Our favorite long suffering couple deal with their continuing and changing relationship after the "events in the hallway" and finally acknowledge the existence of the "L" word. Along the way, they establish closure on some important issues of the past year, including Mulder's unresolved guilt over Scully's illness.
Original Author Notes
While most people have generally interpreted the hallway scene between our heroes as a springboard to instant gratification, from personal experience in a situation not unlike theirs (although it certainly did not persist for six years!), I just don't see it as being that easy without doing some real damage. So, the Mulder and Scully that I have presented here are really not as comfortable with their new-found intimacy as other stories might have us believe. By the way, many years of writing assorted fanfic, first released effort; send constructive feedback, please.
Crossing Lines was written over a three week period in September-October of 1998. It was the first story that I had finished writing since ninth grade, and had been prompted by, of course, the X-Files movie. After watching it several times, and with Season Six looming, I had doubts as to CC and Co.'s ability to resolve the scene in the hallway, so I wrote Crossing Lines to bridge the gap. Although I submitted it to Gossamer as soon as I finished it (whereupon for some reason, it totally got lost in the shuffle; the long journey to Gossamer eventually took sixteen months!), the story stayed basically hidden for the next six months until I finally made my first ATXC posting. And therein marks the beginning of the madness... :)
This takes place about three weeks after the events of Fight the Future, which is what? Sometime prior to the fall of 1998?
ATXC Original Posting: March 1999
Second Posting: September 1999
* * * * *
Fox Mulder swiped at his forehead with the back of his hand, wondering if their new office was just a tiny bit on the warm side, after all those years of little or no heat. Their official quarters — above ground, finally — had windows; so maybe it was just the feeling of the sun shining in on him. Or maybe the air was stifling in a different sort of way. He looked up from his stack of brand new file folders and glanced across the room at his partner, who sat at her desk, fingers poised silently over the keyboard of her computer. Silent, that was the thing. What was she so suddenly absorbed in?
It was only their second day back at work after taking two weeks off. Once the official hearings into the matters of the Dallas bombing and their subsequent journey to Antarctica had been completed and the X-Files reinstated, Dana Scully had booked herself a vacation to San Diego to visit with her brother and his family. Everything seemed to be in order, but the intensity of their most recent adventure had definitely left Scully with a feeling of needing to be normal again. She also felt a need to be away — for a short time — from work and from Mulder. She wanted some time to think, to make some decisions, and ultimately clear her head.
Mulder had followed her lead and had actually gone away for the better part of a week, renting a cabin to do some writing. He had decided that it was a healthy move, one that was well-timed, given all that they had gone through in the past several months. He somehow seemed to sense that this was to be truly "off" time for the both of them. He did not turn on his cell phone, nor did he call Scully from his retreat. He spent most of his hours writing longhand in a journal, something he had done on and off throughout the years since Samantha's disappearance.
He had come in early on Monday morning — yesterday — refreshed and ready to go back to work. He felt better than he did a few months ago, when the fire that ravaged their basement office had left him feeling as destroyed as his files. Truth be told, he didn't think that he was capable of having any more feelings after the shock of that day. Combined with his own increasing disillusionment, it just seemed like it was time to call it a day, call it a life, crawl into a hole and die. Now, after Antarctica, he sensed a small renewal coming on, with new battles to fight and some semblance of hope that they might actually win some of them. What he wasn't prepared for, was the quiet tension that was now filling their new office.
Oh, it wasn't anything dramatic or overt, just palpable enough to make him focus on it for the past day and a half. It was an unfamiliar feeling. One of the most satisfying aspects of his partnership with Scully was that he never felt uncomfortable around her, not from the very beginning. He always knew something was up when the comfort level dropped. Scully herself appeared to be sufficiently renewed, with no visible signs of what had happened to her, but her conversation had taken on an almost formal tone. No, that wasn't it either. Scully had simply shut off a part of herself again.
He continued to eye her over his stack of files. They had been told to re-organize and re-build from scratch. Scully was in charge of sifting through their set of computerized backups and Mulder was attempting to put together a rudimentary manual filing system. It was all very mechanical work, no analysis involved. So why had she stopped and what was she so engrossed in? She didn't even notice that he had stopped making noise also and was watching her in complete silence.
Jesus, he hoped that she wasn't reopening old wounds by actually reading reports from some of their old cases, or her cases, for that matter. A sudden nauseating wave of guilt washed over him as he thought back to how he had insisted that he needed her to go on with his quest. Although he had also later told her to go away and be safe in private practice, sometimes he wondered just how selfish he was being. Did Scully really need to be back in the midst of all this alien conspiracy claptrap? Did she really want to be here or was she here because he wanted her to be here?
They had still not addressed what had happened between them in the hallway at his apartment that night. Strangely enough, it was not foremost in his mind at all times. It didn't really bother him that they hadn't talked about it. It was actually quite like them not to do so. He could think of any number of moments in their past that probably should have been talked about but had been left alone. He didn't like to admit it, but a part of him was grateful for that. He sighed in exasperation, wondering why he was such a coward that way. Why did he constantly feel like a 17-year-old when it came to dealing with Dana Scully, the woman?
Scully looked up upon hearing his sigh, seemingly awakened from some daydream. "Something wrong?" she finally said as she locked eyes with him.
"Penny for your thoughts, Scully?"
"I think I'd need more than a penny for these thoughts, Mulder." She said it with a sad smile, looking at him almost wistfully.
"Well, it's almost that time, I could buy you lunch in return for some edification." He tried to smile more cheerfully for her, but the shadows on her face were causing him some concern. When she didn't answer right away, he continued, "Really, Scully, you were sorta far away there. You weren't digging into any unpleasant stuff, were you? We're just here to catalogue, not to go down memory lane."
"No, actually, I just finished the D's...it's just a little hard to concentrate. I feel strange. It's like I've been here before and I don't want it to play out in the same way again." She seemed suddenly forthcoming, but had turned her gaze away from him.
"I think I know what you mean. We've been closed down and restarted before and I don't want to travel in that same old circle again." Actually, Mulder was pretty sure that things would be entirely different this time around, at least for the next little while. He hadn't told Scully, but his sources had revealed to him that while the X-Files were indeed reinstated and presently in their hands, they weren't assured of keeping them. They were naturally the ones to bring everything back to order, given their past history with the division, but Mulder had a strong suspicion that a certain agent was going to make good on his promise to run him out of town, so to speak. Without anything concrete, however, he had determined that he and Scully would simply cross that bridge when they came to it. Ultimately, they were the best team for the job, a fact that would prove itself in time anyway. Almost absently, he added out loud, "I'll make sure we don't."
Scully looked up at him and gave him that same sad little smile. She initiated her screen saver and got up. "Let's grab some lunch from the truck and go for a walk."
Mulder grabbed his suit jacket from the back of his chair and extended his arm towards the door, motioning Scully ahead. He followed closely behind, locking the door after them. Something told him that the walk would consist of some heavy duty talking as well.
* * * * *
Scully put down her sandwich, swallowed her mouthful and looked off into the distance. To her left, Mulder continued to chew, wondering why he was having difficulty tasting anything. It was apparent that she had something to say, and for once, he was perfectly willing to let her find her own time.
"I enjoyed myself in San Diego. I almost thought I wouldn't, you know, after what happened the last time I was there." She looked at Mulder, signaling that she was okay and that it wasn't a taboo subject. He nodded briefly, thoughts swirling through his brain. "Everything seemed so homey, so ordinary, so everyday-ish. I mean, I sat in my sister-in-law's kitchen and saw the calendar marked with bake sales, fund raisers, committee meetings. There were kids' drawings taped to the refrigerator."
"And you didn't have one single conversation about killers or aliens or back-sucking flukemen," Mulder added softly, smiling as he glanced sideways at her.
"I guess our work is really bizarre when you think of it that way."
"What's happening, Scully? Are you feeling more and more like you need to settle down and do the white picket fence thing?" It wasn't as if Mulder didn't think about the same thing — for her, anyway — every so often.
Scully turned quickly to him, wanting to see his expression. "I don't know, Mulder, maybe I'm getting old. Does that make sense?"
