They stumbled their way through the woods away from the burning trailer, towards the car. *Sanctuary*, Scully thought, and she heard herself chanting, "Just a little further, just a little further," to Mulder, who was nearly dead weight in her arms.
"I had a dream," he mumbled, "the most horrible dream. "
"It's over now." *What did that thing do to you, my dear?* she thought helplessly, as his panicked eyes tried to focus in the darkness around them.
"I called for you and you didn't come."
"I'm here now." They reached the car. Scully fumbled for the keys, trying to keep Mulder from sprawling onto the grass by leaning him against the hood of the car. She unlocked the door to the backseat and hauled him in, propping him against the seat, and then she shut the door and gathered him to her, her back against the door and his long body stretched out on the seat. She wrapped one arm around his chest and the other around his head so that she could stroke his forehead with her hand.
"Yes," he murmured, burrowing his head into her armpit, "you're here now. They cut off my arms, Scully."
"Shh. It was just a bad dream."
"I always knew you could kick butt, Scully."
Scully frowned, wondering where that had come from, and went on murmuring to him "shh, you're safe now, shh, shh"—stroking his face, one hand resting over his still-too-fast heart. He reached up and touched her arm lightly.
"Still here," he said as if in wonder.
"Still here," she confirmed, and took off his tie and unbuttoned a few of his shirt buttons so he could breathe more easily.
"How did it know my weaknesses, Scully?"
"Maybe it —" Read his mind? She shook her head. Even that was too impossible to believe.
"How did it know about you?"
"There are records, I'm sure, that it had access to. It's destroyed now, Mulder. Esther got the kill switch in."
"She's dead, isn't she."
*Maybe not.* "She wanted to enter the Internet. She and David Markham planned to leave their bodies behind and live as pure intellect."
"Mmm. Do you think it worked?"
"I don't know." She hugged him closer. "If the mind is electricity and the soul transferable between flesh and circuits . . . well, anything is possible."
"Without having to worry about overpopulation. An endless playground. No limits. They could go anywhere. . ."
"But without a body. All pleasure would be aesthetic. No physical enjoyment of anything." He was starting to sound more like himself, steady, thoughtful.
"I get the feeling she wouldn't miss that part of it much, since she wanted to abandon it in the first place."
"I'd miss it," he said softly. He took her hand and pressed it over the exposed skin of his chest. "I'd miss this, the warmth of skin on skin. Feeling someone else's heartbeat. Feeling the blood course through their veins. Feeling the rhythm as they breathed. Has she lost feeling, I wonder? Can she only cognate?"
"You mean would she still appreciate a good joke?" Scully said dryly. He was getting entirely too abstract for her taste right now. No, not abstract. Personal.
He chuckled, a dry, raspy sound, and said quietly, "I mean, does she still love? Is she still in love with David Markham, and is he still in love with her. That's why they wanted to do it, right? To be together? Does love outlive the body, do you think?"
"Oh . . ." She had to think about it for a moment, trying to put her beliefs into words. Finally she said, "Yes, I think it does. I think the desire for another's company and appreciation of their individuality lasts far longer than the physical relationships people may have. That's why we miss people when they go away, I suppose. It's not just the physical presence."
"But if you could be together and never touch . . ." His hand stroked hers slowly, dreamily. His voice was dreamy as well, as if he hardly knew he was speaking. "If you loved someone and couldn't ever touch them, even if you were with them all the time. . . wouldn't it slowly drive you insane?"
"Maybe not insane. Just very, very frustrated." *We have to stop talking about this . . . but I want him to keep talking.* The urge to run her hands over his face and chest was very strong. To prove she was there. *Physicality,* she thought, *the need to prove through touch . . . why do we believe things we can touch more readily than we believe things we only see or hear? What is it about touch that makes things . . . solid? Even our metaphors,* she mused, *our metaphors about truth and reality speak of the physical. Getting your hands on something. Putting something behind you. If something is true it's rock-solid.
"Scully?" Mulder's voice was sleepy. Soft. Scully smiled to herself. Another metaphor. As if a thing that existed only in sound could have a texture.
"I'm right here, Mulder."
"What were you thinking about?"
"Oh, metaphors. Truth. Reality. Why we believe things we can touch."
"We're physical beings." He yawned. "People can lose their sight, their hearing, even their senses of taste and smell and function fairly well, with only a few adaptations . . . but someone who loses their sense of touch is lost."
"Like those children who don't feel pain."
