Dasha (dashakay) wrote in secretprobation,
Dasha
dashakay
secretprobation

Red Valerian 11: The Seasons

FANDOM: X-Files
SUMMARY: A relationship through the four seasons.
RATING: PG-13
PAIRINGS: Mulder/Scully romance, some allusions to Skinner/Scully
SPOILERS: Fifth season
DISCLAIMER: They are the children of CC, not me
DATE POSTED: November 1998
WORD COUNT: 6,576

Autumn

The scent of burning leaves drifts into the car as they speed down a New Hampshire highway. Trees alive with color become a blur of gold and red with the motion.

For a brief moment he wants to stop the car and run through a pile of leaves, to hear them crunch under his loafer-clad feet. But he can't.

They're late to interview a witness and besides, Scully is yelling at him.

Perhaps yelling is too strong a word, but she's most definitely angry, lecturing him in her patented schoolmarmish tone, her hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. "You were supposed to meet me at noon. Where were you?"

Chastened, he stares at the dashboard of the Taurus. "I had a lead."

Her lips are drawn together in a thin line. "A lead." She pauses, most likely for maximum effect, and it works. "Why didn't you call?"

She sounds remarkably like his mother, when she'd chew out his father for tracking mud or snow onto her Persian carpets. "I forgot?" he lamely offers.

The car jerks off the road onto the shoulder. Here's his chance, his big opportunity to fling the door open and escape, into the woods, into the leaves. Instead, he finds himself staying to await his judgment.

Scully opens the driver's side door and dashes out and the next thing he sees is her, dwarfed by her beige trench coat, pacing in front of the car. Her hands are balled into fists.

Outside of the car, the crisp October air smells more heavily of the musk of burning leaves. It smells like Saturdays of enforced raking, of getting drunk in the stands at football games, of walking to school in the pre-dawn light. He touches her arm and she whirls around, her hair an aureole of deepest red. "I'm sorry," he says, his arms hanging limply at his sides.

A tiny breath of air escapes her, forming a cloud of steam. "You say you're sorry every time you do this, but nothing changes."

He doesn't know what to say to that. Words have fled.

Another small sigh from her. "Mulder, who am I?"

"Who are you?" He's confused. She has a tricky and deft touch with language, ever able to manipulate it like F. Lee Bailey, able to trap him with the most innocuous of questions. It's a dangerous, dangerous path he's traveling here with her. His heart beats in a staccato tempo and he finds his head beginning to pound in concert with his racing pulse.

"I'm your partner. Let's forget about the other side of our relationship for the moment. " Her voice is even, the words clipped between her white teeth. "I'm your partner and when you go off on your own like that, that tells me that you're not thinking of me as your partner, your equal. You aren't trusting me."

"It was last minute, I wasn't thinking."

Her eyes become sad and exhausted, the little lines radiating from the corners more visible than usual in the midday autumn sunshine. "You don't think, that's the problem. We've discussed this again and again and then you turn around and take off on me. I can't provide you adequate backup when I don't know where you are and what you're doing."

His chest begins to tighten. Accountability, that's what she's asking for.

Scully leans against the car and shoves her hands in the pockets of her coat. "This is my quest, too," she says in a nearly inaudible voice.

"I know." He bows his head.

"Then let me own it. It's not yours now, it's ours. It belongs to me as much as it does you and I don't want you to forget that, not for one second."

Damn her, she's right.

An index finger is raised in warning. "It has to change, now. I'm not going to make you promise me, but I'm telling you, what happened today, what has happened so many times in the past will happen no longer."

She doesn't need to speak the threat, it hides between her carefully chosen words.

Ditch me again and I'm leaving.

And that, to him, would mean the end of everything.

Damn her, she's right.

He smooths the hair that is blown by the wind across her forehead. "What can I say to make this right?"

Impossibly blue eyes lift to meet his. "You can't say anything. All you can do is the right thing."

She pulls away from him and gets back in the driver's seat, starts the car.

For a moment he stares at the technicolor leaves hanging on the maples, just waiting to dry enough to drop on the ground, where they will be swept away by winter. Once more, he considers bolting away from there, to run in the leaves where he will be free, answerable to no one, untethered,scraping his way across the floor of the forest.

Instead, he gets in the car and he and Scully drive off to the interview, passing more fall colors on the way.


