Dana woke while the sky was still black and checked the alarm. 6:26 am, a little over half an hour before they had to get out of bed and ready for work.
She slid a hand over her husband's sleeping body and felt his morning erection.
She slid down his lean swimmer's body, enjoying the smoothness of his muscles and the slight fuzz of hair in the center of his body, until her mouth found its target. She gave him her undivided attention, and was rewarded in a minute with a gasp as he came fully awake.
"Ahhh..." he moaned above her, hands flexing on her shoulders. "Dana...let me kiss you."
She released him and moved up to straddle his hips while she leant to capture his full lower lip in between her own. He ran his hands down her back and grasped her buttocks firmly, caressing them first gently, then roughly as she eased herself down onto him.
She leaned back to be better able to appreciate the view: his wide, silly grin, his unique nose, tousled hair and eyes that were black in the near-darkness.
"I love watching you," she told him.
"I love how you watch me," he replied, rising to meet her as she ground against him.
Finally, spent, they lay back and waited for the alarm to force them up.
When it went off, Dana wanted to hit the snooze button, but she knew better. She got up and headed for the bathroom while he settled in for "fifteen more minutes": if she didn't nag, she knew, he'd be late for class.
Sure enough, he hadn't moved when she emerged from the bathroom and began to put on her work clothes.
"Come on, light of my life," she ordered. "Hundreds of drooling young students await you. Do you really want to deprive them?"
"But if I show up looking like this, they'll know that their old psych professor gets much better sex than they do. That's against the natural order of things. Do you want me to be responsible for the depression of a large segment of the undergraduate population?"
She chuckled and pinched his butt. "Maybe, o vain one, if you didn't wear such tight jeans to class you wouldn't have to worry about driving them insane with jealousy. Up, up."
By the time she left, he was almost ready; she thought he'd make it to class in time. Ah, for the securities of tenure. He'd only been on the job five months, but it could have been five years or five decades. His salary was guaranteed, he could take a sabbatical every seven semesters, and he had a secretary.
Being an assistant medical examiner in Ann Arbor was less prestigious, though somewhat better paid.
At least, she thought as she entered her office, they'd finally put a nameplate on her door. "Dr. Parker-Rogers." She couldn't decide whether the hyphenated name was silly or feminist. She hoped that no college kids had died over the weekend; it was always so depressing to autopsy the young.
She took the wedding photo she'd finally remembered to bring in out of her briefcase and placed it in a position of honor on her desk, then got to work.
A few minutes later, her friend Sherry, another M.E. who worked a floor above Dana, brought in the first of the day's endless cups of coffee.
"Is *that* your husband?" she asked, wide-eyed, pointing at the smiling face beside (well, more above than beside, really) hers in the portrait. "Good God, Dana, he's a fox!"
<Mulder. I even made my parents call me Mulder.>
Pain stabbed through her head and chest and she pushed her chair back from the desk, cowering away from Sherry, raising her hands in a hopeless attempt to ward off attack.
"Dana? Dana? Are you all right?" Sherry approached carefully, concern evident on her lovely, broad face.
Dana tried to calm her thudding pulse. There was nothing wrong; this anxiety was completely irrational. "Goose just walked over my grave, I guess," she croaked. Sherry stepped back, and Dana felt safer. "Sorry," she apologized.
"It's all right," the other woman said, already dismissing the incident. "What's his name, again?"
"Bill," she said fondly. "His name is Bill," she repeated, as if to reassure herself.
The rest of the day passed without incident.
* * *
"I don't know about this, Sherry." Dana looked dubiously at the woman in the driver's seat. Sherry had an electric blue Neon that she drove far too fast, in Dana's opinion.
"What's not to know? You rent the gun and buy a box of ammo. Just don't point it at me and we'll have some fun."
Dana studied her friend. They'd come onto the job at the same time. On the first day, Dana tried to sit alone in the cafeteria at lunchtime, too shy to introduce herself to people she didn't know and might not have anything in common with, but Sherry came over and immediately began a conversation.
Sherry was intimidatingly beautiful: tall, dark-skinned, with hair in gorgeous shoulder-length braids. She'd just moved from Detroit, so they'd done some exploring of the city together. This weekend, Sherry had insisted that they go to a shooting range outside town, claiming that Dana would love the thrill she got from wielding weaponry.
"I've never touched a gun before."
"It's target shooting, Dana. You'll feel powerful. You'll feel dangerous- You'll feel sexy and go home and be such a wild woman that Bill will insist you come do this every weekend."
"It's much better when I bring a friend, really. Otherwise I get hit on by some pretty skanky types. They didn't call it the *Michigan* Militia for nothing, you know. We still might hear some 'nigger' and 'dyke' comments-"
"Oh, so you want me to go hang out with neo-Nazis?"
"No, I want you to *protect* me from their unwelcome attentions. It'll be fun, I promise. Besides, if only rednecks have guns, how will we ever scare them into respecting us? The Constitution didn't make men and women equal, but Smith & Wesson did."
Dana consulted the map. "Well, we are almost there. No sense in turning back."
They pulled into the parking lot minutes later.
The gun shop was clean and well-lit, not at all what Dana had expected. Sherry knew the guy behind the counter, and explained that Dana needed to rent a gun while he got Sherry's boxes of ammunition.
Dana examined the weapons behind their glass cases with fascination.
"Well, let's see, ma'am," the salesman said. "Never used a gun before?" She nodded absently, still searching. "I have a few that are very good for first- timers, especially ladies."
"That one," she said, pointing. "Can I rent that one?"
"The Sig Sauer? I don't think--"
"Will you rent it to me?" She gave him a stare that emanated from some secret core of herself, unblinking and cold. He gulped and nodded.
Sherry began to explain how to load the clip as Dana handed over her drivers' license and credit card. Dana half-listened, turning the gun over and over in her hands, until the formalities were complete and she had her ammunition. Thank God for states'-rights resistance to the Brady Bill.
They went out onto the firing range and put on ear protection. She slammed the clip home, checked to make sure that the safety was off, and stepped up to the target. Sherry was saying something, but she couldn't make out the words as she brought the gun up and began to fire.
Her mind emptied. She was concentrating intently, but not thinking. There was nothing but focus and motion in her.
When the clip was empty and she lowered the gun, she brought it behind her back, automatically, pushing up her shirt to find the holster...
That wasn't there.
That had never been there.
She felt Sherry's hand on her. The other woman's eyes were confused and a little angry. Dana took off the ear protection.
"What was that? I thought you never touched a gun before, and now you're shooting like Annie Oakley? I was going to have them bring the target in close so you could practise, but Jesus!"
Dana turned, puzzled, and saw that her target, twenty yards away, was punctured around the heart and head, each bullet a clean kill. Her vision blurred, and she felt faint. "I don't know," she managed. "I'm...just lucky, I guess."
* * *
She was beginning to think that something in the Michigan weather made her husband insatiable. He acted as if he hadn't had sex on a regular basis for years. And he was much more adventurous than he had been in Berkeley.
Like the time she came to roust him from his carrel in the main library, a huge block of concrete in the middle of campus.
She found him hunched over a pile of printouts and precariously balanced books, tapping away at his laptop. He'd chosen a corner of the library where older books were stored, and the sweetish smell of rotting paper around him reminded her somewhat of raisin bread. The weight of books over and under around them was reassuring; she understood the wonderful insulation of academia in a very physical way inside this library.
She came up behind him and covered his eyes with her hands. "This is an important message regarding your health," she said. "Take a break and spend some time with your loved ones."
He reached up to capture her wrists. "I thought you'd never ask." He pulled her down and tilted his head back for a kiss.
His mouth quickly became demanding, and he moved his hand up her arm to cup her breast.
She pulled away, smiling. "Come on, I don't want to be arrested by a librarian."
"The library stacks are a *classic* place to have sex, Dana."
She scowled good-naturedly at him. "For *undergraduates,* my heart. The same people who get alcohol poisoning on a regular basis, streak naked across campus, put cars on rooftops, and do a variety of other silly things."
"I wouldn't mind you streaking naked across campus."
"If we get caught, you're a dead man."
He kept his shirt and pants on; she pulled up her skirt and helped him take her hose and panties off. He knelt between her legs, licking and burying his face in her until she was moaning involuntarily, clenching her fingers into his cotton-clad shoulders. At that point, she was beyond caring; if the campus newspaper photographer had shown up, she would have just smiled for the camera.
When he rose to enter her, he kissed her fiercely, sharing her own taste with her, then pulled back to look at her.
"I've wanted to christen this carrel for a while," he said in between deep breaths.
"Bill, that's for houses...apartments...*bedrooms*."
"How do you know? How many times have you done this?"
"Not enough," she said just before the orgasm hit. He quit attempting any finesse when he felt her convulse around him, and thrust into her hard enough to make the table shake.
He laid on top of her, making no move to get dressed. She pushed at his weight half-heartedly, too relaxed to insist on reclaiming any decency.
A woman's voice filtered through the rows of books, coming from behind Dana.
The thought that they were about to be rudely interrupted did not contribute to her enjoyment, though it seemed to excite him even more.
She pulled her skirt down and grabbed at her discarded hose and underwear, stuffing them into her purse. He rolled his eyes and tucked his shirt back into his pants, zipping them and buckling his belt just as a harried-looking undergraduate, staring at the printout in her hand, came by. She didn't pay them any attention.
* * *
Dana was just getting out of the shower one morning when it occurred to her that they had nothing left from Berkeley. They'd even had to buy most of their warmer clothes. And when she thought about it, she could hardly remember what their apartment in California had been like. She supposed that's why they'd left everything behind--they hadn't really formed any attachments there.
As she dressed for work, letting Bill continue to doze, she reflected on life, the universe, and everything. Why did it all seem so sketchy? The drive to Michigan, the hot sun beating through the windshield, the chilly motel they'd stayed in that one night, when she thought she would have frozen if Bill hadn't let himself be used as a blanket--all those seemed so much more real than anything before. It was eerie--she hadn't thought that the transition to a new life in the middle of the country would be so significant to her.
Dana had never been one to dwell on the past, even when she had more ties to it.
She believed that only the present and the future really mattered; what was done was done. She didn't visit her parents' graves, because it wouldn't do them any good.
Besides, except for meeting Bill, there was nothing of any note in her past.
Better to plan for the future and the children they hoped to have, now that Bill had tenure. Two months after the move to Ann Arbor, she'd thrown away her birth control pills.
They'd used condoms for a few weeks, just to give the estrogen and progestin some extra time to leave her body--it wasn't supposed to be dangerous, but there was no reason to be hasty. And last night, they'd had their first unprotected sex ever. She'd wanted to whisper, "Make me pregnant," in his ear, but she thought that might be unlucky.
As she applied foundation, she wondered what had made her so contemplative.
Probably it was the thought of a child; that connection to the future made her think more about the past. They'd have to think about a church. Come to think of it, she and Bill had never discussed religion. She couldn't even remember being in church with him, except for the wedding. It was something to discuss. She looked fondly over at the bed and the big, white- shrouded lump in it.
She noticed that, though Bill was still lying in bed, he'd put on his glasses. "What are you doing?"
"Watching you," he replied, with a faint smirk. "You're beautiful without makeup, but when you put it on...you look like you're putting on a suit of armor."
"Maybe it is a little like that. Chicken ok for dinner?"
"You know, you're lazing around on my tax dollars," she said, bending over to kiss him before she left.
"Can't think of a better use for 'em," she heard as the bedroom door swung closed.
* * *
Dana dreamed: a white cross, spattered with bright red arterial blood. A little boy, clutching at her desperately. A jar with something impossible inside. A woman in a hospital bed, dying. Other images, things she should know but could not name, names she could repeat but not comprehend. And the light, the light and the pain and the light...Images slipped away as she tried to make them concrete.
She woke Bill with her moans two nights in a row, then prescribed herself a mild sedative. It worked: she stayed beneath the murky surface of her dreams, and was unable to remember more than a sense of terror and familiarity when she woke.
And there was the strange matter of her signature. It's generally the case that a person's name is the sloppiest, most individualized aspect of his or her writing; as something that gets written all the time and as a unit, the individual letters begin to blur, even when the rest of the handwriting is third-grade clear. But Dana noticed that she had to concentrate to sign her last name to checks. She still signed everything "Parker," after four years of marriage, so it wasn't the name change that was the problem.
It was only that once, when she wasn't paying much attention, she'd signed an autopsy report in a true scrawl, with something that wasn't her name. She was checking the form one last time before she sent it to Records, and she noticed that she'd signed it "Dana S-----," the last name trailing off in a true doctor's scrawl. She couldn't read it, and when she looked at it hard it gave her a headache, so she fixed it and sent it away. And wondered.
For some reason, the thought of telling Bill about her recent troubles terrified her.
Every time she tried to put the flashes of ersatz memory and disorientation together into some coherent story, she was overtaken with a revulsion so great that it almost nauseated her. If she opened her mouth, he'd think that she was crazy. He'd laugh at her. He'd pity and despise her for being weak in the head.
She knew that these thoughts were slanderous and untrue of her decent, loving husband, but knowing their falsity didn't make them less powerful-
* * *
"I've redecorated," Sherry said, coming in to Dana's office. "Come in when you get a chance and tell me how it looks."
"What's the theme?"
"Weirdness--I have my collection of objects removed from peoples' sphincters on one shelf, lunchboxes from all four Star Trek shows, and a bunch of other odds and 'ends.'"
"Sounds...fascinating," Dana said dubiously.
"I live to please. Come on, at least you'll have a good story to tell that gorgeous hubby of yours, and it won't involve violent death."
"Bill," she said with great dignity, "happens to *enjoy* the ones that involve violent death. It's a great virtue in a ME's mate. It was on my list of requirements."
"Did you really have a list?"
"I..." she stopped, and shook her head. Somehow, it didn't seem appropriate to tell Sherry that she didn't know. "Look, I'll stop by after I get this morning's hit-and-run out of the way."
Sherry nodded and headed out, no doubt to advertise her new decorating scheme to the others on Dana's floor.
Dana finally made it over to Sherry's office after lunch. Sherry was not in, but her door was open. True to her word, Sherry had a really strange set of objects on her shelves, not even counting the lunchboxes. A flashlight, she could believe. But a remote control? How would someone get it inside? And the squash ball...No.
She glanced around the walls. There was a big, colorful poster of a Mandelbrot set, looking for all the world like a bug and lots of buggy little progeny. And another poster, one she had to step all the way into the office to see. A pie-plate UFO, hovering over muzzy ground cover. "I Want to Believe," it said.
And suddenly she smelled the dusty, hot scent of a room underground and the light was dim and there were piles of folders everywhere, threatening to spill their contents over the grey floor and Bill was saying "Do you believe..."
