Charm Offensive

by ML

5/9/2003
Title: Charm Offensive
Author: ML
Email: msnsc21@aol.com
Feedback: welcomed and adored!
Distribution: Kimpa and Enigmatic Dr., always; Ephemeral, Gossamer, or if you've archived me before, yes; if you haven't, please just let me know and leave headers, email addy, etc. attached. Thanks!
Spoilers: Milagro, minor others
Rating: R
Classification: Vignette
Keywords: Mulder/Scully romance
Summary: An unwanted gift provokes some very personal revelations between Mulder and Scully.

Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine. They mostly belong to the actors who portrayed them, but Chris Carter created them, and Ten Thirteen and FOX own the rights. I mean no infringement, and I'm not making any profit from them. But I am forever grateful for their existence!

Acknowledgements: to carol, who came along for the ride and provided much needed encouragement, cheering, inspirational pictures, and interesting discussions about all kinds of things -- and who kept me at it! I give carol big hugs and the title of Honorary Muse.

And a special smooch to sallie, who sent a music video just in the nick of time. thanks!


Charm Offensive (part one of three)
by ML

"Mulder."

He knew that voice. He loved that voice. He heard it in his dreams and in his waking hours. Well-known, well-loved.

Was he dreaming or awake?

The touch of a hand on his naked chest solved the mystery.

He opened his eyes to see Scully in extreme close-up. Her hair was sleep-tousled and her eyes were barely open.

He smiled a sleepy smile and kissed her nose. "Time to get up already?" He stretched and yawned hugely.

"I'm afraid so, Mulder. It's almost four."

Oh yeah. Not time for them to get up, time for him to get up and go home. He rolled over on his side to face Scully, putting his arm around her and pulling her close. "Are you sure we hafta do it this way?"

"I wish I didn't. But you agreed with me."

"It sure looked different last night," Mulder said. "It's a lot easier to agree to leave before the fact."

Scully pushed her hands against Mulder's chest to keep him from nuzzling her neck. "Are you saying I coerced you into agreeing that we had to keep this a secret?"

"Not exactly," Mulder removed her hands and kissed each palm. "Not the necessity, just the method. I guess I thought I could change your mind."

Scully rolled away from him and sat up, wrapping the sheet around her. He sat up as well but didn't reach for her again.

He hadn't thought that keeping their personal relationship under wraps meant that they'd never get to spend a whole night together, but it was beginning to look that way. Now he understood why Scully was usually willing to come to his place. She could leave when she liked.

Not that he'd say it that way to Scully. They'd only been together a handful of times, and he really wasn't ready to have this discussion just yet.

Even though he knew Scully was right, he hated the way it felt. He'd had discussions with Scully in his head on the way to work several times but it always came back to the same thing: he'd try to persuade and cajole and seduce her into seeing it his way, but he wouldn't force her. This was too new, too precious, to spoil.

He made one more attempt before giving in. It would probably be better if he just shut up and left, but he'd started it now, he had to say something. Throwing caution to the winds, he spoke the words he'd argued in his head just that morning:

"I said we'd do this on your terms, by your rules. But, Scully, you've got a lotta rules. I want this. I want you. But do you?"

"Do I what?" Oh, he hated it when she pulled this clarify crap on him.

"Come on, Scully," he said reproachfully.

"Well, how can you doubt it?" Scully asked.

Mulder shrugged and spread his hands. "I guess I'm saying that if it's worth doing, it's worth the danger of being found out. I don't like having to sneak around."

"I don't either," Scully replied softly, but said no more.

Mulder put his hand on her back and asked, "Is there something else going on, Scully?"

She was quiet for so long he thought she'd fallen asleep sitting up. It wouldn't be the first time. She started a little at his touch.

"I just need some time." Scully wasn't looking at him. She sat with the sheet wrapped around her, shutting him out while she had some sort of internal debate.

His first instinct had been right. This wasn't the time for this conversation. One or the other of them would say something regrettable soon. He got up and pulled on his pants. "Take all the time you need. I'll see you at work." He touched her cheek briefly before he grabbed his shoes and shirt and walked quietly out of the bedroom, letting himself out the front door.

He paused in the hallway to shrug on his shirt and his shoes. <If any of her neighbors are early risers, they'd have no doubt about why I was here,> he thought.

The fact remained that it hurt. They risked everything for each other as partners; why not as lovers, too?

x-x-x-x

Damn Mulder anyway. She'd been lying awake for some time before she woke him. Now any thoughts of sleep had fled with his departure. Scully made an attempt but the longer she lay there, the more she thought about the conversation, and the more upset she got.

She was angry, but it wasn't directed so much at Mulder as it was at herself. How could she have let things come to this? And why was she the only one who seemed to be losing any sleep over it? Why couldn't she just accept, as Mulder seemed to?

She'd been watchful from the first time they were together. At first, she thought it was the novelty of having Mulder in her bed. After they made love, Mulder was usually the first to fall asleep, though he did his best not to pass out immediately. She enjoyed these moments the best: they were too exhausted to edit or even think about what they said. It never amounted to much more than mumbled endearments or a feeble joke by Mulder, but it was as close to carefree as they ever got. She liked watching Mulder fall asleep, and loved to hear the gentle rhythm of his breathing, the way he kept contact with her even in his sleep.

The first night, she hadn't asked Mulder to leave. He left in the early morning hours, though not before kissing her so thoroughly that she almost begged him to stay. After he left she couldn't get back to sleep. That pattern had repeated itself every night since then.

The next morning at work he'd greeted her as if they'd parted as usual the night before. No hint of anything in his face, no touch any different than before. It wasn't until lunch time that he'd referred to the night before at all. He'd invited her over in such a diffident fashion that she'd gone telling herself not to expect anything. It had been gratifying to be greeted at his door with a kiss instead of his usual offhand "It's open."

She took her cue from Mulder's behavior. She'd thought they were in agreement over the issue of privacy and secrecy. But, as was often the case with them, their approach was quite different, even if they wanted the same outcome. But that was Mulder all over, always pressing the issue, always wanting more. It shouldn't have surprised her that he'd feel this way.

She wanted more, too. She couldn't understand how Mulder could take for granted what they had, could be so completely unworried. It was as though the only thing he'd been uncertain of was her and how she felt, and now that he knew that, everything else could take care of itself.

It wasn't that she was against taking risks, either. No, it was much more complicated than that. Being with Mulder was the realization of a long-denied wish. She'd debated within herself for so long over this. Why was she second-guessing herself now? Sighing, she got out of bed and shuffled toward the kitchen to make some tea.

x-x-x-x

It was almost five when Mulder got to his apartment. There was no point in trying to sleep. He pretty much slept only when he was with Scully, anyway. He put on his running clothes and headed out, willing himself into the zone where he didn't have to think or feel, only move.

After about a mile, it was clear to him that it wasn't working. Now he not only replayed his own practice arguments, but the last exchange he had with Scully.

