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A Gem-like Flame

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1. When she first arrived, the cafeteria in the Olympic Village was her favorite place. The people watching was top tier, and she and her roommate had befriended the US volleyball team, which was pretty hilarious when they all sat together, the diminutive gymnasts and the willowy volleyball Amazons sitting side by side like kindergartners mingling amongst middle schoolers. 

The last few days, though, she tended to grab something quick and take it up to her room.

She moved over to the beverage station to grab a mineral water and stopped behind a tall guy that was filling up a huge glass with soda. He was standing in such a way that she couldn't get past him. She glanced down at his tray while she waited and her brows rose up. It was absolutely piled with food. How the guy was going to even get the soda on his tray would be a feat of Tetris. She looked at her paltry salad and the grilled chicken she'd gotten to cut up and throw on top, and chuckled.

He turned when he heard her.

"Oh shit, sorry," he said, moving to the side.

His accent was either American or Canadian, she wasn't yet sure which.

"No worries," she said, and moved up closer to him to grab a bottle of Perrier. She again threw a look at his tray.

"Is that... all for you?" she asked.

He smiled and shrugged as he popped a lid onto his soda and then reached for the last bottle of chocolate milk in the cooler. She let out an involuntary groan of frustrated jealousy.

"God that looks good," she said.

He offered the milk to her.

"You want it?" he asked, "it's the last one and I probably can't fit it on my tray."

"I'd love to but..."

"But?"

"My coach would kill me. Restricted diet," she said, looking pitifully at her own tray. 

He looked at her a moment as though he wanted to say something, but held his tongue. 

"What's your sport?" he finally asked. 

"Gymnastics," she said. 

"Oh, big draw," he said, and she smiled. 

"Yours?"

"Swimming,” he said, tilting his head humbly. 

"American?" she asked. He nodded at her. "Me too."

He smiled. 

"You, uh... want to sit together?" He nodded his head toward a nearby open table. "I'll covertly share my chocolate milk. We can practice the words to the Star Spangled Banner."

She huffed a laugh at him, then looked over her shoulder. The gymnastic coaches were sitting nearby and Derek, the dietary coordinator for the team, was looking directly at her. "I usually take it up to my room," she said on a sigh. 

"Okay, well... Good luck out there, Gymnastics," he said, taking a step backward while still facing her. 

"You too, Swimming," she said, and turned toward the exit, a small smile on her face. 



2.She and Jessica had their feet up on the balcony railing, watching the sun dip below the horizon. They were several floors up and had gotten lucky with their assigned room. The Australian team across the hall had balconies that looked out at a beige, towering apartment complex, with nothing to look at but potted plants and mismatched patio furniture. 

"I'm going out tonight," Jessica said, smirking a bit, "you should come." 

"Curfew is at eight, Jess."

"And we're alternates, Dana," Jessica said, "unless Alicia Kopenkoski takes a half-gainer off the interview stage with Al Roker, we're just here to smile at the cameras and cheer on our team. I’m going out." 

Dana sighed and bit her fingernails. She had been .05 points from making the actual team and had been devastated when she'd only qualified as an alternate. Her floor routine had been perfect, but she hadn't stuck her landing quite as steadily as she usually did (and hadn't since). She was 24 years old. This was her last chance to be an Olympian. Her last chance to win that medal and stand on the podium — it had been her dream since she was six. 

Jessica reached over and squeezed her arm. 

"I'll put snoring sounds on my laptop and we'll Ferris Bueller it. Come on, it'll be fun."

"No thanks," Dana said, finally looking over at her friend and smiling. "You know me, I'm too Suzy Rulefollower."

"You're missing out," Jessica said. Dana was still in her leotard and warm-up, but Jessica had showered and blow-dried her hair and was in full make-up; fake lashes, the whole nine yards. "I met a German equestrian," she went on, "I have big plans to be his little Pichelsteiner." 

Dana laughed. Jessica was trying to cheer her up, and she loved her for it. 

"I'm serious," Jess said, "I told him I could do the Bavarian Pretzel."

"Jess."

"Plan to let him take his weiner to my schnitzel."

"Jess!"

"Gonna gobble that Bratwurst."

Dana was doubled over with laughter. "You're nobody's wurst anything," she finally said, dabbing a tear from under her eye. 