She swayed forward, bracing herself on Sherry's desk. Her head was about to explode; she could tell just where the weak spots were--she felt the pounding at her temples, where the pressure would cause her brains to shoot right out of her skull when it finally burst. Her vision narrowed until she could only see the stupid, obviously fake UFO.
Dana staggered upright and ran for the bathroom, where she spent fifteen minutes splashing cold water on her face, trying very hard not to be sick and wondering what the hell had just happened.
**** The incident with the poster convinced her. Something was very wrong. She had to tell Bill; if she were going crazy, he at least had a right to know. And he *would* stand by her, help her. She had to have faith in his love.
Dana raised the subject while they were lingering over their traditional Friday night dinner out. They'd had moderately priced Italian, slurging a little on the wine, as always. Fragments of dessert remained on the table, but they weren't really eating any more, just basking in each other's company.
"Bill? I'm in need of your expert psychological opinion."
"What is it?"
"I've been having some really...strange moments recently. Have you ever heard the name Fox M--" She stopped and doubled over. The head- splitting pain was the same as before, terrifyng because she knew there was more; this agony was only the barest promise of what was to come.
Bill was at her side instantly, cradling her in his arms. "Dana? Dana, what is it?" A waiter rushed over. He and Bill conferred, and the waiter left, presumably to call an ambulance. She rocked back and forth in Bill's arms, trying to get rid of the pain with the motion.
Gradually, it subsided, and she was able to sit up, just as the EMTs arrived. Bill insisted that she go to the hospital, though she knew they'd just give her Tylenol-3 at best (which she could damn well prescribe for herself if it was called for). She was still dizzy and not at her argumentative best. So she sat through a bumpy ride in the ambulance, then tried to get Bill to just go home with her once they were there and nothing was wrong with her. He wouldn't be deterred, and sat with her in the emergency room.
Time seemed to lurch forward in spurts. One second, the world in front of her eyes was shaking and two-dimensional. Then, all of a sudden, an intake nurse was trying to get a history from her--Dana tried to answer, but she just couldn't figure out how to answer a lot of the questions, and Bill was unhelpful. A few times, she looked at the nurse and realized that she'd completely missed a question. God only knew what they thought of her--a doctor, unable to relate her own medical history.
Eventually, she saw a wet-behind-the-ears doctor who patronized her and advised her to get a checkup, just as she'd expected.
Bill, of course, argued with the doctor. Weren't there other tests that might be indicated? Did she need to stay for observation? It was a dance she'd seen often before: the worried relatives nagged and asked silly questions; the doctors dictated. She remembered it well from her residency. It was probably more the patients' loopy relatives than the patients themselves who had pointed her toward forensic pathology; the dead were so much more cooperative. Disease and trauma were unpredictable, but not wilfully irrational.
Her musings helped her tune out Bill's protests, and finally he accepted that they'd have to leave. They got a cab back to the apartment-- there went the week's entertainment budget.
After all the excitement, they'd missed the movie they'd planned to see, so she suggested a walk around the campus--to watch the nightlife and see what body parts the most adventurous students had managed to pierce recently. Bill was reluctant, but Dana insisted that her head was fine.
He only agreed to go out when she flatly informed him that *she* needed a walk, and that he could come if he wanted.
The evening had turned slightly chilly; he put on his leather jacket, and she took her windbreaker. It ought to be illegal for him to wear black leather, she thought. It added just the right bohemian flair to his lanky frame. Whenever they went out in public, she felt a little like carrying a sign that would say "HE'S WITH ME." She supposed that her smile said pretty much the same thing.
As they walked, Dana thought about how to tell Bill what she thought had just happened.
"You know that name I was about to tell you when my--headache hit?"
"I heard your voice saying it, I mean I had a memory of you saying it. A woman at my office called you a fox, and then I heard you say the name. But when I had that memory, I felt the same pain as when I tried to say it tonight. What do you think it means?"
He looked up at the stars. "Could be a number of things. Could be psychosomatic--the name is traumatic, so you don't let yourself remember it by distracting and punishing yourself with pain whenever you think of it- Could be just a strange coincidence. Or, of course, it could be the result of aversion conditioning, most notably and horribly used to attempt to 'straighten' homosexuals by inflicting pain on them when they reacted with arousal to pictures of other men. Wasn't effective, aside from its barbarity. But somehow, I doubt that's the explanation for your headache."
She laughed. "Yes, I guess it's unlikely I've done anything worth brainwashing me for."
"So, do you want to tempt fate and try the name again?"
She shivered involuntarily. "No."
He stopped walking. "Dana, what are you worried about? I don't want you getting worked up about this. It's just a freaky occurrence, and you'll go to the doctor and we'll make sure everything's ok. But don't make it a big mystery."
"How about I'll write it down, and you can look at it. Will that be acceptable?"
He gave her a *look*, a "isn't it cute that my logical wife is being illogical about her own head, good thing I'm a psychologist" look. But all that he said was, "Fine."
They went over to a bench and he produced a small notebook and a pen. One of the benefits of living with a professor, she thought--one was never without writing materials. Not quite sure why, she closed her eyes and wrote without looking at the paper.
She heard him whimper, and opened her eyes to see him cowering away in pain. When she touched his arm, her husband flinched. "Noooo..." he said hopelessly, and it was the most frightening thing she'd ever heard.
"Bill? Are you ok? I'm here, it's me, it's ok."
His tremors slowly subsided, and when he looked at her again, his eyes were haunted. "I know that name," he said. "But I don't know why."
They sat in silence, watching the happy twenty-year-olds race by.
"Something's going on," he said, finally. "Sometimes I think I'm going crazy. I remember things I shouldn't and I'm missing basic details I should know. Do you remember anyone from Berkeley, close friends we could call?"
"No, we didn't really have anyone close."
"Were we even there? I remember...some things, but it doesn't seem real...I don't recognize all those articles with my name on them. I didn't tell you because you'd think I was crazy."
"I'd never say you were crazy, Bill. It's not my field." He smiled slightly at that. "You're saying that you think we don't really exist." The concept was not even that ridiculous to her. She had no deep conviction in her own existence; nothing in her life was particularly vivid or compelling. If she had to prove that she were real, she was not even sure how to go about it.
"How would we tell? We're both loners, always have been. We don't keep in touch with anyone from college, or your med school, or my graduate program. No close relatives. We're ciphers."
"That doesn't mean we're not *real*. I remember meeting you, dating you, getting married..."
"But you can't deny that something's going on. You have flashes of memory, don't you? A different life: some things that seem familiar shouldn't, and others that should be routine are strange."
She nodded. She hadn't told Bill about the strange incident at the firing range, but he'd just described it. "What's happened to you?"
"I have trouble grading papers, but I was reading a paper by a criminologist in my department and he said some things about sexual killers that I *knew* were wrong, just plain stupid, and I wrote him a note citing all sorts of examples, names and dates and details I shouldn't have known. But I know them. Dana, I can see them now. I think I was at the scenes."
"Are you saying you think you're a sexual killer?" Involuntarily, she moved a little farther from him.
"No, of course not." She relaxed a little. "I think I may have studied them."
"But why would this happen to us? Even if your specialty is really crime and not birth order, we're an academic and a doctor."
"I don't know. I...this is going to sound paranoid, but I don't think that we should talk about it at home."
"Or on the phone."
"Right." He rose, and she followed. He began heading in the direction of their apartment.
They'd made it to the walkway under the library, which usually provided a great view of the quad but which had been walled off with a temporary fence for construction, when she stopped. This was too weird. There had to be something that she could do that was normal.
He noticed that she'd fallen behind immediately, and turned to take her head in his hand, tilting it up to see her expression in the near-darkness. "What is it, Dana? Is your headache back?"
"Make love to me, Bill."
"Here?" He was incredulous. This was the first time she'd initiated anything outside of the bedroom, and it was quite a way to start.
She growled. "No, on the moon. Of course here. No one can see, with the fence..."
"Someone could come by..."
She couldn't believe that he was arguing. She pushed him against the library wall. The 'seventies architecture involved rectangular pillars that protruded from the walls at regular intervals; backing him into a corner created by one of the pillars, she thrust her hands under his shirt, pulling it from his jeans.
"So fuck me fast and make it good," she said, pleased that the line came out smoothly.
Bill groaned and bent to kiss her bruisingly, then spun her around so that she was pressed against the corner. The rough, stuccoed finish of the building pressed against her back. Her hands wrapped around the soft leather of his jacket and she ground her hips against his.
He used one hand to squeeze her breasts through her shirt, while the other lifted her skirt and slid underneath her panties. He tested her with one finger, then two, rubbing his thumb against her clitoris to ensure that she was ready for him. She jerked upwards and buried her face in his leather-clad shoulder, rubbing her face into the jacket.
He began to tug at her underwear, preparing to slide it off her, but she grabbed his hand. "Just push them to the side," she ordered. "Don't waste any more time."
At this point, his hands were shaking so much that she had to unbutton and unzip his jeans, and carefully free the erection that had been straining beneath them.
"Lift me up," she commanded. She wasn't sure where this Dana Parker had come from--no, bad train of thought, leave it behind--but she knew where they were headed: oblivion. Bill complied--he wasn't having any troublesome instrospective thoughts, apparently--and thrust into her with a satisfied grunt.
The pain from the wall's stony swirls, pressing into her back, heightened the pleasure of being filled by Bill, being possessed by him. She held on to his shoulders and tightened her legs around him. He helped hold her up with his hands under her thighs.
He used his whole body to thrust into her, so that with each motion she was slammed against the building, her head lolling back as bright spots of light flashed before her eyes. She could hear him chanting, "Yes, yes, yes..." as she went over the edge, crying out his name.
His orgasm followed soon after. She felt every pulse inside her like a benediction.
He staggered back and released her so quickly that she stumbled and nearly fell. He reached to stabilize her, swaying some himself. "Sorry," he said. "My knees just gave out."
She straightened her clothes as he made himself decent again, though he didn't bother to tuck in his shirt. When she looked up from her repair job, he was staring at her.
"That was amazing, Dana. I can't believe you just..."
She shrugged. "I thought it was my turn to add some variety to our sex life."
"I vote that it's your turn for the rest of the century." He leaned back against the wall she'd so recently been writhing against. His pupils were still extremely dilated, and she could see the goosebumps on his throat where the faint sheen of sex-sweat met the cool night air.
They walked back home, perfectly in step despite the height difference; he adjusted his pace automatically when they were together. It was one of the things she'd liked from the beginning about him. Unlike the other men she'd dated, her height didn't seem to bring out any macho condescension in him, nor did he walk so fast that she had to skip along behind like a puppy. At least there were some certainties left in their world.
* * *
"This Friday night, I have to give a talk at Wayne State on sibling rivalry," he said. "We could go together, stay in a hotel, order room service...get away from here." He gave a significant glance around the room.
She nodded. Since they'd had their conversation on the bench, the walls of their home had seemed dangerous, as if hidden within them were weapons aimed at her, ready to fire if she made a false move.
Meanwhile, she examined every situation for its ability to trigger memories in her. Mostly, she came up blank. There were a few flashes of deja vu that might just as easily have been wishful thinking. Once, she found herself staring at an air vent, frozen in fear like a rabbit staring at a snake, for several minutes--until a morgue attendant came in and brought her attention back to the autopsy she was supposed to be doing. It was strange to stand in front of a dead, spread-open body and fear an air vent. Not very helpful in solving the mystery of her odd flashes of memory, though.
Nothing more passed between them about the issue until that Friday night. They didn't even talk about it in the car, because that was no safer than the apartment.
Dana listened to his lecture with half an ear. Not having had siblings, she didn't have any direct experience with the behavior he was describing. But then again, neither did he. Bill said that it wasn't surprising that two only children would have a lot in common. Used to being the center of attention; used to plenty of personal space. Questions from the audience--especially the distaff side, she noted automatically--kept him almost half an hour past the scheduled end of the lecture, but finally they managed to get away and head to their hotel.
"So, do you want to go out?"
"No," she replied, lying back against the bed. "Let's get room service and talk."
He nodded and stripped off his tie. He threw it on a chair, followed by his shirt and undershirt, then plopped down on the bed. His weight made it shake, and she laughed at him and rolled over on top of him.
They nuzzled for a few moments, but Dana didn't want to get too distracted, so she pulled up.
She looked down at his body. "That's funny," she said, frowning. "I never noticed that scar before."
"The bullet scar in your shoulder," she said, prodding it. "A few years old." He bent his head down awkwardly to look at the scar, compressing the side of his face into a very odd shape. "Do you remember this?"
"You were there," he said quietly.
"Why? What happened?"
"I don't know."
She nodded shortly and continued her inspection. She found another scar on his thigh. It looked as if the bullet had gone deep, possibly penetrating an artery. The flesh was mottled pink and white, rough under her fingers where the scar knotted and rippled. He was lucky to have survived. He didn't remember that one either, but insisted that she'd been there when he got it.
How could she not have known about those scars? True, until arriving in Michigan they'd mainly had sex with the lights off and in the missionary position, but still...It was as if her eyes and touch had just skipped over the white, raised cicatrices.
"Turn over," she ordered, and he complied. His other scars were more ordinary. Finally, she straddled his back and began to rub it--no reason this had to be completely unpleasant, after all. Her hands worked their way up from the small of his back to his neck. Running her hands through his hair, enjoying his muffled sighs of encouragement, she noticed one final scar. It was a little over an inch long, vertical, hidden mostly by the hair at the nape of his neck, and between ten months to a year old. It did not look accidental, and she put one hand to the back of her neck instinctively, feeling ridged tissue.
Bill had noticed her sudden rigidity. "What is it, Dana?"
She told him about the scar. "It could have something to do with our memory problems, given the apparent age and the fact that we both seem to have them."
"Well, my love," he said and grinned lasciviously, "why don't you disrobe too and I'll have a look." She recognized his tactic, but it made her feel better nonetheless.
His detailed, and less detached, inspection of her body turned up a tattoo. "I remember when you got that, though," he commented. "We were celebrating finishing my orals, we got drunk..."
"Yeah, I remember, only...if they were your orals, why am I the one with the tattoo? And why the worm Ouroubos?"
Dana twisted over and looked at him. His mouth was screwed up as if he were tasting something sour. "It's a silly cover story, that's for sure." His tone was angry.
The rest of his inspection found only the scar on the back of her neck. He said that it looked as if there were actually two scars, one older and one recent on top of the old one. "This is bad, isn't it?" she asked as he stroked her neck with a curious finger.
There was a moment of silence, and then they said, simultaneously, "Do you think I'm spooky?"
