CLASSIFICATION: S, A, UST/MSR
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.
Notes: This part is getting a step closer to closure, but the series isn't finished yet.
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Mulder ended the call to Skinner and checked his watch. The work day was nearly over in the nation's capital, but it was only noon here--one of the benefits of being on the west coast. He didn't explain to his boss why he was so eager to wrap up this case and begin his weekend, but Mulder knew the man was familiar enough with his recent domestic situation to understand. After all, Skinner's the one who had started all of this.
A few short months ago, one trip on a meaningless case had turned Mulder's world upside down. The day he learned he was a father. Not a father-to-be, with a bundle of joy to arrive in nine months, but a full-fledged father, with a precious little daughter who for some insane reason absolutely adored him. He'd had his misgivings--and in some ways, he still did--but he'd finally admitted to himself the inevitable truth: Anna owned him from the first moment he saw her. He'd tried to resist her inexorable pull on him, but it was like trying to resist a black hole. And now that he'd finally gotten to know her, he couldn't get enough of her--her smile, her giggle, her shrieks of glee when he spun her around until they were both too dizzy to stand. Even her Scully mannerisms when she playfully gave him a good scolding. She was utterly charming, and he was utterly charmed.
Mulder was still the bachelor agent who put in long hours during the week, the first to arrive at the office and last to leave, assuming he left at all. Not because he loved his job, but because the most important case of his life remained unsolved. And he was determined to solve it, now more than ever. Now, he had more at stake. There was a life waiting for him when this was over.
But at least once a month now, sometimes twice, or more, he left behind the work and the apartment of a lonely bachelor to go catch a glimpse of that life that was waiting for him. To revel in it for a few days, and fill himself up again with all the reasons that he put in those late nights.
Yeah, he was smitten. With his daughter. But it didn't hurt that he enjoyed the company of her mother, too. Not that they could ever be to each other the partners that they once were, but he'd managed to sneak in Scully's help on a few of his recent cases, and the easy banter they'd once enjoyed came easily to them again. And on the rare occasion when she graced him with a full-wattage smile, those were the days when he had twice as much reason to solve the unsolved case.
Excited about the weekend to come, Mulder pulled his car out of the motel parking lot and pointed it toward LAX. He didn't even bother to call the airlines. One way or another, he was going to wheedle his way onto the next flight to Seattle, even if he had to flash his badge or flirt shamelessly with a ticketing agent. The case was closed, his boss had declared his work week over, and if he could get to Seattle before three o'clock, he might even have a full 48-hours before he had to fly home on Sunday.
Once on the interstate, Mulder pulled his phone back out to make another call.
He smiled at her all-business greeting. When she wasn't at work, he called her home number, but this time he'd called the cell.
"Hey, it's me."
"Mulder, please tell me this has nothing to do with a case. I'm already swamped as it is, and I'm trying to get out of here early today."
"It has nothing to do with a case, Scully. And coincidentally, getting off of work early is exactly what I want to talk to you about."
"Oh? Why?" Was that curiosity in her voice, or suspicion?
"Because I am currently in sunny Southern California headed for an airplane to take to me to the drizzly Northwest. I'm hoping to get there before rush hour."
"Oh. I thought it was next weekend you were coming."
"It was. I mean it is, if I can still get away. But I'm so close, I thought I'd come up this weekend too. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing." He had been so eager to visit Anna that he it hadn't even occurred to him until now: "This isn't a good weekend for you, is it?"
"Well, not for me, necessarily--but that doesn't mean you can't spend time with Anna. The thing is, I already have a babysitter scheduled for tonight."
"Ooh, Scully. What do you have, a hot date?" he teased.
His stomach dropped. "Oh, my God. You do. You have a date tonight."
She quickly jumped in. "It's not a date, really. I mean it is, sort of. But it's no big deal. It's only dinner, and maybe a movie. He's just a friend, and he's been asking me for months now, so I finally said yes, but--"
He cut into her frantic rambling. "It's okay, Scully. There's nothing wrong with you having a date. You have every right to go on a date." He didn't know if he was trying to convince her, or himself.
"Of course I have a right to." Now she was getting defensive. Great.
