Exaiphnes I: Explosive Nature
Written by Rachel and Marti

AUTHORS' NOTES: While the coupling of Fox Mulder and Tim Bayliss is not new, we have come up with numerous ideas for original stories about their relationship. However, much like George Lucas, we started in the middle of the story ;). Then, to aid us with later chapters in this saga, we created this first installment as an introduction, to establish how they met, what might have drawn them together as a couple. If "Into the Woods" is "The Empire Strikes Back," here's "The Phantom Menace."

We would like to thank Jo-Ann and Gerry for some fabulous beta, Tara for goading [we mean inspiring :) ] us at every turn and John and Cindy for lending us an incredible house for the weekend so we could write all day in our pajamas and not even feel guilty.

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on the characters and situations created by Chris Carter and owned by the Fox Network and 1013 Productions. As such, the characters named are the property of those entities and are used without permission, although no copyright infringements are intended.

Marilyn Anderson looked up from the file she had been reading. It sounded like someone was at the door, although no one had knocked or rung the bell. She was working from home today, with her four year old son, Jake, who was in bed with the chicken pox. She sighed as she tried to remember again why she hadn't taken him in for the inoculation. Shaking her head to slough off the personal recriminations, she moved toward the door.

There was a small package on the stoop, and she picked it up to examine it more carefully. It was addressed to her husband Sam but had no return address, and she didn't recognize the blocky printing. The box bore the markings of a local courier company. She had a nagging thought about the Unabomber as she picked it up, but dismissed it, chiding herself for being so paranoid. After the manifesto was printed in the Washington Post everyone in DC had become more than a little paranoid about these things. She pulled at the wrapping, loosening it on the bottom.

The explosion was immediate, throwing her back against the door and shattering the calm of her Cleveland Park neighborhood. She momentarily wondered if Jake would wake up and then everything faded to black.

Scully entered the bullpen area to which they had been assigned under their new designation as investigators of domestic terrorism. Mulder was already at his desk. He didn't come in at 5 am any longer, but was inevitably there before she arrived at 9 am. He was hunched over his computer, engrossed in what appeared to be e-mail.

"Something exciting out there in the world?" she asked as she set her briefcase down on her desk chair and went to peer over his shoulder.

"Nah, just spoilers for next week's Deep Space Nine. I can't decide if I like to know what's going to happen or not," he responded, straightening up to look at her.

"At least it's not X-rated." She paused. "You know, Mulder, you really shouldn't subscribe to that stuff at work," she said, her voice filled with concern and a little recrimination.

"Hotmail, my dear Scully. Hotmail," he responded. She shook her head and walked back to her desk as the phone started to ring.

"Scully. Yes, we'll be right there. Thank you." She hung the receiver back up and turned to look at her partner. "Lucky day. Kersh wants us in his office. Some domestic terrorism right here in DC."

Mulder stood up, shrugging into his suit coat, and turned to follow his partner down the hall to the Assistant Director's office.

Although not terribly horrific, the case was distressing all the same. Marilyn Anderson, the 42-year-old special assistant to the Secretary of State, had been killed instantly by a mail bomb delivered to her home in the upper Northwest section of Washington, DC. The bomb had not provided any particularly interesting leads. It was a garden variety pipe bomb made more deadly by the inclusion of nails and other shrapnel. It was intended not to frighten, but rather to kill. The packaging had been damaged significantly enough that investigators on the scene had been unable to discern whether Mrs. Anderson or her husband Sam was the intended target. The victim had been involved in several on-going high level negotiations pertaining to the situation in the Middle East, but nothing that would seem to indicate any terrorist threats against her safety. SamAnderson was a physics professor at Johns Hopkins University. Both were well-liked and respected by their colleagues. They had pursued their careers aggressively, only taking time to start a family in their late thirties.

"I hope you understand that the Secretary and the Attorney General are putting a great deal of pressure on us to solve this case," AD Kersh said as he slid the file across his desk. Scully picked it up and began looking through it.

"I'm pleased you thought of us," Mulder responded, no hint of sarcasm or a smirk in his voice.

"Well, then. I trust you will get to it," Kersh responded, signaling the end of the meeting. The agents quickly excused themselves to get to the investigation.

Scully looked through the file again, this time more carefully. Marilyn Anderson had been pronounced dead at Sibley Memorial Hospital at 10:17 am the day before. The case had initially been investigated by the DC police, though they had turned the case over to the FBI that morning because of Marilyn's position in the federal government. Preliminary forensic evidence had been taken at the scene. As she started reading the notes the phone on Mulder's desk rang.

"Mulder." He paused. "Hey! Didn't expect to be hearing from you. How are you? We haven't, yeah it's been . . Yeah, we just got the file. Really?"

Scully was having difficulty following the conversation. She leaned across her desk, trying to glean some kind of information.

"Yeah, let me get my partner up to speed and then maybe we can conference this thing this afternoon. I think you may be on to something." Mulder hung up the phone and turned to Scully, his face flush with impending success. "We are going to put this one down by lunch time."

"Really, Mulder? Because I'm looking at this file and we don't have that much to go on. Forensic evidence gathered by the DCPD? Please, it's not exactly the holy grail."

"Yes, but that was my old friend Mike Giardello. We were at Quantico together, then he went to Arizona, I went to VCU. I would have visited last month when we were out there, but we were rather preoccupied. Anyway, Mike is working a case up in Baltimore. He's a liaison with the Baltimore PD. They had a bombing yesterday as well. Same MO. When he did the NCIC search he came up with our case."

"So, did our perp leave a calling card I've missed?" Scully asked.

"Their victim was Glen Weber, an assistant professor of physics at . . . ."

"If you say Johns Hopkins, I'm going to kiss you," Scully responded.

"Is that a promise?" Mulder answered, a bemused smile on his face.

"So, Marilyn Anderson wasn't the intended target."

"I would bet my firstborn on it," Mulder responded. "Let's get out to the crime scene and see what there is to see, interview Dr. Anderson and then get over to Baltimore for a conference at 1 PM. Mike is working with a homicide detective, somebody Bayliss. We can compare notes and hopefully figure this out." He got up and was out the door before Scully could put her coat on, let alone grab her briefcase or the files.

Scully looked over their notes as Mulder bombed up I 95 in their standard issue Taurus. She stretched against the seatbelt, raising her hands to cover her eyes slightly.

"Why can't they design a visor that actually blocks the sun?" she said, pivoting to attempt to reach her purse and the sunglasses it contained.

"They actually do block the sun for 80% of the population. They just weren't designed for the child-sized adult," Mulder responded, turning and attempting to assist her in her struggles.

"Just keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. It's bad enough you're going 75. You know they patrol this road heavily," Scully responded, readjusting herself, the glasses now recovered and slipped on her face.

"I'll drive as fast as I can afford, don't worry about it. Now, let's get our shit together before we meet Mike and his partner."

"Okay, we have fragments of a pipe bomb, domestic in origin, designed specifically to kill. We have an interview with one Dr. Sam Anderson. He is a member of the physics department at Johns Hopkins. Worked with Dr. Glen Weber for the last five years. He is a full professor, was promoted last year. Weber was tenure track and doing quite well. They had recently served on two dissertation committees together. One dissertator defended six months ago and now teaches at a small liberal arts college in Northeastern Iowa. The other, a James Wendall, has struggled with his research and Anderson had called him on several questionable sets of data."

Scully's monologue was interrupted by the trilling of Mulder's cell phone. He pulled the instrument from his pocket.

"Mulder. Hey, Mike, we're about 15 minutes out, 20 if Scully gets her way. What? Really! No, we'll meet you there. Just a minute, give the address to Scully." He handed her the phone. "They've had another one delivered, to a prof in the biochem department." She took the phone from his hand.

"Okay. We take 395 to Pratt, then up . . . . okay, I see it on the map here. No, we'll see you in a little bit." She snapped the phone shut. "Well, at least we seem to be getting ahead of the game on this one. Mike said the bomb squad is there and they are going to detonate it, hopefully saving as much of the wrapping as possible."

Mulder glanced over his shoulder, noting a free space in the next lane, and swung the car over to the left and onto I 395, taking them into the city and towards their intended target.

"Mike, it's good to see you," Mulder said, his arm outstretched to take the other man's hand. "This is my partner, Dana Scully." They walked across the lawn towards Carol Schwimmer's house. The front lawn was littered by Baltimore police, bomb squad and EMS workers.

