---------- 9 ----------

Back to the present,
Mulder’s apartment,
He tells the story,
May 12th


For a moment, I stare at that picture on the mantle and I imagine that she is me. I close my eyes and picture a sleepy night, once upon a time, with the wind blowing on my shoulders and whispering through my hair, and his arms wrapped tightly around me. I picture ratty old baseballs whizzing past my nose as he propels our arms forward----again and again, swinging my feet up off the dirt then grounding us again.  I imagine laughter and jokes, his voice in my hair, his mouth on my ear.

But of course, I am not stupid, and I know it never happened.  It never would.  Even if I invited him up to the park for some baseball---even if I offered to pay a kid to hurl balls, it would never happen.  I am not his Scully, and there isn’t anyone else he would accept in her place.  There isn’t anyone else he would curl his arms around like a vice----laughing into her ear like an exhilarated young kid.  There isn’t anyone else in his universe but her.

And besides, he’d never need to coach me like that anyways.  I would kick his ass.  I played baseball for seven years and then in college.  A woman I may be, but oblivious to sports, I am NOT.


This time it is his voice that sounds tentative, and I blink a few times, turning my head to stare at him.  I  must have really spaced out, I think, to not have heard him talking to me.  Was he talking to me?

I smile, embarrassed, and clear my throat.  My fingers shove an auburn wave off my face and back behind my ear.  “Sorry,” I apologize, breathing softly.  “I guess I spaced out…”

He grins----genuinely, this time----and nods.  “Yeah, well… so did I, so…” his voice trails and we just stare at each other, uncomfortably. It gets like this sometimes, for us----be it in the office or in the field----as if we’re on the same wavelength but completely different frequencies.  Not that we have nothing in common---rather, it’s quite the opposite---we have plenty of small talk fodder----we just never use it.  ---Which is strange, because there is so much we could talk about, if only we gave ourselves the opportunity….

My mother died when I was five.  His sister was abducted when he was eleven.  My father shipped me off to school to be rid of the reminder of my mother----his parents shipped him off to college to be rid of him, period. Both of us were blamed, if not directly, then inadvertently, for the deaths of our loved ones.  Both of us joined the FBI to become buried in our work.

Once, we even found a similar liking for the Knicks that sparked an eerily pleasant conversation about defensive starters.

But then he had realized who he was talking to----who I was--- and his expression had changed, his stubborn walls going up like the armor of the batmobile all around him, and he tossed me a file, telling me that it was back to business as usual. It had been nice, for a brief moment, seeing the charming, soft man behind the gruff, broken hearted loner---but moments like those never lasted long.  They were fleeting gems, at least to me, but they never lasted long.

Sometimes I wonder how different things would be if she were here…  If they were together…

“So… where was I?” he asks, smiling sheepishly, as if he’s just starting to enjoy my company.

I force back a smile and reply, “she was pregnant and you were the father…”

He just looks at me, expressionless for a moment, then sighs, telling me, “Right… well…it was nice for awhile.  We tried not to think about the ‘what if’s’ and ‘could be’s’ of the unpredictable future, and instead we just focused on our work---on life---on making sure the pregnancy was progressing smoothly… that there were no anomalies, complications… what not.”  He smiles again and recalls with fondness, “when she started getting bigger, I used to go out to the store about 3 times a week to just keep the cabinets stocked.  She had never been much of a food hog before, but let me tell you, she ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly for whatever reason…”

I smile softly at that---remembering the last time my friend Kelly had been pregnant---with Joey, I think it was… She ate things I couldn’t believe---godawful concoctions that consisted of Marshmallow and peanut butter, or snacks from cans that said, “lightly packed in vinegar.”  It was disgusting, but I suppose you’d need to be pregnant to understand it.

“We took walks after work,” he says softly.  “I told her it would be good for her cardiovascular system, that it would be good for the baby, but really, I had just wanted an excuse to hold… her hand…”

I bite my lip to force back a tear.  It’s as if my heart is breaking right along with his----and I can see the end of the road with him, though all I want is to see ‘happily ever after’ painting the end of this story.  The little girl in me desperately tries to remind me, it’s never too late, never too late… but in my head I just can’t see how it can get better… I know the ending to this one.

“She was… my partner,” he conceeds, echoing his words from earlier this evening.  “But… she was more than that, in so many ways…she was…” he pauses, then sighs, “everything.  She was just everything….”

November 15th,
Five and a half years ago
Elmer’s Grove Park,
Just outside Laughton, Ohio


“I can’t believe you let Frohike take that picture….”

