Exaiphnes VIIa: Fireworks
Written by Marti

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on the characters and situations created by Chris Carter and owned by the Fox Network and 1013 Productions, as well as those created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick and owned by KoMut Entertainment and NBC Studios/Three Sisters Entertainment. As such, the characters named are the property of those entities and are used without permission, although no copyright infringements are intended.

Monday, July 5
2:00 p.m.

It had been a long time since I'd offered to pick Mulder up at the airport. What was that movie -- "When Harry Met Sally"? -- where someone said you could tell how new a relationship was by whether the people still met each other's planes. Normally, it didn't make sense to do it if I was working, so he and Scully would just get a cab or something. But since I had the holiday off, I was free to go meet them. I paced back and forth in the waiting area, not sure whether I was anxious to see him or not. He had been gone a week, investigating a case at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. A female student had been found in a gorge on the campus, exsanguinated, and though it wasn't clearly an X-File, the local authorities had decided to call in the experts.

Mulder had originally planned to come home on Saturday, but couldn't get away. More witnesses to talk to, a consulting pathologist to be flown up from Albany, the usual. You just can't hurry the investigative process, he said. He had called me at work on Friday. I was stirring some non-dairy creamer into my coffee when Meldrick announced that the phone was for me. Having already taken one call that led to a stone cold whodunit -- a dead guy in an alley, one bullet fragment dug out of the sidewalk, no witnesses, no apparent motive -- I had been in no hurry to answer another. At first I was thrilled to hear Mulder's voice, but my mood took a nose-dive as I heard him say he wasn't coming back for three more days. I said that I had looked forward to spending the holiday weekend with him: a music festival in the Inner Harbor, dinner out, watching the fireworks from Mike's boat. He said was sorry he was going to miss it, but he had no choice. Yeah, of course. That's life when you're a hotshot FBI agent.

Do I sound bitter? I was trying not to be. I understand the demands of life as a crimefighter. I was used to cancelled plans, even on holidays. This time Mulder had insisted that I go ahead with my plans anyway -- why should I sit around feeling sorry for myself when I could be out celebrating? But rather than spend a romantic weekend alone, I decided instead to take Meldrick's shift at the Waterfront on Sunday night. Now that was what I needed to talk to Mulder about.

I looked around at the other people in the waiting area. There were older couples probably waiting for grandchildren, fathers with kids waiting for moms, college students waiting for friends. No other middle-aged men waiting for a tall brunette and a short redhead.

I knew there would be an awkward moment when Mulder and I first saw each other. There always was: could I hug him in public? Kiss him? Should I hug Scully too? I imagined the other people trying to figure out the story on us.

But today of all days I was not sure how I should act. The last time we'd spoken directly was Friday night, when he'd called at bedtime. At that point, I was still pissed at him for not being there, and I'd tried to bait him into a fight, making some comment about him searching for vampires. I know he didn't appreciate it, but fortunately he was sensible enough just to end the conversation and suggest we talk later when I wasn't so irritable. Since then I just had two voice-mail messages, catching me up to date on his case.

Now I needed to catch him up to date on my weekend.

Finally I heard the announcement that their flight had arrived. There they were; Mulder met my eyes and gave a Mona Lisa smile as he came through the door. Both of them had their arms full with briefcases, trenchcoats and laptops, so that solved the hugging problem. Instead, Scully leaned up to kiss me on the cheek, and Mulder put a hand on my shoulder. I just smiled and asked if we needed to go down to the baggage claim, turning briskly and starting our little parade away from the gate.

As we walked, I kept asking questions about the case, Cornell, Ithaca, anything to put off the inevitable "So how was *your* weekend?" This strategy worked pretty well for a while, until we had collected their checked luggage and walked Scully to her car. I suggested that we all go get a late lunch -- then I could talk to her instead of Mulder -- but she wanted to go ahead and get back to the city. She didn't mind taking the same flights as he did into BWI, she said, but it did mean a longer drive at the end of it.

