Exaiphnes V: Home Invasion
Written by Rachel, Marti, and Valeria
AUTHORS' NOTES: This truly is writing by committee. When we decided that Tim and Mulder needed to move in together, we envisioned their friends helping them. This suddenly evolved into a large group of characters we didn't write very well. That was when we turned to our local Munch expert, Valeria. Not only did she do a great Munch, but also the chorus of voices that sing out in the middle of this installment. For that we have given her honorary "Oak Girl" status with all the rights and privileges included in that honor. [Please don't get too jealous...there aren't any.] As always, this would not be possible without the fine work of our beta readers, Jo-Ann Lassiter and especially Gerry Hill.
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.
Fox Mulder rolled over in bed, wondering once more why he'd bothered to keep the waterbed in his apartment. It felt so strange to have the waves undulating beneath him every time he moved. Most of the time, he still elected to sleep on the more familiar couch, but the bed had more room for two people. As he shifted, he reached out for the warm body on the other side of the bed, pulling his partner into a spoonlike embrace, and felt the familiar presence of his morning erection. It occurred to him that it might be worth it to do it one last time on the waterbed.
Still half asleep, his eyes at half mast, he carefully pulled his boxer briefs off and kicked them out from under the covers onto the floor. He started to nuzzle the neck of his companion, then stopped short. He looked up to the mirrored ceiling to see, not the familiar lanky form of Detective Tim Bayliss next to him, but rather the compact body and crimson hair of Dana Scully. He put a hand to his forehead, remembering how many tequila shots they'd consumed between them. Or, more accurately, he didn't remember, but he just knew it was a lot. He'd been surprised to see how well Scully held her liquor.
Three weeks earlier, he had been lying in another bed in Baltimore, around midnight on a Sunday night. Earlier that evening, he and Tim had ordered in Indian food, watched a little TV, and debated the merits of "That 70's Show." Tim had won the argument by setting the takeout containers on the coffee table, sliding down to Mulder's end of the couch, and starting to nibble his earlobe, which eventually escalated to a point that they needed to go upstairs.
"I hate to say this, but I really need to go." Mulder was aware how feeble this sounded. He was trying to figure out how he could heave himself out of this warm bed, where Tim lay half on top of him, lazily trailing one hand from his shoulder to his hip. Even as he said this, Mulder was caressing the back of Tim's head, twining his fingers through the soft hair. He noticed that Tim didn't move when he made his announcement. "I didn't plan to stay this long...I have an early meeting with Kersh tomorrow. The fish haven't been fed since Friday."
"I know." Tim moved up to kiss him, then lay back down on the other pillow. "I'll let you go. It's just that...well, you know those signs on the highway?"
"Burma Shave? High occupancy vehicles only? Which ones?"
"The ones that say, 'If you lived here, you'd be home by now.' Think about it."
"I'm trying to find something closer..." Mulder sat up and started trying to figure out which piles of clothes on the floor belonged to him.
"Look, Mulder." Tim sat up and touched his arm, making him turn back around. "Why don't you just move in here?"
The thought had, in fact, crossed Mulder's mind as he spent a couple of Saturdays looking at apartments in and around Baltimore. He was anxious to get out of Hegal Place, and anywhere Tim was looked pretty inviting. But, at the same time, he hesitated. He had lived alone for so many years that he'd grown used to it. For that matter, when he had shared a room in college, he had always been relieved when he came home and found that his roommate hadn't returned yet. As arduous as it now seemed to get himself up and dressed and drive for an hour, he still had moments where he looked forward to his return to an empty apartment, so he could have some time to himself. Tim, conversely, lived alone only out of necessity, and would always rather have Mulder there than not. Still, none of the apartments Mulder had looked at had made much of an impression on him, while this one had the advantage of, well, Tim.
So he said he would think about it, gave Tim a lingering goodbye kiss, and headed back down I-95. By the time he was back to Alexandria, he had decided he would do it.
"What time are the movers coming?" Scully asked as she surveyed the living room. Mulder had grudgingly taken her up on her offer to help him pack.
Based on the large quantity of material still on the shelves and countertops, she hadn't arrived a minute too soon.
"They'll be here at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Tim will meet us in Baltimore to unload. He and Munch are wrapping up a red ball, but they should be able to help us tomorrow, as well as Mike and Meldrick," Mulder responded, picking up a box and beginning to remove the books from the shelves. "Grab a box and dig in."
Scully leaned over to pull a box from the pile. "Well, I guess I might as well start in the bathroom," she responded as she headed in that direction.
They worked through the afternoon, managing to get most of the living room, kitchen and bathroom packed. Mulder was astonished to realize the amount of stuff he had managed to accumulate during his tenure in the apartment.
"Chinese or pizza?" Scully asked as she finished taping up the final box in the kitchen.
"Huh?" Mulder asked, looking up from broiler pan where he was trying to figure out how to remove it for cleaning.
"Chinese or pizza?"
"Pizza. I want to get a thin crust sausage from Gus. His business is going to drop by 20% when I leave. The least I can do is throw one last pie his way."
Scully nodded and headed to find the phone. When she returned she saw three bottles with varying quantities of liquid in them.
"Your stash?" she asked as she walked over to pick one of the bottles up.
"Cuervo. That's good stuff."
"Yeah, the other stuff is rot gut, but I think if we did a taste test you would find that you're just wasting your money on the Cuervo," Mulder replied.
