AUTHOR: Diana Battis
Scully awakens with a start, trapped by twisted sheets and tangled thoughts. She lies there, struggling to identify what has disturbed her. Though the room is strange and her senses are sleep-fogged, the sounds and smells are oddly familiar. She finds herself comforted for a moment, but it soon passes as she remembers -- she's had the dream again.
For the fifth time in seven days it has disturbed her sleep. The dream is always the same -- a dark room, a shadowy figure, then.... Shivering, she sits up and pushes away the covers, wishing it were as easy to rid herself of the memories.
The pulse of the Atlantic comes to her through the open window, and the pale curtains waft in the moonlight, ebbing like the tide. She breathes deeply, trying to picture an opalescent moon reflecting on the water as waves foam onto ivory sands. But this seaside resort is past its prime, and there is nothing romantic about the salt-laden tang of sea air tainted by the smell of disinfectant.
With a sigh, she reaches over to switch on the bedside lamp. Its glow reveals a standard motel room -- the cookie-cutter sameness both a comfort and an irritation. So much of her time is spent in places like this, she realizes with a pang. Cheerless rooms in forgettable towns -- dozens of them, all blending into the bleak sequence of events that are her life.
She silently chafes at their current case -- it seems both ridiculous and whimsical. Mulder is on a quest for mermaids, as if this were nineteenth century Copenhagen instead of Grassy Sounds, New Jersey. At times his enthusiasm can be contagious, spreading faster than a cold in a nursery school, but this time she is immune.
The TV remote lies on the bedside table, and she eyes it with resignation. Late night salvation from the HBO god. She grabs it as if it were a lifeline, and presses the power button.
The room fills with a haunting Puccini aria. 'A Room with a View,' a lyrical look at romance in another century, is playing on cable. This is perfect, she thinks as she allows herself to be caught up in the imagery. But too many late nights and too many disturbing dreams have taken their toll, and her eyes drift shut....
A shaft of moonlight pierces the shadows, illuminating the large, four poster bed. Naked and impatient, her body is spread wantonly across it. She can feel desire rising within her, and her hips rock restlessly against the cool sheets as she waits.
Soon a figure enters. He is silent, his body moving with a lithe grace that seems familiar, though his identity is masked by darkness. It doesn't matter. Without seeing his face, she knows this man and lifts her arms to him.
Suddenly the air is hot and redolent of sex. The coupling is intense, almost animalistic, their bodies sliding together hungrily. Her senses are full of him, the honeyed taste of his mouth, the feathery brush of hair-roughened skin, the labored rasp of his breath. She reaches up, her fingers moving blindly across his features. Lips, nose, stubble-roughened cheeks. He rears back, his head breaking into the beam of moonlight....
The shrill sound of a police siren wakens her as a high speed chase flits across the screen. Turn-of-the-century Florence has transformed into present-day Los Angeles. Wincing at the television's loudness, she quickly turns off the set. Trembling, her mind fills with images of a shirtless Mulder, hair tousled and eyes heavy with sleep, coming to her door. He's the last person she would want to confront after.... With a low groan, Scully presses her palms against heated cheeks. Holding her breath, she listens for sounds from the next room.
The only thing she hears is the blood roaring in her ears.
Exhaling, her hands drop, nerveless, to her lap. "It's okay," she whispers, but the words of self-comfort are uttered without conviction. Sitting up, she tries to straighten the t-shirt that has become bunched about her waist. The cotton is damp and sticks like velcro to her sensitized skin. Ignoring the uncomfortable tightness of her nipples, she pulls it away and smoothes the fabric with careful hands, forcing herself to concentrate on something besides the unsatisfied ache in her body.
As a woman in her sexual prime, she knows there's no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. She's familiar with her body and its needs. Moreover, she's been celibate for longer than she cares to remember. The nameless dream lover is a natural response to that state, nothing more.
But tonight, the second dream had taken an unexpected turn....
