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proximity

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They don’t do this.

They’re in a bar. The tabletop of their booth is worn and sticky, like the coins beneath the floor mat of your car that you forgot you dropped. Rings of condensation slick the marred surface, mix with the peanut shells that litter the table (and the floor). Neon signs and stale cigarette smoke create a haze that covers the room like a thin fog, lends a drunken feel to the air, mirrors their state of mind.

They don’t do this.

They’re tucked away, as they always are, in a dark corner, blood pumping through their veins to the beat of the bass. The bar isn’t busy. It’s a Tuesday night and most people have a family to go home to; but they, they have each other, and their third glass of sangria sitting in front of them, only bits of fruit remain stuck to the sides of the sweating glasses. Fuck, Florida is hot.

His eyes are trained on her. She’s sitting there, slumped back in the cracked leather booth. Her eyes are half-lidded, her brilliant hair lit by a flickering light strung up above the table. She’s never looked more beautiful than she does now, lips stained from red wine, blazer cast off, more buttons undone than he can ever recall. He feels entranced, under her spell.

A waiter approaches their table, reaching between them and blocking Mulder’s view for a moment. It’s agony.

“Can I get you anything else, folks?” asks the waiter, cheeks sallow and gray.

Scully shifts in her seat, causing a slick, slipping sound. Mulder imagines her smooth, bare thigh rubbing against the leather. He swallows.

“The check.” Scully answers in a way she desperately hopes does not convey what three large glasses of sangria have done to her ability to speak.

The waiter glances at Mulder before walking away with the fruit filled glasses. Scully begins rummaging around for her jacket, searching for her wallet. It had been her father’s. It was well-worn, the leather. Soft, like velvet. And the rich, dark smell which had always followed her father, just as the mist of the ocean had, originated, she had come to realize, from the wallet. Her fingers brush its smooth front.

And all of a sudden, Mulder is there. He’s inches away, the smell of his cologne and sweat envelopes her, wafts into her nose, her pores. His proximity floors her. He reaches out his hand, surprisingly smooth and dry, and places it on her wrist, tightens his grip. The touch is electric; she almost gasps. Almost. Instead, she chances a glance up, first at his chest, concealed by a wrinkled blue dress shirt, hideous tie hanging loosely around his neck. His chest moves up and down with his steady breathing; she meets his eyes. He moves closer.

“I got it, Scully,” he says in a low, silky voice. She licks her lips, in that way that is constantly distracting him, constantly making his slacks slightly uncomfortable. She rakes her eyes over his entire body and he doesn’t remove his hand from her wrist. He rubs his thumb over the fine, delicate bones on the back of her hand; she shivers.

The spell is broken as the waiter approaches their table once again, depositing the bill and wishing them a good night. Mulder reluctantly releases his grip on Scully, rummaging through his wallet and throwing a few bills on the table.

When he meets her eyes again, there’s something in them he can’t quite place. She allows a small upward curve of her plump lips; he smiles back.

“Are you ready to go?” he asks her. She nods.

He exits the booth on his original side, and suddenly Scully misses his presence next to her. His solid form is comforting, stable, steady, just like the rhythm of his breathing and the hand he places at the small of her back. It’s almost enough to make her cry, the feeling of emptiness she feels while he’s just five feet away, slipping into his jacket, waiting for her to stand. After a moment, he turns to face her, a slightly confused look falling over his features.

“You coming, Scully?”

“Um, yeah,” she answers, distracted by his hands, hanging there by his sides, no longer holding onto her.

Scully stands, blazer folded over her left arm. Mulder turns slightly, moving to walk towards the front of the restaurant, but before he can stride away on those long, lanky legs of his, Scully reaches out, lightly brushing her fingertips against his. He stiffens at the contact, slows his movement. She tries again, lacing her fingers through his.

Her palm is warm, clammy, against his. His heart starts galloping as they make their way to the front of the bar and he can’t help stealing a glance down at the woman beside him. She senses his eyes on her, looks up, gives him a soft smile. She’s almost demure. He looks away, an embarrassingly large, toothy grin spreading across his face; he squeezes her hand.

They don’t do this.

The neon sign buzzes above them, casting a deep red glow on them, exaggerating her flushed cheeks. Alcohol always does that to her, he thinks. He’s staring at her now, and she can feel it as they stop just outside the bar’s front door. It swings shut behind them with a soft click and it’s suddenly silent. The loud music that had floated through the air, as if on a breeze, is gone. The sun is almost gone too, disappeared to the other side of the earth, where strangers are waking, working, living.

Now, outside of the bar, hands still clasped, Scully meets his eyes again. They stare, saying nothing. A light breeze flits through the trees lining the sidewalk. The humidity is thick, makes Scully’s blouse stick to her back, her bra to her breasts. She takes a deep breath. He squeezes her hand again. Their eyes never leave each other.

They don’t do this.

They are startled out of the moment, their own personal, neon-sign-pink-sunset-lit haze, by the honking of a cab parked across the street. Scully lets out a nervous laugh, drops her eyes from Mulder’s. Maintains her grip on his hand.

“We must look like we’re lost,” he whispers, leaning slightly into her, brushing his nose to her hair. Cinnamon and smoke fill his nose. He has to keep himself from whimpering.

Scully huffs a laugh and glances across the street.

“I suppose we could use a ride,” she whispers into the cooling night air. “I know I don’t feel comfortable driving right now,” she adds, her cheeks reddening, an embarrassed smile gracing her high cheekbones.

He stays frozen in place, pressed lightly against her, until the cabbie honks again, becoming impatient, gesturing wildly. She meets his eyes and he begins to move off the sidewalk and into the street. He is dreading the moment her fingers leaving his.

They don’t do this.

They don’t hold hands in a bar and they definitely don’t hold hands while on a case, crossing the street to a taxi. They don’t twine their fingers together as they ride in the back seat of that cab, back to their dingy motel on the edge of town with the flickering light in the bathroom in his room and the stained comforter in hers. Yet, as his hand slackens, allowing her to slip away, ending their brief, intoxicating physical contact, she draws closer to him, subtly increases the pressure of her clasped hand on his.

They don’t do this.

He glances to his left, where she walks beside him, two strides for every one of his. The clicking of her Louis Vuitton heels echoing down the street, quick and staccato, like the rhythm of his heart. Before he knows it, she reaches out and opens the yellow door, slides into the backseat.

Their hands don’t let go.

They don’t do this.

“Paradise Inn, please,” Mulder breathes.

The cabbie nods, flicks his blinker, merges into traffic.

Their hands rest in between them, still clasped.

They don’t do this.