Degrees of Separation by cheerful minion

Title: Degrees of Separation
Status: finished
Series: if the muses are with me, this will be story #1 in the "Degrees of …" series
Author: cheerful minion (cheerfulminion@french.toast.net)
Date: 23 Feb. 2002
Category: character study, angst
Rating: probably PG13 for non-graphic referrals to violence
Pairing: Scully/Reyes friendship
Season: 9 (at least I think the current season is 9)
Spoilers: none, if you know about the new characters; seasons 8 & 9 if you don't <g>
Summary: Scully helps Reyes deal with the aftermath of a difficult case.
Archive: Pink Rabbit; others, please ask
Disclaimer: If I owned the show or these characters, the mytharcs would have died long ago … ergo they're not mine <g>. They belong to a whole bunch of folks, primarily Chris Carter, FOX, 1013 Productions, MGM (I think … they own everything else). I write these sorts of stories for my own demented entertainment -- no one has ever given me any money for my writing. Hell, I can't even get any really good bribes. Please, if you are one of the owners of these characters, don't waste your time suing me, just run off with anything herein that strikes your fancy.
Notes: One of the things the show has been neglecting this season is character development, and while we know Scully well by now, Reyes is still a bit of an enigma. So I'm hoping to have a series of stories that start developing an actual friendship between the characters and then lead into a more romantic relationship. In other words, if you want sex, it's gonna be a while. (And I suppose I should warn you ahead of time that I'm one of the least graphic slash writers on the planet <g>.) I've worked on this story long enough that I have no feel for whether it has any merit or whether it simply sucks … so my apologies if it sucks. Nice comments are adored and I thrive on constructive criticism. Really.

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Cooper's Glen, rural Virginia
2:15 pm EST

"Agents Scully, Doggett … a word, please."

The voice belonged to none other than Assistant Director Walter Skinner, and Dana Scully looked up from her perusal of the page of notes in her hand to give him a curious glance. She could literally feel John Doggett fidget beside her, and when she saw Skinner's hand go up in a pre-emptive motion, she deduced that the other agent was about to bubble over with questions … questions their superior was not ready to answer. At least not out in the middle of this open field where all and sundry could hear the conversation.

She tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear and remained silent as she followed in Skinner's footsteps, leaving Doggett to trail in their wake. If there was one thing she had learned in her many years at the FBI, it was the value of knowing when to talk and when to remain quiet. She'd always had an innate grasp of the concept anyhow, but her years working with the passionate and excitable Fox Mulder had reinforced her ability until it was her default setting. And she was finding it useful in her occasional work with her last partner—John Doggett—and his new partner, Monica Reyes. They were both passionate about the things they believed in and were not shy about proclaiming those beliefs. That wasn't a bad trait, as far as Scully was concerned; it served as a balance to her own quieter, more studious approach.

Skinner came to a halt under a maple tree on the fringes of the grassy field, which was nestled in a small valley, and Scully offered a nearly inaudible sigh of relief at the shady respite from the mid-afternoon sun. She turned to regard Doggett, who looked sunburned and impatient, then let her full attention rest on the Assistant Director … waiting.

Skinner's tone was flat and even, but there was compassion in his eyes. "I'm concerned about Agent Reyes. I understand she was grazed by a bullet when the suspect fired at us before his apprehension, but she wouldn't let the paramedics examine her." He jerked his head to the side, and as Scully's gaze followed the gesture, she could see the woman in question squatting down in the grass, her back to the crime scene and the swarms of agents examining it, her attention appearing to be focused on the ground in front of her. She kept her eyes on the figure as the Assistant Director continued, "I managed to convince them that she's not badly hurt and that Agent Scully will examine her, but I don't know how long it will be before someone gets suspicious if she's just sitting there, not moving. I know this case has been hard on her and she's got reasons for being so affected, but these other people don't know that piece of things … and we can't let them know. Right now, the last thing she needs is for anyone to be questioning her sanity, or lack thereof."

He didn't say more on that last subject, but in Scully's opinion, he didn't have to. The X-Files were no more popular with the upper echelons of the Bureau today than they had been several years ago when she had started her stint there. And given the way some of their investigations into the not-quite normal tended to open up cans of mud that could dirty people in the highest realms of government … it was best to not hand people reasons to discredit you. Something both Reyes and Doggett had yet to learn with the same vengeance that Scully had.

The note of genuine puzzlement in Doggett's voice brought Scully's attention back to him. "She's just got a little scratch on her arm from the guy's bullet … not that big a deal. And yeah, she's a little freaked out right now. We're all a little freaked out … catching that fruitcake right after killing that kid … in the middle of trying to kill those other two …" His voice trailed off, uneasiness and defiance at war in his face, the latter overcoming the former. "I don't see how anyone can look at her and think she's gone nuts … not with what we've found in this field."

Scully exchanged a meaningful glance with Skinner, and shook her head slightly, letting him know that it was his turn to stay silent while she talked. They both knew it was a lot more complicated than finding a slew of corpses (some long dead) in an isolated field and being shaken to the core by the sight of it. It was even a lot more complicated than interrupting the killer in his slow, torturous method of killing and seeing the young, anguished faces of his would-be victims. Yes, it was horrible and would deeply disturb anyone, would freak anyone out. But Reyes was a trained agent, same as the rest of them, and her current, somewhat unprofessional behavior could be used against her. In some ways, Scully mused as she searched for the right words, it was better that Doggett didn't see how much more complicated it was. He wasn't a stupid man, not by any means, but his simple black and white definition of justice, of right and wrong, was possibly the strongest protection he could have. Seeing shades of grey certainly hadn't helped Mulder … or herself. And though she didn't know Monica Reyes all that well yet, it was obvious to Dana that the other woman also tended to see nuances and run off of intuition, much like Mulder did … and more uncannily, like her sister Melissa had. It was one of the reasons that Scully felt a certain comfort with the younger woman … and one of the reasons she wanted to look out for her.