"But I'm up for lunch," Mulder declared. "That little half a sandwich they give you on the plane has no business being called a meal. What do you think? Lista's? Maybe we can salvage some of the holiday. We still have the rest of the day off." Since we were now in the relative privacy of the parking garage, he reached over to put a hand on the back of my neck and brushed his lips against my earlobe.

Damn. We really needed to talk.

Sunday, July 4
7:30 p.m.

Meldrick had been right when he said the bar was going to be a zoo over the weekend. Even though the main festivities were over in the Inner Harbor, everybody had somehow found their way to Fells Point looking for good seafood and a bottle of Natty Bo. I guess they'd heard it was a good place to see the fireworks. There weren't many cars on the street between the bar and the stationhouse, but it was packed with pedestrians.

The bar itself was standing room only, and every time I poured one drink I looked up to see somebody else asking for another. No wonder Meldrick was glad I took his shift. Munch was on a date or something, and Billie Lou wasn't coming in until later, so I was trying to handle it all myself. The special apricot beer we had on tap was disappearing as fast as I could get another keg started, and we were in danger of running out of the crabcake special.

It was certainly not the way I had pictured this weekend. At first I had told Gee and everybody else that I was unavailable for any kind of work, but that all changed when, as Meldrick so aptly put it, my FBI boy cancelled on me.

Most of the drinkers that night weren't regulars; no cops, nobody from the neighborhood. Many of them seemed to have made the Waterfront one stop in a pub crawl, and they headed back out onto the street after two or three drinks. But one guy had claimed a seat at the bar early on and didn't appear to be in a hurry to leave. As far as I could tell, he was alone, nursing a series of Tanqueray and tonics while he watched the muted TV near the front window of the bar.

We hadn't really conversed, except to exchange money and liquor periodically, but when the activity finally slowed down for a minute, I found myself at his end of the bar, looking up at the TV to see what was holding his interest. It was a July Fourth concert, John Williams and the Boston Pops or something.

"How interesting can that be with the sound off?" I asked as I wiped up a wet spot on the bar in front of him.

"Fascinating, actually. I can figure out what piece they're playing just from watching the clarinetists."


"Well, no. But it's a fair bet it's something by John Phillip Sousa." He smiled and took a sip of his drink, stirring it first by tucking a finger down into the glass and moving the lime wedge back and forth.

"You know you could be hearing the same thing live a few blocks away," I noted. "Wouldn't that be better?"

"If I didn't mind being mauled by a sweaty crowd of people. This seems like a better vantage point somehow. I spent most of the day in the Inner Harbor."

"So you're in town for the holiday?" I turned away from him momentarily when someone handed me an empty bowl that needed to be filled up with pretzels.

"More or less. Working, actually. But I don't fly back until tomorrow."

Sounds familiar. At least Mulder wasn't the only one, I figured. "What kind of work, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Law. Corporate law. A firm in New York is acquiring a shipping company based in Baltimore. Most of it I can do from there, but I'm down here to get some signatures, finish up some paperwork."

I filled the bowl back up and let him take a handful before I slid it back down the bar. "That's one kind of law I don't know much about. I'm more familiar with the law and order kind."

"You mean from breaking up bar fights between knife-wielding criminals?" Another sly curve of his lips.

"No...actually, I don't think that's ever happened in here. I mean from my day job. I'm a homicide cop."

At this point I realized I had several customers waiting with empty glasses in outstretched hands, so I excused myself, promising to finish the conversation when I returned. When I made my way back down to his end of the bar, his own glass was empty, so I splashed a shot of gin into it while he talked. He said he had considered going into criminal law, but it had seemed too frustrating, knowing that you were making deals with people who didn't deserve it, knowing there was no way to mete out justice perfectly.

I agreed; even when we did everything perfectly on our end, it didn't guarantee a trial, conviction, or jail time. I told him I had often considered getting out of law enforcement altogether, though the possibility of law school had crossed my mind.

"No! Don't do it!" He leaned back his head and laughed, a deep baritone. "You'd be better off tending bar full time. Less stress. I love my job, but at the same time I don't think I would do it over again."

