I've always wanted to write a scene in which Mulder meets Scully's dad, and finally found a way to do it without going AU. Happy reading x

A Close Encounter

He was pacing outside the morgue, waiting for Scully to step out. When he'd called her a while ago, she mentioned she was just wrapping up her autopsy, and having some new evidence to share with her, he suggested they caught up over lunch. He knew a great diner in the area and tried to always eat there whenever he was around. Having skipped breakfast that morning, he was famished, and as he waited for Scully to finish up, he mentally perused the menu he had memorized, and wondered if he could get away with ordering that amazing Philly Cheesesteak without getting The Look followed by The Lecture. Despite his initial reservations regarding Scully, he had actually enjoyed working with her (more than he cared to admit), but she was such a killjoy when it came to their lunchtime choices.

He glanced at his watch, then at the closed door. He could step inside and join her of course – there was hardly any access his FBI badge couldn't grant him. But the thought of having the sight of cadavers haunt his lunchtime... He could very well do without it. Once more in the short time of their working together, he was filled with awe towards his partner. It was easy to see how she'd graduated from med school with honors (a detail she had confirmed but was reluctant to linger on). Although relatively new to all this, she had adjusted to her role quickly and efficiently, remarkably so. How she was able to dissect a dead body with such cool and resolve, then emerge out of that room as fresh as if she'd just been engaged in some leisurely activity was well beyond his comprehension.

Which was exactly what happened ten minutes or so later, as the sound of her heels alerted him of her arrival. And then there she was, impeccable in a navy suit which made the copper in her hair richer and her eyes bluer than blue. Her scent – this flowery fragrance he couldn't yet pinpoint – hit his nostrils, familiar and comforting. Another enigma, how the stench of death never seemed to touch her. He shook his head, forcing himself to snap out of it. The last thing he wanted was to be caught gawking at her like a love-sick schoolboy. As if she hadn't already thought he was a freak.

"Hi. Ready to go?" she asked as she fell into step alongside him. He liked the ease that accompanied the motion, marveled at how well they were synced already. He couldn't help but gloat as he thought about their superiors, their original intention in initiating this partnership. Surely this was not what they'd expected. Honestly, it was about the last thing he had expected. Luckily, he got the better part of the deal; for a change, the joke was on them. "Were you waiting long?" she asked him as they stepped into an empty elevator, heading upstairs.

"A few minutes. Don't worry about it." He honestly didn't mind the wait, especially given the fact that usually he had been the one to keep her waiting. Besides, he had a hectic morning at the precinct archives, and his mind could use a bit of respite before jumping into whatever heated discussion they were about to have.

"You could just come in," she shrugged.

"Uhhh, that's okay. I don't particularly enjoy the sight of dead bodies right before lunch."

She looked up from the folder in her hands. There was this mischievous glimmer in her eyes. "I didn't realize you were that squeamish, Mulder."

"You won't tell anyone, will you?" he stage-whispered, his eyes widening in mock-horror.

She laughed softly. "And ruin your reputation even further? No, Mulder, I thought you knew by now I have more heart than that."

Several people went into the elevator then, putting an abrupt end to their banter and forcing them apart. He squeezed into a corner, from which he glanced at her over everyone's heads. There was a shadow of a grin at the corner of her lips still as she tapped on the folder she was now holding against her chest. He detected her impatience in the motion. He knew crowded elevators made her nervous sometimes, and their recent case at Eurisko sure wasn't helping things. She seemed anxious to be out of there. His gaze travelled from his partner to a guy in scrubs who was standing beside her, clearly checking her out. His eyes narrowed almost despite himself. There was a growl halfway up his throat he was struggling to hold back. It wasn't like him to get so possessive and he honestly didn't know what came over him all of a sudden. It was as if a primal instinct of some sort was taking over; his brain had mentally catalogued the man as an intruder.

