Exploring - 5 (R)


It was morning, early, not quite six.  He hadn’t slept, maybe dozed a little, but mostly just held her all night.  She’d be waking soon; he needed to see if there was anything here for her breakfast.  He eased out of the bed and she merely sighed, not disturbed.


He padded into the living room and looked around.  Their apartments couldn’t be more different.  Besides hers being clean, it was nicely furnished.  A couch and chair, a small desk, an entertainment unit.  He had most of that, why did his place look more like a frat house?  This looked like a home, hell she had plants, live ones and nicely framed pictures and . . . shit.


He moved to the kitchen.  She had eggs and oj.  He could scramble some for her, that should be light enough, but he needed to wait until she woke up.  Coffee.  That he could handle, he got it started and headed back to check on her.


The phone rang as he was reaching for the knob on her door.  He hurried over to it, to keep her from waking.  “Hello?”


There was a moment of silence, then “Fox?  Is that you?”


Oh shit, he closed his eyes.  Her mother - how the hell did he explain being here this early in the morning?


“Thank God you’re there.”


His eyes flew open and he stared at the receiver.


“Is she okay?”


“Uh, I . . . yes.  She was exhausted.  She’s still asleep.  Do you want to speak to her?”


“No, no don’t disturb her. I knew she'd go to you.  We didn't even realize . . . we didn't know she had left the hospital until this morning.  The captain and I are on our way home.  We should be there in an hour or so.  We’ll see her then.  You’ll stay, won’t you?”


“Of . . . of course.  Be careful, really she’s okay.”


“We’ll see you soon.  Thank you, Fox.”  She broke the connection.  He slowly placed the receiver back into the charger and looked at it.


“Who was it?”


He turned to see her standing in the doorway.  He moved immediately to her side.  “Are you okay?  Should you be up?”


She smiled at his concern.  “I’m feeling a lot stronger, but I missed finding you beside me this morning.”


His cheeks colored slightly and she again marveled that a man that looked like him could be this . . . shy.  “So, who was on the phone?”


“Oh, uh, your mother.  She, she probably knows I was here . . . “


“Did she seem upset?”


“Well, no.  She . . . she thanked me.”


Scully smiled then.  "Do I smell coffee?"


"Oh yeah.  Have a seat, I'll bring you some."


"I can sit in the kitchen." She was enjoying the feel of his arms around her.


He seated her, then brought her coffee to her, "How about some eggs?"


"Mmm, think I can afford you?"


"I come cheap."


"Good, I'm going to want a long-term contract."  He looked deep into her eyes at those words, but made no comment.  He was still, at least partially, seeing her as she had been when he arrived in Buffalo - so near to death.


"What else did Mom have to say?"


"Oh, she and your Dad will be here in a couple of hours.  I'll clear out so you can visit."


"I'd rather you stay.  I want you to meet Ahab."




"My father.  He's Ahab and I'm Starbuck."


He couldn't quite smile at that, "He's Navy, like Bill?"


"He's Navy, not like Bill.  Mulder I'm so sorry . . ."  Mulder rose and opened the refrigerator, taking out the eggs.  "Mulder?"


"Don't apologize for Bill.  I know where he's coming from."


"You two are in agreement about my life now, right?  Too bad I've got a mind of my own."


"What?  You think if you hang around me you can improve my reputation, make me reputable?"  He asked.


"I said last night I wasn't sure we should work together."


His fingers went numb at those words and the egg he was holding hit the floor and exploded.  He closed his eyes, then without looking at her, "Sorry."  He reached for the paper towels.


She continued, his back to her as he squatted to clean the floor.  "If we were partners, in the Bureau definition, sleepovers like last night would be frowned on."  Mulder turned then, still not speaking, "I realize I'm making assumptions here, Mulder, based on what little time we have spent together, but you seemed okay with staying here last night."

"Scully - "


"If you're not interested in me, as a woman, I need to know now."