Scully closed her eyes and shook her head while Mulder let out a loose chuckle and swung their interlaced fingers back and forth, propelling their hands up and down as they walked.  The breeze was light and airy at their backs, and the autumn leaves danced to the ground in front of them like a golden, brown and fiery ballet.  Some crunched beneath their feet and others sailed past them down the hill.

“Oh come on,” Mulder refuted, more amused than anything, “I thought it was great, Scully. I can’t wait to post it on the bulletin board at work----“

She stopped in her tracks and glared at him.  “Do it and I’ll kill you in your sleep,” she warned, raised eyebrow in place.

Mulder shot her a surprised glance and dropped his jaw in exaggeration.  “Nawwwww….” He joked, dragging out the word.

“Try me,” she replied, lowly, trying to force the smile out of her words and out of her heart so that he wouldn’t be able to catch it.  The corners of her mouth twisted upwards though, and Mulder saw right through her veiled attempt. He smiled, innocently.

“You know you look… great, Scully. Really,” he told her, pulling his hand free so that he could rest it on her distended stomach.  He caressed up and down lightly and smiled, fascinated at what—to him---was the most amazing thing in the universe.  “You do,” he emphasized, glancing from her face to her belly.

She rolled her eyes.  “I look like a house,” she muttered, taking his hand again and pulling on it---urging them forward into the fresh evening sunset.

More leaves crunched beneath their shoes and Mulder shook his head, rebutting, “Scully, you do NOT look like---“

“What? A five bedroom, three bath mansion?” she asked, pointedly.

He turned and eyed her, his face wearing the expression he so often called ‘his surprised look’ due to the ambiguous nature of its total lack of emotion. “Scully, that is SO not true,” he admonished. “I’d say three bedrooms at the most, but five’s pushing it, don’t you----OW!”

He furrowed a brow and clamped a hand around the bicep she had just smacked---rubbing it like a puppy would rub an injured paw.  “Brute,” he muttered, lightly.

“Jackass,” she replied.

Then they stopped and looked around, Mulder pausing to stare off at a nearby baseball game, Scully watching the way the leaves spun and wandered to the ground aimlessly.  She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, letting her lungs admire the way mid western air was so much clearer than the city smogged air she had always grown so accustomed to.  At times, it was all too rustic and still foreign to her, but it was also nice to feel against her cheeks on a cool autumn day.  She breathed it in again and almost without thought let her head fall against her partner’s shoulder, affectionately.

Nice, she thought, absently. Nice…

Suddenly, she felt a thwump against the skin of her abdomen and she gasped, grabbing her stomach almost instantly. The sensation coarsed through her system and penetrated her afternoon haze, and she let out an almost fascinated, amused giggle. Mulder turned his head instantly at the sound of her surprise and stared at her, confused.

“Scully?” he asked, as nervous as he always got around her at the drop of a hat these days.  She just looked at him and smiled, shaking her head reassuringly.  She closed her eyes again and reached for his hand, curling her fingers around the outside of his palm to place it over her swollen stomach. He frowned, beffudled.

“Scully,   what---“

“Shhhh,” she hissed, impatiently. “Just…be still…”

Confused but curious, he complied, watching her drift into a trance like state as he stretched his fingers over the arch of her stomach.  For a few seconds there was nothing----just the sound of kids playing pick up stickball in the distance, and the chirping of early bird crickets, and he was starting to feel somewhat foolish.  Oh what he must look like, he thought, wryly, just standing there with his hand on her stomach like he was an idiot trying to give her a psychic reading.  Mystified, he cocked an eyebrow and was about to prod her again when he felt a sharp, definite bounce against his fingertips.

His eyes widened and he breathed in sharply, adjusting his hand to feel it again.  God, how he wanted to feel it again.  Scully, for her part, just smiled and bit her lip----looking as serene and peaceful as she perhaps ever looked.

He turned to stare at her and gawked, amazed that this was actually happening. Not that he didn’t know it was happening, he did… he saw her everyday and lived with the constant knowledge but somehow, to feel it felt more real.  It felt like life----like his baby, moving around inside that large stomach of hers. It was so real it was unreal.

“Did you feel that?” she whispered to him, still smiling.

“Yeah, that…my god…” was all he could say, smiling a stupidly proud smile as he prodded her stomach with his index finger, trying to create stimuli to feel the sensation again.  “That…” He stuttered and frowned for a moment, catching her infectious laughter as she watched him stare, speechless, at her belly.

