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Doorway to the Gods

Chapter Text

Ditat Deus. God enriches. The state of Arizona claimed it, but the state of Arizona was a liar.

Arizona. In June.

Deus dereliquit nos.

Scully was too tired to be angry, and therefore too tired to do her job. Every time she went to dust off the sand from her jacket, a more startling amount would shake out of her hair. Sandstorm season lifted earth into the sky and hurled it at the cities, whose people, seasoned desert folk (and certainly well done) only rolled their eyes and drew their curtains. Wait just a minute, and monsoon season would put it back in its place.

An orange Mulder fumbled with the keycard in front of her, and she managed a smile. With some glaze and a quality kiln, they could be collectible.

“Only one room left.” Mulder unlocked the door and held it open for her with one hand, wiping the sweat from the back of his neck with the other. “This is the last one not filled with sand.”

“As long as it has air condit–” She closed her eyes and stilled in the doorway, tightening her grip around her luggage. God had officially walked out on them. Hotter on the inside, like human skin. Mulder sucked his teeth and patted her shoulder sympathetically. She cringed at the heat of him on her back.

“They turn off all the units,” he explained. “Because of the dirt.”

“Mulder.” A prayer, a curse, a plea – it showed up at least once per case, never in the same tone, always reliably ineffective.

“People are missing, Scully.” With another touch to her shoulder, he called first dibs on the shower.

***

The water was cool and the spray was plentiful, possessing a surprising pressure for a place that failed, according to Scully, in every other respect: the sheets that smelled like mildew, despite the barrenness of the surrounding land, the scorpion carapace she fished out of the sink, the lack of A.C. and Mulder, who in this shared space would be as inescapable as the heat.

Stepping out, she watched the water evaporate from her skin. She steamed. Patches of pink bloomed along her face and arms, and her hair was drying fast, every moment receding the pleasure derived from the cooling tresses. She trapped the strands between her cheek and shoulder and pouted in the mirror.

Covering her body, even just a t-shirt and a pair of running shorts, filled her with agony, but she did it, and did not even blaspheme as she did. Back in the room, she nearly stepped on Mulder holding his cheek to the carpet.

“I don’t know why, but the floor is cooler.”

“Ceramic tile is popular in the south.” She dug her foot in the carpet and frowned. Not a thing in the room lacked a protective layer of absolute filth. Mulder would remain alone on the floor. “It’s a better conductor than carpet; it absorbs body heat more reliably. They probably didn’t remove the tile before installing this… covering others might describe as carpet.”

“It’s an impressively crappy motel,” he agreed. Scully hummed.

He rolled over to look up at her, towering above him with her arms crossed and her lips pulled into a fond smile. Forgoing pomade turned a normally rebellious curl into a downright lawless creature, and he wore an imprint of the carpet on his cheek. She was used to him in his undershirts and boxers, more familiar with a Mulder removed from the constraints of public decency than she’d been with former lovers. It could be argued that Mulder was never quite decent, in public or elsewhere. “You’re not getting in that bed without another shower, I hope you…” She stopped.

Moving with the speed of only a guilty man, he climbed onto his knees and out of her way.

Scully glanced down to where she had caught him staring; her shorts had ridden up, sticking to her skin as her body had reacclimated to the heat. Her thighs were bared, and then some… and then some. She hastily tugged the cloth back down.

As a half-hearted joke, he laid down on the bed and rubbed his body along the sheets. But the tone had been set, and Scully couldn’t look at him. She tucked herself into the leather arm chair, well-worn and covered in cracks, and regretted the decision long before the sweat made her one with the seat.

Then all was the silence, and all was the heat.

It was a rightful continuation of the awkward dance they’d been engaged in since they’d begun baking in their shoes on the tarmac at the Tucson International Airport – starting with Mulder loosening his tie, slipping off his jacket and tossing it over his shoulder. One button, then two. Scully’s pantyhose coming off in the rental and her shirt untucked. The weight of his eyes on her bare legs, the speed at which he turned down the window after tearing his eyes away, the ridges of those muscles rippling under his sweat soaked Oxford.

Scully rested her eyes and simply willed herself to feel cooler, and Mulder leapt about the room in the way of a particularly restless cat. He found a place, and sunk into the momentary respite – each new surface unsullied by his own body heat. But then he’d groan and move on again, recycling the limited space like the hands on a clock.

“Scully,” he mumbled into his arm, having returned back to to the bed. “I’m taking this shirt off.”

“Wait, no,” she whined. “That’s not fair. What am I going to do?”

He huffed, wrestling his undershirt over his head and falling back to the bed with a sigh of deep, fleeting relief at the removal of the oppressive object. “Just take yours off,” he tossed a hand and closed his eyes. Then, after a silent moment, he sat up again. “Wait.”

“That is so misogynistic–” He rolled his eyes and scooted up to the edge of the bed, settling into his standard thinker’s pose. “You can’t expect me to just – “ he waved at her again, and she contemplated throwing a pillow at his back.

Two minutes passed before his face flashed eureka. He beat his fist against his palm. “Listen, this happened to Jerry and I once. We were in the Keys investigating the murder of a whole house of drag performers – get this, the perp was another entirely separate house of drag queens, and I saw a side to Jerry I considered rather freeing and delightful – but the day before we were about to fly back to D.C. and get our party on, comp’d by every superior set up to benefit by us solving a tredecuple homicide, the Keys got hit by a huge Tropical Storm.” He folded himself in half, nodding. “Took windows out, cut the power, everything. And that heat was much worse than this, Scully. I mean, we were basically swimming in it.”

“Jerry? Stole-your-profile-Jerry?”

He tilted his head toward her, cheek in hand, and pinched his lips together unpleasantly. “Yeah. Dead Jerry.”

She looked to the window and folded her hands in her lap. “How did you ever manage to resist him?”

“We’ve been working together for what, five years now?” They shared a look before she turned back to the window. “It was bound to happen. It’s happening. We’re partners, and more than that we’re friends. So go ahead, Scully. Take ‘em out.”

She cocked her eyebrow at him and it killed his teasing smile. But she could tear up from just the thought of removing another layer.

Shuffling in her seat, the seal of her skin to the leather broke apart and she yelped, reaching down to rub at the clammy back of her leg. Screw it. She shot up and grabbed the hem of her shirt, working quickly to yank the thing over her head. God, that felt good. Holy moly that was so – but with her stomach exposed, and nearly the rest of her, she remembered she had taken off her bra before showering.

“You okay, Scully? If you’re uncomfortable…”

“No, I just did something silly. I’m not wearing a bra,” she said plainly. Without much thought his eyes flickered down, fingers clenching tight in the bedspread. It wasn’t that she let him look, it was that she didn’t move away. His gaze simultaneously turned her to solid metal and melted her down. The heat it inspired was uncomfortable and so, so unnecessary, but it roiled, from her cheeks to between her legs, raising the hair on her arms, pebbling her nipples; flushed and damp, just from looking at him, and now she was soaked. Because where he went, she followed: his eyes on her breasts – and his focus did flatter her, never had she experienced the sheer interest he then exuded, the singular track of a rapid, precarious mind – her eyes on his chest, already bared to her, nothing new but entirely unfamiliar. His body was artfully defined, every part etched out with purpose and such power.

Shit. What was she doing? What had gotten into her? She stepped out of his line of eyesight and reached for her bag near the bed, fishing out the needed garment and marching into the bathroom.

Studying herself in the mirror, she had half a mind to not only keep her shirt, but also put the bra back on as reinforcement. She’d sizzle, but she wouldn’t be stupid. That’s what this whole thing was – it was all so gloriously stupid. Five years of working with the man and she had managed to keep her hands to herself. Despite his fits of shirtlessness and all of the devotion she felt toward him.

She imagined Mulder, her friend, a man who was honorable to a fault and who had not made a single move in all the time she had known him – and looking back… there were times it could have happened, times she would have gone for it, all those desolate moments she had needed, fiercely, to trust him and be trusted by him – he would not suddenly eschew all those components of his character that endeared him to her and made their partnership work.

So it was settled. Off went the shirt, on went the bra. She ran a washcloth under cold water and pressed it to her face and chest, and picked her brain all of the times in her life she had ever been cooler than she was right then: from that morning, reading her paperback in the overly conditioned Dulles International terminal, to the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido… how Ahab’s nose would get so red, and the ice sculptures, so delicate as to make one think of soap bubbles…

It made her shiver. She felt better already. Mulder, alone in that room, had probably come to the same conclusions she had.

