Someone's comment on my previous fic, Under Cover of Darkness, made me rethink the way M&S have consummated their relationship, which in turn triggered the creation of the following two-parter. So this is basically what happens next, leading to the infamous teaser in All Things.
Part I - Mulder
The sun is just setting over Vermont as he sinks gratefully into his seat. He's seated in an aisle as usual (to better accommodate his long limbs), but through the window he's getting a glimpse of the gorgeous mix of reds and oranges and pinks with just a tiny dash of purple which graces the sky. He stares at it appreciatively as each and every muscle in his body protests against the confines of his position. He's still incredibly sore following his struggle with Ellen Adderly several days before. I'm getting too old for this, he thinks wryly, turning sideways with the intention of rolling his eyes while uttering the same sentiment.
Then the bitter truth hits him and he turns away miffed as he's reminded of his solo investigation. Scully is back in Washington, probably getting a much needed rest in the wake of her grueling stakeout assignment. If he's being honest, there's nothing he wants more than leave this imperfectly perfect place, and do the same. But alongside the welcome thoughts of home and unwinding comes the slap of his grim reality, of what awaits him when he gets there. Things between him and Scully have been less than ideal recently, to say the least, but the last few days have given him a lot to think about, and as the plane takes off, he closes his eyes, meaning to lay out a plan to set the mess of his life in order. Nevertheless, within minutes he's fast asleep, overcome with exhaustion.
He cannot really tell exactly when it's gone so wrong.
It all started well enough – perfect really, given the fact that the universe seemed dead set on them not ending up together at times. She wanted this, wanted to be with him, and despite his initial qualms (of course he was terrified it would ruin everything; when was the last time anything good had happened to him, since she'd been assigned as his partner?) he plunged headfirst into this newly-discovered, mind-blowing physical relationship, with ardor and devotion he hoped she appreciated. And she seemed so certain at first, unintimidated by the potential risks, that when she turned prudent and hesitant several weeks later, it caught him completely off-guard. He didn't think there was any catalyst for the change; he really was doing his damnedest to maintain the boundaries between the personal and the professional. He wondered if she realized how difficult it was for him to refrain from brushing his lips against the top of her head at the office just because he felt like doing so, or sneaking into her side of the room while out on a case, but he never succumbed to those temptations, knowing this was not what she had wanted.
It began small. One night he asked her about an autopsy she had performed a second before they fell asleep, triggering a complaint about how he was constantly preoccupied with work, even after hours. He thought she was joking; it actually took him a moment to realize her words weren't said in jest. He didn't mean to do it; he certainly didn't mean to upset her by it. It's just that his work had become so ingrained in him over the years. He couldn't shut down that part of him when he got home, no matter how hard he tried. They didn't get into an argument over it. To be honest, she'd stormed out before things escalated. But she was obviously distraught that evening and he didn't want to hover, knowing she would want to resolve this on her own. The next morning started a bit awkward, but several hours later it was as if it had never happened, and so he put it out of his mind.
He hoped things would get better once she let it out, but it got impossibly worse.
Even regardless of the sudden strain on their relationship, it was a rough time all around. His mother died, by her own hand. He learned the truth about his sister; that she wasn't coming back. Although Scully had been there for him through the worst of it – that sleepless night following his mother's apparent suicide, the funeral, packing up the house in Greenwich – the change was palpable. He could feel them regressing. It had been days, then weeks, since they'd been intimate, about the same amount of time since they'd last spent the night at each other's apartments. At first he thought she had wished to give him some space following his personal tragedy, but as time passed, it became obvious there was more to it than just that. Something was making her clam up, retreat back inside her shell, and it killed him that he couldn't figure out what it was. It was so frustrating. He had made himself a fine reputation as a profiler over the years, and yet she was the only person he couldn't for the life of him decipher. Not that it was anything new; it had been the case since the moment they met.
