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pilgrims creeping toward the dawn

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It’s been a long time since she’s done this, primped on a Friday night. It’s been a long time since she’s had a reason to dab perfume on her wrists, in the hollows behind her ears. Since she’s had a reason to survey her closet in just her towel, to push aside her suits and sweaters and search for the clothes she hasn’t had a reason to wear. Shorter skirts, cashmere blouses, things with lace and velvet and soft, feminine edges.

He’s never asked her to dinner before, not like this. Not dinner with a capital D. But that’s how it had sounded when he’d said it, when he’d helped her into her coat before she left for the day after the botched bank heist.

Got any plans this weekend? he asked, lifting her hair out of her collar and skimming her neck with his thumbs.

No, she said. Careful, composed. Afraid of another last-minute trip to chase sea monsters or sasquatches or some other far-flung improbability. You?

Have dinner with me, he said with that casual tone that told her he was anything but.

And she, against her better judgement, because she was tired of denying and being denied, said okay.

In the back of her underwear drawer, behind workaday cotton and Saturday night lace, there is a small parcel wrapped in tissue paper. It is, quite possibly, the most frivolous, expensive thing she’s ever purchased. Silk and lace, deep blood red. She bought it on a whim after her cancer went into remission, after she regained the soft curves that had been chiseled away in hospital beds, between nosebleeds. It had been so long since she felt sexy, since she’d even felt like a woman. She’s never worn it, though. Has saved it, consciously or not, for the right time. The right man. For him.

Tonight, she unwraps the tissue paper and lets herself want.

Things have been…better. Tentatively better. They have the X-Files back, and their basement sanctuary. Mulder has seemed happier, more relaxed, and she can’t say she doesn’t like it. They seem to be breathing again, the both of them. Maybe not huge gulps, but little sips of air, at least.

And now this, this invitation to dinner. It could be just the thing. It could clear their airways once and for all, let them breathe each other in again and for good. It’s a lot to put on one night, but she’s tired of suffocating on rationality. She’s ready for an extreme possibility.

The clock creeps towards eight, and Scully smoothes her skirt again and again with twitchy fingers. She feels ridiculous. Nervous. Like she’s eighteen and waiting for her prom date. This is Mulder, she reminds herself. Mulder.

They’ve had dinner a hundred times. A hundred hundred times.

Yes, says a sly voice in the back of her mind. But has it ever felt this much like a date before?

No, it hasn’t.

She smooths her skirt.

Eight comes. Eight goes. No Mulder.

It’s fine, she thinks. He’s late for everything. If anything, it’s reassuring. If he’s not on time, it means he’s not taking this very seriously. And if he’s not taking it seriously, it means there’s nothing to be nervous about.

(But, well, maybe she wants there to be something to be nervous about.)

There’s been an accident. He’s lying dead in a ditch somewhere, car rolled, body ejected.

Or: They found him. Proper noun They. They broke down his door and shot him in the chest and he couldn’t even reach the phone.

Or: There’s a case, and Skinner told him to call her about it, but he forgot, and now he’s on a flight to Michigan without her, and he probably didn’t pack his coat.

Or: He was on his way but got distracted by a flash in the sky and is now racing down the freeway, chasing an airplane’s navigation light into Maryland.

Or: His sister reappeared, miraculously reborn, and he’s crying into her shoulder in his doorway.

Or: He realized this was a mistake and doesn’t know how to tell her. They’ll see each other on Monday and pretend it never happened.

Or, or, or.

He answers on the fifth ring. It’s a quarter to ten. He’s home, he’s alive. For a minute, all she can do is bask in the relief. Then the nerves creep back in. He’s home, he’s alive, he’s not here.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

He sounds distracted when he answers, a little out of breath. “Huh? Oh, nothing, Scully. You know how it is. Just me and the fish—your typical Friday night at casa de Mulder.”

She starts to ask where the hell he’s been, then, if he’s not dead or dying, but then she hears it: a woman’s voice in the background, uttering that one syllable. That one simple syllable. The one from which she herself has long been barred.

