Helianthus

Mulder’s favorite snack from Scully’s point of view; three vignettes.


She sighs, sitting back to survey the stained wood before her. It’s insult and injury that her sister’s body is barely cold in the ground, and she’s on her hands and knees cleaning the mess the crime scene crew left behind.

In fairness, both Mulder and her mother offered to help, but she’d turned them down. She can’t face her mother’s grief, or Mulder’s guilt.

But it’s not going to come out.

The stain is too deep; the floor is a dull burnt umber where she’s scrubbed at it with the wire brush, the warm oak finish all but stripped, leaving an ugly three-foot by three-foot permanent reminder of Melissa’s death.

There goes the security deposit.

The landlord will be pissed. She’ll have to put down carpet. She wipes at her eyes, the tears appearing and disappearing just as quickly, a leaky faucet broken by a careless tenant.

Damn you, Missy.

The wall is cool and firm against her back, grounding her, and she tosses the brush into the bucket. Gray-brown water splashes onto the unfinished surface, but what does she care? The wood’s already ruined.

She groans, stretching, and watches as the late afternoon light draws long shadows across the hand-me-down coffee table, the chintz sofa, the pine cabinet in the corner. The first apartment that felt like a home, the first place she didn’t share with roommates or lovers, a place that was solely her own, its familiarity and security tarnished.

This will always be the place where she died.

Her fingers press themselves to her lips to stifle a whimper as the weight of dusk settles beneath her skin.

She remembers when she was twelve, and Melissa was fourteen, the two of them camped in the backyard. They’d roll out sleeping bags on the hard, government-subsidized dirt and watch fireflies flickering through the tent’s mesh window, the air fragrant and warm with the scent of lilacs.

Melissa loathed the bugs, the way the humidity teased her hair to frizz, but Dana could persuade her older sister to do almost anything to hide from the boys. Bill was bossy, and Charlie was a goof; the sisters had to stick together.

Away from their mother’s prying eyes, Melissa would roll Dana’s hair in rag strips, rub tinted powders into her eyelids until they were raw, and paint her blunt, boyish fingernails a lurid shade of red that seemed to bleed under the glow of the flashlights.

“For Christ’s sake, would you smile, Dana?” she’d say when they were done, as Scully winced and glared through a half-pound of strange-smelling potions and creams, meant to make her beautiful. “A smile brings it all together.”

Scully tips her head back against the wall and closes her eyes at the rush of memory. Her hand absently traces the grain of the ground beneath her, solid as it is stained. She’d sat at Melissa’s bedside as the last of her life faded, and all Scully could think at the time was how her sister would have hated being the center of such sadness.

It was supposed to be me.

Mulder had offered to drive her home from the hospital, but she’d declined, too frayed, vulnerable, transparent in her grief. The sling on his arm, the telltale rasp in his voice, reminds her that she could have been mourning two deaths—a close call, small graces. She could no more lose him than a sister, but this makes his presence that much more unnerving.

There was a time when she’d considered introducing them. Melissa would have appreciated Mulder’s quirkiness, his far-out theories, his rare and unexpected charm. She would have laughed at all the right moments, been coy and sweet, everything her baby sister was not.

And Mulder would have appreciated her sister’s…well, she doesn’t know, exactly, but if Phoebe Green was any indication, he liked his women tall, leggy, and a touch psychotic. Two out of three ain’t bad.

But she hadn’t gone through with it, and now Melissa was dead. A big fat moot point.

More tears. She reaches for a rag, intending to wipe her nose, but her hand finds something peculiar instead.

Oh.

The fragment is hard, rough at her fingertips, smaller than a button or a penny. She squints, bringing the black, cold, oblong disc to her face, but it’s grown too dark to see.

Her thoughts go to bugs, implants, tracking devices, computer chips, bright-white lights, and cigarette smoke—the strange places with which her partner is intimately familiar. Her late sister would not recognize the Dana who struggles to her feet, weak-kneed, bringing the fragment into the light with her heart in her throat.

Just a seed. A shell.

The laugh bubbles up from nowhere, threatening at the back of her tongue; the sound that escapes her is startling and strange until she stops trying to hold it back.

She laughs at herself, her errant paranoia, her deep relief. She laughs because she doesn’t know what else to do.

She laughs, because her sister would want her to smile.


It’s late by the time she leaves the office.

Even Mulder went home an hour ago, but not before standing in the doorway with a curious look on his face, a look she’d pointedly ignored even though she could see it out of the corner of her eye, could practically feel it radiating off him like fever heat. She’d finally met his gaze with her own—ice blue, no words necessary.