And then she did what was arguably the stupidest thing she'd done in a while – worse than hooking up with a psycho and ending up getting a tattoo – she disappeared for four days with the smoking son-of-a-bitch without telling him where she was going. He was out of his mind with worry from the moment he realized whom she was with, and it was getting harder to keep his emotions at bay following that useless meeting with Skinner. He called the Gunmen as soon as he got home, and watched them as they worked tirelessly in his living room, trying to find a lead on her whereabouts based on the little input he'd had. They would have to do a more thorough search from their HQ later, Byers informed him. Possibly hack into her computer to get to the bottom of this. He was mostly staring at the three of them blankly, helplessness crawling in by the minute. Because if they wouldn't be able to locate her...
"Mulder, I wish I didn't have to ask, but I can't unsee what I've just seen," Langly said somewhat dramatically on his way back from the bathroom. "Have you and Scully been partners for so long that you use the same personal care products now? Is this the equivalent of dogs starting to resemble their owners?"
In his state of distress and exhaustion it was a moment before the question even registered. He blinked as the blond man resumed his seat on the couch next to him, still looking at him inquiringly through his spectacles. "What are you on about, Langly?"
"There's a lavender-scented shower gel in your bathroom," he pointed out with the tiniest roll of his eyes. "And some lipstick," he added, taking the familiar tube out of his pocket and showing it to his friends. "Check this out, you guys. Berry Bruise. I bet that's a good color on you."
"Oh," he said sort of dumbly, stalling. What he was actually thinking was shit. His next thought was, hell, if she was allowed to act stupid, so was he. Besides, even though he wasn't strong on social connections, keeping their relationship a secret had taken an actual toll on him. He didn't want to hide anymore. And technically, he wasn't breaking any rules. They had agreed not to go public about this at work. The Gunmen weren't their colleagues; well, not exactly.
"Right, they're Scully's," he admitted sheepishly. Just because he wanted to be out with it didn't mean he wasn't embarrassed about being caught red-handed. He didn't say anything else; he knew the guys were sharp enough to put the pieces together. And indeed, before long Byers' eyes bulged with astonishment, Langly all but jumped back to his feet, the lipstick dropping to the ground as he howled in shock, and Frohike seemed to be attempting his most vicious glare.
"You dog!" he said, and it sounded like mirth rather than an accusation. "How long has this been going on?"
"Not too long," he affirmed, and felt his cheeks begin to redden under the three's wide-eyed gazes. He ran his hand through his hair awkwardly, then aimed the best warning glower he could muster at the three of them. "You three will keep your mouths shut, right? If she finds out you guys know..."
"She'll shoot you. You're a goner." Byers' voice was resolute, but also highly amused.
"Who knew you're one to kiss and tell, Agent Mulder?" chided Langly, waggling his eyebrows sort of suggestively.
"Hey, I didn't say anything, you figured it out!"
"I did say he seemed more easygoing recently, did I not?" Byers gleefully reminded his friends. They all turned to look at him in a way that made him cringe. He felt relieved the shower gel and lipstick were the only incriminating evidence they had. Had it been a stray bra, or worse... He shuddered at the thought. They would have had a field day. Scully would have killed him, and he wouldn't blame her one bit.
Well, they would have to find her first. The grim thought reminded him of the mission at hand, and he shook his head into focus. Time was of the essence, and they were gossiping like teenagers at a slumber party. "Can we get back to the issue at hand? Please?" he implored.
"Of course. We could torture you later," replied Frohike with seriousness that implied that they would do just that.
"And we will," affirmed Langly. "Don't think you'll be able to avoid it."
"Help me find her first, then do your worse."
"I don't get it," said Byers, shaking his head. "If you guys are... together," he said it slowly, incredulously, as if it was hard to wrap his head around it, "she would have told you where she was going."
"Not necessarily." He lingered, reluctant to elaborate, but then sighed with resignation. He might as well tell them the whole story. "We've been having issues... lately."
"Lately? You said you just got together."
"I know, it's... complicated."
Frohike eyed him suspiciously. "What have you done, you fool?"
And so he told them how it started, back with her asking him to be the father of her child. He spoke at length of the process they had undergone together, the pain and anxiety on her part, the doubt and concern on his. He hinted at what transpired the night of the failed procedure, then recounted everything that happened since. As he concluded his tale, their late night conversation remained an echo at the back of his mind. Our baby would have been perfect. The words, the conviction with which they had been uttered, still brought tears to his eyes. Knowing he was not alone, though, he struggled to keep his emotions at bay, and shook off that melancholy that seemed determined to consume him.
