Dana had been wearing tanktops all week. Tanktops and denim shorts, no bra, sandals if she wore shoes at all. It was too hot for layers—she hadn't dressed William in more than a diaper and a onsie all week—and she was too busy for modesty.
The moving men, either out of respect for William on her hip or fear of lawsuits, did not leer or make comments—even though at one point she simply plopped onto the couch and lifted her shirt to nurse William. It was too hot to even drape a blanket over him.
The moving men were now gone. Dana had spent the day arranging and shelving. Duplicates of books and music—and there were more of these than she had expected—she put back in the boxes, to be put into storage or given away. William's room was bright, snug and cheerful. The house was a bit crowded with furniture, but otherwise had changed from a bachelor's place to a home for a family.
All this house needed, Dana thought, was her husband.
She went out onto the back deck with William and a glass of lemonade after sundown. The house retained heat like a brick oven, even though Dana set up fans in what she hoped were strategic places—but outside, after sundown, it was soft and cool.
Dana spread a blanket on the grass and lay William on it, so he could kick his heels and look around. She sat on the bottom step and drank her lemonade, and talked to William as he babbled back to her.
John had called every night this week, but not tonight. This worried her, though she told herself Monica would call if something was wrong.
She hated that John had had to leave only a few days after their wedding, but when you become engaged one day and marry the next, there was little time for niceties like time off. She had filled the days with moving and taking care of her paperwork, but still she missed John terribly.
Particularly when she wandered through the quiet house, touching his things, or lay down in the big empty bed.
Moving in while John was gone had seemed brilliant at the time—he would come home to a cozy house and a loving wife—but she hadn't thought how difficult it would be just to place a couch without him. Do whatever you want, he told her when they discussed it over the phone. "But what if you don't like it?" she said, and he laughingly promised he would, he would.
William slowly yawned and rubbed his eyes. "Are you sleepy, little man?" she asked him, and he blinked his eyes and yawned again. "All right." Dana drank the last of her lemonade, set down her glass, and gathered up both blanket and baby. She kissed his fuzzy head. He wrapped his fist around the strap of her tanktop and laid his head on her shoulder.
She talked to him as she carried him upstairs, soft reassuring patter that came as naturally as breast milk. When he was awake enough he responded in his William-language, but sleepy like this he just drooled down her arm.
Dana changed his diaper and put his onsie in the laundry hamper, kissed him a few times more and lay him in his crib. William tried to keep his eyes open just a little longer, but lost the battle with sleep as she sang to him in a whisper and patted his belly.
"Sleep well, my love," she murmured finally when his eyes stayed closed. She bent over the railing to kiss him one more time, then turned on the monitor and left the room, leaving the door open. She turned on the fan in the hallway.
Now. To fill the hours until she could sleep, too. The longer John was gone, the less inclined she was to sleep without him.
She had yet to watch TV here, yet to cook a meal. Oh, she'd watched television plenty of times with John, often in his arms—when she was heavily pregnant John would rub her back at its most tense points, so she could have some relief—but without him, she would only flip channels all night.
Dana went back to the deck and got her empty glass. She paused and glanced around the dark yard. John had planned it for ease of maintenance, not especially beauty or use. "Do you want to plant things?" he'd asked her. "I'd love for you to plant things."
"Tomatoes," she'd told him. "I want to grow tomatoes."
The yard was dark and peaceful. During the day it buzzed with bees and twittered with birds—it smelled warm and friendly, and the carpet of grass was cool.
Still, Dana expected to see something peering at her from the bushes—red or yellow eyes, dancing flames, or some other manifestation her ancestors would know better than she.
There was nothing in the yard but shrubbery and flowers. Dana gave herself a shake—You're being ridiculous, you know—and went back into the house. She locked the door: knob, chain, and bolt. She made sure the baby monitor was on, rinsed the glass, and put it in the dishwasher. She turned the back porch light off and the front porch light on, set the alarm system, and locked the front door.
She put a CD on the stereo. Her fingertips drifted along the bookcases as she considered what to read.
John owned more books than anyone she knew. Mostly non-fiction, though he had a sizable novel collection, too. Finally Dana chose one that looked well loved and settled herself in John's armchair.
She didn't read it. She leafed through the pages, charmed by John's underlines and margin notes. He annotated his own books. She loved it.
Sighing, Dana leaned against the overstuffed back, holding the book open on her chest. She closed her eyes, letting the music fill and soothe her mind.
I miss John, she thought. Why hasn't he called?
She breathed slow and deep, trying to keep calm. After losing Mulder so brutally she had become frantically protective of John, a feeling only intensified by their new relationship.
Everything had moved quickly for them—too quickly, her mother's expression had said when Dana told her they were married. Two weeks ago they had still just called each other friends.
But then there had been a conversation that was serious and tearful—a hug that lingered longer than a comforting hug should— then a kiss that led to more kisses, to touches, to caresses, to him sweeping her into his arms and making love to her with aching tenderness. He asked, she said yes. She said a lot of things, actually, but mostly she said yes.
It all still seemed slightly unreal, but Dana thought this was because John had been gone so long. It still didn't feel like a marriage, and it wouldn't, she thought, until they were living as a family.
She missed him. She wanted him home. She wanted him back in her arms, in her bed, laughing his warm husky laugh, touching her with his long fingers, kissing her until the world stopped turning. Oh, he was a sweet lover—never treating her as his toy or his possession, but not as if she was an untouchable goddess, either. When they were together, they were simply a man who loved and a woman who loved in return.
She thought John would probably laugh and look at her as if she puzzled him, as he often did, if she shared these musings with him. That was all right. Like any good cop he trusted his intuition and his understanding of human nature, but beyond that his worldview was blissfully uncomplicated. After years of trying to follow Mulder's jumps and hops, it was a relief to watch John's mind work from point A to point B.
She knew exactly what she loved about him—could list them off, point by point, and had listed many of them for her mother when she looked so disapproving. He was reliable, he was gentle, he was intelligent and well-read, he was honest, he would never raise his voice or his hand in anger to herself or to Will. Then there was his lean, sculpted body, his muscled shoulders and strong legs, but Dana thought it best to keep her physical attraction for him to herself.
Dana smiled, her eyes still closed. It was hard to believe how much she missed him. She could almost catch his scent on the air.
Something brushed her lips.
Dana shrieked, leaping to her feet and still clutching the book to her chest. On the way her forehead connected with something that felt like bone, and a man's voice grunted, "Oof!" She whirled, to see John stagger to the sofa.
"Helluva welcome home, babe," he said, holding his jaw.
"John! Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry! You surprised me." She put down the book and went to him. "Let me see that."
John lowered his hand reluctantly. "Only a week and already you're beatin' up on me. Bully." He grinned at her, and she smiled back, stroking his jaw.
"I don't think you're going to bruise."
He tilted his chin towards her further. "I bet if you kiss it, it won't hurt at all."
Dana chuckled. "You're silly."
"Just a little."
She bent to kiss his jaw, and when she allowed her lips to linger he pulled her into his lap. "Welcome home," she murmured as she put her arms around his neck, and she kissed his mouth.
He'd missed her too: his lips opened and his tongue pressed against her lips, which she opened at once. She moaned when his tongue slipped into her mouth, and she wound her fingers into his hair. She leaned into him, kissing him deeply as his tongue began a thorough examination of her teeth and the insides of her cheeks.
When he'd kissed her to his satisfaction he pulled away and looked at her, his eyebrows raised. "You are not wearing a bra."
"Your powers of observation are very astute." She began to unknot his tie, kissing around his face.
"I am learning more things about you . . ." He cupped her face in his hand. "But why did you scream, babe?"
"You startled me, that's all. I've been a little jumpy—I'm still getting used to this house."
"What's to get used to? It's just a house."
"The noises." John shook his head, so Dana said, "It makes noises at night—creaks and thumps, mostly. Haven't you noticed that?"
"I guess not."
"I've found them a little unsettling."
"Honestly, babe, I haven't noticed any weird noises. But maybe I'm just used to them. This is a pretty old house." He was absently stroking her shoulder. "Maybe we have mice."
"It doesn't sound like mice," Dana said, "but it doesn't matter." She lay her head on his shoulder. "You're here, and I'll get used to it."
"I'm sorry I scared you. I wanted to surprise you."
"Is that why you didn't call?"
"Yep." He sighed and stretched out his legs. "We've been on planes and in airports all day. Monica thought I should call, but like I said, I wanted to surprise you. Which reminds me . . ." He put her off his lap and leaned towards his garment bag—abandoned, along with his raincoat, by the sofa. "I got you a wedding present." He unzipped the outer pocket and started hunting around.
"John . . . I thought we agreed we weren't doing anything like that for now."
"I know, but then you surprised me with this," he gestured around the room, "so I wanted to surprise you with something too . . . if I can ever find it." He slid off the couch to his knees, lay down his bag, unzipped it and started poking through his clothes.
Dana twisted her wedding band. There had been no white gown, no champagne toasts, no path of rose petals, no priest's blessing. John had worn a black suit and she had worn a white sundress, and the marriage was solemnized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. A honeymoon and maybe a formal ceremony would wait until they were more settled.
She'd told her mother, "I want a marriage, not a wedding," and she thought now it was a wonderful thing to have, as unconventional as it may seem.
John was saying, "A couple days ago you said that it was hard to organize everything . . . and I know you're not supposed to give your wife anything that plugs in, but I think you'll forgive me this time . . . where did I put that thing?" He stopped and all but slapped his forehead. "Raincoat." He searched the inner pockets and pulled out a small nylon case. "I got you a PDA."
Dana sat on the edge of the sofa, took the tiny computer from his hand and unzipped the case. "It's adorable!"
"It does more than look cute." John got back on the couch and Dana leaned against his side. "Right now it's just got the basic programs and some of my freeware games. But I wrote down some websites where you can get more programs. I wasn't entirely sure what you'll need."
"Games, huh?" She grinned at him.
He coughed, smirked, and looked away. "I am a Tetris addict. I'm not ashamed of it. Oh, and here in the memos program, there's some stuff I wrote for you."
"Instructions?" She tapped the program icon. John had made a "Dana" category, with three notes inside.
"Nope. Just some stuff I was thinking about. You don't have to read them now." He pressed the power button, but Dana turned it back on.
"What were you thinking about? I want to read it."
"Then I'm putting my stuff away." He started to stand, then paused and looked at her. "It's . . . It's been a long time since I've been in love, Dana."
Dana smiled at him over the PDA case. "You wrote me love letters," she whispered, feeling flattered and pleased and shy.
"Yeah." He smiled too, the tops of his ears blushing pink, and got to his feet to carry his things upstairs.
Dana waited until he was gone to open the first letter. It was short but heartfelt.
I miss your body. I miss your hands running over my back. I miss how tight and hot you are when I'm inside you. We didn't have enough time for each other before I had to go and God, I miss you.
Babe, there's so much more to you than how beautiful and sexy you are—but right now I just want to touch you. I want to kiss your sweet mouth and soft skin. I want to feel your body loving me.
I love you, babe. I'll be home soon.
The smile it brought felt too big for her face. She decided to keep the other letters for when he was away again, turned off the PDA and zipped up the nylon case. She turned off the baby monitor and went upstairs.
In the bedroom, John was putting dirty clothes in the hamper. He didn't look up when she paused in the doorway. "I missed you," he said quietly. "I felt like we'd never been so far apart."
"We haven't," Dana said. "Not for months."
"I fell in love with you like a car crash," he said, still not looking at her.
Dana crossed the room and wrapped her arms around him. She didn't know how what she felt for him had come to be. Love had simply come.
"I love you too," she said softly.
He turned in her arms and kissed her. "I'd like to take a shower. I'm grimy."
"Okay. Do you need some dinner? Did they feed you on the plane?"
"Sort of—it was this weird lasagna-like substance. Have you eaten?"
"Not yet. It's been too hot to cook."
"Do you want to order in?"
"No . . . I'll put something together. I bought deli meat, would you like a sub? Turkey and provolone on multi-grain?"
"It sounds very good for you."
"That's the idea." She ran her hands over his chest. "You're my guy now. Taking care of you is in the job description."
His smile was very tender. "A sandwich would be great."
"I'll make it a quick shower."
"Okay." It took an effort to leave his arms—she loved the scent of his soap and end-of-the-day sweat, loved the feel of his soft shirt and the muscles beneath. She gave him a quick kiss and resolutely stepped away. She could feel his eyes on her as she left the room.
On the way downstairs Dana paused at Will's room and peeked in at him. The baby slept soundly, his fingers in his mouth. She smiled and left the door open.
In the kitchen she took out the makings for sandwiches from the fridge, as well as two red apples. She slathered the bread with brown mustard, layered the bread with romaine lettuce, turkey, tomatoes, pickles and cheese.
Part of her knew it was ridiculous to feel so happy doing this. The rest of her just felt happy. Her husband was home, her family was complete—and before the night was over they were going to make love.
Dana licked her lips and closed her eyes for a moment. She and John had had sex a grand total of seven times now—including a quickie in the front hall of her apartment while Monica impatiently honked her car horn below—and she wanted, very much, to add to that number.
Dana was slicing the sandwiches into halves when she felt John's hands on her shoulders. He kissed her neck and whispered, "Boo."
"Eek," she whispered back, and touched his cheek. "This is ready."
"Looks delicious." He stayed standing behind her, holding her around the waist, his face pressed against her neck.
She rested her hands on his forearms. "What is it?"
"The back of your neck smells like baby powder."
Dana inhaled, her hands gripping his wrists. She found her voice: "We should eat. It's getting late."
John kissed her neck and let go of her waist. "Looks good, babe," he said briskly, picking up the plates.
"Let's sit outside for a while," John said when they had eaten and cleaned up the kitchen. "It's a nice night."
"We can't hear the baby monitor from outside."
"But we can put the monitor in the windowsill and open the window."
She hesitated, then put her hand in his. "All right."
When they had set up the monitor to Dana's satisfaction, John led her out to the back deck. He had lounge chairs there, which could be sticky and uncomfortable after the heat of the day but became cooler as the night progressed. He sat in one and pulled Dana to his side. Their legs entangled and Dana put her arms around his neck and her head on his chest. He stroked her back and bare shoulders, his breathing deep and even.
"Do you know any of the constellations?" he whispered.
"Quite a few." She twisted so she could point to the sky. "The cross with dimmer stars on either side of the arms—that's Cygna, the swan. And over here, that's Aquila—it's looks kind of like a parallelogram. Aquarius is . . . around there somewhere. Sagittarius is there." She pointed low on the horizon. "That's a good one to look at through a telescope—it's got a lot of objects. Do you know any?"
"Uh . . . sure. That one, that looks like a smiley face is, um, Jerry Garcia." Dana chuckled, burrowing into his arms again. "It shares a few stars with Young Elvis, which sets when Fat Elvis starts to rise. And over our heads is . . ." He paused, and Dana stopped giggling against his chest. He murmured, "Over our heads is a beautiful full moon," and tightened his arms around her.
She squeezed him too. "It's a nice night."
"It's a great night. Are you feeling better?"
"I've felt better ever since I knew you were home."
He had changed his suit for jeans and a t-shirt, and Dana started rubbing her cheek against the soft cotton. John smoothed her hair back from her face and caressed her cheek.
"I'm glad," he murmured. "How's Will taking everything? Still happy as a bug?"
"He likes his room. He's such a happy baby in general, I can't think of much that would upset him."
"Even bumps and thumps?" He tickled her neck and she nipped under his chin.
"I know what I heard, buster—all right, I don't know what I heard but I know I heard *something*. Don't tease."
"Aw, honey . . ." He stroked her back and lay back to look at the sky again.
"Hey," she said after they had watched the stars in silence for a while. "You never told me how the case went."
John didn't answer for a moment. He stroked her back slowly with his open hand. "We found the girl. Brought her home."
"Is she okay?"
"She'll probably need therapy for the rest of her life, but otherwise, yeah. She's okay."
After a moment he said, "You know, I'd pit my skills and intuition next to anybody's, but I still feel like I'm missing something."
"The piece of my brain that makes the leaps—that connects the pieces. Most of the time I feel like I'm only seeing half the picture."
"But you did find her, John."
He wrapped a lock of her hair around his finger before he said, "Mulder would have found her sooner."
Dana raised her head and firmly kissed his mouth. "You are not going to spend the rest of your life comparing yourself to Mulder. Period."
His eyes met hers. "If you say so."
"I say so." She kissed him again. "You're a good investigator. You have good instincts and you're learning to trust them more. You're compassionate and caring. You have no reason to doubt yourself—no reason at all."
Again he paused, then leaned forward to kiss her and put his hand on her waist. He tried to keep his kiss was gentle and undemanding, and she smiled against his lips. She moved up onto her knees and held his face as she kissed him.
His body shivered beneath her touch. He grasped her sides, responding to her kisses with soft sighs in his throat. His hips rose to bump against her.
For moment he paused and looked at her. "Should we go inside?"
She shook her head. "Not yet."
He nodded and pulled her into a kiss again. His hands slid down her sides to her legs, and he rested them on the backs of her knees.
Her palms pressed against his chest, and her thumbs plucked at his shirt. Her fingers slipped beneath the fabric and caressed his stomach, moved up to stroke his muscles and circle his nipples.
John broke of the kiss with a grunt and yanked his shirt off. "Aw, yeah," he groaned when Dana bent her head and flicked her tongue over his nipples. He gripped her thighs and leaned back his head, closing his eyes. "I missed you so much, baby . . ."
"I missed you too," she whispered. "I wanted you so much." She cupped his face in her hands. "This house isn't home without you." She kissed his mouth, stealing the breath from his lungs and leaving him gasping.
"It's good to be home," he murmured, stroking her hair.
She smiled once more and leaned back on her heels. She crossed her arms and grasped the hem of her top. Swiftly she pulled her top over her head and let it drop to the deck.
John held her waist, just above the swell of her hips. His tanned hands looked very dark against her moonlit skin. Her nipples were dark pink and erect, and hot when he touched them with his tongue.
She inhaled, and John could feel her blood racing beneath her skin. He ran his fingertips over her ribs, his touch gentle with wonder. Dana raked her hand his hair, smiling down at him, and softly hummed when his fingers slid beneath the waistband of her panties. He stroked her lower belly and Dana closed her eyes.
"We really should go inside," he said, though he didn't want to leave the sheltering darkness and the soft night breeze. Moonlight made Dana's skin glow like a pearl, and John had an odd notion that he could taste the moonlight in the coolness of her skin.
On the other hand, there was only a fence and a hedge between them and the eyes of the neighbors, and he didn't want to shock them or provide them with a free show.
"Mmm . . . no, please, not yet. It's so peaceful." Her head fell back and she pressed her hips down onto his hand. "So—mm—peaceful—oh, John . . ."
He unzipped her shorts and tugged them and her panties down her hips. Dana grabbed his shoulders. She wriggled out of the rest of her clothes and shivered as he parted her thighs.
The baby's wail came through the monitor. At once Dana scrambled off the lounge chair, scooped John's shirt from the deck, and pulled it over her head as she hurried back into the house.
John didn't move. He laid his hands on his chest, listening to William's cries, his squeal when he saw his mother, and Dana's soft murmuring as she lifted him from the crib. "What's wrong, little man? You're not hungry already, are you?" William babbled back to her, and John could imagine the expressions on their faces: William's joy at being in his mother's arms, Dana's peace and contentment as she held her baby close. They loved each other in a way John envied, a little—exclusively, fully.
"John? I'm guessing you're still outside." He heard Dana sigh. "It's later than I thought, and I need to feed Will. Maybe we ought to rendevous later . . . Don't fall asleep on me, okay?"
"No chance of that, babe," he murmured, even knowing she couldn't hear him. He shifted, grimacing as his erection rubbed against his fly.
When he'd gotten his pulse under control, he gathered up Dana's abandoned clothes and went into the house. He turned off the baby monitor and shut the window, locked it and the back door, and checked the security system.
All was well. His house—"*our* house," he corrected himself—was safe and secure. He had promised this to Dana when she agreed to marry him: nothing, no one, would lay a hand on her or William ever again. Not while he drew breath.
He knew it would be a hard promise to keep—but he could think of nothing more worthwhile.
Slowly John climbed the stairs, and paused outside the door of William's room. Dana had mentioned wanting to paint it, and had only put out William's favorite toys and vital furniture. This included a rocking chair—John's gift to her before Will was born.
Dana was in the rocking chair, nursing William. She had taken off the t-shirt and put on her bathrobe. William drank from her breast with noisy gulps, one chubby fist wrapped around her finger. Dana had turned on only one small lamp, bathing the room in soft golden light.
John's chest tightened and unconsciously he sighed. Dana looked up from the baby's face. "Did you hear me over the monitor?" she asked, her voice pitched low.
"Yeah, I did."
"Is it all right?"
That's a strange question, he thought, and said, "Of course. I'm not gonna make you stop feeding the baby just because I want to have sex."
"I know . . ." She lowered her head, obscuring her face with her hair. "I'm still getting used to this marriage thing."
"The key word is compromise . . . or so I've heard." He said gently, "I'll be in the bedroom. Whenever you're ready."
"Thanks." She added, her tone mischievous: "Are you going to put on something special for me?"
"I'll see what I can dig up." He started down the hall.
"John?" she called after him.
He went back to the nursery and slouched against the doorframe. "Yeah?"
"We've never talked about what we want William to call you."
"Oh." His hand clutched the folded clothes a little tighter. "I hadn't thought about it. I mean, he's not going to call me anything for another year or so."
"I know, but I've been thinking about it anyway. I think it would just confuse him if we had him call you John. When he's old enough to understand the whole stepfather thing, we'll explain it—but I think, especially when he's little, that it's important he just know you as Daddy."
A lump formed in John's throat. "Okay," he said.
"Okay." She wiggled her hand, making William's hand wave. "We're almost done."
"Okay," he said again. He crossed the room and bent to kiss William's hot forehead. "G'night, Will," he whispered, then kissed Dana too. She touched his cheek and turned her attention back to the baby.
He left the nursery and went to their bedroom. He put Dana's clothes into the hamper, but hung his own t-shirt back in the closet. He'd only worn it for an hour, it would be fine for the weekend.
But, what had she meant by "something special"? Pajamas? He didn't own anything he thought of as sexy. He rubbed his sandpapery chin, wondering if he should shave. Most of the time Dana didn't seem to mind his stubble, but they'd only planned to have sex once before, on their wedding night.
The rest of the time . . . he grinned, heading towards the bathroom. The rest of the time they were swept up in passion like hormone-addled kids.
She deserved a close shave. Hell, he thought, she deserves champagne and satin sheets and rose petals. Someday he would give them to her—but for tonight she would get the slow, sweet lovin' he loved to give her.
Smiling, he slapped on the shaving cream.
He could hear Dana singing from down the hall, her voice low and husky. He loved to hear her sing, though she was too shy to do it in front of him. It was a reassuring sound—it told him someone was home, and happy to be there.
When he had shaved and washed up, John went back into the bedroom and turned down the sheets on the bed. Dana was still singing, even more softly now. He thought he might go back to the nursery, but he didn't want Dana to think he was rushing her. He could wait.
John lay on the bed, his arm behind his head, and closed his eyes. They had not yet had sex in this bed, and the thought was enough to give him a tremor of anticipation. His bed—his wife—sex with his wife for the first time in a week—he'd been longing for her all week and now, finally, he could touch her again.
For a moment he thought Dana wanted to sneak upon him like he'd snuck up on her—he felt someone bouncing on the bed and heard a giggle in his ear. "Dana?" he said, opening his eyes.
No one was there.
John rubbed his face and wondered if he was more tired than he realized. He sat up just as Dana came into the bedroom. "He's asleep," she said, tucking her hair behind her ears, "for the night, I hope." She paused in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." He held onto her waist. "I dozed off, I think."
"Would you rather sleep?" Her hands slid across his shoulders.
"No." He pulled her onto his lap so that she knelt, straddling him. "I'm not ready to sleep yet."
Dana continued sliding her hands across his shoulders, a half-smile on her lips. John felt the same smile creep over his mouth, and he tugged open the tie of her bathrobe. The scent of aroused woman filled his nostrils, overpowered his senses. He slid the robe from her shoulders, and her breath came faster as the robe dropped to the floor. He began sliding his hands, just as slowly as her hands moved, up and down her sides. From the swell of her hips to the dip of her waist to the firmness of her ribs to the softness of her breasts, he touched her with his fingertips and palms.
When she was trembling and swaying on her feet, John rose and lifted her, to lay her carefully on the bed. She watched him through half-closed eyes as he knelt over her and repeated his slow exploration of her body, this time with his open lips.
His mouth touched scar tissue and he paused. He knew how it had happened, and that it had been years ago, long before they met. Still, it made his heart pound and his eyes burn, as if it had happened just moments before.
He kissed the scar, and felt Dana's fingers in his hair. He pressed his cheek against her belly and she caressed his face. He moved up her body to kiss her mouth and let her wrap her strong arms around him. She always held him so tight. He loved that.
After several minutes, while they kissed and touched, Dana pushed gently on his shoulders until he lay flat on his back. She held herself over him, giving him a mischievous smile before dipping her head to graze her lips over his chest. The tips of her hair brushed his skin, and it was hard to say which touch made him gasp.
He lay his hand over the back of her neck and closed his eyes. "Dana," he breathed. He never said much while they were making love, but she liked to hear her name.
Dana hummed, rubbing her nose in the hair on his lower belly as she carefully unbuttoned his fly. Her tongue touched his skin and he moaned aloud. She shoved her hands into his clothes, palming his hips, and pushed his pants down to his knees as she kissed his stomach and thighs.
"No leopard-skin thong, I see," she whispered. She licked the tip of his cock with the tip of her tongue.
"Must still be at the dry-cleaners," John muttered, and Dana chuckled before closing her lips around the head of his cock.
John exhaled a groan. "Yeah, baby . . ." His body tensed and he thrust his hand into her hair. She couldn't take him into her throat but he didn't mind—she more than compensate for it with her wet tongue and clasping fingers. He moaned happily.
Still, it wasn't long before he pulled out of her mouth. He had no intention of coming without her.
Their eyes met. She was panting, her skin dewy with perspiration. Slowly she licked her lower lip.
It was more than John could bear: he growled, "C'mere, you," as he rose onto his knees and reached for her. She laughed at his eagerness, opening her arms and legs to him, and let him roll onto her back, kissing him.
He thrust into her slowly as she panted against his lips and her nails dug into his back. "Oh . . ."
"Yeah," he answered her. "Uh-huh." He kissed her face, licked her cheeks and her eyelids.
She cupped his face and pulled his mouth back to hers. "Kiss me."
He kissed her deeply, rocking his hips against hers. "I love you, baby," he whispered. "I love you . . ." He leaned on one arm and reached the other between them to stroke her clit. Her neck arched and she whimpered, scraping her fingernails over his back.
"Ooo . . ." Her legs quivered and she raised them higher so that her knees pressed against his ribs. "Mm, John . . ."
"I want to give you everything, baby . . . everything you ever dreamed of . . ." Her clitoris felt like as plump as a cherry, slippery and hot, and her flesh surrounding him rippled and clenched. She caught his lower lip between her teeth and suckled it, nibbled it, soothed it with her tongue.
"No promises, baby . . . just love me . . . love me . . ."
"Always." He shuddered as she slid her hands up his chest. "Always. No matter what. Always."
Her hips demanded the time for slow was over: she clutched at him, clenched at him. "John," she breathed, and even more faintly, "John . . ." She was the only woman he'd ever known who got more quiet as she came. It had taken the fourth or fifth time, in fact, that he learned to read her body for signs of orgasm, not her voice.
He held himself on both arms now, moving fast and hard, watching the aftershocks flick over her face. She didn't turn her face away when he pressed her cheek against hers, groaned into her ear. She kissed him, gathered him to her, stroked his hair. He simply lay against her and breathed.
Most mornings, William awoke first. He would happily babble to himself until he wanted attention and started to cry.
John lay awake with his eyes closed, listening to the baby's noises. Dana was asleep in his arms, her round bottom pressed against his groin, her breasts heavy in his hands. He wanted to knead them, to rock his hips against her ass and see if they could get in some morning sex—but with William already awake, it was only a matter of time before the day began.
He gave her breasts a friendly squeeze and her shoulder a kiss, and got out of bed. He went into the bathroom, used it, washed his hands, and went back into the bedroom to put on his bathrobe. Dana was still asleep, rolled into a ball and her fist tucked under her chin. John smiled and touched her hair, and went into the nursery.
William was conversing with the ceiling, his hands flailing and his body wiggling like he was being tickled. He squealed when he saw John.
John picked him up and kissed his head. "Hey, Willie boy. Who are you talking to, hm?" He kissed the baby again and laid him on the changing table. "Let's see if we can't give mommy a better morning . . ." He unsnapped William's onsie and made a face at the smell. "Good lord, child! What are they feeding you?" William giggled and kicked his feet. "Oh yeah, you think you're funny . . ." He tickled William's tummy and William grabbed at his face again.
They talked to each other like that while John changed William's diaper and cleaned him up, John joking and William squealing his William-noises. He was a happy child, which amazed John—Dana had been under so much stress during her pregnancy he'd been sure William would be high-strung and difficult. But it was as if he knew how loved he was, as if he knew he had no cause to fear.
Bearing the newly-diapered baby, John returned to the bedroom where Dana was still asleep. He hesitated a moment, then laid the baby on his belly beside Dana's face. William at once began bumping his head against her as he tried to pull himself closer. Dana woke up after a moment, startled and blinking. "Well, good morning," she said, her voice still husky with sleep.
"Morning. I changed him but I think he's hungry."
"Thanks. How are you, little man?" she said, hauling herself up to sit. She picked up the baby and kissed his plump belly before settling him against her breast. The baby smacked loudly, and Dana's wince said he clamped onto her breast with vigor.
John sat onto the bed, then lay back on his elbow, watching them, trying not to focus on her morning-golden skin, sex- and sleep-mussed hair and sloping breasts. It struck him as odd sometimes: he'd never known her other than as a mother. Even before he knew of the pregnancy, there'd been gravity and grief and concern for the future in her every step. He'd seen it, without seeing it.
He said, "I'm making it a short day today. Just long enough to make my report."
"All right." Her eyes were closed, her head leant back against the headboard.
"So if you want to do something this afternoon . . ."
"Do something?" Her eyelids fluttered open. "Like what?"
"Just . . . something. Anything. Go buy those tomatoes you want to plant, anything."
"Oh," she said, drawing the word out in comprehension. "Is this what married life is about, John? Running errands together and squeezing in sex between feedings?" She smiled at him and he smiled back.
"Yup. Sex and groceries, that's what it's all about." He watched her for a moment more, then said, "Do you think you could get a sitter for tomorrow night? I want to take you out on a date."
"A real date? Like eating at a restaurant with tablecloths?"
"And maybe even seeing a movie. Do you remember movies? They're giant moving pictures and they even have sound now."
"Exotic. I'll see if my mother's free. " She stroked William's head with her fingertips.
"Monica's offered to watch William if we want to go out, you know."
"That's nice of her . . . but I don't know how much experience she's had with babies. I'd rather ask my mother, for now."
"Okay." He said, "I'd like to buy you an engagement ring."
Dana looked up, startled. "But I don't need an engagement ring."
"But I need to give you one." He wrapped his hand around the bump in the sheets that was her foot. "I want you to have one."
"You don't think the wedding band says 'I'm taken' enough?" Her tone was light and teasing but there was a faint furrow between her eyebrows.
"I just want to give you one, that's all."
She nodded, focusing on the baby again. "We'll see. It's getting late, John," she added gently.
He sighed and pushed himself up. "I'd rather hang out with you two."
"We'll have the weekend." She arched an eyebrow at him significantly. "Right?"
"Absolutely. Nothing but a national disaster will keep me away."
Smiles again, and it occurred to John that despite friendship and sex and marriage, they were still uncertain with each other. He went to her and kissed her, caressed her cheek and smiled at her.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said, and then went into the bathroom to prepare for the day.
He'd missed this. Waking up next to a warm body, playful talk, planning more ways to spend time together. When he'd come home the night before, even the house had felt different: larger and more sheltering, a place for people to live instead of where one man stopped before leaving again.
And, he decided while he showered, he would surprise her with the engagement ring, sometime when she didn't expect it. And he'd ask her mother for help choosing it—Dana would like something simple and classic, he thought, but what exactly that meant was a mystery to him.
Dana was still absorbed in nursing when John came out of the shower, toweling his hair. He went to the bureau to dress, and paused. "Dana."
"Did you do this?"
"Put all my change into piles."
"No. I didn't even notice your change, sweetheart."
"Weird," he said, and opened a drawer to take out his underwear. "Luke and I, when he was learning to count, we'd divide my change like this, into dollars. He knew how to make change by the time he was six."
"And you didn't do it last night?"
"No. Just put it down like I usually do. Weird," he said again, and went to his closet to choose a suit.
"I like the way you look in blue," Dana offered, and John laughed.
"Then blue it is."
Monica greeted him with guarded cheer when John arrived in the office. "How's your bride?"
"Good. Missed me. How are you?"
"Just fine. " She shuffled some papers on her desk. "And the baby?"
"He's great, Monica. What's with you this morning?"
"Nothing's with me," she muttered, but then she looked up and blurted, "Don't you worry? I worry."
"Of course I worry," John said, surprised. "I worry all the time—but I know Dana is doing all she can to watch over him and we're doing all we can to find the next threat—"
"I know all that," Monica said, waving her hand. "I mean about Dana."
"She's a lot better than she was a few weeks ago," John replied, still puzzled. "She's sleeping better and she's a lot happier—spit it out, Mon. Whatever you're really trying to say."
She pursued her mouth. "I'm just afraid this is too soon. That you moved too fast. I mean, she lost Mulder less than a year ago—are you sure you're doing the right thing? Are you sure she's being honest with you?"
John clenched his teeth. "Yes."
"You know I love Dana, John—and you know I'd do anything for Will—but I still can't convince myself marrying her is really the best thing, for Dana or for you."