"What would you do instead?"

"I don't know, something to do with the arts maybe. My roommate is an interior designer. Sometimes I miss having that kind of creative outlet."

Roommate? What kind of thirty-five-year-old man has a roommate? I mean, I never knew quite what to call Mulder, but I wouldn't use *that* term.

Then he continued, "But then that's stressful too. She just got a big job working for the most arrogant SOB, and he was making her crazy." I had just decided she must be his girlfriend when he added, "What's worse is that he was interested in me."

"So the feeling wasn't mutual?" I ventured.

"No. I only like nice guys." He gave me another dazzling grin, then finished off the last swallow of his drink. "That's it -- I better switch to club soda." Sliding the glass back across the bar to me, he said, "By the way, I'm Will."

I shook his hand, cool and damp from the condensation on the glass. "Tim. Good to meet you."


Sure, I saw the signs. I'm not as naive as I look. Maybe I hadn't had that much experience with men before Mulder, but how could I not notice that whenever I glanced back down to that end of the bar, Will was looking in my direction. Something about him reminded me of Chris Rawls: dark, slender, well-groomed, comfortable with himself.

I don't think I knew what to make of the whole thing. One part of me just thought it was ironic. All those months of looking for interesting men and not finding any until I was assigned a case with Mulder. And here was one right at the end of my very own bar. I was a little surprised that he was so up front about his sexual preference. I was sure I hadn't said anything about being interested in men, but I had said I was a cop, which people usually took to mean I was conservative about such things.

Mostly, I was sure I had not said anything about having a fella, as Meldrick would put it, of my own. I don't know why. I didn't want to encourage Will. Did I? I had to admit he was good-looking: the smile, the wave to his hair, the square shoulders. But what difference did that make? Nothing was going to happen. So he didn't need to know about Mulder, and I didn't want to get started whining about him either.

The crowd in the bar was starting to thin out, as the light outside faded and the time for the fireworks came closer. I moved back down the bar towards the front window, collecting empty glasses and balling up soaked napkins. When I paused to check the taps near Will's seat, I glanced in his direction, noting that he still didn't seem anxious to leave.

"So, have you taken up residence on that chair, or do you plan to go check out the fireworks?" I asked, not sure what I wanted the answer to that question to be.

"I haven't decided yet. Where's the best place to see them?"

"Pretty much anywhere on this street. There's a walkway down to the river just to the right there. That gets you closer to the water, but it will be jammed with people."

"Are you going to watch?"

I grabbed up a few open bottles and started replacing their caps. "I don't know. I've seen plenty of Baltimore fireworks in my life. Plus I have to wait for my relief to get here."

But of course, as soon as I said it, Billie Lou came through the door, taking off her scarf and fluffing her hair. "Bayliss!" she drawled. "How you holdin' up? Let me just hang up my sweater and you can get out of here."

"I guess that takes care of that." I smiled but didn't meet his eyes. I was folding up a damp towel on the bar, taking extreme care to get all the corners perfectly straight.

Will slid back his stool and reached for his wallet to settle up his final tab. "So, Tim...since you're heading out anyway, why don't you come with me? It would be great to have a native to show me where to go."


I really have no excuse for what happened. It was just that it had been so long since I'd gotten that kind of interest from anybody, even Mulder. The truth was that things with us were slow getting back to normal after the setback a few months earlier, when he'd gone on his last out-of-town case. One day he called to say he wouldn't be home for a few days, and the next call was from Scully saying he'd been in an accident. Mulder had been in the hospital there for a few weeks, then on bed rest at home, then on desk duty.

He wasn't the most compliant patient. Since he had to rest his eyes, he had listened to as many books on tape as he could stand, and had called Scully more than once a day to ask her to bring him open case files to work on at home. When she wouldn't, he would lie in bed, looking for patterns in the swirls on the ceiling, and then get more and more restless. Finally I would get home and bring him a Coke or a magazine, only to have him yell and say he didn't want it. Since he wasn't sleeping regular hours, he had moved downstairs to the couch for several weeks. I felt like I never saw him, and we barely said anything to each other.

