Disrobing

He had predicted her showing up in his room before she knocked on his door, way before. He'd been pondering it since she left his office, been waiting for it since their arrival to Oregon. She seemed professional enough, impressively so, given it was her first fieldwork. Nonetheless, he refused to let her diligence deter him. He didn't know how she'd do it exactly, only that she would. He was certain of it. The lights had gone out a short while ago, no doubt as a result of the raging storm. The perfect setting, the perfect excuse. If she was as smart as she seemed, she would do it tonight. He wondered if their superiors had put her up to this upon assigning her as his partner, or if she had come up with the strategy herself, her personal female touch. But the background story didn't matter in the slightest because either way, he was ready. He was going to expose her for the temptress that she was, to give her a cold shoulder she would never forget; show her she had chosen the worst guy to mess with.

When the knock came on his door some time later, he chuckled to himself, but wiped the smugness off his face before grabbing a candle and heading towards the door. He feigned surprise as he opened the door and found her there, wide-eyed and clad in a red robe, her hair wild about her. Not exactly alluring, but it hardly mattered. He knew she'd come, and she had just proven him right.

Her voice quivered as she asked him to look at something. He had to give it to her – her performance was quite convincing, albeit random. He had expected something far more mundane as a ruse to gain access into his room; asking for matches to light a candle, perhaps. But there was something about her that didn't sit right with his theory – as distraught as she appeared, she also seemed hesitant, even after he sidled to let her in. That was weird. He had expected her to pounce already. Instead her movements were sloppy as she fumbled with the knot at the front of her robe. There was an air of distress about her he couldn't quite pinpoint.

She stood with her back to him, which surprised him further, but he said nothing, wanting to see what she would so next. She hesitated for a long moment, then he could almost feel her determination taking over, hear her sharp intake of breath, as in one swift motion, she disrobed.

This was not what he had expected.

Well, it was but it wasn't. She wasn't nude underneath her robe, nor was she clad in some sort of seductive lingerie which would have served her purposes well. Instead she was wearing simple bra and panties that didn't even match. What the hell? In what world was this supposed to be his undoing?

But her skin was like ivory in the candlelight, and for a moment the revelation paralyzed him despite himself. He should have told her to take a hike by now. Instead he was rooted to place, felt as if time had slowed so much it nearly came to a halt. Her skin was flawless, her body lithe, her waist tinier than he could have imagined, concealed underneath those shapeless blazers he had seen her wear. For just a split second he lost track of why she was in his room, what he had meant to be doing.

For a moment she didn't do anything further. Then she looked over her shoulder, and her eyes met his before she glanced at her lower back. The urgency in her gaze shook him out of his stupor. Transfixed despite himself he let his eyes follow hers, finding a few marks there. This was an odd way of seduction, he told himself as he knelt behind her to examine them. He tried to empty his mind of all thought as he touched them with just the tip of his finger. A shiver went through her as he felt the skin around the marks. He barely noticed, distracted as he was by the scent coming off her skin; the earthiness of the forest and something else, flowery and feminine. Nothing overbearing, like that hideous jasmine fragrance Diana used to wear and still haunted his nightmares. This one had a gentler undertone, like roses or –

"What are they? Mulder, what are they?"

It was as though someone had poured a bucket of iced water over his head. He blinked, forcing himself to get a grip. As his mind slowly returned to its right track, something else occurred to him. The panic in her voice registered, and his theory began to crumble right in front of his eyes, fading into nothing as it dawned on him that it wasn't passion that had her trembling, but fright. And now that he had snapped out of his paranoia, he realized what had made her so rattled. The marks on the small of her back were incredibly similar to the ones found on the teenagers from class '89. For the untrained eye, that is.

As he reassured her they were indeed mosquito bites, she collapsed against him with force he didn't anticipate, a motion that could only be interpreted as relief. He put his profiler senses to use and determined this couldn't be premeditated. No one could fake this sort of shaking, and she did shake as he patted her shoulder awkwardly. Searing guilt washed over him. He felt ashamed. This was his doing. From the moment the poor girl had set foot in his office, he frightened her in the hope it would send her running for the hills. Never in a million years had he expected her to follow him to Oregon.

Seeing how flustered she was involuntarily softened him; weakened him, even. In the past couple of days he had been hard on her to the point of bullying, but she fought him ferociously every step of the way, countered each of his theories with one of her own. As irritating as it was, it was also refreshing – no one had ever taken him seriously enough to provide an opposite opinion. He thought he had figured her out, this new partner of his, the Ice Queen of the FBI Academy. She had this no-nonsense air around her from the very moment they met, but now as she pulled away from him and shakily sat down, he was beginning to see right through it. Her vulnerability seeped through with a vengeance. Under different circumstances, it would have been laughable. He believed tonight he would expose her for who she truly was, and he did, just not in the way he had expected. And as if that wasn't enough of a shock, he found himself opening up to her, telling her about his sister. He became as exposed as she had been moments ago, and still, she didn't run away screaming. She stayed, and she listened.

Seven years later, they're back in the very same place. As they go about the town he feels like pinching himself at how familiar everything is. It's almost hard to believe it all started right here. He can't keep the past from resurfacing. It lurks in the depths of the forest, stares at him directly through the X on the road. It's particularly potent as she knocks on his door, telling him she isn't feeling well. As he pulls her inside his room, he almost waits for the blackout to occur, but the lights stay on.

