SUMMARY: The aftereffects of trauma are sometimes unexpected.
DISCLAIMER: They don't belong to me, they belong to Chris Carter.
DATE POSTED: January 2000
NOTE: This story takes place a month or two after the events of "Orison" and pre-supposes that Mulder and Scully are already lovers.
She's been dreaming about water nearly every night.
Many nights Scully dreams of swimming laps in a pool. It's always the pool at the University of Maryland, where three or four times a week she used to don her dark blue Speedo and goggles and swim for an hour before classes. In her sleep she moves through the chilly, chlorine-tinged water as sleekly as a seal. There's little resistance and she's buoyant and light in the water, swimming back and forth in the lane, ending each lap with the flourish of a flip turn.
Sometimes when she wakes, she can still smell the chlorine and the musty scent of the women's locker room.
There are nights when she dreams of the pounding surf of the San Diego beach. She walks barefoot in the foamy water, the warm wind ruffling her hair, the sun on her face. She lifts her face to the impossibly blue California sky and smiles, feeling the utter serenity of being alone at the beach.
Her most frequent dreams are of taking a bath.
Scully dreams of coming home, kicking off her shoes and tossing her coat on a chair. She heads straight for the bathroom to turn on the water and toss in some bath oil. There are at least half a dozen types of oil in her medicine cabinet-- rosemary, eucalyptus, tea rose, lavender, comfrey-mint and almond. As the tub fills she lights a few candles and takes off her work clothes. Wrapped in her robe, she pins up her hair and pours herself a glass of Chardonnay.
Ahhhh is always the sound in the back of her brain as she eases her naked body, inch by inch, into the hot water. It's almost painful to get into the water, but it's a good pain that soothes her muscles that ache from either sitting at a desk all day, leaning over a corpse during autopsy or being crammed into a coach seat as she flies across the country. At last she's fully immersed in the water and she leans against the back of the tub, stretching out her legs. The tub is long enough that she doesn't have to bend her knees while lying in it. While she loves any bathtub, any time, when she's immersed in a tiny hotel tub she always longs for the roomy expanse of her tub at home.
She wrings out the washcloth, folds it and places it on her forehead. The sensation of the hot cloth on her head is more soothing than any spa treatment she's ever had. She closes her eyes and takes small sips of the cold wine, feeling her tension, her doubts and fears, her small aches and pains, ease out of her body and into the water.
Showering is all about the end result-- getting clean. Taking a bath is about the process, about savoring the sensation of immersion and heat, smelling the fragrant water, closing her eyes and letting herself feel safe and indulged.
Her life has so few indulgences.
When she emerges from the bathtub and towels off, she feels like a woman renewed.
And then she always wakes.
This time, she wakes and her bedroom doesn't feel like her own. It smells of fresh paint and new carpet. She has to bury her nose into the pillows to get the sense that she is, indeed, home.
It's going to take some serious time to get used to this new apartment. It's not as charming as the old one. There are no hardwood floors, no little stained-glass window, and no fireplace. But it does have the advantage of being in a building with twenty-four-hour security. No one is allowed inside without her express permission. The only one with a key, and with permission to enter without her say-so, is Mulder. Other than that, the new apartment is beige and white; four dull, modern rooms. She's going to have to work hard to make the place have any charm at all.
But it's not like she had a choice about moving. She had to go. Her old apartment wasn't safe. It had been invaded so many times she's either lost count or refuses to remember how many times her safety was threatened.
At least the new tenth-floor apartment has a balcony. That's something.
The bathroom in the apartment is large, white and has brand new and shiny fixtures. The bathtub is even bigger than the one in her old place. It's one of those sunken tubs that could serve as a kiddie pool.
She's been living here for three weeks and has not used the bathtub.
As far as she's concerned, she may never.
No wonder she often wakes from her bathtub dreams in tears.
Such a silly thing, to be afraid of her own tub, to get teary from dreams of the simple bliss of taking a bath. She knows how irrational she's being. Maybe she'll mention it to Karen Kosseff at her next appointment.