He gaped at her then, and had to steady himself on one knee.  She was offering a personal relationship?  No, no way.


His continued silence was beginning to get to her, but she decided to plunge on.  "When I opened my eyes in the hospital and saw you there, it was, it felt right.  In my mind I'd been calling for you and it felt like you'd answered."


She'd been calling for him?


"Mulder, if you don't say something soon, I'm going to go hide in the bathroom . . ."  She tried to smile, but the look in his face was . . . was  a little frightening.


"You," he had to swallow, "you'd see me on a, on a personal basis?"


Her eyes widened, "I've been in bed with you four times, how personal -  "


"I've put you in danger, even when I haven't realized it.  You were on this case to . . . to get experience - for me."

"Are you taking blame for me getting shot?"


"If you'd been at Quantico -  "


"I don't want to be at Quantico all the time.  I enjoy teaching and my students are great, but . . . but I want more on occasion.  It will make me a better teacher.  But I was talking about . . . about us."


"Us."  His voice actually trembled.  "Scully you don't want there to be an 'us'.  I'm sure Bill -  "


"Fuck Bill.  Do you want to be with me?"  She was blushing now. She'd never been quite so overt about such a question.


He opened his mouth, but before he could answer the doorbell pealed, repeatedly.  She didn't seem to hear it, but his lips closed and he rose, carrying the mess he had cleaned up to the trash.  Her eyes followed him as he continued on into the living room.


She'd heard the doorbell, and had a good mind to murder whoever was on the other side of the door.


She closed her eyes and sighed, then forced herself to her feet.  She was still moving slowing and would be for a while, but last night's sleep had helped her.  His arms around her had helped her.


He had the door open, looking puzzled at the shorter man facing him.  Scully made her way into the living room.  "Ethan?"  Mulder turned to look at her, stunned.


"Dana."  The man stepped around Mulder and approached Scully.  His arms went around her and Mulder's mouth dropped open.  Scully's eyes were on him, then at Ethan's embrace, she let them slide closed.  Mulder closed the door and stood there, unable to take his eyes from the sight.  The pain where his heart used to be immobilized him.


"Ethan, Ethan please, that hurts."  She tried to move away from him. That gave Mulder the ability to move again and he took a step toward them.


"Oh hey, I'm sorry."  He released her, unaware of Mulder's movement.  "Here, sit down."  He moved her to the couch and seated her, placing a pillow at her back.  She wouldn't look at Mulder.


"Dana, why didn't you call me?  I saw your name on the release and I freaked.  I should have been there for you."


"I . . . Mom was there, and my brother.  And I couldn't have visitors anyway."


"I'm not a visitor, Dana."  He took her hand and sat on the arm of the couch.  When she didn't respond he finally looked up at Mulder.  He stood and held out his hand, "I'm Ethan Minette."


"Fox Mulder."


Ethan waited, but Mulder offered nothing else.  Scully looked at her hands.


"I'll, uh, I'll get out of your way."  Mulder moved toward the door.  He didn't bother with his things.  He didn't want Ethan to see that he'd stayed over anyway.  He didn't notice the look of panic she hid quickly.


"Will, will you call me?"


"Sure, I'll be in touch."  He didn't turn toward her.  She tried to bring her breathing under control.  She couldn't make it to her feet, so she watched him leave her apartment with barely controlled terror.


She knew that Ethan was talking but the words made no sense.  Her eyes were locked on the door that had closed behind Mulder.


"Dana?  Dana can you hear me?"  Ethan turned her face toward him.


She blinked as though coming up from underwater.


"I think you should be in bed."  Ethan helped her up from the couch and moved her gently toward her bedroom.  If he noticed that the bed looked more mussed than from just her presence, he didn't mention it.  He helped her recline and straightened the covers, then sat beside her.


He took her hand, drawing her attention back to him, "Why don't you tell me what happened."


"So you can use it on your show tomorrow?"  She spoke with a flat voice, finally focused on him.


