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The door clicks shut lazily, and Scully leans her forearms against the railing outside, peers down at the motel parking lot. It’s vacant but for their car, blacktop and sand under hazy white streetlights, the whole building draped with silence too thick to be comforting. 

In the distance, remnants of orange and pink sun scratched into the burnt-out twilight sky, and the road empty for miles. 

The southwest is acrid on her skin, and brings back visceral memories she would rather neglect. Of her little girl, of the inhuman thing forced inside her back years later, crawling up her spine. She had wept over never getting to carry her first miracle child, and then she’d found herself back in the desert, forced to carry a monster they called Christ instead. The twisted irony of fate. God’s cruel sense of humor. 

Two lost miracle children. Both of them innocent but perpetually in danger, only because they were extensions of her. 

She considers asking Mulder to drive back east, into the heavy humidity of the southern states, until her hair frizzes and the air doesn’t chafe. But there are bad memories there, too, and everywhere else in the country, a crisscrossing roadmap of little wounds.

She tucks her fists into his big shirt, pulls it tighter against her body, legs crossed one over the other. They’re forty miles outside Sedona, now, and the taste of the air is identical to every other motel they’ve visited. Or maybe she’s just lost the ability to taste anything but saltwater, the ocean always with her in latent tears, even in the middle of the desert.

A little ways down the balcony, she spots the cigarette machine. As she stares, it seems to stare back, taunting her to bolster the painful dryness. Scrape her lungs raw like the palms of her hands, like her insides. An easy way to shorten the number of years ahead, their impossible weight. A socially acceptable way to hate herself. 

When the door opens, she stiffens reflexively, nails digging into the soft flesh of her palms. She turns her head with a jerk, but it’s only Mulder, baggy pajama pants and damp hair from the shower, stubble long since turned to scruff on his cheeks. 

“I’m starting to think you should just wear my clothes all the time,” he rumbles. His smile is so wistful, so dear, and he smells like home under the motel soap. Her ribs feel near to buckling from the swelling of her chest. 

Scully turns away, because she can’t do anything else to ward off the tears. He steps in behind her, folding himself into her space effortlessly, as if it was never anything but theirs to share. And then, his arms sweep under hers, cross beneath her breasts, heaving her back against his chest with ease. 

Before he came home, she’d pinched at her stomach, flinched at the softening of her body, worried he wouldn’t want her like he had before, now that she was less small, less compact. Stretch marks striping her belly like dress pleats. But even across state lines, they had changed together, her maternal layers of fat matched by his tight bundles of muscle. Both of them unknowingly bearing down for this period of summer hibernation, for their months of hiding away from the world. 

She still abhors her reflection, knowing what she’s lost, how she’s failed. How she wasn’t strong enough. He knows all of that too, of course. But still, he drinks her in every time he sees her, desperate and adoring like a starving man, lost at sea until he moored himself to her island. 

There is no world in which she deserves his forgiveness, and yet, he’s forgiven her anyway, had done so even before he knew that there was anything to forgive. She almost can’t believe it, but then again, she can never find a way to resent him for long, no matter how much she resents herself.  

After all, everything in the universe obeys the laws of physics. When they hate themselves, they have learned to love each other more, an equal and opposite reaction to keep the balance.

“Blonde suits you,” he murmurs. “It’s… winsome.” 

She suspects him of lying, but warms anyway. 

And there’s his jaw, scratchy and sweet, nudging against her cheekbone, a kiss pressed to her temple and then to the corner of her eye. His big hands framing her ribs. She’d waited in the car while he got their room key, but with the windows rolled down and the lobby door open, she’d heard him call her his wife. 

“I always liked you better with a bit of a beard,” she tells him, and he sighs. 

“I’ll grow it out just for you,” he says, even though she knows it’ll be out of necessity, for the sake of obscurity. She drapes her arms over his, the taut cords of his forearms, nestles herself back into his body. “Like a wild mountain man.” 

“My mountain man,” she hums. 

“They’ll think I kidnapped you,” he teases. “Swept you up and carried you off like a pretty little prize.” 

“Well, didn’t you?” 