“Our baby,” she sighed, her eyelids fluttering open to capture his contented gaze.  “Can you believe that, Mulder?”

He just stared at her and smiled.  Suddenly his mind was all alight with baseball gloves and little league coaching, Tonka trucks and mini tool belts, and he couldn’t help himself.  “Little guy’s got quite an arm,” he mused.

Scully shot him a look.  “Guy?” she asked, pointedly.

He shrugged, then jutted his chin and chest out in a ‘fluffed peacock’ fashion.  He cleared his throat and set his hands on his hips, eyeing her like an eagle circling its prey. “We Mulder men are strong like bull,” he gruffed, nodding his head as if he were agreeing with himself.

Scully rolled her eyes.  “You know something?” she asked, amazement painting the edges of her voice.  “You are one irritating, self satisfied son of a-----“

The small footsteps of an approaching stranger cut her off and when Scully turned her head, she found herself staring into the eyes of a young boy---maybe nine or ten---looking back up at her with large, brown eyes and a nervous expression.

“Ah, hi… lady?” he questioned, nervously.

Scully blinked and smiled, responding, “yes?” as softly and gently as she could.  The kid was little---dressed in matching blue sweats and a blue and white striped shirt, and he rubbed the corner of his hand alongside his cheek---brushing away errant soil.  He looked apprehensive, yet curious, and Scully waited for him to continue, not wanting to frighten him or make him upset.

“Is there a baby in there?” he asked, staring at her stomach with rapt interest.

Scully’s smile widened and she nodded, creeping closer and answering, “yes, actually.  Strong baby, too.  Sometimes the baby kicks me, did you know that?  Would you like to feel?”

At that, the kid’s eyes widened excitedly—as if Scully had just offered him the secrets of the universe----and he shuffled slowly forward, licking his lips and fidgiting with his tiny fingers.  Scully bent down to meet his height and breathed softly, reaching out tentative fingers to hold his hand.  He eyed her warily at first, then let her take his chubby little fingers in hers.  She placed them softly upon her stomach and tapped her blouse over the taut skin gently, prodding the baby to move.  The first time there was no response, but the second time there was another thwump, and the little boy’s eyes lit up.

“Wow,” he gasped, licking his lips happily.  “Baby kicked me!”

Mulder let out an amused chuckle and dropped his hand to Scully’s shoulder, rubbing softly for a moment as if he were about to give her a backrub.  So ok, maybe he DID feel a little too good about being the proud papa, but then, that was his job, wasn’t it?

Scully reached up a hand to clasp over Mulder’s, squeezing gently, and she closed her eyes for a moment.   Fleetingly, she felt the little boy’s hand fall away from her stomach, and when she opened her eyes, she was met with an extended arm----an offering presented by tiny digits wrapped around a golden yellow flower.

“Here,” he said, blushing. “flower for you, pretty lady.”

Scully’s eyes lit up, her face taking on an almost rosy glow, and she gratefully accepted the child’s flower—which was----in all reality----just a dandelion, plucked from its nest inside the tall, wild grass.  The kid shuffled his feet, blushing shyly, and his face turned even redder when Scully leaned over  to kiss it, softly.  Her lips plucked the side of his cheek and the small child grinned widely. She clutched the dandelion to her chest and watched as the enamored little urchin gaped in wonder and scampered off, yelling, “mommy, the lady with a baby let me feel her tummy!  There’s a baby in there an’----“

His voice trailed off and Scully grinned as he scampered quickly, sprinting down the hill with the speed and excitement only a child could muster.    Mulder  bent down next to her and peered over at her twined fingertips----her hands clutching lightly to the tiny yellow offering she held.  She brought it up to her nose and took a deep breath-----as if weeds could possibly have a scent----and her face warmed all the way up to her eyes.  Mulder watched her and frowned in confusion, letting his chin rest upon her shoulder as he commented, “Scully, what um, what are you doing? It’s ah…it’s a weed…”

Her eyes opened and she shot him a venemous look, raising an eyebrow as if he had just told her that the moon was made of blue cardboard.  She caressed the teensy petals of her new treasure and narrowed her eyes.

“It is NOT a weed, Mulder,” she retorted, pulling herself to her feet with slightly labored effort.  She was getting bigger and bigger with each day, fatter and fatter as if she were going to burst suddenly, and now more than before it was harder to bend and get up---or move without waddling.

