TITLE: Impressions
DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: I'm normally pretty easy about archiving, and I don't want to create more obstacles than necessary. However, this piece is something of an experiment, and I'm going to ask that it not be archived anywhere UNLESS the hotlinks I've embedded in the text remain intact.
SPOILER WARNING: Tithonus. Also, "Two Fathers" hasn't happened.
RATING: PG, for language
CONTENT WARNING: A few bad words; M/S friendship, with a bit of UST, I guess
SUMMARY: Scully drops by Mulder's apartment unexpectedly, and finds a surprise waiting for her.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Originally written for the Scullyfic "Improv" game, in which participants are given five elements by other list members and must devise a story around them. I've listed my elements at the END of this story, for those who want to check.
FURTHER NOTE: One of the elements given me was "four dusty Monet reproduction prints". And while I don't by any means claim to be an expert, I've always liked impressionists, so I've decided to make this a bit of a multimedia affair. There are hotlinks embedded in the text, and clicking on them will take you to copies of the prints M&S are discussing.

And while we're at it, I may as well acknowledge that these images were originally scanned by Mark Harden. You can check out the rest of Monet's work by visiting Mark's web site at Artchive.com


by Brandon D. Ray

"Mulder, are you there?" Dana Scully rapped sharply on his apartment door for the third time. She hadn't considered the possibility that he might not be home, and now she was feeling slightly foolish standing there in the hallway.

She didn't know quite what had possessed her to come over here in the first place. She'd been having a perfectly fine Sunday, having had lunch with her mother after church, and then gone window shopping in Georgetown. But somehow when she got back to her car she'd just felt the urge to drive over to Alexandria and see what Mulder was up to.

This had been developing into something of a pattern over the last few weeks -- ever since she'd gotten out of the hospital after being shot in New York. Scully didn't quite understand where these impulses were coming from, and the pattern was really starting to bother her, because she liked to be in control of herself -- and she DEFINITELY didn't like the feeling of dependence that she was developing towards her partner.

Bu t she didn't seem to be able to break the habit of just dropping in on him, either.

She was just about to turn away, an odd mixture of relief and frustration filling her, when the door swung open.


Shit. Maybe it would have been better if he HADN'T been home. Well, no way out of it now. She forced a smile and said, "Hi. I was just out running some errands. Thought I'd drop by." She hesitated, then added, "Mind if I come in?"

He smiled and moved aside with a bow and a flourish. "By all means."

Scully stepped across the threshold -- and stopped dead in her tracks. "My God, Mulder...this place is clean!" And it was true: Gone were the clothes scattered on the floor; gone were the treacherous stacks of papers on every flat surface, perpetually on the verge of toppling over; gone were the empty pizza boxes and beer bottles. The only thing spoiling the effect was a worn-looking blue sweater draped over the back of the sofa. Scully took a few more steps into the room and looked a little more closely. It even looked as if he'd dusted.

She heard his answering chuckle, and then the sound of the door shutting and his footsteps approaching. She turned to face him just as he started speaking. "I guess I just got tired of living in a pigsty," he said ruefully, and shrugged. "A man's home is his castle, and all that jazz. I guess I wanted to make a better impression."

"Well, I'm impressed," she replied, a slight smile on her face.

They stood in awkward silence for a moment, and it occurred to Scully to wonder just who, exactly, Mulder was trying to impress. To the best of her knowledge, the only people who ever came over here were the Lone Gunmen -- and now, these last few weeks, her. She felt a prickle race down her spine. It couldn't be THAT....

Could it?

"Can I get you a beer?"

Scully jumped slightly. "S-sure. Rolling Rock. Or whatever." He nodded and moved away from her and into the kitchen.

Scully took the opportunity to explore the apartment a little further. It really had been cleaned, and thoroughly: A place for everything, and everything in its place. Who ever would have guessed that Fox Mulder could be this organized?

Of course it remained to be seen just how long it would last....

In one corner she found a small pile of miscellaneous items: a box of battered kitchen utensils, a couple of trashbags full of clothes...and an art portfolio. Scully hesitated just a moment; she really didn't want to pry, but it was hard to resist. So far as she knew, Mulder had no artistic drive whatsoever, and she really wanted to know what was in that portfolio. After a brief struggle with her conscience she snapped it open --

"That's just some stuff I'm going to take to Goodwill."

