"So, what did you and I talk about last night?"
In the car with Mulder the morning after what Scully was starting to think of as the unofficial Most Embarrassing Night of Her Life, there was no question she felt less like answering. Well all right, there was one question she felt less like answering, and she had a feeling it was on her partner's list of follow-up questions. They didn't have a long drive ahead of them, only a few minutes from work to her apartment — they had driven Mulder's car back to Washington from Martinsburg, where they had dropped Van Blundht off in cuffs — so hopefully she'd be able to dodge his curiosity long enough to close her apartment door and put Mulder on the other side of it. However, as she looked over at her partner in the driver's seat, she saw a smirk crossing his face that meant he would not just let this one drop. "Come on, Scully, you were happy to tell me last night, and it wasn't even really me!"
"I know that, Mulder," she sighed, tossing her hair out of her eyes, where it blew right back in the wind whipping through the partially-open window. She refused to close it entirely, unwilling to relinquish the feeling of the breeze on her face. "I just … I just told him about one time at prom when we had to leave the dance in a fire truck."
Mulder let the silence hang, seemingly waiting, before finally giving her an exasperated look that she felt rather than saw. "Scully," he said, "you're telling me that that is exactly the story you told this guy and he loved it enough that he was gonna kiss you for it?"
Had Scully been a weaker woman she might have blushed. Instead she fumed as Mulder pulled up and parked outside of her apartment. Without the wind to cool the car it quickly grew warm under the evening light. "Okay, Mulder," she said, irritation giving her voice an edge. She turned to face her partner and met his hazel gaze with righteous anger. "So that may not have been exactly what I told Van Blundht, but to be fair to me why on earth should I tell you now? Even if I know it's you for sure this time, yesterday I didn't know you well enough to tell the difference between you and a rapist with serious self-esteem issues! Van Blundht was right," she continued, irony heavy in her voice. "We never talk, Mulder. I barely even know you at all."
"Hey! Hey, Scully," Mulder called after her as she slammed the car door behind her, power-walking in front of the hood in an effort to get inside and put some solid material between herself and her always irritating yet somehow always forgivable partner. Sometimes the forgiveness just took more time than others. "Listen, Scully," he was saying as he chased her up the walkway to her apartment's front door, leaning up against the wall next to her with one arm as she fumbled for her keys, "I'm sorry, okay? I was just kidding around, but I should have known better. You've gotta have patience with me. I'm just a big loser, remember?" Scully looked up at that. There was a twinkle in Mulder's eye but the corners of his mouth didn't pull up quite as high as she'd expect after a comment like that. Her heart softened a little, as she hated herself for it. "Listen, you're right. Or Van Blundht was right. Either way, we never talk, and I wanna believe that we're not just partners. We're friends, Scully, right? Don't you think?"
"Well, considering the fact that you refuse to let me have any sort of life outside our work together," Scully began, but the edge was all but gone from her voice, "I suppose I have to count you as a friend or risk being as big a loser as Spooky Mulder."
"Well come on, then," he said, persuasively. "Let this friend cook you some dinner while you take a bath or whatever it is you do to relax, and then we're gonna talk. I'm gonna convince you to tell me that fire truck story, Scully, by hook or by crook."
Later, Scully had to admit as she and Mulder sat at her table over a dinner of pizza (which Mulder had sheepishly ordered while she opened her windows and fanned the smoke away from her fire alarm) that even if old Spooky was her only friend she wasn't doing too badly for herself. Mulder had waited patiently for the pizza after she'd admitted she really did want a bath in the aftermath of the burning of whatever food he'd attempted to cook for her, and he'd even served it up and opened up a bottle of her wine without asking. Normally she'd be inclined to be aggravated with him, but today, on this day especially, Scully needed a glass or two.
Through their first slice, she and Mulder had talked about work things, as if they were sitting in the office still, and Scully was thankful for it. As Mulder had poured her a second half-glass of wine she had gotten a creeping sense of deja vu that made her shiver, but his return to prattling about aliens in the Vatican had set her mind at ease again. In any case, she reminded herself, she knew this one was Mulder for real. That morning he had told her her middle name, her mother's name, and had described her old haircut with a vividness that made her cringe. Okay, so no one would be putting that 'do down in style history.
However, as Mulder reached for another slice of supreme, she could tell that he was ready to move along conversationally. As soon as he'd swallowed his first bite, he proved her right. "So, Scully," he said with a lightness that was reassuring, "what's one thing you've always wanted to know about me? Something not work-related."