She spoke quietly. "Of course she's been shaken up by this, Agent Doggett; we all have. But being off by herself like that will only reinforce the opinion that she's in need of medical attention and might not be mentally fit for duty for a while." It wasn't precisely the whole truth, but the man she was addressing was too ramped up on adrenaline to be able to really hear what she was saying anyhow. Later, when things were calmer, she would make a point of telling him the rest of it. He needed to be reminded of it—not just for Reyes' sake, but also for his own.

Doggett shot a long look at his partner and then turned back to the two people standing under the tree with him, his face set in stubborn lines. "For all anyone else knows, she's looking at evidence. I say just leave her alone; there's no reason for anyone to talk about her. I'm almost done here and she'll be heading to the local HQ with me in just a few minutes anyhow."

Scully cocked her head to the side, sharing another long glance with Skinner. He raised his eyebrow fractionally and she nodded. Taking a deliberate breath, she turned to Doggett. "Why don't you finish up here and then take the Assistant Director back to the police department with you, and I'll go ahead and take Agent Reyes back to Washington. You can sit in on the interrogation, since frankly, I doubt Reyes is up to that at the moment. As long as you're there to help out with things, all they'll need is her report, which she can fax over tomorrow. If anyone notices her absence, tell them it's on the advice of a doctor … I'll include that in my own report."

She broke off, searching the man's face, and when he seemed ready to argue, she held up her hand and continued in a softer, more personal tone. "You know how hard this case has been for her, John … feeling that sense of connection to one of his victims. I know you don't usually believe in psychic phenomena, but regardless of whether she truly had a connection to the little girl or not, it's still been hard for her." She paused again, and her voice was even softer when she continued, "And like it or not, the Bureau doesn't want its agents to be so personally involved in cases, as Agent Mulder and I learned the hard way. If too many people start asking questions about Monica, you're going to have a lot more to worry about than just the fact that your partner has been shaken up by a case."

He nodded then, a worried crease crinkling his forehead as he looked back at his partner. "Yeah, ok, you're making sense to me. I don't want anyone thinking she's going crazy and trying to yank her off the X-Files. You do what's best for her, Dana … and AD Skinner and I'll head back and make sure we get the confession we need to lock this bastard up for life."

Without even waiting for her nod of confirmation, he headed back to the group of agents still gathering up evidence, calling out orders to them as he went. Scully looked up at Skinner, who quirked the corner of his mouth in a thin smile. "Thank you," was all he said before turning to follow the path blazed by the other man. She offered him a tight smile in return, reminded of all they'd been through together, and all the times he'd put himself on the line to help her and Mulder. And now he was doing the same for his newest X-Files team. She thought—with just a touch of sadness—that his own desire to find the truth had cost him as much as it had any of the rest of them; he just was better at hiding it.

Trying to shake off that rather depressing thought, she trudged unhappily back into the bright, merciless glare of the sun, heading straight for Monica Reyes. The other woman was still squatting down, her head bent as if she was studying the ground. As Scully walked up behind the figure, she cleared her throat as a way of warning the other woman that she wasn't alone. The sound seemed to go unnoticed, so she opted for a more direct approach. Keeping her tone low, she said simply, "Agent Reyes." And when that also seemed to have no effect, she tried the more personal, "Monica."

That certainly got the other woman's attention. Had Scully not had her attention so focused on the dark haired woman, she would have missed the subtle straightening of her spine, the slight tilt of Reyes' head in response to hearing her own name. The lack of a more obvious response caused a wave of concern to flood through Dana. She knelt down beside the woman—oblivious to the way the move painted dirt streaks across the knees of her slacks—and kept her voice carefully slow and soothing, as if approaching a wounded animal. She had no idea what she should say, only knew it was important that she say something. "It's over, Monica. There's nothing more we can do here; the forensics teams are gathering the last of the evidence and Agent Doggett and AD Skinner are heading back to the police department to interrogate the suspect." The woman next to her did not say anything and didn't move—appearing for all the world like a particularly lifelike statue.

Clinically, Scully recognized that the woman was in shock, which was to be expected under the circumstances. Personally, she felt a stab of helplessness, not used to seeing the other woman so clearly vulnerable.

Scully realized in a heartbeat that her concern about the other woman had gone from the generalized worry voiced by Skinner to something far more personal. It no longer was about the way other people's perceptions might hurt both Reyes and the X-Files—it was about how what had happened in this field had already hurt the other woman. Taking what felt like a risk, she reached out and lightly laid her hand on the small of Reyes' back. The muscles under her fingertips tensed for a moment, then relaxed. Dana heard the tiny note of coaxing in her own voice as she offered, "I'm going to drive you back home, take a look at your arm. It can't be good for you, being here …" Her voice trailed off for a moment—she knew what she wanted to say, but was uncomfortable saying it. She'd seen enough over the past several years to recognize that there were people who had psychic and empathic abilities—but she was a medical doctor who specialized in dealing with evidence and logic, and despite all she'd seen, it still was hard at times for her to talk about things of a supernatural nature.

She held up a hand to shade her eyes from the sun and took a deep breath before finishing her thought. "It can't be good for you, being here with the … the feel of death and violence in the air." It was a vast understatement, and Scully knew it the moment the words left her mouth. She didn't understand all of what had gone on in this case as she had only been on the periphery of it … but she knew that Monica had felt an emotional connection to one of the children kidnapped by the killer. Reyes had felt the girl's fear, her pain, and it was because of that connection that they had finally found this field … and the suspect. Not that anyone other than herself, Reyes, Doggett, and Skinner would know that piece of it … as far as the official report was concerned, they'd simply gotten an anonymous tip. (And given that John was skeptical of his partner's ability in the first place, he was selling everyone involved on the whole "tip" version of events.)

Scully let her hand make a slow, massaging circle on the other woman's back. "I'm sorry we didn't get here in time to save that little girl, but you should be happy that we got here in time to save the other two children he had captive. Thanks to you, they're alive and going to be okay. I'm just … sorry that you had to feel her … her death."