She shook her head annoyed and wandered ahead of him, fingering the dandelion she held with gentle and careful reverence---as if it could break and shatter within her grasp.   And sure enough, even as she held it, less securely anchored petals broke away and scattered into the wind like the innocence lost in the eyes of a jaded adult.  ----Like the innocence lost in her eyes----like the innocence gone from her heart.  The thought made her body feel heavy and burdened with weight that had absolutely nothing to do with the life she carried inside her.

“Scully?” Mulder asked, trailing behind her.  “Did I say something wrong?“

She turned to face him and when she did, there were unshed tears burning behind her eyes.  He stared at her quizzically and she cursed herself for her lack of control.  She used to be so good at it---so good at hiding her feelings, at protecting herself against sadness, but now it just seemed as if every time she felt a surge of something—anything, it was blown out of proportion ten times over.  It wasn’t as if she WANTED to cry---it wasn’t as if Mulder had meant any harm---she just didn’t know what else to do with herself.

“It’s not you, Mulder,” she finally replied, her eyes clouding over with memories spilled from a lifetime of trying to forget.  She was sick of forgetting.

Mulder crept closer, tentatively coming to stand next to her with those worry lines of his creasing his forehead.  She hated that he always felt distressed every time she had a nervous breakdown----which was becoming more and more frequent---ever since she had hit five and a half months----but there was nothing she could do.  It seemed as if the harder she tried to hide it, the more the emotions fought to break the surface.  Her self control was starting to feel like the weak arms of a swimmer caught in an undertow, and she was so afraid of going under…

“Tell me,” Mulder prodded, softly.  “Whatever it is…”

She closed her eyes and took a long deep breath, allowing one tear and then another to trickle down her face, sparkling against the sun in the evening sky like they were diamonds dripping from her chin. She let them fall because she saw no other option.  She knew no other way at this point.  It was either cry, she realized, or hurt herself trying to hold back.

Scully swallowed and watched two more petals trail off into the breeze, managing, “no…Mulder, it’s dumb…”

Mulder shook his head.  “No,” he insisted, softly. “It’s not. Please, Scully…”

She watched him for a moment and bit her lip, debating with herself quickly---reviewing the pros and cons of a no win situation. She wasn’t usually privy to telling Mulder her life’s woes and pitfalls, wasn’t really used to telling much of anything, really but…

She needed to talk. She needed to say something… anything…  And he was just there.

Scully took another cleansing breath and shook her head.  She opened her mouth and when she spoke, her voice came out meek sounding… far away… not at all like she was used to hearing from herself.

“When I was…” she sighed and started over.  “When I was a little girl, Mulder, my father made his way in the world as a navy captain.  He loved the sea and spent most of his days there, away from us.  In that respect, we would always be moving, relocating, traveling somewhere or another, and there was never any sense of constant... any sense of home. Every few months or so there was a new house, another city…” Her eyes found his, claming his gaze for her own, and her fingers held steadfast to her flower, words pouring out of her mouth.   “But we were still a family.  Whether it was Nagano or San Diego, my father still read to me every night at eight o clock sharp.  My brothers still played baseball…”

Mulder watched her, silent.  He didn’t dare interrupt her---didn’t want to intrude on what he saw as more a release for her than any story she wished to tell him.  Her emotions had been running away with her lately, taking charge of her self control, and even though he could see it was driving her bonkers, he almost felt as if this were good for her. It had been so long since she had told anyone anything, so long since she had let anyone in, and even if it hurt her to do it, somehow, he felt as if this would be better for her. And though he knew that if he told her this, she’d most likely kick his ass, he didn’t care. She needed the release---even if it came at the expense of her precious self control.

He nodded at her and touched an index finger to her wrist.  “Go on,” he whispered, softly.

She closed her eyes and let herself drift…

“I was too little to play with them,” she sighed, wistfully.  “My brothers didn’t want me messing up their games or monopolizing Dad’s time, and Missy just wanted me out of her way.  I was so small… too small for the stuff I wanted to do so badly.  Most of the time I sat under a tree and watched my father teach them how to catch… how to swing. I’d have nothing to do then… so I’d read a book or draw a picture, but I’d be so mad---in that immature way children get… You know, Mulder.  That age when all you want is to be older than you are, but at the same time, you can’t imagine what it would be like to cross the street alone…”