Fox.

“Scully?” His voice is muted over the rushing in her ears. “You need something?”

“What? No. No, I don’t need anything. I—good night, Mulder.”

She puts the phone carefully back in its cradle, unplugs the cord from the wall, and lowers her head to her arms. She sits for a long time, just breathing. Then she cries.

Question: What’s the difference between first names and last names?

Answer: What’s the difference between somebody you work with and somebody you’ve held, somebody you’ve longed for, somebody you’ve maybe considered spending forever with?

Answer: Heartache.

Answer: Fox.

She tries to watch TV, but even the good shows look like test patterns. She tries to eat frozen lasagna warmed in the microwave, but it tastes like ice. She considers the bottle of wine atop the fridge for a long time, regarding it with her careful scientist’s eye, and eventually leaves it alone.

One glass would lead to one bottle would lead to another would lead to her calling a cab to Alexandria and pulling Diana off of him mid-thrust and smashing her head in with her bare hands.

She drinks enough water to make her stomach ache instead, so at least the pain is real.

Self pity doesn’t come easy to her, but she feels like she’s due. If anyone’s due at any time, it’s her, now. She tries to be angry, to be indignant, but she can’t quite muster it. That will come later. Tomorrow, maybe. Or next week. Right now there is only the bone-deep ache gnawing her hollow from the inside out.

She should have known, she supposes. They don’t do things like this—dress up for each other, go to capital-D dinner, make it easy. The mean part of her, the part of her that captains her insecurity and masochism, wonders if they do things like this. Him and her. Wonders if that’s what they did tonight, if she wore a cashmere blouse for him, if he helped her with her coat, if they smiled at each other over tiramisu and candlelight.

She imagines his long fingers tangled in brown hair, his mouth falling open in ways she’s never seen, and thinks she might throw up.

At midnight, she decides she’s thrown a passable pity party and is allowed to go to bed.

She strips and tosses her clothes on the bedroom floor, a bastardized parody of her expectations. The skirt she chose for him, wrinkled. The blouse she thought he’d like, twisted inside out by her own hands. Again. Like every night for years. Like every night to come.

She leaves the lingerie on. The silk that had felt so cool, so soothing and exciting against her sensitive skin is a prison now. Constricting. Like being wrapped in someone else’s skin. She lies in the center of the bed in nothing but the tiny panties and lace-scalloped bra. This is her punishment for being so presumptuous, for thinking he could ever want her the way she needs him. She will accept it and she will remember, next time, how cold silk is without his hands to warm it.

He feels incredible inside her. Better than anything ever has or ever will and she’s flying, breathless, boneless, stupid with pleasure. Beneath her palms, his back is sweat-slicked and taut as he ebbs and flows, filling her over and over and over, relentless.

Mulder, she sighs. Mulder.

She’s never felt so safe. She’s full-up with him, with his body, with his power, with his love. There are no more walls between them, no more barriers, nothing to shield or hide. She has to tell him. She needs him to know, needs him to feel how much this means to her.

I love you, she gasps into his collarbones. I’ve loved you so long.

The sound he makes is heaven. His hands bruise her hips as he buries his face in her neck, sobbing with the joy of it.

Dana, he says. Dana Dana Dana.

That’s what does it. She jerks awake with a start, her first name on his lips so palpably wrong she can feel it. She’s twisted in her bedsheets, draped on her stomach across a pillow and burying her fingers between her legs. They’re drenched, sticky-hot with need for a man who will only ever touch her in her starved, perverted dreams.

She comes on her own hand and cries his name into her pillow.

Sleep eludes her. The green lights of her alarm clock tell her it’s past one, but her body protests. She’s exhausted, worn out in ways she’s never felt before, but awake. Painfully awake.

She considers getting up, but what’s the difference between staring at nothing on her couch and staring at nothing in her bed? She could take a bath, she supposes. Maybe that would help.