"Other than being this team's wurst gymnast, amiright?" Jess stood, and Dana sobered.

"Jess…"

"I’m 20. I’ll have a shot at Paris. It’s fine,” Jessica said, and squeezed Dana's shoulder. “Text me if you change your mind," 

"Have fun," Dana said, "and grab a handful of those Olympic condoms, huh?"

Jessica laughed and slid the door closed behind her, leaving Dana on the balcony with only her thoughts and the setting sun. 

All of a sudden, something shot up over the side of the balcony railing and landed with a plastic clack on the floor near her feet. She gave a startled yelp, then looked to see what it was. A small plastic bottle of chocolate milk rolled on its side and came to rest by her left shoe. She picked it up -- it was still cold. 

She stood and leaned over the balcony looking down. Standing on the floor below her was the swimmer she'd met in the cafeteria a few days before. He gave her a shit-eating grin. 

"Your coach isn't up there is he?" he asked.

"Nope," she said, smiling back. "Thanks."

He leaned back against the balcony railing and crossed his arms. "I got McDonald's down here," he said "you want me to send some fries up?"

"They'd never survive the trip," she laughed. 

"I don't know," he called, "I'm rooming with an archer and the guy has seriously improved my aim."

"Well, I know where to find you if I change my mind."

"Door's open," he said. He turned around and looked out at the sunset. He seemed to downshift. "It's pretty out here," he said. 

"It is," she agreed, "it's a good place to come for visualization." 

"Sports shrinks have you guys do that too, huh?"

She laughed. "Yeah, I visualize my ass on the bench while people at home pause their TVs for a split second trying to see me."

He turned back around and looked up at her. 

"What do you mean?" he asked. 

"I'm an alternate," she said, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice, "I only get to compete if one of the stars gets hurt."

"Fifth alternate?" he asked. “Seventh? Tenth?” 

"First," she said, grinning. 

"An important distinction," he said, maintaining eye contact. 

"I suppose," she said. "What about you?" she asked. "What's your event?"

"200 meter Butterfly and the freestyle relay."

"And they really don't care if you eat like 5,000 calories in a sitting?" 

"We burn up to about 10,000 a day," he said, "we can pretty much eat whatever we want."

She looked down at him and considered him for a moment. 

"...think those fries are still hot?" she asked. 

                    XxXxXxXxXxX

"Hey," he said, opening the door to find the gymnast from upstairs looking up at him shyly from his doorway. She had her red hair pulled tightly back and she was in a US warm-up outfit, zipped all the way up. "Come on in," he said, and she ducked under his arm. 

Once inside, she looked around with her hands behind her back. 

"I take it the layouts are identical?" he asked, shutting the door. 

She nodded. "I was promised fries."

He smiled and moved over to the small tabletop, brandishing a paper bag printed with the Golden Arches. She smiled and took it, peeking inside and taking an indulgent sniff. Her eyes rolled back in ecstasy. 

"Oh my god, thank you," she said. She unzipped her warm-up jacket and took it off, tossing it on Andy-the-Archer's bed. He plopped down beside it, giving her a little space. Inside the jacket was a strip of masking tape with "SCULLY" written on it in Sharpie ink. 

"You're welcome... Scully?" 

She nodded, downing a handful of fries with a rapturous look on her face. 

“I’m Mulder,” he said, hooking a thumb at himself as she lowered herself into one of the room’s two chairs.

"It’s a pleasure. You have any of your events yet?" she asked around a mouthful. 

"First heats were yesterday and the day before. Finals are tomorrow. Individual in the morning, relay in the afternoon."

"That's a quick turnaround," she said. 

He nodded, looking at the cute way she tucked her feet under her body as she sat, now nibbling on the fries one at a time. 

"How about you?" he asked. 

"Individual competitions are on Friday, team competition on Saturday."

"For the whole shebang?" 

"For the whole shebang."

"What's your training schedule look like?" he asked. 

She shrugged. "We have the floor tomorrow evening. Probably the weight room earlier in the day." 

"Question for you," he said, and she raised her eyebrows. He was looking at her expectantly. "Is Alicia Kopenkosky a total bitch, because on TV, she always seems too good to be true."

Scully threw her head back and laughed, the sound melodious and clear as a ringing bell. 