Rejoining him proved her point; the tension had been severed. When she climbed into the bed he merely lifted his cheek from his new spot on the wall to acknowledge her.

It all felt so normal again. “Explain to me more about this case.” She settled her head against the pillows and closed her eyes, fighting the urge to cover herself. The bra was cotton and blessedly breathable. She could not afford to smother it.

“Whole group of travelers went missing in the mountains straddling the border.” He pressed his forehead to a cooler patch of plaster. “We were handed the case because it’s assumed they were taken into Mexico. NPD didn’t want to handle it.”

“This can’t be an abduction. I was under the assumption you didn’t believe in those anymore. And Mulder, I did read most of the file. These weren’t just travelers, they were vagabonds.”

“Vagabonds with an extremely tight schedule. There’s a newspaper article in there that covers it – they’re referred to as ‘modern nomads,’ kindred spirits who’ve renounced the hustle and bustle of clocking in and clocking out, of carpools and smoke breaks, only truly living when the clock strikes five–” He paused, lifting his face and looking back at her. “Are you turned on yet?”

She glared at him. He bit his lip and nodded, shoving his nose back in the corner. “Their goal is to travel the whole of the United States. They want to make a statement – America has more to offer than minivans and rolodexes. Mexico was not on the itinerary.”

“So kidnapping, Mulder. Cartel activity. Hell, if they were tan enough they were probably brought in for questioning by border control.” She turned her pillow over and kicked down all of the blankets. Just her and the scratchy sheet set. “But, the easiest explanation here might very well be the truth. They are travelers… who are traveling. What’s the X-File?”

“It’s where they disappeared,” he mumbled. He always got so sleepy when the temperature rose. The urge to call him into bed with her was only mildly tempered by her annoyance. “The Tumacacori Highlands. Doorway to the Gods.” Scully waited for him to continue. “File,” he grunted, turning and slumping himself into the chair.

The file was all the way over by the other side of the bed where Mulder kept his bag. She hissed, rolled over, and strained to reach it. She was also taken over by lethargy. Her bones grew heavier, like she was sinking into into the arid climate, her blood becoming sand.

She skimmed over the relevant information, her rising blood pressure doing nothing to help cool her down. “You think… they disappeared. Through a time portal in the mountains. Based on two accounts, which are… a word-of-mouth folktale credited to the Yaqui tribe from the Sonora state over… two hundred years ago, and two young treasure hunters who… from what I’m reading here, had an interesting relationship with tequila. Who have also claimed to be abducted by…” She squinted as she read. “Ghost coyotes.”

“I didn’t want to lead in with my ghost coyote theory.”

“Mulder, nothing I’m reading here possesses an ounce of credibility.” Lowering her voice, she added: “I thought you didn’t believe in this stuff anymore.”

He lifted his head. The presence in his gaze alarmed her, since for some time he had seemed on the edge of drifting off. It was alert, feverish, hot for her but full of regret. She had been a fool to think their moment had come to an end.

“Scully, I’m questioning my faith in a lot of things. But something that I have always found to be true… is that there are thresholds in this world that you can cross, and they will take you to other places. Places that not even your dreams will transport you to, that are beyond all that we know, and certainly beyond our imagination. There are too many stories, too many first-hand accounts for me to believe otherwise.” Entirely too earnest, he kept his eyes above her chin. She stared at his lips. “But some of those thresholds will never, ever let you go back.”

At times, the need to disagree with him was akin to a natural reflex.

But she found herself nodding, unable to blink.

Chapter Text

There was little relief to be had that night, and even less sleep. The A.C. remained off, and the sand and clay moving outside sang wounded hymns that sent shivers through the windows. Scully would doze for maybe fifteen minutes, wake up to the tickle of sweat dripping down her neck, and roll over to lay on her other side. She watched Mulder snoring away for about ten more minutes, then closed her eyes and waited for her next fifteen minutes of bliss. 

Every so often, Mulder woke up to turn his pillow over and spread his legs to seek out a cool space on the sheets. The only upside to this was that there was no possibility of waking Scully up with a spear in her back; even his sleep-deprived animal brain suffered under the immense heat and made no move to cuddle her closer. The same way she watched him, he watched the rise and fall of her chest, the flicker of her eyelashes as dreams momentarily took her away. His  sleep-deprived animal brain did not stop him from cuddling with her in his mind, or from adoring her so fiercely the chill in his spine offered a brief respite.

But the storm died down in the morning, not so much that the earth was completely settled, but the spirals were much smaller, making it safe to step outside. The hotel manager dropped by to let them know A.C. would be on in a few minutes. The unit rattled and bellowed a good deal before letting out a blast of air that shoved them to their knees in front of it, desperate to feel the cool stream on their faces. Laughing, they looked to each other to share matching grins of relief. Two cold showers later, they ate their pre-hike breakfast and drank cups of miserable, hot coffee, and then they were ready for the Tumacacori Mountains.

They had a treacherous hike ahead of them, even after the helicopter dropped them off with their guide. The rocky hills, littered with thick deer grass and weathered stone, conjured nightmarish daydreams of sprained ankles and fatal head injuries. Scully watched the ground closely. Mulder trailed behind her, offering a steady hand on her backpack as she climbed ahead. 

Their guide, Malik, was an ecology major with a dazzling smile, thin brown arms, and an incredibly positive attitude. He led them through the clearest pathways, gave history lessons, and pointed out the abundant desert wildlife. Bright red specks of vermillion flycatchers and wild chili dotted the drying grass, and giant bugs feasted on the seedpods of the sweet mesquite trees. Mulder grimaced at the sight and tightened his grip around one of the straps on Scully’s pack.

“They’re harmless,” Malik said. He even reached out to the tree to let one crawl into the palm of his hand. Its antennae wiggled about in curiosity. “Giant mesquite bugs. They feed on the sap and seeds of the trees here.” He released the bug back onto the tree and patted the bark. “Settlers called the beans from these trees manna from Heaven, because they’d eat them when their resources ran low.” 

Mulder wanted to wash his hands just from watching Malik touch the bug. “Maybe it won’t bite me,” he said. “But it has harmed my soul.” Scully rolled her eyes.

They stopped a few times to catch their breath, guzzle down water, and fill up on protein. Mulder and Scully helped each other reapply their sunscreen, hands gentle and quick, but Mulder’s tongue felt thick in his mouth when his fingers smoothed down the backs of Scully’s arms. He could almost envelop her bicep with one cupped hand. 

“Mulder, look,” Scully said. They were peaking a foothill of the mountain in possession of the arch they sought. His eyes tracked where she was pointing; scorched grass and dying trees, piles of ash where foliage once thrived. “A campfire that got out of hand, do you think? It looks like they were able to contain it.” 

Malik looked at the spot with interest, humming in surprise. “That’s new,” he said. “I’ve seen fires spread all over these mountains, but never so far up.” 

“You think it might be from our vagabonds?” Mulder asked, scanning the area for signs of visitors past. There was a neon orange dust scattered on the ground, unmistakably manmade. “That’s flame retardant,” he said. 

“If they were all the way up here, that supports your theory of them heading for the arch. They must have kept hiking. Maybe we’ll find them on the other side.” Scully looked up as Mulder chewed his lip. “What?” 

“I take it you don’t mean ‘other side of the universe,’” Mulder said.

“Absolutely not.” 

Right, that would be too easy. 

“All I’m saying is we’re gonna have a hard time finding these people.” 

Scully huffed at this and they continued their trek up the mountain. It only got steeper as they moved along, and each hiker felt the sun on their back like a searing brand. Mulder’s sweat had completely soaked through his tanktop, and Scully’s skin defied the sunscreen reapplications, blooming red on the backs of her arms and thighs. 

When they finally reached a plateau, Mulder picked up his map, shielded his eyes from the sun, and looked from right to left. “It should be around here,” he said. “We’re looking for a natural arch, like the entrance of a cave but with no tunnel.” 

It was around noontime, and the sky was the bluest they’d ever seen it, clear and endless. They took a moment to admire it. “It’s always this nice right after the storms,” Malik said. The sun had no place to hide. It beamed down at them, a prideful star, and the terrain flattened out into glorious sandstone. Neither Mulder nor Scully could explain how small they felt when they looked into that sky. Their fingers tangled together, foolish, hungry creatures. 

