I will no longer repeat unspoken words.
But in memory of that non-meeting
I will plant a sweetbriar.
There the miracle of our meeting shone and sang,
I did not want to go back to anywhere from there.
Putting happiness before duty was my bitter joy.
I talked with someone I shouldn't have
I talked for a long time.
Let passions which demand an answer choke those who are in love,
but we, my darling, are just souls at the edge of the earth.
One night, just after her daughter Julia was born, she couldn't sleep. In the dark she heard John roll over and knew he was still awake, too.
"Honey?" she said to his still back.
"Yeah?" he mumbled thickly.
She didn't know why she asked it. It was something that was never talked about. You just didn't mention it.
She flopped onto her back and blinked in the darkness. "What do you remember," she whispered. "What do you remember of Before?"
John's breath came out in a long trail of air but he said nothing. She touched his shoulder and he jerked.
"What do you remember?" she repeated.
"I don't remember anything."
Just then she heard Julia's cries from the baby monitor and she sat up. "I'll go," she said and left the room.
She never mentioned the subject again.
She walked across the deserted Plaza of Heroes, her heels tapping on the immaculate squares of concrete. It was still early and the square wasn't yet crowded with people heading off to a day's work.
Sipping her thermal cup of tea, she considered the question she'd asked John two years ago.
What do you remember?
What do I remember?
She remembered the smells of the street, the exhaust from passing cars, a stand selling greasy hot dogs, the stench of overflowing trash receptacles.
She remembered noise, the babble of many languages on the streets, snatches of rock music from open windows in an apartment building, the wail of police cars.
She remembered herself, very young, dressing in a suit and staring at herself in the mirror, wondering if she presented a professional image.
Bits and pieces, scraps and rags of memory. Nothing fit.
It was like that for everyone else, she knew. But it didn't make it any easier.
She sighed and entered the glass doors of the East Side Health Building, striding purposefully to her destination.
Dr. Hanley poured a cup of coffee and offered her one. She sat in the leather chair near the window and shook her head, pointing at her mug of tea.
The doctor sat behind her desk and brushed some flyaway strands of blonde hair out of her face. "How has this week been, Dana?"
She sighed. "It's been okay. Work has been stressful. We've encountered some problems in the lab with our protein samples, but it seems to have straightened itself out."
"And life at home?" Dr. Hanley tapped something into her notebook.
"Fine," Dana said. "I haven't seen much of John lately, with the late hours in the lab, but we're doing okay. Julia has been having a lot of temper tantrums again, and it's probably because I haven't been spending enough time with her."
"Are you planning on changing that?"
"Tonight I'm taking her to the park after work. John is going to pick up dinner and then we can all eat together like a normal family. And I've told Harold that I'm going to take a few afternoons off this week so she doesn't have to be in Primary Care all day. Even though I know it's a great facility, I don't like her to spend all her time there. She's not even three yet."
Her therapist smiled. "It's tough balancing a career and parenthood. It sounds like you are taking some positive steps to get it all together."
Dana nodded. "I try, but it's hard. Sometimes I feel like John spends more time with Julia because of his career and the fact that he can do some of his work at home. And sometimes I wish my mother was around to give me advice."
"I think we all wish our mothers were around." Dr. Hanley had two young sons herself, Dana knew. Their photograph was sitting on the desk, two cherubic boys grinning and holding footballs.
Leaning back into the leather of the chair, Dana shut her eyes. "I had another one of those dreams last night."
The doctor's voice was soft. "Tell me about it, Dana."
"I'm more and more convinced that it's not just dream imagery, but something from Before, leaking in. It's been nearly the same dream every night for a week."
"I'm standing in a hallway. It's a hospital or a clinic of some kind, I think. I mean, it looks different from any hospital I know, but it has that atmosphere, you know? I can smell the antiseptic. In the dream I'm in a bathrobe and I'm so cold and I'm shaking from fear and sorrow."
"What are you sad about?"
She shook her head. "That's just it-- I have no idea. I'm terrified and my mouth is dry, but then he comes and holds me, stroking my hair and somehow I feel better. I say something to him, but I can never remember what, and then he says something back. And then he kisses me on my forehead, very softly, and I always wake at that point."
"Who is the man, Dana?"
"I have no idea." She bit her lip in frustration. "I can't really see his face. He's tall and has dark hair,
but that could be anyone. All I know is that I trust him and his presence is comforting to me."
Last night, after she'd had the dream, she climbed out of bed and went into the living room, pacing the small space over and over again, trying to think, to force her brain to recall his face. It didn't come and finally she'd fallen asleep on the couch, with one of Julia's baby blankets pulled over her body.
No one talked about it, so she had no idea if others had the same dreams of the past, the same struggle to remember.
The official line was this—the treatment for the Plague had the side effect of erasing much of their memories of the past. The Survivors could not mourn the past. Wives, husbands, children, gone forever.
As she entered the Tube after work, Dana considered it for the eight thousandth time that week. Nearly ten percent of the world had survived, but they did so with only fragments of their memories.
She'd had a mother, a father, perhaps sisters and brothers.
Maybe a husband. Not a child, for her gynecological exams before getting pregnant had shown she'd never given birth before.
She'd been a doctor; she knew that, a pathologist. Her training and skills had been intact when she'd awakened after her treatment in the Clinic.
She knew she was forty years old and her birth date was February 23, 1964.
Once she'd lived on the East Coast, in a city called Washington D.C. It was the capitol of the United States of America. She could still remember the stately buildings and monuments, seen through a car window.
And her name was Dana Katherine Scully.
These rags of memory had survived intact. There were very few official records left, of course. They'd gone up in flames.
That was about it, she thought with a sigh as she sat in one of the blue plastic seats of the Tube car and it took off with a whoosh. That was the sum of thirty-five years.
There had been a war, between Earth and the Enemies. It had been a speedy thing, destroying much of the world in a few days of fire. Disease spread like wildfire, picking off more of the survivors of the fighting. And then the Others came and saved them all.
She could remember none of this. Her life began the morning she woke in the Clinic, blinking at the artificial sunlight.
In truth, she was only five years old.
She got off the Tube at Morningside Station, pushing her way past the crowds on their way home. Outside the station, the street was as light as day, but if she looked up she could make out the starry sky outside the dome of the city. She always wondered what night smelled like.
It was February, which made it winter. Sometimes she could recall playing in snow as a child, gathering handfuls of the white, fluffy stuff into something called a snowball and throwing it at other children. Of course, the city was climate-controlled. There was no winter in a dome.
Dana couldn't really remember how cold felt.
The street was crowded with pedestrians, still wearing suits or work unit uniforms, talking and laughing and planning tonight's dinner. There was a line outside the takeout deli, which meant that not many people were in the mood to cook tonight. She knew she wasn't. Dana was tired and her feet ached after standing over test tubes for much of the day.
At Primary Care Number 32, a crowd of mothers and fathers stood with their progeny in hand, gossiping and patting small heads. She stopped off for a brief chat about shoes with Joanne Ling and then went inside to get Julia.
Her daughter was playing with a yellow dump truck, pushing it back and forth on the bright red carpet with vroom-vroom noises. Leilah, the teacher of the two year-olds, came forward and smiled. "She had a good day, Dana. We did some dancing and she pretended to be a frog."
Dana smiled at the young woman with long dark hair. "She saw a frog in the park last weekend and couldn't stop talking about it."
Julia looked up and smiled, tiny white teeth flashing in her rosebud mouth. "Mommy!" she shouted and ran to wrap herself around Dana's gray trousers.
She stroked her daughter's light brown hair and thought, at least you'll grow up to remember your mother.
The park was small, tucked between two towering apartment complexes. There were other, larger parks in the city, but she liked the intimate feel of this little park. It was just two blocks from her own apartment and she frequently came with Julia.
Dana spent a while pushing Julia on the swing and then she let her daughter run off with a little boy her own age to get thoroughly dirty in the sandbox. It meant she or John would be scrubbing sand out of the tub that night, but Julia loved to dig holes in the sand.
She settled on a bright orange bench and enjoyed the sensation of simply sitting and reflecting. It had been so hectic lately, with the demands of her growing child and the always-frantic pace of the lab. It felt peaceful to smell the greenery of the park's trees and watch Julia laugh with her new friend.
There were few people in the park. Often she ran into neighbors here and spent a companionable time discussing child rearing. Tonight there was just a lone woman across the park, reading a magazine, and two men pushing babies in strollers over by the jungle gym. She could hear the crack of a baseball hitting a bat and some boyish laughter from the field behind her.
She looked up in surprise at the sound of a male voice. "Do you mind if I sit here?"
He was a tall man, slender, dressed in a sober gray suit. "Of course not," she said.
"This is the best spot to keep my eye on Adam. He's the one in the sandbox."
She laughed. "So I won't be the only one digging sand out of fingernails tonight. He's playing with my daughter, Julia."
The man smiled, a warmly crooked smile that illuminated his handsome features. Dana guessed he was her age, or a few years older. He had smile lines around his gray-green eyes and a few strands of gray in his dark hair. She had a few gray hairs, herself, but her hairdresser covered them with Warm Auburn once a month.
"I'm glad to see Adam making a new friend. We just moved here a month ago, and he's having a hard time adjusting to his new Primary Care. He loved his old teacher and the change has really thrown him for a loop."
"Where did you move from?" For some reason, this man made her feel curious. She wasn't one to ask a lot of personal questions of strangers, but the question had come out of her mouth before she'd thought about it.
"Boston," he said, adjusting his metal-rimmed glasses. "My wife is the new Dean of the School of Education at the University. We hated to move, but then again, the cities are all pretty much the same, aren't they?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Dana said. She'd only left the city a few times, once for her honeymoon at Miracle Beach and twice to conferences in Chicago. But he was right—one domed city was like the other. Quiet, clean, peaceful. "What do you do?"
"I'm a developmental psychologist. I work with school-age children, and I was able to transfer to the school system here when Sarah got her new job. How about you?"
She turned to him and surreptitiously studied his face. Something about it reminded her of her husband, perhaps the intensity of his eyes, or the curve of his lower lip. Interesting, Dana thought. "I'm a medical researcher. I work in a lab that's studying congenital birth defects, the legacies from the Plague."
"That has to be fascinating," he said, nodding.
"It is." And then a wail emanated from the sandbox as Julia clopped the little curly-haired boy on the head with her plastic shovel.
"Julia!" she shouted.
"I guess this is our cue," the man said and rose to soothe his son.
She sighed and went after her seemingly homicidal daughter. The terrible twos, she thought ruefully.
As she left the park with Julia in tow, it occurred to her that she'd never learned the man's name.
After Julia had been bathed and put to bed, Dana curled up on the couch and started clicking her way through the family photo album on the telescreen. Tonight the apartment seemed especially cozy for some reason. The drapes were shut against the winking night-lights of the city and the living room was lit by lamplight. From the open bathroom she could hear John cleaning out the tub. He'd drawn the short straw.
The pictures began right after she'd met John. There were photos from their dating days, the two of them at parties, at concerts, grinning at each other at the public pool.
It had been fast, their courtship. In those early days, when everyone in the city was so desperate to connect, to have a family, there had been a three-month waiting list to have a marriage ceremony at the Hall of Magistrates. She'd met John at a Social in August and they were married in December. In the pictures she looked radiant and slightly embarrassed in her long white dress, clutching John's hand outside the Marriage Chamber. They both looked drunk and flushed at their wedding party, surrounded by their work friends.
Her face was serious in the photo of them signing their Marriage Contract. Even though she and John decided to get married just a month after meeting, she took the commitment seriously. When she'd sworn before Magistrate McLean to love, honor and cherish John Rosen, she'd meant it.
He was all she had, after all.
Dana flipped forward to pictures of herself sitting in the park, huge with pregnancy. She'd ached for the mother she couldn't remember during those months. It was scary to be responsible for her unborn child's life, to know that soon she would have the awesome responsibility of being a mother. How could she be a mother to her baby, when she couldn't even remember what it was like to have a mother?
And then there were literally hundreds of photographs of Julia. They showed her growing from a goo-covered screaming little creature in the Maternity Clinic to a little girl with straight brown hair cut to her chin in a bob, sticking her tongue out at the camera.
John padded in the room and sat down next to Dana. "God, she's beautiful, isn't she?" he said in a tone of awe.
She turned to John and traced the line of his cheekbone with her index finger. "Who do you think she looks like, you or me?"
He grinned. "She has your smile, but my nose."
"Thank God," she laughed. She hated her nose and had considered having it taken care of at one of the new surgical boutiques that had popped up. It seemed vain, though, so it was merely a fantasy.
"I love your nose, Dana." John kissed it at the bridge and she sighed in pleasure. It had been weeks since they'd made love. Their schedules had just left them too tired for anything but half-hearted cuddling at night.
She flicked off the telescreen and turned to her husband, smiling at the way his brown eyes were sleepy and aroused at the same time.
"Let's go to bed," she said.
That night she had a new dream.
She was making love, but it wasn't with John. It was another man, the faceless man with dark hair and gentle hands.
It was morning and they were in a bed that was unfamiliar to Dana, but it smelled like home to her, like her own body and perfume and the smell of his skin. He smelled like sleep. God, he felt so good, touching her lazily in the early sunshine, kissing her with lush lips. She loved him. Oh, how she loved him. Only him.
The man held her and kissed her after they'd both come and said, "I'll never forget this, Scully."
Strange, he called her by her last name.
She woke then, sitting stark upright, her heart drumming away. After a few disoriented minutes, she climbed out of bed. John, who could sleep through anything, didn't stir, even after she stumbled over her running shoes on the floor.
In the bathroom she brushed her teeth and drank a glass of water, and stared at her reflection.
I wonder how many lovers I've had, she thought.
For all intents and purposes, John had been her first and she, his. But it had felt instantly familiar as John had entered her that first night; the rhythm felt like one she'd known before. And as she'd arched against his body and cried out with her orgasm, she'd felt the sense of deja vu that had haunted her in the months since she'd awakened at the Clinic.
Dana shook her head and vowed to stop obsessing about the past. It wasn't healthy, it wasn't fair to John and Julia and the new life she'd managed to build for herself in the last five years. Other people were living their lives and building their own new memories just fine. She needed to do the same.
I don't want to remember you, she silently told the man from her dreams.
She climbed back to bed and moved against John's warm, bare back, clutching him like a security blanket.
On Sunday morning Dana awoke to bright, false sunshine streaming in through the windows and John's arms around her. He was humming something under his breath, a song she found familiar, but couldn't name.
"What are you singing?" she mumbled and buried her face in his sandy hair, which smelled like chamomile shampoo.
John shook his head. "I don't know," he simply said.
It was funny how things like that would simply come. One night, a few months out of the Clinic, she'd been at a Social at the Fellowship Hall. There was a piano there and fascinated by the ivory and ebony keys, she'd sat down and laid her fingers on the cool keyboard. Suddenly, her fingers began to move and shape a song. She could play piano. Somewhere in her past, she'd taken piano lessons.
Dana stretched and yawned, enjoying the sensation of not having to get up for work. They'd taken Julia to a barbecue given by Deborah, the head of John's office, and hadn't gotten her to bed until nearly midnight. Normally her daughter would be up and hollering for attention, but she could hear Julia's even breathing through the monitor.
With a morning-stubbled face, John nuzzled her neck and she growled, feeling her nerves begin to spark to life.
His voice was so quiet she almost didn't hear him. "Are you happy, Dana?"
Her eyes opened wider. "What do you mean?"
John pulled away from her and sat up, staring out the window. "Are you happy? With me, with us?"
She sat up, too. "What are you talking about? You know how happy I am with you."
"It's just..." His voice trailed off and he turned to her with his brows knitted together. "You've been having so many bad dreams, you've seemed so lost in your thoughts in the last few months. I worry that you're no longer happy."
She wasn't as good an actress as she liked to believe.
Wrapping the quilt around her, she lightly touched his bare arm. "I am very happy with you, John. Nothing has changed. But I've been having these dreams and I think they're about Before."
He nodded. "I wish you could let it go."
"Yes. Dana, it doesn't do you any good to think about it, to try to remember it."
Closing her eyes, she wished she could simply make it stop. But she couldn't. It was beyond her control.
It took her a while to find her words. "John, don't you ever want to remember?"
Her husband didn't even hesitate in his answer. "I don't want to mourn what I can never have again."
Not for the first time, she wondered if John had had a wife, a family. She wanted to know what he'd been like as a boy, who the first girl he'd kissed was.
John leaned over and kissed her cheek. "You have to let it go, Dana. You have a new life now. The past should remain in the past."
She nodded and smiled at him, the features that had become so familiar and beloved to her.
Still, as they lay back down and cuddled under the quilt, the same questions continued to run through her mind.
Who did I love, Before?
Who were you?
Julia listened attentively as Dana read Jerry the Blue Spaceship to her. With chubby fingers, she pointed to the proper pictures when Dana asked her which was the satellite, which was the launching pad and which was the moon. Watching her daughter's intelligence grow daily was astonishing. It was hard to believe that the sturdy little girl by her side, wearing red corduroy overalls, had begun as a single cell in Dana's body.
Across the room, John sat in the black leather desk chair, his eyes closed and the connect cable clipped behind his ear, deep in the Net. Nothing short of an elbow in the ribs would rouse him as long as he was in full immersion.
Dana turned to the last page. "And then Jerry flew high in the sky and the moon began to clap for him." Julia applauded along with the moon. It was her favorite story.
With a disgruntled sound in his throat, John hit the disconnect button on the computer and unclipped the cable.
"Something wrong?" she asked from her seat on the rug.
He stood to his full, lanky height and began pacing the living room. "It's the team in Sao Paulo. They've fucked it all up."
"John!" She pointed at Julia, who appeared fascinated by the new vocabulary item from her father.
"Sorry." He sat down on the floor with them and pulled Julia's red-ribboned ponytail. "Dana, there's major problems at the site. They need me to fly down tomorrow."
While John's career as an industrial engineer meant he could do a large amount of his work from home through the Net, he also had to spend time at his sites. Dana accepted this as a fact of life, but still she groaned. "For how long?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. A week, maybe two weeks."
"And there's no way around it?"
"There's no way." He kissed her cheek. "I'll make it up to you when I return. Maybe we can both take a few personal days and spend them together."
Dana forced a smile. "You'd better make it up to me"
"All the more reason for me to hurry home," he laughed and swung Julia into his lap.
Later in the afternoon, after John took Julia to buy supplies for dinner, Dana hopped on the Tube to the river for a run. Located on the far eastern end of the city, the river was her favorite spot for a solitary run.
She didn't get many chances to exercise anymore, not since having Julia, but she loved to push herself and feel completely alive as her body moved down the running path.
The riverside was crowded with runners, families on bikes and couples pushing strollers in the Sunday afternoon sunshine. Dana reflected that most children were under the age of five, the product of the new families that had sprung up after the Others had come. Very few children younger than late teens had survived the War and the Plague.
Now the city was in full family frenzy. Everyone wanted a baby. At her lab, coffee and lunch breaks were taken up with discussions of breast-feeding, infertility treatments and potty training. Lately, Dana's entire social life seemed to be taken up with baby showers and naming ceremonies.
Dana walked to the tree-lined bank of the river, watching it lazily flow below her. The river came from Outside, but it first went through a treatment plant to remove pathogens and impurities.
Looking to her left as she did her quadriceps stretch, she spotted a familiar-looking figure, also stretching out. It was the man she'd met at the park last week.
She walked over and tapped him on the shoulder and he turned and grinned in surprise to see her. He was wearing a rather tatty navy blue t-shirt and sweatpants that looked like they'd seen better days. Dana rather liked that, that he didn't feel he needed to wear a perfectly coordinated exercise ensemble like so many other of the runners at the river.
"I know you," he said, and extended his hand. "But I never got your name."
"Dana Scully," she said, shaking. "And you?"
The man let go of her hand and lunged into a stretch. "Fox Mulder, but you can call me Mulder. I don't like my first name much."
She grinned. "Fox," she repeated. "You're right, it doesn't really suit you for some reason. Have you thought about changing it? I mean, it's not like anyone is going to get upset over it."
He looked up at her with astonished eyes and her face began to color. She knew better than to even suggest Before. It was highly impolite. But Mulder just smiled wryly and moved out of his stretch. "Nah, I'm too lazy to get used to a new name."
"How far are you planning on running?" she asked.
"I'm kind of out of shape. Haven't had a chance to run since we moved, so I thought just three miles or so. You want to run together?"
"All right, let's do it."
They stretched for a few more minutes and then took off at an easy pace down the winding trail. She got the feeling he was running more slowly than usual for him, but she was glad, for it gave them a chance to talk without getting too out of breath.
"I was hoping I'd run into you again, Dana," he said, deftly weaving around a pregnant woman with a small boy in a carriage. "I wanted to ask you for a date."
She nearly stopped running and felt her left eyebrow, of its own accord, begin to rise. "A date?" She'd mentioned she was married, right?
"Yeah, a play date. Adam and Julia seemed to get along pretty well."
"Until she smacked him on the head with her shovel."
"Adam likes aggressive ladies."
"Then he'll love Julia. She can be a terror at times."
"Nah," Mulder said. "She's just exploring her autonomy over the world right now. Classic behavior for a two year-old."
They continued down the path for another mile, and then looped back at the Monument to Lost Souls. She was glad they didn't linger there. For some reason the giant granite statue of a man and woman looking at the sky, mourning their lost loved ones, made her shiver.
When they reached their starting point, they bought bottles of water at a refreshment kiosk and sat on a low stone wall that overlooked the river.
"I like it here," Mulder said, wiping sweat from his brow. "It's one of the few places that feels real."
"What do you mean by real?" Dana had an uneasy feeling she knew what he was talking about.
"Yeah, real, like the world must have been at one time. It feels like memories I have of running Before."
Her breath came out in a whoosh. "No one ever talks about Before."
He nodded. "I know. Classic denial mechanics at work. It frightens people to delve into their pasts, to sit down and think about the fact that they had lives before this one. It just seems so huge."
"I'm sorry," he said. "We don't have to talk about it if it bothers you. I mean, we don't know each other very well, and here I am, going off about sensitive issues."
A small smile began to form on her lips. "No, it doesn't bother me, not really. I just don't ever talk about that kind of stuff with anyone. My own husband won't even discuss it with me."
"Neither will Sarah. I just get this stony look if I bring up the subject. Sometimes I look at her and wonder what, if anything, she remembers."
Dana watched a small group of teenagers from one of the Youth Homes, dressed in hiking gear, being led by an athletic young woman who looked rather harassed by her charges. "Is every relationship like that," she said. "One person looking at the other and wondering, who were you before I knew you?"
"I wish I knew who I had been," Mulder said and drained his water.
"So do I."
They stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable moment, as if aware they had just shared confidences that weren't really appropriate for new acquaintances.
Mulder hopped off the wall and checked his watch. "I really should get back. What's your number? We can set up that play date."
"I don't have any paper to write it down."
He flashed her a crooked smile that made him look a decade younger. "I've got a good memory, I'll remember it."
She told him and he took off towards the Tube station with a jaunty wave.
For a long time she sat on the wall, stunned into near paralysis.
Before, she thought. He wanted to talk about Before.
She wasn't sure if it was fear, or hope, she felt.
That night, after John and Julia went to bed, she sat down at the desk and started a list.
Things I know:
-- My name.
-- My birth date.
-- The city I once lived in.
-- My medical skills and knowledge, but not where I got them.
-- I had a major injury once, to my abdominal area. I have a scar and it appears to be from a gunshot wound.
-- There is a small tattoo on my lower back, of a snake eating its own tail.
-- I never was pregnant before Julia.
-- I can play piano, but not very well.
-- I'm not a good dancer.
-- I'm right-handed.
-- I must have studied German at one time, because I understood a lot of that tele-program that was filmed in what was once Germany.
-- I once played in snow.
-- I think I once had a lover who had dark hair. He called me by my last name.
-- I like to read, especially novels and medical journals.
-- I've always liked my coffee with cream, no sugar. Once there was a way of making coffee called a latte and I really liked those, but I can't remember what's in it.
-- I like spicy food, especially Chinese food.
-- I enjoy running and it seems to be something I used to do frequently.
-- I feel the most peaceful around water, especially the river.
-- I knew how to cook and still can remember recipes.
-- I might have been religious once. Sometimes a line or two of a prayer will come to me.
-- I wore suits to work Before.
She stared at her list, trying hard to remember more. There were other things she'd remembered here and there, but they'd been brief flashes that had lasted only a moment.
Is that it, she thought. The sum of thirty-five years?
In the morning, she took a shower and began to dress for work. She had a routine, a rhythm to her mornings that was so deeply ingrained there was no need to think about it—she simply woke up and got going.
Before she'd taken a shower she'd made a pot of coffee. Now she sipped from her blue and gold Mexican mug as she chose a black suit and a cream silk shell to wear. NPR prattled along in the background as she slid on black nylons and buttoned her jacket.
Her hair took a bit longer. It had an annoying tendency to wave and she had to comb in styling lotion and blow it straight with a round brush to keep it in the neat bob she preferred. Finally, she patted her face with matte powder, brushed on some brown mascara and stained her lips with a natural beige-pink. Earrings, watch and she was ready to go.
Suddenly, awareness dawned and her hand rose to her throat. Her necklace, her tiny gold cross on a chain--where was it? She never took off her necklace, not even to sleep or shower.
There had only been two times in her adult life when she'd gone without her cross. Both times he'd found it and kept it safe for her.
Panic bubbled in her throat as she searched the top of the dresser, the bedcovers and the bathroom. The chain and cross were nowhere to be found.
This can't be happening, she thought. My mother gave me this cross for my fifteenth birthday. It's the only material object I truly value.
She could remember resting against the pillows in the hospital, touching the familiar coolness of the cross at the hollow of her throat and thinking, he kept it for me all this time...
And now it was gone.
The world shifted and melted and Dana found herself in a bed, her bed, her husband anxiously patting her shoulder.
"Are you awake now?" he asked, his eyes large and alarmed.
She blinked through matted eyelashes, utterly disoriented. What was real and what was the dream?
Yes, it had been a dream, she thought, another possible memory disguising itself as a dream.
John turned on the bedside lamp. "You were talking in your sleep again, mumbling something about losing your necklace." He kissed the top of her head, which was damp with night-sweat. "Did you dream you lost your coral necklace?"
She shook her head. "No. It was a small gold cross on a chain. My mother gave it to me."
"Your mother?" His dark eyebrows lifted.
"I think my dream was another memory from Before."
"Oh, Dana," John sighed and drew her closer into his sturdy arms. "I don't like to see you suffering like this."
"It's okay." She took a deep breath of his familiar smell and her heartbeat began to slow. "I think I want to remember."
I hate being a blank page, she thought.
John nodded. "I don't understand why you want to remember. I want to understand, but I don't."
"I know you don't," she whispered. "I know it scares you. It scares me, too."
"Then why do it? It's not healthy. And it's not fair to Julia and me, or yourself. This is your life now."
A brief flash of anger stabbed through Dana. She remembered what Mulder had said after their run—it's just too huge. Yes, it was huge to consider a whole life erased, but why couldn't John understand her desire to know?
She wondered if her husband truly knew her, after all.
Still, three a.m. was no time to discuss this topic, especially with John leaving for Sao Paulo in the morning. The adrenaline had burned itself out in her body and she suddenly felt exhausted. All she wanted to do was get back under the quilt and sink into mindless and blank sleep.
Dana slid down onto the mattress and closed her eyes. "Let's just go back to sleep, John."
She prayed she wouldn't dream.
