She hung up the phone and sighed as he walked in the door. "What?" He stopped in his tracks to look at her.
"We've been caught."
"Damn! And we were so careful. What were we caught at this time?"
"Funny, Mulder. The powers that be have discovered that you and I have never attended the partners' trust/communication seminar. We're to report Thursday evening to the Retreat Center in Leestown, Virginia."
"Shit, Scully. Can we get out of it?"
"Not without losing some pay. I tried." He sank into his chair, muttering. "Maybe it won't be so bad." He looked up at her, so she subsided.
"I had plans this weekend."
She didn't look up. What kind of plans did he have? Who was she? And why did she care? Yeah, right Dana, you know exactly why you care and even better why you shouldn't. Besides historically it wasn't a woman, why torture yourself every time with the thoughts.
"Byers hacked into a website with all the new video games for testing. We were planning a marathon for Friday night through Sunday night." He slammed a drawer that wasn't quite shut.
She felt her heart rate ease and immediately began chastising herself. It didn't matter if he had a date and she damn well knew it. She shouldn't be so damned relieved. And knowing she shouldn't didn't help at all.
He picked her up at her apartment that evening and they grabbed a quick bite on the road to Virginia. He continued to grouse about the weekend and she just let it flow over her. Unfortunately she didn't have better things to do. Her mother was out of town and even if she could round up one or two of her girlfriends, they'd just want to go bar hopping or to a club and she just hated that. She'd rather be forced into this seminar with Mulder, at least it was something to do and not alone. Pathetic.
He glanced over at her during a lull in his complaining. Maybe he was laying it on a bit thick. This really was better than spending the whole weekend with the guys. At least he was with her, even if it wasn't an X-File. Not that he could admit that to her without getting himself killed or at least maimed.
They were nearly the last to arrive and had to hurry after stowing their gear to meet with the group. Mulder cringed when they entered. Sitting in a circle? Oh god, were they going to get all touchy feely? He glanced around the circle - still more male partnerships than co-ed, but the Bureau was gaining on affirmative action. You'd think someone would learn from the partnership he and Scully had developed and take advantage of it. No, on second thought, there weren't other partners out there like her.
She nudged him to bring him back to the present. How could she tell he wasn't paying attention, he knew damn well he wasn't snoring.
The facilitator was having them go around the circle, introduce themselves, tell what division and how long they had been partners. Fortunately they got to Scully before him.
"Dana Scully. I'm assigned to the X-Files. Agent Mulder and I have been partners for six years now."
"Six?" The facilitator, Darrill, interrupted her. He glanced down at his notes. "I don't see that this is a refresher course for you."
"No sir. We haven't attended such a seminar previously."
"But you're required to attend one after six months and every two years thereafter."
"Yes sir. We've been busy." Mulder had to look away. She was handling it fine and if he smiled or made any comment he knew he'd be in trouble. Why chance it?
"Well, six years. . . You two could be a valuable resource to this group. Agent Mulder?"
"She said it all, I'm Fox Mulder, assigned to the X-Files and I've been with Scully for six years."
Been with? Inwardly Scully rolled her eyes. Like, yeah.
"I'm afraid I'm not familiar with your division. X-Files, did you say? Could you explain that to me?"
It didn't take good communication skills to know he wanted her to take that one, so she did. "It's a small division, just the two of us. We work on cases outside of the Bureau mainstream and older unsolved cases."
Before she could continue she heard the buzz in the room and then one of the other agents who had leaned over and was whispering said "little green men".
She fixed him with her best ice queen stare. Mulder raised his hand ostensibly to rub his nose, but actually to hide the smile that was threatening to form on his face. He could feel that guy wither from across the room. Maybe this weekend wouldn't be so bad after all and Scully was wearing a t-shirt.
"Settle down folks. Okay? We're here to learn about trust and communication. Both of these are essential to staying alive in your chosen career. You don't have to worry so much about whether or not the paper work is in on time, or the company bills are paid. Your partner is the one person you have to count on to stay alive and healthy. And they have to feel the same way about you. This isn't a sometimes thing, or when you're in a good mood thing, or when you aren't distracted thing. This is always. I'm sure you've seen the trust test that's been around so long, where one partner stands with his or her back to the other and without looking at the partner, falls backwards, trusting the partner to catch him or her."
Darrill smiled at the muttering around the room. "I know it looks hard, and it can be. But I've done it and you can do it. Trust issues are always hard, even after six years." He looked over at Mulder and Scully. "Want to try it?"
Mulder looked over at Scully and shrugged. She nodded and they stood. Darrill was already picking up on their silent communication abilities. This pair did know each other. "Okay, Dana, why don't you stand here. Fox. . ."