                    XxXxXxXxXxX

She had sat in Mulder’s room until about five minutes before curfew, not realizing how late it had gotten. He was insanely easy to talk to, and just as easy to look at, his muscular, cleanly-shaven arms unfurling from a plain black tee shirt like a poem rolling off the tongue. 

She’d been quizzing him on his pre-race routines and he admitted that he listened to music to get himself pumped up. 

“What kind of music?” she’d asked. 

“Biggie,” he’d said, “Tupac. Lot of 90’s rap.”

“Really?” she’d said, “I want to hear your mix.”

He’d grabbed his phone and sat next to her on the bed, plugging in the old headphone cords that came with the phone. He put one in his ear and handed her the other. 

“You know they make Airpods now,” she’d said, razzing him a bit. 

“Yeah, I went through three sets of them,” he’d said, “I’d forget I was wearing them and jump into the fucking pool. These are a lot safer.”

She laughed and he’d started to play his list for her. It was good. It was nice sitting next to him; even though he was about a foot taller than she was, his bulk wasn’t intrusive - just a warm, solid presence at her side. She couldn’t help but lean into him after a bit. 

After the third song though, he sat up, leaning slightly away from her. 

“Oh,” he’d said, “one sec. I’m going to skip the next one.” 

He went to scroll on his phone and she put out a hand. 

“Wait, why?” she’d said, “Don’t. I want to hear it.

He’d looked at her kind of desperately.

“Play it,” she’d said, letting a teasing note slip into her voice. 

“I don’t--” 

“Play it, Mulder.”

The loon-like chords of Mr. Mister’s Kyrie began vibrating through the speaker in her ear and she’d turned to him. He scrunched his eyes closed and bit his lip in embarrassment. 

She laughed. 

“You think I’m going to give you a hard time,” she’d said, “but I love this song. I wanted to do my floor routine to it.”

He’d opened his eyes wide in surprise. 

“Are you serious?” 

“My coach talked me into another song, but… I think I perform better to this one. This song is honestly like… it just works, you know? You can feel it here.” She pointed to her chest.

He had a pleased, surprised look on his face and she thought maybe it was tilting in a little closer to hers when her eyes drifted to the table beside them.The bedside clock glowed at 7:55, and she sat up straight, the earphone falling out of her ear. 

“Oh shit!” she said, jumping up. “I gotta go!”

She felt in her pocket for her room keys and hustled for the door, pausing with her hand on the knob. 

“Thank you for the fries,” she said, having trouble committing to actually leaving. He rolled slowly off the bed, the white cords of her earphone swinging gently in front of him. He moved to stand in front of her. 

“Consider me your calorie dealer?” he said gently, and reached out to run a finger down her arm. Her skin turned to gooseflesh. The bedside clock turned to 7:56. 

“I’ll… I’ll be checking the balcony for candy bars,” she said. She’d meant to joke with him, but her voice came out as a whisper. She had a compulsive urge to kiss him, but instead pulled open the door and darted out into the hallway. She felt like she left something inside of herself behind. 

“Any particular kind?” he leaned out of his room watching her retreat, clearly trying to keep his voice down. 

“Anything European!” she called back, and then ran up the stairs. 

                    Xx

Jessica stumbled in at midnight, stubbing her toe and hissing a curse. 

“Shit, sorry,” she hissed when Scully rolled over.

“S’ okay,” Scully said, turning on the bedside lamp, “I wasn’t asleep.”

”Why not?”

Scully shrugged evasively and Jess narrowed her eyes at her. 

“Alright, secret squirrel,” she said, plopping down on her bed. She had a plastic bag in one hand. “Did I get away with it?” 

“I told them you were in the bathroom,” Scully said. “Did you have a good time?”

“There’s a reason Klaus is in the Olympics, lady,” Jess said, “homeboy can ride.”

Scully laughed. 

“Oh, here,” Jessica said, tossing the plastic bag onto Scully’s bed. “This was hanging on the door handle, I assume it’s for you.”

Scully sat up in bed. Inside the plastic bag was her team warm-up jacket which she’d forgotten in Mulder’s room. When she unrolled it, a few things fell out and onto the bedspread: two full-sized European Kit Kats and a ticket to the Men’s Swimming Finals. 