"I didn't mean to imply you didn't. I just--I mean--." He sighed. He was only going to put his foot in it more if he kept trying to explain himself. "Listen, you've already got plans for the weekend. I can catch a flight home instead. I'll come see you next weekend, like we scheduled."
"No, Mulder, you're already halfway here. Anna would love to see you. I can cancel the babysitter, if you don't mind dealing with bedtime tonight."
"You're going to be out that late?" Yep, there he'd stuck his foot in it again. "I didn't mean it the way that sounded. Forget I said it."
"I told you, Mulder, it's only dinner and a movie. I'll be home before curfew."
Now she was getting pissy. He knew it was best to drop the whole thing.
"I'll call you when I arrive, okay? But don't tell Anna I'm coming. That way I can surprise her." Not to mention that he could still change his plans if he succeeded in pissing off Scully any further between now and then.
"Fine. I'll see you later."
Mulder ended the call and tossed his phone onto the passenger seat. His enthusiasm for the weekend was completely gone. He tried to remind himself that he was going to spend the weekend with his daughter. Not only that, but he got to have her to himself for the whole evening.
But he couldn't get past the fact that Scully had a date.
* * *
Scully couldn't believe the nightmare that tonight had become. Not that there was anything wrong with Doug. In fact, he was a perfectly nice guy. The nightmare wasn't the date itself; it was the hellish torment churning inside of her. A nightmare that started and ended with the fact that Mulder was back at her home babysitting while she was out on a date.
The nightmare was that she had extended the date, accepting an offer of a movie, and then drinks, not because she was enjoying Doug's company (and how could she enjoy it, when she was spending the whole evening thinking about Mulder instead?), but because she was avoiding going home to deal with Mulder--all the while realizing that the later she stayed out, the worse Mulder would be to deal with when she got home.
But why did it bother her so much? Yes, she and Mulder had a child together, but they weren't married. They weren't dating. They weren't...anything, really. They were merely parents, to Anna. Which left their relationship to each other wholly undefined. A relationship that had never been fully defined to begin with.
Was it because they'd been spending so much time together lately--but only for Anna's sake? Or because he'd always acted slightly possessive of her, from the first day they'd met, and a part of her was secretly thrilled by it. Whatever it was, she couldn't explain it. Not to herself, so she'd certainly never be able to explain it to someone else.
And yet, even though her entire evening had revolved around Mulder, she'd still managed not to say his name. She had raced from the door when Doug's car pulled into driveway, mentioning to him only "the babysitter," not who that babysitter was. Doug had met Anna, so of course "Anna's father" had once come up in conversation, but Scully had quickly steered it away. And she certainly never brought up the fact that the babysitter, Anna's father, was probably this very moment sitting in the bay window of her living room with the lights out, waiting for her to come home. Or the fact that even though she knew the very thought should piss her off, she would somehow be disappointed if he wasn't.
The evening at last winding to a close, Scully tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress her yawn as Doug turned the corner onto her street. It was well after eleven now. The movie had only gotten them to nine-thirty, and she'd merely had one glass of white wine at the bar, although she made it last for an hour. The adrenaline high that kept her wired all night had now come crashing down, and she was almost too spent to care any longer. Let Mulder think whatever he wanted to. She was a grown woman, she was single, and she was allowed to go out on a date at least once every five years. It was a unwritten rule, she was sure.
Nearly asleep with her eyes open, she didn't notice they were home until Doug turned off the car and came around to open her door. Lethargy from the wine and the late hour made her limbs heavy, so she was grateful for his arm to lean on as he escorted her to the door. The neighborhood around them was quiet, as was her condo. Anna would long since be asleep, and Mulder had probably passed out on her couch. Scully dug out her house key, chiding herself for her earlier anxiety, now simply glad to be home.
"I had a nice time tonight, Dana."
Oh, yeah. Doug. The guy with whom she'd spent the last few hours, whom she now had to let down easy. Or, maybe she just didn't have to call him back. Isn't that the way these things worked? She honestly didn't know, rusty as she was at the dating scene.
She put on a friendly smile, one hand on the doorknob. "I did too. It was nice to have a night out." That much was true. It wasn't every week she got wined and dined.
Doug lingered, smiling back. Gentleman that he was, he was waiting until she was safely in her home before he turned to leave. She was sure he had no intention of coming any further than the doorstep, since he knew she had a daughter and babysitter waiting inside.
