Good Partners by Wylfcynne

Scully waited until the door closed behind Inspector Greene. She still could not help but feel a certain guilty pleasure in the way Mulder had been relaxed enough in just his boxers with her, but when Phoebe stuck her Sloane Ranger nose into the room, he had wrapped the thick terry robe snugly around himself.

(*He was shielding himself from her,*) she realized suddenly. The thought made her very happy. But then she remembered what he had been saying before they had been interrupted. “Mulder?”

“Yeah?”

“Tell me about your friend’s house burning?”

He turned to study her, visibly evaluating her reasons for asking him that question. “You aren’t the psychologist on this team, Scully.”

She spread her hands in a disarming gesture.  “Humor me. Obviously you haven’t dealt with it well, or you wouldn’t have been so disturbed by today’s fire,” she said gently. “Talking about it can’t hurt, can it?”

He looked away again, and she saw him wrap his arms around himself.

“Hey.”

He turned, puzzled.

“Hugs are free,” she said softly. “But it takes two people.”

He froze.

Scully walked over to him, slid her arms around him.  Slowly, cautiously, he put his arms around her, expecting her to stiffen against his touch. She did not. After a moment she looked up.

“It’s not just you alone against the world, anymore, you know,” she said softly. “You’re my partner.  Anybody who comes after you has to go through me, first.”

He smiled faintly, though she could see the fear still lurking in his eyes.

“Cat fight?” he teased. “I’ve got some videos you could study…”

“You’d do it for me,” she said confidently. Then she took a deep breath. “Do you still love her?” She tried to keep her own opinion of Phoebe out of her tone.

He let go of her, moved away from her touch. “I… It was never love,” he said very softly. “At first, it was flattering. She’s three years older than I am.  When you’re a freshman in a strange country, and you’re all alone, attention from a junior is ”

“Very flattering,” Scully finished the sentence, nodding her comprehension. “And she is attractive…”

“Yeah. And she’s from one of those connected families they have in Great Britain: money from the Industrial Revolution, some relatives who married into titled families, but no real titles of their own. So all my classmates were mightily impressed.”

“And that affected your social standing among your peers.”

“Definitely. But then I discovered that she didn’t want to be in love. She wanted to be in control. I wasn’t a lover, I was a possession. I called my father for help. I didn’t want to go back for my sophomore year.”

“Why did you?” She was a little unnerved by the bleakness of his tone.

“I couldn’t explain it to my father in anyway that he could understand. He told me that if I was a man I could handle my own love affairs, that such things were unimportant. I was supposed to be working, not playing.

“But I wasn’t a man. I was a terrified teenager, and I could feel the chains tightening around me, and my father was refusing to help me get free. I had no one else to ask, so I was trapped. I stayed for the fall semester and resigned myself to the chains.”

“How long did this go on?”

“Till early in my senior year.” He was not looking at her.

“How did it end?” she prodded carefully.

“Ugly,” he said flatly. “She dumped me out like spoiled fish.”

“Why?”

He shrugged, affecting carelessness he did not feel, but did not attempt to explain the scandal.

Scully inhaled slowly. “That must have been hard to take, especially after so long…”

“It was,” he admitted. “I was in counseling for weeks.”

That was an admission she had never expected from him. “Did it help?”

“Yeah. I didn’t kill her or myself.”

Scully was shocked. “Were you seriously considering that?”

“I…I’m not sure, now,” he said very quietly. “It was a long time ago.”

“Well, I think she’s got a hell of a lot of nerve being sweet to you, now!” Scully growled. “I wonder how she’d look with a black eye?”

“Scully!” He was shocked, both at her suggestion and at her willingness to stand up for him. He could not recall the last time anyone had taken his side without some form of coercion or the possibility of advancing themselves in the process.

She smiled at him, all wide-eyed innocence. “It will be an accident! I’ll be so sorry she walked into the door!”

He dropped to sit into a chair, ran his fingers through his hair, still smiling.

“Feel better?”

He looked up. “Yeah, I do. Thank you. Are you sure you didn’t at least minor in psych?”

She shook her head. “I promise. I minored in Poli-Sci.” She sat down in the room’s other chair.  “You want to talk about the fire?”

He blinked. “What?”

“We started to talk about the root causes of your fire phobia. Phoebe was just a distraction tactic.”

He stared at her, and then shook his head in admiration. “You’re good.”

“You’re only now noticing?”