She shakes her head, the ends of her hair tickling her skin with goosebumps. Dwelling on it serves no useful purpose. Glancing at the nightstand, she sees the neat pile of notes she made earlier. Work. That's the answer. She leans over to grab her laptop, determined to push the unwanted images from her mind. Immersing herself in the purported mermaid sightings should go a long way in keeping her occupied until morning.
Soon the air is filled with the rhythmic stroking of keys, the cadence matching the still-frantic pounding of her heart. Words appear on the small screen, line after line of letters strung together into words and sentences and paragraphs, but they are like a foreign language to her.
With a scowl, she shuts off the laptop and pushes it aside.
She stands to straighten the rumpled bed, folding and tucking the ends with precision before scooting back under the blankets. Turning onto her side, she snaps off the light.
The roar of the ocean seems fainter now, and the room's contours take on a less murky countenance as the first fingers of dawn paint the sky. Though she closes her eyes against the evocative shadows that fill the room, she can still see him. Tall and strong, moving toward her with purpose. A puff of air caresses her cheek and she shudders, imagining his touch there instead. She sees him clearly in her mind, leaning over her, so close she can smell the musk of his skin. The pounding of her heart drowns out the sound of the ocean as she finally admits the truth. Her shadowy lover has a name.
The ribbon of blacktop twists ahead of them, cutting through the thick growth of trees. Mulder is driving, humming softly as his fingers tap against the wheel. He is the picture of relaxation, dressed in jeans and a black sweater, sunglasses perched firmly on his nose. Good enough to eat.
Her body squirms, the vinyl upholstery crinkling with annoyance. Damn him, she thinks, eying him surreptitiously behind her own lenses. How can he be so oblivious to her when she's so aware of him? Everything about him. The spicy scent of his cologne. The unruly spikes of his hair begging to be smoothed. The constant swipes of his tongue over his full lower lip.
Oh, God, his mouth. The things she remembers it doing to her in her dreams. She can almost feel the soft kisses running along her jaw, down her neck, lingering in the hollow of her throat until she's nearly insane. Back up to her cheek, sliding across her skin, tasting the corner of her mouth with his tongue until she grabs his head, anchoring his mouth to hers in a kiss that leaves them both breathless.
And his hands. Strong and sensitive. She imagines them touching her, stroking along her cheek, lifting the hair from her nape, sliding under the collar of her blouse. His agile fingers unbuttoning and unzipping, pushing clothes away, their callused pads tracing over her flesh....
Her own fingers curl around the seatbelt, knuckles whitening as she wills the images away.
What's wrong with her? She thinks back to that night in his apartment, after his trip to England. She remembers sitting with Mulder, sharing thoughts and feelings along with mugs of mint tea. There had been a certain level of intimacy between them that night, but it was exhaustion that had made her feel vulnerable, nothing more.
Sighing, she pushes the sunglasses onto her head and rubs at her weary eyes. Emotions she's worked hard to sublimate are now nearly impossible to control. She trembles, tired in more ways than one. It's lack of sleep, she tells herself, but the conclusion seems as hollow as one of the fallen trees they pass.
A lump forms in her throat, and she chokes it back, forcing herself to focus on the scenery. They've been here before, she realizes, watching the sentry-like pines slip past. Searching for a beast woman. She closes her eyes, picturing that Mulder. Younger, thinner, moving with a quiet self-assurance that had often been mistaken for arrogance. Was it really seven years ago?
Blinking, she steals another look at her partner. Still intense, still driven in his quest for the truth; his persona hasn't altered much. But hers has. Time has made a difference in her life. Circumstances have marked her, skin and psyche. And though her battle scars are worn like a badge of honor, the fight is often waged with barely concealed scorn.
You pay a high price for the loss of innocence.