But when he'd gone back to desk duty, at least he'd been home at a regular time, so we had most evenings to ourselves. A rare treat, as far as I was concerned. Sometimes we just spent these reading at opposite ends of the couch, but that still meant Mulder was there, that he was back in our bed every night and he woke up with me in the morning. He was bored out of his mind at work, but at least he was there. Since the accident, I still felt a pang of worry as I watched him head out the door to his early-morning train, imagining what could happen, even just on the walk to the station, everything from puddles to manholes to crimes against persons. And this got ten times worse when he'd gone on this trip, his first out-of-town case after the accident. I felt the void even more than usual.

But of course I wasn't really thinking about any of this when I walked out into the humid July night with Will. I don't know what I was thinking, maybe just that he was easy to talk to, and at least I was getting out of the house like Mulder said I should.

We turned and walked along the cobblestone street, threading our way between clumps of people. I had suggested that the far end of Fells Point, where there were fewer bars and more houses, might be less crowded, if he really felt as strongly about mob scenes as he'd said earlier. We were able to walk most of the way down towards the water, near where Mike Kellerman docked his boat, and I thought about how I had planned to take Mulder out there to watch the display.

I felt like I should play tour guide a little bit, so I commented that we had just passed a good vegetarian restaurant called Margaret's.

"So are you vegetarian, or just a fan of the occasional dish full of buckwheat soba noodles?" he asked.

"Vegetarian. For about a year. I made several big changes in my life this year, and that was one." To head off any inquiries into the other changes, I turned it back to him. "How about you?"

"No. I try to eat healthy, but there's so much stuff I like I can't restrict it. Eating out is one of my great pleasures in life. So many great restaurants in New York."

"Here, too, mostly seafood. So you haven't been to Baltimore before?"

"Actually, I have. My college roommate was from Greenbelt, so I visited him once or twice and we made some day trips. That's why I wanted to spend an extra couple of days touring, see what I missed. I really like this neighborhood. Do you live nearby?"

"A couple of streets over." I gestured vaguely in that direction and pointed out the stationhouse. "So everything's within walking distance. Sometimes it would be nice to get a little further away from work, but it suits me."

He started asking about Baltimore, other neighborhoods. I knew the city pretty well after growing up here and investigating dead bodies in nearly every block. We talked about New York and I said I had only been there on a couple of cases. He remembered the subway thing. Then he mentioned, offhand, that if I were ever there to visit he would be glad to show me around.

The fireworks had started, explosions of color reflecting in the water as well as overhead. I'd forgotten how spectacular the display was. As Will talked, the changing colors were also reflected in his hair and his eyes.

As with any Baltimore summer, though, the physical beauty was cancelled out by the stifling humidity. Drops of sweat were trickling down my neck and my t-shirt was stuck to my back. Somehow Will still looked perfectly cool, but I knew I had to get back to some air conditioning very soon. I think the heat must have been fogging my brain, because otherwise I can't explain why I invited him back to the apartment for a cold drink.


One good thing about having a live-in lover of the same sex, it's not obvious which stuff is his and which is yours. No tell-tale tubes of lipstick lying around. So I can't blame Will for not suspecting someone else lived there. He followed me into the kitchen as I rooted around in cupboards, trying to figure out what I could offer him. He leaned against the butcher block in the middle of the room, and I was very aware of brushing up against him as I slid past to get some ice from the freezer.

When we went back to the living room, I was a little surprised that he sat down next to me on the couch rather than on the chair across the room. The conversation had progressed on the walk over; he had been asking me about what it was like to work on the squad without a long-term partner, since I had mentioned that one of the big changes over the year was Frank leaving. How had we gotten into that so soon? I hadn't really talked to Mulder about it until several months in, and I still doubted whether he understood how deep it went. But here was Will asking and keeping those intense eyes trained on me and nodding vigorously to everything I said.