 

Reyes didn't turn her head, but she nodded it very slightly. The words that floated back to Scully's ears were as faint as ghosts. "Thank you."

It wasn't exactly what Dana had expected to hear, but she thought she understood the reason for the seemingly surreal comment. And it wasn't because of her presence, her offer to drive Reyes back to DC, or her optimistic reassurance about saving two lives. Her hand still lightly massaging the other woman's back, she mused quietly that the declaration of gratitude was more about her willingness to take Monica's empathic tendencies at face value despite the fact that she wasn't entirely sure she believed in them. And Scully knew perfectly well that the other woman was aware of her skepticism; they'd already had this conversation … more than once.

Perhaps one of the reasons Dana felt the ties of friendship with this woman she barely knew was not that they agreed on everything and had the same philosophical stances, but rather that they could talk about the things they didn't agree on without it turning into either sniping or arguing.

That thought quickly led to the familiar pain of wishing she and Melissa had been able to get to this point—wishing that her sister could have lived long enough to see Dana grow more tolerant of people and things that didn't fit neatly into rational boxes. She'd been thinking of her sister a lot since the day Monica Reyes walked into her life, seeing shades of the dead woman in the other agent. And seeing through the dark haired woman how the traits in her sister that she'd once derided as "flaky, new-age nonsense" were actually signs of compassion and a surprisingly practical window on the world.

Habitually, she shoved the old pain aside, though she was surprised that it didn't seem to hurt quite as badly this time. There was a whole wealth of revelation waiting in that simple realization, and she shoved that aside as well, not at all wanting to get into self-psychoanalysis. With a quick shake of the head to get her mental meanderings solidly under her control, Scully turned her full attention back to Monica. "Come on, Agent Reyes. Let's get out of the sun and go home."

The other woman spoke softly, and though Scully could hear what she said, the words were in quickly spoken Spanish and she didn't understand them. For one confused moment, she wondered if Reyes was suffering from heatstroke and confused as to where she was and whom she was with. Then it became apparent that the words were not intended for her when Monica paused for a moment and offered words she did understand, "Vayan con los espiritus santos, ninitos. Y descansen en paz." (1)

The prayerfully offered words tugged at Scully's heartstrings and she felt a surge of compassion for the woman beside her as she realized why Reyes had been off on her own. She'd been willing to endure the aura of death (strong enough for even the non-sensitive types to feel) so that she could offer up her own version of a benediction for the children. Dana found herself more touched than she'd expected by the gesture … she herself was a religious person and yet she rarely paused in the middle of a case to say a prayer for the victim.

Before Dana could finish categorizing her feelings about what had just happened, or even add in her own, "Amen," Agent Reyes turned her head and looked directly at her. The woman's dark eyes were suspiciously glassy, but her face was more serene than Scully would have expected under the circumstances, and her voice was as steady as it was quiet. "I'd like it if you'd take me home now. It's been a … long day."

 

(1) "Go with the blessed spirits, children. And rest in peace."

 

******

Monica Reyes' apartment, Washington DC

7:30 pm EST

Scully neatly tore off a length of cloth adhesive tape and smoothed it gently over the gauze pad she'd placed against the wound on Monica's arm. She teased gently, "I don't think I'll ever listen to Agent Doggett again when he reports on your injuries. He said it was just a scratch."

In truth, it was a relatively deep groove cutting into the woman's forearm, and it was easy to see the telltale red marks showing the way the friction from the bullet had burned the flesh. It wasn't actually anything to worry about and certainly nothing that had needed immediate attention. But as Dana knew from long experience, it was the kind of injury that was more painful than it looked (like the ubiquitous paper cut) and she was worried solely because the other woman seemed so unaware of it.

But then again, Reyes hadn't seemed aware of much during the long trip back to DC. It had been a silent car ride, each of them wrapped up in their own thoughts. It had been a comfortable silence, lacking the strain that often caused people to make hours worth of small talk. The scenery had been idyllic and had managed to wipe some of the horror of the afternoon from Scully's mind; she assumed (and hoped) it had had much the same effect on her companion. But now that they were back in the city and back to the day-to-day reality of lives lived in the FBI, Dana began to worry a little more about the rather blank expression on Monica's face.

She tore off another strip of tape to secure the bandage, and looked up from where she was kneeling on the floor to see if the other woman had even noticed the teasing comment. That would be a no, she thought to herself, seeing that Reyes might be sitting on the edge of the bathtub in front of her, but her mind was anywhere but in the present.

She sat back on her heels, studying the other woman in a way she never would have dared had those dark eyes been liable to notice the scrutiny. Usually, Dana was struck by how lithe and light Monica seemed. Not in the sense of being carefree, but more in the sense of a childlike trust that the universe was a good place. Scully knew full well that Reyes was not blind to the presence of evil in the world, but she still believed in the power of good, trusted in it to be stronger than the darker powers. Now, as she examined the woman, she could see that there was a cloud across the affable features, and a hint of uncertainty in the guileless brown eyes, as if Reyes was beginning to doubt her own beliefs.

That thought alarmed Scully more than she would have guessed. Usually she took a highly practical and realistic view of the world, and tended to be glad when others joined her in seeing things through the lens of reality, rather than through rose-colored glasses. But she valued the optimism of Monica Reyes in a way she hadn't valued in anyone for a long time, not since Missy died. Even Mulder's tendency to look on the bright side had been colored with a shade of irony that made it something far darker. She found that she didn't want to see shadows on the face in front of her, didn't like seeing the infinitely sad look in those usually kind and open eyes.

Dana didn't usually think of herself as the comforting or nurturing type; she had taken after her father, after all, not after her mother. She tended to be much more at home with facts than she was with feelings—her own or anyone else's. But as she regarded Monica, she wanted nothing more than to do something to make the other woman feel better.