Donnie Pfaster took a lot of things from her--her sense of security, her unwavering belief in her morality and good judgement, perhaps even a little of her faith. She's still dealing with those things on a daily basis. Her experience with him nearly destroyed her career, nearly put her in jail and forced both her and Mulder to lie. But the funny thing is that what she resents Pfaster for the most is that he ruined her ability to enjoy taking baths.
Every time she looks at her new bathtub, she hears his raspy, unctuous voice in her head. "I'm going to run you a bath." And then she hears her own terrified scream.
She rolls onto her stomach and grabs the pillow next to her own. It smells like Mulder's shampoo and his skin. It smells like comfort and love. He's one of the few indulgences left to her. What happens if he, too, is taken from her?
That's something she can't even think about.
Her back aches from working out. She made a New Year's resolution to start weight training again and so far she's sticking to it. Kendra, her trainer, got a little over-enthusiastic yesterday and now she feels every overtaxed muscle in her back.
She gets out of bed to go to the bathroom and swallow a few ibuprofen. It's almost two am and she hopes she'll be able to get back to sleep.
Mulder is in the living room, his head bent over a book. The television is on, the light flickering in the distance, but the sound is turned off. It never fails to make her smile to see him reading to the accompaniment of his silent friend, the television.
He looks up at her and smiles. "Can't sleep?"
She rolls her neck. "No. What are you still doing up?"
Mulder puts the book down on the couch and grins. "It's your fault. You shouldn't have given me the new Tom Wolfe for Christmas. I can't put it down."
She sits down next to him on the couch and pulls the blue afghan over her knees. Despite the fact that she's in her flannel pajamas, the room feels drafty. "Well, staying up to read won't kill you."
He lays his hand over hers. With fascination, she notices how much larger his hand is than her own. We're two separate breeds, she thinks. But somehow, we're mated.
"Is everything okay?" Mulder asks in a soft voice.
He's had that gentle, solicitous tone in his voice ever since Pfaster invaded their lives again. Part of her resents his quiet sympathy, but another part of her hates to admit that she truly needs it.
She nods. "I'm fine. I just needed to take some ibuprofen. Once it kicks in, I'll be okay."
"You know, a hot bath would go a long way to easing your aches and pains."
Scully looks up and sees him flinch as he remembers why she hasn't taken a bath since the attack.
He closes his eyes and shakes his head ruefully. "I'm sorry, Scully, I wasn't thinking. I just forgot."
Squeezing his fingers, she says, "It's okay, Mulder."
His eyes open once again. "We haven't talked about it, but I've noticed. You've only taken showers since..." His voice trails off.
"I can't." That's all she can think of to say.
"You used to only take a shower if you were in a hurry and needed to get clean."
"It's different now."
She pictures herself, lying in her old tub, the water turning red from the stab wounds on her body. The water is so cold, she's so cold, as her vision dims and the darkness looms over her, ready to engulf her and take her away. And he's standing over her, the monster who starred in so many nightmares over the past five years, holding a pair of scissors in his trembling hands, waiting for her to close her eyes so he can take her hair.
A shiver runs through her at the image.
"I hate to see that," Mulder says. "I hate to see him take that away from you."
Scully shrugs. Doesn't everything get taken from her sooner or later?
"I loved coming over to your place and finding you in the bathtub. You always seemed to get such a deep satisfaction from taking a bath."
"It was my favorite thing."
He puts his arm around her shoulders and leans in closer. "If I could make it better for you, I would."
"You can't," she says, and realizes how snappish it sounds as soon as the words are out of her mouth.
If she could change anything about herself, she would be softer, less defensive at a time like this, when Mulder is only trying to be kind.
"I know." Mulder's lips turn down in a frown. "I still wish I could. But only you can help yourself."
She nods at him. "It's better every day, but it'll still take time."
They are both silent for a moment. She wonders how much time it will take for them to get over everything that has happened during their years together. Does the average life span have that many years?
Mulder leans over to kiss her cheek, a long, tender kiss with his stubble gently scraping her skin. "I want you to be able to have it back," he whispers.
