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Two Worlds Collide

Chapter Text

 

November 1998

 

Scully’s wool coat flapped against her legs as she strode across the field toward the small police presence gathered near the tree line. As a force of habit, she bore most of her weight on the balls of her feet to keep her heels from sinking into the soft earth, because she’d be damned if she was going to ask Mulder to slow his lanky stride so she could keep up. He walked beside her, tall and loose-limbed, his expression eager as a puppy but with the intensity of a bloodhound following a scent trail.

Overhead, the London sun had been blotted out by a hazy gray sky. The air was heavy with moisture, cool and damp, clinging to her skin and frizzing her hair. A white tarp had been erected over the crime scene ahead, and officers in white coveralls moved about beneath it, processing the scene. Off to the side, a blonde woman dressed all in black stood talking to two uniformed officers.

Scully and Mulder headed for this trio. He was convinced he was onto something big, and he’d convinced her to come all the way to London—on their own dime and vacation time from the bureau—to prove it. For once, she agreed with him, or she’d never have agreed to this trip, especially since it meant revisiting one of their most ridiculous cases. Well, and then there was the fact that both of them were dying of boredom now that Kersh had taken them off the X Files. If she had to spend another day running background checks…

It was a punishment. And it was working, because she was about to lose her mind, and Mulder had taken to sneaking off on unauthorized field trips—like this one—chasing down his never-ending list of conspiracy theories. She hadn’t been entirely convinced by the exsanguinated cows, but it had been enough to get her on the plane. When the body was discovered this morning, though, she’d felt a rare thrill. They might actually be in the right place at the right time for once. They might actually close this case.

As they neared the group of officers ahead, Scully straightened her spine and lifted her chin, steeling herself for what was to come. Mulder’s pace quickened, and she lengthened her stride to keep up.

The blonde turned, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she watched them approach. Her eyes locked on Scully’s, intense and startlingly direct. Scully’s heel caught in a tuft of grass, and she gripped Mulder’s arm to keep herself from falling.

His hand rested momentarily against the small of her back, steadying her, as he turned toward the blonde. He seemed to have drawn the same conclusion Scully had—this woman was clearly in charge. Authority radiated off her like a force field, adding to her already striking appearance. She was petite, probably not any taller than Scully, with blonde hair that hung halfway down her back in loose waves and piercing blue eyes.

“You’re the FBI agent I spoke with over the phone?” She directed this at Mulder, her voice like chipped ice, sharp, cold, British.

“Special Agent Fox Mulder.” He extended his hand.

“Detective Sergeant Stella Gibson.” She gave his hand a quick shake before turning her gaze on Scully.

“Special Agent Dana Scully.” She took Detective Gibson’s hand and shook, trying not to stare too hard, but there was something so magnetic, so powerful about her presence, Scully couldn’t look away.

The detective stared right back for a long moment. She was younger than Scully had initially thought, maybe even a few years younger than Scully herself. “I confess I’m still not sure why the FBI is interested in this case. Obviously, you have no jurisdiction here.”

“We’re not here in an official capacity,” Mulder told her as his eyes scanned the crime scene. Yellow tape marked a shallow grave the Metropolitan police had already uncovered and emptied. “But we think we may be familiar with your killer from a prior case of our own.”

Her eyebrows rose. “You think my killer is American?”

“Yeah, actually, we do.” Mulder had that look again—like an excited puppy—as he prepared to launch into a tale about vampires and pizza delivery boys.

Scully braced herself, determined not to roll her eyes at the absurdity of it all. Because, as crazy as it sounded, it had—at least in some capacity—actually happened. Whether or not the killer had been a flying teenage vampire or just a crazy, coldblooded killer, he had been a killer, and he had escaped, unpunished.

“About a year ago, Scully and I were called to investigate a case where the victims were found completely drained of blood, with two puncture marks on their neck, like fangs.” He emphasized that last part with a dramatic flair, and Scully couldn’t help it. She rolled her eyes.

Mulder gave her an impatient look. “The local authorities had initially overlooked the fact that each victim’s shoe laces had been untied, like the body you just uncovered.”

“Go on,” the detective said, her interest clearly piqued, and Scully could picture what would happen next so clearly. Mulder would adopt that flirtatious tone that made women swoon, weaving a tale of danger and intrigue, while Detective Gibson drew closer, pressing him for details, maybe resting a hand on his arm.

And it really shouldn’t bother Scully, because it happened all the time, and she knew Mulder never actually slept with these women. He was as clueless as he was charming. In fact, Scully wasn’t actually sure he’d had sex in the six years she’d known him. So, she wasn’t sure whether the hot surge of jealousy she felt swelling in her chest now was over the thought of Mulder flirting with Detective Gibson, or of Detective Gibson returning his affection.

Because Scully still found herself oddly captivated by the detective herself.

“It was Scully who noticed all the victims’ stomach contents consisted of pizza,” Mulder was saying. “And she realized the pizza delivery boy was our killer.”

“The pizza delivery boy?” Detective Gibson’s gaze was still cool, assessing. “But you didn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest?”

“Well, ah…” His gaze darted to Scully.

She gave her head a slight shake. Good luck explaining the rest of it without sounding completely insane. But, luckily or unluckily for her, Mulder had never much cared what people thought of him.

“The thing is, he’s a vampire.” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial smile aimed at Detective Gibson.

She blinked, hard, jaw jutting irritably as if she didn’t have the patience for any of this. “I don’t understand.”

“It was what drew us to the case in the first place,” Mulder said. “All the classic signs of vampirism were there, right down to the untied shoes. Did you know that most vampires are obsessive compulsive?”

The detective stared at him as if he’d just told her that…well, that vampires were real. Scully might have found it amusing if her own reputation weren’t at stake alongside Mulder’s.

“It was never actually proven that he was a vampire,” she interjected, trying as ever to be the voice of reason. “In fact, he was using a drug called chloral hydrate to incapacitate the victims before he drained them of blood, which would suggest he was quite human.”

“Then explain what happened in your hotel room that night,” Mulder said, smug.

She heaved a resigned sigh. “I was at the medical examiner’s office, conducting an autopsy on our second victim, when I discovered that the chloral hydrate was in the pizza they’d both eaten shortly before they were murdered.”

“At the same time, I was in Scully’s hotel room, eating the pizza she’d ordered…”

She glared at him, still annoyed that he’d eaten her dinner, even if it did almost get him killed. “Long story short, the pizza delivery boy, a local teenager named Ronnie Strickland, had drugged my pizza, which Mulder ate. I got there just in time to interrupt him before he could kill Mulder too.”

“I had been able to delay him for a few minutes by throwing sunflower seeds at him,” Mulder explained with another smile, turning the full force of his boyish charm on Detective Gibson.

She folded her arms over her chest, looking decidedly unamused, her gaze flicking to Scully’s. And suddenly, Scully would rather be swallowed up by the damp London soil beneath her heels than tell this woman the rest of the story. But Mulder was already explaining how he’d plunged a wooden stake through Ronnie Strickland’s heart.

“Bearing in mind that Agent Mulder was under the effects of chloral hydrate at the time, which may have affected his judgment,” Scully added. “The important thing is that Ronnie Strickland killed at least two people in Chaney, Texas, last year, and now we believe he’s killing here in London.”

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Detective Gibson said, her tone clipped with impatience. “But I’ll take it from here.”

“Actually…” Scully stepped forward, and the detective fixed her again with that intense stare. “I’m a medical doctor. I autopsied the victims in Texas. Maybe you could just let me take a look at this body to check for similarities?”

For a moment, she was sure the steely-eyed detective was going to send her on her way, and then she’d be forced to follow Mulder wherever he decided to poke next, since she’d driven here with him, but then Detective Gibson gave a brisk nod.

“I suppose that couldn’t hurt.”

“Thank you,” Scully told her earnestly. “I brought the bite impressions from our cases with me from DC. Hopefully, we can get a match.”

“Great. You go look at the body, Scully. I’m going to check something out.” Mulder strode off in the direction they’d come from, his mind already miles away, focused on…wherever he was headed. If it wasn’t so perfectly, typically Mulder, she might actually scream in frustration.

Instead, she gave Detective Gibson a tight smile. Hopefully she didn’t mind driving Scully to the morgue.

* * *

Stella rested her hip against the doorframe, watching Agent Scully as she examined the body. She’d changed into blue scrubs, red hair gleaming beneath the harsh overhead lights in a most distracting way. She and Stella had observed the official autopsy, which confirmed that the victim—one Joe Morris—had indeed eaten pizza shortly before his death, and now Scully was getting the chance to make her own observations under Stella’s supervision.

She was newly promoted to Detective Sergeant, which at her age and especially as a woman, meant she had a hell of a lot of pressure to succeed on her shoulders. She absolutely could not afford to fuck up, not on this case and especially not with the questionable interference of Agents Mulder and Scully. Her gaze dropped to Scully’s gloved hands.

“Have you ever heard of a condition called Renfield’s syndrome?” she asked, tossing a glance over her shoulder at Stella.

“No.”

“Sufferers have an obsession with drinking blood.” Scully bent her head to examine the bite wound more closely. “Some of them even believe themselves to be real life vampires.”

“So, you don’t think your killer was actually a vampire, then?”

Scully’s brows drew together, causing faint wrinkles to appear above her nose that only added to the professional yet sexy vibe she had going. “As a scientist, I would have to say no.”

“And as an agent?”

Scully gave her a sharp look. “There is the small matter of the way he walked out of the morgue once the medical examiner removed the wooden stake from his chest cavity.”

“The wooden stake your partner drove into his heart.”

Scully straightened, tongue darting out to wet her lips, obviously choosing her next words carefully. In the end, all she said was, “Yes.”

“Agent Scully—”

“Dana,” she interrupted, her expression softening as she met Stella’s gaze for a moment before returning to the body on the table in front of her. “I know it sounds crazy. I can’t explain it. But whether or not either of us believes Ronnie Strickland is a vampire, the fact remains that I think he’s here in London. See these puncture wounds?”

Stella pushed off from the doorframe and stepped closer, close enough that the faintly fruity smell of Scully’s shampoo reached her nose through the other, less pleasant scents of the morgue. “I see them.”

“He wears prosthetic fangs over his teeth.” She gestured to the two fang marks that punctured the victim’s neck. “I expect that once the lab comparison comes back, you’ll find that these marks match our victims in Texas.”

“Your bodies weren’t buried.” Stella met Scully’s eyes, intrigued by what she saw there, intelligence and determination sparkling in their blue depths.

“No. He left them at the scene in Texas, but he’s had almost a year to learn from that experience. Who knows how many people he’s killed and buried since then?”

“He’s become more sophisticated,” Stella said. “Assuming it’s the same man.”

“The puncture wounds, exsanguinated bodies, pizza in the stomach, chloral hydrate in his bloodstream, and the untied shoelaces are all a match for our case in Texas.”

“A lot of similarities,” Stella admitted. She’d been ready to write Mulder and Scully off as slightly crazy and way out of their jurisdiction when she’d first met them, but now she was willing to admit there was a strong chance their cases were linked.

“I expect Mulder’s out canvassing local pizza delivery places,” Scully said.

“He didn’t tell you where he was going?” Stella had never worked with a partner. The Metropolitan police assigned officers at random to each case, but her impression was that her counterparts in America worked quite closely with their partners.

But Scully was shaking her head, her expression a combination of frustration and amusement. “His feet sometimes work faster than his mouth.”

“I see.” Stella watched as Scully stepped back from the table, removing her gloves.

“I had a photo and profile of Ronnie Strickland sent to your office. You should show it around, see if he’s still delivering pizzas for a living.”

“I’ll do that,” Stella said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Scully’s smile was brief but sincere.

“So, you believe he suffers from Renfield’s syndrome, then?” she asked, not sure why she was pushing the subject, but it fascinated her to see a woman of medicine, of science, otherwise so logical and rational, consider the possibility that their killer might be a mythical creature.

Scully drew a deep breath, pushing it out slowly, her jaw flexing as if she’d grown unfortunately accustomed to answering questions like these. “There were anomalies in his blood that I can’t explain, not to mention his apparent resurrection from the dead. I would have to examine him myself to be certain, Detective Gibson.”

“Stella,” she corrected.

“Stella.” Scully looked her dead in the eye, and Stella felt it in the pit of her stomach, a shivery heat that rose up to lodge in her throat. Nothing turned her on in a woman more than competence, intelligence, and right now, Dana Scully had her halfway convinced vampires were real.

“It’s possible that there’s a science to Ronnie Strickland’s condition that I’m not aware of,” Scully said. “It’s also possible he’s just another self-deluded psychopath.”

Stella led the way out of the morgue, waiting in the hallway as Scully changed back into her clothes. She emerged from the bathroom wearing the black trousers, white button-down shirt, and black blazer she’d had on earlier, running her fingers through her slightly ruffled hair.

Stella had driven her here from the crime scene and was prepared to offer her a ride back to her hotel as well, assuming the elusive Agent Mulder didn’t reappear. Her gaze caught on Scully’s slender fingers as she toyed with a button on her shirt. “Have you eaten yet, Dana?”

“What?” Scully darted a nervous glance in her direction.

“Would you like to get something to eat before I drive you back to your hotel?” she clarified.

Scully hesitated long enough that Stella started to consider alternate options to burn off the restless energy buzzing inside her, like going to one of her favorite bars to find a random man for the evening, or a swim, or even returning to the office to update her case file with the new information Scully had provided.

But she smiled as she buttoned her blazer. “I’d like that.”

“Perfect.” Stella couldn’t help the way her gaze drifted to the delicate curve of Scully’s collarbone beneath her Catholic cross pendant, the swell of her breasts visible beneath the open top button of her blouse. The way Scully’s cheeks darkened when she caught Stella looking. The slight toss of her head as she dared her to keep looking.

On second thought, Stella wasn’t in the mood for a man tonight, after all.

Chapter Text

Scully sipped her wine as she let the stress of the day slide off her shoulders like the blazer she’d hung from the hook beside their table. “Sorry for stepping on your toes at the crime scene earlier,” she told Stella, who sat across from her, watching her through slightly narrowed eyes as she sipped her own wine. “I know Mulder can be a bit…much.”

“It’s all right,” Stella assured her. “If you help me catch my killer, we’ll call it even.”

“And if we don’t?”

Stella arched a perfectly-plucked brow. “Then I’ll be forced to assume you’re both somewhat insane.”

Scully couldn’t contain the laughter that bubbled up from her chest, escaping as something between a gasp and a giggle. “You wouldn’t be the first, and you won’t be the last.”

“Does it bother you?” Stella asked, her tone frank, genuine curiosity in her eyes.

Scully lifted the wineglass to her lips and took a hearty swallow. “Sometimes.”

“I’m sorry.” All the force had gone out of Stella’s tone. “For poking at a sore subject.”

Scully shook her head. “It’s okay. Really. You can ask.”

“I guess I’m just wondering how a woman of science can sit there and tell me my killer might in fact be a vampire.” Stella leaned forward slightly in her seat, her eyes boring into Scully’s. There was no condescension in her gaze, though, only a genuine desire to understand. “That you’ve in fact dedicated your career to investigating cases most logical people would assume to be completely ludicrous.”

“You’ve done a little research into the X Files, then.” It wasn’t a surprise. She would have done the same, and in Stella’s shoes, she’d have drawn the same conclusions.

Stella nodded, swirling her wineglass thoughtfully. There was a small beauty mark above her upper lip, and Scully found herself wondering what it would feel like beneath her tongue. She’d experimented with both men and women in college, even had a fairly serious girlfriend her first year of medical school, but she hadn’t been with a woman since. Sitting across from Stella tonight, she wondered why not.

“I was originally brought in to debunk Mulder’s theories, to prove him wrong.”

“And?”

“And sometimes I do, but just as often, he turns out to be right. He’s got a brilliant mind and an uncanny ability to see truth in things the rest of us write off as fiction. I’ve seen things that can’t be explained by science, at least not as we currently understand it.”

“Interesting.”

“Do you really think so?” Scully asked, unable to contain her inner skeptic.

“I do,” Stella told her. “I confess, I hope my killer turns out to be your killer, although I’ll be betting that he suffers from Renfield’s syndrome.”

“I don’t care if he’s a vampire or not as long as we catch him,” Scully muttered, still remembering the sting of embarrassment when they’d met with Skinner to tell their ridiculous tale.

“I gather you don’t often get proof of the unexplainable things you investigate.”

“No, we don’t. It’s…frustrating.”

“I’m sure it must be.” Stella stared into the depths of her wineglass, as if contemplating a life where she never got to prove her worth. Somehow, Scully imagined that wasn’t an option for someone like Stella.

“Sometime, maybe I’ll tell you a few of our wilder tales.” It came out sounding flirtier than she’d intended, and her cheeks warmed.

Stella looked up, eyes locking onto Scully’s like a heat-seeking missile that had just found its target. “I’d like that.”

Scully’s fingers tightened around the stem of her wineglass. Why was their food taking so long to arrive? Why had she become so attached to Mulder that she’d hardly been on a date in the last six years? Because she felt woefully out of practice sitting across the table from someone like Stella, who oozed confidence and sex appeal.

Not that this was a date. This was just dinner with a colleague. Wasn’t it? God, she was terrible at this.

“Are you and Agent Mulder…?” Stella asked, her intention as transparent as the air between them.

Scully gave her head a slight shake, brushing back the red lock that fell across her eyes. “No, we’re just partners.”

Stella raised an eyebrow questioningly.

Scully huffed, bursting with a combination of nervous energy, attraction, and confusion. “Okay, we’re not just partners, but we’re not sleeping together either.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

Scully sighed into her drink. “I don’t either.”

Stella waited patiently for her to explain, drink dangling from her well-manicured hand.

“There’s no one in the world I’m closer to. I’d give my life for him, and he would do the same for me. We have quite literally gone to the ends of the earth for each other. Sometimes, I wish it could be more, but the short answer is that we’re not involved romantically.”

“But you feel you owe him some kind of loyalty.” Stella wasn’t a detective for nothing.

“Sometimes.”

“Tonight?”

“No.” Scully’s breath caught in her throat. They’d both leaned forward as they spoke, faces dangerously close across the table. Stella’s gaze dropped to Scully’s lips, and heat blazed through her, focusing in a bolt of fire that shot through her core.

“Are you sure?” Her r’s were lost to her accent.

Scully was just as lost…in her accent, and in Stella herself. Here was a woman in control of every aspect of her life, calmly confident in her ability to seduce Scully and not ashamed to show it. And tonight, Scully wanted a bit of that confidence for herself. “I’m sure.”

* * *

Stella led the way to her car, selfishly pleased with the sound of Scully’s heels clicking beside hers on the pavement. She’d fallen into a pattern lately, a predictably dull pattern of men, as forgettable as they had been handsome. With Scully, she felt a flutter of excitement she hadn’t felt in a while. Scully was different for her on several fronts.

Usually, Stella didn’t fuck people she considered an equal, preferring to keep the power dynamic in her favor. Somehow, she sensed this wouldn’t be a problem with Scully, if for no other reason, because Scully was only in London another day or two. Anyway, Stella was too intrigued and too attracted not to at least feel things out between them.

She stopped beside her silver Citroen sedan, turning toward Scully. They stared at each other in the yellowish light of the parking lot. Somehow, the artificial lighting caused Scully’s hair to almost glow, flames dancing around her face and snapping in her eyes.

“Just making sure we’re on the same page,” Stella murmured as she feathered her fingers through that fiery shock of hair. She’d almost expected it to burn her fingers, but it was cool in the evening air, as soft as the puff of air that escaped Scully’s lips at the contact.

“We’re on the same page,” she whispered, one hand coming to rest on Stella’s waist.

And that was all the invitation she needed. Stella pressed her fingers into Scully’s scalp, using her hand as leverage to guide Scully’s lips to hers. They met in a rush of warm breath, lips touching hesitantly at first. Stella brought her free hand to the hollow of Scully’s back, feeling the way she stiffened momentarily at the touch.

Stella sought her eyes, holding her gaze as Scully softened into her embrace, releasing a sigh that almost sounded like relief. Maybe Scully needed this night as much as Stella did. Maybe she had her own demons that needed silencing, the kind that could only be silenced by the touch of another human being. Somehow, she suspected it had been a lot longer since Scully sought this kind of release than it had been for Stella.

She dragged her teeth lightly over Scully’s bottom lip, eliciting a moan that sent a rush of heat and need straight to Stella’s core. She repeated the action, tugging her closer so their bodies pressed together, everything in perfect alignment—breast to breast, hip to hip, toe to toe. Stella’s heels gave her a slight height advantage, a position so rare it filled her with a heady euphoria that made her wild and reckless.

Scully’s lips parted, and Stella kissed her properly, drunk off the taste of her, wine mixed with an after-dinner breath mint, sin and innocence combined into an intoxicating cocktail that had Stella’s pulse pounding hard and fast through her veins. She brought both hands to the back of Scully’s head, cupping her face as she kissed her senseless.

Their tongues moved together in a sensual dance, slow and rhythmic and full of intention. Scully kissed like she spoke—earnest and intense and passionate, so fucking passionate. Her tongue swirled around Stella’s, and it was her turn to moan. She lifted her head, dragging much-needed oxygen into her lungs as she attempted to think through the lust-filled haze that had overtaken her senses.

There was something almost arrestingly innocent about Scully as she stared at Stella, lips swollen, cheeks flushed, chest heaving, as if Stella were the first person to have ever kissed her. But the daring glint in her eye told Stella she wasn’t as innocent as she looked.

“Have you done this before?” Stella couldn’t help asking. “With a woman, I mean.”

“Yes.” Scully reached for her, spinning them so Stella’s back pressed against the door of the car, Scully’s thigh pressed between her own.

She stiffened automatically, hands gripping Scully’s wrists to push her away, to regain control, but the reflex died away as Scully kissed her again, using her newfound leverage to roll her hips against Stella’s. Their kiss grew messier as they groped at each other, pulling desperately at fabric as they tried to bring their bodies impossibly closer.

A car door slammed somewhere nearby, and they both jumped. Scully lifted her head, a satisfied smile dancing around the corners of her lips. Stella sucked in a deep breath and pushed it out, stepping briskly past Scully. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d forgotten herself like that, even for a moment.

Scully tugged at her blazer, glancing at Stella out of the corner of her eye, as hesitant now as she’d been bold before. Stella ran her fingers through her hair, taking a moment to compose herself. A light drizzle had begun to fall, cold and unwelcome, glistening on her clothes and dampening her hair. “What do you say we continue this at your hotel room?”

Scully hesitated only a moment before nodding. “Yes.”

A hot rush of anticipation flowed through Stella as she unlocked the car. She slid into the driver’s seat as Scully climbed into the passenger seat beside her. The restaurant she’d chosen wasn’t far from Scully’s hotel, a fact she was intensely grateful for as she began to drive. Scully was quiet beside her, hands clasped in her lap, darting occasional glances at Stella.

She could still taste Scully on her mouth, could still feel the firm yet slender weight of her thigh pressed between her legs, reigniting the restless ache that burned for her there. Knowing Scully had done this before made her even more confident about the night to come.

The London streets bustled around her, thick with cars and buses, their lights glistening off the damp asphalt. Stella wrestled her impatience as the light in front of them changed to red. The interior of the car grew heavy with lust and silence.

“So, you don’t have a partner, then?” Scully asked out of the blue, seemingly needing to fill the air between them with something other than their growing restlessness.

“No.” She heard the curtness in her tone and softened it with a sigh. “Met officers typically work alone. At times, we’re assigned to work a case with another officer, but we’re only partnered for the duration of the case.”

“Sounds lonely,” Scully commented.

Stella wanted to ask her what it was like to work with the same person for six years, but she didn’t want to bring up Mulder, not when she hoped she was about to have sex with his partner, the woman who’d already admitted to having feelings for him. “I prefer it,” she said instead. “I don’t think I’d like being attached to the same person for any length of time.”

“At work or in general?” Scully asked, and Stella was aware she was watching her in the near-darkness inside the car.

“Either. Both.”

“Mm,” she responded, although Stella couldn’t be sure if she was agreeing with her or not.

She pulled up in front of Scully’s hotel, guiding the car toward the valet. Scully tucked a lock of crimson hair behind her ear, giving Stella another deceptively shy smile as she stepped out into the night. Stella stood from the driver’s seat, leaving the car running for the valet.

“Ma’am,” he said with a polite nod as he stepped forward.

Scully gave him her name and room number, and he handed her a yellow valet ticket. Stella rounded the car with purposeful strides, intent on getting Scully into the elevator as quickly as possible so she could touch her again, kiss her again, almost overcome with the need to have her behind a closed door and naked.

Stella’s phone buzzed inside her pocket, and she reached for it, knowing before she’d even checked the screen that it would be the Met. Her stomach plummeted, disappointment mixing with the usual excitement of a new case. She held up a finger to Scully, who had just pressed the button to summon the elevator.

She brought the phone to her ear. “Gibson.”

“It’s Kingsley,” her supervisor, DSI Fran Kingsley, spoke in her ear.

“Yes, ma’am,” Stella responded, turning away from Scully.

“We’ve got another homicide, and I apologize for calling on you after assigning you the Morris case this afternoon, but Pembrick and Hammill are out with the flu, and besides that, I could use your expertise on this one.”

Stella felt something deep inside her tense. Her expertise, such as it was, generally involved women and children, usually crimes of a sexual nature. “I’ll be at the station in ten,” she told her boss flatly before pushing the phone into her pocket. She looked at Scully, who was staring at her shoes.

“You have to go,” she said.

“Work. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.” Scully stepped forward, pressing a quick kiss against her lips as she handed her the valet ticket. “I understand as well as anyone what that’s like. Go.”

“Thank you.” Stella stuffed restlessness and regret into the back of her mind, focused now on the case at hand.

“I’m here tomorrow night too,” Scully said, giving her hand a quick squeeze.

“Good to know.” Stella gave her one last kiss and headed for the hotel’s front entrance, already waving to the valet to bring her car.

* * *

Scully walked straight to the door connecting her room to Mulder’s and turned the lock. She wasn’t sure why, exactly, since Stella hadn’t made it past the lobby, but with her body still humming from their kisses, she didn’t want to see Mulder tonight. Not that it was likely he’d use the connecting door. He never did, unless he was popping his head in to tell her about a development on a case. And she wasn’t even sure where he was tonight, probably still out tracking down leads.

She sat on the bed, touching her fingertips to her bottom lip, remembering the scrape of Stella’s teeth there, the hunger in her eyes when Scully had pressed her against the door of the car, the heat of her body against Scully’s. It was entirely unlike her to make out with a fellow detective on a case, and that’s exactly why she was so thrilled she’d done it. She wasn’t here in an official capacity, and therefore she was free to do whatever she wanted. And she wanted Stella.

Maybe she was tired of dedicating every moment of her life to Mulder and the X Files. They weren’t even assigned to the X Files anymore, and how long could they really expect to keep their sanity sitting at their desks, conducting background checks while Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley—Scully scowled at the mere thought of the woman—carried on their work?

Something had to give. And it might just be Scully.

She stood and walked to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her before she started the shower running. She stepped out of her clothes, folded them neatly on the counter, and stepped beneath the hot spray, letting it wash the stress and excitement of the day from her skin. With any luck, tomorrow they’d catch Ronnie Strickland, and maybe she’d even get a second chance with Stella.

Maybe she’d go back to DC with a new spring in her step, maybe even a new mindset for herself. If she and Mulder didn’t get the X Files back by the end of the year, maybe she’d ask for a reassignment to a different field office or even leave the FBI entirely, go back to medicine. It had always been her first love, after all. One thing was for sure, she was tired of sitting back and waiting for things to happen.

It was time—past time—for her to start driving her own life.

After her shower, she dried her hair and put on her black silk pajamas, frowning at herself in the mirror. They weren’t exactly the sexiest sleepwear, just as well Stella hadn’t seen them. Maybe she’d find time tomorrow to sneak out and buy herself some lingerie…just in case.

It was still early, but jetlag had done a number on her, so she crawled into bed, not even bothering to set an alarm, and was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. The sound of someone knocking at the door woke her sometime later. She shrugged onto her elbows, squinting at the clock beside the bed.

3:42 am.

Dammit, Mulder. She crawled out of bed, already preparing the barb to throw his way if he’d woken her at this hour to tell her anything even remotely vampire-related. Or alien-related. Or anything to do with monsters of any kind. But of course he was, because he never woke her during the night for any other reason.

