It is a Friday night just like any other Friday night. Scully brings pizza, he grabs beers out of the fridge. They prop up their feet and turn on the TV, and when the plot fails to ensnare either of them, they talk through the dialogue. Everything is the same as it always is, until Scully turns to him and asks, "Mulder, how come we aren't…" her voice trails off and she furrows her brow before plundering on, "How come we have never…?"
She doesn't seem to know how to finish the question, which is fine because he sure as hell does not know how to answer it.
Suavely, Mulder says, "Huh?"
His reaction prompts her to give him a look that makes him feel about four inches tall. He swallows thickly but still can't seem to find any words.
She rolls her eyes. "Jesus." She says, huffing and redirecting her attention to the television set. "Nevermind."
Her dismissal helps him to relocate his tongue. "No, wait." She watches him from the corner of her eye as he wonders what to say next. "I, uh…God, Scully. That's not exactly an easy question to answer."
"I'm sorry I brought it up." Scully replies, chewing on her bottom lip. She is staring ahead again. "It doesn't matter."
"Hey, now. That's not true." Reaching out, Mulder grabs her chin. She resists, trying to twist away from his grasp, but he persists. After a moment, Scully relents and lets him guide her head so that she is staring him straight in the eye. Her mouth is set in a tight line; her eyes are angry and guarded.
Typical Scully. So fierce, so ferocious—so afraid of getting hurt. Brave enough to ask the question but not enough to wait for the answer.
He lets go of her chin, and his fingers trail down the plane of her jaw. There is a brief flash of confusion on her face. It's gone as quickly as it came. His fingertips trace the curve of her neck; his eyes follow their path.
"I always assumed," he says, clearing his throat uncomfortably, "that you weren't really interested in that. With me."
She frowns as she grabs his hand and swats it away from her neck. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, I told you once, how I felt. And you dismissed it." He says it matter-of-factly, hoping that she does not think he is blaming her.
Of course, that is exactly what she thinks. "What? When—" Recognition dawns on her face. "In the hospital, after the Bermuda Triangle? Mulder, you were high on pain medication!"
He is wounded, all big eyes and sad features. "I was not!" She gives him a look and he shrugs. "Well, maybe I was, but I knew what I was saying."
She softens a little. "I didn't realize…"
Mulder glances down, avoids her eyes. "You could have asked."
"I could have," she sighs, "but that's not really our Standard Operating Procedure."
Scully smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "Yes, until tonight."
His hands want to move back up to her neck and continue their exploration, but her forces them to stay put in his lap. He does not want to spook her. "I don't know why we've never…" he exhales through his nose, "Fear, I guess."
She moves an inch closer to him. "You're afraid of me?"
"Absolutely." The corner of his lip lifts. "Aren't you afraid of me? Spooky Mulder?"
"If I'm afraid, it is definitely not because you're spooky." She grins at him and he feels like some heretofore unknown knot in his chest is loosening. As her smile fades, she stares up at him, all pretense stripped away. Her voice is a whisper as she says, "Mulder, I don't want to ruin everything."
Scully reaches up to his neck and pulls his head down, placing a chaste kiss to his forehead. Her lips linger a moment, and then she hovers before him. There is only a breath of space between their faces, their lips. If either one of them were to move, it would change everything.
She swallows and exhales shakily through her mouth. Her breath is warm and washes over him as she says, "Promise me."
His eyes are trained downward on her lips; he can't stop contemplating their proximity to his own. "Anything."
Scully pulls away slightly, and he feels the loss immediately. She is wide-eyed and pale. She looks delicate, which is not a word Mulder often attributes to his partner.
"Promise me that one day, we will do this properly." She says, "Promise me that one day, this will be normal."
Mulder feels that knot in his chest retighten. "I promise."
She gives him a watery smile, and they both know he is a liar.
Still, when she turns back to the television set, she tucks herself into his side, and his arm goes across her shoulders—and it is progress.