(Poking head cautiously onto stage, tapping microphone) Hi, am I on? This thing on? It's Valeria, Rachel's co-writer, with whom she's already vowed never to work again for various reasons. It's a vow I, for one, heartily endorse...anyway. In case you're interested in how you should divvy up the savage criticism, I wrote the Kay-Munch conversation and combed over a bit of my writing partner's Kay dialogue. And a teensy bit of the Kay-Scully conversation in Kay's living room. Rachel wrote everything else, including all the smut-I am a pure soul who does not traffic in such things. Anyway. Enjoy this wild ride into an alternate Exaiphanes universe, last one out please turn off the lights...
When she walked through the door, the place was deserted; the early-lunch crowd had, as of yet, failed to materialize. Munch was standing alone behind the bar, frowning in concentration as he studiously polished a beer stein. At the sound of her footsteps he looked up and grinned, hastily shelving the glass and tossing the bar rag over one shoulder.
"Lieutenant! Not too often we get the top brass frequenting our humble establishment...Natty Bo on the house?"
Kay flung herself onto the nearest barstool, fingers pushing the hair back from her eyes. "Natty Bo? Not even noon yet, Munchkin--"
"Quite right. Jim Beam it is." Before she could protest, he produced a bottle of mineral water and slid it down the counter. "As I said, on the house."
Sipping her mineral water, she watched him as he retrieved the bar rag, wiping down the counter with long, studied strokes. The silence was comfortable, companionable; a welcome change from the noise and crush of people the previous night. People she had thought she knew, but....
As if reading her thoughts, Munch paused a moment in his ministrations. "You skipped out on the party last night," he said, a faint note of reproof in his voice. "I just turn around and you're gone...no old times, no shop talk, nothing. Is that any way to treat an old friend, my friend? An old colleague, no less? Birthday boy Bayliss was crushed, to say the least."
Kay laughed and set her bottle down, tracing designs in the condensation on he side. "He'll live, huh? He's a big boy. Besides, it wasn't just an old colleague...it was a whole lot of them, and a buncha other people I barely know." She hesitated a second. "And some I know but who don't seem to wanna know me--"
Munch put the bar rag down again. "That's not true, Kay," he said, concern creasing his face. "I never see you anymore, it was good to--"
"I don't mean you, John." One fingernail worked at the bottle's moist paper label. "You know what I mean. Don't you?"
The silence was suddenly less comfortable. Munch picked up the bar rag again and set to work. "I don't--"
"I mean," Kay interrupted, her own voice startling her, "it still gets to me sometimes, huh? But not always. I mean, last night I'm watchin' everyone kind of goin' about their business, havin' a little pity party for myself 'cause I'm not in homicide anymore..." She took another swallow. "And then I think, yeah. I got a promotion I deserved...and I'm doin' important work. Even if people don't call it God's work. So, I don't know..."
She ran another fingernail down the label; wet with condensation and spilled water, it began coming off in long curling shreds. "Forget it. I don't know what I'm sayin' here."
Munch smiled at her suddenly, ignoring the paper curls littering his clean counter. "It's not rocket science, Kay. The word for today, children, is...ambivalence."
"Ambivalence." Kay smiled back, gathering the bits of paper into a small pile. "That's a mighty big word there, Munchkin--"
"Big, bold and brassy. Can you say it with me? Am-biv-a-lence...I knew you could."
"I'm impressed. You learn that from 'Judy Splinters'?"
She laughed and, stifling a yawn, tossed a paper curl in his direction. Exactly right...ambivalence. A constant companion. He gathered up the shreds in one hand as he continued mopping the counter, humming under his breath.
"Is it that bad?" he asked casually after a few moments. "Arson?"
"No...it's fine. It's good. Hell, I like being the boss." Kay drank the last few swallows of water. "I just keep wonderin' if I'm missing something, or--in homicide, I mean. I don't know."
That got another, abbreviated laugh. "Trust me, Kay, you're not. Other than a lot of grand theatrics, bitter infighting, nepotistic shenanigans and rumors of interoffice romances too horrifying to even contemplate--and no, I'm not talking about me here." Munch busied himself with rearranging a row of glasses. "I'm becoming happier and happier my pension's already vested, I'll tell you that much...big yawn there, lieutenant. You want some coffee?"
