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Only One Choice, Part One

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“Time passes in moments ... moments which, rushing past, define the path of a life just as surely as they lead towards its end. How rarely do we stop to examine that path, to see the reasons why all things happen, to consider whether the path we take in life is our own making or simply one into which we drift with eyes closed.”




May 1996

 

Yellow beams of light slip through the blinds, casting stripes across the comforter draped over her hip. She rolls onto her back, pulling in a deep breath as she flexes her wrists and ankles, waking her joints from a deep, dreamless sleep. An arm snakes across her belly, tugging her close as sleep-warm breath tickles her ear. 

 

“Good morning,” Ethan croons, his voice creaky from lack of use. 

 

She rolls to her other side, facing him. 

 

“Morning,” she returns with a soft smile. 

 

“What time is it?” he asks, his eyes blinking sleepily, threatening to close again. 

 

“Early. I have three autopsies today on top of four classes; I need to get a head start. You should go back to sleep,” she says quietly, brushing her fingers across his bare back comfortingly. 

 

He allows his eyes to fall closed and she watches him for a moment. His chocolate brown hair could use a trim, though he’s always preferred to wear it a little long to offset his thick, square eyebrows. She traces a finger along his jaw, landing on the cleft of his chin before considering the deep Cupid’s bow of his lip. She wonders if she has enough time to kiss him in that way that he knows means business. 

 

“I’m gonna get up and make you breakfast,” he grumbles, apparently not sleeping at all. 

 

“No, I’ll grab a muffin at work or something, it’s okay,” she implores. 

 

He pushes up onto his elbow with a soft groan, leaning over to kiss the skin in front of her ear. 

 

“You’re so full of shit, Dana. If I don’t force you to eat breakfast you’ll starve ‘til lunch and you know it,” he says as he gives her a playfully stern look. 

 

She twists her mouth into a suppressed smirk. Guilty as charged. 

 

He makes her eggs and toast while she showers and gets ready for her day, packing clothes for the time she’ll spend in the morgue as well as the classroom. They’ve talked about moving closer to Quantico to shorten her commute, but Ethan is only ten minutes from work so then it would just be him schlepping an hour to and from Georgetown every day. When they’re ready to settle down and start a family, they’ll need to figure something out. For now, it works. 

 

She eats quickly as Ethan studies her over his coffee cup with small, deep-set blue eyes, his expression soft and affectionate.

 

“What?” she asks around a mouthful of eggs, her eyebrows furrowed.

 

He shrugs and smirks at her. “Nothin’.”

 

She dips her chin and glares at him from underneath her eyelashes. “Ethan,” she says in a chastising tone. 

 

He shrugs again and laughs. “Can’t a man just gaze at his girlfriend over breakfast? You’re beautiful, I’m just taking in the view.”

 

She rolls her eyes and unsuccessfully tries to suppress a smile. “I gotta get going, thanks for breakfast,” she says as she stands and leans down to kiss him quickly on the mouth. He sets his cup down and grips her by the hips, pulling her to stand between his knees. She rests her palms on his shoulders and looks down at him expectantly. 

 

“Have a good day,” he says softly. 

 

She leans down again and kisses him more properly, wishes him a good day as well, and drives south. 

 




 



The blaring shriek of the alarm clock startles him awake, though it feels like he just fell asleep moments ago. After a few unsuccessful attempts he silences it with a forceful jab, then sits up with a groan. A fluffy black cat with a bob tail leaps up onto the bed, greeting him with a kitten-like mewl. 

 

“Good Morning, Priscilla, you hungry?” he asks as he scratches the cat behind its ears, smiling sleepily at the rumbling purrs that immediately start rattling her rib cage. 

 

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he makes his way to the kitchen where he pours a quarter cup of dry food into a bowl on the floor, then starts the coffee. He opens and closes cupboards and drawers, procuring a cup, sugar, and a spoon. 

 

Every time he has to get into a drawer, cabinet, or cupboard, their sparse contents remind him of Valerie. Nearly a year later and he’s still living off the 3 spoons, 2 forks and one knife she left behind, and that’s just the silverware drawer. He doesn’t remember his apartment feeling this empty before she moved in, but now that she’s gone it seems like there’s a Valerie-sized hole everywhere he looks. As amicable and mutually desired as their split had been, it’s been hard to adjust to living alone again. Well, not entirely alone, given that he retained Priscilla in the breakup. She made it a bit easier to move forward after he and Valerie both admitted that while they cared for each other greatly, it wasn’t the kind of love that made you want to grow old on a porch swing together. They may have been best friends, but soulmates they most certainly were not. 

 

He’s grateful to have had her in his life for the time he did. When The X Files were shut down, he wouldn’t have made it through the transition back to the BSU without her patient support, much less her agreement to store the case files he was able to pilfer in their shared apartment. He may not love his job anymore, but it keeps the bills paid and he needs that kind of stability in his life. If it weren’t for Valerie, he probably would have just quit the FBI and gone to work with the Gunmen. 

 

He showers and shaves, consumes two cups of coffee and half an English muffin, then dresses in a charcoal grey suit and red tie. On his way to the door, Priscilla nearly trips him as she weaves through his legs, begging for affection. He stops and crouches down to pet her, and she flops onto her side, closing her eyes in satisfaction. 

 

“I’ll be back later, Prissy Girl,“ he promises, scratching her belly until she gets a wild look in her eye and clamps her pointy claws into the back of his hand. 

 

“Ouch!” he says with a laugh. “You’re not much different than a human woman, Prissy. You don’t know what you want, do you?” She looks at him with alarm as he withdraws his hand, emitting a meow in protest. 

 

He pats Priscilla on the head and locks the door behind him, driving into Washington for another glorious day of looking into the minds of murderers.