Talk Soup

by Char Chaffin

By Char Chaffin
DISCLAIMER: Clones On Loan
SPOILERS: Missing Scene for "Arcadia", also spoilers for "FTF", "Tooms", "Triangle"

Written for the BtS Missing Scene/Post Ep Fic Challenge --

Beta thanks to: Sallie, Carol, Tess and Robin. Don't know what I'd do without you wonderful ladies! And additional thanks to Robin for coming up with the title -

Dedication: To Toniann, for her caring and friendship - and for too many other reasons to list!!

Summary: 'There's a time and a place for innuendo...'

The clock read two thirty-one AM in glowing green numbers. He'd already looked at it several times, in between punching his pillow and flopping first on his back, then his stomach.

Outside the night was quiet and deep, starry and clear. They hadn't bothered to put drapes up; with the existing blinds there'd been no need. He'd left them open, telling himself an outside view throughout the night was a good thing. And after all, he WAS supposed to be on watch.

More or less.

The spare bedroom was fairly spacious, walls a creamy white, carpet a thick taupe. He lay on a very comfortable inflatable mattress that the guys had lent him. It beat sleeping on the sofa, and with the soft sheets and comforter the air mattress should have rocked him right off to dreamland.

Except he was on watch. And his mind was far too busy to sleep, even if he'd been allowed to.

Their first case since repossession, and it sure hadn't gotten his investigative juices flowing - yet he wasn't exactly bored. Wasn't really convinced they had themselves a true X-file, either. Yes, there was something that stank in Suburbia, and they'd find it and eradicate it. Probably without much effort and definitely within a few days - that was just his gut feeling. They'd solve it, then pack it up and leave The Falls behind. They'd both no doubt breathe a sigh of relief, as well... for it was downright creepy here. On the exterior it was so perfectly executed, the manicured lawns and the ultra-clean houses. The cheery, perfect neighbors.

On second thought, maybe it WAS an X-file.

Mulder turned again, this time on his back, and stared up at the ceiling. His partner didn't want to be here, and he couldn't really blame her. She was reaching a point of exasperation with him; again he couldn't disagree with her attitude. He was acting even more idiotic than usual. Of course, he knew why; when faced with an uncomfortable situation, his smart-ass came out in spades. It hovered on the surface anyhow, so just about anything could cause it to boil over.

Like playing 'house' in a picture-perfect setting like this, with the woman he'd spent six years admiring, and more than two of those, loving and desiring. The woman who seemed clueless on most romantic levels and disbelieving on the rest.

That first day at the Falls he'd been the exasperated one, the impatient agent who thought they'd caught junk detail. At least Scully had been willing to give it a chance. As the day wore on, however, it seemed her more positive attitude wilted under his endless joking, innuendos and general in-her-face maneuvering. He hadn't been able to help himself; faced with a more relaxed-looking, more colorful Dana Scully, it was suddenly difficult to remember she was his professional partner and not his life-mate. As a result of his stupidity, they'd barely spoken all evening and Scully had insisted on taking watch that night. Mulder had slept fitfully.

Baby cats, indeed... what an asshole he could be.

The next day they'd tackled a strained breakfast, a polite divvyingup of bathroom detail and a more determined case-solving agenda. They'd spent just enough time at Gogolak's house to reach an agreement that he might very well be the source of the neighborhood 'stink'... and once again Mulder had irritated the crap out of his partner, with his possessive embrace and snuggling routine on Gogolak's overstuffed sofa. If he'd had it to do over though, he wouldn't change a thing. Mulder grinned in the dark; Scully was so very huggable in her cute little sweater and he'd taken full advantage. And unless he'd been mistaken, there had been a moment or two of definite softening in her demeanor, before she'd snapped to an awareness of who they were - and where they were - and retreated behind her usual cool facade.

