TITLE: Price of Fidelity
SPOILERS: Post-ep "Never Again"
CATEGORIES: MSR angst; humor; UST
DISCLAIMERS: No infringement intended on the legal ownership of these characters.
SUMMARY: Frustrated by the lack of control in her life and upset over her near fling with Ed Jerse, Scully incidentally runs into Frohike and is coaxed into confessing her mounting angst to him.
SPECIAL THANKS: To Lakticia for her great beta and appreciative sense of humor.
FEEDBACK: Thanks and always very much appreciated! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
PRICE OF FIDELITY
SATURDAY -- OCTOBER 4, 1997
Pretending to be deliberating over the videos on the wall adjacent to the adult section, Scully wavered. Like some forbidden territory, the entrance to the room was shrouded behind a faded, rust-colored, bronze-threaded curtain. Hesitating, she toyed with the empty boxes she'd selected thus far. Despite her injuries from two days ago, only having been released from the hospital the day before, she was piqued. The discretion with which she'd ultimately treated Ed Jerse -- close as she'd come to giving in -- had turned out to be a good call. Though it left her wanting. And right before her, opportunity beckoned.
In testing her new resolve to be more assertive, Scully checked herself and headed for that curtain. Surely, there would be one or two other females in the vault, seeking to add spark to their romance that evening, or perhaps just as lonely as she. Their presence would hopefully buffer her discomposure.
The curtain swept aside, startling her. It was Frohike, in his familiar black, leather blazer and fingerless gloves. He carried three black video cases, which he nearly dropped, then quickly bolted behind his back in one hand, so he could nervously readjust his glasses with the other.
"S - Scully," he started, sounding every bit as embarrassed as he should, Scully thought. "What brings -- ? My god. What happened?" Frowning, he worriedly eyed the scrapes and mild bruising on her face that she'd struggled to conceal beneath makeup. Gently, he pressed her away from the curtained portal.
She attempted to minimize the severity of her wounds. No need to alarm Frohike unduly. "Just another one of those routine occupational hazards. Comes with the job. So. How are you?"
"Ah. Wounded in action. And yet ever the intrepid G-lady, disregarding your injuries. Come on. Let me buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me all about it."
"I'm fine, really," Scully insisted.
"You don't look fine to me. Here. Let me check these out for you." He reached for the titles she carried. "And buy you a cup of coffee. It would be the least I could do."
"Actually, I wasn't quite done looking around . . . " she said, glancing behind herself, to insure no other patrons were standing close by.
"Well, then proceed. I'll wait. You know, I wasn't aware you did your video renting here."
"To be honest, this is the first time I've ever been here. Since I'm supposed to be taking it easy this weekend, I thought I'd catch up on some of the new releases. Anyway, it was the third time I'd visited my usual rental store and couldn't find a copy of Fargo. Finally," she reflected with satisfaction, "I about jumped up on the counter and rammed my gun down the idiot clerk's throat, when I told him off". Another small but relevant strike toward commandeering the circumstances in her life.
"Good for you," Frohike commented, though he knew nothing of her newly avowed commitment. "Those jerks don't deserve your business. I think it's a good idea you take it easy. Need any help?"
More than anything, she wanted to speak her desire to peek behind that curtain. And he'd be a good candidate to ask direction from. But this was Frohike and she knew he harbored a deeper interest in her. To let him know her love life direly lacked in fulfillment would be a mistake. "I - I hadn't decided yet. I was considering a comedy," she said to explain the reason she hovered in the vicinity, "but I'm generally not all that into the genre. I thought it would be a nice change of pace."
Ever the gentleman, Frohike walked Scully to her car in the Eastern seaboard drizzle. Then he asked her to follow him back to the office where he'd leave the videos he'd just rented then treat her to that cup of coffee.
"I really ought to go put in some of that rest," Scully gently negated. "But I'll take a raincheck."
"Then allow me to buy you dinner, a little later. I'm sure you're not up to cooking. I'll bring take-out at around six or so. How's that?"
God, if only men were so thoughtful all the time. Not just because they were trying to get in your good graces -- and eventually, your pants. But hell. Why not take advantage of the offer, just this once? She knew Frohike's concern was genuine, unlike that of most of her dates. "All right," she smiled. "That would be very sweet. Here." She fumbled at her purse. "I'll give you some money."
"Absolutely not, pretty lady. You wouldn't let me rent the videos for you."
"But I really did want to get established at this new place," she pointed out.
"Then dinner's on me."
The rented copy of "The Spitfire Grill" was rewinding from the conclusion while Scully leaned back on the sofa, resting her stockinged feet on the coffee table, VCR remote in hand. She heard the knock on the door and got up to check the peephole, still wearing the same casual pants and Henley pullover she'd worn while tending to errands that morning.
It was Frohike, as promised, freshly shaven, combed, and attired slightly neater than he'd been earlier. No fingerless gloves this time, either. He served dinner on the coffee table and insisted she relay her last case in explanation of her wounds, without the competition of the TV and VCR.
