A/N: I'm not sure when I wrote this fic, but I only got to translate/edit it now. I'm on a serious X Files kick after seeing the film earlier this week so expect more about it from me. This is a post episode fic, for the infamous All Things, and it starts right where the episode has left off. Possible spoilers: everything until All Things. This fic turned out longer than I expected it to, so I'll post it in 3 parts. Reviews and feedback are love. Happy reading!

A Partner, a Friend, an Anchor

Part I: No Going Back

Mulder's voice trailed off when it had suddenly dawned on him that Scully was no longer listening. He caught his breath and then looked down at her. She was fast asleep, her head touching his shoulder, a strand of auburn hair falling softly against her closed eyes. Gently, he caressed her hair away from her eyes, and then sat back and just looked at her for a moment. It was then when he had suddenly realized how beautiful she was… and how tiny… so tiny she would probably disappear in his arms if he hugged her. He smiled at the thought, but this smile quickly faded as he forced his frenzied thoughts elsewhere.

Where did that come from?

He forbade himself to think about her like that. There was something extremely wrong about it. It was Scully, his partner, his best friend. His only friend. She knew everything about him. Only now it dawned on him that maybe she didn't know everything; maybe there were things he still didn't know about himself.

Slowly, so that his movements wouldn't wake her, he pulled the afghan from the back of the sofa and wrapped it around her, tucking it around her shoulders protectively. He stood up, carefully, and took the nearly-empty tea mugs to the kitchen.

It was when he put the mugs in the sink when he realized that his hands were shaking. He felt so ridiculous. What the hell was his problem? It was Scully; it was only Scully. It wouldn't be the first night she'd spend at his place. She did that quite a lot recently, ever since they had made pizza and movie nights their habit over the weekends. She never made it to the end of the film; he always found himself carrying her to his bed. He took the sofa. He always preferred it to his bed, the one that replaced that strange and troublesome water bed that showed up in his bedroom literally out of nowhere.

He smirked to himself when he remembered the first time he asked her over, two weeks after New Year, after that kiss, seconds after midnight. It wasn't a real kiss, more like a friendly peck of his lips against hers. And yet even that kiss had left him yearning for more, with this silly curiousity to check their limits. So one evening, feeling more confident than normally, he decided to give it a shot.

"Wanna come over this weekend? We can rent a movie, call in some pizza. If this weekend gets as pathetic as the previous one, I swear my landlord will find me on the floor of my bathroom with my wrists slit."

She was working on her computer at the far end of the room, but she raised her eyes from the screen at his suggestion. Her eyes were tired behind her glasses, one eyebrow raised in silent question. It wasn't a typical Mulder-ish offer, but she had to admit he had a point. Weekends got so long when they didn't spend them on the road, chasing this bizarity or another. She nodded. "Sure, one condition though."

"Which is?"

"I get to pick the movie."

It was more of a statement than a question. He hesitated. "It's not that I don't trust your taste, Scully, I'd just hate to get stuck with a cheesy chic flick. Now that will be worse than spending the weekend alone," he said, ducking against the pencil she sent flying across the room in his direction.

That weekend she showed up in his apartment with copies of The Shinning and The Exorsist, and a small triumphant grin curled on her lips as she shoved them against his chest. "Is that manly enough, Mulder?"

He struggled to keep a straight face, although he was actually quite impressed. "It'll do. I guess I'm just relieved you didn't choose Titanic… or Gone with the Wind," he replied, giving her an appalled look.

"Maybe I should have, just to see the look on your face."

Upon his return to the living room, he lingered on the threshold. She seemed peaceful in her sleep; her breathing was soft and even. He took this chance to silently observe her. It was one of many bad habbits he'd adjusted to himself after years of working side by side with her. He had become an expert in watching her while she wasn't looking; when she was concentrated in typing their reports for Skinner, when she gave him The Look for coming up with yet another implausible theory, when she mixed her salad during lunch break, or cradled the phone between ear and shoulder while her perfectly-manicured fingers were drumming on the desk…

He wished it was the only distraction, though. If it was just that, he could still get some work done. He could smell her perfume whenever she leaned over him to read something over his shoulder, to take something from his desk, when she walked into the office in the morning, wearing a dark suit that fit her perfectly, and he found himself staring at her for longer than was appropriate, unable to take his eyes off her, like a stupid schoolboy with a crush on the prettiest girl in class.

At first, when she was assigned as his partner, he convinced himself that the only reason for her being there was to spy on him, to ruin years of his hard work. She looked too young, and far too fragile, to be a serious agent, but then reality kicked in, bringing him to his senses, and for the first time in his life he had learned that looks could deceive. There was nothing fragile about Dana Scully. She was the bravest woman, if not the bravest person, he had ever known. She was tough and opinionated, and even if he didn't let it show, he had always appreciated the way she was persistant when it came to things she really wanted or believed in. As frustrating as it had been at times, her strict, logical, sceintific approach had saved him a thousand times over. And he found it ironic that she ended up being the one saving him, after his constant fear about having to function as the rescurer of his future female partner.