What really struck me, though, was how he kept touching my arm sympathetically as I talked about Frank. And I guess I must have unconsciously slid closer to him on the couch, hoping he would do that some more, because finally it seemed like his dark eyes were right there and then it was just a short step from looking at him to kissing him.

In retrospect, it was surprising that it happened at all, since we had only met each other three hours earlier. I know that joke about how the second date for a lesbian couple involves a moving van, while gay men move at a more glacial pace. With Mulder there had been a fair amount of dancing back and forth before anything definite happened.

But this was pretty definite. That was definitely his hand creeping up the back of my neck, combing through my hair and pulling me deeper into the kiss. That was definitely my hand reaching for his waist, curling my fingers through a belt loop. There was no mistaking the tongue that brushed against mine, sending a current arcing through my whole body.

God, it seemed like forever since I had kissed anybody like this. When I said Mulder and I barely talked to each other for a month after he got out of the hospital, I meant we hardly did *anything* to each other. Sure, part of it was because his activity was restricted by doctor's orders -- after all, he'd had abdominal surgery -- but he hadn't responded to my goodnight kisses either. He hardly even let me touch him to change a bandage.

So I was exercising a few muscles that had been dormant for months. That's why I was willing to let it go as far as I did, which meant untucking Will's shirt, fingertips exploring the smooth skin of his back. His hand slid up my leg, tugging at the waistband of my jeans, so I was sure he knew how aroused I was. When I broke away from the kiss, it was just so I could get better access to the milky skin of his throat. I'm sure I would have called a halt eventually, but not for a few more minutes.

But he was the one who sat back first, brushing one hand across his lips but keeping the other one pressed against my knee. "I'm not saying we have to stop, but I do want to say for the record that I don't usually do this. I mean, I don't make a habit of picking up cops in bars and getting them to take me home."

"Don't worry; your reputation is safe with me." My face was still hot and my breath was coming quickly. I easily could have dived right back in -- but then, after a couple more breaths, I realized I couldn't. We sat looking at each other for a moment or two, then as he leaned toward me again I put a hand out to stop him. "Actually, maybe this isn't such a good idea."

The obvious thing would have been to invoke Mulder, but then I'd have had to explain why I had kept him a secret for this long. So in the end I just appealed to the fact that Will was from out of town, that there was no hope of this going anywhere, that what we had was too good to waste on a one-night-stand, blah blah blah. I did offer to call him a cab but he said he'd walk back to the water taxi. I don't think he was too mad. He said again that I should call him if I was ever in New York. Then I flopped back down on the couch to lay awake all night figuring out what I was going to do about this.


Monday, July 5
2:55 p.m.

"You look tired. I thought you'd be catching up on your sleep this weekend," Mulder commented as we headed up 295, not so much concerned as observant.

"I tried. Couldn't sleep."

"I figured you must have decided to work last night, since you weren't home when I called." His message had said "Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow."

"Busy night at the bar," I explained.

"See any fireworks?"

"Yeah." I didn't want to have this conversation in the car. But then I didn't want to have it at Lista's either. "Hey, what if we just got take-out and went home?"

I think he gave me a questioning look, but he agreed, so we ended up back at the apartment, in our kitchen, unpacking paper sacks full of food. I wasn't hungry. In fact, I felt like I was coming down with the flu, alternating between hot flashes and chills.

Finally I just blurted it out as he was rummaging in the dishwasher for a clean fork. "Mulder, I have to tell you something."

"Yeah? What is it?" He speared a piece of shrimp out of one container and leaned back against the butcher block. I wished he wouldn't do that.

"I did go see the fireworks last night."

"I know. You said that."

"I didn't go alone."

He looked puzzled. He knew I didn't mean I had gone with Lewis or Munch, but he obviously decided to make light of it. "What, you picked somebody up on your shift?"

"Sort of."

He stopped chewing and set the container down on the counter. "I'm not sure I follow."

"I got talking to this guy at the bar, and he was going to see the fireworks and he asked if I wanted to come along, so I did..." Now that I had started I couldn't stop talking until I got through the walk home, the drink, the couch, and the kiss. I watched his expression get more and more incredulous as I talked, or as close to incredulous as Mulder ever got. I didn't move or take my eyes off his face, just kept gripping the edges of the counter behind me since my knees felt like they might give way.

