Dana Scully jerked awake when the power fizzled out with a pop. The almost imperceptible hum ceased, alerting her subconscious to the unwelcomed change.
While she waited for her eyes to adjust to the abrupt darkness, her other senses took over in kind: the scratchy sheets gliding along her legs, lumpy pillow beneath her head, and the nervous flutter settling in her belly. And without the cool breeze from the air conditioner, humidity crept back into the room, causing a sheen of sweat to form across her cheeks.
The calm was disturbed by a swift burst of rain whipping against the thin hotel walls, breaking the silence. She could feel the increased electricity in the air, the tingling sensation in her scalp spreading to her toes.
Relax, Dana. Just relax. It’s only rain.
She grimaced when her feet touched the worn rug, cursing herself yet again. The no-name hotels they frequented were never five-star establishments and she never failed to forget to pack a cheap pair of flip-flops for places like this one. Too late now.
The room was pitch dark, only adding to her unease, as she padded towards the sole window and peered out into the waterlogged parking lot. Not much could be seen at this time of night and in combination with the lack of artificial light, she could only make out the faint outline of the rental car, along with three vehicles in the lot. The main office appeared to have a small generator in the event of an outage because a dim glow could be seen just beyond the glass.
As she went to step away and close the drapes, a streak of lightning touched the ground in the distance, illuminating the sky for the briefest of seconds before the landscape fell dark once more. Her pulse jumped and her breath quickened.
With the cobwebs of sleep wiped away, she was wired. Storms did that to her, made her restless and uncomfortable until they passed. The Agent and scientist in her wanted to shake herself for the foolish reaction to the weather. She’d experienced enough of them in her time. Childish fears shouldn’t cross over into adulthood.
It’s only a storm. It’ll pass. It’s only a storm.
Her inner mantra would normally quell the jitters enough so she could fall back asleep but that wasn’t happening tonight. She was too edgy from the unfamiliar surroundings. With her laptop out of power, no television and no way of reading, she only had the possibility of sleep to occupy herself until morning.
Her limbs barely had the chance to relax when chunks of hail began, pounding against the roof. She turned away from the window and covered her head with a pillow, trying in vain to block the noise. How was Mulder still asleep?
Her partner, a man with perpetual insomnia, somehow managed to sleep like a rock once his brain finally shut down. She had years of familiarity with his habits to know how difficult it could be to wake him when danger passed and a case was completed. She often had to shake him when their plane landed or during the rare car rides where he dozed in the passenger seat as she drove. He was cute in those rare moments of peace, when he let his guard down: rumpled hair, even breaths escaping his parted lips, the sleepy smile he gave her upon waking—it was cute.
The rain pummeled the window even harder, followed by the first audible clap of thunder. The crackling sound shook her to the core. Past memories flashed before her and she found herself seeking the comfort only one person could bring her.
Gathering the courage was difficult. Part of her was afraid of his reaction—afraid of exposing a weakness. Men in her past weren’t very accepting of vulnerability, from her father and brother, to numerous ex-lovers. It left a permanent flaw in her personality and she struggled to open up to anyone other than her mother. While her brain knew Mulder would never intentionally belittle her, she still maintained heavily fortified walls around her heart.
Another rumble startled her up and out of bed. Without much thought, she shuffled to the adjoining door and leaned against the doorframe. As suspected, he was still fast asleep, sprawled haphazardly among the bedding. Even in shadow, his tanned skin stood out in stark contrast to the white sheets. His feet were peaking out at the foot of the bed and his head was tilted in her direction, breathing deep and even. In that moment, she regretted her decision to disrupt him and was about to turn her back to hide under her own covers.
“Scully?” His voice was low and husky. “Is something wrong?”
Another slash of lightning lit up the room, highlighting the concern in his expression. She stumbled for words, mouth opening and closing. He sat up in bed, bracing his weight on his shoulders. She noted the bare chest and patch sparse hair at the center. He looked so warm and inviting, she suddenly didn’t feel so guilty.