“This highland isn’t too large,” Malik said. “We shouldn’t have any difficulty finding each other, so I’m going to find some shade to set up a little resting area. I’ll wait there until you guys are finished with your search.” 

“Thank you, Malik. If I find any more bugs, I’ll let out a scream.” 

“That would be interesting to put in my thesis,” their guide laughed. 

They dropped off their gear with Malik and huddled around their map.

“Looks like we can just split up and follow the edge of the mountain. We’ll end up circling back to Malik,” Mulder said. The archway itself did not make an appearance on the map. That they were tasked with finding themselves.

“Alright, sounds good to me,” Scully replied. She took a quick sip from her canteen and fixed her short ponytail, ignorant of the fondness in his gaze as he watched her. She was so cute when she did that. “Call out if you find the arch.” She arched her brow. “Or if you’re falling down the mountain.” 

“If I scrape my knee, you’re kissing it,” he demanded. 

“If you fall down this mountain, I won’t be able to find a knee to kiss. Not inside all of the Mulder mush.” His gagging put a smirk on her face.

They parted ways after a few more sips of water, and Mulder dragged his hand along the sandstone as he began to look for rock formations and signs of looping abrasion. He tried to put himself in the minds of the travelers, winding around this ladder to heaven. This was such a specific location, so remote and difficult to navigate, that it seemed improbable they would wind up here on accident. They were looking for something. They were looking for the Doorway of the Gods. 

These were people who were tired of the way the world was, ashamed of it. They left everything they had ever known because none of it mattered. He could sympathize when he envisioned the life cycle of the average American. You grow up, you work, you die. People pushing pencils, staring at screens, for 8 hours a day every weekday, each day getting closer and closer to the two days a week they were allowed to actually live their lives. Take their kids to the park, fuck their spouses, do their laundry. And then it just started back up again. You did this until you died. Your children would do exactly as you did. The cycle continued.

Sure, they could reject it and live by their own rules. But would that ever be enough? Mulder was a traveler in his own right, trying to seek out the thing that’d make him content. That would give some kind of meaning to his life in this hellish existence. He’d found it already — his baby sister, now a mother, a wife, alive and apparently stable. She wanted nothing to do with him. He accepted that. He could live with that. It hurt like hell, but it was what she wanted and what made her feel safe. 

But Scully — Scully was also alive. Scully was thriving. Life had given her a second chance, and she’d chosen to share it with him. She was still by his side.  Some part of him wished deeply that she’d take this second chance and run far away from him and this empty life. But a larger part of him was more selfish. More selfish, even, than wanting her to stay on the X-Files. He wanted more than that. He wanted so much more than that. 

The travelers — those weary, embittered people, who’d lived long lives not worth living — would they have not yearned for a better world? Had they found it, crossing through the legendary Doorway? This doorway — itself a symptom of passing time, harsh winds carrying away its dusty exterior the way an organism sheds its aging skin — if it could lead them to something new, something before unseen… would they go?

He pondered this as he went along, weaving between pillars of stone and keeping a close eye for any arches above his head. Men and women, unbathed, tattered clothing, long beards and longer faces, carrying nothing that they didn’t need to survive. They wandered through these very rocks. Searching.

“Mulder!” He heard her voice as an echo, not too far away. “I think I found it!” He picked up his pace to catch up with her. He did not notice the sandstone curving above his head.

Chapter Text

“Mulder!” He heard her voice again, closer, and he was surprised to hear that she was right behind him. He spun around to face her.

“Didn’t you say you found it?” He asked. She shook her head.

“I thought I did, but it didn’t look anything like this,” she said, and he frowned at her in confusion. “Looks like you found it, Mulder.” 

Slowly he lifted his head to where her finger pointed to, and it sent a jolt to his heart. Right above him was the arch, much higher in the air than he expected. 

He walked to Scully in long strides, firmly grasping her shoulders. He patted down the length of her arms and looked deep into her eyes. “When’s my birthday, Scully?” 

She furrowed her brow. “October thirteenth,” she replied. Then she grinned up at him. “When’s mine, Mulder?” He stared back, panicked, but finally sure that this was Scully.

It made him sigh, to think that the Doorway was a myth. They were back to square one. At least he hadn’t stepped into a new dimension unexpectedly. He was lucky to be here. He was lucky to be human. He was lucky to not have disintegrated into a million triangle shaped parts, each with forty mouths that screamed along to Backstreet Boys’ songs while the earth pulled up to the sun to order a hot meal.

“Humans generate more than two-hundred million cells per day.” He gave her cheek an annoying pat. “That’s a lot of tiny little birthdays.” 

To his surprise, she giggled at his dumb joke. His stomach swooped, gravity ceased to exist. Her smile was so bright and wide it put the sun to shame. 

He spun away from her, eyes locked on the arch instead. He coughed before he spoke. “I hate to say it, but you might be right. The Doorway to the Gods is a sham.” 

“Are you okay, Mulder?” She lifted her hand up to his hair and her small fingers ruffled through it, pretending like she was looking for head injuries. “Have you had enough water? Heatstroke is no joke.”

Mulder shooed her hand away and rolled his eyes. “I’m fine. I just went through the arch and nothing happened. All this work getting up here and it was for nothing.” He got more worked up as he continued to talk, recognizing the case to be another colossal waste of time, just like most X-Files cases ended up being. He was so fucking tired of climbing mountains to see more rocks. 

“You went through the arch?” Scully said, slightly alarmed. Her hand climbed back up, this time to rest on his cheek. His eyes followed when she slipped it down again to sit on his chest. Odd… “But you’re okay?”

“Yeah.” Eyes trapped on her hand. She was massaging his skin through the cloth. “Yeah, yeah I am.” 

“Okay,” she said slowly, as if she didn’t quite believe him. But she was fine to follow him back over to Malik. They grabbed the gear, and together the trio began their descent of the mountain. 

It was bizarre, how little Scully had to say about the futility of this excursion. Not that he expected her to quit or anything, but she never had a problem giving him shit about useless leads before. This had to have been their most disappointing lead yet, the one that required the most work with the least satisfaction, and yet she said nothing. He kind of wanted her to give him some shit. He wanted something to bicker about to take his mind off of his own disappointment. 

Malik continued to point things out here and there. Ruins of the Spanish missions poked out of the earth like sun-bleached bones, and a few reptiles scattered away under rocks, into holes, behind trees. The day was getting even hotter, sucking the joy out of the tail end of the hike. Mulder stalked along silently, tuning out any conversation.

All of the sudden, their guide yelled “Stop!” And the agents froze in place, wide eyed, hands gravitating toward their guns. 

“What’s wrong?” Scully yelled. 

“Mesquite trees,” Malik said. “We need to back up.” 

“Why? What’s wrong with the trees?” Mulder asked. He squinted to see the tree directly ahead of them and tried not to hurl. Mesquite bugs were swarming the trunk, writhing and hissing up and down the branches. Their feelers wiggled like tiny fingers waving hello. “What the fuck?” “Back away slowly,” Malik said. They followed his directions. 

“I thought you said they were harmless!” 

“What?” Malik said, forward facing the danger. “No, these bugs are incredibly dangerous. Just one bite will kill you. It’ll make you raving mad, first, until you meet your slow, painful end.” 

Mulder had the foresight not to pause, continuing to take cautious backward steps, but his heart pounded for reasons other than killer insects. “But you — “ 

The arch. 

The earth he stood on rotated the way he knew it to rotate; it revolved the way he knew it to revolve. The grass was green and the sky was blue, and Scully’s hair was bright bright red. Rocks were rocks and rock music was rock music, but the world was still different, somehow. The mesquite bugs would kill you. What else was different? 

Fear filled him to the throat, and he couldn’t get any words past the lump until he spotted the other difference.

“There was a fire here,” Mulder said to himself. The blackened grass, the piles of ash, the dead trees. 

“Do you think it was our vagabonds?” Scully asked. 

He wanted to run. Mulder wanted to run away from Scully and Malik, go straight back to the mountain, but he knew he couldn’t get away with it this time. 

The fire was so close to the mesquite trees. The former campground was littered with open seedpods. The travelers had gone to the mesquite trees for food. They’d been bitten. They went mad. They set fire to their camp and stumbled out into the hot Arizona sun, and their bodies were baking somewhere, their stench and rot soaking into the earth. Wind and predation would erase them like time erased us all. Their dreams were dead, and so were they. They lived, they worked, they died. Somewhere in the world their children would do the same. 

