TITLE: Breathing Room
AUTHOR: Shoshana
EMAIL ADDRESS: shoshana1013@yahoo.com
DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Gossamer and by request.
SPOILER WARNING: 'One Son'
RATING: PG
CLASSIFICATION: VA
KEYWORDS: UST, Mulder, Scully
SUMMARY: What happened afterward.
DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me.
NOTE: Several paragraphs of this story are borrowed from a post ep
I co-wrote a year and a half ago. This is both an expansion and
revision of my own material.
 
Thanks to my wonderful beta reader Sallie!

Breathing Room
By Shoshana

Mulder glanced through the peephole, saw Scully, and threw open the
deadbolt. The knock had sounded familiar but he'd been nervous all
day since young Spender's blood was found in their basement office.
He was less concerned about Diana's whereabouts, not wanting to
dwell on her betrayal.

He didn't want to think about his ex-partner and sometime friend
because he didn't want to face Scully. He'd been *so* wrong about
Diana. He'd put himself and Scully in jeopardy for over a year,
ever since Diana had returned to the states.

Ever since she'd reappeared in his life, catastrophic things had
happened in quick succession. The files had been destroyed by fire,
Scully had been abducted a second time, and the X-Files had been
taken away from them. Somehow it seemed all clear to him now--Diana
had been privy to all of Cancer Man's secret plans and machinations
the whole time.

If the plan had been to fracture Mulder and Scully's relationship,
the Consortium had been moderately successfully. The trust between
the two partners had seemed invincible until Diana misled him, used
him like a rat in a maze. When it became obvious to her he was no
longer interested in a sexual relationship, she'd devised other
methods to capture his attention.

He thought she was interested in his work, that she'd never lost
interest in that work. Diana had shown such great concern for Gibson
Praise's welfare, for his talents as a gifted child. In allowing her
access to Gibson from the very beginning, Mulder had unwittingly
participated in the torture of a little boy, much to his everlasting
regret.

He was ready to face the music now. Scully must be here to chew him
out, about Diana, about Gibson, about anything and everything that
had happened to them since last spring.

"Hi, Scully. I didn't expect you," he told her warily. He tried to
smile but managed to grimace instead.

"I know. I should have called. I didn't want to talk about this on
the phone. I wanted to see your face."

Mulder recoiled a little, desperately afraid she was about to tell
him she was leaving the X-Files for good. She noticed his clenched
fists, the tension flooding his entire body and held up her hand,
signalling a clarification.

"Relax, Mulder. I'm not leaving the X-Files... I, I just... want
to talk about... what happened..."

She's just as bent out of shape as I am, Mulder thought. Scully
rarely stumbled over words, and she hesitated more than once just
now. She looked tired, upset, and ready to collapse. It had been a
long day for both of them.

Mulder gave her a weak smile and shook his head once, then gestured
toward the couch, "Sit down, Scully. I want to talk to you, too.
I didn't know whether you wanted to talk to me."

Scully chuckled softly as she sat down on the right side of the
couch--her side, or what she imagined was her side. She gave Mulder
a glimpse of a smile as she made herself comfortable. He settled on
the left side, as far away from her as possible. They were going to
have to meet somewhere in the middle, she thought to herself. It
might take all night to get there.

"I don't know what to think anymore, Scully. We should be
able to prosecute this man for the murder of his son. Jeffrey
Spender's blood was splattered all over our office floor, yet we
can do nothing, nothing, about this. I don't know why we even
bother anymore. Maybe we should resign ourselves to defeat, maybe
you ought to go find a good job, a better job than this one."

"So I should just leave you, right?" Scully began, her voice rising.
"Leave because it's a worthless cause alongside a worthless bastard
like you?"

Mulder nodded his head in agreement, eyes downcast and forlorn.

"Stop it, you fool."

Mulder's turned to look at her, too stunned to make a verbal
response. She'd never reduced herself to name-calling. This was
pretty damn close.

"Blame Cancer Man, blame Diana, blame Skinner even--but don't blame
yourself! These things haven't happened to you because you asked
them to, Mulder. You're a fly caught in a web, one that's been
spinning for at least fifty years now. I don't know how you can let
low self-esteem rear its ugly head every time things don't work out
your way."

Mulder flinched at her words, but found the nerve to come back
fighting, "I'm not letting my personal feelings interfere with this,
Scully! Someone killed Jeffrey Spender in that basement, then
hauled the body away. It's as simple as that. His blood type and
personal effects are all over the room. Skinner isn't even putting
an APB out for his father!"

Scully shrugged. "He must have a reason, Mulder. He's always had
sources we know nothing about. I'd say this battle is a lost cause
for us. It makes me *so* mad, but that's the way things are."

Mulder ducked his head, studying the Navajo blanket at the end of
the couch. She was all too familiar with his withdrawal from an
argument into exasperated silence. Sometimes it meant further
discussion was out of the question. She played with the edges of
her jacket, and gave him a few minutes. She lifted her head and
met troubled eyes once again.

"I'm not angry at you, Mulder. I never was. I may have been
exasperated with your actions and fed up with your stubborn
bullheadedness, but I was never angry at *you*. I was angry at
Diana and CGB Spender. They've victimized you enough. I don't care
what your father was involved in; it's time you stopped paying for
his missteps and controlled your own life."

Mulder was startled by her appraisal of the situation. He hadn't
been thinking of his father's sins, only his own. He'd believed
Diana, and he'd fallen for the elder Spender's traps. He'd truly
felt responsible for everything that had happened to Scully since
she'd been assigned to him. He would probably always feel that
way. He knew she'd never talk him out of it, no matter how logical
her arguments were. Rather than get caught up in a futile
discussion of who bore responsibility, he decided to concentrate on
the events of the last twenty-four hours and make amends in any way
he could.