There was no doubt in his heart that she could look after herself. Well, in most of the times, at least. And then again, ever since her abduction – especially since he was still blaming himself for it – he had always felt this involuntary need to protect her. In many ways, she had been everything that Samantha had never been, had never had the chance to be. They were almost the same age, Scully and his sister, and sometimes he had to stop and remind himself that she wasn't Samantha, that Samantha was never coming back.

Sometimes he found it ridiculous, this need to protect her, which by now became a sort of an instinct. In an elevator with other agents he found himself holding back an urge to kick the other men's asses for looking at her the way they did. There was no denying it. She was a beautiful woman and they seemed to know it damn well. The trouble was… that so did he. He knew they were undressing her with their eyes whenever they stared at her like that. God knew, if it was someone else, he might have done, too. But it wasn't someone else. It was her. She never seemed to give a damn; whether she was aware of their shameless stares or not, he could never quite tell.

He couldn't deny. At first he was dazzled by her auburn hair, her fierce blue eyes, those tiny freckles on her nose and cheeks, the ones her makeup could never conceal properly, her full lips… She wasn't even his type. He remembered thinking that the night after they first met in his office, when it had dawned on him he couldn't get her image out of his mind. He preferred brunettes, as taller as he was. But there was something in her height… or the lack of it… that enchanted him entirely. Sometimes he found it incredible, the amount of courage such a tiny body could contain. But it could. He often found himself at awe against it.

For years he had told himself she probably wasn't interested, that it would ruin everything, that he didn't really want her, that it would never work and that he was an idiot to expect it to. The attraction had always been there. But she was his partner, his confidante, his best friend. For seven years he struggled to keep her out of his heart knowing the colosal mess it would create. Seven years, and he managed to keep this appropriate, professional distance between them, for the sake of both of them, and he was fine with it, really.

Until the time she was struggling her cancer and he felt something within him was dying along with her. Only when he had seen her in her hospital bed, thin and pale, fighting for her life, he had suddenly realized that his job, his quests, even his desperate search for the truth, had all been lame excuses for his existence. He was nothing without her. She had a hold on his heart, on his soul, whether she knew it or not, and once the thought hit him, it was impossible to shake it away. He just loved her. He couldn't quite remember when was that time when he looked at her and saw a different thing, a woman that had become so much more than a simple work colleague. Sometimes it felt as if he had loved her all his life.

Of course, he could never tell her that. Not to Dana Scully. Not if he didn't want her to run away screaming. Unfortunately, the things he most loved about her, her determination, her constant demand for proof and fact, her incredible professionalism, were just the things that stopped him from confessing his feelings for her. She would probably laugh at him anyway. Besides, why would she want him?

Outside, it started raining. He could hear it drop against the windows. It sounded like a serious storm. A lightning flashed against the wall every few seconds, followed by a loud thunder. For a moment he feared the noise would wake her, but she didn't flinch. He wondered what he should do. He didn't want to leave here there on the sofa, knowing she'd hurt her neck if she slept like that the entire night. And then again… she seemed too peaceful for him to move her to the bedroom now. He decided to just let her sleep. She seemed as if she needed it. It looked like she had undergone some tough days while he'd been away.

He sat back down next to her and tucked the afghan tighter around her. She stirred, and then slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. "Mulder?" she murmured sleepily, "What's wrong?"

"Shhh…" he replied. His face was inches away from hers. "Go back to sleep." He couldn't look away from her. But he had to. He needed to force himself away, before it was too late.

"I fell asleep?" she asked, uncomprehending.

He nodded in reply without taking his eyes off her, moving slightly closer. Every bit of him screamed at him to go back to his senses. He shouldn't do that. It would only scare her off. Her gaze locked with his; something in her eyes implied that she knew what he was thinking, that she was thinking the same thing.

Before he could think better of it, he leaned closer and let his lips graze hers. He pulled away seconds afterwards and looked up at her hesitantly, trying to read through her. The room was silent, except for the constant gurgle from his aquarium in the corner of the room. But even then, it was too quiet; she hasn't said anything, just kept looking at him, as if she had been waiting for him to apologize, or explain…

And then he realized what a jerk he had been. "Scully," he started then, feeling like kicking himself. The truth was that he wanted to explain; only he wasn't sure what to say. He was the one starting it, but he was just as surprised as she must have been. What the hell happened to him? He worked so hard to push it all away and now…

"Mulder, we don't want to do this," she cut him off the moment he started speaking. She was breathless, and there was a clear edge to her voice. Her eyes reflected true embarassment; her cheeks were flushed.

He nodded, his mind still somewhat in a daze. "You're right."

"It's late, we're both tired, we're not thinking straight," she added, ever the reasonable one. Slight panic sneaked into her voice. She tried to conceal it with indifference so he knew he wasn't supposed to detect it.

"Yeah, you're right," he said again, unsure whether it was her he wanted to convince, or himself.

