Disclaimer: X-files is owned by more talented (if evil) people like Chris Carter (evil because he leaves the MSR out for SO LONG!), and 1013 Productions and anyone else I forgot to mention.

A/N: This is my first real "chapter" story; I've only written one-shots before. So be kind and review, and tell me if I should put up Part 2. And then you get cyber-brownies or whatever kind of cyber-dessert you want.

Part 1

I'm standing here, staring at Mulder's door. The dark wood gleams under the harsh light of the hallway. It is winter, and I am dressed appropriately for D.C. weather: a quilted jacket, leggings, boots. The heating in Mulder's apartment is making me perspire underneath these clothes. So is my nervousness.

The numbers on his door, a four and a two, are slightly crooked. Mulder removed them once when he was searching for bugs, and they haven't hung properly since. I allow myself the busy work of meticulously manoeuvring them until they are absolutely straight, knowing I'm only holding off the inevitable.

I'm going to talk to Mulder.

My God, that sounds so pitiful in my head. Mulder and I... we talk. We talk a lot about cases. We talk about other things as well, though. We talk about what we will do when we get our vacations (never). We crack jokes. We are close friends, who trust each other implicitly.

Well, almost. Back when I still associated with other people besides Mulder, I learned about the nature of the relationship between many FBI agent partners. Many of my friends, ones that had been quite close to me before I attained the title of Mrs. Spooky, had talked to me about "emotional check-ins" they had had with their partners. They had conversations about their feelings towards cases they had worked on, about how they felt about their partnership. I learned that this was actually something recommended by "The Book".

Mulder doesn't go by "The Book". Mulder hasn't gone by "The Book" since his stint in the Violent Crimes section, with the Barnell catastrophe. But, this makes it sounds like the lack of spoken emotional connection between Mulder and I is purely Mulder's fault; I have not exactly instigated any heart to hearts. I have my reasons. Talking to Mulder about how I reacted to certain cases could be problematic. For example, there is the Protect-Mulder-At-All-Costs reaction. How exactly am I supposed to explain to Mulder that I value his safety over my own? Oh FBI rule book, provide me with answers. That reaction is the main reason I cannot talk to Mulder. I need to protect him.

Mulder doesn't want protecting. He is a mature adult, with a staggering intellect, fully capable of solving problems. But we don't run into normal problems. We run into problems which continuously rub against, and pick at the wound in Fox Mulder's heart. This wound is Samantha. This wound is my abduction. This wound is William Mulder's death. This wound is my partner's fear that he cannot keep people close to him safe from harm.

Mulder shouldn't have to deal with my problems. But I yearn to deal with his! To keep him safe from all that could harm him, to hold him, to cherish him...

Which brings us to the second reaction that a confrontation with Mulder would expose. It's something that I refuse to name; I am very ashamed of it, and haven't admitted it to myself, on many levels. They have to do with the fact that I can't stop looking- just looking- at Mulder. But with those looks come strong emotions. The emotions I have buried resurface at the most inopportune moments: while I tell him my autopsy findings, while he draws all the pieces of a case together with his characteristic fervent energy, while sitting in an airplane flying across the U.S. night-time sky, his sleeping face so close to mine, long dark eyelashes fluttering against honey-gold skin...

There are other reasons Mulder and I can't talk to each other. But, necessity has driven me to his door tonight.

I have been standing here going over all the reasons to not confront Mulder for five minutes, and yet I find the knuckles of my hand drawn inexorably to the dark wood of his door.

I rap three times. Silence answers. Mulder just got back from he hospital, after his confrontation with Former FBI Agent Bill Patterson, gargoyle extraordinaire. Perhaps he's asleep. Perhaps I can turn around, right now, and walk away in the opposite direction, with problems unsolved and questions unanswered the next Monday.

"It's open," comes Mulder's growl from somewhere deep inside his apartment. Ah, he's in one of his angst-ridden state of minds. This is when that wound in his heart becomes so inflamed that he considers leaving he FBI, running away, committing suicide, all of the above. The escape route bangs shut suddenly; there's no way I could walk away now. It's a very good thing I'm here tonight.

I open the door, wincing at the loud creak. It's dark in the apartment; the only light source is the street lamp outside. There's just enough light to see Mulder sitting on the worn leather couch, hunched over, defensive.

