Chapter 1: Prelude
March 2, 1998 Before dawn
“How many of them are there, Mulder?” Her eyes burned with unshed tears. His shoulders dropped as he turned away from her.
“I don’t know. If...the containers I saw were full, there were probably about sixteen...fetuses in the jars.” He paused, ran a hand through his hair, took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “We know that at least eight women were listed as birth mothers from around the time your—from around the time Emily was born. That’s...two dozen right there. We don’t know how many other...facilities there are.” He sighed again, not wanting to go into such explicit detail, but knowing that he had to. “I saw at least a dozen women in the Pentagon, but I can’t be sure they’re connected directly to the stolen ova. We know for sure that at least a dozen women...disappeared, so in all likelihood, most of the—er—children aren’t...yours.”
“Most-” She sat down, hands limp in her lap, staring at her empty palms.
Some—some of them could be, Scully thought. Some probably are.
The thought rattled through her, leaving her quivering.
She looked up at him with searing eyes. Pain, rage, grief poured into a tight whisper. “How many babies do I have to lose?”
Mulder reached out a comforting hand and touched her shoulder. Raising her eyes to his, Scully saw that he had no answer to give.
Suddenly he turned away from her and slammed his open palm against the door of her closet. “SHIT.”
She followed him with her eyes as he stalked out her bedroom, her heart pounding with the shock of his abrupt outburst.
A moment later he came back in, with a piece of paper in his hand and a determined look in his eyes.
“I’m going to take a leave of absence, Dana. I have to get away from this for a while. Quit chasing the wild goose.” He handed a piece of paper to her as he spoke.
At his use of her first name, something in her snapped to attention. She looked at him quizzically.
“Those are my travel plans. I want you to be able to reach me if you need to while I’m gone.”
She looked down at the piece of paper in her hands. Rather than an itinerary, there were only a few words.
- Going under. Pack for 8 weeks. Need to find inner children. -
It took a moment for the words to register, but when they did, her eyes widened.
“I think that’s a good idea, Mulder. I’ve been thinking about taking some time for myself, time to find some meaning, come to terms with the things that have happened.”
She paused. “The cancer took a lot out of me, Mulder. I need to get that back.” Mulder grinned wryly at her, knowing that it wasn’t some ethereal ‘thing’ she needed to get back.
She looked pointedly at the paper. “Have you asked Skinner for the time off yet?”
His eyes met hers. “Not yet. Care to join me facing the dragon?”
She gave him a half smile. “Sure. I’m going to pack now. I’ll meet you there in two hours. Gotta see my mom first.”
Mulder’s mental gears turned rapidly as he left Scully’s apartment. A to-do list sprang into being almost instantaneously, and as he drove away, he picked up his cell phone and dialed.
“Turn off the tape.”
“Really, Mulder. We’ve been through this before. Tape is out of date.”
“Whatever. Turn it off.”
“Yeah. All right. It’s off.”
“I need your help.”
“So what else is new?”
“I’m going on vacation.”
A hearty laugh on the other end. “You need our help to go on vacation?”
“It’s going to be a long vacation.”
Langly. “Mulder, that’s not like you at all. Can’t Scully give your fish CPR?”
“No. She’ll be unavailable.”
A long silence.
Byers. “So when do you want to stop by to give us house-sitting instructions?”
Mulder cringed inwardly at the mental image of the boys house-sitting for eight weeks. Bad enough having one bachelor loose in that place...Three would be excessive. Though chances were that Byers at least would do the dishes. If Frohike used dishes. Oh well. It would give the place a homier feel when he returned.
“I’ll be by in about three hours. I want to run my travel plans by you guys, see if you have any ideas for other places to visit, things to take. I don’t really need you to house-sit. Just feed the fish and pick up my mail.”
A different voice on the line. Frohike.
“We’ll do it Mulder, but I want access.”
He sighed. Another mental image he could do without. “Sure thing, man.”
Dana Scully pulled a suitcase out of her closet. Eight weeks. how the hell am I going to pack light for eight weeks?
Suddenly she realized that it probably didn’t matter at all what she packed for this trip. She pulled down another suitcase, opened them both, and began pulling clothes out of the closet, out of the drawers. Make it look good.
Casual clothes, jeans. Several knit shirts. Two suits. Slacks. Shorts. A seldom-worn black tank bathing suit. Three or four sets of pajamas. 8 pairs of panties. Three pair of hose. Four bras. A couple pair of socks. The first suitcase was bulging as she zipped it shut. Into the second went pumps, sandals, sneakers, a small jewelry case. Her toiletries bag. On a whim, she grabbed four or five paperbacks off her shelf and wedged them in. The second suitcase closed easily, but was quite heavy when she lifted it and carried it over to the front door.
She picked up her cell phone and dialed.
“How are you, Dana? Is something wrong? It’s awfully early.”
“I’m fine, Mom...Look, are you busy? Can I come over for breakfast?”
Maggie Scully frowned at the telephone. “I suppose. When will you be over?”
Dana looked at her watch. “I can be there in about half an hour.”
Maggie Scully opened the door at her daughter’s knock and smiled warmly. “Dana!”
Scully stepped inside and suddenly hugged her mother tightly, wondering if what she was about to say next would be upsetting.
Whispering directly against her ear, Scully said, “Mom...the house may be bugged. Please don’t say anything. Play along. I have to go away for a few weeks, maybe as long as a month or two. It’s an assignment, and Mulder’s coming with me. You can’t tell Bill, Charlie...anyone. Just play along, when I get back, I’ll explain everything, OK?”
Maggie pulled back, smiling warmly. “And how are you, dear?” The twinkle in Maggie Scully’s eyes said more than her words ever could.
Probably thinking about me and Mulder spending weeks together away on assignment, Scully thought.
“I’m fine, Mom.”
“Well, why don’t you come on in out of the cold! I’ve got a nice hot breakfast prepared.”
Scully followed her mother into the kitchen and sat as Maggie puttered around, putting the finishing touches on old fashioned oatmeal with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. And eggs. And fresh fruit. And—thank god—coffee. And orange juice. And toast.
How do mothers do it? Scully wondered. Ten seconds notice, and a full, healthy, warm meal appears as if the Food Fairy stopped by.
“So, tell me your news!” Maggie said.
“I’ve decided that you were right,” Scully said, a sudden inspiration striking her. “I do need time to recover from the cancer. So, I’m going on vacation for a while. Just some time off to regroup, get my head together, get back into myself.”
“That’s nice, dear. Do you know where you’re going?”
The question was more pointed than Maggie had intended.
Scully smiled. Once a mother...
“No, not yet. Somewhere warm, though, maybe the coast. When I know, I’ll call or drop a postcard or something.” She paused, and then set the hook for whoever might be listening. “I may be out of contact for a while, Mom, and I don’t want you to get upset. I just need time alone, with myself, you know? The last few weeks have been so...intense.”
Maggie patted her daughter’s shoulder as she passed by.
“I understand completely dear. You call if you get time. But I expect a postcard or two.”
Scully made a mental note to write a dozen or so postcards before they left town so they could be mailed from a forwarding-house later.
“So, have you heard the latest about your brother?” Maggie asked, pattering on about family and friends. Scully tuned most of it out, making assenting, acknowledging noises when appropriate.
As far as Moms go, Scully thought, Mine is pretty cool.
The office of Assistant Director Walter Skinner
“Sir, we have been through hell in the past couple years. I think both of us deserve some substantial time off, and I think that the Bureau should support us in that.”
“Agent Mulder, I’m not arguing with that. However, I’m not clear on how much time you’re talking about. Or why you haven’t requested this time off through usual channels.” Walter Skinner’s face twitched. Usual channels and this pair of agents rarely went hand-in-hand.
Agent Scully looked at her hands and then up at the A.D. “We were hoping to go on leave immediately, as the X-Files are experiencing something of a lull.”
“How substantial are we talking about here? Two weeks? Three?”
Mulder braced himself. “Eight.”
Skinner’s eyebrows went looking for his non-existent hairline.
“May I ask where each of you plan to go?”
Mulder handed a piece of paper to his boss. “Here’s my itinerary. I think Scully’s going to the coast.”
-The walls have ears. We need your help.-
“I see.” Skinner’s face was unreadable.
Skinner stood up and pulled his trench coat on. Without a word, the two agents followed him out of the office.
As they passed his secretary’s desk, he paused. “Hold my calls, please.”
Chapter 2: Entrance of the Gladiators
Please note that if you continue this on my website, there, the chapter numbers are different, but the titles are not, because there's a prologue which is chapter 1 here. And if someone wants to tell me how to get AO3 to allow prologues in the chapter numbering, I'm all ears. It just makes me twitchy to see Chapter 2: Chapter 1: Entrance of the Gladiators.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
March 2, 1998
8:40 am Headquarters of the Lone Gunmen
“Mulder! Are you crazy?” Langly asked, gesturing sharply with his thumb in the general direction of Skinner. “Bringing him here?”
“I trust him,” Mulder said quietly, “and we need his help on this one.”
The three Lone Gunmen raised their eyebrows in unison.
“All right, Mulder, how big is it?” Frohike settled himself on a stool in front of one of the many computers in the room. His feet dangled off the stool, almost but not quite reaching the floor.
Mulder looked at Scully.
“I...” She looked down at her hands.
Byers looked at her sharply. “You’re going under, aren’t you?”
She gave a short, affirmative jerk of her head.
Assistant Director Skinner straightened himself up into his most military stance.
“Would someone please enlighten me? I’m getting tired of half sentences. I know that you,” he gestured to the three Gunmen, “are Mulder’s ‘unofficial sources’ more times than not. And I gather that you two,” gesturing to Mulder and Scully, “are not going on vacation, but undercover. What I need to know is why, how long, and what makes this something that we couldn’t have discussed in the comfort of my office.” He looked pointedly around the cluttered office, the cheap furniture, the expensive computer equipment, the dark, dingy space.
Mulder straightened. “As you are aware from my case reports, Agent Scully discovered her daughter several weeks ago, in San Diego. A daughter that had her genes, but a 70 year old surrogate mother, and two dead adoptive parents. In my efforts to assist Agent Scully in finding a treatment for her daughter, I found evidence that there were more of Agent Scully’s biological offspring out there. We also discovered that a number of children born around the time of Emily Sims’ birth were created under suspiciously similar circumstances. I also found evidence that more children are being produced, even ‘manufactured,’ and we need to find out where, why, and who is raising them. Going undercover is the logical next step, given the nature of this case.”
“Agent Mulder, how exactly do you propose to ‘go undercover’?” Skinner looked weary, but it was unclear as to whether it was due to the notion of manufactured children or simply the realization that he was going to be up to his ears with this, whatever this turned out to be. “That gives me background information, yes, but tells me nothing about how you plan to pull this off.”
Scully began speaking. “Sir, what we intend to do, obviously, is pose as a couple interested in adopting. We have leads to other adoptive parents that we can follow. After that...” She began listing the steps she and Mulder would follow, ticking them off on her fingers as she spoke. “One, move into the neighborhood, two, make friends with the adoptive families and try to gain their confidence, which will helpfully follow to...whatever source they used. Once we identify the source, we’ll figure out a way to get them to approach us. I imagine that we’ll have to drop hints within the circle of our...new friends...that we’re desperate for a child. I’m hoping that if we connect with the adoptive parents, they’ll share their stories with us if we tell our “story” right. The important thing is to make them come to us. If we look too hard, we’ll spook them and they’ll vanish into the woodwork.”
Skinner mulled this over from where he stood, resting against a rusted metal filing cabinet. “I can see that working, but how do you plan to find these ‘manufactured’ children?”
“That’s where we come in,” Frohike interjected, somewhat smugly. “We have already identified the names of the birth mothers. We have managed to-” He glanced at his fellow editors, cleared his throat and then continued. “-access the records in the relevant adoption databases. We simply need to use the same process to identify the other families. It shouldn’t pose much of a problem.”
“Your identities need to be changed,” said Langly. “You need to totally change your appearance. You need a completely new identity, with paper trail. Driver’s licenses, birth certificates, social security cards, credit cards with matching credit history, job history, school transcripts, the works. Probably more than one if you want to get from Washington to your destination without leaving an obvious trail.”
Byers walked over to a computer and sat down in front of it. “And you’ll need support. Technology. Information. Money. Contacts-” He trailed off at the look on Skinner’s face. “Mr. Skinner, may I ask what the matter is?”
The AD spoke to Mulder and Scully instead. “Is this a request for a fully FBI backed operation? Because you know as well as I do that the people I have to answer to-” He was cut off by Mulder.
“No, sir. We know anything that goes across your desk gets seen by the very people we’re trying to uncover. This has to be unofficial. However, we may at some point need your ‘official’ assistance.”
Skinner removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Okay. I can free up some equipment for you, set up some emergency resources, but I don’t think there’s much more than that I can do without risking your exposure. How do you propose to disappear without raising suspicions?”
Mulder stared at Skinner. “Well, I do have a fair amount of vacation time built up. Agent Scully is long overdue for a paid medical leave, followed by a personal leave.”
Skinner snorted. “All right, Mulder, I’ll start the paper trail.”
Frohike jumped in. “And we will finish it. By the end of your investigation, you and Agent Scully will have spent money everywhere but San Diego.”
Scully shuddered at the thought. “Frohike,” her voice was low and slightly threatening.
He laughed. “Agent Scully, we take pride in our work. Your expenditures will be consistent with a weary agent taking a low-key, low-profile vacation on the oh-so-exotic eastern seaboard. It will bemuch more fun making Mulder’s paper trail.”
Scully raised her eyebrow and chuckled. “I bet.”
Skinner stood up and put his glasses back on. “Lets get on this. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“Now, come on, guys, we need a professional to do your disguises.” Byers was frantically trying to get Mulder and Scully to agree with him on the subject. “You can’t do it yourselves, and we certainly aren’t going to give you guys a makeover.”
“No, I can do Scully, and she can do me.” That sounded all wrong. “It’s simple. Then we don’t have to involve any outsiders.”
Scully groaned at this; she hadn’t thought about Mulder doing her hair until now. “Don’t listen to him, guys.”
“Thank you, Dana.” Byers gave Mulder a look. “I’ll get the phone book.” He dug around in a mound of what could only be described as a Leaning Tower of Pizza boxes, old magazines, and discarded newspaper until he found the phone book.
“Well, before we resort to the...ah...” She gulped, looking around guiltily, wondering if the private vanity she had for her hair was as evident as it felt. “The Yellow Pages...do you know anyone who does hair and/or gives makeovers?”
“I do.” The Assistant Director spoke up. Everyone looked at him in surprise.
“You have a hairdresser?” Frohike was the first to voice his shock. Mulder turned around and tried to quash the grin that threatened, vaguely jealous that Frohike could get away with a question like that. And that Frohike had beaten him to the punch.
“No, I don’t have a hairdresser,” said Skinner with some annoyance. “There is a very good hairdresser who owes me a favor or two. He also did my wife’s hair.”
“Yeah, but will he be willing to come here now?” asked Langly. “It would be stupid to go into a public place as one person and leave as another. There are spies everywhere.”
Mulder groaned inwardly. He knew what was coming next. The c word. “Because, you know, it’s a conspiracy.” Langly continued, then grinned.
Right on the mark again. Mulder mentally chalked up another point for himself, and then spoke. “Look, Junior G-man, I know we’re all just dying to hear about this latest cover-up, but we’ve got to get working.”
Skinner said through clenched teeth, “I said he owes me a favor. He’ll come.”
Langly seemed unaware of how close he’d come to having his head snapped off as he responded, “So contact this guy and let’s get going.”
Skinner gave Langly a long look, then shrugged. “I’ll get him now.” He pulled his coat back on and started for the door.
“But don’t you need to call him or something? We’ve got the most secure lines in the state. Untappable. Why...” Frohike began rambling on about something or other, though no one was paying attention.
“No, I know exactly where he is.” He gestured at the Gunmen. “You three would appreciate the technology behind the ankle bracelet he wears.” Skinner paused and smiled. “He’s a fine example of rehabilitation at its best. He discovered he liked hairdressing much better than his previous profession after our first, um, meeting. I send him his best customers. And besides, he’s convinced he’s been abducted by aliens who torture him by depiliating his scalp while he sleeps. He’ll be happy to help. I’ll be back.” Skinner left without another word.
The Lone Gunmen sat with their jaws dropped in unison. After the door closed, Frohike shook himself. “He’s good!”
“So, I guess we just wait,” said Scully.
“No, we need a makeup artist,” interjected Mulder. “This hairdresser isn’t going to do both.”
“Right,” said Byers, flipping through the Yellow Pages until he came to “Makeup.”
Frohike swatted the book out of his hands. “Stop that. I think I have someone closer to home who can help us.”
Langly blanched. “You’re not thinking of...”
Byers stopped him. “He’s right, Ringo. Best to keep it in the family.”
The door opened with a buzz, and Skinner came in, followed by an enormous black man carrying a huge basket of supplies. The man seemed to overflow the office with his muscles alone. He made even Skinner look scrawny. His eyes lit on Scully, and she backed away, slightly intimidated.
“This is Joe. Joe, you’ll understand if I don’t introduce everyone.”
“Y-you’re a hairdresser?” Frohike squeaked.
“Yeah. What about it?”
His voice was a deep, bass rumble; when he spoke, it sounded like a cement truck downshifting. “Gonna need extensions,” he said, rubbing a huge paw across his stubbled chin. “Don’t want to change the color...it’s a mighty purty red.” He talked while moving chairs and tables over around the only sink in the room, forming a makeshift salon in a matter of seconds.
“What did you arrest him for?” Mulder hissed at his boss.
“Armed robbery,” Skinner replied.
“How do you do, ma’am?”
“I’m all right,” she said warily.
“Please sit down.” His gentle manners somehow surprised her.
She walked over and sat down gingerly, unnerved by all the eyes staring at her. “What are you all looking at? Go hack the Pentagon or something!”
The Gunmen, Mulder, and Skinner all murmured their apologies. The boys each sat down at a computer terminal. Mulder staked out a strategic spot where he could see all three screens, and Skinner sat down at a ancient 286 and began playing solitaire.
Joe began picking up sections of Scully’s hair. “Ma’am? Do you know the name of the color you used on this?”
Scully spun on him, cold fury etched across her features. “I do not,” she said slowly, clearly enunciating each word, “Dye. My. Hair.” She sniffed, twisting back around to face the Gunmen, Skinner and Mulder. “I’ve been sick recently.”
The huge man looked completely cowed, much to Skinner’s amusement.
“Sorry Ma’am. In that case, we’ll start with a protein pack so the new hair will hold better.” His voice softened, and then he ventured, “Are you better now?”
The hard scowl on her face melted into a gentle smile. “Yeah, I’m better.”
He picked up a box and started to sort through it. Mumbling to himself, he began to hold different hair pieces up to her hair, seeking the perfect match. After ten minutes of painstaking choices, he held up two long, red lengths of hair. One was curly, the other straight.
“Which would you prefer, Ma’am?”
She looked at the two lengths and sighed. “Better go with the curly.” Haven’t had curls since I was in college. Pain in the ass, but they make me look more different than just long hair would. She remembered one undergrad splurge, a spiral perm and bunny tail bangs, the height of style...
The huge man nodded solemnly in agreement. “Glad we’re not trying to change the color, seeing as it’s natural and all. It’s just about impossible to get red hair to change color without turning green. And it is an awfully purty red.” He put the straight hank of hair back in the basket and began to lay out the curly hair in sections.
“This is going to take a while, Ma’am. You might want to get something to read.”
Scully reached over and grabbed the top magazine from a teetering stack on the table next to her. Opening the six-month-old copy of “The Lone Gunmen,” she began skimming an article claiming that President Clinton’s recent weight loss could be directly linked to the increase in global methane levels.
Scully frowned. The Cow Fart Diet?
Skinner swore at the ancient computer system, turned it off without bothering to exit the program, and threw his coat on.
“I’ve got some errands to run. I’ll be back shortly.”
Skinner returned just as the Gunmen reached a lull, waiting for their first efforts at the computers to bear fruit. He walked through the door with a large box in his hands. A bead of sweat on his scalp and the strain he struggled not to show indicated that the box was heavy, very heavy indeed. Mulder quickly cleared a spot for it on a table, tossing the papers which had covered it into a pile behind him.
Frohike objected. “Hey, Mulder, we don’t come over to your office and mess it up. So don’t mess ours up.”
Mulder’s Cheshire-cat grin danced across his face. “Do you want to see what toys he’s brought for you to play with, or what?”
“I still don’t see why you have to trash our office.”
Scully snorted at the idea that moving one large pile of junk from a table and setting it on another large pile of junk could be construed as “messing up” an office which was so far from clean that it couldn’t even get “clean” on radar.
Mulder just smiled and ignored him.
Skinner opened the box and drew out several pieces of odd-looking, ominous equipment. The three conspiracy theorists were all over them in a heartbeat, picking them up, turning them over in gentle, experienced fingers, dragging an illuminated magnifying glass over for a more thorough examination.
Christmas morning at the office, Mulder thought with a smile. “What is it?” he asked over the commotion.
“Ways to change your fingerprints, and some other things we use for undercover investigations,” replied Skinner.
“Such as?” prompted Scully
“New dental records, medical files, things you’ll have to have in San Diego.”
“Uh,” Frohike announced. “I’m sure that new paper dental records were all the rage when you were chasing Huey Long, but those things are computerized now. Dental teleradiology and all that. ‘Sides...We’ve got plans for those teeth.”
Skinner’s jaw flexed and Scully could almost feel her own teeth aching in pain as she watched her boss try and restrain the urge to twist the little toad’s head off like a dandelion. “Fine,” Skinner growled. “You just make sure you do a good job, or when I prosecute you for hacking into all these systems, I’ll make sure Joe’s old cell mate is your new cell mate.” Skinner stabbed Frohike in the chest with a single finger, almost sending the tiny hacker over on his ass. “What was his name again?” Skinner asked Joe.
“Mother,” Joe replied, grinning widely.
“W-what is that short for?” Frohike asked.
“Big Bad Mean Motherfucker,” Joe said, grinning even wider.
Suddenly he looked abashed. “Sorry ma’am.”
