Title: Rounded With Sleep
Author: Ellie
Rating: PG
M/S UST
Timeline: Between "Redux II" and "Detour"
Summary: The first week back is always the hardest.


It had been a quiet first week back at work, the silence of the basement broken only by their shuffle of backlogged paperwork. Monday, she'd been happy to return, to have something to do beyond sit around her apartment. By Wednesday, two autopsy consults requests had arrived, and she'd headed out to Quantico, eager to get back in the autopsy bay, even if they were more mundane than those she normally dealt with in the X-files division. Yet by the end of the week, it all had taken its toll, and when Mulder gave her a wink and suggested she take a long lunch on Friday, she'd given him a weak, relieved smile and slipped out of the office.

Crossing her apartment, briefcase and keys, overcoat and shoes, had been shed like old snakeskin, and she didn't make it farther than the comfortable allure of her couch. The watery autumn light, warmed through the window, fell on it, easing the chill that still lingered deep in her bones. She'd lost so much weight, soft curves and strong muscle melted away, that her work wardrobe of silk and wool didn't seem to contain anything heavy enough to keep the chill at bay. Sunlight bathed her as she sunk onto the sofa, and she felt the warmth begin to seep in.

She was awakened by hands tucking something around her, startling her even as she shrunk deeper into the couch cushions, struggling to free herself.

"Whoa, whoa, Scully, it's me." Mulder's voice penetrated her instinctive response, and she sagged back down on the sofa, squinting at him in the dim light.

"Jesus, Mulder! Why didn't you knock? What were you doing in here?" She blinked, trying to clear her mind, then looked appraisingly at him, still kneeling by the sofa in his trenchcoat.

"I saw your car out front, but you didn't answer when I knocked. Repeatedly. I was worried, so I used my key." He frowned down at her. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." At his pursed lips, she cut off further protest by continuing, "I was tired, I just laid down to rest when I got home."

"You've been asleep since you left work?"

She nodded, furrowing her brow. "Why?"

"That was nearly seven hours ago, Scully." The concerned frown on his face deepened as he spoke.

"Oh." She sat up, twisting the quilt around her in the now-cool room. "I guess this week took more out of me than I thought."

Mulder rose from his crouch and gestured towards her table, asking, "You want something to eat? I stopped at that frou-frou southern deli down on M, and got some of that chicken salad you like."

"You didn't come over just to bring me a chicken salad sandwich, did you, Mulder?" Reluctantly, she shed the warm quilt from her shoulders and made her way over to the table, where a takeout bag sat next to a manila folder with pages threatening to spill out across the polished pine tabletop.

"There's banana pudding, too." He'd been doing that all week; he would return from lunch bearing dessert for her, a chocolate chip cookie, peach cobbler-
tempting, calorie-laden comfort foods.

Raising an eyebrow, she tapped one nail on the top of the folder. "This doesn't look like pudding."

"No, this came across my desk this afternoon. I thought it might be worth checking out."

Scully made a non-committal noise as she started to flip open the file, when his hand on her elbow froze her mid-gesture. "Let me tell you about it over dinner. Did you, um, want to..." he waved a hand at her vaguely, and she looked down at her twisted, rumpled shirt and runched slacks.

Blushing a bit, she ducked her head and turned towards the bedroom. "Can you get the food ready? You know where the plates are?"

"Second cabinet on the right," she heard him reply as she firmly shut the bathroom door behind her. A few splashes of cool water on her face left her head feeling clearer, and a damp hand through her hair left it looking less slept-on. It would never have occurred to her to dress for Mulder, and so she traded her wrinkled silk blouse for an old Stanford sweatshirt and replaced the thin wool slacks with her favorite worn jeans. Pulling on wooly gray socks, she padded silently back toward the kitchen, where Mulder was putting the pudding in small side dishes.

He hadn't heard her approach, and she watched him silently for a moment. Unbidden, it occurred to her that she never thought someone could love her the way Mulder did. He'd brought her back from the edge of death when she had felt herself slipping over the edge, twice now. He showed up with what was sure to be a ridiculously preposterous case just so he had an excuse to make sure she was taken care of after her first week back at the office.

When he turned to carry the dessert to the table, he smiled, breaking her out of her reverie. She gave him a faint smile in return, feeling she owed him more. "Thanks, Mulder."

He shrugged and sat the bowls of pudding on the table next to the plated sandwiches, which were accompanied by macaroni salad. "I felt bad bugging you after work without bringing a peace offering along."

Part of her wanted to tell him that her thanks wasn't for a mere sandwich, but couldn't seem to find the words. Instead, she nodded, and settled into her seat. "So what's this case about?"

Slowly, he slid the file across the table to her. "Bigfoot."

"Bigfoot." Without opening the file, she looked down at it, then up at Mulder, who now seemed slightly nervous and not at all the eager puppy he normally looked when he had a case brewing. "Really?"

"Really," he said, nodding down at the folder, then taking a long swig of tea. "In Montana, there have been two sightings in the last month, and a campsite ruined."

"None of which is a crime that in any way involves the FBI." She opened the folder to see a grainy, enlarged photo of a black blob next to a tree.

"And if we don't have a case taking us out of town next week, Skinner's sending us to a teambuilding workshop in Florida."

"Ah." She took a bite of the chicken salad and whole wheat, and stared down at the photo for a moment. "Florida sounds a lot better than Montana this time of year."

Mulder snorted, and took a hearty bite out of his sandwich. "But teambuilding, Scully. We'll have to play silly reindeer games and make towers out of office furniture in the name of improving communication. Chasing Bigfoot sounds like a much better option."