The vibration of his laughter shakes them both. Two nights ago, there had been a baby crying in the next room over, and he had carried her to bed from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and nearly catatonic with distress. He’d cradled her to his chest and helped her ride it out, not spoken a word of it after.

There’s nothing to do with the sorrow but let it wash over them. In and out like the tides, sea salt in the wound. 

She unwinds herself slowly. He cranes his neck to kiss her mouth. When there is no place in heaven or earth that will take them, still there will be room for her beside him. 

“Do you think they’ll tell stories about us, back at the Bureau?” Scully asks, just for something to say, leaning her head back against his collarbone. “Cautionary tales against fraternization for the newly assigned?”

“No one would believe them,” he says. “They’d take one look at the two of us and laugh at the thought that you’d ever have me.”

“Flatterer,” she mumbles. He kisses her cheek.

“Maybe fairytales,” he says. “Or fables. Stories where people accept the unbelievable.” 

“I thought nothing was unbelievable,” she comments. 

“Not to us. But to everyone else?”

She hums. Mulder rocks her, left to right, and she twists her neck to press her lips against his bare chest. On an exhale, he lets out her name, raspy and low. When her knees go weak in response, she floats against him instead of sinking, held afloat by the sturdy cradle of his arms. 

It’s half a mystery how the arterial blockage of grief in her chest only makes her crave him more. How just the sound of his voice and the press of his body makes her swell with anticipation. How he could bend her over the hood of the car at a moment’s notice, at the side of the road, and she would be wet enough to take him easily.

One of his palms flattens over her belly, and a noise slips out of her throat before she can stop it. As if in response, she feels him harden against her back. 

The rest of the mystery: that he craves her just the same. It’s always been like this, with them.

And there’s his jaw again, his head lowered to drag his mouth over her neck, the graze of his teeth across tender skin. The catch and release of her breath, the way her body shifts involuntarily in his arms, restless and open with need. His hand sliding down, working to open the lower buttons of her shirt, loosen the tie on her shorts. 

There’s no one below them in the parking lot, no one for miles out across the road. His fingers slip past her waistband, skate over her slick folds, and the idea of stopping him doesn’t even cross her mind. 

She’s heavy and dripping when he cups her, overripe fruit resting in his palm. He bites into her neck hard enough that she wonders if she’ll bleed, and it only makes her wetter, makes her squirm and rock her hips for friction. If she was taller, he could push into her just like this, bury himself in her cunt. Take her against the railing until he spilled inside of her.

The thought makes her dizzy. She wonders what he would say if she told him that in her recent fantasies, she never comes, only lets him use her until he does. 

“Mul’er,” she gasps. He hums in her ear, and she curves her back to press against his cock. “Want you inside.” 

He drops his shoulder lower to sink two fingers into her, but he knows that isn’t what she means.

“Please,” she begs, her voice so raspy and thin she can barely hear it.

“Not yet,” he tells her, curling his fingers inside, as if to make a fist. She’s already so close, even though he’s barely touched her, and she doesn’t want the relief, doesn’t deserve it. “You gotta come for me first.”

She forces her eyes open, takes in the darkening sky, the reedy white streetlights reflecting on the blacktop. The heel of his palm grinds against her clit, and the insides of her thighs are slick, the wave of warmth rising in her belly. 

“Don’t want to,” she manages. 

“I know, honey,” he murmurs, his lips beside her ear. “I know.”

The flush in her cheeks is immediate. Of course he already knew. He’s always seen right through her, probably sensed her self hatred the moment they reunited, profiled her damage just like he would any other criminal. His middle finger reaches deep inside her, finding the spot that will make her shudder by muscle memory. 

“I don’t –” Scully shakes her head. She can’t admit it, can’t say out loud again how she gave him up, sacrificed their chance at a family. “I didn’t…I couldn’t…”

“I know,” he soothes again, his wrist flexing as he starts to work her. “But it doesn’t matter right now.”

“It does,” she protests, and he thrusts his fingers into her harder, the impact shaking her breasts. Her toes curl with pleasure.  

“No,” he says, forceful enough that it brings tears to her eyes. 

“Mulder…”

“You did everything you could on your own,” he insists, and she doesn’t have the will to move, much less to argue. The knuckle of his thumb crushes her clit, and sparks spread under her skin. “But I’m here now, and I’m gonna – Scully, you have to let me take care of you.”

