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old pennies

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Scully smells like old pennies.

He’s crouching on the floor in a puddle of her blood. He’s holding her hand. Their palms are both smeared with the blood, his shirt is covered in it. It is choking him. She’s bled out on the floor of a goddamn dirty warehouse, and for what? For what?

He’s holding her hand and it’s cold and his cheeks are wet with tears he doesn’t remember crying. There’s blood and gunpowder wedged under his fingernails from where he shot Linda Bowman. Self-defense, they will say when they find him. Or maybe revenge. He doesn’t particularly care what they say; none of that matters now that Scully’s…

“I’m sorry,” he’s whispering, and it echoes. It echoes in the empty room. “I’m so sorry, Scully.” He should’ve known she’d be a target. Should’ve seen it. Should’ve let her shoot him, tried to wrestle the gun away from her. Should’ve gotten to her before it was too late. Should’ve been able to save her. Two weeks ago, they buried her daughter’s coffin and she looked too pale in black. Half dead. He’s pictured what she would look like at her funeral before, but he hadn’t then. Maybe Emily is waiting on the other side. Someone else who shouldn’t have died, someone else who he should’ve been able to save.

“I’m so sorry,” he says harshly, and he’s holding onto her hand like a lifeline but it isn’t warm, there’s no pulse in her wrist, he’s lost her. This can’t be happening, he tries to tell himself, but it is. She’s gone, and there’s nothing he can do to bring her back. He’d do anything, but there is nothing, no one he can bargain with, no one he can ask for forgiveness. No one whose forgiveness he’d want besides hers. “Scully,” he chokes out, voice cracking on a sob. “Scully, please… I’m so sorry.”

“Mulder?”

It’s impossible, but it’s her voice, choked and weak. He looks up, looks at the spot where Linda Bowman fell after he shot her. But it’s not right, it’s all wrong, because Linda doesn’t have red hair… He looks down and his hand is empty. The floor is clean, no blood, but there is blood on his shirt, on his empty hands…

“No,” he whispers. “No, no, no, no, Scully…” He scrambles to his feet but he can’t stand steadily; he stumbles, unable to walk. He has to get to her, but he can’t, something is stopping him. Oh god, she’s not dead yet but she’s dying and it’s his fault…

“Mulder,” she says and coughs harshly, splattering bright red across the dirty floor, and he’s reaching for her with bloody hands but he can’t get to her, and the entire warehouse smells like old pennies…

“Mulder!” Her hand is on his face, thumb stroking his cheek, and he opens his eyes. He’s on her couch under a knit blanket, a clean t-shirt, and he’s clutching her free hand. No blood. She’s alive.

“Mulder, it’s okay,” Scully whispers. “It was just a dream. I’m fine, I’m right here, it’s okay.”

He swallows and lets go of her hand. Just a dream, he tells himself. It’s okay, it’s just a dream. But it’s not okay. He almost shot her again. Again. The sight of her falling is replaying like a movie on repeat in the back of his mind. That sick moment where he’d thought she was dead. Where he was willing to kill her murderer. When he almost killed her instead.

It’s happened before, and that’s the problem. The attic in Quonochontaug, the cold room in the Icy Cape, a hospital room at a table with Modell. She’s almost died too many times, he’s almost killed her too many times. He pulls away from her hand, sitting up and burying his head in his hands.

Scully doesn’t try to coax him into talking. He can hear her footsteps retreating into the kitchen. Mulder presses his palms hard into his eyes, allows himself a few shaky breaths and wipes his cheeks. He can see the gunshot, Scully crumpling, her cold skin under his hand. It felt so real, so goddamn real. He swallows back the nausea and rubs his face hard, presses his forehead into his knees. He shouldn’t have agreed to come here. He doesn’t want Scully to watch him fall apart.

“Mulder.” A soft touch on his shoulder. He looks up and sees Scully holding out a glass of water. “Drink this,” she says softly. “Drink it slowly. Take deep breaths. You’re fine.”

He gulps a swallow of water, tries to even his breathing. Scully squeezes his arm, the same way she did in that warehouse, and sits in a chair beside the couch. Mulder tries to close off the darkest parts of his mind, focuses on his breaths. Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t think about the gun, don’t think about Scully falling. Don’t think about his muzzle pointed right at her. He takes another sip of the cool water, swallows hard and says, “I thought you were dead.”

“I know, Mulder. I know.”

“I thought you were… I didn’t mean to… God, Scully, I’m so—”

“Shh.” She squeezes his arm again. “I know, Mulder. It’s okay. You had no control over it. It’s not your fault.”

“I thought…” he tries, and his voice wobbles, tampering off into a sob. He reaches for her and she moves to the couch in one fluid motion, allowing him to embrace her. He clings to her tightly. Scully mumbles soothing things into his shoulder, her hand rubbing circles on his back. Her fingers are shaking, the motion unsteady. For the first time, he notices how small she feels in his arms. The circles under her eyes. How it looks like she just finished crying herself. They’ve both been through a lot in the past few months. Both of them.

Mulder pulls away to look at her. “Scully, why are you… why are you up?” he asks softly, shakily. “It’s late.”

Scully swallows, looking down at her lap. “I couldn’t sleep,” she mumbles. He notices that she isn’t wearing her cross. “I… it’s been a long night, Mulder.”

She keeps a picture of Emily in her wallet; he saw it the other day. She looks too tiny in her pajamas, too frail. She isn’t wearing her cross. He reaches for her hand and she takes it. “I’m sorry, Scully,” he says. “I’m sorry about tonight.”

She leans forward, resting her head on his shoulder. “I know,” she mumbles. “I am, too.”

“I’m sorry about…” He swallows. “I’m sorry about everything that’s happened these past few weeks.” He’s sorry for so many things.

She presses her face harder against his shoulder and nods. He doesn’t say anything else. The picture of her falling is still playing in the back of his mind, but with her this close, it’s easy to remember that it wasn’t real.

She’s alive. He can feel her pulse against his fingers when he holds her hand, and she is alive.