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Just The Way You Are

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Scully stood bemused as Dr. Berenbaum and Dr. Ivanov retreated into the rainy afternoon, happily chatting about their combined interests.  If only Bambi had found him sooner, Scully found herself thinking. 

It wasn’t that she was bitter that her partner had spent the better part of a week working with a smart, beautiful woman.  She was just wet and cold and covered in dung.

That’s what she told herself, at least, as Scully and Mulder made their way to the car.

Scully sat in the front seat as Mulder drove, the combined stink of the two of them almost comical in its overwhelming cloud.  As if reading her mind, Mulder hit the switch to roll down both of their windows. 

They said very little on the drive back to the hotel, and Scully’s mind slowly turned over thoughts of a hot shower, bionic cockroaches, and big-breasted, doe-eyed etymologists. 

Her cheeks dusted pink, a tight flutter in her chest. 

Mulder had spent days with Bambi, working side by side, bouncing ideas off each other.  They’d gotten a lot of work done, it seemed. 

Scully chewed on that as Mulder pulled up to the hotel.  “I call dibs,” Mulder called over his shoulder.  He had checked out the day before, so this was her room.

She rolled her eyes, following him inside the small room.  “Be quick,” she said. 

It was chill inside, with that stale wet cold common to all motel rooms.  She absently picked through her things, setting aside her hairbrush and clothes on one of the double beds.  She heard the shower start up, and a puff of steam snaking out from a crack in the door. 

After a few minutes Mulder came out, hair spiked in places and sticking to his head in others, his tan skin pinked at the collar of his t-shirt.  Scully swallowed, feeling the color rise in her cheeks. 

“Leave any hot water for me?”

His mouth quirked up.  “Maybe a little.  Should’ve showered together, Scully.  Save the planet and all that.” 

She cocked her head, eying him hard as her heart hammered in her chest.  When she slid past him on her way to the bathroom, the warmth and clean soap smell of him pressed into her, and it was all she could do not to lean into it. 

She quickly scrubbed off, washing her hair and her body, her skin just a touch oversensitive.  She chalked it up to nerves, to tiredness.  After a few minutes, Scully staggered out of the shower and stood in front of the mirror, appraising herself.  Small breasts, few curves.  Her mouth turned down in a small frown.  While she knew Mulder wasn’t interested in her like that, she couldn’t help but compare herself to Bambi, a woman Mulder had been obviously interested in. 

Scully turned away, toweling off and dressing in one of her college t-shirts and a pair of sweats.  It would do for tonight; they would be sharing a room, after all, the hotel being completely booked and their flight out not being until in the morning.  Inwardly, she was glad the hotel had given her the double. 

She padded into the hotel room in sock feet, finding Mulder propped up against the headboard on her bed watching television. 

She put her hands on her hips, her head cocked toward him.  “That’s my bed, you know.” 

He worked his mouth.  “Your stuff was on the other one,” he reasoned.  “Come on, Scully.  Full House is on.” 

She sighed, flopping down on the pristine coverlet of the other bed.  She propped some pillows behind her, eyes vacant as she stared in the direction of the television. 

“Who do you think is more likely to believe in aliens, Uncle Jesse, Joey, or Danny?”  Mulder drawled out between laughing.  He was chewing on the end of a pen he’d found on the bedside table, one leg casually bent where he lounged against the pillows. 

“Joey,” Scully replied flatly.  He seems most gullible, she wanted to say, but bit her tongue. 

Mulder seemed pleased, happily chewing the end of his pen.  “Ok, then who do you think is most like to be an alien?”  His eyes sparkled in the light of the TV.  He loved it when they got into, and she could see his excitement tensing his whole body. 

She rolled her eyes, deciding to play along.  “IF they existed, I would say Danny.  He is very neat.  A being like that IF they existed would probably go to great lengths to replicate what is quote normal behavior for a species and not draw attention to itself.”

Mulder was beaming.  He tossed the pen on the bed beside him, a broad smile on his face.  “So, Dr. Scully, by answering that question you’re admitting to the mere possibility of an alien species are you not?”  He was very animated now, sitting on the edge of the bed. 

Scully just smiled.  “No I am not.  It’s merely conjecture.” 

Mulder frowned, but still seemingly satisfied.  Then he looked at her shrewdly.  “You know what else I think is conjecture?  That you’re still upset about something.”

He looked at her meaningfully, stood from the bed and crossed to hers to sit next to her.  He could feel the heat from her body, warm from the shower as his shoulder pressed against hers and the smell of her strawberry shampoo.  No hotel-issue stuff for his Scully.  “Wanna tell me what it is?” 

Scully looked up at him, the light from the TV casting lurid shapes onto the gentle slope of her cheek.  “Dr. Berenbaum,” she whispered. 

Mulder pursed his lips, mind ticking quickly.  “What about her?”

Scully’s liquid blue eyes flashed up at him.  “Did you like working with her?” 

Mulder answered without a thought.  “Of course.  She’s very good at what she does.” 

Scully sank a little.  “Oh. Yes of course,” she answered a little thinly. 

They sat like that a little longer, Mulder pressed up against, feeling Scully breathe and the bed creak under them.  His hand went up, touching under her chin. 

“Is there something else?” 

Scully swallowed.  She couldn’t get the insecurities out of her mind, nor could she stop the burning desire to just blurt out question after question about the woman and Mulder’s time with her. 

“Did you um…did you like her?”