Scully started, then turned to face him. He was standing in the kitchen doorway, two bottles of beer in his hand and a slightly embarrassed smile on his face. "I'm sorry," she said, feeling her face start to redden. "I didn't mean to be --"

"That's okay," he said. "Like I said -- just some stuff I'm going to get rid of. You can have it if you want." With exaggerated casualness he moved over and sat down on the sofa, not looking at her, and placed one bottle on the coffee table before twisting the cap off the other one and taking a short swig.

So he was giving her permission. He clearly wasn't entirely comfortable with it, but he was giving her permission. Scully knew she should respect his privacy; she knew she should just put the portfolio down and go over and join him on the sofa. This was none of business.

But she had to know. She opened the flap and reached inside....

"Mulder! They're beautiful! Where did you get them?" She found herself holding four life-sized Monet reprints. They'd obviously been in the portfolio for a long time, and she carefully blew dust off of them as she walked slowly over to the sofa and sat down next to her partner.

He shrugged restlessly, and shook his head. "Phoebe gave them to me."

Scully felt her eyes widen as she looked at her partner. "PHOEBE gave them to you?"

"Yeah." The embarrassed look on his face intensified, and he seemed to be struggling to find the words. "She...she was trying to introduce the poor hick from the sticks to some good culture." His lips quirked slightly. "I guess it didn't take."

Scully sat quietly for a minute, trying to figure out what to say. She'd known for a long time that he had a lot of unresolved feelings, both good and bad, concerning Phoebe Green -- and these Monet reprints were clearly part of the bad. But she couldn't let him just push this way; the paintings really were beautiful, and she felt a sudden desire to share them with him. Maybe she could even erase some of the bad associations he had for them.

"Mulder?" she said, softly and tentatively. When he didn't respond she laid a gentle hand on his forearm. "Hey...Mulder?"

Mulder sighed and turned to face her. "Yeah, Scully?"

"Did you ever really look at these paintings?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess so. But I could never really understand what was supposed to be going on. I couldn't see the story. You know?"

"Oh, but these aren't 'story' paintings, Mulder." Scully felt herself warming to the subject, and she leaned slightly towards her partner. "Monet was an impressionist. Impressionists just try to capture the moment, so to speak -- they try to convey the IMPRESSION they received from a particular image. That's why it's called that." She shuffled the reprints and held one out to him. "Here. Look at this one."

Mulder took the print from her and held it in his hands for a moment, examining it. Finally, he shrugged. "Okay, I'm looking at it. But I still don't get it." He looked up at Scully, and there was just enough of a glimmer of interest in his eyes that she was encouraged to continue.

She took the picture back from him and studied it for just a moment before looking back up at him. "This one is calledThe Thames at Westminster. Notice how the artist has managed to capture the impression of a foggy day in London. Everything in the background is vague and blurry and gray -- the only thing that's clear at all is this silhouette of the dock and the people standing on it here in the foreground, and it immediately catches your eye. You can almost feel the condensation from the fog."

"London fog, especially in the 19th Century, was at least partly due to industrial pollutants," Mulder pointed out.

Scully nodded. "That's true, and you can see that in the picture, as well. Notice the slight tinge of yellow he's given the fog." She wrinkled her nose slightly. "You can almost smell it."

Mulder looked at the picture for just another moment; finally, he nodded and took it from her, laying it carefully on the coffee table. "Okay. Next?"

Scully glanced through the three remaining prints, then handed one over to him. "I've always liked this one," she said. "The Highway Bridge at Argenteuil." She paused for a moment and waited while he examined the picture. Finally, he nodded and looked back up at her, and she continued, "The first thing we see in this one is the blue sky and the puffy white clouds. But then the yellow mast catches the eye, and we find ourselves drawn down to the boats and the river. And unlike the first print we looked at, all of the background objects are very well defined. The overall effect is of a warm summer day. Very restful."

She laid that picture aside and turned to the next, but before she could say anything Mulder commented softly, "I can see why you like this one. It reminds you of your father."