Winter


The sun is just setting behind Lone Mountain when she decides to wake him. He's sprawled out on the puffy beige couch, his head propped by several pillows, a plaid wool afghan thrown across his legs. For a minute she wavers in her decision to awaken him; his face is so at peace. Still, she
knows she must and gently shakes his shoulder. "Mulder," she softly says, "time to wake up."

Without opening his eyes, he groans in protest.

Scully leans in closer, so that her lips are nearly touching the evening stubble on his cheeks. "Open your eyes," she says.

His hazel eyes open. "How are you feeling?" she asks.

"Head hurts," he moans.

She says briskly, "That happens when you whack your head on a chairlift pole." Moving her index finger in front of his eyes, she notes that they appear to appropriately track her movements. Snapping on the lamp, the light makes his pupils contract. He's going to be fine.

This morning they were on the first run of the day, appropriately named Tippy's Tumble. She stood at the top of the mountain, gaping at the majestic view spread before her. It was only their second day of skiing at Big Sky and already she was hopelessly in love with the rugged mountains of the Northern Rockies.

Mulder skied to her side and stopped with a flamboyant swoosh of snow.

"I'll race you to the bottom," he said, adjusting his sunglasses.

"Yeah, in my dreams," she said. Mulder was a far better skier than she, having had the childhood privilege of trips to Vail and Snowmass.

She didn't learn to ski until college, when she spent several vacations with her roommate Sally in her hometown of Stowe, Vermont.

Taking off like quicksilver and skiing the fall line, Mulder quickly disappeared down the run. Scully laughed at his typical derring-do and started making her way along the fairly steep and icy trail, forming the wide traverses of the cautious skier.

This was a good idea, she thought, as the snow-covered trees rushed past and the cold wind blew in her face. Christmas in Montana, far, far away
from the chaos of the Bureau. She could have spent the holidays in San Diego with her family, but the memories of the year before were still too raw and tender to return there just yet. Instead, she and Mulder cashed in some of their many frequent flyer miles and headed for twelve days of skiing and lolling in the Jacuzzi on the deck of their rented condominium.

Near the bottom of the mountain, she turned a bend in the run and spotted a navy jacket lying in a heap near the pole of the chairlift.

Her heart lurched painfully. It was Mulder and he was lying perfectly still.

With as much speed as her shaking body could muster she sped to the bottom of the slope, images of Sonny Bono and that Kennedy brother tormenting her all the way down. No no no, she desperately thought until she reached him.

Another skier, a young man in a green jacket, had stopped by Mulder. "He's out cold," he drawled in a southern voice.

Scully snapped into physician mode. "I'm a doctor," she breathlessly said. "Go get the Ski Patrol!"

The man nodded and skied away. She was glad to see he was an excellent skier. Stepping out of her bindings, she planted her skis in the snow
and bent to Mulder. "Mulder!" she shouted, attempting to rouse him. Stripping off her gloves, she found a pulse.

His eyes opened and she breathed a sigh of relief. He struggled to sit up and she stilled him with her hand. "Don't move," she ordered.

"Scully?" he asked, his face twisting in confusion. "Where are we?"

A concussion, she rapidly told herself, short-term memory loss. "We're in Montana," she said, removing her ski jacket and covering him with it, in
case he was going into shock. His pupils were dilated and his breathing rapid.

"Montana?" He sounded as if he might begin to cry. "What are we doing here, a case?"

She smiled to reassure him and took his gloved hand. "We're on vacation; it's Christmas Eve today. You need to calm down, Mulder. Take slow, easy
breaths." She mimicked breathing for him.

He shook his head against the snow and Scully was glad she'd insisted he bring his hat along that morning. "I...I don't remember."

Squeezing his hand, she tried to smile again. "It's okay," she murmured. "You will."

Struggling to sit up again, his face turned a greenish shade. "Oh God," he groaned, "I think I'm going to throw up."

"You need to stay still. Calm down."

"But why?" he asked. "Why are we here?"

It's just a concussion, she told herself, but fear still ratcheted at her. God, couldn't they even have a vacation together without some sort of disaster? Suddenly Christmas in San Diego didn't seem like such an awful idea.

Just then, two red-jacketed Ski Patrol members whooshed up. "I'm a doctor," she explained to them. "I don't think he has a spinal injury, just a concussion. He seems able to sit up."

