Part III: Scully

She wasn't hiding in her bedroom.

At least that's what she was adamantly telling herself in vain hope it would become convincing at some point. But of course she was, and of course it was stupid. Beyond stupid, really. What was she, twelve?

She knew exactly what her mother was trying to tell her, had been trying for a while now, this time using fables of storms and evoking the memory of her father and sister. She might as well have spelled it out for her. She honestly didn't know why it had scared her so. It was obvious to everyone, as palpable as electricity. Why was she still hesitant to just admit it? To act on it? Well, she wasn't so hesitant earlier, practically pouncing on him, but that was a rare moment of bravery. Or possibly all that sugar they had consumed. It was utterly absurd. She could easily take down perpetrators and psychopaths; somehow admitting she was head over heels in love with her partner of seven years was way more terrifying.

When she finally returned to the kitchen some time later, she pretended not to see the flash of dismay in her mother's eyes at her back-to-business approach, but she didn't comment on it, and they spent the rest of the day in relative and efficient silence. When her mother eventually left (not before pinning her with another pleading look), she felt overwhelmed by pangs of conscience. She hated feeling she was letting her mother down, especially given her well-meant intentions, but it was stronger than her, almost an instinct. Still, she'd never enjoyed being a disappointment, under any circumstances.

Early the following morning a particular sense of déjà vu inevitably washed over her. She had arrived at his place fifteen minutes ago, and yet showed no inclination to get out of her car. Even as she sat there deliberating (again, not hiding, surely; that would be ridiculous), she knew she was acting foolishly. Luckily his windows weren't facing the front of the building, because if he looked out, he would have caught her just sitting there. He wouldn't necessarily comment on it, but she knew he would be wondering, possibly find a way to blame himself in it all.

Eventually she got a grip, and found the strength to get out of the car. By then it was drizzling, and so she jogged towards the building, using her briefcase as a makeshift umbrella. Miraculously enough, the drizzle shifted into actual rain the second she stepped into the foyer. She took another breath as she waited for the elevator to arrive. Really, there was no point being so nervous, as if this place wasn't practically her home away from home for the past seven years. But yesterday's kiss along with her mother's poignant words swirled in her mind, leaving her restless and distracted.

Mulder ushered her in, looking annoyingly awake and handsome in jeans and a white tee shirt. With the exception of the previous day (he caught her unawares), she had never dressed casually in his presence if she could help it. She always had that concern, as unsubstantiated as it was, that he would not take her seriously unless she looked the part at all times. Very early on in their partnership, jeans and tee shirts were deemed out of the question; whenever she met him in whatever capacity, she took to wearing practical trousers and demure tops. This morning was no different. Although she didn't don her work clothes, she felt better prepared in black slacks and a blue cardigan, even if its color was slightly lighter than she would normally allow.

Her coat was damp as she hung it by the door – it suffered the majority of the damage. It got his attention; he asked her about the weather, as if they were those people, and she replied absentmindedly. She wasn't sure what she had expected to happen. Did she think he would try to kiss her upon her arrival? Comment on the color of her cardigan, on the way it complimented the color of her eyes? Instead he prattled on, acting just like he would on any other day when she came over, as if yesterday didn't actually happen. Although this was exactly what she'd hoped for, she couldn't help but feel just a little miffed, as well.

"I made coffee," he said when small talk seemed to exhaust itself, chuckling a little as he realized this was stating the obvious, as the scent of it had already lingered deliciously in the air.

Remembering the cookies she had brought along, she handed the jar to him unceremoniously. "Good thing I brought these then," she said casually, watching as he removed the lid and peeked inside curiously. His features melted into a soft smile as he looked up at her. She shrugged. "We baked them to thank you for your help yesterday." It was her mother's idea, but seeing his reaction after tasting them (trying to keep out of her mind the way he wiped the chocolate off her face) she suggested they would bake this particular kind.

"Scully," he said in that awe-stricken voice he only used when she did something that threw him off-guard. Like initiating a theory of spontaneous human combustion or apparently bringing along cookies that reminded him of his childhood. "Well, I'll go get that coffee, make yourself at home."