Rubbing her eyes, Kay shook her head. "Thanks anyway." She tipped the bottle onto its side, rolling it from one hand to the other. "No on-the-job affairs for you, huh?"
"Sorry, not a chance. Bad enough that I now have to deal with the white-hot hatred emanating from Alyssa Dyer's eyes every time I'm in the morgue-"
"Burnin' holes through your head, huh?"
"Ruined five or six suit jackets that way...I should bill the city." His back to her, he lined up shot glasses with neat precision. "No, no on-the-job affairs, not here, not in the squadroom. It's not worth it."
"Too bad, though...that Detective Ballard looks like just your type."
One of the shot glasses came down with a thud as he spun around to face her, horror turning to relief as he saw her start to giggle. "Not funny," he said sternly. "Not even for a minute is that--Kay, quit laughing right now, I swear."
Kay put a hand up to her mouth, eyeing him wickedly over it. "Relax, Munchkin--"
"Relax? Relax, she says? A friend, a respected colleague, thinks I want to make the beast with two backs with the Taco Bell chihuahua and I'm supposed to relax? Kay, I will have you know that there's a world of difference between polymorphous perversity and outright perversion." He tossed the bar rag at her, reluctantly smiling back as he leaned his elbows on the bar. "I could tell you a few stories about--but it doesn't matter. The fair Detective Ballard, miserably tempting though she is, is forever off-limits to me...for I am in love."
"In love, huh?" Kay sent the bottle rolling almost out of reach, then pulled it back by her fingertips. "Since when?"
"Your enthusiasm is infectious, Kay. Can't you be happy for me?"
He looked sincerely hurt; she'd managed to forget just how thin-skinned he could be. Kay patted his arm in a conciliatory gesture. "I'm happy for you, Munchkin, honest. Who is she?"
Amazing; his face actually lit up. "She teaches poli sci over at Johns Hopkins--"
Kay raised one eyebrow. "A professor, huh? I'm impressed."
"Well, grad student, actually--and before you start giving me chapter and verse about lecherous old men, she called me." Munch splayed his fingers against the counter. "Hails from Vancouver, by way of Trinidad...loves the Beatles, and Marcuse, and me. And a wonderful cook to boot." He grinned at her, looking like the joker in some particularly demented deck of cards. "You're ready to burst with envy, aren't you? You are, I can tell. And really, who could blame you?"
She shook her head, smiling back; he never changed, God almost-bless him. "Sorry to disappoint you, Munchkin, but I've never thought about you that way--"
"Envy of me, not of her...I know I am a brother in arms to you, nothing more. This I accept. But at long last, my brethren, I've managed to transcend the miserable world of cheap, empty encounters with near-total strangers. Going through the motions beforehand, and during..."
He tilted his head to the side, expression somewhere between dreamy and rueful. "Wondering who she's really thinking about while you're touching her...nothing to talk about over breakfast the next morning--not that you don't actually want to skip the eggs Benedict and just get the hell out of there forever, go home and take a damn shower. And those three magic words..."
Kay completed the thought for him. " 'I'll call you.' "
A more subdued smile. "And you know the really sad part? You get to feeling desperate enough, you actually do call. And then the only question is whether she'll get rid of you straight-out or roundabout."
"Or whether she'll think you're in love with her--"
"I wasn't even going to wade into that minefield. No...even if Maggie up and leaves me for some little DiCaprio with a doctorate, not that that's even a remote possibility, I'm through with all that forever." Munch grabbed a mineral water for himself, unscrewing the top with one swift curl of his fingers. "All philosophizing aside, I am officially too goddamn old for one-night stands."
Kay nodded, her fingers rubbing absently against the smooth countertop as he drank; she watched his Adam's apple fall and rise with the first swallow. She settled her own, empty bottle upright again. "I guess I'm not," she said softly.
He regarded her over the tops of his glasses, the corners of his mouth quirking. "I knew it," he declared.
She met his gaze without blinking. "You did, huh?" she demanded. "How?"
A casual shrug. "You're sleepy, pensive, distracted, ruminating on love and lust...fairly obvious symptoms."