With Scully's help, the two women loaded Mulder onto their rescue sled and headed down the mountain. An hour later, Mulder and Scully were down
the mountain at the Bozeman Hospital, where the ER doctor dryly commented that Mulder was their third accident from Big Sky that morning. By this
time Mulder was coherent and able to remember the trip to the ski resort. After an exam and a CAT scan, Mulder was released to Scully's care, a
pale, shaken and apologetic version of himself.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled as they headed back to Big Sky in their rented Explorer.

She patted his hand. "It was icy and you were skiing too fast, thinking you were sixteen again. It's okay."

He smiled and rubbed his eyes. "I wanted this to be perfect. It's Christmas. Our first Christmas together."

"You're alive, Mulder. That's all that counts."

Only Mulder could injure himself while on vacation. He had to do everything to the hilt, she thought as she navigated the tricky curves

of the road leading to Mountain Village. She couldn't be angry with him for his recklessness, that was how Mulder lived, at top speed.

Mulder sits up and grimaces. "What time is it?" he asks, stretching his arms.

"About five," she says, adjusting the pillows against his back.

He smiles crookedly. "Time flies when you ski too fast." A whack to the head doesn't seem to have impaired his sense of humor.

"Are you hungry? I made some dinner."

"Yeah, I think so. What did you make?"

"I put off the lasagna until tomorrow, when you'll be able to appreciate it more. I roasted a chicken and made some mashed potatoes. Good old-fashioned comfort food." She sits on the floor next to the couch and takes his warm hand in hers.

Mulder pulls her hand to his mouth and kisses it. "Merry Christmas."

"Happy Late Chanukah," she replies. They celebrated his holiday back home with a latke burning fiasco and eight presents. Hers from him were mostly from Victoria's Secret.

After dinner Mulder perks up a bit and she lights a fire in the stone fireplace and turns the stereo to Christmas carols. A woman with a meltingly sweet soprano voice sings "What Child Is This?" and a stab of pain for Emily shoots through her to the core. This time of year will always remain bittersweet for the memories of her lost daughter.

In the corner of the main room of the condo is a blue balsam, covered with multicolored balls and lights, kindly provided by the management.

Scully lies down beneath the boughs of the tree and stares up at the glowing lights, just like she used to as a child. Mulder joins her on the floor, so that his head is touching hers.

Scully shuts her eyes and smiles, inhaling the crisp essence of the tree. "This is so...Christmas," she says.

"Scully, when did you lose your virginity?" Mulder asks.

She nearly sits up in surprise. Is his concussion worse than she suspected? She laughs low in her throat. "That's a little out of left field. Are you sure you're okay?"

He chuckles. "I assure you, my brain is no more damaged than usual. I just thought this would be a good time for us to, uh, get to know each other."

Oh, Mulder. "After all this time, I'm surprised I haven't told you yet. Okay, I'm game. Let's see, I was nineteen and a freshman at Berkeley. Josh Rosenblum, we'd been going out for almost a semester and I figured it was about time, best to just get it out of the way."

"How was it?" She can almost hear the leer in his voice.

"Pretty disappointing, not too much fun at all. How about you? If you dish it out, you have to take it."

"Fair enough. My first was Kelly Reilly. It lasted all of thirty seconds and I was deeply embarrassed."

She laughs, not unkindly, picturing a younger, gawkier Mulder, eagerly fumbling his way through the experience.

"Hey," he says, his voice surprised. "I just realized something."

"What's that?"

"Kelly had red hair. I never made the connection before."

"So you're saying that your attraction to me stems from your first sexual experience? Like Nabokov's Humbert Humbert, eternally searching for the
incarnation of his childhood love?"

He snorts. "Except for the part about being a European pedophile, you're exactly right. No, I've never had a particular thing for redheads, just
one redhead in particular."

She smiles. "Nice play on words. Okay, if you're going to ask me a question like that, then I get one."

"Shoot."

"How many times have you been in love?"

"Oh, good question. I didn't love Phoebe, believe it or not. I guess I loved Diana in my way, but I think I loved the idea of her more than the actual woman."

Scully grits her teeth at the mention of Diana. One of her greatest failings as a person is jealousy. She's trying to work on it, really, she is, but she finds it difficult. She remembers all too well Diana's striking face and the way she called him Fox in low, purring tones. "The idea of Diana?"