He shook his head, smiling, and relaxed a little more. He tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling for a moment. Then he started to speak, in a calm, emotionless voice.

“My father worked for the State Department,” he began. “When I was little, we traveled with him. I lived in Brazil, Ecuador, Singapore, Japan and Kenya before I was five. I went to kindergarten and first grade in the embassy compound in Riyahd, Saudi Arabia. I went to second grade in Belgrade, and third grade in Tunis.”

“Sounds exciting.”

He looked down and shrugged at little, avoiding her eyes. “Probably would have been if I’d been old enough to appreciate it. As it was, Tunis was the last place we went; the next school year Samantha was old enough to start school, and in Tunis girls weren’t allowed to go to school. So he sent us home, then, and came home when he could.”

“Where did the fire happen?”

“Tunis,” was the answer. “There was no embassy compound. We lived in the community. It scared the hell out of my mother: she and Sammy almost never left the house. An embassy car drove me to school every morning. I hated being that different from the other kids, and I tried very hard to avoid the ride home in the afternoon. I wanted to walk home with my friends; after all, we all lived in the same neighborhood! The embassy car would end up following me home.

“One day, one of my classmates, Ali, asked if I could spend the weekend at his house. Much to my amazement, my father approved. I found out later it was probably because Ali’s father was a general in the Tunisian Army, and the US was cultivating him, even though they were reasonably sure he was planning a coup. They knew he had a private army selected out of the Tunisian Army. Dad figured that if Ali and I were pals, Ali’s father would be less likely to pull anything outrageous, especially while I was in his home.

“He was wrong.”

Scully leaned forward. “So, what happened?”

“There was some kind of minor revolt that weekend. I was nine years old I didn’t understand it at the time. There was an attempt to assassinate the General: rebels fired mortars at the house after dark. Ali’s mother was wounded, his older brother and sister were wounded, several of their household staff were killed. The General wasn’t home when the attack happened; he arrived shortly thereafter. The house was burning. Ali and I were trapped in Ali’s bedroom, caught between the fire and barred security windows. He used a hand grenade to breach the exterior wall of the house and he came in and got us out.”

Scully was fascinated. “Were either of you hurt?”

Mulder shook his head. “No. A little smoke inhalation, a lot of being scared. Once he was sure we were all right, he asked us for a favor.”

She watched his hands tighten into fists, and knew that, while his fear of fire was probably based on those minutes trapped in his friend’s bedroom in a bombed-out house, there was more to this story.

“He couldn’t spare any men to take guard duty at the house that was a personal loss, and he had to be seen as supremely concerned with the national interests. The house wasn’t totally destroyed, and he knew there would be looters. He gave each of us a pistol and told us to shoot anyone who wouldn’t go away when we yelled.”

Scully stared at him. “The man armed two nine-year-olds?!”

Mulder shrugged. “The Viet Cong did. Guerilla forces all over the world arm women and children.  We knew how to shoot; both of our fathers had taught us already.”

“So the two of you were flattered and excited that the General would trust you with this duty?”

Mulder nodded. “He said there were police nearby, and that if we made enough of a commotion, they’d come help us. We both knew that was a fantasy, but we didn’t dare argue with the General. So we took the pistols, and he went off to quell the uprising.”

Mulder stopped talking. Scully studied him for a moment.

“And?” she prompted him. “Something had to have happened.”

He shuddered. “It did. Something after midnight, four rebel soldiers came. From what we overheard them saying as they approached, they had come to kidnap us, to use us as hostages against our fathers, to pressure Ali’s father into quitting his opposition to the rebellion, to pressure my father into withdrawing US support for the ruling government.”

“What did you do?” she whispered, enthralled.

“Y’know, I’ve never told this part.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I usually just tell about the fires. Ali’s house wasn’t the only house burning by then, and there was no fire department. Fires burned until they burned themselves out. We were relatively safe in a stone garden shed, but the sky above us was orange with the flames, and smoke was all we could smell. The primary part of the fire had blown past us pretty quickly, but…”

“And these soldiers were sent to kidnap you?”

He nodded, his eyes staring backward into history, watching that night play back from his perfect memory.

“What did you do?”

“We killed them.”

Scully stared at him. At first she was not even certain she had heard him correctly.

“What?” she whispered.

