Note: As I've been editing and rereading, I've had a few thoughts I probably should have included in an author's note in the beginning. ...But since I didn't:
This story is definitely not an accurate depiction of the FBI. Or profiling. Or possibly the 80s. But I've tried to keep it as true to the show as possible. If you notice anything that seems off, please let me know and I'll do my best to fix it!
I have the major plot outlined now, though I didn't when I first started writing this in 2007ish. There will be elements of MSR, but that won't be the main focus of the story. I'm more interested in writing how their relationship changes in general, and of course in Mulder's case and getting Scully back to her own time (and in the connection between the two...which is coming!).
Also, a huge thanks to everyone who has already reviewed or favorited. Your feedback is very helpful and motivates me to keep adding to and thinking about this story.
Now without further ado...
Scully looked down into the chicken noodle soup that was beginning to simmer on Mulder's disused stove. She considered all of the possible answers to that question and decided to see where Mulder was going with it instead. "Your father, Mulder?"
"Yes, my father," he said, perhaps a touch impatiently. "Just what information has my future self deigned to volunteer about the Mulder patriarch?"
She wondered why Mulder felt the need to quiz her on things that he knew better himself. What do you know about bugs, Scully At least this was classic Mulder, strangely comforting in its familiarity. Almost as if it were proof that her Mulder was in there somewhere, waiting behind the pain, the exhaustion, and the anger. Scully sighed. "I know that your father worked for the State Department. I know that you weren't close."
"That's it?" Mulder prompted. He was looking at her intently.
I know he gave your sister away. I know he sold out to the dark side and conspired with the very men you've spent your career trying to bring to heel. I know he let you blame yourself for your sister's disappearance and for how your family fell apart. I know he didn't like you much. (Not that Mulder ever said so in so many words.) Of course, she knew also that Mulder would drop whatever he was doing and drive through the night to see his father if only the older man would make the call. And, drugged as he'd been, Bill Mulder's death had been devastating to him. But there was no way she could say all that without having to explain so much more, or making Mulder uncomfortable or too angry to placate. We don't talk about this, Mulder. It's just not what we do.
"Is there something else I should know?" Scully asked.
Mulder laughed. A single ha. "I guess you've got the basic facts," he said. "Scully, I've spoken to my father twice in the last ten years, and I sure as hell don't plan to start now. Assuming you're really my partner from the future, I'm guessing you know more than you're telling me." Scully nodded. "Yes. Good. Then maybe you even know why." His entire demeanor changed again and he slumped so that the counter behind him took even more of his weight. He needed to sit. Scully made mental plans to move them into the living room. "I'm so tired," Mulder went on. "I just don't know what to make of this. Of this man, of this connection to my father, of you."
The soup was ready. Scully pulled a bowl out of one of the cabinets, then picked up the pot and poured most of it in there. "Soup's ready," she said unnecessarily. "Let's sit in the living room."
Maybe Mulder thought it was a good idea. Maybe he just didn't have the strength to argue. Mulder settled onto the couch, then accepted the bowl of soup with a short "thanks" and set it on the coffee table where he could reach it easily with one hand.
A muted clatter caught Scully's attention as she took a seat next to Mulder, and she found a bottle of Tylenol trying wedged between two cushions. She pulled it out and set on the coffee table. "I guess you do have some," she shrugged.
Mulder closed his eyes as if her observation pained him.
The reaction was unexpected enough that all of a sudden Scully found herself doubting her reasons for coming to Mulder's apartment. Wondering whether or not she even had reasons. There was nothing about her current situation that made sense, really, when she stopped and considered it seriously for even a moment. She had accepted too quickly and too easily that everything had just fallen into place. How had she convinced Lamana? Patterson? It made no sense that either would have accepted that she knew so much about the case, let alone that they had pulled her straight out of the academy and made her Mulder's partner with hardly any reservations. It didn't make sense at all.
What if this wasn't real?
Mulder slurped his soup loudly on the other end of the couch.
