"Spooky Mulder! Well, itís been a long time!"
Mulder winced slightly at the sound, not long enough. How had Jerry found his way back to D.C.? Hadnít he been assigned to a field office in North Nowhere? And so well deserved too.
"Jerry." Mulder shook the proffered hand.
"You still with that gorgeous red-headed doctor? Damn, I envy you being able to slip it to her on all of those out of town trips."
His voice carried and several people had turned and were watching them. One look at Mulderís face was enough to make most of them turn back, but Jerry seemed totally oblivious to the anger building in the man standing before him.
"I tell you, if you ever get tired of red meat," he made a suggestive movement with his hips, "Iíll be happy to take over. She is a real red-head, isnít she?"
He didnít even have time to duck. Mulderís fist connected with his jaw and he went down like a rock. No one watching leapt to his defense or made a move to keep Mulder from then pounding him into dust. Mulder, however, took a deep breath, turned and walked away without a word.
It would be worth a trip to Skinnerís office and a sore hand. Heíd hated that SOB for years. Heíd never been able to prove it, but heíd go to his grave believing Jerry had started the Spooky nickname while they were at the academy together.
He was in the elevator before it struck him, did people think that about he and Scully? Were they a topic of conversation around the water cooler? People didnít really think that Scully would want. . . he shook his head violently. No way, Scully was too good for him, heíd known it that first day in the office. Sheíd proven it on more than one occasion since then as well. Still, it wouldnít hurt his reputation if people did think that. He shook his head again, grow up Mulder.
". . . if a Fox like Mulder wanted to defend my honor, thatís for sure!"
"What did the guy say, exactly?"
Dana froze. The women obviously didnít realize she was in the ladiesí room with them.
"I donít even know who the jerk was, but he comes up to Mulder all friendly and good old buddy like and point blank asks if heís still doing Scully. Even asked if she was a real red-head! You should have seen Mulderís face. Iím surprised he only broke the guyís jaw. Looking at him youíd have thought he was going to rip out his intestines."
"They are together though, arenít they? I mean, the way he looks at her. . . "
"People have been wondering about that since she got the assignment."
"Somehow I donít think so. I mean, sheís probably attractive enough, but who can tell in those clothes."
"Maybe the clothes are part of the turn on, you have to look closer to see what sheís hiding, you know? But have you really looked at her, I mean sheís not my type, but she is very attractive."
Scully stayed hidden, completely mortified that she and Mulder could be the topic of this kind of conversation. Sheíd lost track of how many women were involved in the discussion now.
"Well, he is my type and let me tell you, you donít have to look hard to see that package. Hasnít he won best butt for the last three years?"
"Four. He keeps in shape."
"Well, sheís a lucky woman to be in the position to have him, even if sheís not taking advantage of it."
"Maybe sheís not as smart as everyone thinks she is?"
"Oh I donít know, like she said, the way he looks at her, heís wrapped tight. Sheís obviously playing it just right."
Scully heard them leave the room and still refused to come out. Her face was flaming. Were she and Mulder the topic of conversations like this often? Mulder had broken some manís jaw because he had insulted her? How would they write that one up?
A small smile grew on her face, best butt four years running? Well, at least they had good taste. When would she be able to use that bit of information?
She needed to go check on him, but she wasnít sure she could face him. She tried so hard not to think of him that way. It was how he wanted it. Now that was all she could think of.
Scully didnít knock when she got down to the office. He might not want her there, but she had to check. His back was to the door and she could tell he was cradling his right hand.
"You okay?" She spoke softly, but he jumped and tried to hide his hand.
"Yeah, yeah Iím fine. Why?" Oh please, donít let her have heard what happened. No real hope of that.
"I heard there was a problem."
"Nothing much. I handled it." How much did she know?
"Let me see your hand." She may have stated it calmly but it was an order and he knew it. He held it out for her to see. "Itís a good thing you only broke his jaw."
"I broke his jaw?" Skinner was probably not even waiting for the elevator but racing down the stairs as they spoke.
"I donít think your handís broken. If you want x-rays. . . "
"No, Iím fine." Get her out of here. She already knew too much and he did not want to discuss this.
"Thank you." She was in his space, leaning against his desk. Damn, every time he thought he had this under control something happened. He didnít have an answer for that. He had hoped in some part of his mind that sheíd never hear about it at all. Yeah, right.
"The guy is a jerk from way back. I learned to hate him at the academy. I appreciate the opportunity to deck him." He gave her a shy smile, not at all the leer she was used to. "He still hasnít grown up. Donít worry about it."
They both turned at the knock on the door and Scully straightened up as Skinner walked in. She should be on the other side of the desk. Here she was practically standing between his legs, even if she was examining his hand. . .
"Agent Mulder, your chivalry has bought you a three day unpaid suspension."
"Director Skinner," Scully started but Mulder touched her arm, silencing her.
