She couldn’t remember ever being more furious with the man. How could he have taken such a foolish chance with his life? She was his partner, not his ward. His job wasn’t to protect her or guard her. He should watch her back, yes, but never put his own life in jeopardy for her.
She was too angry to speak. Her hands were balled into fists in her pockets. She couldn’t even look over at him.
If his driving was slightly erratic she put it down to the nearness of his own demise. As soon as he pulled into the parking space at the motel, she had the door open and jumped out. She needed to get away from him, cool down.
His eyes were hard and his anger matched her own, though her fury hadn’t fully registered with him yet. He vaulted from the car after her and caught her in a couple of strides.
He grabbed her arm, turning her toward him. He might as well have thrown gasoline on a fire. Her eyes flashed with that fire and without warning her palm connected with his face, full force.
He dropped her arm instantly and stepped back, his face completely impassive. The mask had dropped into place without hesitation. She tried to hide how appalled she was at her own action. She had never hit him before, but then he had never grabbed her like that, forcing her to his will physically.
He turned without a word and headed away from her. She closed her eyes, not able to watch him walk away. Her anger evaporated into fear and she wasn’t sure her legs would hold her.
How could she have hit him? She wanted to call out to him, make him stop. But she didn’t know if she could stand it if he refused.
When he turned the corner, out of sight, she gasped. How long had it been since she’d taken a breath? After a long moment she forced herself to move again. She let herself into the room and closed the door behind her.
Then she just stood, the key in her hand. She didn’t see the bed with the ugly pumpkin and brown design, or the matching drapes. She didn’t see the leatherette chair pulled up to the small table holding her laptop. Anyone watching her would think the tacky autumn still life hanging framed but unmatted above the bed mesmerized her. In reality she saw nothing but the look on his face when she had struck him.
Closing her eyes didn’t help. The pain on his face hadn’t come from her slap. The pain she had seen wasn’t physical.
Maybe she had overreacted. He had probably saved her life - at least saved her from a terrible injury. The man had been aiming right at her. If he hadn’t shoved her to the ground she could have been killed. But could was the operative word. She’d been about to fire herself. Maybe that was part of the problem; she had so nearly shot Mulder. That caused a violent shudder to take over her body. She had seen their assailant’s bullet brush through Mulder's hair as he lay partially atop her. It had been that close. He could have died saving her life - did he expect her to live with that?
She could have taken the man. Her gun was out - she’d had a chance.
When had Mulder decided to go all macho? Did he not believe she could handle herself?
She shook herself and moved toward the bathroom. There she splashed some cold water on her face. It didn’t help. She knew she should eat something, but even if she’d had an appetite, she wasn’t sure anything would stay down.
Instead she got ready for bed. It was ridiculously early, but she wanted the comfort of her soft pajamas and her robe around her. She stood in the shower until the water turned cool, then dried herself vigorously as though to remove all memory of the day.
She hadn’t heard him return. Would he return? The car was still there, so he might be in the diner, or the bar across the street.
She slept horribly. When she was finally able to close her eyes, it didn’t last long, jerking awake from dreams or sounds. She couldn’t remember a worse night. There was no way makeup was going to hide the damage. And they had a three-hour car ride ahead of them.
She finally heard him next door and opened her own door to meet him at the car. She stood on the passenger’s side and watched him approach her. He didn’t look a whole lot better than she did. He hadn’t gotten much sleep either apparently.
He didn’t speak, stowing their suitcases in the trunk, then opening his door and getting in. He leaned over and unlocked her door and she slid in. Neither spoke.
Her anger was still too raw, too there, but it was tempered now with fear. Fear of her reaction to his rescue of her, fear of what would happen the next time, fear of what he was thinking. Her hands were in fists again.
Twenty minutes later they still hadn’t spoken and she wasn’t sure she could keep from exploding any longer. She took a deep breath and turned to look at him for the first time that day.
