A SOFT PLACE TO FALL.

I realise, as I place two fingers gently under Scully's chin and lift her face slowly upwards, that I had never seen her cry before. And that fact alone disturbs me but why I do not know. I gaze down at her registering her resistance to allow herself into the circle of my concern. I can read the internal struggle going on within her as her eyes sparkle with held back tears. She is afraid to expose her feelings of terror and fear in front of me and in that instant it pains me that I have not taken time out to nurture our relationship on a more personal level. But I know she is resistant to my protection and that keeping my attentions at arms length only serve to strengthen the armour she shields herself with. There is no doubt that I admire this quality of hers, it is one of the things that attract me to her. But there are times, and this is one of them, that I crave her simple need of me.

I steady my gaze on her so that she is forced to meet my enquiring eyes and it seems to break something inside her. She drops her head reluctantly against me, burying her face in my chest but steadfastly keeping her arms in front of her. I, oblivious now to the mayhem of police and paramedics that swarm the building, settle my arms loosely around her and listen to her sobs. After a moment I feel her arms snake around me, accepting my unspoken offer of support and I tighten my hold of her in response, my hand cupping her head against me. I breathe softly into her hair.

"Its alright." I whisper but she doesn't stay long and a moment later she pulls away slowly from my hold keeping her eyes from me once more, embarrassed suddenly by her loss of control. I sense her discomfort and slip an arm around her shoulders.

"Let's get out of here." I say softly, guiding her out of the house. Scully follows me wordlessly to the car trying to suppress the shivering that has come upon her. I wonder again whether I should insist she seeks medical attention as I watch her slide into the car and fumble helplessly with the seat belt. But I know she'd refuse again and my fingers touch her cold ones as I take the belt from her. She lays her head back against the headrest and closes her eyes and I sense her need for my silence as I switch on the cars heater and then turn the car away from the house.

Scully remains silent and motionless throughout the short journey and I wish I was taking her back to the familiarity and security of her own place rather that the economy rate motel with none of the comforts of home. I steal a glance across to her once or twice but her eyes push away any inquiry from me.

At the motel I usher her into the warmth of the room aware of her continual shivering. I stand momentarily awkward inside the door wondering if she wants my presence but she gives me no clues as she walks listlessly, almost mechanically to the couch. I cross the room to the bathroom and am surprised when Scully is visably startled at the sudden but soft click of the light being turned on. She swings round to face me wide eyed and I offer her an apologetic look.

"Why don't you get yourself cleaned up." I suggest and for a moment she looks at me vaguely, half disorientated as she fights to keep her composure. And then she seems to make sense of my words for she nods.

"Don't lock the door, okay?" I say as she passes me.

"I'm fine, Mulder." she replies and her voice shakes as she tries to draw strength from her own words.

"I know," I tell her. "But indulge me, okay?"

As I hear the water running I try to busy myself. I turn out the light and turn on the table lamp hoping its subtle light would be more relaxing. I turn down the bedclothes in readiness and then take two minature bottles of whiskey from the tiny fridge, emptying the contents into a glass. As I settle myself on the couch I am conscious of the silence that has descended in the bathroom and am torn between checking on her and on giving her the privacy she demands. There has to be more unspent emotion from her and she would not take kindly to my walking in on her tears.

I run a hand through my hair as tiredness begins to nibble at me. The adrenaline that I have fed on all day has disappeared leaving me drained. My thoughts dissolve on hearing the bathroom door open and I look up to see her padding hesitantly, almost shyly towards me. She is dressed in grey flannel pjamas. Her damp hair frames her drawn pale face highlighting the red swirl of the bruise to her forehead. I stand up slowly and encourage her gently to get into bed but she sits down on the couch and pulls the pjamas up around her neck. I tear two blankets from the bed and drape them gingerly around her and hand her the tumbler of whiskey. She protests as I knew she would but I am not about to take no for an answer and push the glass into her hands. She accepts it unwillingly and takes a sip of the liquid. Sitting back she lets her head rest against the back of the couch and feels my fingers touch hers as I give her a gentle reminder that I want her to drink all the whiskey. I am filled with a deep sense of hopelessness and a desperation just to gather her to me, to feel connected to her. Instead I take a deep breath and wait for these feelings to subside.