"Sure, Mulder, right here behind her. Not too close, she shouldn't be able to feel you."
He'd have to be in another state for that, she thought. No, not true, she'd been aware of him even when he was a prisoner in Russia.
"Now, Dana when you're ready, say his name and the word 'ready', Mulder will respond with the word 'ready' then you just fall backwards into his arms. Take your time, I know it's not as easy as it sounds."
Scully took a deep breath then, "Mulder, ready." And at his response fell into his arms. He caught her with ease and put her back on her feet. Darrill was speechless. He'd been doing this for years and never seen anything like it. There had been no hesitation, no false start, nothing. She'd just fallen back and known he would be there.
"Okay, now." The facilitator took back control of the room. "We're only going to do one exercise tonight, just a warm up that we'll be coming back to later in the weekend. I want you to face your partner, look him or her directly in the eyes. Touch or hold hands if you're comfortable with that. You remember the old game 'Truth or Dare'? Well, that's what we're going to play now, only no dares. This is your chance to ask your partner that one burning question you've wondered about since you met them. I didn't say it was going to be easy, but think about who you're talking to. Remember, this is your partner, the person you trust to save your life. If there's something you can't share, you need to be aware of it and we can work on that individually. Decide between yourselves who goes first. When you're through with this exercise, you're off for the night. You may begin."
There was nervous rustling around the room. Mulder reached out and took Scully's hands into his. "May I go first?"
She couldn't help the nervous laugh. "Something you've been burning to ask me? I'm glad we're in a room full of people." He smiled and waited. "Okay, Mulder. Go for it."
He took a deep breath and squeezed her hands a little, as though for reassurance. "Did anything happen between you and Ed Jerse that night in Philadelphia?"
She couldn't keep the shock of that question from her face. He had given that weekend a second thought? She was stunned, she would never have anticipated that question in a million years.
"No, Mulder. Nothing happened. Why?"
"That's when you got your tattoo. You've never shown it to me. I've always wondered if it symbolized something about. . . "
"No. I haven't shown it to you because I'm embarrassed I did it. It was such an impulsive thing and had such tragic consequences." He nodded. "I can't believe that was your question."
"Well, " he ducked his head, "It's none of my business what you do on dates, but. . . " There was a short silence between them. They heard the other people in the room and were startled back to the present.
"Okay Scully. I'm all yours." He leered at her and she rolled her eyes. What should she ask? His question had thrown her into another mindset. This was a golden opportunity to learn something about him. Go for it Dana! He started it. Okay. She looked up into his eyes.
"What's your relationship with Diana Fowley?"
Well, she hadn't expected that reaction, his face grew red, his breathing became shallow and his eyes were suddenly hooded. She'd obviously asked something he did not want to answer. She felt her heart rate start to rise. She opened her mouth to withdraw the question when he spoke.
"She was my partner and. . . " He looked away and took a deep breath. Scully suddenly found herself wanting to stop him, wanting not to hear what he was going to say. "And she, uh, she's my ex-wife."
He watched her eyes widen and her lips part in shock. She seemed unable to speak. She realized suddenly that he had hold of her hands and tried to jerk them away. He'd been ready for that and tightened his grip.
"Let go of my hands." She hissed at him, looking around to make sure they weren't being observed.
"That wasn't a request."
"Scully, I can't. If I let go you'll run out of here and I won't be able to make you listen." From her expression he wasn't going to be able to anyway. "Scully, please."
"Why?" She managed to choke out. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I know what a shit I'm going to sound like, but I didn't think of it. It was so long ago for such a short time. I never think about it. When I saw her that day in the briefing room with Spender, I was stunned. That's when I realized you didn't know. And I also knew it was too late to tell you, to explain. I was. . . "
To Scully's horror she realized tears were forming in her eyes and he wasn't about to look away. She tried to blink them away but one escaped and trickled down her face.
Oh God, what had he done? "Scully, we were married for three months. We both knew immediately we'd made a huge mistake. I was a lousy husband, she deserved better. She was just such a contrast from Phoebe and she thought like I did. I mistook that for love, I didn't know any better, not then anyway. I should have told you, I know I should have. It's the reason I wouldn't allow myself to get closer to you, why I fought so hard to keep you at arm's length."
"What?" She was shaking her head and still trying to get her hands free from his.
"I found out just how insensitive, how selfish I was in that relationship. I've never tried again. Then you came to me, were given to me - I treated you just as badly at first, but you hung in there. You saw through me and called me on it. Maybe I haven't told you often enough what you mean to me or give me with just your presence, but it's because I'm afraid. You and I are already so much closer than Diana and I ever got, ever could have gotten. Please, Scully."
At least she'd quit struggling to free her hands. He didn't know if she heard what he was trying to say, but she was looking at him.
