Mulder’s slow down and right-hand turn draws her out of her passenger’s reverie. After two hours of driving due south through the high Arizona desert, even the slightest turn of the steering wheel is enough to draw her attention.
“Mulder, where are we going?” she asks.
“A slight detour.”
She casts a furtive glance over at him in the driver’s seat. The scar tissue on his temple wrinkles like a pink raisin as he squints against the glare of the late afternoon sun. She wonders if he reapplied sunscreen to it at the last rest stop, like she’d told him to. Probably not.
The rapidness of his recovery surprised all of his doctors, herself included. He still complains of headaches, which is to be expected, given the sort of surgery he underwent. Other than that, Fox Mulder is a hale and hearty thirty eight year old male. And not a day has since gone by that she hasn’t thanked God for it.
It had been two weeks since Mulder was cleared to return to work, and in true Mulder fashion, he dove headfirst into the stack of case files that had amassed during his illness. This one, however - their first case since his surgery - turned out to be a fool’s errand: three tedious days of interviewing several drunken houseboat enthusiasts who had claimed to see a mysterious light hovering above Lake Powell and nothing to show for it. It had turned out it wasn’t a UFO - or even a military aircraft, for that matter. It was the planet Venus, making its reappearance in the night sky after a prolonged five hundred and eighty four day orbit around the sun. The fact that it was she who had discovered that fact didn’t help: Mulder had spent the remainder of their time on Lake Powell in a sulky funk, cracking sunflower seeds and throwing them by the handful over the railing of their rented houseboat.
To make matters worse, a strong cross breeze had sprung up on the boat ride back to Wahweap Marina, making for a rough trip. Scully, used to pitching decks and rolling horizons from her childhood along the Chesapeake, was unaffected, but Mulder quickly turned green and spent most of the voyage retching the remains of his lunch into the green blue depths of Lake Powell.
“Is it over yet?” he’d asked miserably after an hour of vomiting. All she could do to comfort him was offer her water bottle and rub his back in small circles. Now, with his feet firmly on dry land, Mulder seems to be himself again.
A moment later, they pass a sign displaying the iconic arrowhead emblem of the National Park Service and the reason for his deviation dawns on her. “You’ve never seen the Grand Canyon before?” she asks.
“I have. Several times, in fact,” he says. “I’ve just never seen it with you.”
That last remark, and the casualness with which he says it, causes her to look over at him. His eyes are focused on the road ahead as he swerves to avoid the pot-holes that riddle this stretch of asphalt.
She’s aware of the elevated mood people often feel after they’ve survived something that, statistically speaking, is impossible. Feelings of gratitude, of relief that they’d been given a second chance at life, even guilt for living through something many others did not: they’re all part of the normal psychological processes one goes through after a traumatic event. For Mulder to experience it now, after living through one of the most invasive and dangerous surgeries she’s ever encountered, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“Mulder, I’m flattered, but our flight from Phoenix leaves in six hours. We’ll be lucky if we have time to peer over the edge before we have to turn around and leave. Besides,” she continues, glancing at her watch, “sunset is in an hour and a half. ”
“Guess I’d better drive faster, then.” He presses his foot against the gas pedal. They’re now flying down the highway, pot-holes be damned.
A few moments of silence pass before Mulder speaks again. “Look, Scully, this case was clearly a bust and I just spent the better part of the day turning my stomach inside out. Plus, I just survived experimental brain surgery.” An impish smile appears on his face as he glances at her. “Indulge me.”
I’ve indulged you for six years, she thinks, sighing and rolling her eyes.
His mouth extends into an even broader grin at her reaction.
“You really want to do this, huh?” she asks.
He surprises her by reaching over and putting his hand on top of hers. “Yeah, I really do.” He gives her hand a tight squeeze.
He fiddles with the radio dial for a while before finally settling on a station. The Southern guitar twang of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” fills the car with its undeniably cheerful melody. Mulder hums along and keeps time by tapping the steering wheel.
The sun sits low on the western horizon by the time they pull into the Yavapai Point parking lot. Surprisingly, theirs is the only car in sight. They make their way to the overlook, their shadows stretching ahead of their feet. It’s cold enough to make her regret leaving her jacket in the car, but any physical discomfort she feels disappears at the first sight of the canyon.
An impossibly wide expanse looms out before them. Multicolored cliffs and eroded rock faces pepper the landscape like long-forgotten sandcastles. Far below them, hidden in dusky shadow, flows the mighty Colorado River.
“When were you last here, Scully?” he asks quietly as they look outward.
“Not since I was a kid. My family stopped here on our move from San Diego to Annapolis, so I must have been nine or ten. I remember it being unbearably hot… it must have been July or August. I remember Melissa refused to leave the air-conditioned visitor center. Bill, Charlie, and I though, sweated through a ranger program in order to earn our Junior Ranger badges.” She pauses. “I still have that badge.” That last part earns a smile from Mulder.
He must see her shivering, because he takes off his suit jacket and offers it to her. She gratefully accepts, allowing him to drape it across her shoulders. They continue to gaze at the canyon.
Mulder speaks again. “The Hopi say that humans first emerged from the Third World - the world before this one - somewhere down there. Spider Woman made a reed grow from the floodwaters of the Third World, and the people climbed up and entered the Fourth World through a sipapu, a sacred portal.” He stops and stares down into the indigo depths of the lower reaches of the canyon. “In a way, I feel like I’ve entered a new world.” He says the words quietly, as if admitting it to himself for the first time.
She looks over at him. His attention is still directed outward, away from her.
“I know what you mean,” she replies quietly.
