She woke slowly; she didn't remember the alarm going off. Had she forgotten to set it? She felt more rested and she wasn’t stiff. What . . . oh yes, Mom was here. That must have been - then she realized that a familiar force was gently kneading her hand. She turned to look up into the very concerned face of her former partner.
He nodded, his throat too constricted to speak. Was she going to order him out? Jerk her hand away? Spit in his face?
She did none of those things, stretching out a little more in the bed. He'd seen her uncoil as the night passed, her hand lightly gripping his in return.
"What are you doing here?"
"I needed, “ he cleared his throat. "I needed to see you. See how you were doing."
"I'm doing fine." He glanced over at the walker and saw the color rise in her face, but she still didn't pull away from him.
"Your letter to Skinner said you were going back into medicine. Did you? Are you being a doctor somewhere?"
"I'm teaching right now. Pathology, forensic medicine."
He nodded, "You'd be excellent at that." Neither noticed that their hands remained clasped, drawing strength just from the touch.
"What about you? How are the X-Files going?" Anything to keep him talking. The sound of his voice was washing over her; washing away some of the toxins she hadn't realized were still in her psyche.
"Do you have a new partner?" Her voice shook slightly on the last word.
"I've had a couple. They haven't been able to find anyone with your masochistic tendencies I guess."
"Why did you run them off?" The answer didn't matter; he was here.
He shrugged. He couldn’t answer the truth - that they weren't her, so why bother. "Oh, there's a guy living in your apartment now."
"You were over there?"
"Yeah, I dropped by last week. I didn't realize you'd let it go." No need to tell her what a bender that had sent him on. "I think he's gay."
She chuckled at that, enjoying herself more than at any time since . . . "Why do you think that?"
"The way he was holding the man he brought home with him." She laughed then and he relaxed a notch.
"I'm surprised Bill let you in." Her hold on his hand tightened slightly.
"Uh, he doesn't know I'm here. It was around midnight when I . . . everyone was asleep but your mother."
"Midnight? How did you . . .?"
"Your mother called me when she got here."
"But that was . . . how did you get here by midnight?"
"Military jet. The ID is still good for some things. She said . . . ”
"What? What did she tell you to make you race out here like this?"
"That you needed me."
She wanted to hide the tears that immediately formed in her eyes, but she couldn't look away from him. "She was right." She spoke so low that he had to move in, leaning over her to hear. She brushed a tear from her face as the door burst open.
"I didn't believe it! I didn't believe Mom was so gullible. You're not welcome here. Look at her, you've been here no time and you have her in tears."
"Bill!" Scully struggled to sit up and Mulder's arms were automatically there to help her.
""Bill,” he turned toward her brother, "let's take this outside."
"I'd love to."
"Mulder, no." She sat forward then, her arm stretched out not willing to let go of his hand. He stepped back and put her hand in her lap, patted it and leaned down to kiss her forehead. Bill sounded as though he'd been punched in the gut.
"I'm not going to fight him, Scully. I just want to talk to him." His hand touched her cheek and he winked at her. "I'll be right back."
He left the room with Bill right behind him. Mrs. Scully was hurrying down the stairs. "Bill, Fox, please don't do this. We all want what's best for Dana."
"She had what was best for her; then you called him. Mom, you know what he's done to her over the years. Why do you persist in this fantasy that - "
"I saw what he did for her last night. He dropped everything and got to California in record time. He came to her and even asleep she relaxed. I saw it Bill, somehow she knew it was him, even when she wasn't awake. She came out of that fetal position; her hands weren't in fists. Did you look at her when you burst in there?"
She glanced over at Mulder, who was staring at her, mouth open. Was she serious? "Bill, please, you need to admit that she isn't getting better. I think she's worse than when you brought her here. I know you did this because you love her, you want to protect her, but Bill, you're protecting her from the wrong thing! I think she needs Fox. I know you don't want to hear - “ but Bill had slammed out of the room, a small picture on the wall near the kitchen fell and they heard the glass break.
Something made Mulder turn and he saw Scully standing in the doorway, watching him. He moved immediately to her side, unsure if she was able to walk. He’d spent a lot of time staring at that walker last night.
“Dana, Fox, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to cause this, this conflict. I had no choice. I couldn’t let this go on.”