He had the grace to blush, or maybe it was a flush of anger she saw.  He withdrew his hand.  "The public needs to know what happened, Dana.  Since you were there, your insight might make the FBI look a little less stupid."


She closed her eyes slowly, "I don't want to talk about it.  I haven't even been debriefed."


"All the more reason to get the truth out there, before they ask you to change your story, or do a whitewash for them."


"Is that why you came here?"


"No, no Dana, I wanted to check on you.  I know we . . . broke up, but we're still friends aren't we?  And if I can help you -  "


"I could use something on my stomach.  I don't suppose you could make me some toast?"  She was watching him now.


She noted his look of annoyance, but he couldn't see a way to flatly refuse her.  After a moment, he released her hand and rose.  He was back shortly with some toast, dry.  Then, seeing her expression, returned with some butter, jelly and a fresh cup of coffee.  She tried not to think about the eggs Mulder had offered to fix, before she had frightened him off with her too pointed questions.

Ethan tried a couple of times to steer the conversation back toward the incident in upstate New York, but she changed the subject each time.  She could tell he was getting anxious to return to the studio and wondered idly if he would have bothered to visit on the day before a broadcast if he’d known how uncooperative she was going to be.


“Ethan, I think I’ll try to sleep now.  Could you let yourself out?”  She’d interrupted him, always a no-no with his ego.  She wanted to smile at that, he hadn’t bothered to even ask about Mulder, and thereby acknowledge his existence.


“Well, I hate to leave you alone . . .” but he was checking his watch.


“I’m fine.  Thank you for stopping by.”  Again that flash of annoyance at her flat tone.  She knew she wasn’t being properly appreciative or attentive to him, but she couldn’t seem to make herself care.


“Okay, I’ll call you.”


“Thanks.” She rolled over, wincing slightly at the movement.  He made no comment, Mulder would have been all over her, asking what he could do . . . but he wasn’t here.  With her face turned away, Ethan didn’t see her tears.


Ethan closed the bedroom door, then looked up at the knock on her door.  He glanced toward her room, then moved to answer it.


“Fo . . . Ethan?  I . . . I wasn’t expecting to see you.”


“Maggie, Captain Scully, come on in.  Dana’s lying down, but she hasn’t had time to get to sleep.”


Maggie nodded, ‘When, uh, when did you get here?”


“Maybe an hour ago, not that long.”


“I see.  Is, is anyone else here?”


“No.  Listen, I hate to rush off, but it is pre-production day, so I need to head out.  It was good seeing both of you.  You should watch tomorrow, we’re covering the whole debacle.”  He wasn’t looking at them, his eyes scanning for his jacket, so he missed the look of distaste that flittered across Maggie’s face.  “Well,” he shook Captain Scully’s hand and waved at Maggie.  “Hope to see you soon.”  He flashed his professionally whitened teeth at them and was gone.


Captain Scully looked at the door Ethan had just closed.  “I thought you said this Fox guy would be here.”


“He was supposed to be.  What could’ve . . .” She was moving toward Dana’s room already and tapped lightly on the door even as she was opening it.  “Honey, are you okay?”


Dana looked up at her mother’s voice and tried to brush aside the tears.  “Mom?”


Maggie sat carefully on the edge of the bed, “Baby, what happened?  Where’s Fox?”


“He left, when Ethan got here.”


“They didn’t have words, did they?  He knows you’re not seeing Ethan, doesn’t he?”  Scully’s eyes widened, had that been a factor as well?  Not only had she thrown herself at him, then Ethan . . .


“Mom, I don’t know where he went.  He was upset . . . “


“Which you don’t need to worry about.”  Maggie had taken in the pallor and listlessness of her daughter.  “You should still be in the hospital, recovering.”


“Mom -  “


“Right, but I am your mother and your welfare comes before everything else.  Your father and I are taking you home.”


“Mom, please, listen to me.  I want to stay here.  If you want to bring me a few meals, I’d appreciate it, but I want to be here, in my bed.  I love you, but I can’t -  “


“Will Fox be back?”


