She holds the handle on the heavy hotel room door when she goes out for the night, lets the latch slip into its cradle. Mulder is just next door, most likely napping. Her new perfume trails down the hallway, wallpaper hugging the scent of loamy fields and bejeweled queens, neat bespoke suits and desperate paisley bursts of repressed desire.
The swipe of her credit card at Penhaligon’s produced a manic tingle in her fingertips this afternoon - the bottles lining the wall like preening debutantes, their crystal ball-capped necks encircled in satin ribbons. Happy birthday, she thought as she signed her name to the thick receipt paper, smiled at the round-toned shop girl. I am alive and in London, Arctic basements full of alien viruses be damned.
There’s something briefly thrilling about the idea of Mulder sleeping while she explores the city alone. But there is another kind of thrill when he comes through the revolving door, combs his way through tea-time armchairs, a paper bag in hand.
“Hot date?” he asks. It’s trite and smirky, but it also tells her he’s noticed certain things; knee-high black boots, the black wrap dress knotted at her waist, the extra sheen of her red lipstick, so bright it could scar a water glass for life.
“Just thought I’d go for a walk, find some dinner.” She pokes her chin in the direction of his to-go bag. “See you’ve already got some.”
“No, actually. Want company?” She considers turning him down, then asks herself what she’s trying to prove. There’s a habit some people have of matyring themselves whenever they’re supposed to be indulging, and habits die hard, but Scully’s a good shot.
“Am I dressed for it?”
“For whatever you had in mind when you put that on.” She flutters her eyelashes with the flourish of victory, dusts his marled grey sweater with her red nails. She knows he doesn’t realize that there are no crumbs, no lint, no real reason to touch him.
“It’ll do,” she says.
They walk in silence, deferring to the tune of tires on perpetually wet streets, the unfamiliar wail of England’s ambulances. They wind through the dignified old townhomes, gritty alleys, cobbled little storybook tunnels, squares of fluorescent light with tourists teeming like mosquitoes. She listens to the sound of her boots on the ground, the stony click deeper and more substantial than she’s used to. He laughs when he looks the wrong way before crossing and sees her face instead of oncoming traffic.
The tension between fog and rain here is thick and unresolved, the drizzle coming and going like a pallid, illogical compromise. She pictures the map she tried to memorize and thinks the Thames is close - she’s glad she’ll see it before they leave the city tomorrow. It had been Mulder’s idea to pay their respects to the family of the well-manicured man who saved their lives, and though she agreed, she has yet to argue with him about the exact wording of the speech; she would very much like to avoid the words, “We just got back from Antarctica where we saw a UFO.”
“I can’t believe we went out in London in February without an umbrella,” Mulder says, looking up into the evening clouds. The sun seems neither to rise nor set here but to simply exist, modest and responsible, supplying the world with what it needs without making a show of it.
Scully startles as she splashes a puddle, tries not to think about the suede of her boots or the special attention she paid to her hair tonight. She’s privately embarrassed with the vague visions she had of herself drinking alone in some restaurant, a stranger noticing her – someone mysterious enough to turn her on, friendly enough to make her feel safe.
And then the rain comes, a rare show of force, not quite the temper tantrum of an American summer storm, but with the righteousness of a long-held tongue. Mulder tugs her sleeve and jogs toward a red phone booth straight out of a postcard, jiggering the door a little to get it to close snugly. The air inside is somehow stale and damp at once, like paper wet and dried. It fills quickly with the warmth of their bodies.
She rubs her forehead, pinches the bridge of her nose, looks down at her boots.
“I didn’t have a chance to spray them with the waterproof stuff.” She keeps her eyes on her feet, willing herself not to sulk, reprimanding a hot tear teasing the thick-lined corner of one eye. The confidence she’d had all day in her solitude wavers and a mean little thought crosses her mind. It’s his fault she’s here on her birthday, far from friends and family. It’s his fault that -
“You smell good,” he says just then, melting her into her dress with the depth of his inhale, the lean of his upper body.
“It’s my birthday,” she says, a quiet confession.