"Yeah, well, you say you guessed it, right? After the fact." The bottle began rolling between her palms again.
"I say it because I did. So, who was the lucky guy...or gal?"
She looked up, startled. His expression was perfectly neutral. "What're you sayin'?" she demanded.
Munch gave her a sideways glance. "I'm sayin', my friend, that nobody with a working brain should ever assume they know anything about what goes on in someone else's head, or in someone else's bed." He took another swallow of water. "Which is why I don't assume that this apparent one-night stand of yours took place with a member of the dumber, uglier, more bellicose sex. You should thank me, Kay--I'm leaving all your options open here."
Silence. Kay stopped the bottle, steadying it on its side, then gave it a good spin. As it whirled in an unsteady circle, she kept her eyes on it and not Munch. Maddening as it was to admit, he was getting a lot better at coaxing the truth out of her...
As the bottle slowed and stopped, she glanced at Munch again; he regarded her calmly, making short work of his drink as he waited. What the hell? She'd started it.
The night before
Kay walked into the Waterfront, brushing her hair out of her eyes and tucking it behind her ear. It was only the begging of one Tim Bayliss, birthday boy, that had gotten her down here again. It was just too hard to see all of them here, their lives going on without her. Sure, she had friends, a social life, but professionally she'd had it all when she was in homicide. Anything else was going to feel second best, even being lieutenant in the arson division. She moved over and took a seat near the front tap.
"So, what can I get for you, lieutenant?" Munch asked. "Congratulations on the promotion, Kay. You certainly deserved it."
"Thanks John...draft of the Natty Bo." Munch nodded and moved to the other tap to pour her drink. The room was filled with the Homicide gang, regular customers at the bar, neighborhood types. She caught Tim's eye and he waved to her, his other arm slung around his new boyfriend, some guy from DC. Kay drained the rest of her beer and pushed herself off the stool. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea after all. The room was hot and loud and she still had the end of the month paperwork to return to...
The cool night air was a relief as it hit her face. She paused on the steps of the bar, again considering the prominent building across the street--her home away from home for so long.
"Great night, isn't it?"
Kay turned at the sound of the other woman's voice. She had noticed her in he bar, over by Tim and the boyfriend, but she idn't recognize the woman. She was shorter than Kay, also a redhead, dressed professionally.
"Nothing like a fall evening in Fell's Point," Kay replied. "I saw you in there. I'm Kay Howard--I used to work with Tim."
"Dana Scully, I'm Mulder's partner--and, well, I guess he's Tim's partner," the other woman responded.
Kay nodded, clearly understanding. "Partner. You law enforcement?"
Kay nodded again. "So...what are you doing out here, Dana?" She reached into her bag and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She pulled one out and offered the pack to the other woman. Dana paused for a moment and then took one. She lit the cigarette with Kay's outstretched lighter.
"Well, I came as a favor to Mulder and Tim, but I don't really know any of those people in there." She exhaled a mouthful of smoke, coughing slightly. "That tastes good. It's been a while."
"Yeah, I quit, but once I transferred to arson--hell, I think the boredom set in more than anything."
Scully nodded, knowingly. "Yeah, we spent a little time on domestic terrorism last year. It might sound glamorous, but it really was pretty boring work."
The two women sat silently for a few minutes, the quiet of the evening slightly marred by the noise from the bar. Finally Kay stood up, dropped her cigarette and turned to Dana.
"You set on staying here? I know a nice quiet wine bar up by Federal Hill where we could talk. Maybe share some war stories on Tim and Mulder..."
Dana nodded, laughing. "It's impossible to explain to my girlfriends who aren't involved with law enforcement what it's like."
"Ain't that the truth," Kay responded as she turned and led the way to her car.
"So, you've been out of Homicide for how long?" Dana asked , taking another sip from her wine glass.
Kay nodded, setting her glass down. "About 3 years. Feels like yesterday, feels like a life time."
"Why did you leave?"
Kay pondered the question for a moment, lighting another cigarette. "It was . . . political."
Dana nodded. "I've thought about leaving. Many times, actually."
"But you haven't. Why?"