Her bandaging job done, she slowly levered herself off the floor and carefully perched on the edge of the tub next to Reyes. The sudden presence beside her seemed to jerk the dark haired woman back to the present with alarming suddenness. She actually jumped as the awareness entered her brain, and Scully placed a hand on Monica's shoulder in a gesture intended to calm the other woman.

Reyes' voice was slightly breathless. "I'm sorry, you just startled me." She offered a tiny laugh that to Dana's ears sounded completely forced. "Guess I was just lost in my own thoughts." She glanced down at her arm, as if only now becoming aware that it had been treated. "Thank you … for this." Monica gestured vaguely to indicate that she was referring to her arm. Scully frowned slightly, feeling like there was something important going on under the surface, and not having the slightest idea what it was.

Before she could think to ask any questions, the younger woman abruptly rose from her perch, leaned against the bathroom door, and crossed her arms in front of her. Scully felt her frown deepen at the defensiveness of the pose. Reyes' didn't seem to notice her reaction, instead focusing on the completely immediate. "I do appreciate you bringing me home and bandaging me up. And, well, I know you probably need to go pick up William and get back home. Lots to do tomorrow and all. If you want, you can use my phone to call your mom and let her know you're on your way."

It sounded like a particularly tactless dismissal, and under other circumstances, Dana would have taken it as such, assuming the gracelessness of it was due to fatigue. But as she looked up at Monica, noting the way the other woman was studiously avoiding her eyes, she felt certain that the last thing she wanted was for Scully to leave her alone. Even if Reyes had seemed to want to be al0ne, she wasn't entirely sure she would be willing to go—not until she was a little more convinced that the other woman would be okay.

"Monica," she began self-consciously, not entirely certain what exactly she should say, or even what she wanted to say. She noticed the way the dark eyes fixed on her, the expression in them unreadable. She cleared her throat and then just let the words tumble out of her mouth, feeling more awkward with spoken language than she had since she was a child learning to formulate complete sentences. "I can stay for a while, if you want … I mean, I'd like to stay for a while. You seem like you could use someone to talk to and I'd be happy to listen. And I … I'm worried about you."

Ok, so that wasn't quite what she'd planned to say. The "worried about you" bit anyhow. She was surprised, however, at just how true it was. It wasn't like she and the younger woman were good friends or even long time colleagues. But then again, working together on cases that delved into some of the darkest recesses of the human soul tended to create a bond, and Reyes had been there—protecting her and helping her—when William was born. They might not know each other all that well, but they'd already shared a depth of experience … had trusted their very lives to each other. It was similar to the bond Dana had with Doggett, only he tended to hold people at arms length, where Monica tended to embrace them.

She searched the other woman's face, hoping she hadn't said the wrong thing, hoping she hadn't inadvertently made it sound like she couldn't take care of herself. Reyes blinked hard and bit her lip, then shook her head like she was trying to clear it.

"Monica?" The word was uttered so softly that Dana herself wasn't sure for a moment whether she'd actually spoken aloud.

Sad, dark eyes swung to touch on Scully, and she held her breath, waiting. Then a faint but genuine smile curved the corners of Reyes' mouth. "I'd like it if you stay, Dana. It would be good for me to talk to someone; I just didn't want to be a bother since you've already done so much for me. But you've got William to look after …" Her voice trailed off.

Scully smiled reassuringly at the other woman. "It's really ok. My mom knows I keep some odd hours when I'm in the field and she was planning to keep him overnight to begin with. She likes having her grandson around; it makes her house feel a little less empty. She's even got a room fixed up just for him." She paused for a moment to make the switch back to the original topic seem less abrupt. "I'd like to stay for a little while … have some dinner … talk."

The smile twisting the corners of Reyes' mouth grew a little brighter and she reiterated, "I'd like that." Without waiting for or seeming to expect a response, she unfolded her arms and walked over to offer a hand to Scully. She took the proffered hand and allowed the other woman to help her to her feet. Without releasing her hand, Monica tugged her gently towards the living room, and she willingly followed in the other woman's wake.

Once they arrived safely in the sparsely decorated room, Monica abruptly released Dana's hand and started scurrying around, picking up odds and ends of clothing and magazines that were scattered carelessly around. Under usual circumstances, Scully would have offered a hand in cleaning up, or made some suitably dry comment about the need for a housekeeper. Mulder had certainly given her lots of practice in the wisecrack department. But neither of those responses seemed appropriate, especially since Reyes seemed unusually self-conscious all of a sudden.

She mused that the other woman was acting like a little girl with a crush—which she supposed wasn't too odd, all things considered. Through no fault of their own, Scully and Mulder had achieved near-legendary status within the Bureau (though whether that legend was considered heroic or villainous depended entirely on who was talking about it). More than once, Dana had found younger agents either fawning over her, treating her with a deference usually reserved for royalty, or acting like complete idiots in their attempts to impress her. Ok, so they'd all been men (since the women tended to go the opposite direction and act like snow queens) … but that didn't mean it was out of the question for a female to have a crush of sorts on her. And truthfully, it wasn't the first time she'd noticed that Reyes seemed a little over-awed by her. She just wished she knew how to help the other woman feel less self-conscious about it. She wanted the two of them to be able to be friends.

Monica had finished straightening up the room and was standing behind the couch. She said apologetically, "I don't really have a whole lot here to eat. I haven't had a lot of time to do the grocery shopping recently."

Scully laughed knowingly. "You should have seen my refrigerator when I was working full time on the X-Files. It was either full of things that were turning green because I'd gotten dragged off to Tulsa without warning, or it was completely empty except for the box of baking soda."

The laugh that greeted that statement was warm and it seemed to Scully that the simple quip about ordinary things had served to relax the other woman. Monica raised an expressive eyebrow and drawled softly, "Well, rather than brave the contents of my kitchen, I'll just buy us some take-out. I haven't been here long enough to know all the local restaurants, but there's a Thai-Vietnamese place, a pizza place, and an Indian place that all make deliveries."

Scully felt her eyebrow rise on her forehead. "You're buying?" she breathed incredulously.

