Date: July 1998 Category: S; R, A Rating: PG-13 Keywords: Scully/other romance; Mulder/Scully UST then Romance. Spoilers: Up to Season 5, before 'The End'. Archive: Archive anywhere, as long as you keep my name attached. Please let me know. Summary: A badly injured Mulder has to rethink his life, now that Scully takes care of him. A strongly confused Scully has to rethink her life, now that Mulder has become dependent on her. Dedication: This is for all the great FanFic authors out there (the Lydias, Leylas and Paulas.) for opening the X-Files world to extreme possibilities. To Barbara, who will remember our Fridays then Sundays eating popcorn and caramel & apple lollipops while watching the best show on television. Disclaimer: Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Margaret Scully and Walter Skinner are the property of The Master Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, Fox Television, and also writers and actors. No infringement is intended and there is no way in the world I will ever make any money from this. Not that I wouldn't need it. Feedback : Please, feel free to drop me a line. Nice comments and even flames will be appreciated; I believe in constructive criticism and I'm very open to any suggestion. Comments: Be indulgent on this, as this is my first FanFic ever, as well as my first project in English, apart from College of course. English is a second language to me (I'm French) but I tried my best no to massacre this extraordinary language. I'm sure similar stories have already been written so I attempted to give it some style if not too much originality. Thanks to Mariela my proof reader and Jennifer my fantastic editor. With their help, this revised edition should be mistake-free so I will take credit for any error found. Well, on with the story. *** *** Dana Scully glanced at her partner. His eyes were closed, his brown eyelashes resting softly on his skin. She sat down at his bedside, shaking her head slightly from side to side. *This can't be happening, this can't be happening.* Scully looked down at Fox Mulder's lower body. His legs were stiff, tucked under rough white cotton sheets. Her eyes ran back up to his boyish face. His skin displayed many different colors from the bruises that swelled his left cheek. Yellow, bluish purple, green. His upper lip had been cut and exhibited a rather disturbingly long gash. Looking up, Scully frowned at the thick gauze bandage on Mulder's head. She knew part of his scalp had been shaved to allow for the stitches, and there were many of them. Scully lowered herself in the armchair, resting her head in her palm. She suppressed a loud yawn. As she drowned herself in deep observation of her partner, Scully let the slumber come and take her to a world where Mulder was not hurt. Not mute. Not paralyzed. *** *** "Well, they said you could go home in a few days. That's good news." Mulder nodded. "You're going to stay with me for a while, okay?" No arguing with Dana Scully. "You know, until, you're.all settled down, you know.and all." *God, Scully', she thought, 'could you sound more uncertain and insecure than this?* And when had she begun to think of herself as 'Scully'? Mulder must have been rubbing off on her. Mulder didn't look up but typed on his laptop. Scully wanted him to learn sign language, convinced that his eidetic memory would fuel his leaning abilities but Mulder refused right away. She tried to persuade him of the convenience of such a means of communication between them, and showed him how she had already started to learn it. But, inexplicably, Mulder brushed away her good intentions by promising never to *talk* to her again if she was to force him. Damn all stubborn F.B.I. agents. So Scully had bought him this new, now necessary, piece of hardware she had equipped with the best softwares on the market. But Mulder mainly used the Notepad. Size 16 for the letters. This slim, gray computer had become the only way for them to communicate elaborately, out of nods and hands waving. Scully watched his long fingers run across the keyboard. "I don't think I'll be able to settle down by myself anytime soon," she read. "We'll see about that. I already arranged something. We'll be staying at my mom's for a while. You know she makes a mean lasagna." Mulder stared at her, a blank expression dulling his features. "Work?" typed Mulder. *You knew this was coming, Dana, you have to cough it up. The sooner the better*. "I asked for a reassignment, Mulder. Teaching job, part time." Mulder didn't flinch a bit. He had known - and accepted - that his work was history as soon as the doctor had delivered his diagnosis. The Assistant Director in charge of Mulder's division, Walter Skinner, had expressed his concern, disconcerted by Mulder's decision to let go of his life consuming project : the X-Files. A bundle of explosive stories and wild goose chases that, somehow, sometimes, turned out to be real F.B.I. cases, worthy of a serious investigation. No more than three weeks after his accident, Mulder had decided to let go of the X-Files. What do you mean, let go? It's over, Scully. But I'm still there! You're still there. Don't let them kill us like this. That time is gone. But don't you want to know.? I don't. It had been hard on Scully, but she respected his decision to put his quest for the truth about his existence aside, in a desperate try to win back a normal life. For now. Back in the hospital room, Scully sat down on the left side of the bed to get a better view of the computer screen. "I should be placed in some kind of an institution, where trained people could take care of me." Scully swallowed the hurt Mulder's words had created. "And what would that mean? That my mother and I aren't good enough to take care of you?" Scully's voice was filled with an anger she didn't think she would have to use those days, regarding the situation. "I don't want my fate to be a burden to my partner," Mulder had typed. He couldn't meet her eyes. "Mulder, look at me." No reaction. "Christ, Mulder, you are not deaf, so stop playing stupid." He did look up at her, his now dark eyes focused. "You. Are. Not. A. Burden." Scully sighed and ran a hand through her hair, tucking a falling copper strand behind her ear. "I am not on a mission. And I don't feel guilty about this. This is not a way to clear my conscience. Believe it or not but I am your friend. And I care." Her voice was steady, firm but gentle. "Well, it's not like I would have anybody else to help me anyway," he typed. Welcome back. Scully smiled. "Yeah, I guess you're stuck with me for now." "When?" "Thursday." "Good." "I. I went to look for a ground floor apartment located in the area of the Academy. I found one. A comfortable two bedrooms. Took an option on it but I would like your opinion since. since you'll be staying there for sometime." Mulder bent his head on the side, his eyes locked to hers. His fingers now flew over the keyboard with a dexterity most secretaries would envy. Skills come to you when the need is there. Scully read his message and smiled, remembering an earlier case. An X-File that was forever engraved in her memory log. "Maybe we are going to pick out china patterns after all!" *********************************************************** *Fuck*, thought a very nervous Fox Mulder. The nurse hadn't come in yet to help him, and he knew Scully would be here in a few minutes. Like she could be late. Mulder had been waiting for years for that miracle to happen. But no, like always, Dana Scully had arrived on time. Entering the room, Scully raised an eyebrow. *Here we go,* thought Mulder. "Why aren't you dressed?" Mulder shrugged and rolled his eyes. Scully knew he was a real pain in the ass when he was sick, and this went way beyond being sick. Must have been that his handsome grin and puppy look hadn't had much success with the nurses. "Okay, let me help you." Motherly enough, Scully went to get Mulder's pants. She pushed away the sheets. Taking a long hard look at his legs, she couldn't help but tracing his bones with the tips of her fingers. Dozen of stitches, ugly scars and bruises. Mulder didn't feel much, but stared at her. Their eyes locked and Scully smiled to reassure him. "It's better, you know." *You're such a fucking bad liar, Scully.