Disclaimer: I feel like I have written them for so long (hello ten years) that they should be mine. Unfortunately, that does not work.
Spoilers: I dunno. You decide.
A/N: This is my 100th fic. I feel oddly content and pathetic about this accomplishment. Whatever.
Thank you to all my reviewers, readers, alerters, favoriters, and who ever else lets me into their lives for a few minutes. You guys are awesome.
For Julia who has heard the rundown of almost all my stories way before they get published. She always reviews and listens to my rants about my job or my mother or whatever else I seem to need to vent about. She's my beef-ef, my cheerleader, and my nexus. I love you Julesy.
For Brittney who just… is my kid. She makes me laugh, she makes me worry, she makes me roll my eyes (in a good way I promise). She makes me feel like I have a reason. I don't know if you knew that, kid. I love you.
For my best, best friend Holly who says exactly what I need to hear, exactly when I need to hear it. She confides in me and commiserates with me, laughs with me, cries with me, shops with me, gossips with me, and lets me be an auntie to the two best kids in the history of the world. It's weird to think that her sister was my best friend first, but 16 years, three moves and a whole lot of stuff later, here we are. Love her, more than words.
Scully stood in the doorway of the office, her jaw almost hitting the floor. She'd only been gone for a week, but in that time, Mulder had managed to make the place look and smell like a frat house. Wadded up paper littered the carpet, spilling from its piles onto her shoes, while two empty pizza boxes balanced precariously on a stack of manila envelopes. Sunflower seed hulls covered every other flat surface, and there was a foul odor emanating from the corner. He was sitting facing the other direction, using one of her plastic straws from a travel mug to scratch his back. Never before had she been greeted so warmly.
"How do you do it?" she questioned finally, taking one brave step into the room. Something crunched under her foot. She chose not to think about what it could be.
"Oh, Scully. I was… I mean, I meant to clean it…and I lost track of time."
"I was gone for five days, Mulder. Five work days and you turned the office into this? I don't know whether to be grossed out or impressed."
She sighed and kicked her way over to the desk, leaning against it.
One of the pizza boxes fell to the floor with nary a sound, cushioned as it was by all the paper. They just stared at it for a second.
"I guess we're going to have to clean up in here, huh?"
"That might be a good idea."
"Before Skinner comes down to ask about the smell."
"It smells in here?"
"It reeks to high heaven."
"I hadn't noticed."
"I think your ceiling pencils have multiplied."
"Oh yeah. It's spring."
She sighed and shook her head, looking around the room and wondering where to begin. She figured they might as well pinpoint the source of the stench, but she wasn't really looking forward to poking her nose in places it didn't belong. It didn't really surprise her that the office was messy. It surprised her that it was dirty. Clutter was one thing; germy, smelly, dusty, stickiness was another.
"I suppose we could start by taking a snow shovel to this paper."
"I didn't think it had gotten that bad, really."
"I'm never going on vacation again."
He gave her a wry smile and stood up from his chair.
"Maybe we should hire someone for this."
"With what money, Mulder? Unless you have a second life as Donald Trump, I don't think we could afford that. Especially not with hazard pay."
"I'm sorry I made such a mess."
"Oh well. We'll clean it up."
"You always clean up after me."
"I'm your partner, Mulder. It's what I do. Then you bring me a coffee and Danish and we're even. It's a nice little system we've developed."
He chuckled and cracked his knuckles.
"Alright, let's get to work."
He waded his way over to her and managed to find the garbage can, which was appropriately empty, and began filling it with paper.
"Mulder, are you sure all that is garbage?"
"It's wadded up."
"In this office, it's a legitimate question."
"Yes, it's all garbage. Are you going to help or are you going to criticize?"
"Can I do both?"
"You always do."
"Well what am I if not predictable?"
She took her jacket off and hung it on the coat rack. She was surprised the thing was still standing.
"Mulder, I think one of us needs to go procure some garbage bags. That little can isn't going to hold all this crap."
"How observant of you."
"I'm skilled. And I am going to go get the bags."
"You'll leave and not come back. Like a freaked out baby daddy."
"Did you just say baby daddy?"
