Mulder looked up as his partner came in the office. "Did you find the file?"
She nodded, reading as she walked. She knew this office well enough to wander around without watching her footing.
"Oh, you had a call."
"Um, who?" She still hadn't bothered to look up.
"A guy named, let's see, Alan Nichols." Damn, he hadn't expected that reaction. Her face was flushed, her breathing rapid. She'd almost dropped the file. Who was this guy?
"Did he . . . did he leave a number?" It didn't even sound like her voice.
"Yeah. I put it on your computer." Was her hand trembling as she picked it up? "You gonna call him?"
"Sure, in a little while."
"Go ahead, you won't bother me." And he sure as hell wanted to hear the conversation.
She glanced at him. It didn't look like he was leaving. Well, so what? It was just a phone call. She dialed, watching Mulder out of the corner of her eye. "It's me."
It's me? She didn't even have to identify herself? He never heard her mention Alan before.
"When did you get back?" Back. So he'd been gone. How long? And why had he bothered to come back? He watched her check her wristwatch. "Okay. Yeah. 30 minutes. Me too." She hung up and didn't quite look at Mulder. "I'm going to take off now, Mulder. See you in the morning." She closed the file and shut off her computer.
"Yeah, sure. Just gonna take some, uh, personal time."
"Okay. Have a good time." No way. Something wasn't right. He did not like the vibrations he was getting from her, hell the hair was standing up on the back of his neck. Even though he knew it was a mistake he raced to his car and fell in several cars behind her when she left the parking garage. He followed her to a restaurant and parked as far from her car as he could get.
He watched her emerge from her car and glance around. There was a man approaching her. Over six feet, dark curly hair, lean and very tan. He picked her up and swung her around, kissing her. And god, she was returning the kiss. No, he wasn't having a heart attack, it was only breaking. The man had put her down, but her hands remained on his chest. Was she. . . was she rubbing his nipples? His own tingled and hardened. What the hell kind of pervert was he? He shouldn't be here. He should be anywhere but here.
The looks on their faces. . . she'd be in his bed tonight. He'd have his hands on her, his mouth. He'd be inside. . . Mulder groaned. He had to get away. This was the worse mistake he'd ever made. He had no right to witness any of this. She obviously wasn't in danger, why had he even thought she was? His radar wasn't usually that far off. He waited until they entered the restaurant, then peeled out of the driveway. He had to get away and fast.
Morning came agonizingly slowly. He was at the office before seven. He got no work done, but he had to get out of his apartment. The office wasn't much better. He could see her everywhere he turned. Why was he reacting like this? They'd never paid attention to each other's dates. Of course he couldn't remember the last time either one of them had gone out.
When she finally arrived, he took in every aspect of her. She didn't look any different. Would she? At least she wasn't grinning or, heaven forbid, singing.
"Good morning, Mulder. No coffee?"
"I forgot to make it."
"Sorry, thinking of other things." How could he forget the damn coffee? What was wrong with him?
She made the coffee, unaware of his scrutiny and got down to work. A phone call sent her upstairs and she came back shortly with a visitor.
"Alan, I'd like you to meet Fox Mulder, my partner. Mulder, this is Alan Nichols."
He already knew that. Now could he make his body move? He made it to his feet and took Alan's outstretched hand. Alan actually tried out the macho grip on him, but Mulder had been ready for it.
"So, you're an old friend of Scully's?"
"Yeah, Dana and I go way back."
"I knew Alan while I was in medical school." Scully volunteered.
"Um hum." Alan put his arm around her shoulders. "She liked to practice autopsies on me."
"Yeah? She's gotten her technique perfected now."
Scully's eyes widened. What was that?
Alan's eyes narrowed and he gave Mulder the barest nod. He fully understood.
Scully had become very uncomfortable. She obviously shouldn't have brought Alan here. Very shortly she started moving him toward the door. "Listen, Alan, we've got some work we need to finish."
"I'll call you. Can you find your way out?"
"Sure. I'll be waiting." He kissed her, nodded at Mulder and left.
"What was that about?" Scully demanded as soon as she heard the elevator doors shut and knew they were once again alone in their own little dungeon.