He nodded with satisfaction and moved off of her to lie down beside her.
"I think it's obvious," he said, "that we do better getting at these suppressed memories--because I think that's what they are--sideways, as it were, through body memory or significant phrases. Only the name triggers the actual pain; the other things we remember are missing links, unmatched puzzle pieces."
"So what do we do? Play Twenty Questions until we remember something real?"
"Maybe...We could try to get a broad range of experiences and see what triggers memories."
"I already know that I can shoot a gun--maybe you should go to the firing range too." She recounted her experience with Sherry. "I didn't tell you before, because I wasn't certain what it meant."
"From now on, we'll make sure to tell each other."
* * *
"Dr. Parker," she said into the phone.
"Dana, it's me," Bill's voice came over the line, flat but with an almost unnoticeable hint of excitement. "I'm at the Campus Computing Center. Can you come here?"
"Yes, I'll take off early for lunch."
She drove quickly to campus and hurried to the Center, nestled at the bottom of a hill in the middle of classroom buildings. Bill was in the back corner of the room, working on one of the large-screen Macintoshes. He rose to hug her before she could see what was on the screen.
"I borrowed a colleague's account," he said, "in case using my own would set off any alarms." She looked at him, disturbed first by his paranoia and then by the thought that it was not necessarily unjustified. "I searched for the name you told me. Look at what I've found." He guided her to a chair, which was fortunate because she fell heavily into it when she saw their pictures onscreen.
"It's from the Washington Post," he said gently. Two pictures, side by side, each official-looking and formal. Fox Mulder, the paper called him. He looked unhappy and ornery in his picture. And her, Dana Scully, though her hair was much puffier in her picture than it was currently.
It was an obituary.
"FBI agents? Partners?" she said disbelievingly. Her head was pounding, and she shook off the pain as a feeble distraction. "But--"
Died in an unexplained fire. Foul play not suspected at this time, but investigation continuing, said AD Walter Skinner. Fox Mulder, survived by mother Elizabeth. Dana Scully, survived by mother Margaret and brothers Charles and Bill Jr. "I have a family," she breathed softly. "You--we--"
"I don't know what this means," he said. "But someone obviously wanted us out of the way. We can try to find out more. But if it was dangerous for Mulder and Scully, FBI agents, it's going to be even worse for Professor and Doctor Rogers. We have a good life, Dana. We could just accept it."
"No, we can't."
"Why not?" He was convinced, she could tell, but he needed to hear her say it. She leaned in even closer to him. "First," she began, "neither of us can live a lie like that. Now that we know, we can't leave it alone. Second, if someone out there has the power to do this to us--to give us lives that seem almost real, to get you hired as a professor at a major university, for God's sake, then why not just kill us?" She let the question hang in the air, then answered it herself.
"They're not done with us."
* * *
They walked home; the apartment wasn't too far away from the campus, so it was a plausible thing to do, as long as she got back to work eventually.
For once, she had to hurry to keep up with him. He was practically shooting off sparks of restless energy.
"What's the first memory you have that you think is real?" she asked, when she'd found her rhythm.
He slowed down a little, considering the question. "The drive from Berkeley to Ann Arbor. I think they sent us off and gave us the road trip to get used to our new lives. Coming at a transitional moment, any gaps or uncertainties we felt could easily be attributed to the stress of the trip-- I know that's what I did."
"That makes sense," she admitted. "I liked the trip. I liked driving for hours--concentrating without really thinking. It was relaxing, but I was also looking forward to arriving. I felt that we could start over, meet new people. I thought...I felt a little lonely, because I didn't know anyone but you, and that had been true for so long...I thought we could reach out and change that."
"Funny," he said, too lightly. "I thought I could be happy forever as long as I had you all to myself. That's what I loved about driving with you."
* * *
That night, when Dana showed every sign of being prepared to sleep on the couch, Bill came and sat on the edge, near her head.
"Bed's more comfortable," he told her. She looked at him as if at a stranger. "Come outside, let's look at the stars."
Dana followed him into the spring evening. The balcony was one of the most attractive things about the apartment; she leant out over the railing, looking down at the ground with a slight twinge of vertigo.
She knew that she had to talk to him. "If we were partners, not husband and wife, then..."
"Then should we be sleeping together?"
"What if they just told us we loved each other, like they told us our names and our histories?"
"I don't know if they could do that. So far, everything we know about ourselves is at least related to the truth--our educations and specialties, the place I grew up--my mother's in Massachusetts, still. I can't believe that what we feel doesn't have some reality to it. Whatever reality is."
"But partners...they can't be allowed to have a... relationship, can they?"
He flushed scarlet. "Actually, they can. I, uh, looked it up on the FBI website. The sexual conduct policy says that it's only prohibited where there's a power differential, not when the agents are at the same level."
"But we don't know the truth."
"Do you love me?"
"I think I do. I feel that I do. But I think a lot of things that just turned out to be lies."
"If you feel it, Dana, it's not a lie. I feel it. Nothing we found out today changed that certainty." He took her hand. "We know that our bodies remember things our minds don't--you proved that with the gun. Do you remember holding hands?" He clasped her hand between his own. She nodded.
"Do you remember this?" He raised his hand to her mouth, and traced the outline of her lips with his thumb. She nodded again, her eyes never leaving his.
"Do you remember this?" His fingers dropped to the hollow of her throat, dancing across her skin as he touched the tiny cross she wore. She nodded yet again, mouth too dry to speak.
He put a hand on her shoulder to turn her around, then pushed her T- shirt up to expose the skin underneath. His fingertips brushed her lower back, sending shivers down her spine. "Do you remember this?" His breath brushed her ear. She nodded her head frantically, shaking her hair up and down.
He spun her around again and placed her hands under his own shirt, on his chest. His lips brushed the top of her head. "Do you remember this?" His voice was shaking.
Her voice was torn from her with a passion she'd never felt during the past five months. "Yes," she nearly sobbed, and fell onto him, seeking his warmth, his matching desire for her, his soul.
He carried her back inside and laid her on the bed. They made love with desperate intensity, and she screamed when she came. But she could not identify the word, or name, she screamed.
* * *
Understandably, Dana wasn't paying much attention at work the next day. She was focused enough on the actual autopsies, but there weren't enough of those to keep her busy; Ann Arbor was not a happening town, death-wise. So she visited Sherry, and dropped by the police station next door to see if anyone needed patching up, and wandered the halls--anything to keep busy and not be staring at the white walls of her office.
Sherry, noting her distraction, came to get her for lunch.
"Come on," she said to Dana, "let's go try the Mongolian barbecue place down the block."
"Mongolian barbecue?" Dana asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow.
"Sure--you pick a bowl of food, and then they barbecue it for you on a big grill. It's supposed to be great."
Dana shook her head and got her purse.
As they left the building, Dana was still distracted. That was why she didn't notice when Sherry let go of the door too soon. The heavy metal door swung back swiftly and slammed into Dana's face, knocking her down.
She didn't quite realize what had happened at first--she was on the floor and her nose hurt, and she was sprawled in a very undignified manner. The blow to the head might have dazed her, because she didn't move until Sherry, who'd rushed back in when Dana failed to emerge from the building, pulled her to her feet.
Sherry was babbling apologies, rooting around in her purse for something. She pointed to Dana's face.
Dana brought her hand to her nose and lowered it. The index and middle fingers were smeared with blood, her blood.
And in a flash she was in that other world again, the world of horror and danger and terrible excitement. Her blood was on her fingers, and behind her a young man lay twisted on the floor, a mixture of blood and breath frothing out from his punctured lung. Spilled beer mixed with spilled blood, and she'd never even known his first name...
Sherry was touching her gently now, forcing her face up with a hand underneath her chin to dab at the blood dripping onto her mouth. Dana couldn't hear what her friend was saying, but the moment of memory had gone. She looked once more at her hand, curious, and then tried to reassure Sherry.
The nosebleed stopped, and they did end up eating Mongolian barbecue (nowhere near as intimidating as it sounded), and Dana even managed to work up an interest in the latest politician sex scandal. Sherry was a big fan of Michigan politics. It was good not to have to work very hard at the conversation.
* * *
Of course, they had to go to work as if nothing had happened. Dana kept searching the lab and morgue for something that would trigger more memories, but all she found was a number of misplaced autopsy reports. When she was totally sick of pacing around the building, she left work early.
As she was driving, she noticed a small Catholic church on the side of the road. Propelled by an impulse she didn't understand but felt that she had to trust, she pulled into the parking lot. It was nearly empty; very few people come to church in the middle of the week.
She entered. It was cool, dark and silent, and when the doors swung shut behind her she jumped. She walked down the aisle, looking up at the dirty stained-glass windows.
The altar was small but immaculately clean. Dana noted the places where the altar boys (and girls, now) would stand, the wood scuffed and worn down from the quiet shuffling of countless feet. There was the place they'd kneel to take communion.
"Can I help you?" The priest's voice came out of the dimness off to her left.
She looked him over. About fifty, jowly but not fat, he had a friendly, open expression that was probably very useful in persuading young college students not to leave the Church forever, whatever their sins or failings.
"I'm not sure," she said. He smiled at her, waiting. "Father, do you think that a soul can change completely, if everything about a person changes?"
"Sins can be forgiven, if sincere confession is made. You don't have to be stained forever, if you accept God."
Dana shook her head. "That's not what I mean. What if...what if you forgot who you were, completely. What if you woke up and thought that you were someone else. Would your soul still be the same, if everything else were different?"
"Well, the soul comes into being at the moment a new human life is created, and it is eternal, so I'd have to say that your soul would still be the same. The soul is marked by what a person experiences, but it is also separate from the flesh and can never be wholly defined by what happens in the material world...Do you feel that you've changed so much from what you once were?"
Dana started, and realized that he'd been moving closer as he talked. He could be anyone; it was easy to put on a collar and a robe.
"N--no," she stammered. "I just...Can I light a candle?" She saw the row of candle holders behind him, and it offered a welcome distraction.
He smiled even more benignly. "Of course. We usually ask for a small donation, if you can afford it. And I'm here every day if you want to talk; there's a schedule of church events on the bulletin board by the door." Sensing her need for silence, he retreated as she stuffed a dollar into the box next to the tray of candles.
<This is for Dana Scully and Fox Mulder,> she thought as she lit her candle. There were no other candles burning; of course not, it was midafternoon and there was no reason for most people to be in church at this hour. She crossed herself automatically, trying to remember where she'd learned the routine. Did God listen to the prayers of made-up people? Was there a lower standard of faith when you were only partially real?
She left the building after the candle burned halfway down.
By the time Bill came home, Dana was nearly jumping out of her skin. All of the constancies she'd thought that she could believe in had disappeared, and Bill was the only reality she could touch.
He came through the door and she threw herself into his arms, blindly seeking his touch. She assaulted his mouth desperately. He hesitated, but she pulled him down to her, leaning back against the hallway wall, and he began to kiss her with matching intensity.
Jacket, tie, shirt--she stripped him with ruthless efficiency, licking and nipping at his exposed skin just to hear his moans.
Then his hands were on her shoulders, pushing himself away.
"Wait, Dana..." He was panting. "We have to talk."
"Later," she insisted, stroking the bulge in his pants. "It'll keep."
She let her hand fall to her side. "Let's go for a walk."
"Give me a minute," he said, bending to retrieve his clothes. She went into the bathroom to fix her makeup while he got dressed again.
They walked to the strip of stores near campus, looking into windows almost at random. After a while, Bill began to talk.
"I spent the day in microfiche," he said. "Thank God for the resources of a major state university, you know? My father worked for the government...State Department, the obituary said, but I doubt it. When I was twelve, my little sister was taken. There was a Boston Globe article on her disappearance...I saw her picture and I remembered almost everything."
Words tumbled out of him. There was a wild, prospecting-for-gold gleam in his eye. "I remember things--growing up, joining the X Files--I think I'm close to getting it all back--I used to have an eidetic memory and it might be coming back, at least when I concentrate--except for the memories I didn't have then, my sister and Ellens..."
This was sounding more and more like babbling. "Your sister Ellen?" What did he mean? She stopped walking to look at him more carefully.
"No, my sister Samantha," he said sarcastically, as if she should have known. "She was abducted and I don't have a good memory of it. And Ellens Air Force Base, where I saw an alien entity, I think, the first year that you and I were partners, but the military caught me and erased my memory completely. I guess that works better than trying to implant fake ones."
Abduction, aliens, military conspiracy...Was Fox Mulder crazy? Was Dana Scully, for following him around? There was still the undeniable fact that someone had found them dangerous enough to kill and resurrect. So Scully and Mulder had to have been on to something.
"Scully..." He saw her flinch, and took her face in his hand. "I'm sorry, I just think of you as Scully...you will too, I hope. Unless...you might not want to remember. Some of the things that happened to us...they weren't good."
She had an extremely bad feeling about what he wasn't saying. But one thing was foremost in her mind. "If you think of me as Scully, then we weren't lovers. That's just part of the cover story."
Bill--Fox--Mulder--sighed and ran his thumb up and down her cheek. "Dana, no, we weren't physically lovers. But I...we were as close as two people can be. I know you cared, you wouldn't have stayed otherwise, after what I put you through. I don't know why we never...there were always things in the way. Demons."
"And now yours are back."
He acknowledged her statement by pulling away. "Some things are still unclear...but the broad contours are there."
"What was Dana Scully like?"
"She's...a lot like you."
Bill looked at her, pursing his lips disapprovingly. She got the strong feeling that she was not in fact too much like Dana Scully; Dana Scully would know what to do next. And of course she must be spoken of in the present tense.
"So what are we--part of the Federal Protection from Witnesses program or something? Why in particular were we erased?" she asked as he turned, rubbing the heel of his hand against his forehead.
"I honestly don't know. I was working on getting proof of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life--proof that our government has known for decades that such life is here on Earth, and has attempted to create alien-human hybrids to take advantage of alien characteristics--"
"You're kidding, right?" she interrupted.
He gave her a sheepish grin, ducking his head as if he knew that he needed to disarm her. "Yeah, you always did think I was a few ensigns short of an away team on the subject of extraterrestrial involvement in Earth affairs. But someone out there really doesn't want us to know the truth, whether it's solely human evil, as you suggested, or some combination of human and alien collusion. I guess my lead must have been more accurate than usual, if the men who run this shadow government found it necessary to intervene and risk the political repercussions. We were...not unknown in the corridors of power. There would have been questions after our deaths.
"The last thing I remember is going to the rendezvous with you. I wanted to leave you behind but you said you'd shoot me again if I ditched you this time."
