He woke up slowly, his head cradled in her soft, warm lap. He vaguely recollected how he'd gotten there.
He'd relinquished all control to her, empowered her to rein him in, to soothe the savage temper that had resulted in a violent, pointless outburst.
Better to take that anger out on an inanimate object than the only person in his life he could turn to, the only one who was willing to do the unthinkable to save his soul.
It was wrong, it was so wrong to ask her to do that autopsy. But it was the only way, the only path to the truth of the matter.
His mother's life was tainted by a conspiracy, a cover up, that she refused to acknowledge in her son's presence. He understood, he knew, she either could not or would not tell the full extent of his father's involvement in the Project.
But she'd called him in California, she'd left the message on his answering machine, and whatever she'd wanted to tell him was yet to be deciphered.
There had to be a connection, a link to these disappearances. Why else would she call him? She rarely did anymore, although he had seen her briefly at Christmas.
And what a great actress she'd been... she had to have known something about her health at that time, yet she revealed nothing to him, not a damn thing.
Her gait was slow, still affected by her stroke somewhat. But her mind had been sharp, and her general health had seemed fine, just fine. Had she hidden the diagnosis then, or had she just discovered that she was dying?
He hadn't had the patience, hadn't the self-control to listen to Scully last night.
He was shamed by this, shamed by the hostility he'd shown. What an ass he'd been. He knew Scully, he knew she'd never lie, never jack him around. He hadn't wanted to believe her last night, but he had to today.
He had to deal with his mother's death logically, calmly. He had to accord Scully all the respect she deserved, as his friend, as his partner, as the most significant person in his life. Or he would lose more than the last vestige of his decimated family. He would lose her, too.
He'd already dragged her through the horrible maelstrom that comprised his so-called life. She'd already suffered because of him. She'd already lost so much because of him.
Perhaps this was his own personal hell kicking in. She'd be out the door as soon as she realized he was awake, aware, and able to fend for himself. This wasn't really her battle anyway. And she wanted him to stop looking, stop looking for something that he wouldn't want to find.
He could hear her gentle snoring, but he dared not move and wake her. Her left hand rested on his shoulder, fingers splayed out protectively. He knew exactly how she looked at the moment; he'd seen her sleep like this a thousand times. Head tipped backward, mouth slightly agape, she was beautiful when she slept.
He resisted twisting his body around to look at her and focused his eyes across the room instead. The VCR clock said four a.m. They couldn't have gotten more than four hours sleep since she'd helped him onto the couch. His body felt heavy, fatigued, a physical lassitude brought on by grief, by all the sobbing he'd done last night.
He didn't feel like crying anymore. There was no time for tearfulness now. He had to concentrate on the clues, on the trail of evidence, no matter how unbelievable it had been.
Distractedly, he forgot his vow to let her rest and rubbed his bloodshot eyes with one hand. The slight motion woke her, and he felt her startle above him. He gave up all pretense of slumber, rotating his body so he could not only see her, but grab her left hand as well. She blinked her eyes, coming to full consciousness, then wiggled a little underneath his head, accommodating his shift in posture.
"Scully," he said, barely a whisper.
She gave him a wistful smile, then opened her mouth to speak, but was rudely interrupted by an uncontrollable yawn. That elicited a quick grin and strangled laugh from her partner, before she could protest.
"Sorry," he rasped.
She shook her head and said with genuine curiosity, "Whatever for, Mulder?"
He chortled softly and responded, "For keeping you up so late. For being such a burden."
She sighed heavily, fully aware that given enough time to think, and rope to hang himself with, Mulder was capable of turning his grief for his mother into a one man guilt trip extraordinaire.
She extended her right hand and combed his unruly bangs off his forehead, then brushed her fingers over his brow.
"You're not a burden. And you've been there for me, and you know it," she said patiently.
He squeezed the hand he still held and said, "I know. But I... I'm just sorry. I pushed you so hard on the autopsy. And then when you told me what you found..."
"Mulder, it's okay. It's okay that you didn't want to accept it. I wasn't expecting you to take this well. I certainly didn't."
He could see barely restrained tears in her eyes, and he maneuvered himself into a sitting position beside her, then took her into his arms. He was all cried out; he'd had enough, thank you. But he knew she'd held back her emotions last night so she could comfort him. It was time to reciprocate that care.
"Scully," he whispered in her ear, "I'm okay now. I believe what you told me, at least intellectually. I'll have a harder time accepting what she did emotionally... Right now... I just want to go on, to try and solve the case as best we can."
She pulled out of his embrace and looked him in the eye, her hands still touching his forearms.
"Have you been up awhile?" she inquired suspiciously.
"Yeah, what of it?" he said, squinting now, wondering at her question.
She smiled softly, then said, "I'd say the time you had to think before I woke up probably served you well."
He closed his eyes briefly, amazed at how well she knew his behavior by now. His lips curled into a gentle smile, and he pulled her back against his chest, encircling her in his arms.
He nuzzled her ear softly, then said, "Thank you for being here."
She made a tiny scoffing noise and returned, "Where else would I be?"
He threaded his fingers through her hair, untangling the wayward strands. His other hand held her firmly to him as they basked in the intimacy of this moment.
There had been other moments like this recently. There had been kisses when they were in their most private places.
And they knew where all this was going, but they had purposely avoided any discussion of that. It couldn't be discussed because they couldn't chance ruining this with the same kind of analysis they accorded paranormal phenomena and serial murder cases.
This, whatever it was, could never stand up to analysis. So they had ignored the temptation to speak of it and just let it happen. And it had, getting them through the destruction of her home, getting them through personal injuries that seemed almost inevitable in their lives.
"Let's go back to sleep," she murmured, punctuating her request with a kiss to his neck.
"Yes," was all he said.
And they slept.
Till the AD arrived hours later...
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