He told this to Scully and they called in a search for the bodies. The travelers were eventually found about a mile away from the campsite, eyes pecked out, their corpses looking like bags stuffed with rotten corn husks. The desert had taken all it could from them.

Tired, dirty, and starving, the agents bid their guide farewell and headed back to their motel. Scully ordered Chinese for them both, slipping a hand over Mulder’s shoulder when he brushed past her at the phone to take a shower.

Mulder knew it wasn’t over with that mountain. He needed to get back there, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it without Scully — whatever Scully he had. Whatever universe he’d stumbled into hadn’t done much to change her, and for that he was grateful. She was as sharp and reliable as ever, smart as ever, and somehow she seemed to like him more than ever. She looked too tired to drag back out there in the dark, and who knew what other dangers were lurking in those flatlands?

“Want me to join you?” He froze in his tracks when Scully’s voice reached his ear. He wrung the towel in his hands. 

Never in his life had he heard her voice drop that low. He knew, without a doubt, that her offer was serious. Whatever relationship she had with him in this universe included sex. From the husk in her tone, they were having phenomenal sex. It explained the frequent touching, the lack of bite in their back and forth, how quick she was to smile and play. 

Visions of her tight little body wrapped around him in the shower filled his head so fast he went dizzy. Her slick calves wrapped around his hips. Her small hand pounding the shower wall as he fucked her. Because he’d made her come. Because he’d made her come hard. 

“Not this time,” he said, closing his eyes to the pain of saying no. 

“Ooookay,” Scully said, looking slightly taken aback. At least she didn’t look offended. “I’ll wait for the food while you finish up. Don’t use all the hot water.” 

He used none of the hot water. 

Of course it was silly of him to expect that to be the end of it. While he was innocently slurping up some noodles, Scully decided it was the perfect time to start walking around naked. Her breasts jiggled enticingly as she towel-dried her hair. 

There was only one competitor: the chip that cured her cancer. Other than that, this was the best thing he’d ever seen. Her nipples were dark and round and so very pinchable, her hips were curved and sweet and soft, her ass was tight and perfectly round, the dimples in her back begged for his tongue. Her elegant legs, her sharp collarbone, her bare face in the flickering light. He couldn’t look away if he wanted to. He really did not want to.

She must have noticed him staring. Her flushed cheeks were so much more prominent without makeup, and the pinkness bloomed down to her chest. “Mulder,” she murmured shyly. He had no clue what she saw in the way he looked at her, because he had never looked at anything like that before. But he supposed she must have liked it. 

They ate together in silence, watching a black and white movie on the crappy television. He couldn’t begin to form a sentence. She’d pulled on a shirt he knew was his, one he hadn’t packed for this case. She grabbed it out of her own suitcase. It swallowed her up, the faded Knicks logo falling all the way to her ribs. She ate with her legs crossed, her tiny foot poking into his thigh. She was so Scully, even when she wasn’t Scully, and it was easy as anything to sit there with her and be. 

When they were finished eating, he packed up all their boxes and tossed them in the trash, and they both took turns brushing their teeth. Then it was back to the bed. 

The night before, he’d slept away from Scully. Not only to avoid the heat — he’d wanted to avoid getting too close. This Scully wouldn’t let him get away. She clung to him, big spoon champion, and she slid the palm of her hand to rest on his stomach. Without thinking, he slipped his hand down to hold hers. He wouldn’t stop it if she tried again. How could he? 

“Mulder?” She whispered against his bicep, breath humid on his skin.

“Hmm,” he murmured. 

“Come here.” 

He rolled over to face her, to see her pale, open face in the light of the moon. Her lips were  wet when they touched his, like she’d licked them a few times, the way she did when she believed something against her will. They kissed like that for a few minutes, chaste pecks, and he couldn’t fathom how fucking loved he felt just then. How needed. He cupped her face with his hands and deepened the kiss, feeling her warmth down to the base of his spine, and it wasn’t long before he was rolling on top of her and she was bringing her leg up to wrap around his hip.

She was hot between her thighs, he felt it through his pajama pants, and her chest heaved high when his hands slid under his own shirt to cup her breasts. Suddenly he tore his mouth off of hers and quickly rolled off to his side of the bed. “Mulder?” she sat up, confused. But he was only turning on the light. 

There. He twisted back to face her, kissed her sitting up, and together they lifted the shirt over her head and he tossed it to the floor. Then he couldn’t stop kissing her everywhere. She gasped when the tips of his teeth grazed her neck, a sound so sweet it hurt to hear. He loved her breathless little noises, how responsive she was to even the lightest of touches. If this was some sort of siren song, the whole thing a ploy to drag him deep into the sea, he’d let it fill his lungs as the current swept him away. 

Each and every fear bled away as his mouth traveled further down her body. Hair puller, he learned after slid his tongue over one hard nipple. He alternated between each one, licking and sucking and kissing the very tips of her breasts. Her chest was slick with his saliva when he pulled back to study the way her face changed under the haze of pleasure. She looked so troubled, his Scully, with the wrinkle in her brow and her bottom lip caught between her teeth, like being with him was simply too much.

She opened one eye, annoyed. “Keep going,” she demanded. 

His laughter was choked and unattractive, and he tried to stifle it by putting his mouth back on her body. He licked her from her collarbone to her ribs, hands following close behind. 

For a moment, he simply pressed his cheek to her chest to feel it rise and fall. No rushing him this time. Every breath she took reminded him of how close he’d been to losing her. He’d never really had the time to process that. He’d been so determined to prove to her that she’d live that he never came to terms with the fear that consumed him every time she left his sight. For the first time, he let himself see how alive she really was — that their fear was for nothing. Whatever universe this was, not only did they make it out of that time alive; they’d made it out happy. And he was fine allowing himself to be happy with her, even for this fractional sliver of time, in this unknown dimension of space. Perhaps it’d help him figure things out with Scully in his real life. 

He wasn’t teasing on purpose, but when his head finally reached the apex of her thighs, time slowed all the way down. Talk about being alive. Here laid the center of the universe, the burning hot thing that pulled all which inhabited space into its infinite orbit. He looked up into her eyes as he lowered his mouth, wouldn’t move until she promised to keep hers open, and finally kissed her pretty little cunt. 

“God, Mulder.” She said his name and he shut his eyes to it, unable to stop the moan rumbling deep in his chest. The scratch of her nails on his scalp motivated him to lick deeper, slide his hands under her thighs to press himself closer. He was enamored with the taste of her, still a little soapy from the shower, lightly sweet and salt-water wet. 

It was all too soon when she gently tugged at his hair. “I want you inside me,” she breathed, cradling his face in her hands. He parried her stare, turned his face to gently kiss her wrist, then the palm of her hand, and slowly scaled the length of her body. They kissed again, kept kissing, kissing, kissing, until she huffed a laugh and leaned out of his reach. “For god’s sake, Mulder, take off your pants.”

Well, never in his life had he expected to hear her say that. His thoughts fell to the Mulder he must’ve replaced when walking through the Doorway, and he pitied the S.O.B., he really did, but not enough to waste much time considering it.

After kicking his pants over the side of the bed, he moved to hover over her. He brushed wild brushfire hair out of her eyes and straightened out the chain of her necklace. It looked like the day's hike had earned her a few more freckles. Maybe it was because he was so used to seeing her with makeup, but her face looked a little thinner up close, her cheekbones more defined, her nose a little pinched. Her body, too. Her ribs kissed back when he’d made his trip down south. Scully’d been trying to gain a little weight after being sick, and he figured this Scully was doing the same. 

“Any soreness from the hike?” He asked, brushing her cheek with his thumb. 

“Going all soft on me, Mulder?” She made herself at home in the pillows, trailing one foot up the length of his leg. Her calf curled around his ass, pulling him closer to her. “Since when?” 

“Soft?” He mocked offense, and one deep, slow grind of his hips had her eyes rolling back in her head. “I don’t think I’m being soft.” 

Her lashes fluttered. He watched her face, captivated. “C’mon, Mulder,” she purred. “I want it.” 

