. She wasn’t his anymore and she could no longer call him hers. She left and that was the line she drew.

“Mulder?” the young woman asked as she glanced to Scully.

“It’s okay, Sveta,” he assured her and she glanced between the two estranged lovers and nodded before going back up.

There was clearly a lot of trust there. That bothered Scully too.

"I’ve already seen her. What am I supposed to look for now?” she asked, her jealousy bubbling up inside of her and coming out in a spiteful tone. She took a deep breath and tried to regain some composure. “You want me to spend time on more exams?”

“It’s not like that,” Mulder said with a roll of his eyes. “I need you to sit with her. You need to examine her. I need your help on this. There are things you can ask her that I don’t know about.”

“You were abducted too,” she reminded him.

“Our experiences were just slightly different,” Mulder spat back.

Scully had spent the morning drawing her blood, taking samples of her DNA with saliva swabs and examining her wounds from the ‘abductions.’ All it did was frustrate her and put her guard up. Somehow, what she and Mulder shared was known to Sveta and she didn’t buy the mind-reading bit.

But no matter what, she had curiosities about Sveta too. How many times had he asked for her help and she still went, still got dressed in the middle of the night, still flew to who knows where on a hunch? This time, she couldn’t. Not after the last six months of little to no contact. Not after being purposely ignored for the last two days. It had to end sometime.

Scully shook her head. “No, Mulder.”

“She says she was abducted like you were. She says she was taken by men, her ova were harvested and she’s barren,” he described.

He didn’t need to say just like her.

His voice was still tense and he was standing over her in that way he did when they argued and he wanted her to see his point. He used to invade her space and try to throw her mental argument with his physical presence. She didn’t back down then and he didn’t stand any less away from her all those years.

“Mulder, I don’t remember much of my abduction and I won’t revisit any of that,” she snapped. 

“Why? Because it could bring those men to justice?” he countered.

“Those men are probably dead now,” she said.

“If I can’t change what was taken from you then you have to help me stop it from happening to more women,” he pleaded. “You have to help me! Why did you come here if you weren't going to help me?”

“This is what scares me, Mulder. You’re just like you were when I left and nothing has changed,” she replied.

“Is that why you left? To knock some sense into me?” She could see that his anger was bubbling up inside of him again. She knew she broke his heart when she left and nothing had changed. “Not this bullshit excuse again. I’ve always been the same person!”

“That’s why we can’t be together,” she spat back at him and tried to push past him to find her keys.

He counter-stepped to her.

“Get out of my way,” she managed through clenched teeth.

“Admit that you’re just a little curious,” he goaded. “Admit that much to yourself.”

“No,” she scoffed, only slightly outraged.

“After all that you’ve seen, you can’t even admit this is still going on? Are you that stubborn or did you bury your head in the sand when you moved to your new apartment and got your fancy job?” he sneered.

“Fuck you, Mulder,” she said pushing on his chest.

He grabbed her wrists with each strong hand and they fought for control for a moment as they walked back towards the desk. She pulled her arms free and shoved him again, this time he caught her wrists with one hand before he crushed her mouth under his. Her eyes opened wide in response and her arms continued to pull away from him. He held her hands between their chests, under their faces, and she struggled against him. She needed to get out of there. She hated that he was doing this. Not because he didn't have her consent but his timing was terrible. She couldn't be with him in this way while he was searching for answers. It cost them both too much.

Fingers reached out to his soft cotton shirt, clutching at the material while her mouth instinctively opened to his. Every part of her body was firing with the duality of hating what he was doing but needing him so much.

Mulder kissed her harder and pushed her onto the desk, knocking a few items and stacks of papers to the floor. Her pink tongue slid into his mouth so she could taste him. The familiar flavour of sunflower seeds, the coffee he was drinking earlier and something else accosted her senses and she didn’t mind one bit. She let out a soft moan as he used his free hand to grab her ass, pushing her boding flush to his. The evidence of his want for her pressed into her belly as his fingers dug into her flesh and bruised her skin.

He tore his mouth away from hers and kissed down her neck. The hand that was once holding her wrists now thread through her hair and held her head roughly.

“Ah!” she cried out as his teeth sunk into her alabaster skin, marking her.

“Your boyfriend can see these the next time he takes you out,” he growled into her neck and sucked on the skin, causing the capillaries to burst and break in oblong circles. 

She didn't want to think what it meant that he knew she had spent time with Tad just the night before. Did he hack Tad's bank account or follow them?

The very idea made her livid. This wasn't them. This roughness, this jealousy or the territorial way he was marking her like some Neanderthal. They had sex after fighting but she couldn't remember them ever having sex while they were still arguing. If they did, she pushed it to the far reaches of her memory. It felt bad in as many ways as it felt good.

His mouth crushed against hers again and she scratched her nails down his back, through his shirt. She knew it would leave a mark and hoped it would. If she wasn’t leaving here unscathed, neither would he. The kissing was heated, teeth gnashing into each other and biting at lips. There was anger fueling the passion they were fighting against and she shoved him off of her.

She put a hand over the skin on her neck where it stung from his bites and her eyes were wild with anger and lust. Her mouth was bruised and swollen from his kisses and her body was on fire with want. She wanted him inside of her, on top of her and everywhere. She didn’t care about the principles of leaving before. It wouldn’t change what happened with them now.

She found reassurance in his eyes and Mulder stepped to her and kissed her again. This time softer but with the same intent. The final result would be fucking not making love. Nothing tender or sweet.

He pulled at the waist of her skirt, wrenching on the zipper roughly as her feet hit the floor and she worked on the button of his jeans. Her hands shook as she frantically reached and pushed his boxers down with them. He was frustrated with the zipper on the expensive piece and tore the material up her hips roughly, the sound of fabric ripping slightly echoing through the quiet house. Her skirt was wrapped awkwardly around her waist and he took the material at the back of her panties and tore them.

“Oh my god!” she cried, tearing her mouth away from his and looking down to the material shreds in his hands. “You just ripped them in two! Those were thirty-five dollars.”

“You can send me a bill,” he smirked, tugging her skirt off her hips. His fingers moved to her blazer and white dress shirt and she helped him in an attempted to save more than one item of her clothing.

The blazer and dress shirt joined her skirt on the floor near their feet while he remained almost fully clothed. It was somewhat of a metaphor for her to be left so exposed while he tore apart everything she had put up to get inside. Just like the protection she put around her heart, he had ripped that way and worked his way in, against her better judgement.

Sveta could walk down at any moment. Someone driving past might see… what if someone came to the house?

Mulder turned her around roughly, pushing her past the desk and against the wall. She braced her hands behind her and he spread his legs a little so he could rub the head of his dick against her folds. One hand grabbed her breast, snaking into her top and over her satiny bra.

Please,” she whimpered. She wanted him inside of her as much as her next breath.

“Please, what?” he growled into her ear as he continued to tease.

His strong fingers moved the cup of her bra down and pinched her nipple. She felt constricted by their position against the wall of the living room and with his feet on either side of hers, she couldn’t spread her legs more to maneuver him further inside.

She pushed the wall to gain some control and Mulder spun her around again. She recognized the look in his eye but it was usually met with reverence and tenderness. It had been a long while since they fucked out of anger. The time when they had came flooding back to her when he was so livid with her after her ‘weekend retreat’ with CGB Spender.

They weren’t above this carnal action. They weren’t above much of anything. During their time together and apart, they found ways to hurt one another and make up while the pain of each freshly slung diatribe lingered in the air.

He placed her on the desk roughly. She opened her legs, inviting him in with her sex tumid and ready for more.

“Tell me you still think about this,” he murmured as he positioned himself at her entrance. Scully closed her eyes and he nipped at her mouth, swollen and bruised from their kisses. “Tell me you want me, Scully.”

Her cool blue eyes opened and she looked into his hazel orbs, seeing the pain and hurt along with the anger and doubt. “I want you, Mulder.”

Quickly, and without much tenderness or care for the time it had been since they were last together, he picked her up and impaled her with his member and she cried out again. She felt like she was going to be split in two as he held her against the wall, his hands grabbing the flesh of her ass and his hips moving quickly. Her hands grasped at the material of his shirt, her arms around his neck and legs enveloping his waist.

The sounds of their grunting and moaning echoed up the steps and to the guest bedroom Sveta was in. Scully tried not to think of that.

“Does it hurt?” he grunted. He could mean what he was doing to her or being apart and the answer to both was yes. “Do you miss me?”

Yes,” she moaned in reply to both his queries.

He bit down along her collarbone, licked and kissed the skin he marked. He was hitting every sensitive spot he learned during their first year together, places he memorized and perfected. Today was not a tender nip but purposeful marks. Her neck would be covered in bruises tomorrow below and around her collar but he didn’t care. His primitive tendencies told him that marking her would tell anyone, including non-interested parties, that she was taken. It bothered her that she liked it.

He slowed his hips as he kissed her mouth and she felt her walls relax a little. He ground himself into her, rubbing the bundle of nerves with each thrust as she threw her head back against the wall. Her orgasm was fast approaching and she reached between them to help herself along.

Her hand moved quickly. She worked the swollen nub as her other hand dug into his back. The race to come at the same time was becoming a close one. He picked up his pace, fucking her harder than she knew was possible. She felt the burst of every nerve from her orgasm vibrate through her as Mulder let out a guttural moan and emptied himself inside of her.

They were still for a moment as their breathing slowed and she found herself regain a regular pattern. Mulder pressed his forehead against hers but she refused to look into his eyes.

This didn’t solve anything. She was still hurt by him and he hadn’t changed no matter how much he tried or promised he would. She couldn’t keep putting in these efforts any longer if it meant that they would keep circling their problems. The sex wasn’t making it any better. It was just prolonging the inevitable.

Scully pushed against his chest and maneuvered herself towards the bathroom with her clothes in hand. When she exited the bathroom, Mulder was fumbling with the buckle on his jeans.

“I have to go,” she said quickly.

“I need you with me on this, Scully,” he pleaded to her. “We have work to do.”

The footsteps on the stairs alerted her to Sveta’s presence again and she looked between the two without making eye contact with the young woman. She didn’t want to give anything else away to her. Scully quickly pulled her jacket over her white blouse and cleared her throat to speak but the words wouldn’t come out.

“She’s the key, Scully,” Mulder repeated. “Sveta is the key to everything.”

“You know what you’re doing,” she said to him but it was more a realization to herself.

He was trying to get her to stay any way he knew how but it wasn’t enough. She brushed past him to run down the porch steps.

Mulder stood at the doorway and watched her with definite longing as she got into her car. If he had been trying to stop her from leaving him for good, he should have tried to appease her sensibilities and not with passion and fervour.

“Scully,” Mulder started but she wouldn’t stop.
 
As she began to get ready to drive away before she could turn the key in the ignition, she saw Tad exiting a vehicle behind her.

What had they just done? What was he doing here?

“Hey, where are you going?” Tad asked as she lowered her window. “You’re not leaving, are you?”

Scully was struggling to regain her composure. She felt ashamed at what had just transpired. How could she entertain the idea of anyone other than Mulder while they were still married? Her heart obviously wasn’t ready to let go. Her body still desired him but her mind was telling her rationally this would only end in her being hurt again.

“I just need to get out of here.”

Tad had no idea what had just taken place and if he did, he wouldn’t be asking her to stay.

“This is important,” he insisted assuredly.

“Don’t tell me what’s important,” Scully snapped. “Please. I just need to leave.”

Mulder walked down the steps to Scully’s car and Tad turned to him.

“Wasn’t she invited?”

She found it curious that Tad last night was trying to put distance between them but today he would want her around. His intentions were confusing her.

“I would have invited you, Scully,” Mulder told her. “But I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

Scully shook her head and refused to look at Mulder. “I shouldn’t have come.”

If there was ever a conversation laden with double meaning, this was it.

“Then what are you doing here?” Tad asked, obviously confused after their discussion last night.

“Mulder, what are you up to?” Scully asked tersely, ignoring Tad’s question.

“I’m about to uncover the global conspiracy about aliens and the lies we’ve been fed,” Mulder replied as he reached for Scully’s door handle. Tad stepped back and watched as Mulder reached into the car. He leaned across her to shut off her vehicle and unbuckle her seatbelt with a familiarity she didn’t appreciate. “Listen to what I have to say before you solidify your regrets for coming here.”

Scully pushed on his hand and stepped out of the car. She didn’t know where her underwear was in the house and worried about coming across it when they walked in as a group.

Mulder held his hand out to her and Tad and they began to walk up the steps where Sveta was standing behind the screen door. Inside, he tried to explain to them all the convoluted ways that men hiding behind the government had tried to deceive the people of the United States.

The main theory Mulder had somehow concocted was that the H-Bombs and self-destruction of humanity drew extraterrestrial life forms to Earth. Their original intent to visit our planet was out of concern for the people as we destroyed one another through territorial wars. Mulder believed that their self-sacrifices, including the crash in New Mexico, prevented our annihilation.

His theory was that in turn, we stole their technology for our own gains through science. The government and military treated the aliens like lab rats and then used the alien DNA on our own people to create alien-human hybrids.

Mulder could connect what they were doing but not the why. The more he spoke, the less she believed. This sounded like paranoia run rampant on a man that was finally getting himself into a better place.

Tad O’Malley jumped in on the theories with Mulder, believing the government was out to get its own people. He believed that corporate greed and the takeover of the planet from well-oiled, well-armed multinational elites plotting to subjugate the very people they’re put in positions to protect.

Take away every freedom from the people, scare them into following the new orders and control them. Scully couldn’t see the purpose for what, even though they insisted it was obvious. If she couldn’t see it, the American people who watched Tad’s show wouldn’t either.

Scully shook her head at them. “You can’t say these things.”

“I’m going to say them tomorrow,” Tad informed them.

She stood up as she held her jacket and looked at the men in front of her who were cut from the same cloth. They were out to prove something sinister was going around them by rattling cages of the people who were in power. Without proof, they only had theories and conjecture. She wouldn’t put her reputation that she had built after so many years without credibility on the line for this. This wasn’t personal like in the beginning when Mulder lost his sister or she lost Melissa. This wasn’t what pushed them to keep searching for the son they were forced to give up. They didn’t know the sacrifices they would have to make when they began their partnership but they refused to give up so that their loved ones wouldn’t die in vain. This was some theory that Mulder came to through shadow men and slick Republicans like Tad O’Malley.

“It’s irresponsible not to say it,” Mulder said to her.

Especially if it’s the truth,” Sveta piped up.

“Your test came back negative,” Scully replied flatly.

“What do you mean, negative?” Mulder questioned.

“She has no evidence of alien DNA,” Scully reported before walking out.

She left them in the house to discuss her declaration and drove home as fast as the speed limits would allow. No matter what transpired earlier with Mulder in that house or who Tad was off the air, she couldn’t do this again. She wouldn’t be lied to or lie to start a fearful pandemic among the people that would prove once again to be false. There was no invasion in 2012 and there wouldn’t be a major shift of power in the government. Alvin Kurtzweil suggested to Mulder that FEMA would rise to power because their authority was limitless among a national emergency. At the time, with bees carrying alien viruses and potentially pollinating corn crops with it, she almost believed it.

What her science uncovered, however, was the ‘alien DNA’ was just the junk DNA that everyone carried. It wasn’t anything extraterrestrial. It was part of the human genome. Their theories would always be disproven by science.

As she turned onto the highway back to D.C., Scully ignored a phone call from Mulder and Tad. She could let them wonder about her for a while.

 


**** *****

 

The offices for all the doctors at Our Lady of Sorrows provided little to no privacy for those that inhabited them. There was a wall between their desks but a large doorway was meant to offer consultation and camaraderie between colleagues. All Scully felt was the judging eyes of the doctor in the desk adjacent to hers when she arrived late or cried at her desk over a hard patient. It hadn’t helped that during her work on Christian Fearon’s difficult case that the moments she retreated to the small space for respite, her office mate, Dr. Cynthia Copeland would leave in frustration. Nothing had changed much for their relationship in the last eight years.

Those times when she would try to take a moment to gather herself in her office ended after she stopped working on patients like Christian. Once she began assisting surgeons on less life-threatening cases, she found the cloud of sadness that loomed overhead lift. It was a hard decision but Mulder was the catalyst to this shift in her position at the hospital.

In the end, he was right and she felt less sadness in her day as she worked with Dr. Reagan. She didn’t have to listen to Father Y’barra criticizing every patient diagnosis, insisting that God’s will was to take a child at such a young age.

As she sat on the edge of her desk with her thumb and forefinger playing at the cross on her necklace, Scully contemplated the decisions she was trying to come to terms with.

She had woken that morning with missed calls from both Tad and Mulder. When she arrived to work, a bouquet of flowers had been placed on her desk with a card from O’Malley asking for her to call him. Mulder would have left a small bag of seeds or possibly a nonfat Tofutti rice dreamsicle on ice. Something insignificant to anyone else but her but the meaning behind it would have been deep enough to know he was reaching out.

The phone on her desk rang and she picked it up without looking at the incoming number.

“Dr. Scully.”

It used to be just Scully when she answered. That was a minor change in her life similar to when she stopped being Dana and only saw herself as Scully. She couldn’t remember how or when the transition happened that her professional life took over her personal identity. She tried not to resent that but it was hard not to resent a lot these days.

“Dana,” Tad greeted.

She scoffed in response and almost hung up the phone.

“Don’t hang up!” he pleaded.

Scully sighed into the receiver, ignoring the rudeness of the gesture to allow Tad to insinuate he was walking on thin ice as it were.

“Dana,” Tad began. “Dana… I feel like I need to explain a few things to you.”

“What do you want from me, Mr. O’Malley?” she asked acerbically.

“It’s back to formalities now? It was Tad last night,” he commented.

“That was a mistake,” Scully said certainly.

Nothing physical happened between them but spending time together wasn't the right choice. 

Tad let out a dramatic breath. “Well, I suppose I owe you an apology.”

“For using me?” she guessed. “You knew exactly how Mulder would react when you approached my former boss for him.”

“I knew he wouldn’t come alone,” Tad admitted. “I hoped I would see you again but I wanted-”

“What about what I want?” she cut him off.

“Do you even know what that is?” he countered to her.

“Yes,” she answered assuredly. “I don’t want to be the pawn in someone else’s game. I won’t stand by to watch you entice the people who watch your program into a state of panic while you use my name to add credibility to your claims.”

“Dana, isn’t that what you did for Mulder?” Tad asked her.

“You’re not Fox Mulder,” she said angrily. “You’re a man in a slick suit with a mouthpiece to preach to people the truth about lies you think the government is selling the people. You think you’re so clever to figure out what they’re doing, how they’re going to control the planet but you have no proof. That DNA test came back negative.”

“I’m paying for that,” Tad admitted. “Sveta has pulled out from being on the show. She questions everything now, even the abilities she has.”

“She was sure when I took her tests,” Scully replied. “What difference does it make if I show her one test?”

“She’s a fragile young woman who needs guidance,” Tad explained. “No matter what you hear from her, I didn’t pay her to say anything untrue or lie. I wouldn’t do that to anyone, especially not to you.”

“What about Mulder?” she asked.

“What about Mulder?” he repeated. “He’s prepared to do what needs to be done. Are you?”

“This isn’t my life anymore,” Scully replied. “I’d appreciate if you left me out of your news program from now on. Mulder shouldn’t be used as a pawn for your ratings and if you allow him to hang himself with the rope you’re dangling, the consequences will be more serious than you can imagine.”

“Consequences? From you?” Tad asked. “I would ask what but I know you know how to cut up a body….”

“And where to dispose of one, yes,” Scully answered certainly and he laughed nervously. “Consider that a promise.”

“I’ll try not to bring on that wrath,” he replied seriously.

Scully hung up the phone and tried to calm her nerves. She felt herself wanting to scream or lash out but that wasn’t her nature. She would need to work through the emotions later when she had time for a run or maybe in the tub with a glass of wine. This wasn’t the time.

She checked her watch and found her surgical cap on her desk. Another patient would be ready for surgery soon and she wanted to be there before the young boy went under.

Once she left the operating room and the anesthesiologist was ready to give her patient a pep talk, she decided to look for Tad’s show. Something wasn’t right when they spoke.

It bothered her that she couldn’t just let it go. She had to know what he was saying.

I promised you the truth today,” Tad began from behind his desk. “But that truth has come under assault.

Sveta was testifying to a swarm of reporters, discrediting Tad and going back on everything she told them in her home only a few days ago.

These are the depths our government stoops to,” Tad reported. “We must be making them very afraid.

Nurse Sandeep appeared in the doorway. “Dr. Scully? Your test results came back in.”

She looked at the cellular breakdown on the page and she found herself unable to reconcile the information in front of her. She felt her throat constrict and her breath catch in her chest. There were answers on the page that she didn’t want to accept but now wasn’t the time to continue to look. A child needed her help and that was the life and career path she had chosen.

“Dana?” Dr. Reagan greeted as he entered the observation room. He tore open a packet of soap and began scrubbing his hands meticulously. “Are you ready?”

Scully put the paper down under her laptop and grabbed a bar of soap as well to begin her own washing ritual. “Yes.”

“I’d like you to do the initial cuts around the cartilage today,” Dr. Reagan said. “I’ll observe. You’re ready for it.”

She felt a rush as she made each incision and felt the steadiness of her knife as each part of the skin moved back for her to create a space for an exterior ear. Dr. Reagan gave her encouraging comments when needed but she found herself doing the majority of the surgery without much assistance from him as he relied on for her. She felt ready and able after the first ear to work on the second. It was assuring in her position and reputation.

But as soon as they left the operating room, she felt her mind drift back to Tad. To cure the curiosity of Tad’s actions, she typed in his show title into the search engine. Nothing was available.

Something sinister was afoot. This was happening quickly and things were unravelling. The safety of the operating room had dwindled and there was the world with all its problems to face now.

Scully walked towards the staff change room with the elation from her surgery dwindling. With everything that was unfolding, the awkward status of her relationship with Mulder would have to wait. Scully thought about her conversation with O’Malley the day before and regretted what she shared with him.

To call Mulder impossible was accurate but if she was being honest with herself, it was worse to be apart. Her life felt like a shell of an existence since she moved out. Nothing in her life made sense without him. She understood herself as much that forcing her life to have purpose without his noisy presence wouldn’t happen but she wasn’t sure if she was ready to come home.

All she could think about was that she left. Of all the people to give up on Fox Mulder, Dana Scully never thought she would actually walk out on him. For all the times that had been truly dire for them, she had only felt like this darkness was too much for her twice before. Once, when her career when was in total disrepair and the X-Files was a burnt shell. The other was after Mulder had been pursued by the FBI to find Monica Banner and his freedom was enticing him back to profiling and the paranormal. Even when Mulder watched her face her own death from a cancer given to her through this quest and yet she still stood by him. She didn’t expect she could ever walk out and she had to remind herself that leaving him was the result of how far he had slipped into his pursuit for the truth. It had to get pretty bad for her to say it was enough and it did. She reached her breaking point two years ago. Because of that betrayal and the time that had passed, she worried the chances of him welcoming her back home were slim. Up until Christmas, he had mentioned it almost every time he saw her but there were a lot of things that stopped since they rang in 2015 apart.

In the last six months, she longed for those moments to helped ease the pain of their living situation. She could recognize that it was damaging to keep coming back together while they endured the worst moments of each other. Yet what this last week proved was that they still needed the other to see a glimmer of good in themselves. For whatever reason, they were bound together by more than vows and the purpose they found in their relationship endured above all else.

She still loved him with her whole heart, even when it was broken like shattered glass. Somehow, he managed to glue it together enough for her to let down her guard and invite him in. These thoughts weighed heavily on her mind as she stood under the harsh shower. As she ran the soap across her skin, she realized this wasn’t her decision alone and she needed to speak to Mulder when they found the time.

She scrubbed her body clean and donned her suit to leave for the day. As she held the paper of her DNA test in her hand, she walked with her briefcase from the elevator car that took her to the second lower level of the hospital parkade. The sound of her heels snapped along the cement floor as she approached her car. The enclosure was quiet and with every third or fourth step, a small pebble ground between the ball of her foot and the cold floor, making a small grinding noise that echoed through the parkade.

Other women found themselves in dark parkades at night with feelings of nervousness following them as they tried to get to the safety of their cars. Occasionally, hospital staff were accosted by angry or grieving family members that the small security staff spent evenings chasing away.

As she neared her vehicle, she thought to herself that the trip to the car wash she had been putting off would have to be done tomorrow. She would have to tidy-out the empty Starbucks cups piling up in the back of the centre console as well and clean out the floor mats. Long days as a surgeon made her messier than she liked. There was something scrawled on the back windshield and she frowned to herself and hoped it wasn’t another phallic doodle from one of the interns.

DON’T GIVE UP

It was the desperate plea from Father Joe to her on a snowy evening when she wanted to stop searching for a missing woman because of what it was doing to Mulder. He said the same thing to her outside their home when he asked her not to give up on them before their lives as a real couple could begin with his newly found freedom. Right now, she didn’t want to forfeit the fight and her desire to keep searching had been reignited by what the test results had shown.

It always took something personal to pull Scully back into their work. Whether it be her own abduction, her sister’s murder, the cancer that tore through her body and the barren womb they left her with - they all cut deep in her soul. Each time they tried to push her down, it lit a match to the passion for her own pursuit of justice.

“There’s something called the Venus Syndrome,” Mulder began as he walked around the cement pillar. “It’s a runaway global warming scenario that leads us to the brink of the Sixth Extinction.”

It wasn’t the first time he met her in a parking garage. The Watergate Hotel, the hospital at Our Lady of Sorrows, her apartment building were just some to name a few. It wasn’t the first time he approached her car with a monologue of material he had been saving up for the next time he saw her.

“Those with the means will prepare to move off the planet into space, which has already been weaponized against the poor, huddled masses of humanity that haven’t been exterminated by the uber-violent fascist elites. If you believe in that kind of thing,” he finished as he moved closer to her.

He looked tired. He had been working nonstop since they met Tad on that city street and she wondered if at any point he was able to sleep.

“You look exhausted, Mulder,” she noted with a sigh.

She felt her voice crack and she desperately wished she had something hot to soothe her body with. Maybe a hot bath with Epsom salts and Mulder’s strong hands to work out the kinks in her shoulders…

She shook her head as he shuffled his feet.

“It was a long day at the office…” he mumbled.

The break they took from their life together had taken its toll on both of them but so had the years before that when she lived a lie of a solitary woman habituating normalcy in a home of a fugitive. It was anything but normal and over time that isolation was mirrored in their real lives as well. All that lead up to their ultimate separation. The years prior to her exit were a new start that seemed to work well until he lost himself.

Lately, she wasn’t sure if it was harder to be with him than without him. It frustrated her that she didn’t know how to be a woman who chose her loneliness again.

“I don’t know if you saw it, but…” she began. “Tad O’Malley pulled the plug.”

“They’re very good, these guys,” he admitted. “You know?”

“And Sveta?” she asked. “Where is she?”

Scully hoped he would have a lead on her whereabouts but he mumbled something about being frightened to death. If things were really falling apart, Sveta would be the key to proving what was true.

“We need to find her Mulder,” she told him. “We need to protect her, no matter what.”

“Why?” he asked with a shrug. “You said her tests came back negative.”

She hesitated to tell him the fallacy in the initial results but he always did better when he had the whole truth. “I ran them again…. In fact, I sequenced her entire genome because I didn’t trust the initial results.”

“Are you saying she has alien DNA?” he questioned.

“And I sequenced my own genome…” she continued as she struggled to get her words out. “Because of my history and because we have a child together…”

Mulder’s eyebrows rose as he leaned in slightly. She could see his mind making the connections that she made earlier. If it was in her, then it might be in William… Finding him now wasn’t just about making amends and hoping that they could build a relationship with him. If there was a danger in having alien DNA, they had to protect him.

“Scully…” he started. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that she’s not the only one,” she said with a hitch in her breath.

Mulder’s jaw clenched and he shook his head in disbelief.

When she was abducted, her DNA was altered from their tests. They took her ova from her womb and put a chip in her neck to track her whereabouts. At one point, she worried they might know her thoughts and be able to alter her behaviour.

“I’m saying someone has to stop these sons of bitches,” she said on the verge of tears.

Mulder reached to her and his hand wrapped around her upper arm to squeeze it reassuringly. “Scully…”

“I’m… I want to figure this out,” she started as she brushed away an errant tear. She didn’t want to cry over this news. The men who did this to her deserved her wrath, not her sorrow. "I'm going to help you."

He clenched his fist briefly then ran his hand down the front of his green khaki jacket. “I’ll do better this time around.”

A tear fell from her cheek and she stepped toward him. “I have faith in you that you will.”

“Can you tell me how you’re feeling about how we left things?” he asked as he stepped one foot closer to her. “I know… in the house wasn’t… I don’t know what I’m trying to-”

“I miss you,” she cut him off. “I miss seeing you.”

His arm enveloped her shoulders and she breathed in the scent of his cologne and laundry detergent. She tried not to feel sad to note he switched brands recently. It felt like hugging a stranger and she wondered why she hadn’t noticed that in the other times they had met.

“I’m right here,” he assured her.

She clutched the jacket in her fingers and sighed. “I don’t know…”

“I’m just offering my presence,” he replied. “As much as you want it.”

A car honked in the distance and she pulled back slightly. “I’m… I’m not ready for us to-”

“We have to get cleared for duty,” Mulder cut her off in an attempt to preempt her rejection. “I think getting back to work should be our priority. The other stuff is… I’m not going to push.”

“I don’t feel like you’re pushing-” she began.

Their phones buzzed and they read the messages in tandem.

Critical situation. Need to see you ASAP.

“Skinner,” they said in unison.

This was it. It was all beginning again but this time, they would go back to the basement without the intent for her to debunk his theories while he looked at her as a spy. This would be a chance for them to look into the actual truth and find out if any of Tad’s claims had validity. Their FBI issued badges would allow them access that had been previously closed off to Mulder and she knew that in itself would be advantageous.

“Scully, are you ready for this?” he asked her.

The darkness did things to both of them but it seemed to hurt her as it healed his psyche. He liked to peer into there and come out with an answer. She feared what they would find this time. Scientists trying to play God in backyard dog kennels or the holes in their relationship. It all hurt to think about.

Maybe it hurt the most because she felt so broken.

“I don’t think that we have a choice,” she said to him. There was a beat as they stood contemplating their upcoming assignments and she looked up at him. Skinner wanted to see them ASAP and they probably did need to get moving. “Do you... can I give you a ride to the Hoover building?”

Mulder smirked and she could see him wanting to tell a joke.

“Say it.”

“It was something about being a big, macho man but I don’t have to,” he said quietly.

When they got into her car, Scully looked at his hands as he buckled his seatbelt.

“Were you channelling Father Joe’s pleas while you vandalized my windshield?” Scully asked as she turned the ignition over on the SUV.

“I didn’t vandalize…” Mulder scoffed and held up his index finger. “How much damage can a man do with that?”

Scully’s cheeks flushed as her mind thought of all the ways his hands touched her and how well that index finger had known her the day before.

“Um…” she started then they laughed uncomfortably.

"Right." Mulder said as he shifted in his seat. “Never mind… Drive, G-Woman.”

Chapter Text

The drive from Our Lady of Sorrows to the Hoover Building could have been less uncomfortable for them if things hadn’t come to blows in the living room of their home only two days before. Mulder had been giving Scully the space he thought she wanted but the heated conversation and passionate sex made him rethink the distance he had been giving her. What if, despite her actions and the distance, she missed him too?

He wouldn’t assume she had yearned for more between them based on her behaviour…. Mulder countered that thought that she had admitted to missing him when they spoke in the parking garage.

If it wasn’t for an outside source, he wouldn’t have thought to stop calling Scully. It was Christmas time and he had been prompted by his brother-in-law, Bill Jr., to let his sister move on if he wasn’t going to be the man she thought she was marrying. Instead of telling Bill to shove it, he downed his last drink of whiskey and thought long and hard about why he kept showing up at Scully’s door or letting her come home when she chose to leave.

It took one comment from a sour man to make him rethink how they were living their estrangement and he had never been so miserable as he had been in the last six months. It didn’t occur to him that she would be unhappy too and miss him just the same. If they had ever made love with such anger and passion in their lives, Mulder couldn’t recall when exactly. This was probably the most charged it had felt since they first began dating, after she saved him from the electric chair, and then again after they were married.

He was hoping she would always want him in her life. Working together again could be the catalyst they needed but he couldn’t depend on it. There was still so much left unsaid and her uncertainty in his obsessions destroyed her confidence in them as a couple.

“Are you listening to me, Mulder?” Scully asked as she turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue.

He looked over at her in the car and nodded slightly. He was half-listening and he could piece together the rest.

Okay, I’ll start again…” she sighed.

As part of a pre-med class that Scully took, one course required students to break down their genome and write a report based on the markers they could detect. She explained that genetic testing looks for specific inherited changes or mutations in a person’s chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Genetic mutations can have harmful, beneficial, neutral or uncertain effects on health.

Classmates that didn’t know their family histories learned potential genetic markers in their own DNA such as cancer or Huntington’s disease. One student discovered during the project that his father was not actually his biological father. Mulder muttered he knew what that felt like and Scully cleared her throat in nervousness.

He didn’t have to guess that she was uncomfortable with the idea that CGB Spender and Jeffrey Spender were actually Mulder’s biological family more than Bill Mulder. It didn’t fill him with warm and fuzzy feelings either.

What Scully explained was that the genetic tests she did on herself were similar to the tests done when screening for cancer. Mutations that are harmful may increase a person’s chance or risk of developing a disease such as cancer. In medical school, Dana Scully had no markers or mutations to indicate she would face before her thirty-fifth birthday. Back then, he knew that she would have never guessed that a nasopharyngeal mass would almost take her life.

“I passed these tests on to my family doctor and kept them in my medical file,” Scully explained. “I requested that file today when I had my blood work done. Prior to my abduction, my genome had twenty three chromosome pairs in a cell nuclei, just like anyone else. The exception of this would be a child with Down syndrome or Jacobsen syndrome.”

“This extra pair here?” he said as he pointed to the results circled in red.

“Pre-abduction Scully did not have those genetic markers,” she said in a strange reference to herself in the third person. “That is alien or foreign DNA living in my body.”

She parked the car on 10th Street, half a block away from the Hoover building and unbuckled her seat belt to turn to him. Mulder undid his own and rest his back against the door of the car.

“What does this mean, Scully?” he asked. “Break down the science.”

“These chromosomes are not a disease but cells living inside my body. These cells have altered my DNA,” she explained. “I just don’t know how. Or to what end.”

“It’s not the cure to your cancer and it’s not cancer,” Mulder clarified and she shook her head. “What makes you believe it’s alien?”

“I know what the human genome looks like, Mulder,” she replied as she turned off the car. “It’s an extra pair of chromosomes that shouldn’t be there and their markers are not like anything I can identify.”

“Can you read minds?” he asked and she scoffed. “Sveta claimed she could.”

“If I could read minds or do any of the things she claimed, don’t you think I would have used that over the years?” she retorted. “Instead of… Mulder where are you going? Or, Mulder what are you doing here at 1 a.m. with a case file? I would just know.”

She had a point there.

“Maybe your alien DNA keeps you from getting sick again… I mean, Clyde Bruckman did say you’re immortal,” he mused and she rolled her eyes with a grin playing on her lips. Mind reading for him would be a handy tool, especially in times like these. Mulder’s phone buzzed again and he pulled it out to see another message from Skinner. “Skinman is getting impatient.”

“Maybe don’t call him that when we go up there,” she suggested as he tucked Scully’s genetic test into his jacket pocket.

The warm summer air and familiar smells of the downtown area gave Mulder a sense of deja vu. The late hour of the twilight sky hanging above them and a breeze scented with the cherry blossoms from along the Tidal Basin was calming and reassuring. As they passed through the still busy streets of D.C., Mulder thought to himself this was the kind of familiar he was happy with.

As they walked across the street towards the building, Scully’s heel caught on the red brick stone under her feet and Mulder’s hand instinctively reached out to steady her. She tucked her arm into his as they continued the rest of the way across the street, neither of them mentioning the contact. He wondered if this was for physical balance or this meant more to her, like their living room rendezvous two days previous. She admitted earlier that evening that she missed him but wasn’t ready to come home. He had stopped asking and promised her not to push the issue, however he was lonely without her too.

The security guard at the front desk was anticipating their arrival when they took out their ID’s to check in. Through the metal detectors without shoes and passing a wand inspection, they were given a security escort up to Skinner’s office.

The J. Edgar Hoover building had changed since their departure from the Bureau in 2001. There was even a slight alteration since 2008 including added security measures with FOB keys and secure lock doors that scanned agents in and out. After 9/11, the FBI moved under the blanket of Homeland Security and the war on terror became the top priority. Security within the building felt airtight, even at the late hour. The FBI had upgraded much of the drab walls and dusty floors that Mulder assumed was to keep anyone from having a happy thought. As they walked from the elevator car, Mulder noted that everything had a much nicer shine than he remembered it. Maybe that would change once the bureau began paying him but as a visitor, it wasn’t as sombre and faded as he remembered it.

The hallways were still lit with the same fluorescent bulbs but somehow shone dimmer at night. The former steno-pools now turned into monitoring stations and bullpens that normally housed busy agents as they competed to hear their own phone calls over each other were silent and still.

Inside Mulder’s jacket pocket were the test results that Scully had broken down for him in the car. He was feeling anxious about a lot of things, most especially what she had just shown him. This was not just about Sveta or Scully but William too. He began to wonder if there were other children born to women like Scully and as they approached Skinner’s office, he realized coming back to work would give him the chance to search for them.

As they walked down the quiet halls of the Bureau, Mulder wondered why they had been summoned at such a late hour. He wondered if it was out of urgency or secrecy. Neither option filled him with a solid feeling of hope or reassurance.

Skinner was standing inside the outer office reception area with four or five fellow agents. “Thank you for coming. I know it’s late.”

“Your message said urgent,” Scully said as they shook hands.

“With the state of affairs being what they are, we need to expedite your re-entry back into the FBI,” an agent spoke up.

Mulder turned to look at the salt and pepper hair of the unfamiliar agents in front of him and shook his head. “And what would that be?”

“Walter called us in to help speed up the process,” the man replied.

Tonight?” Mulder asked to the crowd. “I mean… Why?”

“I’m the Director of Resources, Lyle Wilkes. This is Doctor Toni Owens,” the man introduced himself and the woman who was waiting with Skinner. “We want to get you back into the Bureau as quickly as possible.”

Mulder’s mouth crooked up as he fought a smile. The FBI with all it’s formalities in the 90s usually insisted upon staff referring to each other by their titles. A lot had changed in the new millennium and he didn’t mind unless anyone tried to call him Fox. His first name never sounded natural coming from a superior’s mouth.

Skinner stood in his office doorway and held his hand out to usher them inside his office. “Please.”

“I would have put on a tie for this meeting but it didn’t go with my jacket,” Mulder commented as he walked by Skinner.

When they entered the office, the group took a seat at the conference table adjacent to the wall. Scully and Mulder took the two chairs opposite of Dr. Owens and Wilkes with Skinner sitting at the head of the table.

“You were saying?” Mulder prompted.

“Sveta Myska has gone missing and there is an FBI task force currently searching for her,” Agent Wilkes reported as he opened a file.

“We don’t know where she is,” Mulder replied.

“We want you to find her,” Skinner informed them and Scully and Mulder shared a look. “We want to put her into protective custody.”

“Why does the FBI want to ensure the safety of a young woman who has made claims against them?” Mulder asked.

“Sveta is part of something larger at work,” Skinner began as he glanced over to Wilkes and Owens. “Tad O’Malley is a very public profile. His claims against the government have gotten lot of attention and rattled cages here among the FBI. This is starting to get more focus than we want and if anything were to happen to Sveta-”

“It looks bad for the FBI,” Mulder finished for Skinner.

“Is the FBI going after Tad O’Malley?” Scully asked. “He’s made some claims about what the government has been plotting but if he’s in danger from an outside source, he should be protected.”

It irked Mulder just slightly that Scully was concerned about O’Malley. What did she care about him?

“Not at this moment,” Skinner answered as he glanced over to Mulder. “He refuses to go into hiding.”

Scully shifted in her seat. “I see.”

Dr. Owens opened the folder in front of her and clicked the ballpoint pen on to perch it at the top of her paper. She began writing across the yellow legal pad, making quick notes. Wilkes leaned over to read what she had written. Owens glanced over to Wilkes and then they nodded in unison.

Mulder wanted to make a dry, inappropriate comment about the way they were in sync like Stepfords but thought better of it. When he glanced over to Scully, she was giving him a look like she had already heard his comment. The edge of her mouth crooked up slightly before she sat straighter in her seat. Maybe she couldn’t read all minds but she seemed to know what he was thinking.

“Is there paperwork you need us to fill out?” Scully asked as she turned back to Skinner.

He slid two files across to Scully and Mulder. “You need to update all of this and then Dr. Owens will take you for a psych eval. Wilkes will be arranging your qualifiers at Quantico. We need to get you two started ASAP.”

“I have some patients and research work I’m assisting on. I can’t just leave the hospital…” Scully began. “I had a family commitment this weekend that I am expected to attend.”

His brain tried to think about what or where she could be going. It was June and Maggie’s birthday was in June. There was an envelope with Maggie’s clean penmanship on a stack of unopened mail in his kitchen that might have something to do with what Scully was talking about. He made a mental note not to ignore the mail again when he got home.

Skinner breathed out through his nose. “When can you be available?”

“I should be free by next Monday,” Scully replied.

“My schedule is wide open,” he offered. Mulder opened his file to see his previous ID tucked inside with his work history with the FBI. “I guess a change of address will need to be put in here.”

“Agent Mulder, do you have a valid driver’s license?” Wilkes asked.

“I do…” he began. “I just need to get a car.”

“See that you take care of that,” Skinner informed him.

Mulder began to fill in the specific paperwork and paused when they asked for a marital status. “Uh, sir, can we have a minute?”

“You and I?” he clarified.

Mulder shook his head and decided to choose his words carefully. “Dana and myself.”

He looked over to Scully who seemed to be caught up on the same question and she stood up slowly.

“We’ll just be out in the hall,” Mulder said as he put a hand on Scully’s elbow to walk out.

“I don’t think they need to know the status of our relationship,” she said the moment the door closed on them. “And before you can obsess over why, there was an FBI policy when we were with the Bureau in the 90s about married couples working together.”

“They didn’t allow divorced women to work for the FBI and I know that’s an antiquated policy they have since thrown out,” Mulder countered. “I just didn’t want to mention it if you didn’t want them to know.”

Scully’s tongue wet her bottom and top lip as she contemplated his offer. He really wished she wouldn’t draw more attention to her lips, especially when he didn’t know if he had the freedom to kiss them.

“Maybe they already know and now we look like we’re trying to hide something,” she pointed out.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Skinner never mentioned it when he and I spoke earlier.”

“If they can’t let us work together because we got married then-”

Skinner opened the door just then. “We know you’re married. Come on back in.”

Scully’s cheeks pinked and she shook her head at Mulder in frustration.

“Dr. Owens will keep it confidential and Wilkes has promised not to release the information. You two can stop worrying,” Skinner said as they walked back into his office. “Have a seat.”

They finished with their joint interview and completed their paperwork that was needed. Dr. Owens took Scully and Mulder into her office on the eighth floor individually. Mulder admitted straight off the bat that he was apprehensive how much he should share with her.

“The FBI isn’t privy to my notes unless there is something that alarms me,” Dr. Owens informed him. “Is there something I should be alarmed by?”

Mulder thought for a beat. “I will admit that I fought some big demons when it came to my search into the paranormal and the global conspiracy. This is the very conspiracy that Skinner had asked me back to ensure wasn’t actually happening.”

Dr. Owens nodded with a kind smile. “I know all that, Mr. Mulder but I find that when we lack the resources to stomp out what frightens us, they can become an overwhelming agency in our own lives. Maybe it would have been better if you came back to work for the FBI when you were sure the world would end.”

“Scully - uh… my wife, wasn’t really a fan of the darkness it brought us,” Mulder replied, stumbling over referring to his former partner as such.

“What I mean is that this office allowed you the access with the flash of your badge to information that was restricted or classified,” Dr. Owens clarified. “If A.D. Skinner is asking you back, he must have the same fears of something sinister being afoot.”

Mulder nodded. “I would like to think it wasn’t. I want to believe that there are paranormal things in our universe that we can’t deny and explain away with what science knows about it.”

“Isn’t that what Dr. Scully was assigned to do?” Dr. Owens countered.

“I’m not crazy but she added a level of sanity to the work and in my life. She made me work for all the wins I had. I wouldn’t have any validity to all the work I did without her,” Mulder answered.

He could speak highly about her without lying and that said a lot. He wondered if Scully could be as free with her speech or chose her words about him carefully.

“Would it be difficult to work alongside her since you live at separate residences?” Dr. Owens asked as she scratched along her notepad with her quick pen. “I noticed on your paperwork that you listed different addresses.”

“We work well with each other regardless of our relationship status,” Mulder replied quietly. “Sometimes in spite of it.”

“What do you think is happening, Mr. Mulder?” she asked as she looked up from her paper.

Mulder shook his head. “I think what I used to assume was an alien invasion was actually the work of a group of men in a syndicate to orchestrate fear among the people they govern in order to control and subjugate them into obedience.”

There was a beat in the air as the words that he spoke hung between them. He sounded paranoid, he knew that. He couldn’t be dissuaded from his theory, no matter what the company and he wasn’t going to fake it through this interview.

“Then I guess with our top priority being counterterrorism and that would classify as such, you must be in the right place,” Dr. Owens replied as she shut her folder. “Send your partner in here, would you?”

Mulder nodded and placed his hands on the arms of the chair before pushing himself up. “Wait. Did I pass?”

“You have a polygraph to take at Quantico but I can see that you’re not a danger to yourself or others. You’re still the brilliant profiler that we know and you’re the only person I can think of to get to the bottom of what’s going on with the scenario A.D. Skinner filled us in on.” Dr. Owens stated and clicked her pen open. “Since 9/11, the FBI has created methodical and careful considerations to producing the best agents from Quantico to analyze and predict criminal behaviour. That being said, not everyone has the ability to make leaps the way you and Dr. Scully have been able to do.”

“I have to pass the physical exam again, don’t I?” Mulder just remembered.

“That’s right,” Dr. Owens nodded. “Send Dr. Scully in, please.”

Mulder left Dr. Owens’ office and Scully stood up quickly as he exited into the hallway. He pointed over his shoulder as he took a few steps towards her. “Just a heads up, we have to pass the physical exam at Quantico next week.”

Scully smoothed her hands down the front of her suit. “I’ve been running.”

“You seem fit…” Mulder started and then shook his head.

He got a pretty good look at her while they were tearing each other’s clothes off to see that she was still toned everywhere despite her age. They both were in good shape for being middle aged and he frowned at the thought of his life being halfway over with his life’s work left unfulfilled.

“Is something wrong?” she asked tentatively.

“I know that coming back to the FBI is personal for you-”

“It didn’t hurt my decision to come back,” she interrupted.

“But besides that… do you have any qualms about leaving medicine again for this?” Mulder asked her.

She opened her mouth to reply when Dr. Owens opened her door.

“Dana?” she prompted. “Come on in.”

Mulder checked his watch. “I’m going to call a car to take me back to the house.”

Scully shook her head slightly. “I’ll drive you.”

“I don’t mind,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I’ll see you at Quantico on Monday.”

There was a look on her face as he turned to walk down the hall. He didn’t want to hear right now that this was just a sabbatical and she was going to leave him again once they found justice. Even worse, if they found William and neither of them wanted anything to do with him.

The feelings of uncertainty with Scully weren’t his own. He knew what he wanted. He had asked her time and time again to come home but she wasn’t willing. After the last six months of being more apart than together, he worried she was going to slip away from him completely. At least with their work, he could still see her.

Mulder called a car service to take him home and along the way, he looked up the car dealership where Scully picked up her SUV. When he arrived at home, there was a blinking light on the answering machine in the kitchen.

He pressed the red light on the small box and the antiquated system of the small tape rewound as it began to play the messages from the beginning.

First message!” the machine announced.

Mulder, it's me,” Scully began with a sigh and he could picture her sitting in her car as she left this message. “Call me when you get home. We need to talk.”

He groaned audibly at her use of that phrase. “I’ll bet we do.”

It’s Monday at… four p.m.,” she said and let out a long breath. “I… I just need to speak with you.

Mulder had seen her since then so he shrugged off not calling her back. He opened the fridge and pulled a cold amber bottle from the door. The air hissed as it escaped the bottle when he twisted off the cap and he tossed the small disk into the sink. It landed with a loud clink against the plate he left from his lunch.

Next message!

Fox,” the small voice came through the phone and Mulder crossed the kitchen towards the machine. “Fox, it’s Maggie. My birthday is on Saturday and the kids are throwing an unnecessary party for me. There is an invitation in your stack of unopened mail.

Mulder found the aforementioned envelope and tore it open. A professionally printed invitation on cream glossy card stock paper with elegant black writing announcing the party and location.

Maggie paused as she could probably foresee Mulder doing exactly what he was doing.

Fox… It’s my birthday and I won’t take no for an answer,” Maggie told him.

“I’m sure,” Mulder replied to himself.

We’ll see you there,” Maggie said before hanging up.

In the closet off the living room, a gift for his mother-in-law was waiting to be presented to her for this occasion. Mulder had contemplated having it delivered with flowers and a card that sent his apologies for not going.

Instead, he made a plan to purchase his car tomorrow and get a shirt pressed for the party. Being driven around by hired cars was growing tiring. Mulder never liked waiting on other people for anything and if he was going to be out at Quantico, he didn’t want to look like a pompous ass when he showed up with a hired driver.

“Right,” he prompted himself and found the newspaper from that morning.

He took a red pen out and started looking through the classifieds for used vehicles. Almost a decade ago, he discovered his Jeep through this paper and it could very well be lucky again.

As he nursed his beer and read through the ads, he discovered that most of the vehicles were ‘summer cars’ such as convertibles and open-top Jeeps. Even if it had been almost twenty years, he couldn’t very well buy a convertible after giving Scully a hard time about renting one in Maine.

He found the heavily advertised section in the front of the paper and discovered that Ford was having some kind of special. It seemed like car dealerships were always having a special or a deal but since it was the first ad he saw, he decided to go with that.

Mulder finished the last of his beer and walked towards the living room where he recalled the angry and heated sex with Scully. They weren’t quiet or gentle with one another that night. There was a lot pent-up frustration and acrimony they had suppressed over the years. Truth be told, he and Scully weren’t always the best communicators. How else could they be estranged, living in separate residences and still appreciating a somewhat regular sex life?

Maybe the problem with them was that the sex between them still worked. He might have less faith in their reconciliation if at least once when they were together, it wasn’t passionate and filled with fervour. It would be easier if she didn’t turn him on so much or she didn’t respond to his touch.

He looked at the table that had held her weight as he fucked her on it and shook his head at himself. He had been rough on her and he should apologize for using her body that way. He never wanted to hurt her through sex. It had been years since he tore underwear off of her body but those were out of times when their impatience to be together was more mutual.

Mulder walked back into the kitchen and began washing the dishes he had left in the sink from that day. After he finished the cutlery, he polished off the last of his beer and walked through the house towards his office. Different newspaper clippings covered the walls from when Scully approached to ask him to help the FBI in exchange for his freedom. This time, he was coming back because it wasn’t just his profiling and expertise into the paranormal but to hopefully look deeper into an actual conspiracy that threatened the public. They were both necessary to find out what was really going on. Even though he didn’t know where they stood, at least he could rely on their work.

Mulder took another beer up to the bedroom and stared at the bed he had made after the last time Scully spent the night. He had been sleeping on his office couch for the last six months and he supposed it was time to put fresh linens on and face a night in the bed alone.

He took another pull from his beer, set the bottle on the tallboy dresser and got to work.

 

*** *** ***

 

The rain that poured down over Virginia on Friday night had subsided by the time Mulder had woke up the following morning. The streets and highways were clean as he ran six miles after a good breakfast. He felt the air pump through his lungs with ease and he knew that when his physical assessment came on Monday morning, he would be ready.

He took a cab to the Ford dealership twenty minutes away, prepared to leave that morning with a new vehicle. Mulder arrived at the lot when they opened and looked at a few vehicles before going on a test drive. A blue Taurus was being wiped down with a rag when he walked in and he decided that if he was going to spend one more minute in one of those cars, it would be on the FBI’s dime and not his own. He walked past the Mustang because he could see Scully rolling her eyes at him if he pulled into his parking stall in such a vehicle. Men don’t want to be thought of as idiots any more than they already are. Eventually, he concluded that an SUV would probably be the best on the highway for his commute no matter what the season.

When he drove off the lot in his Ford Edge, he felt like he was starting to put the pieces of his life back together. He slept in his bed alone for the first time in months and awoke without feeling utterly wrecked that he was alone. It was progress for him.

He decided to stop at the barber shop before heading home. He ran a hand across his jaw and realized he should shave before the party too. It would go a long way to show Bill that he wasn’t just some unemployed bum that was holding his sister back.

When he arrived back at the house, he placed the present for Maggie in the trunk and got himself ready to head out to Wilton and Greene Country Club. The phone rang as he exited the shower and he crossed the bedroom to pick up the portable receiver.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Fox,” a small voice came through.

“Hi Mrs. Scully,” he replied as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Fox,” she said with a warning tone.

There was some noise and commotion in the background behind her. He assumed that her sons had flown in for the party. He tried to listen for Dana’s voice but didn’t hear anything, just kids and men talking.

“It feels strange to call you by your first name,” he admitted after a beat.

“I call you by yours,” she pointed out.

“You got me there,” he chuckled. “Okay, Maggie it is.”

“I didn’t hear back from you about whether or not you were coming,” she began.

“I am. I’m coming,” he said. “I should have RSVP’d. That’s bad on me.”

“It was bad,” she admonished him. “But you’re forgiven.”

“I had something dry cleaned and I’m about to shave,” he said. “I’ll fit right in with your adoring guests.”

Maggie sighed and he could hear the fatigue in her voice. “I didn’t want a big party, you know. This is extravagant and an over the top celebration for getting old. I don’t even want presents or all of this. They could have just made me dinner.”

“Let your kids make a fuss over you,” he said warmly. “It’s the least they can do after all you’ve done for them.”

The problem with his advice was that the Scully women weren’t used to having a fuss made over them or being the centre of attention. He learned that one of the reasons Dana wasn’t interested in a big wedding was the focus and concentration placed on a bride for the entire day. Dana appreciated the written accolades in medical journals where she didn’t have a crowd of eyes watching her. She inherited that trait from her mother.

Mulder wondered if Dana was bringing a date but he thought better than to ask. When Scully still lived with him, it was one thing when he and Maggie went for lunch to talk about Dana’s job. They both saw that it was hard on her, however discussing her life now would cross a boundary he knew was wrong.

“Well, I better go,” Maggie said with a sigh. “I still have to get into my party dress.”

“Me too,” he joked. “I hope we don’t show up in the same gown.”

The line clicked off as Maggie laughed and he walked back to the bathroom to stare at himself in the mirror for a beat.

“It’s just a party,” he said to himself in the mirror. He ran a washcloth under hot water and pressed the warm fabric into his skin. “If she has a date, you can at least know she’s over you. If she’s alone…. you can apologize for the other day.”

Mulder covered his face with foam and ran his razor under the water. When he held his hand up to his cheek, he felt a tremor in his hand. He took a calming breath and tried to steady his nerves.

“It is just a party,” he repeated and pulled the razor down his cheek. “And if she has a date, you can punch him in the face.”

Scully wasn’t the type of woman to make a fool out of Mulder and he knew that. He gave her the benefit of the doubt as she had given him all those times before. Suddenly, he was in a better mood about his upcoming evening.

Mulder put on his leather jacket and looked at himself in the mirror before he walked out the door. He pursed his lips slightly and double checked for shaving cream around his ears. He straightened his tie and brushed his hands along his dark jeans. He caught his eyes in the mirror again and new he was stalling.

“Get moving, Spooky.”

Chapter Text

Mulder looked around the large dining room of the Wilton and Greene Country Club and scanned the crowd for the guest of honour. He had some apprehensions about coming to the party but there he was, gift in hand and ready to wish the lady in question a happy birthday. As promised, he was clean-shaven with a fresh haircut. He put on a freshly dry cleaned shirt and arrived only sixty minutes after the event began. This was minimal effort for some but a marathon for a man who was feeling less than stellar.

“Fox,” a woman’s voice called and he turned to see her. Her hair was a little lighter but still the same curls. “Fox, how are you?”

Mulder smiled warmly at her and they met for a quick hug as they had grown accustomed to over the years. Maggie Scully was not shy with her affection and showered Mulder with it often. He wondered if she was trying to make up in some way for kindness he failed to receive as a teen. At family dinners or when meeting them for coffee, she hugged, kissed and praised him in a way he never knew under Teena and Bill Mulder's roof. He never tired of that.

“I’m fine, Maggie. How are you?”

“You sound just like Dana,” Maggie said with a roll of her eyes. “She’s been telling me she’s fine too but she looks just as sad as you.”

Mulder didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried. He held up the gift and placed it into her small hands. Why were the Scully women so petite?

“Thank you!” Maggie pulled him towards a set of arm chairs and sat down. “Sit, Fox.”

Mulder did as instructed and tried not to notice the number of eyes that were observing them. The party was a semi-casual event and he was grateful he chose to wear nice jeans, a dress shirt and tie with a suit vest. The leather jacket was a bit of an overkill for the summer heat so he left it in the car.

There was a band at the left side of the dining hall playing swing music Mulder was sure he had heard before at a dinner party Maggie Scully hosted three years ago. She liked to play Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Nat King Cole the way Scully played Bach or Chopin.

“I know you said I didn’t need to buy you a present but Dana mentioned this-” Mulder began.

“Oh my god!” Maggie gasped and pulled out two teacups and saucers with hand-stitched gold painted on the trim and a wedding date printed on the inside.

The out of print china matched the set in Maggie Scully’s own dining room. Admittedly, it was an extravagant gift to have made for her but she was worth it.

“Fox... This is too much,” she protested. “How did you afford this?”

Apparently, the money that Mulder had been less than forthcoming about with Scully hadn’t been discussed with Maggie.

”Birthday gifts of this magnitude are only too much if the person receiving them isn’t worthy,” he assured her. “There’s a complete set of 16 but I just brought the two inside. The rest are in my car. I just thought this would be easier-”

Maggie cut Mulder off by leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. “This was very thoughtful, Fox. I love it.”

“Mom,” a familiar voice approached them and Mulder’s insides tightened.

Bill Scully Jr. was never a fan of Mulder’s no matter what the romantic situation. Would he be happy to see him or angry now that his sister left him? Mulder made eye contact with the cool blue eyes and a familiar disappointment flashed across Bill’s face.

“Mister Mulder.”

“Hi Bill,” Mulder stood to shake Bill’s hand and he did so reluctantly.

Obviously, he had been warned by his mother to be on best behaviour and, ever the good soldier, would not show any disrespect in front of the matriarch of the Scully family.

“Dana said they want to do the cake now,” Bill reported.

Mulder's eyes immediately scanned the crowd for Scully and found himself disappointed when he wasn't able to spot her.

Bill held out his hand to help Maggie stand but she handed the gift box to him before taking Mulder’s arm.

“I didn’t know you were invited,” Bill said quietly as they walked towards the back of the hall where a group was gathering around.

“Your mom called to ask me,” Mulder replied. “Twice. I know how you feel about me, Bill. I’ll stay for cake and go.”

"Stay as long as she wants you to," Bill muttered. "Just keep in mind you're a-"

“Holy shit, you’re Fox Mulder,” a man who was the perfect mix of all the Scully children approached them and shook Mulder’s hand. He was the same height as Bill but a bit more muscular than his older brother. His other arm was carrying a little girl in a pink and yellow flower printed dress. He would have guessed the little girl was about four if he remembered back to Emily. “I’m Charlie Scully.”

“I thought you only existed in myths,” Mulder replied with a smile. 

Bill Scully left them in a huff and Charlie shook his head at his brother's behaviour. 

“Ah, and yet here I am," he said and rubbed the back of the little girl. "We never really make it to these things, my relationship with Bill being what it is.”

Mulder’s eyebrows shot up. “Dana never really mentioned why-”

“It’s a long story,” Charlie interrupted and Mulder could see a lot of Melissa in the man standing in front of him. “We came for Mom and Bill has to be on his best behaviour tonight so… I don’t know. Speaking of best…This is Hannah. Hannah can you say hi to Mulder?"

Shining blue eyes looked up at him and Mulder tried not to take a step back. This little girl, save for the blonde hair, could have been Scully as a child.

"Hi," a small voice greeted. 

Mulder smiled. "Hi."

"I'm glad you could come," Charlie said, rubbing Hannah's back and swaying slightly. Mulder wondered when that habit stopped with parents, constantly rocking children and soothing them. "I always said you were the best and the worst thing that ever happened to my sister."

"I tried not to be the latter," Mulder muttered.

"That's what love is sometimes... I think the worst part is she doesn't realize the first part," Charlie said, shaking his head. "I know you've done a lot for her. Bill thinks you've done it to her but I know my sister. She's more stubborn than all of us and she wouldn't have stayed with you all those years unless you made her happy."

"I kind of fucked up," Mulder admitted as he looked around the crowd again and then glanced to Hannah. “Sorry.”

"So, fix it," Charlie said simply. "You both know you've been through too much to end it. You two deserve each other in all the good and bad ways there are. Mom thinks so too."

It was then when he spotted her. He memorized every detail just in case it would be the last time he saw her in a casual setting and their relationship after this point was purely professional. A capped-sleeve navy blue wrap dress fit her body like a second skin and he looked down to see grey peek-toe wedges with painted pink toe nails. She held a champagne flute and stood next to Tara, Bill's wife. He couldn't decide if she was trying to kill him or she was dressing like this for herself. Or worse, if she had a date with her and she wore it for the Republican asshole.

Mulder thought about their conversation in the Our Lady of Sorrows parking garage. She had made it clear by lack of communicating with him that their angered sex against a wall in their house, correction his house, did not mend any fences. It didn't change that she had left and he was alone. If they could serve the cake, he could go home and never leave the house again.

"You should talk to her," Charlie encouraged gently. "She misses you."
 
"When we saw one another a few days ago, we said some things we shouldn't have," Mulder explained, leaving out more than just a few details.
 
He couldn't stop looking at her and if she could feel his eyes on her, she wasn't showing it. Unless... A flush crept up her neck and she looked directly passed Charlie to him.
 
"She saw you when you first came in and she made the same face you're making now," Charlie whispered. "You guys need to get your shit together."
 
"Auntie Dana loves Molder," Hannah piped up, emphasizing the "O" on his name and Charlie laughed.
 
"Who told you that?" Mulder asked, suddenly realizing the power of little kids hanging around. Their lack of filter to the truth and accuracy of the facts could be really useful.
 
"Everyone," Hannah sighed, as though the problems of adults were far more complicated than they should be. "Nanna told me. Mommy. Auntie Tara. Auntie Dana."
 
"Even Auntie Dana told you she loves Mulder?" Mulder asked, delighted. "She said she loves me?"
 
"Yeah, but she said you have to get your head out of your-"
 
Charlie covered her mouth quickly. "Okay! Let's go get some cake!"
 
The youngest Scully brother set his daughter down and took her by the hand through the crowd. Scully, seeing Mulder's sudden solitary state made the small gesture of a smile and Mulder waved awkwardly.
 
Scully set her glass down on a table and walked slowly towards him. He took a few steps towards her where they met gradually and painfully in the middle.
 
They reached for one another, their fingers interlacing briefly before Mulder impulsively pulled her towards him in an embrace. Her arms reached around his waist and in that crowded room, they had a private moment of silent apologies and forgiveness of past actions. Not the actions themselves but maybe the lack of tenderness in which he treated her and she to him.
 
Mulder let her pull away first, always willing to hold on to her as long as she needed it, and searched her face.
 
"I'm sorry," he said. “About… leaving you at the Bureau and the other day.”

He meant about the roughness in which he took her in the living room.
 
"I'm not entirely upset about the other day," she said and he believed her.
 
He worried there would be resentment for the way they avoided talking about what happened but that wasn't really their style to hash it out, to put it on the table. That would be too emotionally raw and healthy for the enigmatic Dana Scully.
 
They met in an underground parking lot, discussing what could possibly happen if they moved forward with investigating Sveta's disappearance. He asked her if she was ready and she told him there wasn't a choice. She still meant it. But things were at a stalemate at the moment and Mulder's investigation was going nowhere. The FBI wanted them to re-qualify and suit up next week. Emotional entanglements would only be a hinderance to their progress with this case but that didn’t change that they needed to sort out what they were doing.
 
A cake was wheeled out on a delicate silver cart - four tiers with fondant flowers and a large 75 on the top. Maggie was laughing and telling friends she didn't understand the point of having a big party for someone who had just turned an odd number but there they were. It was a moment for any happy family and of course, it felt completely out of place for Mulder to be a part of it. As good as things ever became with he and Scully, this was a high moment of happiness that he felt like he didn’t belong in. He anticipated being punched in the face by Bill or Scully to tell him to drop dead.
 
When the cake was being handed out, he turned to Scully. "We should talk."
 
"That sounds a little out of character for us," she teased and took his hand again. "Yeah, you're right. Come on."
 
As the crowd was focused on eating the fluffy chocolate cake with rich hazelnut mocha frosting, Scully took Mulder outside the large hall. Several children were running through the corridor and Mulder looked around in annoyance.
 
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her into one of the bathrooms and locked the door.
 
The cream and maroon wallpaper hurt Mulder's eyes and he wondered if every country club had the same interior designer. He could remember the orange and teal colour palette of the 1970s, hiding in bathrooms instead of being forced to dance with any of the young women his parents tried to set him up with. They all had the same furniture. A small couch, toilet, sink, vanity and full-length mirror. Cream hand towels with W&G embroidered in navy blue adorned every countertop and rack.
 
"We could have just gone to your car to talk," she pointed out.
 
"Sorry," he said and reached for the door but her hand stopped him. "No?"
 
"Mulder," she shook her head as if to say I don't know. "We're here."
 
"I'm sorry about last time," he repeated.
 
Scully sat on the small grey love seat and pulled him down to sit next to her. "I told you, I'm not."
 
"You and I have never... not like that," he said. "I know nothing has changed."
 
"I can't be at home with you," she explained. "I'm not ready to go back there like that. Not yet."
 
"Did I hurt you?" he asked, the worry evident in his voice.
 
He meant physically. She was emotionally wrecked, he knew that, but the physical force of which he fucked her was also playing on his mind.
 
Scully took his hand in hers and shook her head. "Not in the way you think."
 
There was yelling and shouting outside the door. All happy noises of cousins and friends playing nonsensical games that don't translate to adults. The uncomplicated emotions of childhood were truly fantastic. Mulder used to wonder if his life would be as dark if Samantha hadn't been taken but there would have been some other family tragedy. He was marked for that darkness to find him. So was she.
 
"Mulder?"
 
The expression on her face was full of sorrow and worry. Did he make her happy at all or was there only sadness between them? She couldn't hide that part of him, even through the brave faces she put on for her family.
 
"Your niece Hannah told me some very interesting things," Mulder said, drawing a line up her arm with his finger. "You told a four-year-old I had my head stuck up my ass?"
 
Scully laughed. "I might have used better language with her but her father has a penchant for profanity."
 
"He's not the only Scully with a colourful way of putting things but I can't imagine that kind of talk being kosher at his dental practice," Mulder replied and Scully had a wry smile. "She looks just like you."
 
"She looks like my brother," Scully retorted.
 
"No, she looks like you, like-" Mulder stopped himself before he could say Emily. It was silent for a beat and Mulder cleared his throat. "She looks like you but with blonde hair."
 
"Charlie and Lucy were blonde as kids," Scully explained of her younger brother and sister-in-law. Mulder nodded slowly. "She's really amazing. She's already reading, knows how to write her name."
 
"Your mom told me you read early too. I think it was at Christmas six years ago when she showed me all your baby pictures," Mulder mentioned and Scully's cheeks coloured a little. "I learned all about little Dana running in the back woods with her brothers, skinning her knees and doing everything early."
 
"Not everything," Scully said with a roll of her eyes as she adjusted the neckline on her dress.

Mulder recalled Scully telling him about the lack of her bust line during her teen years and the teasing she was forced to endure. Kids could be cruel.
 
"You did all right for yourself," he teased, giving her a familiar leer and they laughed.
 
He looked into her eyes and pulled her to him. When he pressed his mouth to hers, she opened her lips slightly while her tongue darted to touch his. She tasted like champagne and something else so familiar. It was more than chaste but full of promise.
 
"I'm sorry," he repeated.
 
"Me too."
 
They met again yet this kiss was full of intent. It wasn't a kiss of repeated forgiveness. This was a kiss of progression towards sex. Her fingers tangled into his hair, keeping him close. It was more familiar to their heated kiss in his living room but not as rough. The fervour inside him grew and he wanted to take it beyond a simple kiss.
 
He didn't ask to talk to her so they could fuck in a bathroom but maybe they both needed this. Something to make up for the last time and absolve them of any wrongdoing to one another's bodies. The last time was hard and unforgiving compared to what they preferred as a thing of relief and comfort.
 
Mulder pulled her more flush to him and he moved his hands from her arms to her shoulders then down her back, feeling the muscles underneath the thin material of her dress. He wanted to touch her everywhere.
 
It was easy to forget how quickly things could progress with them. He remembered when a few quick kisses in the morning could turn into sex on the kitchen counters or laying on the couch in the afternoon became heavy petting and passionate. Their bodies, like their minds, would always respond to one another. He would want her, and only her, always.

If he was being honest with himself, maybe he didn't forget as much as he vehemently denied himself those memories in only an act of self-preservation. It hurt too much to think about her and what they shared.
 
Mulder moved his hand to her stomach, up her torso and closed one palm over her breast. He could feel her nipples perked underneath the fabric of her dress and she sighed happily. He hoped once she felt his hands on her that she wouldn't want to stop themselves from what they were doing in there. When he hugged her at the party, he hoped she would need more from him than an embrace and conversation. Sometimes he hated that need for physical contact but that’s what twenty-five years with someone does to a man. It draws you in and builds your desire for them in ways you could never imagine.
 
This would be another indiscretion, another moment of passions becoming too difficult to ignore and desires needing to be fulfilled. Scully pulled at the buckle on his belt and sank down to her knees to work on his jeans. It took her only a moment to free him from the denim confinement and take his fully-engorged member into her mouth.
 
"Oh fuck!" he cried out and Scully hummed, reaching up and placing a hand over his mouth. They locked eyes for a moment and she held one finger up to her lips. He winced at his mistake. "Sorry."
 
Scully put her face back down to his lap and circled her tongue around the head of his cock before wrapping her lips around his flesh. Her mouth began it's slow vertical ascent and descent. He groaned quietly as she paused at the tip, hollowing her cheeks and increasing the pressure of her suction. She took him all the way down to her throat and back up again. Each time, it felt like her suction was stronger and harder.

How did she do that?

It was delicious to feel her mouth on him with the power and softness that her lips and tongue composed sensations across his flesh. She repeating the action three more times before Mulder pulled on her shoulder, silently begging for her to stop. She was too good at that and he wanted her too badly for it to be over after five minutes in the bathroom.
 
He helped her to stand and opened her dress, unwrapping the material from around her body and marvelling at the black slip underneath. He breathed her given name like a prayer, a rare but not unheard of occurrence during ardent moments. "Dana..."
 
"This old thing?" she said, tossing her dress onto the couch next to Mulder and stepping out of her heels. Her pink toenails were making him crazy and he didn't know why.
 
"I've said this before... but your body could be my religion," Mulder said and looked up in surprise to see her biting her lip. Usually, such a compliment would cause her to roll her eyes but maybe today she believed him.
 
It wasn’t a secret that such compliments made her feel foolish but he meant them. She might not ever trust in the paranormal the way he did but she accepted when he told her he felt and saw things, especially when he was talking about her. As much as she didn't look at herself as a beautiful woman, she knew in his eyes she was. After telling her for over twenty years, he could safely assume she believed in God and how he saw her. She was everything to him and he tried to make her feel that way as often as possible. Once during a vulnerable moment, Scully confessed to him that it was consuming and suffocating but as much as she needed air, she needed to be desired by him. They used each other like a crutch and he had no qualms about it. He could accept that completely if she was willing to come home.
 
His hands slid up her thighs to pull her panties down her legs. He felt delighted to find she was wearing a matching set of lacy material to her slip. Two fingers slipped between her thighs and she saw her her knees almost buckle from beneath her. Mulder held her waist tightly and continued to work on her body.
 
He worked his thumb in a circle around her clit while two fingers pumped in and out of her, watching her face contort with pleasure. He worked her nerves slowly and expertly, knowing the spot to touch with his fingers inside. Her body was shaking and she gripped tighter onto his shoulders as he brought her body to orgasm. Her breath came out in quiet huffs and when he looked up, he saw her covering her mouth, purposely muffling her moans.
 
He placed a kiss on her mound, breathing in her scent and slowly helped her to lay on the floor. "Is this okay?"
 
Scully nodded and opened her legs more to accommodate him. Mulder pulled his jeans down further and settled himself between the valley of her thighs. He kissed her while he positioned himself at her entrance. She was ready for him, not surprisingly. Using her mouth on him was excellent foreplay as it was for him.
 
Mulder took himself in his hand and grazed the head of his cock along her swollen folds. She reached between them and rubbed her fingers along her labia, spreading her juices over her lips before sticking a slick finger inside his mouth.
 
As he sucked on her finger, he pushed his way inside slowly and carefully, burying himself to the hilt. Mulder released her finger from his mouth and pressed his face into her neck as he started a slow, lazy pumping. Her legs wrapped around his waist to urge him to stay inside.

“What is about you that makes me feel so reckless?” she asked quietly.

“At least we locked the door,” Mulder managed to grunt as he moved above her.
 
"I've had this song stuck in my head for two days," Scully whispered, her words punctuated by each thrust of his hips into hers.
 
"What?" Mulder had no idea what she could possibly want to discuss at this moment.
 
"Helpless by Neil Young," she breathed, moving one hand to her breast while the other braced the floor. Mulder was pushing them along the tile and she had no leverage to keep them stationary.
 
Mulder stopped moving and looked down at her. "Are you fucking kidding?"
 
"Blue blue windows behind the stars," she whispered. "I can't stop thinking about it."
 
"I was listening to that on my way here," he said and pumped in and out of her a few times. "I had the tune in my head but I finally recognized the lyric."
 
"What does that mean?" she asked, her breath coming out in punctuated huffs.
 
"Couldn't be more metaphoric for this," he said and kissed her lips.
 
They tasted her on his tongue and Mulder moved himself to tug on her hand. He wanted her to come again and in this position, it would mean some work on her part. She rubbed her middle finger across her clitoris, working herself to swell and grip his cock. It felt so good to be inside her. In any other scenario, this would be less than ideal for an orgasm for her but her body was responding to everything he was doing. Maybe she wanted him like this as much as he wanted her.

With the party going on outside the door and lack of care they've paid to one another in the previous months, this wasn’t what he planned when they came in here. He wanted to make amends and clear the air. Right now her hands were in his hair and she was urging him on with soft moans. It was overwhelming as much as it was frightening that they could be caught.
 
"Scully," he grunted.
 
A knock on the door that was now one foot from her head, shocked them and they looked at the mahogany barrier.
 
"Is someone in here?" a faint voice called.

Mulder immediately recognized it as Scully’s Aunt Olive. Shit.
 
"Just a second, Aunt Olive," Scully called.
 
"I'll try another one," Olive murmured and her footsteps retreated on the hardwood floors.
 
Their eyes met and a moment of humour passed between them before Mulder took up his rhythm.
 
"Come on, Scully," he encouraged and she moved her finger back across her clit. “Come on.”
 
He was close, the sheen of sweat on his forehead a telltale sign. Maybe it was the fact that he was almost fully clothed while he was pounding into her in a warm bathroom. It caught them both by surprise and he felt her inner muscle clamp down as he found himself tumbling into ecstasy. His eyes shut tight in an attempt to keep sound from escaping his mouth.
 
Mulder held himself above her as he felt his orgasm continue to shudder through his body. He wanted to do that every day of his life if he could, just maybe in a different location like a bed.

The noises from the children in the corridor brought them back to reality and Scully tapped Mulder on the shoulder. He pulled himself off of her and grabbed one of the overpriced hand towels to clean up with.
 