How was he going to be able to face her in a few hours' time? In the short time since they'd become lovers, it had been a continual struggle for him to behave toward Scully in the same way he'd always done -- his little touches and innuendoes had taken on a whole new meaning for him, and he'd felt selfconscious around her for the first time since the beginning of their partnership.

Scully's worry about being found out had exacerbated the situation as far as he was concerned. During the work day, she seemed as unruffled as ever, which stymied him. How could she be so calm about this, when it had turned his own world upside down?

<Maybe I shouldn't have left this morning>, he thought as he jogged back to his apartment. <Maybe I should have stuck it out, made her talk to me about this.>

So many times in the past they'd both tucked away their hurt and gone on about their business. Recent events had taught him better, he thought. When they'd regained the X-Files, he'd vowed to himself that he wouldn't take Scully for granted again. Refusing to listen to Scully or understand her side had almost cost him their partnership and his own life.

He'd been stunned when Scully had put the moves on him. He'd been trying to be grateful that she still wanted to be his partner and friend, and had almost given up on the idea of them ever having more. Then just a few weeks after their odd sojourn in Arcadia, she'd invited him over, and the evening had ended in her bed.

He stopped in his tracks at the memory, and leaned his hand against a tree as he closed his eyes and relived it before moving on.

It had been far from perfect, but it had been wonderful. Sweet, and awkward, and filled with tenderness. She'd raised her face up to his as they sat on her sofa, and it had taken him a moment to realize that she was inviting him to kiss her. When he lowered his lips to hers, and felt the warmth of her hand on the back of his neck, he was sure he'd lost conscious thought for a few moments.

He'd left of his own accord that night. He'd been unprepared for the events of the evening, and had to get home to get ready for work, though he'd wanted nothing more than to call in sick the next day and spend the time in bed with her. But she would never have allowed that.

At lunch the next day, he'd invited her to come to his place for dinner, and suggested that she bring her overnight bag. She'd shown up in due course, sans bag, but showed her willingness for a repeat performance of the night before. He couldn't persuade her to spend the night, however. And it had been so ever since until last night.

<We'll work this out>, he told himself as he entered the lobby of his building and waited for the elevator to make its slow climb to his floor. <We have to.>

As he got to his door, he could hear the faint clatter of typewriter keys and the even fainter odor of a cigarette from next door.

<That guy sleeps even less than I do>, Mulder thought as he unlocked his door.

x-x-x-x

It didn't surprise Scully to see Mulder already at his desk when she got to the office the next day. He looked up and smiled very faintly at her, but it seemed to her there was no warmth in it.

<Give him a break, Dana>, she chided herself. <He probably didn't get any more sleep than you did.>

"Hey Scully," he said in his usual tone. "What do you know about psychic surgery?"

x-x-x-x

A whole day had passed and they'd found no time for any personal conversation. The case was fairly urgent: by all appearances, an escalating serial killer, with two victims in the past week. They had a brief meeting with Skinner about the case, and spent the rest of the day reviewing the evidence from the first murder. Mulder visited the crime scenes while Scully took a trip to the county morgue to look in on the autopsies.

There'd been no time for even a quick lunch together. By the time she'd finished at the morgue, office hours were well over, and for the first time she felt awkward about going over to his place after hours.

She'd told him that morning that she needed time. He hadn't pressed her, and this morning he'd treated her as he'd always done, as he assumed she wished to be treated: as a colleague and partner, and nothing more.

That was what she wanted, wasn't it? She found it increasingly difficult to separate what she should want from what she desired. She'd acted on her desires just a few weeks before, and had been rewarded by Mulder's eager reciprocation. Now she was trying to marshal her feelings before they ran away with her.

It seemed to her that as far as Mulder was concerned, everything was settled. They'd had their differences, but once they got the X-Files back, everything seemed to be getting back to normal as far as he was concerned. She'd forgiven him his trespasses and all was right in his world.

He'd certainly expressed no reservations when she'd invited him into her bed. He'd put up no objections to her making a few rules about their relationship, and generally seemed pretty happy to let her call the shots.

During the day, he treated her as he'd always done: sometimes with concern, sometimes cavalierly, never letting anything personal get in the way of a case.

They'd had minimal discussion about this most personal change in their lives. What little they'd had had been initiated by Scully. At night when they were together, they ate dinner, talked shop a bit, maybe watched television or more often than not, started making out like teenagers before heading to the bedroom. Afterward, Mulder slept like a baby. She, on the other hand, got very little sleep. It was a role reversal that surprised her. How was it that Mulder, the chronic insomniac, wasn't losing sleep over this?

She felt that she was being inconsistent about what she wanted. One moment she wanted to abandon herself, and the next she was struggling to maintain her professionalism.

Now she worried that Mulder would think that she didn't care about him, that all she cared about was appearances. She almost wished he would force a confrontation, something that would make them both lose control and hash this out once and for all. She didn't think she was capable of initiating it. Getting Mulder to notice how she felt had been hard enough.

x-x-x-x

The phone was ringing as Mulder opened his front door. He got to it just in time. "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me."

Mulder breathed a sigh of relief. Except for a heated discussion about psychic surgery while waiting for Skinner, they'd barely had two words together all day. "Hey Scully. What did you find out?"

He winced. Of course the first words out of his mouth had to do with work. Why couldn't he have said something more personal, how he'd missed her that day, or something?

"I don't have all the results back yet, Mulder. I'm going by first thing in the morning to get the rest of them. Do you want me to bring them by?"

"You read my mind," he said. "Maybe we could ride into work together."

A short silence on her end. "Okay. I'll see you in the morning, then."

"Are you home now?" Mulder asked, wondering if he should have asked her over. <No, give her time. Give her space if she wants it.>

"Yeah. I'm pretty tired."

"Yeah. I-it's been a long day." It had been on the tip of his tongue to say something about lack of sleep, but thought better of it. He was pretty sure that she wasn't in the mood for jokes just now. "Scully..." he trailed off, unsure of what to say. <She asked for time. Give it to her.>

"What is it, Mulder?" her voice was soft, intimate. Was it also a bit sad? Or just tired?

"It'll keep. I'll see you in the morning. Sleep well."

"You too, Mulder." She hung up before he could say anything more.

x-x-x-x

A secret admirer. What an odd thing for Mulder to say, especially now that it turned out to be true. It caught her off guard. Was she that unused to admiration?

Mulder had been dismissive at first, but seemed very perturbed to find that the charm had been intended for her after all. After several days of no personal notice from him, she found she was somewhat gratified that his neighbor's interest in her disturbed Mulder.

Yesterday, they'd spent nearly the whole day together, reviewing the facts of the case, arguing theories. They'd been alone together most of the day in the office but neither of them brought up the subject nearest and dearest to their hearts: each other. The more time passed, the harder it was to bring up anything personal.

Mulder was like that on a case -- he focused entirely on the job at hand, and very little could deter him. Usually, Scully simply followed his lead. It was all too easy for them both to shove their personal lives into the background, to shelve them until they had more time. It was familiar, routine. They'd been doing it for years.