With a gleam in her gold-brown eyes, Julia expertly shot a bit of cheese omelet across the room from the tines of her plastic kiddie fork. "Julia," John admonished, his brows knitting, but Dana simply sat back, sipping her coffee and smiling.
After they'd woken, John had accessed the airport from the Net and discovered that his flight was delayed three hours due to bad weather. Outside the dome, threatening-looking storm clouds roiled overhead and looked ready to dump snow on the clear, rounded surface, where it would melt and slide away.
With some time to kill, they'd walked seven blocks to the Greenlawn Corners Cafe. It was a cozy space, with only twenty or so tables. They rarely had a chance to eat out together as a family, but this was a place casual enough to accommodate a noisy, messy toddler and the kitchen served a mean plate of huevos rancheros. And Dana liked the back-talking waitresses and the cheesy holograph of monkeys gamboling on vines—it gave the restaurant a cartoonish jungle feel.
She looked across the room at a young couple, looking rumpled and flushed, as if they hadn't gotten a whole lot of sleep the night before. The woman facing her was tall and gorgeous, with a mane of black hair tumbling down her slender back. She smiled with bewitching sensuality at her lover, a smaller woman with cropped blonde hair.
I remember those heated days of first love, Dana thought, stabbing at the yolks of her eggs and watching them pool with the bright red of the salsa.
She touched John's hand. "Do you remember the first time we came here?"
He set down his coffee cup and blinked at her. "The first time?"
Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Dana said, "You know, the first time..."
A look of panic crossed his face, as if he knew he was about to get into trouble. John shrugged his broad shoulders. "The first time?"
She swatted at his hand, which made Julia begin to giggle from the high chair.
"Dana, you have to help me out here," John said, conceding defeat. "You know I'm bad with that kind of stuff."
"The first time," she repeated and dropped her voice as if Julia really could understand them. "Think about it, John. Remember your old apartment, before we got married? Remember how it's just around the corner from here? Come on—Chris, Mike, and you and a whole lot of dirty clothes on the floor?"
John's eyes opened wider and he began to chuckle. She popped a forkful of eggs and tortilla in her mouth and smiled triumphantly.
"Now I remember," he whispered. "The first time we came here was after the first time we were together."
They'd been so like those two lovers across the room then. Giddy with it, with discovering that pleasure could be theirs. And amazed that despite the vacuum that was their histories, they could, and had, found love.
"And then we came here right after we found out I was pregnant," Dana said.
John put more pieces of egg on Julia's plate. "For a little corner restaurant, there's a lot of memories here."
She nodded and poured more coffee in their cups from the carafe on the table.
"Speaking of pregnant," John said, pushing away his plate. "Have you thought more about having another?"
Any remaining hunger fled at John's words.
Even though he'd been with her for the tests, the endless rounds of doctor's visits, holding her hand during the laparoscopic treatments and the cell therapies, she sometimes wondered if her husband understood how painful the entire process of trying to get pregnant had been. So much had seemed at stake then. She'd hated to have to disappoint him with her failure to have a child.
She could still remember, with perfect clarity, lying on the table after the third IVF attempt, gritting her teeth and chanting silently, IwillIwillIwillIwill...
It hurt to want something that much.
And it was perhaps even more painful to realize how much of herself, and her marriage, had been wrapped up in the effort.
Dana put down her fork and touched John's hand, which was resting on the shiny black table. "I think about it a lot," she said, keeping her voice even.
His expression was expectant. "And?"
I wish I could be like you, John, she thought. Your mind goes neatly from point A to point B and arrives at point C, completely decided. At heart, you're a mathematician. While I need logic and reason to carry me through the day, life is more tangled for me.
She looked down at the ruins of her breakfast. "No," she said. "No conclusions. I don't know if I want to go through all that again. I don't know if I can."
I don't know if I can stand feeling like a failure when my period comes, she thought. I don't know if I can take being rushed to the Urgent Clinic with another early miscarriage. I don't know if I can spend all my time berating my body for betraying me.
Dana looked at Julia, who was kicking her feet in the confines of the high chair in a desperate attempt to escape and running egg-covered fingers through her hair.
She looked at her husband and gripped his hand. "I don't know if I can," she repeated.
All down the long hallway, Julia hopped like a frog. It slowed their progress somewhat, but Dana didn't mind. Her daughter's ribbiting provided comic relief.
At end of the hall, they stopped and rang the door chime for 1582. After a moment the door opened to reveal a tall woman with an athletic build and short, curly brown hair. The woman wore a pale cream pantsuit that set off her olive skin and dark eyes. She smiled. "You must be Dana," she said in a low, melodic voice. "I'm Sarah Morelli."
"It's nice to meet you," Dana said and they shook hands.
Sarah dropped to a crouch so that she was eye level with Julia. "And this is Julia, I presume?"
Julia made an anguished face and hid her head in the folds of Dana's skirt.
"She's shy with strangers," Dana said apologetically.
"I can understand that. So am I." Sarah rose and pushed the door open wider. "Come on in. The place isn't quite put together yet. We've been so busy since we moved in."
The living room was much like Dana's own—a medium-sized room with a small nook for the computer desk, beige carpeting, and a full wall of windows that showed off the glittering lights of the city at night. There were still a few packing cartons stacked against one wall, and the room had a bare feel to it. There were no pictures hung on the walls and very few ornamental objects that would indicate long residence in the apartment.
"Honey," Sarah called out. "Dana and Julia are here."
Mulder loped out of the kitchen, wearing a pair of worn jeans and a paint-splattered gray t-shirt, his short hair sticking out in every conceivable direction. "Hey," he greeted her. "Sorry that the place is a mess. I got domestic today. For some reason I had the bright idea I knew how to install kitchen cabinets."
Julia continued to cling to her leg like lichen, staring at the strange people around her.
"Is this a bad time? We can come back another night."
He shook his head. "I just finished up. Adam's excited to play with Julia."
As if on cue, the little boy appeared from the hallway, running up to Julia. He stared at his new friend with chocolate brown eyes that looked just like his mother's.
"Adam, do you remember Julia?" Sarah asked, running her fingers through her son's curls. "She's here to play with you."
"I have tools," Adam announced to Julia, who began to bounce up and down on the balls of her small sneaker-clad feet.
"Go show them to Julia," Mulder said and gave him a small push. The two children ran out of the room.
"He's been obsessed with tools lately," laughed Sarah. "We've been doing all this work on the apartment and he kept taking off with the tools, no matter how well we thought we'd hidden them. We kept finding them in his bed. As a compromise, we bought him a set of plastic toy tools and that seems to be an acceptable substitute."
"Adam still sleeps with his tools," Mulder said and made a face.
Sarah picked up a brown leather briefcase from the end table. "I've got to run," she said. "Dana, I wish I could stay, but the Trustees are meeting tonight at the University."
"We'll have to do this again, after John has come back from his business trip," Dana said.
"Sounds great." Sarah lightly kissed her husband on his evening-stubbled cheek. "I have a feeling we're going to run late, so don't wait up for me."
Mulder smirked. "My wife is too important for words."
"And don't you forget it for a minute," Sarah warned as she walked out the door.
The door closed with a thunk and Mulder said, "Let's go see what our horrible children have gotten themselves into."
Adam's small bedroom was painted light blue and held a small youth bed covered with a comforter decorated with garish cartoon mice. On the floor, the two children were banging colorful plastic blocks with their tools, to the accompaniment of much shouting. They were so engrossed they didn't even look up at their parents.
"They haven't killed each other yet," Mulder said in a martini-dry tone. "I guess it's a good sign. Why don't we have some adult time? If we hear screams of agony, we can always run in."
In the small kitchen, Mulder showed off the new white cabinets with bashful pride and put the kettle on for coffee. "I'm glad you could come," Mulder said, searching in the refrigerator for milk. "Sarah and I haven't made that many friends yet. It was hard to leave our circle back in Boston."
"I can't even begin to imagine having to uproot myself." She made an awkward gesture with her hands. "This is...this is all I know now."
The shiny black kettle began to shriek. Mulder turned off the heat and poured the hot water into a glass pot filled with an inch of ground coffee. The room filled with the savory scent of coffee as steam rose from the top of the pot.
"It's nice to finally have real coffee again," he said, pushing down on the plunger to filter the grounds out of the coffee. "The synthesized stuff we got from the Others never tasted quite right."
Dana nodded in agreement and followed him out into the living room, where they settled on the brown and white striped couch.
With a small sigh that Dana couldn't quite read, Mulder poured her a cup of coffee and handed it to her, allowing her to add her own milk. He glanced around the room and said, "Ah, domestic bliss."
Dana blew on her coffee, allowing herself an appreciative sniff. Coffee had only been widely available for the past year, and she still considered it a treat.
"Is it?" she asked. "Is this domestic bliss?"
She couldn't figure out exactly why, but Fox Mulder made her want to ask personal questions.
He leaned back against the cushions. Dimly, Dana could hear their children, still smacking blocks with tools and giggling.
"I suppose it is domestic bliss in way," Mulder said.
"In a way? What is that supposed to mean?"
Mulder grinned and set down his cup on the coffee table. "I have a wife I love, a beautiful son, work I find interesting and challenging, but..." His voice faded out.
"You mind if I get personal for a moment, Dana?" he asked, leaning fractionally closer to her. She imagined for a moment that she could smell his skin.
"No, I don't mind."
"See, I have this way of putting people off. I scare them by asking the wrong questions and saying the wrong things." His lips stretched into a grimace. "I don't want to do that to you."
"You're not putting me off," she said. "I tend to have the opposite problem. It's hard for me to open up."
Mulder looked at her in mild disbelief. "Really? You haven't seemed that way to me."
Dana shifted uncomfortably in her seat. There was no logic to explain why she was unusually at ease and willing to talk to this man. There were people in her life with whom she'd instantaneously clicked. Meghan, her lab partner, was one. John was another. Perhaps it was a matter of some arcane interpersonal chemistry.
She decided to bring the conversation back around to the original subject. "So, you were talking about domestic bliss..."
Mulder looked down at his hands, spread across his knees. They were large hands and looked as if they were strong, a pale gold color and knotted with prominent veins.
"I should be happy," he finally said. "I am happy, most of the time. But lately I've been sinking into these funks. I can't tell you why. I look around at my life and everything's just fine, but inside, it's as if I'm in deep mourning for something."
Her breath came out in a rush. "Or somebody."
"Or somebody," Mulder repeated. "It's frustrating not being able to remember. Part of me desperately wants to know and the other part—"
"Needs to move forward," Dana cut in.
Mulder looked at her with astonished eyes. She noticed how the ring around the iris was a dark green, but the color was made up of the tiniest flecks of gray and gold, like the colored shards of plastic in Julia's kaleidoscope.
"That's exactly it," he said.
Her voice came out in a whisper. "I feel the same way, Mulder."
He nodded. "We live in a world in denial. Everyone is living their everyday lives and trying to pretend the past is irrelevant. The Enemies never came, the war and the Plague never happened. We've always living in these cities and the Others have always been our allies and trading partners. Who cares what happened to us Before?" His voice had an edge to it as bitter as the coffee Dana was sipping.
She was stunned to hear the thoughts that had been going through her mind for so many years finally articulated by another person.
"Hey," he said, touching her arm lightly. Dana could feel the heat of his palm though her sweater. "I'm sorry. I tend to go off on these rants. Usually Sarah's here to shut me up."
"It's okay. Really. It could have been me, saying the very same thing."
Dana watched him nervously run his tongue along his lower lip. Mulder looked down at his hands again. "I just need to know the truth. It probably wouldn't change anything, or make me any happier, but at least I'd know."
An outraged shriek emerged from the bedroom and Julia came running out, her pigtails flying behind her, to bury her head in Dana's lap.
"What's wrong?" she asked, rubbing her daughter's back and stifling a sigh. It was hard to go from talking about Before to full Mommy-mode.
Julia looked up at her with teary eyes. "He took my blocks!"
Mulder shook his head and stood. "It looks like adult time is over—all ten minutes of it."
She smiled, knowing just how rare those times were.
He started off for the kitchen. "The only thing that will end this squabble is cookies," he said over his shoulder.
Looking at her daughter's round face, Dana nodded.
Yes, domestic bliss indeed.
It was two o'clock and she couldn't sleep. After another futile change of position in bed, Dana sat up and switched on the bedside lamp.
The apartment was too quiet without John's presence. It was difficult for her to sleep without the warmth of his body next to hers. Or perhaps it was the coffee she'd had at Mulder's. Either way, her mind wouldn't quiet enough to allow her to slide into sleep.
For a moment, Dana considered using one of the sleep derms Dr. Hanley had prescribed. They were non-addictive but still had the nasty effect of making her groggy in the morning. She had a full day of intricate lab work scheduled for tomorrow and it wouldn't do to be yawning and disoriented for them.
She wondered if John would be upset if she called him in the middle of the night at his Sao Paulo hotel. With a sigh, she decided he would.
Her doctor had given her some mental exercises to try when she had one of her bouts of insomnia and Dana figured it wouldn't hurt to give one of them a shot.
She turned the light off and rolled onto her right side, curling up in the fetal position.
Allowing herself to take slow, easy breaths, she tried to remember a time when she'd felt utterly calm and at peace. A time when she'd been nothing but happy.
Inhale. A happy place.
Exhale. In this very bed.
...lying, almost half-asleep, drugged with the aftereffects of pleasure and fatigue. John's warm body next to hers, still slick with sweat, his chest against her back, one arm draped over her body and his hand resting on the small, swelling globe of her belly.
And her eyes struggle to remain open, to remember and savor the sweet contentment of this moment, his warm breath tickling her ear, her body still glowing from her orgasm. Finally, finally after nearly a year of trying to get pregnant, of often-painful tests and procedures, experimental ova regeneration therapy, now their baby is growing and thriving in her body, almost five months old now. And once again lovemaking can be about sharing affection, the give and take of pleasure, not the business of procreation.
She listens to John's breathing drop into a sleep pattern-long inhale of oxygen, slow exhale of carbon dioxide.
Dana felt sleep reaching for her as it had that lovely night years before and a faint smile curved her lips as she began to sink. Lower and lower, darker and darker, sleep had finally arrived.
...not tonight, Scully, it's not time, let's just keep each other warm, please, for me, one more night, I want to see another morning with you...
Her eyes snapped open in the black of the bedroom and she struggled for breath. What, what, what the fuck was that? It had been a low, raspy male whisper, as if someone had been in bed with her.
Her stomach lurched painfully. She climbed out of bed onto shaking legs and made it to the bathroom just in time to vomit in the toilet.
Resting her cheek against the cool of the white bowl, she shut her eyes and fought off the lingering wave of nausea.
I don't want this, not tonight, she thought. All I want is to sleep.
Finally, she stood and brushed her teeth and drank a glass of cold water.
She didn't want to think anymore.
Conceding defeat, she opened the medicine cabinet over the sink and pulled out the box of sleep derms.
Ten minutes later, the drugs had entered her bloodstream through the skin of her inner arm and she lost herself in heavy, dreamless slumber.
"I have a theory," Mulder said, splashing water with his bare foot. "Do you want to hear it?"
They were at City Center Park, the largest park in the City, several square miles carved out in the middle of the business district. Sarah and the kids were on the other end of the large marble fountain, floating plastic sailboats in the shallow water. Adam and Julia had been stripped naked and were as wet and slick as small seals.
Mulder and Dana had removed their own shoes and socks, and rolled up their pants, and were enjoying the sensation of cool water on bare feet as they ate sandwiches.
She lifted a single eyebrow, unable to comment since she was chewing a bite of turkey sandwich. She swallowed and said, "You seem to have a lot of theories, Mulder."
It felt so easy and nice to be simply hanging out at the park, surrounded by trees and grass and families, her daughter cheerfully splashing in the water. The strange events of two nights ago almost seemed as if they hadn't happened.
"It's kind of a weird theory," Mulder said, crumpling up the paper wrapping from his sandwich. "I haven't ever told it to anyone else."
Why are you telling me then, and not your wife, she thought. But she knew the answer—Sarah didn't want to discuss those things, just like John.
"Go ahead," she said.
"What year is it?" Mulder asked.
She shot him a look of confusion. "It's 2004," she said, in a tone that added an unspoken 'of course.'"
"Are you so sure about that?"
"Of course I'm sure. It's what my calendar and computer tell me..."
Mulder turned his head and gave her a strangely intense look. "That's what they say, but bear with me, Dana. We know that the Others rescued the Survivors. We were held in stasis for a while, treated for the Plague and awakened in stages to find ourselves in the new cities the Others had created for us."
Dana nodded. This was old news to her.
He splashed some more water with his feet. "The timeline says we were in stasis for about three months. What if that's not true?"
She felt her brow wrinkling. "Why wouldn't it be true?" She watched as Sarah pulled Julia by her arms through the water and heard her daughter's delighted shrieks of laughter.
"I don't know." Mulder shook his head as if he, too, were confused by his own theory. "It just seems odd to me that the Others have been so good to us, and have asked so little in return. They saved us, helped us recreate a semblance of our former world, and gave us self-rule. Their motives have been wholly altruistic, except that they now trade with us and have access to some needed natural resources from Earth."
"And you doubt their good intentions? Don't you think that if the motives of the Others were less than honorable, they would have shown their true faces by now? It's been five years."
Mulder chuckled. "I like the way you challenge me, Dana."
She smiled at that. "So, what does this have to do with the timeline?"
"It's just something I ponder now and again. What if we were in stasis for longer than three months? It could have been as long as a century, even longer, for all we know."
"For what purpose?" She took a long sip of her lemonade and turned to look at his grave face.
"Anything," Mulder said, shrugging. "Experiments, collection of genetic material... I've even considered that perhaps there never were the Enemies, or a war, or the Plague. Maybe the rest of the world was killed, or taken, by the Others. How do we have any way to truly know? No one can remember."
A chill passed through Dana as she considered his words. But she shrugged it off. Mulder had been right, it was a strange theory. "It's pretty far-fetched," she said.
"Yeah, I know. But that's how my mind works."
"It's a disturbing idea." It was difficult to imagine that everything she knew to be the facts could be utterly false.
"I didn't mean to frighten you. From all we've seen, the Others are the good guys. Like I said, I just get these ideas."
"I like it," she said, looking at the pale shapes of her feet underwater. "It's refreshing to be able to talk about these things and know you don't think I'm insane."
"You're the one who should think I'm insane. But you don't."
"You're not insane," she said.
Mulder lightly touched her hand with his and she felt something electric shoot up her arm. It was awareness, sudden realization that the man sitting next to her was an attractive man. He was staring at her with an expression that allowed her to see the sexuality in the man, the passion that existed behind his wry humor and oddball ideas. Mulder was looking at her as if she were the only person on the Earth at that moment. Don't think that, she told herself and forced herself to look at his wife on the other end of the fountain, soaked to the knees of her jeans and playing patty-cake with the children.
He seemed to snap back into comprehension of where they truly were. He swung his legs over the edge of the fountain and began to shake the water off his feet. "You brought towels, right?"
When she and Julia returned home, there was a note from John on her Mailserve, asking her to call him at his hotel. She gave Julia a quick bath, read her a story and left her daughter sleeping in the light of her Bud the Lizard nightlight.
She sat in front of the telescreen and punched the number for John's hotel into the remote. After a minute they connected and the image of her husband, wearing his pajamas and sitting on the end of his hotel bed, flashed on the screen. He smiled to see her. "Hey babe, I miss you," he said.
"I tried to call you twice tonight. Where did you go?"
She knew he wasn't asking out of suspicion but curiosity, but the question made her feel strange all the same. "A play date. I met a nice couple, Sarah and Mulder, the other day. We took the kids to City Center Park tonight."
"Awww, I miss her so much. Is she in bed?"
Dana nodded. "Yeah. Do you want me to get her up for you?"
"No, let her sleep."
"Are you still planning on coming back Saturday?" Only six days, she told herself. It's not that long.
John grimaced and ran his fingers through his brown hair, which was beginning to recede gracefully. "That's what I was calling about. The project is really messed up. I've been spending sixteen-hour days at the site. I don't think I'm going to be able to get back for another two weeks."
"Two weeks?" She tried not to sound too disappointed, but she failed.
"I know, Dana, and I feel terrible. I miss you and Julia so much. And I know I'll miss your birthday."
Right. She'd entirely forgotten that her birthday was on Sunday.
"Oh well, we can celebrate when you get back."
He smiled at her, a sweet and guilt-laden little smile. "We will, honey, you can count on it."
A few minutes later, after some more talk, they said goodbye and disconnected.
I forgot to tell him I love him, she thought, as she rose from the couch and began to pick up scattered toys from the floor. But he knows how I feel.
She decided that after she cleaned up the living room, she'd send him a Mailserve message, telling him just how she felt. It would strengthen their connection so many miles apart.
An hour later she had just about fallen asleep when she realized she'd forgotten to send the message.
The next evening, after she'd put Julia down for the night, Dana finally got to the Mailserve message to John. It was relaxing after spending the day presenting at a seminar on Spina Bifida to sit back in the comfortable computer chair, shut her eyes and see only the amber letters on the black background, her fingers automatically typing away on the keyboard she couldn't see. She was in the middle of an impassioned paragraph about their honeymoon when a bright yellow Page intruded itself on her field of vision.
Centralnetsytem user fwmulder2411 requests user dkscully8732 to Netspace AE3456-AT
Curious, she mused, Mulder has a Netspace. She briefly considered finishing her message, but curiosity got the better of her and she closed the Mailserve.
It was rare for Dana to fully immerse herself in the Net. From time to time, she had to attend a networked conference or meeting, but she didn't particularly enjoy sinking into complete immersion for fun. Many people, including her own husband, enjoyed going into its synthetic world for entertainment, news and games, but it slightly disturbed her. The world inside the Net was somehow too real and the division between her virtual and real-life selves seemed too blurry for comfort. In immersion, if she touched a wood table in a conference room, it felt as solid and smooth under her fingertips as the table in her kitchen. She knew she wasn't really feeling the table when immersed and that her brain was simply being manipulated by the software into sensing something that wasn't truly there. Everyone she knew accepted Net immersion as a way of daily life, but Dana preferred the prosaic reality of the world outside the computer.
She took a deep breath and punched in the address for Mulder's space and the Net connect button. A bright flash of light made her jerk, as it always did when she went into immersion. One time she'd asked Evan, her neighbor across the hall, why connecting to the Net produced the flash. He was a systems analyst for Centralnetsytem, the public Net utility for the city. Evan had laughed. "It's all psychological. The flash doesn't need to be there, but it makes people feel like they're really going somewhere..." He'd offered to go into the works of her computer and take the flash out, but absent-minded as Evan was, he'd never gotten around to it.
Her virtual self emerged in a long, metallic hallway with an endless series of doors, all marked with their Netspace numbers. She was right outside AE3456-AT. The door's scanning software registered her presence and smoothly swished open to reveal a black void.
Feeling like Alice in Wonderland, a book she'd bought for when Julia got older, Dana stepped into the darkness...
...and onto the seaside.
Curiouser and curiouser, she thought. She was standing on a windswept beach, the ocean white-capped and crashing on the sand. It was so real it took Dana's breath away. She swore she could smell the salt in the air, and she heard the cries of seagulls overhead. The sky was a leaden gray. The wind whipped her hair into her face as she scanned the landscape for any sign of Mulder.
"Too much wind for you?" Mulder said.
She turned around and he was standing next to her, looking exactly as he did in real life. People could, with the right software at home, present themselves in immersion any way they wanted, and she was relieved he hadn't chosen to come as a giant warthog or a tall, gray-faced Other. Fantasy was all very well and good, but enough was enough.
Dana shook her head in disbelief. "I've never seen such an elaborate Netspace. Did you design this yourself?"
"Are you kidding?" He started to laugh. "I'm pretty much an idiot when it comes to this stuff. I paid a designer a whole lot of money for this space."
"It's beautiful. I've never seen an ocean like this."
They began to walk on the sand toward the water. "Have you been to the ocean, then?" he asked.
"Yes, on my honeymoon. We went to New Zealand, to Miracle Beach."
"This is the Atlantic. Before Sarah and I got married, I went with her to a conference in Maine. There's a resort up there for high-level officials only. The atmosphere there is safe to be outside. While Sarah was hobnobbing with academics, I spent nearly all my time on the beach. I'd never felt so at home in my life."
They reached the water's edge, just far enough away to avoid getting wet from the surf, but every few waves she caught a little of the cold spray on her face.
"Do you come here a lot?" she asked.
He looked up at the dark sky. "Only when I need to think. It seems like all my best thinking gets done on this beach."
"I can see why, it's peaceful here."
"This is where I do my remembering."
She looked at his eyes, which today were as gray as the clouds overhead. "Remembering Before?"
Mulder shrugged self-consciously. "Yeah. There's nothing here to distract me from thinking."
Dana picked up a handful of brown sand and let the grains slide through her fingers. Amazing, she could actually feel each individual grain.
She had a question for Mulder, but didn't know if she dared ask it. If her own husband wouldn't tell her, why would Mulder?
But she asked, anyhow. "Mulder," she said in barely audible voice, "what do you remember?"
Instead of seeming offended, he turned to her and smiled. "Do you really want to know?"
"Not a lot," he admitted. "Just some general impressions. I know I had a younger sister and she had dark hair, darker than mine. I have memories of riding my bike as a kid and playing baseball. And I can remember standing on a beach that was a lot like this one."
"Anything from your adult life?"
"Most of my memories are of childhood. I know I was trained as a psychologist, but I don't think I worked with kids like I do now. Recently I remembered that I was in law enforcement of some kind."
"Law enforcement? You mean something like a Guardian?"
"Something like that. There was an agency Before, called the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Have you heard of it?"
"Sure. I've read about it and I saw a movie that survived the War, that had some FBI agents in it."
"It may sound odd, but I think I was one of those agents. I have this small fragment of a memory, where I'm looking at my badge."
Her eyebrow rose. "Have you tried to see if any records still exist?"
"Yeah, I have." The expression on Mulder's face spoke of his disappointment. "The records on the Net aren't accessible. They're locked up tight, and like I said, I'm no computer genius."
She had a flash of inspiration. "Mulder, I have a neighbor, a friend of mine. He knows everything about computers. I could ask him to look for you."
"You'd do that for me?" His eyes widened and for a moment, Dana could see what Mulder had looked like as a boy.
"I'd do that."
For a moment he took her hand and squeezed it. Before she could even register the sensation, he dropped her hand. "It would mean a lot to me, Dana."
She smiled. "You and I are a lot alike. We want to know more than anything."
For a long moment, Mulder was silent, staring at the surf. Finally, he said, "Sometimes I think we're the only two people in the world who do."
"It doesn't feel so lonely anymore," she whispered.
Dana turned to him, the breeze now blowing her hair off her face. "Why did you ask me to come here tonight?"
He grinned self-consciously. "Because you're the one who understands what this place means to me."
Mulder put his arm around her and they stood together on the sand, companionably watching the ocean.
The party was already in full swing when she pushed open the door to Mulder and Sarah's apartment. People she didn't know, dressed to the nines, stood in little groups, talking and drinking wine. The air smelled like women's perfume and in the background she could hear jazz piano playing on the sound system.
Dana stood in the doorway, not sure what to do. Usually, when she had to deal with a whole roomful of strangers, she had John to navigate her way through the crowd and help her strike up conversations. Now she was on her own. This is silly, she told herself. You're intelligent and independent and you don't need your husband to get through this evening.
Sarah spotted her from her perch on the couch and came over, elegant tonight in a chocolate-brown dress that matched her eyes and displayed her full breasts to advantage.
