Shorthand

His first few days at the hospital following the procedure are a daze for her. She's so exhausted she can barely stand. It is a different sensation than the one that has become routine through the years, one that's numbing her senses, because it goes beyond witnessing him slipping away from her as his partner and his doctor. Now that they're lovers, the need to pretend takes its toll on her and it's draining. She longs to be out of this hospital, finally away from prying eyes, so that she can hold his hand without looking over her shoulder, or whisper soft comforts in his ear without worrying someone may overhear. So when the doctor tells her she can take him home, she's elated. She requests some time off – she never initiates days off except for rare cases of family emergencies, and Skinner, sweet unsuspecting Skinner, grants her the week off without so much as a blink.

They spend the week at her place, in an unfamiliar territory of domestic bliss, as she tends him around the clock. He's as weak as she's ever seen him, weaker than in the aftermath of his strange illness several months back, and he doesn't speak. He's simply unable to. For the first three days or so, even holding a pen against a notepad seems to strain him, and so they communicate wordlessly, with their eyes and gestures and facial expressions. She's teasing him, saying that for all the time they haven't gotten the chance to spend nights at her place yet, he's just had to do it with a bang. He seems frustrated about not being able to utter a retort. She doesn't sleep next to him – he seems so fragile she doesn't dare to. Rather she spends the entire week on an armchair by his bedside. After a few days she doesn't even feel the sore muscles anymore.

When it's time for her to come back to work and his condition seems somewhat improved, she reluctantly takes him home and makes sure he's settled before returning to face a lonely week at their basement office. She makes the most out of her time alone, making impressive headway on some paperwork, but the silence is unbearable. She checks on him frequently, even making the trip between his place and the Hoover building during her lunch break a few times during the week. She doesn't spend the night once, even though she yearns to do so. She doesn't want to hover or appear overbearing. She wants him to be able to maintain his personal space.

When the second week of his recovery draws to a close, she helps him into bed after a checkup at the hospital. The doctor seems pleased with his progress, but she can't help the concern that suddenly overwhelms her. She wonders if it isn't too early for him to get back to work. He seems eager to be back, and she knows him well enough to know she won't be able to stop him, and so she doesn't even voice her trepidation.

"Right, you're all set," she tells him, tucking him in as gently as if he were a child. "Get some sleep. I'll see you at work tomorrow, okay?"

He nods, and she murmurs a good night, meaning to turn away. He grasps her hand suddenly; it is so unexpected she nearly topples forward.

"Dana," he croaks. A sound escapes her – half a gasp, half a sob. It's the first proper word he's uttered in two weeks. She nods, suddenly unable to speak herself. He clears his throat as if it's still an effort. "Thank you." Even these two words are a struggle.

She just nods again, tears spilling down her cheeks. She gives his hand a squeeze. "I was really scared," she whispers, thinking it is quite possibly the first time in seven years she's admitting to him to be scared of something. She feels she's aged a million years since he's been infected. She forgets her intention to leave and sits next to him. "Mulder, I was sure you were..."

"Don't," he cuts her off. "I'm fine."

He rolls his eyes at her after saying it, and so she knows it's meant to be a jive on her. "Bastard," she mock-glares at him, hitting his shoulder as gently as she can. They eye one another for a moment before she reluctantly stands up. "I'd better let you rest. Big day tomorrow." She forces her eyes away from him, turns away again. The whisper catches her by the doorway.

"Wait." She turns, guessing what he'll say simply by the look in his eyes. "Stay."

She's conflicted. She wants to. It's been a long, lonely week, and she's so desperate to be close to him it physically aches. But he's been through so much and she probably shouldn't. Then again, how can she possibly refuse him when he looks at her so imploringly?

She sighs. There's no way to resist it – her heart has made the decision before her mind has got a chance to catch up. She nods, and notices the instant relief on his face. She knows she will probably leave before dawn – she'll need a change of clothes before work – but she doesn't care. She just wants a few undisturbed hours next to him.

Luckily she's spent so much time at his place as of late that most of the essentials are there already – her own toothbrush and her lavender shower gel, a razor, some underwear. None of her work clothes, though – it's a conscious decision she's made early on, knowing she will need some rational excuse to be able to leave his side. She doesn't find any of her pajamas in his dresser, and so she grabs one of his tee shirts. It's huge on her, hanging on her body as if it were a dress. His eyes are set on her as she reemerges from the bathroom wearing it. Her cheeks flare; his open stares make her feel self-conscious.

"Playing dirty," he manages as she gets into bed beside him.

"You wish."

He sighs wistfully, his eyes filled with longing. "I do wish."

"Good night, Mulder." She drops a kiss on his lips, briefly because he's still getting breathless so quickly. Hell, they had to make at least eight stops from the hospital parking lot to the nurses' station. She shudders to think the damage an actual kiss – or anything further – might inflict.

He rolls on his side and pulls her against him. He leans his chin on the crook of her neck and inhales. "Better," he murmurs. His breathing is already slower, steadier. She figures it must have been an exhausting afternoon for him. She's dreading the next day from the exact same reason. She's so distracted by worrying that his next words catch her completely off-guard. "Love you," he says, and for a moment she's frozen, unsure she's heard right. But then his lips press into her hair for just a second. She knows he's still awake, waiting, dreading the silence every moment it stretches and she stalls.

"Love you too." The words slip easily from her lips, ringing right and true. They're as natural as breathing, as their next step has been, from partners to lovers. For all the complications it has brought and is sure to bring still, she cherishes the transition in their relationship; won't have it any other way.

"No slapping," he says.

The evident wonder in his tone surprises her. She turns on her back to face him. "When did I..."

"Ship."

"Queen Anne?" It's the only ship that comes to mind; plus, it was in the aftermath of this disastrous escapade he told her he had loved her.

He nods somberly, placing his palm against his cheek and wincing. "Ouch."

She moves his hand gently, replacing it with hers. "You probably deserved it."

"Most likely," he grins boyishly at her. He leans over and places a kiss on her forehead. "Mine now."

"Yours always," she replies softly.

"Mrs. Spooky."

"Don't push your luck." He chuckles; it sounds more like a bark. Then he winces as if it pains him. She grimaces. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize." He takes a deep breath, as if readying himself for battle. "I'm alive thanks to you."

"Shh, Mulder, don't speak," she whispers, as if speaking quietly will make them say less.

"Grateful."

"I know. But save your strength for tomorrow, okay?" She turns off the light, then settles back in his embrace. "Night, Spooky," she murmurs, and feels him smile against the back of her neck as they both slip into slumber.

There's certain beauty in this spoken shorthand that has been forced upon them. As eloquent and opinionated as they both are, they've never actually spoken of their feelings, except for that one time when he tried and she rebuked him. Now, miraculously, they can express themselves more easily, and ironic as it may sound, much more clearly. In this one broken conversation she gets more insight about them, about where their budding relationship is headed, than ever before. He may have temporarily lost his ability to speak, but she feels they both have gained so much in return. It's like that song from Notting Hill, which she absolutely adored and he absolutely loathed – they say it best when they say nothing at all. He may have just verged on the brink of death, but still she's filled with this strange conviction that they can conquer anything. Optimism washes over her as she drifts, safe and warm and whole in the arms of her partner-turned-lover. She wants to believe that this lasts.