"I need some time Mulder."
"Will you come back?"
When she didn't respond he wilted. God, he'd screwed up everything after he'd tried so hard not to let what a prick he was drive her away. He'd started taking her for granted. Just because he loved her didn't mean she gave a rat's ass for him, and now. . . He forced himself to release her hands and seized what comfort he could from the fact she didn't bolt from the room.
She was watching his eyes. She couldn't remember ever seeing him so frightened. Even when Eugene Tooms was jerking him back down under the escalator he hadn't looked so scared. Part of her wanted to reassure him, but the rest was still reeling from the shock and hurt of this new information. He'd been married to Diana - married! They'd vowed to love one another forever, lived together as man and wife. But only for three months her mind supplied, and on the rebound from Phoebe at that.
It did kind of explain why he always stopped at innuendoes and double entrendres. He didn't want that deep a relationship with a woman. This was as close as he wanted. She felt something inside wither at that knowledge. She stood.
"I'll see you in the morning, Mulder." She turned and walked from the room. For the first time he noticed everyone else had already left the room. Since he was alone, he buried his face in his hands and sat there until he felt capable of walking to his room.
The next morning everyone met at the back of the main building before heading into a wooded area for the paint ball competition. Neither of them had slept well, but they'd been together long enough to put what was bothering them aside for work purposes. They were still the best team here, with the best communication skills, at least regarding work. They headed into the designated area.
Neither saw their assailant, Scully still hadn't seen him when she staggered back from the impact of the shot. Mulder was slightly behind her and saw her hit. He pivoted instantly and shot, his first shot splattering all over the faceplate of the shooter, the second covering his chest.
"Damn Mulder, I'd heard you were good, but. . . " Mulder barely registered that he was talking. His eyes were riveted on her chest, which was covered in thick red paint, not blood, paint. Telling himself that didn't help.
"Mulder? Are you. . . Mulder!" She needed to get his attention. It was like he was going into shock. What was going on? She took his arm and forced him to look into her eyes. "Mulder! It's me, what's wrong."
She saw one of the trainers approaching them and motioned to him that everything was okay, then moved Mulder toward the building, eventually leading him to one of the small study alcoves.
"Mulder, talk to me."
"Could you take that off." He motioned to the gory looking t-shirt that still covered her. She glanced down, then back up into his eyes. Was that what he was seeing? She glanced around, nothing to change into. He realized the problem immediately and stripped his own t-shirt off handing it to her.
Her hesitation was so short he might have imagined it. She pulled her own t-shirt off, exposing her simple white cotton sports bra before slipping his shirt over her head. She breathed deep of the essence of Mulder that now surrounded her.
"Is this better?" He was almost able to smile, the shirt reached nearly to her knees. "Mulder?" She stepped closer between his legs and pulled his head to her chest, allowing him to hear her heartbeat. His arms surrounded her, pulling her even closer. He felt her fingers in his hair and began to breathe again.
"It wasn't a bullet, Mulder." He didn't respond, just shivered slightly at her words. "Mulder?" She tilted his head up to look at her. "Stevens is never going to live that shot down, you nailed him completely."
"What? I didn't hear you, Mulder."
"I shot him too late. You were already shot. Too late, I'm always too late."
"Mulder, when have you ever been too late to save me?"
She sighed and pulled him close to her again. "You weren't too late to save me then either. You brought me back, made me want to live. If you have to take blame, you should take some credit as well."
He seemed to think about that quietly for a few seconds. "I should have told you about Diana. I was too late there."
She stepped back away from him then, though his arms tightened to prevent it momentarily. She sat beside him and he turned to her.
"I've been thinking about that. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that you didn't tell me. I mean, if you really had forgotten it and aren't just saying that. I guess it's better than having you obsess about her every day and worry about what you could have done differently. It's hard to be jealous of a woman you weren't thinking about."
"Jealous? That would be like being jealous of Phoebe."
"Which I was, when I first met her."
"Why Agent Scully, you just keep unfolding like a flower."
She looked down, trying to hide the smile. Did this infuriating partner of hers never forget anything? When she was under control again she looked up and fixed him with a stern look. "Is there anything else I should know about you, Agent Mulder?"
He looked so serious it frightened her. "Yes."
"You need to know that you have no reason to be jealous of any woman, ever."
She felt the blood rush to her face; she had no control over it. The words had been simple, the look in his eyes wasn't.
"Okay guys, here's what I want you to do now. Think of an occasion where you would need to communicate with your partner non-verbally. This could be a situation that has recently occurred and you can be thinking how you could have handled it differently, or something you anticipate from a case you're currently involved in. How could you communicate what you need your partner to know and allow them to trust you and your judgment in doing so? I'll give you five minutes to think about the situation, then you and your partner will talk about what each of you came up with."