She used the toilet while he cleaned himself off, thankful that nothing got on his jeans. Not that it mattered to him but walking out of the bathroom with the evidence of their union on his pants would surely get him a sock in the jaw from Bill.

He helped her tie the sash on her dress, kissing her shoulders and throat as he tied the belt into a bow.
 
"I miss you," he admitted.

He said he wouldn’t push her but he was tired of holding back.

“You’re going to see me all week,” she pointed out about their upcoming schedule at Quantico.

“You know what I mean,” he replied and she nodded. “I miss you.”
 
"I could come by next weekend," she offered. “I don’t have anything at the hospital and… I miss you too.”

It wouldn’t be to come home permanently but for a visit. Mulder would have to take it.

 


**** **** ****

 

Situated on over five hundred acres within the Marine Corps Base in Quantico Virginia, the FBI Academy programs include firearms, Hogan’s Alley, tactical and emergency vehicle operations centre, survival skills and law enforcement executive development. While the basic training for an academy cadet is over eight hundred hours, the next three days for Mulder and Scully would consist of refresher topics on academics, case exercises, firearms training and operational skills.

Before going back into the field, Mulder and Scully would be required to pass one situational and one written exam. They had three days of intense classroom training scheduled before they took a written exam on Thursday and worked through a scenario-based test. Part of the test would simulate a case they would be required to solve together.

All of this was explained to Mulder over the phone by Director Wilkes on Sunday afternoon. He contemplated calling Scully to ask if she wanted to carpool to Quantico but he didn’t want to push it. The way they left things at the party filled him with a renewed hope. If he pushed her for more time with him than she was ready for, he worried she might change her mind about their recent plans to spend more time together.

He couldn’t tell where she stood emotionally. One moment she was saying she was done with him and the next she was wrapping her legs around his waist as she urged him to fuck her.

It was slightly out of character for her but not by much if he thought about their recent actions. Scully was loyal, almost to a fault, to him and for her to choose her own well-being over staying with him, things had to be pretty bad for her.

A knock on Mulder’s window brought him out of his reverie and he saw her standing outside with a curious grin on her face.

“Hi,” she greeted.

Mulder lowered his window and looked at the cardboard tray she was carrying that held two coffees and a delicious smelling paper bag.

“Is this window service?” he asked with a grin.

Scully glanced at the bag on the coffee tray. “Maybe.”

Mulder pulled on the button to raise the window back up and turned off his SUV. He climbed out and grabbed his duffle bag with a change of clothes like the ones he had on, workout kit and running shoes.

“Nice ride,” she noted at the new vehicle.

She hadn’t seen it on Saturday night at the party because he walked her back to her car, kissed her deeply that lead to small dry humping and left before he could take her again in the parking lot.

“Is one of those for me?” he questioned as he nodded to the cups that had a handwritten M and S by the familiar green logo.

“I’d say there’s a kiss fee incorporated for coffee,” she began lightly. She licked her lower lip and pulled it through her teeth in that way that made him think she was thinking about kissing him. “But we’re at work.”

“Well, we haven’t clocked in yet,” Mulder said as he glanced around the parking lot. He leaned down to kiss her softly on the lips. “I’m better at paying my dues these days.”

Scully’s cheeks pinked slightly and she tucked her hair behind her ear. “It doesn’t quite feel like the first day of the academy again but there are some first day jitters going on, I have to admit.”

Mulder nodded in agreement. “I’m not quite excited about wearing khaki pants and a golf shirt again but at the end of this week, we get back to where we both want to be, right?”

“That’s a loaded question,” she commented. “And I think you look great in the trainee attire…”

She was flirtatious today which was a good sign but that wasn’t a solid yes on what he asked her.

“I don’t want you to feel pressured by anything that’s happened over the last weekend,” Mulder clarified.

“I didn’t think I’d ever want the X-Files back,” she began as they walked towards the main building. “But with the recent developments with Sveta and O’Malley… I can’t see it being possible to stay away.”

“No regrets about leaving behind Our Lady of Sorrows?” he asked and took a sip of his coffee.

“I can’t make a difference in medicine if there aren’t people to help,” she replied simply. “I can’t stand by and watch another injustice go unaccounted for. This has to end.”

God, he loved her.

“Let’s go get our badges,” Mulder said and opened the front door to the main building.

Chapter Text

Shorewood, Wisconsin was a town that broke off from Milwaukee in 1907 that sat just south of Whitefish Bay and offered many historical landmarks from the 1800s and early 1900s. Its police department had a Facebook page where people posted their happy tidings for officers helping them with small problems, and it also had a case of poltergeists.

Two instances happened at the public library, one at the city market and the latest at Saint Robert’s Roman Catholic Church. They interviewed every witness, watched cell phone videos and literally pounded the pavement for the one-mile radius where these “instances” had taken place.

The captain of the local police department visited one crime scene after watching the first video and promptly called his old hunting buddy, Walter Skinner, who kicked the case down to Mulder and Scully. His intent was to provide them with a case to flex some old muscles that might have atrophied over their hiatus from the FBI. It was proving to be a difficult exercise in partnership as well.

It had been two weeks since Maggie’s birthday, and they hadn’t spoken about their missed joint appointment with a counsellor. He went to get cleared for duty, but she didn’t show up to discuss their indeterminate relationship status or what they were currently doing. The emotional clarity that might come from a visit to a mental health professional might be too much for Scully at this point.

Each witness swore up and down that what they saw was true and had occurred each evening between four and nine p.m. It was a wide window of opportunity, and they had yet to draw a connection to each location.

Mulder had hoped that this case would help them figure out where they were as partners and put a space of professionalism between his feelings and their working relationship. Unfortunately, working alongside her proved to be more difficult than he anticipated. Knowing that she wasn’t ready to come back to their home, knowing she needed more time and space, he gave it to her. It was under this guise of being patient; however, he hoped that once their work started again, she would feel the way she did all over again.

In the late nineties, Mulder realized things were changing for him. Before losing the X-Files and after her cancer, he saw that what they had, before everything else, was each other. The work brought them together. It ignited their allied passion for the truth and answers and hopefully, their work would be the very thing that brought them back together again after she told him she couldn’t stay.

The science and strict rationalizations were willing to waiver now when they wouldn’t before. Fifteen years ago, she could be looking at the powdered corpse of an invisible man at eight-thirty a.m. and by noon, doubting the existence of what she saw. He just wanted her to witness it herself instead of calling them “instances” or “cases.”

She would call a spade a spade for most everything else.

Travelling to Milwaukee from Washington proved to be the first exercise in self-control. Within twenty minutes of their two-hour flight, he already regretted not buying seats away from each other. They were seated near the wing of the plane on a mostly-full flight with Scully at the window and Mulder in the middle seat. A young man on the right of Mulder at the aisle seat moved across to the next row after takeoff when it was clear the three of them didn’t need to be as cozy.

Scully sat with her hands tightly in her lap and did her normal breathing routine as the plane taxied across the tarmac.

Instinctively, Mulder reached over to her lap and covered her shaking hands with his. “Relax.”

Scully pulled one hand from under his and placed it on top. She closed her eyes and allowed him to comfort her fears for the ascension into the sky. Eventually, she pulled her hands from his and looked out the window, wordlessly communicating his comfort was sufficient.

He spat sunflower seeds into a paper cup and doodled on the case folder until she fell asleep on his shoulder. Out of habit, he let her.

If anything, she was the one not making things fair. He wanted it all and nothing wasn’t really the option he was happy to settle with either.

The second test of their new working relationship, if it was an exercise in remaining abstinent from one another, was the hotel rooms situation. When they checked in, the front desk clerk immediately grinned as they reported their rooms could be adjoining instead of across the hall as they were originally placed. He withheld his internal groan and thanked the clerk for an arrangement that used to be something he longed for. Mulder forgot what it was like to be twenty feet away from Scully after working all day and not being sick of her. If he was being honest, he was never the one who wanted space between them. It was always her asking for it.

The first full day of their investigation felt like a training exercise that was more informative than Mulder expected. From the moment they arrived at the police station, he had to work through each procedure while second-guessing himself.

He flashed his badge to the desk sergeant. “I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. This is my partner, Dana Scully. We’ve been brought here for the-”

“The poltergeists?” Sergeant Wilkes interrupted in a low baritone. “Yeah, we’ve been waiting to see who the Feds were going to send over.”

Scully cleared her throat. “I can assure you, Sergeant, that my partner and I have a long history working on these types of cases. We’re merely here to lend a hand-”

“I know,” Wilkes interrupted flatly. “Officer Cole was first on the scene for the last two sightings. He’s just coming in from patrol.”

Mulder glanced down to Scully who was giving a questioning look up to him. “Okay. Do you want us to wait here in the lobby?”

“This isn’t a lobby,” Wilkes interrupted one last time with the same bored tone and flipped the page on his newspaper. “But sure, grab a seat.”

Scully sighed as they sat on the wooden bench. Mulder picked up one of the local papers next to him and gave her a nudge at the headline.

“Local Police Stumped at Poltergeists” with the banner that read ‘Desperate Cops Call FBI For Help.’

“I guess that explains the warm welcome,” she muttered as her eyes began to scan the article. “The writer all but mentions us by name.”

Mulder’s eyes searched the story as well. “Surprising that a small town would have such a volatile relationship with the local paper. I thought conservatives owned most of the news outlets to ensure ‘fair’ reporting.”

A twinge of approval rushed over him when he saw that she was giving him a wry smile at his sarcasm.

“I’ve never understood close-knit communities that refuse to report the truth as much as a conservative outlet blatantly lying with false quotes to serve whatever agenda they decide is paramount to servicing the public,” she added, and her pink tongue moistened each lip. “I doubt the article has more than just guesses and third-hand reports. If anyone quoted in that newspaper had actually seen a poltergeist, we would have been first on the list to call.”

They had run into their fair share of close-knit communities where the truth was often hid from the public. From what Mulder could tell, the newspaper was playing to what the public wanted to hear.

It was Mulder’s turn to smile wryly at her. “Sometimes I forget why I ever get mad at you.”

Scully chuffed. “I can recall a few things off the top of my head, but I won’t mention it right now since we’re having such a nice time so far.”

“Agents?” a young officer approached with his cap in hand. “I’m Felix Cole. My desk sergeant radioed me. He said you were waiting to speak to me?”

Mulder stood up and extended his hand. “I wanted to thank you for calling us out here.”

Cole shook Mulder’s hand and then Scully’s. “The lead detective on the case had to sign off on it, but I’ll say you’re welcome from the both of us.”

“Where is he, by the way?” Scully asked as she opened the case file that had been sent to their office. “Detective J. Pearce.”

Cole cleared his throat. “That’s Jane Pearce and she’s at home for the morning.”

"Oh," Mulder winced. “Everything all right?”

The young officer nodded as they were buzzed through the gate to head up the stairs to the bullpen. “She’s fine. She had a baby nine weeks ago, and I guess the little one has a bit of colic.”

Scully nodded. “Oh, I see.”

Mulder wondered if she had to deal with colic with William and that’s why she gave Cole a sympathetic look. It bothered him more than he was prepared for that he didn’t know the answer.

“She’ll be in this afternoon,” the officer told them as he led them up the stairwell. “In the next half an hour. I think I can start showing you what we have so far. I don’t think Jane will mind.”

They moved through the bullpen into a small conference room at the back that had been taken over by a map of the city and photographs of the victims. Mulder was drawn immediately to the photograph of the latest victim, Councilman Phillip Hyde, who had been killed by the handle of a nine-inch stainless steel pan through his jugular.

“The first three victims had all been run of the mill, average-Joe citizens of Shorewood,” Cole commented as approached to study the same picture as Mulder.

“I want to make a joke that’s in really bad taste about voter preferences, but I can’t quite place it,” he said quietly to her and her mouth crooked up but quickly fell. He watched her eyes turn to the door and followed her gaze where a police detective in a grey suit stood carrying a baby in a carseat. “Hello.”

“Good afternoon,” she said quietly as she set the car seat on the side table and pulled a pink canopy over the end. “My nanny should be here in half an hour, but I just got her to sleep on the drive over so if we could all keep our voices to a dull monotone, that would be appreciated.”

“That won’t be a problem for him,” Scully volunteered as she nodded her head sideways to Mulder, and he gave her a feigned look of displeasure.

They exchanged quick pleasantries with the detective and began to discuss the case as they sat around the conference table. Detective Pearce moved the car seat onto the table next to where she was sitting and glanced in occasionally while Cole read his notes from the last crime scene to ensure the X-File was up to date.

It turned out that the poltergeists that wreaked havoc in Shorewood were exactly Mulder’s bread and butter. At first, it began as local businesses that appeared to be broken into and vandalized. Then a shopkeeper in the downtown core died when an armoire exploded as she was closing up for the night.

“The first victim, Mary Chen, was killed by a shelving unit falling on her at the local market,” Pearce reported. “The second victim was crushed by a two hundred pound wrought iron chandelier at the college. The third victim was the Councilman, who I can assure you was not a target because of an unpopular proposal at the last town hall meeting.”

Mulder scoffed. “So that rules out any ghosts with a grudge.”

“Wouldn’t a spectre causing a poltergeist be the kind to hold a grudge?” Scully countered. “In ghostlore, a poltergeist is a type of ghost or spirit that is responsible for physical disturbances. The can be extremely angry and violent corporeal entities. Most poltergeists or spirits are known to haunt a person or place with a specific reason. The fact that we haven’t uncovered the why of the hauntings doesn’t exclude the council member from a deed that would warrant a grudge.”

If they had been alone, Mulder would have kissed her. At the very least, he would have made an innuendo about closed-door activities they could partake in that included tearing off her clothes. He was always a sucker for Scully reciting any information that came from one of his paranormal reference books versus her scientific ones.

The look on his face must have been telling because Scully cleared her throat nervously. “All I’m saying is that until we determine what kind of disturbances these instances are, we cannot disregard the motive behind the deaths.”

“I feel like I’m having an out of body experience,” he whispered and Scully nudged him. “Keep going.”

“You’ll have to excuse my partner,” she replied to Pearce with a tight smile. “His idea of a 1-900 call is listening to me, a scientist, talk about black magic and items one might fight from the occult at a ritualistic sacrifice.”

Cole’s eyebrows shot up as Pearce laughed. The detective quickly covered her mouth as to not wake the sleeping baby and the room was quiet for a moment as they waited for a cry. Mulder’s face began to burn, and Scully tucked her chin down in obvious embarrassment at her brazenness.

A small mewl came from under the canopy, and Detective Pearce relaxed visibly.

Jesus, Scully,” he muttered with a shake of his head. “Save it for the stakeout.”

“Sorry,” she replied quickly.

Pearce tucked an errant strand of her blonde hair behind her ear that had come out from her tight bun and smiled at Scully. “You’re funny.”

“Can we focus on the case here?” Mulder pleaded almost a little too obviously as he sat up a little straighter in his chair.

“I… uh, I think that there’s a local historian that would be willing to speak with you,” Cole spoke up as he glanced from Mulder to Scully. “His name is Frank Rankin.”

“Can you get us a meeting with him?” Mulder inquired.

“He said he could meet with you folks tomorrow,” Cole answered.

He was impressed with the young officer’s eagerness and ambition on a case he wouldn’t get much credit for. Mulder reminded himself to ensure that Cole’s efforts weren’t left out of his final report.

“That’s great,” he praised the young officer.

“Cole has been a great help on this,” Pearce noted with a smile. “I think he’s done half the legwork for me. Followed every hunch I had. Asked questions I wasn’t sure how to phrase.”

“It’s lucky the Captain was willing to give me the chance to work under the finest detective in town,” Cole replied honestly and the officers shared a smile. He looked at Mulder and Scully with an earnest face that screamed he was just a young officer trying to do his best. “Truth be told, I’m hoping that if this case goes well, maybe they’ll reconsider my application to Quantico.”

Mulder nodded as he started to piece it all together.

Scully cleared her throat again and gave Cole a tight smile. “I’ll be sure to reinforce how vital you were to our investigation.”

An older woman with chocolate caramel skin and a bright green tunic knocked on the conference room door with an excited smile.

Pearce waved her in and the woman opened the door. “Are we ready to go home?”

Her accent indicated she had immigrated from India, and she looked like a soft and kind woman. Mulder had a hundred questions about how these two women connected but those would have to wait for a later date.

“Hi Prisha,” Pearce greeted. “She’s sleeping now. Cried the whole drive home from the doctors but nursed for thirty minutes.”

“Did you pump?” Prisha asked bluntly and Pearce nodded. “How much?”

Mulder looked at Scully and she shook her head at him, knowing a dry remark was on the tip of his tongue.

“There’s enough to get her until tomorrow, but I’ll be home before six,” Pearce reported.

Mulder had a feeling the older nanny was more the boss than Pearce was, and he respected that. If he didn’t, Prisha would probably change his mind anyway.

“I have my movie night,” Prisha reminded Pearce and picked up the car seat carefully. “I’ll have dinner waiting for you at five forty-five.”

“Five forty-five,” Pearce repeated with a nod.

Prisha held up a finger at Cole and his eyes grew wide. “No more calls after nine-thirty. This baby isn’t sleeping through a vacuum cleaner starting. I can’t expect her to sleep through your phone calls at all hours.”

Cole ducked his head down. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I don’t know who you two are but that goes for you also,” she warned to Mulder and Scully, and they nodded obediently. Prisha smiled. “Okay. I’ll make you samosas. Bye, everyone!”

There was a beat of silence in the air, and Pearce looked to Scully. They exchanged an understanding nod, and she clapped her hands once to move them along from what had just transpired.

“Okay, where were we?” she asked.

“We were going to try to determine the kind of disturbances that occurred,” Scully spoke up.

Mulder walked over to the wall of crime scene photos and studied each body. If he were to guess, these looked like legitimate instances of a poltergeist.

Even though many investigations of these disturbances by false apparitions had proved to be hoaxes, there were enough instances that could not be explained to keep Mulder’s faith in such things alive.

Scully cleared her throat. “There are a number of psychological factors we need to take into account. Sometimes when a person claims to have witnessed a poltergeist, it’s, in fact, an allusion, lapse in memory or wishful thinking.”

"The latest victim has video," Cole prompted.

He opened a laptop, and the screen came alive to a video surveillance recording. Cole pressed the spacebar to play the video. The camera shook, and static crossed the screen before the scene came into focus. Inside the antique shop from the front door, a woman moved around dusting the items with a rag and spray bottle. Mulder guessed it was Pledge. Every antique store he ever frequented with Scully in search of the perfect Grand Castellano desk had that scent lingering among the bookshelves and knick knacks. They found it eventually, but the smell of lemon and butane were burned into his nostrils.

Just as Mulder was about to make a wry comment, one of the statues on the shelving units began to wobble and then tipped over. It happened three more times to different items before the woman in the video noticed. As she was walking towards the mess on the floor, a large walnut stained credenza started to vibrate and move towards her. The woman on screen dropped her dusting tools and began to run towards the front door. As she neared her escape, a heavy wardrobe near the entrance exploded with the splinters of the wood impaling her chest.

The screen shook with static, and Mulder caught a glimpse of a figure in the back behind where the victim laid with blood pooling around her.

“We can’t explain that,” Cole stated obviously as he paused the video.

Mulder scoffed and cleared his throat as he waved a hand in apology. “How could you?”

“I think what Mulder is trying to say is that this isn’t exactly a robbery or a hit and run caught on CCTV,” Scully explained and Pearce’s expression softened.

“It isn’t,” the detective agreed. “Which is why we’ve asked you to help.”

Mulder looked at Scully, and they exchanged a nod. It signalled to him that she was willing to get to the bottom of the case.

“We are happy to work with you on this,” Scully offered. “It’s not our intention to overshadow the work you’ve done so far. And, I think Agent Mulder has a few ideas of what’s going on.”

“I need to see the last crime scene,” Mulder stated.

** ** **

Mulder pulled into the angled parking next to Cole’s police cruiser and turned to look at Scully in the passenger seat. Obviously sensing that he wanted to talk, she unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to him.

“Yes?”

“I need to know what your theory is before going in here,” he implored. Her eyes searched his and he furrowed his brow. “If you’re going to keep citing facts about poltergeists or you’re looking for a hole in every theory I come up with... Just let me know where you stand so I can figure out what my argument is. Pro or con to the poltergeist. What are you looking for?”

Scully licked her lower lip and sighed. “I know what I saw on the surveillance recording, and I think it would be naive to go into this case believing that science can explain something that I witnessed myself as an unnatural phenomenon. Often times in cases such as poltergeists, what science tries to explain can only be defined by something of a spiritual nature. I can’t quantify something otherworldly any more than you could break down the process of osmosis without some help. It’s not possible. I told myself if I was coming back to work on the X-Files that I would need to keep an open mind so I’m going to do just that.”

“It does sound like a 1-900 sex call I would want to hear,” he noted quietly.

Scully laughed and shook her head as she looked over to the car next to them. Mulder leaned around her to see Cole and Pearce having a sombre-looking discussion.

“What’s your vibe on those two?” Mulder asked with a jut of his chin towards their partners on this case.

Scully studied them for another beat and then looked back to him. “I would say if Pearce was a male senior officer and Cole was a female, there might be some implication of something more, but it’s sexist to assume that women can’t date younger men…”

“You’re getting a romantic vibe?” he guessed with a grin, and she shrugged. “C’mon, say it.”

Scully put her fingers on the door handle and said properly, “I don’t like to assume about such things.”

Mulder laughed. “Since when! You told me before women have a sense regarding certain things.”

“They’re familiar with each other but I don’t want to assume something that isn’t true,” she gave him lightly.

He shook his head. “You’re such a theory-tease.”

He turned the engine off, and they exited the vehicle simultaneously. Mulder put on his aviator sunglasses to protect his eyes from the glare of an unusually warm September. When he looked over the car, Scully was watching him carefully.

He grinned at her, and she brushed her hair over her shoulder before looking away. He watched her lick her upper lip as she pulled on her suit jacket and smoothed her hands down the edges. She squared her shoulders as they walked towards the bright red shop door that was blocked off with yellow tape.

It was difficult to discern what was going on in her mind when she looked at him like that. Focusing on it now would only distract him more as they tried to work on the case.

“This is the last crime scene,” Cole offered unnecessarily. “The Red Door was a pillar of the community. The shop owner, Alice Grey, was on the Sherwood school board of trustees and volunteered at the soup kitchen every holiday. No one could find fault in her.”

“In my experience, even the most sainted people have a dark side,” Mulder commented as he held the police tape up for Scully to duck under.

She crooked an eyebrow at him but said nothing. Cole handed a file to her, and Mulder stepped into her space to look over her shoulder to read it.

“Alice Grey inherited the shop from her late uncle,” Scully read off the page. “She has no next of kin in the area?”

Cole shook his head as he tucked his thumbs into his duty belt. “She was alone.”

Mulder looked at the police report and then around the shop. Broken glass and knocked over items that he assumed were expensive. Small knickknacks littered the floor in the wake of a truly powerful spirit. He tried to avoid the shards and walk further into the shop. As he moved past one of the display cases that had somehow remained intact during the pandemonium, he looked around for the other objects in the video that had been knocked over.

“What are you looking for, Mulder?” Scully asked as she walked carefully behind him.

“I’m trying to follow the path of the ghost,” he murmured thoughtfully as he tried to spot where the commotion had started. “Maybe an object in the antique shop has a connection to a spiritual entity.”

“Are you suggesting that while Alice Grey dusted her shop, she unleashed a ghost unwittingly?” Scully guessed, and he nodded with another finger pointing to his nose. “Mulder, without getting off-topic into a debate about religion, many objects that claim to be possessed or cursed by evil spirits have been disproven as hoaxes.”

“I will ignore that comment because I know you take water that a man in a robe has declared holy at the entrance of a building and perform a ritualistic cross over your upper body as a sign of prayer,” he commented and turned to look to see her making a disapproving face. They stood in the aisle of the shop, and she put her hands on her hips. Mulder grinned and did the same. “If you believe that something has power, does it not?”

“You’re claiming that people who believe in the occult and dark magic are as valid as those who celebrate a higher power and pray to God?” she questioned.

“I’m saying that you cannot disregard one religion or even pagan beliefs when you, yourself, hold faith in an entity that neither you or I have seen with our own eyes,” he retorted.

He took a slight step to lessen the gap between them, and she did the same. Their bodies were only inches apart, and he could smell the perfume she put on that morning over the scent over the dust and must of the items on glass cases that had yet to be broken or shattered.

“I’m asking you to have faith that an item could very well have the spirit of a possessed entity as well,” he continued.

She scoffed and opened her mouth to retort when Pearce cleared her throat loudly at the end of the aisle.

“Do you two need a minute?” she asked with a crooked eyebrow.

Scully ducked her chin down, and Mulder stepped in front of her.

“Cole and I are happy to wait outside if you need some privacy-”

Mulder held up his hand. “This isn’t… this is a large part of how our work flushes out. It needs the back and forth to find a common ground where science can prove the phenomenons witnessed.”

Cole stepped out from behind Pearce. “I find it all very fascinating.”

Pearce rolled her eyes at the young cop. “Of course you do.”

“There’s a manifest in the office of new items she purchased,” Cole offered. “I have the keys if you want to take a look.”

“A recently purchased item moved from its home to a new shop might be the source of an angered spirit we need to lay to rest,” Mulder replied and looked over to Scully.

Her mouth was agape, and her eyes were wide at something just in the distance.

Mulder came up behind her and followed her gaze, looking over her head to what he couldn’t believe he was witnessing either.

Three small antique cigarette boxes were moving in a circular motion as if they were being juggled in the air just over the glass counter. He blinked a few times and moved Scully aside with his hands on her shoulders. She pulled on the back edge of his suit jacket as he stepped towards what he was seeing.

“Are you seeing this?” he whispered.

Of course I see it,” she retorted angrily. “Mul-”

“What are you looking at?” Cole asked loudly, and the items floating fell to the floor with a thud. “What was that?”

“Proof,” Mulder declared ominously as he held on to Scully’s arms and maneuvered around her. He made eye contact with Pearce. “I want surveillance cameras set up at every location of each claimed poltergeist. I want better surveillance here. If there’s paranormal activity, we need to get it on tape.”

“Tape?” Cole repeated.

The age gap between Mulder and the young officer was suddenly amplified by the fact that Cole had probably never seen a VHS tape in use. He tried not to feel an ache in his bones as he noted that Cole’s face had nary a worry line or the hint of a grey hair. Pearce was a little closer to his age, but he was suddenly feeling as though he belonged on one of these shelves at the antique store.

“He means a digital recording,” Pearce explained, and Cole nodded in understanding. “We’ll have to get clearance from the captain to bring the covert team in here.”

“If you can’t swing it with your captain, I can call in a team from Milwaukee to help us out,” Mulder offered.

“Mulder-” Scully started and looked to the local officers. “If you could give us a moment?”

Pearce nodded to Cole to follow her out to the door and left Mulder and Scully inside.

Mulder knelt down to inspect the boxes on the floor. He pulled a pen from his inside jacket pocket and tapped on the top of the metal boxes that were just floating in the air. Scully came up behind him and looked up to the ceiling, and Mulder knew that she was immediately looking for any kind of wiring.

“I don’t see any kind of rigging-”

“Of course you don’t,” he interrupted and gave the back of her calf a pat.

As their eyes followed from the ceiling down to the front door, they caught Pearce and Cole watching them from the sidewalk.

“What do you think they’re going to talk about, Mulder?” she asked him with a grin, and Mulder chuffed a laugh. “What?”

Just beyond the front door, Cole and Pearce began a sombre-looking discussion that resulted in Cole shaking his head at her and leaving in the police cruiser.

“Are you having one of your ‘moments’ where you ‘sense’ something?” he teased as he tucked his pen back inside his pocket, and she rolled her eyes to turn to look at him. “Yes?”

“I can tell when two people are having an affair,” Scully reminded him. “I don’t think this is that.”

Mulder stuck out his lower lip and began looking around the antique shop.

“Are you still holding on to your theory about the poltergeists being false reports, Scully?” he asked as he kicked aside some broken glass.

The floorboards below them creaked as they walked through the shop. Mulder wanted to see the manifest Cole had brought up and was going to get into that office with his help or without it.

“While I believe what I saw was fantastic, Mulder, I am reserving judgement at calling it a poltergeist until we speak to the historian,” Scully answered. "Maybe he has information of seismic activity reported at each murder that might cause objects to fall on top of a person or..."

Mulder groaned loudly as he turned to look at her. “You’re joking.”

“I’m not,” she protested as she looked up into his eyes.

He threw his hands up in the air. “You just saw levitating boxes moving in a pattern that you couldn’t identify!”

And?” she asked as she stepped towards him with her hands on her hips.

“Are you that hell-bent on using logic to explain some part of this that you won’t use the phenomenon you just witnessed to understand that some things your science can’t explain?” Mulder queried as he stepped away from her. He ignored her eye roll and heavy sigh. “What’s a historian going to tell you that your own eyes just confirmed?”

He knelt down in front of the door to the office and pulled out his lock picking kit from his inside jacket pocket. He pulled out two of the instruments from the velvet case he kept them in and inserted them into the lock.

“Why don’t you wait for Cole to return before-”

The door popped open before Scully could finish her thought.

She sighed heavily. “Never mind.”

Mulder stood up and smiled proudly at her. He watched her fight back a smile. “C’mon Scully, that was pretty good.”

“The only place you’re excited to be fast,” she muttered, and his chin dropped in shocked delight as he put his lock picking kit back in his pocket.

Usually he was the one making sly remarks trying to unsettle her. Mulder chalked one up for Scully and vowed to get her back as soon as possible. Since their tryst at the country club, he had tried not to assume they were headed back in a direction that meant reconciliation. Scully had made it quite clear she liked spending time with him, she appreciated his skills in bed, but outside of that, he was too much to handle.

If anything, it pushed him away as she pulled away. Navigating their working relationship was more difficult than the year they survived the X-Files being shut down, Diana and Spender taking over the office and his near-death experience at the hand of his own father. Their working relationship now made that year look like child’s play.

Scully pulled two sets of latex gloves from her pocket and handed Mulder a pair. He held them up, and she arched an eyebrow in question. “Just making sure they’re my size.”

“I always fold mine at the top,” she explained. “Yours are in my pocket without a fold.”

Of course, Scully would have a system for latex gloves. She had a method for pretty much everything else.

“Where would you keep a manifest if you were an antique shop owner?” Mulder thought out loud.

Scully looked around the office and then walked towards the large oak desk with the leather blotter worked into the wood. She pulled on a drawer underneath the top one where a thick book had been hiding.

She picked up the worn leather-bound book and smiled knowingly.

“What?” he asked as he walked towards the desk.

She set the book down and opened it to reveal a newish looking laptop inside.

“Clever,” he remarked.

Scully’s fingers toyed with the black bookmark at the spine. “Very clever.”

“Do you think we’ll need to get a warrant?” Mulder asked as he turned the laptop to power it on. "She was murdered; I don't see Alice Grey as a suspect."

Scully sighed. “If I was looking from the outside in, I would say this definitely falls into the scope of the investigation.”

He looked around the office for clues about the password. “Any ideas on how to get in?”

“People don’t often leave their passwords on a knickknack on their desk anymore, Mulder,” she replied with a smile. “This isn’t the 90s.”

“You’re telling me,” he muttered, and she nudged him. “I can’t help but feel old when someone we’re working with hasn’t used a videotape. Videotape, Scully! If I told him about microfiche, his head would explode.”

Scully looked at him and shrugged. “We aren’t using leather slappers or iron claws anymore, and we’ve opted for body cams, drones and mace. Not everything from the past was better.”

Mulder almost commented on the duality of that statement, but he let it lie between them.

“I guess being able to email the digital copies of surveillance cameras has its perks,” he murmured.

“What do you want to try for a password?” she asked as she looked around the office.

“Maybe there’s a clue with something in the office,” he suggested as he began snooping around for a book or anything that might give him an idea.

Scully lifted the laptop out of its case. She pulled out a note from underneath the case and held it up. “I think I found it.”

“So much for being beyond the 90s,” he muttered as he came around behind the desk.

He looked over Scully’s shoulder as she typed in ‘v-i-n-t-a-g-e.’

“Seems a little obvious, doesn’t it?” he asked.

“Maybe if your office is always under lock and key, you don’t have to worry that your laptop will be hacked,” she rationalized.

Mulder tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in understanding. “Fair enough.”

“What do you expect to find in the laptop?” Scully asked as she sat down at the desk to begin snooping through Alice Grey’s files.

He realized his close proximity to her and took a step back. In an attempt to put some distance between them, he walked towards one of the tall wooden filing cabinets. There was a lock keeping the two roller shutter closed. The filing cabinet next to it appeared to be one that was exclusively for topography and map keeping.

Mulder pulled on a few of the drawers but they were all locked shut. He pulled again with his pursed lips, and Scully cleared her throat loudly. “Yes?”

“Those cost upwards of three thousand dollars, Mulder,” she reported knowingly and held up a set of antique keys that was tucked inside the desk. “You might want to use a key.”

Sometimes the information that Scully stowed away in her brain for later use was entirely useful. Mulder would have never considered the cost of old wooden chests to be one of them, but he took the keys from her and began attempting to open the drawers.

Silence befell the office while Scully began searching through Alice Grey’s files, and Mulder unlocked the cabinets to begin his inventory. He took out a notebook and pen from his pocket, set it on top of the cabinet to his right and laid his phone with the camera ready on the left.

Mulder opened the first long drawer in the modular cabinet and discovered old maps of different major cities. He made note of his findings and moved on to the next one.

“Most of these are just old maps,” he announced as he picked up each long sheet and peered underneath to look for something noteworthy. He closed the second drawer and pulled open the one underneath. This one was much more interesting than the first two drawers he looked through. “Hell-o.”

“What?” Scully asked as she looked up from the computer.

“Well…” he started and laughed to himself as he shook his head in disbelief.

Scully pushed herself away from the desk and came around to the cabinet to stand a little too close as she looked over his arm. “Oh my god.”

He cleared his throat and tried to ignore the scent of her perfume invading his nose. She leaned in closer so her hair was brushing along his suit, and he moved his feet to stand sideways in an attempt to put a bit of space between them.

“Haunted locations of High Cliff,” Mulder read the handwritten calligraphy at the top.

Scully reached up and lifted the edge of the plastic that was protecting the old paper. “This map looks to be about a hundred years old.”

Mulder took his phone out and began taking pictures of the marked spots on the map and then a wider one. “I wonder if there is somewhere we can scan these.”

“I think Alice Grey had them scanned already,” Scully held up her finger and walked around to the desk again. She sat on the chair and pulled it in with her back straight. “What was the number on the outside of the drawer?”

“WI-143-156,” Mulder read with his eyes struggling to focus.

Scully typed in a few keystrokes and hummed. “There is a folder with those maps scanned as PDF documents.”

He took the opportunity to write down every location. After twenty years of misplacing evidence because of ridiculous happenstance, Mulder had learned to get backups. He used to carry a spare weapon, but that only caused chafing and didn’t help with the mountain of paperwork that resulted in lost evidence. He tucked his notebook back in his pocket and reminded himself to upload anything he got to their laptop later.

“I’m going to email these to you,” Scully said as she typed away. “Luckily, Alice Grey was not creative with any of her passwords.”

“That’s careless,” he scoffed.

“Says the man who got locked out of his FBI laptop on the second day,” she teased.

Mulder looked over to her and saw the familiar twinkle in her eye. She used to give him that look while they laughed over a big dinner and wine. When she smiled at him with her gums before they ever slept together, that grin on her lips and the look in her eyes made him a little hard.

He was lucky today his body was choosing not to respond - never mind… He cleared his throat and tried to push past the feelings of desire he was fighting against. Even in his fifties, Mulder’s body could react in ways that were inconvenient during an investigation. He thought he had moved past that after coming back from the dead.

It would be easier if he knew she was struggling with the same things. It wouldn’t be so damned difficult if she just looked at him honestly and told him that she missed him too. Even if she behaved like he didn’t matter, it would be a sign he should stop pursuing her. Instead, they were in a limbo of flirtatious banter, standing uncomfortably close, struggling to work together and sex in inappropriate places. It wasn’t entirely mature, nor did it make sense, but that’s what it was.

Mulder’s phone buzzed on the credenza, and he gave her a thumbs up as the attachments rolled in. He could upload them to the FBI cloud later to access from their laptop.

The world was a different place now. Investigating everything required, if not demanded, more evidence, data and documentation to ensure their claims were justified with something to testify in court with.

He gave Scully a proud nod that boasted the possibilities in their case, and she chuffed a laugh at the desk. He looked over her shoulder at him, and she grinned.

“What?” he asked as he fought a smile. Maybe she was about to make fun of him.

She shrugged as she held back a giggle. He could only tell because she was trying to pull her lips into her mouth, but she was making a small choking sound. That was the problem with being around someone constantly for two and a half decades. He recognized more about her than he did in himself.

Her fit of giggles was contagious, and he chuffed nervously. “What, Scully?”

She let out a laugh and then covered her mouth with a gloved hand. “I just never thought when you first gave me a thumbs up as Tom Colton postered in front of you during the Tooms investigation that I would see that same expression twenty-five years later.”

Mulder grinned and shook his head at her. “You know it’s really in poor taste to sit in the office of a recently deceased person and laugh about something unrelated.”

She held his gaze for a moment until they both burst out laughing, and he felt the tension he had been feeling between them alleviate, if ever just slightly.

Scully wiped away a tear from her recent joyous outburst and cleared her throat. “I’m going to forward the map to our associates-”

“No,” Mulder stopped her as he approached her at the desk with his hand out. “Don’t… we don’t know entirely-”

“Oh Mulder, please don’t get territorial on me now,” she sighed. “What good is it going to do us if we are keeping half the evidence as a secret?”

“Can we just take the night to study what we have and then send it over?” he proposed.

Scully thought for a moment. “I do better with a physical print out.”

He picked up his phone and googled the nearest shipping storefront. “I can get all these printed up at UPS now - those guys are oblivious to what goes on there.”

Scully sighed. “From what I read in the news about gun parts being shipped to and from P.O. boxes for white supremacists to terrorize other citizens, I would have to agree. Domestic terrorism really took advantage of some bad policies.”

“Well, they apprehended those Kaczynski wannabes,” he pointed out. “If we actually catch the poltergeist, you can put the handcuffs on him or her… or it.”

“I’ll do a holy prayer and exercise it,” she teased with a wink.

Mulder felt a slight stirring in his pants and cursed the ease of which she could excite him. He cleared his throat and turned back to the maps. “Okay, deal.”

Chapter Text

They spent the evening in his room as they argued about what was possible for these poltergeists. After watching Scully witness the phenomenon herself, Mulder was in his happy place with his makeshift office and evidence board.

He had fastened the maps and printouts of Shorewood to the wall between their rooms with ‘Sticky Tack’ and pinned evidence photos to locations relating to each picture. Haunted locations, possible sightings, and places that had been marked on the maps they had ‘borrowed’ from Alice Grey’s office cluttered the wall in a way that pleased him.

“This is great,” he commented as he stepped back to admire his work. “I really feel like we’re getting an idea of the case.”

Scully arched an eyebrow as he stood with his hands on his hips. He could feel her skepticism wafting off of her from her spot at the end of his bed.

He wondered what it said about them that she was sitting on his unmade bed rather than the made one two feet away. He also wondered why the maid hadn’t come that day, but maybe he forgot to ask for the service at the front desk of their motel as they asked for directions. He couldn’t remember much of this morning after she walked into his room in her pyjamas and a bottle of water to ask him what he hoped to accomplish that day. She was still warm from sleep and the camisole she slept in left nothing to the imagination as it puckered around each breast and hugged her torso.

He forgot what it was like to be able to see her through the doorway, to hear her getting ready for the day. He knew every step she took before bed in a routine he could recite from memory, and to want to crawl inside her bed to make her quake with pleasure. He knew how to do that.

For all that he was hoping and pushing for in a rekindling, he knew it wouldn’t make things easier if they did, so he didn’t fall to those temptations.

“I was thinking of ordering takeout,” she commented as he glanced over his shoulder to her lounging on the bed. Her shirt gaped slightly at her bosom, and she propped up on her elbows as she took in the map he had made. “Did you want me to look through the stack of menus over there?”

Mulder looked at the pile of worn-out, slippery folded paper with bright slogans and then back to Scully as she leaned back on the rumpled sheets.

“We didn’t eat dinner yet,” she reminded him as she sat up.

She leaned forward, her palms pressing into the bed with her fingers gripping the bed sheets in a way he recognized. He looked up from the V of her shirt where he had just been admiring the curve of her breasts.

“Sure,” he managed and loosened his tie enough to pull it over his head. He looked down at the garment and frowned. “I got mustard on this at some point today.”

Scully got off the bed and took the tie from him. Her brow furrowed at the mark from the mustard that dripped off his sandwich. “I can scrub it off. I have a Tide-to-Go pen in my bag.”

“Of course you do,” he commented as he followed her to her room through the adjoining door. 

He watched as she pulled out a small bag from her suitcase and dug through the sewing kit, first aid kit and a small black satchel he didn’t recognize.

“What’s that one?” he asked as he pointed to the canvas tote.

Scully’s cheeks pinked in the mirror as she pulled out a stain remover pen from one of the small bags. “It’s… uh…”

“Lady stuff?” he asked awkwardly.

He was unsure why. He used to call her from the grocery store in the feminine products aisle and ask what brand she wanted because it never solidified in his brain.

Scully chuffed a nervous laugh. “Yeah.”

Now he was really curious, but he left it there.

“Oh.”

His brain did a quick calculation of the date and previous times when Scully had been a little grumpier than usual while she suffered through her cycle. She was a week before that was due.

He wondered if it housed something else secret that didn’t involve her menstrual cycle but that part of her anatomy. He reached into his suit pocket to press his fingertips into the stirring member burgeoning against his suit pants, just to be safe.

The last thing he wanted was for her to be put off by an unwelcome erection.

“What do you want to eat?” she asked.

He looked up from the curve of her ass to her face and shrugged. “What are you in the mood for?”

“Chinese greasy takeout with chow mien and almond chicken,” she declared with a slow smile. “Or sushi.”

“I doubt Shorewood delivers sushi, but I’ll look at the menus,” he managed and awkwardly walked back to his room to retrieve the stack of glossy paper that mirrored the ones that he moved past on her dresser.

He did so because there was a white bra laying on top of them, and as often as he had removed a bra from her body, he wasn’t sure if he should move one from her bedroom to someplace else. The way they behaved now was like walking on eggshells, especially since he wasn’t sure if stripping a bra from her body now would be welcomed. Things were so hot and cold between them, it was hard to tell.

The uneasiness mirrored something from an early time in their relationship where they had to ignore that they were biologically not the same gender and had body parts they were both attracted to. The outline of her breast under a night shirt or the half erection he sported in the morning when she came in with the paper and coffee could make either of them blush for longer than necessary.

This was like those times except he knew what the nipples underneath her shirt looked and tasted like. She knew exactly how much bigger his dick could grow from a polite morning wood to his eager erection poking in her hip that wanted to be someplace warm and sweet.

“Sweet and sour?” she asked, and he looked up from the menu where his thumb was pointing to the item with Chinese characters next to English.

“Uh… Yeah,” he agreed.

“Only one wonton soup,” she requested as she sat back on his unmade bed to scrub at the mustard stain. She licked her lower lip and sighed. “Oh, and egg fried rice.”

Mulder gave her a thumbs up that he regretted immediately, and dialled the number to the nearest takeaway restaurant.

“William Ho’s,” the young voice answered. “Pick up or delivery?”

“Uh…” Mulder’s voice trailed off as he looked at Scully shifting from side to side on his bed. “Pick up.”

“Okay, all pick up orders will be twenty-three minutes from the time of placing order,” the boy on the other end replied professionally. Mulder liked that. “What would you like?”

He had been to different family chains where the offspring of the restaurateurs were working a till or taking orders while studying for the following day’s lessons. He placed their order and set a timer on his watch.

“I need a shower,” he commented as he pulled his suit shirt from his pants.

He wondered if he caught Scully looking at him too long before he turned to the bathroom, but he couldn’t be sure.

When he emerged from the bathroom, Scully’s room was quiet, and she left a note under where he had previously left the rental car keys.

“Went to get food,” she wrote in her neat scrawl.

Scully was always very succinct. She never said too much or too less. Her words were careful as though she had spent a childhood oversharing and being chastised for it.

He took the opportunity to tidy his room, pick up the clothes he had left on the floor, and make the bed. He walked to the liquor store next door and picked up vodka, knowing Scully couldn't turn down one of her favourite cocktails. He got them more bottled water, sprite and juice. 

They arrived back at his room at the same time. Mulder was in jeans and a white T-shirt while Scully was still in her suit for the day. She had pulled her hair up into a ponytail, and the side of her button down was starting come out from her skirt. She looked as delicious as she had that morning.

“Yours or mine?” she asked as he opened his door for them.

Mulder looked at the evidence board and back to Scully as she set the food down on the small table in his room. “Mine is fine. You probably don’t want the food smell in yours.”

Scully gave him a grateful look and began to unpack the white waxy cardboard boxes. She set the wonton soup in the middle and arranged the boxes as to preference. Why didn’t she seem to be as uncomfortable as he was?

Mulder cracked open their waters and set one on her side of the table and the other on his. “Smells better than the takeout we used to get.”

She handed Mulder a set of chopsticks, and he tapped them against hers. She gave him a small smile. “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” he replied. His eyebrows shot up, remembering that he had bought them the ingredients for a cocktail. "I have vodka, juice and soda."

"Even better," she grinned. 

Tapping their utensils together had become a ritual before they ate during the early days of their relationship. Mulder had often wondered if it was a way to gauge the status of things between them.

Scully procured two paper plates from the restaurant, and they began portioning out their dinner. He fixed them a small but strong cocktail in the paper cups meant for his morning coffee. Mulder paused in the middle of making her drink to watch as she moved another piece of the sweet and sour chicken from the box and a portion of the sticky meat fell on the edge of her plate. She picked it up with her fingers and popped the morsel into her mouth.

Mulder should have taken care of some personal needs other than cleanliness of his body while he showered. Watching Scully eat wasn’t supposed to be this erotic. He cleared his throat and put more mixed vegetables on his plate. Maybe he needed to go for a run in the morning.

It wasn’t long into dinner when Scully was trying to hide a yawn, and Mulder felt the day weighing down on him. The vodka warmed his stomach and he could feel his cheeks pinkening from the effects.

“I can put half of the leftovers in my mini fridge, if you can take the other half,” she offered.

Mulder looked into all the boxes. “There’s not much left.”

Scully combined the food from four boxes into two, creating a mixed plate for each of them while Mulder polished off the wonton soup. When she had finished, she showed him the contents of each box.

“How’s that?”

Leftover Chinese food was always good the next day and would make their per diem budget a little lighter. “Good for lunch tomorrow?”

“Or dinner,” she replied, and he nodded.

“Well,” he started as he put his food away. “I guess we’d better call it a night.”

Scully’s face started to show disappointment, but she masked it quickly. She nodded in agreement. “Okay…”

He watched her walk to her room with her food in hand and gave her a tight smile. She looked up at him in the expectant way she did when he felt like he wanted to kiss her.

“Good night,” he murmured with a sigh and decided he needed a long run in the morning to cool off.

Nothing about the way they were acting on this case told him anything significant or sure about what she wanted from him. He couldn’t be the one to continue to initiate something between them. It was starting to make him question how she really felt. Scully wasn’t compliant to things she didn’t want but… the reciprocation would be nice.

Maybe he was just being needy and demanding, but according to some self-reflection, that was his baseline.

*** ***

Mulder’s feet hit the pavement with a bit more difficulty than he anticipated, but he pushed himself to run five miles. He had spent the time on the streets of Shorewood contemplating the possibilities of how he could have handled their departure the night before. He could have asked her to watch a movie with him, but the only place to do that was on the bed together, which might be considered too intimate for their current limbo. He wanted her and he wanted her to want him back, but he wasn’t sure how to figure that out anymore.

He utilized the early morning quiet of the hotel to indulge in another long shower. He shaved and walked a block to the Starbucks to pick up a skim milk, sugar-free hazelnut latte for Scully and a regular drip coffee for himself. He put half and half cream, half a brown sugar packet and stoppers in their lids. Then he strolled back to the motel with a fat-free muffin for Scully, overpriced fresh fruit for them to share and a crunchy breakfast sandwich for himself.

He almost missed greasy diner food, but Scully was happy to remind him he wasn’t thirty-two anymore and his body wasn’t supposed to digest that garbage regularly. Half the food he liked these days was bad for his blood pressure, added to his cholesterol and could send him into symptoms of diabetes.

He opted for more salads, more vegetables and ‘single ingredient foods’ as Scully called them. She kept saying ‘if you can’t pronounce half the ingredients, it’s not good for you’ when he looked up the nutritional value on something he bought from a popular drive thru.

Besides losing his regular dietary enjoyments, 2015 had other amenities he was learning to appreciate. Cell phones with cameras, laptops with wireless internet and emojis. It was a brand new world.

Mulder held the drink tray with the paper bag balancing on the flimsy cardboard while he tried to maneuver inside his room with one hand. Surprisingly, he didn’t drop anything.

As he set the coffees and food down on the table where they had enjoyed dinner the night before, Scully opened the adjoining door to her room. Her blouse was still untucked, and she was in her stocking feet. She was only halfway through her morning routine, and it bothered Mulder he could still time out in his head how much longer she would need before they could leave for the day.

“I brought you a fat-free muffin and fruit,” Mulder informed her as he pointed to the bag and coffee tray.

“Oh great,” she sighed and reached a hand out. Mulder picked up her items, and she stepped back from the door to allow him to enter. “Did I hear you go out at six?”

“I went for a run,” he explained and handed her the extra hot latte. “Part of my mental health regime.”

“Really?” she questioned. She took a sip of her latte and touched her fingers to her lips. “Good.”

“The GP and psychiatrist I saw to get cleared for duty thought the endorphin's from cardiovascular exercise would help my moods,” he explained quietly as he took out the pastry from the bag. “Fat-free multigrain blueberry muffin? It cost the U.S. government four dollars and thirty-six cents.”

Scully took the presented food and sat down at the table next to the window. “If it cost any less, I might rebuke the offer.”

Mulder sat down across from her and took out his sandwich. He looked at it hesitantly before taking a large bite. Why anyone would want pesto, egg, tomato and spinach on a sandwich was beyond him.

Scully chewed thoughtfully on her muffin and took another sip. “I really feel like breakfast take-out food has taken a downturn since the 90s.”

“Scully, are you flirting with me?” he asked with a cheek full of food and, Scully laughed. “No, seriously.”

“I am serious,” she stated. “I don’t remember it all being that bad for us. Carbs weren’t the enemy in the 90s. We were allowed to eat bread in moderation and not feel bad about it. Last night's dinner was way better than this mass-produced muffin.”

Mulder swallowed the bite he had been working on and decided pesto wasn’t terrible. He finished it off with a sip of his own coffee.

“When did you ever not feel bad about it?” he asked with a smile.

Scully picked up a bottle of water she had obviously purchased that morning and took a long drink. “I think... 1995.”

Mulder nodded. “Yeah, I remember more salads being ordered in 1996 but not as many salads as 2000.”

“I think there was a salad progression over the four years when the frequency and amount of diner food became worse,” Scully mused. “Are we really discussing the amount of salad I used to eat?”

Mulder smiled. “We didn’t even get into the bee pollen debacle of 1999.”

“Mulder...” Scully warned. “I already apologized for that.”

They both knew what he was referring to. After three weeks of eating yogurt with bee pollen and claiming it was a super food that would help her lose a stubborn five pounds that Mulder had no idea where it would come from, Scully snapped. She actually yelled at him when he showed up at her apartment with take-out food, a shredded file he stole from Spender’s office and a six-pack of beer. It was an uncharacteristic outburst that would only happen when she was hungry and tired.

She practically cried out that the only reason she couldn’t ever lose weight was that he was constantly feeding her greasy food, and she wasn’t a man who could just walk around for five minutes and shed any unwanted weight. Mulder pointed out, rather abruptly, that she wouldn’t be acting like this if she ate real food again. She ate two slices of pizza and promised not to eat just yogurt for lunch anymore.

“I thought you might want to talk about the case,” she said before taking another bite.

“Well, the poltergeists seem to be unrelated by location. None of them have anything in common that I can tell from looking at old maps of the city and the new one I procured yesterday. I’ve got research of the area being compiled by the overeager Officer Cole from the local police department,” he reiterated as she reattached the lid onto the bottle of water and began nursing her latte. “I don’t think that anything will turn up from it, but he’s happy for the practice anyway. The historian, Frank Rankin, is ready to meet with us in the next hour. If you want to discuss the questions we have for him, I can go get my notebook.”

Scully raised an eyebrow with her latte at her lips. “You’re being weird.”

“I think they used to call me Spooky,” he jested, and they shared a quiet laugh.

It was nice to hear her laugh in a moment of quiet self-deprecation that she could relax enough to enjoy a joke.

“Go get your notebook,” she suggested, nodding towards the door.

Mulder shook his head and got up from the table. He crossed her room and went through the adjoining doors to his bedside table. When he returned, she was tucking in her shirt and looking in the mirror over the desk.

The sun was shining through the window, and he felt desire surge through him as he had all those times before he ever had her.

The icy blue eyes that always saw right through him were looking at him as though the last five years didn’t happen. He had hoped for the last year that he could take his actions back, and she could love him again like he wasn’t the man who had broken her heart by disregarding her. He wanted her to see him as the man who saved her from an arctic hell and risked his career trying to find her because, to her, those were different people.

Anger used to take over his rejection because he thought she was supposed to know when she accepted the ring, she had to love both those versions of him.

He loved every horrible thing about her. No one knew his side of it, like it was so easy to live with a saint. He told her that. More like shouted it once before. He remembered that painfully well. Words came spewing out of his mouth in a moment of weakness while he yelled that she was too good. He was just trying to live up to her expectations and failing miserably. Admittedly, it was not his best moment.

If there was ever a reason for her to look at him with pain in her eyes, it was because how he had blamed her for things falling apart. He knew that he made it seem like their undoing was because she gave up on him during possibly the worst fight they had ever had.

The last twenty-four hours being on this case, the banter and familiarity of working on the X-Files again had made them a little more giddy than he anticipated.

Mulder could tell that the look in her eyes was not one of regret for distance between them. They knew each other well enough to know the looks that precipitated the desire of each other’s naked bodies.

Initiating between them began with grabbing her arms and kissing her firmly on the mouth. On instinct and habit, she opened hers to him to deepen it. Strong arms wrapped around her and down to her backside. There was nothing slow about these moments. Nothing tender and soft when it first happened. It was always rough, frenzied and raw.

To his surprise, she would respond with a moan louder than usual or whimper in desire as he grabbed at her flesh. She cried out as his fingers pinched at her skin while she clawed at his. That alone was addictive.

After she left, Scully told him the first time they were together, as he was touching her tenderly, that she needed him to be tougher on her. She admitted she had been feeling so numb since her departure that when she came home to him, she confessed she would rather feel on fire and bruised because at least it was something.

She admitted that she felt awakened for the first time in months. His jaw dropped when he opened the email that confessed how their time together had made her feel alive and how much it hurt her when they were apart. Mulder understood that a bit. The pain was better than the numbness he had been experiencing, because at least it was a feeling. If going home cut open the wound that she wouldn’t let heal, she was doing more than surviving their separation.

If they bled, it meant their hearts were beating.

Maybe continuing to meet up as though they could hide behind their physical encounters wasn’t helpful for either of them to move on. He couldn’t tell her to stop coming back as much as he couldn’t stop himself from kissing her, wanting her, or continuing this long charade of a break up that wasn’t really a break up. The space between whatever the hell they were and a break up was torture, but it was better than having her less. Neither one of them had been able to sever contact completely. They kept tying themselves to this ambiguity, only to be beaten down by the anger and hurt of coming back together again.

The second time always allowed for tenderness and thoughtful words. They whispered wishes of things to be different and the admission of apologies. He wouldn’t apologize for wanting her or for not sticking to the boundaries of their professional partnership. He would just apologize as a blanket statement for all the things that went wrong and the tethers he let fray out of control. She would apologize for leaving or not fighting hard enough. It was strange to call her a quitter when she usually fought for more than she gave up on. Perhaps being worn down by a fruitless fight did that to a woman.

Mulder did his best to hold back. His eyes were filled with doubt, but his body was tense with the anticipation she might want him too.

He stepped towards her with his notebook in hand, and she tilted her chin up to look him in the eye with an eyebrow arched. Her cheeks were pink, and he wondered if she was thinking about what he hoped she was.

She gave him a small smile and tossed the notebook aside. It landed on the floor with a flap. With that small gesture, he knew what she wanted too.

He pulled the shirt from her pants as she tugged on the knot of his tie. She was adept at pulling them free with one hand while the other worked on the buttons of his shirt. Mulder broke the kiss for a moment to undo the buttons of his cuffs, and Scully did the same on her button-down.

She watched him as she undressed, removing the periwinkle blue garment and laying it on the desk next to his jacket. Her bra was soon added to the pile. They were in their underwear within a minute, their mouths tasting one another as he walked her back towards the bed. If she was going to call things off for another two weeks to a month, he would make this count for all it could.

He pushed her back onto the bed and knelt down on the beige Berber carpet that seemed to be in every motel room. His fingers hooked into the waistband of her pink cotton panties, and she lifted her hips to allow him to slide them down her legs. It had been two weeks too long between tasting her, and he told her so as he pulled her towards the edge of the bed.

Kisses and bites travelled up her thighs as she clutched the faded sheets underneath her. The sheets smelled of her and if he was lucky, the maid wouldn’t change them on her bed for the duration of their stay. Knowing Scully, she would make the bed so that the maid wouldn’t see any remnants of their activities.

He used his thumbs to part her, and his tongue lapped at her swollen folds. She tasted like honey and cinnamon and all the earthy sweetness that made a woman’s essence. She tightened her grip into the bedding as he used his tongue to massage the nerves at her core.

“Oh god,” she moaned as slid a finger inside of her. “Oh fuck, Mulder.”

He slipped a second finger inside and began to pump them as his tongue continued to circulate her clit. He knew her well enough that these sensations would be too overwhelming. As she tried to move away, he pushed on her hip to still her.

“Too much,” she cried out as she pushed on his hand.

“I thought you liked too much,” he said, kissing her thigh.

Her fingers intertwined with the ones on her hip, and she nodded slowly. “I do.”

“Okay then shut up and stay still,” he scolded gently.

Scully laid her head back down on the bed to allow the sensations to wash over her. Mulder began pumping his fingers in and out of her again and paused to swipe his tongue from side to side across the swollen nerves under her clitoris. He could only hope that his efforts resulted in an orgasm that would leave her wanting more.

He wanted to tantalize her centre and to push them through her body in waves of undulated frisson. A rush of her arousal reached his tongue, and he could tell she was close. By flattening his tongue and moving his head to the side, he became relentless with his hands and mouth. She was moving her pelvis in small circular motions, and he could tell she was close.

Scully let out an unladylike and very uncharacteristic squeal as her orgasm suddenly fired through her. Two weeks of tension and stress moved through her body as she shook on the bed.

Mulder kissed the skin above her lips near the base of the thatch of trimmed hair. “Scully, I can’t express enough how much I appreciate your grooming.”

“Mulder don’t be crude,” she chuffed as she pushed her body up the mattress. “Now get up here and fuck me.”

Mulder laughed and stood up to shed his boxer briefs. “Working blue at seven a.m. Scully?”

“I don’t believe I was trying to be subtle or coy,” she whispered with a raised eyebrow as he climbed up on the bed.

“Then get on your knees,” he ordered.

Scully rolled over on the bed and pulled her knees up under her to extend her backside into the air. She looked over her shoulder as she straightened her arms. “Like this?”

Mulder inserted one finger into her tight walls before he rubbed the head of his swollen cock against her. “Yeah Scully, just like that.”

He pushed into her slightly as her body slowly stretched to accommodate him. She hissed through her teeth at the sharp tinge of pain that accompanied the invasion of his thickness.

”Stop?” he asked as he was halfway inside.

Scully shook her head. “No… don’t.”

Mulder kissed her lips once before he pulled back and pushed himself all the way back in. As he rocked against her, the head of his cock pushed against her cervix, and she cried out.

“Like that?” he asked as he pulled out and thrust into her again. He repeated the motion. “Scully?”

“Yes!” she cried out. Her arms collapsed underneath her, and she clutched at the sheets.

There wouldn’t be tenderness between them that morning. There would be carnal fucking, and he realized he was okay with that. Only fifteen years ago, he did this to her in small towns before their work days began. Things were different for them now. Back then, there weren’t any hurt feelings between them, nor was the fact that they had different addresses a cause of pain to either of them.

Mulder gripped her hips harder, and his fingers pinched at the creamy flesh. If she stayed at that angle, it just might be enough, and he kept his rhythm steady. The tingling in his balls meant his orgasm was approaching, and he wouldn’t stop fucking her until he made her come again.

“Scully you have to help me out here,” he grunted.

“I’m close,” she said.

“So am I.”

She reached her right hand to the bundle of nerves at her centre and began to work them in a quick motion as Mulder moaned and grunted behind her. After all this time, he still knew what would push her over the edge. Their own pleasure sounds were a source of excitement. He wanted to hear her moan at her own touch as much as she liked to watch him stroke himself.

He looked down to the luscious skin of her ass and watched as he pumped in and out of her, massaging the cheeks of her ass with his thumbs. His own release was approaching. He wanted them to finish together and for her milk everything out of him.

He pulled out of her abruptly and grabbed her ass to flip her over onto her back. He pushed into her and pulled her right leg up with his left arm, hooking her knee over his forearm.

Come on,” he grunted.

Scully dug her nails into the muscles of his upper arms and cried out as he pumped fiercely in and out of her. “Oh! Oh God!”

“Is this what you expected when we came here?” he asked.

Scully panted and turned her head away from Mulder before looking back up at him. “No.”

Liar,” he grunted as he continued to thrust in and out of her. “Tell me to stop then.”

“Don’t,” she gasped. “Don’t stop.”

“I won’t,” he said and pushed into her one final time as her walls clenched down around him. “Oh god, I can feel you.”

Yes,” she gasped as her body went taught under his.

Muscles contracted around him. Endorphin's released while an internal detonation of neurons fired as she came. It looked like exquisite agony, and it was enough to send him over the edge.

If Mulder had the whole day, he would devote it to making her feel that way again and again. If he could make her feel that way enough times, maybe she might forgive all the other ways in which he made her feel like he didn’t try hard enough, put enough passion into them and fight for their cause.

Scully held on to him as he panted above her, and he released the leg he had hooked over his arm. He kissed along her collar bone and buried his face in the crook of her neck.

“I miss you,” she whispered.

“Then stop leaving me,” he said as he pulled out of her.

He ignored the look on her face as he started to clean himself off with a tissue from the box on the nightstand. His cell phone trilled, and he grabbed it off the night stand.

“Mulder,” he answered. The detective at the precinct was calling for their ETA to the latest crime scene. He looked over at Scully as she walked into the bathroom. “We’re on our way.”

He grabbed his clothing and walked back to his room to get redressed. It would be a long day.

*** ***

Pearce and Cole had done a complete set up of proper surveillance equipment in Alice Grey’s antique shop to try to catch any more paranormal activity and the other crime scenes. When Cole said it, he put air quotes around paranormal, and Mulder felt his jaw clench. They were almost late for their appointment with Rankin after he and Cole disagreed for twenty minutes over the heat sensing camera that would not track a ghost since ghosts are not made of real matter.

They made it to Bryant and Stratton College with a few minutes to spare. The sun was shining down on them as they stood outside the main campus building waiting for the local historian, Frank Rankin, to arrive. Mulder was sipping on a coffee while Scully used her phone to look up something and take notes into a small notebook.

They were not entirely speaking to one another, but they had barely said more than three words per phrase to each other. He pulled at his tie and took another sip of coffee while wishing it was a chilled bottle of water instead.

He didn’t know why he had to say such a shit thing to her after she confessed how much she had missed him, but he did. Mulder was excellent at throwing a wrench into things when they started to get better.

“What time was Rankin supposed to be here?” Scully asked as she looked up from her notepad.

It was the longest sentence she had uttered since his quip about leaving him.

“Uh, he said nine-thirty,” Mulder checked his watch. “Which was twenty minutes ago.”

Scully stood up and took out her phone from her jacket pocket. “What’s his number?”

“Hello!” a voice called to them from the doorway of the college. “Hello!”

Mulder looked over Scully’s head to see a slightly dishevelled man in his mid-fifties waving at them as he approached.

“Frank Rankin?” Mulder called with his hand extended to shake his.

The man couldn’t have been older than Mulder, but his hair had more salt than pepper to it than his own. He was about the same height with a similar build to his own, but Rankin dressed like a college professor. He had a brown tweed jacket, a rumpled white dress shirt and dark grey chinos as his choice for attire with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder.

Rankin held up a fist and bumped it against Mulder’s hand. “Germ season.”

He was about to give Scully a look that said a lot about that interaction, but she was smiling as she held out her fist to him.

“I’m Special Agent Dana Scully, and this is my partner Fox Mulder,” she introduced. “We had some questions about the recent phenomenon that we were told you were able to help us with.”

Rankin shrugged as he moved the papers and books from one hand to the other. “I'm happy to be involved. Poltergeists such as the ones Detective Pearce told me about are rare.”

“Have you seen the footage?” Mulder asked as they followed Rankin into the university.

Scully and Mulder flanked Rankin on either side as they moved through the busy hallways of the college.

“I have,” Rankin confirmed. “Pearce showed me a small clip after the first attack or murder... or instance? I can't decide which one is best to say. I have to say that in the years that Shorewood has been its own township, no one has ever reported any kind of phenomenon.”

“I suppose being the town historian, you would be the person to confirm or deny such events,” Mulder noted as they approached the stairs.

“My office is upstairs,” he invited. “If you may, I do have a theory about what’s going on.”

Mulder gestured he would follow. Rankin began walking up the stairs first, Scully next and he last. He tried to do his best to keep his eyes on anything but her backside, but his best fell short and he had to remind himself to look away before they reached the top.

“We need to go to the end of this corridor,” Rankin informed them as he turned left at the top of the stairs.

“Should we address you as Doctor Rankin or Professor?” Scully asked as she took out her notebook again.

“Doctor is fine,” he said nonchalantly, and Mulder fought the urge to roll his eyes.

No doctor he ever met would downplay their degrees. Scully was guilty of it herself. He could picture her now saying, ‘I’m a medical doctor,’ if Rankin asked about her own credentials.

“So, Doctor,” Mulder drew out the second word longer than expected. “What do you think is happening in Shorewood?”

Rankin opened his office door, and Mulder was disappointed to see that it was tidy and smelled like lemon pledge.

For whatever reason, Mulder was feeling competitive with Rankin, and he couldn’t stop himself from trying to find something that made him less of a threat. It wasn’t like Scully whispered ‘woo boy’ when he approached, but she was smiling at Rankin like she used to smile at other men they worked with that were charming and attractive.

Mulder hated it.

“Have a seat,” he invited and moved a tote bag off one of the chairs Scully was approaching. “Sorry about the mess.”

Now Mulder really wanted to roll his eyes.

“Dr. Rankin?” Mulder prompted again as they sat down.

“Ah yes. Well as the local historian and a fan of ghost stories, I'm happy to help in any way I can. Poltergeists are largely disputed and rarely proven to be more than hoaxes,” Rankin began. “Unfortunately, after watching some of the footage with the local P.D., I feel like we might be looking at a spirit that is angry, but it’s not a poltergeist in the traditional sense.”

Mulder smiled with relief as Scully sighed. “Why do you say that?”

“This land was first discovered as a hunting ground for the Sioux and Algonquin Indians,” Rankin explained with a seriousness Mulder reserved for alien bounty hunters and stilettos. “By 1832, the territory that explorers and trappers had been using was purchased by the United States Government, not that it was their land to purchase. Regardless, the city of Shorewood was once a food and water source for the indigenous people of this land.”

“Why now?” Mulder proposed.

“We are nearing a hundred years to the city’s incorporation,” Rankin theorized. "If I was going to be getting revenge, I might do it when a celebration was approaching."

“Poltergeists have never been reported in Native American folklore,” Scully pointed out. “If you disregard the eighteenth-century poet about spirits of vanquished Native Americans hunting, playing and feasting, the noisy and disruptive ghosts haunting Shorewood don’t fall into the gentle beliefs of the Native American tribes that once inhabited this land.”

Mulder gave Rankin a smug smile, even though Rankin’s theory was better than no theory.

Rankin ran a hand through his hair and shook his head as though that was the most brilliant thing he had ever heard. “You got me there.”

“I don’t believe that the spirits of displaced Native Americans would murder Alice Grey by exploding items in her antique shop,” Scully continued evenly. “The first hole in your theory: she didn’t sell any authentic Native American or Native American inspired pieces. If you do have any theories about the pieces she had in there-”

“Well, some of the items did come from early nineteenth-century Germany,” Rankin interrupted with a smile playing on his lips. “They’re not entirely a peaceful people.”

“I don’t know whether or not I should protest that theory,” Mulder admitted.

Scully arched an eyebrow at him and shifted in her chair slightly. “I would guess that what we saw yesterday would be more likely to come from a supposed ghost in an armoire than an angry Native American hunter that is suddenly aware of the town’s centennial. If you were to believe in ghosts or spectres, you'd know their concept of time is the same as us mortal beings.”

Rankin raised his hands as if he was being held up. “I get it. Your partner certainly has his work cut out for him if he has a theory that doesn’t align with yours, doesn’t he?”

Mulder grinned. “I don’t mind it. I find these exchanges stimulating.”

“My partner and I have mapped out the sites of the poltergeists,” Scully continued as though she hadn’t been the topic of discussion. ”I feel that the pieces in Alice Grey’s shop might be connected if we can place other antiques at the scene of each crime. We haven't discovered anything yet but I would sooner investigate the places we have already been to than to blame it on a Native American ghost.”

Mulder’s eyebrows shot up. “That might not be a bad theory, Scully.”

She let out a little laugh. “You’re not serious.”

“If we can’t make the connection, then we could start from scratch,” he offered. “At least it’s a start.”

Rankin held out a small report. “I took the liberty of typing up a historical report on each of the sites. I can email you each a copy. I printed this off for Pearce to read through when she’s… uh… with the baby.”

Mulder reached out and took the pages from him. “I appreciate this.”

Scully stood up, and Mulder followed her cue. Rankin stood up also as he held out his hand to shake hers. So much for germ season. “We’ll be in touch.”

Rankin bobbed her hand two or three more pumps of a handshake than Mulder would have liked, but her briskness of which she declared she wanted to leave gave him some assurance she wasn’t looking at him like she was hot for teacher.

As they walked across the campus to their vehicle, Scully scoffed as she flipped through the report.

“Not a fan of his theory?” Mulder guessed.

Scully shook her head. He pulled the car fob out of his pocket and unlocked the doors.

“I suppose that makes me feel a little better,” he admitted.

As they climbed into the car, Mulder started the ignition and cranked the air conditioning. Scully maneuvered one of the vents to blow on her face, and she sighed as the cool air began to fill the car.

“What do you have an issue with?” she queried as she unbuttoned her jacket. He watched as she arched her back to remove the garment and fold it on her lap. “Mulder?”

“He was like the handsome, tidy and intellectual professor type that gets women flustered,” he muttered as he buckled his seatbelt. He looked up as she was mid-buckle with her mouth agape and her eyebrow arched. “Right?”

She laughed and fastened the tongue into the latch. “No… well, not me anyway.”

“Scully, I know who you dated in the past,” he argued as though that was explanation enough.

“I had sex with you three hours ago,” she countered. “I might be a number of things in your mind, but I’m not the kind of woman who looks at another man when she’s just slept with someone else.”

Mulder’s face grew hot. “That’s... not what I was implying.”

She crossed her arms and folded them under her chest as she leaned back in her seat. “What did you mean?”

“That…” he stammered. “That you would appreciate a man that was well put together and didn’t have a desk full of sunflower seed shells or pencils in the ceiling.”

“There was a half-eaten sandwich on his window sill and a mug of cold coffee with milk curdling in it on the table near the door,” she replied flatly.

“You’re really fucking observant,” he commented about her office observations, and she huffed a laugh.

“You don’t do those kinds of things anymore,” she continued quietly. “You know to at least put it in a fridge or rinse out the cup. You’ve come a long way from the lazy bachelor I first fell in love with.”

Mulder laughed nervously as he put the car into drive. “Okay… points for Fox Mulder.”

She sighed. “Thanks for the vote of confidence though.”

Mulder thought about apologizing, but his patience had been wearing thin. She could come back or stop sleeping with him but they couldn’t have it both ways.

He cleared his throat and did a shoulder check before pulling out onto the road. “Anytime.”

A silence befell the car that would only continue until they reached their first destination. Mulder swallowed heavily and glanced over to Scully as she stared out the window with her knees pointing towards the door. It was going to be a really, really long day.

 

Chapter Text

Mulder loosened the tie he had donned nineteen hours ago and tossed the ash grey suit jacket on the second bed of his motel room. To say it had been a long day was an understatement. He undid the cuffs of his starch white shirt that now smelled of his sweat and greasy food of the diner they just left. He groaned as he pulled the material from his trousers.

If he burned the suit in the parking lot of the Super 8 Motel they were staying at, he might be able to claim a T7401 for reimbursement of a ‘personal item ruined while on assignment.’ Scully would suggest taking it to the local cleaners since he only brought one other option, and they weren’t any closer to solving their poltergeist.

After they met with Rankin, they knew they needed to revisit each crime scene and repeat their steps from their first day in Shorewood. While what killed the victims wasn’t from The Red Door, Mulder found items previously sold by Alice Grey at each crime scene. That detail was conveniently left out during their first set of interviews. These items included an antique shelving unit at the city market for produce display, three books in the archives at the library printed in 1850 Germany and a Holy Bible printed in 1806 at the church.

Mulder was annoyed that they didn’t have this information the first day. It didn’t bring them closer to solving their problems, but it was another tick in the box that confirmed their poltergeist theory. He should clarify that it was his theory, but Scully was allowing her name to be on it for the time being since she could find no motives for any of the victims.

The Red Door had now become the key to their investigation, and tomorrow they would do a proper inventory on every item still inside the store.

They ended up at Ma Fischer’s Diner to track down the buyer of the last item that had been donated to Saint Robert’s Roman Catholic Church. What they found by waiting for Jacob Nott, with no known priors, was that nothing made any sense to tie the poltergeists to why Alice Grey died.

Nott was an avid book collector that worked nights and had few friends. He had an incident at The Red Door two weeks prior to Alice Grey’s death where the police had to remove him from the store by force. After watching the sixty-four-year-old man walk slowly into the diner, order a chamomile tea and dry toast to consume after an eight-hour shift stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, Mulder felt more defeated than before. Scully called it when he paid his bill, shook as he handed the waitress a ten dollar bill and took his cab home.

“Don’t you want to interview him and find out what he knows about The Red Door?” Mulder asked as they approached the car.

Scully shook her head. “I’ll talk to him after we’ve all had some sleep and a shower.”

Mulder hadn’t thought too much about the comment until he closed the door to his room and suddenly got a waft of his own scent.

“We have zero leads and my suit smells like onion rings,” Mulder muttered to himself as he hung up the garment in his closet. “Like sad onion rings.”

The Red Door surveillance had turned out to be less lucrative than they anticipated. Cole sent numerous text messages to Mulder to report ‘nothing to report.’ The day ended with sore feet for Scully and a persistent headache for Mulder. More than once, Mulder utilized Scully’s stash of Motrin in her purse, and they spent twenty minutes on the side of the road between crime scenes in total silence.

No matter how exciting it was to be back in the field with one another, dealing with the public during these cases exhausted them both. 

He looked over to the adjoining door to Scully’s room and noted that both doors were still slightly ajar. He still had a mickey of vodka in his mini fridge and two juices left over from the vending machine.

He heard the shower turn on in her bathroom and decided that if his suit smelled like onion rings, he probably smelled worse.

Their conversation after meeting Rankin was tense, and he wanted to sort through what they were dealing with. Deciding that he shouldn’t confront Scully when he was smelling like the worst version of himself, he turned on his own shower. The sex he had with her was still lingering on his skin, but her lack of interest in him outside of such activities was burned into his heart.

