She opened the door to the beach house and stepped inside. He was only a couple of steps behind her, carrying both suitcases. She gave him a tentative smile. It was still different being around him; he wasn't the Mulder she remembered and that was her fault.
He looked around the place from the entry hall. The kitchen was to the right, with white cabinets and counter. There were tiles with abstracts of shells on them.
Across from the kitchen was a short hall that seemed to lead to a bedroom and bathroom. The walls were painted a soothing sage green and there were photos of lighthouses on the wall. Farther into the house was the great room with dining area. There was a bar with two stools at an opening to the kitchen. The fabric of the chairs and stools were peach with shells on them as well. A smile started growing on his face.
There was a door on the left side of the great room. Scully opened it to the reveal the master bedroom. He stepped past her and set her suitcase by the chair. The colors were the same here, only reversed. The bedspread was sage and the walls peach in here.
It wasn’t a large place, but well laid out. The porch that encircled the ocean view of the house opened off of the great room and the master suite. Scully opened the blinds and they stood for a moment looking out at the sea.
“We should get settled and see about getting some food,” she said finally. He nodded and left the bedroom with his suitcase. He set it down in the second bedroom. When he turned she was at the door.
She glanced over at the suitcase but didn’t mention it. His eyes followed her as she backed out of the room. After a minute, he followed her. She had ducked into the kitchen and had the refrigerator open.
“There’re condiments here, but no food.” She looked up at him.
“We could go get something to eat for tonight and get some groceries tomorrow,” he suggested. “We passed several seafood places.”
She nodded. “Sounds like a plan,” she said lightly. “I haven’t had fresh seafood in a long time.” She was quiet then, she still felt so much guilt around him.
He could feel that, but still wasn’t strong enough to help her, or himself. Instead he moved toward the door and opened it for her.
At the restaurant, she watched a waitress walk by with a couple of seafood platters. Her eyes widened and she turned to Mulder. “Did you see that? The two of us couldn’t eat that in a week.”
He grinned at her. “Sure we could. That’s what I’m getting. You can get something smaller. We can always take a box home.”
She shook her head, but didn’t correct him. He actually made quite a dent in the plate in front of him. They even ordered a bottle of wine and each had a glass.
Their conversation was slightly stilted, but not totally uncomfortable. When they left with their boxes and the rest of the wine, Scully was feeling a little more relaxed, and very full.
They carried the food inside and stored it, then Scully went out onto the deck. Mulder followed. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Would, would you like to take a walk?”
She looked up and smiled. “Yes, I would. I haven’t walked on the beach in way too long.”
Her smile had taken away whatever else he had meant to say next, so he just nodded. She stepped inside and changed into sandals, then rolled her slacks up a little. After a moment, he followed her lead. They took the steps from the deck to the beach and once in the sand, Scully slipped off her sandals and let her toes curl in the cool sand.
Mulder drank in the expression of pleasure on her face, tucking it into the Scully file of his memory. He had no illusions that this week would really change anything, but . . .
They walked toward the pier, taking in the luxury homes that lined the beach. The houses had names and Mulder began to make up stories to tell her about the owners. At first she looked over at him, giving him the eyebrow, but soon he had her chuckling and shortly contributing to the stories. It was like manna to a starving man.
When they reached the pier, they turned and started back. She moved down closer to the water and let the surf cover her feet. She looked up at him and smiled. His heart clutched. She reached for his hand and pulled him into the surf too.
"Tryin' to drown me, Scully?"
"As I recall you can swim well enough to let the water cover your whole feet," big as they are, she didn't say and he wondered at her blush.
They washed the sand off their feet and returned to the deck. He slid the glass door open for her and followed her in. “I’m going to have another glass of wine,” she said over her shoulder, “want one?”
She turned to look at him. “I forgot, are you on any medication?” He shook his head. “None?”
“Not since I got out of . . . “ He shook his head again.
She didn’t say anything else, just moving into the kitchen. She poured two glasses of wine and joined him in the main room. He was sitting on the sofa, looking out at the darkening sky. “Mulder?”
He looked up at her and it seemed as though he was slightly surprised to see her. “Thanks.” He took the glass and she sat next to him. They each drank a little, then Scully looked at him.
“Mulder, what was the case?”
She blinked, pulling back at his vehemence.
“I’m sorry. I can’t, I can’t . . .”
She nodded. “I didn’t mean to . . . “
“If you want to talk about work, tell me about yours. What kind of cases are you working now?”