Scully raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think I'd want to know anything about you outside work?" she asked dryly. "You don't really do anything else with your time."
Mulder put his hand over his heart, wincing in pain. "Take it easy, would you, Xena? I'm a man who's vulnerable to that kind of thing. But seriously," he continued, "I thought it might be easier for you to trust me if I told you something first, you know? I try to be considerate and you shoot me down. Where has the love gone?"
Scully rolled her eyes. "Well, if you insist … Tell me the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you."
"It's tough to pinpoint just one embarrassing moment," Mulder quipped. "You're asking a lot of a man whose life is dedicated to finding proof of things that most normal people don't even believe exist. Including you," he added somewhat pointedly, raising an eyebrow at her. Scully didn't respond, merely waited for him to get to a point. "Well, it seems fitting somehow that the first story that comes to mind actually involves aliens somewhat. When I moved into my dorm at Oxford all I had was UFO memorabilia — posters, flying saucers, alien figurines. All of the books I brought from home were about aliens. I was really wild back then, Scully, you wouldn't have been able to stand me at all. Anyway, that's when all the kids at school with me started to call me 'Spooky,' and I'll tell you why. One night I was walking across the quad back to my dorm from the library, and people were already starting to think I was weird because of all the extraterrestrial junk I had. Well I was thinking about crop circles or some nonsense like that and so I didn't even notice a bunch of the more popular and well-liked kids coming up behind me, and of course being in college they yanked down my jeans — back then I didn't wear a belt. Anyway, I was wearing these … insane boxers with glow in the dark little green men on them, and everyone was howling. Someone took a photo, I think, or must have, because the next day there were flyers with pictures of me in these absurd underwear hanging all over campus and they all just said 'SPOOKY' in big capital letters underneath the — Scully, are you laughing?"
She could no longer contain herself, and at this, Scully started to laugh in earnest. "Mulder, that's hilarious," she said when she caught her breath again. "I'm sorry but that's one of the funniest things I've ever heard."
"Funnier than the fire truck prom story?" Mulder asked, a gleam in his eye, one corner of his mouth quirking up and revealing a gleam of teeth. "Come on Scully," he added as she sighed good-naturedly, "you promised."
"I did no such thing," she argued. "Besides, it feels like I've already told you that story. I don't want to tell you again."
"We've been over this, Scully, you told Van Blundht, not me," said Mulder, draining his second glass of wine. He took both his glass and hers and refilled them before bringing them back to the table. "I have to know."
"Can't I tell you something different?" Scully asked, allowing a note of long-suffering to creep into her voice. "I just … I just don't like thinking about how close I came to… Well, how close I got to a total stranger." She sighed again, slumping a little in her chair. "When I joined the Bureau I knew my work would be dangerous but I guess I had no idea what kind of danger I would be encountering."
Mulder put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing for a second before releasing her. "All thanks to Fox Mulder and his basement office of insanity."
"That's right," Scully said, grinning at him.
He smiled back for a moment before speaking again. "Don't think I've forgotten that you have to tell me something about yourself, Agent Scully. You're a secretive woman, and I'm only biding my time so I can think of the most emotionally exhaustive story I could think of for you to tell me." He paused, and Scully rolled her eyes yet again. If that could burn calories the way working other muscles could, she'd never have to go to the gym again if she kept working with Mulder. "What was your first kiss like?"
Scully groaned. "Mulder, are we professional, working adults or are we giggling middle schoolers? What kind of question is that?"
Mulder's face was the picture of wide-eyed innocence. "Oh, come on, Scully, on the spot like that what kind of stories do you think I'm going to ask for, huh? Besides, I want this to be a fun evening spent looking back on good times, not us telling each other how grim we felt when we were almost shot or stabbed or liquified by whatever alien, werewolf, vampire, monster, you name it."
"Well, if you're looking for fun times, Mulder, I almost think you'd rather hear about one of our many shootings and stabbings," Scully said, voice deadpan. "My first kiss was terrible, and it didn't happen until I was a sophomore in high school."
She thought Mulder's eyebrows might disappear into his hairline. "What, a beautiful girl like you couldn't get a kiss before then?"
Scully suddenly felt shy, and looked down at the floor, swirling the wine in her glass mechanically. "I didn't always have the same control of my hair that I do now," she said, voice soft but still — thankfully — not without the edge that usually colored how she spoke to her partner. "Besides, I wasn't the kind of girl who was very interested in boys. Or I tried not to be. But there I was, in my sophomore year of high school. I was sort of a punk back then, Mulder, if you can believe it."
