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A Real One

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Nevada State Route 375.
15 miles Northwest of Rachel, NV.

Her father once told her that nights in the desert are cold and beautiful. If she had been here under different circumstances, perhaps Scully would have been able to sit back and take in the beauty of the Milky Way’s pink airglow in the sky. Instead, she was standing on a dirt path off the highway, on edge, the harsh brightness of headlights aimed straight at her face. How much longer? She wondered as she shifted from one side to the other, leveling the mixture of sand and gravel underneath her feet. Finally, the wave hit, and everyone stopped moving.

“Mulder?” She asked waiting for a confirmatory sign, a sudden gasp of air, a blink of an eye, anything to indicate the rift in the space-time continuum had been mended. But he just stood there, stuck in place, seemingly unaffected by her utterance of his name.

Then before she could stage a protest, Scully felt his fingers let go of hers. She watched, holding her breath, as Mulder raised both hands to probingly pat his chest and face a few times. Pulling on the round neckline of his t-shirt, he took a whiff of the fabric and groaned.

“You forgot to mention I picked up smoking.”

“Glad to have you back,” she sighed relieved. She took a step in his direction and pulled his hand back into hers. Fingers interlaced, palm against palm, she gave it a gentle squeeze – their secret handshake.

“Feels good to be me again, Scully.”

She glanced down at their joined hands eager for his reaction. A quick application of pressure and the brush of his thumb against hers was all she needed. He was really back; the cosmic variables that had disrupted their lives had been reversed.

“Goddammit!” Morris Fletcher cursed while staring at his reflection in the driver’s side window of an unmarked black government SUV.

He looked over at them and Scully couldn’t quite tell if he was more annoyed or disappointed. She’d taken another step towards Mulder, closing the space between their bodies. Arms in close contact and still holding hands, they silently stood at each other’s side on the desert road.

“What are you waiting for? A limo to pick you up and drop you off at prom?” Fletcher asked.

His words did not cause even a twitch in the agents. Internally though, Scully relished the thought of his disappointment at the successful reversal of the body swap. The son of a bitch was back in the body and life he deserved. Let him rage all he wanted.

“Get a room; fuck the shit out of each other!” Said Fletcher irritated while aiming a dismissive hand wave at Mulder and Scully.

Mulder rebuffed the remark with a chuckle, but Scully felt herself blush. Someone just suggested she and Mulder have sex in the crassest way possible. It was out of line and disrespectful, but it did pointed to a truth about her feelings for Mulder she’d been avoiding. The sound of footsteps approaching jolted her back to the present, and she and Mulder focused on Fletcher and the other Area 51 employees scattered around the parked cars.

“Not a word about this to anyone. You go ahead and carry on with your lives and we’ll get back to our work,” said Grodin stepping forward from behind two men in black.

“Oh you bet your ass I’ll tell someone,” said Mulder, “You’ll be on the front page of every newspaper in America!” he continued, brandishing his fist in the air.

“Mulder!” Scully yanked his arm down. “Don’t!”

“Who’s gonna publish your crap… the Lone Gunman magazine?” Fletcher asked incredulously and let out a mocking laugh. “Don’t worry about him,” he said to Grodin, “No one will believe his story. We’ll feed something to the press.” The men turned around and got in their cars, slamming the doors.

Mulder pushed Scully away, shaking his head in anger, not at her, at himself. They watched as the cars drove off, leaving trails of dust in their wake. He’d been denied. He found proof of a supernatural phenomenon, only to have it taken away, swapped out of existence, leaving him empty-handed once again.

This was it. With as much precision as possible, they had assumed their positions from a few nights ago, closed their eyes as the temporal wave passed through them, and now, the order of the universe righted, they were free to go.

“Come on, Mulder. Let’s get out of here,” Scully tugged on his arm, gently this time, and motioned for him to follow her to their car.

The drive back was uncharacteristically quiet. Mulder’s eyes were fixated on the road. One hand on the steering wheel, cracking sunflower seeds between his teeth, he didn’t seem to notice she was fidgeting with her hands. Scully threw a few furtive glances at him, fearful to linger. Her attempt at composed indifference was starting to give way to impatience. After a good twenty minutes of forced absent-minded contemplation, she decided to break the silence.