Her hand slips under the collar of her blouse, resting against the frantically beating pulse in her neck. They wrangle over the issues, case after case, with neither one giving an inch. Par for the course. And yet, despite her skepticism, she can't deny some of the things she's seen or touched, or use logic to refute the evidence. At times, she finds herself crossing the same lines with him, holding on to some of the same beliefs. Some truths are answers, while others only lead to new questions.
Like whether or not you believe in magic.
Scully presses her cheek against the coolness of the window, thinking about their last case. A genie wrapped in an Oriental rug. Quaint. Original. And all in a day's work at the X-files. The thoughts repeat in sing-song fashion through her mind, like a musical paean to the absurd.
But is it so absurd?
Jay Gilmour was stricken by something other than microstomia or nasal aplasia. Anson Stokes *was* invisible. And Henry Flanken was.... She winces at the image. Perhaps science doesn't afford solutions to everything. Her hand slips back to trace over her nape, unerringly finding the small scar. If it defies logical explanation....
Stifling a sigh of weariness, her hand drops to her lap as she finally accepts it as truth -- the woman, Jenn, is a genie.
A genie who grants wishes. Who granted Mulder's wishes. Three wishes, like in the Tales of the Arabian Nights. The first two are accounted for, but he's never shared his third....
She sees him again, sitting on his couch, Shiner Bock in hand. "So what was your final wish, anyway?" she asked, curiosity getting the best of her. He turned, an appraising light shining in his gold-flecked eyes. He took his time, his gaze speaking volumes as it took silent inventory, but no words passed his lips. Instead, he smiled, then tilted the bottle to take a long pull at his beer.
At first, Scully took his silence as teasing. But as time passed, a growing sense of disquiet filled her. His focus seemed to be split between the television screen and her. She felt the quick looks he shot her way, and by the end of the movie she was trembling, her nerves as jagged as broken glass.
He clicked off the television, then stood and stretched before bending to gather the bottles and half-empty bowl of popcorn. "Want anything?" he inquired, the offer delivered in a husky tone that sent her pulse racing.
She shook her head, watching him from beneath her lashes. The black t-shirt was untucked, exposing the hollow of his strong back, and she closed her eyes against the lure of golden skin.
"What about a cup of tea?"
Her eyes blinked open to meet his. "No, thanks." Cheeks flushed with awareness, she tilted her head to glance at her watch. "It's after midnight. I'd better go." She slid forward to perch on the edge of his couch, the instinct to flee strong. But there was something intriguing in the warmth of his gaze, and curiosity soon overcame the urge to escape. "That wish, Mulder. You never said what it was."
His brows shot up. "No, I didn't." He set the bowl and bottles down and swung around, seating himself on the coffee table. "I wanted to make the world a happier place, and you know how that turned out. Then I decided to narrow my focus." The ghost of a smile appeared. "Bringing a little happiness into one person's life seemed a lot easier to achieve."
As he reached back to grab a few kernels of popcorn his knee brushed against hers, a warm slide of denim that struck sparks. She shivered, covering the slow burn of desire with a wavering smile. "Well, that makes everything perfectly clear."
He paused for a moment, a frown creasing his forehead. The pink tip of his tongue slipped over his lower lip as he stared into space. "Let's just say I made a wish for someone that she couldn't have wished for herself," he said at last, still not meeting her eyes.
She'd left soon after, still in the dark....
Scully chews on her lip, working over the soft flesh as her mind tackles the possibilities. Knowing Mulder, he would approach the matter with serious intensity, especially in light of the mistakes made by others. Careful to get his last wish right. And he claims he made the wish for someone else, someone...female. Who?
Figure out the 'who,' and the 'what' should follow.
A finger taps against the window, keeping time with the humming wheels. Six months ago Samantha would have figured prominently in this equation. But she's gone, and in light of the Stokes fiasco, an unlikely recipient of Mulder's final wish. Mrs. Mulder? Same scenario. Her lips purse as she mulls over the possibilities. He doesn't appear to be on intimate terms with any women, except for....