She leaves her bed, her sheets wrinkled and damp with sweat, and pads to the bathroom. Hot water, a lot of bubbles, maybe then she can sleep. Maybe then she can feel halfway normal.

She’s about to unhook her bra—this stupid waste of a bra—when she hears it. Somebody knocking. There’s only one somebody who would be knocking this late, the one somebody she doesn’t want to see, the one somebody who has a key and will let himself in if she doesn’t answer and barricade the door with her body.

Her bathrobe is on a hook on the back of the door. She slips it on and wonders what she did in a previous life to deserve everything she’s gotten.

“I’m an asshole,” he says as soon as the door opens, and she considers telling him that he should start all conversations like this. Let people know what they’re in for. “I forgot, Scully, I’m sorry. Something came up and I… I’m sorry.”

Something came up. Yes, I bet it did, she thinks and feels a horrible urge to both laugh and cry. She does neither, only stares.

“Mulder, it’s late.”

He shifts his weight from side to side. “I tried calling, but your phone’s not working.”

“No,” she says. “I unplugged it.”

He pauses. He stares at her, inscrutable. Finally, he clears his throat. “Can I come in?”

“No,” she repeats, impressed by how cool her voice sounds. “You may not.”

“Scully, please, just let me—”

“I don’t care why you’re here, Mulder. Go home. Go back to Diana. I’m sure your side of the bed is cold by now.”

He couldn’t look more stunned if she’d slapped him. Good. Maybe he’ll finally get the message. She may do a lot of things, debase herself in any number of ways for him, repeatedly and consistently, but she draws the line at providing the pillow talk another woman has apparently denied.

He opens his mouth to say something—her name, maybe an apology, a hollow explanation—but she doesn’t want to hear it. She slams the door.

In the kitchen, she puts the kettle on the stove. Takes it off. Puts it back. She doesn’t really want tea, but she’s too tired to sleep, so she might as well do something with her hands. If she doesn’t, she thinks she might start tearing her own hair out by the fistful.

If there’s any consolation, it’s that he didn’t look nearly as good as she’d thought he might after sex. He just looked tired, rumpled, a little strained.

See, Dana, says the voice in her head. You’re not really missing out on anything.

Sure, she agrees. Just everything I’ve ever wanted. Not really anything at all.

He comes back. Of course he does. She’s not surprised, exactly. Just weary. Why can’t he let her wallow in peace? Is that too much to ask? Just one solid night of feeling miserable for herself before she reconstructs her walls and they pretend like this never happened?

He doesn’t bother with knocking; just lets himself. He holds a pint of Chunky Monkey out to her like an olive branch, like a shield, and she wants to hurl it back at him. She doesn’t want his pity ice cream. She wants him to leave her alone.

She tells him as much. He ignores it.

“What did you mean?” he asks. “About my bed?”

“I’m not stupid, Mulder. I know.”

“Know what? She showed up at my apartment with files. Pictures. Information. About El Rico, about other— I got distracted, I lost track of time. That’s it. Okay? I’m sorry.”

“And you didn’t think to call me?”

“I told you. I lost track of—”

“Not about dinner,” she says. “I’m your partner, Mulder. You don’t think I should have been there, if she had all this information? You don’t think we should have been there together?”

He sighs. “I know how you feel about Diana. I thought it would be better for all of us if I heard her out first. I didn’t think you’d want to listen.”

“Fuck you.”

He looks stricken. “Scully…”

“No. Fuck you.”

She’s aware she’s being melodramatic, but dammit, it’s the middle of the night and she’s exhausted and hurt and tired of playing second string to Diana fucking Fowley.

“Scully, come on. Be reasonable.”

“I waited for you. I called you, and you lied to me. You want reasonable? Go back to Diana.”

She marches to the front door and yanks it open. Out, she says with her eyebrows. He doesn’t move.

“What’s this really about?”

She doesn’t say anything, just lifts her chin in defiance. She’s given him enough. She will not give him anything more.

