"You'd think with everything that's riding on these damned cars, they'd have the sense to make sure everything works before they send them out," Doggett grumbled, the heel of one hand striking the rental's air conditioning unit in frustration.
Beside him, Agent Scully let out a wan smile and ran one slender finger under the collar of the turtleneck she'd donned that January morning. Even the local media had been taken by surprise by the sudden, unexpected heat wave, but there wasn't time to run back to their hotel and change. "Call it an X-File, I guess."
Feeling a secret thrill at the smile, however weak it was, Doggett cast her an apologetic glance and gave up on the AC. "Sorry about that, Agent Scully. Maybe you can open a window or something?"
Scully's finger was on the automatic window control before he'd finished his sentence. Unfortunately, the wind of their movement became immediately fascinated with her fiery coif and whipped it into bright disarray. With an irked noise in her throat, Scully tamed her mane with one hand and used the other to scroll the window back up halfway. The damage wasn't undone and further mischief wasn't completely averted, but it was minimized enough for her to take her attention away from her hair and turning it onto the file in her lap.
"So, tell me again why we're in San Diego?" Doggett drawled as she opened the folder. The hand that had been not-so-gently wheedling the air conditioning now lay flat against the steering wheel, keeping it straight while his eyes drifted from her to the road and back. "And please don't tell me we're investigating the freak weather."
An odd look crossed her eyes, but she shook her head. "We're not." Pulling out the first page of the police report, she began to read to him from it, her voice rising in volume as impatient drivers zipped loudly around them on each side.
Doggett smiled, his mind slipping easily into the already-familiar routine. The cases were always difficult and often frustrating, sometimes to the point that it rattled the fragile balance they'd achieved. Like their previous case--coming close on the heels of the Tipet mess, he'd gone a little overboard trying to reassert himself as the "don't-buy-it" guy, and he was only grateful Scully had somehow picked up on this and forgiven him before he could ask. He had asked, of course, once he'd managed to pick his dignity up off the floor, dust it off, and shove his embarrassed pride in a back corner.
But the fact that she'd been so patient even before that...
She was a remarkable woman. He'd realized that from that first case, even back when he'd honestly believed that a couple dozen FBI agents and Gibson Praise were the key to tracking down Mulder and ending her waking nightmare. He could only hope the last case had set a precedent: that maybe...just maybe...she'd finally accepted his presence. Maybe she no longer saw him as an imposter.
He had no intentions of testing that hope. No matter how much this case disturbed him, he would put everything he had into not making it a joke, even in self-defense. He would not try to hold her again unless she asked him to, no matter how much his arms ached to comfort her broken heart. And he definitely would not tell her what she'd come to mean to him in their short acquaintance.
He wondered, sometimes, if she knew he'd fallen in love with her, but always found himself ruefully hoping she did not. Because he feared too much that the knowledge would drive her back into her shell. He'd rather take his chances trying to tiptoe further into her affections, whether he truly had a chance or not.
While many of her other words had slipped through his mind without catching on anything, the sound of his name in her voice instantly drew his attention. He glanced over sheepishly to see her watching him with one slender eyebrow raised.
"Sorry, Agent. Just got distracted there for a minute."
For a moment, nothing. Then she favored him with a small, sad smile. "Why don't I finish when we get there?"
He nodded, and silence fell, blanketing them both. Doggett's hands tightened, whitening, on the steering wheel. He would find Mulder. He'd promised her that, and her breakdown on the last case had only cemented his resolve. Of course he knew everything would change between them--and not in his favor--once her missing partner returned. Still, he had to do it.
He knew of no other key to her heart.