She didn't want it to be that way any more. She didn't want Mulder telling her what to do without her input. She'd been contrary that morning, refusing to do the autopsy when he requested it. It surprised her when he backed down, and when he made only the mildest of comments when she finally got there.

And why suddenly attach such importance to the milagro? He'd been dismissive of it until she told him its origin. Was it truly because of his research, or because he now knew it had been given to her?

Regardless of all this, at night she missed Mulder. She missed the slow smile on his face as he leaned in to kiss her. She missed the warmth of him next to her, the sound and feel of his breathing as he slept. The comfort of his arm around her. Did he miss her too? It was unworthy of her to want him to feel jealousy, but she needed some sign that this was as hard on him as it was on her. Her "secret admirer" had come at an opportune time.

Another time, she might have just dealt with the unwanted attention on her own, and not mention it to Mulder. But whether or not it had anything to do with the case, she wanted Mulder to know about it. She wanted him to be aware that someone else desired her, even if she didn't welcome the interloper's attentions.

She fingered the milagro in her pocket as she got out of the elevator, on her way to Mulder's. "It's not like you spend a lot of time at home," the writer had said to her. "What kills you is the audacity," she'd said to Mulder.

But, she asked herself, was that really why she was so curious about him? His voice had been mesmerizing in the church that morning, telling her what he knew about her life. The part of her that was a law enforcement officer remained detached, recognizing that this could be a dangerous situation. Yet it was also flattering to hear that someone paid such close attention to her.

How could he know so much about her from simple observation? Had he seen Mulder at her place? Had he seen her at Mulder's? How long had he been living in Mulder's building, and how had she not noticed him before?

She hesitated at the writer's door. She knocked. The syncopation of the keys stopped and she heard his soft footsteps.

x-x-x-x

Where the hell was Scully? She'd called him more than an hour ago to say she was leaving the morgue and would be there shortly. He'd made up his mind that he was going to talk to her tonight, one way or another. Not here, probably. Not with the chance of Padgett overhearing them, which he now believed had happened on at least one recent occasion.

He was fairly sure that Padgett knew nothing about his personal relationship with Scully. But Scully was visibly unnerved by him and his knowledge of her. She'd implied that she wanted him to check the guy out.

Now he wondered. Had she known that the milagro was from him? He remembered her mentioning Padgett the day before when she'd come by with the autopsy results for the second victim. Then the next day, she'd insisted upon checking out the milagro herself. Had she somehow known who'd given it to her? He must have said something to her. What had he said? He couldn't remember her ever mentioning a neighbor of his before, and she must have ridden up with one or another of them dozens of times. Hundreds of times, maybe. Why Padgett, of all people? There was nothing all that interesting about him as far as Mulder could see.

Padgett had almost caught him at the mailboxes that afternoon, and he'd almost forced a confrontation. Two things stopped him: the fact that Padgett was now a possible suspect, and that if Scully had found out about it, she'd never have forgiven Mulder for his alpha-male behavior. Maybe she didn't welcome Padgett's attentions, but she still felt she had to prove that she could take care of herself.

Which made her rather pointed remarks to Mulder earlier that day sort of out of character for her. What did she want from him? He rubbed his eyes again, leaning back on the sofa cushions. Where was Scully? It was unlike her to be so late. Had there been some sort of traffic tie-up, an accident?

He hadn't heard the typewriter from next door for a while. He got up and listened at the vent. He heard the murmur of voices from next door. Was Padgett talking to himself now? No, the voice that answered him was definitely someone else. Female.

Oh my god. Scully.

x-x-x-x

Part two

Mulder was ready to take it all out on Padgett, and Scully was the only thing standing between him and assault charges. Padgett's calm demeanor only served to infuriate him, and she felt forced into the "good cop" role to keep Mulder from going off the deep end.

She'd been angry with him, barging into Padgett's apartment as if to protect her honor. His very presence was a chastisement, as if she couldn't take care of herself.

She'd read the section of the book Mulder claimed implicated Padgett while Mulder saw Padgett through the booking process. She left off reading to research something that Padgett had written about the murderer while Mulder holed himself up in an interview room to read the rest of it.

After their session with Padgett, Mulder'd been terrifically rude to her, practically accusing her of some kind of relationship with the writer. She shook her head as she thought of his "a priori" question. Honestly, sometimes Mulder was so obtuse that he seemed to be acting that way on purpose. It was as if he was jealous of Padgett.

Was he jealous of Padgett? This was a new idea to her.

Maybe Mulder was showing her how he felt about her in the only way he could. She'd thrown so many restrictions at him about keeping their relationship under wraps. She'd read over half of Padgett's novel, at Mulder's insistence. Now she understood Mulder's reaction a little better.

As she continued to read, she hardly recognized herself in Padgett's florid, admiring prose, but could see his yearning between the lines. This was something Mulder would recognize and respond to in a negative way. But for Scully, reading the words had the opposite effect. Rather than fearing him, she now pitied him. Despite Mulder's belief that he had something to do with directing the murders, she believed him guilty of nothing more than an overactive imagination.

Or was there another reason? Had Padgett touched some chord in her of which she'd only been half-aware? He'd told her they were alike both times they'd talked. First, in that she seldom gave her heart, and second, that she was lonely.

Reluctantly, she turned her attention back to the novel. She started skipping around, looking for the passages she appeared in. Vague remembrances of the romance novels she and Melissa read when they were young flitted across her mind. She might have been flattered then to read such things about herself. Now Padgett's admiration was an unwanted burden. She might feel pity for him but no sympathy. Certainly no love.

But was she any better than Padgett, in essence worshipping from afar, never admitting her feelings even to herself, and denying them when they finally came to the fore? At least Padgett admitted to her that he was attracted to her. "Loneliness is a choice," she'd said to Padgett, but now she wondered if she'd made that choice for herself.

She'd told Padgett that she couldn't return the sentiment that the charm represented. Maybe it was more true than she'd realized. Was that why she'd pushed Mulder away for so long, and why now she found it hard to let him back in?

Padgett really didn't know her very well at all, but he did get one thing right: she was very concerned with what her partner thought of her.

When the guard came in with Padgett's statement, she welcomed the intrusion.

x-x-x-x

<"Or is that `a priori' too?">

Mulder had been pacing his living room, annoyed that he'd insisted that Scully read Padgett's novel and annoyed that she'd taken him so literally that she stayed at the jailhouse to read it that night. He'd hoped that she'd come back over to his apartment where they could talk more freely, especially with Padgett temporarily out of the picture.

Now he was reliving their last exchange at the jailhouse. The words had escaped him before he could stop them. But instead of blasting him as he deserved, Scully had said quietly, "I think you know me better than that."

He did know her better than that, but he still craved the reassurance. Hearing about her secret admirer had really disturbed him, even though she'd said he made her uncomfortable. If that were really true, what the hell was she doing in his apartment, sitting on his bed, drinking his coffee?

