For nearly 15 years now, The X-Files has been one of my go-to emotional crutches. My constant, my touchstone. This iconic series and its loyal fandom have seen me through college finals, multiple job hunts, a move across my home state, a move across the country, a pandemic, and another move across the country. If I’ve learned anything about myself, it’s that the more stressed I get, the more likely you are to find me rewatching The X-Files or reading Mulder/Scully romance (MSR) fic to chill out. Why? Because in good times and bad, I can count on Mulder and Scully to come through with spooky cases that capture my attention every time, comforting messages about how love is the only Truth, and a lifetime supply of sexual tension to keep my shipper heart soaring.
And I know I’m not alone.
I’ve read every one of these 13 classic MSR X-Files fics at least twice, often a lot more. They’re a warm blanket I can burrow into absolutely whenever I need a break from real life. Maybe they’ll come in handy for you too?
“Machines of Freedom” by Amal Nahurriyeh
Tags: post-IWTB divergence, colonization, kid fic, established MSR, dark themes
The crème de la crème of X-Files fic, “Machines of Freedom” is the 2012 story we deserved from Chris Carter & co. Set several years after the events of The X-Files: I Want to Believe film (a.k.a. XF2), this is the epic story of how Wiliam Scully saves the world—or is it? To do more than skim the surface of the plot would ruin a few magical, game-changing reveals about the Scully-Mulder family, but the oversimplified gist of it is that the agents and their band of found family members hole up in a Montana bunker to try to ward off an impending alien attack.
Cinematic in scope, this adventure full of memorable, character-driven moments will blow you away and make you wish that CC had turned to the fandom for help writing the revival seasons. One original character, in particular, could easily anchor her own spinoff series for a new generation of The X-Files. FOX should really get on that. And if you love this fic like I know you will, you’re going to want to read every story in the Caseyverse. Just make sure you read the OG first to avoid spoilers.
Read “Machines of Freedom” on Amal Nahurriyeh’s LiveJournal or cleigh6.tripod.com (for a full Caseyverse link roundup)
“Universal Invariants” by Syntax6
Tags: season 1 AU, UST to RST
Fun fact: In the original cut of The X-Files pilot, Scully has a serious boyfriend, a broadcast journalist named Ethan. Apparently, they live together and spend months planning dream vacations, exactly like the ordinary American couples to which Scully has always aspired. You can watch deleted scenes and imagine what might have been if he’d stuck around, or you can read “Universal Invariants” by Syntax6 for the closest thing to an alternative canon. What would Ethan’s existence have changed about the way Mulder and Scully’s relationship developed, if anything? How soon would he have known he needed to worry about Fox Mulder’s place in Dana Scully’s heart?
Even in a field of talent as crowded as the TXF fandom, Syntax6 stands out as an author. Not only does she nail the characterization of the agents, but she’s a master of suspense who also has a knack for satisfying romance arcs. It’s why I will read anything she writes, from the entirety of her TXF fic bibliography to her original novels, including the excellent Ellery Hathaway mystery series.
Read “Universal Invariants” on Syntax6’s website
Bonus: Listen to Syntax6’s “Original Sin” and “Isometry” as audiobooks/podfics narrated by the crew at Audio Fanfic Podcast
“All That Is Dark and Bright” by Malibu Sunset
Tags: post-Emily canon divergence, marriage of convenience, kid fic
When you ship an OTP as pickled by angst as Mulder and Scully, you owe it to yourself to partake in the occasional comfort fic in the name of self-care. For me, that means returning to Malibu Sunset’s “All That Is Dark and Bright,” which sits atop the list of most-bookmarked MSR fics on Archive of Our Own for good reason. This fluffy what-if story beckons you into a world where Emily didn’t die and Scully has the chance to adopt her biological daughter…with some help from Mulder. And by help, I mean he proposes a marriage of convenience to Scully in a bid to strengthen her custody case. (Because single women are somehow less qualified to raise a child, according to our toxically patriarchal society! But I digress.)