“I, um, couldn’t sleep… the storm…,” she paused, eyes fixated on the frayed carpet. “The power went out and I haven’t been able to fall back asleep. I’m sorry… for waking you.”
He waved his hand dismissively and sat against the headboard. “Don’t worry about it. Want to sit in here awhile?”
The spot he vacated looked soft and rumpled and so inviting, she couldn’t resist. With a nod, she tentatively crawled next to him, mirroring his position with her back against the wood. She stole a glance in his direction, thankful for the locks of hair shielding her face. Mulder studied her intently, eyes roaming what he could see through the hair in his way. His expression was a mix of concern and reverence. He was always giving her these tender gazes filled with adoration and longing. Without speaking, he made her feel special—like she was his purpose for moving forward, his reason for being. It was overwhelming and thrilling. She wondered if he had any idea what his attention did to her, how much she reveled in those gazes.
“Is everything okay?” Thunder punctuated his question, louder this time and directly overhead.
When she failed to answer, he reached out and curled an errant lock of hair behind her ear. “Talk to me, Scully.”
She acquiesced, sighing tremulously. She was the one who came to him and accepted the support he offered. The least she could do was explain her unusual behavior. This was a first for them though; she never woke him up for any reason other than an emergency.
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I’d never laugh at you, Scully,” he vowed, his tone earnest. “I might joke from time to time but I wouldn’t make fun of you.”
She nodded, wringing her hands in her lap. “I’m afraid of thunderstorms.”
She eyed him suspiciously, searching for any sign of amusement but found none. He remained still, patiently waiting for her to continue.
“I always assumed I would grow out of it… realize how silly it was, but they still make me nervous,” she whispered, plucking imaginary lint from her pajama shorts. She rarely wore anything other than satin sets while they were out of town but the stifling heat and humidity was too much—even when the rattling air conditioner was turned on full blast. The unused shorts and T-shirt, long buried in the depths of her suitcase, finally came in handy tonight.
“Did something happened to cause it?”
She almost laughed. The psychologist and investigator in him never missed an opportunity. “Remember when I mentioned my Aunt Olive back in Kroner?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “Well, my parents made us visit her every other summer until we were teenagers. We moved around a lot and weren’t able to stay in touch with family the way my mom wished and this was her way of compensating.”
Looking back, she probably shouldn’t have given her parents such a hard time. Melissa hated these forced family vacations and at the time, young Dana was fascinated by her older sister, often emulating her sour attitude. Since Melissa wasn’t a fan of her Aunt, Dana wasn’t either and dreaded the trip.
“Anyway, her house was old and secluded. It bothered me because every noise echoed through the rooms. It was worse after dark and I usually ended up crawling into bed with my parents… my brother Bill knew that. So one night, I was probably seven or so, I ended up falling asleep on my own—until a gust of wind rattled the window and a burst of thunder shook the walls.” She trembled, the memory playing out before her as if it happened yesterday. The sounds, the dark bedroom, her brother snickering outside the door. Mulder noticed her struggle and clasped her left hand, warming it with both of his and holding it in his lap.
“Bill had blocked the door with a chair and wouldn’t let me out. I yelled for my mom and banged on the door, hoping Bill would take pity on me or someone would hear me. My parents’ room was down at the end of the hall and they kept their door open. Bill just laughed. While his little sister cried for help,” she wavered, hand clasping his back.
“The room was tiny, only a twin-size bed, nightstand and dresser could fit. Without any city lights, it was pitch black and I was too scared to turn on the lamp. It was… suffocating.” She stopped to clear her throat. “My mom eventually came and found Bill standing in the hallway. He was punished and forced to stay inside for the remainder of the trip. I’ve never forgotten that night,” she finished, the heaviness in her chest abated. It was cathartic, she realized. She internalized the memory for so long and it was a relief to share it with someone like Mulder… someone who wouldn’t judge.