Reading Padgett's novel had disturbed him further, not only for the crimes he described but for the Scully he described as well. Mulder had always been aware of the admiration that other men had for Scully, but it hadn't really affected him. Seeing it in black and white, documented, was another thing entirely.

Sometimes having an eidetic memory was a curse. Padgett's overwrought words burned into his brain. He sure as hell didn't want to think of Padgett pawing at Scully.

What must she be feeling, reading those words herself? Was she attracted to that pasty-faced weasel? Was that why she took Padgett's side earlier?

It remained to be seen if Padgett truly knew as much about Scully as he claimed in his book.

But some of the words stuck with Mulder. Did Scully really care so much about what he thought?

It was rare to see Scully taken in by someone. He remembered the Luther Boggs case, but that had been a very different circumstance. He'd understood her yearning to believe, to have one last contact with her father. Even Jerse, a name he could barely stand to think of, came at a time of great emotional vulnerability for Scully. He cursed himself for not recognizing the signs. But why now? What was she lacking that made her feel that way? Something he couldn't give her?

<What does she want from me? An apology for loving her?> Perhaps their non-argument had started out over privacy, but Mulder suspected it was something more. Maybe something Scully herself wasn't entirely aware of. But what?

<You're supposed to be a smart guy. Figure it out.>

At the moment, all he could do was pace, and think of Scully reading that damned book. Talk about a mind-fuck. Had she gotten to the description of her with the stranger? Was it turning her on or did it disgust her?

He needed to stop thinking about this, or he was going to drive back over to the jail and strangle Padgett with his bare hands.

Wrong or not, he'd rather think of being with Scully. He needed to replace Padgett's wishful thinking with his own reality. He sat down and closed his eyes, indulging in his stock of memories of Scully.

<The way she looks just before you kiss her...how her eyes half-close and her lips part...the way her breathing changes when you touch her...the grip of her hands on your shoulders as you move inside her...>

The ringing of the phone startled him.

"Mulder, it's me." Scully sounded strangely excited, but before he could ask her anything, she started telling him about Padgett's latest chapter and outlined what she'd done.

He wouldn't ask her. He wouldn't. He'd let her tell him when she was ready. If she was ever ready.

"Sounds like you've done all you can about it tonight," Mulder said. "There's nothing else we can do until the morning. Are you done there?"

"I think so," Scully said. She was so tired. She hadn't even questioned Padgett again, just put the wheels in motion to check out his "statement." She hated to admit it, but she didn't want to face him fresh from reading what he'd written about her. Time enough to talk to him when they found out whether what he just wrote was the truth, or just another subjective view of it.

There was a long pause. "Are you coming back over here tonight?" Mulder asked.

Scully licked her lips. Was this an invitation, or just a question? "I don't think so," she hedged. "It's awfully late."

"Okay." Another long pause. "I really miss you, Scully," he added haltingly.

Scully felt her heart lurch. Her eyes filled as she said, "I miss you, too."

"Come over," he asked. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to...I just need to see you."

"Okay," she said. "Just for a while."

x-x-x-x

He opened the door just as Scully was poised to knock. She smiled just a little and walked in.

Mulder was barefoot and his hair was all on end, like he'd been running his hands back and forth through it. She resisted the urge to reach up and smooth it down.

"I thought you might like some tea," Mulder said, and he brought two mugs out to the living room.

They sat for a while. Scully blew on her tea, holding it in both hands. She stared into the mug as if looking for answers there.

Mulder finally set his untouched tea down. "Are you still mad at me?"

Scully looked up, startled. "Why would I be mad at you?"

"For what I said earlier this evening. I was kind of out of line."

<or is that a priori, too?> sounded in his head again.

"It's fine, Mulder," Scully started to say.

"No," said Mulder, "no, it's not fine. I know better, and I'm sorry."

"Okay." Scully sipped her tea. "I do worry about things like that."

"Like what?"

"That what we feel for each other will interfere with our work. Like the way you broke into Padgett's apartment. We can't afford that."

"He was a suspect, and you were alone with him," Mulder countered.

"Until you read the page sitting by his typewriter, you had nothing concrete. By rights, he could claim false arrest or at the very least, breaking and entering without just cause."

"Whether we're involved or not, I'd be watching your back. I can't afford not to, neither of us can. It's part of who we are. What we've always been. We just used to hide it better. I'm sorry if you think I was out of line, I really am. But I can't keep myself from wanting to protect you."

"I guess we've always been good at hiding from each other," Scully said. "I think sometimes we still are."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Mulder was puzzled at Scully's remark.

"Nothing," she said. Silence descended between them. She set her mug down on the coffee table. "I guess I should go."

Mulder put his hand on her arm and said, "I wish you wouldn't."

He hadn't intended to blurt it out, but it was too late to do anything about it now.

Scully stood up. "I don't think it's a good idea tonight." The memory of Padgett's words on the page were still too strong; even without him being there, she felt his presence. She wished she hadn't read his book.

<what would her partner think of her?>

"It's too late for you to drive home," Mulder said persuasively. "I can take the sofa if you like."

His offer and his concern was her undoing. She sat down again and leaned against his arm. "I'm so tired, Mulder," she said, and her voice trembled.

"I know you are," he said softly, and put his arm around her, hugging her to his side. He eased them back against the cushions and they sat without moving for some time.

Mulder's heart was pounding. He wanted so much to kiss her. He just wasn't sure she'd welcome it.

As if she heard his thoughts, she tilted her head up, eyes sleepy and lips slightly parted. He couldn't resist that look, and he lowered his mouth to hers.

She seemed so passive in his arms. She allowed him to do what he wanted, but she wasn't really participating. His instinct normally would be to try harder, to somehow arouse her by sheer force of will. Instead, something made him gentle his approach. Rather than nipping or thrusting, he caressed her mouth with his lips and just the tip of his tongue, relaxing his grip on her arm and stroking it softly, fingers feathering slowly along the inside of her elbow and forearm to her wrist and then her fingers, then back up again to her shoulder.

Was it his imagination or did she relax a little? Her lips seemed to soften under his and she returned the pressure just enough to let him know she welcomed his touch. With great restraint he kept his kisses soft. He enclosed her lips with his, letting his tongue run softly over their curves but venturing no further. She relaxed against his arm and closed her eyes as he kissed her eyelids, her nose, and each corner of her mouth before returning to her lips. He felt hypnotized, mesmerized by the slow pace of their lovemaking. He was unaware of anything other than the few square inches of his lips and Scully's face.

Scully sighed as she relaxed into Mulder's embrace. <I missed this so much>, she thought languidly. <I missed Mulder so much, and it's only been a matter of days...how could I have thought he didn't notice me? He knew exactly what I needed tonight...>

Mulder pulled back a little, looking at his armful of Scully. Her eyes were still closed and her breathing was slightly fast. He watched her flushed chest rise and fall under her black silk shirt. He could just see the lacy edge of her bra. He closed his eyes against the sight, and Padgett's words came unbidden:

<prick. twinge. pluck...>

Shit. Was he ever going to be able to forget that?