She’d felt it after she awoke from her coma five years ago, and again in the weeks and months after her remission from cancer. A knowing, a deep sense, that despite the myriad darknesses and sorrows that plague their lives, there is a fundamental vitality and beauty to life. And though the frequency of that sense has inevitably diminished in the daily grind of Bureau tedium and government redundancy, it’s coursing through every cell, every fiber of her being right now.
Mulder glances at his wristwatch. “Our flight’s in four hours. We’d better get going,” he says, and she swears she hears a reluctant sigh follow.
“Or, we could stay here.” The words tumble from her lips unexpectedly, surprising her.
Mulder pauses, looks at her. The beginnings of a suggestive smirk play at the corners of his mouth. “What, exactly, are you proposing, Scully?”
He thinks I’m joking, she realizes. Fuck it. No more excuses.
“I’m saying, forget driving to Phoenix. Forget making the flight. Let’s stay for the sunrise.”
The smirk immediately fades as he realizes that she’s serious, replaced with a look of genuine surprise. He steps towards her, standing so close that she can see the two day stubble of beard on his cheeks.
“Is that what you want, Scully?” He asks quietly, after a few moments of awkward silence. The tenderness in his voice and intensity of his gaze both reassures and terrifies her: an unspoken acknowledgment of what it is she’s really proposing.
She reaches up and gently strokes the scar on his temple. “It’s what I’ve wanted for a while, now,” she responds.
Mulder leans down and presses his lips to hers. “Me too,” he whispers.
Their room at the El Tovar Lodge is a significant step above the seedy motel rooms they usual occupy. A large window takes up the majority of one wall, but given that it’s night, she has no way to determine the view. The king bed feels palatial compared to the double and twin beds she’s used to sleeping in.
She revels in the blessedly hot water of the shower and sighs as she slips into the luxurious-feeling terry cloth bathrobe.
Mulder, his hair still damp from his own shower and a towel wrapped around his waist, sits on the edge of the bed, facing her as she exits the bathroom. Their eyes meet and she takes a few nervous steps towards him. With excitement and trepidation coursing through her in equal measure, she unties the wrap of her robe.
She hears a sharp intake of breath from Mulder. His hands, soft and warm, wrap themselves around her waist, then trace the curves of her hips to settle on her ass.
She leans forward and kisses him. His tongue prods her mouth, gently at first, then more insistently as she reciprocates with her own forceful movements. She can feel him grow hard beneath the towel.
He breaks away and starts kissing first her neck, which he nips at hungrily, then the hollow of her shoulder. While he’s doing this, one hand reaches up to cup her left breast. His fingers make lazy, gentle circles around her areola and nipple, causing them to pebble and harden. Suddenly, his lips are on her breast. She gasps at the wonderful, slightly painful sensation of Mulder’s lips and teeth biting at her nipple. She runs her fingers through his soft, silky, hair. The scents of Irish Spring soap and Barbasol are at once both mundane and arousing: Aphrodisiac a la Mulder.
He lavishes the same amount of attention on her right breast before pulling her onto the bed with him so that she’s lying on her back. His towel and her robe both lay discarded on the floor. Mulder is above her, now moving slowly, achingly downwards until his head is nestled between her thighs. His tongue finds her folds. She can feel herself growing wet and she lets out a series of small gasps at his attentive ministrations.
He stops and lifts his head and stares at her with hooded, hazel eyes. She gently tugs at his arms to bring him up to her. Their lips meet once again, more hungry than before. She wants to feel every inch of him. She reaches down to where his erection pushes insistently against her leg. She traces its length lightly, teasingly with a finger before taking him firmly in hand. Mulder gasps beside her as she runs her thumb across his head. “Scully…”
She pauses after a few strokes. Mulder gazes down at her. His eyes hold words left unspoken between them, and she remembers what he said ito her n his apartment hallway just weeks ago: “You were my constant, my touchstone.”
Now, here in this place, she repeats the words she spoke in response: “You are mine.”
She reaches up to stroke his face, then ever so slowly guides him down into her. He gently presses farther inside, filling her with a warmth and tightness that nearly sends her over the edge. She raises her hips to take in more of him and hears him groan in the throes of his own pleasure.
“Scully.” He whispers her name, his lips against the velvet of her neck. “Scully…”
“I’m here,” she says, then presses her lips to his.
Their breaths quicken as their movements become faster, more desperate. Seven years of simmering tension are on the brink of overflowing. She wants to meld with him, to disappear into this moment which seems suspended between time and space. She feels the sweet agony rising within her and she tightens her embrace of him, both within and without. That’s enough to send him over the edge; he gives a low groan as he empties himself in sweet release. Suddenly she too is falling, falling into a realm of heat and light and pleasure.
She is awakened by a hand gently shaking her. “Scully.” Mulder’s voice is a whisper just above her ear. “You gotta see this.”
She lifts her head from the pillow, sleepily rubbing her eyes at the brightness that has suddenly enveloped the room. He’s drawn the curtains back from the large bay window.
She pulls a blanket around her naked frame and joins Mulder at the window. They’re facing east, she realizes, their view broad and expansive across the canyon. Far off, past the canyon and across the Painted Desert, the sun is beginning its long journey across the sky. The early morning clouds are a thousand hues of orange, red, purple and indigo. The canyon walls seem to glow with their own unearthly light. Maybe this is what the Hopi first saw when they emerged from the canyon into this world, she thinks, recalling Mulder’s story. Today feels like a new day: for Mulder, for her, for them.
She feels Mulder’s arm encircle her waist, drawing her close. Together, they watch the dawn spill its light upon the world.