"Oh, I believe it," Mulder said, talking around a piece of mushroom. "You're sort of a punk now."
"Lay off," Scully said, playfully shoving her partner and grinning a little in spite of herself when he comically wobbled on his chair. "Anyway, I was wearing this goofy vest and my dad's old lumberjack shirt, you know, like all the kids did back then, and Peter Tomkins from the senior class was standing next to me at a baseball game. My brother Bill was on the team, and I think Peter just went because he liked baseball. Peter said Bill was a really good player, and I said thanks, I knew that, and one thing sort of led to another and we talked the whole game. During the seventh inning I left to get some water from the school's fountain, which was right behind the building, and Peter went with me. He leaned against the wall while I drank from the fountain, and then when I stood up he just … kissed me. For being a grown boy he was God-awful at it, and I still had water on my mouth from our old, broken water fountain. It was terrible, but at the time it was just nice that a boy wanted to kiss me. And Peter was nice. He walked me back to the game without making me hold his hand and he stood with me until Bill was done. Then he left and after that summer I never saw him again because he went to college."
Mulder sat in silence for a minute, just looking at her. Scully was starting to feel uncomfortable when he finally spoke. "Jesus, Scully, that was terrible. Maybe I should have asked about your favorite parasite or your favorite item of clothing that got stolen from a laundromat instead."
"Well, you asked for it, and I did warn you," Scully said, putting her hands in the air. "I'm assuming from your reaction to my story that your first kiss was much better than mine."
"Of course it was," Mulder said, rolling his eyes. "I'm sure the Loch Ness Monster's first kiss was better than yours, Scully. Mine was in seventh grade with Rosie Collins. She was sweet, and she had curly brown hair and blue eyes. It was at the Christmas dance at the middle school, there was mistletoe and this awful fake snow stuff everywhere, and the gym was covered in Christmas lights. I asked her to dance because back then I wasn't so spooky, and Samantha was still with us so I didn't know what to be scared of. And you know, even with the fake snow she was pretty, and the room looked nice, and when the song was over, I just… kissed her. It wasn't a very long kiss because one of the chaperones was on us like a hawk before I had a chance to really impress her, but after that Rosie's mom said she wasn't allowed to see me anymore so that was that."
"Geez, Mulder, that wasn't as nice an ending as I'd imagined," Scully said. "Although, in fairness, it does sound like the scenario itself was much nicer than mine. And much earlier," she admitted, a little disgruntled.
"Listen, Scully, I am not leaving this apartment until one of us tells a story that the other one gets enjoyment from, and if I have to drink a second bottle of your wine all by myself to make that happen—" Mulder drained his glass "—then so be it."
Grinning, Scully finished her glass with a little more dignity. "Fine," she said. "Hurry up and tell me something funny so I can get you the hell out of here."
By the time Scully had eaten three slices of pizza and Mulder had eaten five to finish off the pie, both of them had laughed at quite a few stories, but when they were done eating they just gradually and organically moved to sitting on her couch. Mulder, true to his word, had opened her second and penultimate bottle of wine, but together they had only drunk half of it, and the shocking amount of greasy pizza she'd eaten had done its part to keep Scully's head clear, for the most part. However, she had indulged herself in laughing a little more freely than usual when Mulder stood up and acted out his old boss' reaction when he proposed the X-Files.
"And he still let you open them even though you listed Bigfoot as one of the mysteries you could solve?" she asked incredulously as Mulder crashed back down on the couch, stretching his arms out until they looked like bird's wings and throwing them over the back of the sofa.
"It must be my schoolboy charm," her partner replied, grinning that goofy cockeyed grin she was so used to. "Now come on, Scully, tell me another one about you. Tell me the worst grade you ever got on a test in med school."
"Mulder, don't you know I got perfect scores every time?" Scully asked innocently.
"Oh, right, my mistake. How could I forget that Special Agent Dana Scully has always been perfect?" Mulder replied, head rolling toward her, still wearing that goofy grin. Although normally she would have pulled away, at least internally, tonight Scully felt more relaxed — and not just because of the wine. She and her partner had never talked like this before, never really shared anything outside work. Well, nothing pleasant anyway. "Come on, Scully, you had to have gotten at least one low one. One late night, one missed study session…"
Scully chuckled. Sometimes Mulder could be a perfect child. "Once, Mulder, once… I stayed up very late before an anatomy practical and I got a 79."
Her partner's eyes widened comically. "A 79?" he repeated, mockingly agog. "Scully, I would have sold a kidney to get a 79 ever when I was at Oxford. You really are brilliant. Now I'm really stunned you chose to lock yourself up in the FBI basement with this crackpot."