Reyes looked confused. "Well, it's the least I can do. I mean, you drove me back home and bandaged my arm … and I'd like to do something to return the favor …" She trailed off, her head canting to the side as she studied Scully, clearly not understanding what the issue was.

Scully chuckled and took a step forward, closer to the other woman. "I'm sorry," she said sincerely, "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. It's just that I worked with Mulder for a long time and he always found a way to make me pick up the tab for dinner. I could have just saved the man from drowning and he'd still find a way to leave me paying the bill."

There was a softness in Reyes' voice. "You miss him a lot." It wasn't a question.

Dana felt a familiar lump in the back of her throat and she couldn't quite look at Monica as she whispered, "Yes, I do."

Reyes moved closer to her and reached out, laying a gentle hand on Scully's arm. "He'll be ok … I have faith in that. I know that doesn't make it any easier, but you've got John and you've got me. We couldn't ever take his place, but we can carry on what he started." Monica's fingers just barely caressed the curve of Dana's forearm and there was a wealth of understanding in her voice. "And if you ever want to talk about him … I'd be happy to listen. It's hard to lose someone who means so much to you … and I just want you to know that you don't have to go through that alone."

Dana nodded, not trusting her voice for a moment. Most of the time when people mentioned Mulder these days, it was focused on where he'd gone, not on what he'd left behind. He was the elephant in the room that no one wanted to look at too closely. And so she found it oddly soothing to hear both Reyes' reassurance and her offer to listen, even if she wasn't quite ready to take the other woman up on it. Monica seemed to understand that and they stood in a companionable silence for several minutes. It was Scully who finally broke the spell, edging out from under the warm hand on her arm, and then looking back at her companion and asking thoughtfully, "How did it happen that you ended up comforting me when I'm here to comfort you?"

Reyes laughed softly. "Part of my unique charm?" she said hopefully.

Scully couldn't help it; she laughed aloud at the wistful note in Reyes' voice. "Very unique charm," she agreed sincerely. She couldn't have come up with a phrase more suitable to the other woman if she'd tried.

Monica seemed pleased at that, and Dana was relieved at the subtle shift in mood. It was still hard for her to cope with the fact that Mulder had left and while she did want to talk about it, she wasn't ready to do it yet—her emotions were still to close to the surface. The man had been through thick and thin with her, and it hurt to realize he wasn't there now, offering up wry jokes or dragging her out of bed in the middle of the night for strange reasons. And she suspected that if she were to open up to Reyes, the kindness and understanding shown by the other woman would serve to completely blow any emotional control out of the water. And she didn't quite know Reyes well enough to be willing to be that vulnerable with her. At least not yet.

That last thought was a little more overwhelming than she was ready for, and she shoved it back into the depths of her mind to explore later. Time to focus on the immediate, on taking care of first things first. "So," Scully began, abruptly switching conversational course, "how do you feel about Thai?"

******

Dana leaned forward, neatly setting her empty plate on the coffee table in front of the couch, and picking up her cup of French coffee. She curled her legs under herself and looked across to the other side of the couch in time to see Monica scoop up the last bite of vegetable pad thai in her chopsticks and pop it into her mouth. She marveled at the dexterity of those long fingers; Scully had learned to eat with chopsticks, but never to the point where it was as comfortable as using a fork. And trying to pick up noodles in the first place—let alone copy Reyes' trick of twirling them into non-messy, bite-sized morsels—was way beyond her skills. She couldn't help but be fascinated.

Seemingly oblivious to the scrutiny, Reyes set her plate down on the table and then mimicked Scully, her feet curled underneath her and a cup of coffee in her hand. They sat in a companionable silence, sipping slowly, not bothering to continue the safe and friendly small talk that had sustained them during the meal. Dana continued to watch the other woman, noting the way Monica's gaze was fixed on the far wall, her features bunching slightly in thought, as if she were weighing words.

The subtle shift from their light dinner conversation to this ponderous silence did not surprise Scully in the slightest. She suspected the other woman—for all her openness with other people—had a very private side and didn't let down her most personal barriers very easily. From even the brief time she had spent around the other woman, she could tell that Reyes was someone who didn't quite fit in with those around her; she was almost too trusting to be an FBI agent, she was more intuitive than a rational society was comfortable with, and she seemed to be the original non-conformist—the one who always follows her own path, even when no one else is walking beside her. It seemed to Dana that Monica had slowly been working up to this, to this shift in mood that seemed to be the preface to the conversation lying in wait under the surface … waiting until she was sure that it was safe. It was a terribly inadequate description, Scully admitted to herself, but it was the best she could come up with … she wasn't a mind reader.

And with that peculiar sense of timing that some people seem to have a knack for, just as Scully formulated that thought, Reyes pulled her eyes away from the far wall and shifted herself around on the couch so that the two of them were facing each other. Without any preamble, the dark haired woman spoke in a quiet voice, her face set in serious lines. "I'm not really psychic, not in the way most people think of when they hear that word. I can't read people's thoughts and I don't have visions of the future. What I am is intuitive … and with some people, I tend to be an empath."

Scully didn't say anything, just continued to sit quietly, watching the other woman. Monica's eyes were filled with earnestness, but there were shades of doubt in that dark gaze. With a touch of sadness, it occurred to Dana that Reyes still wasn't quite sure about her—wasn't quite sure whether she was setting herself up and trusting someone who would later turn on her. She didn't like that realization. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt anyone and become untrustworthy in their eyes … and she especially didn't want to do that to Monica Reyes. She understood, however, why the other woman would be wary—empath or not, no one's judgment is infallible.

Scully leaned forward slightly, trying to show through her body language that she was here and she was listening. Not probably the best way to reassure the other woman, but it was the best she could do at the moment. Reyes eyed her speculatively as she moved, and perhaps it was wishful thinking, but Dana felt like the gesture caused some of the tension to drain out of the younger woman.