And God forbid they work on talking about anything between them. The thought seemed to hang in the air between them, and for a split second, she might have entertained the idea of psychic communication.

"We've got no basis for an official investigation. And this image is so unclear that it could be virtually anything-Bigfoot, Bullwinkle, someone's lost labrador." And I don't think I can handle trekking through the wilds of Montana right now, unsaid, but again, seeming to crackle between them.

His lips started to form words, then halted, taking another bite of sandwich. Scully wished, for once, that he'd been foolishly impulsive, had blurted out what he was thinking. She studied her own plate, swirling the macaroni with her fork, taking a tentative bite. Her appetite was returning a bit more each day, helped along by Mulder's little treats.

"A labrador? It looks way to big too be a labrador. And actually meeting Bullwinkle might be even better than finding Bigfoot."

Safe territory was now underfoot, and she could argue the case just like before, feeling the pieces of her life slipping back into place. "You can't tell any scale at all from that photograph. Whatever that indistinct blur is, it could be ten feet tall or two. Without any kind of outside reference there's no way to know. Another camper's loose dog is much more plausible."

"What about the ransacked campsite? A dog wouldn't do that."

With a nod of concession to that point, she asked, "True. But did you ever watch Yogi Bear as a child, Mulder?"

"Of course." He frowned, not seeing where she was leading him.

"What did Yogi spend his days hunting for?"

"Pick-a-nick baskets." She saw the comprehension dawning on his face, making him look even handsomer than usual. A large bite of sandwich distracted her, as he continued, "Oh. So you think it was a bear? And that these events are unrelated?"

"How many bears are out there? Maybe it's the same one, slightly less afraid of humans. Maybe they're all completely unrelated events, except that the human mind, in search of a pattern, has tried to link them together." Shrugging, she focused on the macaroni salad. After a few moments of silence, she ventured a look at him, broodingly chewing on his sandwich. She toyed with the spoon in her pudding, prodding the vanilla wafer at the side of the dish.

He took a deep breath, sighed, and she could feel him watching her. Always, she felt his eyes on her, worried, watchful, protective. "Maybe you're right this time. Maybe there's not enough evidence to launch an investigation yet. I'll keep tabs on the situation."

At his words, she dropped her spoon against the side of the glass dish with a distinct clink. "Really?"

Shrugging, he deferred with a big spoonful of dessert. "Eat up, Scully."

She wanted to ask if this case was just a ruse to show up at her doorstep. As if he needed an excuse by now. Instead of saying this, she let escape the yawn that had been building. "Sorry."

"No, I'm sorry. You need your rest, I shouldn't have come bothering you with this tonight."

"Mulder, it's fine, really. And I appreciate the dinner. My body's just been craving more sleep than usual while I recover." She took a bite of dessert, savoring the creamy richness. Then she yawned again.

"Go to bed, Scully, if you're that tired. I'll clean this up, put the leftovers in your fridge for the weekend."

"Leftovers?"

"Yeah, that was only half your sandwich and there's half a thing of pudding. Should get you through lunch tomorrow, anyway."

When she smiled at him, his entire face seemed to light up. "Thanks, Mulder." Taking one last bite of pudding, she rose and headed for her bedroom. The gentle clatter of plates and silverware echoed behind her.

It took no time at all to brush her teeth and trade her jeans for soft flannel pajamas. Leaving her sweatshirt on, she crawled under the covers. The blankets were cold, and she felt the chill run through her body. Once upon a time, she'd loved slipping between crisp, cool sheets, but it no longer gave her pleasure. Curling into a fetal position, she tried to warm herself a bit.

There was a soft rapping on the doorframe, and the door fell open to reveal Mulder's silhouette. "Hey, everything's... Are you all right?" He was across the room and at her side in three steps. One large, warm hand came to rest on her shoulder, and even through layers of down and cotton, she almost instantly felt its heat.

"I'm fine, just cold. I'll warm up in a minute."

"Can I get you another blanket or a hot water bottle or something?"

She shook her head, cheek sliding against the cool cotton. "How are you always so warm, Mulder?"

His shrug dislodged the hand on her shoulder, and she felt the loss profoundly. "Just hot-blooded I guess."

For a long moment they were silent, enjoying their one point of contact. She felt suddenly exposed and needy. Before she could stop herself, she asked, "Would you stay just a little while? Just until I warm up?"

They were both quiet, and she refused to open her eyes, though she knew he was watching. When the hand on her shoulder shifted, she was certain she'd gone too far, asked too much, broken the silent rules between them.

Finally, though, "Okay," was accompanied by the soft thunk of shoes being toed off. She exhaled in a relieved rush as she felt the mattress shift behind her, felt his warm weight settle at her back. One arm settled across her waist, tucking the blankets closer around her and pulling her a bit nearer, and she tensed slightly. "Is this all right?"

Exhaling slowly, she burrowed a bit deeper into the bedding, which inadvertently pushed her even closer to him. "Yes. Thanks, Mulder."

"Get some sleep, Scully," he whispered, breath warm though her hair, tickling it against her ear.

She settled her breathing and closed her eyes, but for a long time, she lay awake, enjoying the solid feel of him curled around her.

In the morning, she'd have believed it nothing more than an embarrassingly saccharine dream, were it not for waking to find the afghan from her couch spread over her, adding an extra layer of weight and warmth. She took advantage of the fact that it was Saturday to stay curled up under it a bit longer than was strictly necessary, savoring.