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His mind screams for her, but she is too far. He comes lucid for only moments and asks for her each time. “I don’t know where she is,” Skinner tells him. He taps the spaceship on tiny screens. He waits for his partner. He seizes violently when he’s given too much phenytoin and he knows that she could fix him if she would only come back.

Diana appears, and he feels her anxiety—fear that he will listen to her thoughts, know her treason. She tells him she loves him, and he senses something like love from her: some obligation, some desire. But he hasn’t forgotten that she was there when he fell into this state, that she… did something to him. He doesn’t know what she wants from him, but she tells him “Now we can be together.” He doesn’t know what that means or why she thinks it’s what he wants.

And then later, oh Jesus, he can feel her. Finally. She is like a beacon. She is a pulsing light. She is all warmth and honesty and the terrible need to save him. The depth of her love is like an ocean: he can’t feel its bottom. She smells of sunscreen and salt air and sweat, and it is the purest, truest thing he has ever known: that what she wants has only ever been him, as he is. He knows: finally, he understands after all his guessing. She tells him to hold on, and he calls to her with his mind, swears that he will do anything, everything, to come back to her. But someone comes and takes him away from her.

The dreams are nightmares masquerading as fantasy. In his vision, Diana robs from his memory and reveals his fear. She presents him with a hollow, cheapened version of what his partner requested: fatherhood (but not like this, he knows now—this is not what she wanted of him, this empty suburban shell). He rages at whatever traitorous faction of his subconscious has rewritten the script, has painted love as surrender, has put this other woman’s face on its possibility. He wonders if she is poisoning him somehow even now, coercing him in sleep.

But then his beacon returns, dripping tears and kisses on his cheek, and he opens his eyes to that face that is so perfect and so exactly what he needs that it almost hurts him to look at it. She is holding him, helping him, and he is swimming in her ocean’s worth of love back, back to the beach where the boy plays again: some future beach, this future child—perhaps his child. Perhaps a miracle, made possible by a spaceship and a beach, something neither of them yet understands.

_+_

It was a terrible job she had to do, bringing him the news of his ex-lover’s death. It weighed on her during the whole ride from the Hoover building, drove her heart to pounding while she stood in front of his door. But there was a calmness in him now, a surety he hadn’t expressed before his illness. It was a kind of Zen conviction, though of what she wasn’t sure. He soothed her with soft thumbs to her cheeks. She was lost at sea, but he was her surprising, steady buoy.

His words sounded so much like love. She dared not hope. She wanted, more than anything, to kiss his mouth, but settled for letting her lips linger on his forehead, then her thumbs against his lips

The next day she brought him lunch and conversation. He forked noodles and baby corn into his mouth while they sat thigh-to-thigh on his couch. When they’d finished, his fingers found hers and curled around them, twining and entangling, lifting her hand to his lips. “Thank you,” he said, but it sounded like so much more than gratitude. She couldn’t help but blush, bumped his shoulder with hers companionably, and smiled at him.

“I should get back to work,” she said, but he squeezed her hand tighter.

“Scully.”

Her eyes, she knew, unable to conceal her vulnerability: how much she wanted him, loved him. She was shaking with it, but held his gaze.

“I could hear you,” he said.

She took a deep breath and pinched her lips together, shook her head, pretended not to know what he meant. “Hear what?”

His other hand, the one not holding hers, moved to tuck hair behind her ear and lingered at her jaw. “I could hear you thinking. Hear you feeling.”

She flushed red, heart pounding, and suddenly she needed to go. She’d wondered, of course, but never ever thought he’d bring it up. It was too much, and it wasn’t fair; he’d stolen her thoughts when she could least conceal them. “Oh, Mulder.” She shook her head again, pulled back and began to stand. She collected the food containers without making eye contact, though she could feel him looking at her. Scully’s hands were shaking worse now, her heart thudding with adrenaline like she’d just dodged a bullet, and she wouldn’t, wouldn’t look at him. Containers in the trash, she picked up her purse, and Mulder was still sitting on the couch, fingers steepled at his lips, elbows on his knees: studying her. He couldn’t hear her thoughts now, but he could guess.

She stood there holding her purse, dared the briefest glance at him. “I’ll, ah… I’ll come by again tomorrow, okay?”

