After breaking their embrace they survey the damage, realize that there’s nothing to save.
Mulder nods to Scully, walks out the door before looking back over his shoulder at her. He watches as she steps around the burnt desk, the scattered papers, charred poster, pencil cup. She takes the identical path he did to maneuver around the debris. He tries not to view it as her wanting to follow him one last time.
Still he keeps eyes on her, needing to see that she’s surefooted as she steps over a heap of rubble. Once Scully crosses the burnt-out threshold to stand beside him, his gaze falls to his shoes.
Her voice tugs his eyes back up to meet her’s, briefly. Long enough for a quick glance that proves to be too much.
All he can see is large, wet, blue grief and he’s trying not to choke on the air that still smells of smoke and his hand is angry, red and throbbing . The result of trying to pull the handle on the freshly burnt filing cabinet. He’s overwhelmed, desperate to either run or hide or cry or punch something.
Sensory overload. Even with an M.D standing beside him Mulder had diagnosed himself. Resolved to treat himself, himself. What choice did he have? Starting tomorrow he’d be without a partner anyway.
Not thirty seconds after Mulder mutters something indiscernible, walks away from her and out of the building, Scully follows him. Using the alternate, longer route to the parking garage.
She’d seen every warning sign. Him flinching at lights and her touch, barely maintaining eye contact. He’d paced, swore, tried to fucking open a filing cabinet that had only just been fire extinguished.
Scully knew scolding him for nearly frying his hand would make things worse, but then again, how much worse could things get?
She had thought she’d seen the worst during the Roche case. After she’d returned to the office to grab her forgotten wallet, she realized her partner had never left. Opting instead to sit underneath the desk.
Scully only realized he was there after seeing the pale paper heart on the floor. Bending to retrieve it she’d seen Mulder huddled. His back pressed to the side bottom panel of the desk, his knees hugged to his chest. He looked like a kid forgotten during a game of hide and seek and she immediately knew why. Almost wished that she didn’t.
Turning he glanced at her, frowned curiously.
“Scully, I…how did you-“
“I saw the heart,” she said, holding it up. “Figured it wouldn’t have been out unless you-”
“Unless I what, Scully?”
He’d looked at her expectantly, brow arched. When a sly gleam started to poke through his clouded eyes, she knew she best encourage it.
“Unless you wanted me to come and find it,”
Handing him the heart she pressed it into his palm, let her hand linger.
He had smiled, appreciative of her and her answer but unable to let himself make the scene she’d walked in on so simple. Smile fading he took his hand back, looking bashful and mournful.
“Scully, I wasn’t down here intending for you to-”
“I know, Mulder. I understand, I-”
“I was all set to head out to my car. Call it a night. This isn’t behavior I want you thinking you have to get used to or expect from me, I-”
“I expect you to do what you need to in order to cope, Mulder,” she interjected. “Look, I know what this case did. To the both of us. Whatever methods you have of trying to process, eventually move past what you endured, I’m in no position to judge or question them.”
Her feet aching from awkwardly crouching beneath the desk in her heels, Scully shifted to a kneeling position. Kicked her right leg back and up to pull the offending shoe off.
When she attempted the same with the left, her ankle caught on the desk chair and made it drag, topple over. In her struggle to avoid it she fell forward onto Mulder’s chest. He began laughing while she went red in the face.
“What was that about your position, Scully?”
“Shut up, Mulder.” Jerking away from him, embarrassed, she went to sit up, pick up the chair, but bumped the top of her head on the corner of the desk.
“OW! Son of a-”
“Jesus, Scully. Let me…”
“I’m fine, Mulder.”
“You’ve got a welt the size of a ping pong ball, Scully. Come over here.”
Reluctantly she moved to sit back down in front of him. Winced when he reached out, grazed the red mark with his thumb.
“You should probably get some ice on that.”
“I’m a medical doctor, Mulder. If I need ice I’ll fucking get ice,” she snapped, taking him aback.
“I’m sorry. I’m just…”
“I know. It’s been a long day,” Mulder said wearily. Still seated on the floor, he leaned back against the desk as she reached for the first aid kit in the drawer. Opening it to retrieve a cooling gel pack.
“It’s just as a precaution to prevent any swelling,” she shrugged, pressing the pack to her head as Mulder smiled.
“You know, I’m not in a position to question or judge your coping methods either,” he said playfully as Scully rolled her eyes, scooted forward.
Holding an arm out, he drew her close against him. The cool pack trapped between her hairline and his chest, while his arm rested at the small of her back.
“This position isn’t very conducive to coping with a head injury though,” she teased, but sensed even without looking at him his smile had faded.
“You’re not the only one in need of coping, Scully,” he said gruffly, his hand not resting at her back fingering the paper heart at his side.
Curled tight to him, close enough to hear the steady beat beneath his chest she smiled sadly, heard him sniff back tears.
“I’m just glad I saw the heart.”
Pulling up outside his building, Scully glances up at his window. She sees one lamp on in his place, backlighting the signal that she knows is meant for her.
Once parking her car, she walks into the lobby. Not up to waiting for the elevator, she makes a mad dash up the stairs, then down the hallway to his apartment.
Letting herself in with her key she sees him on the couch in the dim space. The only light emanates from the illuminated masking tape heart on the window.
He had changed into a worn t-shirt, sweatpants. Flipping through a book with his bandaged hand. It’s older, one of his favorites. Another coping mechanism. A familiar activity. One that draws focus away from the stressor. Preferably involving a repetitive, calming action.
Whatever repetitive calmness he found rereading and page-turning, leaves him when he hears the door creak open, turns to see her gently close it.
He doesn’t say a word and she knows looking at him, she doesn’t have to. Slipping off her coat and shoes she walks across the floor. Perches on the edge of the coffee table across from him as he sets the book down beside him on the sofa.
Gently Scully takes hold of, examines his hand. Once deciding the bandage and dressing is up to her standards she moves on to other pressing concerns.
Leaning forward, reaching over she pushes some hair away from Mulder’s eyes. Slides her palm down to cup the right side of his face.
He leans into her touch, his dark eyes clouded and heavy and too damn exhausted. Brushing her thumb over his eyelid, down a tear track she looks on. Her own eyes mist up as his flutter open, meet her’s in full.
“I’m sorry, Scully. I left you at the goddamn scene and I didn’t even…”
“Shh. No judgement. No questions.”
“Even about my hand?” Mulder asks, arching a brow.
“I’ll go on record saying I’m not fond of that particular coping method.”
“Yeah? Well, what about this one?”
Reaching for her, sliding his arm around until his bandaged hand lands at the small of her back, Scully obliges. Curls into his chest as he leans back into the cushions.
“I know. Not exactly conducive to coping with a burn wound, but-“
“You’re not the only one in need of coping, Mulder,” she says softly, cuddling into him more.
“I know. Why do you think I taped that up there with a bandaged hand?” he asks, nodding to the window.
He earns a laugh as Scully turns her head. Kisses his chest in a spot that makes him certain that somehow, no matter what, she’ll always be able to see his heart.