Frohike looked as if he was going to faint.
Scully grinned and laughed silently.
“Ma’am...you have to stop moving your head.”
Whatever Joe was doing was elaborate and took several hours to complete. It involved several pieces of equipment that baffled even the technophile Gunmen, and something about it smelled nasty.
Scully was unfazed by it all, and slowly read through the last six issues of “The Magic Bullet,” snorting from time to time as she absorbed the various theories. Bovine muscle tissue being injected into Texas high-school football players.
At one point Mulder raised the question of what their undercover names should be. Frohike had a ready answer.
“Martin and Sally. It will be easier for you to get used to, and any slips won’t be as noticeable as if you were, oh, Wendy and Peter.”
The other Gunmen nodded and Scully shrugged. Mulder sighed, and agreed.
“Martin and Sally it is.”
When Scully’s hair was finished, Joe brushed it out and sprayed it with water, combing it until it curled evenly. When this was over, he reached over and lifted the magazine out of her hands, replacing it with a mirror. “Ma’am, you’re done.”
Scully stood up, holding the mirror out to try to see the results, which just wouldn’t fit in the small frame. Frohike whistled appreciatively. The hair matched her color exactly, but fell in slightly damp curls down to her waist. She turned and tried to look over her shoulder at the ends, then reached around from underneath and smiled when her fingers found they could touch the ends easily. She put both hands under her hair and lifted the bulk of it over one shoulder to see the ends reaching well down her front, running her fingers with delight around the riotous curls.
“I feel like Sleeping Beauty, or Rapunzel,” she said. “Thanks, Joe, you did a wonderful job.”
“Wouldn’t look half so good if you weren’t so pretty, Ma’am.” He called across the room to Mulder. “All right. Your turn.” Mulder looked up from his terminal and moaned, but got up and moved into the chair.
“You’re not going to give me hair like hers, are you?”
Joe chuckled, a deep rumble, and began to shampoo Mulder’s head. “You’re not pretty enough to pull it off, mister.”
“Mmmm...” Mulder purred as Joe massaged his scalp. “Hey Scully, will you rub my head when we have to touch this up?”
“You could get lucky.” She moved over to the chair he’d previously occupied and settled in to see what the boys had come up with.
Something began to beep. Frohike looked up at a previously unnoticed monitor, and said, pressing a button, “It’s about time!”
Scully peered up to see the fuzzy outline of a large, middle-aged woman. A buzz sounded momentarily as she passed out of view of the camera.
At that moment, the door swung open, and a gigantic lady came in, bogged down with bags and boxes and cases. She dropped them in the middle of the floor.
“MELVIN RICHARD FROHIKE!” The woman blustering into the office was as loud as she was big. “What have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Frohike scurried forward to pick up the bags, but was engulfed in the woman’s embrace. “It’s not me,” he muttered, his voice muffled by her ample bosom.
Still pinning the small man under one arm, she whistled as she saw Skinner. “Don’t tell me you want me to cover that gorgeous head with hair!”
Skinner turned an odd shade of greenish-mauve as Mulder burst out laughing and Scully hid a smile.
“I hope you don’t want me to cut those curls, lady.” Scully was so entranced by the woman’s hair—a huge beehive dyed a very fake shade of platinum blonde—and the utterly cowed expression on Frohike’s face, that it took her a while to notice that she was being spoken to.
Ignoring Scully’s slack-jawed stare, the woman scanned the room. When her eyes came to rest on Joe, she bellowed, “What are you doing here?” When the woman’s words filtered through Scully’s amazement, she started.
“What does it look like I’m doing, ma’am?” Joe replied calmly as he wet Mulder’s hair in the sink, preparing for the shampoo.
“His hair, but why? Stop following me around! You always have the same appointments as me. Why?” Her face flushed red with anger.
“You, you KNOW him?” Scully’s shock was evident.
“Of course I know him,” the woman proclaimed. “In his own odd way, he’s rather famous. The only armed robber in history to give the bank tellers HAIR advice during the damn robbery!”
Joe smiled shyly and said to Scully, “You’d be surprised how many women don’t take care of their hair.”
“Bah!” the woman said, waving a dismissive hand at Joe. “Ever since he got out, he’s been the FBI’s number one undercover hairstylist. And he follows me; goes to almost every appointment I have.”
Mulder had an equally shocked expression on his face. “Melvin RICHARD?”
Frohike gave him as threatening a look as he could muster from under the arm pinning him. “Don’t...”
But Mulder couldn’t stop. “Dickie Frohike?”
“Maybe it’s a conspiracy,” offered Langly, still hunched over the computer screen.
“You better believe it’s a conspiracy, Ringo-boy.” The woman looked pointedly at Joe.
“Dickie?” repeated Mulder from under the tap. He spit the shampoo that had invaded his mouth noisily into the sink.
Joe attached a small hose to the faucet and began to rinse Mulder. “I suppose that you’re just jealous that you don’t get called out for the more exciting cases.” He paused, and regarded the woman innocently. “And I hardly could have followed you here. I’ve been here for hours.”
“I will just ignore you, since you persist on following me,” stated Beehive Woman with a flourish, disregarding the valid point that Joe had arrived hours ahead of her. She turned to Scully, who was standing in front of her, apparently still in shock. “Oh, yes, my darling, your disguise.” She eyeballed the petite woman in front of her. “I think maybe colored contacts, pluck those eyebrows, and definitely lose the natural makeup. You need to go for the subtle colored tones.”
Scully backed up a step. “Who are you?”
Frohike mumbled something, muffled by the arm.
The woman released him from her embrace. “Melvin, you haven’t introduced me to your friends yet!”
Frohike looked extremely contrite as he muttered, “Mulder, Scully, Skinner...meet Dorothy Frohike.”
They blinked in unison.
Frohike’s mom smiled a frighteningly toothy grin. “Yep, I’m his mom. Call me Dot.”
Scully closed her mouth with an audible snap. Frohike’s mother?! Somehow, she’d always assumed that he’d been...hatched, or something.
Scully tried to reconcile the connections. Mulder, the Gunmen, Frohike, Skinner, Joe, Frohike’s mother. Small world, Scully thought.
Scully’s face wore an expression of astonishment which had seemingly taken up permanent residence. She did not resist when Dot Frohike led her over to a high stool, but had to be nudged to climb onto it. Somewhere in this process her jaw had dropped again, apparently.
“Hey Scully! Better shut your mouth or flies will come in.”
She shot Langly a glare that sent him scurrying back to his computer, but did close her mouth again.
“Now, darlin,’ let’s see what ol’ Ma Frohike has in her bag of tricks.” The beehive swooped and dove and soared as its owner investigated first a box, then a basket, then a bag. Scully watched the motion, fascinated. She almost reached out a hand to touch the hair, wondering if it was as stiff as it looked. Stiff enough to deflect small caliber bullets, Scully thought. Probably exactly what it’s intended to do. She is Frohike’s mother...
Gradually a quantity of pots and brushes and blocks of flesh colored putty-like substance were perched on the piles of papers and books that surrounded Scully’s seat.
Then Scully found Dot Frohike’s face within inches of her own. She noted with clinical detachment that although there was a grotesque quantity of makeup covering the woman’s face, it had been applied with enough skill that although she just knew the eyelashes were fake and the skin coated with enough foundation to waterproof a canoe, she couldn’t see where the foundation stopped and skin began, and the eyelashes seemed to be growing out of her eyelids.
Leave it to Frohike’s mother to grow two-inch long eyelashes.
She briefly flashed to an image of a fruit fly with legs growing out of its eyes and shuddered.
Suddenly she was aware that the glowing fluorescent pink mouth was speaking to her.
“I said, do you have any allergies to cosmetics?”
Scully shook herself slightly, and her brain kicked back into gear.
“I don’t usually use foundation, just powder, because the liquid stuff makes me break out. Other than that, nope.”
Mrs. Frohike’s eyebrows had been transplanted upward, apparently, but still had enough flexibility that one of them managed to defy gravity even more as she answered skeptically, “Makes you break out, or you can’t find a color that matches you, or you don’t know how to apply it correctly?”
Scully looked kind of sheepish.
She looks completely cowed, thought Skinner with amusement.
“Actually...I think that all three of those are probably accurate. I can’t find a color that matches my skin, it always goes clumpy or splotchy, and then I break out.” She smiled wryly. “I gave up on foundation years ago; please don’t tell me I have to wear it now.”
Dorothy Frohike gave her a long look, then smiled broadly. “Well, I don’t know. This your normal face?”
Scully was nonplussed. “Uh...This is what I normally wear, except on special occasions.”
“Okay, doll.” Dot handed Scully a bottle of cleanser and a quantity of thick tissues. “Go over to that sink over there and wash it all off. I have to see your face naked to know how much we’ll have to do to make you look like someone else.”
She gestured to Skinner, who was the only other person in the room who didn’t seem actively involved in work. “You, there. Go see if you can scrounge up a t-shirt for the lovely lady to wear. Don’t want to get goop on her lovely blouse.”
A few minutes later, Scully was back on the stool. Without mascara, her eyelashes had faded to light brownish red with very pale tips. Without powder, her skin sported quite a few more freckles than anyone had previously given her credit for. And her lips seemed significantly smaller. With the long curls pulled back into a ponytail, and her suit replaced by a well-worn heavy-metal t-shirt of Langly’s, she looked like a teenager.
A self-conscious teenager.
“I feel naked,” she muttered under her breath to Frohike’s mom.
“Hey Scully, you look different already,” Mulder said with a lecherous grin. Langly eyed her appraisingly. “Frohike, man...I think I see what you mean. She looks damn good in my t-shirt.”
Frohike whistled. “She can have one of mine-”
“Well Missy,” Scully flinched at the endearment, but the woman continued without noticing, “Looks like we don’t have to do as much to you after all. I think we will keep the more natural look. Didn’t realize how much of those big eyes and lips came from a bottle.”
Scully glared at her. “So what are you going to do, make me face the world with a naked face on a daily basis for eight weeks?”
Dot Frohike laughed. “Not at all. We’ll just go with a more muted color palette. Barely there mascara. Silvery plum lipstick instead of that tonsil-hockey red you’ve grown so attached to.” She continued, ignoring the indignant sputters from the redhead in front of her and the stifled coughs from the peanut gallery. “The biggest changes will come from your eyes, and from your attitude.”
The last sentence jarred Scully out of her indignation. She tilted her head with a confused look. “Eyes and attitude?”
“You see,” Mrs. Frohike explained, “You are a very confident woman, and your looks draw people in like a magnet. Those big blue eyes of yours and those kiss-me red lips are trademark. They’re also ridiculously easy to change.” She shuffled through a small case, and withdrew a smaller box. “Brown eyes. Disposable lenses. You’ll wear them for a week, throw ‘em out, and put in a new pair. That way you run less risk of being caught with blue eyes. These are ultra-thin, and if you have regular contacts, you can actually wear them over the tint-lenses, though it will be easier on you if you replace your prescription with a tinted prescription ASAP.” She pulled out some non-prescription glasses. “These will help too.”
She pulled a tube of lipstick, a small vial of something clear, and a colored lip pencil out of a different case. “I’ll show you how to do your lips to play down the pout. Don’t think you want to permanently remove it, so we’ll paint it away.”
“Now, we will have reduced two of your most powerful visual attractors. You still want to be able to draw people in, so you’re going to have to do an attitude adjustment. I’m betting you have a gorgeous smile no matter what color your lips are, and I’m also betting you don’t let people see it much.”
In the background several male jaws dropped, impressed at how neatly Frohike’s mother had nailed Scully.
Scully looked down, with an embarrassed half-smile playing across her mouth.
Mrs. Frohike reached out, and with a surprisingly gentle touch, lifted Scully’s chin up. Their eyes met, and Scully grinned.
“See, you look like a totally different woman, and you don’t even have the contacts in yet.”
A surprisingly short time later, a transformed Scully stood in front of the group for evaluation.
Her whole face seemed different, which was remarkable considering the only makeup they had used (and Scully herself had been the one to apply everything, at Dot’s insistence) had been a touch of mascara, a subtle blush, and a light plum-colored lipstick. Her eyes seemed softer and smaller, the few freckles on her nose had given her a slightly saucy look, and her lips were no longer begging to be kissed. They still looked like they could easily be kissed but had better things to do, like smile. Her whole body had shifted a little somewhere in the process, so that the woman standing in front of them looked more like Dana Scully’s cousin than like Dana Scully herself. Mrs. Frohike had braided the long curls to keep them out of the way, leaving wisps around the face that were decidedly untidy. The effect was very different from Scully’s normal low maintenance, highly professional short hairstyle.
Mulder stared at her in shock.
The strange woman in front of him...laughed. “Mulder, quit staring at me.”
This brought him back quickly. “Okay. You’re still you, but you’re not...you.”
“Any other distinguishing marks?” Skinner asked, studying Dot’s handiwork. Scully suddenly paled, glancing at Mulder. He shrugged as if to say, “Up to you.”
She gulped. “Ah...yes. There’s a...er...a tattoo.”
Three male heads slowly rose from the keyboards they’d been pounding and swiveled to face her.
“Ta-” Langly started.
“Too?” Frohike finished.
Scully blushed furiously. “Yes, a tattoo.” She smiled saucily at Frohike. “Didn’t know about that, did you?”
All three of the Gunmen spoke at once.
“Where is it?” “What is it?” “When did you get it-”
“Enough!” Scully said. “John, is there a more private place Dot and I can go? It’s kind of in a...personal place.”
Frohike’s eyebrows waggled. “Oh, this is gonna be good!” he said.
The icy gaze that Scully turned on him could have frozen lava. Mulder thought he could almost hearFrohike’s pupils constricting in fear. The hacker quickly turned his head back to the keyboard and resumed typing.
Dot led Scully into the rather large rest room and shut the door behind them. “My son,” she said, “has a crush on you.”
“That’s sweet,” she said carefully.
Dot waved it away. “He’s a frog. But, the thing of it is, he’ll take care of you. He’s not much to look at, and some of his cookies are still soft in the center if you know what I mean...but if you need something, you can count on him.”
“So,” Dot said, clapping her hands. “What do we have? A rose, maybe? Over the breast? A butterfly on your butt?”
Scully grinned. “Nothing so simple.” Quickly shedding her jacket, Scully turned around, tugged the blouse out of her waistband and bent over, showing Dot the small of her back.
“Hmm...too fresh for a henna wipe. I could put a small patch of latex there, blend it in, kind of like a movie prosthetic. The good part is that you’re so pale that I won’t have to worry about blending into a tan line.” She paused. “The bad part is that it’ll have to be changed about once a week, and you have to be careful in the shower not to dislodge the glue.”
“Changed?” Scully squeaked.
“Yes. Well, not changed. I suppose that taking extra prosthetics with you...wherever it is you’re going...would cause a problem. So the one you have will have to be cleaned and reapplied.”
“Can I do it myself?” Scully asked.
Dot shook her head. “How close are you and your partner?” she asked.
Scully studied her own face in the mirror. “Close enough,” she muttered. “Do it.”
“Actually, we ought to call him in here so he can learn the process.”
Scully blushed, and then cringed as Mrs. Frohike bellowed out for “Mister Mulder.”
Mister Mulder entered the room cautiously.
“Mulder...you’re going to have to learn how to change this for me.”
He raised his eyebrows, started to make a comment, caught the look on her face, and thought the better of it. He settled in behind Mrs. Frohike to watch. This is an academic exercise, Mulder. You have to do this to maintain the cover story. It doesn’t matter that it’s your partner’s naked, tattooed back you’re going to be...Academic exercise. Yeah. Sure.
Whistling as she worked, Dot bent and began by swabbing the small of Scully’s back with a disposable alcohol wipe, removing the body’s natural oils so the adhesive would hold.
The latex was in place quickly, and Dot used what looked like foundation to blend the edges in seamlessly.
“Feel the patch, Mister Mulder...Feels just like skin, can’t tell where it ends and the real stuff begins.” Mrs. Frohike grabbed Mulder’s hand and touched his fingers to the patch. Scully didn’t seem to notice.
“Yeah. Just like real skin.” Mulder muttered, and gulped.
He withdrew his hand. “So how do I take it off?”
Dot grinned evilly. “You’ll have to check it each night. If an edge is starting to show, or it becomes obvious, use a bit of rubbing alcohol. Rub the edge up with your fingers, use some cotton with alcohol to dissolve the glue, use it to clean the patch, too, and then re-apply it.”
Mulder bit his lip. “Uh...okay.”
Let me get this straight, he thought. I have to physically inspect my partner’s naked back nightly, all while possibly under continuous video and/or audio surveillance, which means that it will have to look natural, as if a husband is running a hand over his wife’s body.
He chewed his lip. I can do that.
“Uh...I have a question,” he said softly. Scully could tell by his tone that it was a legitimate question. “Assuming that we’ll be under surveillance during our...mission, how would you suggest that I change this without being observed?”
Dot thought about this a minute, tapping a fingernail against her teeth.
“Two choices,” she finally said. “One, you’ll have to learn how to change it in the dark. That should fool the cameras. Second, in the shower.”
“The-” Scully started.
“Shower?” Mulder finished, his voice sounding suddenly hoarse.
“Yeah; hot shower, get the steam going nice and fluffy; that should fog the lens enough, right? Then, just make sure to wipe the area dry before you re-apply. That should cover it. It’s either that, or do it in a dark closet at midnight.”
Mulder thought he detected an evil little twinkle in Dot’s eye, but dismissed her intent look as professional dedication.
The Gunmen had hacked into computer systems that even Skinner had never heard of, creating two new people... “Canadian?” he asked.
Byers nodded. “Necessary, for reasons they’ll understand later. There’s a joint savings account here, but I didn’t want to do much more than that, I’d prefer to avoid attention. You can only fiddle with money so much before someone catches your trail.”
Scully looked at the amount in the account and whistled. When he also brought out a sheaf of hundreds and a sheaf of twenties, all old bills, to divide between the two of them, she looked almost afraid.
Langly smiled at her unasked question. “It’s all legitimate money, Agent Scully. Or at least,” he amended, “It’s not stolen, if that’s what your wondering. Us conspiracy nuts are notorious for socking it away in untraceable places. Consider it a gift from the Lone Gunmen Charitable Foundation.”
Mulder chuckled. “Is that a 501C3 nonprofit? Or a church?”
Skinner rolled his eyes. “Whatever it is, I don’t want to know.”
Mulder ran his fingers through his still-damp hair as he looked in the small mirror. “Is this enough of a change?”
His hair, always a medium to darkish brown, looked like it had obtained its own personal cloud to shadow it.
It was different, but the face underneath was still familiar. Stubbled, but familiar. He ran his hand across his chin. “Do you do shaves, too?”
Joe laughed in a low rumble. “Yeah, I do, but we’re not going to shave all that off, are we?” His voice raised just enough to carry to Dot Frohike.
The large woman walked over, and studied Mulder’s face.
“Nope, can’t shave all that off. Your chin is too distinctive. And that lip-” She raised her eyebrows suggestively and batted her eyelashes almost audibly.
Mulder’s eyes widened in fear at the innuendo.
“I can’t grow a full beard in a week.”
Joe chuckled. “No one’s askin’ you to, mister. I was thinking one of those Sean Connery goatee things.”
Scully overheard this, and called out, “Oh, Martin, dear, I just love Sean Connery.”
Dot looked at Joe and sighed. “I’ll let you do the basic shape. It’s not much to work with. I’ve got some tricks in my bag that will make it look like more than it is.”
Joe nodded, surprised at her cooperation. He pulled a small device out of his basket, and pulled a comb off of it. Plugging it in, he flipped a switch and it started buzzing menacingly. “Hold still Mister, I don’t want to slip.”
The clippers actually felt fairly good against his skin, Mulder noted.
Joe shaved his cheeks, leaving a line of stubble along the jawline and around the mouth. His short strokes with the electric clippers were as precise as an artist’s brush.
When he’d finished with the clippers, he pulled out a safety razor and handed it to Mulder with a small can of gel. “Normally I do this for my clients, but we need to know you can maintain this without someone holding your hand.”
Mulder shaved over the stubble-free areas, working hard to avoid the places the stubble had been left. He rinsed the foam from his face and studied the end results.
“Pretty pathetic...” Or, psychotic, Mulder thought. I look like a terrorist in a Grade-Z thriller.
Dot laughed. “Yeah, it is pathetic, Mr. Mulder. But I can help. This is a stop-gap measure, but should help long enough for you to fill in the real thing.” She elbowed Joe out of the way and held up a small tube.
“Miss Scully, I want you to do this.”
Scully looked at the tube closely and laughed. “I presume I’m not going to use that on his eyes?”
Ma Frohike rolled her eyes. “With lashes like God never gave a girl, I think that mascara on them would be a bit excessive, don’t you? But it will definitely bulk up the beard nicely.”
Scully pulled the wand out of the tube and rested the heel of her hand on Mulder’s cheekbone. Her first attempt left a black smear along his jawline and made him wince. “Damn. Strange angle. Sit up Mulder...”
“Martin,” he mumbled, sitting up as she licked a Kleenex and wiped the mascara smear off his face. “Fer god’s sake, Scully.” He looked exactly like a kid whose mom has decided to wash his face with spit and a napkin.
“Sally,” she muttered, swiveling his chair around so that he faced perpendicular to her. “Hold still.”
She pulled a stool up next to his, and perched on the edge of it as she leaned close to his cheek. She rested one forearm across his shoulders, leaning a bit over his shoulder as she brought her face close to his jawline. This time she did not rest her hand on his cheek, but instead rested her other forearm up his chest, leaving her hand free to apply the mascara to his stubble with tiny strokes.
“This is good stuff!” she commented to Frohike’s mom. “No clumping. Is it waterproof?”
“I have a question,” Mulder said, using the same tone of voice he had in the bathroom. “Until my—whatever this is—grows in more fully, how is Scul...Sally going to reapply this?”
“Same place as for the tattoo, Martin,” Scully said. “Only this we’ll do after the shower when the lenses are still fogged.” She tapped the mascara bottle. “Waterproof.”