"Have what back?"
His hand raises in a questioning gesture. "Everything-- your sense of security, your peace of mind, your bathtub."
"Someday, perhaps," she says, grimacing.
"You know, when I was in school I assisted a professor on a phobia research project. We worked with agoraphobics on behavior modification and desensitization. Every day, we'd have them leave the house for a little bit, until they were gradually able, with the help of anti-anxiety medication, to be outside and in the world all day."
Against her volition, Scully feels her eyebrow rise. "Mulder, I don't have a phobia of taking a bath."
"No, but I was thinking that maybe you need to replace the negative connotations of taking a bath with something new and positive."
"What are you trying to say?" She's pretty sure she knows what he's trying to say; her heart is starting to beat harder.
Mulder nuzzles her neck with his nose. His nose is slightly chilly, like a dog's, and she stifles a yelp at the sensation of cold skin on warm.
"What I'm trying to say is that maybe we could try taking a bath, right now." He slides his eyes over to her, searching her face for her reaction. "If you're ready," he amends.
Scully shakes her head so violently she nearly strains the muscles in her neck.
"Come on." His breath is warm on her cheek and his voice has dropped to the hot fudge register that rarely fails to give her goose bumps. "It'll just be you and me. We've taken baths together before. You're safe with me."
Her mind flashes to the weekend they spent at a cabin in the Berkshires just after New Year's, when everything seemed so new and shiny, as if nothing could ever be ugly or tarnished between them. There was a big old claw-foot tub in the bathroom and they'd spent many an hour in there, soaking in the hot water and exploring each other like two curious children. Scully remembers his slippery hands on her, his fingers drawing white hot lines of pleasure all over her skin.
She'd felt so safe and loved then.
But it's different now.
"I'm going to run you a bath," Pfaster had said.
Her stomach lurches.
Mulder touches her cheek. "No," he says. "He's not going to take that from you."
I took his life, maybe I deserve it, she thinks.
"Look at me, Scully." He turns her face so she's forced to look directly at him. "He's never coming back. You're safe now."
"I know that," she says, well aware that she sounds as defensive as a child.
"I just want you to try. Can you try?"
She finds herself nodding, even though fear fills every cell in her body.
While the tub fills, Mulder pours each of them a few fingers of Crown Royal over some crushed ice. "We need the strong stuff," he says.
The amber liquid makes a warm path down to her stomach. "When in doubt, drink hard liquor," she says, laughing shakily. "That's the Irish cure for everything. My mother used to give us hot whiskey with lemon when we had sore throats."
"Did it help?"
"Well, I'm not sure how much better it made our throats, but it certainly made us sleepy and obedient patients. Usually all four of us would come down with an illness at the same time and it would drive my poor mother to distraction to have us all home from school and getting in her hair."
She's not much of a drinker and the whiskey is making her feel slightly boneless, as if her stiff muscles are just melting away to nothingness. Maybe in lieu of taking baths I can just hit the bottle to relax, she thinks with a grin.
If only it could be that simple.
Mulder looks up. "It sounds like the tub is almost full."
He stands and holds out his hand to help her up. "Come on."
They walk hand-in-hand to the bathroom. She wonders if Mulder can feel her hands and legs shaking. It's so ridiculous to be afraid of such a small thing as taking a bath. She wishes he wasn't aware of her fear. In an ideal world she'd be fearless, strong at every moment. But the world is far from ideal, isn't it? I'm not perfect, she thinks, and Mulder knows it. I can't be strong all the time. He knows how strong I am.
The mirrors are steamed up in the bathroom and the air is jungle-moist. Mulder turns off the water. "Do you want any of your bath oils?"
"No. I threw them all away."
"Okay then. Let's leave the lights on." He pulls off his t-shirt and sweatpants.
She leans against the vanity and watches him undress, focusing on the view rather than the bathtub. It's always a pleasure to watch his lean, muscled body emerge from his clothes and know that every inch of it is available for her pleasure now.