"Dana, it's a pleasure. So, how long have you put up with this guy?" he asked, his eyes twinkling.

"Six years. Some days it feels like we just started yesterday, sometimes it feels like forever," she responded in a like fashion. "So, you knew Mulder at the academy. Any good stories?"

"Of course! We'll have to compare notes. Here, I'd like you to meet Detective Tim Bayliss," he said, stepping back to reveal a tall, thin man with short-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.

"Bayliss, good to meet you," Mulder said, again offering his hand. The greetings went around the group, silence coming over them as they realized the preliminaries were over and they needed to get to the business of discovering why two people were already dead and how they could prevent another tragedy.

"So what do we have here?" Scully asked, looking past the Baltimore partners.

"It appears to fit the pattern. Dr. Schwimmer found the package on the front steps. She was aware of what had happened with Anderson and Weber so she called 911. The bomb squad is preparing to detonate the package. She's a professor in the biochemistry department at Johns Hopkins and was on James Wendell's committee with Anderson and Weber. I think we have enough here for an arrest warrant. I'll call ADA Danvers and get it sworn out," Bayliss answered. He turned around scanning the street for a pay phone. Scully handed him her cell phone.

"You can get your warrant, but we're going to have to call the U. S. Attorney too," Mulder noted.

"Why don't we wait on that," Mike suggested. "We can work on the federal charges after we pick him up."

"Do we have an address for Wendell?"

"Yes. Come along with us and we'll go get him."

Wendell lived alone in a quiet neighborhood near the university. Tim and Mulder checked the apartment out, while Scully and Mike went to look for him at the university. The apartment was empty, but the elderly woman across the hall said he had gone out and would be back later that night. He had promised to bring her a gallon of milk on his way back. He often ran these kinds of errands for her and always followed through.

"So, you think he'll show?" Bayliss asked on their way back to the car.

"It's very likely. With this kind of pathology we see that their patterns are very difficult for them to break from. He'll come back to bring the milk even though he has some thought that he might be exposing himself to capture," Mulder answered, his voice serious.

"So, you do this kind of thing often?" Bayliss asked as he opened the car door to get in. There was a pause in the conversation as Mulder entered the car himself.

"Do what? Catch bombers or get inside their heads?"

"The head thing. I used to try to understand what makes people tick, why they do these things, but at the end of the day I have to try to get every element of these people *out* of my head."

"Do you ever succeed?" Mulder asked.

"Sometimes. My old partner, Frank, he was good at it. He could see things so much more black and white, put them in their place and keep them there."

"How long did you two work together?"

"Five years. He quit the force last spring," Bayliss answered, turning his head to look down the street.

"Scully and I are going on six. It's weird, after a while you don't even realize how much you count on the other person. I don't know what I would do if she ever quit. I'm not sure that I could do the job without her any longer." Mulder paused as his cell phone began to ring.

"Mulder. Yeah, we're at the building. No, I was just about to call. Wendell isn't here, but he has plans to be back. Okay, that sounds good." Mulder shut the phone. "He wasn't in his office either, but Mike and Scully are going to sit on it. They'll call if they see anything."

Bayliss nodded. He began to slowly chew on his left ring finger. "Hangnails. Nasty habit," he commented.

Mulder reached into his suit pocket and withdrew a plastic sack. "Seeds? At least they taste better."

Bayliss took the sunflower seeds and gingerly put one in his mouth.

"So how long has it been?" Mulder asked.

"Since what?"

"Your partner. How long have you been working with Mike?"

"Oh, this thing with Mike was kind of random. I've been working with different guys since I got back in September. Frank left in May."

"May til September. Were you on leave?" Mulder asked, now becoming more interested in his stakeout partner.

"I was shot in May. It took a while, but I'm back, basically in fighting form."

"That's tough. I took one in the leg a few years ago. The recuperation was almost worse than the initial injury. I'm not very good at doing nothing," Mulder answered, pausing to roll down the window and spit out the latest build-up from his seeds.

"I had to go to my mom's. That was the worst. Her helping me into the bathroom, telling me to sleep, get up. It was like being ten years old all over again."

"Yeah, I actually hired a nurse. I knew otherwise Scully would be all over me. She may look tough, but the woman's a doctor and she tends to get just a little maternal when I begin to spew blood."

"I wouldn't have taken her for the maternal type," Bayliss answered. "She seemed to be all business this morning."

"She hides it well, but it's there."

"Mmm. Listen, I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to get out and stretch my back. I just can't sit as long as I used to," Tim said, opening the door of the car.

"Nah, I'll hold down the fort here," Mulder answered.

Tim got out of the car and walked a few feet away, swinging his arms, trying to get the kinks out of his back. Mulder seemed like a good enough guy. It was good to talk to someone who had an idea of the bond he had with Pembleton, someone who didn't know about Kellerman, Luther Mahoney or any of the things that had happened last spring. He was on his own terms here.

As he slipped back into the car he discovered that Mulder had turned on the radio in his absence. It was tuned into the Orioles game.

"I hope you don't mind. I know they're out of the pennant race, but it does make the time go by more quickly," Mulder said, adjusting the volume to a comfortable level.

"No, baseball is fine by me. I'm still trying to figure out what Angelos was doing when he got rid of Davey Johnson. I wouldn't want him as my neighbor, but he seemed to get results on the field."

"Management. It's hard to figure them out sometimes. I had this boss for almost seven years. I was starting to think that I had him figured out, knew what to expect, then we got reassigned. This new guy not only is unpredictable, but he seems to have an intense dislike of me. I'm a little surprised he even gave us this case; usually we're doing background checks, routine surveillance."

"This isn't routine enough for you?" Bayliss asked, a hint of tease in his voice.

"Sure, but we might actually get our hands on a bad guy at the end. I haven't seen a real-life criminal in weeks."

"So what do you think makes someone become a criminal?" Bayliss asked. "I know that poverty and lack of education can feed into it, but do you think anyone is capable of crime? Is there some kind of inherent badness that you have to have?"

"It's strange, but as a student of psychology, I would argue that there is an element within everyone, you just have to decide whether or not you're going to act on it."

Tim nodded as the two men fell into silence listening as the Orioles tried to salvage a late season game against the Tigers. They listened through the last five innings and into two extra innings as the home team slowly extracted a win out of the visitors from Detroit. All the while there had been little or no movement in or out of Wendell's building. As Mulder switched the radio off his phone rang again.

"Mulder. Really? When? Good. Hey Scully, did he have anything with him? Really, yeah, we'll meet you over there."

Turning to Tim, he reported, "They caught Wendell at the University. He had gone back to his office to pick up a set of papers. He had a gallon of 1% milk with him. They're taking him down to the station house, and we're supposed to meet them there." Mulder turned the key in the ignition and started the car.

In the bullpen, four days later, the phone on Mulder's desk rang. "Mulder. Hey -- how are you? Good. What's going on with the Wendell case? Yeah. OK. I'll call the U. S. Attorney and tell her... That went down pretty easily, didn't it?" He paused. "Saturday? Um, sure. What time would that be?" He grabbed a notepad and started scribbling. "So, where should we meet? Yeah, I think I know where that is. Well -- see you Saturday afternoon." He hung up the phone and looked down at the pad with his brow furrowed.

Scully observed all these proceedings from across her desk. "So, how's Mike?"

"Fine, I guess, but that was Tim." Scully raised an eyebrow but waited for him to finish. "He says all the paperwork is in order on Wendell, they're holding him pending the results of the psych exam, and we can start processing the federal charges anytime."

"Yeah...and? What was the rest of it?"

"The rest of it?"

"Yeah, what's Saturday? Do we need to go back up there for something? I have to admit the most appealing thing about this new assignment has been having my weekends back."

"No, *I* do -- well, I don't *need* to, but I'm going to see the Orioles play. I'm sure you could come if you want to."

"Sure, you know what a sports fan I am...no, I think that's something best left to you and Tim." She paused, but didn't resume what she had been doing.


"Just...it's strange. You going out."

"Going out? You make it sound like a date."

"I just meant, leaving your house on a weekend. To do something other than come here and try to drum up X-files for yourself. When was the last time you did something fun?"

"Watching videos at home is fun. Playing Goldeneye with Frohicke is fun." He grinned, a little sheepishly.

"Yeah, well, I still think it's good that you're going to do something in the open air, with another, relatively sane, person. You need more friends." Picking up a file and heading out toward the copy room, Scully indicated that the conversation was finished, leaving Mulder to mull that one over by himself.