“I’m doing forensics. I get just about all of the bodies. I don’t get out of the morgue very much. Occasionally I demand to see the crime scene,” she gave a slight smile, “but our solve rate has gone up.”
“I, uh, I checked up on you.”
Tears formed in her eyes. She looked away then. “I’m sorry, I’m so - “
“Don’t.” He touched her arm. “We need to change the subject. Tell me about all of your men.”
“My men?” she said dryly.
“Yes. Come on, Scully, we didn't finish that conversation and one of the things you wanted was a life. We both know that was a deciding factor in taking the new assignment. You, you said weren't interested, that . . . that they weren't me. So, what are they like?”
“Mulder - “ How could she have blurted that out? She could see he was struggling with detachment on this, but wasn't it why she had invited him to come here with her? They needed to explore what they might be to each other.
He looked dead serious. And he wasn’t backing down. She sighed. “There haven’t been that many.”
She shook her head, but she wasn't getting out of this. “Well, I dated Guy Harris.”
“What did he do for a living?” Mulder got more comfortable, watching her, keeping a physical distance at least.
“He’s an assistant DA.”
Mulder nodded. “What did he look like?”
Scully sighed; he was on a roll now. “He was tall, probably 6’1”, good build, slim, dark hair . . . “ Her eyes widened as her voice drifted off.
“What?” He leaned toward her.
“I . . . I just, I just realized . . . “
“That you were describing me?”
She blinked, but she didn’t respond. After a moment, he picked back up the conversation. “So, who else did you see?”
“Uh, Doug, Doug Bridge. He, uh, he’s in sales.” She was obviously distracted now.
“Describe him,” he said softly.
She shook her head.
“Ken Summerlin. He’s an administrator at one of the hospitals.” She sat up a little straighter then. “He’s 5’10”, blond . . . “
“How did you meet him?”
She met his eyes then looked away. She took a deep breath. “He was a blind date.”
“So you didn’t choose him.”
He looked puzzled. “What?”
“Stop profiling me.” He paled at her words. Regret flooded her. Talk about insensitive. “I’m sorry, I - “
“No, you’re right. I was profiling you. Guess I’m back in the mode.” He shrugged and took another sip of wine. She saw that his hand had the slightest tremble. “Why? Why were you attracted to those men?” he asked quietly.
She didn’t face him. “They, they were physically attractive to me.”
“I really didn’t realize . . . I tried not to just . . . damn.” Why was this rattling her so badly? Even with the physical resemblance, neither man had held her interest. There had been no chemistry, just the initial physicality. Why hadn’t she seen it?
This was going to be so much harder than she thought.
As though reading her mind, again, he took a deep breath and put his glass down. “It’s been a long day. I think I’ll turn in.”
“It’s okay. I should sleep fine tonight. Sweet dreams.” For an instant, she thought he was going to kiss her, at least on the brow, but he drew back and stood. He picked up his glass and took it into the kitchen. She heard the dishwasher open and close, then he turned toward his room without another word.
She wanted to bury her face in her hands and cry. Instead she put her own glass up and retreated to the master bedroom.
When she rose the next morning, she found the coffee made and when she looked, saw him on the deck with a mug, staring out into space. She poured her own cup and pulled the sash on her robe tighter.
He didn’t turn when she slid the glass door open. “You’re up early.”
“What are you doing out here?”
“I watched the sun come up.”
She closed her eyes. He’d been up that early? She took the seat across the small table from him. “Was it pretty?”
“I wish I’d seen it.”
“Rumor has it there’ll be another one tomorrow,” he said lightly.
“Would you wake me, so I could share it with you?”
He looked over at her. “Yeah.”
“What about breakfast?”
“I picked up some donuts and a newspaper.” He motioned toward the table. She hadn’t even noticed, watching him.
“Donuts, huh? How much weight am I gonna gain this week?”
He tried to smile. “You’ll work it off.”
What had happened? Had her words last night made this much of a difference? “Can I bring you anything? More coffee?”
He shook his head and looked back out at the ocean. She took a deep breath and tried again. “I think I’ll lay out before the sun gets too hot. Would you like to join me?”
He looked over at her and after a moment, nodded. She pushed herself up with the table. He watched her move inside. When he couldn’t see her any longer he rose as well and turned to his room.
