Author's note: Set in season 11. Spoilers for “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” and minor spoilers for other episodes in season 11. Feedback welcome.
Disclaimer: No profit or infringement intended. Characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 production.
She carefully put the muffin down, a few crumbs still lingering on her lips. When she spoke, Mulder strained to hear her over the morning blend cacophony of baristas yelling out orders, muffled voices speaking into cellphones and the slam-bang of the front door as black-suited drones shuffled in and out.
“I found a house,” she said.
“A house?” He hadn’t known she’d been looking. “When?”
“A few weeks ago. The closing is today.”
Scully shrugged, a fluid and graceful motion. “My lease was up so—”
Mulder nodded. “It makes perfect sense,” he said with ease he didn’t feel. He’d just assumed – repeat the old trope about assumptions, Fox – that her toothbrush by the sink at his place meant something. Scully’s clear-eyed gaze met his. He saw the challenge there, the question, and so he said, “Congratulations.” He cleared his throat and pocketed the receipt from their orders.
“It just happened,” she said as if finding a house and putting in an offer was as simple as finding a penny on the ground. “The price was right, I needed a place.” Another shrug. “It’s at two this afternoon, the closing.”
“Do you need a ride?” Mulder asked.
“No,” she said, “Scott’s giving me a ride.” She stared at her muffin and then delicately dropped it back into the packaging. “He’s funny, you know.”
“Scott?” Mulder envisioned the twenty-something gangly kid with his over-bright smile and perpetual enthusiasm.
“Yes,” Scully said. She got up and lobbed the remnants of the muffin carefully into the wastebasket. She returned to her seat. “Were we ever that young?”
Mulder coughed. There were days when he could feel every bit of his five plus decades in his bones and muscles. “Idealistic, you mean?”
“He needs a mentor to ground him,” Scully said.
“Lucky you,” Mulder said.
Scully sighed. “Yeah, lucky me.” She got up and tipped her head towards the door. “We’d better get going.” She led the way and he followed, wondering when she’d had the time to go house hunting.
“The house is in Bethesda,” she said. She put her feet up casually as she sat behind his – their – desk. The harsh fluorescent lighting gleamed on the patent leather of her black high heels. Not for the first time, Mulder marveled at his partner’s skill to walk – run, even – in those heels, but more to the point, it was her uncanny ability to surprise him, to amaze him, after all these years.
“Bethesda,” he repeated.
“I was hoping for Annapolis,” she said. “But prices being what they are…”
“Bethesda is nice,” he said quickly because no, he didn’t know what the prices in Annapolis were or how they compared to Bethesda. When she’d moved out of their house in Farrs Corner, she’d merely returned to the city. He could understand the call of DC, the vibrancy of city life with its bright lights and culture and society and politics all spilling out messily onto the streets. Even Annapolis with its colonial architecture, narrow streets, and the Chesapeake Bay dotted with white sailed boats had its charm. But Bethesda? Mulder shuffled his feet on the floor, a swish of sound against concrete.
“You should come visit,” she said. “I move in tomorrow.”
It sounded so formal. As if she hadn’t fallen asleep on his shoulder while they watched the Astros win the World Series. As if she hadn’t eventually curled up next to him in his bed, her hand resting lightly on his hip. As if she hadn’t rested her hand on his knee under the table at dinner the other night. As if she hadn’t referred to his bungalow as home on more than one occasion. As if they were nothing more than coworkers, good friends.
“Yes, of course,” Mulder answered. “I’d love to.”
“This time I hired a company to pack for me,” Scully said. When she moved out all those years ago, she’d spent days packing. Slowly, methodically, looking over at him as she put each item into a box, and sometimes reconsidering too. He hadn’t stopped her then, and maybe she wanted him to. But the distance had grown between them; he was lost in obsession, she was lost in her grief and there was nothing left to find of their relationship. He wasn’t sure where they were going now, but he knew their boundaries had shifted, that Scully had started to feel less distant to him. But thirty miles in the wrong direction…
“That’s a good idea,” Mulder said. He picked up an old case file to give himself something to do. He shifted through the papers, through the photographs, and he knew Scully was watching him. Suddenly, he felt a tiny flicker of rage. What do you want from me? What were they to each other now if she could make such a big decision without even a word to him?
“I mean it,” Scully said quietly. He held his breath as he turned towards her. Her feet were on the floor now, and she was leaning forward, elbows and forearms on the desk, her hair skimming her cheekbones as she stared at him. “I want you to come.”
“I’m here.” He leaned back against the sofa. Saturday night, worn sweat pants, old t-shirt, New York style slice in one hand and a cold beer in the other, and he kept watching the door, wondering if she was coming. But when he saw her name pop up on his cell phone, he had his answer.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She sounded breathless, but still raspy. “Scott came by unexpectedly and he just left.” The apologetic note in her voice was appropriately modulated for the occasion. “I’m exhausted. I can’t make it down there.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
There was a pause and then she said, “Scott’s got some problems at work, and needed advice. Plus, he wanted to see the house.”
“Did he like it?” Mulder asked. He kept his tone light, easy, like it didn’t matter that Scott – fucking Scott – was visiting Scully’s house. The house he had yet to see. And yet this kid, this kid with school-boy crush on Scully, had walked across her welcome mat before he did.
There was a pause and then Scully said softly, “One of these days you have to cross the Potomac, Mulder.”