"Well, if you're getting old, I'm getting older." He gave her another sidelong glance, losing himself temporarily in her cool blue eyes. He chose his words carefully before continuing. "I suppose though, being male, I don't quite feel the magnitude of time passing in the same way as some women do. Are we talking that biological thing here?"
"No, I don't even think that's it. I mean, I have friends who choose to remain single and childless. So I can't say that I feel that life has shortchanged me. I mean, things have happened to me that I didn't have a choice in, but I did choose my work. It's just that other people have other lives outside of their work..." [... and over the past several years, I've lost whatever life I used to have...] Mulder could almost hear her unfinished thought. It prompted something else to pop into his mind abruptly.
"Scully, when you came over to tell me that you were being transferred to Utah, was that ever an option for you? I mean, I know you said you'd resigned, but did you ever for a minute think about accepting the transfer?"
She looked at him, studying every detail of his face, before shrugging slightly. "I really don't know. All I can remember was the jumble of emotions rolling around inside of me. It was like I had lost total control of my life... no... no, I don't think I considered it at all. I think I was really ready to quit."
They looked at each other in silence for a moment, both sensing that their subsequent close call that night was going to be relived in one way or another very soon.
"And yet you changed your mind..."
"Mulder, I know we've both said that if we quit, they'll win. Does that necessarily mean that we lose? Is it that cut and dried? Over the years, I've seen things and learned things that I really, really would rather not have seen and learned. Do you ever feel that way sometimes? That none of this is real, that it can't be real? I mean, it boggles my mind how far removed I am from the ordinary lives that I see around me."
"Is that what you want, Scully, the gift of an ordinary life?" It was Mulder's turn on the sad little smile.
"This isn't just about what I want, Mulder. It's not that simple." Scully shook her head slowly, taking a small nibble of her sandwich.
"Then what is this about? I'm a little confused. Remember when I told you to go and be a doctor while you still had time? What was that, not even a month ago? That's when you gave me that 'we quit, they win' speech. But I meant what I said." Mulder took a deep breath, stilling fears that were still very much at the surface. He dropped his elbows to rest on his knees and gazed down at his shoes. Pausing just long enough to make sure that his voice was normal, he continued. "We've learned enough over six years to know that this 'thing' that we're fighting extends far beyond what's here and now. But honestly, do I ever think it's unreal? Sometimes I just don't think that we make any difference...I mean, we survive these battles and they obviously mean for us to survive them. It's all a big game. But if we quit this game...do we lose? I don't know, Scully. I just know, by default, they would win."
"I understand that you still need answers, 'the truth' as you so often put it. But have you ever thought beyond that? Like about what happens after?" Scully leaned forward to peer at Mulder's face, trying to read him.
Fox Mulder could only think back to the truths that he had supposedly learned over the past year. His sister Samantha. Scully would find that one ironic, if she only knew: Samantha was the one who had the ordinary life. Samantha had experienced worse hell than him, but she had still managed to craft a normal existence for herself. And the truth about alien life? What he saw in Antarctica had refueled his beliefs, but until that moment? For the better part of the past year, he had convinced himself that the question wasn't important enough to answer. Maybe unconsciously, he had been trying to deal with the concept of "what happens next", knowing that he had never thought that far ahead.
Straightening up, he turned to smile at Scully and attempted to lighten the mood. "I'm just looking for that pot of gold, Scully, I don't know how I'm going to spend it or what I'll do if it turns out to be fool's gold."
Mulder's characteristic self reproach even in those simple words was not lost on Scully. She reached out and placed an open hand on his knee, a gesture that for some inexplicable reason, warmed and saddened him at the same time. "I think that's what I need to know, Mulder. I need to know what happens after we stop playing this game. I need to know that there will be an end somewhere down the road."
* * * * *
Dana Scully had spent a considerable amount of time just being by herself in San Diego. She had taken long walks on the beach, trying to come to terms with the feelings that had begun to overwhelm her over the past year. Somehow, without her quite knowing when or why, she had gone from feeling a certain "agreeable something" for Mulder to feeling full blown love for the man who had been her partner for more than six years. Six years. The mere thought of that much time passing at this point in her life was particularly depressing. She knew she wasn't prepared to wait even half that much time any more. But she was at a loss as to how to broach the whole situation.
She knew that Mulder had feelings for her beyond their working partnership. It didn't take a near kiss to convince her of that. But even after all this time, she wasn't at all sure what kind of feelings he really had for her. She didn't know if she was some kind of mother, sister, or lover figure to him. It didn't help that most of his demonstrations of affection towards her had always occurred at some moment of crisis: I'm dying, Mulder; I'm quitting, Mulder. In her darkest moments during the past six months, her feelings had begun to ache within her like a tangible physical pain, to some degree even worse than her cancer had been. She couldn't even be sure that it hadn't started to affect her work. She could not ever remember a period of time in which she had refused him so many requests. At the same time, his strangely cavalier attitude towards her during their cases leading up to the closure of the X-Files had been hard to take. Oh, she knew that he was suffering under the collapse of his belief system and had characteristically struck out at the person closest to him. But while she had no problem dealing with that kind of situation in the distant past, in recent times, their combined pain was too much for her to handle alone.
Even before witnessing their office after the fire, she had already thought seriously about leaving. What else could she do? What does anyone do when feelings became inappropriate and impossible? It had gotten to the point where she thought it would be less painful to leave than to stay. Then the entire business of the Dallas bombing brought everything to the forefront and presented her with a tidy exit. But even as she stood in his doorway announcing her plans, she knew she was wrong; it was going to hurt like hell to leave. And the tears. She so rarely cried in front of him. Even when her father and then her sister died, she was staid and composed beyond all reason. And yet it had taken all of her resolve not to break into a million pieces right there in the hallway after he had expressed his need for her to be at his side. Never mind all of the times she had found herself weeping for seemingly no reason during those several preceding months.
After their safe return from Antarctica, they had seemed to be on a mutual emotional high. She had declared to him that — his fears for her life aside — she was prepared to stick it out with him once more. After all, they now had an even stronger reason to stick together, didn't they? Or did they? A few days removed to establish the mundane details of a new X-Files Division and an ensuing two week vacation later, Dana Scully was just not sure. And this time, she needed to be sure, in no uncertain terms.
* * * * *
Fox Mulder opened the door to his apartment, kicking off his shoes as he proceeded through to his living room. He stabbed at his answering machine and stooped to peer into his fish tank. An inconsequential message. His latest batch of fish were still mobile. He shook a few flakes at them and then lowered himself slowly onto the couch, his coat falling open around him. He leaned back and closed his eyes.
He hadn't stopped thinking about their lunch conversation all afternoon. They had worked quietly for the remainder of the day and though it seemed that some of the tension had been relieved, it was not all together back to normal; at least, not for Fox Mulder. "I need to know what happens after we stop playing this game. I need to know that there will be an end somewhere down the road." The words still echoed in his mind, along with his reply, "I'm not entirely sure what you mean."
Scully had gotten up at that moment, motioning for them to walk. She merely requested that he think about it and that they would continue the conversation later. She reiterated that she was back voluntarily and was not in danger of leaving, but that certain things had to be different. They completed their walk in relative silence, both knowing that although there was so much to say, the confines of a lunch hour just weren't going to accommodate them. But it was a start.
Mulder opened his eyes and glanced at the clock. Almost nine. He vaguely remembered stopping by a sandwich shop to read a newspaper and have a light supper, but where had the time gone? He took a deep breath and got up, leaving his coat behind. A shower would feel real good right about now. He opened his closet and then removed and hung up his suit jacket and pants. Throwing his shirt and socks in a laundry bag, he padded barefoot towards his bathroom.
He stood amidst the clouds of steam from the hot water that pelted down his back, sending soap suds swirling down the drain. How many times had he stood in this same shower entertaining thoughts about Scully... countless times? Many times it was like now, hot water fanning raw heat over his body as he wondered about her, worried over her. On other occasions, he stood here under cold water, in an effort to tame his body's reactions and stem the tide of illicit thoughts it sometimes had about his partner. In truth, those moments puzzled him. It really wasn't as if sexual tension sizzled between them on a daily basis, although he knew they had their moments. It was just that he saw them as being so much more than that, he didn't like those reactions to cheapen what they had. Dana Scully was not a release for him like his videotape collection. But it didn't take his skills as a psychologist to diagnose their relationship as being odd in a big way. From his vantage point, he knew it was a social anomaly. [We don't see other people, but we don't have a romantic relationship. We are bothered by the idea of the other seeing other people, but we are not involved with one another. We care about each other, but not in that way.] How much was truth and how much was self delusion on both their parts? Meanwhile, it did not escape Mulder that over six years had passed since they were first partnered. No matter what sort of strange circumstances they were involved in, that was a long time. For the second time that day, he wondered: was it fair to her, this hold he seemingly had on her?