"Mulder, I guess. He's hard to have around, he's hard to leave. I just feel . . . well, as consumed by his need to find the truth as my need to do what's right. I've . . . well, it's cost us both a lot."
Again, Kay nodded. She knew about the job costing more than it was worth. Her years in Homicide had trained her to be a thorough investigator, her clearance rate better than most of the squad's combined, but in the end her gender had done her in. It might be the 1990s, but Baltimore Homicide was still firmly seated in the sexist culture of the first half of the century.
"But does he play fair? Mulder, I mean," Kay asked.
"Yeah . . . most of the time. He ditches me sometimes, but I tend to think he would do that to anyone, not just a woman. He's . . . well, Fox Mulder is a very complicated man."
They sat in silence for a while longer, nursing the bottle of white wine they had selected. Finally Dana set her glass down.
"Kay, this has been really wonderful. If you're in DC, give me a call. I'd like to see you again." Scully got up and pulled her coat on.
Kay slid out of the booth as well. "Thanks...I had a good time too." She put her hand out to take the card Scully offered, glanced at it and then tucked it in her front pocket. "I'll do that . . . call, if I'm down there."
Kay stuck the key in the lock and turned. The evening had been fun and she had a slight buzz from the wine. She hadn't felt this relaxed in a long time. Fingering the card Dana had given her, she pulled it from her pocket and stuck it in the corner of the corkboard next to her phone. She surveyed the kitchen, turned off the light and headed for the steps. As she reached the landing, there was a quiet knock on the door. She slowly made her way to the door, her hand on the gun that rested along her waist.
Kay peered out the door and was surprised to see Dana Scully standing there. She pulled the door open.
"Sorry. I got to my car, realized I probably shouldn't drive back to DC, didn't want to disturb the birthday boy...." Scully's voice trailed off.
"No, that's okay. C'mon in." Kay stepped back so Dana could walk into the house. She closed the door behind the other woman and reached for her coat and purse.
"I'm really sorry about this. Maybe a cup of coffee? Then I'll be on my way," Scully said as Kay led her into the living room. She sat down on the sofa and sighed. "I should know better than this."
Kay chuckled softly. "Hey, it's been a long day. I'll get us both something to drink." She turned and walked into the kitchen. After a few minutes, she returned with two glasses of wine and a platter with cheese and crackers.
"Coffee doesn't sober you up...learned that in eighth grade health. You wanna just make a night of it? That couch you're sitting on pulls out into a pretty comfortable bed."
Scully opened her mouth to agree to the plan, then hesitated. "I don't want to put you out," she said. "I mean, I didn't mean to just show up here and make you--"
"It's no trouble, huh? Wouldn't offer if it was." Kay shrugged, one shoulder rising higher than the other. "Don't mind a little company, as long as you're here..."
Scully stood there for another second, wavering, then nodded. She wasn't drunk, but she definitely didn't trust herself behind a steering wheel, and she was in no mood to try and hunt down a hotel room...nonetheless, she felt embarrassed, imposing like this on a near-total stranger. Kay didn't seem the least put out, however, setting the platter and wineglasses down on the coffee table and taking a seat at one end of the couch. After a moment, Scully pulled her coat off and curled up against the opposite couch arm.
The silence was palpable, but Scully seemed to be the only one feeling it. Kay gestured toward the plateful of food, then leaned forward and began balancing cubes of cheddar on a cracker. In the light from the nearby lamp her profile stood out in sharp relief; her hair was one long, arresting mass of burnished curls. Scully had noticed it in the wine bar, the way it seemed to waver, continuously, between strawberry and copper. Nothing like her own nondescript auburn...she reached for her wineglass, taking a few sips and then attacking the cheese tray. She was hungrier than she'd thought.
Kay munched down her cracker and took a large swallow of wine. "Your partner..."
"Right. Mulder. How long've you worked together?"
"Six years, now." She could almost feel the extra wine coursing through her veins; a flowing warmth. "Six years..."
Kay leaned back against the sofa cushions, eyes half-closing. "This thing about the truth...needing to find the truth."
"Truth about what?"
Dana studied the other woman. Her eyes beneath the lowered lids were steady and penetrating. She had noticed that in the wine bar, too; how dark Kay's eyes were, almost black. She sighed a little to herself. The answers she felt like she could give, this woman would know were only half-truths...