Monica's voice was that same quiet, contemplative tone as she continued. "This isn't something that is easy for me to talk about. I don't hide who I am, but I've learned to be as careful as I can in how I show this part of myself. But that doesn't mean it's always easy. People don't believe me, they call me a spook and a space-case, and they treat me like some kind of pariah for being different. I ignore it … I always have. But I'm not indifferent to it and I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't hurt."

That answered one of the questions Dana had pondered before—the question of whether the younger woman was aware of how she was perceived. She felt another surge of sympathy for the other woman, realizing that while Mulder had dealt with the same sort of attitudes, he hadn't given much of a damn what anyone else thought of him. Only his quest for truth had mattered. Obviously the same wasn't true of Reyes. And she realized with a twinge of conscience that part of her sympathy now was that she herself had shared some of those negative attitudes towards her former partner, and she wanted to make up for that in any way she could.

She still didn't say anything, just continued listening carefully and letting Reyes talk and say whatever she needed to say. She didn't think any simple reassurance was what the other woman needed; she thought that maybe she just needed a friendly ear.

"I can't control my intuition and can't explain how it works or why I get a clear sense from one person and a clouded sense from another. It just … well, it just is." Dark eyes were fixed on Scully, the expression in them almost pleading. "And I can't explain how I felt connected to the little girl in this case. It's not like I'd met her or seen her. I was going through the missing persons reports one night while John met with one of his informants. I'd picked out the files that fit the kidnapper's MO and was looking for some common thread … looking for anything that might give us a clue. I picked up … Rebekah's … picture and it was like I was suddenly feeling what she felt and getting a glimpse of her thoughts. Overwhelming fear of the man who'd taken her, her worry about the two kids who were with her, the pain in her body from the things he'd done to her …"

Monica stopped for a moment, her head turning away, her face contorted in horror and her eyes filling with pain at the memory. Before she could think about what to do, debate what approach would be best, Dana found herself scooting forward on the couch, her hand reaching out to rest lightly on the other woman's knee. She felt a subtle jerk at the touch, and then Reyes relaxed, dropping her hand down to cover Scully's. Her head was still turned away, but some of the awful emotion had left her face.

After what felt like an eternity of breathless silence, Reyes spoke softly. "I told John about it when he got back. As you can expect, he didn't believe me." Her mouth twisted in a bitter smile, though the fondness in her tone of voice made it clear that the bitterness was not directed at him. "Not that I can blame him. He's solid and dependable and no-nonsense … the very definition of unimaginative practicality." Scully chuckled softly at the very fitting description, and she saw the smile on Monica's face transform into one of amusement.

"He's a good man," Dana offered, "but he doesn't do well with the ethereal."

That earned her a tiny laugh, which was what she'd been hoping for. "And you?"

It was the simplest of questions and yet Scully knew that it was one that required more than just a reciprocally simple answer. She looked down at the hand resting on top of her own, studied the smooth knuckles as she contemplated what she wanted to say. At long last, she looked up, not surprised to see Reyes watching her studiously.

"I don't take things at face value … not in science and not in dealing with what we call the paranormal. I'm a skeptic by nature; I want facts and things I can prove. But I've also learned that there are things in this world that don't have neatly rational explanations, and I've learned to be open to possibilities." She paused for a moment, looking back down at the tangle of hands resting on Monica's knee, not quite willing to meet the other woman's eyes. "I don't always trust things I can't prove or that don't make sense. But that doesn't mean that I dismiss other people's experiences as baseless. There was a time when I did, but it's not who I am any more. I've seen too many things that I can't adequately explain."

She looked up again, finding it no little ironic that their roles in this little drama kept shifting. First, Monica had offered her comfort when she'd expected to be consoling the other woman. Now, she was the one doing the talking and trying to work through her feelings, which is what she had intended to help Reyes do. There wasn't the usual power inequity that she'd found in so many of her friendships and other relationships, where the roles—once defined—never were allowed to shift. It was both welcome and uncomfortable at the same time.

Reyes was still watching her, clearly aware that Scully hadn't quite managed to say what she'd wanted to say. And that was a bit unnerving too—talking to someone who was willing to let her completely finish her thoughts.

In a rush, she cut right to the heart of things, not sure she'd get the words out if she thought about them too much longer. "When Agent Doggett first told me what was going on, or as he put it, 'She thinks she's got some emotional bond or something with one of the kids that's missing,' I'll admit I was skeptical. Imagination has a way of popping up to produce sensations and feelings that aren't real. But I also was open to the idea that it was real and that you were able to do such a thing. I don't understand it—and certainly can't prove it—and there's no logical basis for assuming that it's true. But neither can I prove any alternate theory. " She half expected to see anger or hurt in those dark eyes at her admission of doubt, but Monica looked thoughtful and surprisingly relieved. The latter emotion caught Dana by surprise and she stuttered slightly as she finished her thought. "I … well … I guess I trust that you have access to the kind of intuition that most of us don't have. My sister had the same ability, though I dismissed it as nonsense at the time. And while I might challenge things you say, it's out of a desire to understand, to have things make some sense. It's not out of trying to belittle you."

Monica broke in then. "I know you don't try and belittle me. Believe me, I know that it was because of you that John actually let me try to find … Rebekah … by following the tug of that connection." Her voice broke briefly as she spoke the girl's name, but then she regained her composure. "We didn't have any other leads … there were no clues at all. But every time I concentrated, I could sense her … could feel what she was feeling. And I know that John didn't believe me and wouldn't have let me try to find her that way if you hadn't convinced him."

Scully blew breath out between her teeth. She remembered that scene all too well. She hadn't entirely been sure about it either … the very idea of having Reyes use her intuition to not only feel the child's emotions but try and get some usable information from her thoughts was not among Dana's top ten ways to solve a case. It certainly wasn't something that she would have been willing to put in her report, so she was thankful that Doggett had suggested an anonymous tip. But she also had been willing to believe in the younger woman and she'd known that it was better to try it than to not do anything at all. That was how she won Doggett over, simply by pointing out that they had run out of options. And beyond their wildest dreams, it had worked, though she was just now seeing what a high price Monica had paid for it. It wasn't just feeling the girl's death, but the distrust she'd felt from her partner.