The whole concept should be way too cutesy to work for this particular pairing, yet Malibu pulls it off, balancing the feel-good tropes with true-to-canon characterization. After all, you can’t argue with Mulder’s well-established willingness to do absolutely anything for his partner, especially if it means saving a little girl while he’s at it, or with pragmatic Scully’s tendency to eventually admit when he’s right. Which is exactly how the two end up getting married, fostering Emily, confessing they’re in love for real, and fighting for full custody of their daughter. Who needs bubble baths to relax when this story exists?
Read “All That Is Dark and Bright” at Archive of Our Own (AO3)
Bonus: Listen to other Malibu Sunset stories as audiobooks/podfics on the Audio Fanfic Podcast
“Si Hoc Legere Potes, Liberaliter Educatus” by Aloysia Virgata
Tags: pre-IWTB fic, established MSR
The second X-Files film may not have been a smash hit at the box office (or with longtime fans, for that matter), but I’ll always have a soft spot for it as my entry point into the fandom. And one of the very first MSR fics I read in that summer of 2008 was Aloysia Virgata’s “Si Hoc Legere Potes, Et Liberaliter Educatus,” quickly followed by its sequel, “Latine Loqui Coactus Sum.” Inspired by a set of (bizarre) promo videos for TXF2: I Want to Believe, these vignettes find Mulder and Scully undergoing couples’ counseling on orders from Skinner, who makes the sessions a condition of their reinstatement to the FBI as partners. Mulder, true to form, refuses to take the therapist’s questions seriously from the start, and Scully can’t resist matching his wry humor. The result is the agents abandoning their bickering in favor of teaming up to troll poor Allison Greer, whose innocent questions about trust are met with recollections about the time Scully shot Mulder and that time he rescued her in Antarctica. If you were amused by their banter about team-building exercises in Season 5’s “Detour,” you’ll get a kick out of these ficlets too.
Now, because I can already anticipate the judgment from fellow Aloysia Virgata connossieurs for my overly nostalgic choice, let me clarify that these are not my all-time favorites of hers, not by a long shot. AV is a SUBLIME writer who’s understandably more often associated with weightier pieces like “The Parting Glass” (my top pick for Fight the Future fix-it fic because the bee has way better timing) and “This Her Fever” (a tremendous Scully character study set during the cancer arc), both of which you will want to go ahead and read as well. Trust me, once you fall down the rabbit hole of her backlist, you won’t even want to come back up for air.
Read “Si Hoc Legere Potes, Et Liberaliter Educatus” and its sequel on Archive of Our Own
Bonus: Listen to various AV fics in audio format courtesy of Audio Fanfic Podcast
“Dust Mites” by Jori (likebunnies) and mojober
Tags: Just one bed, porn without plot
The popularity of the just-one-bed trope was inevitable for a ship that spends more time in motel rooms than their own apartments, and sure enough, there are a LOT of excellent MSR stories with bed-sharing. One of them is “Dust Mites,” in which Mulder locks himself out of his motel room and has to bunk with Scully for the night. NC-17 hijinks ensue as their scuzzy room literally falls to pieces around them. (When I say this fic is filthy, I mean that in every possible way, it’s a blast.)
What sets this one apart in my mind, though, is how effectively Jori and mojober ramp up the UST until you’re sure you’re going to SNAP if Mulder and Scully don’t start kissing THIS INSTANT and then THEY DO. While the characterization occasionally swerves into OOC territory, that sorta comes with the territory with PWPs. Plus, I just really enjoy Scully’s “Bad Blood”-esque grouchiness toward Mulder and how it only eases when they work out some of their frustration-fueled aggravation like they always should have, with enthusiastic sex.
Read “Dust Mites” at Archive of Our Own
“This House Is Burning” by Tesla
Tags: early-season divergence, casefile, slow-burn romance, RST
What Scully really needs is a vacation, but an all-expenses-paid stay in the mountains for a non-paranormal case will have to do. If only Mulder would get on board, because she’s coming to the alarming realization that she could use a break with him rather than from him. So that’s awkward…until it isn’t. This compulsively readable casefile fic features gratuitous bed sharing, chivalrous ski-slope rescues, thirsty Scully, profiler!Mulder, and beautifully resolved sexual tension.
