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Conversation in and around an airport lounge in Idaho

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Conversation in and around an airport lounge in Idaho-

"So, are you filing your reassignment request with Blevins when we get back, or did you already fax it from the business center," Mulder asks with a weak chuckle. He's been at turns sullen, distant, and confused since we left Ellens Airbase. We packed up and left post-haste, our welcome having been thoroughly worn out. I guess I should be glad he's talking to me at all.

I pinch the bridge of my nose, and sigh. "Don't think I haven't considered it, Mulder," I say with more of an edge than I intended. The adrenaline rush from taking the security officer hostage to trade him for Mulder has long since worn off. I feel brittle and exhausted, the nagging tension headache I've had throughout this confusing case now bloomed into a full blown migraine.

I lean back in my seat, taking a sip of overly hot, bitter coffee from the airport McDonald's. I hold the styrofoam cup to my forehead, hoping the muted heat will soothe the pounding in my temples. Boarding for our flight is in forty-five minutes, and it can't come soon enough. I heave a deep sigh.

"But? I sense there's a but in there somewhere, Scully." Mulder is sprawled in one of the uncomfortable seats across from me, desultorily picking at a bag of sunflower seeds, and spitting the shells into an empty coffee cup. He looks exhausted, deep circles low lighting his reddened swollen eyes. He almost gives the impression of not caring about the answer either way. Hell, for all I know, he doesn't. This is only our second case together.

Still, I thought we made a connection in Bellefleur. We worked so well, so intuitively together. None of my other partners have even come close to that level of professional synchronicity. Ah well, like or dislike, we're stuck together for the time being.

"It wouldn't make a damn bit of difference if I did," I say, not bothering to open my eyes. Screw it, this whole week has gone to shit. I need a cigarette I decide, and reach into my purse. We're already in the smoking section, so we don't even have to move.

"Why ever not, Agent Doctor Scully," Mulder asks, arching an eyebrow at me while I shake a Virginia Slim out of it's package and pull my lighter out from behind the plastic liner. I huff a laugh, and throw the pack to him. I can already tell who's going to be the moocher in this relationship.

I take a deep drag, and instantaneously feel better with that first hit of nicotine. Bliss. "Desperate times," I say in explanation. "I don't smoke except for when I do. I quit two years ago. Figured it's incompatible with wind sprints and self-defense classes."

Mulder nods. He has his cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, letting the smoke drift from his nose. Seems like we're a matched set with at least one of our bad habits. He looks unkempt and disreputable with his wrinkled clothes and five o'clock shadow. We appear less like representatives of the department of justice, and more like we've just started detoxing from a three-day bender.

"Because I did tick somebody off to pull this assignment," I say, picking up the thread of conversation.

Mulder leans forward, resting his arms on his knees. His curiosity has been piqued despite the earlier fuck-off vibes he was sending out. "Oh do tell, Miss Scully," he says with a slight grin.

I glance to my left. The woman three seats down is staring intently at her book, but hasn't turned a page in five minutes. I roll my eyes and have half a mind to tell her to go watch Oprah in the airport bar if she wants to be entertained by other people's drama. Then I check myself. I'm an FBI agent. I have absolutely no leg to stand on when it comes to voyeurism.

I turn back to Mulder, and feel my cheeks pink up slightly. I groan. "It's embarrassingly cliché, but I had an...ill-advised relationship with a senior agent at Quantico. My career took a nosedive along with the end of it. It was this or...this. Or getting booted out on my ass on some bullshit technicality. They had too much money wrapped up in my training to want to let me go, but I'd become a political liability," I finish, searching Mulder's face for his reaction to this revelation. Whatever I was expecting, it isn't what he does next.

Mulder bursts into abrupt laughter, loud and long, bringing tears to his eyes, ash from his cigarette falling to scorch tiny holes in his pants. Oh fuck you Mulder, I think, getting ready to stalk off and be anywhere but near him until it's time to leave.

Abruptly he calms and says, "Oh no, no, Scully. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not laughing at you, or if I am, I'm also laughing at myself. Jesus, those guys upstairs have a sense of humor, even if they can't find their asses with two hands and a map."

I consider his words. "You too," I ask, incredulous. It's Mulder's turn to groan and cover his eyes with his hands.

"Oh yes, me too. And how." He turns to his left and takes a swig out of a half-full bottle of water. This is the first I notice there's a fading strip of skin on his left ring finger. Well, I think to myself, at least I didn't just pay what was undoubtedly a small fortune in attorney's fees. "So," he says. "What was his name?" A salacious grin is teasing at the corners of his mouth.

"Does it matter?" I'm annoyed. What's done is done, and frankly it's not one of my finer attributes. "Go hang out for an hour in the third floor break-room, and I'm sure Counterterrorism will be happy to tell you *allllll* about it."

"Pass," Mulder says. It's funny how we're already picking up each other's verbal mannerisms.

"What was her name," I ask defiantly. Two can play at this game.

"Does it matter," he parrots back, abruptly serious.

All of a sudden, I collapse back into my seat, like my strings have been cut. "No," I sigh. "It really doesn't." Matched set indeed.

We lapse back into uncomfortable silence, which looks like it might hold until they call our seats. All of a sudden, I feel I need to clear something up.

"Mulder?" He picks his head up from where he'd settled in to count ceiling tiles, and sends me a questioning look.

"Let's cut the bullshit," I say, deciding to call a spade a spade and be done with all the polite tap dancing. "I was sent to debunk the X-Files, and if possible shut you down."

"Duh, Scully," he scoffs. "Tell me something I don't know."

"Well," I hedge, drawing it out. "My recent professional behavior might indicate that I don't always play by the rules," I say with a small smile. "I'm even less inclined to do so as a favor to the J. Edgar good ol' boy's club." I arch an eyebrow at him, willing him to get it.

This time his laugh is real, genuine. Such a contrast to his cynical smirking and jaded self-deprecation. "Noted, Dr. Scully," he says, delight turning his eyes a sea-green, the color of ocean waves the day after a hurricane blows through.

"But Mulder," I sing song. "Do not think this means I'm giving you tacit permission to act like an asshole."

He nods, his eyes still twinkling with good humor. I growl at myself internally. I can't stay mad at him for long. This does not bode well for the future. I reach across the aisle and grab the fingers of his right hand loosely with mine. I look at him soberly. "Regardless of what you may or may not have done, what they did to you was wrong. It was-"

"Rape," he says softly, cutting me off. "Yeah, I know." There's a brief sheen of tears in his eyes, before he looks away, fighting for control. All of a sudden I'm deeply, horribly depressed. The men who did this to him will never be punished. We wouldn't even know who to pursue. I'm hit with an intense longing for my bathtub, a glass of wine, and twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.

As if on cue, the loudspeaker crackles to life, announcing pre-boarding for our layover flight to Detroit. A flash of our badges, a bit of shameless abuse of power, and we'll commandeer a row to ourselves. I stand up, flicking my cigarette into the nearby ashtray.

"C'mon partner," I say. "Time to go home."