Preparing her best “I don’t fucking believe you” face, she unbolted the door and yanked it open to reveal Stella standing in the hallway. Her blonde hair looked somewhat more disheveled than it had when they said goodbye in the lobby, as if she’d been standing outside in the intervening hours, being punished by the frigid wind and drizzling rain that had fallen stubbornly over the course of the evening. She still wore the black wrap-around sweater and pants she’d had on earlier, covered now by a slate-gray wool coat.

She blanched at the expression on Scully’s face. “I’m sorry. It’s late. I shouldn’t have—”

“No,” Scully interrupted, replacing her scowl with a smile. “I thought you were Mulder. You, I’m happy to see.”

“Mulder?” Stella frowned. “Why would he be at your door at this hour?”

“To tell me about monsters. Come in.” She took Stella’s hand, giving it a gentle tug. Her fingers were ice cold beneath Scully’s.

“I’m not here to talk about monsters,” Stella whispered, leaning forward to capture her mouth, her lips almost as cold as her fingers.

“Thank God,” Scully said between kisses. This close, she saw that Stella wasn’t here to talk about monsters but to escape them. There was a haunted look in her eyes Scully knew well. Whatever crime scene she’d just come from, it had been a rough one, the kind you couldn’t leave and go home alone, not unless you wanted the monsters to torment you for the rest of the night. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.” Stella pressed her against the wall, covering Scully’s body with her own. “I don’t want to talk at all.”

“Okay.” She reached for Stella’s coat and pushed it over her shoulders, turning to lay it across the chair to her right. It was dark in the room now that the door to the hall had shut, only the faint lights of the city below filtering in through the window. Scully had left the blinds open earlier to enjoy the view and forgotten to shut them before she went to bed. Now, she was glad to have enough light to see Stella by, if just barely.

In her black clothes, Stella was little more than a ghost before her, cold skin pressed against Scully’s, hands roaming as their mouths met again, hungry and seeking. Stella’s hand slipped beneath the loose fabric of Scully’s pajama top, and she sucked in a breath at the contact, although Stella’s fingers were rapidly warming against her skin, heated by the fire blazing between them.

Scully spared a brief, vain moment to lament that Stella was seeing her pajamas after all, but it was quickly replaced by a groan as Stella cupped her breasts, allowing her fingernails to skim lightly over the sensitive skin below. She let her head fall back against the wall. “I hope I’m not dreaming.”

“You’re not,” Stella breathed in that way-too-sexy accent, dipping her head to suck at the pulse point on Scully’s neck as if to prove her point. She bit down hard enough to leave a mark before dropping lower still to nip at her breast, snagging her nipple between her teeth through the thin, silk fabric.

Holy shit. How had she let herself go so long without being touched? She’d almost forgotten how good it felt to be with someone like this, especially a woman. There was something incredibly powerful about kissing someone her own size, feeling soft, slender fingers against her skin instead of the big, rough ones she was used to. “How did you know my room number?”

“From the valet ticket.”

“Nice detective work.” Her hands slid around Stella’s waist, familiarizing herself with the delicate curve of her body, the jut of her hipbones beneath the soft fabric of her pants. She traced a finger down Stella’s zipper, rewarded by a harsh exhale against her lips as Stella’s hips swayed forward to meet her touch. Scully stroked her through the fabric, feeling half-drunk on the freedom to touch her, to be touched, to give and receive pleasure.

Stella’s hands were working the buttons of Scully’s top now, expertly popping them open one by one until the fabric slid to the floor with a faint gasp, baring Scully’s breasts to the moonlight.

“You’re stunning,” Stella said quietly.

Scully felt heat rise to her cheeks at the compliment. When was the last time someone had appreciated her as a woman? Not as an FBI agent, a doctor, or a patient. An image of Ed Jerse flitted through her mind, and she quickly shut it out. This night with Stella would be a million times better and more memorable than her night with Ed.

With slightly trembling hands, she untied the knot at Stella’s hip and released her sweater, helping her to guide it over her head. Scully tossed it onto the chair with her coat, pausing to take in the sight of Stella in her bra, her full breasts filling the cups perfectly. It was too dark to fully appreciate the sheer black lace in front of her, but even so, Scully felt a hot thrill as she ran her fingers over it.

“Do you always dress like this under your work clothes?” She thought of the plain black satin bra she’d worn earlier that day.

“Yes.” Stella’s hands skimmed over Scully’s bare stomach to the waistband of her pajama pants.

“Why?” Scully pinched Stella’s nipples through the lace.

Stella hissed out a breath, her hips jutting forward to press against Scully’s. “Because I like pretty lingerie,” she said, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world, and why not? Why didn’t Scully buy pretty things just for herself? Maybe once she got home from this trip, she would.

“And because I never know where I may end up at the end of the night.” Stella met her gaze, the lights of the street below twinkling in her eyes like diamonds.

How often did she do this? Scully forced herself not to ponder that thought as she unbuttoned Stella’s pants, pushing down the zipper she’d teased earlier. Stella stepped out of them, tossing them over the rest of her clothes on the chair, standing before Scully in a matching black lace thong. Her body gleamed a pearly white in the dim light reflected from the window. Scully ran her hands down Stella’s sides, savoring the lean, toned feel of her flesh beneath her palms.

Stella pushed down Scully’s pajama pants, baring the pink cotton panties she’d worn to bed, and it was a good thing it was dark in the room, because she was pretty sure her cheeks were a perfect match for her panties right now. Then Stella swiped a thumb across the cotton fabric, and Scully forgot everything except the sizzling, throbbing heat in the wake of her touch.

Stella stepped her slowly and deliberately toward the bed, kissing her the whole way, her tongue dancing against Scully’s, the lace of her bra teasing Scully’s bare breasts as they fell together onto the sleep-rumpled sheets. Stella settled on top of her, one lean, muscled thigh pressed between Scully’s, and she was so turned on she could barely think, barely breathe.

She inhaled slowly, hearing the hitch in her breath as Stella’s tongue flicked her nipple, her hips moving in a deliciously, torturously slow rhythm that pressed her thigh directly against Scully’s clit. She reached out, gripping Stella’s ass, pulling her closer, fingernails pressing into Stella’s smooth skin, causing her to gasp.

“You like that?” she managed, pressing her nails harder into Stella’s skin.

“Yes.” Her voice had gone impossibly high-pitched, little more than an exhale as she closed her eyes, hips moving against Scully’s in earnest now.

“And this?” She slid her hands up Stella’s back, pulling her down so she could suck one of Stella’s nipples into her mouth through the shell of her bra. She bit down, drawing a strangled groan from Stella’s lips.

“Yes,” she whispered, her body shuddering in pleasure beneath Scully’s touch.

She remembered the look in Stella’s eyes when she’d come to the door. While Scully had been safe and warm in her bed, Stella had been standing in the cold rain, staring down God-knew-what kind of evil. And Scully desperately wanted to cleanse her of it, at least for tonight, to replace the bad pain with the good kind.

“Roll over.” She pushed on Stella’s shoulders, guiding her to the bed, and to her surprise, Stella didn’t protest, landing on her back against the sheets, eyes smoldering up at Scully in the near darkness. “Can I take these off?” she tugged at the strap of Stella’s bra before dropping her hand to the lace band at her hip.

Stella hesitated, and Scully had the distinct impression she didn’t always undress for sex, that maybe she’d already seen more of her than most of her partners did. But then she lifted up and unhooked her bra, tossing it and her panties to the floor beside the bed. Scully’s heart thumped against her ribs as she settled herself over Stella.

She bent her head, sucking one of her nipples into her mouth as her hand traveled down the smooth, flat expanse of Stella’s stomach. She squeezed her thigh, feeling the strong muscles there, wondering fleetingly how she kept them that way. Stella shifted beneath her, muscles bunching beneath Scully’s fingers, eyes boring into hers, glinting crystalline in the dim light.

“Ready?” Scully whispered, and Stella nodded, breathing deeply, eyes fluttering shut in anticipation of her touch.

Scully bit down on her nipple at the same time she slid her hand to the juncture of Stella’s thighs, and Stella gasped, hips bucking beneath the confine of Scully’s body. She stroked her fingers through Stella’s wetness, holding her breath as she touched Stella’s clit, focused on delivering as much pleasure as possible.

“Yes,” Stella gasped. “More.”

Scully kissed her way up Stella’s chest to her neck, nipping at the tender skin there as her fingers swirled over Stella’s clit before sliding down to her entrance. Keeping her palm firmly against her, she pushed a finger inside, simultaneously sucking at the mark she’d made on Stella’s neck.

Stella sighed, her body seeming to tense and relax at the same time. Her eyes were closed now, eyebrows jumping as Scully pumped her finger in and out before adding a second. She curved forward, bringing her head down to lavish her attention on Stella’s other breast, nipping and sucking as Stella rode her hand, thighs clamped around her wrist, grinding herself against Scully’s palm as she pumped her fingers inside her.

Stella arched off the bed as her inner walls gripped Scully’s fingers, pulsing as she began to come. She threw her head back, letting out a sound somewhere between a moan and a gasp that was possibly the most erotic thing Scully had ever heard. Her clit throbbed so powerfully she thought for a moment she might come from the sound of Stella’s orgasm, from the feel of her body trembling beneath Scully’s as she came apart in her arms.

Stella flung an arm over her eyes, breathing deeply. Scully withdrew her hand carefully, leaning down to place a fierce kiss against Stella’s lips. Stella’s other arm came around her, surprisingly strong as she pulled Scully flush against her body, hot damp skin against hot damp skin.

And then Stella was moving, rolling, pinning Scully to the bed beneath her. Stella’s fingers hooked under the band of Scully’s underwear, dragging them down her legs, and she kicked them free of her ankles, her body burning beneath Stella’s. She felt as if she might die if Stella didn’t touch her before her next breath, but at the same time, she wanted this moment to last forever, the feel of Stella’s breasts against hers, the press of Stella’s hipbone against her clit, the way every cell in her body felt exquisitely, almost painfully alive in a way she wasn’t sure she’d ever felt, or at least never taken the time to notice.

She closed her eyes, breathing, just breathing, and then Stella’s lips were on hers. Everything inside Scully seemed to vibrate, like she was a metal alloy heated to the point where it liquified, putty beneath Stella’s talented fingers, hers for Stella to mold into something new. As she sucked Scully’s tongue into her mouth, her fingers dipped between Scully’s legs, finally touching the parts of her that had been aching for her touch almost since they’d met.

Scully didn’t even try to contain the needy noises she heard herself making, strangled cries and groans, her hips grinding against Stella’s hand as Stella’s nimble fingers stroked in and out of her, making her eyes roll back in her head. She’d forgotten this part about being with a woman, the way their bodies fit together in perfect symmetry, how soft it all was. Stella’s skin, her hair as it feathered over Scully’s shoulders like spun silk.

And, unlike most men Scully had been with, Stella knew her way around the female anatomy, because of course she did. She arched her fingers inside Scully’s body, hitting that spot she could never quite seem to find by herself, the spot that made her toes curl and her lungs seize and the most outrageous cry of ecstasy to leave her lips.

In response, Stella kissed her deeper, fucked her harder, thumb pressing against Scully’s clit as she stroked that spot inside her, and Scully’s entire world was distilled to the tips of Stella’s fingers, the magic she’d woven there that had her coiling toward one of the most intense orgasms of her life. Her hips bucked, and her fingers clenched around Stella’s waist as the pressure built to an almost unbearable strength inside her.

“Please,” she gasped.

Stella increased the pressure of her hand, stroking her inside and out, and Scully broke with a cry, clutching desperately at the woman on top of her as she rode out the waves of pleasure. It just kept coming, and she held on, to Stella, to her sanity, to this newly unleashed part of herself that she never wanted to lose.

Stella rolled beside her, placing a kiss on Scully’s cheek that was far more tender than anything they’d previously shared. Scully felt the brush of her lips all the way to her soul.

“May I use your shower?” Stella whispered, and Scully nodded, attempting to corral the emotions charging wildly around inside her.

“Help yourself to anything you need,” she said, pleased that her voice sounded steady, calm even. She watched as Stella climbed out of the bed, her body lithe and graceful as a cat as she paced toward the bathroom. The door closed, and water began to run.

Scully grinned to herself, rubbing a hand over her face. It was just sex, really, really great sex. The best sex of her life? Maybe. Probably. She thought of Stella in the shower, briefly considered joining her before realizing that was crazy and would almost certainly not receive a positive reception from Stella. Besides, with endorphins fizzing in her blood, she felt the edges of sleep already curling around her, lulling her into its peaceful embrace.

The next thing she knew, Stella was walking toward the bed, wrapped in the thin white robe the hotel had provided. Her hair looked longer when it was wet, hanging almost to her waist. Her face was scrubbed clean, fresh and almost angelically beautiful, those fathomless eyes blinking at Scully without the weight of the mascara she’d worn earlier. Bare-faced and wet-haired, she looked younger, almost impossibly so, a glimpse at the woman behind the armor she wore to work each day.

It was this version of Stella who climbed into bed beside Scully, curled up quietly next to her, and closed her eyes. And it was this peaceful, innocent image of Stella that Scully carried with her into her dreams.

Chapter Text

Stella groped for the phone, lifting it to her ear almost before it had started to ring, an instinct ingrained from years of nights like this one, nights in which the alarm went off almost before her head touched the pillow. She managed to thank the front desk employee on the other end of the line for the wakeup call, her voice hoarse with sleep and hushed by the desire not to wake Scully.

But as she sat up, feet brushing against the coarse hotel room carpet, blinking furiously to anchor herself to consciousness, she felt a hand on her thigh, a soft, delicate hand that made Stella’s heart race at the simple contact.

“Up already?” Scully murmured.

“I have to be at work.” And she knew it needed no further explanation. Scully understood, was clearly as dedicated to her work as Stella.

“I’ll probably see you there later this morning.”

“I suppose you will.” Stella looked over her shoulder at Scully, wishing almost immediately that she hadn’t. Fresh-faced in the soft morning light, Scully was so beautiful Stella almost had to close her eyes against the sight, pale skin offset by those brilliant blue eyes and the vivid red of her hair. A smattering of light freckles dusted her cheeks and the bridge of her nose, and it was all Stella could do not to reach out and run her fingers over them.

“Don’t look at me like that if you want to make it into the office on time,” Scully whispered, a knowing smile on her lips.

Stella bent and kissed her, just a quick brush of lips that nevertheless eradicated the last shadows of sleep from her brain.

“Tonight, though…” Scully’s voice drifted away as she stretched, letting Stella watch as the sheet dropped to her waist, revealing her bare breasts, rosy nipples already pebbled against the chill of the room.

“Perhaps.” Stella stared a moment longer before turning her gaze to the pile of her clothes on the chair beside the bed. She didn’t usually fuck the same person two nights in a row. The fact that she was considering it now should be evidence enough that it was a bad idea.

She stood, pulling on her bra and underwear, but when she reached for her clothes, last night came rushing back at her in a cold, unforgiving wave. Seven-year-old Alissa Pine’s lifeless eyes stared up at her from her final resting place in a dumpster in the East End, begging Stella to unravel the monstrosities that had been done to her, to bring the man responsible to justice. The scent of decomposition filled Stella’s nostrils, seeming to radiate off the clothes on the chair. Even though she knew it was only in her head, she had to swallow past the urge to gag.

“You can borrow something clean if you like,” Scully said softly from behind her.

Tears pricked her eyes, burning anger for the little girl thrown out like rubbish mixed with gratitude for the woman watching her from the bed. “Thank you.”

“There are some things in the dresser, office clothes in the closet.”

Stella walked to the dresser. She had a change of clothes at the office, kept there for nights she never made it home, nights when she crashed on the cot behind her desk for a few hours of rest in the midst of a particularly intense case. She’d intended to go there last night, hadn’t meant to sleep in Scully’s bed, but she’d been so tired, Scully’s arms so warm, and for the two hours remaining before she had to get up, what difference did it really make where she slept?

She opened the top drawer and pulled out jeans and a plain black top, which fit her almost perfectly. She went into the bathroom to freshen up, and then, less than ten minutes after her wakeup call, she put on her coat, picked up her things, and headed for the door. When she reached it, she paused, looking back at Scully, who was still watching quietly from the bed.

It was just sex, just one night. Don’t make me regret it.

But all the things she would usually say—whether outright or through her actions—failed her as she met Scully’s earnest gaze. “I’ll see you at the office, then.”

Scully nodded as a smile touched her lips.

Stella’s heels clicked confidently across the polished floors of the hotel lobby a minute later, the only thing that felt familiar to her right now. Scully’s jeans were a bit loose on Stella’s hips. Her shirt smelled like something innocent and sweet, the essence of its owner clinging to the fibers as they brushed against Stella’s skin.

She retrieved her car from the valet and drove the short distance to the station, swiping her parking pass as she pulled into the garage beneath the building. In the elevator, she schooled her expression and straightened her spine, steeling herself for the day to come. Two killers to hunt, the responsibility for bringing them to justice resting solidly on her shoulders.

“Morning, ma’am.” DC Chen nodded to her as she passed. He was a good officer, steady and dependable, the top man on her team.

“Good morning.” She paused by his desk. “I’ll be briefing everyone about the Pine case in the conference room at nine. Can you pass that along?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you.” She strode directly to her office, closing the door behind her. She turned the lock, closed the blinds, and opened the closet, reaching for the garment bag hanging there. She stripped down, gratefully slipping into her own clothes. Then she took her toiletry bag to the restroom down the hall and did her makeup before giving her hair a quick brush. It had dried in unruly waves while she slept, so she twisted it up at the nape of her neck and clipped it there, polishing her look.

The woman staring back at her from the mirror was Detective Sergeant Stella Gibson, frosty and formidable, ready to take on the world. She would start by catching the monster who’d assaulted and murdered Alissa Pine.

She walked back to her office, already mentally running through the list of suspects. The girl’s stepfather topped her preliminary list, no steady job and a history of—

Fox Mulder stood in front of her desk, hands in the pockets of his slightly-too-large beige trousers, one foot tapping impatiently against the floor.

Stella brushed past him, sitting behind her desk as she fought back the impatience that filled her at the sight of him. Pizza-delivering vampires had fallen down her list of priorities. “Agent Mulder.”

“Detective.” He nodded politely. There was something endearingly enthusiastic about him, hazel eyes gleaming as if he’d just discovered the eighth wonder of the world. “I found him.”

“And by him, you mean…” She drummed her fingers against the desk.

“Ronnie Strickland. He goes by Tommy Lowe now, but the manager at Franco’s Pizzeria IDed him. He clocks in at noon.”

Stella felt her eyebrows rise. She leaned back in her chair, surveying Mulder through a new lens. This man was like a dog with a bone, driven and determined when he put his mind to something. “You found him.”

He nodded. “The manager gave me his home address, so if you’ll just—”

She held a hand up to silence him. “I’ll assign immediate, round-the-clock surveillance.”

“Can’t you bring him in?”

“I have nothing to charge him with. No evidence. As you’re not here in an official capacity, I have no authority to say that my case and yours are linked.”

“But…” He trailed off again as she tossed him a sharp look.

“We’ll get him, Agent Mulder.” And she felt a rush of gratitude for the man standing in front of her. If he’d indeed found her killer, and if that man indeed turned out to be a serial killer who’d perhaps been operating under her nose for almost a year now, she’d forever be in his debt. “Thank you for your help.”

“You’re welcome.” Mulder shuffled his feet as if caught off guard by her platitude, as if no one had ever thanked him for his work before. What was it like for him and Scully in their daily lives in America, running from one unsolvable case to the next, cases in which no one ever took them seriously despite both of them being—as far as Stella could tell—intelligent and capable agents?

“And Agent Scully?” She wasn’t sure why she said it, maybe just to test his reaction to her name.

“She should be here in a few minutes,” he answered, folding himself into one of the plastic-backed chairs on the visitor side of Stella’s desk. He was a handsome man, tall and lanky, with a charming smile and an inherently flirtatious manner. Yet, there was also something awkward about him. As she watched, he lifted a pen from her desk, twirling it between his fingers until it spun to the floor with a clatter. “Sorry.”

“No need.” She turned her back to him as she booted up her computer. “There should be coffee in the break room if you’d like a cup, down the hall on the left.” She dangled the bait, hoping she might buy herself time to organize her notes before the meeting she’d called for the Alissa Pine case, although she thought caffeine was probably the last thing Mulder needed.

Had he seen Scully this morning or just spoken to her by phone? Had Scully told him anything about last night? None of her business, but she figured Scully hadn’t, given the way he’d treated Stella so far this morning. He was possessive around Scully, she’d noticed it yesterday. He wouldn’t be pleased to know Stella had spent the night in her bed.

Stella smiled to herself as she logged in to the network, peripherally aware of Mulder standing from her guest chair.

“Can I bring you a cup?” he asked.

“Mm, please.” She tossed a half-smile in his direction.

“How do you take it?”

“Black.”

“Could have guessed.” He shuffled into the hall, disappearing in the direction of the break room.

Stella exhaled slowly, pressing her fingertips against her scalp. Fatigue weighed heavy behind her eyes, and she blinked it back, working her brain step-by-step through everything that needed to be accomplished this morning. She’d filled two sheets of notepaper by the time he returned, a paper cup in each hand.

An idea struck, a way to make him useful, give him something productive to do in his relentless pursuit of Ronnie Strickland, and get him out of her hair for the rest of the morning at the same time. “Agent Mulder, can I ask you and Agent Scully to take the lead on Ronnie Strickland’s surveillance?”

Mulder looked at her like she’d just told him Santa Claus was real. “Yeah, of course.”

“Perfect.” She lifted the phone and summoned DC Anker to her office, introducing Mulder to the eager young officer. She briefed Anker on the case and the surveillance that needed to be done.

When she looked up, Scully stood in the doorway to her office, dressed in a pale gray pencil skirt and a white blouse that only seemed to highlight the vivid beauty of her face, red hair tucked neatly behind her ears, eyes as bright as the summer sky. Everything inside Stella heated, and she had to concentrate to keep her gaze cool, unaffected.

She looked down at her lap to collect herself, registering her own clothes as she did, the gray skirt and white blouse almost identical to Scully’s. Fucking ridiculous, just the impression she wanted to make today. Jaw clenched, she forced her gaze back to Scully’s.

“Good morning, Agent Scully.”

“Morning, Detective.” Scully reached up to touch the gold cross at her throat, revealing a flash of purple on her neck where Stella had feasted just a few hours ago.

She inhaled sharply, dropping her gaze to the sheets of notepaper in front of her, a serial killer and a child predator waiting for her to catch them. “I’ll let Agent Mulder catch you up to speed.”

* * *

Scully held in a sigh as she adjusted her position in the passenger seat of Mulder’s rental car, stretching against the stiffness in her back.

“Just like old times, isn’t it, Scully?” he looked over at her with a smile.

“Mm hmm.”

“We’re going to catch him today. I can feel it,” he said, bursting with the conviction and enthusiasm that had made her follow him to the ends of the world, and for the moment, she couldn’t bring herself to quash it, so she just smiled and nodded.

They’d been sitting outside Ronnie’s apartment for two hours now, waiting for him to make his move. Soon, he’d head to his job at the pizza parlor, and hopefully from there, he’d go after his next victim. It all seemed too good to be true. Too easy. Nothing like this ever happened for them. Something was bound to go wrong.

Still, she kept her skepticism to herself. Maybe this trip to England would mark the start of a new era in her sex life and in her career. After feeling like she’d been mired in quicksand on both fronts for years, watching life pass her by as she chased answers she never seemed to find, maybe she’d return to America tomorrow a new woman.

“Shame Sheriff Hartwell’s not here this time,” Mulder said with an amused smile.

“Seriously, Mulder?” She rolled her eyes at him, wondering how he could still tease her about her harmless crush on the handsome sheriff while completely missing the way she looked at Stella, the fact that Stella had spent the night in her bed, that Scully had had to button her blouse higher than usual this morning to hide the mark on her neck. Warmth spread through her belly as she touched a hand to it.

“It’s okay, Scully. I won’t tell anyone you have a thing for vampires.”

“He wasn’t a vampire.”

“Sure. You keep telling yourself that.” He grinned at her.

She sighed, regretting that second cup of coffee before committing herself to a stakeout. Once Ronnie reported to work, maybe she could go into one of the neighboring businesses and use their restroom.

“Here he comes,” Mulder said, shifting the car into drive as quickly as he shifted his demeanor from playful and teasing to agent on the hunt for a killer.

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Maybe a part of her had doubted him, hadn’t truly believed he’d tracked Ronnie Strickland here to London, but as he came into view, hopping into a small blue sedan at the curb, Scully found herself looking at the same kid—was he still a teenager or a man now? —who’d eluded her and Mulder in Texas last year.

“Told you so.” Mulder sounded positively gleeful now.

Scully lifted the radio DC Anker had given them and reported in, letting the Metropolitan police know they were on the move. As it turned out, though, Ronnie wasn’t on his way to work. He drove slowly across town, as Scully reported their progress to Anker, who dispatched several patrol vehicles to follow at a distance, just in case.

“He’s called off from work today,” Anker told her over the radio. “Told his manager he was sick.”

“Oh,” Scully said. “Shit.”

“What?” Anker asked.

“He’s wearing his uniform and carrying a pizza delivery box.”

“Bloody hell.” Anker sounded excited now. Scully heard him repeating this information to someone and the murmuring of voices in the background. “DS Gibson and I are in pursuit. We’ll take the lead if the situation develops.”

“Okay.” She swallowed her frustration that she and Mulder would have to sit back and let them make the arrest, because this was the Met’s case after all. She and Mulder weren’t even supposed to be here.

Ten minutes later, Ronnie parked his car in front of a nondescript brick building, emerging with the pizza box in hand. He had definitely improved his game since his antics in Chaney, Texas. No more attacking people along his pizza delivery route, leaving the bodies at the scene. Had he hacked into the pizzeria’s system, making rogue deliveries on his own time?

“Holy shit,” Mulder said as Ronnie entered the building.

Scully radioed Anker with this development.

“DS Gibson says to hold your position, Agent Scully,” he told her. “We’re in route. Patrol officers should be on the scene momentarily.”

“He could be killing someone as we speak!” Mulder reached for the door handle, never having followed orders a day in his life.

She gripped his cuff. “He’s still using chloral hydrate to incapacitate his victims, which means he’s got to deliver the pizza and then wait for the drug to take effect. We’ve got time, Mulder.”

“I’m just going to go take a quick look around.” He stepped out of the car, crossing the street and entering the building Ronnie had gone into.

Scully pinched the bridge of her nose, annoyed she couldn’t follow him and frustrated that she’d be left behind to explain his insubordination…again. Several patrol cars pulled to the curb over the next minute or so, but Scully stayed in her seat. She waited until she saw the gray Citroen sedan park near the corner before she climbed out of Mulder’s rental car.

She walked briskly, head down in case Ronnie Strickland happened to look out of a window. She doubted he even remembered her, but with the red hair, she sometimes made a memorable figure in a criminal mind.

She slipped into the backseat of Stella’s car, briefing her and Anker on the latest developments, including the fact that Mulder had gone into the building on his own.

“Fuck,” Stella hissed, eyes meeting Scully’s for a moment in the mirror, icy in their intensity.

“He knows what he’s doing. He won’t endanger the investigation.” She could only hope he didn’t make a liar out of her.

“I’ll take it from here,” Stella told her for the second time in as many days, her tone cool and dismissive, but Scully didn’t budge. If Stella wanted her to leave the car, she’d have to kick her out. She didn’t, though. She gave Scully another seething look in the rearview mirror before turning to Anker. After leaving the hotel, she’d changed from Scully’s clothes into a gray pencil skirt and a white blouse, almost an exact match to the outfit Scully wore today.

Stella’s blouse was sleek and silk, though, where Scully’s was a stiff cotton blend. The irony might have made her smile under other circumstances, ones where she wasn’t sitting in the backseat of a police vehicle with an uncomfortably full bladder, listening as the woman she’d spent last night with cursed out her partner.

Stella was on her radio now, coordinating with the patrol officers on scene. One of them had gone into a building across the street with high-powered binoculars and was surveilling the apartment from which a pizza delivery order had been placed nearly an hour ago.

The radio in Stella’s hands crackled to life. “We have eyes on the homeowner. He appears to be unconscious on the sofa.”

“Hold your positions,” Stella said, her tone calm yet edged in steel.

“The door to the hall has opened,” the officer reported. “The suspect has entered the flat. I repeat, the suspect has entered the flat.”

“Now,” Stella barked, gesturing at Anker as all hell broke loose on the other end of the radio. Shouts echoed over the line, and someone screamed.