Mulder blinked.  “Yeah Scully, I did.  She was nice.” 

It wasn’t enough, and she hated herself for it.  “Let’s just watch some more TV ok?”

Mulder nodded, still concerned, and returned to his bed.  The next sitcom came on, but she couldn’t focus.  “What’s wrong,” Mulder finally said, eyes turning away from the TV.  “You’re too quiet.  Usually you make fun of this.” 

Her mouth quirked into a tight smile.  She turned on her side, finally giving in. 

“I think I’m just tired,” She said finally.  “I’m going to bed early.” 

Mulder grunted, content to leave her for the moment.  Scully reached for the small lamp by the bed and switched it off. 

She closed her eyes, trying to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come.  She heard Mulder flipping through the channels, felt the strobing light from the TV bleeding through her eyelids.  She turned over again, the covers twisting at her feet. 

Mulder exhaled, his eyes darting to Scully’s restless form for the umpteenth time.  He worked his mouth.  “Talk to me, Scully.” 

She sighed.  “We already talked, Mulder.  I just need to sleep.” 

“You want me to turn the TV off?”

“No.” 

“We haven’t really talked,” Mulder said.

Scully said nothing, she just lay in the dark, listening to Mulder wait for her response.  The silence was deafening, despite the noise from the television. 

“Is this about Bambi?” Mulder prodded.

Scully squeezed her eyes shut, burying her head in the pillow. 

“No,” she lied. 

Mulder exhaled through his nose.  “She was just a colleague, Scully.  Just—“

“I know,” Scully said, tears straining her voice.  “I know that.” 

They said nothing for a while, the tension hanging thick in the room.  Scully willed herself to sleep, anything to quell her racing thoughts.

“Then what is it?” Mulder asked quietly. 

Scully closed her eyes.  She was facing the door, her body curled into itself.  “Is that what you want,” Scully inquired softly.

Scully could almost hear the wheels turning and then click into place.  “What do you mean ‘what I want,’” and Scully could tell he truly didn’t understand and wasn’t just avoiding the question.

She swallowed, not really wanting to explain herself but feeling strangely compelled to.  “Like Bambi,” she said quietly, still looking at the door.  “You know, the way she looks.” 

“Forget it,” Scully said quickly, squeezing her eyes shut so fast, wishing she was anywhere else, anywhere but with him in that room, in that town, wishing that the whole week had never –

She felt the bed dip, felt his long limbs fold and arrange themselves on the space beside her.  Her heart flipped as his hand brushed the back of her head.

“Scully, look a me.” 

She exhaled, hands gripping the sheets up around her chin, and remained stubbornly stuck where she was. 

Another stroke to her hair, his knuckles brushing the now-wavy strands, silky-soft against the pillow. 

“Come on, Scully.”  More insistent now, Mulder’s voice dropping low and rough.  She didn’t have to turn around to know he was worrying his bottom lip.

But she did.  She slowly rolled onto her back, meeting his thoughtful gaze.

When Scully turned over, he could see the silver tracks of her tears in the low light, and he instinctively wiped them with his thumb.  She closed her eyes against his touch, her face turning slightly as if she could hide the fact that she had been crying.  He sighed softly, his brow furrowed. 

“Do you wish I looked like that,” she said quickly, instantly feeling relieved…feeling unburdened as ridiculous as it made her feel.  She was glad it was out in the open, finally blinking in the light of day. 

Mulder inhaled slowly, his face impassive.  His hand slipped down to cup her cheek, a thumb sweeping over the soft flesh.  “Why would you think that?”

Scully pulled her plump lower lip between her teeth.  “Because you and Bambi got on so well.  And she is...,” she struggled with her words for a second…”You know, she looks the way she does.”  Scully swallowed hard, averting her eyes. 

Mulder pursed his lips, shaking his head softly.  “That has nothing to do with our partnership, Scully.”  He tutted softly, stroking her cheek.  “I didn’t see Dr. Berenbaum that way at all.  She helped me on a case.  That’s all.” 

Scully should have felt relieved, but she just felt miserable.  Embarrassed and miserable.  “I know,” she whispered.  “I didn’t think anything else.” 

Mulder just pressed his lips together.  Scully eased into his touch, his presence beside her soothing her anxiety somewhat.  “Is there something else going on Scully?” 

She shook her head.  “Everything’s fine Mulder.  She reached up to stroke his shoulder, letting her hand rest along his bicep.  “Why don’t you get some rest, hmm?  We’ve got a long journey tomorrow.” 

Mulder worried the inside of his jaw, still looking at her.  His mouth quirked, and then he leaned down and pressed his lips to her forehead.  “Get some sleep, Scully.”

She sighed as his weight lifted from the mattress and the TV flicked off.  She listened in as he busied himself in the bathroom, the tingle of his touch still burning on her cheek.  Finally, he lay down in his bed and turned off his lamp. 

Just as she was nodding off to sleep, she heard him turn over. 

“Scully?” 

“Yeah Mulder?”

“For the record, there’s not one thing I would change about you.  Not one freckle, not one lock of red hair, not one thing.  You’re perfect just the way you are.  Do you understand, Scully?” 

She lay in the dark, breathlessly still.  “Yes,” she said. 

He smiled, even if she couldn’t see it.  “Good.  Don’t ever forget it.” 

She wouldn’t, she thought as she listened to his breathing even out and a light snore fill their small hotel room.  She would never forget it again. 

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