The Winter Vein

It was her birthday.

They weren't on a case. Mulder called and invited her out to dinner. She wore the red dress.

"I need you," he told her over dessert. He sounded resentful as he jabbed at his chocolate mousse and avoided her eyes.

She said nothing.

"Scully, I need you," he said again, this time looking directly at her. She wondered what it meant to him, this needing her. When had it happened?

"Scully, don't you...?"

She watched the candlelight hollow out his eyes and felt herself thawing. "When?" she asked, needing to hear so she could blame that moment he started to need her. This wasn't supposed to happen. "When did you know?"

"Every time I woke up," he said, "and you were the first thing I saw. Every time I woke up and you weren't there. I knew."

To Scully, that sounded less like need and more like love. And this had started the wrong way for them to have love.

Mulder looked at her from across the table.

Too many cheap hotel rooms.

It had never been about love. They had never said it out loud, had never said anything aloud because love would have meant this wasn't going to pass.

But somewhere, something had changed. It had all blurred together in the cold. One indifferent motel room too many. I need you, he'd said. It frightened her that he'd admit it. She never thought Mulder would reach for her this way, never thought he would actually need her.

This wouldn't pass. She was no longer sure she wanted it to.

It was November.

She had been cold, lonely. Two of the things she hated most in the world. The kinds of things that wool sweaters and glasses of wine couldn't chase away. The cold was deep inside, unreachable.

Just the week before, her mother had remarried. Scully had gone to the small wedding with Mulder and sat in the icy sun-bright chapel that seemed too cold to be real. She imagined icicles hanging off the priest's nose, frost forming on the stained-glass window behind him, powdery snowdrifts collecting in the corners. She found herself leaning into Mulder next to her, looking for some heat, some reality.

Her mother and her new husband went off on their honeymoon. Scully went home, but not alone. A sliver of ice had lodged itself in her heart, catching painfully each time she breathed. She turned the heat up. The ice remained.

With the cold came a new desperation. She could feel it tearing at her, trying to break free. At night, when it was so dark she couldn't see her own hands, the desperation clawed at her from the inside. She did not know how to stop it.

They never talked about it. Scully had simply wandered into his room one late night and somehow had not left.

The first time was in Mist, Oregon. From Mulder's bed she could hear the crows on the power lines that slashed open the morning-grey sky. The birds cawed and ruffled their greasy black feathers. Mulder rolled over and seemed unsurprised to find her still there.

They were strangely hospitable towards each other that morning. Polite, considerate, things they never were otherwise. Sex had put a distance between them that nothing else had.

Breakfast was Formica and cold, cracked vinyl. The sight of Mulder's pancakes felt like a hand around her throat. She didn't eat a thing.

She had left Mulder's bed, but the crows followed her. In the town's sad excuse for a morgue, their dissonant cries echoed, rang off the cold metal tables and scared her into dropping a barely used scalpel to the floor. When Mulder brought her coffee he said hello but didn't comment on the way her white fingers clutched the cup. He kept silent when her eyes tried to grab at him too.

That night she stayed in her room with the door locked. Mulder did not come looking for her. She wasn't surprised. Finally having him was no different than wanting him.

The crows were closer to Mulder's room so she did not hear them while she lay in bed, trying to fall asleep. She heard the sound of Mulder instead, the springs of the mattress betraying his every move. She found she was even lonelier than before.

The springs of her own bed weren't nearly as loud.

The following afternoon they left that town and went to another.

Never at home. Never in those places they couldn't leave behind.

They fought less. Compromised more.

And Scully told herself it didn't mean a thing.

It got colder. The snows blinded them, and the winds made them deaf. More hotel rooms.

They spent Christmas in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Their first night there she pulled out the bedside Bible, but the pages she had been looking for were missing. Mulder came in to find her shuffling through the book, as if she were skimming for the right answers. She had been embarrassed and refused his offer to buy her a soda from the vending machines outside.

They didn't joke anymore and Mulder started flirting with every waitress that crossed his path or poured him more coffee.

Their solve rate increased. January found them on the road more than any month previous.

The hotel in Indiana, Pennsylvania, only had one vacancy - one room with one bed. They slept together but did not touch even though the heater was slothful and cold. Scully had the irrational fear that their skin would stick together like a wet tongue to a metal post, frozen there until spring.

Their last night there one of her wool socks slipped off and the next morning she had to strip the bed to reclaim it. Mulder had smiled at her in amusement while blow-drying his hair in front of the mirror.

She started getting used to his distance. He stopped calling her in the middle of the night.

They still didn't talk about it.

February came. Scully stared at the Pennzoil calendar at the garage while she got the oil changed in her car. She contemplated the 14th and hoped they wouldn't be in the field on that day. There were donuts on the table in the waiting room, but all that was left were the powdered ones. She drank a cup of styrofoam coffee instead and tried not to think about Mulder.

She got asked out on a date for Valentine's Day. She paced her apartment, wondering when her life had turned so confusing. What would she have done before? What would she do now? She accepted and questioned what this meant as well. She bought a red dress and tinted her hair auburn.

Three days before Valentine's, Skinner called them upstairs: Important case. You've dealt with this sort of thing before.

As they were leaving Skinner's office, Mulder complimented her hair. She went home, canceled her date, then drove to the airport where they caught a flight to Carp, Nevada.

She felt elated and relieved, rescued and trapped. They flew in a small prop plane, and Scully fell asleep against Mulder's shoulder as he read the case file. She apologized when she woke up. Mulder did not joke about drool as he might have in the past.

It was warm in Carp. They followed a lead to Las Vegas where they solved the case. Valentine's Day passed by uncelebrated, but the next day Mulder presented her with a yellow candy heart that read "Kiss Me."

Scully thought about this while listening to a phone message from her jilted date. He seemed nice, but he wasn't Mulder. She turned on the television before she could wonder what Mulder was. The noise distracted her and also happened to swallow the ring of the phone. This time the caller left no message.

Two days later during a case in Baltimore, Scully got kicked in the ribs while apprehending their suspect. She handcuffed him to the banister then passed out. When she woke up, Mulder was sitting next to her hospital bed reading The New York Times. He was holding the hand without the IV threaded through the vein. He looked so solid, even through the pain killers. She tried to squeeze his hand, but her arm felt so far away. When she woke up again, he was gone, and her mother sat next to her. She was told that Fox had gone home to rest. Scully nodded as if this meant something to her. It didn't. Sleep.

Mulder again. This time she could feel her arm. She gave his hand a squeeze. Her voice was ancient from not having spoken for days. She thanked him for being there, and he joked that he had only come for her Jell-O.

She dared dream this interlude of theirs was over. She wanted to feel angry with him again. She wanted to love him without guilt. They would go back. Things would be like they were before her loneliness had spilled out. The splinter of ice in her heart prickled. She asked Mulder for another blanket.

It started out as a lead on Samantha. The case took them to Argyle, New York. It turned out to be something she could not explain, but Mulder solved it unfazed and they ate fish and chips at the local pub before going back to the hotel. His fingers were still greasy when he kissed her in the car. He tasted like tartar sauce and bitters.

The lines had gone. From where she was standing she could see the whole world and the lines were simply missing. Mulder even looked younger, and some of the worry around his eyes and mouth had left as well. She let him kiss her because he seemed to need to. She kissed him back, making up for all the times she hadn't kissed him before, and she forgot about going back. She couldn't give up being kissed in the car by Mulder.

Her birthday.

They weren't on a case. Mulder called and invited her out to dinner.

She wore the red dress.