"What's gonna happen to the guy?" Frohike wanted to know, caught up in the story.
"Well," she said, lowering the Styrofoam tray in her hold. "He's being charged with homicide as well as assault on a federal officer, but it's likely both counts will be reduced pending his hearing. His intoxication was entirely involuntary. The proprietor of the tattoo shop has also been arrested for smuggling illegal contraband into the US. Even if he can prove he knew nothing of the tainted property of the rye, I'm sure he'll be deported back to Russia."
"That's one hell of a case," Frohike remarked, obviously impressed. "You weren't even lookin' for it." He stabbed his plastic fork at the garden salad in his tray. "Bein' as the guy wasn't to blame, are you gonna go see him, while he's recovering, in lock-up?"
This was a possibility Scully hadn't even entertained. The man had acted insanely. But indeed, he wasn't to blame, as Frohike so astutely pointed out. However, after seeing Jerse's apartment and lifestyle, she had every reason to doubt the man's worth. "I feel a little sorry for him, but there's no way in hell I'd want to get any further involved in that mess."
Frohike further toyed with his salad. "May I see the tattoo?" Then quickly added, "If you don't mind, of course."
"To be honest, I'm rather ashamed of it." She ducked her head, touching the tip of her nose before quickly busying herself with another bite of her dinner.
"I'm sure it looks much better than you're thinkin'." Frohike's encouraging words sounded sincere.
She considered a moment longer. "Oh, what the hell? May as well take the opportunity to show it off at least before I have it lasered." Leaning forward, she set her tray on the table, then raised her blouse in back. Unable to ascertain if the mildly tender area was exposed, she drew the shirt up over her bra closure.
For a better look, Frohike set aside his own tray, then slid closer. "Wow. It looks real hot on you. Sure you want to get it lased?"
"Frankly, I could do without the reminder."
"Yeah, but you can't see it back here."
"Not unless I look in a mirror. But, no. I don't want it. It was a mistake." She fixed her shirt and picked up her tray again.
"A good-lookin' mistake, I gotta admit."
Pausing, Scully deliberated. In retrospect, the tattoo had been one of her first definitive acts of defiance. "You really think so?"
"Like I said, it looks hot. That'll get a lot of guys' attention, when you go to the beach, in a bikini. Providin' you're lookin' to get guys' attention, of course. A pretty lady like you oughta show off."
Show off to whom, she thought somberly. All the other loser Ed Jerses? Or another domineering male who'd eventually attempt to dictate her every breath? Oh, right. Show off to Frohike, was what he meant. As much affection as she felt toward him, he too, fell hopelessly into the same "loser" category.
There was only one man she knew whose character defied the parameters of the two classic male-types. On testing, Mulder had backed off without argument, his relinquishment sincere. He'd passed the test admirably, making no effort to incur pangs of guilt from her for dereliction of duty, should she refuse the assignment of surveilling Sevlov Pudovkin. If anything, her unintentional test wound up invoking her own guilt for having directed such an accusation against Mulder at all.
"I don't know much about that," she said slowly, picking at her food. "I - I've been kind of rethinking a lot of goals in my life, lately. I always wanted a family and eerything, but now . . . now , I'm not so sure."
Withdrawing a fraction of the way across the sofa cushion, Frohike lifted his Styrofoam tray again, as well. "I hope you don't think it overly presumptuous, but that seems like a hell of a waste to me. You're beautiful, highly intelligent, gifted . . . You've got a great career, a lot of good sense . . . I gotta tell ya, Scully, you've crtainly got all the qualifications for making a perfect wife and parent."
"You - you think so?" She couldn't help but be flattered.
"Have you ever thought out the kind of guy you'd be looking for? That could be the reason you haven't 'found' the right one. This last dude; what was it about him that interested you?"
Thoughtfully, she chewed. "I'd have to say . . . in the case of Ed Jerse . . . it was mostly a matter of circumstance. He was in the right place at the right time. Because he was attractive and relatively charming, with the mood I was in . . . I elected to act on impulse. Which is something I never do. It occurred to me that may be one of the things I've been doing wrong. I'm too analytical. I start making judgments, prematurely. Hence, I've probably talked myself out of getting involved with a man even before allowing myself to get to know him. I probably convince myself of things about him that may or may not be true.
"But obviously," she added, "acting on impulse wasn't the answer, either."
"Don't discount the theory based on one bad experience," Frohike said. "If not for the toxic tattoo, you and this dude may have gotten something going."
"Oh, no. The man lived in a dirty, horrible little apartment. He didn't have any ambition. He'd had a previous relationship and a couple of kids, already. Whoever the girl was, she probably threw him out for being a bum. All of which took place years before the thing with the tattoo. No, he was definitely not the kind of guy I'd want to get involved with."
Setting his tray down once more, Frohike turned to her. "You seem to know precisely what it is you ain't looking for. Maybe what you oughta do now is figure out what you are looking for."