Mulder tipped his head back, closed his eyes. It was eight o’clock on a Saturday night. He could make it to Scully’s place in under an hour if he left now. It was tempting, but he was wearing his sweat pants and favorite t-shirt. And he’d have to take a toothbrush. Sixty minutes on 495 and he could fold his arms around her, pulling her close, breathing in the scent of freesia that always seemed to hover around her. He stared back at the television – the episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ he’d paused – and looked down at his scruffy socks and his slipper encased feet. He’d gone decades without ever venturing into Bethesda; what was another weekend?
“I’ll see you Monday,” he said finally.
They stood outside of her house, staring at the big gaping hole the explosion had blown through the wall. Scully stuffed her fists into her pockets as she stared blankly towards the damage. Shards and pebbles of glass sparkled and twinkled on the black pavement. The cool promise of winter swirled through the air. If not for the destruction in front of him, Mulder would have found the tranquility of the place soothing.
“I have no idea what I’m going to tell the adjuster,” Scully said. “Do you know how crazy this sounds? My house attacked me.”
The breeze rustled the leaves, a few slipping from branches and floating gently to the ground. Mulder turned to face Scully.
“When was the house built? In the 1950s? Old pipes. They leak. Blame it on a gas explosion. It was the first time you lit the fire, right?”
Scully stared at him with some incredulity. “You believe that’s really what happened?”
“Doesn’t matter what I believe,” Mulder said, nodding towards the red baseball-hatted adjuster who was gingerly picking his way through the rubble. “Only matters what he believes.” He looked towards the house again. The low flat building, all lines, and giant windows. More like a museum than a house. “I always worried about what was coming from out there.” He jabbed his finger towards the sky. “But maybe the real monsters, maybe the things we really have to worry about are closer to home.”
Scully slipped her hand in his. Lately her touches had become more casual, easy.
“What are you going to do now?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t know.”
Mulder stared back at the house. In their reconnaissance to salvage everything that survived the blast, he noted the clean geometry of Midcentury modern furniture and the wide-open rooms with high ceilings; the lack of Scully – in this house was remarkable. It was as if she had gravitated towards large expanses of nothing in the ten years they had been living apart, where he went in the opposite direction – filling every nook and cranny with something, anything. There were so many ways of pushing the truth out of the way, he mused.
He turned to look at Scully. Her head was bent, her hair swirling across her face in the wind, her hands in the pockets of her black jacket. There was a noticeable slump in her posture.
“The appliances are old and there’s the staircase with that one board that creaks,” Mulder said softly. “The backdoor sticks sometimes, when it rains a lot, so you have to put your shoulder against it, put some force into it to get it to open. And the furniture, well, you know, yard sale specials, not West Elm or whatever it is all the cool kids are buying these days.”
She looked at him, her eyes clouded. He took a step back. Aliens, monsters that rose out of garbage pits, bees, and genies – these things he could understand, but Scully, Scully. Standing in front of the wreck of her house, what was left of the stuff she had carried out of his house and to various apartments in between before landing here, and somehow, she’d become a mystery to him. And it seemed almost too much to ask of her, too much to hope. But still he held his hands out to her and she took them, a slow smile spreading across her lips.
Scully said finally. Her voice was barely above a whisper as she leaned in
towards him. “I’ll come home.”
Scully stood in the middle of his – their – bedroom, staring at her empty suitcase and then at the pile of suits and jackets on hangers lying on the bed. There were still three more suitcases downstairs, as well as a few pieces of furniture and four boxes of vases, decorative boxes, and picture frames. Eventually they would have to find a place for these items. It was a truth Mulder hadn’t anticipated: inviting Scully in meant he would have to evict some of his own possessions.
“I’ll use the closet in the other room,” she said as she eyed his full closet. After she’d left, he’d spread across the house, filling every inch with stuff, and leaving no room for anything else. He made a mental note to buy a filing cabinet and maybe some baskets – the type of stuff organizing experts were always recommending on HGTV.
“All right,” Mulder said. He sat on the bed, watching – admiring – her. She’d been efficient and diligent in her unpacking, quietly and quickly stacking her clothes in the dresser which had been hers all those years ago and was the one piece of furniture remained untouched and empty since the day she moved out. He watched as she ran her hands through her hair, a reminder he had yet to mention how much he liked the shorter cut. “I promise, I will make room.”
She tilted her head in his direction. “You never did before.”
He shrugged. It had never seemed to matter before. “That was then.”
She held a small framed picture. William as a baby. The son who until recently had existed simply as an abstract concept of what might – should – have been. Scully’s hands were steady as she put the picture on the dresser. He inhaled sharply. Small steps in the right direction.
“We can’t tell anyone at the office about this,” she said nervously. So, she was concerned about appearances. This he could handle.
“They might find out anyway,” she said. “Scott and his big mouth.”
“We can talk to Skinner about a transfer to a field office. I heard there are openings in Missouri.” Mulder quirked the corners of his lips.
Scully gave a nervous laugh. “I’m going to put the house on the market next week for lot value.” She paced the length of the room and then looked at him. “What are you thinking?”
“Thinking about that house, how it wasn’t you,” Mulder said. “That it belonged to a stranger.” It was possibly the most honest thing he’d said to her in years. “Why?”
Scully sat next to him. “Because it was nothing like I’d ever lived in before and I needed—” she tipped her head to the side, her gaze resting on the photograph she’d placed on the dresser “—the ghosts to be gone.”
He wrapped his arm around her and felt a tingle of relief when she didn’t pull away. “And here?”
She gave a shaky laugh. “An unnatural force of attraction.” Her lips brushed against his cheek, and he had to strain to hear her. “A supernatural power that keeps pulling me back, no matter how hard I try.”
Mulder cupped his hands around her face and kissed her lightly on the lips. She closed her eyes and her breath was feathery soft on his skin. He inhaled. The scent of freesia filled his world.
~ the end
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