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Phoenix Rising

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speaking of love(of
which Who knows the
meaning; or how dreaming
becomes

if your heart's mind)i
guess a grassblade
Thinks beyond or
around(as poems are

made)Our picking it. this
caress that laugh
both quickly signify
life's only half(through

deep weather then
or none let's feel
all)mind in mind flesh
In flesh succeeding disappear

-- e.e. cummings

She blows into her steaming cup of coffee, lightened with the addition of a healthy dollop of cream. It's a treat she's allowing herself tonight--a cup of caffeine-loaded coffee and an M&M cookie-- as she waits for him at City Streets Cafe.

The small coffeehouse is crowded on a Friday night. Whatever happened to bars, Scully wonders as she takes her first sip of the rich coffee. In the go-go late nineties, young people seem to prefer the rush of caffeine in their veins to the deadening sensation of alcohol. There's too much to do in a day and coffee will get you through. Even when a weekend night falls, it's better to meet friends in a quiet cafe where you don't have to shout over the music and there's no hangover in the morning to stop you from getting to the gym for Tae Bo class.

Scully pushes away the cookie, her stomach too knotted to finish it. She knows it's ridiculous to feel like she's waiting for her blind date to show up. Still, it seems like it's been forever.

The door jingles open and she looks up to see Mulder walking through. It's funny how she rarely stops to consider just how good-looking he truly is. They've been together for so long, an eternity to her, and it isn't often that she can separate the outward appearance of the man from the multitude of memories his presence represents.

At a time like this, when she hasn't seen him for eleven days, it all becomes sickeningly clear to Scully. Holy shit, he is a gorgeous man. As soon as he steps into the cafe, all the women in the room seem to perk up at the sight of him. Two college girls bedecked with leather and piercings check him out and start to whisper and giggle.

Eleven days and it's hard for her keep to her mouth from hanging open as he walks across the room in his black leather jacket, turtleneck and well-worn blue jeans that cling to him in all the right areas.

Mulder went off to Seattle, traded out to Violent Crimes like he was a southpaw pitcher in the minor leagues. Six professors from the University of Washington had disappeared, one right after the other, leaving not a trace of evidence as to their whereabouts. And so, the former Miracle Boy of Profiling was summoned in desperation after the trail turned as cold as Antarctic ice.

His absence had taken some readjustment. She slept alone for years and never thought twice about it, but once he'd left for Seattle, Scully realized just how big her bed truly was. Where she'd once slept sprawled in the middle of the mattress, surrounded by medical journals and books, she now kept tidily to the right side of the bed. Yes, after just over a month together as lovers, they now have
sides of the bed.

A few times, while he was gone, she'd woken in the middle of the night and reflexively reached for his warm body, only to realize he wasn't there.

Now, after eleven solo nights, Mulder is back and looking dangerous as hell, smiling as he spots her sitting at the table in the corner. A flush begins to spread across her face as she wonders what he'd do if she unceremoniously dragged him by the belt loops to the restroom.

Mulder bends to brush his lips against hers, his evening stubble scraping her cheek. It's dangerous behavior to kiss her in public, but right now she just doesn't care. He sits down and stares at her as if he, too, has nearly forgotten her face after their separation.

His voice is husky. "I missed you, Scully."

She notices her hand is shaking as she lifts her mug of coffee. "Me, too."

"Why did you want to meet me here?" He steals the remnants of her cookie and tears it apart with his long fingers.

Scully leans in closer and is rewarded with a whiff of his scent, a heady brew tonight of leather, deodorant soap and toothpaste. She wouldn't admit it even under oath in a court of law, but one night while he was gone she slept in one of the t-shirts he'd left in her laundry hamper, lulling herself to sleep with his smell.

"We've got an errand to run," she says.

"An errand?" His hand rises to toy with a lock of her hair and she shivers at his touch. "A 'meeting a contact' errand or a 'shopping at Safeway' errand?"