He nodded, then stood slowly, crossed over to where she hovered by the entrance to his living room. She wanted to run, but held her ground, feeling stupid: this was Mulder. Nevertheless, she felt exposed. He’d seen into her heart, and she had nowhere to hide from those heavy eyes that, when focused, saw everything. His hands came to her shoulders, then to her cheeks, and he tilted her face so she couldn’t look away.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and her brow furrowed in question. His thumbs caressed gently at her cheekbones. “I was so afraid to love you, Scully, because I thought I could lose everything.” She swallowed heavily and felt her knees weakening at his words. The world was tilting and she didn’t know if she would fly or fall. The intensity of his gaze held her up, for the moment, and she thought Please, Mulder. Please don’t let me fall. She wouldn’t survive it, she thought. His head lowered until their noses touched, a gentle nuzzle. “But I was so wrong,” he whispered. “Because loving you is everything.”

Her eyes were filled to brimming, shining with tears and the magnitude of his words. “Mul-“ she started, but her voice caught and she couldn’t finish. She still wasn’t sure what he meant, wouldn’t let herself believe what it seemed he was saying. He pressed his lips to hers, just a gentle, reassuring graze.

“Scully, when I felt what you felt, I thought I would drown in it.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I could never have imagined the depths of it, and it was like…” he takes a moment, thinking. “It was like all the things I’ve ever been afraid of couldn’t stand a chance against it. And for the first time, it felt safe for me to feel… all those things I’d been afraid to.”

There were tears slipping from the corners of her eyes, down the sides of her cheeks as she looked up at him, gaze boring into him with fierce and sudden hope. She gathered her voice and her strength to speak. “And what do you feel now?” she asked.

Fire in her chest and in his eyes; he moved a hand to her lower back and he pulled her closer to him. She felt powerless against it, let herself be dragged to him, felt her whole heart splayed out in front of him. “God, Scully,” he said finally. “I’m so stupid in love with you, it hurts.”

She barked out a laugh that was also a sob and let her forehead fall against his chest, unable to bear the intensity of his gaze any longer. She was laughing and crying at once, nose buried in his t-shirt where she pressed a kiss to his sternum. “Damnit, Mulder,” she said after a moment, dragging her head back to look at him. She held a hand to his cheek. “You know already. I know you do. But I love you so fucking much.”

And then they were both laughing and crying and kissing each other like their lives depended on it.

Her apartment, a week later: they had eaten dinner and drunk some wine and they were swooning in each other’s presence, inebriated on what they know tonight would bring. Bandage and head-trauma free, Mulder had come by with the wine and a determined smile.

“You aren’t Eddie Van Blundht, are you?” she’d asked, and he’d laughed and scooped her up to kiss her hard, swiping his tongue across her lips, leaving no doubt as to his identity, nor to his purposes.

Now they were stretched on her couch, Scully’s head on his chest, while his fingers rubbed her back and dipped less-than-subtly under the waistband at her hip. Her heart pounded harder each time he did it, her body responding with a slow intensification of desire—a warm halo of foggy want that pulsed in time with both her heart and his. She kissed the spot under her cheek, lifted her head to look at him. There were no smiles now, as there had been over dinner: only solemn need. They straightened to sitting and then a gravitational force pulled their mouths together.

Palm to jaw, they held each other steady while the world angled and dropped around them. Scully’s eyes watered with the weight of it, the sheer heft of what they’d made—with years and loss and hope and strength, with giving and taking and breaking and mending so many times that their love was like forged iron. She ran her tongue along his bottom lip again and again as if starved, while his fingers teased under the hem of her blouse. She pulled back, and at first he reached for her greedily, until he realized she was standing, tugging him with her toward her bedroom.

“Mulder, come with me,” she said.

He followed, fingers interlaced with hers and griping tightly, watching her hips move as she walked, noticing the faint blush on her cheeks as she tossed him a look over her shoulder. In her bedroom, she stood before him and held his eyes, as if asking permission. He offered only affirmation—not a single doubt, nor a moment of hesitation. She stepped forward and pulled at his shirt, stripping it over his head. She laid her palms against his bare chest, fingered the dusting of hair, felt the rhythm of his heart against her own flesh. He watched her watching him and grew impossibly harder in his jeans. There was such hunger, such reverence in her face.

