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Binary Star System

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A prickling tickles Dana Scully’s nose, the slow ripple of numbness reaching the curve of her upper lip and she runs her tongue over it. Sitting alone in her apartment after a long and grueling week, she reads over her paper as she unconsciously massages at a kink in her neck.

This week was long and odd and, most of all, challenging. With another case closed on the newly re-acquired X-Files, Scully is no closer to understanding the science behind Mulder’s theory, no closer to believing a man could transform into a dog. Or vise versa. And not a shred of evidence behind the supposed metamorphosis. Leave that to Mulder to explain to Skinner come Monday morning.

On this particular Friday night, Scully, sitting with her tickled nose inside her glass of wine, papers in hand, inhales deeply and tries to concentrate. The pinot is spicy, tannins linger on the sides of her tongue, and her mouth is dry. Terms she recalls from wine tasting with Ethan one year on his birthday. She smiles at the memory with her swollen tongue against her teeth, her cheeks warm. Three sips in and she’s three sheets to the wind. Her Irish ancestors would be disappointed.

Scully sighs and pushes aside thoughts of Mulder’s ongoing willingness to deceive her. He withholds details like one of his informants. Dangles just the necessary facts and watches her scramble to catch up to him. It’s nothing new. And perhaps she should have grown accustomed to it by now, but the insult grows with each offense.

She wonders how much longer she will endure it.

Placing the glass on the coffee table, she glides a hand along the back of her neck, determined to finish this one last page of the medical journal and then try to scrounge up some dinner from what little is left in the cabinets. Grocery trips have been few and far between, fresh vegetables scarce. Life on the road might be exciting, but you pay with your health.

Dinner will help settle that lightness in her head, but one can never be too prepared for what Fox Mulder might theorize on any given Monday morning, and Scully prides herself on being prepared. So, steadfast and determined, tucking a hair behind her ear, she continues reading, attempting to keep in step with Mulder.

A knock on the door breaks Scully’s already waning concentration.

Surprised, she glances at the clock as she unfolds the leg she’s been sitting on. It’s later than she thought, but not too late for Mulder. Who else would show up at her apartment on a Friday evening? Rising with a sigh, Scully tosses the papers on the coffee table and makes her way to the door.

What could possibly bring him here on a Friday evening: an urgent call from Skinner? Next week’s X-File? A personal problem? Scully hopes he isn’t hurt. Or drunk.

But there’s only one way to find out.

“Scully, you in there?” Mulder knocks again.

The patience of a child, she thinks, as she pads toward the door. On the other side she finds Mulder, dark and disheveled, holding up a Blockbuster bag as he pushes past Scully without waiting to be invited in.

“What are you doing here, Mulder?” Scully asks, closing the door. He has already kicked off his shoes and placed them near her own, two neat pairs in a row. Scully takes in this sight: dark jeans and a gray shirt under his leather jacket, and green socks covered with small, brown Sasquatches.

Even clad in casual clothes, Mulder looks like he could be on the cover of a magazine. The tight jeans hug him in all the right places, and his newly acquired leather jacket gives him an edginess that doesn’t quite equate with their government jobs. But it suits him.

“Nice socks,” she deadpans.

“I thought we could make it a Blockbuster night,” replies Mulder, ignoring her comment, and holding up the bag. “Maybe we could order something,” he adds walking to the couch and noticing the paper spread over the coffee table.

“Make yourself at home,” offers Scully.

“Are you busy?” he asks, picking up the journal she’d been reading.

Scully perches on the arm of the couch. “I was keeping apprised of the latest medical discoveries…”

“On genetic engineering,” he finishes and looks at her questioningly.

Tucking her chin to her chest, Scully says, “Just some light weekend reading.” She feels foolish that this should be the way she spends her weekends.

“Well, have you eaten yet? You gotta eat dinner, right?”

Scully closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose. This was her planned quiet night, alone in her safe space. Besides a few scattered articles and one wine glass, her apartment is pristine. Tranquil. Neat stacks of books, dishes clean and put away, the bed made with sharp corners. Not a sign of the chaos she leaves behind at the office. And now Mulder is sweeping papers to the side to make room for his movies. Her head is swimming and she wonders if she didn’t drink more wine than she realized.

Scully looks up to find Mulder staring at her expectantly, awaiting her answer. His excitement is sincere and earnest, those hazel eyes probing into her own. He came barging into her place of refuge and now Scully isn’t sure how to respond. Perhaps that was her mistake, because Fox Mulder has a way of invading her space, situating himself in her mind, and life, in ways she never expects. Not that she’s complaining, because he has a sharp tongue, can counter all of her retorts in a way that makes her feel like an equal, and is easy on the eyes.

