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Next Step

It wasn't that it had been such a rough case. It almost would have been easier if it was. Too violent to be dull, too twisted to be boring, not abnormal enough to feel worthwhile. Just difficult, and frightening, one step closer to the brink. Mulder shuddered, hard, short, afraid that the brink was closer than he had realized.

She looked at her partner with a mixture of commiseration and dread so strong it made her stomach hurt. It had been a bad one, and no amount of patented Mulder composure could hide the fact that it had really affected him. Scully quietly hung her coat on the wooden hanger by the tiny bathroom and stood for a moment, irresolute. Their rooms were connected by an unlocked door, she could hear him if he needed her, in the unlikely event that he would call out to her. But she didn't want to leave him, not like this. Not with his head bowed, his fists clenched, shoulders tensed against the force of the emotions he held firmly in check. Coming to a decision, she crossed soundlessly to the armchair and sank down, kicking her shoes off and tucking her bare feet under her to keep them warm.

They were usually so comfortable in their silences that it took her a long moment to figure out why this one felt different. It wasn't a shared silence. She was on her side of the wall and he was on his. While she was used to being opposite from him on so many things, and their arguments did them both good in the long run, she wasn't as used to being totally shut out. The trust ran too deeply between them.

He wasn't even consciously aware of her presence, too buried in the emotions and images of the monster they had run to earth. He'd gotten in too deep, started to see things from the monster's point of view, started to anticipate with eerie exactitude the next move, the next bloodletting. Two nights before he'd woken from the little sleep he had managed to find, convinced that there was blood on his hands. Less than ten minutes later the call had come in. Scully had been sound asleep, and he'd barely contained himself for the few minutes it took her to throw on her clothes and grab her gun. They had almost been too late. But this time ... this time they got him.

She stared at his bent head, dwelling on the evidence of his most recent hurts. White bandages tinged faintly with red showed livid against his thick dark hair, and the knuckles cradling his forehead were cracked and still bled slightly. He had kicked off his shoes and tugged his tie loose, but hadn't found the energy to go any further. Scully pursed her lips, studying her partner. One way or another, he had to get some rest.

"Mulder?" She said it softly, trying not to startle him. He jumped anyway.

"Scully. I thought you ... were in your room already." He pushed his head up, painfully meeting her concerned gaze. For an instant , he got distracted by the clear blue, and the pain started to recede. He smiled, trying to reassure her, and failing miserably at both. His head *really* hurt.

"No," she shook her head. "There's no way I can leave you in this state."

"So, what's wrong with Nevada?"

She ignored his feeble joke, swinging her legs from the chair and moving to sit beside him on the bed. Paying no attention to the faintly surprised look on his face, she reached up around him to tug off his suit jacket.

"Hm. I didn't know you cared, Scully," he teased, concentrating on anything except the pounding in his head. She answered him seriously.

"Of course I care, Mulder. You're my ... partner."

He wanted to ask her about the funny little pause in that statement, but decided he probably wasn't up to understanding her rationali- zations tonight. So he took refuge in humor, and attempted to ignore the light scent of her perfume as she leaned against him to slip the coat off his arms. He also refused to think why he wasn't being more helpful. He didn't want to admit that if he raised his arms she wouldn't have to move so close to him, and he rather enjoyed having her near.

"And partners stick together," he grinned, dropping his forehead to rest in the curve of her neck. She froze. He decided to blame it on the pain medication. He didn't get the chance.

"Poor Mulder. Gave you some good stuff, didn't they."

He wasn't sure he liked having her talk to him in that soothing, baby's got a headache tone. She was *not* his mother. As his mouth moved of its own volition to lightly caress her collarbone, he gave a fleeting thought to the fact that it might actually *be* his pain medication, because he certainly wouldn't take these kinds of chances if he was not a little out of it.

"Yeah. I feel kinda stoned." He could feel her chuckle against his cheek, working its way up the side of her throat. It fascinated him, and he wanted to feel it again. "Wanna play?"

She couldn't hold back the laughter this time. He was like a Saint Bernard puppy, sprawled bonelessly against her chest, nuzzling her neck. Next thing she knew he'd roll over and beg her to scratch his tummy. For some reason, the mental image took away her laughter, and her breath, and she briskly stripped the jacket off his arms and stepped back.

He felt bereft when her warmth was removed, and tried to follow it. She caught him just as he began to topple off the bed, and he yelped when his head snapped back. Instantly, her protective instincts kicked in, and she carefully guided him back onto the bed, one strong hand under his nape to cradle his injured skull, the other wrapped as far around his waist as she could reach. At times like this she wished she wasn't so damned short, or he wasn't so tall and lanky. Another stray thought reminded her how much she liked to watch his tall, lanky form move, and she squelched it firmly, with a hint of panic. Now was *not* the time to dwell on unresolved sexual tension, not when poor Mulder was lying there so helpless, and vulnerable, and ... easy. No. That wasn't what she meant. Easily taken advantage of! Yes. That was it. Unaware that she was standing stock still, leaning over her partner, and that her eyes were starting to shine with something closely resembling hunger, she tried to rein in her thoughts. She was a doctor, after all ... wasn't she? The only problem was when she looked at Mulder she wasn't seeing 'patient'. Or even 'partner'. She was seeing long, elegant legs, a wide, inviting chest covered only by a thin linen shirt, strong arms ending in capable, elegant hands with slender fingers, broad shoulders, long column of throat leading to a dimpled jaw, shadowed cheekbones arrowing to an incredibly sensuous lower lip that was just begging her to take it in her-

"Scully?"

