If she thought about it, Scully could feel the scalpel at the back of her neck. She could feel the doubt traveling from her doctor's rational mind through the cold steel, and how it pierced her flesh more deeply than any cut. This won't work, they thought (Bill said) and was there anyone left to believe?
Mulder. Always Mulder.
Most days, she didn't think about it. She didn't have the time. Always another case, always more paperwork, always another hotel room and another rental car and another autopsy.
Then there were other days. The doubt would bubble to the surface, dark and oily, convincing her that the cancer was back and she was in the hospital still, and she would wake once more to Mulder sobbing into her sheets and choking on her name.
How could a piece of unidentifiable metal be all that kept her from that madness?
Her hand would go to her neck and she would try to believe, believe, believe. Until she didn't have to, until it just worked and there was no reason to think it wouldn't.
Because there wasn't.
She still had nightmares about Duane Barry.
The inside of the trunk had smelled like old, sweaty tennis shoes and mold. And a little bit like gasoline. And blood. Her blood, from a cut on her head, sticky and caked.
There was the sensation of going uphill, of gravity trying to claim her even while she was propelled forward.
Finally the sky, and the smell of pine, just before the memories stopped and the nightmare woke her, shaking and sweating.
Sometimes she thought she dreamed of childbirth, and her thighs would ache in the morning. And the back of her neck would tingle, seeming to pull her or push her, and she would think of Emily and the mountains and a cry of longing and fear.
"Scully, are you coming?"
She had stopped walking. They were on the mall, going back to the office after going for sandwiches. Mulder was talking about nothing, or rather not a case or a theory, just about baseball and Americana and a road trip he wanted to take, and Scully had stopped walking in the middle of Mulder's poetic waxing about Jackie Robinson.
She was looking up.
"Scully?" Mulder reached out as if to touch her shoulder. He dropped his hand, and said her name again.
"Are you coming?"
Scully blinked, shook her head. "Sorry. Sorry, I...I was trying to think of something. I think I forgot to turn off the light in the kitchen at home this morning."
She said all this vaguely, like she was still distracted. Mulder shrugged. "Okay, well."
"Sorry. You were saying?"
The rest of the way to the office, Scully kept looking over her shoulder. Mulder accused her of being the paranoid one, and she grinned, but even back in the office, she was hardly there.
She typed in a query about Stonehenge.
Or, she believed she had.
The results for "Skyland Mountain" included her name and Barry's, and after staring at the screen for a full minute, she blinked and hit escape violently enough to make Mulder raise his head.
"Did it bite you or something?"
She said nothing, and typed in Stonehenge again, this time getting the results she knew she asked for.
"I had a dream last night."
"Is that so unusual?"
"This one was. I was at Skyland Mountain. Only this time, I was with more people, a lot of people. I was safe. He wasn't there."
"Mulder, I think it means something."
A deep sigh. "Scully, I told you before, there is no reason to believe anything will happen at Skyland Mountain again."
Because he didn't believe. Not anymore.
"But what if..."
"Even if, Scully, it isn't aliens."
But Mulder had left the room, and Scully stood there, unable to get her mind around the thought that she was becoming the believer, and Mulder the skeptic.
The scalpel tore a small hole. "Incision."
"Dana, I don't want you to be disappointed if this doesn't work. Your cancer is very advanced, and frankly any treatment at this point will be about management, about status quo. This, uh, treatment will likely have the same effect, if it has any at all."
"I have faith," she whispered.
The doctor paused for a moment. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
When Cassandra touched her neck, Scully felt relief. Yes, yes, that was the source, that was why she was so distracted.
And if doubt was still there, Cassandra had siphoned it away, so that they might go together to the mountain.
Uphill, she thought. Against gravity, and sense.
The fire was bright and it was hot and if Cassandra felt the danger too she never said so. How could she, though, drawn as she was into oblivion?
It was all white light and terror and ecstasy.
"On Skyland Mountain, a popular weekend destination for local tourists, an unprecedented tragedy...."
"Visitors say the view at the mountain resort is unparalleled, but few will get to experience it in coming weeks as investigators...."
"There were only a few survivors, none of them willing to make a public statement...."
"Cult suicides in the United States have been on the rise in recent decades, and experts say
And then, in a file in the basement of the Hoover Building: "Barry took Agent Scully to Skyland Mountain, claiming he was directed by beings from outer space to do so, and gestured repeatedly toward the back of his neck. An implant was discovered there and FBI lab researchers were unable to determine the type of metal."
"Are you in the night place?"
She shouted her affirmation, that she was there, and she was flying, she was falling, they had pulled her to the very edge and now she would disappear.
But he grabbed her hand. He pulled her back.
She could take it out. Go to another doctor in another city and just get rid of it, and the consequences be damned.
No piece of metal was keeping her cancer from returning. What a ludicrous idea!
Perhaps not so ludicrous, though, as she rewatched footage of the burned bridge and read the autopsy reports of the victims who had been there. Just inches from her, really.
She had no burn scars.
But there was a little bump on her neck, where the scar from the incision was.
No pull or push now. But still, a sense of urgency.
"What is it, though? What's coming?"
Rain fell on her umbrella as she walked behind Mulder, and he knocked on the door of 655 Boling River Drive, to ask the woman who lived there if she'd seen anything unusual in the cemetary across the street the night before.
For now, it was business as usual.