“Mulder.” She saw him tense up instantly, his knuckles going white around the steering wheel. He was still that angry? Well, this couldn’t continue. “I’m sorry that I hit you Mulder.”
His jaw tightened but he didn’t speak.
“Mulder, did you hear me?”
“Yes. You’re sorry. What do you want me to say?”
She tried to steady herself. “Nothing Mulder. You don’t have to say anything. When we get back to DC, I’ll speak to Skinner. A transfer should go through in just a couple of days.”
She felt the car jerk slightly, then he had control again. He still didn’t speak and she turned away, looking out the window.
Without warning Mulder pulled the car off of the highway, into the parking lot of an abandoned gasoline station. She caught her breath and grabbed the handle of the door. He threw the car into park, then turned to her. She tensed, waiting for his words.
Instead he swallowed hard, then threw off his seatbelt and exited the car, slamming the door behind him.
She nearly collapsed in relief. She had actually been physically frightened of him for a moment. Then she looked back up at him. He had his back to her but something about his posture . . .
She opened her door quietly and exited the car. “Mulder?” She lightly touched his arm and he moved away. “Mulder, please.”
“What happened? What the hell did I do? I don’t know where this is coming from!”
She studied his shoes for a long moment. “Why did you shove me out of the way when he . . . when he fired?”
He blinked at that. It wasn’t what he had expected. Why? Did she really ask that question?
“Do you not think I’m a capable agent? That I can’t handle myself?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I had my gun on him. I was ready to fire - “
“He was ahead of you. He would have killed you.”
“Do you know how close he came to killing you?”
From the confused look on his face she knew that he didn’t. She sighed and looked around, spotting a bench against the building. “Let’s sit, okay?”
He nodded, still at a loss.
“Mulder, you put your life in unnecessary jeopardy.”
Unnecessary? His brow furrowed, but he waited.
“The bullet he fired, it . . . it went through your hair.” She raised a hand and lightly touched his hair. “Less than, less than an inch . . .” Her voice caught, as the dreams that had haunted her sleep were back in full force.
He watched in shock as a tear escaped her eye and she wiped it quickly away.
“You . . . you love me.” The awe in his voice struck her.
She looked up, startled. “Of course I do, you stupid idiot!” Then, to his horror, she burst into tears.
“Scully? Don’t . . . don’t cry.” He put his arm around her awkwardly. It only increased her tears.
He hesitated an instant, then drew her into his lap. She stiffened slightly. “Just relax Scully, it’s okay.” He was only mildly surprised when she did relax against him and give in to her emotions.
After a few minutes she sat up and took the handkerchief he offered. He kept quiet; he could only screw things up from here.
“Mulder, one inch - if that bullet had been one inch lower you would have died in my arms right there. You would’ve died for no good reason - “
“I would’ve saved you.”
That stopped her and she looked up at him. “How do we work like this?” Then as though suddenly realizing where she was, she tensed and rose from his lap. His hands twitched to hold her in place, but he managed to stop himself.
“Mulder, we can’t do this.”
He rose and stood over her, “Scully, how can I do less? I cannot stand by and watch you get hurt or . . . or die. I can’t.”
She seemed to shrink in front of him. “Then we can’t be partners. Not if . . . Not if we can’t put this aside while we’re at work.“
He didn’t speak. He couldn’t dispute her words exactly, but he couldn’t put it aside, not for an instant. He hadn’t been able to for years; did she not know that?
“Are you really going to ask Skinner for a transfer?”
She couldn’t look up at him. Was he aware that his hands were trembling slightly? She sank back down onto the bench. “What else can I do?”
“Do you think another partner can watch your back better? Like Ritter?”
She did look up then, her eyes flashing with anger again for an instant. It didn’t last and her shoulders slumped. “No. You’re the only one I trust.”
He resumed his own seat beside her. “We’re screwed Scully.”
She actually chuckled at that, to his surprise. “The one thing we can’t do.”
He gaped at her then. Had Scully said that? “Scully?”