"Taste test?" Scully asked, cocking her right eyebrow at him. "You have any oranges, cinnamon?"
"Oranges? I thought you were supposed to have limes and salt."
"Oh, wimps drink their tequila with limes, but real drinkers have it with oranges," Scully challenged.
Through a miracle and some misguided thought Tim had about healthy eating, Mulder was able to unearth a bag of five oranges and a can of ground cinnamon. He held them out for Scully's inspection.
"Okay. Now, if we can lay our hands on a knife, two shot glasses and a cutting board, we're in business."
Mulder moved around, collecting the utensils with the dedication of an eager lab assistant and presenting them to Scully with relish. She took the knife from him and began slicing the first orange.
"These are called 'Bernies.' Missy and I went up to Door County in Wisconsin one summer for a vacation and there was a bar up there where everybody drank them. We became pretty fond of them. When ever I'm really missing her, I like to think about that week. We used to really have fun."
Scully's voice had remained calm while she explained the origin of the drink, but Mulder could tell from the ferocity with which she was attacking the citrus that more was going on. He reached over to take the knife out of her hands.
"What's going on here, Scully?" he asked. She handed the knife over and looked at him, starting to speak, then stopping herself, then giving in.
"I know it's just Baltimore, but it's a change, okay? I just feel like--oh dammit, this is stupid."
"What?" Mulder asked, looking at her carefully. Stress lines creased her attractive face. "What's the matter, Scully? You've been weird for days."
Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, I don't know--it could just be PMS, but this seems so final. I--I don't begrudge you your relationship, your life with Tim, but you're leaving."
"What?" Mulder asked. He couldn't believe that she as so upset by this.
She had never visited his apartment regularly, and they would still be working together. What would change?
"I won't be able to come over whenever I need to, to just show up," she replied. She reached for the bottle of tequila and poured herself a finger in the glass Mulder had found for her.
Mulder stared at her, his jaw slack. Scully downed the tequila and poured another.
"If memory serves, I'm the one who shows up on your doorstep. Anyway, it's further, but you can still show up at my door. Why would you think you couldn't do that?"
A knock at the door interrupted their conversation and Mulder went to get the pizza. When he returned, Scully was pouring herself another shot of tequila.
"So, are you going to show me how to do this 'Bernie' thing?" Mulder asked, setting the pizza down on the table. Scully reached for the cinnamon. She shook a little bit on the edge of her hand between the index finger and her thumb. Next, she licked the spice, picked up the glass, drank it down and then stuck a slice of orange in her mouth and sucked the juice.
"Lick, drink, suck. That's all there is to it," Scully answered. She poured one for Mulder, who imitated her earlier action.
"Not bad," Mulder responded. He lifted the pizza box top and pulled out a slice. "I hope it goes with pizza."
"Everything goes with tequila," Scully replied, helping herself to a slice as well.
"So, back to the earlier topic, you aren't really that upset about me moving, are you?"
Scully looked down, contemplating the pepperoni on her slice of pizza. She looked back up at him. "No, that's not it, not really. I mean it is a little bit, but it's just a bad week. You couldn't have known that."
"Bad week?" Mulder asked. He searched his memory. Her birthday was coming up in a couple of weeks, but they had already talked about going out. Tim had suggested taking her to Annapolis to Buddy's Crabs.
Scully continued chewing, her face impassive. Finally, she shook her head.
"You're right. It isn't you. It's--do you know what's going to happen this year?" Mulder shook his head. Scully did another 'Bernie.' "Thirty-five. That's--that's old, Mulder. How did I get so old?"
Mulder laughed. She slapped him on the arm. "Don't tease me, Mulder. It isn't nice." He laughed harder.
"You're drinking yourself into a state because you're turning 35? Give me a break, Scully. I would expect more from you," Mulder responded as he poured himself another shot of tequila. Reaching for the cinnamon he licked, drank and sucked. "If you remember correctly, I turned 35 myself more than a couple of years ago. I'm practically 40. If anyone should be putting a tear in their beer, it's me."
"You're a man. It doesn't matter for you. Quite frankly, your best years are ahead of you. Haven't you seen Tony Randall on Regis and Kathie Lee lately? Harrison Ford and Anne Heche. It's everywhere. Old is sexy if you're a man. For a woman it's just old." Scully did another shot.
Mulder tried to count how many she had finished. Six plus whatever she had while he was paying for the pizza. She might in fact be beyond reasoning.
He tried to decide what the best course of action would be. After a split second internal debate he concluded that if you couldn't beat them, you might as well join them. He reached for the bottle.
"I'm not sure where this is coming from, but since it appears it isn't anything I've done or anything I can do anything about, I'll let it go." He downed the shot, sticking the orange in his mouth. Tossing aside the peel he stood up. "Shall we at least adjourn to the living room? At your advanced age I would imagine it would be more comfortable for you to sit on the couch instead of this hard kitchen chair." He held out his hand. She took it and wobbled slightly as she stood. She grabbed the rapidly diminishing bottle of Cuervo. Dropping Mulder's hand she grabbed the other two bottles as well and started making her way toward the living room.
Mulder grabbed the cutting board with the fruit and the can of cinnamon before following her into the other room.
