Timeline: 6x1 The Beginning pt 2
Category: Post Episode
There was a chill in the air between Scully and Mulder for several days after she had announced to him her views on Agent Fowley and he'd defiantly asked her if she wanted him to choose. That had been humiliating—it had opened up a hole in her and exposed her for what she was. It was lovely to pretend that she hated Fowley on principle…on strictly moral and professional terms. But the truth of it was that she also hated her for reasons that she wasn't entirely comfortable with. When Mulder had spit those words at her she was exposed: he had to know that she had fallen prey to the green eyed monster. He probably thought she was acting like a woman. Scully didn't want anyone in the Hoover building thinking about her in those terms.
It seemed needlessly cruel to her that Mulder had gone down that path and unmasked her for what she was. And she was fairly certain, despite the chilly atmosphere, that he knew it had been cruel and probably regretted it. He had probably tossed his remark into the Mulder stew of guilt that he always kept simmering on his internal stove. She waited for three nights to be awakened by his call. She had received those calls before. Not quite apologies, but she knew what he meant to say in those mumbled late night phrases and generally she accepted them and moved on.
No call came. He was professional and quiet and followed the rules as much as Mulder ever could. He listened to her ideas silently, nodding his head and seemingly looking right through her. And he never called. Resentment turned into concern. Mulder was following professional protocol, but not the personal kind to which she had grown accustomed.
She decided to check up on him the only way she knew how. She called the Lone Gunmen.
"What's up buttercup?" Frohike asked joyfully after she announced herself over the line.
"Turn off your recorder, Frohike."
"Covert action, G-woman? I thought perhaps this was a personal call."
"It is. Turn it off," she commanded magisterially.
"I'm worried about Mulder," she said, almost embarrassed to voice her concern, which was based on nothing more than good behavior and a lack of contact with her outside of the office—the kind of thing most people would have thought to be a welcome change of pace.
"He's not with Fowley."
Gunshots felt similar to that blow. She wasn't sure if he meant professionally or personally, but she didn't need the reassurance.
Agent Fowley had disappeared out of Mulder's life just like she had dropped into it—quickly and without much explanation. Scully didn't know whether to thank Diana or Mulder for that. The thought that maybe it was Mulder who'd severed ties wasn't as comforting as she might have hoped it would be. Not when he stared at her blankly like that all the time.
"I didn't call about that," she responded, trying to thaw the frost in her tone, but failing.
"I thought maybe they were back to sharing the sheets, but no go on that."
Scully sighed. Perhaps calling wasn't a good idea after all. "He's not acting like himself."
"Not by a long shot," Frohike concurred.
"You've noticed it?" she asked, her voice rising in pitch.
"He hasn't been by for taco night."
Scully wondered whether that was a euphemism for something she didn't want to know about or whether Mulder spent evenings with three other bachelors eating El Paso taco kit tacos.
The line clicked. "He's checked out big time, dude," a vaguely adolescent voice chimed in.
"Langley, hang up, I've got this," Frohike barked.
"Maybe they've gotten to him," Langley continued unheeded.
"Who?" Scully asked with some resignation.
"Langley, hang up. Mulder isn't a turncoat."
"Okay, dude. But he didn't even want to come by to play StarCraft."
The click seemed to signal that Langley had complied with the final irritated command.
"Well, I'm sorry to have bothered you," Scully muttered, trying to put an end to the fruitless exercise this call was becoming.
Frohike cleared his voice and began to whisper: "are things okay with you two?"
Scully paused. Not to her way of thinking, but she wasn't sure when she began turning to these men to unburden herself. "He's not…acting like himself," she repeated herself.
Frohike breathed heavily, perhaps heaving a sigh. His voice returned to its normal level, "Agent Scully."
"You two love birds work it out."
Scully pulled the phone away from her ear as she heard a click.
Great. Love birds. Perfect. Of course, if there was any truth to that statement, she probably wouldn't have to sneak around calling his stunted friends for clues as to his behavior—she could go right to the source and question him about it frankly. She glanced over at the clock: 9:43. If she left now, she could be in Alexandria in thirty minutes. She stood up and walked purposefully to the door, grabbing her keys. Why should they need to be love birds in order for her to be frank with her partner?
Scully scanned the street for Mulder's car, but turned up nothing. The lights were off in his apartment. She glanced at her watch. Thirteen minutes after ten o'clock was hardly too late for Mulder to be awake. She reached over the console for her cell phone and flipped it open, dialing Mulder's number. It rang four times—longer than usual—and she began to feel foolish.