"My partner," she repeated, as Kay watched her, wineglass poised midway to her mouth. "Mulder...has some ideas that some people might consider unorthodox." She reached for another cracker. "Usually involving some combination of the federal government, extraterrestrial life, and about nine dozen totally incongruous yet perfectly interlocking conspiracies to--what is it?"
"Nothing," Kay replied around her smile. "I just bet I've heard it all before--Munch always had some wild ideas."
Scully had to smile back. "I've met Detective Munch." Another sip of wine. "Next to Mulder, he's a rank amateur."
That got her interest. Kay sat up on the sofa, running one hand through her hair. "What do you mean?" she asked, not quite able to keep the avid curiosity out of her voice.
Scully contemplated the cheese tray for a while, biding her time. She should not be on the verge of confiding God knew what to a near-total stranger, someone she'd known less than twenty-four hours; she shouldn't be here at all. The wine wasn't enough of an excuse.
She sighed gently and tipped back, draining the rest of the wine out of it. Kay pointed toward the bottle, but Scully shook her head. "Mulder--he, I'm not sure where to start. He is convinced that his sister was abducted when she was 8 and he was 12."
"By...aliens. It's become his quest to find her or at least what happened to her," Scully replied, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them.
Kay raised her eyebrows, thought of something to say and thought better of it. "So what does Tim think of this?" she finally asked, filling her glass again.
"I don't know. We haven't really talked about it but it's not something you question Mulder about. You just have to accept his theory about it."
Kay considered that for a moment, then changed directions. "So, speaking of Tim and Mulder...what do you think about that?"
"About them being together? The gay thing?"
"Yeah...both, I guess," Kay replied.
Scully sat back, thinking for a moment. "Well, I think Mulder is happier with Tim than I have seen him in a long time. He's--he's haunted by his search, and Tim gives him some place to put a lot of his need. He used to put that on me, and that was fine, but Tim is able to be something in Mulder's life that I'm not."
"What about the other part?"
Scully looked Kay, trying to figure out where she was coming from, but the detective's expression was impenetrable. "Well, when Mulder first met Tim he was very nervous about it. He had never . . . this was a change of lifestyle for him, but I was able to share . . ." she stopped, laughing slightly. "Oh man, I was never going to tell anyone, then I told Mulder, now you--but I will just say that I'm a little compromised tonight, so you can't hold it against me tomorrow."
"You had a lover, didn't you," Kay responded. Scully nodded. "Long time ago, right? Little *phase* you were having, or--"
"And you?" Scully interrupted.
Kay nodded. "Once, at summer camp. There was this other counselor, Molly. It was the Fourth of July, we had some beer...I don't know. We never talked about it again. But I thought about it...a lot." Her finger traced the rim of the wineglass. "I could be wrong, but I think it's more about the people you meet than the way you're wired up."
Scully nodded. "I think you're right. When I was with Carrie, it was . . . well, it was never like it was when I was with a man . . . " Her voice trailed off as Kay began to laugh. "What? What's so funny?"
"I'm sorry. My sister . . . her name is Carrie, and I just got this picture of you and . . . " Kay leaned over, her chest heaving as she tried to contain her laughter. "Just trust me--if you knew her, this'd be a hell of a lot funnier."
"Well, if you knew my sister, Melissa, then this would seem a little-- well, let's just say no one would be surprised to find her at Lambda Rising Book Store."
"Do you think she is? Gay, I mean?" Kay asked, setting her glass down on the table.
"She . . . she died a couple of years ago," Scully answered, her face growing somber.
Kay nodded quietly. "I'm sorry. You wanna talk about it, or..."
"No. It's one of those things that I keep back in its spot and don't let out unless I have to. I'm just afraid. . . I don't want to lose all the good thoughts I have about Missy. Hell, she would get a big kick out of this."
Kay nodded, thinking about her mother. She had nothing to say about that, either...