She finishes her cup of coffee and sets it down on the white Formica table. "Neither. It's a personal kind of errand." Scully glances at the watch on her left wrist. "In fact, we should probably get going if we want to get
there on time."

Mulder's brow furrows. "You're being awfully enigmatic tonight."

"Good." She stands and slips her winter coat on. "It's more fun that way."

Outside the sky is clear and starry overhead, despite the dulling glare from the night lights of Georgetown. Mulder's car is parked nearly right in front of the cafe--he has an eerie talent for finding good parking spots, even in this part of the city. He starts for the car and she stills him with a hand on his arm. "We're just going to the end of the block."

They start walking, side by side. "Are you going to tell me what this is all about?" he asks, his hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket.

Instead of answering him, Scully pulls him into a small alley between a gay bookstore and Mimi's French Bakery. He looks expectantly at her in the gloom.

"First I need to be kissed," she says.

"Aha," he laughs and pulls her to him so she can feel the anxious beating of his heart through their layers of clothes. Or maybe it's her own heart.

I missed this, she thinks as their mouths fuse together in a hungry kiss, tongues venturing to meet each other once again. She'd forgotten the lushness of his lips.

After what feels like ages they pull apart, breathing like they've just been chasing a suspect through this very alley. Mulder's eyes are heavy-lidded and glazed. "Remind me not to let Skinner send me to Violent Crimes again."

She takes his hand and squeezes it. "Mulder, I got my tattoo almost two years ago," she says. "I've been doing a lot of thinking about it lately, about what it represents."

"The ourobourous?"

"Not so much the symbolism of the tattoo itself, but where I was in my life at that time. It's a marking of a difficult time, when I was struggling with you, with myself-- my needs and desires. And it symbolizes the beginning of the cancer. I was diagnosed just a few weeks after I had it done."

Mulder's eyes close and he flinches as if in pain.

"I don't regret getting it," she continues. "It's important that I don't forget those days. But my life has changed. Some terrible things have happened since then and some even more wonderful things. I want to mark the moment."

It occurs to her that gradually, day by day, it's getting easier to talk to Mulder, to share what's in her heart.

Mulder looks up at her in surprise. "You're thinking of getting another tattoo?"

She nods. "Yes. Tonight."

He grins. "So, this is what happens when I leave you alone for a few days? Next thing, you'll be telling me you bought a Harley."

"No, that's something for you to do, now that you're perilously close to forty."

His features turn serious once again. "I was just kidding. I understand why you might want to get another tattoo."

"Just one more," she says. "I promise not to end up looking like the tattooed lady in a freak show." She tugs at his hand and they walk back out onto the crowded Friday night street. "It's 9:00. Time to meet Zosia."

"Zoe-sha?" he says.

"It's a Polish name. She was a friend of my sister's. I ran into her at the supermarket on Monday and she told me she's been a tattoo artist for almost five years, working out of her apartment. I went over there last night and looked at her book. She's very talented."

They round the corner and stop in front of an ordinary-looking four-story red brick apartment building. "This is it," Scully says.

"Are you nervous?

She shrugs. "A bit. I'm not drunk this time around."

That night she was in another place entirely, buzzed with three vodka tonics, the residue of the anger she felt towards Mulder and the sensation of Ed's hand on her thigh as they'd sat in the cracked vinyl booth at the Hard Eight. That night she'd felt as if she was outside her body, watching as the red-haired woman bared her lower back and waited for Svo to descend with the needle.

Tonight, however, she's just herself. Dana Scully, straight, no chaser, diluted only with a little caffeine.

She shivers a bit as she punches the button marked Zosia Sobieska.

The door clicks open and they enter, climbing the wine-red carpeted stairs to the third floor.

Zosia is waiting in her open doorway, a tall, gently-rounded woman with large dark eyes and long black hair gathered into a single braid down her back as wide as Scully's forearm. "Welcome," she says with a smile, just the smallest hint of an East European accent in her voice. "I'm so glad you could come on such a cold night."

