Summary: “You know I’ll always save you from drowning.” “You always do. You always keep my head above water.”
Key Words: Mulder/Scully UST
Disclaimer: I didn’t make this.
Notes: Thanks to my beta, Lib, who has done a fabulous job, as always 🙂
“This must be underwater love,
the way I feel it slipping all over me…
…it is so deep,
so beautifully liquid”
–Smoke City, ‘Underwater Love’
Scully can’t concentrate. There’s a stack of blank reports in front of her, but she can’t force herself to move. She’s been sitting here for an hour without so much as picking up a pen, and the reports are due on Kersh’s desk by lunchtime. There’s no way in hell she’ll be finished by then.
There are too many ringing telephones, hurried footsteps and creaking chairs. People are slurping coffee, passing notes, clacking keys and blowing their noses. Women with raised eyebrows and sharp whispers are gathered around the water cooler. Two men are walking past, jabbering about a ‘hot babe’
one of them is about to screw over. Scully doesn’t think she can last another day.
Her head’s been clogged since she woke up this morning, half an hour late. She popped two aspirins in a cab on the way to work, dry-swallowing them whilst ignoring the driver’s suspicious glance. Let him think whatever he wants. In fact, let them all think whatever they want. She plans to tell Kersh exactly where he can stick his reports.
There’s pressure in her sinuses, her temples and her inner ear. She feels as though she’s dived from a high board into a bottomless pool, but instead of rising to the surface she’s sinking deeper, the pressure building. Eventually her head will explode.
She rubs her eyes and her fingertips come away slightly sticky, like they’ve been dipped in raw egg. How many tissues has she used today? She’s lost count. There was a whole box on her desk this morning. Now, crumbling a sodden handful into the wastebasket, she realises they’re all gone.
Mulder’s box, sitting beside his elbow, is of no use to her. Even if she wasn’t currently on non-speaking terms with him, she wouldn’t ask. Getting tissues from Mulder would be a display of weakness, and she’d rather tough it out than face his gentle concern and delicate touches. She hates being treated like she’s marked “fragile”. She isn’t breakable.
She stands slowly, intent on heading to the ladies’ room, when Mulder abruptly stops typing and gets up.He doesn’t catch her sigh of relief as he heads for the coffee maker.
His desk is only three feet away, but Scully feels every inch. It’s like she’s walking a thousand miles underwater, the currents pressing down on every side. Her nerves are screaming by the time she reaches the tissue box, and when she reaches to pick it up…
“Mulder,” she says, trying to keep her voice steady. She doesn’t meet his gaze. Please don’t let him notice, she thinks feverishly, but knows there isn’t much hope. “I was just, um, coming to ask if you’ve finished your report.” Her whole face feels like it’s melting off her skull, and maybe it is. She prays that he doesn’t notice.
“Riiight,” he drawls. Considering she hasn’t spoken to him in five days, it’s more of a reaction than she’d expected.
“Well Mulder, have you ah…finished?”
She thinks this is probably the most awkward conversation they’ve ever had. She waits for him to continue it, to increase the tension, so she can snap at him, give him an icy glare and send him on his way. Hasta la vista, Mulder. She feels absurdly like giggling, or maybe like she’s about to start retching. Hopefully, Mulder will be gone, tail between his legs, before she can do either.
But Mulder seems to be reading from a different script. His warm finger presses beneath her chin. “Scully, are you okay?” The concern in his voice sparks a flash of anger behind her eyes. “Scully, you don’t look well.”
Damn it, she thinks, can’t he just give me a tissue? She sways slightly, trying desperately to seem controlled, composed. But she feels like she’s disintegrating, her mind and eyes dissolving into the air, her nose slowly dripping off.
“I’m not well,” she murmurs accidentally, then tries to backtrack, “I mean, I’m not feeling too well, but I’m fine. I can keep working today, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“You’re not well but you’re fine? That’s new, Scully. I hadn’t heard that one before.”
“Keep your voice down!” she hisses, glaring up into his eyes.
Big mistake, she thinks, when she sees how disheveled he is. Crumpled shirt, yesterday’s tie, colorless skin. He probably didn’t sleep last night, or the night before either. Not that she cares, of course.