Thirty-five miles away, Bayliss was sitting at his own desk, also cluttered with papers, also in a room humming with activity. He leaned back in his chair, stretching a rubber band and twisting it around his fingers. He found himself replaying the conversation in his mind, not the relatively routine part about the case, but the second part, where Mulder said "Yeah, see you Saturday." He wasn't sure why this seemed so important. It was unusual, he supposed, to be making social plans. He had always bemoaned the fact that the detectives on his shift never did anything together outside of work, and he'd only been to his partner's house once or twice. And he had only gone to one Orioles game in the last five years, with his cousin; nobody else he knew was that interested in sports. But then he'd been flipping through the Sun in the coffee room earlier that week, stopped to read the story on the game he and Mulder had listened to in the car, and thought that, since he had to call him anyway, he might as well see if his new friend wanted to come down for this weekend's game. His new friend? Could he call Mulder that? It did seem that they had gotten pretty friendly over the course of their five hours on the stakeout. Sure, his new friend.

"I'm coming!" Tim was still scrambling into his right tennis shoe when the doorbell rang Saturday afternoon.

He hopped across the floor trying to tie his laces while still making progress toward the door. He lost his balance and began falling over, catching himself on the doorknob. He paused, trying to pull himself together. He sucked in a breath and pulled open the door to reveal a casually dressed Fox Mulder in a comfortable-looking gray T-shirt with well worn jeans. White sneakers covered his feet and he held an anorak in his arms.

"Ready to go?" he asked. Tim nodded and slipped back into the house to grab his own jacket. He pulled the door closed behind him and they headed down the street.

"So you found parking?" he asked. Mulder nodded. "I don't know why more people don't figure this out. Parking is such a bear by the stadium, but you can almost always find a place over here and it's only a short ride on the water taxi. I'm betting you'll get on the road afterwards before most of those people have made it out of the lot."

They walked through the Fells Point neighborhood in a comfortable silence. There were tourists in the shops, people on the street. The warm September air made it feel like summer without the suffocating humidity that tended to sap the strength out of people. Tim turned past the headquarters building, pointing it out to Mulder, and onto the pier next to it. There was a small queue for the water taxi, but not nearly the holdup they would find closer to Camden Yards.

Alighting from the taxi they made their way to the baseball field. The opening of Camden Yards had revitalized the harbor area of Baltimore. It had quickly been hailed as one of the best places to watch an outdoor game, inspiring new fields in cities like Cleveland and causing debate in cities with indoor stadiums who now seemed to feel that baseball should be played under the open sky no matter what.

Tim had planned for them to arrive early so they could avail themselves of the open pit barbecue and microbrewed beer that was served in the outer area of the stadium along the warehouse. Camden Station had served as a packing house in the early years of the city; now with gentrification the red brick of the warehouse wall served as a colorful backdrop to the Orioles' home field.

"I've never come down early enough to take advantage of this," Mulder said, leaning in so Tim could hear him. They had taken their food and drink and moved near the warehouse wall, trying to escape some of the crowd. A band was set up in the corner, adding to the festive air, but making general conversation nearly impossible.

"Yeah, I don't do it every time I come, but for special occasions it's a lot of fun," Tim responded.

They continued to attempt to talk, but finally gave up, deciding to simply enjoy the music, food and beer. After nearly an hour the crowd began to move into the stadium area. Tim and Mulder flowed along with them. As they got on the escalator taking them up to the deck where their seats were, Mulder leaned in to talk into Tim's ear.

"Even if the team sucks, at least the food's good and the beer still flows." Tim turned and lightly punched him on the shoulder.

"Be careful what you say. I don't want Meldrick or Munch down here investigating how you got yourself whacked at an Orioles game. It happened once last year and the PR ramifications alone were paperwork enough for three weeks. Nobody needs that kind of trouble."

"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen . . ." Mulder sang tunelessly. They reached the top of the escalator and turned to find their seats. Slipping in between two young boys and what must be their fathers, they sat down. They were a little high up, in nice proximity to third base.

"Good seats, my friend," Mulder said, pulling his little binoculars out of his coat pocket.

"Well, this time last year with the pennant in sight we would have had no chance, but this year . . . well, things are a little different."

"I was amazed Ripken took a day off. I mean I realized the streak would have to end at some point, but how do you decide something like that? Do you wake up one day and say, 'I've done this thousands of times before, I don't think I have to do it again'?" Mulder asked, leaning forward to take a closer look at the infield.

"I can't imagine planning for something like that. I guess I'm glad I didn't know when the end was coming, that it was a surprise."

"The end? You mean with your partner?" Mulder asked, now laying aside the binoculars and looking more intently at Tim.

"Yeah. I would never have been prepared for it, so in some ways it's better that I just didn't know."

"Do you still talk?"

"Now and again. We never had much of a relationship outside of the squad, so that isn't surprising. It's just hard to get worked up about stuff now. I think about quitting sometimes. Even signed up to take the LSAT next month. I just don't really know what I want anymore." Tim pivoted in his seat, catching the eye of the concessionaire. "But I do know that I want some nachos."

"So, do you play any sports, or just watch from the stands?" Bayliss asked as they rounded the corner toward his building, walking back from the water taxi after the game.

"I used to play some basketball in college, not a starter or anything. How about you?"

"I must admit to a rather illustrious basketball career...in high school." Tim grinned. "My cousin and I both played, quite rabidly. He's even taller than I am. I've been trying to get back to it, though. Good stress reliever. Sometimes there's a pickup game at that court down there, if you're interested."

Mulder debated for a moment. He had planned to get on the road after dinner, but he could stay awhile and still not get back too late. Besides, what did he have planned on a Saturday night anyway? "Sure, why not?"

When they got to the court, no one was there, not even the junior high kids who sometimes graciously allowed Tim to join them, so the men had to stop at Tim's apartment to pick up his basketball. It had gotten dark by this time, but the streetlights behind the goal were sufficient to illuminate the half of the court they needed.

Tim let Mulder take the ball first and crouched in front of him. Mulder stood still for a few minutes, just dribbling from one hand to the other, getting the feel of the ball. He leaned to the left, then as Tim did the same, he dashed out to the right, covering the distance to the basket in a few short strides. When he went to shoot, he was almost surprised to find the ball was no longer in his hands, but had been stolen in a stealth attack. He switched to the defensive posture, but wasn't quite as quick, or quite as tall, as his opponent, and reached up in vain to grab the ball as it soared over his head and plopped in the basket.

Tim caught the ball as it came back down, stepped out, and tossed it easily back to Mulder without a word. This time Mulder was able to back up and shoot the ball over Tim's head before he got too close. He was soon to find, however, that few shots came that easily. Though they were of almost the same height and build, Tim was more agile, his arms longer, and his hands more sure. He was also an aggressive guard, so it seemed to Mulder that Tim was everywhere at once, watching his eyes intently to see which direction he was going to go. The best course of action often turned out to be pivoting on one foot so he could get out from under that penetrating gaze and fake Tim out. But then to shoot he had to turn back around and contend with that forest of waving arms. Finally, he pleaded for a time out. He was glad they were not keeping score, or he would have been at least 10 points behind.

Mulder sat down on the wooden bench at the side of the court to catch his breath. "Okay, so it's not like riding a bike. I seem to have lost some of my technique."

"Not at all! You're doing fine."

"Yeah, right." Mulder lifted the front of his tee-shirt and wiped his brow. "Isn't it fall by now? When is it going to cool off?" The air still had the heavy dampness of late summer.

"Oh, c'mon -- it's beautiful out. This is my favorite kind of weather."

"I like it when I'm sitting still. Can I blame the weather for the fact that I'm losing?" he asked ruefully. Wiping his face again, he decided it would be better to dispense with the shirt altogether, since it was already soaked. He stripped it off and stood up. "All right. Let's rumble. I have to close up some of the gap here."

As they resumed the game, it seemed to Tim that the rhythm of play had changed. It was as though Mulder had willed himself to win and had now become an unstoppable force. When he had the ball, he started challenging Tim, moving into the space demarcated by his waving arms and making him step back instead. He would angle in with one shoulder, almost pounding Tim in the chest as he deftly passed the ball to his other hand and then darted out and around toward the basket. When he was guarding, he would hunker down, using the opposite of Tim's flailing-arm strategy, instead getting in between Tim and the ball and forcing it away from him.