She ushers the couple into her living room, a space as cozy as a Gypsy wagon, the walls hung with bright Middle Eastern tapestries and photos from Zosia's travels around the world. The air smells faintly spicy, like Halloween nights from Scully's childhood, of pumpkin seeds roasting in the oven and hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks.

A little girl with a head full of black curls is perched on the overstuffed couch, watching a tape of Aladdin. Scully smiles to see her and wonders if the girl ever wants to go for a ride on one of her mother's Oriental rugs.

"This is my daughter, Anya," Zosia says. "She's six."

Anya turns her head and smiles, revealing a missing front tooth. "Hi. Who's getting a tattoo tonight?" she says in a matter of fact tone.

"I am," Scully says.

"My mama says it hurts, but only a little bit." The child turns back around and once again is engrossed in Technicolor Disney fantasies.

Scully touches Mulder's leather-clad arm. "Zosia, I'd like you to meet Mulder."

He smiles and shakes Zosia's hand.

"Is this the mysterious boyfriend you told me about?" Zosia asks, grinning.

Boyfriend. The word sounds so mundane, like Saturday night movie dates and giggly phone calls.

Perhaps partner does say it best, after all.

Scully nods, feeling her face begin to blush again.

Zosia leads them into a small bedroom down the hall and turns on the lights. There is a table holding the tattooing supplies, an adjustable padded table and a comfortable chintz chair in the corner. "You can sit there," she says to Mulder, pointing at the chair.

On the edge of the table, Scully perches, and she watches as Mulder sits stiffly, his spine not touching the back of the chair. Zosia busies herself with her equipment.

"So, Zosia," Mulder says, his voice purposefully light. "How did you become a tattoo artist?"

She looks up from her inks and smiles, the bright glare of her lamp illuminating the rounded features of her face. "I've been an artist all my life. I studied at the Conservatory of Art in Krakow and when I came to the States I made a decent living selling my photographs and drawings." There is a rustle as she pulls a paper-wrapped set of gloves from a drawer. "But when I had Anya I realized I needed to settle down more, have a steady income. So I apprenticed with a local artist and slowly built up a good clientele. It's a good situation for me--I have time to create my art and be with my daughter."

As Zosia continues to ready her supplies, Scully feels her heart begin to thump in anticipation and her fingers curl into fists. Mulder glances over at her and frowns. Her face must be showing her nerves.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Scully?"

She nods. "I've given this a lot of thought."

Zosia pats her on the shoulder. "I'm very gentle, Dana. And this tattoo is much simpler than that beauty on your back. It won't take long at all."

Mulder's eyebrows rise. "What are you getting?"

Scully's mouth opens, but Zosia is the first to speak. "I'll show you. I made an outline on carbon paper." The tattoo artist finds a square slip of paper and hands it to Mulder.

He looks down and then up at the two women. "It's a Chinese character of some sort. What does it mean?"

"It's the symbol for the phoenix," Scully says. "The bird that lives forever by rising from the ashes." As she says these words, her nose fills with the acrid scent of charred wood and metal, the stench of their office as it burned the spring before.

"Why did you choose that particular character?"

She cracks her knuckles as she chooses her words. "I decided on the ourobourous because at that time I felt my life was trapped in an endless cycle. You and I were chasing our own tails, trying to move forward, but instead going in circles." It's strange to say such personal things in front of Zosia, but the other woman keeps her face purposefully neutral.

"And things are different now," Mulder says.

"Yes. You and I, we're survivors, Mulder. I don't want to forget it."

Mulder reaches across and squeezes her damp hand. "I don't need you to be tattooed to remember what we've managed to survive."

"Nor do I, but I want to mark this moment all the same."

Zosia speaks up. "The phoenix is a very powerful and positive symbol. It holds a lot of good energy. It also symbolizes joy in Chinese."

Scully smiles. It's clear why Zosia and Melissa were friends. "I think I could use the good energy," Scully says.

