Walking the Tightrope
Scully and Ethan are together. But for how long? Pre Jersey Devil.
She sat outside Ethan’s apartment for what seemed like hours. But according to the clock it was only a few minutes. She was pinned to the car seat by that universal foe – guilt. She knew she had to cut him free but she felt terrible about cheating first. She squirmed at the memory of Mulder and that office chair. The aberration was clearly the culmination of many events – the pressure of the job, the proximity of their working relationship, the stress of the Tooms case, the fact that he was hot.
She went to open the car door. Was it an aberration? Was it really a one-off, a mistake, a never-to-be-repeated-steamy-session with her self-confessed impossible partner? She let go of the handle. Deflated. Fuck. She didn’t want it to be a one-off but she knew in reality it couldn’t continue. And either way, it wasn’t fair on Ethan. She pulled the handle again. What was she going to tell him? The truth or some version of it? She laughed at that thought. What was this thing that Mulder was so inflamed by? What was the truth? Was it the truth as Ethan would see it? That she cheated on him with her work partner and didn’t have the guts to tell him she didn’t love him any more before she did it? Was it that she had never loved him in the first place and that his behaviour towards her since she started the job had simply pushed her closer to Mulder? She sighed and opened the door. Either way, she did cheat. She and Ethan were together. Are together. And she and Mulder…god, that was the most amazing, intense…she couldn’t think of another time where she’d been so impulsive. And fuck, if it wasn’t the best thing ever.
She walked up the steps and steadied her breathing. Behind her, she heard the squeal of tyres and a door slamming. At least someone had some urgency in their life. Footsteps pounded the sidewalk and she was tempted to turn back and just watch as this person, clearly someone with a mission, as they hurried to do their business.
The voice, the footsteps, the utter and complete drama that came with the package. Mulder. She turned and crossed her arms around her as he grinned, loping up the steps.
“We’ve got a job.”
She looked at her watch. “At 7.15am on a Tuesday?”
He was breathing heavily by the time he got to the step she was on. “X Files aren’t usually known for keeping regular office hours, Scully.”
“And are they known for stalking their partners at their boyfriend’s house so that she is dragged away from doing the right thing?”
He lifted a paper bag up between them. “Bagel, Scully?”
If someone had told her that she’d be turned on by a 6ft man with bad taste in ties looming over her and articulating the word ‘Okobogee’ she would have smacked them in the solar plexus. But. She was learning that everything about Fox Mulder was out of the ordinary.
The case left her feeling wrung out. Kevin didn’t stand a chance of a normal life if his mother refused to tell him the truth. She leant her head on the window and sighed. It all came back to that word, the one Mulder loved with more passion than he would ever love another person. At least a person who was currently present and living.
“You’re quiet, Scully.” He kept his eyes on the road but his thumbs tapped a rhythm on the steering wheel. Mulder Morse code?
“I’m thinking,” she said, watching bleak fields whizz by.
“I can hear it,” he said, turning and giving her a gentle smile.
Now he was going all psychologist on her. Before too long she’d be lying back in the seat and confessing her innermost secrets. Or maybe she’d already done that.
“I have to tell Ethan. He deserves the truth.”
He nodded and she watched his profile. All prominent nose and tucked away chin. “And if you tell him the truth, about us, will that make you feel better. Make him feel better?”
Fuck you, she thought. Fuck. You. “That’s not fair, Mulder.”
He laughed and dug into his pocket for a seed. “Maybe not, Scully. But the truth is fluid and open to interpretation. You can pull it apart like a puzzle and throw bits of it out into the open, just to watch where it lands. The trick is knowing which bits you slot together and which bits you pick up and keep close to your chest.”
She knocked at Ethan’s rather than using her key. If she had been on the receiving end of that kind of arrival, red flags would have been flapping in her face. Instead, he seemed genuinely surprised to see her and she swallowed back the guilt that rose in her throat.
“You look tired, Dana. Coffee? Or something stronger. I’ve opened a red.”
She shook her head, fearing if she spoke she would simply blurt out the truth or whatever it was she was here to tell him. She shucked off her jacket and put her case by the door. The sofa felt odd, like she didn’t belong there. The whole room felt off, darker, drier. She knew Mulder would tell her she was just projecting her own feelings onto the environment around her but, it was also telling that her last time here should be the time she really felt she didn’t belong.
Ethan swallowed a mouthful of wine, smiled at her and sat too close for her comfort. She shifted away and picked at a strand of cotton on her skirt.
“I have to say something, Ethan and I want you to listen until I’m finished.”
“I love it when you take control, Dana.” He sipped the wine again and she felt her stomach fold in on itself.
“You’ve been good for me in many ways, perhaps too good.” He pouted and cocked his head to the side, but remained silent. “You’re steady and dependable, you’re great at your job, you have a wonderful family. You’re going places…but I can’t go with you. Not to where you want to go.” He put the glass down and she saw the trembling in his hands. He gulped hard and she cut him off before he could protest. “I can’t Ethan, and I think you know it too. Deep down. You know I’ve been finding it difficult since I started this job, keeping to the routine we’d established. But the truth is,” she took a shuddering breath in, “I don’t love you like you need me to. And I’m not sure I ever did. But what I am sure of, is that I will never be able to. It’s just not me.”
Mulder was staring at the ceiling, legs on his desk, cracking seeds. He looked dangerous. He was dangerous. She knew that. She sank into her chair and sighed at the stack of paperwork on the desk.
“All done, Scully?”
She didn’t say anything.
“You should be feeling better in a few days. Get back into life.”
The first file was filled with reports of alien abductions where the female victims returned to Earth able to do things they weren’t previously able to do: talk in Arabic, solve complex mathematical equations, perform surgery, one even joined the circus as a contortionist. She flicked through the papers and thwumped them back on the pile, the puff of air hitting her in the face.
“Wouldn’t it be neat if we could all just erase the past and start again, with some new skillset, like being able to fly aeroplanes.”
“Where would you go, Scully?”
“Away from here.”
He shifted his legs off the desk and leant forward. “You don’t mean that. It wouldn’t help. And besides, your skillset is perfectly suited to this job, Scully and you know it. Another case or two and Ethan will be just a memory and you’ll be dating again.”
She looked up at him. “Dating?”
“Yeah, you know, you and a divorced father of two, out for dinner in some fancy French restaurant. A life. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
She stood up and grabbed her bag. “You’re impossible, Mulder.”
He coughed, like he knew he’d overstepped the mark. “See you bright and early tomorrow, Scully. We can start over again.”
He grinned and she shook her head at him, chuffing out a laugh. “Fine. Just don’t bring any bagels.”
She opened the door and he stood up, walking to her in a few short strides. He stroked her hair and held her chin up. He pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. “How do you like croissants, Scully?”