As he rubbed the soap across his torso, the sharp beads of water sprayed his face, and he ran through the events of that morning. He had brought her coffee to her room, they discussed their upcoming questions for their meeting with Frank Rankin, the detective in Sherwood who called them out there, and she laughed at his joke.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t been in a closed room with her since she left, and they had chosen on a few occasions to use one another that way. Sleeping together never made anything better. It only soothed their pain in the moment of using one another to balm a wound that wouldn’t heal.

He didn’t have much of an excuse for his actions. He had a good night’s rest the day before, but his hormones took over. Their conversations and ease around each other felt more like it did before she left. All he could think about was how beautiful she looked with the sun shining through the window. She had been allowing him into her personal space, and she smelled so damn good. He didn’t go in there intending to do what he did, but there it was.

Their penance for their misdeeds and sins was being forced to work alongside one another for the next nineteen hours. The scent of their sex was the underlay to their deodorant and body wash next to the lingering feelings of what they had done.

If he had a list of the most uncomfortable days with Scully, today would rank in the top ten. It wouldn’t make it into the top five. He had those specifically sectioned off for awkward sexual moments before they were involved and once when she walked in on him using the bathroom in her apartment. He didn’t know what the hell was going on with them, and the anxiety of mounting insecurities was far too distracting.

His body wanted hers just as much as he did when they first found themselves finally in bed. His heart and mind never would or could need anyone else. What else were they waiting on?

Oh right. She wanted his obsession to subside again. For him to be someone else or for him to be less of the version of himself that somehow convinced Dana Scully to fall in love with him.

It just felt unfair because she knew what he was like, yet didn’t want that version of him to be the one she lived with. Mulder mused that maybe it was the version of himself that lost sight of everything and everyone around him that was so unattractive. In a moment of desperation, Scully asked him to go speak to someone about how he was feeling, but Mulder abhorred the idea of needing that help when he had such a poor track record. In 2013, his stubbornness to get help while losing sight completely of reality cost him everything. It cost him Scully.

Mulder had zero interest in seeing a psychiatrist after what he went through with his own history of hypnosis. Admitting his own issues to someone with a degree similar to his was the last thing he wanted to do. The phrase physician heal thyself extended to trained psychologists and profilers who could recognize their own dangerous behaviour and justify them as needing to work through past trauma. The only reason he recently spoke with a GP that wasn’t Scully was for his physical. After that, he went to a psychiatrist for a mental health check to get cleared for duty.

Luckily, he passed and showed Scully his “fit for duty” note when they arrived back in the basement.

He also had her “get your head out of your ass” prescription in his pocket that she wrote to him a few years ago. When she picked up the worn paper, she smiled briefly and told him if he needed a refill, her office hours were flexible.

Moments like those in the quiet of their basement office or that morning as they discussed the case, had renewed faith in the possibility that she could move past all the bad things that had happened.

Maybe it was more than just going to therapy but proving he was able to function past the demons that destroyed them that would win her back. He had yet to feel himself fly off the handle since coming back to the FBI. Mulder seemed to function better when he had a badge and gun versus being stuck inside a small house for years on end. Imagine that.

Upon deciding he would stick his neck out for them again, he put on sweat pants and retrieved Sprite and ice from down the hall.

Mulder knocked on Scully’s door and found her sitting on her bed with her glasses on and going over autopsy notes. He appreciated seeing her like this. They were mid-case and her brain was fully invested in solving the mystery. She had her legs crossed, a laptop in front of her and her hair in a messy bun. For the last twenty-five years, he had memories of watching her work that way and every time, he thought it was sexy as hell.

“Hey,” he greeted as he held up two tumblers. Her drink was cranberry while his was orange mixed with a concoction of ice, a little Sprite and more than a splash of vodka.

“Yes please,” she smiled and held out her hand for her glass. She took a long sip and widened her eyes at him. “Oh, that’s good.”

“I ordered a pizza,” he said, sitting down near her photos and two inches to the left of where she shouted his name twenty hours previous. Twice.

“Extra mushrooms?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You would think that nearly being consumed by a giant fungus that I would find eating them abhorred, but I can’t get enough,” he announced, and she chuffed out a laugh. Mulder nodded towards her almost empty glass. “How’s your drink, Scully?”

“Surprisingly empty,” she replied innocently.

One-drink Scully made innocent yet fun jokes. Three-drink Scully was more interested in discussing her feelings. He just didn’t want her to get to four-drink Scully. Not yet. That Scully liked to cuss a bit more, lowered her inhibitions and usually woke up a little annoyed he let her drink that much, but never complained regarding the extra curricular activities they partook in the night before.

Mulder got off the bed and took their glasses to refill. When he returned, she had packed up her notes to an organized pile on the dresser. In her hands was a cardigan that was the wrong size if it belonged to her.

“Isn’t that mine?” he asked as he pointed at the grey cable knit sweater.

It looked identical to the one she often ‘borrowed’ from his side of the closet on cool nights at their once shared home. He liked it on her better, but he didn’t realize it had made its way over from the house he still inhabited to her fancy D.C. apartment.

Scully straightened her back as she pulled it up her shoulders and tugged on the hem of the knitted material. “Can’t we share custody, Mulder?”

He handed Scully her drink with a shake of his head. “You want that old sweater, but you won’t come to see the fish?”

“They’re still a little mad at me for losing a molly,” she replied and took a sip of her drink. Scully looked around the room and sighed. “I don’t think I should have to tell you this, Mulder, but FBI rules on fraternization between agents of different genders still frowns upon this scenario.”

“We should probably file an incident form for this morning,” he pointed out, and her cheeks flushed. He couldn’t tell if it was from embarrassment or arousal of the memory. He sighed and rubbed his free hand across his face. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about what happened or don’t worry about the incident report?” she asked him, and he rolled his eyes. “I don’t mind what happened, Mulder. I just don’t think it should keep happening while we’re working.”

Being that this was their first case, the sex had been nothing but a pleasurable distraction for him. She said ‘keep happening’ because that wasn’t the first time they had been together since she left.

The first time it happened was because she initiated it and as unfair and cruel as it was to lay with her, he couldn’t say no. He couldn’t tell himself or her that it should be all or nothing. He wanted her, but he also wanted her to come home.

“Well I’ll remember that next time you show up feeling nostalgic,” he said in a snarky tone he usually reserved for discussing their vows and finished off his drink.

”Hey,” she started gently as she put a hand on his forearm. He tried to pull away, but her grip moved to his hand. “I’m sorry.”

It had been too long of a day. His patience had worn thin with everything including their relationship and not knowing where they stood. He should have left her room then, but instead he snapped.

“For what? For letting me fuck you this morning or not wanting to come home to me?” he jibed at her as he set his empty tumbler down. "Wait, you want me, you just don't want all the baggage that comes with it."

“Mulder, I can’t do all of this again,” she groaned as she set her glass next to his. “I’m sorry I haven’t given you an answer about coming home. I told you I need more time.”

He ran his hands over his face with a groan. Her lack of desire to come home should have told him that if she didn’t love him enough to come back completely, she didn’t love him period. Mulder was too stubborn to give up on her.

A woman who whispered ‘I love you’ while she was coming down from an orgasm you gave her didn’t ‘almost’ love you, he thought bitterly. In his mind, what they shared together physically had to equate to more emotionally.

“We don’t have more time,” he reminded her impatiently. “We don’t have seven years to wait and let it all fester, Scully. We just don’t have that anymore. Things are happening, and we both know what’s coming. You know I’m right about this…. You know the truth.”

“Maybe...” she started anxiously.

“Love isn’t a maybe feeling,” he interrupted. “You’re in it or you’re not. You love me or you don’t.”

“Of course I love you, Mulder!” she cried and took a steadying breath as she tried to calm herself. She wiped the back of her thumb across her nose and shook her head again. “Of course I do…”

“Then what is it?” he asked walking towards her and took her hands in his.

“I can’t keep coming second to this fight anymore,” she stated sadly. “You put your passions into everything you see around you and for a while, I was that focus. I don't need to be the only thing you care about, Mulder. I just need to feel like I matter at all...”

“What changed with my freedom from the FBI’s Most Wanted list was I had the flexibility to keep looking for answers,” he reminded her. “I put my Armani suit pants on one leg at a time. I still can’t figure out how to use the copier outside in the hallway. I don’t like green tea. I have a strong addiction to sunflower seeds. Scully, I am still me.”

“You’re not,” she disagreed as she pulled her arms from his grasp. She folded her arms under her breasts and shivered slightly. “The man I fell in love with, the man I ran away with and the man I had to watch fall into a deep pit of paranoia are inside you, but they are not the same person. You became a different person as you moved into a dark place, and it had started long before I left.”

“Maybe you’re the one who’s changed,” he muttered.

Scully sighed. “Maybe I have.”

“You used to be the light in that darkness,” he said and sat down heavily on the bed. "You seemed to understand what I needed... and made it better."

That was true. She always made everything better. She brought the light that fought the darkness that followed them for the last twenty years. For Mulder, it started long before that, but he found a break in the dark skies with her. It killed him to know he pushed her away. It killed him to know that she wasn’t there when he needed her because of his actions.

"I said I would come back for these cases," she began as he sat down on the bed next to him. “I just don’t know if I can leave the hospital completely. If you think you can prove what you’ve claimed, I can stay on as long as you need me.”

“What about us?” he asked tentatively.

Scully took his hand in hers, and he watched as she interlaced their fingers. “Maybe there’s hope.”

"I need more than just hope, Scully," he replied. "I need you to let me in and stop pushing me away."

"I'm trying," she started, and he held up his free hand. "I am."

"I need you to actually do it," he pushed. "I need you to figure out your heart. Commit to us again."

He was putting himself and his heart on the line here, possibly making their working relationship very uncomfortable, but at this point, he didn't care. He just wanted her to stop leaving, and he told her that.

"I could try," she whispered. "If you can."

"I can, Scully. I will. I'll be better."

The empty vows they made in that room were just that. He had doubts about her commitment just as much as he doubted his own ability to walk the fine line that she needed him to so she could let herself love him again. It was terrible to know someone so completely to the point that he could tell that they were both lying.

Their pizza arrived before he could continue to wax poetic in his mind about how they were going to fail each other again. They finished their late dinner and another two drinks apiece. Mulder rinsed their cups out in his bathroom sink. Scully stood in the doorway of their adjoining rooms and smiled up at him.

Mulder put his right hand on her shoulder and moved it up into her hair to toy with the falling tendrils of her messy bun. Her eyes broke contact to glance down to her lips, and she moistened the bottom one before pulling it between her teeth.

If they ever played poker, the game would be evenly matched. She knew every tell of his as he knew hers. That small action of licking her lower lip and then pulling it between her teeth meant only one thing. She wanted to be kissed, and he would do anything to oblige. Would it make it worse? Could they misstep again and go to work in the morning after with new memories of ways he could make her yell out his name while calling to God?

“Fuck it,” he muttered and pulled her towards him.

Her mouth was soft and cold from the ice in her glass. She tasted like her drink of cranberries and Sprite. Her fingers dug into the material of his shirt as he pushed her body against the doorway. She whimpered into his mouth as he pressed his desire into her belly.

Whatever was about to happen, it was escalating quickly.

They moved towards her bed without thinking or communicating what they needed. Mulder pulled on the material of the sweater she donned earlier.

“Tell me you want me,” he whispered as he knelt down to press his lips against the skin on her belly.

Her fingers thread through his hair as her body swayed. “I want you.”

He peeled the leggings down her thighs and helped her step out of them. As he straightened himself on his knees, Scully shed her T-shirt. She was in nothing but her pale pink panties and thick-framed glasses. If there was a fantasy he could have made up to be fulfilled on his birthday, this would in the top five.

“You’re overdressed,” she noted with a smirk and an arched eyebrow.

Mulder pulled his shirt off to land on top of her clothing and stood up to remove his sweatpants. Scully sat on the bed with her arms behind her as she had the night before when she looked at the map of Shorewood. This time, she was saving her admiring smile for him as he stripped down.

When his boxers were gone, Scully moved herself to the middle of the bed and wiggled her panties off. He could see her desire at the apex of her thighs and stroked his hardened flesh.

“God, you’re beautiful,” he whispered.

Scully lowered her eyes as she bit her lip. Her cheeks were flushed, and she shook her head. “You make me feel beautiful, Mulder.”

He climbed onto the bed and over her, his palms pressing into the mattress on either side of her shoulders. “You should feel beautiful every day, Scully. I should tell you every day…”

Her legs wrapped around his waist and pulled him down to her body. Her skin was warm, and he found himself pushing aside the regret that they had lost each other so completely. In the past, they found each other through the darkness after a long journey to middle ground. They had resolution to his sister’s disappearance and some stability in their work. It had been seven long years of tension and disagreements that were now the precursor to flirting and excitement.

After their discussion the night before and the banter of that morning, Mulder couldn’t blame himself for wanting her. He never felt guilty for wanting Dana Scully. Aside from needing answers to questions that were posed in his childhood surrounding his family, wanting the woman who was underneath him now was the only consistent desire he had in his whole life.

Scully reached between them and pulled him to her entrance. Her back arched as he pushed slowly inside.

“No foreplay?” he asked with a grin.

She gasped as he flexed his hips and shook her head. “I need… oh… just exactly this.”

Mulder kissed her as he began to move slowly inside her. She was tight and warm around him. Her mouth was cool from the ice in her glass, and her body was supple. She was beautiful, and he should have told her every day, instead of yelling at her about how she didn’t understand why it mattered so much that the doomsday prophecy didn’t happen.

All he wanted in this life was her. If it really came down to it, the alien invasion and the world ending, his one regret would be the wasted years he lost with the woman he owed everything to.

Their kiss broke, and he opened his eyes to see her smiling at him.

“What?” he asked. “Am I making a face?”

“No… I just…” she paused as she ran her hands up his back and sighed. “I feel surprisingly happy.”

“That’s the vodka,” he teased as he pulled back. His hips pushed against hers, and she moaned quietly. “I got you to four drinks so you’d be more likely to think I’m not an asshole one hundred per cent of the time.”

Scully put her hands on his face and stuck her lower lip out in a mock pout. “Oh, Mulder… You’re not an asshole all the time.”

“What a relief,” he sighed, and their mouths met again.

Her hand moved between them, and she jolted against his mouth. He could feel her hand between them, and knew that her middle finger had reached her bundle of nerves. Her tongue paused as she began to massage her clit towards her own release.

Mulder opened his eyes to watch as the rapture took over her body. He wanted to move, but he knew that doing so would interrupt the rhythm she had started for herself.

It was enough for now to feel her body tighten around his dick and massage him with her walls.

Oh!” she cried out as the hand on his back gripped his trapezius muscle.

Her fingernails dug into his skin, and he grunted in response. Mulder’s hips bucked as he failed to remain still.

“Don’t move!” she moaned. “Oh… wait. Move!”

He started pumping his hips with slow, methodical strokes. Her face grimaced as he fucked her hard and slow.

“Faster,” she urged him.

He began pumping his hips, moving inside of her hard and fast. She was crying out underneath him as she touched herself. He took his hand under her right knee, and felt the head of his cock hit her cervix.

Fuck!” she cried out. “Oh Jesus. Oh my god!”

This was it. He was going to come just from her touching herself and a few pumps. Maybe it wouldn’t be so embarrassing since she knew his stamina was a little longer.

Suddenly, he felt an ache and a pull around his dick as she began to come. Her body went tight underneath him, and he couldn’t hold back any longer. He held her leg up near her shoulder as he thrust harder and faster.

“Scully!” he yelled as his own orgasm took over.

She was crying out with every thrust into her. Her walls were tightening again. She called out his name while yelling out a few other choice expletives she reserved for times like these.

Mulder’s back and arms were shaking as the wave of pleasure moved away from his body. When he opened his eyes, Scully was looking up at him so tenderly.

“Say it,” he whispered as he released her leg.

“I miss you,” she replied quietly.

“I miss you too,” he answered and kissed her forehead.

Life with the woman he loved shouldn’t be this hard. In Mulder’s life story, his conflict had always been man versus other. He fought against losing his sister, losing his family, fighting the syndicate and losing his son. He only then realized he had also been fighting against himself and his own stubbornness as well that cost him their life together.

As he moved to pull out, Scully adjusted her right leg to hook around his waist. “Don’t.”

He saw the look in her eyes and read the same doubts that he had. Wasted time, pain and regret flooded the blue orbs staring back at him.

Mulder kissed the side of her face and laid on top of her for as long as she needed him. The sound of her breath in his ear and the gentle strokes of her fingers along his back soothed him until he found himself drifting in and out of sleep. They maneuvered themselves under the covers eventually. The mess of their union was hastily cleaned up, and their naked flesh pressed against each other.

Scully stayed nestled up against Mulder the entirety of the evening. It was a false sense of security that he was going to hold on to whether it meant they had reconciled or not. Nothing had been decided except that she needed more time than he thought they had.

 

*** *** ***

 

Mulder pulled the rental vehicle to the only open space in front of The Red Door. Scully breathed heavily out of her nose, and Mulder turned to her in his seat.

“Penny for your thoughts, Doctor?” Mulder plied.

Scully took a sip of her latte and licked a small amount of foam off her upper lip. “I am wondering about the absence of activity yesterday. We witnessed objects floating in front of us at the store. That kind of paranormal activity, even as minor as it was, shouldn’t be limited to just one day.”

“Are you coming on to me?” Mulder teased with a grin. “I’m kind of worn out from having-”

“That’s enough,” she cut him off with a wave of her hand.

Mulder leaned over and caught a small laugh escaping her lips, so he allowed himself one also.

“In all seriousness, Scully,” he began. “I agree with you. If there was minor activity during our short visit yesterday, there should have been something to report.”

“Unless Cole missed something,” Scully continued his thought.

Mulder sighed. “I don’t want to assume he’s out of his element on a paranormal stakeout-”

“Except you’d be right,” she interjected. “Who else do we know in any law enforcement agency that has the same kind of experience as us?”

Mulder scoffed. “If there were investigators out there that have our history, I pity them.”

Scully huffed a laugh, and they turned their faces towards The Red Door. “Are you ready to look for some ghosts?”

“Scully,” he breathed and caught a blush of pink dance across her cheeks. “All right. Give me like two minutes, and we can get out of the car.”

Her right eyebrow arched, and she shook her head. “You’re crude.”

Mulder tugged on the material across his lap. “That’s in your category of what’s crude? You talked about explaining ghosts like it was my version of a 1-900 number during a briefing meeting.”

Scully laughed. “That’s right, I did.”

“So can you forgive a guy who has a slight physical reaction to hearing a serious scientist and medical doctor talk about looking for ghosts?” he argued.

“Mulder,” she warned. “You’re not twelve. Think of a shape shifting alien’s head turning to foam, and let’s move on.”

The image of the foamy mess that usually caused asphyxiation and near death surprisingly worked. He cleared his throat as he felt the tightening in his pants lessen. “Sorry.”

She rolled her eyes again, but he could see a smile so the fear of being gross and obnoxious dissipated.

As they stepped onto the curb, Scully pulled her notebook from her pocket. “I’m surprised at your age you still have that kind of physical reaction. I should make note of that in your medical file.”

Mulder laughed in surprise and embarrassment. “Shut up.”

He opened the door to the antique shop where two uniformed officers were waiting with bored expressions.

Finally,” the first one greeted.

Mulder opened his mouth to reply, but the second officer scoffed.

“Sorry about my partner. He’s off coffee and more irritable than usual,” the second officer interjected. “Are you from the FBI?”

Mulder pulled out his badge. “Agents Mulder and Scully. What happened last night?”

The first officer sniffed loudly. “We watched twelve monitors do nothing for eight hours and sixteen minutes.”

“And we’ll be sure to write that in our report,” the second officer announced and gave his partner a less than playful nudge.

“We’ve got it from here,” Scully replied with a professional tone and gave him a look that told him she wasn’t impressed. “You can send a relief team at four p.m. to take over.”

The two uniformed officers left quietly, and Mulder laughed as the door shut behind them.

“It’s so hard to find good help these days, huh?” he mocked.

Scully shook her head. “I guess they’re not all go-getters like Cole.”

“Speaking of our eager officer,” Mulder began as he pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket. He showed Scully the caller ID and pressed Answer. “Speak of the devil.”

“Did you see the devil?” Cole asked excitedly.

Mulder shook his head. “No… Cole. My partner and I were just talking about you.”

“Oh,” he replied with obvious disappointment. “I thought you had something cool happen.”

Scully and Mulder began walking through the antique shop as he put the phone on speaker. “What’s going on?”

“Jacob Nott was reported to have been in the area this morning,” Cole informed them. “You might want to keep an eye out.”

“Good to know,” Mulder replied. “We’ll call you if anything comes up.”

“I mean, you don’t have to call if nothing happens but if you see a ghost-”

“Sure thing,” he interrupted and clicked the red ‘end call’ button.

“Not a fan?” Scully guessed after a beat.

Mulder shook his head in disappointment. “I think he’s just in it for the ghost hunting.”

Scully mocked an awe sound to him as she reached her hand out to rub his arm. The action alone was flirtatious and distracting, but Mulder decided to appreciate it and move on. They had an investigation to finish.

He cleared his throat and stuck his left hand in his pocket. “I’d like to continue going through the records of inventory.”

“Do you think her inventory will lead us back to the map you created of old ‘haunted’ locations in Shorewood?” Scully asked.

Mulder snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “Exactly.”

“I can get on board with some good old fashioned detective work,” she replied with a grin, and Mulder smiled back. “So where do you want to do it?”

“Do it?”

Scully nodded as she looked around the store. “Yeah, out here at the counter or in the office?”

“You mean, looking through her inventory?” he clarified.

Scully had made it behind the counter and was carefully looking around. Her eyes met his sharply, obviously realizing where he was going with his joke. She clucked her tongue. “Mulder….”

“I was just clarifying,” he defended with his hands up.

There was a knock at the front door, and Mulder groaned at the face beyond the glass.

“You gotta be kidding me.”

Dr. Rankin smiled and waved at them. “Hello!”

“What is he doing here?” Mulder asked her. “Did you call him?”

“I’ve been with you all day,” she pointed out. They stood opposite one another for a beat, and she shrugged from behind the counter. “Let him in and find out.”

He unlocked the door and opened it a foot and a half. “Hello, Dr. Rankin. How can I help you today?”

“I was just coming by to see if your non-Native American theory was panning out,” the annoyingly handsome doctor asked smugly.

“It’s coming along,” Mulder replied flatly.

There was a beat of silence after Mulder’s statement, and Dr. Rankin cleared his throat. “I also wanted to ask what you thought of my research.”

“To be honest with you Dr. Rankin, I haven’t read-”

“The entirety of it to make an educated declaration,” Scully interrupted as she moved from behind the counter. “Unfortunately, this is an active crime scene, and Agent Mulder and I are about to begin researching the items here. While your insight might be helpful if you had extensive knowledge of antiques, we are looking into more than just that. Perhaps we could contact you when we finish today?”

Dr. Rankin’s brow furrowed. “Oh. I was hoping I could be of use-”

“We have your number. We’ll call you if we need you!” Mulder interrupted as he closed the door. He turned the gold oblong deadbolt and smiled at the confused historian out of spite rather than friendliness. He turned back to Scully and pointed over his shoulder. “That was odd.”

“I can hear you!” Rankin called through the door.

Mulder turned back and watched as Rankin sulked away down the sunny sidewalk.

“That was odd, right?” he clarified.

“Hopefully we didn’t just burn a bridge there,” she winced. Mulder waited with an expectant look, and she sighed. “Yes, his presence here this morning was odd.”

“Thank you,” he exaggerated as she walked away shaking her head, but he saw a smile playing on her lips. “So what’s first?’

Scully opened her notebook and looked through her pages. “I think we want to match the items at the crime scenes and see if there’s any correlation.”

“I find it odd that she had not one person in her extended family to hand the antique shop down to,” Mulder remarked as he pulled out his own notebook. “Even I have one or two random relatives lurking in the outskirts.”

“Maybe you could look through her history while I look through the past on these items,” she suggested. “If we start from either side, we could meet in the middle to whatever the truth may be…”

“That sounds reasonable,” Mulder agreed. He bobbed his head back and forth. “…Considering our long history.”

Scully arched an eyebrow and guessed, “Meeting in the middle?”

He tapped the side of his nose. “Wow, Scully. You’re really getting deep here.”

She jerked her head towards the back of the store. “Wanna meet me in the office?”

Mulder looked down at the mess of antiques between him and the walkway to the office. He held his right thumb up. “Great.”

Not much had been moved or adjusted in the antique shop since their first initial visit. The glass cases, the shelves and displays had been left untouched. Mulder recalled images and photographs of the crime scene. He had hoped that there would be more disturbances from the ghosts that made themselves present their first trip to The Red Door.

When he entered the office, Scully was behind the desk with the laptop open and typing away furiously. Oblivious to his presence, she focused on the screen in front of her. Mulder stood in the doorway with his notebook in hand, as she scribbled every few moments to write down something on her paper and searched through Alice Grey’s files.

“Penny for your thoughts, Agent?” she asked without looking up.

Mulder smiled. “One isn’t work appropriate, but the other relates to the case.”

“Give me the former when we go back to the hotel and the latter now,” she instructed. “What do you think?”

“I defer to your expertise,” he managed with a cough. “I didn’t see much change between the crime scene photos and today.”

“Your non-scientifically proven photographic memory prove that?” she asked without looking up to him as she continued to search through Alice Grey’s hard drive.

Mulder scoffed as he sat down in the chair opposite the desk. “I have more than just a photographic-”

“I will agree with you about the lack of changes to the shop. The photos from the first crime scene don’t look much different from today,” she cut him off. “If this poltergeist was really haunting the shop, it would have moved more items.”

“How do you explain what we saw in the shop on our first visit?” he countered.

“I don’t,” she replied matter-of-factly. “I look at that occurrence and the murders that took place in Shorewood as connected only by the means of which the victims died.”

Mulder set his notebook down on the desk in front of him. “Where is the list of the items sold from The Red Door that were near the past poltergeists and where they originated from? Did Cole put that in the file?”

“We have that here,” Scully replied as she pulled out the file from under the laptop. She pushed it along the built-in leather blotter towards him with a bit of effort. He withheld the short joke for another time. “Cole actually finished compiling that evidence while we were working the longest day in the history of the X-Files.”

And?”

“I read through the list,” she sighed as Mulder thumbed through the file. “I believe that none of the sellers coincide with items that could be haunted. None of the items came from a cursed past. They were all family heirlooms purchased legally, and none of this makes any sense.”

She paused and looked over the edge of the laptop at the file. Mulder smirked at her. This kind of investigation was invigorating and reminded him why working with a skeptic was the kind of challenge he needed. After all Scully had seen and done, was she still technically a skeptic or was she just annoyingly difficult to convince?

“The person or spirit who is responsible for these murders has to have a connective motive,” Scully reiterated and frowned. “Alice Grey had no known family? I feel like there has to be something about her we’re missing.”

Mulder flipped the pages of his notebook to their first day. As he looked over the letters scrawled across his page, “This says no.”

Scully arched an eyebrow at him. “You just took a local police file as fact? You are slipping.”

Mulder puffed out his chest. “Okay….”

He scanned his notes and looked up at her as she drummed her fingers impatiently. His eyes narrowed on her hand that was void of the ring he made promises with, and she held it up defensively.

“It says, no known next of kin,” he repeated. “I can look further. Known doesn’t mean squat. I could have a fourth cousin I don’t know about showing up for their due when I croak.”

The majority of Mulder’s ‘estate’ would go to Scully if anything happened to him, then to her nephews since no one in his family had spoken to him in thirty-five years. He had listed William as a beneficiary for a while, but Scully’s lawyer, Mindy Weir, had pointed out he should name people who had direct contact within the last five years.

She pursed her lips. “Maybe we were hasty in sending Rankin on his way…”

He couldn’t help the scoff that puffed out of his lips. ”You want to hold an audience with the hot professor?”

She frowned. “Mulder… After all that we’ve… I can’t…”

“Forget it,” he muttered. “Go talk to Rankin if you want, but I think the evidence is somewhere in these files. There is a link between the shop and the murders that Mr. Hot Professor is so curious about.”

She flattened her hands and pushed herself up from the desk. “We need to speak to Rankin. Hopefully he’s willing to give me a few minutes to go over what he wrote and possibly give some insight into Alice Grey.”

“You go right on ahead, Scully,” Mulder encouraged her. “I’m staying here to focus on the only evidence that we have. All Rankin has is a manifesto and a smug attitude.”

“I’ll be back in an hour,” she negotiated as she gathered her things. Mulder frowned. He wasn’t actually expecting her to go. “Don’t look so hurt, Mulder.”

“I’m not hurt-”

“Okay, then don’t be jealous,” she cut him off.

She leaned over to him, and he turned his face slightly towards hers. Their faces were close, and he knew she was expecting a kiss. It was unprofessional and broke the borders of the ‘rules’ they laid out when they moved from friends to lovers. He was known to break those rules more than she was, but she was obviously trying to reassure him that his insecurities were all in his head.

Mulder moved his face towards hers, and she kissed him softly on his lips. When she pulled back, she tucked her hair behind her ear and cleared her throat.

“I’ll be back before lunch,” she reassured him and ran her fingers through his hair to muss it a little.

“Hey!” he protested, and she laughed at him as he tried to fix it with his fingers.

“You need a haircut,” she departed. She called over her shoulder, “I’ll be back from Rankin’s office before you know it.”

Mulder heard the bell hanging on the front door chime her exit as he sat in Alice Grey’s office sulking. He stood up from the Banker’s chair and decided to poke around.

He soon forgot about their disagreement as he began to walk up and down the aisles of the antique shop. Remembering the cigar boxes that levitated previously, Mulder walked back to the centre of the shop.

For an unknown amount of time, Mulder stood over the objects and studied them with his head cocked to the side. He was sure he looked like a dog hearing a high-pitched sound, but he was also certain that he could see them move again if he stood there long enough.

His phone buzzed in his jacket pocket, and he withheld the urge to look at it right away.

The cigar boxes stayed still.

Mulder pulled out his phone to see a message from Scully letting him know she was at Bryant and Stratton College. He replied to her with an alien emoji and laughed at his own joke as he tucked his phone away.

When he looked back at the cigar boxes, one had been moved three feet away from the rest. No drag marks in the dust on the floor were apparent, and Mulder’s eyes widened at the realization.

“A ghost!”

Chapter Text

The lingering elation Mulder was experiencing after witnessing the cigar box move again helped to quell his slight fear when he realized Scully had been with Rankin for an hour. 

When she said she would be an hour, it usually meant two; therefore, Mulder knew that worrying at this moment was pointless. Her inability to measure time pertained to shopping, errands or any kind of outing. She drove fast but often lost track of herself as she thoroughly scoured any store or library for exactly what she was looking for.

When it came to cooking or cleaning, she was far more efficient. She could do ten things at once and get things done five times faster than Mulder did - for some reason it always took him twice as long to do half as good a job when it came to doing any of the cleaning in their house.

He blamed his Y chromosome on that one.

As he walked by one of the old mirrors, he made a face at the sight of his mussed hair. Pushing it flat with his hand to fix it, he realized Scully was right about the need to visit his barber. His face turned to the right, and he leaned in further to spot the lines around his eyes. There was more grey in his beard these days, but he still bought the same size suit as he did before his sudden abduction over fifteen years ago. 

While he was relishing in this small tidbit about his own ego, he noticed something in the mirror.  

Walking across to the shelf, he took in the sight of some antiques that didn’t fit in with the rest of the items in Alice Grey’s inventory. Five spearheads that looked hand carved and older than anything in the shop sat inside a glass case on top of an old dresser. Bannerstones were nestled at an even spacing inside with a familiar scrawl underneath. “Menominee Spearheads, 1700.”

In another case, a knife and leather satchel were laid in display with the same writing. “Sioux Weapon, 1825.”

As he moved further to the back of the shop, he noticed more and more Native American pieces that belonged in a museum dedicated to Indigenous people, not for sale by a woman with no known connection to the tribe. 

Mulder pulled out his phone and called Cole. As the phone rang, he looked at more of the items with a faded price tag on them. He frowned at the tragedy of selling what were probably considered to be stolen items.

“Cole.”

“Hey man, it’s Agent Mulder. Sorry I was abrupt with you earlier, but I was wondering if you could do some deeper background on the history of The Red Door for me,” Mulder requested. “There are some items here I don’t think belong in the shop.”

“You mean like on Alice Grey’s uncle?” Cole clarified.

“Yeah,” Mulder affirmed. 

“Sure, I have a bit of background on him I could send to you initially and keep working,” Cole agreed. “What are you thinking?”

“I just found a collection of Indigenous artifacts for sale,” he replied, and Cole grunted uncomfortably. Mulder drew his finger along the dust that had gathered on the bookshelf at the back wall. “I don’t think these are known to be stolen items.”

“There’s a long history of trouble in this area between the people who lived here first and the white men who took it,” the young officer supplied. “I read through Rankin’s notes. I don’t agree with his assessment that there are angry spirits protesting the city’s centennial but-”

“These artifacts belong in a museum,” Mulder cut him off. “I’ve seen angry spirits lash out at stolen property before.”

“You’ll have to fill me in on that one later,” Cole replied. “I tried calling Agent Scully with a question about some notes she made on Nott, but she didn’t answer.”

Mulder excused the act because Scully definitely wouldn’t interrupt an interview for a call she wasn’t expecting. “Agent Scully went to talk to Rankin. She thinks that he might have some insight into Alice Grey’s family history since her uncle had inherited the shop from his father.”

“The Red Door is a pillar of the community in Shorewood,” Cole agreed.

“I think the truth lies in the items that are here,” Mulder offered. “Items from this store were in the vicinity of each death. That can’t be a coincidence.”

He looked down the long aisle of shelves full of trinkets, the credenzas and random furniture pieces. He picked up a price tag off one of the polished bookcases, and his eyebrows shot up. The fact that anyone would spend three thousand dollars on something like a bookcase was ridiculous. 

He frowned as he realized that an armoire in the corner was exactly Scully’s style. If they had visited Shorewood five years ago, they would have been arranging for the item to be transported back to their home in Virginia.

“Sure thing,” Cole agreed. “I can come by as soon as I have all the information.”

“Can you run a small background on Rankin too?” Mulder requested.

Cole laughed nervously. “Any reason why? I mean, besides that he’s way too charming and seems to get the attention of the women we work with.”

Mulder sighed. “He rubs me the wrong way.”

Me too,” the young officer agreed, and there was a pause. “I’ll see what I can dig up.”

The line clicked off, and Mulder tucked his phone back in his pocket. He walked back to the shelf with the Indigenous artifacts and decided to start with the out of place items. Carefully picking up the first casing, he brought the box back into the office. He set it on the edge of the desk and studied it. 

It had brass edging, a small latch to close it off and felt sturdy in his hands. The items inside the case were placed on a beige cloth. He picked up the case and held it over his head. 

No shit,” he marvelled. His fingers pulled at the paper tucked into the outside of the glass case, as he set it back on the desk. 

The logo of Bryant and Stratton College was on the outside of the small card. He flipped it over, and his jaw dropped.

“Auntie Alice, so glad to finally meet you. Please accept this token of my love and dedication to the store,” F. Rankin.

“No shit,” Mulder set the card down and searched his jacket for his phone again. 

He texted Cole his discovery of Alice Grey and Frank Rankin’s relation, but avoided using any emojis to try to maintain some semblance of authority. 

If there was one thing that Mulder probably over utilized, it was the ability to relay an emotion using gifs or emojis versus a reactionary comment.

Mulder wondered how a college professor would acquire something like this without it being stolen. He wondered if Rankin had any relation to the tribes he procured these items from. It would be a big betrayal of his culture, all for a small antique shop in a Wisconsin town. 

As his arm hit the computer, Alice Grey’s email program loaded. 

Five new messages appeared unread with offers from interested buyers of The Red Door. Her real estate agent and lawyer’s were all marked urgent, encouraging her to pick a buyer within the next ninety days.

Each email had Alice Grey’s replies politely asking for more time as she considered the alternate offers. As Mulder read through each message, the bids on the store were getting higher with more promises of royalties for years after the sale of the store. The Red Door couldn’t be that much of a hot commodity.

One email was sitting in Alice Grey’s drafts. 

“Eric Braugher, please accept my deepest regrets that I have not chosen a suitable company to take over my precious home, The Red Door.” Mulder read. “After the next meeting with my estranged nephew, I will be able to decide shortly. I believe my heart is leaning towards a sale versus an inheritance, but family has always been first for me. I will contact you within the fortnight.”

Mulder frowned at the last word. Why not just say weekend?

That wasn’t the point. 

Frank Rankin was Alice Grey’s estranged relative and would have stood to inherit a lucrative business. Mulder smirked at the idea of Rankin feeling rejected by a relative he thought was about to offer him a big pay day.

His smile immediately faded when he realized that would have given him motive to hurt Alice Grey. Why the poltergeists at other locations? How would he have manifested any of that?

Mulder continued reading through the emails to discover the correspondence that started it all. Rankin was originally from Seattle, and they found each other through Ancestry.com. He had moved to Shorewood ten years ago, but neither of them knew of each other until the last year. 

Utilizing a catalogue of useless information, he remembered an obscure book he read last year called Spirit Possession in Native America. Mulder opened the Chrome app and began searching for more connections. In Navajo religious belief, a ‘chindi’ was the ghost left behind after a person dies. Contact with a chindi caused ghost sickness, but Rankin didn’t seem to have any fever, nausea or hallucinations. Mulder considered that Rankin could have invoked one because the chindi would linger around the deceased bones or possessions, but who would be the original victim that Rankin channelled?

Mulder’s fingers continued to search the internet for other possible Indigenous folklore. The Iya was a Lakota storm monster that wreaked havoc but was respected by its people and certainly not the cause of any murders in Shorewood, Wisconsin. 

It was by accident that Mulder stumbled upon the story of the Oniate.

Pronounced ‘oh-nee-ah-ten,’ it was also known as the Dry Hand. The Oniate was a disembodied mummified arm of Iroquois folklore. In some stories, the Oniate was purely a bogeyman and appeared in deserted areas to terrorize people passing by. The legend tells of the mummified hand whose touch brought blindness, disease, and eventual death to its victims. 

This wouldn’t the first time Mulder and Scully had encountered someone who drew on folklore, became possessed by it, and committed unspeakable acts. 

“Dry Finger is a vengeful apparition that only punishes badly behaved people,” Mulder read. “Oniates also punish those who speak ill of the dead.”

Mulder had no confirmation that Rankin had any heritage to the Iroquois tribe. Would it be possible for Rankin to somehow call on the Oniate as an outsider to that culture? 

Stranger things had happened.

Pulling up the crime scene photos on his phone, Mulder scanned the images and searched through the bystanders. The crowd was horrified and looked fearful except for one person. Mulder couldn’t believe it. 

In every single photo, Frank Rankin was standing at the edge of the crime scene, beyond the police tape with the same expression. A strange sneer and almost satisfied grin was all over his face while he had one hand tucked in his pocket. 

He had to get a hold of Scully to tell her - what could he tell her? To be careful?

She should be wrapped up with Rankin by now. Scully had paired their rental vehicle with her phone so he knew that she would get his text message if she was driving. She was also quick to reply with the toggles on the display system to at least let Mulder know she received the text message. 

Dammit,” he cursed. “Scully where are you?”

He checked his watch and realized Scully had been gone almost an hour. Immediately, he dialled Pearce.

“Agent Mulder, I’m actually on my way to you-”

“Great because I am one hundred per cent sure Agent Scully is in danger, and I need you to drive me to Bryant College!” Mulder exclaimed as he stumbled towards the door. “I need someone to monitor The Red Door while we stop Rankin!”

“I’ll get a patrol car to you immediately and send Cole ahead,” Pearce replied. “I should be at The Red Door in five minutes.”

Mulder hung up on Pearce and tried calling Scully. The phone went straight to voicemail. He walked out to the front door and looked up and down the street, hoping to spot an approaching vehicle. He wanted to cry out for help, but he realized he was the help. 

A patrol car passed by Mulder with two cops holding small paper cups of coffee in hand. He looked at them expectantly, and his jaw dropped as they continued at their slow speed past him.

He was about to panic and run to the college when Pearce stopped her police sedan with a lurch. The window rolled down, and she looked through the open space at him. 

“There’s a patrol car looping back to this location, Agent Mulder,” Pearce called. “Get in!”

Mulder looked back at the shop, worried he was going to leave an active crime scene exposed but also needing to find Scully.

“Get in!” Pearce repeated with urgency.

Mulder spotted another patrol vehicle down the street, and he scrambled towards the passenger door. He had to get to Scully now.

“Break it down for me, what are we looking at here? How did you figure out it was Rankin?” Pearce fired off as she put the bubble light on her dash. She flipped on a siren underneath the installed panel that also housed her radio and connected to a police computer. The red and blue began to flash to signal for other drivers to get out of the way, and they sped through Shorewood from downtown towards the college. “Agent Mulder?”

Mulder let out a steadying breath. “Rankin is Alice Grey’s estranged nephew.”

Pearce shook her head. “She doesn’t have any relatives in Shorewood.”

“Well, she did when Rankin moved here ten years ago from Seattle,” Mulder replied. “I found some correspondence between them, and it looks like they met through Ancestry.com.”

Pearce glanced over to Mulder as they sped through an intersection. “I’m pretty sure those sites aren’t designed to meet up with your family so you can kill them. What was his motive?”

“He wanted the store,” Mulder said with a shrug. 

“Makes sense,” Pearce agreed. “The store pulls in over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars in profit above cost every year.”

Mulder made a face. “How?”

Pearce shrugged. “I know it seems odd if you don’t actually like antiquing as a hobby, but The Red Door is responsible for bringing in a lot of tourism to Shorewood annually.”

“That’s a lot of attention to give to old tchotchkes,” he muttered.

Pearce pulled a newspaper from under her notebook and handed it to Mulder. She took a left turn sharply, and he was forced to grab on to the roof handle for support.

“Check that out,” she said as she pointed to the front story. 

‘Local Business Supports Five Refugee Families without Breaking its Bank’

He unfolded the paper, and there was Alice Grey with five Syrian families standing with her under the sign for The Red Door. 

“Working in the world of antiques is a lucrative business if you can buy and sell at the right prices,” Mulder read Alice Grey’s pull quote. “I can do more than just pad my retirement fund, and businesses like mine should do more.”

“When was this published?” Mulder asked as he searched the top of the page.

“Three days before Alice Grey was murdered,” Pearce answered grimly. “It wasn’t a secret that she was looking to sell her store.”

“Rankin believed he stood to inherit the shop as her next of kin,” Mulder replied as they turned onto West Wells Street. 

“They’re closing this location,” Pearce replied. “Rankin and a number of professors are about to be out of a job.”

Son of a bitch,” Mulder muttered under his breath. 

The adrenaline was pumping in his veins, and a ringing sound that indicated his blood pressure was spiking took over in his left ear. 

Pearce parked her vehicle and pointed to Cole’s car as it approached. “What’s your plan?”

They exited the vehicle and checked their weapons. Cole and another officer approached. 

“Do we know where Agent Scully is?” Cole asked. “This is Officer Haynes.”

“I would imagine they’re up in his office,” Mulder guessed and gave Haynes a nod. Haynes nodded back at Mulder to signal he was ready. “She’s not answering her phone. Bear with me here, but I don’t think we’re looking for a traditional poltergeist. I think Rankin is utilizing an Oniate to do his bidding.”

“What?” Haynes shook his head. “What the hell is going on here?”

“Alice Grey was Rankin’s estranged nephew,” Pearce offered. “He’s somehow summoned an Indigenous spirit to get revenge on his aunt.”

“Why would he kill the others?” Cole asked as the four of them began to move towards the main building. 

“Perhaps they were accidental,” Mulder mused. “It doesn’t matter. Scully could be his next victim if she was able to piece together that Rankin’s keen sense to help us on this case was to see how much we knew.”

Cole made a face at Pearce. “I told you he was a slimy son-of-a-”

Okay,” she interrupted. “I was wrong. You can hold it over my head at a later date.”

As they approached the building, Mulder, Pearce, Cole and Officer Haynes began to draw a lot of attention. Students pulled out their phones, taking pictures of the quartet and whispering about cops. Pearce ordered the few who snapped photos to delete their pictures immediately.

“We’ll take the stairs, here,” Mulder instructed and pointed towards a sign for stairs at the opposite end of the corridor. “Take those ones over there, and we might be able to surprise Rankin.”

A large bang echoed from above them. Mulder took the stairs two at a time with Pearce trailing behind him. 

“FBI!” Mulder called to students running from a loud crackling sound. “Move out of the way!”

A strong gust of wind blew down the stairwell causing Mulder and Pearce to clutch the railing as the students running down began falling on their backs and sliding down.

A menacing screech emanated from the top of the stairs. Mulder ran faster and stopped behind the wall as he peered down the hallway. 

Wind was blowing fiercely and windows around them began to shatter. Mulder and Pearce ducked down to cover their heads as it flew overhead. 

“Fuck!” Pearce cursed.

Mulder held his arm in front of his face to block the wind and debris flying through the air. He glanced across the corridor to where Cole and Haynes were looking down the hallway with horrific expressions on their faces.

Whatever was happening right now was definitely not in any law enforcement training manual. 

He poked his head around the corner and spotted Scully. She was in a ready-to-shoot stance. Her right arm was bleeding through her jacket, but she held her chin up to the man she was drawing her weapon on.

“Stop right there!” she ordered loudly. “Don’t take another step!”

“She made me do this!” Rankin bellowed with one hand in a tight fist over his head. 

Another gust of wind swirled around them, knocking Scully off her feet. Her body shook as she reached out to her weapon. Her aim was back on Rankin quickly, and he snarled at her. 

His hair was standing up from the wind. He had blood dripping down the side of his face, and he looked possessed by something more than just an Oniate. 

“Don’t do anything else you’re going to regret, Rankin,” she ordered. “Don’t take another step closer!”

“You don’t get to call the shots!” he screeched and shook his fist. “With this, I am in control.”

Mulder realized that Rankin must be holding on to a piece of the mummified hand that he was drawing his power from. He needed to get Rankin to drop it and get Scully out of harm's way. 

“I’m the one with the gun,” she managed as she struggled to stand up. Mulder could tell she had been knocked around before the altercation made it to the hallway. “Put down the finger or I’ll shoot.”

“The Oniate doesn’t fear your guns! I have the power! If only that bitch would have listened to me! She should have left me the store instead of demanding money! She was only out for wealth! She was greedy and selfish! I was the one who was going to be out of a job! This stupid college wasn’t offering any of us severance! She knew I needed the money!”

Rankin took three purposeful steps closer to Scully, and another gust of wind blew past them in the centre of the corridor.

Mulder had to save her. Rankin could snap at any moment and send the Oniate after her. 

“Fuck this,” Mulder muttered and began to charge across the corridor towards Scully.

Just as Scully pulled the trigger on Rankin, he was levitated up in the air. His eyes went wide as he was being choked. 

Stop!” he managed. “I’m the Oni-”

His neck snapped, and his lifeless body fell to the floor. The bullet Scully fired had landed in his right shoulder and was beginning to seep out on the floor around him. The wind swirled around Rankin, dragging his body down the hallway towards the window but left him outside his door. A loud screech echoed through the air as more glass shattered around the building.

The deafening silence was next. Mulder reached Scully without thinking of the local officers. 

“Scully!” he knelt down where she was sitting on the floor. “Someone call a medic!”

She was holding her wounded forearm tightly with her left hand. Her shaking right hand was still clutching at her Sig Sauer. He gently took the gun from her and put the safety on before setting it on the ground. 

Haynes approached with a small first aid kit. “I can do a makeshift bandage until the EMT’s arrive.”

Scully nodded, and Haynes donned a fresh pair of gloves before taking out a gauze bandage, self-adhering wrap and saline. She winced as Haynes applied pressure, and Mulder looked angrily back to Rankin’s body. 

The man deserved his death.

“Are you okay?” he asked her. “I don’t know how to doctor someone, Scully. Help me out here.”

“You broke protocol charging into an active scene like that, Mulder,” she admonished him.

She was fine.

“I wasn’t really considering protocols,” he admitted.

“You’re not even wearing a vest,” she pointed at his chest. “FBI handbook cites-”

“I was looking for a disembodied hand or mummified finger. I wasn’t expecting a gun being pointed at me,” he cut her off with a smile. He brushed her hair back from her face and saw a small bruise under her right eye. “Did Rankin do that?”

“A thick textbook on the history of Indigenous tribes of North America knocked me out, but he was behind it,” she answered shakily. “How did you figure out he was behind the poltergeists?”

“How did you figure that out?” Mulder countered.

“I saw a mummified hand missing a finger on his bookshelf,” Scully began as he helped her stand up. She sniffed her nose and looked down the hallway to Rankin’s body. “Rankin kept reaching into his coat pocket.”

“How did you know that meant anything?” he asked as his thumbs rubbed across the back of her hands while Haynes put a new gauze pad over her arm.

“Mulder, I watched the same documentary on the Iroquois tribe as you did,” she reminded him and lifted her arm slightly as the young officer wrapped her arm. “I bought you the book on the Indigenous folklore after our case with the Raven Mocker.”

Mulder’s eyes grew wide. “I forgot-”

“And I was the one who found another copy of it at the flea market a year after your release,” she reminded him. “You don’t remember me buying it?”

His mouth crooked into a grin. “Well now I do…”

“I shouldn’t have told you and regifted it for your next birthday,” she joked, and then sighed. “We were talking about Alice Grey, and he proved he knew too much about each of the murders not to be connected. Between my suspicions about his obsessiveness to check something in his pocket and details he knew… I figured it out pretty quickly.”

“I called an ambulance,” Cole announced. “EMT’s will be here to look at Agent Scully in five minutes.”

“While he was screeching and hollering, did he happen to tell you why the other people died?” Pearce asked as she approached. 

“He said they all deserved it,” Scully explained to them. She turned her eyes to Mulder and arched an eyebrow. “If you remember from the book I got you, the Oniate targets those who do bad deeds or speak ill of the dead.”

“That explains why the Oniate turned on Rankin,” Haynes commented.

“You catch on quick,” he complimented the officer. Mulder rubbed his thumbs on Scully’s knees. “How’s your arm feeling?”

Scully examined the makeshift bandage. She smiled politely up to Haynes and put her hand on Mulder’s. “Better now, thank you.”

Haynes carefully removed his gloves. “I volunteer with St. John’s Ambulance on my days off.”

“I appreciate that you didn’t cut my jacket off,” she noted, and Haynes beamed.

“Wait,” Cole spoke up. “All this over an antique shop?”

“I missed a few things during the commotion,” Haynes admitted. “But why didn’t Rankin just make an offer?”

“Big gambling debts,” Cole replied. “I’ve got a file in the squad car. He owed a lot of money to a lot of people.”

Sirens of ambulances approaching travelled up through the open windows, and Mulder looked at Scully carefully. 

“Can you make it down the stairs okay?” he asked her.

She nodded but then shook her head. “I got snagged by some flying glass…”

He caught a look in her eye and grinned. “Do you need to be carried?”

Scully shook her head stubbornly. “No….”

The woman was impossible. 

Mulder leaned over and held up her hand. 

“Don’t you dare,” she stopped him.

“Relax,” he urged her. “I’m just going to take you over to those couches.”

Scully rolled her eyes in protest but put her uninjured arm around his neck. He put one hand behind her legs and the other around her back. As he scooped her up into his arms, he gave her a little grin.

“Don’t say it,” she warned.

He definitely was thinking of making a comment about his display of strength, but he held it back. 

“Can you make sure someone comes up here with a kit right away?” Mulder asked Haynes and Cole.

The uniformed officers nodded and took off down the stairs. 

Mulder set Scully down on one of the couches in the small seating area and studied her face. She looked paler than usual, and he worried she had lost more blood than she was letting on. 

“I’m fine, Mulder,” she muttered as she clutched her wrapped bicep. “I just need to keep pressure on it.”

Pearce approached Mulder and Scully with her eyes drawn down the hallway to Rankin’s lifeless body.

“He was his own undoing,” she commented.

“Often times when we see people trying to invoke spirits to do their bidding, it turns on the very person who called it,” Mulder commented. “The tulpa that murdered the residents at Arcadia Falls, the Wanshang Dhole that terrorized Los Angeles port care of Dr. Detweiler…”

“The devil that destroyed the PTA in New Hampshire….” Scully offered.

Mulder smiled at her. “I almost forgot about that one.”

“The FBI isn’t typically investigating Wanshang Dhole’s, are they?” Pearce asked, and Mulder shook his head. “Well, that’s somewhat comforting.”

Two EMTs arrived up the stairs and immediately began to tend to Scully’s arm. It was a flesh wound, but the pallor in her skin made the EMTs insist she visit the hospital as well.

“Scully, that jacket is probably not going to make it back to D.C.,” Mulder told her regretfully, and she frowned. “Want me to get you that sweater from the motel and meet you at the hospital?”

She nodded but didn’t hide her frown. “I guess.”

Mulder drove their rental car back to the motel and picked up a pair of sneakers, jeans and socks along with the sweater she ‘borrowed’ from his closet. He put the clothing in a plastic laundry bag he found in the closet and set out to meet Scully at the hospital. 

*** *** ***

It didn’t take long for Scully to get discharged with a prescription for a mild pain reliever after arguing with the doctor that she didn’t need blood after two IV units.

In the end, the doctor deferred to Scully’s insistence. Mulder escorted her out of the hospital with a whisper in her ear, telling her she was the bossiest woman he had ever met.

“I’m not bossy,” she countered.

“If you were a man talking like that, I’d call you a dick,” he retorted, and she laughed. “I would.”

She made a face, accepting her title and allowed Mulder to open the car door for her. “The sling my arm is in is entirely unnecessary.”

“Don’t look so surprised they would put you in a sling after you argued with the ridiculousness of them trying to give you a unit of O-neg to ensure you were okay,” Mulder retorted and closed the door on her.

When he climbed inside, Scully was managing to buckle herself in fine, but he reached over to snap the clasp into place anyway. He tried to ignore that she looked adorable in his sweater, her jeans, sneakers and her hair in a ponytail. It was difficult, but he was working on it.

“Pearce and Cole are waiting for us at the precinct,” Mulder informed her. “Do you need anything to eat before we get over there?”

“I’m fine,” she replied automatically. 

“I ordered Chinese to be delivered to the precinct,” Mulder supplied. “Extra almond chicken and chicken chow mein.”

Scully closed her eyes. “Bless you.”

He put the car into drive, and they made their way over to the police station for a final meeting with their local contacts and some lunch.

As they drove through Shorewood towards the police station, he wanted to remember the parts of it that were scenic and beautiful. He might be inclined to vacation here, now that the likelihood of being killed by a poltergeist was now to a minimum. 

Mulder would have loved to take Scully to St. Robert Parish or North Shore Presbyterian Church just because she would have liked the history of the red brick buildings and the grand organs.

There was a brewery on the lakefront that looked like something he could have gotten away with for a date night. He would have ventured into Milwaukee and taken her up to the Stella Van Buren just for the views and romantic atmosphere. He kept seeing reviews raving about the amazing Italian food… 

Maybe he just needed to step up and take her out for dinner when they weren’t on a case and he had no other ulterior motives except to wine and dine her.

“Mulder?” Scully began.

He turned to look at her, and she was looking down at her hands. He worried she was about to tell him that their late night and early morning trysts at their motel were mistakes.

“I know… I know what we said at the motel was-”

“Wait,” he cut her off as he pulled into the police station parking lot. He parked the car far from the entrance and facing the thick brush at the back of the building. He turned the engine off, unbuckled his seatbelt and turned to her. “Okay.”

Why are you parked all the way back here?” she asked as she looked at their position then over her shoulder towards the building.

“If you’re going to say something that hurts my feelings, I don’t want Cole and Pearce hearing me wail like a baby,” he replied.

Scully rolled her eyes, but she huffed a laugh. “I wasn’t going to…. I - I’m not going to say something that hurts your feelings… I don’t think.”

He looked at her expectantly without trying to look like a wounded animal. “Okay…”

“Mulder,” she started and licked her upper lip to buy herself a beat. “I want us to try… to work on things. I just don’t want us to expect that things will be automatically the same or back to the way it was.”

“Nothing is the same anymore,” he agreed. “We’ve both changed a lot since we first started working together.”

She reached her good hand across the car to hold his. “I meant what I said, Mulder. I do love you. I miss you. I just think we can’t expect it will be like it was fifteen years ago.”

“Well sure,” he agreed, and her eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You’re not going to be wondering what my intentions for our future are. That was a fear you brought up to me when we first slept together.”

“I believe that I wanted to take it slow,” she retorted with a flush rising in her cheeks. 

At the time when they transitioned entirely from partners to friends, friends to friends who kissed a couple of times and then solidly to lovers… Mulder had been anticipating the transition. It wasn’t a matter of IF but WHEN they would finally consummate their relationship. He had given up the idea there could be any other woman for him long before their first kiss. 

Sex complicated things in a working relationship. It had the same effect on them until they finally clarified what they wanted. In the end, Mulder was delighted to discover that she wanted all the same things he did. 

He wanted her in his life without question and without any doubt that someone else was going to come along and disrupt that. He wanted her and only her. Nothing had changed from that fateful trip back to D.C. that left them stuck on a train for twenty-six hours.

He leaned across the car and kissed her cheek. Scully turned her face, and his lips found hers more easily than he anticipated. He tried to be careful of the small bruise under her eye and held her jaw tenderly. He gripped her good shoulder and pulled her closer to him, but the centre console was in the way.

As her mouth played against his and the topic of their conversation was left to the wayside, Mulder realized that pushing her to come home could wait. Maybe he could just have her occasionally, slowly and passionately without his possessiveness getting in the way.

Her hand that had previously been in his, moved to his left leg and gripped the flesh under his suit.

No.

He wanted all of her. Casually dating his wife was a crock of shit.

Her hand moved up his left thigh and brushed her thumb against the head of his half-swollen cock. She knew he dressed to the left usually. She knew he liked when she did that. He also knew things about her too. 

Alas, they were in a parking lot and Mulder wasn’t expecting-

Shit.

Her hand gripped his shaft through his pants, and she broke the kiss as she gave him a squeeze.

“How much pain meds did they give you?” he whispered as her thumb traced the outline of his flesh.

“Enough to remind me how cute you are…. I really appreciate you respecting my needs, Mulder,” she whispered. “And my boundaries.”

His eyes moved from her face down to her hand. “This isn’t a mixed signal, you’re sending?”

“No,” she whispered as she flattened her thumb across the ridge of his head and stroked him lightly. “I am grateful. After what I went through with Rankin, I am going to remember that gratitude is healthier than repression.”

“What am I supposed to do when you’re doing that?” he asked as he looked around the empty parking lot. 

He had chosen a secluded space. They weren’t around any other cars. No one was around, but he wasn’t expecting her to do anything about the current situation in his pants.

The situation she was causing, but still…

“Scully you have to stop-” he started, but his protests were cut off as she placed his hand on her breast. “Scully-”

“Touch me,” she whispered as she pulled his face back to hers. 

This was a bad idea. He wasn’t going to be able to stop touching her once he started. She had to know that.

He did as she asked. He moved his hand under the hem of her sweater and palmed her breast, delighted to discover that she had removed her bra at the hospital. Her nipple was hard, and he pulled her camisole down to reveal the small nub to his fingers. He wished his mouth was able to replace his fingers, but they were still… in public. 

Scully gasped as his fingers rolled across her nipple, and she gripped his flesh that was rock hard against his leg with a firmer grip.

Mulder pulled back. His hand left her breast regretfully and placed a stilling hand on hers. 

“We… fuck, Scully, we can’t do this here.”

She pulled at her camisole and adjusted her clothing. “I know…”

He ran his hands up and down his face as he tried to will his body to calm down. She was wiping her hand gently across her swollen lips and eyeing him with a look he couldn’t quite place.

“I do miss you, Mulder,” she admitted quietly as she pulled on the strap of her sling. “Sometimes I think I miss you more than you realize.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. He couldn’t very well tell her to come home like it was the only choice. 

“I miss you too,” he replied finally.

“No matter what you think, leaving you is always going to be something I’ll regret,” she continued. She took his hand in hers and pressed her lips into the skin. “I also think you’re a good man.”

Now it was Mulder’s turn to blush.

“I just think-”

“You need time,” he finished for her. “I get it.”

“Do you?” she asked with her eyes narrowed.

He didn’t, but he wasn’t the one on the other side of his garbage behaviour. He was the one with borderline post-traumatic stress disorder who was taking his issues out on his wife. The diagnosis was a self-assigned one that he dare not say out loud at his doctor’s in fear of being labeled at the FBI with something else that would work against him.

He had been cleared for duty and was working on being more centred without the constant fear of an end times date. Instead of looking at his life for what he was ‘owed’ from Scully or the FBI, he was going to work towards being someone who bettered himself.  

One thing he was able to remind himself of constantly was that the words he said when he felt angry or scared weren’t supposed to ruin the person who had nothing to do with his paranoia. She was just the poor fool who married him and believed in him. No matter what they promised to one another during their escape to the tropics after the FBI cleared him on the beach, the shit he said to her in his dark times wasn’t part of their vows.

He nodded. “I can wait, Scully. I guess… I just don’t want to feel like I’m chasing someone who doesn’t want to be chased.”

Scully tucked an errant strand that had fallen loose from her ponytail behind her ear. “I understand that.”

“I guess we’ll have to talk about our feelings more than we’re used to,” he noted with a smile, and she winced. “Or not.”

No…” she protested lightly. “That is the healthier option… better for both of us…”

Mulder’s phone trilled in his pocket. He almost caught Scully sighing in relief. He nudged her playfully, “Jeez Scully, I know these deep conversations are tough for you, but try to hang in there.”

Scully frowned at him. “You are such a-”

“It’s Cole,” Mulder interrupted and pressed the green ‘talk’ button. He held his finger up to his lips to shush her. He could see the scowl take over her face and laughed. “Mulder.”

“Agent Mulder,” Cole began. “We have everything ready for you upstairs when you pick up Agent Scully.”

Mulder told him they would be there in five minutes and hung up his cell. He turned back to Scully in his seat. “You were saying?” 

“You were calling me emotionally constipated and I was about to smack you in the head,” she retorted. He was sure if she could cross her arms in a huff she would have, but she was limited with the sling.

He reached across the car and took her hand back in his. “I’ve got some giant emotional elephants too, Scully. I’m sorry you were feeling singled out.”

Her expression softened, but she still pulled her arm away. “I want to get this report done with.”

“Remember the almond chicken, Scully,” he coaxed as he shut off the car. “I’m not entirely terrible.”

She closed her eyes and whispered, “Chow mein.”

Mulder nodded his head towards the door. “C’mon Scully. Let me feed you.”

She opened one eye and arched the eyebrow above it. “Metaphorically?”

Mulder laughed. “Obviously.”

*** *** ***

Tin containers of sweet and sour pork, almond chicken, ginger beef and broccoli, chicken fried rice and chicken chow mein littered the table with wet naps at the ready while Mulder set himself up for a presentation for Cole, Pearce and Scully. A box of egg rolls sat in the middle of the table with a small ramekin of plum sauce spilling in the bottom of the waxy box.  

He was organizing his pictures from his phone onto a laptop while Cole and Pearce questioned Scully about what happened in Rankin’s office.

“I’m almost done!” Mulder announced again for the third time.

“He takes a while, but it’s worth the wait, I promise,” Scully whispered to Cole and Pearce.

Mulder gave her a warning look, and she tossed back a sarcastic smile to him.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” he muttered over his shoulder. “I’m used to working with a carousel slide projector.”

He could hear grumbling behind him, but he chose to ignore it. As he loaded the last photo into the program, he turned to Scully and gave her a smug smile.

“There.”

Scully pulled her arm out of the sling and groaned as she rubbed below her stitches. She looked at Mulder, and he furrowed his brow. “I’m fine." 

Mulder narrowed his eyes at her. Long gone were the feelings of lust and want that overwhelmed him in the car. He was concerned for her and the fact that she probably should have stayed at the hospital longer than a few hours. 

“Sure.”

Cole tapped his hands on the long table in rapid succession. “Let’s get the show going!”

Pearce’s phone buzzed, and she unlocked the screen to read the message. Mulder waited for her to put her phone down and give him a nod.

As he picked up the remote for the laptop to display the slide show, Pearce’s phone buzzed again.

“Do you need to call someone?” he asked tightly.

“There’s been an incident at The Red Door,” she reported. “The officers who were monitoring the scene are okay, but one was taken to the emergency room.”

“Another poltergeist?” Mulder queried as he took a few steps towards her.

Pearce opened the message on her phone and shook her head. “Doesn’t say.”

Mulder clicked the button on his remote and the first slide appeared on the screen.  

“Behold, Alice Grey,” he began. “Local shop owner of a lucrative antique business. Never married, no children. Died from a similar incident as Mary Chen with an exploding armoire. We initially thought she might have released a ghost while dusting the armoire. We now believe that Alice Grey was inflicted by the Oniate that Frank Rankin orchestrated to inherit The Red Door.”

Mulder pressed the forward arrow button.

“Which Grey inherited from her uncle twenty years ago,” he continued as he showed a slide of the late Andre Grey. “Mr. Grey met his late demise from a heart attack in 1999. No foul play suspected.”

“He had a heart attack and was found in his shop alone,” Cole Supplied. “I was first on the scene.”

Mulder wrote down that information in his notebook and glanced up to see Scully doing the same. She was always on the same wavelength whether or not the motive came from supernatural or paranormal motives or boring facts based in science. He grinned at her, hoping she would understand he hadn’t forgotten about their almost tryst in the car. Scully let out a deep breath.

“Alice Grey had been running The Red Door for the last decade and a half when she decided it was time to sell the company and enjoy her retirement. She was on the Shorewood School Board of Trustees. She volunteered at the soup kitchen Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other long weekend on the calendar. If that wasn’t enough to get her into heaven, Ms. Grey recently sponsored refugees to come over from Syria.”

“She was a wonderful woman,” Pearce noted. “I was in the shop two weeks before her death. She held Poppy while I looked at an old phonograph. I bought it half-because she was so good with her.”

“Who’s Poppy?” Mulder asked dumbly.

Cole laughed, and Pearce narrowed her eyes at him over her plate of fried rice. She was looking him as though it was obvious, but Mulder wasn’t getting it.

“That’s Pearce’s daughter,” Scully replied finally. 

His eyes widened, and he winced. “I’m sorry.”

Scully looked over to Pearce. “What did you buy the phonograph for?”

Pearce stopped scowling and picked up a spring roll. “I found old records of 40s music in my parent’s attic I wanted to play for Poppy.”

“Oh, interesting,” Scully noted.

“As long as it’s not the Hokey Pokey,” Mulder muttered, and he caught Scully smirking at her plate.

“I don’t get it,” Cole offered.

“I once investigated a possessed doll in a small town in Maine that would somehow kill people with….” Scully began and looked at Mulder questioningly. “Well… I don’t really know how it did it, but that song played every time the little girl was upset and the doll then made the girls mother pummel herself with a hammer.”

Fuck,” Pearce breathed.

“I said that a few times on that case,” Scully admitted, and that factoid made Mulder smile. 

Mulder pressed next and moved through three slides to show Alice Grey’s emails to her lawyer regarding the process to begin selling her shop. “You can see there is no mention of a nephew upon the initial conversations between Grey and her lawyer.”

“When does Rankin come into the picture?” Cole inquired. He picked up one of the remaining spring rolls and ate half of it in one bite. Through his chewing, he asked, “When did the Ancestry web site come into play?”

“Eleven months ago,” Scully spoke up from her seat at the table. She put another scoop of chow mein on her plate and smiled at Mulder. “They both received DNA kits as Christmas presents.”

“Did we find out how they discovered they are related?” Scully asked.

Cole raised his hand. “I actually looked into that!”

Scully smiled across the table at Cole, and he appreciated that she was enjoying Cole’s eagerness to contribute. 

“They were related through Thomas Grey,” Cole announced. The young officer flipped through his notebook. “Rankin was given up for adoption by his mother who was the niece of Thomas Grey. The adoption was private so finding more of his birth family would be wonderful for a man like Rankin. Growing up, not knowing where he came from…” 

Mulder nodded and changed the slide. “Frank Rankin was born in Seattle. He was a history major at the University of Washington. He majored in Indigenous studies and applied for the position as the town historian when he moved to Shorewood ten years ago. He was also never married and no children.”

“How would Rankin manifest the Oniate?” Pearce asked with a Styrofoam cup near her lips. “How does a white man manifest the spirit from a Native American-”

“The preferred term is Indigenous peoples,” Cole interrupted.

“Indigenous people’s folk tale?” Pearce continued without missing a beat.

Mulder shrugged. “I’m not an expert on this kind of phenomenon-”

“Yes you are,” Scully countered and took a bite of her almond chicken. Mulder opened his mouth to protest, but she pocketed the bite in her cheek and shook her head at him. “You are. You figured out what Detweiler was up to pretty quickly when it came to figuring out where the Wanshang Dhole shape shifting murdering dog originated from.”

Mulder picked up his plate and took two bites of his ginger beef. “I will guess that Rankin, as someone who had studied Indigenous people - perhaps he was taught how to summon power from the mummified limb he had in his office.”

“That’s a big perversion of knowledge he shouldn’t have had,” Cole muttered.

“What did the first two victims have to do with Rankin?” Pearce asked.

Mulder shrugged. “I was guessing they were practice rounds before he attacked Alice. It’s easier for something to seem random when you make it not make any sense.”

“What?” Cold blurted.

“Exactly,” Mulder confirmed. “If the first two victims were random-”

“Then Alice Grey would be less likely as a target,” Cole finished and snapped his fingers. “Interesting….”

“Random attacks to make his last attack look as random as the ones before is kind of smart,” Pearce noted. “I mean for a murderer.”

Scully nodded understandingly. Mulder wondered if the pain killers she had been given were perhaps for someone twice her size and not for a woman of her stature. The kiss they shared in the car might be more easily explained if she was feeling a little buzz from a regulated substance. 

Pearce’s phone buzzed again, and she grumbled something to herself.

“What is it?” Scully asked.

“I have to deal with this injured officer,” she muttered. “My captain thinks it proves there are more instances and could be a bigger threat.”

“We saw objects moving in the shop,” Scully spoke up. “I thought it might be the Oniate, but now I think there’s something else at The Red Door that that could be connected to more than just Frank Rankin.”

“Like what?” Cole asked.

“A ghost,” Scully supplied obviously. 

Mulder smiled at her with all of his teeth showing like she had just told him she calculated the cost of liver on Reticulan. “That’s your scientific, logic-based theory?”

“Yeah.” Scully shrugged, and his mouth crooked up in a grin. “Some things don’t need an explanation, Mulder. I felt happier seeing a Sasquatch with my own two eyes than I did cataloguing it into our files with photographic evidence.”

“I love you,” Mulder blurted.

Scully sighed audibly as Cole and Pearce laughed. 

Mulder cracked open a new bottle of water and handed it to Scully. He whispered under his breath, “I meant what I said.”

“Oh brother,” she muttered and drank half the bottle. She touched her fingers to her lips. “Thank you for the water.”

“Anytime.”

Scully paused with her spring roll at her lips. “I should inform everyone that I was given a higher dose of Codeine than I believe I should been given.”

Pearce cleared her throat. “I appreciate your honesty.”

“How does this fall into a typical police report?” Cole asked.

Mulder shrugged. “We never usually do police reports. The FBI figures it out.”

“I’ll amend the report when we get back to D.C.,” Scully offered, to which Pearce and Cole accepted.

There was a knock at the door to their briefing room, and Haynes popped his head in. “Captain wants to see you both about this last poltergeist.”

“Why doesn’t he come in here?” Pearce asked Cole.

“Not us?” Mulder implored as he drank the other half of Scully’s water.

Haynes shook his head. “Just them.”

Mulder gave a questioning look to Scully, but she was looking off to the bullpen. His gaze followed hers and saw what she was currently focused on. Prisha was standing with Pearce’s baby.

“Can you-” Pearce started and gestured to Prisha and Poppy.

“Sure,” Mulder volunteered, but then immediately second-guessed himself since Scully was less than capable at the moment. 

Pearce called out to the nanny and waved back. Mulder correctly assumed that Prisha was off the clock for the day and expecting to be relieved by someone. That someone was now him or Scully. 

“Thanks!” Pearce said as she gathered her notes and took one last bite from her plate. She chewed quickly and said as she fixed her jacket, “Don’t throw my food out. I’m still hungry.”

Prisha entered the room with Poppy snapped into her car seat and the diaper bag over her shoulder. “Hello!”

She set the car seat on the table by the door and produced a small Tupperware container from the top of the bag. “Samosas! I hope you like them spicy.”

“I do!” Mulder’s eyes widened. “Thank you.”

Prisha waved her hand away, but she was smiling at Poppy who was wide awake and reaching out to be picked up. As she unbuckled the baby, Poppy squealed, and Mulder jumped a little.

“That’s a happy baby noise, Mulder,” Scully explained with a smile to him. “William used to yell like that at the top of his lungs when he was happy. It made me laugh every time.”

That was a devastating blow to his gut. He never once heard William squeal in delight, nor did he hear the following laughter that Scully emitted from witnessing his happiness. 

Prisha set Poppy in Scully’s arms, and he took a step towards the trio of women. 

“Careful of your arm, Scully,” Mulder warned, but she ignored him. 

“Hi there,” she smiled at Poppy.

The little babe was in pink, grey and white. A white knit cap with pink flowers covered her hair, and Mulder quickly realized the hat, sweater and booties on Poppy’s feet were a matching set.

Poppy’s clumsy fingers grabbed at Scully’s sweater, and she pulled the material towards her mouth.

“Oh, no,” Scully scorned her gently and distracted the baby expertly with the soother that was attached by a wooden beaded lanyard. “How’s this?”

“You’re a natural with her,” Prisha praised Scully. “How many children do you have?”

Scully looked at Mulder for help. “Um…”

“Two,” he supplied. Scully kept her eyes on Poppy who was intently looking at her red hair. As much as he tried to catch her attention, Scully’s was focused entirely on the baby in her arms. “She was fantastic with both of them.”

“Ah what a blessing,” Prisha said with her hands clasped. “I must go. My oldest son is taking me for dinner and to see a movie. I changed her diaper before we left. There are two bottles in the bag if she gets hungry. Have a good night!”

Prisha left quickly, and Mulder remained in the briefing room unsure what to do.

“Well…” he huffed.

“Isn’t she perfect?” Scully cooed at Poppy, and the baby smiled back at her. 

The natural instincts to be maternal and affectionate with Poppy had taken over. Mulder was now the third wheel to their staring contest that was interrupted by Scully occasionally kissing Poppy’s cheeks. 

Mulder sat in a chair next to Scully’s and put his hand on Poppy’s back. The small baby turned to grab his finger and pop the digit in her mouth. The fresh teeth she had broken stung the skin. She drooled onto Scully’s lap and Mulder realized every truth that had ever been hidden from him. This was the kind of moment that Mulder should have had with Scully and William instead of searching for an answer he already had. He should have stayed in Washington to protect them both instead of taking the coward’s way out. Scully would have had a million reasons to laugh at William versus the short nine months she had with their son.

He still wished they would find him one day, and hopefully, their return to the FBI could facilitate that. He couldn’t give up hope now. Scully deserved to be reunited with him before the world came crashing down around them. 

He knew that he had to protect moments such as these as long as he could. If not for him and Scully but for William, wherever he may be... if he survived the end of everything, they could finally be a family.

Chapter Text

This was their second case with the FBI since they had passed all their exams at Quantico. Skinner had called them in regards to the urgency for them to get back into the field but didn’t specify why.

The sound of her heels clicked on the tile floor in the lobby of the J. Edgar Hoover building and she adjusted the strap on her briefcase over her shoulder. She showed her badge to the security team and watched her bag get scanned through the X-ray machine.

Scully looked around the lobby for security guards she knew perviously but it was a lot of new faces. The process of getting into the building as a visitor and an agent was a lot tougher these days but with the state of the world being as it was, it didn’t surprise her.

She pressed the DOWN button on the elevator panel and waited among the group of other agents who were all standing in front of the doors with the UP button highlighted. It had been over twenty-five years since she had been among the agents who were all going in the same direction. Even at Our Lady of Sorrows through her residency and as an attending, she had to fight with the patriarchal controls the priests had over the doctors and patients.

There was a part of her now that wondered about the kids she left behind. The other part of her felt a great sense of relief that the boot on her neck had finally been lifted. Maybe she was just happy to serve a different heavy boot. With all that was going on, the fears that Sveta had ignited in her and Tad O’Malley’s resurgence in her life had complicated matters but didn’t make their return to the FBI any less needed.

