Scully hasn’t been this afraid of the dark since she was a little girl, not even after Eugene Tooms. With her back braced against the wall, she knows she’s being irrational. Adrenaline and sleep deprivation have mixed a dangerous cocktail in her brain; her sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. She closes her eyes and tries to regulate her breathing, to focus on slow and even inhalation and exhalation.
The worst part of their current situation is the isolation. If they were almost anywhere else she could set up proper quarantine procedures. There would be lab equipment capable of analyzing the samples they’ve collected. There would be other people on whom to rely, to trust.
This not knowing is making her jittery. Hodges’ hostility, along with her own fears, has combined to make her question herself relentlessly. What was it Mulder had said? “We’re either brilliant or expendable.” Right now she is not feeling particularly brilliant. Her mind buzzes tiredly, incessantly questioning: how is the parasite contracted? How can they prevent further infection? Most importantly, how can they kill it?
No matter what Mulder may believe, Scully is convinced that destruction of the threat is the only viable option. She cannot bear to think of she and Mulder ending up like Richter and Campbell. They’ve been here less than 48 hours and already one man is dead. The parasite’s ability to cross-contaminate between species and the rapid onset of symptoms of infection are terrifying. None of them may have much time to debate this.
Scully leans her head back against the wall and stretches her legs out in front of her. Her eyes feel gritty and her feet are cold inside her boots. She knows her heart rate and blood pressure are up. What she wouldn’t give for a hot bath and her own bed. To be sitting next to Mulder in a plane, or a car, while he eats sunflower seeds and makes bad jokes.
She thinks of the relief on DaSilva’s face when she confirmed that the other woman was free of the black nodules. Of her own relief when the same was confirmed for her. And then Mulder’s destruction of even that small piece of collective hope: “Don’t forget, the spots on the dog went away.”
From the floor, the narrow bed seems acres away, and yet she knows she’s too wound up for sleep. There’s an ache in her left hip where a bruise is beginning to form. Hodges’ acerbic words come back to her, “in the event that something was missed, Agent Scully.” Perhaps she should examine the bodies one more time. Perhaps there’s a clue that she’s missed.
Standing is a distressingly difficult activity. She suddenly has an idea of what it might be like to get old. Pushing the dresser away from the door, she tries to conquer the sudden nausea and dizziness that overtake her. Perhaps another examination isn’t the best idea after all. She’s probably more of a danger to herself than anything else.
In the dim light of the desk lamp, the tiny room feels claustrophobic, tomb-like. Scully wonders how a man, physically larger than herself, managed to live in this confined space for so many months. She runs a hand along the wrapped gift on the desk, a present for a birthday he’ll now never celebrate; the calendar on the wrong date. The posters of women in bikinis amuse her, remind her of the things her brothers thought they kept so secret growing up.
She wonders if there are similar posters in Mulder’s room, if they amuse him too. She wonders if he’s still awake. There’s a heaviness in her chest that’s too much for her to lift alone. For a moment, Scully rests her hand on the doorknob, indecisive. Then she turns it, pulling the door open to the faint hallway light. She crosses quietly to Mulder’s door and taps.
“Mulder?” she calls softly. “Are you awake?”
The door opens as she’s half turned back to her own room. In front of her is her partner, barefooted and shirtless, and she blinks in surprise.
“Scully, is something wrong?”
“Uh, no,” she blinks again. “I just couldn’t sleep. And I thought, if you were awake too, maybe we could keep each other company.”
He nods and moves to let her in. Sitting on the bed, he indicates the desk chair. “We can tell ghost stories.”
That earns him a small smile, and she feels the restriction in her chest ease a little. “How can you be so calm, Mulder?” she asks him, leaning forward to brace her elbows on her knees. “We’re trapped in the middle of a storm, with no way out, and a parasite whose transmission we don’t know how to prevent. Doesn’t that make you just a little uneasy?”
“Scully, I’m just as scared as you are,” he tells her seriously. “But this is the first real, conclusive proof we’ve had of the existence of life on other planets. It’s lived in that ice for a quarter of a million years. Who knows how many others like it are still down there? We’ve got to study it. I would think you, as a scientist, would be excited about this.”
He is so earnest, she thinks, so pure in his vision. “Under normal circumstances Mulder, I’d agree with you. But not in this situation. Richter died because one of those creatures had migrated into his brain, and there was at least one more of its larvae present in his blood. These things are hermaphroditic - it would only take one to kill us all and lay dormant to affect someone else when we’re discovered. We have no idea how long they can live once the host is dead.”
“So you’re determined to kill it.” His voice is soft, but it isn’t a question. He’s mirroring her posture on the bed and their knees almost touch in the narrow confines of the room.
