"I moved to the coast, under a mountain,
Swam in the ocean, slept on my own.
At dawn, I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay—
I'd remember all the things my mother wrote:
We don't eat until your father's at the table,
We don't drink until the devil's turned to dust.
Never once has any man I've met been able to love,
So if I were you, I'd have a little trust."
James Vincent McMorrow, We Don't Eat
Mulder stared at her, narrowing his eyes, moving in on her. Dana Scully felt her pulse begin to quicken, as she realized she had nowhere else to go. She had let him into her apartment after their argument earlier that day, figuring that he was right and that they really did need to talk about it.
The moment he stepped inside, however, he turned on her, backing her up against the door—she wasn't used to such a display of physical dominance from her partner, and under different circumstances, she might have rather enjoyed it. But, under these circumstances, it unnerved her—left her feeling trapped.
"Why do you do that, Scully?" Mulder asked, leaning his head down to look her right in the eye.
Scully folded her arms over her chest, "Why do I do what, Mulder?"
Mulder's gaze traveled down to her crossed arms, then back to her eyes, "That," He nodded his head a bit, indicating her gesture.
Determined not to lose her ground or be intimidated, Scully arched an eyebrow at him.
"Close down." Mulder said, plainly, as though that explained everything. He meant the phrase to elicit a response, but Scully just stood there, not meeting his gaze, not focusing on his face. Mulder laughed sardonically, "At least you don't deny it."
"Why do you do it, Mulder?" Scully steeled her expression and finally looked at him.
"I've been trying not to lately, actually—you may not have noticed from your position behind that fucking wall," Mulder took a half a step back, and Scully took that as her chance—she ducked around him and went to her couch—she sat down and stared at the fire crackling in the fireplace. She saw Mulder out of the corner of her eye begin to move toward the couch—he stopped halfway.
"You've never needed an invitation before, Mulder," she said, her voice betraying nothing of how she felt.
Sullenly, Mulder made his way to her couch, and took the seat farthest away from her. His gaze followed hers to the fireplace, and he recalled briefly the scene he had barged in on what felt like a lifetime ago.
His voice was quiet when he spoke—she resisted the urge to lean toward him to hear, "I'm trying here, Scully."
If she understood his meaning, she didn't show it, keeping her gaze well-trained on the flame, drawing comfort from it. Her heart was still a little bit on edge from their fight earlier. Fighting with Mulder always did that to her—she hated it. She realized that, working so closely like they did, fighting was sometimes inevitable, but she never enjoyed it.
Receiving no response from her, Mulder tried to keep his anger in check—he hadn't come to her apartment to fight with her; "I didn't come here to fight with you, Scully."
"Then why did you come, Mulder?" She asked, her voice tired—"To be mean?"
"I—what?—no, I didn't want to be mean—I wasn't trying to hurt you, Scully; I don't deliberately try to hurt you, no matter what you think. I came here because… because I hate it when we fight."
Scully smiled into the fire, glancing at him quickly and then back again, "I do, too."
"But, that doesn't change the fact that I am trying here, Scully—I'm trying to get close to you, to understand you—and any time I get even a little bit close, you close up. I don't understand it. It hurts me, Scully." Mulder spoke candidly. It was something he rarely did, but it was also something he'd promised himself he'd begin doing, especially when it came to Scully. He'd spent his entire life trying to hide his feelings—he knew too many people who would use them against him given the opportunity. But, Scully was different—he knew that the moment she traipsed into his office, bright eyed and bushy tailed. "Why won't you let me through that wall you've built around yourself?"
Scully flinched—she knew Mulder was right. She'd spent much of her life constructing a wall around herself, but it still hurt when someone pointed it out.
"You've been trying to get through?"
Mulder sighed—"Of course I have—and any time I speak honestly about my feelings for you, I get shut out or ignored."
Scully didn't ask when.
Mulder answered her anyway, "In the hospital. After I got back from the ship. I should've known you'd use 'highly medicated' as reasoning to brush it off—but I said it, anyway, Scully, because I felt it. I'd felt it for a long time, actually—but, for the first time, I said it. And you ignored it."
Scully sat in silence for a moment—"I—" Her voice trailed off. It had been a very, very long time since she let someone in. "I don't know what to say."
Mulder looked at her, then, and ran a hand over his face, pressing his back into the back of her couch. "I can't tell you what to say, Scully—just—anything, as long as it feels like a start."
Scully sighed, and pressed her eyes shut, trying to pick a memory or a secret to share with Mulder. They knew so much about each other, and yet, when it got right down to it, he knew so little about her.
"My mother loved my father so much; I can remember, as a kid, the days he was actually home, the way she looked at him. And the way she talked about him—we were never allowed to eat until he was at the table when he was in port—sometimes, that meant having dinner as late as 10pm. It was a matter of respect, my mother had said, that we must respect our father, and since he was the man of the house, we wouldn't eat until he was home to eat with us. I didn't mind—I loved my father so much, looked up to him so much that it didn't matter—I loved those family dinners. Charlie and Melissa would whine and complain, but Bill and I would just wait, snacking on pretzels or toast until it was finally time for dinner."
Mulder cocked his head to the side, unaware of where this was going. It seemed so entirely non-sequitur, but he'd said anything, and this was certainly something, though he couldn't quite say what, precisely, it was.
"But as I grew up, I began to notice something—my mother was so in love with my father." She closed her eyes to emphasize her point. "But, he wasn't with her." Mulder started to speak, then, at the sadness in Scully's voice—it was one of the things he couldn't stand, Scully silenced him, "Oh, I know he cared for her, Mulder, loved her, even. But he wasn't in love with her—not like she was with him."