I sigh, taking off my jacket and throwing it over the chair back, before crossing to the couch. This is why I sit rocking backwards and forwards in a chair, making myself physically sick with anxiety, whenever Mulder is called to do criminal profiling. Because every time Mulder gets inside a psychopath's head, he becomes more convinced that he is one himself. I sit down next to Mulder. He is slightly turned away from me. For long minutes, I simply stare at his back, thinking about how best to comfort him. My hand, almost completely of its own accord, reaches out to stroke his back, but I pull it back before that can happen. Dear God, I want to relieve his pain so badly!

"I hit him, Scully," croaks Mulder's voice unexpectedly in the darkness.

I jump a little next to him. "Hit who? Agent Patterson?"

He smiles ruefully, shaking his head. He pauses to look up at the ceiling. "John Mostow." I don't reply, waiting for him to elaborate. "He told me I couldn't find the... creature. Thing. And I hit him. Socked him in the jaw." He lets his head drop down towards the floor, the confession now made.

I reach over and slowly take his hand in mine. His fingers grip unexpectedly, almost painfully. I grip back.

"Mulder," I whisper. He turns slowly to look at me, his eyes dead. "Mulder, we have to talk."

Evidently, this is not what he is expecting. A confused look flits over his face. He was expecting the usual Scully comfort, the comfortable healing silence that allows us to carry on. Or one of my worried sighs, that non-verbally communicated how very much I cared for him. Maybe he was expecting a cup of tea. But not tonight.

"Mulder... I'm requesting that you don't do this kind of criminal profiling again." My voice is barely above a whisper. I feel so bad for doing this. He deserves the cup of tea, and not having to worry about what I think and feel. He deserves not to put through anymore of anything for the rest of his life. Oh, the irony.

Mulder is staring down at his hands, considering my request. Finally, he looks up at me again and whispers that one extremely dangerous word: "Why?"

Fuck. That's all I can think of saying. Eventually, various other thoughts are able to flit around my head. This is what they look like when sorted and ordered (I am a scientist, after all):

1) I've always been very conscientious about telling the truth. Lying grates against my make-up on many levels. And the same goes for half-truths.

2) Besides my own personal sense of feeling... dirty... and contaminated, Mulder knows when I'm lying because he's witnessed all the signs in Skinner's office: the blushing, the itchy nose, the stuttering.

3) All of this also applies to half-truths.

So, where does that leave me? Unfortunately, I'm already painfully aware. I've gotten by before on simply avoiding the subject, but this is a direct question. No, there's no use. I'm going to half to get away with lying. As long as I get what I want, I guess it's okay.

"Well, Mulder..." what a pitiful way to begin. He's looking at me curiously, wondering why I'm turning red. And he knows. Knows I'm planning to leave something out. I try again. "Well, Mulder, you- you gave me quite a scare..." NO, No, no. Much too close to the truth.

I let out a frustrated sigh, and begin again, just spitting out the truth before I can stop myself. "Look, Mulder, you run off without telling me, you don't let me help you when I ask, and you almost get yourself killed! Sure, you caught a killer, but in the meantime you-" I stop myself. Why the hell had I come here? But now I keep going; why stop now that I've made a complete and utter fool of myself? "-and who knows? Maybe the next time you won't come back all right, and then what am I supposed to do? Mulder, if you disappear from my life, if you- the way I- what I mean is- you have NO idea-" I begin to cry. Pathetic! I begin to cry in front of Mulder.

Mulder's looking at me with something akin to shock on his face. As he should. I've behaved horribly thus far. First I don't give him the expected comfort, then I almost lie to him, and last but not least I break down in front of him, something I try not to do except in life threatening situations. This is not a life-threatening situation.

I sniffle and wipe my nose on the back of my hand. "Sorry, Mulder," I mumble.

He's staring in the direction of the fish tank. It's empty: all the fish have died. The tank is empty. Mulder's expression is one primarily of bewilderment. However, at my words, his eyes snap to face mine, his look one of concern. "What would you need to feel sorry about?" His voice is low and curious. My hand moves of his own accord, but again I pull it back. This time, however, there's a difference. Mulder's eyes flick to the movement, and looks back at me with an expression which mirrors what I feel: longing. I realize that he wants the physical contact as well. I tentatively place a hand on his shoulder, but I focused my eyes on the middle of his chest. Mulder's eyes wreck havoc on my insides.

"I'm sorry... that I couldn't just comfort you tonight," I begin slowly, "I'm sorry- well, I had to let you know how I felt when you put yourself through such... suffering..." my voice cracked on the last word and my eyes darted up to his. I had intended to take a quick peek and look away again, but his eyes hold me there. Just hold me.