There had been a conversation about meeting with a counsellor after his birthday but on the day of the appointment, Scully had been called back to the hospital to hand off her patients to another doctor. Every call she made to Mulder’s phone went to voicemail. She had a hundred good reasons for not showing up but none of them seemed good enough. Work got in the way and that’s all there was to it.

A week ago she thought he might mention it, but when she arrived in the basement office for her first day with her badge on her lapel and her gun on her hip, the look on Mulder’s face told her that he wasn’t interested in hashing out their personal lives while they settled back into their new-old office.

“Good morning, Scully,” Mulder quipped with the same detachment he used on her surname the first time they met. He was standing in the middle of the office holding an email and looking confused. “An IT guy brought the phone, two laptops and a printer this morning. He hooked up the whole office and we have a wireless network for everything else. You know they don’t hand deliver notes anymore via secretaries? You get a memo via email or on this FBI community intranet.”

“We get service down here?” Scully asked as she set her bag on the cabinet and hung her beige trench coat on the hook behind the door. “Last time we could barely get dial-up and that was with the giant cord running along the floor of the office.”

Mulder gave her a brief glance up and down and she caught herself doing the same to him. He had hung his suit jacket on the coat rack and his shirt sleeves were rolled up slightly but his tie was still in place. He was probably in the middle of relaxing into the office setting when the IT technician arrived and interrupted the shedding of his business attire.

She pulled her cell phone out of her briefcase and her eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. “Oh look at that.”

Four bars?” Mulder asked as he took a step towards her to look over her shoulder at the screen on her cell. “Wow….”

Scully glanced over her shoulder but looked away quickly. Her olfactory senses were too overwhelmed by the mint of his toothpaste, aftershave and cologne. The hint of his deodorant and the fresh laundry with a bit of starch all mixed together to something way too familiar and comforting.

Now wasn’t the time to get weak in the knees that Mulder had a suit sent out to get pressed. It certainly wasn’t convenient to get gooey over him because the undershirt he had on was laundered with the same detergent brand she used to use at their small farmhouse.

“So we have new laptops?” Scully asked as she unpinned her badge from her lapel and tucked her keys in her briefcase.

Mulder held his hand out to direct her towards the desk. “I already logged into mine. I have your ID and temporary password here but you have to change it after you sign on. The password has to have at least one uppercase letter-”

“What?” Scully asked as she moved around the desk next to him.

Mulder picked up the email with instructions on it and adjusted it away from his face. He rolled his eyes and pulled a pair of reading glasses out of his shirt pocket. “Okay. It needs to be more than four characters. At least one upper case letter, one number and no symbols so if you were trying to be clever spelling your name with the periodic table of elements, you need to leave those out.”

“Darmstadtium is Ds on the periodic table - not enough characters for your joke, Mulder,” she argued. “I was born in 1964, not 66, so while that would be easier, it would be incorrect.”

“Could you spell my name with the periodic table of elements, Scully?” he asked with a grin.

“No, there is no M or Mu,” she sighed.

Mulder grinned at her. “Not even Fox?”

“Fluorine, Oxygen, Xenon but that’s Xe,” she replied with a grin.

He jested, “Maybe I’m French.”

“Oh is that what you are?” Scully laughed a little as she typed in her new password. “By the way, the French word for Fox is ‘renard’ and no I won’t spell that with the elements.”

Mulder chuckled slightly and sat on the edge of the desk as she set up her laptop. “I got a call this morning from the DOD that there was an apparent suicide at one of the science labs. It’s under the parent company name Nugenics Technology and the victim is Dr. Sonny Sanjay.”

“They requested us, specifically?” Scully asked as she stood up and crossed her arms. “Why?”

“Well, the bureau has jurisdiction inside D.C. over all federal agency murders or suspicious death cases-”

“I’m well aware-” she cut him off.

And,” Mulder continued without skipping a beat. “When the initial case report came in from the 911 operator, it was put to the local P.D. After that, it landed on a desk upstairs, on to Skinner’s desk and finally to us because of the slightly off-kilter nature of the suicide.”

Scully waited for a beat. “What’s the catch, Mulder?”

Mulder shook his head. “No catch.”

She furrowed her brow at him and pushed her lower lip out as she contemplated what he might be hiding.

Mulder cleared his throat and pulled on his belt with his thumb and forefinger towards his back. It was a funny stretch he did to extend his abdominal muscles as he adjusted his pants. Scully glanced quickly down to the curve of his ass then back to her laptop as she shut it down.

“Ready then?” she prompted him.

Mulder pulled down his shirt sleeves and quickly fastened the buttons on his wrists. “You wanna drive?”

She shrugged. “I can.”

Mulder picked up the initial case report off the desk and Scully gave the office a cursory glance before he closed the door behind him. He fished in his suit pocket and pulled out a fob.

“No more keys,” he told her as he handed her a black plastic ornament attached to a key ring.

Scully examined the item before hooking it onto her car keys. “Nothing is the same anymore.”

Her eyes travelled over to her lack of a name on the door of their office and Mulder pursed his lips.

“Maybe one or two things,” she commented.

They walked the hallway towards the elevator and Mulder pressed the UP arrow. “If this is about you having a desk-”

“It wouldn’t have killed them to put two desks in there?” she muttered. “My name on a door? At Our Lady of Sorrows, I shared an office but at least they put my name on a door.”

Mulder adjusted the collar on his jacket. “I’ll make sure to point out the gross level of ignorance on HR and Skinner’s part when we meet with him later.”

Scully nodded. “You do that.”

 

*** *** ***


As Scully conducted the interviews on the witnesses, Mulder quickly grew bored of their identical accounts of what happened and walked into the computer lab to inspect the crime scene.

She thanked the men she interviewed and gave them her business card with the FBI contact number on it. She came upon Mulder kneeling over the corpse of Dr. Sanjay.

“What do you make of this, Scully?” he asked her as he looked up and down the body.

“Well, it seems that Dr. Sanjay had a psychotic break and committed suicide,” Scully assessed. “Note the letter opener sticking out of his head.”

“Noted,” he mumbled.

“All the witnesses I spoke to have consistent accounts,” Scully continued as she fidgeted with the sleeves on her blouse.

Mulder stood up and looked over her head. “I mean the room.”

She gave him a questioning look as the flash of the forensic cameras echoed around them.

“He chose the most secured place in the building to kill himself,” he reminded her. “He was trying to access something. These are isolated servers, so, the only way to get to the data is through this terminal, which is also protected.”

Scully felt her stomach clench. “Is that why we’re here? You’re interested in the server?”

She had hoped they would be investigating a questionable suicide as their second case back. Something gruesome but not overly conspiracy riddled with the dark underbelly a government agency was hiding.

Mulder was bagging up a portable hard drive in an evidence bag, ignoring her. It only confirmed that he was there for something other than Dr. Sanjay’s untimely death.

“What are you looking for, Mulder?” she asked.

A man in a slick suit entered just then and walked straight towards them. He stepped over Dr. Sanjay’s body without flinching. “Unhand the hard drive, sir.”

“This is evidence,” he told the man.

“It’s classified,” the suit replied as he took the hard drive back from Mulder, sans gloves.

“The reason why we were investigating rather than the local police is because we have security clearance,” Scully reminded him as she glanced to the name on his badge clipped to his pocket.

She could only make out the last name, Lindquist, and it somehow suited every experience she had with the DOD that an agent would encounter without introducing himself first. Some things don’t change.

“To be in the room,” he clarified and held up the server. “Not to look inside this. This is property of the Department of Defense.”

“We need to conduct a few more interviews, then, before we conclude our investigation,” Mulder countered.

“The individuals pertinent to this incident have already been interviewed by your colleague,” Lindquist shot down.

“We’d like to talk to Augustus Goldman,” Mulder pushed further and Scully tried to hide her surprise at the mention of his name.

Five years ago, Augustus Goldman had shown interest in work that Scully had done with a child with a rare genetic disorder. The patient was moved from Our Lady of Sorrows during a thirty-six-hour block of time that Scully had off from the hospital and no one would give her information as to why. The parents had moved out of state and left no forwarding information. That alone sparked Mulder’s interest but as time went on, the patient known as Louis Stebbings would remain a mystery.

“He wasn’t even on campus when this happened,” Lindquist pointed out.

“Well, if you won’t let me look at the drive, then I have to talk to Goldman about what the deceased was trying to access before he died,” Mulder negotiated.

“I’m not authorized to confirm that I have knowledge of the whereabouts of the Founder,” Lindquist replied quickly.

“Can you confirm that you have security cameras watching over the entire complex?” Scully asked as she pointed at the black orbs attached to different spots on the ceiling to help push Mulder’s case. “There’s that one. I saw a few more out there.”

“Yes,” Lindquist answered.

“In that case, I’d like to see all of the tapes,” Scully requested.

“As soon as possible,” Lindquist obliged. “But for now, remove this body so we can secure this room.”

“Sorry, we’re not finished,” Scully objected.

“Oh, we’re finished,” Mulder stated as he stepped over Dr. Sanjay and shed his gloves. “We are finished.”

While his statement felt slightly as though it was directed at her or their relationship, she followed him out silently hoping there was more to his quick exit than she suspected.

As they rounded the corner out of the labs towards the lobby, she looked down to Mulder snooping through a cell phone that wasn’t his.

“Mulder, that’s not your phone,” she said obviously.

“You know me, Scully,” he said as he continued to change the settings on the phone to access it later. “I’m old school.”

Old school Mulder was notorious for stealing items from a crime scene and somehow getting it past the judicial system when prosecuting cases, regardless of it being fruit of the poisonous tree.

“Riley versus California. The Supreme Court ruled that you need a warrant to search a mobile phone,” she said quietly.

“That’s for a suspect,” Mulder retorted. “Sanjay’s the victim.”

“Well, there is no victim,” she countered. “He killed himself.”

“Then I’m sure he won’t mind me talking to some of his friends,” he said as he continued to search the contacts. “Here’s someone he talked to every night. Gupta.”

“Dr. Sanjay is from Western India,” Scully told him. “Gupta is a Marathi word. It means ‘secret.’”

“How do you know that?” Mulder asked in surprise.

“I’m old school, Mulder,” she retorted to remind him that she read a lot. “Pre-Google.”

 

*** ***

 

They had spent the morning scouring through Dr. Sonny Sanjay’s apartment that happened to be not far from the Nugenics lab. It was the last item in his employment file that Mulder and Scully had been privy to before the security team at the front desk took their visitors passes away.

What they found there was surprising but didn’t lead them to any clues about who he was. The white tile flooring, black marble countertop and brushed chrome accents looked like something out of a minimalist style guide she would see in a home furnishing store that sold cloth napkins for fifty dollars each. Nothing about the space was inviting, warm or even personal.

Mulder got a text from Gupta about meeting up on Sanjay’s phone. “Gupta wants to meet.”

“Good idea,” she agreed.

“Maybe this Gupta will have an idea why Sanjay’s apartment was cleaner than an iPhone assembly plant,” he commented with a grin.

Scully parked her vehicle in the loading zone at the FBI morgue and tossed Mulder the keys over the hood. She grabbed her briefcase out of the back seat and held up a finger, “No seeds.”

It might be less than accommodating to his habits but the fact was, she appreciated not finding his discarded shells in every crack of her furniture since she left. At times, she felt she missed his noise and mess but the respite from the overbearing presence of him in her space had been also kind to her.

She could see Mulder make a disappointed face at her rule but he probably realized having to take an Uber to meet up with Gupta was less than ideal so he kept his mouth shut.

“Text me if you find anything interesting on Sanjay,” he called to her and she gave a casual wave over her shoulder in response.

As she walked up the steps to the entrance, she looked back at Mulder watching her and he gave one last wave before he took off.

When Mulder arrived at the FBI morgue in downtown Washington, D.C. two and a half hours later, Scully was in the middle of weighing Dr. Sanjay’s brain. She was surprised at the absence of a tumour or any other immediate indicators that led to him impaling himself via letter opener.

She had blood on her gloved hands and the smell of burnt flesh filled the surrounding area of the table where the corpse was laid out. The only overhead lights on were over her workspace while she kept the rest of the autopsy bay dimly lit. One might think that having the entire room illuminated would be advantageous for working on such a project but she found the contrast to be helpful for examining a body. The white light seemed brighter and the only thing she could focus on was what was in front of her.

Yikes,” Mulder greeted as he entered and saw her with Sanjay’s dissected brain in her hands.

“I thought maybe if he had a tumour, it might disclose that he was hearing things,” she explained as she set the organ back on the counter.

“What did you find?” he asked with an obvious face of distaste towards the sight before him.

After twenty-five years, the man still felt squeamish around dead bodies and autopsy bays but would eagerly stick two fingers inside goo that could be bile or a gelatinous sap excreted from a sick tree. His fear of the human form was more of an enigma than her belief in God and science working together to create a harmonious universe.

Scully shook her head. “Just a confirmation that the penetration of the letter opener to his cerebral cortex killed him. I had suspected that he was suffering from a neurological disease that might have been present upon a physical examination of his brain. I sent tissue samples to be tested already but I’m certain they’ll come up clean.”

“Why’s that?” he asked.

“Give me a second,” she began and left him to wash her hands in the bay of sinks just on the other side of a swing door from the morgue.

She looked down at the soap swirling into the industrial drain and to her reflection in the small mirror. She used a damp paper towel to wipe around her mouth and discarded her surgical cap and glasses. As she pulled the elastic from her hair, she wondered if she was consciously primping for Mulder or if this had become a habit of self-preservation since he rarely saw her at her worst anymore.

When she returned, Mulder was discarding sunflower shells into a small trash bin marked ‘food only.’ She wondered if he had also skipped dinner like she had or if he was snacking on the salty seeds as a dessert.

“So what did you find between calling me and opening up his skull?” he asked as they approached the table.

“That-” she pointed to Sanjay’s distorted hand. “I had to break his fingers to pry them open but he wrote that on the palm of his hand before he died.”

Mulder tucked his hands into his pockets and leaned carefully over the body. “Founders Mutation.”

“The Founder is what they called Dr. Goldman at Nugenics,” Scully informed him. “Is that why you wanted to talk to him?”

“I don’t think that’s the mutation Sanjay was referring to,” Mulder replied and turned to the X-Ray panels at the head of the table. “Did you find anything else on the autopsy?”

“Well, there were no abnormalities in Dr. Sanjay’s brain,” Scully reiterated as she approached the panel of films she took earlier. “The opener destroyed the acoustic nerve and then went into the cerebral cortex.”

“It’s weird because the opener goes in at 90 degrees and then it veers off at 60 degrees up into his brain,” he commented as he traced the path of penetration along the film of Sanjay’s profile. “Like he was hunting for something.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “It ended up in the auditory cortex.”

The light from the film illuminator projected a white glow onto Mulder’s face and she saw the subtle lines of his age and the sorrows he suffered when he was too young. If he gave her the same inspection, would he see her age or would he forgive the passage of time and the hardships that had worn on her face as well?

They stood for a moment looking at the films of Sanjay’s skull and Scully remembered something that one of the eyewitnesses had told her earlier while Mulder left to examine the suicide scene.

“You know, he blurted something out at the meeting, before his suicide,” Scully told him. “He said, ‘Can’t anyone hear that?’”

“Hmm,” Mulder mulled.

“But nobody else could hear a thing,” she finished.

“Well, ultimately, hearing is just nerve impulses interpreted by the brain,” Mulder told her as though he hadn’t read that in a JAMA article from a magazine that was addressed to her or that she hadn’t learned that information in medical school. “What if those same impulses could be generated without actual vibrations striking the eardrum?”

Of course, he would try to find an angle to this that wasn’t quite normal. Someone forcing a sound into another person’s brain wasn’t beyond the realm of science but that kind of technology wasn’t available to the public. Her mind quickly jumped to the notion that someone had that physical ability but she dismissed that thought as soon as it arrived.

“Hmm,” she replied as she considered and rejected that option.

If this was twenty-five years ago, she would have reminded Mulder of the impossibilities of such things but that was prior to the torturous emotional strife they had endured as a couple. Things would be taken much more personally now.

“Well, anyway,” Mulder turned back to Sanjay’s body. “If he left a note on his hand, maybe he left other clues.”

“But where?” she asked. “We’ve checked out every square inch of his apartment.”

”Well, he leased a place that only Gupta knew about,” he told her and she caught the scent of beer on his breath. “I think we should go to where he actually lived.”

“Maybe I’ll drive since you seem to have had a couple this evening,” she offered and he held up his hands. “Haven’t you? Did you eat?”

“I was thinking we could get takeout on our way to Sanjay’s secret apartment,” he commented and she frowned. “But you probably don’t want to eat a burger in your car either.”

She sighed. “I’ll finish up here and we’ll stop in at Tap and Shake.”

Mulder pumped one arm and then looked down at Sanjay’s open skull. “I’m going to wait over there if that’s all the same to you.”

Scully held her arm out to show him to the door and he gave one last look at the skin peeled back from Sanjay’s head before making another face. “Go, already.”

Mulder walked slowly to the door. “Sorry, it’s just so…”

“I’ll be done in twenty minutes,” she said. “Take the laptop into the office back there and type up your notes from your meeting.”

Mulder picked up her briefcase off the counter along the wall and muttered something that sounded like ‘bossy’ but she chose to ignore it.

 

*** *** ***

 

Dupont Circle was alive with young people out exploring the nightlife with little regard to the hangovers and exhaustion they would feel the following day. Mulder had assured Scully they could stop in for burgers after their excursion to Dupont Circle so she quelled any hunger pangs and continued to the address Mulder put into the GPS. Scully noted as they stopped in the alley that it was mostly young men walking the sidewalks and she quickly ascertained the reason that Gupta and Sanjay met at an apartment in this neighbourhood.

“It’s hard to imagine in 2016 that Sanjay had to keep his sexual orientation a secret,” she commented.

“Being gay wasn’t his only secret,” Mulder retorted.

“It’s considered a criminal offense to be gay in India but he lives in America,” Scully replied. “There should be a higher level of acceptance among his peers. A doctor or a scientist should have a more open mind towards who a person is. Who you’re attracted to isn’t a preference, it’s an identity. Some things can’t be helped.”

“I feel that,” he muttered as she parked the vehicle in front of Sanjay’s building. “However social stigma, the familial pressures and not wanting to be an archetype in the company’s diversity numbers might have been reasons that Sanjay kept his sexuality a secret.”

“I understand that,” Scully sighed as she shut off the car. “I just believe that in this day and age, someone should just be accepted for their character and not for the things they do with other consenting adults.”

How she felt about Mulder wasn’t something she could change about herself. If she likened that emotion and attraction to how same-sex couples felt, it was morally abhorrent to her that any person could be persecuted for loving someone just because their gender didn’t fit with what a repressed society decided upon.

Mulder unbuckled his seatbelt. “I agree with you but look at the neighbourhood we are in. The majority of the men and women walking around look like they’ve been to a Pride parade in the past.“

Mulder-” she warned and two young men with tight jeans, slouchy beanies and scarfs thrown over their shoulders walked by. “I mean yes, but we can’t judge based on-”

The two young men turned to one another and began kissing. One of them smiled as they broke the kiss. It was wonderful they had a safe space in a neighbourhood to be themselves however it made her think of places in the world that didn’t accept them.

Mulder chuckled. “Young love.”

The two young men kept walking and Scully felt a small pang inside that it had been far too long since she and Mulder had a moment with such carefree affection for one another. When was the last time they went out for dinner and he took her hand to pull her in for a kiss? Their recent encounters had been moments of stolen affection between bouts of frustration and mourning the loss of what could have been.

With that thought, she exited the car and pulled her notepad from her jacket pocket. Sanjay’s apartment was just up the street. The brownstones had been modified into lofts, main floor and basement apartments. Most likely it was to get the maximum rent out of a space that once housed a whole family but with the cities being less than ideal to raise young children and more families settling in the suburbs, it made sense to divide up properties for one or two inhabitants.

Mulder adjusted his collar and pointed to the building they were heading to. As he patted his jacket for his flashlight and the keys he got from Sanjay’s personal effects, he cleared his throat. “I agree with you.”

“With what?” Scully asked as they took a small walkway between the buildings and to the back of the brownstone. Around the corner, they saw the entrance to his loft up a set of stairs. “We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last ten minutes.”

“For better or worse, who you love is who you love,” he affirmed with a look that said more than just about the case at hand. “No one should have to hide it.”

“What other secrets was Sanjay hiding?” Scully asked as she followed him up the stairs to the entrance to the apartment.

Mulder turned on his flashlight and she heard him sigh. “Gupta mentioned that Sanjay was worried about his ‘kids’ but as far as he knew, Sonny didn’t have any biological children.”

“What would the need for two apartments be?” she queried as they reached the dark landing at Sanjay’s front door.

Mulder shrugged and handed her his flashlight to hold so he could see the lock. “I couldn’t answer that. I only live in one house.”

With his back to her, she could only make out his tone and not see the expression on his face. Either way, the comment was a dig at her flitting back and forth between the house they purchased as a home to build their life together and the D.C. apartment she acquired after she left.

Mulder unlocked the front door and turned back to her to retrieve his flashlight, ignoring her gaze. Scully tried to ignore the hurt feelings that were bubbling up with his recent remarks and focus on the case at hand.

Lawfully, they didn’t have granted access to Sanjay’s apartment. Regardless of him being a victim of his suicide, the DOD had top jurisdiction over the case. Not running their next move by Lindquist would probably land them in some hot water from Skinner. It was only a matter of time before the DOD discovered this second dwelling. If Nugenics was trying to hide anything, they would be adamant to stop them from uncovering it.

Keeping the interior lights off, they used their flashlights to explore the space that definitely looked like a home versus the cold, DOD housing Sanjay listed on his personnel file.

Inside Sanjay’s bedroom on the wall over his dresser was a display of pictures of children with various genetic conditions that ranged from Proteus syndrome, Crouzon Syndrom and Pitt-Hawkins Syndrome that she could name off the top of her head. This was much different than the children she saw at Our Lady of Sorrows who were born without ears. They were still researching why this genetic deformity was happening when she left. So much can happen to a developing fetus that is beyond the control of the mother. A woman can do everything right prior to and during her pregnancy but something can still change a child’s biology for better or worse.

“Mulder!” she called to him. “I found something.”

As he walked into the bedroom, he shined his light on the wall she was observing and his breath caught in his throat.

“His kids…” he repeated the phrase.

“Yeah,” she breathed.

“Sanjay was afraid they were dying,” Mulder told her. “These kids…. they look so young. None of them look older than ten. Look at the backgrounds.”

“It’s a clinical setting,” Scully observed. “It looks like it might be a hospital.”

The sound of car doors slamming on the street below them alerted her and she turned to the red and blue flashing lights reflecting in the window by Sanjay’s bed. She looked down the stairwell and saw three police officers looking around the building before taking the stairs up to them.

“The police are coming up,” she reported. “We must have triggered a silent alarm.”

“All right, look around,” Mulder instructed her. “He’s bound to have kept some information on them somewhere.”

They began to search through the drawers in Sanjay’s desk for any information about who the children were or where they might be treated. Just as Mulder was rummaging through a linen drawer, he dropped to his knees. He winced audibly and she saw him kneeling next to the chest of drawers as he held his head in pain.

“Mulder?” she ran to him and put her hands on his back. “Mulder, are you okay?”

A horn blared down in the alley and there was a sound at the front door.

“They’re coming,” she whispered. “Mulder!”

“Police officer!” a voice announced at Sanjay’s front door. Scully left him to quell the urgency of local agents arresting them for breaking and entering. “Lady, put your hands where I can see them!”

“FBI,” she declared.

“FBI?” the officer repeated. “What is the FBI doing breaking and entering into a private residence.”

“We’re investigating the death of the owner of this apartment, Dr. Sonny Sanjay,” Scully informed him. She kept one hand up and the other reached into her coat pocket to pull out her badge. “Dr. Sanjay committed suicide this morning.”

“I thought the FBI kept banking hours,” the officer at the door commented. 

Scully made eye contact with the young woman and she smiled back at her. "You'd be surprised."

The officer in front of her nodded at her badge. She tucked it away and lowered her hands.

“As you can see, my partner is in distress. I need to take him to the hospital,” she told them. “We were just leaving.”

“Help me out here,” the first officer started. “What are you doing in the dark? This isn’t going to look good on any report.”

“We were looking for information regarding Dr. Sanjay’s suicide,” Scully repeated. “If we can find any information here why he might have taken his life-”

“Find what information?” the second officer asked. “He didn’t leave a note?”

Scully shook her head. “No.”

The officer at the door was watching Mulder on the ground. She cleared her throat and nodded towards Mulder. “I’m going to radio a paramedic to take a look at your partner there.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

The lights in the living room switched on and the first officer radioed in to turn off whatever alarm they had triggered. She walked back to where Mulder was hunched over and he turned his face to her. There was a sheen of sweat along his brow and a vein on his forehead was bulging as though he was in danger of suffering an aneurysm.

“Mulder,” she whispered. “Hang on. We’re getting you some help.”

** *** ***

The George Washington University Hospital was busy for a Thursday evening, however the wait time for a federal agent was ideal. Mulder was put on an IV drip, his vitals were being monitored and he was waiting for a nurse to take his blood. Once the ambulance brought Mulder in and Scully had watched them change him out of his suit, she had been sent from his bedside to fill out the necessary forms.

Scully was currently filling out the paperwork for Mulder while he laid in a bed, a gown around his muscular frame and an oxygen tube inserted into his nostrils to ensure that he was getting back to a balanced state of existence.

As she set the forms on the intake desk, the woman behind the counter held up one finger as she reviewed them.

“Mister Mulder hasn’t signed these,” the woman stated.

“You sent me out of his room to fill these out,” Scully reminded her.

“You’ll need to take these to him and get him to sign the paperwork,” she replied and handed the clipboard back to Scully.

“I’d really like to speak with his doctor,” Scully insisted.

“His medical file-”

“I’m his wife,” Scully cut her off.

“That’s not-”

“I’m his-” she repeated.

Mulder exited through the doors just as Scully was about to tear the woman a new one.

“Mulder!” she cried and ran towards him. “What are you doing? Did the doctor discharge you?”

Mulder pulled his jacket up his arms to his shoulders as he rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t having any of the symptoms I was suffering from in Sanjay’s apartment so they kicked me out for someone who really needed the bed.”

“But-” she protested as he started walking out of the hospital. She had to quicken her pace to keep up with his stride. “What if the symptoms you were suffering from return while we’re out in the field? Did the doctors run any kind of tests? Did they do an auditory screening? Is it a severe case of tinnitus? I want to speak with the physician who discharged you.”

Mulder held his hand out to her. “Keys?”

“Where are you suggesting we go to?” she countered.

“I want to get back to Sanjay’s apartment before the DOD shows up,” he answered flatly.

Mulder-” she protested.

Mulder turned to her and put his hands on his lower hips. “Are you going to give me the keys or do I have to frisk you?”

Scully noted the smirk on his lips and rolled her eyes at him. “I’ll drive. You still had a few beers-”

Five hours ago,” he interrupted as they walked out the front doors. “Maybe I should take an Uber.”

“Coming through!” a man called behind them.

A paramedics team pushed between Mulder and Scully with a gurney and stocked kits in hand. They were talking about an upcoming break on what would probably be a busy evening.

“What if the pain comes back while we’re in Sanjay’s apartment?” Scully pushed as she moved back towards Mulder.

“I’ll be fine because I travel with a doctor,” Mulder deadpanned.

Letting out a sigh of defeat, she pulled the keys from her pocket and put them in his palm. Their fingers brushed against each other and she glanced up at his face to gauge a reaction. Mulder was scanning the streets for her vehicle with a blank expression.

She pushed aside the nervousness and concern for Mulder that was mixed with the desire and confusion. “I parked around the corner.”

Mulder held his hand out and put the other on her lower back. “After you.”

His hand lingered on her lower back a step too many and she looked up to Mulder walking with his jaw clenched. She pushed aside the urge to reach behind her and interlace their fingers to give them a squeeze. If the tone of his comments today had been different, she might have been bold enough to do something as simple as hold his hand. It was more than painful to realize that the man she legally called her husband felt like a tentative friend at best when they were working together.

Abruptly, Mulder’s hand left her back and he quickened his pace to walk ahead of her towards her vehicle. He didn’t know where he was supposed to be looking, but he knew what he was looking for as she quickened her pace to match his. It was a metaphor for his search for the truth if she ever saw one.

Maybe if she hadn’t left him, he might be more inclined to speak with a tone they could agree wasn’t hostile or aggressive. The reasons she left were more inclined by virtue of self-preservation for the both of them. As long as she lived in that house, he would continue to pull them down into the all-encompassing madness of his obsessions and paranoia. There would be no serenity or repose until they suffocated under the weight of what was just a theory that had yet to have any proof behind it.

At least if she was out of the house, she could breathe. The moments when she returned were episodes of quiet desperation when living without him was unbearable. She could be there long enough to enjoy herself and relax in the familiarity of his embrace. It didn’t hurt her to see the man he had become but she left before he could break her heart all over again.

Scully contemplated if she had been stronger, she could have helped them both without breaking their vows. Her thumb edged along the empty space where her wedding band used to be and she sighed. Mulder wasn’t wearing his ring either and that fact hurt her more than she cared to admit.

The bitterness of a woman filled with grief and sorrow by his obsessions piped in that he could have also made an effort not to lose himself as well. It was what she feared when the FBI offered him his freedom if he worked on the missing persons case with Father Joe. She asked him to help with a profile, not return to work with the full force of Fox William Mulder who screamed in the rain about missing time.

There was a different part of Mulder than the all-encompassing, passionate man who she was forced into a partnership with. That man had lost everything countless times, he had been pushed down into the basement by his superiors and scoffed at by his peers, yet he was relentless. His passion and drive for the truth propelled them both forward on a journey she could have never imagined in her wildest dreams when she began her career with the FBI.

That stubborn and determined man was the same person she fell in love with, bore a child from and ran away from everything she knew, but that man had mellowed out over the years. He had confirmation about the lights in the sky but proving it to the world was less of a priority. He had closure on his sister after a lifelong search. He had stood next to a scientist in the Antarctic and watched an object propel out of the ice and into space. He had her trust and faith and, in turn, her work had validated his. The science to back up his theories was all he could ever ask for and she certainly gave him that, even at the detriment to her reputation.

It worried her that he was determined to leave the hospital to continue this case without the assurance from a doctor that he was all right. That was the kind of reckless behaviour she would expect from Mulder twenty years ago. A man his age should know better.

In return for bringing him back from the edge of darkness countless times, the man could look at her with love and admiration mixed with disdain and contempt. It had made her cautious and fearful when she realized she was falling in love with him. It kept part of her guarded and she held back until she found his dead body and buried him while pregnant with his child.

During their years on the X-Files, she always feared that she was holding him back from the truth by getting in the way of his theories with her pesky scientific jargon and rationalizations. He vowed to her that it validated him even more among the peers that rejected him.

Tonight as they approached her car, she wasn’t sure if he appreciated that efficacy because of what it cost them both.

“What are you hoping to find in Sanjay’s apartment, Mulder?” Scully asked as she climbed in the passenger seat.

“Anything that would relate to the children he was so concerned for,” he answered. “I think due to their birth defects, these children were being used as lab rats for some sick science that would probably end up in $100 moisturizer for the top 3 per cent.”

Mulder’s disdain towards the wealthy was ironic due to the fact that he grew up with money. He had a trust fund and an inheritance that was nothing to balk at. Even when both his parents had passed and their homes had been sold, Mulder still didn’t appreciate what that kind of wealth meant. He could have quit his job, wrote a book and tried to fight for the truth as a private citizen instead of an agent of the government. He was happier with something a little higher than a blue collar with small expenses, paying his rent with his FBI paycheque and forgetting his XXX bill until the final notice.

“Mulder,” she sighed. “What if these children are part of a research trial to cure whatever genetic ailments they’re afflicted with?”

“Why wouldn’t you have been asked to work on it while you were at Our Lady of Sorrows?” he countered. “You’re the smartest doctor I know. Dr. Goldman knew who you were. Didn’t he make a pass at you at that first Christmas fundraiser?”

Scully narrowed her eyes at him. “No… He said he read my thesis that rewrote Einstein. That’s not a come on-”

“Yes it is,” Mulder scoffed.

“You said you read it when we first met,” she reminded him.

“Scully,” Mulder sighed as he pulled onto the street to head back to Sanjay’s apartment. “If you didn’t realize that I was hitting on you every second I could then I don’t-”

“Mulder, it took you five years to kiss me,” she argued.

“It would have been a good one too,” he testified.

She sighed and pushed her hands between her legs to warm up her fingertips. “I’ll bet.”

Mulder grinned at her then shook his head. “I made up for it, I think.”

The skin on her cheeks felt hot and there was a tingling down her neck to her breasts. “Sure.”

She could see Mulder’s self-satisfied smile and she turned her head to look out the window. The feelings bubbling up right now conflicted with the hurt emotions she had been dealing with the better part of a decade.

The problem for her and Mulder was that she could never not want him. She had it under good authority that he still felt the attraction to her, however those moments lined up had become few and far between. When she arrived at the home they built together, the same home she had walked out on, it felt like a tryst of two people who lived separate lives. They fooled themselves into thinking that the time she spent there wasn’t hurting them both because ultimately, she would have to walk out the door and return to her life of chosen solitude.

Mulder parked the vehicle in front of Sanjay’s apartment and pulled a business card from his jacket pocket.

“Who are you calling?” she asked.

“One of the police officers handed me this card when we left earlier,” he answered quietly as he tried to read the numbers on the card. He patted his suit jacket and pulled out a pair of reading glasses to see the numbers more clearly. “She told me to call again when we wanted to get back in.”

“She?” Scully questioned. “She gave you her card while you were on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance? Who was it?”

"The one who called the ambulance," Mulder smirked at her. “Scully, she’s a young officer trying to prove herself to a federal agent. She can’t be older than twenty-five. Someone my age has no business even flirting with someone in her generation. Don’t get jealous over some kid.”

Her jaw dropped and her cheeks pinked. “I wasn’t jealous-”

Mulder scoffed.

“I wasn’t!” she protested weakly.

“It’s fine.“ He leaned across the car and planted a kiss on her cheek. Scully tried to hide her reaction when he pulled away. “I kind of like it when you get jealous.”

She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at him. “Why?”

Mulder shrugged as he dialled the number to the young officer. “I don’t know. Confirmation to my many insecurities that you still care and feel some kind of territory over me as I do to- yes hello, this is Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. We met earlier tonight.”

Scully sighed and pulled out a bottle of water from the middle console to take a long drink. She should have eaten dinner. They never did make it to a restaurant before going to Sanjay’s. Mulder was probably hungry too and she knew that sunflower seeds did not keep him going these days as they used to.

Her stomach was growling and all she had on her was half a protein bar she snacked on before her autopsy.

Pulling the chocolate fudge protein blast bar from her purse, she unwrapped it and broke the item in two. She handed half to Mulder, who as he was speaking to the officer on the phone, pulled her wrist towards his mouth and took the quarter of the bar into his mouth in its entirety.

His lips brushed against her fingertips and she had his saliva on the edge of her thumb. Mulder ran the pad of her thumb along his top front two teeth to remove the chocolate coating.

“Yeah, I’m still here,” Mulder said into the phone.

There couldn’t be a more complicated list of emotions running through her right now. She felt annoyed with him that he was being so glib, flirting with her while ignoring her medical advice. There were a hundred different ways to take the conversations they had been having over the last week but if she could pinpoint anything, it was that Mulder was keeping her on her toes.

“Okay we’ll be waiting in a dark blue Ford SUV near the alley access,” Mulder told the woman on the phone and glanced over to Scully. “Thanks. Bye.”

He shifted in his seat and chewed on the remaining protein bar. “This isn’t bad.”

“Beats your sunflower seed snacks,” she replied.

Mulder took the water bottle from her and helped himself to a drink. He breathed heavily through his nose. “It’s more filling but nothing beats a salty seed.”

Scully couldn’t tell if there was an innuendo in there or not so she chose to ignore it. “I’m curious if Sanjay was able to keep files on those children. If he had pictures, he had to be hiding more in his apartment.”

“There’s a lot to be said of parents who give up their children because of a defect or a disease,” he replied as he capped the water bottle and handed it back to her. “I thought these kinds of things stopped when social media started guilting us all into being better, more accepting people.”

“Mulder you can’t assume they live at a medical facility,” Scully argued as she put the almost empty bottle in the slot in the door. “For all we know, they’re outpatients that Sanjay was helping study as part of his work with Nugenics.”

“I would put fifty bucks on the idea that those children haven’t seen their parents since they were babies,” he commented.

Scully reached her hand across the cab of the vehicle to him. “I’ll take that bet.”

He shook his head at her. “You’re a sucker.”

“No, I just believe that it takes a lot more than a disease to give up a child,” she replied as their hands moved up and down in an agreement.

“If you had found out when you were pregnant that there was something wrong or that he had a disease-”

“I would have kept him,” she affirmed. “I… I knew the moment I thought of having a child that I would do anything for it. There’s something instinctual about protecting children… and… I just felt it deep in my bones that I had to do what I could to keep him safe-”

“You did, Scully,” he assured her.

The decision to give William up for adoption was a choice she struggled with even to this day. Her mind chose to linger on the possibilities of what could have been and she often dreamt of moments that might have been her life if she had not asked Mulder to leave. Maybe they might have had a fighting chance and her instincts to send him away were completely off base. She would never know now what consequences Mulder might have faced had he stayed.

“But if we had the chance to live in that house with a child and even if… if he was disabled or afflicted with a genetic disorder…” her voice trailed off. “I couldn’t have given him up to a hospital when I know that I would have done a better job as an advocate to help him.”

“Every parent dreams of having a child who looks like them,” he told her. “We want to make man as God did in our own image. Creating another human to pass on our likeness and genetic imprint onto the planet. It’s kind of egotistical that we procreate at all.”

Scully arched her eyebrow at him.

“I mean, I get the reason and the urge and everything,” he clarified. “It’s made to feel good so we do it. It just… sometimes results in a lot of heartbreak.”

“Doesn’t stop us from doing it,” she replied quietly as her eyes scanned the street out the front window. This conversation was far too intimate to have while looking him in the eye. “And so what if it is? It keeps our species going.”

She could feel him watching her and she turned to look at him. He was looking at her in longing and she licked her lower lip nervously.

“Mulder, I-”

A tap on Scully’s window with a flashlight interrupted their intimate moment and she jumped in her seat to turn to the officer standing outside. Scully rolled her window down and the young woman in uniform leaned slightly to greet them. It was the same young officer from Sanjay's apartment but at the time, Scully hadn't looked at this woman as a threat. 

She looked to be in her mid-twenties with blonde highlights through her long brown hair that was pulled into a bun. She had a pretty face with almond shaped eyes and tanned skin over a short, athletic frame. She looked like someone that belonged in an ad for active living versus a police uniform but Scully quickly pushed aside those notions. There had been times in her past she had been underestimated because of her gender and it didn’t do anyone an ounce of good to discount this woman based on her age or appearance.

“Good evening, Agents. I’m Officer Pierre,” she introduced herself to them but looking only at Mulder. “I spoke with you on the phone just now, sir.”

Mulder glanced to the clock then back to the pretty face outside. “You got here fast.”

“My patrol is in Dupont Circle,” she replied as she smiled warmly at Mulder with a wide grin that Scully felt was beyond professionalism. “I’m happy to help.”

She looked from Officer Pierre eyeing her estranged husband, partner and sometimes lover to the man in question and arched an eyebrow. Mulder gave her a sheepish grin and then nodded to Pierre.

“I can let you folks into the apartment now if you’d like to follow me,” she invited them. She gave a cursory glance to Scully and then back to Mulder. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better, by the way.”

Scully nodded and pressed the toggle button to move her window back up. Mulder turned off the SUV and pocketed the keys.

“Let’s go G-Woman,” he invited.

“Yes…” she commented slowly but the tone said ‘I told you so.’ “Let’s go.”

Mulder shook his head at his lap. “Okay maybe she was being more than friendly but I promise you, as flattering as it is, I am far too aware of my age to be interested.”

That answer assuaged any doubts she was having and she nodded once. “Okay then, G-Man. Let’s get to work.”

Chapter Text

As they compiled their findings back in their basement office, Mulder felt much better than he had the night before. The piercing headache that he fought last night in the hospital hadn’t returned after he checked himself out against his doctor and Scully’s advice. Their discovery had jazzed him to the point he felt like they were going to make headway on their case.

While they were trying to uncover what caused Sanjay to kill himself, he also felt like the files on the children were leading to something more sinister. It never failed to surprise him that a branch of a government agency would be involved in something like this.

“Are you going to tell Skinner about what happened in Sanjay’s apartment?” Scully asked as she typed up Mulder’s notes.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he commented as he sat in the chair across from her and tossed the basketball above his head, catching it with the same hand. As a teen, he would practice this move over and over again to perfect the arch on his three-point throw. “I want to see what his reaction is to what we’ve discovered.”

Scully’s fingers paused from their fifty words per minute and she arched an eyebrow at him as she studied him. Mulder stopped his basketball tossing and made eye contact only to feel slightly uncomfortable under her gaze.

She had taken a pen to twirl her hair up away from her face and put on her glasses while she sat behind the desk to type. It was Scully’s version of loosening her tie and rolling up her shirt sleeves. He had been informed once by her that she appreciated the way he looked when he was turned down in the office and he had to admit, the feminine version on her was really doing it for him too. Over the years, he had seen many version of this and never once did it cease to amaze him as she took an ordinary pen and somehow used it to keep her hair up.

The thick, black frames she wore for reading had slid down her nose and she pushed them back up by the arm with two fingers. Truth be told, the sexy librarian look was working for her and him.

“What?” he asked with a nervous laugh.

“I’m wondering if I should take you back to the hospital,” she noted and shifted in her seat to sit up even more rigid behind his desk. “You’re not making sound judgements but that’s not new.”

“Ouch!” he laughed.

“Mulder, all I’m saying is that you should tell Skinner and if this continues, I will be taking you to Our Lady of Sorrows to run tests on you myself,” she warned with one finger pointed at him. Her fingers began typing again and she barely paused or missed a step as she said, “You’re too important to me to lose over something preventable.”

Mulder’s cheeks pinked and he grinned at her before tossing the ball up one last time. “The migraine, or whatever that was, was alarming, but I don’t think it’s a symptom of something neurological with me. I heard you say ‘help me find her’ or at least someone said it.”

“You think someone was communicating with you through a hidden sound?” she asked skeptically. “If that’s true, I would worry more that if you experience that kind of pain again, you might do something similar as Sanjay.”

“I always told you if I was going to die early, it wouldn’t be at my hand but something from nature that I never saw coming,” he assured her. He put the basketball on his chair and began pacing the office. “What would be the point of the tests they were doing on these kids? What kind of science can you uncover by treating children like lab rats?”

“If you can find a cause or a defect in a certain sequence of genes, then you can possibly prevent other children from the same affliction,” she informed him as she pulled out her notebook from the briefcase at her feet to type up her own notes. “Not that I agree with experimenting on children, mind you. I’d rather choose certain criminals serving time for assault or rape or child molestation…”

Mulder snapped his fingers at her and pointed. “I like that idea.”

“Have you finished scanning the documents?” Scully countered as he picked up the basketball to begin dribbling it again.

He walked around the desk as he maintained a casual dribble before setting the ball on top of her notepad. He minimized her document and pointed to the scanned PDF on the laptop desktop screen. “I did.”

Scully, ever distrusting of his actions, brushed his hand away from the wireless mouse and double clicked on the file. She looked up at him with a frown. “These are just top sheets.”

“The scanner takes eight minutes per file because it stops working when there’s too many pages,” he countered as he continued to bounce the basketball around the office. He tossed it against a few of the concrete walls and the ball made a loud twang as it bounced back towards him. He caught the ball with both hands and pressed it between his palms, sticking his elbows out to the side. “It’s great having a small desktop scanner but this thing isn’t the best with large files. I realize now that I should have taken it upstairs to one of the admins.”

“You like going there because they have fresh doughnuts every day, the staff up there buy the good coffee and they are happy to do the work for you,” Scully commented but her tone was light. She paused her fingers and leaned her head down to each shoulder to stretch out. “Better them than me, I suppose.”

Mulder gave her doubtful look that she ignored.

The phone on his desk rang and Scully picked it up after the first ring. “Agent Scully.”

Their eyes met and she nodded.

“We’ll be right up,” she promised and hung up the phone. She saved her document and sent it to the printer in the back corner of the office. “We need to get a wiggle on.”

“Should I bring the files?” Mulder asked cautiously but continued to bounce the ball.

“Skinner’s assistant made a point of requesting them first and our presence second,” she replied as she retrieved the files from the printer. She tapped them on the desk and added the progress report to their existing X-File. “It wouldn’t be advised to leave them down here.”

He shook his head at his own bad luck with technology and impatience. He set his basketball in the top bin on his desk where Scully had put a Post-it note labelled ‘to do.’ He pulled out a cardboard bankers box from the back area of the office where the printer was located and loaded the files into them. “Did his assistant say if the DoD had been contacted?”

Scully shook her head and pulled the pen from her hair. She gave her hair a shake and ran her fingers through her tresses to somehow style it without a mirror. She caught Mulder looking at her and she arched an eyebrow at him.

“No…” she eventually answered his question. “However, I don’t think it’s wise for us to assume they haven’t been, Mulder.”

If there was ever a time to make a joke about Scully’s clairvoyance, this would be it because before they could even report to Skinner about the files they discovered at Dr. Sanjay’s apartment, two bulky Department of Defense agents were ready to intercept their findings in the A.D.’s outer office.

They sat across from Skinner while one DoD agent took stock of the information in front of him and the other stood outside Skinner’s door as a guard. Mulder rolled his eyes at the notion that a Department of Defense agent would need any sort of protection inside a federal building but refrained from making a snide remark.

As they awaited for Skinner to approve of their progress report, Mulder glanced frequently to Agent Murphy. The DoD agent poured himself a glass of water and made notes on a small pad. He was cataloguing each file and checking the integrity of the paper. Mulder assumed he was gauging whether or not the files were originals or photocopies.

“Do you have anything to add to this, Agent Scully?” Skinner asked.

“If you look at the files that we found in Dr. Sanjay’s apartment-” she began.

“No,” Skinner cut her off. “I can’t.”

“They’re right over there,” she continued.

Murphy poured himself a large glass of water and held it preciously. “These files are classified. They’re the property of the Department of Defense.”

“Well, I’ve had a look at them,” Mulder replied with a flat petulant tone that was defiant to what the inter-agency politics would allow. “Those files are the medical records of children with grave genetic abnormalities. How those children relate to Dr. Sanjay’s suicide is the object of our investigation.”

“Well, considering the fact that you just lost access to those files,” their boss scolded them with stern authority, “your investigation is closed. I’ll submit the report on the suicide to the proper authorities. We’re done here.”

Murphy stood up from the table at the end of Skinner’s office and gathered up his files. “Let me remind you Agents Mulder and Scully, dissemination of any classified material, either internally or publicly, will be dealt with harshly.”

Mulder made a face as he considered the outcomes. “I’m familiar with Edward Snowden.”

The door to Skinner’s office clicked shut and the shiny shoes on the DoD agent’s feet clicked along the hallway towards the elevator.

“I assume you made copies,” Skinner inquired.

“I managed some top sheets before the DoD took over,” Mulder assured their boss. “I think those children are failed experiments.”

“So you suspect the Department of Defense is experimenting with genetic modification on humans?” Skinner clarified and Mulder nodded. Skinner looked to Scully obviously for a sign of rationality and coherence. “What do you think?”

“I think there are many troubling details to this case, and um…” she paused and they shared a look where she asked him for permission to tell Skinner about his trip to the hospital. His eyes denied it and she pressed her lips together briefly. “If Agent Mulder has nothing more to add-”

“I don’t,” he answered.

Scully dragged her eyes back to Skinner and told an obvious lie. “Then I think we need time to prove his theory.”

Mulder wondered why Scully hadn’t told Skinner about his trip to the hospital last night. However, there hadn’t been much time to weigh that out while he and Scully tried to beat the clock against the red tape the DoD was putting up that was standing between the truth about the children in Sanjay’s files and the involvement of the government.

“The bureaucracy in the FBI has become increasingly complex and inefficient,” Skinner told them as he began sorting his files, placing the majority of them in his lower desk drawer. “It might take days for your incident report and order to close the investigation and make it through the proper channels.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” Mulder said with a nod.

“Don’t push it, Mulder,” their boss warned as he folded his hands across his ledger. “Oh yeah, welcome back you two.”

*** *** ***

As they walked towards the elevator banks, Mulder looked around at many of the faces that were giving them curious glances. Most of the agents that filled the hallway were people he didn’t recognize but they looked at Mulder and Scully as if their notoriety had preceded their return to the FBI.

Those agents he saw glancing at him no longer had keys attached to their hips as they did in the 90s with loosened ties under faded electric lights overhead. Electric badges to enter and exit certain rooms of the Bureau were given to each agent and coded specifically to rooms and floors they were granted access to. Everything had become more technical and documented but they were slow to change in other aspects. As Skinner had said in his office, there were more hoops to jump through just to change a simple process. Getting a requisition for a desk for Scully had a three-month waiting period.

Needless to say, the Hoover building had changed in more ways than one since 2008 when he last darkened the hallways to aid an investigation with hopes that the outcome could clear his name.

The tit for tat of that case, finding missing agents with the help of a Catholic psychic, almost broke him and Scully. She wanted him to look but not fall into the darkness. The moment he saw a glimmer of a shadow, Mulder dove into the abyss head first and without hesitation.

It was only a preview of what was to come when she finally had enough and told him she wasn’t able to hold the rope that kept them tethered together. She was barely managing her career at the hospital without coming home to Mulder’s accusations and paranoia. He understood all of that now as they had moved past it and into their awkward stage of what felt like the beginning and also the end of a relationship.

Currently, he wasn’t ready to stop being her husband but she had to change her real estate and move home. She had to let him prove he was a better man than the worst part of him had shown her to be.

Scully’s phone buzzed as they reached the elevator and she glanced down to the message before tucking the device back in her suit pocket.

“Did you miss a date last night?” Mulder questioned but immediately regretted the dig.

She pressed the down button on the phone and looked at her shoes for a beat before looking up at him with an expression he had trouble reading. That bothered him.

“No,” she began. “If you recall, you were the one being hit on by young twenty-something uniformed officers and not me.”

“I think that woman might have hit on you if she suspected that you were open to it,” Mulder quipped in hopes of making her laugh and forget his comment. He grinned at her a little and noted another look on her face he couldn’t read. “Would you? Have been open to it?”

The doors opened and she watched the car empty out before stepping into it. She waited for Mulder to join her at the back of the car before she looked up at him and shrugged her shoulders with a steeled expression.

“You would?” he guessed.

“Mulder, dating someone two generations from myself… it never works,” she began with a slight whine. “Not only is it in bad taste because of the difference in our ages, especially with her being so much younger-”

“I’m noting that you’re not bothered by the gender of the individual we’re contemplating,” he interrupted with a grin.

“But to date someone with that large of an age gap would mean trying to teach them about moments of my life they couldn’t possibly relate to,” she continued without skipping a beat. “She grew up in a different time period. A woman that age wouldn’t be able to sympathize with the heartache and loss I’ve dealt with over the last twenty-five years-”

“I really think she might if you gave her a shot,” Mulder encouraged as he leaned forward to hit the B1 button on the keypad.

Scully sighed. “As a twenty-three-year-old woman who got involved with a man much older than myself, I can say that there were many times where I could match him intellectually but not emotionally because my brain hadn’t fully developed yet.”

“You’re being hard on yourself,” he countered.

“Those relationships didn’t exactly work out for me, did they?” Scully reminded him as she gave him a tight smile. “I’m not being hard on myself at all. The human brain continues to develop and change up to our mid-twenties which is why we aren’t fully formed individuals until well after we’ve graduated from high school, college or finished our doctorates.”

“So when you decided to counter-argue Einstein-”

“I did it as a young woman with a fully-formed brain who thought that man had a few ideas he got wrong,” she replied back with a grin. “I got a few things wrong in those years too. More than once a year.”

Mulder was enjoying this topic immensely but didn’t want to let on too much. “While I think maybe for myself, someone of that age wouldn’t understand nor believe in half the stories I have witnessed in my lifetime-”

“No woman in her right mind should believe you-” Scully replied dryly and Mulder laughed. “But go on.”

“Hey, you believe me,” he countered.

Scully turned to face him in the elevator with her shoulder against the wall and her arms folded across her torso. “I believe in you. There’s a difference.”

If they weren’t in an elevator inside a federal building with a surveillance camera in the corner and a bustling building outside the walls, he would have pushed her up against the side of that elevator car and kissed her for all she was worth.

Mulder’s lips turned up in a grin. “Scully.”

Her cheeks flushed and she licked her lower lip slowly. “I mean… I believe what you see and I believe a lot of what’s happened over the years but I… I guess I just mean I believe in you because of the longevity-”

He couldn’t hold back anymore. Workplace be damned. He leaned down to her, grabbing her by her waist, and pressed his lips to hers. Her throat made a slight squeak of shock before she opened her mouth to his tongue and slipped hers past his lips.

He could taste the mint of her toothpaste and the coffee that was cooling on his desk downstairs. He wanted to feel the flesh on her belly up to her breasts in his bare hands. He wanted to press his hips into hers and hear her moan as he made her feel his arousal through their clothes.

Scully leaned into him instinctively as her fingers clutched the material of his suit jacket. The feeling of her body against his felt so good. At the very least, he needed more but it was definitely not the time or place for that. His senses felt overloaded but it was most likely due to the danger of their location and the probability of getting caught. As her tongue slid against his and her nipples pressed through her bra and shirt to rub against his chest, the desire mounted to touch her more intimately. Before that could happen, security would surely stop them. An elevator definitely wasn’t the time or place for them to make out either but there they were.

His hands twitched at her hips as the desire to palm her breasts and feel the flesh of her ass compounded. He wanted to pull her skirt up her hips and turn her around to -

The car shook slightly as it halted to a stop and Mulder took a purposeful yet regretful step away from her. The doors opened to the basement and he dragged his eyes from her panting body to the empty hallway.

“We can’t,” she warned him with a glance up to the camera in the elevator. She knew what he was thinking already and he shoved his hand into his pocket to take hold of the throbbing flesh that had emerged from just one kiss. “Mulder-”

“I know,” he grumbled and stepped back one more pace from her and put his hand across the doors to stop them from closing. “I had… a brief lapse in judgement.”

Scully wiped the edge of her mouth and gave him a lingering look. Mulder felt the hunger in her stare but it was ridiculous to try to pick up where they left off and attempt a mid-morning tryst in their office that was probably bugged.

She cleared her throat as she walked past him and he chuckled.

“Don’t start with me,” he laughed and looked down the hallway to the bathroom. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

It was her turn to chuckle and he watched her saunter towards the office. Whether or not it was her intention to have him craving her before lunch, it was working.

Inside the small unisex bathroom on their subbasement floor, Mulder washed his face and wondered how much longer he could sustain this limbo between them. It was only a few days since their tryst in Shorewood, Wisconsin, when he all but told her he was tired of watching her leave him. His statement meant nothing if he couldn’t stop himself from falling into bed with her time and time again.

She kept telling him she wanted him in every way, except the most permanent one that meant moving back home. He knew that her desire for him was present and, at times, it was enough to sustain him, but they both deserved more than that.

If he was going to get Scully to agree to a reconciliation, pushing her wasn’t going to be effective. The worst thing for Mulder was to wait, but obviously, his method of trying to fuck her back to their married status wasn’t working. It took seven years and a long trip back to D.C., before Scully could reconcile her feelings. The physical side was there for her then, but she had to find the trust in his heart that he wouldn’t let her down.

Just when he finally started to get it right with her, he had to go and get himself abducted by aliens. The thing he had wanted for thirty years finally happened right when he was getting his life together. A woman who desired him and fought for his quest was at his side. She chose to be with him of all people. A miracle blessed them both when she became pregnant with his child after a failed IVF attempt. Even his work felt as though it had reached some measure of success. Of all the things to get in the way, his dumb ass had been taken by the aliens he had tried so hard to prove were real. As it turned out, not only was he right about the aliens but the involvement of the syndicate in the abductions and their horrific purpose. Every victim of their experiments had been exploited and used like a caged animal in a science lab, stripped of the humanity and freedom to choose not to be involved in such a torturous escapade. Only he was taken, tortured and died before he could live to prove it.

There was irony there he could appreciate now but at the time, it only made him angry.

He woke up with his girlfriend or the woman he thought was his everything full of child and all he had was a head full of questions.

The conception of William was something Mulder could never rectify beyond what science could never explain. They had tried to create a child with the aide of a Petrie dish but they were told it was a failure. Yet somehow, he stood opposite Scully after being discharged from the hospital, watching her shed a tear in his apartment and trying to convince him that this was something God had given them.

Mulder didn’t know what to believe now. However William came to be, he existed in the world and was out there without the two people who should be protecting him from the horrors foretold when the invasion came. No matter what anyone believed, the world was in danger and they were on a countdown to stop it.

There were too many desirable thoughts swimming around in his head, even with their case pressing down on them. They were trying to beat a ticking clock of paperwork and jurisdictional red tape but all he could think about was the previous times when the office had become more than just a work space.

Whatever burgeoning erection he had, it had dissipated enough for him to trust himself in his office alone with Scully. He wasn’t in his early thirties anymore. Working alongside a beautiful woman shouldn’t be difficult. He had to focus on the case and uncover what Nugenics and the Department of Defense were trying to accomplish with these children’s lives.

Sanjay’s involvement in the project, whatever it was, they needed to get to the bottom of it before anyone else involved was killed. While Sanjay drove the letter opener into his own ear, Mulder didn’t believe for a moment he had chosen to end his life.

When he walked back into the office, Scully had set up the large flat screen monitor and she was sitting with the keyboard on her lap. The screen was full of small videos that looked like Nugenics and Mulder wondered if that was the message she received on her phone earlier. One more strike against Mulder.

She gave him a curious glance as he shut the door behind him and he tried not to think of why her cheeks might still be a little flush.

“Surveillance footage?” he guessed and tried to ignore the slight crack in his voice.

“Yeah, from Nugenics,” she told him as she watched the screen and continued to type the same keystrokes. “I’ve been working on syncing all the cameras to the exact time code of Dr. Sanjay’s suicide.”

The video reduced to allow every screen to fit on the display in front of them and Scully let out a deep breath.

“There,” she announced and handed Mulder the keyboard. “What happened to you at Sanjay’s apartment, Mulder?”

Mulder gave her a look as though she should know. “I had… a headache.”

“I can understand why you wouldn’t want to tell Skinner, but I was there. I saw you on your knees in pain,” she reminded him.

“I heard sounds,” he told her. “It was a high-pitched frequency, like a steel spike being driven through my head. And then it focused into two words: Find her.”

Scully twisted her fingers against each other as they lay clasped in her lap. “There were no sounds. I couldn’t testify to hearing anything like that.”

Mulder hit the keys to enlarge each screen and sighed out of slight annoyance. “Of course you didn’t.”

He couldn’t explain the auditory overload that he experienced last night any better than Scully could explain the miracle of his resurrection after being buried for three months.

Scully reached across the space between their chairs and put her hand on his arm. “It doesn’t mean I don’t believe you.”

He looked at her hand and then up to her face. Her lipstick was still slightly faded from their kiss and Mulder used his free hand to wipe the edge of his mouth where remnants of their kiss lingered.

Mulder cleared his throat and she hastily retracted her hand. Her cheeks were coloured as a reminder of what occurred only minutes ago in the elevator likely came flooding back.

As it was when they were on the precipice of a relationship, every touch and glance felt more weighted. Instead of wondering what it was like to possess her completely, Mulder knew exactly how she tasted and what sounds she made as a curse of his eidetic memory. It was almost more torturous than the weeks leading up to their first kiss. It’s not the wondering that drove him crazy but the waiting for when he could have her again.

“Look at those birds,” he noted as he pulled up the screen of the outer perimeter.

“Maybe they seeded the lawn that morning,” she offered lazily. “Birds on the lawn aren’t suspicious.”

“Remember what we learned about infrasounds, Scully?” Mulder began. “Vibrations inaudible to the human ear but known to drive worms up through the soil to the surface in response to them.”

“Where would the infrasounds come from? Do you know where or how they originated?” Scully asked and he shrugged. “Mulder, how are these connected? The birds, the suicide, the kids, the genetic anomalies. What are you hiding?”

Obviously, he would have a theory about how this all tied together by now. His mind usually pieced together puzzles and mysteries quicker than the average agent because he could see how all the jagged edges lined up. If there were children and the government involved, he had a theory it was connected to Sveta and Scully’s experiences with their own pregnancies.

The DoD’s involvement solidified it for Mulder that they were all connected. A reclusive private investor had no other reason to be involved with the Department of Defense and the children Nugenics was monitoring. There was some kind of sinister experiment going on and Mulder was determined to uncover the truth but he had to let Scully put the pieces together on her own. If he told her his theory now without any facts, she would brush it off and send in a final report to Skinner immediately with a footnote: “Mulder believes it’s tied to aliens.”

“Augustus Goldman is the only one who might know how it all fits together. We gotta talk to him,” he insisted and Scully rolled her eyes slightly as she looked clearly uncomfortable with the suggestion. “What are you hiding? Why don’t you want us to speak with Goldman? I promise not to act like a jealous ex-husband.”

“We never got divorced,” she clipped and took the keyboard back from him to enlarge the video of Sanjay in the secure room. “I just know how difficult he is to reach…. It’s not… I’m not hiding….”

Relax,” he cut her off.

“You remember that Sanjay heard sounds, right before he committed suicide,” Scully reminded him as she tried to steer the conversation back to the case.

Mulder watched as Sanjay pierced his eardrum and impaled his brain with the metal letter opener. “Right.”

“That could be you, Mulder,” she pointed out. “This is dangerous.”

Mulder scoffed. “Well, when has that ever stopped us before?”

She looked at him sadly and offered him finally, “I might know how to get to Goldman.”

His mouth turned up in a grin. “Share with the class, Miss Scully.”

“He’s terrified of being investigated on insurance issues,” Scully told Mulder slowly. “He… he’s a very conservative man who wants what goes on at his outreach programs and at Our Lady of Sorrows to remain unhindered by regulations. He chose a Catholic hospital because of his right to life beliefs.”

“It’s hard to imagine a woman with your background being drawn to such a stifling and backwards environment,” he commented as he reset the videos to play at the same time.

Scully sighed. “If you remember, it was the first place that allowed me to do my surgical residency within driving distance to the house.”

Mulder nodded once. “Right.”

“My personal, political opinions and feelings towards the Church are easier to leave outside of a job that provided us with the necessary means to keep you in hiding all those years before your name had been cleared,” she continued. “Whatever you feel about the Catholic Church, try to remember that part when we go there today, Mulder.”

Mulder nodded as he acquiesced her point but it didn’t make him any happier that she worked in such an oppressive environment.

*** ***

Scully took Mulder through the main doors of the hospital and spoke with a few of the staff he recognized from the one Christmas party he attended in the seven years she worked there. No one stopped to say hello to him, but they were all interested in what Scully was doing there after her quick exit.

Doctors and nurses with the hospital logo stitched into their pressed scrubs and white jackets littered the hallways. Patients rolled by them being pushed by orderlies in crisp uniforms. Every person who worked at the hospital displayed a name tag and a thick bracelet was visible on the wrist of each patient. The nuns and priests stood out as Mulder and Scully did. The sisters at Our Lady of Sorrows had relinquished the traditional habits of yesteryear while wearing sweaters and collared shirts or dresses with their stocking-covered legs pushed into low heels. The priests donned crisp collars with a square piece of white fabric tucked in, and suit pants with shoes that separated them from the hospital staff in worn-in sneakers. The devout members of the Our Lady of Sorrows staff stood out as much as much as they blended in.

As they made their way down the halls, Mulder realized they were headed towards the obstetrics and gynecology department. He had only visited the department once when Scully had checked herself in for heavy bleeding that concerned both of them. She had been discharged a day later and she refused to discuss it after that day. Mulder had a few guesses as to why.

She paused outside the thick doors of the department and looked up at him. “Up on the third floor of the obstetrics unit is a ward I’ve seen women check into for an extended stay. I never worked in this department but I knew a nun who gave spiritual guidance to these women. If she’s in, we might be able to ask her to speak to Dr. Goldman.”

“How do you know she did spiritual guidance for these women?” Mulder asked as he looked around the hallway.

“I discussed with her issues I had about -” Scully stopped herself. “We prayed together when you and I… after I was here… as a patient..”

Mulder tried to put the pieces together. “I honestly hope none of these women were persuaded to come here after a visit to Planned Parenthood.”

“I was under the impression the families had brought them here but I don’t know the whole story,” Scully explained. “This part of the hospital wasn’t under any of my purview as a surgeon. I will say that although it’s 2016 Mulder, for the Catholic Church and this hospital, it’s very much a slow battle for women to be seen as anything less than sinners if they have a child out of marriage.”

Mulder let out a breath and nodded. He looked through the small window into the front desk where a tall woman was looking at him rather concerningly.

“Is that, perhaps, your nun?” Mulder asked as he nodded to the woman studying him with judging brown eyes.

Scully stepped in front of Mulder and gave a polite smile to the woman. “That’s her.”

The woman came through the thick doors and gave Scully an awkward hug. “Dana, what a blessing to see you in our hallways. What do we owe the pleasure? I was told you left the hospital for a federal job.”

Scully cleared her throat and stood up a little straighter. “Good afternoon, Sister Mary. I’m actually here to speak with you about the hospital. About Dr. Goldman in particular.”

A group of people approached with flowers and stuffed toys that looked fitting for adorning a crib. A young child was holding a balloon that said ‘Welcome New Baby’ and they regarded Mulder, Scully and Sister Mary curiously.

“Why don’t you come with me up to the third floor offices?” Sister Mary invited with a tight smile as the family passed them to enter to welcome the newest member with gifts.

Walking through the stark white hallway of the hospital, Mulder wondered if it bothered Scully that Sister Mary didn’t call her Doctor but instead by her given name as a sign of respect. It bothered Mulder. Along with the comments about championing for the unborn, never mind what he thought about it, he knew that Scully felt strongly over a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body. It was the science behind forcing a woman to stay pregnant when she had other options for her life… Mulder couldn’t fathom the misogyny and patriarchy controlling his body. He had enough troubles with the Syndicate interfering with his life but he could still buy a condom without a judgmental visit to a doctor.

Dana…” Sister Mary warned as she tried to placate their inquests to speaking with Dr. Goldman.

Mulder’s jaw clenched. Scully worked hard for her degree and her place in the FBI that calling her anything other than her title seemed like a backhanded slap.

“Ask Dr. Goldman if he’ll talk to us about the Founder’s Mutation,” Mulder asked Sister Mary as she began to walk away.

She nodded slightly as though she recognized the term and took in a deep breath. “Stay here.”

A young woman knocked on the glass of the door and gave them a panicked nod to indicate she needed help. Mulder opened the door and Scully ducked under his arm to approach the very pregnant girl. She couldn’t have been older than seventeen.

“Are you okay?” Scully asked her.

“No,” she said with wavering breath. “I gotta get out of here.”

“What’s your name?” Mulder asked as they entered the common room.

“I’m Agnes,” she introduced herself. “Do you have a car? I need to leave here.”

There was an orderly in a small enclave off to the right watching the exchange and the young woman gestured for them to follow her towards the couches. Pictures of staged pregnant women and inspirational quotes adorned the walls to the point of being overwhelming. They passed a sign that warned about regular drug and alcohol testing. The other women in the ward were all wearing ill-fitted maternity clothes like Agnes. They looked healthy and well cared for but there was an absence of technology around them. The one saving grace was a television playing Planet of the Apes, but not a single one of the patients was watching. No laptops or cell phones but antiquated board games that most of the women were tolerating with subdued smiles. A hospital bracelet hung from Agnes’ thin wrist and she pulled at her top nervously.

“Do you want to call someone?” Scully offered. “What do you need?”

“Do you think if I could call someone I would be asking you for help?” Agnes snapped and Mulder immediately sensed a woman who had spent time on the streets. Her guard was up. Vulnerability wasn’t comfortable for her and she was scared. “Forget it. I knew you weren’t going to help me.”

“Agnes, wait,” Scully called to her. “I’m a doctor, you can talk to me.”

“In this hospital?” Agnes asked as she stepped back and Scully shook her head. “Can you help me get out of here?”

“Tell me what’s going on,” Scully urged.

“I don’t belong here,” Agnes said. “I’m not one of these sheep. I know what I signed but I want to get out of here.”

“Hospitals are only here to protect the health of the mother and baby,” Scully told her gently.

My baby,” Agnes insisted.

“Of course, your baby,” Scully replied. “What are you worried about? Did someone tell you they were going to take your baby?”

The young woman licked her lips nervously and looked from the nurse speaking with the women behind them to the orderly watching them from the doorway. “I changed my mind about… I’m not giving it up. I don’t care if he’s sick. I can take care of him. I’m not… I’m not sending him away.”

“Sick?” Mulder repeated. “What… sick how?”

Agnes shook her head and wiped away a tear. She twisted her fingers at the hem of her oversized shirt and her voice shook. “My baby’s not right. They showed me on an ultrasound thing… I had a feeling something was wrong since I got pregnant. They told me here that he’s got something they can’t fix inside me.”

“Did they tell you what it was?” Mulder asked.

Agnes’ eyes widened and she tensed up in fear. Mulder and Scully looked over their shoulders to see Sister Mary in the hallway speaking with a doctor.

The young woman shook her head at Mulder. “Don’t say anything. I was just kidding around, okay?”

Mulder handed Agnes his card discreetly. “If you find a way to talk.”

“I’ve spoken to Augustus,” the nun announced and handed Scully some contact information on a piece of hospital notepaper. “He said he’d be happy to meet you.”

“Great,” Mulder replied as he looked at the praying saint on the top of the paper. He wondered how a Catholic hospital would afford such things. He assumed it was another gift from Goldman’s dirty money.

“Agnes, I believe you have a checkup now, dear,” Sister Mary advised the nervous young woman. “Today’s a weigh-in day.”

Agnes’ cheeks turned red and she gave them another panicked look before being escorted by a nurse and orderly towards a secondary room. The door closed behind her with the words Exam Room in bold white letters.

The women here looked like well-fed test subjects. They were clean, dressed and isolated from the outside world. This wasn’t some protective ward like it was dressed to be. This was a place for women to deliver babies and forfeit their chance at motherhood. These babies were probably taken immediately from Labour and Delivery and handed over to Augustus Goldman.

The connection from Goldman to the DoD was even more clear to Mulder. It occurred to him at that moment that he never asked what branch of the Department of Defense that the agents they encountered worked for. Homeland Security and the Department of Defense had a much further reach than they did when Mulder and Scully first worked for the FBI.

“Sister Mary, how are the patients chosen to be here?” Mulder asked.

“They’re homeless, damaged in one way or another,” she began and gave a wary look from Scully to Mulder. “Alcohol, drugs, no fathers in the picture. Men and their lies. No offence.”

Mulder nodded and failed to hide his shocked reaction.

“Desire is the devils’s pitchfork,” she continued ominously and Mulder couldn’t help but look to Scully who stood there with a freshly scolded face. “But as long as there is a need and an innocent child, we’ll provide for each and every one.”

“What happens after the babies are born?” Mulder pushed.

“The children who are sick are taken to a facility to be better cared for. These women…” She shook her head at the women who were brought lunch between their board games and gave a look of concern to Mulder. “They can’t care for a child and themselves. We try to set them up with jobs in the community. They transfer to a group home but I’m sorry to say some of them end up back here in a year or two. It’s only due to August and his donations that we have the funding to help them.”

A priest approached them that Mulder didn’t recognize and placed a hand on her shoulder. He whispered something in Sister Mary’s ear while refusing to acknowledge Mulder or Scully, which Mulder found rude and curious. Sister Mary nodded a few times and the priest walked away.

She looked to the couple across from her and steeled her face. “Thank you for visiting Dana. Please don’t be a stranger.”

“We appreciate you for speaking with us, Sister Mary,” Scully thanked her.

“You can see yourself out?” Sister Mary requested and they nodded obediently.

Mulder put his hand on Scully’s lower back and followed her towards the entrance of the obstetrics and gynecology department. Scully remained quiet and he had to wonder if she was slowly putting all the pieces together.

“You want to grab some lunch?” Mulder suggested as they entered the elevator to take them down to the main floor.

Scully shrugged and folded her arms under her breasts.

“I think we need to find out more about Goldman,” Mulder began and she looked up at him sharply. “What?”

The elevator car reached the main floor and Scully stormed out through the doors towards the exit. A gurney passed by her and she adjusted her step only slightly. She edged on and he had to jog to catch up to her at the Emergency Room entrance.

He decided to nudge her about the case. If there was a connection she was making or afraid to make, he needed her to get there before they met with Goldman.

“I can’t stop thinking about what Sister Mary is implying,” Scully muttered as she walked through the automatic doors to the ramp outside. “I feel like this is worse than I could have imagined.”

“It’s insidious, Scully,” Mulder began. “A ward for pregnant women paid for by Augustus Goldman, the founder of a company with deep ties to the Department of Defense. This could be another phase of the project - their experiments in eugenics. Those women in there could be incubators.”

“What aren’t you saying, Mulder?” Scully demanded and he hesitated to answer as they stopped at the top of the ramp. “I’m not a fragile little girl.”

Scully-” he started with a step towards her.

She held up her hand between them. “This is what you suspected all along but were afraid to articulate.”

“I don’t have the evidence you require to make a solid accusation but yes-”

“Is this what you believed happened to me sixteen years ago? When I got pregnant after our failed IVF attempts? When I suddenly was able to have a baby?” she inquired and he opened his mouth to speak but he couldn’t form the words. He needed her to connect the dots herself. “Is this connected to the experiments that FEMA was doing on the crops with bees or the naval ship with abductee names and test tubes? Is the DoD working with FEMA - stopping the abductions but continuing to test on innocent children?”

Mulder shook his head. “I don’t know any of that for sure yet.”

“But you are thinking it,” she countered. “Was I just another incubator?”

“You’re never ‘just’ anything to me, Scully,” Mulder assured her with a soft tone that he hoped would assuage her fears.

She looked around the parking lot and her shoulders relaxed from his words. There would always be a residual anger at what happened to her. He didn’t know of a single rape victim, medical or violent, that somehow suddenly felt okay about what they endured to survive.

“Do you think about William?” Scully asked him as she looked in his eyes with a sadness he couldn’t bear. “What would he be like now? Do you think he’s safe-”

“Yes,” he answered truthfully. He wanted to tell her everything but it was harder to say the words than it was to lie. “Of course I do, but I’ve felt like I had to put that behind me.”

She should have seen through that lie immediately. Mulder never moved past anything in his life. He held on to everything as though it could somehow benefit him when it really was a hindrance.

Scully looked off to the distance and shook her head. Her voice wavered and he could feel her about to break into tears. It was a mountain of strength that kept her from crying. He wondered if Scully would ever let herself mourn the loss of William completely but it might break her to fully absorb that. Pushing aside their sorrow for a childhood lost with William was as difficult to withstand as much as it was helping them forge on to work for the FBI again.

“He’d be almost sixteen years old now and I’ve missed every single year of his life. Sometimes… I hate myself that I didn’t have the courage to stand by him.”

He couldn’t make it about himself then. It wasn’t about his guilt, frustration and anger towards losing their son at that moment. If their relationship didn’t feel so rocky, if he hadn’t asked her to stop leaving him, he might have been able to commiserate with her but he couldn’t. If he spoke a little of it at all, it might compound to her own anguish and the last thing he wanted to do was to hurt her again.

“You did what you did to keep him safe,” he reminded her. “His adoption is secret. His location is unknown because you had to protect him.”

Scully looked back up to him and he only could guess at what she was going to ask him next. He wished she wouldn’t.

“Do you believe he was an experiment?”

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly.

“What if he’s out there somewhere, like one of those kids on Sanjay’s wall,” she posed. “Fighting for his life?”

“All we can do, Scully, is to pull the thread,” he advised her. “See what it unravels.”

“I need to get out of here,” she breathed as she looked behind her.

Mulder put his arm around her shoulder and they walked towards the car. “Let’s get some lunch.”

Scully looked up at Mulder and shook her head. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I need to go home.”