She looked up at him and saw the look on his face. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
Mulder nodded, he hadn’t either. “Scully, if . . . if we weren’t . . . partners, would we see each other?”
She looked at him puzzled, “Of course we would. We work in the same building.”
“No, no I meant ‘see’ each other.”
“You mean . . . date?”
“Well I’m a little old to be thinking about dating, but . . .yeah.”
“I . . . is that what you want? I mean, I just hit you for saving my life.”
“Did you? Or did you hit me because you were scared? Scully, I said this before, but you need to hear me this time, I love you.” He saw the fear in her eyes at that statement and felt despair surround him like a fog.
He looked away then and leaned back against the building, letting his head rest against the brick. “What was I thinking? How could I have thought a woman like you could be interested that way in Spooky Mulder?” He closed his eyes.
He felt her hand on his knee, “You asked me once, a long time ago, if I thought you were spooky. I didn’t give you a straight answer then, but I can now. No. I’ve never thought of you as spooky. That’s not to say you don’t surprise me; come at me from left field a lot of the time, but spooky, no.” She looked away again, “No, the fear comes from knowing that I can’t . . . Mulder, I’ve never had a relationship like what you’re talking about. I’ve never been in love with anyone, you know my track record with men.”
“They’ve been the wrong men, Scully. We’ve lasted.”
“We haven’t been in that kind of relationship.”
“If you mean the physical, okay, but you’ve been my life for years. I didn’t say ‘in my life’ Scully, I said my life.”
She was looking frightened again. “Mulder, I . . . I don’t know if I can give you what you need. I’ve never been able to for anyone else.”
“What is it you think I need?”
"I . . . I don't know. I don't, I never thought about it."
"Then why do you think you wouldn't be able to give me what I need? Why don't you know that you already do?"
She looked up at him startled at those words. “I do?”
He shook his head at her in frustration. “Scully, you trust me. You let me into your life, as much as I see you let anyone in.” Her face fell at that. “I’m not complaining; I’m there a lot more than I used to be. It’s hard for you; for some reason, it’s harder for you to let me in than it is for me to let you in. But then, you’re the only person I’ve ever tried to let in, so . . . “ He shrugged.
“Mulder, you’ve had other relationships - Phoebe, Diana.”
“I wasn’t talking about sex Scully. Well, not exclusively. I slept with Phoebe, but I was never part of her life and she made it clear that was the only facet of my life she wanted. It was complicated with Diana, I guess I felt I . . . I owed her or something. I took the X-Files from her. We found them together, kind of, and then I got more and more involved and she finally drifted away. I couldn’t even tell you when she left. One day I just realized she wasn’t around as much, then she transferred to Europe. I honestly didn’t miss her.”
“Do you think you would miss me?”
He looked at her stunned, “I miss you every night when I go home. Hell, I miss you when you go get a cup of coffee without me. It’s not the same; it’s never been the same. I never told either of them that I loved them.”
She shivered slightly at those words. He closed his eyes in defeat. “You’re scared of me, of us. Scully what can I do?”
“I’m not scared of you. I’m . . . I don’t think I can . . . you’ll tire of me.” She wouldn’t look at him.
“Are you . . . are we talking about sex here?”
“Scully, do you enjoy sex?”
“What?” Her eyes widened.
“Do you come? Orgasm?”
“Mulder, I absolutely am not going to have this conversation with you.”
“Come on Scully, it’s important. What about Jack? Did you come with Jack?” He was gripping her hand.
“I . . . I guess so.”
“You guess so? Scully, if the man’s doing it right, you’d know.”
She couldn’t get him to let go of her hand, not without more effort than she wanted to use for some reason.
“What about with Ed?”
“Who?’ She looked up puzzled at that.
“I didn’t have sex with Ed Jerse!”
She watched the look of delight come over his face. “You stayed overnight.”
“It was snowing and I’d had a few drinks.”
“And a tattoo.”
Her eyebrow rose as her eyes narrowed. “Did you really think I slept with a man on a first, on an only, date?”