She took off her boots as he wandered about the kitchen, making much more noise than necessary. She got the distinct feeling that he wasn't really sure what to do with himself now that she was there, that this was awkward for him too. There was some comfort in knowing the sentiment was mutual. The coffee table was littered with case files, and she added the ones she had brought to the pile before scooting to one end of his couch. As she folded her feet beneath her, she noticed a legal pad among the files, covered in his handwriting, scrawl-like and frantic, filled all the way to the margins. She reached for her hardcover notebook, containing her meticulously written notes, not even a word out of place. It was amusing how the two aesthetics were perfect reflections of their personalities and work methods. She smiled to herself as the observation occurred to her.

"What's funny?"

She started and blinked, realizing he'd been watching her from the entrance to the living room. There were two steaming mugs in his hands.

"Oh. Nothing really," she replied lamely as he lowered himself on the other end of the couch and made room for the mugs on the edge of the table.

Shockingly, he let the issue drop. "It's a shame about the rain. I hope it doesn't ruin the bake sale," he half said, half asked instead, and she was touched that he cared so much about something that was so important to her mother.

"They'll have it indoors, they sort of expected it."

"Good. I wouldn't want all our fine efforts to be in vain," he grinned, then reached for the jar she had placed on the couch, helping himself to a cookie. He bit into it, and his eyes all but rolled back in his head. His expression was the epitome of bliss. On Mulder it was somewhat disconcerting. "This is perfect. Thanks for thinking about me."

"Always," she replied without thinking, then caught his eyebrow raised and realized the implications of her words. She blushed and reached for her mug, as if she could somehow hide behind it. She was bracing herself for one of his infamous innuendos, but he uttered none. The way he was dodging one opportunity after another to have the last word was perplexing. She cleared her throat in vain hope it would resolve the awkwardness that now lingered heavily in the room. "Shall we get to work then?"

And then it was business as usual, as was always the case with them. Her mind was surprisingly sharp despite everything, and so was his, as they summarized and debated and compared data. They stopped for brunch at some point when it became too late for breakfast, and it was all very normal and very them. As the day wore on, the pile of case files was thinning. Only one cookie was left in the jar. He broke it in two, wordlessly offering her one half. Case files and cookies all gone, they were both spent, and the room was suddenly darker. She heard his joints pop as he leaned over to click on another lamp.

"Good work today," he praised her, then yawned. Before she knew it she was yawning too – she read someplace how contagious yawns were. It was amusing to be putting the theory to the test like that.

"We're going to nail this meeting, partner," she replied, resisting the urge to slap him a high five. She stretched her legs in front of her, flexing and pointing her feet. "Well, I'd better..." she let her voice trail. Even though she was exhausted and in a desperate need of a long, soothing bath, she was reluctant to say goodbye.

"Actually, Scully..." he started, then hesitated. It was too dim to really tell, but she was pretty sure he was blushing. "It's been a rough day and we could both use some unwinding. I was thinking we could pop outside for a bit, rent a movie, bring over something to eat?" He asked it rather than said it, his hazel eyes glimmering hopefully.

For a moment she was speechless, although she probably should have seen it coming, should have known he would have something in mind. But as disappointment began to darken his stare at her stalling, she didn't have a heart to turn him down. If she was honest with herself, she didn't want to turn him down. Nonetheless, she decided to have fun with him first. "Are you asking me on a date, Mulder?" she asked, staring at him in mock-outrage. She watched amused as his eyes widened with the thought he had just committed some crucial mistake. She wasn't used to seeing him so flustered. It was actually quite becoming on him.

"What? No. No! I wasn't... I just... It doesn't count as a date if we're staying indoors... is it?"

He stumbled over his own words and it was the cutest thing she'd ever seen. As if she needed more reasons to fall for him. She shook her head, letting a teasing smile escape. "Relax, I'm kidding. Dinner and a movie sound perfect."

He tried to hide his sigh of relief, but if the fact he didn't even berate her for giving him a hard time over nothing was at all an indication, it was pretty obvious that he was enormously relieved.

By the time they were back at his place with Chinese takeout and a movie they had both agreed on, evening had truly fallen, and the rain outside resumed. After an intense morning it was nice to talk about anything other than work (other than the previous day too, for that matter). After dinner she made them some tea while he grabbed a sweatshirt and fetched her blanket, then set the VCR. They settled on their respective ends of the couch as the credits began to roll. She was careful not to touch him, not even with the tip of her toe. It was bad enough she had been ogling him all day; it would be good for her to practice some self control.

