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Walking the Tightrope

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He looked a whole lot better than he had when he got into the car. She’d been scared. Her heart thumping and bleeding a little for this little-boy-lost. He had no idea what had happened to him at Ellens Airbase and it had frightened him. For a man who’d spent so many years trying to remember leading up to the disappearance of his sister, losing more memories would have to be a cut too deep. The worst part was that he knew he had been close. She knew he’d been close. Not that her report would reflect that. It couldn’t. For her sake and for his.
She found him running circuits of the track. The sun was high and he was sweaty in his ratty gear, but the bewildered expression and fearful voice had gone.
“Joining me for a work out, Scully? I’ve always wondered how you learned to run in high heels.”
She followed his gaze down her legs to her feet and felt her skin flush slightly.
“You men don’t know you’re born,” she replied. “You try fitting a weapon and flashlight in the suits they cut for the female form. Most of them don’t even have pockets. Then you add a handbag and high heels to the equation and it’s no wonder most female agents are fitter and more resourceful than their male counterparts.”
He smirked. “On what do you base that finding, Dr Scully?”
“Science.”
His eyebrows raised. “Is that all you got?”
She folded her arms. “You mean I need more? You don’t seem to require any evidence to hang your theories off.”
His jaw flexed and he straightened up. She held her ground. He looked around, eyeing off the stand in the distance. He turned back to her. She’d overstepped the mark. She clenched her fists.
Then he grinned and put his hands on her shoulders. “Two cases in, Scully, and you’ve already got me cracked.”
She rocked back on her heels and smiled. She missed the weight of his hands on her shoulders as soon as he removed them. She loved this softer side of him. He was so intense, so committed to the job most of the time, that seeing him as a human being with a sense of humour, was easy to overlook. He pulled his foot up behind him, stretching his quads and she watched the beads of sweat drip down his face. She really should do more running but the case load had been full on and Ethan had been demanding all of her downtime. Still, her body tingled with the need to let off the nervous energy those cases had filled her with and she resolved to give Ethan a call and cancel their plans for the weekend. She would indulge in two days of jogging and gym work.
“Who was that you were talking to?” she asked as Mulder walked to where he’d slung his bag. He pulled a water bottle from the depths and swigged it. Fascinated by the bobbing of his Adam’s apple, she realised she was staring, only when he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and gave her a look.
“The older man, grey curly hair. Suit.” She was scurrying behind him and that nervous energy was now building into a bubble of anger. Why was he denying the meeting?
“I was running, Scully.”
“I saw you, Mulder,” she said, finally getting level with him.
He looked down at her, eyes narrow. “Is that all you got?”
She rang Ethan and agreed to a dinner on Saturday night. He got drunk on the house red and she drove him home. He insisted she come in for coffee but she wasn’t in the mood to listen to his whining about how the female producers got all the best jobs because the industry was looking to equality.
“It’s hardly equality when there’s a quota to fill,” he said, slurring and lunging towards her. “I mean, you don’t see this sort of thing in the FBI, do you?”
“You mean giving women a chance to prove that they’re just as capable as men despite never even getting to the interview in this boy’s club world we still live in?”
“Dana…”
“What?” she said, pouring him another coffee. “It’s true, Ethan. Women have to fight every inch of the way just stay even while men call up their buddies and walk into a job they have no business being doing. There are men at the Bureau who should have been put out to pasture decades ago. There were plenty of capable women at the Academy. At least with quotas there’s a strong chance that future generations of women will simply be able to take up the opportunities presented to them, they’ll be inspired by those of us already paving the way.”
He laughed. Not like Mulder, whose gentle chuckles were often a signal that he agreed with her sentiments. Ethan actually laughed as though what she was saying was funny. “Dana, you sound like some radical feminist.”
She poured the rest of her coffee down the sink. “I’m tired, “ she said. “I’m going home.”
He lunged at her, grabbing her arm and pulling him to her. “Stay, Dana. It’s been weeks since you’ve…”
She shifted in his grasp. “I’ve been busy, Ethan. And I said I’m tired. I’ll call you.”
He pulled her closer and kissed her, and all she could taste was bitter coffee and stale alcohol. She pushed him away and wiped her mouth.
“What is wrong with you, Dana?”
She picked up her jacket and went to leave. “Maybe I’m just tired of being taken for granted.”
He rushed after her, putting himself between her and the door. “I don’t take you for granted, Dana. I love you. I thought you loved me too.”
His voice cracked and she thought for one helpless moment that he was going to cry. She thought of Mulder’s bewilderment, his utter confusion outside that base and felt a pang of guilt that her own boyfriend’s emotional outpouring left her cold, while her new partner’s wilfully inflicted situation had her welling with sympathy.