They sat for a moment looking at one another, the silence finally broken when Kay moved closer to Scully. She reached out and touched the other woman's red hair; it was straight and fine, so unlike her curly masses. She ran her hands over Scully's porcelain cheeks. She leaned in, kissing gently first, then more intently. Scully's hands moved quickly across Kay's back, pulling her closer, teasing her hair away from her face. Kay pulled back slightly, breaking the kiss.
"This--it's not just about being drunk, is it?" she asked.
Scully shook her head. "It's about a lot of stuff, but the wine isn't causing it. Let's just . . . let's just forget about all of that tonight." She reached up and unbuttoned the first two buttons on Kay's oxford shirt, reaching in and running her hand along Kay's breast. Kay drew in her breath and dropped her head back.
Scully leaned across her, kissing the newly exposed throat with a little nip. She continued to unbutton the shirt, trailing her hands along Kay's ribs; the cotton shirt fell away as Scully continued kissing Kay's shoulders, along the lace of her bra, the hollow of her rib cage. Kay lay back on the couch, Scully perched over her.
Scully giggled slightly.
"What?" Kay asked.
"Does this count as the missionary position?" Scully asked.
Kay laughed and shrugged her shoulders. "Damned if I know. Does it matter?"
Scully shook her head "no", turning her attentions back to Kay's face and neck Kay moved to remove first her own bra and then Scully's shirt and bra. Her firm breasts brushed against the FBI agent's. Kay's hands began to explore Scully in a similar fashion, moving down underneath the other woman's dress slacks. She pulled the zipper down, her hands moving between Scully's legs; she found the familiar point and began ministering to it.
"Oh god, Kay!" Scully called out. She moved back and forth as Kay continued to move her own hand in a rhythmic fashion. Scully's breath became more jagged as she reached climax, gasping slightly as she grew wet over Kay's fingers and hand. Kay pulled her fingers out and tasted them.
"Good?" Scully asked, her hair curling slightly with the extra perspiration.
Kay nodded. She stood up and held her hand out to Scully. Scully arched her eyebrow in response, but followed the detective over to the rug in front of the fireplace. Kay knelt down in front of her, reaching for the loosened zipper on the agent's pants. She finished unzipping them and dropped them down around Scully's ankles. Slipping her fingers along the elastic of her panties, she removed them as well. Scully stood silent as Kay dipped her head between the other woman's thighs, her tongue flicking in and out. Scully began to tremble, her legs growing jelly-like until she finally dropped to her knees beside Kay.
"Let me," Scully said as she unclothed the detective. She began her examination again of the fiery redheaded body, her hands massaging and exploring the creamy white skin. She laid Kay back on the rug and slid on top of her. Her hands slipped between Kay's thighs as she moved back and forward. Her hips moved against Kay's, her eyes, half-closed. Kay began to draw quick breaths in and out, her back arching slightly.
Scully rolled next to her, lying on the floor. "How did you know how to do that?" she asked the detective.
"I just thought about what I would like for myself," Kay responded. Scully agreed and felt the effects of the wine take over for her, a deep sleep quickly swallowing her.
Kay woke up to the sound of the door creaking open. She opened her eye and noted that at some point they had gone upstairs and slept in her bed. She rubbed her eyes clear of the sleep that always seemed to gather and looked toward her bedroom door.
Dana was standing in the doorway, her red hair illuminated by the morning sun. "Hey, I should go, but . . .thanks," she said, her jacket bunched over her left arm, her shoes in her right hand.
"Yeah," Kay replied, her voice bleary. "Uh, call me, okay?" She knew Dana wouldn't, but she would say it anyway.
"Sure," Scully responded, also realizing there would be no repeat performance. Before Kay could respond Scully was gone, the door closing with a solid click behind her.
"I didn't leave early because of her," Kay said, rubbing her hand across her forehead. Her mind raced as the events of the previous night played before her eyes. "She came knocking at my door. I mean, literally. I mean...shit." She let her hand drop to the countertop. "I met her there--here, I mean--and we went someplace quieter and talked, and then I just went home. Alone." She kept her eyes on the plastic bottle. "And then I hear someone at the front door, and it's her, this woman, and she says she's been drinkin' too much to drive home or something, can she crash for the night on my couch. I say, sure. Don't ask me why, I hate it when people just invite themselves over, but..."
"But this was different," Munch said softly.