Maybe she was dreaming. Scully forced herself to breathe deeply and leaned back against the leather couch. It was difficult to imagine she could be dreaming with this level of detail. She'd hardly remembered what Jerry Lamana looked like, let alone his mannerisms, and though Bill Patterson was a harder man to forget he had hardly seemed a figment of her imagination when she'd met with him earlier today. But of course, that could mean nothing. Dreams almost always had an internal logic that the dreamer rarely thought to question. She remembered the time that Mulder had been pulled from the tropical ocean convinced he'd been immersed in World War II, where all of the faces were familiar and she had punched him on the jaw. Maybe soon she too would wake up insisting to her partner that she'd just been making him soup in 1989.
She looked at the Mulder sitting on the couch beside her, as if some clue as to his existence might be found in the lines of his pale, hunched form. He noticed her attention and met her eyes. "Are you okay?" he asked gently.
"I'm fine," Scully replied automatically, flustered by the question. She didn't want him intruding in her fears. She was afraid to let him in, as afraid as she'd been to let Mulder in to her doubts and worries even after they'd been partnered together for years. She was also afraid that if he took on any more he would crack. He was closer to the edge now than her Mulder had ever been. No, that didn't make any sense. This was her Mulder. If he was even real.
She had a very strong urge to crawl into bed and not get out until all of this was over.
"Are you planning on staying until I'm tucked in under my covers?" Mulder asked. He pushed the empty soup bowl back on the coffee table and leaned his head against the couch back, closing his eyes lazily. "Because I hate to burst your bubble, Doctor Scully, but you're sitting on my bed right now." A small smile came to his face, though his eyes remained closed. "Unless of course you had something else in mind…"
Scully just looked at him.
He turned serious a moment later and opened his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said. "That was out of line. Shouldn't joke about that sort of thing." His eyes slid shut again. "Though you were pretty forward in inviting yourself into my apartment."
Scully couldn't bring herself to pay her full attention to him, even though he was finally acting normal around her. Joking like he might on any day. Because he couldn't be real. This had to be a dream. She had been stupid not to see it before.
Except that if this was a dream, it wasn't a normal one. So far, everything had progressed more or less logically. Nothing around her had the fuzzy dreamlike quality of being strange without seeming to—just for her presence here. She found it strange enough, though, and clearly, so did Mulder. And maybe Patterson really had been impressed. Maybe Jerry Lamana really did believe her. Maybe he just liked her.
Make up your mind, she told herself irritably. Either it's a dream or it isn't.
She remembered being caught in that mushroom mountain and hallucinating all sorts of things. But there had been hints then that all was not right, lapses in time and logic that she'd been unable to explain. Nor could she remember feeling any pain, even after she and Mulder had clawed their way from one level of the dream to another. In the past day, though, she'd felt a normal range of sensations: cold, warmth, hunger, thirst, tiredness, and even pain when she'd banged her knee on the table in Mulder's hospital room. But if this wasn't a dream…
She realized that Mulder was staring intently at her. She offered a little smile that she didn't feel at all, and was about to ask Mulder if he needed anything else, but he spoke first.
"Scully, what are you doing here? Really?"
"I…" Scully began, and felt the weirdness of the day closing in on her. The man in front of her certainly didn't seem like a dream. "I don't know," she said, though she was aware he'd asked the same question of her not long ago, and she'd responded easily then. "I have nowhere else to be. You're my only link to the future, Mulder. I know you don't believe me, but, but…" she was slipping, losing the calmness that had been inexplicably hers all day. "I'm afraid," she said. "I don't know what to do and I don't know how to get back. I don't even know if any of this is real." She stared at a spot on the coffee table, trying to hold her emotions in check despite the tears pricking at her eyes. She didn't want to do this in front of Mulder. She didn't want to do this at all.
Mulder moved toward her, sliding across the couch. He looked like he wanted to comfort her somehow, and Scully immediately felt a pang of guilt. He was the one who needed comforting, after all. He was the one who'd been crying before she came in, who'd spent the day in the hospital and the night in the office.
He rubbed a small awkward circle over her shoulder blade with his left hand. "Are you okay?" he was asking. "Are you going to be okay?" He'd never been able to resist a damsel in distress.