"I'm glad you came," Sarah said, liking arms with Dana. She dropped her voice to a confidential whisper. "This party was my idea, not Mulder's."
"Where is he?" Dana asked.
"I think he's sulking in the kitchen. Mulder doesn't really like parties." She spotted new guests coming through the front door. "Well, I have to run and play hostess."
In the kitchen, Mulder was opening bottles of wine, with an expression of intense concentration on his face. Before she had a change to greet him, he looked up at her and smiled.
At that moment, Dana wished she hadn't chosen to wear a dress that made her feel so bare. The invitation had specified dressing up, though, and this was the only decent evening dress she owned. The dress was sleeveless and made from a thin, silky, shimmering material of the darkest red just before maroon. It was modestly high at the neck, and the hemline was at her knees, but in the back it was cut down nearly to the tattoo on her lower back. Now she felt strangely naked before the up and down sweep of Mulder's eyes.
What the hell is going on here, she thought. She felt a little awkward after the sweet little moment they'd shared the other night in Mulder's Netspace. Granted, if you did it in cyberspace, it didn't really count, but she'd felt so content and at peace as they'd watched the waves with his arm around her.
Dana handed him a paper-wrapped package and he pulled out a bottle of Australian Cabernet. Australia had suffered relatively little damage during the invasion, and its vineyards were again exporting wine.
"So much wine," he said, shaking his head. "I can already feel the hangover I'm going to have tomorrow." He gave her a glass of red wine he'd poured and set on a tray.
She sipped the wine. "Sarah says you don't like parties."
Mulder shrugged. "Too many people all at once—it's sensory overload. I tend to get as cranky as Adam if he's up past his bedtime."
"Speaking of which, where is he tonight?" There was no way a child could sleep through a party in such a small apartment.
"There's a nice elderly lady who lives three floors upstairs, named Rosa. She adores Adam and was glad to take him off our hands for the night. How about Julia?"
"My lab partner's place. She and her husband don't have any children yet, so they like to practice on Julia."
He grinned at that, and she thought about how dangerous his smiles were. Mulder was dressed all in black tonight—a black shirt unbuttoned just enough to reveal a few curling dark hairs, and black pants. It almost hurt to look at him.
Get a grip, she told herself.
"I'm glad you could make it, Dana. Most of the guests are Sarah's colleagues from the University. I hardly know a soul."
"I'm glad, too." It felt free to be out without John or Julia. A bit scary, yes, but she could dimly recall a time when she'd been entirely on her own.
They wandered out into the thick of the crowd and were soon separated. She steeled herself and made introductions with an affable-looking group of professors. Soon they were all discussing the upcoming elections. November would be the first all-world presidential elections, now that Interim President Lobacheva's term was ending. They argued over the major candidates. She was in favor of Hirako Yamaguchi, but most of the others were rooting for Stephen Cousins. Dana found herself, surprisingly, having fun as they debated the candidates like pundits on a political tele-program. Conversation in her social circle seemed to be entirely taken up with science or parenthood. It was refreshing to discuss agricultural reform and one-language legislation with intelligent people.
The party wore on and Dana was surprised to see, glancing at her wristwatch, that it was midnight. The crowd had thinned out a bit and she noticed that Sarah was slumped over on the couch, asleep from the effects of too much wine. Mulder was nowhere in sight. The room was almost stifling from lingering body heat and even through her dress was on the skimpy side, Dana was hot. She needed some air.
With her third glass of wine in hand, she stepped out the front door. God, I'm tipsy, she thought in the elevator, checking out her flushed face in the mirror.
Outside, the street was quiet and deserted, the only noise a cleaning servo moving down the pavement and spraying water as it went. Between Mulder's apartment and the next there was a small green space, not big enough to count as a park. There was merely a patch of green grass, a set of swings and a bench.
Dana sat on the bench and looked up at the stars twinkling behind the dome. There was a song she remembered, that she sometimes sang to Julia now. "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are." She thought about the Others, and how they'd driven off the Enemies.
Who else is out there, she wondered, picking out constellations. We're definitely not alone.
"Have you ever made a wish on a star?"
She jumped a bit at the unexpected voice breaking her reverie, but it was only Mulder.
He laid a hand on her should. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"Escaping your own party?" Dana raised an eyebrow. "You're a bad host."
"I am." He sat down next to her and looked up at the sky.
"Well, it was nice of you to throw me a birthday party."
Mulder turned to look at her. "It's your birthday? I didn't know."
She grinned. "Well, I didn't tell you, so don't feel bad. Besides, my birthday is tomorrow." Dana looked at her watch. "Actually, it's today now."
"If you'd told me, we could have gotten you a cake and a present."
"Don't be ridiculous. I don't need any of that. I'm planning on celebrating tomorrow night at a friend's place. She's making dinner for me."
"How old are you?"
She shot him a look of annoyance. "Don't you know that after a woman reaches a certain age, it's not polite to ask that question?"
Mulder snorted. "Please, Dana, you make it sound like you're eighty years old. You don't look a day over seventy-nine."
Dana made to swat at his cheek, but he intercepted her hand and grasped it in his. Oh, she couldn't breathe. "Come on, spill," he said, grinning.
Tugging her hand away, she said, "I'm forty-one."
He rolled his eyes. "Is that all? I'm ancient compared to you. I'm forty-five."
She leaned back and crossed her legs. "We're getting old, Mulder."
Sometimes she wondered what she'd looked like when she was young, before she'd had fine lines around her eyes, before the gray hairs had begun to creep into the red.
With a cool hand, Mulder touched her cheek. "You're a beautiful woman, Dana, for any age." She would have laughed his words off if he hadn't said them in such a low, serious voice.
Dana stared at him as if in disbelief and then looked down at her shaking hand, which was clutching her wineglass as if it were a life preserver.
His fingers lifted her chin, so she was forced to look at him again. "Don't you believe me?" he whispered.
Oh, she could see the arousal in his eyes, practically felt it coming off his body in waves. Her skin prickled into a thousand goose bumps in response.
I have to get out of here, she thought, but she couldn't move. She felt hypnotized by the hungry expression on Mulder's face.
He blinked and slightly moved towards her. He's going to kiss me, she frantically thought. I can't let this happen, I can't. But another part of her wanted him to.
Dana pulled away from Mulder and felt a self-conscious smile grow on her face.
Say something and defuse this moment.
Clearing her throat, she said, "What's going on here, Mulder?
He made a sound deep in his throat. "I don't know."
"Neither do I," she said, looking at the empty swing set instead of at Mulder. "But something is going on between us."
"I can't stop thinking about you." Mulder sighed. "Not since we first met. I don't know how to explain it, but I can't stop."
Her mouth was dry and she took another sip of wine, her brain buzzing with too many thoughts for her to be able to adequately articulate any of them.
She felt his hand on her bare arm. "Is it the same for you?" he asked in a voice so hesitant it wrenched her heart.
I don't want to have to answer this, she thought, because I'll have to tell you the truth and if I do, I don't know what will happen.
The pressure on her arm fractionally increased. "Is it?" he repeated.
Still looking away from Mulder, she nodded.
"I know it's wrong," Mulder said. "Believe me, I know."
Finally, she got the courage to turn her head and look at him. She'd known Mulder for such a short time, but already his face was so beloved to her. But still, they couldn't do this. Not now, not ever. "It's wrong," she softly said.
"Yes," he agreed.
I want to so badly to kiss him, she thought, just once so I'll have a taste of what it's like to love him.
Dana felt tears begin to well in her eyes and she blinked them away. She never cried in front of anyone else, not even John. It made her seem weak.
"I have a husband and I love him," she said. "You have a wife and you love her. We...we can't."
But even as they were saying the right and proper things, his fingers had laced themselves with hers and their faces had come so close together their noses were almost touching. She could smell the wine on his breath.
The air seemed to thicken to Dana, to be almost crackling with the tension. Mulder's free hand rose to the back of her neck and she felt the tiny hairs there stand up on end.
"We can't do this," he whispered, but he pressed his lips to hers.
She forgot to think as he kissed her, logic and responsibility temporarily bound and gagged. Her hands rose to his face, to pull him closer to her, to pull him deeper into her mouth. Their tongues touched for the first time and she nearly jerked at the contact, at the raw wave of arousal that flooded through her body.
It was alien to kiss someone who wasn't John, to feel a strange tongue twining with hers, to taste his wine-soaked lips and mouth. But it also felt oddly familiar to kiss Mulder. There was no awkwardness of noses and lips, no fumbling, just one perfect, explosive kiss, bittersweet with longing and need.
They pulled apart after what felt like hours of kissing, breathing hard and staring at each other in stunned silence.
Finally, Mulder spoke. "I'm sorry, Dana. We shouldn't have done that."
She nodded, her lips still throbbing from his kisses. "Maybe we shouldn't be around each other anymore."
His face looked so stricken at her words that she felt the tears begin to well again.
She wiped her face with a trembling hand and rose from the park bench. "It's late. I need to pick up Julia."
Mulder reached for her hand and squeezed it. "I know that what we did was wrong, but I'm having a difficult time regretting it."
Somehow, she felt herself smiling. "Me, too. That's the problem, Mulder."
She turned to walk back out onto the street.
She spun around on her heel.
Mulder ran his hands through his hair, making the short strands into a multitude of spikes. "Did you mean what you said about not seeing each other?"
She raised her hands in a questioning gesture. "I don't know, Mulder. I need to think."
The trouble was that she could probably spend the rest of her life thinking about it and not come up with the correct answer.
"I think we both need some time," he said.
"One more thing," he said, rising from the bench.
"You're insanely beautiful after you've been kissed."
Dana couldn't help but smile at that, but she turned around and walked away all the same.
Alone in her bedroom an hour later, Dana tried to think of anything but the kiss she'd shared with Mulder. She mentally walked herself through each step of preparing tissue samples for an MCR-DNA test. Next, she balanced the family budget for March, paying the bills and setting aside the remaining money in the family account. She even made a checklist of cleaning products she needed to buy for the apartment.
But underneath her thoughts, running like the refrain of an annoying pop song she couldn't get out of her head, was the shocking awareness that she'd kissed Fox Mulder.
She'd kissed a man who wasn't her husband.
When she'd spoken her vows that December morning in the Hall of Magistrates, she'd taken them seriously, but entirely in stride. Of course she would love, honor and cherish John Rosen forever. And of course she'd never even consider another man. There was no one but John. She hadn't been able to even grasp the concept of anyone but John.
Now, years later, there was another man in the picture, whether it was right or wrong. Mulder had entered her life in a series of chance encounters and somehow, over the past few weeks, he'd become important to her.
And now she had some decisions to make.
The problem was that she didn't know what the hell to do.
She touched her lips and they still felt swollen from his kiss. Never had she experienced a kiss that felt like the one they'd shared. Granted, she'd only kissed two men in her memory, three if you counted the phantom lover from her dreams. It had been an explosion of unchecked emotion, that kiss on the bench, an utterly intoxicating blend of attraction, fear, lust, shame, and tenderness. It had been a singular kiss.
Dana regretted taking Julia to the park that evening. If she hadn't gone, she never would have met Mulder and nothing would have happened. Her life would have continued on its quiet, steady path. She would have done her research, raised her daughter and loved her husband. The dreams and memory fragments would still have haunted her, but she would have coped. She was a survivor. Besides, she'd been coping ever since she was brought back to life in the Clinic as a shell of a woman.
If she hadn't met Mulder, she never would have begun to imagine a life in which she could explore her past and try to reclaim the person she'd once been. Mulder gave her permission not to be ashamed to want those things.
She rolled onto her side, and adjusted the pillows under her head, finally admitting to herself that she wanted Mulder, not just the singular friendship they'd developed, but the man himself.
She'd never desired like this before. When she'd first met John, she'd been attracted to him, of course, but it had been more of an understanding that he was a man who would always remain by her side, a man with whom she could rebuild her life.
With Mulder, now that she'd had that first taste of what it was like to know him physically, she craved more.
Dana wanted to unbutton that black shirt he'd been wearing and touch the skin of his chest and run her fingers through the hair there. She wanted to know what his body looked like without clothes. He was about the same height as her husband but had longer legs and arms. She imagined counting his ribs with her fingers and running them down to his navel as he groaned at how close she was getting to the part of him that most wanted to be touched.
A small moan escaped her lips as she let her hand slip between her legs. She didn't often touch herself for pleasure—she was rarely alone and it seemed empty not to be able to share it with John. But now she stroked herself with insistent fingers, for the first time imagining herself making love with someone other than John.
She pictured herself taking off Mulder's pants and having him stand in front of her, erect and gazing at her with that look of intense arousal he'd worn on his face earlier in the night.
And the reality blurred with her fantasy and she was there, with Mulder. Dana touched his thick, dark pubic hair and moved her hand to cup and stroke his balls, feeling his shiver of response. She kneeled and let her tongue drag along the length of his hard cock as his hands gripped her shoulders in unspoken encouragement.
With her mouth and tongue, Dana loved him, demonstrating the emotion she was finally allowing its freedom. He made soft sounds of approval, as he slid in and out of her mouth.
As Mulder came with a low cry, she came too, back in the reality of her bed, arching her back and smothering her groans in the pillow.
The clock by the bed turned to three in the morning as she fell asleep, burning with shame, burning with ecstasy, burning.
She dreamed of fire that night, of squatting by a small campfire, shivering and coughing so hard she was afraid she would break a rib.
This is where it ends, she thought in her dream, this is where we end. I never imagined the end would be like this.
A few interesting things happened on Sunday morning.
First, she was awakened at seven by the door chime. A delivery-bot was outside the door, with a bouquet of hothouse flowers for her—daisies, irises and lilies. Dana brought them into the living room and found the card tucked behind a spray of baby's breath.
To the woman who has taught me everything about love. Happy Birthday. John.
The rush of guilt she felt as she read the card was almost crippling. Dana had to sit down on the couch and take deep breaths. What a terrible wife I am, she thought.
She got Julia out of bed. After dressing the squirming toddler, Dana set her on the kitchen floor to play with her plastic animal set. Julia made cow and chicken noises as Dana mixed together the ingredients for pancakes.
Just as she was spooning the batter in the pan to fry, the door chimed again, as if on cue. This time it was Evan. He was young, only twenty-four and lived in the studio apartment across the hall, a small space she knew was covered in posters for obscure Afro-Beat groups and littered with takeout sushi containers.
Evan often came sniffing around on weekend mornings for breakfast and Dana had a soft spot for the young man with perpetually wrinkled clothes and long black and blue braids.
"Are those pancakes I smell?" he said, smiling bashfully. She let him in with an indulgent pat on the head.
He produced a small brown package from the folds of his stained jacket. "I brought you a pound of bacon for your birthday."
Dana smiled in delight. Bacon, imported all the way from South America, was an expensive treat she could rarely justify buying. The soy bacon was an acceptable substitute, but nothing tasted like the real thing.
She put the bacon in the frying pan and started a pot of coffee as he dandled Julia on his knees, making up nonsense rhymes about robots. Despite Evan's strange hair and kohl-rimmed eyes, Dana thought that he had the makings of an excellent father.
As the room filled with the scent of the bacon, Dana had the vague sensation of familiarity she always got when she smelled that particular odor. It made her feel warm and secure and she surmised that bacon must have been a favorite breakfast treat of hers as a girl.
Evan was on his ninth pancake when she got the nerve to ask him what had been on her mind since she'd opened the door. She finished chewing her bacon and said, "Would you be willing to do a favor for me?"
He spread more imitation maple syrup on a fresh stack of cakes. "What kind of favor, Dana?"
"A computer kind of favor."
"That's the kind of favor I do best."
Evan practically lived in the Net. She knew that some days he was in immersion for more than eighteen hours, unplugging only to eat and go to the bathroom. His system administration job was entirely done from his home and Dana sometimes wondered if he ever left the building, except his occasional visits to strange underground dance clubs.
"It's kind of personal," she said, carefully choosing her words. "You'd have to keep it to yourself."
"I am the soul of discretion," Evan said in a mock-serious whisper.
"I have this friend and he's trying to find his past."
"You mean like Before?" Evan interrupted, raising his dark brows.
"Yes. He seems to think he had been an agent with something called the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
"Oh yeah, the Feds. Wow."
"He's tried to access the surviving records, but he can't get in. Think you could do it?"
Evan puffed out his chest with pride. "I can access anything. You want me to take a little look?"
"Could you? I wouldn't want you to get into any trouble."
He snorted. "Give me a break. This will be pathetically easy, Dana. Besides, information is power. What's the guy's name? I'll go in and search for it in the records."
"Fox Mulder," she said, and grabbed a notepad off the kitchen counter to write it out for him.
"Consider it done," Evan said, stuffing the paper in his pocket. "I'll need a few days, though. I'm working on this huge interface upgrade."
"Thanks so much."
Evan licked syrup off his fork. "It's the least I can do, with you feeding me all the time."
She sat back and felt content in the knowledge that she was helping Mulder to reclaim what had been lost.
In the afternoon, Julia took a nap and Dana took the opportunity to check her Mailserve. There was only one message and it was from Mulder. She took a deep breath and opened the folder.
I wish I could blame our kiss last night on too much wine, but I can't. Have a happy birthday, Dana. M
"Tell me about it, Dana."
With a small sigh, Dana took a fortifying sip of her tea and shut her eyes. I'm in a safe place, she told herself. I can say anything here and she won't judge me.
Things always seemed much clearer in the confines of Dr. Hanley's office. The pale gold walls and hanging ferns were soothing to her morning-bleary eyes and today the doctor was playing soft Vivaldi on her sound system. For one hour every few weeks or so, Dana could sit in a chair and talk, with no distractions. The phone wouldn't ring and Julia wouldn't cry for her.
The therapist's voice was soft. "Is this difficult for you?"
She nodded. "I feel guilty even thinking about it. I've been trying to put it out of my mind, like it never happened, but it keeps creeping into the most innocuous of my thoughts."
"Denial is never the way to deal with your problems. If you bury something, it's still there and eventually it'll emerge."
In other words, Mulder wasn't just going to go away. Neither was John.
Fine, she'd talk. She had nothing to lose.
Dana's hands fumbled as she struggled for her words. "I've never met anyone like Mulder before. I can't explain it, but when I'm around him, I somehow feel complete, like I've been waiting for him these past five years, but I never knew it."
Dr. Hanley looked up at Dana from her notebook. "Tell me this, do you feel that any of this has to do with the fact that John has been gone for almost two weeks?"
"I wish it were that simple—that I was resentful, or angry at John, or feeling rebellious because he's been gone. This doesn't have anything to do with him, though. It hasn't changed the way I feel about John."
"How does Mulder make you feel, compared to your husband?"
She thought of the evening they'd spent at the park, dangling their feet in the fountain. If she were never to see Mulder again, she'd still remember the intense expression in his eyes.
"I can't compare them," Dana said. "They're completely different people."
"Do you love Mulder?"
Shrugging, she said. "I don't know. I'm not sure I know what love is, after all. I thought I loved John more than anything in the world, and look at what's happened. Perhaps I'm not capable of love."
"Do you really believe that?"
Dana let out her breath. "Right now, I'm questioning everything in my life. I thought I had everything I wanted, but my feelings for Mulder have made me realize the things I'd never dared wish for."
"Such as being able to talk about your dreams and possible emerging memories?"
"Yes. I don't feel like a whole person without my past. What are we but the sum of our life experiences? Our memories?"
The doctor smiled. "An interesting point."
Usually when she sat in Dr. Hanley's office, Dana could unravel her problems, like someone steadily picking at a difficult, knotted rope. This time, however, the more she worked on the rope, the tighter the knot became.
Dana looked at her therapist. "Bottom line is, I don't know what I should do. What do you think?"
"Dana." The doctor raised a warning finger. "You know better than that. My role is not to tell you what to do, but to help you sort out your issues yourself."
She grimaced. "So, I pay you to solve my problems myself, huh? I should go into psychology."
To her credit, Dr. Hanley laughed heartily.
Dana left the doctor's office feeling vaguely unsatisfied. While it had felt good to simply talk freely in a way she couldn't even do with Meghan, she hadn't come to any stunning conclusions in the black chair. Nothing had changed.
With a short sigh, she straightened her spine and lifted her chin. It wasn't time to think about her problems anymore. She had lab reports to write, phone calls to return, a department meeting to attend. The rest of the workday didn't belong to her.
Dana crossed the square to her building and determined not to think for the rest of the day.
Despite what Dr. Hanley had said in the session that morning, Dana came home from the lab determined to practice denial. Mulder had never kissed her and she most certainly had not returned that kiss. Nothing had happened, nothing at all.
Julia was in rare form that night. First there was a temper tantrum about changing out of her school clothes and then one over having to eat her green beans. She kicked and screamed when Dana tried to put her into the bathtub. John was better at calming Julia when she was in one of these moods and Dana felt helpless in the force of her daughter's overwhelming will.
She called John at the hotel. Thankfully, he was back from dinner and spent twenty minutes reading Jerry the Blue Spaceship to Julia, who sat in front of the telescreen and, with round eyes, touched the image of her father. He didn't need the book to tell the story. Both he and Dana had memorized the words through repetition.
Calm and happy now, Julia slid onto Dana's lap. Dana smiled at John on the screen, but her heart was beating rapidly. Was there any way John could sense her guilt?
"Just one more week," he said, still making silly faces at Julia, who squirmed and cackled with glee. "I can't wait to come home. I'm sick of hotel food and how hot it is down here."
"You're too used to dome-conditioning."
"Yep, I'm a wimp. I'm man enough to admit it. I just want to come home, cook a big pot of spaghetti and sit down with you and Julia for dinner."
"I can't wait, either," she said.
Yes, when John returned, everything would be back to normal.
She let Julia sleep with her that night. As her daughter slept, Dana stroked her silky hair and thought, this is where I belong, with my family. She fell asleep listening to the steady rhythm of Julia's breathing.
A hot, hot night in West Virginia and they're stuck in a town so remote the single motel doesn't even have air-conditioning, just a rusty fan that only pushes the humid air around the small room.
After they've made love, he falls asleep on the sweat-soaked sheets and she goes off to the dingy bathroom to take her third shower of the day. She turns on the water so cold her skin prickles in response and her teeth chatter.
She doesn't even towel off but climbs onto the bed, dripping wet. There's momentary relief as the noisy fan blows on her chilly body.
It's been a long, exhausting day and she craves sleep. She's just sinking down into the first stage when she feels it.
She sits bolt upright in the sagging bed, stifling the urge to scream.
It's a million times stronger than the night she was called to the bridge. She can feel it centered in the nape of her neck and radiating out to her limbs.
It's too late. Everything they've done to fight this thing, it has come to nothing. They're almost here; she can feel their collective presence, getting nearer by the second.
She never wanted to believe in this day. She demanded proof, something tangible she could see with her own eyes, something to believe in. Anecdotes and shadowy informants weren't enough. Even the hazy recollection of something in the Antarctic sky wasn't enough. Not even her trust and faith in the man sleeping by her side. It was too huge and terrible for her to imagine.
"They're coming," she gasps through trembling lips.
He rolls over with a groan and switches on the bedside lamp. "What's wrong, Scully?"
This time she screams the words.
Dana momentarily woke and blinked in the dark. Just a dream, she thought, touching Julia's cheek. It was only a dream.
In the morning, Dana braided Julia's hair while Newsmorning recited the world news in the background. "Don't squirm," she said to Julia, who for once went obediently still while Dana tied blue ribbons on the ends of her braids.
White and red spots suddenly began to dance in front of Dana's eyes.
She knew what the spots meant. Damn, a migraine was coming. She hadn't had one in months. There was no stopping it now that it was on its way. Her Migranex inhaler would work on the pain, but she'd be useless for hours under its drugging influence. The waves of nausea were already rising in her belly and she began to regret the oatmeal she'd eaten for breakfast.
Dana rushed to the bathroom and retched up breakfast and a good portion of dinner from the night before. She looked up from the toilet bowl and saw Julia staring at her with curiosity.
"Mommy threw up," she declared.
She nodded weakly, the throbbing setting up camp in her temples. After brushing her teeth, she sucked on the plastic Migranex tube, wincing at the metallic taste of the vapor.
She changed back into her pajamas and stumbled to the couch to call Meghan, praying her partner was still home.
Meghan answered in her pink bathrobe, her short, dark hair still wet from the shower. "Dana, are you all right? You look like hell."
Dana touched her forehead, her eyes squinting at the light from the telescreen. "A migraine," she said. "I don't think I'll be coming into the lab today."
"Oh no," Meghan said, concern on her round and pretty face. "But don't worry about it. We were just going to work on our proposal for next year, remember?"
She nodded, the pain intensifying, white-hot flashes that beat in time with her heart.
"Sweetie, I'm coming right over. I just need to get dressed. I'll take Julia to Primary Care today."
After disconnecting, Dana curled up on the couch, hoping the drug would kick in soon. Julia patted Dana's arm. "Mommy, you sick?"
"I'm sick," she said and groped for the remote, switching it to a children's cartoon program. The sound of gamboling animals, even with the volume turned down low, made her wince, but the cartoons kept Julia quiet and out of mischief.
Twenty minutes later, Meghan came bustling in. She had a spare access card to Dana and John's place in case of emergency. Dana was grateful for this, since the thought of moving was unbearable.
"Meggie!" Julia shouted and Dana groaned at the outburst.
"Hey, kiddo," Meghan said in a soft voice. "You have to be very, very quiet right now."
Meghan walked over to the couch. "Don't worry about a thing," she said to Dana. "Just rest. I can take Julia home with me tonight. Tom and I would love to have her."
Dana nodded. "Thanks," she managed to say. "Julia, do you want to sleep over at Meghan's house tonight?"
Julia, who had spent quite a few nights at Meghan's to give her parents some time alone, began to jump up and down at the idea.
Meghan found the afghan and spread it over Dana's body. With the brisk efficiency that made her an outstanding scientist, she got together a bag of clothing and toiletries for Julia.
"Come on Jules," she said. "Let's get you to school." She squeezed Dana's clammy hand. "Call me if you need anything."
Eyes closing, Dana mumbled, "I just need to sleep." The pain was receding, beginning to be replaced with the heavy weight of drugged fatigue.
Julia pressed a slobbery kiss on her mother's cheek and then they were gone, leaving the apartment in blessed silence.
She wrapped the blanket around her and let herself sleep.
She dreamed of falling leaves-crimson, gold and orange, of raking and smelling the earthy tang of autumn.
When Dana finally woke, she looked at the telescreen clock through bleary eyes. It was four p.m. Nearly an entire day had passed while she'd slept on the couch. She hated wasting an entire day like that, but she also knew it was the only way to let the migraine pass.
The pain was gone now. She felt a bit dizzy from the Migranex and hunger, but the storm in her head had moved on.
She showered and changed into a t-shirt and leggings. In the kitchen she drank a full bottle of water while warming up a package of chicken noodle soup.
Dana had just settled back onto the couch to eat her soup when the telescreen announced a caller. She considered letting the Messenger pick up the call, but she worried it could be from Primary Care or Meghan.
Mulder's face appeared on her screen. From the background of a shelf full of books, she could tell he was calling from his office at City Edcom.
"Are you all right?" he asked, eyes blinking behind his glasses. "I tried you at the lab, but the message said you were out for the day."
Dana's hands began to shake in her lap at the sight of Mulder, the sound of his voice. "I had a migraine," she said. "I slept it off and I'm fine now."
He smiled, his full lower lip expanding to give him a slightly goofy, but decidedly sexy, look. She could still remember how it had felt to kiss those lips, to take that plump lower lip in her mouth and suckle on it.