He sounds uncomfortable, but gamely continues. "It was nice having someone who understood me, who could believe what I believed and didn't
think I was completely out of my mind." He pauses. "Do you mind my talking about her?"

Scully shakes her head. "I wouldn't have asked you the question if I did," she lies.

"I loved her, but after she left, she didn't leave much of a hole in my psyche. Diana was gone and I moved on. And you, how many times have you been in love?"

She thinks of Jack and her worship of him so many years ago. Could that be called love? No, she decides, she knows what love is now. There is no
hesitation in her voice. "Just you, Mulder. You're the only one."

His hand reaches up and smooths her hair. "I'm a lucky man."

"And don't forget it for a minute," she smiles.

"Okay, I have another question."

"I'm starting to feel like I'm being interrogated here, Mulder."

"We can stop, then."

"No, I'm kidding," she says. "Ask away."

He is silent for a minute and she wonders what he's formulating in that brain of his. "Why Skinner?"

Scully opens her eyes and looks up at the tree's lights. If she squints her eyes they form a beautiful blur of color. "I can't fully articulate it," she says. "I never told you this before, but I made the first move in Little Rock."

His voice sounds surprised. "You did?"

"Yes," she says simply. "I needed to be close to someone that night and he was there." Somehow it was easier to tell this not looking at Mulder's
face.

"And I wasn't..."

"Mulder," she sighs. "I don't think the two of us would have worked then. I wasn't ready for what you and I have now."

"What made you ready?"

"Distancing myself from you. You were too close to everything that was painful in my life." A few errant tears begin to trickle down her face and she feels ashamed. She was raised to believe that crying was the mark of a coward.

She hears Mulder sit up with a small groan and he lays down by her side. His voice sounds choked. "I apologize for all the pain you've endured in your life with me."

Turning to him, she presses her cheek against the roughness of his whiskers. "You don't need to apologize," she says. "I made the choice to live this life. I have to take responsibility for my pain. A long time ago I told you I wouldn't change a day, and I still stand by those words."

He kisses her on the brow, a chaste, tender kiss that reminds her of their kiss in the hallway of the hospital in Allentown. Breathing in his smell, her heart expands with the rush of emotion she feels.

Mulder's eyes are drooping more that usual and she realizes he's getting sleepy again. She runs her fingertip along the extravagant curve of his
lower lip. "We kind of grew on each other, didn't we Scully?" he slurs. "Like moss or ivy or maybe lichen..."

"I think it's time to get you to bed," she murmurs.

"You promise?" he smirks.

She helps him up and he totters off to the bedroom like a man with one drink too many in his gut. After changing into a t-shirt and a pair of
leggings, she climbs in next to him and moves against his warm back. Already half-asleep, Mulder mutters, "You know what my greatest fear is?"

Nuzzling her nose into his neck, she says, "What's that?"

"Living without you..." His voice trails off and he breathes deeply in slumber.

I feel the same way, she thinks and listens to his breathing in the darkness.

After a few minutes she climbs back out of bed and pulls on her flannel bathrobe. In the kitchen she pours a glass of Pinot Noir and takes it into the living room, lit only by the glow of the Christmas tree. From the closet she brings out the bag of presents they hauled from Washington and carefully arranges them under the branches.

For a long time she stands at the window, sipping wine and staring at Lone Mountain, gleaming white in the dark sky. Give us time, she pleads with
her God, a prayer as familiar to her now as the Hail Mary and the Our Father.

Lord, give us time.



Spring

Scully's low moaning jolts him out of his sleep.

He leans over and flicks on the bedside lamp. On her side, she is curled up with her hands covering her eyes, now whimpering like a wounded animal. Heart pounding, he strokes her shoulder. "Scully?" he says softly. "Hey Scully, wake up."

Thrashing her head wildly on the pillow, she seems utterly disoriented. "A bad dream," he says into her ear. "That's all it was, a bad dream."

She sits up, panting from the adrenaline rush of her nightmare, tears streaming down her face. "Wh-wh-where?" she stutters.

He leans closer and rubs her back, damp under her t-shirt. "You're here, in your bed," he patiently explains. This is what she says to him when he
wakes from nightmares. She's never had one in his presence before.

Scully lets out her breath in a huge whoosh. "Oh God," she sighs, shaking her mussed head and blinking rapidly.