Skinner winced at the word ‘shower.’ Frohike placed both hands on the table beside the keyboard and started taking deep, even breaths. Without looking at her son, Dot handed him an empty paper bag. “Here,” she said, “use this.” Byers and Langly just exchanged a glance of raised eyebrows.
“It’s an extender/thickener formula too. Gotta love modern cosmetic technology.” Dot flapped her own physics defying lashes.
“Smells nasty,” Mulder commented as she applied it under his nose. “How long do I have to use this stuff?”
“Until your own beard grows in sufficiently.” Scully swiveled him around and struggled for a moment to bring her dominant hand into a favorable position.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Scully! We can’t wrestle here.”
She swatted him. “Hold still, Martin, or I’ll put you in a half Nelson.”
She found a good angle, which involved turning his head and leaning across his chest, and finished applying the mascara.
“There you go!” she said, leaning back to survey her handiwork. “Not bad.”
He looked. Not bad. But not good, either. “I still look like me. Professor me, but still me.”
Dot pulled a pair of black-rimmed glasses out of a bag, and another small box of contact lenses. “Try these.”
He glared at her. “Contacts and glasses? That’s not fair!”
“Well, Mister Kent, You’re going to have to hide your x-ray vision somehow.” That from Langly.
Scully glared at him. “If he’s Clark Kent, then I’m Lois Lane, and she always annoyed me.”
“I hate these things-” Mulder griped as he put in the contacts.
The glasses went on next.
Scully laughed. “You look like an English professor.”
“How ‘bout some extracurricular activities?” He leered at her.
She raised her eyebrow at him wordlessly and handed him the mirror.
“I still almost look like me.”
Dot Frohike scrutinized him. “It’s the damn lip. Hang on. Melvin, have you boys got a burner down here?”
“For CD’s?” Byers asked in confusion.
“No, for boiling water.”
Mulder blanched, wondering what boiling water had to do with his lip.
“We’ve got a microwave.”
She pulled out some plastic strips. Pulling down a coffee mug, she filled it with water and put it in the microwave.
When it beeped, she pulled out the water, and dropped several chucks of the plastic strips into it. They softened instantly, and she picked them up with a pair of tweezers. As soon as it had cooled enough for her to touch, she wadded the plastic into a ball, and carried it over to Mulder.
“Open your mouth.”
Looking completely terrified, he complied.
She tucked the warm ball behind his lip, and pushed on it from the outside, flattening it against his gums.
“There you go.”
He looked in the mirror. The difference was subtle, but combined with the other changes, he suddenly didn’t look like Fox Mulder. That distinctive lip was still there, but his chin looked stronger, the pout less pronounced. It would be enough.
The boys were meanwhile examining the plastic Dot had used. “What is this stuff?” Frohike asked, fascinated.
“Friendly Plastic,” Dot answered absently. “Makes great vampire teeth.”
Mulder ran his tongue around the plastic experimentally. It was hard now, but form fit to his gumline, not so bulky as to interfere with talking or eating, but bulky enough to change his face.
His voice sounded strange, almost muffled.
“It’ll take you a while to get used to it. I suggest you talk as much as you can for the next few days to teach your mouth how to work around it,” Dot said.
Langly picked up a stray scrap and started experimenting with it, dipping it in the boiling water and then molding it into shapes.
“Hey, guys! This stuff is too kewl! How much does it cost?”
Mrs. Frohike shrugged. “Dunno. It’s cheap. Maybe fifty cents a strip.”
Three sets of eyebrows raised.
Langly took a tiny device off a counter, looked at it thoughtfully, then proceeded to bury it halfway in plastic.
“Awesome. Hey Mulder, give me that thing from your lip.”
A few minutes later the device was embedded smoothly in the form fitted lump Dot had made, with two small smooth strips of metal showing, flush against the plastic.
“Okay. You can have it back now. This is your key to some very helpful people. I was going to put it in a pen, but this will be more secure. When you meet our contacts, they will ask you for your ID. That is your ID.”
Mulder looked at it thoughtfully, returned it to his mouth, and asked, “So we have contacts. How many people are getting involved with this?”
“We’ve got a couple of very trusted friends in San Diego, and in Victoria, you’ll be meeting White Owl. She’ll help you make your background and cover rock solid. She knows who you really are, and probably knows better than you do yourselves who you are becoming. You need ‘references.’ In San Diego, we have several contacts who have helped us arrange your employment. They don’t know who you really are, just that you need their help working undercover against the black ops. You probably won’t meet more than one of those contacts, but they will be there to provide corroborating stories if need be.”
Mulder frowned. “I don’t like this. The more people who are involved-”
Scully interrupted him. “Guys, is it really necessary to have them involved? Can we do this with less?”
Frohike looked at them solemnly. “I understand your concerns. But no. We barely have a chance of doing this now.”
Skinner stood up abruptly. “I’m trying to figure out why you guys are putting so much money and time into this...fact-finding mission.”
Byers smiled tightly. “Mr. Skinner, I should think you of all people would understand the answer to that. This goes beyond Mulder and Scully. If they find the answers they’re seeking about Agent Scully’s offspring, they will, we believe, have found the answers to the greater questions our organization is dedicated to answering. Aside from the fact that Mulder is our friend and someone we trust, and aside from our shared anger at the things that have been done to him and to Agent Scully, they search for the truth. If you didn’t understand that, you wouldn’t be here.”
Skinner acknowledged this with a nod.
Frohike added, “Besides, this is too much fun.”
Skinner stood up and pulled one of the more scary-looking devices out of his box.
“My turn now,” he said with a grin that could have been called either purposeful or evil. Mulder wasn’t quite sure which.
I’m going with purposeful, Mulder decided.
Skinner concentrated as he worked, holding Mulder’s left wrist in his right one, the syringe held steady as he advanced it just under the surface of Mulder’s skin. He’d already finished with Scully. The entire process was time-consuming and demanded the utmost concentration.
“Hold still,” Skinner warned. “I don’t want to infiltrate the finger any more than I have to. You’ll end up looking like Donald Duck.” Mulder winced as the needle pinched his left index finger. He looked toward Scully, expecting her to say something, anything really. Even “Quit being such a baby, Mulder,” would have been fine, but she was staring at her own hands, lost in thought somewhere.
“Just a little more,” Skinner said softly. The tiny injections of silicon would last a few weeks, hopefully long enough for the planned mission. The injections would raise and change the shape of the loops and swirls of Mulder and Scully’s fingers, just enough to throw any attempt at matching the prints off.
“All finished.” Mulder started rubbing his hands together. They felt weird, as though they weren’t even his own. Probably still numb.
His tongue slid over the two new pieces of metal Byers had inserted in his mouth. They felt like new fillings, almost.
The small radio transceiver was a one-way, one-time only device. Back during the Cold War, the CIA and DIA and the other collection of TLA (Three-Letter Agencies) had hidden a potassium cyanide capsule under a crown that could be removed by pushing the tongue against it. Langly had improved on that concept; if Mulder or Scully broke the special crown on the left teeth, a signal strong enough to be picked up by a satellite would transmit for 24 hours. Using GPS cross-references, the Gunmen would be able to pinpoint Mulder or Scully’s position within five feet anywhere on the planet.
The one on the right was a tiny microphone, powered by the motion of the mouth moving, with just enough gain to reach another gadget the boys had come up with.
“Okay. Here’s the basics. You’ll have about a week to work out the nitty gritty details, but we’ve got the basic cover in place.” Byers paused.
Langly continued. “Mulder, you’re Martin Harrod. You have a MSW and a doctorate in sociology, and are currently on sabbatical from a teaching position at the University of Victoria, at the School of Social Work in their graduate department. You are pursuing field research with the Department of Children’s Services in San Diego, in conjunction with USCD, on a part-time basis.”
Frohike gestured at Scully, “Agent Scully, you are Sally Harrod, a physician with a background in pathology who has elected to go back into general practice on a part-time basis to reduce exposure to teratogenic substances and reduce work related stress. You will also be under the aegis of USCD, it’s the only way we can get your medical license transferred over simply. They’ve got too many file cabinet systems in use still, we can’t get in that way. But we can get you a special teaching license if you are ‘foreign trained’, and it’s much easier to fake the Canadian license in this case.
Scully sucked in her breath, impressed at the detail.
Frohike continued, “You will have a part-time position at a very busy university clinic, filling in for a doctor on maternity leave. Given the type of practice it is, the patients tend to see new doctors with every visit, and the doctors and staff are used to seeing new faces on a regular basis. You should have no problem fitting in, and the schedule you will contract for will leave you plenty of time to go hunting for clues.”
Skinner leaned forward, “You said they have a week to hammer out the nitty gritty...why a week?”
Dot Frohike snapped, “Mister Mulder’s beard has to have some time to grow. He’s got the wrong sort of face to pull off a fake. Even a good fake. That mascara is a stopgap measure and won’t hold up once they aren’t traveling.”
Mulder cringed at her words as Byers supplied the other answer to Skinner’s question. “The first step will be for them to fly to Victoria, play tourist for couple days, gain at least a passing familiarity with the city. It’s a popular town, and chances are that they will run into people who’ve been there-”
Frohike finished the sentence. “And it would look very strange for them to have no knowledge of the local tourist traps, the college campus, etc. Ideally we’d give them a couple of weeks, but it’s not possible.”
Skinner nodded. “And then?”
Langly grinned. “Then they hop the ferry, buy a car, and take a drive.”
Mulder grinned at Scully, “Guess we’ll be visiting the plausible state again...”
She chuckled, then asked, “So how long a drive is it from Victoria to San Diego?”
Byers fingers flew over the keyboard and touch pad, as he pulled up information from the Internet.
“The ferry ride will be a couple hours. The drive itself is oh, 20 hours if you don’t stop. You should have about five days to make the trip, so if you want, you could drive down the coast instead.” He paused as several web pages opened simultaneously. “There are thousands of small hotels, inns, and bed-and-breakfasts along the way. I understand the Pacific Northwest is actually pleasant this time of year along the coast, if you don’t mind rain. I’m sure White Owl will have some recommendations for you.”
Langly explained, “The idea is for you to leave a nice trail down the coast as Martin and Sally. You won’t have to worry about surveillance until you actually get to San Diego, but it would be wise to get into the roles as quickly as possible. We’ve set up ID’s for Marsden and Salome Kingston for the plane tickets out to the coast. But as soon as you get out there, you’re Martin and Sally.”
Frohike took up seamlessly where Langly left off. “You are going to have to be Martin and Sally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for somewhere between 3 weeks and several months. We suspect, given the level of technology we’ve seen in the past, that as soon as you are in contact with any of the adoptive parents, you will be under electronic surveillance. You’ll have to deal with nosy neighbors from the minute you move in. In fact, we’re arranging for a moving truck to arrive around the same time you do, to make it more realistic.”
Skinner interjected, “I know that you two are very capable of finding bugs and cameras, but Sally and Martin wouldn’t be. So you’ll need to leave their equipment in place. You two haven’t had the official undercover seminar through the Bureau yet, but it looks like this will have to be a crash course.”
The Lone Gunmen nodded in unison.
Scully sighed. “So we simply assume we’re being watched, and pretend that we haven’t a clue.”
Frohike leered at her. “Good thing you don’t sleep in the nude.”
She opened her mouth to ask how he knew that, then shut it again, realizing that she really didn’t want to know.
Then she grinned mischievously. “I don’t, but maybe Sally does.”
Mulder paled visibly.
Frohike shook his head in disbelief. “This I want to see.”
Then he realized what he’d said, and blushed.
Mulder flipped through the file of information on his new identity.
“Not enough,” he muttered.
“What?” Byers asked.
“Sorry to do this, but we need at least six or seven other cover identities. Just driver’s licenses or other valid photo IDs. We’re going to have to present a different one every time we check in at an airport. The new anti-terrorism policies are designed to stop the kind of plane-hopping I’m sure you have planned for us.”
Frohike and Langly exchanged a glance. “He’s goooood,” they said in unison, and turned to begin working.
To Skinner, Mulder said, “So do we have any backup, any outside help? You mentioned contacts....”
The Lone Gunmen looked at each other, then at Skinner.
“Any contact with my office will be an instant ticket back to DC. The San Diego Field Office will not be made aware of your presence, nor will local law enforcement. I assume you will reserve playing this card for a life-or-death emergency or a blown cover.”
Langly nodded. “Contact with us should be extremely limited. We will be monitoring your bank account, and you’ll have a few gadgets here and there, but nothing extreme. We’ve got some dummy e-mail accounts set up for emergencies, but we’re going to assume anything coming out of your computer is being monitored.”
“Here,” Byers said, lifting a small square device out of a foam-lined case. “This is a 3Com Palm Pilot. It’s a small Personal Digital Assistant with handwriting recognition. It’s coupled with a microminiature cellular modem with frequency-hopping ability. The idea is, if you get into a world of shit, you just write “Help!” or something like that and hit “transmit.” Since it’s a scrambled frequency, you should have at least two or three uses before whoever is watching you figures it out. For emergencies only. Though it does have a nice day-planner function for everyday use, which will give you a good excuse to keep it with you at all times.” He handed the device to Mulder, who took it with a wide-eyed expression on his face.
“For you,” Frohike nodded at Scully with a grin, “We have something a little more powerful, but a little less “secure,” as you’ll be using it more often. He pulled out a black case the size of a paperback book.
“This is a MP21K. You can do everything from writing checks to updating your website. It can talk to a PC, a Mac, printers, or...Martin’s Palm Pilot. Runs about 35 hours on a couple of double A’s, and in the case is a solar battery recharger.”
She took the cool black case from him, surprisingly heavy for something so small, but surprisingly small for something so powerful. She flipped open the case. “There’s no keyboard. It’s all screen-”
Byers laughed. “It recognizes handwriting very well, script or print, but it also has a mini-keyboard on-screen. The cool thing about this one is that you can take it through airport security and other x-ray systems without it getting wiped. Reduces the amount of interaction you’ll have with security guards, and makes you more invisible.” He held up a small collection of technical documentation and memory cards. “I’ll just put these in your luggage. Oh. Speaking of luggage, leave those bags you packed here. We know they have tracers embedded in them, and we’re sending them on a trip. You will use carry-ons we provide.”
“This,” Frohike said, holding what appeared to be a Mont Blanc pen, “holds two .22 rimfire cartridges. As the saying goes, point and click. If you depress the pocket clip twice, like double-clicking a mouse, the first shot is fired. Twist the end of the cap to reload for the second shot.”
Langly held up what appeared to be two small pieces of oddly-shaped wax. “These will fit in your ears. They’re radios, two-way, extremely high frequency. Unless they’re looking for something on this band, they’ll be undetectable. I wouldn’t use them every day, but if you know you’re going to be separated, they’ll be helpful. They work in conjunction with your, uh, dental work.”
“Agent Scully,” Byers said, reaching for another item, “this is for you.” He held up a small nylon fanny-pack. “On the outside,” he said, joking, “it looks like a perfectly normal activity pack. However...on the inside...” He showed them both how the front ripped away from Velcro mounts to reveal a hidden compartment. Nestled in the compartment was something that looked almost, but not quite like a pistol.
“This is a high-impact polymer four-shot pistol. It fires .45ACP cartridges, and has an effective range of about ten feet.” He removed the pistol and showed Scully how it operated. “It’s only good for those four shots. Everything inside is plastic, so the internal chamber pressure will eventually melt the internals. But, as a last ditch weapon, it’s quite effective.”
Scully nodded, turning the pistol over in her hands.
“There’s no safety,” Byers continued. “It’s pull, draw and fire. I would recommend carrying the ammunition in your checked luggage until you arrive in San Diego, or using on of your transient ID’s to purchase it in California.”
“California,” Langly reminded him...”No checked luggage.”
Scully nodded again. “What else?”
Byers grinned. “A woman after my own heart. This,” he said, moving to the front compartment, “is a little interesting.” He did something with his fingers and then pulled what looked like a plastic picnic knife from inside. “This is also plastic.”
“Plastic?” Mulder asked dubiously.
Langly reached for a piece of paper and held it up. With two fingers, Byers drew the knife down the paper. It split evenly with almost no pressure from Byers’ hand. “It’s sharper than metal, holds an edge longer, and if you have to...er, employ it in a terminal fashion, you don’t run the risk of snapping the blade off on a rib.”
Scully blanched at the image John’s words created. “I see,” she said.
Mulder piped up, “Does that come with a spoon and fork set?”
“That will pass through airport security. And the last item,” Byers said, ignoring Mulder while reaching into the pouch again. He removed what appeared to be a small bottle of breath spray. “CN gas. A friend of ours who used to work at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds came up with this. Normal CN gas works on the tear ducts or the soft mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat. This stuff actually works on the central nervous system.”
“What does it do?” Mulder asked.
“It’s actually a aerosol version of Curare,” Byers explained, and then hastily added, “severely diluted, of course. Spray this in someone’s face, and they’ll be paralyzed for about a minute or two. Not enough to kill them, but enough for them to stop where they stand and collapse like a boneless chicken.”
Byers saw the disbelief written across Scully’s face. Without a word he pivoted and sprayed Frohike’s face. The little man blinked once, managed to get “W-wha?” out of his mouth, and promptly collapsed on the floor in a heap.
“Not bad,” Skinner observed. “Why did you wait so long to demonstrate that?”
“He hates it when Byers does that,” Langly said.
“Wish I’d had that twenty years ago,” Dot mumbled.
Mulder and Scully both hid smiles behind their hands.
Two minutes later, the little hacker twitched and opened his eyes. “What the hell?” he croaked.
“You fainted,” Byers said seriously.
“I gotta see a doctor about that,” Frohike mumbled, climbing back to his feet. “Fifth time this month.”
Scully took the pack and strapped it on. “Nice,” she said. “Very nice, John. Thank you.”
“Oh, wait, a few more things. These are built into the pack itself.” He took it back from her and pointed out the molded plastic buckle. “There’s a small recessed button on the back of this. Press it once, and Mulder will hear an alarm in his ear piece. He’ll know that it’s you, and it rings for six minutes. Along the beltline here...” Byers grunted and separated the nylon material, showing a hidden trench, “is this.”
He slid out what appeared to be a long, slim wire. It glinted in the dim light of the Gunmen’s lair. “Garrote,” he pronounced. “The wire has small pieces of glass embedded in it. The inside of the belt is lined with Kevlar, so it won’t cut the pack apart. Slip this around someone’s neck, pull...and well, you get the idea.”
Scully gulped, put her hand to her throat, and nodded.
Langly nabbed the pack from Byers, “One last cool feature...”
He unzipped the underneath of the pouch and pulled out several straps. Clipping them up to the belt, he grinned. “Also doubles as a baby carrier. The waist belt becomes a shoulder strap....”
Scully blinked. “Buh...wha....”
Byers laughed at her confusion. “I got the basic pack from my sister. Thought the whole idea of a mighty-morphin’ fanny pack was just too cool, so I started from hers and worked in our...uh...adjustments...from there. Thing was called a Cubby Carry. Dunno what you’d call it now. Left the original features in place; who knows when you have to carry a kid around?”
Skinner cringed. “So this pack of highly illegal death also doubles as a BABY carrier? Do you guys just make these things for fun? What’s next? The car seat car bomb? The diaper bag automatic machine gun?”
Frohike blinked. “Hey...that’s not a bad idea....”
Mulder chuckled, then said, “If this is your idea of ‘a few gadgets,’ I would hate to think what ‘a lot of gadgets’ would be.... Anything else besides the wicked gadgets?”
Byers smiled, “It’s not all wicked gadgets...We do have some contacts in Victoria and San Diego who will provide ‘corroborating’ stories. In fact, you’ll be staying with one of those contacts tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah,” Langly grinned, “Martin and Sally will set up their own web page when they get settled in. You know, one of those perky web-dust bunny-fluff pages about your romantic trip down the coast, your charming new home, and ongoing ‘news’ about your quest to find parenthood.”
Skinner made a strange choking noise. Mulder looked vaguely ill.
Scully suppressed a smile and said calmly, “I suppose that’s my job...
Frohike gestured at the small computer in her hands. “You’ll be able to update your web page from that if you need to, as well as phone home for help. In fact, we’ll be following your progress via your web page, so please update frequently...”
“Oh, one more thing...” Byers pulled a couple of small jewelry boxes out of his pocket and placed one in each agent’s hand with a glint of mischief in his eyes.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Langly waved a vague benediction over them with a shark-like leer.
Scully opened the box and looked at the diamond-encrusted platinum band. She inhaled sharply. “It’s beautiful.” She turned the ring over in her hands.
She looked up and saw Mulder grinning at her. “So, Sally, am I supposed to kiss the bride now?”
“No, no, no, snookie-wookie”—she gagged at him as he continued—”it’s Martin. You’ll blow our cover calling me Mulder.” He took her ring and slipped it on her finger. It fit exactly.
“Fine.” But Martin turned out to be a hard name to yell while trying to be convincingly angry. She stuttered as she said it, and finally gave up. Point taken. His light tone aside, the message was clear. And suddenly, with a heavy, solid band around her finger, and a heavy mass of hair curling down her back, she realized that the abstract “Martin and Sally” were going to have to be very real to her for the foreseeable future.
She opened Mulder’s jewelry box and took out the shiny ring. She slipped it on his finger and stood on her tiptoes, as if to whisper something in his ear. Instead, she gave him a small peck on the cheek.
To her surprise, he blushed. “Uh, we’ll have to work on that.”
Scully’s eyes gleamed mischievously. “You got it, Snookie-wookums. Though if you’re growing a beard, you can forget any lip lock practice sessions.”
“At least until it grows in.”
Frohike turned from his PC with a sigh. “OK, I’m just about finished. Gotta love E-tickets.”
“E-What?” Scully asked.
“E-tickets. Newest thing in air travel. See, the airlines used to mail tickets out, right? UPS, FedEx, Airborne, whatever. But they were constantly getting lost or stolen. So now they have E-Tickets, or electronic tickets. All ya gotta do is show ID at the gate, and they give you the ticket.”
“Why didn’t I know about these already?”
Mulder piped up. “The Bureau hasn’t figured out how to process the paperwork for them yet. It’s too simple.”