“I should have called. You’re right. And I’m sorry. I really am, Scully. That’s why I’m here now. But I thought you’d understand. The work, the information…”

“I understand,” she says after a moment. “I understand where your priorities are. I’m sorry I forgot for even a minute. Next time you ask me on a date, I’ll make sure to write it in pencil. Subject to change in case of a better offer.”

“A date?”

Her cheeks flame. Great. Fucking perfect. She just spent the whole night agonizing over something she’d misinterpreted. Of course it wasn’t a date. Of course not. Not with Diana Fowley and aliens and the fucking truth out there. Oh, Dana. You really are stupid.

“You need to go.” Her voice is thick, choked. “Right now. Go home, Mulder. Please. Go.”

Once, his sister was taken from him and he spent twenty-seven years chasing after her.

Twice, the X-Files were taken from him and he pursued them quietly, doggedly until he had them back.

Once, she tried to leave him and he followed her to the end of the earth.

She should know by now that he isn’t good at letting go.

“Did you want it to be a date?” He steps into her space and she doesn’t back up, refuses to give him that even as he cups her cheek in one large hand. He leans in and she hates how good he smells, hates how warm he is. His voice drops, deep and low. “I wanted it to be a date.”

“You didn’t come.”

“There’s still time.”

She doesn’t feel like joking. “You didn’t call. You lied.”

“I’m an asshole.” He brings his free hand up to her other cheek, cradling her completely. “I’m a stupid asshole. I’m sorry.”

“You were with another woman.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You were.”

“Not like this.”

“Like what?”

“Like this,” he says and kisses her. Soft, sweet, barely more than a brush. His mouth is warm and plush and she’s wanted this for so long, has dreamt of it, fantasized about it, driven herself insane over it.

Give in, she thinks. Give in. Let him take. Let him take it all.

It would be so easy. So, so easy. But no. No. She can’t.

“Stop.” She pushes him back and he takes some integral part of her with him. She can feel it stretched between their bodies to the point of breaking, like taffy.

“I want you, Scully,” he murmurs, and how long has she waited to hear those words? How long has she convinced herself he could never possibly say them?

Why now, she wants to shout. Why are you doing this to me now.

“I’m mad at you,” she says. “I’m hurt. It’s not that easy.”

“Why not? Let it be easy. Come here.”

He draws her in again and she wonders, distantly, if this is a ploy. If his hallway was a ploy. If he knows her weaknesses so well he can exploit them at will to keep her here, to keep her loyal.

“Please,” she says, and he takes it as permission and kisses her, walks her back against the wall even as her door stands open. She can feel him through her robe, strong and firm and warm.

“I was going to take you to dinner,” he says against her mouth and she can feel the words on her own tongue. “Italian. Fancy. Gonna wear that tie you like. Gonna tell you how beautiful—god, Scully, so beautiful. Was gonna take you home, kiss you for hours. Give you everything you wanted. Make you feel so fucking good.”

One hand tangles in her hair and the other slides around her waist, pulling her flush. Is this Mulder? Is it really him saying these things? She’s still dreaming, has to be. But it feels so real. Feels so good.

His lips find her cheek and she feels the flick of his tongue and only then does she realize she’s crying.

“Diana—”

“A friend. The past. Work. Not you, Scully. Nothing like you.”

“I don’t trust her.”

“I know.” His mouth on her chin, her nose, her brow.

“I don’t forgive you.”

“Okay.” His hands on her neck, her hips, her back.

“I don’t want to stop.”

“Don’t.” His hands, his mouth, his hips. Hard hard hard. “Let me have you. Can I have you?”

She’s so tired of saying no.

Give in give in give in.

He closes the door and opens her robe. When he sees her underwear, the crimson and lace, the flesh straining beneath it, he stares, trembles, looks like he might cry.

“For me?” He fingers the valley of her breasts, slides deep.

She nods.

He sinks to his knees and presses his face to her stomach. Lips, tongue, teeth.

