Week? Who's Weak?
FBI Special Agent Dana Scully paused as she walked away from the car in the dazzling sunshine. She shook her shoulders out to loosen the tension. She took a few more steps before stopping again, a frown on her face, and looked self-consciously around. It was no good, her walk just didn't feel right without Mulder towering over it. This was the third time today this had happened, and it was only Sunday. There was just something missing from her shadow.
When Mulder had insisted that they take a break from work, both at the same time, shutting down the office for a week, Scully was suspicious. For a brief moment she wondered if he was going to suggest a shared holiday somewhere. It had taken her a while to decide how she felt about that idea, but she had eventually concluded that, if asked, she would go along with it.
He hadn't asked. In fact, quite the opposite, declaring that he had 'some stuff to sort out' and it would be best if they didn't even speak to each other for the whole week. Best for who, Scully wondered, right before she found herself wondering what the heck she was going to do with herself for a week.
Scully didn't want to think about what Mulder might be doing with his time. Perhaps some other former woman of his had come around, rattling his cage again. He was just SO susceptible to that sort of thing. She shivered involuntarily when she thought of the twit he had made of himself over that horribly stuck-up piece of snooty English nonsense who turned up a while back. So, they'd been an item when he was at Oxford. Huh!
Then, of course, there were the ludicrously dangerous situations he was capable of getting himself into when he took off on some jaunt or other. Where the heck would he be going off to for a whole week? Should she be worried? She had made him promise that there was no reason for her to grow concerned, but still. Hadn't he always said that?
Finally persuaded, Scully had closed the door on their shared office on Friday afternoon, heaving a sigh of regret that she would see neither it, nor Mulder until the following Friday afternoon when the two of them were due to attend some senseless annual audit with Skinner.
Now, she strode out across the parking lot, her bouncing hair shining copper bright in the sun. Shoulders back, walk tall, that's the stuff, she could hear her father say. His little Starbuck could manage quite nicely by herself, thank you very much. And don't forget it. But she didn't want to, damn it!
Scully hefted her bag onto the bus and settled in for the journey. Someone had once told her that the ONLY way to really see the Catskill Mountains was to ride up there on a Greyhound bus in the fall. She had meant to go and find out for herself someday, but life was always getting in the way. Now was her great opportunity, at least, that's what she was telling herself. This would be a wonderful trip. A time to sit back and reflect, or think about nothing at all and just watch the mountains go by.
Five miles into the journey, and who was she kidding? This was a lousy idea and wasn't going to keep her mind off anything for a day, never mind a week. She huffed, pulling a face as the sleeping guy next to her, who smelled of alleys and roast chicken, snored loudly, lolling over towards her shoulder. Oh brother, was Mulder going to pay for this.
Mulder's feet hit the floor hard, jarring up through his knees and making him wince. The roughly textured ball bounced off the rim of the basket and off behind the court.
"Damn it!" He cursed himself, leaning forward, hands on knees and breathing heavily. Sweat dripped from the end of his nose and chin onto the floor of the gym, large patches of it darkened the front and back of his vest. That last landing was still reverberating through his ankle, what a klutz; he shook his head as he limped from the court.
Grabbing a towel Mulder wiped the sweat from his face, then from back of his neck.
"Thanks, guys," He waved to the trio of younger men he'd been knocking around with all morning. Raising his arm to them, he caught a whiff of his own body smell. Good honest sweat, the product of a four mile run to the gym, and half an hour shooting baskets with whoever turned up. Sweat, and was that a hint of roast chicken? He frowned, throwing the towel over his shoulder and heading for the showers.
Soaping his body, rubbing his face, scrubbing his arm pits, and balancing unsteadily on one foot and then the other to dig out between his toes, Mulder's thoughts turned to Scully. He smiled to himself; sure she would not be able to keep away from him for a whole week.
He'd decided they both needed some space from each other after some of the intense stuff they had shared recently. He didn't think it was any good for her to be hanging around with him in that dingy office, nor chasing some of the truly badest guys the accidents of human genetics and psychopathy had cooked up. Not good for her career and definitely not good for her spirit. He cared deeply about both, so he had shooshed her out of the place for a while. It wouldn't do any harm for him to catch up on some back issues of the Missing Bullet??? and some other of his favourite publications. And his fitness regime had gone all to hell; he needed to work on that too.
