Special Agent Fox Mulder had always been an impulsive man. He had long ago accepted this fact; his impetuousness was simply built into his genetic makeup. It was as immutable as the existence of gravity, and it was an important part of who he was. Some people might claim it was one of his flaws (one of his many, he thought ruefully), but he liked to believe that it was not completely harmful. It had helped him countless times in the past. If he had not relied on his instinct, the "gut feelings" he had so often used as a lead, he would not have found some of the answers he discovered. Likely, he would not currently be standing where he was. Or rather, lying where he was.

Although his impulsive nature was often useful, he sometimes wished that he did not allow it to take over. Occasionally, he actually needed to stop and think a few moments before he acted. Now, for instance. If he had simply taken a moment to consider the possible ramifications of what he was doing, he likely would never have called out to her. But he had not thought; he had simply acted. And now she was staring at him, waiting for him to tell her whatever it was that was so goddamned important he had to say it now.

Briefly, he considered lying to her. Over the years, he had become quite adept at telling believable lies. But he quickly dismissed this option. His mind was addled with whatever drugs the hospital had given him, and he was certainly in no position to come up with some clever remark that would curtail her suspicions. Besides, he had found that it was nearly impossible to lie to her. She read him like a book. Even when his mind was clear and he was in fine form, she could see through his deceit as if his lie was nothing more than a spotless glass wall. He often wondered if his thoughts were scrolling across his head on a giant marquee that only she could read. Because he did not doubt that she could read his mind. If he could believe in aliens, he certainly could believe in that.

Luckily, the telepathy was not one-sided. Mulder could easily tell what she was feeling by her gestures or the tone of her voice. As a psychologist, he had been trained to read people, but it was different with her. He was not simply assessing her personality. No, he could look straight through her, into her soul. He instinctively knew when she needed comfort and when she simply wanted to be left alone, when she was hurting and when she was angry, when she was truly happy and when she was merely putting on an act to avoid sympathy. This uncanny knowledge of the other person's thoughts was what made them excellent partners.

She was still looking at him expectantly, her blue eyes quizzical. He knew he had to say something quickly. Three words immediately popped into his mind, three words that had been rolling around in his head every time he saw her for months now. Actually, if he was being honest with himself, they had been at the forefront of his mind for years.

"I love you," he said before he could stop himself. He was not sure what prompted him to make this confession her in a dreary hospital room where he was still recovering after jumping into the ocean. He certainly had not imagined confessing his love for her in quite this way. Moonlight and candles would probably have been more appropriate. But of course, they had never done anything normally. There was a certain irony in the situation. Hospitals had always been the places he feared the most. It was in a hospital that she laid on her deathbed after her abduction and again during her bout with cancer. And numerous other times during their partnership, one or both of them had ended up in a white-walled room recovering from yet another run-in with a mutant or killer bugs.

"Oh brother," she said, straightening up and turning to leave.

Somehow, Mulder found the strength to reach out and grab her arm before she could turn fully. His grip was light, but she stopped nonetheless and turned again to face him. "You think I'm joking?" he questioned.

"When aren't you joking?"

She had a point, he had to admit. All his life, Mulder had relied on his sense of humor to rescue him from uncomfortable situations. He had found that a well-placed joke could often alleviate discomfort. And it allowed him to shy away from his true feelings and hide behind a mask of humor. But in this case, he was not joking. In fact, he had never been more serious in his life.

The reason behind his confession, however, was still unclear. He supposed he still retained some fear that he would never see her again. The same fear which compelled him to kiss her past counterpart likely also drove him to finally make the simple, three word confession. And the drugs probably did not help.

"Right now." His hazel eyes met hers, and she could not look away. His gaze was captivating, and at the moment, his eyes blazed with such an intensity that she knew he was telling the truth. He was not joking. For once in his life, Fox Mulder was speaking without a trace of humor.

"Mulder-"

"Just hear me out before you rationalize this away," Mulder pleaded. She obediently fell silent, and he continued, the pace of his words increasing as he spoke. "For over five years now, we've worked together. We've been through more than most people face in a lifetime. I've been betrayed more times than I care to count, but you have always been there. You're the one person I can trust, the only person who will tell me the truth even when everyone else in this world is spouting off nothing but lies. You're my constant, Scully, my touchstone. You're my best friend, my partner, my confidante, my everything. You make me who I am. And I would give up anything for you—my life, my career, even my quest for the truth. Because none of that is worth anything without you. I'm not worth anything without you. I love you, Scully, plain and simple. And now, feel free to punch me. It wouldn't be the first time tonight."