“Scully, I think you should go home and take a rest,” he says, turning serious. “Come on, Scully…everyone gets sick sometimes.”
“I’m not sick!” she protests, then realizes people are beginning to stare.
“I’ll drive you,” he says softly, bending towards her, his hand on her arm.
“Mulder,” she whispers, “it’s just a head cold.”
“I’ll drive you.”
There’s no way she can refuse–not with all the heads they’ve turned. Not with her own head about to tumble off her neck like a bowling ball, and her murky, swimming vision. It’s too late to stop Mulder, anyway. He’s already shrugging into his coat, his tired eyes brimming with sincerity. She tries to stay angry with him.
She tries all the way home, clasping his hand in the car, her head lolling against the window as the city rolls by. Mulder talks but she can’t understand. His voice is soft as the music of waves on a beach, late at night.
Sometimes she opens her mouth, expecting herself to speak, but her throat feels stuffed with sand. Every breath is a slow scrape of pain along her esophagus.
How did she even get into the car? She remembers Mulder handing her a coat, leading her out of the office by the arm. Everything after that is hazy. Somehow she got into her coat, got into the car, and now they’re halfway to her apartment. Did he slide the coat onto her shoulders, or did she?
Why was she mad with him again?
The Bermuda Triangle, she thinks. The ghost ship.
The boundless, barren sea.
Mulder was in the water, floating face down. Scully watched as Langley and Byers pulled him out. Looking at Mulder’s limp, dripping body, she tasted saltwater. She felt it sloshing in her lungs, her stomach.
It was hard to move, even when they told her he was alive and needed help. Hard to press her lips against his cold ones, breathing into him. Mulder’s skin was grey, his eyes were sightless. She took her mouth from his and checked his pulse, pumped his chest and looked down at him.
She imagined him laid out in a morgue. She saw him stretched out, bluish and frozen in death.
Then his chest gurgled, his body jerked and her heart started beating again.
Mulder is beside her now, one week later, as though it never happened. A part of her can’t help labeling his near drowning as a glitch in time, or maybe a vivid nightmare. Sometimes Mulder seems larger than life, almost invincible. It’s a dangerous perception.
Momentarily a little less muzzy, she watches him from the corner of her eye, pretending she isn’t. He’s cracking a sunflower seed between his teeth, steering one-handed through the midday quiet of Georgetown. How many times has she told him not to do this? Does he have any idea how irresponsible it is? It’s infuriating, especially when he’s swerving along a freeway, recklessly plowing between cars. Sometimes she has to grip the dashboard.
Of course, it’s also exhilarating.
“So Scully, you speaking to me again?” he asks, flicking the shell into the backseat.
“Guess so,” she huffs against the window. Her fever-hot breath condenses on the glass and she wipes the tiny droplets with her sleeve, feeling about two years old.
Mulder’s eyes dart her way, “Good,” he says firmly, “because I was starting to think we’d have to come up with another way to communicate. You know, maybe Morse code? Or sign language.”
“Telepathy,” she mumbles, sniffling.
Nothing we don’t already have when we need it, she thinks.
“You know, you don’t have to do this,” she says, as he closes the door behind them. Her voice has mutated to a scratchy, moist monotone. She hardly recognizes it.
Her apartment is sunlight dappled at this time of day, with an atmosphere of calm and silence. She feels like a disturbance, which reminds her that she really shouldn’t be here. The unfinished reports weigh on her mind. Upsetting Kersh after Mulder’s recent escapade would be a terrible idea.
“Mulder, you should really get back to work. There are some reports I didn’t finish and I need you to fax them to me. I’ll rest here a little while and then I’ll get them done by the end of the day…Mulder?”
He ignores her, taking her arm and leading her into the bedroom. He’s shuffling her along as though she’s too frail to walk. It’s entirely the wrong approach.
“I’m not your grandmother, Mulder,” she snaps, pulling her arm away. “Just go back to work and let me rest, okay?”
To her horror, coughs bubble up in her throat. Thick, hacking coughs that bend her over almost double. Her nose and eyes start running, one of her ears pops, and her lungs are contorted and painful.