Continuing to rub slow circles on her lower back, he asks, "Are you okay?"

She nods.

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

A definite shake of her head tells him no.

"Come on, Scully, it'll help if you let it out."

Another shake of her head. "I'm fine."

Ah, yes. Her all-inclusive response to every kind of distress. She's fine. Scully is always fine, not a hair out of place.

She stands up, pulling her scrunched-up shirt down. "I need some water," she says and walks out of the bedroom.

Mulder flops down on the pillow and glances at the glow of the clock radio. It's 3:52 am, that magical time of the night when the nightmares visit.

Unlike him, Scully is usually the soundest of sleepers. The moment her head hits the pillow she's down for the count, rarely stirring until the alarm starts buzzing. He's the one who often wanders the night like a wraith. Many nights he gives up the idea of sleeping in a bed and camps out on the couch until the nonsense of late night talk shows lulls him back to sleep. Scully has learned to not take this as an insult on the nights they spend together. It's just how his body chemistry works.

It saddens him to think that perhaps sleep isn't a safe place for her, either. That the nightmares are part of her life, too. Certainly she has enough material for the nightmares of several women.

Guilt stabs through his abdomen. It's life with me that wakes her up moaning, he thinks.

Scully deserves better, of course. A man who is her refuge, her safety against the encroaching danger. Why she didn't stay with Skinner is a
question he'll never be able to fully answer.

Over and over again she has patiently told him she regrets nothing, but it doesn't mean he doesn't carry his own load of regret upon his back.

Thanks to him she's had her health and happiness threatened, her safety stripped away, he fertility and memories taken.

He fails to understand why she stays.

If he were a less selfish man he would let her go, but he can't. He needs her that much.

His contradictory self tells him to quit being such an idiot, that she chose him. If she wanted to leave, she'd leave. Scully has always owned an honest heart.

Calmed, he smiles in the glow of the lamp. She loves him. God knows why, but she does.

Another glance at the clock tells him that fifteen minutes have passed since Scully left for her glass of water. He gets out of bed and pulls on the sweatpants and t-shirt he earlier threw on the chair and heads out into the living room. One of the lamps is turned on, but she's not there, or in the kitchen or bathroom either. With a mounting sense of alarm, Mulder grabs his keys off the end table and heads out the front door. He finds her sitting on the steps of her building, bundled in her red sweatshirt against the chill of the March air.

Knees drawn up, she is resting her chin on her cupped palm. He sits next to her and touches her shoulder. "Hi," he says.

She turns her face to him, the tear streaks visible on her face in the porch light. "Hi," she echoes.

"I wanted to make sure you were okay."

Scully nods. "I'm just thinking."

"Care to tell me about it?"

She shuts her eyes. "No, I need to be alone right now."

His hand reaches out to stroke her cool cheek. "I think you'd feel better if you talked to me," he says, frustrated at her refusal to open up.

Abruptly pulling away from his hand, she sighs sharply. "Mulder, please, respect my need to be alone and go back to bed."

He, too, sighs. "Scully, come on."

This time the anger is palpable in her face. "Mulder," she says in an unmistakable tone of warning.

"Fine," he says, stung, and retreats back into her building.

In the living room he settles on the couch and reflexively turns on the television to Jerry Springer, where two fat women are screaming at each other over some skinny guy with a bad mustache. He leans into the cushions and covers his legs with the wool throw.

He feels faintly ashamed for pushing her to give more than she could, but after so many years together he wishes she would not only trust him with
her body and mind, but with her fear. Scully is intimately acquainted with his demons, but he still knows little of what runs beneath her placid exterior.

Let me in.

The door opens and Scully walks in, passing him on the way to the bedroom without looking in his direction. Mulder waits a minute and then clicks off the TV and dims the lamp.

The bedroom is dark and he can just barely see the lump her small body makes under the covers. He stands for a moment in the doorway, wondering
if perhaps it might be a better idea to just go home. No, he thinks, it's time to act like a man and be there for the bad times as well as the good. He shucks off his sweatpants and climbs in bed.

Scully shifts, rolling onto her stomach. He freezes, not knowing what to do. Should he try to comfort her again or respect her need for privacy?
Sometimes he wishes she had come to him with an owner's manual so he'd always be sure of the right thing to say and do. For a man of his age, he still has a difficult time deciphering the enigma that is woman, that is Scully.