Scully nods. “It’s the only chance we have now. We don’t have the facilities or equipment to set up a proper quarantine. I’m sorry, Mulder.” She reaches out and brushes his fingers with her own.
“Jesus, Scully, your hands are freezing.” He grabs the closest one and chafes it between his own. It’s only then that she realises she’s sweating under her three layers of clothing.
“Piloerection,” she mutters as Mulder’s rubbing pushes one sleeve up her arm.
“Are you coming on to me, Scully?” Mulder’s smirk doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
She pulls her hand out of his grip and begins to unlace her boots. “Goosebumps, Mulder. One of the body’s temperature regulation methods, trapping warm air closer to the skin. Except,” she grunts as she pulls off one boot. “It’s not cold. Protracted stress leads to a highly active sympathetic nervous system. My blood is being shunted away from my skin and extremities, toward my heart and skeletal muscles.”
“So the saying ‘cold hands, warm heart’ is really true?”
“Biologically, yes.” Placing her boots neatly under the desk, Scully undoes the buttons on her flannel shirt and tries to wrap it around her feet and lower legs.
Mulder shakes his head and pulls on her arm. “Sit here,” he pats the bed next to him. “My extremities are plenty warm.”
She can’t help but laugh as she curls her feet up under her. Shifting slightly to the side, she winces.
“A little. I think I bruised my hip when I took down Bear.”
“I meant to tell you, Scully, great tackle. You ever think about playing professionally?” This time the smile on his face is genuine.
She performs a little half-bow. “Growing up with two brothers has its uses.”
For a few minutes they sit in comfortable silence. It’s one of the things she likes best about Mulder, now that they’ve gotten past the awkward newness of their partnership. She likes that neither of them feels the need to fill up the silences.
“Have you eaten anything since we got here?” he asks, eventually.
She has to think about it for a moment. “I don’t think so. Have you?”
Shaking his head, Mulder gets up and scrabbles around in his bag before returning triumphantly with a pack of Oreos. “I knew these would come in handy. They’re not s’mores and there’s no campfire but they’ll have to do.” He opens the packet and offers it. “Pathologists first.”
“Thanks,” she says as she digs cookies out greedily. “Although I don’t think a sugar high is quite what I need right now.”
Mulder clutches a hand to his heart in mock horror. “Scully, I’m ashamed of you. The sugar high is one of the cornerstones of investigating. Didn’t they teach you anything at the Academy?”
Scully rolls her eyes and wishes wistfully for milk. Instead, she washes down her Oreos with some of Mulder’s bottled water. Stretching pulls on her trapezius and she closes her eyes and tries to rub out the stiffness. “Remind me never to do six autopsies back to back again.”
The heat of Mulder’s palm against her neck startles Scully and she opens her eyes to find Mulder twisted to face her, fingers digging gently into muscle and skin. “You should have said something, Scully.”
Raising an eyebrow, she asks him, “And what purpose would that serve, Mulder? It’s not as though there’s another qualified pathologist next door.”
“No, but...” he trails off, drawing his hand away.
“Bear’s autopsy was the worst,” she says suddenly, surprising herself. “It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in surgery on a live patient, years. I didn’t realise how it would affect me to then have to perform an autopsy on the same person.” She sighs and scrubs at her face with her hands, her whole body leaden. “And I blame Hodge. It’s irrational, but I do.”
Mulder eases her hands away from her face. “He’s been antagonistic towards you since the airport. And it was his decision to cut the parasite out of Bear. It’s understandable, Scully. Don’t blame yourself for feeling that.”
“It was the right decision, though. I probably would have done the same thing if he hadn’t been there. Bear was seizing and it was clear that the parasite was moving into the brain stem. He would have been dead either way,” she finishes in defeat.
They sit in silence again, Scully’s thoughts muddied and sluggish. She yawns and Mulder bumps his shoulder against her. “Why don’t you lie down for a while?”
She meets his eyes. They are as weary as she feels and offer the promise of keeping the loneliness and the fear at bay a little longer.
“Are you sure?”
He shoots her a cocky grin. “You’ll help keep me cool.”
She shakes her head and huffs out another laugh. They lie on their sides, facing each other in the narrow bed. Mulder has his back against the wall and Scully curls her knees up into the space between them.
She blinks sleepily at him as her muscles slacken and her breathing slows. “Goodnight Scully,” he whispers. She is asleep before she can say it back.
A solid wall of black greets her when she wakes and she blinks several times to be sure her eyes are truly open. Mulder has turned off the desk lamp. She must have rolled over in her sleep because the sough of his breathing is behind her now. His animal warmth is pressed against the length of her back, one long arm slung heavily over her hip and down her thigh.