"I'm fine," she said again, pulling away from his touch even though she craved it. As though she could melt into his arms and let her troubles drift away. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to come here and…and do that."
He withdrew his hand and scrubbed his face for a moment, then let the hand drop and sighed slowly. "It's okay," he said. "I think…I know you're telling the truth. I'm just not sure I believe the truth." His words were starting to slur with tiredness and she wondered if he really knew what he was saying.
In any case, he was wrong. It wasn't okay. "No, Mulder," she said. "I shouldn't have come here."
"Don't bother," he interrupted lazily. "I'd be having a worse night than this if you hadn't come. I mean, soup, come on." Oblivious to her raised eyebrow, he went on in the same dreamy tone. "I'm the one who should apologize to you. You've been nothing but good to me since you came here and I've been nothing but an ass to you in return. I don't know why you think I deserve your kindness, because I don't, but I appreciate it. I really do. I'm sorry for yelling at you…" His head tipped back against the cushion and then came back, as if in slow motion. "I'm so tired, Scully…"
"I know, Mulder."
"Seeds in my pocket," he mumbled.
Whatever that meant.
Scully watched him fall asleep. She glanced at her watch. It was only 11:55.
In that moment she felt strangely content. Nothing had been clarified, and she'd no more answers now than she'd had before. She was no closer to getting home. But… Mulder accepted her. She hadn't even realized how much of her stress had stemmed from his rejection of her. Relief was what she was feeling.
She sighed and stood up as carefully as she could from the couch so as not to wake her now-slumbering partner. "Come on, Mulder, let's get you comfortable," she muttered. He was still sitting up, his head lolled back at an awkward angle and protruding legs crossed at the ankles. He was still wearing his overcoat.
Scully watched him for a few moments, half-expecting him to open his eyes and demand to know why she was staring at him. He looked ridiculously young. Smoothed out in sleep his face was not that of Spooky, the tortured profiler who had seen too much, but that of a lost boy. God, he was only twenty-seven.
She leaned over him and lightly brushed his hair back from his face. He didn't move. She brought her fingers down, slightly, and caressed the bruise that she had noticed that morning darkening the skin just below his eye. She was struck again by the hollowness of his cheeks, the paleness of his skin. His skull seemed like it was too big for his skinny neck.
In his sleep he made a little noise like "mm" and shifted slightly. Scully pulled back quickly, startled. If he woke up to find her stroking his face he'd…well, she wasn't exactly sure what he'd do. But she doubted he'd return the sentiment.
She focused on getting him into a reclining position on the couch. She decided after a few moments of consideration that if she could just lift his legs up to the cushions, the rest of his body would fall into place without sliding off the couch. She hoped.
Feeling oddly self-conscious, she bent over and curled her hands around Mulder's ankles. With a slight grunt she managed to swing his long legs onto the couch. Mulder didn't even stir. She went about trying to sort him out while he slept, draping his left arm over his stomach and smoothing out his coat. She heard something crinkle and, after a moment of deliberation, stuck her hand in his pocket. She pulled out a bag of sunflower seeds. Of course. She put them on the coffee table so that he might see them in the morning. She even found a blanket in a hall closet and draped it over his sleeping form.
She stepped back to admire her handiwork and studied him for a little while longer. She didn't want to leave him just yet. Maybe it was her own desire for company. Or maybe she really did want to make sure he didn't wake up and need anything else. She wouldn't stay all night, of course, since despite the fact that he trusted her enough to fall asleep Mulder still considered her a stranger. But another hour or two might be a good thing. Just to make sure he'd be okay. Of course it was right.
Her course of action decided, she pulled the chair away from Mulder's desk and positioned it so that it faced him. She turned off the lights before settling into it, then glanced at her watch again in the scant light coming in from the window. It was 12:02 AM.
She supposed it was strange that she was sitting here, watching Mulder sleep. But really, it was no stranger than anything else that had happened today. Mulder was breathing easily, steadily, in and out, in and out. It was the only sound in his apartment. This Mulder didn't even have a fish tank. Scully felt the seconds slipping quietly by to the steady rhythm of Mulder's breathing. She let her head rest on the back of the chair and closed her eyes.