Scully's eyes flew open. "Mulder, what's wrong?"

Had he spoken out loud? "Nothing. It's getting late. We should both get some sleep."

Scully wasn't sure if she was glad or disappointed.

x-x-x-x

Mulder found her a tee shirt as she brushed her teeth. She saw him heading out to the sofa as she came out of the bathroom.

"Mulder, where are you going?"

"I said I'd take the couch," he said.

"I don't want to throw you out of your bed. That's not right."

"I haven't been using it much anyway. And I don't think you should sleep on the couch either."

"That's not what I was offering," Scully said.

Mulder turned to look at her. Silhouetted by the bathroom light, he couldn't see the expression on her face.

"What exactly are you offering?" he asked.

"To share your bed, if you want," Scully said. "I don't think I'm up to anything else, if that's okay."

"Me neither," Mulder lied, but he'd respect her wishes.

It was a little strange, he admitted it. They were usually halfway into foreplay by the time they got into bed together. Now Scully lay curled up, her back to the center of the bed. The bedside lamp was still on, and one might think that she was already asleep.

One would be wrong, Mulder thought as he approached the bed. Still, he moved quietly as though he really believed she was sleeping. As he lay down, he leaned over and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. "Sleep well, Scully," he whispered, and rolled away from her, mirroring her position.

x-x-x-x

Scully hadn't expected to sleep at all, fearing her usual wakefulness. But the number of sleepless nights had taken their toll, and she found that the sound of Mulder's steady breathing had a soporific effect. She found herself breathing in time with him until sleep claimed her.

Sometime in the night she woke slightly to find that both she and Mulder had somehow migrated to the middle of the bed. They lay facing each other, though not touching.

Scully studied his sleeping face. Did he really have no idea how much he meant to her? He seemed so uncertain about her feelings. Maybe that's why he'd been so reserved at work, and why when she'd asked for time, he thought she was giving him the brush-off. And it explained why he'd been acting so strangely about Padgett.

Maybe he craved her attention as much as she craved his. Maybe she'd have to do something about that, once this case was over.

She couldn't resist reaching over to kiss his sleeping lips. A little puff of air pushed against her as she did so, and Mulder stirred slightly. She froze, feeling like a cat burglar <or a kissing bandit>, her mind supplied with unusual whimsy. The thought made her smile as she drifted off to sleep again.

x-x-x-x

Something woke Mulder in the early morning hours. He lay still, willing his sleep-fogged brain to work.

Scully was gone. It must have been the sound of the front door closing that he'd heard in his sleep.

It was to be expected; nothing had really changed between them.

<It doesn't mean she doesn't care about you>, he told himself. He reached out to turn on the bedside lamp and realized he had a scrap of paper clutched between his fingers.

"M, had to go home to shower and change. See you at the cemetery later.

love you,
S."

It was a pretty odd love-note, but so them. He lay back smiling, the paper still enclosed in his hand. Neither of them had ever spoken the words out loud. There'd been no need, or so he'd thought.

x-x-x-x

Things weren't perfect between them, but they were better, Scully thought as Mulder set up the surveillance camera in his living room. She hadn't expected Mulder to actually say anything about the note she'd left, but she could tell he was pleased.

"Agent Scully is already in love."

Jeez, did everyone know?

Mulder had given her a look when Padgett said that, but he hadn't brought it up since.

It was strange. Padgett wrote things that seemed to come true. Did her writing the note to Mulder somehow make her feelings known to Padgett? It was impossible, of course, but how else could he know?

<"I'm a writer," he said. "It's what I do.">

She felt unnerved by it all the same.

"Anything?" Mulder came back into the room and ignored the fact that he found her dozing on the couch.

"Nothing," she said as he sat down beside her. "He's just sitting there."

Then suddenly he wasn't sitting anymore. Mulder raced out of the room, ready to confront Padgett.

Scully was prevented from leaving the apartment after him.

Her memory of her encounter with Nacimiento was foggy and disjointed. She remembered the struggle, and calling for Mulder. <muldermuldermulder helpme helphelphelpmulder ...> She remembered the shots fired that had no effect on her assailant. She remembered his hand reaching into her chest. <ohgod it hurts hurts hurts wasn't psychic surgery supposed to be painless?> Then, mercifully, unconsciousness took over. She couldn't even form last thoughts; but Mulder's face was what she saw, and his name was on her lips.

Moments later, Mulder's face was the first thing she saw. It was like being underwater and suddenly surfacing to sunlight and air. The breath whooshed back into her lungs and expelled itself in wracking sobs as she clutched at him.

He held her pressed against him as tightly as he could while she clung to him. They were still sitting that way when the EMTs and the police arrived, alerted by one of the neighbors.

x-x-x-x

Part three

Mulder put his head around the hospital room door. "You awake?"

Scully nodded. "I don't know why I'm still here. There's nothing wrong with me that anyone can find."

"Well, there was that little matter of unexplained blood loss to account for," Mulder said. <I can account for it. It's all over my living room floor>.

Last night when he'd seen Scully lying on his floor, covered in blood, he'd almost breathed his last. Then, as he watched, she rushed into consciousness and reached for him, clinging to him like a lifeline. He had Scully-sized finger marks on his shoulders, but they were nothing compared to the marks on his memory.

"I told the doctor that if he didn't release me today, I was going home against medical advice," Scully said.

"Well, I have it on good authority that you're gonna be sprung within the hour," Mulder said. "That's why I'm here. I thought I'd drive you home."

"Did you find Padgett?"

Mulder nodded. He wasn't sure he wanted to tell her, but she'd read it in the reports later anyway.

"You don't have to tiptoe around the subject. I can talk about it."

"Are you sure?"

"Mulder, I'm fine."

"He was found in the basement. He had his heart clutched in his right hand."

Scully went pale.

"I shouldn't have told you," Mulder said contritely. "I'm sorry."

"So he was the last victim."

"And I'm guessing they're never gonna find the killer. You ID'd him as Nacimiento, didn't you?"

"I identified him from the composite. I don't know that it was Nacimiento. He's dead, Mulder. Even Padgett couldn't bring him back to life."

"Then how do you explain it?" asked Mulder.

Scully shook her head. "I don't know what to say. I can't explain what happened to me. I was attacked. Maybe you scared the attacker away."

"Are you satisfied with that explanation?"

"Of course not. But I don't have a better one right now."

"Just like always," Mulder said glumly. "We can never get at the real culprit. They just dissolve away into the mist."

"I suppose Padgett will be blamed for all of them except for the attack on me, since you'd just left him in the basement."

"I still think he is partly to blame," Mulder said. "He may not have actually committed the murders, but he imagined them." He smiled briefly. "I've seen heavy-handed use of metaphors plenty of times, but I think this is the first time I've ever seen one used as a murder weapon."

Scully rolled her eyes. "So now you're saying having an imagination is against the law? If that were true, you'd be in jail for life, Mulder."