And, truth be told, as Mulder's focus zeroed in on the ball, Tim's own concentration started to suffer from distractions he would rather not have admitted to. Every time Mulder leaned in to within a few inches of him, Tim became aware of the musky scent on the other man's skin, and noticed when a few drops of his slick sweat landed on his own shirt. He found himself looking down, not at the ball, but at the back of Mulder's neck, where his dark hair met his ginger skin.

He noticed how the muscles in his back flexed as he swung the ball from hand to hand. The blood pounded in Tim's ears as he told himself to focus, focus, keep your eye on the ball and not anywhere else. But even when he was able to wrench his attention away from the sensory overload in front of him, it didn't matter, since Mulder's score had certainly overtaken his at this point, and his leg muscles were starting to feel the strain from the short, intense bursts of activity. It was time for him to call his own time out.

"Okay, I think that's it for me." Tim walked over to the side of the court, not daring to look at Mulder for fear the things he was thinking would show on his face.

"What? I was just catching up!" Mulder came up behind him and thumped his fist against Tim's shoulder.

Tim paused to look out at the cars passing by on the street, and took a deep breath. Okay, he's going to think you're acting weird. He turned back around, trying to keep his eyes trained on Mulder's face and not on the muscles in his abdomen. "Why don't we call it even? I'm getting pretty winded."

"Sure, if you say so." Mulder picked up the shirt he had discarded earlier, ran it over his face and the back of his neck, then held it out it front of him, frowning. "I hate to have to put this back on now."

Yeah, me too, Tim thought. But you better, if you want me to be able to hold any kind of a normal conversation. "I'm sure I have a shirt you could borrow." Where did that come from? It's better if he just goes, right now.

"Hey, if you wouldn't mind, that would be great!" Mulder took off walking in the direction of the apartment and Tim followed.

All the way back to Tim's building, Mulder dribbled the ball, sometimes running a few steps ahead of Tim, then turning around and waiting for the other man to catch up. "Man, I'd forgotten how much I liked to play. Of course, it got more fun once I stopped losing." He smirked.

"Yeah, well, that's usually the case." Tim smiled but didn't quite meet Mulder's eyes.

As he looked back at Tim, Mulder became aware of something a little strained that hadn't been there before, but decided to chalk it up to the agony of defeat.

Once they got back to the apartment, Tim left Mulder standing in the living room, checking out his CD collection, while he went upstairs to rummage through his dresser. He decided against a blue tee with the FPO insignia on the front, figuring an Orioles one would be more appropriate. Yeah, and he can think of this afternoon when he wears it, he said under his breath, more bitter than wistful. Walking back down to where Mulder was still standing, shirtless, he handed it over wordlessly.

"Thanks." The word was muffled by Mulder pulling the shirt over his head. "I'll send it back right away -- laundered, of course."

"Actually, you can keep it. I never wear it."



"Well, thanks. And thanks for a great afternoon -- it was good to get out of town."

"Glad you could make it," Tim replied sincerely, sure that the other man didn't understand the full implications of that phrase at this moment. "We'll have to do it again."

"Yeah...maybe they'll even win next time we go." Mulder moved over toward the door, then extended his hand.

After he shut the door behind Mulder, Tim pressed his head against the wood of the door frame. Damn. Why is this happening? This could be a perfectly fine friendship -- why muck it up with the other stuff?

Tim had mostly managed to get Mulder out of his mind over the next two weeks, until the phone rang one afternoon at work and it was the devil himself on the other end.

"Tim? Mulder."

After the initial shock of hearing his voice had passed, it briefly occurred to Tim to wonder if the man had a first name, since no one ever seemed to use it. "Hey, how are you? It's good to hear from you."

"Yeah. Listen, I just needed to check a couple of things from the Wendell case with you. He's going to appear before the grand jury on Monday." See? Tim thought. It's nothing more than a professional call. Don't get excited. "We just need the autopsy report on Glen Weber. Even though that case is not in our jurisdiction, we'd like it for reference purposes."

"Sure -- I can have that sent out this afternoon." Tim's mind raced, trying to think of something else to say so the conversation wouldn't be over so quickly.

"Excellent. That would be a big help." Tim expected Mulder to sign off at that point, but after a moment, he said instead, "So, do you like art?"

They had discussed sports, music, law enforcement and the behavior of the criminally insane, but art had never come up. "Yeah, why?"

"Scully had tickets for the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery, but her mom's gall bladder went bad. Wanna go with me Sunday?"

Tim felt a little flutter in the pit of his stomach. "Yeah, that'd be great!" Calm down, he told himself sternly. "What time?"

After making note of the details, Tim hung up the phone, a little dazed. He knew that he needed to get back to work, and he would, but first he needed a few minutes to turn the conversation over in his mind. Sunday. Four days away. And there was all of Saturday to wait through, too . . . Stop. What are you doing? he asked himself. This is nothing. We won't be any different than any of the thousands of other visitors this fall. But he couldn't help thinking that this might be significant. Surely Mulder knew people in DC he could ask, but he had thought of Tim. Well, maybe he just wanted to reciprocate for the Orioles out of a sense of obligation, then that would be it. Maybe we'll go over details from the Wendell case over dessert.

Tim decided to get some coffee and then return to the case at hand. As he walked into the coffee room, he saw Mike Giardello sitting at one of the tables, flipping the pages of the Sun lifestyles section. They nodded and smiled at one another as Tim passed by the table on the way to the coffeepot.

"So, I hear Wendell's going before the grand jury Monday," Tim observed as he stirred some cream into his coffee.

"No kidding...wonder why I hadn't gotten word of that yet."

"Hmmm...don't know. Mulder just called and I guess he figured I would pass the news along. He needs the autopsy report on Weber."

"Oh -- I'll go down and get that after I'm done here."

"Don't bother; I'll take care of it." Tim paused. "He also invited me to come down for the Van Gogh exhibit on Sunday."

"Really?" Mike sounded incredulous. "I never would have figured Spooky for an art aficionado."

Tim's curiosity was peaked, and he came over to sit opposite Mike. "Spooky? Where does that come from?"

"You know, his work on the X-Files. Although when I think about it, we used to call him that at the Academy as well."

"What? I thought he was in domestic terrorism." Now that he thought about it, hadn't Mulder mentioned something about a reassignment?

"Now, yes, but he usually works on unsolved cases that have, you know, some kind of paranormal aspect to them. That's what he's been doing, I think, since he left Violent Crimes. He's a profiler by trade, but I don't know how much of that he's doing now."

"Really. The FBI investigates paranormal phenomena?"

"Don't you know everybody thinks we're covering up the existence of UFOs anyway?" Mike smiled. "Area 51 and all that. Really, FBI work is much less glamorous."

Tim was not at all interested in a dissertation on FBI methods, but he was interested to find out more about this man he was going to DC to see over the weekend. "So, what kind of person would handle cases like that? What was he like at Quantico?"

"Oh, not too far out, I guess. He did subscribe to a lot of strange magazines. And he pretty much kept to himself, I'd say, reading and working a lot even on his own time, but very congenial if you sought him out. So, he invited you down to DC? I didn't realize you all were friends."

Tim quickly looked down at his coffee cup. "I don't know if you could call us that...we just kind of hit it off when we were on that Wendell stakeout, and then he came up for an Orioles game."

"No kidding." Mike gave him a bemused look.



Tim felt compelled to defend the normalcy of the situation. "Scully couldn't use the tickets, and I thought it sounded like fun."

"I'm sure it will be." Mike closed and folded up the newspaper. "Listen I've got to get back to work. I'd better call the field office and see if they want me to go up for the hearing. Let me know how the afternoon goes."

The National Gallery was packed: church youth groups, families with more children than anyone should have, old ladies with canes, doe-eyed college students.

"Looks like America decided to get a big ol' dose of culture," Mulder commented.

They had just reached the front of a long line which snaked through the foyer outside the exhibit, having to wait even though they had gotten tickets ahead of time. While they were waiting, Tim had proposed that they invest in the Walkmans which would give them the audio tour, but Mulder declined.

"I've been to Amsterdam. That's enough background information for me." Mulder folded up the exhibit brochure and stuck it in his back pocket.

Mulder walked through the first room fairly quickly, pausing to look at one or two works which particularly struck him. After a matter of minutes, he crossed into the next room, where he paused in front of a painting of a baby with a greenish cast to its skin. When he turned to Tim to comment on it, he realized that the other man wasn't right behind him as he had imagined. He peered through the sea of people and caught sight of Tim back in the first room, where he was stopped in front of the third painting, studiously examining his brochure, then looking up at the painting, then back down.