Like a wave crashing onto the shore, it hits her, and her uncertainty washes away in its wake. Her dreams, her feelings, are not a by-product of a solitary lifestyle. They must have another origin -- Mulder's wish.
Scully shakes her head, causing the sunglasses to slip back onto her face. She is unwilling to believe the obvious. She knows Mulder -- he would never do something so invasive.
Then why is she suddenly so aware of him?
She shifts restlessly, careful not to touch the arm so close to hers. Be honest, she thinks, her breathing erratic. The attraction has always been there, hidden just below the surface. Mulder is a fascinating and dynamic man. To pretend otherwise would be a lie. But the intensity of her recent awareness has taken her by surprise. She's worked hard to keep her emotions in check. They are friends, partners, and stronger feelings have no place in their relationship. She values the friendship too much to risk it. They both do.
"You're awfully quiet, Scully. Is something wrong?"
Mulder's voice interrupts her thoughts, and she shoots him a quick glance. Though his tone is bland, Scully notes the clenched jaw and feels her anger rising. As if he doesn't know, she thinks, her facial muscles mimicking his. Well, two can play that game.
"What could possibly be wrong? It was a relatively stress-free case, even if we didn't reach a tangible conclusion. And we're on our way home. I'm satisfied."
"Are you? Really?" He looks at her, his lips curving upward.
She hears a slightly mocking inflection in his voice. "What's that supposed to mean?" she asks, tensing.
He shrugs. "Nothing. I'm just used to you taking a more proactive interest in our unsolved cases."
"This case isn't unsolved. It's not even a case." She snorts in disgust. "Mr. Hughes and the other 'eyewitnesses' had classic beer-drinker physiques. I'd say their so-called mermaid was probably a dolphin aided by too many Coors."
He nods. "The 'beer-belly' rationalization, Scully...is that going into the official report?"
"Mulder, I'm tired. I don't feel up to discussing the finer points of delirium tremens at the moment." Resolutely, she turns sideways in her seat, her head pillowed against the window. She shuts her eyes, the monotonous thrum of the motor vibrating through her body.
She hopes for a dreamless sleep.
The latest issue of a forensic journal lies open on her desk. A steaming mug of coffee rests at her elbow, and she takes small sips of the fragrant brew as she tries to read. Though she's been scanning the page in front of her for several minutes, she hasn't absorbed any of the information. Instead, her attention is focused on Mulder.
He's talking on the phone, his tone slow and easy as he peppers his conversation with words like naiad and merrow and selkie. Though the case is without merit and should be closed, he continues to gather information. So very Mulder, she thinks waspishly, rolling her eyes.
She hears his soft chuff of laughter. "Let me talk to my partner and get back to you." The sound of his voice caresses her skin, and she shivers as the tiny hairs at her nape prickle in response to the pleasant rumble.
It's been like this since their return two days ago. She can't seem to concentrate when he's around. He dominates her waking hours in the same way he does her dreams, and the strain of pretending indifference is beginning to show in her face. The pale skin is like parchment, stretched tightly over her bones. Dark smudges are imprinted beneath her eyes, the signature of restless days and sleepless nights.
The phone slams down, and the chair squeals in protest as Mulder tilts back in it. "That was Dr. Friedman of the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland. The CMB has some information I think would be helpful on that New Jersey case." She doesn't need to look at him to know he's wearing a satisfied smile.
She closes the periodical and takes a deep breath, counting to ten before releasing it. Her features composed, she swivels around to face him. "What case, Mulder?" she asks, quirking an eyebrow. "I thought we agreed...."
His bark of laughter cuts her comments short. "Humor me, Scully. This should be right up your alley." He stands and stretches languidly. Her hungry eyes follow his every motion, staring as his movements pull the crisp, blue shirt taut against his well-defined chest. His arms reach toward the ceiling, pausing with hands outstretched, before dropping to his hips. "I think you'll find what Dr. Friedman has to say enlightening." Turning, he grabs his jacket off the back of his chair and shrugs into it.