3. The building was humid and warm and the acidic burn of chlorine hovered in her nose like a sneeze.

It felt different than the eponymous funk of a gymnasium that was redolent of foam and chalk and sweaty socks. It felt cozy, somehow, and she was a bit taken aback when an usher led her to the seats closest to the pool that had been reserved for family. 

“Who are you with?” asked a portly woman in a chic white outfit that she ruined with a garish stars and stripes fedora. She was holding a drumstick and a cowbell that was beginning to bend with wear. 

Scully scanned the swimmers milling about the pool, a clump of American athletes on the far side huddled together wearing navy blue swimming caps with the flag and their name on the side and red speedos that left little to the imagination. She picked out Mulder who was turned to the side showing his profile, and pointed. 

“Um, Mulder,” she said shyly. 

“Oh, honey!” the woman beamed at her, “I’m so glad you’re here! Fox had said that none of his family was able to make the trip. He’s in the relay with my Johnny this afternoon! Oh welcome, welcome !” The woman reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “Darlene, Darlene!” the woman turned to a couple sitting behind her, “she’s here for Mulder!”

Darlene gave Scully a giant smile and a big thumbs up, the American flag wrapped around her shoulders slumping down around her waist. 

Several heats were held before it was time for the Butterfly, and Scully felt herself moving to the edge of her seat when she saw Mulder make his way over to his lane. He glanced up at where she was sitting and she felt excitement bloom in her stomach when she caught his eye. He smiled at her before pulling down his goggles and shaking out his arms and legs. 

The woman in white (whose name turned out to be Betty) reached down and squeezed her shoulder as Mulder and the other swimmers got into position. “He could medal, sweetie,” she said, not taking her eyes off the pool, “there’s a good chance!”

Before she even realized what was happening, the starting buzzer rang and the race was on. It was a short race, only 200 meters, so his pool entry was important and it looked like he’d done well. After a moment, she found herself shouting out encouragement, Betty pounding on the cowbell next to her, the excitement of the arena whipping into a froth. Mulder was like a fish in the water, a total natural. His turn was as swift and fluid as a porpoise. 

As they closed into the finish, Mulder was close to the lead, if not in it, and the swimmers all pounded the wall within milliseconds of each other. 

“Who won?” Scully asked, her heart pounding. Mulder and all the other swimmers had their eyes on the board, but she thought she saw him, for one second, turn to look at her. 

“Hold on, hold on,” Betty said, gripping Scully’s shoulder, and then the times were posted and Betty shot up out of her seat. “Silver!” she screamed, pounding on the cowbell before pulling Scully up to her feet and in for a hug. “He got silver!” 

Mulder, out in the pool, slapped the water happily and then turned to the swimmers in the lanes on either side of him and gave them half-hugs. When he pulled himself out of the pool, he was grinning from ear to ear and pulled off his cap, shaking out his hair. He trotted over to his coach, who enveloped him in a hug, and then pointed out Scully, saying something she couldn’t make out. 

A few minutes later, the same coach came trotting down the steps to where Scully was sitting. He knelt down next to her. 

“Are you Dana Scully?” he asked. She nodded. “Do you have your athlete credentials on you?” She nodded again. “Come with me,” he said. 

She rose and threw a grateful look and smile at Betty and followed the coach into the back annals of the natatorium, weaving through pods of swimmers speaking various languages, and through a row of changing areas. He pulled aside a curtain on one and gestured her inside. When she walked through, Mulder was there, wearing the same USA warm-ups that she had, running a small shammy through his hair.

“So,” she said, nodding her thanks at the coach, who backed away with a smile, “silver.” 

He turned at the sound of her voice and when he saw her, his entire face lit up. He took two big strides toward her then paused when he got close. “Can I hug you?” he asked, and she nodded happily and threw her arms around his neck as he pulled her off of her feet and into a delirious, crushing embrace. “I gotta hug somebody,” he said, his voice muffled by her shoulder, “I can’t fucking believe it!”

When he finally set her down, they were both beaming at each other, his glee wearing off on her. 

“Silver!” she said again. 

“I know!”

They both laughed. 

“When is the medal ceremony?” she asked. 

“Right after the relay,” he said, “Will you be able to come? To either?”

“No,” she said, letting a little whine into her voice, “we have a team meeting in like 90 minutes and then training after. There’s a bunch of TVs in the gym, though, I’ll see if I can slip away to watch.”

