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The Kindness Of Strangers

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Stella was going to put her empty coffee cup in the bin when she saw a woman sitting on one of the chairs that filled the small room, a worried look on her face, tapping the arm of her chair with her fingertips. The woman was sitting far away from the other people that filled the room, her hand luggage lying below her seat. Stella dropped the cup in the recycling. She hesitated before approaching the woman, whose ginger hair was covering her face in thick strands.
“Are you alright?” Stella asked, keeping her voice low. The woman looked up to Stella, the pupils of her blue eyes dilated from fear, making her eyes more black than blue.
“I-i of course I’m fine.” She replies, attempting to stifle the fear in her voice, her American accent a surprise to Stella, she’d expected some iteration of British or French, not American.
“Are you sure? Do you not like flying?” Stella said, slowly sitting down in the next seat along from the woman.
“No, I’m not too keen on flying.” She said, her words short and curt, almost rude.
“It’s okay, it’s only a little flight and I’m sure the cause of the delay will be fixed.” Stella said softly; trying to calm the woman.
“What if it’s not though? What if we catch the flight and the plane crashes or the flight gets cancelled but that might actually be better because then at least we won’t die but we’ll have to find places to stay or have to stay in the airport for like a day or something?” She spoke hurriedly, speeding up as she neared the ends of her sentences.
“Hey, hey, look, what’s your name?” Stella asked, laying a hand on the woman’s left wrist, her skin was cool.
“Dana. Dana Scully.” She said her full name clearly, without her prior anxiety.
“Okay, Dana, I’m Stella and I assure you that none of those things will happen, and if the flight gets cancelled as you said, that’s better than being in danger.” Stella brushed her thumb over Scully’s wrist and could swear she saw a blush blooming on her cheeks, beneath the strands of copper hair.
“Are you sure?”
“Well no one can ever be one hundred percent sure but I’m as sure as I can be.”
“Okay…” Scully said, sitting up properly and brushing her hair out of her face and behind her ears, Stella took her hand away.
“Do you want me to stay with you until we find out what’s going on with the flight?”
“If that’s not too much of an issue, I would be thankful.”
“Of course, I’m not here with anyone, I have nothing better to do, do I?”
“I guess not.” Scully smiled.
“Okay, then I’ll just go and get my luggage.” Scully nodded and Stella stood up and squeezed Scully’s shoulder.
“It’ll be fine whatever happens.” Stella let go and walked away Scully watched after her, an angel, come to comfort her.

A moment later Stella was back with the rucksack that made up her hand luggage. Scully thought it odd for such an elegant woman to be carrying such a big bag. It was ugly and grey, the colour of elephant skin. But Scully also thought it odd for someone to be getting a flight in business clothes. Looks over comfort she guessed.
“Can I get you anything from the vending machine, Dana?” Stella said, looking for change in the large pockets of her coat.
“Oh no, that’s fine, I’m really not hungry.”
“A drink then?”
“I have water.”
“Ok, I’ll go and grab a drink for myself then.” Stella went off to the vending machine on the far side of the room, she came back holding a bottle of Diet Coke. They sat in silence for a moment, Stella checking the time on her phone, 10PM Paris time, 9PM London time. They had meant to be on the plane 10 minutes ago, but now they wouldn’t be on it for another 3 hours. Stella watched the other people in the room, there were lots of teenagers, probably on a school trip, that were spread out, one big group of them and a few groups of two or three scattered around the room. The closest ones were a girl with bobbed hair and a boy with long hair, watching a show on the girl’s phone.
“So what brought you to Paris, Dana?” Stella turned to Scully who was also watching the teenagers.
“I was here for work but I stayed an extra week for a holiday. How about you?”
“Work as well. I was here for a conference.”
“What kind of conference?” Scully asked, still watching the other people in the room.
“Oh, nothing much of interest, general subjects used in law enforcement, I think the best talk I went to was on forensic science. It was by this woman, Magdalene Laurent. Really interesting stuff if you know about forensics.”
“Do you work in law enforcement?”