The dandelion dropped forgotten, trickling from her fingers like sand through a strainer, and another salty tear made its way down the slope of her cheek. “I remember… so clearly, Mulder… so vividly…” She paused to suck in a breath, then continued, strained, “One day when Bill and Charlie were getting water, dad came over and asked me what was wrong.   I was only eight years old. He looked at me and asked, in that navy voice of his, ‘what’s wrong, Starbuck?’ just like that.  And I know he meant well, but I told him that it was nothing---that I was fine because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.  So he said---“ She licked her lips and laughed, softly, sighing, “and it sounded like something you would say, Mulder…he said… ‘I don’t believe you.’  He knew me so well and he knew… he knew me. So… anyway, Bill and Charlie came back then and he promised he would ask me again later, when he read to me----eight o clock sharp….”  Her eyes opened then, her lashes fluttering against the porcelain of her delicate skin.  “He gave me a dandelion as a peace offering and told me that they were the most resilient of all flowers.  He said that they were small but they always came back---no matter what happened or how hard it rained… He said they were like me…. He smiled and then he put it in my hair…”  Scully smiled painfully, touched a hand to the back of her silky, russet hair and looked down, recalling a time where her innocence had been fresh and new—untainted.  “He used to give me bunches of them.  So I collected them every day after that.  I gave them to him when he left for sea---something triggering the naivete of my childlike brain, telling me that if I gave them to him, he’d think of me and come home that much faster…”

Mulder watched her mouth open to even out her hitched breathing, her hands come up to wipe away the tears she hated shedding, and he touched her arm, lightly---reassuringly.  That was more information than she had ever trusted him with, ever, and he wanted her to know---if even in the most indirect manner----that he would accept her no matter what she told him.  Sometimes, he thought she believed that about him.  That she wanted it.  Othertimes, he wondered if it was what she wanted at all. And other times still, times he would never tell her about, he wondered if it was what he wanted himself.  He’d never admit it to her, but she terrified him.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, quietly.  “I can’t believe I told you that…”

Mulder smiled. “I can,” he replied, his arm dropping back to his side. His gaze broke from hers and wandered over the hill aimlessly.  She nodded at him, almost as if relieved, and continued to clear her eyes of the teary emotions she had just laid out on the table.  Mulder sighed and stepped away from her, crouching low beneath the grass to retrieve a tiny yellow bud nestled amongst a throng of rocks and underbrush.   When he stood up again, brushing off his pant legs, he held out his hand and dropped his head down, shyly.

“A flower for you, pretty lady,” he said, matching the tone of the small child who had presented her with this same gift earlier. Scully shook her head and smiled, ruefully, taking the dandelion from his fingers as she lightly smacked his arm in jest.  She twirled the stem in between her fingers and licked her lips, nervously.  When her eyes caught Mulder’s again, it was if the air had somehow changed between them.  It made her skin smolder, her heart jump, and she wasn’t exactly sure how she felt about that.

Mulder sensed it too and cleared his throat, desperately searching for something to break the silence.  He was going to kiss her---square and roughly on the lips---- if he didn’t interrupt the awkward silence with SOMETHING.  Anything…

“Those ah… those are for luck, you know,” he stuttered, staring down at his feet.

Scully’s lips turned up in an amused fashion and she stared at him, raising an eyebrow, replying, “really now, Mulder?”

He looked back at her and nodded, enthusiastically.  “Uh… yeah,” he stammered, shoving his hands in his pockets, moving to pace in front of her. “You see… ah, Scully… it all stems from this ah… this folk tale…about um, elves and---“


She watched him with bemused speculation and he nodded, continuing, “yeah, elves.  They… they used to roam the forests and help the trees to grow by using the blessed elf dust they carried around in their satchels---“

She eyed him, dully. “Elf dust,” she repeated, monotone. “Blessed. Elf.  Dust…”

Mulder just nodded his head adamantly and continued, “See, you don’t believe me Scully, but it’s true.  They used to travel all the way to the ocean to get their elf dust blessed by the gods of the moon and the gods of the sea.  The blessed dust would be given the gift of water, and that was why it rained…”

Scully raised a hand to her temple and rubbed the side of her head, wearily, closing her eyes in a familiar confusion, asking, “as much as this flippant turn of conversation is fascinating me, Mulder, this has WHAT to do with dandelions?”

She opened her eyes again and stared at him, soon enough greeted by his always familiar, “I’m getting to it…”

She sighed and nodded, deadpan.

