A Man with a Secret
He arrives early at the Hoover building that morning. He is tired and resentful, as in every morning when an eight o'clock is scheduled with his superiors. He didn't leave his office until half passed ten the previous evening, and it's not even seven as he pulls into the parking lot. He has given his files a meticulous enough review the previous evening, but one can never be sufficiently thorough when it comes to the people he is about to meet this morning. Sometimes he thinks they live for the sole purpose of catching someone doing some fatal error. He stifles a yawn and takes the key out of the ignition. This is going to be a long day.
He's about to get out of his car, but his hand remains on the handle when he notices something from the corner of his eye. Another car has just pulled into the lot and it's making its way to its farthest end. There are barely any cars in there so early, which is why theirs is so easy to detect. He squints anyway, but there's no need. The obvious difference in height, the glimpse of auburn hair at the passenger seat; both make them easy to recognize. He shakes his head, somewhat surprised. He wasn't aware they were keeping such odd hours down at the X Files office.
He smiles fondly as a father would while observing his children, for in a way this is what they are since fate – or at least someone in a higher rank at the FBI – brought the three of them together. It's hard to believe he has known them for almost a decade. In spite of previous, darker times, he perceives himself as their protector and confidant, and he knows they share the sentiment. It means the world to him that they do. It's his own private secret – despite the many troubles their cases often cause him, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are his favorite agents; always truthful, dedicated, and brilliant, so brilliant.
He makes a pile out of his files and is about to get out of the car, but just then they do as well. He slowly lowers the files onto his lap as he stares through the windshield, not really sure what it is he's witnessing.
Mulder rushes to the passenger side to get the door open for his partner, who looks as amused as he is, as he observes the scene from across the lot. In his mind's eye, she is rolling her eyes and giving him her infamous look. Scully is as impeccable as ever in her navy suit, the one that compliments her eyes and makes her auburn hair pop. Even with high heels on, she remains as tall as Mulder's chest. He watches as she takes a step forward, smoothing a wrinkle on Mulder's trench coat and straightening his tie.
His forehead creases with confusion. What the hell? They have been partners for years and so such gestures shouldn't be surprising in the least, but it hardly seems innocent or friendly to him. There's something so intimate about the scene, so unlike the mostly reserved agents, that it catches him completely off guard. His eyes grow impossibly wider as Mulder reaches for Scully's hand – the one that lingers on his tie – and pulls her closer. His jaw nearly drops when next he leans over and kisses her.
His shock is so intense, so complete, that it's almost blinding. He manages to see her returning the kiss, albeit reluctantly, before pulling away. She pushes him slightly back, not without gentleness, and casts a frantic look around. He holds his breath as though that will keep her from discovering him, a peeping tom in a darkened parking lot.
She says something to Mulder, but he just shrugs, unperturbed, probably reminding her how early it still is. Don't be silly, he probably tells her; there's no one here. She smiles in reply to something else he says, but she still seems hesitant. He watches, now with fascination, as Mulder puts his hand on the small of her back – that seems to be acceptable by her – and leads her to the elevators, and wonders how the hell this happen right under his nose.
Needless to say, his early arrival is deemed pointless after that. The meeting is the longest in FBI history. For the most part he doesn't even know what his colleagues are saying, what he is saying. No one looks at him funny, though, so he must be doing something right. Nonetheless, to say his mind is elsewhere is the understatement of the century.
He isn't really sure why his early morning revelation affects him so, because it shouldn't come as big surprise. Working as closely as these two have, it was only bound to happen at some point, at least according to gossip he couldn't help overhearing in recent years. It is the usual speculation regarding any male and female agents partnered together, but the rumor mill seems to intensify when it comes to Mulder and Scully, and not without good reason. Sometimes when they sit across from him in his office, he can actually feel it. The connection between them – chemistry, attraction, tension, whatever you want to call it – is tangible, hanging heavy in the air. When one of them is absent from whatever reason, the bond is broken; it's almost disorienting. It's like they've become one entity, one being, partners in every sense of the word.
