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country road whatever

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“Three hours,” Mulder says, dropping back into the driver’s seat. He leaves the door open and tosses his cellphone onto the dash.

Scully blinks. “You’re kidding.”

“‘Fraid not.” He digs a sunflower seed out of the cupholder and worries it between his teeth. “Big wreck on the interstate. Eighteen wheeler. Coupla broken-down Feds on the side of country road whatever don’t exactly make top priority.”

She groans and tilts her head back against her seat. Her door is open too, an invitation for a cross breeze that hasn’t yet been accepted. The trees around them blaze orange, the only hint that it might be mid-October. The stagnant afternoon air is July-hot and stifling. Another three hours sounds like hell.

“Think cool thoughts,” he says, as if reading hers. He’s stripped to his undershirt, arms bare and tawny in the sun. “Antarctica. Ben & Jerry’s. Coca-Cola.”

She closes her eyes against the sweaty flop of hair on his forehead. It is too warm for that.

“Dry ice,” she says.

“Egg salad.”

“Freon.”

“Grape juice.”

“Mm.” She nods, imagining a tall, crisp glass. “Grape juice.”

“No cheating, Scully. H.”

She thinks for a moment. The heat is making her sluggish, sleepy. Three hours.

Hiver,” she says.

“Show-off.”

“That’s an S-word, Mulder.”

He gives her a half-smile in acknowledgement and the game loses its appeal. It’s too hot to do much for long.

She swipes sweat from her collarbones and takes a deep breath. Her nylons are balled up with her suit jacket in the backseat, but it’s done little good. She roots through the glovebox until she finds a rubber band for her hair. It’ll hurt like hell when she takes it out, but the pain’s worth a degree or two of coolness.

Beside her, Mulder fiddles with the radio. There aren’t many stations to choose from this far into rural Kentucky, but he eventually finds one playing Bob Seger and only a little bit of static.

“Risky Business, Scully,” he says, flicking a sunflower seed onto the pavement.

“Mm.”

They lapse into silence. It would be almost nice if she couldn’t feel herself actively dehydrating. Sweat pools along the waistband of her skirt and beneath her thighs, dampening the cloth seat. It will be a marsh before the tow truck finds them. She grimaces in advance.

When Bob Seger’s had enough of reminiscing about the days of old, the song changes, something slower this time, piano and strings, almost country. That Tom Waits cover, she realizes. Bill had this album in high school. She hasn’t heard it in as many years.

Mulder tosses down another sunflower seed and gets out of the car. She doesn’t pay much attention, used to his restlessness, until he’s leaning in through her open door, one hand on the roof of the car, the other extended to her like he’s trying to help her over a puddle.

She arches an eyebrow and stares at him.

“What?”

“Come here,” he says. “Dance with me.”

Of all the possible things he could have said—let’s stretch our legs, Scully or maybe there’s a diner within walking distance or I think there might be aliens over that ridge there, let’s go see—this is the one she’d never expect. They haven’t—they never—they don’t do things like this. She wonders if the heat has gotten to him so much already.

“Mulder—”

“Not much of a dancer? That’s fine. You can stand on my feet.” His eyes are sparkling with good humor and he looks lucid, not like his brain is boiling in his skull.

“It’s hot,” she says, a lame excuse, but a valid one.

“It is,” he agrees, “and beautiful. Look at that sky. How many more days are we going to have like this? You’re going to be all bundled up in your little coat, complaining about your dry skin before you know it. Come on. Dance with me.”

The sky is beautiful, crystal-blue and boundless. And he looks so sweet there, sweating through his t-shirt, grinning down at her in that boyish way of his, that she can’t help it.

She pushes her feet back into her heels and lets him help her stand. He leans back in for a moment to turn the radio up, then tugs her around to the front of the car. She steps stiffly into his embrace, one hand folded into his, the other on his shoulder like they’re at a high school dance.

Mulder grins. “Leaving room for Jesus, Scully?”

“It’s hot,” she repeats, though that’s only half the truth. The other half is that she feels awkward. The last time she slow-danced was—oh god, Bill and Tara’s wedding? Has it really been that long? And at least then it wasn’t with her work partner, not on the side of some forgotten Kentucky backroad.

“C’mere,” he says and pulls her closer with his hand at the small of her back. His belt buckle presses gently against her belly. He brings their clasped hands to his chest and sways. “See? Not too bad.”

The heat of him is deafening. It blots out all other senses until there is just his hand through her blouse, Don Henley’s rough voice on the radio, the over-quick thrum of her pulse in her throat.

“That’s us, isn’t it?” he says. “Freeway, cars and trucks.”

It takes her a minute to realize he’s talking about the song. She’s preoccupied with his hands. How has she never noticed how soft they are?

“And country road whatever.” She lets herself lean against him just a little bit, just to see how it feels.

Mulder laughs and it rumbles in his chest. “And country road whatever, yeah.”

“Too bad you don’t have Lady Luck along for the ride, though.”

“Hmm.” He shifts, brings his arm more solidly around her waist. It’s so, so hot, but she doesn’t complain. “Who says I don’t?”

“Mulder…” But she can’t think of anything else to say.

He squeezes her hand and rests his chin on the top of her head. Her eyes slip closed and she breathes his humid scent, sweat and dirt and sun.

They’re still dancing half an hour later when a farmer in a pickup truck slows to a crawl and asks if they need a ride.