Mulder fumbled with the key in the lock which seemed to be made more difficult by the ringing phone on the other side. He was finally granted access and lunged at the handset on the desk.
There was a pause on the other end and then a delicate clearing of a throat.
“Agent Mulder. It’s DSI Stella Gibson.”
“Hi, uh, Stella. What do we, er, I owe the pleasure?” Now he was clearing his throat.
“I’m on a case in Belfast and something has happened that I feel the need to inform you and Agent Scully,” she said in a clipped but not angry way at which the British excel.
“Okay. Scully’s not here. Should we call you when she’s back in the office?”
“No, that’s all right. If you could just pass it along.”
“I’m investigating serial murders, and it appears last night the killer was in my hotel room,” said Stella in unaffected monotone. “I keep a journal, a dream journal, and he left me a message in it.”
Mulder’s stomach rolled at this information. He was not sure how any of this involved him and Scully, but the thought of Stella being harassed this way made him ill. He had been on the receiving end of messages from psychopaths many times. Mulder could tell this phone call was difficult for Stella even with her calm tone.
“Not too long after our night together, I had a dream that featured both you and Agent Scully, and I recorded it in that journal. I wrote both of your names in it. It’s very possible that the killer read that passage. The journal is now in evidence. I don’t think there is any danger, but since it is now in the hands of the PSNI I thought you both should know.”
Mulder slowly nodded as if Stella could see him.
She continued in the wake of his silence. “Obviously, it was never intended for anyone but me to see. I apologize for you both being involved in this way, the invasion of your privacy--”
“Don’t apologize, Stella, please. Are you all right? Can we help in any way?”
“No, no, but thank you,” she said. “I just felt you ought to know.”
“Well, take care of yourself. Really. I hope you catch the son of a bitch.”
She smiled at his American tough guy term. “Goodbye, Agent Mulder.”
Stella replaced the phone in its cradle and stared at it. It was almost a relief that Scully wasn’t there. She knew that Scully wouldn’t have been able to brush it off the way he had even if she had tried. She sensed her same reserved discreetness in Scully, and knew this development would shake her. Stella hoped, in vain, that it would not sully the memory of their night for her.
She shook her head slightly as if that would stop her emotions about it all. She had work to do and a killer to catch.
Mulder entered his apartment and went straight for the answering machine. He hadn’t been able to get a hold of Scully all day. He hit play next to the blinking red light, hopefully.
“Call received: 8:01PM,” informed the automated voice.
Missed her by five minutes, Mulder thought.
Scully’s voice came over the speaker. “Mulder, it's me. I wanted to let you know that I'll be out of town for a day or two. It's a family emergency. I'll ...I'll call you when I can.”
He picked up the phone and quickly dialed. “Hey, Scully, it's me. Pick up if you're there. Scully? Are you there? All right, I just got, I got your message and I hope everything's okay. I'll try you on your cell right now.”
Panic started to set in as he called her cell. There was no answer there either. He left another concerned message. Frustrated, he hung up, grabbed his keys and hurried out the door, the news from Stella that he was supposed to relay long forgotten.
They rode back from the Cigarette Smoking Man’s fake office in silence with Mulder seething in the driver’s seat. Scully could feel it radiating off of him. After seeing the empty disk and the empty offices, she had felt so stupid, but the more she thought about it—as Mulder silently condemned her—the more pissed off she became.
As soon as he pulled up to the curb and before he could put it in park, Scully was out of the car. Mulder scrambled out and scoffed, “What the fuck do you have to be mad about?”
Scully stopped and breathed in deeply before turning around.
“Mulder,” she said, his name sounding like it was under the weight of a thousand UFOs.
He looked at her, waiting.
“I just ...I just want to go home.”
“Fine. Call me if you’re going to have another sleepover with Smokey. Or don’t. The fuck should I care.” He left her standing there, warring with a mess of conflicting emotions, but no energy to confront even one of them.
Mulder was trying to rally Scully with a pep talk, “That's the job, Scully—vigilance in the face of deprivation, the sheer will that it takes to sit in this crappy room spying on the dregs of society until our suspect surfaces. There's something ennobling in that.”
While she had come to see his relentless enthusiasm in the absence of the most basic creature comforts as endearing, it was times like this that she wanted to pull her gun on him.
Seeing that she was still uninspired he was about to further ruminate on their lofty position in this filthy loft when his cell phone interrupted him.
Mulder took the call, and without an explanation left Scully to view the “dregs of society” on her own.
After her minor disbelief at his insensitivity subsided, and after dealing with her all too familiar ‘Mulder has ditched me again’ emotions, she felt an uneasy dread settle into her bones. How many times has he done this before? It would be laughable if it wasn’t so annoying—and, at times, highly dangerous. But now that she had ditched him once— once, for fuck’s sake—any act of deserting on his part affected her heart more than her nerves.