“Mom, it’s okay. I think, I think Mulder and I need to talk.” Maggie nodded and turned to leave the room.
“Mrs. Scully, whatever…whatever happens, I can’t - “
“Later Fox. You and I can talk later. Dana, you should put on a robe before you get chilled.”
Mulder and Scully both looked down at her apparel then and Scully shook her head smiling. That woman would always be her mother first. “Why don’t I get dressed? Maybe we could go get some breakfast or something.”
“Yeah, I think that would be a good idea.” He didn’t release her until she was back inside of her room, and then only reluctantly.
Scully looked on fascinated at the stack of pancakes placed in front of him. “Mulder, you cannot possibly eat all of that.”
“Scully, I could eat this and another one just like it. I haven’t eaten anything, well, tasted anything in a long time.” She nodded and took another sip of her juice.
After a few minutes he decided to take the plunge. “Scully, how are you, really? Please don’t say fine or okay. I need to know.”
There was a long hesitation. “Weak. I don’t seem to have any energy. I sleep, but I’m never rested when I wake up - until this morning. I dream a lot.”
He nodded, “And the walker.”
“I don’t use it that much Mulder. Just first thing in the morning, when I’m not very steady and sometimes in the evenings when I’m tired. I haven’t taken it to the hospital when I was working or anything like that.”
“Scully.” He reached out to take her hand and she met him halfway. “That’s not good enough for Dana Scully. She could always kick my ass across the room and back."
She smiled at that, “Maybe not back.”
“Are you,” he looked away and she squeezed his hand, “are you recovering okay?”
Her smile dropped away at that. “Yes and no. The cuts and bruises have healed.”
“Well, you said you saw the nightlight.” He closed his eyes for a moment. Well, at least she was able to talk to him. He might as well go for broke.
“Why wouldn’t you see me?”
She stiffened at that and he immediately regretted his words. “I…I couldn’t. I couldn’t see anyone. Mulder,” She looked him straight in the eye and he leaned forward to listen intently. Whatever she was going to say, it was damn important to her. “I didn’t just kill that man in self-defense. I murdered him and…and I enjoyed it.” She was looking at their hands now, her grip slackened but she didn’t pull away. “I could have disabled him, when I had the opportunity, I could have gotten away without…I made him bleed to death. He was conscious; he knew what was happening to him. And I didn’t leave him, I didn’t run until I knew it was too late to save him.”
She did start to remove her hand from his then, but he refused to allow it. “I lost it then. I didn’t…I was insane, at least for a little while I think. I don’t remember how I got to the hospital. The doctor told me you found me, rescued me, but I…I didn’t deserve to be rescued.”
“Scully - “
“No, it’s okay. I don’t feel quite that way now. I mean, I feel some guilt over the way he died, not that he died. I know what he was, what he did to those women, to me. But I couldn’t face you.”
“You could face Bill?”
“No, I didn’t ask for Bill. I didn’t know he was coming. He just walked into the room. The nurses didn’t see him or they would have stopped him too. My orders were specific. He caught me at my lowest. He was angry about what had happened, furious at the Bureau, my job, you. I told you I was insane, I let him talk me into coming here. It sounded like a good idea, a fresh start, and medicine. It just hasn’t turned out to be exactly like he described it.” She fell silent, or maybe she just ran down. He sat there, not pushing, just being there.
She had opened up to him. Guilt on her part had never entered his mind. She had nothing to feel guilty about and maybe she was beginning to see that a little. He would have gladly drawn and quartered the bastard if he’d been given the chance and never given it a second thought. That animal had hurt this woman. And others, but this one, this one was his.
“Scully, I want you to come back to DC.”
“Mulder, I can’t. I don’t have a job, an apartment.”
“I know a place that’s hiring and you can stay with me until you find a place.”
“Mulder, I cracked up. The Bureau isn’t going to want me back.”
“It’s never stopped them from taking me.” She wanted to laugh at the expression on his face. He did have a point, but it was different with her. She just couldn’t put her finger on why right now.
“Finish your pancakes Mulder. Mom will be worried if we’re gone too long.”
He nodded and returned to his food. That was when she realized he was holding her hand with his left. He didn’t have to let go to eat. She looked away, a little afraid she’d cry again and there would be no way to explain it.