 

4. It turned out that the gym was having satellite issues and not only hadn’t she been able to watch, she also couldn’t even access the TV coverage to see how Mulder’s team had done in the relay. She’d been completely distracted during the team meeting to the point that Jessica had had to shove her in the back with an elbow to get her attention when one of the coaches asked her a question. 

As soon as their training practice broke, she ran back to the Olympic Village without waiting for Jessica and barrelled into their room, flipping on the TV to try to catch the American coverage. She saw a teaser of Al Roker who promised an interview with Alicia Kopenkosky “up next” and then cut to a foreign commercial for a product she didn’t understand. She shut off the television in frustration and threw the remote across the room. 

She thought for a moment that she might go down and just knock on Mulder’s door in case he was in there, but was sure that he’d be out with the rest of the American Swim Team celebrating their various victories and cutting loose now that their events were over. She dropped her gym bag to the floor and sat heavily on the bed. 

Then there was a knock. 

When she opened it, Mulder was standing there, holding out two bouquets of flowers and wearing both a silver and a bronze medal. The medals were perfectly at her eye level and for a moment, she couldn’t breathe. They represented everything she’d ever wanted, everything she’d ever worked for. She shook herself out of the moment and flicked her eyes up to Mulder. 

“You guys won bronze,” she said, and his smile split his face practically in two. 

“We won bronze,” he said. 

“Come in!” she insisted and he twisted his way in past her, still holding out the two bouquets. 

“Here,” he said, when she closed the door behind him, “these are for you.”

“Are those your podium flowers?” she asked. When he nodded she went on, “You should keep them! Have them pressed or dried or something!”

“Nah,” he said, tilting his head to the side, “you were my good luck charm. You deserve them.” 

Touched, she took them from him somewhat tentatively and placed them carefully in the high container that Jess had been using earlier in the day to ice her ankles. It was still filled with water. 

“Sit,” she said, gesturing to the bed, inviting him to stay, “Jesus, congratulations.”

“Thanks,” he said, sinking down on the bed. When she looked at him she realized they were dressed identically, wearing the matching warm-ups worn by the entire US Olympic team. 

“We’re wearing the same outfit,” she pointed out. 

“How embarrassing,” he said dryly. 

She sat on Jess’s bed opposite him. 

“I figured you’d be out celebrating,” she said. 

“I am out celebrating,” he said, holding her gaze, “I’m just doing it with you.” 

His voice was low and gravelly. She felt her stomach flop. 

He leaned forward an inch and the two medals on his chest clinked lightly into each other, drawing both of their attention. 

“Want to wear one?” he asked, reaching up to pull them off. 

She was about to refuse when she stopped herself. “Yes, actually,” she said. “I want to wear both.”

He laughed and pulled them both off and when she held out her hands he shook his head, bending down his own so that she’d do the same. When she bent forward, he placed the medals carefully around her neck and then she leaned back, their weight sliding them down to thunk gently against her stomach. 

“They look good on you,” he said. 

“Thanks,” she said, still looking down at where they rested, “this is probably about as close as I’ll ever get to getting my own.”

“Hey,” he said, “nonsense. What would your sports shrinks say? Visualize it, Scully. There’s one precious medal missing there, and it could be yours.”

She closed her eyes. When she opened them, Mulder was kneeling in front of her, his mossy eyes soft. 

“Can you see it?” he whispered. 

She surprised both of them by leaning forward and pressing her lips to his. It only took him a moment to react, and he pressed back into her, cupping her face and kissing her sweetly, but thoroughly. She felt something shift inside of her and click into place, the medals around her neck swinging forward and clunking into his chest and then back to hers. She pulled back for a second and then pushed into him again, this time threading her fingers into his hair and he opened his mouth up under hers. Their tongues slid together like they’d been doing it for years. When she finally pulled back a second time, his eyes searched hers and then he leaned his forehead against hers, his breath fanning her face. He smelled of chlorine and mint and the eucalyptus sprigs from his flowers. He opened his mouth as if to say something when the door to her room burst open and Jessica stood panting in the doorway, looking between the two of them. 

“Dana?” Jess said, out of breath. 

“Jess?” Dana stood and Mulder rose up next to her, putting a warm hand on the small of her back. “Jess, what is it?”

Jessica looked once more at Mulder and then her eyes swung to Scully, bright with excitement. 