Kay raised her head. His eyes behind the glasses were steady, empathetic; if he was in a voyeuristic mood he was hiding it very well. "Yeah," she said. "This was different. And we drank some more wine, and started talking...and one thing led to another, and...and then this morning, I wake up and she's gettin' dressed to go. And when she sees me wake up, y'know, this look on her face, like she really wished I'd stayed asleep? I wrecked her exit. And I mean, she invited herself over."
One fingertip worried the side of the bottle, rubbing at the small film of glue that had held the label in place. Munch kept watching her, waiting for her to finish.
"And then, you know...that's it," Kay eventually said, gazing back at him with a small frown. "She's gone. And I don't know if I'm glad she left or...I mean, it's not like I'm in love or something, trust me. I just--"
She laughed quietly. "I just don't like bein' left."
Munch didn't say anything for a moment. His own fingers began peeling the label off his half-empty bottle, the paper one long apple-paring curl. "So suppose it was the other way around," he mused. "Suppose it was her apartment, and you invited yourself over-"
"I don't do stuff like that, Munch."
"Kay, it's a hypothetical example, just run with it. You invite yourself over--"
"But it's a hypothetical example that makes no sense, because I wouldn't--"
He made a half-exasperated sound. "Okay, okay, just say you're in her apartment, all right? Lord knows how you got there, it certainly wasn't by inviting yourself over-and one thing leads to another, and now it's tomorrow morning, and you wake up first." Leaning forward, he raised his eyebrows quizzically. "What, pray tell, do you do?"
Kay thought that one over for several moments. "Honestly?"
"Probably exactly the same thing she did."
He smiled a little. "And do you honestly care if you ever see this woman again?"
Unbidden, a memory from the previous night came to her: lying with her head cradled on Dana Scully's shoulder, her cheek pressing into the soft flesh just above the collarbone, her eyes half-closed. The other woman twined her fingers in Kay's hair, winding it around them like yarn. Almost as an afterthought, she murmured in Kay's ear, *You're so pretty...* Kay studied the mental picture dispassionately, a critic sizing up a painting in some uncelebrated museum.
"I have no idea," she told Munch.
He regarded her with a sympathetic but unyielding gaze. "I hate to break this to you," he said, "but that means you don't."
After a moment, she shrugged. "You're probably right. That make me a bad person or something?"
That got a laugh. "You're asking me this? Of course it doesn't, Kay." He put the bottle to his lips again. "However...you can't have it both ways."
True enough. Kay looked down at her hands. He was right, obviously; it was all very simple, very straightforward. Nothing to get in a welter about.
*The word for today is...ambivalence.*
"Doesn't matter anyway," she said, now thinking aloud more than addressing Munch. "I mean, you're right...I didn't really want her hanging around. Never asked her to be there in the first place." She rubbed at the side of her bottle again, the glue now almost gone. "And so she wants to leave early--fine, whatever. She's got her reasons. I mean, hell, I shouldn't assume it's me, right? Probably a pretty long drive back to DC, if you don't beat the rush hour traffic and--Munch? What the--Jesus, you okay there?"
"Fine--I'm fine," Munch gasped, between violent coughs. "Just swallowed the wrong way--" He set his bottle down with a thud and clutched the countertop with one hand, slowly regaining his breath as Kay reached over and slapped his back.
"DC, huh?" he finally managed to say.
Kay frowned at him, half-concerned and half-bewildered. "Yeah . . .she lives in DC somewhere, she said. Why, that a big shock or--why are you looking at me like that, Munch?"
"I'm not," he answered hastily. "Why should it be a shock? I just got a mouthful down the wrong--look at this, pieces of paper everywhere. I gotta clean this up." He grabbed for the bar rag again, scooping the paper bits into one palm. Kay watched in bemusement as he polished the spotless counter one more time, keeping his eyes on the bar rag and emitting the occasional stray cough.
"You're behavin' yourself," she noted after a while. "I'm actually impressed."
Munch looked at her in confusion. "Behaving myself? Meaning what exactly, lieutenant?"
Kay lined up the two empty bottles, sitting them shoulder to shoulder. "Meaning, you're not asking me who, what, when...ever been with a woman before..."
