Author's Note:

This story was distantly inspired by another of my favourite male-female detective teams. Write me at dr_dana@xfilesfan.com to guess which one... virtual chocolates for the first right answer *grin*

Out of the Question

"Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"Will you marry me?"

It had been a long, long drive, and was by no means over yet. The fifth-wheel establishment they usually stopped at on their way back into D.C. was mere moments away as the bucar flies, but suddenly Scully wasn't hungry anymore.

She stared steadily at the dashboard for about ten seconds before replying, "No, Mulder, I will not."

"Really? Why not?" he asked amiably, not in the least put off by this cold rejoinder.

"I've been through this. *We've* been through this. The answer is still no."

"Come on, Scully. You can't turn me down without even the most cursory explanation."

At this point in the proceedings, she was simply too tired to be alarmed by the whole situation. She simply accepted it as one of those hazards of the job--like a broken nail, a laddered stocking, or a bloody temple--that she couldn't change but could only sigh over, and did so accordingly. "Mulder, you asked me five minutes ago. And ten minutes before that. *And* when we stopped for gas. What makes you think my reasons have changed?"

He grinned insufferably. "I figured it was worth a shot."

"Look, if this is about sex--"

"Scully, believe me, I'm not trying to bed you."

How genteel of him to say so--although *that* should have been obvious, considering that most men would have preferred to initiate such a procedure with the application of romantic circumstances, of copious amounts of alcohol, or at least of a kiss.

"This is about marriage. It has nothing to do with sex," he explained, his tone a bit too voluble for her liking.

"I think you've been hit in the head one too many times over the course of your career."

"Yeah, you're right," he conceded cheerfully. "Do I get some reasons now, or should I just call the paper and put in an engagement notice?"

She took a deep breath, and girded the fringes of sanity one more time before descending into the abyss of incongruity that had apparently engulfed her partner in the course of a couple of hours. "Because I don't feel like it. How's that for a reason?"

He nodded gravely. "Okay."

"What brought this on, anyway?"

His shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "Seemed like the thing to do."

No more was said on the subject.

~~~

Mulder seemed to have recovered by the time they entered the diner and slid into a booth. "Feel like driving the rest of the way?" he asked. Scully nodded, knowing he liked a beer with his burger, and grabbed onto this evidence of his return to normalcy with both hands and a vast sense of relief. They ordered, the waitress disappeared, and Mulder chewed a toothpick. Scully watched the sunset through the window. Neither of them said anything until after the food had arrived and been mostly devoured.

"Scully?" He said it quietly, plaintively. She tensed, steeling herself against the inevitable.

"Yes?"

"Are you going to eat the rest of your fries?"

She relaxed and pushed the plate across to him. When the waitress resurfaced, he put up the tab and she added the tip. Encouraged by this, she stood, announcing, "I'm getting some M & M's for the drive. Want anything? My treat."

"Just get the one pound bag," he replied, "and we'll share. No peanut."

She walked over to the candy counter and waited to be served, her mind in a whirl. There was no denying it: sometimes Mulder was just one large, lanky, abominably placid mindfuck. But she wasn't sure what to make of his latest scare tactic. Maybe, now that he felt he'd made his point (which was what, exactly?) he'd move on.

She returned to the table, where her partner was struggling into his coat. "Hey, Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"By no, do you mean never, or just not right now?"

She handed him the bag of M & M's and walked out of the truck stop.

~~~

Scully got herself behind a good, long stretch of road, gripped the wheel with both hands, and posited, "Suppose I said yes."

"Are you saying yes?"

"No. I said, *suppose* I did. What would you do?"

This took a moment to filter through. "I'd have to get a ring," he finally replied. "And we'd need some time off of work."

"That's all?"

"Well, I'd probably want to kiss you."

Despite herself, Scully jumped. The incidental importance he assigned to this particular event threw her a little. Still, he'd reeled out a line she couldn't help but tug on.

"Probably?"

He grinned. "All right, definitely. To be honest, I wouldn't mind doing it right now, but you're driving."

And, as if to solidify this intention, he took her hand from the steering wheel, touched it to his lips, and returned it.

The feeling of supreme unreality intensified, to such a degree that Scully wouldn't have been surprised to notice that she was floating right up through the roof of the car. However, what happened next was even more unlikely, in the grand scheme of things.

"I'm really sorry, Scully."

"What for?"

"I ate all the M & M's."

"Damn the M & M's, Mulder!" She pulled over to the side of the road. "What are you trying to do here? What do you want from me--no, wait, let me rephrase that," she added as he opened his mouth to reply. "Why would you want to marry me?"

"I like your company?" He said it hesitantly, as if groping for the answer.

"Is that all?"

"Well, the shock value is a bonus, of course. And I wouldn't mind having a honeymoon, someplace warm. We've both got all that vacation time... That, and I love you. But you already knew that."

Had she known? She'd certainly suspected there was something more serious behind that little hospital bed confession of his than an overdose of Demerol, but neither of them had ever pressed the issue.

"Yeah, I did."

"So how about it?"

Suddenly, duty to their work, and professional conduct, and every other damn thing she could have thought of to throw back at him, became a moot point in the face of a very simple question.

"You know what?" She shifted out of park and nosed the rental car back onto the highway. "Ask me again in an hour." He nodded his acquiescence.

For the first time that day, she was glad of the long drive.

She had some thinking to do.