* But Mulder was touched by the affection in her gesture. More than he was willing to admit. Raising his legs one by one, Scully put his pants on. When up to adjust the waist of his sweat pants, her mind wander to the unspoken question that had been torturing her with for weeks. Was he still able to...perform? Was this area still sensible? Would he ever. Scully felt sick at the thought. She knew Mulder was a very proud person and losing his male abilities would only humiliate him further. If that was possible. Losing the use of his legs and speech had really reduced his flippancy. He had become morose, dull and quiet. Mulder - even a mute Mulder - not playing around with her mind had created very upsetting feelings in Scully. Sometimes, he was back. He cracked a cynical joke that sent shivers down her spine. But right after, he would lapse back in his self-pitying state. Scully hoped it would change once in the apartment. For now, they would spend two or three weeks at her mom's, before she could settle down things in their new place. "Well, you're set. Let's gather you belongings." Mulder nodded in approval. *** *** Margaret Scully looked at her daughter, wheeling her partner around her house, showing him where things were and all. She sighed. This wasn't planned. This wasn't meant to happen to her daughter. No nice doctor - slash - lawyer - slash - engineer to raise a family with; just a disabled, bitter man to take care of. Maggie mentally slapped herself at the thought. She liked Fox Mulder and knew the bond that existed between him and her youngest daughter ran very deeply. But the situation was so...awkward, she couldn't help but wonder about the future. She sensed that, one day, she would have a dreadful conversation with Dana, and she hoped this day would not come too soon. "Mom? Mom? You okay?" "Yes, dear, just thinking." She turned to Mulder. "So Fox, do you think you' re going to like it here?" "I would like it anywhere as long as the name plate reads Scully on it," he typed. "You have a wonderful house, Mrs. Scully, thanks again for letting me stay." Maggie put a protective hand on Mulder's shoulder, smiled, then left him with her daughter and went in the kitchen. Scully leaned towards Mulder's ear. "My mom's got a soft spot for you." "I would like to rest. I'm tired." No "it runs in the family" or "so do I". *Boy, when exactly did he lose his sense of humor? Idiot, on Wisconsin Avenue, when a drunk driver hit him and scarred him for life.* Scully swallowed hard and led him to the guestroom. *Oh, this is not going to be easy.* *** *** A few days later, they had kind of settled down in Maggie Scully's house. Scully had begun her job at Quantico, she would come back every afternoon around three. In the morning, Maggie would drive Mulder to the hospital where a specialized staff tried to reeducate his legs. Mulder once wrote Maggie he knew he would never walk again, but that Scully had convinced the doctors to push him to the limits, so she would never be told she hadn't tried anything. "Maybe she just wants you to walk" had replied Maggie. Fox stopped typing afterwards. His legs were skinny and scarred. They were moved around, up and down, up and down. Doctors put weights on them so he wouldn't lose his muscles. Mulder underwent those treatments quietly. He hardly greeted any of the medical staff when arriving, and they began to forget about politeness. He was just there, they were paid to work on him. And that was it. No jokes, no good humor. Just bitterness. And indifference. Mulder's doctor still insisted he went to see the hospital's psychologist. It had been weeks of refusal but the doctor stuck by his idea. Once again that morning, he tried. "Listen, Dr. Chow, I am not going," Mulder typed. "I don't need it." "Mister Mulder, yourself being a psychologist, you should know a few meetings would improve your behavior. Ms. Scully worries about you." "My behavior is just fine. I'm paralyzed from the waist down so I don't see why I should be hopping around externalizing my joy at the moment. If you'll excuse me, I have to get to the pool." "You are not paralyzed, Mister Mulder. Your injured muscles need extensive reeducation. It will take time, but you might be able to walk again some day, so stop being childish." *When pigs fly. Or aliens land on the White House lawn. No forget this one, it could happen.* Then: "And please, tell Ms. Scully that if she has any claims to make, she knows where I live." He wheeled back in the direction of the pool. The doctor sighed, once again failing against his patient's stubbornness. *Boy, this woman is either a saint or an idiot to put up with such a jerk.* He shook his head, and resumed to his work. "How are you doing today, Miss Donato?" He smiled widely. At last, a nice patient to talk to. *** *** Scully was relieved. *Relieved?* Not relieved, overjoyed. *Yes, that covers it.* Her daily conversation with Mulder's doctor had proved to be enlightening today. Results were good and the doctors were optimistic. It was a question of time. It might not be a definite state. His legs had been scarred by the trauma and his muscles diminished but with good reeducation, he could be able to walk again one day. Oh, not run, jump or swim. But at least walk. Students stared at her all day long. If only she could wash off that silly happy smile of her face. *********************************************************** Today Scully was angry. Angry at her partner of five years. A man worthy of her trust, of her care. The move was in 2 days, and, this time, her daily conversation with Mulder's doctor had upset her. *I am going to drug him and cuff him at the psychologist's desk, then he might listen.* She knew Mulder needed somebody to talk to. Somebody else than her. Her mom had reported a disturbing fact she had observed many times during the past two weeks. Every day, around 3 PM, when he knew she was about to come home, Mulder would place himself in front of the living room window, where he could see the driveway. He would put his hand flat on the glass pane, and wait for her to appear at the end of the street. When she was in sight, he would slightly caress the glass with his fingers and smile. First and only smile of the day. Maggie found it rather bizarre that, as soon as Dana was home, the smile would vanish, and he wouldn't let anybody in. At first, Scully's mind compared him to a dog waiting for his owner to come home. She had smiled but soon realized how deep his dependence ran and how proudly Mulder tried to hide it. Him who had been a loner most of his life was now in such a situation he could barely go to bed by himself. Let alone wash himself or go to the bathroom. A nurse came by every morning to help him. She was a lovely black lady named Barbara. She was gentle and patient. Scully knew Mulder liked her even if he didn't show it much. She had been able to afford her help for the time they would stay at her mom's but she knew that, when they would move in their new apartment, she would have to carry on with the 'tasks' he would not have learned to do by himself yet. As much as Scully liked to be close to Mulder, she feared those moments in advance. It would only reinforce his dependency and thicken the heavy blanket of responsibilities that already weighed her shoulders. Scully hold those thoughts and decided to live the days as they would come. *** *** Dinner went fine. Maggie Scully really was a good cook. Conversation often revolved around Scully's new job. "So I told them to, you know, do it. But most of them were so even went to puke in the bathroom! I know it was lunchtime, but kids are so sensitive those days. We should organize Morgue field trips in order to teach them how things work!" Maggie Scully chuckled and Mulder smiled. "But they're good students. I like being there for them; thinking that, one day, they'll make good Special Agents." *At least, she likes her job. It's safe, scheduled, quiet. Does it sound boring.