The afternoon had been spent digging through the house for any sort of clue they could find, an exercise in futility. Both of them were experiencing frustration when they met the Shroeders for dinner. By then, Mulder was in full smarm-mode, and there was no stopping his diarrhea-of-the-mouth. If Scruffy the 'CC&R-approved' pooch hadn't been under the table trolling for dinner-droppings, Scully would have probably kicked his shin black and blue. Added to that was his subtle move to take advantage of their cover, and kiss her when she stood and prepared to join Cami Shroeder for a walk. The look in her eyes could have dissected oil with a scalpel.

They'd walked back to the house an hour later in total silence.

Mulder gave up the pretense of relaxing and sat up in bed, rubbing his fingers over his face and through his hair until it stuck up on end. Rising, he padded over to a window that faced the front yard and street. The corner streetlight cast a soft glow over the quiet neighborhood and except for a few crickets and an occasional cicada, the night was very still. He leaned against the wall and stared out, but wasn't seeing much of anything besides the look on Scully's face - well, what he could see of it, under all that pale green goop - right before he'd been banished to the spare room for the night. She'd been holding onto her patience, he could tell.

Well, he'd done it again, hadn't he? Unable to resist the standard innuendo, even though he'd known she wasn't in the mood for it. They'd had a long and irritating day, capped by a tense little scene in the main bedroom, thanks to one Fox Mulder, Renaissance Man. She'd booted his ass out, and his hopes of spending what was left of the evening with her, bit the dust along with his reluctant shuffle down the hall and into the smaller bedroom.

Damn it all. It was true things had been awkward between them for quite a while. They'd just begun to readjust and start to rebalance not only their partnership but their friendship as well. They'd had some lunches together, a few dinners. Phone calls between them had lingered a bit longer and had felt a whole lot more comfortable, more like it used to be. For Mulder it had been such a relief; he'd been out of sync ever since their return from Antarctica.

He'd pushed any fledgling hopes of intimacy with Scully firmly onto the back burner, since it had become painfully clear to him that she wanted to leave it alone. The unfinished kiss and the avowal of love relegated themselves to a dim yet recent past, and Mulder tried to afford her the space she seemed to want.

Trouble was, he didn't want it. It took one day in this seemingly domestic idyll for him to realize it. He didn't want to argue or fight. He hadn't wanted to leave the room, hadn't wanted to go find another bed and squirm around on it, trying to catch an hour or two of decent sleep in a long night. He'd wanted to sprawl over that inviting bed in Scully's room, make small talk, maybe watch a little television. Maybe drink a beer and spend some time in idle chitchat, or meaningful conversation. Either would have been fine with him as long as Scully sat on the other side of him and offered up a smile and some conversation, in return. It had been so damn long since they'd done just that.

With a sigh Mulder made his way in the dark over to the door, stepping out in the hallway. Without turning on any lights he headed downstairs and into the kitchen. He hadn't eaten that much over at the Shroeders, not overly fond of tuna, dolphin-safe or otherwise. Maybe a sandwich...

He nosed around in the refrigerator, coming up with a couple of cartons of plain yogurt and a small loaf of wheat bread. Yuk. A prowl through the one cupboard he knew held foodstuffs yielded three cans of spicy chili, a box of corn flakes, a box of Cheez-its and some cans of tomato soup. Jeez, who the hell had gone shopping for them? Then he remembered; it had been one of the steno pool admins, who'd offered to pick up a few things for them during a shopping trip of her own. They'd both been so pressed for time, trying to get the undercover details finalized, they'd jumped at the offer.

Well, hell...

Mulder decided on the soup, the lesser of several evils. He found a can opener in a side drawer and spent five curse-filled minutes opening the damn can, then another two locating a saucepan. He dumped the soup and some milk into the pan and set it on a low-heat burner, stirring it around with a wooden spatula he'd unearthed from one of the boxes they hadn't yet unpacked. He yawned and stretched as he stirred the soup, his mind starting to cloud over with exhaustion.