“Now you,” he murmured, and pulled her shirt over her head. He paused a moment to admire the soft lace of her bra, its fullness, the peaks of her nipples that lifted the fabric. He unhooked it, let it fall to the floor, and then it was her turn to watch him watching. They were really doing this, she thought. He really did want her. She stepped closer and his hands went immediately to her hips. She arched, and her nipples brushed his ribcage. They both made small sounds, little grunts of surprise and pleasure, and moved to deepen the contact: soft to hard, flesh to flesh, and then they were kissing again, wildly and with depthless desire. Her fingers undid his fly, then dipped inside to feel—such throbbing heat, such swollen length in her palm. He groaned, and an arm went around her hips to lift and hoist her against him. She was forced to let go, but then her legs went around him and their apex found that aching hardness and both of them groaned this time.

“Bed,” she said into his lips. “Pants off.” It was all she could manage.

He set her down and they both slipped out of their bottoms. He was fully naked, but she still wore her underwear as she backed toward, then scooted into the middle of her bed. She held her arms out to him and he followed, curling his body around hers atop her comforter.

“Hey,” he said, hooking a finger under the elastic of her remaining garment and letting it snap back.

She just smiled at him. “Those are for you to take off,” and his face fell to her chest, kisses over her heart, as he realized: she was giving herself to him, but she still needed him to actively accept. She needed him to take, to prove that he wanted. And Jesus, he wanted. More than anything.

He kissed his way down her body, giving equal attention to each breast, swirling and suckling at each nipple until she whimpered and arched her hips against him. He slipped a hand into her panties and found them soaked. She nearly cried out at his touch, lifted her thigh in encouragement, bucked and clenched around the finger that dipped into her. “Oh please, Mulder,” she murmured to him, ready to come from only his mouth on her nipple and a single finger. He continued his downward exploration, tugging off her underwear, until he found what he was looking for.

They took their time, that first night, and often in the weeks that followed. They spent that first weekend in a fog of sex and astonishment, learning small things and touching always. They’d been love-starved and now they were overfull. Lost on a violent and turbulent sea of monsters, they’d been shelterless; now in each other they found safe harbor and solid footing: new ground from which to launch. When he’d entered her for the first time, her mouth forming a soft “o” in surprised pleasure as she lowered herself inch by inch onto him, Mulder had held one hand over her heart, the other on her hip. “Here you are,” he’d whispered. “Here we are.”

He regretted, occasionally, that he’d wasted so much time afraid. But he also knew there would always be this moment: that it would echo forward into the future and would bind them always. He would make it up to her with the rest of his life.

_+_

 

For a time, they are happy. They set rules and boundaries, and then he breaks them on New Year’s Eve with a (technically) public kiss for which she gives him shit. He makes it up to her when they return to his apartment. Hands in his hair, his face between her legs, she forgives him. After that she flirts openly even while they are working, perhaps hoping he will break the rules again. His penitence is bliss.

Then one day she feels sick, feels miserable, feels shaky, and Donnie Pfaster reappears to take his perverse revenge. She wonders if it were some premonition, some secret sense, of this violence that awaited her. After that terrible night, she stays at Mulder’s apartment but won’t let him touch her. She feels as if she’s lost something, perhaps some last part of herself that had been truly good. Her body is so broken and bruised: it mirrors her abject contrition, and for a night, she relishes the pain. The next day she is racked with unexpected cramps, and she bleeds and bleeds. She lets Mulder hold her, lets him bring her medicine and tea. In his tender comfort, she finds herself again, finds her way back to him. She says she is sorry. He kisses away her tears and says that he loves her. It is only months later that she realizes what happened, and it shatters her all over again. She is already heartsick with his absence and morningsick with his child, holding her own plastic proof over her bathroom counter of what the doctor told her. She realizes that this is somehow, miraculously, not even the first time, and her heart breaks over and over, a thousand times. She sobs into a t-shirt he left carelessly on her bedroom floor, thinking he’d be back for it soon. Twice, she thinks, and he may never know of either.

She’d thought her body had been scraped empty, but now it is full. In some wretched irony or punishment, she doesn’t know which, it is her heart’s turn for scouring. She is both more alive and half dead. They had only months, not even a year, and now he is gone.