"What?" The puppy dog look wasn't going to work this time.
"Don't act innocent with me, Fox Mulder. What was that macho posturing? I thought you two were going to crash your heads together any minute."
"How come I've never heard you mention him?"
"A little obvious on the subject change, Mulder. I told you, I went with him while I was in medical school."
"Went with him. What does that mean?"
"We lived together, okay?" Mulder winced. Lived together? And she'd never mentioned him?
"Where's he been?"
"I'm curious." Damn curious!
She settled herself in the chair she used. "After he got his masters in engineering, Alan joined the Peace Corps. He's been living in South America. I guess he really liked it. He's been gone for years. I haven't heard from him for most of them. I wasn't even sure I'd recognize him."
"You recognized him pretty quickly last. . . " Oh shit. The eyebrow. She was gonna zap him with that damn eyebrow.
"Mulder, you didn't!" She was sitting bolt upright now, staring at him incredulously. He wouldn't have followed her, would he?
"I'm sorry. I didn't like you taking off like that. I didn't know he was an old friend. You could have been. . . "
"Bullshit, Mulder. Listen to me, I am not one of your suspects and I do have a life outside of these walls. Don't you ever, ever do anything like that again. Do you understand me?" She risen from the chair now and headed for the door. Even her footsteps sounded furious.
She was as mad as he'd ever seen her. Hell, he might as well go all the way. "Were you with him last night?"
"What?" She paused, her hand on the doorknob. "You know we had dinner, if you followed me."
"That's not what I mean."
She could feel the flush that took her face. How dare he ask her something like that? It was none of his damn business. He'd never asked her anything like this before, even after that disastrous weekend with Ed. And he had no right to. This was personal; it had nothing to do with him. So why did she hear herself saying, "I was alone last night."? She couldn't look at him; she didn't even want to know what he was thinking.
He watched her leave the office and as the door shut, collapsed into his chair. "Damn," he breathed.
She heard him fall into the chair. Where had all that come from? He didn't. . . she couldn't stop the small smile that was forming. This was ridiculous, she was furious and she had every right to be so. She hadn't missed the handshake, but that obvious "she perfected her technique"? Mulder had never been that territorial before.
She'd cooled off by lunchtime and let Alan pick her up. When they were seated at the restaurant he leaned back and smiled. "I didn't think Wolf was going to let you come."
"His name is Fox and he has no say about whom I choose to see."
"Really? He seemed quite possessive to me. Is he the reason I was alone in my hotel room last night?" He leaned toward her in the booth.
"You were alone last night because we haven't seen each other in eight years."
"You're sure about that?"
"I'm sure that if we don't change the subject, I'm leaving," she responded shortly.
"He really did set you off. Okay, okay." He threw his hands up. "Minor subject change. Tell me about this Fox so I can see him from your point of view."
That was exactly what Mulder had said. What was going on? "Okay, he's a Ph.D. in psychology from Oxford. He has done some incredible profiling work for the Bureau and now works in a new division that he created, trying to clear up older cases outside of the mainstream. He's brilliant and as sometimes happens with people like that, he has built a wall around himself, isolating him from many people."
"So you're attracted to the loner in him," he probed.
"I didn't say I was attracted to him at all. He's my partner. I understand him."
"Do you think of him as a fox?"
"Alan, this is pointless. If you want to have a nice lunch why don't you tell me your plans, now that you're back in the U.S."
After lunch she returned to the office. Mulder was there and it didn't look as though he had accomplished much.
"Good lunch?" He wanted to make up with her, but wasn't sure what to say.
"Yes. Did you eat?"
He shook his head. "I wasn't sure you'd come back."
"I wasn't sure myself," she admitted.
"Look, why don't you tell me a little more about this guy, so I can see what attracts you to him." He gestured toward her chair and pulled his up closer, giving her his full and complete attention.
Almost the same words again. They were both spooky. "Look, why don't you two just exchange resumes and leave me out of this."
"Are we applying for the same job, Scully?"
She was actually speechless for a moment. "I don't know what either one of you is doing. I'll be working at home this afternoon. You can reach me by email or phone."