Okay, so we're going to be here all afternoon, Mulder thought.

As he looked back up at the painting once more, Tim sensed Mulder's eyes on him. Once he figured out where Mulder was, he smiled at him, wondering how the other man had outpaced him so quickly. Apparently he's not that interested in the finer details of the artwork, Tim thought.

He watched as Mulder turned and headed into the third room, but didn't follow him right away, continuing for the moment his more careful examination of the exhibit in the first two rooms. His sophomore year at Maryland, he had had to take an art appreciation class and had written his term paper on the early works of Van Gogh, and it was amazing to actually see on the wall what he had studied on plates in a book.

As he finally moved into the third room, he scanned the crowd for a glimpse of Mulder, spotting him in a corner. He was standing slightly apart from the rest of the crowd, intent on a small painting of a pair of leather clogs.

Tim walked up behind him, sliding his arm across Mulder's back and grasping his right shoulder. He commented in a deadpan voice, right next to Mulder's ear, "Can you imagine chasing a perp down a back alley in those?"

"Sure -- that's what I wear all the time!" Mulder glanced quickly at Tim's hand on his shoulder, then turned to look back at the other man. "Sorry if I've rushed you...Scully says I have the attention span of a gnat."

"I've seen all I need to. Do you want to duck out of here? The crowd is making me crazy."

"If you're sure," Mulder replied, only then moving forward out of the casual embrace. "I know a great Mexican place up on the Hill. Best chili con queso north of the border, plus some funky swirled margaritas." They started to move back into the atrium of the Gallery. "But first I have to stop at the bathroom."

"Okay, I'll just sit over there by the fountain." Tim managed to find an empty chair and settled in for a few minutes of people-watching. Various combinations of people passed by him: a little boy pounding his sister on the arm, two grey-haired women in hats (a touch of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, he thought), and two college kids who were obviously a couple, the boy's arm casually draped across the girl's shoulders.

Hey -- just like us a few minutes ago, he thought with a start. He hadn't had anything too specific in mind when he made that move; in some ways, it was just second nature to him, and he had certainly touched Frank and various other people in casual conversation. But he had been particularly aware of the warmth of Mulder's body against his, and was glad the other man had not moved away immediately.

Mulder's reappearance interrupted his reverie. The other man took the chair next to him and dropped a brochure into Tim's lap. "Hey -- they have concerts here on Sunday nights. Maybe we should check that out sometime."

"Yeah, that sounds like fun," Tim said, pleasantly surprised.

As the Metro jolted to a stop at the King Street station in Alexandria, Mulder prodded his seatmate gently on the arm. Tim had leaned back in his seat and drifted off before they had even made it to L'Enfant Plaza. He looked so relaxed that Mulder hadn't had the heart to wake him to make a transfer, so they had taken the scenic route through Foggy Bottom and Arlington. As they reached the taxi stand, outside the station, Mulder asked if Tim wanted to grab a cab or walk the twelve blocks instead.

"I think the fresh air would do me some good, if you don't mind walking. I'm still feeling the effects of that second margarita. You'd think a bartender would be able to hold his liquor better."

"Maybe when we get back to my apartment, you should come in for a cup of coffee. I don't want you causing a six-car pileup on the Beltway."

So, that worked out well, Tim joked to himself. If I weren't drunk, I'd have had to go straight home.

When they got to the apartment, Mulder told him to have a seat on the couch. Tim sank down into the soft leather, still feeling a little weak in the knees from the tequila. A few moments later, Mulder called out, "Well, I said I couldn't promise there would be any milk, and I was right. Is that OK?"

"Sure, I can drink it black." He heard more rummaging around, and Mulder eventually emerged with two mugs, coming over to sit next to him. "So, you have the hearing tomorrow. What time?"

"Ten," Mulder said, setting his mug down on the coffee table.

Tim took a sip of his coffee. "That was an interesting case. I don't think we've ever had anything like that. There was an incident at the courthouse once, when somebody sent a mail bomb to a judge while one of our detectives was there, but they cleared out the building in time and detonated it. That's a whole different psychology than most murderers in Baltimore -- much more methodical, distanced...I don't know, passionless."

"What kind of stuff do you usually see in homicide?"

"I'd say 80% of it is drug-related. Most murders are not the result of calculation, or even real motivation, just squabbles over money, or revenge, or something. We even had a guy shoot another guy in the public library over a pen."

"Hmm. I don't think the murders I work can be categorized that easily. But, of course, I'm not working murders anymore."

It seemed to Tim that Mulder didn't want to delve into the subject, so he dropped it. Someday we'll talk about that, Tim thought, then stopped short. He knew he shouldn't be assuming this was going anywhere, and yet he had the feeling they had only scratched the surface of things they could share. Is it so improbable that this might have a future? I can't stand not knowing, I can't stand months and months of pining away in silence. I should just ask him, or do something, but what?

"Mulder..." He turned back toward the other end of the couch, then another query occurred to him. "Hey -- you must have a first name, but I don't think I've heard it. Why is that?"

"Quite frankly? Because I hate it. I don't let anyone use it."

"How bad could it be?"

"Well, how about 'Fox'?"

"Fox. That's not terrible at all."

"Yeah, well, don't get too used to it. Maybe I'll change my mind somewhere down the line. I'll let you know if I decide you can use it." With that, Mulder got up from the couch and looked to see if Tim's mug was empty, which it was. "Can I take that for you?"

"Um, sure." Well, I guess that's my cue. He does have to get up early tomorrow. So do I, for that matter. "I should get on the road."

"Are you feeling okay to drive?"

"Yeah, yeah."

Tim felt he should start moving toward the door, though he was reluctant to, and Mulder followed to see him out. At the door, Tim turned around one last time. "Thanks for a nice afternoon. I'd like to do something like that again," he said simply.

"Um, sure. So would I. I don't know how many Van Gogh exhibits there will be, but we can find something."

Tim suddenly felt certain that he wanted to kiss Mulder. What would he do if that happened? Should I just find out? He went so far as to lean in, fixing his eyes on Mulder's lower lip, but then realized he was getting a strange look in return. He settled for putting a hand on Mulder's forearm and squeezing it gently. "'Night."

This time it was Mulder's turn to shut the door and replay the last few moments of the evening in his mind.

Mulder was running a little late for the grand jury hearing the next morning, but it didn't matter since they weren't quite ready for him anyway. He paced on the marble floors of the courthouse, straightening his tie and brushing imaginary lint off the lapel of his suit. Anyone who observed this behavior probably would have attributed his nervousness to having to testify, but then he'd been called to do this many times before. It was more that he had been up too late -- not watching videos, as he usually did, but lying on his couch trying to run some kind of psychological profile on Detective Tim Bayliss. Mulder had sensed his reluctance to leave the previous evening, but couldn't figure out how to explain it. Did he have something to tell me? Did he want another cup of coffee?

Just as the swirl of unanswered questions started making its rounds in his mind again, he spotted a familiar face, Mike Giardello, coming down the hall. Mike greeted him warmly and they shook hands.

"So, they haven't called you yet?" asked Mike. Mulder shook his head. "Listen, I was wondering if you wanted to go get something to eat if we get out of here by lunchtime. I'm sorry we haven't really had a chance to catch up since this case started."

"Yeah, that sounds fine. I guess I did end up working more closely with Bayliss than anybody else."

"I hear you struck up quite a friendship."

"Well, if one baseball game and one art exhibit constitutes a friendship."

"That's almost exactly what Tim said to me about it."

"It is? When was this?"

"One day last week, I guess. When he told me you'd invited him down to DC. How was the exhibit?"

"Fine. I breezed through it a lot faster than he did. I'm not much of an art connoisseur."

"Yeah, I was a little surprised."

"That I'd be interested in Van Gogh, you mean?"

"That, and..." Mike trailed off.

"And? What else is there to be surprised about?"

"Well...that you'd be going out with Bayliss."

"Going out? Why is everyone calling it that?"


"Well, you and Scully. You make it sound like we're dating."

"Aren't you?"

At that, Mulder felt a little trickle of cold sweat down his back. "What would give you that impression?"

