One Hundred Ties
He had one hundred ties, back in the day.
Some of them dated back to his studies in Oxford; most of them he purchased upon joining the bureau, where a more formal apparel was required of him. He was rather frustrated with wearing those suits, at first. He had always felt more comfortable in simple jeans and tee shirts. The suits made him feel hot and constricted, but worst of all, they reminded him of his father, of his secret job which eventually tore the family apart. In short, they were associated with darkness and trauma which haunted him still. But with time he had come to appreciate his work attire; he found its silver lining, learned to make the best of it. People looked at him differently when he was dressed in a suit. They took him more seriously – for the most part. It certainly opened up doors in times of need.
But he had never imagined there was something inherently wrong with his ties until Scully pointed it out to him.
It must have been around their fourth or fifth year working together, during a stakeout – that fact he remembered well, when she confessed it to him. It was a balmy night, on the cusp of autumn. They were in the midst of an intense case, both of them spent and sleep-deprived. She was particularly drowsy that evening, and therefore let conduct slip. He didn't admit it to himself at the time, but he lived for those nights when she was more talkative and frivolous. Stakeout Scully was his favorite Scully, the one who was so famished at the end of a long sleepless night that she enjoyed a plate of bacon and eggs without rolling her eyes at his own plate and going all MD on him for needing to watch his diet.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" Her voice was husky, her head lulling on the headrest in his direction.
"Umm sure?" he replied uncertainly, distractedly. Breakfast was just two and a half hours away, and he could already picture the mound of bacon on his plate, the intoxicating smell of fried eggs, a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice... This was why when she reached out a hand towards him, he all but stopped breathing, his mind suddenly racing. What the hell was she doing?
But she was merely aiming for his tie, gently tugging on it before giggling. "What were you thinking?"
"I beg your pardon?" he blinked, perplexed. As the abruptness of the attack abated somewhat, he was feeling a bit miffed. For a moment there he thought – hoped? – she would run her hand through his hair, or better yet, lean in for a kiss, and ask if he wanted her as much as she had wanted him. Instead... what did she want with his tie?
"This tie. I just... I can't, Mulder. This is a low. Even for you."
"What do you mean even for me? What's wrong with my ties?" He couldn't help sounding defensive, and a little offended as well. His ties, ugly? Never!
Scully snorted in reply. Snorted! The sound was so un-Scully-like that for a moment he lost all thought. "The fact you think there's nothing wrong with them only worsens your circumstances." She shook her head, and reached for the tie again. "I mean, what it's even supposed to be, snakeskin?"
"I... guess?" He honestly didn't think his ties were that bad, but she seemed so amused by his cluelessness that he was now second guessing himself. "I assume you consider yourself as having better taste in ties, then?"
"You set the bar so low that I suspect even Frohike can do better."
As if his ego didn't just take enough of a beating. "Ouch, Scully."
"I'll make you a deal. Let me take you tie-shopping."
"An early birthday gift."
"Scully, you don't have to – "
"Mulder, you clearly need some female intervention on this. I'm this close to asking for reassignment based on your taste in ties alone, and how would that look on my request for transference?" He couldn't respond; just stared at her partner in disbelief. This was too much, even for Stakeout Scully. She seemed to interpret his stunned silence as consent, for she nodded in satisfaction. "I've got you covered, partner," she said, smiling so beautifully he didn't have a heart to protest.
And a few days later, with the investigation behind them and the case closed, Scully announced today was the day. After work she took him to a shop downtown that was way more stylish than any establishment he had frequented before. They spent about three hours in the tiny shop, sorting through styles and patterns and fabrics. Each and every tie they chose was more mature and sophisticated than any of his own, and yes, far more tasteful. He wondered how come she was such an expert on ties – through her brothers or an ex-boyfriend? – but didn't dare asking. The shop owner obviously thought they were together, based on his numerous lame quips. He noticed how Scully didn't correct him like she normally would, almost as if she hadn't even noticed. She was a woman on a mission, and he was more than happy to oblige. That evening he packed most of his old ties, meaning to leave them by the charity shop over the weekend. He left behind some of his favorites, though, and hoped she would never find them. Little did he know, then.
On Christmas, the night before leaving for San Diego to spend the holiday with her family, Scully appeared on his doorstep with a gift – a grey tie with little green alien heads. It was a sweet gesture on her behalf, one which was obviously meant as a joke, but following the Emily affair she was so dejected he was determined to make her smile again, and so one morning he donned the tie for a high-profile briefing at work. The act nearly cost him his job, and earned him a reprimand from Skinner, but it was all worth it when their eyes met from across the room, and she flashed a grin at him. For this one moment, all was well again.
"You're unbelievable," she told him later as they remained alone in the elevator, heading downstairs. He raised an eyebrow, questioning her say. She simply nodded towards the tie and rolled her eyes at him. "And then you're surprised they're looking at you funny?"
"I don't regret it for a second."
The elevator stopped at the basement with a chime. She stepped outside, then reconsidered and turned back. Before he knew it her scent engulfed him as she pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. Her shy smile before she disappeared down the hallway indicated that she knew exactly what he'd been trying to do.