John could say nothing for a moment. It would be a lie to say he didn't have a few fears about their relationship—but they weren't the sort of thing he wanted to discuss with anyone.
Still, he fought the urge to tell Monica to mind her own fucking business, and said, "Our marriage isn't just about Will."
"Then what is it about? I'm just afraid—"
"Monica!" he said sharply, and she shut her mouth. "I know it was sudden and I know it was fast but it was the right thing to do. I love William. I love Dana. She loves me. That's all that matters."
Monica nodded and murmured, "Yes. You're right. Of course. I'm sorry."
He bit his lip and said, "Thanks for caring. I mean that. But if you could just see her, Monica, you'd understand."
Again she nodded, and she started typing on her computer, her brows furrowed with concentration. John watched her for a moment, but the subject appeared to be closed. He turned to his own work, wanting even more to get home soon.
It was nearly one in the afternoon when he arrived home, to the scent of something spicy baking in the oven and the sounds of Dana playing with William on the floor of the front room. "Who's a baby!
Who's a baby! Are you the baby?" as she tickled his belly with her hair and he giggled and shrieked.
John smiled despite himself—rehashing what still felt like a failure had put him in a sour mood—and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Look at this girl that I married," he said, and Dana looked up at him, her face flushed and grinning. "Look at her. You'd think she didn't have a care in the world."
"Hello, my husband," she said, picking up the baby, who kicked his legs, still wanting to play. She came to John and kissed him.
"Hello, my wife," he said, and took William from her arms so he could give Dana a proper kiss. "I'm yours until Monday morning."
"Hooray," she murmured, putting her arms around him. She rested her cheek against his chest. "Aside from buying tomato plants and going out tomorrow night, what do you want to do?"
"Whatever needs doing, babe. Did you get a sitter?"
"My mother will be over at seven, provided she can have us for dinner on Sunday. I think she wants to grill you about your intentions towards me and her grandson."
"Didn't marrying you state my intentions clearly enough?"
"She worries," Dana said as if that explained everything. "And your mother called this morning. She wants to know when we're coming to visit."
John groaned. His parents had been surprised, to put it mildly, to hear about the sudden marriage, but he'd hoped they could contain their impatience for a few months. "What did you tell her?"
"I said it would depend on your work schedule. We talked for about an hour. It was very nice."
"Well, that's good. I hope you'll like her."
"I like her already. Your father didn't have much to say."
"He never does." He kissed her hair and handed back the baby, removing his tie from William's fist. "I'm going to change clothes. Lunch first, then shopping?"
"Yes. It'll be ready in about twenty minutes."
"Thanks." One more kiss and then he went upstairs.
As usual he put his change from the day on top of the dresser, but then he paused. He drew his fingers through the coins, deliberately scattering the pile. He shook his head at himself and continued taking off his suit.
"Given the choice," Dana said, "I'd rather have a dog."
"Than an engagement ring?"
"Yes. What do I need an engagement ring for, John? I hope there's not a territorial motive behind this."
"No . . ." John paused to look at a flat of strawberry plants, then shook his head—it was too late in the year to plant those. "It's just part of the tradition."
"So are blue garters and throwing a bouquet and dancing the Hokey Pokey, but we didn't do those."
"I hope someday we will. And I want to give you an engagement ring."
"And I'd rather get a dog." She had put Will's carrier in the seat of the home store cart, and she dangled plastic keys over his hands for him to grab. "Children should have pets."
John took her hand as they continued wandering down the aisle. "Big dog or small dog?"
"Medium-dog. Terriers are good dogs for kids, I've heard. A German shepherd would be good, too, I think. I'd feel guilty having a big dog in an apartment but with the yard I think a big dog would be pretty happy."
"So, a medium-to-large dog."
"Yes. We could go by the Humane Society later and see what puppies they have." She raised her brows, smiling. "I won't insist on the name."
"We'll talk about that," John said, but couldn't resist smiling back. He tickled William's drooly chin. "What do you think, Willie boy? Would you like a dog?"
"Plus," Dana added, "plus, dogs can sense things."
"There hasn't been an earthquake in Virginia since the Fifties."
"They can sense more things than earthquakes."
"Dana, you're going to start on the noises again, are you?"
"I heard something inexplicable, that's all. I don't want to take any chances."
He sighed and stopped walking, and held tightly onto her hand as he said, "Babe, I know it's been a hard year for you—an impossible year. But you're safe now. You're safe. Don't go looking for trouble where it doesn't exist. Okay?" He raised her hand to his mouth and kissed the back. "Okay?"
"I'm not looking for trouble." She raised her eyes to him. "But I don't see any reason not to take every precaution we can."
There would be no arguing with her about this, he could see it in her eyes. "All right. We'll get a dog."
When they finished shopping and came home again later that evening, Dana took the sleeping baby up to the nursery and John put the plants and paint in the garage. They had tomatoes and bulbs and late-summer flowers, and pale blue paint for William's room. She had worried so much about changing things while she was moving in, but that phase had obviously passed.
That chore done, John hesitated, then climbed the stairs and went into the bedroom. It's ridiculous, he thought, why would someone break in to play with my change . . .
On top of the bureau were four piles of coins, separated into dollars and neatly stacked.
The hairs on the back of John's neck stood up, and he scattered the stacks. "Weird," he said again, and decided not to tell Dana.
She was dreaming. She had to be, because there was no other way Emily could be standing in Dana's old apartment living room with William in her arms.
"Emily," she whispered, and the word seemed to drift across the room.
The little girl smiled and jogged the baby, who was almost too heavy for her to hold. They had the same dimples, the same round cheeks, the same blue-green eyes. "Look, Mommy, it's my brother."
"Yes, sweetie." Dana approached the children cautiously, and knelt down to look Emily in the face. "His name is William."
"I want to keep him, Mommy."
Something constricted in Dana's throat, and she whispered, "But so do I, Emily. I want to keep him with me."
"I want to play with him, Mommy." She hugged William closer, making the baby squeal and squirm with discomfort. "He's got such tiny hands."
"He's only five months old. Emily, may I hold him now?"
Emily's eyes blazed at her. "No, Mommy, he's mine! He's mine now!" Her voice changed as she spoke, becoming deep and cavernous and echoing—and she grew, no longer a little girl but something horrific, something gray and ancient and dead.
The creature towered over Dana, and in its arms William screamed with terror. "He's mine, Mommy!" it croaked as dust swirled in the air around it and the ground shook. "I want to keep him! He belongs with me now!"
Dana closed her eyes at the force and stench of the creature's breath, and screamed with all her strength, "Give me back my baby!"
But when she reached out her hands to snatch William from the creature's grasp all she touched were dust and ashes.
The air around the creature churned like a tornado, with William and the creature's malevolent face at the core of the fulcrum, rising into the air. "Please," Dana begged, "please, give me back my baby . . . Please."
The creature only continued ascending to the sky, William little more than a pink blur behind the curtain of dust. "He's mine, Mommy! I'm keeping him now!"
"No . . ." Her arms outstretched, she screamed, "William—"
"William," she whispered through a dry mouth, and was five steps away from the bed before she realized she was awake.
It didn't matter—she had to hold William, had to smell and touch him before she drew another breath. She ran down the hall and scooped him into her arms, causing him to wail. "You're okay . . . you're okay," she whispered, stroking his head. He smelled like he always did, like sour milk and baby powder and fabric softener. He was warm and solid, real from his soft fontanel to his clenched toes.
"You're okay," Dana whispered, clinging to him. "You're okay."
She was so tense that once again she started when John laid his hand on her back, but she was grateful at least this time she didn't scream. "It's me," he said a moment too late, but she rested her forehead against his shoulder anyway. "Is he okay? I didn't hear him cry until a second ago."
"He's fine." I'm the one who's a mess, she thought as John wrapped his arms around them both. She pressed her nose against his chest, inhaling the warm sleepy scent of him.
"Shh, shh," he murmured, and Dana had the feeling he was talking to her, not the baby.
She sagged against him, suddenly tired to her bones. It had been such a good weekend—even if her mother seemed determined to dislike John and had questioned him on Sunday about everything from his education to what ended his first marriage—and Dana had been happy. She'd had hopes of peaceful days and loving nights, of her little family only growing closer as the years went by.
Now this—nightmares as terrible and intense as those she'd had just after Mulder died. She could still taste the ashes in her mouth. It did not speak to her of a peaceful mind.
"Did he have a bad dream, do you think?" John murmured. "Is that what woke you?"
"No. He didn't—I did."
He sighed. "Dana . . ." and stroked her back. "Here, give me William. Maybe I can calm him down."
Wordless, she handed over the baby and sat in the rocking chair, drawing up her legs beneath her nightshirt. John held the baby to his bare chest and whispered to him as he slowly paced back and forth. After a while William's harsh frightened sobs calmed into whimpers, and then light snores. "Okay, Willie boy," John said as he carefully laid the baby back in the crib. "Sleepy time now, okay? That's a good boy." He stayed by the crib a moment, looking at William with a thoughtful expression, and then raised his head and smiled faintly at Dana. He tilted his head towards the door, so Dana rose and followed him out of the nursery.
Instead of leading her back to the bedroom, however, he turned towards the stairs and went down to the kitchen. Dana hesitated: it was only a few hours before John had to leave for work, surely he'd rather sleep than talk. Still, she joined him downstairs.
He was filling a mug with milk when she came into the kitchen, that same thoughtful expression on his face. "A little warm milk to help you sleep," he said.
"Thanks." She wrapped her arms around herself and leaned against one of the counters.
He put the mug into the microwave and pressed the buttons, then leaned against the opposite counter and folded his arms too. "You know," he said quietly, "for a year or so after Luke died I had dreams just about every night, where he'd tell me it was my fault he was dead."
"I know. The department made me take bereavement counseling, you know. You can't do your job when you're angry. The counsellor, she was nice—a little New Age-y, but very understanding. The dreams were my own guilt, she said. I believe that. Dreams are just . . .
dreams. Just the mind talking to itself."
"Not always," Dana said, when the microwave dinged and John moved to take out the mug. He handed it to her and she took it with a soft, "Thanks."
"What do you mean?"
"Sometimes they're more."
"Prophetic dreams?" he said, raising his eyebrows.
"Yes. Sometimes. Or a message."
"So, you're afraid the dream you had tonight was a message?"
She sipped her milk and didn't meet his eyes. "I don't know. I hope not." She paused. "Have I ever told you about my daughter?"
"Sometimes I think I've let her go. That I've moved on. But I don't think I'll ever stop grieving her, not really."
"That's the way it should be," John said unexpectedly. "She was your child."
"But just for a little while."
"Dana . . . The length of time doesn't make the feeling any less genuine. It's grief. It's hard. It wrings you out and you ask yourself a thousand times if there wasn't just one more thing you could have done to make things different. But thinking that way will make you crazy. Trust me," he added with a ghost of a smile.
"Besides, you've got Will."
"Who's being chased by so many factions I can't even keep track of them."
"We've always gotten him back, Dana. And now that we've got a better idea of what we're looking for, we can keep them from getting that close to him." At last he crossed the kitchen and wrapped her up in his arms again. He kissed her forehead. "Will's my second chance," he said softly. "I'm not going to let anyone hurt him."
She put down her mug so she could hold him, and couldn't resist teasing him. "I know. You only love me for my baby."
He laughed. "Right. It has nothing to do with how much fun you are."
"Oh, I'm not fun."
"You're tons of fun, once you relax a little." He cupped her face in his hand, smiling down at her. "You're my best time, Dana."
Happiness, sweet and warm, coursed through her body, surprising her. She nuzzled her cheek into his hand. He was right, she thought. Just her mind talking to itself. She had to let go of her worries, accept that they were safe and nothing would hurt them while John was alive.
She stood up on her toes to kiss him, and refused to think of to whom she could turn if anything happened to John.
It wasn't until they were back in bed, John already half asleep in her arms, that she remembered the date. Damn it, she thought, and slipped out of bed.
In the bathroom she washed her thighs, frowning because there was nothing more she could do. Pills were out of the question while she was breastfeeding, and the only method of contraception she had on hand was the box of sponges under the sink. John had offered to wear a condom more than once, but she'd been confident in her ability to remember the days and told him she'd let him know when they needed one. All things one had to plan for to use.
Dana rinsed out the washcloth and hung it over the side of the bathtub, then leaned against the sink and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked pale and worried, not like a woman who just got thoroughly and deliciously loved by her husband. She crossed her eyes and grimaced, and turned off the light. She went back to bed and eased under the covers. John, no use at all for a good half hour after sex, wrapped her up in his arms and sloppily kissed the crown of her head with a satisfied hum.
Would it be better, she thought, to tell him her worries now or wait until she knew there was something to worry about? No, this was serious—this wasn't like deciding John would be Daddy to William or that she would take his name. This would change things, if it were true.
"John," she whispered, and again he hummed. She turned over to look into his face, and he looked back with sleepy eyes. "John, I think I might be pregnant."
That woke him. He sat up, holding her upper arms, and said, "What makes you think that?"
"Because I just remembered what day it is, and we didn't use anything."
He looked faintly stunned. "But you—I mean—you said you'd keep track."
"I was a little preoccupied tonight." A strangely ironic dream, now that she thought about it: dreaming of her dead child distracting her into conceiving again. "I mean, I won't know for certain for another few weeks, but it's possible and I want you to be prepared."
"Jesus," he said and finally let her go.
She didn't know what reaction she'd been expecting, but it wasn't this. "Don't you want another child?" she said quietly.
He scrubbed his hand through his hair. "I—no. I mean—no. Do you? Really?"
"I think I do." She leaned back against the pillows and crossed her hands over her belly. "I do. I would have preferred more than fourteen months between children, but this isn't the end of the world."
"Having Will almost killed you, Dana, and I don't want to watch you go through that again."
"Is that the only reason?" she said, quieter still. "Because of what it does to my health?"
"Yes. No." He frowned. "Dana. I don't know if I can do that again. With Will it's different. Loving Will is like loving you—it's part of loving you. He's part of you. But I don't think—" He shut his eyes and shook his head, sighing. "No. I can't do it again, Dana. I can't love another child."
"Is this the kind of thing you'd leave me over?" Dana said, surprised at how calm she sounded.
"God, Dana! Of course not!"
"So, you'd stay with me and let the resentment build, and take it out on the child?" God, was she always this dispassionate when her heart was breaking?
"Dana," he said again, and knelt in front of her. He took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply. "I love you so much," he said slowly. "And I wish I could be happy at the possibility but right now I am just scared."
Dana studied him a moment, then put her hand on his wrist and turned her head to kiss his palm. Fear she could understand. Fear she could forgive. "And I could be wrong," she said. "I may have had only the one chance."
"You know I want to give you everything you want, baby," he said, his voice soft and urgent. "And if this is what you want—"
"You'd have a child you don't want just because I do?"
"Maybe 'don't want' is too strong a term," he said slowly. "Maybe it's more like . . . 'am afraid to want.'"
Again she studied him. "I have just realized we have a lot to talk about."
"Yeah. I guess we do."
She stroked his face. Not heartbreak, just a flat note in their harmonious world. They'd figure it out—despite every difference they had, they'd come so far in such a short time, and she was willing to compromise, yield, and choose her battles. Love, she thought, is also about fighting fair. She said, "But not right now. You need your beauty sleep," and he chuckled.
"I love you," he said with something like anxiety.
"And I can't even start to name the ways I love you."
He smiled and kissed her cautiously, and they lay down again, both aware of how darkness had fled the bedroom since they first awoke. John put his hand on her belly and said, "Maybe it'll be something wonderful."
"New life always is," Dana said, and smiled when he squeezed her close.
For the fourth morning in a row John's change was neatly stacked for counting on the dresser top, but Dana decided nothing was going to bother her today and made pancakes for breakfast.
"You know what I'd love," John said as they were kissing goodbye on the front porch.
"A daughter," she said, and he nearly smiled.
"Something simpler, for now. I'd love for you to surprise me some time, show up at the office and take me out to lunch."
"I could surprise you like that," she said. She kissed him all the way down the stairs, and only let him go because she was in her bathrobe and slippers and he really had to get on the highway. They waved to each other after he backed down the driveway and into the street, and she stayed on the porch, watching him, as he drove away.
When she turned around to re-enter the house, there was a little boy standing in the doorway. He was blond with a serious face, and his mouth moved without a sound.
"William?" she said, which made no sense at all.
Then the boy was gone, and there was no one else around but the baby, making noises at the ceiling as if talking to someone she couldn't see.
John poured himself a cup of coffee, sat down at his desk, turned on his computer, and thought about love.
He thought about a cherubic-faced girl, a blonde mischievous boy, and William's bright curious eyes. He thought of the way Dana had looked when she was pregnant, how round and radiant she had been.
He thought about William's "I know you" gurgle and the way the baby lay so trustingly against John's shoulder. He thought about how Dana slept the same way, relaxing completely, her body limp with belief in him.
He thought about the softness of her skin across her lower back.
He rubbed his eyes and watched his e-mail download, the usual mix of science and bunkum that made up his day. He'd developed a way of communicating with the crackpots, a calm, authoritative manner that impressed him very much, since mostly he wanted to tell them to move out of their parents' basement and stop playing so much Dungeons and Dragons, go out with a girl and leave the science fiction in the video store where it belonged. The scientists were the hard ones: they had proofs and facts to back up their theories, and they were even more urgent than the crackpots. He never knew what to say to them. He forwarded them to Monica and let her deal with it.
Monica came in and said good morning, and followed his routine: coffee, desk, computer. "Did you have a good weekend?"
Dana's mother hates me and I may be a father again soon, despite every instinct against it, but otherwise . . . "Yes. Did you?"
"Uh-huh. A friend came into town to surprise me. We had a great time. It was like being back in college."
"Good. I bet it was great, two old friends goofing off . . . We bought tomato plants."
"Uh-huh," Monica said again. Before he married Dana, Monica would have told him in detail how her weekend had been: where she'd eaten, what she'd done, what jokes her friend had made, how she'd gotten that hickey on her neck. But her attitude towards him had changed with the wedding ring, and she was distant, in her way. Not the aloofness Dana would pull around herself when she disapproved, but a sadness, a longing. He knew Monica wanted to relate her weekend to him and felt she no longer had the right. She lived in a world that had never attracted him much: no-strings sex with old fuck buddies who turn up on a weekend, for example. While he worked on the garden and thought about rewriting his will and made love to his wife.
He sighed and rubbed his eyes again. Cynicism was not his style, either.
He was only into his second cup of coffee and hadn't found anything worth pursuing yet in his in-box or the newspaper, when footsteps came down the hall and Dana appeared in the doorway, the baby on her hip and her bag in the carrier. "Hey, baby," she said. "I need to look at the files a little."
"Hi," he said, and rose from the desk to kiss her and take William. "What's going on? Are you okay?"
"Yes," she said, putting the carrier on his desk. Someone—probably a security guard at the front—had thought it cute to clip a red Visitors badge onto William's overalls. Dana's old ID badge hung carelessly from the breast pocket of her sleeveless blouse. Between that, her sandals and wrinkled khakis, she was far beyond FBI dress protocol. "Hi, Monica."
"Hi," Monica said, watching the scene with interest, and she came over to coo at the baby while John held him and watched Dana. As if she were completely unaware or unconcerned that there were other people in the room, Dana commenced methodically opening drawers and pulling files. She flipped through one after the other, her frown growing more and more frustrated.
John sat down at his desk again and held William on his lap so his hands would be free to type. William wobbled, twisting back his head to look up at John, and John ran his fingertips absently over William's cap of hair. "What's your mom up to, huh, Will?" he whispered.
"I'm looking for something," Dana said, her attention on the page she was reading.
"What are you looking for?"
"I'll know when I see it."
John grimaced. Mulder may not have minded when she was cryptic, but he preferred a straight answer. "Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
"John . . ." She met his gaze, her face serious. "Please. I'm not in the mood for games."
"I could help." William grabbed for his hands and John let him grasp his fingers.
Dana glanced at Monica and said, "I saw someone in the house this morning."
John felt his jaw tighten and William twisted to look up at him again. "Who? Did you call the police? Detective Page said he'd drop everything the next time someone—"
"It wasn't . . . " She glanced at Monica again. "It wasn't someone after William. It was a little boy."
"One of the neighbor kids came into the house?" John said, not understanding why this would upset her.
"I don't think so. He tried to speak to me, then disappeared."
"He ran away?"
"He evaporated." She spread her hands to illustrate. "Just gone."
"So you saw an apparition," Monica said from her desk, and both Dana and John looked at her. "That's what it sounds like to me."
"John and I had a case, when we first started working together, regarding a little boy who reappeared ten years after he was abducted, without aging a day. He was very solid, but he was a ghost of some kind. The child I saw, he reminded me of that boy— but I can't figure out where I've seen his face before. I'm thinking it's something unsolved, but none of the children in these cases look like who I saw this morning." She sighed, putting the file back in the cabinet.
"John," Monica said, "do you know anything about the people who lived in the house before you?"
"The house is ninety years old. There must have been dozens. But it's not haunted."
"You got it for a song, didn't you? Sometimes haunted houses are priced below their value because they're so difficult to sell. Did the realtor say anything to you—"
"It was a good time to buy. My house is not haunted," John said. "It's ridiculous."
"Then how else can you explain what's been happening since I moved in?" Dana said. "The noises I've been hearing? Even the thing with your money—for four days that's been happening and we don't know how or why. William's not doing it, I'm not, you're not." She stopped, then said quietly, "Let me see your wallet."
John stood, holding William with one hand, and took his wallet from his back pocket. "What do you think is in here?" he said, quietly too, as he handed over the wallet.
"You have a picture. I've always wondered why you only have the one."
John clutched William to him a little tighter. He didn't keep many pictures in his wallet, just one of William and one of Luke. "Dana . . . "
She took out the picture, its corners fuzzy with age, and studied it. "Why do you only keep one picture of Luke, John? You had seven years to collect them. I just have the one picture of Emily. I wish I had more—it's why I take so many of William."
"I can't. I just can't."
She nodded and looked up at him. "What I really want to know is, why is he choosing to manifest now?"
William squealed as John's arms tightened around him. "First of all," John said sternly, "Luke never even lived in that house. Second of all—second of all I can't even believe you're suggesting this. It's an old house. It makes noises. You had a bad night last night. You're tired, you're distraught—Dana, this doesn't even make sense."
"A haunting isn't always connected with a place," Monica said in a calming tone. "Sometimes it is about a person. Luke may have attached himself to your energy—"
"That's enough, Monica," John growled and thrust William into Dana's startled hands. There was more to say but he didn't want to say it—not while anger was boiling up inside him and he would only say something that would cause Dana pain.
He left the office and went into the mens' room by the elevators. He ran some cold water and splashed it onto his face, and stayed leaning over the sink, his elbows on the counter and his face in his hands.
John had never lost his faith—he'd never had faith to begin with. He'd gone to church every Sunday until he left home, because that was what was expected of him, but after that he entered churches only for weddings, funerals and christenings. He knew Dana's faith was important to her and he respected her devotion—envied it, a little—but did not share it. He believed in no afterlife, no limbo, no heaven, no hell.
Burying his son had broken his heart because he had no hope of anything further. The prospect of Luke's ghost offered no comfort—it only added to the feeling of bleakness and loss.
In a few minutes he heard a soft knock on the restroom door. "John? It's me. May I come in?"
"Sure," he said dully. He didn't look up as her feet crossed the tile and she laid a hand on his back. After a moment more she draped herself over him and slid her arms beneath his jacket to embrace him around his chest.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't think of how much it would upset you. I should have known. I'm sorry."
"I don't like to think of him wandering the earth. I want to believe he's at peace. Whatever peace might be."
"Of course you do," she whispered. "Of course you do."
"It's just—" He stopped, unable to continue, and turned to her to wrap his arms around her. She made comforting noises and held him close, her fingers in his hair and her cheek rubbing against his.
After a few minutes he lifted his head and said seriously, "Dana, do you think Emily is evil?"
"No, of course not."
"What do you think the dream meant? You dreamed that she was evil. That she wanted to take William away from you. What do you think that means—to you, what does that mean?"
She stroked his cheek, thinking about it. "I think . . . it wasn't about Emily herself. It was about my fears. I was so afraid while I was pregnant that William would be like her—that he'd need doctors and tests and medication they wouldn't tell me about . . . that he'd bleed green." She pressed her lips together. "Even though I know he's normal, I still have fears. And it's so hard to let them go."
"But why Emily? She was your child. You loved her. Why would you be afraid of her? Why not the—what'd you call him—the Cancerman, or that Russian fella? People you're really afraid of?"
"I don't know, John."
"I think you're afraid of Luke," he said, and she closed her eyes.
"I didn't even think 'ghost' until I saw him this morning, and I didn't think of Luke until I realized where I'd seen him before."
"I don't mean a ghost. I don't for a second think that Luke is haunting you or me or the house—and even if he were, I can't believe that he'd be evil. He was a good boy. He was a happy and well-loved boy. He may have died in terrible fear—" His voice cracked and he had to stop and bury his face in her hair again. Dana stroked his back until he was ready to speak again. "I can't believe he'd intend to hurt you, or even scare you. I can't believe that."
"What do you mean, I'm afraid of him, then?"
"I think you're afraid of happened to him," John said slowly. "You're afraid I won't be able to protect William."
"I trust you," she said, grasping his hands. "I believe in you. I know you'd fight to your last breath for him, just like his natural father would."
John lowered his head. This was the question he'd been struggling with for days, but he had to ask. "Do you only love me for how I remind you of Mulder?"
She actually chuckled. "No. You don't remind me of Mulder at all, except that you both are good, strong, decent, kind men. I love you for you, John. Just for you." She cupped his face in her hands and wiped his damp eyes with her thumbs. "Someday I'll tell you the list, if you want."
John managed to smile, and turned his head to kiss her hand. "You keep a list, huh?"
"Ever-growing." She tugged his head closer and stood up on her toes to sweetly kiss him. "I love you, baby," she murmured. "I trust you with my most precious possession. When you're near me, I'm not afraid of anything."
He gave her a true smile at that, and she smiled back and kissed him again. "I'd better go see what Monica's up to with William," she said. "Should I come back around noon and take you to lunch?"
"I'd like that."
"Okay." Dana wiped his face with her palms. "Don't doubt me, baby. You have all I have to give."
He nodded, and watched her go with a quiet sigh. He knew he hadn't convinced her and she certainly hadn't convinced him, but once again they understood each other, if nothing else.
And he found himself thinking what an amazing woman their daughter would be, with a mother such as Dana.
At lunch they tacitly agreed it was not the time or place for a personal discussion, and so kept the conversation light and general. William felt social, so he kicked his feet, blew on his lips, and cooed at the wait staff when they passed by.
"He has your eyes," one of the waitresses said to John, and Dana smiled behind her glass of water.
"Thanks," John said simply.
After they had paid the check and were getting ready to leave, Dana said, "Let me see your handheld."
"You want all my stuff today," John said, but handed it over anyway. "What are you looking for?"
"Yes, it's that 'all I have is yours' thing. I'm taking it seriously, boyo. I'm giving you something." She lined up their computers to each other on the tabletop and tapped her screen a few times. After a moment she nodded. "Okay. I wrote something for you. It's in your memos. I want you to read it when you miss me."
"What is it?" he said, taking his computer back.
"It's part of my list." She smiled at him and stood up. "I need to get him home. I've already nursed him in public once today."
"Okay. See you." He stood too and kissed her cheek, getting a caress in return.
He managed to wait until he got back to the office before curiosity got the better of him—and, he reasoned, he did miss her.
He took out the PDA and opened the file Dana had given him.
Ten things I love about you
1. Your eyes.
2. Your smile.
3. The way you kiss me, like there's nothing more important you should be doing.
4. The way you hold me, like I'm the most precious thing you've ever touched.
5. The way you make love to me, like we're one person instead of two.
6. The way you treat William, as if he were your own child.
7. Your laugh.
8. Your hands in my skin in the dark: when I feel them I know I'm safe and loved.
9. Your voice first thing in the morning.
10. Your big feet.
John smiled, rubbed his jaw, and decided he had enough time before he had to start working again to write something for her to find.
He was about to start writing when he heard the elevators down the hall open again, and footsteps down the hall. Dana twice in one day was too much to hope for—but it was the other person he least expected to see, Deputy Director Kersh.
Kersh stood in the office doorway, his back ramrod straight. His eyes swept the scene before he said, "Agents."
"Hello, sir," Monica chirped.
"Sir," John said.
"Agent Doggett, I understand you got married last week."
"I mentioned this to my wife last night, and she wants to throw the two of you a party." He said this as if asking if they'd filed their income tax on time.
"That's very kind, but—"
"She said she'll call Agent Scully—Mrs. Doggett—" He grimaced. "Dana. To ask her."
"Oh," John said. "If Dana wants to, that's fine with me. Please thank Lisa for me."
Kersh nodded once and glanced at Monica again, who shot him a huge grin than only made his frown deepen. "Agents," he said again, turned on his heel and left.
John had to grin a bit too. Before the X-Files he'd been a frequent visitor to the Kersh home, and he liked Lisa Kersh. The invitations stopped when he teamed up with Dana, but apparently Lisa's affection for him hadn't. The Kershes had a beautiful home, and if she could convince Dana to let her throw the party John knew it would be a tasteful, enjoyable evening.
If Lisa could convince her.
Dana had gotten into the habit of taking a nap in the afternoons while William took his. It recharged her, helped her feel ready for the rest of the day and William's demands.
She put William into his crib, whispering, "Sleep, baby boy." He twitched, half asleep already, and his mouth moved as if he were suckling. She caressed his cheek and left the nursery, leaving the door ajar.
She stretched as she walked down the hall and crawled gratefully into bed. Just half an hour, she thought and yawned, tucking the pillow beneath her head.
She must have dozed off quickly and slept longer than she intended. She felt the bed dip with added weight, a hand stroke up her ribs, lips caress her cheek. Dana smiled, turning her face to be nuzzled. Lips slowly traced hers, and a hand stroked her thighs apart. "Mm, John," she murmured, opening her eyes.
There was no one beside her. No one at all.
Dana sat up and put her hand on her side, where she'd felt the touch. "Who's there?" she demanded and got to her feet. "Answer me!"
The house was silent. Nothing appeared different: the pictures were straight, the doors were closed, the shades were drawn, and the only imprint on the bed was of her own body.
Dana said quietly, "Whoever you are . . . you're welcome to rest here, but only if you tell me what you want. I can't help you unless you tell me what you're looking for."
All right, she thought. She had been dreaming. It was nothing. She had seen Luke's picture before: she'd simply put a face onto the strange feeling that had dogged her ever since she moved in. That was all. It had to be. It wasn't the first time she'd had strange dreams.
The row of pictures on the wall between the windows started swinging back and forth on their hooks, and the windows rattled. Dana gasped, wrapping her arms tighter around herself, as one picture jerked away from the wall and shot across the room, banged against the closet doors and fell onto the floor. A cold wind blew through the room, through Dana, into the hall.
Her heart pounding, Dana ran back to William's room, expecting to find an open window and an empty crib—but there was only William and a presence—she had no other word for it—hovering over the crib. It was pale gray and white, vaguely human-shaped, and it reached it arms onto the crib.
That was too much. "No!" Dana shouted. "You leave him alone!"
The presence burst into a million motes of dust and disappeared. In his crib, William gurgled and stretched up his hand.
"Oh, God," Dana breathed and gathered the baby up into her arms. "Oh, my William. My William."
Oblivious, he rested his chin on her shoulder, his fists wrapped around her shirt, babbling his William-talk as if he had nothing to fear.
Dana grabbed up his diaper bag and carrier. Back to the bedroom only long enough to get her shoes and car keys, and then down the stairs towards the garage.
At the back door she stopped. William hung onto her shirt, looking at her with confusion. She took a deep breath. "What do you think?"ushe said quietly. "Do we let it win, or do we stay?"
William sneezed and laid his head on her shoulder.
Slowly Dana put down his carrier and her shoes, and rubbed his back. "You're right," she said to him. "You know that? You're right. Besides, where would we go?"
She wandered to the living room and curled up in her favorite chair, resting William on her drawn-up thighs. He smiled and pumped his feet against her stomach, waving his hands. "Tell me something, though. Why aren't you afraid of anything? How do you manage that, hm?"
He toppled forward and she caught him against her chest and kissed his head. "Goofy," she said. "You're my little goof, aren't you? Yes, you are! You are!" She tickled him and he squirmed and laughed.
Strange, she thought. She was terrified for him, but still could play.
She kissed him and held him close, closed her eyes and felt him breathe.
* * *
John knelt on the floor by the fallen picture. "Did you have the fan on?" he said quietly.
"No." Dana hugged the baby to her tighter.
"Were the windows open?"
"And you saw it? You didn't just hear it?"
"I saw it. I was awake, John."
"Because somebody touched you."
"Yes, John," she said impatiently. "There was someone else here. Not Luke—someone different. "
John stood and said, "So, we've got two ghosts now."
"Maybe we do."
He looked down at the carpet. "There's broken glass over here. I'll get the vacuum."
"I'll do it, John—"
"You're barefoot," he said, taking off his suit coat and laying it on the bed. He caressed William's head as he walked past them.
The vacuum cleaner was in a closet downstairs. He lugged it up, back to the bedroom, where Dana still stood with the baby in her arms like she wanted to enfold him completely. Her face was tense and pale, and John couldn't pass her by without saying something.
He didn't know what to say, though. He did the only thing he could think of: wrapped them both up in his arms and kissed her.
"Nothing's going to hurt you," he murmured. "You know that."
She shook her head. "There's something strange in this house."
John sighed heavily, stroking her hair. "Humor me a minute, babe. Do you really think if Luke was in this house, that he'd want to hurt you? Or William?"
"He might be jealous of us. He might want you for himself."
"I can't believe that. I can't believe that he'd be malicious. Even if I believed he'd haunt this place—which I don't—I can't believe that he'd want to hurt you."