But before he had a chance to make sense of his reaction and reprimand himself for this blatant lack of conduct, the elevator stopped on their floor, and Scully all but launched through its opening doors. He took advantage of her distraction and shot a final glare at the guy in scrubs who remained behind, dejected. Tough luck, buddy. Maybe next time.

"Hey, don't forget about me, partner," he called after her, flashing a crooked grin at her.

She suddenly turned as if she had forgotten all about him. She stopped on her tracks and waited for him to catch up. "Sorry, Mulder."

"It's cool. My legs are longer, I would have beaten you to the entrance anyway."

She actually giggled; the sound shocked him. He didn't think he'd ever heard her giggle before. He had actually planned on saying something vicious about her fear of elevators vs. his recoil of morgues, but now, at the risk of not hearing this giggle again this afternoon (or ever), he held back. One could say many things about him, but at least he had his priorities straight.

"God, I'm starving. Where do you want to go?" she asked, stopping at the reception desk to hand in some paperwork. She took a few pages out of the folder she was holding, then gave it to him. He secured it under his arm as she handed the remaining pages to the receptionist along with an explanation he didn't quite follow.

"Well, there's an awesome diner nearby," he said once he had her undivided attention again. "They serve the best sweet potato fries in existence."

Her eyebrow was already beginning to rise. "In existence? That's quite the superlative."

He ignored the hint of mockery her tone carried. He was on a roll. "And they've got milkshakes in every crazy flavor you can think of. Their red velvet milkshake is out of this world."

"Oh, so those grays you're so fond of have told you about this place, then?"

This was, right there, why he had enjoyed working with her almost despite himself. Arguing with her was great fun at times. He couldn't deny that her dubious expression was occasionally infuriating, but right this moment, it was endearing. He dismissed her snarky comment with a shake of his head. "You laugh now, but you'll thank me later. Honest to God, it's superior."

He easily detected the grin she was struggling to hide beneath her no-nonsense sulk. "Okay, now you're just showing off, Mulder."

"You don't believe me?"

"Do I ever?" she asked sweetly, not missing a beat.

"Touché," he replied, laughing softly. He was secretly hoping to hear that giggle again, but wasn't too disappointed when he didn't. It was a long shot anyway. He would just have to earn its reappearance. He enjoyed a good challenge. "I'll make you a deal. Let's just go there and if these fries are not the best thing you've ever had, you choose what we have for lunch tomorrow." Then he realized it may lead him to some god-awful salad bar, and shook his head sternly before she would get any ideas. "There will be some strict conditions, though."

She obviously got his drift, for she rolled her eyes at him, but a smile found its way to her lips as she nodded. "It's a deal," she said. "Well, I have my car here, but we can go in yours and you'll drop me off back here later. No use in taking both cars. I should get my lab results by the time we're back anyway."

He was about to command her for her practicality when a third voice suddenly cut in. "Dana?"

He blinked, startled. He was so used to referring to her by her last name, even in his own head, that any mention of her first name always made him confused because he didn't really associate it with her. She seemed equally startled as they both turned back. He watched as her eyes widened and a gasp escaped her.


Before he knew it she was rushing passed him towards an imposing man whose presence seemed to fill the entire reception space. He advanced towards them slowly, allowing her some privacy but also curious by what he was witnessing. If he was taken aback by a simple giggle not ten minutes before, the scene unfolding before him was a real eye-opener. He watched his usually reserved partner as she threw her arms around the man, who laughed softly and in turn wrapped her in an equally tight hug. He felt his lips curl in an involuntary smile. All those imbeciles at Quantico who called her Ice Queen behind her back wouldn't believe their eyes.

"I haven't expected to see you here," she told her father, slowly pulling away and taking a step back. She reached for his hand and clasped it between hers.

"Just routine checkup at the cardiologist's, Starbuck; nothing to worry about." The man's voice, like his presence, oozed authority, but at the same time he was as soft-spoken as she was. "What are you doing here, sweetheart?"