She opened her mouth, ready to pursue that train of thought, but Reyes beat her to it. "I want to thank you for that … for listening to me even though you weren't sure you believed me."

That certainly wasn't what Dana had expected to hear. Her surprise must have showed on her face because Monica laughed lightly and squeezed Scully's hand slightly in a "thank you" sort of way before moving her arm and draping it over the back of the couch. She, in turn, moved her hand off Reyes' knee, feeling a slight chill in her fingers at the loss of warmth.

"It means a lot to me that you listen to me, whether you agree or not, and whether you believe me or not. You've been really wonderful at letting me say what I'm thinking, and I want you to know I appreciate it. I know John tries and that he has my back, no matter how loony he might think I am." She paused and the two women shared a fond smile at the apt description. Doggett, to his credit, would act first and ask questions later … no matter how odd the situation at hand. It was one of the things Scully admired most about him. And she could see in Monica's eyes that she admired the same trait in the man.

Scully cleared her throat self-consciously, not being someone who had ever dealt well with compliments. "There's no need to thank me. I'm just doing my job … trying to get the whole picture."

Reyes reached out and squeezed her hand again. "It's more than just doing your job."

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence then. Dana wasn't sure what to say and she thought it sounded like Monica had reached a natural lull in the topic of conversation. Part of her problem with not knowing what to say was that she'd intended to try and help the younger agent deal with the horror of the case, not get into an exploration of psychic phenomena and such. She supposed she had done what she'd intended to, since after spending most of the afternoon in a fog of silence, Reyes was actually talking and seemed to be on firmer emotional ground. The path to getting her there was just far different than what Scully had expected.

Abruptly, she turned back to the path she would have intended. "How are you dealing with … well … with this afternoon? You were so withdrawn out there in the field and then even after we came back here, you were a world away." Scully paused for a moment, and then decided there was nothing to be gained by holding back. If nothing else, her companion might be just psychic enough to figure it out. "I've been worried about you. In the field, it was the worry that the other agents might think you were a mental case, that they might use your behavior as an excuse to take you off the X-Files. But then it turned into worry about how you're feeling, how you're coping with …" She trailed off, not sure how to put the unexplainable into words.

"… feeling someone die and being surrounded by the aura of death?" Reyes finished the thought softly, her voice thick with emotion.

Dana could feel the heat of a blush across her cheekbones, a little embarrassed that the other woman had had to finish the sentence, but she forced herself not to look away from Monica's searching gaze. "Yes."

She was suddenly glad she hadn't looked away because with that single, confirming word, it was as if the last of Monica's defenses came tumbling down. The dark eyes glistened with tears and that expressive face twisted in anguish. Dana was surprised at the immediacy of the reaction, and she couldn't quite decipher whether it was because Reyes' emotions were so close to the surface or whether it was because so few people actually thought to ask about them, preferring instead to mock them.

Awkwardly, with the air of someone who is not entirely comfortable with a lot of physical contact, Scully slid closer to the younger woman and drew her into a hug. Monica resisted at first, but then seemed to decide it was safe, and leaned against Dana, wrapping her arms loosely around her. Reyes was shaking and it took but a moment to realize that her pent up emotions were finding release.

The simple trust displayed by Reyes touched her more deeply than she would have expected, and she just continued holding the other woman as she cried, giving her what comfort she could. Absently, Dana found it interesting that Monica seemed to know just how to appeal to her softer side … the side that not too awfully many folks got to see. Most folks saw the unflappable Dana Scully, perfectly poised and rational to a fault. Somehow, Reyes slipped right past that little illusion and managed to bring out an entirely different side of her. She couldn't quite decide whether it was freeing, or whether it was scary as hell. Maybe a little of both.

After a while, Monica drew in a deep breath and slowly edged out of Dana's embrace. She watched as the dark haired woman wiped errant tears off her face with a shirtsleeve. "Thanks," came a shaky voice, "I wasn't quite expecting that. I mean, I don't usually lose control like that."

Scully managed a laugh at that, but kept her tone deliberately soft as she spoke. "Sometimes it's good to lose control like that … to not try and keep everything bottled up inside. Believe me, I tend to always be in control of myself, and it's not always a good thing." It was an admission she couldn't believe she was making, but something about Reyes invited such candor.

And as she'd expected, there was no sarcastic rejoinder (as Mulder or Doggett might have offered), and no mothering lecture (as her mother or Skinner might have provided). She was grateful for that, for the lack of the usual responses that managed to make her feel like she was inadequate somehow for having failings just like the rest of the universe. Reyes just tipped her head to the side, regarding her closely, and responded simply, "I know. I think that for all our differences, we have some very basic things in common."

It felt like an accurate assessment and Scully nodded. The younger woman continued, her voice very quiet and almost desperately even. "I'm going to be okay. But it's not something that's going to happen overnight. Probably no one at the Bureau will even notice that there's anything wrong, but once I'm safe at home, without work to keep my mind busy …" She trailed off and Dana made a sympathetic noise. Oh, how she knew that scenario. "I know that the feelings will fade and the memory will dilute … I know that time heals all wounds … or at the very least, heals them enough to make the pain manageable. The hardest thing will be finding a way to forgive myself … that's probably what hurts the most right now."

Though she probably should have expected that Reyes would feel that way, the statement still caught Scully by surprise and she sat up a little straighter on the couch. "You have nothing to forgive yourself for. You did everything in your power to get there in time to save her."