“Oh. So that’s why you’re dressed like this.” His hand navigates the edge of her coat, plays with the belt that holds her dress shut at one side of her waist. She looks down at his forearm, lazily reaching for her, testing her, and catches sight of her pale, rarely-shared cleavage. She smiles to herself at the memory of pulling a black demi push-up bra from her rolling suitcase like a trick out of a hat. The fact that it was neither a septic package of pantyhose nor a wrinkle-free blouse is its own kind of magic.
“Maybe if you told me, reminded me -” he says.
“I know. I always do it. I keep it to myself and then I’m mad no one knows.”
He has a dabble of minibar on his breath, flannely grey in his eyes, and for the first time she wonders what he’s been up to all day.
“So you were going to spend it alone,” he says, “Or were you hoping to pick up some handsome bloke?”
“It wasn’t completely out of the question, Mulder,” she snaps with near-immediate regret. He holds up the soggy-spotted paper bag. She feels her face light up, birthday-girl curiosity suddenly surfacing from some sepulcher of archetypal emotion. He lowers the bag and carefully takes out a little white pastry box, pops the lid open.
“Happy birthday,” he says, smiling before he frowns at the sheepish piece of smushed flourless chocolate cake. Her mouth waters.
“You knew,” she mumbles, pushing back the lid to get a better look.
“I don’t have any forks,” he says and then reaches in with his fingers, breaks off a thick, smudgy piece. He holds it up to her mouth and waits for her to let him in. One of his fingers brushes the inside of her cheek, exits her mouth slicked as she sucks the chocolate off the back of her teeth. He rubs a stain from her cheek with his thumb, his knees brushing against her legs as she sways with delight. She licks her lips, shifts her weight, a subtle wetness between her legs made shy by the drench of weather.
“Mulder… this is turning out to be a very nice birthday. Thank you.”
She wonders how long before he starts playing with the telephone, remarking on the differences in the dial pad, or tells her of some local mythology involving the ghost of Jack the Ripper, or cracks the door open to suddenly dry air and they’re headed out for Indian food.
But the rain is still falling, not a bee in sight, when his arm comes for her, mimics the wrap of her dress, hesitates as if its deciding whether to knot itself there or go around another time. He shuffles closer until she’s pressed against him and she pulls him back until her cloaked shoulders thump the glass. The rain pelts the phone booth, red shining around the edges like icing, the etched graffiti suddenly twinkling like art.
The kiss doesn’t come right away. He stares at her, nudging her hip with a hard dick and a stiff stare. Her dress parts as his thigh folds into her. She moans when he finally gives her his lips, and the sound of her own pleasure makes her open her mouth wider, makes her tongue twist and curl toward his throat. His hand travels up the back of her leg, knuckles brushing the satin lining of her coat as he reaches beneath the dress and grabs the lace-scalloped flesh of her ass.
It’s a gift, the way the hull of his nose folds into her cheek, his hands find every rib. She wants him more than she wanted the perfume, more than she wanted the boots, more than she wanted that cake a few minutes ago. She wants him too badly to say, “You shouldn’t have.” In fact, it’s possible maybe he should have long ago. Maybe they both should have. She bites his lip and raises her hips to meet his croaked response.
She draws it out slowly, unwrapping him bit by bit, wanting to savor the opening of this moment. But already her imagination is racing. He will lift her onto the filthy phone book shelf, they’ll do the things they have not had the courage to do in the privacy of their own homes, offices, countries, ordinary days. Do them here in this street-lamped glass box, before the mannered people of London, on the borrowed time of an occasion.
But she’s wrong. He stops.
She holds fast to the warm tissue of his neck, follows his eyes as he studies her face, the edge of her bra now visible where the dress’s careful fold has gone askew. He fixes her, smoothing here and tugging there. She already craves the way he curls around her like a pair of Pegasus wings, already recalls the way he swallows her saliva with muted hums.
“Scully,” he whispers, barely audible. “What do you want for your birthday?”
She could say nothing, say she’s already gotten herself something and thank him for the cake. She has already treated herself quite enough today, she thinks. With a long breath, she moves her lips so close to his that when she answers, it’s almost as if he’s speaking them along with her.
“I’ll tell you when we get back to the room.”