"Then what is it?" she whispered desperately. "What has been watching me since I moved in? Something has been watching, John— maybe it's Luke, maybe it's something else—but I feel it, I sense it, and I don't know what it means."
John studied her, then cupped her face in his hands and smoothed out the worry lines with his thumbs. "Dana," he said. "What do we need to do to make you feel better?"
"I want to call my friend Chuck Burks and have him look this house over. He studies parapsychology. He'd know what to look for."
"And then what?"
"And then—I don't know. Chuck will know."
"Okay," he said quietly. "If that will make you feel better."
"It'll be a start." William leaned out of her arms towards John, who took him, and Dana watched them with a troubled expression. "I'm not sure I want to sleep in this house until Chuck comes."
"For God's sake, Dana—"
"I'm serious. I'm scared, John." She turned her face away, frowning and blinking her eyes rapidly—classic trying-not-to-cry behavior, John thought. "I don't like being scared. I was just getting used to feeling safe and then this has to start—"
"You were fine until this morning."
"Two manifestations in one day, John. What am I supposed to think? How am I supposed to feel? I can't just brush this off. I can't pretend nothing is happening."
"I am not going to let something inexplicable force me out of my own house," John said. "If you feel the need to not be here it's your choice, but I'm not leaving. This is my house. It's mine. Nothing is going to make me run away."
Dana lifted her hand and hesitantly laid it on his chest. He put his free hand over hers, watching her. "I want to bring the baby in here with us, then," she said quietly.
"You don't mind?"
"I don't mind."
"I'll call Chuck in the morning. He'll be able to tell us what's going on—maybe even who's here."
"Dana," John said, but didn't know how to follow it. He'd never felt so helpless—he had no idea of what comfort to give her, what advice to offer. He said, "Why don't you lie down for a while downstairs. I'll clean up in here. We could order in for dinner."
She shook her head, smiling at last. "No, I've got something planned and it doesn't take long to put together. I don't need to lie down. I'm okay. Poor sweetheart, you must be hungry and here I'm pestering you about ghosts."
"I'll live." He handed William back to her, despite the baby's grumbling. He bent and leaned his forehead against William's, holding the back of his head. "You watch over your mom a bit, you hear?" The baby giggled and grabbed for his ear, making both John and Dana laugh. True, Dana's was soft and rueful, but it cheered John nonetheless.
* * *
There was something about the stairs that comforted Dana. She sat on a high step with John a few steps below her, enough that he could lay his head against her side, and they watched night descend on the neighborhood to the sounds of kids being called to dinner, cars coming home and crickets chirping in the hedge.
Finally John said, "I've been thinking about this all day."
"Ghosts?" She smiled despite herself.
"Babies," he said, and she looked down at his thoughtful face. He said, still looking out the window, "Maybe I should have been more insistent about being responsible."
"We're both adults, John. We both understand the consequences of sex."
"Yeah, but maybe I was just so happy about not having to worry that I . . . slacked . . . where I shouldn't have."
"I would never call you slack, John." She had to ask: "Is it the entire baby issue or it is just having a baby with me?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Dana."
"It's a legitimate question."
He sighed. "It's the entire baby issue. If I were with anyone else I still would hesitate. I know it's supposed to be joyful and fulfilling but all I can think is, how long do I have before I lose this one, too?"
"Do you think that about William, too?"
Slowly he nodded. "That's why I do everything I can to bring him home to you." He twisted his head to look into her eyes. "You're not going to lose him, Dana."
"I know," she said, cupping his face in her hand. "So how would this be different with a child of your own?"
Again John sighed and looked out the window. "I don't know. Maybe it's not. All I know is it scares me to the bone, Dana."
"So if I am pregnant, then what?"
"Then . . . I deal. I come to terms, I guess. It's not that I don't want children, Dana, I do, I just—I can't—God, I wish I knew."
Dana sighed too and gazed out at the darkening street. She said, "If I'm not pregnant, and you're absolutely dead set against having another child, we're going to have to take precautions and use birth control and be responsible. I don't want to bring an unwanted child into the world, but I won't treat a baby like a mistake."
Crickets buzzed through the open window. John whispered, "It would never be unwanted."
Dana's breath caught and she leaned down to wrap her arms around his neck. She kissed his hair. "You love me?"
"Like crazy, babe." He turned back to look at her again, and tipped up his face to be kissed.
* * *
John felt someone shaking his shoulder. "Daddy?"
He opened his eyes and lifted his head, sleepy and confused. "Luke? What's wrong, buddy?"
It made perfect sense that his son would be standing next to the bed in his Batman pajamas. John didn't ask himself why Luke would be in this bedroom, or why the woman beside him was a redhead instead of a blonde, or why there was a crib at the foot of the bed.
"Daddy, there's a man outside."
John got out of bed and put his hand on Luke's shoulder. "Show me," he said softly.
Luke led him to the window and pointed outside. "There. Do you see him, Daddy?"
John peered at the empty sidewalk and the quiet houses of the neighbors. The neighborhood was gray in the early morning light, not even a jogger to disturb its tranquility.
"I don't see anybody, buddy." He ruffled Luke's hair. "I think you had a bad dream."
Luke frowned, his face serious. "No, Daddy," he insisted. "You have to see him. You have to look, Daddy."
"Luke, there's not even a dog outside. Let's get you to bed."
Luke's resemblance to him was uncanny, people always remarked on it—and Luke's expression was now both stubborn and worried. "Daddy," he said seriously, "bend down."
"It's not the time for games," John said, but got onto his knees so their faces were level.
The boy put his hands on either side of John's face. "Close your eyes," he said, so John closed them and felt Luke's thumbs brush over his eyelids. "Now, look, Daddy," he said.
"Luke," John said, opening his eyes and smiling at his son. "Enough of this, okay? It's too early to be awake."
"Daddy," he repeated firmly. "You need to see the bad man."
"If I look, will you go back to bed?"
Luke nodded and held onto his hand as John went to the window.
He looked outside, and gasped out loud when he saw the flaming human-like shape standing on the front walk. The creature had no eyes but John knew it was gazing up at the windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the house's occupants. A feeling of evil like a choking cloud surrounded John, and he jerked himself away from the window. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, shaking his head.
"No," he whispered, clinging to Luke's hand. "No."
"The bad man has to stay outside," Luke said earnestly. "He's mean. He likes to hurt people."
John stroked Luke's hair, then picked him up and hugged him close. "He's not going to hurt you. I won't let him hurt you again."
"Daddy." Luke put his hands on John's face again. "He won't. But . . ." He looked over at the crib.
A chill went through John. "No," he whispered again.
"Don't let him come inside," Luke said, and then wiggled down from John's arms. "See you later, Daddy."
"Wait—Luke, where are you going?" The boy had already darted from the bedroom through the open door. John started to follow but a hand on his chest stopped him.
He opened his eyes though he couldn't remember closing them, to find himself back in bed with Dana's hand on his chest and her concerned face hovering over him. "John, you're having a bad dream," she said soothingly, rubbing his chest.
"I'm—I'm okay." He put his hand over hers and exhaled heavily.
She reached over and stroked his face. "You were dreaming about Luke, weren't you, baby," she murmured. "It's okay. You're okay now. It's over."
"I'm okay," he repeated. She studied his face, then lay down and pulled his head to her breast, encircling his head in her arms. He exhaled again, feeling himself relax as she slowly stroked his hair.
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
"It was just a dream," he said, and the words felt like a betrayal.
Chuck Burks was not available until the end of the week, and when he came on Friday night he brought with him two students, a van full of equipment, and a psychic. John watched them set up video cameras, tape recorders and EMF detectors with bemusement, and whispered to Dana, "I thought they did this with baseballs and rope."
"Ghost-hunting needs to be treated as any other kind of scientific investigation, John," she said patiently.
"We prefer the term 'ghost investigations'," Chuck said, coming down the stairs towards them.
"Chuck, you remember my husband, John Doggett."
The men shook hands, and Chuck said, "Did I hear you expressing dissent, Agent Doggett?"
"I'm just doing this for Dana's peace of mind," John said.
"I guess I get to put you down as the non-believer. While we're here, let's do the questionnaire." He picked up a briefcase from the pile of cases and started shuffling through papers.
"There's a questionnaire?" John said, pained.
"Standard procedure . . . if I can find the thing . . . here we go!" He produced some papers with a triumphant flourish. "Have a seat, please, Agent Doggett, Agent Scully—or do you prefer Mrs. Doggett now?"
"Dana and John should be fine," Dana said with a smile, sitting on the couch with William on her lap. William had the same bemused expression that John felt on his own face, watching the proceedings as if thoroughly baffled. Chuck leaned over to tickle his chin and William twisted away, seeking the safety of Dana's breast. "I'm sorry, he's usually more friendly," Dana said apologetically, lifting him up so he could hide his face in her hair.
"That's fine, that's fine," Chuck said. "I'm sure this is all a little confusing. Won't you have a seat, John? This shouldn't take long."
John perched on the arm of the sofa where he could put an arm around Dana's shoulders. The whole thing felt strange and artificial to him, as if they were play-acting. Dana smiled up at him and he smiled back cautiously, touching William's cheek to reassure him.
"Okay," Chuck said. "Number of occupants, three . . . names and ages?"
"John, 41, Dana, 37, and William, five months," Dana said.
Chuck nodded, scribbling. "Occupation, FBI . . .religious beliefs?"
"I'm a practicing Catholic," Dana said. "John is . . ." She looked up at him.
"Undeclared," John said. "Raised Baptist."
Again Chuck nodded. "Okay. Total time of occupancy."
"I've lived here three years, Dana and William for two weeks."
"And how old is the house?"
"It was built in 1910."
"Whoa," Chuck said, grinning. "Cool. A great old place. How many previous owners has it had?"
"Seven, I think," John said. "The original owners were here until the Sixties, then it changed hands about once a decade."
"All right. And how about its history? Any deaths?"
"Well . . ." John looked down at Dana's bright hair and William's little face resting against her shoulder. "The original owners aren't around anymore, of course. The realtor didn't say anything when I bought it about someone dying here."
"Okay, okay." Chuck's blue Bic moved even faster. "Has this house ever been blessed?"
"Blessed?" John echoed.
"Like an exorcism," Chuck said.
"No," Dana said. "Not that we know of."
"Okay. Any recent remodeling?"
"No," John said.
"Any occupants on medication, no . . ." He started writing, then looked up, his eyebrows raised. "Right?"
"Right," said Dana.
"Drugs or alcohol?"
"No," Dana said.
"A beer at night sometimes," John said.
"But not heavily. How about interest in the occult: have you ever used a Ouija board or held a seance here, anything of that nature?"
"No," John said. He wanted to laugh, imaging himself and Dana in a room foggy with incense and chanting "om" or whatever one says during a seance, trying to contact the otherworld . . .
"The previous owners may have, but we have no record," Dana said. "When this house was built interest in the occult was still very popular, particularly after World War I."
"True, true. We'll have to have that as a 'maybe.' Anyone currently seeing a psychiatrist?"
"No," John said.
"And have you consulted your clergyman about this?"
"No," Dana said. "My priest doesn't put much value in this sort of thing. He's . . . pragmatic."
"Interesting," Chuck said. "What about other witnesses? Has anyone seen anything besides the two of you?"
"No, though I did tell Monica Reyes, my husband's partner, about what I've seen."
"Okay. Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty: the manifestations themselves. Have you smelled anything?"
"I didn't know ghosts smell," John said.
"Oh, yes. It depends on the kind of spirit, but they can smell like anything from flowers to decay. It's quite fascinating."
"No smells, that I've noticed," Dana said thoughtfully. "But my sense of smell has been strange since the pregnancy."
"What about sounds?"
"I've heard footsteps since I moved in, from the upper floor. Like someone running around."
"And you, John?"
"I haven't heard anything," he said automatically, then frowned, wondering if it was really true.
"What about voices?"
"No," John said, and frowned again.
"No, but the manifestation I saw earlier this week did try to speak to me," Dana said. "I couldn't tell what he was trying to say."
"All right. Movement of objects?"
"Every morning John's change has been separated into dollars while we were sleeping. And there was a picture—it fell off the wall and flew across the room."
"A picture of what?" Chuck said, leaning forward. His two graduate students had sat down on the steps to listen. The psychic was nowhere to be seen.
"Just my parents' place in Georgia," John said. "My father's an amateur photographer, so I've got some of his prints around the house. Those three are just some interesting views at the vacation home."
"Your parents have a vacation home?" Dana tilted back her head to look at him.
"It's a cabin on a lake. Barely has running water. Good views, though."
"Interesting," Chuck repeated. "How about levitations?"
"No," Dana said.
"Nothing like that," said John.
"Hot spots? Cold spots?"
"It's hard to tell with the heat lately," Dana said.
"How about the electronics? Anything turning on or off by itself?"
"No," Dana said.
"Anyone having nightmares or trouble sleeping?"
"Yes," Dana said. "Both of us have nightmares this past week. We both have lost children and have been having dreams about them."
"Really," Chuck said. "Well. Would you mind telling me more about them?"
"Mine was about my daughter not being my daughter and trying to take William away. John's was . . ." She touched his hand. "What was it, baby?"
"It was . . . just about my son," John said. "He was murdered eight years ago. I don't want not go into it."
"He awoke in a panic," Dana said. "I'd never seen him like that."
"Well," Chuck said. "That's . . . where were you living when this happened, John?"
"New York. Long Island."
"Not this house. Hm."
"No. Not this house."
Chuck frowned at his papers a moment, then sighed and went on with the questions. "What about physical attacks?"
"Not an attack, exactly," Dana said. "Just before the picture fell, I was taking a nap and felt someone touching me. At first I thought it was John come home early. It didn't frighten me until I realized it wasn't him."
"Okay. This is important, Dana: do you feel threatened here?"
She bit her lower lip and stroked William's back—the movement to soothe herself, John thought, more than for the baby's sake. "Not exactly," she said quietly. "I think we're dealing with two spirits here. I think John's son is trying to reach us, and I think there's a second spirit that intends something towards William. On Monday, the same day the picture fell, I saw a shape trying to touch William in his crib. I told it to stop and it disappeared, but I don't know if it will stop the next time." She looked up at John again, her eyes wet with apology, and he rubbed her shoulder.
"Do you think the two are related?" Chuck said, leaning forward again, his voice soft. "Do you think John's son is trying to tell you about the second spirit?"
"I don't know. He tried to tell me something I saw him that same day. He appeared in the front hall, just for a few seconds. But I didn't hear a voice."
"Do you feel threatened by the thought of John's son haunting this house?"
"Oh, come on now!" John exclaimed.
Dana rubbed his leg. "Baby, please," she said quietly. "Please. I think I'm more afraid of not knowing what's going on than anything else," she told Chuck. "And there have been so many threats to my son that one more, from a supernatural source, it's starting to feel like the breaking point."
"What about since Monday? Have you seen or heard anything since Monday?"
"No," John said.
"No," Dana repeated in puzzled tone. "It's been quiet."
"Hm," Chuck said. "Usually when we investigate something more phenomena have occurred over a longer period of time. This is interesting because there's no pattern to it. You've heard different sounds, you've seen different types of apparitions, and the apparitions themselves have chosen to manifest in different ways. I'd say definitely you've got more than one spirit here, and I'd venture to say maybe even three, considering the dream about your daughter. Are you sure you don't want to give us any details about your dream, John?"
"No," John said. "I don't."
"All right," Chuck said, getting to his feet. "We'll be doing our scans after nine. The witching hour," he added with a grin. "Do you two want to participate?"
"No," John said again. Suddenly he felt very tired: there were too many people in his house, and he wanted to be alone with Dana. "Are y'all going to be in the bedroom? I'd like to hit the sack early tonight."
"Um," Chuck said, stopping on his way up the stairs. "Yes. We'll be here all night."
"I was hoping you'd want to help," Dana said quietly.
"Help do what? Chant? Wave incense?"
"This isn't a seance, Agent Doggett," one of the students piped up. "We scan the areas of activity with the EMF decoders, we videotape, we digitally record, and we'll go over the footage later for signs of haunting."
"Great," John said without enthusiasm. "I'll wave the incense." He stood and left the living room, taking off his suit coat as he went.
In the twilight, the back yard felt like a retreat. He walked across the lawn to the rose bushes, where a few late blooms drooped in the heat. He grasped one flower in his hand and rubbed his fingers on the smooth petals.
After a moment Dana came out too, still holding the baby. "John," she said quietly, but didn't continue.
"I'm trying to be supportive," he said shortly.
"But you can't honestly expect me to take this seriously."
"Actually, I was expecting you to take this seriously." She exhaled, and sat down on the garden bench beneath the apple tree."But I know how it can be—to accept something that you don't want to believe."
"Dana." He let go of the rose and turned to face her.
"The way I see it," she went on in the same calm tone, "is either something really is happening in this house, or I'm losing my mind. I know I saw your son, John. Either I'm hallucinating or he's really haunting this house. Which would you prefer it to be?"
"There has to be another explanation. There has to be. You know, this is one of those times I wish I were Mulder for you—then I could find a reason and give you an explanation and make it make sense, but I can't, Dana! I can't make it make sense for you when it doesn't make sense to me!"
Dana set her jaw and said, "I have never expected you to make the world fall into order."
"Well, it's what I want to do. And it kills me when I can't." He sighed and scuffed his foot against the grass. "And you're not losing your mind. Don't be ridiculous."
She played with William's foot and said, "Sometimes I wonder. My life has changed so much in the last month. I was so scared and unhappy and suddenly there you were, with all the solutions."
"It wasn't sudden, Dana."
"It was for me," she said gently, then smiled and added, "I mean, aside from that period of lust I felt for you during my second trimester."
John chuckled and went to her. He caressed her cheek and she kissed his hand and nuzzled it, her eyes closed. "I just want to make you happy, babe," he murmured.
"I know. I'm just not used to being happy." She opened her eyes and sighed, lifting the restless William so he could stand on her lap. "If you don't want to be here while they investigate, we could go to a hotel."
"Do you want to be here?"
"Then I'll stay. I'll try to keep the sarcasm to myself." He added after a moment, "And whatever Chuck says, I'll accept. Deal?"
"Deal," she said, and rose so they could go back inside.
It was a long night. The psychic, a perfectly ordinary-looking man named Tim, walked through the house with a serious expression, saying little. The students whispered to each other while poring over their gadgets, and fell asleep slumped against each other in the stairwell. Chuck, after a few hours of enthusiasm, started re-checking the equipment to make sure it all was plugged in and working.
After midnight Dana pled weariness and went to lie down in the bedroom with the baby. John stayed downstairs, watching the feeds from the video cameras on Chuck's computer screen. They had cameras pointed at all the places Dana had mentioned: the baby's crib, the front door, the pictures in the bedroom. He could see her shape on the bed, and hear William's little murmurs.
"Usually," Chuck said, gesturing to the screen, "we see little—they're almost like big dust motes. But they fly around, they don't just fall or drift. They change directions, they zoom up or down . . . I love watching those."
"What are they?"
"Just how spirits are captured on videotape. I have seen some footage that is supposed to be of genuine ghosts, but I find them hard to swallow. There's something about videotape that can't capture a physical manifestation other than the little floaters. Film can, though. It's very strange. It's the subject of Debbie's thesis—or will be, if she wins the argument with her chair."
"Oh. What about the tape recorders?"
"Voices," Chuck said. "You may not see a thing but the tapes sometimes catch voices hear or there. You must understand, John, that a thorough investigation is not something that can happen over night. This is only a first step—and an unusual one, really."
"Doin' it all for Dana, huh?"
"She's a special woman. Of course, you know that."
"Yup." He looked at the quarter-screen where he could see the small silhouette she made on the bed. "So I guess you all will be coming back, if tonight's a bust?"
"If Dana wants us to, we will. The part that worries me, really, is Tim. He hasn't felt a thing. Usually in a place where there's been spiritual activity there's some twinge in the air, at least, but here, nothing."
John started to speak, hesitated, and then said, "If the house isn't haunted, what other explanations could there be?"
"That's a tough one. Usually you find it's the noises old houses make, or somebody playing a prank, or noisy ventilators . . . I went along a hunt once where the homeowners swore they heard voices all the time, and it turned out their house had this old intercom system, through tubes in the walls, where they'd hear the other people in the house talking but it was so muffled they couldn't make out the words. It was very disappointing."
"Given that Dana's not the hysterical type, though, I'm guessing we'll find something. The question is, what then."
"Yeah. What are the odds of an exorcism?"
Chuck shrugged. "It wouldn't be an exorcism, really. Just a blessing and a binding prayer, encouraging the spirits to move on. That's really all you can do."
"No—" He waggled his fingers. "Hocus-pocus?"
"John," Chuck said patiently, "we're scientists."
John didn't laugh, and said, "Well. Okay. I'm going to make sure Dana's okay. You mind if I turn that off?"
He went upstairs to the bedroom, and paused in the doorway. The light was on in the hall, and when his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could see her body curled protectively around William, her head on her arm. He shut off the camera, went to the bed and lay down behind her, his arm over her waist.
After a moment she stirred. "John?"
She nodded and sighed. "Good."
"You were expecting somebody else, maybe?" He kissed her cheek.
"Just making sure," she said sleepily, obviously too tired to tease. Her hand smoothed down his arm and pulled his hand to just beneath her breasts. "Mm . . . that's better."
He kissed her cheek again and lay down his head. It was better.
". . . I've been going over the footage and listening to the audio tapes every spare minute, but there's nothing, Dana." Chuck Burks sighed into the phone. "I'm sure it's not much comfort to know ghost investigations can be hit-or-miss."
"Nothing," Dana whispered, gripping the phone.
"I'll be happy to come back and try again, any time you'd like."
She cleared her throat and said, "I don't know how John will feel about that."
Chuck paused and said, "I think he'll be a lot more open to it than you expect."
"We'll see," Dana said. "Things have been so quiet lately I'd hate to waste your time by having you back again. It might be over."
"Maybe it is," he said in a comforting tone.
"Thanks, Chuck. Keep in touch."
"Absolutely," Chuck said, and hung up the phone.
Dana hung up more slowly, exhaling. She was disappointed, but not surprised. The night Chuck and his crew had come had been so quiet, as well as the week before and the few days since, that she had begun to think maybe she had imagined it all.
*You know you saw it,* she thought, and shook her head at herself. At the moment she didn't know anything.
She walked up the stairs slowly, to their bathroom where John was bathing the baby. She stopped in the doorway and wrapped her arms around herself. William squealed and splashed when he saw her, and John twisted back to look at her. "Hey, Mommy," he said cheerfully.
"That was Chuck Burks on the phone, just now."
"Oh?" He lifted William from the tub and wrapped him in his towel, while the baby growled in indignation. "What's the verdict?"
Dana took William and started rubbing his head with the hood of the towel. "They didn't find anything."
"Nothing?" His eyes widened and he stroked her hair for a moment. "Well."
She sighed and pressed her lips to William's head. "He offered to come back anytime, but there's no point in having an investigation when there's nothing to investigate."
"But that's good news, isn't it?" He was still playing with her hair.
She started to say yes, but said instead, "That leaves me with the other choice: that I'm losing my mind."
John sighed. "Dana . . ."
"You know, maybe I cracked up a long time ago and all of this is just an hallucinatory dream," she said in a breaking voice. It was a thought that had crossed her mind more than once but she'd never dared say it out loud. "Maybe I created this life for myself where I'm happy and safe and loved, where I have my baby in a normal life, because I couldn't deal with my past anymore. Mulder's death—is that where I went insane? And now there's ghosts because—"
John had been looking at her with unhappy eyes through this, when abruptly he grabbed her face with both hands and kissed her.
She was panting when he lifted his mouth, and his eyes had darkened to the deep blue of a summer night. He stroked her jaw with his thumb. "Does that feel like you're dreamin', babe?" His voice was a good octave lower than normal.
"No," she whispered. "I feel . . . very awake."
"No more talk about you losing your mind. Something weird happened but it's over now. Okay? No more worries?"
She nodded, still gazing up at him. "No more worries."
John kissed her again, more gently this time. He rested his mouth against her forehead. "I love you so much, babe."
"I know." She shifted William, sleepy after his bath, to one arm so she could stroke John's hair. She kissed his neck and inhaled his scent with a deep sense of satisfaction. John's hands settled on her waist and he stooped to start kissing her shoulder. She whispered, "I love you, too," as she rubbed her lips against the side of his face.
"How soon until he goes to sleep?" John muttered between kisses.
"At least another hour—I still need to nurse him. But—" She hesitated. She never said no to him before—she had no idea how he'd take it. "I—I'm much too nervous for sex tonight."
"Oh, yeah," John said quietly. "Tomorrow's the big day. Are you sure a home test will be get it right this early?"
"The one I bought is made for early testing. You're not mad about not having sex tonight?"
"Of course I'm not mad—why would I be?" he said in a puzzled tone.
"I thought . . ." She trailed off, embarassed.
"Babe, I'm not gonna force ya, you know."
He chuckled and kissed her. "What goes on in that head of yours?" he murmured.
She kissed him back. "Strange and inexplicable things," she said lightly and went to the nursery to feed the baby.
She was settling into the rocking chair, murmuring to William, when he turned his head towards the crib and made his "I know you!" sound. Dana glanced at the crib and tickled William's cheek. "Who are you talking to, silly? Who's there?" He babbled nonsense syllables back to her, his eyes bright. "You're silly," she said as she lifted her shirt and unsnapped her nursing bra, and William was distracted by his hunger and the scent of her milk.
She was arguing with Mulder on their bench, but the words were wrong—convoluted, coming out of their mouths in long strings of sound. "Don't you know how much I miss you?" she said, and it sounded like a foghorn.
Cherry blossoms floated down, spattering his dark hair and suit coat. "It's always spring here," he said and his fingertips brushed her cheek. Vowels piled themselves up like autumn leaves.
"Something else is here," she told him, and shivered. "I can't see it. It hides in the shadows. I'm afraid."
He smiled at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners. John's smile is like that, she thought, and knew she would tell him soon she loved him for his smile.
"Don't be afraid," Mulder said. His hand was warm in hers. She could feel blood pumping, hairs curling, skin whispering. "You have to stay full of love, Scully."
"How can I not be afraid? I don't know what it is."
"You're stronger than it is. You're stronger because you're full of love. You have to stay full of love. The moment you let hatred enter you, it wins."
"I don't understand," she said, but he was already standing, already walking away from her. "Mulder! Please don't go. I need to understand."
He turned and smiled at her. "I told the children I'd be back soon. Don't be afraid, my love. Your heart is as big as the world," he said, spreading out his arms, and then he was gone.
"Mulder," she said again, but she was in bed, in the dark, in John's arms. He hummed in his sleep and kissed her hair, and she pressed her head against his shoulder. The ache for Mulder flared, but just for a moment as she inhaled John's scent and felt his heart beating beneath her cheek.
Just a dream. Just the mind talking to itself. Just grief that would never really go away, but could be put aside for longer lengths of time each day.
Still, she puzzled over the details of her dream as she waited for sleep to come, his strange words and how much in the dream he'd seemed like John—solid, comfortable, tender. The children he'd mentioned, the mysterious 'it'—she sighed and shook her head. Just a dream, she told herself. Just another dream.
Dana set the timer and crawled back into bed. John's arms went around her, pulling her close. "How long?" he murmured.
"Five minutes. I thought you were asleep."
"I woke up when you did." He kissed the top of her head. Over the baby monitor William rustled in his crib and smacked his lips.
Dana laid her ear over John's heartbeat and exhaled. The rhythm was slow and strong, the heartbeat of a healthy man at rest. The sound soothed her, and she matched her breathing to his, to calm her own racing heart.
"Five minutes," John murmured. "Funny how your life can change so fast."
"Or not change."
He sighed, heavily stroking her hair. "What do you want to happen?"
"I wish I knew. I do want another baby . . . just not yet." She raised her head to look into his eyes, and he pushed her hair behind her ear and caressed her cheek. "What do you want?"
His thumb traced her lower lip. "I want you to be satisfied."
Dana studied him, then nodded and lay down on his chest again. "Deal," she murmured, making John chuckle.
She had begun to doze off, calmed by his breathing and his hands rubbing her back, when she heard the timer ding. She sat up and looked at John, who sat up too. "D'ya want me to get it?" he said, covering her hand with his.
"No, it's okay." She started to get out of bed, but first leaned over and kissed him.
Her hands were shaking when she picked up the pregnancy test in the bathroom. She closed her eyes, inhaled, and looked.
Dana let out her breath. A hollowness settled in her chest but her eyes remained dry.
"Dana?" John said from the doorway. "Are you okay?"
She looked up from the test and tried to smile. "I'm okay." She handed the stick to him. He frowned, shaking his head.
"That means it's working. It would have two lines if I were pregnant."
"So it's negative," he said quietly.
"Are you sure?"
"Home pregnancy tests can give false positives but false negatives are very rare. I'm sure."
"Oh, honey," he said and gathered her into his arms. He kissed her forehead. "I know you wanted this."
She wrapped her arms around his waist and nodded against his chest. Another blue-eyed boy, a sweet little girl—she could see them in her mind's eye, but reality would just have to wait.
John was still kissing her, slowly and sweetly, all over her face. She looked up at him and swallowed, thrust her hand into his hair and pulled his mouth to hers. She kissed him desperately, and he made a soft sound in his throat as his hands came up to cup her face.
"Dana," he whispered.
"Please," she answered him, and her voice was desperate too. "Please."
The countertop was already pressing against her ass. He lifted her onto it and kissed her again, leaning her back against the mirror as his hands slid up beneath her knees. She twisted her fingers into his hair as he kissed her neck, making his slow way down to the vee in her pajama top. His morning stubble scraped against her throat, her chin, the tops of her breasts.
"I love you," he whispered between kisses to her nipples. "I love you."
"I know," she said, because everything he told her was the truth. She lifted her hips to yank off her panties and pajama bottoms, opened her knees wide and hooked her feet together behind John's back. "I love you."
"Don't be sad, baby," he said, and then he was inside her, hard and hot and filling, pulsing with life under her hands, his eyes bright, his skin damp. Their eyes held each other, unflinching, even as their bodies shook and trembled.
I am full of love, she thought, taking his mouth in another kiss. My heart, my soul, my body—he has reawakened me, brought me back to life. He brought rain to the desert. He has filled me to overflowing. He has taken nothing from me he does not give a hundred times in return—
She would have told him this, but her body was responding to his roughly caressing fingers and her synapses decided they'd had enough of poetry. Colors bloomed behind her closed eyelids and she managed not to shout too loudly. His hips pumped hard against hers and he muffled his groan in her hair before slumping against her, spent.
Dana stroked his hair, her head bent over his. "I'm not sad," she whispered, and he chuckled.
"Oh, good." In the bedroom the phone rang, and John sighed, looking at her with sleepy eyes. "So it begins."
She nodded and let him go, watching him walk on wavering legs to the phone. I did that to him, she thought, and smiled, impressed with her own power.
"John Doggett," he said into the phone, and caught her looking at him. He held out his hand and she hopped down from the sink and crossed the room to take it. She rubbed his knuckles while he listened to their caller. After a moment his face grew serious and his mouth frowned. "All right. I'll be there as soon as I can." He hung up the phone and exhaled. "Honey—"
"It's okay," she said. "I'm a cop's wife. More or less. I can deal with it."
"We're needed," he said. "I just hate to leave you today."
"I'll be fine. Scout's honor."
"If you wanted to stay with your mother or something while I'm gone, I'll understand."
"No. I'll be fine. I'll miss you terribly, but I'll be fine."
"Okay." He sounded reluctant to agree, and kissed her firmly as if to remind her not to get any ideas while he was gone. "I'll hurry home as soon as I can. Promise."
"I know." Dana kissed him back and watched him return to the bathroom, to prepare to save the world. It seemed to her a lot rested on those slender shoulders, but she had no wish to join him. Those days were over—she wanted only to channel her energies to her own family now.
She lay down in bed again as the shower started, and listened to William's morning sounds through the monitor. Not for the first time, she wondered who he was talking to and if they had anything helpful to say.
John dropped his collection of keys and loose coins on the hotel room table, and lay down on the bed. A headache throbbed behind his eyes. He wished Dana were there to rub the pain away with her gentle, knowing touch. He missed her scent in the air.
Funny how used to her he'd become. Her scent, her skin, falling asleep in her embrace, her tiny cotton panties in the laundry, the way she sang to the baby, her collection of bottles and tubes in the shower. He suspected it would be hard to sleep without her tonight.
A few days had passed between the first time they slept together and the second. He had spent those nights in restless sleep, dreaming of her skin beneath his lips and her fingers raking over his back. She invited him to her apartment and he went, expecting to have The Talk—but instead the moment she opened the door her mouth was on his and her hands were pulling at his clothes. "Make love to me," she whispered, and so he did, on the floor, in her bed, in the shower the next morning. At some point he said "Marry me, I want you to marry me," but it wasn't until he asked her again a few days later, when they both were dressed and upright, that she said yes. "I didn't think you meant it," she explained, and he cradled her cheek in his hand and said, "I'll mean it until the day I die."
He missed her.
A knock sounded at the door. John grimaced—his head was still throbbing and he wanted to call Dana before it got much later—and got up to answer it. It was Monica, who smiled at him brightly. "I just had a thought," she said, and he stepped back to let her in. "Did you notice anything strange about Mr. Wilkes's house?"
"Other than the noticable absence of Mrs. Wilkes? No." He sat down at the table and put his feet up on the bed.
"He had no mirrors," Monica said. She sat cross-legged on the bed at his feet. "Even the toaster has been painted so it won't reflect."
He rubbed his temple. "So you think he's a vampire?"
Monica laughed. "How do you know about that?"
"Dana makes me watch 'Buffy' with her. And I blame you for hooking her on that."
"If you hate it that much you could always refuse," Monica said mildly.
"But I like it when she watches NASCAR with me, so it's a trade-off. Besides, the redhead's cute," he added with an attempted smile, but the pounding in his head prevented it from being sincere.
"Do you feel okay?" Monica laid her hand on John's ankle.
"Not especially. So, what do you think the deal is with the mirrors?"