"Again?" "Long story. That was just over ten months ago. And my memories start again as Bill Rogers--that's a stupid-ass name, isn't it? Probably some Black Hat's idea of a joke--eight months ago. So whatever they did to us took time. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'identity politics,' doesn't it?"
"I need to remember, Bill. If you know who you are, then I'm all alone in this."
He looked at her. There were lines in his face she didn't recognize; she saw a stranger, living in her husband's flesh. "Actually, I'd prefer to be called Mulder."
After the many times she'd chanted their old names to herself during the past few days, the word itself no longer gave her any pain; she'd desensitized herself to it. But his request still hurt. She pushed the feeling of loss aside.
"Mulder, how can I remember what you have?"
"There are methods we can try--hypnosis, though we'll have to find someone trustworthy; I won't do it on you because there's too great a risk I'll just implant my memories of the same experiences. But you have to know at the outset that your memories may just be gone. Neuroscientists believe that the brain of a person with an eidetic memory is simply wired differently from normal brains."
"I won't accept that. I had memories, dammit. I *heard* your voice, B--I will get my life back. I will."
His voice was soft, calming. "Then you need to know that, as Dana Scully, you went missing for three months a few years back. We don't know what happened to you. I think that you were abducted by aliens; you insisted that it had to have been secret government experiments involving purely human evil. Whatever the case, it was very traumatic. There are things I know I don't remember about what happened to you; I think I'm having trouble because I don't want to remember. Recovering your former life is not going to be pleasant."
"Yours wasn't a walk in the park, either, was it?"
"No," he said, a glint of humor in his eye, remembering something, "it was a nice trip to the forest."
She sighed and hoped to understand eventually.
"The first thing we need to do now," he continued, "is get our implants taken out."
"Those scars on our necks--they're identical to the one you had when you came back from your abduction, with a chip implanted in you. Apparently it could record nerve impulses. Maybe transmit them, though we were never sure. I'd say it would be a good idea to get them out of us before we find out through direct experience."
This was moving far too fast. He was manic, nearly gleeful with his discoveries, but she couldn't process it all.
She asked the most logical question that came to mind. "But won't that be a signal to whoever did this that we know what's happened?"
His expression darkened--a flash flood of anger. He slammed his hand against the display case, shaking the glass window and causing the people inside the store to look out at them in puzzlement. "I don't know!" He was shouting, and it was all she could do not to cringe. "I don't know anything about why this happened, or what comes next."
Dana needed to find some way of relating to this sudden stranger. She took his hand in hers. "It's ok," she said gently. "We'll figure it out, together. The truth is out there."
"In at least two senses, I think," he said wryly, and pulled away. He began to walk back toward the apartment, almost jogging in his haste.
She stared at his back. "Mercurial" didn't seem to begin to cover it.
* * *
The next day brought more impatience and pacing for Dana, and more revelations from Mulder. He didn't even have to suggest a walk when he got home this time; the look in his eye was enough to make her put her shoes back on.
They walked four blocks before he began to talk.
"We have to get you to a doctor, immediately."
"I am a doctor, remember? What is it?"
He stared at her, searching fruitlessly for any sign of memory. His eyes were weary, their sadness dulled by the shadows veiling them.
She waited, certain that he couldn't keep her in ignorance forever.
"You were--sick--when we were taken. We were searching for a treatment, but we hadn't found anything yet."
"I haven't shown any symptoms--" she began. Her expression darkened.
"Just--my failure to remember in response to environmental cues. It could be a consequence of cancer, if it's spread, depending on which areas of the brain are affected."
He winced. "Dana, I have to ask--could you be pregnant?"
"I--it's unlikely, but I could check. I haven't thought about it."
He shook his head. "I don't think you can get pregnant."
"What?" She stopped walking. "Why?"
"When we found out about your cancer, we investigated several leads. One of them led me to a fertility center, where I was told that the same radiation that produced your cancer had been used to harvest all your ova. I saw vials and vials in a cold storage vault, labelled with your name, and one that I took and had tested contained eggs that were yours."
She felt sick to her stomach. She'd just assumed that she'd be able to get pregnant, maybe not immediately, but soon. After all, they'd made the decision to start a family while she was still relatively young- But apparently it had been a false hope all along.
A dead end.
She had no past, and now it seemed that she had no future. And Bill, the man who had at least shared her confusion, was now a stranger--even worse, he was *himself* again, and she was still lost, with no idea about who she was supposed to be.
What if it was all a mistake? What if, in their loneliness, they'd convinced each other of this exotic conspiracy theory? Bill could have created that web page with their pictures on it; he was a computer whiz. He might not even know, consciously, that he was doing it. She'd read of similar cases of shared delusions, usally between lovers who knew nothing but themselves. Folie a deux, it was called. One person's idle fantasy, shared, could take on elaborate reality, as each person confirmed the other's delusions.
And that would mean that she might not be barren. He could be extrapolating from her failure to conceive so far, just to fit it into his megalomaniacal cosmology.
But how to test that theory? He wouldn't let them talk it over in the house. She could do her own Web search...if no one was watching what they did.
"What's wrong?" Apparently, husband or no, he could still read her moods.
"You don't believe it," he said, eyes lighting with his dawning comprehension. "You don't want to believe."
"It's so incredible...so convoluted."
"But what about all that we've seen? All that we can't explain--the names, the pictures, the memories..."
"Your memories," she said. "And memory is unreliable...we could just be building on speculation and a desire to explain why we're so lonely."
"Are you lonely, Dana?" he asked, and pain suffused her chest at his wounded look. This was her true betrayal--not her failure to believe; she could tell that he expected and understood that, understood her fear. Her theory that dissatisfaction with their life together could have made them imagine a more exciting life, though, ate at him like acid.
She reached up to touch his forehead, and he swayed towards her. She felt a gravitational pull between their bodies, but resisted it. People brushed passed them on the sidewalk, hurrying to appointments and classes and assignations, ignoring the transfixed couple.
"Does loving someone mean that he has to be everything to you?" she asked. "Isn't it all right to want more, to make the love more valuable and less an act of desperation?"
"I wouldn't know," he said. He pulled away. Something kept her fixed in place.
After a few paces, he returned to her side. "You've always demanded more evidence, Dana. Let's go get it."
* * *
They stood in the phone booth, closer than was really comfortable. He'd hunched down so that they could both hear from the receiver.
"I hope they haven't changed the number," he said as he dialed.
"Why would they?"
"The Gunmen are pretty paranoid. Only slightly less so than I am."
She heard someone pick up, but there was no sound.
"Byers, turn off the tape," Mulder said.
There was a pause, then--"This isn't funny." Whoever was speaking wasn't happy.
"No, it's not. Is the tape off?"
"Who are you?"
"Here's a clue: rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated."
"How do I know you're not using sophisticated voice-alteration software?"
Dana shot Mulder a disbelieving glance; he just shrugged. His eyes narrowed in concentration. "Ask Frohike what percentage of the tapes I left him featured short redheads." He grinned sheepishly at her frown.
"Is the tape off, Byers?"
Pause. "Yes. What are you doing in Ann Arbor?" They'd traced the call already? What *were* these people?
"Giving lectures, grading papers, you know."
"Why didn't you contact us?"
"I didn't remember you until yesterday. Implanted memories. Perfect cover story. All my colleagues think I study birth order."
A new voice came over the line. "What about Dr. Scully?"
"Hi, Frohike," he said. "That's more complicated. She's right here. She--doesn't remember being Scully. She knows about the past from what I've told her, but doesn't remember it."
"Are you coming back?"
They looked at each other, barely centimeters apart. She saw his answer in his eyes. "Yes," she said into the receiver. "Even if it takes a while to recover my memory, we're going back."
* * *
Dana gave the oncologist a fake name and a fake family history, and paid in cash for the tests she demanded. Then they waited; Mulder didn't talk to her much at all. She hoped that he had the good sense to keep teaching classes, at least, but she couldn't figure out a safe way to check up on him at work.
She'd convinced the doctor that she was enough of a terrified, hypochondriac, hysterical woman to expedite the tests--being willing to pay top dollar didn't hurt, either--and a week later she got the call. She took off early, once again grateful that death didn't visit Ann Arbor that often, and went to talk to the oncologist.
When she got home, she silently pointed to the door; Mulder understood and followed her out.
Somehow, he'd perfected the art of leaning down to hear her while he walked. It couldn't have been that comfortable.
"I got the tests back," she began. "There is no sign of any cancer. Not in my brain, nor anywhere else. There's no evidence to indicate that anything was ever there, and there should have been--evidence of chemotherapy, or a dead area in the brain...something."
His face tightened in pain. He pulled back from her, and she saw that his hands were shaking.
"This is good news, B--Mulder. Why do you look like I just told you that the tumor had metastatized?"
"You said that there was no sign that you'd ever even had a tumor."
"That's right. It's difficult to explain, but I could have been treated experimentally during our missing months...and if the treatment is not widely known, the tests could have missed some traces..."
"Or maybe you never had a tumor at all."
"But I thought..."
"Maybe," he said, taking her face in one large hand, "you're not Dana Scully." He tilted her head from side to side--looking for any signs of plastic surgery, she realized. He ran a finger over the tiny mole above her lip. "That would explain why you can't remember anything--those memories aren't really there."
Her head was spinning. "But why would someone do that? It doesn't make any sense. Dana Scully's presence with you could only provide environmental triggers that might resurrect your erased memories."
"Maybe that's what was supposed to happen. After all, you did give me the first suggestions that all was not as it seemed. They could have given you some trace memories taken from Scully's first implant, just to improve your credibility."
"You--you think I'm *working* with them, don't you?"
This man was definitely not the Bill she'd known. He loomed above her dangerously, and she didn't think he'd hesitate to threaten her if he believed that she could tell him something to aid his quest. The question paralyzed her.
They stared at each other. She wanted to turn away, but she thought that he might attack her if she moved.
"I don't know who I am," she said finally. "You told me that I was Dana Scully, and I look like her, but I don't remember her. And now you say I might not be her. After I found out that all our life here was a lie, I relied on you to confirm my existence. So you tell me, what am I?"
He must have trusted whatever pain and confusion he saw in her eyes. He pulled her into an embrace, and she laid her cheek on his chest. He nuzzled her hair briefly, then whispered, with the tone of someone telling a private joke, "That's why they put the 'I' in FBI."
* * *
They stopped in a McDonald's on the way back to the apartment. While Mulder bought them Big Macs, Dana went to the bathroom. It was as squeakily orange and yellow as the rest of the restaurant. Somehow, it didn't succeed in making her hungry.
She felt the back of her neck. There was some keloid scarring-- probably as a result of the more recent incision directly on top of the older scar. She took a compact from her purse and used it, combined with the mirror above the sink, to get a better look at the skin. It was ugly, torn and white and twisted. When she kneaded the flesh, she thought that she felt a lump.
Dana exited and found Mulder in a corner. He looked ridiculously oversized on the yellow plastic chair.
"So, these implants. I can take yours out," she said, "but do you have any medical training? I certainly can't reach this myself." She sucked on her chocolate shake.
"I'm a psychologist, not a psychiatrist," Mulder said, sounding queasy. "Are you sure you can't--"
"Yes." She considered the options. "I could call Sherry--"
"But what if she's supposed to report on you? You don't really know who she is, either." He was eating absentmindedly, cramming fries and bites of burger in his mouth in between gulps of soda.
"If she is a spy, which would represent an incredible investment of resources in us--"
"Not at the margin--" he said, through a mouthful of food. She pulled back slightly; Bill never did that.
"As I was saying, if she is a spy, she already knows that I'm having flashbacks. She's the one I went with to the firing range."
"Then it's wise not to rouse her suspicions any more."
"If these chips allow us to be tracked, I should take yours out and you should just go."
"No." His tone was dangerous, forbidding further argument. It was, of course, a red flag to her.
"If we can't bring someone in to do it, and I can't do it, then there's no choice. You should head for safety. Once you're back in D.C. and you've got the FBI behind you, you can come back for me."
"I said, no."
"Why not? You're not even sure I'm Dana Scully, are you? If I'm just another spy, ditch me. They won't expect it and you'll move faster. Even better, I can head somewhere--Texas, maybe--and keep them off of your trail."
"Sc--Dana, just stop. That's unacceptable."
"You are not," she said, each word careful and distinct, "in charge here."
"Would it help if I told you that splitting up has never worked very well for us?"
He gave her a look with which Dana Scully must have been quite familiar--pleading, hopeful, adorable, mournful and needy all at once. She felt herself weakening, and hoped that her alter ego did a better job resisting that look with practice.
"Partners stay together," he said softly, and laughed. At her quizzical look, he continued, "When you get your memory back, you're never going to let me forget this moment."
"If we're going to stay together, you're going to have to cut this thing out of my neck, scar tissue or no."
He looked ill.
She took another long suck of her shake and fixed him with her best cool stare.
* * *
The next night, they took their take-out to the quad and had a picnic. It was a good excuse to talk out in the open. Of course, Mulder said, that wouldn't help if someone was using long-range listening devices, but they might not think that there was a reason to do so as long as the fixed-site bugs showed nothing out of the ordinary.
Around them, undergraduates ran and played frisbee and made out. It was a gorgeous late spring evening. It was impossible to think that things were all that bad in a world that could produce this day.
"I've been thinking," she said. "If everything you said is accurate, and my tumor was cured by some kind of divine--or even extraterrestrial-- intervention, then why should you assume that I'm barren? I mean, you know I've been getting my periods regularly."
"Dana," he said gently, "ova don't regenerate. I was told--I was shown--your eggs were *harvested*, and wanting won't make them come back."
"Inoperable, untreatable tumors don't just disappear, either. Why are the only extreme possibilities you'll consider the ones you think of yourself?"
He looked away, rubbing at his chin. "Because I don't want you to get hurt."
"Well, I'd say your record hasn't been extraordinarily good thus far." She stood and turned away from the remains of their meal. "Does Scully resent you for anything that's happened?"
She heard a sharp intake of breath. "You never need a scalpel, do you?...Oh god...yes, sometimes, I think she does. She won't say, but...I can tell. Mostly, though, she's focused her anger on the men who give the orders. She's good that way."
"It must get lonely up there on that cross, Mulder."
"I already survived one resurrection. I'm not looking for another."
Dana turned back and studied him as he looked up at her; he needed a haircut. His hair was too fluffy to be taken seriously. His jaw twitched- She found herself noticing his mole, thinking about how she'd loved to lick around it, tasting the salt of his skin, while he laughed and protested that it was unfair to pay attention to his flaws. She was a little surprised when he spoke.
"I think we need to leave soon. Tomorrow."
"Where will we go?"