Nobody had ever directly or indirectly asked him, "Do you love Dana Scully?" Not even Frohike had ever gone so far. He briefly wondered what he would say. Would he be able to lie about it? He was never that good at lying. Does she love you? He turned and lifted his face to the water, wincing. He wouldn't be able to lie about that either. Unquestionably she loved him; he just didn't know why. Nor could he pinpoint the moment when it first occurred to him in no uncertain terms. But there were enough instances when she let her guard down, purposefully or not, that he could see it in her eyes. Her love, from its tentative beginnings to its current rollercoaster levels of intensity, had always made him feel whole and human in a way that he never thought possible. It was a totally natural reaction for him to bask in that warmth and to feel paralyzed and lost when he was removed from it.
He knew he posed a fanciful facade to others around him. While there were enough rumors floating around about him and Scully and just how close they might be, he also knew there was a certain segment of observers who believed that nothing was happening. Because they believed that Dana Scully wasn't his type and that Fox Mulder was still chasing every nice looking skirt that passed his way. In a way, he perpetuated that belief. Not by actually doing it, but he knew that with the briefest of his attentions, many females at the Bureau would fall to his feet. Fox Mulder was not a stupid boy. He was quite aware of the powers of his persuasions; sometimes he didn't even have to say a word. But it was a game to him. It was a game he even played with Scully, but with different results, which was why he respected her even more.
["But do you love her, G-Man?"] Jesus, the voice sounded annoyingly like Frohike.
"Shut up," he muttered out loud.
As much as he hated to think along those lines, here again, he wasn't stupid. He knew where that lunch conversation was going, what Scully hadn't actually put into words but was no doubt asking. The "game" and the "end" had little to do with work and much to do with their personal lives. She's telling you she'll continue to work beside you, but it can't be like it was before. She'll stick around as long as... as long as what? As long as there was a promise of something more? His head was starting to hurt.
He turned off the shower and swept a towel over himself, wrapping it around his waist as he stepped out onto the mat. He wiped the condensation from the mirror and peered at his face. Was he ready to be honest with himself and answer some difficult questions? For Scully, he knew he would do anything. Including not reacting like a 17-year-old.
* * * * *
Fox Mulder settled in for the evening, remote in hand, flipping through the channels. The sound was turned down so low that he couldn't really hear what was being said, but he was losing himself in the visual images that passed before his eyes. The sound of his phone ringing brought him back to earth. He got up, picked up the entire set from his desk and brought it back to the couch with him.
"Mulder, it's me."
"Hey, Scully. Is anything wrong?" He looked at his watch: it was shortly after ten.
"No, no, nothing's wrong..." [Has it been so long since I've called him out of the blue like this? He thinks there must be something up. Did I ever initiate these calls? When did I stop having those wonderfully inane phone conversations with him? Maybe he was the one who did all the calling...maybe he just stopped and I didn't even notice until now.]
"Did you want me to start?" He heard something resembling embarrassed amusement at the other end.
"Sorry, I was just thinking — "
"Good or bad thinking?"
"Well, neither, really. I just came from my mother's — "
"There's nothing wrong with your mom, is there?"
"No, no, nothing like that. Mom's fine." Even over the phone, she could almost feel him flinch at the word. "I mean, she's great. She hadn't seen me since I got out of the hospital and then I took off to San Diego, so... she just wanted me to visit, you know how moms are."
[Oh Jesus, when did Mulder last hear from his mother?] Her pause grew a little long and she realized that she was holding her breath. Her partner put her out of her misery by chuckling softly.
"It's okay, Scully. And yes, I know how your mother is. So, you were thinking?"
"About our conversation at lunch today. When you said you weren't quite sure what I meant...were you saying that you might have some idea or was that just a request for me to be more specific?"
"A little of both. Look, I know enough has passed between us for me to hazard a good guess, but now's not the time to make the wrong assumption. I don't think either one of us needs any additional humiliation or embarrassment. We're not good at this." Without the benefit of seeing his face, Scully had a hard time with the seeming harshness of his words. She decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"Can we talk about it?"
"If it's too late — "
"No, that's not... you don't actually want to do this over the phone, do you?"
"No, I'm not far. Would you mind if I came over there?"
"Of course not. I'll put on some tea."
"See you in a bit."
Mulder sat holding the phone for several seconds after Scully disconnected their call. Had he been expecting her to resume their discussion so soon? In a way, yes. While neither he nor Scully undertook to delve into their private lives all that often, on the rare occasions when it happened, they tended to get things out of the way rather quickly and painlessly. No, check that — this time, it wasn't going to be painless. By no means.
* * * * *
He put back the phone and looked out the window. Scully wouldn't be long. As his thigh touched the cold edge of his desk, he realized that his attire was a little inappropriate for their meeting. Underwear and t-shirt would not cut it. He rummaged through his hall dresser and pulled out a fresh pair of jeans, pulling them on as he ventured into the kitchen to boil some water. The kettle was just beginning to whine when there was a soft knock at the door.
When Mulder opened the door, he was struck by the somewhat unfamiliar image of her standing there, carrying a paper bag from the corner store. She was wearing a light blue anorak, over top of an oversized white t-shirt and black jeans; flat shoes. Her hair was pinned back to one side with some sort of comb. She looked so unlike Agent Scully right then, her entire body so devoid of her usual steely presence that Mulder felt a strange urge to wrap his arms around her protectively. Instead, he simply stepped aside and motioned her in with a welcoming smile, adding wickedly, "What's in the bag — economy box of Trojans for tonight?"
Scully gave him that patented "look" that she always gave him in response to those sorts of comments. "Don't make promises like that even lightly, Mulder, I might hold you to them," she responded smoothly, handing him the bag as she stepped into his apartment.
"Well, Scully, that won't be a problem because I have my own supply that's much — " he paused as he took the bag from her and reached inside, frowning as his fingers came into contact with the contents, "- much closer to room temperature than these..."
"It's ice cream, you moron."
Mulder smiled genuinely as he closed the door, knowing that their ability to exchange friendly repartees with one another was always a good sign. "What, are we going to do this the girly way... drown our sorrows in high calorie junk food?" He lifted the small pint container out of the bag.
"Is that what you think girls do?"
"Well, I hear a group of them at the Bureau has gone through gallons of ice cream on me alone." He started walking towards where she stood in front of his couch.
The man has no shame, Scully thought to herself, then added as an afterthought: he's probably right though. "I don't think that's something to be proud of, Agent Mulder. Anyway..."
"Anyway, what?" He had advanced to the point of invading her personal space once again, holding the container of ice cream close to his chest.
"Anyway...if only those girls knew what I know about you."
"And what's that — all those nasty, annoying, insufferable things that you've grown to hate about me?" It seemed like he had stepped even closer, if that was at all possible. Scully found herself staring directly at the label on the ice cream.
"No." She had bought the good stuff. One hundred percent all natural, no artificial flavors or preservatives. "No, all the good things that I've..." She tilted her head up to look into his face, putting an end to their little game. "All the good things."
There it was again. When did this start, Mulder found himself asking silently. When did it start that, whenever a pause followed anything resembling a tender comment between them, that he felt this overwhelming urge to kiss her? Did she have the same urge? Actually, she looked more like she'd been hypnotized the way she was staring at him. He stepped backwards and waved the pint of ice cream in front of her face.
"I've seen you with larger containers for yourself alone, Scully. Did you mean for me to join you?" He turned and disappeared into the kitchen. Scully soon heard him opening drawers and cupboards noisily.
"Of course. It's enough for the both of us; I'm not always a pig." Mulder's head peeked around the corner and gifted her with a wonderfully spontaneous grin. In no time at all, he reappeared with couple of spoons and a dish of ice cream in each hand.