"You were lucky there were so many witnesses, it could have been two weeks. Regardless, I canít have my agents duking it out in the halls, whatever the provocation. And I do understand the provocation, several of the agents I spoke with would have joined in on your side, had it continued." He avoided looking at Scully, but knew she was blushing. How much did she know and how accurate had the quotes he had received been? Agent Hardin deserved the broken jaw, there seemed to be no doubt of that. If what he had heard was accurate, Mulder showed remarkable restraint.
"Go on, now. I want this to blow over, so I want you out of the building. Iím confident assault charges will not be filed. Iíll see you next Tuesday. Not before." Skinner turned and left the office.
Mulderís shoulders sagged, Skinner seemed to bring out a military posture in him every time.
"Well, guess Iíll see you later." Scully took his coat from the back of the chair and held it for him to put on.
"Are you going to stay here?" He hated to leave her alone, but Skinner had ordered him from the building.
"Yes, I have some work I can catch up on." And there was no way she would go back upstairs now. She had no desire to see anyone. Anyone at all.
Mulder saw that in her eyes, and felt such defeat. Why couldnít there be some positives for her about their partnership? She was so good for him, hell sheíd given him legitimacy. She had supported him way beyond what he had any right to expect. But all he ever brought her was grief. Too bad giving her up was more than he could handle. That would be the sane thing to do. But no one had ever accused him of being sane.
"Iíll, uh, Iíll give you a call later."
She nodded and he left the office, looking a little lost.
Once home he changed, but couldnít think of anything to occupy his time. That wasnít strictly true, there were lots of domestic things he could do, but his mind was on other things. Shit.
She wearily let herself into the apartment. It had been a long, horrible day. At least she was home and didnít have to avoid everyone anymore. She was barely in the door when the knocking startled her.
"Just a minute." She removed her coat and reluctantly returned to the door. She did not want company. She looked through the peephole. Mulder? What the hell. . .? She opened the door.
"Youíre late. Did you eat?"
"You were waiting for me?" She took in his appearance. Heíd changed into jeans and a sweater. They were right, what the hell would someone who looked like him see in her?
She wasnít making this easy. "I just wanted. . . Were you hiding?" The blush gave her away.
"Mulder, go home."
"Not until Iím sure youíre okay."
Shit, he was going to stay. Was she up to talking about this? Well, it wasnít like she hadnít had time to think. Sheíd accomplished nothing else all day.
"Come on in, Iím going to change." Her hatred of the suit she was wearing had grown all day. She left him standing there and headed for her bedroom. He shrugged out of his coat and stood undecided for a moment. Then he headed for the kitchen and poured himself a glass of tea. It always made him smile. Theyíd never discussed it, in fact it had never been mentioned, but there was always ice tea in the refrigerator in case he came by. He settled on the sofa as he heard her returning.
She was wearing tights and an oversize sweater. The sweater had a deeper V than he was used to and he couldnít help but enjoy it, even as he wondered at her choice.
"Did you eat?"
"Iím not hungry, Mulder." She sank onto the couch beside him.
"Are you okay?"
She looked away, no she wasnít okay. Every time sheíd managed to push the conversation sheíd overheard away, it had blindsided her when she relaxed. She took a deep breath, but refused to look at him.
"What did he say? And donít tell me you donít remember."
If only he could forget. Maybe a broken jaw would shut the guy up for a while. "Scully, he was crude and he doesnít deserve to be repeated."
She started to rise from the couch, but he caught her arm. "How did you hear about what happened?"
"I canít talk to you about this. Please go on home. Iím okay, really. Please."
"Scully, I. . . "
"Please, Mulder. Itís not a good idea for you to be here anyway." She stood and handed him his jacket. Well, heíd done no good here. He was pretty sure heíd actually made things worse.
"Look, Iíll call you, okay?"
"Sure, Mulder." She trailed him to the door and let him out. She leaned against the door when she shut it and tried to stifle a sob. Why was this affecting her so?
Mulder heard the sound as he was standing in the hall, not sure if he should leave. Damn it! He had been vaguely aware they had been gossiped about but no one had ever had the gall to actually say something to her. He could take it, heíd been talked about his whole life, but it shouldnít affect her. He hurried to his car.
She drew herself up. This was ridiculous, she must be hormonal or something. She started for the kitchen when the phone rang.
"Yeah, I thought it might be easier to talk like this."
"Mulder. . . "
"Hey, maybe Iím not a girlfriend, but I can listen. Please."
"Youíre crazy." But she didnít hang up, just sank onto the couch and spotted the ice tea heíd been drinking. His lips had been on it. Oh, that was the problem, she was losing her mind. Still she watched her hand curve around the glass and bring it to her own lips.
"Tell me what you heard, Scully."
She couldnít say this to Mulder, even if he was her best friend. But who else did she have to talk to? He heard her sigh and waited.