Mulder nodded. He had some work he could finish up at the office and he had planned to go for a run after work. He had hoped that they might be able to get a late lunch together and talk about the case; however, the proximity of these discarded children being used for the purpose of science was too close for Scully.

They had no evidence that William was safe or in danger and perhaps that was what was worrying Scully the most. The unknown wasn’t a comfort to her. He had to think that if she knew either outcome, at least she had answers. But now she was left with more questions. Their work would always do that to them and while he needed to know how William was as well, he couldn’t help but feel concern for Scully’s well being at that moment.

As he drove from her downtown Washington apartment back to the Hoover building, Mulder contemplated what Scully had said.

He missed watching her as a mother as much as he missed the moments of William’s life that mattered. There were also many other times that were probably insignificant but he vowed to be there for his child rather than an absentee parent like his own father.

He wanted to watch William learn how to crawl into the arms of Scully as she anticipated their son’s movements on the floor. He missed out on changing diapers and midnight feeds. He lost everything he never knew he wanted until Scully placed his hand on her belly and he felt a kick from under her clothes.

If he had the chance to be a father to William, Mulder wondered if it was in his nature to be relaxed or a nervous parent. He couldn’t imagine sitting back to watch without awaiting hands ready to catch when William learned to toddle around Scully’s living room.

The very idea of watching a baby struggle to make it from one side of a coffee table filled him with slight anxiety as he recalled the number of times that he felt nervous watching Scully’s oldest nephew Matthew in Maggie’s living room. He showed up to speak with Scully and eyed the chubby tot over her shoulder while Tara sat behind him with fear and joy in her eyes.

That should have been them.

He should have walked with Scully and William on the first day of school. He and Scully could have argued quietly over William’s head about the choice they made to put William in a Catholic school or a public one. While the uniform was adorable on their five-year-old son, Mulder had issues with mandatory theology classes. They could have compromised and allowed Mulder to watch Ancient Aliens with William after school but probably only once a week because Scully had a lot of rules about screen time.

As Mulder’s feet hit the pavement of the running track, he thought about how it would have felt to show their son 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. Scully would enter the living room with buttered popcorn because, after ten years, he finally convinced her that butter was a good fat. William could ask what a monolith was and they could both explain to him about the theories between science and science fiction.

Life would be better as a family together and of all the things that Scully forfeited as a mother, Mulder lost those things as a father too.

His pace slowed and he put his hands on his knees to catch his breath. This wasn’t the time to think about what else he lost in life.

The children in the Nugenics files had lost a chance at a childhood with their real mothers. Uncovering the truth behind it all might not bring to light the truth behind William’s conception or abilities. At the very least, it might tell them whether or not Nugenics, Dr. Goldman or the DoD was involved when Scully did get pregnant.

He just hoped they could withstand the truth.

Chapter Text

When she dreamed of William, sometimes she saw a young man in his mid-teens with dark hair and wild green eyes. Occasionally, she saw a fair baby with blue eyes that had dark specks in them like the little boy who had just finished nursing when she tucked him in his car seat with a blanket and soother for him to be sent away.

In the mourning of the loss of her chance at motherhood, Scully was aware that Mulder was losing his own battles with their decision. They spoke of William so rarely because of the deep wounds that his absence from their life had created. 

It was difficult to discuss such things with him without overwhelming guilt and anger at her own actions and being inept at protecting him in her own home. William would always be a target as long as he was with Mulder and Scully. They were marked because they had chosen to stop the sinister plots of a shadow government from destroying the planet. 

It sounded altruistic, but in the end, it was selfish. It took her seven years to finally allow herself to be with Mulder, only to have everything ripped away because she stupidly asked him to leave to finish his quest. It was partly out of self-preservation. She worried Mulder would never settle down until he found the answers he was looking for and she didn’t want to raise a child with a man who had his head directed at the sky instead of watching the moments around them. 

Scully woke up the morning after a night of long contemplation and donned her running gear. Mulder had mentioned that he had found solace in his exercise regime and she decided to follow suit. Getting outside and running through the city used to invigorate her for the day. If they were going to meet with Dr. Goldman, she needed to have all her strength about her.

The previous night, after she lamented over William, she read through Goldman’s research papers, articles in JAMA and editorials for online medical journals. Scully couldn’t help but wonder if he was as philanthropic as he tried to appear or if there was a connection to the Department of Defense and their involvement with the Syndicate.

The parents of these children couldn’t just discard them because they were sick. A mother couldn’t forget a baby she carried inside of her. Women like Agnes, brought in from the street to have shelter, trusted the hospital and Goldman to help her deliver a baby. Regardless of a potential illness, Agnes wanted a chance to be a mother to that baby. The children in Sanjay’s files had to feel the same way. 

A mother has plans for her child and the family she will build for the boy or girl growing inside her. Mulder was a large part of every fantasy she had when she first asked him to help her with the IVF. Regardless of their relationship status when she proposed they attempt to make a baby together, she couldn’t imagine that Mulder would settle with less than full involvement. His tenderness with Emily, his passion for finding the truth and dedication to help her find a cure for her cancer were ultimately the reasons she wanted a man like that to father her child. 

She had imagined more than William’s first day of school. She had hoped they could agree on a Catholic school rather than a public one because, as she had researched when William was born, the programs offered were more diverse. Not to mention, a six-year-old in a uniform was adorable. She was sure Mulder would argue about the theology taught there so she’d have to compromise like allowing William to watch a ridiculous program that she hated just to appease him. She could picture them now, sitting down with buttery popcorn and watching Ancient Aliens once or twice a week. Of course, they’d have to discuss the amount of screen time William was allowed but what parents didn’t argue about that? 

Mulder grew up with a healthy dose of television because he was often left unsupervised. After Samantha’s disappearance, one might think the opposite would occur and that his parents would become hyper-focused on Mulder’s school, social life and development, but he told Scully that his parents usually made him feel like an afterthought. Perhaps it was due to his parents’ generation and status that created barriers that were only broken down with the help of a maid and nanny. Parents spent more time at cocktail hour, afternoons at the ‘club’ and perfecting their golf swing rather than involve themselves in the lives of their children. It was the polar opposite to Scully’s upbringing. 

Maggie Scully had raised four children on her own with little help. There were some family and church members around but not paid staff like in Mulder’s childhood home. Dana, Charlie, Bill Jr. and Melissa grew up being shooed outside to play on the naval base housing street with the other children. The houses were smaller for up and coming naval captains than those given to agents disenfranchised by a syndicate working to plot against humanity. 

If she never left the field of medicine to join the FBI, Scully wondered if she would have still ended up tangled in the mess this world was in or if she would be another blind sheep to the world falling apart around her.

It was hard to decide which was worse. Knowing or not knowing and potentially being a victim to the atrocities she suffered anyway.

Scully’s phone rang as she was finishing a quick three miles and she was stretching her legs outside her building.

“Scully,” she breathed into the headphone mic at her chest.

“Did I… catch you at a bad time?” Mulder stammered and she heard keys jingle in the background.

She huffed out a breath and vowed to run more. “No, Mulder. I’m just out for a run.”

“Oh, so I suppose I shouldn’t let myself into your apartment with coffee and bagels,” he proposed and she shook her head with a smile. “Are you smiling? I can’t see if you’re smiling.”

“Where are you?” she asked as she entered her apartment building.

“I’m walking through your apartment with my shoes off and putting some very overpriced coffee on your kitchen counter,” he described. “I even got the real cream cheese.”

“I shouldn’t-”

“I got an egg white omelette that we can share too,” he cut her off. “Spinach and something disgusting in there.”

“Deal,” she agreed and hit the end button on her phone as she pressed the UP button to go to her floor.

Truth be told, she wasn’t sure how things would go after Mulder had laid down the law about their relationship after two trysts on the same day in a beautiful city on Lake Michigan. He told her he needed a commitment from her and since then, they had abstained from everything but an observed kiss in the elevator at work. 

“Love isn’t a maybe feeling,” he pointed out to her poignantly and he was right. 

It was cruel of her to want everything but the bad stuff with him. That was part and parcel of a relationship. She couldn’t just pick and choose which parts of him she accepted now after twenty-five years of being accepting of all of his hang-ups. She had to decide, but it was impossible to do so when Mulder kept kissing her. 

It wasn’t fair, really. He was back at work, showered and shaved every day and presenting himself as a functional member of society. He was collecting a paycheque instead of interest on an inheritance that still flabbergasted her. He was exercising and gotten a hair cut. He hired a cleaning service that she only found out about because the money came out of their joint chequing account. Of course, this was a guy she would want to build a home with. It was the other guy that scared her. 

It just wasn’t fair

In her opinion, on her side, it felt completely uncalled for that he kept looking at her like she was the last can of chilled iced tea on a hot summer’s day. A woman could only stand so much. 

She wasn’t sure how the rest of their day would go with the kiss between them still lingering on her lips. When he touched her, her whole body ignited out of desire and need. 

That was ridiculous. She was a middle-aged woman, a doctor for Christ’s sake and she was getting all hot and bothered over an elevator kiss.

Mulder was sitting at her kitchen table, spreading full-fat cream cheese on a toasted bagel with an omelette divided on two small plates. He had poured their take-out coffees into proper mugs and was about to shed his jacket to prevent creases in the lines of his suit.

“Hey,” she greeted breathlessly and walked to her fridge to pull out a chilled bottle of water. She cracked the seal and drank almost the whole thing in one breath. She wiped at the edge of her chin with her sleeve and shook her legs out. “I should shower first.”

“Nah, these will get cold,” he argued and jerked his head to invite her further into the kitchen. “Come sit. I don’t mind you a little stinky.”

Scully eyed him suspiciously as she pulled a glass from the kitchen cabinet and retrieved the Brita jug from her fridge. She didn’t usually drink the bottled water she kept chilling in the fridge unless she had to, but she also felt unusually parched after her run. She filled two glasses and set them on the table before she sat across from him in her sweaty gear. 

Mulder finished his breakfast presentation with cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries and pineapple fruit salad separated on their plates. “Voila.”

Mulder,” she noted with an inflection in her voice that implied she was impressed. 

“The deli up the street has some really great stuff,” he noted as he sat down and handed her a fork. He extended his tool and she clinked her tines against his in a ceremonious manner that had started a long time ago over a shared dessert. “It’s no Lincoln’s Waffle House but it’s not bad.”

Nothing compares to Lincoln’s Waffle House,” she agreed.

Scully took a bite of her bagel and closed her eyes as the real cream cheese filled her mouth. She moaned as she closed her eyes at the delicacy of a freshly baked bagel and the creamy confection on top hit her tastebuds. “Oh god.”

“I think you said that last time I was here too,” he joked and Scully’s eyes flew open. Mulder chuffed and she rolled her eyes at him. “Not funny? Too soon?”

Scully pointed at him and gave a nod, trying to avoid talking with her mouth full. She chewed the pastry and swallowed as she contemplated her next step. 

“Perhaps…” she began as she contemplated her next word. “We could focus on the case at hand.”

“How unlike us,” he replied sarcastically.

“Great. Get all this out of your system before we see Dr. Goldman,” she advised him and took a sip of her coffee. He gave her a look that told her he had more comments in his back pocket and she shook her head at him. “Eat your breakfast.”

Mulder took a large bite of his omelette and gave her a shit-eating grin. “Mmmmmmm….”

Scully rolled her eyes and stabbed her fork into the veggie-filled omelette. “Why did you get an egg white omelette if you don’t like egg whites?”

His face reacted quickly as though it should have been obvious. “Because you like egg white omelettes.”

It was the kind of annoying sweetness Mulder had that really bothered her in times like this. He did something genuinely thoughtful and then said things that he knew she would roll her eyes at out of her discomfort at overt displays of romance. It only pushed her to think of him as even more charming. Truth be told, she appreciated him when he was like this and longed for this man when the selfish side of him took over.

“Mulder-” she started and took a beat.

“I have been doing some digging on Goldman,” he informed her. “I think we’re going to have a lot of issues getting a thorough background with the DoD pushing us off this case.”

“Did you run into any problems?” Scully asked and took another bite of her bagel. 

Mulder nodded and pointed his fork at her. “Did you know that if you even google the name Augustus Goldman on an FBI issued laptop that an alert pops up and the DoD calls your cell phone to ensure you’re not looking into something you’re not supposed to?”

Her jaw dropped. “You’re not serious.”

“Like a heart attack.” Mulder nodded emphatically and eyed her for a beat. “What did you find?”

Scully took a sip of her coffee and set her mug down with a self-satisfied smile. “Well… I managed to avoid a phone call from the DoD by reading his research and not looking into his personal life.”

“C'mon Scully, share with the class. What did you find?” he repeated as he skewered fruit onto his fork carefully.

She sat up a little straighter as she realized her sweat had dried and was wafting up to her nose. She wondered if Mulder could smell the results of her workout too and she crossed her legs under the table. “What I understood about Goldman was that he was a well-respected doctor who had made breakthroughs with some preventable birth defects in utero.”

“Such as?” Mulder asked.

“Spina bifida was one defect he had particular success with,” she mentioned and stood up from the table. “He focused on genetic manipulation versus surgeries to repair what had deviated from what one should hope for in a healthy baby.”

“Are you going somewhere?” he questioned as he gestured to her position with his mug. 

“I should get ready. Goldman said he would meet us before lunch.”

“I’ll tidy up from breakfast,” Mulder offered and took the remainder of her omelette onto his plate.

She picked up the bagel from her plate before Mulder could finish that too and took her coffee mug to disappear into the solace of her bedroom. As she waited for the shower to warm up, Scully chewed on the last bite of her breakfast and wondered about the man in her kitchen doing the dishes she bought for her apartment after she left him in their marital home.

It wasn’t as if they were strangers to each other’s homes, but it felt like such an intimate act to clean up from a shared breakfast. Scully put her running clothes in her laundry hamper and picked out a blue dress and grey blazer from her closet to wear for the day.

As she scrubbed the sweat from her body, she wondered if Mulder had been thinking of ways to woo her recently or if he was just attempting to get them on a level field of friendship. 

If she was going to work on the case and try to get to the bottom of what Goldman had been involved with, she needed to focus. She felt foolish not to have known more about the women in the extended ward at Our Lady of Sorrows sooner. 

It only proved that without Mulder’s questioning mind and suspicion into the supposed altruistic acts of benefactors like Goldman, Scully would stay ignorant to a lot. 

That was half the battle, she realized as she turned off the shower and wrapped her towel around her frame. Mulder’s inquisition into everything and his refusal to give up until he found the truth was what first attracted her to him. He was always looking, continually seeking and pushing to find an answer to what people were often afraid to ask.

As a scientist and a person with the same curious mind, she was liberated in a work environment that pushed to find more answers instead of accepting the status quo. As a woman, she appreciated every time he asked her what she thought, what her opinion was on a case or just to fact check what science believed was possible. 

It didn’t hurt that Mulder was so damned attractive it made her belly warm thinking of him working on a pile of sunflower seeds at his desk with his shirt sleeves rolled up. Just the fact that he frequently dressed in a pressed shirt and tie under well-tailored suits was enough to create the ill-timed fluttery feelings she tried to suppress.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the time to contemplate all the ways in which Mulder could make her insides flip. They had to get to Dr. Goldman’s research facility and focus on the case at hand.

Scully emerged from her bedroom with her charcoal jacket in one hand and her heels in the other. Mulder gave her a cursory glance and an innocent smile.  

“You look pretty,” he commented and she tucked her chin down, unsure how to react. Mulder jerked his chin towards her. “I’m not allowed to say that?”

Scully sighed. “Sure, Mulder. I just have to figure out how to take it.”

He cocked his head to the right and released his shoulders that were shrugged up around his ears. “I don’t know. Don’t make it complicated. Just take it as a compliment from a man to a woman.”

She withheld comment and donned her suit jacket. “Okay then, handsome, let’s get moving.”

Mulder scoffed. “After you, Red.”

It bothered her that she got a little tingle when he called her those kinds of nicknames. 

 


*** *** ***

 

Outside the sharp lines and glass walls of Goldman Technology, Mulder parked the car and turned to her in the driver’s seat. She had been giving him the rundown on Goldman’s work by reading the notes she had taken the night before. 

“So is Goldman a sinister scientist with too much money to be touched or are his intentions because of some humanitarian interest?” he proposed.

Scully licked her upper lip as she weighed his question. “Mulder, I would have to say that most science is a mix of both. It’s been a competitive market that most start out in as a way to satisfy their curious minds. No one enters into the field of medicine because their goal is to get rich.” 

“You didn’t choose medicine to become a well-paid doctor in a plush mansion with a houseboy at your beck and call while your adorable children were being raised by a nanny?” he teased her. 

“No…” she replied quickly. “I had… I had actually thought I might go overseas to work with Doctor’s Without Borders in Rwanda when I was approached by the FBI.”

“With your alabaster skin?” he questioned and she nodded. “You really are too good for this world.”

“Mulder, medicine is a passion; however, research is more of a numbers game,” she reminded him and he nodded. “I don’t suppose you decided to study psychology so you could get a soft job in a practice near Martha’s Vineyard.”

“You'd be right about that,” he agreed. “I was drawn to the idea of helping people, but I never imagined it would lead to the FBI. I didn’t know that profiling was a possibility when I began school at Oxford until we were presented with a case study that helped catch a serial killer.”

“Do you think the FBI had any idea when they were wooing us from our futures in psychology and medicine that they would have put us together to stop the global conspiracy to end the human race?” she asked him. “That’s probably too far fetched-”

She stopped herself when she saw his face. 

Mulder’s mouth crooked up in a grin like she just made a comment about spontaneous human combustion. “Scully…”

“I just want to point out that most scientists don’t enter into the field of research to become millionaires-”

“But?” he prompted. 

“But someone always enters into a project with the idea to make their discovery monetized,” she admitted. “This facility isn’t born of reluctance by Goldman. I know he was a man who was after success.”

“How well do you know him?” Mulder inquired. 

“I don’t know him,” Scully emphasized. She looked out the window and back to him. Mulder raised an eyebrow that told her he didn’t quite believe her and she sighed. “I think we met once at a holiday mixer at Our Lady of Sorrows but it was brief. I doubt he would remember me.”

He nodded once and appeared to take her answer as the truth. “Okay… but I withhold the right to make snide comments if he acts like a pompous ass.”

“I would expect nothing less,” she replied and they exited the car.

Inside the starkly dressed lobby, an overdressed young woman was standing at reception waiting for them with a polite smile and heels that didn’t suit a lab environment. Most women who worked in laboratories dressed for safety and the practicality of standing on their feet all day, not to look like real estate agents hoping to hook new buyers. 

“Agent Mulder and Doctor Scully,” the young woman greeted. “I’m Sarah Sutter, Dr. Goldman’s assistant. He’s been expecting you.”

Mulder looked at his watch and raised his eyebrows. “We’re ten minutes early.” 

“Please relinquish your weapons and sign for these visitors badges,” Sarah invited them.

The security guard at the reception desk held out a gun lockbox to Mulder and Scully. They unholstered their weapons, removed the clips and set them inside the box. The guard locked the box and handed the key over to Mulder. They signed their names on the empty visitor’s log and attached their badges to their jackets. 

“Would you follow me?” she invited with a smile and robotic arm flourish that reminded Scully of a Stepford Wife.

Sarah took them to a set of metal double doors and waved her fob in front of the small black panel. A green light flashed and the doors ominously clicked before opening before them. Dr. Goldman stood on the other side of the doorway in a white lab coat and an anticipating smile on his face.

“Dana,” he greeted her as he extended his hand to shake hers. “Or should I say Dr. Scully. I’m so glad to see you again.”

Scully returned the gesture of societal norms but glanced up to Mulder briefly who looked less than impressed. “Thank you for meeting with us, Dr. Goldman.”

“For a fellow Our Lady of Sorrows staff member, it’s the least I could do,” he assured her. He extended his hand to shake Mulder’s. “Hello, Agent Mulder. Sarah tells me that you have some questions regarding Dr. Sanjay.” 

“Dr. Scully examined Sanjay’s body,” Sarah informed Goldman over his shoulder.

“How did you know that?” Scully asked her with a furrowed brow.

“Your name was on the autopsy report,” Sarah answered plainly and shifted in her heels. 

Scully glanced between her footwear and Goldman’s assistant. Neither women were wearing practical shoes so she tried to withhold some judgement. 

“Dana, I can’t thank you enough for helping uncover what took Sanjay’s life,” Goldman gushed as he gave her a lingering glance.

“So you do know each other?” Mulder piped in. 

“I didn’t expect you would remember,” Scully admitted in hopes to assuage Mulder’s assumptions.

“I was on the board when you were applying for your position at Our Lady of Sorrows,” Goldman reminded her and she nodded slowly. “I’m not surprised it’s foggy for you. Admission interviews are always a little taxing, especially with the nuns and priests weighing in on your answers.”

Scully glanced to Mulder, who was giving her a ‘told you so’ smile. 

“We spoke at a Christmas party in 2010 shortly after you began your work with us,” Goldman continued and she felt her cheeks flush. He smirked and gave Mulder a grin that could only be described as less than professional. “We spoke about medical advances in certain debilitating syndromes corrected in utero. We spoke at length. You had on that well-tailored black dress with a slit-”

“Dr. Goldman,” Mulder interrupted. “Perhaps we could move on from Special Agent Scully’s attire at a social event and discuss the reason we’re here.”

“Ah yes, Dr. Sanjay’s suicide,” Goldman nodded once. “How can I help with that?”

“He left a message,” Mulder pressed. “Do you know what the Founder’s Mutation would be referring to?”

“Founder’s Mutation,” Dr. Goldman repeated as he turned away from them to walk down the hallway. “Intriguing message.”

“It’s what Sanjay wrote on his hand,” Mulder told him as they continued down the hall.”

“Yes before his unfortunate act of self-destruction,” Goldman replied as he glanced over his shoulder to Mulder. “It’s very dramatic but meaningless.”

Scully took a breath to steady herself. She could only take Goldman’s comments earlier as an attempt to intimidate her. It wasn’t the first time a fellow scientist tried to belittle her existence by making her into an object versus listening to an opinion that she had. 

The patriarchy was prominent within science no matter how many women made strides within the community.

“I’ve read everything you’ve published, Dr. Goldman,” Scully began. “It seems that your research deals primarily with genetic manipulation.”

Goldman sighed heavily and turned to Mulder and Scully. “Let me try to explain what we do here. It’s no secret. We’re trying to save children.”

His benevolent and humanitarian act wouldn’t work on Mulder and certainly didn’t sit right with Scully. They turned a corner and walked down a similar looking hallway but with large windows and more doors. 

“I won’t tell you their last names to protect their privacy but I can tell you what they’re fighting against,” Goldman presented as he waved his hand towards the first window with a little girl drawing on her walls. 

If Scully had to guess, she would assume the girl had been stricken with Proteus syndrome.

Goldman listed off conditions the children were suffering from as they moved down the hallway. It was evident that it was rare the children left their rooms or played with others. 

“We are a cutting-edge research facility for these unfortunate patients,” Goldman boasted. “There’s absolutely no cost involved to be treated here.”

A little boy caught her eye. Maybe it was his complexion or his fascination with science but she felt drawn to him. Scully’s heart broke as she took in the sight of a young boy who should be going out and skinning his knees while he tried to learn how to ride a skateboard, not stuck inside a room without a view to the outside world he was shut off from. 

“Would you like to talk to him?” Goldman offered her.

“Sure,” she replied shakily.

Goldman leaned down to the intercom and pressed the button. “Adam? You have a visitor.”

The tone sounded too close to the one used on her when she was in the hospital with cancer. The tone placated to the unwell to let them know there was something to look forward to, whether they welcomed an intruder into their space or not. 

The young boy held on to the monocle over his eye and narrowed his gaze on Scully. She smiled back at him gently and his mouth twitched but refused to return the gesture. 

“Hi Adam,” Scully greeted as she held up one hand and waved her fingers to him in front of the glass door. 

Adam leaned to look at her and mimicked her wave. 

“My name is Dr. Scully,” she introduced herself and immediately regretted it. Usually, children felt at ease with her when she told them she was a doctor; however, Adam was probably wary of anyone with a medical degree. “How long have you been here, Adam?”

“Forever,” he answered with an honest melancholy. 

“And where are your parents?” she continued.

Adam’s oversized head shook. “I don’t have any.”

“He was sent to us as a baby,” Goldman explained behind her and she turned slowly to him. “Adam has a form of Crouzon syndrome.”

Crouzon syndrome wasn’t contagious and his isolation didn’t quite make sense to Scully as a scientist. As far as she could remember, it was a specific mutation in a gene called fibroblast growth factor receptor two… or was it three? No, two. This gene is involved in other craniofacial syndromes, Apert syndrome to be specific. 

“Why is he in a sealed room?” Scully couldn’t help but ask Goldman. “All of the children. He has a genetic disorder. He’s not contagious.”

Goldman looked past Scully and waved to the boy behind her. “Thank you, Adam.”

His brow furrowed and he lowered his voice to explain something that wasn’t a secret, nor was it news to her. “We are working with therapies unavailable anywhere in the world. We need to eliminate the environmental factors that could affect the outcome.”

The first part she knew. When she read about Nugenics the night before, she found enough information that practically spelled out their intentions to the public. No one would find that information unless they knew what they were looking for and therefore, they could promote themselves quietly without upsetting the DoD while claiming transparency to the public. 

It was devious and sinister.

“I am searching for the key that was the seed to all of these terrible genetic abnormalities,” he declared.

“Alien DNA?” Scully challenged and Goldman drew his chin back in surprise. “Is that why the Department of Defense is funding your research?”

Mulder cleared his throat behind her and she glanced up to see him give her an approving look. 

What if these children had been given forms of alien DNA to try to combat whatever they were diagnosed with - or worse. She could hear Mulder theorizing now as he paced across their office or spit seeds out of a barely cracked window. He would surmise the children were orphans given alien DNA, but the results were locked away behind the glass. It made her wonder how his theories lingered in her mind, but she withheld jumping to the same conclusions out of spite or loyalty to her scientific mind. 

Either way, there was something sinister about this research facility and she wanted to know what.

“Doctor Scully,” he admonished in a tone that made bile swim at the back of her throat. “I was told that you were the rational one.”

“No!” a young woman cried in the distance. “Let me go!”

“Molly stop!” An orderly shouted as he grabbed the girl around the waist to restrain her. Her legs kicked as she grimaced in pain. “Molly! Calm down!”

“Let go of me! No! No! No!

Objects from the lunch service cart began to fly up in the air and fall to the ground. It was nothing new to her and Mulder. Her own child had made a mobile move on his own.

“I’m afraid that is all the time that I have,” Goldman declared. “Sarah will show you out.”

He retreated away from them and towards Molly quickly.

“This way please,” Sarah urged and waited for them to acknowledge her before she took off down the hallway.

“He didn’t answer my question,” Scully noted. “Did you see that Mulder?”

“Interesting, to say the least,” Mulder agreed. A beeping alerted him there was a message on his phone and he stopped mid-stride. Scully turned to him with a questioning look. “Something’s happened to Agnes.”

Sarah turned to glance at them. “Agents, please.”

“Don’t mind us,” Mulder jeered at her. “We’re just going to see the mother of one of your new patients.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes at Mulder. “I can assure you, Agent Mulder, that all of the women who give up their children do so by choice.”

“Not every mother who gives up a child has a choice,” Scully snapped and pushed past Sarah to get to the elevator doors more quickly. 

Mulder handed her his business card. “Let me know if you ever worked with a young boy named William.”

Scully stopped in her tracks and turned to watch Mulder with Goldman’s assistant. 

Sarah retracted her hand and her pleasant smile fell to one of disapproval. She walked to the elevator and swiped her fob. The door opened immediately and she pressed the Lobby button before standing back for them to enter. “Have a nice day, Agents. Security will return your weapons at the front reception.”

As the doors closed on them, Mulder leaned over to Scully and he whispered,  “How much do you want to bet she knows exactly who the fuck our William is?”

Scully looked up to him. “I wouldn’t bet against it.”

 

*** *** *** 

 

“Where was Agnes found?” Scully asked as she buckled up.

“At the entrance of the Center Leg Freeway along I-395,” he read from his phone. It buzzed again in his hand and he shook his head as he clicked the home button to silence the alerts. “We should get going.”

“Who was that messaging you?” Scully asked.

The phone buzzed one more time in the centre console and before Mulder could reach for it, Scully grabbed it. She held the screen up to her face and rolled her eyes at the message notification.

“I’d love to be of service to you, Agent Mulder, if you’d use me?” Scully read out loud. "Use her for what?"

He made a small uncomfortable noise at the back of his throat. “It’s the-”

“Age-inappropriate police officer from yesterday, yes I remember,” Scully finished for him. “Should I call her back for you while you’re driving?”

He shook his head and started the car. “By all means.”

She thought for a beat and sighed as he shifted the car into reverse. “Do whatever you want.”

Mulder craned his neck towards her. “What?”

She put his phone down in the cup holder between them and turned her knees towards the door of the car. “I don’t care.”

He made the noise at the back of his throat again and shifted back to park. “Hey.”

Scully crossed her arms over the seatbelt across her torso and steadied her breathing.

“Hey,” he repeated and put a warm hand on her stocking-clad knee to shift her body back towards him. She kind of hated that he was strong enough to do that. “I’m not… I’m not about to become some cliche and date another woman while we’re still married and… sort of… I don’t know, not entirely separated. Especially one that young. How big of an ass to you think I am?”

Scully thought about the four dates she had with Tad O’Malley and felt the hypocrisy pool in her stomach like a bad meal. 

Her chin ducked down and she shook her head. “I don’t think you are but… I don’t know. When it’s easy to be with someone and more difficult to be with someone else, wouldn’t you want someone who was easy? Less complicated?”

Mulder made a face. “When have I ever wanted to do anything the easy way?”

That made her feel better and she immediately regretted her outburst of jealousy. “I’m sorry-”

He crossed the space in the car to kiss her lightly on the lips. It was a kiss of reassurance, unlike the heated kiss they had the day before in the elevator. He pulled back and took the edges of her hair between his two fingers and thumb. 

“I promise I won’t be that guy,” he vowed and she nodded again. “I know you and I have our shit, Scully but can we please just finish this case? I know there’s more that ties Agnes, the sounds and the DoD with Goldman than we can see.” 

“Okay,” she agreed.

Mulder opened his phone and showed her the first three messages from an unknown number. “There’s a detective at the tunnel that’s waiting for us.”

Scully looked at the screen and nodded. “So it wasn’t entirely the young officer.”

Mulder grinned at her. “We’ll call this one a wash.”

As Mulder put the car into reverse again, she looked up to the lobby of the building where Sarah was watching them with narrowed eyes. For some reason, her studying gaze unnerved Scully and she turned to Mulder. He was unaware they had an audience and they left the Nugenics property with more questions than answers. 

 

 

*** *** 

 

Scully and Mulder parked next to the other emergency response vehicles and stepped out into the cold night that was lit by red, blue and white flashing lights. A fire truck and three police cars were on the scene along with one unmarked vehicle with a red bubble light on the front dash. Officer Pierre stood with another uniformed officer at the yellow police tape barrier with their thumbs tucked into their duty belts.

“Agent Mulder,” Pierre greeted with a broad smile. “Nice to see you.”

Mulder and Scully pulled out their FBI badges from their suit pockets in unison and showed them to her partner. He lifted the police tape up to allow the agents to enter the crime scene. 

“Thank you,” Mulder said with a wave and the officer touched two fingers to his hat. Mulder held his hand out and put it on Scully’s lower back to escort her into the crime scene. 

“Agent Mulder-” Officer Pierre called.

Mulder and Scully turned to look at the young woman on the other side of the tape. Her jaw dropped a little as she faltered to say what she was obviously wanting to ask and she shook her head. Scully looked from Pierre to Mulder and saw what the young officer did - Scully’s lipstick on Mulder’s lip. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to indicate there was more going on between the FBI agents than just a working relationship.

“Never mind,” she laughed with a roll of her eyes.

As they walked further from the tape, Mulder leaned down to whisper in Scully’s ear. “Is there any chance she’ll be off duty before we leave here?”

Scully shook her head with a chuff of air. “You have a bit of my lipstick on your lip there. By the look on her face, I think she saw it. You should be safe.”

Mulder rubbed the pad of his thumb across his lower lip and she nodded to indicate he got it off. He gave her a wink and she shook her head again. 

“What?” he asked with a laugh.

A detective on the scene was leaning against the hood of a police cruiser and approached them with an outstretched hand. “Agents, I’m Detective Gordon.”

“Nice to meet you,” Scully replied as she shook his hand. “I’m Dana Scully. My partner, Fox Mulder, was who you contacted.”

“The body is this way,” Gordon invited. 

The headlights and flashing red and blue lights on top of the car created a strong contrast to the darkness around them and Scully’s eyes tried to adjust to the poorly lit space from the amber tone of the mounted bulbs lining the ceiling above them. 

Scully scanned the area and noted that they had only been invited to see Agnes’ body as a courtesy. A Crime Scene Investigation Unit had taken over the area with yellow markers and photography equipment, while a medical examiner awaited next to the white van behind the police car. A pair of impatient looking men in M.E. coveralls waited with a bag and gurney ready, but it would be at least another hour before the CSIU would clear the scene for them.

“What happened to Agnes?” Mulder asked Gordon. 

“We found the victim with your card in her pocket,” he explained as they made their way off the sidewalk and to where Agnes’ body lay. He used his pen to point around the scene. “Hit and run. Car was moving pretty fast. Skid marks from back there to the point of impact. We’re checking cameras in the area. No witnesses.”

Scully and Mulder knelt down to what was now another corpse she would have to autopsy. She couldn’t distance herself yet from the woman they met the day before. “What about the baby?”

“What are you talking about?” Gordon asked.

“She was pregnant,” Scully stated as she looked up to the detective.

Mulder reached one hand to the flattened abdomen and Agnes’ bloody shirt. He shook his head, “The baby’s gone.”

Gordon pulled his notebook out of his pocket. “I don’t have anything on the young woman being pregnant. We have a record of her being picked up a few times. Last arrest was seven months ago for solicitation and possession of an illegal substance.”

Mulder stood up and put his hands on his hips. “How’s that possible? She was a registered patient at Our Lady of Sorrows.”

“Not according to any and all hospitals in the area,” Gordon replied and pointed with his pen to Agnes’ wrist that lay limp across her lifeless body. The broken ulna was concerning but so was the fact that it was absent of any bracelet. “Doesn’t look like she was a patient.”

“Bracelets can be removed,” Scully noted as she stood up.

“So can babies, apparently,” Mulder replied. “You need to talk to the M.E. waiting over there to see if they’ll let you do the autopsy on this one.”

She pulled her watch up to her face to see the late hour flash in front of her eyes. “I’ll ask to assist.”

“Whatever you need to do, Scully,” he insisted as he looked past her to the medical examiners awaiting their cue to gather the body.

Scully took the hint and thanked the detective while she went to go make nice with the awaiting team. Mulder stood with the police detective. She hoped Mulder’s first phone call would be to Our Lady of Sorrows to find out why Agnes hadn’t been reported missing.

“Good evening, is the Medical Examiner here?” Scully asked as she approached the body bag team.

“He’s inside the bus keeping warm,” the one on the left answered as he pointed over his shoulder with a lazy thumb.

“Thank you,” Scully replied tightly and her heels clicked on the pavement with each step as she neared the back of the medical examiner’s bus. “Hello?”

A man in his early thirties was sitting on the bench inside with one earbud in one ear and a notebook on his lap. His legs were bouncing and he had a thermal blanket around his shoulders.

“Hello?” she repeated and the M.E. looked up from his notebook. “I’m Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI and I’m a medical doctor. How do you do?”

The man reached out one gloved hand from his place next to the portable heater and shook her hand. “Pleasure. I’m Jason Murphy.”

“I think you’re the first Medical Examiner I’ve met who didn’t use his degree in the introduction,” Scully noted with a grin.

“We can’t all be pompous asses,” Jason noted and she laughed but the chill of the night air blew around her and she pulled her jacket tighter around her torso.  “Come inside, please.”

Jason offered and held out a hand for her to join him. Scully took it and climbed up the small step to sit on the bench next to him. It was considerably warmer inside and she put her feet closer to the space heater on the floor. 

“Thank you,” she said with a slight shiver.

“What can I do for you, Special Agent Dana Scully?” Jason asked with a grin. He pushed his thick, speckle framed glasses and put them on top of his head, pushing his hair back like a headband. He didn’t look anything like most Medical Examiners Scully had met. He was young, his hair was blonde and thick, wavy but styled and he had on a stylish bomber jacket over top of his scrubs. “I haven’t looked at the body yet beyond confirming that she was in fact deceased. I’ll be waiting at least another hour before the CSIU lets me take her to find out what happened.”

“I’m actually a medical doctor myself and-”

“So there’s two of us who don’t introduce ourselves as Doctor so and so,” he pointed out.

“Right,” she agreed and shook her head. “I was hoping you’d let me assist on the autopsy. I met Agnes yesterday and I would like to find out a little more about how she died.”

“By all means,” Jason agreed and noticed her shivering. He reached under the bench and pulled another thermal blanket from the small bin. “Here. No sense in watching you freeze until they let us take her out.”

Scully tried to stop a skeptical eyebrow from twitching. “I appreciate this, thank you.”

Jason looked through the front windshield and back to her. “Too bad I don’t have any cards. We could play Go Fish.”

Mulder cleared his throat and they both turned their heads to look at him standing outside with a curious look. “Cozy?”

“Mulder,” Scully started. “Jason was just allowing me to warm up while we waited.”

“Thanks, Jason,” Mulder directed to the doctor at her side. Scully didn’t dare to look at the man next to her to see the looks they were exchanging beyond her. “Do you have runners in your Go Bag or should we pop by the apartment to get you a pair to work in?”

Scully’s mouth opened slightly as she thought about what she had with her. “I don’t…. no. I don’t think I do.”

He extended his hand to her and Scully pushed the blanket off her legs to hand to Jason. Jason handed her his card with the address of the morgue. “Let me know when you’re on your way so I can tell security to expect you. They’ve become a little more strict with the recent events, even if you’re FBI.”

Scully tucked the card into her suit pocket and turned to let Mulder assist her out of the M.E.’s bus. They were maybe two steps away when his hand went to its usual place at her lower back and she couldn’t tell if it was territorial at that point or just habit.

“How old do you think that kid was?” Mulder asked as he held up the police tape for her.

“Jason? I don’t know… Thirty two? Thirty five? He was young but I wouldn’t exactly call him a kid,” Scully replied. He raised an eyebrow at her and she narrowed her eyes at him. “What are you insinuating, Mulder?”

“You really can’t tell when a man is flirting with you, can you?” he asked her. He pointed his fob towards the car and pressed the automatic start button. “Scully?”

She rolled her eyes. “Mulder…”

“All right but if he makes a pass at you when you’re working, I get to pick the next two movies we watch and we order Chinese both times.”

“Chinese gives you indigestion and then you whine about it,” she reminded him and he gave her a look that said he wasn’t budging. “Sure. Fine. Whatever.”

"Did I ever tell you it makes me want you more when you get prickly?" he teased her as his hand moved from her back to brush his fingers along the curve of her ass. 

Scully stopped mid-stride at the gesture then rushed to keep up with him. 

When they first began their romantic relationship, these were the kind of remarks she had grown accustomed to. They were said quietly and only for her. She appreciated the banter and flirting that made her cheeks pink and her belly flip with anticipation. Only now, all the little remarks and her reactions had more meaning because of all the other issues they had going on. One thing was for certain, the low grumble of Mulder's voice and a hand on her backside kept the grey areas from turning black or white. 

She really needed to make a decision about what she wanted from the future of their relationship and stick to it.

 

Chapter Text

Down in the lower basement of the morgue at the Medical Examiner’s office, Scully had asked Mulder not to lurk around them while they worked. Usually, Mulder liked to hang in the back while making sarcastic remarks to her findings as she spoke into a recorder what she found. As much as it entertained her during long nights, it definitely wouldn’t be welcomed here. She couldn’t possibly explain the dynamic between her and Mulder nor half of the inside jokes he cited as she weighed each organ.

Instead, Scully suggested that Mulder make use of the small law enforcement office while she worked. As Jason was examining the recently stitched abdomen of Agnes Logan, Scully made a note in her observation book.

“The blood from her high-impact wound appears to have come from her recent cesarean,” Jason noted to his assistant and Scully nodded in agreement. He looked over his surgical mask and tilted his head to the side ever so slightly. “You said the patient was recently pregnant. Do you know when she delivered?”

Scully shook her head. If she wasn’t wearing a mask herself, Jason might have been able to tell that she was frowning behind it. “I saw her only days ago. I was under the assumption she still had another month at least until she was ready to deliver.”

Agnes’ chest had been opened, her internal organs had been weighed and samples had been collected from each organ. The young woman’s heart was sitting on the table next to where Scully was standing and Jason was about to remove her uterus. 

“I can’t imagine that she delivered this morning and was running down an access tunnel by four-thirty-” he began. “But I’ve seen stranger things come across my table.”

Another assistant entered the autopsy room with X-rays that had been taken when they first arrived and put the films on the illuminated wall near them.

Scully walked across the room and crossed her arms as she studied what she had feared. 

“Bitcoin for your thoughts, Doctor?” Jason prompted with almost a playful tone.

His humour was akin to Mulder’s but Scully wouldn’t exactly call it flirtatious. In a room where death and the finality of a last breath were examined in every heinous way, dark humour was often used when appropriate to lighten the mood. 

“I would say blunt force trauma is what killed her,” Scully guessed.

“I would agree with that assessment based on the ribs that lacerated her lungs here,” Jason described. Scully turned to see him pointing with his scalpel along Agnes’ chest. “It looks like her right ulna was broken in two places as well. The films we got back of her brain also confirm that her skull was crushed. Blunt force trauma would cover a magnitude of ways, but this looks like more to me than just being hit by a car.”

“You mean the injuries to indicate she was run over?” she asked as she removed her mask.

“I wouldn’t wager against it, but I’ll be able to put in a full report by tomorrow,” he promised. “Will you be able to come by to pick it up? I’d love to confirm my findings with you.”

Scully nodded as she tossed her cap, gloves and mask into the biohazard bin. She reached into the pocket on her scrubs and placed one of her cards on the desk at the door. “I’ll be going to the Hoover building in the morning, but you can call the office when you’re ready.”

“I look forward to it,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

The assistants hovering around glanced at one another and Scully felt her cheeks pink. She really didn’t want to owe Mulder two heavy dinners and two bad movies of his choosing. Admitting she was wrong about something wasn’t terribly difficult for her, but it felt even worse, considering Jason was clearly younger than she was. She didn’t have a problem with age gaps between couples but within reason. From her own personal experience, any age gap over fifteen years usually resulted in a lot of parenting from one partner to the other and that made her feel uneasy.

Scully pulled the elastic from her hair and tucked it into the pocket at her waist on her shirt. “Have a good night, Jason.”

Trying to steady her breath and accept that she owed Mulder one chance to gloat with an ‘I told you so’ smirk, she walked down the hallway towards the small office used by the police department during investigations.

“Mulder,” she began and he hummed in reply as he continued to stare at the police report on the screen in front of him, deep in thought. “Agnes died from blunt force trauma. Most likely from the impact of the car.”

Mulder turned to her and she leaned against the desk to describe the injuries that caused Agnes’ death. His first question in response was to ask about Agnes’ baby.

“It was surgically removed,” she told him. “I couldn’t tell if the fetus was still alive when it was taken from her womb…”

She paused as she hesitated to make the next leap, but if there was anything she was certain of, she felt positive there was interference from Dr. Goldman and his co-conspirators in the DoD. 

“But they took it, Mulder. To get rid of evidence. Agnes wanted to talk,” she reiterated. “She left the hospital. That baby was the only proof that she was part of Goldman’s experiment.”

He nodded his head. “What if the baby was still alive?”

It was a chicken and the egg scenario. Which came first? The baby removed and then Agnes being killed by an unknown driver or the baby being removed postmortem to prevent a link from her to Goldman.

“Mulder, that car hit her so hard than an adult woman with the benefit of a mature skeletal structure wasn’t able to survive the impact,” she argued. “It’s highly unlikely that a baby would remain viable.”

“Unlikely for human fetuses,” Mulder pointed out as he got up from his desk and made his way over to the next desk space to pick up the report he just printed. “In 1973, the Syndicate was convened to assist in a project to colonize the world by creating alien-human hybrids. That project was ultimately unsuccessful. I doubt they ever stopped trying.”

Scully followed him and leaned against the desk between the two computers. “But what you’re talking about is changing the genetic make-up of a population. That’s the next step in evolution.”

“Every new species begins with a Founder’s Mutation,” he said, repeating back her own words on evolution back to her. “One child with the right combination of DNA could be a start.”

Scully’s mind jumped to a random article she found herself engrossed in. “There was a study published last year in Nature Communications by Batini and Hallast that found that Y chromosomes in the majority of European men could be traced back to just three individuals from the Bronze Age.”

“And therefore those men led the way for the surviving genomes of the European population to thrive and conquer where they weren’t wanted,” Mulder added.

“What if that child is already out there, Mulder?” she asked him. “What if there is someone who has the genome sequence to begin a takeover of humanity and we don’t know it?”

“Or survive an alien invasion by being the perfect alien-human hybrid?” he proposed and she shrugged. He shook his head. “I don’t think Goldman is that close to perfecting what we both fear, Scully. The children we saw today were proof that he was far off from perfecting the sequencing. None of those children displayed any signs of defeating the diseases they suffer from.”

She wrapped her arms around her torso to hug herself and shivered. “I suppose that gives me some comfort.”

“While you were contending with Jason over body parts, I did a little digging into Goldman’s background,” he confessed and she gave him a look. “I used some back channels and sidestepped the watchful eye of the DoD.”

A skeptical eyebrow raised slightly to inform him she wasn’t entirely sure of his methods but he continued.

“I was looking in the police archives for anything related to Goldman,” he carried on as he handed her the report from the printer. “Jackie Goldman was remanded to Saint Elizabeth’s hospital as a forensic’s patient. She was adjudicated criminally insane.”

“Doctor Goldman’s wife?” Scully clarified.

Mulder pulled his lower lip into his mouth and released it slowly as he nodded. It was amazing how such a simple act could distract her. 

“She was convicted of murdering her baby. That body was also never found.”

“I think we need to speak to Goldman’s wife,” she suggested.

Mulder held up a proud finger. “I’ve already put our names on the visitor’s list for tomorrow.”

 

*** *** ***

 

There was something that smelled more pungent in the forensic hospital wing. After the reformation of the treatment of psychiatric patients and the deinstitutionalization of many patients by 1994, the increase of psychiatric medication prescribed rose; however, the treatment to those with mental illness had a vast shift. Scully looked at psychiatry like any other treatment to the body. The brain was an organ and some organs needed aid to function on a level that was considered acceptable.

Patients with Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s took medications to regulate their thyroids because, if left untreated, it could result in lowered bone density or hair loss. Scientifically speaking, it was no different to regulate the hormones in the thyroid as it was to balance the chemicals in the brain of a patient suffering from bipolar disorder, anxiety or depression.

Women who were heavily medicated and considered a danger to their own children, like Jackie Goldman, were classified as unfit to be tried for an offence to ensure that her credibility was null and void.

When they were shown into the common space, a nurse was bringing Jackie lunch. Her blank eyes scanned the tray in front of her then to Mulder and Scully.

“Hello,” Scully greeted her and Jackie mouthed the word ‘hi’ but no sound came out.

Dressed in her pyjamas and a housecoat, the woman they sat across from was heavily medicated and not connected to the space around her. Her lunch stayed untouched as the patients around them ate their food.

Scully adjusted her legs under the table and Mulder leaned his elbows on his knees to try to get into her eyeline.

“Mrs. Goldman, we’d like to ask you a few questions about your husband,” he began softly. “About his work?”

There was a beat of silence as Mrs. Goldman’s eyes drifted from the edge of the table.

“Mulder, she hasn’t said anything in ten minutes,” she muttered.

Her eyes spotted something at the doorway between Mulder and Scully and she lobbed the apple from her lunch tray towards a cat that hissed as it ran out of the common room.

What a cat would be doing at a hospital was beyond Scully’s concern at the moment.

“You don’t like cats?” Mulder guessed.

Mrs. Goldman’s eyes shifted from the table and then finally met with Mulder’s. She asked as she appeared to reach a state of clarity, “What do you want?”

“Can we ask a few questions, Jackie?” Scully asked softly.

“Not about my husband,” she answered quickly as she glanced nervously around them. “He’s the one still keeping me here.”

Scully remembered an argument that she and Mulder had once over paranoia and self-importance. As she wrote notes at the one desk in their office while he studied a picture with a magnifying glass, she told him that his associates, The Lone Gunmen, were the most paranoid people she had ever met. She called them delusional while she tried to enforce that no one was essential enough in the ways The Lone Gunmen worried about.

After asking for a twenty dollar bill, Langly went so far as to declare that money was being traced at airport screenings while he removed the security strip from her cash she had planned to use for lunch later. Byers tried to protect their endeavours of a small newspaper by believing it was great enough to warrant a tap on their phones. It was ridiculous but unfortunately, they were right.

As she rambled on about their inaccuracies of every notion the Lone Gunmen had, Mulder made a sly comment that it was possible for someone to think she was, as Frohike described, hot. She would have explored the theory deeper; however, she discovered a listening device in her uncooperative pen.

If that experience taught her anything, it was that paranoia was usually founded and that Mulder’s less than discreet once-over of her attire every day was more than just observational and somewhat appreciative.

Mulder and Scully exchanged a troubled look at Jackie’s declaration. She would be of no help and she wondered if they should have come to see the woman at all. Fortunately, Mulder was better at getting to the truth than a heavily medicated woman was at keeping her secrets.

He asked about Molly and the real story of how Jackie lost her son came out. Jackie Goldman lived a life with her husband and daughter that Scully could only imagine. Heavily pregnant with her second child, she discovered that her first child, Molly, was not a usual child. She knew immediately that her husband had something to do with it.

Intuition is stronger than paranoia when you’re dealing with the person you’ve committed your life to. Deep down, Jackie told Mulder and Scully that she suspected her husband’s motives for wanting more children after a difficult first pregnancy with Molly were not because of his love for children but to use her uterus as another experiment. Jackie told them that her suspicions of her own children being different from other kids were confirmed by her daughter breathing underwater.

Fifteen years ago, the super soldier program had been successful enough to allow Shannon McMahon to do the same thing. She only suspected that the other former soldiers in John Doggett’s unit, along with Knowle Rohrer, had the same special abilities.

Her words painted a vivid picture of Jackie Goldman’s last afternoon under the umbrella of her husband’s lies and deceit. That day, with her friends dining off her finest china, Jackie dove into her heated pool to retrieve the body of her daughter. Instead, she discovered the truth she had always suspected - Molly was breathing underwater and fine. Jackie told Scully intently that it was more than just an oddity in her personality and the way she slept perfectly still on her back. Most babies and toddlers moved around in their cribs so much that they were often discovered with their bums in the air. It was an adorable oddity Jackie told them that Molly never did.

It brought Scully back to the last night she watched William sleep in his crib. He had rolled over onto his belly with his diaper-covered bottom up in the air and his blanket held tightly in his fist. It made her heart ache with regret that she missed out on the stages of his strange sleeping habits as he grew older.

“My husband did something to the embryo,” Jackie declared and Scully snapped out of her thoughts. “He used our own daughter for his research. I was nine months pregnant at the time. I was not about to let him have my son. I had to get away from that monster.”

Augustus Goldman in his mid-forties was the kind of man who hid behind a handsome face and a fit physique. Inside his mind, he had plotted to use his wife to produce children who could possibly carry the founder’s mutation. It made Scully sick to think about.

If Jackie had been aware of his plans and supported his dreams and sinister plot to create another Shannon McMahon or Knowle Rohrer, the story would have turned out much differently for her. Scully had read Jackie’s chart when they signed in. Perhaps she wouldn’t be locked in a hospital with ten times the normal dose of olanzapine in her system talking to the FBI’s most unwanted.

Antipsychotics for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder numbed patients and made them feel drowsy or fatigued. Jackie was obviously suffering from these side effects but was lucid enough to accept visitors.

“My husband is experimenting for more than just the DoD,” Jackie said with a shake in her voice. “He’s trying to create an alien child.”

Mulder’s head snapped to attention. “What did you say?”

“He’s… he’s trying to make a child in that Petrie dish of his that can survive,” she replied and glanced over her shoulder to the orderlies standing by. “He’s using those kids like lab rats. He doesn’t think I know… but I know everything. I know my son is alive. I’ve seen him here, at the hospital. I know he is different like Molly! If he’s part alien or some kind of hybrid, you have to protect him. He could fall into the wrong hands.”

“What kind of hands?” Mulder coaxed.

“I know how this sounds,” Jackie began as she glanced around. “But there are aliens that want to invade our planet.”

Jackie looked around the room conspiratorially and crooked her finger for Mulder and Scully to lean towards her.

“They’re coming,” she whispered anxiously.

Mulder gave Scully a pointed look. If this had been ten years ago, she would have stood up from the table and told Mulder she would meet him in the parking lot. In the last year, alien technology was confirmed on Earth and people were killed for it. There was a danger to the public from the very governments sworn to serve them.

A middle-aged doctor approached with two orderlies on either side. She had a starch white lab coat over her scrubs, a harshly cut bob of blonde hair and orthopedic clogs on her feet. “Hi Jackie, is everything okay?”

Jackie’s head careened to look behind her then back to Mulder and Scully with a flash of panic in her eyes. “I’m fine.”

“We’re just talking,” Scully assured the doctor with a tight smile.

“I heard some forbidden words over here so I just wanted to be sure,” the doctor replied with a calmness that made Scully feel uneasy. “Remember Jackie. All bad talk and forbidden words must be limited to your counselling sessions. The common rooms are for pleasant discussions only.”

Jackie nodded and her hands clenched as the orderly gave her a reassuring or threatening pat on her shoulder. Once they had left the table, Jackie leaned over her tray. “He’s a special boy. He’s not like other children. You have to help him. If my husband was successful, Kyle will be put away just like me. Just like Molly. If he can’t control us, then he sedates us.”

Mulder looked to Scully and they shared a knowing look. “We’ll do everything we can.”

“That’s not good enough,” Jackie insisted. “If they know I can have babies like Kyle and Molly, they’ll come for me too. I’ll be made into a lab rat just like them. We all have a price tag, Mr. Mulder. What has it cost my children to miss out on a normal childhood? What is he going to do with them when he discovers that Kyle is special like Molly?”

“It’s been my life’s work to stop men like your husband from selling out the human race for their own gain,” he told her. “I’ll do my best to protect people like you and your children from becoming another casualty.

Scully would have hoped that Jackie would find some confidence in Mulder’s promise; however, she only nodded gravely at them. “Good luck.”

“How did you see him in the hospital?” Scully asked her. “As a patient?”

“He’s in uniform,” Jackie sighed as though the answer was obvious.

They stood up in unison and Mulder held his arm out for Scully to lead the way. “We’ll be in touch.”

Jackie stood up as well.

“I know how this is going to sound but…” she looked around the room secretively. “Trust no one.”

Scully could feel her chin duck down and hear Mulder in her head telling her to shut up. Before she could respond to Jackie Goldman’s final statement, Mulder put his hand heavily on her shoulder.

“It’s good advice,” he replied gravely. He pulled a business card from his jacket pocket and handed it to Jackie. “Take care.”

As they began to walk out of the hospital, Scully couldn’t stop thinking about what Jackie said.

“All my training, everything I know about psychology tells me that she’s delusional,” Scully began. “But Mulder, there’s something about her that I trust.”

“She heard a tone in her head, a screech-” Mulder reminded her. “That’s what happened to me.”

“Are you saying that you think the baby that communicated with her communicated with you?” she clarified.

“Wouldn’t be a baby anymore,” he pointed out. Mulder stopped as one of the janitorial staff passed by with a custodial cart. “Excuse me. You don’t work for the hospital. You’re a subcontractor?”

“Yeah,” the man replied. “A-1 Janitorial. We’re all over the city.”

“Thank you,” Mulder said to him with a nod and put his arm around Scully’s lower back to usher her down the hall. “I just had a thought, but I’ll need the video from Nugenics to prove it.”

“Do you want to tell me about it first?” she asked him.

“Ah, Scully,” he said with a grin. “You know it’s more fun when I can make a presentation out of it.”

As they signed out with the front desk and retrieved their weapons, Mulder must have caught a look on her face.

“Are you going to share that thought you’re chewing on with the class?” he nudged her.

She reholstered her weapon and looked up to his eyes. “I can’t stop thinking about what she said… I don't want to admit this but I can identify with her fears.”

“Are you thinking about William?” he asked and she nodded. “I know you’re worried that he’s one of Goldman’s kids, Scully, but there’s no way he was connected to your pregnancy.”

“If Goldman was in business with the DoD when Kyle and Molly were born, he would have had access to other mothers like myself,” she replied. “I had a DNA test and ran an amniocentesis.”

“And?” Mulder asked as they exited the building.

They walked to the car in silence and he reached across the small space between them to tug on her fingers. “Scully?”

She turned to him with their fingers still connected as they neared the vehicle and sighed. ”I didn’t get a full analysis. When William was two months old, I did a proper cheek swab for DNA-”

“And?” Mulder interrupted.

The results were obviously just as important to Mulder, but she had never seen the desperation on his face or heard the anxiousness in his voice regarding the results.

“It confirmed that you’re the father and I’m his mother but beyond that, I wasn’t given more information,” she told him as she pulled her fingers from his grasp to cross her arms. “I just worry that there is something else inside of him that would possibly make him a target….”

“Like what?” he asked. Scully shrugged and he pushed further. “Scully, like what?”

“William’s mobile moved over him when he was a baby….” she began.

“What’s weird about that?” he shrugged.

Scully sighed again. “It’s not supposed to move when there’s no wind and the only thing around is a crying child. Mulder, I saw this mobile rotate above him and heard the sound of the parts squealing. It wasn’t a rotating mobile. It was handmade and not meant to spin like that... William could be different…”

“Like Kyle and Molly?” he finished for her and she nodded reluctantly.

“What if William is locked away in a cell some place,” she began as her voice shook to hold back the emotions she worried would impede her judgement. “What if someone else, like Goldman but another doctor working with the DoD, is holding him somewhere?”

Mulder looked at her, obviously unable to provide an answer that would satisfy her mind as it spun around in circles looking for a truth she could hold on to.

They stood at the vehicle with the weight of Scully’s words hanging between them. There was so much more to this case than just a dirty doctor with untoward intentions. Children were being experimented on and the doctor inside of her felt like retching. The woman inside of her that had held on to the idea of being a mother wanted to scream. This all pointed back to the Syndicate and the government’s involvement. It seemed no matter how far they tried to run from their past, they couldn’t escape the plot to undermine Mulder’s work that had begun when William J. Mulder joined a group of like-minded men who wanted to destroy the planet instead of saving it.

Mulder sighed. “To connect the dots, we need to find these kids, Scully, and I think I have an idea of where to look for Kyle.”

The case brought up a lot of emotions she wasn’t prepared for. If only she hadn’t tried to ignore her grief over the loss of her son so frequently, then she might be better prepared to be more objective.

Her judgement was clouded. She identified with what Jackie Goldman was going through and Scully recognized that she needed to step back and find some perspective.

“Show me,” she told him.

He reached past her to open her car door, “I will.”

 

*** *** ***

 

Mulder connected the dots from the uniforms he watched in the surveillance videos to the janitor walking through the hospital after visiting Jackie Goldman. Unfortunately, he was correct when he stated that Scully would need to see it to believe it.

What she saw, she couldn’t deny. The connection his mind made through a thirty-second clip to their next possible lead turned out to be valid. His assumption that the young man in the surveillance videos being the same young man that Jackie Goldman described was spot on.

Through a brief phone call to A-1 Janitorial’s main office, they were quickly given the name and address of eighteen-year-old, high school dropout Kyle Gilligan.

It was thirty-five minutes later when they stood outside of Rebecca Gilligan’s residence asking about her son. She was less than cooperative to answer their questions until the birds gathered at Kyle’s infrared sounds.

She stood on her front porch with anger on her face and fear in her voice. “Bad things happen when the birds gather.”

Mulder crouched in pain while Scully ran around the house and through a field to the barn where Kyle was hiding. It was only minutes before Mulder was inside the barn with her, his gun drawn and ready to arrest the young man who almost cost him his life.

The pleas by a distraught mother were earnest not to hurt Kyle, but they weren’t there to harm him. They wanted answers.

Scully tried to call an ambulance for Mulder but after the third ‘I’m fine’ from him, she gave up and took the car keys to drive them back to town.

The drive from the farm of Rebecca Gilligan with her adoptive son Kyle in the back seat began as a quiet one. Kyle had almost killed Mulder with his infrared sounds echoing into his brain stem.

His motives apparently were altruistic; however, the result was almost the loss of another life.

“Is that true, Kyle?” Mulder broke the silence. “That you don’t know what you’re doing?”

As she drove along the farm road back to the highway, Kyle sat with his hands cuffed behind him in silence. The tension was radiating off of him but he took his arrest in stride.

“Why did you kill Dr. Sanjay?” Mulder asked finally as he looked back to the nervous teen in their backseat.

She glanced over her shoulder into the rearview mirror and watched Kyle tremble.

“I didn’t want him to die,” Kyle muttered with a wavering voice.

“You made him kill himself,” Mulder stated.

No!” Kyle cried, visibly upset. “I would never. He was helping me.”

“You got inside his head,” Mulder stated. “You got inside my head. You can make people hear things like you just did, like you did to me in Sanjay’s apartment.”

There was a beat as they drove along the bumpy, rural road. Low tax dollars paid in the neighbouring farms meant less money spent on filling in pot holes and levelling the pavement.

“But you can’t control it,” Mulder guessed, but it sounded more like a statement.

Kyle’s voice broke and she could feel his anxiety vibrating off of him. “I just want to find my sister.”

“Molly?” Scully guessed. She saw Kyle make eye contact through the rearview mirror and she knew she was right.

“At the hospital where you worked, you heard Jackie’s story,” Mulder narrated.

“She told me that he has her,” Kyle managed. “And Jackie is my real mother, okay?”

“How do you know that?” Scully asked, curious about what Kyle’s answer might be.

“I think I’d recognize my own mother,” Kyle deadpanned.

Scully glanced to her partner in the passenger seat and felt a slight relief that the colour had returned to his face. Whatever the truth was about Kyle, they weren't going to get answers from him while he was handcuffed in the back of Mulder's SUV.

“I have to find my sister!” Kyle pleaded.

“Kyle, nobody knows where she is,” Mulder placated to him.

Scully remembered the scene in the hallway of Nugenics with an angry patient and some levitating juice boxes.

“I know who knows,” she replied.

As they merged onto the highway, she took them directly to the man himself, Augustus Goldman.

 

** *** ***

 

It was unnerving for Scully to watch Kyle being examined like a specimen rather than a parent meeting his son for the first time. Dr. Goldman recorded Kyle’s height and weight before taking the young man’s blood pressure. Next, he checked his lungs, abdomen, ears, nose and throat.

The look on Goldman’s face was one of curiosity, but it was that of a man looking at a slide under a microscope and not of a child he had missed a life with.

Within moments of meeting the decoy Molly, Kyle knew that his father was trying to trick him, but Scully didn’t understand why until he met his real sister. The two Goldman children, holding their palms together were more powerful than forcing infrared sounds into the mind of another. There was anger, violence and a tidal wave of furor that lead to a rampage in the halls of Nugenics.

Scully was thrown against a wall as Goldman crouched screaming in agony on the floor. The sound of Mulder calling her name faded away into the background, buzzing as she lost consciousness.

When she came to, the paramedics were carting Dr. Goldman’s lifeless body away on a stretcher while two more paramedics tried to revive her. Mulder was trying to push the EMT away from him as he tried to get to her.

The hospital lights flickered above her head and as the room came into focus, she saw more broken glass around her. A few of the wire guarded neon lights had burst or fallen down. There was about ten feet of the hallway that was in complete darkness.

Kyle and Molly had gone out, not with a whimper, but with a bang.

The DoD and the National Guard arrived within moments of Kyle and Molly killing their father at his own facility. Suited up in all black with automatic rifles, the National Guard surrounded the building and roamed the hallways while rounding up the current patients that also posed a threat. Within moments of being cleared by the paramedics, two large men were escorting Mulder and Scully beyond the red tape that meant way more than just local police or a small crime had occurred.

“What do you want to guess that Skinner is already on his way here to chew our asses out?” Mulder quipped into her ear while the employees of Nugenics were also being led away from the building.

The night sky was illuminated by the emergency red and blue lights from the top of the National Guard Humvees. A familiar FBI issued vehicle appeared in the distance and Skinner exited his sedan with a swiftness of a man who was called there urgently while the headlights slowly dimmed behind him.

“Like a ship sailing through the fog in the night,” Mulder whispered and Scully gave him a nudge to be quiet.

She folded her arms across her torso to warm up in the cool evening air. She could feel bad news coming and Mulder clenched his jaw as Skinner was told to keep his agents far away from this case for the last time.

“Department of Defense has control of the facility,” Skinner reported as he walked towards the red tape separating Mulder and Scully from the facility. “It’s now classified as top secret. We no longer have jurisdiction here.”

“Have they found Molly or Kyle?” Scully inquired with a shiver.

You were the last one to see them, Agent Mulder,” Skinner pointed out.

Mulder shook his head. “I blacked out after Goldman’s eyes popped out of their sockets. Believe me, you can’t unsee that.”

“Well, they’re gone. There’s no trace of them anywhere,” he stated. Skinner looked around the scene and caught Scully’s eye. “Are you all right? I heard you got hit pretty hard.”

Scully nodded and pulled her arms around her torso to warm herself. “I’m fine.”

Skinner nodded once to them and shook the hand of one of the guards outside the building. It left Scully with a sick feeling in her stomach. She was about to mention it when Mulder produced a phial of blood from his pocket.

“Kyle’s blood,” she recognized.

“Trace,” he quipped and tucked the evidence back in his pocket before that was taken from them too.

“I can’t run that through normal channels, Mulder,” Scully reminded him as she walked around to the passenger side of the vehicle. “Especially now that every keystroke and inquiry an FBI agent makes is catalogued and easily referenced. There are more eyes on agents working for the FBI than NSA has ears listening for the next crack at Snowden. We’ll be flagged the second Goldman’s DNA is discovered.”

He pressed the unlock button on the key fob and they climbed into the front seat. As the engine turned over, Scully buckled herself in. She caught the expression on his face but couldn’t quite place it.

“Feels like just like old times,” he commented as they sat for a moment. The weight of the day washed over them and they sighed in unison. He placed the phial of blood in the cup holder between them carefully and grinned at her. “You’ll find an answer. You always do.”

There was something reassuring that he had faith in her abilities as a scientist; however, her resources among the scientific community might be ruined after being a part of the dismantling of Nugenics.

“Word in the scientific community travels fast,” she sighed.

Mulder fastened his seatbelt and he looked at her earnestly. “I believe in you.”

It was encouraging that he had so much faith in her ability to discover the truth as she peered into a microscope to inform him how nature had altered what it previously informed humanity what was possible. Over time, he came to understand science could explain all the wonders of the paranormal and the mystery of what had previously been unexplained.

They found a common ground there. It was where they gained respect and developed trust with each other. Eventually and slowly but all at once, they fell in love in that same space.

As they drove along the highway back to Scully’s apartment, she wondered if that common ground was also where they fell apart. Their marriage had crumbled under the weight of the walls between them. He built one with claims that were too fantastical for her to believe true and she withheld from him to believe in his ideas.

Mulder pulled in front of her apartment and looked at her with a slight air of melancholy. She recognized it immediately. He used to look at her that way before they crossed the line from friends to lovers when he desperately wanted her company but couldn’t fabricate a weak excuse to spend time together.

“Home sweet home,” he mumbled to her.

Scully looked from his face to the illuminated sidewalk outside her apartment. She had not considered it her home since moving in, rather just a place she was staying as she lived in the limbo of their separation.

Any place he occupied with his disorder and noisy presence would be the only place she could call home.

Mulder cleared his throat. “Scully?”

“Oh… uh sorry,” she shook her head as she looked back to him. “You’re sure you’re okay to drive?”

He nodded. “EMT’s said I was only a little bruised. You got the worst of it.”

Scully adjusted in her seat but made no move to get out. He careened his head around to get a better look at her and she felt her cheeks pink under his gaze.

“Are you going to be all right on your own?” he asked earnestly. “Are you concussed or something?”

“I’ll be fine,” she breathed. “No concussion. Just some bruising to my body and shock to my system for what we saw.”

“It scared me what those kids can do,” he admitted to her in his low baritone. “It’s frightening how she threw you against the wall with just a look…”

“I think Dr. Goldman got it worse than either of us,” she countered.

Mulder sighed and put the car into park. “I think he had what was coming to him. Whatever he did to his children was unnatural. He shouldn’t have treated them like specimens. All those children - none of them deserved a life with him in it.”

That might be a bit harsh, but she agreed with him.

There was a beat of silence and Mulder’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He set the device between them to show her the screen and she took a glance to it. The olive branch of no secrets between them didn’t go unnoticed.

“Skinner said we can take the day off tomorrow,” he added quietly and gave the scruff on his chin a scratch. “I think I’ll take advantage of the kindness and sleep in.”

“Take some ibuprofen for your head when you get home. Your body isn’t going to bounce back from being tossed around by supernatural teens with telekinesis as quickly as it did before,” she advised as she grabbed her bag from the floor at her feet. Mulder made a face at her insinuation of their age. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Get some sleep, Scully,” he called after her as she exited the car. Behind her, she could hear the passenger window rolling down. She paused mid-stride and turned to look back at him watching her as she reached the front door of her building. He looked slightly embarrassed that she caught him and he smiled self-deprecatingly as he held up a hand to wave goodbye. “See you!”

Scully gave a slight motion to wave goodbye and shook her head as she fought the smile on her face. She should have just asked him if he wanted to come up and talk.

The last time they planned to ‘just talk,’ she ended up with only her heels on, straddling his naked lap and riding him raw on her pristine couch.

Maybe a night alone would do her some good. She could push down the wanton urges and bubbling desire she had for him and focus on her feelings to process what she was struggling over William.

It would help to have closure if she knew more about her son and the life he had now.

“Good evening Dr. Scully,” the front desk attendant greeted.

“Hi, Henry,” Scully greeted him as she walked through the lobby. “Quiet evening?”

The man shrugged and held up a book of Sudoku puzzles. “I’m managing. Brought my sketch book too.”

“Are you any good?” she asked politely as she pressed the up arrow.

Henry shook his head. “I don’t see anyone long enough to sketch them so I’ve only perfected drawing the lobby.”

Scully pressed the button on the elevator and sighed. “I suppose that’s better than writing a blog about everyone in the building.”

Henry laughed. “No one who lives here is that interesting.”

Scully laughed as she thought about the last twenty fives years of her life, including the microchip in her neck that had cured her cancer and the baby she had after being told she was barren. “I guess you’re right.”

The door to the elevator dinged open and she gave him a polite smile as she stepped on.

“Good night,” he called and his head ducked down back to his book.

Even without what she had gone through with Mulder, Scully’s life from birth to present was littered with stories that were hard to believe. From moving to Japan as a baby and living there for a number of years or living with three other siblings or even her transition from medical school into the FBI, Scully hadn’t ever thought of her life as boring. Outside of her affair with Daniel Waterston and the relationship she had with Jack Willis, she had travelled and seen the world. She had friends and a life to be proud of. Her social circle became smaller by necessity after she started working on the X-Files.

What sane person would not try to have her and Mulder committed after asking about her week at work?

Her relationship with Ethan barely managed the first two months in the basement with Mulder. The calls to Ellen became fewer and far between while she kept her family in the dark. Questions about her work were rarely answered and she stopped listening to her brother when he bitched about Mulder calling Maggie’s house in the middle of family dinners.

After Melissa was killed in her apartment in Georgetown, it only made sense to keep friends and family at a distance. Mulder had learned to keep to himself at a much younger age, but he learned to deal with loss sooner in life than she did. It was a side effect of being born into a family that thrived on secrets.

While she became slightly reclusive during her years on the X-Files, Mulder explored with her a world that no one else could understand. They had seen things they couldn’t deny but society wasn’t ready to accept. They had been trapped in a foxhole while the Syndicate and the FBI worked against them.

If either of them had been different people, maybe their partnership would have fallen apart much more easily. He was relentless and she was ridiculously stubborn. They stood their ground and somehow found a trust, love and friendship for one another in it.

The elevator car dinged as it reached her floor and she walked slowly down the hallway towards her apartment door.

Thoughts of her past, present and future weighed heavily on her. What would her life have been like if she had never been assigned to work with Mulder?

Would she have left the FBI once she felt like she couldn’t make a difference? Would she have still been abducted and experimented on? At least with her gun and a badge, she had a way to investigate all the atrocities that were happening in the world. She could help find justice for everyone except her own son.

Scully stripped off her clothing from the day and turned the shower on to a temperature that would leave her skin red and raw. As she pulled her red tresses into a messy bun, she took a deep breath as her bathroom filled with steam.

The numbness that had taken over needed to be scrubbed away along with the horrible experience at Nugenics. The underlying guilt of failing at motherhood was bubbling underneath and she wanted to push the harsh loofah along her skin until she could only sense that pain instead of everything else that was avalanching onto her now.

As she rinsed the soap from her skin and turned off the scalding water, Scully pulled a robe around her body to get a glass of wine from the kitchen. Out of habit, she put her cell phone into her pocket in case Mulder called her. Her usual habit was to charge her phone the moment she got home, but she ignored the power being only forty-two per cent and kept it with her.

It was obvious that she was hoping he would call and she ignored how it sounded slightly pathetic that she was disappointed he hadn’t even texted her while she was in the shower.

Her phone buzzed on the bathroom sink and she dropped her towel on the floor at her feet to look at the screen. She had missed a call from the human resources department at Our Lady of Sorrows.

Scully wrapped her robe around her body and dialled her voicemail.

“Dana,” a voice greeted her.

Scully was confused why Sister Mary would be calling her from an office she didn’t belong to at the hospital.

“I am calling you from this line because I hope it would be safer for me to reach out to you…”

The line broke for a moment and there was a long pause.

“Dana…” Sister Mary began again. “I found a file with your name on it in Dr. Goldman’s office. I wasn’t sure what it was regard to, so I read it. I know I’m not supposed to but… He has a file on you, Dana. There are birth records for a son I didn’t know you had… A boy. I didn’t know… I’m sorry I didn’t know but-”

The line cut out again and there was a crackling that caused Scully to pull away from her phone. She walked into her bedroom as the message was silent and she sat down on the edge of her bed.

“Dana, I don’t have much time. Dr. Goldman has been keeping tabs on you and your son. He knows where he is. It’s not safe-”

A door opened loudly in the background of Sister Mary’s call and Scully’s eyes darted around her bedroom for an intruder. The sound startled her and she clutched her robe closed at her neck.

“Dana - he knows. He’s working with them and he knows-”

“Put the phone down!” an authoritative voice ordered. “Ma’am you can’t be in here. Those records are the property of Dr. Goldman and the Department of Defense.”

Unhand me!” Sister Mary cried. “No! Stop!”

The line went dead.

Scully stood motionless in her bedroom with her phone in her hand. She immediately dialled the number for the hospital reception. It took a few tries by dialling zero to get a person, but eventually a patient registration clerk answered the phone.

“Good evening, my name is Dr. Dana Scully,” she began. “I still have privileges at Our Lady of Sorrows. I’m trying to reach a nun who works with the extended stay ward for young mothers, Sister Mary Hildebrand? She had called me earlier about meeting for tea this week. I was hoping to discuss with her when I was free, if she was there.”

The woman who answered the phone sighed. “I’m sorry that I’m the one who has to tell you this…”

There was a pause and some hushed talking that was covered by a hand across the mouthpiece on the other end.

There seems to be some confusion… Sister Mary left town suddenly,” the young woman replied. “The women in her residence unit haven’t seen her since yesterday morning. The local police are involved but I can’t give any details other than that.”

What threat did a nun hold against the DoD? This was all too unsettling. First, Goldman knows about her pregnancy and had information about her son. Then, the woman who was trying to tell her about it is suddenly missing? She wondered why they wouldn’t leave the body to be found but a dead nun was way more suspicious than a missing woman. People go missing all the time. Her curious mind needed answers but her mind was exhausted from the day. She would need to bring this to Mulder with the hopes they could get try to find out what happened to Sister Mary.