"Hey." The soft acknowledgement came from the kitchen door, and Mulder jumped about a foot, almost dropping the spatula. He whipped around and caught Scully with the slightest smile on her face, standing in the doorway with her white robe wrapped around her and her hair tousled from sleep.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you. I woke up to use the bathroom and I smelled tomatoes." She stepped closer to the stove, peering down into the saucepan. Her hair came in contact with his nose and Mulder sniffed appreciatively. He'd always loved the fragrance of her shampoo...

With an effort he forced his attention away from her hair and instead offered, "You want some? There's more than I can eat." He snapped off the heat and opened a cabinet, in search of the few dishes they'd brought with them.

Scully nodded and rooted in the cupboard for the Cheez-its. She dug out paper napkins and a couple of spoons, set it all on the table and sat down at one end while Mulder carried the bowls over. "I used milk, I hope that's okay with you." His diffident tone brought her attention back to him and she gave him an approving nod.

"I prefer it made with milk. Thanks, Mulder," she smiled at him as he passed her a bowl. Her reaction made him absurdly happy; granted it was a small smile but more genuine than anything he'd seen in quite a while.

For several minutes they sipped soup and crunched crackers in silence. Mulder wanted to say something, anything... but actually the silence was good. It wasn't awkward, wasn't strained or tense. And it was nice to sit across from her, just the two of them eating a quickie meal. If they'd been discussing the case it would really have felt like old times.

As soon as the thought hit him, Mulder's spoon dropped into his soup with a little clatter, and Scully glanced at him inquiringly. He didn't notice; he was staring into his bowl, seeing of all things his life spinning away from him, in the opposite direction from his partner. One simple thought concerning old times, and he was mentally sinking into a future that could possibly be empty of Dana Scully. He could see his very actions pushing her away, his sarcasm laying the final brick in the wall, his overall attitude upping her frustration level to unacceptable.

How strange was that?

"Mulder? You all right?" He felt her small hand on his arm and jerked his gaze away from his meal, meeting her concern with a nod and a sheepish look.

"Yeah. Just thinking, I guess."

"About what?" She kept her hand on his arm, her soup now forgotten.

Mulder heaved an audible sigh, unsure of what to say; banter and innuendo gone from his mind, little else there but the thought that he never wanted to lose sight of her or the presence of her in his life. It wasn't by any means a new thought, not at all... but for some reason, especially after all they'd been through this past year, it needed to be voiced. It needed to be reaffirmed and locked in, before he said or did something else to piss her off or drain her patience.

He needed reassurance, plain and simple.


He reached out and covered her hand with his own, twining their fingers together. Mulder drew a fortifying breath and held her eyes as warmly as he held her hand. "I'm thinking that I'm an asshole and that you've probably had quite enough of me, Scully. I'm thinking that I could have put a lock on my mouth, my sarcasm and my innuendos. I'm thinking that I wouldn't blame you for being well and truly pissed off at me. I've spent the last two days doing everything in my power - albeit unconsciously - to get under your skin, and I guess tonight I replayed some of it in my head and was aghast at how bad it all must have sounded to you."

She blinked once, her eyes widened and she gawked at him in surprise for a few seconds. "Where in the world did all that come from? Just because I wouldn't play 'Laura and Rob' with you? Because I didn't laugh at your jokes over dinner? That's quite the load of insecurity, even for you." She squeezed his hand, smiled when he squeezed back. Her voice dropped a little and her cheeks pinkened as she added, "We've been partners for almost six years. Do you know how many jokes, bouts of banter and odd innuendos of yours I've fielded in all that time? Do you know how many times you've made me smile, or laugh, with some of the insane things you say? How many times my uptight manner has been softened by your silliness? Mulder, you keep me human. Didn't you know that?"

Now it was his turn to stare at her with wide eyes and a mouth dropped open in shock. 'Human?' He was stunned to discover she felt that way. He started to speak and found his ability to form syllables had dried up.

His reaction actually gave her pause to chuckle. "Look, I know all about myself. I know how I stalk through life searching for professional acceptance. I need that approval, not only from my peers but from my family as well... and from you, too."