"So Missy dared the guy to get up on the roof. I mean it was the middle of the day and there were about twenty people waiting to get into the restaurant. So we followed him around to the back of the building where the ramp was. He climbed up and then she followed him. I mean there were goats up there and the guy who ran the restaurant came out and started yelling and then the cops came. I was so afraid we were going to have to call Ahab and have him bail us out of jail, but they warned her and let us go."
Mulder just stared at Scully. He had never seen her in this kind of condition. The Cuervo was long gone. They had never formally conducted the taste test, but Scully had worked her way through much of the second bottle as well. She had started by telling tales of her childhood roving the United States and world with her naval father. Now she had moved on to adventures with her sister Missy, including the infamous trip to Door County where they had discovered the drink that seemed to be doing Scully in now.
"Hey Scully," Mulder interrupted. "Do you need anything from the kitchen?
Water? Aspirin?" Scully shook her head. Mulder got up anyway and went in search of some preventive efforts. He downed a large glass of water and a couple tablets. Tequila was fun when you were drinking it, but the aftereffects could be deadly. He made a detour to the bathroom and then headed back into the living room. Scully lay passed out, draped across Mulder's leather couch. He stood contemplating her figure for a moment and then moved over and picked her up.
Though not heavy, she filled his arms. He entered his room, moving carefully around the boxes to reach the bed. He laid her down on it, the waves undulating slightly under her weight. He rolled her slightly to get the sheets and blanket arranged around her. Tucking her in, he stood back.
He rubbed his eyes. The day of packing and the night of drinking seemed to catch up with him all of a sudden. Dropping his pants and shrugging his shirt off, he crawled in on the other side. Morning was going to come soon enough.
"Oh god. Why did you let me do that?" Scully moaned, rolling over to bury her head in the pillow. "You're not a friend."
Mulder patted her on the back. "Better get moving. The truck'll be here soon." *Thank god she had been dead to the world earlier. He might never have gotten out of that mistaken identity crisis.*
Scully groaned and pulled the pillow over her head. Her response was muffled to the point of being unintelligible.
"What?" Mulder asked, pulling the pillow off of her. She sat up, her face screwed up with anger.
"I said I want to die. I can't believe you let me drink that much tequila.
Do you realize the pounding that's going on in my head right now? It's like the 10 years of construction on the Reagan Federal Building all over again, except much closer. Water? Aspirin, Mulder?"
"I tried, Scully. You passed out. I can get you some now, but you had better get moving if we're going to be ready to go by the time the movers get here." Mulder got up off the bed and headed for the pile of clothes he had not packed. "If you wouldn't mind at least turning your head, I'll get ready."
"Mulder, I've seen your bare ass on more than one occasion and you weren't too shy when you crawled into bed with me last night. Just get dressed.
Nobody here cares."
Mulder cast a glance over at her. She did look pretty pathetic. "So you're not helping me with the movers?"
"You'll be lucky if you can get me out of this bed and back to my car. You should have thought about that before you decided to get me so drunk," Scully responded.
Mulder opened his mouth to share his version of the events the night before and then thought better of it. "Well, you are already dressed, so that'll save you a step."
Scully flopped on her back and lay there looking up at the mirrored ceiling. "So Tim isn't letting you take the bed with you?"
"Bad back. Do you need a hand over there?" he asked. She shook her head no and rolled over the side of the bed, landing on her knees. She slowly pushed herself up off the floor.
"Don't call me. I'll see you next week," Scully said as she exited the bedroom. She didn't wait for a response as Mulder heard the front door slam behind her. He waited for a moment and then leaned over and grabbed the phone.
"Hey, Frohike, turn off the tape. You guys have plans today?"
Four hours later
"Could we please listen to some *good* music?" Langly demanded, pulling at his scraggly blond ponytail in exasperation.
Privately, Bayliss had no objections to the music; it was the crush of people hauling dozens of boxes in, out of and around his apartment that was getting to him. When he had asked Munch, Lewis and Mike Giardello to give him and his bad back a hand with Mulder's prized possessions, he hadn't exactly pictured what it would be like with them bumping elbows in his place all at once. Or that Mulder would ask three more people he knew only by name to join in the mix. Three people so weird, they could have been Munch's long-lost cousins--and indeed, that's what they seemed to be. The kvetching, the cryptic jokes and the casual poking around every last corner of his home would have been bad enough just from him, but multiplied by four...he sighed and grabbed an armful of rumpled, half-unpacked clothing.
Might as well make himself useful.
"Gimme that," Mulder suddenly announced from over his shoulder, plucking the distressed shirts and suit jackets from his grasp. "I'm the one disrupting the place, not you, so just sit down and let us work...what's the matter with the music?"
"What's the matter with it?" Langly retorted, not looking up from a box stuffed with never-used kitchen utensils. "It's like something you'd hear in a dentist's waiting room, that's what's the matter with it. I always thought you had better taste than that, Mulder--"
"Better taste?" Frohike snorted. "You mean that shit you inflict on Byers every time I'm not in the office?"
"Oh, I don't mind," Byers remarked from the opposite end of the living room, where he wrestled with a set of straightback chairs.
"You can never listen to 'Holiday in Cambodia' too many times. And as someone who's learned to live without them, trust me, those higher hearing registers are really overrated."