Scully straightened in her seat, itching to grab her weapon and dive into the melee. Stella leveled her with a stare. “You stay here.”

She nodded, praying quietly Mulder wasn’t inside that building fucking up the whole operation right now. She watched as Stella and Anker strode across the street and disappeared into the building. And then, everything was quiet.

She sat, and she waited, toe tapping restlessly against the gray-upholstered console between the backseats. The car smelled like Stella, the vaguely-exotic scent of her perfume. Scully closed her eyes and inhaled, remembering the brush of Stella’s hair on her shoulders, the scrape of her teeth over Scully’s bottom lip before she kissed her.

She shifted in her seat, a warm ache blooming between her thighs at the memory. She crossed her legs, waiting…and waiting what felt like an eternity until finally the front doors of the building burst open. Two patrol cops emerged, Ronnie Strickland cuffed between them.

And she couldn’t help herself. She climbed out of Stella’s car and strode across the street, leaning a hip against the patrol car parked in front of the building, waiting for Ronnie to notice her, hoping he’d recognize her. She wanted him to see her, dammit. He looked up, eyes gleaming with anger, prosthetic fangs in place as he hissed—actually hissed—at her in his rage.

“You!” he screeched. “I know you!”

Stella emerged from the building, flanked by Anker and several other agents. She folded her arms over her chest as she took in the sight of Scully in front of the building, not in the car where she’d told her to wait. But where the hell was Mulder?

“Gotcha this time,” Scully told Ronnie before turning her back on him. She was halfway back to their rental car when Mulder caught up to her, having materialized out of God-knew-where.

“We did it, Scully.” He ate up the ground between them with his long strides, already reaching for the handle to the car. “We got him.”

“Yeah, we did.” She smiled in spite of herself. “You didn’t do anything in there to screw up their operation, did you?”

“What?” He looked at her like the very idea was absurd. “Of course not. I just kept an eye on things until they brought him in.”

“Okay.” She lowered herself into the passenger seat, eager to get back to the station.

“You realize what this means, don’t you?” He started the car before turning to her, mossy green eyes burning into hers like they often did, the way that sometimes made her ache to kiss him. Today, it didn’t have the same effect.

“No,” she said simply.

“Once Kersh finds out we closed this case, he’ll have no choice but to put us back on the X Files.”

She sighed, rubbing a hand over her brow. “If you take this to Kersh, he’ll have our badges for coming here in the first place.”

“But Scully…”

“Stop it, Mulder. We caught our guy. We won. If we ever get back on the X Files, we can officially close the case and celebrate, but for now, we’ve got to be happy that justice was served.” She was sick to death of being the voice of reason, always being the voice of reason. They so rarely closed a case this definitively, and now that they had, they still wouldn’t get credit for it. It wasn’t fair. But few things relating to their work ever were.

Mulder looked crestfallen. He sat there for a long moment, staring at the steering wheel as he seemed to come to terms with her reality. She sat beside him, patiently waiting. Always waiting. A lifetime waiting for this man.

“You’re right,” he said finally.

“Okay.”

“We’ll go back to the station and help Detective Gibson get the paperwork squared away, and I’ll see if I can get us on a flight back to DC this evening.”

She looked over at him. “What? Why?”

“Because we caught him. The case is closed.” He looked confused by her confusion, and she realized in a sudden jolt how drastically different her idea of fun was from his. In fact, she wasn’t sure Mulder actually knew how to have fun unless it involved chasing aliens.

“I’ll keep my flight for tomorrow, thanks.”

“But…”

“We’re on vacation, Mulder,” she told him. “Officially, that is. We put in for vacation time to come to London, and I’d like to see a little bit of the city before I go home.”

“Oh.” His brow wrinkled as he finally started driving toward the station. “Okay, then. You stay, but I’m going to change my flight. Frohike was telling me about this report of a wolf-man in Montana…”

She tuned him out, thinking ahead to her night off.

And Stella.

Chapter Text

“So, did you guys plan this, or…?” Mulder grinned, sweeping his hand dramatically between Stella and Scully, gesturing to their nearly identical outfits.

Stella had just come from the morgue, where she’d stood over Alissa Pine’s tiny body while the medical examiner told her in gruesome detail every disgusting thing that had been done to the girl. She was running on fumes, and her patience for Mulder’s humor was running extremely thin. Her left eye twitched. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

His jaw gaped open for a moment while Scully pressed a hand over her eyes in embarrassment. How did she put up with him day after day? Six years of this, of listening to him mouth off about monsters and aliens, cracking stupid jokes in his ill-fitting suits.

“Tomorrow, I thought I might dye my hair blonde,” Scully deadpanned, glancing from Mulder to Stella. “See if you could tell us apart.”

Stella clenched her jaw against the completely irrational urge to laugh. She glared at Scully before spinning on her heel to walk to her office. She shut the door behind her for effect, sinking into her chair. For a moment, she just sat there, fingertips pressed against her brow, rubbing at the headache pulsing there.

Alissa’s body swam across her vision, and tears pricked at the backs of her eyes. Later that afternoon, she and Chen would question the girl’s stepfather. She could hardly wait to sink her teeth into the sonofabitch, metaphorically speaking, of course, but first, she had to prepare. She drew in a deep breath and pushed it out, blinking her composure into place.

Then she turned to her computer and got to work. She reviewed every detail of the Pine case, making careful notes about the holes in the stepfather’s alibi, his prior conviction for child pornography, and the as yet unidentified fibers on Alissa’s bare legs. She had no idea how much time had passed when she heard a knock at the door to her office. “Come in.”

The door opened, and Scully stood there, a bright smile on her face that was in such contradiction to the darkness in Stella’s mind she almost growled at her for having the nerve to look so happy. But she’d already dropped into the guest chair, still wearing that skirt that looked so ridiculously like Stella’s. Scully’s emphasized the hourglass swell of her figure and made Stella’s fingers clench against the urge to touch her.

“Chen told me you hadn’t eaten.” Scully set a white paper bag and an insolated coffee cup on the desk between them, still with that smile that made Stella want to scream at her or kiss her. One of the two.

“I missed lunch.” She sounded harsh even to her own ears. “Busy,” she added, purposefully softening her tone.

“I’ll get out of your hair, then.” Unphased, Scully stood, turning toward the door.

Stella blew out a slow breath. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Scully told her. “I always wished someone would bring me a sandwich when I was having a day like this. So…”

Stella gave her a grateful smile.

“Anyway, I’m headed back to the hotel for the evening. I might do a little sightseeing…playing it by ear.” She raised her eyebrows just slightly, enough to make sure Stella caught her meaning.

“Noted.” She took another breath, pushing back the desire that had barreled through her at the thought of seeing Scully again later. Don’t do it, a little voice inside her warned. She was already far too taken with Scully for her own good. But then again, tomorrow she would fly back to America, so there was no real danger in Stella allowing herself this one night. “Where’s Mulder?”

“At the airport. He’s flying home early.”

“I see.”

Scully smiled again, ducking her head. “I’ll, ah…see you later. Or not. You’ve got my number.”

Stella nodded, and Scully walked to the door, pulling it open.

“Dana.”

“Yes?” She turned, blue eyes as bright as cornflowers.

“I’ll see you later.”

* * *

The first thing Scully did when she got back to her room was change. She’d joked about the matching outfits, but truthfully, it was awkward. If she saw Stella again later, she didn’t want to look like a less-glamorous version of her. Besides, office clothes were for the office. She put on a floor-length black knit skirt with the blue top her mom had given her for her birthday.

It brought out the blue in her eyes, or so Maggie said. Right before she reminded Scully that thirty-three was almost mid-thirties, and had she thought about at least testing the dating pool? She’d never get married if she didn’t date.

Well, here she was in London, wearing the shirt and going on a date, even if it was with the least likely person in the whole world to someday marry her. If Stella had one thing in common with Mulder, it was that they were both married to the job, dedicated to the pursuit of justice to the detriment of their own well-being.

Scully had always thought she’d settle down someday and start a family. Even after she’d learned she couldn’t bear children of her own, she’d thought of adoption. Emily’s face flitted across her vision, and she gasped at the pain that gripped her chest, blinking back tears. Pressing a hand against her ribs, she sat on the bed, pulling herself back together.

These were thoughts, fears, and tears for another day. Right now, she had a city to see. So, she stuffed a few things into the pockets of her coat and headed out, frustrated to find London as cold, gray, and wet as it had been this time yesterday. Well, no matter. She’d spent enough hours standing outside in the cold rain at crime scenes. She’d hardly even notice it under these relatively happy circumstances.

She rode the tube to Green Park and walked to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard, before touring Westminster Abbey. And if she geeked out in front of the rows of ancient texts in its library, well, nobody needed to know about that but herself.

Darkness had fallen outside when she left the abbey. Her stomach rumbled with hunger, but she was hesitant to eat, hoping Stella would call. Her heart beat faster every time she so much as thought of her, let alone saw her. Could they possibly top the magic of last night? The one thing Scully was sure of was that she at least deserved the chance to try. She so rarely allowed herself to do something like this, to seek a night of pleasure just because it was something she wanted. But when she decided to cut loose, she was all in.

No regrets, no matter how tonight played out.

Since the rain had stopped, she set off at a brisk walk, deciding to see where her feet carried her. She needed the exercise after the stress and frustration of the day. Eventually, she walked past a market, multi-colored tents boasting a variety of food and treats. Led by her empty stomach, Scully wandered between the stalls. Ten minutes later, she walked back out with a bag of fudge in her hand, a morsel of salted caramel already melting in her mouth. She’d gotten a sampling of flavors, hoping she might have someone to share it with later.

As if on cue, her phone rang. The number was long and foreign-looking, and her stomach tingled in anticipation. Cursing herself for having a mouthful of fudge, she connected the call. “Hello?”

“Dana?”

She almost choked on the fudge at the sound of Stella’s voice. Quickly, she swallowed. “Yes.”

“Still want company tonight?”

“Yes.” She didn’t even care how eager she sounded, because she had earned this night, dammit.

“Where are you?”

“Um.” She looked around for street signs. “I don’t know exactly. I was walking, and I found this market, and—”

“Camden?” Stella asked.

“Maybe?”

“Are you lost, Agent Scully?”

She could hear the smile in Stella’s voice, and her own lips stretched in response. “Yes, but I can see a sign for the Underground up ahead, so I won’t be lost for long. Where should I meet you?”

“How do you feel about room service?”

“It sounds perfect,” she answered honestly. “And I just bought us dessert.”

“I thought you were dessert,” Stella said throatily, causing Scully to trip over her own feet. “I’ll meet you at your hotel.”

Scully hurried toward the Underground station. She bought a ticket and fidgeted with her skirt as she waited for the train to carry her across town to her hotel…and to Stella. Except, as it turned out, she had to change trains—twice—to get where she needed to go. It took almost forty-five minutes all told, and she was about to jump out of her own skin from a combination of nerves and anticipation by the time she made it into the lobby.

Was Stella here already? Scully didn’t see her anywhere, so she rode the elevator to the fifth floor, heart jumping into her throat as she spotted Stella in the hallway outside her room, one hip against the wall, arms folded across her chest in a way that managed to make her look both aloof and commanding.

“Took you long enough,” she said, her gaze sliding over Scully.

She felt it like a physical touch, shivering slightly as she stepped forward, tugging at Stella’s arm, undoing her carefully composed poise so she could kiss her. “Sorry,” she murmured against her lips.

“Thought you might be properly lost after all.” Stella kissed her back, her mouth hot and demanding against Scully’s.

“No, but the Underground is slow.” She fumbled with her keycard as Stella wound an arm around her waist, lips diverting their way down Scully’s neck as she unlocked the door and swung it open. They stumbled inside, arms interlaced, kissing whatever skin was within easy reach.

“You changed.” Stella tugged at the waistband of Scully’s skirt.

“Mm.” She undid the top button of Stella’s blouse. “If there had been a ‘who wore it better,’ you would have won.”

“I disagree. Your hips in that skirt.” Stella slid her fingers over the thin knit fabric covering Scully’s hips. “Absolute torture not being able to touch you.”

“And you look like you just stepped off a fashion runway, which is pretty unfair, considering I know you only got about two hours sleep last night and worked a twelve-hour day catching serial killers.”

“You energize me.” Stella dug her fingers into Scully’s hips, drawing her flush against her body.

This close, though, Scully could see the shadows beneath her eyes, the worry lines between her brows, the pink mark on her bottom lip where she must have bitten it in stress or frustration. Scully sucked it between her own lips, soothing the spot with her tongue as Stella exhaled deeply, the rigid set of her spine softening beneath Scully’s fingers.

She’d heard one of the other officers talking about a little girl found in a dumpster, and now she knew what had caused the haunted look in Stella’s eyes last night when she’d come to Scully’s room, seeking comfort from a near stranger. If she could help replace those images with something warm, something solid, something good, even for a few hours, then it was time well spent.

Especially if it meant another orgasm like the one Stella had given her last night. Maybe even more than one, because right now, the night ahead loomed large and endless before them.

“Did you stop at home after you left here this morning?” she asked as she stepped Stella backward toward the bed, unbuttoning her blouse as she went.

“No.” Stella gasped as Scully trailed a finger over her exposed collarbone, dipping between her breasts, covered tonight in a pink lace bra, just a shade darker than her skin. “I keep a change of clothes at the office.”

“Convenient.” Scully tongued her nipple through the fabric, then gave her a gentle shove.

“Yes.” Stella fell backward onto the bed, blouse open, skirt slightly bunched at the hips, and Scully felt her throat go dry. Surely nothing had ever been more beautiful than the way Stella looked in that moment, cheeks slightly flushed, eyes so vividly blue they seemed to be lit from within.

“I want to taste every inch of you.” Scully crawled on top of her, intent on doing just that, but the next thing she knew, she was flat on her back, Stella’s weight pressing her to the bed as she kissed every last rational thought from her head. Stella nudged a thigh between her legs, and Scully opened to her, grateful for the loose knit fabric of her skirt.

“You taste like caramel,” Stella murmured, one of her hands wandering down Scully’s body, pushing up her shirt.

“Fudge.” She waved a hand in the general direction of the bag she’d dropped just inside the door.

“I like it.” She kissed Scully again, tongue diving into her mouth, hands diving everywhere else, tugging at fabric, removing clothes. Scully shifted this way and that, helping Stella to undress her until finally she lay naked beneath her.

Stella sucked briefly at the mark she’d left on Scully’s neck last night before trailing hot, open-mouthed kisses down her chest. One of her hands slid between Scully’s thighs, stroking her as she sucked her nipple into her mouth.

“Fuck,” Scully breathed, back arching as the restless desire that had been throbbing inside her since she’d caught sight of Stella outside her door blazed out of control.

“Yes,” Stella murmured, continuing to work her way down Scully’s body, tongue winging its way around her navel and over her belly.

Realizing where she was headed, Scully tensed in anticipation, thighs clamping around Stella’s hand, and she looked up, her eyes questioning. “Is this all right?” she asked softly.

Scully looked down at her, blonde hair hanging loosely over Scully’s thighs, kindness in her eyes and sin on her tongue. “Yes,” she whispered, allowing her knees to fall open as Stella settled herself between them.

And Stella replaced her fingers with her tongue, beginning with one long, slow lick through Scully’s folds that had her head dropping against the pillow and a decidedly unladylike noise coming from her lips. Stella licked all the way to Scully’s clit, teasing it with the tip of her tongue, making her whole body shiver and tremble.

A vague image formed in her mind of the echocardiogram in the hospital, the way the needle would jump when the patient was stimulated. Hers would be leaping off the paper right now. She’d break the fucking machine.

Stella’s tongue retreated, licking and swirling before jabbing inside her, causing her to arch off the bed.

“Oh,” she gasped, reaching down to palm her own breasts.

“Yes,” Stella said against her wet skin. “Do that. Do whatever feels good.”

“You feel good,” she moaned, hips thrusting impatiently against Stella’s mouth. “So good.”

In response, Stella closed her mouth over Scully’s clit and sucked as she pushed two fingers inside her.

“Yes,” Scully gasped. “Just like that. Don’t stop.”

And she didn’t. She kept a gentle suction with her mouth as her tongue swirled over Scully’s clit, licking and flicking while her fingers pumped in and out, and Scully was writhing against the bedspread, grinding herself against Stella’s mouth as the pressure built inside her, winding hotter and tighter until she thought she might burst from it.

“Jesus Christ,” she gasped as she broke. “Stella…”

* * *

Stella lay beside Scully, toying with a lock of her hair to keep her hands occupied while Scully regained her senses. Stella steadied her breathing, attempting to quell the desire throbbing inside her, already mentally talking her way back out the door before Scully could finish undressing her. Last night, it had been dark. Tonight, the lights were on, and Scully would see her.

Scully would want to return the favor. Hell, she’d already been the first to ask.

“I want to taste every inch of you,” she’d said, as sincere as she was enthusiastic, tossing Stella to the bed.

She sat up now, straddling Stella’s hips, red hair mussed and gleaming nearly as bright as the light in her eyes. She rocked her hips against Stella, and she couldn’t help the way her breath hitched, the need pulsing wickedly inside her. Maybe she could still salvage this.

“Touch me,” she demanded, guiding Scully’s hand beneath her skirt, and she did. Her fingers pushed aside the lace of Stella’s underwear, brushing through her wetness, making her pant.

Yes. Fuck, yes.

She tilted her hips, increasing the pressure of Scully’s hand, silently urging her on. Scully slid down, straddling Stella’s thigh as she lowered herself to kiss her breast, fingers working their magic, and fuck, she needed this. She needed it so badly she felt slightly desperate, and that was not a feeling she enjoyed.

She sucked in a deep breath, steadying herself, grounding herself to the feel of Scully’s fingers, the rhythm she’d set, not quite hard or fast enough to Stella’s liking. And then Scully bent her head, kissing Stella through the fabric of her skirt. The heat of her mouth, even diluted by various layers, still brought Stella gasping up off the mattress.

“Can I?” Scully asked, looking up at Stella. “Please? I want to taste you. I’ve wanted to since last night.”

Yes. But she couldn’t say it out loud. Her whole body stiffened beneath Scully’s as the word lodged in her throat. Their gazes held, unspoken words passing between them as Scully sensed her discomfort. And Stella hated herself for the shame that heated her cheeks as she thought of Scully seeing her, really seeing her. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply, breathing past it, focusing on the need still burning inside her and the pleasure Scully could bring.

The truth was, she’d never done this, never let anyone get this close to her scars. She’d fucked on tables, on desks, behind bars, in grungy public bathrooms, and in the backseat of a patrol car, but she’d never bared herself to any of her partners, not the way she was dangerously close to baring herself to Scully. Most men were relieved, glad even, when she refused their feeble attempts at going down on her. But Scully was different. She genuinely wanted to do this, wanted to please her, and she would understand. Stella knew she would.

If there was ever a moment for Stella to let go, a partner to grant this level of trust, it was now, this woman, this night.

Now or never, Stella.

She’d never been one to back down from a challenge, especially the self-imposed kind.

“It’s okay,” Scully said, sliding up to press a kiss against Stella’s lips.

“No,” Stella said, opening her eyes, staring into Scully’s. “I do. I want you to.”

“Are you sure?” Scully asked, brows wrinkled in concern.

“Yes.”

“I could turn the light off,” Scully offered.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Once she’d committed to something, there was no going back. She was all in, or she might as well button her shirt and go home right fucking now.

Still Scully hesitated, and Stella shifted restlessly beneath her. She pushed at Scully’s shoulders, guiding her where she wanted her. “Dana, please.”

“Okay,” Scully whispered. She started with Stella’s bra, fingers snaking beneath her back to unhook it, sliding it and her blouse over her shoulders and tossing them aside. She focused her mouth on Stella’s bare breast, nipping and sucking as her fingers sought the zipper at the back of her skirt, distracting Stella with the pulses of pleasure that pinged through her blood at the skim of Scully’s teeth, the heat of her tongue.

The promise of feeling that heat, that pleasure on her clit…her body burned in anticipation. She’d always wondered what it would feel like, hadn’t been sure she’d be able to let go of herself enough to find out. But Scully was safe, as safe a partner as she would ever get.

She arched her hips, allowing Scully to slide the skirt down her legs, leaving her in nothing but her thong. And the blinding heat, the need pulsing inside her cooled slightly as she waited for Scully to see, waited for understanding to dawn in her eyes. She saw the moment it happened, saw her blink as the scars came into view.

Stella didn’t make a habit of feeling weak, refused to feel it now, even as discomfort crawled over her skin like an unwelcome layer of clothing, thick and hot, smotheringly so.

“Oh,” Scully breathed, and then she dipped her head, pressing her lips against Stella’s scarred skin, tracing each line with her tongue gingerly, almost reverently, as if they were a mark of beauty, not pain. Stella had thought them to be dead, devoid of feeling, but she’d never been more aware of anything in her entire life than the play of Scully’s mouth over her damaged skin.

By the time she’d reached the inner crease of Stella’s thigh, the highest scar—the oldest, the original scar—Stella had forgotten everything but the heat and pleasure of her tongue. Scully kissed her through the lace of her underwear, and Stella forgot how to breathe.

Then Scully was moving, climbing her body to bring their mouths together, telling Stella everything she needed to know in the fiery press of her lips. I understand. You’re beautiful. Thank you for sharing yourself with me.

All without saying a word.

Tears leaked from Stella’s eyes, dripping into her hair.

Scully hooked her fingers beneath the band of lace stretched over her hip, looking up and meeting Stella’s eyes as she sought her permission. Stella nodded, and Scully stripped the underwear away, dropping them to the floor with the rest of her clothes.

She scooted down the bed, placing a hot kiss against Stella’s inner thigh, licking and teasing her there until Stella was squirming, panting, overcome with the need to feel Scully’s tongue where she ached for her. And then Scully looked up. Their eyes locked as she moved to place the heat of her mouth directly over Stella’s clit. She hissed out a breath, eyes squeezed shut, relief and arousal barreling through her in equal measure. It was the most overwhelmingly erotic thing she’d ever felt.

She was torn between the desire to grind herself against Scully’s mouth, to relieve the pressure building inside her or hold herself perfectly still and try to make this moment last forever. Scully’s tongue swiped back and forth against her, and Stella thought she might be having an out of body experience.

Her fingers grasped the blanket beneath her, gripping, clenching as Scully slid her tongue down to Stella’s entrance before plunging inside her. She gasped, wondering briefly if she was even going to survive this. White dots burst behind her eyelids as Scully returned to her clit, sucking fiercely as she pushed two fingers inside her.

“Fuck,” she rasped, grounding herself by sliding one hand into Scully’s hair, holding loosely in those soft, silky strands as Scully performed magic with her mouth, fingers filling her, taking Stella to places she’d never been, to heights of pleasure she’d never known possible.

And then she broke, coming against Scully’s tongue in a hot rush of sensation. She heard herself gasping, moaning, hips moving desperately against Scully’s mouth as she came and came and came. When it was over, she lay on the bed for a long moment, just breathing, her body limp and buzzing with relief.

She pulled Scully up to kiss her, tasting herself on her lips, seeing her pleasure reflected in Scully’s eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered, not even bothering to hide the tears that spilled from her lids. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Scully sat cross-legged beside Stella in bed, room service trays laid open on the sheets between them. She’d never done this before, ordered over-priced burgers and eaten them half-naked in bed with the woman she’d just fucked. And why hadn’t she? Why did she so rarely allow herself this kind of indulgence?

If she’d learned anything in her six years with the FBI, it was that tomorrow was never guaranteed. This was the part of the job Stella seemed to have embraced most readily, allowing herself all the fanciful indulgences Scully had gone so long without. Stella worked hard and played hard, then got up the next morning and worked even harder.

Right now, she was eating a French fry—a chip, she would call it—and watching Scully watch her eat. She had on the hotel’s robe again, while Scully wore a plain black T-shirt, both of them bare-legged against the sheets. Stella’s hair hung long and tousled down her back, wavy from being tied in a knot at the back of her head all day.

Scully was struck again by how young she looked, unbuttoned and out of the office. If she removed the makeup and the attitude, dressed in jeans and a ponytail, she could go undercover as a high school student.

“How old are you?” she blurted, curiosity getting the better of her.

Stella straightened, tossing a lock of golden hair over her shoulder. “Twenty-nine.”

Still in her twenties. Scully smiled as she poked the last bite of her burger into her mouth.

“Why are you looking at me like that? How old are you?” Stella asked.

“Thirty-three.”

Stella blinked, plainly not having suspected Scully to be older, when Scully had assumed it since they’d met. Stella’s worldliness was born out of a confidence not backed by her years. She’d forged her way through the ranks on grit, smarts, and determination, and no doubt she’d keep right on climbing.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Scully had the sudden, strong urge to hug her, but she held herself in check, unsure how Stella would react to the gesture. There was a closeness between them, not just the intimacy they’d shared, but a mutual sort of trust and comfort, something Scully had so rarely experienced in her life, she wanted to treasure it forever.

Stella half-smiled as she rose and carried her tray to the door, setting it in the hall. Scully followed with her own tray, grabbing the discarded bag of fudge on her way back to the bed.

“Dessert?” She crawled onto the bed and opened the bag.

“Mm.” Stella gave her a heated look before reaching inside and pulling out a chunk of dark chocolate. She made a little sound of pleasure as she chewed, and Scully wondered how anyone ever managed to spend time in her presence and not fall madly in love with her.

How many people were out there even now, swooning over her without her knowledge? Because already Scully had no idea how she was supposed to forget her when she returned to DC in the morning. How could she forget any of this? Or was that the whole point? She should remember every moment in as much detail as possible.

They ate as much fudge as either of them could stomach, and then Stella leaned over to place the bag on the nightstand. That was when Scully saw the scars on the soles of her feet. Dear God, how much more pain had she etched into her own body? Stella turned, tucking her feet beneath the robe as she saw Scully looking.

I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.

But Scully only smiled, leaning in to wipe a morsel of fudge from Stella’s cheek, kissing her until the tension in her body released. They lay on the sheets facing each other, and Scully was imagining an alternate life in which she lived here in London, fighting crimes she actually stood a chance of solving and coming home every night to Stella in her bed. Of course, it was a fantasy. Even if she lived here, she wasn’t foolish enough to think Stella was the kind of woman who’d settle down, not with Scully or anyone else.

There was a reason they were in a hotel room instead of Stella’s home, after all. This was only temporary, like the room they were in. Their relationship was as neat and clean as the sheets below them, except it wasn’t. Scully didn’t do temporary very well. She’d been forced to accept it in too many aspects of her life over the years, and she would accept it again tomorrow when she said goodbye to Stella.

But that didn’t mean she had to like it. And it didn’t mean this had been meaningless. She could still taste the pain of Stella’s scars against her lips. That ladder of thin white lines carved into her delicate, intimate skin might as well have been a map to her soul, because Scully saw things there that she knew without asking Stella didn’t share readily, if ever.

She saw a teenaged Stella, angry, frightened, hurting herself to numb other pain, attempting to take control of things that were beyond her control. Somewhere along the way, she’d traded the razor blade for a badge, wielding control and power with an iron fist, making hardened criminals cower with a single look, causing men—and women—to fall all over themselves for her attention.

Stella Gibson, endlessly, effortlessly in control, had shown Scully her vulnerability. And she would never, ever forget it.

Right now, Stella was watching her out of sleep-glazed eyes, weary from the day but still alert, still hungry, a heat glowing there that re-ignited the ache between Scully’s thighs that burned whenever they were together, whenever she so much as thought of her.

Wordlessly, they slid together, kissing, touching, hands roaming under clothes. Stella’s robe slid onto the sheets behind her as she pushed Scully’s T-shirt over her head, leaving them both naked. Scully traced her fingers over the freckles on Stella’s chest, rolling Stella to her back so she could look her fill. Stella’s breasts were fuller than Scully’s, rounder. She palmed them, rolling her thumbs over Stella’s nipples so that they contracted into tight pink buds.

“So pretty,” she murmured as she bent her head to kiss first one, then the other.

Stella was quiet, but her gaze was calm, her body loose and pliant beneath Scully’s fingers, no trace of her earlier insecurities. She was leaner than Scully, her body lithe and toned. Scully had felt those muscles last night in the dark, and now she could see them in all their glory. She trailed her fingers over Stella’s six-pack abs.

“Don’t let this go to your head, but do you work out?” she asked, grinning at Stella, who used the moment to flip them, pinning Scully beneath her with the full force of those muscles she’d just been admiring.