Mike realized that he stepped right into a big mess. He wasn't sure how to get out of it, but thought it was best to admit what he knew. Maybe he was wrong, after all. "It's just that...well, I don't know Tim all that well, but from what people say...I think he has dated at least one guy in recent memory. I heard him say something about it to another detective in the squad room. I don't keep up with the gossip, really, but that's the impression I got."

Mulder's mouth had suddenly gone dry. Fortunately he was saved from having to answer by the sound of the bailiff calling him to come into the courtroom.

That evening, Mulder pulled up in front of Scully's building. The Fates were obviously aware of his state of mind, affording him a parking spot right across the street. He locked the car and hurried up to the door. He pressed the buzzer more firmly than was necessary.

Mulder had been replaying the scene in the courthouse all day long. Tim dated men. He and Tim had spent time together. Tim had moved . . . Tim had moved in on him after the art exhibit. Tim thought he was dating him. Everyone thought he was dating Tim.

"Yes," Scully's voice came through the intercom.

"It's me. Buzz me up," he said. The electronic sound of the door announced his arrival into the building. He moved quickly to her door, which she opened at the sound of his feet.

"Come on in. What's the matter?" she asked, ushering him into her living room.

"I'm sorry for just showing up here unannounced, but well . . . I just didn't know where else to go," Mulder said, walking past her. He sat down on the couch, looking like he was a jack in the box ready to go off at the slightest provocation.

"Can I get you something?" Scully asked, moving into the room.

"No. I just need...oh god, what was I thinking?" Mulder exclaimed.

Scully walked across the room and sat down next to him. She took his large hand in her smaller one. "What is the matter, Mulder? You know that you can talk to me about these things."

"It's . . . it's. . ." It was clear that Mulder was having difficulty expressing his anguish. Scully moved closer, putting her arm around him.

"Just tell me. It can't be so bad that you can't tell me."

Mulder looked at her, drinking in every inch of her. He started to move in closer and closer. He moved his arm up around her back and pulled her toward him. He leaned his face in and --

"Mulder, what the hell are you doing?" Scully exclaimed, pulling herself away from him.

"Oh god, I'm sorry. I just don't . . ." his voice trailed off. "Scully, you find me attractive, don't you?"

She decided to let that pass. "What is going on? Clearly you are confused or upset about something." Scully said, this time holding herself physically separate from him.

Mulder looked at her, his eyes betraying the torture he was feeling. He sucked in his breath, trying to muster up the courage to share his feelings with her.

"It's Tim," he said finally.

"Tim? Tim Bayliss?" Scully asked. "What about Tim?"

"You know we went to that baseball game a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, when you gave me the Van Gogh tickets, I asked him."

Scully nodded. She had a sense of what might be causing Mulder's discomfort, but he had to say it.

"I saw Mike at the grand jury today. He told me . . . he told me that Tim, well, that Tim dates men. I mean, I thought we were just...you said it yourself, I need more friends. I need more friends."

"So what's the problem here? I would never take you for homophobic, Mulder. What part of Tim's homosexuality bothers you?" Scully asked.

"He touched me. He put his arm around me . . . and Sunday night. Well, when he got ready to leave . . . I think he wanted to kiss me."

"So what?"

"I liked it," Mulder said quietly. "I love you, you know that. But, Sunday, and the week before playing basketball. It was different. He makes me feel . . . he makes me feel alive."

Scully sat silently for a moment. She looked at Mulder, taking his hand again. "I think that love should be about the person who makes you feel alive. I . . . I never told anyone, but when I was in college, I had a friend named Bonnie. I felt more alive with her than anyone I've ever known. If she had ever, well it never came up, but I think she was my soulmate. Don't let this pass you by, Mulder. Of all people, you should be open to extreme possibilities. They don't have to just be otherworldly. If you are lucky enough to find someone, rejoice in that. That should be the only thing that matters."

The sound of the doorbell startled Tim when it rang at 8:30 Wednesday night. He was sitting on his couch, feet propped up on the coffee table. He was dressed in a t-shirt and sweats, having just gotten home from a pick-up game of basketball. When he peered through the peephole and saw Fox Mulder standing on his front stoop, he was even more surprised.

"Hi! This is a pleasant...I mean, I wasn't expecting you, but it's nice to see you. Come on in. What's goin' on?"

Mulder walked past him into the living room. "I need to talk to you."

"Okay..." Tim tried to run through a few possible explanations for this visit, but came up empty. "Have a seat."

They sat on opposite ends of the couch, Tim looking with concern at Mulder, who was leaning forward, elbows on knees, staring at the floor.

"I went to the grand jury hearing on Monday."

"Um, yeah -- how did that go?" Interesting opening gambit, Tim thought.

"Fine. They indicted him. Two counts of first degree, one attempted. I think the prosecutor is going to force the capital offense to try and get a plea bargain."

"Makes sense." Okay, so he could have just sent me a memo to tell me that. Why drive all the way --

"I saw Giardello there."


"We had an interesting conversation about you." Mulder waited a few moments, not looking up. "He says...he told me that...you go out with men."

Tim recoiled slightly as a chill ran through him. "And what business is that of his? I don't even remember ever bringing that up with Mike."

"So it's true?"

Tim didn't see any reason not to be honest. "Mmm, yes. Sometimes. But just recently and not very often."

"Well, Mike thinks we're dating. Is that what we're doing?"

Tim didn't answer immediately, mostly because he didn't know what the right answer would be.

Mulder followed up on the question. "I mean, is that how you think of me?" He finally looked up to confront Tim.

Again, Tim felt complete honesty was in order, no matter what happened. It was better to get this out there, right? "Well...yes. But let me tell you that I hadn't done anything about it because I think we have, or could have, a great friendship, and that's what's most important to me right now."

"Sure, Scully says I need more friends."

They sat for a few minutes, and the silence began to seem interminable to Tim. I need to get this resolved, one way or another. "Do you have any other response to that? I get the feeling it doesn't scare you off totally, or you wouldn't be here. You'd just never have called me again."

"Yeah..." Mulder stood up and walked a few steps away from the sofa. "Here's the thing -- I have been thinking about this for two days straight, and what I keep coming back to is...I like you. I don't know what that means, but I like you."

"Oh." The chill Tim felt earlier was replaced with a flood of warmth from his neck to the tops of his ears. Certainly not the answer he'd been expecting. He was so used to his desires being unrequited that he had had no reason to think this would turn out differently. However, he wasn't sure what his response ought to be, since grabbing Mulder and flinging him down on the couch didn't quite seem appropriate. He waited to see what else the other man was going to say, watching as he paced back and forth across the room.

"I mean, I feel a bond with Scully too, but it's not the same." The words tumbled out faster and faster. "I love her, we've shared things no one else would even believe, but everything we have in common stays on one level. We don't go out together, we don't talk about anything that's not somehow related to work...she doesn't even share my interest in Deep Space Nine."

Tim didn't dare snicker at that last comment, but he decided to prod further. "So, what do you want to do about this?"

Though Mulder's back was turned, Tim could see him take in a deep breath and then exhale sharply. "Well," he said, turning around, "I thought you were about to kiss me the other night. Let's start with that."

Mulder watched intently, with a mixture of dread and anticipation, as Tim stood up and made slow but sure progress across the floor toward the spot he seemed to be rooted to. When Tim got there, he first put his hands lightly on Mulder's jean-clad hips, hooking his thumbs through the belt loops. Not knowing where his own hands ought to go, Mulder left them down at his sides. As he saw Tim lean in, he closed his eyes, then felt Tim's lips against his own. Man, I didn't know they'd be so *soft*, was his first incredulous thought. Why would I think guys would feel different? Some analytical part of himself was standing aloof from all this, registering details almost clinically: the fact that they were almost the same height, so everything was in easy reach; the feel of the strong fingers grasping him solidly and almost, it seemed, holding him up. But at the same time that he was filing all this information in some corner of his mind to review later, another part of his brain was registering sheer visceral pleasure: the trails of heat that raced from the pressure points beneath Tim's fingers to the rest of his body.

Tim, on the other hand, was reflecting that it was not going to be easy to hold back here, since it felt to him like some kind of long-dammed-up floodgate had been opened. He wanted to find answers to everything he had been wondering since that sweaty basketball game: how his fingers would feel laced in that thick, soft hair, what it would be like to touch his fingertips to Mulder's exquisite lower lip, whether the inebriating scent of his shampoo mingled with his soap corresponded to a spicy taste on his skin (it appeared that it did). However, he was cognizant enough to realize that if he scared Mulder off at this moment, he would never have the chance to find out. His next move was simply to pull the other man closer, arms encircling him now, increasing the pressure of the kiss little by little until -- amazingly -- Mulder started to respond in kind.

