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The real reason why Mulder was confined
to the Unremarkable House for so many years.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; the X-Files belong to CC, FOX, etc.
Notes: Since I've been struggling for years to finish my doctoral dissertation, I always wanted to write a story about Mulder or Scully trying to do the same thing, but I never found the right context until IWTB. This story is mostly tongue-in-cheek, and not what I believe really happened, but there were too many elements that fit too well for me to avoid the temptation. Now that my dissertation is finally completed and defended, I'm posting this fic in celebration!
This fic is dedicated to my Dissertation Accountability Network (TM) at Fandomonium: Penelope, wildafox, pghfoxfan, aud, mendy, and FatCat; and to my beta extraordinaire, Mims. And to Bertha, whose dissertation topic is far more interesting than mine.
* * * * *
March 20, 2003
As she came up the walk and flipped through the ring for her house key, Scully mentally tried to sum up how she felt about the interview. While she had some reservations about working at a Catholic hospital, the administration at Our Lady of Sorrows seemed rather progressive for a religious institution, and they were offering her an unheard of opportunity by accepting her for the position with her limited background.
Once again, she considered whether she was doing the right thing by returning to medicine instead of pathology or law enforcement. But despite Skinner's reassurances that both of their names had been cleared and that she could still have a future with the FBI, she didn't feel comfortable returning there without Mulder. No, it was time for both of them to close that chapter in their lives and move forward.
More secure in her decision, Scully turned the key and opened the front door. As she hung up her coat, a sound down the hallway drew her out of her thoughts.
There was a pause, and then the noises repeated. The thumping became more repetitive. If it weren't for the proximity of the sounds, and the fact that she recognized the voice, she would've thought he'd resurrected his video collection.
Scully rounded the corner to find Mulder rhythmically beating his head against his desk, not hard enough to do serious damage, but she wouldn't be surprised if he ended up with a bruise--or a headache.
"Mulder? What's wrong?"
He sat up straight with one more groan and handed her a piece of paper from his desk. "You know that transcript I requested from Oxford, to apply for the teaching job? This was their reply."
She smoothed out the page and read aloud, "Dear Mr. Mulder, In regards to your enquiry pertaining to your academic dossier, please be informed that we have no record of your completion of a doctoral thesis to earn a D. Phil.--"
Mulder interrupted. "Let me spare you from laboring through the BS in the rest of the letter. Suffice it to say, I do NOT have the doctoral degree I thought I had completed, but if I would like to hand in a thesis, they would be so kind as to evaluate my work and consider me for that degree."
"Yes, my thoughts exactly. What was I doing over there all those years if not earning a doctorate?"
"Did you say 'what,' or 'who'?"
He glowered and ignored her comment. "I can't get the teaching job without a Ph.D.--or D.Phil. This is ridiculous. I can't just start over from scratch, not at my age."
"There's nothing wrong with your age, Mulder. And they're not asking you to start from scratch. All you have to do is write a thesis."
"All I have to do? Scully, it's been years since I've written anything like this."
"Longer than that, according to their records."
"Your support is underwhelming."
"They're not even asking you to reapply to the program. Just write a paper. C'mon, Mulder, how hard can it be?"
His searing glare was his only response.
* * *
* * *
April 1, 2003
Scully poked her head into his office on her way out. "I'm off to work. Do you want me to pick up dinner on the way home, or are you up for cooking tonight?"
"You can pick something up. I intend to get lots of writing done today."
She spied the antique sitting squarely in front of him on his desk, next to the ream of fresh, white paper. Stepping closer, she asked, "What's that?"
He tapped the machine. "This is what we Yankees like to call a 'typewriter.'"
"That's not what I meant, Mulder. Why are you using a typewriter? You know, they have these machines now. We moderns like to call them 'computers.' No more need for white-out."
He took a crisp new sheet of paper and rolled it into the typewriter. With a lousy British accent, he said, "Well, back in the ice age, when I was but a young gent at Oxford, I did all my writing on a typewriter. I'm merely trying to recapture the mindset."
She snickered and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. "Well, cheerio, young gent. I'll see you later."
* * *
When Scully opened the front door several hours later, she was greeted by the rhythmic "clack, clack" of a typewriter. She smiled to herself as she pictured Mulder bent over the keys in deep concentration. But her smile quickly turned to a frown as the typing yielded to a barrage of expletives, then the sound of a page being ripped from the machine.
She set down the take-out bags on the coffee table and made it to the office doorway in time to see a crumpled ball of paper hooking toward the wastebasket. It didn't have much hope of landing inside, however, since the container was already overflowing with similar crumpled pages.
"So, how's the writing going?"
He gave her a disgusted grimace. "I think I've done enough damage for the day. Do I smell dinner?"