Even though she was looking forward to watching the movie they had chosen, a smart British comedy she'd heard a lot about, she was beginning to feel sleepy. Less than halfway in, she could feel her eyelids grow heavy. She fought it for a while, until she could no longer keep her eyes open. She lay her head back and surrendered. Just for a few minutes, she told herself.

When she next resurfaced the room was dark, the VCR no longer playing, and she was lying rather than sitting on the couch with Mulder's body spooning hers. He was fast asleep, his breaths deep and even. She was feeling more and more alert by the second as the shock of their position slowly registered through her drowsiness. How did they even find themselves all entangled in one another? He was sitting on the other end of the couch! She was completely engulfed by the essence of him. She rolled onto her back; he adjusted his position ever so slightly according to her movement. His head was practically against her shoulder, his hand draped over her hip. She allowed herself a moment to just look at him, secretly enjoying the control the moment had given her. She managed to extricate one arm and lifted it to his face. Her fingers fluttered gently against his cheek, his five o'clock shadow lightly pricking her skin.

"Mulder," she murmured, "wake up."

He hummed an unintelligible reply, but soon his eyes fluttered open as he slowly took in his surroundings much like she had done. Even though he slightly pulled away from her upon waking up, somehow propping himself on his elbow in the narrow confines of the couch, they were still lying close to one another, so close that their noses were nearly touching.

"Did I fall asleep?" he rasped, looking adorably out of it.

"We both did."

He groaned softly, but didn't make any effort to move further. Neither did she, to be honest. The warmth emanating from his body wrapped comfortingly around her, all the way to her feet. She was transfixed by his hazel eyes, still fogged with sleep, by the way his hair was all messed up. She couldn't look away. He was watching her watching him, as if trying to decipher her next move. His lips were so close, that pouty bottom lip puckering invitingly. Now that she knew what they tasted like, she just wanted more.

Instead she whispered, "I should go."

"Or you could stay," he replied nonchalantly. She gave him a look, and he shrugged. "I'll take the couch," he added, then chuckled, as if he realized himself how unconvincing it sounded given the way they were still wrapped around each other. Nonetheless he nodded in resignation, and scooted backwards a little further, allowing them both to sit up and stretch out. She got up in search of her boots, and sat on the floor to put them on. Every inch of her body protested against the sudden chill. "I know what you're doing, you know." She looked up, startled by how close his voice was. He was looking down at her wearily. "You can't keep running."

She wanted to deny it, to tell him that she wasn't running and that he didn't know anything. But it felt like the harshest lie, and she'd always found lying to him excruciating. She sighed, and took his hand as he reached out an arm to help her up. "My mom was telling me the same thing yesterday," she found herself admitting instead. His eyes widened ever so slightly, similarly surprised by her assertion. He didn't say anything, just looked at her, waiting for her to continue. "She said there was a storm coming; that I should face it headfirst instead of trying to defy it, like I always seem to do."

They were facing one another, and the air was sizzling, just like it did the other day in her kitchen. Somehow in the semi darkness it was much more intense. She could tell the implications of her mother's words weren't lost on him. Before he could comment on it, though, a flash of lightning colored the room silver for a brief moment, following by a faint rumble of a distant thunder. He chuckled, inching even closer. "I'd say the storm is already here," he said, placing his palm at the back of her neck. His warm fingers were grazing her skin; an involuntary shudder coursed through her. "I think you should listen to your mother," he murmured, leaning in.

And hell, she couldn't fight it any longer.

They both moaned on first contact. There was nothing gentle about this kiss, no more testing the waters. Almost without realizing it she was heeding to her mother's advice, all but throwing herself at him with abandon that wasn't like her, and he seemed more than willing to do the same. Before long he had her pinned against his front door as their lips collided again and again, hands wandering greedily in search of exposed skin. An explosion of sensations she couldn't remember the last time she'd experienced, if ever, overwhelmed her. There was no mistaking where this was going.