“I swim,” she whispered, thrusting her hips against Scully’s. “And I spend my free time in the gym at the station.”

“Not all of your free time.”

“I believe this also counts as working out,” Stella said between kisses, hips still moving, one strong swimmer’s thigh between Scully’s to give her the friction she needed. “Can’t let anyone get the drop on me.”

“Never,” Scully murmured, picturing Stella in the gym, lifting weights to pull her weight in a man’s world. She knew the feeling, had found herself physically disadvantaged in enough situations where she’d wished for a few more inches, a little more muscle, but more often, she’d had to rely on her wits—and her weapon.

Stella kept moving, riding Scully’s thigh while Scully moved against her from below, matching the rhythm of Stella’s hips, rocking together, moaning as the pressure inside her mounted. She wanted to close her eyes, concentrate fully on grinding herself against Stella’s thigh until she’d found release, but she couldn’t look away from the beautiful woman on top of her.

Stella threw her head back, bottom lip clenched between her teeth as she moved. Her blonde hair spilled over her shoulders in messy waves, cascading over her breasts, which bounced with every thrust of her hips. Scully felt powerful in this position, seeing Stella from this angle, the way she would look if she were riding a man. Caught up in the fantasy, she reached a hand between them, touching Stella, carefully pushing two fingers inside her.

Stella gasped, leaning forward, riding Scully’s fingers with abandon. Scully felt separate from her own need, wholly focused on giving Stella pleasure, on making her lose control. And she was close, Scully could tell. She arched her fingers inside Stella, and Stella let out a soft cry, swaying forward to rest her hands on Scully’s shoulders, a fine sheen of sweat gleaming on her chest.

Stella whimpered as she came, her body clenching around Scully’s fingers. Scully held her breath, watching in awe as Stella rode out her orgasm. Her hands trembled as she lowered herself, body covering Scully’s from head to foot, kissing her deeply as she slipped a hand between Scully’s thighs.

It didn’t take her long to send Scully over the edge too, and they lay together for a long time afterward, limbs entwined as they caught their breath. Scully felt an irrational urge to hold on to her forever. The solid, mortal weight of Stella resting against her heart felt so good, tears brimmed in Scully’s eyes. How long had it been since she’d held someone like this? Naked bodies pressed together in the aftermath of pleasure, relaxed and content with the world.

“Stay the night?” she asked quietly.

Stella hesitated, her gaze drifting to the door as if searching for the conviction to walk out of it. Scully released her, dropping her arms to her sides, but then Stella nodded. “Yes, all right.”

And Scully smiled as she brought her arms around Stella again.

Tomorrow, Scully would fly home to DC and figure out what to do about Mulder and the X Files, about her life in general. Tomorrow, Stella would hunt down that little girl’s killer and see him punished. But tonight…tonight was just for them, two women seizing comfort where they could find it, a refuge from the insanity of their day-to-day lives.

Eventually, Stella disentangled herself and went into the bathroom. When she returned to the bed, she reached for the robe where it had fallen, eyes locking on Scully’s as she hesitated for a moment before covering herself. Scully didn’t mind; she wanted Stella to be comfortable, wanted to tell her how much she appreciated the things Stella had shown her, but she sensed the words didn’t need to be said, that she’d only make Stella self-conscious if she tried.

Instead, she turned to put her T-shirt back on, stopped by the feel of Stella’s hands gripping her waist from behind. Stella’s fingertips traced the tattoo on her lower back, circling the ouroboros inked there.

“I like it,” she said, her voice soft and cool as spun silk.

“I don’t,” Scully confessed, the hot sting of embarrassment flowing through her as she remembered her ill-fated night with Ed Jerse.

“Why not?” Stella crawled over to lay beside Scully, facing her.

“It was a stupid, impulsive decision that almost got me killed.”

Stella’s eyebrows rose. “Explain.”

So, she did. She told Stella about her ill-fated solo trip to Philadelphia, her night with Ed, the way he’d nearly killed her, and the cancer that had driven her to such a rash decision in the first place.

“It’s fitting, then,” Stella said. “The snake eating its own tale. It symbolizes rebirth. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Maybe you did get the tattoo you deserve.”

“Maybe.” She tended to get so caught up in the hurt and embarrassment of what had happened with Ed, and then the fear and pain of the cancer, she sometimes forgot about the tattoo itself. Maybe Stella was right. Maybe it symbolized the things she had survived. And maybe these nights with Stella were part of her rebirth.

* * *

Stella crept along the dark alley, careful to keep her weight on the balls of her feet so her heels didn’t make noise against the damp asphalt. Alissa Pine’s screams echoed from somewhere ahead. If Stella could just get there in time, she could stop this.

She could save Alissa.

But no matter how far she walked, no matter how fast, Alissa’s screams never drew any closer. She turned left, following Alissa’s cry for help, following the alley like an endless maze. Now she could hear him. Garrett Hunt, Alissa’s stepfather, was attacking her. Stella broke into a run, heels clacking down the alley.

She drew her weapon as she rounded the corner, and there they were. Garrett loomed over the girl’s body. Alissa screamed.

“Stop!” Stella yelled. “Put your hands where I can see them.”

But when he turned around, it wasn’t Garrett Hunt at all.

“Come here, my little shining star,” he said, reaching for her. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Stella lurched upright in bed, heart racing, body drenched in sweat. Gasping for air, she reached for the lamp beside the bed and switched it on, fumbling for her dream journal before her surroundings registered. She was in Scully’s hotel room. Her journal was at home.

“You okay?” Scully asked groggily from behind her.

“Fine. Sorry. Bad dream.” Stella shut the light off, feeling ridiculous for having turned it on in the first place. Sometimes revisiting old scars reopened old wounds, a lesson she ought to know by now. She lay back in bed, rolling toward Scully to replace the unwelcome face in her dreams with Scully’s bare-faced beauty, just visible in the light filtering from the window.

“Our line of work causes a lot of those,” Scully murmured, wrapping an arm around Stella to pull her in for a kiss.

Stella stiffened. She wasn’t used to having someone in her bed when she had a nightmare, and she wasn’t used to liking it. She wasn’t used to heartbreakingly beautiful redheads who stripped away her defenses with a single touch.

Beside her, Scully’s breathing evened out, and Stella focused on the rhythm of it as she willed herself back to sleep. She felt as if she’d only just closed her eyes when the phone began to ring, rousing her for the day. This morning, though, Scully got up with her, puttering around the room in that black T-shirt that barely covered her ass as she packed her suitcase.

Stella came up behind her, pressing her against the wall as she slid her hands beneath the hem of that fucking T-shirt. “How much time do you have?”

“About an hour until I need to check out.” Scully gasped as Stella’s fingers reached their destination. “When do you need to be at the office?”

“I can be a few minutes late.”

“And I can be time efficient.” Scully spun to face her, one hand sliding beneath Stella’s robe.

Stella exhaled as Scully touched her, pinning her against the wall for a messy kiss. Their hips moved together as their hands stroked each other toward release. Scully broke first, head thunking against the wall, pussy fluttering around her fingers as she came.

Scully’s hands went to her own hair as she regained her senses, eyes blinking open to meet Stella’s. The next thing she knew, Scully had spun them to pin Stella against the wall before dropping to her knees. Stella’s breath caught in her throat as Scully looked up at her with a wicked smile right before she put her mouth on her.

Stella flattened both palms against the wall, focused on keeping herself upright as Scully licked and sucked. Desire coiled inside her, hot and tight. The hotel room melted away. She forgot about the time, the open files on her desk, the little girl in the morgue waiting for justice. All she knew was the pleasure of Scully’s tongue as she carried her over the edge.

Release radiated from her core in blissful waves. She heard the cry that escaped her lips, felt the way her legs shook, her nails scoring the paint as she slid down the wall to join Scully on the floor. For a moment, they sat there together, arms entwined as they caught their breath. Stella blinked back the unexpected moisture in her eyes.

She slipped out of the robe, leaving it on the floor as she stood and went into the bathroom for a shower. She rinsed herself off as quickly as possible—careful not to get her hair wet—and redressed in yesterday’s clothes, hoping she had something clean left at the office. As she fixed her appearance in the mirror, Scully showered.

It was all strangely comfortable, as if they’d gotten ready together hundreds of times, despite there being nothing comfortable about it at all. Scully’s packed suitcase lay on the bed, plane ticket protruding from the zipper pocket at the top.

“I guess this is goodbye,” she said quietly from behind Stella.

She turned to find Scully in black jeans and a white button-down shirt, blazer draped over her arm. “It is.”

Scully walked to the bed and picked up the little notepad and pen the hotel had provided her. She wrote several lines on it before folding it into a little square and handing it to Stella. “Now you’ve got my home number and my email address. Drop me a line sometime.” Her smile was hesitant. “Or, you know, at least let me know how Ronnie Strickland makes out at trial.”

“I’ll do that,” Stella told her, relieved to have a professional reason to contact her. And then, because she wasn’t overly fond of goodbyes, she led the way out of Scully’s room. They rode the elevator to the lobby as silence spread between them like a sticky web, seeping into the empty spaces and choking Stella when she tried to find words—any words at all—to say.

Luckily, Scully saved her. She propped her suitcase upright and reached for Stella’s hands before leaning in to place a quick kiss on her lips. “Take care.”

“You too.” Stella’s fingers clenched around the neat little square of paper in her palm as she walked away.

Chapter Text

May 2012

 

Scully arrived in London on a brilliantly sunny day, so different from the heavy, gray days she’d spent here fourteen years ago. Hopefully, it was an omen, a sign she’d made the right decision in coming here. Back then, she’d been hunting a vampire. Now, she was searching for a new version of herself, or something like that anyway.

She sat on the bed in her new apartment, bouncing slightly to test the mattress. It squeaked beneath her weight, and a smirk tugged at her lips as she imagined the noise it might make if it saw any action. She’d shipped several boxes of her belongings, but they hadn’t arrived yet—it took longer to clear customs than she’d realized—so all she had was the suitcase she’d flown over with. Thank goodness the rental came furnished.

She picked up her cell phone and dialed, listening as the line crackled across the Atlantic.

“Hello?”

She smiled involuntarily at the sound of Maggie’s voice. “Hi, Mom.”

“Dana,” her mom said, relief palpable in her voice.

“Just letting you know I got in safely, and I’m all settled in my new apartment.”

“And how is it?” Maggie asked. “Does it look okay in person? Clean? Safe?”

“It looks pretty much like it did in the pictures.” She glanced around the loft bedroom, open to her left with a low railing that overlooked the living room and kitchen below. A blue quilt covered the full-sized bed, with matching curtains on the windows. “I can’t wait for you to see it.”

“I can’t either,” Maggie said.

Scully would only be here for two months, and she’d insisted Maggie come for a visit before Scully started her fellowship next week. They were long overdue for a mother-daughter vacation together. The sad truth was, Scully was overdue for any kind of bonding time with another human being.

“I’m so lonely,” she’d whispered to Mulder one night as she lay beside him in their unremarkable house in the middle of nowhere. She’d breathed desperately past the tears clogging her throat, wondering how she could feel so alone when she shared her bed every night with the man she’d loved for most of her adult life, the man she’d thought she would spend the rest of her life with.

But as she’d lain there, waiting for a response that never came, she’d felt the truth of her situation. The man holding her wasn’t the same man she’d fallen in love with. He’d become a shell of the man he’d once been, retreating inside their house, inside his office, inside himself. Nothing, it seemed, could fulfill him the way the X Files once had, not even his love for her or the life they’d created together after they left the FBI. They’d become isolated in their little house, and despite her job at Our Lady of Sorrows, she was lonely. So achingly lonely.

What she hadn’t expected was that once she’d left him, once she’d gotten an apartment in Annapolis closer to work and her mom, she’d felt even lonelier, so lonely that when she lay in bed at night, she could hardly breathe past the emptiness inside her. Sometimes she felt like her chest might collapse in on itself.

Every morning, she got up and went to work. She fought for other people’s children, tried to fix them, tried to make them whole again. Sometimes, she succeeded. Sometimes, she failed. Never as greatly as she’d failed her own son. William’s absence felt like a missing piece of her soul, and losing Mulder only seemed to intensify it, until she felt like she was only a shell of herself too.

When she’d first heard about the opportunity here in London, she’d applied without thinking, desperate for a change. But when she received the call that she’d been chosen to study under Dr. Linenburger at The Royal London Hospital, she’d panicked. She was forty-eight years old. What the hell was she doing, considering yet another career switch and traveling halfway across the world to set it in motion? Was she having a midlife crisis?

In the end, she’d decided to go with the momentum she’d already set in motion. A few months in London might shake her out of the stagnant slump her life had fallen into. Maybe she’d find something here she’d been unable to find at home.

Once, a very long time ago, she’d found something here, someone here, who’d shaken her out of a similar—if milder—slump. Those two nights with Stella were a sparkling memory she’d carried in her heart all these years, a shining moment when she’d grabbed hold of what she wanted, when she’d shared something special, something wonderful with another human.

For two memorable nights, she hadn’t been lonely.

Smiling at the memory, she finished up her conversation with her mom and walked downstairs to the living room. Having already unpacked her only suitcase, she found herself at a loss for how to spend the rest of her first afternoon in London. She needed to grocery shop. And she should familiarize herself with her new neighborhood.

Deciding that was as good a place as any to start, she shrugged into a thin jacket, tucked her phone into her back pocket, and headed out. The sun still shone brightly overhead, and she squinted as she walked, taking in the buildings on her street, rows of two and three-story dwellings in aged stone. There was a sense of history etched into each elaborately carved façade that she’d missed since the last time she’d been here.

Spotting a café at the end of the block, she headed for it. A coffee might help clear the jetlag-induced fog from her brain. Tea, perhaps. She wasn’t a big tea drinker, but when in London…

What was Stella up to these days? Scully had hardly let herself think about her over the years, had semi-successfully convinced herself that her decision to accept a fellowship in London had nothing to do with the detective who’d once turned her world upside down.

She and Stella had kept in touch, albeit barely. Stella had indeed emailed to tell her when Ronnie Strickland was convicted and again after he mysteriously died in prison a few months later, having apparently starved to death despite receiving three meals a day. He’d been severely anemic at the time of his death, a fact Mulder had celebrated as proof Ronnie had indeed been a vampire, deprived of his usual diet of blood.

But a handful of emails and phone calls spanning more than a decade hadn’t given them any real insight into each other’s lives. She knew Stella still worked here in London, that she had climbed the ranks of the Metropolitan Police like Scully had known she would. But would she want to hear from Scully now? Would she want to see her?

And did Scully want to see Stella? That yearning deep in her gut said yes, desperately so. But after all these years, she could hardly expect them to share the same connection they’d shared then. It might be awkward. What if it somehow tainted the perfect memory Scully harbored of their time together? She couldn’t bear for anything to tarnish those moments.

Anyway, she had time to decide. She certainly wasn’t going to contact Stella on her first day in London. Scully entered the café and ordered a latte, figuring she’d been British enough for one day. She sat at a table by the window and sipped her drink, scanning local headlines on her phone. It grounded her somehow to know there was just as much murder and mayhem here as there was on her side of the Atlantic. Some things were the same no matter where you lived.

“Met Officer Attacked by Belfast Strangler”

The headline jumped out at her, although it took her a moment to realize why, and it wasn’t the headline at all. It was the photo below it, the photo of Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson. Scully quit breathing, nearly dropped her coffee, as she registered what she was seeing.

Attacked.

A sick feeling spread through her belly, and she gripped the edge of the table as she read the article, which told her little other than that Stella and another officer had been attacked by a serial killer while in police custody. Both had been treated at the hospital and released. It had happened almost a week ago.

Was Stella okay? Was she still in Belfast? Was she here in London? Is she okay?

Scully pulled up Stella’s email address on her phone and composed a message. They didn’t know each other well enough for Scully to ask the most burning question in her mind, so instead she stuck to the facts. She told Stella she was here in London for a few months studying pathology from a respected doctor at The Royal London Hospital and asked if she’d like to get together sometime to catch up.

Safe. Straight forward.

So much for not contacting Stella right away, but Scully wasn’t worried about protecting her feelings or her pride anymore. She just needed to know Stella was okay.

Before she could second guess herself, she hit Send.

* * *

“Are you sure you don’t something more to eat?”

Stella sipped from her tea. “I’m sure.”

Fran made a sound of disbelief as she bit into her steak sandwich, eyeing the empty soup bowl in front of Stella. She’d known Stella long enough to know soup wasn’t her lunch of choice and also not to question it, not to make her explain the soft diet that had her longing for the satisfaction of sinking her teeth into something, literally anything at this point, a hunger that grew steadily stronger with each passing day.

“Soup,” Fran muttered, eyes searching Stella’s for an explanation she knew she wouldn’t receive. Many years ago, Fran Kingsley had given Stella her start at the Met. She’d been Stella’s boss, had given her a leg up in a male-dominated world, and along the way had become one of her dearest friends. About ten years ago, Fran had been recruited into MI5, leaving the Met behind. Her short brown hair was shot through with silver now, but it only seemed to intensify the power of her presence. “So, how long until this bullshit inquiry is resolved?”

“Hopefully no more than a week.” Stella’s phone dinged with a new email, and she glanced at it instinctively, hoping irrationally that the inquiry into her handling of the Belfast Strangler case had been dropped and she might be allowed to return to the office this week after all. She swiped her finger across the screen, calling up the message.

Dana Scully, the sender’s name announced itself, and Stella inhaled sharply. There was a name she hadn’t seen in years, a name that stirred something warm deep inside her soul whenever she saw it. They rarely emailed, and when they did, it usually involved a case one of them was working on, but just knowing Scully was out there had always brought Stella a strange sense of comfort.

Today, it brought the opposite. Stella’s name had been in the news a lot over the last few weeks, for reasons she’d rather leave solidly in her past. She couldn’t tolerate the thought of any kind of “are you all right” message from Scully now.

So, she set her phone aside, returning her attention to Fran, who was watching her out of gray eyes as sharp as knives, ready to peel back Stella’s protective layers, an “are you all right” of her own. “You should at least drink something stronger than tea with that soup.”

Stella’s lips twitched. “Bit early in the day for that, don’t you think?”

“Never too early,” Fran said with a meaningful lift of her eyebrows. “Not in our line of work. Have you seen someone?”

Stella swallowed the question with another sip of tea. “I have an appointment on Friday.” A mandatory condition of her return to work.

“Good. Well, I’ve got to dash, but give me a ring if you need someone to have that drink with.” Fran was offering more than her company, and they both knew it.

“Thank you,” Stella told her quietly.

“Take care.” Fran’s hand rested briefly on Stella’s shoulder, and then she was off, striding toward the door as other customers in the café stepped to the side to let her pass. She was a force of nature, all right, and Stella was fiercely glad for her presence in her life.

She sat for a few minutes to finish her tea, fighting the growing sense of emptiness inside her that had nothing to do with the pitiful bowl of soup she’d eaten for lunch and everything to do with the week ahead. Without the prospect of work, it loomed impossibly long before her, almost overwhelmingly so.

Eventually, she left the café, stopping at the market on her way home to pick up a few things, including a fresh sleeve of flowers since the ones she’d bought at the airport two days ago had already begun to wilt. At home, she took Fran’s advice and poured herself a tumbler of whiskey, then set about putting away her groceries. She stocked her fridge and wiped down the counter before clipping the stems on the fresh flowers she’d bought and arranging them in a vase, a splash of red and purple against the otherwise muted tones of her kitchen.

She bent her head and inhaled deeply, eyes shut, lost for a moment in the intoxicating scent of fresh roses, until her cracked ribs spasmed, shooting bolts of fire through her chest. She froze, not daring even to exhale, one hand braced against the counter as she cursed furiously inside her head, waiting for the pain to subside.

Then she eased herself onto a barstool at the counter and took a hearty gulp of her whiskey. She reached absently for her phone, searching for a distraction, almost having forgotten the email waiting for her there. Dana Scully. Really, what was one more “are you all right” at this point? Stella had already fielded dozens of them. Even her mother had called, and they spoke about as often as she spoke to Scully.

I’m fine. Thanks for thinking of me. Just biding my time until I can get back into the office. She mentally composed her reply as she clicked on the message.

And then her breath caught in her throat again, but this time it had nothing to do with her cracked ribs. Scully’s email wasn’t an “are you all right” at all. She was here in London, and she wanted to meet. Stella set her phone on the countertop, taking measured breaths as she considered how to respond. This was the worst time to re-introduce herself to someone from her past, while she was bruised, physically and mentally.

Once upon a time, she and Scully had shared something incredibly intense and meaningful together, maybe the most intimate moment of Stella’s life. She’d been young then, so fucking young. But it wasn’t as if it would happen again. Scully had been with Mulder almost since she’d left London the first time, and while that wasn’t necessarily a hindrance for Stella, it certainly was for Scully. So, this would be dinner with an old friend, nothing more.

Stella desperately needed an escape from her flat, from the chaos in her brain, from the reality awaiting her at the inquiry next week. And right now, her escape had arrived in the form of Dana Scully.

* * *

Scully fidgeted in front of the mirror in the bathroom. What did you wear to have dinner with someone you’d once shared two of the most passionate nights of your life with? Someone you hadn’t seen in over a decade? She’d never been one for dresses. To wear one tonight felt disingenuous, like she was trying too hard to impress Stella. Instead, she put on dark wash skinny jeans and a black top, leaving her hair loose down her back. She touched up her makeup, adding a bit more eyeliner than she would usually wear.

And then she left the bathroom before she started overthinking things or second guessing herself. She headed downstairs, picked up her jacket, and set out. The restaurant Stella had suggested was only a few blocks away, so she decided to walk. She needed the fresh air to clear her head, because she had no idea what the etiquette for a night like this was.

Outside, dusk purpled the sky over the rowhouses on her street. The air was cool and refreshing, just what she needed. She started walking, heels clicking against the sidewalk, the knot in her stomach loosening with each step until it unraveled completely. Seeing Stella again tonight would be a good thing. She was almost sure of it.

She could use a friend here in London, and while she and Stella had never exactly been friends in the past, maybe they could be now. Maybe they could be more than friends. Warmth spread through her belly as she remembered the nights they’d spent together in their youth. Scully had been a single woman for over a year now. Whether or not she and Stella rekindled things, she was overdue to put herself back in the dating game.

It was intimidating at her age, especially after having spent over a decade with Mulder. It had been so long, so very long since she’d been on a date. Not since Stella, fourteen years ago. And here she was, on her way to meet Stella again. Maybe a date. Maybe just dinner with a friend.

That knot in her stomach tightened again, pinching at her ribs. She rubbed at it as she walked. What if she froze completely when she saw her? What if they’d changed too much to rekindle even a friendship? What if they were just two strangers trying awkwardly to generate enough conversation to make it through a meal together?

Scully huffed a breath, casting her eyes skyward. She was being ridiculous. She knew it but was powerless to stop herself. There was a reason she’d buried herself in work for most of her life, why it had taken seven years for her and Mulder to take their relationship to the next level. She wasn’t very good at this, at putting herself out there, at making romantic connections with people. She never had been.

Which was all the more reason for her and Stella to keep things platonic this time. A friendship would be more likely to last the duration of Scully’s time in London than any kind of romantic relationship, after all, and Scully was pitifully short on friends. After her case in Belfast, Stella might need a friend too.

Scully forced herself to keep walking as the restaurant came into view, not allowing her footsteps to slow until she was reaching for the handle to the heavy-looking wooden door. Inside, the restaurant bustled with activity, snippets of conversation in British accents drifting past her ears, but her gaze was locked on a figure standing to the left of the hostess desk.

Stella’s back was to her, but she’d know that stance anywhere. Her hair was shorter now, reaching just past her shoulders in perfectly coiffed waves. She wore a black pencil skirt with a blouse the color of a shiny penny, glistening beneath the restaurant’s track lighting. Scully sucked in air, heart racing, heat spreading through her like a wildfire, an instantaneous, almost overwhelming physical reaction she hadn’t experienced in, well…in fourteen years.

As if sensing her presence, Stella turned. Their eyes met, but the fresh-faced detective who’d swept Scully off her feet way-back-when was nowhere in sight. The detective superintendent who faced her now was older, hardened in a way that made Scully stand a little taller, her spine straightening almost involuntarily.

Stella still retained every bit of her ethereal beauty, azure eyes coolly assessing Scully as she toyed with the curve of her hair, fluffing it between her fingers before tossing it over her shoulder. Scully was so taken with the sight of her that it took several long seconds for her to register the bruising and stitches at Stella’s left brow, the discoloration over her cheekbone and her chin, carefully concealed with makeup but still visible to a doctor’s eye.

Scully’s stomach dipped, lust mixing with concern and the completely flustering experience of seeing her again for the first time in so long. The intervening years had strengthened Stella’s armor, her expression unreadable behind that icy stare. Scully hesitated for another moment before stepping forward, wrapping one arm around Stella in a brief hug.

“It’s so good to see you,” she breathed against her neck. She smelled the same, something fresh and feminine and uniquely Stella that had Scully’s head spinning through a whirlwind of memories, Stella’s bare skin pressed against hers, lips and teeth and more pleasure than she’d known possible.

Stella was stiff against her now, one hand tangling in Scully’s hair as she hugged her back before pulling free. “It’s good to see you too.”

Scully stood there, smiling nervously, hoping Stella hadn’t felt the frantic beating of her heart. They were older now, so much older, toughened and scarred by life. Scully felt a crushing pressure in her chest as she imagined herself trying to explain everything that had happened since she last saw Stella. And what things did Stella need to confess in return?

“Shall we get a table, then?” Stella asked, breaking Scully out of her spiraling thoughts.

She nodded, falling into step beside her as they approached the hostess. They were shown to a quiet table near the back of the restaurant, and Scully felt somewhat calmer once they were sitting across from each other with a bottle of wine between them. She sipped from her glass gratefully, watching as Stella seemed to settle as well, eyes softening as she looked across the table at Scully.

“So,” Scully said with a hesitant smile. I read all about Paul Spector this afternoon, and I’m so fucking sorry. But she knew better than to broach such an uncomfortable subject before they’d gotten reacquainted.

“So,” Stella repeated, the ghost of a smile on her lips. “Did you fly in today?”

Scully nodded. “This morning.”

“The redeye?” Stella’s eyes were sympathetic.

“Yeah. I got a few hours of sleep on the plane, but I’ll be glad to crash tonight.”

“I bet.” Stella sipped from her wine, eyes never leaving Scully’s. “And you’re here for work?”

Scully had forgotten the magic of her accent, that smooth, smoky voice, the way it crawled over her, melting her from the inside out. Stella’s voice was lower now than she remembered, somewhat scratchier. Scully found herself leaning in every time she spoke. “Yes. I’ll be working with Dr. Linenburger at The Royal London Hospital. He’s a noted forensic pathologist whose done some really interesting work in digital imaging that I’m excited to try my hand at.”

“You’re interested in pathology, then?”

She knew Stella was just making conversation, trying to get to know modern-day Scully, but the questions felt almost like an interrogation beneath her intense stare. She nodded. “I’ve been practicing medicine for the last decade, but lately, I’ve started to realize I miss being involved in the investigative side of things. So, yes, I’m considering a move into pathology.”

“Dr. Scully,” Stella said, tongue darting out to wet her lips. “I like it.”

Scully reached for her wine to cover the blush she felt rising to her cheeks. “A lot has changed since the last time I saw you.”

“Probably too much to cover during one meal,” Stella said, arching an eyebrow. She was playing coy, but also saving them both from diving too deep into personal territory tonight, and Scully was thankful for that.

“Yes. My life has been…I’m not sure there’s a word for it, really.”

Stella reached across the table, covering Scully’s hand in her own. “I’m so sorry about your son. I can’t even imagine.”

Scully felt the hot press of tears behind her eyes, her skin gone warm and prickly. She had foolishly mentioned her pregnancy during one of those occasional emails she’d exchanged with Stella, which meant she’d later had to explain William’s absence. She’d never had the words to describe that time in her life. Whenever possible, she tried not to speak about it at all. She cleared her throat. “Thank you.”

Stella’s brow wrinkled. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. I’m sorry.”

Scully shook her head, swiping beneath her eyes. “No, it’s okay.”

“Thoughtless of me,” Stella said quietly, staring into the ruby depths of her wineglass.

And Scully couldn’t bear her guilt, not over this, not over anything. She couldn’t let their evening turn sour because of her own sad history, barely ten minutes after they’d been reunited. “No, really. It’s…it’s gotten better.”