He slipped on his dark red trunks and grabbed a towel. He waited in the living room until she emerged. She was wearing a cover up over her one-piece suit, but it wasn’t closed. The royal blue suit caused her eyes to sparkle an even brighter blue. He couldn’t stop the glance at her body. She noted it and the color rose on her face but she didn’t turn away.
“Do you want a chair?” he offered.
“No, I’ll just lie on the towel.”
He nodded and returned to the deck. She finished packing a carry all and followed him. He preceded her down the deck stairs and they moved out to the deserted beach.
He flipped out her towel and straightened it, then positioned his own. She settled onto the towel and sat Indian style, digging through the carry all. She came up with a bottle of sunscreen and squeezed some into her hand. “I should have done this before we came out, so I’d have a mirror.” She spoke in his direction, but was applying the white cream carefully to her face. She knew he was watching.
“You missed a spot.” His finger smoothed out the cream on her brow.
“Thanks.” She squeezed more into her palm and applied it to the top of her breasts and shoulders. She knew his eyes hadn’t moved away at all during that process. “Could you get my back?” She turned away from him and held the bottle over her shoulder.
She expected a quip, something but he was silent. His hesitation was minuscule, then the bottle was in his hand. He squeezed a generous amount into his palm and she lowered her head to give him more access.
Her whole body jerked at the electricity that shot through her at his gentle touch. “Scully?”
“It, uh, it’s cold.” She lied, grasping at composure. When he was through, she turned to him. “Want me to get your back?”
“Always.” He gave her a sideways grin and turned from her. There, finally some reference to their previous lives.
She was grateful he couldn’t see her face as she ran her hands over the muscles of his back. He had lost weight, but his body had a natural beauty that she couldn’t deny obviously. But it wasn't just that, it was the man inside. No wonder those other men hadn’t claimed her attention for more than a few hours.
“I’m finished.” She jerked back to the present and snapped the lid closed on the sunscreen. Without looking at him, she lay down on her stomach, her face turned from him. She had no doubt she was blushing. Touching him like that after all this time - no they had never touched like that when they were partners - but the feel of his skin under her fingers . . . She could feel his eyes on her, but he didn’t speak, instead stretching out beside her on his towel.
The sound of the ocean, the birds and the quiet lulled her into relaxation. It had been too long since she had rested like this. Having him beside her added a spice, but the peace was real.
She was nearly dozing when she felt his hand on her shoulder. “Scully, you need to turn over.”
“You’re getting pink; you need to tan the flip side.” She chuckled at that and rolled toward him.
“Thanks, I was drifting off.”
“I could tell.” His amusement caused her to narrow her eyes and look at him.
Her eyebrow rose and he mock cringed beside her. “I do not ‘snore’, Mulder.”
“Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that.” He settled onto his back as well.
“Do I really snore?” she asked, sounding embarrassed now.
“No, it’s more of a purr. You know, like a kitten with its claws retracted.”
His reflexes were still incredible and he grabbed her wrists before she could complete her attack. “Okay, maybe not a kitten, more of a wild cat.” But he was grinning now. “How come your nose is pink when you were lying on your back?”
She groaned. “Red hair, argh! Maybe I better call it a day, at least until later. I can go get the groceries if you want to stay out here.”
He shook his head. “No way, you’d come back with all rabbit food.” He rose and held out a hand, hauling her to her feet so quickly that she fell against him. That same electricity crackled through her, but he seemed oblivious. She straightened up and brushed some sand from her legs; anything to keep from facing him for a minute. Damn, her nipples were obvious through her suit. He grabbed up both of their towels and let the wind blow away the dry sand, then followed her to the deck stairs.
“I’m just going to put on a shirt, Scully. Do you want to shower?”
“Uh, no. I’ll be right back.” She ducked into her room and glanced in the mirror. Get hold of yourself, Dana! You can’t blush every time you brush against the man! But this felt nothing like all of those trips out of town with the underwhelming hotel rooms and a case to give them a reason to spend time together. She opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of denim shorts, which she pulled up over her suit. She pulled a white short-sleeve blouse over that, but didn’t button it.
She stepped back into the main room to see him waiting, sitting on one of the stools at the counter. He had tossed a Hawaiian shirt on but had left it open as well. Her eyes were riveted on his chest hair for an instant. She forced herself back to the present when he stood. Good lord, she was losing her mind. Why had he pointed out that Guy and Doug resembled him? She could have gone a long time with that denial.
“Ready?” He asked, watching her too closely for her comfort.
“Sure. Let’s go get that rabbit food.”
He made a face at her, following her out the door and down the stairs to the car.