Scully smiles and nods. “Sure Mulder, a movie and takeout sounds good tonight.”

She moves her papers to the side. There will be time to read tomorrow. Maybe a movie is just what the doctor ordered.

Mulder bounces to the other side of the couch, making room for her.

“Okay, because I was able to get some good movies tonight. I’ll even let you pick dinner,” he tells her with an enticing glint in his eyes.

“What a treat,” she replies flatly and slides down the armrest to make herself comfortable next to him.

“First… “ Mulder takes a VHS out of the bag with dramatic flare, a twist of his wrist to prolong the suspense. “Event Horizon. Imagine a haunted house but on a spaceship,” he says leaning in mysteriously, almost seductively, and places the tape on the coffee table.

“Next up…” another twist to blur the video, “Urban Legend. A little hokey, but could be good research for future cases,” Mulder raises an eyebrow, setting the VHS down next to the previous one.

“Is that the one with Jon Stewart?” Scully asks.

Mulder settles back into the cushions, a glimmer of playfulness in his eyes. Scully’s face flushes warm under his scrutiny and she averts her eyes. “No, that’s The Faculty,” he replies.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” says Scully, attempting to sound casual.

“I’ll be sure to remember your interest in that particular movie next time I’m at Blockbuster,” Mulder teases.

Scully clears her throat, lips pursed, and motions to the bag for him to continue.

“Finally…” Mulder reaches into the bag and, with a pause for effect, says, “The Fisher King. Because let’s face it, who doesn’t love Robin Williams? Though, it’s pretty old at this point, so I understand if you’re not interested, but it’s supposed to be good.” Mulder speaks quickly, with the same energy he exerts on new cases, setting the final movie on the table.

The videos lie spread before her like an offering. A peace offering, perhaps. Things haven’t been so easy between them lately. Her brain is full of Mulder, right up to the brim, and it’s about to spill over. And apparently he’s had other things, other people, on his mind. It makes working with him much harder when he’s tight-lipped and reticent to share.

Scully eyes each one of the peace offerings, Mulder’s eagerness contagious. She smiles as her excitement grows. Maybe things will be okay between them, after all, if they can just move forward. That niggling feeling, the sense that he’s not being completely honest with her, receding into the background.

After considering the options carefully, remembering Mulder’s unconventional synopses, Scully finally makes her decision. Reaching for the movie, she hands it to Mulder.

“Good choice,” Mulder approves.

“I’m intrigued,” says Scully, reaching for the wineglass, “by a haunted spaceship.” She takes a slow sip, arching her neck subtly and letting the wine coat her throat.

“Admittedly, it’s the one I’m most anxious to watch.”
“Then it was meant to be.” She settles into the cushions next to him, their shoulders pressing together.

Mulder’s tongue darts out and wets his bottom lip as he turns to her. The temperature skyrockets in the apartment. She’s forgotten about the empty stomach and her fair complexion; her face burns. She pats each cheek and she feels like she’s giving off heat.

“Now, Scully,” he begins with great significance, all energy focused on her, “it’s finally the moment of truth.”

Scully arches an eyebrow, wonders what Mulder is referring to. Their faces are so close, but she doesn’t dare look away, won’t back down from this tete a tete, this visual form of sparring, even as the blush creeps down to her chest and the cozy sweater from before has become tight and oppressive. His eyes burn into her. She wonders if her ears are tinged red, like those weekends in med school she’d spent drinking with friends. Her tolerance was higher then, but the results were the same.

“Yes, Mulder?” She practically purrs into her wine glass. Funny how this small transparent barrier is the thing she needs to maintain her composure.

“What,” he leans forward so that his breath blows onto her cheeks, “is on,” licks his bottom lip, “the menu for tonight?”

Scully huffs out a breath of relief. Her face cools instantly and wine sloshes in the glass as she places it back on the table.

“I’m up for anything. What are you in the mood for?”

“No, I surprised you tonight and clearly you were busy. You should choose.”

“Not so busy. How about pizza?”

“Pizza is always the right answer.”

Scully calls in the pizza order while Mulder inserts the tape in the VCR. It whirrs and spins and Mulder pauses it while she finishes on the phone.

“It’ll be about fifty minutes,” she shrugs. “I guess it’s a busy time for them. We can start the movie while we wait.”