“I don’t know.”


Maggie paused at that.  “You sleep now.  I’ll see how you are when you wake up, but if you’re not any better . . . “  Scully bowed to the threat in her voice.




The knock on the door surprised him, and he thought about ignoring it, but at the second determined knock, he rose.  He found himself straightening up at the sight of the man in casual Navy uniform.  There was nothing casual about the man’s stance.


“Fox Mulder?”


He nodded, “Captain Scully.”  He moved to let the older man inside.  He turned to follow him to the living room, wincing at the mess.  Well, hell, he hadn’t been expecting an inspection.


“I thought you would be at my daughter’s apartment when we arrived.”  The tone was only slightly accusing, but Mulder looked down.


“You’re right, I apologize, but when her boyfriend showed up -  “


“It’s my understanding that she is no longer seeing Ethan.”


“Well, he, uh, he showed up and I didn’t want to be in the way.”  He glanced around the room again, “Please, have a seat.”  He gathered some papers and magazines from the chair and kicked a pair of shoes under the coffee table, grateful he didn’t drink.  At least there were no beer bottles around.                                   


Captain Scully didn’t seem to notice the clutter, seating himself on the couch.


“Would you like some coffee?  I don’t have much else right now.”


“No thank you.  Please, sit with me for a minute.”


Mulder only hesitated an instant, then seated himself at the far end of the couch.  Captain Scully took a deep breath, “If Dana were an only child, I’d be asking your intentions toward her.”                                                                


“Ex . . . excuse me?”


“I think you heard me, but after raising four children I’ve mellowed a little.  What is your relationship with my daughter?”


“We work together.”


“Work together?”  He was watching Mulder’s eyes.  It was very clear to him what was going on, this man loved his daughter.  The information Bill had given him was strange, but he had no doubt that was the reason for the pain in this young man’s eyes. 


“Yes sir, on a couple of cases.  I . . . I asked for her assistance on a case a few months ago, but not -  “


“You haven’t asked for her help since then.  Is there a reason?”


“Captain Scully, I’m sure your son told you about me, my . . . my reputation.  I would not want your daughter’s career to be tarnished by close association with me.”


The older man nodded thoughtfully, “I see.  So Dana’s feelings in this don’t matter.”


Mulder blinked, “Her feelings?”


“The fact that she has feelings for you.”       


It took Mulder a moment to get his breath.  “As her father I would think you’d want better for her.”


“As a father, I’ve learned better than to interfere on such a level.  When you have children, you’ll understand.”  He watched the hunger flare in Mulder’s eyes at his words, but said nothing for a moment.  “Besides, you’ve met Dana.  Do you honestly think that the most stubborn of my children would listen if I said she was seeing the wrong man?”


That brought a faint smile to Mulder’s face that faded immediately.


“Both of my sons are married, but neither of my daughters.  I worry about that sometimes, I worry that they won't find men strong enough for them.  From what Bill told me about you, about your ‘reputation’ and the fact that it hasn’t cowed you makes me think you might have that kind of strength.”




“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving you Dana, even if I had that kind of influence.  And I’d like to get to know you before I pass any judgment.  Right now, my wife - the one that taught my girls their strength - has sent me to find you.  My instructions, orders if you will, were to bring you back.  I’m not exactly sure what you did for Dana while she was in the hospital, but Maggie seems to think it’s the only reason I still have my daughter.  If that’s true, I thank you.”


“It’s not true.  I’m the reason she was in the hospital in the first place.”


“I don’t understand.”


“She . . . she told me that she accepted this assignment, away from Quantico, in order to get more practice in the field.  She wanted the experience so that she could work with me.  She felt . . . “


“Dana wants to be a help to you, possibly even be partnered with you?”


Mulder nodded.


“You don’t want that?”


“She won’t want that, once she really thinks it through.  Bill told you, I’m not someone she should associate with if she wants a career at the Bureau.”