To keep from effusing, she had to check herself. "That's easy. Someone who's warm, intelligent, dedicated, honest, sincere, giving . . . Someone with a conscience . . . Someone without narcissistic male hang-ups . . . Someone who's motivated by his mind, rather than his hormones. He wouldn't have to be a millionaire or even 'well-off', but he couldn't be no deadbeat scum who thinks he can kick back and live off my paycheck, either."
"Gee. I guess you have thought it out."
"I've certainly had enough time."
"Funny," Frohike mused, wiping his mouth with his paper napkin. "I noticed the first thing you said about the Jerse dude was that he was 'attractive'. Yet, you didn't mention that at all on your list of criteria."
"Did I? Well, I was only in Philadelphia on a very temporary basis. I didn't have time to get to know him, first." She sighed. "As superficial as it may be, I have to admit his appearance did play a factor in my acceptance of his dinner invitation. And boy, was that a mistake."
"You're not looking for a eunuch, are you?"
"Why do you say that?" she laughed lightly.
"I don't mean literally. I mean unless a guy's got a serious testosterone shortage, he can't exactly go bury his hormones in the back yard, can he? You're a doctor -- you oughta know that. And if you want a family, that ain't gonna happen if the guy's testosterone level is in short supply."
"I didn't exactly say that," she laughed again. "I just want a man who can control his hormones. By all means, I want him to have them -- just as long as he doesn't let them run his life -- or let them try to run mine."
"Oh, well, that's easy. I mean, for some of us . . . Would you . . . ? Would you be interested in giving me a shot? You've known me for years. You know I'm tried and true. I ain't hung up on bein' no ultra macho dude, myself, or sex. Yeah, sex is cool and everything, but I know where it belongs. It doesn't run my life. I've certainly got goals and motivation. I'm a hundred percent reliable. When have I ever flaked out on you and Mulder when you needed help? I'd bust a nut, if I had to -- pardon my French -- to come through for you guys."
In turn, she set her tray down. Honesty. She'd just listed characteristic this as one of her highly important requirements. At times, Frohike seemed sex-crazy, but in the next second, he could just as easily forget all about the existence of carnal pleasures and function quite impressively.
Placing her elbow on the backrest of the sofa, she studied Frohike.
Nervously, he avoided meeting her gaze.
"You know, you're right. You are all those things. I know you well. You're very intelligent, you're very motivated toward your cause . . . I think very highly of you and rest of the guys. Plus, I know you're attracted to me. Which I find quite flattering. There is a minor problem, though."
Encouraged, he readjusted his glasses and met her gaze, now. "What is it? My age? I - I realize I've got more than a couple of years on you, but --"
"Oh, no. As a matter of fact, I like older men. The only truly serious relationships I've ever had were with older men." Rather than lead him on, Scully proceeded before he could respond. "The thing is, Frohike, there's someone who'd stand between you and me. Metaphorically speaking. He wouldn't, literally. In fact, he wouldn't care . . . " She dropped her gaze, unseeing. "But I would. I'd never stop thinking about him."
"Give me a chance. I'd make you forget all about the deadbeat. Anyone who wouldn't care about you would have to be runnin' a pretty sorry data processor."
"Forget? How can I forget?" She looked up again. "How could I not think of him, when I'm with you? You two are such good friends. He's the one who introduced us."
Even behind the lenses, in the lamplight Frohike's shock was evident. His lids dropped in an attempt to mask his disappointment. "You - you mean Mulder?"
"God, I never meant to tell a soul." Leaning into the backrest, she shut her eyes. "Not unless he gave me some indication the feeling was mutual. But that'll never happen. It's pretty clear, after all this time he doesn't regard me the same. I'm only telling you this so you understand."
"Mulder . . . " Frohike fell against the backrest, as well. "God knows, he's a heck of a guy . . . but I never would have guessed you were interested in him . . . You never act like there's a thing there . . . "
"Truth is, I've never been much good at flirting. And when we were first partnered, more than anything, I wanted to gain his respect. I did my best to show him what a dedicated and reliable worker I am. I think I succeeded. But somewhere along the line, I fell deeply for him. Even though he's much younger than the men I'm usually attracted to. I couldn't help it."
"If that's how you feel, then why'd you go chase the guy with the tattoo, at all?"
Unable to sit still, Scully got up. She paced between the TV and the coffee table. "Because. Because I know Mulder has no interest in me. Because he was set to take off on vacation and hadn't even so much as thought to include me in his plans. It wouldn't have been any great hardship to shut down the X-Files for a week. Because it struck me that I was being a fool, hoping and waiting that one day he'd come around. I needed to do something definitive for myself, to get past thinking about him. It's so hard working with him. Struggling to maintain our distant, professional partnership. When just looking at him makes me want to melt. I didn't bother with strategy. Like I said, I'd made up my mind I was going to start following impulse instead of reason. Following reason was what kept me at a distance from Mulder. God knows I've ignored policy and protocol in the past. But I daren't use impulse with him. He'd lose his respect for me. He'd think I'd turned out to be an emotional, histrionic female, after all." Ready to cry, Scully swept her hair back over the crown of her head, steeling herself.