Mulder's eyes have in them...

My facade is entirely cracked. There is still an insistent voice at the back of my head, loudly protesting the fact that I had come here, that my expression is portraying every thought in my head.

But Mulder's eyes...

I begin to cry silently, tears running down my face and landing with soft, gentle sounds onto the leather couch. Mulder slowly brings his hand up to my cheek, brushing the tear away with his thumb... then he is kissing the tears on my cheek away gently, and he's kissing my hair, and my forehead, and Lord help me, I want more, I want so much more... he kisses my mouth... but then he stops. He pulls away with an unreadable expression on his face. And then he abruptly stands up, and walks into the kitchen, leaving me alone in the darkness.

Can't... feel... can't... think... and then suddenly I can. And I admit to myself the one thing that I never have before: I'm in love with him. I'm in love with Mulder. I've known it all along, and I will continue knowing it. Now I realise, for the first time. I realise why I came here tonight. It's because if I were to lose Mulder, if he were to somehow leave my life... It seems both terribly selfish and terribly selfless at the same time, and I can't decide what to make of the emotions swirling around my head, but it doesn't matter really. I love Mulder. That's all that really matters.

I stand up and stagger to the kitchen. It's bright. For a moment I can't see; a blinding glare hits my dilated pupils. Then I see Mulder leaning against the counter on his hands, his head down.

"Mulder," I croak. He doesn't move. I debate on what to say. How to say it. How to come out straight and describe the emotional journey I've made in the last few moments. "Mulder..." my voice is barely above a whisper. Suddenly Mulder is talking in a loud, painfully clear voice:

"I'm sorry, Scully. That shouldn't have happened. We're both emotionally susceptible right now because of the case. Thanks for coming over, but you should go. Now." He turns his head towards me slightly, but remains facing away.

I clasp the door frame for support, as my legs turn to jelly. He wants me to leave. He regrets having kissed me. Things will never be the same between us again and we'll grow farther and farther apart until we barely talk to each other and then he'll be out of my life forever in just the way I was so afraid of while sitting on his couch-

Due to various factors, I lose it. Really lose it. I collapse onto the ground curled up in a little ball, my heart trying its damnedest to protect itself from any more pain. I rock back and forth slowly, the edges of my vision turning dark and my brain failing to connect with any outside stimuli. I've never felt anything close to this before: I can't even name the emotion: a fish doesn't have a word for water, and this emotion was surrounding me more densely and completely than that.

But slowly, I am aware of arms around me for the second time this night. Arms that I'd recognize in any place, any time. The only embrace that makes me feel bigger, and more... myself, instead of taking me away from myself, stealing something from me. Mulder has his arms wrapped around me, and he is crying too. I press myself as close as I can to his comforting body. He hugs me tighter. We rock back and forth on the kitchen floor.

Finally, we still. And Mulder's proximity has given me the courage to reveal the information that I discovered on his couch. I hiss through my teeth, my voice sounding strangely hoarse: "I... love... you..."

He whispers back: "I love you too, Scully."

Relief courses through me. But doubt courses through the same channels so recently created by relief. Does he love me like a... well, lover? Or like a second sister, a Samantha-replacement? Or like a very good Special Agent partner? I shake my head adamantly against his chest. "No, IN... love... with... you... Mulder..." My voice is so quiet that he actually has to bend his ear right next to my mouth to hear.

He raises my head to look into his eyes. Just like before, they hold me completely immobile.

"Listen to me, Scully." He speaks loudly and clearly, and it is a bit of a shock to my ears. "This is a very important thing to be saying when you're so emotionally drained."

After that, I'm not even paying attention to what he's saying. There is an ice-cold pain in the middle of my chest, gradually expanding throughout my body. He isn't in love with me. That's what he's actually saying. And I realise that I have been misleading myself; exaggerating looks and touches we had shared, making a monumental 'something' out of an absolute 'nothing'. "It's all right Mulder," I say, interrupting whatever he is saying, as I stand up slowly. "I'll just go."

A small part of my brain is shocked by the gelidness radiating off me. That same part of the brain also recognises the baffled and somewhat horrified expression on Mulder's face. But that part is so far away that it doesn't seem to be connected to any other part of me.

I walk out of the kitchen, out of Mulder's apartment, out of Mulder's life, and out of my own life, too, if I can do anything about it.