"Did I wake you?"
"No, I'm at the office."
Well that would explain the blacked out apartment. Scully leaned her head against the window of the car. "Mulder, it's Friday night and it's late."
"Not that late."
"No, it is."
"I have some things to wrap up."
Scully straightened her back and massaged the back of her neck with her free hand. "Do you need help, Mulder?" There was a stretch of silence. She tried again, "do you need my help, Mulder?"
"I've got it under control. You enjoy your weekend."
Scully rolled her eyes and reinserted the key in the ignition. "I'll be there in a few minutes," she said, hanging up on him, so as to put an end to any further protest.
In the silence of the Hoover building after hours, everyone else gone home to wives and children and homes with green lawns, Mulder heard Scully's approach distinctly. She wasn't wearing her heels; she must have changed when she got home. But he could still hear the tap of her shoes on the tiled floor of the basement hallway. He probably should have made some show of being busy and alert or turned on the lights at least, but he didn't have the physical or mental energy to make the effort.
The knob turned and a crack of light came through the door as Scully slowly pushed the door open. Backlit, he couldn't make out her expression as she made a quick professional appraisal of his condition.
"Yeah?" he asked, trying to sound as if sitting alone at night in the dark of their office was perfectly normal. She was the nutty one to think otherwise.
She took a step into the room and the door closed softly behind her.
"What are you doing here?" she asked gently.
There seemed to be tenderness in her tone, but he shook off the notion as quickly as it formed. He sat forward in his chair, gesturing at scattered files on his desk, but he wasn't sure the gesture was entirely readable in the dark.
Her hand went to the light switch. "Mind if I turn on the light?"
Mulder didn't answer and he was rewarded by a blinding illumination from the overhead fluorescent lights. He blinked before rubbing his eyes and shielding them from the glare.
Scully came around his desk and sat on the edge less than six inches away from him. It was the closest they'd been in weeks. It was both intensely pleasant for her to be that near once again—from the scent of her shampoo and the sheen of her skin—and terribly unpleasant. It hadn't been his plan for her to find him like this. It was too pathetic. He shouldn't have told her where he was. His eyes were slowly adjusting, but he continued to shield them—more from her than the retched light.
"This is rather dark, Mulder"
"It isn't any more," he replied sarcastically.
"You want to tell me what's going on?"
Mulder leaned back in his chair, dropping his hand from his eyes. "There was a backlog."
She glanced over her shoulder at some of the papers which were now tucked underneath her. "I would have stayed late with you. We could be home by now, if we'd worked on it together."
'Ah. We.' Except, she still didn't mean it in that way—not the way he wanted. They weren't going home together tonight or ever. His tired mind was playing tricks on him.
She cocked her head to the side when he didn't respond. "Is this you on your best behavior, Mulder?" she asked.
It was. He was being the partner he imagined that she'd always wanted—detached and rule abiding. His hand grabbed the back of his neck and he continued to stare silently.
Scully leaned forward and her fingertips brushed his navy tie that hung loosened from his collar. "If this is you being the ideal agent and partner…" She grasped the tie lightly, as if she was going to uselessly straighten it, making his Adam's apple jump.
He scanned her eyes, trying desperately to read her.
"Then stop it," she commanded.
He knit his brow and she gave his tie a small jerk.
"Stop it," she repeated.
She let go of his tie and reached up to press her palm against his cheek, wordlessly trying to express more than she'd said. Coming here and being present in this way felt as if she was going eighty miles an hour into a brick wall, but she silenced the panic caused by her thundering heart and continued to hold his face in her hand. Someone had to do something or she might as well have left months ago like she'd threatened. Mulder's hand slipped from his neck and he leaned forward pushing into her middle and crushing her in his embrace.
Whatever isolation booth he'd built for himself apparently was collapsing. They hadn't been close for weeks. The ever present hand in the small of her back had been withdrawn. His issue regarding the observation of personal space seemed to have been resolved. She had been held at arm's length—either for his benefit or hers. Maybe he was tired and his defenses were down or maybe he'd read her silent words, but whatever the cause, he was finally present. The gap had been bridged. She could feel his ragged breath through her white t-shirt and his warm fingers pressing into her skin. Her heart continued to thunder, but she managed to keep still. Punching through the wall might have been the best thing. They weren't love birds, but they were present together.
"Mulder," she whispered into the top of his head. "Mulder, you can't keep missing taco night."