“What if a Bureau partnership isn’t exactly what she wants?”


Mulder’s eyes widened, then he looked down at his feet, shaking his head.  “When she thinks that through it will be the same.”  After a moment he looked up, "What has Maggie told you about me?"


"That you're the man who saved Dana out in Seattle and I'm aware of another case she worked on.  Something strange happened - " He stopped as Mulder's head whipped up.  "I don't know what, Dana hasn't wanted to talk about it, but I know it made her rethink some things."  He smiled faintly, "that's an accomplishment, in case you didn't know it."


Mulder just shook his head.


"I'm also aware you arrived in Buffalo about twenty minutes after my wife did and you hadn't been contacted by the Bureau."                    


The older man just watched him for a few minutes, then clapped his hands to his knees, "Well, I need to follow orders from the commander, so will you come back with me to Dana's apartment?"


"I . . . yes sir."  He rose and moved toward the door, picking up his jacket on the way.


"I'll follow you, there has to be an easier way than the route I took."  Captain Scully waited as Mulder locked his apartment, still watching the man closely.  It looked as though the man would be happier headed toward his execution.




"Fox."  Maggie's arms went around him as he entered the apartment.  He returned the hug, savoring it for a moment.  This woman made him feel good about himself.


"Hi Maggie.  I'm sorry I wasn't here when you -  "


"It's okay, I understand.  Ethan let us in."


"He was still here?"


"Just for a second, we caught him on his way out.  I'm fixing lunch, you two go wash up and I'll take Dana's in to her."


"How is she?"


Maggie's smile faded away, "She's . . . not good.  She shouldn't have left the hospital."  Maggie watched Mulder absorb this information.


"Maybe I shouldn't be here."


"Of course you should be here.  Now go on, I'll be right back.”  She turned her back on the two men and returned to the kitchen.  Mulder looked over at Captain Scully who just shrugged.


Maggie took the tray on into Dana's room.  Scully wasn't asleep, just lying there staring at the ceiling.  "I brought you some soup, Honey."


"I'm really not -  "


"Don't even try it Dana.  You're going to eat this; oh and Fox is here."


"He's here?"  That got her attention.


"Yes, your father went over to his place -  "


"You forced him to come back?  Good grief, do you not -  "


"Calm down right now young lady."


"Young lady?  Mom, do you have any idea how old I am?"


"Your age or your actions, Dana?"


Scully closed her eyes and shook her head, no way would she win this one.


"Fine, now I put your soup in a mug so you could feed yourself.  Do you want company?"


Feed yourself, Scully rolled her eyes.  She hadn't been treated like she was five years old in a long time.  There was no reason she couldn't eat at the table, except . . . he was here.


"I know your Dad would like to spend some time with you."


That melted her, "Yes, please I would like to see Ahab."


Maggie smiled and nodded, letting herself out of the room.  "William, why don't you eat with Dana?  Fox and I can visit a little."


"Watch your back, son."  Captain Scully picked up his own lunch and carried it into his daughter's room.


Maggie narrowed eyes followed him out of the room.  "And just what has my husband been telling you about me?"


Mulder shook his head, a small smile playing at his lips.  "Something about 'supreme commander'."


She huffed slightly, "And he better not forget it.  Have a seat Fox."  She brought his bowl to the table, then joined him.  "Dig in."


They ate in silence for a couple of minutes, then Maggie looked up.  Mulder automatically tensed.  She placed her hand over his, "Relax, okay."


He managed a smile of his own, "I'll try."


"You know I was very surprised to see Ethan here when we arrived."


"Yeah, Yes, I probably should have stayed but . . . "


"Why did you leave?"


He looked slightly trapped at that question, "Well, I mean they are seeing each other and -  "


"Were.  Were seeing each other.  I happen to know she quit seeing him right after she returned from that case in Colorado.  She didn't give me any details, just something about life being too short.  I had the impression that something had happened between the two of you.  I was surprised when you told me at the hospital you hadn't seen her."