Stella met her gaze, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. Scully was torn between the urge to laugh or cry at the ridiculousness of it. Here they were, stumbling through the personal territory they’d both wanted to avoid tonight. Maybe the only way around it was to go through.

“I’ve seen pictures of him,” she told Stella, her voice hoarse from the lump of emotion lodged in her throat.

Stella’s eyes widened. “William?”

She nodded, willing herself to get the words out. “Once the charges against Mulder were dropped, things finally settled down. His life wasn’t in danger anymore, and neither was William’s. Last year, his adoptive parents reached out to us through Agent Doggett, the agent who’d helped me coordinate the adoption. They sent us pictures.” She closed her eyes, feeling the tears splash over her cheeks. “He’s happy. He’s growing up on a farm in Wyoming. He rides horses.”

Stella’s chin quivered slightly as she reached forward, brushing the tears from Scully’s cheeks. “I’m glad things have gotten better…that you have some peace.”

“I do.” Scully nodded as she blinked back more tears. “Not knowing was a living hell. Every day, I worried. I imagined awful things. But now…now, I know he’s okay.”

“And Mulder?” she asked.

“He’s still Mulder.” A wry smile curved her lips. “Actually, no, he’s not. He lost his purpose after we left the FBI. I went to work at the hospital, and he…he closed himself up in his office.”

“His purpose wasn’t loving you?” There was that arched brow again.

Scully dropped her gaze to her wineglass. She took another long sip. “He loved me. I think he still does. But the X Files were always his true passion. He didn’t know what to do with himself once he’d lost them.”

“It sounds like things have been very difficult for you both.”

“We broke up.” She glanced at Stella. “I moved out about a year and a half ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” If Stella had any reaction to learning Scully was single, she didn’t show it.

Scully blew out a breath, grateful to have it all out in the open. “Thank you.”

“Do you still love him?” Stella asked gently, eyes locked on Scully’s.

“I’ll always love him,” she said, “but I’m not in love with him. Not anymore.”

“I see,” Stella said, and Scully wondered if she did. As far as she knew, Stella had never loved anyone the way she’d loved Mulder, had never spent a decade living with someone she’d thought she would spend her whole life with.

Their waitress interrupted them to bring their meals, and they fell to lighter topics as they ate, Scully’s upcoming fellowship, her new apartment—flat, Stella called it, and Scully immediately embraced the term—things she should do and see while she was in London. Stella deflected Scully’s casual attempts at shifting the conversation in her direction.

This was hardly surprising. In fourteen years, Scully had barely learned more about her than her last name. But she knew parts of Stella few others had seen, understood her in ways she doubted many other people ever had or would.

It didn’t stop her from worrying about how Stella was handling the aftermath of the case in Belfast. Did she have someone in her life to confide in? A friend? A therapist? Anyone at all to share the emotional burden? Those weren’t questions she could ask, not tonight, anyway.

Still, they had to address the elephant in the room, so after they’d settled the check, she decided to just do it. “I read about what happened in Belfast.”

Stella went unnaturally still on the other side of the table, turning her head slightly to stare over Scully’s shoulder. “I assumed you had.”

She touched Stella’s arm, offering comfort the same way Stella had done for her earlier. “I’m one of the few people in the world who can honestly say I’ve been there. I know what it feels like, and I’m here for you if you need a friend.”

Stella did meet her eyes then, just for a moment, gratitude gleaming in their crystalline depths. “Thank you.”

“Also, it’s not why I emailed you.” Scully sucked her bottom lip between her teeth as a smile threatened. “Or, it’s not the only reason, anyway.”

“No?”

She shook her head. “I had been thinking about you since I took this position, wondering…”

“Wondering?”

She shrugged, trying to keep things light. “Haven’t you ever wondered?”

Stella stood from the table, brushing a hand against Scully’s waist as she led the way toward the front of the restaurant. “Once or twice.”

Chapter Text

Stella stepped outside into the crisp evening, inhaling slowly as the breeze tossed her hair, soothing her flushed cheeks. When she’d agreed to have dinner with Scully, she’d been looking for an escape from the monotony of her flat, the chance to catch up with an old acquaintance, but she hadn’t expected…this.

This thing between them, whatever the fuck it was. Fourteen years ago, she’d been young and naïve when she shared two distinctively memorable nights with the woman beside her. Even then, it hadn’t been just sex. Now, she was old enough to know better, and yet she couldn’t even look at Scully without itching to touch her, taste her, press her into the nearest surface and fuck her senseless.

The feeling was so intense, she was physically uncomfortable with it, skin prickling, blood pumping. She should say goodnight right fucking now, get out of here before she did something she’d regret in the morning, because she’d definitely regret jumping back into bed with Scully. This woman. This week. It was too much.

Dana Scully was the one woman who’d ever seen past her defenses, and Stella’s defenses were already down after Belfast. She was playing with fire, begging to be burned, torched, annihilated.

And yet…

She turned toward Scully, seeing the same struggle reflected back at her from the midnight depths of her eyes. Scully wasn’t supposed to have broken up with Mulder. She wasn’t supposed to have grown impossibly more beautiful and alluring than she had been all those years ago. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to look at Stella like that.

Stella wasn’t in the right place, mentally or physically, to do this, especially not tonight, but then again, she didn’t always make smart decisions when it came to sex. “I guess I should…” Her words evaporated into the night air along with her resolve.

“You should what?” Scully lifted her head, drawing Stella’s gaze to the pearly column of her neck, the pale vee of exposed skin between her breasts.

Stella took a small step toward her. Scully—as always—met her halfway, stepping forward, hands landing on Stella’s hips like they belonged there, igniting a fire between them as Stella cupped a hand around the back of Scully’s head, bringing their lips together. A soft moan escaped into the night air, and she wasn’t even sure if it was hers or Scully’s.

“Your hair got so long,” she whispered, sliding her fingers through the soft strands that reached almost to Scully’s waist. It gave her a young, innocent look that was no match for the wicked gleam in her eyes.

“And you cut yours.” Scully slid one hand up Stella’s back to tug at her hair, and that did it.

Stella pressed forward, slamming Scully into the brick wall of the restaurant behind her, bringing her lips to Scully’s with bruising intensity. Scully gasped, hips arching forward against Stella’s, fingers digging into Stella’s ass as she pulled her closer, kissed her deeper, tongues lashing as the heat simmering between them detonated.

Stella braced one hand against the wall, the other anchoring her body to Scully’s as she pressed into her, lost to everything but the pleasure of their kiss, the fire in her blood, the desperate need to get Scully naked and satisfy the desire clawing inside her. They kissed until stars danced behind Stella’s eyelids, reminding her to breathe.

She lifted her head, sucking in some much-needed oxygen to find Scully grinning at her like a flame-haired vixen.

“My flat’s only a few blocks from here.”

Stella licked her lips, tasting Scully on her tongue. “Lead the way.”

Scully did, walking briskly down the street as Stella matched her pace. There was an unspoken rush between them, both of them walking as quickly as they reasonably could. Scully looked over with one of those deceptively shy smiles, sliding her left hand into Stella’s right.

“I wondered if it would still be like this,” she said after a minute. “If maybe we’d just be friends this time. I tried really hard to convince myself we should just be friends.”

“I did too,” Stella admitted. “It would undoubtedly have been a smarter decision.”

Scully’s fingers tightened around hers. “Maybe this once, we both deserve to be stupid.”

“Perhaps.” Stella felt herself smiling for maybe the first time in weeks, and it spread a different kind of warmth through her body, one that made her feel lighter on her feet, like the air in her lungs had been replaced with helium.

“And besides,” Scully said, tossing her another coy glance. “I’m here for two months. We can still be friends. I’ve never liked the term ‘friends with benefits,’ though. I think you and I could be friends who fuck.”

Stella felt an honest-to-God laugh bubble up in her chest, but she stilled it on her lips. “Friends who fuck?”

“Yes.” Scully nodded earnestly just before she spun, pushing Stella into the side of the building behind her. Rough stone bit into her scalp, ribs screaming as she sucked in air, too turned on to feel anything but pleasure. Scully rubbed her body against Stella’s, creating a delicious friction as her jeans scraped over Stella’s skirt. “Friends who fuck a lot.”

“I like it,” Stella whispered.

Scully kissed her, hard, before pulling away. “Come on. I’m just up here.”

She led the way around the corner and up another block, stopping in front of a two-story gray stone building on the residential street. Stella had been down this street before. In truth, her own flat wasn’t very far from here, but Scully didn’t need to know that, at least not tonight.

Scully pushed a key in the door and led the way up a flight of stairs. Another key and another door, and they were inside her flat. Stella had a brief impression of a blue-tiled kitchen and modern furniture before her lips were on Scully’s, hands roaming the way she’d wanted to let them before.

“It’s nice,” she murmured against Scully’s lips.

“It came fully furnished, and my stuff’s not here yet, so whatever you’re seeing isn’t mine,” Scully told her, walking her toward a set of steps against the far wall. “Bed’s up there.”

Scully unbuttoned Stella’s blouse as they climbed the stairs, stumbling over the top step. Stella gripped her wrist, hauling her upright, guiding her toward the bed, unable to wait another minute to have her naked and panting beneath her.

Scully looked at the bed and then at Stella, blinking hard and giving her head a slight shake. “I can’t quite believe I’m here…that you’re here.”

“That makes two of us, then.” Stella reached for the button of Scully’s jeans, popping it open as Scully pushed Stella’s blouse from her shoulders. She shook her arms out, letting it flutter to the floor.

Scully sucked in a breath as her gaze dropped to Stella’s ribs, and something else blazed to life inside Stella, something just at hot as her desire for Scully but a lot uglier. She clenched her jaw, letting Scully look and hating every moment.

“Are they broken?” Scully asked quietly, looking for a moment more like a doctor than a lover.

“Only cracked,” Stella told her, forcing some volume into her voice. “Mostly just bruised.”

Scully dropped to her knees and placed a tender kiss at the heart of the discoloration. “I’ll be careful with them.”

Stella closed her eyes, inhaling sharply at the unexpected pleasure of Scully’s lips against her bruised skin. She reached down, gripping Scully’s shoulders, hauling her back to her feet. “Be sure that’s the only part of me you’re careful with.”

Scully smiled. “I will.”

She reached for the back of Stella’s skirt, fumbling with the zipper as Stella went for the zipper of Scully’s jeans. To her credit, she didn’t even flinch as the rest of the bruising came into view, the ugly mixture of green and brown that spread over Stella’s stomach, faded now to yellow around the edges. Scully feathered her fingers over the bruises as she skimmed the skirt over Stella’s hips, understanding mixed with the heat in her eyes.

They kissed as their hands worked, ridding each other of clothes, touching and teasing as they went, until at last their naked bodies pressed together. Stella pushed Scully onto the bed, following her down, landing with one thigh between Scully’s, her wetness slicking Stella’s skin, stoking the fire already blazing inside her. Stella bent her head to capture Scully’s lips, bringing her hands to Scully’s breasts.

“Yes,” Scully gasped, hips rocking against Stella’s thigh. “God, Stella, don’t tease me, not tonight. I can’t take it.”

Stella heard the urgency in her voice, felt it inside her own body, aching in her bones and centered in the throbbing need between her legs. She bent her head to take Scully’s nipple between her teeth as she slid her hand between Scully’s thighs. She gathered Scully’s wetness on her fingertips, skimming lightly at first, adding increasing pressure with each stroke.

Scully arched off the bed, eyes closed, hair hanging behind her in a red curtain, an erotic image immortalized in the museum of Stella’s brain. She swiped her tongue over Scully’s breast as her fingers swept up to press against her clit.

“Fuck.” Scully pressed her hips against Stella’s hand. “Harder.”

There was a request Stella was happy to indulge. She fucked Scully harder, slipping first one, then a second finger inside her, pumping in and out as she continued to use her mouth on Scully’s breasts, licking and sucking, drawing her nipples into tight buds.

The mattress squeaked rhythmically beneath them, and Scully buried her face against Stella’s chest, laughter shaking her shoulders as she clawed at Stella’s skin, drawing her closer.

“What’s so funny?” Stella slid a hand beneath her, anchoring their bodies together.

“The mattress,” Scully gasped. “This morning…I thought…” She whimpered as Stella quickened her rhythm, the mattress giving an extra loud squeak as they moved. “Sounds like porn.”

“Better than porn,” Stella whispered.

“Mm, yes.” Scully’s hips bucked, her thighs clamped around Stella’s wrist, and then she was coming, her pussy pulsing against Stella’s hand as she let out a long, low moan of pleasure. She flung her head back against the pillow, pale skin gleaming against the navy-blue quilt below her like a Victorian painting.

Stella sat back for a moment to admire her, noticing the small circular scar on Scully’s abdomen. A bullet wound. That hadn’t been there fourteen years ago. What else had Scully endured since the last time they saw each other?

“Your turn,” Scully murmured, tugging at Stella’s hand, drawing her down next to her.

“Please.” Stella couldn’t keep the plea from her voice, desperate for Scully’s touch and the pleasure she could bring.

In response, Scully straddled her, looking down at Stella with a smile twinkling in her eyes. So beautiful Stella could hardly bear to look at her. “Tell me if I hurt you.”

“You won’t,” Stella assured her, shifting restlessly beneath Scully’s weight.

“Only the good way,” Scully whispered before dipping her head to nip at Stella’s neck.

“Fuck, yes,” Stella gasped, hands grasping the quilt beneath her, fisting in the soft fabric as Scully’s hand slipped between her legs, touching her where she burned for her. Her hips moved of their own accord, meeting the movements of Scully’s hand, creating a rhythm together that was almost more than she could stand.

She squeezed her eyes shut, hearing the whimper that tore from her throat as Scully pushed a finger inside her, stroking in and out as her palm pressed against Stella’s clit. More, but as soon as the thought had formed in her head, Scully added a second finger. Stella arched her hips, swamped in sensation, drowning in it.

Beneath the hot rush of Scully’s fingers, the delicious suction of her mouth over Stella’s nipple, all the shadows in her mind vanished into the brilliance of the fireworks exploding inside her. Scully moved against her harder, faster, and Stella swore, overcome with the need building inside her, so strong she thought she might burst from it.

“Look at me,” Scully whispered.

Stella opened her eyes, meeting Scully’s blue stare as Scully curled her fingers inside her, and she was coming, her hips bucking against Scully’s hand, relief washing over her in waves, pleasure burning away the pain.

She pulled Scully down for a messy kiss, lips moving together sloppily as the aftershocks of her orgasm pinged and sizzled in her blood. Finally, they were still, bodies entwined and slick with sweat. “God, I needed that,” Stella whispered.

Scully’s arm tightened around her. “Me too. More than you know.”

* * *

Scully opened her eyes, blinking into the muted light of an unfamiliar room as yesterday’s events filtered through her mind, arriving in London, her new flat, dinner with Stella…

Stella.

She rolled over, taking in the empty, rumpled sheets beside her. Scully blinked again, focusing hard, as if it might make her magically appear, but the bed remained empty. As Scully stretched, various aches and twinges made themselves known, places that hadn’t ached in so long she’d feared she might never feel the sensation again. Last night definitely hadn’t been a dream. But Stella had gone.

Scully swallowed her disappointment, tucking it away with a lifetime of disappointments, a space that seemed to grow endlessly inside her, holding all the remnants of a life not lived. Some days, the void inside her felt so large, it threatened to swallow her whole.

Not today, though. She and Stella had shared a wonderful, memorable night together. Surely, they’d see each other again. Friends who fuck. Scully smiled to herself at the term she’d coined last night. It sounded ridiculous in the light of day, but she was still wholeheartedly in favor of the concept itself. She climbed out of bed, looking around idly for the robe she could have sworn she’d hung in the closet yesterday, but it wasn’t there.

And that’s when she saw Stella’s clothes stacked neatly on the dresser, the shiny, coppery blouse folded on top of her skirt. If Stella’s clothes were still here…

Something warm fluttered in the pit of her stomach. She reached for a T-shirt and cotton drawstring pants, scrambling into them before she padded down the stairs from the loft to find Stella seated at the table in the kitchen, wearing Scully’s missing lavender robe, sipping tea as she scrolled through messages on her phone.

She looked up, and Scully couldn’t fight the grin that stretched her cheeks. “Hi.”

“Good morning,” Stella responded, setting down her tea. “I didn’t want to wake you, thought you needed the sleep after your flight.”

“I did.” Scully looked around, finally locating a clock on the microwave that told her it was almost nine thirty. “Jetlag and all that, but also…someone kept me up pretty late, as I recall.”

Stella’s mouth quirked in one of her almost-smiles.

“I didn’t even know I had tea,” she said, eyeing the pale blue mug in Stella’s hand.

“I found some in the pantry, maybe a gift from your landlord. Cheap stuff.” Stella wrinkled her nose slightly.

“You’ll have to show me what kind to stock.” She walked past Stella into the bathroom to freshen up and brush her teeth, finding Stella in the same position when she came back out, one leg crossed over the other, impossibly beautiful in Scully’s robe. She leaned down to press a gentle kiss against Stella’s lips, somewhat giddy she was still here. “Do you have plans today?”

“A few things I need to get done,” Stella said with a noncommittal shrug of her shoulder. “I’m only just back in London myself.”

Scully started the coffee pot and sat across from Stella. “When did you get back from Belfast?”

“Friday.” Three days ago. This morning, bare faced in Scully’s kitchen, the bruises and the thin row of stitches above her brow were more visible, a harsh reminder of what she’d been through, although Scully suspected the psychological bruises ran much deeper.

“And when do you go back to work?”

“Another week or so.” Stella’s shoulders rose slightly. She reached for her cup and sipped from her tea. “Not until the inquiry into my handling of the Belfast Strangler case is complete.”

“I’m sorry. That’s bullshit.”

Stella blinked into her tea, a myriad of emotions at play in the stormy depths of her eyes.

“Well, as it happens, I don’t start my position at the hospital for a week either. I came over early to get settled and do some sightseeing.”

Stella looked up. “Is that so?”

She nodded. “My mom’s coming at the end of the week for a few days, but other than that, I’m free.”

“Are you close?” Stella asked.

“Yeah.” Scully finger-combed her hair as she relaxed into her chair. “I mean, not as close as we should be, maybe. I got a bit isolated those last few years with Mulder. I was miserable…with him, with my job at the hospital, with everything, really. I buried myself in work and just kind of hid from the world.”

“And now you’re taking on the world,” Stella observed before polishing off her tea.

“Trying to, anyway. I mean, I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve spent too many years missing out on things because I was too complacent to go after what I really wanted.”

“And what do you want?”

“Right now? Breakfast with you.” She looked over at Stella, waiting for her to nod in agreement before she continued. “But yeah, I’m thinking long-term too. I mean, am I crazy to be considering another career switch at my age?”

“No,” Stella said. “Not if you think it will make you happy. We should all seek a job that satisfies us that way.”

“Are you happy?” Scully asked. “With your job, I mean?”

Stella stared into the empty cup in front of her. “Happy isn’t a word I’d use to describe my work, but yes, it fulfills me. I’m good at my job, and I can’t imagine myself ever doing anything else.”

“I think forensic pathology could be that way for me. At least, I hope so.” The truth was, medicine had drained some of her spirit, attempting to save kids that were too far gone to be saved. She’d shed enough tears in her life. Yes, there were spectacular wins, but the losses always seemed to weigh more heavily on her conscience.

“I think it would suit you,” Stella said.

“I do too. I performed a lot of autopsies during my years with the FBI. There’s a science to it that appeals to me. And there’s a, well…a certain safety to working with patients who are already dead.”

Stella stood, ostensibly to get dressed for breakfast, but Scully felt the barrier go up between them. She’d hit a nerve. She thought of the woman Stella had saved in Belfast, the one who’d spent almost a week in the trunk of a car and nearly died, the unspeakable horrors she’d endured that Stella now carried on her conscience.

“There’s a café down the block that seems nice,” Scully said. “I had a coffee there yesterday.”

Stella nodded, heading for the stairs.

“Feel free to borrow whatever you need,” Scully called after her, smiling to herself as she remembered making the same offer fourteen years ago.

* * *

Scully took an invigorating sip of her coffee, watching as Stella toyed with her oatmeal. Porridge, she called it, which made Scully smile. She might never get over her infatuation with the British words for things, and the way Stella said them in particular.

Porridge, though? She’d had her suspicions last night when Stella ordered gnocchi for dinner. Not that Scully had shared that many meals with her, but she remembered Stella eating things she could sink her teeth into. “Did he break your jaw?” she couldn’t help asking, feeling slightly sick as she remembered the bruises she’d seen on Stella’s body last night, to know she’d been so brutally beaten.

Stella let the spoon fall against the side of the bowl with a soft clink, shaking her head. She touched two fingers against her bruised cheekbone. “I forget what they called it.”

“Zygoma fracture?” Scully guessed.

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Soft diet?” she asked.

Stella nodded, staring morosely into her oatmeal.

“Sorry,” Scully said, feeling somewhat guilty for eating eggs and toast in front of her.

“Only a few more days,” Stella said, but there was a faraway look in her eyes now, and Scully wished she hadn’t asked, wished Stella’s bones weren’t broken, wished Paul Spector had never existed.

After breakfast, they wandered around Scully’s new neighborhood together, stopping into a local shop where Stella bought a blouse and a pair of shoes while Scully traced her fingertips over pretty things but shook her head when Stella encouraged her to try something on.

“I’m going to be working in a hospital,” she told Stella. “I’ll be wearing scrubs every day.”

Stella shrugged, and they left the shop together, walking idly down the street, eventually settling on a bench in a nearby park to enjoy the weather. Stella wore a pair of Scully’s jeans with the copper blouse from last night, looking ridiculously beautiful as a breeze tossed her hair over her shoulders.

Mulder had once compared Scully to a rose, with her crown of red hair and hidden thorns. But if she was a rose, Stella was some kind of rare flower that bloomed every twenty years, one that people came from around the world to observe and photograph.

Scully found herself staring at Stella’s profile, her strong jaw leading down to the delicate curve of her neck, hard meeting soft. The paradox of Stella Gibson. She’d walk away right now if Scully let her, disappear back into her own life even if it wasn’t what she really wanted, because that was what Stella did. She didn’t make connections, but Scully hoped she could convince her to keep this one, at least as long as she was in London. She needed this, and she suspected Stella did too, whether she’d admit it or not.

Scully leaned back on the bench, closing her eyes. London was going to turn out to be a good thing for her. As recently as yesterday, she hadn’t been sure. In fact, there’d been a moment when she stepped off the plane where she’d become almost paralyzed by self-doubt, convinced she’d made one of the biggest mistakes of her life coming here. But now, if for no other reason than the chance to reconnect with the woman beside her, she felt a sense of anticipation about the future for the first time in years.

That was the difference between Mulder and Stella. Well, one of many. Her relationship with Mulder had been…stagnant, years and years before they even kissed, years of searching for a truth they never seemed to find, years of watching their relationship crumble. She had no idea where this thing with Stella was going, but it was the opposite of stagnant. Stella moved at lightning speed, and it was as overwhelming as it was exhilarating.

Scully had desperately needed something to shake her up and get her moving forward again. She’d never imagined it being Stella, but in this moment, on this park bench, it felt inevitable, like they’d been on a collision course with each other since they said goodbye the first time.

“I’m glad I’m here,” she said softly.

“Mm.” Stella hummed in agreement.

“I could wander around London with you all day and be the happiest woman alive, but I sense you have more important things you need to be doing,” Scully said, cracking open an eye to look over at her.

Stella sat with her elbows on her knees, legs spread, gaze fixed somewhere in the distance. “I need to stop in the office and pick up some case files, and afterward I’d like to go for a swim.”

“Stella, you can’t.” Scully kept her tone gentle. She knew how little Mulder had liked it when she tossed medical advice at him and that Stella would have even less patience for it.

“I don’t see why not,” Stella countered. “It’s low impact.”

“And very core-intensive,” Scully told her. “Swimming with fractured ribs is extremely painful and might exacerbate your injury. What did your doctor say?”

“I didn’t ask him,” Stella admitted, still staring off into the distance.

“Because you knew he’d say no.”

“I need to swim.” There was something razor sharp in her tone.

Scully remembered Stella mentioning swimming when they first met, and she understood instinctively that this was more than exercise for Stella. It was a form of stress relief, of self-care, something that helped keep her sane and grounded when the rigors of the job took their toll. Scully understood. She’d had her own methods for keeping the demons at bay, not all of them as healthy as swimming.

“Promise me that if it hurts too much, you’ll stop,” Scully said.

Stella didn’t respond, but a muscle in her jaw flexed, reminding Scully of Stella’s complicated relationship with pain.

“You could worsen the fractures. It’ll take longer for you to heal, longer to get back on top of your game at work. Okay, I’m done.” She’d said her part. Stella was an intelligent, competent woman, and Scully had to trust her to make decisions in her own best interest.

“I’ll be careful.” Stella leaned over to kiss her before standing, and Scully didn’t miss the slight wince as she straightened.

She felt a brief wash of guilt for the way she’d slammed Stella into the side of a building last night, but then again, she hadn’t known about the cracked ribs at the time, and Stella hadn’t exactly been complaining. “Call me later?”

“Yes,” Stella said with a nod, picking up her shopping bag. Twenty-four hours ago, they’d been virtual strangers, and now…

“Hey.” Scully sprang off the bench, grabbing Stella’s hand. “This was really great, you know, seeing you and well, everything last night.” She pulled Stella in for a kiss, a real kiss, not the quick peck on the lips Stella had given her on the bench.

Stella softened into her embrace, kissing her back with the kind of enthusiasm that made Scully think she wasn’t the only one feeling emotional about their reunion. She lifted her head after a long minute, pleased by the heated, slightly dazed look in Stella’s eyes, because she felt the same way.

Maybe if she was lucky, she’d really get to know Stella this time, form a lasting bond she could take back to Maryland with her at the end of her fellowship. Maybe they could forge a friendship that would go beyond a handful of emails over the span of a decade.

“I’m just really glad to see you again,” she whispered, bringing her lips to Stella’s one last time.

“I am too.” Stella gave her a quick squeeze before she disentangled herself from Scully’s embrace and walked away.

Chapter Text

Stella floated on her back in the pool, kicking lazily. Scully had been right, of course. She hadn’t managed two laps before the searing pain in her chest forced her to stop. The darker part of her mind urged her to keep going, push through the pain to the blissful calm on the other side, but there was Scully sitting like an angel on her shoulder, reminding her she could make her injury worse, give her boss another reason to keep her benched. Above all else, she needed to get back to work.

So, she kicked her way slowly across the pool, arms floating at her sides, watching the reflection of the water ripple across the ceiling, mesmerized by it. Coming here had still been a good idea. The water buoyed both her body and her spirit. The scent of the chlorine was as invigorating as caffeine. Just returning to her local pool for the first time in two months felt like a win, however small.

She’d be back tomorrow.

Knowing she’d regret it if she attempted to haul herself up the ladder, she instead made her way over to the steps in the shallow end and walked out of the pool. After a quick shower, she was on her way home.

But her flat, although it sparkled after yesterday’s fit of cleaning, was still just as empty. And while she felt somewhat calmer after her trip to the pool, her body still buzzed with unspent energy. She stood in the kitchen, fingers tapping restlessly against the countertop as she stared at her phone, debating her options.

She and Scully had already spent most of the last twenty-four hours together. Logically, they needed space, time away from each other. Everything about Scully screamed more than sex. It always had. The strength of the connection between them had scared Stella in her youth, and it scared her now.

She’d made the decision a long time ago to put her career first. Some people simply weren’t suited to relationships, and she was one of them. It was perfectly fine for her to accept this about herself, to take what she needed from her sexual partners without derailing her life or her career.

But a quiet night at home alone wasn’t in the cards tonight, not while she was feeling like this. And since she couldn’t work and couldn’t swim, that left sex. Sure, she could go out, find some random man, and let him fuck her, but the truth was, there was only one person she wanted to see, to touch and be touched by tonight.

And that person, while potentially dangerous, was only in London for two months. How much could really happen between them in that amount of time? Scully had been temporary before, and she was temporary now. Maybe the universe had sent her Stella’s way for a reason, a perfectly timed distraction while she recovered from Belfast.

Once they both got back to work, they’d barely have time to see each other, even if they wanted to. So really, they just had this one week. And even Stella was capable of a relationship lasting a week.

Decision made, she picked up her phone and composed a quick text.

Dinner at my place tonight?

And then she bit down on her lip, waiting for Scully’s response.

Sounds perfect. What can I bring?