In the supermarket, he pretended to grimace as he watched her put lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and other salad fixings into the cart. They bickered amicably through the store. He added sour cream and butter for the potatoes as she shook her head. They agreed on the steak, and she didn’t see him slip the Little Debbie cakes into the cart.
She sent him off to pick out a bottle of wine and as he was returning, he saw her stuff something down under the paper towels.
“I saw that.” He set three bottles of wine in the baby seat.
“What are you hiding from me?” He reached down to check it out and came up with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby. “Do you want to tell me something?”
Her blush was adorable. “It’s a great flavor and you could gain a pound or two.”
He cut his eyes at her but didn’t respond. He did however grab one more container as they passed it. “What was that?”
“Chocolate Therapy. Something for you while I chub up.”
She ignored that and pushed the cart to the checkout line. While waiting he picked up a copy of the National Enquirer, Star and The World. “Mulder!” She hissed. “Put those back.”
“No way, Scully. Just because I’m on vacation doesn’t mean I can’t do research.”
“Research?” she said dryly.
“Look right here. There’s a Reticulan shaking hands with the President. You don’t really expect me to pass this up?”
He looked up at the teenage checkout girl who was grinning at them. He winked at her and she laughed. Scully felt the hair on the back on her neck stand up as she watched the ponytailed hussy check him out, spending a moment too long on the chest hair she had appreciated herself just a little while ago.
Rather than scratch the little bitch’s eyes out she turned away and finished emptying the cart. When she looked up Mulder had his card out ready to swipe it. “Mulder, I can - “
“I haven’t bought groceries in a long time. I’ll get it.”
She helped him load the bags into the trunk of the rental car and took her seat on the passenger’s side. “I’ll write you a check for my half.”
“No, you will not,” he said easily. “This is on me.” He pulled out on the highway, but less than a mile down the road, he pulled into a second strip mall.
“Video Land.” He pointed.
“Mulder, we have ice cream in the trunk.”
“It won’t take long. Come on.” He was already out of the car. She shook her head and, as always, followed him into the store. He was already in the stacks. She moved to the counter and filled out the form to join.
“Here it is.” She turned when she heard him.
“Here what is?” She was already dreading his choice. God, he hadn’t found Caddyshack, had he? She looked at the CD holder he was waving at her. “Miss Congeniality? When did you become a Sandra Bullock fan?”
“Hey, a hot FBI agent, going undercover. What could be better?”
“Do you actually know any FBI agent that could pull that off?”
“Just one.” He waggled his eyebrows at her as she shook her head again. “Go ahead, you pick one. Ice cream’s a melting…”
She turned to the stacks as he wandered toward the counter. When she joined him, she slid a second box next to his. “Kalifornia?”
“Brad Pitt, any questions? And that other guy isn’t hard to look at.”
He snorted, but pulled out his wallet.
After they had carried the groceries up and were putting them away, she glanced out at the deck. “We didn’t check to see if we need gas for the grill.”
“I can check.”
“You can check? How? I don’t need any explosions.”
“Watch and learn, Grasshopper.” He took a Pyrex measuring cup down from the cabinet and filled it with water, then popped it in the microwave. When the water was boiling, he removed it and headed for the deck. She was right behind him. He poured some of the hot water down the side of the tank, then ran his hand down the wet area. “We’ve got plenty of gas.”
“No really, feel this.” He poured some more of the water and took her hand. At the top of the tank the water was still hot, but as she moved down, it turned cold to the touch. “That’s the level of the gas.”
“How do you know that?”
“Scully, when have I not been a font of useless information?”
She straightened up and flicked the wetness off her hand and into his face. “I’m going to marinate the steaks.”
“Get to it, woman. I’m gettin’ hungry.”
She arched her eyebrow at him and left. She didn’t see the despair creep into his eyes when she left the deck.
She put the steaks in a glass dish and coated them liberally with marinate. She then made a quick tuna salad for lunch. After they ate, she went into her room to get her book and reapply sunscreen. When she returned to the main room, Mulder wasn’t there. She headed for his room. The door was open, as was the bathroom door. She looked toward the deck, but it seemed empty as well.
She pulled the door open and stepped outside. The deck was empty and so was the beach. Without warning panic took her. “Mulder!”
“Scully?” He was racing up the stairs toward her. “What? What’s wrong?”
Trembling from the adrenaline rush, she moved toward him. “I didn’t, you weren’t . . . “