"Back to D.C. That's where your memories are--where your mom is. She's going to be very happy to see you."
"Why won't whoever did this to us just take us again?"
The million-dollar question. It hung between them like a dark cloud.
"They could...but we'll be on notice now. And Skinner...our boss...I think he'll protect us. I'd almost begun to trust him before we were taken."
She knelt and ran her hands through the new grass. She was tempted to tell him no, she wanted to stay. But she assumed that he'd go anyway; it seemed true to form. And, if he was right, staying offered no protection-
"I'll pack my bags."
"Bring a doctor kit, will you? I tend to get injured on these little adventures of ours."
She did her best to smile at him. God, she was scared. But she liked the adrenalin rush, a little. Probably why she'd become a FBI agent; it was a strange thing to do with a medical degree if she hadn't been an excitement junkie.
* * *
The next morning, Dana went to the ATM to get out the $400 maximum; Mulder was doing the same with his--Bill's--account. This hidden identity business certainly was confusing. The Gunmen were wiring them more money, to be picked up in Detroit under a code name that Mulder hadn't told her. Just in case she was a spy, of course.
She had to go to the office to get her medical supplies. And it made things look reasonably normal, if they were being watched. She was going to meet Mulder at lunchtime in the lobby of University Towers, an apartment building a few blocks from the edge of campus. Graduate students flowed in and out of there all the time; it wouldn't be unusual for him to wait there, and the parking lot was just outside the exit.
She did an autopsy while she waited for the clock to show that it was time to go; no point in lying down on the job, even if it was her last day. Then there was paperwork on the corpse, and then finally it was time. She left the completed paperwork on her desk--someone would find it, eventually--and headed for the parking garage.
As she waited for the elevator to take her down, she wondered what working at the FBI was like. Was there the kind of cameraderie she'd found here? Sherry, Roger the other assistant ME, Joan at the front desk. Did Dana Scully have friends who loved her? Did she think that she was doing something worthwhile? Would she even survive to find out?
Now there was a paranoid thought. Nothing they'd experienced so far suggested that they were in any physical danger. Even if they were being watched from afar, they'd surely be able to find their way to D.C. without incident.
The elevator pinged and she stepped out, ready to put her questions aside and concentrate on the task at hand.
In the damp silence of the underground parking lot, she heard the faint click of a gun being cocked. Thank God for the persistence of non- verbal memory; without the almost instinctive reaction left over from her days in harm's way she never would have recognized the sound.
Dana strode forward, then ducked behind a concrete pillar. Maybe her shadow would think that she hadn't heard. Her hand automatically went to the small of her back, clenching on the empty air there.
Fists it was, then.
The faintest step...she brought her fisted hands above her head, readying to strike. A shadow fell over the concrete floor, and then she saw a gun, held two-handed, begin to swing around the pillar.
She surged forward, bringing her arms down on the attacker's wrists as she stomped on the person's foot, then brought her knee up to bury it in her--her?--stomach as the other woman bent over at the sudden pain.
The gun clattered to the ground, and while her attacker was still bent over, she brought her joined fists down again on the woman's neck. The African-American woman dropped to the ground; Dana quickly bent to retrieve the gun and straddle her fallen opponent.
Dana grabbed the woman's braids and forced her head around at a painful angle.
"Sherry?" she asked, not wanting to believe her eyes.
"Well, in a sense. That's what it says on my driver's license. And yours says Dana Parker. Take it for what it's worth."
Dana shoved her newly acquired gun into the soft flesh under the other woman's chin.
"They're tracking you down right now. Killing me won't do any good."
"Yeah? At least it'll make *me* feel a hell of a lot better."
"Oh come now, Dana, you've never killed anyone. Not that you remember, anyway. Do you really want to start with your best friend in the world?"
"Maybe it'll help bring some more memories back, like firing the gun did. Why did you try to trigger the memories?" She twisted the gun cruelly to emphasize the question.
"It's a job, that's all. Not everyone wanted you and Mr. Mulder to remain innocent until a certain faction was ready to use you again."
"So you're telling me you were sent to help?"
"I was sent by...a friend."
"We don't have any friends in the circles you slink through."
"I didn't say he was your friend."
"God, will you cut the film noir crap?" It was almost a plea. "Are the people tracking us part of your faction?"
"Not all of them. Really, Dana, you need to get moving. I'd only slow you down."
"What else do you know?"
"I know that Mr. Mulder is waiting for you in the lobby of University Towers. And since I know that, others do as well. You should retrieve him and be off. And don't forget to change cars as often as you can. You'll be very popular until you're under the FBI's protective wing again."
"Does anyone else know we're leaving?"
"I don't think so. But, of course, I could be lying."
Dana gave in to the impulse, then, and slugged her with her gun hand- -a good, sharp crack that left pseudo-Sherry unconscious and bleeding from her mouth. "That," she said, "is for all the macho lines." And then she left to collect Mulder.
She must have been quite a sight, running into University Towers with her blouse pulled out of her neat suit pants to cover the gun stuck in the waistband--that particular stylistic innovation looked a lot more acceptable on men--and her hair in all directions.
Mulder was waiting in the TV lounge near the entrance, watching Rosie O'Donnell.
"Come on," she said. "We don't have much time."
"Tell you in the car."
She gave silent thanks that she'd packed in the morning as they hurried to the parking lot just outside the apartment building. "We've got to get the implants out now, if you think they can be used to track us."
"This means I have to cut you, doesn't it?"
"Unless you're hiding a surgeon in your pocket, Mulder, you do appear to be the logical person to do it. I'll go first; that way I can tell you how it should go."
"Where are we going to do this?"
"Back seat, I assume. Hard to see in, from outside."
"This is going to be a lot less fun than the last time I was inside you in the back seat."
She blushed scarlet and dug around in her medical kit for the supplies she'd prepared.
"Will whoever uses them be able to tell that they've been removed?"
"Wish I could tell you, Dana. I once promised you--Scully--a pair of earrings made from implants. You'd be the first girl on the block to have them. But I don't think we can take these along."
"I thought not." She turned him in the seat and tilted his head forward for best access to his neck. She turned on the overhead light and twisted her head back and forth, trying to decide where to start, palpitating his neck to feel for what lay underneath. When she felt a lump, she stopped and prepared to cut.
"Here I go. Try not to move, all right? Anyway," she said, continuing to talk to give him something else to think about while she cut, "I got a padded envelope and put a huge amount of postage on it; if you put the Gunmen's address on it, we can drop it in the mail on our way out of town, and if whoever did this can't track the implants once they're out of our bodies, we should eventually receive the evidence. If they can track them, we're no worse off than we were. There, it's out," she said with a final pull. "Hold out your hand."
Mulder complied, and she gave him the bloody metal chip she'd unfleshed.
"Now hold still while I sew this up. I don't want the wound tearing open if the next few days get hairy."
"Dana, have I ever told you how frighteningly competent you are? Always thinking about the hard evidence...Shit." He continued to curse softly as she brought the needle through his torn flesh.
"Your turn," she told him when she had finished and wiped away the blood that had oozed down his neck. She gave him a fresh scalpel--no way to sterilize the old one, so she'd had to pack for redundancy.
She'd thought that he couldn't maintain the steady stream of curses he'd used for very long, but she quickly learned otherwise. He wasn't terribly inventive, but it did seem to keep him focused. She talked him through each step--the actual cutting went smoothly, but he balked at giving her stitches, so she let him just bandage it, with plenty of antibiotic ointment.
Then he thrust the car door open and leaned out. He was noisily and thoroughly sick on the gravel of the parking lot. She didn't say a word, but waited for him to recover. When he straightened up, she gave him a Certs from her purse. He took it without looking at her.
They both got out of the back seat from her side; she took the passenger seat and he walked around to the driver's side.
Without further ado, he started the car and they got on the road, stopping only to drop the envelope, scrawled with an address Mulder had dictated, into a convenient mailbox. The plan was to get to Detroit, then change cars, then drive to D.C.
Dana described the encounter with Sherry. It didn't give Mulder much pause. She got the feeling that he'd had more than his share of parking-lot assailants who spoke in cryptic phrases.
* * *
They stopped at a shabby motel just outside of the city, parking the car where it couldn't be seen from the street. Mulder became a blue-eyed blond with the aid of the free sample contact lenses he'd gotten from the optometrist a few days ago. Dana turned her hair jet-black while they snacked on KFC.
By unspoken agreement, they slept as far apart from each other as the king-size bed would allow. The alarm woke them at 8; they had to change cars before starting again, so there was no point in getting up much before the dealerships would open.
Mulder turned the alarm off and raised a sleepy-eyed head towards Dana.
"I'd ask if you wanted to share the shower--it was a running joke with me and Scully. But I suspect you'd take it the wrong way. Or maybe the right way."
Dana looked at him. He needed to be held, and so did she. His hair was so soft...
"You don't really want to be with me. You want your Dana--Scully. It wouldn't be right."
"I think you're overestimating my nobility. But I understand how you feel."
She watched him move around the motel room. He'd barely unpacked last night, putting his things within easy reach. Mulder was used to motels, she thought. He was still tall and beautiful, but his mouth had an unfamiliar twist that spoke of irony and bitterness.
Mulder saw her look of unhappiness. "You're thinking that you want Bill back," he said.
She nodded. It wasn't polite, but yes, she wanted her sweet silly husband back, the one who brought her flowers for no reason and whose biggest worries were taxes and whether the Knicks would win that weekend- The one she'd gone to Niagara Falls with. Except that it seemed that they hadn't really gone, had they?
"Well, tough. Bill died when I was twelve, and they resurrected him as some kind of zombie these last few months. 'Bill' is a fucking lie, and you need to get used to it."
She turned away, unwilling to let this stranger see her cry.
His hands on her shoulders stilled her. "Dana. I'm sorry. I've lost someone too--someone who means to me what Bill meant to you."
"Except that what you had was real." Would not cry, would not cry, she repeated to herself.
"Reality...it's a strange concept. Emotions are performative, Dana. If we think we feel them, we feel them. I'm no good at seeing past my own losses. Scully...accepted that. I look at you, and..."
"I know," she said softly, and pulled away. He let his hands slip from her shoulders, and they went out to face the morning.
* * *
Dana sat down on the bed of the latest no-tell motel. Funny how driving and sitting could make a person so tired. Maybe some of it was the fact that she was constantly looking to see if any one car stayed with them for too long--and on an interstate, there were plenty of potential candidates.
"Mr. and Mrs. Hauser? Where did that come from?" She asked the question as she slumped down on the bed, already prepared to sleep. Maybe she could convince him to go get some fast food.
Mulder tossed his bag on the floor and stretched out on his side of the bed. It was so short that his feet hung off, even though his head was grazing the pillow. "The hero of *Total Recall*, remember? Blue sky on Mars, implanted memories, from the Philip K. Dick story 'We Can Remember It for You Wholesale'..."
"Someday your sense of humor is going to get you in real trouble. Let's just hope our pursuers don't share it."
"I've never found Men in Black particularly with-it, Sc--damn, Dana, I really want you to remember. This is messing up all my best lines."
"When I remember, you know, Dana Parker will disappear."
"Are you afraid?"
"Of dying? That's what it is, right? But I'm not really alive, anyway. I'm like some supporting character in a movie--you know just enough about me, I know just enough about myself, for it to be sad when I die, but it's inevitable after all, and I help the heroes succeed and they stop a moment in the victory celebration to think about me and that's good enough for the kind of person I am, isn't it?"
He just stared at her.
"I know. Dana Scully doesn't talk like that. She only speaks in complete sentences and she's always right and she really has a family--" She was crying. How odd. She hadn't meant to cry.
He reached out awkwardly.
"Don't touch me!" She pushed his hand away and pulled her arms tightly around herself.
Mulder's gaze hurt her. "Look," she said, her voice filtering past her knees, "we've got a long drive ahead of us. We should change cars tomorrow, and that's going to require some negotiating because we're running out of cash. Don't worry about me. I'm fine."
The undefinable noise of pain and humor he made caused her to look up. "I wish I were the woman you see, the woman in the mirror," she said- "But we haven't gotten this far by lying."
He kept staring at her. She actually saw his eyes dilate and the brown of his irises deepen. Suddenly the distance between them on the bed didn't seem quite far enough for safety.
When Bill had wanted her, he'd looked at her a little like that, only more openly. Mulder's eyes were closed just a fraction more, his gaze just a little more sidelong.
Dana was vaguely shocked that Mulder was actually thinking about seducing her. She could almost see his thoughts: will this screw things up when Scully gets back? If he said the right things, could he get laid?
"No," she said softly.
"I know what you need," he breathed, and put a hand on her ankle where her slacks had pulled up.
Was he really willing to risk their carefully-maintained equilibrium with this? What would Dana Scully think? <Oh, fuck Dana Scully. But isn't that the problem?>
"Who would you really be with, Mulder?"
He rubbed his hand up and down her exposed skin, making her draw in a sharp breath. Later, when she thought about what he said next, she concluded that he must have been just as uncertain about his attempt as she was.
That was the charitable, friendly thing to think, in any event.
"Does it matter?" he asked, and moved his hand up to rest on her inner thigh. "They say all cats are grey in the dark..."
She slapped him. It was melodramatic, but she felt justified, and he did back away, rubbing his cheek. Her palm stung.
"You'd better go get us dinner," she told him, and got up to go into the bathroom. She stayed there until she heard the door close.
Dana Scully, she thought, had to have the patience of a saint. At least she didn't have the bad taste to sleep with him.
She sat on the toilet seat, which had one of those terrible squishy plastic covers that felt a little like sitting on Jello, and wondered. Who would they have been betraying? If he wasn't sleeping with Scully, not her. And Professor Rogers was a cipher, a manufactured man. There was no 'him' to betray. They probably weren't even legally married, no matter what the records said.
She looked down at her wedding and engagement rings. She didn't have the right to wear them. Slowly, painfully, she tugged them off--she thought she'd have to soak in soapy water for a few moments, but then they came over the hump of her knuckle and it was fine.
There was a tan line on her finger.
Dana considered flushing the rings down the toilet, but that seemed extreme, so she just put them in her toiletries bag.
Mulder took nearly an hour to return; by then she was tired enough that she just took the bag he offered her and ate quickly, not attempting to discuss what had happened earlier.
She didn't sleep that night, and she let him drive the next morning. He did the negotiating for the new car, as well, because men get better deals and they didn't have any extra money. Mulder was always bursting with energy, anyway; it was so stressful to deal with him nearly bouncing out of the passenger seat that she let him drive most of the time. That was a major difference from the last road trip they'd taken together--that had been coming from Berkeley, and she really thought that the memory was true.
