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Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Scully doesn’t buckle up. Instead, as the cab glides down the hot black top, she inches closer to him. He doesn’t dare another look at her, keeps his eyes straight ahead, staring at the beat up black leather covering the passenger seat.

Suddenly their thighs are touching. She releases a sigh.

He thinks of her hands, dexterous and delicate and deliciously wrapped around his. Thinks of other things she could wrap that firm, confident grip around. A warmth creeps up his chest, colors his cheeks at the scene playing out in his head.

As if in response to his thoughts, as if she could read his mind (as he secretly always suspected she could, this daring, dangerous woman of his), she increases the pressure on his hand, squeezing, prim, manicured nails digging into tanned skin.

He moves to turn away from her, can’t take looking into her eyes, is afraid of what he’ll see in them. (Or what he won’t.)

Her hand reaches out, brushing the five o’clock shadow covering his cheeks, stopping his movements, halting his retreat. She takes his jaw in her grasp. Gently, wordless, Scully brings his gaze to hers. He tries to move, to escape her gentle caress, but she holds him steady, seeking his eyes. His heart is thudding in his chest. Mulder lifts his eyes to meet hers.

He isn’t prepared for her proximity.

In the bar, they were close. Now, they are prisoners, confined by the locked doors and slippery leather seats. She sits, inches from him, warm and soft and beautiful. Her cheeks are flushed, porcelain skin no match for hard liquor and Florida humidity. Her cross, resting among a dusting of freckles, shimmers in the glow of a passing street lamp.

Mulder’s breath catches in his throat.

There’s a moment, of hesitation or contemplation or maybe relief, he’s not sure. But it’s there and then it’s gone, like his eight year old sister and her floral nightgown and gap-toothed smile, like his childhood innocence.

And then her lips meet his.

Chapter Text

It’s a soft kiss, innocent, quasi-platonic, minus the fire burning between her legs and in his heart. He’s afraid to move, afraid to shatter this perfect moment in the back of a cab, afraid of waking up.

Scully is not.

She is fueled by fire and alcohol and the tumor between her eyes. The tumor that’s stealing precious moments of her life away, in memory and measure - her sense of smell, her appetite, her favorite satin pillowcase. And she’ll be damned if she lets it take her chance at love. Her chance with him.

Scully’s hands are in his hair, tongue in his mouth, and her heart on her sleeve when the cabbie pulls up to their hotel. He clears his throat and Scully, always practical, pulls away first. They’re both breathing heavily, his puffs of breath landing against her cheek, hers against his. Their eyes meet and she can’t stop the smile or the blush that blooms across her face. She giggles, and Mulder smiles back as she lets her forehead fall to his chest, hiding all the delight and embarrassment and self-consciousness one feels after a first kiss.

She feels him fumbling for his wallet. He passes a few bills to the driver and brings his free hand to rest on her back, between her delicate shoulder blades, more prominent than they have ever been, but he doesn’t mention it, simply slides his warm hand up and down her back.

He leans into her further, whispers, “Scully, we’ve got to go.”

She sighs into his jacket, laughing and nodding. He smells so damn good and she thinks to herself that she could stay here all night, in his arms in the back of this dingy cab. But she isn’t that lucky and that isn’t how life works. She takes in a deep breath, sighs, and draws her head away from the safe haven that is his broad, muscled chest.

He’s looking at her, eyes sleepy but sparking with mischief and lust and one too many glasses of boozy, tannic wine. The corners of his mouth flicker, a shy smile spreading from ear to ear. Then, his eyes fall to his lap, the cracked leather of the passenger seat, a used cigarette, burnt and crumbling into the stained carpet. It’s his turn to feel heat rise to his face, feel the improbable joy and jubilance and dread of permanently crossing this invisible boundary they’ve constructed between them. Feel the weight of it wash over him, run through him.

Her manicured hand reaches out, falters, just barely. A quaver so slight, there and gone almost before he can register its existence, like so many of the beasts and ghosts and little grey men he’s chased over the years, that he would have dismissed the idea outright if he didn’t know how swiftly and decisively she moves. Always graceful, always confident, even in these past months, blood leaking from her nose, a constant ache behind her eyes. She doesn’t just face the world, she confronts it. But her hand, it halted its movement for a single heartbeat, less, before resting gently on his chest.

This is how he knows she feels it too.

The cabbie throws the car into park, lifts his foot off of the brake, sick of holding pressure on the pedal. The car jerks with the abrupt movement. He says nothing, looks out of his window, clearing his throat once more.

Their moment cracked, but not completely broken, Scully pats his sternum once, without lifting her palm, just those thin, delicate, impossibly skilled fingers. Moving her focus from where her hand can feel the steady cadence of his compassionate and so deeply abused heart to his eyes, she rubs a gentle circle on his chest and nods her head towards the door.

“Thanks for the lift,” Mulder throws to the front seat, voice catching in his throat.

“Yeah.” Unimpressed.

The door clicks open and Mulder’s warm thigh leaves hers. She’s no longer flush with his sturdy frame. Sangria pulses through her veins, but she knows that even if she hadn’t had three glasses on an empty stomach, she would still feel the loss of contact as deeply as she does in this moment. She’s felt it in her bones, stone cold sober, when he’s standing just inches from her. Close enough to touch, but she’s so rarely brave enough to reach out.

He can hear her skirt slip across the seat behind him, rustling softly, and then something brushes his pinky. Scully catches his left hand loosely with her right as he begins to slide out of the open door. He keeps her hand in his, helps her from the cab. She thinks her glances to his face are stealthy.

Painfully earnest, he thinks.