He headed from the gym now, opening the door and pausing slightly, head inclined towards the opening – for what? He shook his head. Hmm. What was that about? Something just on the edge of not being there. He shrugged his firmly muscled shoulders and headed out into the sunlight.
Incredibly beautiful, majestic mountains rolled by slowly, each slope and curve cloaked in threads of red and gold, burning in the Autumn sunshine. That was it. Just that. Nothing, absolutely nothing else was happening. No missing time, no mutilated corpses, no weird lights in the sky. Just wonderful nature doing her own pretty amazing thing outside the window.
Scully stretched out her legs and fanned herself with the little brochure she had picked up at the last stop. The cute 'Butlers Bakery', where Mr Roast Chicken had bid her farewell and strolled off into his probably perfectly ordinary life in some quiet street in the tiny country town. The brochure had already told Scully all about the little towns history, it's brief notoriety when some obscure, long forgotten poet had owned a summer place there for a few years in the 1920s. How it had grown and prospered through its twin industries of dairying and tanning hides. How the tourist trade was now the mainstay of the economy and most of the big houses in town were owned by hugely wealthy people who lived most of the year in Manhattan.
It had filled a few minutes, reading that brochure, learning that useless information. Now she was back to thinking. Watching the mountains roll by and just thinking. Trouble was there wasn't all that much to think about. Scully wasn't one of those people who needed to keep re-examining her life to see where it was going and if it still fitted her. She knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. She was happy and fulfilled most of the time, she loved her family, she loved her work, she loved Mulder.
Whoa! Hang on a minute. Where had that thought come from. Well, okay she loved him. Of course, she felt strongly for him, after all they had shared as partners. Yes, that was okay. She loved him, like a little brother. Someone she had to look out for and put up with. Yep. That was the way she loved Mulder, and that was just fine. Something nagged at her that she wasn't kidding anyone again, but the sudden jerk of the bus threw her forward hard, snapping her out of her idle thoughts. Her forehead hit the back of the seat in front, thankfully well padded with blue checked upholstery. Frowning she rubbed at her head, worrying about the possibility of a carpet burn marking her pale skin, and glancing around to see if anyone had noticed, but everyone sitting near her was dealing with their own reaction to the sudden halt. The bus took off again and she saw a filthy looking individual stumble up the kerb and wander drunkenly off up the sidewalk.
Huffing out a heavy sigh, Scully rested her head back on the little white napkin on the seat and closed her eyes, the trundling of the bus lulling her off to sleep in the baking sun. She'd slept badly in the lumpy, lonely motel room the night before, missing Mulder's comforting presence in the next room. She knew, of course, that she could manage perfectly well without him there, but she had got used to knowing that he was around.
A stream of tiny bubbles rose endlessly through the clear water as Mulder gazed in at his fish, watching the flakes drift slowly down, their little mouths opening to scoop in the food as it fell. He gazed for a while longer, long after the food had all fallen and the fish were scrubbing about in the gravel to turn up the lost crumbs. The orangey-red one reminded him of Scully's hair in that certain light from the little interior bulb in his car. He smiled at the thought, then turned away to find something else to do. Picking up a magazine he slumped onto the couch, flicking a couple of pages, seeking some item of interest. Within a few minutes he was tearing small pieces off the corner of the page, rolling them into little tight balls and flicking them at the coffee table in front of him. Some made it into the cold coffee in the mug, but most fell around it all over the table. Before long the various items lying about the table top were covered in a shallow layer of snowy little balls some of which bounced onto the floor. Mulder thought of the fluffy white dressing gown Scully wore sometimes when he called on her late for some reason.
He wondered if she was still in town, or if she had found something to occupy her time elsewhere. He checked his cell phone again. No messages. There had been none on the answer machine either when he got home. He faltered briefly, but he would not call her. He couldn't break his own rule, no matter how much he needed to hear her voice.