“I think Fox has a point, Dana. Coming back to DC could be the best thing for you. You’d be among friends and family. I know Bill and Tara have been wonderful to you, but this isn’t your home. Your things are in storage, but you could have your old room until you’re able to find a place of your own.”
Scully’s lips twitched, “Mulder said I could stay with him too.” He looked down at her aghast. She’d said that to her mother?
“Dana, I’ve seen his place. There’s not room for you under all of the garbage.” She cast a look at Mulder, her eyebrow high.
He practically sputtered, that was her problem with his place. Not the fact that it was his place?
“Well, I could probably help him with that. You know, a woman’s touch, lace curtains, that kind of thing.”
Now his head swiveled toward Scully. They were teasing him! This pair of women was actually poking fun at her living with him rather than with her mother.
“Now wait a minute. In defense of the male housekeeper, my place usually looks much better than it did yesterday. I…I had been out late and - “
“Yes, and I know just what you were doing out late.” Maggie frowned at him.
Scully looked from one to the other. “What? What was he doing?”
“He better tell you that himself.” She rose from the couch. “Dana, whatever arrangements you make, I’ll go along with, to a point. You know you’re always welcome at home. If you want a place of your own, I understand. Staying elsewhere for an extended period…I’d rather not dwell on that personally.” She turned toward the kitchen but he saw that her eyes were twinkling. Damn, why hadn’t his mother been like this, at least a little? “I want some tea; anyone else want anything?”
He was too dumbfounded to respond. “No thanks, Mom.” Scully smiled as Maggie left the room, then she turned to him. “What were you doing?”
“What?” He blinked back to the present.
“What were you doing out so late when my mother saw you?”
“Yes, that.” He wouldn’t meet her eyes. “What’s her name?”
“What? No, no Scully. Nothing like that. I was…since you’ve been gone I’ve done…” He glanced around the room, looking for escape.
“I’ve, hell, I’ve spent most nights getting drunk.”
Her eyes widened and her hand gripped his thigh. “Mulder, no. Your father.”
“I know. There just…I didn’t…Scully, you think you felt guilty about the case. Damn.”
The light went on for her then and she stared at him in shock. “You blamed yourself? Oh Mulder, none of this was your fault. He was good at what he did, but you were better. You found him and you found me. No one else had figured him out; no one else on the case had a clue. Even me. If I’d listened to you, believed you like I should have, I wouldn’t have been taken. It was my fault, but you came after me anyway. You rescued me, even the doctor - who didn’t much like you by the way - admitted that when he heard the story from Skinner.”
He decided to take the path of least resistance. “Why didn’t the doctor like me?”
She chuckled at that. “Because you were a major pain in the ass at the hospital. And you know it.”
“They were keeping me from you.”
“At my orders. Not theirs”
“I couldn’t take it out on you.”
“I know.” She said this softly.
She started to rise and he stopped her. “Where you going?”
“To start packing. If you were serious about wanting me back, I think I want to go.” She was looking down at him, sitting on the couch and he had her hand again. Neither seemed to be able to get enough tactile contact.
“I was serious. What are you going to say to Bill?” He saw some of the strain return to her face and regretted the question, no, he regretted the need for the question, but he had to have her back.
Bill had been conspicuously absent the rest of the day and was late arriving for dinner. They were all seated when he finally showed up. Even Matthew picked up on the vibrations around the table and seemed subdued.
Bill filled his plate without a word, but then put his fork down. “What’s going on? Why is he still here?”
“Bill, not now.” His mother glanced over at Matthew and back to her own son.
“I plan to stay calm, but I want to know.”
“Don’t worry, Bill, he’s leaving in the morning. And so am I. I’m returning to Washington. Bill, Tara, I can’t thank you enough for all of the support and care you’ve given me, but it’s time to go home.”
“What about your job?” Tara asked this, as Bill seemed too stunned to speak.
“I spoke with Dr. Kingston this afternoon. He understands, in fact he was surprised that I hadn’t looked at this option earlier. He was very nice about everything.”
Bill shot a glare at Mulder that caused everyone else at the table to flinch, then rose without a word and left the table. They heard the front door slam. Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, Tara avoided looking at anyone. It was Matthew who broke the silence. “Daddy mad.”