Langly wiped one hand across his face, leaving a grimy smear of dust on his reddened forehead. "Better than this Steeleye Span crap or whatever--"
"*Steely Dan,* Ringo, and please do not impugn the name of the finest pop craftsmen the poor benighted seventies had to offer." Munch settled himself more comfortably in Tim's large red wing chair, regarding Langly with a caustic eye. He and Frohike, having discovered and plundered the set of boxes containing Mulder's books and music, had ensconced themselves near the CD player, setting up an impromptu chess game and abandoning the least pretense of helping out.
"One of the lone bright spots in the decade of polyester pantsuits, Whip Inflation Now, rampant gonorrhea and *Governor* Ronald Reagan, little did we dream...ahh, shit."
Frohike smirked in triumph as his bishop swept across the board, capturing the Candyland child serving as Munch's makeshift rook. "Your move, Johnny."
"Don't call me Ringo," Langly muttered, more to himself than anyone else.
His complaints about Munch's musical selections had been his first words in nearly two hours; faced with foreign turf and three virtual strangers, he had become uncharacteristically tongue-tied, his usual air of chirpy erudition completely deserting him. After the initial round of introductions, he kept himself well in the background.
Byers and Mike Giardello, meanwhile, had sized each other up and come to an apparently instant rapport, arranging a brisk box-and-furniture assembly line into the apartment as Meldrick supervised the unloading of the truck itself. Munch and Frohike gave themselves a tour of Tim's home--desk drawers, closets, refrigerator and medicine cabinet being the highlights--before commandeering the reading material and the most comfortable chairs. Mulder wandered around a little aimlessly, lifting the occasional box and then setting it back down again, and Bayliss sat on the sidelines feeling increasingly ill at ease. This had all been *his* idea, right? Figured...
"Some *good* music," Mike mused, placing another box into a neatly stacked pile by the sofa before strolling over to Tim's CD rack.
"Okay, let's see what we've got here...Erasure...Erasure...Pet Shop Boys...Erasure...The Cure...B-52s...Erasure...Disappear Fear...Brujeria?"
Tim shrugged as Mike gave him a quizzical stare. "Kind of a souvenir.
It's a long story."
"Erasure...Johnny Hates Jazz...Joni Mitchell...Erasure. Anything there, Langly?"
"Joni Mitchell," Munch interjected, reaching for a pawn. "Preferably from her pre-Mingus phase-"
"Oh, Jesus," Langly groaned, tossing a pristine eggbeater and cheese grater onto the kitchenette counter. "You *would* like that hippie crap. By the way, where did you get all this kitchen stuff, Mulder? I've never seen you cook a single thing."
Mulder looked up from the box he was picking through, "Mrs. Scully. Some sort of 'if you build it, they will come' theory, I think."
Refusing to let Langley's last jibe go unpunished, Munch interrupted.
"Listen, you punk-addled stripling, you're insulting one of the finest guitarists ever to--"
"Old. You are *old*, and this just proves it, Munch. Between this and the Cole Porter..."
Munch glowered at him, slamming the pawn down onto the board. "I'm sorry, Langly. You're absolutely right--when it comes to consummate songwriting skill, Jello Biafra just blows fourth-rate hacks like Cole and the Gershwins right out of the water."
Langly dumped out the rest of the kitchen box in agitation; the cacophony of metal clattering on the counter made Bayliss wince. "At least his songs are *about* something, okay? Not this moon-in-June, silk-stocking, hello-my-ragtime-gal crap--I bet you like Glenn Miller too, right?"
"Maybe we could compromise," said Byers, opening and then carefully reclosing a box of Mulder family china. "I could hum a few bars of 'In the Mood' and then swing into 'Too Drunk to Fuck'-"
"Do they always fight like this?" Tim asked of no one in particular. His headache was getting worse.
"His callow idiocy makes it inevitable," Munch retorted. "Why so cranky, Ringo? Time for your graham crackers and afternoon nap?"
"Grandpa, what's Vietnam?"
"It's right here," Frohike answered, surveying the board in triumph as his knight captured Munch's queen. "And I am Victor Charlie. Checkmate, Munch..."
As Munch stared in consternation at the black pieces hemming in his king, Frohike folded his arms and smiled, exposing a row of sharp yellowing teeth. "Well?"
"Fuck," muttered Munch.
"So what's that make it now? Seventy-eight wins for me, two for you? How about double or nothing on the next game?"
"How about you take your precious knight and--"
"So I guess now you can both lend us a hand," said Mike. "With the moving and all? The stuff we're here for? Right?"
"No," said Munch flatly, turning pointedly away from the chessboard and diving into one of the opened boxes of books. "Us weak old men get a pass on the heavy lifting."
Tim looked around the living room in dismay; after nearly three hours, there were a few sticks of furniture crammed into a corner, a few boxes chaotically unpacked and a mountain of work ahead. "Look, maybe I should help you guys with--"
"Just sit down and let us do this," insisted Mulder, wandering over to the sofa where Mike and Byers were methodically opening boxes and arranging them by contents. "I think that's all the books, right in that--"
"The books are over *here,* Mulder," Munch noted pointedly, brandishing a copy of Acid Dreams.
"Oh, right. So what's this stuff?"
Byers lined up a few more boxes in formation. Despite the hard work he was as tidy and well-kempt as ever, not a drop of sweat on his brow; the only signs of exertion were his unbuttoned top shirt collar and neatly rolled-up sleeves. "This, over here, is kitchen appliances...this is assorted disks and computer files...this is some very nice bone china and this is--what's this, Mike?"
"More kitchen stuff," said Mike, leaning over a box. "You wanna take this, Langly?"