"Well, it was an assignment from my superior," teased Scully gently. "What's the scariest alien thing you've ever encountered during your time working on the X-Files?"
"Easy," Mulder said, grin dropping and eyes losing their twinkle. "Your cancer."
Scully's breath caught in her chest, the way she could never help happening any time someone said the c-word, all her good feeling gone. She'd expected Mulder to say something insane about a banshee or some kind of never-before seen microbe or even one of their own experiences together — the parasites in the Arctic, the hair-and-nails killer, Eugene Tooms making nests from newspaper and his own bile, all scary in their own right but nothing compared to the tiny and yet overwhelming mass thisclose to her brain.
"I know you were probably thinking I'd say some stupid thing like 'the greys,'" Mulder said with an apologetic note in his voice, uncannily picking her thoughts out of her mind, "but honestly Scully the day you told me you … were sick, that was the worst day of my life. I didn't know what I would do if I lost you. I still don't."
Scully was silent. After a moment, Mulder lowered his head onto her shoulder, slowly and tentatively as if she would shake him off. Maybe another time she would have, but not now. "If I wasn't around, who would pay your cab drivers and present your wacky theories to Skinner in the kind of format he can appreciate it?" She had said it in an attempt to lighten the mood, but the thought of Mulder leaving cab drivers behind momentarily before remembering that he had a new responsibility cast a surprising pall over her. She rested her head on Mulder's, still perched on her shoulder as lightly as a bird on a branch.
"Scully, I'd be dead without you," Mulder said flatly. Great. Another thing she hated thinking about. The idea of them separated by something so permanent was downright hateful. "And now, I've led us into this terrible rut, so I'm gonna lead us out of it. And boy, have I got a good one for it." He paused, indicating to Scully that he wanted to lift his head. She raised hers to give him freedom of movement, but he didn't go far. He pulled back just far enough that he could look at her, grin already back in place in anticipation of whatever question he was about to ask her, eyes alive with the same kind of light that entered them when he handed her the kind of file that would make her want to take a week-long holiday someplace she could be on a piña colada IV drip. Patiently she waited, meeting his eyes, raising a brow in the same way she might once she looked at the hypothetical file. Just like always, she thought. We're partners. "Scully, were you really going to kiss me yesterday?"
Scully rolled her eyes. She'd seen this one coming since they'd driven home earlier. "Now I'm even more depressed," she teased, shoving him playfully to the side as she rose to wash their empty wine glasses.
With their customary post-wrap-up day off the next day, neither Mulder nor Scully had felt like sleeping early. Mulder had suggested they watch a movie, and then when Scully had agreed and showed him her video library he had groaned and promised to come back with something good. Scully secretly suspected he just didn't think she'd had enough movies featuring extraterrestrial life, and when he returned she found herself proven right. Not only had Mulder changed into a pair of sweatpants ("for comfort," he claimed) with a pair of distinctly non-human eyes printed on one leg, he had also brought no less than five alien-themed movies.
"Mulder," she said after he'd laid them out with a brief discussion on each's merits and demerits, "have you ever considered getting a life?"
They ended up watching some absurdly low-budget movie (which Mulder nevertheless proclaimed to love) called Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Rather touchingly, in Scully's mind at least, the movie was taped onto a VHS from some time Mulder had watched it on TV. Keeping in mind that this must mean he had a certain emotional attachment to this terrible movie, Scully did her absolute best to think positively about it, and she ended up surprising herself by how much she enjoyed it. She also surprised herself a little by how much she enjoyed having Mulder close; once humans started interacting with people controlled by the body snatchers, Mulder had put his arm around her shoulders — "In case you get scared," he had said, winking at her, but really it seemed like he was the one who was just as scared as he must have been the first time he saw the movie. Nevertheless, Scully had jumped herself once or twice, and together they had laughed at themselves for being so twitchy.
After the movie, they had talked for a little while longer, both of them studiously ignoring the fact that Mulder's arm was still around his partner's shoulders. Scully was warm and comfortable, and she felt like never moving again. It was just this feeling that made her think she should probably get to bed, but Mulder was in the middle of telling her about the first time he'd ever seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and she couldn't break his heart by interrupting. On and on this went, one person or the other talking until Scully glanced at the clock over her TV and saw the hour hand far too close to the "2" for her comfort.
"Mulder," she sighed, when a period of comfortable silence descended between them, "I think we could both do with some sleep."