"Scully, don't leave."
She stopped and looked at him. "What's going on, Mulder? This isn't like you."
"I know. Scully, I just don't like him." I really don't like him, he thought, but I don't know why.
"Well, he doesn't seem to like you much either, so I guess you're even."
"I don't trust him with you."
"Mulder, you don't trust anyone."
"I trust you."
"Are you. . . nevermind." That couldn't be it, this was stupid. Mulder didn't get jealous, territorial maybe but not personal.
"Mulder, you're acting almost as though you're jealous of Alan."
"Should I be?"
"Answering a question with a question is a bad sign, Mulder."
He grinned slightly. "Been hanging around me too long, huh? Well to answer your question, I think maybe I am." Now why the hell had he admitted that?
She sank into her chair. Had he really said that? "I think we're both outside our comfort zones right now, Mulder. We need some time to think."
"Can you do that while he's around?" He was seriously interested in her answer to that.
"I don't have any choice now. Mulder, Alan will probably only be around a few days and then I may never see him again. Let's not mess anything up."
"What if he stays?"
"He didn't last time."
"Can you tell me about that?" He had to be careful not to push, but he absolutely had to know.
"Mulder, there's nothing to tell. He finished school and left." Okay, not entirely accurate, but it was a long time ago. So why couldn't she look him in the eye when she said it?
"Did he ask you to go with him?"
"No, by that time I'd realized we weren't exactly right for each other. And I wasn't through with school; I wouldn't give that up for him. It was too important." All true there, she nodded to herself.
"So you separated on good terms?"
"Yes, Mulder. We separated on good terms. Enough? I'll see you tomorrow."
No not enough, but a lot more than he had any right to ask. He watched her leave the room with a feeling he quite couldn't analyze, but fear was part of it. Why fear?
She was out to lunch with Alan again. He'd pretty much given up on eating lunch, so he was still at his desk when the phone rang. "Mulder."
"Fox, how are you?"
"Hi, Mrs. Scully. I'm okay, you?"
"You sure about that, Fox? You don't sound like yourself."
"Just thinking about a case." No need to go into this with her. "You looking for Scully?" I am, he added silently.
"Yes. I haven't heard from her in over a week. Is everything okay?"
"Uh, yeah, sure. An old friend from school is in town and she's spending a lot of time catching up. You know."
"Oh, who it is? Maybe I should have her over."
"Him. It's Alan Nichols."
"Alan? No! Fox, have her call me, please. As soon as she gets in."
"Mrs. Scully, what. . .?"
"Fox, just have her call me."
She hung up before he could ask her anything else, without even saying goodbye. Well, it was nice to know his opinion of Alan was shared, but. . .
Mulder wandered upstairs to find a candy bar. Eating without Scully, he really had no appetite. There was a small crowd gathered around a desk near the candy machine. As he opened the candy he joined the group and caught sight of the gruesome photo.
"Hey Mulder, we almost had to call Mrs. Spooky in on this one." One the agents looked up and spotted him leaning over the desk.
He decided to let the nickname go. Why give them the satisfaction? Besides, it linked her to him.
"You mean she lived?"
"Barely. These pros are tough."
"She was a prostitute?"
"Yeah. The DC police have asked for our help. They have a serial rapist who really enjoys beating them half to death afterward. So far all hookers, five in the last three weeks."
"Five? And you don't have a good description?"
"I guess they weren't looking at his face, Mulder." Several of the guys chuckled at that.
"How about a profile?"
"We're working on it. We frankly suspect an earthling, so we can probably handle it."
Mulder just shook his head at the laughter and walked off. He was used to it, and he also knew that if they got stuck they'd be asking for his help. He just wished Scully would do the same.
When Scully returned from lunch, she brought him a sandwich.
"Thanks, but you didn't have to."
"You need to eat occasionally, okay?"
"Yeah. Oh, your mom wants you to call."
"She said she hadn't heard from you lately."
"And she's right." Scully picked up the phone and dialed her mother's home. "Hi, Mom."
"Dana, why didn't you tell me Alan was back?" She was wasting no time getting to the point here.