“So anyway,” he continued, “The elves would bring their elf dust to the edge of the sea—to the sailors that rode its waves----and it would be blessed by the ocean god, himself.  Then they’d make the long trek back to the land----to let their dust help the trees thrive every day, every year during the summer…”

Mulder paused and caught Scully’s perpetually raised eyebrow.  Her arms were folded dubiously over her chest, her mouth thinned and straight.  Her eyes still sparkled blue though, that piercing, deep blue, and the air between them had not changed.  It sparked and thrived between them—changing the dynamic of their easy relationship…

Mulder stammered, then went on, “But ah….um… But one day, one of the um, one of the elves—his name was, um, Dandelion—as you know----“

Scully fought the urge to roll her eyes and just nodded at him, listening to the story.  His voice was low and husky, deep and tinged with an underlying of something….

She forced the thought away as he spoke, “So, ah, Dandelion----he grew unhappy with his route in life.   He begged the sea god to let him live all year round—to be like the grass---to give him a chance to see the fall and winter…”  Mulder paused and leaned against the nearby tree, propping his body up against the rough edged bark.  A light airy breeze kicked in, and brightly painted leaves danced to the ground from all angles.  “And the sea god granted his request,” Mulder went on, “but on one condition: the elf would have to help the sea god bless the water and sunshine that made the trees grow.  He’d have to do the work of the elf dust and make sure the trees drank enough water, took in enough sunshine…  So um, and… if he promised to do that, then the ah, the sea god would turn him into a part of the grass----make the elf a part of the earth for all eternity.  But… then, see… the um, the catch was that the elf was too special and too colorful to be the grass.  And the sea god couldn’t bear to part with the um.. the beauty of the ah… the golden color of the elf…so he was… he was turned into a dandelion, the name derived from the elf’s name, obviously, and his fierce protection of the trees and its constant job to bless the rain and the air---so that the trees could thrive…”

Scully nodded with a sigh. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

“And um…” Mulder rambled on and on… “In so doing, Dandelion brought luck to the trees because he helped them thrive, and so all his ah…. His seedlings bring luck to anyone who plucks them---because they help things grow…”

Scully blinked, disbelief painted all over her face.  Mulder faltered.

“Or ah…” he waved his hands errantly.  “Or so I was um, told…”

Then he pushed up and away from the tree trunk, authoritatively propelling his long legs forward so that he marched in front of her, stepping carefully down the hill.  Scully smiled, shaking her head and took off after him, following closely behind.

“You know something, Mulder?” she asked, calling to him until he halted just at the foot of the hill. He turned to face her.

“What’s that?” he asked, innocently enough.

The wind blew between them and leaves brushed over her head to tousle her red strands.

She stared at him and rolled her eyes, affectionately admonishing,  “You are SO full of shit.”

His eyes widened at her and he approached closer, coming up just short of her personal space, refuting, “Excuse me?  I resent that Scully… that story just so happens to be a famous legend, passed down from generation to----“

Her finger came to rest across his lips.

“Bull.  Shit.” She emphasized, grinning.

He took full advantage of the opportunity—of her face’s proxmity to his---and leaned in closely, close enough to brush his lips over her cheek, passionately promising with only the barest of chaste kisses upon her skin that there would be more. His mouth swearing to her---without once speaking---that he would mark every other inch of her with similar kisses.  Long ones, short ones… she read him completely---understanding without ever having to hear him say the words out loud.

Things had changed.

When he pulled away, watching her reaction carefully, her face turned five shades of red all the way up to her hairline.   Her eyes burned bright with unabsolved fervor, and she backed away carefully, trying to regain her equalibruim, clearing her throat to stammer, “We ah…. We really should be getting back to the apartment…”

She pretended not to see the crestfallen look in his eyes when he nodded, mutely, and then agreed with barely a murmur from his lips.  Then her eyes cast downward, and she pretended not to feel her heart sinking into her feet when he walked ahead of her----keeping a safe distance, and never once taking her hand in his.

Her arms wrapped around herself as if chilled.

In all the walks they took through the park, Mulder never once forgot to hold her hand…

And that made her nervous.  Very much so…

So she quickened her steps and reached him, touching her hand to his back softly, right before they reached the edge of the park. She cursed herself for reacting to his gesture the way that she had, but all she could hope now was that he understood.  ---Or that he would at least try to.

Her fingers brushed the small of his back and he turned to face her, ambiguousness painted all over his carefully neutral expression.  She just looked at him then and breathed, her eyes explaining more than her lips ever could, and she bit her lips as she watched him watch her.  Ever so tentatively, she reached for his hand after nearly a minute of silent contemplation.

She was relieved when he took it, gingerly, and even more so when he squeezed it as they walked.  But the tension and unspoken frustration smoldering between them still hovered. One of these days, she knew they would have to face it, but right now she was afraid… terrified. Of him, of what she felt for him… It was all and yet none of the above at the same time…