Not a single entity in the universe would be able to deny her. He pushed at her other leg to spread her wide and took his cock in hand to slide it through the seam of her. He ran the head over her clit and couldn’t mask his smug grin when she cursed at him to fucking move already. Perhaps this was her fiftieth time making love with him, but this was his first with her, and he sacrificed instant gratification for committing everything to memory. He only slipped inside when he couldn’t take it anymore. 

He’d always felt a little guilt when fantasizing about Scully, because it would never just end at sex. If he bent her over the desk in the basement, it’d start with something sweet he’d whispered in her ear. If it was raunchy, primal fucking with him pinning her up against the wall or tossing her on the bed face down or shoving her head to his lap, even then, even then, it was both of them saying please come. Please come. Please come for me. I love you. It only got worse after her diagnosis, and his cowardice filled him with shame. His audacity filled him with shame. How dare he think of her like that after what he did to her. How dare he even dream of deserving it. 

Whenever he’d thought about it, it’d go a lot… like… this. They were hushed, gasps and moans swallowed in a never-ending kiss, her cries vibrating against the straining column of his throat. Even the headboard paid its respects, its rhythmic movement nothing more than a quiet tap, tap, tap. He fucked her slowly, fist bunched up in the sheets around her head, and if she was annoyed with his pace she did not show it. She rolled her body up to greet him, her slick pussy the most amenable, welcoming thing he’d ever encountered.

When she came, her nails sunk into his shoulders and her body made a perfect little arch, one that allowed him to lick the sounds right out of her, to feel her orgasm against his mouth, on his skin, around his dick. She was everywhere, and he had no choice but to follow after her. His hips stuttered as his come surged inside of her, and he held still until he was completely finished.

She managed to drag him into the shower again after spending half an hour tolerating his roaming hands and the clingy way he liked to cuddle. Then he got to learn what it was like to be sucked off by Dana Scully. 

They were both toweling off, bickering over the next few cases Mulder had piling up on his desk — absolutely not, no way, I don’t care about a giant bird in South Carolina, that’s not even an X-File, Mulder, why would we go there — when he spotted the first red drop fall to the floor.

“If you find another case like this one…” Scully didn’t see the way his face went slack with despair. She simply reached for some toilet paper and held it under her nose, wiping away the floor stain with her used towel. “Something scenic. I’d like to have more days like today, while I still can.” 

Chapter Text

Scully heard Mulder responding to her call and waited for him to circle around the peak and meet her at the Doorway. She tried to shape her face into something a little less annoyed. She’d crossed under the arch on accident — it was much higher up then she’d expected, not so much a doorway but the grand entrance to heaven — and as she expected, climbing a lot of rocks would not allow you to bend the laws of space and time. 

She was surprised by how annoyed he looked when he approached her on the other side of the doorway. She hadn’t even told him it was a scam yet. He looked up at the arch, back to her, up at the arch again. Then he gave a large sigh and turned on his heel to stalk away from her.

“Wait — Mulder — what are you —” she jogged to catch up with him, alarmed at his sudden change in attitude. “Isn’t that what we’re looking for? Did you find something else?”

“No,” he said, voice clipped, almost a little nasty. They made each other angry sometimes — more often than she’d care to admit — but it was very rarely he took that tone with her. Especially not recently. “It’s not on this mountain,” he said. 

“Wait, what?” She halted in her tracks. “What do you mean it’s on another mountain? This is the exact peak. You had the coordinates on the map. This is the only hikable flatland for at least a few miles.” 

Suddenly he spun around, gesturing pointedly around the area with his hands. He spread them out and eyed her with disdain. “Do you see anything that looks like a doorway here, Scully?” 

“I did see an arch,” she pointed out. “And you just saw it, too.”

“We saw an arch, but it wasn’t a doorway. There was one on my side too that I thought might be it, but now I see I’m wrong. We’re going to have to continue looking. I’ll do some research — maybe I got the wrong information.” 

“Mulder,” she hissed, incredulous. “I’m not going to climb every one of these mountains because you think one of them might have an arch that looks slightly more like a doorway. That’s ludicrous. We don’t — we don’t have the manpower, it would take months to search every one of these mountains, and you — “

He cut her off with a bitter scoff. “Then don’t go, Scully. Stay at the motel. I don’t care.” 

She stayed quiet. He always listened to what she had to say. It hurt to be interrupted by him, but not as much as it hurt to be told he didn’t care about her. She fought the urge to reach for his hand and followed a few feet behind him.

Malik was a bit off when they met up with him, too. Perhaps he’d tired himself out. He made no attempt to talk to Mulder or Scully as they started their descent of the mountain, only opening his mouth to warn them of crumbling rocks or patches of slippery grass. Excluding his brusque direction, their journey was made in complete silence. Scully listened to the desert wind, to the sound of snakes and reptiles moving through the grass, to the calls of predator birds circling high in the sky. The day was getting even hotter as it slid further into the afternoon. The stinging of her skin reminded her it was time to reapply her sunscreen, so she did it herself. The thought of asking Mulder to do anything for her put a sour taste in her mouth. 

The view really was a sight to behold. She tried to let the scenery take her away from the awkwardness of their trek, and sought out the animals Malik had previously identified for them. The little red birds were still attending their nests. Spiny lizards hid behind rocks and scattered when the trio stepped too close. Most of the really impressive wildlife comes out at night, Malik had told them, but the sandstorms wreaked havoc on their schedules. 

Soon they were approaching the clumps of mesquite trees where Malik had told them of the giant mesquite bugs. To her surprise, there was not a single one to be found. Instead, the opulent black and gold leaf-footed bugs were replaced with dusty gray beetles. Their antennae were longer than their bodies. 

“What kind of bugs are those?” She asked. Perhaps the other insects had gone to eat somewhere else. 

Malik slid his eyes toward a tree and moved a little closer to it. “Twig girdlers,” he said. “They eat through the branches. They’re a pretty big pest in the residential areas.” Scully wanted to ask some more questions, but the bored look on Mulder’s face discouraged that.

They hadn’t walked much farther when they heard the voices. They stopped where they were and looked around. Smoke was lifting into the air about a football field away, so they followed its curl until they came across a group of people putting out a fire. 

“Mulder, that’s them,” Scully breathed, eyeing their faces a few yards away. They were heat blistered and haggard, unshowered, their clothes were in rags. A bearded man stood in the middle of all the commotion and she remembered his face from one of the newspapers in the missing report. “How did we miss them?” She noticed they were close to the area where they’d seen the evidence of a campfire before. It looked exactly the same. 

Mulder ignored her and walked straight ahead in long strides. “Hey!” He yelled out, moving into a jog. “What are you guys doing here?” 

“We were just leaving,” the bearded man said, waving. His other hand was occupied: the bright orange flame retardant. He scattered it over patches of burning grass. Thankfully the sand made it difficult for it to spread too quickly. 

“Did you know your group was reported missing?” Scully asked, out of breath. She had to break out into a run in order to catch up with her partner. The old man chuckled, and the rest of the travelers laughed as well. 

“We just ended up going a different way,” he said. “We’re going back home.” 

“But why?” Scully asked. She wasn’t sure what compelled her to ask. She wasn’t sure why something felt so broken inside of her. She watched the travelers pack up their gear to take it all home. They didn’t have much. They all looked so tired and burnt out. 

“We don’t care anymore,” another traveler answered out. This one was younger, a blond man, maybe in his late twenties or early thirties, but the skin on his arms, legs, and neck resembled cracked, vintage leather. 

“We’re tired,” someone else said. She had curly brown hair and pitch black circles around her eyes. Her jeans were ripped almost all the way to mid-thigh. 

“Sometimes things change,” the old man said. 

That was it, then. Mulder and Scully called it in at the station: another case to boost their solve rate. She should be thrilled that it was all over, that the hikers were found alive, that Mulder wouldn’t be able to drag her to all the mountains in Arizona. But the only thing she felt was emptiness. 

Brooding silence followed them all the way to the motel. Mulder dropped her off and went somewhere in their car before Scully got to ask what the hell was wrong with him. She took a shower, finding some relief in the cold water against her hot skin and  sore muscles. Her back prickled with sunburn. She turned it to the mirror and saw she was as red as a chili pepper. 