"I don't know, but I'm sure it means something. I'll research it tonight. Are you sure I can't do anything for you? I give great back rubs."
"Nah, but thanks. I just need to get a good night's sleep . . . and to get home soon."
Monica's expression turned thoughtful. "Must be nice," she said softly, and explained at his questioning look, "I mean, it must be nice knowing someone's going to make things better, no matter what."
"Yeah. It is."
She nodded, absently patting his ankle, then sighed and got up from the bed. "Good night, John."
"G'night," he said, and she let herself out. He sat for a moment longer, then muttered, "Mirrors," and got up to change his clothes.
Teeth brushed and pajamas on, John lay down on the bed again and picked up the phone. He dialed quickly, and bit his lip while it rang. "Mm, hello," Dana's voice purred through the wires.
"Hey. It's me."
"I know. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay. I miss you."
"I miss you too, baby."
"Asleep, right now. He kept looking for you today."
"Oh," John said softly, his heart twisting. "Tell him Daddy will be home soon."
"I have been. I will. How soon, do you think?"
"I don't know. This case is a stumper. Our victim, Amy Wilkes, disappeared three weeks ago without a trace." He plumped up the pillow beneath his head. "No money taken out of their bank account, both cars are accounted for, no reports of her at the bus depot, the train stations or the nearest airport. No one reports picking up a hitchhiker at the time of the disappearance. There is a history of domestic abuse—"
"And one restraining order, two years ago. Physical and mental cruelty. I'm thinkin' Mr. Wilkes finally cracked and killed her. The house is remote and the property's big. It could be done pretty easily."
"But he wouldn't bury the body on his own property unless he panicked, and if he was able to cover his tracks so well he didn't panic."
"Yeah. Monica has a theory about mirrors, but damned if I know what it means. I think it's garden-variety domestic violence. I'm not sure why the sheriff asked for us."
"Hm," Dana said.
"I'm trying to get a warrant to search the outlying property but there's no probable cause beyond a hunch. The county judge isn't buying it." He rubbed his forehead.
"You sound tired."
"I am. Headachy, too."
"Oh," she cooed in empathy, and John exhaled, his longing for her even stronger than before. He loved that little noise—it would appear at the oddest moments, like when she saw something in a shop window she thought William would like, when she knew he was in pain, when she was on the verge of orgasm. He closed his eyes and resisted the urge to ask her to say that again.
"God, I miss you, babe," he said instead. "I've been thinkin' how much I'd like a neck rub."
"Oh, sweetie. Did you bring the Tylenol PM?"
"I brought it."
"Take some soon, baby. You need eight hours of sleep or you'll be groggy in the morning."
"That's why I'm not sure I should take one. I get woken up in the middle of the night at least once on these trips."
There was a brief pause, and then she said, "Would phone sex help?" and John laughed.
"No, but thanks for the offer. I really am too tired."
"All right. I love you."
"I love you too. Same time tomorrow?"
"Yes. Take care of yourself."
"I will," he said, and hung up the phone. He got up long enough to turn down the covers and click off the light, and got into bed. He took slow, deep breaths, imagining Dana's hands massaging the stiff muscles in his neck and shoulders, and her sweet voice whispering in his ear.
"Daddy," Luke said insistently, what felt like seconds after he closed his eyes. "Daddy, get up."
John rose and got out of bed. Luke was dressed this time, in the clothes he'd been wearing the day he disappeared—but there were, John was relieved to see, no bruises or blood on him. "Luke," he said, "you're dead."
"That's not important now. You have to go home."
"I can't, buddy. Daddy has to do his job. We have to catch the bad guy."
Luke sighed and crossed his arms over his chest, looking up at John with furrowed brows. "But Daddy, she needs you."
"Your mommy's fine, Luke. I talked to her just a few weeks ago. She's okay. She's got a new husband now, you know."
"I know that," Luke said impatiently. "I mean Emily's mom. Dana."
"I just talked to her, too, and she said everything's fine. The baby's okay. And she had a friend come over and look over the house, and he said there's nothing there to be scared of."
"We hid," Luke said. "We didn't want him to send us away."
"Luke," John said, and sat down on the edge of the bed so he could look his son in the eyes. "You know I'll always love you, but I can't keep doing this. You can't keep doing this. You're supposed to be—" He couldn't remember—what had they told him about death? About the afterlife? "With the angels, aren't you?"
Luke twisted his toe into the carpet and said, looking down at his feet, "They told us we have to help you but it's really hard. I didn't know it would be so hard. Emily can't do it at all—it keeps going wrong for her. And you always forget in the mornings," he added accusingly. "Dana at least remembers."
"If I help you catch the bad guy, will you go home?"
"Will you tell me who 'they' is?"
"The other people," Luke dismissed his question. He held out his hand. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?" John said, but in a step they were no longer in the hotel and were in a sparsely wooded forest, with scrubby, dry pines and stunted oaks. He recognized this: it was the back acres of Wilkes's property, near a dry creek bed and a barbed-wire fence. A bullet-dented NO TRESPASSING sign was nailed to one of the trees.
A woman was sitting on the creek bank, waiting for them in the moonlight. She was blonde, and younger-looking than in her photographs. She smiled at them. "Hello."
"Hi. I'm Luke. This is my dad."
"Amy Wilkes?" John said, and she nodded.
"Sit down," she said, and he sat, with Luke on his lap, on the crisp grass. "I have a story to tell you." She took a deep breath and began, "I met John Wilkes when I was nineteen. He was at our county fair, and we got to talking in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. He wrote me for months afterwards. He was so kind in his letters. So kind . . ."
When John awoke, he knew there was something terribly important that he had to remember, that he'd been told not to forget—and he couldn't remember what it was.
In the shower he saw flashes of a dream—Luke walking with him in the woods? Or something like that?
He shaved, frowning at himself in the mirror. He'd had many dreams about Luke in the past eight years but none this vivid-he could still smell the spicy dry needles on the forest floor, the scent of dirt and cool night air.
He was thinking and not paying attention to the razor, and suddenly hissed and winced when the razor cut into his throat.
"Dammit." He shook the razor in the water to clean it and watched as one drop of blood fell onto the discarded shaving cream.
Blood on white.
*He put a sheet on the floor and made me kneel over it. He pulled back my head by the hair. He said, You're a disobedient wife. And he cut my throat. There was blood on the white sheet. More blood than I've seen in my entire life.*
John dropped the razor, staring at the sink. "I dreamed that," he muttered, and tears stung his eyes. A good cop believed in clues and facts and truth, not dreams. Not night visions. Not a ghost telling her story on a dry creek bed.
Hastily he splashed the shaving cream off his face, wiped it with the towel and dressed, and hurried across the hotel parking lot to Monica's room. He banged on the door with his fist.
She was still sleepy-eyed and disheveled when she opened the door. "John?"
"They're missing a bed sheet. We find that, we get our warrant. We get our warrant, we find the body."
She shook her head and stepped back from the door to let him in. "John, I haven't had my first cup of coffee yet. What's this about a bed sheet?"
*There was blood in the kitchen. On the appliances, on the cabinets, so he painted them. He didn't expect there to be so much blood.*
John pressed his hand to his forehead. The pounding was back, but he went on firmly, "It's how he caught the blood. We're not looking at a crime of passion here. He planned it, he terrorized her with the plans, and then he did it."
"How do you know this?" she said softly, her brows furrowing.
"I . . . don't know how I know this. I just do. Maybe trying to think like Mulder is finally paying off. But the bed sheet, Monica—where can we look for that? Where would he hide it?"
"What if he's burned it or cleaned it or destroyed it? What if he buried it with the body?"
John felt almost feverish, perspiration beginning to gather between his shoulder blades. "He didn't. He kept it. It's his souvenir."
"John," she said, horrified, and she gripped his shoulders. "Sit down, you look like you're going to fall over."
"He has a place where he keeps things . . . " He let her sit him on the bed and leaned his head on his hands.
"What place, John?" Her face was close to his as she whispered, "Can you see where it is?"
"I don't know, I don't know . . ." He stood up again abruptly and bolted for the bathroom, barely making it in time to vomit into the toilet. Monica hurried to him, grimacing, and poured him a cup of water when he was through. He rinsed out his mouth and spat into the toilet.
She whispered, "What's happening to you? What's wrong?"
"I can feel it," he said dully. "I can feel all that . . . hatred." He looked up at her. "He hated you. You're a woman in authority. To him, women are like children—to be led, to be taught, to be disciplined, but never to be above him."
"I noticed he didn't like me," she said, kneeling down. Her face was drawn with concern. "Where is this coming from?"
"I don't know. I don't know." He drank some of the water and pushed her hand away when she started to touch his face.
"You're scaring me."
"I'm scaring myself." He looked at her again, grateful for her worry.
*He wrapped me in a tarp and carried me over his shoulder to the creek. Nobody comes back here but hunters, and it won't be hunting season for months. There will be plenty of time for the grass to grow back. There's grass growing over my bones.*
John fought back his nausea and gasped, "The creek," before the world grayed out and he felt the back of his head hit the floor.
He could hear Amy Wilkes's voice in his head during the entire drive to the Wilkes farm. She had recited her history dispassionately, as if reading from an uninteresting book. But he could remember her voice: faintly scratchy, warm, with the flat vowels and emphasized liquids of the midwest. She had died a long way from home.
He could remember too the weight of Luke in his lap, and how the boy had listened to the tale without fidgeting. In death he'd learned patience.
Stop that, he thought, staring hard out the window.
Monica wouldn't let him drive. This was wise, he thought: they didn't know what had brought on his nausea or the fainting spell, and now he had an egg-sized bump on the back of his head. There had been no bleeding and no cuts, however, so the sheriff of Bradford County had permitted John to come along as long as he stayed out of the way.
"And he knows where the body is," Monica had said, and the sheriff had sighed and accepted this. She was following them on this wild hunch, had convinced the stubborn judge to issue a warrant to search the farm. A second Jeep sped behind them up the road, and Monica had mentioned wanting to call more agents in from Billings or Salt Lake.
Monica touched his arm. "Are you okay? Hanging on?"
Monica said quietly, "A husband is supposed to love his wife. Not terrorize her. Not take her away from everything she loved. Not make her live like a prisoner in the middle of nowhere."
"In a perfect world, nobody dies too young."
Monica pressed her lips together and didn't answer.
John leaned back his head gingerly against the car seat and closed his eyes. My body is here, Amy had said, pointing to the bottom of the creek bed. In the spring this creek floods, and will either bury me further or sweep me downstream.
When the story was over, Luke had twisted back to look at John. His bright eyes had reminded him of William. There, Daddy. Can you go home now?
His instincts said this was not the way to do it. There needed to be a forensic team, not four deputies with shovels.
Stronger than the desire for procedure, however, was the desire to close this. He wanted to find Amy Wilkes's poor body and lay it with respect in sacred ground. He wanted to hear John Wilkes admit that he'd taken the life of his wife.
Most of all, he wanted to reaffirm to Dana that she need never fear anything like this from him. He wanted to lie down in her arms and feel her soft, comforting touch. He wanted to be in a place made of safety and love.
They crested the small hill that protected the farm from the highway, and Sheriff Harris glanced at them from the driver's seat. "You folks ready? Looks like Wilkes is home." She chuckled without humor. "I don't know where else he'd be."
"Maybe you'd better do the talking," Monica said to John. "If he can't accept female authority figures he won't listen to Sheriff Harris or me."
"He'll listen to a court order," Sheriff Harris said darkly. "But you're right, Agent Reyes. Agent Doggett should be our point man."
"All right," John said, and thought, I'll start by asking him if he enjoyed it when she begged for her life.
The two Jeeps pulled up in front of the farmhouse and John Wilkes, thin, greying, and openly hostile, appeared on the front porch.
"Show time," said Harris and swung down from the vehicle.
Monica touched John's arm again. "Time to catch the bad guy."
"I'm ready," John said, and got out of the car.
John Wilkes was about forty-five, with a salt-and-pepper beard and black hair, a sharp nose and guarded, wary eyes. "Sheriff Harris, agents," he said when they approached the porch. "Have you found my wife?"
"We have not," John said. Wilkes's gaze settled on him, and John slowly climbed the front steps until they were nearly nose-to-nose. "We have a warrant to search the property. We'd prefer your cooperation but we can do this without it."
"My wife isn't here," Wilkes said, not moving from his position on the top step. "I don't know where she is. I suspect she's run away."
"We still need to search the premises."
Wilkes studied him, and his gaze rested on John's left hand that clutched the warrant. "I see you're married, Agent Doggett."
"Is your wife a virtuous woman, Agent Doggett?" Wilkes asked softly. "Is she chaste and obedient? Do you know what she's doing while you're away?"
John had to swallow to control his anger, and said in the same soft tone, "She is a virtuous woman. She is fierce and passionate, with a loving heart and a quicksilver mind. I adore the air she breathes. Now get out of my way."
The deputies behind him shifted and muttered. Sheriff Harris cleared her throat, and Monica whispered, "John," as if in prayer.
Wilkes looked away first. "You've got blood on your shirt," he said, and went back into the house, leaving the front door open behind him.
Dana put off going to bed for as long as possible after John's phone call. It had been a quiet day for her, hours filled with laundry and baby, but still she was reluctant to call it a night.
Sighing, she put her book aside and rose from the armchair to turn off the lights and check the locks. Was it always going to be this way when John was gone—longing for his presence and worry for his safety interfering with her meals, her daily activities, her sleep?
Their bed was too big and lonely without him, the house was too quiet—not because he was a noisy person, only that she found his little sounds so comforting.
She'd had two other phone calls that day, one from her mother—who was slowly coming to terms with her new marriage but still referred to John as 'him'—and one from Mrs. Kersh.
Dana had seen the wedding ring on D.D. Kersh's hand, but still had toyed with the notion that Kersh was locked into a recharging chamber in his office coat closet at night. It was difficult to imagine him with a wife and children, though obviously both existed.
Lisa Kersh seemed pleasant enough, mentioning how "Johnny" used to be more social before "this X-Files business," but even so Dana turned down the offer of a party. It seemed like too much to ask from a woman she barely knew.
Brushing her teeth, Dana wondered if that was the real reason or if it wasn't something more personal. She just wasn't ready yet to meet John's friends or even his family, to share him.
She'd grown insulated, she knew that. Too accustomed to one person being the center of her world, to everyone else drifting along the edges. It was hard to stop feeling alone, even though she was no longer lonely.
Dana put her clothes into the hamper and slipped on a t-shirt of John's she'd snagged before he left. It smelled like him—woodsy and clean—and she sniffed the collar appreciatively as she walked down the hall to check on William one more time.
She peeked in through the half-open door—then pushed the door open, her heart pounding against her ribs. William's cheerful room looked as it always did, lit by his cow-jumping-over-the-moon nightlight and piled with toys.
Except for the misty gray shape leaning over the crib.
Dana's fingers gripped the doorknob. She squeezed her eyes shut and said in the loudest voice she dared, "You're not real. You're not real!"
She opened her eyes in time to see the shape reach one limb into the crib and drift over the baby's cheek. William stirred, his mouth working, but did not wake.
"Please," Dana whispered as she took a step into the room. "Please don't hurt my baby."
". . . oh, Scully . . ." came a voice, almost familiar, shaded and soft as though from a great distance. The shape lifted its eyeless head to face her, and then turned to gaze—tenderly, it seemed to her—back down into the crib.
It was too impossible—it couldn't be— "Mulder?"
She heard no voice this time but she felt the words as if they were printed on her skin. *Scully, my love . . . you have nothing to fear from me, now until the end of time . . . but there is a threat, a real and serious threat, and there's so little I can do . . . you will never be unprotected, but you must tell your husband to come home. You need him. He needs you. Tell your husband to come home.*
"Mulder," she said again. Her eyes stung. Her throat felt tight. "Mulder, don't go."
*I'm never far, sweetest Scully. I'm never far.*
The shape moved away from the crib, towards her, and Dana's breath caught in her chest. She felt Mulder's chuckle in her ears: *But I don't stick around when you start kissing him.*
The shape passed through her. She thought it would be cold but instead she was bathed in warmth, and left with what felt like a kiss to her lips.
And then she was alone.
Dana let go of the knob and sank to her knees. She leaned her head against the doorjamb, covered her face with her hands and wept.
* * *
One deputy stayed in the house with Monica and Sheriff Harris—they all agreed Wilkes would not react well to having his house searched by two women—and John went with the other three deputies to the dry creek bed.
It was nearly three in the afternoon when they arrived. By seven, with pickaxes and shovels they'd cleared away the top strata of the area John said to dig, and changed to trowels and brushes for the more precise search.
John's hands and arms ached from the work, and his head ached from the heat. The dry trees offered little shade. They all had taken off their jackets and rolled up their sleeves, guns glinting black in their holsters.
"Are you sure this is the right place, Agent Doggett?" one of the deputies asked him, sitting back on his heels.
"Yes," John said, but he realized as he spoke that he wasn't sure—that it was possible the entire vision was only a dream, like he'd been telling Dana all week. How could he explain himself if he were wrong? 'My dead son told me we'd find her here'?
Forget that. Mulder could have said something like that—even Monica could believably rely on her feelings and intuition—but they'd all only think he'd gone off his rocker.
Hell, maybe he had.
"Agent Doggett," one of the other deputies said from a few feet away. He looked up from the dig, his face starting to turn green. "I've hit tarp."
John moved to the deputy's side and brushed away the dark, loose earth. More black tarpaulin came into view, and the deputy gagged at the stench of decay. John abandoned the trowel and brush and began to dig with his hands, clearing away dirt from the tightly-wrapped corpse.
"Go puke if you have to," he told the deputy sharply. "Then call the M.E."
The younger man scrambled up the creek bank and John heard him heaving a few yards away. "Kids," the other deputy muttered, and he began scooping away dirt with his hands as well.
Most of the body was revealed when John heard the second Jeep bounce up the dirt road from the house. He got to his feet, brushing off his hands, and climbed out of the creek bed. The Jeep stopped and Monica climbed out.
John met her halfway down the slope between the road and the creek. "We found her."
"Oh, John," Monica said and took his hand. "We're not having much luck at the house. Will you come down?"
"Is Wilkes being difficult?"
"He's not being helpful. I think you'll know what questions to ask him."
"All right." He nodded back towards the waiting deputies. "Will you call the M.E.? The kid can't keep his lunch down."
Monica nodded and let go of his hand. "John," she said as he started to walk back to get his coat. "I was hoping . . . I was so hoping we wouldn't find anything. I wanted to be wrong."
"So did I," John said.
* * *
Wilkes sat at his kitchen table, his hands folded together.
Sheriff Harris met John at the kitchen door, scowling. "He's not talking."
"Has he requested his lawyer?" John asked, shrugging into his coat. Curtains were drawn over every window, casting the house in gloom. It was cooler than outside, but not by much.
Harris shook her head. "He doesn't believe in lawyers."
"Uh-huh. He's probably right—the Tooth Fairy will have a better chance at keeping him out of jail." He entered the kitchen, followed by Harris, Monica and Dempsey, the fourth deputy, and sat at the table across from Wilkes.
Wilkes's face had the slightly bored, unfocused expression John remembered from detention as a boy. He leaned forward, placing his palms on the tabletop, and said conversationally, "We found Amy's body."
The passive mask cracked, but just for a moment. "Oh. So she did kill herself, then?"
So that's the way you're going to play it, John thought, but kept his tone unconfrontational as he said, "I've never seen a suicide where the victim tied her hands and feet together, wrapped herself in a tarp and buried herself four feet underground."
Monica made a soft sound behind him but said nothing.
"Oh," Wilkes said again. "It's a murder investigation."
"There's surprisingly little left to investigate. The medical examiner can tell us when and how. I think I know where and I'm pretty positive I know who. What I can't figure out is why."
Wilkes looked down at his hands as John got to his feet and leaned over the table.
"Why you spent two years convincing Amy to marry you and then proceeded to make her life a living hell. Why you isolated her on this farm, why you forbade her to visit her family or make friends, why you didn't let her leave to see a movie or go to the library or buy a pair of shoes. Why you wouldn't even let her have a child. Why you beat her and humiliated her and tortured her, why you made her last hours so terrifying and horrible.
"Most of all, I can't figure out why you would do all this to a woman who only wanted to love you."
Wilkes continued staring at his fingernails and frowning.
"You planned it out," John went on in his calmest voice. "You told her every step you were going to take, and when she begged and promised you were only more cruel. You broke her. And when you knew you'd broken her, you forced her onto her knees and cut her throat and watched her die."
Wilkes sighed and put his hands flat on the table too. "Am I under arrest?" he said in an almost bored voice.
"Yes. You are. Where is the bed sheet?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Bullshit," John spat. "You couldn't keep Amy's body in the house with you but you kept that fucking bed sheet so you could admire your own audacity. Your own little souvenir." He stared into Wilkes's dead, bored eyes. "We've got you without it, you know. There's no point in hiding it any longer."
Wilkes's eyes shifted towards the doorway to his bedroom, then he closed them and sighed.
"Sheriff Harris, will you Mirandize him, please?" John said, and took off for the bedroom.
The bedroom had been searched: the drawers were open, clothes were shoved aside in the closet, boxes were open, and the sheets and bedspread had been pulled back.
"We've looked in here already," Monica said, following behind him. "We didn't find a thing."
"He wants it close, remember?" John closed his eyes and pondered. If I were in Wilkes's shoes . . . he shuddered at the thought, then steeled himself. Gotta think like a wifebeater. Gotta think like someone who can't let go . . .
He stepped to the bed and yanked away the covers, then pulled off the fitted sheet on top of the mattress. Another sheet was beneath it, spattered with rust-colored stains. "DNA tests will prove that blood belongs to Amy Wilkes." He folded it up the sheet and gave it to Monica, who held it reverently. He knelt on the floor and snapped on a pair of latex gloves, lifted the top mattress and felt around between it and the boxed springs.
"What are you looking for now?"
"Murder weapon." He didn't have to search far—he knew Wilkes would want the knife close enough to fondle, and it was just beneath the still-occupied side of the bed. He showed the knife to Monica. It was a hunting knife with a thick, leather-wrapped handle and a narrow, shining blade.
"John, this is freaky," she said.
"Just doin' my job. Think they'll start calling me Spooky?" He took an evidence bag from his pocket and dropped the knife into it.
"How did you know all that stuff? About how he treated her? We didn't get that from questioning her acquaintances."
"I don't know—I just did."
Monica shook her head. "Do you feel all right? Do you feel like you're going to faint again?"
"I feel okay." He started back to the kitchen, where Wilkes still sat at the table, but now with handcuffs around his wrists. "Got them," he said to Harris, who exhaled what sounded like a sigh of relief.
"Poor Amy," she said. She prodded Wilkes to his feet. "I never liked you much. Now I know why. Poor, sweet Amy."
Wilkes scowled and said, "You wouldn't say that if you had to live with her. The whore."
"Shut up," John said to him. "Shut your fucking face. You may have lived with her but you never knew her. Never knew her at all."
"I won't be spoken to that way," Wilkes complained to Harris. "Police brutality!"
"Don't ask me for sympathy," Harris said, and Dempsey grunted in agreement as he led Wilkes out to the waiting Jeep. "Tell me something, Agent Doggett. How do you know all this, about their relationship, about Amy? You didn't know her before, did you?"
"No." He glanced at Monica uncomfortably, who was watching him closely too. "Deductive reasoning. Years of experience. You know. I was a beat cop for a while—you see this all the time."
"Right," Harris said, looking like she didn't believe him, but she didn't ask any further questions.
* * *
Monica insisted he go home early. "You're not well, John. You need rest, maybe an MRI scan."
"The EMT said I was fine."
But she was stubborn, and got one of the deputies to drive him the three hours to the nearest airport. "I'll finish up the paperwork and bring back the rental car. You go home, have Dana take a look at you, maybe take a day or two to recover. Skinner will understand."
John called Dana from the airport to tell her he was on his way. He watched people pass by as the phone rang, wondering how many of them had secrets too. He sighed and leaned his head against his hand, rubbing his forehead. He didn't want to start thinking that way—he didn't want to suspect everyone he met of crimes they hadn't committed. If this is preternatural insight, I'd rather just stumble along blind, he thought.
"Hello?" Dana finally answered the phone, sounding breathless. "This is the Doggetts'."
"Hey. It's me."
"Oh, John," she said with relief. "Oh, sweetheart. I'm so glad to hear from you. Are you all right? How is everything going?"
"It's done. I'm coming home."
"Oh, I'm glad." There was a slight pause, then she said, "I guess you're not going to tell me you found Amy Wilkes in a women's shelter pulling her life back together, are you."
"No. We didn't. We found . . ." He glanced around to make sure no one was listening, and said in a low voice, "We found the body. And the murder weapon. And some other things. He made a full confession—it's not even going to go to trial, I think. A guilty plea and he gets locked away until Doomsday."
Dana said, her voice low too, "That's the best we can hope for. Did he hurt you?"
"No," John said in surprise. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh . . . I . . . I had some bad dreams. I hate it when you're away, John. I miss you so much."
"I miss you too. But I have to go, Dana. It's part of the work."
"I know. I still hate it. So you're coming home now?"
"Yeah. My flight leaves in an hour. The arrival time is one . . ." He checked his ticket again. "One forty-two."
"I'll come get you," she said firmly. "I need to see you."
"Honey, it'll be two in the morning when we get in. It's too late. I can get a cab."
"I need to see you," she repeated. "I'll take William to my mother's and drop Monica off at home and you and I can have a little time together. I just need to see you. I've been so worried."
"I'm okay, babe. You won't need to bring Monica home, though. She's staying a day or so longer, to finish things."
"Why aren't you staying?"
He coughed. "She's sending me home early. I, um . . . I had a problem earlier today."
"What kind of problem?" she said, instantly Dr. Scully again. "Is it your heart?"
"No, honey, my heart's fine. My heart's fine. I passed out for a minute or so. Hit my head. I've got a bump and a nasty headache but I'm okay."
"You're not okay if you're fainting, John. What if it was an aneurysm, or a small stroke?"
"It wasn't a stroke," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "I promise I feel like me, I feel like ninety-five percent. I don't need a hospital. I just need to come home and get some sleep—and you. I need you. That's all I need, baby. I just need to come home."
Dana didn't answer for a minute or two. He was about to ask her what was wrong when she said, her voice slightly thick, "I'm going to pick you up. What's your flight number?"
"We'll talk when you land. What's your flight number?"
"Three-eight-nine-seven." He rubbed his forehead again. "I'll be looking for you. I love you."
"I love you too. I'll see you soon."
They said goodbye and hung up, and John thought maybe he ought to let her take him to the hospital after all, if it would give her peace of mind. Every part of him rebelled at the idea, though. He just wanted home and wife and comfort, not strangers and tests.
The wait was long, the flight was uneventful. He drank a Coke and ate his pretzels, and watched the darkness slide past the windows. His eyes slid closed too and he heard a voice whisper in his ear, "Love makes you strong, John . . . love is the only power you need."
John awoke with a small gasp, and looked at his seatmate who was still sound asleep. No one else was awake, either—no one could have spoken to him. He shook his head and leaned back, took some deep breaths and tried to relax.
At last the plane landed at Dulles, and John gathered up his overcoat, suit coat and carry-on baggage. He walked up the concourse, wondering if Dana would be there after all or if she would be too upset to come. No, he thought, that's not Dana at all. She would be there if she said she would be.
It took him a few moments to locate her, and when he did he had to pause a moment and drink her in with his eyes. Oh, she was beautiful—she was everything good in the world, everything worth coming home for. She was searching for him too, and when she caught sight of him she smiled. Their eyes held each other as they made their way to each other, and he let go of his suitcase and wrapped her up in his arms. She kissed his cheek and then his mouth, and pulled back to look into his eyes.
"All right?" she said simply.
"All right," he said, and that was all there was to say.
Dana held his hand while they drove home. John ran his thumb over the inside of her wrist and watched the dark city roll past the window.
"I want to take you to a hospital," she said at last, her voice soft. "I want you to have an electrocardiogram and an MRI scan."
"But instead, I'm taking you home. Against my better judgment, we're just going home and you're going to get some sleep, and I'm going to schedule your physical for a few months early. And I'm going to ask your doctor to pay close attention to your blood pressure and your stress level."
It seemed like too much bother to him. He was as healthy as an ox. "Are you mad at me?"
She didn't answer for a moment. "No." Another long silence while he tightly held her hand, then, quietly: "I just can't lose you, John."
"You're not going to."
"Can you promise me that?"
Something in her voice said it was more than a rhetorical question. He studied her profile in the dark and said, "I promise nothing's going to happen to me until we're both old and doddering. I promise I'll only die of old age."
She gave him a tight-lipped smile. "I worry so much about you."
"Stop that," he said, gently smoothing his fingers over the back of her hand.
"D'you think I'm kidding? Stop worrying about me." He went on rubbing her hand. "I love you and I'm not going anywhere."
"John, we both know the odds—"
"I'm well aware of the odds, and according to the odds I should be dead a dozen times over. But I'm still here. I have a great partner to watch my back, I come from a long line of long-lived men, and my wife won't feed me red meat anymore. I'm set."
"The red meat is for both of us," Dana said, but she was smiling. He smiled too and squeezed her hand.
"Are we going to pick up Will at your mom's?"
"There was a small change of plans. Mom said it would disturb Will too much if I get him up so late, so she came over instead. She was half-asleep on the couch when I left."
"Oh," John said. "Do you want to stop and get something to eat?"
"Those pretzels weren't filling, but not really. We haven't gone to a diner in the middle of the night for a long time, is all."
During her pregnancy John had often accompanied her to quench her cravings. She'd hungered for tacos, bacon, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy, popcorn greasy with butter— and that was just for one meal.
Dana chuckled but said, "You need to rest."
"I can rest later, if you're hungry."
She shook her head. "I'm not. I just want to go home."
"All right." He looked out the window again, once more absently stroking the soft skin inside her wrist.
After a few minutes more she said, "I had a phone call yesterday from an old friend of yours. Mrs. Kersh."
"Oh? How is she?"
"Fine. We chatted for a few minutes. She mentioned wanting to give us a party."
"Yeah. D.D. Kersh said that she wanted to a week or so ago. I'm sorry I didn't tell you—other things came up."
"I told her no—but if you want her to—I mean, you know her better than I do."
"She's a really nice woman. And Kersh isn't all bad, really. He's gruff but he's not the enemy."
"Do you want her to give us the party, John?"
"Yes," John said quietly. "Our friends want to celebrate us, Dana."
"Our friends," he repeated. "Our friends, our families. People are happy for us, Dana. They're happy for you."
"They feel sorry for me. Knocked up and abandoned—"
"People like you a lot more than you think they do."
"They thought Mulder was a crackpot and that I was nuts for sleeping with him." She glanced at John and added, "Long before I actually was."
He couldn't deny that—he'd heard plenty of rumors before he actually met Dana, but he'd dismissed most of them as petty exaggerations. The truth as he knew it was both simpler and much more complex.
Her vein pulsed beneath his thumb. He said, "Lisa's a good woman. I think you'd like her if you gave her half a chance. I worry about you getting too isolated."
"I'm not isolated," she muttered. They were approached their neighborhood now: familiar houses reposed in the dark, lit only by street lamps.
"Name three of our neighbors."
"There's Mrs. McKay next door . . . and the Gordons on the corner . . . and . . . across the street, they've got that little girl with the pigtails . . ."
"If you get to worry about my health I get to worry about you not having enough friends. I think you're an easy person to love." He grinned at her. "But I kinda have an inside scoop."
She thought about it while she pulled into their drive behind John's truck. She turned off the engine and said, "If I accept her offer and we have the party—if I hate it, if I'm really not comfortable, will you promise we can leave?"
"Yes," he said. "Absolutely."
Dana looked down at the steering wheel and said quietly, "Okay. I'll call her in the morning."
"Betcha five bucks we have a lot of fun," John said, his tone light. She was taking this far too seriously—it made him nervous.
"I'll take your word on it," Dana murmured and got out of the car.
Mrs. Scully was not asleep on the couch like John expected her to be. This was not what Dana expected either, it seemed: she hurried up the stairs, calling, "Mom?" in a soft but urgent voice. She stopped at their half-open bedroom door, and then pulled it shut.
"She's asleep on our bed."
"It's so late, I'd hate to wake her," John said.
"But you need to rest, John."
"So do you." He put down his suitcase by the door, took of his jacket and holster, and took her hand. "C'mon."
"John," she protested, but followed him down the stairs. "Where are we going?"
"How long has it been since you've stayed up and talked until dawn?" He led her to the back porch and drew her onto the lounge chair with him.
"It's been a long time," she said as she leaned back into his arms. "Mm . . . this is nice."
"Mm . . ." John agreed, burying his nose in her hair. She was warm and yielding, comforting as a blanket during a thunderstorm. She was wearing a soft knit dress shaped like an overgrown t-shirt, and the skirt draped over their legs as they got comfortable in the lounge chair.
"But you do need sleep," she murmured as she reached back to bring his arm over her ribs.
"I'll sleep later." The night was still dark, but he felt dawn approaching and it assured him. A new day would come. All would be well then.
"What did you want to talk about, if you're not ready to sleep?"
"Oh . . . Stuff." He stroked her belly.
"How have things been while I was gone? Quiet?"
"Uh-huh. Quiet." She shivered and pressed herself closer to him as a breeze blew over them.
John shut his eyes and breathed deeply, opened them and gazed at the night-black sky. "Good."
She hummed again, nuzzling her head against his arm.
He watched the stars for a while, rubbing her stomach and stroking her arm, until he couldn't keep it to himself any longer. "Dana? What are you afraid of?"
"Nothing at all, baby, now that you're home." She raised his hand to her mouth and kissed the back.
"I'm serious. Is there something that worries you that I should know about?"
She was quiet a moment and plucked at his sleeve. She said, "Three things. Losing William, losing you, and my cancer coming out of remission."
