“Please don’t do this to me.”
Her voice is low because the words are too heavy, weighted with grief. There is a trembling ache inside her and she knows that if she doesn’t leave now, she might never; she might just do something unforgivable. So she turns, straightens her spine for one last retreat. By all that’s holy, she hopes he will follow. By all that’s holy, she hopes he will not.
Then his voice bursts through her and they are standing in his hallway, talking about work, talking about something else. She’s tired and worn thin. Her heart beats and beats its lonely way in her chest. If she speaks now she will cry. If she cries now she might never stop. All she can do is press her lips to his forehead and feel the way his hands are so large and warm. The way he’s so close she can feel his breath. Her eyes fall shut and something in her is reaching outwards from a dark, sleeping place. And if she didn’t want this so badly she’d be embarrassed that she’s already wet from nothing more than anticipation.
And then a sharp, bright pain. Once upon a time.
Something is wrong. She knows it the moment it happens. And years of training come unbidden to her lips as she finds her voice cataloguing symptoms while Mulder sets her gently on the floor. His panic face, then the ceiling swimming in and out of her vision and she is falling, falling though perfectly still.
It’s like the moment before waking, spellbound and fluid. Her eyes have closed but she hears voices, muffled but distinct. The inside of her head feels thick and sluggish, like the drone of bees in lavender on an afternoon in late summer. Bees, she thinks. Because spinning wheels are so last century.
“Can you hear me? Can you say your name?”
Dana Scully. My name is Dana Scully. The words are there but they don’t come out. She thinks them, hard, sending them through her body. Synapses firing, neurons speeding their tiny electrical charges on and on. None of her muscles respond to the stimulus. She should be afraid, but she can’t find the focus to be frightened.
She is floating on a cold sweep of air, one small balloon rising, and rising. Then nothing.
Her eyes are open but she cannot blink. Like a word just on the tip of her tongue, she is aware of her limbs but cannot attain flexion. Am I breathing, she wonders. Am I dead? Words float through: lancinating pain, funny taste, constriction in the throat and larynx. Then something loud and short. A gunshot. Mulder? God, it’s so hard to think.
The air is filled with a constant droning hum. It’s metallic, like air-condensers, like engines. An airplane? Where are they going? She wants to turn to Mulder and ask him but she can’t move. He must have fallen asleep on her shoulder again.
Charlie used to do that, when they were little. She would hold the big Hans Christian Anderson or Grimm Brothers’ book in her lap and his little body would nestle into her side. She would read and read aloud until his weight slumped against her and then she’d keep reading until her own eyes were heavy and the book slipped from her grasp. There was one about a woman who cried until her eyes bled and they fell into the water like pearls. That had been one of her favorites, filling her with the idea that something beautiful could come from grief. Maybe she could cry pearls, too.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Dana who had red hair and freckles. She was not a princess, but she was gifted with the virtues of intelligence and grace and courage. No one wondered about the wicked fairy at the time.
God, she’s so thirsty. Where’s the flight attendant? Where’s Mulder? He was about to kiss her, wasn’t he?
They had lived through so much sadness, already, enough for a whole string of pearls. And he had been going to kiss her. Because she was leaving; because he wanted her to stay. But didn’t he know how it would break her heart? Didn’t he know that she would wither and die in some field office in Utah without the work, without him? She would rather have nothing than some parody of life in his absence, a life in stasis.
How could her mother stand all those months over all those years saying goodbye again and again? Better to be alone altogether. Better to stay intact rather than giving away bits and pieces of yourself until there’s nothing left and one day he never comes home again.
Ahab bought her roses, she remembers. On her sixteenth birthday. She’d never gotten flowers before and it was embarrassing and beautiful. Red long-stemmed roses, with leaves and thorns, a whole dozen. Like the bushes out the back of Mrs Trainor’s house that grew and grew because nobody bothered to cut them back. Sleeping beauty slept for a hundred years behind her walls of roses. The entire castle was asleep.
Mulder, where are we going? Mulder?
Yes, something is very wrong inside her. She can feel it. There is a tenseness, a fullness that shouldn’t be. An itching, brittle thrumming that makes her want to gouge her skin and scream but there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to go and she’s trapped in this body that’s no longer hers.
The world is waxy and green and there is something so wrong she wants to weep. Like a cranky child, she wants to curl up in someone’s arms and let them make it better.
She hasn’t told him that she loves him. Not with words. But she tries, oh she tries. If he could just promise her that nothing would change, that they would be together and it would be the same, then that would be enough. She will make it be enough.
When did the noises stop? She can’t even hear her own heartbeat. Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.
All the stories are different. Sometimes the prince has to fight his way through, and sometimes he just walks straight in as the brambles part before him. But it always ends the same way - it’s his destiny to save the princess, to kiss her from her slumber and bring her back into the bright world. Most of the tales stop there, as if that can be all there is to it; as if the princess doesn’t struggle and ache in the hard light she’s almost forgotten; as if the prince is happy just to sit by her side while the castle wakes and wonders; as if the brambles just untangle on their own and the dragon is really dead. Nobody tells you what happens afterwards.
It hurts now, a burning, excoriating pain. Every cell in the universe of her body is shifting, tearing away. She understands what it feels like to the land to be invaded, to be hollowed out and bathed in blood that’s not your own.
This is a dream. This must be a dream. I want to wake up. Over and over, she repeats this fervent litany.
Time spins out and back in, like the arms of a galaxy, all whirl and chaos. This is how forever feels.
Mulder, I want to wake up.
Something dull, like the memory of pain, stings her and she is back in his hallway, back in his arms and on the floor. The world is roiling and retreating and she can’t breathe. Blink.
Cold, she thinks. I’m cold. And when he answers her, she realises the words came out of her mouth. This tumult is real. Mulder.
Everything is shaking, or maybe it’s just her. And he is lifting, pulling, carrying when all she wants to do is go to sleep. Her voice rough, forgotten, “I can’t.” And his, a low tether, “Yeah, you can.”
“Breathe!” He’s shouting at her. His mouth is on hers, his breath in her lungs. He leaves her no choice. And she awakens this time, really awakens, into a world alive with pain and the beauty of his face above her.
Mulder. Her one clear thought.