"Oh, I'm just... we're working on a case in the area," she replied, glancing over her shoulder, and their eyes met. He was feeling a bit awkward, but she was urging him wordlessly and so he had no choice but step forward. Her father was watching his every move with a sort of coldness, almost as if he were dangerous prey. He had known the look well, of course. He had just given it to that guy in the elevator. Scully seemed oblivious to all that as she turned her attention back to her father. "Daddy, this is my partner, Fox Mulder. Mulder, this is my dad, William Scully."

"My dad is named William too," he blurted out without thinking, then wanted to kick himself as the older man's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. He stretched an arm out anyway, pleading with it not to shake. Her father didn't look all that intimidating up close, but his gaze was intense. So was his handshake. "Nice to meet you, Captain Scully."

"And you, Mr. Mulder. I heard a lot about you."

"Likewise," he replied briefly, resisting the urge to enquire just how much was a lot.

"I trust you're looking after my daughter?"

"Uhhh..." He chuckled, momentarily speechless under the man's scrutiny. He could feel his face grow warm all the way to the top of his ears, could only hope Scully hadn't noticed or he would never hear the end of it. "Dana is more than capable of looking after herself, Sir, I can assure you." His smile widened an inch as he caught her blushing. That he didn't mind one bit. She would probably kick his ass for thinking it, but she looked adorable.

"I'm glad to hear it. She didn't tell her mother and me much about her job at the FBI, but she always sings your praises." He threw an incredulous look at his partner, whose blush deepened as she peeked at him guiltily.

"I couldn't ask for a better partner, Sir, she saves my ass pretty much on a daily basis." He caught her horrified expression from the corner of his eye, then realized what he'd just said. He bit his lip and looked sheepishly at her father. "Sorry."

Her father didn't take his eyes off him; it was unnerving. "I do get the impression you need saving, son. You're lucky to have my Starbuck around."

"Don't I know it." He was adamant on making a good impression, but he was growing more distracted by the second. Slowly but assuredly, the mystery surrounding his partner was unraveled before his very eyes, and he loved every bit of it.

"Did you two just get here, or..."

"We're on our way out actually," replied Scully. "We could give you a ride home if you'd like," she added, and he nodded with more enthusiasm than was probably needed, wordlessly seconding her offer. Anything that would deem him likable at this point would be good.

Her father seemed taken aback. "Oh. That's nice of you. I was actually going to ask if you could join me for lunch, Dana. Your mother is out of town and it's been a while since we had a proper catch up."

Scully threw a subtle, hesitant glance at him. She looked torn. She obviously found her father's invitation enticing, but she also seemed guilty that he came all the way from the precinct to meet up. "Well, I'd love to, Daddy, but actually..."

"You go ahead, Scully," he cut her off, smiling reassuringly at her. "I'll meet you at the precinct later to go over your autopsy report, okay?" He didn't give her a chance to reply, and held up the folder he still had in his hands, flashing a lopsided grin at her. "I doubt I'll be able to make sense of this on my own."

"You're welcome to join us... Fox?" His name came out as a question, as if her father was trying it out. He could tell the offer was sincere, but if the man wanted to catch up with his daughter, it wouldn't be right of him to intrude. As much as this was an opportunity to learn a little more about his partner, it would have to wait. It was the least he'd owed her, after putting up with him in the past few months.

"Thank you, Sir, I have a few things to attend to." He locked his gaze with Scully's, nodding his reassurance yet again. "We'll be in touch, okay?"

She wavered for just another second, before nodding slowly. "Sure. Later."

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Sir," he said. This time her father seemed less hesitant to shake his outstretched hand. His grip was slightly warmer too. Although he didn't return the pleasantry, he found approval in the man's eyes, as strikingly blue as his daughter's.

He watched Scully as she linked her arm with her father's, heading back towards the elevators, to her car in the garage below. The older man looked at her fondly. It was so different than the way both his parents had ever looked at him, and he was transfixed by the sight. She glanced over her shoulder, then mouthed a thank you as their eyes met. He nodded, smiling at her. She smiled back, then turned her attention back to her father. As they moved further away from him, he heard the beginning of the lecture he had just ducked, and chuckled to himself, feeling slightly sorry for Captain Scully.