"I was hanging out with Charlie all week. I've picked up a lot of strange phrases."
"Remind me to thank him for that."
She left the office and walked down the hallway to the janitor's closet and grabbed a handful of thirty gallon garbage bags. Maybe she could convince him to clean out his desk while they were at it. Couldn't hurt to try.
"Hey Scully, when was the last time we had Starbucks?" Mulder asked, holding up a paper coffee cup.
"At least three weeks ago."
"No wonder there's coffee flavored cheese in here now."
"Gross. Is that what the smell was?"
"I don't think so."
She opened one of thee bags and they began to work in silence, filling up two bags before either of them said anything.
"What in hell's name?" she shrieked, holding up what had once been a McDonalds cheeseburger, still in the wrapper. "I found the source of the smell and it's gooey!"
"So that's where that other burger went! I ordered two and then called and complained because I only got one. I feel foolish."
"You should feel disgusting. How could you walk in here in the morning and not smell that?"
"I don't know. Maybe my nose is broken."
"Maybe I should break your nose," she countered, tossing the offending object into the garbage sack.
"Color me terrified."
"I will. Got a Sharpie?"
"Heh, their new ad campaign."
"Mulder, you're too easily amused."
"Conversely, you could be too… um… difficultly amused."
"Your behavior is what we like to call juvenile."
"At last, I can be classified!" he said, raising his arms in victory. She just rolled her eyes and went back to filling her garbage bag.
"Hey Scully, want to play a word association game?"
"Sure. What do you got?"
"Stop. Hammer time."
He snickered at that one.
"Hey, me too!"
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah! Freakish psychic connection takes the gold once again."
She chuckled and sat down in his chair, pulling a stack of paper into her lap. There were receipts, canceled checks and a bank statement. She figured he had been working on expense reports while she was gone, and it made her feel a little bit better. He had made a mess of the office, but the week hadn't been a total waste.
Three hours later, the oldies station was turned up and Elvis was serenading them with All Shook Up. Mulder had his lip curled as he sang along, and Scully was snickering at him as she dusted the books on his shelf. She really could picture him in the white, sequined jumpsuit with the cape on it, gyrating while women in the audience wailed and screamed for his attention. She wouldn't be surprised if that had happened at some ill-fated Halloween party or karaoke night sometime in his younger years. It frightened her how possible that seemed.
"Hey Sugar," Mulder drawled, holding out his hand. "Wanna be my Priscilla?"
"Die," she answered tersely, tossing her dust rag at him. He caught it and threw it back at her, missing her by at least four inches.
"That was terrible, Mulder."
"The King does not have to know how to throw," he replied.
"Go back to Graceland."
He laughed and finished putting some files away, then pushed the drawer closed.
"I feel like we've earned a long lunch break. What do you say?"
"I say sure. Also, I found this envelope. It's addressed to "Self" so I'm assuming it's yours."
He furrowed his brow and took the envelope from her, sliding his finger under the flap. He found a piece of paper, torn from a spiral notebook, and unfolded it.
"Oh man. This is a letter I wrote to myself when I graduated from high school."
"I wanna see!"
"Let me censor first," he said, his eyes scanning the page. She watched as his expression went from amusement to confusion to something she hadn't ever seen before. He stopped reading suddenly, tossing the paper on his desk and heading for the door.
"Gotta go," was all he said before disappearing down the hallway. She stepped out to follow him, but he had already boarded the elevator. Sighing, she walked over to the desk and picked up the paper, trying to orient herself to young Mulder scrawl.
The letter started out with a complaint about writing to a future self, and the violation of privacy that was the result of this being a school assignment. She could hear him saying the words even now, and she smiled to herself as she read them.
Halfway through the letter, there was a list of ten things. Things he, at 18 years old, had challenged himself to do before he was 40. She skimmed them and her eyes grew wide as she realized the reason for his hasty departure.