Halfway into her Buddha’s delight, she was struck with the wild motivation to find Mulder and ask him who the fuck he thought he was. She’d find the phonebook, look up every single seedy bar in the area, and get a cab to take her to each one until she tracked him down. She didn’t care about how costly that might be. She didn’t care about — maybe he was hurt, maybe he had a lead he needed to check and didn’t want to involve her, maybe… maybe he was with someone… 

But the sandstorms picked up again. They weren’t nearly as bad as the ones they’d arrived to, but they were enough to force her to stay inside. Instead of worrying about everything else, she was now worried about his safety. She tried calling his phone (for what must’ve been the fiftieth time) and her calls went straight to voicemail. All she could do was turn the lights off and try to fall asleep.

She laid awake on her side, facing the wall, listening to the winds howl outside. At least the storm wasn’t bad enough — yet — to warrant cutting off the A.C. Tonight she slept in silk. She tried to comfort herself with it, running her hands over the fabric to alleviate some anxiety. It didn’t help. The only thing she could think about was Mulder. If he was okay. Where he had gone. Why he was treating her this way. 

Mulder was depressed; she knew that very well. His job was a joke to him after all was revealed about Samantha and the origins of her own cancer. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he saw someone fit to roam the streets, screaming at the top of his lungs about the incoming doomsday while passing cars splashed him with rainwater on purpose. 

But even with all of that, he still managed to build up some excitement for the cases that brought them to every corner of America. He still had his passion. After nearly dying, she was also invigorated to seek out the truth in the heart of the X-Files. There were so many people out there, just like her, whose lives were being toyed with by men who answered to no one. Those people deserved justice. She truly believed that she and Mulder had to be the ones to deliver it. She truly believed she played an important part in the X-Files. 

And there was no denying it. She believed… or she had hoped… that she played an important part in Mulder’s life, as well. Outside of the X-Files. 

The man found the cure to her cancer. He never once gave up on her, even when she was ready to give up on herself. And she wasn’t an FBI agent for nothing: she made a damn good investigator. She saw how he looked at her and she knew it for what it was because it was the same way she looked at him. 

They fought sometimes, yes, and they disagreed almost all of the time, that was true, but they were growing so much closer, and every minute they spent together stacked up on a balance scale that was tipping them over into something more than coworkers. They were friends. There was even the hint of something more. She wanted it, sometimes so much as to cause her physical pain, and he did too, but there was too much at stake, too much that could change them. They had to put the cause before their desires. Maybe it wouldn’t always be that way — and she really hoped it wouldn’t — but for now… it was too much of a risk. There were too many forces they were up against. Any change in their relationship could tip that balance scale all the way over and toss them all the way out. 

For now it was enough to simply be his partner and friend. If she didn’t always feel that way, she managed to convince herself with time.

So to see Mulder act so differently, to have him treat her with such contempt and disrespect after all they’d been through together, confused her greatly, and it hurt. It wasn’t even anger she felt. She just hurt. She had to lay there alone with that hurt as the desert roared outside. 

Until she heard the turn of a key in the doorknob. 

Mulder crept in slowly, stumbling a bit as if he were drunk. That thought was so bizarre to her she almost picked her head up to stare at him. He almost never drank. 

What happened in the twenty minutes they spent separated in the Tumacacori Highlands? What could have possibly upset him this much that he had to drink to forget? There was no use getting that out of him now. She wasn’t about to spend her night arguing with a belligerent, drunken fool. She listened to him clumsily rummage through his suitcase for his pajama pants and a towel. Then he lobbed off to the shower, stubbing his toe on the chair as he did.

Fuck,” he grunted. He limped his way to the bathroom and started his shower.

She was still wide awake when he clamored back to bed, but she pretended to be asleep when he slipped in beside her. Despite everything, he still smelled so much like Mulder. Cloves and a hint of citrus, that dark manic energy he gave off whenever he entered a room. It made her want to roll over and bury her nose in his chest.

Then his hand slid under her shirt. 

She shot up like a bullet, immediately reaching for the lamp and shoving his wrist away like she intended to break it off. “What the hell — “ 

“Scully, what — “ 

How dare you?” She bellowed, the storm outside only a warm wet breath compared to what brewed in her heart. When she looked Mulder in the eye, she expected to find him either beyond guilty or beyond furious, but instead he just looked confused. 

“I’m doing the same fucking thing we do every night,” he said flatly. 

She was panting. He’d shocked her so much he’d stolen her ability to breathe. They stared at each other. There was so much hate in his eyes, but so much want, and there were many times where she’d been all alone in her bed at home and thought about seeing that want in his eyes. She’d be lying if she said he was always nice to her. In her fantasies.

Maybe it was a trick of the light, but for a moment, for a single speck of time, it looked like Mulder was genuinely worried about her. His hand unclenched like he wanted to reach out for her, but he stopped himself in time, and his face shifted back to that overcast glower he’d been treating her to since they’d left he mountain. 

Instead he slid that unclenched hand down to grip himself through his pajama pants. “You don’t want it?” he said, and that was when she understood two things. 

One. The Doorway to the Gods was real, and she had stepped through it.

Two. She did want it. 

She was so wet, so fast, that it should have been impossible. Her pussy clenched around nothing just watching him stroke himself. He was big. He was huge. His pajamas were so flimsy she could see the distinct, fat head of his cock, and her mouth watered. Her nipples tightened to matching peaks. God help her, she didn’t know this man. He was not her Mulder. He was not her friend; he would never love her. Apparently in this… dimension, time, universe, what, this must be a nightmare, she needed to wake up wake up wake up — in this dimension Mulder hated her, and her response to that was to fuck him. Every night. And clearly she was about to do it again. 

Her hand covered his as he jerked himself off. He let go and let her take over, leaning back to watch her work. “Fuck yes,” he hissed when her fingers slipped under his waistband. Skin to skin. Warm, throbbing, wet. She took the precum at the top and used it to make him slick, then she pumped him with her fist in eager strokes. His face was so beautiful when he was being pleasured, slack and soft, curses leaking from his plush mouth. 

Suddenly he snatched her wrist up, gasping for breath as he pushed her away. “Take off your clothes,” he commanded. “Turn the light back off.” 

It nauseated her — did he loathe to see her? did he find her so unappealing? — but she found herself following his orders, unbuttoning her top, slipping out of her pants, then her panties. She avoided his gaze as she quickly turned off the light.

“Hands and knees,” he said. 

Oh, God. She was dripping down her thighs and onto the sheets. She wondered if it was possible to come just listening to him speak to her. She was so sensitive that she brought herself to the brink of orgasm just crawling into position for him, face to the headboard, body almost completely obscured in the dark.

And then he dragged himself behind her, palming her ass cheeks to spread her apart. He knew her body. He knew her body well even without the light. He smacked her. She jerked forward and let out a whimper that would embarrass her for the rest of her life. 

Then he dragged his possessive hand down to cup her pussy, the very tips of his fingers grazing against her clit. He stroked her like that for a few torturous moments, and then without warning, he shoved three inside of her, fucking her with them as if they were an extension of his cock. 

She came. She came, she cried out his name as she writhed and twisted herself in the sheets. She did something she’d never done before. Her orgasm left her in a release of fluids that coated his wrist and soaked the bed. 

“Jesus, Scully,” and through the thick fog of pleasure she still had the ability to feel shame, because she started apologizing even as she pulsed and twitched and yearned for more. But she hadn’t heard him correctly, or she misinterpreted what he meant. Jesus, Scully. He’d been in awe. She didn’t even feel the way he stroked her skin as she came down, didn’t hear the way he hushed and consoled her. The wind picked up, and somewhere outside a window shattered. All she could hear was her own pleas.

“Fuck me,” she begged, arching so low her breasts and ribs rubbed against the sheets. Her ass remained high in the air, and it didn’t take too long for him to give her what she wanted. He pierced her with a quick, cutting thrust, no time wasted on letting her adjust, and he fucked her fast and hard.

Her saliva wet the pillowcase as she buried her face in the bed and let him use her however he deemed fit. The only time he slowed down his relentless onslaught was when her thighs were quivering so hard she needed a second to get used to the overstimulation. The few times he wrapped his hand around to touch her, she came so hard she nearly bucked him off. She had to beg him to stop touching her there because it eventually started to hurt, and so she laid there in her own spit and come while he brought himself to his own release. His grip on her ass, savagely tight, would turn her black and blue the next day, and she knew in the morning she’d be sore and so empty.