"I think I realized how dangerous what I do is, and I . . . " he shrugged.


"You wanted to protect her."  He nodded, "but she circumvented you by taking a case you weren't involved in."


He stared down at his soup.  "You know, your son Bill is right about a lot of things.  The FBI can be a very dangerous place to work.  Scully's had more than her share of close calls since . . . since I've met her."


"She didn't ask you for permission to join, any more than she asked us.  She is an adult and while I would prefer she worked in a hospital and delivered babies or something, she chose pathology and the Bureau.  Personally, I would feel better knowing that you were around to keep an eye on her."


His mouth dropped open at that.  "Did you talk to Bill?"


Her eyes rolled at that, "I didn't get much said, that he heard.  I thought children grew out of that when they became adults.  I guess I'll just have to wait for grandchildren before he stops seeing everything so black and white."


"Captain Scully said almost the same thing."


"Well, he can be right on occasion, when I let him."  Her smile broadened.  "I wish he was around a little more often, but he loves what he does.  I chose to embrace his work, as I do Dana's and all my children."


"Don't suppose you'd want to adopt me?" 


"I think I already have."


His eyes grew moist at that and she changed the subject, talking of the flight down from Buffalo and pending weather until he had control again.  She finished her soup and stood, taking both of their bowls to the sink.  "I checked her cupboards, I need to do a little shopping this afternoon.  Is there anything special you'd like me to pick up?"


"Will I be here?"


"I hope so.  She's adamant about staying here rather than coming home.  When I offered to stay here with her, she refused.  I don't want her here alone."


He met her eyes, "I . . . "


"I'm not completely over the hill, Fox.  She's in no shape for 'shenanigans'."  She refused to allow her amusement at his blush deter her.  "She may be an adult in the eyes of the world, but she's still my baby girl.  If you hurt her . . . "


"Yes ma'am.  I understand."


"You two had words this morning didn't you?  Before Ethan arrived."


He looked startled at that, "Well, it was . . . "


"It's none of my business, except that Dana was hurt.  Whatever it was, you two need to talk about it and get it cleared up.  I have to admit, I don't understand your relationship.  If my math is correct and you really haven't seen her lately, you've only spent a few days in each other's company - "


"We -  "


She continued as though he hadn't spoken, "but then I saw you at her bedside and it throws off my calculations completely."  She shook her head, "Well, I'm going to tear William from her side and pick up these things, then after I drop them off, I want to take a nap in my own bed.  You'll be here, in case she needs anything?"


"Yes ma'am."


She nodded and returned to Scully's room.  Her father came out, with the tray.  "You look like you survived okay."


"Yes sir, barely a scratch."


"She was going easy on you then.  I hear the plans are for her to get some groceries and we're going home for a little while.  She's going to bring dinner over, but you're staying here tonight?"


Mulder swallowed, "Yes sir.  I'll look after her."


Captain Scully's eyes took in all of him then.  "All right then, make sure that you do."


Mulder released the breath he was holding.  Damn, he hadn't been this nervous when he'd met Gloria's parents before the prom.  Of course, he hadn't slept with Gloria in his arms the night before.  He'd never have been able to withstand this man in front of him at seventeen.  He barely could at twice that.  They both turned as Maggie joined them. 


"I want her to rest a little. I gave her her medication; she should sleep.  I'll be back in an hour or so with her groceries."


"I'll be here.  No one will run me off this time."


"Glad to hear it, son.  Come on Maggie."  Captain Scully took his wife's arm and moved her toward the door.  She looked back once more at the bedroom door, then allowed him to escort her out.


Mulder locked the door behind them, then sank onto the couch.  No matter what, he kept finding her in his life.  He needed to check on  her.  After taking a deep breath, he rose and moved quietly to her door.  He opened it and looked inside.


"You're still here?"


He stepped inside then, nodding.  She sat up and he adjusted her pillows.  "You're supposed to be asleep."