"Your turn," he says, turning to her wearing only a smile.
Her fingers move to the buttons of her pajamas but she's shaking so badly that she can't undo them.
She drops her head and looks at her bare feet peeking from the baggy plaid flannel. "I can't."
Mulder steps closer to her. "Do you want help?" he says in a husky voice.
Shaking her head she tells him no. After a deep breath, she gets the pajama top off and lays it on the top of the toilet. The bottoms and her panties follow. Despite the warmth of the bathroom, she shivers.
He strokes her arm. "You can do this."
She lifts her chin. "Yes, I can."
Mulder gets in the tub first and she watches him ease in, limb by limb. She envies how good it must feel to him, how for him there is nothing ugly and profane about taking a bath.
He leans back and grins. "I'm more of a shower man, but this feels great. Come on in."
She takes a step forward, still watching Mulder. Before her eyes, he's transformed. His familiar, beloved features morph into something uglier, harder and possessed. He has become Pfaster, leaning over the tub the first time he took her, asking her what kind of shampoo she used.
Scully swallows down the bile that threatens to rise in her throat.
No, no, she thinks, shutting her eyes and shaking her head. Get the fuck out of my bathroom and go back to hell where you belong.
When her eyes open again, Mulder is standing in the tub, water sluicing off his body. "Are you still with me?" he softly asks.
She's so cold, so cold, in this water she'll never be warm again.
"You're not there," he says. "You're safe, Scully."
"Come here," he rasps.
He enfolds her in his wet arms. His body is already so warm from the hot water and she presses her face against his chest.
"You don't have to do this," Mulder whispers.
I won't let Pfaster win, she thinks. I won't allow him to have the last say about how to live my life. I will do this. I will.
"I want to, Mulder. I want to try."
He helps her step over the edge of the tub. The water temperature is just the way she likes it, hot but not scalding. She wills her limbs to stop shaking, telling herself, you're stronger than this.
Slowly, she sinks into the water, sitting between Mulder's legs, his chest to her back. His arms wrap around her. "You did it," he whispers in her ear.
"I did it," she repeats.
His hand touches her chest. "Your heart is beating so quickly. Shut your eyes and relax."
She takes a quick look around at the bathroom, reminding herself that this is a new apartment. No one has ever broken into this one, no one has taken her from here. Nothing bad has happened in this clean, white bathroom.
With a sigh, she closes her eyes and leans into Mulder, taking slow, easy breaths.
"See how nice this is?" he croons in her ear.
The water washes over her body and muscle by muscle, she allows herself to relax.
She keeps a running stream of commentary in her head, telling herself that it'll be okay, she's with Mulder and nothing bad can happen to her here.
"You know what I love?" he says, running his hands up and down her arms.
"I love it when I spend the night with you and you take a bath just before you go to bed. You always come to bed naked on those nights, smelling like your soap and lotion, and your skin is always so pink and warm."
She smiles at the memory of all the times they've made love after her evening bath.
"I know it's going to take a long time, Scully. But I want you to have this back."
Scully sits up a bit and kisses his neck. "It's mine," she says, feeling surer of herself than she has in a long time. "It's all mine."
Ten days later:
The cab stops in front of her building. The rain is coming down harder now, and the car's wipers rhythmically go back and forth.
Mulder kisses her. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Scully smiles. "Bring bagels, okay?"
They've been on the road for six days, investigating disappearances in Northern California. Now she's jet-lagged, exhausted and cramped from a long flight. Tonight all she wants is her down comforter and a good book.
When she walks in her apartment, she looks around and decides that some paint will help things considerably. There's too much glaring white. She makes a mental note to go to Home Depot over the weekend.
Her legs ache and she decides a hot shower will be the best thing.
When she walks in the bathroom, she stares at the bathtub, remembering the bath she took with Mulder.
I can do this, she thinks.
With a deep breath, she turns on the faucet to fill the bathtub and then heads for the kitchen for a glass of wine.
All my thanks to my beta readers, Gwen and Plausible Deniability, for their generosity of time and wisdom.