"I was angry at you, Scully. I was angry that you went to see the
Gunmen behind my back," he declared, extending his arm across the
top of the sofa, and reaching out to her without physical contact.
  
He wanted to touch her, to tell her what she meant to him.
He settled for the length of his arm across the back of her sofa,
reaching out to her in a gesture of conciliation.

"I reacted irrationally, and I want to apologize to you for that,
Scully. Our friendship means more to me than any I've ever had,
with anyone, my whole life long. That includes my sister."

Scully worried her bottom lip, fighting back tears she would not
cry. His words had touched her deeply but she didn't want to
dissolve into weakness. That's not what they needed to mend this
relationship.

She extended her hand, reaching across the vast space between them.
Bridging the gap was more symbolic than practical, her fingers more
than a foot away. She finally relaxed her straining forearm, and
her hand dropped to her side.

She wished she could take him in her arms, express to him how deeply
she loved him. Scully knew she couldn't, knew she had to maintain
distance while they discussed what had transpired. She was
dangerously close to telling him how much she needed him. If there
was one thing she was sure of at the moment, it was the poor timing
of such a statement. They had to rebuild basic trust between them.
How could she reveal her heart to him now?

"Thank you, Mulder," she responded, as calmly as possible.
Years of self-control guided her, restrained her first inclination.
She'd had a lot of experience suppressing her feelings for this man
and it seemed to be paying off in spades.

"I, you, what we have together, means a lot to me. I've never had a
friend like you. I had my family, I've had a few girlfriends whom
I've been close to, but I don't think it's the same. That's why
I've been so worried about you, about the people who influence you.
I wasn't sure about my place in your life sometimes. I guess I got
my feelings hurt. You called it jealousy, Mulder. I'll admit to
some of that, just not the way you think."

Mulder smiled at her fondly, "What, I'm not charming enough for you
to become jealous over?"

Scully knew he was trying to lighten the mood, but there was too
much truth in his statement and she felt warmth spread across her
cheeks. She knew he cared about her, even loved her. They'd come
so close to crossing the line between friendship and romance last
summer. She still wasn't sure why they'd never discussed that day
in his hallway; she'd never forget it, anaphylactic shock and all.

She didn't want to lose everything, so she'd demanded nothing of
him after the rescue from Antarctica. This all or nothing
philosophy was getting tedious, and wearing her down. She pulled
her arms across her chest, subconsciously fending off his open
display of emotions. She would pull herself together. She would
not falter now.

"Scully, I'm sorry," he apologized, wondering whether he'd offended
her with his wisecrack. He should have been more sensitive to her
state of mind. She was still smarting from his accusation about
Diana; how could he be so stupid?

Kicking himself mentally, he continued, "Scully, I don't think we
should discuss this anymore today. I don't want you feeling bad
about doing research on Diana. I know you did the right thing. I
know you were looking out for me. Please, let's move on, let's put
this day behind us, Scully."

Scully smiled, relaxing marginally against the back of the couch.
She let her hands fall to her lap and rubbed the palms together in
thought. Her eyes shifted downward, pausing to let the full import
of his words sink in.

"I'd like that," she finally said. She quickly redirected her
attention to his still anxious face and added, "But before we do
move on, I want to say I'm sorry, too."

Mulder didn't take long to return her smile, thanking God for his
partner, beautiful and gracious in so many ways. He held her gaze
for several moments, still wishing he could take her into his arms,
knowing this wasn't the right time. He could only hope that time
was coming soon.

Scully fidgeted on the couch, trying to decide what her next move
should be. Determined not to overstay her welcome, she told him, "I
guess I'd better get going. You're tired, Mulder. You probably
want to relax."

She rose from the couch and walked slowly to his end of the couch.
He snagged her hand and impeded her progress.

"Why don't you stay awhile, Scully? It's not late and I haven't
eaten. I don't like to order pizza by myself."
 
His eyes told her so much more than this, told her how much he
needed and loved her, as his friend, as possibly more.

Mulder smiled shyly, hoping this was a clean slate for both of
them. They hadn't been spending much private time together, not
like they had before Diana breezed into town. He finally understood
why Scully had distanced herself from him, why their partnership had
such high and low points over the course of a year. He vowed
silently that he'd never let Scully believe she was second fiddle to
another woman again.

"Anchovies?" he teased.

Scully swatted his bicep playfully, thankful for a return to
comfortable banter between them. There hadn't been many light
moments lately and she missed them, she missed him.

"If you order the pizza, I'll pick out the tape," she said.

Clearing his throat and looking anywhere but her face, he confessed,
"I really think you should order the pizza, Scully. I have a
special filing system for my video collection."

She chuckled softly and walked over to his desk phone. "Fair
enough," she said, turning her back before he saw her smirk, "As
long as it's something without grunts and groans, Mulder."

"Always," he responded. He noisily pretended to dig among his
videos for just the right flick, knowing all along which one he would
choose.

Hours later, stuffed with pizza and watching the credits of "ET,"
Mulder stroked his fingers across Scully's shoulder as she leaned
heavily into his side. He was convinced she was fast asleep, so he
kissed the crown of her hair once, then twice. He exerted so little
pressure, was so gentle, he was sure he hadn't woken her.

She seemed to sigh in her sleep, and he muted the television, quite
content to listen to her breathe beside him. A tiny smile spread
across her face as she drifted off to sleep, genuinely restful for
the first time in days.

fin

Please feed me back at:
shoshana1013@yahoo.com

Please visit my web page at:
http://www.geocities.com/shoshana1013/