"All of this because I..." a soft, almost exasperated sigh escaped him, "because I didn't get you a desk?" Mulder asked his partner.
There was a frightening pause. He thought she wasn't even going to answer him. He wondered how he could possibly live beside Dana Scully's silence. It stretched between them like a tightrope.
Finally she spoke. "Not everything is about you, Mulder. This is my life," she said calmly. She was more than a little tired. Her words were harsh, but her tone was weary.
"Yes, but it's..." he broke off abruptly, surprised at his slip-up.
They sat there in the basement of the Hoover Building, staring at each other across Mulder's desk. Scully on one side, challenging him with her eyes to finish his statement, and Mulder on the other, not-so neatly swallowing his near mistake.
Mulder wondered if she was going to call him on this one. He tried not to squirm in his seat. He succeeded in looking as calm as Scully, but he lacked the iciness that tinted her eyes. He merely looked disinterested.
Scully was too angry to enjoy the subtle anxiety in Mulder's eyes. This wasn't about a desk, surely he knew that much? It was about her being an important part of the X-Files. It was about making room for her and her ideas. It was about her having a place.
She waited to see what he would do. It occurred to her that he wasn't going to say anything on his own. She had to decide if it would be worth it to flush him out of his hole.
Something in her appreciated how much that remark could hurt him. She held that power inside of her: She could hurt Mulder.
She suddenly realized that was what she had wanted to do. She had wanted to make life difficult for him. This was about him. Even when she said it wasn't -- it was.
She had told Mulder that this was her life...but it wasn't really, not anymore. Somehow she had gotten so tangled up in Mulder's life she could no longer distinguish his life from her own. She had been trying to redraw that line. She had been trying to push him out of her life and back over to his side. She had been trying to hurt Fox Mulder, but--
To wake him up, a little voice whispered.
Scully nearly jumped out of her chair. She shot an accusing glance at Mulder, but he, for once, was silent.
That was just my subconscious speaking, she tried to rationalize.
Does your subconscious have the voice of a snake? the voice hissed.
Ergot poisoning, said the scientific part of her, which still hadn't given up after all these years.
She just had to get that red didn't she?
Everybody gets the tattoo they deserve, the voice insisted.
She suddenly understood how Ed Jerse could shove his arm into an incinerator. She now knew why he had done it.
Mulder stared at Scully. She looked mean. She was really going to give it to him.
Scully stared straight ahead and right through Mulder. As long as I don't listen, I'll be fine, she told herself.
Listen to whom? the voice asked innocently, its grammar impeccable. This is just your subconscious, right? You know what they say about repression....
I'm fine, Scully thought, unknowingly repeating her own frequent words to Mulder.
If you're fine, why is it there a tattoo in the small of your back? Right about where he sometimes puts his hand? Hmmm? the voice was heavy with suggestion.
Mulder watched as Scully's white teeth came out and landed on her lower lip. She looked like she was going to bite it clear through. He wondered idly if she knew how pretty she was with those fierce eyes and that wrinkle in her forehead.
What? Scully almost said something, but the intruder interrupted her.
Come on, sssssweetie, don't kid yourself. You got a tattoo so you wouldn't be Agent Ssscully anymore. Fox Mulder'sss Agent Ssscully wouldn't have gotten a tattoo. You wanted to be Wild Woman Dana. The hissing grew with its glee.
At the sharp pain in her lower lip, Scully realized she was practically gnawing on it. She forced her teeth to let go, but she could still feel the dent she had made. No, she argued with the voice, I just wanted to be myself.
Mulder shifted slightly in his seat. Were they going to sit there forever? Maybe he should apologize. Wait, hadn't he already apologized? He tried to think back....
Yourself? Just yourself? Well then, who were you afraid of being? Who did you think you were becoming?
I was getting too involved with Mulder's insane obsessions, and I--
The slippery voice interrupted her again, Needed to get one of your own?
Scully clenched her jaw so she wouldn't speak aloud.
Mulder was pretty sure he had offered to get her a desk. At least he had implied it. A quick glance at Scully told him he better say something quick. Her jaw was clenched, and one of her eyes was narrowed in a way that reminded him of Clint Eastwood. The sight disturbed him.