“You know how I said the only way one of us would get to compete was if Alicia took a half-gainer off the stage with Al Roker?” Scully nodded, her mouth going dry. “Well she did. Dana, you’re in.”


5. She was liquid grace. There was no other way to put it. Well, other than it looked like her hands and feet were on springs. Scully moved with the effortless elegance of a born athlete. Her every move had finesse and poise, and Mulder burned with both jealousy and something else that he was almost afraid to name. She was beautiful out there. A sight to see. 

Before approaching each apparatus, she would find him in the audience and when their eyes would connect, she'd smile -- an imperceptible lift of her cheeks -- then she would duck her head, take a deep breath, and go. 

As the competition wore on, there was a ripple of energy that ran through the audience, an excitement -- particularly amongst the American contingent -- mumblings and whispers -- a current in the air that made Mulder's skin tingle. Something otherworldly was happening here. Something unexpected. 

                    XxXxXxXxXxX

She'd always been able to compartmentalize her fear, her nerves. She could put them aside, compete, and they would come on in a rush after the competition was over. She could rationalize just about anything. Nervousness didn't help. Set it aside. Focus on the task at hand. Vault. Uneven bars. Beam. Floor. Boom boom boom. Get it done. Worry about it later.

And she had, so far, been able to do just that. Until. Until now. The vault wasn't usually her best event. But she'd nailed it. Absolutely crushed. Uneven bars were easy -- it was all strength and coordination. Timing. And her agility on the beam had felt otherworldly. All her pistons were firing. But the floor was next. The fucking floor. The event that had submarined her in the Olympic Trials and saddled her on the bench. She knew her routine front to back, but her landing -- on the final salto -- she hadn't been able to stick the landing since fucking it up in the trials. She had what pitchers called the yips, and in the Olympics of all places. Her lifelong goal.

She knew she just needed to breathe. Visualize it. The yips weren't real, it was a psychological blip -- performance anxiety. And yet. And yet...

She was the last routine of the entire competition. A Brazilian gymnast that was far down in the standings was doing her routine now, and then Scully was up.

She took a deep breath. Focus on the routine. See it in your head. Stick the landing.

She glanced up into the stands, looking for Mulder.

One look to know he was there. She'd been his good luck charm, and so far, he had been hers. She'd seen him before the vault. She'd seen him before the uneven bars. She'd connected eyes with him before the beam, and she'd had the performance of her life. Where was he? She wanted to see him, needed to see him. Her eyes searched. 

He wasn't there. 

                  XxXxXxXxXxX

They weren't supposed to win without Alicia, is what Mulder heard the announcers  saying. It wasn't supposed to be possible. The Americans were good, but the Chinese team, the Russians, they were better; elite — too tough to beat without Alicia Kopenkosky, the best gymnast in the world. 

But here the Americans were, sitting in second place, only hundredths of a point from overtaking the Russians and securing the gold. And the only thing left was Scully's floor routine. She was the last to compete. And if she got a nearly perfect score, if she had the floor routine of her life, they would overtake the Russians and bring home the gold. If she didn't, they would likely fall to third, and possibly even out of medal contention. 

"Hey," Mulder heard from over his shoulder. 

Scully's roommate Jessica was standing in the aisle over his left shoulder looking at him expectantly. 

"What are you doing here?" Mulder asked, half-standing. "Is Scully okay? Is she-"

"Come with me," Jessica said, turning and walking quickly up the stairs.

"Where are we going?" he rushed. Even though she was about a foot shorter than him, he was having trouble keeping up. "Jessica, what are we doing?"

She looked at him over her shoulder. 

"We're trying something," she said. "And we have to hurry."

                  XxXxXxXxXxX

She took a deep breath. Looked into the stands again. Still no Mulder. 

Compartmentalize , she thought. Set it aside. Focus on the task at hand

                  XxXxXxXxXxX

This wasn't the simple math of swimming -- where you were either fast enough, or you weren't. The subjective nature of gymnastics scoring baffled Mulder, and when Jessica led him down to the floor using his athlete credentials as Scully had at the swimming finals, she explained how the judging worked. 

"The judges know she flubbed her landing on the floor in the trials," she explained, "and everybody knows that she hasn't stuck it since. They'll be watching her really closely. She has to land it -- and do everything else in her routine -- absolutely perfectly or she won't get the score we need."

