Title: Out of Practice
Feedback: Yes, please tlynnfic [at] gmail.com
Distribution: Anywhere, just let me know so I can visit
Category: MSR, angst
Summary: The renewal of an imperfect partnership.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never have been, never will be
Thanks: To my betas, Carol and Circe I., for always spotting my innumerable typos and for reigning in my wordiness.
Special thanks: To CC and FS for giving us this second movie and all this new material
* * *
It was well into the evening before he heard the crunch of gravel under her tires. He flicked his wrist to glance at his watch and noted that she’d spent yet another ten-hour day at the hospital. The remote control in his hand, he turned the volume on the TV down low, listening further as she closed the car door, and then as her keys jingled in the lock of the front door. He watched as she crossed the threshold, head bowed, shoulders slightly hunched.
“Long day,” he said, not a question.
She hadn’t yet noticed him lying on the couch and jumped at the sound of his voice. She nodded, sighing heavily.
“Long day,” she echoed.
His eyes, aided only by the soft blue hue of the television screen, followed her as she walked over to the dining table and set her briefcase down, took her gloves off, and shed her coat.
“Do you want me to heat you up some dinner?” he offered.
“No, thanks,” she said, her back to him. “I ate at the hospital. I’m just going to take a shower.”
She didn’t see him nod, didn’t look back as she left the room. He returned his focus to the television, restored the volume, and watched Telly Savalas try to save his daughter from an evil doll.
* * *
She didn’t emerge from the bedroom for nearly an hour. He reached for the remote again, this time muting the sound, and shifted until he was on his back, once again followed her with his eyes. She was in her pajamas and her hair was slightly damp. She walked over to the couch, to him. Her own gaze unfocused, she carefully and quietly climbed on top of him. He immediately felt her exhaustion as she sank heavily into him, her head atop his chest, and her arms wrapping around him as best they could. She smelled like lemongrass soap. They watched William Shatner silently try to convince
his wife of the gremlin on the airplane’s wing.
“More ‘Twilight Zone’?” she asked, voice muffled against his chest.
“Gotta love the Sci-Fi Channel and its marathons.”
“Mmmm,” she hummed in some kind of agreement.
He moved a hand to her back and drew lazy lines up and down her spine. She melted into him even further and he couldn’t help a satisfied smile as she expressed a more definitive affirmation.
“God, that feels good.”
It was well past the credits of ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ when she spoke again.
“I didn’t cancel the surgery.”
“I figured as much. How did it go?”
She shrugged. “As well as it could have. There are two more to go.”
“How are his parents holding up?”
“They’re not ready to give up yet, either.”
“I’d say they have you to thank for their newfound obstinacy.”
She shook her head and raised it to look at him.
“That’s not fair, Mulder,” she said. “I don’t think they were ever truly ready to give up hope of a successful treatment for their son.”
“You said that they wanted to put their trust on God rather than keep trying. That they told you to stop. And you were the one that convinced them otherwise. You, Scully.”
She considered his words for a few moments before she moved her hand up and brushed his hair back from his eyes, careful not to touch his still-healing wounds. She rested her palm against his cheek.
“I like this better,” she said, gently rubbing her thumb over his clean-shaven cheek.
“I thought you liked the beard.”
“I never said I liked it,” she corrected. “I didn’t mind it. But now that it’s gone…”
She shifted her body forward to place a small kiss on the underside of his jaw.
“I like this better,” she said again. “Most definitely.”
He smiled. How long ago was it that she’d said she wasn’t coming home? And now here she was, in his arms. Home. Nothing really had been discussed or settled. There hadn’t been time after she rescued him. Not with a concussion from a car wreck and a beating from crazy Russian. Not to mention a heavy dose of animal tranquilizer. But here they were and that’s really all that mattered.
“I’m sorry,” she said then.
“For what?” he asked.
“For expecting more from you than you could give.”
His brows furrowed in confusion, both at her words and the sudden look of defeat on her face.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation the other day,” she said. “And I guess I just need you to understand.”
She pushed herself up and moved over to sit at his feet, distancing herself from him. He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“I meant what I said about your stubbornness being the reason why I fell in love with you. It’s one of many reasons. And I understand your pursuit of the truth, whatever truth it may be, is what drives you, as a man and as an investigator. There was a time I shared when drive, albeit for my own reasons, when I wanted nothing more than to be at your side in that pursuit. But not anymore. I’m too tired and I’m too old and believe it or not, I’m happy. Here, in this unremarkable house in the middle of nowhere, semi-shrouded in secrecy and away from everything I used to know, I’m happy. Because I’m making a difference in this new life, doing the work I do and above all else, I’m sharing this life with you. And I don’t want it to change–”
He sighed and opened his mouth to interrupt her but she continued, undaunted. “I’m afraid of losing you to that darkness that follows us, Mulder. I want you to turn your head from it, to look away and to see what else it is you have. It was foolish of me to think this was something you could do halfway, to think you could let it go once you were a part of it. That was my mistake and that’s what I’m sorry for. I can’t begrudge you who you are and I never would want to, but I can’t follow you this time. I won’t. What we have here is enough for me and I wish it could be enough for you–”
He felt the anger rise within him with each word she spoke. He vaulted himself to his feet.
