I parallel park in a miniscule space across the street from Mulder's building and turn off the ignition, plunging the car's interior into silence, save for my partner's soft snore beside me. It had taken an hour and a half to drive home, and for the first fifteen minutes we conversed about the unseasonable weather, Frank and Jordan Black, and the relative merits of Codeine versus Percocet.
Mulder conked out on me at the first lapse in conversation, his body slumped against the car seat, his head bowed toward his chest. He'd received stronger pain killers than I had due to the relative severity of his injuries, so his catnap was not unexpected.
He continues to sleep peacefully, as the world outside our sedan rests after a grand night of festivities marking the end of the century. Not one car passes us as I enjoy the tranquility of the moment. I'd rather sit here for a few more stolen minutes and observe Mulder's slumber. If I woke him now we'd just have to recite our mutual goodbyes and part company for the evening.
I know, he knows, that it's best to take things slow from here on in. I don't think he'll be surprised or even disappointed at that. He knows it's not in my nature to make impulsive decisions about relationships (well, most of the time, at least) and he'll understand why I can't come up for a nightcap or even a cup of coffee tonight.
But there's nothing wrong with sitting here and contemplating his relaxed features: eyes heavy with sleep, lips slighted parted, revealing the tiniest gleam of pearly whites within. There's no strain in his brow, no lines marring his countenance tonight. Of course, it's not very well illuminated in here, and I have no doubt the soft glow of streetlights casts complimentary shadows all around us.
And I am rather biased, aren't I, as I scrutinize his face in repose. Mulder is ageless to me, still the strange, youthful, well-favored agent I was thrown in with, whether by luck or fate or happenstance so many years ago. He's still the best partner I'll ever have, the best friend I'll ever need. And perhaps, perhaps, the only man I'll ever love.
I adore watching him sleep and I don't get to very often. I'm the one who can catch a nap anywhere and everywhere. He's teased me mercilessly about that from the earliest days of our partnership. 'Scully, you're drooling on my shoulder,' he'd scold gently when waking me up during a stakeout. I think he always waited till the very last minute to disturb me, either from sympathy for my state of exhaustion, or the desire to observe me without censure.
Unfortunately, the hour is late, and I'm definitely beyond weary. I might as well wake him up now, and we'll say our goodnights, though I'm really loath to do so. I'd rather sleep in the car than leave his presence, but I don't think we'd have a very restful night in this cramped Cavalier.
Someday, soon, we'll spend the night together, without question, without doubt. But tonight's too soon, and I'm much too tired to convince myself otherwise.
I extend one hand, gently slipping it over his cheek, tickling his warm skin just enough to rouse him, not alarm him.
He groans softly, eyes peeling open, one arm stretching forward like that of a jungle cat. A smile spreads across his face as I touch him again, stroking his forearm with my thumb and forefinger.
"Scully," is all he says, and my heart races at the intonation he uses when pronouncing my name.
"We're home, Mulder," I say, watching him uncurl his bruised body slowly, carefully, the ache reflected in his pained expression.
"God, I should never fall asleep in compact cars," he says lightly.
He looks over at me, making sure that bought him a smile, then offering me a sleepy one in return.
I'm experiencing a sudden attack of shyness, brought on by the intimacy of our surroundings. I look straight out the windshield, avoiding his eyes. It's a lot easier to confront your partner head-on when you haven't recently received a kiss from his lips.
He sits up straighter in his seat, then reaches over to wrest my right hand from the steering wheel. I hadn't noticed I was hanging on to it for dear life, my knuckles white from the pressure.
My left one falls to my lap and I turn to him as he asks, "Did you want to come up for coffee, Scully?"
His eyes shimmer in the dim light and entrance me, almost divert me, from my well-thought out plan.
I grin, then grasp his hand a little tighter, and say, "Not tonight, Mulder. It's later than you think."
His smile falters and I feel abominably stupid. Why can't I say this right? Why can't I say something that will tell him how much I care about him?
"Alright," he says, squeezing my hand once, then turning his head toward the door as he unbuckles his seatbelt.
"Come over later?" I say, praying I haven't already put a jinx on us.
He turns back to me, warmly smiling at my suggestion.
"Football fan, Scully?" he says, playfully.
"Not really. But I'm sure you can find a way to highlight the game's finer points."
"I'm not up to tossing around the pigskin, Scully."
"I *realize* that, Mulder. This can be a... less participatory... demonstration of your sports prowess. No balls necessary, this time."
My unintentional slip of the tongue surprises both of us, and he chuckles warmly. I bite my lip, barely containing my mirth.
He replies lightly, "I'll keep that in mind, Scully. Though I'm not sure that any pass completions would be out of order..."
I can't suppress my laughter any longer, as I let out a most unladylike guffaw. I look over at Mulder, a self-satisfied smirk plastered on his face, and say, "Go get some rest, Mulder. I think you're going to need it later on today." I give him an enigmatic smile, squeezing his forearm affectionately.
He captures my hand one last time, bringing it to his lips in a sweet, romantic gesture that almost breaks my resolve, almost makes me run right after him when he leaves my car, slams the door, and heads toward the door of his complex.
But I don't. I wave goodbye, start the car and drive away, a smile etched on my face. I can't wait to play football.
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