"Well, considering how matter-of-fact you are about it all, I'm assuming the answer to that one is no...though I could be wrong, of course." Munch set the bar rag down again, giving her an arch glance. "I wouldn't know. And amazing as it may sound, Kay, I am capable of respecting someone's privacy...so I won't ask."
Kay laughed, a little derisively. "Don't ask, don't tell, huh?" She began toying with one of the bottles. "Perfect..."
Munch's hand reached out, the fingers touching hers as he gently took the bottle from her hand. "That's not what I meant, Kay, as you should know...so if I ask, I'm a bad guy, and if I don't ask, I'm a bad guy? You're painting me into a corner here, my friend."
In spite of herself, she started smiling. "Okay, fine. You wanna ask? Go right ahead and ask."
He tossed the bottle between his palms. "Since you insisted. Who? What? When?"
"None of your business, ditto, ditto."
"Why, you little tease. Ever been with a woman before?"
"Yes. What about you? Ever been with a man before?"
Kay gaped at him. She searched his face for some hint of joking, of sarcasm, and found none; he stared back at her with a completely unperturbed calm. "You're kidding, right?" she asked.
Munch smiled a little. "No, I'm not. You asked, I answered. Why, that some kind of earth-shattering-"
"Well, no, it just..." Kay ran a hand through her hair. "Okay, yeah, it's kind of a shock. I mean, you of all people, all the women you've been with--"
He looked genuinely puzzled. "What's that got to do with anything, Kay? You've had more than one man in your life, it didn't change what happened last night--"
"I know, it just..." She let out another, abashed laugh, waving a hand at him. "Don't listen to me...you're right. I just never thought that--whatever. I just never thought about it, that's all."
"Well, whether you did or not, it's the truth. So it's like I say...never assume anything, and never assume you can assume anything. Ever."
Kay thought that over, then nodded. "Okay. You're right." She rested her chin in her hands. "So..."
"Well...more than once, or--"
Munch laughed out loud. "You mean, was it some errant experiment of days gone by, or do I have"--he made a face of exaggerated mock horror--"serious inclinations? Well, you tell me. It was back during my dissipated hippie days, and my even more dissipated indie-journalist days...anything is possible, nothing is true, everything is permitted, all that sorry malarkey." He studied the bottle in his hand thoughtfully. "Hasn't happened since...but, I must say, it happened too many times for me to just dismiss it as an experiment."
"More than one guy?" Kay asked. Hearing herself ask it made her wince, but curiosity had gotten the better of her.
"Yes. More than one guy. Only a time or two with each one, except..." He trailed off.
Kay leaned forward a little. "Except...what?"
He hesitated a second. "Except for one. It only happened a few times, except with one particular person."
"You mean it was...a regular thing. With this one guy."
Munch ran a fingernail along the side of the bottle. "Well, he wasn't the Mulder to my Tim, if that's what you're asking...but yeah, I guess you could call it that. A regular thing."
"Did you love him?"
He glanced at her again, his eyes unreadable.
"I thought you were the one who believed in secrets," he said lightly.
After a minute, Kay nodded.
"Well...guess I'd better go," she said. "Lot of paperwork to finish up--"
Munch grinned at her. "Ah, the simple joys of lieutenancy...how I envy you."
"I don't blame ya." Kay slid off her barstool and stood there for a moment, hands in her pockets. "Thanks, Munchkin."
"For what?" He tossed the bottles in the trash with two sweeps of his arm.
One hand toyed with the edges of her braid. "For listening to me...and for what you said. You're right."
Munch shrugged. "One man's opinion, nothing more." He braced his hands against the bartop's edge. "Of course, you know I'd be lying if I said the idea of you with another woman wasn't something of a turn-on--"
Kay shook her head, unfazed. "Don't take this the wrong way, Munchkin, but what isn't a turn-on for you?"
"War. Famine. Stomach flu. That weird way Ballard's eyebrows slope down to her nose. Even I, depraved as I am, have some standards."
She gave his arm a friendly punch. "Glad to hear it. See you around, John..."
"Hey, Kay?" he called as she headed for the door.
"Don't be a stranger."
She stopped for a second.
"I won't," she said. And meant it.