*The babysitter...* was her last thought as she noticed how close Doug was leaning. She froze when his lips touched hers, determined not to pull away. But she wasn't going to encourage him either, just wait until he was through.
The part of her brain that wasn't panicking performed a detached analysis of the kiss. His lips were warm, mostly dry, and simply pressed up against hers. Skin against skin. Her lipstick had worn off long ago, so there was no cling from the manufactured moisture. It wasn't entirely unpleasant, but there was no pleasure in it either. There was simply...nothing. That's what she felt. Weren't kisses supposed to be pleasurable? When's the last time she had even been kissed?
Oh, yeah, the babysitter...
Scully pulled away abruptly, blushing for reasons entirely different from what Doug was probably assuming. "I should go inside. It's late, and the babysitter's waiting..."
"Yeah, it's late. I'll call you, okay? Goodnight, Dana." He kissed her once more, his lips now cool to her overheated cheek.
"Goodnight," she squeaked, and quickly turned the doorknob.
It seemed dark inside the condo, the only illumination spilling out from the hallway at the back. No longer in the glare of the porch light, she let her eyes adjust to the dimness, surreptitiously scanning the living room for a lanky form waiting in the shadows. When she saw nothing, she sighed in relief. He was probably down the hall in the bathroom, or Anna's room...
And then one of the shadows moved. Unfolded itself from the window seat and quietly approached.
"How was your date?" His voice was light--dangerously so.
As much as that secret part of her was enjoying it, knowing that she had been right, it rankled her that he had been waiting in the dark for her to come home. And that he had seen the kiss.
"Fine," she said. "How did things go with Anna?"
So, it was to be that way, was it? She was too exhausted to play these games with him.
She opened the closet door and took off her coat to hang it up. "I'm going to bed. You're welcome to come over anytime in the morning. I'm sure Anna will be up early, wondering what time you'll be here. Don't bother to knock, in case I'm still asleep. Just use your key and let yourself in."
She stepped back out of the closet to shut the door, only to bump into Mulder. "Oh!" she said softly in surprise.
One arm wrapped her waist, to steady her. His other arm was stretched out beyond her head, reaching into the dark chasm of the closet.
"I just--my coat," he said, close to her ear, making her shiver. She instinctively pulled away, although she had nowhere to go, held in place by his arm and the closet door. She turned and opened her mouth to speak, but any words she intended were carried away by the pair of lips that captured hers.
Captured. That was the right word for it. His moist lips slid against hers possessively, seductively. Nipping, tugging. Caressing without penetrating. She shivered again, and his arm tightened around her waist. There was no place to put her hands but against his chest, and around his neck, and into those baby soft hairs at his nape. His tongue emerged, just briefly, to swipe at the inside of her lower lip. And then he pulled away.
Well, as far away as he could get with both of her arms clinging to his neck for dear life. Finally, his grip at her waist loosened, and she released him, once she was sure that her legs were steady enough to support her. The two of them were no longer touching, but he hadn't backed away. Leaving her with a good view of his heaving chest, since she couldn't drag her eyes any higher.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to do that." His voice was no more than a harsh whisper, breathed into the damp air between them.
"It's okay," she said, aiming for nonchalant, but entirely missing the mark.
"Is it really...okay?"
His words were said with great meaning, giving her the courage to meet his eyes, knowing they would communicate was he was really asking.
Was it okay that he had kissed her--that he had kissed her like *that*?
She nodded, decisively. "Yes." It was definitely okay.
He nodded back, his eyes glued to hers. "Okay."
They stared at each other, the only sound their heavy breaths, still mingling in the tight space.
The sleepy voice down the hallway broke their spell, and they both looked away.
"I'm coming," Scully called weakly and headed in that direction. She heard the closet door and then the front door close as she rounded the corner to the bedrooms. She went into Mommy Mode and focused on her daughter, who was still more asleep than awake.
Only later, when Scully had ceased all motion for the day, her head nestled on her pillow and everything still but the pounding of her heart, did she remember the answer to her earlier question--the last time she'd been kissed.
It was the night they'd conceived Anna.
* * *
It was almost ten o'clock by the time Mulder came knocking at their door the next morning. He knew that Scully would've been up earlier, even on a Saturday, but he wanted to give her some time. It also gave him some time, to make plans.
