I sit watching him at the meeting, tuning out the urgent, angry sound of Skinner's voice, the bewildered questions of the other agents. Mulder's jaw twitches every now and then, unshaven stubble disappearing into the collar of his shirt. His body is a long, live wire in the chair, ready to spring at a moment's notice, but I can read exhaustion in every line.
On the edge of this little tableau sits the smoker, cold cobra eyes following the action through a haze of gray.
I rouse enough to tell Skinner the party line about Duane Barry, about his belief in alien abductions. At that Mulder sits up and finally shows he's been paying attention, opening his mouth to speak through those pouting, curving lips.
And wouldn't you know he gets to the heart of the matter with his first words -- guilt does so much to sharpen the thinking process.
"There's a question of how he could've gotten to her in the first place."
I keep my poker face on with just the edge of a nail. His voice singes a path along my nerves, a friction I'd give an eye to feel as the real, goddamn skin-to-skin thing. Living breathing Technicolor.
I picture myself unearthing him from that wrinkled suit, skin slick and sweaty under layers of cloth. I glance over at the smoker's totem face and shift in my chair.
Mulder debates with another agent, expression tensing as the other man's doubt pushes his buttons.
I almost want to tell him, flipping through my half-baked notes on the casefile, fiddling with the screw-on top of my pen, tapping my heel under the table. I almost want to tell him, I'm sorry. They took your partner, They took her. Not any fucking little green men.
And yeah, I helped them. I'm sorry.
I don't feel urges out of false desire. I know what I want. And regret is something I thought I'd carved out of myself long ago. But fuck if he hasn't somehow crawled under my skin these past few weeks. And now all of a sudden I want to blurt out every remotely shitty thing I've ever done in my life.
Maybe I'd even do it here, right in front of the entire firing squad.
But no. He'll find out soon enough. Everything in my life has always gone to shit eventually. Watching Mulder sitting there assembling the pieces, I know this will be no exception.
I studied him before assuming my role. Know thy subject, know his obsessions and demons, his lost sister, his family full of snakes. I took psychology in college. I thought I had him puzzled out.
But Mulder on paper and Mulder in Technicolor are such very different things.
I studied her, too. She left an almost zero impression until that meeting in the shadowy autopsy room. I thought I'd shake hands, thought I'd show her just what kind of professional new partner Mulder had. Clean, courteous, no threat between us, you see, Scully?
But she just raked her frostbitten eyes over me and flashed a latex-covered hand. And the both of them turned to look at the body, and I knew she'd concluded her opinion in the time it took to flick away her gaze. And I knew, too, that I was on the outside. That I would *always* be on the outside.
I made like the green-faced baby agent, but I've seen death before. Seen it, breathed it, summoned it. And I've met more incarnations of death than those two could ever dream possible.
Mulder is standing now, and Skinner is leaning toward him, his voice husky with concern, with authority. Shivers slide down my spine, watching them.
"Make sure he gets home safely," the AD says to me.
I stand, move in swiftly, feeling the smoker's gaze slither over my back. Mulder barely registers my presence. I can smell him, the sweat of his unwashed body, all the tiredness and maleness eclipsing the stench of cigarettes in the room. My nostrils flare. Careful, Alex. Careful.
"Come on," I say to him. And with those two words I could mean anything, anything at all.
We walk out of there, the eyes of the room tracking us. I know the answer to their unspoken questions, following Mulder through the door. From the rigid set of his shoulders I know this is not over.
I know it's far from over.