"A bunch of women trying to figure out what you could possibly see in me."
That struck him dumb. Heíd imagined all kinds of reports on the event, but for anyone not to be able to see. . . Just imagining her, visualizing her in that sweater right now was making him wish heíd changed into the sweats instead of the jeans. They were extremely uncomfortable now.
"Doesnít sound like a very intelligent group of women."
"Mulder?" Why was his voice so deep suddenly? Was his phone going out?
"Where were you?"
"Trapped in the damn ladies room. They didnít know I was there. Are you laughing at me?" He was making strange noises.
"No! No, I. . . who were they?"
"Iím not sure, there was a group of them. Oh, and if youíre interested you could have had any one of them right there on the bathroom floor."
"I beg your pardon?" He asked in a strangled voice.
"They were all quite impressed with your Ďpackageí." He was right, it was easier talking to him this way. Now what kind of noise was he making?
"God, Scully, who the hell were these women?" He sounded really disgusted.
"Well, Iím pretty sure one of them was Mrs. Baker."
"Mrs. Baker? Well, Scully, you need to remind me of her when I start dating women my motherís age. Okay?"
"Anything to help, Mulder."
"Sounds like a bunch of jealous bitches, Scully. They know exactly what I, and every other man at the Bureau, sees in you. They just donít like it."
"So thatís why my dance card is so full."
He got serious then, "Maybe theyíre afraid of me."
"Well, you are fierce competition."
"According to what I heard, youíve been voted best butt at the Bureau, four years running."
"Iíve been what!" He could not have heard her correctly. There was a contest? A vote!
"You heard me. And I didnít even have to nominate you. Iím not even sure the voting is limited to the women folk. I donít know who runs your campaign." Was he choking? She was feeling better than she had all day, talking it out had been the right thing to do. If he was choking he should pull over. "Mulder, where are you?"
"In my car."
"I know that. Whereís your car?"
"Oh, in front of your building. I didnít really leave."
"Mulder! Itís freezing! Get in here. Right now!"
He looked positively meek as he approached her door again. She was holding it open this time. The way she shook her head at him, he felt like a puppy whoíd had an accident on her carpet.
"Didnít I say you were crazy? Mulder, your hands are frozen. Did you not notice how cold it was?"
Actually he hadnít. Talking to her always warmed him, and their conversation this time was incredibly warming. Her massaging of his hands was giving him the same feeling now. Oh no, he couldnít have thought to wear sweats; that would have made sense. Of course, who would have thought heíd have this incredible hard on around Scully today of all days.
"Iíll make you some hot tea. Sit down." If his mother had scolded him like this as a child, theyíd have a much better relationship now. He sat on the couch and put his hands between his legs, might as well kill two birds with one stone here. When he heard the microwave ding, he was back in control and could turn and watch her returning to him with some confidence.
She watched him sip the tea and leaned back, eventually closing her eyes and just being with him. Okay people talked about them. It was actually very flattering to both of them, more so for her, but he didnít seem to be complaining. Too bad they didnít have something real to talk about. Dana! Where had that thought come from? He was her friend, her best friend and she needed him, in that capacity at least. The Bureau wouldnít allow more, even if he wanted it. She pulled her feet up on the couch under her and watched him drink.
"Are your feet cold? Give them to me."
"Why donít I just slip them under the number one ass at the Bureau?"
"You better be talking about my butt, Agent Scully."
She burst out laughing. He was paralyzed; how long had it been since heíd seen her laugh? She was so beautiful. His smile grew and he joined in her laughter. He could spend years looking at her like this, out of control and thoroughly enjoying herself Ė with him.
What a day! She had gone from the complete depths to laughing with him. Why did he have this affect on her? Just talking over the phone with him had made her feel this much better. And she hadnít even wanted to do that! He had sat in his freezing car, pulling information out of her just to try to make her feel good. She didnít appreciate him enough.
Her laughter spent, she smiled at him. "I love you so muc. . ." Even as the words left her mouth she realized her lapse and bit her knuckle, trying to bite back the words. His eyes, she was trapped by his eyes. Then he was gripping her arms.
"Did you mean that? Scully. . . ?"
She nodded mutely, her voice gone. How could she have made such a blunder? She wasnít even drinking!
He had her in his arms now, his lips in her hair, crushing her tightly against him. "Iíve got to get out of here." He murmured it in her hair, but his arms did not loosen and hers tightened around him.
"Scully?" What should he say? What. . . ? Then her lips brushed against his, and whatever heíd tried to say was gone. She had control of him now, pulling him down toward her as she leaned back on the couch.
When they finally stopped for breath, Mulder began nuzzling her ear. "Remind me to send Jerry some flowers."
"The jerk with the broken jaw, I think Iím ready to forgive him."
"Are we going to give them something to talk about?"
He pulled her back against him, "I certainly hope so."