Scully opened the door. "Mulder."
They stood there for a moment, looking at each other. It was clear she was just as unsure as he was whether last night had changed anything between them.
He broke the moment by holding out to her what he had been hiding behind his back. "I brought these for my best girl."
Scully blushed and reached out for the bouquet of daisies. "Thank you."
He smiled and winked at her, pulling back the flowers. "Why are you assuming these are for you?"
The pitter-patter of little feet quickly approached, followed by "Daddy!"
He stepped into the foyer and crouched down to pull Anna into a one-armed hug.
Leaning back from the embrace, she scolded, very Scully-like, "You didn't kiss me good-bye last night."
Mulder found it hard to feel chastened when she looked so adorable imitating her mother. "Can I kiss you hello right now?"
She smiled. "Okay."
With a kiss on her cheek, he drew back from the embrace and handed her the flowers. "Look what I brought you."
He grinned at her enthusiasm. "Do you think you can find
them some water?"
Anna went running off down the hall. He knew there was a vase in the bathroom where she kept the flowers that he sent. Behind him, Scully was shutting the door. He turned to her and handed her the other thing he'd been hiding, in his pocket.
"This one's for you."
Hesitantly, she took the white envelope that he held out to her. "What is it?"
"Open it and find out."
She glanced at him uncertainly while she opened the envelope.
"Tickets to the symphony? Tonight?"
He shrugged, trying to act more casual than he felt. "It was either that or a hockey game. That's all I could get on such short notice. I took a gamble and guessed this was more your style."
"Mulder...I don't know what to say."
"Say you'll go with me, and that it's not too late to find a babysitter."
When she didn't respond right away, he knew he would have to talk her into it. "Afterward, you can let me down easy. But it would look silly for me to go to this alone."
There was a long pause as she was mulling it over. He prepared himself for her rejection, but she surprised him. "Let me make some calls."
"Daddy!" Anna called from down the hallway.
"I'm being summoned," Mulder said, slowly backing away. Actually, he was grateful for the reprieve. He figured the best thing right now was to allow Scully some space, and the privacy to make her calls. Besides, it might backfire if he did his celebratory dance right in front of her.
* * *
Scully glanced at the clock and cursed under her breath as she realized the time. It had taken her half an hour of sorting through the limited options in her closet before she decided on what had been her first choice, her little black dress. It had been an impulse buy almost a year ago, because every woman needs a little black dress (or, so the saleswoman told her as Scully stood there in front of the rack coveting the dress), but she'd never had an opportunity to wear it. Even last night she had opted for something more conservative. The dress was basic, form-fitting, and sleeveless, with a hemline long enough to be respectable and a neckline low enough to be inappropriate for work.
Scully slid into the dress, happy to see that it fit her right, even after all these months in the closet. The neckline just barely covered the edge of her strapless black bra, but it was enough.
As she stood contemplating herself in the mirror, the doorbell rang.
It figured that this is the one time Mulder would be early instead of late. She zipped up the back of her dress the best she could while jogging for the door. She was still holding the back of her dress together when she pulled the door open.
Mulder's smile faded away as he looked her over. It wasn't a look she was used to being on the receiving end of, but she definitely recognized it. In fact, she thought she could probably get pregnant again just from the way he was looking at her.
His voice was raspy when he finally spoke. "God, you look beautiful."
"Um, thank you." She suddenly felt very self-conscious. "I'm not even ready yet. You're a little early, and I'm running late."
"That's okay, I can wait."
He was still eyeing her like he was a starving wolf and she was the main course. Finally, she came to her senses and stepped back to let him in.
She was still awkwardly holding her dress together in the back. Squelching her better judgment, she turned her back to him and said, "Can you help zip me up?"
He cleared his throat. "Sure," he said, an octave higher than usual.
She felt her hair brushed aside and the tug of the zipper. She shivered as his fingers whispered over her flesh, tracing the way for the zipper.
Leaning close to her ear, he said, "It's a good thing you didn't look like this last night."
She turned and raised an eyebrow at him.
He seemed to lose some of his bravado at her response. "I don't mean you didn't look good last night. I'm just glad you didn't look this good for *him* or he wouldn't have been able to keep his hands off you." He stumbled over his words. "I don't mean that you can't take care of yourself, or that he would've tried anything, I just mean..." He stopped. "I'll shut up now."