She almost forgot about the current storm raging outside. It hadn’t dissipated at all during her story, the wind still howling away. Mulder was silent, more than likely stewing with anger. The animosity between Bill and her partner was obvious and she knew her brother was the primary cause. He wasn’t easy to befriend and often found her male companions to be undeserving. It would’ve been sweet, if not for his dominant demeanor. His intentions were to control, much like her father used to do when she was young. It was maddening.
“I know he’s your brother and I know you were kids, so I’ll be nice… Bill’s an-”
“Asshole,” she supplied, flashing him a tight-lipped smile. “He’s always been that way and still is now. I love him because he’s family but he never treated me like a sister. I check-in with him because of my nephew. If it weren’t for Matthew, we wouldn’t have much contact.”
“Does Bill know he traumatized you that night?”
She snorted. “You think I’d tell him I’m in my thirties and still scared of thunder? Because of something he did over three decades ago? He’d laugh and tell me to get over it. I hate myself for saying so but he’s right.”
He shook his head. “No, Scully, he’s not. Trauma is trauma, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. You’re human and allowed to express your fears. We all have them. I know, it goes against every instinct in your body but don’t be embarrassed over what you can’t control.”
“I should be able to handle a simple thunderstorm, Mulder. It’s irrational.”
As if the universe was laughing at her, another bolt of lightning split the sky and she fought the urge to hide. Mulder must have caught her subtle flinch because he scooted closer to her side, let go of her hand and went to slip his arm around her shoulders but froze.
“Do you, uh, wanna lie here with me until the storm passes? We could talk some more… or I could go take the couch, let you have the bed… I’d still be close by if you needed anything. Whatever you want,” he rambled on, biting the corner of his lip. She found him pretty adorable when he was flustered.
She swallowed a lump in her throat. “I’d like to stay here… with you. If that’s okay?”
They fumbled as they navigated this newfound closeness. It was too hot for covers, so they flung the comforter to the floor and pulled the sheet over their bodies. First, she sunk down on her back and stared at the ceiling, unsure of what to say… or do. This was strange for them—sharing a bed just because, without an excuse to fall back on.
Mulder mirrored her position, quiet other than his breathing. She thought he’d fallen asleep again but when she turned on her aside, he was watching her, eyelids half-closed and drowsy.
Feeling reckless, she inched towards him and placed an open palm to his chest. “Thank you.”
His eyebrows furrowed. “Thank you?”
“For listening… for understanding.”
His sleepy smile gave her the courage to rest against his shoulder, head nestled below his chin. Her favorite place.
Stunned, he was immobilized for a minute, unmoving. Her arm wrapped around his waist in silent invitation. He accepted rather quickly and drew closer, snuggling her in his embrace. She had to hire back a moan when his fingers played with her hair, stroking from root to tip.
The comforting warmth of his skin, the steady beat of his heart beneath her ear, and the gentle touch of his fingertips soothed her instantly, the waning storm a distant memory.
But just as her eyes drifted shut, they popped open again. “Mulder?”
“Earlier, you said everyone has a fear… what’s yours?” She asked, then added: “And don’t even think about saying ‘losing you’ or anything of the sort.”
He answered straight away. “Bugs.”
“Bugs?” She giggled, unable to stop herself. “That’s it?”
“Hey, no laughing,” he chided lamely, laughing along with her. “Besides, I told you before, remember? Killer cockroaches? And-”
“Bambi, I remember. Vividly.” The sneer in her voice was evident. Her jealousy was difficult to hide when it came to Mulder. It still was; the sudden pang in her heart was unavoidable when Diana or any of the other women in his life entered her mind.
“She had nothin’ on you, Scully,” he muttered, low and sincere. “But that's not what I was going to say. I told you I hated insects back then but I wasn’t being entirely truthful… because I am afraid of insects.”
She suppressed a giggle. “I’ll be sure to protect you if we ever encounter another bug infestation.”
“I know you’re messing with me but I appreciate the sentiment.” He placed a chaste kiss on her forehead. Then another. She missed the contact instantly. “Think you can sleep now?”
“Mhm,” she hummed into his chest, already dozing off.
When she woke up the following morning, well rested and content, she felt free.