Mustering every ounce of her waning resistance she pulled away from him, just to throw her head back as his lips left a burning trail down her neck. His name escaped her lips brokenly.

"Are you sure you have to go?" he breathed hotly as he continued to nuzzle her skin.

"You're making it... exceptionally difficult," she managed, her fingers threading in his hair. He pulled away just to flash a crooked grin at her, the question lingering in his leering gaze. They stared at each other breathlessly, pulses wild, lips bruised, foreheads touching. "I can't stay," she said.

"Give me one good reason why not."

"I'll give you a great one. We have a meeting tomorrow morning..."

"Too much talking," he cut her off, leaning in again. She pressed a finger to his lips to stop him.

"I'm serious. We can't mess it up. We can't mess this up. We've come so far."

He stopped, as if to consider, but she knew he knew she was right. He took her hand in his and pressed his lips to her knuckles instead. He kept his gaze on hers as he slowly let go and backed off slightly. "If this is the only reason, I get it. Otherwise... I'll be very confused."

She couldn't blame him, really. She was shamelessly flirting with him during their impromptu baking session the other day, not to mention kissing him, and now she was giving him a hard time for suggesting she spent the night? Talk about mixed signals. And yet. They had come too far to mess it all up now. She wouldn't allow it. If this was the next step (and it certainly felt like it), she was determined to do this right. She took a deep, centering breath. "Why don't we see how the meeting goes tomorrow, then celebrate over dinner?"

Understanding flickered in his stare; he cocked his eyebrow at her. "A proper dinner? Like, outdoors, in a place where a reservation is required?" She nodded wordlessly, heart pounding. His lips curled mischievously. "Sounds a lot like a date to me, Scully."

"As you've certainly established earlier," she couldn't help but tease him; it was worth it when he actually blushed. Her smile widened an inch. "Is there a problem with that?" she added, and despite the tone of the exchange, just for a hint of a moment, insecurity conquered determination.

"Not a single one," he replied without releasing her eyes.

"Good," she nodded, relieved. She poked his chest gently. "But you must promise to behave, Mulder. No funny business until we get this meeting over with. We can't afford any distractions."

He chuckled darkly. "I'd say that ship has sailed long ago, Starbuck."

Somewhat satisfied with getting her way (but at the same time wanting nothing more than him carrying her to his bedroom and repercussions be damned), she walked passed him to find her coat. Before she managed to put it on he took it from her, wordlessly holding it up for her to put her arms through the sleeves. Then they just looked at one another, suddenly shy.

"Well, that was an interesting weekend," he quipped, and she couldn't help but smile. Interesting was one way to put it. He cleared his throat, then cast a glance at the coffee table, where their paperwork was now organized rather nicely. "So... I'll bring our notes, you'll bring coffee? Maybe more cookies if you're hiding some in your apartment?"

"It's a deal, partner," she said timidly, her mother's words echoing in her ears. You're so much more than just partners, Dana.

A few get some rests and see you tomorrows later (which further reminded her of how awful at this sort of small talk they were), she could stall it no longer. It was time to go. He beat her to the door, already unlocking it for her. He was in no hurry to open it though, as reluctant for her to leave as she was about returning to her empty apartment. Their eyes were having an entire conversation without uttering a single word. Then he leaned in, gently pressing his lips to hers. It was arguably nothing compared to the kisses they had just shared, and yet it was everything. Before she could even kiss him back, he was already gone, smiling softly at her. "Good night, Scully."

His reaction took her off-guard, but only for a moment. She nodded slowly, returning his smile. "Good night, Mulder."

She wasn't hiding in her car.

Even if that were the case, there was nothing left to hide from. It felt as if every truth had already been shared between them, one way or another. She just needed a moment to get herself together, to pause and reflect, to make sense of it all. The raging storm outside appropriately reflected the storm inside her own heart, one she didn't shy away from, but rather embraced, longed for. There was no reason to be afraid. They would brave it together. As always, they would have each other's backs.

Finally, she put the car in drive and left, her head filled with thoughts of what was to come. They only needed to keep their wits about them for a few more hours, until the meeting was behind them. And then... Her lips curled in a coy smile at the endless possibilities the future held. For once it wasn't fear that fizzed inside her, but anticipation. Then it was time to see this through. At last.