* thought Mulder. But he was glad Scully had adapted herself to her new life quickly. A twitch in his heart told him that was where she belonged. Not some wild goose chase in the middle of rainy New Jersey or sweaty hot New Mexico. Not some liver eating freaking mutant case. She deserved to be protected, she deserved stability, away from the demanding X-Files. After the meal, Maggie went to bed quickly and Mulder sat next to Scully on the couch, his legs stretched up over a pillow, on the coffee table. Scully was browsing through an issue of Time and Mulder quietly watched an old movie on AMC. Suddenly, Scully put down her magazine and stared at her partner. Mulder sensed her gazing, turned the TV off and stared back at her. "You should go see the psychologist," she dropped, while handing him his laptop. Mulder didn't type anything but just stared intensely at her, his hazel eyes losing their green flickers and turning dark. "The doctor told me today that your speech could come back if only you tried hard enough. I wished you had informed me about this sooner. Repressing your feelings is not doing you any good." Mulder's mouth twisted, disgusted at her words. "Fuck the doctor." "That is so mature, Mulder." She paused. "Not everyone is out there to get you. We know your muteness isn't the result of a physical incapability. You can talk Mulder. You just have to begin to want it." "I like to type." Scully almost chuckled. "I miss your voice." Mulder was very uncomfortable at her confession but felt a rush of love wash over him. *Love? Yeah, right. Feed me, wash me, I'll love you then.* "S. . I don't want to do that." "But why? Why, Mulder? You went through many dangerous treatments to recover memories from your lost sister. Why can't you accept to see a speech therapist? What are you afraid of?" "I don't want to deal with the problem. I don't want to define it as a problem. It should remain a temporary state. It has to be. And don't you dare involve Samantha in this." "Mulder. You keep contradicting yourself." "This may sound childish but I think that, maybe, if I ignore it, it'll just go away." "It will but only if you give yourself the strength to push it from you as far as you can. Your vocal chords were not damaged, Mulder. Your incapacity to talk has to be a mental issue. If I cannot help you go through this, please, say you'll go see Karen Kossoff. I'm begging you here. Do it for me. So I'll hear your voice again." Mulder was spooked. Dana Scully begging was not something you'd see everyday. He knew his fear of facing the music was silly. He had enough courage and intelligence to recognize that. But it meant dealing with his disabilities, dealing with the fact that it might last. His life therefore messed up for as long as he'd live. Or that it might not last. If he were to recover, Scully would stop caring about him. He was sure about that. And Mulder had a hard time deciding what scared him the most. "For you, Scully," he finally typed. Overwhelmed with relief, Scully smiled and put a hand on Mulder's shoulder. "I'm glad. Can't wait to hear one more *spooky* comment from that delicious mouth, Mulder." Mulder went from spooked to stunned. Scully backed away, still smiling. *** *** Maggie Scully bent and hugged Mulder, patting him on the head, as if he was her little boy. "You've been a great guest, Fox. Be good to her." As much as he liked Mrs. Scully, Mulder sensed the warning in her voice. *Hurt her and I'll scrape your eyeballs with my polished nails.* Mulder nodded and Maggie let them go. Scully hugged her mom, whispered a last 'thank you' and got behind the wheel. A few minutes and they'll be home. *********************************************************** Scully wheeled Mulder in. Mulder could have done it by himself but she sensed it was hers to do. She let him some time to look around the main room. Mulder's heart tightened as he noticed what Scully had done. There was very few furniture, bare essentials, really. Couch (his old one, the black leather one), coffee table, TV and stereo, desk against the wall. All of them organized in such a way Mulder would circulate everywhere easily. *Oh Scully, If I could, I would stand here and embrace you in the longest hug of human history*. But he had to settle for reaching for her hand. And holding it, gently. Then Mulder wheeled himself around the room, and looked at Scully, smiling and meaning it. Showing teeth. A first in months. "I know, I know. I guess all those Feng-Shuy talks I saw on TV paid off after all." His smile went bigger. She showed him his room, the biggest one of the small apartment. She had chosen a twin sized bed, for he would have room to move inside without any trouble. All his personal items were gathered in closets and a chest of drawers. Upon it, stood a picture of his beloved sister Samantha. His favorite one. Mulder sighed. *And I almost declined her help. What a fool I would have been*. No one knew him better than Dana Scully. As Mulder relished in the arrangement, Scully sat on his bed. "I had to talk to your mother, Mulder." Mulder looked away, staring at the opposite wall. "She said she was sorry. She wanted to come and see you, but since the stroke. She is sorry. I think she meant it. I told her about. an issue that bothered me. She convinced the bank to unfreeze some of the money your father left you. It's in your personal account now. I already used part of it to pay for medical bills. The Bureau supported some, but due to the accidental nature of.well, they couldn't refund everything. Mulder, I. I paid for this apartment and many necessary appliances and gear with this money. I don't want you to think that I'm using your money for my personal expenses, but the part time job cut it bad on my income." Her voice was tired and insecure, once again. Mulder looked frantically at her and fiddled with his fingers. "Be right back." Scully came back with a duffel bag she had left in her car and carefully extracted Mulder's laptop from it. A few seconds later, she was able to read what Mulder had desperately tried to tell her. "All I have is yours." Scully reached for his cheek and cupped it, her fingers a feather like touch on his skin. She smiled as Mulder closed his eyes, leaning into her warm hand. Reluctantly, she ended the sweet moment. "Would you like to see my room? And the kitchen? He blinked and she knew he was up to it. Mulder was amazed at Scully's room. It was organized exactly like his own. It was smaller though but she had managed to leave enough space for him to go in and out easily. "In case I'm sick and YOU are playing nurse," Scully grinned. The kitchen was spacious, with a low table that would allow Mulder to eat without having to move from his wheelchair. "Why, S. , you could become a fantastic interior decorator if the F.B.I. was ever to bore you." Mulder typed. "Well, M.," she replied in the same tone, "I'll give it a thought." Leaving Mulder by himself for a few moments, Scully went to get the bags waiting in the car. More Mulder stuff. Clothes that smelled like him. Scully sighed in relief at how good his first reaction had been. In her always practical ways, she had tried to free him from the obstacles presented by a conventional place. The apartment was the ground floor of a small house; the first floor - with a separate entrance - being occupied by the landlords, a nice recently retired couple. Touched by Scully's account of Mulder's story, they had accepted to move up on the first floor, and live in the originally 'for rent ' apartment. Scully hadn't reveal this to Mulder, she sensed he would only be embarrassed. Scully knew there was no boundaries to what she would do to help her partner. Ex, Former partner. Current friend. Looking up at the house, Scully knew it was the right choice. Close enough to Quantico, it guaranteed her minimum commuting. So more time with Mulder. Several shops, restaurants and a theater uplifted the area, and Mulder could access some of them on his own. As she leaned back on the car, Scully realized they were now living together. After more than five years of professional partnership, they now had a place of their own. Shared each other's life. Scully just wished the circumstances were different. Way different. Mulder took her out her reverie as he appeared at the door, a light frown on his face. "Coming!" and her light tone cheered him up. *********************************************************** Mulder had indeed been slightly more cheerful since they moved in. He was internally ecstatic to have Scully for himself, although he did miss some of Maggie's cooking. *Not all qualities are hereditary*, he thought. His sessions with Dr. Kossoff went.okay. He hadn't been open much about his feelings regarding the accident but constantly talked about Scully and how amazingly wonderful she had been through the whole thing. Dr. Kossoff had oriented the talks on Scully, as she perceived it to be the only way to crack Mulder's shell. After a few weeks, and a dozen sessions, Mulder had began to express doubts about his future, typing he was concerned about not getting any tangible progress regarding his walking. Karen Kossoff had taken this as a great step towards the simple acceptance of his own state. When she had suggested that maybe he