She looked away.  He perched on the side of the bed then, "Can I get you anything?"  She shook her head.


"Look, your Mom has gone to the store, she'll be back in an hour.  Then, if you want me to go . . . "


"I'll be fine alone."


He shook his head, "That's not an option.  I'm taking orders from a higher power.  Did you know your father refers to your mother as the 'supreme commander'?"


He saw Scully's face lighten slightly.


"I like your Dad."


She looked down at her hands, "He likes you too."  She glanced up at him and saw the . . . the longing there.


"Lie down, Scully.  Let me stay here with you.  You really do need to rest.  Come on."  He moved to his side of the bed and toed off his shoes.


"Mulder -  "


"We can talk later."  He pulled her against him and in spite of herself she seemed to relax in his arms.  She made herself comfortable against him, her body making the decision for her.  He stroked her hair and when he knew she was finally asleep, kissed her forehead and laid her gently against the pillows.  He sat beside her, one hand lightly on her arm until he heard the knock at the door.


He eased himself off of the bed and let Maggie in.  He took the bags from her and followed her into the kitchen.


"How is she?"




Maggie smiled, "Good.  She needs it.  And to be honest, so do I."


Mulder nodded, "Let me put this stuff away.  You go be with your husband.  I know he's been away awhile."


"I'm going to take you up on that.  You'll be here tonight?"  He nodded.  "I'll bring dinner over -  "


"Maggie, I can fix something.  Why don't you call, talk to her, but give yourself a break.  I'll call if she needs anything."


She looked deep into his eyes.  "You won't hurt her."


"Never if I can help it."


That seemed to satisfy her.  "I'll call."




He was on her couch, looking through her photo album when he heard the bedroom door open.  He looked up to see her watching him.  "Hi, hope you don't mind."


"No, it's fine."  He closed the album and rose, helping her to the couch.  "How long did I sleep?"


He glanced at his watch, "Nearly three hours."  That seemed to surprise her.  "You needed it."


She glanced away, toward the kitchen.  "Did Mom come back?"


"Yes, then I sent her home to rest.  I put away the stuff."


"Did you find where everything went?"


He smiled slightly, "That's why they put the 'I' in FBI."


"Great, you've investigated my kitchen."


"Yep, all those dirty secrets are out now."


She wouldn't look at him and he felt his mood shift back down another notch.


"When is Mom coming back?"


"I told her to take some time for herself; that I could fix your dinner."




"Is that a problem?  I won't poison you."


She managed a small smile, "It’s not that.  My dressing needs changing and I wanted her to help me."


"Oh.  We could call her, or, or I could help."


She looked at him for a long moment, "Yes, I suppose you could."


He shrugged, "want to take care of that now?"


She nodded and he helped her to her feet.  He sat her on the side of the tub and she let her robe fall open, revealing her bra.  He carefully removed the bandage and lightly applied the cream the doctor had prescribed.


"Does it look that bad?"


"Bad?"  He sounded confused.


"You're so tense, does the wound look -  "


"Scully, I'm not tense because your body looks 'bad'."  He managed a feeble grin and a shrug.


"Oh."  Blood suffused her face, "I’m . . . "


"You're beautiful and could we finish this up, so I could go cook or run or take a cold shower or something?"


She looked away, and he realized she was chuckling quietly to herself.  He managed to relax a little and was smiling when she looked back.  He taped the new bandage securely to her skin.


"We are a very strange pair, aren't we?"  She looked up at him.


"The strangest; somehow, that seems to fit for me."  He shrugged.


"Do I fit for you?  Sorry."  She pushed herself up.


"Scully -  "


"Do I finally get those eggs you promised me this morning?"


"Uh, sure, I can even make it an omelet."  


It was fairly early for dinner, but they decided to go ahead.  She joined him in the kitchen, though he made her sit and watch rather than actively participate.  She was surprised at how well he knew her kitchen after only one visit.