Apparently, in more ways than just the old, professional sense, he muses, shifting uneasily in his seat. It's none of his business, but he can't help but wonder when it happened. There can be many answers, many opportunities. He suspects it happened after Mulder finally learned the truth about his sister, around the time he has lost his mother as well. Has the lifting of that burden, the thing that haunted him for decades, served as catalyst, allowing him to rearrange his priorities, to finally open up his heart?
This has been years in the making, he has no doubt about that. There were signs along the way, on both their ends. He should have seen this coming. But from there to actually witnessing –
He blinks, acknowledging the six people who eye him with concern. Kersh's gaze is the most intense. For a moment he is paralyzed with paranoia. He's sure that one look at him, and the Deputy Director will figure it all out.
"I asked if there was anything you'd like to add," Kersh says. His voice is like ice; his eyes are not much warmer.
"No," he manages; "No, nothing else."
The meeting is finally adjourned and he makes his way to his office in a haze. Once there he browses through the files Arlene has placed on his desk, but the words are all messed up, clustered together to create unintelligible sequences. He can't quite name this feeling which seems to consume him. Is it envy of the promise this shift of their partnership holds for them? Envy of Mulder, for obtaining what he himself has desired but learned at some point he could not have? Or is it envy of his own lost youth, lost opportunity? Both of them are in their prime whereas he… He is slowly wilting.
But at the same time, he's happy for them, happier that he cares to admit. They have made a long way together. They both have lost so much. They have no one but each other to lean on. They deserve some peace of mind. No one deserves it better than these two do. And if they can enjoy it together, all the better.
Astonishment begins to subside around lunchtime. He takes it at his desk, having to catch up with some pressing matters and upcoming deadlines. When his paperwork is finally done, he casts a reluctant glace at a file that is placed at the farthest corner of his desk. Tox screen results that have been sent to him by mistake, and should have been directed straight to Agent Scully at the X Files office.
He is familiar with the case, and so he knows she needs those results sooner rather than later in order to hand in a field report, but the events of this morning leave him at loss. He doesn't want to come in contact with them, neither one of them, fearing they will know right away he is on to their secret. But he knows this is foolish. He is not in the center of a high school drama; he is an Assistant Director with the FBI. He has always prided himself in being a professional. Well, it is time to make good on that supposition.
He picks up the phone and dials the number at the X Files office, but the line is busy and in a way it's a relief. At least he knows they're working down there, and not… He shakes his head, having had enough mental images to last him a lifetime. He slips his jacket on and straightens his tie. Then he grabs the file and leaves his office on his way to the basement.
Mulder's voice echoes in the deserted hallway, apparently still on the phone. What starts as a low murmur becomes clearer and more coherent the closer he gets to the door.
"… better company. You preferred to spend your lunchtime with a dead man. Well, yeah, that's essentially it, though, isn't it? Distracting you? Me? No, I am working. I'm multitasking. No, I can't tell you; this may not be a secure line. It's an official FBI business."
He doesn't mean to eavesdrop, but the door isn't closed all the way and Mulder doesn't seem wary of anyone passing by. And listening to him, he is overcome by astonishment once more. His voice is mischievous, flirtatious almost, and he laughs; an actual laugh. He doesn't remember ever seeing him act so carefree. He almost sounds like a different person. The complete change overwhelms him. He doesn't speak about anything overly private – mostly it sounds like harmless banter – but he still feels like an intruder, and so he makes some noise to make his presence known.
Inside the office, Mulder clears his throat. His voice changes ever so slightly, shifting back to that reserved, professional tone he is more familiar with. "Someone's coming. I'd better get back to work." There's a pause, after which that soft laugh escapes him again. "See you tonight, Starbuck."
He is just hanging up and sits a little straighter in his chair when he peeks in and knocks on the open door. Mulder looks up in surprise and their eyes meet. He doesn't seem flustered or panicked at getting caught. His lack of expression is all the more suspicious, though.