Langly rolled his eyes. "I'm going outside to help Detective Lewis." He disappeared without another word; Byers shrugged and moved the newly opened box to its rightful pile.
Mike ran a hand through his springy dark hair, the curls gone tighter in the day's heat. "This'd be a lot easier if you guys had labeled the boxes."
"We were going to," Mulder said ruefully, rubbing his aching temples.
"Kind of forgot, what with all the free-flowing tequila..."
"So what is this magic elixir you two were drinking?" asked Mike. "Just out of curiosity."
"Some Midwestern delicacy called Bernies. Oranges, cinnamon and Cuervo, a whole bottle of Cuervo, in Scully's case. Plus almost another whole bottle of some inferior brand. I swear I heard her liver screaming for mercy."
Frohike snickered. "Little Dana Scully, all one hundred and ten pounds of her, managed to suck down two whole bottles of tequila? My admiration grows by the second--"
"I bet it does," Munch mused, flipping absentmindedly through a Covert Action Quarterly back issue. "Just stay sitting down and we should all be all right...any particular reason for this uncharacteristic wild tear?"
Mulder shrugged. "She's depressed because she's turning thirty-five. A lot of stuff about being an old woman--"
"That's not old!" Frohike stared at Mulder in righteous indignation; whether on Scully's behalf or his own, it was hard to say. "Shit. If thirty-five's old, most of us here are dead and buried."
"I know. That's what I told her. She says it's different for women."
"She's right," said Munch solemnly, laying the magazine aside and stretching out luxuriously in his armchair. "You and I may be addled old men, my friend, but at least we've been allowed to age without the deafening roar of media exhortations to stay fresh, firm, dewy, peachy, eternally youthful, sexually insatiable, and simultaneously Dachau-thin and Playboy-buxom...all the while knowing that when hubby's midlife crisis hits, you're more likely than not to be abandoned for some pliant, worshipful teenager anyway. It's the eternal dilemma of female aging, and when you add Viagra to the whole mix...well. King David can have Bathsheba *and* all the pretty little concubines he can buy."
"That's what Scully said," Mulder replied. "Sort of."
Frohike twitched impatiently. "Yeah, well, life's a bitch...but she still looks pretty hot to me. What the hell's with the Captain Sensitive act, by the way?" he said, turning back to Munch. "I thought you said that was *his* whole schtick." He nodded toward Tim.
"I'm honestly observant, Melvin," answered Munch, now rifling through a second book box as Tim indignantly opened his mouth to respond. "You don't have to be a cat to know getting your tail stepped on is painful...and what have we *here*?"
Mulder rose hastily to his feet. "Uh, we can open that box later--"
Too late. Munch was examining the loot with the gleeful eyes of a child on Christmas morning. "Oh, let's see now...Celebrity Skin, Eager Beaver, Bondage Life, Painslut, Cutie Pie--now this is *vintage* smut, I had this under my mattress as a wee tyke--Kitten, Wet Girls, Titworld..."
"Munch," said Byers, "this really isn't our--"
"And we haven't neglected the lads either, I see. Musclebound, Playgirl, Cabin Boys, Hung and Hunky, Big Daddy, Leather Dom--"
"*Munch,*" said Tim between gritted teeth. "This is your last warning."
Munch didn't bat an eye; he had heard similar threats from various and sundry folk ever since that fateful day he first gained the power of speech. If he had ignored Mama and Dada's pleas for mercy, he certainly wasn't going to pay this crowd any heed..."And let's not forget the actual literature. Story of O, all too predictable...John Norman, a whole *lot* of John Norman...Scott O'Hara...John Preston...Fledermaus...Omaha the Cat Dancer, very sweet...Pat Califia?" Munch frowned quizzically at Mulder.
"You are truly one of the polymorphously perverse. So should we file this by contents or by room, Byers?"
Byers had a hand half-shielding his face, looking torn between pure embarrassment and the desire to laugh. "Munch, as your friend I strongly suggest you let me change the subject."
"What the hell's this?" a new voice demanded from the doorway. It was Meldrick Lewis, sweaty, disheveled and highly indignant. "I'm standin' down there with pencil-neck tryin' to unload the damn truck, and you're all up here goin' through old Playboys?"
"Playboy is the least of it," Munch replied, smiling benevolently at Frohike, who was blissfully absorbed in a back issue of Top Girls. "Get a load of this one, Meldrick--Bondage on a Budget. You'll never look at a spaghetti sieve the same way again."
"You know, a lot of that stuff is vintage, like you said, and it's worth a lot of money, I mean potentially, so there's no point in just throwing it--" Scarlet-faced and twitching, Mulder shook his head. "Screw you, Munch."
"Why, wherever would you find the time?"
Meldrick just shook his head. "Langly!" he bellowed down the stairwell.
"*Ringo!* Get up here. We're gonna order in some lunch."
Many cartons of takeout Chinese later, Tim's apartment was still chaotic and Munch was still at it. "All I have to say, Tim," he declared, pointing a greasestained chopstick in the other man's direction, "is I hope you know what you're getting into."
Tim, now sitting shoulder to shoulder with Mulder, was privately wondering exactly the same thing, but he sure as hell wasn't going to let Munch know it. "You gonna finish that eggroll, John?"
"I'm not kidding," insisted Munch, spearing the remainder of his eggroll on the chopstick and proffering it to Tim. "That rainy day one-handed busy box even scared *me.*" He regarded Mulder with an arch sidelong glance.