Am I a tad fixated on the idea of a monster-of-the-week episode that just happens to include some tasteful soft-core porn? Well, yeah, and I make no apologies. After a disappointing revival run and with no new episodes on the horizon, these fics are the closest I can get to the thrill of experiencing a never-before-seen Mulder and Scully adventure–but with sex, like we deserved, okay! Speaking of which, make sure to chase this fic with everything else Tesla wrote as well as Rachel Howard’s “Above Rubies,” another excellent novel-length casefile in which the agents take an “easy” assignment that turns out to be anything but. It’s got Mulder gazing at Scully, her gazing right back, and adjoining hotel rooms, just to name a few of its endearing qualities!
Read “This House Is Burning” via the X-Libris archive
“And if I make my bed in Sheol” by threeguesses
Tags: high angst, major character death, dark themes
Don’t ask me to picture Scully existing with Mulder or vice versa, because my brain will simply shut down. Does. Not. Compute. Even if only one of them is immortal, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll find a way to stay together one way or another. That must explain my morbid fascination with what is unquestionably the darkest and most disturbing fic on my recommendation list: “And if I make my bed in Sheol” by threeguesses.
“Mulder becomes his own x-file,” is how the author summarizes the story before going on to explain that it was written for Halloween and is thus intentionally creepy. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to add that the fic should carry a “Major Character Death” warning label because, well, it’s about Mulder haunting Scully as a ghost. Swoon-worthy of him, right, to prove his love for her will never die? Sure, maybe at first…until you consider what his constant presence means for Scully and the rest of her life. Don’t be surprised if you come away from this story thinking about the toxic side of the agents’ codependency and the very, very thin line between romance and horror.
Read “And if I make my bed in Sheol” on threeguesses’ LiveJournal
Bonus: I also recommend “Ghost, a love story” by misslucyjane for when you’re craving a story with a similar concept that’s a smidge less bleak.
“The Rusted Wheel of Things” by EllieL
Tags: season 8 canon divergence, kid fic, hurt/comfort, high angst, established MSR, UST to RST
What if Mulder never returned in season 8? What if, instead, his abduction lasted nearly 7 years? This extraordinary fic, written for a Big Bang exchange, examines these questions with admirable skill and thoughtfulness. EllieL’s Scully is softer, the result of 7 years as a single mother to a beautiful little girl with Mulder’s “sea-change eyes and breeze-tossed cinnabar curls.” She’s even traded field work for a safer office job with the bureau. One thing hasn’t changed, though, and that’s her unwavering commitment to Mulder. From the moment she hears he has finally, finally been returned to her, she drops (nearly) everything to fold him back into her—their—life.
Unlike the canon’s rather cold and callous handling of Mulder’s re-integration into everyday life, this story gives both Mulder and Scully room to recover and heal physically, mentally, and emotionally. Best of all are the glimpses of Mulder as a father that we missed out on; his father of the year trophy may yet be a few years away, but for a man who awakens to discover he has a 7-year-old child, he adapts quickly. Dad!Mulder is everything you’ve wanted to see and more, complete with the big ole softy watching ballet recitals with teary eyes and smuggling junk food into an after-school movie viewing.
Read “The Rusted Wheel of Things” on Archive of Our Own
“Just Go to the Graveyard and Ask Around” by Sab
Tags: season 5 canon divergence, honesty is sexy, UST to RST
Despite their penchant for bickering and debating, Mulder and Scully didn’t have serious arguments all that often in canon. The ones they did have, though, were doozies. The first that comes to mind is always their sharp words in Season 4’s “Never Again,” the long-overdue fallout of Scully realizing she’d let the X-files and Mulder (mostly Mulder) consume her life. Sab, in her fic “Just Go to the Graveyard and Ask Around,” addresses another tense period for them, the days following Scully’s experience with Cassandra Spender and other abductees on the bridge in Season 5’s episode “The Red and the Black.” Mulder’s staggering under the weight of the immense guilt he feels over Scully enduring yet another trauma because of him, while Scully’s determined to find a more logical explanation for Cassandra’s disappearance than “a UFO flew away with her.”