"Oh, honey . . ." He pulled her closer and kissed the back of her neck. He was familiar with the scars there—one he had made himself, one that protected her life—but they never failed to break his heart. He buried his nose in her hair and whispered, "Are you ever afraid of me?"
"No. No, never," she said as she turned over to look at him. They had to rearrange themselves again so she could lean against his chest and stroke his face. Her expression was serious. "I've never been afraid of you, not for a moment. Why do you ask?"
"I keep thinking about John Wilkes."
"You're nothing like that man."
"But I could be."
"No, you couldn't."
John grunted and touched her cheek. "It just seems so easy to go over that edge, you know?"
She shook her head. "No. That 'edge' isn't even in you. I know you, John. I know your heart. I trust this heart." She laid her fingers on his chest, and bent her head to kiss him. John ran his fingers through her hair but couldn't relax enough to enjoy her touch.
"Amy Wilkes trusted her husband and look where it got her."
Dana raised her head. "Okay. But where in your history do show the behavior of an abusive man?" John sighed and shifted uncomfortably, and Dana said, "The fact that you worry about it is a good sign. You understand that true strength isn't in oppression but in kindness. That's the measure of a man, John." She studied his face, kissed him and laid her head on his shoulder, holding him close. "Do you want to know something else I love about you?"
"Besides my big feet?" He smiled against her hair.
"I love your big feet." She kissed his chin. "And I love you because I know you're going to raise my son to be a man just like you." She raised her head again to look into his eyes. "The world needs more men like you, John. Needs them badly."
John swallowed the lump in his throat, drew her down for another kiss, and kept his hand cupped on her cheek as she laid her head on his shoulder once more.
* * *
He slept a little, and dreamed he was searching for Luke in the Hoover building. He could hear Luke calling "Find me, Daddy! Find me!" with laughter in his voice, but every time he caught a glimpse of Luke the boy would disappear around another corner.
He awoke with a start, jostling Dana enough for her to murmur and shift. The back porch was starting to warm up with the morning sun, and birds chirped in the surrounding trees. Dana was still wrapped up in his arms, her head tucked beneath his chin. John gave her a quick squeeze and wondered if he could get up without waking her, to check on Mrs. Scully and the baby.
The back door opened and Mrs. Scully peeked out. "Oh, thank goodness," she said. "I was so worried when I saw it was morning and you hadn't woken me. Have you been out here all night?"
"Just since we got home from the airport. Is William awake yet?"
"No, not yet. Is Dana still asleep?" John nodded. "Well," Mrs. Scully said after a moment. "Should I bring the baby out here before I go?"
"You're not leaving already?"
"I wasn't planning to stay the night," she said. "I have a lunch date later."
"John?" Dana murmured, lifting her head. She rubbed her face, blinking. "Is it morning?"
"Yes," John said, gently smoothing the sleep from her eyes. "Take a minute."
"We slept outside."
"Yes, we did."
"Okay," she said and yawned. "Oh, hi, mom."
"Hello," Mrs. Scully said, sounding amused. "William slept through the night last night."
"Oh, good. He's been doing that more regularly lately." She pushed herself off John's body and slowly sat up. "Mm. Three hours of sleep is not good. I feel like I'm wrapped in wool. What are you smiling at?" she added, frowning at John.
"You're so cute in the mornings."
"Yeah, I'm adorable," she said tartly, getting to her feet, and she went into the house.
"She misses her coffee," John said to Mrs. Scully, who smiled in understanding.
* * *
Dana had called John bullheaded more than once, but she could be even more stubborn.
"You need bed rest and that's final. I'll cuff you if I have to."
John put his hands over William's ears. "Not in front of the baby, Dana!" He grinned at her when she blushed, and let William pull his hands away. "And you need sleep as much as I do. I at least slept on the plane."
"I don't have a head injury—"
"I have a bump. That's not a head injury."
"—nor have I fainted for no reason within the last six months."
He tickled William, who was propped against his bare chest, and said, "I feel fine," which made Dana smile in triumph.
"Bed rest," she said, rising from the bed and closing her robe. She had changed clothes once her mother left, but William wanted to be fed before she could take her shower. "I have some errands to run this morning, so I'll take William out of your way."
"I could watch William."
She paused on the way to the bathroom. "Are you sure? I shouldn't be gone too long."
"So it's perfect. We'll nap together and if he wakes up I'll keep him amused."
Dana thought about it a moment, then nodded. "All right. Thanks. Will you—would you mind calling Lisa Kersh, too? About the party?"
"Sure, but what if she has girly questions to ask you?"
The water started in the shower, but he still heard her snort. "Sure. Like I'll know the answers better than you."
John laughed and William twisted back to look at him, his face breaking into a smile. John kissed his head and got out of bed, holding the baby with one arm. "So," he said to the shower door, "if she wants a Caribbean-themed party with teal and pink decorations and lots of flamingos, that's okay with you?"
"You said she has good taste."
"I'm teasing you."
"Back in bed, John."
"Will you come too?"
She opened the shower door to talk to him, and he tried not to be distracted by her flushed cheeks and bare, wet skin. "It's daytime, John. I have things to do. I have to go to the store and work in the garden and do some ironing—"
"If you come with me back to bed you know I'll stay there." He grinned at her. "We need a honeymoon. Badly. We need a couple days when we can just . . . indulge."
"Eventually, I promise." She closed the shower door again. "When Will's old enough for me to leave him alone for a few days."
"Grow up faster," John whispered into William ear, loud enough for Dana to hear, and William chortled, wiggling in his arms.
They nestled together like three spoons in the dark, the baby in John's arms and John in Dana's. He liked to tell her she would curl around William as if she were a protective barrier, but, she was amused to note, when he held the baby he did the same thing.
Her men—her boys—her guys—were both sound asleep, William's high, rapid breathing a counterpoint to the slow rise and fall of John's chest. The baby had been colicky and temperamental most of the night, and his parents finally decided to just bring him to bed with them and hope for the best. Of course, he'd fallen asleep at once, and John had whispered, his mouth in a half-smile, "He's got us trained."
Sighing, Dana tucked up her knees and rested her cheek against John's shoulder. Her guys slept the sleep of the just, but she felt too laden with secrets to relax.
There was too much that she hadn't told John, and she couldn't start confiding in him now when so much time had passed. She couldn't tell him about Luke's ghost, whom she found nearly every morning tickling and making faces at the baby; or about Emily's ghost, who had perfected the art of manifestation enough to sound giggles and footsteps and sometimes jump on the bed; or Mulder's ghost, who liked to lie beside her during her afternoon nap and always, always watched William sleep.
The dead were all around. She'd never felt safer. She'd never felt more strange.
The meaning of this worried her. She'd seen ghosts before, of course, under intensely emotional circumstances, but she'd never lived with them day to day. John, however, didn't notice a thing. After all this time—the hauntings had only grown more intense in the month since he found the body of Amy Wilkes—she didn't know how to tell him.
He deserves better than this, she thought and kissed his shoulder. He deserves better than a wife who keeps secrets.
But it was better still, she thought, than him thinking she was seeing things that weren't there.
She sighed, frustrated, and remembered the first time she felt the baby move—her joy at the proof of life within her, her grief at being far from anyone to share it with, and her sudden thought: John would appreciate this. John would understand. She had risen from bed, pulled on her robe and gone to his hotel room without considering the late hour or what John would think.
She had knocked on his door, and when he opened it the light was on beside his bed and a book was open face-down on the coverlet. "Are you okay, Agent Scully?"
In answer she took his hand and pressed it to her belly. "I felt a kick," she whispered.
He smiled at her and his fingers gently rubbed her stomach. "Hey," he said in a low, pleased voice. "That's great. That's really nice."
They stood there for a few moments more, her hand on top of his, until she realized they were staring at each other and that her heart had begun to pound—that her cheeks had begun to redden—that she was one caress away from pushing him onto his bed and discovering for herself if he tasted as good as he smelled.
She let go of his hand and said, "Well. Good night, Agent Doggett," and scurried from his room—but not quickly enough to miss the regret in his voice when he answered her.
"Good night, Agent Scully. Thank you."
She had gone back to her own room and climbed into bed, telling herself she only wanted him because he was virile, handsome and available, nothing more. He was not hers to use.
Denial, Dana reflected, was a persuasive enemy. She kissed John's shoulder again and wondered, if she'd allowed herself to kiss him that night, would she be with him now, or would she only have fought her attraction more stubbornly until she finally drove him away.
Dana had promised herself when she married him that she would be a good wife and a loving companion. Knowing he loved her made her heart skip with joy. She knew she loved him in return. It was not the aching, longing sort of love she had felt for Mulder—it was warm, safe, as comforting as John's embrace. It filled and soothed her. He only had to touch her hand and the stars returned to their courses, the ground was beneath her feet, and she could breathe.
This was why she said nothing to him about ghosts. She could not bear the thought of disappointment in his eyes.
The baby smacked his lips and gave a little cry. Dana reached over John and stroked William's cheek, waiting to see if he would fuss more or go back to sleep. He wiggled and squawked, his diaper rustling, and sought her fingertips with his mouth.
Carefully Dana rose onto her knees and lifted William out of John's arms. John stirred too and murmured, "Is he hungry?"
"Yes. I'll take him into his room."
"No need. 'M awake."
"All right." Dana hesitated, then laid on her side, unbuttoning her pajama top with one hand, and adjusted William against her breast. The baby rooted for her nipple and began to drink with loud gulps.
"I didn't hear him cry," John said after a moment. His fingers capped the back of William's head.
She stroked the inside of his wrist with her fingertips. "He didn't. Not much. I was awake already."
"You oughta wake me up if you're having trouble sleeping."
"Why would I do that?"
"So I can keep you company."
She laughed and raised his hand to her mouth to kiss his palm. He stroked her cheek. "You're so sweet when you're sleepy."
John chuckled and moved closer to kiss her. William stopped nursing to growl in protest, and John broke off the kiss and murmured, "Sorry, Willie boy," as he pulled himself back. He kissed the baby's head and curled himself around him, so William was enfolded between them. His foot stroked Dana's calf.
Dana reached over lazily to stroke John's sharp cheekbone. "Aren't you tired?"
"A little. I think I've reached the point where sleep doesn't matter anymore. I'll be feelin' it tomorrow."
Dana frowned and pulled back her arm to tuck around William again. "That's why you need sleep. We've got a party tomorrow night."
"Ah, that's right. A big party, as I recall. Nervous?"
"No," she said automatically, then reconsidered. "A little. I mean . . . it is mostly people you know."
"The guys will be there, your mother will be there, Skinner will be there, Monica will be there," John said in a reasonable tone. "And by then you'll know my parents, too. You've talked to my mother more in the last month than I have. What time does their flight come in again?"
"You have nothing to worry about," he said. "You're the bride. You'll be the center of attention, even without the long white dress."
"That's why I'm nervous."
"I promise I won't make you sing karaoke."
"Oh, good, since Lisa isn't getting a karaoke machine."
"You know perfectly well that there's going to be a swing band." She sighed and nestled her head on her arm. "You'll dance with me, right?"
"Absolutely." He leaned over and kissed her, smoothing her hair back from her face. "It's going to be a good night, babe."
Dana nodded and John lay down again, their foreheads touching. In a few minutes he was asleep again, his leg still casually thrown over hers and his hand on her hip.
When William had finished nursing Dana slipped from bed and took him to the nursery, patting his back and humming to him. "Are you going to sleep, little man?" she whispered as she laid him in the crib. He twitched and his mouth sucked on air, but he pulled his feet up to his bottom and relaxed his fingers, his long eyelashes casting shadows on his cheeks.
Her heart beat almost painfully hard in her chest as she looked at him. There was nothing she would not do for this child—no beast she wouldn't battle, no villain she wouldn't chase, no illness she wouldn't strive to cure. If nothing more, she could give him a safe place to sleep. She ran her fingertips over his peachfuzz hair and turned to go back to bed.
The shape was there in the doorway, as if she'd caught Mulder trying to sneak in. Dana said simply, "Don't wake him," and walked through the ghost to leave.
She got back into bed and gathered John once more into his arms. "Everything okay?" he mumbled.
She kissed his hair. "Yes."
In the morning John left early to meet his parents at the airport. Dana took a shower and bathed the baby. She heard the children scamper up and down the hall, and the sound made her smile. "That's your brother and sister," she whispered as she lifted William from the bathtub. She wrapped him in his towel. "They're looking after you. Are you going to be all right, with ghosts for babysitters?" She tickled William's cheeks and he laughed, squirming and waving his hands.
Dana's room smelled of honey, as did the landing and the nursery. "Love you too, Emily," Dana whispered. She diapered and dressed William, and quickly dressed herself. With William gumming a teething ring in his carrier, Dana made up the spare room with fresh sheets and towels, put a vase of flowers on the bureau and opened the closet to air it out. If we do have another child, she thought, it's going to get crowded in this little house.
She heard the car pull into the drive, so she scooped up William and hurried to the stairs. John was holding the front door open for his parents—his mother silver-haired, his father's hair still dark, both of them slender and long-limbed like John. "Dana, my folks, Hannah and Sam," John said when Dana hesitated on the stairs. "Mom, Dad. This is my wife."
He said this in a warm, proud voice, a smile on his face like the one he'd worn when she promised to love, honor and cherish him until death.
She took a deep breath and put a smile on her own face, and descended the stairs to meet her in-laws.
There was much hugging and kissing and exclaiming over William, who accepted these new people with many looks to his mother for reassurance. John carried their luggage upstairs, then his father wanted him to show off the new garden in the back yard. William began to fuss for his lunch, so Dana took him into his room to nurse and Hannah joined her, looking at William's toys and books on their low white shelves.
"That's a beautiful chair," Hannah said when their conversation about baby care lagged.
"John made it."
"Oh, he did? I knew he was getting good at carpentry but I had no idea. Rocking chairs are hard to make."
She ran her fingertips over the back. "Dana . . . you met my son through work, didn't you?"
"He was assigned to my division after my former partner was killed."
"But you don't work anymore?"
"No. Not anymore. I'm just a full-time mommy." She smiled down at William, who smiled back at her.
"There's nothing 'just' about full-time motherhood," Hannah said in reassuring tone. "I was a nurse until I retired three years ago. I worried so much when the boys were small, how they'd turn out with their mother gone almost every night. But Samuel . . . he was very gentle with them."
"Is that where John gets it?"
"Doggett men," Hannah said, shaking her head slightly. "There's a magic to them." They exchanged a smile of understanding, then Hannah said, "His phone call to tell us you were married was a huge surprise, though. He'd mentioned you, of course—quite frequently, really—but I didn't think anything would come of it. He'd been so set against remarrying after Lu—after Barbara."
"It took us by surprise, too."
"I gathered that." She wandered to the changing table, picked up a bottle of baby powder and set it back down. "I hope you understand, Dana—he's still my baby."
"I love your son very much," Dana said. "He's been nothing but good to me. When my former partner died . . . he and I had been very close. I was devastated when he died. I wouldn't have come through that without John. I realize," she added, "that it sounds like I married him out of obligation, but I didn't. Losing my partner made me accept that when love comes, you have to grab hold of it and never let go."
Hannah smiled and touched William's head. "I like that," she said quietly.
* * *
Naps, Dana decided, were what they all needed. It was going to be a long night, Hannah and Sam had been traveling all day, and she and John had been awake half the night. Naps while William slept, she said, would do all of them good, and since she was the doctor in the house everyone else agreed.
She put William in his crib, and John's parents settled into the guest room with the door closed. In their room John drew the curtains, casting the room in a golden semi-gloom, and turned down the sheets on the bed. He sat down on the edge to take off his shoes as Dana lay back against the pillows, and she watched him through half-closed eyes.
She said softly, as he lay down beside her, "Have I said I love you yet today?"
He smiled and gathered her to him with one arm. "Yeah, but I don't mind hearing it again."
"I love you," she whispered and wrapped her arms around his chest. "I'm so . . . grateful for you."
"Uh-huh." She nodded and kissed his neck. "Grateful that I know you. Grateful that you were sent to me. Grateful that you love me."
"I see," he murmured. "I thought we were supposed to be sleepin', not sweet-talkin'."
Dana ran her hands over his soft t-shirt and said, "Maybe a little more sweet talk would help us sleep."
John raised his eyebrows, his mouth starting to smirk. "Ah," he breathed. "You just wanted to get me into bed."
"Guilty." She moved herself on top of him and lowered her head to kiss the slight cleft in his chin. "I just wasn't sure what I'd do once I got you here." She kissed his mouth. He groaned when her tongue touched his.
His hands rested on her waist and his fingers inched her t-shirt up out of his way. He stroked the small of her back and the bumps of her spine. "Wow," he muttered, "you're actually wearing a bra today."
"Out of consideration for your mother."
John chuckled and pulled her t-shirt up farther. She rested on him and raised her arms so he could pull the shirt over her head. They kissed. She rose up on her knees and reached behind her to unhook her bra, John watching her with a hungry gaze.
"You're so pretty," he murmured, his voice like a lion's purr.
Dana smiled and started to lean forward, but he stopped her with hands on her shoulders. "Let me look at you a little."
Dana nodded and exhaled. She traced his arms and watched his face as he caressed her ribs, her breasts, her collarbones, her arms, with gentle fingertips. When he'd touched her to his satisfaction he looked into her eyes and said quietly, "I still wake up in amazement, Dana. I hope I always will."
Her eyes brimmed and she leaned down again, resting on her elbows and wrapping her arms around his head. "Kiss me."
"Kiss me first."
She kissed his mischievous smile, his heated cheeks and his sleepy eyes. "I love being with you," she whispered. "I love how beautiful you make me feel."
"You are beautiful." His hands encircled her waist and he kissed her cheeks and brow. "You're my sweet girl."
"Mm . . ." Dana began to drag herself up and down his body, pressing her hips against his erection, pressing her breasts to his chest. She panted against his cheek, wanting him so much she was trembling. John groaned in response, his hands losing their gentleness as they moved over her body. He rolled a nipple between his fingertips, getting a moan from her throat, and rolled them onto their sides so he could suckle her.
"John," she whispered into his hair. "Oh, John."
She opened her eyes and thought she saw a shape by the window. But no—Mulder said he couldn't stay and watch—and it wouldn't be the children, she felt their absence now as much as she felt their presence when they were near—
"You okay?" John whispered roughly.
"Yes." She kissed his mouth. "I love you." His mouth closed around her other nipple, tugging the sensitive tissue, and her eyes squeezed shut again.
They had to be quiet—they didn't want to disturb his parents or the baby. It was easy at first—muffling their moans with kisses, giggling a bit and telling each other "Shh!" But when Dana took his cock into her mouth he had to bite his fist to stifle the sound, and when he pushed her onto her knees and thrust into her he had to cover her mouth with his hand. She licked his palm, curling her body forward and spreading her knees wide to bring him deep inside her. "Dana," he growled into her hair. "God, woman."
"Harder," she whispered and kissed his heart line. It felt like a secret language, talking into his hand like this. "Harder, John."
Her forehead rested on her folded arms, and his hand slid from her mouth, down her neck, fondled a breast, stroked her belly and probed between her folds to find her clit. He rubbed her clit forcefully, the peak between two fingers, and Dana's teeth nipped at the sheets. "Harder!" Her hips thrust back to his with an urgent beat. "Oh, John, harder, please!"
He groaned and pulled her upright, making her sink even deeper onto him. "Trust me," he muttered, one arm around her waist and the other crossed over her breasts. She turned her head towards him, her body tense and eager, and wrapped her hands around his wrists. She felt like she was balancing on her toes, letting him ride her hard enough to pierce her heart, her brain, her soul. He pulled her face back and kissed her, his tongue fierce against her teeth. She thrust one hand into his hair and the other between her thighs, rubbing her clit with the side of her hand. She was so close—so filled with him—so hot, so wild—
He must have known—he covered her mouth again as she cried out, her body going rigid and then falling forward onto the mattress. She gasped against the sheets, and felt John panting behind her. He kissed her spine and kneaded her hips. "Baby . . ."
"Yes." She peered at him through her tousled hair. "Anything you want, baby. Anything."
John pulled out of her and flipped her onto her back—she was as loose as a rag doll with satisfaction—and laid his body over hers, holding her face between his hands. He kissed her. "I want to look into your eyes." He pushed into her again, slowly, and she shivered and sighed with pleasure. She looped her arms around his neck. She raised her knees high, digging her feet into his hipbones. Her hips rolled to meet his. He buried his face in her hair, groaning, and thrust rough and fast. He sucked on her hair. His fingers nearly crushed her hands as he held her arms over her head. He kissed perspiration from her face and between her breasts, and rubbed his five o'clock shadow against her nipples, making her legs quiver. Her toes flexed, her nails dug into his back.
She kept her eyes open, and saw how his eyes grew wide as if in wonder as the deep spasm shook his body. He bit his lip to keep from shouting, and his body went weak in her arms.
Dana raked her hand through his damp hair and kissed him. "Love you, baby," he muttered and his finger stroked her cheek. "Love you."
"Love you too." She shifted a little to hold him more easily, and he nuzzled his face against her shoulder.
"Do we have enough time to sleep?"
"Just for a bit."
"Mm." He gave her mouth one more sloppy kiss and laid his head on her shoulder. "A bit's all I need."
He was asleep in moments, and Dana felt herself drifting as their heartbeats slowed. The air was heavy with the fragrance of sex and the scent of sulfur—
Her eyes flew open. Sulfur—God, was there a fire? She inhaled again, looking around the room, but saw nothing unusual and could smell only John.
She shook her head and laid it back down. John nuzzled closer, humming sleepily. "Dana?"
"Go to sleep," she murmured, and closed her eyes to take her own advice.
"You ready yet, babe?" John called as he walked into the bedroom with William. "I dressed the munchkin . . ."
His voice trailed off as Dana stepped out of the bathroom, putting in an earring. "Did you put him in the green overalls? Oh, good," she added when she saw he had. She took William from him and gave the baby a kiss. "I just need to get my shoes on and get the diaper bag together—is something wrong? Do I look all right?"
John put his hand on her cheek. She'd mentioned that she'd bought a new dress, but he hadn't seen it outside of its protective plastic bag before now. It was a lace top with a silk skirt, the palest of pinks and clinging tightly to her body, to emphasize her full hips and breasts and tiny waist. The only jewelry she wore were two small hoop earrings, her cross and her wedding band. Her hair curled softly around her face, which was still aglow with satisfaction from their romp that afternoon. Her lips were full, her cheeks were rosy, her eyes were bright.
"What?" she said again, and pressed a palm to his hand. "You left a little stubble burn. Does it still show?"
"You look wonderful," he said quietly, which made her smile. She took his hand from her face, still holding his fingers.
"And I love you like crazy, but don't distract me. We should be there by seven."
"D'you think if we give my folks the car keys and twenty bucks they'll take William for a while tomorrow?"
Dana laughed and let go of his hand. "It's worth a try," she said as she walked away. Smoothly she bent to pick up her shoes, and carried them and the baby down to the nursery.
"Dana?" Hannah said as she came out of the guest room. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Will you hold him while I get the diaper bag together?" She offered the baby. Hannah took him and at once started cooing.
"Who's my sweet boy? Look at that smile—are you happy to be going out tonight?"
John leaned against the doorway, watching them and smiling. His mother had seven grandchildren but she made no secret of wanting more. William certainly could fulfil any babylust she was currently feeling. He was in a good mood tonight, too, squealing and squirming, waving his fists and throwing back his head.
Meantime Scully was packing the diaper bag with diapers, bottles, a can of formula, a change of clothes, small toys, blankets, and books. Dana's diaper bag was an enormous square-bottomed canvas bag that could be worn as a satchel or a backpack, and it could hold any amount of baby paraphernalia. If William was unhappy at any point tonight it would not be due to any lack of amusements or comforts.
Dana slipped on her shoes and slung the bag over one shoulder, tickled the baby's chin and said to Hannah, "Would you like to take him to the car?"
"Absolutely." She said to John, "Will you see if your father's ready? He wasn't happy with the clothes we brought for him."
"I'll have a look," John said, and went down the hall to the guest room. His father sat on the bed, dressed but holding his shoes and frowning. "Are you all right, Dad?"
"I feel underdressed."
"You look great. Do you want some help with your shoes?" He knelt at Samuel's feet and took one shoe from his hands.
"Johnny," Samuel said quietly. "I keep wanting to call the baby Luke."
John continued tying his shoe for him and said, "Sometimes, so do I."
"He's a sweet baby. A good boy. And Dana is very pretty—but you should have had a proper wedding, Johnny."
"We will, sooner or later." He took the other shoe and put it on his father's foot. "That's what this party is for tonight, anyway."
"Odd, how little he's changed," Samuel said, then frowned when John looked up at him. "No, that's not right. He's not a little boy anymore."
"Luke has been dead almost nine years, Dad," John said gently. His father had suffered a stroke three years before, and though physically he'd recovered almost fully, mentally there still were lapses. "The baby's name is William. Dana's son William."
Samuel nodded absently and looked down at his shoes. "Ah. We must be ready to go."
"Yeah. We're ready." John helped Samuel stand, and let him hold his elbow as they headed to the stairs.
The circular drive in front of the Kershes' house was already filled with cars when John brought the car to a stop. "We're late."
"It's all right with me if they started without us," Dana remarked as she started unbuckling William from the car seat. John chuckled and got out, opened the door for his mother and helped his father out of the car. Samuel took Hannah's arm to walk up the drive, and John took William as soon as Dana had him unharnessed. The baby held himself straight and looked around as they walked, his eyes wide with wonder and his hands clinging to John's tie.
Dana said quietly, "I have a confession to make. I'm a little nervous."
"There's no need. You know that."
"Lisa's so . . . poised. I don't feel poised."
"You are, babe."
"I used to be," she muttered. "I'm out of practice."
"Babe," he said gently and stopped walking. "If you're uncomfortable, we'll leave. I mean it. It's okay."
"I want you to have fun with your friends," she said, looking uncomfortable already. "And help me keep track of Will, okay? I don't want him to get passed to complete strangers."
"I'll keep him close," he said. He bent to kiss her, and William reached for her too and grabbed hold of a lock of her hair.
"Ow," Dana said and worked his fingers loose. "That hurts, little man. Let go of Mommy's hair. There we go." William laid his head on John's shoulder and started sucking on his fingers. Dana smiled and stroked his head. "Be nice to Daddy's friends, okay?"
"Our friends," John said with a sigh, because they'd been having this conversation all month. "Come on. Let's go say hello."
The garden gate was open, and small lights in the trellis led them to the large back yard, where the party was already underway. The band was playing "Moonlight Serenade," wait staff circulated bearing trays filled with champagne flutes, and the Kersh daughters were leading a small gaggle of children into the garden proper at a run. William started at the sight and sound of so many other children and hid his face in John's neck. Dana took a deep breath.
Lisa Kersh broke off from a group near the buffet table and came to greet them. "Dana, Johnny," she said warmly. She hugged Dana and shook John's hand. "This must be William."
"He's a little shy," Dana said.
"That's understandable—sometimes these get-togethers make me want to just hide in a corner too." She smiled and patted William's back lightly. "Dana, your mother's already arrived, if you want to say hello to her."
"Oh, has she? Wonderful."
"She's over . . ." She waved her hand towards one side of the garden vaguely. "I've lost track of everyone. She was talking to Walter Skinner, last I saw."
"Lisa, this is my mom and dad, Samuel and Hannah Doggett," John said, and she shook their hands too. John thought Dana's word, "poised," described her very well She was tall and round, with mocha skin and hair she let curl as it wished. Tonight she wore chunky amber jewelry and a black dress, making John think of an elegant lotus next to Dana's petite rosebud.
"Well, come in, have some hors d'oeuvres," she said, drawing them further into the yard. "We'll eat in about half an hour. Dana, will you come with me? There are some people I'd like you to meet."
Dana threw a nervous glance to John, but he only took the diaper bag and kissed her cheek. "You'll be fine," he whispered into her ear, and she nodded and followed Lisa towards another cluster of guests.
"We should find you a comfortable place to sit," John said to his parents. "Would you like to meet Dana's mother?"
The evening, John thought, was showing all signs of being a success. He saw Dana actually laughing more than once as they moved among the guests, and when they met up with each other she said nothing about wanting to leave. People admired William and congratulated them on their marriage, with no snide remarks about Mulder or the X-Files. Dinner was delicious, light summer fare with more champagne.
When the dessert course had been served Alvin Kersh began to tap his glass with his knife and got to his feet. "Friends and family, I would like to welcome you all to our home tonight. As you all are aware, we're honoring the elopement," he paused to smile, several people laughed, and Dana lowered her head to hide her blush, "or, I should say, marriage, of our friends John Doggett and Dana Scully. Will you all join me in toasting the future of Mr. and Mrs. John Doggett."
Glasses raised and everyone echoed the wish: "To John and Dana." Someone began to tap his glass and in moments many others joined in, so John leaned over and kissed Dana gently. She cupped his cheek in her hand. "This is so embarrassing," she whispered under the applause. "I feel like we're on display."
"We are on display, babe. It'll be over soon." He kissed her again and got to his feet, and she looked up at him with surprise.
"Everyone, thanks. Thank you so much for coming and wishing us well. We've been married six weeks as of today—" He had to stop while the Lone Gunmen began to whoop, and he grinned at them. "And it's been very nice. Very wonderful, in fact." He smiled down at Dana. She smiled back and touched his hand.
"Many of you know we had a very brief engagement—a little over twenty hours, in fact—and Dana's missing something every bride should have."
"John," she said. "You didn't."
"I didn't think it was proper to give you a dog tonight," he said as he got down on one knee. Dana gasped and covered her mouth with her hands when he took the box out of his jacket pocket. He opened the box and showed her the ring within. People began to whistle and clap. "Dana . . . will you marry me?"
Her eyes widened at him over her hand, but finally she lowered it and said, "Yes. Always. I love you."
"I love you too," he said as he put the ring on her hand, above her wedding band. It was a gold ring, to match their bands, with three diamonds. It was beautiful on her hand.
He kissed her and she wrapped her arm around his shoulder and hid her face in his neck a moment. "You," she began, but just kissed him instead of finishing.
"Me," John said and kissed her back. "Love you."
"Love you," she whispered. "Love you so much. You made me believe again, baby."
He pressed his lips to her forehead, deeply moved by those words. Funny that a skeptic could renew the faith of a believer, but far stranger things had happened to him since they'd met.
Once dinner was over the band struck up again, and John danced with Dana to a slow, sweet version of "The Way You Look Tonight" After they had danced for a while, Dana went to relieve her mother of William, and John wandered around with a glass of champagne.
Monica ambled up and pressed her elbow against his arm. "Hey, stranger."
"Hey. Are you having a good time?"
"Yes, though Dana's friend Ringo keeps trying to chat me up. It's okay, though—he's going to lend me his Vandals album."
"Nice of him," John said, wondering who the Vandals were.
"You look a little antsy. Where's Dana?"
"Getting the baby. If he's out of her arms for more than five minutes she starts to worry."
"Imagine that," Monica murmured, taking a drink of champagne.
Skinner joined them as well, with a quiet, "Agents," as he sipped his champagne.
"Have you danced tonight, sir?" Monica said, and Skinner looked at her, puzzled.
"Should I?" he said and sipped his champagne again. "I heard from Sheriff Harris about the Wilkes case yesterday. She'll need the two of you to give depositions in a few weeks."
"We left statements," said John.
"There are some things that are still unclear, that the court needs you to clarify," said Skinner. "She said it was mainly some things you said to Wilkes, John."
"Oh," John said, and started looking around for Dana.
"I've been wondering that myself," Monica said. "We hadn't even uncovered her completely but you still knew that her hands were tied behind her back—and how did you know all those details about their relationship? I've been dying to know and you haven't said a thing about it."
"Let's not talk shop," John said. "It's a party."
"But what are you going to tell them?" Skinner asked, letting his curiosity show. "How did you know, John?"
Oh, hell, he thought, taking a gulp of champagne. He said, "Ghosts."
Monica visibly started, blinking at him. "Ghosts?" Skinner chuckled uncomfortably.
"Sure. Ghosts told me. Amy's ghost, specifically. How else would I know all that? I didn't know either of them before we arrived, I only know because she told me."
Skinner said, "You're serious," looking at him as if he were seeing someone other than John Doggett.
"Yeah. It's the truth. I only knew where to find her because I saw her ghost. And . . . and Luke's ghost. Luke was there." He took another gulp of champagne.
"John," Monica breathed, "do you realize what this means? You believe." She started smiling at him like he'd given her mathematical proof of the existence of God. "You're a believer now, John."
"I wouldn't go that far," he said, and felt a touch on his arm. He looked over to see Dana clutching the baby, her face pale and her eyes starting to swim.
"I want to go home," she said in a firm and quiet voice. "I want to go home right now."
"Dana—babe—has something happened?" He set down his champagne flute on the nearest table and put his hands on her shoulders. "Did somebody say something to you?"
Dana began to breathe more quickly and her lips thinned. "Yes. Someone said something and I want to go home."
"What? Who? What did they say?"
"I want to leave, John," she said again.
"All right, all right, we'll go," he said, caressing her cheek.
She flinched away and he dropped his hand. "Do you want to say goodbye to anyone?"
"No. Where are your parents?"
"They were dancing a minute ago. Dana, what is it?" He started to take William but she only held the baby to her tighter and walked rapidly away from him, towards the gate. He looked helplessly at Monica and Skinner, wanting to apologize, but Monica shooed him on and he hurried to find his parents and follow his wife.
Samuel and Hannah didn't notice anything amiss in the car, talking instead about the food and the people they'd met and how beautiful the Kershes' house was. Again Dana sat in the back seat with the baby, and said little. Said nothing, John realized when he parked the car. Said nothing as she took William out of the baby seat, said nothing as she nursed him and got him ready for bed, said nothing as they listened to his parents talk in the family room. Didn't even smile when Hannah told stories of John's childhood.
And, he noticed too, she had taken off the engagement ring.
They weren't alone until it was time for bed, and then too she was silent. She changed her clothes and washed her face, cleaned her teeth and sat on the edge of the bed to brush her hair, like usual.