"You left me," she mumbles into her pillow.

He wonders if he's hearing her right. "What did I do?"

She raises her head from the pillow. "My dream. You left me."

"Why did I do that?"

For a long time she is quiet and her silence seems to fill the room, to become its own entity, living and breathing with the two of them. Again she moves, rolling onto her back and covering her face with her arm. Her voice is soft and curiously devoid of affect when she finally chooses to speak. "I'm infertile, Mulder."

He sighs, sadness settling on his chest like goosedown. "I know." Of course he does, he knew long before she herself knew, another in his long list of crimes against Scully.

"Some day you'll leave me for it," she says in that flat voice.

Moving onto his side, he faces her. "Do you really think that?"

"I know it."

"You can't possibly know that."

She sits up and runs her hands through her hair. "Mulder, procreation is one of the most primal human instincts. Some day you'll want a child and I can't give it to you."

Sitting up, he pulls her towards him, so that she is sitting in the vee of his legs. "Have I ever mentioned wanting a child?" he says into the nape of her soft neck.

Her head dips down. "You will."

"You presume to know an awful lot about my motives."

"I'm being realistic."

He kisses her on the side of the neck and she flinches at the touch. "No," he says, struggling to keep his voice even. "You're scared and you have the right to be."

Scully's voice is ragged and exhausted. "Mulder, I'm angry right now. Not at you, but at the fact that my ability to have children was taken from me. I never really gave it much thought, you know? I assumed that if I decided to have a child, I would." Her tone rises and he can hear the tears choking her throat. "I don't even know if I want to have children, but now I don't even have that choice. It was taken from me, against my will."

Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulls her closer and this time she doesn't move away. "I know," he says, trying to soothe. "I'm angry, too.
You didn't deserve this. No woman deserves this. You can be as angry as you want."

She leans into his shoulder, smelling of her usual delectable late night combination of sex and almonds. It takes all his willpower not to become hard at her nearness in this most inappropriate time. "Loving you makes it harder, more difficult to bear, Mulder."

Guilt swirls about his head like a malevolent spirit. He struggles to find the right words, but only the honest ones come to mind. "I wish I had the magic words to make it all better for you," he says. "I don't. Nothing I can say or do will return what was taken from you. There's no easy answer. All I can do is reassure you that whether or not you can have a child, I will continue to love you."

"I wish I could believe that."

Hot tears spark his eyes. Has she so little faith in him after all they've lived through together? His arms wrap tighter and then release her. "Scully, turn around," he rasps.

Wordlessly, she obeys. He flicks on the light and she squints at the brightness. Taking her shaking hand, he presses it to his chest, terrified by the words he's about to say to her. "Scully, there's a very old vow and I want to make it you now, despite the lack of clergy or witnesses." He clears his throat, heart beating madly. Slow and steady is what wins the race, he thinks and begins. "For richer or poorer, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, until death parts us."

Scully shuts her eyes and sits with infinite stillness. He fears the worst, that she hasn't taken his vow seriously. Her eyes open, glassy with tears. "You mean it," she states.

He nods.

Pressing her forehead against his, her voice is wistful, but he thinks he just may discern a note of hope there as well. "Until death parts us."

He takes her into his arms and holds her. She is always so strong, he thinks, the force that keeps me together, but now I know that I can do the same for her. "Until death parts us," he repeats. "My words can't mitigate your pain, Scully, but no matter where life takes us, I'm here."

She slides onto her side, smiling faintly. "It's never going to be easy for us, is it?"

Snapping off the light, he lies down, facing her. "We're on a strange journey together, but I think it's worth it."

"It is," she agrees with a grave nod of her head.

Her warm body presses against him. "I'm glad we're not alone."

Mulder's last thoughts before slipping into sleep are full of gratitude. Tonight she shared her secret self, and for that he can only be grateful.


Summer


The screen door bangs shut as Mulder heads out to the back porch. Scully stands at the wood table and surveys the damage they made with dinner. It looks like they had a dinner party for eight, rather than two people feasting on grilled shrimp and salad. How do they manage to make such a mess, she wonders with a grin on her face. Her natural instinct is to start the cleaning, to do the dishes and get the tablecloth into the washer, but she shakes her head. Not tonight. It's the most beautiful of summer evenings, warm but not muggy and the bugs don't seem to be out in full force either. Instead she blows out the candles and cuts two slices of the lemon cake they bought on the way down to the Cape from Boston.