Bill had loved to watch her drive. They'd roll down the windows, joking about how they'd have a convertible if it would only be practical for Michigan, and he'd smile at her as her hair whipped around her head and she stepped on the gas every chance she got, running a race with the other cars on the road. He'd tell her stories, sometimes fractured versions of fairy tales and sometimes tales completely unique to him. They barely stopped to rest, because they were so excited about the new life awaiting them..-
Dana rode, dozing uneasily.
* * *
Mulder had persuaded her that they couldn't afford to take a direct route, nor to stay on major highways. You never know what computers have access to those cameras on toll roads, he'd said. After finding Sherry coming after her with a gun, Dana was willing to concede a lot of validity to his paranoia.
So it was down south for a while, then they began looping back up to approach D.C. from the south.
It was on the fourth day that they spotted the man tailing them.
They'd been paying particular attention to rental cars, and the strategy paid off--when the Ford Aspire with Michigan plates and a Hertz sticker pulled in four cars behind them at a gas station, Dana recalled that she'd seen it before. Their tail should have known better than to get cherry red, even though it was a damn cool color.
"What are we going to do?" Dana asked after she'd alerted Mulder. She was new to this sort of adventure, and deferring to Mulder seemed like a good idea.
"Sundown's only a few hours away. Let him think we haven't noticed, then when it gets dark we'll pull in at a motel and get the drop on him when he comes to check on us."
"Get the drop on him?"
"Don't worry, I'll take care of it."
Dana sat back in her seat, a little miffed. So far, she'd been the one who'd faced physical danger. Mulder pulled the car up to the pump and looked across the seat. He smiled fondly at her. "Dana, I know you want to help. But I've done this for a while. I even hear they're going to bring out an action figure commemorating my adventures."
"Judging from your scars," she said, "I hope they make it out of titanium."
Ever the gentleman, Mulder insisted on pumping the gas.
* * *
Dana watched the sun creep slowly down towards the horizon, getting more nervous every minute. What if their tail traded off with someone they wouldn't recognize? What if he "got the jump" on Mulder? She didn't even know where they were supposed to meet up with the Gunmen, if something happened to him.
She'd pointed this problem out to Mulder, who merely grimaced as he turned onto another state road. Ok, so he didn't entirely trust her yet. She thought, uncharitably, that maybe she'd just hang on to the gun she'd taken from Sherry.
Then she came to her senses. That was a schoolboy's trick. And she did not exactly have the luxury of sticking out her tongue at him. If Mulder was going after their pursuer, he'd need all the help he could get. So she gave him the gun.
Finally, after an excruciating wait, Mulder decided that stopping for the night would be plausible. They parked and paid, then Mulder ducked into the bushes to wait. At least, she consoled herself, she'd acquired the gun he was using through her own heroism.
She pulled the blinds in their tiny room and began to pace. She wanted to peek through, but if the man from the red car saw her watching he might well run, and then they'd be in deep trouble--whoever was pursuing them would know that they knew of the pursuit, which would create a huge incentive to swoop down and grab them before they could get any further.
They also serve who stand and wait, she reminded herself as she checked her watch again. And again. She wanted to turn on the TV for distraction, but she feared missing a gunshot or any other noise.
She was getting too tense to move and too tense to stay still. Just when she'd decided that she had to at least go to see what was happening, the long-awaited noise came--a cry of pain, checked so swiftly that she didn't understand why she was running for the door until a few seconds had passed and she'd processed the sound.
Dana jerked the door open and ran into the parking lot, towards the bushes where Mulder had lain in wait. She saw shoes, then legs jerking weakly, and then, crashing through poorly trimmed branches, finally saw Mulder, sitting on the fallen man.
He looked like a cheap detective: bad suit, worse tie, balding pate, and a paunch that spoke of a few too many whiskey sours and burgers.
Mulder looked up at her and grinned. "Hey, Dana. You missed the part where I bested him in single combat, mano a mano. You should have seen his jujitsu moves."
She rolled her eyes--it seemed to be the response he expected--and asked, "Did you find out anything?"
Mulder handed over a small gun, a wallet, and a cellphone.
"Come on," she said, jerking her head back towards their room, "let's get him inside before anyone starts to wonder what we're doing out here."
Mulder frog-marched the man in while she looked through the wallet. No identification, just a large amount of cash. Not entirely unlike Mulder and her, she thought. She certainly hoped that she was on the right side.
She sacrificed her bathrobe's belt and a pair of hose in order to tie him up. He didn't say a word, didn't even look at her as she worked, only glared at Mulder, who was holding the gun on him.
She stepped back, satisfied that he couldn't get out while they were watching.
"All right then," Mulder said. "Why don't you start talking?"
Cheap Detective snarled. "You guys must have had a lot of pent-up sexual tension to release, I must say. Surveillance duty on the two of you made cold showers a necessity."
Mulder slugged him in the stomach, hard.
The man wheezed, then managed a sneer. "What, you ashamed of saying it? You talk plenty dirty when you're--"
This time, the punch silenced him. Mulder pulled away, shaking his hand. "I think I might have broken something in my hand."
"I'll look at it later," Dana told him. "Do you think he'll talk?"
"You mean, in other than 'Letters to Penthouse' terms? I'm not sure we have the time to beat anything useful out of him. Scum like this never know much, anyway. And if we leave him here, whoever sent him will probably take care of the problem for us. Just in case he did talk."
The man's eyes widened. He was clearly contemplating the possibility that his masters would have little use and less trust for an operative who'd been captured by his intended targets.
Dana stepped forward. "I'm the good cop," she told him. "I won't beat you up. If you tell us how you found us, we'll dump you on the edge of town and you'll have a head start running from your former friends. If you don't, we'll tie you to the bed and leave you here. You might get out before whoever was sent to clean up the mess you made shows up...or you might not. You've got five minutes."
She pulled away and motioned to Mulder to come over to her. They stood near the window, and she used the small table lamp and the light seeping around the edges of the drapes to examine his hand. Meanwhile, their captive pondered his choices, flicking his eyes frantically from side to side as if some heretofore unnoticed escape route would open up and make his situation less dangerous.
"I don't think you've broken anything," she told Mulder after a cursory examination, "but you've definitely earned a pretty spectacular bruise. Why don't I drive this afternoon?"
He looked at her with admiration and not a little fear. Then he turned back to their captive. "So, do you want what's behind Door Number One, or are you going to bet it all on Door Number Two?"
"You missed an implant," the man said, resentfully.
"Where?" Dana's voice was sharp with terror and disgust.
The man coughed. "In his shoulder. Gun scar covers the incision."
Dana and Mulder looked at each other.
"This means more home surgery, doesn't it?" he asked unhappily. She was already moving toward the medical kit.
As she pulled out the scalpel, she paused to look at their prisoner. "If you make me cut him for no reason," she said, "I'll make sure that you have a set of scars to match his. Mulder has a lot of scars."
He looked as if he believed her.
Mulder had taken off his shirt without prompting while she went to the bathroom to get the pitiful excuses for towels the motel offered, and he was sitting in the single chair provided by the motel. She wished that she dared to open the drapes to get the natural sunlight to add to the sixty-watt lamp's illumination, but they could hardly chance someone walking by and seeing her slashing open one man's shoulder while another writhed, bound, on the bed. Not even sleazy motel sex was that kinky.
She prodded the scar that disfigured his shoulder with careful fingers, trying to feel anything out of the ordinary. "I wish we could X-ray first, Mulder. I should be able to avoid nerve damage, but this is going to hurt-- even if I find it on the first try."
He nodded, swallowing convulsively and then looking away.
She felt a lump underneath one line of scar tissue and probed harder, until he winced. "I think this is it. You have to hold still for me, ok?" She used her most soothing, even tone on him.
"Do it," he whispered, eyes welded shut.
Dana cut carefully and precisely, wiping away the blood with a towel. She used a retractor to pull back the flap of skin she'd freed and put the scalpel down in favor of a pair of tweezers. Mulder made a stifled noise of pain and nausea, but didn't move. She poked and prodded, and felt something hard where nothing hard should be.
"Here it comes," she told him, and tugged it out, covered with gore. It was a little smaller than the others. She wished that they could preserve it as evidence, but practicality dictated otherwise, so she dropped it to the floor and quickly sewed Mulder's shoulder up.
"The scar will probably be a little worse," she said, "but it won't scare off anyone who would have thought you were attractive before."
"That's good, 'cause I'm scheduled for a photo shoot in a few days. I'm doing a centerfold for The Lone Gunman."
"I'll watch for it. Come on, I'll take care of him and let's get going," she said over her shoulder as she packed up her medical supplies."
"'Take care of him,' Dana? As in terminate him with extreme prejudice?" He sounded amused.
"As in make sure the knots are tight and then knock him out. Give him a chance to live, but not anywhere near us."
The man protested. "You said--"
She turned and looked at him as if he were a cold virus. "I lied. We don't have time to drop off a hitchhiker. You'll still have a chance, anyway."
Mulder gave her another "Dana Scully wouldn't have done that" look. Fortunately, the wisecrack god hadn't deserted him, and he was able to match her coolness: "Ooo, Dana, ever thought of CIA instead of the Bureau? You're so ruthless. Maybe I should start calling you Nikita."
"Maybe you should start getting a move on, Mulder." Apparently resigned to his situation, the man on the bed made no protest as Dana pulled her arm back, then slugged the captive hard enough to slam his head into the wooden headrest. The double blow seemed to work; the man's head slumped to the side, a trickle of blood starting to run from the corner of his mouth.
"So, Mulder," she said as they walked away, "since your shoulder's going to be hurting for a while, what say you give me the big gun?"
His mouth opened and closed; he was considering and discarding lines as fast as he surfed channels. Finally, he settled on, "My gun is always at your disposal, Dana." But he made no move to turn it over. She still had the baby gun from their captive, though, and that was better than nothing.
* * *
That night was going to be their last on the road, with any luck. They'd arranged to stay a night at the Gunmen's latest location once they'd seen Skinner, and from there they'd follow the AD's orders. Since they were dead, of course, they weren't really obliged to follow Skinner's orders, but Mulder seemed comfortable thinking of himself as back on duty already an d Dana found it easier to go along.
They checked into another motel, this one only a hundred miles from D.C. Now that they knew they'd been followed this far, there wasn't as much reason to take an indirect route.
Mulder went and got dinner without even being asked. Dana was beginning to get mightily sick of garden salads and limp baked potatoes. At least the machines outside their door had Diet Coke, not Pepsi, and Ho-Hos for dessert.
When she brought the snack back to the room, Mulder gave her a funny look from his place at the tiny table near the TV.
"Let me guess," she said heavily. "Scully doesn't like Ho-Hos."
He had the grace to look embarrassed. "I don't really know," he said, looking down at the table. "We didn't really...share that much of ourselves outside of work. But I never saw her eat one. I never thought about it..-"
She shook her head as if to clear the depression that was crawling up her spine and went over to the bed. Their map of the greater Washington area was on the nightstand, and she picked it up.
Mulder had stopped at a gas-station convenience store and acquired some sunflower seeds. He took a perverse pleasure in cracking them, sucking noisily on them, and then spitting the hulls across the room--mostly into the trash can--while she was trying to concentrate on the map.
Finally, she looked up. She knew the route, really, but she wanted to drive it and two alternates so firmly into her head that there'd be no need to consult any maps if they had to hurry. "Could you stop that?"
"Don't have anything better to do." He looked at her suggestively, and she flushed.
"We settled this..."
"No, we postponed it." He moved from his seat in front of the television to the bed, where she was sitting propped up against the wall-
"Don't you need release from tension, Dana?"
"If you want, I'll take a walk and you can deal with the problem yourself."
"I need you," he said, and fell silent. He looked down at his lap, head bowed, waiting for her decision.
If he had pressed, if he had said anything more, she would have rejected him again. But he was vulnerable and he looked so much like the man who'd been her lover until just a few days ago, and she was so tired of fighting him.
She reached out to him, stroking the stubble that defined his jaw.
He sighed and stilled her hand.
"Undress for me," he ordered, already back in control. Had he ever really lost it, or did he just know what buttons to push?
Dana stood unsteadily and reached for the hem of her T-shirt.
"No," he said. "Turn around."
She turned so that he was looking at her back, then continued, letting the shirt fall to the ground. Then the jeans, skimming down her hips, along with her socks. She was reaching back for the clasp on her bra when she felt his lips on the small of her back.
His touch was like an electric shock. She felt his tongue trace the tattoo, circling, then short strokes as if he were painting the worm's segments. His hands were on her hips, just above her panties. She was burning where he touched her and freezing everywhere else, desperate to warm herself in his embrace.
He pulled his mouth away a fraction of an inch. She could feel his breath on her wet back, and it made her shiver. "Finish up," he told her.
She unhooked the bra with shaking hands and dropped it. His hands came up to cup her breasts, pulling her back toward the bed. She swayed, almost losing her balance, as he began to tug at them gently. He had such big hands; they covered her completely.
She almost cried out when they moved away from her and tugged at her panties, pushing them down so that she could step out of them as they fell.
He stood up and stared down at her. His face was curiously blank, as if he didn't want to show any reaction. "Lie down on your stomach."
She complied, and then she did scream into the pillow when she felt his mouth on the back of her thigh, right underneath her buttocks. He pulled away, and she heard the sound of his T-shirt coming off, and then his mouth was back on her other thigh.
After several minutes of that torture, he rose from the bed again, and this time returned without any clothes at all. He slid up her back, kissing as he went, and then rested his weight on her. Just being pinned down by him, feeling his heat and his lean weight, was incredibly erotic, and Dana bucked her hips underneath him. She was sinking into the bed, into the abyss, and it was perfect and crushing.
She pushed against him, trying to turn over, and finally he relented and allowed her to do so. She kissed him fiercely, hands on his shoulders to pull him even closer.
When she opened her eyes, he was staring at her; she thought that he'd been watching her face all through the kiss. A rumble of uncertainty went through her, and to her shame it only increased her arousal.
She had to do something. What did Mulder like? Could he be that different from Bill?
She raked her nails down his back and he groaned. She tried it again, harder, and he nearly sobbed. "Again," he begged. She complied, and knew that she'd drawn blood when she felt its slippery thickness mix with the sweat on his back.
"Again," he whispered in her ear, before he engulfed it in his mouth and sucked it so hard that she thought she might cry from the mixed pain and pleasure. She followed his command reflexively.
He moved his attention to her neck and shoulder. When she was writhing underneath him, he pulled up, bracing himself on his arms.
She did, and he pulled her up so that she was on her hands and knees. He pushed her shoulders down with one hand, pressing her face into the pillow, as he spread her legs and guided his erection between them.