He rolled off of her and she let her body come to a complete rest, keeping her face tucked in the pillow. She waited until she caught her breath to get up and go to the bathroom. She peed and cleaned herself up, steeling herself to look in the mirror. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. All the evidence was laid out before her, but none of it made any conclusive sense. She had completely lost control. It only took her one suggestive touch and she had completely lost control. 

Mulder was burrowed beneath the duvet when she returned to the room, this time on her side of the bed. It took her a second to realize why he’d done that. It only hit her when she crawled into bed and noticed everything was completely dry. 

Rolling so her back was to him, her mind raced with thoughts of how the hell she was going to get back to where she belonged. She certainly couldn’t stay here. Of course some physicists posited a multi-verse, but that was all fringe theory. No one in their right mind took them seriously. Some questioned what was really happening as the universe expanded, expanded, expanded; what was it expanding into? Matter existed in space that had yet to be identified, entities in the galaxy possessing gravitational pull but which there were no photographs of to prove their existence. 

She thought back on her senior thesis and her ultimate conclusion: humans could not withstand the extreme temperatures they’d undergo while attempting time travel. Although Arizona was hot, it wasn’t that hot. She also thought back to Mulder’s missing nine minutes. That reminded her of how much she missed Mulder. All of those racing thoughts were her way of trying to avoid dealing with what she had just done. Of avoiding the man beside her, whose eyes on her back made her nervous. Mulder made her a lot of things, but never nervous. 

“Scully,” he said. She wanted to ignore it but he sounded so broken. “Scully.” 

“Yes?” she whispered, not turning to face him. 

“Please. Please don’t leave.” Her breath hitched as she listened to him go on, slurring a few of his words as he grated them out. “I know why you want to. You’ve given me all of your reasons. You tell me every day. But please don’t leave. I can do so much better. I promise you I can.” 

Her mouth moved wordlessly as she considered what she wanted to say. Her more rational side pleaded for her not to engage him, to forget this corrupted version of her partner and focus on getting back to the one who didn’t love to fuck with her mind as much as he loved to fuck her. “Why do you think I want to leave you?” she asked. He was still Mulder. He looked like Mulder, he sounded like Mulder… she absorbed his pain, even through the disgust he provoked in her. 

“It was good when we started this, right?” He sniffed like he was crying. She didn’t turn to look. “We were happy. We looked at each other when we did it. You kissed me. All I ever thought about doing was kissing you.” 

“How’d it end up this way?” She asked. She needed to know. 

“I ask myself that all the time. I don’t… I can’t be what you need me to be. And I’m sorry for that.” 

She listened to him as he laid it out for her. It didn’t take too long for her to figure out what happened. They’d jumped into it too fast, high on the thrill of her remission. They hadn’t thought it through. The change was too much. She resented him because he kept running off, she resented him for being him, she was tired of all the goose chasing and the near death experiences and getting ditched, and instead of sitting him down and trying to work it out as a team, she chose to threaten her resignation every day. She ignored his calls. She called him crazy. She blamed him. For everything. For her cancer. For her sister. For the grind sludge in the coffee pot. And he’d responded by pulling rank, by disappearing whenever he wanted, by provoking her whenever he could — whether it was by making her jealous, making her feel stupid, or embarrassing her in front of their peers, he did what he could to make her feel as bad as he did. 

And it was clear, by the end, when he was begging to hold her, that neither he nor the Scully who inhabited this life had ever expected it to go like this. 

“I still love you,” he moaned feverishly into her neck. Please, please just let me hold you, Scully. Just for tonight. Of course, Mulder. Of course you can. “I still love you.” 

Chapter Text

There was a universe where everything had gone right, but only to a certain point. They’d done everything exactly the same. He brought her the chip. They put it in her neck, and it had worked. But only to a certain point. 

That was where it stopped making sense to him.

Why the fuck were they here? Why weren’t they trying to find her another cure, right this fucking second? What the fuck did she mean, While I still have time? Scully was going to live forever. Scully was immortal. Scully was going to keep him company at his solitary gravestone, dressed in all black and debunking articles she’d printed from the deep web to torture him with for all eternity. She was not going to fucking die. 

She stood there in shock when he told her all of this, yelled it at her while he grabbed his bag to start packing. Then he grabbed her bag to start packing it too, and that was when she sprung into action and snatched his hands away from her things. 

“Mulder!” She gripped his wrists, tugging them to her chest. He was panting hard, staring down at her like she was the enemy in all of this. Like she’d given herself cancer. “What has gotten into you?”

“What has gotten into me? What has gotten into you, Dana Scully?” He yanked himself from her grasp to continue packing. “We’re going to the airport and getting on the first plane back to D.C. Get dressed.” 

“Excuse m—” 

“Get dressed right now.” It was like he’d forgotten where he was and where he wasn’t. All he could think was Scully still has cancer Scully still has cancer Scully still has cancer Scully is dying. 

“Go fuck yourself, Mulder,” she spat. He ignored her. “We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about this so many times. This is happening, Mulder, and we can’t stop it this time. You know this. You promised you wouldn’t — “

“Promised I wouldn’t what?” He threw her duffle bag so hard at the wall a picture frame came down and shattered to pieces. Christ he was — he was dizzy. He needed to lean against the bed to keep upright and slow his breathing down before he made himself hurl. “Promised I wouldn’t interfere while you sat there and wasted away with cancer someone else gave you?” Cancer gave you I gave you that cancer, I did. It was me.

She stared at him oddly while he contemplated physically dragging her to the car. “Mulder,” she said. “No one gave me this cancer.” She stepped closer to him, cautiously. “Mulder, are you okay?” 

“What are you saying?” His heart pounded furiously but his mind was liquor slow. Nothing she was saying made sense. “What do you mean no one gave you your cancer?” 

“Something’s wrong. I think maybe the heat got to you. We need to take you to the hospital.” He snatched her wrist before she could walk away to get dressed.

“No, answer me,” he demanded. 

 “Mulder—” 

Answer me.” He’d been less desperate holding a gun to a man’s head. 

Scully took a deep, shaky breath, and acquiesced, though it appeared she very much didn’t want to. “The human body isn’t equipped to handle that sort of technology. It’s too new.”

His face and voice fell in his confusion.  “What?” 

“It wasn’t developed to acclimate into the immune system,” she continued. “White blood cells recognize it as a foreign object.”

He was beginning to get it, but he really didn’t want to. He closed his eyes. “They started to attack the chip.” 

“And then when they couldn’t get rid of it, they started attacking each other,” she finished. His mouth opened and closed. Open and closed. 

“But you knew all of this,” she said, eyes watering. Her nose and cheeks were rosy with her struggle to stop herself from crying, and he hated himself for putting her through this conversation again. She must’ve had it with him a million times. He couldn’t imagine her Mulder had taken it well, either. 

So this Fox Mulder had given up. That was the whole reason they’d taken this final plunge. He was running out of time and didn’t want to waste it by pretending he didn’t want her. Need her. Love her. His selfish actions had led her to her own death, and he figured the least he could do was finally be honest with her. That was the type of man he was replacing. Someone much braver than him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. She started crying, little huffs of stifled sobs, and it crushed his heart. “Hey, hey.” He pulled her into his arms and buried his nose in her hair. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” They rocked together, back and forth. 

He couldn’t leave her to die. He suspected that’s what the other version of him had decided, too. He’d taken her to that mountain for a reason. The man who fell for this woman and mustered up the courage to tell her wouldn’t have given up. The Doorway had been his last chance, but he’d made a mistake.

This man had to bring her back there. 

***

She gave it to him straight. 

They’d woken up late, tangled in their frayed human knot. Despite how drunk he’d been the night before it didn’t appear to have any effect on his memory. There were no insults thrown her way, and the silence between them was awkward, but not vitriolic. He didn’t make any move to pull away from her. 

“Mulder,” she said wearily, her face tucked into his chest. Sleep had not been plentiful. “The Doorway is real and I walked through it. I’m not sure who you are. You do not know me. We need to go to the mountain to figure out how it works so I can get back to where I belong.” 

There was a long pause. “I believe you,” he said finally. She slowly picked her head up off his chest.

“Really?” She frowned.

“Never in a million years would my Scully say that.” Peeping at her with one eye, he looked like a six foot tall headache. “You’re not her,” he said with certainty. 

Scully stifled  the urge to argue with him. It was downright lunacy for him to believe her just like that. Instead she took a deep breath. “I doubt you’d be able to climb in this condition. You look awful.” 

