When the Ink Dries III
Rated: Explicit with a warning for self harm references.
Notes: If you haven’t read the previous chapters, go here. Also on Ao3. This is (apparently) a novel length fic so you might want to set aside a minute. Thank you @icedteainthebag for making me earn this one, @holdthiscat for speedy and insightful feedback and @gazeatscully for your endless encouragement and eagle’s eye proofreading.
Stella Gibson didn’t make a habit of watching people sleep. The last time she’d done it was years ago, a prolonged jag that resulted in the purchase of three new sets of bed sheets, a zealous effort to fight memory with thread count. She’d traded one vice for another, would spend the rest of her life quietly indulging a weakness for pima cotton and crisp corners, a penchant for Italian linen and French embroidery. But it would be a long time before she settled in beside someone to wait for their eyes to open, the sleep-boiled scent of peaceful slumber coming off their hair, the fragile spot on their neck pulsing with life. There were some luxuries she simply couldn’t afford.
It still brought Stella a twinge of private embarrassment to recall it so well. Bridget sleeping on her stomach, dark hair always parted around her pear-shaped ears, clinging to the mattress like a frog in a rainstorm with her lean swimmer’s leg zig-zagged across the mattress. Stella would stay in bed tiptoeing her fingers up the crease of a quadricep, stroking an ear to its sylphan point. And long after the woman was gone, the lightning bolt imprint of a leg split the bed down the center, the new sheets continued to bunch in an invisible hand – fleeting images mistakenly committed to permanence by an overly ambitious pair of eyes. It was a nuisance but not a surprise. The only other bedroom vigil she’d ever kept had left an even more indelible impression – a child standing graveside, puffy lavender rings sprouted like violets around her eyes, watching her father be put in the ground.
So by the time Stella woke up next to Dana Scully for the second time in her life, she was so practiced in her abstinence that it took hardly any discipline at all to direct the day’s first glance upward, aim her plans at the ceiling. Shower alone. Allow guest to wake and begin gathering own conclusions. Emerge dressed, provide tea and friendly conversation, make end as forgettable as beginning was not.
She licked her lips before turning over, sealing her resolve like an envelope.