“How're you feeling?” he asked her.
They were sitting side-by-side against the glass in the Assistant Director's outer office, waiting to debrief the Barnett case. Agent Mulder was wearing a red tie and an expression of concern. Agent Scully was smoothing her hair back behind one ear. She had been shot just two nights before.
She quirked her eyebrow and looked up at him. “I'm fine,” she said.
“Yeah, but how do you feel?” he asked again. He was smiling, but he was serious. Had the bullet pierced just another dozen paper-thin layers of Kevlar, she wouldn't be sitting here next to him; just an eighth of an inch more, and he'd have had another dead partner to add to his average. He said a silent prayer of thanks for flak jackets and rapped his knuckles lightly against her leg. “Hm?”
Scully let out a small huff that was supposed to sound impatient, but was really a laugh in disguise. “I feel fine, Mulder. I've got a bruise the size of a dinner-plate on my side and it hurts when I laugh, but otherwise I'm okay.”
“So...was it good for you, Agent Scully?”
She let out a snort of real laughter that turned quickly into a moan. “Ooh, ow—Mulder, don't—”
Mulder grinned, and glanced up just in time to see the scandalized look the AD's secretary was giving them from her desk. He waggled his eyebrows at her, and she dropped her eyes immediately back to the paperwork in front of her.
“Only when you laugh, eh Scully?” Mulder asked, turning again to his partner. She looked up at him warily, one hand curled protectively around her ribs. His eyes twinkled. “That reminds me of a jo—”
He was interrupted by simultaneous gasps of Oh my—! from both women as a very large and spiky-looking bouquet of roses came into the office. The deliveryman carrying the enormous arrangement stopped in the middle of the room and peered at them from behind the thicket of stems. “Kim Cook?” he asked.
The secretary blushed and smiled. “That's me!” she said, her hands reaching automatically to take the bouquet. The deliveryman set the vase on the corner of her desk.
“Happy Valentine's Day,” he told her. Then he gave Mulder and Scully a brief and uncomfortable smile, and left.
For the next several moments, they all sat in silent admiration of the flowers, which were gorgeous and extravagant; at least three-dozen long-stems, barely opened, so dark red they were almost black. Tiny sprigs of baby's breath and fern floated ethereally around the center of the arrangement. Mulder took in a deep breath. That had set someone back a few, he thought.
The AD's secretary plucked the card from its plastic fork and opened it. “Oh my God I can't believe it,” she murmured, curling her knuckles against her delighted smile. She glanced up at them and met Mulder's eyes briefly. “My boyfriend,” she said with another blush.
Mulder watched with a soft smile as the secretary's eyes moved from his to the note in her hand, to the phone on her desk, then to the bouquet, then back to the phone. She got up from her desk. “I'm going to—I'll just—I'll be right back,” she stammered. She shot a glance toward the closed door of the AD's inner office. “Um, he'll call you in when he's ready for you, okay?”
And with that she practically skipped out of the office, leaving them alone with the roses.
Mulder looked at his partner. She was staring at the flowers with a strange look on her face. He squinted at her for a moment, and leaned in close to her ear.
“Someone's getting lucky tonight,” he said under his breath. She gave a little start and looked up at him. She frowned.
“It's Valentine's, Mulder,” she said, her eyebrow peaking slowly as she regarded him. “I imagine a lot of someones will be getting lucky tonight.”
This made him laugh out loud, and he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. She was getting good with the comebacks, he thought with a grin. He looked back over his shoulder at her, and she cast her eyes demurely back down, but he thought he detected a hint of self-satisfaction in the set of her mouth.
“Do you have a date tonight, Agent Scully?”
She looked at him without turning her head. “It's Monday, Mulder,” she said.
“It's a school night,” she said, looking up from under her lashes and giving him a slow, slightly feline smile. He nodded.
“What about that guy you were seeing before Christmas?” he asked then, unable to help himself. “Ron, Rod—?”
“Rob,” she said, looking away. He could see the blush that crept up over her cheeks. “I haven't talked to him in—oh brother, weeks...”