“That’s not fair!” he shouted. “What? Are you asking me to choose? You want me to just go back to sitting and waiting for you to come home every night? After what we just went through to get our lives back? Because I gotta tell you, door number two is looking real good right now.”
“No,” she said, frustrated. She scrambled to her feet to face him. “That’s not what I meant!”
He threw his hands up. “It sure as hell sounds like it, Scully. Have I ever given you the impression that I’m not happy with you and what we now have?”
She pointed at him accusingly. “Not until I saw the look in your eyes when we started investigating this case. It awoke something inside of you. Something I hadn’t seen in a very long time. For a minute there, it was like seeing an old friend, but it didn’t take long for it to become something that consumed you.”
“Tell me you didn’t feel the rush of adrenaline when the pieces started to fit,” he challenged, stepping into her space. “Tell me you didn’t feel more alive than ever when you helped that woman to survive. She is alive because of you, not only because of your medical skills, but also because of your investigating skills. Tell me that doesn’t mean something to you!”
He turned from her, running his hands through his hair in irritation. In the heat of the moment, he forgot about the stitches over his eye and hissed as his fingers collided with the tender spot. She jumped at his intake of breath and instinct propelled her over to him, reaching her hands out to examine him. He swatted her hands away and dabbed at the drops of fresh blood with the bottom of his t-shirt.
“It does mean something to me,” she said, keeping her distance. “But not enough to go back to how it used to be. Do you have any idea how hard it was to see our car being pulled up from that cliff? To know that you were in it when it fell? To have no clue where you were and no way to get a hold of you? To see what they had done to you? None of that is worth any adrenaline rush or nostalgia I might have felt.”
He winced at her words, words that very effectively at his heartstrings. He once thought he could and would give this woman anything she asked, but recent events had indeed awoken something inside him that may say otherwise.
“So I ask you again,” he pressed. “Are you asking me to give up? Four years isn’t a lot of time. Things seem to be quiet, but December 22, 2012 will be here like that –” he snapped his fingers. “Have you forgotten about that date? What it means?”
“Of course not,” she spat, turning away angrily.
“I can’t turn my back on it all, can’t ignore it, especially now that I don’t have to hide away anymore. We both know the odds. And I don’t know how it is you can believe everything is fine and that this is normal. After all we’ve given up, how can you not want to find the answers?” He grabbed her shoulders and turned her back to him.
“Because I’m scared, Mulder,” she said, a slight tremble in her voice.
Embarrassed, she closed her eyes and it pained him to see the tears threatening to fall from her eyes. It had been a long time since he’d seen her fear. She’d been foolish to believe they could have this normal life, but that didn’t change the fact that he really would do anything to make it a reality for her, for them both. And he knew only way to give them anything resembling a normal life was to find the answers to the questions no one else knew to ask, much less dared to.
He went to her then and wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace. He felt her tears soak through the cotton of his shirt and an unsettling sense of deja vu washed over him.
“You’re not scared,” he said softly. “You’re just out of practice.”
She huffed out a laugh then and he chuckled along with her. She pulled away enough to look up at him again and wiped the moisture from her eyes before circling her arms around his waist.
“You really don’t have to hide away anymore, do you?” she said.
“Nope, Skinner called today. My return to civilization is in the works as we speak. He even offered some consulting work to keep me busy in the meantime.”
“It’s weird,” she said. “I’ve never really been able to mention you to anyone. No one at the hospital really knows you exist. Now I have the option of telling them I have a…”
She considered carefully before answering.
“A partner,” she said simply.
“That you do,” he said with a smile.
She rested her head against his chest again and they held each other until he felt her shiver and noticed that a chill had filled the air. He stepped away from her embrace and gave her hand a quick squeeze before making the rounds to turn everything off and lock everything up. It was early still, but they were both exhausted and made the unspoken, but mutual agreement to go to bed.
He climbed into the bed after her and wrapped his body around hers under the covers. He knew what it was she was fighting for in all her protest, knew it was quiet moments like these that meant the most to her. They meant everything to him, too, which is why he had to continue to fight.
“Can we still go away somewhere? Just you and me? Even if just for a few days?” she asked earnestly.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere,” she said. “As long as it’s away from the cold and the dark.” She snuggled into the covers as it to emphasize her need for warmth.
“Sun and sand?” he suggested.
Her breathing turned rhythmic and he thought she’d fallen asleep. His eyelids grew heavy and sleep threatened to overtake him, too.
“What are we going to do?” she asked suddenly and he knew she wasn’t talking about the vacation.
“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. “But we’ll figure it out.”
And they would. Of that he was convinced.
* * *