Just for a minute. She wouldn't sleep. Just rest her eyes for a moment. It had been a long day, after all…
She woke abruptly to a loud yell and jerked for a gun that wasn't there. It was Mulder. He had sat up straight with his eyes wide open and was fighting with his sling, thrashing with his free arm. He was obviously still asleep.
Scully jumped up and ran to his side, repeating his name in a low tone. She put her hands on his shoulders. She'd experienced his nightmares a few times before, usually through hotel rooms with connecting doors…and a few times at his apartment or hers. She could usually calm him if she stayed close to him long enough.
"GET AWAY FROM ME!" he yelled, and shoved her back with surprising strength. She tripped over the coffee table and fell flat on her ass.
"Mulder!" she snapped.
When she managed to struggle back to her feet, Mulder was silent and blinking owlishly, pressing his left hand to his temple. His young face was tight with pain.
"What…?" he asked hesitantly when he saw her.
"It was a nightmare, Mulder," she said harshly. She took a deep breath and continued in a gentler voice, "Are you all right?"
He nodded, massaged his forehead for a moment, then dropped his hand. "What are you still doing here?"
"I fell asleep," she admitted. It was 3:13 AM. "Well, since I'm here, do you need anything?"
He at least seemed resigned to the fact that she was in his apartment and wasn't actively trying to make her leave. Actually, he wasn't doing much of anything. Scully realized that he was probably still half in his dream, trying to sort it out from reality. It had been a long time since she'd heard him scream so loudly, and he'd never thrown her back or even touched her while coming out of a nightmare. Another difference between this Mulder and hers, she supposed.
"Did I hurt you?" he asked.
He must have just registered the fact that she'd been on the floor when he finally awoke. "I'm fine," Scully said. To be perfectly honest her tailbone was aching, but Mulder didn't need to know that. He was undoubtedly in sadder shape. He was still making his worst in-pain face.
He nodded vacantly at her assurance.
The adrenaline that had come with her rude awakening was beginning to fade, and Scully felt suddenly drained. "Can I get you anything?" she asked again.
"Really, Mulder, it's not a problem."
He nodded again. "I guess…" he began. His voice was small and reminded Scully again of how young he was. Like he was a little boy asking if he could have another cookie, maybe? "If you could open that bottle of Tylenol I guess I could use some more." He gestured with a movement of his head to the little white container on the coffee table. It had fallen onto its side and rolled toward the edge as Scully tripped over the table.
Scully answered him by picking it up and easily twisting the cap off. She tipped two into her hand and dropped them into his waiting palm. She was about to get him a glass of water when he popped both in his mouth and swallowed them dry.
"Thanks," he said.
Scully smiled kindly. "Don't mention it." Then she remembered, so fully that she felt stupid for ever forgetting, that he'd checked himself out of the hospital AMA less than eight hours ago. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
He shook his head slightly and didn't answer her question. "I'm sorry you had to see that," he said. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"Mulder, drop it," Scully said with more force than she'd meant to. Still. It was late and she didn't want to deal with his guilt. The worst was over, and nothing had come of it. There was no reason to dwell.
Of course, she'd never really resolved her frustration over his tendency to act as though the world revolved around him and he were to blame for all its problems. Sure, it was her life but it was his…whatever. "You were hospitalized today. Will you be okay or should I drive you back to the hospital?"
"I need to use the bathroom," he said, getting up and shedding the overcoat he'd fallen asleep in. He shivered visibly for a moment. "And I'm going to change while I'm at it."
He turned around and looked squarely at her. "Look, Dr. Scully, I'm tired and I don't want to deal with all of this crap now. I'm not going back to the hospital and I'm not going to let you trick me into saying something you can use to keep me from visiting that crime scene tomorrow. I don't know what you're still doing here. If you want to drive home, go ahead. I'll be fine. If not there's a bed in that room that I haven't used in about a year and a half and if you can clear it off it's all yours." He turned again and headed toward the bathroom. "Good night."