He headed to his own car, and decided to drive to the diner anyway. As much as he wasn't looking forward to having lunch by himself, he was willing to get ditched like that every day just to witness the look of sheer joy that seemed to overtake his partner. On a daily basis she was much more rigid, as if she believed that deemed her more professional, but there were moments much like this one in which he had longed to know more about her. The little things, like the fact that their dads had shared a name, why her father had called her Starbuck or what made her break into giggles like earlier. But he got it. It was early days and they were just beginning to gain each other's trust. There would be a time for all those things and more. Unless something terrible happened, he had a feeling they were well stuck with one another, for better and for worse, whether they wanted to or not.

He thinks back of that day as he pays Mrs. Scully a visit and comes across a photo he hasn't seen there before. He does this a lot, visiting Mrs. Scully, probably more often than he should; definitely more than is considered appropriate. He doesn't always have an update regarding the search for her daughter, but being there brings him solace, and she doesn't seem to mind his company. He's already well-familiar with each and every photograph that adorns her living room, except for this one, weirdly enough. He must have missed it – it doesn't seem new. In it, a slightly younger version of Scully is standing beside her father, who is beaming with pride. Her own eyes are gleaming, and she's smiling in a way that sets a searing sense of loss inside him. He doesn't remember ever seeing her smile quite like this; not much to smile about in their daily lives of monsters and global conspiracies.

"It was taken when she graduated from med school," Mrs. Scully's soft voice is suddenly behind him. He turns, startled, and she smiles apologetically as she places a tray on the coffee table, wordlessly offering him one of the mugs on it. He places the photo back where he's found it, and sits down, taking the offered mug. The smell of coffee makes his head spin. "This is my favorite photo of the two of them," she adds, and the pain in her eyes is tearing at his heart. It must have brought her comfort after she lost her husband; now she has neither one of them, and he's partly to blame. If only Scully hadschosen to stick with medicine, her mother could still have one of them with her right now.

"I hope you don't... resent her career choice, given the circumstances," he says carefully, not wishing to offend her or pry into family matters. He doesn't think it's overly intrusive. It isn't some well-guarded secret, the fact that Scully's parents initially disapproved of the path she'd chosen. She has been rather open about it.

Mrs. Scully locks her gaze with his. "Fox, I don't resent Dana's choices, nor do I resent you for her disappearance. I tell myself every day that something could have happened to her even if she became a doctor. You never know, you hear about stuff like that all the time." He nods distractedly; there was a case on the news just the other week, about a disgruntled patient attacking a young doctor over a diagnosis he didn't approve of. Mrs. Scully shakes her head sadly. "These things are sent to try us."

Once again, he's in awe at her strength. She's so different than his own mother, who all but fell apart in the wake of Samantha's disappearance. His only solid recollection of that time is how her hair has turned white nearly overnight. Not Mrs. Scully. Before him is the very source of his partner's ferocious tenacity. Looking at her mother, her eyes burning with such resolve, it all makes perfect sense.

"My husband told me about you, you know," she says then. He's been so consumed by his musings that he blinks in surprise. There's this amused glint in her eyes, a reply to his confused expression, most likely. "After you and Dana met him at the hospital that day. He liked you."

"Did he?" He chuckles darkly, the memory of the man's piercing stare making him shudder even after all this time. "I sort of got the opposite impression. Not that I can blame him, I was acting like an idiot."

"He didn't see it that way. He said you were very candid, didn't try to be something you're not, and he liked that about you. That's what I like about you, too."

He can feel himself blushing. His cheeks actually burn with it. He's never taken compliments well, and getting compliments from Scully's parents only makes it worse, because he knows he's unworthy of their admiration, that he failed them even before they had known him. In many ways, their daughter's fate was doomed the moment she was assigned as his partner.