The hundred year-old wooden house, set on a pond on the Cape, belongs to her friend Ellen's parents, who kindly lent it to her for five days. The
back porch overlooks the shimmering water of Marble Pond. Mulder is sitting on the old wicker couch, staring at the water. He has the citronella torches lit on either end of the porch and the air reeks of the sharp tang of the smoke.

She sits beside him, the wicker on the couch crackling. "You look pensive," she says.

He looks up, startled from his thoughts and smiles to see her. "We're not that far from the Vineyard."

Oh. Somehow she forgot about that. "I'm sorry," she says. "We should have gone somewhere else."

Funny how they always seem to get it a little bit wrong, just the tiniest millimeter off-center.

He takes her hand. "This is fine," he says. "It just brings back memories. Something about the way the air smells here. I might be imagining things, but I swear I can smell the ocean."

She sniffs the air and catches the salty tang. "I smell it, too. We're only a few miles away."

Mulder pounces on the lemon cake and disposes of it in a few huge bites. She's never failed to be surprised by how much food he can stuff in his
mouth. He still eats like the rangy teenage boy he must have been and she imagines him standing in front of a full refrigerator, complaining to his
mother that there is nothing to eat.

He swallows and grins. "Not all the memories are bad," he says. "Not everything in my life was horrible back then, even after she was gone."

She chews her more judicious bite of cake. "What was it like then?" she asks.

He puts the plate on the floor and cocks his head, as if trying to conjure the memories. "Quiet," he finally says. "It was quiet for a long time, all of us afraid to say anything to each other, for fear of saying the wrong thing, of opening the wounds."

Like I've done tonight, she thinks with guilt. "I'm sorry," she says.

"For bringing it up? It's fine, really it is. It was a long time ago."

But it's still close to your heart, she thinks.

He speaks up again. "I'm going to have to face it some time," he says.

"Face what?"

"My father's house in West Tisbury. He left it to me, and it's just sitting there. I have to go there one of these days, get it ready to sell."

"Is that what you want to do?"

He nods. "The house has very few good memories for me. To me it will always be the house where my father was killed." Oh God, the night he called her, his voice shattered and papery with fear and pain. The way he stumbled into her apartment, fresh from the airport, covered in his father's blood and burning with fever.

Scully stares into the dark, at the bugs swarming around the light attached to the side of the house. "We could go there tomorrow," she cautiously offers. "If you're ready," she amends.

Looking down at his hands, he smiles in chagrin. "I don't know if I am," he simply says.

She leans against him. "If you're not ready, you don't have to. The house isn't going anywhere."

He kisses her cheek with infinite tenderness. "You understand," he says.

Nodding, she smiles at him. "I'm learning to understand you."

He takes her by the hand and stands up. "What are you doing?" she asks.

"Let's go down to the pond," he says. They carefully make their way down the stone path to the dock and walk to the end, admiring the glow the other four pond houses make on the still surface of the water.

Scully again breathes in the faint sea breeze, mingled with the rich smell of the pond water. He puts his arm around her. "It's been a year," he says.

In the dark, her face flushes. She hasn't said anything to him, but he remembers what July sixteen signifies. Their coming together, after every trial and tribulation known to man and woman. The night she took him by the hand and led him into her dark bedroom. The night they each stood naked before the other and smiled at the sight. The night they chose to forgive each other for the pain and start their lives over. Oh, the night rain beat against the windows and she cried out at his touch between the flashes of lightning.

She rests her head on his shoulder and her mouth automatically turns up into a smile. "A year," she echoes.

Three hundred and sixty-five days since they came together. It seems longer than that. It feels like forever.

"Same time, this dock next year?" Mulder asks, his hand sliding under her t-shirt and up her bare back.

"I'll be the one smelling like Avon Skin-so-Soft," she chuckles.

He pulls her closer and kisses her with his lemon flavored mouth, his lips soft and giving. She pulls away. "What?" he asks, face twisting.

She takes his hand. "Let's go to bed," she softly says.

Hand-in-hand they walk back up the stone path to the old house.

END

Thanks to Alanna and Gwen for beta reading.
Tags: fandom: x-files, pairing: mulder/scully, pairing: scully/skinner, series: red valerian, year: 1998
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