“London Metropolitan Police, so yes, I do.” Stella said, a smile playing at her lips.
“I used to be in law enforcement but now I’m a doctor.” Stella quirked an eyebrow at the fact that Scully had been in the same profession.
“What about being a doctor would bring you to Paris?”
“I, was oddly enough also here for a conference.” Scully smiled and Stella laughed a quiet laugh.
“That’s rather strange don’t you think?” Stella said, her eyes making contact with Scully’s. They were both smiling.
“A little, I guess.”
“Anyway, what exactly brings you on a flight to London? You’re American, do you live over here? Work over here?”
“Actually, I’ve lived in London for about ten years.” Scully replied.
“How come?”
“Well when I still lived in America I was with the FBI, I’d originally studied to be a doctor but then I was picked out to be a trainee for the FBI so I did it, I worked there for a few years, it was a hard job, emotionally and physically, I decided I needed to stop. I wanted to get away from Washington, from America so I moved to London. I’ve gone back over a couple of times during the holidays but I love London.”
“I understand, the FBI must be especially tolling, sometimes I can barely bare working for the Met and most of our work isn’t nearly as serious as the FBI’s work. Save for a couple of cases. I’ve worked on a couple of high profile murder and serial killer cases. They’re always the worst. They can be so personal.” Stella paused for a second, her mind wandering. “Most of the stuff is fairly tame though, compared to that.”
“I hated the personal cases, I think everyone who’s ever worked in law enforcement with those kind of cases does. They’re horrible. My sister was killed in relation to a case, shot in cold blood. My partner’s father went the same way. It was awful.” A watery sheen appeared on Scully’s eyes for a moment. Stella was overcome with compassion for the woman.
“Oh, Dana, I’m sorry.” Stella said, taking Scully’s hand and squeezing it, Scully squeezed back, their fingers intertwined.
“It’s okay, it was a long time ago, it doesn’t hurt as bad as it used to.” Scully took her hand from Stella’s. “Would I have heard about any of your high profile cases?” She said, recomposing herself.
“Possibly, the worst one and the most publicised one was a case I was sent to lead in Northern Ireland, The Belfast Strangler. Paul Spector. It was horrible, it got awfully personal as well, he did all sorts of horrible things, to women, dead and alive. He broke into my hotel room, he wrote in my diary, hacked into my laptop, it was one of the worst times of my life…” Stella trailed off. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.” She said, shaking her head, tears welling in her eyes, the hurt had been dredged up again after not being brought attention to for a long time.
“Stella, it’s okay, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. I barely know you, it was none of my business.” Stella sniffled and turned her head away, tears rolling from her eyes, she wiped the tears away on the back of her hand, leaving a wet, silvery trail. Scully reached out and placed a hand on Stella’s shoulder, she could feel Stella’s breathing become shaky.
“No… no, I…” Stella then began to sob, her emotions breaking the floodgates she’d held for two years, a woman she had truly only just met opening them.
“Stella?” Stella sobbed again and Scully got up off her chair, forgetting her fear of the flight, converting her fear into caring for this woman. She kneeled down on the floor and wrapped her arms around Stella, hugging her in an awkward position and Stella hugged her back, burying her face in Scully’s shoulder, the tears making a wet patch on Scully’s black sweater. Scully’s arms around Stella, a tighter and more loving embrace than she had felt for a long, long time. A warmth struck her in the chest, she was truly grateful for this, despite the fact that Scully had been the trigger of her emotional overflow in the first place. Yet the tears kept falling. Scully brought a hand to the back of Stella’s head and stroked her hair, flattening the blonde strands.
“It’s okay, you’re okay.” Scully whispered until Stella stopped crying. She drew her body away from Stella and before she knew what she was doing, left a kiss on Stella’s forehead. Stella looked up at Scully, her eyebrows raised and her mouth open in surprise. Her eyes were pink from crying and a snail trail of snot was running down from her nose.
“God, look at me, a fully grown woman crying in an airport being comforted by a stranger.” Stella said, her words double edged.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re strangers anymore.” Scully replied. She held both of Stella’s hands.