“I’ve got to go, Ethan,” she said and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“I do love you, Dana.” He held onto her hand, gripping it until her fingers turned white.
“I know,” she said.
She tossed and turned and fell asleep as a grey dawn cracked open the sky. Sunday morning lie-ins surrounded by the papers and toast crumbs seemed a world away as the irritating buzz of her cell phone woke her.
“Mulder? What’s the matter?”
He arrived less than forty minutes later, a bag of bagels in his hand. “I owe you an apology, Scully.”
She pulled the tie of her robe tighter and flicked on the jug. “Why? What have you done this time?”
He chuckled. “I haven’t been entirely honest with you. And that’s not fair. You’re my partner and you are entitled to be treated as an equal.”
Turning round to face him, she saw that familiar expression he had, the one where he bared himself, opened himself up. She’d seen it in Bellefleur, at the motel. And again on the way back from Ellens Airbase. Fox Mulder might be capable of hiding things away, but when he wanted to let them out, you couldn’t resist listening.
“So I did see you with a man the other day.”
He nodded. “I’m sorry. I thought I was protecting him. My source. But if I protect him, where does that leave you?”
She took two teabags from the box and dropped them into two mugs. “On the outside,” she said. That seemed to be her life at the moment. Watching it all unfold from a safe distance.
“And I don’t want that for you,” he said. “I want us to be equals, in every way.”
She laughed but shook her head. “I think you need to have a word with my boyfriend.”
Mulder sank back against the bench top. “Trouble in the Garden of Eden?”
“Ethan. His name is Ethan.”
“I’m sorry, Scully. The job can really mess around with relationships.”
She poured the tea. “Oh, I know that, Mulder. But something tells me it’s not just the job that’s getting in the way.”
His face relaxed again, offering her the chance to talk.
“But it’s nothing to do with you, so I won’t bore you with the details.”
“Hey, partner. I’m here for the details. I love the details. I’m a details man,” he took a sip of tea and she couldn’t help but notice his mouth, his full lips. The way he smiled so easily when he wanted to.
“Well, details man, why don’t you let me know what the next case is and I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with my Garden of Eden.”
“I have some advice, if you’re willing to take it?”
She folded her arms. “Go on.”
“Don’t give in to temptation.” He grinned at his own joke and she couldn’t help but giggle.
“Is that all you got?”
“You want more?”
“I thought you were a details man, Mulder.” She was laughing now, blowing steam off her mug as she did. She felt her body soften. She loved this bantering.
“Really, Scully, if you need to sort things out with Ethan, you need to do it. A clean break. Rip off the band-aid.”
She put the mug down and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “You seem to know a lot about the state of my relationship, Mulder.”
He sighed. “I’ve learned a bit about you, Scully, in the time we’ve known each other. And you seem out of sorts. I know you are very single-minded and focussed but if you let something like this fester it can wedge itself in your mind and take away your focus.”
“Voice of experience?”
He chuckled again. “Something like that.”
“But you’re wedded to your work, Mulder. No time for anything else. Me? I want a life.”
His voice dropped and he stepped closer to her, looming over her until she could smell his cologne. He bent forward and put the mug in the sink, his arm brushing hers. He stayed there as he spoke, almost a whisper. “And I want a partner who’s clear about what she wants.”
Her throat was so dry the noise of her swallowing filled the space between them. Her arms and legs felt heavy and useless. He was fucking right. And she knew what she had to do.
“You know what you have to do, Scully. You just need to do it.”
He finally moved back and there was a brightness invading her space now. She sighed and felt the prickle of tears at her eyes. She wouldn’t give in. Shouldn’t. She turned to the sink and ran the water as she sniffed. She didn’t hear him return. His hands massaged the gristles in her shoulders and she let him for a while.
“You need to relieve this tension, Scully. You’re holding it all in here.” His knuckles kneaded a hard knot and she gasped, turning to face him. His face was inches from hers and he was half-smiling. His stubble gave him a harder edge and she pressed herself harder against the bench, the damp soaking into her robe.
“I just feel like a shit, dumping him so soon after starting a new job. And for no real reason.”
Mulder shrugged. “You need a reason?”
She nodded. “It makes things easier.”
He bent forward, took her face in his large, warm hands and kissed her. Gentle at first, then with more urgency. She couldn’t breathe. His fingers brushed her cheeks and he was so tender, so genuine that she couldn’t think. When he let her go, stepped back and rolled his lips together, like he was enjoying he aftertaste of her, she blushed hot. He waited a beat, seeming to enjoy her discomfort.
“Is that enough of a reason?” he asked, his voice threaded.
She flexed her shaking fingers and looked up at him. “Is that all you got?”