The Road to Fresno
By Christine Leigh

Summary: Season one - Mulder's first birthday after he and Scully became partners.
Rating: G
Category: V
Spoilers: Minor reference to Conduit.

Interstate 5
October 13, 1993

"Scully, have you ever just wanted to go in the complete opposite direction for no reason at all?"

They are about two hours out of Sacramento on one of the most notoriously boring lengths of freeway in California and she is tempted to answer him 'yes' and even goes on to envision a magical alternate route appearing ahead of them on the horizon - a sort of yellow brick road that would accommodate a car. Alas, it is not to be. She turns a serious face to her inquisitor.

"Do you mean while driving, Mulder?"

"Driving, walking, anything. Living. The whole ball of wax." He glances at her. She is looking at him with that look. The one that in the relatively short time they have worked together he's come to relish receiving, but that can also, on occasion, irritate. Right now, he is relishing it.

He is in an odd mood. This morning he'd been awake for an hour before remembering that today is his birthday. He knows that there is probably a card at home from his mother, but aside from that remembrance there will be nothing. There hasn't been in years. The memories of when this day was a festive one are from so long ago that the solitary occasion it has become hasn't left him feeling wanting. This is his life. So, why is it different now? What had changed in the space of a few hours? Why does he have an itch to, if not celebrate, at least share it with his partner?

"Well, I once was dared to go to a party where there were no adult chaperones when I was fourteen, and I considered doing it for all of five minutes, but then decided I'd rather see something besides the walls of my bedroom for the duration of summer, which is how long I'd have been grounded if I'd been found out."

"Smart choice."

"Indeed. Why the question, Mulder?"

"Just wondering. Sometimes I think I'll get up one day and quit all this." His eyes made a peripheral sweep of the dry, brown terrain that seems to go on forever outside the car window.

"Seriously?" She can't keep a note of astonishment out of her voice at hearing this. Her immediate thought is of his sister, Samantha. After watching him go through the torture of the events at Lake Okobogee, Scully can't imagine that he would ever quit without first discovering something of what had happened to her.

"Yes." He can feel the surprise of her reaction to that. He glances quickly at her and sees her staring, twin blue beams focused like a laser on the road ahead. He has never seen eyes so big and blue as Scully's. In the dark they are like a Siamese cat's and in the light they are like the clearest pair of blue marbles. Her reliably inscrutable gaze, is for this second, irresistible.

Scully is sure of two things in regard to her partner. One - that he is the smartest, most intelligent man she has ever known, and two - that she will never be bored by him. Beyond that, there are many mysteries. One thing, though, that is not a mystery to her is today. She knows today is his birthday, having done her homework on him as well, soon after crossing the basement threshold. While she hasn't made a conscious decision to remember the date, for some reason it has stuck. She hasn't said anything to him, however, not knowing how he feels about birthdays, and not wanting to touch on anything that would possibly rub more salt in the wound that is Samantha. And in all honesty, because it isn't her custom to go around wishing happy birthday to people she doesn't know well. She breaks from her stare and turns to look at him. He seems far away, and not exactly the worse for it. How many birthdays has he spent alone, she wonders? And where are these thoughts of hers leading? She mentally slaps back that second question and then speaks.

"Mulder, you're asking the wrong person if you're hoping for a dramatic answer. I've always had plans for my life that I've managed to follow for the most part. Joining the Bureau is the only major deviation to date, but that was a very well considered choice."

"Even with the glamour duty you've been assigned?" That got a smile out of her.

"I thank my lucky stars, every night." Gentle sarcasm graced this remark.

"Are you hungry yet, Scully?"

"It's only eleven-fifteen, and where would we stop? There's literally nothing here."

"I have a Snickers bar, a fresh package of seeds, and we have water. I think I saw a truck stop sign a few miles back."

"Mulder, if you're tired of driving, just say so."

"I've got a case of the munchies - that's all. The driving has never been better."

She wonders if he'd had parties with balloons and games, cake and ice cream, and presents before Samantha was taken. She hopes so. She could see a little boy tearing around a yard full of other little boys and girls, and an even littler brown-haired girl looking on from the sidelines. She turns to him.

"Do you have the Snickers handy?"

He reaches into his pocket and gives it to her. She tears open the wrapper and pulls a chunk off and hands it to him. Then she pulls a piece off for herself. It is delicious. They each get another piece and she then hands him the last one.

"You take it, Scully."

"No, it's yours. I've had what I wanted."

He muses upon that, and not for the first time, feels glad that she is here working with him. That sentiment is no small thing in his world. Fact is, that today in his world, it is a very big thing. He smiles at her and takes the last piece of candy.

"Me too, Scully, but thanks."

Then there's a shift. It isn't anything that can't shift back, and probably it will, but it's nearly palpable and suddenly Scully feels so good to be driving down this road with Mulder. She's like a child, and yet also much wiser at the same time than she's ever been. She looks at him and sees the most beautiful man. Where had he come from? She turns her head away and smiles. It won't last, she knows, but what a feeling.

"Mulder, I want to wish you a happy birthday."

He grins - all the way to Fresno.

~ End ~

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This story is (c) Copyright 2003 by Christine Leigh. "The X-Files" and its characters are the property of the Fox Network and Ten-Thirteen Productions and are borrowed here without profit or intent for profit.