Frohike continued. “You’re booked under seven different names. We’re generating seven different driver’s licenses, all good enough to get you on the plane. Don’t use ‘em if you get pulled over, though. Aside from the Marsden and Salome ID’s and the Martin and Sally ID’s...they’ll fail an NCIC check. Oh...Mark and Sarah Hunt have some extra paperwork for customs. Proof of Canadian citizenship.” Martin and Sally have that, you’ll pick up visas for work in the US from our contact in Victoria.
“Pictures?” Mulder asked.
“We’re getting to that,” Frohike said. He draped one of the bulletin boards with a red cloth, and pulled a large, oddly shaped camera out from under a desk. Setting it on a tripod, he gestured for Mulder to stand in front of the board. He turned several bright lights on Mulder, making him squint. “Hold still right there. Good. Tip your chin up. Look into the camera.” He stood on tiptoes behind the camera, then looked. “STOP it, Mulder...Geez.”
Mulder uncrossed his eyes and pulled his tongue back in. A moment later an unusually large Polaroid sheet was developing on the counter with eight identical shots.
“Just like the real thing,” Langly quipped, looking at the less than beautiful pose. “Looks just like a real “bad driver’s license” photo.
Byers chuckled. “You’d think G-man here at least could take a pretty license photo.”
Frohike turned to Scully. “Your turn.” He adjusted the tripod downward and slid another sheet of film into the camera.
She stood quietly in front of the board, adjusting her stance as requested.
“Okay now...Smile!” Mulder held two fingers over Frohike’s head, and she grinned broadly.
When the sheet came into focus, she sighed. “At least I’m not screaming.”
Frohike picked it up, whistled, and passed it around by the edges.
“Hey, Mulder...Your partner is more photogenic than you are!” Langly passed the picture to him.
He raised his eyebrow and passed it back. “So how do you guys duplicate the security features on the cards?”
Frohike chuckled as he worked. “That’s our secret,” he winked, looking pointedly at Skinner, who had been listening closely.
A short time later, Frohike handed a pile of cards to each of the agents.
Mulder began scanning through them.
“Charles Jones?” he said, laughing. “Too cool, Frohike.”
Scully glanced at her partner, not getting it.
“Chuck Jones. He was the animator that created Marvin the-”
“Martian,” she finished, nodding. “Got it.”
“Just gotta remember which is which.”
Frohike smiled. “That was the easy part. Just notice the home states. Whatever state your next destination is in, that’s the license to use. That way, you’re always returning home, and the chances of a gate agent noticing anything wrong with them diminishes.”
Scully and Mulder exchanged a glance. They turned to Frohike and in unison said, “You’re gooooooood.”
The little man flushed unexpectedly at the praise.
His mother guffawed and pronounced, “Like mother, like son.”
Mulder pulled Frohike to the side as they were leaving. “Listen, we appreciate all your help in this,” he pulled a key out of his pocket. “You guys have free access.”
“Is that what I think it is?” Frohike asked.
“Yep, the key to my video cabinet.”
“Mr. Mulder! Are you corrupting my son?” Dot Frohike’s voice boomed across the room.
“Thanks Mulder,” Frohike smiled devilishly. “But I already had a copy.”
Mulder gave mother and son one frightened look and fled after Scully and Skinner.
The first five chapters of this were written together with the following authors, all of whom I've completely lost track of. Dawson Rambo, Sarah Kiley, Ashlle, Sunny, and Ellen R were a tremendous lot of fun to work with, and 19 years later I could not for the life of me tell you who wrote exactly what, except that Dawson did a whole lot of the funky gadgets, and I put all the bits and bobs together into a cohesive whole.
This was initially published on USENET. If you are bothered by the use of all caps or asterisks for indicating formatting, they're a holdover from that. I might go in and tweak that someday. I thought I had gotten most of them, but right now I'm feeling all nostalgic. The graphics with compuserve email addresses predate me owning Jenrose.com, which I got in 1998-ish? In another 3 years my email address will be old enough to buy drinks. With all those lottery winnings it keeps getting.
When I went back in 2008 it was mind blowing to me that gas was so cheap. And now in 2016, gas is almost that cheap again. The idea of a handheld device one could read on was not new, but the devices capable of it mostly had black screens with green text or yellowish screens with grey text, and cost many hundreds of dollars. A $50 Kindle Fire can run laps around all the technology they use put together. And most of the gadgets they use can be obtained for $5-$30 on Amazon, at the time we're talking many thousands of dollars worth of equipment.
So if you were reading this when it was initially being written, take a moment... yeah, I feel that old, too.
Also, I'm resisting the urge to go back and rewrite everything. Who knew my writing would change and develop over time? When I started this I had written less than 50k words worth of creative writing. Now? I'm pushing three quarters of a million words in fanfic alone. But I've got other projects in the fire, and this is just getting posted as-is, because I know there are people out there who loved it when we started it and were upset when it stopped. It is finished. It is at my website in its entirety, so you can even go read it now. I'm just tossing chapters up here when I remember to.
Chapter 3: Airplane
Nearer my god to thee...
March 2, 1998
They climbed out of Skinner’s car near the bus stop, each holding a black nylon carry-on bag, wearing large shapeless raincoats with the hoods pulled up. The rain came drizzling down over them, dampening their sneakers and coloring the white of Skinner’s shirt sleeve a translucent shade of gray where the droplets penetrated the fabric.
Dana Scully paused next to Skinner’s window, looking off into the middle distance, a pensive expression on her face.
“Scully?” Skinner asked.
She turned to him, and without a word reached behind her neck and unclasped the chain holding her simple gold cross. Letting it pool in her palm, she handed it to him through the window. “If-” She stopped, took a breath and started again. “If anything happens to us...give this to my mother. Tell her, tell her I love her.”
“I’ll put it in my office safe,” Skinner promised gruffly. He looked at his palm for a moment, the rain misting droplets through the open window onto the tiny pool of gold chain. Then he closed his hand over it and dropped it into his shirt pocket.
Mulder looked away, eyes burning. Watching her remove the cross was a reminder of too many painful moments.
Small trace of gold lying in the trunk of a car.
Half hidden by sand in a coffin.
Watching her take off the cross was like watching her remove a part of her soul. Given the situation, it would be vital to their success.
But he didn’t have to like it. He just had to let her do it.
Skinner’s voice brought him out of his musings.
“You two...Be careful...” The concern in Skinner’s voice was palpable.
Mulder looked at him, surprised at the intensity in the man’s voice.
Scully laughed, a short, sharp, humorless laugh. “Sir, the strange thing is that we’ll probably be in less danger now than we seem to be in normally.” The look on her face as she spat out the word “normal” spoke volumes.
Mulder cringed inwardly. Normal. Lately, for her, normal includes something akin to slow psychic death.
Pushing the stinging out of his eyes, forcing bright words around the lump in his throat, he smiled at her as Skinner rolled up his window and drove away.
“Guess you’re officially Sally now.”
She nodded, looking away, unable to meet his eyes, hand resting over the spot her cross had hung for so many years.
“I suppose so,” she said softly.
They stood silently in the rain for a moment, watching their last connection with “normal” turn a corner and disappear.
As the crowded bus rolled closer to the airport, she looked over the itinerary Frohike had loaded into her MessagePad and sighed.
“Last time I ever let the guys play travel agent...” she muttered.
Thirty hours in a train would be fine. Thirty hours in a car, not fun, but doable. But thirty hours on eight different aircraft, seven different airlines even, combined with having to deal with nine different airports and thirty hours of travel time would have her crawling out of her skin.
“What were they thinking?”
Mulder answered automatically, his voice pitched low and quiet. “The more plane changes we make, the harder it is for us to be tracked. Also, this will give us a chance to accumulate some souvenirs and clothes from a variety of places.” He grinned at her. “Just think of this as a glorified shopping trip.”
“I hate shopping. And this isn’t a glorified shopping trip, it’s a glorified version of purgatory.” She was almost hissing, trying to keep her voice low while communicating her ire.
“Aww, Sc—Sally, it’ll be fun!”
“I do not count seven plane changes and thirteen plus hours worth of layover time as ‘fun.’ Besides, your idea of fun is shopping for small glow in the dark pencil toppers shaped like aliens and snow globes with the mountain from Close Encounters. Or worse yet, Velvet Elvises.”
He tried to look deeply wounded, but failed, his eyes twinkling.
“Um...I think the term d’art is “Velvet Elvi.”
She glared at him for a moment, then a slow grin crept up the sides of her mouth like a stranger trying to enter a crowded party without crashing it.
His mouth twitched at the not-quite-comfortable way she spoke the name. “Yes, Sally, darling?”
“You know, don’t you, that you won’t be able to buy any souvenirs of...Extraterrestrial origin...for the next couple months.”
He smiled sweetly at her. “Of course not. Martin Harrod doesn’t care a bit about alien paraphernalia.”
Scully cringed inwardly, somehow knowing that Mulder had already figured this out, and having figured it out had set his mind searching for something to “collect,” something in character for Martin, something that he knew or suspected would make her want to pretend she didn’t know him.
She wasn’t disappointed.
“He collects golf tees.”
She shuddered. At least it’s not bad ties.
“Oh, Marty?” she said sweetly.
“Yes, Sal?” he answered, cautiously, but enjoying the rare banter.
“I get to pick out all your ties. Nothing would blow our cover faster than you picking out your neckwear.”
“Anything, Sally my sweet, as long as it makes you happy.”
It was 11 p.m and two flights before they finally landed at Houston. The first flight, true to Frohike’s itinerary, was on time. The second...Well, sixty percent on time seemed to mean twenty-five minutes late. Not horrible, but to two weary travelers, it was too late for politeness or patience.
The trip from Washington to Atlanta had been spent reading and rereading the files they’d been given. Or at least, she’d re-read them. Mulder had given them the once-over and stuck a set of headphones in his ears. Damned eidetic memory. The rat.
The Dulles-Hartsfield leg had lasted just long enough for her head to start spinning as she tried to focus on the text. The landing was over mercifully quickly, their lack of luggage a blessing in the vast, warm labyrinth of the Atlanta airport. A door with a digital southern drawl warned them to step back from the closing doors of an underground rail shuttle. The next train came quickly. Inside, a different voice, this one reminiscent of a 1970’s b-movie robot, announced the terminals as the train sped through the dark tunnels.
In silence they found their next gate, to discover the flight was delayed twenty-five minutes.
“Hey! Perfect!” Mulder exclaimed too brightly, his voice cracking the weary silence that hung between them.
Scully shot him a look that could have withered a cactus.
He ignored it and continued, “That gives us just enough time to stop at a gift shop and get some Olympic golf tees!”
A dry cough of an attempt at a laugh answered him. “Do you really think they still have Olympic paraphernalia? It’s been a year and a half.”
“Can’t hurt to check, can it?” He grinned at her.
She muttered something under her breath.
He leaned forward and caught the tail end of something that sounded like “hurt...beast woman.”
He whispered in her ear, “I know you’re tired, but play with me for now. Be Sally...”
Her body shifted as she mentally shoved aside the weariness which had dropped her back into herself. “What if I don’t want to buy outdated souvenirs?” She flashed him a crooked smile that didn’t quite make it to her eyes. I’m trying.
He straightened, and shot her his most pathetic puppy look. “Come on, S-Sally, I’ll buy you some coffee if you’ll come gift shopping with me.” I know you are.
She suppressed a snicker as she took his proffered arm. “Y’know, that look is nowhere near as effective with that beard...”
“You’re coming with me, aren’t you?”
She rolled her eyes. “I just don’t want you ditching me so you can search every damn gift shop in the airport for some elusive golf tee.”
He tried to look wounded. “I wouldn’t do that.”
She snorted as he continued. “Besides. I think there are thousands of gift shops here. We’d miss our flight.”
Sure enough, there were Olympic golf tees. And spoons with torches in the handles. They looked kind of dusty, and were half hidden by a display of thirteen kinds of breath spray.
Mulder held up a pair of black speedos with the Olympic logo silkscreened on the right side. He danced them between his hands, waggling his eyebrows at her.
She shook her head, muttering, as he crowed with delight over the finds. Then noticed something more fundamental. “Hey M...Martin.” He didn’t look up. She elbowed him. “Martin!”
She suppressed a shudder, and gestured to a rack of T-shirts and sweatshirts near the front of the store.
“Good idea, Snookie-toots.”
She hissed at him. “Knock it off or I’ll strangle you myself. Playing is one thing, but that is nauseating.”
“Too much?” He tried to look penitent, but failed.
“Way too much.” She lifted up a t-shirt with a picture of a gracious southern mansion on it.
He took it out of her hand.
“Hey!” she exclaimed.
“This one,” he said, displaying a heathery blue t-shirt with peaches on it.
“But it’s obscene! I can’t wear that.” She tried to put the shirt back.
“Sally can,” he grinned at her. “Besides, it’s just peaches.”
“But they’re-” She gestured at the two fruits strategically placed on the chest of the shirt.
“Just the right size,” he finished, ducking out of her reach with a delighted grin and holding the shirt up over his head.
She glared at him. I’m definitely going to kill him. Bare hands. Justifiable homicide. Then looked at the rack of shirts. The problem is that anything tacky I could get him, he’d probably adore. Then she spotted a large t-shirt, in a similar muted blue. Evidently a matched set. She turned it around.
And began to sputter trying to suppress the giggles that were threatening to turn into hysterics. She quickly folded the shirt, and took it to the cash register. She smiled at Mulder sweetly.
“Found one for you, dear...”
He looked—yes, he looked almost frightened.
She grinned like a shark and held up her “find.”
He coughed and turned bright red behind the thin beard.
“I thought it would be cute if we matched.”
“Cute...doesn’t begin to-” he shook his head.
Scully smiled serenely and paid for the shirt inscribed, “I Love Peaches.”
They stopped at the restrooms to change into the shirts.
It took an act of will on Scully’s part to maintain her sense of dignity while walking next to him back to the gate. He had an odd mixture of glee and embarrassment on his face, as if he could not decide whether to be pleased, embarrassed, or completely devilish about their matched shirts. She pulled the brown flannel shirt Frohike had loaned her a little more tightly around her shoulders. And then she thought, Screw it, I’m Sally now, not Dana Scully, FBI, MD, FAFP. She let the shirt widen just a little, revealing the edge of one “peach.”
Finally, as he paid for some coffee and biscotti off a cart in the wide space between gates, he whispered to her, “Frohike would pay money to see you in a shirt like that, particularly with his shirt over it...”
She grinned, all the way up to her eyes. “But he’s never going to see it, is he?”
Mulder checked the large scrolling clock above the ticket counter.
“Maybe he will.... We need photos for that web site, right?”
She looked at him with dread. “How-”
He scanned the area quickly. Yes! “Come on.”
She saw where his gaze had landed, and shook her head as she reluctantly followed him to the “Instant Foto” booth.
They made it back to the plane with about 10 minutes to spare, laughing as they presented IDs proclaiming them to be “Martel and Sandra” to the ticket agent at the desk by the gate.
“He’s never going to believe this, Sal...”
She chuckled. “Well, Marty, maybe he’ll stop sending me those raunchy e-mails.”
They boarded the plane, still laughing.
She tried to read more of the file on the plane from Atlanta, but the words all seemed to run together. She closed her eyes.
She tried to sleep, sitting there in the seat, hard angles every place she tried to lean to get comfortable. She tried hard. But neither sleep nor comfort happened.
How long had it been since she’d slept? The night before—three, maybe four hours before Mulder had been there, banging on her door, haggard and looking like he hadn’t shaved all weekend. She sighed. He probably hadn’t slept all weekend either.
“I have to tell you, Scully. You have to know...” He’d poured the story out, putting together all the cutting pieces of her shattered fertility, her children who were not hers.
She’d almost started to get angry at him, when the look in his eyes and grief in his voice stopped her in her tracks. Like he was grieving for her loss as his own.
“I tried to tell you. I wanted to tell you. But how could I take away your hope that way? How could I tell you that those bastards were even now creating more of your babies to torture? How could I?”
She’d asked him softly then, “What changed your mind?”
He’d looked at her, and shaken his head. “The longer I tried to hide it from you, the more I felt like I was letting them turn me into one of them. I don’t want to hide from you anymore. I won’t play their game of half truths and plausible denial.”
The impact of it all had taken the strength out of her knees and knocked the wind from her chest. He’d caught her, letting her sink to the bed rather than the floor. Her next words had started the path they were on now.
“How many babies do I have to lose?”
She tried to push the echoing words out of her mind and shifted again, turning in the seat, trying to sleep, trying to escape...
A hand brushed over her forehead, smoothing out the little pucker between her eyebrows.
She opened her eyes to see the familiar/unfamiliar face of Mulder/Martin looking at her with concern.
She gave him a half smile, and squeezed his hand with hers. The hand felt familiar and warm, but the smooth, hard band of metal around the ring finger did not. She left her hand in his, idly turning the ring on his finger, and leaned back again with her eyes barely open, unfocused.
Sleep did not come in the tiny seats of the sardine section, but the frown line was gone from her brow. Her mind stopped circling in that painful place as she dropped into the quiet, familiar numbness that had become her refuge.
He felt her hand lighten, like it was drifting away from him, taking her soul with it.
Before it could slide off into her lap, he turned his hand over and caught her fingers more tightly in his.
“No.” His voice was soft, but it startled her. Her eyes flew open, and she looked at him. “This time,” he whispered, “this time you are not going to be alone.”
His voice penetrated the numbness. “We’re in this one together. Sally shouldn’t shut Martin out.”
Her gaze rested easily on him for a long moment, leaving her hand in his. She sat there, biting her lips, silent as he spoke.
“You have to step into this. I can’t carry this if you’re not with me. It won’t work if you aren’t here. We have to make this journey together.”
This time, I am not alone.
She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Step into it.
The warmth of his hand in hers penetrated the numbing shield, not erasing it, but allowing her to breath a little easier.
She took another deep breath, felt a wisp of a memory jab at her, and focused on a part of herself that had retreated, letting that part, rather than the numbness, shield her from the threatened stabbing pain she knew would come creeping in when she let down her guard.
The parts she tapped into were not as safe as the numbness, but would have to suffice.
Dangerous, because they could lead to-
She opened her eyes, smiled at him, and said, “I’m with you, Martin.”
Her hand rested firmly in his for the remainder of the flight.
Stepping off the plane into the terminal, they entered a building the size of a small city.
“Welcome to George Bush International Airport,” Mulder intoned. “An airport with more parking spaces than most towns have people.”
She sighed wearily. “We’re here for the night, right?”
He nodded. “Wanna share a bench?”
She shuddered. “No way. There’s a Marriott right here inside the airport. I fully intend to spend tonight in a comfortable bed.”
He grinned at her. “Can I come?”
She shot him a look, then shocked him by saying, “No, but you can share the bed with me.”
“Why Scu...Sally! Are you coming on to me?”
She laughed. “Martin, I’m too damn tired to come onto you, and if I’d wanted to, I would have just said yes.”
The bored hotel clerk checked them in under the names of Charles and Marcia Jones, as Martel and Sandra Cannon were “home” and wouldn’t need a hotel. A wakeup call was requested for four-thirty a.m. They paid in cash, explaining to the clerk that their credit cards had been stolen.
“Charles” muttered to “Marcia” as they went up the elevator, “I think I feel an identity crisis coming on.”
She unlocked the door, dropped her bag unceremoniously on the floor, kicked off her shoes and pants, and crawled under the covers in her peaches t-shirt.
Mulder stared at the completely uncharacteristic pile of clothes on the floor, and then ducked as a bra came flying out from under the covers. “Hey!” he yelped.
The covers stopped moving, and she curled up around a pillow, lying on her side.
He cautiously picked his way around her discarded clothing to the other side of the king-sized bed. “Don’t I get a pillow?” he asked rather plaintively.
“Get yer own. Closet,” she mumbled through the covers.
“Now I know the honeymoon is over.”
He went to the large closet in the front hall and discovered an extra pillow and blanket. He looked around the room. No couch.
He toed off his shoes and shed the jeans he’d been wearing. He gingerly picked up the covers, put his pillow at the head of the bed, and flopped on his stomach, noting there were acres of bed between them.
“Goodnight, G-woman,” he said softly. Her only response was deep, regular breathing. He smiled, and listening to her breathe, drifted off.
March 3, 1998
The ringing phone worked its way into his consciousness like a dull needle through leather. He rolled over to answer it, and discovered his progress impeded by a small warm body curled up against his back.
“Hey...” He nudged her, gently. Her only response was to roll over, shoot out a hand, and hit the phone.
It kept ringing.
He smiled. Someone should invent a snooze button for the telephone, he thought as he reached around her and picked it up.
The voice on the other end was polite, and asked if room service could bring anything up. Gotta love airport hotels...and 24 hour room service. “Thanks. How long would it take to send up some coffee and some sweet rolls? Great! Please do.”
He set it back down and looked down at his sleeping bedmate. Her hair had worked its way loose from the braid during the night and spread in great masses across the pillow. He lifted the tangle that covered her face, to find her slack mouthed and sound asleep, face mashed unceremoniously into the pillow. He chuckled, then bowed to the inevitable, and whispered close to her ear.
“Up and at ‘em.”
She sat bolt upright, and then flew out from under the covers when she saw him. “Wha...? Mulder, what are you doing in my bed!” She looked down, realized she was only wearing panties and a t-shirt, and grabbed the bedspread to cover herself.
He smiled at her. “We’re hitched, Sally.”
He held up his left hand and fingered the ring with his thumb.
“Oh yeah,” she said rather sheepishly, as the previous day’s events returned to her conscious mind.
She put a hand to her head and rubbed her scalp. “My head aches.”
“It’s the extra hair. You should probably braid your hair again today. You won’t have time to wash it.”
She made a sleepy face at him at the idea of not washing her hair. “I can’t braid my own hair. My hands always get confused.”
“’S okay,” he said. “I can help. But I get the shower first.”
She rolled her eyes. “Make it quick. I want to get some coffee before we get on the plane. I can’t face boarding with no caffeine.”
He grinned. “Not to worry.”
Five minutes in the shower left him feeling much more willing to accept the early morning wake-up. He carefully shaved his cheeks, leaving the jawline, chin and upper lip alone. They were a bit thicker, but not quite up to the status of beard. He called out, “Oh, honey, could you come help me with my makeup?”