“When’s the last time you were with a man Scully?” He was on thin ice and going even farther out, but she hadn’t run yet.
“That’s none of your business!”
“I know, but - “
“Mulder, we have a two and a half hour drive ahead of us. We should get going.” She started to rise, but he put his hand on her arm.
“I know, but this is not a conversation I can have while I’m driving.”
“This is not a conversation we should be having at all!”
She closed her eyes and shook her head, but heard herself answering. “Just before I was assigned to the X-Files.”
“Was he . . . special?”
“No. A mutual friend introduced us. We dated for a while, then I got . . . busy.”
“What was his name?”
She looked at him for a long moment. “Steve. Okay?”
“Steve. Scully, they’ve been the wrong men.”
"And I suppose you think you’re the right man. Mulder, how did this conversation turn to sex? We were talking about not being able to work together anymore because of our personal relationship. You think sex wouldn’t complicated our relationship even further?”
“Well I’ll admit I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself.”
She snorted at that and rose from the bench. “Let’s go.”
He rose himself then and she could see he was already deep in thought. Great, just what she needed after that conversation, Mulder to be contemplating something.
He didn’t hesitate to put his hand on her back walking to the car, though he knew better than to open the door for her. After she was buckled he started the engine. “We should get something to eat.”
She automatically started to protest, but then realized she hadn’t had dinner last night or breakfast this morning. Now her appetite returned full force. “Okay, whatever you find.”
He nodded and pulled out onto the highway. They pulled into a diner just a couple of miles down the road. They were quiet again, but the hostility from before was missing - she was quiet, out of embarrassment mostly for letting the conversation travel into such personal areas, and he was obviously still thinking about things.
She was surprised when they approached DC that he didn't head for the office, turning instead toward his apartment. "Mulder, my car's at work."
"I'll take you there later. We need to finish the talk we started."
"No! That conversation is over. Mulder, take me to the office."
"Scully, I infuriated you last night by saving your life at what you saw as the expense of my own. I didn't even think about it and I won't next time either. If you really are planning to ask for a transfer I'm not going to just walk away."
She was reading his expression. Finally she sighed, he was never going to let this go. She shouldn't have threatened him with a transfer. His fear of abandonment was too strong. Besides, could she leave him? But how could she not? Her dirty little secret was that she would have done the same thing to save him.
She closed her eyes to escape him. She could actually feel him tense up from her side of the car.
"Mulder, I don't know what else there is to say."
"Scully, are you going to ask for a transfer?"
"Not tomorrow. I need some time to think." He took a breath and pulled onto his street. "You still won't take me to get my car?"
"Not yet. Scully, please."
He cut the engine and pocketed the keys. Then he looked over at her once more and let himself out of the car. After a slight hesitation she unbuckled herself and opened her own door. She followed him to his apartment rather than let him touch her again. Once the door was open he turned back to her and let her precede him inside.
"So what now Mulder? You want to do it, just cut through the crap and do it here on the floor?"
"Yes, but I won't."
That response startled her and she actually took a step back.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I would never do that. When we finally do get together, I want you to want it as much as I do. I want you to enjoy it, like you've never enjoyed anything before in your life." He grinned then, "Like I said, no pressure on me." He grew serious then. "Scully, I can't be myself anymore without you." He held his hand out to her.
To his immense relief she took it in her own. "I don't know if I can either Mulder. And damn it, you've given me a lot to think about. But I promise, I won't put in for that transfer, if you promise not to put yourself in danger without thinking about the consequences for me. You don't want to make me that angry again."
He nodded and squeezed her hand. "I promise to work on it."
She relaxed slightly then, he had turned her world inside out over the last couple of days. She'd gone from fury to embarrassment to . . . to actual contemplation of a physical relationship with this man. But who else had ever been able to conjure such emotions from her?
She ducked her head to hide the smile. At least she wasn't angry with him anymore.
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter, 10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.