Then Mrs. Scully catches him off-guard once more. "You got him worried."

"How so?"

"He mentioned the bond you and Dana have. Sensed it within minutes of meeting you. He was really quite rattled by the sheer force of it. He said it was as if there was some sort of a bubble around the two of you, making you oblivious to anything and anyone outside of it."

Her eyes never leave his; he's trying to read between the lines, knowing he's meant to, but it's hard for him to focus. It's a strange feeling, to hear about the thing he's known existed between him and Scully, but could never quite define. It sort of shocks him that it's there for others to see, let alone a person he's spoken to for less than ten minutes. Then the paranoid within him wonders if perhaps Scully's father has been watching them prior to making his presence known. Now of all times his memory betrays him; he can't for the life of him remember what they said to one another, what it might have looked like to the casual observer.

"Is that a bad thing?" he asks Mrs. Scully, because he genuinely isn't sure. Maybe it is, and that's what she's trying to tell him.

She thinks a little before replying. "No, not bad. Just... unusual."

"Well, the work that we do is quite unusual."

"This goes beyond your work, Fox, I... my God, I'm beginning to sound like my daughter Melissa." She pauses briefly, unsure how to continue. "I sense something in you. You care deeply for my daughter, in a way that surpasses a simple work relationship."

Her tone is hesitant, as if she doesn't want to frighten him with the intensity of her words. Nonetheless they resonate; he knows what she means. Scully and him may have been partners for a relatively short time, and they may not know everything about one another just yet, but ever since she's been gone, he feels as if a part of him has gone missing, as if he's lost something essential, his shadow or his reflection. He felt this way when they were expected to go their separate ways upon the termination of the X Files. Back then they were unable to keep away (although he has initially resisted it with all his might), found ways of contacting one another, of working together without working together. Her current absence has a certain finality to it, which only enhanced his helplessness. He has come to depend on her in everything. It's almost as if he doesn't know how to be without her now.

"Mrs. Scully, I... I can't tell you much about our work on the X Files, about the reason Dana and I were partnered in the first place. But I can tell you that your daughter is about the only person in my life I trust."

She nods, taking this in. "Which is why you're the only one who can find my daughter and bring her back to me. I've known you for some time now, and I see the intensity my husband has seen. Even in Dana's absence."

"You said it got him worried. Aren't you?"

"It's a mother's job to look beyond that. We leave that bit to you men. You'll understand that better when you have children of your own one day." She smiles at him with kindness he doesn't deserve. "I believe in you, Fox."

"If only I knew what I believe in these days."

"You believe in Dana, don't you? In this partnership you've formed in such a short time?"

He thinks of her necklace which he still wears. It's tucked inside his shirt, unseen, but its constant presence comforts him. All he can do is nod as he holds back tears.

"There you have it, then." She reaches for his arm, gives it a little squeeze. "Don't give up."

He looks over his shoulder at the photograph, and thinks back of the moment at the hospital. He was strangely optimistic, he now remembers, feeling foolish for the sentiment. Because obviously something terrible has happened – the very worst of it – and they have been forced apart, and still there's so much to uncover. Sure, the visits to Mrs. Scully are enlightening in their own way, but it isn't the same.

He needs to find her. It isn't up for discussion. It feels like a different goal than finding Samantha. He can't explain it, but his resolve is different somehow. Because he has learned to live without his sister, her absence is the only presence in his life. He doesn't want to learn to live without Scully. It just feels wrong. He cannot allow it to end this way. There's so much he doesn't know, still.

He meets Mrs. Scully's gaze, which is so different than her daughter and yet so much the same. He nods with conviction he doesn't yet feel. "I won't give up. We'll find her."

He wants to believe that he won't fail her; that he won't fail himself. Most of all, he wants to believe that he won't fail the woman who's been assigned as his partner for the most sinister of purposes, and somehow along the way has become much much more than just that.