They had spent most of the weekend apart after she had returned from her unsuccessful excursion with the Smoking Man. At first she had felt guilty; she knows exactly what it feels like to be left high and dry by your partner. Scully had searched herself for any signs that she had unconsciously done it as some sort of retribution, and she was fairly certain that that wasn’t a factor, but she wondered if, deep down, it served as payback. Not wanting to face that potentially petty side of her, she had pushed the worry back and covered it with her more honorable reasons and excuses.
Armed with those defenses, she had been the first to break the silence. Scully had showed up at his apartment ready for an argument, but what happened was not the volleying of debating points like she was intending. It was a heated and passionate battle for the upper hand as well as fighting against the acknowledgment of some of the more unhealthy attributes of their relationship. There was no discussion. There was no calm exchange of feelings. There were mean remarks spat at each other and ultimatums disguised as challenges. And there was sex. Rough, punishing sex where they both felt like the punisher and the one being punished. The pretense of a resolution came as they came—orgasms to smooth things over. A comforting blanket of false absolution enveloped them as they brought each other to ecstasy. The jumbling of their nerve endings seemed to fall back into place without the anger and the animosity that had their blood boiling. But it was all still there. She knew it, she felt it. Mulder had gotten so unreadable to her that she didn’t know if he felt it, too, or if he was in denial.
There was a rift now. Their love had always seemed cosmic in nature. If this was a tear in the fabric of their time and space, what would happen if they fell into the vacuum of it? Would they fall back into that brief time of peace or would they go hurtling toward an astronomical end, slamming against meteors and asteroids along the way? She could not shake these feelings, and resentment started to seep in.
Scully answered the door wearing a fluffy terry cloth robe and a tired expression.
“Hey. I was just about to crawl into bed and sleep for ...ever,” she said walking away, letting Mulder close the door behind him. “How’d your case go?”
“Fine.” He stood, staring despondently at a fixed spot in space. A troubled feeling had taken up residence in the pit of his stomach on his drive back from Vermont. It had been too easy for them to separate and work on their own. They had each solved their case without the help from the other.
She looked at him with slight concern, but was too exhausted to pry. “Mulder, I’m so tired. Can I just see you Monday morning?”
“Monday? Uh, yeah, okay. I guess I can write up my report. Get some things done.” He made no attempt at moving. An awkward silence descended on the living room, causing them both to feel claustrophobic.
Scully swallowed her natural inclination to ask what was going on with him. She vowed to herself when she left that God forsaken warehouse that she would devote the weekend to self-care, and not give in to Mulder’s selfish behavior.
“Okay, so, Monday. See you Monday, I guess.” He made a half-hearted motion of defeat with his hands. “Get some rest,” he said as he finally made his way to the door.
“It’s not fucking witchcraft, Mulder.”
“Why not? What was that substance then? I’d put my money on ectoplasm.”
Scully groaned loudly. “I sent it to the lab. Why are we even talking about this? We can figure out the next step when we get the results.” She shrugged on her blazer and picked up her briefcase.
“I guess ectoplasm isn’t good dinner conversation anyways.”
“Dinner? I think I just want to go home, Mulder. Do you mind dropping me off on your way?”
“Oh.” He waited for his hurt response to have the desired effect, but she just looked at him expectantly. He grabbed his coat and passed by her with a heavy sigh.
Scully suppressed her instinctive roll of the eyes and followed him out of the station.
The car ride was much of the same: passive-aggressive sighs, pursed lips, and stiff body language.
“C’mon, Scully. I’m starving. Are you sure you don’t want to go get food? Or we can order take-out.”
Scully was irritated, but did not want to get into an argument with him. She had closed the discussion on the case for the time being, and wasn’t about to entertain this substitute for a debate. “I’m not that hungry. I might make myself a salad or something. You can stay and have that if you want, but I don’t have much at the house.” She knew the weak, conciliatory offer wouldn’t appeal to him. She was right.
“No, thanks. I’ll figure it out.”
His heart sank. It had been weeks of this pathetic back and forth. Their only intimacy since the whole Smoking Man debacle had been some angry fucks—after which, bitter feelings were assuaged for a short period, only to reappear a day or two later. It had been a perverse cycle that was broken by Scully’s cold and distant attitude.
He tried to behave normally, hoping she would work through whatever it was, but it seemed to be getting worse, and he found it difficult to hide his frustration and disappointment. Of course, talking to her about it might clear things up, but every time he started to bring it up he chickened out.
Scully got out of the car with barely a goodbye, and left Mulder to tend to his growling stomach and bruised feelings.
Angrily, Scully picked up Mulder’s fallen burrito. The slideshow continued to click through—a source of her frustration with him even in his absence.
“Crop circles. Give me a fucking break,” she muttered under her breath. She deposited the burrito in the trash on top of the salad she had indignantly thrown away after his departure.
The phone rang as she struggled with the uncooperative projector. Unable to turn it off, she grabbed the handset in a huff.
"Scully," she said, tersely.
“Hello, Scully. It’s Stella Gibson.”