She put her phone in the long pocket at the front of her robe and decided wine might help her tension. She wanted answers but wasn’t sure where to start. It occurred to her that she could bring this voicemail to Mulder and they could at least go over it together.

She sighed and resigned herself that she could easily bring this up to Mulder the next day at work instead of right that instance. Driving out to the house was a long trek and she wasn’t sure what they could do at night from a creaking farmhouse that’s wifi was spotty on a windy evening.

Just as she was about to uncork a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc, she paused as her phone buzzed inside her robe pocket. Her hand slipped down the fluffy material and she pulled her phone out to see a text message from Skinner.

“I have approved Mulder’s request for a day off for both of you tomorrow. Get some rest, WS.”

She shook her head. It didn’t bother her in the slightest when she thought it was Skinner’s insistence for a day off from work, but for some reason it irked her that Mulder had made the request.

“Son of a bitch got me a day off,” Scully muttered about Mulder.

She pulled the corkscrew from the top and put the bottle back in her fridge. If she needed a flimsy excuse to visit Mulder at the house, this was as good as any.

 


*** *** ***

 

The drive from D.C. to the long secluded road to the ordinary house they once shared was long enough to talk herself in and out of going to see him.

By the time she reached the end of the driveway, the only reason she had left not to see Mulder was that there was a slim chance he got them the day off of work so that he could avoid seeing her. She still needed to talk to him about the voicemail Sister Mary left her, but there was also a chance that he wouldn’t want to hear it.

While that thought alone was heartbreaking, it never did Mulder any good to stay locked inside the walls of that house or keep his thoughts swirling. It was easy for both of them to go down a well-travelled road of pain and uncertainty.

Scully parked her vehicle next to Mulder’s at the base of the steps in front of the house and looked up the staircase to the empty porch. She looked at her phone on the seat and wondered if the call would be enough or if she needed another reason. She used to need no reason at all to drive to his apartment, sit next to him on his leather couch and watch bad movies from the 80s with him until they nudged each other enough to start making out like teenagers.

Such a simpler time for them and this was after seven years of a tragic partnership.

It was only weeks ago that she stood on that porch and asked him to be careful with himself while he spun out of control after Tad O’Malley had sent him on a wild goose chase. The fact that Mulder could be so easily baited and that Tad had done the baiting had made her angry and scared.

She sighed and gathered her bag and phone. If he sent he away, she could be back in D.C. with her bottle of wine and working on a warrant to collect the file Goldman had on her and her son.

The screen door creaked open and Mulder looked at her with concern as she walked up the steps to the door.

“Scully?”

His voice was thick and gravelly like he had a few drinks under his belt. He was in casual attire as well with a flecked grey t-shirt on and black jogging pants. As she came up the stairs, she could see the confusion on his face and the limb she had gone out on in going there suddenly felt very weak.

“Hi,” she started weakly. “I… I wanted to see how you were.”

Mulder’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I’m… I’m okay, I guess. What are you doing out here? You got a knock on your head. Shouldn’t you be laying with your feet up or something?”

Scully shook her head. “No… that’s not what you do for a patient after they black out.”

A gust of wind blew through the property and the strands of hair that couldn’t fit up in her bun hit against her cheek. She tried to tuck them behind her ear as she looked up at him nervously. Mulder watched her expectantly and she realized she had run out of reasons. It was time to go or she would really be embarrassed.

“Oh, well - I didn’t, um-” she started and thought about turning around and racing back to the safety of the city.

“Scully-” he called and she took a step up towards him. Her face asked yes as her mouth couldn’t form the words. He nodded his head towards the inside of the house. “C’mon.”

She clicked the lock button on her fob, even though it was unnecessary in their neighbourhood, and walked up the last two steps to follow him inside.

He closed the door to the house behind her and they stood awkwardly in the foyer with his hands in the pockets of his pants and her arms folded across her torso.

She wished she had planned a better outfit than her jogging pants, tank top and tattered Georgetown Medical School sweatshirt. The tap in the kitchen dropped three beads of water into the sink and their attention was mutually drawn beyond their space.

“I thought you fixed that,” she commented but immediately regretted it.

It sounded like another criticism from a woman who had no business pointing out the odds and ends in the house that needed repairing. Mulder didn't seem to be bothered by it.

“I think the washer is worn out again,” he replied flatly. “I keep forgetting to pick up a new one on my way home. Nutter’s Hardware reduced their hours.”

“Why?” she asked him but realized he might not know.

During their first few months at the house, she had developed a rapport with the staff but after his exoneration, he took on the job of running errands. Since her departure, Mulder had continued to do odd jobs to improve the farmhouse so she assumed that he would have gotten to know the owners that ran the store, just as she did.

“I mean…”

Mulder laughed. “Their son is running it while they go on their cruise, but he has young kids so he’s trying to be home more for his wife.”

It was Scully’s turn for her eyebrows to shoot up in surprise. “That’s thoughtful of him.”

“Yeah, not all men run off to search for the truth about super soldiers made by the government after their woman has a baby,” Mulder noted casually as he left her in the foyer to walk back to the table he had obviously been sitting at before her arrival. He picked up the tumbler and shook the glass to note the emptiness of it. “So what are you doing here, Scully? Tell me, really.”

As she walked into the kitchen while Mulder pulled another tumbler from the cupboard and filled them with ice, she noted the baby picture of William on the placemat where his glass had just been.

It was the very same photo she had been holding only days ago. Her mother had taken it during one of her many babysitting afternoons when Scully first went back to work. She had a hell of a time getting Mulder a copy while he was on the run, but he got it in time before his arrest from the army. That much she knew about his detainment. When she broke into the military prison, it was one of the few personal items he had with his clothes and shoes. It touched her in a way she wasn’t expecting when she found it stuffed in between a train schedule and picture of her in his wallet. She never asked him how he came to have the photograph of William. He had kept a number of details from her during that time.

Mulder handed her a glass with amber liquid that looked more alcohol than water and ice. He paused when he noted the picture between her fingers.

“Is that mine or yours?” he asked.

“Yours,” she answered. She let out a breath and a moment of bravado took over. “I was wondering if you were going to be thinking of him tonight.”

“I love a good wallow in my morose feelings of what could have been for me as a father just as much as the next angst-ridden semi-divorced man,” he muttered as he clinked his glass against hers and took a swig. “Cheers.”

She took a sip as well and brought the picture up to her face. “Do you ever blame me for ruining it all?”

Mulder almost choked on his drink and he coughed before he swallowed what he could. “Jesus - what? No. Where is that coming from? Who said you ruined anything?”

Scully took another sip of the smoky golden mash and her chest flushed as it warmed her while it worked through her system. Mulder brought out the good stuff tonight.

“I just think sometimes you blame yourself for what happened with us-”

“I do,” he confirmed and clinked his glass against hers again.

“But I really feel like so much of what happened, especially with William, was my fault,” she finished and poured the rest of the drink into her mouth. She let out a small belch and handed him her glass. “Another, please.”

“Did your mom say you can bunk over?” Mulder teased as he went to refill both their cups.

“I didn’t come here for a co-ed sleepover,” she announced and he turned to look at her in surprise. “I’m sorry - I mean-”

“We’re not fucking tonight,” he cut her off. “That’s fine. I wasn’t really in the mood, anyway, to be honest.”

That surprised Scully, but it was a relief to know she wasn’t going to have to explain her reasons later.

She set the picture of William on the table where she found it and crossed the kitchen to hug him from behind as he fixed their drinks. His arm paused before he could pour the alcohol from the tall bottle.

“You’re giving me mixed signals here,” he commented. “I’m all for a snuggle but I can tell you’re not wearing a bra…. You already said no… so… You know I can’t kiss you until you ask me.”

She felt a pang of disappointment in his statement but with their history, it was probably better anyway. There was a beat of silence and she realized he really did mean what he said. The pain he was feeling through their separation and the aftermath of this case must have really weighed down on him.

“I’m not trying to give you mixed signals,” she started as she held him. “Sister Mary is missing and I was… I wanted to see you.”

The sound of the liquid filling the glass filled the silence as she collected her words.

“I need us to be able to talk right now without everything getting in the way,” she continued. Mulder began to turn in her arms as he held the glasses on either side of her, but she kept her hands together around him. “I just… I mean, so much of us is mixed up as partners, lovers, parents to a lost son and the legalities of our relationship. I need my friend and I think he needs me. Is that okay?”

He moved slightly to set each glass down on the counter behind him and took her into an embrace she had found herself in a thousand times before.

“I’m always here for you to talk to, Scully,” he murmured into her hair. “I mean, I can’t compartmentalize as well as you can, but I can try.”

She allowed herself to get lost in the consolation of his embrace as one hand moved up her back and the other remained at her waist. It was comfortable and safe there.

The kitchen faucet dripped another three consecutive droplets of water into the sink and the sound of crickets in the garden beyond the kitchen window echoed through the back door.

“Scully?” he prompted. “Why in the hell are you thinking you’re to blame?”

She had to pull away from him eventually. He smelled so good, like soap and fresh laundry. He felt like home in a place that was as safe as anywhere she could find respite. The train of thoughts she was wandering with was dangerous because once she considered all the ways in which Mulder made her feel safe, she entered into a precarious territory where she couldn’t resist him.

Scully sniffed and stepped out of his embrace. She picked up one of the glasses off the counter and walked through the kitchen towards the living room.

Dana,” he said more forcefully and she turned to look at him.

There was a look in his eyes that she recognized there too. He couldn’t hide anything from her and this expression was tampered desire.

She glanced down to the hem of his shirt and decided to ignore the semi-hard on he was sporting as well as her own tingling in her belly. It was a slight comfort to know that he still responded to her but she reminded herself she wasn’t there to have her problems solved in bed. As much as it would be easy to use his body to forget the mountain of guilt and anger that had overwhelmed her tonight, she couldn’t keep doing that to him. Her mind wouldn’t have gone there if the alcohol hadn’t and upset of the evening hadn’t crept in… or maybe it would have. She wasn’t sure anymore.

It was just as unfair to her as well, but Mulder had such thin patches over his deep open wounds that it might make the waters of their working relationship too muddy to see the bottom.

The clarity of her actions was only coming from the strong whiskey and the disgrace of her indiscretions.

“I asked you if you blame me for ruining it,” she reminded him. “Do you?"

"Scully..." he admonished. 

The liquor had given her a sense of bravado and she decided to push forward. She wanted answers from him. It was obvious how he felt about a lot of things but he kept so much of his feelings of fatherhood close to his chest. It was unlike him and it was unsettling to her that they had that barrier between them.

"I think you never blame me for what happened to William,” she told him as she turned to look at him.

Mulder took a swig of his drink but said nothing. It angered her that he was being so passive about all of this.

“You should,” she began and he shook his head. “It’s not fair, Mulder. I deserve my share of blame in our shit. You should be angrier at me. He could be in danger this very moment because I gave him up. The DoD or someone else could know where he is or what he is and I just let him go into the night with those idiot gunmen like it would be safer for him without us. At least put some onus on me to allow me to appreciate that I’m not so perfect in your eyes.”

Mulder followed her into the living room and tugged on her hand to sit next to him on the couch. The soft leather under her weight was a blessing after the hard floors she had been thrown into. Her mind was fuzzy from the alcohol and shameful thoughts of acts they had performed a lifetime ago floated through her mind. She told herself to slow down with her liquor and she cleared her throat.

“What is it that is entirely your fault you want me to be mad at you?” he inquired as his eyes searched hers.

She wondered what regret of her transgressions he saw in her eyes. She wondered if he could see her desire or if he would chalk up her hardened nipples to the chill in the air and the liquor in her system.

Dana Scully wasn’t as good as compartmentalizing as Mulder thought, but she should give it a better shot than she was right now.

“I’m not a saint, Mulder,” she started and he gave his eyes a half roll. “I’m not. I asked you to father a child with me when we weren’t married and I knew what our lives were like.”

“Scully, you know we were damned from the beginning just because of who we are,” he commented. When that didn’t elicit a response, he took a sip of his drink and sighed. “I know I never told you this but I was quite aware that I didn’t have to say yes.”

“Would you be able to say no to me?” she implored. “Regarding that?”

In an attempt to read him again, she sat up a little straighter to try to see what was going on behind the wild green eyes staring back at her.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Scully furrowed her brow. “I’m trying to make sure you’re not going to lie to me.”

Mulder finished his drink and set the glass down on the coffee table. Instead of answering he sighed and got up slowly to get himself another.

It was good he wasn’t driving, but she should at least slow down if she was going to head back to Washington tonight.

The ice dropped into his glass loudly and he poured himself another generous serving. When he returned, he poured a little more into her cup from his and wiped the edge of his glass. He licked the whiskey off the pad of his thumb and looked at her calmly as though what he did wasn’t just a little hot.

“Scully,” he started. “I could have said no….”

She narrowed her eyes at him and took a sip while she contemplated his answer. Either the drink had more water in it or she was growing accustomed to the liquor, but she was taking bigger sips than the beginning.

“I mean… physically I could have said no,” he continued and she looked at him straight on. “I could have said that the hundred reasons I had written down as to why we shouldn’t have a kid together were ninety-nine reasons too many but I didn’t. I had made a pros and cons list and the first thing I wrote down was ‘make Scully happy.’ So, that’s all I needed to say yes.”

“And you’re not mad I asked you to leave?” she implored. “Truthfully and honestly, you don’t hold a grudge that I asked you to miss out on fatherhood to run after your quest?”

“Scully, I didn’t want to stay because I felt some forced obligation to be a parent to the one miracle I was able to come through on,” he scoffed.

“Mulder-” she admonished with a shake of her head.

“No, really,” he continued and took another sip of his drink before setting the tumbler on the coffee table. “I mean… I wanted more than what my father gave me. I wanted to be a dad, but I only wanted to be a dad to your kid. It’s more than just being a father and giving my half of the DNA. I wanted a chance to be a dad. To help with diaper changes and getting up to get the baby for a midnight feed or taking turns driving around while he worked through colic. I thought you asked me to leave because you didn’t want me to impede your chance of motherhood because I wasn’t good enough-”

“No!” she cut him off. “No…. Mulder a thousand times no. I wouldn’t have asked you just for your sperm. I wanted… I want you as a father... his dad. I wanted you… I only wanted you…”

“I knew you wanted space, Scully,” he replied and looked around the living room as though there was an answer to her questions on one of the dust bunnies under the armchair across from them. “I could tell it was a lot for you with the new baby and my sudden return from death. You had Doggett, you had Monica and your mom. I know I’m a lot to handle and the baby was your priority. You needed space. I just never thought you would want it from me.”

“No,” she insisted. “I didn’t. I don’t-”

“You did then,” he cut her off. “You do now. Even now with all the crap we went through, I think I’ve realized why. I hope I do-”

Maybe he did blame her but had already worked through how to forgive her. “Why… how are you so forgiving?”

Mulder shrugged. “I don’t blame you for needing space, ever. I just think that we should have known that we were never going to be able to protect any child of ours unless we did it together. I thought you had figured that out by the time you asked me to go.”

A tear rolled down her cheek and she wiped it away angrily. “I didn’t. I was stupid. I wrecked it. I wrecked everything. You should be blaming me. You… you should be mad at me.”

Mulder shook his head as he rested his elbows on his knees and turned his head to look at her. “I’m not mad. I don’t know how to be mad at you about that.”

“Why not?” she asked him.

Mulder took the drink from her hands and set it down. “I would have made the same call at the time. I only realized it afterwards that we were a better team together than we ever were apart. I should have reminded you of that at the time. I was the idiot that walked away from a chance at a normal life to look further into the truth than I was prepared for.”

Scully looked around the living room as she tried to form the words. “I should have been more forgiving of your… breakdown of sorts two years ago.”

Neither of them liked that word to describe Mulder's lapse into the darkness of paranoia and anger but that's what it was. They were being so honest with each other right now, she might as well use the correct terms. 

“Why?” he asked honestly and took a drink.

She picked up her drink from the table, moved the glass between her fingers and the ice sloshed around as it melted into the amber mash. “Because you forgave me… You needed me…. I should have been there.”

Mulder breathed out heavily through his nose and she saw his jaw clench. “You don’t get that William’s eventual adoption was my fault. How do you not see my part in that?”

How would it have been his fault if he wasn’t there? Their pursuit of the truth had always been paramount to everything, even their health. As she tried to explain that to him, Mulder put his fingers across her lips.

“I can see that you’re trying to rationalize or something, but I have to insist that if you’re going to blame yourself,” he began slowly. “I, Fox Mulder, will try to outdo you on ‘who sucks more’ and I promise, I never lose that game.”

Scully pulled his hand down from her lips and intertwined their fingers. There was a beat where she thought he might lean in a little closer and make her forget all the pain they had just exposed from the loss of their son. Unfortunately, Mulder already said earlier he wouldn’t kiss her unless she asked and she was too proud to ask for his affections at that moment. Scully added that to the list of idiocy and selfishness she would need to atone for at Sunday mass.

“So if you’re not going to blame me for all of this, what are you going to do?” she asked him. “How can you reconcile your feelings that you lost your chance?”

He shook his head. “I think if we had a son with us, I would have constantly worried at any moment he would have been taken just like Samantha. I would have lived in fear of someone else close to me being torn from my life. I don’t know if there’s an anti-anxiety medication strong enough to prevent that thought from being constant and you and I both know if I was prescribed that from any doctor, I wouldn’t take it.”

He had a point. She hadn’t thought about Mulder’s fears of reoccurring events from his past and it was shortsighted of her not to imagine his fears too.

“What about introducing him to movies I had declared were inappropriate or teaching him about space exploration while quoting JFK?” she asked.

“I think it’s scary how well you know my fantasies as a father,” Mulder noted and they shared a quiet laugh. “I’ll get a chance when he’s older.”

“How do you know we’ll find him?” she asked.

“I have hope,” he replied honestly. “In these days, with doctors like Goldman working in the world and my days at the FBI numbered again, I have to have hope. If Jackie Goldman’s predictions come true, you and I need to be with him when the shit hits the fan.”

Scully leaned across the space between them and pulled his head towards her to kiss his forehead. She pressed her head against his and closed her eyes as she tried to convey her commitment of hope to him. Mulder let out a deep breath and his hands squeezed her thighs through her jogging pants.

A voice in her head reminded her that everything she had a hard time sharing couldn’t be silent messages between them and she pulled back to look at him.

“I have faith in you, Mulder,” she vowed. “I have faith you’ll find William.”

Mulder pulled her towards him and onto his lap. They held each other for a long time in the quiet of their living room in a house that had always had a spare room for the child they never found.

And a voice in her head spoke up again and reminded her of yet. They hadn’t found him yet.

Chapter Text

The revelation that Mulder had possibly wasted the last twenty years of his life crushed his soul a little bit as he went through the many files that had been debunked due to the advanced technology of cell phones and quick-working science at their previous rural hotspots for supernatural sightings.

Each and every case that he had discovered in the X-Files since 1989 had been catalogued and worked through by an unknown third party. This person was very detail oriented as they debunked the phenomenon that he had held on to so tightly as proof that there was more in the universe that science could explain.

Instead, what he had was calculated puncture holes in the mythology and mystery of the unknown that persevered in his beliefs as he looked at the universe with wonder. Now, all he had were facts and science without the wonder of discovery. Where’s the fun in that?

Mulder tossed another freshly sharpened pencil towards the poster that Scully had hung up the week before to replace the one he tore in half in a moment of anger. She pierced a thumbtack through the corners and told him she was feathering the nest in a breathy tone that was supposed to be teasing but only succeeded in making him semi-hard at nine-thirty in the morning.

He threw another red and white file towards the pile and mess that he knew Scully would frown at then flung a sixth pencil. He opened a new file and used another pencil to move the top sheet to read the summary of how it was disproven as supernatural phenomenon then tossed the pencil towards the poster.

“Mulder,” she entered with disapproval. “What are you doing to my poster?”

He ignored the comment about the item he was currently piercing and had previously used for target practice because this morning he was in a mood. He felt a slight amount of smugness that he recognized that mood, but it didn’t stop his rant from coming nevertheless.

“Scully,” he began. “Since we’ve been away, much of the ‘unexplained’ has been explained.”

Mulder picked up a photo as she approached the desk with a little saunter and tried to keep his mind on task.

“The ‘Death Valley Racetrack?’ Turns out it was just ice formations,” he explained. “Moving the rocks around as it melted.”

Scully gave him a skeptical look, probably because she had argued that’s what it was when he cited the case to her over an argument once before.

“Yeah, ice,” he confirmed and picked up another photograph as she sat down across from him. He noted the file under her arm but continued on with his morning rant. He picked up another grainy picture of a figure that looked like The Thing from a comic book from his childhood. “Humility prevents me from recounting how I once thought it had something to do with a series of mysterious sightings of a rock-like creature in Colorado which turned out to just be a publicity stunt by a local landscaping business.”

They shared a smile between them as he tossed the newspaper advertisement to the side. The landscaping company had sprung for a full colour ad which really added insult to injury. Flanked by two cheerleaders, the figure in costume was a poor-man’s Fred Flintstone and quite obviously meant for publicity. Foolishness overwhelmed him when he saw the ad.

“It’s amazing,” he continued as he tossed yet another file onto a stack of debunked papers. “Going through these archives with fresh - if not wiser - eyes. How many of these cases, whether it’s the “Amarillo Armadillo Man” or the “Hairy Whatzit of Walla Walla,” can be explained away as fraternity pranks, practical jokes or people making stuff up because they were bored and or crazy. And if that doesn’t explain it, well, then it was probably just ice.”

The Amarillo Armadillo Man turned out to be a fraternity with a penchant for metal work and physics who created a suit that would allow the inhabitant to roll into a ball like an armadillo and bowl over his classmates. A hairy Whatzit was the same idea except it was just a group of friends with too much time on their hands and a desire to make the local news.

Scully gave him a curious look and tilted her head. “Mulder, have you been taking your meds?”

She was referring to the very low dose of anti-anxiety medication that he was prescribed five years ago. He had filled the prescription once and used it so sporadically that the pharmacist who handed him the bottle did a double take at his ID during the transaction.

“When did I ever?” he quipped sardonically.

He knew her comment on the medication related to the rant he had gotten himself on. It wasn’t a dig entirely at him but more that he was on a monologue of sorts. These wiser years also allowed him to be aware of when he was doing that too, not that it could be helped.

“Scully, Charles Fort spent his entire life researching natural and scientific anomalies,” Mulder began as he tapped a pencil on the desk before getting up to remove the makeshift darts from his target practice. “Which he published in four books, all of which I know by heart. And at the end of his life, Fort himself wondered if it hadn’t all been a waste.”

He sat down on the desk and began rearranging the pencils in hand. “I get it. I’m a middle-aged man, Scully.”

She narrowed her eyes at him and opened her mouth to protest yet said nothing.

“No, I am,” he argued before she could. “I am. I’m thinking it’s time to put away childish things - the Sasquatches and Mothmen and Jackalopes.”

There was a beat between them as she let him continue on with his rant. Thoughtful of her to let him get to his point.

“I thought it’d be great to get back to work,” he sighed as he walked back towards his desk. “But is this really how I want to spend the rest of my days? Chasing after monsters?”

Scully cleared her throat. “Well…”

“I know what you’re going to say,” he interrupted. “There’s more than just the mythological monsters that we’ve claimed to have witnessed in our twenty something years… I’m starting to wonder if the Mothmen even existed.”

“As much as I’m enjoying this side of you that wants to look to what’s real versus believing in everything fantastical automatically without any fact,” she began. “I have to disagree about the Mothmen in Florida. It tore up your arm. It had glowing red eyes and even though I argued at their existence, it stands to reason that there might be a bipedal creature in the woods that had the ability to thermoregulate.”

Mulder narrowed his eyes at her. “Why are you being nice to me? You should be gloating that I’m realizing how much of my ideas were crap.”

“We have another case, Mulder,” she told him with a twinkle to her eye. “It has a monster in it.”

Mulder grinned at her and turned his body as he flung another pencil towards the poster. “Hot damn.”

“Shawan, Oregon,” she informed him. “Did you want to read the case now or when we’re on the plane?”

She procured online air tickets for them from inside the file and grinned at him. If he was less in control of his facilities, he might find this kind of thing arousing but as he just admitted, Mulder was middle-aged now.

“You already got tickets?” he asked as he looked over the pre-booked seating listed on the ticket. Scully had been a busy girl that morning. “When did you do all this?”

”It’s amazing what you can get done in the morning when you’re not wallowing in self-loathing over twenty-five years of wasted efforts,” she quipped. “Did you bring your Go Bag or do we need to stop by your place before our flight?”

He thought hard for a moment. “I just did a pick up from the dry cleaner so I’d have to stop by the house to get my things.”

“I’ll follow you home and we can take one car to the airport?” she offered as she stood up.

Mulder grabbed his jacket off the back pile of files. “Let’s get those little legs moving.”

*** *** ***

Every flight out of Washington to the Shawan area had a connecting flight through somewhere and theirs happened to be in Colorado. For the hour and a half that they waited in the Denver International Airport, Mulder looked around with a questioning look.

“What’s going on?” she asked as she returned from the Starbucks kiosk with two grande cups.

“I’m having deja vu,” he explained as he took the drip coffee from Scully and removed the lid to allow the drink to cool. “When were we last here?”

“In Denver?” Scully asked as she sat down next to the right of him on the row of chairs. “Maybe… our first case after Pfaster.”

Mulder nodded as he recalled the details of the case. It was a particularly harrowing case to overcome and somehow Scully managed to persevere through all of it to be the hero and to save them from a Raven Mocker.

“There was a monster on that case,” she pointed out. “We uncovered a hoax, but we also found something supernatural that couldn’t be explained by science immediately. It defied what I could initially even diagnose as a manifestation of Lisa Wylie’s anxiety and anger towards committed romance.”

It was one of their more successful X-Files that was initially presented as a murderous Bigfoot but turned out to be something different entirely. While they left Vail, Colorado with a feeling of satisfaction at a job well done, Mulder also had some confirmation on something he had hoped for a long time would be true. They saw a creature that could only have been called a Sasquatch.

“I liked working that case with you,” he commented playfully as he drew a finger along her neck towards her right shoulder. “Plush accommodations, jungle red nail polish and the shower-”

“Mulder,” she cut him off with a warning.

“I just meant the condo had a great shower,” he replied innocently, but they both knew that was a lie.

There had been more than a few X-rated moments on that assignment in their rented bungalow they shared as Sophie and Mitchell Robinson that probably weren’t appropriate to discuss during a work trip. It being an off-limits topic only made Mulder want to talk about it more. Unfortunately, with their relationship in such a weird status of limbo going back and forth between an altered state of separation to heated lovers that barely made it out of an underground parking lot without tearing each other’s clothes off, things were a little muddled as to what was off limits and what had a green light.

“You know,” he started and took a tentative sip of his Pike’s Place black drip. “I never ended up taking you back to Vail for a proper vacation.”

“We did talk about that once or twice,” she acknowledged. “I was sure we had passed through there ten years ago on our way back East.”

Mulder’s fingers brushed against the ends of Scully’s curls. “Your hair was dark brown then.”

“You had that permanent stubble that wasn’t quite a beard,” she said quietly as her eyes met his then flit down to his lips.

There was a moment Mulder thought she might lean in to kiss him but her mouth stayed on her side of the armrest. Scully licked her lower lip and straightened herself in her seat.

He leaned over slightly and took in a breath of her, just enough to invade her space and measure the temperature of the waters. Her cheeks pinked and he decided that was more of a green light than not. He lowered his voice enough that only she could hear and whispered to her, “I don’t recall you minding that four-day stubble when it brushed along your...”

Her hand quickly went to his lips as her teeth caught her lower lip to prevent him from finishing such a lewd statement in public. Scully lowered her eyes to her drink before meeting his. “I didn’t at all, actually.”

She pulled her hand back and he missed the feeling of her touch on his face, his neck and the rest of his body. Again, this wasn’t entirely the time to be focusing on the ways in which her cool fingers had danced along the lines of his body, as his did hers.

Mulder reached into his jacket pocket, popped a sunflower seed past his lips and tore the shell apart with his teeth and tongue. He pulled the shell remnants from his teeth and Scully held out an empty napkin.

Mulder took the napkin and discarded his shells into the paper then tucked the garbage into the opposite pocket of where he retrieved his snack.

“You’d think by now you’d come prepared,” Scully noted and took another sip of her coffee.

Mulder shrugged as he looked across the aisle to a young couple. They were dressed in comfortable clothing, knit caps on their heads and each holding large coffees. The young woman took out her phone and the young man put on a forced smile as she snapped more than one picture at slightly different angles. The young man watched her with a grin and kissed her cheek before taking his phone from his pocket and sneaking a photo of her with his own device. They typed away on their phones as they shared their photos with, what Mulder guessed were, various social media platforms.

“The need to advertise your happiness on a public platform for friends and family to witness is an accepted procedure of self-promotion of false hopes,” Mulder criticized as the couple ignored each other for a brief moment to ensure their followers saw the happiness they were briefly experiencing in a domestic terminal in Denver, Colorado. “We’re all so obsessed with over-sharing every single aspect of our private lives with false pictures of moments of happiness that don’t exist.”

He glanced over to Scully as she had her phone out. She was leaning back slightly away from him and he heard the device click as she took a picture.

“Seriously?” he quipped and began to laugh. The shutter clicked again and Scully looked down at her phone in one hand with her coffee in the other. She grinned at him as he took out his phone and tried to take a picture of her but the front flash went off on his face. “What?”

“Mulder, do you know how to use that thing?” she asked him with a laugh.

“I read online that if you use this new camera app, your pictures would be clearer,” he grumbled as the flash went off on his face again.

“Did you get Snapseed?” the young man across from him asked.

Mulder looked from his phone then to the young couple skeptically. “How’d you know?”

“It’s got a lot of bugs they’re working through, but you’re right, something within the app allows you to take pictures that look more clear than with your basic Samsung camera,” he described. “Most users would agree that Samsung should just improve the camera so you don’t have to download other apps recommended by fellow disgruntled users.”

The companion next to him nodded in agreement and then she looked at him with adoration. When Mulder was coming up into his adulthood, being knowledgeable in science, technology and math rarely won that look from the opposite sex unless that young woman was also in STEM. He had been lucky to find someone like Scully who thrived in the mathematical equations that quantified our existence so when he spoke at length about anything, she was at least able to keep up.

This generation admired knowledge and assuredness in facts. Ignorance wasn’t accepted and downright frowned upon.

“Don’t fiddle too much with the settings,” the young man advised. “But your front-facing camera is on default and probably every time you close the app, it resets to take a selfie.”

“What is a selfie?” he asked Scully quietly.

The couple across from them laughed before they realized he was serious.

“Oh my god, sorry man,” the woman apologized. “My nana knows what selfies are and she’s gotta be twenty years older than you.”

The young man held up his phone and mimicked taking a picture of himself. “I’m taking a pic of myself… it’s a selfie. Dude, you gotta get on the internet.”

Scully bit back a laugh and he looked at her pointedly. “Did you know that?”

She nodded apologetically. “I’ve heard the term.”

“You should get woke like your wife,” the young man advised. “At least to terms that are more relevant than Paris Hilton as a reality star.”

“I understood that reference,” Scully noted with a smile and the young woman across from her winked at Scully encouragingly.

Mulder scoffed. “Okay, I’ll get on the internet.”

“Now Boarding Flight 157 to Eugene, Oregon!” a woman announced loudly over the speaker.

Mulder stood up and picked up his carry on. “You set?”

“You guys are going to Oregon, too?” the young man asked as they stood up.

“I think this whole gate is going to Eugene,” his girlfriend pointed out gently and they laughed. “Right?”

“Right…” He shook his head and grinned at Mulder. “Amendment 64, my guy.”

Mulder grinned. “FBI, my dude.”

She pulled on her boyfriend’s sleeve. “He was joking.”

Scully waved her hand in front of them. “It’s fine. Technically it’s legal in Colorado and Oregon for recreational use. On top of that, we don’t do that kind of work for the FBI anyway. I’d be more concerned if you were huffing spray paint.”

The young man looked relieved and glanced to Mulder as they walked towards the gate. “What kind of work do you do for the FBI?”

Scully grinned at Mulder. “We hunt monsters.”

If there was ever a moment Mulder thought he might get hard at three words, that was it. Thank God for overcoats.

*** *** ***

They stood in the clearing with the yellow tape blocking off the area from curious hikers while Scully read from the file and Mulder looked around for a sign of any such monster.

“One witness claimed that the creature had three eyes and the other one, one,” she reported as she looked over the police sketches.

Mulder stood behind her with his hands on his hips, wondering how his life had led him back to a damp forest in the middle of nowhere with Scully and the sexual tension that seemed to never be resolved. At least now, he knew what it was like to have her completely, but these days it was so off and on that it was hard to pinpoint where the tension began and where the frustration of the hiatus that seemed impossible to move on from ended.

“Notice they didn’t get a picture of it, which is odd, because everybody always has a camera on them these days,” he countered and walked towards her.

“You wanna talk to these witnesses while we’re here?” she asked as she held up the file for him to look at the photos local P.D. took of Nicole and Tyler.

The gold spray paint around their mouths and vacant looks on their faces told Mulder automatically that they would be of no help.

“Oh,” he groaned.

“Anyway, this is the area where they say they saw the creature attacking the animal control officer,” she reported. “Even though he claims to not have seen whatever it was that was attacking him.”

“Of course not,” Mulder muttered. “Mountain lions always attack from behind. He was out here responding to a call about a mountain lion. It was a mountain lion. That’s what killed the other victim too.”

If this had been twenty years ago and they were standing in these woods while Scully declared it was a mountain lion while he looked at the police sketch of the three or one-eyed monster, he would have wanted to shake her silly. At the very least, he would have grabbed her by the upper arms, looked her deep in her eyes and asked her to play on the hunch with him while they were out there. Scully would roll her eyes but acquiesce to allow his theory to play out into whatever supernatural creature he suspected it was. That being said, they had their fair share of dud cases where they were standing in the rain waiting for a monster to appear, but it turned out to be a local prankster. Those cases were what Scully called the equalizers for all the other times his wild theories proved to be right.

That being said, for as often as he was wrong - and there were a few times - Mulder always felt frustrated when she didn’t take the leap into the unknown with him automatically. She had seen so much and yet she resisted every time.

Now, it was his turn to play the skeptic and he hated to admit that he found it oddly satisfying.

“Well, that is what the local authorities thought until they did a search the next morning and they found this area over here,” she described as she walked down to an upturned tree where the roots had made a small cave of sorts. “Where they found three more victims.”

“Grey wolves, Scully,” he announced as he walked towards the former scene. “They’ve made a comeback in this region. Wolves take prey back to a lair.”

“Well, they were all mutilated in exactly the same manner,” she said as she flipped through one of the three files she was holding. “However, the third victim wasn’t wearing any clothes.”

“Maybe he was a nudist,” he reached with yet another theory as he walked past her to survey the area for signs of wolf, bear or mountain lion scat. “Took a midnight hike in the nude, got attacked by a wolf or a lion or a bear. Maybe all at the same time. That’s how I’d like to go out.”

“The uniqueness of the wounds, Mulder, implies a human element,” she countered.

Always with the fun facts, his Scully.

“Aw, Scully,” he groaned as he turned to her and waved his hand around. “I gave up profiling when I gave up monsters. You’ve seen one serial killer, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

Scully crossed her arms at his dismissive nature. “Mulder, I can see you’re going through a questioning phase of some sort, but people have been killed here. And if we can help stop that and save some lives, I think that is an unquestionably worthwhile thing for us to do, regardless of whether the thing we find is animal or human or otherwise.”

He had a hard time not rolling his eyes at himself and the situation as she held up the monster drawing.

“Okay, when you put it that way,” he acquiesced as he approached her. “But mark my words, Scully - when we catch whatever is doing these killings, it’s only going to have two eyes.”

Scully closed the file and handed the stack to him. “You can do the heavy lifting on our way back to the car.”

Mulder looked down at her shoes. “I’m surprised you made it through the woods in those things.”

She raised an eyebrow and grinned in that way that meant something saucy was about to be said. “I’ve learned to do a lot in these heels over the years.”

Half the time when Scully flirted with him, it was hard to tell if she meant business or not. The other times she could blatantly throw down a come on with the ease and wit of a woman who knew how to get his motor running with a few well-placed syllables and a look.

Today was a mix between the two because he was so morose in his own loss of wonder about monsters living among us that he was having a hard time looking past all of that to the sultry smile she dropped when he popped a seed into his mouth and turned on the remote starter on their rental vehicle.

*** *** ***

They stood outside the office of the Enchanted Hunter Motor Lodge with their bags in hand in front of the second rental vehicle they picked up after leaving the forest.

“I can’t believe of all the choices you had,” Scully began as she glanced over her shoulder. “You chose that thing.”

Mulder laughed at the gold paint that caught the sunlight that peeked through the thick clouds of the Oregon sky above them. “This one was the cheapest. We’re already at our per diem with the rentals.”

“When did that ever stop you?” she teased.

Mulder looked down to his keys in hand and then up to the motel. “Skinner took my credit card number and told me if I went over, he was going to charge the remainder of the bill to me.”

Scully arched an eyebrow. “I don’t believe he can do that, but I’m glad to see it worked to get you to be less fiscally irresponsible.”

He cleared his throat and thought for a moment. “I’ll have to check FBI regulations on that because now I’m thinking he really can’t do that.”

She laughed and tugged on his jacket sleeve for him to join her inside the office. Mulder walked in after her and immediately groaned at the sight of the stuffed trophy heads on the wall.

“Who picked this place?” he asked.

“Of the five motels they offered me at the travel office in our budget, this one had the highest rating,” she explained quietly and he huffed through his nose in protest. “I told them we could always share a room to save on cost but no one thought I was being funny.”

Mulder’s jaw dropped a little. “I think you’re funny.”

“Maybe since we settled for this place, they’ll give you leniency on the second rental,” she noted.

“We need it,” he reminded her. “It’s more expensive to get an Uber in this city than a rental car and I can’t expect you to stop slicing and dicing mid-autopsy when I need a ride somewhere.”

She looked around the space and the outside before making an obvious face of disapproval. The office was hideous and hard to ignore.

“It’s pretty grotesque, huh?” he offered and she nodded as she took in the sight of the animals who had met their fate and then spent time with a taxidermist to end up at this awful place. “I don’t know what’s worse. The bear or the trout.”

“That’s a sockeye salmon actually,” an elderly man informed them as he gave a discomforted grunt while shuffling into the office. He sat down behind his desk and gave another uncomfortable grunt. “I’m Don Marilee. I’m the manager of this establishment.”

Much of the office was still using the pen and paper booking with a large ledger on top of his desk, a computer that was obviously being used for something else and some kitschy knick-knacks that held pens. He realized one awful-looking desk ornament was actually a lamp that also had a figurine of Bigfoot next to a tree on it. Mulder gave the man a slight pass for the grotesque decor because of the Sasquatch but the office smelled stale like burnt dust and body odour.

“Are you lovebirds checking in?” Marilee asked with a crooked smile. “We rent by the hour if you’re so inclined.”

“We need two rooms actually,” Scully informed him flatly.

The man’s face looked panicked for a moment then fell. “Oh.”

“There should be a booking for us,” Scully continued and glanced up at Mulder. “The names are Mulder and Scully. We’d like to check in, if that’s possible.”

Marilee grimaced in his thin cotton shirt with questionable stains and opened the ledger to today’s date. His arthritic finger pointed to their names on the page. “Ah, yes. Two rooms for up to one week.”

Scully produced the FBI credit card and he held up a shaking finger to produce a very new looking debit machine. He looked at Mulder and gave him a nervous glance before looking obviously to Scully’s chest. Mulder cleared his throat and the man took a shaking hand to the machine to process their payment. Marilee punched a few numbers into the machine and then swiped the black plastic card through the magnetic reader.

He laughed his tittering chuckle that made Mulder’s stomach clench. “Just a moment, if you please.”

The account cleared and he handed back the card with a slip for Scully to sign.

“We have free wifi, cable for all your premium channels and room service every day,” he informed them. “You’re in rooms 10 and 11. Uh… do you require turndown service?”

“No,” she replied quickly. Scully took her room key from the man and glanced up at Mulder. “That won’t be necessary. Thank you.”

They walked down the small sidewalk towards their rooms and used their keys to open their respective doors. Scully gave him a lingering look that only meant one thing when they lived together but meant fifty different things now and he tried to return the gesture. He wasn’t sure if it fell flat or it played out for her.

“Moment of truth,” she quipped and opened her door.

“How is it?” he asked from his doorway as the door to his room swung open.

“Oh, Mulder,” she sighed. “It’s the worst.”

They laughed together and held a glance that confirmed they’d meet outside to continue their investigation shortly. Once he was inside his own room, Mulder made another face.

“Ta-cky,” he drew out and kicked the door closed behind him. He pulled his bag towards the bed and set it down. “This place….”

Scully cried out from her room next door and Mulder let go of his bag to run to her.

“Scully!” he called out.

He burst through her door and she was holding a pair of soaked pyjamas.

“What happened?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Something soaked the top layer of my bag and my pyjamas are wrecked!” she cried. She held up one flannel garment and took a sniff but recoiled. “I don’t…. I don’t know what that smell is…”

“Is the rest of your luggage okay?” he asked quickly as he approached.

Scully pulled out the remainder of her luggage out and shook her head. “It seems fine but… I didn’t bring a back up pair…”

“We should send your pj’s off to the lab to be tested for what it could be,” Mulder joked as he approached. He found the card from the TSA and sighed. “The items in this suitcase may have been altered or damaged due to a leak in the luggage compartment bin.”

“What kind of leak?” she asked him as she joined him on his side of the bed to look over his arm at the report.

They read aloud in unison, “Unknown substance…”

“Great,” she muttered.

“Well…” Mulder thought. “If you’re not inclined to sleep in the nude, I might have an extra shirt you could borrow.”

Scully looked around the decor and shook her head. “I wouldn’t chance it here.”

He nodded in agreement as he tried to ignore the imagery of a naked Scully in bed. “I would agree with that.”

She sighed and followed him to his room to retrieve one of the larger shirts he kept in his Go Bag for running. They entered his room and stood at the end of the motel bed with about a foot between them. The bed looked ready for a body or two to lay on top of it. There was too much subtext in where they were that he wanted to comment or at least acknowledge it but perhaps it wasn’t a wise idea.

They were still stuck in a limbo of sorts and Mulder wasn’t sure how to move them along to a place they could be happy in. He felt tortured by not having her at home with him but things were still too rocky. They could go from flirtatious banter to snapping at one another and needing a break within the day. There was a lot of underlying frustrations between them.

“Uh…” Mulder started but the thought left his head as quickly as it had entered it. He cleared his throat and sniffed once to clear his mind. “You have an autopsy to do later right?”

She nodded. “And you have the interview with the local conservation officer?”

Mulder gave her a lingering glance and then to his open suitcase. “Uh… We’ll be all over the map today.”

“It was lucky Skinner approved a second vehicle for the case,” Scully commented as she glanced around his room and made a disapproving face at the decor. “I’m not a fan of this theme.”

“Sometimes I find it interesting that the Scully men weren’t hunters,” Mulder noted as he pulled out a favoured Knicks shirt and placed it in her waiting hands.

“You grew up on Martha’s Vineyard with WASPS and the elite,” Scully reminded him as she tucked the borrowed item under her arm. “Your kind was more likely to partake in hunting than mine.”

Mulder retracted as he made a disapproving face. “My kind?”

Scully rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“I bet you….” he paused and tapped a finger against his pursed lips. “I bet you one fully typed up report and… dinner that your shoes, suit and perfume cost more than my suit, shoes and watch.”

Scully pointed to the suit she was wearing with a herringbone stitch among the blue thread. The silky blouse she wore draped across her skin and chest so that he could make out the lace overlay on her bra. Mulder looked up from her breasts to her face and she narrowed her eyes at him. “This is all from Ann Taylor.”

He nodded but gave her a look of disbelief. He reached his hand across to pull on the collar of her suit jacket, but she stepped back. “Let me see the label.”

“Why?” she asked skeptically with a frown as she eyed him cautiously.

“Because there’s no fucking way that suit isn’t the women’s collection by Hugo Boss,” he stated flatly and she tucked her chin down in a signal that she knew she had been beat. “I get the same email notifications that you do, Scully. We still have that joint account.”

She cleared her throat and turned on her heel. “I’m not writing up anything that isn’t true.”

“So that’s a yes for dinner then?” he called after her and then chuckled to himself as he heard her muttering under her breath in her room.

Mulder unpacked a few of his shirt suits and hung them in the small closet near the bathroom. He heard a small dog barking through the walls of the hotel and looked for the location. It sounded like it was coming from the wall across from him but he couldn’t place it.

When he returned back to Scully’s room, he leaned casually against the door frame and watched her as she sniffed the items in her suitcase for any lingering scents. “Should I drive you to the autopsy bay?”

She looked up from the solid and mesh rectangular bag she used to pack her underwear in and Mulder did his best not to try to guess what matching sets she had packed.

“No, I’m going to take the clothes that were soiled by the cleaners and then talk to the M.E. about the bodies that were found. One was found naked and I’m wondering if this case has a slightly sexual element to it.”

“Psycho-sexual killers don’t usually leave the rest of their victims dressed,” Mulder pointed out. “But I’ll mention it to the sheriff when I get to the police station. He took a statement from the conservation officer who was attacked in the woods.”

“If we are looking for a man and not a mystery monster,” Scully countered as she pulled out another bag to inspect. “I would have to argue that many violent crimes have some underlying sexual element.”

“Maybe it’s like I said and the naked victim was a nudist,” he theorized.

“I thought you said you were going to be helpful,” she almost whined as she set the bag down and looked at him with a pout.

“I am being helpful,” he argued. “These are the kinds of practical and sound theories that you used to provide for me on the X-Files originally.”

She shook her head with a huff of air. “That’s not even remotely true.”

“I could start asking you why we’re here every ten minutes if it would help jog your memory,” he offered.

Scully picked up a slipper from the edge of her suitcase and tossed it towards him at the door. Mulder dodged the footwear and took that as a hint he should head out.

“I’ll let you know where I want you to take me for dinner!” he called from outside of her room.

Her other slipper hit the door frame and landed on the sidewalk just outside her door with a thud.

*** *** ***

Florence, Oregon was only a thirty-minute drive from Shawan and was the location for some of the best seafood restaurants on the Siuslaw River. In Old Town, some of the more quaint shops resided with lackluster architecture, but it had the most breathtaking views.

There was something Scully appreciated about the West Coast that made it that much more inviting to him. While he loved the places he grew up in, he didn’t hold them dear to him because the bad memories outweighed the good. He wished it was the opposite, but the cabin in Quonachautaug was like a ship in a bottle. What was inside was fragile and impossible to explain. The marriage between Teena and William Mulder was based on lies. The family they created would only get caught in the middle of all of the deceit. Ultimately, it would end up killing all of them except for Fox ‘Spooky’ Mulder.

The complete opposite was true for his partner. If you named any town or military base that Dana Scully grew up in, she would likely have ninety per cent happy memories to combat the ten per cent that were difficult for her. It made the places they visited together from her past that much more enjoyable.

Truth be told, Mulder liked anywhere she liked to be, where she felt comfortable and happy. When they had the rare case that took them out to California, Scully’s inner sun-soaked teen came out with a love for sunglasses, lighter layers and a rolled down window without a care for mussed hair.

Shawan was a little too foresty and didn’t have enough sunshine to bring out that side of her. Mulder did know that he could take her to a nice seafood bistro with a view of the twinkling lights of the downtown core and remind her of the ways in which he was good company.

They agreed once in her apartment after some rigorous sex that they could try to date one another before they called it quits. It was an attempt to get back to where they were supposed to be instead of the difficult limbo that was created after she left.

As they walked into the Bayview Bistro through the Pier Point Inn, Mulder noted the fancy dress of the other patrons around them.

“Table for two?” the young hostess greeted.

Mulder held up two fingers with his free hand while the other was gently at Scully’s lower back. “Yes please.”

“Of course. Please follow me,” the young woman invited and walked them with two thick dinner menus towards the dining room.

As they were seated at the large bank of windows, Mulder held Scully’s chair for her to sit down on and then took his own seat adjacent to hers. As he sat down, they shared a quick smile and he could read a bit of discomfort in her eyes, but he decided to leave it alone. Being comfortable with the status quo wasn’t working for them anymore.

It was a smart design to have the customers always seated with a view of the bay. The atmosphere was serene and romantic. At least Mulder thought it was romantic. He wondered if Scully would feel this was over the top for their current status or if maybe she could relax and enjoy the ambiance.

The young woman handed Scully a wine menu and her face gave the hostess a look of polite refusal.

“We won’t be needing that,” Scully kindly declined and glanced at Mulder to exchange a look to explain her decision. “We’re not off the clock yet.”

“One glass won’t hurt,” he countered as he took the menu gently from the hostess and Scully glanced down with a slight nod.

“What are your specials?” Scully asked the young woman.

“Tonight we’re serving crab-stuffed halibut steaks with risotto and garlic green beans,” she told them cheerfully. “Your server tonight is Nick, he’ll be right with you.”

A young woman in a grey shirt approached them with a jug of water and filled their glasses. Thick ice cubes and lemon rounds fell into their glasses with the water. This place was fancier than he anticipated and Mulder sat up a little straighter. The bus girl looked shyly at them as she set down their glasses and walked away quickly before they could thank her.

The dining room and lounge area were busy with patrons that were appreciating the quiet side of the bay. As he took inventory of the clientele, he noted it was mostly couples enjoying a romantic evening out and the overture of the enchantment of a night together settled in. Off the clock or not, this was the kind of place that sentiments to happier days were made of.

The smell of garlic, butter and aromatic spices floated through the space from the kitchen. If this wasn’t a working case, Mulder might suggest a trip here for other reasons without the monsters.

As he took a drink of his chilled lemon water, Mulder watched Scully and wondered if she had the same hopes for them in the future. Did she look at the people and places around them and envy their security? Was their awkward relationship status enough for her?

“Good evening, folks. My name is Nick and I'll be serving you tonight,” the man greeted them. He looked to be in his mid-thirties and was probably a career-waiter, someone who realized they could make more money waiting tables versus at an entry level job at a bank. “Can I start you folks off with something from the bar?”

“We’ll share a half litre of the house white,” Scully requested and grinned at Mulder. “It’s a glass and a half each, right?”

He nodded. “I don't understand Canadian measurements I’m up for it.”

Nick nodded and left them to retrieve their beverage. Mulder looked out the window to the bay and appreciated the low lighting around them that only amplified the view.

"Only Liberia, Myanmar and the United States use the imperial system-" she began.

"So I could have said Brazilian?" he jested as he took a sip of his water.

Scully's cheeks pinked again. "Yes."

“This is a nice place,” he noted and she nodded. “Anywhere that uses metric measurement over imperial automatically gets an extra star from me.”

Scully reached across the table and gave his hand a reassuring pat. “I know.”

Before she could pull away, he turned his palm up and pulled her fingers into his grasp to hold her for a beat. “Do you ever think about the last time we stopped seeing each other?”

She looked up from her menu and her eyes searched his face. “Yes…”

“I’m not sure why…” he shook his head and looked back out to the view to steady himself. As he looked back at her, his chest ached. “I’m not sure why I have to be such a consistent ass of a husband. I also don’t know why you keep putting up with it.”

“Here we are!” the waiter announced as she set their glasses down. Their hands parted as she poured them each a taste. “Would you like some time with the menu?”

“Yes-”

“No,” Scully spoke over him and glanced to Mulder. "Ready?"

He supposed he could pick up the conversation when Nick left. “I’m ready. Are you?”

She looked to him then up to the waiter. “I know what I want.”

There was a lot of subtext in that statement, but he left it there between them as she ordered a shared dinner plate. The waiter took their menus and the wine list and left them with a promise their appetizer would be out shortly.

“Mulder…” Scully took a sip of her wine and held the glass close to her lips. A pink took over her cheeks as she looked out to the waterfront. “Stop studying me.”

“I’m not,” he lied and looked back out to the shared view.

The quiet conversations around them acted like white noise that mixed with the romantic music that played softly from speakers above them. He hoped this dinner would relax her a little, but perhaps there was some pressure she was feeling now from him to make a decision about them. Scully seemed nervous and closed off, less assured than when she came to his door and asked him to be there for her as a friend.

She was even less confident than she had been that morning, but maybe it was because of the subtext of their evening out.

He could only tell her to come home so many times, he reminded himself as he drank the crisp white wine.

“I know you, Mulder,” she stated as if that was argument enough to his earlier question with a soft smile on her lips. “I knew who you were when I asked to work on the X-Files again after my abduction. You were the same man who saved me from certain death from a disease that was given to me in some sick way to hurt you. This was the same man who saved me from Antarctica and did everything he could to protect me from the evils he couldn’t escape. I knew that when I married you.”

“And even then you didn’t think you deserved better?” he asked incredulously. “After all this time, you still think I’m worthy - I mean, why wouldn't you stay-”

“Oh Mulder-” she cut him off.

“No, I’m serious,” he insisted quietly. “Why… why do you think I’m good enough-”

“Because you are,” she stopped him as she took his hand again. “You are good. You believe in humanity when your peers have proved to be horrible. You try to protect everyone in vulnerable situations. You’ve put yourself in danger more times than I can count to be that hero for a society that would sooner lock you up for the things you believe…”

She smiled at him and shook her head as she looked away.

“What?” he asked.

“I don’t think you see your own goodness, Mulder,” she told him softly. “But I do. I love that about you and I just try to keep up.”

He was floored. In a hundred years, he couldn’t imagine why Scully would ever believe such flattering things about him. He wasn’t sure how true they were, but he could see that Scully did and with complete conviction.

“Then why…” he started and Nick appeared again with a Caprese salad and crab cakes to share.

“Here we are,” he announced as she set the appetizers between them and Scully pulled her hand away to lay her napkin across her lap. “Would either of you care for fresh cracked pepper?”

Mulder closed his eyes in frustration and Scully politely declined. The sound of her cutlery against the white china snapped him out of his self-pity and he dove into the delicious smelling food in front of him.

As he was taking one of the crab cakes onto his side plate, Scully used the spoon provided to move a bit of the salad onto her plate. She gave Mulder a scoop as well and he moved a crab cake to her plate next to the tomatoes, Bocconcini cheese and basil.

“Do you want this?” he offered the lettuce that the salad was presented on. “I don’t think it’s a garnish.”

Scully nodded and he gave her a little bit. She took a sip of her wine and looked out the window with a content smile.

“What?” he prompted.

“This was a nice idea,” she commented as she cut into the crab cake. "Having dinner together."

He watched her slowly spread a tartar sauce onto the cake before putting it into her mouth. Watching Scully eat was almost as sensual as watching Scully put his-

“How’s your food?” she asked, breaking his train of thought.

“What is this on here?” Mulder asked as he tapped the tynes of his fork at the coating.

“Potato crust.”

He cut into the cake and thought for a moment. “I already told you I don’t know how much of this monster stuff I believe in anymore…”

Scully gave him a skeptical look.

“I’m serious,” he insisted. “There’s so much we’ve seen that has been disproven and you’re giving me credit for believing in it in the first place -”

He shook his head as he took a bite and chewed thoughtfully.

“What?” she prompted and put a forkful of tomatoes and Boccacini cheese into her mouth.

“It feels wrong,” he confessed. “I should have known better.”

She looked out the window and sighed. “You know it’s crazy, but this is the kind of thing I always hoped you’d say when we were first partnered together.”

She looked disappointed in him, but there was something else brewing that he couldn’t quite place.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“Well…” she started slowly. “If you’re really going to rationalize every paranormal case we go on, what’s to stop you from moving on from the X-Files and trying for a career that is more glorified among the FBI?”

“And leave you to solve or debunk the mysteries of the world on your own?” he scoffed. “Not likely.”

Seriously, Mulder,” she questioned. “Why stay working on the X-Files if you suddenly don’t believe in anything, let alone a monster that we have two eyewitness description and accounts of?”

He took a sip of his wine and let the idea mull over him. “I suppose that if my work is really a joke, I’d rather be the one to prove it myself. I want to leave a legacy of self-fulfillment rather than die a joke and be made fun of once I’m gone.”

“This is worse than when you didn’t shave and lived in your office for two months,” she groaned.

Mulder scoffed. “I doubt it.”

“That’s my line,” she reminded him and took a forkful of crab cake into her mouth.

He finished off his glass of wine and Caprese salad while Scully fidgeted next to him.

“What?” he asked her finally after their appetizer plates.

She shook her head and looked at him woefully. “Nothing. I mean… I don’t know when I’ve ever been able to change your mind about anything. If you start debunking all your work before I even begin, I guess I’ll have to find some other way of nagging you.”

“You could always remind me that we’re here to save lives,” he muttered quietly and she gave him a hard nudge with her elbow.

The waiter returned with a large plate full of shrimp scampi, a creamy risotto, halibut steaks and two large scallops. Scully really knew how to pick a dinner.

“Has anyone ever finished all this on their own?” Mulder asked as two smaller plates were placed in front him and Scully.

“Once!” Nick declared happily. “But… um, I don’t know if it stayed down….”

“Nice,” he scoffed and took in a breath of the garlic, butter and onions underlying the dish.

The waiter looked around and then smiled. “Would you like fresh ground pepper?”

Scully shook her head to decline and smiled at the plate in front of her. “This was a good choice.”

“Are you complimenting yourself?” he asked with a chuff of laughter.

“You’re suddenly a skeptic and I’m confident in my choices,” she announced. “We’ve officially entered the topsy turvy.”

“Isn’t that Oregon’s state slogan?” he joked and she laughed.

At least she still thought he was funny.

“It’s actually, ‘We Love Dreamers, Things Look Different Here,’ sir,” a busser noted as he filled up their waters. 

Mulder shook his head with a shrug of his shoulders. “Same difference.”

As their dinner went on, they were able to get back to lighter topics. Mulder appreciated every time he could make her laugh and she held his hand while they enjoyed their after dinner coffee. It felt like when they first started dating except they came with all the baggage of their past.

He felt as nervous and anxious sitting next to her and wondering if this meant some new ground for them. Or old ground. Would they finally reconcile? Could he get her into bed in the near future? He wanted at least a shot as he had as the first time he properly and thoroughly kissed her.

When she showed up at his door, asking for his forgiveness and blaming herself for giving up their son, that wasn’t a night for reliving old passions and assuaging their pain with each other’s bodies. The thought crossed his mind a time or two, but he was able to read her well enough that she’d resent him for it later. They had a good week together at work while they wrapped up the case at Nugenics and met with the DoD to relay half of what they learned through meeting Kyle.

Part of him wondered if they were going to get back to a place where she willingly said ‘I love you’ without something prompting it like his tongue between her folds or a crisis of their lives.

He didn’t mind either instance - he was able to rely on her and she on him. He certainly didn’t mind when he stripped away her panties and made her curse out to God and declare her love for him while gripping his hair. Those instances overlapped too many times in their past, but never once did he regret a single time between them.

That being said, it would be nice for them to relax and fall into bed from a lack of catastrophic events versus because of one. Truth be told, it wasn’t just about casual sex or something ridiculously passionate at inopportune times when the world was falling apart. He missed her and the camaraderie that came from having his best friend, his wife and his lover living under the same roof. For all that he was realizing today, he became certain of the fact that living without her was becoming too unbearable.

Mulder’s phone buzzed in his pocket and then Scully’s went off in her purse at her feet.

“Ten bucks says they caught the guy and we get to go home to Washington tomorrow,” he bet.

Scully pulled out her phone first and crooked up an eyebrow. “Pay up, Mulder. They spotted your monster again.”

“You’re still buying dinner,” he stated as he pulled a ten from his pocket and placed it in her palm.

“Get a doggy bag, we can eat it later,” she said breathily as she stood up. “I’m going to call the sheriff to find out what happened.”

Bossy,” he grumbled as she stood up and she ruffled the back of his hair as she walked from the table towards the lobby.

At least they were having a nice time.

Chapter Text

The truck stop, gas station, diner and liquor store that had been the last reported sighting of their monster was on the edge of a field with tall grass. It was on the outside of town and off the highway where many of the truckers making their way back East or coming to the West would refuel before a long haul. Many times, places like these had rentable showers and zero closing time to keep any and all possible clientele.

It reminded Mulder of a hundred other places they had been for bad meals or to gas up before arriving at their final destination. Scully would comment on the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables on the menus at places like this and he would have to stop again at the nearest fruit stand to buy her some apples, pears or plums to appease her need to get all the vital food groups in her diet. 

Truth be told, Mulder didn’t mind those side stops where Scully could smell peaches, nectarines or a bundle of Rainier cherries so she could moan at the first bite of the juicy produce. It was the last part that had always resulted in his enjoyment.

The local sheriff’s department was patrolling the area for a sign of the monster, but most of the deputies had returned to with no avail. They were converging around the edge of the property with fresh doughnuts and coffee from inside the truck stop. The lack of help from the locals was one thing Mulder had gotten used to over the years, and he still wasn’t surprised at it. Maybe it was because they didn’t believe the witness and called Animal Control to help once they gave up their search.

The woman in front of them now, Annabelle, was less than enthused about standing there talking to them as she lost out on potential clients.

She handed Mulder her red crocodile skin purse angrily. “There.”

He peered through the jagged hole in the purse and handed it back to her. “Looks like you gave it a pretty good shot.”

“I think I hit it right in its horn,” she guessed as she took the bag back. 

Scully stood next to Mulder with more aloofness than she had been giving him at dinner with her arms folded under her breasts. “It had a horn? Like a… unicorn?”
 
Mulder raised his eyebrows at Scully. Did she legitimately ask a witness if a man had horns? He really was in the topsy turvy.

“It had horns,” Annabelle repeated emphatically as she gestured to her neck. “At the back of his head. Like a lizard or somethin.’”

She made a face of disgust and adjusted herself in her outfit. 

Mulder reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded drawing that was described to a sketch artist from one of the two ‘witnesses.’ The creature resembled a large horned lizard with humanoid features. Mulder used the term loosely because after speaking with them when they arrived, he almost got secondhand exposure to whatever it was they had been inhaling, smoking and digesting.

“Did it look like this?” he asked as he showed the drawing to Annabelle. 

“No. The thing I saw only had two eyes,” she described and looked excitedly at Scully. “And it was wearing underwear.”

“Boxers… or briefs?” Scully asked slowly.

She was enjoying all of this way too much. 

“Tighty-whities. Same kind I used to wear,” Annabelle described. Their expressions must have been one of questioning because she continued, “I transitioned last year.”

“Did you see which way it headed?” he asked.

“I told the officers it slithered off that way,” she replied as she gestured to the tall grass. “But they think I’m on crack.”

Mulder turned to Annabelle. “Are you?”

“Yeah!” she replied obviously. “Doesn’t mean what I saw wasn’t any less crazy. You two gonna catch this thing? I don’t think the Animal Control weasel I saw walking around with a net is gonna do it.”

Scully handed Annabelle her card. “We’ll do our best. Give me a call if you get into any issues with the local PD.”

Annabelle tucked the card into her bustier. “Oh honey, some of these doughboys are my best customers. But thank you.”

Annabelle left them with a wink and sauntered over to the crowd of deputies.

“Hey boys,” she greeted and they all welcomed her kindly by name. “Anyone want to share their cinnamon twist with me or do I have to go buy myself one?”

Scully watched the deputies interacting with Annabelle, sharing their doughnuts and coffee with her and chuffed a laugh. “It’s nice when some things surprise you.”

Mulder nodded. “I was sure she was going to tell me it wasn’t crack.”

Scully sighed as she looked across the parking lot. Mulder followed her gaze to an animal control employee looking around and shaking. “Do you think that’s the guy from this morning? The profile is the same.”

Scully,” Mulder admonished her jokingly. “That’s borderline racist. Just because we can see the physical profile of possibly a Pakistani man, and the animal control employee from our case this morning is Pakistani doesn’t necessarily mean that they are one and the same.”

Two cars passed the lot on the highway, illuminating the face of the man between the two trucks and confirming that it was, in fact the man from their file. Mulder only recalled his first name, Pasha. 

“You were saying?” she queried.

“What are the chances he’s the same guy?” Mulder scoffed.

“Why don’t we go help our little friend over there,” Scully suggested as she nodded towards Pasha. “I can see him shaking from here.”

Mulder laughed and they made their way across the wet pavement to where the uniformed man quivered in his white sneakers. 

“Any sign of anything?” Mulder called to the man.

“Don’t-” he scolded them with his snare and net up in the air uselessly. “Sneak up on a guy like thaaaat.”

“Sorry,” Scully quickly supplied. “Hey, aren’t you the officer who was attacked the other night?”

“That was me,” he whispered reluctantly. 

Mulder noted the officer earlier that morning watching them exit their vehicle at the crime scene. He was mostly uninjured but requested not to speak to law enforcement at the scene so a deputy was sent to interview him at the hospital. 

Mulder put his hands in his pockets and studied the man. No one this nervous goes into a career working with animals. It didn’t check out.

“So do you have any idea what kind of animal this woman might have seen this evening?” she asked.

“I got a call earlier about a stray puppy running around,” Pasha explained. “I’m…. I’m sort of hoping it’s that ‘cause I can handle cats and dogs. Anything bigger than that, and I really start to question my….”

“Career decisions?” Mulder offered. 

“No my life,” Pasha finished weakly.

A loud growl to the left of them reverberated off the wet cement and after looking towards the noise, Pasha ran off into a clearing in the grass. Moving along the edge of the parking lot at the tall grass, Mulder pulled out his phone while Scully drew her weapon. 

If he was going to truly have proof of whatever he was hunting, using his gun right now wasn’t the solution. He pulled out his phone and remembered the app suggested to him by his ‘herbally medicated’ gate friend. 

Unfortunately the moment he opened the new app on his phone to take higher quality photos, the flash began going off as they walked towards the danger in front of them.

“Shit,” he muttered.

“What are you doing?” she admonished him. 

The flash went off four more times and he realized it was taking photos at every flash.

Mulder…”

“If this thing looks like people say it looks like, I’m gonna get a good picture of it,” he declared as he tried to turn his phone every which way to get the icon in the corner of the flash to appear.

“If this thing looks like those drawings, I’m emptying my clip into it,” she muttered as they continued on the uneven soil and her hair brushed against his arm repeatedly as she tried to move stealthily. “Even if it is in its underwear.”

Flash! Flash! Flash!

“Mulder,” she admonished again.

“Ah, it’s this new app,” he cursed it. “I’m not sure if it’s working right.”

That was an understatement, but after being teased about not knowing what a selfie was earlier that day, he didn’t really want to admit that using a camera was completely beyond him.

As he pulled his phone up to view again, Scully leaned in to look at the screen.

“What is that?” she asked.

The macabre scene on his phone looked like guts and flesh and blood. Mulder had picked up zero anatomy during all their years together, except in the ways that it benefited her sexually, so he couldn’t tell what he was looking at.

Scully lowered his phone and crouched down to the body with her flashlight highlighting a ripped open jugular. “It’s a fresh kill!”

Mulder’s ears suddenly started ringing and his adrenaline kicked in. This was now a murder scene and he zoned in on the training he could recall. Monster or not, he needed to have his wits about him.

A slithering sound and grass rustling behind them caught his attention. Mulder dashed off towards the growling beast that ran between the two trucks with his phone up and ready to capture whatever he saw. He kept his weapon at the ready but pointed down. He peered around the corner of the container, but the parking lot had grown quiet. 

As he made his way through the two 18-wheelers, his camera flashed to illuminate his solitude where he expected to find a monster. He felt a presence but couldn’t place it. The animal control vehicle was still sitting empty in the distance, but the police officers and Annabelle had cleared out. They would have to be called back to collect the body they discovered.

He turned as he sensed something come up behind him. 

Aagggggggh!” Pasha and Mulder cried in unison.

“I heard a noise over there so I ran over here!” Pasha explained loudly. Mulder turned as his phone continued to flash and Pasha’s excitement turned to confusion. “What is up with your phone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “It’s this new app. I don’t think it’s working right.”

Pasha came up next to Mulder to look at the flashing screen. “Are you taking a picture or a video?”

“I don’t know!” Mulder cried.

“Go to settings,” he began patiently with his net in hand. 

“Where?” 

“Settings,” Pasha repeated.

“Where?” Mulder asked helplessly.

A hissing beast charged at them. Mulder and Pasha spun around to yell in his face. Mulder was on his back before he could understand what was happening. Whatever came at them had two arms and two legs - his mind quickly rationalized that it wasn’t a monster. He held his phone up to try to get a picture of anything that could tell them what they saw, but he was knocked down. His head smacked the pavement and darkness took over. The last thing Mulder saw was Pasha swinging his net towards the figure. 

He heard a cry in the background and someone calling his name.

Scully was standing over him - the only way he knew was the scent of her perfume that entered his dream. She put her hand on the back of his head. “Mulder.”

He grumbled as he opened his eyes. “Mmmm I’m okay.”

“You’ve got blood on you,” she stated. 

He saw panic in her eyes and heard the tremor in her voice. He did a quick assessment of his facilities and for all the times he had been injured, which was a lot, this felt nothing like it.

“Uh, I don’t think it’s mine,” he guessed.

Pasha groaned from a few feet away and Mulder tried to sit up as Scully turned her flashlight on the animal control employee.

He stood on his knees and held up his torn net and bent pole defeatedly. “Okay, that’s it. I quit.”

His net and pole were tossed to the ground and he ceremoniously removed his hat to drop it at his feet.

Scully watched him walk away before turning back to Mulder. “Did you get a good look at him?”

Mulder pulled up his phone and grinned. “I got a picture.”

The hissing sounded off the concrete again and he found his second wind. They ran around the truck and spotted a figure entering a Porta-Potty.

They raced across the parking lot towards the rental toilet. Mulder got his phone ready while Scully set her gun and flashlight to the thing inside. Just as the person inside was illuminated, Mulder’s phone flashed to take a picture of a regular-looking man using the facilities.

“Oh!” he cried.

“Sorry,” she breathed and turned her back out of view.

“A bit of privacy please!” he scolded Mulder with his New Zealand lilt as his camera took another picture.

“Have you seen… uh…” he looked to Scully to try to find words to describe the drawing that they showed Annabelle earlier. Scully shook her head slightly and he shut the door on the man with his pants gathered around his ankles. They moved back around the edge of the parking lot. “Maybe it went off into the tall grass.”

Scully shined her light into the field with a shake of her head. “We need to get the sheriff’s men back down here.”

“I’ll keep searching the area while you start your autopsy,” he offered as he pulled out his flashlight to look around the dark spaces the parking lot lights missed. 

Scully made a face. “Okay.”

“What?” he questioned as he lowered his torch.

Scully shrugged. “I don’t think you’re going to find it. And to be honest, I’d rather do the autopsy in the morning.”

Mulder studied her and was confused at her reluctance. “What?”

She shook her head as she failed to come up with an answer. “I’m tired?”

He looked at his watch. “It’s seven thirty.”

She sighed and proposed a compromise, “Preliminary only - I’ll do the full thing in the morning.”

Mulder nodded. “I’m pretty sure he died from whatever chewed on his neck anyway, so that’s fine by me.”

Scully laughed sarcastically. “I’m so glad I have your permission.”

He made a face at her snide tone. “Any time.”

Scully gave him more than a gentle push and scoffed as she walked back to the vehicle to retrieve her phone. Mulder noticed the man they walked in on observing them but thought nothing of it.

He opened his phone to see if the photos he captured would actually be helpful in identifying what he saw. Most of what he got pictures of looked like the skin of a reptile.

Immediately, Mulder opened the web browser on his phone and began looking up what kind of animal or known biological thing it could be, rather than assuming that what they saw was, in fact, a monster.

The biggest issue with searching for ‘large reptiles’ was that none of them were native to Shawan, Oregon. If the blood on his face was discharged from anything, that had to be listed someplace on the World Wide Web. What he was doing now was much different than the research he did on the dark web that led him down a path of conspiracy theories and paranoia.

Once he typed in horned reptiles, another series of lizards and toads came up on his screen. He took out his reading glasses and stood in the parking lot, getting lost in each new tab he opened. 

“Mulder!” Scully called from across the parking lot. She was holding her hand over the end of the phone, but Mulder was pretty sure that did nothing these days. “Mulder!”

He crossed the parking lot with his phone in hand and made a face to his confusion. “What?”

“I need to get to the morgue right now to check in with the M.E.’s assistant. Someone is on their way. Can you wait with the body until it’s collected?” 

Mulder made a face. “How am I going to get to the morgue to meet you there? I don’t want to ride with that…. guy.”

They both looked across the parking lot to the exposed body waiting for collection. Mulder shuddered.

“The hotel is a five-minute walk down the street,” she reminded him. “Walk down and get your… car.”

“I’m telling you that this was the last sedan they had,” he reminded her. “You don’t have to keep bugging me about it.”

“It’s hideous,” she declared and licked her upper lip slowly. “So… you’ll wait?”

“When do I not do what you want?” he muttered petulantly. Scully rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I saw that.”

“Is that a yes or a no?” she reminded him. “You could take the food in the car back to the motel and put it in you fridge for later.”

That got his attention. Sharing food for later was a possibility for potential romance. He didn’t want to jinx it by hoping for a spark of romance to remind her of all the relaxed moments shared between them prior to tonight. Their cases had always included sharing meals and discussing ideas. Occasionally, they slept in each other’s rooms, but it only resulted in nudity and other fun activities after seven long years. Even if he could remind her of the moments where they weren’t just FBI partners… Although Scully hadn’t ‘just’ been his partner in a long time. He reluctantly and stubbornly let her into his life. He grew to like her, began to trust her and then ultimately, he fell in love with her. 

It wasn’t clear what order that began for Scully, but he hoped he could regain the latter with her. He felt her apprehension with all the issues they’d been dealing with over the last few years. He needed her to come back to him, but she had to want to return entirely. After she left, there was nothing but ache and sorrow filling up all the quiet spaces in the home she had helped make with him. For a while, he felt like the only thing they were doing right was in the bedroom. Just because the sex worked between them didn’t mean that everything else would fall into place. He learned that the first time around.

“Sure,” he agreed. “I’ll call the local sheriff to get down here.”

“I already did,” she replied. “Someone will be here in two minutes to relieve you.”

Scully handed Mulder the bag of food that had been patiently waiting in the backseat before getting in behind the wheel. She gave him a look of regret and something else he couldn’t quite place.

“I’ll see you at the morgue,” she finished quickly and closed her door. 

She turned the key in the ignition, rolled the window down and looked up at him slowly. He figured out what the look was in her eyes at that moment. Amongst her hesitance and exhaustion, there was the look from the restaurant. 

It wouldn’t help the investigation for him to focus on that right now so he stepped back from her window and gave an awkward wave goodbye. He walked slowly back to the body. As he was standing in the warm night air, Mulder looked around the parking lot as the long haul drivers began to return to their trucks for some rest. It was late and standing around waiting for body collection wasn’t something Mulder had done since he was new to the FBI the first time. 

He looked down at the exposed body and then back to the food he was holding. Mulder rubbed his eyes with his free hand and willed for the next one hundred and twenty seconds to pass more quickly. 

The two-minute window Scully gave him came and went along with ten more minutes of crickets chirping to remind Mulder of his predicament. Just as he was about to call the sheriff to locate the deputy, a car pulled up with two deputies inside.

“Hey there,” the passenger greeted with a slow Oregon welcome.

“I almost gave up on you guys,” he stated.

The driver shrugged. “We needed a coffee. These late night shifts are a bitch.”

Mulder’s eyebrows shot up. “Okay well, I’m going to pick up my car. The M.E. or the assistant is on their way.”

“Daryl can drive you,” the first one offered with a thumb pointed back over the hood of the car. “Where you goin’?”

“I’m headed up to our motel,” he told them. “It’s a five-minute walk.”

“Yeah, through that field,” the driver scoffed and jerked his head sideways to invite Mulder to him. “It’s twenty minutes on the highway. C’mon, I’ll take you to the morgue. You can sit in the front.”

Mulder looked at his watch and the bag in his hand. “Okay, sure.”

He would have to bug Scully about her suggestion to walk to the hotel later. He had to figure out what the hell this monster or not monster was that was killing people.


***  ***


As Mulder walked into the morgue, he showed his badge to the front desk clerk while he balanced two small coffees in a paper tray with the other hand. He used his back to open the door slowly and set Scully’s half decaf, heavy cream, half a sweetener on the counter along the wall. Adjacent to the counter was a small bay of cadaver drawers that were recently filled with the victims that drew them out to Oregon. 