didn't progress as much as he wanted because he didn't really tried, he had stared at her with a dark eye, one that had shown he wasn't afraid of her and knew all her fellow psychologist tricks. Truth was, any reaction from him was good at that point. A few days later, Mulder had pondered the question. He typed quickly, without letting her time to start. "I hate him." "Who?" Karen asked. "The man who did this to me." "He's dead, Mr. Mulder." "Of all the injuries I suffered on the job, it had to be a fucking accident. Glorious exit for Spooky Mulder." "Life isn't fair, Mr. Mulder. It's your task to make it better." "I don't know that I have the strength." "Of course you do. What do you think of those sessions?" Mulder eyed the doctor suspiciously. "What do you mean?" "Do you think you've been wasting time here?" A pause. "No." "Exactly. You have to realize that if life has taken something from you, it has given you something back." "Like what?" "Like Ms. Scully." "I was with Scully before." "Not that way." "She pities me." "She cares." "I don't want to have this conversation right now." Karen took her time. "Do you enjoy the reeducation at the pool?" "Pool is nice." "You used to jog, didn't you?" "Thanks for reminding me." "You were used to strenuous efforts." "I guess." "Why don't you put more energy in regaining your legs' functions back?" "Lost the energy". "You lost the will, Mr. Mulder. Not the power." Mulder remained silent. "Do you blame Scully for what happened?" "WHAT?" Mulder's fist hit the table in a loud bang. Dr. Kossoff was startled at first, but seeing Mulder had calmed down, she went on. "I understand you were going to pick her up when the accident happened." "You don't know what you're talking about." "Is that unwillingness of a complete recovery a way of punishing her for it?" "No." He closed his eyes, and lost himself in his mental wanderings for a while. "I'm afraid to live again. Back to where I was, I mean." "Why is that?" "I hated my life before. Chasing shadowy uncertainties, hurting everyone I loved in the process. You of all know how dangerous our jobs were. This constant threat upon our lives as strained me. I thought I could take it. I' m not sure now." Mulder ran a hand through his hair then went on with his typing. "I'm a hunter. I was a hunter. I used to hunt down things : clues, criminals, truths. I don't know that I still want to do this." "Do you consider your life better now?" "Different. Safer in a way. The disability gives me an excuse to lay back. I don't have to prove myself to the world. I don't have to achieve anything out of the ordinary. Just being and coping with enough." "That's an interesting point of view. Were you tired of your former life?" "Very. I remember.I once told Scully I've always wanted a peg leg. How ironic." "Are you sad not to be able to look for answers regarding your sister's disappearance anymore?" Mulder closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. After the eternity of a few seconds, he formulated his answer. "I know she is out there, somewhere. I saw her, you know." Karen Kossoff was taken aback. "I didn't know that. What happened?" "I just saw her. We talked a little. I don't think she wants to have anything to do with me." "Do you think this is why you gave up so easily on the X-files, on your former way of life?" "Maybe." "Were you disappointed by the truth you disclosed?" "Very. There is no need to look for it anymore. I know all I wanted to know." "Are you sure?" The soft bells of the doctor's desk clock interrupted his reflection for an answer. "Well, Mr. Mulder, time's up. We made great progress today. Think about what was said. I'll see you on Wednesday." Mulder nodded. Mulder was "computer-silent" on the ride home. Maggie Scully eyed him from time to time. She knew he was glad she drove him everywhere, even though he remained prostrated, lost in his own little world. *** *** Mulder did some thinking. He was a hunter. He never let down. He never gave up. He had never given up. Until now. On that morning, Mulder eyed his prey and loaded his weapon. *********************************************************** As weeks went by, Karen Kossoff was more and more pleased with Fox Mulder. She had arranged special sessions with a speech therapist. Mulder wasn't able to use syllables to form complete words yet, but he uttered basic sounds. He made quick progress. When Karen had asked him what Miss Scully thought about all this, Mulder had shared his plans. Scully was not to know until he would be able to formulate a sentence. "May I ask which sentence you chose, Mr. Mulder?" Karen already knew what his answer would be. "Thank you, Scully," Mulder typed. *** *** Scully watched Mulder eat. In silence. After diner, she installed her laptop on the kitchen table and began to work on a lecture she was to give the next week. Mulder sat facing her, playing games on his own computer. Scully's attention was caught when the little mailbox icon flashed and the red flag went up. She read the email. "Hey." She smiled, but not giving Mulder the pleasure to look at him. He still seemed engrossed in his own business. "Hey yourself", she replied. The next message was an URL. She logged on quickly and after a few signing on and passwording, she entered a private chat room. Mulder's nickname was Hunter and she had chosen Red. Hunter> Do I know ya? Red> You might. Hunter> What are you working on? Red> Lecture. Boring compulsory topic. Won't go into details.You might not be able to keep your diner in. Hunter> Very nice! Scully began to enjoy the chat. It was definitely silly for them to play that game, but this way, she felt Mulder was her equal again. If this game could boost his ego, even a little, well, it was worth a shot. Hunter> Sessions are good. Kossoff says I'm a good patient. Red> Are you? Oh yes, yes, you are. I also think you made plenty of progress. Hunter> My legs are stronger. Muscles are slowly coming back. Red> WHAT! Mulder, it's fantastic! What didn't you tell me b4? Hunter> I was told this morning. Red> That is such great news. Hunter> Hope it will last long. Hunter> I wish I could see your red hair. Red> What? Hunter> It's dark, almost gray to me. Red> Oh, color blindness. I forgot about it. Hunter> 's ok. Red> Mulder, does that have to do with your excesses behind the wheel? Do you actually see the stop lights at all? Scully was afraid she had hit a sensitive string referring to his driving but Mulder couldn't repress a soundless chuckle. Hunter> Scully: 1 / Mulder: 0 Red> Do you think you could get back to work? Mulder was confused. Since the X-Files had been closed, he had never thought of being a Special Agent again. Red> You could go back to profiling. Work for the VCS or any division you'd like. Hunter> I need some time. Red> It's been months since the accident. I bugs me to see this beautiful brain of yours on the shelf. Hunter> WHAT? Red> I mean that even if you might never go on the field again, you still have a lot to offer to the Bureau. Hate to see that Oxford education wasted. Hunter> At least, you didn't pay for it. Scully raised up and went pour herself a glass of soda. As if nothing was going on, she asked : "Want something?" As Mulder nodded, she opened a can of Colorado Lemon Iced Tea. She handed it to Mulder, than sat down back in front of him. The chat went on. Hunter> I guess, I could try. Part time at least. Think Skinner would like to have me back? Red> Geez, Mulder, the man has been checking up on you every week since the accident. If he disliked you that much, I would say he displayed a rather disturbing amount of masochism. ;-) Hunter> LOL Red> He's a decent man, Mulder. I've been having lunch with him sometimes. As Mulder didn't answer, Scully had to go on. Red> He really wants you back to work. Hunter> Didn't know you fancied bald guys, Scully. Red> Never said I did. Why did you choose Hunter? Hunter> As a login name? Red> uh uh. Hunter> I want to believe I can hunt again. Red> I think I guess what you're referring to. Hunter> Sure, you do. You always know. Red> Would you like to go to a ball game? Hunter> Do I get to eat dogs? Red> You might. It's the annual Bureau Softball Competition. It's a big picnic actually. Skinner invited me. Red> Us, I mean. Hunter> I dunno. Red> You need to go out, Mulder. Socialize. Dr. Kossoff would advise this as the outdoor part of the therapy. The one where ants can graze at your lunch and then at your toes. Hunter> K. Red> Really? Hunter> I said yes. When? Red> This