"I'm ready to start," Zosia says, pulling on her gloves with a practiced air that Scully recognizes. "Do you feel ready?"

Scully's heart gives a sickening palpitation against her sternum but she nods, feeling the blood begin to drain away from her face. She's not entirely sure why she's so nervous. If truth be told, she doesn't really remember the pain from her first tattoo. It reminds her of something her mother told her a few years ago. "I remember that it hurt giving birth to all four of you kids, but I can't remember what the pain itself felt like. I suppose that's nature's way of making sure women will give birth to more than just one child." Or perhaps the memory center of the brain just doesn't process pain memories very efficiently.

Zosia produces a pillow and places it at the head of the table. "You may lie down now."

God, she feels so submissive lying on the table and allowing Zosia to unbutton her jeans and push them down under her bottom. Scully wonders if this scenario has ever shown up in one of Mulder's videos.

An afghan is placed over her torso, so that just a small strip of her black cotton bikinis are showing. That's much better, she now feels less like she's about to get a pelvic exam.

"I'm placing the tattoo on her hip," Zosia explains to Mulder, "to the left of her bellybutton and just over the pelvic bone. It shouldn't hurt too much because she has a padding of fat there." She pats Scully's leg. "No offense, darling. You have a lovely body."

Scully smiles. "None taken."

Even though her eyes are shut against the glare of the examination lamp, Scully swears she can hear Mulder smiling at that.

"And now I'm going to spray on the antiseptic. It's a little cold." And indeed it is. She jerks at the alcohol solution hitting her warm skin.

It's the same, yet so different from that night in Svo's studio. Two years and she feels like a wholly different woman about to surrender to the needle and ink.

That night felt raw and exhilarating--like riding downhill on a bike with no hands on the handlebars as a girl. It felt wild. She remembers opening her eyes to see Ed looking down at her with a primal hunger that made her stifle a gasp as she recognized the sexuality in his gaze. He wants me, she'd thought, as Svo scraped her back with the razor. When was the last time a man has looked at me like that? She'd thought about Mulder's face then, but pushed his image away. He didn't belong there, had no place intruding upon that night in Philadelphia.

Now she hears Mulder's breath catch in his throat as Zosia shaves the area and sprays it yet again with the cool solution. "Mulder," she says, "if this is too difficult for you, you can wait outside."

"No," is his gentle reply. "I'll be fine. I've seen you in worse straits."

Scully remembers awakening at NYU Medical Center, a tube in her nose and the respirator still down her throat, to see Mulder dozing in the chair beside her. Her fingers were clutched in his strong hand, even in his sleep. Suddenly, he had jerked awake and smiled to see her with her eyes open, blinking in the morning sunshine. Yes, he has seen her worse off.

"If you want, Mulder can hold you hand," Zosia says.

"Do you want me to?" he asks.

She nods and hears him rise, his knees popping as he does so. His warm fingers lace with hers and she sighs, remembering all the times she has derived comfort from that hand.

Something smooth glides across her hip. "Speed Stick?" Mulder says in an amused tone.

"It works as an adhesive for the carbon," Zosia says, pressing the paper against Scully's skin.

Zosia clucks her tongue. "I think I placed it too high up. What do you think?"

Scully's eyes flutter open, squinting against the light. Zosia angles a mirror and Scully appraises the dark gray outline on her hip. "Yes, too high."

On the third attempt, the outline is pronounced perfect and Zosia says, "And now we begin."

Mulder squeezes her hand tighter and it nearly hurts, but it also grounds her, keeps her from retreating too far into her own fear. He's here with me, she thinks, nothing bad can happen.

The tattooing machine whirs and buzzes to life and now she's here in Zosia's spare bedroom but she's also back in Philadelphia, leaning forward as Svo descended with the needle, gasping as a thousand pricks and pinches assaulted her skin.

She opened her eyes, grimacing in shame as she again felt Ed's eyes on her, asking her a question she wasn't sure she was prepared to answer.

