A Change of Circumstances
At the sensation of wheels meeting tarmac, he released the breath he didn't know he was holding. He hadn't slept properly in who knew how many days, and his mind was a blur. As he glanced at her, she smiled wearily, but said nothing. She didn't have to; it was all there in her eyes. She looked worse than he felt, and he was in a rather rough shape himself. She followed his lead through the airport, then outside to hail a cab. Neither of them was in any condition to drive. She didn't argue as he gave the driver their addresses and asked him to stop at hers first. Rather, she settled into the worn-out leather seat and turned her head towards the window. Her eyes fluttered closed even before they reached the highway; as she was dozing off, he was left with his thoughts.
They had barely spoken to one another since leaving Antarctica, but there was nothing unusual about that. It happened every now and again, in the wake of an unusually intense case, and yet this one certainly took the cake. Both of them were too shaken, too weak and exhausted to delve into what had happened in the last several days. As he watched her troubled slumber now, he wondered if she had any recollection of how she had gotten there, and what had happened right before she collapsed and was hailed away. The memory of their conversation in the hallway surfaced in his own hazy mind sometime between coming to at the hospital and rushing out to try and save her. He grasped at it ferociously; it egged him on. Even now he struggled to remember everything exactly as it happened despite the swiftness of what followed. He forced his mind to engrave the way tears glistened in her blue eyes, the way she trembled in his arms, the way her breath tickled his skin as he drew closer, closer –
He didn't even realize how desperately he had wanted to kiss her until the opportunity presented itself to him, as they were facing one another in the hallway, and then he didn't want to do anything but kiss her. He had never gotten this close before. He had never allowed himself to get so close. He was so certain he had it under control. He was adamant to keep the monster dormant deep within, but at the sight of her tears, her desperation, it was raising its ugly head yet again, as it had done so many times before. It was there when he returned from the Navajo reservation and she told him she had known he would be okay, when he found her hiding at her mother's place after he was sure she was dead, when they learned that her cancer had gone into remission; but he had never acted on the urge before, telling himself no good would come of it.
It was a strange notion to consider, him almost kissing her, given his recent change of circumstances. The X Files were gone, his life work all but destroyed in a mysterious fire, and as if that wasn't enough of a trauma, Diana stormed back into his life as unexpectedly as she had left it. Her sudden reappearance had shaken him to his core, but it was quite easy, too easy, to push her to the darkest corner of his mind as soon as Scully told him of her decision to resign. Diana might have been there when he discovered the X Files, but she messed him up in ways no other woman had, not even Phoebe. And Scully… Well, in many ways she put him back together. He meant it when he told her she had made him a whole person. And that being the case, of course he couldn't let her go.
Their names were so similar, he mused; Dana and Diana. It was as if someone was taunting him. That was where the resemblance stopped though. Scully was everything Diana was not. She was making him work rather than accepting his wild theories right off the bat. She challenged him, forced him to second guess himself. He and Diana might share a viewpoint on the paranormal, but they'd never worked with the perfect sync that seemed to be between him and Scully almost from day one, despite their differences in opinion and her initial objective in her assignment to the X Files. He had deserted his suspicion she had been sent to spy on him long ago. Even if that were the case, he knew by now she was far too honest to actually perform such a task given to her by her superiors. It was this integrity he had admired most about her.
He thought about their encounter with Gibson, about him saying one of the women was wondering about him. At that point he was still stressing over Diana's reappearance, its motives and timing, but even though he had mentally pleaded with the kid not to speak up, he was genuinely curious as for which of the two would be thinking of him. He sensed Scully's apprehension when Diana joined them. She was the closest person to him on the planet (and beyond), and yet he couldn't bring himself to share that part of his life with her. He was certain it went the other way as well, that there were dark secrets in her own life unknown to him, secrets he wasn't sure he was ready to uncover.