"And when you also factor in the fact that no less than *five* men in this randomly selected little group have seen you naked..."
"Okay, I've gotta hear this story once and for all," said Mike, setting his Pepsi down on the coffee table with a decisive thud as the Gunmen exchanged conspiratorial grins. "I've tried and tried to get it out of him, and he won't pony up."
"Byers tells it best," Frohike said around a chow mein-flavored belch. "He was right at the beginning of it--"
Meldrick held up a hand. "Look, no offense, but I don't wanna hear some story about a buncha naked guys."
"There's only one naked guy in it, and we sure as hell didn't *want* to see him au naturel," Munch replied. "But the bitch goddess Fate sometimes slaps us in the face, and this was one of those times. I caught the case, Stan just took a powder on the whole thing--"
"What case?" Langly retorted. "There was no case to catch. You weren't even *there* for it."
"Look," said Mulder, "nobody wants to hear some dull story about--"
"I do," Tim said. "He's never told me how he met you three." And there'd better be a damn good reason why he still hangs around with you, he thought...
Frohike extended a hand palm-upward toward Byers; the younger man shrugged and took his cue. "You have to understand how this *ended* first," he said, daubing the corners of his mouth with a still-crisp napkin. "I'm still working for the FCC; I'm a civil servant, and rather proud of it.
And I end up sitting in a Baltimore jail cell with two completely disreputable-looking people"--he gave Frohike and Langly a brief, amused glance--"two disreputable characters I barely know. And I'm someone who's never even gotten a traffic ticket, a completely upstanding citizen--"
"As opposed to the bad-ass outlaw mutha you are now," Munch commented.
"A totally law-abiding citizen, still trying to come to terms with everything he's seen that day and that night. I have to *remind* myself of it, you see, because another part of my brain is still fretting about what getting arrested will do to my security clearance...and then I find myself picked up, forcibly deposited in this dank little interrogation room--"
"The box," said Meldrick, already looking interested in spite of himself.
"The box. One half-burned out light bulb, one table, two chairs. That's it. And I'm sitting at this wobbly little table, trying to figure out how I woke up inside a Kafka story, when the door suddenly opens and in comes this rail-thin fellow in an undertaker's suit saying--and clearly not meaning it--'and a good morning to *you*'..."
With the last sentence, Byers was suddenly transformed: eyes narrowing, brows waggling over an imaginary pair of glasses, mouth contorting around the words as his voice dropped half an octave to a nasal, sarcastic timbre.
The change was so unexpected, and so pitch-perfect, that Meldrick and Tim both burst out laughing.
"Yeah. Cute," Munch muttered. "Just cut to the chase."
"Look," Mulder repeated, "We've got a lot of stuff to unpack here, and I don't think--"
Tim turned to his lover and smiled, the wide, don't-make-me-hit-you smile he had bestowed upon many a suspect in the past. "Listen, Mulder," he murmured, "if I can overlook my apartment being invaded by a quartet of mutants and a cartload of porn, *you* can put up with one moderately embarrassing story. Can't you?"
Mulder blinked for a moment, then shrugged casually. "Tell away, Byers.
Byers, who had overheard most of Tim's not-so-sotto voce comments, graciously let them pass. "So, where was I...the box. So he walks in with his Styrofoam cup of coffee, and I can tell just from that first glance that he's not going to believe a single word I have to say about anything.
*Anything.* And he didn't. Not even my name..."
Mike grinned and shook his head. "That's one hell of a story, Byers..."
"Hell of a shaggy-dog story," Meldrick responded. "Okay," he added, seeing Munch, Mulder and the Gunmen all open their mouths to protest, "it was good. I'll give ya that--but you honestly expect me to believe that pile of crap adds up to somethin' real? Asthma inhalers with LSD--"
"*Not* LSD," Munch said impatiently. "An ergot derivative. Trust me--there's a whole world of difference."
"Whatever. Asthma inhalers with ergot in 'em, government conspiracy, live guys zipped up in body bags, paramilitary troops--about two blocks from the stationhouse? That's a great story, but like any cop can tell you, most great stories just add up to bullshit." Satisfied that he had proven his point, Meldrick scooped up the last of the fortune cookies.
Again, Byers shrugged. "It's all in the telling, I suppose..."
"It's the truth. As any cop can tell you, the truth is often fantastic and deeply disturbing," Munch argued. "You believe it, Tim, right?"
"He's still fixatin' on that part where Mulder ripped his clothes off--*allegedly* ripped his clothes off," said Meldrick. "And if this whole thing really happened, what about that woman?"
"What about her?" asked Langly.
Meldrick crunched into the cookie. "What was she like, this amazing mystery woman that set off the whole--"
"I told you," said Byers. "She was beautiful. The most beautiful woman I'd ever seen..."
"Yeah, yeah, beautiful--but what'd she *look* like?"
The Gunmen exchanged bemused glances; he'd missed the whole point, hadn't he? "Tall," Langly finally said. "Tall and thin. Blond--dark blond.
Medium-length hair, shorter than mine...brown eyes?"
"Hazel," said Frohike. "Long legs. Nice mouth. Hot in a low-key kinda way, you know? If you like 'em tall and blond, anyhow--"
"You like anything that'll come near you, Melvin," Munch threw in, again turning to the cartons of books. "Which means you have a severely limited spectrum of possibilities, but hey."