She came into the bathroom, and scooted up onto the counter. She’d changed into one of the guest bathrobes, which looked like it could have wrapped around her twice. She quickly applied the mascara to his beard, then handed him a brush.
“I tried to brush it,” she said apologetically, “But I’ve never had hair this long, and I can’t reach. I tried...”
He laughed and put the lid down on toilet. “Sit down. I’m good at this.”
She looked at him strangely as she complied. “Why are you good at this?”
His face softened, saddened. “Samantha. She didn’t like Mom brushing her hair; said Mom pulled too hard. So I’d do it for her.”
He picked up her hair, and started from the bottom, brushing it out in short gentle strokes, working from the bottom to the top. Scully had tried to brush from the top to the bottom, which had only resulted in worsening the tangles. His short strokes with the brush quickly unraveled the unruly cascade of hair. She closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of having her hair brushed.
“Don’t fall asleep on me,” he said with a wink. When he was done getting the tangles out, he separated the mass of silky hair into three sections, and his fingers twisted and wove the hair deftly into a snug but pretty braid. He wrapped the braid on itself, and secured it by tucking the end underneath into a bun. He pulled a shower cap out of the basket of toiletries on the counter, and put it on her.
“All yours!” He patted her plastic-covered head and turned to leave the bathroom. She grinned.
“I’m impressed, Mu...Who are you this morning?”
He laughed at the question. “Charles Jones. You’re Marcia.”
“I thought you were Marcel...” She turned the water on.
As he closed the door, he responded, “Nope, that was yesterday. Marcel and Sandra are supposed to live in Texas; they wouldn’t have spent the night at the airport waiting for a flight.”
“Oh yeah,” she said to the closed door as she dropped her robe and stepped into the shower.
When she’d finished in the bathroom, the coffee and breakfast had arrived. Mulder had already prepared her coffee for her, but was nowhere to be seen. A note on the tray said, “Went to get fresh clothes—back in a few.”
She sat on the bed in her robe and ate while she waited for him to return.
About 10 minutes later she’d finished her breakfast and was smoothing her braid with her fingers when he came back in with a small pile of clothes in a shopping bag.
“Gotta love airports...I could live here indefinitely.”
She took the pile from him and sorted through it as he wrapped a scrunchy around the end of her braid.
“Gawd. ‘I went to Texas and all I bought was this lousy T-shirt’? I think I like the peaches shirt better.”
She looked at the jeans. They looked surprisingly well worn. “Did you buy these?”
He nodded. “But not at the gift store. The concierge is just your size. I told her that our luggage had been stolen, and asked her if I could buy her “go-home-from-work” clothes off her.”
“You didn’t.” She shook her head. At least they seemed clean....
She looked under the jeans. “I hope to God you didn’t buy her underwear too....”
He looked indignant. “Of course not. That was a ‘gift set.’”
Sure enough. She unfolded the panties, soft cotton, white bikini panties...but they had a map of Texas strategically placed......
“Oh. My. God.”
She unfolded the soft cotton bra. “You’re kidding me.”
On one side of the bra was a large star; on the other, a yellow rose.
“You can’t expect me to wear this!”
“I don’t. Marcia Jones is going to wear this. Besides, they were the only ones the gift store had.”
He grinned at her, and she shook her head. At least they were cotton. At least it wasn’t one of those Frederick’s of Hollywood monstrosities she’d seen in a catalog that had been sent to her mom’s house once by mistake....
“Next time.... I get to go shopping.”
The flight out of Houston was filled with coffee-carrying business travelers. Mostly filled, that is. They had managed to escape having a third person in their row, which gave them a little more elbow room than “economy” class usually provided. The moment the flight hit cruising altitude, a chorus of soft beeps filled the cabin as laptops and personal digital assistants came to life.
By her third cup of coffee, Scully felt almost functional. She read through some of the documentation for her MessagePad and realized that the small rectangular black pieces of plastic lined neatly in the case were actually memory cards. She spent a while playing with the small electronic marvel, and discovered that several of the cards contained text files with all of the data on the various documents identifying Sally and Martin Harrod. It did not take her long to discover that she could make handwritten notes on the files and have them appear as text. She grinned. This was a useful toy.
Mulder skimmed the PalmPilot information once, but didn’t fuss with it. It just didn’t have the same appeal as a nice yellow legal pad and mechanical pencil. If it could get help in a pinch, fine. Cool. But with a photographic memory, the idea of a “personal digital assistant” seemed kind of redundant. He looked over at Scully to see her scribbling away on the greenish screen of the MP21K, and shook his head.
“You know, that thing would be pretty useless if there were a nuclear blast,” he whispered in her ear. “EMP would just wipe the whole thing.”
She looked at him strangely. “You’d be pretty useless in a nuclear blast yourself. Besides, it’s actually relatively well shielded. It wasn’t at all affected by going through security.”
He shrugged. Then he pulled a small Walkman out of his bag and lifted the headphones to his ears.
She was mildly surprised. “When did you get that?” The previous day he’d paid an exorbitant fee to rent a pair of air tubes to listen to the in-flight music.
He grinned. “Told you I could live in that airport. Gotta love gift shops. They have everything.”
He was much more interested when she discovered that one of the cards was filled with ancient computer games.
“Moria? I haven’t seen Moria in years! How do you do that without a keyboard?”
Reluctantly, she showed him the on-screen keyboard.
He took it from her, and began tapping away merrily. She looked at him, slouched down, knees up on the seat in front of him, headphones on, gleefully moving an @ sign around the small screen. She shook her head. Just like a teenager.
She nudged him until he let her pass him to get to the aisle.
As she squeezed past him, she leaned down. “Just remember that the toy is mine.”
She ignored his look of pure devilment as she worked her way down the path to the lavatory.
She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror for a long time, studying the changes. She had gotten out of the habit of mirrors during her cancer, using them primarily to ensure that all the blood was gone from her lip, her shirt, or to apply makeup, but never to really look at the person she saw there. Mirrors for months had been generally unpleasant reminders of her fading health, not only from the blood and the dark circles, but also triggering a memory of a dead girl and the message “She is me.”
She isn’t me this time, Dana thought, scrutinizing the not-quite familiar face in the glass. The circles which she’d avoided and covered and hidden were gone, even with the minimal makeup she’d applied at the hotel, even with the shortage of sleep the previous nights had brought. I got more sound sleep last night in five hours than I’ve gotten in the previous five weeks.
The eyes would take some getting used to. Brown. Like looking into a stranger’s eyes. The hair-it had been years since she’d had enough hair to wear in anything but a very short ponytail, and she’d never had the patience to grow it as long as the braid hanging down over her shoulder, almost to her waist.
It was hair Dana Scully never would have chosen to grow, simply because it was impractical. Scully needed hair that could be groomed quickly into a professional coif, minimal fuss. But this indulgent mass was in no way simple. Even now short strands escaped in a halo, wisps arching down from the braid. If it had been her own hair, it would have indicated a slow growth of many years, constant nurturing and grooming. As it was, the length of it daunted her, the curling masses intimidating. Even when she’d had curls, it had never been this long.
At least Mulder could handle it.
The face was still hers, but not hers. She smiled at herself in the mirror, watching how the simple muscle movements dramatically altered her face. She deliberately let the smile move up to her eyes. I don’t recognize her at all.
The thought sobered her, and she watched the face in the mirror drop abruptly into a familiar sadness.
She straightened, and brought the smile back to the surface. Sally.
A knock on the door reminded her that she’d been standing in the cramped bathroom for a long time. She washed her hands, and then slid the little knob that unlocked the door.
A tall, bearded man was on the other side. “You okay?”
She blinked. Martin. “Yeah. Just getting used to the new me. Your turn now.”
She walked back to the seats, and he followed. Halfway down the aisle the plane bounced, throwing her to one side. He reached for her, but she managed to right herself quickly. Gripping the backs of the seats like iron, she moved to her seat and buckled herself in, all pretense of a smile gone.
“Hey,” he said as he sat down next to her. “You okay?”
“We’re hitting turbulence from the edge of that storm over there. But we won’t have to go through it landing. Denver’s easy. Your ears won’t even pop.”
She simply gripped the armrests a bit harder as the plane rocked.
Looking out the window, she could see the edges of the city and a wall of storm clouds boiling down the mountains in the bright sunlight. The fasten seat belt light flickered on, but she ignored it.
She studied the clouds with a morbid fascination and a dull apprehension.
Mulder’s hand on her shoulder called her attention back into the plane. He gestured up at the screen mid aisle, which showed a comforting map of their flight route and the storm clouds. They did not intersect.
He leaned over to her ear and said quietly, “Remember, we’re flying east later, away from those clouds. If I read that right, we’ll probably manage to loop around the storm altogether.”
His hand comforted hers, and she gave him a grateful smile.
“Thanks. I really hate this...”
The plane tilted at a crazy angle, banking to prepare for descent, and she closed her eyes.
She opened them again a few minutes later.
As it straightened out and began to lose altitude, the cabin seemed to slope downhill, and she gritted her teeth. Really hate this.
She closed her eyes again, and didn’t open them until she felt the bump and screech of the wheels touching down.
The gift shops were beginning to run together by the time they braved the Denver gift shop nearest their departing gate. The first store they’d stopped in had only had books and magazines, useless to two travelers too tired to read and too worn to concentrate. They wore their alter egos like Halloween costumes, overplaying the parts simply because it was easier than admitting how tired they really were of the constant travel.
“Hey, Sally, look!” Mulder waved a plastic box in the air. “A collector’s set!” Inside the box, an “autographed” ball and three wooden golf tees commemorating John Denver rattled. Did John Denver even play golf, he mused. Does it matter?
Scully came up to him. “Shhh, dear, you’re making a scene!” She caught his arm and pulled it down, taking the box he gripped. She examined them with a critical eye. “But honey, this one has a crack down the middle of it.” She pointed a delicately manicured fingernail at the hairline fracture.
“Oh, I didn’t see it. Here, here’s a better one.” He took the box out of her hands and replaced it with an identical plastic container.
“That’s much better,” she said as she patted his arm reassuringly. She had become adept at distinguishing between “good” golf tees and “bad” golf tees. By the third gift shop, she had learned more than she’d ever wanted to know about golf tees, from the very first to the most common today, from Mulder, who had started his education at some particularly useful web sites while Scully’s short hair became Sally’s long curls.
As soon as she was able to relax after the plane hit cruising altitude, she took out the MessagePad, and began to write. He watched her. She would often stop, regard what she’d written, then scratch it out and tap the screen.
He leaned over her shoulder to look. She was switching between text files, one filled with technical information about Martin and Sally, the other...journal entries?
They were journal entries she was writing, chatty diary notes about significant events. He noted that she was not trying to generate a “daily journal,” but more a periodic “check in” about Sally Harrod’s life at any given time.
“That one’s not in the file,” he whispered to her, as she wrote a note about a lunch that had never happened.
“I know...just filling in so it looks good. I’ll let you read it when I’ve gotten us up to the present.”
He nodded, and continued reading over her shoulder.
After about an hour of writing, she straightened, stretched her back, and shook out her hands.
Without saying anything, he reached behind her and worked her shoulders for a moment, feeling the knotted muscles twitch and then disappear rapidly under the gentle but persistent pressure of his fingertips.
She smiled, closing her eyes and letting him untie the knots in her neck muscles.
They faded quickly, and he took his hands off her shoulders.
“Thanks, sweetie,” she said, with a relaxed smile.
She smiled a bit wider when she saw the warm blush creeping up Mulder’s face.
He noticed she was still flexing her right hand, spreading the fingers wide and wiggling them, so he picked up her hand and with the same firm pressure from his thumbs, worked the muscles in the base of her thumb and the palm of her hand.
“Where did you learn that?” she asked.
“Dunno,” he said, still working her hand. “I just picked it up somewhere.”
Yeah, she thought. You could do a lot of picking up with those hands.
She took her hand out of his, and put her computer away.
Looking out the window, she saw a splotchy carpet of snow over hills and prairie, mixed with a few patches of gray, brown, green. In the distance, the earth shone with what looked like small puddles of sky. He looked over her shoulder out the window and commented, “We must be getting close. This is the land of ten thousand lakes.”
“They look like puddles from up here,” she mused.
From the seat behind them, he heard an older woman speak. “You are lucky to be visiting in March, and not July or January.”
They looked over the seat, to discover a small old woman with white hair piled high in a thin bun on the top of her head. She winked at him.
He smiled back instinctively. “And why would that be, Miss?”
She grinned. “Don’t flirt with me, rascal. Save that for your wife there.”
Said wife blushed as the old woman continued. “In January, it’s colder than a penguin’s arse, and in July, it’s just plain muggy. Those lovely lakes are nothing but a mosquito bordello. The bastards will eat you alive. Now, you really should have come in May. Minnesota is lovely in May. Or September.”
He smiled. They turned back in their seats as the “fasten seat belt” light came on, and the loudspeaker informed them that it was time to prepare for descent.
This was what, airport number four? Or maybe five. She’d lost count.
Bernoulli, she reminded herself. Thrust, lift, drag, gravity. Four basic, elemental physics principles. Thrust pushes the plane forward, which causes air to flow with high pressure under the wings, the tilt of the wings creates a lower pressure above the wings, which causes lift. Plane flies, but doesn’t launch into outer space because of drag and gravity. Air travel is the safest form of travel in the world...statistically speaking.
It’s not the flying, Scully thought. It’s the landing. She could hear the diesel-engine rumble of the flap motors as the pilot prepared to land. Reducing air pressure under the wings, which reduces lift, and allows gravity to do its work.
Remember, safest form of travel-
Screw it. Scully gripped the armrests tightly, waiting for the telltale bump and screech of rubber against tarmac as the pilot cheated death once again and set the plane down.
Mulder suppressed a smile when he saw her knuckles whiten on the armrest, and placed his hand over hers as he had done on each of the previous landings.
Ker-thud. The incredibly loud whine of the three jet engines reversing thrust was perhaps the most welcome sound Scully could think of.
Well, maybe not the most welcome. But it was up there.
After the plane pulled to a stop, they stood, stretched, and eased their way through the tight aisle, working their way past other travelers less lucky who had to stop to pull luggage out of overhead bins.
“Welcome to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport,” the voice of the captain sounded tinnily through the bustle. “Enjoy your stay in the Twin Cities. Please check with the gate agents for connecting flight information.”
Five, Scully thought. That makes this airport number five. Four more to go.
Mulder looked behind him at his partner. Wife, Mulder. No, MARTIN, dammit... She looked tired, but surprisingly relaxed. Her waist-length hair hung in a braid over one shoulder. Her t-shirt hung loosely from her shoulders and tucked neatly into the faded jeans. Her eyes—he couldn’t get used to it. How many times had he met those eyes, pools of blue-green? Now, they shone a warm brown. It changed her whole face. Almost. Nothing could change the shape of those lips, but the color on them seemed to be trying to shrink them by fading them into the background. A shimmery, almost invisibly grayish plum. So long he’d seen those lips with her preferred lip color (his brain pulled up an image of the bottom of a tube of lipstick—Teak Rose) that emphasized their natural deep color, the color that glowed through when she’d chewed off her lipstick concentrating on something-
But now her face looked different. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t Scully. No. It’s Sally.
She met his eyes briefly and smiled strangely.
Bet I look as weird to her as she does to me.
It’s the eyes, Dana, no, Sally, dammit! She looked up at the dark shock of hair in front of her as her partner—Husband —moved a few steps closer to the front of the plane before coming to a halt behind someone pulling an impossibly large suitcase out of the overhead bin. He looked back at her, with a strange expression playing across his-
It’s definitely the eyes.
So long his eyes had been a storm at sea, greens and blues and browns battling for dominance, shifting with the light, changing with his moods. But the storm had cleared, and his eyes were now a clear, bright blue.
He looks Irish with those blue eyes and that dark hair. Mom would be proud.
She shook that thought from her head and nudged Mulder to move forward.
She glanced back see the elderly woman behind her smiling beatifically at her.
“Have you been married long, my dear?”
She smiled. “No...not long. Is it obvious?”
The old woman winked at her. “That new husband of yours is cheap to take you honeymooning in Minnesota in March. You must have been married this morning then...you don’t look like walking is all that uncomfortable yet.”
Scully coughed and turned back toward the front of the plane, blushing furiously. Mulder looked at her as she struggled for air, wondering at the sudden glow she’d acquired.
“What’s wrong, dear?” he asked solicitously.
She couldn’t speak, so she just nodded toward the clear aisle ahead of him. He looked at her curiously, then shrugged and strode off the plane ahead of her.
She felt a tug at her sleeve as she moved.
“Have fun tonight, dear!”
Once in the terminal, she ducked into the first women’s restroom they came to.
Splashing cold water on her face seemed to help her regain the ability to coordinate her breathing. Unfortunately, as soon as she did so, she began to laugh in great spasms.
Oh Lord, I’m never going to be able to pull this off.
Her right hand went up to her throat, expecting to find her cross there, but found nothing. She twisted the unfamiliar band on her finger, running her thumb across the small diamond chips. It was an oddly soothing gesture, and her composure returned.
Taking a deep breath, she exited the restroom.
Mulder was not there. She frowned and looked around. She didn’t see him, and as the seconds ticked by without her spotting him, her tension grew. Oh god—where—
It took her a moment to register that the dark-haired man approaching her was the person she’d been looking for.
“Where’d you go?” The tension in her voice sent up a warning flag for him.
“Uh...just saw a little shop and wanted to check it out while you were freshening up.”
“Mu-Martin...now, more than ever, I can’t have you ditching me.”
He looked at her quizzically, “But you were in the bathroom. I was only gone a minute-”
She glared at him. “We have to catch our connecting flight in half an hour. I can’t lose you!”
He looked down at her, lip pouting and blue eyes twinkling from his hang-dog puppy face. “I’m sorry, honey. It won’t happen again.” He resisted correcting her. The next flight was actually in forty-five minutes.
She opened her mouth to chew him out further, then clamped it shut as she realized he’d just apologized contritely. That was too easy.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
He smiled. “You could say that.”
“Another golf tee?” she said with a quirk of her eyebrow.
“Nope. Let’s go get some lunch.”
“C’mon, Sal, stop trying to window shop!” complained Mulder as he dragged her through the terminal toward the nearest food stand, which still seemed to be on the other end of the airport.
“I’m not window shopping, Marty. There aren’t any windows.” She gave him a slightly aggrieved look.
“You know what I mean...You’re rubbernecking every store we pass.”
“I’m rubbernecking? Me? You’re projecting, Mr. ‘We have to visit every gift shop we see.’”
Just as she said that a gleam caught her eye, and she pulled toward a small clothing boutique, trying to see inside. He shook his head and dragged her past.
“So you’re not rubbernecking?” he said, slightly annoyed, as he felt her pull against his hand.
“All right, I’m following you already. Can you let go of my arm?” She had a point. Mulder had a death grip on her right wrist, and it was beginning to cut off the circulation.
“No. You’ll want to run off and look in all those little gift shops we just passed. There’s a reason I won’t let go of your wrist.”
“And that would be?”
“We need to get our food, eat, and be on the plane in fifteen minutes.”
She looked at her watch. “Damn. You’re right. I don’t know why you have to stop at every single gift store,” she muttered. “We don’t have time for this.”
She strode toward the food pavilion with strides impossibly long for someone with legs that short, and he followed, shaking his head, trying to figure out what had just happened.
The lines at the concession stand were blessedly short; they had their “on-the-run” tacos in under five minutes. On-the-run Tacos? Scully thought. Or do they mean “with-the-runs” tacos? She sighed. The short flights seemed to be scheduled to avoid mealtimes. What ever happened to airline food? She considered that. On the other hand, I don’t want to know. She regarded the taco with a little more respect.
Five minutes after that, they were at the gate, where their flight had just been called.
“Perfect timing!” said Mulder, as they presented their Illinois drivers’ licenses proclaiming them to be “Melvin and Dorothy Richardson” to the gate agent.
The neatly dressed young woman handed them boarding passes with a fixed smile and said, “Enjoy your flight! Thank you for flying American!”
As they walked away from the counter, they heard her say the same thing to the next person in line. With the same intonation and pitch.
Mulder leaned over and whispered to Scully, “Do you think she’s real?” as he gestured to the perky gate agent. They looked back. She had the same smile on her face, and they could hear her say once more, “Enjoy your flight! Thank you...”
The voice faded as they strode down the jetway.
He looked at her and mouthed, “She could be an X-File.” Scully suppressed a snicker as they handed their boarding passes to yet another stewardess. Fortunately, this one just smiled. They moved through business class and back to the 19th row. She slid into the F seat, by the window, tucking her bag under the seat, and he slid in next to her, into the E seat.
“Actually,” Mulder said, “I heard once that gate agents are all specially bred from an original breeding pair captured to populate Disney theme parks.”
She ignored that as he looked around.
“Uh, Dorothy—There are only five seats across—But you’re sitting in the F seat.”
She blinked at him. She looked across the row at the A seat and the—C seat?
Suddenly she smiled. “It’s okay, Melvin...This is actually the perfect plane for us...No B’s.’”
He gave her a long, considering look.
“That was supposed to be funny,” she snapped.
He grinned. “It was...I was just thinking that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you like this.”
“Like what? Tired? Sore feet? Frazzled from too many airports and bloated from too much junk food? How many bags of peanuts have we collected?” Her words were sharp, but there was an unmistakable gleam in her eyes.
His grin widened. “No, like this. Playful. You haven’t played with me in months. I missed it.”
Her face softened and her mouth pushed into a close-lipped wry smile.
“Me too.” She looked down at her hands, at the unfamiliar ring sparkling on her finger. “I guess I finally feel like we’re heading in the right direction. It’s nice to be doing something rather than waiting-”
“For another loss?” he supplied.
She met his eyes, “It’s nice to be taking the initiative for once.”
A disembodied voice announced that the flight would be preparing for takeoff.
The plane was small enough that even in row 19, they were within two rows of the back. The flight was only lightly booked, and for the zillionth time that day she gave thanks to the travel gods that they were flying on a Tuesday in the afternoon and not a Friday evening. There were empty seats all around them, passengers scattered randomly through the plane. The seats were quite narrow, but as soon as they realized that there was not going to be a passenger in the “D” seat, they folded up the armrests in the middle and spread out enough that they each had elbow room.