Unlike the show, Sab lets the agents feel their feelings. Most importantly, she lets them TALK. Really talk, about important things, like Mulder’s doubt that he could ever deserve her but at the same time how much he wants to kiss her. Scully, for her part, gifts Mulder with an explanation for why still plays skeptic after all she’s seen and how she really feels about her partner. They put all their cards on the table and it’s incredibly cathartic.
Read “Just Go to the Graveyard and Ask Around” on AO3
“Blinded by White Light” by Dashakay
Tags: post-colonization AU, kid fic, dark themes, UST to RST, slow-burn
“What if Mulder and Scully couldn’t prevent an alien invasion?” is the premise for another legendary post-apocalyptic X-Files fic. Dashakay’s “Blinded by White Light” finds our favorite duo playing out their worst nightmare: Living under alien occupation, with memories wiped clean of their former mission as FBI agents. What’s worse, they don’t remember each other. All they know now are their mundane daily existences as Dana and Fox, two perfectly ordinary people with garden-variety spouses and (gasp!) children they adore. Even when their paths do cross, which is rare, there’s no spark of recognition, no whisper of shared history.
There is, however, a magnetism between them that neither can ignore and that draws them further and further out of their Stepford-like brainwashed headspace every time they dare to meet. The aliens never anticipated a bond as soul-deep and unbreakable as Scully and Mulder’s, but is their connection powerful enough to fully return them to their former selves? (Spoiler alert: Yes! Because Mulder and Scully will always, always find their way back to each other, no matter what.)
Read “Blinded by White Light” and its sequel, “Open to White,” on AO3
Bonus: Listen to other works by dashakay read aloud on the Audio Fanfic Podcast
“Parabiosis” by Penumbra
Tags: season 7 canon compliant, UST to RST
The season of secret sex—or “season 7,” as it’s known to the rest of the world—lit up the fandom, inspiring fic like the oft-recommended “Parabiosis” by Penumbra. Set between Mulder’s brain surgery in “The Sixth Extinction” and his abduction in the finale, this series of vignettes runs parallel to canon, providing missing scenes or acting as a companion to those episodes. It connects the dots to explain how on earth the show got from “you’re my constant, my touchstone” and open flirtation on cases to snuggling in bed and an “I’m pregnant” confession.
Whether she’s turning you to mush with casually devastating lines about how much Mulder and Scully mean to each other or entertaining you with exasperated outsider perspectives on their “rabidly devoted” relationship (hi, Skinner), Penumbra will keep you enthralled with her lyrical prose. I myself have 56 quotes highlighted and may never recover from reading…
On some days, in certain filters of mood, she knew that Mulder was the love of her life. What concerned her most was the unlikelihood that she could herself be the love of someone’s life. … Although there were times when the look in his eyes convinced her momentarily otherwise.
or this one…
He had been ready to rip out his heart for her if it meant she might live. As it was, he would have no heart without her.
(Yes, yes, fellow fandom olds, I recognize what a cliche it is to recommend “Parabiosis” over the even more ambitious “Fathoms Five,” but I never said I wasn’t a basic bitch! Everyone can and should enjoy both. Why not “Contact High” too, while you’re at it?!)