Having slid to the edge of the cushion, Frohike debated. It was several moments before he went on. "You know there's only one thing you can do . . . "
"No there isn't. There's nothing -- "
"You have to tell him how you feel."
In horror, Scully glared at her guest, eyes filling despite her efforts not to cry. "Right. So I can be mortified when he laughs me off? Then have to face him every day at work, afterwards? I couldn't. No, the only realistic option for me is to transfer out of the X-Files. I can't be around him any more."
Frohike exhaled. "Yeah . . . I guess you could get a transfer. But that seems like a pretty chicken-shit cop-out for the Agent Scully I know."
Temper flaring, Scully fought to repress the very idiotic, feminine emotions she disdained. "Dammit, so what if I am chicken-shit about this? I've dedicated myself to a job of law enforcement, putting my life on the line every time I go out in the field. Don't I deserve the right to be chicken-shit about something?"
"Sorry." He truly looked it, too. "All I meant was, I way admire your strength; I couldn't imagine you being afraid of anything. But I didn't think of it that way. You do what you got to. Whatever Mulder may think of you -- whatever you do -- just know I'll always be your friend." He got up and collected their trays to take to the kitchen counter.
Blinking, Scully wiped away the tears that escaped, watching Frohike. "Oh, to hell with Mulder. You want to go out? Let's do it."
After tossing their near-empty trays in the garbage, Frohike returned to the sofa to collect his leather jacket from the backrest. "Call me an idiot, pretty lady, but I couldn't do it. Not like this. I got a lot of respect for Mulder, too, and all the reasons how and why a woman could fall for him. And I've been burned too many times goin' out on dates with women who were bitter 'cause some guy fucked 'em over."
Abruptly sympathetic, Scully cocked her head at Frohike in consternation. "It wouldn't be like that with us. We've known each other for years."
Briefly, he shook his head. "Not til you've been away from Mulder for a while and can start thinkin' past him."
SATURDAY -- OCTOBER 11, 1997
As of the next weekend, when the Lone Gunmen dropped in on Mulder at his apartment to celebrate his birthday, Frohike hadn't said word one to anybody about Scully's confession. It hadn't been an easy piece of data for him to process. The variety of ways it affected him had fucked with his head. Most guys would have pounced on the opportunity for the chance to bed a woman they'd been lusting after for years, but Frohike couldn't. It wouldn't have been right. Having her under pretenses like that would suck, even though he and Scully would be the only ones who'd ever know the surrounding circumstances.
In the midst of the gift-opening and well-wishing, Langly brought up the topic of their activities Friday night. "Have you heard about the rash of luminescent bats dive bombing the White House?" he asked Mulder.
"What?" Only vaguely interested, Mulder didn't so much as look up beneath the glow of the candlestick lamp by his chair. He was too busy frowning as he squinted at the pictures on the box of the new additions to his collection of x-rated videos.
"Yeah," Langly enthused. "They're supposed to be like giant. With the head and body measuring about a foot." He held out his hands to indicate the approximate size, even though Mulder wasn't looking.
"There aren't any bats around here," Mulder remarked. "Where'd you hear that?"
"Off the Internet," Frohike supplied. "We went over and cruised the Executive Plaza, 15th, and 17th yesterday night to go check it out."
"From your pals in one of the 'para-phenomena' chat rooms, again?" At last Mulder glanced up with a dubious cant of an eyebrow. He had reason for skepticism; he'd found most of the topics brought up in their favorite chat rooms to be hoaxes.
In their defense, Byers provided the scientific basis they'd been supplied that had convinced them the story was worth investigation. "They're reported to resemble the Hypsignathus monstosus. Only they have a greenish luminescent glow to their fur and skin. That part isn't exactly understood. It's believed they may have been exposed to some form of radiation."
"Oh, right," Mulder scoffed. "Anything that size would have been spotted by a lot more people than your tech-head paranoid pals, plus it'd be all over the media by now. Furthermore, may I remind you guys that I frequent the area every working day and I've never seen bats of any size around. Let alone glowing ones." He'd reached the third videotape and proceeded to read the summary printed on the box. "I'll bet the speculation is that these bats are either alien creatures or they've been fixed up with cameras like in the U.S.'s aborted bat-raid on Japan, by some Middle Eastern terrorists to spy on the American government."
Damn, Mulder was good. Frohike exchanged looks with his colleagues who suddenly fell silent. "Um, well," Frohike admitted, "something like that . . . "
"And you guys bought it?" Mulder bantered.
"Hey," Langly abruptly changed the subject. "Let's check out the new videos."