“Great! By the time we finish the previews, the pizza will be here,” Mulder quips and heads for the couch, letting himself fall back. He makes himself comfortable.

“Not again,” Scully whines, turning off the lights. “Previews are such a waste of time. Do you want a glass of wine, Mulder?”

“Whatever you’re having.”

She holds the wine bottle and recalls the last time she and Mulder shared a bottle of wine; confessions of her youth, that dizzying look that penetrated right to her very heart, his hand positioned between her legs while their lips inched closer through the seemingly vast distance of space between them. Mulder standing in the doorway. Utter humiliation.

Scully shakes the thought away, turning off lights on her way to the couch. Placing his glass on the table, she pours the pinot. He could likely tell her about the abundant rainfall of the region where the grapes grew, name all the ways the tannins sting her mouth, and the proper words to describe the bouquet.

Mulder accepts the glass and she sits next to him, careful not to touch him this time. They are side by side, mere inches apart, and Scully’s back feels uncomfortably rigid. Making a conscious effort to relax as Mulder sips the wine and starts the movie, she lets out a breath and eases back. This is her apartment, her couch, afterall. She should be comfortable.

“You’re wrong, Scully,” Mulder continues, shaking his head and turns to her, their heads so near despite her efforts to keep her distance. “Previews are a vital part of the movie-going experience.”

The TV flashes in the dim apartment and she can hear Mulder’s even breathing beside her.

“They take up so much time and I don’t even want to see a third of the movies advertised,” she counters. “And, besides, I’m not going to any movie. The movie conveniently came to me. Therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip previews.”

“Not with me, Scully. Not with me.” They drink wine and watch the previews.

When the movie finally begins, Scully finds herself slipping closer to Mulder, sinking into his gravitational pull. They are drawn together like a binary star system, forever circling one another until, without knowing how it happened, they touch. Of course, there is always the possibility of violent collision, leaving only remnants of their former selves. But, for now, they slowly circle and Scully finds that her head is resting on his shoulder. This is a new development in their movie nights - that somehow before the second act, her head finds itself against him.

The movie plays and Mulder doesn’t seem to mind.

A knock at the door disrupts the trance, startling Scully off his shoulder. Both Mulder and Scully rise from the couch to answer, but Mulder holds out a hand, insisting it’s his treat, and she relents, allowing herself to fall back down to the couch. Watching the paused blur of activity on the screen in her lazy wine-induced haze, she hears Mulder open the door and pay the young pizza delivery man. Then he is in the kitchen, rifling through cabinets, and balancing pizza and plates back to the couch.

They eagerly help themselves to a slice while Mulder picks up the remote, about to start the movie again, when a phone trills. Both agents check their pockets and Mulder comes up the winner, his phone ringing louder without the cloth. He holds up a finger and answers, turning his back to her.

Pacing through the apartment, facing away from her, his voice is hushed, head low to his chest. This is obviously a private matter, so Scully bites into her pizza while waiting for him to return.

After a series of grunts and a couple of sighs. Scully’s stomach suddenly clenches, but she can’t quite put her finger on what’s bothering her, so she keeps her eyes on the plate and continues chewing.

“Okay, but I can’t talk now,” Mulder whispers and then hangs up the phone.

Scully swallows painfully. The food settles heavy in her stomach and she is no longer hungry.

He is near the couch, hand rubbing the back of his neck, and before she loses the nerve, Scully asks, “who was that?”

She’s not certain why she asked. It’s unlike her to be invasive. The overwhelming need to know is strong. She is curious to know the caller, curious if Mulder will be truthful with her, curious to know her reaction if he lies. Mulder, hands on his hips, gives her a tight smile, hesitating, and Scully feels sick as her stomach clenches tighter.

“It… it was nothing important,” Mulder stammers.

Scully takes in a deep breath, hoping to calm the thumping in her chest. The blood rushes in her ears. “Mulder, are you… are you keeping things from me?”

“No, nothing like that. It’s about another case,” Mulder assures, as he sits next to her.

She purses her lips. “But you won’t tell me who called?” she says. It’s a statement more than a question. Because she can read it on his face, can sense it in his body language. He is tense and scrambling, eyes darting quickly between her own, searching for an answer to placate her. Mulder has been caught and she no longer feels up to the task of being the one left in the dark.

Though her role in his life may have originally been adversarial, keeping track of his outlandish ideas and activities, she has paid her dues and made his cause her own. Now she demands to be out in the light with Mulder.