Read “Parabiosis” via the X-Libris archive
Bonus: Listen to Penumbra’s fic on audio, courtesy of the Audio Fanfic Podcast
“Small Lives Awake” by Jesemie’s Evil Twin, a.k.a. Jet
Tags: season 7 compliant, holiday fluff, UST to RST
Canon teased us with glimpses of how the agents spent their holidays when they weren’t trapped in haunted houses, but it didn’t give us nearly enough. Perhaps that’s for the best, however, because over the years fanfic authors have taken it upon themselves to fill in the blanks in endlessly creative ways. One such example is Jesemie’s Evil Twin, whose lovely Season 7-era story “Small Lives Awake” centers on Scully inviting Mulder to spend Thanksgiving with her and her younger brother Charlie’s family. Now, I enjoy Mulder’s fractious interactions with Maggie and Bill Scully Jr. (that jerk) as much as the next person, but it’s undeniably sweet to see him get a clean slate with another set of Scullys who welcome him into their home wholeheartedly. The whole fic, in fact, is sweet and gentle, a well-deserved respite for two people who rarely catch a break.
How fluffy are we talking here, you ask? Brace yourself for incredibly mild hurt/comfort (Scully gets a migraine and her partner’s Very Concerned), a low-stakes mystery involving a haunted antique, Charlie discovering a “love letter” from Mulder to Scully in an old book, adorable moments with Charlie’s kids, Mulder and Scully finishing each other’s sentences, lots of casual touches that underline their UST, and a temporary misunderstanding about what that new intimacy means (or doesn’t mean). Most of all, fortify your heart for soulful lines like: “You are my favorite storyteller, Mulder, she thinks, allowing herself the sentiment. You are my most treasured tale.”
Read “Small Lives Awake” at the xphilefic.com archive
“Socially Inept” by icedteainthebag
Tags: very possibly canon-compliant season 7 PWP, established MSR
Since no X-Files rec list worth its salt is complete without at least a couple PWPs, I leave you with one more for the road, icedteainthebag’s smokin’ hot fic “Socially Inept.” It’s the explicit scene we all deserved to see after Scully flirtatiously reminded Mulder that they still had a Bureau credit card in their possession at the end of “Hollywood A.D.”
In case you’re wondering what happens next, the agents have a li’l too much to drink and head back up to their hotel suite only for nature to…take its course, shall we say. Or at least that’s my headcanon now that I’ve read this perfectly persuasikve, very sexy fic. I’m never going to look at hotel room carpets the same way again and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Read “Socially Inept” on AO3
A PSA About X-Files Fic Archives
In addition to coining the term “shipper,” the TXF fandom was one of the first to develop robust archives where fans could find all the fic they could read in one place. Some have stood the test of time and remain indispensable resources, like Gossamer and whispersofx.net. Others have been rescued and archived themselves, usually either migrated to bigger collectives like Archive of Our Own (AO3) or lovingly preserved at newer domains like xphilefic.com and xf-redux.com. Incredibly, new collections of fanworks are also still being developed–the Audio Fanfic Podcast, for example, is doing the lord’s work by recording TXF fanfics in audio form and sharing recommendations for stories that span the decades. And, of course, what would we do without AO3, Fanfiction.net, LiveJournal (still limping along but for who knows how long), or the Wayback Machine?
All of this is to say: If you love The X-Files and want to help ensure the fandom’s history is preserved, please consider reaching out to thank the hard-working fans behind these fic archives and/or becoming a patron of their work to help them cover the costs of keeping these sites up and running.
I could go on and on about X-Files fanfic, so I probably will! While I stuck to my longtime favorites for this list, wonderful new Mulder/Scully fics are published all the time. Hell, there are plenty of “classic” fics still to be read and recommended too. I’ve barely scratched the surface of stories every Mulder/Scully shipper should read. But in the meantime…
What are your all-time favorite MSR fics–and where can I read them?!
If you enjoyed this list, you may also like my other Mulder/Scully articles, including the 21 Times Mulder and Scully Ruined Me for All Other TV Romances and:
- 20 Deeply Romantic Mulder/Scully Quotes from X-Files Fanfic
- A Shipper’s Guide to Watching X-Files for the Mulder/Scully Romance
- How to Say “I Love You” in X-Files by Fox Mulder and Dana Scully
- 8 Clues Ellery/Reed Belong Together in the Ellery Hathaway Books (or: Why MSR Fans Simply Must Read the Ellery Hathaway Mystery Series—Just Trust Me on This)
- My 15 Favorite X-Files Fanvids