By lunch-time it was 95 degrees and the temperature was still creeping higher. The ceiling fan whumped pitifully, simply spreading the misery around the kitchen. Even with the blind firmly closed, the heat wedged itself against the window and permeated everything. The clock on the wall titched slowly, as though the minutes were being squeezed through molasses to tick on.
Mulder peeled his forearms from the table and brought the sports pages with him. Scully puffed a wisp of stray hair from her forehead, smiling at his grapple with the newsprint. As she leaned across to help him, his attention was trapped by the bead of sweat trickling down her cleavage, weaving over the spray of rose freckles, and all his irritation at the humidity evaporated, as he watched it disappear into the V of her tank-top. He licked his lips.
“Thirsty?” she murmured, in a tone that suggested she knew exactly what had caught his eye. “We need to stay hydrated.”
“Kinda,” he said, finally removing the last of the newspaper.
“I know you love the game, Mulder but you didn’t need to tattoo it on your skin. She took his hand and twisted his arm over. “Look at that,” she said, her voice perkier, “Yankees beat the Red Sox 11 to 1.”
He read the print that had marked the heel of his thumb and along the grooves of his wrist. “Severino finished 13 and 2. Not too shabby, Scully.”
“Whatever you say, Mulder. I’m going to make iced tea. Care for some?”
“Sure. Price finished 9 and 6. But I can’t make out the Washington scores.” He rummaged through the ripped paper but ended up flinging strips into the air where they wafted momentarily on the rising heat like ticker-tape before settling willy-nilly over the table and floor. Scully sighed and he couldn’t make out if it was because she was standing in front of the open refrigerator or if it was a precursor to her snapping at him to clean up his mess. Taking no chances, he set about gathering the remnants of the pages and scrunching them into a ball.
“Don’t even think about throwing that at me,” Scully said from deep inside the ice box.
His mother used to say something about women having eyes in the backs of their heads and as a small boy it used to creep him out enough to stop him sleeping. When his sister was born, he turned her over just to check. Scully let the door shut and turned just as he closed the gap between them. He gathered her in his arms and welcomed her cool front.
“Ice, ice baby,” he sang, rocking his hips side to side with hers. She played along for a moment before shrugging away from him and setting the ice cube tray on the table.
“Grab that for me,” she asked, nodding at the ornate mason jar on the side. “I’ve added mint and lemon. Should be really refreshing. My mom used to make this recipe for us…” She looked up at him, eyes a little wetter than before and he tossed the paper ball into the trash can, nodding his understanding at her. It still cut her. It cut him too, their cumulative losses over the decades. If he had learned anything from their experiences, it was that they were each the only person in the world who truly understood the other. Love was nothing to do with it, though it helped. For the most part, anyway.
He watched her drop ice into the jar, took the brewed tea and poured it over the cubes so they crackled and split a little. The lemon slices rose up the sides along with the mint sprigs and the aroma put him in mind of midsummer evenings in the Red Stag’s beer garden listening to Wimbledon commentary as the Pimms pitcher sloshed on the rickety, silvered table-top.
Like the smell, however, the cool action of the drink dissipated far too quickly and after ten minutes, they were both sweating again.
“Hyperhidrosis,” she mused, pressing a wet wad of paper towel to her forehead and chest.
“If that’s your medical diagnosis,” he said, unsticking each thigh from the chair, “how does one combat its symptoms?”
She scoffed and flopped back, angling her arms at 45 degrees, circling her wrists back and forth. “Someone tell Mother Nature to dial it back in a little. She’s being a bitch.”
“She’s a bit pissed at our inability to address the climate situation and I’d say she’s got fair cause.”
“But humidity at over 90 per cent, Mulder, that’s more than a bit pissed, that’s white-hot rage.”
“Hm-mm,” he said, turning over his cell. “If it gets to 100 degrees, I’ll expire. How do Aussies live like this?”
“They have a/c everywhere,” she said.
“Uh-huh, they probably even have it in their refrigerators.” He tried to laugh at his own joke but the heat stole it from his mouth.
“More people die from the cold in Australia than the heat. Their housing isn’t built for the winters. Temperatures in the south of the country are low outside of the three months of summer. And you won’t expire, Mulder. Not on my watch.”
There it was again. That understanding, that support. Her answer about deaths in Australia didn’t really surprise him. Housing in England was similarly deficient, just for the heat, not the cold. Radiators and terraces and wall to wall carpets helped heat homes during winters, but he remembered nights in Oxford where July humidity kept him awake, tossing and turning in his bedsit while the beat of a rave rose and fell from the neighbouring farmland. He wasn’t sure about the mortality rate but it always felt like Death was laughing at the poor souls crushed into tiny living quarters.
“What’s the hottest you’ve ever been, Scully? Aside from that time you wore that sleek black skirt suit where I could see the outline of your stocking top.” He chuckled at her mock-offended expression.
“Rescuing you from Arecibo is pretty high on the list of Times Dana Scully Nearly Melted.”
“You didn’t rescue me.”
“What would you call it, then, Mr George ‘Proof of Contact’ Hale?” Her voice rose up the scale of indignation a notch.
“I didn’t ask you to come. We weren’t even partners then. You just…invited yourself. And, by the way, I got us out of there like a Hollywood stunt driver.”
“I had to have months of physio to straighten my spine after that little trip to the rainforest. Jesus, Mulder.”
“You drive like that all the time,” he countered.
“Do not,” she snipped, and pushed her chair back. “And invited myself? Really?”
She disappeared for a bit and he lay his head down on the table but a pool of warm sweat gathered on his skin so that his forehead slipped away, juddering across the surface. He looked up as Scully came back into the kitchen and blinked away the droplets that ran into his eyes. “Are you putting linen in the freezer?”
“Yes. And no, I’m not mad. You’ll thank me later.”
She disappeared again and when she returned the next time, she was carrying a scalpel and a pair of surgical scissors.
“You are mad,” he said, rubbing a hand over his chin. “Just not the insane kind. What have I done, Scully?”
“Nothing yet. Get me two empty water bottles.” He did and she nodded to the scalpel. “Puncture holes in them at regular intervals and then cut the bottoms off.” When he’d finished, she’d come back with a ball of string. He watched as she tied the bottles, upside down, to the back of the fan, looping the string through the holes and around the grating.
“I take it back,” he said, “this is a work of genius.”
She grinned, hair plastered to her face, skin sheen with sweat and in a flash, it took him back to that graveyard in Bellefleur. “I’ll get the ice.”
“And some salt. And pour more water in the ice tray,” she called after him.
Side by side, they sat cross-legged in front of the fan as the cool air blasted them. His cell registered 100 degrees and he flashed it to her.
“You saved me,” he said.
“Again,” she said, smugly.
“Who’s keeping score?”
“You are.” She batted his hand away and let her head hang back, the curls of her frizzed hair straightening when the fan blew over her. Her nipples protruded tantalisingly and he shifted on his seat.
“What’s the coldest you’ve ever been? Icy Cape? Antarctica?”
She turned to him. “No,” she said, tilting her head. “It was when you let Agent Fowley back on the scene.”
“Ouch,” he said. “No anaesthetic for your surgical barbs.”
“Shut up, Mulder. I’m getting cool.”
“Hmmm, you’ve always been cool, Scully.”
Her giggle was girlish and his temperature rose despite her makeshift air conditioner. “Any chance of a…?”
“In this heat? Absolutely none,” she declared, but he could always melt her icy edges so he closed his eyes, held his silence and bade his time. Their deep understanding would get him past her 100 degrees of separation.