Summary: Post-ep for Irresistible.
When the ties are loosened and the gag removed, she doesn’t know what to do. Adrenaline tells her to fight or run, but her partner is holding her by the arms, looking at her with wide-eyed concern.
“I’m fine,” she says automatically, but there’s a traitorous tremor in her voice. His finger comes up under her chin, tipping her face toward his, and she has the insane thought that he’s going to try to kiss her. She jerks away.
“I said I’m fine,” she whispers, but the words waver, and her chin trembles. Her whole body is shaking. He pulls her into his arms before anyone else can see, offering shelter from her own storm.
“It’s alright. It’s alright,” he murmurs, the words brushing the fine hair at her temple. She lets him pull her closer, wraps her arms around him until she can muster the strength to push him away.
“Thank you,” she sniffs, unable to meet his eye.
He gently takes her wrists, examining the damage. Chafing, but nothing deep. He takes her hand in his—warm and solid, she has a fleeting memory of walking with her father as a little girl—and leads her outside where an ambulance is waiting.
“I’ll be right back,” he says, gesturing for her to sit on the tailgate as he goes to look for Bocks. She hates how her heart begins to pound when he ducks out of sight and holds tight to the edge of her seat to stop from running after him like a lost child.
A paramedic approaches from behind and Scully starts, whirling around and reaching for her gun in one fluid motion. Mulder is suddenly by her side, holding her shoulders until she’s steady on her feet.
“Whoa,” the paramedic says, holding up her hands in mock surrender.
Scully flushes with shame when she realizes her error. “I thought you were…” she swallows hard in an effort to hold back tears. “I’m sorry. You startled me.”
“Good thing you weren’t carrying or we’d need another medic,” Mulder says mildly. His hand on her back is reassuring; he won’t leave her side again.
The woman is quick, applying salve to Scully’s chafed wrists, looking at her bruises with a critical eye. “These cuts are superficial, but I’d recommend a trip to the hospital to be—“
“No,” Scully cuts her off. “It’s a few bruises. I can take care of it.”
The paramedic looks at Mulder as if to ask for help, but he shrugs. “You heard her.”
She signs the medical waiver, then follows Mulder to the warmth of the rental car, tucking herself into the safety of the passenger’s seat. She breathes a sigh of relief as he closes the door, shrouding them from the chaos of the crime scene.
“I have a room at a motel near the airport. I’ll get us on the first flight out.”
She’s grateful when he doesn’t press her for information, just puts the car in gear and drives. She closes her eyes, forcing herself to relax each muscle in turn to take her mind off the burning sensation at her wrists, the taste of dirty cloth on the back of her tongue.
At the motel, Mulder grabs two bags from the trunk, one of which she recognizes as her carryon.
“Found this in your car, figured you might want it,” he says, handing her the bag. She takes it, surprised at the way her throat tightens at the gesture.
Mulder is already heading for the office. “I’ll get a second room—“
“No!” she says, her voice echoing too loudly in the near-empty parking lot. “No, I’d…rather not be alone.”
Mulder blinks, hesitating at the curb. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she says. “If it’s OK with you…I probably won’t be able to sleep, anyway. I’ll take a chair.”
“That’s not necessary, Scully. The bed’s big enough for two…if you promise you won’t take advantage of me.”
Her lips curl at the edges. “I promise.”
The motel room boasts the same drab furnishings and dingy carpet as any other, but to Scully, it feels like a homecoming. Three hours ago, she thought the last thing she’d see was the musty floor of a closet. This room is warm and bright and safe, her partner’s tall frame filling the doorway like a barricade.
Mulder locks and chains the door, walking around her to toss his jacket and bag in a chair. Only in the light does she notice the circles under his eyes, his rumpled dress shirt with the rolled-up sleeves, the deepening five-o’clock shadow across his cheeks.
“I’m going to shower,” she says, throwing off her heavy coat, suddenly desperate to get clean.
“Go for it,” Mulder says. “Are you hungry? I’m going to book our flight and get something to eat.”
The thought of food turns her stomach, but she nods. “I’ll have whatever you’re having,” she says, gathering fresh clothes from her recovered luggage.
When the bathroom door is closed and locked, she strips and kicks her ripped, bloodied clothing into the corner. The water is blessedly hot, and soon the room is filled with steam. She opens the body wash, but quickly closes it again. The floral scent makes her dizzy, conjuring images of cold baths and severed fingers. She grabs the plain white soap instead, scrubbing at her skin until it glows an angry red, until the water stings every inch of her body.
When it’s time to wash her hair, she finds herself staring at the tiny bottle of shampoo with dread. The sensation of her own fingers scraping at her scalp makes her heart thump hard against her ribs.
She turns off the water when her skin is raw and her muscles feel like softened clay. Her reflection is a ruddy smear in the mirror, begging to be examined for traces of evidence. There are bruises on her torso, arms, and legs. Her hair hangs limp and dark around her face.
The steam slowly dissipates as the air cools, until goosebumps dance across her skin, until she no longer recognizes the woman in front of her. She traces the scab on her chin with one finger, watches as the woman in the mirror does the same.
There’s a knock at the door.
“Scully? Pizza’s here.”