"I was...I was hoping we could talk tonight," he stammered.
I have the same effect on him, she thought.
Dana sighed. "I don't know if that's a good idea, Mulder."
"Please, Dana, we need to talk about this."
There goes the whole denial plan, she thought. Mulder doesn't seem to do denial.
"You're right," she said, conceding defeat. "Can you come over at six?"
A minute later she clicked off the telescreen and let out all her breath.
This is a good thing, she told herself. We'll talk and straighten everything out and put that kiss behind us. We're intelligent, rational adults.
We both know what the right thing to do is.
Even though Dana's doorbell chimed precisely at six, she still jumped at the sound.
She took a deep breath and crossed the living room in four long strides. The apartment seemed empty to her and she wished she had the protection of Julia's presence. It would be the two of them, alone. The only other time she and Mulder had truly been alone... She didn't even want to consider what had happened that time, not as she wrapped her fingers around the doorknob to open it.
Mulder was still dressed in work clothes, a navy blue suit and red tie, but the tie had been loosened and his hair was standing on end in the back as if he'd been running his fingers through it. He had his briefcase in one hand and a white shopping bag with handles in the other.
"Hi," he said, a half-smile forming on his lips.
She let him in. "What do you have in the bag?"
The smile widened, but it was somehow bashful. "How's your head?"
"I feel fine, but you didn't answer my question."
He set the bag and briefcase down on the carpet. "I needed to know how you were feeling before I answered the question. Are you up to getting out of the house? The Europa Symphony Orchestra is playing a free concert tonight at City Center Park. Jeanette Iyer, the cellist, is the featured soloist. In case you wanted to go, I stopped and bought some food for a picnic."
A picnic, music, the park—wonderful. And they wouldn't be alone in her apartment, either.
"It sounds perfect," Dana said.
They took the Tube to the park, emerging from the Center Zone station into the glittering shopping district. It was still crowded with people on their way home from their jobs, and others who were wandering up and down the wide boulevard, eating ice cream and window-shopping. They passed large plate-glass window displays of outrageously sexy holo-models cavorting in lingerie and overhead, neon-enhanced advertising begged them to wear Ryoko Dai's shoes and to drink Lion Lager.
As they walked by the Wedding Shoppe, Dana averted her eyes to avoid the display of brides tossing bouquets and adjusting their frothy veils.
At the end of the boulevard was the north entrance to the park. "The concert is on the Green," Mulder said as they traveled on the stone walkway.
The Green was a large, gently sloping hillside, with the Amphitheater at the very bottom. All of the benches had been taken and the hill was crowded with concert-goers sitting on blankets and munching on food either brought into the park or bought from the refreshment stands inside the grounds.
They stood at the top of the hill, admiring the spectacle in the rapidly dimming light of dusk.
"So many people," Dana said. "Sometimes I forget the city is so big."
Mulder nodded. "But think about how much bigger the world was Before. Six billion people lived on Earth, and now the population is just under five hundred million."
There was a word for such destruction, such loss. Decimation--to reduce drastically in population. Such a dry, neutral word. Every one of those five billion and five hundred thousand people had lived, worked, loved. They'd had families and friends. They'd had history. Yet no one seemed to mourn them, except in meaningless displays like the monument at the river.
All around them people were laughing and opening bottles of juice, wiping the runny noses of their children as if their world hadn't ended and begun again five years before.
Dana shook her head in wonder. "It's too much to even comprehend."
"Of course, now there is very little poverty or crime, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Resources are no longer stretched and perhaps the world can fall into balance," he said, thoughtfully touching the loosened knot on his tie. "Still, was it worth it, to lose so many?"
Her voice came out a raspy whisper. "No."
She started at the touch of Mulder's hand on her sweater-clad arm. "I'm sorry," he said. "We're supposed to be having fun here."
Dana turned to him and blinked. "I thought we were going to talk."
His expression turned serious, as if he were remembering why they were there. "That, too," he softly said.
She scanned the crowd. "We're never going to squeeze in there."
Mulder pointed to the right. "How about over there?"
They walked off to a row of large oak trees that looked as if they'd been growing for centuries, even though Dana knew they were the product of genetic manipulation and had only been planted three years ago. There were few people on this end of the park, even though there was a good, if distant, view of the amphitheater.
They spread the blanket Dana had brought from home under the leaves of the biggest tree. Mulder pulled bread, cheese, apples, roast chicken and bottles of water from the bag. "I would have brought some wine," he said, "but I thought that with your migraine it probably wasn't a good idea."
Dana tore off a hunk of bread. "Where are Sarah and Adam tonight?"
"They flew to Boston this morning for a few days. Angela, Sarah's best friend, had her first baby."
"Oh," she said, gulping.
Not a good turn of events, not good at all.
"That's not why I called you," Mulder said. "I'm not that calculating."
"I didn't say you were."
"I'm not some guy who's bored with his wife, looking for something hot and forbidden. I never wanted this to happen."
"What is happening?" she asked.
He let out a sigh. "You asked me that on Saturday and I didn't have a good answer then. I've thought of nothing since and I haven't come up with anything. Have you?"
"No, I haven't."
A self-conscious smile crossed his face. "Then you'd better eat some of this food. Maybe we'll think of something on full stomachs."
The orchestra began to tune up and Dana's skin tingled at the sound. She didn't know much about music, at least she didn't remember that she knew much, but there was something thrilling about the sound of the musicians readying themselves to play.
"Have you heard them before?" Mulder asked, passing her his knife to cut her apple.
"No, I haven't."
"This is quite remarkable. There are so few orchestras now, and the ESO is playing a free concert. Sarah was disappointed she had to miss this."
"This is the first time I've heard a live orchestra," Dana said.
"The first time that you remember..." Mulder said. "I always wonder what I liked to listen to Before. So few recordings survived. I've tried to buy a little of everything, to see what I like."
He smiled. "Do you remember Elvis?"
She snorted in laughter. "Unfortunately, I do. Fat guy, sequins, Las Vegas."
"That's the one." Mulder ducked his head in embarrassment. "I think I even went to his home, Graceland."
"You've got to be kidding."
"I wish I were."
"You're an odd man," Dana laughed.
Mulder's face was turning red, she was gratified to notice.
He cleared his throat. "I'm going to change the subject now," he said, "before I get into more trouble." Mulder reached into the shopping bag and drew out a white box, tied with a red ribbon. "I brought you a birthday present, Dana."
"You didn't have to do that," she protested, the heat rising in her own face.
"It's nothing, really." He handed her the box.
With fumbling fingers, she undid the ribbon and opened the box. Inside lay a thick book, bound in black leather, the pages tipped in gold. When she opened the leaves of the book, she saw that the thick, creamy pages were blank.
"It's gorgeous," she gasped.
Not only gorgeous, but also expensive. This was something old. While paper magazines and newspapers were still published, most books, save those for children, were published electronically.
"There's a story on the West Side of the city that sells things salvaged from Before," Mulder said. "I go there sometimes, just to see what's there, see if anything stirs any memories. When I saw the book yesterday, I knew I had to give it to you. You can use it as a journal, or to write down any memories you might have."
Hot tears began to slide down her face and she tried to wipe them away before Mulder saw them. It was too late, though.
"I didn't mean to make you cry," he said.
"It's okay," she said, blinking rapidly. "I'm just overwhelmed by how wonderful this is. I don't know how to thank you."
Mulder reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, which was lying on the blanket, and pulled out a handkerchief. He gave it to her and she dabbed at her eyes. "You don't need to thank me, Dana," he said.
The conductor walked onto the stage to deafening applause from the audience, which was amplified by the park sound system.
And then the music began, haunting and lovely, floating up to them under the trees. Dana and Mulder fell silent, letting the music wash over them.
Dana closed her eyes, listening to the notes weaving together perfectly. How remarkable this is, she thought. Five years ago the world was in ruins and now I'm sitting under a dome, listening to an orchestra. How extraordinary music is, that a musician can rub strings with a bow or blow on a reed and create beauty. Science is wonderful, but this is alchemy. Music cannot be defined. It is pure beauty, pure pleasure.
After she finished eating, she lay back on the blanket and concentrated on each thrilling note Jyoti Iyer pulled from her cello. Somewhere in her haze she heard Mulder lie down, too, and realized he was mere inches from her.
Can anyone see us, she wondered, but realized they were largely hidden in the dark, under the tree.
Besides, we're not doing anything wrong.
For a moment, she allowed herself the indulgence of pretending that she and Mulder were just a regular couple out to enjoy the music and the park. John and Sarah didn't exist, never had. It was only the two of them.
Mulder turned to her and opening her eyes, she could just barely make out his features. His eyes were glittering with tears.
"Is something wrong?" she whispered.
"This music. It reminds me of the Clinic. I'm sure it was the same for you, but classical music was always playing on the Ward, to keep us calm."
Dana nodded. "I remember lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling and crying. I cried for three days straight. The worst part was that I couldn't figure out why I was so sad."
"I was aggressive, almost violent," Mulder said.
She touched his shoulder. "You were? You don't seem like you could be violent."
"Well, I was for a few days in the Clinic. I don't remember much of those first days but when I was leaving, one of the nurses told me I screamed for almost the whole first day after I came awake. I was shouting, 'Where is she? What have you done with her, you bastards? I'll fucking kill each and every one of you if you hurt her.'" Mulder's voice was sandpaper rough with remembered pain.
"Do you ever wonder who she was?" Dana asked, deliberately keeping her voice gentle.
Mulder closed his eyes and said nothing for a long time and Dana feared she'd said the wrong thing, finally pushed him too far. The silence between them was filled with the sound of the plaintive cello.
His eyes opened again. "I don't know," he said, "but she was everything to me."
She thought of her own lost one, the man who lived only in her dreams. "Do you ever dream of her?"
He shook his head. "No, I wish I did. I don't have dreams about her, I don't remember her, nothing. Nothing at all. But I know she existed."
Dana touched his soft hair and nodded.
"Can I tell you a secret?" he said in a voice that was barely audible over the rising tide of the music.
"Of course," she said Her heart began to pick up speed.
"I've been having this fantasy lately..." Mulder's voice trailed off and he got an embarrassed look on his face. "Not that kind of fantasy," he hastened to add.
"Tell me," she said.
"I was standing on my Netspace beach the other day and I began to fantasize that you were the woman from Before, the woman I loved."
She turned her head away from him, unwilling to let him see the tears in her eyes. How pathetic they were, cast adrift and conjuring up fantasies about each other to try to explain it all.
"That's not possible," she said. "It's statistically improbable, as lovely as it sounds."
A close-lipped smile crossed his face. "I know, it was just this fantasy running through my brain. I think it helps me feel less guilty."
Ah, so he was feeling it, too.
"Are you unhappy with Sarah?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I wish it were true, this would be so much easier. Are you unhappy with John?"
"No," she said.
When she was with Mulder, she couldn't lie or practice her religion of denial.
His fingers glided down her cheek and she shivered. "Dana, if I wanted an affair, I'd find some random woman and fuck her. I don't want this, I don't want to betray Sarah, but..."
She inhaled sharply. "But what?"
"I'm in love with you." Mulder's voice was flat and clipped but it rang with the truth.
She sat up and hugged her knees, shivering despite the mild dome night air. There was a rustling behind her and she heard him rise to his knees, wrapping his arms around her waist.
"I'm sorry, Dana," he whispered in her ear. "If I could stop the way I feel, I would."
Wouldn't it be wonderful, she mused while staring at the bright lights of the amphitheater down the hill, if we could just turn our emotions on and off like switching off the telescreen remote? Wouldn't it be nice to just stop this thing, go home and live my life like it was before?
She leaned back into the warmth of his chest and wished they could simply stay this way forever, not having to choose, just reveling in the comfort of each other's presence.
He loved her. It was too large even to grasp.
Dana wriggled out of his embrace and turned to face him.
"I don't think I want to stop," she said, the words leaving her mouth before she had a chance to consider their import.
His eyes widened. "First we have to start," he whispered.
You can leave, she thought, you can just get to your feet and it's only a few short steps to the park exit and then two blocks to the Tube station. In twenty minutes you'll be home with your marriage intact.
Dana touched Mulder's face, the light stubble growing in on his upper lip and jawline. With the tips of her fingers she traced the strong, irregular outline of his nose and the exaggerated bow of his lower lip. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back a little.
"Don't do this to me, Dana," he said. "Not if you don't mean it."
"This is the most serious thing I've ever done in my life," she whispered.
When she'd met John, it had been so natural, one event flowing into the other. They met, they dated, eventually they slept together. After a short time, they loved each other and decided to marry. There had been no agony in her choice to love John. It didn't burn like this. It had been warm and comforting, like a hot bath after waking up sore from a long run.
Mulder made her burn.
She moved into his arms, wanting only to touch the fire again. Her lips brushed against his and his mouth opened under hers. A groan came from deep inside her chest as she again felt the sheer electricity of kissing Mulder.
Perhaps she'd never truly considered the intimacy of kissing. To her, it had always been a nice preamble to sex. Now she realized how close she was to him, how she could feel the stubble scraping her cheek, feel the rough and wet texture of his tongue as it slid against hers. Under her hands she felt the firm muscles of his arms and as she pressed into him with the growing intensity of their kiss, she felt him hardening against her belly.
Dana nearly gasped at the feeling of arousal coursing through her, the dizzying need and the realization that Mulder wanted her. She'd never known desire could be so potent, so fierce that it could erase her volition, the good sense for which she was known.
A wave of applause rose from the crowd and she realized with stunned embarrassment, that she was kissing a man who was clearly not her husband, in a public park. They weren't exactly out in the open, but this couldn't go on any longer, as tempting as it was with Mulder leaving her lips to suckle at the flesh of her neck.
"We can't..." she said, as she rocked her belly against his erection.
"Can't stop," Mulder muttered, his hands rising to gently touch her breasts through the thin material of her sweater.
"Not here," she said. "We can't do this here."
She realized she'd placed too much stress on the word here, when he looked up at her, his eyes alive with crazy desire.
"Where should we go then?"
Dana tilted her head. "I don't know."
"I want to be alone with you," he said in a voice that made her stifle a rising moan.
With shaking legs, she stood and began to gather their picnic things. She looked down at him. Mulder was still kneeling and staring at her with a stunned expression.
"I don't know where we should go," she said in a brazen voice she didn't recognize, "but we need to go there. Now."
With speed born of desperation they walked out onto the boulevard.
"Not the Tube," Mulder said, raising his hand. "We'll get a cab."
Within seconds, a shiny yellow vehicle screeched to a halt in front of them.
"Welcome to Metro Taxi!" the car cheerfully said as they got in the back. "Please tell me your destination."
Mulder turned to her, his eyes shaded in the gloom of the cab's tinted windows. "Where?" he whispered.
Options ran though her mind but none of them seemed right. Where is the perfect place to commit adultery? Not my apartment, she thought, and not his.
She said to the car, "Cascade Falls Hotel." She'd passed the hotel many times while on a run and it was the first one to pop into her head.
"Excellent. The fare is twenty-eight NED."
Mulder pressed his palm to the metal plate on the dashboard and it hummed as it scanned for payment.
"Thank you," the car intoned. "Sit back and enjoy your ride with Metro Taxi."
The car pulled out into the street and accelerated through the light evening traffic.
Dana sat stiffly, her spine not quite touching the car seat. Now that they were in motion and heading towards the hotel, it all seemed too real. The future was here and she'd made her decision back in the park. She and Mulder weren't out to talk or to have a play date with the kids. They were sitting in the back of a cab as it zoomed up Southeast Parkway, past the endless blocks of towering apartment buildings, on their way to a hotel to make love.
Mulder squeezed her hand, and she noticed the tremor in his fingers. "We don't have to do this, Dana," he whispered, as if the car could hear and understand them.
She shook her head, the ends of her hair brushing her cheeks. It was too late now. Somehow they'd passed the crucial point of no return when he'd told her he was in love with her.
"I want to," she whispered back.
He leaned closer, so that his breath was warm on her ear. "I'm scared."
This made her smile, just a little. What a strange and wonderful creature Mulder was, so unlike the other men she knew. He was willing to be open with his feelings, to bare his true self to her even if he ended up looking a bit foolish.
"I'm scared, too," she admitted, stroking the top of his hand with the tips of her fingers.
Dana leaned into his body to kiss him again. Whenever she kissed him, her doubts and guilt were able to slide gracefully away, replaced only by the immense rush of love she felt for him.
Yes, she thought, as her hands rose to tangle in his thick hair, I love him. It's an entirely different species of love than I feel for John, but it's love. I know it.
She wasn't sure if she should feel lucky or not.
Mulder groaned as she rained small kisses on his closed eyelids, his chin, the dark mole to the right of his lips. "God, what you do to me, Dana, there just aren't words..."
"I know," she breathed.
She felt wild with need for him, the primal urge to connect astounding her. Instead of closing her eyes and placidly accepting his touch, she felt aggressive, wanting to discover every inch of his body, to touch it and lick it and claim it for her own.
God, what you do to me...
Out of the corner of her eye Dana vaguely saw the night lights of the city strobing past the cab, but she was only aware of Mulder, his warm scent of park grass and male skin, the apple taste of his tongue when she touched it with her own, the astonished sound of his breathing as their kissing intensified.
I wish this was cheap, she hazily thought, cheap and wrong and I could push Mulder away and resume my rightful place as a loyal wife to John. But this is beyond attraction, beyond forbidden sex and infidelity. What Mulder and I have is something rare.
Mulder pushed her hair away from her forehead and looked at her.
"What is it?" she asked, unable to read the expression on his face in the dark.
"I just can't believe this is real. I almost don't want it to be, but it is." He took her hand, placing it on his heart, and she felt its steady rhythm under the fabric of his button-down shirt. "Being with you is like finding the answer to a question I never knew I'd asked."
"You say things so much better than I can," she whispered and kissed him again. If she couldn't tell him, she'd have to show him.
They both pulled apart and looked up as the car drew to a stop. Dana saw they had arrived at the small white hotel, just a block from the spot at the river where she and Mulder had run together.
"Dear passengers, this is your destination," said the car in a tone of delight as the doors automatically opened.
She climbed out onto the curb, Mulder following her.
"Have a lovely evening and thank you for riding with Metro Taxi," the car sang before the doors closed again and it drove away.
Side by side, Dana and Mulder walked into the lobby, which held only a small plum-colored sofa and a wide, illuminated view panel that showed the various types of rooms available. She gave Mulder a sidelong look. "You choose," she said. "I've never done this before."
"And I have?" He touched the panel for a double room with river view.
"The Cascade Falls thanks you for your choice," said the view panel. "The price for the room is 325 NED."
Mulder pressed his hand to the panel.
"Do you need luggage service?" asked the panel.
"No," Dana said, wondering how she'd ended up checking into a hotel with no luggage with a man she hadn't even known three weeks before.
The panel hummed and a moment later the key card dropped out of a slot. "Your room is 724. Have a peaceful stay at our hotel. For customer service, dial extension 333."
They were silent in the elevator on the way up, standing at opposite ends and both staring at the floor numbers flashing by above the doors. It seemed to take an eternity to walk down the long, silent hallway.
When they reached their door, her hand was shaking so much she could hardly swipe the access card against the lock. The bolts clicked and the door swung open. For half a second Dana wished that when they stepped inside she'd be at her apartment. Just another night at home, John sitting on the couch and avidly watching Japanese League baseball and Julia building a tower on the floor with her blocks.
Instead they walked into a smallish hotel room—cream-colored walls, dark green carpeting and a large bed with a comforter that matched the walls. The green draperies were pulled open to reveal a view of the city lights along the river. The window was actually a glass sliding door that led to a small balcony that held two chairs and a round table between them.
Dana walked inside and slipped off her shoes. She found the telescreen remote and flicked it on to the Messenger service. "I have to check on my messages, make sure everything is okay with Julia," she said. She punched in her access code.
"There are no incoming messages for Dana Scully," the Messenger said.
She walked to the mini bar and took out a bottle of water, uncapping it and taking a long swallow.
"Can I get you something to drink?" she asked Mulder. "A glass of water, some wine?"
Mulder shook his head, still standing by the door.
He's terrified, she thought, and somehow that reassured her.
She bit her lip and lowered her head, her hair falling around her face. "You can leave," she said.
"No," Mulder replied in a raspy voice.
"Come here," she said and in an instant he was in her arms.
They stood in the middle of the room for a long time, doing nothing but holding each other. Mulder had his arms tightly wrapped around her back, and Dana pressed her face to his shirt, feeling utterly secure in the warmth of his embrace.
Something tingled up her spine and she thought, this is where I belong.
His hand stroked her hair and he murmured something she couldn't quite catch.
This is just like my dream, she hazily thought. How odd.
She pulled away from him, just a little, and looked up at his face. Mulder wore a slightly bewildered expression, but she could see the love in his sleepy gray-green eyes.
"I want to know you," she whispered.
Mulder touched her face, running his finger down the arch of her nose, from bridge to tip. "You do, Dana," he said. "Despite the short time we've known each other, you already know me better than anyone in this world."
Dana nodded. "That's the tragedy, Mulder, that we're not getting what we need most from the people we love."
"Before," he whispered. "You give me Before."
"Yes, but that begs the question—are we fortunate to have found each other, so we don't have to deal with the need for the past alone, or are we damned for wanting a past we can never have again?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. A little of both, I suppose."
She smiled. "All I know is that as wrong as what you and I are doing is, I feel lucky to be with you."
Mulder bent down and kissed the top of her head, then her forehead, and last, her lips, with slow reverence. "I want to be with you," he whispered so softly she almost didn't hear his words.
"You are," Dana said and pulled him to her so they could kiss again.
As their mouths came together, Dana fumbled for his tie, somehow managing to undo the knot and slide the tie out of his shirt. Next, she went for the buttons on the shirt, desperately needing to see all of him now, to know everything about Mulder. The crisp cotton of the shirt came apart in her hands with the final button and she drew it off his body, stepping back to look at him.
His upper body was nearly as it had appeared to her in her fantasy the other night. In the lamplight, his skin shone golden and his ribs were moderately prominent in his chest and just as she'd done the other night in her mind, she counted them with her fingertips. Her eyes rose to his shoulder and she saw a small, puckered scar just under the clavicle.
"This is a bullet scar," she said, touching it.
Mulder nodded. "Excellent work, Doctor. I have another scar on my thigh."
"Shot in the line of duty?"
"I guess so. I must have lived a dangerous life. It's hard to imagine now, given how prosaic my life is."
Life must have been horribly dangerous Before, as she had her own bullet scar to match. She didn't mention it, though; Mulder would see it soon enough.
Like a blind woman exploring an unknown face, she slowly touched every inch of his chest, from the sparse brown down on his upper chest, to the indrawn dimple of his navel. Mulder was passive during this, simply standing and allowing her to complete her slow exploration.
Finally, she came to the button of his navy blue pants. "May I?" she whispered, suddenly shy with the awareness that she was about to have him nearly nude before her.
She unzipped the pants and pushed them down with leisurely hands and he stepped out of them. Mulder was now wearing only a pair of light blue boxer shorts. Dana was mindful of the fact that she was still dressed in a sweater and a pair of jeans, and he was almost naked. It felt powerful, but it also felt more unequal than she wanted it to be. They were in this together, after all.
Dana made to pull her sweater over her head before he stopped her with his hand. "No," he whispered in her ear. "I want to do this. I've been picturing it since I met you."
So, I wasn't the only one having fantasies, she thought. "What else did we do when you thought about us?" she said.
To Mulder's credit, his face began to color. "How about if I show you?" he asked.
He gave her dark brown sweater a tug and she slithered out of it, the cool air of the hotel room making her momentarily shiver. Dana looked down at her goose-pimpled flesh and wished she'd chosen something better than the utilitarian white cotton bra and panties she was wearing. She'd never expected that Mulder would see them tonight.
Dana slipped out of her jeans and now they were almost equal, she in bra and panties, he in his boxers. Nearly naked, nearly bare. No going back now, she thought.
Mulder ran his eyes over her body and she was reminded of the sweeping gaze he'd given her in the kitchen at his party. She'd known then, Dana realized, she'd known the path they would eventually follow.
"You're beautiful," he declared with a smile. "Beautiful, but small. I'm afraid I'll hurt you."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm stronger than I look, Mulder."
As if to prove it, she stood on tiptoe to kiss him, to pull him to her again and feel the warmth of his bare flesh against hers. His skin was so silken, almost as soft as that of a woman or a child and she luxuriated in its feel under her palms as she stroked his back.
They staggered towards the bed and fell on it in a messy heap of limbs and skin, never breaking their kiss. He was looming above her now, frighteningly large and gorgeous and the breath caught in her throat as she realized the inevitability of what they were about to do.
Mulder rolled them onto their sides, sighing a little as he did so.
Don't think, she silently told him, because if you start thinking then I'll start thinking...
But he didn't stop, only shifted to unhook her bra and remove it with unhurried hands, letting it flutter to the floor. He began to touch her breasts as gently as he had back in the park and she arched into his hands, feeling the telltale wetness beginning as he stroked her nipples.
His hand trailed down her belly and found the raised abdominal scar there. "Speaking of scars, how did you get this one?"
Dana shook her head. "It's a surgical scar, but it appears to be from a gunshot."
"It must've been a veritable shooting gallery Before..."
She couldn't even imagine such a dangerous time. There were no guns now, except for the stun pistols the Guardians wore. But someone, somewhere, had shot her square in the abdomen. She'd bled and healed and survived, and now she bore a small scar to remind her of an event she could not recall.
Mulder moved down the bed to kiss her scar and lap at it with a wet tongue, and Dana found it surprisingly arousing even though the scar was hardly an erogenous zone.
"Turn around," he whispered.
"Why?" For some reason, her muscles tensed.
His mouth continued to wetly explore her belly and she wanted only for him to go lower, to lick her where she was beginning to throb with excitement.
Mulder raised his head. "I want to see all of you."
Dana obediently rolled over onto her other side. When she heard his low gasp, she knew he'd spotted the snake tattoo on her lower back.
He traced it with light fingertips in endless patterns. "You don't seem like the type to have a tattoo, Dana."
She smiled. "I was surprised to see it for the first time, myself. I suppose it was a youthful indiscretion on my part."
"It's gorgeous—all those reds and greens and blues. And sexy as hell. That's a good spot for a tattoo; no one can see it unless you're naked. It's like a secret surprise for a man lucky enough to get this close to you."
Against her will, she began to remember the first time she and John had made love, that night so many years before in his old apartment. John had seen it and teasingly called her, "Dana, my little sailor." She'd stared at him blankly until he explained that sailors had been known for being covered with tattoos. There was no accounting for what facts people remembered.
I'm not going to bring John into this, she told herself and rolled over to face Mulder again.
"Now you know my dirty little secret," she whispered.
"I want to know all of them."
As if answering him, Dana pulled off her panties and let them join her bra on the carpet. "You, too," she said, reaching to tug off his boxers.
And then they were finally naked together, completely bared before the other's eyes. Dana let herself run her eyes over his entire body—the flat muscles of his belly, his strong thighs covered in light brown hair and oh, his penis, standing proudly erect as if awaiting her touch. It was long and thick and she couldn't help reaching out to touch it tentatively, sliding her fingers from root to tip and back again, which elicited a small groan from Mulder.
Mulder kissed her, his tongue moving in and out of her mouth in the way she longed for his cock to do. She was getting so wet, so ready for him to be inside her.
As she stroked his cock, he began to touch her in return, his long fingers brushing through her thick curls and spreading her lips apart. Dana pulled away from his mouth to moan as he touched her.
