ACCEPTANCE

by Suzanne Bickerstaffe
originally written February 1995
 

SUMMARY, RATING AND DISCLAIMERS: Vignette with Scullyangst aplenty. This takes place immediately after the "Irresistible" episode of the second season. This was my first attempt at writing any kind of fiction. Little did I realize that over a thousand pages would follow in the next year and a half. Hey, it keeps me off the streets. Rated G - this is a VERY Carteresque piece - no relationship other than a very close friendship and the kind of understanding we should all be lucky enough to find in another.

Now the disclaimer - almost all the characters mentioned herein are the property of the excellent
Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions, Fox Television, etc. No infringement of copyright is
intended. The vision is mine, and may be forwarded, copied, etc, so long as it is unchanged and
my name appears as author. If my vision has differed so significantly from anyone else's that it
proves offensive, I apologize in advance. My thanks to all who inspired me to get started.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ACCEPTANCE

To the casual observer aboard Flight 532 from the Twin Cities, the tall young man seemed to be
totally engrossed in his journal. Actually, the journal provided a convenient cover for him to closely
observe the young woman beside him. She appeared to be paying rapt attention to the inflight safety
lecture, but he knew she was miles away, lost in her own thoughts.

Upgrading to first class had been Mulder's idea. He would argue with the numbers crunchers about
his expense report later. Right now, the last thing either of them needed was to be in coach, packed
in between screaming kids and large sweaty businessmen unwinding with one too many drinks. They
had both been through enough on this trip. More than enough, in her case.

Mulder chanced a concerned look her way. The last week had taken its toll - even now, her eyes had
not entirely lost their haunted look, and the fragile skin beneath them still looked almost bruised. Small
wonder.

~ ~ ~

The paramedic had handed a blanket to Mulder, and he mutely nodded his thanks. He had taken his
arms from around her only long enough to wrap her gently in the blanket. Then, still holding her, he
had guided her through the dark and the rain and the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles to
Agent Bocks' waiting car, helped her into the back seat and slid in beside her. She was quiet now. The
sobs had stopped, only to be replaced by a violent trembling.

"Hospital?" enquired Bocks in a low voice, looking back through the rear view mirror at Mulder.

Scully shook her head. Mulder hesitated. He knew as well as anyone that she really needed to be
checked out medically for any injuries from the car accident, let alone what that animal Pfaster might
have done to her. But he also knew she was terribly vulnerable, her emotional state precarious. She
needed desperately to have some control over what was happening to her.

"Scully says no. Just take us to the hotel. Have Agent Phipps meet us there, if you would. Okay,
Scully?" Nodding, she relaxed a little in his arms, but the shaking continued. Silent tears of which she
seemed totally unaware slid down her face - tears which alarmed Mulder more than her earlier sobbing
had. He knew what hell she must have gone through, to break down in front of him like this.

To be sure, he had known she was having difficulty with this case, in spite of her denials. For the first
time in their relationship, she had not been able to meet his gaze; her eyes focused everywhere but
on his. And she had not quite been able to hide her relief (and her guilt for that relief) when Mulder had
agreed that she should accompany the body back to Washington. "Why the hell didn't I insist that she
stay in Washington? Why didn't alarms go off in my head?" Mulder thought. If he had seen the same
signs in anyone else, he would have known them for what they were, he would have intervened in
some way. But Scully's strength had betrayed both of them this time, misleading them into believing
that she could handle everything and anything. She always had before, so why should this be any
different?

Because everyone, even Scully, has limits, he reasoned to himself. That fact had come as far less of
a shock to Mulder than it had to Scully. Scully had been blindsided.

Agent Kim Phipps had been waiting for them when they arrived at the hotel. Mulder, arm around
Scully, let the agents into her room. At a look from Mulder, Phipps took Scully into the bathroom and
began to help her to shower and change into nightclothes.

He was exquisitely sensitive to his partner's feelings right now. Before requesting a female agent
to meet them, Mulder had debated what would be more acceptable to Scully, in her present state.
God knows he didn't have a problem with the idea of helping her to shower and change, and
ordinarily, she wouldn't have either. Working and living together on the road, partners didn't have
many secrets from each other, and the fact that one was male and one female usually didn't make
a whole lot of difference. But he had seen Scully emotionally naked tonight, and something told him
that she hated more than anything else the fact that *he* had seen her like that. He was not willing
to risk inflicting further emotional pain by putting her in the position of having to reveal herself to
physically him as well.