"True enough," he conceded. "But you never believed he was guilty, did you? You even championed him, despite his behavior toward you. Why?"

"Because that's what we do. Because I felt your judgment was being clouded by the personal."

It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that his interest was personal, but it reminded him too much of a rancorous conversation they'd had not all that long ago, and he didn't want to revisit that. He didn't want to remind her, either. Instead, he changed tack:

"Admit it, Scully. You were a little bit flattered by his attention."

"That may be true. But that doesn't mean I welcomed it. I told him I couldn't return his interest."

"And why is that?"

Scully gave him what he termed her basilisk stare. "I wouldn't explain it to Padgett, and I shouldn't have to explain it to you."

Mulder grinned slightly. "A guy likes to hear the words once in a while." He thought of the scrap of paper in his wallet and the grin became a genuine smile.

Scully wasn't done yet, however. "And," she continued, "because I truly believe he didn't know what he was causing. We still don't know that he had anything to do with the murders."

"And I guess we never will know, now that he's dead. I'm just glad he didn't take you with him. Though I have a theory about that, too."

"Of course you do," murmured Scully.

"Just hear me out. You know what they say: the only true end to a story is death. So, someone had to die to end the story. Padgett wrote that Nacimiento murdered one last time, and that the victim was meant to be you."

"You don't know that, Mulder. How can you know that?"

"You said you didn't believe that Padgett knew anything about the murders. But he had to have known about Nacimiento, and he certainly thought he knew you. Maybe he planned to kill you because you couldn't return his affections."

"So how did it happen that I didn't die?"

"Because Padgett destroyed what he'd written at the last minute, before Nacimiento could carry it out." He closed his eyes, reliving the moment when he saw Scully laid out on his living room floor, pale and bloody. He'd thought his own heart had stopped beating at that moment, and only began again when Scully's eyes flew open.

"I might have been next, you know," Mulder said. <If Scully had died>, he thought, <I might even have torn my own heart out>.

"How do you figure that?"

"Nacimiento went after lovers, those who were especially vulnerable because of an event related to their loved one. The last murder took place in the graveyard, and the victim was the heartbroken fiancee of the deceased. The victim at Lover's Lane was found alone, but his car showed evidence that someone else had been with him. Not to mention Padgett's recounting of the scene."

"Well, people don't generally go to a lover's lane alone," Scully pointed out.

"Exactly. What I'm saying is that Nacimiento seemed to pick up on people who'd either loved and lost, or had somehow suffered as a result of their love."

Scully turned her eyes on him, like blue searchlights. "Do you think I'm suffering for love, Mulder?"

Mulder matched her stare. "I don't know. Are you?"

Scully lowered her eyes. "No one ever said love was easy," she said very quietly. "Do you suffer for love?"

Mulder took Scully's hand in both of his. "Every day, Scully. Every day. But it's worth it. Nothing worth having is ever easy."

"I think so, too." They shared a meaningful look. If Padgett, or anyone else, had walked in at that moment, there would have been no mistaking how they felt about each other.

But they still had things to discuss.

He gripped her hand a little tighter and started by saying, "My point is, you were at an emotionally vulnerable place. It wasn't really fear of being found out, was it? I think it's too late to be worrying about that. Most people made up their mind years ago that we've been doing the nasty. Our enemies already know what you mean to me. They've already tried to take you away, more than once. I don't see how anything we do, or don't do, will change that."

"That's a pretty bleak assessment, isn't it?"

Mulder swallowed. He didn't want to say it, but he had to. "I told you before, the only solution is for you to get as far away from me as possible. Maybe you'd already decided that for yourself. That's why you were vulnerable to Nacimiento."

"I've told you that I can't and won't walk away, Mulder. You're stuck with me."

"Then what's the problem? I don't want to walk through the halls of the Hoover building holding hands and making kissy faces any more than you do. But I don't think we should have to take abnormal precautions, either."

"I thought that's what you wanted," Scully said. "You just said yourself that there are people looking for our vulnerabilities, and I don't mean Nacimiento, either. We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't."

"Then we should do as we damned well please," Mulder said. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "This is another of the `not easy' parts, isn't it?"

"I just don't want either part of our lives spoiled by the other," Scully said. "Your work has always been the most important part of your life and it's too important to screw it up with our personal issues."

"Then maybe we shouldn't try to keep them separate," Mulder said. "It's secrets that have always been our biggest problem. Having them kept from us, and keeping them from each other. I don't say we flaunt it, but I do say we let ourselves enjoy what we've got. Otherwise, they win. Don't think this is all about the work, because it's not. It's so much more than that."

He might have said more, or Scully might have replied, but there was a swift rap on the door and the doctor breezed in. "Dr. Scully, are you ready to go home?"

x-x-x-x

Mulder was uncharacteristically silent on the drive home. As glad as she was to be released, Scully felt the doctor's timing could have been better.

She smiled to herself. Some women waited all their lives to be told "I love you," never realizing that sometimes other words and actions took their place, but had the same meaning.

How had she thought he was untouched by the change in their partnership? That he'd taken it all for granted? She'd been so concerned with appearances, she'd missed all the signs. Some investigator she was.

This case had clarified things for her -- about herself, as well as about Mulder.

x-x-x-x

Damn that doctor anyway. Mulder shifted gears a little more emphatically than he needed to, and glanced over at Scully, who sat calmly beside him. She was even smiling slightly. Well, maybe he'd said the right thing then, at last. Not half of what he'd meant to say, but it was a start.

It had been on the tip of his tongue to tell her he loved her, never mind that they were in a hospital room. At least he wasn't doped to the gills, and neither was Scully. There'd have been no excuses about it. Damn that doctor anyway.

All too soon they were pulling up in front of Scully's. Mulder got her bag out of the trunk and walked her into the building. They rode up to her floor in silence; in silence they walked to her door.

Scully unlocked it and took the bag from Mulder's hand. "Thanks for bringing me home."

"It was the least I could do," Mulder said. "Guess I'd better head back to work now." He smiled and began to turn away.

Scully said quickly, "Mulder, I could go back to work today. I'm fine. It'd only be for a couple of hours."

"I really think you should take the rest of the day off. I know Skinner'd insist, too."

Trust Mulder to play the Skinner card. Scully rolled her eyes and said, "Okay, I give in. But on one condition only."

"Which is?" Mulder asked. Maybe she'd ask him to come by later. He certainly hoped so.

"You have to take the afternoon off, too. Non-negotiable."

As if he'd say no. What was the catch? "O-kay," he said as if he were conceding a huge point.

They stood awkwardly in her doorway for a moment. Mulder wasn't quite sure whether she meant, "take the day off and stay with me," or "take the day off and go home," but it would be uncool to ask.

"Mulder," Scully said, touching his arm.

Mulder looked at her, eyebrows raised questioningly.

"Do you have your overnight bag in your car?" She ran her hand up his sleeve and back down again.

He nodded, fascinated by her hand.

"Why don't you go get it?" she asked.

Mulder couldn't help but grin. "Are you sure? After all, it's a school night, Agent Scully."