"This sport is infuriating," Mulder said, weaving amongst the cadre of international competitors -- most of which he towered over. 

"You have no idea," said Jess. She stopped at the door to the Tech Booth, and Mulder shot her a look of confusion. "Which is why,” she went on, “I have an idea and I want you to help me pull it off."

                     XxXxXxXxXxX

The floor manager nodded to her and she took one more look into the Mulder-less stands, and then one toward her coaches. And there he was. Tall and proud next to Jess, several of her other teammates and her coaches, Mulder was standing on the sidelines giving her a look of fierce determination. He raised up a fist and mouthed the words you got this .

Suddenly, everything inside her went still. She took a deep breath and stepped onto the floor. 

And instead of the strings of the adagio she had expected, she heard the 80's keyboard lilting of the song -- their song -- fucking Kyrie was playing for her floor routine. She looked quickly to Mulder, who was still holding up his fist, smiling. 

She flew. 

Xx

She remembered it all later in bits and pieces. 

She remembered hitting her marks. She remembered feeling the perfect fluid cohesion of every part of her body. She remembered her feet hitting the floor like an old growth tree with the deepest roots, sticking her landing with a steady perfection. Of rising up, saluting the judges. She remembered the deafening roar of the crowd. She remembered her teammates running up to her full-bore, tackling her with shrieks of victory. She remembered Alicia standing on the sidelines, her crutches in the air in celebration. 

And she remembered Mulder. How after she'd hugged her coaches and her teammates and congratulated the other competing teams -- she'd run to him and launched herself into his arms. She remembered that he caught her mid-air and wrapped her in a vice-like grip. And she remembered the way it felt like lightbulbs popping and flashing in her head when she kissed him. 

She remembered looking at him, and only him, when they put the gold medal around her neck.



6. “I don’t get the fascination,” she said, tucked into the warm lee of his body. 

Her bed was warm and rumpled, and she rubbed a hand over the stubble growing over his chest and arms as he pressed a kiss into her hairline. 

“Everybody likes a love story, Scully,” he rumbled sleepily. 

Every time she passed a television or the rack of magazines at the grocery store checkout, she saw the picture of her in his arms, kissing him on the floor of the Olympic gymnastics competition after she’d secured her team the victory. It was still all anyone could talk about. NBC News had dubbed them “the Golden Couple,” though Mulder pointed out at every opportunity that he’d only won a silver and a bronze. 

Everyone wanted an interview -- from Bryant Gumbel to the local Rhode Island news station in Mulder’s hometown. Even the Vice President of the United States had called to congratulate them on their athletic achievements as well as their star-crossed… well, she guessed “love story” was as good a description as any. 

“A love story?” she asked out loud, propping her chin on his chest. 

He gazed down at her from the pillow. 

“Mmmhmm.”

She knew that’s what it was. They hadn’t left each other’s side since returning from Tokyo several months before. She’d never felt anything like this before. 

She crawled up his body and pressed a warm kiss - then several more - to his lips. 

“Can I ask you a question?” he asked when she pulled back, lazily putting his arms behind his head on the pillow. 

She nodded, and tucked herself back into his side, her nose pressed into the skin of his arm. 

“What song was Jessica’s floor routine to?”

Scully outright guffawed. 

“Guess,” she said. 

“I could never,” he replied. 

Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy ,” she said, and she felt him laughing under her, full body chuckles that shook the whole bed. 

After he settled, he turned onto his side, propping his head onto his shoulder to look at her. 

“Can I ask you another question?” 

“Sure.”

“How would you feel about getting one more piece of gold?”

“It’s tempting,” she said, “but I’m committed to my retirement.”

“See, I was thinking… something like this,” he said, and when she lifted her eyes, she saw he was holding out a delicate gold band with a large emerald-cut diamond affixed to the top. “It’s not Olympic gold, but…”

She sat upright on a rush of adrenaline, the sheet sliding off her shoulders to kiss gently at her waist. 

“Are you-” she started, but Mulder was looking at her steadily, holding out the engagement ring before him like an offering to a shrine upon a hill. 

“Kyrie eleison where I’m going, will you follow?” he said, mumble-singing the words from the song. 

“Kyrie eleison on a highway in the night,” she sang back softly. 

He slid on the ring.