As the evening stretches on, shifting into nighttime, she's reluctant to return to her room, and he's the last person who will object to having her in his. Goodness knows they've wasted too much time repressing budding emotions, denying themselves from one another. He gives her one of his tee shirts to sleep in as they both get ready for bed. The clothes she discards are already creased beyond hope. She's still pale-looking as she crawls back into his bed. This time he goes under the covers with her, pulling her close against him to keep her warm. The faint fragrance of her skin pulls him yet again towards the past. It is the exact scent that assaulted his senses that night – lavender, he now knows. He breathes it in, taking comfort in its familiarity.

"Déjà vu all over again," she says softly into the darkness, echoing his own earlier statement.

"You're feeling it too, huh?" he asks, his finger tracing a line along her back over the shirt. "And to think it all started with those mosquito bites."

She chuckles. "God, I was so embarrassed."

"And I was such an asshole."

"Until that point, you certainly were."

"No, I mean... that night you showed up in my room I thought..."

"What, that I was going to lure you into bed with me?" she asks halfheartedly, as if she doesn't expect him to reply in the affirmative. When he says nothing at all, now embarrassed himself, she turns in his arms to stare at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. "Seriously, Mulder?"

"I believed it was part of your strategy... to bring me down."

She takes this in, then shakes her head. "Mulder, if I wanted to seduce you, I wouldn't have done it in those ugly underwear I was wearing. There would have been satin and lace involved, as you should know well by now."

"Everyone's a genius in hindsight," he mutters, and she smiles fondly at his bitterness.

"We've come a long way," she tells him. He leans in to place a soft kiss on her lips, a wordless affirmation. They now lay side by side. Her eyes are serious as they bore into his. "How can you ask me to give it up now?"

He thinks about the look in her eyes this afternoon, as she rocked Theresa Hoese's baby on her knees. It was the saddest, most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. In recent years she had uttered her grievance at how her life was standing still while everything else was evolving around her. At the time he dismissed it, assuming her frustrations derived from the long drive or the late hour. But watching her with that baby today, her words resurface and resonate, hitting him like an epiphany. Billy and Theresa's lives have changed tremendously in the seven years since they have seen them last, whereas both their lives are mostly at a standstill. It isn't difficult to unearth the reason for it, and that only aggravates him further.

"I've put you at risk enough times for my cause, Scully. I cannot keep doing this. I'm done being selfish."

"What happened to if you quit now, they win?"

"Look where that has gotten us that other time." He is reminded of their fierce exchange in his hallway, that near kiss, that damn bee. Antarctica. The memory of it all still sends shivers down his spine. "Scully, when I first told you about my sister seven years ago, I said that uncovering the secrets of the government was the only thing that mattered to me. Well, that's changed. Now you are the only thing that matters to me. You, and keeping you safe."

"And who will keep you safe? Who will make sure you're not pushing too hard, driving yourself over the edge, pissing off everyone around you?" He doesn't reply, knows she's right. And she nods, knowing that he knows. She shakes her head. "This is exactly why I'm not going anywhere. Someone needs to keep an eye on you, Agent Mulder," she says haughtily, and he chuckles. A crack is formed in her serious expression. The glimmer is back in her eyes. "If you jump, I jump."

He groans. "I can't believe you're quoting Titanic to me," he mock-whines, but can't help reaching out and stroking her cheek. She grins unabashedly, then yawns, and he is suddenly reminded why she's come to his room in the first place. He'd better let her rest. He leans in for a kiss, and as they pull away, he marvels yet again at how well they can read one another as she scoots closer, settling more comfortably against his chest. Silence wraps around them; he feels himself slowly drifting when he hears her sleepy hum. "What is it?"

"Imagine if that auditor discovers that there's no one in the other room. All this money down the drain."

"I won't tell him if you don't."

"Deal, partner."

There are mixed feelings associated with this word; awe, bafflement, dismay. He has always prided himself on how he's never wrong, but boy, he's been so wrong on this one. The woman who was a stranger as she disrobed in front of him all those years ago has since disrobed in every sense of the word; has become his partner in every sense of the word. She's still here. Against all odds, somehow he still has her by his side. They've come a full circle, he muses. At some point along the way the balance has shifted. She has been sent to wreak unsteadiness in his world, but has become the only constant in his life. Instead of selling out his secrets, she's become his confidante. Rather than being his undoing, she has become his everything, his entire being, his reason for existence. He's still here because she's still here; it's as simple as that.

He remembers something he's told her a few weeks back, about how she always keeps him guessing. It dawns on him now that she has done so even before he realized it, right from the start. He can only hope that she always will. He isn't used to feeling content, and the sentiment feels foreign as it fills him. He is tired of fighting the future, wishes to embrace it instead. He cannot wait to see what's in store for them, what else they uncover in the days and months and years to come. Not The Truth, for a change; a simpler truth. Their truth.

Something is coming. He has learned the lesson of not trusting his predictions, but this is clear to him, as clear as the blue in her eyes. Everything is going to change for them, for the better. For good.

There's no way he's wrong about this one.