“Be right out,” she calls, forcing her gaze away from her unfamiliar self. She dresses in sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt, twisting her wet hair into a ponytail before opening the door. The smell of peppers and onions makes her mouth water; the shower has worked some small magic, at least.
“Got your favorite,” he says from across the room, a case file in one hand and a piece of pizza in the other. He’s sitting at the table wearing a clean gray t-shirt and jeans. “Hope you don’t mind, I started without you.”
“It’s fine,” she says, reaching for a napkin and a slice, taking a seat on the corner of the bed across from him. “I’m starving.”
They eat in silence. She catches him sneaking glances when he thinks she’s not looking, probably assessing her condition, perhaps thinking he should have insisted they go to the hospital. Eventually she clears her throat, tired of pretending to ignore him.
“How did you know where to find me?”
Mulder hesitates. “Pfaster’s mother had an old property…the house used to belong to her, was willed to one of his sisters. We traced the car back to her and I followed a hunch.”
A hunch, she thinks, stomach churning. It should be reassuring, but the relief in his eyes and the stubble at his jaw tells a longer, more complicated story.
As if reading her mind, he leans forward, touching her wrist. “It wasn’t as far out as it sounds. It would have seemed fitting to perform these acts of brutality in his mother’s space, as a kind of posthumous revenge. The profile was accurate. It was only a matter of time before we made the connection.”
Scully swallows hard, her mouth dry, the pizza threatening to come back up.
“Hmm?” she looks up, realizes she’s been staring at her lap. “I’m sorry, I…I think I’m going to turn in.”
His brow furrows. “You haven’t finished your pizza.”
“I’m full,” she says, setting the half-eaten slice aside. “It’s been a long night.”
“Oh. Sure,” he says faintly.
She crawls to the head of the bed and slides under the covers, facing away from him, willing her stomach to settle.
“I’m going to start on the report,” Mulder says after a pause. “I’ll, uh, try not to keep you up.”
“It’s fine,” she lies. “I just need to rest.”
She doesn’t expect to sleep, so she’s surprised when her eyes close without her consent, when her body grows heavy after only a few minutes. She slips down into the dream, grasping at consciousness with frantic hands before finally sinking beyond its reach.
His cold hands in her hair, his breath in her ear, hissing like a snake. She struggles against invisible bonds as he pushes her under the water and holds her there. She tries to scream but everything is muted. His demonic face hovers over hers, twisted and deformed by the ripples on the surface.
There’s no way out, girly girl.
She gasps awake to Mulder shaking her by the shoulder.
“Scully, wake up. You’re dreaming.”
He’s propped up in bed next to her, legs stretched out on top of the covers. The television is on mute, casting a faint, flickering glow in the dark. She can feel the warmth of him through the blanket, has to stop herself from curling toward it like a paper touched by flame.
“Just a dream,” he repeats.
She jerks her head in a nod, blinking back tears. “I was back at the house. He was holding me under, I couldn’t breathe…“ she shudders, pulling the blanket more tightly around herself.
Mulder reaches over, pushes a strand of hair from her forehead in a gesture that’s both comforting and too intimate. “Wanna talk about it?”
Something about his presence in the low light reminds her of a confessional, and the words come tumbling out before she can stop them.
“I was tied up in a closet…it felt like hours. I know what to do in these situations, it’s what we’ve trained for, but I panicked. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe…I would have pleaded for my life if I thought it would help—” she stops, taking a deep breath, holding it for a moment to ground herself until she can go on.
“I couldn’t even look at him. I’ve been afraid, of course, it’s part of the job, but…I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t face that fear. I couldn’t face him.”
“But you did,” Mulder says, grazing her chin with a fingertip. “You could have stayed in D.C. No one would have blamed you if you had, but you came back. You fought him off, Scully. You lived.”
He pauses before continuing, shifting his gaze to his lap. “I just wish you’d told me. I know you’re used to hiding it for the boys’ club, but I’m not them. I mean, I am,” he says, frowning. “But I’m your partner first, and I want you to—need you—to be honest with me.”
“I didn’t want you to have to protect me,” she says thickly.
He chuckles. “That’s my job, Scully. God knows you’ve saved my ass more times than I can count. Let me return the favor once in a while.”
She sniffs and nods, his fingers tracing a circle on her lower back in silent forgiveness.
“Your strength isn’t measured by your ability to face everything alone,” he murmurs. “If anyone taught me that, it’s you.”
There’s a long silence as he pulls his hand away, and she thinks about the other fears she has yet to confront. He shifts on the bed, long legs stretching as he settles back against the headboard. There’s the rustle of cellophane, the sound of a sunflower seed cracking between his teeth.
“Thank you,” she says after a moment. “I…feel better.”
He gives her a sidelong glance. “Would you tell me if you didn’t?”
His tone is light, but the question weighs on her conscience.
“I would,” she answers truthfully. She reaches for his hand, squeezing it. “I would, Mulder.”
He bites his lip and nods. In the dim light, his profile is softened, and she resists the urge to reach out and ruffle the boyish tuft of hair at his brow. “I know. Get some rest, Scully.”
She turns over, aware of the dip in the mattress where his weight subtly pulls her closer, and she lets it. There’s the sound of her partner’s steady breathing at her back, a comforting lilt.
This time, she does not dream.