Sunday. Hunter> K. I want to go to bed now. Red> It was nice chatting with you. Hunter> Yes, I like when I remain anonymous on the Net. Red> Nite, Hunter. Hunter> Sweet dreams. Scully couldn't help but looking at her partner now. His expression was very serious, his face fixed. Scully began to giggle in spite of her vain efforts to contain her good humor. Mulder stared at her and smiled, but his eyes remained cold and deeply shadowy. Scully ignored it, stood up, patted Mulder 's forearm and whispered, "Good night, partner." He nodded and she left for her room. Mulder was stronger now. He was able to do almost everything by himself, even undressing and going to bed. Scully was very proud of him. He still sometimes needed her but he grew accustomed to his situation. Not only had the therapy began to improve his physical condition, he had also found that concentrating his efforts on routine tasks paid off. As she laid in bed that night, Scully wondered about what could have been worrying Mulder. Maybe he was just tired. As he laid in bed, that night, Mulder tried not to think. *Do not think. Stare at a point far away, a fictional star of the great universe and stare at it. Stare, damn it! Don't think about her. Don't think about her and Skinner. Don't think about her and Skinner having lunch. Don't think about them.* Mulder didn't sleep that night. *********************************************************** Dana wiped some salty water that had formed above her brow. *Damn office. I thought the air conditioning was to be repaired last week. Damn, Damn, Damn modern technology.* At least they could have provide her with a fan. Even sm all. Even smaller. Just something for her to forget that sweat contradicts concentration. "Hi Dana." Startled. "Mom?" said Dana, lifting her eyes from the photographs she was studying and gazing at her mother. "What are you doing here?" "Taking you to lunch, honey." "Can't wait to get out of here, mom." *Of course, everyday your mom comes to take you out of your Quantical misery. Sure. No reason.* And then they were. Picking on her salad, Maggie Scully felt uneasy. Things had to be said. "Alright, Mom. What is it?" "Dana, I. I don't know how to say this." "Mom, are you okay? Are you sick?" asked a concerned Dana. "Oh, no, sweetie, I'm fine! Really. But I would like to talk, Fox." Dana almost snickered. "I knew this was coming." "Dana, what I am about to say might hurt you, and please forgive me for it, but I have to say out loud what everybody thinks. Good heavens, you're lucky your brothers aren't aware of your.arrangement." "Mom." "Let me finish." Her tone betrayed authority. "So you live together. How long is this gonna last? What if he doesn't get the use of his legs back? Anyway, many disabled people live by themselves. You don't have to be watching his back." "Are you telling me taking care of my injured partner was a mistake?" Her voice was bitter. "I just don't understand why you have to put up with this. Dana, I am fond of Fox as you may know. But you have to think about your life. Your future. How does Fox fit in this?" "He's there. He is not going anywhere. And you really disappoint me by questioning this situation and my motives." Dana looked her mother straight in the eye, daring her to go on. "Dana .. What if you meet someone? Someone you really like. Someone to spent your life with and raise a family." "I can't have children." Cold statement. "What!" Maggie almost choked on her soda. "What are you saying, Dana?" "I was made barren. The abduction." Dana still looked in her mother's eye. She had found enough strength in herself - and in her partner - to overcome her grief for babies that will never come. "Oh, honey." At loss with words, Maggie leaned against her daughter and drew her to her chest, petting her hair. "So sorry, sweetie, so sorry." But Scully wasn't distraught or even crying. Losing her biological daughter Emily had rose storms in her heart. She loved the little girl as if she had given birth to her, forgetting she had been artificially created. But she also hated her existence because she wasn't the fruit of love. She wasn't part of the man she loved. She was just there. No more babies was a curse. Or a gift, depends on the point of view. Scully loved children. But what about Mulder? After a few moments, a compulsory time so her mom wouldn't think her insensitive, Dana backed off the embrace and sighed. "It's okay, mom. These things happen." "Does Fox know?" "Yes." "Of course. I see. You're committed to him in a way I didn't know even existed. You risked your life, your sanity for him. For Christ's sakes, Dana, what is it that you find so fascinating in Fox? I like him very much, but he is a troubled man. He is trouble." "Yes, he is. He exasperates the hell out of me; he questions everything all the time. His brain runs in fifth gear; he doesn't play neutral. He used to ditch me, all the time. Leaving me on the outskirts of civilization, in motels which had only known furniture from the seventies. He came back sick, injured and didn't apologize for it." "Dana, if he treated you that bad." "But he is the smartest person I know. Pure intelligence. He can be gentle and sweet. He has real compassion for people. He is genuine. He risked his life many times for me, and for others. He wore my cross while I was gone. I trust him with my life." "Do you love him?" Softly. "Of course I do!" Offended. "Are you in love with him?" Direct. "Mom! This is not about that." Liar. "Oh, yes it is! Are you ready to sacrifice your future for a man who isn't able to take care of you? To provide for you? To love you like you deserve?" Dana felt anger tickle her nerves, from toes to throat. *How dare she? She has no idea what she is talking about.* "That's enough, mom. Please, don't call me the next few weeks, I'll be too busy caring for my ex-partner. If you'll excuse me..." And with those rude words, Dana stood up, grabbed her purse and stormed out of the restaurant. Maggie Scully bit here lower lip, and mentally cursed at her daughter's temper. *She cannot help me from wondering about her future. This can't go on forever.* She sighed and sipped a little more soda, vainly trying to soothe her now dry throat. After a few seconds, she realized how wrong she was. How unhappy Dana would be without her Fox. How she would lose her if she was to even think of trying to separate them. *** *** Dana was mad. She had been mad as hell all afternoon. *She has no right. No right! Fuck! Sorry.* Changing lanes, she turned right before the light blinked green. *I need something. Yes, that excellent white wine. The french one. The Pouilly-Fuissé. How the hell are you suppose to pronounce this anyway?* At the fancy liquor store, it only took her a few minutes to get what she wanted. *Too bad I didn't get the Taurus with corkscrew option. Now, pray for Mulder to be in a good mood. Or, I'll swear, I'll get him drunk to death with me.* *** *** Mulder was in a good mood. Proud. Guess what? Proud of himself. He had achieved "thank you, Scu." yesterday. He was able to say many other words but the "-lly" part of her name blocked him. *I should have chosen Dana.* A week or two, maybe a few days. *And I'll be the one to put the biggest smile on your face. Or should I wait until I can stand up and walk to you? Until I 'm tall enough to embrace you and bury my neck in your soft hair?* Mulder decided to wait. *** *** Mulder loved the wine. He sipped down his glass quickly. Scully was taking her time, letting the raspy fluid burn her throat. Conflicting ideas were obviously boxing a few rounds in her head. He put a hand on her arm and looked straight in her eyes. She got the message. "I'm fine." *Yes.* "Really! Just tired from work and the heat. Tomorrow is the big day! Field trip for us, Mister Mulder." Mulder smiled and squeezed where his hand laid. Scully felt warm. Safe. Home. She suddenly snuggled closer and let him envelope her in his strong, muscled arms. She inhaled his scent, fresh on his T-shirt, burning on his skin. His hand rested on her back, his forefinger slowly reading the map of her back. Her lipstick tattooed his shirt and she moaned against him. For Mulder, it was much more than a friendly embrace. Need and lust. Love and tenderness. *God, if you exist, freeze this instant and don't let her move again. Ever.* But with his amazing memory, the odds were down on him forgetting this. For Scully, it was a proof. Evidence of her reasons for doing this. Caring for him. He cared back. He did. His touch proved it. *Am I ready for this? Do I want this?