She had taken up a spot on the couch, at the far end away from the window. One leg was tucked up underneath her and she had kicked off her shoes. Mulder handed her a spoon and one of the servings of ice cream, and then sat in front of her on the coffee table. He worked his spoon around the ice cream for a bit, tasted it, nodded his approval, and then looked up and said, "I'm sorry if I sounded a little abrupt on the phone, it didn't quite come out like I wanted."
"You're entitled. And like always, you were right." She waved off his incredulous look and continued. "Mulder, we're never ones to beat around the bush when things get really serious between us and I don't think we're going to be different now. The sooner we talk about this..."
It was a long enough pause for Mulder to chime in, "I agree. But let's first decide what 'this' is." When she didn't go on, he plodded forward, quoting her words back to her, "I need to know what happens after we stop playing this game. I need to know there'll be an end somewhere down the road."
"Yes." Just yes. She wasn't going to clarify it for him. She had made the overture and wanted him to extend something in return.
"Okay, Scully, I'm putting myself on the line here. My guess is that you are not talking about the X-Files, but about what happens to us — personally, to you and me — now, next year, whenever, and if there might be something..." It was Mulder's turn to trail off. This was hard, and she wasn't helping. He looked up at her and found her staring into her ice cream. Her free foot jangled nervously in front of him.
"Do we want a life, Mulder?" He was puzzled. Was this the royal "we" that doctors liked to use or did Scully really mean 'you and me'?
"A life would be nice, yes. I'm not entirely sure that I don't already have one, or that you don't. But, and I'm not trying to be dense here, if you're talking about us — "
Scully's entire body almost lifted off the couch as she interrupted, "You're not trying to be dense? Mulder, we were this far away from kissing each other and God knows what else a few weeks ago! What was that supposed to be? Were you just sending me off, saying goodbye? I don't think so! And don't tell me you were trying to express gratitude for our partnership, 'cause you wouldn't have done it that way if I were a man!"
Something about the last part of her tirade made her consider for a moment. She chuckled slightly and added, "Or maybe you would, I don't know." She looked at him, her face almost pleading for answers.
"Not overlooking the fact that it was, I believe, a mutual moment, I can only speak for myself." He put down his ice cream on the coffee table beside him and came over to sit beside her, facing her, matching her position. Here goes nothing, he thought. "Is this what you want to hear? The woman in my life was about to leave me. She had literally turned on her heels and was walking out of my life. This woman had come to define my very existence for the past several years and I had never told her just how important she was to me. Not in an FBI, work-related 'thank you very much for backing me up' kind of way, but in the way that a man and a woman come to see one another over time. I respect this woman so much that I've held back every physical impulse I ever had about her...all because my impulses would probably be misunderstood." Mulder stopped. What was with the third person treatment? Was it that difficult to say 'you'? He was suddenly aware of the thick silence hanging over the room, interrupted by the sound of his own breathing as well as hers. She was looking at him expectantly. He continued, "But I couldn't let you walk away without letting you know. I didn't think I had any hope of making you change your mind, so I just reacted. No big mystery. Maybe I just had to let you know that I knew. That I've known for a long time. And that I've considered myself lucky beyond description to have been the recipient of those feelings." He stared into her eyes and nodded to add emphasis to his words. "So, no, it wasn't a goodbye gesture. It was a stay with me gesture."
"Stay with me as my partner, or stay with me in general?" she whispered. Okay, so she was putting him on the spot. She had to ask him while she still had some nerve.
"Later for that. It's your turn. You haven't told me what was going through your mind at the time."
Scully counted off ten full seconds before she spoke. "Well, like I told you that night — I almost didn't come here. I didn't know if I could handle telling you that I was leaving. But in the end, fairness won over. I knew I couldn't just go and not tell you in person." Scully jabbed at her ice cream and took a deep breath. Her eyes were bright when she looked up and continued. "Somewhere, somehow, I started to have feelings for you that I couldn't deal with. They made me want to run away. And yet, presented with the possibility of acting on those feelings, I wasn't strong enough to run away. Look, Mulder, you've just finished telling me that you knew all along how I felt, what else can I say? Here I thought I was being so secretive." Her face revealed her obvious despair. "When I realized what was happening, I just thought, why has this taken so long? Why is it still so hard?"
Mulder looked uncomfortable. The move to kiss her that day had seemed so natural, but now the very idea made him squirm. "Because...because I've never been convinced that I'm good for you, or good enough for you. I didn't want to wreck what we had. I felt sufficiently blessed just to be with you as much as possible. Beyond a certain point, I've never thought that we have much of a chance for a normal future. The selfish part of me just couldn't stand the idea of letting you go. But the simple fact is, I don't deserve you. And what's more, you deserve so much more than what I am, what I could ever be."
"And just what kind of person do you think you are?"
"I suppose you want me to be positive, right? Well, I consider myself intelligent and all the other good stuff that goes with that. I have people's best interests at heart... I have good manners and I can be polite — your mother seems to like me." He felt his heart expand at the depth of feeling he saw in her eyes. He knew he had seen the look before, but he also knew that more often than not, she tried to hide such expressions from him. But here, right now, she was doing the complete opposite. It made him want to laugh and cry all at once. "God, Scully, I do think that all in all, in spite of myself sometimes, I'm basically a good person. I know this. But I can't deny — and neither can you — that my life is filled with excess baggage and loose ends and I'm forever tripping over them. I'm almost 37 and I still have unresolved parental issues. I'm not a strong person, you — you've always been the strong one. Me, I could be called unstable. I've considered offing myself more times than I can count, even during the time that I've known you. I'm emotionally stunted..."
This was a bad idea. "You're going the wrong way with this," Scully interrupted softly, her eyes filling with tears. The light was slowly disappearing from his face.
"...I don't know how to love..." It came out as a mere whisper, in a tone that indicated he had surprised even himself by saying it.
"No, no, you're wrong about that, Mulder. You only think that because you've never received love in the same way as you're capable of giving it. I know that as well as I know you." And what does that say about me, she thought to herself, I never let on, I hide from him. But he knew anyway. She reached out and took one of his hands in hers, infusing it with her warmth. She could swear that she felt his blood rushing inside of him and felt her heart pounding in anticipation.
"How do you know? How can you know that, Scully, when I do everything in my power to push you away? I do this all the time! Haven't you noticed? How perverse am I to toss casual innuendo at you for years, and then, when I finally seem to break through, I...I don't know how to deal with it...and I just end up hurting you. How can you love someone like that? I've been hurting you for months now, Scully. I know it and I don't know how to stop it. So how can you say I know how to love?"
She was only barely aware of the tears that were tracing their way down her cheeks. She was floored by the realization that Mulder knew exactly what he had been doing to her. How could it happen that he knew so much and she knew so little? Seeing her reaction, Mulder grimaced and removed his hand from her grasp. He knew he had to go on, though, he couldn't risk letting her think that he was anything more than what he was.
"I know how to need and I know how to want. I'm good at both. I've caused you pain time and time again by needing you so badly, manipulating you to come back to me over and over. I don't dare show you how much I want you, but that would be easy enough. Scully, I just don't feel like I ever give you anything in return. I don't know if I'm capable."
"But I never really let you give me anything in return, Mulder. That's my fault, it's my need to protect myself. I know you try, but you tend to try when I'm at my worst, when I don't trust myself to let you in."
Mulder looked up, a deep hurt evident in his expression. "Don't trust yourself or don't trust me?"
"You know I trust you." This was so deja vu, Scully thought. Somewhere in their past conversations, she could swear that she had been taken to task about this. Did he have a real problem believing that she trusted him?
"I know you say it easily enough and I know you think you mean it when you say it."
"But you don't think I do?" Where did this come from?
"Not all the time." He looked away from her. "Probably not in a long time."
"How don't I trust you?"
"Like you say, when you're at your worst, you close yourself off to me. When you're troubled by something, unless you've thought it all out and decided that it's safe to share, you don't call on me — "
"- And you trust me more than that?" She regretted her words the moment they left her mouth.
He turned his attention back to her face and spoke his words precisely, each one renewing a familiar and unpleasant stinging sensation at the back of his eyes. Christ, he felt like a bundle of nerve endings. "I trust you implicitly and will always trust you in a way that no one else in this universe will ever be able to lay claim. I would open myself up to you heart, mind and soul in a second — you only need to ask." His hazel eyes turned dark and haunted as his voice fell to a whisper. "You've never really asked."