John got ready for bed as well and lay down, picked up one of the books on his nightstand and opened it at his bookmark. The brush made a shirring sound through her hair. He loved brushing her hair.
The words blurred before his eyes and he set the book back down.
"So are you going to keep up this silent treatment or are you going to tell me what happened at the party? Because if anybody said anything to upset you I'll break their kneecaps myself."
Dana stopped brushing and slowly placed the brush on the nightstand. She said evenly, without turning around, "You trust Monica more than you trust me."
John stared at her silk-clad back and tried to think of something to say.
"I have to wonder what else you're telling her that you're keeping from me." She took a deep breath. "I admit I've been keeping things from you too, but it was to protect you. Not to keep from embarrassing myself."
"Dana," he began, but she went on in that soft, relentless voice.
"There are ghosts in this house, John, and you knew it. Yet you let me go on thinking that if I believed, there must be something wrong with me. So I haven't told you about everyone that's here, everyone that I've seen. And I do see them. I hear them. I even smell them sometimes."
"Emily likes to make rooms smell like honey. It makes her happy. And Luke plays with William—I'm sure you've noticed him laughing when no one's there. And Mulder watches the baby sleep."
"Dana, they're all dead."
"And Luke told you where to find the body of Amy Wilkes."
He moved closer to her and put his hand on her back. "Dana," he said, "I had a dream. It was just a dream."
"But you believed it. Have you ever believed a dream before, John?"
He closed his eyes. "Yes."
She turned at last. "When?"
"A few weeks ago, I had a dream about Luke where he told me we have to protect William."
"You knew that already." Her brows furrowed.
"It's more than we thought."
She shook her head as if in disbelief. "You knew of another threat to my son and you didn't tell me?"
He laid his hand against her cheek. "Baby, I—"
"And don't you tell me it was to protect me. I can't be any more afraid than I already am. You couldn't tell me because you couldn't admit it." Her voice was beginning to tremble and a tear escaped one eye, which he wiped away absently with his thumb. "I believed in you. I trusted you. I thought you would always tell me the truth. I thought you were the only person who would never lie to me. How can I believe anything you say now, if you'd hide something so important from me to protect your pride?"
"Dana, it's not about pride or love or truth—"
"How can I love you when I can't trust you?"
John removed his hand from her face, too shaken to answer. He picked up her hand. "Where's the ring?"
"I took it off."
"I can see that. Why?"
"Because it felt like a lie."
"Dana." He kissed her shaking hand. "It's not a lie."
"I don't know what to believe."
He looked down at their hands. "How could I tell you this? Would you even believe me?"
"Yes! Yes, I would! I thought you'd never lie to me."
"You kept things from me too."
"And I hated it! I wanted to confide in you but I hated seeing that look on your face, like I'm going crazy."
"Baby, I never thought that, not for a second. I worried, I was afraid for you, but I never thought it was because you were hallucinating. Never. I just didn't know what it was. I didn't know what I was seeing either. I was—I've been having dreams unlike any I've had before and I don't know what to make of them. I believe them because they feel so true. I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I didn't know how."
Dana studied him, closed her eyes and sighed. "I'm tired and I want to go to sleep. Can we talk about this tomorrow?"
"I'm not sure what more there is to say."
She leaned her forehead against his shoulder. "I don't know either."
John pulled himself and Dana back to the headboard so he could lean against the pillows, and he held her loosely between his legs. "Do you believe me when I say I love you?" he whispered.
She sniffled for a few minutes before she answered him. "Yes."
"Do you want to put the ring back on?"
She nodded. "It's in the bathroom."
"I'll get it." He kissed the top of her head and went into the bathroom for her ring. It had been carefully placed in the unused soap dish. He slipped it over the end of his thumb. He came back to bed and took Dana's hand to place the ring back on her finger. "It's called a Now and Forever ring," he said. "It's what's in my heart, Dana."
She studied him, hesitated, and kissed him. "I know," she whispered. "We'll talk tomorrow." She turned off the light and lay down, not touching him.
John lay down too and touched the sleeve of her pajama top. He held the fold tightly between his fingers and closed his eyes.
When John awoke in the morning, Dana was not in bed beside him. She was not in William's room, in the guest room, or any of the rooms downstairs. She was not in the garden, and both the cars were still parked in the drive. None of her shoes were missing from the closet.
She was gone.
John knew it was futile to reason with a six-month-old child but he was trying to anyway. "William, you've got to eat something. You're unhappy because you're hungry. I know you hate formula but please, Willie boy . . ."
William only pressed his lips together and turned his head away, whimpering. John had hoped the baby had cried himself out but it appeared he was gearing up to start again.
With a sigh, John put down the bottle and lifted William against his shoulder. He rubbed the baby's back. "I miss your mom too," he whispered, and William whimpered again. His fists pressed against John's chest.
It was too soon to report Dana as a missing person. Still, John had called the detective who had helped them recover William the last time, to let him know about the situation. He had called everyone else he could think of, too—Mrs. Scully, Skinner, Frohike, even Lisa Kersh—to ask if they had seen Dana or heard from her.
No one had heard a thing. Her mother had started weeping on the phone: "What did you do to her?" and he had to explain about their argument the night before.
His own parents made no accusations, but Samuel stationed himself on the front porch to watch for Dana. Hannah hovered around the baby, but John was unwilling to let William out of his arms. They both needed comfort, he supposed.
But now William wanted his mother, and refused to be satisfied with an impersonal bottle. John could hardly blame him—nothing artificial would satisfy him after Dana, either.
His wife, his lover, his sweetheart, wandering around the neighborhood in her pajamas, barefoot and angry. It was not a happy thought.
"Johnny, let me take him," Hannah said. "Maybe I can get him to eat." She added as he reluctantly handed over the baby, "He won't calm down when he can sense you're upset too."
John sat at the kitchen table and watched as his mother picked up the bottle and spoke to William in a soft, calming voice. "There's my little love with an empty tummy . . . drink up now, darling . . "
He said, leaning his head on his hand, "Dana usually mixes the formula with her breast milk. He'll take it when she does that."
"He's taking it now," Hannah said. She swayed expertly, supporting William in one arm while she held the bottle with the other.
"You know what I don't get," John said. "I know she might be angry enough to leave me. But she would never be angry enough to leave William."
"Are you sure she left?" Hannah murmured. "Are you sure she wasn't taken?"
"There's no sign of forced entry, Mom. I looked at the doors and windows. And if someone tried to take her from our bed I would have noticed—I would have done something."
"But you didn't wake up when she got out of bed."
"I'm used to her getting up in the night to tend the baby. I probably did wake up and just dropped back to sleep again."
Hannah hummed to William for a few minutes. John rubbed his face with his hands and said, "Go ahead and say it."
"Say what, Johnny?"
"That I've failed at this marriage too."
Hannah looked down at William, still swaying slightly to soothe him. "I wasn't thinking that. I *was* wondering if Dana has ever been in a long-term relationship before, mostly."
"She was with William's father for seven years. Kinda."
"Well," Hannah said, moving William up against her shoulder and starting to pat his back. "One fight isn't the end of the world. Running away is an over-reaction, but she'll learn."
"She's not a little girl, Mom," John said. "Maybe I should take the car out again."
"She'll come home when she's ready," said Hannah decisively. "You'll kiss and make up like most newlyweds. You'll laugh about this in a few months."
John folded his arms on the tabletop and laid his head on them. He didn't feel like laughing.
He took the car out again, driving farther than he'd gone that morning when he'd looked for Dana. She was strong and kept himself in shape, she could have walked far if she were that determined.
He hoped she wasn't.
If she had taken her car, if her wallet was missing, he would have known where to go. She had easily found someone to sublet her old apartment, but the key to Mulder's apartment was still on her key chain. John had known from the first time he found her there that it was her retreat, her haven. If she had taken the car, he knew he would find her there.
But there was no way she would walk that distance in her bare feet, in her pajamas, without the baby.
John searched the neighborhood for another hour. At this point he hardly knew what he was looking for, except maybe a glimpse of her bright hair. He saw nothing out of the ordinary for a suburban Sunday morning. Kids, lawnmowers, picnics, dogs on walks.
A mere two weeks before, he and Dana had been among these careless, happy people. They had taken William and a picnic basket to the park, where they ate and talked, sheltered by the shade of evergreen trees. While William napped John dozed with his head in Dana's lap, and when she thought he was asleep Dana sang to him, her voice husky and soft. Her fingertips had moved slowly through his hair.
John had fallen for her so hard, so fast, that he had been certain there was no way it would be something real or that she would ever return the feeling. But that day, as her hand lazily stroked his head, he'd felt the truth of her love, the solidity and gentleness of it. He'd realized, too, what a wonder it was to be loved by a woman who had a hard time loving.
If it took apologizing he'd apologize, if it took explaining he would explain, but one way or another he'd get her home and back into his arms, where she belonged. No more of this running off in a temper—they both deserved better than that. They liked each other too much for head games.
He had to find her, first.
There was no sign of her around the neighborhood, even as far as she could walk in three hours. John returned home, hoping that she would be waiting for him. He thought even another fight would be worth seeing her face.
His father was still on the porch. John slowly climbed the front steps and sat on the top one, facing the street. Samuel put his hand on John's shoulder. "No sign."
Samuel sighed, patted his shoulder and removed his hand. John leaned his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. After a moment Samuel said, "Do you want lunch, John? Your mother is making sandwiches. Luke drank a whole bottle."
"William, Dad. His name is William."
"William. I'm sorry. William."
He raised his head. "It's all right, Dad. You'll get used to it."
"He looks like his mother," Samuel said and did not elaborate.
The front door opened and Hannah stepped out, still holding William. "John, there you are. Are you hungry? Lunch is ready."
"Thanks, Mom. I'm not hungry."
"Come eat, anyway. You need your strength. Or at least hold the baby so I can eat—he fussed while I was cooking. He didn't want to be in the car seat."
"Dana puts him on the floor when she's busy. She puts a blanket down and he just wiggles around and is perfectly happy."
"Well, take him anyway," Hanna said and handed down the baby. John took him and rested him against his knees. William's brows were drawn in confusion, his lips poking out in a pout. John put his forefingers in William's fists and let the boy squeeze and tug on his hands, as his parents went back inside.
"Do you think," he said quietly, "that if it ever turns out to be just you and me, do you think we'll be okay? I think we will. I know I'm not as soft as your mom and I smell different, but we'll be all right." He took back one of his hands to rub William's belly. "Though finding you a nanny is going to be a nightmare."
Someone was coming up the sidewalk. John looked up, but of course it wasn't Dana—it was Andy Brookes, one of their neighbors. "Andy," he said with a nod.
"John," he answered, and walked up to the porch. "Um, John. I have . . . an odd question. Hey, who's this little guy?" He bent and put his finger in William's fist for a shake.
"This is William, my stepson."
"Ah, okay. I heard you'd gotten married. That explains it. So the red-haired woman who's been in your house, that's your wife?"
"Yes. That's Dana."
Andy nodded a few times, still shaking William's hand, and said, "So, have you seen your missus today?"
"Actually, no. She was gone when I woke up this morning and . . . it's been an interesting day."
Andy nodded again, finally letting go of William's hand, which the baby immediately stuffed into his mouth. "She's in my backyard," he said abruptly.
"What is she doing there?"
"Having a breakdown, as far as I can tell."
John felt his heart pound hard in his chest. He got to his feet, clutching the baby so tight William squawked. "Sorry, buddy," he murmured. "Having a breakdown? What do you mean?"
"You'd better come see. I didn't want to call the police, but my wife wants to call an ambulance. But either way you should come yourself."
"An ambulance? Is she hurt?"
"We can't close enough to tell," Andy said, looking uncomfortable. "You'd better come, John."
John ran up the steps and into the kitchen. He thrust William into his mother's arms. "Be right back—we've found Dana," he said and turned at once to follow Andy to his back yard.
"Here," Andy said, leading him to the shed at the back of the property. "She's back there."
The fence was overgrown with ivy and the grass was a little ragged around the shed—it was clear Andy had discovered Dana while getting out his lawn trimmer. The children watched from inside, their noses pressed the sliding glass door. Andy's wife Carrie was waiting for them by the berry plants, her arms crossed, biting her lip. "Hi, John," she said, "I have the cell phone. You say the word and paramedics will be here."
"Thanks," John said. He got down on his knees and crawled through the bushes, along the side of the shed. It was dusky back there, and smelled like warm berries and damp earth. He could hear the distant shouts of children, the whirr of lawnmowers, Andy and Carrie whispering to each other, and quiet sobbing.
Dana had wedged herself into the corner of the fence, between the rough wall of the shed and the unplanted end of the berry planter. The bottoms of her feet were filthy, and her legs were scratched and bleeding in places. Buttons were missing from her top. Her hair was wild and her hands were pressed to her face.
"Baby?" he whispered. "It's me. It's John."
Her feet scrambled against the dirt and she twisted towards the rough boards, her fingers scraping at the wood. The sound she made wasn't a whimper or a moan or a sob—it didn't even sound human.
Anger surged through John—something had happened, someone had done this to her. She had been attacked, he was certain of it. Someone had been lurking around their house, watching her, had waited for the perfect moment when she was vulnerable and distracted—
He kept his voice to a calming whisper. "Dana. Baby. It's John. It's your husband. I love you so much, baby, and I'm gonna bring you home. Okay? William wants you to come home. Remember William? Remember your baby?" She stopped trying to scratch the wood out of her way, stopped making that terrible helpless sound. She did not turn to face him. "Yes, you remember your baby. Oh, baby, he's been so unhappy without you. He wants you to come home. We've all been so scared all day, looking for you, wondering where you'd gone . . . afraid you weren't coming home." He crawled closer but stopped short of touching her, afraid she would panic again. "Baby . . ."
"Baby," she whispered into the ivy.
"Yeah," John breathed. "You're my baby. You're my sweet girl. I'm going to take care of you. Come home, baby. Come home."
"Ring," she whispered.
"Your ring? I gave you the ring last night. Do you remember?"
"The ring," she said in a slightly firmer voice. "What is carved on the inside of the ring?"
"It's engraved—it has our wedding date, and 'Always'."
She took a slow, deep breath and let it out even more slowly. "Are you John?" she whispered, starting to turn her head towards him.
"Are you sure?"
He was going to cry. Fuck. "I'm sure. I'm John. I love you. I'm not going to let anything hurt you ever again."
She sagged against the fence. Her face was dirty too, but in this dimness he couldn't tell if there were bruises. "Yes," she whispered. "I want to go home."
He scooted across the dirt, closer to her. Slowly she turned to him and put her arms around his neck. He pressed his lips against her hair and carefully embraced her. "Come on," he murmured, and helped her crawl out from behind the bushes.
Carrie and Andy were still waiting, and when John and Dana appeared from behind the shed Carrie whipped out the cell phone. "The ambulance should be here in a few minutes—or should I send them to your house, John?"
"No," Dana whispered.
"You need a doctor, baby."
"No," she said again simply. "I won't go."
He sighed and smoothed her hair. "No ambulance, Carrie. I'm just going to take her home."
"Are you sure? Because we can have somebody here right away."
"We're sure. Thanks." They started to walk out of the yard, but Dana slumped against him after just a few steps. Her knees buckled and she moaned into his ear. John slung his arm under her knees and lifted her, and carried her down the street to their house.
William squealed and Hannah was on her feet at once when John burst into the house. "Oh, my God," she exclaimed and Samuel struggled to his feet too. "Is she all right? What happened?"
"I don't know yet," John said, starting up the stairs. "She needs rest, mostly." Hannah stood at the bottom of the stairs, holding William, her eyes wide. "I'll tell you as soon as I know something."
He carried Dana into their bedroom and laid her gently on the bed. "Do you want some water?" he murmured, stroking her hair.
She shook her head and tugged on his t-shirt, pulling him down to her. "Stay with me," she whispered. "Please."
John wrapped himself around her and kissed her face a few times. "I'm here."
"John . . . John . . ."
"I'm here, Dana. I'm right here."
"She was there, John . . . I heard her . . . I heard her voice. She was calling my name."
"Who, honey? Who was calling you?"
"I couldn't find her. Where is she? Where has she gone? I can't hear them anymore."
"Sh, Dana. You need to rest."
"John . . ."
"He hurt me. He wants to hurt me down to my bones."
"Who hurt you?"
"I want my baby."
"Dana, tell me who hurt you."
"Where's William? Did he hurt William?"
"William is fine. My mother is tending him. Tell me who hurt you."
"Did he hurt you? Did he touch you?"
"Nobody's hurt me. Tell me who's after you, Dana."
"I'm so tired."
"Okay . . . rest, baby. We'll talk when you're better."
"Don't leave me."
"Never. I'm staying right here."
It was worse than labor, worse than cancer and chemo. It burned so deep inside she thought she would vomit flame. She burned with fever, she shivered with chills, she pushed John from her when he got too close and clawed him to her when he was too far away. He stroked her hair and whispered to her as she screamed and trembled and sobbed.
Her body was a battleground and she did not know the face of her enemy. She only knew his touch that marked her with sulfur and fire.
She wept in John's arms and he could only kiss and comfort her, bewildered and helpless.
It was a long night, one of the worst of John's life. Dana was bruised and scratched, her skin burning to the touch. He undressed her as tenderly as a baby, raising and lowering her arms, supporting her with a hand at the small of her back. He folded her clothes and put them aside, knowing they might be needed as evidence later.
Evidence. He winced and buried his face in her hair. She stirred, whispering, "John?"
"Sh, baby. Just rest. It's me."
"John," she murmured again, and burrowed herself closer to him. "John, I don't remember anything."
He closed his eyes, not surprised. "It's okay, honey. You will, when you're ready."
When he was ready himself, he wet down a washcloth and carefully cleaned her face and hands, wiping away streaked dirt and dried blood. There were splinters in her fingers, and several of her fingernails were broken and ragged. The skin on her knuckles was rubbed raw.
She had fought something—someone—fought it hard, and John couldn't tell who won.
Or even if the fight was over.
Long after midnight Hannah knocked timidly at the door with William in her arms. "I thought she might want to see him," she whispered, and John nodded and took the baby. William looked like he'd been crying again, and he snuffled against John's neck.
"I'll try to get him to sleep, too."
She nodded. "Get me if you need anything."
"How's Dad doing?"
"He's all right. He's sorry to have missed your golf game, but he understands, of course. You know, we can take a taxi to the airport in the morning."
"No, no, I'll drive you. No need to put Dad through that."
"Johnny," she said gently, "the more he does the better he'll get. He could have played golf today too, you know, and you weren't worried about that."
"I was going to rent a cart."
"And we'll take a taxi. Good night, Johnny. Good night, sweet William," she murmured, kissing the baby's peachfuzz hair. She smiled at them and went down the hall to the guest room.
John rubbed William's back with his fingertips, looking down at his face. "You missed your mom today, huh, Willie boy," he murmured, and the baby gave a little wail in response.
In the bed Dana stirred, and said in her rusty voice, "William?"
"He's here, Dana." John moved to her side and sat on the edge of the bed. "Do you feel like saying hi?" He laid William against her side.
Dana touched the baby's foot, then gathered him to her with a little sob. "Oh, my baby," she whispered. "My poor baby." William pressed his fists against her cheeks and sucked on her chin. "Yes, my love, hello," she whispered, genuinely crying now, and John went to the bathroom for tissues.
When he came back Dana was sitting up against the pillows with William against her shoulder. Her eyes, though red and damp, were more clear than they'd been all day. "He knows me," she said.
"Of course he does."
She took a tissue, wiped her eyes and blew her nose. "How long was I gone?"
"About ten hours. I'm not sure when you left."
She pressed her lips together and leaned her cheek against William's head. His eyes were closed and he was sucking his fist contentedly. John played with the baby's bare toes and said, "You've got some splinters in your fingers, honey. How about if I remove them for you."
"Okay. Thanks." She looked down her fingertips, as if she hadn't noticed them before.
He hesitated to leave her, though. "Are you feeling better, or would you rather sleep longer?"
Dana thought about it a moment, and said, "I feel like I've been asleep for a week." She took a deep breath. "You'll need rubbing alcohol and a sewing needle."
"Okay. 'Cause it can wait—"
"No, they'll get infected if we leave them in. Do I have a black eye?"
He caressed her cheek. "A faint one."
Dana nuzzled her cheek in his hand. "I got worked over pretty good, didn't I."
"Looks like you did. But it also looks like you gave as good as you got."
She nodded, then pressed her lips to his hand with a faint whimper, her eyes squeezed shut. John left his hand there until she took another deep breath and opened her eyes. "I'm better now."
"Baby, I can get you to the emergency room in fifteen minutes if you want."
"No, honestly, John, it's not needed. I'm not hurt. Not really, not seriously. I'll be better in a few days. I'm warm . . . I feel a little feverish. I ache a bit. My feet hurt."
"You were delirious earlier."
"I feel better now. I feel calm."
"Dana . . . " He took her hand. "I'm afraid more happened to you than we can see."
A puzzled line appeared between her brows, then she said, "You think I was raped."
He felt the force of the word in the depth of his chest. "You have to admit it's a possibility."
"I wasn't, John. I know my body. I'm sore and I'm bruised, but I'm not torn. Would you feel better about it if I did go to a hospital and got checked out?"
"I don't know. I think I would. But if you say you're fine, I'll believe you. You'd know."
"I'm fine," she said gently.
He took her hand again, squeezed it quickly and got up. "Let's get those splinters out."
Dana studied her fingertips as John collected a sewing needle, tweezers, rubbing alcohol and cotton balls to remove her slivers.
She hadn't noticed them before he pointed them out—she hadn't noticed much of anything until he put William in her arms. Nothing had really pierced the fog that enveloped her all day, not even the breast milk soaking through her pajama top, until she heard John's voice in their neighbors' garden.
William was asleep next to her now, nestled between two pillows. Dana stroked his silken leg with the side of her hand, watching his eyes flit beneath his paper-thin eyelids. He sucked his fist in his sleep, and sometimes his feet would twitch.
I left him for a whole day, she though. How could I just forget him?
"Ready?" John said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Dana nodded and pulled herself up to sitting, folding her legs so John could sit close. He set his supplies on the nightstand, unscrewed the cap of the rubbing alcohol and dabbed some onto a cotton ball. He took her right hand and carefully began to clean her first finger.
Dana watched him silently. There were a few strands of gray in the hair at his temples, weariness around his eyes. She sighed and he glanced up.
She shook her head. "Nothing."
He put down the cotton ball and picked up the needle. "This is going to sting a little."
"I'm ready." The needle pricked her finger and she inhaled at the pain.
"Sh, sh, sh," John soothed. "There. First one out and I didn't even need the tweezers." He kissed the tip of her finger and picked up another cotton ball.
Dana's eyes burned and she had to look away. I don't want to doubt you, she thought.
"John, I don't remember anything."
He looked up at her slowly. "It's okay, Dana. You will."
"I want to talk about it. I need to talk about it, John."
"It's okay, honey." He rubbed her palm. "Just rest."
"I thought I was dreaming. I heard Emily calling to me. She was calling 'Mommy, Mommy.' But when I got outside she wasn't there, someone else was."
"Who?" he asked, serious.
"I don't know. I don't remember his face." She closed her eyes, trying to put what she remembered into words. There was pain and fire and a darkly whispering voice . . . "It's a blur. I'm sorry, baby, it's just a blur."
He nodded, bending over her hand again. "We'll figure it out," he murmured. "No need to worry about it now."
"But I should remember."
"I know." She winced as he dug out another splinter, and he said, "And you will. When you're ready."
She watched him clean her third finger, and she said, "I wasn't angry at you."
"You were damn pissed at me, Dana."
"I didn't leave the house because I was angry. I thought Emily needed me."
He sighed. "Dana . . ."
"But I should have known it wasn't her," Dana said with a frown. "It didn't . . . smell right."
"Dana," John said, but only frowned and continued picking out the splinter.
"You still don't believe me. You won't let yourself believe." She felt herself deflate with disappointment.
John took a breath, and then lifted her finger to his mouth and kissed the end. He said, holding her hand to his mouth, "I know you need me to believe you. And I need you to believe in me, babe, I need you to believe I love you and—and—" He kissed her hand.
"They love us. That's why they're here. They love you, they love me, they love William, they're here to protect us, John. I don't want to deny them." She cupped his cheek. "Luke loves you so much—"
He moved his face away, muttering, "Don't."
John said in a rough voice, "I don't like to think about my son suffering or wandering the earth—"
"He's not suffering. He's not wandering. He's with us. He's with you."
He lowered his head again. "I'd rather fight with you than talk about this anymore."
"I don't want to fight."
"Then let me finish with the splinters and we should get some sleep. You've had a long day."
"So have you, I'd say."
John finished her right hand and picked up her left, and said quietly, still picking splinters from her fingers, "I don't know if I can change as much as you need me to, Dana."
"I don't want you to change. I just want you to believe. Believe in me if you can't believe in anything else."
At this he finally gave her a smile. "That, I can do," he said, and leaned forward to kiss her mouth.
Dana inhaled at his touch and wrapped her arms around his neck. Oh, it was John, John's lips and John's scent and John's hair and John's skin. She traced the ledges of his cheekbones and his elven ears and his stubborn jaw. He kissed her sweetly, his hands cupping her skull.
When he ended the kiss he played with her hair and leaned his forehead against hers. "We should sleep."
"I'd like to take a bath. It can wait until morning," she added at his look.
"Should I put William to bed?"
"Let's keep him with us."
He nodded, kissed her briefly, and got up with a small groan. "Long, long, night, baby."
"Come to bed," she said, and put the pillows on the floor. She pulled William closer to her and kissed his round cheeks a few times.
An image flashed before her eyes: his hands around her throat, his ancient voice in her ear—*This child is mine!*
She gasped and John rushed out of the bathroom, his toothbrush in his mouth. "Dana?"
"Nothing," she whispered. She kissed William, curling herself around him. "Nothing can touch us here."
In the morning John drove his parents to the airport. He insisted—there was no point in them spending the extra money, and it would give them a little more time together. "Come visit us soon," his mother said as they were waiting to board. "Maybe around Christmas?"
"You'll get us for either Christmas or Thanksgiving," John said. He hugged them both tightly, and waited until the plane had safely taken off to head for home.
He'd been just a little nervous to go without Dana, even though she'd been peacefully sleeping when he left. He told himself it was a gesture of faith, of the belief in her that she needed—but still he found himself driving a little faster than normal, pressing on the gas a little harder.
He parked the car and forced himself to walk slowly from the car port to the house. Normal morning, he thought, just a normal morning.
Still, his heart was pounding as he jogged up the stairs to the upper floor. He didn't care how he found her, as long as she was there.
The bed was empty and the sheets had been stripped off. John took a deep breath, reminding himself there were many places in the house they could be, and went to peek in the nursery.
Yes—there was Dana, nursing William in the rocking chair. She had put on slippers, an oversized t-shirt and pajama bottoms and had pulled back her hair, but her eyes were closed and she seemed half-asleep as the baby nursed.
John crossed the room and bent to kiss her forehead, remembering at the last moment her reaction the last time he tried this. Still, Dana only hummed and turned her head towards him. Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled at him sleepily.
"You're back," she murmured. Her hand drifted up to touch his cheek. "Why didn't you wake me? I wanted to say goodbye."
"You needed to rest. I told them we'd come for Christmas or Thanksgiving."
"Mm . . ." She shifted William slightly against her breast. "If my mother visits Charlie this year like she's been thinking about, Christmas would be perfect for us to go to Atlanta."
"Otherwise, Thanksgiving? Sounds good. How are you two feeling this morning?" Her blackened eye had blossomed into green and purple bruises, and the scratches on her face were still red and angry. He stroked her unbruised cheek.
"He's hungry and I'm sleepy, but I couldn't lie in that bed one more second. The sheets are in the wash."
"Okay. I'll help you make up the bed later."
"No need." She yawned. "It'll be done by the time you get home from work."
"I'm not going to work. I thought I'd stay home a day or two."
Now her eyes opened fully. "I'm fine, John. You don't need to babysit me."
"Not babysitting, honey, just . . . helping out. You could hardly walk yesterday."
"I am a little stiff," she admitted. The baby stopped nursing and looked at John with wide, serious eyes. Dana raised him against her chest and started to pat his back, murmuring, "Are you done already, sweetheart?"
"So you'll rest today," John said. He stroked her hair. "Okay?"
She nodded and gave him a smile. "Would you mind burping William while I take a shower?"
"Sure." He took the baby and settled him against his shoulder.
Dana smoothed down her shirt and got up from the rocking chair gingerly, moving much like she had just after giving birth. She wasn't more than a few steps away when she stopped and turned. "John?"
She paused, wrapped her arms around herself and said, "They're not here anymore. I can't feel them. The house feels . . . emptier . . . today."
He didn't need to ask who was gone. "Is that a bad thing?"
Her hands rubbed up and down her arms a moment, then she said, "No, I guess it's not."
"Maybe the reason they were staying is gone. Maybe whatever happened yesterday took care of it." William belched and John checked his shoulder, realizing belatedly that a burp rag would have been a good idea. Dana was still rubbing her arms, and John added, "You cold, babe?"
"I can't get warm," she murmured. "Maybe I should take a bath."
"Whatever you need," John said. "Should I make you some tea, or some oatmeal?"
"Tea sounds good," she said. "Do we still have some chai?"
"We do." He stroked her cheek again. Her skin was warm to the touch. "You feel feverish. Have you taken your temperature today?"
"It was one hundred when I woke up. Not high enough to worry about. I had some orange juice to help with that." She stroked William's head, who was gumming a mouthful of John's shirt, and stood on her toes for a kiss which John gladly gave. She caressed William one more time, turned and walked out of the room.
John stayed for several minutes more, patting and rubbing William's back, and he wondered idly how Dana had made William's room smell like honey.
John tried to keep the baby amused while they waited for Dana to finish her bath, but after ten minutes or so William fell asleep in his sudden, complete way. John put him into his crib. He went downstairs to check the laundry and start the kettle, then back upstairs to see if Dana was done yet.
She wasn't: the bathroom door was still closed—so he lay down on the bed and started tossing one of the pillows towards the ceiling.
John caught the pillow and sat up. "Dana?" he said, heading to the bathroom and tapping on the door.
There was no answer, not even a splash. John listened for a moment then knocked again. "Dana? Baby?"
He tried the knob. It was locked. He knocked on the door a little harder. "Dana? Are you in there? Let me in, Dana, you're scaring me."
Still nothing. John began pounding on the door with his fist. "Dana? Dana!"
"I'm tryin'," John muttered, and backed up to try battering the door open with his shoulder.
He slammed against the door. Its hinges rattled. "Dana!" Slam! "Dana, open the door!" Slam! "Dana, it's me!"
The door swung open and John stumbled into the bathroom, falling onto his knees by the tub.
Dana was beneath the water as if someone was holding her there, her legs splayed out over the sides, her eyes closed, her hands hanging open over the edge.
John hauled her out of the water and laid her on the bathroom rug. "Oh God oh Jesus oh God . . ." His hands shook as he pinched closed her nose, tilted back her head, took a deep breath and forced air into her lungs. "C'mon, Dana." He pressed his fingers to the artery in her throat, finding a thready pulse. "Breathe, baby, breathe!" He gave her another breath and another and another, trying to remember if the Heimlich maneuver would help a drowning victim.
Abruptly Dana vomited a mouthful of water and pushed herself onto her side, gasping and coughing.
When it seemed all the water was expelled from her lungs, she lay in his arms, panting. She trembled with cold, so he pulled the closest bathrobe from its hook on the door and wrapped it around her.
"John?" she whispered, still breathing heavily.
"Yeah, baby?" He smoothed her wet hair from her face and kissed her.
"Where's the baby?"
"He's fine, he's asleep in the crib."
"What happened? I was just in the bath and then you were giving me mouth-to-mouth—"
He closed his eyes. "The door was locked. You were underwater."
"I didn't lock the door." She grasped his shirt. "I didn't lock the door, John."
He kissed her and pressed his cheek to her forehead. "I believe you, baby." His hands were still shaking.
"I was just planning today and tomorrow, but I'm starting to think the rest of the week would be better." John sat on the floor and leaned his back against the wall, watching the bed where Dana slept in a bundle of blankets.
On the other end of the line Monica sighed. "Is she that bad off?"
"It's just going from bad to worse. I'm afraid to leave her alone."
"Maybe you should get her mother to help you," Monica said in a soothing tone. "Or you could hire a nurse."
"How would I explain it to them? Especially her mother. 'My wife is perfectly normal ninety-nine percent of the except when something invisible tries to kill her'?" He leaned his head on his hand. "No way."
He heard rustling on Monica's end, and she said, "If this looks like a long term thing, I could look into having one of my colleagues from New Orleans helping out."
"I don't know, Mon, the X-Files requires a certain outlook the average agent just doesn't have."
Monica laughed. "Listen to you be territorial. Trust me, anyone who's lived in New Orleans long enough can handle the X-Files. Don't worry about me. Take care of your bride."
"But how? What do I do?"
There was more rustling. "I'm looking through some old files for anything similar. Maybe I'll find something to help."
John exhaled. "This isn't an X-File, Mon. This is our lives."
"Our lives *are* X-Files," Monica said gently, "or haven't you noticed?" John snorted and Monica said, "I know you'd rather find a more earthly explanation, but everything you've said points to something supernatural. You defeat the supernatural by supernatural means, John."
"She needs a doctor, not a voodoo priestess. Maybe it's—I dunno—postpartum depression."
"John . . . Look, I'm just doing research. I want to help."
He looked over to the bed again, softening. "Thanks. Let me know if you find anything."
"I will. Take care of her. And yourself."
"I will." He clicked off the phone and went to the bed to see if Dana was still sleeping.
Her eyes were open and a tear had rolled down her cheek. "Dana? What's wrong?" He traced the tear away with his fingers.
"Nothing." She sniffed and wiped her face with the back of her hand.
"Are you hurting somewhere?" He sat on the edge of the bed and played with her hair. "Are you in pain?"