Frohike snorted derisively. "Unlike some people, I don't throw myself at anything on two legs--I have *taste.* My taste doesn't usually happen to run to tall blonds, is all."
"Ah, yes, I forgot," Munch replied airly. "Your tiresome little redhead fetish."
"Oh yeah, you don't like redheads, huh? So what about that detective from fugitive you've been--"
Frohike stopped short when Munch gave him a look that would have stripped the paint from metal. Every other head in the room swiveled simultaneously toward Munch, who seemed to have found a fascinating spot to study on the opposite wall.
"So," he finally said. "Let's get moving on these boxes before--"
"Hold up," Meldrick said, smiling like Satan in possession of another soul.
"We got a little mystery to solve here"--he turned to Tim and Mike, who were both now grinning from ear to ear--"just a little mystery. Now let's see...fugitive, fugitive. We know anybody, any fellow detective, with red hair who's now workin' in fugitive?"
Tim rested his chin on one hand, the picture of arduous thought. "Red hair...red hair. You know, I seem to recall *one* suspect fitting that description..."
"Female, by any chance?" Meldrick asked. "Though, of course, you shouldn't just *assume* it's gotta be a woman..."
"Boxes," said Munch through gritted teeth. "Lots and lots of boxes--"
"You know," Mike ventured, "*I* actually recall running into a redhaired fugitive detective a few months back."
"Must be lots of redheads in fugitive, though," mused Tim.
"No, no, you'd think so...but there was only one. Now, what *was* her name...Karen? No...Katherine? Kathleen? Damn, it's on the tip of my tongue..."
"Fine," Munch said, heading for the door. "Screw the boxes. We'll start in on the furniture--"
"Wait, I know it," said Tim. "Kristin...no, no..."
"Lots of furniture down in that truck, guys. Your furniture, *Fox*--"
"Kate," said Meldrick. "That was it--Kate."
"Very heavy furniture--"
"Or was it Kylie?"
"Requiring lots of people to--"
"A *giant fucking leather couch!*"
Munch stalked out to the moving truck, Tim trailing behind him. "We were just teasing, John. Why didn't you tell us?"
Munch just shook his head as he climbed into the truck, pushing a large box out of his way. He picked up the end of couch and moved it over a few feet.
"You can't move that yourself. Let me go get Lewis or Mulder." Munch continued to try to move the couch out from where it was jammed into the corner of the truck. Finally Tim sighed and climbed into the truck.
Grabbing the end of the couch opposite Munch, they started to move it out, Munch's anger at the teasing blinding him to the potential disaster. The leg on Tim's end was caught behind a small box of books. Trying to wrench it free, Tim suddenly cried out and collapsed onto the floor of the truck.
Having just come upon the scene, Mulder leapt past the detective and moved further into the truck. "Hey Tim, you okay?" he asked, crouching down to assess the situation.
"Back. Hurts. Bad." When Mulder put out his hand to investigate, Tim hollered again. "Hey, stop that!"
"We need to get you out of here," Mulder responded.
"You can't do that. It hurts to move."
"Well, what would be your solution? We can't leave you here indefinitely.
This is only a two hour parking zone. It might be hard for you to take up permanent residence lying next to my couch."
Tim muttered something under his breath.
"What did you say?" Mulder asked.
"I said I hate this couch," Tim spat out in a measured tone. Mulder raised his eyebrows, wounded slightly. "You asked what I said."
"But--this--this is my couch, my first real piece of furniture. How can you hate it?"
"I know what you do on this couch. How the hell can you expect me to spend my evening sitting on it watching television? Besides, I bought a perfectly nice couch last fall at IKEA."
"But you sat on this couch all the time at my apartment. Why is it any different now?" Mulder asked, his lip sticking out in a more prominent pout than usual.
"Because I have an option?" Tim said, panting slightly. His face was beginning to get a pinched look.
"C'mon Tim, we have to get you out of here," Mulder responded, trying again to move Tim's spasmed form.
"The only thing that is getting me out of here is a big shot of Valium.
Either you drive this truck to the ER or you call the rescue squad. Those are your options."
"Can we at least unload the rest of the truck?" Mulder asked. Again Tim shot him a look. "What? It's rented by the hour. If I don't get it back by 8 there's a surcharge." Tim didn't even dignify the questions with a response, instead shooting Mulder a look that made his hair stand on end.
"What's goin' on? Hey Timmy, you up there?" Meldrick called from the end of the truck. He crawled in and came to stand over Tim's pain-filled form.
"Damn, I thought you fixed that thing."
"I didn't fix it, I just didn't hurt it anymore," Tim said through clenched teeth. "Get me the hell out of here."
Meldrick climbed back out, returning with the rest of the cadre. They stood peering in the darkened truck until finally Munch pushed past his colleagues and the visitors from DC to return to Tim's side.
"If this isn't a clusterfuck, then I don't know what is," he remarked as he knelt down.
Tim simply moaned and tried to turn his head away. Mulder leaned over and whispered into Munch's ear, and the older man responded by crawling back out of the truck.
"Hey, geeks. Which one of you has a cell phone on your person?" Munch asked. They all started for their waists, with Byers producing his slim Nokia phone first.
"Just remember that isn't a secure form of communication," he said as he handed it over. Munch nodded his head rolled his eyes slightly.