Between comments, they'd all tune into the action on the screen whenever something really randy was going on. A guy could only squirm so much to get comfortable in his pants with a throbbing stiffy and getting up from a seated position had to be managed with care. There was a point Frohike reached when he really began to wish he'd jumped at Scully's acceptance to date. Damn, the thought of her luscious, red, sultry lips, and curvaceous hips and ass got him even hotter. Of course, bringing her to the party would have been out of the question -- he couldn't even have told her about the plan to celebrate Mulder's birthday. But if Frohike hadn't been such a schmuck he might not have to go home to his cold, empty bed later on.
All was not lost. Atop the coffee table, within the black gift bag, printed with colorful caricatures of busty ladies in bikinis, awaited salvation. Going overlooked. It was one of those things a guy was supposed to use in private, but to hell with it; they were all getting pretty loaded on the abundant supply of strong, imported beer they'd brought.
With that, he snuck the bag to the edge of the table to peer in. It seemed germane to point out the attendant necessary products he'd bought to go with the gift. Removing the bottle of lubricant from the bag, he reread the label. "Now, the lady at the shop warned me that if you use the wrong stuff with this new kind of synthetic skin, it would melt down like a core reactor at a nuclear plant. She said this was the best lube to use."
"She was probably scamming you," Byers said. "She knew by the time you got to the register, you were so horny, you would have agreed to buy the whole counter if it would have got you home any quicker."
"No, really." This gave Frohike the perfect excuse to unhouse the box. Via the light from the lamp on the shelving unit and the glow from the aquarium, he demonstrated the precautionary instructions on the packaging for Byers to view. In capital letters, it read "Do not use with petroleum-based products." "I got the cleaner, too. On the insert it says not to use anything too abrasive. Here, I'll show you."
"I wasn't about to use Bon Ami," Mulder said, from the corner of the chair where he sat back with a leg hooked over the arm. "That would leave it tantamount to jerking off with sandpaper the next time I used the thing," he gestured.
No longer reading, Byers studied the realistic-appearing artificial beaver through the clear plastic window on the box. "You should have just bought Mulder a hooker," he remarked, still critical of the general concept of the gift. "At least she would have been flesh and blood."
"Hey, you know Mulder don't go for shit like that," Frohike countered, offended.
"I didn't mean literally," Byers said, relinquishing the box.
"That thing's better than a hooker any day," Langly added, from the other end of the sofa. "You pay for it only once -- and in Mulder's case, he didn't have to put down a dime -- it won't pick up no STD's from some john, and it's always available. Plus never any grief from PMS or ragtime."
Pretending to grope inside the box for the insert, Frohike felt the toy up. "Well, I'll be damned. This thing is almost as soft as the real thing."
"Lemme feel." Without waiting, Langly snatched the box away and crammed a hand in to stroke the velvety skin. "Whoa. This is like -- nirvana."
It was a hell of a plunge, but Frohike made the dive. "What do you guys say we try this thing out?"
Naturally, Byers freaked. "Don't even suggest it; you bought it for Mulder. He can do whatever he wants with it, but I'm sure he won't want it after you get done using it."
"Yeah," Langly concurred. "You think he wants your AIDS?"
"You're the one with the AIDS, crab boy," Frohike insinuated.
Peering into the box, Langly shoved his glasses up in place. "And you're the one who's so desperate you gotta hang out at Glory Holes to get your itch scratched."
"You're full of crap," Frohike slurred. "Don't make out like you don't hump Yvette, too."
Langly smirked. "Only after I douche her out with DDT and a barrel of industrial-strength disinfectant."
"Hah," Frohike mocked. "I've never seen you so much as pick up a bottle of 409 at home." Catching Langly off-guard, Frohike grabbed the box again.
"Would you guys shut up?" Byers intervened. "Mulder doesn't have to share anything, and he sure as hell doesn't want to hear about the perverse love triangle you two carry out over your plastic doll."
However, Mulder seemed a lot more intrigued than put off. "You guys know about Glory Holes?"
"Langly tried one once," Frohike casually replied, finding the insert sooner than hoped. "The place was teaming with homos, but he couldn't get any takers til a stray dog wandered in."
"You oughta know," Langly retorted. "You're always there with your mouth workin' the holes like a sump drain in a pool."
"They really do have a doll," Byers narked.
"They do?" Mulder asked, increasingly amused. "And you guys fight over her?"
"I should never have agreed to put in for half," Langly defended. "But man. Have you ever priced those goddamn things?"
"And you didn't bring her?" Mulder kidded. His elbow was on the armrest, hand at his mouth. He refocused on the TV. "Gee, it really would have rounded out the party if you'd brought a clean, well-scrubbed girl like that . . . "
"Don't worry," Frohike said, handing Byers the folded paper to peruse for himself. "We got virgin pussy."
Sidelong, Mulder eyed the box. "Virgin? You mean . . . that one . . . has a hymen?"
"Course," Frohike maintained. "Think I'd get you anything less?"
Langly was quick to volunteer. "Hey, if it makes you nervous or anything, I'll break her in for you."