Mulder stroked her just like she touched herself, just as she'd taught John to touch her over the years, two fingers lightly circling her swollen clit but not directly making contact with it. How does he know to do that, she thought in a daze as the pleasure began to intensify. How can he read my body so well?
As she began to cup and stroke his balls, Mulder threw back his head and made a surprised noise. "Oh, Scully, that feels so good..."
She froze, one hand wrapped around his cock, her eyes wide open.
He'd called her Scully.
"What did you just call me?" she said in a quiet voice, her heart starting to pound.
Mulder gave her a confused glance. "I called you Dana," he said with such conviction that she knew her mind had been playing tricks on her.
A little wishful thinking, she thought.
She pulled away from him and almost laughed at the alarmed look on his face. "I'm not going anywhere," she said. "I only want to be closer to you right now."
"Do you mean?" A smile of delight spread on his face.
"Yes. Please, Mulder, I want you inside me."
Mulder's smile became positively beatific as he gently moved her onto her back. "Is it okay if we do it this way?" he whispered.
She paused to kiss him on the shoulder, just above his scar. "You may be almost a foot taller, but you won't hurt me."
After all, John was Mulder's height and probably ten pounds heavier and she was still among the living.
No, not John, not right now.
"And forsaking all others..." she'd said that January afternoon before the magistrate.
No, this is different, it cannot be explained, I love him so, I love Mulder.
Mulder moved between her legs and she felt him, hard and ready against her stomach. He looked down at her with heavy-lidded eyes and appeared to be waiting for something.
He needs reassurance, she thought. I haven't yet told him how I feel, not in so many words. What an honorable man Mulder was, even if he was currently cheating on his wife. He would only do it for love.
Dana touched the rough grain of his face, feeling unwanted tears welling in her eyes. "Mulder," she said, raising her legs to lock them around his lower back, "I love you."
It was easy to say, after all.
He lowered his head to kiss her with a slow intimacy that made her even more want to be joined with him. "Dana, I love you, too," he rasped in her ear and she felt the head of his cock begin to nudge her opening.
Mulder stilled, not quite inside her. "Um, Dana," he said haltingly, "we haven't talked about birth control. Do you have an implant?"
"It's okay," she said. "I can't get pregnant without medical intervention. We don't need anything."
He sighed in relief and she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Please now," she said. They were so close.
With a small movement of his hips he pushed inside her and she heard herself making a low, humming noise at the sensation. She forced herself to keep her eyes open to watch his beautiful face transformed with pleasure as they moved together.
Dana was hyper-aware of every sensation as they made love—the sweat slicking his back, the way his hair fell across his forehead as he drove into her, the utter feeling of completion as he filled her again and again. This defies everything I know and believe in, she thought as she arched her back to meet his slow, deep thrusts, but this is utterly right.
She surprised herself by making noise, by moaning against his hungry mouth. She was usually not one to show her pleasure on the outside, to make histrionic vocalizations during sex, but here she was, crying out with surprised gasps and groans as the pressure built within. And Mulder joined her in concert, growling with animal release, picking up the pace and sliding his cock in and out of her depths with growing need.
"This is...this is incredible," he gasped and Dana nodded in amazed agreement, tilting her pelvis higher to bring him in deeper.
Without warning the bottom dropped out of her; the sensation of her insides expanding and pulsing making her moan even louder, but she didn't notice, didn't care who heard her. A burst of white heat, white light shot through and blinded her as her orgasm flared and she nearly levitated off the bed with the endless spasms.
Dana hadn't realized she'd shut her eyes until the fierce contractions slowed to soft aftershocks. She fluttered her eyelids open and saw the look of wonder on Mulder's face.
"That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he said in a strained voice.
"I want to see you, too," she whispered.
He seemed to lose his last pretense of control, thrusting into her so deeply it nearly hurt. But a little discomfort was worth it to see his eyes come out of focus and to feel his back muscles bunch under her hands and to finally hear the cry rip from his throat as he came into her, his face contorted with release.
And then the only sound in the room was their panting as they lay tangled together, still joined.
After a long while their breathing slowed and they slid onto their sides, Mulder withdrawing from her. Dana wanted to feel guiltier, to burst into tears at the betrayal she'd dealt her husband. But the only emotion she could feel was her vast love for the man still stuck to her with sweat and body secretions, the man who now began to kiss her with the languor of the replete.
She smiled and began to kiss his chest, inhaling the rich scent of their lovemaking.
"No matter what, Dana," Mulder said, pulling her up so he could wrap his arms around her, "I'll always remember this."
"So will I."
For a moment they simply lay wrapped in each other, basking in the new intimacy they shared. There would be time enough, later, to feel the burn of guilt.
Somehow they managed to separate and wiggle between the sheets.
"We've defiled the bedspread," Dana said as she felt the heat of Mulder's body curve around her back.
"That's why they have a laundry. Besides, it serves them right for choosing cream for the comforters."
She made a low, surprised sound as he began to push aside her hair and kiss the nape of her neck. Oh yes, she thought, that's just the spot that does it for me. And the feeling intensified as his kisses traveled at a deliberate pace down her spine, vertebra by vertebra.
Already, she was dying for it again. She was still sweaty and sticky from their lovemaking just minutes before, but she craved that impossible wholeness she'd felt when Mulder had been inside her. Her fingers curled into fists as her breathing quickened with the touch of his tongue on her tattoo.
Mulder moved back up the bed and she made a disappointed sound as he returned to spoon against her.
"Shh..." he said. "We've got all night. There's no need to rush."
Dana allowed herself to relax into his body, to let each muscle slacken. Floating, she felt like she was floating in the water of a calm pond.
"Dana," Mulder whispered, "you've never told me."
Her head rose from the pillow. "Told you what?"
Mulder's fingers brushed through her hair, which reminded her of soothing a fretful Julia after a nightmare. "You've never told me what you remember of Before."
Her mouth opened. "Oh."
"Will you tell me?"
John won't talk about it, she thought. I've tried and he shuts me out and sometimes it makes me wonder if he truly wants to know me, or wants me to know him. Mulder wants to hear this.
And perhaps that was the crucial difference.
Her head fell back onto the soft pillow. "All right," she whispered. "I'll tell you."
She began with the easiest things, fragments of childhood—blowing out birthday candles on a clown cake, fierce game of tag on a quiet street where all the houses were identical, lying in bed and shivering as thunder boomed outside the windows.
Mulder was silent as she recounted her memories, still stroking her hair and simply letting her talk.
Her voice became halting when she came to her few adult memories, and, finally, the dreams she'd been having.
"I dream of him," she said. "Always the same man, but when I wake I can't remember what he looks like or the sound of his voice. I can only recall how it feels to be held and loved by him. When I'm with him in my dreams, I feel so...I feel like I have everything I need in the world."
Dana paused for a moment, biting her lip, unsure of sharing with him the rest of her thoughts.
"What is it?" he asked, draping his heavy arm over her waist.
She took a deep breath. "When I dream about that man, I feel like I do when I'm with you, Mulder."
He nuzzled her neck with his nose. "Dana, what if? What if?"
She smiled, even though she knew he couldn't see her face in the dark. "I wish," she said, "even though there's no way it could be true."
Dana felt his chest rise in a sigh.
"I know. But what if we played pretend for a minute?"
Her eyebrow rose. "You want to play pretend? Because there's no way I'm putting on a French Maid costume for you."
"Don't tease," he said. "No, picture this—I'm the dashing young FBI agent and you're the pretty little doctor at the crime scene. Our eyes lock over a headless corpse and I'm a goner."
Her entire body began to shake with helpless chuckles and he joined her.
"You're...you're such a romantic, Mulder," she gasped through her subsiding peals of laughter.
His fingers crept up her chest and began to circle her nipple. "I am," he whispered in her ear and then took the flesh of her earlobe into his hot mouth to suck on it.
"Again?" she said as she felt his cock hardening against her spine. "You're hardly a teenager, Mulder."
He chuckled, a low rumbling from his chest. "Don't ever underestimate the power of exercise, vitamins, and the presence of a beautiful, naked woman in bed with me."
The heat rose both in her face and between her legs. "Any naked woman?"
The cotton of his pillow rustled as he shook his head. "No. Only you, Dana."
What about Sarah, she treacherously thought. Do you make love to her with such overwhelming passion and reverence? Does she feel like me? Do you make her come like I do? Does she make you come like I do?
She willed her mind to shut up. They were out of time in this hotel room. Sarah and John could not exist right now.
Mulder's hand delved between her thighs and found her swelling clitoris. She crooned in joy as she ground her buttocks into him.
"Can we?" he asked in a hesitant voice.
She almost laughed. "Need you ask?"
As she drew her knees up to her chest, he began to slide into her with aching slowness.
The only word to describe this is complete, she thought. But as wonderful as it felt to have Mulder inside her, she needed more. Dana pushed her hips forward and his cock slipped out.
"What are you doing?" he mumbled thickly.
She rolled over to face him and brushed her lips against his. "I need to see your face, Mulder," she whispered.
"Oh yeah," he breathed and moved onto his back.
I need to make sure it's really you, she thought as she switched on the bedside lamp and straddled his lean body. I want to be able to remember every detail of this night as fully as I can.
Her fingers wrapped around the circumference of his erection and she squeezed, watching the resulting tremor go through his entire body, down to his twitching toes.
"Please," he said, his long fingers curling restlessly.
While it was amusing to delay their pleasure, Dana craved it too much to wait any longer. Every cell of her body needed to be filled with him again. She lifted up and then down again, letting out all her breath as she slid down on him, inch by inch.
She stilled and bent to his face, her hands gripping the pillow on either side of his head. Her tongue mimicked the slow thrusts of her hips. Such rhythm, she thought, we fit together so well despite our difference in size and the newness of it. Even though there was the electricity of being new lovers, she also felt as comfortable as if they'd been doing this for years. There just wasn't the usual fumbling and sweet awkwardness of a first night together, no—"Does this feel all right?" Somehow it felt like they'd had their movements choreographed, so smooth was the flow of liquid pleasure.
Mulder's hands rose to her shoulders to steady her as she took him inside with deeper strokes. His mouth opened and closed as if he wanted to say something, but couldn't quite find the strength or words.
I know, she thought, I don't have the words to describe this, either.
Again, she moved closer to him and he took a nipple in his mouth, lightly flicking his tongue around the stiffened flesh. She gasped at the sensation it produced and ground her hips down on his body all the harder.
He was impossibly deep inside her and she wanted to take more, until there was no way to tell where Mulder ended and she began. If only they could stay like this forever.
Dana's thighs began to shake from the exertion and the rising tide of her orgasm. I've never come twice in one night, she thought with astonishment, but oh, Mulder, what are you doing to me? And this time the pleasure was slow and sweet, one long wash that rose up her back and down her thighs as she made small, breathless sounds.
Mulder groaned as he lifted his hips to meet her halfway. "That's it, Dana, oh yeah, that's it..."
This is it, she thought, as her climax peaked and faded, this is the way I've wanted to feel all along, alive and complete.
She saw Mulder's orgasm building in the way his brow wrinkled and his mouth opened to suck in air. Her hands reached under his body to grasp his buttocks and pull him closer to her, and he let go with the howl of an animal as he came.
His eyes popped open, long lashes blinking at her in surprise. Dana collapsed on his slick chest, the two of them panting in near unison. He wrapped his arms around her back and said, "What will I do if you've crippled me for life?"
"You'll be fine, Mulder." She kissed his sweaty brow, tasting salt on her lips.
"I'm getting too old for this..." he muttered, but the tiny grin on his face belied his words.
"No, I think you've definitely proved that you're not too old." And she kissed him again, basking in the post-coital scent on his skin and hers.
They moved back onto their sides, facing each other, and she reached to switch off the light and pull the covers back over their bodies.
Mulder's eyes were already drooping with fatigue but he managed a lopsided smile. He took her hand in his. "I've never loved anyone like this before," he said.
She shut her eyes. "Not even Sarah?"
A long sigh issued from his body and he was silent for a few moments. "Not even Sarah. But I do love her, Dana. I've never stopped."
Nodding, she fought off her tears. "I know, Mulder," she whispered. "I love John, too."
"I don't want to hurt her. I can't hurt her, she's been so good to me."
This time, she wasn't able to stop the tears from running down her face as she thought of John and Sarah, blissfully unaware their spouses had fallen in love with someone else. Stop it, she told herself, don't let him see you like this, you're stronger than that. But it was useless, she couldn't maintain her flawless facade with Mulder. Not lying in bed with him, naked in his arms, still flushed from the pleasure he'd given her.
"Don't cry," he said, wiping her tears away with his thumbs as if she were a child. "It'll all be okay."
"No, it won't," she said, shaking her head.
She felt like a wounded animal in a trap, unable to move in either direction. Her overwhelming love for Mulder was on one side and her commitment and love for John was on the other. There was nowhere they could go, no solution that wouldn't involve deep pain for all parties involved.
"Don't regret this," he said, his voice cracking. "I'll never be able to live with myself if you do."
"I don't, Mulder. I love you in a way I never dreamed I could love another person, but..."
"But?" Mulder's voice was soft.
"But you and I both know we can't be together like this again. After tonight we have to go home and try to put our normal lives back the way they were."
He rolled onto his back and threw his arm over his face. She wondered if he was trying to hide his own tears.
"I know," he finally said in a resigned voice. "I know that's the right thing to do."
"This isn't easy for me, you know," she said, smoothing his hair. "But we have families. We have vows to honor."
Mulder turned to her and gave her a sorrowful smile. "We have vows to honor," he repeated.
They were silent after that, merely lying wrapped together and knowing this night was the only time they'd ever be able to be close like this.
Eventually Mulder's breathing slowed and she knew he'd fallen asleep.
I don't want to sleep, she thought. I want to stay awake all night and capture every moment.
But soon she, too, caved in to the exhaustion and her consciousness faded to black.
She had no dreams of note that night.
Dana woke before it was light. The clock read 5:00 a.m. and she experienced mild shock at the realization that she was in a hotel room, with Mulder sleeping next to her.
What have I done, she thought.
She climbed out of bed and walked, aching and sticky, to the bathroom. The bright overhead light made her eyes clamp shut and even after she adjusted to the glare she wouldn't look at herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth with one of the complimentary brushes.
Her skin smelled like Mulder, like the most extraordinary lovemaking she'd ever experienced. She wanted to carry that scent on her body forever, but she turned on the shower anyhow.
The needles of hot water felt refreshing on her stiff muscles, but not good enough to halt the sobs building in her chest. The shower had always been the place she allowed herself the luxury of crying. She remembered the mornings she'd wept in the shower after her two miscarriages, letting the rage and sorrow wash down the drain with the water and shampoo. She'd had to let the pain go in order to endure another day playing the part of the cool, rational research scientist and to be a good wife to John.
The only time John had seen her truly cry was when he'd tiptoed into her Maternity Clinic room carrying the tiny, pink-wrapped bundle that was Julia. They'd cried together then, as they held their dream come true.
Now she sobbed at the realization that she was irrevocably in love with the one man she could never have. Before Mulder, she hadn't known how deep it could go. Now, anything John could offer her would never be enough.
But she'd pledged John her loyalty, her fidelity, until death parted them and she never broke her promises. She would not break this one. It had been stretched to the limit with this night spent with Mulder, but she could not sever the bond of marriage.
For the first time Dana grasped the negative implications of the word "bond."
This is the right decision, she told herself, washing away the tears with vanilla-scented soap.
She felt stronger with her resolve and her spine and shoulders straightened.
Dana shut off the water and groped for a towel on the rack just outside the shower. She dried off and wrapped it around herself, drew the shower curtain aside. Mulder was standing at the sink, nude, brushing his teeth. He rinsed his mouth and turned to her. His eyes were still at morning half-mast and he smiled.
She stepped out of the shower and he touched her bare shoulder. "You're up early," he said.
"I couldn't sleep."
"Neither could I. Not without you there."
Dana nodded. "I have to go home, get changed for work." She averted her eyes. It would only be more difficult to leave if she looked at him; she would be lost to it again.
But Mulder stepped forward and caught her face in his large hands. "Stay just a little longer, Dana. We have time."
She lifted her eyes to his. "If I stay, I may never recover from this."
"It's too late," he said and kissed her.
He's right, we'll never recover from this, she thought, and they backed out of the bathroom and fell onto the tangled sheets of the bed.
Mulder took his time exploring her, touching her body with gentle fingers and small flicks and tastes of his tongue and lips—her neck, her nipples, even the insides of her elbows. Her skin hummed with live wire cracklings and she felt the juices begin to flow between her legs.
His hand traveled down to where she needed his touch most and Dana whimpered at the light ministrations of his fingers.
Rising on his elbows, he kissed her and said, "Finally, I'm going to find out what you taste like."
"Please, Mulder," she groaned.
Then his mouth was everywhere, his dark head between her spread legs. The hot length of his tongue delved into her and she cried out at the sensation. He momentarily lifted his head and licked his swollen lower lip. "You're so sweet," he said and fell to her again with hungry swipes of his tongue against her clit.
It was almost painful how hard her heart was beating with excitement. With her hands she controlled his pace, but Mulder didn't really need her help. It was perfect. Just as before, he seemed to know instinctively just what she needed and when. Even though she normally scoffed at the idea, she briefly considered the possibility of psychic powers.
Just as she felt the beginning of her climax, he plunged two long fingers into her and she almost sat up, the sensations he produced were so powerful. "Yesyesyesyesyes," she heard herself insensibly moaning as the orgasm burst deep inside her.
Her body was still trembling as he moved up to her and held her shaking body, kissing her all over her face. "You're so beautiful," he said.
"Yeah, right." It wasn't even six a.m., her hair was still wet and no doubt in a terrible tangle and she didn't have a drop of makeup on her face.
Mulder touched her just above her upper lip. "How come you cover this up?" he asked, referring to the small mole there.
She shrugged. "I don't like the way it looks."
"I do." He kissed her.
Dana nearly sobbed as he entered her again, knowing this was the final time they'd be together. It was a little painful; she was sore from the night before, but it also felt incredible to have him inside her.
"Never," he grunted. "I'll never forget this."
Where have I heard that before, she hazily wondered, but it wasn't a good time for trying to think.
Her thighs ached as she wrapped them high on his back, but it was a good ache. She was scared to shut her eyes, for fear she'd miss out on something. The rest of her life would have to be sustained on these memories of the sheer bliss of making love with Mulder.
Yes, the memories would probably haunt her with guilt later, but they would also remind her of the one night when she learned how love was supposed to be.
Why do I love you so much, she wondered, kissing every part of his face she could. Who are you?
Mulder made a strangled noise as he came, burying his face in her shoulder. She rubbed the satin of his back as he drove into her with impossible force and she smiled through the tears blurring her vision.
"Oh," he sighed. "I'm sorry it was so fast."
"You don't need to apologize."
"But you didn't...I wanted it to be perfect this time."
She understood what he couldn't say—that it was their last time together.
"Shh," she soothed, kissing his neck. "It was wonderful, beautiful."
He made a mollified sound and rolled off her. "I must be crushing you."
Actually, she'd loved the weight of his body, his solid muscles under her hands, the scent of him surrounding her entirely.
Dana didn't want to, but she glanced at the clock. It was nearly 6:30, almost time to leave. The thought made her stomach lurch and her mouth go dry.
Suddenly everything seemed to take on awesome significance. As she curled into his arms, she realized it was for the final time. When they kissed, tongues gliding together, she knew they'd never kiss like that again. She'd never taste him again.
"I wish there could be alternate realities," Mulder said, his eyelashes fluttering against her cheek.
"Because then I could be two men. One would leave this hotel and go back to my life with Sarah, happily unaware that you existed, Dana. And the other would build a new life with you. Every day we'd come home from work, share our day while making dinner. And every night I'd go to bed with you, make love with you and wake up with you by my side."
It was an image she couldn't even bear to contemplate. "The thrill would wear off, Mulder. It always does. It's hot and fresh in the beginning, but after a while it's still good, but you know the routine, you know each other so well that it loses its true excitement."
His voice was raw. "No. Not with you. I know we've only been together for one night, but somehow I know it would always be wonderful with you. I could never tire of you, Dana."
She blinked rapidly. "Don't say that. I'll start crying again."
"I know. But I can't help having these thoughts."
She sat up. "Mulder, I have to leave now."
His warm hand touched her bare back. "I didn't think it would be this hard."
"I know." She stood and walked to the bathroom without looking back at him.
Five minutes later she emerged from the bathroom, fully dressed. Mulder was sitting on the bed, now wearing his boxers, with his head in his hands.
With difficulty, she managed to keep her voice even. "I don't think I can stand it if we have a big goodbye scene."
He didn't look up, but he nodded.
She walked over to him and laid her hand on his. I love those hands, she thought. They're large and strong but infinitely gentle.
Mulder still didn't look up.
"Please tell me we're doing the right thing," she whispered.
When he finally looked at her, his eyes were the darkest gray before black and shiny with tears. "We're doing the right thing, Dana."
She nodded. "I love you," she said.
He stood and kissed her, a long slow kiss that made the breath catch in her throat.
"So do I," he said. "That's the problem."
Dana gave his hand one last squeeze. She braced herself, like standing on the edge of a diving board and knowing the water would be cold, and then she turned and walked out the door.
Somehow, she got through the day on coffee and sheer willpower.
She was simply too drained to feel anything, to think about anything but cell structures and DNA matches.
She left work a little early and went straight to Primary Care to pick up Julia. Her daughter was sitting at one of the little red tables, making something lumpy with molding clay.
"Mommymommymommy!" Julia shouted, and bolted across the room to fling herself into Dana's arms.
Dana took a deep breath of Julia's apple juice and vanilla wafer scent.
She was where she belonged.
It was funny how the more you pretended life was normal, the more normal it actually seemed.
At home, Dana made Julia's favorite meal—grilled cheese and tomato soup—and didn't even mind when her daughter managed to get most of her soup on the high chair and the white and blue linoleum below. Julia was thrilled to be with her again and couldn't stop prattling nonsense about her day, even as she chewed on her sandwich.
Jerry and the Blue Spaceship had a record engagement of five readings, each repetition ending with Julia smacking the book with her tiny, fat fist and gleefully shouting, "More Jerry!"
Dana realized she was half-listening for the phone, for a call from John, and she was a little on edge. But the phone remained silent, the only noise in the apartment her own voice reading the story, Julia's responses and the muted sound of music from a ballet program on the telescreen.
She didn't think about Mulder, not really. It required a force of will so strong her jaw ached from clenching it.
Julia wandered off to her art table in the corner, scribbling on the light screen with her markers. Dana sat back on the couch with the afghan over her legs, watching the concentration on Julia's small face as the little girl hummed to herself.
She'd fought so hard to have her daughter. Her excitement over the prospect of being a mother had turned to anger and horror when she'd discovered, after months of trying to conceive, that she was infertile. She knew, intellectually, that the inability to have a baby didn't make her any less of a woman, but the failure of her own body had struck her hard all the same.
Julia was happily unaware of what a miracle she was. She'd been only the sixteenth baby in the world to be born using cell regeneration therapy obtained from the Others. The procedure had nearly wiped out Dana and John's credit and ended their marriage as the entire focus of their relationship turned towards conception. But it had been worth it, every cent and every minute spent on the quest. Her daughter was willful, curious, intelligent and, let's face it, hopelessly adorable. She had Dana's curiosity and John's inherent kindness. She was theirs, a blend of their genetic material and their ultimate legacy for the world.
She couldn't leave her family for Mulder, even if he were willing to leave his own family. She wouldn't subject her child to a broken family unit, to shuttling back and forth between separate apartments. Dana knew all too well what it felt like to be cast adrift and insecure, to not have the warmth and belonging of family. She wouldn't do that to Julia.
But a niggling little voice in the back of her head spoke up, asking, but is it right for the child to be in a family where the mother is truly unhappy?
The thing was, she didn't know if she would be unhappy in the years to come. Yes, she was miserable right now, but perhaps time would heal that. Perhaps she would be able to forget the extraordinary night she'd spent with Mulder. Right now the pain was as raw as Julia's skinned knee after she'd fallen off the jungle gym in the park, but surely it would ease with time. Right?
With all her heart, Dana hoped so.
She was able to keep her emotions in check all night, viewing them from a safe, detached distance, until she asked Julia, "What are you drawing, honey?"
Julia looked up from the light screen. From her angle on the couch, Dana could see a vaguely humanoid scribble in blue, and a something round and brown. "This is a lady," Julia said, as gravely as if she were reporting on test findings, "and this is a potato."
For some reason, that made Dana burst into tears.
With alarm, Julia ran over to her and crawled into her lap, touching Dana's face with her hot little hands. "Don't cry," she said, in a tone that made her sound just like Dana soothing her own tears. "Don't cry, Mommy."
The sound of her voice only made Dana cry harder.
Finally she gathered herself together and kissed the top of Julia's head. "I'm okay," she said, forcing a smile and wiping her eyes. "Sometimes even mommies need to cry."
She lifted Julia off her lap and went to start the bath.
Just as the sun is setting they stop working and decide to go down to the later with their pre-dinner beers. The next door neighbor's Golden Retriever spots them and hyperactively scampers ahead until he reaches the surf.
The breeze is rather stiff and she shivers despite her Irish fisherman's sweater, the sweat from raking leaves rapidly cooling on her body. They walk in the sand, leaving a side-by-side track of running shoes, one set of large feet and one much smaller.
They stop at the water's edge and watch the waves. Even though she has spent most of her life near one ocean or the other, she's never failed to be surprised at how many shades of gray there are in the Atlantic. High season is long over at the Vineyard and the beach is deserted and somehow seems abandoned.
The dog comes crashing out of the water, spraying droplets everywhere as he shakes his shaggy red coat.
She turns to the man standing next to her and watches the wind ruffle his dark hair. He's been wearing it shorter in the last year or so and it makes him look vulnerable somehow.
"This is wonderful," she says, stretching out her stiff back.
He smiles. "It's kind of one of those General Foods International Coffee moments, huh?"
She laughs, hearing the annoying 'celebrate the moments of your life' jingle in her head. Great, now it'll be stuck there for the rest of the day.
Turning to her, he lays his large hand on her arm. "This weekend has felt like we've been living that normal life you've always wanted, Scully."
"It's always good to get away from the city."
"Well, I appreciate your spending your entire weekend doing yard work with me."
She leans in closer to him and is rewarded with a faint hint of his sweat. "That's what friends are for."
A curious expression passes on his face and he quickly squeezes her hand, dropping it almost as soon as he makes contact with it. He mumbles something, but she can't quite catch the words over the crash of a large wave.
"What did you say?" she asks.
He looks slightly sheepish. "I said that you're my best friend, Scully."
She nods. "You're my best friend, too."
"It's been a difficult year for us, but I hope you still know that."
Without even thinking about it, or its possible implications, she rises on tiptoes and presses a quick kiss to his closed lips. They're cool and slightly chapped.
He takes a half step back and runs his hands through his tousled hair. For a moment she's afraid she's ruined it all, the delicate balance that has existed through all their years together.
Looking at her, he says, "What does that mean, Scully?"
That's the trouble with her, her intentions are always so difficult for others, even him, to read.
For once, she chooses to be brave and get to the heart of the matter. "Unfinished business."
"Are you referring to my hallway?"
The kiss that never was—she recalls it like a strange dream only half-remembered.
"I haven't...I didn't think...I thought it was too late for us...so many years, so long..." he stammers.
"I don't believe it's ever too late for anything," she says, aware of the fact that she's smiling, "especially us. We just need to make sure we're ready."
