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SPOILERS: "Millennium", the cancer arc, "Christmas Carol", "Emily".
She'd looked so disappointed.
Even now, hours later, Fox Mulder still couldn't get that out of his head. The expression on her face just before he kissed her -- the inviting curve of her lips, the slight tilt of her head, her eyelids drifting closed in anticipation. He'd kissed her lightly, tenderly, not wanting to push his luck, and she'd responded in kind, but--
His face had fallen, echoing hers; he couldn't help it. Somehow, somewhere, he'd failed. Whatever Dana Scully's expectations of being kissed by her partner might have been, the reality hadn't measured up. And, given the circumstances, Mulder had only himself to blame.
He'd swallowed his own discouragement and slung his arm across her shoulders, wanting to comfort her, reassure her that everything was okay. Nothing had to change. So it hadn't been much of a kiss. Maybe the only kiss they'd ever share. Maybe that was a good thing. They'd tried it, it hadn't worked, now they could move on. In the end, they were partners; better yet, they were friends; wasn't that enough?
And yet… it all felt so wrong. Try as he might to rationalize what had happened, Mulder's soul still ached, and part of him simply refused to understand. They were partners, they were friends, yes; but in their seven years together they'd become so much more than that. Scully was an extension of his soul, an indispensable part of his being. She loved him, he knew, with the same absolute conviction that anchored his love for her. However one might choose to categorize or define that love, the bond between them had been forged in fire and blood; it was not possible that it should be undermined by something as stupid as a bad first kiss.
Had she wanted more from him? Should he have seized her, pulled her against him, kissed her with the roughness of desire? It wouldn't have been difficult, although given the circumstances it would have been more than a little absurd. This was her choice, if it was a choice, no less than his. And she would have understood that, surely, she who understood him better than anyone…
So what had gone wrong? Where and when had he let her down?
Or had he?
Not everything is about you, Mulder.That one simple phrase, spoken with soft defiance in a darkened office three years ago, had struck deeper than he'd ever been willing to admit. Even now the words lingered in his memory, but now for the first time they brought comfort, rather than reproach. It was possible, just possible, that the look she'd given him -- or rather, not given him, with her downturned face and averted eyes -- might bear some other explanation entirely. After all, her face hadn't darkened the very moment they parted; it wasn't until he'd made his little quip about the world not ending that her smile had vanished, the light in her eyes dying away.
Maybe it wasn't a bad kiss -- just a bad joke. Or badly timed, anyway.
He turned over restlessly, wincing at the pain from his wounded arm, pulling the blankets up around his shoulders. Part of him wanted to call her, to ask outright what was wrong, if there was anything he could do. But she'd be asleep, surely -- just as he would have been, if his thoughts hadn't kept him awake -- and after all they'd just been through, she deserved the rest…
The phone rang, close to his ear, and he jumped. His eyes felt gritty, and there was a sour taste in his mouth. He had no idea what time it was, or when he'd fallen asleep. Still half-dazed, he pulled the receiver off its hook, mumbled something vaguely affirmative.
"Mulder, it's me."
Her voice sounded clear, but strained. As though she hadn't slept at all.
"Scully," he said thickly, unable to conceal his surprise.
A moment's awkward pause. Then, "I… I know it's late. But I think… we should talk."
"Now?" No sooner had the word left his mouth than he regretted it. "Not that it's not okay now, but you must be exhausted--"
"Yes. I… need to talk to you. Do you mind if I come over?"
Astonishment overcame him again, made him tactless. "No! I mean, no, I don't mind, I just-- I'm not exactly at my intellectual best."
She gave a short, mirthless laugh. "Neither am I. I'll see you in a few minutes."
Mulder lay there blankly for several minutes, the phone still cradled to his ear. Then he swung his legs around with an effort, pushed the blankets aside, and padded off to the kitchen to make coffee.
He had nearly finished the first cup when he heard her light, unmistakable tap at the door. Shouldering his sling with a grimace, he went to answer it.
"Hi," he said, flashing her a tentative grin.