“Mulder you haven’t said a word since we left Morris Fletcher and the others on the highway. Is something wrong?”

Mulder didn’t respond. From the corner of her eye, Scully caught the blue and white colors of a highway rest stop sign. The metallic sign was gone before she could recognize any food options, but Mulder must have seen it too because he veered off into the exit lane.

They pulled in past the first service area. There wasn’t much in the way of restaurants and shops, only a gas station with a small convenience store and a fast-food place. Mulder parked away from the buildings and away from the light posts at the far end of the lot.

“What is it, Mulder?” Scully asked concerned about his quiet demeanor.

He put the car in park and leaned back against the seat, his neck pushed into the headrest. A moment passed, then another. He took a deep breath and exhaled.

“I swapped bodies with an area 51 employee. That was pretty crazy.”

“Yeah, Mulder… Crazy doesn’t even begin to cover it.”

Scully was thankful for the sound of his voice. Soon however, the realization of what transpired sank in, and they were once again surrounded by quiet.

Mulder mouthed something inaudible. Then he tilted his head to look at her.

“Scully, what makes us who we are? Is it our body, our mind, our soul?”

“Well, I think you touched on the big three: Biology, philosophy, and faith,” she said, then paused for a moment to make eye contact. Mulder’s eyes had a strange sadness about them, midway between pensiveness and abandonment. After a brief hesitation, she continued, there had been enough silence already, “genetic scientists will tell you that each person has a unique DNA sequence, a pattern that sets us apart from others. In ethics, there is the moral concept of personhood. It’s related to individuality and the notion that people have distinct personalities, thoughts, and feelings and that we each matter in our own right. Some religions believe in the existence of spirits or divine energy. That our physical existence is only a fraction of a larger purpose…”

Her voice trailed off as she noticed Mulder resuming his prior position. She tilted her head to try and catch his gaze, but he was looking blankly through the windshield. Maybe she’d underestimated the severity of the situation. What were the emotional and psychological side-effects of body swapping? Offering reassurance seemed like the appropriate course of treatment, and so she reached for his hand.

“But I get the feeling that’s not really what you’re asking, Mulder,” Scully said softly, inviting him to say more. She tightened her grip around his palm for a little extra encouragement. Mulder gave his shoulders a slight shrug. He seemed unsure whether to respond or keep up the silence. Their eyes met and that was enough to nudge him back into conversation.

“English philosopher John Locke said that what differentiates humans from animals is self-consciousness. A person is a mental being who is not just intelligent, but capable of reason and reflection. That definition always appealed to me, Scully,” he said and looked down at their interlaced fingers, pausing his thoughts.

“When I ended up in Fletcher’s body, I was still me. All of my faculties were intact. I was, by all accounts, a living being with reason and intelligence. Yet I was also not me,” said Mulder.

His eyes were sad again, less pensive, more lost. While uneasiness was building inside of Mulder, Scully felt the increasing urge to make him better, to treat him by rationalizing the doubts left behind by the body swap experience. “Your body was no longer the physical self you knew. Losing that tangible aspect of your person must have been terrifying, Mulder,” she explained confident in her assessment.

“It was still me though, Scully. My thoughts, my mind, were the same,” he retorted, “you came around eventually, but for a moment you didn’t see me.”

It wasn’t uneasiness that she’d sensed. It was disappointment and she caused it. “I should have noticed sooner. You seemed off when we returned to DC that first night,” she said. He dismissed her apology with a quick headshake. Mulder flipped their hands so that hers was on top, then began to trace little circles on the back of her hand with his thumb. She swallowed and waited for him to continue.

“Scully, this whole experience got me thinking… We are never the same person all the time. The me from ten years ago is very different from the person I am today. But where do you draw the line? Am I still who I was a month ago? A day ago? A minute ago?” His thumb was stroking upwards against her index finger as he emphasized each question.

“Change is part of everyday life, Mulder. Though personality traits are relatively stable across an individual’s lifespan, we take on different social roles; we change our behavior to fit the expectations of the groups around us,” she replied.

“I’m familiar with social psychology, Scully, but I think it’s not just that we adjust to the norms of our environment, it goes beyond that. What I’m taking away from the body swap experience is that we are shaped by others’ perception of ourselves to an extent that is much deeper than I anticipated.” The thumb strokes had stopped, she missed their intimacy.