“Yes, Matty, Daddy’s mad right now. Go ahead and finish your vegetables and I think I can find some ice cream for dessert.”
The rest of the meal was made with light conversation, mostly regarding the weather. Tara took Matthew out to the backyard for his ice cream while Maggie, Mulder and Scully cleared the table.
“I can finish this up, why don’t you two go somewhere, relax. There’s a movie theatre just off base.”
“Thanks Mom, that might be a good idea.” Mulder put his arm around her and moved her toward the door. She grabbed her purse on the way out.
He didn’t speak until they were in the car. “I need to find a place to stay tonight.”
“You can stay here.“
“No Scully. I can’t stay under Bill’s roof tonight.” She reluctantly nodded.
“So, where are we going to stay?”
He blinked at that and she almost had to grab the wheel of the car. “We?”
“I enjoyed waking up without being tied in knots, I was able to walk without help, and I was rested. You’re responsible for that, we both know it.”
“No, I don’t know it. I didn’t do anything - “
“Yes, you did. You came to me after I’d pushed you away. I was horrible to you when all you wanted to do was help me.”
“Scully, you did what you had to in order to look after yourself.”
“Mulder, you’re changing the subject. Where are we staying tonight?” She was serious. He didn’t know how to respond, so he concentrated on driving. “Mulder, turn in here.”
He did as he was told, a chain motel that they were both more than familiar with. “If you stay here with me, Bill may never forgive either one of us.”
“That will be his loss.” He nodded then and opened his door, then moved to her side to assist her to her feet. She smiled and allowed it to his relief.
Once settled in their room, he turned to Scully. “You need to call your mother. She’ll be worried.” Scully nodded. “I’ll go get us some ice.” He let himself out and she was hanging up when he returned. “Everything okay?”
“Yes. She’s going to finish my packing for me. We can drop by and pick everything up on the way to the airport.”
He agreed, “We need to pick up your mother too.”
“Uh, no, she’s planning to stay here for a while.”
“Scully, I don’t think that’s a good idea. She shouldn’t have to face Bill’s…I really don’t like it.”
“Neither do I, but she’s adamant. She thinks Tara is going to need her, and she’s right.”
Mulder started to speak again, but he looked at her closely. She was exhausted; it had been a long day, full of too much emotion. “Why don’t you get comfortable Scully? I can run out and get anything you need.”
She shook her head, “I don’t need anything, but I would like to lie down.”
He was on his feet immediately; she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. He looked around the room, and then removed his t-shirt. “Here, this should cover you and be more comfortable than…”
“Thanks.” She took the shirt from his hand and retreated to the bathroom. He didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath until she returned. She was completely covered, his shirt was longer on her than some of the skirts she occasionally wore, but it was his shirt.
She took in his expression and attempted to fix a serious expression on her face. “Mulder, this is not an open invitation to jump me.”
“I know that. I do.”
“Well good. Why don’t you go on and get ready for bed yourself. Then you can watch TV or whatever, it won’t bother me.”
“Yeah, okay.” He slipped into the bathroom and she got into bed, relaxing under the sheet.
He returned shortly, still wearing his
jeans. “Don’t you have a bag?”
”It’s at Bill’s.”
“Well you’re not going to be comfortable in those. It’s okay Mulder. It’s okay.” She turned her back to him then and closed her eyes. She heard him lower his zipper and the sound of the denim sliding down his legs. She held her body still, but her mind was racing. She felt the bed sag as his weight was added.
He kept his distance from her, lying stiffly on the far side of the bed. The silence was becoming heavy, oh hell. She turned to him and he nearly jumped.
“I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m serious. If this is really a problem for you…”
“No. I want you to be comfortable.” He sounded about as uncomfortable as she’d ever heard him.
“Then you need to relax yourself. You weren’t like this when we slept together in the woods in Florida, or had to share that room in Kansas.” He didn’t respond, “What’s changed Mulder? Is it the fact that we aren’t partners anymore?”
He blinked at that. “You’re the only partner I’ve ever had.” For some reason that caused a blush to grow on her cheeks.
“Mulder, could you…could you hold me?” He nodded slowly and awkwardly placed his arms around her. She cuddled in and made herself comfortable against him. It took a few minutes, but he did slowly relax himself. He tucked her in under his chin and they both drifted off to sleep.