* *********************************************************** Sun. Sun on his arms, on his face. Mulder wheeled himself across the park, Scully silently walking at his side. They had reached the area occupied by the Annual F.B.I. Softball Competition. When they arrived, heads turned, conversations stopped, looks intensified. Skinner rose up and went to greet them. "Dana, glad you made it." *'Dana'? Where had 'Agent Scully' gone?* Skinner shook her hand, letting it linger too long to Mulder's taste. "Mulder, you look good. It's great to see you here." Mulder nodded. *Yeah, sure.* "We are glad to be here too, Walter. It never hurts to socialize a little! " said Scully. *'Walter'? Bald sucker.* Mulder felt his heart sank. By the time they had grabbed some food and reached a table, people had loosened their sick stares on Fox Mulder. Scully had found a table on the right side of the field, under a tree, but with a great view. She helped Mulder to wriggle out of his chair and he rested his back on the roots of the oak, his sleepy legs spread on the land. Feeling awkward, Scully forgot about the table and carefully sat down on the grass, near Mulder. He smiled at her and stole a pickle from her plate. "Hey!" He stuck her tongue out and she grabbed a cracker from his plate. He smiled wider, put his fist on his heart, as if mortally wounded by her action. Scully raised her hand to brush off a tiny dead leaf that had landed on Mulder's thick chocolate hair. Mulder closed his eyes and relished the moment. Scully mentally giggled, it was good to see him so happy. He had been happier those past few weeks. Sometimes, he zoned out, lost in his own little world. But most of the time, he was good humored and charming. A sketch of his old self. She hoped it would last. >From the other side of the field, Skinner felt a ball form down his throat. He hadn't seen Mulder for weeks but the sight of him and Scully awakened nauseous feelings. Those two shared something. Indescribable. A connection of some sort. A love deeper than some lovers would ever share. He had been mistaken. Scully would never leave Mulder, even after his recovery. Even if he wasn't to recover. She would not leave Mulder for him. Not in this lifetime. He sighed and turned his attention back to a piece of grilled chicken. He let his heart sigh again and hoped Mulder knew how lucky he was. *** *** Sleep had numbed Mulder but his eyes went wide open as yells twanged in his ears. "Go, go, go!!!" And a loud "YEAAAAH", as Scully hit first base. *Scully hit first base?* His eyes went wider. He had no idea Scully would play. Little did she either but Skinner had convinced her to give it a try. And she was good. Rolling to his left side, Mulder shifted to get a better view of his petite partner. A cap down on her eyes, her hair tied in a ponytail, she looked like a teenager. Her grin was visible even with the distance, and, when she hit second base, she was jumping around like a kid. Mulder had failed to see her that happy in.years. *It takes Baseball to make Scully vibrate inside. Got to remember that.* When concluding the run and winning points for her team, Scully joined Walter Skinner and whispered secrets in his ears. He was bending over her, shadowing her figure. Then he straighten back, laughing. She looked up, laughed too and Mulder damned God for their moment of intimacy. He was so engrossed in mentally cursing at the skies, that he didn't notice the figure sitting by his side. "She's some player, your partner." He looked around to face a lovely oval. Hazel eyes, much like his own if less green, and long brown hair that invited smiles. So he smiled. And noticed the laptop Scully had left next to him. After a few seconds, he was able to answer the young woman. "One of her own kind." "Mel Robins, James Robins' sister. Pleased to meet you." The game was going on but Mulder had suddenly forgotten about it. "Your bro works for the anti-terrorist force, doesn't it?" "Yes. Have you ever worked with him?" "No. But I've only heard good things about him." "I bet even if you hadn't, you wouldn't say." Mulder smiled. "I'm Fox Mulder." "Oh, I know. I know, people talk about you." "Do you listen to people?" "At least, I remembered your name right." "Oh, joy. You're not supporting your brother's team?" "Ah, I have to admit that I'm not a big baseball nut, I'd rather watch a Knicks game." *A woman after my own heart*. "Yeah, I prefer basketball too." "Do you play?" Good question. Good tense. "Yes." "So do I. I like the way the ball makes one with you, the way your body jerks from those quick steps and your mind.always on alert. Faster, faster. Baseball goes too slow for my taste. I like action." "Bet you watch hockey too." "Got me." Mulder's eyes had drifted again towards Scully, who was now sitting on a bench of the improvised doghouse, cheering for her team. "She's beautiful." Mulder looked at Mel quizzically. "Your partner. She's beautiful," stated Mel, her eyes riveted on Scully. "Yes. She is." "You're lucky." "What?" "Oh, I just wish I had a girlfriend like that. The way she looked at you before." Mulder chuckled in embarrassment. And he had thought the woman was coming on to him. She was just checking on Scully! "You know, she isn't my girlfri..." "Get out!" she interrupted. "She available? " "I didn't say that. She's my best friend. And she's straight." "Bummer." She paused. "Is.your accident what's stopping you?" Mulder shot her a warning glance. "I think I pushed it a little too far. Sorry." Yells from the crowd interrupted them. Apparently, Mel's brother's team had scored. Or something. Mulder got Mel's attention back by putting his hand on her forearm. He typed, "Actually, the accident has brought us closer than ever. Or so I thought." "You mean it has not?" "Yes, yes it has. But she's been seeing someone. I think. At work. And it's hard." Glancing at Scully, he saw she was intensely watching him, no smile. He instinctively removed his hand from Mel's arm. "No way. No way she'll leave you," Mel said. Mulder chuckled. "What do you know about that?" *Why am I pouring my soul out to some unknown woman when I can't even open myself to the one* "She has nothing for the bald guy." Responding to Mulder interrogative glance, she went on. "I watched her for some time today." Mulder grinned "There is worse to look at! "The AD, Skinner, he likes her. But she's just nice to him. She loves you." Mulder was shocked. "And what makes you an expert in such matters?" he was able to type after some reflection time. "I'm a photographer. I know people. I watch them hate, love, care. Could I take your picture?" Mulder pondered the proposition. He made up his mind and nodded. "Be right back." *********************************************************** After the game, when all the team members gathered their gear and talked about their performances, Scully looked around for her partner. She was extremely surprised to see him laughing, his hand covering his face. His hair was tousled and the pretty young woman he had been talking to before was.taking his picture? *Wow. I thought Mulder hated to have his photograph taken. As if it could steal away his tortured soul.* Scully sighed at the scene unfolding before her eyes. Mulder was laughing. Again. The woman was sprinkling dead leaves on the top of his head, making him look like a disheveled elf coming right out of a fairytale. She backed off, took her balance and shot. Another one, closer. Mulder waved his hands. The woman stopped and her lips brushed close to his ears. She whispered some mysterious message, her face in his neck. Scully felt her fists tightened. Time to end that game. *** *** "Mulder." Scully's voice was soft. Mulder's eyes brightened and he smiled. "We won." "Congratulations, Miss Scully," said the woman at Mulder's side. Her face was smooth, open and devoid of mischief. Scully knew then why Mulder was attracted to her. It was painful. Even now. "I'm Mel Robins. You were on my brother's team." "Oh, yes, nice to meet you. I'm Dana Scully." "Yeah, I know." Mel fixed her with a seemingly innocent but nonetheless persistent gaze. "Oh." Now Scully felt uncomfortable. Mulder made a gesture for Scully to sit down next to him, so she would be able to read his words. Unashamedly, she almost sprawled close to him, forcing Mel to back off as Scully claimed her place next to Mulder by brushing her pants against his leg. "I didn't know you were ready for the World Series, Red!" Scully leaned into his shoulder and whispered, loud enough : "I didn't know you liked to pick up girls at the ballpark, now, Mulder." Mulder struggled for Scully to disengage from him. He glanced at Mel, who was standing up, watching the scene, mildly amused. The look Mulder shot then at Scully stopped her dead. *Better not go there. Okay.