the desert had gargled him up and spit him out. sand in his hair and in his eyes and in his mouth, pulling him in, asking him to stay. he almost says yes (he wants to say yes)
red hair soft eyes dazzling smile a scoff a laugh a spasm of love. his heart keeps beating.
when he comes to the first thing he wants to see is scully. that's all he's wanted, thinks it's all he'll ever want after this. her face, that brow and those betraying lips and those eyes that see something he hasn't seen in himself since it was taken that night on the vineyard.
the first thing he sees is not scully, but rather the stars. they're a comfort--they're still there and still bright and still patterned how they should be. they burn his eyes and slide down his throat like top shelf whiskey. but they don't even come close.
because the second thing he sees is scully. scully in a shirt he's had to have seen her in a thousand times, the one he thinks is green, but isn't sure because his eyes have always betrayed him. his eyes have to be betraying him. scully and-
(and his heart stops
it thunders back to life as he stumbles forward, legs feeling like they've been chopped from his body and reattached in the wrong direction. (maybe they have, left is up and down is right and he isn't sure the earth's still spinning on its axis.)
he collapses against his will and with it, his hands shaking and his teeth chattering even though it isn't near cold enough in this godforsaken desert.
weak on his feet and tentative. the blood in his body feels sluggish and he's only just now remembering what it means to have thoughts that are his own and he is so, so tentative that it pains him. everything pains him, but this--
gentle is too harsh a word.
his fingertips tap her stomach, a morse code of wonderment, of disbelief in the face of proof, of the curdled breath in his chest catching on his tongue,
the raw edges of her fingers wipe furiously at her eyes, trying and failing to keep her secret. telling it to him like a game of telephone. he can't make it out but he understands all the same, that this isn't hers anymore, this is
"scully," he tries again, but there isn't anything he can say that puts a name to the tear in his chest that's weeping longing and love like a willow tree. not a single way to form consonants and vowels and sometimes ys into anything that can mean anything that can tell her that he wants. that he Wants, and always has.
her hand finds his face and brushes at stubble, at sideburns that need a trim, at the wisps of hair hanging over themselves; then, an eyebrow, eyelid, long, bumpy nose, the dip above his top lip, too. she traces him in graphite and inks him in permanence, remaking a longlost man.
she's scared. scared she'll break him, or he'll collapse beneath her. that she'll wake up. she keeps waking up, every morning, every night, every long car ride, and he always disappears.
but this time she knows he's not going anywhere. his skin feels missing poster paper-thin under her palm, dewy and gritty, but he's still full of life, so much of it. (it's not enough to push her heart back into her chest.
it's been missing in the cosmos for so long and now it's climbed into her throat and managed to beat here under her hand too) and she
just wants to grab him. she just wants to grab him with hands whose nails are bitten to the quick in worry and skin that's ragged from pressing pressing pressing like the call button for morphine. she's been begging so long for something to assuage all this pain,
"scully," he says again, a third, trembling start, and she sinks down to him. pulling him in by his shoulders and burying her nose in his neck like she's wanted to do every night for the last of her life and the rest of it and the inbetween when it doesn't even feel like there's a life to live.
"mulder," she replies, that one eyebrow propped up and her mouth pulling down and her chin choking up and her eyes screwed shut with all the tears she can't get out fast enough.
because there's a hand on the back of her neck and another on the round outline of her belly in the shirt she'd stumbled into when she bolted awake before her phone ever rang. and they're both weights she remembers so wholly, so unlike any other touch that she could never mistake them for anything other.
but they don't feel quite right, and it hurts, and she sobs like she's grieving. she is grieving. there's a learning curve, she tries to tell herself, and she'll believe that tomorrow, but for tonight she's at rock bottom in his arms with all the tears she hasn't cried and all the aches she hasn't let herself feel and all the regret for everything that wasn't just so. oh God, the regret.
she kisses the side of his head. cups one side of it and kisses the other as if it could do what all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't.
(and it will / she doesn't know it and he doesn't know it / but it will / if they just give it
have they been a patient bunch / it's why they work so well / but they'll have to ask for patience 'til the tides comes back in again.)
for now he kisses her mouth. soundly, right on target, weak and short, but infinitely correct in any universe. she holds him.
no one wants to descend on them. no one wants to ask that she let him go one more time. none of them really know, not what they've beaten or what they've endured to have this so unsheltered, but they can see, they can see and they don't want to have to touch it first. the stories they've heard around the water cooler are enough to see to that, but to see it now in front of them--
but he doesn't mind, and knows they won't begrudge him too long. he's been asking them to step back for years with varying degrees of success.
he pushes his glasses up his snub nose. he chokes down the roughness in his throat
he steps forward, caught in blue and red. he steps forward, immaculate shoes in the dirt. he steps forward, he calls out.
and when he does he says. agents
when he does he says:
Scully. and- Mulder.
and they are back together again.