Dana didn't look at him for a moment, biting her lip and frowning. She said calmly, "Are you sleeping with her?"
His hand paused in touching her a moment. "What?"
"Monica. Are you sleeping with her?"
"No," John said, stunned. "Why are you asking that?"
"It's the way you talk to her."
"How do I talk to her? Is it different than how I talk to you?"
"Yes, you—you are different with her. You just are."
"Dana." He gathered her to him, pulling her onto his lap. "She was there in the worst time of my life. She was a friend when I needed one. That's all she's ever been, Dana. My friend." He kissed her hair.
"That's all?" she said in a tiny voice. "You promise?"
He said seriously, "I am not and have never been Monica's lover. Ever."
Dana studied his face, then sighed, nodded and laid her head on his shoulder. "I'm cold."
"Let's get you warmed up, then." He helped her stand and led her downstairs.
Though the day was mild, Dana had layered herself with pajamas and her bathrobe. John put her in her favorite armchair, gave her a mug of chai tea and lit a fire in the fireplace. He brought the baby to her when William woke from his nap, but instead of taking comfort in his mother as he usually did, William cried until John took him back.
"He hates me," Dana whispered through chattering teeth. Fever spots burned in her cheeks. Her eyes seemed almost glassy. When John pressed his hand to her forehead he felt heat radiating from her skin even before he touched her. "He doesn't want me."
"I don't think it's that," he said, trying to soothe her, but he couldn't say what he thought it was.
William was still whimpering and clinging to John's shirt, his body as tense as if he thought he would be passed to a stranger. John rubbed his head and whispered, "Shh, shh, Willie boy," while Dana watched them from the armchair, wrapped up like a Bedouin.
Finally she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands, and John was afraid she was going to start crying too. He sat in the little bit of extra space on the armchair and murmured, "C'mon, honey, don't be upset. My mom says they can tell, you know."
Dana didn't answer for a moment, then started muttering something he couldn't hear. "Dana? Honey? What is it?" He leaned closer, pushed the blanket away from her face and watched her lips move. "Dana?"
"Make it stop make it stop make it stop make it stop make it stop Make It Stop Make It Stop Make It Stop MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP!" She shoved him away and got up from the chair, throwing the blankets aside. John clutched William protectively and the baby stopped making noises. They both stared at Dana as she paced, her fists pressed against her temples. "I'm sick of it! I'm sick of its noises and its smell and its shit! Make it stop, John!"
"Honey," John whispered. "He's just a baby."
"It changed everything," Dana said in a harsh, completely un-Dana-like voice. "I don't want it anymore."
"Dana, Dana," she mimicked. "Admit it, Johnny boy, you'd be a lot happier if there were no baby, if there were no Dana, then you could be fucking your whore as much as you want."
"Dana," he whispered again, unable to stop himself. He'd never heard such words from her, never felt the malice that was in her eyes now. "I'm not sleeping with Monica. You know that."
She stopped pacing and faced him, her eyes reminding him of junkies he'd hauled in as a cop. "I never loved you," she said in a low, choked voice.
John felt his heart stop beating. William started crying again.
"You know that. In your heart you know that. You know what I really want." She eyed him, her lips snarling back from her teeth. "A substitute for a dead lover, that's all you've ever been."
"You don't mean that," John said, his own voice low too. "It's the fever talking. You're delirious, honey, it's probably pneumonia. We need to get you to a hospital."
"I've never felt better." She stepped closer to him, speaking in that cold, terrible voice. "If we got rid of him, if it were just you and me, everyone would be so much happier."
"Honey, I want you to lie down. I'll get you some ice—"
She grabbed at the baby, making William wail, and John twisted away to block her with his body. "Give it to me!" she howled, clawing at his back with her nails. "I want it! It's mine!"
He grabbed her wrist with one hand and shook her, too angry to be gentle. William hid his face in John's neck. "Dana!" he said sharply. "Stop it! You're not well. You're not yourself."
"You have no idea," she whispered, but there was a strange glimmer in her hyper-dilated eyes. It chilled John to his bones. "You know what it's been, John? You know what it's been all your life, everything that's happened to you, everything that makes you sad? You know why?"
"Why?" he breathed.
She smiled. It was not Dana's smile. "Because after all these years, I finally figured out how to break you." She swung something heavy, grunting with the effort, and slammed it into John's head.
John staggered and William screamed again as Dana plucked him from John's arms. John fell to his knees, to the floor. The linoleum was cool beneath his cheek. Dimly he saw Dana grab a bread knife from the drawer and run up the stairs. Broken shards from the lamp she'd hit him with were scattered on the floor. He closed his eyes.
"Daddy, get up!"
". . . can't . . ."
"Daddy, you have to save him! You can't let the bad man hurt him!"
He opened his eyes and groaned. "Luke?"
Luke was kneeling beside him, his face scared, his eyes full. "Daddy. Oh, Daddy. Get up, Daddy. On your feet. Save William. Save Dana. Get up, Daddy."
John crawled a few feet before he collapsed. "The bad man," he muttered.
"Up the stairs, Daddy. You can do it. I'll help you."
He felt hands on his, a small sturdy body pulling him up the stairs that seemed as impossible as Everest. He saw Luke's blond hair and his frightened face as the boy coaxed him onward. He saw the little girl at the top of the landing, her face streaked with tears.
"Stop him," she said. "Don't let him hurt my mommy."
"Yes," John said as Luke helped him to the nursery. Mulder was at the door, his face pale and frightened too.
"He's too strong," Mulder said. "I can't—my son— Dana—"
"Dana," John whispered, because the baby was on the floor, screaming with fear, his clothes torn open, and Dana was crumpled beside him. A dark stain was spreading on the carpet from her wrists. The knife was dulled with blood.
John gathered her into his arms, turning her over, and pushed her hair from her face. "Dana? Baby?"
Her eyes barely opened. They were blue again instead of that terrible black. "I couldn't . . . he wanted me to . . . I could feel him . . . I fought him, John . . . I fought him as hard as I could . . . he's so strong . . ."
"It's okay, baby, it's okay. Hang on." He started to lay her down again but she grasped his shirt.
"I stopped him the only way I could," she said, and her eyes slipped closed.
The baby was unharmed, only badly frightened. He cried while an EMT examined him, during the ambulance ride, in the emergency room—he finally only calmed down when John took him out of the carrier and held him, whispering to him and stroking his head. Even then, William snuffled against John's shirt and watched the movement around him with wide eyes.
There was blood on John's shirt, and at first the medical staff thought it was his own or William's. Some of it was his—John had several small cuts on his head, though none were deep enough to require stitches—but more of it was Dana's.
When a nurse came to attend him she offered to have someone take William to Pediatrics. "Thanks, but no," John said, his arms tightening around the boy. "He'll just get more upset. Any news of my wife?"
"They're still working," the nurse said gently. "I checked for you." She began to clean his cuts, and in his arms William sighed against his chest. "He's very sweet—what's his name again?"
"He's William." He was shielding William's eyes from the bright ER lights, and at the sound of his name the baby tilted back his head and gave a soft, sad coo.
"He has your eyes," the nurse observed.
John chuckled dryly, then winced as she began to dab his cuts with rubbing alcohol. "He has his mother's eyes." He could feel William's heart beating, his strong supple spine and the heat generated by his small body.
*It may just be you and me, buddy.* The thought made his heart ache.
The curtain separating them from the rest of the emergency room opened and another doctor looked in. "John Doggett?" he said. "Dana Doggett's husband?"
"How is she? Is she all right?"
The doctor came in and shut the curtains. "I'm Dr. Crowton, your wife's doctor. I have some things for you." He placed a handful of jewelry in John's palm.
John looked into his hand—it was Dana's cross, her earrings, her wedding and engagement rings. He slipped them into his jeans pocket.
Dr. Crowton said in a voice meant to reassure, "I wanted to let you know her status. We've given her a transfusion for the blood loss and we're working on stabilizing her fever. We are also now putting in stitches to the cuts in her wrists. You did a great job of preventing further blood loss before the EMTs got there, Mr. Doggett."
"Cop training," John murmured and bent his head to take comfort in William's baby-sour scent.
"Oh, you're a police officer?"
"Your wife is going to be fine, Mr. Doggett," Dr. Crowton said. "I would strongly recommend psychiatric counseling once she's strong enough, though. This was a very violent suicide attempt, which is unusual enough for a woman—"
"Suicide?" John said, raising his head. "Is that what she told you?"
"Is it not the truth?" Dr. Crowton said, and beside him the nurse had gone very still.
"I don't—I'm not entirely sure what happened."
"He has a minor concussion," the nurse said softly. "He was hit in the head with a table lamp."
The doctor's expression grew even more concerned. "Mr. Doggett, has your wife been acting strangely since the baby's birth? Sleeping a lot, uninterested in her normal pursuits, not as affectionate to the baby as you might expect?"
"She's been fine. I mean—it's complicated. William's biological father died while she was expecting. She was grieving for a long time—and then there were a few attempts to kidnap William, which didn't help matters—but since she and I got married she's seemed okay. We were happy."
The doctor nodded, frowning. "I see."
"She could tell me everything," John began, then stopped. It wasn't true: she hadn't told him everything, any more than he had told her.
The doctor looked like he wanted to say more, but said only, "I have to go. We'll be on the third floor, room 349. There's a waiting room just down the hall. And we'll let you see her as soon as we can."
Dr. Crowton nodded and left. The nurse took a deep breath and continued bandaging John's face. "I think a social worker is going to want to talk to you," she said quietly.
"I'm sure you're right."
"I'm sorry about what I said before, about his eyes. He does look like you, I thought . . ."
"It's okay. It happens all the time."
She pressed the last bit of tape against his skin. "There will be a doctor in here soon to sign you out, and then there will be some more paperwork for your wife. I'll try to get you up to her room as soon as possible."
The nurse started to leave, then said, "It's not just in his eyes. I can see how much you love him."
Again William sighed against John's chest, his eyelids finally drooping with sleep. John looked up at the nurse and said simply, "I'm his dad."
The nurse gave a trembling smile and pulled aside the curtains to leave.
Alone again, John leaned back against the slightly-raised pillow. He made sure William was comfortable enough to sleep, and slowly rubbed the baby's back with his fingertips. He closed his eyes.
Skinner and Monica arrived at the hospital together. Monica kissed John's cheek and said, "How is she?" as William leaned out of John's arms to be held. She took the baby and kissed him too.
"I haven't been told much." John sank into one of the plastic-covered chairs and realized his hands were shaking. He clenched them against his knees. "She's got a fever of 108."
"Oh my God," Skinner said, sitting in the chair beside him. "I didn't know that was possible."
"It is possible," John said. "And they won't let me see her until they've brought it down." Monica was standing in front of him, the baby on her hip, and he reached up to put his finger in William's chubby fist.
"She's going to be fine, John," Monica said. "She's going to be okay."
"Yeah," said John, rubbing his thumb over William's dimpled knuckles. The baby tried to bring his finger up to his mouth and John let him gum it for a while. "I called her mother. She yelled at me for about ten minutes and then said she was on her way."
"She yelled at you?"
"Yeah." William decided he was tired of being held by Monica and leaned out of her arms towards John, who took him back. "And he slept a little and one of the nurses found us some formula and a bottle, but I can't keep him here forever. We'll run out of clean diapers. He should sleep in his own bed."
"We—I could take him home," Monica offered. "I know where everything is."
John smiled at her wearily. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know if I can . . . without her." He closed his eyes. His body felt too heavy to hold up any longer.
Monica sat in the other chair and murmured, "Walter, will you take the baby?"
"Of course." At once William was gone from John's lap. Monica leaned close to John and brought his head to her shoulder.
"You won't have to," she said in her most comforting tone. "You won't have to do anything without her. She's going to be fine. She's going to come home. Everything's going to be fine."
John inhaled and exhaled deeply. He was grateful to Monica for this, but only one thing could really soothe the ache in his heart.
He fell asleep in the chair, his head resting on his hand, and was suddenly awakened by a hard slap across his face. His head exploded with pain and his eyes snapped open. The world swam into focus, for him to see Mrs. Scully glaring at him with eyes like steel.
"What have you done to my daughter?" she demanded. "What have you done?"
"William is coming home with me. You're not capable of taking care of him."
"You can't do that. I'm capable—more than capable—of taking care of him and he's too upset already for one more change in his life."
"I am not leaving my grandson alone with you!"
A nurse approached them at this point. "Ma'am, this is a hospital. You must keep your voice down."
Mrs. Scully said between clenched teeth, "My daughter tried to kill herself today because of him." She accused John, "You're supposed to take care of her. You're supposed to look after her. You're supposed to protect her. You're supposed to—" She stopped, her eyes glistening, and said again in her hard voice, "I will never forgive you for this." She turned and stalked away, towards the elevators from where she had come.
John put his hand to his forehead and nearly fell back into the chair. He ached everywhere—the pain of the concussion and need for Dana and worry for all of them, and, worst of all, suspicion that Mrs. Scully was right.
Monica and Skinner, along with the baby and his diaper bag, were nowhere to be seen, though John supposed they were seeking out a place to change the baby's diaper or get a cup of coffee.
He reached into his pocket and took out her rings and necklace. He slipped her wedding band onto his smallest finger.
He wanted Dana to pull him into her arms and scrub her hand through his hair. He wanted her voice, her fingers, her hip against his, her chuckle, her toes drawing up his leg, the look in her eyes that said You mean everything to me.
*What's happening to you, baby?* he thought, and leaned his head on his hand with a slight groan.
A nurse approached him. "Mr. Doggett? Your wife is asking for you."
John got to his feet at once and followed her to Dana's room. The nurse opened the door for him but did not go in. "She's still very weak, so try not to overtire her."
"Okay," he murmured and went to Dana's bedside.
Her eyes were closed. Her face looked even more drawn and pale, the bruise around her eye more dark. Her bandaged wrists were drawn up to her chest, her fists clenched even though she was supposed to be relaxed and resting. He touched her cheek, and he could still feel heat baking her body.
Dana turned her head towards him at his touch. "Hey," she murmured, her eyes opening a fraction.
"Hey." He pulled over a chair and sat close so he could continue stroking her cheek.
"How is William?" she whispered. "Is he hurt?"
"Monica and Walter Skinner are watching him. He's fine."
"And you?" She turned her head to press a kiss to his fingertips. "Are you okay?"
"Your eyes are red."
"They get that way sometimes."
Dana smiled as much as she could, but it faded fast. "My rings are gone."
"I've got them, honey. Your doctor gave them to me." He took the rings from his pocket and showed her. "See? Your cross, too."
"I was afraid I'd lost them. Hang onto them, okay?"
"I will. You'll get them back the day you come home." He put the rings away and went back to stroking her cheek. "And that'll be soon. As soon as you're better."
"I don't know if I'm going to get better, John."
"Of course you are, honey. They haven't told me what this is but they know how to treat it—"
"They don't. I heard them. They don't know what's wrong with me." She took a long breath. "John. I want you to talk to Chuck. Ask him if he's heard of anything like this."
"Chuck Burks, the ghost hunter?"
She nodded, wincing. "And Byers. Talk to Byers. And there might be something in the files, but I don't remember anything . . ."
"Burks and Byers, they're not doctors."
"We need what they know."
"Okay, okay. What should I tell them? You've got a fever, you're hallucinating—"
She shook her head. "Not hallucinating. John. There's something—someone—inside me. I can feel it. It's like an infection. He's trying to find a place he can burrow in. And John . . . he knows you very, very well."
John leaned closer as her voice grew fainter, his face creasing with worry. "I don't understand. Who is it—what is it?"
She lifted her hand to his cheek. "You feel this heat? This is how much he hates you."
"Why? What did I do? Who is it?"
She smiled again and let her hand fall to her chest. "That's the secret now, isn't it." Her eyes closed and her head tilted back, and she said in that terrible cold voice, "The child is mine."
John watched her, breathing quickly through his open mouth, afraid to say a word.
"He has always been mine and he will always be mine. He is mine to claim, mine to do with as I please."
He couldn't help himself: "Why? Why do you want him?"
"In your heart," the not-Dana said, "you know what he is. You know what he'll be. I can't let that happen. I won't let you stop me."
She inhaled a gasping breath and before he could help her sit up her eyes rolled back in her head and she started convulsing.
John whipped his belt from his jeans and folded it, and forced it between her teeth. "Bite! Bite, Dana!"
The door to the room slammed open and a nurse ran in. "She's seizing," John told her, and she nodded, reaching over Dana to help him hold her down. The door slammed open again and more nurses came in with a doctor as well, with a crash cart and other supplies he didn't recognize. In the noise and confusion he was pushed out of the way, and backed up to the wall while he watched them work over her.
One of the nurses finally noticed him and came to tell him, "This may be a while, why don't you wait outside."
"But I—okay," he gave in at the nurse's look. "Okay. I'll be right outside. She might ask for me," he added as the door shut. He whispered to the closed door, "She might . . . need me."
He could see them through the small window in the door, trying to stop the seizure, and Dana's small body still thrashing. He felt cold down to his bones.
"I know it's not much to go on," John said, pitching his voice low to keep from waking William, who was asleep against his shoulder. "Dana thinks there's something in the files that will help her and I'm afraid if we don't find something she'll just . . . give up."
Monica and Skinner had listened in silence, and now Monica said, "I could talk to Agent Harrison, too. She knows the files better than anyone."
"That would be great, thanks."
Skinner said, "I'll drive you home, John. You look like hell."
John looked down the hall towards Dana's room. No word had come, only nurses and doctors and equipment, more going in than coming out. "I can't leave her."
"John, you're exhausted," Monica said. "And you said yourself, William needs to sleep in his own bed."
"And so do you," she said, earnestly. "You're not well either, John. You're no good to her if you collapse."
"But what if she asks for me? What if she asks for me and I'm not here?"
"John. You need rest," Monica said in a voice no one could argue with. She stood in front of John and held out her hands. "Come on. Give me Willie. The sooner we leave the sooner you can come back."
Reluctantly he handed her the baby and stood to follow them out. He stopped at the nurses' station, to tell the nurse on duty he would be back soon.
They were on their way to the elevators when the door to Dana's room opened and Dr. Crowton hurried after them. "Mr. Doggett, just a moment, please."
They stopped walking and John waited for the doctor to catch up to them. "I was just going home to get some things for the baby."
"I won't keep you long. I have some news for you."
"Have the seizures stopped? Can I see her?"
The doctor nodded but said, "She's very weak and she's resting right now. But we've gotten the results of her blood tests back, and I've had a colleague in Obstetrics examine her too. Mr. Doggett, your wife is pregnant."
"Oh, John!" Monica exclaimed, sounding pleased, and Skinner clapped him on the shoulder. John didn't know what to say—he couldn't even think.
"This has vastly reduced the medications we can use to help her, but it also makes the issue of her fever even more pressing. I'll be blunt, Mr. Doggett: I don't know if we can save the baby."
John stared at the doctor and stammered, "But—but we took a test."
"Yes, Mr. Doggett, I understand. However, home tests are not infallible. When did you take it?"
"About a month ago."
"Our ultrasound suggested she's about six weeks along—that test must have had a flaw. The fetus is at a very vulnerable stage. I need to ask you a hard question, Mr. Doggett."
He looked at William in Monica's arms. He capped William's head with his hand. He said quietly, "My wife was once told she would never children. When William came along it was beyond amazing. It was miraculous."
"I understand, Mr. Doggett—"
"I don't think you do. What does Dana say? It's ultimately her decision."
Dr. Crowton said seriously, "Dana is not in a state to make decisions right now."
It was up to him, then—what his heart said, what his mind knew. Thoughts crowded around him, the loudest one a dark whisper in his ear. *This is your way out.*
God help me, he thought. God, help me.
He said, "Do everything you can for my wife . . . but try to save the child."
Dr. Crowton slowly nodded. "We'll do our best. You'll be at home?"
"Just for a couple of hours."
"I'll let you know if anything changes."
"Thanks." The doctor left them, and once again the three of them headed out of the hospital. As if they knew there was nothing to say, both Monica and Skinner were quiet except for Monica's soft murmurs to William. In the elevator Skinner put his hand on John's back, but no one said a word.
John took a shower, but decided to wait to shave until he'd slept a little. Monica had said she'd give William a bottle and put him to bed, but when John looked in the nursery the crib was empty. Toweling his hair, John went downstairs to find them.
At the bottom of the stairs he saw Skinner's broad back, but in the late-night dimness it was hard to tell what he doing, standing there—until John realized that the soft sounds were not William's but Monica's, that Monica and Skinner were kissing each other at the foot of his stairs while William slept in her arms.
John closed his eyes, for a moment wishing hard for simplicity and comfort like this, then opened them and cleared his throat. His friends broke apart with guilty looks. Monica hastily wiped her mouth.
"I gave William a bottle but he didn't seem to want to go to sleep so I was walking him and then he did fall asleep and I was just going to take him upstairs—"
"I'll put him to bed," John said dryly, going down the stairs. "You guys go home. It's late." He took William from Monica.
"I could stay," Monica said, "if you need me to."
"It's okay. We'll be fine. We'll be back at the hospital early anyway."
"But we don't mind staying," Skinner said.
"It's okay. Really. Go home. Hold each other tight," he added quietly, making Monica blush even harder and Skinner look both nervous and proud. "Good night," he said, and went up the stairs and into the baby's room.
He laid William carefully in the crib and stood there a moment, watching the baby as he slept. He was ruddy and plump, even-tempered, utterly innocent, completely full of love.
He loved this boy. Loved him because he loved Dana—but loved him because he was helpless and sweet and bursting with potential, and all the other nameless reasons one should love a child.
"Who are you?" John murmured as he slowly stroked William' s head. "What are you going to be?"
William' s lips pursed and he punched his hands in the air.
John sighed, made sure the windows were locked tight, turned on the baby monitor and left the nursery.
Monica was sitting at the top of the stairs, her arms wrapped around her knees. She got up quickly when John approached her.
"John, I don' t feel right about leaving you alone."
"It's not necessary. I'm just going to sleep, and William's fine. He'll want another bottle in a few hours and then we'll head back. No need for you to be up at all hours too."
She bit her lip and followed him to his bedroom. "Then at least let me explain."
"You don' t need to explain anything to me. I get it. You and Skinner—it' s obvious, now that I think about it. Why not? You' re both smart, driven people. It should be interesting. It should be . . . good."
"I hope so," she said quietly. "I just don't want you to think we're ignoring your pain."
John almost chuckled, and had to hug her because she was so gentle and strange. "Don't worry about it. Get some sleep. The sheets in the guestroom haven't been changed but the bed's comfy."
"He looks at me like you look at Dana," she said abruptly. "He looks at me like I'm special."
He didn't know how to answer that. "You've always been special."
She smiled gratefully but said, "I've just fallen in love, John, let me share it with you."
"Monica. I know you'be happy. But my wife may be dying so please forgive me if I don' t feel like celebratin' with you. If we get through this we'll take you two out and get you silly-drunk on the best champagne. But first we have to get through tonight. Okay?"
She put her hands on his face. "If you need me, I'm here," she said seriously, and let go. He watched her, puzzled, as she went down the hall to the guestroom where Skinner was waiting.
He shook his head and went into the bathroom, hung up the towel that he had draped over his shoulders, and crawled into his bed.
For some time he lay waiting to sleep, but after an hour or so he threw the blankets aside and clicked on the light. He shoved his hands through his hair.
I don't know what to do for you, babe, he thought. I don't know how to help you.
A glint caught his eye, and he lowered his hands to look at the bedside table. Dana's handheld lay on his stack of books. I shouldn't, he thought. It's hers, it's private.
Of course, they were always sharing things with each other, notes and appointments and games. He hesitated, then picked the handheld up and turned it on.
Everything on the main screen looked familiar: address book, date book, memos, to-do list, expenses, mail. He opened the date book.
There were no surprises among her appointments: "lunch w/J" for Wednesday, "Wm @ MD" and "Library books due" on Friday, "Mom & Olive @ O'Shaunnessy's" for Sunday afternoon.
He went back a few days, and noticed that she had made journal entries, most on days when he could remember nothing unusual happening. This is a serious invasion of her privacy, he thought, but opened the most recent entry anyway. He had too many questions not to.
*J took a dozen pics of Wm sucking his toes. 1 M in bdrm.*
*Busy day. 2 E: bdrm & kitchen. 1 L: stairs. Heard M in nursery. Wm giggling a lot—I think he sees more than I do.*
*Blender turning itself off and on in kitchen, even after I unplugged it. Wasn't sure who was doing it, but finally I told the children I was too busy to play and it stopped.*
*L at Wm's crib. Wm is never afraid. M in bdrm. Nothing broken but J's clothes messed up again.*
*No visits today but a strange smell in the house. Had J look at the furnace. Nothing amiss. Not surprised.*
*Sang while bathing Wm today and I swear he was trying to sing back. 1 E in bdrm, E and L together on stairs.*
*Why never Missy or Ahab? Miss them too. 1 E today.*
An entry that chilled him:
*Dreamt my cancer came back. Blood & pain. Even worse with Wm to worry about. J comforted me but I'm not sure I can ever make him really understand.*
Then what he could admit he was really looking for:
*2nd test also neg. Counted the days a hundred times. I don't feel pregnant—why does E keep saying I am?*
John sat staring at the entry until the handheld turned itself off. He put it back on the nightstand. He lay down and turned off the light.
The children were sitting on the floor, coloring on big pieces of butcher paper. Luke had regular Crayolas but Emily had a big toddler-sized crayon wrapped in her fist. Their faces were serious as they drew, and the hall was quiet except for the sticky sound of wax on paper.
John sat cross-legged on the floor between the children. "What are you guys drawing?"
The children looked at each other, and Luke handed him his sheet of paper. The figure, with its vivid red hair, was obviously Dana— but he had drawn black wavy lines to indicate heat around her body, and strange flame-filled eyes on her skin.
"That's Dana," Luke said matter-of-factly as he leaned against John's side. "And that's him, see? He's always watching."
John put his arm around Luke, staring down at the strange picture. "What is he watching for?"
"He doesn't know about the baby," said Emily as she climbed into John's lap. "He can't find out." She put her drawing into John's hands and leaned her head on his shoulder. "If he does, it'll be bad."
"But how do I help her, Emily? I don't know what to do. She's so sick."
"She's weak from fighting him," Emily said. "She's tired. She needs your help."
"But how? What should I do?"
She pointed to her picture. She had drawn Dana and himself, and a baby with a shock of red hair clearly meant to be William; and around the three of them she had drawn bands of white and yellow like a shield between them and the man of flame.
"You do that," she said and kissed his cheek. He could smell her, honey and clean baby skin. He closed his eyes.
When he opened them a moment later the crayons, the pictures and the children were gone, and Monica was kneeling in front of him, murmuring his name, her hand on his cheek and worry in her eyes. His headache, which had been fading when he went to bed, returned with such force that he gagged.
"John, you were sleepwalking," Monica said as she helped him to his feet.
"I was dreaming—or maybe not—the children were here—"
"Sh, John, sh," she soothed him as she brought him back to his bed. "Rest now. Everything will be better in the morning. It was just a dream."
"Monica." He lay down as she helped him, on his side with his back to her. "What if her mother is right—what if you were right? What if I pushed her too fast and she's so unhappy it's driven her to this? What if—Mon—"
"Sh," she murmured again. She rubbed his back with her palm. "Has Dana been any happier, the entire time you've known her, than since you got married? Do you really think she would be better off without you, just her and the baby? I don't. I think you're the best thing that's happened to her in a long time." She lay down beside him with her chin on his shoulder and her arm around his chest. "You have made her happy. That's a wonderful thing, John."
"I feel like I brought this on her," he said, and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "She said in the hospital that the person—the whoever—that's doing this to her hates me. If she's right, if someone is torturing her because of me, if she loses the baby because of me—oh God, the baby—"
She hugged him. "John. We'll fight him. We'll find a way."
John let a few tears fall before wiping them away. After a few minutes he said, "You know something, Mon? We're having a baby."
"I thought I didn't want this, but I do. I want it for her, but I want it for me, too. I want us to have this baby."
"I want this for you too."
They lay quietly for a few minutes more, then Monica said, "Are you okay now?"
"I'm better. Thanks."
She kissed his cheek. "Okay. Sleep."
"Sleeping." He smiled at her faintly and she touseled his hair as she got up from the bed. When she was gone he pulled up the blankets and closed his eyes. He thought about Walter and Monica comforting each other, and sighed. He laid his head on Dana's pillow and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply and missing Dana everywhere.
John awoke with sunshine on his face. He lay in bed a moment, blinking and confused, and then pushed the blankets aside and got up. His head swam, then the swirling subsided as he hung onto the night table. It was late in the morning, far later than he'd planned to be up, and the silence in the house was not reassuring.
He checked the nursery: no William in the crib. He felt a muscle in his temple start to twitch, and rubbed it as he jogged down the stairs.
Monica sat at the kitchen table with William in her lap, holding the bottle for him as he drank and played with his ear. Also at the table was Agent Harrison, who had brought her usual stack of folders with her. They stopped talking when they saw him.
"Good morning, Agent Doggett," Agent Harrison chirped.
"Hey, Leyla," he said. "Monica. It's ten-thirty in the morning."
"I know," she said, contrite, "but you looked like you needed to sleep, and William's fine—aren't you, sweetie?" William twisted back his head to look at her—accepting her, John thought, but not happy about it. Monica went on, "No one has called from the hospital, and no news is good news, right?"
"I guess. I'll wanna head over soon, though."
"I could bring Will after his nap."
"We'll see," John said, starting to reach for the baby.
"Before you do," Monica added, "come sit and see what Leyla brought. I think she's found some things to help."
John pulled out a chair and sat. Agent Harrison said, pushing some files towards him, "There's not a whole lot in the files that resemble what Agent Scully is going through, but I did find this." She tapped the folder. "Mulder and Scully had a case about six years ago when a little boy was being haunted by the spirit of his dead twin."
"Dana doesn't have a twin."
"I know, but the similarities are close enough that I think this file is our answer. Agent Scully is suffering from demonic possession."
John stared at her honest face and sincere eyes, and said slowly, "Right."
"And the only cure for possession is an exorcism."
" . . . right."
"Do you know her priest?"
"I don't think this is his area."
"Maybe he knows someone who could help her," Monica said.
"I don't think we can turn to her priest. What else have you got?"
"Well," Agent Harrison said, shuffling through her files again, "that's it."
"Okay," John said. He got up from the table and took William from Monica's lap. "So the only solution you've got for me is possession."
"I know it's not something you'd normally consider—"
"No, it's not. Look. You can't ask me to believe this. Something's wrong with Dana but it's not—maybe she's being drugged or poisoned—"
"That's not what you said Saturday night," Monica said quietly.
"How is it different? You can't accept part of the spiritual world and dismiss the rest—it doesn't work that way."
"You can't expect a rational person to just accept possession as the answer!"
"Oh, so now I'm irrational," Monica said, and Agent Harrison suddenly looked like she wished she was miles away. The baby started to whimper at the sound of raised voices. "You asked for our help, so we're trying to help her!" She looked away and wiped her eyes impatiently. "I'm scared too, John."
He looked from one woman to the other, then went to Monica and put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Leyla."
"It's okay," Agent Harrison murmured. Monica reached back to put her hand on his.
"We're trying to save her, John."
"We need to be unorthodox. I really believe that's the only way. Maybe we could get in touch with this group in the files, the Calusari."
"If it helps any, Byers agrees with us," Monica went on. "We spoke to him earlier. They'll look into some more possibilities, of course. And Dr. Burks said he would talk to some his friends and find out everything he could."
"It's not hopeless, John. That's what I'm trying to say."
"Thanks." He looked down at William, as the baby was still whimpering. "I'll wait until he's calmed down to go to the hospital. Thanks for your help, Agent Harrison."
"Of course, Agent Doggett."
"Where's Skinner, by the way?" he asked Monica as he adjusted the baby on his arm.
"He had to go back to work. I told him I'd cart you around. How are you feeling? I didn't even think."
"Eh." He shrugged. "I'll live." He carried William back upstairs and sat down in the rocking chair. He rocked slowly, stroking William's back, until the baby's whimpers and little cries subsided.
Even then he did not rise. He only went on rocking.
Mrs. Scully was in the waiting room. John paused as he stepped off the elevators, then took a deep breath, tightened his grip on the handle of William's carrier, and walked calmly towards her. "Mrs. Scully," he said in a firm, cordial voice.
Her face was neutral as she said, "Mr. Doggett. Agent Reyes," she added when she saw Monica.
"Would you like to watch William?"
She looked up at him, clearly startled, and said, "Yes. Thank you."
He put William's carrier on the seat beside her and the diaper bag on the floor. He put his fingers against the baby's cheek, and smiled when William laughed. "Be good for Grandma," he said, and went to the nurses' station.
The nurse on duty smiled when he approached. "Welcome back, Mr. Doggett."
"Hi. How is Dana doing?"
"I think you'd better talk to Dr. Crowton. I'll let him know you're here." She picked up the phone and paged him, and John went back to the seats.
Mrs. Scully had been joined by another woman, a few years older than she, with silvery-red hair and a kind face. The other woman was holding William in her lap, and talking to him in a soft, lilting voice as he babbled and cooed back. She looked up at John and smiled. "This must be himself."
"Uh, hello." He looked at Monica, who smiled and shrugged.
"Mr. Doggett, this is my sister-in-law," Mrs. Scully said. "Olive Scully. Dana's father's sister."
"Hi." He stood awkwardly with his hands in his pockets, watching Dana's aunt play with the baby.
"He has the Scully eyes," Olive said decisively. "And the Scully complexion, poor mite. But this," she tapped William's nose and he tried to grab her finger, "must be from his father's side."
"Dana likes to say he'll grow into it," John said. William never took to strangers like this, smiling and happy and trying to make conversation. He looked as at home as he did in Dana's lap.
"We've been waiting for Dana's doctor to have a few minutes," Mrs. Scully said. "They haven't let me see her yet."
"She was pretty bad last night," John said quietly.