* "Actually, what I was trying to get from your partner was *your* personal phone number, Agent Scully. But I guess I don't stand a chance now, do I?" deadpanned Mel. Scully was stunned. Mulder chuckled silently. As Scully was helplessly trying to express a potentially acceptable excuse, Mel leaned into Mulder's chest - *lots of that, must be my lucky day* - and shoved a business card in his hand. She whispered : "Call me for the pictures." Mulder nodded and smiled. She returned his smile and walked away from him and a very confused Scully. Reaching for his gaze, Mulder noticed Scully was flustered. *If I didn't know her, I'd say she was jealous. Then again, maybe I don't know her.* Mulder reached Scully cheek and patted it with his warm hand. Scully's mouth twisted and she brushed his hand off. "Thanks for letting me make a fool out of myself." "Guess some people find you more attractive than they do me, Red," Mulder typed, a lopsided grin on his face. Scully sighed in exasperation. *Stop calling me Red. It turns me on.* Wait. *Wait! What do I mean, it turns me on? Trouble.* She leaned against the trunk, her legs spread along Mulder's and she closed her eyes. Mulder took her left hand in his, brought it on his lap and began exploring her fingers. The pearly color of her nails. One had been broken and Scully had put on a tiny Band-Aid. Mulder smiled. The lovely shape of her knuckles. The small, rounded mounts on the inside of her fingers. The lines in her palm. The veins on her wrist. *Oh, temptation. Let me nibble on those fingers, please. Let me suckle gently. Let me graze her palm, please.* A throat clearing interrupted Mulder's reverie. Both agents opened their eyes to see Walter Skinner hovering over them. Scully quickly withdrew her hand from Mulder's and it hurt. A lot. "Most people are going home but some of us are going for a beer at Grady's. Would you like to join us?" Mulder sensed the question was not aimed at him, so he let Scully deal with it. Much to his horror, she replied : "Yes, I'd like that very much." Mulder felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. *My God, now that Mike Tyson has been released, he is training on my stomach.* Slowly he typed, "I would like to go home, if you don't mind." He nodded for Scully to read his message and her answer stung him again. "Oh, sure. We'll drop you off on the way." Skinner remained silent. *What is going on there? Why is Scully so cruel? Is she making him pay his little flirt with the brown haired woman? Anyway, she 's coming with me. It's all that counts.* *** *** Mulder had been so quiet. So quiet. And scary. Scully mused over this one more time that night. It had been more than ten days now. Ten days since the ball game. *Oh, what a great idea. Take me out to the ball game, don't 'speak' to me for a week.isn't it how the song goes? Fuck him.* Mulder received the pictures that day. They were beautiful. Mulder didn't physically like himself very much, but he had to admit that he looked good. Especially in black and white. So did Scully. Mel had shot them when they weren't aware and Mulder was struck at the way they fit. They almost looked like a couple. But the next photograph left a bitter taste lingering on his tongue. Scully and Skinner. His Scully and the sucker. He let the picture down on the coffee table, and strolled back to his room. He locked the door. When Scully came home that evening, after an unusual long day at work, all was quiet in the house. Usually Mulder was watching TV or killing his ears with loud rock music. He would write on his computer or plan on how he could come back to work. Some tasty food would boil or bake. But not tonight. A picture was on the coffee table, obviously left there for her to find. Her and Skinner at the baseball game. Smiling, almost embracing. *So what?* So what, Scully. *He is shutting you out. Driven by jealousy? This is so stupid. I'll do whatever I want to do.* Scully loved Mulder. *Oh, sure, I love him. But he scares me. I try to be tender, and he pulls back. I try to be professional, and he reaches for my affection like a child in need of his mother's milk. He confuses me. Walter doesn't. Walter Skinner is righteous, as I always suspected. He has his feet firmly planted on the ground. He is sufficiently good humored to be of pleasant company. He's a break from Mulder. He is not Mulder.* Once in bed, and without having tried to talk to Mulder, Scully sighed, rolled over on her left side and tried to find a breathing rhythm that would lull her to sleep. *********************************************************** Faster. Quicker. Mulder was making progress. Great progress. He was now able to stand by himself, and had managed small steps with the help of crutches. Most of the syllables had come back to him, and "thank you, Scully" came out as easy as ABC. The doctors were very satisfied with his behavior; improvement had been needed, and improvement had shown them what a great man Fox Mulder was. All in the medical staff were aware of Mulder plans to surprise "his" Scully, as they referred to when mentioning her, and they promised not to say a word about it. Some of them were annoyed but most were amused and touched by the efforts this grown man was achieving to impress his. loved one? His partner? His fiancée? Doubt still hovered at the clinic and morning coffeepot chats were filled with gossip about the two FBI agents. With two sugars and some cream. *** *** *That's it. Perfume. Hum. Earrings. Done!* Dana looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was lifted off her shoulders, carefully french twisted. Her make up was discreet, but the tones darker than usual. Burgundy lipstick. She turned her head to check on her profile. Her diamonds glittered. *Thank you, Mom.* She adjusted a strap from her deep violet sleeveless velvet dress. Perfect. As she emerged from her bedroom, she was humming. "Into temptation, back where you belong.". Once she saw Mulder, her tone lost its lightness. "I'm going out." Mulder raised his eyes to her, and stopped breathing. His heart might have stopped as well. She was breath-takingly beautiful. Her white powder skin shone from the vanilla body cream Mulder knew she used. Her neck was graceful and exposed. And cleavage. Mulder still hadn't breathed. "Mulder? I'm going out. Don't wait up." *Don't be a bitch, Dana.* So she bent toward him and patted his forearm. "Have a good night," she whispered. Mulder remained stone cold as he watched her exit the apartment. Then he mouthed, "fuck you". *** *** Walter made Dana spin. Half the D.C. Bureau watched in awe. Incredible. Dana almost giggled. "That was quite a show, Walter!" "I had no idea I could dance that way. Must be your good influence over me." They smiled at each other, and strolled back to their table, making their way through several dancing couples. As they sat, Dana notice Walter was frowning. "What is it?" "Dana, would you mind moving to some place, a little more private?" "No, of course not." They settled for the Coral Private Salon of the Sheraton hotel, where the F.B.I. party was held. "Dana. I don't know how to say this. I'm not very good at personal relationships." He fiddled with his hands, sweat was beginning to form at his brow. "Walter, is something wrong?" Dana looked at him with concern. "You must know, I am very fond of you. Actually, I keep inviting you everywhere in hope of. something more serious. And, everyday, I thank any divine power that exists because you almost always accept my solicitations." He paused, unsure of how his words were going to be interpreted. "But I need to know. Dana, why are you doing this to Mulder?" Dana was so surprised by Skinner's demonstration of affection that she thought she had misheard. "Excuse me?" "Why are you doing this to him?" "I'm not sure I understand." "Oh, but you do." Scully pondered at his words. "I need something else." "Something he can't give you? I thought, seeing him, that he was pretty much ready to give you everything he could." "I need something else. Out of this ugliness." Walter took her hand, gently. "Does the fact that he is disabled bother you?" "Of course, it bothers me, what do you think? I'm not the fucking insensitive cold hearted bitch you all seem to think I am!" She tried to calm down as she realized she had almost shouted at the A.D. "I do you see your future, Dana? Do you think you will be strong enough to assume a life with Mulder, regarding the state he's in?" Scully knew where he was getting at. She had heard this conversation before. "I. understand what you mean. He's half the man he used to be so you think I 'm trying to run away from him?" "No. Otherwise you wouldn't be living with him. What I think is that you love him but it scares you." She turned away. This man, who was obviously interested in more than her friendship, had just admitted he knew she loved someone else. *Fucking complicated life.