Dana Scully opened her mouth to reply, to cry out that he was mistaken, but she knew that in an overall sense, it was true. She couldn't think of too many times when she'd ventured to ask a personal question that would really open up his truest feelings and thoughts to her... and well, only once in recent memory. Conversely, there were many times when he'd tried asking her similar and often strange questions, only to be discouraged by her scientific replies. No wonder he stopped trying. No wonder all he could do was withdraw into his work.
Mulder read her face perfectly. His words came out with a little more anger than he had hoped. He sprang off the couch abruptly. "What, the time you asked me 'have you ever thought seriously about dying'? Well, maybe you should have asked me that more recently. The answer's more interesting when you have a death wish."
Scully's hand moved to her mouth, as if to close it. She didn't need his memory to know what he was referring to. That question had been one of those rare occasions for her, when she had actually wanted to get into something that was deep and meaningful and not work related. They were stuck in the woods for the night, Mulder was injured, and they were far from safe. What was his answer again? Something about the Ice Capades? God, what did he say just now?
"What do you mean, 'a death wish'?"
"I don't know what else to call it. In the last little while, I've had a lot of close calls, even for me — came this close to being executed, even — " Scully's eyes widened at this. The undercover case. Due to the nature of the work, Scully had not been privy to the final report. Mulder never did tell her about the events leading up to his escape. "- held hostage at gunpoint. None of it mattered. I was almost fascinated by it."
He threaded his way through some boxes beside his desk and took up a spot by the window. "But when you first asked me that question, Scully, I wasn't ready. What was that, our first case after your recovery? Hell, it wasn't even a case, we were supposed to be attending a goddamn conference. Only I had to break the rules again and there you were — right in the middle. That wasn't supposed to happen. Not so soon. I couldn't even begin to understand why the cancer had gone into remission, which was all well and good except for one thing. If it could go away just like that, what...what would stop it from coming back? I couldn't answer your question then because I was so damned sick and tired of thinking about dying. About you dying. It was all I could do to pretend to be glib and turn the conversation away from that." He turned towards her, the light from the street lamp outlining his face, revealing the tightly held emotions that threatened to spill over. "The fact that you didn't get the answer that you wanted that night had nothing to do with trust. It had everything to do with me trying to stay sane."
Scully couldn't speak. She wanted so desperately to say something, but felt crushed into silence by the weight of his words. She thought she might be crying, but she wasn't sure. She stared mutely as Mulder came towards her. He knelt in front of her, wanting to touch her and be assured that everything was still okay, that she was still whole and not an apparition that would disappear into the night air. He grabbed her hands and pressed them between his, studying them as he continued.
"Scully, I can't pretend to understand what you went through when you were sick. I felt like I was being kicked in the nuts on a daily basis, and all I knew how to do was crawl back for more. As a doctor, I'm sure you know the price that family members pay, going through that kind of ordeal. But who was I? 'One sorry son of a bitch' in the words of your brother, a raving lunatic who thought an alien cure was just the ticket." He swallowed and blinked rapidly in response to the increasing pressure constricting his throat and prickling at his eyelids. He was walking along the thinnest line of control he had ever experienced, but he was determined to hold himself together. He silently prayed that Scully would keep her distance. Holding her hands was all he could take for now, and that was only because he had initiated it. He knew what would surely happen if she were to make a move towards him, to try to comfort him. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so close to losing it. Oh yes he could: outside her hospital room just after he told Skinner that the cancer had gone into remission. For all its distance, the grief that came flooding back was painfully raw. "I was an outsider every time your family was around, but they couldn't tell me that my pain wasn't just as great, or that my loss wasn't going to be so much greater. No matter what happened, they still had each other. I only had you."
He was consistent that way, in his fear of losing her. That was the one truth about Fox Mulder that Dana Scully knew and could count on at all times. Only she had never stopped to think about what her miraculous recovery had done to him. How, in cheating death, they had somehow forgotten to exorcise the demons that had been raised during her fight with cancer. It was becoming clear to her now — as she watched him relive some unspeakable pain — that he had opened a door to Hell during that period and no one had closed it for him. More importantly, she hadn't closed it for him.
In medical school, she remembered having discussions about how people's psyches are affected by recovery as well as by death. Humans typically make deals with their personal demons when loved ones are gravely ill. They make life-altering plans for when the person is finally gone. They make their peace. But sometimes, a miracle happens and the person recovers. Obviously, happiness and disbelief are the first reactions to recovery, but other less easily understood emotions can also come into play quickly. Questions concerning whether a price was paid and how it will be collected. Was the devil in fact now in possession of the soul that had been put up as an offering for the cure? Those desperate pleas and promises made in the darkest of hours become difficult to meet in the cold light of day. Passionate individuals tend to have problems sweeping aside such bargains, and Scully knew that Mulder was nothing if not passionate. Dear God, why hadn't she thought about this before? How could she have let it go on for almost a year?
It wasn't that she had been blind to his predicament. She was intimately familiar with the gaping wounds on his soul. She just didn't think to connect it to her getting over her illness. In fact, at times, she thought grimly, it had taken all she had not to shake him and demand to know what was dragging him down to such hellish depths. She had been convinced that having her cured was his primary objective. She had thought that things would be so much better once the ugly spectre of cancer was removed. The disintegration of his beliefs had been unexpectedly devastating to the both of them, but Scully had not made the connection that other things may have affected his ability to bounce back. As the year wore on and her feelings for him grew, he kept slipping farther and farther away from her grasp. All she could feel was the pain of that increasing distance. She was feeling it now.
She removed her hands from his and started to reach out for him. Although her movement was not at all abrupt, Mulder jerked backwards to avoid further touch, sending himself to the seat of his pants and onto the floor. He grimaced as his back connected against the unforgiving edge of the coffee table. Ignoring the sudden physical pain, he managed to choke out, "Don't — please don't..." He sat back, legs splayed out in front of him, one arm on the coffee table, his other hand moving to cover his face.
"Oh, Mulder, I'm so sorry. I should have known." Her voice was thick with emotion.
There was a long pause before he asked, in a very small voice, "Known what?"
"I've been very remiss. I just now realized that you were ready for me to be gone when I had the cancer...but I came back."
Something about how she phrased those words struck Mulder to the core, and proved to be his undoing. Implosion was inevitable now and he knew it. He managed to whisper, "But I wanted you to come back..." before taking a gasping breath, feeling his entire being crumple under the anguish that he had been holding back for months. He was at once mortified by his weakness and thankful for the release. The doctor in him knew the importance of the latter. For that long-lost dispirited soul named Fox Mulder, however, it was just further proof of how powerless and needy he really was.
"I know, I know...come here," Scully whispered shakily, once again aware of wetness on her face and her quickly blurring vision. His overwhelming display of grief frightened her. This had to be beyond what he normally carried with him.
Mulder could barely hear her words. But there was no mistaking the warmth of the arms that were pulling at him. He sucked in a ragged breath and fought for control. But there was Scully's voice again, soothing and almost commanding. "Don't you dare fight this. This is not something to keep, Mulder, let it go. Everything will be all right if you just let it go." She slid down to the floor onto her knees and drew him sideways until he was leaning into her shoulder. Then, just as she had done for him two years ago by his mother's bedside, she held him as he wept.
* * * * *
Scully stood at the entrance to Mulder's living room and watched him in silence. She was fairly certain that he was going to be okay now; at least, as okay as Fox Mulder was ever going to be in this lifetime. He had finally confronted the guilt and the fears stemming from her illness, and she had managed to convince him to stop punishing himself for whatever noble promises he had made during that time that were impossible to keep. Amazingly, his face was now calm, with only a hint of redness around the eyes as evidence of the cathartic experience that he had just been through in the past half hour. She allowed herself a moment of unreasonable jealousy; she could never manage to look quite that good after a bout of crying like he'd just had. In fact, she had been glad when she checked herself out in his bathroom mirror that she had removed most of her daytime makeup before going over to her mother's.