At this, Tim slid his hands up to Mulder's face, finally entwining his fingers in the thick hair. As he felt the other man's hands come up around his own waist, he dared to let his tongue slip out, running it gently along that lower lip.

Mulder tightened his grip on Tim's hips, then suddenly broke away from the embrace.

Disappointed, but determined to be patient, Tim asked quietly, "Everything okay?"

"Yeah. I just..." Mulder trailed off, ruffling his hair and looking down in the vicinity of Tim's chin. "This is just...I don't have any experience with this. I mean, I do, but..."

"I know." Tim paused. "What do you want to do?"

Finally, Mulder stepped back. "I just think I need some time to process all this." He turned toward the door. "I better go -- I'll call you soon."

Yeah, I know what *that* means, Tim thought, as he flung himself down on the couch once he was alone. I should have taken more time, we should have gone out again first, I should have. . . . Wait a minute. *He* came here. I asked him what he wanted, and he told me. He gave me permission. So how is this my fault?

But, no matter whose fault it was, I'm the one sitting here unsatisfied and alone.

A week later, Mulder and Scully walked out of McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland and into the bright sunlight. They had interviewed one of the librarians there as a reference for a security background check on a Department of Defense employee. These little field trips seemed to fill their days now, with the occasional case like the Wendell case thrown in for a little bit of variety.

"So, how does it feel to return to your alma mater?" Mulder asked. "I noticed that you weren't pictured on the wall of famous alumni inside the library."

"Thanks for pointing that out," Scully answered. She paused and raised her hand to shade her eyes. The fall semester was in full swing at the University of Maryland and students were filling the sidewalks along the long grassy mall. "Since we're out here, do you want to have lunch at the Dairy? It's famous for its ice cream and the sandwiches aren't bad either."

Mulder responded by taking off down the sidewalk. Scully followed him, running a few steps to catch up with his long legs.

The Dairy was relatively busy, but they got their sandwiches and found a small table outside on the patio. Mulder silently ate half his meal before laying the sandwich aside. He wiped his mouth with the paper napkin and reached for his Coke. He took a long drink and set the glass down. Scully had stopped eating while he went through these gyrations. Her stare began to unnerve him.

"What?" he asked.

"Obviously something is on your mind. You sat through that interview without saying a word. I realize this is not rocket science, but you could have at least asked one of the questions. I suggest lunch, you don't even agree, you just take off down the hill. We get our meal, we're sitting here, you don't say a word. Mulder, you aren't all that normal to begin with, but in six years I've gotten to know your moods, your rhythms. For the past two weeks, you have been off. What is going on?"

Mulder looked at her and reached under the table to take her hand. "How long have we been together, Scully? Six years? Almost seven?"

She didn't answer, since the question was clearly rhetorical.

"What if that ends. Would you want to know? Would you want to be warned? Tim didn't have a warning. One morning he got up and had a normal life. He had a partner who challenged him and made him a better detective. By the end of that day he had a bullet in his back and his partner had quit the force. No warning, no sign that in a single instant everything would change."

"You're getting a little dramatic, Mulder. What are you really afraid of? Losing me? Not being partners any longer? We don't stop being friends just because we don't always work together."

"Don't we? Because from where I'm sitting it looks like there is very little between us besides work. We don't socialize, we don't share holidays. If I'm lucky I remember your birthday every other year."

"No, we don't break bread together once a week, but I share things with you that I have never told any other person. When I lost Emily, you were there for me, Mulder. You were there when Melissa died. You have been there at each of the significant points in my life. My god, you went all the way to Antarctica to save my life! I'm not sure what I would have done without you."

"But those are things that never would have happened if you hadn't met me in the first place. If you had never met me, it could be you here trying to figure out what the hell to do with one Tim Bayliss."

"Bayliss. So that's what this is about," Scully answered, wiping a drip of sweat away from her forehead. "I think you need to be honest with me, honest with yourself. Is the problem here that Tim is a man? Or is it something else?"

Mulder leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. "I've been thinking about this all week now and the strange thing is, that's not what's hanging me up. If . . . if things progress with Tim, do we . . . are we . . . we're still friends, aren't we?"

"You'd better believe we are," Scully answered, taking his other hand in hers and raising it to her lips, silently affirming their bond. "Why would you even question that?"

"You know, I've wondered what it would be like, if you met someone. I could never imagine sharing you with anyone, yet now I'm asking you to share me. Am I getting ahead of myself, am I putting a value on our relationship that doesn't exist?"

"Mulder, I love you. I think we both have a sense of how strong that bond is. Last summer there was a moment when that could have changed, when we could have taken that next step, but we didn't. Sure, fate stepped in and stopped us, but there were plenty of chances after that for us to pick up where we left off. We never did. I think that says something."

"But what does it say? That I don't love you like I love Tim?"

"It means that you have enough love for both of us. Don't ever worry about running out of that. It can only grow and become better for all of us," Scully answered, the look in her eyes conveying the depth of her commitment to him.

That night found Bayliss standing behind the bar at the Waterfront, which was almost empty. He had proceeded through his usual routine, drying glasses, stacking them up, checking the lines on the beer taps, but he had not been talking to anybody. He was unaware that Meldrick Lewis kept casting sidelong glances at him from the end of the bar where he sat working through the month's accounts. Meldrick watched as Tim wiped the same spot on the bar over and over again, grinding a little circle against the wood with his towel. When the customer sitting at the bar tried to signal to him, it took several rounds of saying "excuse me" in increasingly louder increments to get Tim's attention. He started to refill the glass, and then the customer reminded him that he was drinking bourbon, not scotch. Tim apologized, took the glass away, and started a fresh one.

Meldrick thought it was time to intercede. "Tim. Tim!"


"C'mere a minute."

Tim walked to the end of the bar, bringing the towel with him and pulling it through one hand with the other.

"What's goin' on, man?" Meldrick asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Somethin's got your undies in a bunch, it seems to me. I wouldn't care, except that it's startin' to affect my business, so that means I gotta step in."

"I'm fine, Meldrick. Nothing's going on."

"You can say that, but from here it looks like you're on some other planet. You've hardly talked to anybody all week. Somethin' on your mind?"

Tim conceded. "Actually, yes, but I don't want to talk about it."

"That's your prerogative, man, but if you don't want to talk about it, you'd better *do* something about it before you forget to start serving customers all together."

"I can't do anything about it, that's the problem. The ball's not in my court."

"Girl trouble?"

"Something like that." Tim smiled in spite of his mood. "I just need some closure, and I can't get it, you know?"

"Well, maybe you can just put it out of your mind. Hey, Timmy, you got another customer. Look sharp."

Tim turned around unenthusiastically, then felt his heart leap into his throat when he saw who it was. Fox Mulder was standing just inside the door, looking confused as he scanned the room; then his eyes lit on Tim, who tossed away the towel and walked around to the other side of the bar.

"Hey." Tim wanted to touch Mulder on the arm, or somehow signal how important this moment was, but he didn't know how, so he just crossed his arms, balling up his own shirt in his fists. "Wow. Dare I ask what brings you here?"

"I went to your apartment first, but I thought you might be working. Can you take a break? We need to talk."

"Yeah, sure," Tim said with a lilt in his voice that hadn't been there all week. He turned to Meldrick and said, "I need you to close up tonight."

They had made small talk on the quick walk back to the apartment, but now Tim was anxious to get this over with for better or worse. As soon as he had unlocked the door and they were inside, he said, "Okay, I need to know what you've..."

As he turned around, Mulder grasped his arm and interrupted him with a fervent kiss. Caught by surprise, and feeling his knees go weak, Tim leaned into him and pressed him against the door, reaching up to press his hands flat against the wood over Mulder's head. This was nothing like the tentative kiss of a week ago. When Tim touched Mulder's lips with his tongue, the other man opened his mouth, inviting him in to explore. Tim drank in his scent and his taste, not able to think about anything else, except to realize that Mulder must have decided how he felt about the whole thing, since he now had his hands on Tim's backside and was pulling him in as close as he could. Tim hated to stop, but finally had to step back and catch a breath, moving his hands down Mulder's arms.

"So, can I assume you're okay with this?"

Mulder snickered. "You got that impression, huh?" He ducked out from under Tim's arms and went to sit on the couch. "It's still seems a little strange to me..."