Just yourself. Stella followed that with her address and a time, and then she headed to the market, relieved to have something—or more accurately, someone—to occupy her evening. She didn’t often cook. Usually, she didn’t have the time for it, not when she was busy with work. She enjoyed eating out, picking fancy things off a fancy menu and having them brought to her without any further effort on her part.

But tonight, she was looking forward to cooking. Tonight, she needed something to keep both her mind and her hands occupied until Scully arrived. She browsed through several websites touting “easy date night meals” on her phone, swearing under her breath as she tried to find something she could eat. Eventually, she decided on a lemon chicken pasta dish. She’d just leave the chicken off her plate. God, she missed meat. She was so fucking hungry.

She quickly gathered all the ingredients she’d need, paid, and went home. Back in her kitchen, she poured herself a glass of wine and put on some music, a relaxing playlist to set the mood. And then she set to work. She was so caught up in cooking, she lost all track of the time, and the next thing she knew, Scully was knocking at her door.

Well, fuck. She’d meant to go upstairs and change before Scully got here, freshen her hair and makeup, but here she was, still wearing Scully’s jeans. At least she’d put on a clean shirt when she showered after her swim. She turned down the heat on the stove before she walked to the door.

Scully stood on her doorstep wearing black jeans and a blue top that highlighted her eyes while perfectly setting off the crimson hues in her hair.

“Blue is your color,” Stella said as she invited her inside. “You look lovely, and I’m a mess. Sorry. The time got away from me.”

“You look perfect,” Scully said, sliding her hands around Stella’s waist to kiss her. “And thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” For a moment, they just stared into each other’s eyes, smiling.

“You smell like chlorine,” Scully said, but her tone was teasing not chastising.

“I was careful.”

“Good.” She pulled Stella in for another kiss, this time adding enough tongue to make Stella forget all her well-laid dinner plans. “Because I need you limber enough for other activities later tonight.”

“Won’t be a problem,” she murmured against Scully’s lips as a delicious ache spread between her thighs. Then they were kissing again, bodies pressed together. With Stella in bare feet, Scully had a slight height advantage, and she put it to good use, hands roaming everywhere.

“I know I just saw you, but…I missed you.” She smiled against Stella’s lips, hands on Stella’s ass, pressing their hips together so tightly Stella was considering throwing out the chicken in favor of taking Scully directly upstairs to bed. Fuck that, she could take her right here in the foyer.

She drew in a shallow breath, mindful of her ribs, and blew it out. “You’ve hardly had a chance to miss me,” she deflected, as if she didn’t feel the same way.

“I know.” Scully released her, tucking a wayward strand of red hair behind her ear. “Whatever you’re cooking smells really good.”

“Lemon chicken pasta.” Stella led the way to the kitchen and poured Scully a glass of wine.

“Thank you,” Scully said as she accepted the glass. “Will you be able to eat that?”

“I can eat the pasta.” Stella adjusted the heat on the pan and stirred the sauce.

Scully settled herself on a stool. “Can I help with anything?”

She shook her head. “It’s just about ready.”

“If you’d told me when I landed in London yesterday that I’d be sitting here tonight watching you cook dinner for me, I’d probably have laughed.”

“Any other week, it would have been a laughable idea.” Stella checked the pasta, tamping down her discomfort over the domestic scene she’d inadvertently created here tonight.

“Well, I’m extremely sorry you’re facing an inquiry at work,” Scully said, her expression sobering. “But it’s an awfully lucky coincidence that I’m here and also not working this week. I think we can sufficiently distract each other so we don’t get bored.”

A smile tugged at Stella’s lips as relief tingled in her veins. Yes, Scully’s timing was impeccable. In fact, Stella wasn’t sure how she’d have made it through the week without her. She took plates out of the cupboard and dished up two servings, one with and one without chicken. She’d never tried this recipe before, but it smelled good, and the sauce had thickened the way it looked on the recipe page, which she took for a good sign.

“If it tastes like shit, we’ll have to improvise,” she said with a meaningful lift of her eyebrows.

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem.” Scully took her plate and her wineglass and followed Stella to the table. They sat across from each other, beginning to eat in a comfortable lull in the conversation. The playlist Stella had started earlier was still going, and it set a nice ambiance to the meal. “It’s delicious,” Scully said.

Stella couldn’t argue with her. She was by no means a chef, but the meal had turned out nicely, and having Scully here with her was a definite plus. They chatted casually as they ate, and Stella had refilled both of their wineglasses by the time their plates were clear.

Scully looked up, eyes glossy in the lamplit kitchen. “Thank you. I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I enjoyed a meal like this with someone. I forgot how nice it could be.”

“You’re welcome.” Stella lifted her wineglass and sipped. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d shared a homecooked meal with a romantic partner either, but she’d also never lived with anyone. Scully had spent over a decade with Mulder. What had it been like, if they never shared a quiet meal together?

They walked to the kitchen together. Scully insisted on rinsing their plates while Stella cleaned up the leftovers from the stovetop. She’d just finished scooping the chicken into a container when Scully’s arms slid around her waist from behind, her chin landing on Stella’s shoulder. For a moment, they stood like that, just breathing in the closeness between them before Stella spun in her arms.

She pressed forward, capturing Scully’s mouth with her own, walking her backward into the countertop so she could better leverage her position. She slid one of her thighs between Scully’s, and Scully angled her hips against Stella’s, fitting them together perfectly. And then they kissed, and kissed, and kissed.

They kissed until Stella had forgotten everything but the feel of Scully’s lips on hers, the swipe of her tongue, and the scrape of her teeth. Their hips moved together until Stella thought she might combust from the friction building between them.

“Upstairs,” she whispered, disentangling herself to lead the way. They were quiet as they climbed the stairs, both of them breathing heavily. As soon as they’d crossed the threshold into Stella’s bedroom, they were on each other again, hands groping at clothing, fumbling buttons and pushing down zippers. And then Stella was flat on her back in bed with Scully straddling her, jeans still dangling from one ankle.

“Time for me to thank you properly for dinner,” she said as she dipped her head, sucking at Stella’s nipple through the fabric of her shirt.

“Is that so?” she managed, squeezing her eyes shut against the onslaught of pleasure coursing through her veins.

“Mm hmm.” Scully pushed the shirt up to her breasts, and Stella raised off the mattress to help her pull it over her head, grimacing as pain knifed through her chest, stealing her breath. Wordlessly, Scully pushed her against the sheets, pressing a hand over Stella’s ribs in a way that reduced the blinding fire in her chest to mere embers. “Just breathe,” she whispered, and Stella did, exhaling shallow breaths against Scully’s palm until the worst of it had passed.

“You’re good at that,” she whispered.

“There are benefits to having a doctor in your bed,” Scully told her, gently tugging the shirt over Stella’s head without further aggravating her ribs. Stella shook her foot, and the jeans fell to the floor, leaving her in only her bra and underwear. “You’re so beautiful,” Scully said, running her hands down Stella’s body in a reverential sort of way.

Stella shivered beneath her touch, uncomfortable with her words but too turned on to really care. Scully quickly stripped to her own underwear, further distracting Stella with the sight of all that smooth, creamy skin contained beneath black lace.

“Did you wear that just for me?” she asked, reaching up to grip Scully’s ass, guiding her back to Stella’s hips.

Scully grinned as she settled herself against Stella. “A wise woman once told me I should buy pretty lingerie just for myself, and I took her advice.”

“Good advice,” Stella quipped, biting her lip as Scully rolled her hips directly over her clit.

“It was.” Scully flattened herself against Stella, kissing her fiercely as her fingers worked the clasp on Stella’s bra. She freed Stella’s breasts, lavishing them with the full attention of her mouth and fingers while Stella arched beneath her, seeking more, needing more, even as Scully bit down on her nipple, making her gasp with pleasure.

Scully transferred her mouth to Stella’s other breast as one of her hands hooked beneath the lace band at Stella’s hip, tugging her underwear down her legs. Stella steadied her breathing in anticipation of her touch. She could feel that she was already drenched in her own desire.

“Been a while since I’ve done this,” Scully said as she kissed her way down Stella’s stomach. “Let me know if I’m rusty.”

“I can’t imagine you will be.” Stella’s skin flushed hot, her pussy throbbing as her hands reached for Scully, needing something to hold onto. She gripped Scully’s shoulders as she settled between Stella’s thighs, looking up at her with a smile that melted away any last hesitation she might have harbored about giving herself over to Scully this way.

Scully swept her hair over her shoulders before leaning in to press a wet kiss against Stella’s inner thigh, and she held her breath, nerves tingling, shooting sparks through her veins. Scully placed the flat of her tongue against her, licking slowly from Stella’s entrance to her clit, and she grasped the sheet beneath her, clenching it between her fingers as a breathy moan escaped her lips.

Scully worked magic with her tongue, enveloping Stella in the wet heat of her mouth. Stella pushed one hand into her own hair, pinching her nipple with the other, while Scully jabbed her tongue so far inside her she saw stars. Scully licked and teased, sucking at Stella’s clit until her whole body seemed to pulse with need, hips grinding against Scully’s mouth.

“Fuck me,” she gasped, muscles trembling as she struggled to keep her thighs from clamping around Scully’s head.

“Mm,” Scully responded, the sound vibrating against Stella’s wet skin, and she arched her back, no longer aware of her cracked ribs, no longer aware of anything beyond Scully’s tongue and the orgasm coiling inside her.

Scully pushed a finger inside her. Stella looked down, and their gazes locked. Scully’s eyes seared into hers, embers burning in their blue depths, so fucking sexy she stole the air from Stella’s lungs and the sense from her brain, turning everything inside her liquid hot and thrumming with need.

She wanted to freeze the moment, make it last forever, and then she just wanted to come against Scully’s tongue, wanted it so badly she could hardly breathe. She flung her head back against the pillow, panting as Scully added a second finger, pumping in and out as her tongue swirled over Stella’s clit.

And just like that, she broke, pleasure rippling through her in waves of scorching heat. She exhaled in relief, absorbing every moment as the restlessness that had been fizzing inside her all day evaporated, replaced by a bone-deep satisfaction that no one but the redhead currently sprawled between her legs had ever been able to provide.

She’d let other people go down on her in the years since she first met Scully, but it was never this comfortable, this intimate. She’d forgotten the difference, and now she feared nothing else could ever compare.

“Not so rusty after all,” she managed after she’d caught her breath.

Scully crawled up her body to press a lengthy kiss against her lips. “Glad to hear it.”

* * *

Scully drifted awake slowly, like she’d been skimming along the edge of consciousness for a while. It was dark in Stella’s bedroom, quiet, and she had no idea what time it was. It could be two in the morning or six. Jetlag was a bitch who had completely messed up her internal clock. Two nights in a row of screwing Stella’s brains out hadn’t helped either.

She turned her head, looking for a clock, but instead found herself facing Stella’s blonde curls splayed across the pillow. She lay on her back, one hand pressed against her chest, breathing in shallow pants. Her eyes were closed, but she was definitely not asleep.

“Hey.” Scully touched her shoulder, feeling Stella flinch at the contact. “You okay?”

Stella nodded, turning her face away from Scully.

Clearly not okay. “Stella…”

“Hurts more at night sometimes,” she said quietly.

“Especially after sex and swimming, I bet.” Scully brushed a hand over Stella’s cheek. “What did they give you to take?”

“I can’t remember. I don’t like to take it.”

“Do you have trouble with narcotics?” Scully asked carefully, remembering the scars on Stella’s legs, knowing that one form of self-harm often accompanied another.

“No, but they make me feel spacey. Can’t concentrate.”

“That’s okay in the middle of the night, I think,” Scully said. “Would you like me to bring you one? You should at least take some ibuprofen.”

Stella said nothing, tension radiating off her in the darkness.

“There’s no reason not to—”

“I’m fine.” Stella attempted to roll away, but the breath hissed out of her as she flopped back, her hand again pressed against her ribs.

Scully rested a hand over Stella’s, feeling the shudder that wracked her body with each exhale, wishing there was more she could do to ease her pain.

“Go back to sleep,” Stella whispered, turning her face into the pillow.

“Not a chance,” Scully told her, giving Stella’s fingers a squeeze. “I’m lousy at this too, you know. They say doctors make terrible patients, but I think cops might be worse.”

Stella was quiet for a long moment, and when she finally spoke, her voice was hushed. “The prescription bottle is in the cabinet in the bathroom.”

“Okay.” Scully slipped out of bed before Stella could change her mind, padding downstairs to fill a glass of water. Back upstairs, she located the prescription bottle. Based on the number of pills inside, Stella had only taken two or three since she’d been released from the hospital. Scully shook one onto her palm and brought it with her into the bedroom.

She set the pill and glass on the nightstand so she could slide her hands behind Stella’s back and help her sit without further aggravating her cracked ribs. Stella grimaced as she came upright, hands gripping Scully for support. She squeezed Stella’s shoulder in sympathy before handing her the pill and the glass of water. Stella swallowed it quickly and slumped back against the pillow.

“Let me,” Scully said, sliding closer. She pressed her palm against Stella’s chest, wrapping her fingers around the curve of her ribcage, applying compression to the fractures the way she’d done earlier. Gradually, Stella relaxed beneath her touch, breaths evening out. “Better?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Her voice was soft, eyes shut.

“Want to talk for a bit, or are you ready to sleep?”

“I don’t sleep well these days,” Stella admitted.

“Been there,” Scully told her. “Med school taught me to sleep whenever and wherever I could, and for years, I carried that with me through the FBI. I could sleep on the plane on the way to a crime scene or in the car while Mulder drove us through some Godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere chasing monsters.”

Stella was quiet, listening, breathing steadily beneath Scully’s palm.

“But it all catches up to you eventually,” Scully whispered. “The ones you didn’t save, the killers who went unpunished, especially if they managed to deliver a few blows before they left.” She paused, measuring her breath to match Stella’s, forcing herself not to tense up, not to back away from what she was about to say, because Stella needed to hear it. She needed to hear it more than Scully needed to protect herself from sharing it. “I shot a man once. I mean, I’ve shot a lot of men. I even shot Mulder once.”

At this, Stella’s breath hitched in surprise. She turned to look at Scully in the near darkness.

“In the shoulder,” she clarified. “He was about to do something really stupid, and it was the only way to stop him. He’s lucky I’m a good shot.” She smiled softly at the memory. “But the man I shot—the one I meant—his name was Donnie Pfaster. A real crazy sonofabitch. He liked to cut off women’s hair and fingers after he killed them and keep them as souvenirs. He kidnapped me, tried to add me to his collection, but Mulder showed up in the nick of time with reinforcements.”

“I’m sorry,” Stella murmured.

“It shook me more than I ever wanted to admit. He went to prison, but he escaped five years later, and he…he came after me again, this time in my apartment.” She paused, allowing the fear, the helplessness to surface inside her for the first time in years. Of all the times she’d fought for her life, this one had perhaps been the most terrifying. “He overpowered me, tied me up in my own fucking closet while he ran a bath. He was going to wash me, wash my hair, paint my nails. That’s what he did. That was his ritual.”

Stella quit breathing for a moment, stiffening beneath Scully’s touch. She’d read that Paul Spector had rituals too with his victim’s hair and nails. Maybe it was what had driven her to tell Stella this story.

“Anyway, I got free. We fought, and I was able to grab my gun. Mulder came busting into my apartment at about the same time.” She swallowed hard, heat crawling over her skin. She’d never admitted this next part to anyone. Only Mulder knew, because he’d been there. “I could have cuffed him. I could have let Mulder cuff him, but I…I shot him. Right there in my living room.”

“Fuck,” Stella whispered.

“I didn’t sleep for a long time after that.”

“Sometimes I wish I could have shot Spector,” Stella admitted quietly. “I felt so helpless, lying there on the floor while he kicked me.”

“I know.” She leaned in to kiss Stella’s cheek. “I know.”

“My whole fucking team watching on the closed-circuit television.” Stella’s breath caught, tears glistening in the moonlight. “And I just…lay there. Why didn’t I fight back? He wasn’t a very large man. I should have been able to subdue him.”

“He blindsided you, Stella. You weren’t expecting it.”

“I’m always expecting it,” she whispered.

Scully thought those might have been the truest words she’d ever heard Stella speak. Her armor was always on, always waiting for the next blow to land. “Even the best of us get caught off guard occasionally. You are not weak, or helpless. Spector bruised you, but he didn’t break you.”

Stella swiped the tears from her cheeks. “Sometimes I’m not sure.”

“Well, I am.” Scully pulled her close, holding on to her in the dark, fiercely protective of the woman in her arms.

After a moment, Stella broke free of their embrace, maybe because of her ribs, but probably, she just needed her space. And maybe it was crazy, but as she rolled away, Scully felt closer to her than ever.

Chapter Text

On Thursday, Scully’s boxes from home finally arrived. Stella sat at the table in the kitchen, again sipping tea in Scully’s lavender robe, but this time it was tea of her own choosing. Since Scully’s arrival on Sunday, they’d spent at least a portion of each day together. They’d toured several museums, gone out to dinner again, and even spent an entire afternoon pouring over one of the open cases Stella was working on, trying to find a new lead to advance the investigation.

Scully was starting to get the hang of things here in London. She’d found out that the little washing machine in the kitchen doubled as a dryer and that Brits weren’t fond of top sheets or face cloths, both of which she’d purchased for the flat herself. She’d expected to make these discoveries on her own. Truthfully, since leaving Mulder, she’d become accustomed to going about life on her own. Often, she preferred it that way.

Her time with Stella didn’t seem to change things, though. Stella was equally independent, if not more so, quietly drifting in and out of Scully’s days like the sun passing through London’s persistently cloudy skies. This morning, she sat and sipped tea as Scully put away clothes and shoes, filled an entire shelf with books on pathology, and arranged a collection of photos and knickknacks from home.

“What’s this?” Stella asked, spinning an unusual penny between her fingers. It was actually two pennies fused together, a souvenir from Scully’s days with the X Files.

“I guess you could say it’s my lucky penny. I’ve been carrying it around for longer than I’ve known you.”

“And here I thought you were a woman of science,” Stella teased, setting it on the table in front of her.

“I’m not really sure why I brought it.” She twirled it idly between her fingers. “Sentimental value, I guess.”

“Maybe you’re due for a spell of good luck,” Stella commented, lifting the cup to her lips.

“Maybe we both are.” She set the penny in a catch-all box on the shelf, tossing Stella a quick glance. “My mom will be here tomorrow, through the weekend.”

“Oh?” Stella lifted one eyebrow slightly.

“I’d like to introduce you.” She’d been thinking about it all morning. Not to mention, the idea of not seeing Stella for three whole days while her mom was here felt unbearable after spending the better part of a week with her. Honestly, it was unsettling when she realized how quickly Stella had become such an important part of her life, how hard it was to imagine her not being a part of it after Scully’s fellowship was over.

“Introduce me as your friend?” Stella asked, staring into her tea.

“Girlfriend, woman I’m dating, whatever term you prefer,” Scully said as she sat across from her. “Anything other than friends who fuck.”

A smile quirked Stella’s lips. “And she’ll be okay with that?”

“I lived with a woman for a while after college, during my first year of medical school. It was a shock for both of my parents, but they got over it. Well, my mom did anyway.”

“Not your dad?”

She shrugged. “He didn’t approve of a lot of my choices, including joining the FBI. And unfortunately, he passed away before we had a chance to resolve our differences.”

“I’m sorry,” Stella murmured.

“Thank you, but it’s fine. Really. I made peace with it a long time ago.” Scully waved a hand in front of her face. “The point is that my mom will be so happy to see me with someone new, it’ll far outweigh any hesitations she might have about my sexuality.”

“She didn’t like Mulder?”

“She loved Mulder.” Scully sighed deeply. “No one was happier than she was when we finally got together, but she tired of his bullshit a lot sooner than I did. No mother wants to see her daughter living in isolation with a man who never leaves the house. Never leaves his fucking office.” She shook her head. “It wasn’t always like that, but for a long time…for a long time it was.”

“Is that why you left him, then?” Stella’s eyes were kind, no hint of judgment in their crystalline depths.

“No.” She would never have left him because he was ill. She would have stuck with him through any depths of his depression, no matter the personal cost. No, that hadn’t been it at all. “I left when I realized our life together would never be enough for him.”

“He missed his work,” Stella said, astute as ever.

Scully exhaled from the depths of her soul. “Of course, he did. So did I. For nine years, the X Files had consumed our whole lives, but, God…it cost us so much.” Her eyes flicked involuntarily to the baby photo of William tacked to the fridge. “Over the last few years, he’s consulted on several cases for the FBI, and every time they called, it was like he was waking up for the first time in months. He’d shave his beard, get dressed, run off wherever they sent him. The truth is, his work is his biggest passion, not me.” And that had maybe been the hardest truth of all to acknowledge as their relationship disintegrated.

“Are you sure it can’t be both?” Stella asked carefully.

“I know that I alone wasn’t enough to fulfill him.” She swiped at her eyes. “I know that he’s doing better now than he had been in years, because of his consulting work with the FBI. I’m sure he’d be even happier if I were there with him, but I can’t do it again, Stella. I can’t go back to that life. I’m done chasing monsters in the dark.”

“I understand,” Stella said.

“I gave up so much for him over the years. I let his passion, his quest become my own, to the point where I almost forgot who I was and what I wanted out of life. I think that maybe I’m only just now starting to rediscover what makes me happy.” She paused, looking at Stella. “For so long, I was just…Scully, and now I’m finally remembering what it’s like to be Dana again.”

Stella reached over, placing her hand on Scully’s in silent support.

“Mulder and I will always be a part of each other’s lives, but I can’t live with him. I can’t be with him. Never again.” These last few days with Stella had only reinforced this point. She’d forgotten what it felt like to be with someone who made her feel good, someone who genuinely cared about what she wanted, someone she could share a quiet morning with as easily as a wild night.

She and Mulder had never shared this can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you-if-I-tried kind of passion. Theirs had been more of a slow burn, a deeper connection born out of years of trust and intimacy from their work together. They’d had their share of passionate nights, but it had never been as explosive as her chemistry with Stella.

“So, will you meet my mom?” she asked again, trying to drive the conversation back on topic. “We could get dinner together, or even just tea. I know she would love to go out for a real British tea service.”

Stella smiled, but there was something distant in her eyes. “We’ll see.”

And in fact, once Maggie arrived the following morning, Stella became mysteriously busy, which Scully figured was probably bullshit, but she tried to swallow Stella’s silence with grace. After all, Stella was still recovering from her last case, both physically and emotionally. Not to mention, she wasn’t sure what Stella’s relationship was with her own parents. She’d never mentioned them, which was telling in and of itself.

“Well, isn’t this adorable,” Maggie exclaimed as she entered Scully’s flat, slightly breathless from the flight of stairs leading to the front door.

“It is,” she agreed. “I really love it here.”

“London seems to suit you,” Maggie said, turning to give Scully a warm hug. “You look good. You look great, really. There’s a light in your eyes I hadn’t seen in too long.”

“I’m happy, Mom,” she said, hugging her back. “And I’m really excited to start my fellowship on Monday.”

“A fellowship at your age.” Her mom shook her head in faux exasperation. “You ought to be planning for retirement, not switching careers.”

“But if it makes me happy…” Scully reminded her.

“I know, I know. If it makes you happy, it makes me happy.” Maggie walked to the window in the kitchen and looked out. “You know, in all the moving around we did with your father in the Navy, I’ve never been to London.”

“Which is why we’re going to do all the sightseeing while you’re here.”

“I can’t wait.” She stifled a yawn behind her hand. “But do you mind if I take a nap first? Jetlag has really wiped me out.”

“You should definitely nap. You’ll feel so much better after.” Scully guided her toward the stairs leading up to the loft. “I changed the sheets on the bed this morning for you. I’ll sleep downstairs on the pull-out couch.”

“Oh, sweetie, I’ll take the couch. I don’t mind.”

“I won’t even hear of it, so don’t even try,” she told her mom firmly.

“Okay, okay. Oh, how cute is this?” Maggie surveyed the loft.

It looked homier now that Scully’s belongings had arrived, with pictures on the dresser and on the windowsill that overlooked the street below. She sat on the edge of the bed while Maggie rustled through her suitcase, getting what she needed.

“I might join you for that nap,” she said with a yawn. She’d been up late last night with Stella, and soon enough, she’d be working long hours at the hospital and wishing for the freedom to nap.

“You should. Lie down here with me.”

And so, she lay down on the bed next to her mom and slept, relaxed and happy. By the time they stirred, it was late afternoon, but since they had nowhere to be, they lay in bed together and chatted like they hadn’t chatted since Scully was a girl still living at home.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” She reached over and squeezed her mom’s hand.

“Me too, sweetie. Me too.”

“Let’s go out for dinner tonight,” Scully suggested. “See a little bit of London.”

“I’d love that.”

They got up, and Maggie puttered around in the bedroom, hanging her clothes in Scully’s closet as she talked excitedly about all the things she wanted to do while she was here in London.

Scully sat on the edge of the bed and listened, smiling contentedly.

“Wow, Dana, this is a gorgeous blouse. I don’t remember seeing you in it before.” She pulled out one of Stella’s black silk blouses, admiring it. “You’ve got a few nice pieces in here I don’t recognize.”

“Oh, um.” Scully felt her cheeks heat. “Those are Stella’s, actually. She has better fashion sense than I do.”

“Stella?” Maggie turned, curiosity dancing in her eyes.

“Stella Gibson. I think I told you about her back when we first met, when Mulder and I were working on the X Files.” She had mentioned Stella’s name, but nothing of what they’d shared.

“Stella.” Maggie tapped her chin. “Is she a detective?”

“Yes.”

“And you two have reconnected now that you’re back in London.” Maggie’s face lit. “How wonderful. But why are her clothes in your…oh.”

“Yes,” Scully confirmed. “We’re dating.”

“Oh,” Maggie repeated, coming to sit beside Scully on the bed. “Well, this is unexpected. Is she part of the reason you look so happy?”

Scully felt her chest tighten as she nodded. “Yes, she is.”

“Then, I’m very happy for you both. Will I get to meet her while I’m here?”

“I hope so,” Scully told her honestly. “She’s a detective superintendent now, which is more or less the equivalent of a lieutenant in America. So, she’s very busy.” She decided not to mention Stella was still benched, pending the outcome of her inquiry.

Maggie was quiet for a moment, her expression pensive. “This is a big deal. I was so worried about you after you broke up with Fox. You seemed so sad…so lonely. And you buried yourself in work the way you always do.”

“I did,” she admitted. “Some habits are hard to break.”

“Just don’t fall in love and stay here in London,” Maggie said, giving Scully’s shoulder a nudge.

Scully scoffed at this, even while she felt a pang in her chest. “I won’t, Mom. Don’t worry.”

* * *

Stella looked up from the case file spread across her coffee table at the sound of an incoming text message. She knew who it would be from before she checked her phone. There was absolutely no chance the inquiry had been resolved on a Sunday evening, and even if it had been, her boss, Chief Superintendent Chris George, would have called with the news. Sure enough, Scully’s name showed on the screen.

Mom and I are going to dinner at Pearl tonight. Join us?

Stella set the phone down with a sigh. It was Maggie’s last night in London, and Stella had made herself scarce for the duration of her visit. She didn’t particularly want to meet Scully’s mother, although she was fairly sure she’d like the woman.

The last time Stella saw her, Scully had told her she’d left Mulder because he’d always put his work ahead of her. What Stella hadn’t had the courage to point out—and what Scully either hadn’t yet realized or had decided didn’t matter given the temporary nature of their relationship—was that Stella and Mulder were alike that way. Scully deserved someone to put her first. She deserved it more than anyone in the world, but Stella was not that person. She’d married herself to the job decades ago, and there was no changing her now.

So, she would prefer to stay far the hell away from Scully’s mother. But Scully knew perfectly well Stella was sitting at home tonight, and to ignore her dinner invitation seemed pointedly rude, even for Stella. And then there was the fact that she missed her like crazy, missed her so much she was actually considering having dinner with her mother just for the chance to see her. Because Scully started her new fellowship in the morning, and hopefully Stella would be back at work herself in the next few days, which meant they’d be seeing a lot less of each other from here on out.

Fuck it. She needed to see her.

What time? she replied to Scully’s message.

Does 7 work for you?

Yes. See you there.

Stella’s soft diet was over, so she could order whatever she wanted tonight. Maybe sinking her teeth into a big juicy steak would satisfy her hunger for Scully, because this would only be dinner, with Maggie in town. Stella set down the phone and scraped the papers in front of her into a pile. As she had no open cases of her own, George had given her several case files from within the department to look over, review, and give her thoughts and expertise on. It was what she did best, after all, the reason she’d been sent to Belfast in the first place. Still, nothing compared to having her own case to chew on, something done right the first time rather than a mess left for her to unravel after the fact.