The expression of astonishment on his face is priceless. She wishes she had her camera with her.
And then he seems to snap to his senses and his face seems to turn softer, his look almost tender. "Not too late," he says and walks toward her.
This kiss is different than the last, harder, longer, wetter. She revels in his unique taste and the sensation of completion.
They're finally here.
When they stop to breathe, she can't help smiling.
He touches her lips. "What's so funny?"
"We're definitely ready, Mulder."
The sound of crying woke Dana, but it wasn't her own tears, it was Julia's.
She sat up and shook her head awake, still half-clinging to the dream she'd had. The bedroom was pitch dark and she felt a light sheen of sweat on her body.
The beach, the kiss, the waves, Mulder.
What the hell was that dream?
She climbed out of bed and crossed the hall to Julia's room. Her daughter was on her side in a tangle of sheets, sobbing. Dana sat on the edge of the little bed and touched her daughter's face. "Did you have a dream, sweetie?"
That makes two of us, she thought.
Julia opened her eyes and snuffled. "Where's Daddy?" she asked in a pitiful little voice.
She leaned down and kissed Julia, checking to see if the bed was dry at the same time. It was, thank God. "He's going to be home soon."
"I need Daddy."
"Soon, soon," she crooned and kissed Julia again.
Dana scooped the little girl up, marveling at how heavy she was getting. It wasn't the best idea to get Julia used to sleeping in her parents' bed, but she wasn't in the mood for good child psychology. Her daughter had caught her emotional temperature and was having bad dreams. Julia needed comfort and for that matter, so did she.
In the big bed, Julia settled back to sleep snuggled next to her mother's body.
Fighting sleep, Dana thought about what a strange thing the subconscious was. Her dream had had elements of Before. It had been the same man who had appeared in her other dreams, but he'd been Mulder, too. And the beach where they'd been had been an awful lot like Mulder's Netspace beach.
She'd had dreams like that before, of course, where she'd been working in the lab, but the lab was located on the roof of her apartment building and John was her partner instead of Meghan. Things were always getting mixed-up and jumbled in dreams.
No, it couldn't be. Her subconscious was looking for an excuse for what she and Mulder had done.
She couldn't, wouldn't, trust the hazy, fleeting memory of a dream. It was not the kind of quantifiable proof she needed.
Wishful thinking, Dana mused, turning onto her stomach to sleep.
She tried to call up how it had felt to hold Mulder's warm, solid body, but already she was losing her ability to imagine him in three dimensions.
Perhaps it was a blessing, after all. John would be home in a few days and she'd need to forget that night to survive.
She shut her eyes and thought of everything but Mulder as she floated back to sleep.
"What do you want to eat tonight? We can order pizza or do you want stir-fry—" Dana and Julia were walking into the apartment, later than usual due to shopping for a new pair of sneakers for Julia. Dana stopped in mid-sentence, in the middle of the doorway. The living room lights were on and the air smelled like garlic and tomatoes.
Julia got it before Dana did. She threw up her arms in glee and shouted, "Daddy!"
John was home.
Dana's heart began to beat with nauseating irregularity. Oh God, John was home.
He ran out of the kitchen, dressed in his oldest pair of jeans and a blue button-down shirt, and swung his giggling daughter in his arms. Kissing the top of Julia's head, he said, "Oh, Jules, I missed you so much!"
Such a pretty scene, Dana thought, watching their homecoming with an odd detachment. What a lovely family we make--handsome father and husband, devoted mother and wife, ridiculously cute and precocious little girl. What's wrong with this picture?
I'm what's wrong with this picture.
John set Julia down and walked towards Dana with an impatient stride, his eyes shining with emotion. "Dana," he breathed, "God, it's good to see you again."
She took a deep breath as he wrapped his arms around her. It's time to start over, she thought. This is your husband and you love him.
He tilted her face to his to kiss her with lips that tasted pleasantly of tomato sauce, while Julia circled around them, twirling in her navy blue Primary Care jumper and singing, "Daddy's home, la, la, la...Daddy's ho-oo-me!"
John gave Dana a questioning look that made her wonder, for one breathless moment, if he could somehow see everything that had happened in her eyes. But he only said, "How are you, Dana? You look tired."
She flashed him what she hoped was a sunny smile. "I'm fine. I just didn't sleep very well while you were gone."
It wasn't exactly a lie.
"Sorry I didn't call you when I arrived. I got in at noon, took a nap and decided to surprise you with dinner."
"I was surprised, all right."
That was definitely no lie.
He kissed her again and tugged at her hand. "The pasta has to be done now. Come on, let's eat."
After dinner, the three of them lingered for a long time at the kitchen table, eating chocolate ice cream. John had a lot of stories from his weeks in Sao Paolo. Dana found it fascinating, as always, to hear about a new city being built. The Others had created the very first cities, including the one where they lived, but the humans were building more cities using the technology they'd learned from their benefactors. John talked about heat and wind and mosquitoes, things Dana couldn't really remember herself.
It was somehow sad to think that her daughter would grow up never having been cold or feeling rain.
Dana missed rain. She could remember walking down the sidewalk on gray mornings, shivering under her umbrella, stinging pellets of cold rain hitting her face.
Julia was nearly passing out in John's lap by the time he finished his travelogue. Her head kept bobbing down and then abruptly up again as she realized she was falling asleep.
Looking down at his daughter with a tender expression, John said, "I think it's time we put Little Miss to bed."
The child's head jerked up again. "No bed," she said vehemently and Dana and John exchanged amused glances.
"I'll read you a story..." Neither John nor Dana was above bribery to get Julia to bed.
Julia's eyes lit up. "Jerry?" she asked hopefully.
"We've got to get her hooked on a new book," Dana said under her breath.
John stood and slung Julia over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "We'll read Jerry, but first you need a bath. You're wearing more spaghetti and ice cream than you actually ate." He poked her side and she yelped in ticklish joy.
This is why I can't be with Mulder, Dana thought, rising and gathering dirty plates for the dishwasher. The easy warmth and camaraderie of family is rare and precious.
So is real love, cut in her opposing inner voice.
I can't be that selfish, she thought as she scraped pasta and salad into the garbage disposal.
Julia ran screeching into the kitchen, buck naked, to wrap her arms around Dana's legs. "No bath, no bath!" she shouted.
John ambled in, holding a bottle of shampoo. He looked exasperated. "Come on Jules—no bath, no Jerry."
Letting go of Dana's legs, Julia walked toward her father in defeat. "Okay, let's bath."
"I'll try to hurry," John said, smiling now. "You and I have some catching up to do."
It had been almost three weeks for them. She knew John could probably think of little else than sliding into bed and making love with his wife. She wished she could share his eagerness, wished the idea didn't fill her with a sinking feeling of dread.
She finished up in the kitchen and went to the bedroom to change into pajamas. If things were different she might have put on her black silk negligee or gone to bed with nothing on at all, but she found she couldn't make herself do it.
As she got into bed, she heard the soft baritone of John's voice, reading to Julia. Dana rolled onto her side, facing away from the open door, and wondered if Sarah had returned from Boston yet. Was Mulder at this very moment facing the prospect of sex with his wife? Did it scare him, too?
Enough of Mulder, she warned herself. You have to learn to forget him.
It was such a strange paradox that she was feeling as if she were about to cheat on Mulder. It was supposed to be the other way around.
Dana heard Julia's door shut and then John's footsteps as he crossed the hall to their bedroom. She tried to will her heart into beating less rapidly.
John's clothes rustled as he took them off and laid them on the chair. He didn't open the bottom bureau drawer for his t-shirt and sweatpants, which always meant he was coming to bed expecting to make love.
And didn't he have the right to expect that? She was his wife, after all, and they'd been apart for so long.
She wondered if she could get away with pretending to be asleep, but she knew she couldn't.
John climbed in bed and under the covers, moving against her back. His body was warm and she could feel his erection through the cotton of his briefs.
This is your husband, she told herself. You love him.
"Dana," he whispered in her ear. "I'm so happy to be home."
She rolled over to face him, to trace the familiar features of his face with her fingers. She'd pledged this man her whole life, herself—body and soul.
They began to kiss and despite herself and her misgivings, Dana felt the excitement begin to build. What a slut I am, she thought as she twined her tongue with John's. It would seem that any man can turn me on, any time.
John turned her onto her back and she saw his radiant smile. "I dreamed of this while I was gone," he groaned, cupping her breasts with his hands. "I missed you so much I almost told the crew to go fuck themselves and hopped on the next plane back."
I wish you had, because then we wouldn't be in such a mess, Dana thought. She moaned with arousal and shame as his tongue made its slippery way around her nipples and his fingers dived into her wetness.
She sat up a little to remove his shorts and clasped his erection in her hand, gently squeezing the silken hardness. He sighed and shifted onto his elbows to enter her.
Dana heard herself, in a gasping voice, say, "No."
"No?" He blinked at her in confusion.
She scrambled out from under him and turned onto her hands and knees, pushing her bottom into the air.
"Oh God, Dana, what's gotten into you?"
She didn't know herself. They'd never done it this way before, in all their years together. It had never even really occurred to her before this night.
"You're amazing," he said and moved to the end of the bed.
She gripped the sheets between her fingers, waiting for him.
And then John's mouth was on her, licking her juices as if she were an exotic fruit. Her back arched until her forehead was touching the sheet as she began to make little mewling sounds at the sensation of his tongue. John had been clumsy at oral sex in their early days, but in time he'd learned to give her just what she wanted.
But her treacherous mind turned on her, plunged her into a fantasy of how it would be if things were different.
...they arrive at their apartment door at the same time, both of them dressed in their suits and home from work. As soon as they step inside, Mulder catches her mouth in a crushing kiss of need. "I thought of you all day," he says.
They stumble into the bedroom and she slips off her jacket and begins to unbutton her white blouse.
"No time for that," he says and hitches up her skirt, peels off her nylons. While he pulls off her panties, she unzips his gray trousers and he lets out all his breath as his hard cock springs free between the slit in his boxer shorts.
Mulder playfully pushes her onto the bed and she lands face down, her legs shaking with anticipation.
There's no preamble, no beginning niceties, just the incredible sensation of the length of him sliding into her. She balances on her elbows and rears back to meet his hard thrusts. I love you, she thinks, I love I love I love you.
His fingers snake around to find her clit and a strangled sound escapes her throat.
"More," she cries, pushing against his fingers, "Give me more."
When she comes, it's not a quiet thing. The sounds she makes are as violent as the explosion coursing through her entire body...
And then she was back in her own bed, blinking in surprise and still feeling the last twinges of climax, still crying out, "Love, love, love you."
"Me, too," John grunted from behind her and pumped faster into her.
He buried his face in the back of her neck as he came, bucking against her with manic little thrusts, and then John was still.
Dana lifted her head from the mattress and realized it was wet with her tears. The shame of dreaming of Mulder while making love with John threatened to make her collapse in helpless sobs, but she swallowed hard and forced herself into composure.
They lay side by side, gently kissing. "That was incredible," John said, still breathing hard. "I've never seen you so...so wild before. You must've really missed me, huh?"
She nodded. John was right. In bed with him she was usually passive, letting him do all the leading. He'd never complained, but now she wondered if he'd ever wanted her like this, completely uninhibited.
"You're always full of surprises, Dana. Just when I think I have a handle on you..."
I could really surprise the hell out of you, she dourly thought, but I won't. Not now, not ever.
As always, John fell asleep almost immediately. She couldn't, her mind busily racing away with horrible little stabs of guilt.
She disentangled herself from his arms but John slept away, exhausted by travel and furious sex.
In the bathroom she took a quick, hot shower and then wrapped herself in her bathrobe to wander out into the living room. It wasn't even midnight yet. She made a cup of green tea and turned on the computer, hooking the connect cable behind her ear.
She didn't really know why she was checking her Mailserve account. There would be nothing from Mulder, of that she was certain. They had definitively said goodbye the other morning.
Still, she felt disappointed when she found nothing from him in her inbox.
Feeling as if she were outside her body and watching herself do it, she punched in the coordinates for Mulder's Netspace. Her Net Tracker told her he wasn't online, but she went there all the same.
Dana stood outside the Netspace's door, wondering if the security program would allow her to enter. She stepped forward and was sucked through the blackness and onto the beach.
This time, the beach was bathed in darkness, the only light that of the full moon above the water and a thick canopy of bright stars overhead. She looked around in amazement. It was indeed the same beach as the one she'd seen in her dream the night before.
How odd dreams were...
Dana slipped off her virtual shoes and socks, and walked onto the squishy, wet sand, the cold waves lapping at her feet.
After a while, she began to cry.
She wondered how real tears were in cyberspace.
When she finally disconnected and found herself back in her living room, her face was wet.
As morning turned to afternoon, Dana sat in her small office, stuck on a speech she was due to give at a symposium in late March. She wasn't especially fond of public speaking for large groups but at the same time she was looking forward to traveling to London with Meghan for the conference. Parts of the city, including Buckingham Palace, had either escaped the invasion's destruction or been restored, and she already had pages from a London guidebook downloaded into her palm computer. Meghan never failed to tease her about this kind of overly-anal behavior.
Now she was trying to decide on a joke for the opening of the speech. She lifted her head at a knock on her half-closed door. "Come in," she called out.
Meghan poked her head in. "Dana—Fred, Jenny and I are going down to the deli for lunch. Want to come along?"
She shook her head. "This is the only chance I have to work on the speech this week. I'll get something later."
Her partner mock pouted. "Are you sure? We haven't really talked in days."
"Too much to do." Dana removed her reading glasses and rubbed her eyes.
"Okay, fine. But don't forget that we're going over the latest results with Fred at three."
"I'll be there."
More coffee, she thought after Meghan left, and poured another cup from the thermal carafe. She was running on a chronic sleep shortage and only massive caffeine intake was allowing her to concentrate on her work. Dana briefly fantasized about a week at a fancy hotel, all alone and far away from her problems and conflicts, with nothing to do but purchase movies on the telescreen and sleep in a comfortable bed. But it wasn't going to happen. There was too much to do.
There was another knock at her door. "Meghan," she said with a short laugh. "I told you I have to work on my speech."
"Is this a bad time, Dana?"
The blood drained from her face and for a sickening moment she feared she might pass out.
Oh. Mulder. What the hell are you doing here?
He stepped inside and shut the door behind him. Her eyes drank in the sight of him—the nervous expression on his face, the way his fingers clutched the handle of his briefcase.
"I'm sorry to just show up like this, but I had a meeting across the street." He laid the briefcase down on her desk and popped it open. "You forgot your birthday present when you left."
She shut her eyes for a second and let the pain of that morning wash through her body. Dana touched her cheek. "I can't believe I forgot it."
She rose from her chair and he handed her the black leather book. For a moment their hands brushed against each other and a shiver ran through her at his touch.
"I wanted you to have it." As Mulder turned to leave, his eyes found the framed photograph on top of her bookshelf. It was a picture of John, Julia and Dana, taken on Julia's second birthday. Dana was lighting the candles on the birthday cake and John held Julia on his lap while the little girl giggled and tried to grab the candles.
Mulder stared at the picture for a long moment. "So, this is John," he said softly.
Mulder and John had never met. Perhaps it was good for Mulder to see a picture of John, to make the man in her life as real to him as Sarah was real to Dana.
He turned to her, his eyes infinitely sad. "How are you doing, Dana?"
She shrugged. "I'm fine."
He took a few steps closer to her, close enough that she could smell him, or at least imagine she could. "I'm not," he said flatly. "I'm not doing very well."
Dana found herself meeting the gap between them with two steps. She looked up at his beautiful, mournful face.
"It's going to take time, Mulder."
He clasped her hands in his. His hands were so warm, as warm as his body in the middle of the night. "I don't know if I can get over you, or if I want to."
"We have to," she said with what she hoped was vehemence, but her rebellious body rose to kiss him all the same.
Nothing had changed in the past few days--kissing him was still as intense and fulfilling as always. Kissing Mulder was everything; it made every kiss she'd shared with John seem shallow and bleak. Her mouth opened to him and they both whimpered a little as their tongues met.
Her hands pulled his body closer to her, his body heat radiating into her, his erection seeming to taunt her by firmly pressing into her belly. She found herself wanting to lock the door so she could have him again, to briefly lose herself in loving Mulder. Or better yet, to spend the afternoon at the Cascade Falls, wrapped in the sheets and each other, sharing their secrets.
I don't love John, she dizzily thought, not like this. I love him because of shared history and responsibility and because of his inherent goodness, but I will never be able to love him as wholly as this. Never.
Mulder pulled away, breathing hard and wiping her lipstick off his mouth with the back of his hand. "We can't do this," he said in a hoarse voice. "We can't sneak around. It's not what I want."
She bowed her head in shame. "I'm sorry. It's clear that we really can't be alone together."
"I don't know what to do," he said.
Wasn't that the refrain running though their relationship?
"We have to give John and Sarah a chance. We owe it to them."
If only they could be less noble and simply shake free of their bonds and be together.
"I hope we can," he said, blinking away tears.
He grabbed his briefcase and walked out of her office without another word.
Dana sat back down and watched her hands shaking in her lap. She didn't have time to cry; she had a speech to write.
She took another slug of hot coffee and ordered herself to get back to work.
The Tube was crowded that night but she managed to squeeze into a hard plastic seat two stops down the line. "Please take caution, the doors are closing," said the melodious female voice on the loudspeaker. "The next stop is Binghamton Crossing."
Dana idly watched the other people in the car. Some looked relaxed and happy, chatting away or reading, and others seemed stressed. She wondered if she looked as depressed and strung-out as she felt.
She fished through her bag until she found the journal. What a gorgeous gift. Jewelry and perfume were sweet, but she'd never received anything as deeply meaningful as this. Mulder just had an uncanny ability to know her, to know what her heart needed.
Dana opened the book and touched the thick, slightly rough paper. Paper just wasn't made like this anymore. There was no need, as nearly all information conveyed electronically.
There was some writing on the second page. She stifled a small gasp, which made the man sitting next to her shoot her a curious look.
The writing was black pen on the cream paper, small and angular writing. She knew it was Mulder's handwriting even though she'd never seen it before.
With dread mixed with excitement, she read the words written there.
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.
There is no reason, no excuse for our love, Dana, but it is undeniably there. We've made our decision and intend to honor it, but it doesn't change the way I feel and I suspect it's the same for you.
The night we spent together will remain the shining memory of my life.
When she finished reading the poem, she closed the book and turned her head to stare, largely unseeing, at the concrete subway tunnel rushing past.
"The sovereign nose of your arrogant face." She touched her much-hated nose and smiled.
Mulder, I never knew how lonely I was until I met you.
"We are now approaching Morningside Heights. Please step carefully onto the platform."
The bright and crowded Tube station assaulted her senses as soon as she walked off the train. A burly, bald man in a trench coat shoved her as he passed and she nearly twisted her ankle as she careened into a trashcan. Got to get out of here, she thought, gritting her teeth and plunging through the horde, past the bright mosaic walls that depicted children frolicking.
She had almost reached the escalator when she felt the wave of nausea building, saw the multitude of tiny gold spots wavering before her eyes. Not again, she frantically thought, but her stomach gave a sharp heave and she went running for the nearest bathroom.
It was too late. She only made it as far as the trash receptacle outside the bathrooms before she lost the contents of her stomach. Shame burned through her as she felt the eyes of passers-by on her while she retched.
After she lifted her head from the can, she saw a familiar figure standing next to her.
"Holy shit," Evan said under his breath. "Are you okay, Dana?"
She shook her head, sensing the migraine gathering force.
He took her by the elbow and led her to a row of plastic seats. "I'll be right back," Evan said and took off, his leather jacket flying behind him.
Dana closed her eyes and tried to breathe as the pain escalated.
Evan returned with a bunch of paper napkins and a bottle of water that he'd bought from the little convenience store across the way. She tried to smile in thanks and fumbled to uncap the bottle. It wouldn't come open in her fingers and she nearly screamed in frustration.
Her unlikely savior deftly removed the cap and handed her the bottle and she took a long drink, trying to wash the sour taste of vomit out of her mouth.
"Did you eat something that didn't agree with you?" he asked.
She shook her head, noticing that since she'd last seen Evan, he'd gotten rid of the braids and was now sporting a bright-red afro, studded with multicolored wires and beads. She needed a chart to keep up with his ever-changing hairstyles.
"A migraine," she said, shrugging. "It happens to me sometimes."
"Let's get you home," he said and helped her up.
The two-block walk home seemed to take an eternity, with her stomach still lurching and her head pounding away. Evan was considerate, walking at her pace, his arm looped through hers for support.
On the elevator she slumped against the wall, wishing the sappy soft-classical music would just shut up.
Evan took her to her door. "I hope you feel better, Dana."
"Thanks for rescuing me." She squeezed his arm and kissed his cheek, just to see his embarrassed expression.
"Say, I'm sorry I haven't gotten to looking for your friend. I'll try to do it as soon as possible."
"Don't worry about it." Mulder was gone now. She could never see him again. What had happened in her office had made that crystal clear.
The door opened and John appeared, already changed into his at-home sweats. His face paled when he saw Dana. "Are you all right?"
The nausea rose again and she pushed past him to the bathroom. On the way she heard Evan explaining about the Tube station and her migraine.
She stumbled out of the bathroom, hitting on her Migranex inhaler and kicking off her shoes at the same time. John was standing in front of the bed with Julia clinging to his back. "Another one, huh? When was your last migraine?"
Setting the tube on the bedside table, she began to unbutton her blouse. "Just a few days ago."
"Promise me you'll call your doctor in the morning."
She nodded and threw the blouse on the floor. Normally she would either toss the blouse in the laundry hamper or hang it in the closet so it wouldn't wrinkle, but the pain was getting so bad she just plain didn't care what happened to it. John set Julia down and handed Dana a pair of flannel pajamas.
He kissed the top of her head. "Get some rest," he murmured. "I'll try to keep Julia to a dull roar."
"Is Mommy sick?" Julia piped up.
"Just a little bit," John said. "Why don't we go and make quesadillas?"
After she changed and got into bed, Dana felt the drug-induced stupor hitting her, but the pain didn't seem to lessen. Instead, she felt as if her head were splitting into a thousand fragments.
Breathe, just breathe.
Pain, pain, go away, come again some other day.
Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day. Missy and I sing this on the way to CCD from school, splashing in the puddles until our pants are soaked. Mom is gonna be mad, but it's fun to jump in a big one and get the water all over Missy. She yelps at me and stomps her boot, splashing me, too.
Rain, dripping down the windows as I curl up on the couch, a fire lit in the hearth, trying to read through the pain, waiting for the painkillers to take effect.
Can I tell you my secret?
In the side of my bag is a zippered pocket and in that pocket is a plastic bag which holds seventy-five of my pain pills. It's my secret stash, the one I can't tell anyone about.
When it gets too bad, when I can't handle it anymore, I'll take myself and that bag to a hotel. Check in, pour a nice glass of wine and one by one, swallow the pills.
I'll only do it if I have to. I need to die with dignity.
I've already written my letter to you.
God will forgive me, I know this. I can't believe that he wants me to suffer in the end, to become blind, to lose my motor functions, to become a helpless creature trapped in her bed as the invader eats her from inside. God cannot be that cruel.
I'll fight to the end, but the minute the battle becomes a losing one, I'll just let go.
Is it like sleep?
Stay tonight, stay with me. In the morning you can go into your room and mess up the bed like you actually slept there. I know it's against some arcane regulation, but stay with me.
Hey, Scully, did you know that the word for 'to kiss' in Romany, the language of the Gypsies, literally means, 'to eat?' If they want to say, 'I want to kiss you,' they say, 'I want to eat your face.'
Did I really need to know that information?
I want to eat your face. I want to eat your lips, your neck, your breasts.
Did you know you talk in your sleep?
Dad, you never met him, but I wish you had. I know you disapproved of my ultimate choice, of the path I decided to follow, but I think you'd be proud of me all the same. And I think you could have grown to love him. He's nothing like you, of course, but he has the same strength of spirit. And he loves me. He loves me the way Jack and Ethan never could, with absolute surrender to the condition. And I love him wholly, because watching you and Mom over the years taught me that such a thing is possible.
It's not possible. I don't believe.
The world will not end.
Get up, get up, we have to run, it's too late, we have to get supplies and hide and do what we can to survive.
Two days and two nights and it all ends here.
Do you remember that time when we got away? The weekend in New York, happily anonymous in the crowd, ignoring pending cases to eat overpriced bistro food at Choucroute and drink too much wine and the way every night we stumbled back to our room at the Plaza to make love to each other. The way the room smelled after we woke and ordered room service, like roses and hot coffee and newspaper and our sweat and love on the sheets.
Do you remember?
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been more than five years since my last confession. I have committed the sin of adultery. I have fallen in love with a man who is not my husband. I have sinned but I love him, Father. He wants to know my secrets and I want to know his.
If I tried to tell you, John, would you even listen?
Why can't you understand that I need to remember?
Say the Act of Contrition and a decade of the rosary, Dana. Ask God for His forgiveness.
I don't know if I want to be forgiven. I don't know if I need to be forgiven.
We will be together in the next life, I promise.
I want to believe, Scully.
I look at the ruined land below me and wonder why it took me so long to believe.
When I wake, I'm coughing.
I want my mother to tuck me into bed with a spoonful of Robitussin and the heating pad. And when I wake, I want her chicken noodle soup and her warm hand on my forehead.
Not tonight, Scully, it's not time, let's just keep each other warm, please, for me, one more night, I want to see another morning with you.
Put down the gun.
Put down the gun, you're stronger than this. You bastard! I slam my hand on the table so hard I fear I've broken a small bone, but their concentration doesn't waver, they are focused on death. Don't let yourself be pushed, you're stronger than that.
Oh God, do you hear it? Can you feel it coming? The earth is shaking under us.
Hold my hand, this is it.
Somehow, I always knew we'd die together. As strong as we are, there's no way one could survive without the other. Can you even imagine such an existence?
We will be together in the next life.
It was just a dress rehearsal before. It was simple vandalism. This is the real deal.
Look, the sky, how beautiful. It's just lovely...
Hold my hand.
This is it.
We end right here.
It feels so intimate.
We end together.
Light in her face roused Dana and she felt John's hand on her cheek. "What?" she mumbled, the pain still fiercely raging in her skull.
"Get up, honey," he said in a gentle voice. "We have to get you to a doctor."
She shook her head like a petulant child. "I don't need a doctor, I am a—"
John cut her off. "You're bleeding."
Her hand rose to her face and instinctively went to her nose.
When she took her hand away, she saw it was crimson with blood.
Later, Dana would be unable to recall much of the trip to the Emergency Clinic in a taxi. She only had fleeting images of pressing a wad of tissues to her nose and trying to breathe evenly through the throbbing pain. She couldn't even remember John and Julia being in the car with her, or the route they took.
Things became clearer when they reached the clinic. The waiting room was mostly empty but the triage nurse told her, after he gave her a brief exam, that the wait might be a long one. "I'm sorry," he said, shrugging his broad shoulders apologetically, "we're short-staffed tonight and we have a heart attack, a burn case and a drug overdose."
They settled in their seats, John laying a sleeping Julia down across two chairs, her small face buried in a pillow the nurse had given them. It was just after four in the morning and John hadn't wanted to wake any of their friends to watch Julia.
Dana felt fairly foolish, sitting in the clinic in her pajamas, with a jacket thrown over them. She formed the tissues into a ball in her hand. The bleeding had stopped. It hadn't been a heavy gush of blood from her nose, just a slow trickle most of the way to the clinic.