You are willing to do this, what else will you do tonight?

And she closed her eyes again as the pain flared, her skin prickling in autonomic response.

Now her eyes fly open as she again feels the electric bite of the needles and she looks up into the light of Mulder's hazel eyes. His eyes don't hold any questions-- those questions have already been answered between them. Instead his eyes are full of concern and love and just a little
wonder.

"Breathe, Dana," Zosia says as she outlines the shape of the character onto Scully's skin. "You are doing wonderfully. This tattoo is going to be so beautiful."

She takes a deep inhale of oxygen, shutting her eyes again and allowing herself to sink into the pain, to submit to its sharp heat.

The warmth spreads and dulls. Endorphins, she tells herself, the body's natural response to pain.

Scully felt the afterglow of endorphin release as she stood in Ed's drafty and dark living room, her lower back throbbing in cadence to her heartbeat. And she felt something else, too, as Ed pulled her to him and they stared each other down like adversaries in a duel. It was arousal, raw and unchecked, something she hadn't given herself permission to feel in a very long time. No, no, no, get out of here, storm or no storm, she thought, you don't know this man. All you know is that he's good-looking and he wants you, God, he wants you. And then his mouth descended on hers and she forgot to think.

That night she turned her conscious mind off, letting only the needs and response of her body rule her. She found herself sliding Ed's shirt off of him and unbuttoning his pants, pushing them off his hips so she could rub her body against his warmth. There was a roaring in her ears that she wasn't sure was the storm outside and a faint refrain in the back of her head--I want this I need this I have to have it have him...

And Scully gasped as they collapsed on his bed and Ed unbuttoned her blouse, still kissing her all the while with crushing intensity. Scully had forgotten how it felt to be touched with hands that weren't her own, to be wanted and feel the length of an erection against her thigh, to feel skin touching skin, to get wetter by the minute from his mouth at her breasts, to feel the heat of his tongue as he spread her apart and began to taste her.

Yes, she'd forgotten the sensation of coming at the touch of something other than her fingers or vibrator, to clutch a man's strong shoulders as she left her body from the skill of his mouth and fingers on her.

She briefly came back into herself as she heard the sound of a condom package being ripped open. No, her conscious mind screamed, you can't do this, it's wrong, it's bad, but her body craved it, ached for it. It had been so long.

It hurt to be invaded again after so many years, but she willingly accepted the pain, even as the throbbing in her back intensified as she was pushed against the mattress with Ed's weight. He must have heard her cry of pain, for he said, "Shit, your back," and rolled them onto their sides.

Slow, it was achingly slow as he slid his cock in and out of her. She wrapped her arms tighter around him, drowning in the pleasure that had overtaken the pain.

Why do I deny myself this, she thought, why do I let myself forget that I'm a woman who needs pleasure? Scully closed her eyes against Ed's slick shoulder and willed herself to stop thinking again, to not think of the man who was sleeping in a motel somewhere in Memphis.

Again her brain clicked off as her body took over with its greedy biological imperative, gratification flooding every nerve and pore as she came with small cries escaping her lips.

Ed groaned. "You sound so good, Dana, God, you feel so good," and he pumped into her harder, his climax punctuated by a final, shuddering thrust into her.

As they pulled apart, she brushed her hair off her sweaty forehead and thought, I don't know you at all, Ed. It was a strangely lonely thought.

And now she opens he eyes, blinking away the tears from the brilliant light overhead and she's no longer in Philadelphia but Georgetown and Mulder is still clutching her hand as Zosia works her with the needle. I know you, she silently says to Mulder, this is so different this time.

The pain is much duller now, diffused as her skin is numbed in defense against the needle's invasion. Her brain feels strangely clear--she can look at Mulder and understand
everything.

Making love with Mulder is nothing like the night she spent with Ed. Sure, the act is the same, but there's no need to split between body and mind. Scully's mouth becomes dry as she realizes that despite the pain, or perhaps because of it, she's becoming aroused. God, she wants him, now, here, Zosia or no Zosia. They waited six years to become lovers, but now eleven days seems like an eternity.