Scully woke, dishevelled and disorientated, her hair tumbled around her head and she turned her head away from the dazzling light coming through the flimsy curtains at the window. With a moan she pulled the pillow back over her head. A moment later the pillow was thrust away and she raised her head to look fully at the light entering the room. Way past seven a.m., surely, with that amount of light flooding in. She sat up reaching for the watch on the night stand. Eight thirty, and another groan as she fell back, defeated onto the sheets. She had fifteen minutes before the coach set off once again for another quaint little town or breathtaking beauty spot. Even her shower would be out of the question, never mind hair wash, breakfast, exercises on the floor of her room. The whole day was shot to hell, and she wasn't even out of bed yet.
She slipped quickly from the bed, pulled on crumpled clothes and brushed her teeth and hair before throwing her few items into her bag and heading out of there. She really HAD to get back to DC. Four days on the road at the mercy of a bus timetable and pre-booked motel rooms with a bus full of gawking trippers was just about all she could take. She promised herself as she mounted the steps onto the bus that she would find a rail station and get back to the city today.
Scully's nose wrinkled as she settled into her usual seat, noticing the whiff that this time came from her own body. Her stomach growled as the engine revved and roared, the coach lumbering its way onto the carriageway.
Mulder cursed loudly as he bashed his shin on the low table in his lounge room, making a grab for the phone. Returning from his run, sweat marking his vest front and back and trainers squelching a little, he had made it just in time before the phone rang out.
"Mulder," he puffed into the mouthpiece, wiping away sweat from his upper lip with the back of his hand. "Huh? No. You have the wrong number." He told the barely understandable foreign voice at the other end of the line.
He tried to tell himself he wasn't disappointed and he hadn't been hoping it was Scully, but who was he kidding. After five days without her he was losing his resolve and he dearly hoped that she would crack first and call him so that he didn't have to resist the urge to call her any longer.
What the hell could she have found to do all this time? It must be pretty amazing since she had clearly left town and not even thought to call him. He knew she was out of town because he'd driven by her place a couple of times and there was no sign of her, not for hours.
He'd suggested the separation for her sake. He knew very well how he felt about her, how deeply he had come to love her, to need her and to want her. But he would not speak. He did not want her confused about her feelings for him. If he just came out and suggested a date she would agree, and then spend days worrying over how she felt about that and how she should behave. He knew that was exactly how she would respond. And he didn't want to do that to her. He felt sure that a few days apart would give her space and time to reflect on their relationship, hopefully as man and woman rather than colleagues. Then he could see how she was on her return.
But it seemed she had just taken off on some trip without a backward glance. Well, at least he knew now that for her this was colleague and trusted friend, but not something deeper and more personal.
Mulder stared from the window, pain registering in his eyes as he pictured her in some other place, maybe even with some other guy. He wondered how he would find the way to continue to work along side her, now that he knew she didn't feel the same way he did.
Scully's car was hot and stuffy after four days in the sun. She dropped all the windows and let the wind tousle her hair, tearing away the smells and tension of the train journey from hell. Crowded and slow, with two changes, she had begun to believe that she would never find her way back to DC and Mulder. As the journey grew more exhausting and day turned to trundling night, the darkness pricked with the stars of the streetlights and the flashing dash of passing headlights at the road crossings, she had felt the yearning for him grow stronger and stronger in her. The moment she had decided to leave the bus and head for home she realised with a jolt of clarity, that she was heading home to Mulder. Nothing and no one else was in her thoughts, not even her comfortable little home with her soothing bath and clean bath robe. Just Mulder.
Since she set out on Sunday, Scully had wandered through towns and her own scattered thoughts finding there a deep, pure desire and need which life and work and apprehension had clouded out until now.
She knew now that the apprehension was unfounded. That fear that if she admitted to herself that she needed Mulder to be so much more intimately involved in her life she would have to face what that meant. Working with him knowing that he didn't feel that same way would be impossible, and she loved her work with him like nothing she had ever done before. The humiliation of having him smile and say something like 'All the girls say that, Scully, but my mother told me never to trust the nice ones.' His smile would both melt and ridicule her, both without his intention.
Now she knew, well she thought she knew, that she could handle that. That she had to risk having to handle it, and just come out and show him how she felt. And she felt pretty confident too that he felt the same way she did. He was just too much of a coward to say so.