"I heard." No thanks to you, her expression said. "I just want to know what's wrong. If it's pneumonia they should just say so."
"We think it's something more serious than pneumonia," Monica began, and Mrs. Scully's face paled.
"Oh, my God," she whispered. "It's not cancer, is it? She was in remission—she was doing fine—"
"It's not cancer," Dr. Crowton said as he approached them. His voice was calm and soothing. "Unfortunately, we're not sure what it is."
"Depression wouldn't cause her to be this sick, would it?" Mrs. Scully said.
Dr. Crowton pulled over a chair and sat down. "Mrs. Scully. Mr. Doggett. We've had to utilize some more mild methods to bring her fever down. We've been giving her alcohol rubs and administering penicillin, and carefully watching her injuries for signs of infection. It's fortunate, really, that Dana was taking such good care of herself because she was breast-feeding: she's really in excellent health overall, and the baby is probably developing normally."
"Baby?" Mrs. Scully said, and gave John the dirtiest look yet.
"I'm sorry, I assumed you would have told her," said Dr. Crowton.
"Dana is pregnant," John said. "A wedding-night baby, it looks like."
"Yes," Dr. Crowton said. "A very young fetus at a very vulnerable stage, but we are doing all that we can to protect it while we take care of Dana. What troubles me most, though, is that none of these symptoms fit together. She has no history of seizures or depression, no reason to be so violent with herself, and frankly her statements to us are . . . very troubling."
"What is she saying?" John said, and covered the back of William's head with his hand.
"That she cut herself because she was afraid she would hurt her son. I asked her why, and she said she felt a compulsion."
Mrs. Scully exclaimed, "She loves William. She'd never hurt him."
"I understand, Mrs. Scully." He leaned forward and said earnestly, "I know Dana does not drink or take drugs. She does not appear to be suffering from postpartum depression, or any kind of depression, for that matter. So what could have caused this compulsion?"
John's eyes met Monica's. She nibbled her lips and looked away to William, and reached over to touch his dimpled knuckles. John said, "Can I see her?"
Dr. Crowton sighed and said, "She's still very weak. Try not to tire her."
John nodded and went to Dana's room. He opened the door slowly, and quietly stepped in. Dana was awake, her head turned toward the window and her hands at her sides. No blankets covered her, and pink fever spots still burned in her cheeks. She closed her eyes when he laid his hand against her cheek.
"Hey, sweetheart," he said softly.
"How are you feelin'?"
"Like I'm in hell."
"Baby . . ." He lowered the rail on the side of the bed and leaned over her, close enough to whisper in her ear. "Dana. What do we need to do to help you?"
"I don't know anymore. I'm so . . . tired. Is my mother here?"
"Yes. She brought one of your aunts, too. Olive."
"Aunt Olive . . . she always has the best stories. She knows everything."
He let his head drop so his nose was buried in her hair. He could smell the sickness in her, the weakness, the despair.
Her hand slid up into his hair. "John," she whispered. She gave a little sob and turned her head to him at last, and he raised his head enough to look into her eyes. "I can't fight it anymore."
"Yes, you can, baby. You can. You're so strong, Dana. You've done things I could never do. You've faced down monsters—"
"I have no face," she whispered and closed her eyes.
"Dana. Dana, look at me." He framed her face with both hands and rubbed her temples with his fingertips until she opened her eyes. He was relieved to see they were still blue. "You have a beautiful face. A sweet face. The sweetest face."
"I've lost sight of it all, John."
"You'll get it back." He kissed her. "I'll help you find it, honey."
She pressed her finger to his cheek. "Stay with me a while? Will they let you?"
"I'll stay even if they don't let me," he said, and lay down carefully beside her. She curled against him, her head tucked under his chin and her arm gingerly laid over his ribs.
"I feel stronger when you're here," she whispered, and John pressed her closer to his heart.
Dana could bear only one visitor at a time, so eventually John had to relinquish his place to Mrs. Scully. He sat in the waiting room again and watched Monica attempt to amuse William. Olive Scully was reading when he came out of Dana's room, but after a few minutes she shut the book and took off her reading glasses. "Mr. Doggett," she said, "walk with me."
"I should stay with William."
"He's fine," she said, putting her book in her bag and rising. "Aren't you, little darlin'?" William looked up at her and smiled widely, clapping his hands.
"Will you be okay, Monica?"
"Of course. Go stretch your legs."
John got up and followed Olive to the elevators. They were quiet on the ride to the ground floor, until she said, "Maggie's none too fond of you."
"I don't see why. You seem like a fine young man. A good husband for our Dana, a good father for sweet William."
"I try, Miss Scully."
"The boys' wives call me Auntie. You may, too."
"Thanks. Auntie." He smiled despite himself.
There was a small garden on the hospital grounds, and a few patients were out with family or caregivers, enjoying the sunshine.
Olive took John's arm with a small grimace. "Not as young as I look," she said, and they started to walk up the path.
"Dana," Olive said. "She's always been a special girl."
"She's very special to me."
"When the children were growing up Melissa was always the one who read my books and got into my things, but sometimes Dana would peer around the corners, watching with those big eyes . . . I think she learned more than she realizes."
"Oh," Olive said with a laugh. "Women's things. I was a midwife until a few years ago. I'd tell the girls things they should know, about their bodies and the herbs and little secrets. I pride myself that those lessons are why Dana became a doctor. Of course," she said with another laugh, "she deals with the other end of life than I do."
"Raspberry leaves, ginger, comfrey, peppermint, slippery elm. Things my mother taught me, God rest her soul."
"Is there something you want to give her now? Is that why you wanted to talk?"
Olive shook her head. "No. The alcohol baths they're giving her are what I'd do. There's something else." She made as if to continue speaking, then stopped walking and turned to look him full in the face. "Mr. Doggett."
"John," he said. "Only fair."
"John," she murmured. "Never Johnny or Jack?"
"Johnny, sometimes. With my family."
"Johnny, then," she said. "Johnny. Maggie will never admit this to you, but she knows things sometimes, before they happen. Melissa accepted this gift and used it as she could, dear girl, but Dana has never been comfortable with it. Too much of her father in her. Maggie called me Friday night and asked me to come. She said Dana would need me. I thought maybe she meant for William or that Dana wanted to have another child, but she's accomplished that without my advice. It's something else, and I can't make sense of it."
"What is it? Do you know something?"
Her face was serious as she said, "The little girl. The one who died. For the past three nights she's come to me in my dreams—and there's a boy with her, a boy I don't know. He doesn't belong to my nephews. He doesn't belong to Dana. I don't know who he is." She studied him, then put her hands on his face. "But with your eyes and your bones and that same stubborn line between your eyebrows. He belongs to you, doesn't he?"
"Stop it," John whispered. "Please."
"No, it does make sense," she murmured. "Brother and sister by love, not blood. Yes."
"Please," John said again. "Can you help her? She's not sick. It's something else. Something worse. I don't know what to do." His voice cracked and his vision blurred, and Olive's warm, worn hands caressed his face.
"Oh, darlin'," she whispered. "Good darlin'. Emily's message is very simple. You have to remind Dana of who she is."
"Who she is?" He wiped his eyes with his forearm and wished for a tissue. "She knows who she is."
"The time will come when she doesn't. I just need to be sure that you know. Do you know, Johnny? Can you tell her who she is?"
"She's Dana," John said, completely confused.
Olive removed her hands. "I suppose that'll do. I must warn you. What Dana is facin', it's not someone I know how to fight. I'm just a healer, not a witch. I can only arm you with what you already possess."
He wanted to ask her what she meant, what she was talking about, but in his heart he knew. In the same distant way one remembers dreams, he knew.
"I know it pains you," Olive went on. "But for Dana's sake," she said, her hands on his shoulders, "you must see."
He said, "I'm ready."
Olive smiled and took her hands away. "Let's go in. It's getting chilly." She took his arm again and they went back into the hospital.
Dr. Crowton allowed him a few minutes to say good night, again warning John not to wear Dana out. He sat by her bedside, holding her hand, and said, "I'm taking William home."
"Mmkay." Her fingers twitched his hand and her lips curved a tiny bit. "I miss my baby."
"Well, as soon as you get better, you can come home and play with him all day."
She chuckled and admonished him gently. "Don't talk to me like I'm a baby."
"It's just you're so helpless." He smiled at her and reached over to stroke her cheek. "Feels like you're cooling down, too."
"Mm . . . a little."
"Hey. If your fever goes down they'll let you come home. I think."
"After the psychological testing."
John couldn't answer for a moment. "Yeah."
"Not if they decide I'm not a fit mother for my baby."
"You'll take care of him, won't you, John?"
"You'll be there, too, Dana. Promise." He kissed her hand.
"I'm not sure of anything anymore," she murmured, then her eyes met his. "I love you."
He smiled and stood, to lean over her bed and kiss her mouth. "I love you too. Rest, babe. Get better. It's not home without you."
Dana squeezed his fingers lightly and let go. He glanced back at her on his way out, and she was still watching him.
He said goodbye and good night to Mrs. Scully and Olive, gathered William and Monica and went down to the car. Monica drove, and John sat in the back seat with William. He thought about his conversations with Olive and with Dana, about his dreams and Agent Harrison's theory.
He thought about love.
"You're home," Monica said, stopping in front of his house. "Do you need me to stay?"
"No. Thanks, though. Hey, did you ever get a hold of Chuck Burks?"
"He left a message on my voice mail to say he hadn't found anything, and to say he's praying for Dana. I thought that was sweet."
"Yeah," John said, and started unbuckling the car seat. He paused and said, "Do you pray, Monica?"
"Yes," she said simply.
"Will you pray for her tonight?"
"Of course I will." William squeaked and she said to him, "I will pray, I will pray very hard for your mommy because I love her too, okay?"
"Thanks, Monica," John said, and carefully brought the carrier out of the car. "Drive carefully."
"I will. Goodnight."
In the front hall, John set down the diaper bag and undid the straps on the carrier. He picked up William and gave him a kiss.
"Too much sitting, don't you think?" he said, and William burbled in agreement. "You get one more bottle and a bath, and then it's bed time. Tomorrow we'll visit Mommy much earlier, and maybe you'll get to see her too. She'll be so happy to hold you again."
On his way to the pantry he noticed the message waiting light flashing on the answering machine, and paused a moment before he pressed the button. He was ready for bad news.
"Agent Doggett, this is Leyla Harrison. I've just spoken with Simion Butacu, a member of the Calisari. He remembered Agents Scully and Mulder, and said he'd been wanting to talk to her." She took a deep breath. "John. He said evil knows Dana's name. Do you know what that means? I don't know what that means. He said Dana's in danger and shouldn't be left alone. He wants to talk to you, and he said they need to act fast. Agent Doggett, I'm so scared. Call me soon, please. I'll be praying for you." She rattled off her phone number and hung up.
John shut off the answering machine and absently let William gnaw on his finger while he thought. "Is this what Auntie Olive was talking about?" he murmured to the baby. "Wisdom to know how to act? I could use a little wisdom." He sighed, removed his finger from William's mouth, and picked up the phone. He dialed Agent Harrison's number and held the phone against his ear with his shoulder because William was starting to squirm.
There was no answer, however, just the machine, so he said, "Leyla, it's John Doggett returning your call. I'll be home all night. Call me soon." He hung up.
He listened for the phone while he fed and bathed William, but it wasn't until the baby was finally asleep that the phone rang. John ran to answer it. "Leyla?"
"No," said the caller. "It's Dr. Crowton from Mercy General. This is the Doggetts', isn't it?"
"Yes, of course, John Doggett speaking. Is Dana all right? Did something happen?"
The doctor sighed heavily. "Mr. Doggett, I don't know how to tell you this—"
"Oh, my God." He felt for the wall and leaned against, his heart heavy in his chest. "No. No. She hasn't—"
"She's not here. She's left the hospital. We think she left just after you did. We've contact the police. You see, Mr. Doggett, one of our staff was attacked. Dana took his clothes and shoes."
"I can't explain it either. Our orderly identified her—he's not a small man, I have no idea how a sick woman of her stature could—maybe it was adrenaline—" He stopped himself and said in a calmer tone, "We just discovered him about ten minutes ago. We're still searching the hospital but I'm certain she's left the grounds. She may try to return home. You've got to get her back here, if she shows up. I've told the police to return her here as well, if they find her. Mr. Doggett, this is very unusual."
"Yes, it is," John whispered.
"We'll let you know—" Dr. Crowton was saying, when the line clicked and went silent.
"Dr. Crowton?" John looked at the earpiece, then turned off the phone, turned it on again and pressed star-six-nine. He waited for it to start ringing.
His entire body stiffened when he heard the back door slam shut. He closed his eyes when he heard her say, "Hello, John."
He put the phone back in its cradle and slowly turned. "Hello, Dana."
The clothes she had taken from the orderly were far too big: his jeans hung low on her hips and the hem of his shirt hung to her knees. She had rolled up the bottoms of the jeans and the sleeves of the shirt, but still she looked like a little girl wearing her big brother's clothes.
However, there was no innocence in her eyes, no warmth, no affection. He lips curled in a sneering smile and she hooked her fingers in the belt loops of her jeans, pulling them low enough to reveal a pale curve of belly. "Hey, baby. Were you waiting for me?"
"Dr. Crowton just called to say you'd left the hospital." John hadn't worn his weapon since leaving work on Friday, but he found himself reaching for it at the look in her eyes. She smirked at him and he dropped his hand.
"Oh, you wouldn't pull a gun on me, would you, baby? We've got far too much to talk about."
"The only thing we need to do is get you back to the hospital. You're still sick, Dana."
"I'm not Dana," she said, and for a moment John thought she was right. Dana's eyes weren't this cold. Dana's lips were never cruel.
*That's why you've got to help her.*
He said, taking a cautious step towards her, "Who are you, then, if you're not Dana? Who else could you be?"
"You know me," she said in a low voice. "You've felt me, smelled me, seen me, sensed me. I'm more real to you than God."
"What are you doing here? What do you want?" he whispered, horrified and fascinated.
"I want you, John Doggett," she said as if it were the most obvious thing. "I want you at my side. I want you to kneel at my feet and call me master. I will you give you anything you desire: women, wealth, power, fame. I could make you die with pleasure every day for a thousand years. I could make the entire world worship you as their savior. Men of power will beg you for your help and advice. All you must do," her voice dropped to a whisper, "is serve me."
He couldn't break his gaze from hers. The terrifying thing was, he could see himself being that person, doing those things. He shuddered away from that vision. "Who are you?"
"I am the morning star. I am he who fell. I am the serpent. I am the dragon. I am the beast." She was closer to him, her voice a mesmerizing murmur, so like Dana and so unlike Dana his still-aching head was even more befuddled and confused.
But he knew what he had to do. He squared his shoulders, closed the space between them, and cupped her face in his hands. He said, clearly and firmly, "No. You're not." She started to struggle and pull away, but he held onto her and said again, "No. That's not who you are. You're Dana."
She snarled, "Dana isn't—"
"Dana is. You are. You are Dana. You're a doctor. You're an FBI agent. You sing badly and you shoot straight and you worry about my cholesterol. You used to wear these enormous heels and tailored suits but I gotta say, I like you better the way you've been lately, all soft and natural. You're a great kisser. You give the best back rubs. You love to slow dance. You're a loving and devoted mother to your baby boy. You're my girl. You're my sweetheart." He paused. Her eyes were fixed on his, and though her body was tense and poised to fight she had stopped struggling. He knew it was a huge risk, but he also knew she needed to know this "You're the mother of my child."
John felt a change in her, a snap as Dana broke through the creature that had imprisoned her. "John?" she whispered. A tear sparkled on her lashes.
"Fight it," John breathed. "Fight."
With a cry Dana wrenched herself away from him and slammed her body against the wall. This, he knew in a moment, was how she'd become so battered on Sunday: this battle was physical, spiritual, mental, internal, external, vibrating the very air around him.
"You—can't—have—my—baby—" she ground out, her hands clutching at the wall, and John grabbed her again to keep her from hurting herself further. "Let go!"
"Leave this body," he commanded, not even knowing where the words were coming from, except maybe some distant ancestor who'd wrestled devils in his day. "Leave this body! You're not welcome here."
Dana screamed, writhing in his arms like a seal, and her fingers clawed at his face, at her own face and at her belly. He grasped her more tightly, trapping her arms against her sides, and spoke like a drill sergeant, like a beat cop, like the head of the house, like a man fighting for his beloved. "Leave my wife alone! This is not your place! Leave this body!"
Her body jerked, shivered, and jerked again. Her eyes blazed— really blazed, fires against black—and John almost faltered because the hatred in them was like another blow to the head. He pinned her against the wall. "Leave this body!"
He felt it pass through him.
It did not burn, like he expected: it was cold and desolate, hollow. It sucked the air from his lungs and made his ears start to ring. It made his eyes water. It made goosebumps rise on his arms.
Dana staggered and sagged against him. Her head fell against his chest. Her body felt like dead weight. Weakly she grabbed his shirt. "William."
"God, isn't it over?" he said, but hitched her up in his arms and carried her as fast as he could go up the stairs to the baby's room. Dana's lips moved, her voice no louder than a breeze.
There were people in William's room. Mulder he knew, and was not surprised to see him—but he didn't know the woman with ash-blonde hair or the man with slender shoulders and piercing blue eyes.
"Hold on, baby," he murmured to Dana, and stepped into the room.
There was a strange noise all around them, a humming, a murmur. At first John thought it was from the strangers, but then realized he heard Monica's voice—"bless your daughter Dana tonight"—and Maggie Scully's—"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners"—and Frohike's—"God, if you're out there, I'm really worried about my friends"—and more voices, all speaking words of hope and love.
He clutched Dana to him tighter and cautiously approached the people guarding William's crib. They smiled at him, and Mulder reached out to touch Dana's cheek. She smiled without opening her eyes. "What happens now?" John murmured.
"I told you before," the woman said. She lifted William out of the crib and laid him tenderly in Dana's arms. "You protect them. Leave the rest to us."
John sank down onto his knees and Dana held onto William as she leaned against John's chest. Her eyebrows furrowed as she looked at the woman, who was still smiling at her. "I know you," she whispered.
"It's me, Mommy," the woman said. She, Mulder, and the other man stepped in front of them, blocking them from anyone who might come through the door or the walls or anywhere else.
"I can feel him," Mulder murmured.
He burst through the floor, a wall of evil and darkness and flame. With long, talon-like fingers he reached for William, growling and snarling.
The ghosts raised their hands and blocked the creature from getting any closer. Between the baby's wails, the creature's snarls, and the rushing wind that filled the room, John could hear them, commanding the creature to leave, he had no power here. John thought he had plenty of power, and as if in response the creature tossed the woman aside and grappled with Mulder and the slender man. Dana screamed and William screamed, John arched over Dana and the baby to block the creature's touch with his back and arms. He braced himself for a blow that never came.
John looked up, his arms around the shivering Dana and wailing William, and saw they had been joined by another Being, who from the neck down looked like a man but whose head was a swirl of color and light. He bathed the entire room in light, white, gold and blue, and his face was that of a man's, an eagle's, a lion's. He stood between the vortex of evil and the trio of ghosts, his hand raised.
His voice was like thunder. Like a whisper. Like the ringing of church bells. Like the crash of waves against the shore.
John knew he was saying words but they were in no language he knew. Still he could feel their meaning down to his bones.
Leave this house. This child is not yours for the taking. Go.
The creature howled and spat, retreating from the Being like a kicked dog. Again the Being spoke, his voice older than the stars, banishing the creature, forbidding it, binding it, speaking in that beautiful, strange language, infusing the atmosphere with his power.
Gibbering, the creature shrank as if it were being sucked into nothingness, and was gone.
In the silence that followed, the Being looked at John, his faces for a moment more kind than terrible. Then he too disppeared.
The almost-familiar man and woman were gone too, leaving in their place Emily and Luke, and Mulder who got down on his knees, his face anxious as he inspected Dana and William. "Scully."
Dana raised her head, still trembling, and their eyes met. John could hardly breathe as he watched them, as Mulder gently touched her cheek and William's, as she grabbed Mulder's hand. "Mulder."
"Goodbye, my love," he said. "It's all right now. He's safe. He's as safe as he can be." He kissed her and kissed William, and disappeared.
Emily was next: she hugged John, and kissed Dana and William noisily. "Don't worry about the baby. He's fine. Bye-bye, Mommy. I love you."
"Goodbye, Emily," Dana whispered, but the girl was already gone.
That left Luke, who had thrown his arms around his father's neck and hung on tight. "Did we do good, Daddy?"
"Luke," John whispered, "you guys did great. Who was that? Did you bring him?"
Luke grinned. "He's my friend. He said he'd help if we needed it, and we did. He's stronger than anybody."
"Who were the other people? Were they friends too?"
"That was me," Luke said with a little reproach in his voice. "You see me like how you remember me, but that's how I really look."
"Oh, Luke," Dana whispered. "You would have been such a handsome man."
He giggled at the compliment, then got serious again. "I have to go now, Daddy."
"Oh, no, no, Luke, please stay. I don't want you to go. I've missed you so much. I still miss you." John's eyes burned and he wiped them with the back of his hand.
"Daddy, I'll tell you a secret." He leaned in to whisper, "I'm never far."
"But when will I see you again?"
"Not for a long, long time. You need to be here for William, Daddy. That's why we came, to make sure you would be. Both of you," he said seriously, putting one arm around Dana too. "I can't tell you any more. I have to go."
"I love you, Luke," John said, and the boy smiled and kissed him.
"I know. Be good." He patted William's head and was gone.
For a long time the three of them stayed sitting on the floor, William making uncertain noises, Dana still trembling and murmuring to the baby. John didn't know what to say. He could hardly bring himself to move. It was all too much to understand. He wasn't even completely sure of what had happened.
Finally Dana said, her voice still stunned, "William needs a diaper change."
"Okay." Neither of them moved. "Do you need help standing?"
"I think I can do it." She got to her feet, wobbling a little, and carried the baby to the changing table. John leaned back against the crib and watched her as she changed the baby and walked him for a few minutes.
When William seemed calm enough she put him in the crib, and John slowly stood. They both hesitated, and then Dana stepped into his arms and wrapped him in a fierce embrace. He kissed her hair and ran his hands over her back.
"Do you want to stay here and watch over him?"
Dana considered it, then said, "No. They said he's safe. I believe them."
Arms around each other, they walked out of the nursery and sat on the stairs. John rubbed her arms. "I'm . . ." he began, but couldn't continue.
Dana leaned her head against his neck. "John. John, if you wanted to divorce me, I'd understand."
The idea shocked him silent for a moment. "Why would I do that?"
"Because . . . this marriage hasn't been what either of us bargained for."
"I don't remember bargaining. We promised to love and take care of each other. Haven't we been doing that?"
"John . . . all of this . . . I should have known we'd only bring our troubles to you."
"I knew what it would involve, Dana. Well, I didn't expect hauntings and . . . whatever that was . . . but I knew it wouldn't be easy."
She sighed and burst out, "How can you be so calm about this? I hurt you!"
"Sh," John soothed her, stroking her hair. "Don't. It wasn't you."
"I've been thinking a lot, when I could," she said. Her voice grew thick as she said, "I've been trying to think of the right thing to do, and I really think the right thing is for me to walk away. You should raise William, John. You'll do better at it than I will. You'll be better off without me, both of you."
"Dana!" He took her chin in his hand and turned her face to his. "Don't say that! Don't think that. William needs you. I need you. I love you. Do you really want to call it quits? 'Cause I don't. I don't ever want to not be married to you."
"Even with a new baby on the way?" Her lips quivered.
"Absolutely." He put his hand on her belly. "I'm not scared anymore."
Dana made a soft sound in her throat, kissed him, and laid her head on his shoulder with a soft sigh. He stroked her cheek.
"Do you want to go back to the hospital? You feel like the fever's broken."
"I probably should, but I don't want to. I just want to rest."
"I should still call Dr. Crowton and tell him you're okay."
"Okay. But tell him I'm not coming in. I want to sleep in my own bed."
They stayed sitting on the stairs, holding each other, shell-shocked and exhausted and glad to be alive.
Chapter 21: Epilogue
It was late when they arrived at the cabin: John did not remember the way as clearly as he had thought, particularly with the heavy rain that followed them from South Carolina. Finally around ten he called his parents, checked which turn-off to take from the rural route, and got them to the cabin at ten-thirty.
They brought the children inside first, Jacob placid and sleepy in his car seat, William chafing against the straps and whining to be let out. "I'll bring everything inside," John said, so Dana unstrapped William and let him run around the ground floor while she started unpacking. The cabin smelled of orange oil, the wood glowing and the kitchen so clean it sparkled.
"Your mother said she'd clean up but I didn't expect this," Dana remarked while John carried the portable crib up to the loft.
"She's thorough," he said with a grin, and stopped for a kiss before going out into the rain again.
She put their groceries into the fridge and cupboard, as well as William's plastic plates and spoons. "Dink, dink," William said when he saw his cup, so Dana poured some milk into a sipping cup and screwed the lid on tight.
"Stay in the kitchen," she told him, because he had a tendency to wander while he ate and get crumbs everywhere. He nodded solemnly and sat with a thump on the floor to drink. He offered the cup to Jacob, who just yawned and rubbed his eyes.
"Baby sleepy," William observed.
"Mommy sleepy too," Dana answered. "Should we just unpack everything else tomorrow? What are you going to need, do you think?" William looked at her with wide eyes over his cup, and she smiled, bent and ruffled his hair. "Where's Teddy? Did you leave him in the car?"
"Yis," he said, and John came in with the last armful which included a damp teddy bear. "Teddy!"
"Here's your bud," John said, shifting the cooler, bag of toys and blankets to one arm so he could drop the bear in William's lap. William let his cup fall to the side and grabbed the bear, giggling. "That's everything, I think," John said to Dana as she righted the cup.
"If it's not, it'll wait until the morning."
John put everything down by the sofa and sank into it, sighing and stretching out his legs. William stood and went to him, climbed into his lap with the bear and plopped at John's side with the same loud sigh. This made John laugh, and he picked William up to hold him in his lap. "Aren't you sleepy yet, Willie boy?"
"Yis," said William. "No. No no no."
"Here," Dana said, handing John William's cup. "Will you see if you can get him to drink the rest of this? I need to nurse Jacob."
"Sure thing. Drink up, Will." He held the cup for William like a bottle and the boy relaxed against his chest, clutching his bear and drinking his milk with contentment. Dana took Jacob from his car seat and unbuttoned her shirt, and curled up at the other end of the sofa to nurse him.
William stopped drinking long enough to say, "Baby dink."
John chuckled. His eyes were closed. "Baby dink, brother dink, mommy dink and daddy dink. It's the Dink family."
Dana laughed too, making Jacob squeak. "Here, honey," she murmured, guiding her nipple back into his mouth. She leaned her head against the back of the sofa, stroking the baby's fine dark hair, and closed her eyes too.
"Did we bring enough stuff to keep them amused if this rain keeps up?" John murmured.
"You know Will's happy with a cardboard box most of the time. We've got enough."
"Wain wain . . ." William murmured, his eyelids finally starting to droop. John looked at his face and put the cup aside.
"Do you want him in the crib or the trundle bed?" he murmured.
"Will he be okay in the trundle bed?"
"Yes—it's about an inch off the floor and it's got a little railing all the way around."
"The beds still need to be made up," Dana said apologetically.
"I'll do it." He laid William on the sofa, stayed a moment to rub William's stomach when he whimpered, and went up to the loft.
"Thank you, perfect husband," Dana said, making John laugh again.
She listened to the rain with her eyes closed while Jacob nursed and William began to snore. The sound of rain always soothed her. Rainy nights were quiet nights, intimate nights, when one could enjoy shelter and companionship. As late as it was, she hoped they'd have enough time to talk a bit, just the two of them, before they went to bed.
They had talked about it before, of course. Obliquely sometimes, because neither of them really knew how to refer to what had happened. "That night" was a good enough name. But the concerns of ordinary life had caused them both to bring it up less and less, until sometimes Dana thought the only thing that proved it had not all been a dream were the white scars on her wrists.
She'd taken to wearing watches and cuff-style bracelets to hide them. Answering people's questions or, worse, meeting their pitying gazes was too much. No one would believe her if she said the truth, "I did this to save my son." But here, away from everyone but her most beloved, she rolled up her sleeves and took off her watch.
The orderly whose clothes she'd stolen had decided not to press charges—too embarrassed, John said, to admit being taken down by a woman. Afterwards she'd submitted to counseling and psychological tests, and tried over and over to explain it wasn't a suicide attempt, she really was very happy. No one knew what to make of her: after the incident she was glowing with health and joy, absorbed in tending her babies, and not an example of despair.
Finally the court-appointed psychologist closed her file and said, "Go home. You're fine. Have a good life."
So she did. And she was.
John put William to bed while she was still nursing Jacob, and lit a fire in the fireplace while she put the baby to bed too. The tiny cabin only had one bedroom: a long loft that ran the length of one wall, with a small bathroom at one end. As boys, John had told her, they'd slept in bunkbeds on the ground floor with his parents in the loft and his youngest brother in the trundle bed. She liked that cozy arrangement, and checked on William in the trundle bed on the way to putting Jacob in the crib.
Her OB/GYN had worried the seizures and fever she'd experienced had damaged the fetus, but the tests revealed a healthy, living child. William had been born in an abandoned spa town with Monica and a roomful of strangers in attendance, but Jacob was born in a hospital with John counting seconds between contractions and kissing her when they laid the messy, screaming baby in her arms. They almost named him Samuel, but Dana felt strange about having a Sam in the family and chose the name of John's grandfather instead. Jacob John Doggett was very much his father's son: he had John's piercing eyes and slender frame, the same stubborn nature and obstinate brows. He fascinated William: many times Dana found William peering at him through the crib bars, babbling to him, pulling the baby's toes or patting his cheeks if Jacob's face was close enough. John called him bugaboo and J.J., and would say to William when he held them both in his arms, "He's your little friend, isn't he, Willie boy?"
She loved her guys. She couldn't imagine a day without them.
Babies in bed, peaceful for the time being, Dana descended the stairs and joined John on the sofa. He'd turned out most of the lights, and when she pressed herself against him he put his arm around her and pulled her close. He kissed her head.
"Listen to that come down," he murmured.
"If it clears by dawn it's going to be beautiful tomorrow."
"Mm." He kissed her again. "And if it doesn't, we'll have cocoa and popcorn and play board games."
Dana chuckled and turned her face up to kiss him. She laid her head on his shoulder again. He rubbed her back and said, after a while, "Do you ever wonder . . . why?"
"Why they came back. Why it's so important that we both raise William. Why William is special enough to save that way. I mean, children . . . things happen to children every day."
"Yes, they do," Dana said quietly. "And I've known from the beginning that the threats against William came for a reason. I don't want to know that reason, though. Not yet. Maybe not ever."
John made a thoughtful noise. Dana closed her eyes, listening to his heart beat, the fire crackle and the rain fall. He said, "Do you miss Mulder?"
"Yes." There was no point in lying about it.
"Are you still in love with him?" he said even more quietly.
"John," she said, surprised by the question. She sat up and turned to face him. He had that look he sometimes got, the look that said he was trying to open up and had no idea how to go about it.
He said, "I have no illusions, Dana. That whole thing made me realize how far he'd go for you. And I—I . . . don't know if I could."
"Oh, sweetheart," she said and kissed him. "You've done something for me that no one has ever done. You've changed since that night. It's not just coming to church with me. You've changed what you believe." She kissed him and put her arms around his neck. "Do you have any idea how great a gift that is?"
He didn't say anything for a moment, then pulled her to him and fiercely kissed her. She opened her lips to his tongue and moved into his lap, her fingers in his hair. "I love you," she whispered when his mouth moved from hers to kiss her face. "You do know that."
"Yeah," he murmured. His tongue traced the curling lines of her ear and she shivered with pleasure. "I know." He kissed her neck. "I love you too, babe, I just . . . sometimes . . . I feel like if I step the wrong way or think the wrong thing you're going to be snatched away from me."
"Oh, no," she said, "no, never." She kissed him. "I don't know what's coming, but I know I can face it if you're with me." She took his hand and wove her fingers between his. "Family, John. That's where love lives."
His eyes grew damp and he smiled at her ruefully. "You always do this to me, girl."
She smiled too. "I know. I like it when you get emotional."
John chuckled and shook his head, took her face in his hands and kissed her again. She could feel his pulse rising but he was still holding himself in check. She smiled against his mouth and moved onto her knees, to press her hips against his and kiss him more deeply.
"Mm " John murmured and stopped kissing her. "The kids?"
"Sleeping," she reminded him, and he grinned and pulled her in for a kiss again.
Shoes. Her shirt, his shirt. An unbuttoned fly, a warm hand sliding down a trembling stomach. His mouth tenderly exploring the upper curves of her breasts, then the lower once he'd removed her bra. Her mouth and fingers on his chest and shoulders. Her jeans and panties, her hips squirming against the sofa cushions as he kissed her thighs, sucked her labia and caressed her clit with his tongue until she had to stifle her cries with her hands. His jeans and boxers hastily pushed out of the way, his body between her legs, both of them moaning as he slid inside her. And all the while kissing, kissing, kissing.
When the last spasm had passed and they lay quietly on the scratchy sofa, his head on her breasts and her fingers moving slowly through his hair, Dana let her eyes close and the sounds of the night surround her. Rain, fire, breathing, baby murmurs. Her body was warm and content, loved down to her bones.
Eventually they moved upstairs. John opened the far window a crack so the fresh rainy air could soothe them. Dana laid an extra blanket over Will, made sure Jacob was warm enough in his sleeper, and crawled beside John between the crisp sheets. He held her and kissed her, and she rested her head on his chest.
The rain continued throughout the night. When dawn came it was clear.
E N D
"You see, there are two ways into another's dreams. We can go through the dream king; or we can go by the moon's road. But the dream king has little time for you women, and even less for my kind; while the moon is ever ours. It's time to draw down the moon."
— Neil Gaiman, Sandman #34: "Bad Moon Rising