She didn't know why this nosebleed filled her with a creeping sense of terror. She was a doctor, used to seeing blood all the time. Granted, she was a researcher, not involved in the primary care of patients, but she could remember a time when she'd done forensic pathology, cutting into the dead without a second thought.
The pain in her temples had finally faded somewhat, enough that she could think coherently again. Even though the waiting room was designed to be as cheerful as possible, with fish tanks built into the walls, comfortable chairs of plum and royal blue and a shelf of toys for children, Dana found it depressing. There was an elderly couple in the corner, heads together and whispering in desperate tones. A moan of pain echoed from down the hall and the room smelled of hospital disinfectant.
John excused himself and went to make a phone call, no doubt expecting a long morning at the clinic and making plans for Julia and rearranging early meetings via Messenger.
She wondered if it had hit John yet that this was where she'd been taken for her two miscarriages. Both times she'd been at work and had suddenly started hemorrhaging, both times brought there by an ambulance and rushed to a cubicle only to be told by the doctor that it was too late—the baby could not be saved. Dana reached over and stroked Julia's fine hair, her survivor, the one who'd hung on long enough to emerge bright pink and screaming at the indignity of being forced into the cold, bright world of the birthing room.
It was out of these glass doors that an orderly had wheeled her to a waiting cab after her second miscarriage, John at her side. Pale and still weak, she'd silently sat in the car and stared out the window, feeling crushed by her failure to hang onto this baby, too.
John had patted her hand and smiled at her. "It'll be okay, Dana. We'll just have to try again."
She'd shuddered, then, restraining herself from screaming at him. Try again? She wasn't going to do this again, wasn't going to lie on another table for a D&C, numbed with sedatives while the resident OB-GYN scraped the rest of her child from her uterus.
Six months later, they went to the Fertility Clinic for another round of IVF.
She looked up to see Rebecca Haugen, the Emergency doctor who'd seen her for both miscarriages, the one who'd had to gently break the bad news to her. She wondered if the doctor would remember her.
She did. "Fancy meeting you here," the short, heavyset doctor said. "I understand you're having a bad migraine."
"Yes," Dana said, standing a little too quickly, which made her nearly black out.
"Careful," Rebecca said, taking her arm.
John returned and sat next to Julia, giving Dana a little farewell wave.
"She's a gorgeous girl," Rebecca said with a smile. "I'm glad it worked out for you."
In the examining room, the doctor looked at Dana's records on her computer and then gave her a quick but thorough exam, catching up on her recent medical history. "What did you eat yesterday?" she asked.
Dana struggled to remember. "I had some toast in the morning and blueberry yogurt. No lunch; I was working and forgot to eat."
"And what did you have to drink?"
"Um...let me see...a cup of English Breakfast tea in the morning and then some coffee."
The doctor's dark eyebrows rose. "How much coffee?"
"I'm not sure." Dana shrugged, unable to remember how much her office carafe held. "Four, five cups, I think."
"Dana," Rebecca said with a sigh, "you're a doctor, you should know better. With your history of migraines, you can't have more than a cup or two a day, and then only if you're eating properly."
"I've been busy lately; I needed the energy."
"Well, your health has to take top priority. Now, you say your Migranex inhaler didn't help much this time?"
Dana shook her head. "I had two doses, but the pain was nearly constant, even after I took them. I got sleepy, but my head still hurt."
"Resistance to Migranex has been noted in a few journals. There's a new drug, Madorex, that's been very successful with severe migraine pain. I'm going to give you a dose, but only after we've gotten an IV into you. You're clearly dehydrated from the vomiting and lack of fluids."
She was afraid to ask the next question, but she had to know. "What about the nosebleed?"
"Nosebleeds aren't common in association with migraines, but they are known to happen. Extra pressure in your capillaries... But I noticed on your chart that Dr. Young has never given you a full brain scan. Any idea why?"
"He said my presenting migraine complaints were so textbook that he didn't want to give me an unnecessary test."
Dr. Haugen smiled. "Ah yes, socialized medicine. Although I probably would have done the same thing. Still, it's best to rule out certain things. I'm willing to bet a week's pay that your migraine was brought on by caffeine, lack of sleep and stress."
Stress was a mild word for the last week of Dana's life.
The doctor continued, "I'm going to have the nurse come and put the IV in and I want you to rest for an hour or so while you rehydrate. Then we'll get you upstairs for the scan. I don't want to give you the pain medication until after the test because it'll knock you out for a few hours." She companionably squeezed Dana's shoulder. "Think you can take the pain for a bit longer?"
Dana nodded. "It's not as bad as it was before."
"Good," Rebecca said and left the room.
Dana lay in bed, listening to the bustle of the clinic around her, the IV dripping clear liquids a vein in her left hand. Monitors beeped and the PA system kept announcing, "Paging Dr. Patel to Radiology. Dr. Patel to Radiology."
The more anxious she became, the more the pain worsened, spiking jolts into her temples. Slow that adrenal system down, Dana told herself, nice, slow breaths from the diaphragm.
She tried to remember her disjointed dreams from earlier in the night, but they were just beyond her reach, like old song lyrics only half-remembered.
I want to remember something good, she thought, staring at the tiles in the white ceiling. I want a sweet memory, not a disturbing flash of remembered pain. I want it whole and beautiful...
Dana closed her eyes and willed her brain to bring something tangible to her.
For once, it worked.
She took a deep breath and remembered.
The dishes are cleared off the table and put in the dishwasher and the leftover turkey and stuffing is packed neatly away into Tupperware. Tara and Sally put on their coats and leave for a walk around the block and sister-in-law gossip. The men take their pie and coffee into the living room to watch the game. Judging by the shouting, the Redskins are winning.
Her mother brings out the bottle of Bailey's and pours a healthy slug into their coffee. They sit down at the big wooden kitchen table, the site of every childhood meal Dana can remember.
Maggie gives her a look that tells Dana they are going to have A Talk.
"Tell me about him," her mother says, sipping her coffee.
Dana grins. "I already did."
"Sweetie, announcing the news to me that you're a couple five seconds before he and everyone else arrives does not constitute talking to me about him."
She notices how wonderful her mother looks today in her sapphire blue dress, her hair waved around her face. During the horrible years, when Melissa and her father died, when Dana went missing and was so ill, Maggie had taken on a haggard, haunted look. Now her face is flushed and pretty, and she is clearly content to be surrounded by her loved ones on Thanksgiving.
Dana reaches over and cuts herself a slice of apple pie. "What do you want to know, Mom? I mean, you've known him almost as long as I have."
"Sure, I know him; I like him. But almost every time I've dealt with him it's been in a crisis situation." A flicker of pain crosses Maggie's face. "What I want to know is how is he with you now that you're together?
Stalling for time by eating pie, Dana tries to think of what to tell her mother.
She doesn't want to tell her mother about waking in the big bed at the Vineyard house, after their first night together. She opened her eyes and saw their bodies were entangled like conjoined twins. Her head was on his chest and she turned it to take a deep sniff of his morning scent, realizing she'd always known how he would smell the morning after they'd made love.
She doesn't want to tell her mother how surprised she'd been to discover how tender they could be with each other. That's too personal. She'd been so sure that all they'd seen and endured had beaten all the sweetness out of them. Instead, Dana has found out that underneath their cynical and jaded exteriors, they have a deep reserve of reverence for one another.
She doesn't want to tell her mother how alive she's felt in the last month. She's found herself wearing brighter colors, higher heels, and singing in the car on the way to work to old pop songs from the early 1980s. Somehow she has more energy, no longer feels crushed by the fight.
She doesn't want to tell her mother that she's learned that being his woman doesn't change being his partner. She'd worried about that, that they'd lose their edge, the yin and the yang that makes their partnership so successful.
And she especially doesn't want to tell her mother that despite her newfound happiness in their union, she still fears that it will all come crashing down upon them one of these days. She's learned that happiness is often fleeting.
"I don't know what to say, Mom," she finally answers, toying with the tiny silver demitasse spoon. "I'm just happy with him, that's all."
"Well, as your mother, it's my job to ask if we'll be planning a wedding soon."
Dana groans. "Mom, we haven't even discussed it. I mean, we have, but only in the abstract. We've still got so much to do, so many things to learn, before we can look that far ahead."
"You're not getting any younger, sweetie." Maggie clucks her tongue.
She rolls her eyes at her mother like an indignant teenager.
"I just want to see you standing in front of Father McCue, wearing my veil. I've dreamed of that since you and Missy were born."
Dana pats her mother's hand. "I know you do, Mom. But I don't know if that will ever happen. For one thing, he's not Catholic. And at my age, I'd look kind of ridiculous in a full-length wedding veil. I'm a woman in her thirties, not a virginal girl of twenty."
Her mother raises her hand. "I do not need to hear that, Dana."
Something rebellious flares in Dana. "You can hardly expect that at my age..."
"A mother can always hope," Maggie says, demurely folding her hands on the table.
Dana just snorts at that.
But then her mother surprises her with a mischievous smile. "Although he is a good-looking man. If I were you, I probably wouldn't be able to resist his advances, either."
She has to laugh, thinking about how in the end, she was the one who made the advances. She was the one who'd kissed him on the beach, who led him by the hand up to the house and into the bedroom, who'd whispered in his ear how much she wanted him, here, now, inside her, inside her now. Dana can still, if she listens hard enough, hear the squeaking of the bed frame as they moved together.
"You're terrible," she says to her mother, still grinning. For the first time, she feels as if they're not just mother and daughter, but two grown women, friends at last.
Maggie squeezes her hand and smiles back.
Dana opened her eyes and brushed away the small tears oozing down her face. Her mother. She could see her mother now, Maggie's lovely face. She could see Maggie's eyes in Julia's face.
It felt like a rare and precious gift.
She still couldn't recall the face or name of her lover, but for a moment, despite the pain and the fact that she was in the clinic with an IV in her hand, she basked in the love they'd once shared, and the love she could still feel for her mother.
Now she had a story she could tell Julia about her grandmother.
A nurse in purple scrubs came in. "We're going to unhook you and take you upstairs now."
When she was wheeled past the waiting room, Dana saw John slumped over in his chair, sleeping. Julia was gone; Meghan must have come to take her to Primary Care.
Dana lay in the scanning tube and held her breath, fighting the claustrophobia. Over the last years, she'd been subjected to all sorts of painful procedures, but none had ever filled her with stark fear like this. My brain, my brain, she frantically thought, resisting the urge to get out of there, what the hell is going on in my brain?
The machinery hummed and clicked to life and her heart rate escalated to nearly intolerable levels. Please don't let it be cancer, not a tumor.
Why was she thinking of a brain tumor? She wasn't one to imagine the direst consequences; she was too pragmatic for that.
The scan ended and she moved out of the tube, sighing in relief.
Dana was sent back to the same room and an orderly brought her a large glass of apple juice and a bowl of hot oatmeal. "Dr. Haugen wants you to eat," he said.
She ate slowly, her stomach still feeling vaguely upset and the act of chewing making her head hurt.
As she was finishing her breakfast, the doctor came in and started punching keys on the computer, bringing up a three-dimensional image of Dana's head on the screen. Dana leaned forward to see the screen, but without her glasses or contacts, she couldn't make out the fine details.
Rebecca sat down. "Everything looks good, Dana. I can see no abnormal growths that could have caused the bleeding or the migraine."
Relief flooded every cell of her body.
"I did find something rather interesting, though." The doctor made a few clicks and the image rotated to show the back of Dana's head.
The sensation of relief abruptly ended.
The doctor pointed to the base of Dana's skull on the monitor, where her head met her neck. Dana couldn't see what Rebecca was pointing out.
"There's a tiny piece of foreign matter right here."
Dana's mouth opened. "Foreign matter?"
"It seems to be metallic, judging from the resonance. I don't think it's anything to worry about, though. It's probably some kind of debris or shrapnel, most likely from the Invasion. I've seen a number of patients with old injuries they weren't even aware they'd had."
Her hand rose to the nape of her neck. "Do you think it should be removed?"
"It's not a bad idea," the doctor said, shrugging. "But not today—you've been through enough for one day. I suggest you see your family doctor in a few weeks and have it taken care of."
Dana sighed. She would be all right.
"How is the discomfort now?"
"Better, but it's still there."
Rebecca rummaged in a cabinet and pulled out a small box. "Madorex comes in inhaler form, just like your Migranex. I want you to only take a single dose; it's very strong."
Dana took a hit. It tasted even worse than her old medication.
The doctor got a serious expression on her face. "Dana, I know you're a doctor and know all of what I'm about to tell you, but I find that doctors, including myself, are often the worst at following common sense advice."
She grinned self-consciously, knowing that what Rebecca said was all too true.
"A migraine is often your body telling you that you're under too much stress. You need to sleep more, eat better and reduce your stress level. I don't care if you jog, take up yoga or get a weekly massage, but you have to take care of yourself."
"I will," Dana said, feeling cowed.
"Now, go home and get some sleep and I don't want you at work tomorrow, either."
"But I have—"
"I don't want to hear it. Whatever you have on your schedule, cancel it. You work with doctors, they'll understand. Spend the day in the bathtub or lie on the couch, reading."
Dana suddenly became so dizzy from the drugs that the doctor had to fetch a wheelchair for her.
In the waiting room, she loopily smiled at John, who was awake again and sipping coffee.
He rose and kissed her cheek. "Are you going to be all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she slurred, chin dipping to her chest.
As the cab pulled out into the street, she leaned into John's solid side and smiled.
He touched her cheek. "What are you smiling about? Or is it the drugs?"
Her eyes were already closing. "I remembered my mother, John. When I shut my eyes, I can see her face."
John only said, "Oh."
She fell asleep in the car and the next thing she remembered was waking from a dreamless sleep in her bed at home. It was six in the evening and already dark.
The pain was gone. She wanted to exult at the sensation of freedom from the nagging ache and the fact that she didn't feel hungover from the drugs, either. Instead, she was clear-headed and starving.
She took a shower, appalled at the way she smelled, and changed into jeans and her oldest black turtleneck. Dana walked through the dark living room and into the kitchen, where she devoured a container of yogurt and some leftover pasta, and drank nearly a quart of Julia's apple juice.
The apartment was silent and she wondered where John and Julia were.
She stepped into the living room and stopped in her tracks when she heard a small cough in the darkness.
Dana fumbled for the light and gasped as she saw John sitting on the couch, his face shadowed with stubble and his eyes red.
On his lap was her journal, the one Mulder had given her for her birthday.
She forgot she even knew how to breathe.
John lifted his head and looked at her, brown eyes boring straight into hers.
When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet but laden with both sorrow and anger.
"Who is he, Dana?"
Once upon a time, there was a woman named Dana, who'd stood in front of her mirror on her wedding day. She'd stepped back to appraise herself in the full-length glass. From the satin shoes on her feet to the white empire waist dress to the pearl cluster earrings, she'd been every inch the radiant bride.
She'd had no reason to doubt she would have a perfect marriage.
On that day, Dana had believed in her marriage as firmly as she believed the earth was round and rotated around the sun.
She'd believed in words like love, honor, cherish and forever.
Dana had believed in fairy tales. John Rosen was Prince Charming and she was his princess and their wedding meant happily ever after.
Yes, on that day she'd believed in all those things. It had seemed so simple. They'd found each other, literally picked one another out from across a crowded room. The first time she'd kissed John, Dana had thought, "Now I'll never have to be alone again." The gaping emptiness she'd felt ever since her awakening in the Clinic to a brave new world would be replaced by the security of belonging to another. She'd never again wake in the middle of the night, gasping for breath and wondering just who the hell she was.
Once upon a time, she'd believed in fairy tales.
Dana sank into the chair behind her, every bone and muscle liquefied.
Only one thought penetrated the noisy buzz in her brain—oh no, oh no, oh no...
"What are you doing with that?" she said, looking down at her hands, at the band of braided gold on her ring finger.
John's eyes had been shining when he'd slid that ring on her finger. "With this ring, I marry you," he'd said in a clear, joyful voice.
He touched the book. "I went in your bag to get out the Madorex inhaler, in case you needed it."
She couldn't think of anything to say. She couldn't really be angry that he'd invaded her privacy.
"Who is he?" John said again, this time his voice a mere whisper.
Dana couldn't, wouldn't look at his face; she didn't want to see the naked expression of pain and confusion he wore. Yes, confusion. It had never occurred to John that she would stray.
"Please, Dana. I have to know."
No, you don't, she thought. We need to rewind the tape, erase the last five minutes and carry on. In time, I'll forget Mulder and we'll live our life as before. We can have a sister or brother for Julia and watch them grow and flourish. But you don't want to know, John.
He had to know, though, Dana understood that. If the situation were reversed, she'd want to know. John deserved the painful truth.
It took a moment for her to get her voice and when she did, it was unsteady. "You don't know him. I met him shortly before you left."
"That was fast..."
"Of course, that's how you operate, isn't it? I mean, it didn't take very long for you and me, either."
Dana folded her hands in her lap. John didn't mean what he was saying, she told herself. It was his anger talking and he certainly had a right to express it.
This time, John's voice was gentler. "Why?"
She shook her head. "I don't know."
Dana heard him stand, heard his feet pacing on the carpet. "I don't know," he said, repeating her words. "That's all you can come up with to explain why you betrayed our marriage?"
She looked up and saw his back as he stood at the window, staring at the city lights.
Her mouth was so dry. "John," she said, "I don't have a good reason. I met him and it was so...so powerful. I've never felt anything like that before."
As he turned around and she caught the expression on his face, Dana wished she'd chosen her words more wisely. He ran his hand through his pale brown hair. "Never, huh? Do you love him or was this just some kind of fling?"
Lying would be so easy, she thought. If she said it had been merely an affair, one hot, drunken night, they could probably survive this more or less intact. It would take John a long time to forgive her, but he would. But to love another man, that was unforgivable.
To lie or not to lie, that is the question...
Dana was tired of dishonesty, tired of the bitter taste the lies she'd told John left in her mouth.
She looked up at John and their eyes met. I used to treasure those brown eyes beyond measure, she thought.
"Yes," she said, her heart pounding. "I love him."
The expression "he looked crushed" was one she'd heard before, but she'd never actually seen someone look crushed until she told her husband she loved another man. His handsome face went white and she watched his shoulders and back slump at her words. He sat down, as stunned as if he'd received a blow to the head.
It was John's turn to look down at his hands. "Why, Dana? I've tried so hard to make you happy, to be the best husband I could be."
"I know you have," she said softly.
His voice again gathered strength as he looked at her. "Then why love someone else? What does he give you that I can't?"
Her mind flashed back to something Mulder had said when they'd first walked into the hotel room.
"Before," she said. "He gives me Before."
John exhaled. "Oh God, is that what this is all about? Because I don't want to go into the past?"
Dana thought about her words before she spoke them. "John, I lived for more than thirty-five years before I met you. I had a life—a family, friends, a career, a man I loved. I don't want to be a clean slate. I want to know who I was."
He nodded, digesting her words.
"Maybe you can just move on, but I can't," she continued. "I used to think I was selfish to feel this need for the past, but not anymore. I think it's healthy to want my memories."
"And...and this other man feels the same way?"
"If I could talk about it, I would, Dana. But I don't want to know. I just want to move on."
And that's our fatal flaw, she thought.
"I know you do, but I can't. Yesterday, I had a wonderful memory of my mother and I was so happy, because I could someday tell Julia something about her grandmother. She deserves to know who she is, where she came from."
John said nothing, simply sat on the couch like a shell of a man, staring at a point just above her head.
She felt desperate for the words that would fix this, that would bandage the wound and make everything right again. But she knew there were no such words.
A few tears began to trickle down her face and she wiped them away. "I'm not going to see each him again," she whispered. "I want to start over. I know you're angry with me, that I've done a terrible thing, and for what it's worth, I'm sorry. But I chose to stay and I want to try to make it work."
John still said nothing.
"I love you," she said. "I love you and I don't want our marriage to end. We have a child; we have so many years and so many memories together."
He rose from the couch. "What if I don't want to be your consolation prize, Dana?"
She sighed. "Whatever we have to do to make this right again, I'll do it."
"I can't think about this right now," he said, grabbing his wallet off the coffee table and stuffing it into the pocket of his jeans. "It's just too much to deal with." He turned, heading for the front door.
"Where are you going?" she said in alarm, jumping up from the chair. "We have to talk about it."
"I need to think," he said. "I'm going to go for a walk and then pick up Julia at Mike and Jody's place and take her out for dinner."
She stood in the middle of the room, fighting the overwhelming urge to pitifully beg her husband to stay.
"Just remember that I love you," she said.
He nodded and headed out the door. She knew he didn't mean to do it, but he slammed the door shut behind him.
She had to get out of here. Everything in the apartment was oppressive to her, the photos of their life together reminding her of what a failure she was, what a terrible wife she'd become. The walls actually felt as if they were closing in and choking her.
As soon as she walked out into the hallway, Dana realized she had nowhere to go. Her friends, even Meghan, would not understand what she'd done. She couldn't see Mulder. She was utterly alone.
She leaned against her door and shut her eyes, breathing hard and trying not to cry. But the tears came all the same, breaking over her as she squeezed her eyes shut and bent over with the force of her sobs.
If she had still believed in God, she would have prayed just then. But it was difficult to believe in a higher power after the world had ended.
Dana heard the door open across the hall and music blared. It sounded as if a cat were being strangled while hoodlums beat aluminum trash cans with baseball bats.
Evan's voice was soft as he touched her shoulder. "Dana, are you all right?"
My knight in shining armor, she thought as she sniffled. She shook her head.
She shook her head again, unable to form a coherent sentence.
He took her by the hand and led her across the hall and into his apartment. "Whatever's wrong, we can fix it," he said.
Dana wiped her eyes and smiled. She'd always thought of Evan as a sweet, but immature, boy, but he was truly a man.
He turned off his stereo and turned the lights up. His apartment was a mess, as usual, scattered with papers, takeout boxes and soda cans. On the futon in the corner was a slim young woman with long dark hair, sprawled on her stomach and wearing only a pair of black lace panties. Dana saw that she had an intricate tattoo of a vine that began on her left ankle and wound its way around and around her leg up to the top of her thigh.
Evan's dark skin flushed red. "That's Kitty," he said. "Don't mind her, she's kind of out of it." He covered her with a dark red quilt.
"Is she all right?"
He shrugged. "Yeah. We went clubbing last night and she did too much MZ." Evan snorted. "Drugs—strictly for amateurs."
Dana bent and touched the girl's back under the comforter. Her respiration appeared to be regular. "You don't think she's overdosed, do you?"
"Nah, she'll be okay, she just needs to sleep it off. She's been up to pee a couple of times, cranky as hell."
He led her into the kitchenette, where the sink was overflowing with dishes and the garbage can was on its side. "Sorry about the mess," he said. "The maid never shows up."
She found the strength to laugh at that.
"Can I get you something to drink? A beer?"
"No, I shouldn't have any alcohol with all the migraine drugs in my system."
"I know what you need," Evan said, grinning. "You need hot chocolate."
"Cures all that ails you. Sit down on the couch and I'll nuke us a couple of mugs."
Dana cleared a stack of fanzines off the couch and sat down, shaking her head in amusement at Evan's lifestyle, which was miles away from her orderly little life. Or how her life had been... She pinched the bridge of her nose to stave off a fresh onslaught of tears.
Evan returned with two steaming cups. "I even washed the mugs for you, Dana, 'cause you're an honored guest. And the cocoa has little marshmallows."
She sipped the hot, rich liquid, thinking about how this was Julia's favorite drink. She called the marshmallows "mushamellas."
He touched her arm. "Want to talk about it?"
"Not right now," she said, setting down her mug on the one place on the coffee table that wasn't taken up by half-full glasses and scattered disks.
"Okay," Evan said agreeably. "Then how about this—I just went looking for your friend."
She felt an erratic little flutter in her heart. "Did you find anything?"
He smiled with impish glee. "Oh, I found something, all right. Come on..." He stood and motioned her over to the computer, dragging an extra chair up to the desk.
As he madly tapped away on his keyboard, Dana sat next to him, feeling her breathing quicken with anticipation.
"It was easy to get in," he said, with evident pride. "Now that no one's really minding the store, the FBI's security protocols are child's play."
Screens flashed until he reached one that said Human Resources.
He turned to her. "So, yeah, I found some stuff. Their files are a real mess, though. A lot of things are missing, destroyed, I guess. But there's still some information there."
She nearly screamed with impatience. "You found my friend?"
Evan's smile grew wider. "Not exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"I ran the name Fox Mulder through and came up with nothing. I even tried variations of the name, but he didn't appear in any of the surviving files. I thought my Crawler program might not be functioning, so just for fun I ran your name."
Dana touched her chest. "My name?"
He tapped in some more commands and a file came up. "You were in the FBI's Human Resources files."
Stunned into silence was an understatement.
"This is a medical claim, dated February 16, 1999, to your insurance carrier. It seems you were shot in the line of duty that January."
This is not possible, she frantically thought, but she moved closer to read the words on the screen. Dana Katherine Scully, the claim said. It had her birth date, her Social Security number, a Georgetown address. Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully. Her emergency contact person was listed as Margaret Scully, relationship: mother.
Her hand reached down to where she knew the scar on her torso was. The claim read, "for payment for treatment of gunshot injury to lower abdomen...surgery performed at New York University Medical Center."
She turned to Evan, who was still grinning at his prowess. "This can't be real," she whispered.
"Need more proof?"
He brought up another page and she gasped aloud.
"This was on the Public Relations page," Evan said.
The page was titled "Washington D.C. Agent Wins Prestigious Pathology Award." There was a photograph on the page, undeniably of her, looking young and serious in a black suit with a white blouse, a pair of glasses on her face. She was standing at a podium, apparently giving a speech.
She scanned the text. "Special Agent Dana Scully was awarded the Harrington Award for Forensic Excellence by the National Society of Women in Pathology on June 2, 1998."
It was real. She blinked at the screen, staring at her own image, at the Dana Scully of almost seven years before. She hadn't changed much in all those years. She still wore the same type of suits, given small changes in fashion, and her hair was even now worn in the same short bob.
"Didn't mean to shock you," Evan said softly. "I was surprised as hell to see you, too. Do you have any memories of being an agent?"
She shook her head. She didn't have a single one.
"I found a cache of pictures related to this page," he said. "They were the ones that weren't used. You want to see them, see if anything jogs your memory?"
"Show them to me," she said.
It took a moment for the new page to load. "The server's wonky," Evan grumbled.
Three photos came up on the screen. The first was another shot of her on the podium, accepting a plaque from a woman with short gray hair.
The second was of her shaking hands with a tall, broad-shouldered man, bald and wearing glasses. "Does he look familiar?" Evan asked.
"No," she said. "Scroll down to the last picture." Only the top inch of the image was visible on the screen.
She made no sound when she saw the final photo, but she now understood how some people could faint at unexpected news.
In the picture, she was holding a glass of wine, apparently at the reception after the award ceremony. She was no longer wearing the black jacket and was smiling broadly for the camera. A man was standing at her side, his arm around her. He was grinning just as widely as she was.
A tall man with dark hair. Full lower lip, largish nose, sleepy eyes.
It could not be real.
It had to be some elaborate hoax, a prank on her friend's part.
But she knew it wasn't. Evan wouldn't do that to her. Besides, there was no way he could. He had never laid eyes on the man in the photo with her.
She took a deep breath, considering the implications of the picture.
For the man in the picture with her was unquestionably Fox Mulder.
She paced the small room, clenching and unclenching her fists. Evan watched her from his computer chair with a concerned expression on his face.