When he drew in a startled breath, Scully hid another smile, and continued, "I don't always get it from the family and maybe some of the time I get it from my peers. But you give me all I need, Mulder. You also help keep me from taking myself too seriously, when I'm in danger of overdoing it, and you give me respect as well as healthy doses of admiration, something else I seem to crave. You keep me level and balanced, even when I'm pissed off at you... even when we fight." Her hand held to his tightly, and in her eyes he saw absolute honesty, absolute trust.

When she scooted her chair a little closer and leaned into him, Mulder closed his eyes at the feel of her body heat, the fragrance of her, the solid essence of her. He felt her cheek move to rest on his shoulder and his free hand came up and tentatively stroked over her soft hair, as she whispered to him, "We'll always bicker, Mulder. We'll never agree a hundred percent on everything. You'll fight the good fight and you'll put yourself in danger again and again, and I'll act the token female prima-donna federal agent now and then. You'll spout sexual innuendo and I'll react accordingly... but my reaction doesn't necessarily mean I don't get a charge out of the things you say."

Scully raised her face and those blue eyes caught and held his for endless moments. He hadn't been this close to her since their ordeal in Antarctica. And since that earlier 'display' over at Gogolak's didn't really count...

When he slipped his arm around her shoulders she snuggled in even more; her hand rested trustingly on his chest and her fingers splayed over his accelerated heart. She had to feel it, hear it. For once he let her nearness affect him fully, not bothering to hide the way his body responded to hers.

She sighed, half hum and half purr.

He cleared his throat but his voice still came out in a croak. "You don't act like a token female prima-donna federal agent, Scully. Well, not much, anyhow." His amendment was answered with a warm laugh, that most desired of Scully-sounds. Something else he hadn't heard in a long, long time...

"Sure I do. I just keep that side under wraps, the same way you keep your, er, outward affection for me layered deep."

Now, that he hadn't expected to hear her say. And of course, he couldn't resist the overwhelming urge... "You know, we've never talked about it."

She pretended incomprehension. "Never talked about what?"

"You know what." He gave her a little shake.

"Oh, that. Well, it's not exactly an easy topic, is it? It's not like one of us can just pop up and say, 'Hey, Partner, remember that time in the hallway when we came within a hair of kissing, and then it all went to shit around us? What was that all about?' Words are sometimes tough for us."

Mulder cuddled her a bit closer. "I knew what it was all about, Scully. I knew what I was feeling, and it was more than blind panic because you were making 'goodbye' noises. I said the words, too -- once. The reply I heard from you was not quite what I expected."

She tipped her head back and frowned at him. "Mulder, you were loopy on drugs at the time. You knew it and so did I. But I also knew you probably meant it -- at the time, that is. I was merely giving you an out." Her grin flashed at the corner of her mouth as she deftly flipped the banter ball back into his court.

He was more than ready for it; he turned to fully face her and put both hands on her shoulders. "I didn't need an 'out'. I never needed that. What I needed, what I know I still need... is an honest reaction from you. Do you think that would ever be possible?" He was laying himself wide open before her, and it was scary and exhilarating all at once. And he could only imagine this need came from spending several days on neutral ground. Not his place, not hers, and not in the office or in some dismal motel somewhere in the continental United States, on one of an endless stream of cases. This time the setting was purely domestic... and if it was affecting him, it sure had to be affecting her, as well.

It was in the hesitant way she answered him, in the blush that stole across her cheeks - and in the small crinkle of worry that formed between her brows, as she chose careful words. "Mulder... I know your care for me runs deep. Just the way you know the words are not easy for me. Your heart has always been out there, open and accepting; mine has more or less been shielded. Maybe it's not the best but it's what I know, what I do. I understand your feelings the same way I hope you do mine - and if you need the words then I promise you that you'll have them... as soon as I figure out how to say them. Until then I hope you can see I'm with you, despite our daily conflicts, whatever they might be."

With one soft palm now cradling his cheek, Scully gave forth her widest, sweetest smile, and added softly, "In closing, I'd just like to say... too bad it wasn't ice tea, Mulder."