"Show some manners, dude." Frohike nudged his roommate hard. "It's Mulder's." With difficulty, Frohike got up and took the package to his host. It was impossible not to notice even through denim that Mulder boasted a long stiffy that formed a straining arc toward the waistband of his jeans. "Here. Go check it out, dude. Tell us how well it works, so we can decide whether to save up and get our own, in the future."
"Uh . . . " Mulder blinked at the open package, not moving. "You guys want a review right now?"
"Well, it wasn't cheap," Frohike admitted. "I'd like to know if I got my money's worth."
"What he really means," Langly interpreted, "is that we want you to hurry up and break it in, so we can try it out, ourselves."
"Leave him alone." There was no way in hell Byers was about to let his unsolicited opinion go unvoiced. "You don't give someone a gift then contaminate it."
"Don't pretend you're not ready to bust a nut, too, Byers," Frohike intoned, scarcely glancing over his shoulder.
Uncomfortable but wordless, Byers shifted on the leather sofa.
Apparently just as horny and inebriated as the rest of them, Mulder took the package. He opened the box. Drawing out the handheld appliance, his eyes widened. "Uh, this thing's kinda small, isn't it, boys?"
It definitely looked way too small for Mulder's basket. "Yeah, well," Frohike explained, "the stuff it's made out of is supposed to give. Like the real thing, you know? See, what it says there on the box? Um, sorry. Where are your glasses?"
"I got contacts, remember?" Leaning closer to the lamp, Mulder looked over the print on the packaging. He took another pull on his beer. "I don't know . . . Byers is right . . . the idea of 'sharing' . . . it doesn't seem Kosher to me, either . . . "
"A minute ago," Langly reminded their host, "you said we should have brought Yvette. We would have been sharing her."
"Yeah, but I was kidding . . . " Mulder said.
"Truth is, Frohike and I haven't caught anything or died from sharing her," Langly went on, folding his arms, the glow of the TV glinting off his glasses, effectively hiding his eyes. "It's not like we get out enough to catch anything and you know it."
With a sigh, Frohike conceded, and crossed the room to sit at the desk. "He's right, dude. We're not exactly the 'playboy' types . . . If we gross you out, I understand. Particularly Langly."
"Don't obligate him," Byers snapped. "No man should have to put up with that, just 'cause you're his friends. Knowing you two, you wouldn't even bother to clean it out, afterwards. I wouldn't blame him if he put on a radiation suit to go throw it out in the dumpster -- "
"Oh, no," Frohike readily offered. "I'd thoroughly clean it out."
"So would I," Langly seconded.
"You're pathetic," Byers concluded. Leaning on the armrest of the sofa, gaze fixed on the TV, he brushed at his beard.
"Oh, don't make out like you're so holy, Byers." Langly cast his roommate a smirk. "If we were at home, you'd have snuck off to your room by now, for some serious monkey spanking."
"Look." Mulder seemed more amused than ever. "If you two wanna take turns using it, go ahead." He more or less repacked the appliance. "In the meantime, Byers and I are gonna turn off the pornos and watch something sobering."
"And spoil your birthday?" It was Frohike's turn to be amused as he watched Mulder slide his leg off the arm of the chair, then struggle to get up, with the good-sized woody he packed. "No way, dude."
"Yeah, well, blue balls would spoil it, too," he admitted, finally succeeding at his endeavor to get to his feet.
"Like you got any reason to have blue balls," Frohike scoffed. "Not with a gorgeous partner like you got, plus your birthday present."
"Oh, right," Mulder counter-scoffed. "Like she wouldn't knock out some of my teeth if I put the make on her. Look, you guys go ahead and use the toy." Limping to Frohike, he handed off the box. "Here. Keep it. I get a steady paycheck. If you guys think it's worth it, I'll save up a few dollars at a time and buy one, myself. In adult size."
Exhaling, Frohike looked over the box. He wasn't really seeing it, but considering how to respond. Scully would hate him the rest of her life, if he blabbed. "Do you think she's attractive?"
"I'm only slightly blind, not entirely." Mulder placed the box on the desk, when Frohike wouldn't take it.
Just then, Langly got up. "Hey, if Frohike don't want to, let me try it out. I'll give you an honest review."
Cupping his hands over his nose and mouth, Mulder heaved. "Whoever. You guys can duke it out." He limped to the TV where he paused to figure out how to reach the controls.
Skirting behind their host, Langly headed for the desk. "You heard the man, Frohike; if you wanna play 'Richie Cunningham', like Byers over there, be my guest."
Taking the box into protective custody, Frohike looked past his roommate, to Mulder. "Does that mean yes or no?"
Choosing to bend down, Mulder canceled the volume on the TV, stopped the videotape, and hit the rewind button. "What part of 'go ahead' don't you understand?"
"Hey," Langly protested. "Is the party over?"
"Not at all," Mulder assured them. "There's no reason we can't party some more once you guys are a little more comfortable." He straightened. "We'll just cool it on the skin flicks. Go on, Frohike. If you don't want to use it first, give it to Langly."