"I don't know what to say." He crossed his arms in front of him. His tone was dead, absolutely neutral. "Here? You brought him here?"

"I was just trying to think of a place to get something to drink."

"You own a bar, for God's sake. Couldn't you just go back there?"

"Yeah...I don't know why it seemed like a good idea."

"Me either." He had turned away from me and was pacing in a little circle on the other side of the island. He didn't say anything else for several minutes. Then he looked at me again, pinning me like a butterfly in a display case. "But you didn't fuck him?"

The word was like a little explosion in the confines of the kitchen. "No, I didn't. We kissed, and that was it."

"Who stopped it from going further?"

"It was mutual." So much for complete honesty. But that was more or less the truth, wasn't it? It wouldn't help to say I had been about to tear Will's shirt off.

"I don't want to hear any more about this right now," he said finally, walking out and leaving the food untouched on the counter. I heard the door slam behind him. I didn't know what else to do except to start putting the containers in the fridge so they'd be there for him later.


When he got back two hours later, I concluded he must have just been out walking around, since he was drenched with sweat. I was sitting on the couch, not doing anything. I had found that I couldn't keep my attention focused on a TV program or a magazine. He walked past me into the kitchen without a word, and I figured that's how it was going to be, the silent treatment. But then he re-appeared with a glass of water and took a seat opposite me. I tried to read his expression -- impossible, as always -- and waited for him to say something.

"So, do you think you want to be with this other guy?"

"What?" The possibility hadn't even occurred to me. My only thoughts for the last twelve hours had focused on getting Mulder to stay. "No. Absolutely not. He doesn't even live in the city."

"But if he did?"

"Wouldn't matter. That's not what this is about."

"So what is it about?"

"Don't think I wasn't trying to figure that out all night long. This is the last thing I ever thought would happen."

"No kidding."

"I guess if I thought anything like this was going to happen, it would be you."

"Why the hell would you think that?"

I didn't know how to phrase it so that it didn't sound like an attack. Because you always seem so much less committed to the relationship? Because I still wonder if you're a closet heterosexual? Because you don't ever seem to be sweating it out when we're apart? I just said, "Because sometimes I think I'm not enough for you."

"That's not true. You know that's not true."

"I hope it's not, but sometimes I wonder."

"I don't know what I could say to convince you of it." He set down his glass and kicked off his shoes with such force that they went flying into the hallway. "What I don't understand is why I'm suddenly on the defensive when you were the one who screwed up."

Ouch. But he had a point. "Yeah, you're right. So go ahead and yell at me." I wanted him to, so I could yell back and we could just get it over with.

"Yelling won't help. Besides, I know you. You've already lectured yourself more than I ever could. You spent the whole night flogging yourself over it."

"That's for sure."

"So what do you need me to say?"

I wanted him to say he forgave me, but I didn't think it was time for that yet.

"Look, I'm going to go unpack." He grabbed up his glass from the coffee table and went back to the kitchen. I stretched out on the couch, wondering if maybe it was my turn to leave the apartment, since there wasn't that much room for us to get away from each other. I heard him banging around in the kitchen, re-heating some of the take-out, and then he went up the stairs, passing by me without another word. Fair enough. At least he was apparently planning to stay here tonight.

I must have fallen asleep then. I wasn't relaxed, exactly, just spent. I only woke up when I heard his footsteps on the stairs as he brought some dishes back down to the kitchen. He must have taken a shower, because I could smell the dampness and musky scent of his soap, and it hit me like I'd been kicked in the chest. I wanted to follow him into the kitchen and bury my face in his wet hair, breathing him in, and have him say it was all over, we could just get back to normal.

But when had things last been normal, anyway? Last week? Before the accident? The day he moved in? I had always thought that relationships followed some kind of forward-moving pattern, but this one had stalled out a while ago. He had only said he loved me back in April, after we'd been together more than six months, and I couldn't remember him saying it again since.