Scully closed her eyes to concentrate. Some situation where they might have communicated better? Done things differently? Nothing was coming to mind.
Mulder looked over at her, it was safe, her eyes were closed. What immediately came up for him was seeing her in that child-like bra she'd been wearing this morning. He saw himself remove it and cup her breasts, feel the weight of them in his hands. He could see his thumbs lightly stroke the nipples as they became hard little buds. He wanted to pull her against him so that she would know first hand how much he desired her.
Well it was communication, and it was non-verbal. But the trust, how could she ever trust him again, at least in this area. He'd forgotten to mention an entire marriage? Just how big a shit was he? Okay, it wasn't much of a marriage. He still didn't know how Diana had manipulated - no! The failure of the marriage was his fault and his alone. He hadn't realized that he still harbored that suspicion about her. He pushed it away as he had years ago when it first formed. He had no right to think he could have a personal relationship with a woman like Scully, he was lucky she put up with him professionally. Shit!
Nothing was coming to her and it wasn't helping that Mulder couldn't seem to sit still. He had moved closer to her while her eyes were closed, not that he ever respected her personal space. But now, it was like he was hovering over. . . oh god, he was aroused. She glanced up at him, his eyes were open, but he was so deep inside he didn't seem to see her. No one else seemed to be paying any attention to them, thank goodness.
Wait a minute, why was he aroused? What was he thinking? Diana? Scully felt despair surround her heart. Well it was her fault, she'd brought Diana up and now. . . She could feel a headache forming behind her eyes. The last thing she wanted to do right now was discuss non-verbal communication with Mulder. What he was communicating to her right now was too painful to absorb.
She started to rise from her chair and he was startled back to the present. He reached out and put a hand on her arm.
"Don't go, Scully."
"Mulder, I have a headache. We don't need to do this exercise. I can't think of any case where we could have changed anything by our communication."
"I wasn't thinking about a case and I do need to communicate with you. Please, Scully."
She sighed, when was she going to learn to say no to this man. From the look in his eye he was planning to hurt her and wanted to get it over with. Sure, fine, whatever.
He looked around the room; partners were already drifting off to corners and places to talk alone. That's what he wanted, some privacy with her. And now that he was aware of his body again, some privacy without her as well. He took her arm and led her to the same study alcove they had used that morning.
Once they were seated he sat just looking at her for a moment. "Mulder. . . "
He interrupted her immediately; "Do you think you can ever trust me again?"
"I trust you now." Maybe that was a little bland, but her headache was getting worse. She watched his face fall and felt her guilt collide with her stress. What a fun evening she was having. But he was right, they did need to talk and the longer they waited, the harder it was going to be.
She took a deep breath. "Do you want to resume your relationship with Diana?"
"NO!" He glanced around to see if he had drawn a lot of attention. Fortunately they were inside the cubicle and no one could actually see them.
She felt a lightening of her spirit. That communication had been heartfelt. She took his hand, "Why did you ask her to marry you, Mulder?"
"Well, I never actually asked her to marry me, it was just kind of decided."
"Did she ask you?"
"It was more like she told me to be honest. It was just kind of decided and we were well, together. It seemed like the thing to do. At least that's how I remember it."
"Told you? What kind of a bitch. . . " She bit her tongue, no need to reveal that much to him. Diana had forced him. . . "Mulder, she wasn't pregnant was she?"
"No, of course not. I mean, Scully I'm more responsible than that."
Her headache was going away. He had never asked Diana to be his wife; she had somehow gotten around that and married him anyway. Interesting, damn interesting! This man would be so easy to manipulate like that, especially if he were just recovering from Phoebe. What had she thought she'd get out of it - okay probably fantastic sex, but was that enough for a lifetime commitment?
"Scully?" He was looking at her strangely. She'd gone off in her own head, analyzing things that, if truth be told, were none of her business.
"Sorry, Mulder. I was just thinking. Is this the non-verbal communication that you were thinking of?" Her eyes widened at the blush that suffused his face. His arousal, not caused by Diana? But that left. . . oh god! That left her. Now her blush rivaled his own. Why did their famous communication skills short out when it got personal? Because he didn't want to get closer, remember? He'd said he purposely kept her at arms length. But from the look of him now that wasn't going to be far enough. God, Dana! Her blush grew more intense. Now he was staring at her, trying to read her. He was trained in psychology - he knew body language. She had no doubt her body was betraying her at this very second. She managed to meet his eyes. They were wide with wonder.
"I think. . . I think we better get back to the group, Mulder."
"What? Oh. . . " He looked around, why did he keep forgetting everything but her? Because she was everything? He made no move to rise, so she did, breaking the mood.