“G’night, Scully,” he’d sighed, and there was no mistaking his disappointment.

She’s outlasted him, staying late every night this week, until the papers on her desk are little but a blur of scratched ivory on oak. She hasn’t slept well since the Padgett case, and Mulder’s persistent hovering hasn’t helped.

She doesn’t know if she lingers to avoid him, or to spite him.

It’s not until she’s left the Hoover building behind, breathing in the stale, humid air of the parking garage, that she realizes she was supposed to go to the store during the lunch break that never happened—instead, she’d stabbed at her wilting salad and argued with her partner over the presence of plasma-slash-mucous found on the body of an unlucky young woman in the North Carolina wilds.

Her theory prevailed, for once, but now she’s heading home to an empty fridge. Again.

She’ll swing by the corner store to pick up the essentials, she decides—milk, coffee filters, tampons, all scrawled on a ripped Post-It note stuffed hastily into her jacket pocket as she flew out the door this morning.

The checkout lane is lined with easy temptations, and she picks up a Snickers. Pathetic excuse for a meal, her inner MD admonishes, but she hasn’t eaten since noon; she can make a case for the protein in the peanuts.

She plunks down the groceries and removes her wallet from her jacket pocket, bringing with it a scattering of hollowed-out sunflower shells. They rattle over the belt, earning a pointed eyebrow from the cashier.

“Sorry,” she mutters, using the back of her hand to wipe the husks away, wondering if Mulder was aiming for her when he was spitting the damned things every which way, or if he dropped them in her pocket after the fact. He’s snuck into every corner of her life over the last six years; whether by accident or not, she supposes it doesn’t matter.

She’s carrying the groceries to the car when her mind conjures an unwelcome thought, born of exhaustion and untended wounds.

I wonder if Diana found them in her pockets, too.

The thought nags her as she takes the Georgetown exit. Things had been better lately, so the sudden wash of petty irritation is raw, too human to acknowledge. She ignores the twist of jealousy in her stomach, ignores it all the way home.

He’s waiting outside her building when she pulls up to the curb, holding up a sheaf of folders in greeting.

“Hey. Thought I’d drop these off.”

“Mulder, it’s late,” she frowns, juggling the groceries, her purse, and her briefcase as she digs into her pocket for the keys. He leans against the wall, watching, doesn’t offer to help.

“Nice to see you, too. Figured you’d be up, anyway.”

He’s hovering again, distracting as she tries to wiggle the stubborn key into the lock. His sense of personal space has always been calibrated to socially inappropriate.

“Come in,” she says through gritted teeth, hoping her irritation conveys, but he’s looking at the files now and doesn’t seem to notice. Her dinner is melting at her hip, a chocolate mess in her pocket.

She flicks on the light to find her apartment clean, tidy, just as she left it. It’s easy to be fastidious, never home long enough to leave an imprint. So still, one might call it sterile; a fitting metaphor on a number of levels.

Perhaps she’s just a figment of some lovestruck writer’s overactive imagination after all.

“So what do you have?” she sighs, brushing off the thought, moving to the counter to divest her briefcase and the paper bag. Her stomach growls, but she won’t give Mulder the satisfaction of teasing her about her less-than-nutritious meal substitute.

“Just some light weekend reading,” he says drily, dropping two inches of paperwork on her coffee table. “Research. I think you may be onto something with your bioluminescent mucus theory, but I maintain it’s unlike any other kind of organism we’ve encountered so far, and we should—”

She grips the edge of the counter hard, letting his words roll over her and away. “It couldn’t wait until Monday?”

He shrugs, as if the thought hadn’t occurred to him, shoving his hands into his pockets. His voice is too pleasant, saccharine. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had plans.”

Her nostrils flare, she lets out a single, calculated breath as she puts the milk away. The cold air from the fridge draws gooseflesh along her arms. “I’ll look at it tomorrow.”

A pause as he clears his throat. “Sorry if it’s not as entertaining as your recent non-fiction habit,” he smirks, and she turns, color rising in her cheeks. The skin of her sternum may not have been broken under the Stranger’s hands, but her ribs and her pride are still bruised.

I think you know me better than that, Mulder.

Mmm. Well, you might want to finish it.

She wipes her damp, shaking hands on a towel and faces him squarely. “What are you implying?”

He closes his eyes, rubs his hand over the back of his neck, suddenly contrite. “Nothing. Never mind.”

“No. Tell me.”

He opens his mouth, closes it again, reaches into his pocket. The crack of the shell between his teeth is unmistakable, reminding her of the mess at the grocery store, her persistent, untoward thoughts…

You hesitated, Mulder. I told you the truth, and you hesitated. Maybe you don’t know me as well as I thought.