"Four kids is a lot for people who aren't in love,"
Scully smiled slightly, "We're Catholic, Mulder, it's kind of a requirement. Anyway, I could see it—and my senior year of high school it began to really bother me, so one night before my father got home, I asked her about it."
"Wow, pretty brave for a seventeen year old. What'd she say?" Mulder still had no idea where she was going with this, but he was so glad that she was opening up to him in this way that he couldn't be certain he particularly cared one way or another.
"She was silent for a moment, and she wouldn't look at me for awhile and then she said 'Never once has any man I've met been able to love—set the table, Dana, your father will be home shortly.'" Scully shifted her feet beneath her, her jeans allowing her greater movement than her normal work skirts. "I couldn't sleep that night, thinking about it. The next day, I submitted my application to UCSD—" Her voice was steady, but her insides were quivering, "I wanted to put as much distance between myself and everything I learned that evening."
"What did you learn?"
Scully ignored his question, "San Diego was wonderful—daughter of a Navy man, the ocean has always been comforting to me. The smell of salt in the air brings me a certain kind of peace. Swimming in it year round felt like free therapy." She laughed a little, "Anyway, my junior year, I got an apartment with a few friends—we could see the ocean from our windows. I'd lie in my bed at dawn and just watch the sun rise over the water, and everything was like it used to be when I was a kid, looking at the same ocean, the same sun, before I knew better."
Mulder leaned his head back against the cushion—the sound of Scully's voice was so distant, yet so close—he never saw her lips form anything this personal before, and normally an active listener, Mulder became absolutely passive, letting her voice wash over him with the truth of her past.
"My roommates had serious boyfriends—all of them, actually. For them, college was more about finding a husband."
"But you didn't want that?"
"Right—I didn't want that. Well," Scully shrugged, "Most of me didn't want that; there was still a small part of me that did, I suppose. But, I wasn't like them and they—they couldn't understand it. I'm not sure I understood it, then, actually." She laughed, "I didn't mind waking up alone—it meant I wasn't in danger. They kept trying to set me up on dates with random guys, and sometimes I'd go, and sometimes I had fun—but there were never any relationships."
She sighed, "Jack was my first, actually," She saw the wheels in Mulder's head turning, Scully chuckled—"Not my first, but my first serious relationship." She shook her head, "I still remember Elizabeth's reaction when I brought him to her wedding," At Mulder's questioning look, Scully clarified, "Old roommate. I'm pretty sure she thought I was lesbian until that day." Scully laughed, then, genuinely, as she recalled the expression on Elizabeth's face when she'd introduced her to Jack.
"What do you mean you weren't in danger, so long as you were waking up alone?"
Scully smiled slightly, "Oh. Well, I wasn't in danger of falling in love that way."
Mulder was beginning to understand the revelation young Dana Scully had, "Falling in love is dangerous?"
"Don't you think so?" She looked at him, one eyebrow raised.
He smiled at her. "I do. But, I'm curious as to why you think it."
Scully laughed, "Always the psychologist."
Mulder nodded, "Always."
"I wasn't in danger of loving someone more than they loved me—of loving them differently than they loved me."
The puzzle pieces were slowly coming together, "Like your mother," Mulder observed, his voice quiet.
Scully nodded her head once, "Like my mother." Scully plucked a bit of fuzz off her jeans as she brought her knee closer to her chest, hugging it lightly.
Mulder watched her closely for a moment in silence, before making a decision. "Scully?"
"Hmm?" Her chin rested on her knee, and she looked at him.
Mulder smiled at her, "Thank you for sharing that with me," He didn't let her speak, but he saw the tears begin to form in her eyes, "But, I must tell you something."
"What?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
"You run absolutely no risk of loving me more than I love you."
"Don't," Scully pressed her eyes shut before opening them again, an attempt to quell the tears forming rapidly in her eyes, "Don't say that, Mulder."
In one move, he was near her—not touching her, but directly in her personal space. "Don't say what, Scully? That I love you? That I'm in love withyou? Because I do. I am. I've loved you for so long—I tried to talk myself out of it, tried to will myself out of it, until I finally decided that I'm meant to love you. And the day I stopped trying to fix it was one of the best days of my life."
"Mulder, no. I can't…"
"Can't what? Can't love me? Can't admit it?"
"Both." Scully's voice was strained in a way he'd never heard before.
"Tell me, then." Off of Scully's look, he continued, "Tell me you don't love me. Look at me when you say it. You do that, I'll let this go."
Steeling herself, Scully looked him in the eyes, fully prepared to lie to him. She wasn't expecting his face to be fully unguarded—his eyes were deep, emotive, and they full of everything she'd spent nearly her entire life convincing herself she'd never see reflected back at her.
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
"Exactly." Mulder whispered. His hand reached out to her, and found its way into her hair, his thumb caressing her cheek, "Exactly." He leaned forward and kissed her forehead, "And you don't ever have to say it, as long as you keep on feeling it."
He kissed her lips tenderly, then, gradually deepening the kiss until he felt Scully begin to move her mouth against his—until she began to kiss him back with the same passion he felt. He tasted her tears, and realized that they must have fallen. In the back of his mind was the prayer 'if I make Scully cry, let it always be like this.' He pulled back from her and ran the pad of his thumb against her lips—
"I do, you know." She spoke softly, her breath running over his thumb.
"I know." He walked over to her fridge and began pulling things out, "Now, let's eat." He smiled as she rose to join him, "Loving you makes me hungry."
Scully laughed, and Mulder reveled in the sound as it washed over him, "You'll need your strength." Her voice was laced with humor, and something more serious—and, of course, the double entendre didn't escape him either.
"Don't I know it, Scully," He pulled eggs out of the fridge, "Don't I know it."