Needed to show him that his dumb X-Files didn't mean a thing to you?
She gripped the arms of her chair until her knuckles turned white with the force.
That's not true! Scully thought fiercely, grinding her teeth together. The X-Files are important to me!
But they weren't supposed to be, were they? They were Mulder's crusade, not yours.
It's my job, she argued sensibly.
But it's his life.
Maybe he hadn't apologized, not in the words she wanted. Mulder tried to find those words for her. He decided not to bring up the desk again. It would just complicate matters.
It's your job, but you don't have a desk. You don't have a place in this office.
There's not enough room. It would be too cramped.... Scully wanted to defend Mulder, wanted to believe there was a reason he wouldn't make room for her, but with all the excuses she could come up with, it still came down to the fact that he hadn't made much of an effort to include her.
Tell him he doesn't treat you as an equal! the voice insisted.
Scully's head swam with the debate it caged. There were too many voices. Now Mulder's joined in.
Mulder decided to break the silence. "Scully," he said, then waited for her eyes to come into focus on him. At the moment she was staring quite forcefully in the direction of his neck.
Tell him that you're getting a desk, and a nameplate, and respect! You deserve that! You deserve his respect!
Tell him you want to be as important to him as the X-Files! The voice was getting demanding. Tell him you are an important part of this partnership!
"Scully?" Mulder repeated, feeling invisible.
Scully forced herself to let go of the chair arm. She looked Mulder in the eye. She was desperate. She needed the voice to go away. She let the sound of her name in Mulder's mouth pull her out of herself.
She cleared her throat; it felt like she had been screaming inside. "Yes?"
Mulder relaxed a little. This was Scully, his best friend. She knew he made mistakes. She'd been there for most of them, and she'd always forgiven him before.
Tell him that you're tired of being ditched, that you're tired of being temporary! That this time, you're not going to forgive him so easily!
"Mulder..." she pleaded. She couldn't live like this. She needed someone to tell her she wasn't crazy. Like she had done for Ed. She needed someone....
Mulder heard the brittle strain in her voice. He rushed ahead, before she could start to argue with him. "Scully, I'm sorry," he said. "I should have trusted your judgment on this case. I was wrong."
He respects me, said a cool voice suddenly -- the hissing was gone. Scully went a little limp with relief.
"After all, you are my partner," he said with an endearing and rare smile.
He doesn't consider me temporary, said the calm, smooth voice. She relaxed her jaw.
"You're an important part of my work and--" he broke off, not sure if he should continue, "my life," he said, finishing what he had accidentally started minutes ago, years ago.
You are important to him, the familiar voice was sure and steady.
"We'll get you a desk. We'll might have to move some things around, but we'll make room."
He'll get me a desk. He will make room for me. Together we will make this work again. That calm voice was just her own thoughts. Things she knew before, things maybe she didn't.
She nodded, unsure if her voice could spare any words, unsure she could speak without her thoughts spilling out as well. So she just smiled to let him know she understood.
Mulder let out a small sigh at the sight of Scully's brief, tight smile. It was a small gesture, but it warmed him. She had no idea how crazy it had made him to watch her sitting there, waiting. He had been scared she'd just get up and leave. Leave the office, the department, leave him.
Scully watched as Mulder took a few seconds too long to blink. What was wrong with him? She wanted to go over to his side of the desk, but for what reason? And would it be the right one? She leaned forward in her chair.
Mulder opened his eyes and saw her watching him. And even though the desk still separated them, Mulder felt closer to Scully than ever before -- all because he'd been honest with her -- all because she had made him be honest with her.
"So," he said, trying to change the subject, "how's your tattoo doing?"
"My tattoo?" Scully swallowed, how did he know....
She sounded startled, like she didn't know what he was talking about. Had she forgotten she had it already? The bullet wound in his shoulder still surprised him after all this time.
"Yeah, does it hurt? Are you happy with it?" Mulder asked, wanting to know that part of Scully that he hadn't even been aware existed.
Scully smiled at him across his desk. "Everybody gets the tattoo they deserve."