"Yeah. They can't tell when they're in danger. Touch is the most basic of the senses . . . and we use it throughout our bodies. Skin, the touch organ. Three hundred or whatever cubic inches of it, all alive with nerves. What's the first thing a baby learns?"
"Good touches from bad touches. Warm and dry, good. Wet and cold, bad. Its mother's hands, good . . . Even as adults we prefer things that remind us of childhood, tastes and textures and feelings that make us *feel* good." He paused. "You're right about metaphors."
"I can't think of a way to talk about the other senses without using words of touch."
"Feeling good, when we're talking about the mind, the heart, not the body."
"It's interconnected." He yawned again. "A happy mind in a strong body . . . that's the ideal. Sick minds often have weak bodies. It's a symptom. And why the word ' feeling', a physical word, to describe a mental state? Because touch is basic. It's something we all understand."
"Have you ever read— "
She ruffled his hair and went on, "—about those studies in orphanages, where when the staff doesn't cuddle the babies regularly, perfectly healthy children just die? Because we need to be touched. We crave it. Like food and shelter. It's survival."
"And we dress it up under the names of higher emotions."
"I don't think it's dressing it up. We touch people we love, to show we love them. Emotions produce physical responses. You can't separate the mind and the body, not without losing something precious." They both were silent a while, thinking of Esther and David.
"Do you think—" Scully began, then paused, pondering.
"Do *you* think they still love each other?"
"I don't know." He sighed. He was still stroking her hand. He said quietly, "If I had to see you every day—if I could talk to you, hear you, even smell you—and never touch you, I would—it would be very difficult."
"You manage just fine."
"But we do touch. You're touching me now."
Yes. Yes, she was. And she was in no hurry to stop.
"We hug each other, we hold hands sometimes. When we're vulnerable we reach for each other. If I had to go through the same experiences we've been through and not be able to touch you, I don't know if I'd survive."
Scully remembered dozens of embraces, when he had offered her his strength and she had taken it willingly. After the Donnie Pfaster case. When she decided to fight her cancer. When Melissa died. After he shot Modell. A thousand times when words weren't enough. They could have spoken, but when it came down to true comfort, only a touch would do.
She whispered, "I don't think I would, either," and leaned her cheek against the top of his head.
He lay his hand on top of hers. His heart had sped up again, not the ratatat of panic anymore but something . . . something she was afraid to name. Afraid not to.
A part of her wanted to admit it aloud. To say, I need you, Mulder. I need you to touch me. I need to touch you. I need to feel your skin on mine. The heat and the roughness and the smoothness and the hardness. I need it all.
But saying it aloud would only make it complicated. Touch is basic, right? Like thirst and hunger. And she thirsted, she hungered.
She ran her fingertips along his hairline. His hair was soft, his skin warm. She thought, *You are my fountain, you are my feast.* She traced his ears, the fragile skin around his eyes. The bridge of his nose. His cheekbones. His jaw, rough with stubble. His neck, his adams apple, which bobbed uncertainly as he swallowed. And under her other hand his heart beat on, steady and quick.
His upper lip. Soft. His lower lip. Full. Slowly she traced them, again and again, remembering smiles and pouts and frowns and the way his lips turned down in an expression that had no name when he cried, and the smile that he gave only to her. Remembering the kisses he'd given her over the years, of tenderness and support. Wondering if—how—their mouths would fit together if—when—they finally, really kissed.
A rumble ran through him, protesting. He started to turn but she held him down, his back to her front and one leg wrapped over him. She unbuttoned his shirt further and ran her fingers through his chest hair, seeking out his nipples. She passed her fingertips over them, smiling as they hardened.
"Stop now. Stop if you're going to stop at all."
"I'm not going to stop."
He moaned and raised her hand to his lips, kissed the center of her palm and nipped at the web of skin between her first finger and thumb. He ran his tongue up her arm as far as he could reach as she finished unbuttoning his shirt. She followed the path of his hair to his waist, ran her fingers over his ribs, followed the lines of his muscles. He tilted back his head and kissed the underside of her chin, and moved up so that he could kiss more of her face She leaned over him further and pressed her mouth to his as she pulled his shirt out of his waistband and unbuckled his belt.