His incredulous question brought herself back to reality with a thud, and her eyes flew from that luscious mouth to meet huge hazel eyes, pupils dilated from a heady mixture of painkillers, shock and arousal. She tried to think of a reasonable explanation for being draped on top of him staring at his mouth like she wanted to suck on it for days, but all she could manage was, "Um?"

His mouth quirked up on one side. "If you're checking my pulse, it's steady but rapid. And losing the steady ... rapidly."

A blush flamed along her face, drowning the light scatter of freckles in a hot wave. She tried to scramble off of his much larger frame, but couldn't seem to coordinate her movements. Her body wriggling on top of his had the opposite effect of what she had intended. Forgetting the pain pounding through the back of his head and the unusual fuzziness from the drugs, he focussed on her legs pushing against his, the flaming face inches from his own, and the delicious sensation of her hands clasping his chest as she tried to push off.

Scully finally realized why her efforts were not getting her anywhere. Mulder had wrapped his long arms around her torso, one hand raising up between her shoulderblades to keep her drawn to his chest, the other trailing down over her buttocks to pin her in place against his groin. His eyes were fixed on hers, blazing now with what looked like fever, and she could feel his arousal pressing into her thigh. Uh-oh. This wasn't exactly what she had had in mind when she decided to stay with him for awhile.

Was it?

"You don't want this, Mulder." Her voice was raspy, and she couldn't stop it from shaking. His eyes narrowed at her, and he wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. Her eyes fixed on the sheen of moisture left behind on his lower lip, and he laughed softly.

"I don't? How did you pass your physiology classes, Doctor Scully?"

"Practise, Doctor Mulder!" Where the hell had that come from? She couldn't imagine why she would want to bait him, any more than she could figure out why her hips were moving in counterpoint to the gentle thrust he had begun -- how had she missed that? His eyes were laughing into hers, and she found herself laughing back. Underlying the laughter, the passion threatened to break through.

"Pay attention, Scully. You're missing the good parts." He barely closed his mouth over the words when they flew open again in a silent gasp.

"Oh, really?"

When she moved her pelvis like that, all thoughts of teasing left his mind, along with any attempt at rational thought. Swallowing heavily, he reached a shaking hand to unbutton her blouse. The medication and the anticipation made handling the tiny pearl buttons practically impossible, and she giggled when he growled on his third attempt. The giggle died suddenly when he raised his head to capture her lips, and all thought fled her mind as well. He tasted incredible, a mix of mint and salt from the inevitable sunflower seeds and a dark sweetness that was his alone. Her lips closed over his lower lip, giving into a temptation she had fought for almost three years, making her wonder why she had ever fought so hard against something so delicious. He sucked gently on her upper lip, tracing the contours of her mouth with his tongue, and she parted her lips reluctantly to grant him access to her mouth. She didn't want to leave his lip, but he drew his tongue delicately along the ridge of her teeth, then stroked across the roof of her mouth, and she returned the favor, nipping lightly at his tongue, then slipping hers into the tender flesh along his inner cheek, prompting a shudder in him that reminded her that they were both slightly overdressed for their current physical state.

He had managed to open her blouse, only tearing off two of the seven buttons, and his large hands were fighting ineffectually with the front clasp of her bra. Small frustrated noises were trapped in his throat by the deep kiss they were exchanging, but she felt them in his chest and sympathized completely. Finally tearing her mouth from his, she tore into his shirt with considerably less finesse than he had shown with hers. He gently laid his head back, turning it to the side to avoid the stitches, and she was caught by the sight of his outstretched throat, inviting her to sample it. She looked at him hungrily for a moment, then promised herself that particular treat for dessert.

"First things first." His choked whisper echoed her thoughts and she couldn't help but grin. Spooky, indeed, the way he seemed to read her mind.

The next flurry of movement was confused, hurried, and in the end, frantic, with buttons flying in all directions, zippers tugged somewhat desperately ... although with a certain caution ... and elastic snapped as if it were paper. When the activity paused, they tried to catch their respective breath, but were distracted by the long sought and equally long denied sensation of bare skin on bare skin. Her breasts were a tantalizing weight on his chest, and the smooth long muscles of his back were a tactile dream under her fingertips. His hands roamed with something very like greed along her sides, over the curve of her hips, along the tops of her thighs, up into the heavy fall of her hair. Her smaller hands fluttered over the bunched muscles in his shoulders, along the strong column of his neck, down the length of his back to dig into his tight buttocks. He dropped butterfly kisses along her eyelids, her nose, the corner of her mouth, and she returned the favor, nibbling kisses along his jawline, dipping the tip of her tongue into the dimple in his chin, taking sips of his skin along his cheek to his bemused eyes, pupils huge in the half light. Finally their mouth returned to one another, as his hands found her heat, sliding along her skin until he found the nerve center, stroking until she began to shake. She was not idle, in her turn, slipping one hand between his thighs, the other measuring his girth, thumb pressing in, fingers exploring him, bringing more little moans out into the charged air surrounding them.