From then on in he found a tie on his desk every now and again, all from her, all miles better than his original ones. He had never questioned their existence, or confronted her about spending her money on him. It seemed to make her happy whenever he stepped into their office wearing one of the ties she had given him, and nothing had made him happier than making Scully happy.
As time passed, he began to associate his ties with milestones in their partnership-turned-relationship. The tie he wore for his mother's funeral, where she barely let go of his hand. The tie he wore when he came to tell her he would father her child. The tie he wore when they first kissed, a kiss that paled in comparison to the one they shared on New Year Eve. The various ties she'd fastened for him after spending the night together, her breath warm against his neck, her eyes glimmering as she looked up at him. The tie with which he fastened her arms to his bedpost, as per her request. One of the old ones she had found in his dresser – she used to joke she'd finally found a proper use for them.
In the years that followed, there wasn't much use for his ties anymore. He was abducted, then returned. They were forced to flee and live underground, and in the years since they resurfaced, he had hardly left the house. He no longer had one hundred ties; his collection dwindled to a modest twenty or so. But each tie he owned, she had bought it for him, every one of them meticulously chosen even in their darkest moments. If anything, he mused, it was proof that she still cared, even if she ended up leaving him. He was holding on to what he could.
Upon his return to the bureau, shortly after the Tad O'Malley debacle, he ran into Skinner in a café down the street from the Hoover building. The café he had used to frequent all those year ago no longer existed; it was nothing but a run-of-the-mill coffeehouse chain now, but it was better than nothing after a long-ass drive into town. He mourned the loss of the previous café as he waited in line. It felt like the end of an era.
He gave the young barista his order, which was actually Scully's order times two: a strong cappuccino to which he'd add a quarter of a packet of brown sugar, not a drop more, or she'd give him hell. As he paid and made room for the next customer he noticed Skinner, who had just picked up his own order.
"Nice tie, Mulder," his on-again-off-again boss told him, smiling knowingly, almost winking. "Courtesy of your better half?"
He remembered how it all started, with Stakeout Scully what felt like ages ago. There was this awkwardness between them now, as they were slowly finding their way back into being partners. It was not as seamless as he had hoped. There was too much history there. In a way he felt as though that old version of him, back in that car, had known her better. He might still remember how she took her coffee, but it felt as if he'd been missing out on so much else.
He sighed wistfully. "My better in every way," he replied.
Skinner frowned ever so slightly; he had obviously picked on the dark note of his voice. He hesitated, then said, "I'm sorry it didn't work out... between the two of you."
For a moment, he was speechless. They had been through hell and back together, and yet it wasn't like Skinner to make such amiable declarations, to even acknowledge their relationship. Nonetheless, he knew the older man was protective of him and Scully; had been for the most part. He was the one who had asked them back. At the end of the day, he simply wanted what was best for them. "Just a momentary setback, Sir. I hope."
"I do, too. For the sake of your ties, if nothing else. I remember some of them, back in the day..." Skinner shook his head in dismay, and left the café chortling. He stared after him, dumbfounded. For all the times he told Scully he'd never been wrong; apparently as far as his ties went, he had been wrong, big time.
He wasn't completely honest with Skinner about his tie. This particular one was not Scully's doing; he had chosen it all by himself. It was a narrow one, blue, its color an exact match to Scully's eyes. It wasn't a coincidence he had chosen to don it this morning. He remembered how O'Malley had looked at her. He wasn't a fool. He assumed she must have seen other people when she went back to live in DC, but so long as he didn't see anything, it didn't bother him... much. But now... He was ashamed to admit he felt envious of the younger man, threatened by his advances towards her, subtle as they might be. It had been a while since he'd had to vie for her attention, and it was unnerving. Then something occurred to him, and he grimaced, feeling each and every one of his many years. He could bet O'Malley had one hundred ties. At least.
"William?" The barista saved him from himself. His son's name lingered in his ears as he picked up the two cups from the counter. He added the correct amount of brown sugar to Scully's cup, carefully placed them in a carrier, and stepped back into the busy street.
After years of living away from urban environment, it was still weird, mostly overwhelming, to readjust to the hustle and bustle of it. Nonetheless, the sight of the Hoover building in front of him filled him with nostalgia. They had gone through so much in this place; they had certainly grown up. The café down the street might be long gone, but they were still here. Still partners. Scully might remain distant and professional for the time being, but sooner or later it would be like old times, only better. He hoped. Tad O'Malley and his one hundred ties got nothing on him.
In the elevator heading downstairs, he balanced the coffee carrier in one hand, and used the other to adjust his tie. Scully was probably at their office already. There was a new case on their agenda, and he was filled with new confidence. She had been his constant for the better part of two decades, and he refused to let that pass. He still remembered her coffee order; that said a lot, didn't it? Instead of being bitter about other men pursuing her, he should focus on making himself worthy of her. One way or another, he was determined to win her back.
For the sake of his ties, if for nothing else.