One thrust, and he was in. He let her take their combined weight; his hands covered her breasts, teasing them with firm, carefully controlled strokes as she moaned into the pillow.
He stroked one hand down the length of her body, pausing to tickle her navel and feel her jerk against him in half-pleasure, half-protest. When his hand reached its destination, she was instantly aware that his recovered memories hadn't interfered with his intimate knowledge of what she liked-- he stroked her quickly, then slowly, varying the intensity in response to the tiniest signals of her body.
She felt herself convulse around him. It was just like always. The pleasure didn't shut off her thoughts for very long; as she felt him--Mulder-- begin to move inside her in earnest, his hands gripping her hips for better leverage, she thought with stunning clarity, <At least he's just as polite as Bill.>
He woke her twice in the night, once by sliding into her without prelude. Both times, the pressure of her nails on his abraded back took him over the edge.
In the morning, they did not discuss what had happened between them; instead, they drove.
* * *
Skinner met them at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring. Not one of their usual hangouts, according to Mulder, but that's what the Gunmen had arranged. He was late; they waited nervously, drinking coffee--Dana switched to decaf after the first hour--and fidgeting silently.
Dana was not entirely clear on how the Gunmen had convinced Skinner to come. Mulder had said that Skinner had been informed that the X-Files weren't necessarily forever closed, and that he should come to the Tastee to discuss the issue.
The door jangled again, and they looked up for the fiftieth time to see a tall, bald man in a trenchcoat. And she recognized him.
Dana was so lost in the sheer wonder of remembering AD Skinner that she didn't pay much attention to his expression--first shock, then hostility, as he strode toward them, reaching for his gun in a gesture she suddenly remembered well.
"Sir," she said, formally, and then discarded all her composure to leap from the booth and hug him forcefully.
He was stunned for a second, then jammed his gun into her belly. She released him, but he used his left hand to keep her close, so that the trenchcoat hid the gun from the view of any passers-by.
"Who are you?" he demanded. He looked older than she remembered, more worn-down. More betrayed.
"Dana Scully, sir. Agent--" she stopped, realizing that they were not agents any longer. "Mulder and I were kidnapped and had our memories erased. We regained them only recently."
"I saw the bodies of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. I went to their funerals and comforted their crying mothers. How dare you come here and enhance that pain?"
"Sir," she said, and faltered again. "I--we will take any tests necessary to convince you that we are who we say we are. You know we've reported that bodies have been altered in the past; I can't say whose corpses you saw, but I believe that they were provided to make our disappearance go without notice."
"Tell me something that only Agent Scully would know."
She sighed, and shook her head. "Given the surveillance capabilities we've seen displayed, what could I tell you that you'd trust? Have a technician at the Bureau test our blood, our DNA, our fingerprints. That physical evidence is your only guarantee."
The gun was removed from her stomach, and only then did she feel the rush of adrenalin that accompanied nearly getting killed.
Skinner put his arms around her and lifted her a few inches from the ground. His embrace left her breathless. "Agent Scully," he said into her ear, "it's good to see you looking well." He let her down and they both stepped back awkwardly.
Mulder was looking at them with a mixture of distrust and plain unhappiness. "I remember," she said to him. "I remember--not everything, but a lot." Mulder's eyes lit up, and for some reason his happiness at having Scully back hurt her terribly. She hadn't suddenly forgotten Dana Parker; she thought that they weren't all that different.
No, that wasn't exactly it. It was that he didn't ask what she remembered, when his own recovery had been partial at first, and that he didn't ask how she felt about it. <But you're all right, aren't you, Scully?> Now, *that* memory came through like a bullet.
Skinner put his hand on her arm.
"Where have you been?" he asked, already working up some righteous indignition that they hadn't managed to file a detailed report on their recent activities. "We thought that you were dead." He sat down across from Mulder, in Scully's seat. She remained standing, unwilling to make a commitment to one side or another.
"We've been dead before," Mulder said.
"But how--? Where--?"
Scully remembered how much Mulder loved this part--laconically tossing off wisecracks, watching Skinner get angrier. Sure enough: "I'll tell you, I have a lot more respect for Elvis. Living on after your death is rough."
She started speaking before Mulder could say something really offensive. "We don't remember what happened for over a month after we were taken; presumably, during this time, whoever took us was wiping our memories and implanting the screens that we believed to be our true identities."
"And what were those screen memories?" Skinner fixed her with his intent gaze, noting that she was standing and surely understanding why.
"A--Mulder was a professor of psychology, and I was an assistant M.E. Not terribly far from our actual fields of specialization; that probably economized on the information they needed to give us."
"How did you find one another again?"
Mulder must have started guiltily, because Scully was sure that she hadn't reacted at all, but something in Skinner's face changed. The AD looked from Scully to Mulder, and paused at Mulder's left hand, casually resting on the table.
Mulder's left hand, still with wedding ring attached.
Scully stared at the floor as Mulder dropped his hand to his lap.
"How are we going to handle this, sir?" he asked Skinner, the unusual politeness emphasizing his unease.
Skinner cleared his throat. "I'll go back right now and make you agents again. Your badges will be waiting at the security desk--I trust that you'll get rid of whatever nonstandard weaponry you've picked up. Walk back into work tomorrow. Your reappearance will create enough chaos that they won't be able to touch you. If you're ready to come back, that is."
"We wouldn't be here if we weren't," Scully told him.
When they'd agreed to head straight to his office the next morning, Skinner left. He traded one last significant glance with Scully on his way out.
The door closed, ringing the bell attached to it, and Mulder turned to her, waving the sullen waitress away yet again. "What was that about?"
"You and Skinner. Were you...?"
"Oh, come on, Mulder, you knew my life before we were taken."
"But you thought about it. Seeing him made you remember everything, that suggests a pretty strong emotional connection."
"There aren't that many eligible men in my life. It would be strange if I hadn't thought about it."
"What about now?"
"Now that we've spent five months sleeping together, you mean."
"It wasn't really us."
"No, it wasn't." If that was the way he wanted to play it, she wasn't going to challenge him. It was not as if she knew how she felt about Dana Parker's actions, compelled as they may have been by her programmers. Except for last night, she reminded herself. Only Dana could explain last night.
"So there's nothing to talk about, really."
"Right," she assured him, and turned away, feeling hollow. <Fucking coward,> she thought, not entirely sure to whom she was applying the epithet.
* * *
In the weeks that followed, they both retrieved their stored possessions from their respective mothers' houses and found new places to live. Mulder blew what had to have been a five-figure amount on Hugo Boss, Versace, Armani and other high-fashion suits, because his mother had donated all his clothes to the Salvation Army. She'd accepted the loss of her son as if it had always been inevitable, as if it had happened a long time ago. And in a way it had.
Dana thought that Mulder's shopping spree might also have something to do with his desire to get away from Professor Rogers, who wore black jeans and mock turtlenecks to class almost every day.
Elizabeth Mulder *had* saved Mulder's personal files. Maybe she thought that it was the best monument she could give him. And as long as Mulder still had the things with that certain paranormal bouquet, he didn't mind that she'd dumped the rest.
Her mother, by contrast, had saved everything that had been in her apartment, unable to get up the strength to sort through it and give away what someone else might be able to use. So, as it turned out, she owned more of Mulder's pre-abduction clothes than he did. Dana couldn't quite get up the nerve to return them, so she gave them their own drawer and waited.
Her mother had taken to showing up unexpectedly, just checking up on her--seeing if she was still there. Not entirely irrational, given what had happened to her so far. But their conversations were still strained; Dana had very little to talk with her mother about, except work, and she didn't feel much like sharing the details of autopsies and crime scenes with her mother, whose fragility had increased with every tragedy and close call over the past few years.
Bill and Charlie were off chasing the sea; she hadn't seen them at all since her return. She thought that they might prefer it if she stayed away; she'd walked among ghosts for far too long, and they had real lives to live.
One night, her mother brought over lasagna, and made her sit and eat it. At least eating was something they could do in silence, letting time reknit the lost connections between them.
"I see you still have the necklace," her mother said as she cleared the dishes away.
Dana's hand went to her neck, fingering the delicate cross swinging from its chain. How morbid, to elevate a torture device to the status of revered religious symbol.
"It's good that you still have it--I remember when Missy gave it to you for your First Communion--she was so proud of you." Her mother was looking at her, trying to be unobtrusive, but she'd picked up on much more subtle surveillance before.
What was she supposed to say? "Yes," she tried. "I miss her."
Her mother let the last plates down into the sink with a clatter. Turning, hands braced behind her on the counter, she said, "Missy didn't give you the cross, I did. And not at First Communion, when you were fifteen."
They stared at each other until Dana looked away. When had the bags under her mother's eyes gotten so large? When had the grey won out against the brown in her hair?
"So tell me, Dana, do you remember me at all?"
"What do you remember?"
Dana laughed, but the effort sent claws of pain into her chest. "My life begins and ends with the X-Files, Mom. I *know* what happened before, mostly, because I thought about it or told other people about it since I was assigned there. But it's like a story that happened to someone else. I could tell you about all the dead people I've examined in the last four years in infinitely greater detail than I could use to describe my childhood. I sometimes wonder if this wasn't one last trick played by whoever took us--a backup job, so that even if I remembered who I was I'd never know how I got to be this way. I suppose that it's a more pleasant theory than thinking that I could remember more, if I only wanted to or tried hard enough."
"Does Fox know?"
Dana dropped her shoulders and rolled her eyes a fraction; surely her mother could have no doubt as to the answer.
"Can't he tell?"
"Mulder never lets his psych degree interfere with his insensitivity to me. And how would he know? Everything we've shared, I remember. In a way, he really has become my life."
Her mother had nothing to say to that. She turned back and began to run hot water into the sink. "I've lost you three times now," she said. "If you go again, don't taunt me by returning."
<But, Mom,> Scully thought, <I didn't make it back this time.>
Her mother left soon after, with promises to return with family albums--still hoping that pictures and stories might somehow return her daughter in full. Dana knew that it was a ridiculous hope--those memories were gone; if they were going to return, they would have done so when the others came back. But maybe going over the albums would help put her life into better perspective.
How many people, she wondered, really remember their childhoods anyway? Many people, abused or just tormented by the standard demons of childhood and adolescence, would certainly pay for this release.
She had a good sense of how the person known as "Dana Scully" would react to major events, given her memories of the past five years. And, she reminded herself, people recreate themselves all the time. No one is the same person at thirty that she was at twenty-five; even the body's molecules recycle and change, just as memories fade and distort and behavior patterns slowly alter or solidify. Her transition had just been more abrupt than most.
She could look around her new apartment and rediscover her tastes-- though when she moved into the new place she'd thrown out a bunch of stuff that had probably been left over from pre-FBI days, things she didn't remember buying: floral sheets with matching shams and dust ruffles and curtains. That seemed far too girly for the woman who'd defied her father to enter a still very male profession. She'd replaced them with rice-paper shades and white cotton, and added a few lamps to what had been a very dark bedroom. Actually, when she thought about it, she'd thrown out quite a lot--knicknacks, memorabilia for things she could no longer remember, things that might have appealed to a wide-eyed, innocent kid but that had no longer reflected her life even before she'd been taken and plunked down in Michigan.
Many things were still the same. She still read in bed. She still liked Edith Wharton and despised Henry James, according to the copy of "Portrait of a Lady" that her former self had only read to page 20, by the dogear, before abandoning the book.
And occasionally she got flashes of the past, like remembered pain coursing down a phantom limb. Once, she thought she'd remembered her dad when he still had hair. That one had made her cry, when she couldn't chase the memory any further than a quick glimpse of him, laughing in the sun and preparing to throw one of her brothers up in the air. When? Where? She had no idea.
Sometimes she'd just sit at her desk and try to remember. She still remembered her honeymoon, as Dana Parker. Was it someone else's memory, stolen and recycled, or just a story? Sometimes she thought that she remembered the spray of the falls as it hit her face, and then it would change into the salt tang of the sea and maybe, just maybe, she was remembering being a Navy brat. But that very conflation of known falsehood with hoped-for truth suggested that her memory would never be reliable again.
The new place didn't have as much room as the previous one, so she'd gotten rid of a lot of the "visitor's furniture." It wasn't as if she had that many visitors, anyway. Now there was just a couch in front of the TV, the desk, and a small table in the kitchen for those few dinners that didn't just involve a trip from freezer to microwave.
Dana Scully, streamlined.
* * *
As always, Scully was least able to search for the truth when it cut closest to her. Perhaps she and Mulder were not entirely unalike in that way. As far as she was concerned, the cancer was gone, and they had their memories back, and that should be enough to bury the issue. If she'd been able to explain it to Mulder, she would have said that she feared tempting fate--as if examination of the conditions of their resurrection might endanger it, more than their other investigations did.
Her aversion--willful blindness, even--was inconsistent with everything else she was, and she knew it and was faintly ashamed. And that shame prevented her from discussing it with Mulder, so she resisted his avenues of inquiry indirectly, by sniping at them. Of course, that only made him angrier; he would then scoff at her concerns, legitimate and exaggerated, and their relationship deteriorated further. Her cancer had made him desperate enough to break the cycle, before they'd been taken, but now there was no restraint on his willingness to run off without her, chasing rainbows and dissipating curls of cigarette smoke.
One day, the last thread snapped. It was not even an important issue, really: Mulder wanted to break into a research facility in Virginia, where he thought records of abductees might be stored. It was obvious that he was going to do it anyway and that she was going to go along, at least to be there to haul his ass out of trouble. But he didn't just run off, confident that she would follow; he started hounding her, asking if she was planning on telling Skinner to get him suspended.
"I can't believe that you'd ask me that, after all we've been through."
"How much have *we* been through, Scully? Seems like you always want to stay out of the darkest corners."
"Just because I don't want to go on every one of your wild goose chases where the geese always shoot back--"
"At least Dana Parker believed in me!"
How could he? She'd lost everything--everything in the world-- following him, and he was still accusing her of disloyalty. Nothing would satisfy him but dying for him--and that would do only because he'd then have a really good excuse to go out and get himself killed, seeking vengeance.
"Maybe Dana Parker trusted you because you reminded her of someone who loved and trusted her."
"Well, I'm sorry if she was fooled. His actions were his own, not mine."
"Oh, like his sexual peccadilloes weren't yours? They didn't implant *that* behavior, I'll bet."
His face blanked completely.
"What's the matter, Scully? Haven't been laid in so long as yourself that you're jealous? I guess homicidal maniacs just don't satisfy."
"I should be grateful that you didn't call out Samantha's name when you came, that's the only perversion you missed."
She looked at him, already regretting the cheap shots she'd taken. "It didn't need to be like this, Mulder."