When the operator answered his call, he said, "Yeah, this is Detective Munch. I've got a low priority transport on Shakespeare between Bond and Bethel. Yeah. No, it's a back injury, but nobody's bleeding or anything.
Oh--yeah, probably two or three." He ended the call and handed the phone back to Byers. "Thank god somebody can get something done around here," he said as he headed back into the truck.
"We don't even live in this town," Frohike commented.
"Let alone being able to lift a guy like that," Langly responded.
"Anyway, it was John's fault," Byers added. The three men nodded confidently.
"I'm thinking this might not be a bad point in the day to retrieve the Gunmobile and head home," Frohike said. The other two noted their agreement by heading quickly for the rusty VW bus parked down the street.
Doing a U-turn they beat it back to I-395 as fast as they could.
"Now, are the sirens really necessary?" Tim asked as the ambulance pulled up. The narrow cobblestone street was fairly overwhelmed at this point with the rented truck pulled up on the sidewalk, the ambulance and the ever-increasing number of onlookers who seemed to be incapable of tearing themselves away from the incident. Munch and Mulder's attention was soon drawn away from the injured man by the approaching EMT.
"So, what do we have here, Detective Munch?" the EMT asked. When Munch related the sad tale, the EMT nodded solemnly and turned to call to his partner. "Get the board, we've got a live one."
Tim groaned again. The EMT's partner approached. It was Joy Tolson, the slim blonde woman who had waited with John Lange when he was trapped in the subway. She came over and knelt down next to Tim.
"So, Detective Bayliss, you're not feeling so good today," she said as she started to take his blood pressure.
"I'm not some old lady, just get me out of here," Tim stated, the pitch of his voice rising.
"Things look fine here, let's get you out," Tolson said. She signalled to her partner with the back board and they efficiently strapped Tim on. They moved to lift him and Mulder grabbed on the side Joy was on.
"We've got it, sir. Liability. I can't let you help," she said in her curt manner. Mulder pulled his hand away as if he had been burned. As they hauled Tim out of the truck and down to the gurney, an old woman came over to stand near Tim's head.
"Oh, poor Detective Bayliss. Were you shot again? You need to find a safer job," she said, patting his cheek.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Kemp. It's just my back. I'll be fine in no time," Tim said, more to get rid of her than to allay her fears. Alice Kemp was well known in the neighborhood as a major busybody and had already inquired several times about his "regular gentleman caller."
The EMT's slid Tim into the back of the rig. Meldrick made his way over and got the keys to the truck from Mulder, figuring that they had unwittingly started this whole mess with their teasing about Munch and Kay -- the least they could do was finish moving the furniture in and return the truck.
The ER had been a mess. Since Tim wasn't bleeding or in the midst of a major cardiac episode, he waited and waited until finally the doctor came and diagnosed the back spasm that he already knew he had. A shot of valium and a prescription for muscle relaxants later they were on their way home.
Tim and Mulder walked up to the door slowly, observing that the chaos of the earlier crowd seemed to have disappeared. The light over the porch burned, lighting their way. Mulder held the screen door open, allowing Tim to unlock the front door. He paused before entering.
"You aren't waiting for me to carry you over the threshold, are you?" Mulder asked.
Tim shook his head. "No, I'm just a little afraid of what we might find." He waited for another moment and then entered the house. Flicking the hall light on, he stuck his head in the living room. Bookshelves with Mulder's library had been carefully added along the brick wall. His fish swam in their aquarium, the quiet bubble interrupting the silence of the room.
There was no sign of the couch anywhere.
Mulder reached over to the table by the door and picked up a note.
*Hope all went well at the hospital. Black bean burritos in the refrigerator. Twenty minutes at 350. See you soon - John*
"Munch?" Tim asked.
"Byers," Mulder responded. Tim nodded, chuckling. "They must've come back. Guilt, I'm sure."
"I think I'm going to head upstairs, but if you want--"
"They'll keep," Mulder responded, switching off the hall light and following Tim up to their bedroom.
Upstairs, Tim moved gingerly toward the bed, sitting on the edge so he could take his shoes off. After two attempts at getting his right foot up on his left knee, Mulder offered to assist him.
"I'm old before my time," Tim whined.
Mulder laughed. "I'm always going to be older than you. What is it with you young-uns bitching about age? First Scully, now you. I hope you won't take a bottle of Cuervo to settle down." Tim shook his head. "How about a shower instead? I'll wash your back."
Tim held his hands out. "I know I'm dirty and I probably stink, but I think I'm too tired for the shower scene."
Mulder laughed again. "Okay, maybe not the first night we had hoped for, but there will be others." He helped Tim out of his clothes and into bed.
"I'll run downstairs and get your medication and you get settled."
A few minutes later, Mulder reappeared with a tray and an ice pack, handing Tim the glass of water and his pills. Tim knocked them back and turned to lay on his side on the bed. Mulder carefully climbed into bed next to him, placing the ice against the offending muscle in Tim's back.
"If we ever, ever do this again..."
"Professional movers. We go to the Bahamas and let 'Two Guys and a Truck' handle the whole thing while we're gone, okay?"
"And one more thing."
"We are never having three of your friends and three of my friends in the house again. It's not big enough."
Having said his piece, Tim relaxed into the pillow and into Mulder's arms.
Then another thought struck him and he lifted his head back up slightly off the pillow.
"Hey -- where the hell is that couch?"