Scully looked up at him for a minute, then slowly nodded. "Yes. Of course your right. This one is calledFishing Boats Leaving the Harbor, Le Havre, and it's a very busy picture. Busy in a good way, not in a bad way. There's a real clutter of images, with the sharp, dark silhouettes of the people on the land contrasting with the softer, less well-defined renderings of the ships." She smiled self-consciously. "I don't think this is an 'approved' interpretation, but I've always felt that the boats were a little more blurry because they were in a different world."

Mulder nodded. "Cool," he said, and again he took the print and carefully laid it to one side. "Now tell me about this one. The last one."

Scully sat quietly for a moment looking at the final print, trying to figure out what she could say about it. This one had always touched her more than any of the others, but she wasn't sure she was ready to share the reasons for that. Still, this was Mulder sitting next to her. He'd understand if anyone would.

She nodded slightly, then took a deep breath and began. "This one isBreakwater at Trouville, Low Tide. And it has always made me...sad. Wistful." She could feel Mulder stir next to her, but before he could say anything she hurried on. "I know I said these aren't 'story' pictures, but I can't help reading a few things into this one." She pointed at the background. "See the overcast sky and the mist in the distance? I've spent hours and hours staring at those clouds and that mist, wondering what was behind them. And the ships in the foreground...I've always felt they were about to embark on a mysterious voyage, if only they can get past the breakwater. But the tide...it's so very low...."

She heard her own voice trail off, and she shrugged helplessly, then looked up from the print to see that Mulder was looking at her intently. Not at the picture, but at her. She drew in her breath and felt her pulse increase. Something strange was happening...or about to happen....

"Mulder?" she said, softly and hesitantly. "What's going on?"

He cocked his head, and replied in an equally low voice, "What do you mean? You're showing me Monet."

"Not that," she replied. She had to struggle to find the words, and she waved her hand vaguely around the room. "This. The cleaning. Everything."

He shrugged, and said, "I already told you, Scully: I want to make a better impression." He hesitated, then went on, "I want to make a better impression on you." He paused again, then seemed to gain assurance and continued, "You see, for a long time -- years and years -- no one ever came over here, except for Langly and Frohike and Byers. Oh, and the occasional salesman -- there was a guy here last week trying to sell the Britanica." He smiled slightly. "But then a few weeks ago you started showing up. And I discovered that for the first time since....well, since Diana left me, I actually cared what someone else thought about the condition of my apartment."

As had happened earlier, Scully felt a tingle of anxiety, and she had to force herself to keep looking her partner in the eye. "Mulder? What are you trying to tell me?"

He shook his head sharply. "Not what you're probably thinking," he said. "Not that, Scully. Oh, I won't deny that I've thought about it. You're a very attractive woman after all, and I feel closer to you than anyone I've ever known. But one of the things that I've come to realize since you were...shot...is that I'm not really old enough for that. Not nearly old enough." He cleared his throat and suddenly looked acutely embarrassed. "But I would like to be your friend."

Scully felt tears forming in her eyes, and her throat constricted. "Mulder," she said, "you've always been my friend."

Again he shook his head. "No. No I haven't. I've been your partner -- sometimes, at least. I've watched your back and done my best to cover for you, when it didn't interfere too directly with my own self-interest. But I've never really been your friend, although Christ knows you've been MY friend in so many different ways.

"But you don't treat a friend the way I've treated you a lot of the time. You don't go running off on a friend without so much of a word as explanation; you don't drag a friend out of bed in the middle of the night and insist that she commit a felony; you don't, you take foolish risks with your own life without any consideration of how it might affect the other person." He looked down at where his hands were folded in his lap, and in a very low voice he said, "Hell, Scully, a friend is just about the last thing I've been to you."

The two sat in silence for a long minute, while Scully tried to get her thoughts in order. The simple truth was that there was a lot of truth in what he'd said, and she wasn't willing to lie to him about that. At the same time, she didn't want to hurt his feelings; he'd already laid a lot on the line by telling her this, and she knew that how she responded would make all the difference. And then suddenly she had it. It was really very simple; so simple she almost wanted to laugh.

"Mulder?" She waited patiently until finally he lifted his eyes to look at her again. Then, very softly, she said, "I would be honored if you would be my friend."

And Mulder smiled.



Okay, just for the record, here are the elements I was supposed to include:

Mulder and Scully...in a totally platonic relationship...

A door-to-door encyclopedia salesperson

Four dusty Monet reproduction prints

A big blue sweater

A reference to Phoebe