Another lightning flashed outside. The storm grew stronger. She looked up at him, dazed and disoriented. The room swam in front of her. What could she do? She opened her eyes and there he was, gazing at her with the pure hazel of his eyes. She let him kiss her on New Year simply because it was part of the tradition, the beginning of a new millennium, because she had longed for him to kiss her for so long that when opportunity presented itself to her, she took it, but tonight… in nights like this one, when she felt exceptionally vulnerable, she let her feelings surface, sneak away from the dark corner into which she had pushed them. It was dangerous, she knew, and in most cases she managed to get them under her control, to conceal them.

No one but her knew how far she was willing to go for him, in spite of his crazy theories, his obsessions for the supernatural, for seeing things that weren't trully there, for this natural talent he had to disobey protocols whenever an opportunity occurred to him… He was her partner. And she had told herself a long time ago, when they were first teamed together, that a romantic relationship with a work colleague, especially as close as she and Mulder had turned out to be, would mean nothing but trouble. And since as opposed to him she preferred to avoid trouble if it was up to her, she pushed out of her mind any notion of emotion she had – and she surely had – for Fox Mulder.

And now it felt as if all the walls she was carefully building around her hidden emotions were slowly breaking apart. They most certainly couldn't do this. Even though it was clear to her that Mulder liked her as a partner, he had never given her reasons to suspect he wanted them to be more than that. On the contrary, it was more likely that he didn't, and that her feelings would only scare him off. That kiss was the result of a seriously exhausting day, nothing more.

Mulder couldn't bring himself to look away from her, all the while trying to decipher her gaze. She seemed terrified, and embarrassed, as if she was having some sort of an inner battle with herself. Strange. He always seemed able to know what was on her mind, but not at the moment. He wondered what she would do, what he wanted her to do, and realized he didn't know. He could, of course, pat on her shoulder and dismiss the whole awkward situation; she'd go home and by the next morning it would be as if nothing had ever happened.

Not a chance.

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her again. He heard her gasp, a reaction to his abrupt movement, he assumed, but he didn't stop to apologize. A part of him was still waiting for her to pull away and slap him, but she didn't. She kissed him back, as fiercely and as passionately as he did. Her arms snaked around his neck. He lowered her to the sofa without pulling away from her, letting his arms drift to her sides and caress her wherever they could reach, along her cheeks, the skin of her stomach underneath her sweater, entangling in her hair. They both seemed to realize where it was headed; words were unnecessary. They knew each other far too well.

Their kisses deepened, and their lips only parted now to regain lost exygen. Mulder took one such opportunity to take her arm and lift her off the sofa. He said nothing as he carried her to the dark bedroom. The rain hit forcefully against the windows. They were standing breathless in the middle of the room, facing each other out of silently, hesitantly, as if wondering how they had gotten there.

Scully shook her head, forcing herself to get back to her senses. She was wide awake now. "Mul – "

"Shhh…" he cut her off. He knew what she was about to say. He could read the doubt in her eyes. It shouldn't happen. Not to them. They were better than that, stronger. They were partners. They couldn't ruin it all now, not for the sake of one night. She seemed as confused as he felt. His head was reeling, filled with questions, and looking at her, he knew she was feeling the same. She opened her mouth again, to protest it seemed, and he quickly placed a finger against her lips. "Don't say it… I know…" he murmured, leaning to kiss her neck.

He slipped her blazer off her shoulders; it fell to the floor with a soft thud. He let his arms wander beneath her thin sweater. She knew it was up to her to bring them back to their senses, to push him off, to tell him to stop, she was the logical one after all; but she didn't want that. She closed her eyes, feeling nothing but the touch of his warm hands against her skin, knowing it was wrong and still yearning for more.

"Are you sure?" his voice was a broken whisper as he uttered the question, as if reading her mind. She looked up at him. He stared back, his gaze a mixture of awe, desire and fear. He looked at her questionably, his hazel eyes mesmerizing. She had never seen them so dark before. "Dana?"

"Yeah," she replied, trying to stop her voice from trembling. "Yeah, I'm sure."

His hands were shaking when he laid them against her face, bringing her closer to him again. Their kisses were soft yet fervent. There was no more hesitation. Mulder removed his tee shirt and tossed it across the room. She almost looked away by instinct, to give him privacy, when she suddenly remembered it was different now. She stepped closer to him and ran a finger across his chest. She smiled when she felt him shiver beneath her touch. Again she had to ask herself what the hell they were doing.

He kissed her and at the same time tried to take off her sweater. It was still raining out, but she couldn't care less at the moment. It was hot and stifling in the room, and it was getting hotter by the second. Her skirt fell to the floor; his jeans did too. He was struggling with her stockings for a moment, which earned him a snort and a giggle on her side. He flashed a crooked smile at her that told her what she had already suspected, that it'd been a while for him as well.

She seemed distracted. Thinking she was having second thoughts, he kissed her quickly, dismissing them. Then he slowly pulled away and just looked at her in the pale moonlight. She was beautiful, just as he knew she would be. He wanted to tell her that, but he feared it would sound ridiculous, saying it aloud. Instead he laced his fingers with hers and squeezed her hand before kissing her again. A thunder boomed outside. One thing was clear to him as he lowered her to his bed. From there on, there was no going back.