Author’s Notes: Mild spoilers for the 2016 revival.
In the aftermath, she can’t pinpoint what led them to this moment.
Whether it was the way his fingers interlocked above their heads as his body moved over hers, or the way he said her name—low and husky, like the answer to a long-lost question. Maybe it was how he leaned down for a kiss but stopped halfway, transfixed, watching her, until their eyes met and held her in his grip.
Her release was unexpected, like drowning, and only when it was over and she’s resting in the crook of his arm does she realize what she’s done. She swallows hard, tasting something like love and regret in the back of her throat.
“Missed you,” he says, nose brushing her cheek. His arm around her waist, once a comfort, is now a lead weight, pulling her under.
“You missed the sex,” she murmurs, turning away, gathering the sheet around her.
“I did. As did you, if that,” he says, patting her now-empty spot on the mattress, “was any indication.”
She’s perched on the edge of the bed, eyes closed, caught between moments. Magnetism draws her backward, conscience pulls her taut. She thinks of her apartment, still in boxes, the kitchen table with the single wilting ficus her mother bought as a housewarming gift, the spare bunk in the physicians’ lounge that her colleagues silently reserve for her by unspoken rule.
She’d once told an obsessed writer that loneliness was a choice, but now she’s unconvinced. Was it truly a choice when the only alternative was being consumed?
When she opens her eyes, she’s still sitting on their old bed, in their old house—exactly the same as she’d left it six months ago, now with a thick layer of dust on top.
“Maybe so,” she sighs, leaning down to grasp her stockings, the fine mesh a whisper against her fingertips. “It’s easy to fall back into codependent patterns.”
“Codependency implies both of us,” he says, and she can hear the bitter smile in his voice. “And you’ve never been good at dependencies.”
She draws herself up, begins gathering the rest of her clothes, still holding the sheet to her chest, as if the thin cotton fabric could protect her heart, as if it weren’t past the point of salvation.
The button on her shirt won’t go into its clasp—it’s slippery, she reasons. Her fingers are cold; the house was always drafty. She swears under her breath, tries again. “He’s around.”
“Making sure Daddy’s money gets put to good use?”
She shoots him a look out of the corner of her eye. “Something like that.”
Mulder leans back, one arm behind his head, a pose reminiscent of late nights in cheap motels. “How deep is the hospital in it, anyway?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Must be pretty bad if they’re taking one of their own off staff to investigate. With the son of a wealthy board member, no less. The lawyers must be having a field day.”
She snorts lightly. “They need your insights, Mulder. Tad’s interests are…let’s just say elsewhere.”
There’s the rustle of the sheets, the crinkle of cellophane, the telltale sound of a sunflower seed being excommunicated. “He asked you out, didn’t he?”
She pretends to be fascinated with invisible lint at the hem of her skirt as his eyes bore into her back. In the absence of an answer, his next question is inevitable.
“Did you say yes?”
She bites off the Not that it’s any of your business, but…and forces out a, “No.”
There’s a soft tsk, the squeak of the mattress springs. “Too bad for Tad.”
His fingers on her bare neck are feather-light, too familiar. She faces him, prepared to bristle, but there’s a spark in his eye and the hint of a smile on his lips, disarming her.
“Mulder,” she begins again, gently pulling away. “If we’re going to work, I need…we need to keep it professional.”
“Mm,” he purses his lips, glancing over his shoulder at the tousled sheets. “We have different definitions of professionalism.”
The shame hits her then, nearly rocking her back on her heels. It isn’t his fault they’re standing in this bedroom, standing in the past; he hadn’t coerced, begged, or even asked. She’d driven here of her own volition, pulled to him like a forgotten tide, and walked through the door to his scent, to the crest of their history breaking around them.
He’d taken her jacket, grazing her neck—an innocent gesture, born of familiarity and friendship, but with desperate consequences. It took one kiss and the empty space of weeks to silence the past’s awful roar, but now, in the absence of lust, it’s all she can hear. Her body is a traitor, but her heart is the one on trial.
“No, I get it,” he says finally, pulling a t-shirt over his head. “Things got a little…heavy.”
She snorts softly, feels an involuntary flush at his choice of words.
Her hands on his hips, guiding him, his tongue at the shell of her ear.
His hand over hers, their mouths close enough to share the same breath…
“It won’t happen again,” she says, interrupting the uninvited thoughts. Her cheeks ripen pink, but her voice is steady.
He ducks his head in a nod. “Sure. Professional,” he says, almost a whisper. Then: “Partners?”
“Partners,” she repeats, the word sticky in her throat.
She wills herself not to notice his hand on the small of her back as he shows her out of their home.
His home, she reminds herself, although it’s already begun to come back to her. The third step from the top creaks as they descend the stairs, the kitchen smells of coffee and cheap blue dish soap, and she knows the screen door will stick in its crooked frame; she’ll have to force it with her shoulder.
“This is the file?” he says, addressing scattered papers on the kitchen table.
“Um…yes. This should be everything. It’s…well, I’ll let you read it, then tell me what you think.”
“I always do,” he murmurs, fingers splayed on the case file, frowning. There’s a half-empty coffee mug leaving a damp stain on the worn oak, and she fights the urge to pick it up, take it to the sink. Her thumbnail presses a sharp crescent into her palm.
“Mulder? I’m going to…I should go.”
“Mmm?” He looks up, but the distance in his eyes says she’s already lost him to the intrigue, the promise of a new mystery. “Oh, sure. I’ll walk you out.”
At the door, he doesn’t lean in. Against her better judgment, she stands on tiptoe, angling upward to place a tentative kiss on his stubbled jaw. His hand finds hers and holds it a second or two longer than necessary.
She wills her ankles not to wobble and her heels not to slip on the uneven ground, holding her back ramrod straight even as his curves easily against the doorframe. He waves as she’s getting into her car.
He doesn’t follow, because he knows she’ll be back.
She doesn’t look back, because she knows he is right.