"I said, get out."
She left, closing the door behind her with a solid thunk. It still, she noted dully, said "Special Agent Fox Mulder" on it. He'd never gotten her a nameplate, even if he had rearranged things to create space for her desk. Technically, she'd had a cubicle upstairs before they went missing, and when she'd come back to find it reassigned she'd just assumed that she should make a complete move to the basement. That was where her loyalties lay; at this late date, no one could fail to notice her commitment even had she maintained a nominal presence upstairs. But now it seemed that she was the Most Unwanted of the Most Unwanted.
<This is going to destroy us,> she realized. <No matter what we promised each other. They've won, after all. I wonder if They're surprised.>
The worst of it was, if he'd come on to her in any way, she'd have slept with him. Even knowing that, whatever he really felt, he'd never be able to say it. It would be like that stupid keychain, mercifully lost because she'd had it on her when they were taken, where she got to give the speech and he got to disavow all seriousness. That had been a particularly effective Mulder head-game; she hadn't fully felt the humiliation of working out this wonderful explanation for why his gift was meaningful and having him dismiss it until much later. It was like a cut from a sharp scalpel, when you don't know that you've been hurt until you see the blood.
Dana also had fairly reliable evidence that Mulder would sleep with her, if offered the opportunity. Her only hope for self-respect was to avoid encouraging him. She could almost hear how he'd proposition her: "Hey Scully, wanna fuck?...Ok, gotta go--I've got another mysterious informant, but I promise when I'm in deep shit I'll call and you can come get me."
Sometimes, she just didn't want to be the adult, or to be Mulder's liaison to the rest of the world, anymore.
It was perfectly natural that, after so much loss and pain, she'd seek comfort from him; even if he was a major cause of that pain, he was the only one around to help. It was the UFO-hunter's equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages sympathize with their captors and want only the best for them, she thought. She wondered what would happen if she waved a flag from her window saying "Help! I am being held prisoner by Fox Mulder," and decided that no one else would think it was funny.
Oh, and there was another problem, one she didn't quite know how to bring up with Mulder.
She was a believer now, probably as much so as Mulder. In a way, she was only about four years old, and not a week of those four years had gone by without some inexplicable happening. She hadn't abandoned science, but there was too much evidence to deny the existence of forces, some of them possibly alien in nature, others stemming from as yet unexamined aspects of the human mind. She no longer had a skeptic's background.
The change had been underway before they were taken, when she'd become more and more convinced that powerful human conspirators, working across continents and decades, were manipulating world events and conducting illicit and often deadly experiments on unwilling subjects. And conspiracy theories, really, required so much suspension of disbelief, so much rejection of the idea that the world was full of random events, that aliens and psi waves were only a small step forward. In a world where people could lose their memories for prying too enthusiastically into government secrets, where human beings could rip others' lives apart like wet tissue, the existence of unseen forces and alien intelligences was trivial proof of the universe's fundamental malignity.
She understood Dana Scully's fear of admitting incomprehension-- that fear still held true when it came to her own abductions--but current science hadn't helped her that much in the past, just given her some terminology.
So now she challenged Mulder's theories, but she listened to them a lot harder first, and tried to make him prove them. The first time she'd suggested one of her own, he'd thought she was joking. And the second time. And, come to think of it, the third. Even after she'd written the second one up, since it seemed like the best explanation.
The one thing Mulder didn't want to believe in was her.
* * *
She picked the phone up on the first ring. "Scully."
She sighed. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I should have called."
"I thought you might not. I'm sorry, too. Forgive and forget?"
"We've done too much of the latter already."
A minute passed. His voice was low, nearly inaudible, when he spoke again. "I would rather not have remembered," he said. "I would rather have forgotten Samantha altogether, and that makes me feel...I just wish it didn't matter so much, and that's nearly as awful as letting her go in the first place."
"Trade you," she said without thinking.
"Scully, talk to me."
She wanted to tell him, really, or she wouldn't have let that comment slip out. Maybe it would be easier on the phone, where she couldn't see the pity and renewed guilt in his eyes; he'd have time to tamp them down in the recesses of his head where he kept all the other snapping monsters before he saw her again.
"I don't...I didn't get all my memories back. Just a little over four years' worth."
"Just the X Files."
"Just fighting with Missy, not growing up with her. Just Bill Jr. yelling at me for getting cancer. Just Ahab disappointed in me. Just...enough to be a little more real than Dana Parker, but not much."
She heard him breathing raggedly. Times like this made her wish that she still had a phone cord to twist, instead of this relentlessly convenient cordless wonder. She scanned the room, trying to find some distraction.
Oh, the sympathy moment. Some people gave pity fucks; Mulder gave pity friendship. She really believed that he felt strongly for her, but it hardly mattered if he was too cool to show it except when she was breaking down. She would not be loved only for her weaknesses.
"I suppose," she said harshly, "the fact that you haven't noticed is a good sign. It means there's nothing too significant missing." Give or take thirty years.
"Have you talked to Dr. Foer?" The nice neurologist at Georgetown Medical School had been sympathetic, but clear: She was not likely to recover any more memories than she had already. No one could tell her what had been done to them. Normally, as a woman she might have been expected to recover more memories than Mulder from similar trauma to the memory centers of the brain, since female brains generally had memories stored in more places than male ones, but with his photographic memory he appeared to have come through with less permanent damage. Yes, she really would have traded with him, and probably he with her.
"Dr. Foer says...that the medical and scientific understanding of the brain is in its infancy. That what I have recovered is a testament to the resiliency of the human brain. That I should call him if I remember anything more. He says good luck, and don't forget the six-month checkup. That's what he says. Oh, and he asked me on a date."
Mulder was not even able to work up the stamina to joke about that last piece of information. A very bad sign. He was silent for a long time.
She tried to start again: "I suppose it's a bonus on the dating scene, not having any boring childhood stories to tell." Flippancy always worked for him.
His breath hitched, and then: "Scully, I'm sorry...You know, even...in Michigan, you were still yourself. I think I hated 'Bill' so much because I was jealous of his perfect life, but you...Shit. I'm not doing any good for you like this, am I?"
She wondered how broad his question was. "No," she said honestly.
"Should I come over?"
"Is there anything I can do?"
"I don't know, Mulder. But if I think of anything, I promise I'll call."
"Goodnight," she said, and disconnected.
That was how she felt: disconnected. Set adrift, unmoored, cast away on an unfamiliar, unloving sea. What are we, she wondered, but the sum of our memories, each one linking us like a thread to the overall fabric of what we are? Our pasts keep us within the boundaries of who we are, constraining yet also enabling us to find ourselves. Because if any choice is as good as the next, then none of them are any good at all.
People make so many choices every day, not even thinking of them as choices because they are so determined by past practice, habits, learning, inclination, or other impetus. But for her, every choice had to be made again. The sillier ones--do you like pink? what about shad? chocolate or maple frosted donuts? who do you believe, Paula Jones or Bill Clinton?-- nearly drove her crazy, because she agonized over them to a ridiculous degree. She wondered what Dana Scully would have done, and then cursed herself because she *was* Dana Scully, and what did it matter anyway if she changed her mind, people did that all the time, and then she wondered if some formative experience had shaped this particular taste (when, at best, it was probably that Missy had said something scathing about redheads and pink) and on and on and on until she was sick of it. She was beginning to think of Dana Scully as "Danascully," one word, one concept. It was like trying to step into the life of one's identical twin sister.
Everyone treated her as if she were real, and so maybe that made it the truth. And surely other people, who'd never missed time or seen the alien light, also wondered if they were real.
She was amazed, now, that she really hadn't understood Mulder's desire for a peg leg, a badge of suffering that would cause people to turn away in pity and horror. At least that reaction would require some acknowledgement of the loss.
She wanted a peg leg, but all she had was a tattoo: The snake swallows its own tail and shrinks from a circle into a dimensionless point, disappearing like a star winking out.
Perhaps the tattoo was appropriate after all, if unobtrusive. She found herself checking it in the mirror before she dressed each morning, to see if the circle was tightening.
She wanted to jump out of her head and come back when everything was more settled.
Unfortunately, that had only happened to her involuntarily, and rather unpleasantly.
At least it had settled one thing: after this, she couldn't really think about a transfer. This was the only job she knew how to do. It would probably have been more ethical to turn in her medical license; though she believed that she remembered how to exercise all the skills, she just didn't know what she didn't know. And she didn't want to find out in an emergency. So, instead of pleasure reading (which of course triggered all the anxieties about her tastes or lack thereof), she was mainly reviewing medical textbooks when she had the time, trying to ensure that she could still call herself a doctor.
And a transfer was unthinkable for another reason. Dana Scully had been burned away, and not much was left behind. So the only thing to do was to find the people who'd done this to her and make sure that they could never perpetrate such an atrocity again.
She would find them, and she would make them pay.
Dana stood, stretched--the conversation with Mulder had certainly left her tense--and headed to bed, taking her gun from where it waited on the end table. She needed her rest.
After all, there was a lot of work to do.
* * *
Mulder was rooting around in her purse for a pen to fill out the crime report on their latest victim when he found the pills.
He held up the little orange tube. "Scully?" She could tell what he hadn't said: Are you sick again?
"It's Paxil, Mulder."
"Paxil?" She really thought he didn't know what it was. He was a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, so why should he pay attention to the trendy new drugs?
"Number three on the MOAI hit parade." Still a blank look, waiting. "It's a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. An antidepressant."
His mouth worked. He was taking her pain and converting it to his own. She resented that appropriation, but what the hell, it didn't diminish her own pain any, so she could hardly complain.
"Does it work?" he asked, after an eternity.
She shrugged. "Maybe consciousness is just neurons firing. You can't have thoughts or dreams without electrical impulses and neurotransmitters. If that's what we are, then antidepressants are no different than all the other ways we shape our own experiences. At least I can choose this method of self-creation."
"Better living through chemistry."
He handed her the pill bottle and her purse; she looked down at them as if she had no idea what they were. Awkwardly, he pulled away and turned his attention to the crime report, then looked up.
"Um...do you have a pen?"
She rolled her eyes and found the right compartment in her purse.
Mulder took the pen and snagged her hand when she would have pulled it away. "If there's ever anything I can do..."
"Look, there's been nothing wrong with my work, has there? No one's noticed any deterioration in my performance."
"Is that the good news, or the bad news?"
She pulled away, shocked by the insight. "Don't psychoanalyze me, Mulder. Save it for the suspects."
Muddy brown eyes stared at her. Oh, great. *She'd* hurt *his* feelings.
"I just...How did Van Blundht get through to you? What did he say?" He'd moved closer, leaning down over her. She could feel his breath, but there was an invisible wall separating them that would have made any Catholic dance chaperone proud.
"He asked me about things he didn't know about me. He asked me about my past. Ask me about my past, Mulder."
Mulder closed his eyes. Surely God had designed his face to show pain; that and blankness seemed to be his best-executed expressions.
She could reach out to him, but she'd just run into that invisible wall.
Scully waited, and finally Mulder opened his eyes and left her alone.
* * *
That night, when Scully returned to her apartment, she found the door unlocked. (Like any good paranoid, she always tested it before just shoving the key in.)
She pulled her gun and leaned against the wall, considering her options.
As she'd just decided to call for backup, the door swung open, releasing a sweetish haze of cigarette smoke. "Please, Dana, no need to wait out in the hall," the dim figure inside said. His voice was soft, but carried well: a man used to being heard.
Scully aimed directly at him and stood in the door, until she realized that she was a perfect target, backlit as she was. She stepped into the apartment and quickly hit the light switch.
"You can put the gun down," he said. He sounded amused. "I just want to talk to you."
"What do we have to talk about?"
"Old times," he whispered, and she took a step forward involuntarily.
"Tell me why you're here."
"Don't you remember? We always met at your apartment, Wednesday nights, whenever you weren't out chasing crop circles with Agent Mulder."
"You're lying!" She fumbled in her pocket for her cell phone. Mulder would...Mulder would...
"Shall we ask Agent Mulder's opinion? Go ahead, call him."
Mulder would believe him.
"I don't mean to be rude," he said silkily, "but an impartial observer might wonder if this is a failure of your trust in him, or his in you."
She looked desperately around the room. Dana Scully didn't betray her only friend. She was honorable; the only things she was sure of were her professional competence and her integrity. She remembered that for sure.
"Don't worry, Dana. I understand...the change in circumstances has been difficult. If you want to remember the last five years the way we gave them to you, we won't be offended. We have other ways of regulating Agent Mulder now."
She'd somehow let her gun arm fall down at her side, but she raised her weapon again and aimed for a heart shot. "What's your name?" she asked, and heard her voice shake. Tears threatened to blur her vision.
He walked forward, until he was almost touching the gun and she had to look up to see his face. "I don't remember anymore. Could you really shoot me, after all we've shared?" His voice was like oil spilled on the sea, fouling everything it touched.
He put his hand on hers, not trying to take the gun, just touching, stroking, down past her wrist and her elbow, over her shoulder and collarbone, ending at her cheek.
"Do you remember any of it?"
She was breathing his breath now. It smelled bitter and dark, chocolate with a hint of ash.
"Do you remember this?"
He kissed her with utter familiarity, his hand snaking out to capture the back of her neck to hold her at just the right angle--not an easy thing, with their height differential. She stood still when she should have pulled away screaming. Such a distinctive taste...
She heard the gun fall to the floor, and he released her. She staggered back until she hit the wall and leaned against it for strength.
"When you want to remember another life, Dana, I'll be waiting." He pressed a business card with nothing but a phone number on it into her nerveless hand. It fell to the floor immediately, but he didn't pick it up.
When the door closed, her legs gave out, and she collapsed. Lying on the floor was actually rather comfortable; there were no decisions to be made and noplace to go. She could lie there forever if she wanted to, and no one would tell her any more lies.
It couldn't be true.
But Dana Parker had done some ruthless things that had surprised both Mulder and Dana Scully, remembering them. Lack of inhibition or return to form?
Mulder--her feelings about him were too complex to be implanted as a cover story for a spy. There'd be no reason to do it, if he trusted her and she was busily betraying him.
The lesson the smoking man had given her was more nuanced: there was no way that she'd ever know for sure. She could never be confident that she'd peeled back the final layer of what had been done to her and rediscovered the real Dana Scully underneath. For all intents and purposes, there was no real Dana Scully. There was only Dana, who could choose what she would become.
Who would you be if you weren't who you were?
How would you know?
The hardwood floor slowly transmitted its chill to her flesh, until she was shivering.
She lay there, waiting for the next intervention. When she got an external stimulus, she'd know how to respond.
Until then, she was content to wait.