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Burden

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Mulder knew that the basement made him look like a fanatic, but it wasn't something that could be helped. Patterson had told his profilers to never throw anything away, and the lesson had held.

The office was a mess, but Mulder found its odd clutter comforting. It was familiar, his. He sat behind his desk and observed his new partner. Having glanced at and rejected his collection of tabloids, she was browsing through the psychology texts that shared the bookcase. The next shelf was dedicated to UFO lore. She frowned.

He watched as she stepped behind the glass wall of the lab and started rifling through the boxes back there. Turning away from the counter, she hung up her purse and went in search of the light switch. Mulder lost interest and returned to his file.

"Is any of this important?" she asked, turning the lights on.

"No," he said, not looking up from what he was reading.

Before Mulder had taken up residence in the basement, it had been the copy room. When he'd arrived with his box of things under one arm, he found his name on the door and an office that looked like looters had been through it, taking the copiers and leaving the rest behind. Mulder had shoved the whole mess into the corner and left it there, thinking it wasn't worth the hassle of sorting through it. Apparently his new partner didn't feel the same way; though to her credit it was quite possible she was just trying to avoid him.

He looked over at her. She had taken off her jacket and was working with the sleeves of her blouse rolled up. She was short and plain and looked more like a baby-sitter than an FBI agent. From what he'd heard, she'd been sent down there to keep him out of trouble, but things didn't seem to be working out that way. If Blevins thought Mulder needed looking after, he'd chosen the wrong sitter. Agent Scully seemed perfectly willing to excuse, or even overlook entirely, his erratic behavior earlier. He'd bullied her, mocked her and finally dismissed her. She'd smiled at him and tried to shake his hand.

Any agent who'd spent more than an hour out in the field would never have put up with that kind of arrogance from a partner, but this one had just tucked her chin in and tried to keep up. Mulder couldn't decide if he admired her forgiveness or pitied her for her inability to control him. Still, half an hour after he'd turned his back on her, she'd returned, hung up her purse and jacket and started to demystify the no man's land behind the glass divider.

If he hadn't been so busy with the Bellefleur case, he might have been right next to her, up to his elbows in worn cardboard boxes and mysteriously plump interoffice envelopes. But he was busy, and strangely unsure of himself as well.

There was a thump from the back of the office. He waited, hoping she'd say something, but there were no reassurances she was okay.

He called out, "Everything all right?"

There was no answer. Dropping his feet from where they'd rested on his desktop, he stood and walked over to the doorway.

"Having some trouble, Dr. Scully?"

She was standing with her hands on her hips and her eyes trained on the floor. Her head jerked up at the sound of his voice. "I'm fine," she said.

He didn't see anything especially interesting on the floor. "Reality not measuring up to the recruitment video?" he joked.

She turned to look at him. Her cheeks were flushed, and she had dark blue eyes that were like a slap. She was angry. The knowledge made him feel heavy.

"No, Agent Mulder. Something just slipped." She returned to sorting through the boxes, her back to him in dismissal, but now that he'd sensed her anger he was reluctant to leave her alone with it.

She tossed an armful of faded pink forms into an already overfilled garbage can and then broke down a box with a rip of tape and a stamp from one small foot. She was wearing flats.

"Find anything interesting?" he asked.

"No," she said in a firm and somewhat defensive tone. She moved to wipe her dusty hands on the back of her skirt but stopped at the last moment and brushed them together instead.

She was young and sincere and Mulder didn't want her angry with him. He hovered in the doorway, wanting to explain himself but unable to find the words. Agent Scully glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes pushed him away.

Mulder knew he couldn't manage an apology, so he turned and went back to his desk, all too aware of the relief that passed over her face as he left.