After several hours spent doing just that, Stella needed some serious stress relief before sitting through dinner with Scully and her mother. She put the files away, grabbed her gym bag, and headed for the pool. Two sad laps later, she was folded over the edge of the pool deck, breathing past the searing pain in her chest and cursing Paul Spector with every fiber of her being.

How fucking dare he.

She caught the eye of the man behind the desk as she walked by on her way out. Young, handsome, strong. He smiled at her, revealing dimples that were entirely too appealing. Eager. So fucking eager. He’d be more than willing to take her behind the closed door of the changing room and give her what she needed. Except he wasn’t the person she wanted tonight. So, she stalked home, seething, irritable, and still buzzing with restless energy.

She laid herself carefully across the bed, applying pressure to her chest the way Scully had shown her, until the pain receded. And then she lay there a few minutes longer, staring at the clock, willing it to move faster, or slower, or maybe not at all.

She shifted restlessly against the sheet, her mind wandering to the man behind the desk and the relief she could have had. Damn Scully for getting inside her head like this. She reached down, touching herself through the thin fabric of her pants, her hips automatically arching into the contact, seeking friction. She stroked, softly at first, until her clit started to throb, begging for more attention.

Sighing deeply, she pushed her hand inside her underwear, touching herself properly. Her fingers slipped through her wetness, rubbing and stroking as she remembered the way Scully touched her, the way she looked when she went down on her, blue eyes gleaming as her tongue drove Stella out of her mind with pleasure.

“Dana,” she gasped, fucking herself harder. She wanted to move, to thrust her hips against the bed as she finger-fucked herself, but her ribs would never tolerate it, especially not right after a swim. So, she lay flat on her back, working herself closer to release as she pictured Scully sprawled between her thighs, that curtain of red hair hanging over her shoulders as she sucked Stella’s clit into the heat of her mouth.

Fuck, yes.

Her hand moved faster, harder, and then she was coming, moaning, hips bucking, Scully’s name on her lips, her memory at Stella’s fingertips as she rode out her release. And then, finally calm—at least for the moment—she got out of bed to get ready for dinner.

She took her usual care in getting dressed, deciding on a black top and trousers, simple but feminine, nothing to draw undue attention to herself. She did her hair and makeup, applied a dab of her favorite perfume, and headed for the door.

Half an hour later, she walked into the restaurant, immediately spotting Scully and an older woman who had to be her mother. Maggie Scully was as petite as her daughter, with short, dark hair shot through with streaks of silver. She had a warm smile that Stella immediately liked.

“Hi, Stella.” Scully beamed as Stella approached, so visibly excited to see her that Stella felt a pinch somewhere in the vicinity of her heart. Was she even capable of such an open display of affection? Almost certainly not.

“Dana,” she said, gripping Scully’s hand as she leaned in to kiss her cheek. “And you must be Maggie.”

“So nice to meet you, Stella.” Maggie took her hand with a smile.

The hostess showed them to a burgundy-upholstered booth. Stella scooted to the inside of the far bench, surprised when Scully slid in beside her instead of sitting next to Maggie. She nudged her hip against Stella’s, giving her hand a secret squeeze beneath the table.

“Thank you,” she mouthed, blue eyes sparkling as she smiled at Stella, so earnest, so happy, and Stella realized in a rush just how glad she was to see her.

“I’m glad I could make it,” she said.

“Mom and I have done all the sightseeing we could fit into the last two days,” Scully told her, reaching behind herself to pull her hair into a ponytail.

“I even let Dana talk me into riding on the London Eye,” Maggie said. “And I’m afraid of heights.”

“She almost broke my hand when she realized we had to step on while it was moving,” Scully said, giving her mom an affectionate look. “But it was worth it, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was,” Maggie agreed. “The views from the top were amazing, and as long as I didn’t look straight down, it wasn’t bad at all.”

“Mm,” Stella said neutrally.

Scully gave her an amused look. “You’ve never been on it, have you?”

“No,” she admitted.

“You mean you’ve never played tourist in your own city?” Maggie asked.

“I’m afraid not.”

Maggie fixed her with a friendly smile. “What do you do for fun, Stella?”

“I swim, mostly.”

Scully opened her mouth as if to admonish her for swimming with broken ribs, but seemed to change her mind, reaching instead for her water glass, and Stella was incredibly grateful to her for not opening that particular can of worms in front of her mother.

“I used to swim a lot too,” Maggie said. “I was on the swim team in high school.”

“You were?” Scully asked, looking over at her mom. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yes,” Maggie confirmed. “Butterfly was my best stroke.”

She and Scully kept the conversation moving as they ordered their food and while they ate, telling Stella all the things they’d done together over the last two days. And even though Stella mostly listened, occasionally chiming in with an anecdote about London or a shared experience, she felt relaxed and content. Scully and her mom obviously had a good relationship, the kind of mother-daughter relationship Stella had always been fascinated by.

“I’ll be right back,” Scully said after their plates had been cleared away, heading in the direction of the restroom.

Stella looked across the table at Maggie. “I’m glad you’ve had such a nice visit.”

Maggie smiled. “So am I. My husband was in the Navy, and we spent our years together moving constantly. After he passed, I guess I just got content to stay in one place, but this trip has reminded me that it can be fun to travel. Maybe I should do it more often.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Stella agreed. “I guess I travel more for work than for fun as well.”

“Seems to be a common theme with you law enforcement types.” Maggie narrowed her eyes at her, but her tone was light, teasing.

“I suppose it is.” Stella lifted her wineglass, swirling it before polishing off the last sip.

“Well, it’s good to see Dana looking so happy,” Maggie said. “And I think you’re a big part of that, so I’m glad you two reconnected, and I’m glad I got the chance to meet you.”

Stella fiddled with her empty wineglass, unsure how to respond to any of that. She finally settled on, “I’m glad I got to meet you as well.”

“You seem to be good for each other.”

Stella wished desperately for more wine, or better yet, for Scully to return to the table so Maggie would change the subject.

“She’s been through so much,” Maggie continued. “And then she and Fox became so isolated in that house. I hardly ever saw them, and when I did, he looked miserable, and she looked exhausted, like her spirit had broken. Even after she moved out, she was working herself to the bone, trying so hard to save all those kids, even the ones who couldn’t be saved.” Maggie swallowed, pressing a hand against her chest as tears glistened in her eyes. “It was killing me to watch her punish herself like that, taking all the blame for the end of their relationship and losing William…well, it’s just good to see her smiling again, that’s all.”

“I’m glad too,” Stella said, and when she looked up and saw Scully approaching the table, it was all she could do not to pull her into her arms and kiss her right here in front of her mother, kiss her and hold her until she’d forgotten all the darkness in her past.

Except, if she wasn’t careful, Stella could become another shadow in Scully’s life who would end up causing her even more pain.

* * *

By the time they left the restaurant, Scully was so happy she could burst. Stella had been quiet during dinner, and Scully knew she hadn’t really wanted to come, but she still thought it had gone well. Stella seemed to have enjoyed herself, and Maggie was definitely taken with her. Spending the evening with the two of them together had been so nice, a memory she would cherish.

“It was lovely to meet you,” Maggie told Stella once they’d reached the sidewalk.

“You too,” Stella said with a small but genuine smile.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Scully said. “I have a long day at the hospital, but maybe we can get together after.” She missed Stella something fierce. As much fun as she’d had sightseeing with her mom, the nights had been long and lonely now that she’d gotten used to sharing her bed with someone else again.

Stella nodded. “Good luck tomorrow.”

“Thank you.” She leaned in and pressed her lips to Stella’s, just a quick, chaste kiss, but it still filled her with warmth and contentment.

Maggie’s eyes widened, but she was smiling. They said their goodbyes, and Scully hooked an arm through her mom’s as they walked away. “What’s the matter, Mom? You act like you’ve never seen two women kiss before.”

“Well, I’m not all together sure that I have,” her mom said. “But I’m happy for you, Dana. I really am. And I like Stella a lot.”

“Good.” Scully gave her a hug. “Because I like her a lot too.”

“You seem to make each other happy, and really what more can you ask for?” her mom said, squeezing Scully back.

She looked up at the stars twinkling overhead, muted by the lights of the city around them. Such a simple truth, but really, what more was there to life than happiness? She did feel happy when she was with Stella, happier than she could remember feeling with someone in a long time. Probably she and Mulder had been that happy once. But, then again, maybe not. Their relationship—once they finally started sleeping together—had always been mired in tragedy. Happiness seemed to elude them.

“She’s obviously crazy about you,” Maggie continued. “She couldn’t take her eyes off you all night.”

Scully felt her cheeks warm. “That’s just how she is, Mom. She’s very intense when she looks at you, at anyone.”

“Not the way she looks at you,” Maggie insisted with a laugh. “And you’re right, she does have better fashion sense than you do.”

“Hey.” Scully nudged her gently with her shoulder.

“What can I say? She’s beautiful.”

“Should I be jealous?” Scully teased.

Maggie tossed her head back and laughed. “Heavens, no. But I wouldn’t be sorry if you keep dating her.”

“Except for the fact she lives in London,” Scully said, sobering.

“Yeah. Except for that.”

And that was a big exception. But Scully wasn’t thinking about it yet, or not much anyway. She had more important things to focus on at the moment, like her mom’s impending departure and her first day at the hospital.

She slept fitfully that night, tossing and turning on the pull-out couch in her living room as nerves took over. She was going to be studying under a renowned forensic pathologist. The days would be long. And hard. And gruesome. She was probably certifiable for even considering a career switch like this at her age. Except she’d already spent years performing autopsies in the X Files. She was good at it. She had experience.

She could do this.

She could not do this. That was the mantra running through her head as she walked into the morgue the following morning. After an emotional farewell to her mom at daybreak, she’d ridden the tube to The Royal London Hospital, where she met Dr. Linenburger, a gruff but amiable man who’d immediately put her to work.

“I have an interesting case for us to start with,” he told her as he rolled a body out of the refrigerator. Together, they lifted and slid the dead woman onto the table. “Deceased is Margery Waite, forty-eight-year-old white female. Suspected victim of assault. She was found in the greenery beside a popular walking path in north London yesterday evening.”

Scully took in the woman’s torn clothing and the abrasions visible on her skin, which seemed to support the theory that she had fallen victim to some sort of foul play. She and Dr. Linenburger completed their external examination, carefully bagging and preserving the woman’s clothing while sharing their observations with each other.

“These aren’t abrasions. They’re burns,” Scully said, leaning in for a closer look.

“I agree,” he said, watching her closely as she worked.

She suspected he already had a good idea of what had killed this woman, that he was waiting for her to draw her own conclusions, a bit of a test on her first day. It had been a decade since she last performed an autopsy, but she was pleased to find that the routine came right back to her, with a few improvements due to new technology. They performed a full body CT scan, which revealed some strange abnormalities in the woman’s internal organs, as if she’d been exposed to extreme heat before her death.

“Ask if anyone in the vicinity reported bright lights or lost time.”

Mulder’s voice echoed in her head, and she felt such an intense pang of longing, of nostalgia, that for a moment she couldn’t breathe. He would have been so excited when she showed him her findings from this autopsy, certain it was an X File. Nothing could compare to his enthusiasm for strange cases.

God, she missed him. She should call him. Soon.

After a yogurt cup with a packet of protein powder stirred in, she spent the afternoon alongside Dr. Linenburger as she completed her internal examination, confirming the organ damage she’d seen on the CT scan. The victim appeared to have suffered cardiac arrest following whatever trauma had occurred while she was out for her nightly walk.

On a hunch, Scully removed her gloves and checked the weather report from the previous evening. A severe thunderstorm had passed through the area at approximately the same time Margery died, and all the pieces of the puzzle came together in her mind.

“I think this woman was struck by lightning,” she told Dr. Linenburger.

“Ah,” he said. “I had suspected the same thing.”

Together, they went over her findings, eventually confirming Margery Waite’s cause of death. Scully had always struggled between her identity as a medical doctor and an FBI agent. She’d always felt strongest and most satisfied when she’d been able to marry the two by using her medical knowledge to solve crimes…or in this case, by proving that no crime had occurred, a fact she hoped would provide some peace to the deceased’s family.

This was a part of herself Scully had missed in the last ten years. Maybe she hadn’t even realized how much she’d missed it until this moment. She spent the rest of the afternoon rushing around the hospital in a flurry of activity as Dr. Linenburger’s assistant took her on a belated introductory tour of the hospital. She was introduced to countless people, walked down seemingly endless hallways, and ended her first day back in the morgue, looking at a fresh body.

It was all a little bit overwhelming, a little bit terrible, and a little bit awesome. She showered at the hospital to wash the residue of death of her skin before changing into a fresh set of scrubs and setting out for the tube station. First days always felt especially exhausting, so much extra energy expended on remembering names, making good impressions, and cramming as much new knowledge into her brain as possible. After she’d descended to the platform and stood waiting for the train, she finally checked her phone for the first time all day.

How did it go?

The sight of Stella’s name on her screen sent a punch of heat and emotion rushing through her chest. She pressed a hand against her ribcage, relieved to feel a beating heart there after holding two cold, dead ones in her hands earlier today.

Exhausting, but good, she replied.

Almost immediately, the little dots at the bottom of her screen began to bounce, letting her know that Stella was responding.

Have you eaten? I could bring dinner to your place.

That sounds perfect. Thank you.

See you in a little while.

Scully stepped into the train with a smile on her face. It had been four days since she and Stella had been alone together, and she was almost giddy at the prospect of seeing her, kissing her, getting naked with her…if she didn’t fall asleep before they made it that far. Because as she settled into an empty seat by the window, exhaustion swept over her like a powerful tide.

Her eyelids sagged, her body sinking into the seat as if weighed down with lead anchors. She blinked, keeping her eyes focused on the lit marquee above the door, scrolling the name of the next stop, not allowing herself to close her eyes even for a moment for fear she’d doze off and wake in some obscure corner of London while Stella waited on her doorstep with food.

She got off successfully at her stop and walked the two blocks to her building, the crisp night air giving her a brief second wind that faded the moment she entered her flat. She sat down at the kitchen table, rested her head on her arms against the cool tabletop, and conked out the way she used to do in med school.

A knock startled her awake, and she sat up, blinking against the intruding glare of the overhead lamp. Then she stood, rushing toward the door because Stella was here, and she couldn’t wait another moment to see her. She pulled the door open, and Stella gave an almost comical doubletake as she took in Scully’s appearance.

“Hi,” Stella said, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind Scully’s ear, a lock she could only assume had been wildly out of place.

“Hi.” Scully wrapped her arms around her, half-smooshing a bag of takeout food between them as she hugged her, bringing their lips together for a messy kiss.

“You have the imprint of your shirt on your face,” Stella murmured against her lips with a smile, brushing her fingers gently over Scully’s cheek.

“I fell asleep at the kitchen table waiting for you,” she confessed, threading her fingers through Stella’s as she guided her inside and closed the door behind them.

“Long day?” Stella asked with a sympathetic look as she began setting cartons of food on the table.

“So long,” she said, pulling a bottle of sparkling water out of the fridge. She poured two glasses and set them on the table, while Stella rummaged through her cabinets, coming out with plates. They worked together in quiet harmony as they prepared the meal, which turned out to be Thai and smelled so good Scully’s mouth was already watering. That yogurt cup had been a lifetime ago.

“Good, bad, or not sure yet?” Stella asked as they sat, choosing chairs next to each other instead of across the table from each other, both apparently needing that closeness between them tonight.

“Good, I think.” She smiled as she took a bite of spicy chicken and vegetables. “You know how first days are, so overwhelming. And I was up most of the night worrying about how it would go.”

“I know the feeling,” Stella said. “So much pressure to impress, especially as a woman.”

“Yes.” She wiped sauce from her lip, sucking it off her finger.

Stella’s gaze heated as she licked her own lips, but she kept eating quietly, much more delicately than Scully, who was practically inhaling her food, having suddenly rediscovered her appetite. They didn’t talk much as they ate, just enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company. Once they’d both cleared their plates—and Scully had gone back for seconds—they cleared away the leftovers and walked into each other’s arms.

“You got your stitches out.” Scully stroked the freshly mended skin on Stella’s brow.

“And no more soft diet,” Stella said, confirming what Scully had already noticed. “I can eat anything I want.”

Something about the way she said it sent Scully’s pulse racing. “Good to know.”

“Shall I let you sleep, then?” Stella asked quietly as her eyes asked a different question entirely.

“Not quite yet.” Scully felt herself heat in all the right places beneath Stella’s inquiring gaze.

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

That was more or less the last thing Scully registered before Stella was on her, tongue licking into her mouth as her hand dove beneath the waistband of Scully’s pants, her thighs nudging Scully’s as she walked her backward into the couch. When the backs of her knees met upholstery, she sat, turning to lay flat on the cushions as she pulled Stella down on top of her.

Stella hovered over her, her tongue sliding against Scully’s as her hand slipped inside Scully’s underwear. She gasped, hips tilting to allow Stella better access, too deliriously aroused to do anything but lay there, moaning as Stella’s fingers found all the right places, working her into a frenzy in an embarrassingly short time.

“Fuck,” Scully mumbled into her mouth, arching off the couch as Stella finger-fucked her right over the edge. “Oh my God,” she gasped, hips grinding to an exhausted halt beneath the warm weight of Stella’s body, the piercing heat of her gaze, and the wicked lashing of her tongue.

But Stella apparently wasn’t finished. Tearing her mouth away from Scully’s, she crawled down Scully’s body, pushing her shirt and bra out of the way as she turned the attention of her lips to Scully’s breasts, nipping and sucking until Scully had forgotten all about her long and exhausting workday.

Stella traced her tongue down the center of Scully’s ribcage, swirling around her navel, before traveling lower, and Scully was on fire for her again, burning for her touch, for the hot, wet thrill of her tongue against her most intimate parts. When Stella tugged at her pants, she lifted her hips, helping Stella peel them down her legs, along with her underwear.

Stella looked up, meeting Scully’s gaze for a hot second, blue eyes glinting with wicked intent, before she dropped her head, settling between Scully’s thighs as she licked slowly through her folds, pressing the flat of her tongue against Scully’s clit before swirling it there in a motion that made Scully moan as lights exploded behind her closed eyelids.

“Stella,” she gasped, hands tangling in the honeyed depths of Stella’s hair. In response, Stella picked up the pace, licking and sucking, hands on Scully’s hips to steady her as Scully writhed beneath her, hips grinding against Stella’s mouth.

A second orgasm, even stronger than the first, built inside her, rising like a tidal wave beneath the heat of Stella’s tongue, the suction of her mouth, the scrape of her teeth. Scully gasped and moaned, looking down to meet Stella’s gaze as she broke. Stella’s eyes seared straight through to her soul as the orgasm slammed through her.

She closed her eyes, lost to the sensations flooding through her body as she came. And then she just lay there, limp, damp with sweat, and burning hot where Stella’s mouth still covered her.

“Jesus Christ,” she managed finally, reaching down blindly for Stella, who kissed her way up Scully’s body to her mouth, breathing heavily from her activity. Scully opened her eyes, squinting at her as she caught her breath. “So, basically, you didn’t miss me at all, then.”

“Not a bit,” Stella quipped, lips swollen and pink, cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling like diamonds.

“I think you’ve destroyed me,” Scully whispered, still panting, muscles the consistency of butter. “In the best possible way.”

As she gathered her wits, she saw Stella still fully clothed on top of her. Scully’s own shirt and bra were pushed up to her neck, her pants and underwear somewhere on the floor. Holy shit. Stella was a force of nature when she unleashed like this.

“Come on,” Scully said, pushing at Stella’s shoulders as she sat up. “Let’s go upstairs so I can return the favor.”

Chapter Text

Stella lurched upright in bed, heart racing, ribs screaming in protest of the sudden movement. She sat there for a moment, sucking in air, waiting for the images behind her eyelids to fade. They would fade. They always did. It was the same dream she’d been having for weeks now, the one where she was walking through the woods outside Belfast, looking for Rose. Walking and looking. Walking and looking…

She could hear Rose calling her name, screaming for help, but she couldn’t find her. She could never find her, never got to her in time. When she finally found the car and popped open the boot, Rose would be laying inside, naked with a rope around her neck. Dead. It was always the same.

Except tonight. Tonight, when she’d opened the boot, it had been Scully laying there with a rope around her neck, eyes glazed with death. Stella shuddered, controlling her breathing so she didn’t wake the real, live Scully beside her, the one who’d worked a very long day and needed to sleep, no matter how badly Stella needed to hold her right now, to assure herself it had just been a dream.

Instead, she reached for the bag she’d left beside the bed. She pulled out her journal—the new one, the one Paul Spector had never touched, the one no one but Stella would ever touch. Sitting in Scully’s darkened bedroom, she jotted down the dream, finding comfort in the ritual, before she lay back down. She snuggled just a bit closer to Scully, close enough to hear the gentle puff of her breath and feel the warmth of her body.

And then, with her nightmare safely tucked away inside the journal beside the bed, she slept. The next time she woke, Scully was puttering quietly around the bedroom, pulling on blue scrubs, her hair tied back in a messy ponytail.

“Back to work already?” Stella asked, her voice deep and rusty with sleep.

“Yes. Sorry.” Scully leaned over to kiss her.

Stella gripped her elbows and pulled her down on top of her so she could kiss her properly. “Don’t be sorry.” She wished desperately to be in Scully’s position, tiptoeing off to work at the break of dawn, the prospect of a long and satisfying day ahead of her.

“Maybe we can see each other again tonight?” Scully asked, propping herself up on her elbows to meet Stella’s eyes.

“Yes.”

“Okay.” She disentangled herself from Stella with a smile and headed down the stairs.

Stella stood, putting on her clothes. She followed Scully downstairs, where they shared a rushed cup of coffee together before setting out. Scully headed for the tube station to ride to work, and Stella set off toward her flat, deciding a walk would do her good this morning. Thirty minutes later, she walked through her front door.

And then she suppressed the urge to scream. She was so fucking tired of her own company, tired of looking at case files she already knew by heart as she waited for the phone to ring. Scully had been a welcome distraction, but now that she’d started her fellowship, there was nothing left for Stella to do but wait.

She went upstairs and took a long, hot bath, adding a few drops of lavender oil to the water, hoping it would relax her. It didn’t. She dressed and walked downstairs, mentally compiling a list of errands she could run to pass the time. Maybe she’d even buy groceries and cook dinner for Scully again tonight.

There was a new voicemail on her phone, and the number sent a burst of adrenaline through her system. It was a Met number, a call from work. She pressed the phone to her ear, listening as Chief Superintendent Chris George asked her to be in his office at 1400 today. The inquiry had been resolved, he said. She could resume active duty immediately.

“Welcome back, Stella,” he concluded before ending the call.

“Thank you,” she whispered to no one in particular. She marched back upstairs to polish her hair and makeup, making sure no trace of the bruises was visible on her face.

Never let them see your weakness.

Then she gathered the case files she’d been reviewing, stuffed them into her briefcase, and headed for the office. Her arrival was quiet. She kept her head down, crossing the station floor with as little fanfare as possible.

“Welcome back, ma’am,” one of the officers called to her.

She lifted her hand in greeting, not pausing until she’d reached her desk, unnaturally clean after her long absence. She sat behind it, running her hands over its smooth surface as a heady sense of power flowed through her veins. She was back. Belfast was officially, finally behind her. Thank God.

Exhaling deeply, she reached for her briefcase, pulling out the case files she’d spent so many hours pouring over at home, checklists forming in her mind of the actionable tasks to be taken now that she was back. She’d need to schedule meetings with the SIO’s in charge of each case to go over her findings and recommendations.

“Stella.”

She looked up to see DSI Stephen Chen leaning against the doorway to her office, coffee cup in hand and a warm smile creasing his handsome face. Something loosened inside her chest, the unexpected relief of seeing a familiar—and friendly—face. “Stephen.”

“It’s good to have you back,” he said.

“It’s good to be back.” She tapped the file beneath her fingers, feeling more like herself than she had in weeks. “I was actually just about to call you.”

“Yeah?” He stepped into her office and settled himself in the guest chair in front of her desk.

She nodded. “I reviewed the Beaujon case last week while I was at home.”

“Please tell me you found something I missed,” he said. “Because I really want to nail this motherfucker, but I’m starting to feel like I’m chasing my own tail here.”

Her lips quirked. This was one of the reasons she’d always liked Chen. He wasn’t afraid to ask for help, although he was a brilliant detective in his own right. He’d been her protégé when he first joined the Met. She’d taught him, trained him, and now he’d been promoted beside her. Back in the day, he’d helped her put Alissa Pine’s stepfather behind bars. “Nothing you missed, per se, but I do have a suggestion for a new line of inquiry.”

They spent the next thirty minutes going over her suggestions for his case, and when he left her office, she felt good about the progress they’d made. From there, her day flowed relatively smoothly. She met with the other officers whose cases she’d reviewed and observed an interview with a newly discovered witness. Her meeting with her boss went uneventfully, a brief summary of all the ways she’d fucked up in Belfast, a promise not to repeat past mistakes, and a firm handshake as she was officially welcomed back.

Before she’d even realized the time, Scully had texted to say she was leaving the hospital.

I’m actually at the office myself, Stella replied.

Good news? Scully asked.

Yes. Inquiry closed. Officially back in action.

Congratulations! Mind if I stop by?

Stella felt her eyebrows lift in surprise. No.

She started sorting through the files on her desk, updating her notes and organizing things for tomorrow, pleased with the progress she’d made today. A few minutes later, she heard a laugh that made something warm zing through her stomach. She looked up to see Scully at the reception desk, red hair loose over her shoulders, laughing at something Anwar had just said to her.

Stella waved a hand to catch her attention, and Scully met her eyes with a smile. She said something to Anwar, waving as she strode in Stella’s direction. She arrived in Stella’s doorway, still smiling, one hip leaned against the door frame, looking worlds fresher than she had at the end of yesterday’s shift.

“The hospital’s not far from here, and I wanted the chance to see you in action,” she said.

“Satisfied?” Stella felt a smile tug at her lips. She leaned her elbows on her desk, watching Scully closely. She was impatient to kiss her but unwilling to do so here at work, especially unwilling to give her colleagues anything to whisper about on her first day back.

“Yes,” Scully answered, wandering into Stella’s office, eyes roaming over everything in sight.

“Do you miss it?” Stella asked.

“Sometimes,” she admitted. “But not enough to consider ever coming back.”

“Pathology is your happy medium then, is it?”

“Yeah. I think it is.”

“And how was your second day?”

“Better than the first,” Scully said with a brisk nod. “I’m finding my footing.”

“Good.” Stella stood, shutting down her laptop and grabbing her bag. “Ready?”

Scully nodded, leading the way toward the exit. Several heads turned as they walked past, and Stella wondered what they thought. Friends? Colleagues? She doubted anyone guessed they were lovers, but with her reputation, who knew? Then again, Stella didn’t make a habit of parading her lovers through the office.

“Cut up any bodies today?” she asked as they pushed through the front door onto the street beyond.

“Just one,” Scully told her, wrapping those fingers that had so recently diagnosed death around Stella’s, transferring warmth from one to the other. “Want to grab something to eat? And then, my place or yours? Your choice.”

“Mine,” Stella said automatically, needing the comfort of her own things to keep the positive momentum of the day going.

So, she and Scully stopped at a nearby pub for dinner before heading to Stella’s flat for the night. She’d assumed they wouldn’t see each other as often now that they were both back at work, had assumed that was what she wanted to happen. But as Scully pressed her against the bed, hands roaming beneath Stella’s clothes, she found herself hoping they managed to make this thing between them last for the duration of Scully’s fellowship after all.

* * *

Over the next two weeks, Stella and Scully solidified their new routines. They were both working long hours now, both comfortably exhausted by the time they made it home in the evening. Often, they’d wind up together either at Scully’s flat or Stella’s in the evening, sharing food and conversation and seemingly endless sex. It had been a very long time since Stella had been part of a relationship like this, the kind of relationship where she found herself checking her phone more often than she should in the office just to see if Scully had texted, where someone cared where she went after work.

This was the kind of relationship that demanded more than she was usually willing to give. She hadn’t meant for it to happen, but she wasn’t exactly complaining either. With Scully, she found she was willing to bend in places she usually held rigid. Stella enjoyed being with her, genuinely looked forward to seeing her. She was as smart as she was beautiful, and every bit as dedicated to her career as Stella was. And the sex…

Still, she held a part of herself back, unwilling to give herself over completely to anyone, even Scully. There were nights when she needed to be alone, and there were places where she’d never bend.