Scully shot an 'I'll get you for this' look at Mulder. "I didn't think. . . look, Mom, I can't talk right now. I'll come by after work, okay? Yeah, I promise." She hung up and turned to Mulder.
"Did you have to tell her?"
"I assumed she knew, since he's an old friend. Why doesn't she like him?" Come on Scully, he thought, talk to me. I'm not the only one that feels like he's bad news. What is it about the guy?
"Don't worry about it."
Mulder rose and came to her side of the desk. "I want to know. Please."
"She didn't like the way he treated me, okay?" Boy, she did not want to get into this with Mulder. She could never explain it to him. She didn't really understand what had happened between them herself.
"How did he treat you?" He knew he was pushing but he had to know.
"Mulder, this is old stuff. You don't want to know all this."
"Please." Why was she so reluctant to talk about him? Her body language was so defensive, almost as though she was afraid to talk about it or afraid of him because he was pushing for answers.
"She thought he was too possessive. He did sometimes get jealous, and he wanted a lot of my time." Okay, that's bland enough.
"Sounds like me."
"No. No, Mulder you are nothing like him."
"Did he try to isolate you?" Too possessive? What exactly did that mean?
"I guess so."
"Scully, did he. . . did he ever hit you?" That photograph was back in his head. His eyes narrowed as she blushed and he realized his hands had become fists.
"One time. I threw him out." Shit, she hadn't wanted him to know that, she still could barely believe how she had acted back then. Why had he thought to ask? And why hadn't she lied to him?
"But you let him come back." It wasn't a question.
"He never hit me again." That sounded defensive, even to her. Was she still defending Alan, even to herself?
"What did he do instead?" He held his body still, though he was shaking inside. He had hit Scully? Mulder had the overwhelming desire to break Alan's jaw and nose and whatever else he could reach.
"Mulder, it doesn't matter now. It's all ancient history." It is ancient history, I'm not attracted to Alan anymore, I'm attracted to. . .oh shit.
"When you made him mad after that, what did he do instead of hitting you?" He was going to get an answer one way or the other. He hoped the answer would come from her.
"He'd leave, be gone for a couple of days." Those memories, ones she really didn't want were back in her mind. And they were intermixed with this new revelation she's just given herself.
"Pick up other women?"
"I don't know. We never discussed it." I didn't want to know back then, she thought, and I don't care now. I just wanted someone steady in my life and I wasn't strong enough to know any better. It was so long ago, she could almost pretend it was someone else being that weak.
"But you let him come back. Is he that good in bed?" Way over the line, Mulder. Shit, let's antagonize her good, then she'll really want to talk with you.
She lifted her hand as though to slap him and he tensed waiting for the blow. It didn't come. She lowered her hand and sighed, "I was young and stupid, okay? You have no right to ask me these questions."
He chose to ignore that. "But he wants you back."
"How would you know that? You've seen him one, okay, two times." Where was Mulder getting this? Why did Alan raise his hackles so, there was no way he could have known about their past.
"He's breathing isn't he? What man wouldn't want you?" Too much, way too much! Why had he revealed that? What the hell is wrong with you, Mulder?
Her eyes widened. What was he saying? She jumped as he backhanded the pencil holder, scattering pens, pencils and markers all over his side of the room. He collapsed into his chair and stared at his shoes.
"Mulder, where is this coming from?" She hadn't moved, she wasn't sure she could.
He didn't respond or look up from his shoes.
"Mom keeps telling me that you care about me, Mulder."
He glanced up then and quickly away.
"I keep telling her that we're partners and of course you care. But she seems to think. . . "
"That it's more than that." He finished for her, still not making eye contact. He wanted to look at her, but this had gotten out of hand way too fast. This discussion should not be happening, not here and not now. It wouldn't be if that damn Alan hadn't shown up.
"Your mother's a very wise woman. Maybe you should listen to her more often." He was on his feet with his jacket in hand, and out the door before she could respond.
When he didn't return she finally left the office as well. She might as well face her mother. This day wasn't going to improve anyway.
Her mother answered her knock quickly and gave her a hug. When she stepped aside Scully saw Mulder standing in front of the sofa in the living room.