Suddenly Scully drops her head lightly against my arm. Taken aback I lift it and put it around her shoulders and draw her tentatively in against me and there was no resistance from her. I can still feel the coldness of her skin even through the thickness of the blankets. We sit in companionable silence for a while and I wonder whether she wants to talk about it but I say nothing and just wait for her. She shifts slightly and rests her forehead on my chest.

"You okay?" I ask softly.

"I'm sorry." Scully whispers, staring down into the empty glass before she raises her eyes to look at me.

"Sorry? You've got nothing to be sorry for." I stare down at her, my dark eyes flitting around her face, searching.

"I don't want to be like this."

"Why? You are entitled, you know. You've got nothing to prove to anyone, not to yourself and certainly not to me." I pause for a moment and squeeze her against me.

"You can trust me, Scully." My voice is little more than a whisper. "I'm here for you, your soft place to fall. Always. As I like to think that you are mine." She gazes up at me scrutinising me as if in search of confirmation that my words are genuine and trustful. Her blue eyes glitter with tears as she fights to preserve what little self control she has left but she loses the fight and the tears fall onto her pale cheeks.

The sight of her tears me in two. I blame myself. I have to. Right from the start I knew she was uneasy with the case. Why exactly this particular case amongst all others I don't know. I should have pushed myself to find out dispite her weak assurances that she was okay with it. Why didn't I insist she step back and let me handle this one on my own? True, she would have been as angry as hell that I should insinuate that she wasn't up to it and that I should dictate her involvement but I'd rather have her angry at me than what I see before me now.

I pull her into me pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head, a natural response to her obvious distress. As she cries now without reserve elation floods through me. I am swamped by an overwhelming sense of trust. I am aware that I have passed some sort of test in her mind and I need this gift as much as she needed my protection and comfort. I smile down at her, unable to prevent myself from peppering soft delicate kisses to her head and forehead and can feel a gentle warmth returning to her. I don't want to move for fear of breaking the connection between us, I am enjoying the feeling that having her need provides but eventually I feel Scully pull back from me slightly and I tell her she needs to get some sleep. She nods dazily and we rise together in the half light, my hand guiding her in the small of her back. She shudders as the coldness of the stark white sheets touch her and then she holds them open in invitation.

"Stay? 'Til I get to sleep?"

For a second I just stare at her in disbelief that she is extending her trust to me again. But I need to make this easy for her and I recover from my stupor and slide in effortlessly beside her.

"C'mere," I whisper and Scully nestles into me without hesitation. I lie there breathing in the fresh soapy smell of her hair, feeling my warmth transfering to her tiny body, unable to believe she is allowing me such imtimate contact. I feel her soften herself against me as my fingers stay to trace long smooth strokes across her forehead and I twist strands of soft damp hair between them. From where I lie I can just see her eyelids and they are open. She seems to be deep in thought and as I am about to speak I feel her shift and she moves up to place her lips to my cheek.

"Thank you." she murmurs, her voice thick and drowsy. She looks at me just long enough to catch my smile of acknowledgement before she is snuggling down into the warmth again.

After several minutes I feel her body go slack within my hold. She is asleep. I feel myself relax enjoying the pleasure of simply lying there with her. I hear her moan and know she is dreaming, re-living the nightmare. I can only soothe her with my fingers until it passes and it is several hours before her sleep is restful. She had asked me to stay until she slept and I must honour that agreement if I am to be allowed her trust again. I think about sleeping in a chair at her bedside but sense her embarrassment at finding me there in the morning, the awkwardness we would both feel. She needed to wake alone, to be given the time to re-build the wall she lives behind. I could see her now. She would meet me in the morning and dismiss my enquiry politely with "I'm fine, Mulder." I smile inwardly as the scenario unfolds in my mind and I know neither of us would ever mention the evening again. That was the way she wanted it, the way she could cope with it and I have too much respect for her to deny her that.

Reluctantly I ease myself carefully out from under her and watch her move unconsciously into the warm space I have left, curling into a ball. I tuck the blankets around her and then pause to study her with one last lingering look unhampered by her watchful eyes. She was beautiful. Complicated but beautiful and I can't resist one last kiss to her cheek before I make my weary way next door thankful for the adjoining room. I need to still feel connected to her so I leave the door open but will wake early to close it before Scully gets up. I am tired but elated. I have been briefly let into Scully's guarded world and the feeling is unlike anything I have experienced before. It was sometime before sleep took me over.