1. Invent something
2. Teach someone important something important
3. Visit Shakespeares house
4. Understand Dad and Mom
5. Build a tree house for my son (if I ever have one)
6. Learn to play the guitar by ear
7. Save a Life
8. Go on a cross country road trip
9. Fall in Love
10. Don't forget SAMANTHA
She stared at the words as they blurred from her tears, not knowing if her instinct to run and find him was correct in this situation. Shrugging her shoulders and grabbing her jacket, she figured that its correctness didn't really matter. She closed the office and locked it, the letter still clutched in her hand.
She went to his apartment first, which was a good guess, because there his car was, parked in his spot. She parked across the lot under a tree and walked to the building, taking the elevator and finding herself at his door. She pressed her ear to the door, hearing the out of tune strum of a guitar, then a string of obscenities. She turned the knob and found him sitting on the floor, a dusty guitar in his lap. He was trying to tune it, which she could tell was going to be unsuccessful, as the guitar had sat for a lot of years. It needed new strings at least before this endeavor would be successful.
"I can't remember how to do this," he said, tightening a string. "I used to be able to do it with my eyes closed."
She sat down next to him and wiped some dust off of the neck of the guitar.
"You read it, didn't you?" he asked, placing his finger on a low fret and strumming the guitar once. It sounded terrible.
He tightened the string again, but was unsuccessful. She leaned forward and looked into his guitar case, finding a bag of strings. They were old, but had never been strung, and she figured that was better than the ones he had on there now.
"Let's try the new strings," she said, her voice as comforting as a cool hand on a fevered brow. He slid the guitar into her lap and they worked together to change the strings, not speaking as they moved, not consulting each other on which string went where. It wasn't long until the guitar was strung.
"I don't have very long," he commented, tightening the top string.
"Until you're 40?"
"Mulder, that list-"
"Don't tell me it doesn't matter. It mattered to me as a kid. Right as I'm about to go out into the world on my own, those were the things that mattered. I've done a few of them, but not the most important ones. I never understood my parents. I never invented anything. Never had a kid. I never taught anyone anything."
She noticed that falling in love was not on his list of failures, but she didn't think now was the time to bring it up.
"Mulder, your parents didn't want to be understood. They didn't even understand themselves."
"Why else do you think I got a degree in psychology, Scully?"
She was quiet.
"I went off to school and that was that. I didn't need them in my life, and I didn't need to understand them. And I was fine with it. Now it's too late."
"It's not your fault, Mulder. Not entirely."
"I never invented anything."
"You made a paper clip out of a staple."
"Scully that doesn't matter."
"It does when I need to paperclip some Post-It's together."
"What difference does it make? I never really invented anything. And I know I can't help the not having a kid thing. It's probably better that I didn't."
"I disagree, but okay."
"I've never taught anyone anything except how to survive an FBI flogging."
"What? It's true."
"Look, you've taught me things. And I may not be an important person, but they were important things. That counts for something. And you know what? The most important thing on that list, you've done every day of your life without fail."
"You never forgot your sister. Despite everyone around you telling you to just forget it, stop looking for her, you've never stopped. I can't speak for anyone else, but that makes me pretty proud of you."
"A list you made when you were 18 doesn't carry very much weight in the light of all the things you have done since then. I'm not belittling the things that were important to you then, but I'm not going to give less credence to all the lives you've changed, all the lives you've saved and all the other things that you've done since then."
"Now, as for this list," she said pulling it out of her pocket. "You only have a few things left to go. You still have time to invent something. I assume you've visited Shakespeare's house. We've done enough driving for three cross country road trips. I can't comment on the falling in love thing, but overall, I'd say you've done pretty well. As for the guitar… well, we'll work on it."
"You're going to help me?"
"Don't look so shocked, Mulder. I am no stranger to Smoke on the Water."
He chuckled and strummed out a little. The strings were too old to produce a really good sound, but for now it would suffice.
"See? You're well on your way."
He smiled and she reached over to scratch his back.
"You're not a failure, Mulder. Okay?"
"Thanks, Scully," he replied, leaning over and kissing her forehead.
"Anytime. Now what do you say we go get some lunch, finish in the office, and tonight we can relearn the guitar together."
"Sounds like a plan."
They stood up from the floor and he took her hand, pulling her into a tight hug.
"Thanks Scully. Really."
"I'm glad you're home."
"No place I'd rather be."