Her mind was racing too quickly for her to keep up with her thoughts. They were coming at her in bursts that weren't quite coherent.
I knew him.
I loved him.
He was right.
My dreams were right.
We knew each other.
What the fuck.
We found each other again.
It was you.
It was you it was you it was you all along it was you.
Suddenly, she stopped and whirled around to face Evan.
"Can I use your phone?"
He nodded, getting up to hand her the remote from its niche on the coffee table between a bowl of soba noodles and a coil of computer cord.
Her hands were shaking so badly she could hardly punch in Mulder's number. Oh please be home, she thought.
She let out her breath in exasperation and panic as Sarah's face filled the screen. It was their Messenger program. Sarah smiled for the camera and said, "You've reached Sarah Morelli and Fox Mulder. We can't take your call right now, so please leave us a message and we'll get back to you as soon as possible."
"No," Dana muttered under her breath. "Pick up, Mulder."
She cut the connection before the message beep and buried her face in her hands.
She needed to talk to Mulder. Now.
And then an idea struck her. She looked up at Evan. "Can you bring up your Net Tracker and see if Mulder's online?"
Evan looked almost relieved to have something to do to help her. His fingers flew across his black keyboard. He turned back around and grinned. "He's online and immersed. Do you know where he might be?"
Dana stood on shaking legs and walked over to Evan and his computer. "I know exactly where he is," she said breathlessly. "Do you mind if I go into immersion with your computer? He's got a Netspace."
She felt the warmth of Evan's hand on hers. "I know it's none of my business, Dana, but who is this guy to you?"
Such a simple question, such a complicated answer.
"He's everything," she said in a quavering voice. She cringed a little, waiting for Evan's words of recrimination. After all, Evan had known John as long as he'd known her. Sometimes they played a little basketball in the park.
Evan merely nodded judiciously. "So, you knew him Before."
She tapped the photo of the two of them with her index finger. "Apparently so."
I knew you and loved you and when I finally saw you again after five years, I couldn't remember you.
Dana couldn't begin to wrap her mind around the concept.
His eyebrows rose. "Wow, that is just wild..." He handed her his connect cable. "Go for it."
She smiled. "Thanks, Evan."
After some fumbling with the connect cord, she got it hooked and logged into her Centralnetsystem account. Dana shut her eyes and tried to clear her head with a deep breath, but it didn't work. She was wired.
With a few quick commands tapped into Evan's computer, she found herself in the virtual hallway, outside Mulder's door.
You can do it, she told herself. Be brave.
The Netspace was set for a sunny day, the air warm and the waves gently lapping at the sand. Mulder had his back to her, sitting on the sand. She crept up behind him and touched his shoulder.
The look he gave her when he turned his head was one she'd never truly seen from him before. It was...penetrating.
She opened her mouth but no sound came out.
Oh God, I think he somehow knows, too, she thought.
He got to his feet and brushed the virtual sand off his jeans. "I was just going to call you," he said in a husky voice.
Dana took his hand and squeezed it. "We need to talk."
"Not here," she said. "In person." She gestured toward the shimmering ocean. "This isn't real enough."
"We need to talk," he repeated in a stunned voice.
The temptation to stay and blurt out what she now knew was the truth was too tempting. No, she thought, this isn't the place. "The park, the one where we first met. Can you be there in ten minutes?"
"I'll be there."
I knew you and loved you and forgot you.
She turned around and actually ran to the Netspace's door.
When she disconnected from the computer, she opened her eyes to see Evan sitting on his kitchen table, swigging from a bottle of water and staring at her. She rose from the chair. "Thanks, Evan," she said, already heading for his door. "I've got to run."
He jumped down from the table with a thud. "Where are you going?"
Dana stopped. "I'm going to find out the truth. I'm meeting him."
Evan grabbed his leather jacket off the back of the computer chair. "Let me take you there."
"I'm just going down the block to that little park. Don't worry about it." She smiled at his chivalrous but unnecessary gesture. The streets were safe; she'd be just fine.
"Bullshit," Evan said. "I'm coming with you."
The street was nearly empty. It was early evening and all the respectable little families were inside their apartments, eating their dinners and sharing the news of their days. She was headed to the park to meet the man who had been her lover Before, with a leather-clad hacker in tow. Her life had become awfully bizarre in the last few weeks.
"You're really brave," Evan said. Even though he was taller than she, and had longer legs, he was struggling to keep up with her rapid strides.
"I just need to know," she said.
"I know, and I admire that. No one seems to want to know. But I'll let you in on a little secret. I've been looking for my past, too. It's been tough. I was born in Chicago and the birth records there are completely screwed up. But I'm still looking..."
Dana stopped and touched his arm. "I hope you find what you're looking for."
He smiled in embarrassment. "I do, too."
They began walking again. Almost there, she told herself, still feeling frantic.
"What does this mean for you and John?" Evan asked.
She shook her head. "I don't know."
"Well, whatever happens, you're my friend, Dana. You've been so good to me. I feel so alone, you know? I don't have a family and you're probably the closest thing to a sister I have in this world."
They had reached the little park. She wrapped her arms around Evan and hugged him close. "Family doesn't have to mean blood," she said.
Together, they walked into the park. The playground was empty, as were the benches surrounding it. Just past the swing sets was the glow of a bonfire. There was a small fire pit and sometimes community groups held gatherings there. Dana could hear singing.
Feeling as if she were in a trance, she walked toward the fire, Evan discreetly trailing her like a private
As she got closer, she could make out the words of the song.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me...
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
She stopped and stared at the flickering lights of the fire, not seeing the faces of the people who surrounded it.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
She saw everything.
When she wakes, she's coughing.
She slips her shoes on and stumbles out of the tent to head into the woods to pee. As she crouches on trembling and weak legs, she fondly thinks of her bathroom back in Washington with its large bathtub, endless supply of hot water and triple-ply quilted toilet paper. No, she tells herself, don't even think about it because you can never have it again.
With wood gathered earlier in the day she lights a fire to boil water for tea. The coughs are coming more and more frequently now, with a deep, rattling sound and a force that makes her fear breaking a rib. In one of the packs she finds a bottle off 44-D and takes a swig.
After her tea is made, she grabs her day pack and makes her way down the trail to the cliff edge overlooking the valley. Not so very long ago this was a park popular with bikers and backpackers. It would be easy to pretend that they're up here in the mountains for an impromptu camping weekend. It's a beautiful summer late afternoon, the sky cloudless and radiant blue. The humidity is low and it's just warm enough to wear only a t-shirt and shorts.
She's wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, though. Her low fever has given her chills.
The view is spectacular from the cliff. She can see for miles. That is, it would be spectacular if she didn't look down at the town in ruins in the valley below.
She doesn't look down, only straight across at more mountains and hills stretching across the horizon.
A mosquito bites the back of her neck and she swats it away, annoyed that she missed that spot with the repellant. She touches the place where she knows the chip lies just under the skin and smiles at the irony of it all. That tiny piece of metal had been both a curse and a blessing to her. It may or may not have sent her cancer into remission, but it also called her to the bridge and the burning on that terrifying night. But in the end, it saved them five days ago when she woke in the middle of the night in the motel room, screaming that They were coming.
No, scratch that-- the chip didn't save them. It merely postponed the inevitable.
She coughs again and looks down at the ruins of Abbotsville, population 2,475.
There's a rustle in the brush behind her and she grabs for her ever-present gun, turning to point it at the source of the sound. There's no telling what's out there.
It's only Mulder, though, and she breathes a small sigh of relief, setting the gun back down on top of her pack. He looks haggard and exhausted, just as she must look, and his face is bristly with the patchy beginnings of a beard.
He greets her with a hacking cough and sits beside her.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
"Just looking and thinking."
He strokes her cheek with his fingers. "Oh yeah? What about?"
She gestures down at the town below. "All of this. It's been more than three days, Mulder. Why haven't they come back to finish the job?"
Mulder shakes his head. This time he doesn't have any more answers than she does.
"What if this wasn't a concerted effort towards colonization, but just the alien version of vandalism? Like, hey, let's go destroy mankind today."
"Either way, the result is the same," Mulder says, staring off into the distance.
They're so cut off from everything, there's no way to tell what has happened to the rest of the world. There had been just enough time to gather together supplies and warn their mothers, the Gunmen and Skinner with hasty phone calls, but their fates are unknown. It's this sensation of not knowing which is driving her crazy.
Both of them begin to cough and she passes him the bottle of red syrup. He takes a small slug and winces at the taste.
There's no time like the present for brutal honesty, she thinks. She used to live cocooned in the warm comfort of denial, but now she can't.
"We're dying, Mulder," she says.
"No." He fiercely shakes his head. "We've been outdoors, slept two nights in a cave, three in a tent. We've got colds, that's all."
Her voice comes out more exasperated than she truly wants it to sound. "No, Mulder. We saw those people die down the mountain. We've got what they had."
She lifts her hands so he can see the dark swelling beginning on the palms.
"Whatever this is, it's fatal and they brought it with them."
"No," he says, still shaking his head. "This can't be the end."
I want to die with dignity, she thinks, remembering the secret cache of painkillers she'd carried in her bag when she was so sick with cancer.
She picks up her gun and strokes it almost lovingly. "They died horrible deaths," she says in a flat voice. "You saw their convulsions, heard them scream."
When she closes her eyes at night, she can still hear the agonizing sounds of pain.
"It doesn't have to be like that," she says.
"What are you talking about, Scully?"
She offers the gun to him as if it's a precious gift. "We can end it here. Die with dignity."
His hand reaches out and gently wraps around her wrist. "No," he rasps, and coughs.
Tears begin to burn her exhausted eyes.
"I...I can't stand to watch you die like that," she whispers, her lips trembling. "And I can't stand to have you watch me die in such agony."
Mulder's voice is low and pleading as he wraps his arm around her. "Not tonight, Scully. It's not time. Let's just keep each other warm. Please, for me, one more night..."
Slowly, she puts the gun down and she hears him let out his breath in relief.
He pulls her closer to him and his breath ruffles her hair. "I just want to see one more morning with you."
She thinks about all the mornings in the last year. Some were hurried, the two of them bustling around trying to get ready for work. There were a number of mornings they woke in a motel room on a case, flaunting Bureau regulations about agent fraternization on duty. And then there were the sadly rare weekend mornings when they had time to read the paper in bed, drink coffee and litter the sheets with pastry crumbs, make love as the sunshine streamed through the windows.
Never did she think this day would come.
She never believed in it, just as she didn't believe in vampires, goat-suckers or extraterrestrial life.
How wrong she was.
"Come on, let's go back," Mulder says, standing and tugging her up, coughing at the effort.
They walk back up the trail to the campsite.
Inside the tent they slowly undress each other. They haven't made love since their world ended. Fear and the stench of death don't do much for the libido, but now she needs to connect.
Don't think about how this may be the last time, she tells herself.
Actually, their lives were so dangerous, every time they were together she was all too aware of how it could be their last.
It's slow, achingly slow, with several pauses to cough. Side-by-side they move together, kissing each other everywhere their mouths can reach. "I love you," Mulder says and it turns into a chant. "Iloveloveloveyou."
They end by shuddering at once with pleasure and lie wrapped together on top of their sleeping bags.
She takes a deep breath and is pleased not to cough. The syrup has temporarily taken effect.
He lazily strokes her hair. "I have so many regrets," he says with a sigh.
"No, Mulder," she whispers. "We can't have any regrets. We did the best we could."
How could two people possibly save the world?
"No, not that. About you and me. I always dreamed that someday we'd find our answers and everything would turn out for the best. And then we could live that normal life, just you and me. We could learn to love each other like regular people."
She rolls over and presses her cheek to his feverish chest. "What we had was enough for me."
God, they're already speaking in the past tense.
He continues, "I wanted to marry you, Scully." Mulder's heavy arm wraps tighter around her back.
"I know, Mulder." She tries to smile. "But if you think about it, we've always been married. It was an arranged marriage at first, but we grew to love each other."
"Arranged by Chief Blevins and the Smoking Man," he says with a sharp laugh.
"Either way, after a while, I couldn't see myself spending my life with anyone but you," she says.
Even though their love has been very real and evident, they haven't done a lot of talking about feelings. It's just not their way. But she sadly realizes that if they don't say it now, they never will.
He pulls her up a bit so she's looking directly into his eyes. Mulder's lips part in a small smile. "Scully, will you marry me?" he says.
She should laugh at the absurdity of a marriage proposal in the aftermath of the apocalypse, with the both of them dying of some alien plague, but she understands the intent of his words.
Her forehead touches his. "Yes, Mulder," she whispers.
They lie together as night falls on the woods, simply touching each other, kissing and sharing small memories.
Finally, Mulder's voice slows and she knows he's growing sleepy. She ruffles his dark hair. "Go to sleep," she says. "I love you."
His eyes snap open. "I'm scared, Scully. I don't want to die."
"Neither do I."
The sleeping bag rustles as he rises on an elbow. "I wish I believed like you. I wish I believed in an afterlife."
She grasps his hand in hers. "I'll believe for the both of us."
"It would be comforting to know that there was a place in the afterlife where we'd eternally be together."
Around her neck is still hanging her cross necklace. It has been around her neck since she was fifteen as a testament to her faith. If there is ever a time to believe, this is it.
"Mulder," she whispers, pausing to kiss his lips. "We will be together in the next life, I promise."
His voice becomes slurred with sleep again. "I want to believe..."
"You don't have to. I do."
And she does, that's the miracle.
"Scully, will you sing to me?"
She smiles, remembering a simpler but frightening night when they were lost in the Florida woods and she sat vigil over an injured Mulder. He'd asked her to sing to him then and she'd complied, with a great deal of embarrassment. That night she'd sang "Joy to the World." She won't sing that one again—it doesn't seem appropriate.
Holding him in her arms, she sings, in a soft and tuneless voice, a song that has always brought her a great deal of comfort.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me...
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind, but now, I see.
'Twas Grace that taught
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
`Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.
By the time she finishes the third verse, Mulder is asleep.
Soon after that, she falls asleep, too, thinking, I'll believe enough for the both of us.
The sound of supersonic screaming wakes them and she and Mulder sit bolt upright. "What the fuck?" she shouts.
Her first instinct is to run and hide, run up the trails to the cave where they sat out the first invasion. But she and Mulder look at each other and the unspoken thought they telegraph to each other is 'what's the point?'
Instead, they climb out of the tent and look up at the night sky, lit by a full, luminous moon.
Several black, triangular ships streak by in the sky. They've seen those ships before.
They're back and this time it's truly over. This is it.
Mulder takes her hand in his.
Somehow, I always knew we'd die together, she thinks, her breathing quickening. As strong as we are, there's no way one could survive without the other. Can you even imagine such an existence?
The earth begins to shake under their feet. She looks at Mulder in panic. This didn't happen the first time.
"Can you feel it coming?" she shouts.
"I don't know, but it's coming..."
We will be together in the next life, Mulder.
Something huge moves across the sky, so large it seems to stretch endlessly. It appears to be made of multicolored crystals that twinkle in the moonlight.
"Look, the sky, how beautiful," says Mulder, pointing at the gargantuan craft. Despite his fear, he can't keep his innate curiosity from coming to the fore.
"It's just...lovely..." she gasps.
Keep holding my hand, Mulder.
This is it. We end right here.
Three of the black triangles come screaming up to the giant crystal ship and start firing. It's like something out of Star Wars, only this is real life. She can't believe that what she's watching is actually happening.
The larger ship begins to spin and give off a low hum and they watch in astonishment as the black triangle ships simply disintegrate, little pieces raining down from the sky.
What the fuck?
The humming from the ship grows louder and she holds her breath.
She and Mulder turn to each other. They say goodbye with their eyes.
But it isn't goodbye, Mulder. We will be together in the next life.
It feels so intimate to die together.
With a flash of white light from the ship, she is blinded and everything just stops.
Dana opened her eyes and found herself sitting on a park bench, wrapped in Evan's leather-clad arms. She had no memory of walking to the bench.
"Dana, you still with me?" he said. "You were kind of out of it for a minute."
She could still hear the people around the bonfire singing.
So that was how they'd ended.
Mulder, how could I have forgotten that?
Evan touched her shoulder. "Dana?" he asked, his voice sounding more alarmed now.
"I'm okay," she said. "I just had a flashback or something."
And then she looked up and saw Mulder, walking across the park to her in long strides.
Oh, I remember you. I remember.
Evan stood. "I guess this is where I take my leave."
"Thank you," she said.
He bent to kiss the top of her head. "Any time," he said and walked past Mulder to the street.
Dana stared at Mulder with the new understanding her memory had brought her.
He stopped just before her, his face serious.
"I know you," she whispered.
You were my partner, my best friend, the love of my life.
"I know," he said.
You are still all of those things, Mulder.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "I knew you, Before."
Mulder sank to his knees and buried his head in her lap. Instinctively, her hands moved to stroke his hair.
Nothing has changed. I still love you. I never stopped.
He raised his head and blinked at her through tear-filled eyes. "I know, Scully."
She froze. He did remember her after all. It was true.
He rose to sit by her and they stared at each other in wonder.
"I know they weren't daydreams, Scully," he said, clasping her hands in his.
We will be together in the next life.
Such a miracle cannot be squandered, she thought.
"I made a promise to you five years ago," she said, not sure if the urge she was feeling was to laugh or cry.
His kiss on her lips was gentle and full of promise.
"Tell me about it, Scully," he said.
And for a long time they sat on the park bench, remembering together.
It seemed to them that fate had intended them for one another, and they could not understand why she should have a husband, and he a wife. They were like two migrating birds, the male and the female, who had been caught and put into separate cages...
And it seemed to them that they were within an inch of arriving at a decision, and that then a new, beautiful life would begin. And they both realized that the end was still far, far away, and that the hardest, the most complicated part was only just beginning.
One night, she can't sleep.
In the dark she hears her husband roll over and she knows he's still awake, too.
This is her favorite time, when the day's work is over, the dishes washed and the kids tucked in bed and soundly sleeping. Sometimes at night she can hear the faint sound of the upstairs neighbor practicing her flute, but just as often all she can hear is his even breathing and it's comforting.
At night she allows her stress, her guilt and fear to bleed away and she simply floats between the covers, feeling her husband's body heat radiating toward her.
At night there are no doubts that she made the right decision that night in the park when she finally remembered how Mulder and she had ended their first life.
Sleep will come, she tells herself, and turns toward him to move against his warm, bare back. While she's often cold at night, he is constantly warm, his skin as hot as a sunburn.
He makes a low sound in his throat at her touch and she smiles against the muscles of his shoulder. Tonight he smells like baby bubble bath and the lemons he cut up for the roasted chicken.
So this is domestic bliss, she dreamily thinks, as she applies measured kisses along the expanse of his back.
"Oh, that's nice," he sighs.
While she rubs up against him like an affectionate cat, she thinks of their wedding day and the vows they made to each other. Never had she believed in anything so firmly. She'd clutched her small bouquet of spring lilacs and said the words in a quiet, but steady voice. But underneath her outward serenity, she'd wanted to break down and cry with the overwhelming sensation of the moment. Later, she did, when they were alone at home, their hands joined, fingers wearing matching white gold bands fiercely gripped together.
In the faint light from the open blinds, she watches her hand move across his back and the way the ring appears to almost glow in the dark, reminding her that they're bound together for eternity.
Finally, he rolls over to face her. "Can't sleep?"
She shakes her head. "I'm not in the mood."
A smile spreads across his face. "Neither am I."
On a night like tonight, she needs to be reminded that he's real, that this isn't just another dream from which she'll soon wake. She has to drown herself in his physicality to reassure herself.
She takes her time kissing him, touching his body everywhere, to feel the way the texture of his skin varies in spots. She tries to memorize his form with her fingers.
She never wants to forget again.
He moans a little as she slides her wet lips down his belly and takes him in her mouth. This is real, she tells herself, as he begins to lift his body off the bed with his growing pleasure.
You are mine and I am yours. Flesh of my flesh.
When he can stand it no longer, she moves back up the bed to him. He sits up and props his back against the headboard with a pillow. With a smile on his face he holds out his arms to her, silently asking her to come to him.
This is her favorite way to make love with him. She can control the pace—make it wild and fierce or languid and sleepy. Their height difference doesn't matter as much when he's sitting and she straddles him and he's close enough for her to kiss him and look into his remarkable eyes.
When she looks into his eyes, she can see everything—their shared history and the future to come.
"Scully," he gasps as she slides down onto his cock.
She smiles at that. In the everyday world, he still mostly calls her Dana, as in "Dana, how much milk do we need from the store?" or "I have to go pick up Adam from Sarah's now, Dana."
Scully is his private name for her, the one he calls her in bed. It's their secret touchstone to the life they once lived, the life they're still struggling to piece together.
Slowly, she moves with him, crooning low in her throat at the bliss of being joined with Mulder. One of his strong hands cups her bottom and the other strokes her breasts, making them feel full and heavy.
She leans closer to watch his eyes again. How she would love to see a child of theirs with those beautiful gray-green eyes and dark lashes. They're just beginning to discuss the idea, to decide whether they want to risk the possibility of failure.
Then again, they've always been risk-takers, haven't they?
A sharp cry leaves her mouth as his fingers find her clitoris and begin their magic. He laughs. "You're going to wake the kids."
She's learning to control herself on the nights when one or both of their children is with them.
"I'm so...glad," she gasps, moving harder up and down his length.
He knows what she means. "I am too, Scully."
Her kiss is just another extension of the promise she made to him on the night they died together.
We will be together in the next life, Mulder.
We are, she thinks, as pleasure blooms warm and sweet in her body. Oh God, we are.
She knows all too well that they did a terrible thing, leaving John and Sarah. John's eyes still silently reproach her every time she sees him. And Sarah flat-out refuses to speak to her unless it's utterly necessary. They destroyed the secure family units of their children, who will probably grow up unable to remember when their own parents were still married.
Yes, she knows this. It haunts her in daylight sometimes.
But she also knows what a miracle it was to find Mulder again. She doesn't tend to believe in destiny and fate, but it can't be an accident that they somehow managed to make their way back to each other again.
The night she remembered Mulder was the night she began to believe again. It's the night she started to pray once more.
As she wraps her arms around Mulder's neck, her gold cross necklace dangles in his face. It was his wedding gift to her, serving to remind her of her faith, her mother and father, sister and brothers, lost but no longer forgotten.
She wishes she had something of equal value to give Mulder to remind him of Samantha, but she knows he has not forgotten her. He still wants to learn his sister's fate.
When she comes, trembling in his arms, it's more than the hot, forbidden sensation she'd felt with him in the hotel room more than a year ago. It's pleasure and safety, the past, present and future all rolled into one overwhelming surge. It's everything.
When Mulder comes, he manages to somehow laugh at the same time, gushing into her with joyful release.
It's the next life and we're together, Mulder.
They roll onto their sides, replete at last, her body curled into his.
"I love you," he whispers. Those words still have the power to give her chills.
"And I love you," she says, reaching back to touch his lips with her fingers.
She's no longer afraid of night or her dreams. But there's one more thing they need to do before they sleep.
Closing her eyes, she says, "Tell me a story, Mulder."
This is what they do at night, share what they've remembered. The next day, she always writes it down in one of her journals. The red-bound book has memories for Julia and Adam, so that when they're old enough to ask questions, they might learn and understand. The black one that Mulder gave her for her birthday is just for the two of them, their most private stories.
He thinks for a moment and then says, "I have a nice one, Scully."
She smiles. "Tell it to me."
"It was Thanksgiving at your mother's house and I felt uncomfortable, surrounded by your whole family. I knew you'd told your mom about us before I'd come. They were nice to me, of course, even Bill, but I still felt out of place and on the spot. Your mother kept sneaking these looks at me and I imagined her thinking, so you're the one who's defiled my youngest daughter."
She laughs into the pillow.
"After dinner, you and your mom started in on the Bailey's and I was forced into watching the game with Charlie and Bill. When it was over, you and your mom were still talking so I wandered down into the basement for a nap. There were so many people staying at the house that I'd been assigned the hide-a-bed in the rec room.
"I had just about fallen asleep when I heard the basement stairs creaking. Looking up, I saw you, wearing an entirely mischievous look on your face. You were already unbuttoning your blouse. You flung it on the floor and climbed into bed with me. I could smell the coffee and liqueur on your breath as you started kissing my ear and neck. Scully, I wanted you so much, but I was scared Bill would come down and beat the crap out of me. 'Everybody is upstairs,' I said but you kept kissing me and you wouldn't stop and I didn't want you to. 'It's okay,' you whispered, 'We can be quiet. Mulder, I know we can be quiet...'"
My usual much too long post-story notes:
For WFD, for the alternate reality theory and life lessons without which this story could not have been written.
This is a story that was both difficult and easy to write. It was one of the first ideas that came to me after I discovered that wonderful thing called fan fiction. It haunted me for almost eighteen months, but I didn't feel ready to tell this story until now.
I have to give credit where it is due. Some elements of the setting, such as the cities under domes, were inspired by Marge Piercy's incredible novel, He, She and It. I suggest you give it a read. And she and I also took some science fiction elements from the inimitable William Gibson, the one who wrote the X-Files episode "Kill Switch." If you can, read his thrilling Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition. The plot, though, is my own, even if the characters are Chris Carter's.
Never have I written a story so quickly and I think it's largely due to the fact that the story had been worked over in my mind so many times over the months. When I finally was ready to write it, it just spilled out into my legal pad. Or maybe it was the caffeine. I estimate that I spent hundreds of dollars on iced lattes from Caribou Coffee.
But this was also very difficult to write. It's never easy to write about infidelity. It's something that I'm, on principle, not in favor of. However, sometimes infidelity is not a simple black and white matter. There are gray areas to consider. I'm not going to try to justify what Mulder and Scully did in this story. Hopefully, the story does that for me. I'll just quickly say that it's good to remember that they did not choose to be separated or to forget each other. And yes, I feel for John, Sarah and the kids.
Several people wrote me, wondering if there would be a big surprise Matrix-style twist at the end of the story, like having them really be in a Consortium-run virtual reality. That would have been a neat way to end, but I never considered it. I wanted the story to be one about relationships and, in the end, to honor what the characters went through in the course of the story. And some of you might wonder if the Others really are what they seem. It would take another 50,000 words of story to go into that. I'd like to think that their motives are honorable. The scene with Mulder and Scully ending their first lives in the mountains would seem to bear that out.
I just have to say that this story was a ball to write. I loved writing about domes, talking cabs and virtual reality.
There are a whole lot of wonderful people I must thank:
First, there is nothing in the world I can say to properly thank the magnificent Gwen and Plausible Deniability, who were my partners in this story. Their editing saved me from bad spelling, dangling participles and incredible sappiness. They are my dear friends and their generosity with time, ideas, inspiration and honesty is deeply appreciated.
Shari was my ever-present cheerleader and reassured me more times than I can count. Also, Lisa, Kim, Meredith, MD1016, Marasmus, and Amy all read early versions of various parts and helped me remain sane with their comments. Big cookies to all of you!
Many thanks to Bets, Kim, Meg, jordan, Cat and Bryan for so much fun I'm still getting over it. And much appreciation to the root veggies, for the love and laughs.
To all of the readers who sent me such inspirational and heartening feedback, I cannot thank you enough. There's brownies in the oven for all of you.
And special thanks to Meredith. Her stunning A Show of Strength was the first post-colonization story I ever read and still shines as the finest example of the genre in my mind.
I also must thank my family and friends, who are so patient when I'm madly writing and don't answer my phone.
Okay, I'll shut up now. I do tend to ramble.
Thanks for joining me on this wild ride.
November 29, 1999