"What about you?" Frohike asked. "You're suffering just as bad as we are."
"That's why I'm going to find something else to watch." Mulder went around the coffee table to the sofa and picked up the remote. He switched the cable back on.
"Come on, dick-hickey," Langly demanded. "Give it up."
"Fuck you," Frohike stated. "It's Mulder's. Neither of us are using it. You got two hands. They've never failed you before."
"Thanks a lot," Langly remarked caustically. "Next time you need a favor, I'll remember your generosity."
As he stalked off for the bedroom, Frohike noticed that Byers had vacated the room. There was no need to ask; in the bedroom, they heard Langly banging on the bathroom door. "Dammit Byers, put it on warp drive. And don't even think about stroking the toad."
Glancing around the desk behind himself, Frohike opened the bottom drawer and stashed the box inside, toward the back. He passed Mulder a gesture of silence, then wheeled the wooden chair a little closer to the sofa to speak quietly. "What would you say if I told you I'm seriously considering asking Scully out?"
"Scully?" Raising his eyebrows in surprise, Mulder polished off his beer. "She's a little young for you, isn't she?"
"Not really. I did a some poking into her background. She's had boyfriends who were plenty older than her, before. I took that as an encouraging sign."
"I'm gonna get another beer. Ready for another?" Mulder got up with less difficulty, this time.
"Um, yeah." The multitude of near-empty and empty bottles scattered all over the coffee table indicated this was probably wise. Frohike got up as well, and collected a few of the lightest ones. He followed Mulder to the kitchen. "Look, I know you've given me the business when I express interest in Scully, but I'd really like to know where you stand on the matter. I don't want it to be an issue with us."
"Why should it be an issue?" Mulder laughed, opening the refrigerator. "If you're serious, do it. Just don't hurt her. Don't forget -- I'm a trained federal officer."
Having thrown out the empty bottles, Frohike blinked at Mulder's back, stunned. "That's it? Just do it? Then do you always give me such a hard time whenever I so much as compliment her?"
"I don't." With a couple more frosty bottles, Mulder dropped the refrigerator door shut, and went to the counter for the opener. "I was just looking out for Scully. I don't want to see her hurt."
That made sense to Frohike; his own defense sharply arced, on her behalf. "Oh, you don't, huh?"
"Look, I trust you." Mulder handed Frohike the first open bottle. "As long as you've waited, I know you're serious. I don't know much about Scully's boyfriends, but yeah, the one I do know about was seven years her senior. You're her friend, and that's important."
Still bristling, Frohike took a cooling swallow. But was compelled to push. "And here I thought you were giving me a hard time because you were interested in her."
"Me and Scully?" Again, Mulder laughed. "No way." He toyed with a torn corner of the label on his bottle. "Have you ever seen us act like there was anything between us?"
"Well, no, but you've been territorial about her since day one." Thus incurring Frohike's deduction.
"Look at it this way: If you had a sister, wouldn't you get defensive about the integrity of her prospective suitors?"
"Oh, I see. So you've diverted all your remorse over the loss of your sister, onto Scully. In other words, you've basically 'adopted' her as your new sister in place of Samantha."
Mulder was quick to deny the allegation. "No, of course -- " Then thought. "I - I don't know. I never thought about it, before . . . Maybe I have."
"You mollusk brain." Frohike wanted to kick his host. "That's why you missed it. I was beginning to wonder if maybe you were never as smart as everyone thought you were. You know, she's ready to walk."
"'Walk'? Walk where? She's planning to leave? What? The city? The Bureau?"
To delay a response, Frohike took another drink. But even afterwards, his loyalty to Scully was just as strong as that towards Mulder. "I can't say."
"What? Did you talk to her? Did you already go out with her? What did she say?"
"I wish," Frohike clucked, annoyed. "I was too busy being loyal to you to go out with her."
"Then how did you talk to her?"
"We just did. We ran into each other at the video store. We talked. That's all." God, and Frohike could have gone for it, too. Scully's self-appointed new "brother" had just professed full trust of the "prospective suitor".
"What did she say?"
"Dammit, Mulder." Frohike glowered across the room. "I can't say. Don't ask."
"I promised. That's why not. I ain't no back-stabber."
"Promised what? If she's planning to move, I'll find out eventually. What difference does it make when?"
"Then I don't need to tell you now."
His back against the counter, Mulder pensively weighed the news, downing his drink. Finally, he tested the waters. "It's major, isn't it? Like when Diana went to Germany."
Surprisingly astute for an idiot. Frohike said nothing.
"She's transferring out of the X-Files."
Again, Frohike kept his mouth shut.
"She told you why."
"She's sick of it. Sick of arguing with me. Sick of having to deal with crap that's a hell of a lot harder to solve than the usual case. Sick of being ridiculed by the rest of the Bureau. Hey, I understand. I'm just surprised she hung in as long as she did. She's a good agent." Mulder took another drink. "I really admire her. Don't worry -- I'll pretend I don't know."