A sob works its way out of her chest, and she turns her face, buries it in his arm. There isn’t room in her chest for more than one feeling. He knows her body better than anyone, and the pleasure is dangerously close to overtaking the guilt, the grief. 

“Give it up, honey,” he says, like he can still read her mind. His lips press against her cheek, his forearm tense and rigid against her stomach with the effort of keeping up his pace. “I can carry it for you, just for awhile. Let me carry it. I promise I’ll give it back.”

She’s already melting around him, the warmth feathering through her thighs, her stomach. The inevitable, gravitational way that she loves him overtakes the feeling of loss. For him, she’ll let herself be cared for. 

For him, she can give anything up.

The climax crashes over her like a tsunami, breaking down her defenses, her mouth open in a silent scream. The aftershocks leave her tingling with comfortable warmth from head to toe.

She wants to curl him up inside her body, wants him to make a home there. There’s nothing else that could moor her to the earth. 

He kisses her ear, fingers slipping out of her, and she blinks her eyes open, lashes sticky with tears. The sky has darkened to a deep, rolling blue. His hands fold over her wrists, wrap her own arms around herself. The trembling in her legs is dizzying, but the relief that spreads into her belly, her chest, feels like absolution. 

“Thank you,” Mulder says, and her lip quivers.

She shakes her head. 

“I’m sorry, Dana,” he tells her, so softly. “I’m sorry that I left. I’m sorry I made you carry this alone, all that time.”

Again, she shakes her head. It isn’t his fault, it wasn’t him who let go of their son. And it doesn’t matter right now, anyway.

“Scully,” he says.

“I love you,” she whispers.

A moment of quiet, then, the catch and release of his breath.

Before she knows what’s happening, he’s spinning her in his arms, gathering her up against him. As his mouth presses to hers, she tastes salt, familiar like an old friend, like sunflower seeds and tears other than her own. 

She barely even notices when he lifts her, one-armed, or when the door to their room slams shut behind them. She doesn’t let him go when he lays her on the bed, drags him with her instead, nails digging into his biceps as they struggle to rid themselves of their remaining clothing. 

He pushes into her with a single, smooth thrust, and the overwhelming fullness nearly shakes her apart all over again. She keeps her hands buried in his hair, pulling his head to her shoulder. When his arm hooks under her knee, pressing her thigh up towards her chest, her second orgasm floods through her, weighing down her limbs. 

Her eyes shut tight, she clings to him like a lifeboat, spread open as he plunges deeper, helpless to do anything but let the waves carry her where they will. 

The space between them narrows to nothing, until she can’t be sure that they were ever separate to begin with. There’s endless desert just outside, but none of that feels real. Nothing does, other than him in all his humid warmth atop her, the litany of words she can’t make sense of in her ear, other than all of her names, starting with Scully and ending with mine.  

She feels it, the tension working its way through his body, the increased urgency in his movement, and her own desire all the way down to her bones.

“Inside,” she exhales, desperate, even though he already knows. “Inside, Mulder, please –”

He gasps, and she grabs his jaw, tilts her head up to press their mouths together messily. His teeth dig into her lower lip as his hips stutter, and she whimpers into his mouth, shivering with pleasure as he spills into her. 

His kiss turns slow, languid. He slips out, and the wetness on the insides of her thighs isn’t hers. When he pulls back to look at her, framing her head with his forearms, he’s wearing a smile that she knows matches her own. 

“I love you, too,” he says, his eyes on hers. 

She lays her hands along his cheeks, scratchy and sweet under her palms, sighs contently as she feels him soften against her thigh. 

It won’t last, the moment of happiness. It never does. But the space they share inside it will. 

There’s nothing to do with the love except let it wash over them. In and out like the tides, sunlight caught on the surface, casting warmth into the depths of the sea.

For two years, she has called herself nothing but the mother of his child, even after she stopped deserving the title. Today, he called her his wife, and that is something she thinks she can be. 

She catches a tear at the corner of his eye with her thumb. They'll take care of each other.

“We’ll carry it together,” she tells him, and he nods.