She’s aware of Mulder’s hands soothing her back, his rich voice in her ear, his warmth beside her. As her coughs subside, he scoops her into his arms and walks towards her bed. She’s can’t protest, because her throat now feels like it’s been torn down the middle.
When Mulder reaches the bed he pulls the sheets and comforter off, laying her down on the mattress. He props up her head with a few pillows, pulls off her shoes and tucks her in, then brushes his fingertips across her cheek. “Just rest now,” he whispers, quietly padding out to fetch a glass of water.
By the time he returns, sleep has pulled her under.
Deep green all around.
The water swells into her ears, nose and mouth, a briny, burning taste, a choking pressure.
Above there is a faint light, like through coloured, rippled glass. She starts swimming upwards, limbs flailing, on the verge of panic. She’s so deep and the water around is dark and stinging with cold.
She’s getting closer to the light but now shapes are moving around her, dark masses that could be anything. They circle silently, without ripples or bubbles.
She’s frantic until she sees they’re just
shadows, cast by objects floating above. Not
sharks, just shadows, and she’s almost
reached the surface now. She can almost
touch the floating objects. What are they?
One is larger than the rest, and she’s
drawn towards it.
Then she sees, her lungs bursting,
that it has fingers, clothes and
tendrils of hair.
It’s a corpse, floating on its
stomach, peering down at her with
dead eyes. It’s a buoyed body
with a bloated face, a bluish
tinge to its skin.
It’s a corpse with Mulder’s
hair and his fingers and his
eyes and God,
oh god no, oh god it’s
she can’t breathe. his
eyes are blank, cold,
marble-white, and she
when she opens her
mouth the light
dims and her
and then she
She’s gasping, twisting, but there’s something pinning her down. “No,” she whimpers, struggling. Icy water drips out of her hair, sliding over her face and neck, pooling in the hollow between her clavicles. Something wipes it away, a cloth, and then gentle hands are smoothing her hair.
Mulder’s voice is crooning in her ear, “Shh, Scully, it’s okay, you’re okay.”
She’s shaking. How can he be here? Her head aches as though she’s sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and she sees the swollen face of his corpse in her mind’s eye. Mulder’s dead, she thinks, as her eyes leak scalding tears. He’s dead and he isn’t here, and I’m down in the sea, deep beneath the waves.
“I’m here, Scully, it’s okay. Can you open your eyes?”
“No,” she whispers. She can’t speak any louder. “Mulder, are you really here?”
He laughs quietly, thumbs caressing the sides of her face. “Where else would I be?”
“You were floating in the water.” Her voice is a raw gasp. “Mulder, you were drowned, in the ocean, and I was pulled under. It was dark, Mulder. I couldn’t breathe.”
She feels herself being lifted slightly, then Mulder’s arms sliding around her, gently holding her to him. “It was a nightmare,” he says, kissing her forehead briefly. “Open your eyes, Scully.”
She nods, her eyelids stinging as she slides them open, then blinking rapidly to clear her swimming vision. She smiles faintly when she sees Mulder leaning over her, painted in golden lamplight, his eyes swirling with relief.
“Hey,” he whispers.
Her breathing slowly calms, her pulse rate lowering. “You’re really here.” She reaches up, her fingers brushing his nose, then tracing over his face until he softly catches her hand in his.
“I’m really here,” he responds with a grin.
Her nightmare images dissolve, draining out of her mind at his warm, gentle touch, at his smile. The ache in her head and lungs is diminishing, and her brain is nothing but mush.
Tension flows from her body as she yawns, her eyes fluttering closed. “Mulder, I want to sleep some more,” she murmurs. “Tell me a story, so I can sleep.”
Slowly, he tilts her out of his embrace, back onto the bed. “A fairytale?” he asks. If she were more aware, she’d hear the smile in his voice, a faint lilt. However, her Special Agent Superwoman persona, with its vast powers of perception and quick-witted tongue, has dwindled into nothingness. Her concentration wavers– what did he just say? “Once upon a time…” he begins.