As the plane taxied, she realized that this was not necessarily a good thing, and began to fold the arm back down, so she could hang onto it.
Mulder saw this, and stopped her. “Here,” he said, scooting back into the middle seat and buckling himself in. “Hold onto me.” He placed his right arm over her shoulder, and his left hand in hers.
She seemed to resist for a moment when he leaned down and whispered in her ear, “Sally doesn’t have to maintain the cop image. I know you hate takeoffs. Let me do this. How many times have you been strong for me?”
She looked at him, not speaking, then gripped his left hand fiercely as the engines roared just under their window. She put her right hand up and gripped the hand that dangled over her shoulder.
He almost missed her whispered, “Thanks.”
When the plane hit cruising altitude, she relaxed her grip. He didn’t let go of her, but asked, “What is it that bothers you about this?”
She sighed. “You know, I’m not sure. When I was a kid, I loved to fly. Absolutely loved it. Loved the roar when the jets started, loved the squeak of the wheels as they touched down, loved looking out the window down at the quilt of farms and cities. I’d spend whole 5 hour cross country flights glued to the window, and I loved the ascent and descent as we went through the cloud layers. And really, I don’t know what changed that.”
His eyes told her that he suspected otherwise. She gave a half smile and continued.
“You’re right. I think I do. Strangely enough, the more I learned about the physics of the whole thing, the less magical it seemed, and the less faith I had that it would always work. Hearing about various plane crashes, knowing the statistics.... It didn’t help. I know that the takeoff and landing are the most risky and difficult parts of the flight. I know that if something is going to go wrong, it will probably be then. And I guess the older I get, the more aware I am of my mortality.”
The look on his face told her that he’d had far too many reminders of her mortality himself. She continued.
“Feeling the vibrations during takeoff and landing reminds me that we’re hurtling through the air in a metal tube which had made god knows how many flights through god knows what conditions, propelled by a controlled explosion. When we’re cruising, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much, because I can’t feel it. But when we hit turbulence, or take off, or land, I know exactly what makes it fly. And it’s not comforting. When I was a kid, I thought it was magic, and it was much easier to feel safe.”
He looked at her. “You know, don’t you, that you’ve just completely freaked me out about flying.”
She laughed at him. “No, Mul—Melvin. You’ll always believe.”
He winked. “Maybe your skepticism just rubbed off a little.”
She smiled, and then yawned. “Move over, please.”
He did as she asked, and she stood up for a moment. She stood up on the seat next to him, unconsciously leaning a bit against his torso with her legs as she reached deep into the overhead bin. “Aha!”
She pulled down two pillows and blanket, put one pillow on his lap, and without so much as a by-your-leave, curled up across the seats with her head on the pillow. She waved the other pillow, not watching what she was doing, and managed to accidentally thwap him in the face with it before he caught it and put it behind his head, chuckling.
He looked down at her and smiled as he shook his head. If I tried that, my feet would be resting on the engines. “Must be nice to be that short,” he muttered.
She said, “I heard that,” as she took the pillow out from under her head and hit him with it quite deliberately, then put it back under her head and closed her eyes.
He took the blanket from her hands and spread it over her, then reclined his seat and the seat next to him back as far as they would go. He popped the earphones of his Walkman into his ears, and closed his eyes.
As he brought his arms back down, he realized that there was only one place for his right hand to rest.
So as he drifted off to sleep, his fingers played with the stray fringes that escaped the braid draped across Dana Scully’s shoulder.
He woke about forty five minutes later to a plastic voice saying “Sir? Sir? It’s time to prepare for landing.” He realized that the shaking he’d been feeling in his dream was not from vibrations of the plane, but from the stewardess shaking his arm.
Stretching, he looked down at his lap. Popping his seat into the upright position, he bent over and gently stroked Scully’s cheek with his hand, whispering, “Up and at ‘em, kiddo.”
The pillow had slid from underneath her head while she slept, and was nowhere to be found. It hadn’t woken her, she’d simply continued sleeping, directly on his leg. As he levered her up to a sitting position, she woke, blinking sleepily.
He noted that she had a funny texture on her cheek from sleeping on denim. Then he looked down at his lap, and grinned.
“Hey Dorothy. You drooled on my leg.”
She frowned. “Oh.”
Then she looked around. “Are we there?”
He checked his watch. “About 10 minutes. Gotta put everything in the upright and locked position.” He winked at her.
She scooted back over to the window seat and buckled her belt. He popped the middle seat upright and buckled himself into it. She leaned forward automatically as he put his arm over her shoulder for the landing.
“Welcome to O’Hare International Airport...” The voice on the speaker rattled on.
She looked up at him. “I hate O’Hare. It’s huge. How many miles do we have to walk to get to the next flight?”
He looked at the boarding pass. “We’re coming in to gate H1, which should be close to the hub. It will shorten our walk-time significantly. I’m not sure what our gate is for the next flight, but I think they come in terminal 2, which is right next to our arriving terminal.”
She sighed. “Okay. But I need coffee. I feel really muzzy.”
H1 turned out to be at the very entrance of the concourse, and as they entered the concourse, they found quickly a bank of monitors showing the various arriving and departing flights.
He looked at the itinerary, and then at the monitor. “YES!”
She looked at him, “What?”
He smiled at her. “Our next flight leaves from E1, which is on the hub too. So we not only have time to get coffee, but we have time to shop.”
She smiled half-heartedly. “You said coffee. Let’s go find it.”
The next gate was astonishingly close, given the enormity of the O’Hare airport. They got their boarding passes for the next flight, then looked around for coffee.
He spotted it first. “It’s a sign, uh...Sarah...It’s meant to be.”
She followed his gaze, and then shook her head. “Of course.”
Within twenty paces of the gate they were to leave from, a large green sign glowed with the name “Starbucks.”
They sat at the counter, eating almond croissants and sipping lattes. She’d ordered hers with extra foam, and a bit of it strayed to her nose as she sipped the hot liquid. He smiled, reached out a finger, and wiped the steamed milk off her nose.
She caught his hand before he could lower it to wipe it on a napkin, and deftly flicked the foamy milk off with her tongue.
She grinned at his sudden flush, and asked, “So what did you buy back in Minneapolis while I was in the rest room?”
His blush deepened.
She raised an eyebrow. “Not Hustler, I hope....”
He made a face and recovered slightly. “Of course not. Martin has no need of that crap. Martin has Sally.”
It was her turn to blush.
“Uh...So what did you get?”
He reached down and unzipped a small pocket on his carry on bag. Reaching inside, he pulled out a small white cardboard box, and handed it to her.
She looked at him curiously, and then looked down at the box.
“Open it,” he said softly, gesturing to the box. “I saw that and thought it might help you—” He paused, and she used her fingernail to pop the tape.
She lifted the box open, to find a large quantity of cotton. Underneath the cotton, she found a small pile of silver-colored chain.
She lifted it out, and discovered that there was a tiny heart-shaped pendant attached to the chain. She laid it on the black counter, and looked at it closely.
“Oh.” Suddenly she realized that what she’d initially seen as a heart was actually the silhouette of a mother and child. Nestled in between them was a tiny diamond, set flush with the metal. Then she realized that the metal was not silver as she initially thought, but platinum. “It’s beautiful. But why-”
He picked it up and reached around to clasp it behind her neck. “You’ve been reaching for your cross since we got on the plane in DC. I thought you needed something to fill that place until we can put the cross on your neck again. I was going to get you something cheesy, but I saw that, and...it fit what we’re doing, the quest we’re on, and it fit Sally. When they told me it was platinum, like the rings, I knew I had to get it. I wanted to get it for you.”
Then he leaned closer and whispered, “It also reminded me of you and Emily.”
She bit her lip, fighting back a sudden tear that welled up, and turned her head, touched.
“Hey.” He brought his hand under her chin and lifted her to face him. “You’re going to get tears in your coffee, and it’ll taste funky.”
She smiled a little. “Thanks. It’s perfect.”
He kissed her on the forehead. “No problem. Now let’s go find some tees.”
They found the gift store around the corner from their gate, and she picked up a book with blank, lined pages. He looked at her strangely, and she whispered to him “Sally’s journal. I figure it’s a good way to work out some of the finer details.”
He whispered back, “Isn’t that what your toy is for?”
She answered, “It’s not the same as a good pen and nice paper.”
He smiled. “I know.”
While she tested pens, he found the tees, and without really looking at what he was buying, picked up two boxes. She was still trying pens. He looked around a bit more, found the souvenir spoons, picked a couple up and brought them over.
She looked up, saw what he had in her hand and smiled. “Next thing you know, you’ll be picking up feminine hygiene products for me.”
He blanched. She picked out two slim pens with no-slip barrels and a good weight to them, then picked two of the spoons out of his hand.
She looked at them thoughtfully. “You know, if I never see another gift store as long as I live, I’ll be perfectly content.”
His mouth twisted up into a sly grin. “That can be arranged.”
“Wha...?” She started to ask when his large hand wrapped across her eyes. “HEY!”
He kept his hand over her eyes as he led her over to pay for their selections. “Your wish is my command, m’lady.”
She giggled, but didn’t struggle in his arms. He finally released his hand from her eyes when they were out of sight of the gift store.
She grinned. “Maybe I should tell you I never want to step foot in an airport again, either.”
He took the bait. “As you wish.” He scooped her up into his arms and carried her, bags and all, across the concourse to the gate. She laughed, and wiggled, but he maintained his grip on her.
Finally she said “I take it back. I have to use the facilities, and you can’t carry me in there. So I’ll use my feet, if you’ll set me down.”
He deposited her onto her feet with a flourish. “As you wish.”
When she returned, the first boarding call had been sounded, and Mulder was looking decidedly antsy. She couldn’t tell if it was too much caffeine or impatience, or both.
Neither, she discovered. He was excited about something. She followed his gaze.
Oh. My. God. She stared out the window at the terminal, gazing at the plane they were going to be boarding in about thirty seconds. It could be called an antique. At best. Suddenly, she wished she hadn’t watched all those “Why Planes Crash” shows.
Mulder leaned past her. “Oh, cool, a DC-9!” He just barely registered a frosty version of “the look.” “What’s wrong?”
“Look at that thing!” She couldn’t pull her eyes away from it. “It looks ancient.”
“It’s just a plane. NASA uses those things.”
“Yeah, and when was the last time you trusted NASA?” She regretted that one as soon as it left her mouth. Cheap shot.
“What’s wrong with NASA?” Mulder asked innocently. “Just they ask the best of the best, those with the ‘Right Stuff’ to sit on top of a rocket with enough explosive power to blow them into little bits, a rocket that was built by the lowest bidder-What’s not to trust?”
“You’re not helping things,” Scully said, glaring at him.
He ignored that and kept talking. “It’s just another plane.”
“If it’s just another plane, why are you so jazzed?”
He looked reluctant to tell her. “Uh...NASA uses one of those for microgravity experimentation. It’s one of the Vomit Comets. These planes are classics, circa 1967.”
Her eyes were squinched shut, and he had to lean down to hear what she whispered.
“Please explain to me the scientific nature of a ‘vomit comet.’”
“Its like...a roller coaster, sort of. It flies a series of parabolic vertical curves. It can make up to forty falls; when it goes up, passengers get hit with two gees, and on the down, it goes zero gee for 22 seconds.” Something in the way she was biting her lip told him that she understood perfectly, but really didn’t want to think about it. “Of course, they don’t do that on commuter flights.”
“Nothing.” She let out the breath she’d been holding. “I just wish, yet again, that I hadn’t majored in physics. And that I didn’t know about metal fatigue.”
“Come on, do you really think that if it were that bad, they’d let this plane fly?”
“The Valujet plane was a DC-9.”
This plane made their previous flights seem like luxury liners with wings. Even in first class, the seats were tiny and a chiropractor’s worst nightmare. And they weren’t in first class. Mulder buckled himself in next to Scully, not able to do much more than put his arm around her shoulders again.
The thing she hated more than anything in the world was losing control. But she felt dangerously close to that line at this point. She was practically forcing herself to breathe. All right, enough of this. You learned about panic attacks and all those good things in med school. Just relax!
Easier said than done.
Automatically, she shifted as much as she could between the seat belt and tiny seat to rest her head on Mulder’s shoulder. That was a little bit better.
The plane shuddered, pitching forward slightly as it coasted down the runway. The engines fired up, throwing the passengers back against their seats. Just don’t think about it. Don’t think about anything.
And Mulder was twisting around her, reaching over to unbuckle the seat belt. She sat up. “Is it...over?”
“Houston, we have liftoff,” he said, grinning. “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“I never wanted to be an astronaut,” she muttered.
She looked out the window. Lake Michigan gleamed in sunny ripples beneath them, bigger than any body of water in the middle of a continent had any right to be. Far to the north, she could see a line of clouds.
“Do you think we’ll be flying through that tonight?” she asked warily.
He looked. Better lie- “Probably not.” Only a half-lie. We’ll be flying over it.
She grinned. “Liar.”
He shrugged. “Don’t you trust me, Sc—Sarah?” I’m never going to get used to calling her anything but Scully. I can’t even manage ‘Dana’ without her looking at me strangely, he thought ruefully.
She chuckled. “Since I can’t even remember your name at this point, why should I trust you, mister?”
He grinned. “Just don’t look at the clouds. It could be smooth flying.”
Michigan passed beneath them quickly in a crazy quilt of gray and brown and slushy white. Thin black lines of roads defined and crossed the uneven blocks of drab.
She returned to her notes as they passed over Detroit, grayer and drabber and overwhelming the dull countryside. Mental note. Flying in March is not the prettiest time of year. In the future, plan undercover assignments for September or June.
She chuckled at the thought, trying to imagine how they could possibly have planned the journey they were on to coincide with pretty scenery.
Mulder leaned back, eyes closed, tapping his knee and nodding his head slightly in time to music only he could hear.
The flight to Toronto was short, like most of the flights, and it was not long before the fasten seat belt light flickered on.
Dana realized as the plane touched down that the landing really wasn’t as bad when he had his arm around her shoulder. She squeezed his hand gratefully as the plane began a long taxi to the terminal.
The heat of his skin had warmed the wedding band; no longer cold and foreign, the ring caused her thoughts to drift. She remembered the weddings of friends that she’d attended, the words spoken by the couple or the clergy about how a ring was the perfect symbol of love; no beginning, no ending, just a perfect, unbroken circle.
There were times it seemed they were going around in circles, searching, seeking, only to arrive back where they started again and again.
There was also the disconcerting fact that she sometimes had trouble remembering what her life was like before she’d met him, like he’d been there always. No beginning and no ending.
The circle just was. An infinite number of points on a circle. An infinite number of starting points, she thought. And an infinite number of ending points.
The airplane slowed and stopped. The seat belt light flicked off, and they prepared to be Canadian citizens.
Going through customs was actually surprisingly simple. Their “birth certificates” were accepted instantly. It probably helped that they’d been “well worn,” folded and refolded and slightly yellowed in small but ineffective plastic “protective” pouches. Their bags were of little interest to the customs official, who was more interested in hassling a teenager behind them who had actually dared to bring some fruit across the border.
Once they passed customs, they stopped in a secluded corner to regroup. Now, for the first time, they actually would be using their identities as Martin and Sally Harrod. The other ID’s were stashed in hidden pockets deep in their bags.
He put the unfamiliar glasses on, their black frames placing an odd rim around his visual field. He was used to reading glasses, but only for close work. It was strange to have this clear view of the world marked by the hazy rim of the frames. It’s like watching a movie of someone else’s life sitting way too close to the front of the theater.
She slid the small scrunchy off the end of her braid, and attempted to unplait it. He chuckled at her, took it from her hand, and untwisted it as deftly as he’d braided it that morning. The hair hung in three thick chunks down her back until he ran his fingers through it, spreading it into a fan down her back. The riotous curls had been tamed by the braid into a bumpy rippling wave that spread from her shoulders to her waist.
She reached back and lifted it up, running her fingers through the length of it. “I’ll never get used to this.”
He smiled. “Even if I brush it for you?”
She grinned. “That, I could get used to.”
She put on her own glasses, thin wire frames which did nothing to interfere with her visual field, but which tickled the bridge of her nose annoyingly. Better get used to it, Sally.
She checked her watch. Only thirty minutes left to get dinner before boarding their flight to Calgary. She groaned at the thought of another fast food meal.
They picked up their bags and looked for a directory. Their next flight was on time, which was good, because otherwise they would not make it to Victoria that night. They headed for the gate, keeping an eye out for a food vendor as they walked.
“I think that coffee is wearing off, Martin.” She yawned a little.
“Do you want more, or do you want to drool on my leg again?”
She looked at him for a long moment, considering. “How long is the next flight?” she asked.
He gestured at the small computer in her hand. She looked a little sheepish. “Oh yeah.” They paused for a moment.
Two clicks later she said, “I think I’ll take the drool. We’ll have 2 hours and...wait...time zones...sorry...four hours and fifteen minutes. I do NOT want to be wired. We can get coffee in Calgary.”
“Hey, I just had an idea--Maybe I can drool on your leg this time.” He wagged his eyebrows at her.
She laughed. “Not on your life, mister. You’d either trip the stewardesses or have to rest your feet on the wing.”
He feigned an injured look, which disappeared when he spotted a food vendor. “Hey, I think I found dinner!”
“Not another taco...”
He looked at the menu. “Nope. In fact, you can even get something healthy.”
Healthy, in his mind, apparently meant iceberg lettuce and fresh tomatoes. It was better than the stuff they’d had for lunch, and she was able to order some tabbouleh to go along with the gyro sandwiches and baklava he ordered for them.
“I can’t eat that stuff,” she mumbled through a bite of the gooey pita sandwich, tilting her head at the sticky sweets in the bag as they walked towards their gate.
“You don’t have to. They’re for me.” He took a few long strides ahead and stopped at another counter. He whispered something to the cashier behind the counter. She chuckled, and gently dropped something from behind the counter into a small box. He paid for it, and handed it to Sally as she caught up. “This is for you.”
She looked somewhat at a loss as to how to deal with the sandwich in one hand and the small box in the other. Then she noticed what kind of shop he’d stopped at. “Why Martin, did you just buy me chocolates?”
He laughed. “Nope. Chocolate. One.”
She raised an eyebrow at him and handed the box to him to put in the bag with their other food. “Trying to fatten me up, huh?”
He grinned. “Yep.”
They finished their sandwiches while waiting for their boarding call.
She looked at their boarding passes. Then looked again. She smiled broadly as she pointed out their seat assignments. “Bless him! He got us business class seats. And an exit row. You’ll have plenty of leg room.”
They settled into the seats, pleased to note that once again, there was no third occupant to their row. Suddenly she wondered if that was a coincidence. Frohike couldn’t have-Could he? He did get us business class for the longest leg of the trip...
Abruptly she realized that every flight they’d been on so far had been both lightly booked, and booked in such a way that they had no one sitting near them. Why did it take me six flights to figure that out?
Even the morning flights, which she normally would have expected to be completely full, had allowed them both privacy and space.
Definitely have to do something nice for them when we get back. I owe them for this one. Her breath caught in her throat when she realized just how much she owed the scruffy trio.
As the jets roared, she leaned over to Mulder and whispered, “Did they re-arrange the seating for us?”
He shot her a glance, impressed, and nodded.
She whispered, “Who’s idea?”
He grinned. “Byers. But Frohike was the one who worked the magic with the airlines’ computers.”
She shook her head. “How are we ever going to repay them for all this?”
He leaned closer, his breath warm on her ear. “I’d say answers is all the payment they want, but it’s actually just all the payment they require. Frohike would have flown us there by flapping his arms hard if he thought it would cheer you up. I’m not going to tell you what he’d want as payment, but for purely selfish reasons. Besides, I think you know. You’ve been turning him down on that one for as long as you’ve known him. Much to my relief.”
“Relief, eh?” She grinned at him.
He grinned back, then put his left arm around her. She started to put her right hand in his, but he moved his hand behind her elbow instead.
At the first touch of his fingers to her ribs, she shrieked in surprise and tried to pull away, laughing in spite of herself. His arm around her shoulder tightened, and he laughed as he continued to tickle her until she managed to gasp out,
He quit tickling her, and she settled in warily under his arm.
As the plane taxied for takeoff, his hand trailing down her arm brushed lightly against the hairs on her arm, a maddeningly light touch which wasn’t quite a tickle, but which definitely stood all her fine hairs on end until she put a hand up, pressing his hand against her arm to stop the prickling tingling sensation.
She shot him a look, and realized that it had not been accidental.
Uh huh, she thought. Two can play this game.
The flight chased the setting sun, their height giving them a spectacular view of a sky divided into zones of sunset, blue twilight and night. The sunset lasted much longer than it had any right to, due to their speed, height, and direction of travel.
Mulder opened the bag of food and handed her the box he’d bought, and pulled out a sticky piece of baklava for himself. Flakes from the top layer of pastry stuck with honey to the bag, which he tucked under the seat. He took a small bite of the nutty sweet and felt the intensity of the puckeringly sweet honey send a shiver down his spine.
She opened the box to find a dark chocolate truffle nestled in tissue paper. She grinned. “You know what I like...”
He watched as she brought the chocolate to her lips. She took a small, precise bite, her teeth leaving ridges in the rich interior.
His mouth went dry, baklava forgotten, as he watched her eyes close with pleasure as she allowed the morsel of chocolate to dissolve in her mouth. She sighed contentedly, eyes closed, and her tongue stole out to find a crumb of chocolate on her lip. “Mmmm.”
Oh my god, she’s actually purring. He forced himself to swallow the baklava, and said too brightly, “Taste good? I asked her to pick out the most intensely chocolate thing they had.” No, Mulder, what you asked her was to pick out the chocolate voted most likely to replace sex. You should have known better.
Her eyes opened slowly, and she smiled. “Better than sex...”
He raised an eyebrow, trying to look skeptical. “I find that hard to believe.”
She chuckled, soft and low. “Why, Mu-my dear...Do I detect a hint of skepticism? You cannot expect mere hormones to compete with a double chocolate amaretto truffle.” She took another slow, sensuous bite.