He could feel a grin splitting his face in two; after about three heartbeats of stunned shock at the meaning behind her words, Mulder curled both arms around his partner's waist and hauled her up against him, letting the warmth of her soak in, feeling with thankfulness the way her arms slipped about his neck and pressed him even closer. He placed his mouth at one delicate ear and his murmur was an unsteady huff. "It's this house, isn't it? The house is making us all oogy and normal. Talk about an X-file, Scully..."

She snickered into his neck. "It's not an X-file until we find the Boogey-man. Or woman. Or whatever is going on around here. And yes, I think we're being infected with a dose of normal." She pulled her face out of his neck and either by accident or purpose brushed noses with him, teasingly. "I say we clean up our dinner mess and get some sleep, and then start fresh in the morning. We've both got a long day facing us. I think we've talked enough tonight, 'Rob.' And I think we've cleared the air, too. Don't you?"

Scully wriggled out of his arms and stood up, holding out a hand. Mulder pretended weariness and basic exhaustion, enjoying the way she pulled at him until he gained his feet. He towered over her, the imbalance in their heights accentuated by their bare feet. She straightened out the wrinkles in his tee shirt and he brushed the hair away from her face, and leaned in to press a kiss on one soft cheek. Then he placed determined hands on her shoulders and turned her toward the table, admonishing wickedly, "Rattle those pots and pans, Woman! Don't you know it's after three in the morning? We gotta get some sleep!"

He grabbed a couple of paper towels and wet them at the sink, narrowly missed getting his butt flicked with the dish towel Scully aimed at him. Laughingly he dodged her weapon of choice, moving to the stove and wiping up soup spills while she grumbled her way through clearing off the table. They worked in companionable silence, finishing up in just a few minutes. She flicked off the light and he followed her out of the kitchen, a hand on her shoulder, his steps matching hers as they climbed the stairs.

And if, when they parted ways at the top with only a shared smile and a soft 'goodnight', each thought of how it could be so, so different... if they walked to their respective rooms contemplating the possibilities of a night that included two of them sharing so much more than a smile... they kept it to themselves. They bounced a 'sleep tight' between them; went off to crawl under separate covers and attempt to get some much-needed sleep.

But Mulder closed his eyes as he tugged the covers up over his shoulders, and imagined tugging her into his arms at the same time... imagined raising her face with a hand cupped under her chin, imagined kissing her cheek, then her lips, then breathing in the taste of her tongue stroking his... imagined the feel of her against his bare skin, how soft, how special and rare. Imagined, based on a monthsold memory from a dark, freezing, evil Hell, the small rounded breasts and delicate torso, the narrow waist and gently flaring hips. Imagined the silky flesh, the tender coil of arms and legs all around him. Imagined the sound of her as he loved her; the sigh, the moan, the high ringing cry as she tensed, shuddered... as her release fueled his own. The satisfying ease of her drowsy presence snuggled against his sated body, the loving whisper in his ear and the last small kiss before claiming sleep... Mulder imagined that, too.

He fell into slumber with a smile on his face and a final, comprehending thought in his mind, that if not yet, then hopefully, soon.

They'd awaken in a few hours and start in again, working the case, finding a way to solve it. They'd leave the Falls and be glad to see the back of it, better believe it.

But he'd remember how it felt to exist in this kind of 'normal' with the woman he loved, would recall the many ways that scenario could play out... and he'd want it again, someday - when they were both ready.

Someday, soon.


End Notes: A sizeable difficulty with me, regarding "Arcadia": how Mulder could visibly irritate Scully those first few days, and then like magic they seem to get along just fine, from the middle of the ep to the end. I needed an explanation, of course I couldn't find one that made me happy; so I wrote one instead. Instant gratification! <g>

I hope you all enjoyed my little missing scene. Another first for me - writing "Arcadia" fic!

Thanks for reading! Love to hear from you; drop me a line sometime! I'll serve you dolphin-safe tuna and noodles... ::hee::

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If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Char Chaffin