After a moment, she smiled, letting him off the hook. "I need to finish getting ready," she said. "I'll be out in a few minutes."
He nodded, looking around. "Where's Anna?"
She walked back toward her bedroom as she answered. "The neighbors are watching her tonight. I figured it would be easier for me to get ready if she went over there early. Otherwise, she likes to 'help' and it takes twice as long."
He followed her to the end of the hallway as she spoke, but respectfully did not encroach further. She ducked into her room.
While she was digging through her closet for the pair of shoes she wanted, she heard the trill of a cell phone somewhere. She started down the hall to go find it, but then she realized it wasn't her phone.
"Mulder." Scully stopped short as she heard him answer. "No, I'm not in California anymore. I'm in Seattle."
Still standing in the hallway, Scully paused to listen. She sincerely hoped he wasn't getting called in on a case. She knew that Mulder worked more than his fair share of hours, and he deserved a weekend off.
"Krycek? Are you sure? He wouldn't register under his own name.... No, Frohike, I know your Kung Fu is the best."
Krycek? She recognized the name as Mulder's former partner, the man who had turned out to be a spy and then disappeared. And she knew that if Mulder's friend Frohike was on the phone, the call wasn't from work.
"Well, how long has he been there?... Tonight isn't a good time."
Scully came down the hall and watched Mulder pace across the living room. She could see the frustration on his face, the mixed emotions over the call. Most of all, she could see the spark of hope in his eyes.
"Even if I could catch a plane right now, I'm not sure I would get there in time.... I know this is the best lead we've had in months, but I'm not sure--"
He paused in surprise at Scully's hand on his arm. "Hold on a minute, Frohike."
"You should go," she said.
She could see in his eyes his warring emotions, disappointment battling with relief.
"But we made plans," he said, without conviction.
"This is about Samantha, isn't it?" Scully nodded toward the phone to indicate the call.
"Yeah." Mulder sighed. "I've been looking for this guy for months. He may have answers that will lead me to my sister."
"Then you need to go."
"What about the symphony?"
"There will be another night."
He hesitated a moment longer, then put the phone back to his ear. "Frohike? What's the first flight you can get me on?"
Scully decided not to stay for the rest of the conversation. She made her way back to the bedroom, removing her earrings as she went. At least she could give up her hunt for the shoes.
She was standing at her mirror, reaching back to unclasp her necklace, when Mulder appeared behind her. He gently pushed her hands aside and undid the clasp for her.
He met her gaze in the mirror. "Scully, are you sure? I don't have to do this."
"Yes, you do." From the pain and confusion in his eyes, she knew he didn't understand her reasons. She turned around to face him. "I told you before, Mulder, I never wanted to hold you back from finding Samantha. That hasn't changed. If you stay here tonight, you'll regret it later. Besides, we both know you'd be thinking about it all evening, and I don't want to spend the whole time at the symphony telling you to stop fidgeting. I know how antsy you get when you want to be somewhere else."
He smirked, half-heartedly. "Memories of budget meetings, huh?"
She nodded, and they shared a small smile.
"I wish you could go with me," he said softly.
She was a bit surprised by that, although she wasn't sure why she should be. She searched deep inside herself for that desire to join the hunt, but it wasn't there, not like it was when she first joined the Bureau. "That's not my life anymore, Mulder."
He nodded, his expression full of understanding and regret. Gently, he reached out and touched her hair. He glanced over her wistfully, the longing in his look leaving her tingling everywhere his gaze had touched. Then he slowly leaned down to give her a lingering kiss.
"Rain check. I promise," he whispered into the space between them.
Letting him go, she didn't follow him to the door.
She felt no frustration or bitterness over his choice, only acceptance. She understood this part of Mulder, perhaps better than he did himself. It wasn't enough for her to have his desire; she needed his commitment. She didn't want him to be here unless it was exactly where he wanted to be. When he was ready to make that choice, then it would be their time. But until then, she owed her daughter more. And she owed more to herself.
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More notes: Don't blame me just because you're a glutton for punishment. :) I do have more to this story planned out, but there really are other things I'm supposed to be working on right now, both in fic and in RL. Really.
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