She didn't return the smile, just looked back at him. Weariness shadowed her eyes, haunted the hollows of her face. "Hi."
"Thanks." She shrugged the coat off her shoulders, laid it over the back of a nearby armchair. When he brought her the steaming mug she took it carefully, her fingers avoiding his, and closed her eyes as she breathed in the familiar scent. Mulder watched her, feeling memory rising in him like a bruise.
"Have a seat," he said huskily, and went to pour himself a second cup.
When he returned Scully was sitting on the sofa where he had lain, her shoulders hunched, both hands folded around her coffee. There was no colour in her face.
She didn't meet his gaze, just stared into the middle distance, eyes grey with exhaustion and despair. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I shouldn't have come."
"Hey," he murmured again, not knowing what else to say. "It's okay, Scully. It's not the end of the world."
No sooner had he finished the sentence than he realized what he'd just said, and his stomach turned over. Of all the stupid--
But in that same moment she looked up at him, a single tear glittering on her cheek. "I know. But part of me thinks it should have been."
Time stopped. Mulder watched her in numb disbelief, the fragile sandcastle of his hopes disintegrating on the tide of her candour. So it had been him, after all. She'd come here to tell him she was sorry, she didn't want to hurt him, she cared about him very deeply, but--
"Mulder, I think I'm losing my faith."
Sound and feeling roared in on him, leaving him stunned. Scully was crying openly now, her voice choked as she continued:
"All my life I've been taught that the resurrection of the dead would be the sign of the last judgment, the end of everything. But what I saw yesterday, what happened last night -- it's not that I wanted the world to end, but -- I don't know how to deal with it."
Slowly Mulder sank onto the couch by his partner's side, not yet daring to touch her, but wanting her to feel his nearness, his warmth. To know that he was listening. Scully went on:
"So much has happened in the last little while. So many things I can't explain, can't deny. I've fought so long, worked so hard to find reasons in my science and my faith. But now--" She shook her head. "When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was angry with God. My mother worried then that I'd lost my faith, but I hadn't lost anything -- I'd given it up, deliberately turned my back. If I'd walked away from the Church forever, at least it would have been my choice, for my reasons. Not like this." She drew a little, shuddering breath. "Nothing like this."
He couldn't just sit there any more. Gently he reached his good arm around her shoulders, pulled her against him. She didn't resist, though he could feel her tension. Her lips framed a last whisper: "I want to believe. But I don't know what to believe in any more."
Why was it, Mulder wondered, that at moments like this all that came to mind were clichés and platitudes? Worst of all was the temptation to say something irredeemably stupid, such as "You can believe in me." He might not exactly have a reputation for humility, and he might not believe in God himself, but he'd have to be the world's biggest idiot to make a suggestion like that -- even if, on some level, he really meant it.
Instead, he said nothing. He simply took the coffee cup out of her unresisting hands, put it down, and drew her into the half-circle of his embrace. He could feel the stiffness ease from her body as he held her, her head droop wearily against his shoulder. When at last she breathed his name it was a statement, not a question: there was no need for him to reply. And when at last she was still and her tears had ceased, he realized that she was asleep.
What sort of fool had he been, to imagine that he could cause her pain with something as trivial as a faulty New Year's kiss? Even if they hadn't just finished an X-File virtually guaranteed to trouble the orthodoxy of her faith, the whole Christmas season had been irrevocably darkened for her by the loss of Emily. How could seeing Jordan Black's happy reunion with her father do anything but remind Scully of the equally beautiful and beloved little girl she herself would never see again? No wonder she'd looked wistful as they'd gazed together at the TV screen; no wonder her expression after the kiss had been so bittersweet.
But she would be all right, he thought. It would take time, and rest, and some serious reflection, but something in him knew that in the end she would find, if not answers, at least questions she could live with. In the meantime, he would give her what help he could -- not in words, perhaps, but by his presence. His support. His love.
Her hair felt silky between his fingers, and her breathing was deep and even. Carefully he leaned back against the sofa, still cradling her against him, and allowed himself to drift into a welcome, dreamless sleep.