Scully can’t see the clock and she wonders absently how long she’s slept, what day it is. She is drowsy and not yet ready to relinquish the last vestiges of sleep. Lying here with Mulder curled around her is surprisingly comfortable, comforting, for reasons she’s not prepared to examine right now. She hopes he doesn’t wake up anytime soon.
“Mulder?” she whispers, a quiet test. But his breathing remains a steady, reassuring sound in the otherwise unnatural silence.
It has been a long time since she’s slept with a man, in any capacity. She and Jack made love only a handful of times in the months before their relationship officially ended. His obsession with Warren Dupre and Lula Phillips had become much more compelling than the easy companionship they shared. Since then there have been a handful of dates with men who barely held her attention. And Mulder, who manages to be unfailingly interesting. It is, she thinks, something of a problem.
She has always gravitated toward older, more experienced men; men who are, at least on the surface, not intimidated by her intelligence and drive. Mulder, as far as she can tell, is intimidated by nothing. He seems to respect her, and her opinions, even when they differ from his own. After years of seemingly endless struggles to prove herself to superiors and colleagues it is a somewhat dizzying feeling to simply be accepted as she is.
That he is so very attractive only complicates matters.
In this room, in this bed, she can allow herself to forget for a little while that this isn’t really her life. Scully moves one hand to cover Mulder’s where it lays atop her leg. That his hands are so much larger than her own astonishes her on occasion. Out of nowhere she will be suddenly reminded of the great difference in their physical sizes. Yet Mulder never makes her feel small or fragile as so many other men have done. He treats her with courtesy, as an equal, as if it has never occurred to him not to. It is one of the very first things she liked about him; that, and the way he smells.
Now she is surrounded by the warm scent of his skin. Lying against him, she can feel with her toes how much further his long legs stretch down the bed; how his hand is half again as big as her own. Surprisingly, having him surround her in this small space, this small room, doesn’t suffocate her at all. Instead, it is sweetly peaceful, a little erotic. There is a hum through her body like bees.
She feels herself drifting somewhere in between sleep and wakefulness, lulled by the rise and fall of Mulder’s chest behind her, and the silky heat of his hand under her own. It occurs to her that Mulder is shirtless, that his half naked body is pressed against her. She has a brief image of rolling over and placing her hands on him, sliding them over his chest and back. She can feel his warmth through her clothes.
Her hand begins to stroke up and down his forearm, the slightly coarse hair sending a delightful frisson of electricity through her fingers. Tendrils of pleasure shoot through her, and over Mulder’s breathing she can now hear her own, louder, and faster, keeping time to the accelerated beat of her heart. This is, she thinks, extremely unprofessional behavior. If Mulder woke up now he would surely be embarrassed, possibly offended. Her own embarrassment would be extreme.
But her hand keeps travelling its slow path up and down his arm. She is not thinking about parasites that live in ammonia hydroxide or the desperate danger they’re in. Instead, she is wondering what it would be like to kiss her partner. To have him kiss her. Just the thought of the soft press of his lips, the hot slide of his tongue, is enough to make her hips shift slightly. A small sound escapes her.
In sleep, Mulder moves too, curling more closely around her, his palm shifting from under her hand up to cover her stomach. As it slips inside her shirt the shock of his skin on hers is as startling as a burn. She waits, breathing shallow, for him to roll over, to wake up. But his body remains slack against her and his breathing deep and steady. She closes her eyes.
She imagines his hand sliding higher, over her ribs to cup a breast. The idea alone hardens her nipples and makes her bite her lip. His open hand would cover her completely, fingers spread upward to her clavicle. She’d be desperate for his mouth, but he’d press it against the back of her neck, open and hot against her spine; pulling her in both directions at once.
Scully moves her hand to once more cover Mulder’s where it rests on her skin. The small muscles of his fingers are lax when she twines her own gently through them. Images of his hands on her body break behind her eyelids like waves. She is impossibly aroused, confused as a schoolgirl. She may either come or cry and both actions terrify her immeasurably.
As gently as possible, she removes Mulder’s arm from around her and eases off the bed. Fumbling a little, Scully manages to find her boots and her flannel shirt. Her body is loose and lethargic as she struggles to find the doorhandle above the thin strip of light seeping below. She does not look back as she slips through the opening and shuts the door softly behind her.
Later, in her own room, when she shoves a hand inside her leggings and makes herself come, she does not think of the sweetness of Mulder’s mouth, or the strength of his hands; of the lean length of his torso, or the softness of his hair; of the bright mischief in his eyes, or the imagined hardness of his cock.
Afterwards, she curls in on herself on top of the covers, raw and shaken. She does not turn off the light.