Mulder had a few words with Bocks, coordinating the work to be done and the procedures to be
followed for the next few days. After all the horror that had occurred, the last thing anyone wanted
was to have Pfaster walk due to a technicality. He then placed a call to Assistant Director Skinner
and briefed him on the case, skirting around Scully's reaction to her ordeal.

"Good work, Agent Mulder. Is Agent Scully all right?" Skinner kept the genuine concern out of his
voice only with effort. Mulder could exasperate the hell out of him at times, but he had a soft spot
for Scully, marvelling at her ability to tolerate Mulder's unconventional work style and even weirder
beliefs.

"We're fine,sir. But we could use a couple days out here to finish up, do the reports, get a little
rest. It's been pretty... intense."

Skinner sensed that Mulder was omitting something, and was alert to what he wasn't saying as well
as to what he was. It sometimes got this way with partners - they sometimes formed such a tight
team that everyone else was an outsider, and not entitled to the special knowledge that partners
shared only with each other. But Skinner trusted such relationships, when not carried to extremes.
Mulder would lay his career and his life on the line for Scully, as Skinner well knew. Mulder's reaction
to her abduction and the illness that had followed it told him that. For some time now, Skinner had
thought that he recognized the beginnings of something between the partners that might develop
into a cause for Bureau concern in the future - something that possibly even Scully and Mulder were
as yet unaware of. At this point, however, he was willing to allow the agent a little latitude.

"Alright, Agent Mulder. You and Agent Scully have until Friday midday to be back in Washington.
Keep me updated."

Mulder pushed a button, ending the call. He had two days. More importantly, Scully had two days.

Terribly pale, eyes down, she emerged from the bathroom with Agent Phipps. Mulder turned down
the covers and tucked her in bed. He ushered the other agents to the door and exchanged a few
hushed words with them before they left. Closing the door, he turned and looked over at Scully.
Catching her unprepared, he was finally able to make eye contact with her. What he saw left him
shaken - haunted eyes that not only reflected her ordeal with Pfaster, but something deeper, more
fundamental, and ultimately much more devastating. Mulder bent over her, brushing the hair back
from her face lightly with his fingers and said softly, "Try to get some sleep. If it's okay with you, I
thought I might hang out here tonight."

Her nod was barely perceptible, but her relief was obvious. Mulder made some coffee - thank God
this place had complementary coffee service in the rooms. He left the bathroom light on, but closed
the door most of the way, and turned out the other lights in the room. Stretching out in the chair with
his long legs propped up on the bed, he sipped the hot coffee and watched Scully as she drifted into
sleep. He thought back to when she had been in the coma...when it looked like he would lose her
forever.... He had had to admit a few things to himself then. Like the certain knowledge that if she
passed from his life, the terrible wound left by her passing would never heal. And how, at some point,
he would have to tell her how much she meant to him, before it was too late. Tonight had come
uncomfortably close to being "too late"....

He must have dozed off, because her muffled shout woke him.

"No!" Scully tossed on the bed, fighting off the assailant who existed only in her nightmare.

Mulder was at her side in an instant. "It's okay. I'm here."

Never fully waking, she calmed gradually to Mulder's comforting murmur, the pressure of his arms
around her, his stroking of her hair. When she was finally quiet, he tried to disengage himself to return
to his chair. But in her sleep, sensing him move away, Scully's instinctive reaction was to tighten her
grip on his shirt. Did she really trust him that much? At one time, he thought he could have answered
that question, but her failure to share her fears with him on the Pfaster case had given him doubts.
Carefully, slowly, his arms still around her, Mulder lay back on the bed next to Scully. Nestling closer,
she rested her head on his chest. Soon her breathing took on the measured motion of deep sleep.

A couple of hours later, Mulder woke from a fitful doze. He and Scully were on their sides, he folded
around her, his arm encircling her waist - a kind of exoskeleton to ward off anything that could harm
her. He slowly rolled over so as not to disturb her, and sat up on the side of the bed, trying to erase
the images that had crawled and slithered through his dreams. Rising, he padded to the window
and looked out. A low overcast hid the late morning sun from sight. He discretely signalled to an
agent keeping a vigil in the parking lot - a courtesy arranged by Bocks.

Mulder had enjoyed working with Bocks; he was the one bright spot of the whole damn case. His
open-mindedness and humanity were refreshing, compared to the agents he usually had to work
with. It was especially appreciated on a case that turned as nasty as this one had.