“So no Valentine for Dana Scully this year,” he said, and realized too late that it was an incredibly stupid remark to make while sitting in front of another woman's long-stem roses. He saw the small twitch of a frown on her forehead, and when she looked up, her face was indeed the mask of indignation he expected. He winced as she narrowed her eyes at him.
“Rod?” she demanded.
Mulder blinked. “What?”
“You think I would go out with someone named Rod?”
He relaxed and sat back. “Well, if ya think he's sexy...”
She groaned, but she was smiling again. She kicked his shoe. “And do you have a Valentine, Mulder?” she asked.
He cleared his throat. “Ah. Well. It just so happens there's a program I wanted to catch on A&E tonight—” He bent and rubbed at the imaginary scuff-mark where her shoe had tapped his. “—a documentary that tracks the hydrophilic-hydrophobic behavior of certain bodies of—”
She had crossed both arms over her chest and was nodding down at him. “So no Valentine for Fox Mulder this year,” she said, pursing her mouth in smug little twist. The phone on the secretary's desk began to ring. Mulder glanced at it and sat back up with a shrug.
“It's an artificial holiday anyway,” he said. He cleared his throat. “In fact,” he went on, turning to look at the roses on the desk, “did you know that, until 1840—when the first mass-produced Valentine's cards were sold in the United States—most people had never even heard of Valentine's Day? And now it's the second-biggest card-sending day of the year. It isn't about romance, or even sex—it's about money. It's a 'holiday' dreamed up by florists and confectioners and Hallmarketeers, preying on people's basic loneliness, knowing they can make a fast buck off of a society in such desperate need of emotional validation that we'll spend something like a million dollars annually on conversation hearts. From the time we're children we're trained to believe that the lonely kid with the fewest pink envelopes in his construction-paper mailbox is the loser, and that if you are lucky enough to actually have a Valentine, you're obligated to blow a week's paycheck on chocolate and flowers just to prove a thing that shouldn't require material proof—”
He stopped to take a breath and Scully turned her head slowly toward him. “Which is what?”
He glanced down and their eyes met. “Love, Scully,” he said. “Love.”
Scully blinked and looked back at the roses. He heard her small sigh as she slumped a little next to him. “Yeah, well, sometimes it's nice to have a little proof,” she said softly. She caught his eye briefly and looked away.
The secretary's phone was still ringing.
Mulder was still watching his partner. “Think I ought to get that?”
“Sure,” she said, staring distractedly at the roses again. Mulder heaved himself off his seat and had just picked up the phone when the AD opened the door to his inner office.
“Assistant Director Skinner's office—?” Mulder glanced back at the AD with his eyebrows raised. Skinner took in the agents, the roses, and the lack of secretary, and he frowned. Then he looked at Scully, who sat up a little straighter.
“Where's Kimberly?” he asked.
“She had to leave for a moment,” Scully told him. “She said she'd be right—”
“It's Blevins,” Mulder said. He was holding one hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and looking at Skinner expectantly. “He says it's important.”
The AD took a breath and held it for a second before letting it out on a weary sigh. He rubbed the heel of his hand against his forehead. “All right,” he growled. “I'll take that in here.” He glanced between them. “We'll have to reschedule for this afternoon.”
Scully nodded and Mulder put the Section Chief on hold. The AD paused for a moment before returning through his door. He looked at the roses.
“Nice flowers,” he said. He looked back up at them. “This afternoon, Agents—two o'clock.”
They nodded as he closed his door again, and Scully got to her feet to go. Mulder was standing over the massive bouquet, and she walked over to stand next to him.
“They are nice,” she said. She leaned over and sniffed one of the tight red buds. “Too bad they breed all the smell out of them. They are beautiful though.”
Mulder reached into the arrangement and pulled one of the roses out. He held it toward her.
“Here, Scully,” he said. “Happy Valentine's Day.”
“She'll never miss it,” he said, watching as Scully's mouth opened and closed silently. Finally, she put out her hand and accepted the token.
“Thank you, Mulder,” she said with an uncertain smile. She glanced up at him then, and he saw another blush brighten her face. “Happy Valentine's Day to you, too.”
And with proof in hand, they left the office before Kimberly was any the wiser.