So was it Scully Gibson had referred to, the one who had been wondering? Ever since laying on her deathbed, it felt as though their bond was tightening; their partnership had never been stronger. It had certainly taken a new physical turn. As grim as it sounded (he was holding on to what he could), he had grown fond of their encounters by each other's hospital beds. He secretly cherished every soft kiss, every brief touch of their hands or merely their fingertips. She must have sensed how rattled he was by Diana's presence. Did she sense the history he and Diana had shared by some unnamed feminine instinct? Did she fear Diana's return might jeopardize their partnership, or even shatter it altogether?
In a way it felt as though the rift had been created as soon as he laid eyes on Diana in that conference room. Even in that field hospital in Antarctica he didn't hold Scully's hand, didn't kiss her upon regaining consciousness, as if unsure if it was still allowed, if he was still entitled to. Because if he was being honest with himself, he had behaved quite appallingly towards her. That was Diana's impact on him, always this destructive, poisonous presence, even in their happiest of times together. This time Scully just happened to be in the middle of things, ground zero for the Diana Fowley fallout. He was ashamed of himself. Of course she wanted to quit. He was worthless, an ungrateful bastard. He hadn't deserved her when she was first assigned as his partner and he surely didn't deserve her now.
Then again, if it was indeed Scully who was thinking about him, it might take off the confusion of what happened in his hallway, because god knows he was still trying to figure out what it all meant. Had it not been for that damned bee, would she have kissed him back? Would it stop there or would he dare take it even further? And more importantly, would she let him?
Honestly, he didn't know. And the appearance of the bee meant he would never know. He had this one chance, and he missed it. The only thing he knew for sure was that the thought of losing her was staggering, unbearable. He didn't know what he would have done had he not made it in time. He stole another glance at her, safe and sound and asleep by his side. He wouldn't have to think about it for a while, at least until the next time she would find herself on death's door.
But now what? She was due in another hearing in a few days. Skinner had told him so in a crappy long distance call. He sounded relieved that they had made it, but was obviously bothered by Scully's resignation letter which still lay on his desk. Would she really resign if the matter of her reassignment was still valid? Skinner urged him to focus on getting better for the time being, assured him he was ahead of things, but he couldn't help it. The thought of their possible imminent separation made his skin crawl.
He shook Scully awake as the cab pulled into her street, as gently as he dared. She was surprisingly alert, as drained as she still looked. He asked the driver to hold on a second, and walked her to her door despite her protest. Every step hurt; exhaustion was seeping into his bones. He ignored it, determined to deliver her safely home.
"So, umm..." It was hard to even string the words together. He looked down at her hesitantly, his hands stuffed in his pockets. "Get some sleep and I'll check on you tomorrow, yeah?"
She nodded, clearly holding back a yawn. She looked wrecked; he shouldn't keep her. He mumbled a goodnight and turned to leave, only to stop after just a few steps as she murmured his name. He turned and looked at her questionably.
"Thank you. For coming after me, I guess."
He smiled softly. As if there was another option. "To the edge of the world and back, you know that." But upon saying it, and with the dark shadow of Diana looming by, it suddenly dawned on him that there was a good chance that she didn't. He cleared his throat. "Scully, I hope you know... how grateful I am." What you mean to me was what he really meant to say, but didn't dare to. That felt pertinent enough as it was.
Before he could think better of it, he took her hand and lifted it to his face. Locking his gaze with hers, he pressed his lips to her skin longer than it was probably appropriate, then gave her hand a little squeeze before slowly releasing it. It wasn't the kiss he had yearned for, but it would have to do, for the time being.
As he jogged out of her building towards the awaiting cab, he looked back and found her watching him, a dark silhouette against her window. As their eyes met she raised her arm to wave at him. She was still standing there as the cab pulled back into the night. Perhaps all was not forgotten, but it was forgiven, at least for now.
Yes, their circumstances may have been forever changed. He grimaced at the thought of the tedious work ahead, but even now, on the cusp of complete exhaustion, he could feel his determination rekindling. They would not succeed in breaking his spirit. He would get it all back. The X Files, Scully's closeness, his peace of mind. He would make himself worthy of it all once more. He would set things right. And if he was lucky, perhaps another chance would present itself, and this time he would seize it with all his might.