"I have one of those memories, Scully.  Once I have it in there, I can't seem to get rid of it."


"Well that's good isn't it?"


"On investigations, yeah.  Other times . . ."  He shrugged.  She decided not to pursue it, and just appreciated watching him move around in her space.  It was funny she seemed to know what he was looking for before he did on a couple of occasions, but she kept quiet and let him find things for himself.


The meal he placed before her looked good.  He obviously knew how to cook even if he didn't practice often.  She took a sip of the ice tea he had brewed and smiled.  "You'd make someone a good wife."


"Ah, but I've heard the perks aren't great."


"Depends, if you decide it's a life time commitment, you don't have to be on the market any more."


"I suppose that would be a great incentive."


They kept it light, he got her to talk about her family, other than Bill.  "You know, I'm kind of surprised you know about the 'supreme commander' thing.  You must have made an impression on him."


"Or had one imposed."  He remarked ruefully.


"No really, he was at ease with you.  That's not common among Melissa and my male friends."


"Melissa, the other strong, stubborn woman in the family."


Scully looked up at him and saw the grin.  "He did talk to you.  Interesting."


He tried to shoo her out to sit on the couch or something while he cleaned up, but she stayed, observing him and keeping him company.  When he was through, they moved to her living room.


"Why don't you call your mother?  I know she's concerned."


"Not so much with you here."


"Thanks, but I don't want to take any chances.  If I'd known they didn't know where you were this morning . . . "


"I guess that was stupid, but . . ."


"I'm glad you came.  I just don't want you to hurt yourself."


She nodded and picked up the phone.  After talking to both of her parents, she let him speak for a moment, then they hung up.  She was watching him when he looked back.  "Are you?"


"Am I what?"  He asked curiously.


"Glad I came?"


He looked down at her hands, twisting in her lap.  She didn't seem to have noticed.  He placed one of his large warm hands over hers.  "Yes, for purely selfish reasons.  You should have stayed in the hospital."


"Why didn't you answer me this morning?"


"It was too much question, Scully."  He knew immediately what she meant.  "Do I want to be with you?  Hell yes.  Should I be with you?  An unqualified no."  He watched her absorb his words and then look away from him.


He continued anyway, "Ignoring for a moment the fact that being with me, on any level, would ruin you professionally, what if we were partners?  What if we were out in the field and you were injured.  Look how well I took it this time and I wasn't even involved.  I'd spend all of my time making certain that you were safe.  It would really eat into my investigation time."  He managed a sick kind of grin.  "And if we weren't 'partners', if we were 'involved' . . . it wouldn't last." 


"Wouldn't last?"


"Come on, you've been up long enough."  He rose and took her hands into his, lifting her gently from the couch.  She allowed it, mulling over his words.  She slipped into the bathroom after snagging a fresh pair of pjs and got ready for bed.  He was lounging on her side of the bed when she returned.


"I know this is too early for you to go to bed, Mulder.  I have cable or -  "

"I'll get ready for bed, then after you go to sleep, if I'm still awake, I might slip out to the living room.  Don't worry about me."  He took her into his arms and she sank into the comfort of him, enjoying the sound of his heartbeat under her ear.


They just breathed together for a little while.  "Mulder?"




"Why don't you think it would last?"


"Aren't you tired?"


"Not so much when I'm here with you.  And I'm not sleepy at all."


"Great."  He muttered under his breath, but she heard him.


She couldn’t help but smile.  She always felt more confident than she would have thought with his arms around her.  "What?  Some deep-seated fear of commitment?"


"Not me."


Well, he was adamant about that.  Some woman had done a number on him.  She turned her head, not losing contact with his chest.  Her brow furrowed for an instant, "Who's Phoebe?"


He jerked as though shot.  "What?"


She winced at the movement.


"God, I'm sorry.   Are you okay?"  He held her away from him, watching her.


"Uh, yeah."


"Where the hell did you get that name?"


"I . . . I don't know, it was just in my mind."


He stared at her.