His response tingled more than the chocolate dissolving on her tongue. “Would you like to conduct a scientific investigation, Dr. Sally?”
She choked mid-swallow. She put the truffle back in the box, and tucked it in the bag under her seat, to hide the blush that had suddenly turned her cheeks fiery hot.
She stayed bent over a moment longer than she needed to put the chocolate away, and a few moments less than she needed to regain her composure completely. Breathe, Dana...
She leaned close to him, still flushed, and whispered, barely audible, in his ear, “Are you proposing that Martin and Sally join the mile high club?”
She chuckled. “I think I’ll take a rain-check.”
The fasten seat belts light flicked off with a small sound that was not a beep and not quite a ding. He focused on trying to figure out what to call the sound to avoid having to think of a response. Bing? deep?...You’re going in deep, Mulder. Martin. Damn...Didn’t work.
His attempt at distracting himself was cut short by the presence of a significant part of a certain person’s anatomy within inches of his face. His eyes were riveted to her jeans as she hunted around in the bin over their heads for a pillow. She stayed up there long enough that by the time she came back down, his eyes were slightly glazed and he was taking deep, measured breaths, gripping the arm rest tightly.
She handed him two pillows and two blankets. Like I’m going to be able to sleep now, with her head in my lap, and the image of her and the truffle...
But he smiled weakly and thanked her, reclining his seat back and raising the armrest up out of the way. He put one pillow between his head and the window, and the other on his lap. “You sure you want the pillow? Last time it bit the dust...You could go straight for my leg.”
She gave him a long look. “I’m tired. I’ll go for your leg some other time.” She stretched out across the two wide, soft seats, thanking God and Frohike that they were in business class.
Mulder was not quite so relaxed. Sleep. Yeah. Right. What has gotten into her? Besides that choco...oh yeah. Mental note. Chocolate makes Dana frisky.
The words Dana and frisky echoed around in his head for a while, eventually lulling him into sleep in spite of the pressure of the her head on his lap.
She lay there, feeling his initial tension fading, and smiled to herself. Yep. Two can definitely play this game. Her smile lingered on her face long after she fell asleep.
It was dark when he woke. The only illumination came from the few reading lights scattered through the cabin, and the lights from the wings. This time she’d let him have the window seat, and looking out through the scratched plastic of the window, he could see almost nothing besides the wing lights. There was too much reflection from the cabin for him to see stars, and the moon had not yet risen.
The plane seemed like a bubble of reality in dark space, nothing above, nothing below, a small universe defined by the constant hum of the engines and the dimly lit cabin.
The reading lights gave a soft golden glow, like stable firelight, casting deep shadows.
She still slept, her cheek again pressed firmly against his leg. She had turned over in her sleep, and was facing him, feet flat against the aisle seat’s armrest and knees touching the back of the seat. The pillow had worked its way from under her head, and had wedged itself between his legs.
He carefully reached over and turned on the far reading light, just enough indirect light that he could see her, but not enough to wake her.
He looked down at her relaxed face, enjoying the rare opportunity to simply watch her sleep.
Asleep, with her hair tumbled down out of sight, she looked more familiar, more the Scully he knew.
Not the Scully of recent months, crushed, closed, withdrawn. Something had shifted in the hours since he had confronted her with all he knew.
It had been so difficult, he reflected, facing her depression, wanting desperately to reach inside and help draw her up out of the pit, but finding that there was nothing he could do to make her grab the ropes he continually cast down. For months now she had continually turned away, interacting at a professional level, but keeping herself closed tightly from anything more. She could not, would not accept his comfort this time.
Her mother had been worried as well, he knew. He had not been the only one shut out.
His professional judgment had told him that she was suffering an acute situational depression. While he knew medications might help her “cope,” “coping” did not seem to be her problem. She had been functioning, living her life, but had deliberately shut down the part of her that grieved. If anything, she was “coping” too well. He would have been less worried had he seen rage, had seen her pour grief into tears and let it flow.
For she had not only not cried, she had not laughed, either. Until the past two days, he had not even seen her smile since before...
Somehow this journey was a rope she could grab. When he’d flashed on the seeds of the idea, communicated it to her in a few scrawled words and a meaning-filled look, she’d grabbed it and hauled herself up out of her refuge of numbness and into action.
The spark in her eyes the previous morning as this mission sprung into being had been more of a relief to him than anything he’d felt since she’d been cured. He knew that it was that spark in her eyes that had made Skinner help them without question, or rather, with as little question as Skinner could manage and still be Skinner. For all his bluster, there had not been a single moment that Skinner’s complete support had been in question.
The Lone Gunmen had responded to it as well. While they were very willing to help Mulder, the energy in her step as she’d entered the Gunmen’s office that morning had caused more than one round of amazed looks at her transformation. Their help had been wholehearted, as if they’d do anything to keep that spark in her eyes.
He’d seen her start to retreat back into the numbness out of exhaustion that night, and been delighted when she willingly took the hand he offered to pull herself out of it.
His only concern now was that while he’d seen her laugh, he had not seen her cry. And given how close this journey was to her pain, he wondered how long they would go before she’d have to confront it.
The plane rocked slightly with mild turbulence, and she stirred in his lap. The screen above the aisle flickered from an in-flight movie to a map of their travel, showing about an hour more before they reached Calgary.
“This could get rough,” he whispered, not sure if he was talking about the turbulence or about the emotional journey they would have to make.
The fasten seat belt light flickered on. He reached around her to see if he could anchor her in without having her sit up, but his movement woke her.
Her pillow was moving.
No, not her pillow, she realized, Mulder’s leg.
She opened her eyes, and blinked them clear. All she could see were belt loops, a belt, inches from her nose.
Something obscured the dim light, and she tried to sit up.
At that point, the plane tossed and his elbow collided with her ear.
She quit trying to get up, and put a hand to her head. “Ow.”
“Sorry.” He leaned back a bit so he could see her face. “What was that?” she asked, trying to re-orient herself.
“My elbow? Or the plane?” he asked. “We’re over a storm system; it’s causing some turbulence. I was trying to buckle you in.”
She pushed herself up, still facing the back of the seat, blinking as a row of overhead lights came on. “Mhhh.” She squinted, bracing herself on one arm as she tried to get her bearings.
“You’re cute when you’re sleepy,” he commented.
She scowled at him, and started to turn around to buckle herself in, as the plane bucked. It caught her in an awkward position, and she lost her balance.
He caught her, and held her until the plane stabilized. Her legs were stretched out along the two seats next to him, and he pulled her up closer to him so that her head rested high on his chest, her body leaning firmly against him. Her left arm was folded between their bodies, her right hand grasped his shirt for stability. He expected her to sit up as soon as the plane stopped rocking, but she didn’t let go.
“How long until we get to Calgary?” she mumbled into his shirt.
Her grip tightened on him as the plane shook. He looked back up at the screen. “About 50 minutes.”
“Um...” She spoke, but whatever she said was too quiet and too muffled by his shirt for him to make out.
He looked down at her. “You can stay there if you like, but let me buckle you.”
With that, some of the tension went out of her body, and she snaked her left arm around under his arm, settling in. With her more upright, it was simple for him to get the buckle around her hips, buckling it behind her.
This time he heard her clearly. “Thanks.”
She leaned against him, listening to his heart beating. The plane rocked, vibrated. Somehow it didn’t seem to matter as much from this perspective. Her scientific mind understood the turbulence, variations in air pressure caused by the roiling storm clouds beneath them. She felt the plane climb, pressing her more firmly into Mulder’s chest, and smiled as the rocking stopped. The voice of the captain informed them that they’d climbed a few thousand feet to avoid the turbulence.
“Do you want me to unbuckle you so you can turn around?” he asked.
She considered for a long moment. “Do I have to?” she asked softly.
“Do you want to?” he responded.
“I think I like where I am.”
He chuckled, pleased, and shifted backward with her in his arms.
“Y’know, Sally,” he said conversationally, “I could get used to this.”
The steward was apologetic when he explained that she’d have to turn around for the landing. Scully pretended to pout about it, but complied quickly.
As she refastened her belt, he leaned close and whispered, “You know, I’d be happy to hold you even when you’re not scared. In fact, I’d hate to think I have to get you up on an airplane in order to get a hug. Seems a bit too much like taking a girl to a scary movie in order to hold hands.”
She froze for a moment, then turned slowly to him. Uh oh.
She fixed him with a long look. “So whose idea was it that we have a total of 16 takeoffs and landings?”
He straightened. “Langly insisted. I tried to get him to do it in longer legs, fewer hops...but he said it was too risky.” She could hear the clear message under the words. I tried...
She smiled at his tone. “I know. I’m teasing.”
He looked at her through squinted eyes. “You sure you’re afraid of turbulence?” He tried to look severe.
She grimaced. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid it isn’t just a girlish ploy to get you to shower me with solicitous attention.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “No?”
She winked at him. “Worked pretty well anyway, didn’t it?”
He smiled. “I’m just surprised you let me.” And glad.
“Sally let you. Why shouldn’t I let my husband hold my hand to calm my nerves?”
Hearing the words ‘my husband’ exiting her mouth caused a tremor in “Martin” that wasn’t exactly unwelcome.
He pulled his glasses down from the top of his head, where they’d rested while he slept, and put them on.
He placed his hand in hers, and squeezed. “Any time.”
Just then a faint “bump” told them the plane had managed to make its entire descent while they weren’t paying attention.
The ubiquitous voice over the loudspeaker informed them they were taxiing to the terminal of the Calgary Airport. It went on to inform them that Calgary boasted the third busiest airport in Canada.
They looked at each other with quizzical expressions at that odd bit of trivia, and burst out laughing at the realization that they’d had the exact same reaction to the announcement.
As the plane slowed to a stop, she checked the itinerary. “Martin,” she asked sharply, “How big is the third biggest airport in Canada?”
He shrugged. “I dunno...why?”
She showed him the itinerary. “We have exactly half an hour to make our next flight.” She looked at the system clock on the MP21K. “Make that 25 minutes.”
“No gift shopping? I was counting on adding to my Olympic collection.”
She rolled her eyes. “The Calgary Olympics were ten years ago. I sincerely doubt you would be able to find golf tees commemorating the 1988 Winter Olympics.”
“You always were the skeptic.”
She pulled him to his feet as the seat belt light went “bing” and turned off.
“Martin, if we don’t make that plane, we’ll have to walk to Victoria.”
They ended up running for the next flight. It was not so much that the airport was big, but that they had to go from the end of one concourse to the end of another. The gate agents were very friendly and helpful, but still, after six previous plane changes, it was all beginning to smear together like a bad dream.
They arrived at the gate breathless, just as the first boarding call was sounded. They waited in line behind a couple of other latecomers, then presented their ID’s to the gate agent. She smiled, and informed them their previous ticket stubs were adequate, since they were only changing planes. They dug through their bags, finally finding the stubs as the final boarding call was sounded.
They collapsed into the small seats. The buckles were habit, and they completely ignored their eighth safety lecture in two days.
As the engines roared, he whispered to her, “You know there may be people on this flight who may recognize us later...we have to be real now.”
She nodded. Her nerves felt raw, taut. She gripped his hand fiercely, not so much because of the takeoff, but because the tension in her body had to go somewhere.
He squeezed her hand back. “Me too.”
They didn't speak much. The plane was small, the flight short, all familiar. What was less familiar was the fact that they were flying over a significant mountain range, over a storm, and the pilot didn’t even try to take them above the turbulence. The plane rocked and pitched until she felt like screaming. But she just held his hand tightly, staring out the window at the darkness, waiting for the long journey to finish.
Finish. The end of this particular trek would be only the beginning of a much longer journey. And while this part of the journey had been thoroughly scripted, their steps completely planned, the next part was much more amorphous. Their only clue about the next part was that they were being met by someone who would know them, someone called White Owl.
Eventually the rocking subsided, the clouds beneath them clearing to reveal scattered lights along the ground, sprinkled stars of isolated houses and clustered nebulae of small towns.
The sheer beauty of it caught her completely off guard, and she found herself shielding the window with her hands for a better look.
Ahead of the plane, she could see the deep blackness, a cosmic dust cloud formed by Puget Sound, bordered by the galaxies of harbor towns and the distant glow of larger cities.
It seemed like forever, yet only a moment before the plane tilted and began the final descent. For once, she was only relieved to hear the wing flaps move and hear the rush of wind as the airplane lost altitude. The lights of the city below them spread like a twinkling carpet of gold and shining blue sequins on a black velvet cloth. As they moved lower to the ground, small red pinpoints became identifiable first as moving objects, then as tiny cars, slowly growing as the plane moved closer.
Finally she saw the row of blue landing lights below them, rotating with the ground until they stretched out in front of the plane like a welcome mat. She realized, to her surprise, that this felt familiar.
She felt like she was coming home.
Chapter 4: Dreams
My co-authors didn’t get much of a chance to work with this one, I wrote it so fast, but they will be pitching in again on future chapters. Dawson and our EIB* both contributed mightily to the polishing and fine tuning. Viva Les Nitpickers! Jen
Disclaimed in Prelude. Gwynne is mine. Don’t use her without asking.
*note: EIB=Editor In Black. All right, it’s cheesy. But apt. Very apt.
March 3, 1998
Evening, Victoria, BC, Canada
Gwynne Eglantine had been waiting for this plane for seven years.
She’d been waiting to meet Martin Harrod for six of those years.
She’d been waiting to meet Sally for four years.
For all that, she’d only been in the Victoria airport about 10 minutes before the arrival of CP 1269 was announced from Calgary, Alberta.
She leaned against one of many in a row of plastic chairs, watching out the window as the mobile stairway was pushed up against the side of the plane. She’d seen the itinerary they had followed, and wondered idly if they’d actually be capable, at this point, of walking down the stairway.
Her fingers rubbed the side of the ‘pack of gum’ in her hand. It actually did have a couple pieces of chewing gum in it, but that was not its primary purpose. A small sensor inside waited to meet a magnetic key.
A few business travelers walked briskly off the plane. She ignored them, watching the door of the plane carefully.
Then she saw them. He emerged first, a tall man with a weak beard, casually dressed in jeans and a new-looking t-shirt. He turned as he reached the top of the stairway, to allow his smaller companion to pass in front of him.
A most presidential gesture, Gwynne mused. The woman looked tired, but stood straight as she carefully made her way down the steep metal steps. Her long, red hair hung in weary ripples down her back as she turned to wait for her companion to descend the stairs.
Gwynne could not see his face, and was startled when he did indeed stumble on the steps. Presidential indeed.
From the reaction of Sally, for it must be Sally, his stumble was not accidental.
Gwynne smiled. It had been one thing to know who Martin Harrod was, one thing to wait for him all these years, but another thing entirely to realize he had a sense of humor. A tacky one, at that.
She popped a stick of gum out of the pack as the arrivals walked across the tarmac to the terminal.
She took a deep breath, and deliberately dropped herself into character. I know them. I’ve known them for years. They are close friends.
She walked over to the door, allowing a sense of eagerness and excitement to permeate her body language. As Martin opened the door for Sally, she grinned broadly and stepped toward them.
Here we go.
Scully shook her head as she walked with him towards the terminal. “Martin, you can’t channel Ford. He’s not dead.”
He tried to look insulted. “I slipped.”
“Uh huh. Sure.”
He took her hand, and leaned toward her. “Do you see anyone likely?” he whispered, nodding to the terminal they were fast approaching.
“Relax. Our friend will find us. You still have your ‘identification?’”
He ran his tongue over the small piece of metal encased in plastic that had made itself at home behind his lip.
He reached the door a step before her, and opened it with a small bow.
Here we go.
“MARTIN! SALLY! Welcome home!”
They were momentarily stunned by the hearty embrace the white haired woman caught them in.
She stepped back from them for a moment. “Let me look at you! It’s been so long!”
It was impossible, Mulder decided, to tell how old this woman was by looking at her. Her hair was completely white, but thick, and her face, while lined from years of expressing emotions, looked like it could have been an aged 40 or a youthful 70. Her stance was strong, square, from the bottoms of her Birkenstock clad feet, to the top of her short hair.
She was taller than average for a woman, four or five inches taller than Scully. Her eyes twinkled behind round glasses, and he thought he knew where she’d gotten the handle “White Owl.”
Scully was grinning and talking, he realized.
“So, friend, are you our ride?” “Sally” smiled broadly. Somehow the woman in front of her seemed not a total stranger, but an old friend they just hadn’t met before.
The woman looked at her, smiling back. She seemed to ignore the question, instead holding out a pack of gum. “Would you like a piece?”
Scully shook her head, but Mulder took one. He unwrapped it carefully and placed the piece in his mouth, palming his ‘identification’ then held out the wrapper.
“Hold this for me?” he asked.
Taking the wrapper in her hand, White Owl surreptitiously moved the contents next to the pack of gum. Her face revealed nothing unusual.
Smiling, she handed back the wrapper. Wrapping her arms around their waists and moving between them, White Owl urged them down the hall. “Do we need to pick up your luggage?” she asked as they walked.
Scully shook her head, still bemused. “It...it was...uh...stolen. We’ve just got our carry-ons.”
“Been roughing it, eh? Well, you’ll have everything you need at home.”
The airport was quite small, and the parking lot was close. When they cleared the terminal, their guide said softly. “My name is Gwynne Eglantine. Welcome.”
She led them to a well-loved Volvo station wagon. Its gray paint was in good condition, and the vinyl seats well maintained, though it was obvious the car had seen newer days.
She unlocked the doors, and motioned for them to put their bags in the back.
Scully climbed into the front seat, automatically reaching down to slide the seat forward. Mulder sat behind her, leaning forward between the seats as far as the seat belt would allow.
They remained silent, full of questions, as Gwynne looked over her shoulder and backed the car out of the space.
Scully’s gaze landed on the dashboard. It took her a moment to realize that the moss growing there was probably not part of the original specs of the car, it looked so at home covering the wide dash. Looking closer she realized that seashells, stones, and tiny carved figures also made their home on the dash.
She furrowed her brow, trying to figure out how to ask why the car had moss. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her natural response, to ask Mulder why there was moss growing on the car, was short circuited both by the fact that she didn’t know if it was safe to use his name, and the fact that she didn’t know if the question would offend their host.
Mulder noticed the moss, but ignored it, evidently more interested in the driver.
Gwynne glanced over at her passengers, and had to struggle to keep from laughing aloud at both Scully’s puzzlement and Mulder’s scrutiny.
She paid for the parking, then pulled out onto a dark road.
For the first time since the airport parking lot, she spoke.
“We have to drive about fifteen minutes to get to your house. Sally, the car isn’t growing moss, it’s just stuck on with a hot glue gun.... Because I like having moss on my car. It makes it feel more like a friend, and less like a servant. Martin, yes, I did say your house.”
They both looked at her, trying to formulate questions. All that came out were half syllables like “buh,” “wha,” and “how.”
At that, Gwynne did laugh. “You could say I’ve been expecting you. We’ve been preparing for this for years.”
That snapped Scully into attention. “We’ve only known we were going to do this for two days. You couldn’t...”
Gwynne smiled. “I’ve known Martin Harrod for six years. His lovely wife Sally, for about four years. They’ve had a palpable presence here on Vancouver Island for about three years. I work with Martin, and Sally is a close personal friend. For all that, they are two of the most private people on the island. People know of them, think they remember seeing them at functions, and there’s even gossip about them. But if you tried to get someone to tell you something concrete about them, they’d tell you gossip, but they honestly couldn’t remember what they look like.”
Scully’s jaw hung slightly ajar as she tried to grasp the implications.
Mulder suddenly made the connection. “Six years.... I had the X-Files opened, was starting to step on toes. Four years.... Scully. And three years ago... after she was returned.”
Scully looked at him. “But I started working with you five, almost six years ago.”
He smiled. “Yeah, but none of us trusted you at first. They wouldn’t have set up a cover for you until they were sure you weren’t a spy. I think it took them longer to be convinced than it did me.”
She laughed. “That fits.”
Gwynne smiled. “So you see, you are going to make just enough of your presence here known to solidify people’s sense that they’ve been acquainted with you for years. It was no accident that the boys sent you to Victoria. Three and a half years ago, when Agent Dana Scully was abducted, and we realized how high the stakes had gotten, The Gunmen started making arrangements for a...an “out.”
“I volunteered to take care of things on this end. I had the resources, and it was a challenge.” She smiled wryly, keeping her eyes on the dark road as she turned down a tree-lined driveway. Her next words were softly, but intently spoken. “It was a game I was willing to play, and a side I was willing to play on.”
The car pulled to a stop. In the headlights, they could see trees, but not much else.
Gwynne climbed out of the car, leaving her doors unlocked. Her visitors followed her example, but Scully couldn’t help but ask why they didn’t lock the car.
As she unlocked the hatch, Gwynne replied, “It would be weird around here to lock the doors to the car, and besides. The car knows when someone has been in it. More importantly, I know when someone’s been in it.”
Mulder regarded the car with new respect. It bore no outward signs of any security system or for that matter, of any electronic capabilities whatsoever.
They followed her into a modest house. The steps were worn and mossy, the wood siding of the house weathered over a footing made of decorative but plain rounded boulders. Looking at the house, it seemed exactly the kind of place that someone might go to hibernate in tranquil solitude for months or years on end. A wide patio with a wider roof sheltered a porch swing and large pieces of driftwood. A single, large, precisely tuned set of wind chimes stirred a delicate rippling chord into the wind.
The entry of the home echoed the feeling of the exterior, from the plants in every corner to the low ceiling and natural wood walls. It seemed a very small house indeed. A sitting room off the entry way sported a futon couch on a frame of rough pine logs, and a coffee table formed of a pane of thick glass set on a driftwood base.
Gwynne turned to them, and grinned. “Welcome to my apartment! Let’s go get you settled in your house.”
She led them around a corner, into a completely different world.
The narrow entryway opened into a huge kitchen. As they entered, lights sprang into being, track lighting and spot lighting. Gwynne walked to the sink and a light automatically flicked on over her head as she filled a tea kettle. The spot light flicked off as she moved toward the large gas range, where another light flicked on when she moved the tea kettle to a burner. She moved her fingers in a pattern over an unobtrusive black panel to the side of the burner. It beeped softly, but the burner did not immediately turn on.