She remembers the last time in bed with Mulder, in the pre-dawn hours before she drove him to the airport. It was a lazy, sleepy coupling, spooned together with Mulder behind her, whispering nonsense in her ear as they ground their bodies together under the covers. With total recall she can still feel the sensation of fullness as he buried his cock in her, stroking her clit in time to his gentle thrusts. She remembers thinking how complete it felt to be joined with him, to finally be at the place where making love in the morning felt as natural as breathing, where there was no longer fear or doubt, just pleasure and joy.

And when they separated and turned around to kiss, she understood, perhaps for the first time, that she'd fallen in love--truly, thoroughly and properly. Scully had known it and felt it before that moment, but now she comprehended, down to her very bones, the enormity of loving Mulder.

She'd told him that, right before they'd left for the
airport.

Always, she'd believed that love would trap her, shove her into a tiny box where she'd never be able to grow, to change. Now she knows better.

When Mulder was gone, she'd had an appointment with Karen Kosseff. She still saw her therapist once a month or so. It helped to be able to bounce her complicated emotions off an objective wall. Karen had asked her, "How does your new relationship make you feel?"

Scully didn't even think, the words just came out of her mouth. "It feels like all the windows have suddenly been opened."

With Mulder she is free to be herself. She can be a cranky bitch and he just draws a bath for her and allows her to sulk in peace. She can let her sexual side run rampant and there's no guilt, no shame. He is willing to love her under any conditions and she him.

Through the small crackles of pain on her hip, she again looks at the familiar features of the man she loves. I hope I love you half as well as you do me, she thinks as his hand smoothes her hair.

Zosia clicks off the equipment and pats Scully's hand. "All done now, and beautiful. And not a peep out of you, Dana," she says proudly.

The mirror is again produced and Scully sees the intricate black character emblazoned on her skin, surrounded by puffy reddened flesh.

She smiles. "It's beautiful."

"Yes, it is," Mulder agrees.

With deft hands, Zosia tapes a square of gauze to Scully's bared hip. "Don't get up yet," she warns. "You might get a head rush and I don't want you to faint. I'm going to get you some water and aspirin." She flicks off the exam lamp and cranks the table up a few notches, so that Scully is almost in a sitting position.

Scully takes a deep breath after Zosia leaves the room, pulling the afghan up to warm herself. Her nerves are still throbbing away and it almost hurts more now that the stimulation of the needles is gone.

Bending to her, Mulder kisses her forehead. "I don't know how you did that. God, you're brave."

She smiles. "Maybe you should get one for yourself, see what it's like."

He shakes his head. "I get poked with enough needles in my life as it is."

"Chicken."

Another kiss, this one on her lips. "Do you feel like the moment has been marked?"

"I do."

Zosia returns with a bottle of water and two aspirin. Scully swallows down the tablets and half the bottle in several huge gulps.

"Drink lots of water now, it's good for the healing process, " Zosia says, sounding like the mother she is.

Scully sits up and swings her legs over the edge of the table. Despite the pain in her hip, she feels surprisingly good--clear-headed, energized and alive.

I'm a survivor, she thinks. No, we're survivors, Mulder and I. Just like the phoenix.

She stands and stretches out her back and arms and is pronounced fit for travel by Zosia, who hands her a brochure on tattoo aftercare. Gingerly, Scully pulls her jeans back up and buttons them.

After paying and saying goodbye to Zosia and Anya, they descend onto the street and into the chilly night.

Scully stops after a few steps down the sidewalk and looks up at the thick blanket of constellations overhead. She takes a deep breath of cold air into her lungs.

Mulder wraps his arm around her shoulders and draws her close. "Are you okay?" he asks.

"I'm fine," she says, meaning it.

"How do you feel?" Mulder kisses her temple.

Like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes, time and time again.

Scully smiles again. "I feel free."

END