"Dude . . . " Frohike shook his head morosely. "You're way off."
Holding an empty bottle, Byers entered the kitchen. "Any more beer?" He tossed the bottle in the trash and opened the refrigerator.
"Call her," Frohike reasoned. "Call her right now and explain to her how you consider her to be your little sister. Don't tell her I said anything. Just tell her that. It could make all difference in the world."
"She'll think I'm an idiot," Mulder said. Then gestured with his bottle. "She'd be right, of course."
"If nothing else," Frohike said, "she'll know you're honest and you've got a hell of a lot more integrity than most people could ever dream about."
"That's not exactly true." Pouting, Mulder resumed his fidget with the torn label. "I mean, that's not exactly the way I think about her . . . "
Was that -- remorse? Frohike shifted, wondering if he was just as much of an idiot as Mulder. "Then . . . How do you feel about her, dude?"
Still present, Byers silently edged a little closer with a freshly opened beer.
When Mulder didn't answer, Frohike went on. "Look, I think what you oughta do is call her ASAP. Before she calls your boss to put in her transfer request."
Alarming, Byers raised his eyebrows. "Scully's leaving the X-Files?"
In a little less than an hour Frohike herded the guys out. Apparently, he'd told them something the last time Mulder ducked out of the room, because they all suddenly made excuses about being tired, and left without complaint.
The apartment was messy, with beer bottles, wrapping paper, and open bags of pretzels and chips and dip. Mulder paused to put away everything that would spoil then secured the rest of the edibles shut and deposited them in the kitchen.
Finally, he wandered back to his room examining Frohike's gift. Dropping onto the bed, Mulder studied the apparatus through the clear window on the packaging. Though it lacked a lot, it did look impressive -- and Langly wasn't kidding about the advantages.
Prepared for bed, Mulder got back on the mattress in his flannel pajamas with another beer. He'd left the appliance on the nightstand which he only glanced at when he picked up the cordless phone.
Sans his contact lenses, he squinted at the clock to bring it back into focus. It was a little after one in the morning. Maybe he should wait to place the call at a reasonable hour.
It was too late; she answered before he could hang up. "Hel - lo," she mumbled, sleepily.
"Oh, hey." Mulder nearly spilled his beer. "I woke you up. Never mind. I'll call -- "
"That's all right. It gives me a chance to wish you happy birthday. I got you a present. I'll bring it to work Monday."
"Thanks, but you didn't have to."
"I wanted to. Just a little token of friendship."
Friendship? She meant to play it tough to the end. Adamant not to let him see emotion. "Actually, I was thinking about what you said. About the desk. And you're right. You really should have been given a desk from the start. And your name on the door. You know how cheap the government is. Otherwise I'm sure you would have had them. I can put in the request for both those things, Monday. I can't guarantee -- "
"It's okay. Don't bother."
"It's no bother."
"Look, Mulder . . . " There was a whisper of rustling bedclothes and a subtle lilt of regret in her tone. "Just . . . forget it . . . I did my tour of duty with the X-Files. You know those type of cases were never my 'thing' . . . It's been a hell of a ride, these last four years, but I'm done. About the desk . . . I'd been reassessing the goals in my life quite a lot, lately . . . When I thought about the fact that I'd never been given a desk, I was kind of yanked back to reality. My position there was really only meant to be temporary."
Trying to sound casual, he asked, "You mean you're leaving?"
"I'm requesting a transfer to the Forensic Lab. That's where my training lies."
"Look, if I did anything wrong, I'm sorry. If I ever made you feel for one second like I thought you weren't up for the job, I want you to know, I never meant to. Because you've always been."
" . . . No . . . You never made me feel that way for one second . . . You always showed a lot of faith in me and my ability . . . I have to thank you for that . . . "
"I thought we always approached each case with an open forum kind of environment, but maybe it was never as open as it should have been. If I ignored your input and suggestions, I apologize -- "
"You didn't. You were always very fair -- very open to ideas and suggestions. That isn't what my transfer is about."
Sighing, he got under the covers. "I know I did something to tick you off. I don't expect to change your mind about a transfer, but I'd at least like to apologize and make sure I don't make the same mistake with any future coworkers, again."
"You didn't do anything wrong. As far as your future coworkers are concerned, I'm sure you'll treat them with just as much respect and equality as you did me. You've been the ideal supervisor. I know I'll never have the pleasure of working with someone like you again."
Maybe Frohike had misunderstood her. Why shouldn't he? The female psyche had always been an elusive one to men. All Mulder knew for certain was that the prospect of working without Scully was an empty, desolate one. Despite his training, Mulder found himself at an uncomfortable loss as to how to salvage the situation. She had her interests and goals and they were at the opposite end of the spectrum from the paranormal. She wanted to get back into "real" science, and he couldn't blame her. "I . . . I'm sorry I woke you . . . Monday morning I'll get you a transfer requisition if you're sure that's what you want. But I'd really rather you give me a chance to try and get you that desk and name plate . . . "
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