“They were coming for us, for Ali and Fox. This wasn’t just ‘the bad guys,’ or ‘the rebels’ that Ali’s father was fighting. They were coming for US.  They had assault rifles AK47s. We had two ancient forty-five caliber US Army Colts. We were both scared to death, but we were cornered. There was no place to run, no place to hide. We’d been ordered to guard the house, and we couldn’t abandon our post. So our choices were simple: we could fight back, or we could surrender, and let ourselves be taken. We decided to fight.”

“And two terrified nine-year-olds killed four experienced soldiers?”

Mulder shrugged. “I doubt they were very experienced; those rebels were more of an armed rabble. We had cover, and they didn’t expect us to be willing to fight, or to be armed. It wasn’t even hard to do, though that old Colt kicked like a mule.  The hard part was stripping their bodies of armament so it wouldn’t be used against us later.  Just as we were stashing the rifles in our shelter, an airstrike hit a block away, and lit up an entirely new horizon of fire. We barred the door with a rifle barrel, and sat back to back watching the windows until dawn, when a company of Marines from the embassy came looking for me. Ali’s dad had finally managed to get a message to my father about our situation.

“The Marines were proud of me when they found the evidence of what had happened out in the yard,” he said wistfully. “They made me their company mascot, an honorary Marine.”

She smiled. She had been brought up in the military, and she knew how military children longed to belong somewhere, no matter how much their parents tried to help them.

“That must’ve been wonderful.”

“It was,” he nodded. “I don’t remember ever feeling as accepted as I did, then. But my mother was horrified, and couldn’t bear to even look at me once she learned what had happened. And she wouldn’t let Sam near me.”

Scully swallowed hard. (*His parents should have been taken out and shot!*) But she did not say anything: Mulder was still talking.

“My father never said anything about he felt about it all he talked about was how Ali’s father and the President felt. He treated it all as if it had been a political move designed to further my government’s agenda.

“It hadn’t been political, at all,” he whispered. “It was survival, pure and simple. And I had nightmares for months of the fires blowing back at us, of our guns misfiring, of the dead men coming after me to avenge their deaths, of their families coming after the infidel whose son had killed their son, and of me coming home from school to find my parents and my sister butchered in our home in retaliation for what I’d done…” He shivered and looked away.

She could not help but believe that these guilt-ridden nightmares were the basis of his life-long guilt over his sister’s abduction. It was not reasonable, but it made perfect sense that as a child he would have blamed himself for anything bad that happened. Samantha’s abduction must have almost been a relief: the bad thing had finally happened. He had finally been punished for the murders he had committed.

“And wild fire brings it all back?” she asked softly, gently.

He nodded mutely, unable to articulate an answer.

“You have every right to that fear, Mulder. That scenario would be awful if it was just something you dreamed, it would be bad enough! For it to be real…? My God!”

He shivered a little, again, and then squared his shoulders and threw it off.

“What about you, Scully? What’s your deepest, darkest, most shameful secret?”

“You shouldn’t think of any of that as shameful, Mulder,” she said sharply. “You did nothing to be ashamed of! You know full well that those men, or their superiors, would almost certainly have killed you and your friend  eventually.  And that by the time they did, you would probably have been grateful for it.”

He sighed. “I know that now. I didn’t, then.”

“Mulder. You were nine years old. You killed two adults armed with rifles whose intent was to kidnap you and use you to blackmail your government.  How were your actions anything but admirable?”

He looked at her expressionlessly. “‘Thou shalt not kill’?”

She snorted in disgust. “‘Thou shalt not commit murder.’ And you didn’t.”

“We fired from cover without warning.”

“You were outnumbered, outgunned, in a war zone.  Survival is the ultimate morality, Mulder. You deserve to try to survive. You succeeded. And I, for one, am very glad you did.”

He cocked his head to one side, but did not ask.

“If it hadn’t been for you, my application for field assignment probably would have landed me in Domestic Terrorism, and I’d have to kill someone if they assigned me to that for very long,” she said with all seriousness. “Or else my application would have simply been denied, and I’d still be teaching at Quantico. And I’d be so bored I’d probably have killed someone by now, just for the excitement.”

“You getting enough excitement, Scully?” he drawled. “I don’t want you to get bored and leave.”  He did not realize how revealing that was until it was too late to stop it.

Scully smiled slowly. “Don’t worry,” she assured him. “I’m not planning to leave.”

“Good. Good partners are hard to find.”

“Yeah,” she nodded, studying him. “They are.”

)*(

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