She drops her gaze to her trembling hands, which are still holding the journal. The once-glossy paper is crumpled and damp, sticking to her sweaty palms. With a small moue of distaste, she replaces it carefully on the desk and looks back at him. "I fail to see how this could be relevant."
"What? Why?" His mouth twitches.
Averting her gaze, she picks at the journal's cover, peeling away a shred of paper. "Marine biotechnology has nothing to do with the mythology of mermaids," she states, watching with avid interest as the newly removed label quivers on the desktop, curling up until 'ully' is all that's left of her name.
"Dr. Friedman is a scientist, Scully, but I'm willing to make the trip anyway." He crosses the room to perch on the edge of her desk. "How about you?"
She shifts nervously, unsure whether it's the subject matter or his closeness that is making her feel so uncomfortable. "If you're trying to tell me there is scientific proof that mermaids exist...."
Mulder grins as he straightens up and moves behind her chair. "Why don't you come with me and find out?" he whispers, his fingers curling around her arm.
She jumps, his touch like a spark to dry tinder, and her once-pale cheeks flame with color. "I would, Mulder, if I thought this were in any way pertinent to a current investigation. As it is...." She shrugs, using that gesture to dislodge his hold. "That case is closed. Besides, I have other work to finish." She is proud of the aloof tone of her voice.
He leans down, resting his chin against her shoulder. "What's the matter, Scully?" His warm breath stirs the loose tendrils of hair near her cheek. "Afraid I might be right?" Straightening, he tucks the strands back behind her ear as he delivers the coup de grace. "Or are you just afraid?"
There is no mistaking the challenge in his voice.
She stands, her posture as rigid and unyielding as steel. "What's that supposed to mean?" The rapier-like tone of her voice slices through the charged silence.
He stiffens, pinning her with his gaze. "I don't know," he rasps, a muddle of emotions parading across his face. "Forget it." He walks back to his desk and scrabbles through the mess of papers and files littering its surface.
"I want to know what you meant by that, Mulder." Anger at his perceived taunt curls like a viper in the pit of her stomach, and she stalks into the middle of the room, prepared to strike back.
He turns to face her, and his mouth twists into a parody of a smile. "It was a joke, and a bad one at that. It's just...hell, Scully, you've been sniping at me for over a week. The case is ridiculous, the theories absurd, and my sources are barely one step from skid row. Nothing I say or do is right. I thought things were going to be different after...." He falters, impatient fingers raking through his hair.
"After what?" she asks quietly, but the roar of blood rushing through her ears drowns out his reply. She watches his lips move, their lush fullness pursing and stretching as they form the words. It hardly matters -- she doesn't need to hear him admit to his folly to know the answer to her question. She sways and her eyes drift closed, shutting out his image, but it's a useless tactic. Behind closed lids she still sees him, his smoky eyes sending out an invitation that she is finding harder and harder to resist....
"Scully? Scully!" She snaps back to awareness. Mulder is staring at her, his mouth tight with concern. "Are you all right?" Frowning, he extends a hand toward her.
The air is heavy and oppressive, as though a storm were mere seconds from breaking. "I'm fine." Though her chin tilts with determination, the arms that fold across her chest are trembling and protective.
Mulder nods once and turns away. He walks to the door, pausing with his hand on the knob. "Are you coming to Baltimore with me?"
She hesitates for a moment, struggling to keep her expression blank. She wants to be with him; oh, God, how she wants it. It would be so easy to say yes.... "No," she answers, wetting suddenly dry lips. "There are a number of projects that require my attention here."
He nods again, a sharp, quick movement that does little to hide his hurt. "Enjoy your bath, Scully." And he is gone, leaving her standing in the middle of the office with only her thoughts for company.
She has never felt so alone.
End of Part one
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