Fortunately, she did not seem to be preparing to punch him. She was now leaning on the plastic rail that rose from the side of the bed, silently staring at him. Her bottom lip had receded slightly, and she caught it between her teeth as she processed the deluge of words which had poured from his mouth. Once more, she saw that he spoke the truth, and she longed to echo his declaration with a similar one of her own. After all, she did feel the same way for him—she loved him with every fiber of her being. But once she confessed, there would be no turning back. She knew that a relationship with Mulder would be different than any of her previous relationships. It would inevitably be more intense because the bond they already shared was more intense than any bond she had ever formed with another person. But he had given her the whole truth, and he deserved the same. They were truth seekers, both of them, and it was time to face the one truth they had always known but had consistently denied.

Still, she found it difficult to form the words. Although she loved him, she had never been very good at expressing her feelings. She kept herself closed off from the world because it was the only way that she could ensure that she would not be hurt. But this was Mulder, her best friend, the only person in the world she trusted completely. Always before, however, she had only needed to trust him with her life. That was easy for her—she knew he would always be there to save her, no matter what happened to her. They were partners; they had each other's back.

But now she would have to trust him not only with her life but also with her heart. This level of trust was something she had never had with anyone before. She hated feeling vulnerable, hated leaving herself at the mercy of someone else. All her life, she had been self-sufficient, never letting anyone past the brick wall around her heart. And yet somehow, Mulder had wormed his way into her heart. She trusted him, trusted him more than anyone else in the world. She knew he would never hurt her.

"It's different with you," she said, reaching out to touch his shoulder. "It always has been. I don't know what it is, but something about us, about our relationship, has always been different. I love you. That much I know. But it's not just love. I mean, I've loved before, or at least I think I have. But I've never had what I have with you with anyone else. I'd die for you, Mulder, and never give the action a second thought. I'd go to the ends of the earth for you and never once look back. You mean everything to me. I hate relying on anyone else, but somehow, I've gotten to the point where I know I couldn't live without you. I just wouldn't be complete."

She fell silent, unable to voice the remainder of her thoughts. As always, Mulder read her mind. He propped himself up on one elbow and used his free hand to reach up and caress her cheek. "I know. It scares me, too."

"See, there's one of those things that's so strange about our relationship. How do you always know exactly what I'm thinking?"

He smiled slightly. "It's an X-File."

She returned the smile, moving her face slightly to rub her cheek against his palm. "Seriously, though, Mulder, don't you ever wonder what makes us so different? Why is this bond we share so. . . so. . ."

"Paranormal?" he offered, eliciting another small smile. "I think it's partly because we've worked so closely together for five years. I mean, sometimes it feels like it's just us against the world. That'll help you bond pretty quickly. Beyond that, though, I think the main reason we work so well together is because we're complete opposites. You're the one who keeps my feet planted on the ground, the only thing that keeps me from going off the deep end. And I like to believe that I've helped you to lighten up some, to figure out that science can't explain everything."

"I never knew you could be so sentimental, Mulder," she told him.

"Just one more touch of sentimentality and then the old Mulder's back." He pushed himself further up on his elbow so that their faces were mere centimeters apart. "I love you, Dana Scully. I always have, and I always will."

"And I love you, Fox Mulder. Now and forever." At the same time, as if they shared one mind, both leaned forward, and their lips met. A rush of emotion soared through Scully's body as they pressed their lips more firmly together. Although the kiss was one of passion, it was still gentle. Each one was cautiously exploring the new territory where they had suddenly found themselves. For that one moment, nothing else existed. Government conspiracies, FBI regulations, and alien hybrids all flew out the window as they kissed. They were together—bound now more tightly than they had ever been before. And nothing could tear them apart.

The kiss lasted only a few moments. As soon as they pulled apart, all the concerns which had momentarily disappeared suddenly came crashing back. "FBI policy-" Scully began, but Mulder waved her off.

"Since when have I complied with FBI policy?"

She smiled again, larger this time. "So where does this leave us then?"

"Right about here." Leaning forward, he captured her lips with his once more.