“No… I don’t think we are.” Stella said, thinking about what the word stranger even really meant.
“I think I have some tissues in my bag.” Scully said, letting go of Stella’s hands and picking up her bag to have a look, she rootled around in her bag and found an unopened packet of tissues.
“Here,” she held out the packet, “you can take them.” Stella took the packet from Scully and removed a tissue, wiping her eyes and then blowing her nose, leaving the tissue limp and soggy. She crumpled it up and gave the rest of the tissues back to Scully.
“You okay now?” Scully asked, taking Stella’s hands again, she brushed the back of her hands with her thumbs, drawing circles on her skin.
“I think so.” Stella looked at Scully and smiled tiredly, a wave of exhaustion tumbling over her.
“Good.” Scully let go of her hands and sat back in her seat. Stella turned to her.
“Thank you.” Stella said simply.
“That’s alright, you helped me first.” Scully replied and put her hand face up on the armrest that divided her and Stella’s seats. Stella let her hand hover in the air for a moment, an apprehensive look crossed her face before dissolving into a smile as she took Scully’s hand. She wasn’t used to giving anyone else control. In any context.
“I really like you.” Scully said, her voice wobbled. Stella’s smile disappeared, the words were bittersweet.
“You barely know me, Dana.” She felt it too though. She felt the warmth between the two of them, a sparking tether between two that had been set alight. What was she doing? She never did this. What was happening to her? How was she falling in love with a woman she’d just met? Stella Gibson doesn’t fall in love. Stella Gibson makes people fall in love with her. People fall madly in love with her and she doesn’t reciprocate. She doesn’t want that. Before she could stop herself, words fell out of her mouth, with a mind of their own.
“I really like you too.” She cursed herself. The disappointment with her own ability to control herself swirling inside her brain.
“Oh.” Scully said, shock registering on her face and in her voice. “Is that Okay?” Scully asked, not quite knowing what she was asking.
“I don’t know. Is it?” Stella replied, also not sure what she was saying.
“I think? I’m not sure.”
“Neither am I.” Stella replied. She locked eyes with Scully and suddenly they were a lot closer together than they had been a moment ago. Stella could feel Scully’s breath on her face. They leaned in further, lips almost touching, just a little more…
“OH MY GOD! HIS NOSE IS BLEEDING!” Scully’s head swung around and she drew away from Stella looking at the ensuing chaos of the scene that was unfolding in front of her. A crowd of teenagers had congregated around a boy, who was sleeping and blood was coming from his nose, staining his yellow hoodie, a toy he was holding and the faux leather sofa he was lying on. Scully and Stella watched as an adult, presumably a teacher, ran over and ushered the teenagers away. Scully turned back to Stella and raised an eyebrow.
“Kids.” She said and Stella nodded, a bemused expression on her face.
“You’re a doctor.”
“I know.” Stella heard the tannoy of the airport begin to speak and shushed Scully. She furrowed her eyebrows, trying to listen to what was being said.
“Le vol 135 à Londres Gatwick a été annulé. Flight 135 to London Gatwick has been cancelled.” Stella sighed and put her hand to her forehead, combing back her hair with her fingers.
“For fuck’s sake.” She sighed and looked at Scully. “I guess we better get up. We’ll need to reschedule our flights, we’ll both probably need to find places to stay.” Stella rose and picked up her rucksack, eerily calm in the chaos, compared to what she had been like five minutes ago. Scully stood too. They stood face to face, the same height.
“Stella?” Scully said, her voice straining.
“Yes?” Stella asked, already trying to form a plan of action in her mind.
“Can I stay with you?” Stella’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
“You want to stay with me?” She asked, almost stumbling on the words, attempts to restrain herself failing.
“Yes, if that’s okay.” Scully said, slightly more reserved than before.
“Of course, if that’s what you want.” Stella replied her voice calm again.
“Really?” Scully asked. Stella smiled and nodded.
“Really.”
“Let’s get out of here.”