II.
The Old Bait and Switch
She watched with a sorrowful eye at the droop of his
shoulders. In the late afternoon sunshine, a shadow of
stubble on his face, he looked lost as he trudged to the car.
They separated at the rear bumper and she breathed his name
while waiting for him to unlock the doors.

"It's open," he said, ignoring her entreaty as he flopped
into the driver's side seat.

She didn't want to let it go; the episode with Van Blundht
laid between them like a roadblock. She knew what Mulder had
seen, what it looked like. But she wanted him to know what
it had actually been, even if she ended up hurting his
feelings. The month since the incident had flown by, with
them treating each other as if nothing out of the ordinary
had happened. But she knew better - and all it took was one
look at Mulder's face as he'd left the visitor's area and she
could see how much he believed Van Blundht's proclamation.
He was not a loser, certainly not in her eyes.

Tread carefully, she told herself.

Harkening back to an old conversation, a more relaxed time,
she sighed, buckling her seatbelt.

"That whole night... the way things happened... I'd call that
premeditated, wouldn't you?" At his sharp glance, she
amended, "On his part, I mean." In other words, how was she
to know? Surely he could see she'd been duped by the
calculated little man? After all, she was as susceptible to
charm as the next woman.

Mulder paused in the act of putting the car in reverse, but
only for a second. In the next instant, he turned, laying
his arm across the seat to look behind the vehicle. Slowly
accelerating, he replied, "I agree. It's not my type of
premeditation, that's all."

And she should have known that, she heard in his tone.
"Okay, then," she said, slowly edging through the crack in
his simmering anger. "Care to tell me what constitutes
genuine 'Mulder seduction'?"

Facing front, he yanked the gear shift into drive and
squealed out of the reformatory parking lot. "Seduction? I
thought we were talking premeditation."

Scully steeled her jaw at his deliberate attempt at an
argument. "Premeditation, in this case, amounts to
seduction, don't you think?"

"Not exactly," he parried, eyes straight ahead. "Seduction
implies that some enticement is involved. That I'd have to
tempt you into having sex with me, to lure you somehow. The
mere use of the word premeditation assumes that both parties
would be willing. To me, anyway."

"Did I look like I was willing?"

"You looked stoned, actually."

"So maybe seduction was the wrong choice of words." She was
beginning to get a headache, but she didn't want Mulder to
see her fumble in her bag for her pain pills. He had enough
to deal with without being reminded of her health problems.

"Actually, I don't think it was." A small smile flitted over
his mouth. "I think he plied you with alcohol and with
pretty words. That's seduction."

The pull of her cheeks on her face added to the pounding
between her eyes, but she smiled anyway, happy he was
relaxing a bit. "And definitely not Mulder premeditation, I
take it?"

"Hell, no. I've never had to get a woman drunk to get some."

"Get some?" She pretended offense at his words.

Mulder cleared his throat, heading for the nearest entrance
to the freeway, a little slower than before. "I mean - to
have mutually satisfying sexual relations."

"I know what you meant, Mulder." She put a hand on his arm
and squeezed. "Just as I think I knew all along that man in
my apartment - well, there was something odd going on. Why
do you think I was just sitting there? You didn't see me
jump at the chance, did you?"

At that, he laughed. "I don't know if I should be thankful
or pissed at that remark, Scully."

She chuckled as well, sensing their move back to normalcy.
"Well, I'm not about to explain it any further." To do so
would lead them into more dangerous territory, and they both
knew it. They were silent for a few moments as Mulder sped
up onto the freeway. She was tired, but she was also
treasuring the simple pleasure of just talking to him.
Something she wouldn't have for much longer, if her doctor
was correct. And she had an awful feeling his diagnosis was
right on the money.

"So... just out of curiosity... what would constitute Mulder
premeditation?"

His gaze left the roadway for a second, latching onto hers in
a thoughtful, warm look.

"Whatever the woman in question wanted."

The husky statement sent a shiver up her spine. He wasn't
serious, he couldn't be. Like always, he was playing,
digging into her because she was a challenge. A convenient
way to pass the time. She looked away, forcing humor into
her reply.

"It wouldn't be wine and flowers, then?"

"If I thought that was what she wanted, then I'd do it." His
voice rang out in the confines of the car. "'Premeditation
assumes an established relationship. A conscious, rational
decision to enter into a physical joining of bodies...
planned and agreed upon by both parties.'" He quoted her own
words back to her, and she chanced a look his way, still
seeing the mysterious glow in his eyes. "Like I said,
whatever you wanted."

You. The switch from 'the woman' to 'she' to 'you'... a
domino effect, deliberately designed to undermine her
resolve, to make her open up to him as she'd done with his
seductive twin. Suddenly, her voice had all the depth and
weight of a strand of hair. "And what about what you want?"
Her heart pounded in time with her head, but she was
powerless to calm either.

Mulder held on to her with his gaze for another second, then
he dragged his eyes back to the road, breaking the moment.
His tone reflected the way he distanced himself, as it became
light and playful.

"You'd really agree to premeditation that included beer and a
guy movie?"

So he'd staggered back from the precipice; the relief she
felt was minute compared to her disappointment. She squashed
down the unwanted emotion, telling herself it was for the
best. What good could come from this path, anyway? As long
as they had each other, all else ceased to matter. She let
herself fall away as well, finally giving in to the need for
painkillers as she reached for her bag. "What? No popcorn?"

"Of course," he said, waving a magnanimous hand, oblivious to
the crinkling of her forehead. "No wine, though. Sorry."

"I don't need wine," she replied truthfully, rubbing at the
ache with one hand. "I'd settle for water." Cradling the
pills in her other hand, she let her voice drift into almost
nothing, as the pain soared to enormous proportions.
"Mulder... can we stop, please?"

He veered off the highway at the first drops of blood, his
muttered, "Shit, Scully... hang on, partner," echoing in her
ringing ears.