“No, no,” she murmurs, burrowing into her pillow. “Something weird. Tell me a tall tale, Mulder.”
He chuckles. “Okay then. There was an old man with a beard, who said–‘It is just as I feared. Two owls and a hen, four larks and a wren, have all made a nest in my beard.'”
“That wasn’t a story, Mulder,” she whines.
Mulder takes her hand, running his thumb across her palm. “All right, all right. How about…’The Owl and the Pussy-cat’?”
“‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea, in a beautiful pea green boat. They took some honey, and plenty of money, wrapped up in a five-pound note. The Owl looked up to the stars above, and sang to a small guitar, ‘Oh lovely Pussy! Oh Pussy, my love -‘” Mulder pauses, his eyebrows raised for effect, “You know Scully…I never thought about it before, but this poem has some bad connotations.”
Her reply is nothing but a sleepy sigh, so he continues his tale, watching her eyes slowly flicker into REM.
It’s dark now, the trees shuddering outside in a night wind. Streetlights shine through her windows and rain splatters against their panes, giving her bedroom a murky, blurred illumination. She sees Mulder half-draped over her bed, his head lying next to her elbow. His features are sleep-smoothed, pale in the light.
“Mulder?” she croaks, lightly curling her arm around his neck.
“Hmm…” he snuffles.
He nuzzles into the warm skin above her elbow, “Mmmph.”
“Wha…” he finally lifts his head, gazing up at her with his big, dark eyes. “Oh, hey Scully. How’re you feeling?”
She smiles, running her fingertips over the shorn hair at the back of his neck. “I can feel my face again… that’s a start, right?”
“Your fever broke a few hours ago. Do you remember?” He sits up, letting her arm fall to the comforter, but then takes her hand and brushes his lips across her knuckles. “I had to wake you up with ice water.”
“I remember something…” she scans her memory, lips pursed. “I remember you started reciting Edward Lear.”
Mulder grins, “You asked me to tell you a story.”
“I remember feeling like my lungs were full of water.”
“You had a nightmare.” His expression darkens and he leans closer, inadvertently displaying the taught worry lines across his forehead, around his bloodshot eyes. “You were screa…calling out, in your sleep. That’s how I knew to come in here.”
“I was drowning,” she says, recalling the dream now, the dark ocean. “Mulder, you pulled me out.”
He’s silent, but he clasps her hand tighter, looking down at their entwined fingers. Suddenly she is astounded by this simple contact, awed by his creased palm and the slope of his thumb. Touching him is such a rare, precious thing. It happens so infrequently, she sometimes forgets the feel of his skin over the passage of time.
“Scully, you’ve pulled me out more times than I could count,” he murmurs finally. “Last week, for instance… and I didn’t even deserve it.”
“You know I’ll always save you from drowning,” she responds, with the quirk of a smile.
“You always do. You always keep my head above water.”
Scully bites her lip and bends her head, not wanting him to read her. She can’t believe they’re having this conversation–that he’s actually saying these things to her. It’s too much and too little at the same time, because while she wants him to keep talking, to keep touching her, she’s also afraid of the consequences.
But, she thinks, do there have to be consequences?
It’s just her and Mulder, sitting in her room as the rain drenches the city outside. So why does it feel dangerous? Why does it feel like something’s already happened between them?
She only knows she doesn’t want him to leave. Not tonight.
Tugging his hand, she meets his eyes again.
“Mulder,” she says, rough-voiced. “Mulder, come here.”
His eyes widen slightly when she lifts the bedcovers, but he swiftly recovers, kicking off his shoes and climbing in beside her.
She doesn’t have the energy to wonder if this is a mistake. Instead she lies down, pulling Mulder onto the mattress beside her. He folds his long limbs around her, smiling against the crook of her neck.
They curl into each other’s arms, holding on as they drift out of consciousness.
Tucked together in her bed, they are dry and safe in their embrace. She slides her hands over his and he sighs into her hair, pulling her against him, his breath softened as he sleeps.
They have dragged each other out of the depths, but now they’re falling into another ocean. A serene body of water this time–the cool waters of healing, of baptism and life.
Unaware, they fall closer.