"You'd better shut up before I change my mind," Scully threatened, deadpan.

Mulder raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, I'll be right back."

Too impatient to wait for the poky old elevator, he sprinted down the stairs. As he pulled his bag out of the trunk and slammed it shut, he looked up at Scully's window. The blinds had been open before, and she'd evidently just shut them. His whole body tightened with anticipation.

He decided that it would be better not to be winded when he got to Scully's door and waited for the elevator to make its halting way back to the lobby.

It also gave Scully time to reconsider. He needed to be sure that asking him to stay hadn't been just an impulse.

He'd had no time at the hospital to expand on what he'd said, and he wondered if Scully realized the seriousness of his statement. He'd been utterly sincere. Not that he hadn't been all the times he'd said or done things in the past. He admitted, however, that they had sometimes been fueled by desperation as well as truth.

That sultry night in his hallway, nearly a year ago, he'd have said anything to make Scully stay. If outside forces hadn't screwed things up, that night might have turned out differently.

Well, things were different now, and maybe this was better. Maybe she'd been waiting for him to do something all along. Scully had been the one calling the shots so far; he'd just had to show up. Now it seemed that she needed more from him.

He was ready.

x-x-x-x

Scully watched Mulder at his car before she lowered the blinds. He'd gotten down there pretty fast and it made her smile. She pictured him at her door ten seconds from now, winded from climbing the stairs back up. Trust Mulder to do something as impulsive, and flattering, as that.

Where was he? Even if he'd taken the elevator, he should be back by now. She slipped off her shoes and unbuttoned one button of her blouse, then buttoned it back up again. She didn't want to overdo it.

He hadn't gotten a call and gone off to check on something, had he? Of course not. He wouldn't do that to her. She chastised herself for the thought <she chastised herself for the girlish indulgence>.

<Shit. Get the hell out of my head, Padgett>. She shook herself all over, shaking her hands like she was shaking off water droplets, pacing around her living room. She was glad to be here. She wasn't sure she could face Mulder's apartment just yet. Knowing Mulder, he'd make sure that any vestige of Padgett was swept away before he let her come over again.

She hoped he would do the same for her now. She wanted him to sweep all memory of Padgett's words away for both of them.

She was aware of his presence even before his key turned in the lock and his shadowy figure appeared in the doorway. She felt drawn to him -- connected in a way she could never explain to herself, or to anyone else.

She'd feared it, fought against it, for a long time. She'd feared his power over her but now she began to realize that she had as much power over him.

Shared experiences accounted for some of it. Any pair as closely associated as they'd been over the years would have this to some degree. But to have this, to feel this -- this sense of completeness when the other was present, to know the other on such an elemental level -- this was unique to them, she felt certain.

No words were spoken; none was needed. He came forward and she felt the pull of him. She met him halfway, and he caught her up in his embrace.

Mulder was not usually poetic, but holding Scully in his arms made him feel as if the missing part of him had been returned. He'd felt that way before, many years ago. The moment he'd walked into Scully's hospital room and she opened her eyes and smiled at him had felt the same, though he'd been unable to acknowledge it then. He could now, he realized. He could tell her everything he couldn't before. But words seemed inadequate to the task, and he was no writer. He didn't want to be a writer. He wanted to show her first hand.

He stroked Scully's hair as she hugged him close. She looked up at him, smiling the little almost-smile that had earned her the sobriquet "enigmatic." He kissed her nose just to see if he could make her really smile, and was rewarded. He grinned back and lowered his mouth to hers.

He continued what he'd started the other night. He rained soft kisses on her upturned face, held reverently between his palms. Her lips moved under his languidly, inviting him to explore further. He took his time, letting his tongue run along the outside of her lips, alternating with gentle suction on upper and lower, rendering them slick and swollen and even more inviting than before.

He took his time and she didn't rush him, content for the moment to press as close to him as she could get, letting her hands run up and down his back under his jacket. He emanated so much heat and Scully reveled in it, letting it soak into her. She felt heat of a different kind when Mulder decided to accept her invitation to explore a little further. His warm, questing tongue met hers and together they tasted each other.

He felt Scully's hands at his belt buckle and while part of him surged forward to meet her, he controlled himself and stayed her hands. Instead, he led her to the sofa and pulled her into his lap.

Now that Mulder no longer had the height advantage, Scully went to work on him. She loosened his tie and pulled it off, the sound and sensation of the silk sliding around his collar an added arousal for them both. She kissed his Adam's apple and then worked her way up his throat to his mouth where she nibbled on his lower lip. His hands glided along her sides, pulling her blouse loose from her waistband so he could touch her skin.

Oh, his hands were so warm. His palms were soft but his fingertips were slightly rough, causing a shiver to ripple through her.

"You cold?" Mulder murmured into her neck, his nose nudging her ear.

"Hm-mm," Scully said, her mouth too busy to form actual words.

"Good," he said, nuzzling closer. "Because I want you naked."

The words and the raw intent behind them made her shiver again. <This is real>, she thought. <This is Mulder, not someone fantasizing. He knows me, not some idealized version of me. And I know him. I know his faults and his foibles as well as his qualities. And I want all of him>.

She grasped his hands as they worked at her blouse so that he'd pay attention to her. "Padgett didn't know me as well as he thought he did," she said. "If he had, he would have known from the start that I had no interest in him. But he didn't see it."

"He didn't see what?" Mulder was being deliberately obtuse, but he was arguing Scully's side for a change. Time for her to clarify.

"'Agent Scully is already in love,'" she quoted softly.

"Is that so?" Mulder said with mock-surprise. "With whom, I wonder?"

"You don't know?" Scully teased.

"I think I need some proof," he said.

Scully put her hands on his shoulders and planted her lips firmly on his, invading his mouth and not letting up until they were both gasping. "How's that?" she asked.

Mulder licked his lips and grinned. "Okay for a start. Now, where were we?"

He made short work of unbuttoning her blouse and skimming it over her shoulders. He reached behind her to unhook her bra, but she stopped him long enough to remove his shirt and undershirt before letting him.

This was his favorite part, like unwrapping a gift. He unhooked the bra and ran his hands under the lower edges, bringing them forward to cover her breasts as he eased the silken material away from her body.

Scully watched him, her eyes smoky with desire. Her watching him made it even better. He held the soft weight of her breasts in his hands, letting his thumbs rub across the tips as he watched her face.

Scully closed her eyes and arched her back, which was invitation enough for him to lower his mouth to each peak in turn and suckle and nip until he heard her breathing change. She shifted in his lap and he had trouble breathing himself for a moment as her thigh brushed against his cock, already straining against the fabric of his pants.

Her eyes gleamed. Without a word she stood up and led him to her bedroom.

She'd drawn the blinds in there as well, but a little sunlight filtered through, dappling the bed and the walls with light and shadow. It played across Mulder's face and chest as he knelt in front of Scully to remove the rest of her clothes. It made beautiful patterns across Scully's skin as she lay on the bed and watched as Mulder stripped bare and joined her.