"Sir, for what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
He holds back a chuckle because this reply is so typically Mulder, and pretends to glance at the back of the office. He looks back at Mulder with feigned confusion. "Agent Scully is not here?"
"Oh, no, she, umm… was called to Quantico to get her medical opinion on something. It's getting longer than she's expected, so she won't be coming back to the office today."
He is quite impressed with Mulder's quick save. He holds up the file he has brought down with him. "I have her tox screen results back. I assumed she would want them ASAP."
"I'll just keep it in my office, then; she can come pick it up when she gets in tomorrow."
"Actually, Sir, I'm… I'll be meeting her later this evening, so I can make sure she gets it."
He looks him straight in the eye when he says it, without blushing or stammering, without even fearing the double meaning such statement might hold. He is tempted to question it, just to see what Mulder would do, but he doesn't have the heart to.
"Sure, alright," he says, and steps inside to hand the file to Mulder. He eyes him as inconspicuously as he can, trying to detect even the slightest change in the younger man's demeanor, but there's none. Perhaps this extra glimmer in his hazel eyes, but he might as well imagine it. He looks the same as he did the previous day, when they met in the elevator and nodded in acknowledgement to one another. Only he is changed. He is a man with a secret. In a way, they both are.
"Is there anything else, Sir?"
He blinks, realizing he has lingered longer than appropriate. He gets himself together and shakes his head. "No. Get back to work, Agent."
He leaves before he says or does anything he might regret. He knows that nonetheless, Mulder will be staring after him, wondering.
That evening, he follows Mulder home. He feels foolish, but he can't resist the urge when opportunity presents itself to him. He is about to get in his car when he catches sight of Mulder from across the lot, unlocking his own car. The strangest sense of déjà vu washes over him. This is the exact spot where all this crazy began that morning. Mulder is on the phone, completely preoccupied. He can't help but wonder if it's her on the other end.
He finds it ironic; for someone so perceptive, so paranoid, Mulder is entirely unobservant today. Normally he would notice a strange car tailing him out of the parking lot, but not today. He keeps a safe distance between their cars as they hit the road. Soon it becomes clear Mulder is heading home. He parks in a spot down the street. The angle allows him clear view of the building's entrance. There's light drizzle now, and Mulder jogs inside as though to escape it.
He leans back, one with the shadows, waiting for something yet known to him. He is consumed with shame, with guilt. This is not his finest hour. He shouldn't be here. He should be heading home and have a proper rest after the day he has had.
He keeps his eyes trained on the entrance, waiting for Mulder to reappear. He isn't sure if he's planning to meet her at her place, whether she has meant to come here or whether they have set a rendezvous in a different location altogether. About half an hour later the answer reveals itself to him when a car drives passed his car. He sits a little straighter when he gets a glimpse of the driver in the dim light.
She lingers inside the car and he watches her, transfixed. This is so hard to believe he feels like pinching himself. She runs a hand through her hair, checking her reflection in the rear view mirror. Then she rummages through a bag he can't see and dabs her lips with something; lipstick, by the looks of it. She sits there a moment longer, and he is surprised at how uncertain she seems, even now. Then she shakes her head. He can hear her in his mind, laughing softly, as though she realizes how silly she is acting.
She steps out of the car, slinging what seems like an overnight bag over her shoulder. She is still wearing her navy suit underneath her trench coat. The street is quiet; he can hear her heels click against the concrete. She seems more confident now, more determined. Three more steps and she's inside the building, her image unmistakable in the bright lobby light, before she disappears completely from his view. He stares after her with yearning unrequited.
He shakes his head to send the thought away and starts the car. As he pulls into traffic, he doesn't look back. He doesn't think what tomorrow might bring, or how he will face them then, knowing what he knows. He is trying very hard not to think, not to feel, as he drives home. Alone, as ever. A man with a secret.