A single thought, that had been screaming at her since the first forbidden taste of his mouth, finally managed to make itself heard. What about their partnership? What about the Bureau? What about their work together? Then he pushed two, then three long fingers deep inside her, rotated his thumb against her, and the thought sank without another word. Thoughts were for later, right now there was only sensation.

He could feel her convulsing around his hand, and couldn't contain his smile. She was so sweet, and so responsive. Then her hands tightened on him, cupping him and pulling him into the swirl of sensation she couldn't fight, and the smile turned to a grimace of pleasure. Biting his lower lip to try and keep a tenous grip on his control, he rose to kneel between her thighs, taking the weight of her legs over the tops of his. Poised for entry, one small thought broke through the haze of desire, and he almost cried.

"Scully?" He looked down at the woman before him, her hair a fan of fire around her head, lips swollen from his kisses, wide open for him, and shook his head hard. The pain from his wound cleared his thoughts enough for him to answer the question in her wide eyes.

"Condom?" Even then, he was down to single words. There was no way on Earth he could manage a sentence. Or even a sentence fragment. She stared at him through glazed eyes for a moment, her hips shifting nearer to him, and he actually whimpered. The sound focussed her on his question, and she blinked. Twice.

"Yeah." Was that her? It sounded like she was talking through a gag of cotton padding. With his help, she lifted her leg from the side of his hip and rolled off the bed. Staggering a little, she found her purse in the alcove by the bathroom, and spilled it on the floor. With a stifled cry of triumph, she found her stash, half a dozen Trojans, and turned back to the bed in a barely controlled frenzy. He was kneeling where she'd left him, eyes huge with the effort of keeping control, his erection not abating in the least. She pulled herself onto the bed and ripped the packages apart, careful to not damage the condom itself ... there was a limited supply, and, well, --

"Waste not, want not." His dry comment, in such a tight and deep voice, just about put her over the edge. She knelt in front of him, a smile fighting with the intensity of her need, and gently, swiftly, added protection to their coming together. He stayed very still under her hands, revelling in the movement, concentrating on her every touch. Finally, his hands travelled up her arms to her shoulders, then down her body until he cupped her hips in his palms. He hesitated for a moment, but her clear eyes met his with nothing but need in them. Reassured, he ran his hands under her knees, sliding her back down to lay in front of him on the bed, her buttocks resting in the cradle of his thighs. Her hands fell to her sides, resting on his thighs, running restlessly to the curve of his bent knees resting against the twisted sheets, then back up to the back of her own thighs, and returning again. He gently spread her legs with his fingers, testing her with his fingertips to ensure that she was ready.

"You're so small, Dana. I'm afraid I might-"

"Now, Mulder. I'm ready now." She tried to move closer still, and he drew in his breath at her movements. "You aren't going to hurt me. But if you don't do it now, I may have to shoot you."

He tried to smile at her insistence, but the smile broke into an open-mouthed gulp of air as she thrust against him. Positioning himself carefully, he sank into her heat, driving a gasping moan from both of them. His hands moved in long strokes over her belly, up around to cup her breasts, and back down to the juncture of their thighs, moving in rhythm with their thrusts. Slowly, then more rapidly, the tension increased and their instincts led them on, until she tightened around him with an undulating cry, the force of the orgasm sending her upright to sink her nails into his shoulders, her teeth into the side of his neck. Her sudden movement trapped his hand between their bodies, and he caressed her urgently, sending her into such a forceful reaction that she broke the skin at the side of his neck. The unexpected pain merely heightened his own pleasure, and the velvet fist squeezing him so strongly took him into an orgasm so intense that blackness swam behind his eyes, and the blood rushing through his temples drowned out everything.

She came down slowly, realizing that they were laying together, her on her back with her legs still drawn up on either side of his hips, her heels digging into the mattress. He lay over her, his head buried in the warmth of her throat, utterly relaxed. For a moment, she thought he'd fallen asleep, then realized he was actually unconscious. With a start, she remembered his head wound, and mentally castigated herself for pushing this when he was injured. Then she remembered who had done the majority of the pushing, and a distinctly nonprofessional smile curved her lips. As she was attempting to shift his much larger frame off of hers in order to check his stitches, he groaned and lifted himself up on shaking arms. He stayed there, one hand on either side of her head, and looked at her for a long quiet moment. She returned his solemn look, knowing that they had reached a turning point, and not quite sure what to say. Then, suddenly, he relaxed, and smiled sweetly at her. She relaxed in turn, and returned the smile. This was her partner, after all, her best friend. They'd work it out. They had to.

He carefully withdrew from her, coaxing another moan from her as he did, and discarded the used condom. Looking over in the trashcan at the proof of their 'lapse' he mused, "Well, one thing's for certain."

She cocked a brow at him, and he rolled up against her.

"I sure hope you have more where that came from. Once was *definitely* not enough."

the end