“Just let me get some eggs in me,” he sighed. “I’m used to it by now.” 

That struck her with a terrible sadness. She burned with hatred for this version of herself: abusive and petty, unable to cope with the unhappiness that plagued her. What was worse was that she wasn’t so different in her own life that the nastiness was off base. She could fit into this woman’s shoes without too many adjustments. Being here confirmed all of her fears; changes in their relationship overturned the balance scale, and it had tipped them straight into hell. 

She treated him to a big breakfast at a diner not too far away from the motel. All she wanted to do was take care of him, to pull him close and put him back in bed. He looked like he hadn’t slept in years. Facial hair grew thicker than she’d ever seen it grow on him, and the dark circles around his eyes were so pigmented they could have been painted on. 

“How do you suppose it works?” He asked after gulping down two cups of coffee. They were waiting on his third. 

“Hmm, I don’t really know, Mulder.” It was all she could think about last night before sleep got in the way, but she still had yet to wrap her head around it. “What was your theory when you assigned us this case?” 

He gave a depressing little grin. “That if I didn’t drag you into the forest, we might get a long for a few hours.”

That answer wounded her. He noticed that, took pity on her and shook his head. 

“I had a few thoughts. I shared them with you on the plane.” He sounded wistful. “You brought up the Double-slit experiment. Then you said it was full of shit.” 

She smirked. “Are you sure that isn’t the title of one of your little videos?” 

“You said that, too.” Thumb brushing over the handle of his mug, eyes soft, he went away for a little field trip in his mind. Scully couldn’t tell you where. 

Clearing past the lump in her throat and the deep flash of longing for her Mulder back home, she went into a simplified explanation. She was surprised she hadn’t thought of it before. Well, she supposed she had thought of it. Mulder said it’d been her idea. Being right was always a comfort in difficult times. “The Double-slit experiment. You shoot a particle into a screen through a barrier with two slits — ”

“Just show me the screen, Scully. I can fire many particles.”

She shot him a look. " --And it will appear as if the single particle has gone through both slits, existing in two places at once. Some… fringe theorists,” Scully continued, “very, very fringe theorists, use the multiverse theory as an explanation. They claim that the particle exists in both places because it takes two different paths at the same time, through the two slits, in separate universes. In one universe the particle goes through the left slit, and in the other the particle goes through the right slit.”

“What if the particle that went through the left slit decided to turn back around and go through the right slit?” Mulder asked. 

“Then they interfere. It would cancel out the other particle.” 

Lightning cracked in his mind; she saw the flash. He abruptly stood up, flagging down the waiter. “You follow the same path home.”

What?

“We go back to the Doorway and you follow the same path home.” 

“Mulder, that theory is an incredibly extreme position that most physicists try to ignore. Plus, what if I go through and…” She let the sentence hang. And neither of us come back.

“I’m still here because I avoided choosing a path, remember? I think you just figured it out. There was an arch on my side too, which would have been the second slit. I think you and my Scully, and maybe even more of you, whichever ones chose to go through the arch, are essentially one particle. For some reason, you’re bound to each other. You entered the doorway at the same time she did, crossing from one dimension to another. Are you following me?” She cautiously nodded her head. “One of you needs to walk back through the Doorway, the same way you came in, and that might cancel this whole thing out. Everyone gets to go home.” 

She didn’t want to believe it, but what other option did she have? She was here. Something brought her here, something yet to be explained with science. Maybe one day it would be, but today she would just have believe.

He reached over to take hold of both of her hands to stop her from ripping up the napkins. When she met his dark eyes over the table, a memory of what they had done the night before forced her to straighten up in her seat. She’d almost forgotten in all of this morning’s excitement. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “We have to try.” 

Just a few hours earlier, he told her he’d known she wasn’t the right woman. She’d thought maybe she’d misinterpreted his tone; he’d sounded disappointed, but she couldn’t imagine missing that toxicity. Now she could see he really did. He wanted the Scully who couldn’t stand him. Despite how deeply the pair must have hurt each other, he still wanted her back. Perhaps others might have found it sweet. But it bothered Scully so much she had to tug her hands away. 

***

He didn’t have much of a plan. All he knew was that they needed to get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow he’d take her back to the flatlands. There they would both enter the Doorway. It was unlikely they’d wind up in the same place, but he was desperate to have one last try at keeping her safe. 

One more picnic before we go, he convinced her, since she had enjoyed their hike so much. She seemed a little wary of him when they’d woken up together, but she quickly melted when he kissed her and told her how lucky he was to have her in his life. He told her everything he’d ever wanted to tell her. How she had changed him. How she was the one person to make him feel like he was worth anything even close to love. How her belief in him had given him purpose. A few minutes later, how great her tits looked in his t-shirt. How he’d wanted to eat her pussy since he’d read her thesis. That comment earned him a very sore nipple, but she eventually agreed to go back to the mountains with him. 

Malik was surprised to receive their call to enlist him for a second trip, but he was glad to take them. Mulder noticed this Scully asked Malik more questions about what they were seeing. She wanted to learn everything she could.

While she still had the chance.

They didn’t take the same path as they had the day before, since only Mulder was aware of their final trajectory, but it would get them there eventually. Scully snapped photos with a disposable camera. She bent down to touch some of the harmless native plants and watched behemoth birds flap their wings through a pair of their stakeout binoculars. Some of them impressed her so much she’d tug on his shirt and force him to look, too. 

“Mulder, look at that,” she breathed in wonder. “I think that’s a golden eagle.” Malik voiced his support for her theory. 

The more time they spent roaming around the desert, the more conflicted he felt. The idea of leaving Scully here to die made him want to bash his head against the sandstone until it glittered with his brains. But his plan of having her walk through the Doorway felt wrong somehow. She was happy like he’d never seen her. 

When they’d all sat down to eat, she leaned back against him and ate chunks of cold melon while looking up at the sky. Malik told stories about the Tohono O’oodham, and how Martin Luther King Jr.’s first visit to a reservation had been near these mountains. He explained how the oldest missions in Arizona were only a few miles away. Mulder was interested to find out that Whoopi Goldberg and Mary Louise Parker starred in a film made in the Tumacacori Highlands. They sat there for a long while while Malik taught them everything he knew, Scully resting her head in his lap. 

It must’ve been fate. When they advanced closer to the Doorway, she started to get tired. They were approaching the foothills when she asked to sit down and take a break. Her nose bled but not for too long. It didn’t seem to bother her at all. 

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t make her go up that mountain with him. 

“Scully,” he said. He blinked back tears as he leaned forward to hold her hand. “I need to go look at something on top of that mountain. I want you to stay here.” 

She sat up and frowned at him. They were lazing in the shade of a large tree. She’d be fine here with Malik. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to wait too long for her partner to come back and join her. 

“But Mulder, what else could be up there? We solved the case already.” 

“I know. I know we did.” He dropped her hand to cup her cheek. “I just need to go and check something, alright? You and Malik stay down here. I think I heard him say there might be a family of javelina nearby. They’re hideous, Scully. I need you to get a picture for me.” 

If she wanted to argue, she didn’t. Her Mulder probably never ditched her anymore; not without good reason. She trusted him to come back. She trusted that he wasn’t doing anything all that important. And she was too tired to go with him, anyway. Another thing to feel guilty about.

And that was the heart of it. He would only ever cause her pain. He would only ever wear her out. She didn’t blame him, she wasn’t upset with him, but it was his fault for letting her get so close. He’d traded her life for his empty personal cause. His Scully would live, and for that he couldn’t be more grateful, but he’d have to go on the rest of his life knowing that in one reality or many, many more, he’d caused her to die. 

He didn’t really know what the hell he was doing. Call it a hunch. It seemed fitting to him that the door you exit would also be the door you enter. So he climbed the mountain, he found the arch, and he entered the Doorway to the Gods. 

Scully was waiting for him on the other side.

***

For awhile the mystery of the missing travelers went unsolved, until the whole lot of them marched naked into a busy street in Santa Fe. They were interviewed by multiple news stations and became something of a national phenomenon. 

Mulder managed to get one of them on the phone, the leader of it all. He had only one question. 

“Did you do any mountain climbing when you were in Arizona?” he asked. 

“Mountain climbing, now why would we do that?” The old man said. “We have a goal, Mr. FBI man. We can stop and look at the sky when we’re dead.” He laughed. “Until then, we have work to do.”