“Okay…” she replied, uncertain of where the conversation was heading.

“Without your acknowledgment of my person, I was lacking part of what makes me who I am.”

Scully’s eyes welled up. She took her hand out of his and looked out the passenger window while dabbing at a lone tear trickling down her cheek.

“I need to ask you something,” he said, brushing two fingers over her upper arm.

She batted her eyelashes to get rid of the moisture in her eyes, it wasn’t helping much. “Yes,” she answered with a sniffle, still staring out the window.

“Did you mean it?”

She moved back to face him, her eyes wide and wet, eyebrows raised.

“Is the Scully from last night now sitting in the car with me?” He asked, calm and steady.

She opened her mouth and moved her lips, but no sound came out. What was he asking? She wrinkled her brow, her eyes big pools of blue pleading for help.

“Give me your hand,” he said.

Mulder opened her palm and poured a handful of sunflower seeds into her hand.

Scully inhaled sharply, her eyes were wide like those of a hunted animal. The realization hit her like a thunderbolt. I'd kiss you if you weren't so damn ugly. He wanted to know if she meant it.

She was surprised, uncomfortable, no, she was cornered. Being forced to really know the meaning behind what she said sent a cold shiver running through her body. Did she mean it? Her initial decision was to brush off the incident as a joke.

Her mind must have been wandering for a while because suddenly Mulder was right there. His arm resting on the center console, his eyes dark, staring at her intently.

She wanted to tell him that she was just being flippant that night. But she also knew that wasn’t true. People shed their inhibitions when they don’t anticipate future confrontations. She spoke the words because the context of the body swap operated as a safety buffer. Her confession had been protected from actualization by the ludicrousness of the situation. Yes, she really meant it, she thought. She just did not expect him to call on her to answer the question.

Mulder was looking at her, transfixed, their faces only inches apart. There was something undecidedly tender and yet persistent about his expression.

“Mul...,” she murmured. He hushed her with a slow shake of his head and a firm pat of his hand on her thigh. Unable to finish her protest, she swallowed hard and stared back into his eyes, still dark, probing, and steady.

The next move was up to her. She dumped the sunflower seeds into her coat pocket and carefully settled her hand atop his. For an instant, she didn’t know if she was going to be able to muster up the strength to go ahead.

Braver in the intimacy of the dark, she closed her eyes. Lips slightly parted, her heart pounding wildly in her chest, she leaned forward and put her mouth to his, kissing him chastely. She felt him move to increase the pressure of his lips against hers. Although she didn’t withdraw she didn’t open to deepen their kiss.

He pulled back. “I want a real one,” he whispered breathly, their lips no longer touching.

Shocked at the separation and aroused by his request for more, she sucked in a quick breath. They were nose-to-nose and her chest was rising and falling rapidly with anticipation.

Mulder’s hand moved from her thigh to the curve of her hip and then settled securely in the dip of her waist. Longing for his touch and driven by the desire to pick up where they’d left off, she grabbed him by the back of the neck, ran her fingers through his hair, and plunged in for a second kiss. A real one as he requested. Offering him unrestricted access, she felt his tongue warm and wet delve inside her mouth. Like he had just wrapped her in a downy blanket, a feeling of completeness permeated her body.

He passionately tasted every inch of her, making occasional brief stops mid-kiss to suck on her upper lip before diving back into intense tongue play. This real kiss was urgent and full of need, so unlike that first tentative sign of affection from a moment ago. Whatever hesitancy she had first exhibited was overcome and replaced with keen lust harbored for too long.

Then his lips moved away and he traced her cheekbone with his thumb.

“Still you?” he asked softly into her ear.

“Still me,” she responded. The edges of her mouth curved upward into a smile and she quickly returned to savor more of his lips.

Mulder pulled her closer, as much as the center console would allow, ready to feel her body pressed intimately to his. Scully leaned in willingly. When she felt Mulder’s hand slip underneath her cotton shirt to cup her breast through the silky fabric of her bra, she was glad he’d parked away from the buildings and away from the light posts.

Between kisses and longing touches, Scully caught glimpses of the night sky. Rich pink mixed with white snow to illuminate the band of light that is the Milky Way’s galactic center. As their bodies moved in unison, Scully thought about how nights in the desert were indeed beautiful.