<We've gone from the metaphorical to the literal>, Scully thought as she watched Mulder. <Why is it so much easier to bare our bodies to each other than our feelings?>

Mulder propped his elbow on the pillow and his head on his hand as he faced Scully. He was more than ready, but Scully still had something on her mind. He reached out to smooth her hair back and let his fingers linger on her temple.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked.

"About the power of words," Scully said.

Some of Padgett's words drifted across his mind and he frowned slightly and shook his head. "What he wrote about you really affected you, didn't it?" he asked.

She nodded. "Whether I wanted it to or not."

Mulder continued to stroke her temple and brow, letting his fingers trail across her cheek. "It's like so many things, Scully. They only have power over you if you let them." He leaned closer to kiss her lingeringly. "Don't let them."

"Don't you, either," Scully said. "Think about this instead: `words are a wonderful form of communication, but they will never replace kisses and punches.'"

Mulder laughed out loud. "Did you make that up?"

Scully shook her head. "No, I saw it on a post card in a head shop."

"Oooh, Scully in a head shop," Mulder teased. "That one on M Street?"

"The very one."

"You never cease to amaze me, Scully," Mulder said affectionately, letting his hand trail further down her body.

"It's mutual, Mulder, believe me," Scully snuggled closer to him. "I mean, here we are in bed together, naked, and all you want to do is talk."

"Not true," Mulder protested.

Scully reached down between them to discover for herself. Oh, he seemed ready enough, and she ran her fingers up and down his length. "Then prove it," she purred.

Without another word, he smiled and kissed her, pulling her closer. She fitted herself to him, throwing her leg over his thigh and welcoming him in.

Scully felt again that sense of completion that she'd had when Mulder came to her door. The feel of Mulder within her and all around her somehow made her more than she was, and she welcomed it. She clung closer to him, taking him not only into her body but into her heart and her mind.

She held him as close as she could while still allowing him to move, closing her eyes and giving herself up completely to Mulder. She felt herself breathing in time with him as she moved in counterpoint. She felt moisture on her face and wasn't sure if it was Mulder's or hers, or it was tears or sweat. She opened her eyes to see Mulder staring at her with adoration, his eyes suspiciously shiny. She felt a surge of love and bent his head down so she could kiss him, completing their connection.

Mulder had willed Scully to open her eyes so he could see her thoughts and was drawn into their depths. He felt he had migrated entirely into her body, not just where they were physically joined. They rose and fell together, and he'd never felt so complete.

He could sense that she was near her release, and he chanted to her what was so often in his mind: "Love you, want you, need you," he said over and over, in time with his thrusts, until her whole body tightened around him and he felt the rush of her climax.

He practically raised her off the bed with him as he rose again, she clung so tightly. He heard her gasp, "me too," at the peak and he felt his own release begin and continue, long after Scully had stopped shuddering around him.

He came to at Scully's touch, her hands stroking his back gently.

He rolled toward Scully. "Satisfied?"

"You just have to win the argument, don't you?" Scully asked. "You mean you couldn't tell?"

"Well, you impugned my manhood. I have to make sure."

"The answer is yes," Scully giggled. "In more ways than one."

He groaned. "I think that's supposed to be my line."

"I can't help it if you feed me the straight lines, Mulder," she said, and kissed him. "But yes," she kissed him some more, "and yes again."

"You do know how much you mean to me, don't you?" Mulder asked softly, stroking her skin.

She nodded, her eyes dark but glinting in the changing light.

"It's not just this," he continued, trying to articulate what he'd been thinking the past few days, "wonderful as this is. It's you. It's everything about you, who you are, and who I am when I'm with you. If you told me tomorrow that we couldn't do this any more, as long as I had you, I'd still try to be satisfied."

Scully huffed her surprise and shook her head in wonderment. "Mulder, if you could have read my mind a while ago --"

"Who says I didn't?" Mulder teased her.

She shook her head again. "I was just thinking the same thing about you. That you, with all your faults --"

"I have faults?" Mulder asked, comic dismay clouding his features. "I never said anything about you having faults. I mean, I'm sure you must have one or two, but I've never noticed them --"

"Shut up, Mulder," Scully said. "I think you'd better quit while you're ahead."

"Yes, ma'am," Mulder said. He wrapped his arms around her. She lay her head on his shoulder.

They lay quietly together for some time. Neither noticed the sun fading and the shadows lengthening around them as they slept.

x-x-x-x

The voice of the NPR announcer on the clock radio woke Scully up from a sound slumber. She stretched and smiled to herself. She hadn't slept that well for a long time. She rolled over to see if Mulder was still sleeping.

He wasn't there.

She felt the bedclothes. They were still warm, but maybe that was just from her. She didn't see his clothes anywhere.

He wouldn't have left, would he? Not without waking her, or leaving her a note. He just couldn't have.

She started to get up, looking around for her robe. It was lying on the end of the bed. She didn't remember leaving it there the night before.

Then she heard soft footfalls coming down the hall. Mulder appeared in boxers and dress shirt, tie loose around his neck, and carrying a mug of coffee. "Morning, Scully," he said cheerfully. "You were sleeping so soundly, I thought I'd let you catch a few extra z's."

Scully closed her eyes in relief. "I thought you'd gone," she said.

"Not a chance, Scully. You're stuck with me now." He glanced at his watch. "But I'm gonna have to go pretty soon. Skinner will be expecting our report this morning."

"You should have gotten me up," Scully said, but she was touched all the same.

Mulder handed her his coffee mug and gave her a kiss. "Don't worry. Go take your shower and I'll see you at work." He kissed her again, tasting of coffee and toothpaste, then he pushed her toward the bathroom.

Scully hurried to get ready but by the time she got out of the bathroom, Mulder had already left.

There was a note on her nightstand, however: "Love you" was all it said. Scully folded it up small and put it in her pocket.

x-x-x-x

Mulder was sitting at his desk when she got in. "Good morning," he said warmly. "I got you some coffee."

Scully smiled back, still not sure how to interpret his behavior earlier.

She picked up her coffee, noting that it was still very hot even though she estimated Mulder had been there for perhaps half an hour already. Only then did she notice the postcard face down on the desk. She turned it over and smiled as she read it.

She got up and walked over to the wall where Mulder's "I Want to Believe" poster was, and pinned the card up next to it. Then, she turned and walked slowly over to Mulder's desk where he waited expectantly.

She put her hand on his shoulder and leaned over him. He tilted his face up to meet her kiss, which went on for quite some time.

Then Scully punched Mulder lightly on the shoulder and sashayed back to her desk. She seated herself and opened her laptop.

But every now and then, their eyes met and they smiled.

end.

further acknowledgment: the post card is real. It's a Pot-Shot, created by Ashleigh Brilliant, and possibly still available in bookstores (and for all I know, headshops too). I've quoted him without permission, but with gratitude and respect for his, well, brilliance.

feedback is greeted like a long lost friend: msnsc21@aol.com


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