“I didn’t think you’d really want to know.” Mulder shakes his head.

Scully stares into her lap, plays with the edge of one nail so that she won’t have to look directly at him.

“Don’t you dare fool yourself into believing that you’re protecting me,” replies Scully, lifting her eyes to his face, jaw set.

“What is this about?” Mulder asks, brows knit in confusion.

Scully takes in another deep breath to settle her nerves and come up with an appropriate response. There is an energy buzzing within her, an electricity, as she tries to voice her frustrations. She considers that maybe he will tell her given enough time, that she has no right to pry.

“What this is about,” Scully replies evenly, voice so restrained and quiet it almost scares her, “is that I am sick and tired of being kept in the dark.”

Mulder shakes his head and gently asks, “This is about Karin Berquist? We’ve been over that. She told me about the case.”

“Maybe Karin is the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is about how after all we’ve been through you don’t trust me or respect me enough to be honest with me.”

“I don’t understand, Scully.”

“Our partnership has been defined by a pattern where you leave me, or dole out information in small pieces, waiting for me to put the puzzle together. But I’ve passed that test, Mulder. Long ago and with flying colors, I might add. This has become my fight too. No matter how this partnership began, I’m in this, just like you.” Scully’s shoulders deflate, all the fight gone out of her. “I thought we were partners, Mulder. I thought we were friends,” she says, averting her eyes.

The silence stretches on between them like the endless universe, she on one side, and he on the other, a chasm of dust, and gas, and dark matter threatening to engulf them. When Mulder finally parts his lips to respond, he hesitates. It’s a rare sight to see him speechless, mouth agape. There’s no quick-thinking or fast-talking his way out of this situation, though she’s certain charm and puppy dog eyes have saved him on countless occasions.

Mulder nods slowly, a thoughtful look on his face. “Scully, if I ever made you feel less than essential in our work, in my life, less than my perfect counterpart, then I am deeply sorry. Diana called asking for help on a case. I didn’t think you’d be interested. From what she’s told me, it’s not particularly… spooky. And you don’t seem to like Diana much. And, honestly, it doesn’t sound like something worth your time,” shrugs Mulder.

Scully gives a curt nod, willing herself into the picture of stoicism she projects to the outside, hiding the turmoil brewing beneath the surface.

“Worth my time?” Asks Scully, incredulous. “Since when do you get to decide that?”

The chasm widens, the universe ever expanding. Will she ever be able to reach him again.

“It’s just some sightings in Oklahoma,” Mulder offers. “The kids were high and the reports unsubstantiated by any sober adult or law enforcement person. It didn’t seem all that interesting, even to me.”

“Sounds open and shut.”

“It sure does.”

“The X-Files are ours, Mulder,” Scully reminds him firmly.

“They sure are. And we’re going to be investigating legitimate cases,” Mulder smiles warmly.

“Well, that’ll be a first,” Scully says dryly and he huffs a small laugh.

“I’m not planning on taking on the case. But I don’t want to deal with that right now. We were having a movie night.”

The tension in the room eases, dissipating little particles released into the atmosphere, evaporating and dispersed throughout the solar system. Scully feels a small sense of relief. Maybe even hope. She smiles warmly at Mulder, but the tightness in her stomach lingers.

“Thank you for being honest with me,” Scully offers after a long moment.

An appreciative smile spreads on Mulder’s face and breaks something deep inside her, chipping slowly at her defenses. It’s a smile so genuine and she needs to believe that they can move forward from this, chooses to believe that he will be honest with her now. Because she likes her head full of Mulder and his monsters and mythical being; likes the way he challenges her, pushes her to the limits of science and reason. And if he is going to save the world, she has always pictured herself right beside him, bruised and bloodied, saving his ass, too.

“Should we…do you want to finish the movie?” Mulder asks, eyes squeezed in uncertainty.

Scully eyes the blurred screen and considers calling it a night, considers telling Mulder that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, that her body is still on California time. But the earnest look on his face continues to chip away at her armor.

Instead, she nods gently and tells him, “Sure, let’s finish the movie.”

So they ease back onto the couch, pizza in hand, and the movie plays. They are so close that his warmth radiates to her like a campfire on a fall night. Maybe, she muses, when they circle one another, it won’t end in a violent collision of cosmic gas and debris, but they will slowly drift closer together, sharing the same atmosphere, until finally merging into one large blue star burning brighter than the Earth’s own sun.