"Yeah, it does for a while."

"But I want to give it a chance. I haven't felt very satisfied with anything or anyone in a long time; Scully's as close as it gets, and there's a limit to how far that can go. But this seems like something I want to try."

"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear *that*." Tim was sitting closer to him than he had the other night, and risked reaching over to touch his hair, letting his hand come to rest on the back of his neck. Mulder seemed to stiffen a little at first, but then relaxed into the caress.

"Speaking from my limited experience in this area, I would say that the way to make this work is for us to tell each other what we want and what we don't. This is new for you, so we have to figure out what you're comfortable with," Tim suggested softly.

"I can say that, after thinking this over so much, I have my head on straight about it. I know it's what I want, emotionally."

"Can you...I know you have to work tomorrow...do you want to stay here tonight?"

Mulder looked at his hands knotted together in his lap. "Hmmm...I was thinking about that on the drive down here. I'm not sure I feel ready to dive into the physical stuff full throttle." After a moment of silence, he added, "But I don't want to go home either."

"Good." Tim smiled, and started gently kneading the back of Mulder's neck, figuring that was non-threatening enough. He was rewarded by the sight of the other man closing his eyes and leaning forward, giving himself over to the sensation. Tim slid a little closer to him, so he could reach more easily. Then, without warning, he started snickering.

"This is funny to you?" Mulder asked, turning to look at him without raising his head.

Tim shook his head. "No, it's just that . . . tonight, at the bar. Man, I was in a funk. Lewis was ready to kill me. And these college kids kept playing that alternative crap Munch demands we put on the juke box even though we all hate it. But there was this one song by some group . . . Cake or Muffin or something like that. I just couldn't get it out of my head. It made me think of you."

"Really?" Mulder had a bemused look on his face. "It wasn't that 'I'm Too Sexy' song was it?"

"I need your arms around me, I need to feel your love," Tim chanted in a low voice. He repeated it, this time a little bit louder. "I need your arms around me . . ."

Sensing that Mulder was bending in closer to him, Tim used the hand on the back of his neck to pull him in for another kiss. The first was tentative, the second more intense. As it went on, however, Tim realized that sitting on the couch was going to make this difficult, if it progressed the way it was beginning to. He took Mulder's hand and pulled him up to a standing position so they were pressed against each other from head to toe.

Now that he was sure Mulder wanted this too, Tim felt a little like he'd just been granted a learner's permit, and he was itching to get out on the road. His hands started to explore Mulder's body, stroking the muscles in his back, sliding down to his haunches, touching the curve where his neck met his shoulders. He broke away from the kiss to touch his lips against Mulder's cheek, his jaw, the hollow beneath his ear. Since he was getting positive responses -- Mulder's hands were gripping him tightly beneath his ribs, and low murmurs were escaping his throat -- Tim kept going. He moved his hands around to Mulder's chest, untucking his shirt so he could put his hands against bare skin.

Then, as Mulder's hands slid up his back, Tim ran his finger along the inside of the other man's waistband and started to undo the button.

Without looking, Tim could tell that Mulder had opened his eyes and frozen in place, so he straightened back up and asked if he should stop.

"No, this feels great, your hands...I've been thinking about this, but I just...I don't know if I can move this fast."

Tim reached up to take Mulder's head in his hands. "I'll stop if you want. I don't want to make you uncomfortable. I just want to . . . I just want you close to me, to know what you feel like . . . but I know it's hard at first. It feels good, but it's foreign at the same time. Just trust that I won't do anything that doesn't make you feel good."

"Well..." Mulder weighed the situation. "Everything felt great so far. I'm curious to see what else you can do."

Passed the test, on to the driver's license, free to take the wheel. Tim loosened the button of Mulder's jeans, and eased the zipper down. As he felt the hardness underneath Mulder's boxer shorts, he could tell that this was having the intended effect after all. Mulder's knees appeared to give way and he sank to the floor, bringing Tim along with him and nearly missing the coffee table on the way down.

Tim slipped Mulder's jeans down around his knees. They withdrew for a moment while he repeated the motion on his own pants. He reached across and loosened the button on Mulder's polo shirt, pausing to look at the other man. Mulder had a look of pure pleasure creasing his face, his mouth turned in a slight smile, crinkles at the corner of his eyes. He chuckled slightly and pulled his shirt off with relish.

"I guess there's no reason to beat around the bush any longer," he said as he grabbed Tim's shirt. Pulling at the placket, he tore the shirt open, buttons flying across the room. "I've always wanted to do that."

Tim paused to take in the man in front of him. He had noted Mulder's incredible physique when they were playing basketball, but he hadn't allowed himself to fully appreciate the curves of his pectoral muscles, the ripples of his firm abdomen. He ran his hands down to Mulder's hips, allowing his hands to rest gently on them.

"You are incredible. Believe me, I was attracted to your mind first, but wow . . . "

"You're not bad yourself," Mulder said. He had never really considered the male body as a sexual playground. Sure, he had admired men at the gym, even been jealous of their fitness sometimes, but this was different. Casting a critical eye at the Baltimore detective, Mulder decided he was a little thin, but clearly took care of himself. His eyes drifted down to the puckering on Tim's right side and he let his fingers drift over it.

"It's not very pretty," Tim said, his eyes lowering to where Mulder's hand rested. Mulder knelt down, putting his face to the scar. He opened his mouth and let his tongue run across the marred flesh. He gently kissed it, then took Tim's right hand and placed it on his left shoulder. He first guided the other man's hand to the small scar left by Scully's bullet, and then placed Tim's other hand on his leg, where the bullet that had ripped through his femoral artery had nearly taken his life.

"You don't have the corner on that market," Mulder said softly. He placed his hands on either side of Tim's face and for only the second time initiated the kiss. He slowly laid back until they were prone on the floor, Bayliss lying on top, kissing until both were out of breath and Tim stopped to lay his head on Mulder's chest.

"We had better go up to the bedroom," Tim said.

"Hey Timmy! You got a big smile on your face this morning. Who you get lucky with?" Lewis asked as he sidled up next to Tim in the coffee room the next morning. "I didn't see you leave with any girl last night, just that boy from the FBI."

Tim turned, attempting to keep his face blank, but unable to hide his smile.

"You ain't been this chipper over this crap coffee since you stole my Emma Zoole. You clearly got laid last night."

Tim filled his cup and turned to walk back into the squadroom.

"You did get lucky. It wasn't . . . you wasn't with that FBI man, huh??"

"Meldrick, answer a phone, make yourself useful. I don't know why knowing every little detail of my personal life is going to make any difference," Tim said as he pulled away from the other detective's hand that was grasping his shirt sleeve.

"I knew it! I told Munch that wasn't a one time deal," Meldrick said, snapping his fingers in the air, a modified one man high five. "So, you doing that full-time now?"

"Yeah, I think so. If I'm lucky I'm doing it as long as I draw breath."

Epilogue, a few weeks later

Tim slid the razor down his chin, tracing the curve of his strong jaw. He dipped the razor into the water as the door pushed open.

"Morning," Mulder said as he slid in next to Tim, running his hand up the other man's back and pulling him close. He tipped his head in for a quick kiss, getting a little of the cream on his upper lip. Tim reached over and wiped the cream away.

"Did you sleep well?" he asked, now sliding his own arm around Mulder's lower back and resting it on his taut rear.

"Best I've had in months. Must be the company." Mulder leaned in to kiss Tim more thoroughly, teasing his lips open with his tongue and then exploring the freshly minted taste of his mouth. When he pulled back, he was again covered with the shaving cream. "Here, let's get rid of this pesky business."

Mulder patted his palm against the counter, indicating that Tim should sit there. Taking the razor from Tim's now-limp hands, he began to carefully shave his lover's face. As Tim leaned back and closed his eyes, Mulder pulled the razor up over the slight stubble, wiping away the white cream and the short dark hairs. He dipped the razor into the water and began again, systematically making the rough surface smooth. When he had finished, he wiped Tim's face with the towel.

He started to lean in again when Tim put his hand on Mulder's chest to stop him. "Wait, now it's my turn."

"That's fine, but it'll have to wait a minute, okay?" Mulder responded breathlessly, pulling Tim's hand down to the waistband of his boxer shorts, where he could feel his erection growing. He reached over to loosen the towel around Tim's waist. "We have time for this, don't we?"

Tim didn't answer, but wrapped his legs around Mulder to pull him in for another deep kiss.