As it turned out, Margaret Scully had played a large part in convincing her to call Mulder tonight. Sometime during the supper hour, she had pinned down her daughter and asked her just how long she was willing to suffer in silence. Scully had been totally unprepared for the question, although she knew immediately what her mother was referring to, since it was not the first time the subject had been raised. She wasn't sure if her mother had ever believed her when she said that she and Mulder were "just friends". She was aware of the fact that her mother and her partner had been extremely close during her disappearance four years ago, and that he had shared some significant confidences with her during those months. On the one previous occasion when Scully had asked her mother about the nature of those conversations, she had been told, "Why don't you ask Fox?" When she asked her mother again tonight, Mrs. Scully changed her reply slightly, adding, "I think if you're honest with him, you'll get a favorable response. In fact, I know you will."
She cleared her throat as she walked up to him, wondering if he had fallen asleep. His eyes fluttered open easily though, and he leaned forward on the couch to take the facecloth that she held out for him. "I thought you might like this. I've got the water going for tea again."
"Do I look that bad?" At least some of his humor was returning; that was a good sign.
"Actually, if you want to know the truth, you never look that bad." She smiled and sat down beside him as he wiped his face with the warm cloth. "I just always like the feel of something warm on my face after..."
He turned to her with his freshly scrubbed face and a wry smile, "After what, bawling like a banshee?"
She didn't answer, but patted his shoulder. She felt him take a deep, shuddering breath. "Jesus, Scully, I feel like I've been draining the life out of you. We used to have happy moments, where have they all gone? I don't want you to be mired in my gloom for the rest of your life, I can't live with that. Love isn't supposed to hurt."
"The whole concept of 'not supposed to' is a tricky one in actual practice. Like bad things aren't supposed to happen to good people. While I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that 'love hurts', I know that it does sometimes. We wouldn't feel the exhilaration of the good times if it weren't for the balancing of the bad stuff. But when it's really love, we don't feel guilty about the bad times, we don't run away from the bad times. I think they have to be embraced in the same way as the good stuff because it's all part and parcel of who we are and who we choose to love."
"And where does that leave us?"
What did he want her to say? On the one hand, she had been exposed; after all, Mulder had more or less said that he knew she loved him. But despite the gamut of emotions that he had just entrusted her with, she was still in the dark. Just what exactly did Fox Mulder feel about Dana Scully? She wasn't leaving until she found out. "Are you saying that you love me, Mulder?"
Scully's heart lurched at the sight of the fresh tears that immediately sprang to his eyes, but he seemed to have them under relative control now. "Scully, I don't know if you'll ever understand the totality of what I feel for you. I certainly don't. When they put that chip back in your neck and there was no change, I promised myself that if I ever had the chance to see you healthy again, things would be different. I'd make sure you have a normal life...just like you said to me this morning. I'd stop needing you, stop holding onto you. Stop trying to pretend that I could offer you anything. Stop you from loving me."
"That was your deal with the devil? To make me well and then you would leave me?"
"It wasn't like that. And no matter what I tried, I couldn't do it. I went from needing you to pushing you away. Scully, you've become my entire world without me even realizing it. Every sappy cliche about love you've ever heard in any song is true when it comes to how I feel about you. Do you remember what I said to you that night, about making me a whole person? That's what you do for me, Scully. And I can't imagine being able to do that for you in return. So to say I love you seems woefully inadequate to describe what I hold for you in here." He placed his open palm over his heart. "But regardless of how I feel, I'm not — "
"There are no guarantees in life, Mulder, you know that as well as I do. And none of us can make choices for others, we can only do so for ourselves. You can't tell me how to feel. It's way too late for that. And please don't fool yourself into thinking that I've stayed with you all these years just to make you feel loved. I'm not that altruistic. If I've managed to contribute something essential and important to your life, you can be sure that you've done the same for me.... Mulder, look at me." He turned towards her slowly. "You give me reason to live. I didn't even know how to put it into words until just this second. I think it's why fate keeps bringing me back to you. By rights I should be dead and you know it." A tear escaped his control and rolled down his cheek. He shook his head slowly, partly in disbelief, partly in denial. She continued, "I know we have something complicated here, and it can only get more complicated given who we are and what we do. But we can't go back. I wouldn't want to. I couldn't. I won't."
The strength of those words echoed in his brain. He remembered hearing something similar in the recent past, and knew without a doubt that Dana Scully was a woman who knew her mind. The kettle whistled from the kitchen, breaking into their silence. Mulder made a move to pull himself up from the couch but Scully gently pushed him back. "I'll get it."
Two mugs and some tea bags were already out on the kitchen counter. Scully opened up some cupboards in search of honey, feeling pretty sure that Mulder had some amid his meager supplies. She was successful upon hitting the bottom shelf of the cabinet beside the refrigerator. Normally, they both took their tea black, but she figured that some sweetness would be welcome right now, to soothe the soul if nothing else.
When she returned to the living room, she found Mulder staring into his dish of now melted ice cream. Accepting one of the mugs from her, he said, "How do you women actually get around to consuming anything in these sessions of yours?"
"Well, in general, we're a lot more emotionally healthy than you men. I would guess that the average session is usually not this intense." Scully regained her position at the end of the couch and looked at him over her cup of tea, her expression suddenly very serious. "Mulder, we can't let this happen again. Between your trying to protect me and my insistence on hiding from you, we get nowhere. I should have known better, but so should you. How could you let yourself go on like this for the better part of a year? I mean, my cancer wasn't just a bad dream that one of us woke up from that the other didn't know about. It really did happen. Technically speaking, it's still happening. We should have talked about it."
"There was never a good time. It seemed so morbid. You were going on with your life. It was easier to think it wasn't real. Hey, I'm the trained psychologist and I didn't know. It didn't occur to me for one second that I would be the one not to recover from your illness. And then, as other things happened, I couldn't tell where the pain was coming from anymore." He tasted the honey sweetness of his tea and nodded his appreciation to her. "Like so many times in my life, I just lived with it. But I didn't like what I was doing to you."
"You weren't really doing anything to me. In fact, it's only just become clear to me now what this has been all about. It's been a night of many revelations, Mulder." At his quizzical expression, she explained, "If I didn't care about you, nothing you feel would have any impact on me, not your happiness, not your sorrow, and certainly not your pain. Over the past year, all that changed. I started to feel what you feel. The things that made you hurt, have made me hurt. It's just that, sometimes it hurt a lot worse because I wasn't sure how you...."
"And now I know that at least some of what I feel is reciprocated — "
"All of it, Scully. And quite possibly more, I'm just no good at packaging it up and offering it to you."
"So now I know that no matter what happens, what we have is not easily threatened. I have faith in it. In us."
Her words echoed repeatedly in his mind, drawing him back to a certain moment in a certain hallway. That moment was still hanging out there, still largely unaddressed. How were they supposed to go forward from what they had almost started? Was it still up to him to make the next move? Were they supposed to make it together? He could come up with no suitable answers for himself. What happened that night had been total reaction on his part. He hadn't done any thinking or planning. The possibility of Scully leaving him had pushed him to the edge of an emotional precipice. Proceeding solely on the fact that she loved him, he had dared believe for a moment that her love would be strong enough to survive his love for her. He had let himself feel it, and had been ready to share it, all of it. But now, it wasn't something that he could readily do all over again, especially without benefit of a similarly catastrophic situation. [Jesus, I'm being that 17-year-old again.] He stole a sidelong glance at Scully and saw that she was simply drinking her tea, not seemingly in any hurry to resume their conversation.
Mulder took a long sip from his mug and got up. He started to pace the floor in front of her. He had no easy way out, like he did that night. This time, he couldn't simply react and decide, well, consequences be damned. Unfortunately, in his normal state of mind, he wasn't capable of throwing caution to the wind when it came to Dana Scully. In his normal state of mind, he would never be able to deal with the real life consequences. He cleared his throat, prompting Scully to look up.
"I'm not sure I know how to bring this up, Scully, but...well, it's the main reason why we're here, I guess. Do you agree that what happened between us out in the hall was a result of extreme circumstances?" Scully nodded slowly, prompting him to continue, "And...and do you also agree that we are now back in less extreme circumstances? I mean, everything else being equal — and not to say that I'm ignoring what happened — we're sorta back on the same page as before, aren't we?"
"Yes, one could put it that way. Although with a lot more knowledge and understanding, I'd say."