As he looked up, he met the stunned expressions of his friends. Very little had shocked the Gunmen. This he had known for a fact, their friendship going back a long time. He could tell they weren't expecting to hear a story about the usually reserved Dana Scully making such a momentous request of him, close as they were, let alone being the one to initiate the next step in their relationship. They were probably expecting the run-of-the-mill "and then we hooked up" plotline. Then again, when had he and Scully ever done anything even remotely conventional?
After a moment of silence, Frohike shook his head in dismay. "No, seriously, dude, what have you done?"
"I don't know. I think she's... having second thoughts."
"Please," snorted Langly as if that was the most absurd observation on the planet.
"Regardless of what you've just told us, we were all there when you two got into an argument about Agent Fowley a while ago," Byers reminded him.
"She's in love with you, you moron," barked Frohike, not unkindly.
"In other words, she's not having second thoughts," confirmed Langly.
"It's more likely you've done something," concluded Frohike, resuming his scowl.
Maybe he had. Maybe he was coming on too strong, and his intensity frightened her. But that couldn't be the case, could it? She'd known that about him even before they got together. She'd tolerated it throughout their seven year partnership and never seemed overly bothered by it. Was that any different? He had wanted this for so long that he was going out of his way to make it work. Maybe that was his mistake? Where had it gone so wrong? When had he gone wrong?
He only wakes up as the plane jolts once the wheels meet the tarmac. He looks around him in shock – he's never slept so deeply on a flight, let alone such a brief one. He makes his way out of the terminal in a haze and hails a cab. He begins to give the driver her address in Georgetown, then changes his mind and heads home instead. He breathes a sigh of relief at the sight of his dingy apartment and his worn out knickknacks, a stark contrast to the picture perfect town he's left behind.
As he takes a long, well-deserved shower, he reflects on his conversation with Ellen about significant others, on her advice that he should not miss out on home and family. In hindsight, her words hit home more than he's realized at the time. As the steam slowly lifts in the tiny bathroom, he stares at his reflection. Then his gaze falls on the shelf above the sink, where her lipstick and toothbrush lay side by side, abandoned. They've barely spoken recently, somehow remaining civilized enough at work to interact, but not much further than that. He knows it's immature, but following the incident with Spender, he's simply unable to look passed her transgression. Now her absence hits him like a punch. Ellen's words continue to haunt him, as well as Frohike's reproach. She's in love with you, you moron.
Suddenly he's restless, and strangely determined. The only thing he wants is make things right again. Getting into bed, he pulls the phone unto his lap, and dials. He doesn't want to wait until the next morning, partly out of fear he will lose his nerve. Besides, doing this over the phone feels right, a closure of sorts. It is what they do best, after all.
"Shit, were you sleeping?" He wants to kick himself at the huskiness he hears in her voice upon picking up. He glances at the digital clock by his bedside, then does a double take. It's almost eleven. You idiot.
"Mulder," she sounds surprised, then snaps out of it. "No, I'm in bed, but I wasn't sleeping." Before he gets a chance to ask her what has kept her awake, she clears her throat. "Are you back?"
"I've never been happier to put creature comforts behind me." She hums in reply, but doesn't say anything further. She's wondering why he's called. He can't make sense of the recent shift in her behavior, but that's easy enough to tell. It's his turn to clear his throat. "Listen, Scully, I... I don't want to fight," he says tenderly.
"Me neither. This is silly, we're better than this."
Her soft reply eggs him on. He wants to tell her that he's missed her, that he's been thinking about her nonstop since he's been assigned the case in Bethany. He wants to ask her over because it's been too long since he's last lost himself inside her, since he's watched her sleep and woken up beside her. He wants to tell her he loves her more than anything and anyone else on the planet and beyond.
Instead, what comes out is, "I just don't understand why you would do that."