Mulder answered the agent's soft tap, gave him his room key and a few brief requests. He sent
with him the pantsuit Scully had been wearing yesterday to be cleaned - more a rite of purification,
exorcism even, than because it was particularly soiled. After checking on Scully, he took a quick
shower and changed into the fresh clothes the agent had brought back. He sipped on some coffee
whose only virtue was caffeine, and debated waking his partner for some food. No, he decided - the
sleep would do her more good.

Crossing to the table, Mulder sat down and started in on the paperwork which inevitably followed
the conclusion of an investigation. He worked steadily for several hours, interrupted only twice -
once by Bocks, bearing food and an update, and later by another of Scully's nightmares. Again,
she responded to his soothing, and was asleep again almost before he had finished gently bathing
her tear-streaked face with a washcloth.

Mulder had returned to the papers and finished the last of the reports. Stiffly, he stretched back in
his chair, to notice only then that evening had darkened the room, and Scully was awake and
watching him.

"Hi. How do you feel?"

"Okay." The word stuck. She cleared her throat. "I feel better. The sleep helped."

"Do you feel like talking about it?"

Scully was silent for several minutes. She was avoiding his eyes again. "Look... Mulder... I can't
even begin to tell you how sorry and ashamed I am. I've let you down completely. Evidently, I'm
not the person we both thought I was." Scully's voice was low, strained, bitter. "What if you had
needed me? What if your life had been in danger and I was so busy going to pieces that I couldn't
do my job?" She whispered hoarsely, more to herself than to him. "How can you ever trust me
again? How can I ever trust myself?"

Mulder got up from the table and crossed the room to sit at the edge of her bed, his concern and
caring for her clear in his eyes, his voice soft. "Scully, the only thing that bothered me is that you
didn't think you could confide in me about how you felt. I felt like *I* was letting *you* down. You've
put up with my nightmares and phobias and passions and ghosts; why did you think I couldn't
accept yours?"

He took her hands in his own and absently carressed the backs of them with his thumbs. He
hesitated, trying to coalesce his thoughts into some sort of coherent statement - to put together
words that, for him, did not come easily. "We have a lot to talk about. I promised myself... when
you were...." His voice roughened with emotion and he paused, waiting to regain control before
he went on. "Anyway, I've been putting it off. And now it's not the right time - you need to deal
with all this first. But right now you need to know that you mean more to me than anyone -
*anyone* - ever has. I trust you with my life, and nothing that's happened in the last week changes
that. Nothing *could* change that. Hell, you're the only one I *do* trust....

"For what its worth, Scully, I don't think all this was due entirely to this case. Somehow you've
gotten the idea that you have to be strong, and you're not allowed to let anything get to you. I
don't think you've ever given yourself the chance to deal with all the trauma you've had over the
past year - maybe even further back than that. You couldn't keep putting that off. Sooner or later,
you were bound to crash. And when strong people crash, they crash hard."

Mulder's voice became even more gentle. "I've got news for you, Dana Scully - you're not
superhuman, and no one wants you to be. You need to accept that. You've got to allow yourself to
be human - to feel, to grieve, to be afraid. And you need to give yourself time. Not to distance
yourself from all of this, but time to do the work of accepting it."

She stared at their joined hands, struggling for control, struggling to accept what she knew was the
truth of his words, struggling to accept this new, more vulnerable self-image. She was quiet for some
time.

"Come on, Scully - give yourself a break. You know you'd do it for me."

She chuckled wryly. "For some reason, it's easier to give you a break, Mulder." The smile died on
her lips and she looked directly at him, serious once more. "I don't know if I can do this."

"Yes, you can. I'm here if you need help. That *is* what partners are for, you know."

~ ~ ~

Sudden turbulence wrenched Mulder from his thoughts. He quickly looked over at Scully, who had
tightened her grasp on the armrest. She was not exactly an enthusiastic flier at the best of times,
and this was not the best of times. He reached out and covered her small hand with his large one.

She looked into his warm hazel eyes, relaxed a little and smiled at him. "I'm all right, Mulder. Really."

He smiled back - the first time he had smiled in days. "I know you are, Scully." He picked up his pen
again, and continued his journal entry... "The conquest of fear lies in the moment of its acceptance...."
 

The End

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
 
 

I hope you enjoyed your visit to The Portal.