Reyes' eyes grew glossy with the threat of renewed tears, but she managed to keep herself together. "I know intellectually that you're right, and I know that we did at least get there in time for the others …" she stumbled visibly, but continued, "and I know that … Rebekah wasn't aware of my presence in her mind … I could feel her, but she couldn't feel me … so she didn't feel … betrayed … because I didn't get there in time." There was a long pause, punctuated by Monica's shuddering breaths and Dana's hand reaching out to rest on her shoulder. "But I just can't help thinking that if only I'd tried it sooner … if only I'd kept my fear from getting in the way … "

Scully let her fingers press a gentle massaging pattern against the other woman's shoulder. "We all have those 'what ifs' that haunt us. There are always those things we wish we could change. All we can really do is learn from them, and know that we are only human and there are limits to what we can do. That doesn't make it any easier, but I know you did the best you could under difficult and horrible circumstances. And hopefully you'll come to realize that as well."

Monica didn't seem able to meet her eyes, instead looking down at where she'd tangled her hands together in her lap. "I know … but it doesn't make it any easier."

"No, it doesn't." Dana took a deep breath, aware of how many times she'd felt the same way—as if she'd let someone down because she wasn't able to work miracles, or because she didn't know enough—or more accurately, didn't know everything. She wished she had some reassurance to offer, but she knew that mere words wouldn't ease the pain of self-doubt, and offering empty phrases just to sound kind was not exactly her way of dealing with things.

The lack of a more verbally sympathetic response caused Reyes to lift her head and offer a thin smile. "This is really odd … usually I'm the one saying that … reminding people that all they can do is their best." And as Scully watched her, the smile grew a little less strained. "Of course, I usually also offer up the reassurance that we do grow through pain and that we learn through our mistakes … and the lessons we learn now will serve to help others later."

Dana cocked her head to the side and felt the corners of her mouth quirk in a comfortable half grin. "What you just said."

That earned an actual, genuine smile from the other woman. While to an outside observer the quick shift from tears to humor might have seemed forced, it felt perfectly natural to the participants. It didn't mean everything was suddenly okay, or that Reyes had her emotions fully under control. It just was a measure that they'd reached a certain point of comfort—a certain level of trust—where they could be real with their reactions outside of any preordained box. And since neither woman was inclined to be overly maudlin in the first place, the mix of humor and pathos fit nicely.

It was another sort of conversation stopper, and after several moments of silence, Reyes untangled her hands, reaching up to try and stifle a yawn. "I'm sorry," she said, "I think everything is just catching up with me."

Scully nodded, saying, "There's no need to be sorry. It's been a long day and you've been through a lot. I'm pretty tired myself."

Monica stretched and then unfolded herself from the couch, moving with an easy grace that Dana envied. She offered a hand and helped Scully to her feet. "I'm glad you stayed, Dana. I needed someone to talk to, but I wasn't comfortable asking."

Scully was glad she'd stayed as well. She couldn't possibly explain it, but there was something about the other agent that captivated her … and it wasn't just the occasional resemblance to Melissa or to Mulder. She wanted this woman to be her friend, and she was glad that the feeling seemed to be mutual. Dana had plenty of colleagues and acquaintances in her life, but there were not many she could count as friends, especially ones who could be trusted with the secrets of her work. And, well, she liked Monica and had wanted to do anything in her power to help her deal with what she'd been through.

"I'm glad too. And I want you to know that the things you said will be kept confidential. I know we don't know each other all that well, but I hope you can trust in me."

Reyes stepped closer and put her hand on the underside of Scully's arm. "If I didn't trust you, I wouldn't have let you come inside in the first place, let alone stay and talk. You feel like a friend to me, Dana, and someone I can trust with anything."

It was another moment of silence (something that seemed to be developing as a specialty between the two), broken this time by Scully's yawn. She laughed ruefully. "And I suppose that's my cue to head home before I fall asleep on your couch."

The dark eyes watching her turned worried. "Are you okay to drive? You can stay here if you need to … or if you want to."

Dana waved away the offer. "Really, I'm fine. I'm just starting to wind down. I don't get a lot of sleep some nights because of William."

Reyes laughed, a rich and throaty sound. "Well then, you'd better get home and take advantage of him being with your mom so you can get a whole night of undisturbed sleep."

Dana sighed deeply at the mere thought. It had been far too long since she'd slept well, and despite the horror of the day, she thought she would be able to fall asleep the minute her head hit the pillow and sleep through anything short of nuclear Armageddon. But before she went, she just needed to be sure of something. "Are you going to be okay here alone? I can stay tonight if it would help."

She gestured uncertainly with her hands as she made the offer, not really sure what was prompting her. It wasn't like Reyes was a child in need of supervision, and it suddenly occurred to her that the innocent question might have sounded offensive. She opened her mouth to apologize, but Monica beat her to speaking. "I appreciate the offer, I really do. But I'll be fine. A little worse for wear for a while, but fine." She sounded almost embarrassed as she continued, "And I need some alone time … to meditate …"

There was a soft flush on the woman's face, but Scully couldn't quite understand why. It made perfect sense to her, and she said as much, watching closely to see that Reyes seemed relieved by her matter of fact acceptance of the statement. She suspected that the other woman would use crystals and other new-age trappings as part of her meditation, but while she didn't pretend to understand all that stuff, it no longer bothered her the way it once had. She still wasn't thrilled with the notion of it being considered spiritual (her Catholic side blanched at the notion), but it was harmless—and Reyes was not someone in any way, shape, or form who struck her as being sacrilegious, new-age type or not. But she could understand why Monica seemed wary about it, as she was well aware of Dana's religious background (the topic had come up when they'd been doing some background work on another case). It occurred to her idly that the other woman seemed very eager not to offend her, and she tucked that away for future consideration, reminded once again of the image of a little girl with a crush.

They made a few more moments of small talk and then, with a quick hug, Dana was out the door and on her way to her car. As she reached the vehicle, she looked up, seeing Reyes' face framed in the window like a guardian angel. The dark haired woman waved briefly, then slipped the curtain back in place and disappeared from Scully's line of sight. She smiled to herself as she opened the car door and slid behind the wheel, warmed by the watchful gesture on the part of the other woman.

The warmth stayed with her as she pulled out into traffic, making her way along the cold, indifferent streets.

The end

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