"Yes. Yes, I agree. Scully, I don't want us to go back to hiding the obvious from one another — not that it would be possible now anyway — but I guess what I'm trying to say is that we haven't technically crossed any lines yet."
"And you don't think we should."
He stopped walking and looked down at her. He didn't know what to make of her tone. "Not now. But definitely not never. How does that make you feel?" He tried to keep his face as neutral as possible, but he knew that he was holding his breath waiting for her answer. His heart was thumping triple time against his chest.
"I think I might feel the same way, if I understand you correctly."
"Are you sure? Honestly?"
"Thinking I haven't trusted you completely is one thing, Mulder, but you haven't ever thought I've lied to you, have you?"
"Are you saying all those 'I'm fine, Mulder's were real? But that's not the issue right now; I'm not keeping score. I just need to know that this is a choice that we're both making. Tell me what you feel." He extended his hands down to her. Without hesitation, she closed her fingers around them and felt herself being pulled to her feet. They stood facing one another, hands joined, a comfortable distance separating them.
"This afternoon, well actually, when I was in San Diego, I had made up my mind that I couldn't go on like this anymore. I was committed to our work, but I needed to know where our work ended and where we began. If we began." Scully looked down at their joined hands, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. "This silly game between us has gone on way too long. It was fun for awhile, but I hated the feelings of jealousy... I hated how I was starting to feel like a jilted lover who had no chance in the world with you..." Her words, laced with fresh pain, trailed off as her voice broke.
Mulder could count on one hand the number of times Scully had let herself express something so spontaneous in front of him. He could see how much it had cost her to make that admission. An agonizing twist of pain settled into the pit of his stomach as he suddenly realized to what extent she had been hurting over the past several months. "Scully, no, how could you think — "
"I know better now. It's taken years, but it hasn't been a waste of time. But like I said before, we have to progress. We can't go back." She forced herself to look up at him again, determination back in her voice and on her face.
"I don't want you to misunderstand what I meant just now. It wouldn't make sense to go back. But like I keep trying to tell you, we're heading into territory where I can't be counted on to take the lead. Right now, without taking this any further, you are the best thing that's ever happened to me." There was no mistaking the emotion in his voice, the resoluteness with which he was defending what they already shared, and its importance to his life. "It would kill me to screw that up...for a kiss, a quick roll in the hay, whatever. But this isn't to say that I don't want those things; I don't want you to misunderstand that either. After all, that was me out there, and I really don't know where I would have stopped if Mr. Bee hadn't interrupted us."
His expression softened as a shy grin spread across his face. Scully actually laughed.
"I like the sound of that, Scully. It's been so long since I've heard you laugh. That's another reason why I think it's important for us to take the time to enjoy normal things, like normal people. I mean, on the one hand, we know each other so well, but on the other, we know so few details. I'd like to start knowing more details. This must sound so crazy to you — especially coming from me — but just because we've been slow getting to this point, doesn't mean we should go fast now."
"It's not crazy, Mulder, I understand what you're saying."
"Are you sure?" he asked again. He tried not to dwell on the fact that understanding what he was saying was not quite the same as agreeing with what he was saying, but he wasn't going to worry about semantics right now. He would trust the spirit of her message.
She stepped up to him, entering into his personal space like he so often did to her. She stopped just inches from his chest and tilted her head upwards. "Yes. All I need for now is for us to be honest with one another. As long as we acknowledge that this exists — " she gestured the air between the two of them "- that's enough. For now."
Mulder placed one hand on each of her shoulders and pushed her back slightly, scrutinizing her face. "You understand that I'm not trying to avoid anything."
"I know. We're both in this, Mulder, it's not just you and it's not just me."
"Well, I'm still going to have to charge you with a very important responsibility, Agent Scully."
"What's that, Agent Mulder?" Her voice barely a whisper, Scully moved her hands up to grab hold of his arms, as if suddenly needing them for support.
"This, all of this, will be totally under your control. You know the stakes as well as I do. I'm sure we've both thought about this in the past, but precedent shows that we would never be allowed to work for the Bureau in the same capacity if we became intimately involved. It wouldn't matter what our solve rate is or how highly they think of us. Once we make that choice and cross that line, things have to change. And keeping it a secret is not an option I'd like to consider." His eyes took on a dark green hue as his gaze penetrated through to her very core. "So."
"At whatever point if you feel that what we're sacrificing isn't worth it, you let me know. It doesn't matter if that's next month or next year. I'm leaving it in your hands. I trust you to make the right decision for the both of us. Just...just make it before I turn 40, okay?" With that, he smiled and pulled her to him, holding her close, feeling her warm breath against his chest.
Something about this felt very right, Mulder thought, gently moving his hand up and down over Scully's back. She must have had the same thought, as he felt her arms tightening their hold around him. They had had occasion to hug each other like this in the past, but there was always that element of tentativeness, a kind of anxiety over stolen moments between two people who could only afford to let their guard down for a brief instant. He would always feel that moment of awkwardness, however minute, once the contact broke and the walls necessarily came back up. But he wasn't feeling it right now, and he was fairly certain that neither of them ever would again. They stood like that for several minutes, listening to the respective life forces within their closely held bodies.
Finally, Scully pulled back slightly, arms still around his waist, and gave him one of her rare open smiles. For a second, he almost thought he was staring at her from a hospital bed again. Although, now that he thought about it, the last time he saw her from a hospital bed, she seemed more sad than happy. "Well, Mulder, this is a change for us. All this openness and sharing and neither one is us is being hauled away in a straight jacket. That can only mean good things for the future."
"Maybe we're getting better at this already."
"Well, if that's the case, wanna play a game?"
"What kind of game? All I have are a deck of cards and those afore-mentioned condoms."
"Not that kind of game." Scully felt herself uncharacteristically turning color, and spun on her heels to turn away from him.
"Hey, is that what I think it is? It is! My dear Dana, I don't think I've seen you blush at one of my comments since — since never!"
At hearing her given name, one that he hadn't used in a very long time, Scully felt obligated to reply in kind. "Well, Fox," she said, pausing pointedly. It was only the second time in her life that she'd addressed him by his first name. She noticed, however, that outside of a raised eyebrow, he wasn't putting up any objections this time. She kept her back to him as he persisted in his attempts at turning her around. "Never have those comments cut so close."
As if realizing for the first time how things had really changed in terms of the possibilities presented by his offhand remarks, Mulder felt his own face flush, just as he finally succeeded at stilling Scully's movements. He was pretty sure she could tell just who was blushing now, but he went on doggedly, "You know, over the years I've said enough questionable things to you to land me in front of Congress many times over. You've been a good sport throughout, and getting damn good at it yourself. But if — "
"Don't ever stop, Mulder. It keeps life interesting. And it's probably the only way I can tell you're not an alien bounty hunter." She reached down to the coffee table and picked up her mug of tea, then sat down again. "Anyway, are you interested in this game?"
Joining her on the couch, Mulder looked at her expectantly and nodded. "Do tell."
"Well, it's somewhere between 'twenty questions' and 'truth or dare', sort of. Except it's three questions and just the truth. To test how comfortable we really are. Taking turns, we each get to ask three questions and the other must respond truthfully. But you have to be careful: whatever you ask me, I can turn around and ask you and vice versa."
"What happens with the last question? I mean, the person going last gets to ask the most ultimate, mind-blowing, earth-shattering question and won't have to answer it in return."
"Luck of the draw, Mulder. We flip a coin to decide the order." Scully went into her jacket pocket and pulled out her wallet. She dug out a coin and offered it to him. "My coin, you toss, I call. Winner goes last. "
Mulder flipped the quarter expertly and slapped it down on the back of his hand.
"Heads," she said.
He removed his hand. Heads it was. "Okay, Scully, be gentle with me."
"Fine, but you're asking the first question."
"I haven't thought of one yet."
"I'll go warm up our tea and you can think about it." She gathered up both mugs and had just turned to leave when Mulder touched her arm lightly.
"Hey, Scully?" He looked like a little boy, about to ask for something he wasn't sure he deserved.
"To answer your question from before," he paused for several seconds, staring at her to the point of making her uncomfortable, "it was...stay with me...in general." Although his expression was of complete bashfulness and almost childlike innocence, his tone was incredibly sexy. She found herself flexing her fingers around the mugs to make sure that they wouldn't clatter to the floor.