Scully’s white shoes were in drastic contrast to the orange and beige checkered floor. The rest of the room was stainless steel and sterility that meant business. For as much as things could move forward in small towns, this morgue was probably once a room meant for something else entirely but recently refurbished to suit the small town’s demand for transient people who passed on while visiting Shawan. 

She had tweezers in one gloved hand and the other was resting on the edge of the examination table. She was leaning slightly over the body which caused the back of her protective robe to expose her backside that was now covered in scrubs. 

Admittedly, for more of their working relationship or not, Mulder had always had a thing for Scully in her doctor scrubs. At first, he wondered if his physical reaction to the sight of her walking out of an autopsy bay was a deeply rooted fetish for all female nurses or doctors in snug scrubs or if his attraction lied in a different kind of professional fetish like men who were drawn to librarians. After many years of impromptu hospital visits and autopsy observations, he learned that the reaction was specific to one stubborn scientist. 

Much to his delight, the outline of her underwear was absent and he felt a slight thrill knowing Scully had donned a thong that morning.

The medical examiner said something quietly to Scully and smiled tightly to Mulder as he left the small morgue. 

Scully turned around and he quickly moved his eyes up to her face. “Not subtle, Mulder.”

He grinned sheepishly and shrugged. “Can you blame a guy?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re the only man I have ever met that has looked at me that way in scrubs.”

She pulled at the gown she had on as if proving her argument. 

“What’s your point?” he asked flatly.

She opened her mouth to reply but closed it as she weighed out her next statement carefully in her head. He only knew she was doing that due to the hundred other times he watched her do that in the past. 

“Well… for one thing, we’re at work,” she began uncomfortably with a crack in her voice that he found adorable.

“And the second thing?” he prompted with a smile playing on his lips.

Scully narrowed her eyes at him. “What?”

“You said, for one thing,” he reminded her. “What’s the other thing?”

“Um… well… it’s not…” she sighed and Mulder laughed. “Mulder, shut up.”

“You know, I don’t question the number of times you touch my ties,” he noted and her cheeks pinked. “That’s a thing for you, isn’t it?”

Scully cleared her throat as she put on her glasses and said importantly, “I have to get to work.”

He scoffed and leaned back against the counter in the room. He sipped his coffee slowly while he looked through the pictures on his phone from his encounter in the parking lot. 

“Did you get anything good?” she asked as she glanced over her shoulder to him. 

Mulder sighed. “Maybe?”

He swiped through a number of black photos, three of Pasha the animal control agent and then more black pictures before he got to something meaty. 

It resembled scales like the skin of a reptile. Something large like an alligator, but the thing that attacked him looked nothing like the creature that lunged at him at Heuvelmans Lake, where they searched for Big Blue. 

If anything confirmed for him more that he needed solid proof, it was the number of investigations where they were left with blurry pictures of teeth or sunken boats that only added to the stretched budget that the FBI had allotted to the X-Files for the year. The last thing he wanted was another threat of a shutdown when there were so many bigger mysteries out there beyond monsters in the woods. 

“Well?” she prompted. “Don’t hold out on me now.”

“I have pictures of what looks to be reptilian skin? Scales?” he wasn’t sure what the proper term was. He came up behind to put the phone close to her field of vision and turned it each direction. “That’s its ear. Or maybe… maybe it’s a foot.”

Scully, suddenly annoyed with his heightened excitement, presence and proximity to her, pushed his arm away. “Mulder.”

Mulder stayed close behind her as he tried to show her what he had collected. He swiped his finger to the next picture. “This one… if you squint… looks like… something. And then this…”

Scully sighed in annoyance again, but he kept his spot as he swiped his finger again across the screen. 

“That’s… that’s in focus!” he said with delight.

“But what is it?” she almost cried.

“It’s a close-up!” he declared. “Of the creature. Now, mind you, I didn’t say ‘monster’ and it wasn’t a Sasquatch.”

Scully stood up straight and moved around the autopsy table.

“But it was definitely an animal,” he continued as he moved through more pictures. “Man-sized and hairless.”

“Maybe it was a mangy Sasquatch,” she deadpanned.

“Ah,” Mulder pointed to her. “Hey, you’re overlooking the video.”

He pulled up the video and Scully stood up straight to lean slightly towards him as he held it at arm’s length away from them. He pressed play for the recording to show what he had captured.

His face came up on the screen and the sounds of his and Pasha’s fearful screams filled the small room.

“Mulder…” she started. “You’ve got the camera facing the wrong way.”

“Yeah, it’s this new camera app. But look,” he dismissed as the camera got closer to his face and the flash lit up the screen. He paused the video as blood covered his cheeks. “It shot blood at me. From out its eyeball, Scully. I think… It was hard for me to see because I had blood in my eyes.”

That wasn’t entirely true. There was blood on his face. Although none reached his eyes, he was feeling hyperbolic.

“I haven’t done the blood analysis yet, but it’s probably residue from the prior attack on this victim,” she countered as she indicated to the corpse in front of them. “And - animals don’t shoot blood out of their eyeballs.”

“Oh no?” he challenged. He was actually prepared for that statement and he bounced up and down once as he pulled up his web browser app ready to argue. “Tell that to the horned lizard.”

He held up the Wikipedia article on the horned lizard for Scully and she pulled her chin back at the proximity to her face. She let out another sigh and rolled her eyes.

“Which shoots blood out its eyeball, Scully,” he continued not missing a bet. “Yes. It’s a defence mechanism. Scientific fact!”

There was a slight pause and she looked at him knowingly. “Mulder, the internet is not good for you.”

“You’re the one who told me to get on there,” he pointed at her. 

“For things that were fun!” she practically cried. 

“This is fun!” He moved a little closer to her and showed another picture of the creature he managed to photograph. “Doesn’t this bear a resemblance to what witnesses claim they saw?”

“What, so now you’re saying that you were attacked by a six-foot horny toad?” she queried with a playful tone of annoyance.

It sounded like crap when she said it. Why was she so annoyed? He was trying to be rational about all this. Maybe it was because he was feeling more animated than his usual monotonous delivery of information that she already knew. 

“Woah,” he cautioned. “Let’s just keep this within the realm of the natural sciences, shall we?”

She indicated to him with her tweezers as she began to inform him of what she found. “My initial exam on the bite wounds would suggest that they were made by a human being.”

He paused as he carefully chose his next words. “So, we’re looking for a man-sized horned lizard with human teeth?” 

They both tightened their mouths as his statement hung in the air and nodded with slight embarrassment. What was his job again? Hunting monsters and waving his gun at little grey men? 

“Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it?” he admitted.

He would feel worse except there was a smile playing on her lips. She wasn’t annoyed at him. She was fighting at her own enjoyment of the probabilities and discoveries they were making on the case. 

Her smile broke and her face relaxed as she nodded. “Yeah.”

It might have been a while since he saw her this relaxed or let her guard down with him, but he remembered what it looked like when Dana Scully enjoyed herself. It gave him a thrill that he was there to witness it.

“You’re really enjoying yourself,” he observed quietly. “Aren’t you, Scully?”

“Yeah, I am,” she agreed. “I forgot how much fun these cases could be.”

That shocked him a little. While Mulder was always tickled pink to be chasing unknown creatures through the woods with his gun drawn and Scully racing behind him, he never imagined that she actually enjoyed herself. Maybe that was a cover for her since she was allotted to be the straight-laced, serious scientist sent to debunk all the crap he called paranormal. 

“It’s been a long day, Mulder.” She tightened her lips as she looked from his belt buckle, upwards along his tie and then finally to his face. More specifically, his lips. “Why don’t you go back to the hotel and get some sleep?”

She ducked her head down to the body to indicate she was serious about finishing her observations. “And try not to dream about monsters.”

Mulder looked down to the corpse and then back to her. “Want me to wait up for you? We could have a late night snack.”

She stood up and looked around the room, maybe for an excuse not to join him. “I’ll think about it. If I can get out of here in the next hour or two.”

He fought the urge to lean across and kiss her good night or make a lewd comment. Instead, he opted for a quick kiss on the cheek that elicited a slight squeak of surprise from the back of her throat.

“See you,” he said casually and took his coffee and the file with him.

It felt like a cool exit, but he wasn’t sure how it played off. Maybe he should have properly kissed her. He could have pulled her from the small of her back to him and pressed her into a filing cabinet to plant a solid kiss good night.

Being at work didn’t quite help things in that matter. The few times that she had let her guard down in professional settings, she always admonished them both for letting their hormones get the better of them. For all the mixed signals she was giving him lately, he couldn’t imagine she would be more open to a late night tryst in such a clinical setting as she reached fifty-two than she was when she was thirty-five.

*** *** *** 

It took Mulder going for a short run, some calisthenics in his room and a long shower before he was able to fall asleep. In fact, he passed out on top of his bed in his underwear before he was able to get dressed for bed.

It was the sound of the desk manager screaming that woke him. Mulder opened the door to his room that led into the parking lot and was hit with a cool blast of the evening air. He shut the door abruptly and quickly donned jeans and a T-shirt. 

Mulder ran down the long sidewalk towards the office with his gun ready at the holster and his adrenaline spiking.

After a suspicious conversation with the manager where he drank the alcohol he was using to treat the wound on his forehead, Mulder backed out of the office. The story the manager gave him was bogus, but pushing someone who was that anxious wouldn’t get him anywhere.  

If Mulder was going to get any answers about what just transpired, he would have to find them himself.  

As he walked back towards his room, he noted an open door and without hesitation entered the scene of the alleged crime.

A chair had been turned over at the table by the door, the bed was unmade and the mirror over the dresser had been smashed. The lamp next to the bed had been turned over with its shade laying a few feet away from it. 

He approached the bedside table to begin to search for clues. If Mulder was going to solve this case with science and logic in mind, he had to treat this scene unlike he normally would. 

He tried to ignore the spread out skin of a wolf above the headboard of the bed and moved towards the dresser and smashed mirror. On top of the desktop, a pill bottle caught his attention.

Clozapine
One tablet
Once daily
450mg


He spun the bottle in his fingers, looking for the name the pills were prescribed to. He noted the doctor’s name and then spotted who the patient was. Mulder scoffed and looked around the room. “Guy Mann? Like I’m supposed to believe that’s a real name.”

He put the pills in his pocket for later and then found a clue as to what might have started it all. The manufactured taxidermy face of a Jackalope lay on the ground with its eyes missing. He picked up the mounted head and held it up to the hole in the wall next to a series of bad hotel paintings.

He set the head on an adjacent table and peered beyond the hole to see a network of chambers. Knowing nothing good came from hidden chambers inside walls, Mulder frowned disappointedly as the wall gave way, leading into the hidden hallway.

“Of fucking course,” he muttered to himself.

He stepped into the hallway and discovered a much worse site than he had feared. Next to the electrical, plumbing and cables with old mechanic bulbs, Mulder saw a similar looking hole in the wall across from the room he just exited. 

Stepping onto the small ledge at the base of the dark corridor, he removed the eyes from the back of the mask and peered through. As his eyes studied the room, familiarity overwhelmed him. Towards the left of his field of view, Mulder spotted Scully. She was fast asleep in the T-shirt he had loaned her when they checked in. 

He needed to get them out of that hotel. 

Mulder realized as he was approaching another doorway, he was going back in the direction to the manager’s office. As he pushed on the hidden door, he felt some resistance that only confirmed that he was pushing on the large stuffed bear at the wall. 

Before the door opened all the way, he rolled his eyes at the predictability of a seedy hotel manager also being a pervert.

The manager stuttered to defend his actions by even trying to blame it on national security, but Mulder knew the truth.

“I will be reporting you for this,” he said as he motioned toward the hidden hallway. “When one checks into an establishment such as this, it’s a little played out that you have to be a sleaze and a pervert.”

“Hey!” the manager declared. 

“However, right now I’m more concerned with what you witnessed in that trashed room,” he continued. “Something that greatly disturbed you. You mind telling me what that was?”

The wrinkled and withering man sat trembling at his desk while obviously weighing his options. Mulder held his gaze and leaned forward in an attempt to seem bigger and slightly more intimidating. It must have worked because the pervert in pyjamas nodded. 

“You’re, uh…” the manager took a shaking breath. “You’re not going to believe it.”

While making his rounds through the motel to look in on his sleeping guests, he was alerted to a ruckus in the room across the ‘hallway’ from Mulder’s. ‘Guy Mann’ was pointing at his own reflection in the mirror and yelling about his own existence with a New Zealand accent.

That detail caught Mulder’s attention.

Guy threw a chair, smashing the mirror and started lecturing the alarm clock before tossing it angrily towards the front door. The manager kept repeating ‘I was only watching to make sure I knew the damage,’ but Mulder knew it was probably out of terror.

What the manager described next was surprising. Guy ran to the mirror and watched himself transform into a monster with red glowing eyes. It shocked the manager to his core, and he began screaming out of fright. 

The monster Guy Mann had morphed into ran to the Jackalope mask and tore it off the wall with one hand. The manager kept screaming and the monster hissed at him before taking off in the night.

Mulder pulled the drawing from his jeans back pocket. “Is this the creature that you saw but with two eyes?”

The manager took a swig of the rubbing alcohol and nodded. “Yeah, that’s exactly it!”

He quickly recalled the man they met at the Porta Potty and brought up the image on his phone. “And is this him as a man?”

A shaking hand reached up to take Mulder’s phone between his fingers and he let out a wavering breath. “Ahhh, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. They’re one and the same!”

Mulder took his phone out and began dialling the local sheriff. 

“Hey! Hey what are you doing?” the manager said nervously.

“I told you that I’m reporting you,” Mulder reminded the man. He nodded his head down the hallway between the rooms. “I want to guess that this hallway wasn’t installed after 9/11 but was part of the original infrastructure so guests would be able to have two entrances and exits to their rooms.”

“You’re wrong,” the manager admitted weakly. “When my uncle purchased this land, he installed that hallway by making the rooms a foot smaller. He used to get more… uh… hourly customers.”

“Really?” he said with a sour frown. “That makes it worse.”

The deputies that arrived at the crime scene earlier showed up within ten minutes of Mulder making the call and looked down the hallway with disgusted faces.

After Mulder promised to write a full report for them, he realized he would need to wake up Scully and get them out of there ASAP. 

“This is the busiest shift I’ve ever had on this job in five years,” Dylan said to the other deputy, who’s name as it turned out was Bobby. 

“Yeah, it’s kind of cool though, right?” Bobby replied and the two laughed. 

Mulder knew there was a joke in there about those two being paired together, but he couldn’t quite place it. He listened near the door as he looked for his room key to ensure those two wouldn’t just let the feeble manager off the hook.

“So…” the manager started with a laugh.

“Don’t talk right now, pervert,” Dylan barked.

“Yeah, pervert,” Bobby chimed in.

Mulder nodded to himself with a bit of reassurance they would handle the manager properly and walked the ten feet to his room to retrieve the file before arriving at Scully’s door. 

He knocked twice, waited thirty seconds and knocked five times again. He could hear some movement behind the door and bounced twice to ready himself.

She opened the door in the long T-shirt with her hair still neatly around her face and a pink hue to her cheeks. “Mulder…”

He realized what his intentions must look like, but this wasn’t the time for trying to flirt with her. The thing they were searching for was a monster, and he was talking about more than just the kind of men who sit in darkened hallways while watching unsuspecting hotel guests for their masturbatory needs.

“I need to talk to you,” he said urgently. “Can I come in?”

“I’m tired,” she replied as though that statement explained more than just her level of energy.

“It’s about the case,” he insisted. “Nothing ulterior in my motives. Just to talk about the case.”

She eyed him suspiciously then stepped back to open the door further to allow him to enter. The cold air of the night hit her chest just then, and he saw her nipples perk up under her shirt. Mulder tried not to notice, but he couldn’t avoid looking. 

Scully closed the door and pulled the sheets up on her bed to sit on top while Mulder took a towel from the bathroom to hang on the fox mask across from her bed. 

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Just… trust me,” he muttered. 

“Okay…” she looked at the towel and then back to Mulder. “What did you want to talk to me about? Is this about our suspect?”

“It’s not anything I thought it was,” he said as he began pacing and tossed the file to the end of the bed. “It’s a monster, Scully. Plain and simple.” 

He began pacing across the room as he tried to collect the thoughts that were running wildly through his head. 

“Take a minute if you need to collect your thoughts,” she encouraged, gently.

“Well, this isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill monster, but we’re talking about a thing that can transform. Man into monster and back again,” he declared. “To which I know you’re going to say, ‘But Mulder, that only happens in werewolf myths that were originally concocted to explain away the violent behaviour of people who had been bitten by rabid animals before the discovery of rabies.’

“But is it so outlandish to believe that some legends are based on actual occurrences and not just ignorance?” he continued.

Scully opened her mouth to reply but his brain was firing off too many different ideas.

“To which I know that you’re going to say, ‘But Mulder it defies every known law of science and nature,’” he spoke for her. 

“I would say that,” she muttered. 

“Exactly, Scully, every known law. What if this creature that we’ve stumbled upon is here to create a whole new paradigm for our understanding of life itself? Or maybe science was used to create this ‘unnatural’ being. Maybe this is some kind of GMO experiment run amok by some military-agro-Big Pharma corporation. Maybe this guy is its chief geneticist, who recently experimented on himself and now transforms into a fiend who needs to feast on human flesh?”

Scully furrowed her brow. “Well…”

“Look, I know you’re going to say that it sounds like the paranoid ravings of some lunatic madman.’ I don’t know…” his voice drifted off. “I don’t know what this thing is, Scully, and I don’t know exactly how it came to be. I just… All I’m saying is, it’s a monster!” 

She was nodding slowly with a smile playing across her lips. “Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder.”

He stopped in his tracks and put his hands on his hips. “Wait… so you’re agreeing with me?”

“Not a chance!” she cried. “You sound batcrap… well you know we aren’t supposed to use that C-word in conversation anymore, but it’s way too farfetched.”

“Cu-”

“Crazy,” she cut him off.

“Oh. Well... What about the facts?” he asked as he poked at the case file on her bed.

“What facts?” she challenged him as she sat up a little straighter. She folded her legs so that the T-shirt gaped to give him a full view of the pale yellow panties she had on underneath and leaned her elbows on her inside knees to lean towards him challengingly. The view of her underwear and more had disappeared. “Mulder?”

His eyes shot up to her face and he laughed in embarrassment. “Uh… well.”

Scully snapped her fingers towards his face twice. “Mulder? Earth to Fox Mulder? The facts?”

“The pervert manager who runs this lovely establishment that you chose for us witnessed this guy turn into a monster. He was wearing the clothes of one of our victims, which we didn’t notice at the time because we thought we were looking for an animal. It turns out, we were only half-right.”

“Okay…” she nodded slowly. “Well, clearly we need to go talk to this guy.”

“The monster-slash-man?” he clarified and she nodded. “Well, I doubt he’s coming back to his room. I did retrieve some personal items from it, though. That might help us track him down.”

“Well,” she started. “That sounds like a good investigative plan.”

“Yeah but the first thing we need to do-”

“Mulder, please don’t say I need to go back to finish the autopsy…” she whined.

“No!” he shook his head. “We need to get the hell out of this motel.”

He walked over to the mounted fox head and pulled the towel off. He said with a flourish of a poor-man’s David Copperfield, “Observe!” 

As he pushed on the eyeballs to reveal the empty space behind them, Scully’s throat squeaked in surprise. She unfolded her legs and scrambled towards the faux fox. Mulder realized as he was walking down the darkened hallway that none of the peeping masks were real animals. If a Jackalope did exist, it wouldn’t be that big. Right?

She pulled a chair up to the wall and climbed on top to peer inside. “Pervert scum son-of-a-”

“Okay….” Mulder coaxed as he pulled her shoulder towards him. “I’ve already called the authorities and he’s being arrested as we speak. I’m sure there’s a motel nearby we can stay at for the duration of this case.”

That statement seemed to appease her somewhat, but she was still obviously bothered by the whole scenario. Standing on the chair, she was about an inch and a half taller than him and Mulder had the pleasure of looking up to her rather than down. 

“Do you want to get down from there or are you going to be tall a little longer?” he teased.

Scully raised an eyebrow in warning, but the edge of her lips curled in a smile. “If I was up about three more inches, you’d know what it was like for me.”

She raised herself up on her tip toes on the chair, wobbled to keep upright and placed a hand on Mulder’s shoulder to steady herself. He took a step closer to her to be square with her shoulders as he laughed lightly. 

“I’ve seen you run in heels,” he admonished her with a shake of his head.

Scully put her other hand on his other shoulder with the smile still playing on her lips. “Aside from the pervert at this establishment, this hasn’t been a bad day.”

Mulder, feeling brazen, put a hand on her hip and rubbed his thumb in a slow circle. “I would have to agree.”

She opened her mouth to say something when the back chair legs cracked and she began to fall backwards. He scooped an arm around her waist to try to save her from falling, but instead, they began to fall backwards. Scully’s eyes widened as the chair hit the carpet first.

“Oh no!” she whooped.

“Hold on!” he blurted out as he felt the air flow past them as they tumbled towards the floor. 

Scully landed neatly on top of him as they hit the floor with a thud, and they both let out a groan. In all the ways he was hoping to end up horizontal with her, this wasn’t what he had intended.

Mulder wasn’t sure what was more surprising, the fact that it didn’t hurt a terrible amount to be on the bottom of the fall or that the carpet was surprisingly soft. Scully propped herself up on one hand. This small movement made her pelvis to push into his which, in turn, caused a slight physical reaction. 

Oh…” she whispered as she looked around. “Um…”

He knew what she was thinking. She could straddle him to dismount, which would give a clear view to confirm the colour of her underpants… That thought only made his situation even harder… so to speak. 

His other option was to roll them both over and then get off of her as he had done multiple times in the past - usually with less clothing.

“Mulder-” she started.

“Just a second,” he grimaced.

The movement of their bodies turning on the floor so that he was on top and she was lying beneath him didn’t actually change much for the alignment of their sexes. Instead, he landed in the valley of her thighs and her cheeks flushed a deeper red.

She looked around, maybe to check if they had an audience, and then back up to him. He propped himself up on his elbows and cleared his throat. 

Her body adjusted slightly causing her pelvis to brush against the ridge of his jeans and he watched her eyes slowly glanced from his mouth to his eyes. He was no stranger to the arousal that was clearly written across her face. It was tempting to respond to such an obvious sign to kiss her except things had been so awkward between them that he wasn’t sure if he should. He leaned in a little closer, her mouth opened just slightly and she wet her lips with a swipe of her tongue. 

Her right hand that was between them moved from across her chest to his, up his neck and then pulling his face towards hers. 

It was not the chaste kiss on the lips of two people who were at a stage they couldn’t define. This was the kiss of a woman who knew the pleasure points of his body to excite him in ways that only she could. Her right leg hooked around his hip to keep him in place and he felt lost in their kiss. 

A hundred reasons why he should stop them ran through his mind at that moment. The local sheriff would be there any moment to get a statement from him. Either one of the deputies in the manager’s office could peer in and watch them as she lay in a state of undress. 

All he kept thinking about was that she called him ‘my Mulder’ and his hips instinctively thrust against hers. A moan slipped out of her throat and he did it again.

They were kissing like they hadn’t seen each other in weeks. She was clawing at the skin under his shirt with her left hand, leaving long marks of their encounter down his back. The twinge of pain from her nails only heightened his arousal. She kept his face to hers with her right hand and he pushed himself hard against her. 

They really had to stop, but she was grinding underneath him with her sex moving expertly up the hardness under his jeans. It would only take a second to pull himself out and take her there.

No. If this was going to happen, she deserved better than a quick fuck on the floor of a crummy motel. 

Mulder pulled his face away and tried to will his body to cool down. It wasn’t easy with the way she was looking at him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked shakily.

“We can’t do this here,” he panted. “We have to…. we need to get out of this motel.”

It was rare for his voice to be the one of reason, especially when it came to where they had sex, but she knew he had a point. Or at least, he hoped she did instead of feeling rejected.

A knock on the door alerted them to the realities of the outside world and Scully wiped her fingers across her swollen lips. “I need to get dressed. Can you get that?”

Mulder looked down at the bulge in his jeans and cleared his throat. “Just a second!”

It was possible they missed their chance tonight, but work was calling. The file on her bed and the flashing police lights outside her window reminded him, yet again, they had a monster to catch.

Chapter Text

The other motels in Shawan gave Scully the same vibe as the location they had just vacated. They stood between their cars in the cold night with the electricity of their almost sexual escapade still lingering between them, while they searched for alternate accommodations. Mulder announced that he had found something in Florence that gave a government employee discount. Commuting back and forth from Florence to the small hamlet of Shawan would have to do.

At the River House Inn, through the entrance to a courtyard for parking, there were two vacant spots near the office. The bright red doors contrasted against the white trim and beige siding of the building. It looked clean and well maintained. After the hotel they just left, things could only get better.

Scully glanced over to Mulder while he fiddled with his phone. She tried not to make a face he would notice, but the thing was just such a hideous colour.

He caught her glance as he shut off the vehicle and smiled at her before getting out of the driver’s side. “Nice, right?”

It wasn’t bad and she nodded in agreement.

“I booked rooms for us online. They’ll just need your work credit card when we check in,” he reminded her as he took her suitcase from her.

She couldn’t gauge if he was being chivalrous out of habit or to continue their kiss from earlier.

Calling it a kiss was underselling it. They had enjoyed a delicious dinner together at a beautiful restaurant. The conversation was riddled with interruptions, but the overall message was clear. She still saw the good in him even when he didn’t. What had been a constant theme in the last year was Mulder repeatedly questioning if she still thought of him that way. Why didn’t she just come home? Why live in the limbo of their relationship with things still uncertain?

She had to muddle over it a bit longer. There was a lot there that pushed them apart. It wasn’t just a small error in judgement, a petty fight or minor differences. They had to work through most of that before they ever kissed.

Scully wasn’t paying attention as Mulder was checking in. Her mind was too preoccupied with all the whys and why nots. She knew half of it had to do with her own inability to let go and the fear that Mulder would quickly slip back into his habits of secluded paranoia.

For as amazing as Mulder could be as a partner, friend and lover, he could be just as awful to be around. At first, she didn’t blame him. He was on the run from the authorities as a wrongfully accused man and made excuses when he stayed in his office overnight, looking for answers in the printed newspapers he had subscribed to from around the world.

Maybe what was more fucked up than the two different men that he could be was that she loved both of them unconditionally. Staying at her apartment in D.C. was a way to preserve herself from falling down that rabbit hole again.

Mulder took the two room keys from the front desk clerk and muttered something under his breath.

Scully looked up at him. “What’s going on?”

He narrowed his eyes at her in confusion. “I guess you missed the whole part about how I booked two adults in one room instead of two rooms for one adult each?”

“Wait, what?” she asked in disbelief as she looked from Mulder to the young man behind the desk.

He wore a black vest over a white crisp shirt with his longish hair pulled away from his face with a fade underneath to give the appearance of professionalism. His name was Drew, and she felt like someone with a half man bun and a full beard probably made craft beer in his free time.

Scully narrowed her eyes at Drew. “There isn’t anything else available? How is that possible?”

The clerk shook his head. “We have a pharmaceutical sales conference in town at the moment. Most of the hotels, if not all of them, are fully booked… I mean, I know there is one other room at the hotel across town. You could try heading back to Shawan and try your hand at one of the smaller motels. They’re pretty sketch, though.”

“Sketch?” Mulder repeated, and she could see his brain trying to work out the slang. “We just came from one of those places. That’s why she’s still half in her pyjamas.”

“Mulder,” she nudged him. She sighed as she pulled the FBI credit card from her purse and set it on the counter. “Okay… I just want to get back to sleep.”

She ignored the obvious look of disappointment on Mulder’s face as she signed the deposit slip.

“Do we have two beds?” he asked Drew.

He shook his head. “Not really.”

“What’s ‘not really?’” Mulder clarified. “There’s either one bed or two.”

“Well… You have a king sized bed,” Drew replied.

“So that’s a no,” Mulder stated, and the young man nodded. “Okay, then just say that.”

Drew laughed nervously. “You’re FBI. I don’t want to piss you off and then you’re watching my search history when I’m working these overnight shifts.”

“Is it porn?” Mulder guessed.

Drew shook his head with reddened cheeks and glanced nervously to Scully.

“Yeah right. I’m guessing it’s porn or how to become rich with a grow-op and start a craft beer pub,” Mulder asked impatiently as he put one hand in his pocket. Drew’s jaw dropped. “Then I guess you know we already know.”

“Where is our room?” Scully asked as she took her key card from Mulder.

“You are staying on the top floor. Take this stairwell and head right,” he informed them. “There is a coffee machine in the room, and we serve a continental breakfast from seven a.m. to eleven.”

Mulder took the bags and followed Scully out of the office. She felt slightly embarrassed for his behaviour but even more so annoyed that they were now forced into a shared bed scenario that would only intensify the awkwardness or push them to confront what happened earlier in her room.

She hadn’t intended to fall on top of him. She wasn’t planning to dry hump him with her fingers in his hair or his dick rubbing against her where she liked it, but with Mulder sometimes those things just happened.

The sound of the wheels of their carry-on bags and their footsteps echoed across the parking lot. She could hear the Siuslaw River to their right, and every parking space was full of rental vehicles. It didn’t make her feel any better that Drew was telling the truth; however, it would be a valid reason when she explained to accounting why there was only a charge for one room for the duration of their case.

She was lost in thought as she walked behind Mulder towards their door. Why couldn’t she just choose to come home? Why didn’t she offer to put him on her lease or at the very least, tell him she couldn’t be with him at all?

“We’re here,” Mulder interrupted her thoughts.

He stood with enough space for her to stand between him at the door. It wasn’t a polite amount of space - this was the kind of space that Mulder used to leave her before he ever kissed her. Enough that the heat of his body was known to hers, but far enough that the front of his pants didn’t quite touch the back of hers.

She put the digital card into the reader with his breath hot on her neck. It flashed yellow and green, and she pushed on the handle urgently. The door swung open, and she stepped inside with Mulder close behind.

When she stopped at the entryway, he bumped into her, and they looked at one another awkwardly. This was not going to be an easy night.

It wasn’t the first time they were forced to share a room, and it wouldn’t be the last. When they first worked together, they could rely on the professionalism and the pursuit of the truth to keep them apart. Falling into bed together now only made their separation that much more messy. They weren’t getting divorced as far as she was concerned. Mulder would have told her if he wanted one; he told her every other damned thing he thought.

In all the ways that she felt taunted by being around him as his friend and partner, he confessed to feeling the same after they began seeing one another romantically. For as much as she was a professional, Scully was still a woman with needs and desires.

It wasn’t as simple as two people who found each other attractive and had great chemistry. They had to work through their individual history that was filled with heartache and loss in order to be ready to be in a relationship. It was a slow burn over seven years. It was a long tease and torturous for her at times, especially after she survived her cancer and realized that life was too short to only live for her job.

Before her abduction and while she still looked at him as a man married to his work, she knew his laundry detergent brand by scent before she ever saw the bottle. She became accustomed to his cologne and aftershave through the day until the late hours of investigative work.

Now when she looked at him, she saw a man who she shared her life with. Being around him wasn’t as difficult while they worked versus when he was shut in the house. She saw the man she loved in his prime at this moment instead of a man burdened with the weight of the world ending.

They tried to remain polite while keeping their hormones in check and focusing on the work. This would have to be one of those times.

No matter how much fun they were having, they had a reason to be in Oregon. They came to stop murders from happening and to get justice for the victims. Their mutual desire for a release would have to take a backseat.

Mulder put their suitcases on the long, padded bench at the end of the bed. He looked at the bedspread, to the chairs and then to the floor. She wondered if he was trying to offer to sleep on the floor or if the contrasting colours of this upscale motel were bothering his eyes.

She walked up next to him and unzipped her suitcase. She kicked off her shoes and pushed them under the bench with her foot as she dropped her slippers on the ground to put them on. Retrieving her roll-up toiletry bag, she held her hand out to Mulder. He silently handed her his own bag that matched the olive green pattern on hers. As she put their belongings in the bathroom and at the sink outside the bathroom door, Mulder began hanging up their suits and placed their shoes on the floor of the closet, including the pair she had just taken off.

“What do you want to do about that?” he asked as he nodded towards the bed.

Scully reached underneath the shirt she borrowed from him and undid her her jeans. “I want to sleep in it.”

He gave her an appreciative glance as her jeans came down, she removed one slipper to pull her leg from the pants and then stepped back into it.

“I mean… you’re not worried I’m going to pounce on you in the middle of the night?” he questioned as he pulled out a pair of sweatpants from his bag.

Scully gave him a knowing look. “I know very well that you usually like to pounce in the morning to make use of your morning blood flow. As long as I wake up before you, I should be fine.”

Mulder’s cheeks pinked, and he walked into the bathroom silently to get changed.

Scully admonished herself for the overly familiar comment as she finished getting undressed. If they were going to make it out of this case without more confusion to their working relationship, she would need to keep her tongue under better control. She blamed the slip on the late hour and the fact that she was still slightly aroused from what happened earlier.

She rearranged the pillows and plugged her cell phone charger into her phone. When she pulled back the covers to the bed, she noted the sheets where soft white cotton and the mattress felt cool against her palm.

She put her slippers next to the bedside table and climbed between the plush bedding. The pillows were soft but not too soft so her neck would hurt later. She shivered as she tried to acclimate the soft bedding to her body temperature and wondered if she should have grabbed a pair of socks.

Mulder exited the bathroom with his shirt and jeans in hand and a pair of light grey sweatpants hugging his hips. The reprimand for sharing a room would be worth it.

“Cold?” he observed.

Scully looked to her suitcase where it lay open. “I was just contemplating getting a pair of socks.”

Mulder laid his clothing carefully across his open case and picked up the pair she was wearing earlier. “These?”

She nodded, and he retrieved the pair she had folded up while he was in the bathroom. She reached down under the covers to put her socks on while he plugged in his phone.

“I’m sorry…” she began and looked up at him as he climbed into bed. “About what I said.”

Mulder sighed. “Why? It’s true. I am a big fan of sex in the morning… but I also like sex at night… in the afternoon… in a tub? On a bathroom floor at a country club-”

“Mulder,” she cut him off with her hand up to ask him to stop.

There was a beat of silence that befell the room, and she could see him weighing his next statement in his mind.

“Scully, you know I’m a feminist, but you can’t be the only one who’s allowed to talk about sex. Not only is it a double standard, but you know exactly what you’re doing when you do it,” he snapped as he got into bed. He slid down the covers and laid on his side away from her. “Hit the lights, would you?”

She pushed the switch on the nightstand that controlled the lights for the room and mimicked his action earlier with her back to him.

The sound of the river flowing outside their porch door filled the room, and she tried to feel soothed by the tranquillity of their surroundings. They were in a gorgeous riverfront city, staying in an obviously much nicer hotel in cleaner surroundings…But she couldn’t relax.

She listened to his breathing for a few minutes and realized he was still awake as he seethed on his side of the bed.

“You’re right… I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable,” she apologized.

“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable, Scully,” he corrected her. “It makes me hard, and that’s uncomfortable for you.”

“Who says it’s uncomfortable for me?” she challenged as she rolled over to him. The full moon only filled the room with a blanketed light, but she could see the outline of him. “Mulder?”

“You stopped the conversation-”

“Because-”

“Yeah because you’re uncomfortable,” he answered for her as he rolled to face her. “I’m not going to play some blue balls bullshit to you because that’s not what this is.”

“Blue balls isn’t a medical condition-”

“I know that. You told me that the first year we worked together,” he cut her off. “The high school jocks that fabricated some alien abduction story? They used Rohypnol and pretended they were abducted too?”

The memory of his face as he watched her tear apart a trio of high school boys who organized the rape of three girls by fabricating an alien abduction story was a shining moment in their early partnership. In the interrogation room with their parents watching, Scully explained the scientific impossibility of their complaint of ‘blue balls.’ She admonished them for drugging their girlfriends and forcing themselves on them with Mulder shaking his head the whole time. Afterwards, when they were alone and the boys were being written up on rape charges, she was seething with anger and recalled that he watched her with apt curiosity. Eventually he confessed after they began dating, her vast knowledge of male anatomy was intimidating but also a turn on.

Scully had always harboured a suspicion he had an attraction to her when she dressed in her scrubs or put on a lab coat. Those confessions and the way his pupils dilated in the morgue earlier tonight confirmed it.

“I remember it well,” she answered him and licked her lower lip. “Those little pricks thought their lack of sex from their seventeen-year-old girlfriends meant they could get away with some hoax of alien abduction and excuse the rape.”

“If I remember correctly, their hoax was pretty elaborate that I almost believed it,” he recalled as he tapped on her hip with one finger, and she thought he might be smiling but wasn’t sure. “Sexual predators disguised as high school football stars.”

“People mask their ugliness all the time,” Scully sighed as she rolled onto her back. “This monster could very well be a mask of something else.”

“Scully, you and I both know that the guy we are looking for-”

Scully rolled over and turned on the light. She sat up and pointed a finger at him. “You said you had confirmation. I didn’t say I agreed with you.”

Mulder pushed himself to sit up and crossed his arms. “What if this monster who has been killing people is some kind of manifestation of his own sickness?”

They were sitting in the bed with their legs straight under the covers while arguing each side like an old married couple. Scully had to remind herself that technically, they were still married.

“Mulder…” she heard herself whine and scooted herself down in the bed.

“Don’t ‘Mulder’ me, Dana Scully,” he warned her and she rolled her eyes. “And just to reiterate my point earlier, I don’t want you to bring up something as a joke if the joke can’t be reciprocated.”

The authoritative tone in his voice was gravelly and sexy, but she wasn’t about to admit that after admonishing his joke earlier.

“Okay,” she agreed as she bent her knees to pull her feet closer to her backside on the bed. “I… I guess I was just taken off guard.”

“That kiss caught me off guard!” he argued.

The look on his face was genuine. He was in a place of uncertainty where he stood with her. He had been nothing but sweet lately. Even though she was coerced into paying, he planned a nice dinner together. He kissed her at the morgue and was polite enough to let her be the one to initiate the kiss in her motel room, after letting her fall on top of him. If nothing else, he was chivalrous.

The rest of what happened wasn’t an act of chivalry or politeness. The only thing about that kiss was that it wasn’t innocent or chaste. He pushed his arousal against her when she moaned. She wanted him to do all the things to her he had casually dropped in conversation, so what was her problem?

“Well… I…” she stammered with her arms crossed over her chest. “I won’t do it again…”

“No!” he protested, and she looked to him as he pulled on her arms to unfold them. As he let go of her, his eyes glanced down at her chest again, and she felt her nipples harden. He groaned and shook his head. “Jesus, do you do that on purpose?”

“No one can do that on purpose, Mulder. It’s not a muscle you can flex,” she lectured in exasperation and sat up. She put her head in her hands and let out a groan of frustration. As she sat up in bed, she saw the look on his face and regretted her anger. “I’m going to tell you something, and you can take it or leave it.”

Mulder crossed his arms. “Shoot.”

“You… you are the kind of person who is infectious with your excitement,” she began. “Everything you do… it feels intoxicating. Sometimes I feel like I need to sober up and get level headed… You’re almost…. something I could get addicted to… If that makes any sense?”

He shook his head. “Dana Scully doesn’t have an addictive personality.”

Scully pursed her lips and shrugged her shoulders. “You’re an exception.”

The weight of what she announced hung in the air, and Mulder sat in heavy silence with a confused look on his face.

After a few moments, humiliation took over, but she knew she couldn’t take back what was said.

“Well… good night then,” she muttered and turned off the light.

“Scu-” he started but stopped.

He slid down the bed and rustled on his side for a few minutes. She felt her cheeks continue to burn with embarrassment as sleep took over, and she fell into slumber.

 

*** *** ***

 

Light broke through the curtains in the room, and the morning had arrived with an unwelcomed aggression. She was tired. The sleep she did get wasn’t adequate, and her dreams were mixed with scenarios of embarrassment and strife.

As she slowly opened her eyes, she became more aware of her surroundings. The memory of where she was and who she was with was suddenly a present scenario. Mulder’s left arm was slung over her waist. He was snoring happily with his face hanging half off his pillow. Worse yet, his morning erection was pressed into her bare thigh.

She groaned internally as she closed her eyes and tried to extract herself from his embrace. In automated response, Mulder pulled her tight against him and moved his desire into her ass.

This was rude.

“Mulder,” she whispered as she tried to move his hand off her stomach. “Mulder….”

He palmed her breast and she wished she had the ability to control her nipples from getting hard from his touch, but she wasn’t a magician or in control of much more.

Mulder hummed happily in her hair, and his hand squeezed her breast ever so slightly before he thrust against her again.

Oh, come on.

If it wasn’t the middle of the night when they fell asleep and Mulder was a lesser man, she might assume that he was doing this intentionally. However, Mulder was who he was, tactile to a fault. He was a man who was handsy in his sleep and needed as much time to wake up in the morning now that he had passed his fiftieth birthday.

She did the only thing she could think of which was to press her backside against his erection and then launch herself out of bed to the floor. As she crouched at the side, she saw Mulder pull her pillow to his face and breathe in the scent. He smiled happily and a pang of guilt prodded her stomach. She knew they couldn’t wake up in that scenario without prolonging the awkwardness that was already taking place between them.

She knew he was trying to be sweet and fun, and she shut it down without really knowing why. Maybe it was something about the uneasiness of being in a happy place with him while the weight of the world ending was still beckoning to be solved.

They were called back to the FBI and the X-Files for more than just hunting man-sized lizards that chewed on people’s necks. The countdown to an invasion had been looming in the air and over their heads. Those who called out the truth were silenced. Tad O’Malley was still missing. There were a lot of loose ends they had to tie up besides stopping an invasion to end the human race…

Maybe they could figure out their relationship after they saved the world. Maybe there would never be a good time to do that, and she just had to get over herself and their history to allow herself to be happy.

Scully grabbed her undergarments and brought them to the bathroom to begin making a mental list of things she needed to complete today as she showered. Mulder had left a message with Guy Mann’s psychiatrist for an interview. She had clothing that needed to be picked up from the dry cleaners, then meet with a lab technician to sign in their evidence to be processed before she would have to meet up with Mulder to discuss her findings.

Before they did anything else, they needed to finish up with the crime scene at the motel room in Shawan. Scully looked for her underpants among her nylons, listening to the bathroom door for any kind of movement. She needed underwear and could have sworn she grabbed some…

Scully opened the door slightly and quietly called Mulder’s name.

If Mulder had been sleeping, she would have heard some light snoring. Deciding it was safe, she tucked a towel tightly around her torso and walked into the bedroom area. The sheets had been pulled up haphazardly and his running shoes under the bench were gone.

Deciding that the coast was clear for a few minutes, Scully tossed her towel onto the bed and brushed her teeth at the sink. She kept her hair in the loose bun at the top of her head and inspected her face under the bright white lights that were favoured among hotel bathrooms. After rinsing out her mouth, she walked back to her suitcase to locate her missing underwear. She spotted something out of the corner of her eye and noticed it on the floor near the closet.

She sighed as she crossed the room to pick up her panties where she had clearly dropped them on her way to the bathroom. It was as she was standing up that the door beeped to announce it’s opening and she froze. The door swung open slowly, and Mulder maneuvered inside. His hands were full of his room key and a cardboard tray that was packed with bottled water and take out coffee. A small white bag of what could possibly be baked goods hung from his mouth, and his eyes spotted her immediately.

“Muh-” she squeaked.

The door shut behind him with a gentle click, and Mulder stood frozen. The bag dropped from his mouth onto the coffee cups with a small thud, but he didn’t move.

Neither did she.

His eyes flit up and down her naked form. She felt her skin grow warm as he took in the sight of her, and she glanced down to see an obvious reaction stirring in his pants.

After their conversation from last night came flooding back, her embarrassment turned into anger.

“Turn around!” she cried suddenly.

Mulder spun in place quickly to set the food down on the small enclave behind the door. “Sorry…”

Scully ran quickly to her towel in the bedroom and wrapped it around her again. She pulled her underwear up her legs and felt the humiliation soak into her skin like a sunburn.

“Are you decent?” he asked after a long beat of silence.

Scully brushed the loose tendrils from her face and huffed in embarrassment. “I suppose.”

Mulder cleared his throat and sniffed one nostril. It was his tick when he was uncomfortable or trying to regain some composure.

He brought the items to the small table by the patio door and avoided eye contact as he opened a bottle of water. He drank half of it before setting it down and sitting on the plush armchair. He looked slightly traumatized.

“Mulder-”

“I need the shower when you’re done in there,” he said as he stared at the carpet beyond the table.

He couldn’t spend the rest of his life avoiding eye contact. They had seen one another in all states of undress in the past. At the very least, he could chalk it up to another one of those incidents and get over it. She was trying to do the same.

“Could you look at me?” she asked him, and he shook his head. “Why not?”

“I think… it would be… a bad idea,” he said slowly.

She narrowed her eyes. “Why? I trust you.”

“I… don’t…” he began as he glanced down to his sweatpants with his right leg bouncing and shook his head again. He looked at her slowly, and she saw the hunger in his eyes mixed with pain. “Scully, please. Get dressed.”

It wasn’t the first time he had seen her naked in a non-romantic scenario, and she guessed it wouldn’t be the last. This experience was closer to a scenario they had to endure at Fort Marlene where they were stripped of their attire in front of one another versus a romantic evening where he had peeled the clothes off of her.

When she emerged from the bathroom with her skirt, blouse and nylons on, Mulder was standing on the deck with his coffee and pastry. She grabbed one for herself to eat while she did her makeup. Mulder walked by her and closed the door to the bathroom with a bit more force than she anticipated.

After twenty-five years as partners and more than half of that as his lover, Scully had to know that the anger he was feeling was masking something else. Maybe his insecurities and frustrations were the source of everything. That seemed more plausible than him actually being mad at her for walking in on her naked.

Fifteen years ago, that Mulder would have dropped the items on the floor and fucked her senseless before dragging her into another shower so he could get her a little dirtier before washing her clean. Even the man she visited on occasion would have the same vigour to her naked frame. Maybe if she hadn’t made her comments last night to shut down what was harmless banter, it wouldn’t be so awkward. Things were very different between them since they came back to work but weren’t able to sort through the mess of their personal lives.

As she was putting the finishing touches on her makeup, Mulder exited the bathroom with his pressed shirt half buttoned up and his belt looped but not fastened around his waist. Scully watched him in the reflection of the mirror and saw his eyes dart to her backside as she leaned over the counter. His hair was spiking up in all directions. He had a light charcoal suit on for today’s portion of the investigation, and she had to appreciate that his tie choices were more professional than the hideous ones he had in the 90s.

After using a brush on his hair to tame it down, he stood in front of the mirror for a beat. Scully pulled her hair from the bun she had it in earlier and carefully styled her hair. The silence in the room was comfortable enough to let go of what transpired earlier. She was taken back to a time when they were much younger and sharing a quiet morning in a motel room had been followed by more X-rated activities than Mulder’s boob grab this morning.

“What time is the sheriff expecting us?” Mulder asked as he tucked in his shirt. His fingers worked on the doing up the rest of his shirt and fiddled with the buttons at the collar.

“In half an hour,” she replied and took a sip from her coffee.

Mulder got to the top button and made a strained face that declared an inability to complete his task, and he looked at her helplessly. Scully set down her mascara wand and fastened it closed before laughing at him lightly to help.

“Are you going to manage your tie on your own?” she asked as she pushed his chin up to fasten the small button. She ran her hands down his right arm and buttoned the cuff. She dropped his arm, and he offered the left to have the same done to it. Scully looked up in his eyes and saw the look from earlier. It wasn’t mixed with hurt as much as it was fighting his desire. “Mulder?”

“Yeah…” he managed with a gruffness to his voice that also indicated his yearning.

“Your tie?” she reminded him.

“This is a little too Ozzy and Harriet for me,” he muttered as he handed the periwinkle blue garment to her.

Spotting the mirror across from their bed, Scully pulled her skirt up a little and climbed on top of the bench at the end of the bed. Standing between their suitcases, she took the tie from Mulder and measured it out along his torso. “I suppose this does have an element of domesticity that resembles a nostalgic time, but I don’t think that Harriet ever wore a pencil skirt.”

Mulder put his hands in his pockets and clenched his jaw as she fiddled with the material. “I’ll forgive your change in wardrobe since you look pretty great in what you’re wearing.”

“I doubt Harriet ever had to stand on a bench to help Ozzy with his tie,” she replied as she began working a double Windsor knot into formation.

Mulder’s eyebrows were raised in anticipation as she looped the fabric around itself and then pulled it tight. She got it to his belt buckle exactly and he nodded in approval.

“You’re pretty good at that,” he remarked as he turned around and flattened his tie down his torso. He puffed his chest a bit as Scully placed a hand on his shoulder to get down from the bench. “Want me to help you with anything you got going on there?”

Scully arched an eyebrow and grinned. “Maybe later.”

Mulder sighed as she fixed the collar on his shirt from below. Admittedly, she should have stayed where they were closer to eye level.

“You think this is why things between us get so muddled?”

“What do you mean?” she asked lightly as she felt the edges of his collar.

“We don’t ever act like we are just partners,” he pointed out as her face aligned with his to fix the right side. “Not like the other agents, anyway.”

“I don’t see you as just my partner,” she answered quietly. Her hands smoothed out the material across his broad shoulders, and she smiled. “We’re friends… We’ve been more than friends for a long time…”

Mulder grinned at her and there was a beat where she thought they might say 'fuck it' and spend the morning in bed making up for all the lost time that they had wasted by being angry and hurt by each other for their own selfish and stupid actions.

“This is the kind of conversation that makes me want to-”

Mulder’s phone buzzed on the desk, and he halted his thought to look at his phone. Scully took the opportunity to adjust her clothing in the tall mirror near the closet.

“Duty calls?” she guessed as he tucked the phone in his suit pocket.

“Yeah, we need to get to the motel in Shawan to make our statements,” he answered as his eyes searched the room. He picked up a coffee cup from the dresser and inspected the edge. “This is mine, right?”

“Mulder-”

He took a tentative sip and shook his head. “No, this is yours.”

Scully sighed and slipped her shoes on and grabbed her blue trench coat. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Get those little legs moving,” he chided with a waggle of his eyebrows as he passed her with his suit jacket in hand.

“Keep it up, Spooky,” she retorted as the door closed behind them.

 

*** *** ***

 

Mulder spent the majority of his interview flipping the prescription bottle between his fingers. The sound of the pills sliding slowly from one end of the plastic tube to the other was distracting. At one point as Scully was being interviewed, she turned around and placed a stilling hand on Mulder’s in an attempt to ask him to stop.

She did it without thinking or missing a beat in her statement, but Mulder stumbled a moment as he monologued behind her.

When he left the seedy motel they had planned to stay at, he paused at the doorway and smoothed his tie down his chest.

If there was a message in that action, she couldn’t place it, but Scully had other avenues to explore. Her phone rang as she was dialling the morgue.

“Scully,” she answered.

“Agent Scully, this is Harriet at the lab,” the woman greeted. “I want to forward on the results to you about the samples you sent over. I think you’ll find they’re not as interesting as we had hoped.”

The technician's name being Harriet and relating to Ozzy and Harriet wasn't lost on Scully but it wasn't the time to focus on the coincidence of it all. 

“Oh really?” she questioned as she watched Mulder walk to his car.

“The saliva you found is human,” Harriet continued. “We’re going to run a further analysis, but I don’t think you’re looking for an animal.”

Scully looked down at her shoes as she moved along the sidewalk. “Well, I didn’t say animal. My partner-”

“I know,” Harriet interrupted. “He called this morning from his car to tell us to look for lizard DNA… Those were his words, by the way.”

She fought back a laugh. “That doesn’t surprise me.”

“Agent Scully?” a deputy called from behind her.

“I’m sorry, Harriet. I have to go,” she told the woman on the phone. “I can come by when I’m done here.”

“Sounds good,” Harriet agreed and hung up.

Scully tucked her phone back in her jacket pocket and turned to the deputy. “Yes, how can I help you?”

“This is the room that Agent Mulder said was trashed, right?” he asked her as he pointed to the open door.

Scully approached slowly and looked inside. “Yes. Note the taxidermy head on the ground.”

“I found a pay stub for Smart Phones Is Us in this bag,” he announced as he walked inside and held up the turquoise paper bag.

“Smart Phones Is Us?” she repeated with obvious disapproval at the poor grammar.

The deputy nodded. “I think the guy who is living here might work there.”

Scully nodded in approval. “Great job.”

“Guy Mann sounds like a fake name,” he muttered as Scully left the room.

Letting out a heavy sigh as she walked to her car, she pressed the auto-start on her key fob and looked up the address of the phone store on her cell phone. If she was with Mulder, he would have insisted that they drive around Shawan without getting a general idea of where to go because he found a strange excitement of discovering new cities without a map.

As much as the man excited her, his ability to infuriate her was also of epic proportions. It only made sense to assume that he felt the same way about her. She could see the impatience in his eyes as she attempted to plot out the travel time to get from their hotel to the airport.

Mulder liked to fly by the seat of his pants so often he probably had frequent flyer miles on his Armani suits.

As she parked outside Smart Phones Is Us, her phone buzzed to alert her to an email. Scully opened the PDF document and scanned quickly to the results of the blood tests and samples she had taken. Comparatively, the blood on Mulder’s face should have matched the DNA collected from the victims left behind from the killer. Whatever murdered the people in the forest was not from the same species that spit blood at Mulder the night before. That DNA belonged to a non-caucasian human male.

The lab had concluded that the reptile blood on Mulder’s face was in fact from a horned lizard. The problem was that the creature that shot blood at Mulder was the size of a man and not a small reptile. That would be another question Scully would have to try to answer when Mulder ranted on about the mysteries of the universe.

Curious of the kind of large reptiles that could be native to the area, Scully typed in ‘worlds most dangerous lizards’ into her smart phone and clicked on the first link that showed up on her google search page.

“Where is the horny toad?” she wondered aloud.

Scully dialled Mulder as she exited her vehicle at the curb outside the store.

He answered the phone after the first ring. “Mulder.”

“Mulder, it’s me,” she began. “I can’t believe I’m about to say what I’m about to say but… I think I just found your horny toad lizard man. By the way, that’s not what they’re called.”

“Really?” he inquired excitedly.

“Yeah,” she said with a laugh. “He matches the description from the creepy motel manager.”

“As a man or a lizard?” he teased and she laughed. “Where are you?”

“At the phone store by the motel,” Scully answered. “It looks like he works here.”

“I’ll be right there,” he said urgently.

“But Mulder,” she began to protest. “I just got an email with the lab results, the blood tests from yesterday and there’s some discrepancies. The horned lizard you are so adamant this thing is or whatever is only native to New Zealand. They don’t live in Western North America.”

“Is it possible one of them lived at a zoo, was stolen by a scientist and created a half-man, half-lizard creature that hunts humans in revenge to its own creation?” he quipped and Scully rolled her eyes. “Scully? Are you there?”

“I’m here, but… I’m not sure what the hell you’re even going on about,” she retorted. “Look, Mulder I just want you to be aware that whatever we’re looking for or whomever we’re looking for isn’t this monster.”

There was no reply from him.

“Mulder?” she called him. “Hello?”

Apparently that was too much science and rationalization for him to handle.

As she opened the door, the man in a burgundy vest stood up in an awkward pose.

“Welcome to Smart Phones is Us,” he greeted her with a lilt in his voice that indicated he was from the South Eastern Hemisphere. “How may I assist you?”

Scully took her phone out and contemplated making up a fake excuse to get him to talk. Instead, she smiled kindly at him and reached for her badge.

“I was wondering if I could ask you some questions?” Scully began. “I’ve been brought out here due to the rise in sudden homicides-”

“I quit! I can’t do this shit anymore!” the man screamed as he flipped over the cardboard table holding the display of cell phones. They flew to the floor in a scattered pattern. “I need to get the heck out of here!”

He darted left to right in a strange animalistic pattern and then ran to the back room as he discarded his burgundy vest to the ground.

“Freedom!” he yelled.

Scully took a step back and then reached to her gun at the holster on her side to follow him to the door. She watched as he exited through to the loading door in the back of the store, yelling about hating his job.

Scully walked towards the back room and then stood in the store without an idea of what to do. She had her gun. She could have chased after him but for what? He wasn’t the suspect she was looking for; however, he was the man from the night previous.

His burgundy vest lay in a pile at the exit, and she picked it up where the name tag “GUY” was affixed. Scully placed the garment on the side counter and walked towards the display where the phones were scattered.

Mulder pulled up to the curb as she was reading through the report from the lab. He pushed the door open and his voice was raised an octave when he asked her, “What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I came in and I asked him if I could ask him a few questions. He suddenly yelled ‘I quit’ and went on a rampage. He fled out the back through the stockroom.”

“What are you doing?” he lectured her, clearly upset and rattled for her safety. Scully rolled her eyes. “You know it’s not safe to approach a dangerous suspect without backup.”

It was tempting to remind him of all the times that he ditched her to chase after someone or something only to end up in trouble. Usually, these escapades resulted in Scully needing to rescue his ass from whatever shenanigans he had gotten himself into.

“Which way did he go?” he questioned.

“He went that way, down the back alley,” she answered, and Mulder darted out the door. “But Mulder I got the results back from the lab and…”

She sighed.

“Why do I even bother?” she asked aloud to no one.

A young man in a burgundy vest with a backwards ball cap walked in carrying a Slurpee and reading information off his cell phone. He looked up from his phone to take in the scene and then to Scully.

“Woah,” he declared. “Uh… are you the new manager?”

Scully pulled out her badge. “My name is Dana Scully. I’m a Special Agent with the FBI. I came in to ask the man who was working here today some questions.”

“Are you talking about Guy?” he clarified, and she nodded as she tucked her badge back in her pocket. “Yeah, he just started but got promoted to a manager. I think it’s the moustache and accent. New Zealand or something.”

“He’s from New Zealand?” Scully asked and the young man shrugged. “Can I leave you my business card? If he comes back, I’d like to speak with him.”

“He didn’t leave his keys, did he?” the young man asked as he looked around. “I don’t really want to stay if this place is a mess.”

She pulled her lips tight and shook her head. “Maybe call the other manager to ask him what to do.”

“What other manager?” the young man asked.

She shook her head. “Whoever promoted Guy to being a manager.”

“What guy?”

This kid couldn’t be serious.

Scully pinched the bridge of her nose and pulled out a business card with her cell number on it. “Call me if he comes back.”

“Who?”

“Guy Mann,” she stated as she stepped over the phones. As she stood at the doorway, she indicated to the mess on the floor. “You should clean all this up.”

“Awe, dude,” the teen whined and set his cup down with a disgruntled attitude.

Scully shook her head and walked back to her car. The only thing she could do now was pick up her laundry from the cleaners and go to the lab to pick up a report to include with her own findings on the case.

She sent Mulder a text message to let him know where she was going and googled the directions to the lab. Once plotting her course, she started her engine using the key fob and walked slowly to her vehicle, appreciating the warm afternoon they were having.

Her phone buzzed again with an email request from A.D. Skinner asking for a progress report. Scully shed her jacket and plugged her phone into the car charger while she contemplated what to tell her boss.

So far, the only thing that was unexplainable was Guy Mann. The real murderers and creeps of Shawan, Oregon were nothing out of the ordinary from any other small town with a dark underbelly. Aside from the horny toad lizard man, the X-Files unit wasn’t the section of the FBI to call out to this location to investigate a string of murders.

Skinner’s assistant picked up after the third ring and immediately patched Scully through to their boss, just as she was buckling up her seatbelt. It surprised Scully after all these years that he was still with the same assistant. She wondered what the common relationship length between A.D. and assistant was in the FBI these days.

“What’s going on out there, Agent Scully?” Skinner asked with a gruffness that she recognized that indicated he was in the middle of a mountain of paperwork.

“The paranormal side of the case aside, the murders all appear to be committed by one individual without a history of violence,” Scully began. She chose to keep the car idling as she checked in with Skinner in hopes of avoiding a bluetooth mix up that would only test his patience. “No prior run-ins with the law.”

“Do you have a suspect in mind?” he asked.

“I do,” she answered as she turned the radio down. “I was going to interview him further to ensure he was in fact the man I am looking for. The last few people I’ve spoken to have taken off suddenly. It might be something in the water here.”

“What do you mean?” Skinner clarified.

“The first man we suspected ran off-” she began. “It doesn’t matter. He’s not our person of interest. I thought he might have had some insight into the murders, but he’s an odd man.”

Skinner sighed. “How much do you have left to do? Every day you’re in the field adds up. The budget for the X-Files is more modest than Agent Mulder is giving it credit for.”

“I have a report to finish and I need to wait for Mulder.. before, um... He’s… not answering the phone, right now.”

Skinner sniffed once and asked his assistant to give him a moment quietly. There was a pause, and the phone line became clear again.

“I tried reaching you at the motel you booked in Shawan. They said that you and Agent Mulder had checked out last night,” he started quietly. “Is there a reason that your company credit card was charged at an upscale hotel the next town over for only one room? Near midnight, no less?”

Scully shifted uncomfortably in her seat as she licked her lower lip and contemplated how she would explain her previous evening to her boss. “We um… arrested the motel manager. He was using taxidermy masks on the walls of each room to spy on his guests. The only place with an open room in the area was at the River House in Florence. ”

“Did he see you-”

“I don’t know,” Scully cut him off, hoping to avoid the thought from forming a picture in her mind of what the shrivelled man would be doing on the other side of her wall. “He said it was for security after 9/11.”

“I get really tired of perverts and creeps using a tragedy to explain why they act like garbage,” he sighed, and she heard his pen click a few times. It was another tick of his when he was trying to get back to work. “Well, you’re a big girl - uh I mean, you’re a full agent. Call the sheriff’s office for back up, arrest the real murderer and get back to Washington as soon as possible. Whatever Mulder is off doing can’t look good for the FBI. Remind him that everyone carries cell phones with cameras these days.”

“Yes, sir,” Scully replied, and Skinner hung up on his end.

Scully looked around and then dialled back to the sheriff’s office. They agreed to meet at the main Animal Control office in the next two hours. It would give Scully enough time to get her laundry, and she could swing by the lab when she was finished. Perhaps Mulder would be back from whatever jaunt he went on by then.

The idea that Mulder was off acting foolish and possibly being filmed on camera gave Scully a sizable amount of anxiety. The only thing she could do until she reached Mulder was her job.

The lab technician that emailed her earlier sent a text message that asked if she was on her way. Apparently, lab technicians had other work to complete that day too.

She called Mulder one last time before going to the lab and decided to give him an hour before she pestered him again. If this case was going to get solved with logic and science, it was up to her.

Chapter Text

The laboratory that had been calling Scully worked out of the same building as the morgue and some medical offices. As she signed in to the visitor’s log, the technician that had been trying to contact her came to the front desk.

“I thought you went back to Washington,” the technician, Harriet, greeted her. “Not that I hoped that, but I assumed it.”

Scully smiled at the young woman in the lab coat with a Black Panther comic T-shirt on and dress pants. “You’re out of luck. I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Harriet nodded. “Figures. So do you want to take a look at the full spectrum I ran on the blood versus the saliva you collected from the last victim?”

“I can’t wait,” Scully joked as they were buzzed into the lab, and Harriet laughed.

They walked through the small lab where three other men were working. Their ages ranging from Harriet’s late twenties to her own age. They eyed Harriet and Scully with suspicion and something else that made her uneasy. She saw the same look in the eyes of men at the FBI and during her medical career. It was predatory and disdain, as though the fact that she was a scientist and an FBI Agent were too many titles for a woman to hold. Harriet’s quick work and bold apparel choices probably made her a target for not trying to conform to their idea of what a scientist should be.

“What’s that?” Scully asked as she pointed to the pole wrapped in plastic on one of the tables near them.

“That was found at the crime scene in the parking lot but not near the body,” Harriet replied. “I think it belonged to the animal control officer. It might just be garbage.”

Scully nodded and gave Harriet an expectant look. Harriet turned to her laptop and signed on to have a report pop up on the screen.

“You’d be surprised what we can pull from DNA these days. Saliva has all kinds of markers that give away information on suspects,” Harriet told her as she ignored her colleagues twenty feet away. Scully knew all this, but it was nice to talk to her anyway. “As I said in my report, the murderer of the victims in the woods is the same as the man killed in the parking lot.”

“That makes sense since having two people in Shawan going around biting the necks and killing people would be an anomaly for such a small population,” Scully agreed.

“I think what you’ll find to be interesting is that there is nothing unusual about the bite marks,” Harriet told her as she pulled out the slides of the impressions from the victims. She put one up on the light table on the desk, and the outline of a human imprint illuminated in front of them. “I would never do this, but if I was the killer, I would at least sharpen some of my front teeth to make the killing process easier.”

Harriet had formed her hand into a claw and was gesturing over her mouth. She paused with eyes widened, obviously realizing how her last statement came across, and shook her head.

“You’d make a good profiler if you ever decided to get out of the lab,” Scully noted with a smile.

“Not in this neck of the woods,” the lab tech said with a sigh. “I think the fact that what’s under my clothing doesn’t look the same as theirs is controversy enough. When I started here a year ago, there were a lot of bikini posters in the area that somehow added to their morale. I quickly ensured they were taken down. Our boss tried to say it’s harmless because they’re just a few science nerds, but they can be the worst for that way of thinking.”

“I can sympathize completely,” Scully assured her.

“I’m being blocked by the Sheriff’s department from publishing my findings,” Harriet began. “But what I was able to discover was that the DNA belongs to an employee with the State of Oregon.”

That didn’t make any sense.

“Why would the Sheriff prevent you from publishing your findings?” Scully asked, confused. “Do you know who it is?”

“No, I can’t actually find the name in the system until the Sheriff allows my report to publish,” Harriet explained. “It’s a system they put in place when everything in our lab became reliant on digital signatures, FOB key entry and codes to access our computers. I can use my digital code to access any computer in the lab and it brings up my own version of the system. We then have a chance to put things on a group server for other staff to access…”

“It’s sort of like that with our FBI system,” Scully replied. “We have to submit everything digitally, but our boss still appreciates a hard copy.”

“How many filing cabinets do you have in your office?” Harriet asked.

"More than you'd think," Scully sighed with a nod.

Harriet sighed as well. “I’m just frustrated that I keep being stalled at every turn.”

“Will the Sheriff at least look over your report today?” she asked, and the lab tech shook her head. “Why the hell not?”

“If one of their own is responsible for the murders,” Harriet began.

Scully nodded as she finished the thought, “It could be bad news for the Sheriff’s department.”

Harriet held up a digital pen and indicated to the small screen that looked like the thing at the DMV where one signed for their driver’s licence. “Once you sign off on what I’ve already sent you, I can release it to the Sheriff, and they will submit it for your report.”

“Is that common practice here for a law enforcement officer to sign off on what you discover before it’s allowed to be published with other law enforcement agencies?” Scully asked as she signed her name on the small window.

“Sure,” she affirmed. “The sheriff’s department doesn’t want evidence coming forward that doesn’t match with their assumptions. Although, we don’t really get this kind of thing very often - something so salacious that we need the FBI involved. Sudden deaths, theft or the odd rape has us involved in the case. Statistically, a murder in a sleepy, small hamlet like Shawan is committed by someone known to the community and not by a transient member of society - although the boys in blue don’t like to admit such things.”

“I would say your assessment is accurate,” Scully agreed and placed a reassuring hand on Harriet’s arm. “It’s not easy to be a woman in law enforcement or science, so I admire that you’ve stayed here among the misogyny and slow progression.”

“How long did you work in science before you switched over to the FBI?” Harriet asked as she leaned her elbows on the tall desk.

“I was recruited out of medical school and then went back to medicine in the early 2000s,” Scully explained. “I had to go through a lot of hoops as an older but new doctor.”

“I can’t imagine how difficult that would be,” Harriet sympathized.

Scully handed another card to Harriet. “This has my email address on the back. If you ever want to commiserate about being a woman in STEM, I am open to talking.”

Harriet’s cheeks pinked. “I appreciate that, thank you.”

“I better get going,” Scully sighed. “I need to pick up my dry cleaning and interview one last person. My boss wants us to wrap this up by tomorrow.”

The tech picked up a tall metal water bottle from her desk and took a drink. “Is that normal for you to be expected to solve a murder in only a few days?”

Scully paused. “Well… I suppose since the paranormal part of our investigation isn’t related to the actual murders taking place here, we are wasting the money of the taxpayers, and there are a lot of people that would have some disdain for our mere presence here.”

“Oh don’t get me started on that garbage,” Harriet whispered and eyed one of the men across the room. “Our lab is expected to process evidence for the entire county as though each piece is the only one in the building. They don’t understand that science takes time.”

Scully liked Harriet. “You’re doing great.”

“If people like me don’t exist in small towns, then we stay backwards and can’t push forward to better things with equality,” Harriet noted. She extended her hand to Scully. “I really appreciate seeing someone like you in your position. If it wasn’t for women like you, women like me would have a lot harder of a time getting equal footing. You’re my new feminist icon.”

She shook her hand and laughed. “I don’t know… well, I guess… okay, that’s fine.”

They both laughed and said their farewells so that Scully could get on with the rest of her day. She hoped someone like Harriet would continue to push for smart changes and create equality so that young women growing up in Shawan could see they didn’t need to leave to have a fair chance in STEM.

As Scully sat in her car with the full report in hand, she checked her phone again for Mulder to call back.

“Come on, Mulder,” she muttered in the car. “Where the hell are you?

Instead of waiting for the sheriff’s department, Scully decided to drive there herself. She was under direct orders to wrap it up, and she didn’t want to come under extra scrutiny when their assignment had been a reluctant one from Skinner in the first place.

*** ***

When Scully arrived at the sheriff’s office, she could feel the frustration and anger bubbling inside of her. Mulder was nowhere to be found, the deputies were stalling with the investigation, and the lab was being stalled by the sheriff’s department.

Scully was starting to feel like she was the only person in town who was working. As she pulled the door open to the building, she found exactly what she expected.

The five officers on duty, including the sheriff, were sitting around a television in the bullpen with coffee, doughnuts and various snacks.

“Sons of bitches,” she muttered.

Scully pulled open the next door to inside the bullpen and signed her name with the auxiliary member.

“Good afternoo-”

“Save it,” Scully cut him off. She rounded the corner and entered the office space with fire in her belly. “Gentlemen, sorry to interrupt.”

The deputies that had blown Scully off stood up abruptly while trying to hide the doughnuts in hand.

“Agent Scully,” Sheriff Kenney greeted with a slow drawl that only seemed to exist in Oregon. “How are you doing this fine afternoon?”

“I’m a little annoyed, to be honest,” she began and set her bag on the nearest desk. She put her hands on her hips and looked around the room at the men who were all beginning to look sheepish. “Did you or did you not get the DNA report sent over from the lab this morning?”

Kenney spun his chair back and forth like a juvenile delinquent trying to charm his way out of trouble. “I did, but as you can see, we are in the middle of a staff meeting.”

“Watching Dukes of Hazard reruns?” Scully asked, gesturing to the orange Dodge Charger flying across the flatscreen television. “I can’t imagine The General has any insight into this case.”

“He might,” Kenney noted, and one of the deputies snickered.

A radio on the hip of a nearby deputy buzzed. “There’s a call for a disturbance at the cemetery. Two inebriated men have been fighting and one of them is passed out on a tombstone.”

“Why don’t you look into that?” Kenney suggested to the deputy to his right and turned his attention back to Scully. He moved a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other and smiled at her almost predatorily.

Scully pressed her lips together and took a calming breath. “I suppose I should apologize for expecting you to do more. I can see now that this murder investigation was beyond the capabilities for a small town office such as this. The third victim was a park ranger. I would have assumed that would create some kind of urgency in you to find whoever is killing these people, but that was also a misstep on my part. I’ll be calling the nearest FBI office to have them bring a team out to assist us in completing this case. I remind you their stay in Shawan will be on your tax dollars, and their agents will be taking over this bullpen to complete their work. I’m so sorry this didn’t work out.”

Kenney stood up quickly. “Now missy, you just wait a darned minute-”

“No you wait a minute, Sheriff,” Scully cut him off. “Someone is killing innocent people, and I have the report to prove that it’s by strangulation. The only thing this damned town is going to be known for is the incompetence of this office because a simple DNA sample can’t be run through to stop a murderer from killing again.”

The deputies behind Kenney shuffled their feet and began to look ashamed.

“I can’t release any information that would create an uproar in this community,” Kenney explained, almost secretively.

“You have until the end of the day,” Scully told him sternly. “And then I’m calling in the cavalry, and you can explain to the city why it had to unnecessarily foot the bill instead of allowing my partner and I to complete our work.”

Kenney opened his mouth, and she held up a finger which seemed to stop him.

“I’ll be in touch, Sir,” she departed and walked quickly out of the bullpen as they contemplated her threat.

It wasn’t a solid threat, though. The last thing she wanted was to reach out for help from another FBI office, but this case needed a strong arm. Unfortunately, without Mulder, she was running into too many obstacles.

Scully called Mulder’s phone when she got back to her car, and it went straight to voicemail. She hung up angrily and tossed her cell phone on the passenger seat.

“What the fuck!” she cried out, and her body experienced a slight release of tension from her outburst.

Just when she was about to drive back to Florence to take a long soak in the deep tub in their shared hotel room, her phone rang.

“Scully,” she answered sharply.

There was grunting and panting in the background. Scully pulled the phone away from her ear and saw Mulder’s caller ID.

“Mulder?” she called. “Mulder, are you okay?”

“Grief hits us all hard,” a voice spoke in the background.

“Shame,” another voice commented.

The line clicked off, and she put her phone back down on the passenger seat. Scully pinched the bridge of her nose and wondered if she could get a migraine from all the incompetence.

There wasn’t time to chase Mulder around Shawan and look for a killer. If she was going to do one or the other, she had to choose the latter. Mulder was a grown man who could take care of himself… most of the time. The fact that she even had to search for him was frustrating. She didn’t have time to worry about blowing him off when she was under orders to get back to D.C. as soon as possible.

“What’s next?” she asked herself.

The only thing she had left to do was to look for information where there was nothing. She could deduce and analyze what she had and try to find something in any evidence that the sheriff hadn’t wrapped into their case.

Scully pulled out the file sitting on the passenger seat and began looking through the photos of the victims. The marks on their necks were atypical to most strangulation cases. The pattern looked familiar.

She texted Harriet and asked her to test the pole that she considered garbage. The thin metal rope could very well be the cause of the serrated marks.

Scully punched in the address of the lab into her GPS and drove the short distance across town to find her answers.

“This town would benefit from a lab closer to the police station,” she muttered as she turned back onto the main highway through Shawan towards her destination.

Talking to herself when she was angry was typical for her, but she refrained from speeding down the highway on the off-chance one of the deputies in Shawan was actually working that day on traffic patrol.

As she pulled into the parking lot of the lab and found a spot close to the entrance, the other lab employees were leaving the building. Scully took a look to her watch and realized the men were going for lunch together, clearly without Harriet.

When Scully found her, the lone woman lab technician was sitting in the break room at the small table with a salad and a cup of sectioned pineapple.

“What’s a nice woman like you doing in a dump like this?” Scully greeted her, and Harriet laughed. “Not invited for lunch?”

Harriet shook her head and tucked a loose strand of auburn hair behind her ear. “The topics of conversation usually put me off my appetite.”

“Is it that terrible?” Scully asked with concern as she sat adjacent to Harriet, and the young woman shrugged. “Is there anyone you can speak to about it?”

“The conversations are happening outside of the lab so the only option I have is to not go,” she replied with a sigh and pushed the Tupperware container of pineapple towards her. “Acidic sweet delight?”

Scully chuffed a laugh and carefully picked up a piece between her forefinger and thumb. “I guess I was lucky that I was paired with a man who was an outsider among his peers so I was rarely excluded from conversations like that.”

Harriet nodded. “I suppose that’s a relief.”

She shrugged. “Mulder was very brazen about certain aspects of his personality but treated me like he would any other agent. I suppose now it might seem a little inappropriate but… I felt like it was a sign of respect. He never said or did anything that made me uncomfortable. I always felt like his equal in every respect.”

Harriet furrowed her brow. “I don’t think I’m being oversensitive-”

Scully put her hand up. “I don’t think you are at all. The men I faced outside of the office could be awful, but Mulder wasn’t the Franklin Hart, Jr. type.”

“Nine to Five,” Harriet said knowingly with a nod. “I love that movie. Dolly Parton is a dream. It got me into her music.”

“She writes a good theme song,” Scully agreed and ate another piece of pineapple.

Harriet shook her head with a smile. “Well, I suppose I feel less sorry for you coming up in the nineties now.”