So Scully turned now into the street where Mulder lived, parked her car and hiked up to his front door. Not even bothering to stop and straighten her hair, well only just a little. She knew that if she didn't face him now, she the same doubts and uncertainties would start getting in her way again. She had to tell him right now exactly how she felt. Someone had to sort this out so that the two of them could get on with the rest of their lives. She stood for a moment, taking a couple of deep breaths before knocking hard on the door with her knuckles.
Panic gripped her stomach just as the loud rapping filled the empty corridor. She stared at the numbers on the door, a dull 4 and 2 which she preyed now would not swing away from her as the door opened. Just as they were swinging away from her right now. She swallowed the lump in her throat and pasted on a 'Hey, I was just passing' kind of smile.
Mulder's hair was sticking up on one side and his t-shirt hung out of his joggers on the other. He had clearly just woken up and Scully could hear the galloping music of some old Western movie on his TV inside the apartment.
His crooked smile raised one side of his mouth, then the other and he leaned one hand on the door frame, as if greeting carollers who he had no intention of admitting to his home.
"Scully," He said, "you look…like some other Scully." Now that she had finally found her way to his door, he didn't see why he should make things too easy for her. "What's up?"
"I've just come from the train, Mulder. I needed to see you," She was clutching for the right words, now that she stood here in front of him.
"Well, here I am," He replied, still blocking the door way.
"Can I come in?" Scully asked, now suddenly afraid that he had another woman in there and she was making the most dreadful mistake of her life.
Mulder stepped back hurriedly, as if he had just been reminded to watch his manners.
"Oh, yeah, come in," And he ushered her into the lounge room.
Scully was relieved to see that she was his only visitor. She spotted the pile of little white balls of paper heaped up on the coffee table and falling around it on the floor, and turned a quizzical look to Mulder, which he ignored.
"So?" He asked, hands jammed into his pockets.
Scully took a deep breath before she began.
"Mulder, I …"
"Want some juice?" He cut in, offering the open carton he had just taken from his cluttered desk.
"No!" She said and he swigged from the spout, grimacing as he swallowed hard, then smacking his lips.
"Mulder!" Scully demanded.
"Yes, Scully, you have my full attention," He said, a little mockingly.
Scully breathed deeply again, staring first at his feet and then directly into his face.
"I….Damn it, Mulder, I missed you!" Her tone was all accusation, not what she had planned at all.
"Why, Scully," He began with a smile, but her glower warned him that he had pushed just about as far as he could. His smile softened and he said quietly, "I'm glad to hear it. I've missed you too."
But Scully had started now, and she wasn't finished yet.
"What the hell have you been doing anyway that was so important? Why couldn't I contact you," She paused, registering his words at last and the expression in his eyes. "So…..so, kiss me, damn it."
He moved towards her now, and she stood, her heart in her throat, fearing even now that she had got it all wrong. Mulder's right hand rose slowly to her cheek, tracing the line of her jaw, then gently brushing up to her brow. Scully felt herself quiver at his touch, his breath so close, his eyes looking deep into hers.
"Scully," He said softly.
"Yes, Mulder," She almost whispered.
"You have a carpet burn on your forehead."
As her eyes widened in indignation and she opened her mouth to deliver a suitable response, Mulder bent forward and covered her mouth with his. Scully tensed as her retort was cut off, and for a second she almost pushed him away. Then she felt herself respond with a depth of desire which had woken fully in her now.
Finally they pulled apart, hands touching faces, eyes looking now freely for the first time at each other with no uncertainty or doubt. Scully rested her head briefly on Mulder's chest, registering something which stirred a vague memory.
"Mulder," She muttered into his shirt.
"Yes," He said, softly kissing the top of her head.
"Why do you smell of roast chicken?" She asked,
Mulder took a couple of steps away from her, smiling and took her hand.
"Come over here," He said, pulling her toward the couch, "there's something I've wanted to do for a long time."
He sat, pulling Scully down beside him and putting an arm around her shoulders. He picked up the remote from the coffee table and flicked to another movie channel.
"It's just started," He said.
"What is it?" Scully squirmed from his embrace to see the screen.
"Moby Dick," He said, "I've never seen it."
Scully tucked her feet up and snuggled into his side as Mulder held her again, close to him now as he had wanted to for so long. He stroked strands of her hair across her shoulder, twisting the ends around his fingers as Ahab and Starbuck began their epic journey.