Her partner glanced up at her clock and his eyes widened comically. She'd never noticed before tonight how often he did that. "Holy shit, Scully, I'm so sorry," he said, pulling his arm from around her shoulders and scrambling to gather, put on, and tie his shoes. "Wow, I mean, I'm sorry, I was just having such a good time—"
Scully stood, stretching her arms until one of her joints popped. "I was too, Mulder," she said, and he stopped his frenetic activity to look up at her and give her the goofiest, most authentic smile she'd ever seen. Scully could have sworn a puppy had just grinned at her. She couldn't help but smile back, and she watched him peacefully as he collected his belongings with a little more composure.
He insisted on leaving his tapes with her, at least for a little while. "Educate yourself," he'd said. She'd walked with him down her front hallway, conscious with every slow step that she somehow wasn't ready for him to leave yet.
"Scully," Mulder said as they each leaned on the lintel of her front door, she against the inside and he against the outside, "do you think I'm a loser? Be honest with me. It's okay if you do."
Scully looked up at him, stifling the urge to sarcastically throw out an affirmative response. If she were open about it, she considered Mulder the opposite of a loser. Sure, he was a little weird, and he believed in a bunch of things that weren't real, but all of that faded away when she thought about his commitment to finding the truth, the familial tenderness which graced all his interactions with his mom, his loyalty to her as a partner… "Mulder, of course I don't," she said finally, trying not to let the sudden swell of fondness she felt for him color her voice. "You're everything I never knew to ask for in a partner."
Mulder looked at her with strange intensity for a minute. "That might be the most tender thing you've ever said to me, Scully. You weren't snatched up by those aliens from the movie, were you?"
She rolled her eyes yet again, possibly marking a new world record in the category. "Good night, Mulder," she said, smiling up at him again. He gave her a very casual salute and a little wave and set off down her sidewalk. She watched him for what felt like a long time. A million half-formed thoughts crossed her sleepy brain, waking up a little in the brisk air from outside; everything seemed different between them outside of work and yet, somehow, comfortably the same. Washing over everything was the residual feeling of being tucked safely under Mulder's arm, protected as always from aliens or any strange thing their strange world had to offer. "Mulder!" she called.
He turned around so quickly it was almost as if he had been expecting her to call him back. The street outside her apartment was deserted apart from his car, parked right behind hers; no stray cats moved, no branches creaked, nothing moved but the vibrations in the air from the noises of the breeze and the crickets. Still fumbling for his keys with one hand, her partner walked back to her door with the same easy stride he took down the hallways at the FBI, across fields filled with crop circles, and into sewage tunnels haunted by unexplained phenomena. She felt at that moment, watching his sneakers move closer and closer to her, drawn like magnets together, that she'd never known more emotion at once. "I thought you wanted to go to bed, Scully," he said when he reached her, his voice low enough to make her stomach flutter a little as he leaned against her lintel again. His face was knowingly, infuriatingly too close to hers.
"I was, and I will," she said, steeling herself briefly before realizing that this wasn't the kind of act that required steel. This kind required softness — not something she had in vast quantities, but something she had a little more of lately. "I just wanted to tell you, Mulder, that yes, I was going to kiss you yesterday. You and I had never done anything like that before, just talking and getting to know each other. We weren't just agents yesterday, Mulder. We felt more like… people."
He leaned down a little further, lips lifting a little. "Do you feel like we're people now, Scully?" he asked. He blinked slowly. It felt warm again. Scully stretched up on her tiptoes without thinking too much about it and kissed him.
Mulder's lips were warm and pliant and soft. Mulder had more softness to him than Scully could ever dream of, and she liked it that way. She felt one of his arms wrap around her waist and his other brushed her arm on its way to cup her face. She put her arms around his neck and their lips moved naturally and sweetly against each other. She felt the same flood of safeness wash over her that she'd felt on her couch, and for a moment she happily drowned in it.
Then the moment was over. She pulled back gently, stroking his cheeks with her thumbs before dropping her arms. Mulder knew better than to hold on and let go more tenderly than she thought she could bear, stepping back again to lean on the lintel. "Jesus, Scully," he said shakily.
She smiled. "See you at work on Monday, Mulder," she said, stepping inside and closing the door. That night instead of crawling into bed the way she'd been dreaming of all day, she put on another one of Mulder's alien movies (Earth Girls Are Easy, brought as a joke, she suspected) and fell asleep on the couch where something had changed — and yet, somehow, everything remained the same. She made no promises to herself of the future as she fell asleep, but she knew she wouldn't need to fight it anymore.