“The nineties weren’t the greatest for a lot of reasons,” Scully affirmed. “But if it makes you feel any better, I made more money than my male counterparts because of my degrees.”

She smiled through a bite of her salad and chewed quickly. “Actually… that does make me feel better. I know the men respect my work, and it would be nice to have an ally at the office… Regardless, I have to continue to let my work speak for itself.”

Scully folded her hands on the table. “I’m glad I could help. Now, I need to talk to you about the other evidence collected at the parking lot that wasn’t marked for this case but found adjacent to the last body. I received a full report from the Medical Examiner. These victims were strangled.”

Harriet set her non-plastic fork on her cloth napkin and set her her elbows on the table to lean towards Scully. “I’m interested.”

“Do you think you could test that evidence under a different case number but still run your findings against the DNA samples of the victims?” she asked.

“I can swab the pole to look for evidence on there and see if anything comes back without a case number,” Harriet confirmed with a slow nod. “Are you thinking it’s linked to your murder case?”

“I do,” Scully affirmed. “It’s just a hunch. I don’t have any evidence to support it without that pole having the DNA on it so I can’t really push the envelope with the sheriff.”

Harriet gave her a nod, and they got to work. Finding an ally in Shawan, Oregon surprised Scully, and she hoped what they were working towards would result in a win for both of them.

*** *** ***

Scully dialled the number to the sheriff’s office as she followed the directions on her GPS to the Animal Control Centre. She had enough evidence to nab the killer, and this time, the sheriff couldn’t do anything to stop it. She knew where her suspect worked, but she needed to ensure it was who she thought it was. A few simple questions would solidify her suspicions.

After securing back up, Scully tried Mulder’s phone one last time. Wherever he was, the fact that he hadn’t contacted her yet had her filled with anxiety.

“C’mon Mulder…” she muttered to herself as she approached the building.

Scully parked her vehicle in the middle of the lot and turned off the engine. For ten minutes, she sat quietly watching the entrances at the front and to the right where the van was parked. She checked the time and tried calling Mulder again.

A deputy texted her then to let her know they were on their way. Throwing caution to the wind, Scully decided to go in.

She patted her pocket that held her handcuffs and checked the holster at her hip. The little voice in the back of her mind reminded her that if she was going to get anything done on this case, she would have to do it herself. Between Mulder’s short-lived disappearance and the sheriff digging in his heels, all that could have been wrapped up this morning was taking twice as long.

When she opened the door to the building, she noted the absence of any man or woman working. There was a dog in a cage on the desk as though it was quickly abandoned there and more animals being held in the back.

The dog cocked its head and gave Scully a hello bark.

“Hi,” she greeted and looked around. “You don’t happen to know where the guy who picked you up is, do you?”

The dog gave another bark and tried to lay down in the cage.

“Hmmm.” Scully took her phone out. In one final attempt to reach Mulder, she called his number for the sixth time that day.

“Hey Scully,” he groaned. There was some rustling around, and his voice was hoarse as if he had just woken up.

“Hey Mulder,” she replied, keeping her voice calm as she reached her fingers into the cage for the dog to sniff her. “Where have you been?”

“I fell off the wagon, Scully,” he answered gruffly as he put his phone on speaker. “I got a little taste of my old monster-hunting ways and then I downed the whole bottle.”

“I take it you found your were-lizard?” she guessed as she looked around the animal control lobby.

“Yeah, it turns out it wasn’t a man that turns into a lizard. It was a lizard that turns into a man,” he explained as though that was an answer to every question they had since going out there.

His voice was a little slurred, and she wondered if it was possible he was drunk.

“I don’t see the difference,” she noted over the dog’s whining.

“That’s the point, Scully. There is no difference!” he moaned. “Both scenarios are equally foolish. And I was foolish to believe… well, maybe I was just a fool, Scully. Maybe I always have been.”

That was insightful for a man who used a rough sketch of the Jersey Devil from a homeless man as evidence in one of their early cases. He sounded so depressed she almost felt sorry for him. She could picture him looking at her with his sad green eyes, hoping she would give him some comfort as he wallowed in self-pity.

“I’ve been trying to call you all day,” she pointed out obviously. “Why did you leave me at the phone store?”

“I-” his voice was cut off by a burp and a hiss through the phone.

Scully made a disappointed face. “Are you drunk, Mulder?”

“What are you implying?” he asked slowly.

“That your wagon you fell off was more than just metaphorical,” she answered, and he chuffed through the phone. “What have you been doing all afternoon? Why did you just take off?”

“I needed space…” he explained quietly. “That towel business this morning-”

Okay,” she cut him off.

She had half a mind to tell him about his bedtime snuggling, but she was trying to focus.

“Where are you?” he asked finally.

“I’m at the animal shelter,” she told him as she glanced down to confirm the dog in the cage was a male and not female. “I’m waiting to see that animal control officer we met the other night.”

“So he didn’t quit after all, huh?” he asked.

“No, I guess maybe he’s like us,” she mused as the dog turned his face to her. He sniffed her fingers a few times. “Some jobs keep pulling you back.”

The dog gave a nip at her index finger when he realized there was no treat to be had.

Ow!” she cried and laughed. “Oh…”

“What was that?” he asked with concern. “What happened?”

“This little puppy here just tried to take a bite out of me,” she explained, and the puppy tilted his head from side to side as she spoke. “He’s a cute little guy, though. Kind of reminds me of Queequeg. You know, there was a recent comparative cognition study that showed that dogs hold hostilities toward people that harm their masters? I mean, I guess maybe I miss having a dog to love… and someone to hold my grudges for me.”

“I hold your grudges!” he defended himself weakly. “Scully?”

A wire looped around her neck, and Scully’s hand at her ear prevented her from being strangled.

Mulder continued to ramble on, but she didn’t have the ability to call out for help. He probably was telling her all the times he got mad at other people for her.

As she was pulled back around the desk, she kept her arm up so that the noose tightened around her abdomen. At some point, she heard her phone drop to the laminate floor as she stumbled back into some empty cages that were stacked on top of each other.

Scully!” Mulder’s voice called.

She looked up as Pasha tried to climb on top of her, and she kicked him in the groin with her heel as hard as she could.

“Fuck!” he cried out as he fell over to the ground. He knocked over two cages where five chickens were suddenly flying out towards her.

She shook the noose off of her and got to her feet as quickly as she could. Another cage knocked over. Two dogs, three goats, a cat and the chickens were now running around the space.

Pasha stumbled back and knocked over more of the cages. He snarled at her as he tried to stand up, “You’re going to pay-”

Scully shoved her hand forward and hit him square between the eyes.

Dammit!” he groaned as he fell to the floor.

She put her knee directly onto his back to pin him down, and he cried out in pain. As she reached for her cuffs, a young couple entered the building with a flyer in hand.

“Help!” Pasha cried frantically. “I’m being racially targeted by the FBI!”

“This man is a murderer,” Scully called as she pressed her knee into his back harder. “Call 911!”

Pasha pressed his face into the ground. “Why didn’t that work?”

Scully saw the lights from a law enforcement vehicle and slipped the handcuffs around his wrists.

Mulder burst through the door with two deputies behind him. “Scully!”

“Hey,” she called. “You missed all the fun.”

“Are you okay?” he asked as he moved towards her. A retriever whined at his feet, and he gave the dog a quick pat.

“Yeah, but I hate to disappoint you. It wasn’t some monster running around, killing people and eating their flesh. It was a normal human being.”

“Did you know it was him before coming here?” he asked with his hands on his hips.

“Yeah,” she started as she pulled on Pasha’s shoulder. “That one autopsy result showed that the actual cause of death was strangulation.”

As she pulled Pasha to his feet, the man struggled under her grip haphazardly.

“And so, on a hunch, I analyzed the pole that he left behind, and there was tissue and blood from previous victims,” she finished proudly as she strained to lift the man up by his bound arms.

“It all started when I was a child,” Pasha began to explain. “This uncontrollable urge to torture small animals. As I got older, my compulsion didn’t vanish-”

“Okay, all right,” Scully cut him off. “Leave it for the trial.”

Scully walked Pasha towards the deputies.

“You’re right Mulder,” she sighed as she moved towards him. “You’ve seen one serial killer, you’ve seen them all.”

The officers took Pasha into custody and gave her an appreciative nod.

“But I have a whole speech prepared…” Pasha stammered. “That I…”

“Come on,” the first officer cut him off.

They took him by each arm and walked him quickly to the door.

A rooster bellowed towards the back of the building, and she wondered if Mulder found half of this scenario as funny as she did.

They stood opposite each other, and he gave her a questioning look.

“Scully, that is the second time you’ve approached a dangerous suspect without backup,” he lectured her.

Apparently he didn’t.

“What’s going on?”

She wanted to point out that Mulder had been M.I.A. all day, but she decided not to harp on that.

“I thought you would want to spend more quality time with your lizard man,” she replied as she reached for the bottom of his tie. She gave his chest a few light taps as she said, “Besides, you forget - I’m immortal.”

“I didn’t think you would ever say those words,” he noted as his eyes moved from her mouth down to her hand that was playing with the tip of his tie. “I can see that you’re feeling pretty satisfied with yourself.”

“Sure,” she agreed. “Feels nice to have some science to back all of this up.”

Science,” he muttered under his breath, but he was amused by her.

It suddenly occurred to her that Pasha’s arrest wasn’t surprising him as much as she thought it might.

“Oh, Mulder,” she said as she turned back. “How did you figure out it was him?”

“Oh, I was going over those photos I took, and I realized one was of a bite mark,” he replied. “So if Guy’s story were true, it means that he must have been bitten by…”

Guy’s story? What else did she miss?

His eyes closed, and Mulder looked at her in realization. “If Guy’s story were true!”

Mulder suddenly ran from the building, and the dog behind her groaned. He gave a sharp bark to remind Scully he was there, and she turned around.

In a moment of weakness, Scully approached the cage. He was fuzzy like a stuffed toy she once had but was in need of a bath to combat some of the mange. His black eyes pleaded for release, and he cocked his head to the side in that way that was irresistible. Scully never was one to turn down the affections of a dog.

“Hey, buddy. You wanna come home with me?”

Glancing around for a secondary animal control officer, Scully picked up the small cage and escorted the small pup away from that place. Two more officers arrived as Scully was approaching her rental vehicle with the cage. Mulder had described them to her as simple yet effective.

They got out of their vehicle and made the same confused face.

“We’ve never had such a busy week,” the first one noted to the other as they closed their cruiser doors.

“The Gilford family reunion was pretty busy,” the other commented, and they both laughed.

She wondered if a local family reunion interrupted another Duke’s of Hazard marathon viewing.

Scully set the dog cage on the back seat of her car and did an internet search for pet supply shops nearby. She put the address for “Raining Cats & Dogs” into her GPS and glanced over to the dog in the back.

“Hold on, little man,” she told him quietly. “We’re going to get you fixed up.”

*** *** ***

Two hundred and thirty-three dollars later, Scully had the pup assessed by a vet, checked over for a microchip and given a clean bill of health. Within that amount of money she hadn’t planned to spend, she also had him groomed and took him through the pet supply shop so he could pick out his own bed and toys.

It was the silliest thing Scully had done in a while, but nothing about this case felt altogether serious - except for the murders.

“What should I call you?” Scully asked him as he sat perkily on the backseat on top of a red flannel blanket.

The dog whined a little and cocked his head. She parked her car in front of the hotel and looked back at him.

“Queequeg is taken,” she commented. “Boomer?”

The dog gave a disgruntled sigh.

“Stubb?” she questioned, and the dog looked out the window as though to ignore the name. She began going through the list of other characters in Moby Dick. “Flask? Tashtego? Fedallah? Daggoo?”

The dog barked once and stood up on all fours.

“Fedallah?” she repeated, and it made the same sad whine. “Daggoo?”

He barked again, and she laughed. Moby Dick’s Daggoo was a tall harpooner from an African coastal village with noble bearing and grace. This dog didn’t seem to have that, but she wasn’t going to try to change it when he seemed to like it so much.

“Daggoo it is,” she affirmed, and the pup gave a happy twirl on the seat.

Scully clipped the small lead onto the leather collar she bought him at the pet supply shop and decided she would wait until they were back in D.C. to get a proper name tag.

“C’mon Daggoo,” she coaxed and reached into the car to pick him off the seat. He leaned in and licked her chin lightly. “Why thank you.”

Scully looped the handle of the leash on her wrist and gathered together some of the loot from the boutique pet store.

As she opened the door to the motel room, Daggoo sat at her feet patiently. He walked in as she held the door and waited with a slight wiggle to his bottom while she set down the bags.

It took about twenty minutes for her to decide where to place his water dish and food, the bed and his toys. She didn’t want it anywhere Mulder might trip over it, but she also didn’t want it under a table or someplace near cords.

The veterinarian decided Daggoo was about one and a half and was probably a runaway from one of the farm litters. There had been other dogs like him brought in over the last few weeks. That being said, Scully wasn’t entirely sure if he was potty trained or not, so she purchased a small pack of puppy pads just in case.

Scully set one down in the bathroom and pointed to it. “Daggoo, if you have to go inside, go on this.”

Daggoo cocked his head to the side, but she wasn’t sure he understood.

“Let me get changed, and I’ll take you out for a walk,” she bargained.

Daggoo barked happily and did a spin.

“Great,” she agreed.

It didn’t occur to her what Mulder might think of having a dog around. She didn’t entirely care. After she changed into more casual attire of blue jeans and a thin grey sweater, she took Daggoo on a small jaunt around the area to do his business. She decided the veterinarian’s assessment of his age was probably correct. The pup still squatted to pee which was sometimes a sign of immaturity in a dog. He liked to push grass over where he had pooped but waited patiently while she scooped it up in a small, biodegradable odourless bag.

As Scully tossed the bag into a public garbage bin, they walked down Bay Street, under the Oregon Highway overpass and towards riverfront businesses.

The weather had cleared up, and Daggoo was surprisingly good on a leash. When she stopped, the dog did also and sat to look up at her for his next cue. Scully went into the River Roasters coffee shop to get herself a fancy latte, and they sat at the patio tables that overlooked the Siuslaw River.

Florence reminded Scully of places Ahab and Maggie took the family for short vacations when Ahab managed to get longer than two days away from his office.

The man was more comfortable on the water than he was on land, but he held a strong presence wherever he went. She wondered what he would say about the life she had for herself now. Maggie had a number of opinions about her daughter’s relationships and life, but lately, the conversations they had surrounded Maggie’s health and friends she’d started to lose.

The woman had been a widow for over twenty-five years. Scully looked down at the absence of her wedding band and made a face. She loved Mulder. She wanted to be with him and live with him, but they had all this garbage to wade through before they could decide what they were. Maybe it was the fact that they thought there was a choice in their future that was so ridiculous. Scully didn’t want to have a life without Mulder. She just didn’t understand how this one could continue if he would forever choose his quest over her. They were stuck in limbo and their break up made no sense, and therefore, it was absurd. They were fools to think they had any other option but each other.

Daggoo put his paws up on Scully’s knee and wagged his tail.

“Ready to go?” she asked him.

Daggoo gave a small yip, and she stood up from the patio table. The sun was shining, and the riverfront shops were starting to get busy with families and couples taking advantage of the break in the rain. It would be sunset soon, and she would need to figure out what they were going to do about dinner. Their food from last night might be all right to have in the room if the microwave was for more than just decoration.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she looked at the message.

“I’m still waiting on your progress report,” Skinner typed.

“No more progress to report. We arrested the killer, and he is being processed by the sheriff’s office. We will be back on the first flight out of Florence,” Scully replied. She looked down at Daggoo and sighed. “I guess we better go look for Mulder.”

It wasn’t ten minutes from being back at the room with her laptop open to finish her report and Daggoo at her feet, when Mulder opened the door with a wild look in his eyes and sweat on his brow.

“Scully!” he declared as he flung open the door and began to disrobe. “You would not believe what I saw!”

Scully almost smiled. “I bet.”

He took off his suit jacket and tossed it at the bed. Daggoo stood up and cocked his head at the new presence in the room. “I saw it!

Daggoo took a few steps towards Mulder and barked once.

“Hold on,” he started as he held a hand up to the dog and stepped towards Scully. She expected a bit more of a response from him about the dog. “I saw Guy Mann do… he did the thing… he changed!”

“What?” Scully stood up and took a few steps towards Mulder. Daggoo backed up and stood between her legs. “What did he do? What did you see?”

“Guy Mann…” Mulder loosened his tie and began undressing from his suit and tie. His shoes had been kicked aside. His shirt was untucked from his pants, and he was starting to undo his belt. Daggoo barked, and he held up another hand to Scully to ensure her silence. “So, Guy Mann told me… you can’t even understand this, but he said that he started his life as some kind of being that had no conscience.”

“Guy Mann?” she asked. “The guy from the Porta Potty who works at Smart Phones Is Us? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Daggoo circled around Mulder’s feet.

“Just… just listen,” he stammered as he held up his hands near his face with tense fingers. He dropped his pants and tossed them onto their bed. He was talking at the same speed he had the night before that preceded their almost-sex on the floor of her motel room. “Like larva on rotten eggs or the banana slug on the pavement. He didn’t know he was a thing. Suddenly he was a thing. He’s telling me he had come out of hibernation or something for ten thousand years-”

“Lizards usually hibernate during cold temperatures in tree trunks,” Scully pointed out as he grabbed a pair of sweats from his bag. Daggoo walked back towards Scully to stand between her feet. “Insects as well have been known to hibernate during colder climates, however it’s not exactly-”

“Scully, just wait,” he cut her off as he changed into a soft cotton T-shirt. Mulder always did look good in blue. “He said that as he became conscious, he saw Pasha killing those people. When he stumbled upon them, he was bitten, and that’s how he became human.”

“Like the opposite of what happens to werewolves in folklore,” she commented.

Mulder snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “Exactly.”

“How much science are you willing to listen to while I explain how that isn’t possible?” she asked, and Daggoo whined at her feet.

“None,” he stated and ran a hand across his mouth. “I’m thirsty.”

Scully handed him one of the chilled water bottles she had pulled from the mini fridge when she got back to the room. Mulder cracked it and downed the whole thing in one swig.

“Where was I?” he asked as he put the bottle in the blue recycling can under the desk.

“You want zero science,” she reminded him.

Mulder nodded and started pacing as he did when he was excited about a theory. It was nice to see him more animated but to completely ignore science… She supposed that was right on par with the last twenty-five years.

“So, he awoke the next day, totally conscious of his surroundings,” he began with his hands gesturing around. “Naked and needing to cover up, he took the clothes from one of the victims.”

“That explains why one of the victims was naked,” she commented and moved to the desk to make a note of it on her book she was transcribing from.

“Exactly and it rules out the sexual element,” Mulder agreed. “So he chooses a name for himself and walks into town to get a job. He chose Guy Mann and no one seemed to care that sounded fake.”

“A lizard insect-”

“Apparently that’s racist,” he cut her off with a wince.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she rolled her eyes as she walked towards him. They were facing off in the motel room with their hands on their hips. She had to tilt her head to look up into his eyes but of all the times that they had this kind of stand off, she never felt like Mulder was using his height to his advantage. “A were-lizard transforms into a human for the first time he can recall after ten thousand years of hibernation to walk into town and find a job, luckily speaking English but having a New Zealander’s accent.”

“Sounds like crap when you say it,” he mumbled, and she pushed on his shoulder. He laughed and moved his feet apart to stand more at her eye level. “Look, Scully. He admitted that it sounds nuts, but what hasn’t sounded a little crazy in the history of the X-Files?”

Scully laughed. “That’s fair.”

“You just have to go with it,” Mulder nodded with a smile, and she could feel his good mood infecting her.

“Was that all that he told you?” she asked.

Mulder furrowed his brow and then shook his head. “Right, no he went on. He said he got a job bullshitting his way through an interview and found that shady motel to stay in. When he was done with work, he went to a drive thru-”

“In what car?” she countered. “Wouldn’t the Shawan Sheriff’s Department have noted that in some police report between their Dukes of Hazard marathon viewings?”

“Dukes of what? No, he didn’t have a car. He walked as a human man,” Mulder replied, and they both laughed. “Got a hamburger and went to his motel to watch porn.”

“Sounds like someone I know,” she mumbled, and Mulder gave her shoulder a nudge. Daggoo barked. “Okay, so he’s got porn and a hamburger and a job. That could be any man in Shawan.”

“Yeah but he started to change back into his lizard-man form at night,” Mulder continued emphatically. Daggoo barked from the chair he had hopped up on at the small table. He sighed at the interruption but didn’t acknowledge the dog. He shook his head. “Where was I? Right, so he thought, great. I’m not stuck in this human form, but when he woke up he was human again. So when he was a lizard-man at night, he would go out trying to be his lizard self again, but it didn’t stick.”

“Then how did we see him as a human man on a toilet near the victim?” she questioned.

“That wasn’t really part of his story,” he admitted, and she rolled her eyes. “Anyway, he ran into Pasha in the parking lot. He was angry at Pasha for making him a human, but when he saw Pasha killing someone else, he ran away from him. Which is where we met-”

“Annabelle,” Scully finished, and they nodded.

“He wasn’t trying to hurt her,” Mulder explained. “And he wasn’t trying to hurt me. His lizard brain was in flight or fight response mode.”

“And he was fleeing,” she acknowledged.

Mulder nodded emphatically. “Exactly.”

“We can’t get a hibernating were-lizard to testify in court, Mulder,” she pointed out, and she caught a grin on his lips.

“There was a lot of other stuff happening with his story. He had the same woes all men do at my age. When do you write your novel? What do you do if you can’t get a mortgage? How much longer do you need to slug through your mindless job before you can retire?” he continued as though these were his own problems he had been working through the last few years. “He said when you came into the cell phone store that you and he had sex in the stockroom.”

“I did what?” she clarified.

“Yeah, I knew he was lying because you never call me an animal when we’ve done it, and I’ve growled at you before,” he explained. She felt her cheeks get hot as she recalled the last time he did that with his hips pumping against her ass, and her face pressed into the cool laminate of their kitchen counter. “Are you wearing a leopard print bra?”

Scully furrowed her brow and pulled out the strap from under her collar to show him. “No… You know I always wear nude under a button-down.”

She didn’t like to remind Mulder of such intimate things while they were trying to work on a case, but he was the one who brought up the growling thing.

Mulder nodded almost sadly. “Well, that confirms he was lying.”

I’m telling you he was lying!”

Daggoo barked and jumped down from his spot on the chair.

“Hold on,” Mulder held his hands up. “So… What else was there? We talked in the cemetery, and he asked me to kill him with a green bottle. This psychiatrist I went to that prescribed him pills thinks I’m nuts, but he did give me information on how to kill such a monster.”

“Mulder, what you’re saying sounds like some pills might-”

Scully,” he cut her off with a finger up in warning. ”That green bottle he wanted me to kill him with was filled with whiskey. After he yelled some French at me, I drank whiskey… I can’t remember much else, but when I went to the forest, he was talking about how he was going to turn back to hibernate.”

“You walked through the woods looking for Guy Mann in those shoes?” Scully clarified as she nodded towards the fine leather shoes Mulder donned that morning.

“I drove,” he replied.

“That gold monstrosity you rented made it through the woods?”

Mulder furrowed his brow. “That’s the problem you have with my story? Not the fact that I saw him transform from a naked human man to a scaly lizard.”

Scully licked her lower lip and thought about what Mulder was saying. He seemed completely sober and lucid right now; however, he also had consumed more liquor today than he had in a while. It all sounded too fantastic.

Daggoo barked again.

“That-”

“When did you get a dog?” he asked as he looked down at the small pup who was spinning in a circle chasing his tail.

Daggoo stopped and looked at Mulder with a happy wag of his tail.

Mulder looked at the dog and then to Scully. Scully stood for a moment with her hands on her hips and looked from Daggoo to Mulder.

“Uh…”

“Scully?” he prompted.

“Today,” she answered slowly. “Today, I got a dog.”

“Today,” he repeated as though today was a foreign concept.

Daggoo barked and put his paws up on Mulder’s leg. He wagged his tail and whined to be pet.

Mulder looked at him. “What?”

It was absolutely adorable.

Daggoo barked again, and Mulder eventually bent down to pick him up.

“I think he likes you,” Scully commented as Daggoo launched himself to lick Mulder’s face.

Mulder smiled at the dog in his arms, and they looked at each other for a moment longer than she expected. They both glanced back to Scully, and she smiled.

“He’s not so bad,” he admitted, and she laughed. Mulder looked at her and then slowly set Daggoo down. When he stood up, he let out a long breath through his nose, and she knew that was an indicator he was about to tell her something substantial. “You scared me today.”

I scared you?” she repeated with an eyebrow arching up. “I scared you?”

Mulder nodded as though she had asked him if he ate lunch that day.

“That’s ridiculous,” she muttered as she began to pull away from him. Mulder looped his hand around her bicep and pulled her towards him. Scully’s eye travelled from his hand then up to his face. “Mulder-”

“It wasn’t safe,” he scolded her quietly in a hushed tone that brought out some feelings of regret in her that weren’t there before. “You have to be safe this time around. You could have been…”

“Mulder, I was fine-”

“You scared me,” he repeated sternly with an intense look in his eyes. “I can’t lose you. You can’t do that.”

Scully almost rolled her eyes. “Scare you or go off-”

“Don’t scare me like that,” he whispered as his hand gripped tighter and pulled her closer. “You have to use backup and let me know… For all the times you’ve been taken from me again.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he deftly moved his grip to her other arm and pulled her towards him with both arms in his grasp.

“I wasn’t trying to scare you. I was fine,” she rationalized as he pulled her completely flush to his body. There was a familiar bulge between them that indicated his fear had also turned into something else. “Oh.”

He bent his head down, and his lips almost touched hers. “Promise me you’ll be more careful, Scully.”

The heat of his body was already affecting her. The kiss last night, his hand on her breast this morning, and his immediate reaction to her naked form was fuel to the fire that was smouldering between them. Their passion had always been a burning ember that could ignite at any moment.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that Daggoo had scampered off to his bed and was sniffing the space between his legs.

She looked back to Mulder, and his face was nearing hers.

“Promise me,” he urged her.

“I promise,” she whispered.

His mouth took hers with an overwhelming kiss that had begun the night before and kept the space between her thighs itching and aching for his touch.

He released her arms as one hand held her head and the other slid down to cup her ass. She wanted his hands on her body everywhere and to rid the clothes that were between them. She was already wanting and ready.

As his tongue slipped against hers and he held her in his embrace, a warmth in her belly flushed up to her neck. Scully’s hands moved up his chest to hold his face to hers. She didn’t want the kiss to end. She needed him at that moment without the safety net and familiarity of their home to hide behind.

Mulder broke the kiss, leaving her panting. His eyes were dark, and his desire was hard between them.

“Scully,” he started. “Take your clothes off.”

Chapter Text

The grey sweater she had put on earlier had been tossed to the floor. Her square neck tank top and jeans were joining them with quick progress as he unclothed in front of her.

Instead of the uncertainty in a new relationship of will it or won’t it turn into a sexual encounter, the intent of this moment together was to consummate the unbridled passion that had been bubbling between them since they started on this case.

She couldn’t explain why things felt so right between them. Her arousal had been fabricating towards the need for a release since Mulder admitted that he was a middle-aged man, like it was a well-kept secret that they dare not say out loud.

Mulder began to pull at the fastening on her jeans. The pop of the button through the small hole echoed in her ears, while the deft fingers that had loosened it free dove under her panties to find her wet and waiting.

“Oh, Scully,” he breathed against her cheek as the pad of his middle finger circled slowly around the bundle of nerves between her legs. “You’re…”

“I…” she started, as she reached for his shirt. “I need you.”

There were no words to describe how she was beyond aroused for what was acceptable or expected after a few kisses. If she had any common sense, she might feel embarrassed, but rather she was impatient for the release of sweet ecstasy that only he could provide.

“I want you so bad,” he told her as he drew the number eight along her sex.

She heard a whimper come out from the back of her throat as he tantalized and teased her towards her release. Every nerve ending fired through her body as he manipulated her sex. She was totally at his mercy. Waves of undulated frisson began to move through her from the sensitive places he was touching. As he moved another finger to wield and ply her sex, Scully’s body went flush from her belly to her chest.

Scully’s hands gripped his forearms, and he was looking at her with a self-satisfied grin. He was clearly enjoying watching every moment of her reactions to him.

Her knees buckled as his middle finger slipped inside her, and Mulder caught her in an over-dramatic fashion with his hand cradling her back and the other that was inside her holding her hip.

“Well, this is theatrical,” she scoffed to hide her embarrassment.

“I feel like whats-his-name from Gone with the Wind,” he admitted with a sly grin. “And you’re Scarlet Someone.”

Mulder pulled her to him and kissed her. She felt like she was floating and wondered if that was a sign of euphoria until she realized he had lifted her up and was carrying her to the bed.

“I think I got too much fresh air today,” she breathed as he set her down.

That sounds like something Scarlet Someone said.” His fingers pulled at the material of her jeans. “I don’t think she ever wore jeans, though.”

“They were set on a plantation in the Civil War,” she murmured as the cool air from the hotel room hit her bare thighs. “The 1860s to be more specific.”

“Talk literary history to me, Scully,” he whispered against her legs as he kissed the newly exposed skin.

Literal history or literary history?” she teased as he removed each sock from her feet.

A sharp finger drew up the bottom of her foot, and she pulled it back to give him a look. This is how their foreplay went; tit for tat. Intellectual sparring and back and forth until they both became exhausted at the very notion of one another.

As she looked down her torso to Mulder, she could tell he was waxing poetic in his mind while he took inventory of the space from her knees to the apex of her thighs.

”Are you lost?” she teased, and he shook his head with a laugh. “Then what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to decide if I want to do this first or tomorrow morning in the shower,” he commented, and an eyebrow arched in response. “Both?”

“Mulder,” she sighed as she wiggled her hips in impatience. “Get up here.”

The act of fucking her with his mouth was always something he insisted on doing whether she was craving it or not. By the time he had her underpants off, she was itching to feel his flat tongue against her as she squirmed under his talents.

Mulder began to stand up, he shook his head slightly and knelt back down. “I can’t. I have to.”

“You don’t have to,” she countered. “You want to.”

“Have and want for men in my state are sort of the same thing, Scully,” he retorted as she parted her thighs and pulled her bottom to the edge of the bed. “Don’t try to argue biology and chemistry with me on this either. I’m a man and I know these things.”

That kind of comment in any other scenario about any other topic might have gotten Mulder a left hook to the jaw. This time he got a pass because he was looking at her like she was his last meal and the warden was coming for him.

His thumbs pressed into her inner thighs as he moved his palms up the top of her legs to meet in the middle. He kissed the concave skin at the top of her legs where her tendons stretched from her pelvic bone to her leg. He licked slowly across her centre, pausing in the middle to move his tongue up to her clit, and then placing a flat kiss on her other leg.

This was the part that drove her crazy before he drove her crazy.

He parted her slightly and kissed at the top of her folds. As his lips stayed pressed into her flesh, a rush of desire met his lips. She might be embarrassed at how easily he made that happen if she wasn’t throbbing at the demanding urge to have him between her thighs. She wanted to feel him pumping inside her, making her sore and giving her every inch of what she longed for.

Fuck,” he whispered against her thigh.

She seconded the sentiment as his tongue pushed into her and lapped up to her clit. He repeated it three times, and on the fourth pass, he circled her bundle of nerves with an expertly perfected figure eight.

At some point, she heard a squeal escape the back of her throat as his thick thumbs slid into her, and his fingers cupped her ass.

What the fuck.

As the tip of his tongue dragged along her centre and his dexterous hands massaged her walls, she felt an orgasm rushing her like fans to a winning team on the field after a long drought of losing.

He had never done it like this before. He was devouring her whole and still somehow she didn’t feel exposed as when he had her bent in half with her knees at her ears on the bed. Either way, her walls were aching for more, and she longed for him to be buried deep inside of her, as long as his mouth could still do this.

Impossible yes, but her mind rarely made sense when he was driving her crazy.

“Oh my god!” she cried out as the edge of his palm flattened against the sensitive nerves at the edge of her pussy.

He was stimulating her with everything he had, or at least she thought that until his left hand spun slightly to push on the back of her womb while that middle finger pushed on the entrance to her anus. She could feel him using her arousal to prep his next action, coating the finger with her before he used it to fuck her there too. His finger poked inside, and her eyes flew open.

“Oh my… God!”

Mulder hummed in approval as he teased her at the back and began pressing his two front teeth at the very top of the hood of her clit.

Jesus, what the-”

As his teeth hit her nerves and his tongue flattened against her swollen lips, that fingertip pushed all the way into her ass. She was cursing his name loudly and calling to God while waving her hand to grab a pillow to put it over her mouth.

In all the commotion, the last thing she wanted was for Daggoo to bark or a neighbouring guest to complain.

That wouldn’t be the first time that had happened to them while on assignment while fraternizing in their off-hours, but these days the cat was out of the bag regarding their relationship status. Not that they needed to flaunt that in the FBI’s face while responding to complaints submitted about their noisy bedroom activities.

As she felt her neurons fire and her womb clench, Mulder made a grateful sound, and she could feel another rush of her desire coat his hand.

His thumb and middle finger were massaging her inside while he relentlessly fucked her with his mouth. She hadn’t finished having one orgasm before starting the next one. She cried out for him to stop and then asked him not to in the same breath. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt so satiated while needing more of that sweet release.

“That’s enough… Stop…oh God, don’t… don’t stop, Mulder,” she begged as the sensations washed over her again.

After the fifth time of circling around an endless loop of ecstasy, her body went taut as her back arched off the soft duvet underneath her. She pushed away from him with her heels digging into the bed. That was enough.

“Maybe for you,” he noted with a smug grin.

She was panting on the bed, wondering what else she had verbalized during all of that as he left her to wash his hands. When he returned, he was naked and hard. He climbed up her body with a look in his eyes that told her this would be anything but gentle.

He was always cockier than usual after he did that, and she knew it was because he watched her completely fall apart because of him. She confessed in her life she had never had such intense orgasms than she had with him; therefore, he grew more proud with each experience together.

Mulder’s hands were massaging her hips, and she could tell that he was deciding which way he wanted her. She knew how he liked to watch her touch herself, but he also was keen on the way it looked from the back. It was a pity he couldn’t have both unless they stood up at the mirror by the door. Her legs might not be able to take that tonight.

Making the decision for him, Scully rolled over under him and pulled her knees to get on all fours.

His face lit up, and he took himself in hand as he brushed the head of his cock up her folds. She looked back over her shoulder, and they held eye contact as he used the fluid from her orgasm to coat his cock. He dipped two fingers into her and continued. For a half second, she worried he might have misinterpreted her position and asked him to-

Relax,” he coaxed her as though the look in her eye was enough to convey that this was not the time to take her up the ass. His hands smoothed over her backside, and he guided himself to her entrance again.

“I am relaxed,” she half-lied.

Mulder pushed the tip of his hardened flesh at her entrance and stopped. “It doesn’t feel like you’re relaxed.”

He pulled out, pushed back in a little further and then massaged her wetness all over him. The next time he held himself at her entrance, she realized what he was doing. He wanted to push into her with one long stroke, and she willed her body to relax. She was going to get exactly what she wanted when he kissed her.

She was going to properly fucked.

His thumbs pushed on the cheeks of her ass as his fingers dug into her hips. In one hard thrust, Mulder pushed all the way inside of her like a hot knife cutting through butter.

Scully cried out as the mixture of pleasure and pain coursed through her. She shuddered as his hips rocked against her backside, and he pushed just a little deeper.

“Are you okay?” he asked, and she nodded her head against her forearm. “Say it, Scully.”

She mumbled into the pit of her elbow, and Mulder pulled back and thrust back into her harder. It felt better and hurt a little more than the first time.

“Say it.”

She pushed herself up on her elbows and looked over her shoulder. He was enjoying the dominating position she had allowed him to be in, but they both knew that at any moment she could flip this around, sit astride him and put him at her mercy.

Maybe next time.

This was animalistic and raw, something they seemed to both need after the gruesome murders they just investigated. He could whisper his apologies in her ear tomorrow morning as they made love in the shower. This evening, she wanted to feel every inch of him just like this.

“Fuck me, Mulder,” she whispered.

A bead of sweat dripped down her throat and between her breasts to drop on the bed below her. His palm and fingers held one ass cheek like he was palming a basketball, and the other inched up her torso to cup her breast. He pinched her nipple between his thumb and forefinger as he pumped two more times. As he thrust into her, he squeezed his fingers. His hands were everywhere on her body. She was longing to be touched, and she was filled with him to the point that was flirting with pain.

His hips were slapping into her backside with such force, and she moved her hands out to the bedding in front of her to try to gain some leverage.

“Good,” he grunted. “You’re… so… fucking… tight…”

His words were punctuated with hard thrusts. His thumb and forefinger rolled her right nipple until it felt raw, and she grunted.

A low growl came from the back of his throat as his pace quickened. He was moving so hard and steadily while she moaned underneath him. The hand on her breast slipped up to her centre, and his long middle finger found her clit.

Knowing that the pad of his finger might be too much, he held the long digit along her folds and pressed his proximal phalanx into her. It was the kind of abstract stimulation that she needed, and she felt another orgasm approaching.

“You just got tighter,” he commented, and she looked over her shoulder to see him smiling with wonder. “Fuck, that feels good.”

“I know…” she moaned.

His finger moved in a slow pattern as his hips slowed their pace. He was going to make her come again. She could feel it bubbling up to the surface. Her face was hot and there was a bead of sweat dancing down her abdomen towards her collarbone and between her breasts.

She wondered if he was getting close and would need a break soon, but his movements stayed on as his thrusts continued at a steady rhythm.

“I wanted to do this to you last night,” he growled.

Ah!” Scully cried out as his phalanx pressed into her.

“You deserve better than the dirty floor of a motel room…” he began.

“Someone - oh god - someone could have seen,” she pointed out between heavy breaths.

Mulder thrust harder. “And you probably would have liked that.”

No…” she denied.

“No?” he questioned as the hand on her hip tightened. “You didn’t mind it in the woods in Colorado.”

A rush of excitement filled her. It had been a long time since they had discussed that case. They did have pretty wild sex in the woods where anyone could have spotted them - which she told herself would be the only time on a case they would do that where they could have been caught. It wasn’t, but since it was the first time, Mulder would remind her of such things whenever he felt like they should repeat the offence.

He pulled her body upright and held her right breast with his left hand while the other continued to tantalize her sex. His cock was still completely inside of her, and he was rocking against her with slow, slight movements.

Scully’s right hand was holding on to the back of Mulder’s neck for balance, and she put the other to her left breast to give it the attention it was aching for. This position shouldn’t work for them with their height differences, but with the angles of the bed it somehow did.

God willing, he was still pumping his hips, and her orgasm was looming. She didn’t like to be greedy, but she needed another one. She wanted to come apart in his arms like this while his hands kept her upright.

“Are you close?” he asked her as a second finger began to play with her folds.

“Al-” she started. “Oh… god… almost.”

His middle and forefinger massaged her lips on either side of his cock. She was so wet and so needy for another release. He pressed his thumb into the opening at her ass and teased the entrance with small circles. He was overloading her senses, but she needed to find the break in the tides that kept hitting her.

“Do you need more?” he whispered in her ear as she squirmed underneath him. “More of my cock?”

Of course, it was the dirty talk that would get her to where she needed.

“Yes, give me more,” she moaned into the bedsheets.

Mulder slammed his hips into her ass. The calloused spot between his fingers rubbed on her clit while he massaged her folds, and she found her release. Her body came apart as he quickened his pace. She was crying out with each thrust, and he was panting in her ear.

It was more intense than the others and almost painful. It was the kind of hurt she had been looking for. Only Mulder knew how to pleasure her with a carnal aggression to make her feel alive but still considerate towards her need for release.

She hissed as he dug his fingers in tighter to her flesh, and she came down from the intensity of her last orgasm.

She would have five small marks around her breast tomorrow from the force of which he was holding her down. That alone thrilled her more.

His hands left her sex and her breast. He pulled out of her with a reluctant groan and turned her over on the bed with his hands on her hips and thighs. As he slid one hand up her leg to raise her ankle, they made eye contact before their gaze travelled down to where she was splayed out below him.

His cock twitched in the air as his eyes looked upon her naked form, and Scully moved her right hand down to touch herself. Gently and carefully, her fingers moved along the wet lips of her entrance. She watched his face as his jaw went slack, and his cock twitched again.

“What are you doing?” he growled as he took himself in his own hand.

“I want to feel it,” she replied quietly and dipped her two first fingers shallowly into her wet pussy. “Don’t get too excited. I’m not done with you yet.”

“I could say the same,” he grinned.

Mulder released and placed his hands on either side of her face. Scully turned her face to his left arm and kissed the inside of the smooth skin. He took the opportunity to brush his cock against her, and she moaned again.

As she moved her hands back down her body, she fondled his cock with her left hand to guide him towards her entrance.

“Don’t move, okay?” she whispered seriously and he nodded. Her hips moved up off the bed to pull him into her, and he groaned.

As she began gyrating down and then pulling her hips up the bed, she was in total control underneath him. She never let the head of his cock leave her body as she pushed down on the mattress towards the hilt and then back up in the air to feel him almost slide out.

“Fuck,” he growled as his hips twitched.

“Not yet,” she almost whined.

She was holding one arm across his neck while the other hand pushed into the mattress behind her to get better leverage. She had done this exact move on top of him before while he watched her slide on his lap with his cock moving in and out of her at the pace she set.

“Scully-” he started.

“Not yet,” she repeated and quickened her pace. “Don’t come yet.”

“I need to move,” he grimaced through clenched teeth as his hips bucked slightly above hers.

She pulled her hips back from him and pushed on his chest. “Lie down if you can’t stay still.”

Mulder’s jaw went slack again, and he rolled onto his back next to her. Scully straddled his thighs and pulled his cock down towards her. She mimicked her earlier movement with her hips, and he watched in rapt fascination as she rotated her hips to fuck him.

“Oh god, that looks good,” he moaned. “You feel so good. Fuck, Scully.”

She held her hand behind her on his leg for balance and moved faster astride him. She was thrusting her hips up with each stroke as she pulled away and felt the ridge of the head of his dick pull against her entrance before pushing back down.

“I needed you the second you told me we had a monster case,” he managed as his eyes fixated on their sexes.

“You got your paranormal groove back, now?” she teased as her hips circled at the tip of his dick.

“Something…” Mulder groaned. “Fuuuuuck…. something like that.”

“Is this what you had in mind?” she questioned as she moved her body to align her chest with his.

Mulder ran his hands up her thighs with his thumbs pressing into the inside flesh. Her hips began moving up and down vertically, and his eyes rolled back in his head.

“Like this?” she asked as she placed one of his hands on her breast.

His hips bucked up as she met him on the downstroke, and they cried out in unison.

“I’m close,” he growled at her.

Mulder pursed his lips and let out a long breath through his mouth as he tried to keep his composure. It was obviously waning, and she was torn as to keep going or to help him find the release he deserved.

Scully pulled herself to sit upright and began bouncing her hips in a quick rhythm. She would be sore from the repetitive movements, but if there was ever a time to put her recent return to physical fitness to the test, this would be it.

Mulder held on to her breast with his other hand at her hip. “God, you feel good.”

She let out a wavering breath, and her hips kept on. She could see his jaw clenching and knew he was close. With what little energy she had left, she increased her pace, and he gripped her tighter.

“I need more,” he growled and before she could figure out how, he had flipped her on her back.

“Mul-”

Her words were cut off by his mouth. His tongue slipped past hers, and he stilled his hips for only a moment for the kiss to linger between them as a prelude for what was to come. As his hips slammed into hers, she broke the kiss and yelled out an expletive.

He was gripping her wrists as he pumped with veracity. She didn’t realize until now how much she had wanted him like this. There had been other times that were equally as rough… The most recent would be in the front hallway of their home with Sveta waiting upstairs for Mulder to take another statement from her. It wasn’t until their reunion at the country club for her mother’s last birthday when he would make it up to her with something a little more gentle; however, it was one of the most inappropriate places they had ever had sex.

“Call me that again,” he breathed as he pumped into her.

Scully furrowed her brow and cried out as he thrust hard. “Ah! God, what? What are you asking?”

“What… fuck… what you called me at the creep motel,” he managed as his hips slowed but somehow he got in deeper.

Batcrap-” she was cut off by the head of his dick poking at her cervix. “Fuck! Crazy - oh… ah God.”

“The other thing,” he urged her, and she grinned. “C’mon.”

“My Mulder?” she guessed, knowing full well that’s what it was.

“Yeah!” he cheered almost comically. “Again.”

“My Mulder,” she breathed, and he let out a guttural sound from his throat.

“Yours?” he clarified.

Scully’s hand ran down his face, and she smiled reassuringly. “For better or worse.”

His hips pumped erratically, and he clenched his jaw. “I’m gonna-”

Mulder’s voice caught in his throat, and he was shuddering as he closed in on his release.

“It’s okay,” she encouraged him. “I want you to.”

“You need to-”

“No Mulder,” she assured. “Please. I can’t anymore.”

It was gallant and chivalrous of him to ask, but how could a woman possibly take one more orgasm after the countless she just had. If she touched herself again, it could hurt. She would be too sore the next day or worse yet, she would embarrass herself by only getting halfway there because her entire vagina was exhausted.

“Please,” she whispered against his lips, and her tongue teased the space between them. “I missed this Mulder.”

Mulder groaned, and his hips hit her one last time as he emptied himself inside of her. He released her wrists and kissed her collarbone and neck. She ran her hands down his back lightly as one leg hooked around his waist to hold him there.

He pulled up slightly to look into her eyes, and they shared a smile. She had missed so much, and staying away wasn’t proving to be the solution to their problems.

“I missed you too,” he whispered, but something in her voice gave her doubts.

It only occurred to her just then that Mulder might not be ready for her to return. He liked his spaces messy with clutter filling the empty spaces, and she didn’t. She wanted to live in a house that had been cleaned more than once a month. He was not a decent housekeeper, and Scully had lowered her standards about how messy or dirty she was comfortable living in. Unfortunately, she could only lessen her expectations so far to the point that the only way she could unwind after a long shift was to ensure the laundry had been started or the dishes were done. She had offered on more than one occasion to hire someone to come in to do the jobs around the house that he didn’t seem keen on, but that seemed to be more insulting than asking him to pitch in.

What if the happiness and lust between them was all because of the case and Mulder’s reinvigorated paranormal groove?

“Where did you go?” he asked her as his lips grazed her cheek.

“I was thinking about the future,” she told him honestly.

Daggoo jumped on the chair and to the table. Mulder and Scully turned their faces to look at the small pup, and he barked at them in reply.

“I think someone needs another walk,” Scully whispered.

The dog leapt off the table and spun in a circle on the floor.

“He knows that word,” Mulder laughed. He looked down between them and to the box of Kleenex on the bedside table. “I’m gonna pull out, okay?”

Scully nodded, and he moved quickly to hand her three tissues to clean herself with. As she was making her way to the bathroom to properly dispose of the trash, Mulder gave her bottom a squeeze.

“Hey!” she cried and maneuvered away from him.

“Why not?” he asked with a grin as he reached for her again, and she slipped past him to the bathroom. “I see. You’re done with me now until I’m ready to go again?”

“That’s right,” she said in a mocking solemn tone. “You’re just a piece of ass to me, and I’m done with you now.”

Mulder’s arm snaked out and pinched her bottom. She cried out in protest, and he pointed a finger. “That’s your warning.”

“Well, just for that, you can take Daggoo for a walk,” she replied and closed the bathroom door on him.

She heard the dog bark again, and Mulder sigh.

“Well, little man,” Mulder said, and she could picture him looking down at the dog seriously. “I guess I better get dressed. I can’t go around Florence in this get up.”

Daggoo whined, and Scully smiled to herself. Maybe he was more ready than she thought.

*** *** ***

Getting back to Washington with a dog one had rescued but had no papers for was not as difficult as Mulder had declared it to be as the three of them were falling asleep the night before. As it turned out, with slow-moving paperwork and bureaucracy at an all-time high, when Scully flashed her badge and declared she had a witness inside a dog carrier, TSA waved them through.

Daggoo was a great passenger on the plane, and Mulder only rolled his eyes once at her for making a pouty face at the pup as he sat under the seat in front of them.

She glanced over her shoulder to the back seat of the SUV where Daggoo was sitting happily, pacing back and forth across the blanket she had in her trunk for emergencies. It was already covered in white hairs, and she would become one of those people who carry a lint roller in her purse.

Mulder was driving her car wearing Ray Bans, his suit and a satisfied smile. A bag of dog food sat on the floor behind her, and Daggoo sniffed the bag with interest. He sat down with a whine when he realized dinner would have to wait.

As they pulled onto the road that led to their once-shared home, Scully fought a yawn.

“Tired?” Mulder asked as he looked over to her.

“It’s been a long few days,” she admitted. “Fun, but long.”

Fun was an understatement between the extended shower they had before they checked out and the acrobatics the night before. Working on a case with an actual monster and seeing Mulder excited about the possibilities had reinvigorated her as well.

She had called him ‘My Mulder’ more than once, they had sex twice and she let him kiss her in line to get coffee while they waited at their gate in a public display of affection that had her feeling butterflies for the duration of the flight.

They hadn’t spoken about what their recent acrobatics in Oregon had meant for them going forward. Surprisingly, every time Scully wanted to bring it up, she chickened out. Mulder didn’t bring it up either, and her confidence waned more.

She didn’t know what was holding them back. She was his as much as he was hers. Their home belonged to both of them, but she hadn’t felt like more than a guest since she had some of the furniture taken by professional movers to a D.C. address.

When Mulder pulled up in front of the house to let himself out, Scully reached over to turn off the car.

“You okay?” he inquired with a concerned look.

“I don’t want to drive back tonight,” she admitted and glanced over to Daggoo. “Do you mind if we stay one night?”

The drive wasn’t terribly long back to her apartment, and they both knew that. Asking to stay over was also not usual for her, so she hoped he wouldn’t ask her to rest and then drive back when she had the energy.

He grinned, and she let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. “I think I can make space for you.”

Inside the house, Scully anticipated a disaster but was surprised to find a tidy house. She glanced up at him, and she could see that he was watching her for a reaction.

“Cleaner than I expected,” she noted, and his mouth gave away his happiness with a twitch of his lips. “I’m serious.”

As they stood in the front hall of the home, Scully looked past the living room to see a clean kitchen.

“The counter is clean,” she observed. “Now I’m really impressed.”

Mulder beamed, and she reached out to squeeze his fingers. She could tell that he had been making an effort to be more organized and create a routine of cleaning. It probably needed a good scrubbing, but it was far better than the way she left it when she actually left.

Daggoo ran towards the couch and hopped on the cushion Mulder usually inhabited. He barked twice at them and circled his spot before sitting.

“What?” Mulder asked the dog.

Daggoo barked back, and Mulder put his hands on his hips as they stared each other down.

It was more adorable than the night before.

“Maybe he’s hungry,” Scully suggested gently, as though she was telling Mulder how baby cries were different.

She had a pang of longing as she recalled the morning after he spent their first forty-eight hours with William at her apartment, and he walked into the bathroom with a small baby wailing in his arms who was neither interested in a pumped bottle from his father or a soother. Scully took one of the small receiving blankets, tossed it over Mulder’s shoulder and showed him how to burp the small babe. After a loud belch, Scully laughed and cooed at William, asking if he felt better. Mulder looked at her with the kind of awe he held for UFO’s and levitating objects indicating a a poltergeist.

Scully moved into the kitchen where she found an old bowl to pour a small portion of dog food for Daggoo. She made a kissing noise with her lips, and the mutt ran towards his feast.

“This is weird,” Mulder observed as though he hadn’t just told her about a shape-shifting lizard who turned into a man.

Scully patted Daggoo on the back before she searched for another bowl. As she filled it with water, she gave him a look. “This is weird?”

Mulder looked around the house as if he hadn’t seen it before. “Yeah. This is weird.”

She set the bowl next to the food, gave the dog a few reassuring pats and stood up. “I like weird.”

“The last time someone told me that I was in the middle of a cosmic G-Spot,” he quipped as he approached her, and they laughed.

“I mean…” she began and licked her upper lip while she gathered her thoughts. “I like you, and you’re a little weird.”

Mulder’s lips twitched into a smile again. “So are you.”

His hand reached for hers, and they interlaced their fingers in a familiar way that made her feel like this was home to her and not just a place she visited.

“Do you want to order in?” he offered, and she smiled. “I was craving Chinese.”

“Why don’t you put in the order?” she suggested and gave his fingers another squeeze. “I’ll take Daggoo out.”

The places that would deliver were few and far between, limited to Shawarma and Chinese. On the few evenings they had stayed at Scully’s apartment in Washington, they had the entire world of culinary cuisine they could sample from.

Daggoo picked one of the bushes to the side of the house to pee on and kicked the dying grass backwards towards his spot. When they came back inside, Mulder was standing near the phone on the wall and spinning the long spiral cord as he placed his order.

“Mr. Phong wants to know if you want the spicy beef,” Mulder relayed with his hand over the receiver. Scully waved her hand as she shook her head. “No Mr. Phong. No thank you for the spicy beef…”

He leaned his shoulder next to the phone and sighed.

“Okay, we’ll get the spicy beef,” he acquiesced, and Scully rolled her eyes. Mr. Phong probably offered it for half price. He was still a sucker for a good deal. The man had enough money in his bank account to never work again, but he loved anything for half price. He hung up the phone and shook his head. “Pushiest Vietnamese man who ever ran a Chinese restaurant.”

“I like the Wok Inn,” she replied with a shrug. “They never take longer than twenty-five minutes to deliver the food, and it’s always hot.”

Mulder approached her and ran his hands up her arms to rub his thumbs on her shoulders. “Your standards have really changed a bit since the 90s, Scully.”

She arched an eyebrow and opened her mouth to reply when Daggoo noisily rolled on his back to wiggle around on the carpet. Scully laughed and Mulder’s face lit up.

“What?” she asked.

Mulder leaned in and gave her a kiss on her cheek. “I guess a dog isn’t going to be so bad.”

*** *** ***

A trio of tired travellers stretched out on the couch with a cop comedy show playing on their joint Netflix account.

“Did you keep watching Mad Men without me?” Mulder asked as the credits played on while it teased for the next episode to begin.

Scully shook her head. “No…”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Did you?”

She winced. “One episode!”

Mulder rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Scully… I mean… this hurts…”

“I’m sorry,” she apologized with a regretful look.

Daggoo rolled onto his belly and sneezed. He stood up on the couch and walked over Scully’s lap to look at Mulder.

“What… what is he doing?” Mulder asked as Daggoo sat in the small space between them.

Scully smiled. “Have you ever had a dog before, Mulder?”

“I did… for a short time,” he began.

It was surprising that the conversation hadn’t come up between them, even after their encounter with Karin Berquist. It was an offhand remark about picking up after a dog, but when Detweiler turned into a monster and Guy Mann transformed from a monster, her brain remembered that he nodded knowingly about the trials and tribulations of dog ownership.

She loved having an animal around but with her hospital schedule, it was hardly fair. It might have been good for Mulder to have had an animal to keep him company while he was in long-term isolation while he was still a wanted criminal. There might have been a discussion after their case with Father Joe about getting a rescue, but the discussion stayed as a hypothetical and refrained from discussing lost pets. Scully would have to confess what happened with the poor rabbit, and she wasn’t ready to deal with that.

“When I was thirteen,” Mulder confessed as he reached out and scratched Daggoo’s ear. “I think my dad felt guilty.”

Scully nodded. “Naval base house regulations stipulate allowances for two pets; however, my father usually said it would be cruel to the animal due to the amount of travelling we did. He said ‘we,’ but he meant his travelling. We were always at home… Dad just didn’t like the noise and the mess from pets.”

“Ahab didn’t like noise and mess?” Mulder repeated. “He had four kids!”

Scully laughed and shooed Daggoo off the couch to move closer to Mulder. “True.”

“My dad made me give up Cepeda after they divorced,” he explained as he put an arm across the back of the couch. His fingers brushed her shoulder, and she felt a little nervous regardless of the acrobatic sex they had only twenty-four hours ago. “Fish were less work…”

Cepeda?” she repeated as she turned to him a little. “Mulder… what-”

“Orlando Cepeda was a very overlooked player in the 1960s,” he explained patiently as his arm moved to lay on her shoulders. “Two hundred and fifty-four home runs. He was tenth best in the league.”

Scully smiled as his hand gripped her upper arm. “You always did like a good underdog.”

He shrugged and pulled her closer. “The guy with little notoriety has a soft spot in my heart.”

Butterflies filled her stomach, and she wondered how he could make her feel excited and nervous after all these years. There was a brief moment she could see disappointment from his childhood of unfulfilled promises wash over him. He shook his head a little, and she saw him come back to her then, with the uncertainty of their lives now weighing on them.

“I think I could put a dog run on the side of the house so the pick up would be minimal,” Mulder offered as leaned into him.

“Is Daggoo going to be spending that much time here?” she asked lightly.

Daggoo in this situation was a metaphor for her, and they both knew that.

“That’s a weird name for a dog,” Mulder commented.

Their eyes moved across the living room to where Daggoo was now sniffing the armchair on the other side of the room. He jumped up on the chair, spun around a few times and laid down in a ball.

“Hey,” she defended as she watched Daggoo’s eyes close slowly a few times. He fell asleep within seconds. “Daggoo is a great dog name.”

“I guess it’s better than naming him a human name,” Mulder agreed. “Queequeg and Daggoo…”

“He’s spent the last few hours trying to get you to warm up to him,” she pointed out. “I think he likes you.”

“Maybe he’s not so good at holding your grudges for you after all,” he replied as his fingers began to trace lines up her arm and to her shoulder. “I thought…”

“We both did some damage, Mulder,” she pointed out. “I… I shouldn’t have left… or not told you…. where I was emotionally.”

He looked around the space and sighed. “This home was supposed to be a place we had a refuge from the world… but you were still out in it while I was hiding here. My expectation of what life on the run was going to be was misconstrued.”

“I don’t know…” she began. “I don’t know if it’s the case, or it’s just the way things have been going with us… but-”

Mulder held up his free hand that had been resting on his stomach. “Hold on, don’t say something that’s going to hurt my feelings-”

“I’m not,” she cut him off. “I was going to say that a fresh start… or a clean slate is naive but might not be a bad thing to try.”

He didn’t look entirely convinced of what she was saying. “Is that where we’re headed?”

Her stomach sank. “Is that not what you want?”

Mulder turned to look at her, and she shifted on the couch to do the same. “I think… well… I thought we were on that path. You go around saying things like ‘my Mulder’ wearing my Knicks shirt to bed, and I start getting my hopes up.”

She took his hands in hers. He always felt warm to her, and she longed for the heat from his body to warm her up. Being challenged in science with what they were investigating and finding their common ground between the paranormal and the known was what brought them together in the first place. She missed more than the work they shared. She missed the weight of him on top of her and the way he took up two-thirds of every bed they slept on. She missed his noisy presence and the way he rubbed her back absentmindedly while they read the paper on a blanket outside.

Most importantly, she missed the passionate fire of a man who sounded batcrap crazy while arguing that a giant lizard came out of hibernation to become a man. It wasn’t a secret that the side of him that sounded nuts was the part that reignited every flame inside of her. She was a shell of dying embers until he touched her. Their work and lives intertwined so deeply at the beginning that it was almost poetic that it would be the thing to bring them back together.

Were they ready for that kind of complete mix of work and pleasure? Were they ready to even cohabit and move on from their problems? Had they solved anything or found closure from what tore them apart?

“I don’t want you to have your hopes up,” she began, and his face fell. “I don’t want my heart to get broken again. I miss you, Mulder. I miss us. I want to come home or to figure out where home is.”

“You don’t know if it’s here anymore?” he asked with a furrowed brow.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is that the first time we seemed to jump into living together with a lot on our shoulders,” she tried to explain. “We were on the run. We had fake identities, and nothing about us was ourselves while we tried to get back here. I had to lie about your very existence in my life until you were released.”

Mulder sighed. “We were able to be a couple after that.”

“Yes, but we weren’t working together,” she reminded him. “In the beginning, the way things were… that isn’t going to be like how it is now…”

She worried she was making things too complicated. In the entirety of their relationship, Scully had always been the one putting up road blocks, setting limits and creating boundaries. At first, it was due to the newness of their partnership. It didn’t take long for her to stop minding when he called late at night or showed up unannounced to work on a case he was going to present to Skinner as their next assignment.

As they progressed to a romantic relationship, it took her a while to accept that she would need to vocalize things she needed instead of expecting him to automatically understand that space was a good thing. Mulder was happy to sit in silence as long as she was around, but she had to remind him that even in those periods of quiet, he would pipe up and mention something that turned into a long discussion.

They still had things they needed to work out. Were they ever going to find William? Was he still focused on the end of the world happening? Part of her worried he would get tired of asking her to come home. The other part of her wished he’d stop asking so she could figure out when she was ready.

At this point, she didn’t even really understand what was holding her back except the words of their last and worst argument as she left.

All the time they spent together had some boundaries. They had their own spaces and places to retreat. When they began working on the X-Files together again, they had been in such an off place that the respite was their time together versus when they were apart. It was hard to see through the muddled feelings and complicated scenarios.

“So…” he began and blew air out through his lips slowly. “So… what do you want?”

Scully shook her head. “I don’t know, Mulder. I want you. I want us. I just don’t know how much more of myself I can give at this point… I need space, but I don’t want so much space you disappear from me again… I’m not making myself very clear…”

Mulder nodded slowly and began to pull his hand away.

“I don’t want anyone else,” she continued as she pulled his hands back towards her lap. “I want us… I want to try to work-”

“I am willing to try,” he vowed.

She kissed the back of his hand and gave him an earnest look. He leaned towards her and gave her a soft kiss. She was relieved as his lips pressed against her cheek.

“Do you want to come to the city with me? Stay the weekend?” she offered. A look of hesitance cross his face, and she wished she could retract the invitation. “Or not.”

“I have…” Mulder started slowly. “I actually have something I need to work on this weekend…”

Her right eyebrow arched in skepticism. “That sounds secretive and… none of my business.”

Mulder smiled and pulled her towards him to kiss her forehead. “Like you said, I think it’s a good idea to take it slow.”

She opened her eyes and moved towards him on the couch to get closer, but he put up a hand between them to stop her.

“What?” she asked with worry.

He pursed his lips. “I want more than just a few brief encounters of sex and camaraderie.”

“That sounds sad,” she noted as she pulled back and folded her knees up so her feet were on the couch next to her bottom. “Do you regret the time we’ve spent together?”

He shook his head and as he slowed, gave her a useless shrug. “Only that it didn’t solidify what we are sooner.”

She had to agree with him there.

“Do you…” she began and stopped herself. “Are you ready for me to come home?”

Mulder looked across the room as though there were answers in the blank space on the wall under a portrait of the Washington D.C. skyline.

The realization that he would say no hit her, and she realized she didn’t want the answer. “Mulder?”

He turned to look at her and nodded. “Maybe?”

She let a breath out, wrapped her arms around her legs and pressed her face into her knees. “Oh.”

He laid back on the couch and tried to stifle a belch. “I’m sorry, Scully. I love you-”

“I love you,” she cut him off.

Their declarations hung in the air, and the sound of the clock on the wall echoed through the silence.

He gave her a pointed look. “That’s not our problem.”

Obviously, he was looking for something more than a declaration of love. He needed her to apologize, and she had that in spades. Giving up on him was a form of self-preservation. She couldn’t stand to watch him drag them both down into a bottomless pit of his paranoia, but it didn’t do anything other than break her heart and ruin the only relationship that really mattered.

“I’m sorry if I used you,” she acquiesced.

He looked at her in the eye and nodded. “I believe you. I used you too.”

“So… what do you want me to do?” she asked him as she turned her head to lay her cheek against her knees.

“Try harder?” he suggested.

He pulled on her hands, and she loosened her arms to allow him to move her towards his embrace.

“I can try harder,” she vowed.

He kissed the top of her head. “I believe you.”

Scully smiled at him. “You really did get your paranormal groove back.”

“I guess I found something I lost along the way…” he began, and they shared a meaningful look. He cleared his throat. “Cases like this are always a stretch of the imagination. What we see that defies common sense or logic.”

“Like a giant lizard that turns into a man,” she mused, and they both smiled. “Are you feeling reinvigorated for the next assignment, whatever it may be?”

He nodded thoughtfully. “I think so. I feel like we got into a good rhythm there.”

Scully laughed. “I did all the police work while you were drinking in a cemetery with a man with a fake name!”

Mulder laughed too. “Yeah, that’s right. I had to do a bit of soul searching.”

“In the bottom of a bottle of whiskey?” she prompted, and he shrugged.

The laughter, sex and camaraderie was just like old times. She knew that getting back to a good space in their work relationship would only help their personal lives, but they obviously needed more than a good case to get her back home. She needed to get over her own issues and that was proving to be harder than Mulder getting beyond his. Mulder wasn’t going to stop looking for the darkness, but she had hope that he wasn’t letting it take over their lives again.

“How the hell did you pick that name anyway?” Mulder asked as Daggoo jumped off the chair and stretched.

“He picked it himself if you really want to know,” she replied haughtily, and he scoffed. “He did. I went through my list of Moby Dick characters, and he barked at Daggoo.”

The dog barked twice at the sound of his name, and Mulder shook his head.

“That is a little far-fetched of a story, Scully,” he noted with sombre skepticism and she laughed. “What?”

“The man who believes in a lizard who turns into a man doesn’t believe a dog would pick his own name?” she clarified, and he nodded. “Now I think you’re full of shit.”

“Sure, what else is new?” he queried lightly.

Maybe they were more ready than she realized.

Chapter Text

The air was crisp in DC that morning when her alarm went off and Daggoo scratched at the end of her bed as she woke up. Scully donned capris running pants and a long sleeved work out top before putting her hair up into a ponytail to test her running route with her new housemate. The pavement felt good under her feet and her stride was steady. What felt better was her breathing and she knew her heart would thank her for these moments she put in.

The police had been at the crime scene in Philadelphia for a few hours when the call was placed to the FBI. It reached Skinner’s desk before it was directed to Mulder. He had been downstairs in the ordinary house pouring his second cup of coffee when his home phone rang. Just answering calls about cases of the paranormal and unexplained in his underwear put a spring in his step that morning. He hoped it would be a good day. He was feeling productive, determined to make better memories of Philadelphia and hopeful he and Scully could really talk on the drive out.

He checked his watch before placing a call out to his enigmatic doctor partner.

Scully and Daggoo had been out for thirty minutes when his call came to her cell phone. She answered on her headphones and stopped to stretch as he gave her the run down on what he got from Skinner.

“Where are you?” he asked as he looked at ties to bring.

Scully huffed and pulled her foot up behind her to stretch her quad. “I’m on the Mall.”

“How does Daggoo appreciate your morning routine?” Mulder asked as he placed his suits carefully into a garment bag.

He was dressed in a pressed white shirt, boxer briefs and socks pulled up. If Scully was there she might actually find it adorable to watch him pack for himself in such a state.

“He likes running better with me than with you,” Scully jibed and looked down to see Daggoo sniffing a tree.

He was about to mark one and she turned a little to give him some privacy. Strange, since he insisted on watching her pee, shower, brush her teeth and walked in on her and Mulder having sex more than once.

“You wanna drive?” he asked.

Scully looked down at her watch. “Meet me at my place in half an hour?”

Mulder looked down at his half-dressed form. “Maybe forty-five?”

Scully wished him safe travels to Mulder and hung up the phone to pick out his grey suit and checkered tie. Before he left for three to five days, he emptied his trash bins, washed his six dishes from the night before and this morning and got in his recently purchased Ford Fusion.

When he met Scully at her place he left his car in her spot at her apartment’s underground parkade while she waited for him on the street. Daggoo had been picked up by the dog sitter and she told young Casey Whittaker in unit 4B of her apartment building she would see her and Daggoo on Saturday but call later this week if there was a change.

They developed new routines but old habits from twenty years ago died hard. When travelling within three hours of Washington, the bureau still encouraged driving versus flying. They were still not encouraged to share hotel rooms but Mulder did receive a memo after their last case that he was allowed to spend over sixty-seven dollars per night and the per diem had increased. Skinner also included a list of hotel chains for future reference and he wondered if Scully made a mention to their old and current boss of the pervert-run motel on their last assignment.

“So we have a new mix of Mulder’s greatest tunes for this car ride,” he informed her as he hopped in the passenger seat and pulled out his phone. He plugged the USB cable into the headphones plug on his phone and The Platters “Twilight Time” came on over her speakers.

“I promise no laser beams are going to destroy the car,” Mulder said and Scully huffed out a laugh before they pulled onto the street.

“Is it all oldies?” Scully asked when Downtown by Petula Clark came on.

She looked over to see Mulder grinning and her face flushed. She hadn’t felt the same way about that song since a long trip back to Washington from St Louis when they had first gotten together. They kissed in a shared motel room, made out on a train, took each other’s clothes off and tasted one another for the first time. The song played on the train car’s radio as they ate their dinner and the smirk on his face would have been eye-rolling inducing if she didn’t find it a little funny. The flirtatious nature of her personality had taken over and she hinted that she enjoyed the innuendo more than she had let on in the past.

Mulder reached for the control panel on the dashboard to change the song and Scully pushed his hand down and held onto his a few of his fingers for a lingering moment.

“I have better music, more recent stuff,” he told her and cleared his throat.

“How recent?” Scully asked as she picked up his phone and went to his music app. “Mulder you have a playlist called ‘Scully.’”

Mulder’s cheeks pinked a little and he cleared his throat. “Just songs that remind me of you.”

Scully clicked on the playlist and smiled. Most of the songs were ones that reminded her of him too. It shocked her to find out how many of them she had heard recently that she hadn’t discussed with him but were there. Sometimes she still wondered if he could read minds or if he just wandered around her thoughts when he felt like he needed to be close to her.

“Adele?” she prompted as her entire album 25 showed up on the list. “These songs...”

“Well some of them are really cathartic,” he admitted. His hand reached out and pressed the radio button on the dash and transferred off the music to a local station Scully enjoyed.

“I have that album too,” Scully confessed.

“Sometimes it helps... I mean I have more than just sad songs on there,” he said with a shrug.

“I can’t believe you have Al Greene on here,” she said as she continued to scroll through the list. “Who is Shawn Hook?”

Mulder reached over and turned the media back on. The sound of a pop song from last year filled the car and Scully studied him. It was the simplest of songs, a bubble gum beat but it was everything they had endured the last twenty three years. It was embarrassing.

The rest of the car ride went smoothly enough. As they drove through Baltimore they discussed her mom, the brother Mulder met once who was estranged and trying to figure out why. He had made a point of showing up to her birthday with his family, played nicely with everyone before never calling again.

Even when Maggie had ended up in the hospital before, he didn’t answer his phone at the possibility it could be life threatening. They had held one another in that hospital and Mulder urged Scully to come home then but life got in the way. She was consistent for a few weeks but work took over.

Before the X-Files brought them back together, she could hide at the hospital when things went sour with them.

Mulder didn’t really want to bring up the past in a way that would make her regret driving in with him. He just wanted her her to finally make a plan. He would wait as long as she needed, he didn’t have any choice in the matter. His heart picked her long before he knew it and he wasn’t going to give up. Not now. Not after all they’d seen and done together.

Unfortunately, they avoided the heavy topics that involved their emotions unless there was a tragedy or a life-threatening situation because that’s who they were. They played so much off the idea that the romance would ruin their partnership when it didn’t the first time around. What ruined them was everything else, including but not limited to his obsession they were all going to die December 22, 2012. What a relief and a shock when they didn’t.

As they passed the Wells Fargo Center, Mulder shifted in his seat.

“I might have suggested we go see a game while we were here,” he started. “But these guys are pretty painful to watch. Even if it is live sports, it’s not worth it.”

Scully looked over to him. “We can find something else fun to do in Philadelphia.”

She braced herself for a comment about tattoo parlours but Mulder pulled the edges of his mouth down in an impressed frown. It was a face he made when he was contemplating suggestive statements.

Mulder parked the car outside the federal office building and he turned off the car. “Are you ready G-woman?”

“Let’s get it on, honey,” Scully teased and exited the car.

It was supposed to be a regular case to Philidelphia. Not really but sort of. A federal employee had been murdered and they were called in because of the nature of the murder.

“The supraspinatus and deltoideus appear to be shredded from the torso not severed, as do the other points of separation,” Scully noted as she studied the body.

“So what are you telling me?” the detective asked. “That he was pulled apart?”

“Well, I don’t think that would be possible for a single human being,” she replied.

“The homeless out there, they hate this guy, this Cutler. They see him as a reason for being relocated out to the old Franklin Hospital,” the detective explained as Scully’s phone rang.

What she hadn’t told Mulder on the car ride to Philadelphia was that William had been weighing on her mind. He always was. He was in the back of her thoughts but sometimes the feelings of guilt and regret bubbled up. It didn’t make sense today as to why. Maybe since taking Daggoo in and exercising a nurturing side of herself that was only helpful in medicine, she was reminded of what was sacrificed. Those thoughts were pushed aside while she read to Mulder from the paper he picked up on his way into DC. It was a ritual they had started when they began their journey as more than friends and waded into the territory of lovers.

It shocked her to see William on her Caller ID but she quickly realized it was her mind playing tricks on her. When she answered the call on the second attempt from Bill Jr., her heart sank. He never called in the middle of the day, let alone during the week. He was stationed in Germany and due to the time difference, they usually only spoke on weekends. Her mind raced and she felt sick to her stomach. They had been in Philadelphia for less than an hour and she needed to get back to DC at that moment.

Mulder had her keys. She didn’t need her overnight bag, she just needed to go.

A forty two dollar cab ride, a three hundred dollar plane ticket from Philadelphia to Washington DC and another sixty dollar fare took her to her mother’s bedside. She felt as though she was vibrating the entire time. Her endocrine system was releasing information from her hypothalamus to her autonomic nervous system. Her pituitary gland was producing mass levels of epinephrine and cortisol or as she would put it to Mulder, “stress hormones.”

She recognized these in her body and yet, she remained tight as a drum until she reached her mother’s bed. Maggie wasn’t in the ICU like she was told previously. ICU was where patients are cared for after a surgery. She was in palliative care. This wasn’t a wing of the hospital that patients left. The doctors weren’t there to perform any life-saving actions and no extreme measures would be taken. It didn’t sink into her mind that Maggie was in the wrong place. It didn’t sink in her mind the doctors around her wouldn’t do what was necessary to help her make it through this because what was the other option?

What she wasn’t expecting was the news that Charlie had been asked after. She wasn’t expecting to plead with her mother that she had to stay for a grandson she only had a few months with.

By the time the nurse arrived with the news of her mother’s recently signed DNR orders, she had more questions about the woman who raised her than certainties she knew about what Maggie Scully wanted. Why the quarter? Why change her living will without discussing it with her? Why was she asking for a son who had made it known he wanted little to nothing to do with them?

Logically, she knew she needed to appreciate and support her mother’s wishes. Internally, she was screaming at the lack of communication her mother had given her. Her mother, who had always told her to share her feelings instead of bottling them up, had secrets of her own. This was the same woman who asked Dana to just tell her what was going on with her cancer, with her pregnancy and giving up her son instead of dealing with it privately. Perhaps the secretive side of Scully was inherited more than she realized.

Maggie, in turn, seemed to make this decision with the consultation of some close friends instead of turning to her daughter. It felt like a slap in the face after all they had been through. As she sat with the quarter and chain in her hands, she wondered if this was how Maggie felt when she discovered Dana had a DNR after a distressing abduction and an even more mysterious return. She could only imagine how Maggie felt when she learned of her daughter’s cancer from Mulder because she’d shared that diagnosis with her best friend before her own mother.

Possibly this is how she felt when Dana called three weeks after Mulder disappeared and she was ten weeks pregnant with his child. She still remembers the conversation when she met her mother for tea that afternoon. The morning sickness was still powerful. She asked for peppermint tea to help combat her nausea and ate saltines from a bag in her purse. Her mother could tell before she even told her but they cried after Dana got the words out. They cried harder when she told her Mulder was gone and she didn’t know how to find him because her mother didn’t believe in aliens, conspiracies or the world being anything but the creation by God’s hand.

The doctor sat across from her with a solemn face and an apologetic tone Scully had used on patients not ten weeks ago. Usually the tone was used when there was a complication and there was an unexpected turn. Listening to someone tell her about respecting wishes and how