Damn, maybe this *was* hopeless. The only time in recent memory when he had sounded like his old self was this week, when he called from Ithaca, clearly thrilled to be back out on the road and working the kind of case he loved. He wasn't finding his fulfillment at home, so maybe I couldn't either.

As I lay there waxing philosophical, he went back upstairs. What time had it gotten to be? It seemed like the light from the kitchen window had gotten dimmer, so I went to check the clock on the stove. 8:30. The holiday weekend was winding down. I would have to start thinking about getting back to work. Back to my stone cold whodunit, and probably more cases just like it. Back to my desk without Frank.

When I imagined myself sitting there at that gray metal desk in that dark room, stewing, I decided that I needed to get *something* resolved before I went to bed. What could he be doing up there, anyway? He couldn't avoid me forever.

When I stepped into the bedroom, he was sitting on the bed, glasses on, surrounded by stacks of paper and file folders. "You're working?" I said in disbelief.

"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" He didn't look up.

"I don't know...but I'm sitting down there consumed by this problem, and you're going on like it's any other day."

"I have to meet with Skinner tomorrow morning and report on our trip. I'm trying to get my thoughts together."

"Aren't you at all distracted by what's been happening here?" God, was he that single-minded?

"Not especially."

"Don't tell me you've gotten over it."

"I didn't say that."

"But you're just going to plow right on past it." I went to sit at the foot of the bed, even though I knew it would irritate him when he had to pull up his feet and straighten a stack of papers I had jostled. "I really want to talk to you about this."

"And here I thought the beauty of sharing your bed with another man was that you never had to talk about the relationship." He took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I just don't know what else to say. You tell me it didn't mean anything, there's no chance of it happening again, it was just a kiss. Fine. Let's just move on."

"How is that possible? Don't you want to figure out what caused it so it doesn't happen again?"

"Uh, no. This kind of thing always makes me feel like I'm stuck in an episode of 'thirtysomething.'"

"I just feel like I should try to explain it to you."

"Even if I don't want you to?"

Why did he have to be so exasperating? "I just wanted to say, Mulder, that all I could think the whole time was that I missed you. I've missed you for a while." I left it at that and went back downstairs.

When Mulder came down a couple of hours later, I was watching some mindless sci-fi movie that I'd stopped on after a lot of idle channel-surfing.

"Are you coming to bed?" he asked.

"I thought maybe I had to sleep on the couch for a while."

"No. It's not that comfortable anyway."

He was silent through all the bedtime rituals of shutting off lights, brushing teeth, and turning down sheets. I wasn't sure what to do with myself as I tried to get situated in bed. We didn't always sleep interwined, especially not lately, but we usually lay close for a little while, me laying my head on his chest or spooning him from behind. I doubted that was on tap for tonight.

I really wanted to kiss him goodnight, not so much as a sign of reconciliation but more because I wanted to remember what it was like, the taste of toothpaste on his lips, cool from the drink of water he'd just taken. I wanted to touch him, revisiting the curves of his collarbone, the planes of his stomach, now a little more drawn than they had been before the accident. I wanted to get reacquainted with every mole, every muscle, to trace the scar on his left shoulder, which had been there as long as I'd known him, and then the new one down near his waist. That body had been broken more than once, but it was still beautiful. I wondered how long it would be before he let me near him again.

I turned over on my side to watch him get into bed. He sat back against the headboard, knees drawn up, with a magazine. "I'm going to read for a while. That OK?" If his tone had been a little harsher, it could have sounded like a challenge, but I decided to assume he was just asking to be nice.

"Sure. You finished your report?"


"What time do you have to be in?"

"7:45." He didn't look at me, just kept flipping the pages of the magazine.

"So it's the 6:00 train?"


I felt like I had to offer at least some gesture of goodwill before I could go to sleep. "I'll get up with you and make breakfast, so you can set the alarm a little later." I held my breath in, waiting to see if he would accept.

"Okay. Good night, Tim."

Well, at least I could breathe a *little* easier. "Good night."