* * *
* * *
April 23, 2003
Opening the front door gently, Scully tried not to make too much noise as she came in. It was only mid-afternoon, earlier than she usually came home, and she knew Mulder was still in the middle of his work hours. She didn't want to break his concentration if he was "in the zone," as he liked to refer to it.
The office was rather quiet, but she did hear the subtle clicking of the mouse. Coming home one day to find a computer taking up the space where his typewriter once resided was a surprise, although not completely unexpected. He had finally agreed to join the twenty-first century.
Curious about the persistent clicking, Scully quietly approached until she could catch a glimpse of his screen.
"Hard at work, I see?"
"Scully!" He closed the solitaire game, but not soon enough to escape her view. "What are you doing home so early?"
She ignored his attempt to change the subject. "I guess that new computer's really working out for you."
He sighed and turned off the monitor. "It's just not the same as a typewriter. I think so much better on paper."
"Then what about taking notes? You can write longhand and then type it into the computer."
"I suppose. Hey, all this hard work has made me hungry. Want to order a pizza?"
* * *
* * *
May 4, 2003
All was quiet on the home front as Scully came home from work and dropped her purse on the coffee table. Mulder had eventually taken up her advice and abandoned the computer for writing his notes longhand, so she wasn't surprised to find things so silent. Although, she did want to make sure that he hadn't fallen asleep at the desk again.
She walked softly toward the office, not wanting to disturb him.
Then she heard something hit the floor, followed by a "Damn it!" She gave up on stealth and hurried to the doorway.
Mulder was standing on his desk, holding something above his head, apparently installing...
"Ceiling tiles? Mulder, what are you doing?"
He almost fell off the desk, startled by her presence, but she quickly reached out to steady him. He smiled sheepishly and climbed off the desk. But he still hadn't answered her.
"Uh, I thought the white tiles would give me better ambient lighting. You know, for thinking, and writing."
She looked up at the tiles covering most of the ceiling. They certainly brightened up the room more than the rustic-looking dark beams that they were obscuring, but she knew from Mulder's guilty look, and the half-ass explanation, that there was more to it than that. Since when did Mulder care about "ambient lighting"?
Actually, the tiles reminded her a lot of their old office. Not quite as yellowed or water-stained, but they were made of the same material. Perhaps he just longed for the old atmosphere, that old pattern he used to stare at when he was puzzling out a case, or when he was bored...
Scully looked at the spot Mulder was rubbing on his forehead. He quickly pulled away his hand when she caught him. Something had hit him on the head, something pointier than ceiling tiles. Something more like...the well-sharpened pencils that were lined up on the shelf.
"What? I can write better with pencils. Then I can erase things instead of scribbling them out. And pens give me ink stains." He held up his hand to show her a faint spot of blue.
She didn't even bother commenting on what she knew he would really be doing with the pencils. At least the softer ceiling would be more likely to hold the projectiles--which she guessed he had already learned the hard way.
"Just try not to poke an eye out," she said on her way out of the office.
* * *
* * *
May 21, 2003
Scully dropped the mail onto the kitchen counter, next to the bag of groceries. She was struggling to ignore the silence emanating from the hallway. It was far too quiet in the house, and she dreaded what she might find going on in Mulder's office this time. He had been "working on" his thesis for two months now, and it seemed that all he had produced was inventive new ways to avoid writing.
With a heavy sigh, she grabbed up the magazines with his name on them and headed for the office. Psychology Today and Fortean Times. She wasn't quite sure how the latter was relevant to his topic, but at least the former showed he was making an effort to do research.
"Mulder?" She knocked gently and the ajar door inched open at the motion of her hand. She had found him diligently bent over his desk for the past few days, and thus she hadn't actually been in the room for almost a week now, not wanting to break his concentration. So this was the first time she had seen his new addition.
The room looked like a tornado had hit it. A small, focused tornado that picked up neatly clipped bits of articles and attached them to every possible surface. She'd seen Mulder do similar things when he was profiling, so she could only guess that he researched his writing the same way. But the tornado seemed to have carried him off too since he was nowhere to be found.
Scully realized that she actually knew very little about his research topic, other than that his degree was in Psychology. Curious, she took advantage of his absence and stepped closer to one wall to peruse the clippings.
"Norwegian Scientist Claims Discovery of Genuine Yeti Droppings"
"Ghost of Elvis Increases Tourism in Small Louisiana Town"
She closed her eyes and dropped her head back, stifling a groan. So this was the "research" he'd been doing. Somehow she didn't think Oxford would accept a thesis on ghostly sightings of Bigfoot.
The front door slammed shut, followed by the hollow sound of a ball being dribbled into the living room. The noise approached, so she stood in the office doorway to await it.