“I’m so stupid. So sorry.”

How much of that will he believe tomorrow? How much will he pretend he never said? He pushes his mouth between her legs and she forgets how to care.

“You taste like honey.” They’re in her bed now. She doesn’t know how. “Like the ocean. So fucking good.”

She’s sticky with herself. He fingerpaints it onto her, licks it back off. Her thighs, her belly, her breasts. He’s ringing her nipple now, slicking it until it shines, sucking until it aches.

“So fucking delicious.”

Two wet fingers find her mouth and press gently. She opens, closes, lets him stroke her tongue as she tastes herself. Honey, she thinks. The ocean. Mulder.

Why was she mad?

He’s perfect inside her. Big, hard, hot. Finally.

She clutches his shoulders, his neck, his sweat-damp hair, digs her nails in to keep him here. If she dies tonight, they will find him everywhere. She likes the thought.

He kisses like he was trained to do nothing else, open-mouthed and feverish. His tongue is an alien invader she wants to spend her life chasing.

“Feel that?” he asks when he bottoms out, grinds his pelvis against hers until she chokes. “I’m in you. God, Scully, I’m in you.”

“Please,” she sobs and means it as permission.

“I’ll give you anything.” He buries his face in her hair as he begins to move, his breath humid on her neck. “Everything.”

She’s burning, igniting, made of kindling and he’s the match.

“I only want…” Sinks her teeth into his shoulder to keep from saying it.

“What?” A hand between their bodies. Her sticky nipple, her aching clit. Touching touching touching.

“You,” she sighs as he fills her again again again.

“Feel me.” Thrust. Pulse. So full. “You have me.”

How, she wants to say. How did we get here. How is this me. How is this you.

What she says instead is don’t stop. Don’t stop don’t stop oh god please please please.

He kisses her again, hard and deep, and he’s hard and deep, and she’s full to bursting and it’s like her dream but better because it’s real, because it’s him, because she won’t wake up alone and how is this possible how how how.

“Mulder, I—” She nearly says it, but she can’t. Not tonight. She’s still hurt, somewhere beneath all the pleasure, and she won’t absolve him until she’s ready. “I’m gonna come,” she says, because it’s true, because he’s doing things she’s never felt before, because how is she supposed to resist?

He growls against her and speeds up. He’s everywhere. In her, over her, drowning her. She wants to be pulled under.

“Let me feel you. Come for me, Scully, come so fucking hard.”

She does and it’s lightning. She nearly bucks him off but he’s heavy and good and deep, and he rides out her storm, never slowing, never faltering. He sucks sweat from her neck and snaps his hips against her once, twice, again and follows her down.

Scully, he gasps into her shoulder, and this is how she knows he’s real. Scully Scully Scully.

They lie in the dark together, back to front, his arm around her waist. It would feel almost normal if they weren’t both naked, if they weren’t both tacky with spit and sweat and proof.

“Are you still mad at me?” he asks the back of her ear.

“Yes,” she says and holds his wrist tighter beneath her breasts.

“I need you to trust me, Scully. I can’t do this if you don’t trust me.”

What this, she wants to ask. Us this or work this or both this?

“When have I ever not trusted you?”

“Right now.” He nuzzles the hinge of her jaw and it’s ridiculous, because when has she trusted him more?

“I don’t trust her,” she says. “I think your judgement is clouded.”

“Fuck, Scully,” he sighs and it sounds different than it did twenty minutes ago. He rolls onto his back and she’s never been so cold. “What are we going to do?”

She doesn’t turn over, doesn’t want to look, to let him see. She gathers the blankets around her. In the absence of wool and pleats and sharp lapels, they’ll have to do.

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course,” he says too quickly.

“Are you sure? Think about it, Mulder. You need to be sure.”

Silence. Long and heavy. Then, “Scully, I—”

He doesn’t finish. She doesn’t ask him to. At some point, they sleep. The ice cream on the coffee table melts and he cleans it before he goes.