Their hands stay joined as she reaches back and pushes the cab door closed. She keeps darting looks his way as their cab merges back into the flow of traffic; he can feel nervousness radiating through her palm against his, growing and shifting into a cloud, much like the car exhaust that now floats around them, ephemeral. Her heels click on cracked pavement, irregular at times as she sways on alcohol softened legs. It’s beginning to fester, all the signs are there. Shoulders tensing, almost imperceptibly, a slight purse to her wine stained lips. She’s only a few steps (two of his, five of hers) from starting to close off, fold in on herself, regret finally, finally reaching for him. He can feel her gaze on him once again, sees them out of the corner of his eye.

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

Her hand begins to slacken. This won’t do at all.

As the automatic doors of their hotel slide open, artificially chilled air pours out around them, chilling the sweat on his upper lip, on her delicately curved brow. He leans towards her, bumping his shoulder into hers, lacing their fingers together, all in one fluid motion.

She smiles, sweet and soft and dazzling. A rare smile, a genuine grin, full of teeth and dimples. She shows it to the ground and then turns it on him. He doesn't turn to her, though. He knows it’s too bright of a smile for the dark, muggy night that surrounds them. His eyes have adjusted to the evening light and he knows seeing her smile, that special and enigmatic smile, an X File in its own right, will blind him.

He squeezes her hand instead. She squeezes back.

They take the final steps into the hotel lobby and the doors slide shut behind them.

They don’t do this, yet here they are, fingers still entwined, now on the other side of this swampy, Florida hamlet.

They don’t do this.

But maybe they should.

Chapter Text

The clerk at the front desk gives them a nod as they float across the yellowed tile of the lobby, still tethered together. When they checked in 24 hours and one heat wave earlier, Scully’s hair had been mussed, the left side of her sleek bob curving to the shape of her head, ends sticking out every which way. She had finally given in to the exhaustion that lined her face on their second flight of the evening, a tiny plane from Nashville to the swampy land of Nowhere Special, Florida. 

A direct flight to the nearest Florida metropolis and then an endless drive in whichever rental car had the most leg room was generally their modus operandi, but it hadn’t been in the cards last night. Lady Luck had gifted them a last-minute assignment, “urgent” and “of the utmost importance,” Skinner had crackled into her ear at 5:21 PM, seconds after she had slipped out of her chunky, black heels. Too urgent and important to wait for the following day, to wait for a direct flight, to eat dinner and chase a few hours of sleep, sleep that seemed so often to elude her these days.

Mulder had been worried about her when he saw her walking towards him at Dulles, dragging a wheeled carry on bag behind her, jacket hanging off of her shoulders and flowing behind her like clothes on the line, drying in the wind. All of her clothes seemed too large these days, billowy and spacious, enveloping her body completely in expensive fabric, as he wishes he could, as he wishes she would let him. Though you would think the clothing would add weight to her presence, allow her to take up more space, it did the opposite, emphasizing how small she had become - something he had previously thought was impossible, her shrinking. Even from across the lobby, even in a throng of evening travelers, he could see the gauntness of her cheekbones, pallid complexion, dark circles under hollow blue eyes. He was concerned, but he wasn’t going to let her in on that carefully guarded secret. Just like so many other feelings he had about her, had for her, he kept his worry to himself.

On that final flight she had taken the aspirin he proffered to her, the two pills looking small and inconsequential in his large palm. He knew that, to her, accepting help was admitting weakness. He also knew she was anything but weak. The Ice Queen of the Hoover basement was all scalpel sharp edges and cool stares, could slice and dice and outrun anyone and do it all in five inch designer heels, scuff marks be damned. She did not ask for help, never needed to. Her reputation, almost as legendary as his, told all who would listen at the water cooler that she was invincible - a superhero - and he believed it. That is, until she discovered a malignant mass growing between those steely blue eyes, until she had called him to the oncology ward, until she had cried in his arms, terry cloth robe between his fingers.

Too nauseous and achy from her latest round of chemo to actually be annoyed by his offer of help, however small, she took the aspirin with a swallow of his water and winced as it caught in her dry throat. One more sip and she handed him the crinkly, plastic bottle he had purchased just before boarding in one of those vending machines they keep in the tiny, tucked away terminals where the planes destined for Rapid City, South Dakota or Independence, Kansas hide. She thinks that’s where he got the aspirin too, for her, always thinking of her. But she says nothing. Won’t acknowledge his kindness or her weakness, her ability to be human, just like everyone else. Perhaps, she too had believed in her invincibility, before.

As the aspirin breaks down in her acidic, queasy stomach, Scully can feel the drug doing its work. The ache behind her eyes dulls, the throbbing subsiding as the prostaglandin production in her body is slowed. It’s a temporary fix, and not a strong one. Her prescription pain medication, in its shiny orange bottle that usually mocks her from the nightstand, is deftly wrapped in nude pantyhose and tucked into a pair of fuzzy socks her mother had gifted her at the hospital last friday. She had told herself she wouldn’t need them on the plane, couldn’t possibly think of a reason for them to be within easy reach. No, she hadn’t slept in 48 hours or kept any food down besides two slices of buttered toast this morning - or was it last night? No, she was not doing well, her body frail and sickly with its pale skin and prominent ribs. Still, as she packed her suitcase hours earlier, feeling the beginnings of a headache, she couldn’t envision a pain so bitter and sharp that she would let Mulder see that bottle. She didn’t want him to ever see it. So she clenched her jaw and closed her eyes against the setting sun during their first flight and she delicately threw up in the bathroom during their 15 minute layover - “Mulder, I need to use the restroom. I’ll be quick.” - and she accepted his offer of aspirin and water.

And now, as they make their way down the hall, fingers twisted together almost as tightly as their lives, maybe even their souls, she has to decide what else she will accept from him.