The idea is so disturbing, his insinuation so infuriating, that the words fall off her lips before she can stop them. “How’s Agent Fowley?”

“What does that—”

“Did you fuck her?”

He blinks, slowly, as if waking from a dream, as if he can’t reconcile the sentiment coming from his partner’s pristine mouth. “Excuse me?”

“Diana,” she says, this time more slowly, relishing the way his payback feels on her tongue. “Did you fuck her?”

“I don’t—”

“Since you’re so interested in my extracurricular activities, it seemed like a fair question.”

He bites his lip, still staring. “I…don’t see how it’s any of your business.”

“She could compromise the division…everything we’ve worked for.”

“It won’t,” he fumbles, then corrects with emphasis, “She won’t.”

Cornered and caught.

She folds her arms across herself, unconsciously protecting the place where her heart is beating too fast, a fluttering moth. “So, you’re sleeping with her.”

“I…goddammit, Scully, that’s not what I said,” but his eyes shift and a flush creeps into his cheeks, a petulant child caught playing with someone else’s toy.

She lowers her eyes, measuring her gaze with surgical precision.

Don’t lie to me.

He stares as if he doesn’t recognize her. Past the heady thrill of asking the forbidden question, she wonders if she wants to know the answer.

Too late.

“Fine. I slept with Agent Fowley,” he says, “is that better? Again, not that you have any right to the dirty details of my personal life. Consider it a favor, since I know you’re still suffering a bad case of writer’s block.”

“Fuck you,” she spits, surprised by her own brevity.

“Past tense. Slept,” he continues through gritted teeth. He’s in her face, she can feel his breath on her cheek. They’ve gone too far, pushed too hard, this isn’t the time or place—platitudes that do nothing to still the unrelenting tension. She lets her chin drop.

“You should go.”

“You know why I did it, Dana?” His voice is low and full of delicious threats, sending an unwanted shiver to places she doesn’t want to think about.

She meets his gaze once more, sparkling blue crystal to his muddy green, but she can’t keep the tremor from her jaw or the hurt from her voice. “Because she says what you want to hear. She’s easy to believe.”

He shakes his head. “Because you wouldn’t talk to me,” he whispers. “Because you’re so goddamned stubborn, because you won’t admit—”

“Admit what?” she challenges, eyes flashing like heat lightning at the end of the storm.

Say it, then. Say it.

He swallows hard, drops his head, folds.

Agent Scully is already in love.

“Go home, Mulder,” she whispers, adding as an afterthought, a quiet apology, “I’ll see you on Monday.”

He does.

The chocolate tastes delicious.


It’s a Friday night spent like most Friday nights, now that they’ve crossed the invisible boundary between friends and lovers. They’re making up for seven years’ lost time.

Her apartment. There was wine and Vietnamese food and the pretense of work, an untouched pile of documents and photographs spread on her coffee table.

She’d been worrying the tip of a pen with her tongue, absently scanning witness’ statements, making notes for the report she’ll prepare tomorrow, and she’d caught him staring. Pupils dilated, lips parted, damned if they weren’t distracted by each other lately.

A final twirl of her lips round the smooth tip of the pen cap and one perfectly arched eyebrow became their undoing.

She found herself pinned on the couch, a key piece of photographic evidence from the case crumpled beneath her. Later, they’ll explain to Skinner why half the file looks like it spent the night between the sofa cushions.

They’ll agree it was worth it.

Her bed. His hands on her thighs, guiding them apart with long, slow kisses that burn all the way to her core.

She says a silent prayer to God for every sunflower seed that has ever crossed his lips, each one building to this very moment with that smart-ass tongue, and then she can’t think because there’s a familiar warmth at her center, threatening wildfire, its slender fingers spreading up and out, out, until every nerve is alight.

She comes to as the stubble along his chin grazes the tender skin at her belly. His slow, steady crawl back to her is peppered with kisses and tender words, and she lazily threads her fingers into his spiky-soft hair.

His weight is comforting and arousing, but he’s focused on her neck, the soft spot at her throat, running his tongue along the ridge of her clavicle. He growls a possessive vibration into her breast as he tugs gently on a nipple, and her head falls back, eyes closed. She can’t watch, she can’t wait, she needs him but she’s not ready to admit it. Her fingers run the length of his back, tracing the ridge of muscle and bone along his spine, digging her fingers into his ass to guide him, but he sways his hips slightly, just out of reach.

Not yet.

He grins because he knows what he’s doing. They both do, this familiar dance they’ve danced for years, long before their bodies knew what their minds refused to acknowledge.