And then there was the date looming on the calendar. Stella hadn’t given much thought to her birthday. Generally, she considered it a win if she managed to sneak past it without having to acknowledge the date. Her coworkers knew better than to say anything. Probably, she’d work late that night. It was her birthday, and she could celebrate any way she liked, even if that meant not celebrating at all.

So, why did she feel like she was keeping some kind of dirty secret every time she looked at the calendar and didn’t say anything to Scully? It was just a day. It would pass, like any other day, and Stella would be another year older. Big fucking deal.

Her office phone rang, illuminating Chris George’s extension. She lifted the receiver to her ear. “Sir?”

“Do you have a minute?” her boss asked.

“Of course,” she responded, already closing her laptop. “I’ll be right there.” She put down the phone, picked up her notepad, and crossed the station floor to George’s door, which stood ajar. She rapped her knuckles against it, pausing there.

“Stella, come in.” He gestured to the empty chair in front of his desk. “How are you doing?”

“Fine, sir.” She sat, one leg crossed over the other, hands folded over the notepad in her lap. Surely, he hadn’t called her in to assess her performance. Since her return, she’d helped close two of her colleagues’ open cases and just this Monday had been made SIO on a new homicide. It wasn’t like George to micromanage her, and she hoped he wasn’t about to start now.

“Good, good,” he said, leaning back in his chair and giving her an assessing look. “I have a bit of a favor to ask on behalf of the chief super up in Wembley.”

“Of course.” She relaxed internally as she realized this meeting had nothing to do with what had happened in Belfast.

“They’ve got themselves a problematic case, a rape, as it happens. The primary suspect is a former officer, and there are concerns that things have been mismanaged in his favor.” George sighed, still watching her closely.

Stella straightened in her seat. She was being sent on another review. It was unusual for her to be sent out again so quickly. Usually, she only assisted other jurisdictions a few times a year. It was a welcome chance for her to flex her mental muscles, get more experience under her belt, and untangle a complicated case. She’d never gone out only two weeks after returning to her home office, certainly not after a case as mentally and physically destructive as the one in Belfast had been.

“I know it’s a lot to ask so soon after your return,” he said. “But they requested you specifically. It will be only a week. I’m certain Stephen can cover the Martin case for you until your return after you just helped him close Beaujon.”

“Yes, of course,” she answered automatically. This review had not been presented to her as optional, not that she would have ever considered saying no. Ultimately, it was good that she was still in demand, even after Belfast. So, she tucked away a sense of discomfort she couldn’t quite explain as she made her way back to her office to begin clearing her calendar for next week.

A text from Scully waited on her phone.

Dinner tonight? I’m craving pizza.

Sounds good, Stella replied. She opened her laptop, eyes scanning appointments and meetings that would need to be canceled. Her birthday was next Wednesday, right in the middle of her weeklong trip to Wembley. Well, at least now she had a legitimate excuse not to spend it with Scully.

* * *

“Oh my God, this is so good,” Scully said around a mouthful of pizza.

“Mm,” Stella agreed, reaching for another slice. Somehow, her white blouse remained unblemished, while Scully could already see three separate dots of sauce on the front of her scrubs.

She’d picked up a pie from their favorite Italian spot on her way home from the hospital, loaded with the works, and between the two of them, they might polish the whole thing off. Nothing beat a long day of fighting crime—or slicing up bodies—to work up an appetite. Stella ate quietly, her expression a million miles away. This in itself wasn’t unusual. She often got lost in her own thoughts, but tonight, she seemed more distracted than usual.

“Tough day?” Scully asked.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Stella said. She chewed and swallowed another bite before glancing over at Scully. “I’m being sent on another review.”

“Oh?”

Stella nodded. “Next week.”

“That seems…soon,” Scully said carefully. Stella hadn’t even finished healing from the case in Belfast, was only barely back into the swing of things here in London.

“It is,” Stella agreed, lifting a string of cheese and draping it across her pizza slice. “It’s in Wembley, so not too far from home. Far enough to warrant a hotel stay, though, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll miss you,” Scully blurted, covering her admission with a smile as Stella gave her a sharp look. It was true, though. Her time in London was already beginning to feel short, and she’d hoped to spend every bit of it with Stella.

“It’s only for a week.”

“Okay,” Scully said, taking another bite of pizza. They fell back to eating in silence, and Scully found herself remembering the headlines from Belfast, the ones about Stella and that officer, James Olson. She choked on a bite of pizza, coughing as she reached for her water glass.

“Are you all right?” Stella asked, eyes narrowed as if she was asking about more than Scully’s airway.

“Fine,” she muttered, taking a long drink of water. She was the one who’d suggested a casual relationship. Technically, Stella could fuck anyone she wanted to while she was away on her review, or even here in London. But that didn’t feel okay, not anymore. Maybe it never had. Scully was loyal to her core, and maybe she had no right to ask for it in return, but she didn’t want to share Stella with anyone else, not for the two short months she would be here in London. She fidgeted with her slice of pizza, watching as the toppings slid one by one back into the box in a gloppy mess.

“Dana,” Stella said, a warning in her tone.

Scully looked at her helplessly. She was so bad at this. She had no idea how to broach the subject and was uncomfortably aware Stella might bristle or even bolt once she realized was Scully was asking. But she’d spent too many years not speaking up for what she wanted in a relationship and then being disappointed when she didn’t receive it. Not this time. “I just…I don’t really know how to say this, but…it’s just you and me, right? Even when you’re away?”

Stella froze with the pizza halfway to her mouth, and for a moment, they stared at each other in loaded silence. A glob of sauce dripped onto Stella’s skirt, and for some reason, Scully had the irrational urge to laugh. Instead, she pushed a paper towel into Stella’s free hand.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“The skirt is black,” Stella said as she dabbed at the sauce. “Hard to stain.”

“That’s not what I was sorry for.”

Stella’s chin went up, and Scully’s stomach bottomed out. She’d overstepped. Friends who fuck. Her ridiculous label for their relationship certainly hadn’t implied any kind of exclusivity.

Stella sat ramrod straight across from her as a war raged in the turbulent depths of her eyes. And then, she nodded slightly. “Just you and me, for however long this lasts.”

“Really?” Scully couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice.

A muscle in Stella’s jaw twitched. “I am capable of restraint when it’s asked of me.”

Scully set down what remained of her pizza and took Stella’s half-eaten slice, tossing it carelessly into the open box before pushing her flat on the couch, covering Stella’s body with her own. She brought her lips to Stella’s for a bruising kiss. “Exclusivity, yes, but I never asked you for restraint.”

Chapter Text

Stella pushed through the door into the lobby of her hotel, a mixture of relief and frustration fizzing inside her. As tired as she was, the prospect of a night alone in her hotel room felt unbearable. Her gaze flitted to the bar on her left. A month ago, she would have gone straight in and found a willing stranger to occupy her evening. Knowing that she couldn’t chafed at her nerves. Realizing that she didn’t even want to made her eye twitch.

Her heels clicked briskly over the polished floors, not betraying her inner discomfort. She hadn’t slept well last night, had missed lunch, and had spent too many hours sitting in a too-hard plastic chair reviewing case notes with a misogynistic pig of a man who took issue with every word that left her mouth. She should have stopped at the restroom before she left the station, but she’d been in too much of a hurry to get the fuck out of there. Consequently, she needed to pee, her stomach ached with hunger, her feet hurt, her ribs hurt, her neck hurt. In short, she was an absolute mess.

Happy Fucking Birthday, Stella.

And yet, she considered stopping for a drink. Just a drink. A little something to numb the pain before she went up to her empty room. Before she didn’t call Scully because it felt too disingenuous to call today and not mention the date. But as her feet slowed in front of the bar, her gaze caught on an entirely-too-familiar waterfall of red hair on a petite figure perched on the barstool nearest to the lobby.

Heat wound its way through her, crawling over her skin, making her jaw clench. Arousal. Irritation. Anger. What the fuck was Scully doing here?

Stella stalked to the empty stool beside her, sliding carefully onto it. Scully turned to face her, beaming at Stella with a smile so bright, she almost had to squint against the power of it. After a moment of pointed silence, though, Scully’s smile dimmed. She called the bartender over and ordered a whiskey for Stella to match the tumbler sitting on the bar in front of her.

“What are you doing here?” Stella finally asked as the bartender set a glass in front of her. She murmured a thank you as she lifted it to her lips, taking a hearty swallow.

“I think you know.” Scully sipped her whiskey, darting a glance over at her.

“Who told you?”

“Stephen,” Scully said with a small smile. “He tipped me off when I brought you lunch the other day.”

Stella took another gulp of her whiskey, feeling it burn all the way down her esophagus, igniting her temper. What was Chen thinking, meddling in her business like this? He knew she didn’t like a fuss. The whole office knew, but Chen knew her better than most, well enough to have known better.

“I thought you’d be happier to see me.” Scully swung one foot against the edge of the bar, drawing Stella’s gaze to her legs, bare from the knee down.

She swallowed more whiskey, her gaze wandering slowly over the slinky black dress Scully wore. It wrinkled at her hips where she sat, and Stella wanted to take the bunched material between her fingers and pull Scully against her, kiss her, fuck her, use her to blot out the darkness in her mind. Then she saw the way Scully’s breasts spilled over its lowcut bodice, and her brain went up in flames. Fuck. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a dress before.”

“I don’t wear them often.” Scully glanced over at her again, eyes probing Stella’s, trying to read her mood. She’d worn a dress for Stella’s birthday. Suddenly, her throat felt too thick.

“I’m sorry.” She dragged her gaze away from Scully, staring into the amber depths of what remained of her whiskey. “I’m not very good company tonight.”

“I can see that.”

Stella blinked at her unexpected candor. “I don’t like a fuss.”

“Then I won’t make one.” Scully leaned subtly closer, drawing Stella’s gaze again to the way her breasts were poured into that dress. “You look like you’ve had a shit day.”

“I have,” she admitted. The whole week had been shit so far. She’d seldom faced such open hostility from a precinct when she was sent in for a review. They were completely fixated on the former officer who’d been accused of the crime, and while he was definitely a fuck-up, Stella didn’t think he was guilty of rape. If only she could convince the prick in charge to listen to her.

“I’m here to make it better,” Scully said softly.

Stella exhaled, her spine softening as she heard the truth in Scully’s words. She was taking her pissy mood out on the person who least deserved it. Scully was dressed to go out, had probably come here tonight with big plans, an evening Stella simply wasn’t up for. She couldn’t bear the thought of polite dinner conversation, hours more in her heels. But for Scully…perhaps she could find the strength for it somewhere inside herself.

Scully shifted closer to Stella on her barstool, sipping her whiskey. “Tough case?”

“Aren’t they all?”

A smile touched Scully’s lips. “Some more than others.”

“It’s not the case as much as the DCI in charge of it,” Stella said.

“Ah. He must be a real asshole to have you this riled up.”

“He is.” Stella took another drink of her whiskey, watching the way the light glinted off Scully’s cross pendant as it dangled just above her cleavage.

“For the record, I don’t like a fuss on my birthday either,” Scully told her. “But sometimes it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised.” Her hand crept over to squeeze Stella’s beneath the bar.

Stella breathed past the lump in her throat, the sudden, overwhelming surge of affection for the woman sitting beside her. She hated surprises, even pleasant ones. But she couldn’t seem to hate anything about Dana Scully.

“Is this anti-celebratory mood a Gibson family trait, or just you?” Scully asked, her expression gentle yet probing. No doubt, she’d realized Stella never mentioned her family. They were both detectives after all.

“Both, I guess,” she answered.

“It can’t be both,” Scully said, her tone teasing.

“My mother doesn’t celebrate much of anything, although she did call today,” Stella told her. “We aren’t close.”

“And your father?”

“He died when I was fourteen.”

“Oh.” Her hand found Stella’s again beneath the bar. “I’m sorry.” It seemed ludicrous that Scully didn’t already know this formational fact about Stella, but she had only herself to blame for it.

“Ancient history,” Stella told her, but sitting here with Scully, body aching after a long, stressful day, it didn’t feel so ancient. She remembered the fresh soapy scent of his aftershave when he hugged her, the bright glint of his eyes when he laughed, the pure unadulterated happiness she’d felt when she was with him. Nothing in her life had ever been the same after he died.

Some of this must have shown on her face, because Scully said, “You and your dad were close.”

“Yes.”

They lapsed into silence for a minute as both of them polished off what remained of their whiskey. Scully turned toward her, understanding gleaming in the indigo depths of her eyes as her knee bumped into Stella’s. “I had planned to take you out somewhere nice, but on second thought, I think tonight calls for room service.”

“Please,” Stella said gratefully. In truth, nothing sounded better.

Scully paid for their drinks, linking her fingers in Stella’s as she led the way toward the elevator. “Anything you want tonight, Stella.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Anything?”

Scully’s eyes glinted dangerously. “Anything.”

* * *

Scully sat on the edge of the bed, feet swinging restlessly. Stella had excused herself as soon as they’d reached her room and gone into the bathroom, and she’d been in there long enough now that Scully was starting to worry, really worry, that she’d fucked up by coming here. Stella certainly hadn’t been happy to see her, but then, she’d seemed to warm up to her before they came upstairs.

A sick feeling swirled in her stomach. What if she’d made a difficult day worse for Stella? Why was today so hard for her? Why hadn’t Scully respected her boundaries in the first place? Her eyes stung.

The bathroom door opened, and Stella emerged, barefoot and bare faced, wearing her pale pink silk robe. She looked tired. Maybe even a bit vulnerable. But not angry. In fact, the hungry gleam in her eye seemed to hint that she might be glad for company tonight after all.

Scully meant what she’d told her earlier. She would do anything to make Stella’s birthday a little brighter. She’d had a difficult few months, and while Scully had second-guessed herself about a million times before coming here tonight, ultimately, she couldn’t bear the thought of Stella being alone on her birthday.

Scully walked to her now, resting her hands on Stella’s hips as she leaned in for a gentle kiss. She kicked off her heels, bringing herself down to Stella’s level so their lips lined up perfectly. She might never truly get over the thrill of kissing someone without having to go up on her tiptoes.

Stella exhaled into their kiss before dropping her forehead against Scully’s, eyes sliding shut. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“So am I.” Scully swallowed her smile, as pleased by Stella’s affection as she was concerned by the exhaustion in her face. She slid her hands up Stella’s back, feeling the knots of tension bunched in her muscles. “How do you feel about back rubs?”

Stella let out a little sound of relief. “Sounds so good right now.”

“Lay on the bed,” Scully said, giving her a nudge in that direction.

“Should I take this off?” Stella tugged at the sleeve of her robe.

“Your choice.”

Stella lay face down on the bed, still wearing the robe, wincing as her chest came into contact with the mattress. Dammit, Stella. Scully had glimpsed the wet swimsuit hanging in the bathroom. She knew it was a better option than some of Stella’s other coping mechanisms for a rough week, but she obviously hadn’t done her cracked ribs any favors.

And Scully couldn’t relax her with a back rub while she was in pain. She walked to the closet and pulled out the extra pillows and blanket she found there, carrying them to the bed. Then she propped them beneath Stella until she’d taken the pressure of the mattress off her ribs. “Better?” she asked.

Stella nodded, eyes closed and looking far more comfortable than she had when she first lay down. Scully worked her skirt up her thighs so that she could crouch over her, placing her hands on Stella’s shoulders, thumbs pressed into the knots between her shoulder blades. Stella inhaled sharply.

“Okay?” Scully asked, receiving another nod in response. She kneaded her fingers into Stella’s trapezius muscle, gradually increasing pressure as she worked through the knots she found there. Stella seemed to melt into the bed, eyes closed, body gradually loosening beneath Scully’s fingers.

Once she’d worked the tension from Stella’s shoulders, she made her way down her back, kneading and stroking, rubbing away the effects of a stressful day. By the time she’d reached Stella’s glutes, she almost thought she’d fallen asleep, she’d gotten so still, so relaxed, so quiet. But as Scully’s fingers slid over the backs of her thighs, Stella’s hips shifted, arching into her touch.

Scully smiled. “Still with me?”

“Mm,” Stella murmured, shifting again beneath Scully.

Scully sank her fingers into Stella’s hamstrings, carefully massaging away the strain of countless hours in heels and however many laps in the pool. Stella sighed deeply into the pillow beneath her, golden curls fanned out over her shoulders, so beautiful, even if she did look a bit like a fallen angel in this position.

“Any other parts that need attention?” Scully whispered as her fingers slid beneath the hem of Stella’s robe.

“Yes,” Stella breathed. “Please.”

Scully skimmed her fingers up Stella’s bare skin to the juncture of her thighs, finding her already wet, so wet. An ache grew between Scully’s thighs as she began to stroke Stella, doing what she could to erase the last of the tension from her body. She lay beside Stella, pressing their bodies together as she worked Stella with her fingers, swirling and plunging, drawing a gasp from her throat.

Stella rolled to her side, moving the pillows out from under herself, drawing Scully in closer, replacing their somewhat awkward position with a much more friendly one, chests pressed together, legs entwined and mouths meeting for a messy kiss as Scully continued to finger-fuck her.

Stella panted against Scully’s neck, fingers gripping her dress, trying to bring her impossibly closer. She came with a gasp, body tensing against Scully’s before she collapsed onto the pile of pillows behind her, eyes closed and breathing hard.

“I think that’s what they call a happy ending massage,” Scully said, leaning over to brush a golden strand of hair out of Stella’s face.

“Fuck, yes,” Stella said, chest heaving, cheeks stained a satisfied pink.

“Better now?” Scully asked as she crawled in next to her.

“So much better,” Stella murmured, one arm coming around Scully, pulling her flush against her body. The crystalline depths of her eyes were calm now, her body relaxed against Scully’s. “Shame you got all dressed up like that.”

“Not really,” Scully told her. “We’ll go out another night. And your present is under this dress.”

“Is it?” Stella’s interest sharpened, lips pursing in one of her almost-smiles as her gaze dropped to the dress.

“Yes.”

“And I get to unwrap it?” Stella asked.

Scully felt a warm flush spread over her skin. “Yes.”

“Now?”

“If you like.”

“Oh, I like,” Stella murmured, pushing herself upright. “Stand up for me.”

Scully climbed off the bed, ridiculously pleased and equally aroused that Stella had taken so quickly to the game. Also, to see Stella looking so much calmer and more comfortable than she had when she first approached Scully in the bar downstairs. Now, she looked like a woman enjoying herself on her birthday, and it made Scully irrationally proud and just…so happy to see her this way.

Stella stood there for a moment, gaze raking from Scully’s face to her pink-painted toes as if deciding how best to unwrap her. Scully’s body sizzled beneath her stare, heat building everywhere. Finally, Stella stepped forward, pressing Scully against the wall, kissing her deeply as her hands roamed over the dress, sliding over the slinky fabric, pressing here and there to give herself a hint as to what lay beneath.

She palmed Scully’s breast, pinching her nipple through the fabric. “Lace?”

“Maybe,” she gasped, desire tightening in her core.

“You know just what I like,” Stella murmured as her fingers traveled behind Scully’s back, slowly dragging down the zipper of her dress. She resisted the urge to shrug it off her shoulders, letting Stella have the honors. She looked at Scully now, eyes bright, amused, aroused, despite the dark smudges beneath them. Lips quirking, she pushed Scully’s dress off her shoulders, and it slipped to the floor in a whoosh of fabric, leaving Scully standing before her in the sapphire blue lace bodysuit she’d bought yesterday just for this occasion.

Stella sucked in a breath, pinching her bottom lip between her teeth as she again raked her gaze over Scully, pupils blown with lust. Scully had never felt so aroused from watching someone look at her, getting off on the fact that Stella was getting off on looking at her. It was disorienting. And surreal. And hot.

Stella traced her fingers reverently over the lace containing Scully’s breasts, her breath quickening. “My favorite color.”

“Really?” she couldn’t help asking, because she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Stella wear blue.

“On you,” she said softly, fingers sliding over lace, nails skimming Scully’s sensitive flesh. “My favorite color on you.”

* * *

Stella roused at a knock on the door, realizing as she blinked through her disorientation that she must have dozed off in bed while they waited for room service to arrive.

“Don’t move,” Scully said, pressing a kiss against her cheek. “I’ll get it.” She slipped out of bed and wrapped herself in Stella’s robe, finger-combing her hair as she looked around for her purse, pulling out a bill to tip the attendant who’d brought their food.

Stella tugged at the sheet, making sure she was fully covered before the door opened. God, she wasn’t sure she even had the energy to sit up, let alone eat. She was so tired, still sore, although less so since Scully’s magical massage and the two orgasms she’d delivered, one before and one after Stella had unwrapped her birthday lingerie. What had she ever done to deserve someone like Scully in her life, even temporarily?

“Happy Birthday,” Scully said, wheeling a cart toward the bed that contained much more than silver room service platters. On one side, a bottle of champagne was chilling in a bucket of ice. An arrangement of flowers stood between the two trays, big squishy peonies in various shades of pink, so beautiful they made Stella’s eyes well with tears. “I know how much you like fresh flowers, and I thought you might like some for your room while you’re here.”

“I do. They’re beautiful.” She blinked, trying desperately to clear her vision, but it was no use. The tears slipped over her cheeks, and she swiped them away. “Thank you. Really. That was very thoughtful of you.”

Scully smiled as she sat on the side of the bed, and the sight of her in Stella’s favorite pink robe was playing all kinds of tricks on her mind, mostly making her want to pull Scully against her and kiss her senseless. “Also, fudge,” Scully said, holding up a white paper bag. “It reminded me of our first night together.”

“It was our second night, as I recall,” Stella said, smiling at the memory. “You didn’t get that off the room service menu.”

“No,” Scully said with a pleased smile. “I left these things at the front desk earlier, while I was waiting for you.”

“A woman who plans ahead.” Stella leaned over to kiss her before burying her nose in the flowers, inhaling their crisp floral scent. Just the thought of having them here for the rest of the week made it feel so much more bearable.

Scully popped open the bottle of champagne. She poured two flutes, handing one to Stella. “To the year ahead.”

Stella tapped her glass against Scully’s, not knowing how to respond to that. What would the year ahead bring? For Stella? For Scully? For their time together? She couldn’t think about any of it, not tonight, anyway. Instead, she sipped, letting the cold, tart bubbles fill her mouth and fizz their way down to her stomach.

Scully lifted the lids off their trays and set them on the floor, and the room filled with the rich scent of beef. Stella’s stomach rumbled loudly, and she pressed a hand against it with a rueful smile. She slipped into her nightgown before crawling across the sheets to join Scully in front of the food.

She and Scully sat side by side on the hotel bed, eating burgers and fries, the bag of fudge on the nightstand, and it was so much like that other night, the night they’d caught Ronnie Strickland, the night Stella had first bared her scars to Scully. Tonight, she sat confidently beside her, not much caring that the gown did little to hide the ancient scars on her legs.

They were mostly quiet as they ate, sneaking glances at each other, sharing smiles and occasional kisses between bites. It was so much like that other night, but also…not at all. They were so much older now, so much wiser, so much more comfortable with each other, even if they’d only been reunited a few short weeks ago.

Somehow, the connection between them seemed so much more firmly rooted than it should have been, given the handful of scattered phone calls and emails they’d exchanged in the intervening years. They were halfway through the bottle of champagne by the time they’d finished their burgers and Scully brought the bag of fudge onto the bed.

“You spoil me,” Stella murmured as Scully handed her a piece of dark chocolate fudge, her favorite. All her favorite things. How did she already know Stella so well? How was she so good at all of this?

“As you deserve,” Scully responded with a playful smile, popping a bite of caramel fudge into her mouth. “This is new since that night,” she added, touching the tattoo on Stella’s wrist. “What does it mean?”

Stella stared at the Sanskrit letters inked there, a warm flush spreading over her skin as she debated how to answer. But surely, this was one small truth she could give her, after Scully had given her so much. “It means rebirth, to start over again.”

“Nice,” Scully said casually before her eyes widened, her mouth going slack as the meaning of Stella’s tattoo sank in. “Oh.”

Stella looked away, intensely uncomfortable, skin tight and prickly, cheeks burning.

“Like mine,” Scully whispered.

“In a way.” She’d gotten it not long after Scully’s first visit, when she’d caught her first serial killer, her first big victory as a Detective Sergeant. It was a celebration of the next chapter in her life, a reminder that her life would always evolve, always move forward as long as she was here to drive it. Maybe she’d been thinking of Scully and her ouroboros when she chose it.

She’d certainly never thought she’d sit here and explain it to the woman herself, to give her this insight into the effect she’d had on Stella’s life, the impact she continued to have. Was there any end to the ways she could knock Stella’s world off its axis, send her spinning when she thought she’d figured herself out?

“Mine got ruined,” Scully said quietly.

Stella turned to her in surprise. “What?”

In response, Scully slipped out of the pink robe, turning her bare back to Stella. She leaned over, squinting more closely at the multi-colored snake on Scully’s back. A scar shone in the center of it now, bisecting the snake through its belly, its colors muted and blurred beneath the shiny tissue. The scar was wide and jagged, obviously the result of some sort of wound. “What happened?” Stella asked.

“Don’t laugh,” Scully said, eyebrows rising to warn Stella that her story was going to involve an X File.

“Of course not.” She would never laugh at Scully, especially not over anything that had caused her so much pain.

“I was abducted by a religious cult that believed this enormous parasitic worm was the second coming of Christ,” Scully said.

“Jesus,” Stella whispered.

“And they put it in me. In my spine.” Scully shuddered, wrapping her arms around her abdomen. “I was pregnant.”

Stella just stared as this information worked its way through her brain. “They put a giant parasitic worm in your spine? That’s what made the scar on your back?”

She nodded. “Agent Doggett had to cut it out of me before it reached my brain. It was…horrifying.”

“That sounds like an understatement,” Stella said quietly. “And you were pregnant with William?”

She nodded as a tear slid over her cheek. “My miracle baby, and they put that thing inside me…”

Stella reached for her, pulling her against her chest. Sometimes she wondered if she would ever fully understand all the horrific things Scully had endured during her time with the X Files. And here she was fretting over Paul Spector cracking her ribs. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Scully murmured against her chest. “It wasn’t in me very long, and obviously it didn’t end up affecting my pregnancy. It did ruin my tattoo, though.”

“I don’t think so,” Stella told her, fingers combing through the auburn depths of Scully’s hair. “Just added character to it, that’s all.”

“A little added life experience.” Scully sat up, smile back in place.

They ate more fudge and polished off the last of the champagne before clearing away the remnants of their meal. Room service trays went into the hall, and the vase of flowers sat on the desk next to what remained of the bag of fudge. They got ready for bed, climbing in beside each other.

Fatigue weighed heavy on Stella, as it had every night this week. But tonight, with Scully beside her, she slipped easily into sleep, not stirring until Scully’s alarm went off sometime later.

“Sorry,” Scully whispered as she reached for her phone and silenced it. Outside, the sky was still ink black. “I didn’t mean to wake you, but I have to catch the train back to London before my shift starts.”

Fourteen years ago, it had been Stella sneaking off at the crack of dawn to go to work. “It’s okay. I wouldn’t have wanted you to leave without saying goodbye.”

“Me either.” Scully leaned in to place a quick kiss against her lips before she slid out of bed. She went into the bathroom, returning a few minutes later wearing blue scrubs, hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wandered around the room, shoving things into the duffel bag she’d brought with her before sitting on the bed to give Stella one last kiss. “Bye.”

Stella reached out and grabbed her wrist. “Thank you, for last night.”

“You’re welcome.” Scully gave her a warm smile. “I hope you’re back home soon.”

“I should be back this weekend.”

“Let’s go out then,” Scully suggested. “A fancy dinner, something fun? A real date.”

“Yes,” Stella agreed. “I’d like that.”

“Okay, then. I’ve got to run, or I’m going to miss my train.” She leaned in for one more kiss and then slid off the bed. She paused by the desk, sneaking a piece of fudge with a guilty smile before heading for the door with a wave.

Stella watched her go, wondering how she could ever really tell her how much last night had meant to her. She hadn’t shared anything that meaningful on her birthday since before her father died. And before she could let herself ponder that uncomfortable truth any further, she climbed out of bed. Following Scully’s lead, she popped a piece of fudge in her mouth as she went into the bathroom to get her swimsuit.

She had laps to complete before heading into the office.