by ML

Note: found this in my files; hadn't posted it previously, so here goes...
Date: March 2, 2004
Title: Playbook
Author: ML
Spoilers: Tooms
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not now, not ever. Sigh. But I claim visiting privileges.

by ML

Even though he asked her to come, Mulder doesn't expect to see Scully until suddenly she's there, opening the passenger door.

He's very grateful for his partner's care. He's spent so much time alone, he's still getting used to the idea of someone sharing the burden. Even when she disagrees with him, she backs him up, and he never expected to have that on this detail.

The air in the car is ripe with possibilities as they discuss the case and Mulder's unorthodox methods. Scully's heart goes out to her stubborn, driven partner. She can see how tired he is. She can also see he won't give up.

She's been quoting regulations at him so much the past couple of days he's started quoting back chapter and verse. She knows it annoys him, but she hopes some of it might sink in. She fears for him, for his job of course but more viscerally, for his safety.

She keeps trying to maintain the balance between personal and professional with Mulder, but she's come to care for her partner in ways she is only vaguely conscious of. She won't let herself think too much about this.

Nonetheless, his first name slips off her lips as she tries to reason with him. His reaction is immediate and quelling. "Mulder," he corrects her, then more softly, "Mulder."

So he's aware of it as well. He spins some lie about making his parents call him Mulder, but she sees right through him. She doesn't call him on it, though. He's right; better to maintain professionalism. Maybe she also needs the barrier of last names.

The next moment he disarms her with his concern for her. Despite his own disregard for the rules, he doesn't expect her to go down with him. It doesn't matter. She's already decided whose side she's on. It's high time she told him.

"I wouldn't put myself on the line for anyone but you," she says.

The atmosphere inside the car has gone from ripe to charged. As soon as the words leave her lips, she realizes that what she's said could be interpreted in a variety of ways, not all of them acceptable. From the look on Mulder's face, he realizes this, too.

Oh, Scully, Mulder thinks. Now you've gone and done it. How can I get out of this and still maintain my cool exterior? Do I even want to?

Scully sees Mulder's expression soften and he starts to speak. She's not sorry she said the words. Not yet, anyway. In a moment she'll know for sure.

Is that panic he sees on her face? Not Scully. He sees surprise at hearing her own words, something resembling regret, and just a spark of...something more before she gets hold of herself. She manages not to touch his hand as she hands over his drink.

"If there's iced tea in there, could be love," he says, giving her a mock-sultry look. His lips hover over the straw, giving her a chance to reply.

He's giving her a chance to back down, she realizes. "Must be fate, Mulder," she says gamely with a trace of real disappointment. "Root beer."

He makes his own little gesture of regret. She knows he will know the truth as soon as he tastes his drink.

Scully goes back to her car to continue the stakeout alone as Mulder drives away. He finishes his iced tea before he's a block away.

They will both think of this night from time to time. Not as a missed opportunity, but as an acknowledgment, and as a promise for the future.


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