"Hey, Scully!" Mulder greeted her brightly. He leaned down and kissed her, and then gently pushed past her into the office. Dropping heavily into the chair, he tossed her the basketball he'd been bouncing. "Check it out. That's a genuine NBA-issue ball, signed by Patrick Ewing himself."
"Where'd this come from?"
"I won it. In the basketball tournament."
"Yeah, down at the rec center. It was an all-day thing, for charity. We played HORSE, one-on-one, some scrimmages. I didn't take first place, but I did manage to take second. Is that cool, or what?"
It was hard not to get carried away by his enthusiasm. But someone had to be the voice of reason here.
"I thought you were supposed to be working on your thesis."
"Oh, yeah, well..." He shrugged.
"Mulder," she moaned, "you're never going to get this thing finished if you don't sit down and work on it."
He tipped back in his chair. "What can I say, Scully? I'm just not motivated. I need something to force me to get it done."
"You want motivation? Okay, I'll give you some." She slammed the ball down on the table and pulled his chair back upright, leaning into his shocked face. "You're grounded. No more playing with your friends. You don't get to leave the house again until you've finished writing your thesis."
He pouted. "Party pooper."
"I'm serious, Mulder. You want to leave the house again, you finish this thesis first."
* * *
* * *
FIVE YEARS LATER
"What's up, *Doc*?" Bent over his keyboard, typing away, he didn't even bother to look up at her as Scully leaned against the doorframe leading into his office.
"That joke's getting old, Mulder."
"So am I. But it's nice to know at least one of us managed to finish their degree before senility set in."
"How's the writing going?"
He turned his head and offered the most optimistic look she'd seen in a while. "Very well, actually. I think I finally hit a groove."
She raised both eyebrows at this one. "You mean you're actually making progress?" She entered the room, leaning closer to the computer screen to see the evidence for herself. There was a full page of writing there, with words like "psychogenic" and "developmental" jumping out at her. No yetis or Elvii in sight. She was also close enough to see that he still hadn't shaved. He was going on at least the third day in a row.
She rubbed his bristly cheek. "What's with the peach fuzz?"
He shot her a sideways glare but kept typing. "Since I'm finally on a roll, I thought I shouldn't make any changes until I'm done. You know, like ball players who won't change their socks while they're on a streak. You don't want to mess with good karma."
She leaned down and whispered into his ear. "Well, you know how I feel about beard burn. I'm not sure it's karma you need to worry about."
He whimpered. "But, Scully, I'm finally making progress! I thought you'd be proud of me."
Moving around behind his chair, she wrapped her arms around him. "Oh, I am. You finish this, and I'll show you just how proud I can be." She gently nipped at the soft spot at the base of his jaw, eliciting another whimper, and then made her exit. His typing nearly doubled in speed as she closed the door.
* * *
* * *
March 7, 2008
Scully was lounging in the living room, reading a book, when she finally heard a car door outside. By the time Mulder trudged up the steps and opened the front door, she had put down the book and was ready for him.
A basketball entered first, rolling across the room, followed by a well-spent-looking Mulder.
"What's up, Doc?" Scully said with a smirk.
"Give me ten minutes, Scully," he returned. "I'm not as young as I used to be--as these young whippersnappers at the gym continue to prove." He plopped down on the couch next to her, caught a glimpse of her cleavage down the half-buttoned shirt, and said, "Okay, maybe five minutes."
She rolled her eyes and handed him the large envelope he apparently hadn't noticed her holding. He flipped it over to see the return address and looked at her with raised brows after he read it: Oxford University.
With glee, he tore into the long-awaited envelope and finally pulled out the fancy piece of parchment, embossed with a colorful stamp and printed in elegant calligraphy. A Doctor of Philosophy awarded to Fox William Mulder by the University of Oxford.
Scully snuggled in close to him. He wrapped his arm around her, beaming with pride.
"Congratulations," she said. "You finally got your doctorate. Now what are going to do with it?" she asked, a tad sarcastically.
"I'm going to Disneyland!"
She knew he was just imitating the commercial, but she feared he might actually be serious. "You realize if we're that close to San Diego, we'll be obligated to visit my brother."
He quickly said, "How about Hawaii?"
She smiled. Hawaii sounded just right.
More notes: Now, go back and rewatch that opening office scene in IWTB. It will take on a whole new meaning. :)
Two other bits of "background" to this story: (1) In the novelization of IWTB, it is pointed out that Skinner told Mulder and Scully only a year after The Truth that they were free and clear to return to their lives (which is why Scully went back to work), so I'm presuming that here. (2) There is debate over what degree Mulder actually got at Oxford, so I'm playing off of that, in case you hadn't noticed.
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