She responded with a shy smile. "Thank you, Mulder. I needed to hear that."
With that, she disappeared into the kitchen. He heard her call out shortly, "I'm going to have to boil up another pot of water here."
Mulder saw the kitchen light go on, then leaned his head back and yawned. He felt pleasantly tired; that old familiar sleepy feeling after a good lay or a good cry. And how truly pathetic was his life that he had more recent experiences with the latter than the former? Ah, well, his time would come. Or rather, their time would come. He heard the familiar strains of the Eagles' "Best of My Love" coming from the kitchen; Scully must have turned on the radio. The good old classic rock station. It suddenly occurred to him that both he and Scully were children of the '70s, a fascinating and now suddenly fashionable time in history. Could they have been friends? Being three years apart in age, it probably wouldn't have been likely. As the decade came to a close, he was headed off to Oxford. She would have been just starting high school. He smiled at the image his mind conjured up, of a teenaged Dana Scully, dressed in the appropriate clothing of the day, with a flippy little Charlie's Angel hairdo. Would she have looked anything like that? Who were her friends? When he got right down to it, there were just so many little things about her that he didn't know. Things that, by rights, after six years, should be common knowledge between two people who were supposedly as close as they were. Where was he to start asking questions?
Scully leaned in towards the clock radio on the counter, watching the minutes tick by. It was one of those old ones that actually had a mechanism to flip numbers to mark digital time. She imagined that Mulder must have had this in his bedroom as a teenager. As she stared at it, she realized that what he had said earlier was right. While they both professed to be best friends, there were many "best friend" details that neither of them knew. It was all doubly strange when she considered some of the rather intimate details that they did know... like each other's preferred sleep attire, or the contents of their toiletry bags. Such things became common knowledge with the amount of time they spent on the road and the occasional need for one of them to pack up for both while he finished an interview with local authorities, or she completed an autopsy. Stakeouts and long car and plane trips had made sleeping in close quarters a routine thing. They were two people who hesitated at the intimacy of using first names, but who had, in the course of their work, seen each other naked. Scully felt herself blushing for the second time that night as that rather fresh memory popped into her head. She could not remember details given her condition at the time, but she was fairly certain that in the time it took to clothe her, Mulder had seen all that he could have ever wanted to see. She sighed, casting it off as payback for all the times she'd had to administer to him when he was in the altogether.
She pulled herself away from the counter and walked quietly back to the front room. She stood at the entrance and watched him. He was sitting back with his eyes closed, a quirky little smile on his face. It reminded her of the various times that she'd watched him sleep. Mulder didn't sleep much, but when he did — and didn't have nightmares — Scully was pretty sure that they were the rare moments in his life when he felt no pain. She would have to change that. Over the next several months, she wanted them to be friends who worked together rather than coworkers who were friends. It was time to put themselves first for once. Mulder was right. They had not seen very many happy times in recent memory. Even their close moments had become sadly bittersweet, each one marred by an unspeakable weariness. Work had become all encompassing and in their spare time, they had taken to running away from one another in their own unique ways. It was a wonder how two such intelligent human beings could function in such complete denial. Now that the uncertainty was finally lifted, she could bear to look back, but she didn't hold herself any less responsible for the mess they had almost become. She realized tonight how close they came to giving up on each other. Never again.
She couldn't help but feel an extraordinary respect for the man she had come to love despite all odds. She knew he wasn't used to pursuing relationships with women the way he was doing with her. It was normally pretty effortless for Fox Mulder to have his way with females; she had seen it with her own eyes. By now, Scully knew that even she herself would be a "no challenge", easy conquer for him. But she also knew that even if she were to break with all tradition and tell him precisely that, it would have no effect. It was obvious that Mulder wanted to go the old fashioned route. She found that so strange and yet so right at the same time.
The whistling kettle broke into Scully's thoughts and summoned her back into the kitchen.
He was glad that she had agreed to move forward slowly, although something told him that she had agreed more for his sake than for hers. Mulder was fairly certain that Scully had traditionally been very careful about relationships, just as he historically had been quite willing to jump into them without much thought. That they now appeared to have switched roles did not surprise him. Fox Mulder was not normally a "look before you leap" kind of person in any sense, but he was plainly aware that he may as well stop living if he ever did anything to jeopardize what he had with Dana Scully. While he was relieved that their feelings were now out in the open, he knew that he could only process so much at once. He hadn't come right out and said it, but all in all, the bee did them a great favor. He considered himself lost to his passions the moment he made the move to kiss her. He realized that they quite likely would have wound up doing the wild thing had fate not intervened. He was pretty sure that Scully would not have stopped it. But there was no doubt in his mind that the timing would have been a big mistake.
He wanted them to have time to enjoy being comfortable together, without the complications of jumping into a full-fledged relationship with a capital "R". The unfortunate truth about crossing lines was that it rarely worked both ways. You can't uncross and you can't undo. And he wanted to explore everything he could on one side before moving on to the other. And if that meant that he would not get a chance to kiss her for another six months or whatever, well, he'd have to live with that. Nothing about this evening had convinced him that he was wrong about not deserving her, but he was once again swayed by his partner's conviction. This time, the conviction was that she was the master of her own heart, and that she freely gave it to whomever she pleased. That certainty, confirmed by everything that had transpired on this night, filled Mulder with a strength and a faith that he had never before felt in his life.
When his question finally came to him, it struck him like a hammer. What did Scully say earlier, that it was a night of many revelations? Certainly it was going to be nothing short of that. He looked at his watch; it was approaching midnight. Time to get this game started.
"Hey, Scully, come on out here...I'm ready to play!"
* END *
Updated Author Notes (2008-2010)
Okay, truth be told, if I were to edit this story today, I would be ruthless. In rereading it, I encountered many passages that I would like to change, were it possible to whip out some sort of “magic pen” that would also alter every other existing copy out there. But considering that this was a first effort, with no one offering any opinions during its creation, I’m ultimately satisfied with how CROSSING LINES turned out, not to mention the emotions that it still evokes. Warts and all, it turned out to have a strong foundation, capable of supporting my story-telling efforts through thirteen more tales.
Of course, at the time that I wrote this, I had no inkling whatsoever that I’d ever write another paragraph of X-Files fanfic. It was originally intended as a one-off, “take that, Chris Carter… this is how real people would react”. My opinion about the MSR was that if you don’t want to move your characters beyond that threshold of possible romance, you pull them back and stop with the teasing. Once you cross that line, however – as the creators surely did in Fight the Future – you can’t sweep the result under a dirty rug and pretend that it doesn’t/won’t have an effect on the people involved.
There was also the matter of the tension-ridden fifth season that preceded the movie. Via the drama surrounding Scully’s cancer, the fifth year of the series opened with M&S closer than they had ever been before. It ended, however, with our heroes philosophically, spiritually, personally, and even physically disconnected – despite the closing scene in The End. The tension likely started during the controversial (and contrived) Christmas Carol/Emily story arc. By the time of the last five episodes, it was painfully obvious that something had come between M&S. I have to say, though, that it was a very realistic tension. Their longstanding relationship was still clearly held in great respect; it was just that a sad sense of “maybe we really can’t fix this” permeated the last half of season five. In short, their free and easy behaviour in the movie was a total non sequitur. All in all, it really was the stuff of which fanfic is born.
The moment that reinforced my belief that I had taken M&S in the right direction came in the season six opener, The Beginning. I spoke of the scene in my review of that episode, citing it as the “worst moment” of a mediocre hour that held so much promise: the part where Scully grabs Mulder’s hand and repeats back to him something he said in the movie (something about Scully making him a whole person). That bit was so awkwardly inserted – in an effort to provide continuity, perhaps? – that it made the two of them look quite silly. (It was so out of place that either one of them may as well have said, “Remember what you told me in the movie this past summer?”) I had already written CL by the time that episode aired, but after seeing it, I was totally convinced that – between CC’s cronies and me – I had actually done the better job in terms of carving out a realistic path to the future for M&S.
So do writers have a soft spot for their “first” creations? I think so. While CROSSING LINES is not my absolute favourite out of my X-Files fanfic, at any given time, it’s definitely in the top three.