She reaches between them, holding him, stroking him, and the effect is instantaneous. He stills, breathing hard against her neck, and now it’s her turn to grin. Her given name is a prayer on his lips.

All’s fair, partner.

Sex softens them. She relishes a post-coital Mulder like a fine wine, luxuriating in his warmth at her back as his hand caresses the pale, bare skin of her abdomen, making lazy circles along the ligaments and muscle groups. She recites them in her head as his fingers traverse each one, trying not to think deeper. The words come at times like this, words they can’t otherwise squeeze in between red-eye flights and tired motel rooms, chasing monsters in the dark.

“Did you have names?”

She blinks, wondering how he does this; how he can delve into her deepest, most sensitive recesses and hit that last, grating nerve. Somehow, the question makes her feel more vulnerable than if she were tied and splayed naked before him—a not entirely unwelcome proposition given their relationship’s recent evolution, but that’s for later, she thinks.

She stalls. “What do you mean?”

“The IVF.” He softens this prying open of her rusty wounds with a kiss to her porcelain shoulder, his five-turned-eleven o’clock shadow scraping the oversensitive skin.

She resents it and craves it in equal measure, his prying. No means yes, yes means no, but she doesn’t have a word for the duality of her feelings in her feminist vocabulary.

A wire of unease draws itself taut across the back of her shoulders. “No. No names,” she lies.

Melissa, for a girl. William, for a boy.

Mulder is as persistent with her inner workings as he is with everything else—both in bed, and out.

“You could try again.”

She notes his choice of pronoun—”you”, not “we”. The money’s in the sperm bank, as it were, and there are egg donors, surrogates, adoption…too much potential lost hope to quantify.

“I don’t think so.”

He makes a noncommittal sound, hand splayed warm and tender across the empty space within. “What do you think he’d have looked like?”

She frowns. Sometimes a conversation with Mulder feels like sailing during a hurricane, the waves and wind tossing her about hard enough to incur whiplash.

“Newborns look the same,” she says, letting her voice drop into a clinical monotone of protection, “Most perceive them to look more like the father at first, but that perception is biased. One theory suggests it’s an evolutionary attachment mechanism, a conditioned reaction on the part of the mother to keep the father from straying…”

She pauses, unwittingly caught on the f-word. She tries to picture her partner with spit-up on his Armani, tripping over alphabet blocks to warm a bottle for the midnight feeding, pinning cryptic to-dos on the fridge: Bigfoot sighting, AZ…US Air 2365 3:35p…need diapers.

It occurs to her that her subconscious picked him for more than his friendship, or his genetic resilience; his life left no room for the messy entanglements a baby would bring. Having his child meant she could let him go.

And yet, here they lie, entangled, metaphorically and otherwise. A laugh dies in her throat at the irony.

“What makes you think it would have been a ‘he’?” she asks, an attempt to sound playful that falls flat.

“I don’t know,” he admits, “Guess I imagined it that way.”

He leans on his elbow, drawing himself up and away, and she mourns the loss of his skin against hers, all the while she wants to crawl to the other side of the bed and close her eyes until he’s gone, evaporated into the new morning like dew.

That he imagined anything, save for making an intimate deposit in a sterile plastic cup, is beyond her comprehension. She feels selfish, sad, and furious at once. Her heart cracks along weathered fault lines at the thought that he might have lost something in their failed experiment, too.

“You’d make a good mom,” he says, forced nonchalance evident in the soft click in his throat when he swallows. He lies back, staring hard at some point beyond the ceiling that she’ll never be able to reach.

“Maybe,” she acquiesces. She threads their fingers together and accepts what he can offer; her consolation prize, now drifting off to sleep.

He rouses early, mattress shifting, murmuring something about a run, there’s coffee, ticklish nuzzling at her ear. A golden autumn light spills through the blinds. By the time she wakes, he’s gone.

She finds his shirt under the bed, half-empty glasses on the table, yesterday’s tie thrown over the back of the couch. She lets the mess lie; it feels like home.

Coffee beckons as promised, its warm, sultry scent drawing her like a magnet as she crosses the floor to the kitchen. There’s a pinch, a prick at her heel, and she scowls until she sees it, deeply entwined in the carpet’s plush pile. Then, a smile, the softest quirk of her lips.

Missed one.

She picks it up, notes this one has not yet been cracked open; it holds something small and tender. Five-second rule be damned, she slips it between her lips. She relishes the salt, the sharp crack of the shell between her teeth, the fullness on her tongue as the seed bursts forth, ripe, and full of possibility.

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