It is only as he hears her exasperated sigh that he becomes aware of what he's just said, and realizes that the romantic reconciliation he has meticulously constructed in his mind is about to spiral out of control. "Mulder, we've been through this," she reminds him gently.
He doesn't know why he persists, but he does. Fury rises higher than affection as he lashes out with force she doesn't deserve, certainly not at this late hour. "Why would you go with him, knowing how I would feel about it? Because you obviously knew, or you wouldn't have gone out of your way to keep me in the dark."
There's a stunned silence on her end, just long enough for his self-loathing to increase. He thinks of Frohike's admonishment from a few weeks back, and hangs his head in defeat. He is a fool. "First of all, and I'm pretty sure I've said this to you before, Mulder, not everything is about you; this is my goddamned life." It isn't often that she speaks harshly, so when she does, it resonates. And she had said that to him before, only back then the words didn't sting as much as they do now, under these new circumstances. Her tone is malicious, but he welcomes the pain it inflicts. As masochistic as it sounds, he prefers it to the complete numbness that comes with indifference. "And secondly, what gives you the right to even say that to me? You, who've ditched me more times than I can count to pursue some personal cause you didn't think I should be made privy to? Hell, Mulder, you went on a ride with him not too long ago, but you don't see me throwing a fit about it!"
"That's not the same and you know it," he contradicts her as passionately as if they're debating some outlandish theory at work. There's certain satisfaction in learning that his vast experience of proving her wrong comes in handy in times of need. "I was ill, I hardly knew what was going on – "
"You were beyond ill, Mulder, you were circling the drain. Have I gotten there fifteen minutes later – "
"And yet you went with him willingly, knowing he's done who-knows-what to me!" He cuts her off, desperate to veer the conversation back to her faults. He only remembers the fitful dreams he had during whatever procedure that had been done on him, and she didn't elaborate once she hailed him to safety and the urgency of the situation was lifted. He knows it can't be anything good though; which is exactly why he shudders to think what the bastard has had in store for her. Just thinking about it now makes his skin crawl.
"I have taken every precaution," she says slowly, as if she's speaking to a child. "Mulder..." She exhales, her tone softening almost despite herself. "A while ago you told me not to give up on a miracle. That's what he offered me. A miracle. How could I not take that chance? Can you honestly tell me you wouldn't have followed him too? We both know you would have, without a second thought."
"This is not what I meant when I said that to you." The memory of that night is painful, despite the way it ended. He's still grieving for the baby that will never be, now. "I don't mean to be an ass about it. It's just... I was so afraid that..." He lets the words trail off, suddenly not willing to voice his trepidations. I was afraid I was going to lose you so soon after we got together. Funny. Before, he has relied on the darkness to shield them from the world, to make confessions such as this one easier to let out. Now it's as though the balance has shifted. The darkness that has once been their biggest protector now threatens to swallow him whole, to destroy the single best thing that's happened to him in a while.
"Mulder, I've made a mistake, but it's done, I can't undo it." She pauses for a moment, hesitates. "Look, I know I've been... difficult lately. But I don't want this to come between us, as well." He's taken aback by her admittance, by her acknowledging her recent aloofness. So he's been right. Something has made her keep her distance. He's so preoccupied with this revelation, with its possible implications, that he nearly misses the other part of her sentence, once again an echo of his own words. "Can't we just move passed this? Please?" When he doesn't reply, consumed as he is by his own sullenness, she misinterprets his lack of response as refusal. He isn't sure why he doesn't correct her. "I thought you didn't want to fight."
"I don't. Or maybe I do. I don't know."
They both fall silent. For a brief moment he thinks it may be possible to salvage the conversation after all. She certainly sounds desperate to make amends, despite the fact that her previous actions are proof to the contrary. He can still tell her all those things he's thought of before. There's still hope. The darkness can still grace them with a second chance; a happily-ever-after can still prevail.
Instead, he lingers, and she sighs sadly, as if finding meaning inside his silence. "Look, it's been a long week. I think we could both use some rest. I'll see you at work tomorrow, okay?"
Her tone is more tender now, reconciliatory. He feels so defeated that he barely finds the energy within him to care. "Sure. Fine. Whatever."