Mulder finally turned over to face her, and knelt on the car seat and took her face between his hands and kissed her, firmly, hungrily, his tongue reaching into the depths of her mouth. As he kissed her he moved so that he could sit, and pulled her onto his lap, straddling his thighs. She toed off her shoes, and her mouth left his and roamed over his face, her tongue darting out to lick and her teeth to nibble. She unbuttoned his cuffs and pulled off his shirt, kissing his shoulders and chest. "Scully," he whispered. She looked up at him, and he said simply, "Scully, Scully," kissing her face and unbuttoning her blouse.
"Mulder," she answered, kissing him back, and she shrugged off her coat and the blouse beneath it. Mulder reached behind her to unhook her bra and Scully pulled it off and tossed it aside. His mouth trailed down her chest to the tops of her breasts, and Scully laced her fingers into his hair, guiding his head to her nipple. He licked it into his mouth, and then began to suck, slowly, softly, almost reverently. Scully brought his hand to her other breast, and he squeezed her nipple gently. She moaned, throwing back her head, and she unbuttoned her slacks and began to wiggle out of them. Mulder lifted her up enough to help her take them off, following them with her hose and panties. He raised his hips enough for her to pull off his slacks and shorts, and he reached down to pull off his shoes and socks.
They looked at each other for a moment, both their faces full of wonder at what was happening. Scully took his face between her hands and kissed him deeply, and moved down his body with her mouth, tasting him, breathing him in. He scraped his teeth on her neck and suckled her breasts, his mouth and hands rough and gentle all at once. He kissed and licked her torso, her stomach, and Scully's back arched so that she could see out the front windshield. She'd hardly noticed, but the night was not as dark as it had been. Dawn was approaching. She raised her head to look at him again, and they exchanged smiles.
They kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed. Scully put her hand over Mulder's heart to feel it pounding, and tenderly kissed the skin above it. He raised her head and kissed her mouth, ran his hands down her back and lifted her hips, thrusting upward as he lowered her onto him.
Scully moaned from low and deep within herself, as he stretched her, filled her. It was perfect, it was exactly what she'd wanted, hot and rough and smooth and gentle all at once. She forced her eyes to stay open though they wanted to close, forced herself to watch his face as intently as he was watching her in the grey light. She kissed his face as he lifted and lowered her, again and again, kissed the play of his muscles under his skin, kissed his autumn-colored eyes and his sweet and swollen lips. He was delicious. Skin and sweat and saliva, musky, salty, essential.
"So long," she whispered to him.
"I've wanted this—I've waited—we've waited—"
"—so long," he finished for her, "the need to touch—"
"Scully . . ." he groaned simply, pulling her down to him and kissing her mouth sloppily. Her strong legs continued to move them together and apart, her breath wheezing and sharp, and Mulder's head tossed and his face tightened as he struggled to wait for her, to bring her with him. "C'mon, love, you can do it—"
"Mulder," she moaned, her teeth nipping his neck, and it overcame her like a tsunami. She bucked against him, the moans coming from her in harmony with his. His body jerked upwards and a groan ripped from him, wordless and primitive and to Scully's ears more beautiful than any sonata.
He fell back against the carseat, breathless. She fell against him, breathing in great and labored gulps. Even through the steamed windows, she could see it when she opened her eyes. Light, soft and golden. Dawn had come. The night was over.
"Are you okay?"
"Mm-*hmm*." His hands were slowly caressing her back, her face, her hair.
"I didn't even think to ask if you were up to it."
"I'd say I was."
"So would I."
He chuckled. "If the car's a-rockin'," he said, and she put her hand over his mouth. He bit her palm lightly.
"Scully," he said in a slightly more cautious tone of voice. "Next time you need me . . ."
"Should I just whistle?" She smiled against his shoulder.
"Something like that. You don't even have to ask."
"I didn't ask this time, either."
"Well, neither did I. It's that whole unspoken communication thing." She raised her head to look at him, and saw that he was smiling lazily, his eyes closed, a look of utter satisfaction on his face. She kissed him softly.
"Next time you need me," she said quietly, "next time you need to touch me—for whatever reason—you just say so, okay?"
"Okay." They kissed again. "I'm going to take you up on that, you know."
"I'm counting on it." Scully kissed the side of his neck, from just beneath his ear to his shoulder. "I have to say, I don't understand why anyone would want to give this up."
"Even if you could live without limits?"
"Living as electrons still would have limits. Even if Esther and David are still in love, can still even recognize each other, they can't have what we have."
"And she wouldn't smell as good as you do." He buried his nose in her hair and inhaled deeply. "I'm never going to stop touching you, Scully."
"Okay," Scully whispered, and they kissed again.
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