* "It does scare me." She paused and looked up at Skinner for understanding. As she nodded, she went on. "I want a man gentle and rough. I want him to dance with me, scream my name and run after me if I steal the remote control. I want him to be able to call me at work and whispered insane declarations in my ears. I want him be able to.carry me if I'm hurt." And she broke into sobs. "I'm so fucking selfish." Skinner hugged her in a tight embrace, whispering made-up words in her hair for comfort. After she regained composure and was able to meet his eyes, Skinner cupped her face in his large, callous hands. *So unlike Mulder's soft paws.* "Tell him, Dana. Tell Mulder if it is too much to face the future with him. Tell Mulder if you want to grow old with him. Don't let him hanging in that hazy state forever. Don't let me." Dana swallowed, hard. *He is a good man.* "I will. I will." "I know you'll make the good choice. Come on, I'll take you home." As they were to exit the hotel, Scully timidly teased: "Walter, have you been talking to my mother?" Walter, surprised at first, got the inside joke and replied: "We all want what's best for you, Dana." She clinged to his arm and they waited for a cab. *********************************************************** Mulder is a hunter. He still couldn't believe she had gone out that night. THE night. The night he was ready. *Walk and talk like a man, my friend.* And that dress! So he waited. As quietly as the hunter waits for his prey to come out in the open. Walter got out of the cab with Scully, mentioning to the driver to wait for him. *Whatever, engine's turning, let me get more of your dough, Mister Official.* *Don't do this, Walt. Don't.* But he did. He kissed Scully goodnight. He couldn't help it. Who could have? This wasn't going to help her state of confusion, but, Hell, she wasn't wearing that dress everyday. If he had the slightest chance to be part of her decision, he had to try. The kiss was soft but lingering and Scully began to feel uncomfortable. He kissed her temple and hopped back in the cab without a word. Scully was feeling sick. *It's not right. Not right. It doesn't feel right.* Angry at herself for feeling guilty about midnight-kissing a charming man, Scully entered her apartment. *Our apartment.* *** *** As she stepped in, she turned on the lights and spotted Mulder, seating in the armchair, as stiff as a stick. Mulder hadn't seen a thing but her silence spoke in volumes. Her smeared lipstick at the left corner of her mouth, her flushed face, her, her hair was fine and in place, like always. Mulder was eyeing her, like a vulture about to feast on a two days old cadaver. Scully felt nauseous, her guilty feelings obviously pushing up the remains of the Sheraton buffet. Then he walked. And he talked. He slowly came near her and, invading her frail personal space, whispered in her face: "Had fun?" Scully backed off in horror, as if he had just rose up from the grave. Which in a way, he had. Her shoulder hit the front door and she looked for something to clung to before she would fell on the floor. He stopped her fall with one arm, and forced her to look him in the eye. "Mulder.?" was all she could manage. With a mocking snirt, he uttered: "Surprise!" Recovering from the shock, Scully pushed him away from her. She let herself go down on the floor, her back trailing on the door. Tears flooded out. Her head in her hands. Curled up in a tight ball. Mulder knew he had walked too far on the edge. She was falling with him. Time was to save her, to save them both. He crouched near her, and enveloped her in a fierce embrace. One of those that says 'I'm here, you're not falling, I'm here, I hold you.'. "Thank you, Scully - Thank you Scully - Thank you Scullythankyouscullythankyouscully." he went on, and on, repeating this mantra in her hair. "I'm sorry." Scully shoved him away from her, again, and, smiled through her tears: "You fucking bastard! Asshole! Son of a bitch! Fucking sick bastard!" She was directing tight blows at his chest, her fists moving rapidly, while using every noun indexed in the Insult Dictionary to try to hurt him. And she smiled. As wide as she could. Mulder pulled her to him once again, and she calmed down, relishing his scent, his warmth and the renewed acquaintance with his soft, velvety voice. Mulder held her so close it hurt, but she wasn't about to let go. "How long?" "Months of work. Able to walk properly 19, 20 days ago. Gotta work on speech though." "Again. Talk to me again." "Scully." "Again!" "Scully, Scully, scullyscullyscullyscullyscully." She didn't let him finish. Her mouth was on his and she inhaled her name as his lips opened to let her tongue into his warmth. She initiated the kiss and he was glad for it. Glad she wanted him as bad as he did her. Glad he didn't have to beg for it, she offered and he took. Breaking their union, Mulder nuzzled his face in her neck, where the hair was soft and thin. He breathed her vanilla scented skin and lapped at it. Excited by the teasing, Scully entwined her fingers in his hair, pulling and feeling his scalp under her fingers. As if he remembered he had forgot to turn the gas off, Mulder suddenly rose from the cozy nest he had found in her neck and looked deep in her eyes. "Skinner?" A simple question. The future of three people in her answer. It was a simple. There had never been another answer. "You know I don't love him." In Scullese, it meant : 'It's you I love'. And Mulder used to be fluent in Scullese. Now he was a little rusty. A few adjustments and things would go back to normal. Whatever normal was. This time, he kissed her, hard and soft, gentle and rough, boiling from arousal. She felt her hands wantonly running all over his body, under his T-shirt, over his pants, upon his hard-on. *Oh, God? Oh, thank you, God!* She had lost all control. Mulder stopped her, before they would get too embarrassed by the turn of events. "I need to know. If I had remained.disabled, would you have stayed with me? Would you have loved me?" Funny how her confusion was just a souvenir now. Funny how answers came easy to her. "Yes." Her face was glowing, and her red eyes, salty from her tears, didn't make her less attractive to him. He was suffering a bad case of red eyes himself. His wet mouth kissed the bridge of her nose, and they cuddled, on the cold floor, still leaning on the front door. Her head fitted right under his chin, and she let her tears upset the cotton material of his T-shirt. "You know, right?" she shyly asked. "I know.I know now. I've always known. Why else would you have put up with me all this time, eh?" He felt her smile on his chest. Her hand ran under his T-shirt and his hands began to unzip her dress. Words were very unnecessary at this point. FIN *********************************************************** "Words are very unnecessary." : Depeche Mode, 'Enjoy the silence'. Author's notes : I have no medical knowledge whatsoever, so you guys who do, please, let me know if it was too unrealistic. I don't know where Mel, the photographer, came from, I guess I just liked to see Mulder's affection for Scully threatened in any way possible! I know this was pure fluff (even though I tried to 'angst' it a little) but I don't have it in me to write a concrete X-Files case, no yet but soon. I hope you appreciated the effort, and if you didn't, I don't care, it was interesting to write anyway! Thanks to the so Scandinavian Bjork, whose song "Hunter" (featured on the "Fight The Future" album) inspired me. A lot. Thanks for reading this far. Lili Blue PS: To stop frantic mails right now : NO, there won't be a sequel. This story stands well on its own. I wouldn't know what to do with it now.

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