“I’ve set it to start the water in about half an hour.” Gwynne’s voice startled them out of their shocked stupor.
Mulder whistled. “Cool.”
She chuckled. “It gets better. Don’t be too astonished yet.”
Gwynne ushered them past the kitchen and breakfast table, and through another door, where they found a large living area. A wood stove with glass doors sat in the middle of the room, a large, soft couch sat positioned perfectly to take advantage of the view of the fire. A large recliner sat off to one side, a rocking glider and ottoman next to it. Cabinets lined the walls. They could see the shadows of potted plants everywhere in the dim light.
They walked through the living room, and down a short hallway.
“Your bedroom. You can drop your bags here.”
Scully seemed to be drinking in every detail of the rooms as they passed through. She dropped her bag without speaking, and flopped on the king sized bed. Mulder set his bag down and started examining the room.
Gwynne laughed. “Not yet. You can map it later. We need to go talk in the study.”
Scully sighed from the bed. “Do I have to get up? This is too comfy.”
“‘Fraid so. I promise you can come back to bed in a few minutes. But you need to see a few things first.”
Across from the bedroom, a door opened onto a large study. Books lined the walls, a large desk with a computer dominated one corner, and two comfortable reading chairs sat in front of a single large window.
Unlike the rest of the house, which had hardwood flooring, this room had a strange pattern inlaid into tiling on the floor. Gwynne gestured for them to stand close to her. Mulder noticed that the tiling where they stood formed one of many starburst patterns on the floor, this one just a bit bigger, and a bit more deeply colored than the rest. Before he had a chance to notice anything else, Gwynne rested her hand on one of the bookshelves, and grinning like a kid showing off a crayon drawing, she pulled one of the books off the shelf.
Silently, seamlessly, and very quickly, the wall rotated and they were standing at the top of a long, dark, stone stairway, the room they’d been in having disappeared entirely.
Scully blinked. “Isn’t that a bit cliché?”
Gwynne chuckled. “Of course it is. But I couldn’t resist. Besides. It’s ever so much more dignified than if we had the door in the bathroom. It would be awkward if you inadvertently flushed with your hand in the wrong place and ended up with an audience.”
Scully tried to get her mind around that logic, but her travel-worn brain failed to come back with any reasonable response.
The walls of the stairway seemed to be formed of rough stone, but were surprisingly clean. The stairs themselves were stone as well, but precisely cut. The dim light was not enough to provide any sense of what lay at the bottom.
They descended the stairs, unconsciously counting as they went. By the time they reached the bottom, Scully had gotten up to forty-one steps.
Must have missed one. She frowned. Wait a minute. Why would...
Mulder’s voice in her ear startled her. “You forgot to count the first step.”
She looked at him. “Stop that.”
The stairway ended in—nothing?
Just a small little cubby made of rough stone. The two agents looked at Gwynne quizzically. Her lips twitched upward, and she suppressed a giddy feeling of merriment, as she took a seat on a protruding stone and motioned for them to do the same.
Mulder looked at the drab grey stone walls, and patted the hard ‘chair’ beneath him. “I was hoping for something a bit more luxurious.”
Gwynne’s guffaw of laughter surprised them both. Between laughs, she managed to say, “I’ll—try—to—keep—that—in—mind.”
Scully looked at her curiously, then exclaimed “Are we moving?”
Gwynne nodded, still laughing. The opening to the stairway had quite silently disappeared, and they seemed encased in a small stone room. It was not clear where the light was coming from, and the only sign they had that they were moving was a slight pull of acceleration pushing them against the wall of the tiny cave.
After a few moments there was a slight spinning sensation, which disappeared as fast as it had come, but left them feeling slightly lightheaded.
Shortly after that, the sense of acceleration stopped, and when they looked around, they realized that the wall that had previously been a stairway had now become a short hallway.
Dazed, the two agents followed Gwynne down the stone hallway, looking back to see their little room blending seamlessly into the rock.
Scully muttered, “I’d swear Langly must have had a hand in that.”
Gwynne chuckled. “Very perceptive, Sally.”
They had come to stop in front of a large metal door embedded in the rock. If doors can be said to have souls, this door shared a soul with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It looked like it could stare down anything that dared try to open it without proper authorization, up to and including lasers and small nuclear devices.
A panel folded down out of the rock, and Gwynne stood up to rest her chin on a plate as something took a retinal scan. Her right hand rested on a panel next to the chin plate, and she simultaneously spoke into a small microphone. Several lights flashed green, and she typed something on a small keyboard.
“Your turn now, Sally. Speak your name, Sally Harrod, and place your hand on Madame Zelma and your chin on the plate, like I did. It needs to make a primary identification of you, for future record.
Mulder did the same.
Scully murmured, as the door opened, “Further up, further in.”
Gwynne smiled. “It does look bigger on the inside, doesn’t it?”
The door opened, and their jaws dropped.
Behind the door was a very large open space. The corner to the left opposite the door was walled off with floor to ceiling glass, through which they could see what Scully recognized as very sophisticated lab equipment, mostly still in protective coverings and wrappings.
The other corner on that wall was open to the room, computer equipment lining the wall, and large worktables filled with pieces of disassembled electronics and tools occupied much of the central space of that part of the room.
The space to their left held a low circular table surrounded by comfortable couches and chairs. The wall flush with the door they’d entered held a sink, a counter, a refrigerator, a microwave. A large window behind the couches revealed a narrow rectangular pool and beyond that a small area dedicated to a few choice pieces of work-out equipment.
The corner to their right was lined with file cabinets, several desks spaced across the central space of the corner.
Scully shook her head, her weary brain trying to grasp what she saw. “This must have cost—”
Gwynne pursed her lips. “Well, let’s just say I had an inheritance. And help.”
Scully looked at her sharply. “That’s a lot of inheritance.”
Mulder added, “And a lot of help.”
Gwynne’s response was a dry laugh. “Well, let’s just say I had a good reason to want to spend it this way. Is this luxurious enough for you, Martin?”
Mulder was looking thoughtfully at the row of file cabinets, and didn’t seem to register the question.
Suddenly he walked over to a file drawer, and jerked it open. He pulled out a file folder, flipped through it, then began yanking open file drawer after file drawer. He sank into a chair behind one of the desks, with a file open in his hand, and then stared up at Gwynne with a stunned look on his face.
Scully looked at him inquisitively.
“It’s the X-Files. All of them.”
Scully looked more closely at the area around the file cabinets. In the large, brightly lit room, with its high stone ceiling and pale linoleum flooring, she hadn’t noticed some of the finer details. Like the bulletin board against the wall, covered with newspaper clippings and a very familiar poster. Or the small picture frames on several of the desks.
She started chuckling. She walked across the room, and sat down in front of one of the desks. On the spacious oak top were several pictures of her family, a new-looking computer, and a card. She picked up the card, and using...
Her letter opener? She looked at it for a moment, its familiar heft and shape fitting naturally into her hand, then gave up trying to figure out why it was here in this place, and used it to open the envelope. Inside was a belated birthday card, and a handwritten note.
—Dear Agent Scully, the note began.
—We figured that while we were having so much fun making your hideaway, we’d take the opportunity to rectify some oversights in your previous office’s design. Enjoy your desk. You’ve earned it.
Byers (in a neat script)
Langly (printed in hasty capitals)
Frohike (scrawled unevenly across the bottom of the card.)
She shook her head, and wiped a tear from her eye. Mulder walked over, concerned, and she handed him the note. He read it quickly, then started chuckling. “Of course.”
He handed the note back to Dana, and stared at Gwynne.
“Why? Why would you pour all this money, effort, time into creating a safe haven for two people you’d never met? I can almost understand how and why the boys would do this, but why you?”
Gwynne’s face looked suddenly much older.
She looked down, then spoke quietly.
“Let’s just say your sister was not the only child taken.”
Pushing away the questions in their eyes, she briskly took the file out of Mulder’s hands and put it back in the drawer.
“We need to go back. The water will be hot.” Her abrupt words silenced them as she ushered them out of the huge room, into the stone hallway.
As they sat back down in the strange stone room, the questions started to bubble to the surface.
“Who knows about this?” Scully’s voice was quiet and wary.
Gwynne nodded. “Good question. Actually, it was surprisingly easy to build. There was a mining operation here about 80 years back, which didn’t turn up much in the way of mineral wealth, but which left behind some perfectly useful tunnels and caverns. Since we didn’t have to do any blasting, the rest was a cinch. Kind of like finishing a basement.
Mulder snorted. “Somehow I don’t think that this is the kind of job that Norm and Steve would take on.”
Scully suddenly laughed. “Actually, Martha might.”
Gwynne laughed. “I think that’s the first time in my life that anyone has ever compared me to Martha Stewart.”
She continued. “We’ve been working on this place for the last three years. There are about a dozen people altogether who know it exists at all; half of them know nothing about why it is here.”
“And the other half?” Mulder prodded.
“Three of them you know well. Two of them are people you will meet tomorrow, people you can trust with your life. And the last is me.”
“As I’ve said. We’ve been planning this for a long time.”
The ‘car’ stopped, and they climbed up the stairs. As they were rotated into the study, Scully asked, “How secure is the rest of the house?”
“Totally secure until you get to San Diego. I expect that some time after that, they may attempt to monitor it, particularly if you are successful in finding the contacts you hope to find. The underground will remain secure, as the moment the house tells me that it’s been bugged, I will cease to access the ‘fort’ from here.”
“There are other entrances?” Mulder asked as they left the study.
“Of course. This is simply the place that we will use as your “home” for your cover.”
As they moved into the kitchen, Dana looked back into the living room with a strange expression on her face.
“So if we ever come back here, this house, up here, it won’t be secure anymore?” Her voice sounded almost sad at the thought.
Gwynne smiled understandingly. “It is nice—but this is not the only house I’ve built on the island. I think you’d find the others to be to your liking as well. They’re closer to the ‘fort,’ too.”
Back in the kitchen, the teakettle was whistling merrily.
“Tea?” Gwynne offered. “Just herbal, I don’t serve caffeine after eight unless there’s a crisis.”
The mundane offer seemed completely out of place after all they’d seen.
Scully sank wearily into one of the chairs in the breakfast nook.
“Ummm. I think that I have to sleep now. It’s been a long day.”
Mulder opened his mouth to ask something, then realized that there were so many questions that he didn’t know where to start. He glanced over at Scully, and smiled at the vacant expression on her face. It looked as if the toothpicks holding her eyelids open were about to snap.
Fighting the urge to ask questions until sunrise, he stood back up, “I think we should get some sleep. I assume that tomorrow will be as insanely busy as the,” he checked his watch, “Hour since we met you?”
Gwynne laughed. “Actually, while tomorrow is a very full day, I think you’ll enjoy yourselves.”
She poured herself a cup of tea. “I’ll be up for a while. Don’t hesitate to call if you need something.”
Mulder grinned. “I take it your glasses aren’t the only reason they call you owl?”
She nodded. “I do my best work at night.” She looked at ‘Sally,’ who had put her head down on the table.
“Why don’t you take her to bed. There are clothes in the drawers in the bedroom. Should fit, if Frohike got the information right.”
“Sally” opened her eyes enough to navigate sleepily to the bedroom, and sat on the edge of the bed. She didn’t move.
“You okay?” he asked. Looking at her, he realized she was actually asleep sitting up, her chin tucked down, her back slumped, only inertia preventing her from falling over.
He chuckled, and gently pulled her shoes and socks off. She mumbled something, then tipped over onto the comforter, sound asleep.
He regarded her for a long moment. Her long hair spread out in a halo around her head, and her legs were bent oddly in relation to her torso.
“C’mon doc—Gotta get your jammies on.” She didn’t move.
He took a deep breath, and unbuttoned her jeans. She rolled a little, and as she did, he slid them down under her hips.
Deep breath. She’s out cold. This is not sexy. She can’t sleep in jeans. Just take them off, and get her pajamas on her.
He pulled the jeans down, revealing slim white legs. Deep breath.
He slid first one foot, then the other out of the jeans, and dropped them on the floor next to the bed. Looking in a nearby dresser, he found a pair of sweats. He looked at them, at her, at the heavy comforter that covered the bed, and then left the sweats on top of the nightstand. She shifted her top half, furrowing her brow.
She looks uncomfortable. What?
The bra he’d purchased so many hours ago. She’s gonna kill me.
He reached a hand gingerly up under her shirt from the back, and found the small but complex clasp that held the contraption together. She stirred but did not waken. His fingers twisted and pulled gently, but the damn thing didn’t release.
In for a penny.
He slid his other hand lightly up the smooth skin of her back until it found the bra, and unhinged the clasp. He withdrew his hands.
He had seen women take bras off without removing their shirts before. He’d never really thought about how they managed to do it, since logically, it shouldn’t be possible. One of those cases in which the laws of physics just don’t apply... He considered. Goddamned best profiler the VCS ever saw, and I can’t get a bra off my partner without waking her up.
In for a pound.
He reached back under her shirt, amazed that she stayed asleep, this woman who had waken more than once at a slight noise, gun in hand, ready to blow his head off.
Reaching his other hand through the sleeve of her t-shirt, he used the hand behind her back to feed the back of the bra out her sleeve.
Clever. Not sexy, but clever.
There was just enough give in the fabric that he was able to work the strap over her elbow and over her hand.
Gently, he put his arms around her, and pulled her over on to her other side. She shifted, and snuggled into his chest. He froze.
After a long moment, he took a breath. Sliding a single finger down her sleeve, he hooked the remaining bra strap and pulled the whole device out through the sleeve. The moment it popped free, he realized what had been making her uncomfortable. The thing had metal hoops on it, half circles embedded in the soft fabric, giving a hard frame to the soft cups, so that the lone star and the yellow rose looked like they were being supported by arcs on a suspension bridge.
One great leap for mankind.
With a flourish, he pitched the bra over the side of the bed.
She turned from him, rolling back on her other side.
He pulled off everything but his boxers, and tried to work the covers from under her body. He ended up having to untuck the whole bottom end of the bed before he was able to slide the covers from under her.
He crawled in next to her, and pulled the covers over them both.
Her rhythmic breathing swirled around him like a vortex, pulling him down into a heavy sleep.
Curling around a small child.
Looking down at the face beneath the silky hair.
Seeing her own face there, crumbling into dust and blowing away like sand in an icy wind.
So very cold.
Dana Scully jerked awake, shaking with great gasping breaths, freezing cold. The shards of dream echoed through her head, burning into memory as she struggled to get her bearings.
She found herself lying on her back in a strange bed. That was not unusual. What was unusual was that she had no covers, and in only panties and a thin t-shirt, the chill March air had worked its way into her bones. The other unusual thing was sleeping soundly, curled up snuggly on the other side of the bed, wrapped tightly in several layers of comforter and quilt.
As her breathing calmed down, she sighed. The small clock next to the bed showed a time of 3:30. Her weary brain volunteered the thought that back in DC, it was 6:30, and she’d have gotten up already to get ready for work, normally.
The word “normal” chased the threads of dream around her head, and she realized that she should probably either retrieve the covers, or get some more clothes on, or both.
She started to reach over to pull the blankets back, but stopped when she realized that she was still shaking from the nightmare.
Child with my face, dust blowing.
She pushed the image away. Realizing she would not be able to get back to sleep easily, she pulled on a pair of sweats she found on the nightstand, and padded quietly out of the room in her bare feet.
In the living room, she found a fire burning low in the wood stove. She picked up a medium sized log, opened the thick windowed door of the stove, and put the log in. The rush of air from the room brightened the fire considerably. She squatted in front of the fire for a few minutes with the door open, warming her hands and trying to shake off the cold shreds of the dream.
“It will stay bright if you open the flue a little more.”
Dana jumped at the soft voice behind her. Gwynne Eglantine reached around her and moved a lever to the middle of its slot. Dana closed the doors of the fireplace and moved back from it.
Gwynne handed her a cup of cocoa, and looked at her for a long moment.
“You’re not Sally right now, are you.”
Dana shook her head, cast her eyes down, and bit her lip. She curled her hands around the mug, and sat down on the large, soft couch in front of the wood stove.
Gwynne sank into the other end of the couch, and pulled a large afghan off the back for their feet.
“Want to tell me about it?”
She started to shake her head, when Gwynne startled her with a laugh.
“I take that back. Talk to me.”
“I had a bad dream...” Dana looked at the fire. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I know you don’t. But I think that if you don’t talk about what that dream was, what sent you out here at 3 am, when I know you’re exhausted, then you’re going to have a really hard time down the road when you can’t fall out of character.”
Dana stared at the fire for a moment, considering. “Have you ever felt like no matter what you did, no matter what obstacle you overcame, no matter how strong you were, things just keep getting harder and harder and worse?”
Gwynne inclined her head slightly, the glow of the firelight shimmering on her white hair and casting deep shadows across her face.
Dana looked at her. The older woman had taken her glasses off, revealing warm green eyes.
Dana looked down at her hands, then spoke. Her voice was quiet, controlled, almost clinical.
“I dreamed about my daughter. When she was dying. I looked down at her face, and it was my face, and it turned to dust and blew away.... I woke up cold, with no covers.”
“But the dream was colder than I was when I woke up. The wind that blew me away was like ice in the bones. And I just disintegrated.”
Gwynne looked at her for a long moment, taking it in. “Have you cried for the part of yourself you lost when you lost her?”
Dana closed her eyes for a moment. “I grieved. But I couldn’t cry. I felt like I didn’t have a right to cry for her—she was only mine for such a short time.” She took a long sip of cocoa, taking refuge behind the large mug.
Gwynne waited quietly for a moment. When Dana did not continue, the older woman began to speak.
“There are a couple of things you’re going to need to keep in mind.”
Dana looked up at her, curious.
“First of all, there is no shame in grieving for a lost child, even if it’s not yours. I grieve for your lost daughter, because it is so wrong for a mother to lose a child.”
Gwynne paused, and echoed her own words softly. “So wrong...”
She took a deep breath and continued. “No matter how long a baby is part of someone, they have a right to grieve its passing. In fact, infertility itself is a death to be grieved. And this child was yours, because you loved her, giving you every reason, every right, every need to grieve. In a way, though I grieve your daughter’s death, I grieve for you more. You never got to carry her in your womb, feed her at your breast.... And as a mother, I rage that you were denied that with your child.”
Dana closed her eyes, fighting to keep control.
Gwynne reached out and put a hand on Dana’s arm. “You’re fighting so hard to keep it all inside, controlled. But it’s eating at you. It steals your energy. You don’t let people see you cry. Heck. I bet you don’t even let yourself cry when you’re alone if you can possibly avoid it. You need to remember that you’re stepping into a different character now. You know that Sally Harrod is supposed to smile more, laugh more—It’s part of the attitude adjustment you’re supposed to be doing.”
Scully looked over at Gwynne, her eyes asking how Gwynne had known that detail of the conversation with Frohike’s mom.
Gwynne saw the question and laughed. “I talked to Dot while you guys were traveling today, or rather,” she said looking at her watch, “Yesterday. Don’t look so surprised. Few years back we both worked for a theater company. She designed costumes and did makeup; I directed and produced. But she was always right on the money about people, and there were many times when she would just look at me and tell me exactly how a character was going to be played. She taught me how to coax someone into becoming someone else. It usually involves getting them to tap into being themselves more honestly.”
Dana took a large sip of cocoa, brow furrowed, trying to see the connection.
“Anyway.... One of the things I’ve learned is that people who are able to laugh, not trying to escape something unpleasant by dropping into defensive humor, but people who laugh because they feel joy and humor in the world, are also usually able to cry appropriately. You can view this as a challenge, or you can view it as an opportunity to really cut loose—but it’s something you’re going to have to do. Part of becoming Sally Harrod is learning to feel your grief rather than running from it.”
Feeling my grief. it would kill me.
“It won’t kill you.” Gwynne responded to the thought as if it had been spoken out loud. “I’ve been there, and while it’s so hard to feel that grief, it’s easier than spending your life numb. If you stay numb, you’re dead anyway.”
Dana shifted into the couch, turning away from her. Gwynne’s tone softened as she continued.
“People are going to be asking you questions about your “infertility.” And some of the answers you’re going to give just won’t be believable if you can’t let yourself feel the emotion behind them. And while part of that emotion can be rage—much of the emotion in infertility is grief. Particularly for women who’ve miscarried, but really when you’re in the thick of things, every failed attempt to conceive is a small death. What was your little girl’s name?”
The word escaped Dana’s mouth before she realized the question had been asked. “Emily.” She took another drink of cocoa, caught off guard by the quick question.
“Tell me about her.”
Dana’s gaze drifted around the room as she considered where to start. It came to rest on a cobalt colored Japanese fishing float sitting on a shelf behind the wood stove, and stayed there. She shifted, part of her understanding the need to answer, but her instincts screaming for her to run.
Her eyes stayed fixed on the glass bauble as she forced herself to speak.
Dana said, “You know I was taken, right?” Gwynne nodded. “They stole my eggs from me, my fertility from me then. Of course, it took me a while to figure it out—I was never very regular, I was under so much stress, and then I got sick—I assumed that the cancer treatments would leave me sterile, but I didn’t think...I didn’t think I’d done enough of them to totally do the job.”
Gwynne smiled slightly to herself. She did indeed know Dana’s history, but also realized that it was necessary to let her tell the story without interruption.
“Then my periods just didn’t come back. I eventually talked to a specialist, and we decided my body had just been more sensitive than most. It wasn’t until Emily that I found out that my eggs had been taken from me long before the cancer was treated. Mulder had found out around the time we learned I was sick, but hadn’t had the heart to tell me then.”
Gwynne’s eyes echoed the resignation and aching loss Dana had felt when she realized that her body would never recover completely.
“Emily was a total shock. At first I thought she was my sister’s. They looked—” She took a deep breath. “They looked so much alike. And it was Missy who...who lead me to Emily.”
Gwynne tilted her head. “Missy is the sister who was killed?”
Scully bit her lip and nodded. “I never would have had reason to discover Emily if I hadn’t gotten a phone call from Emily’s house from a woman with my dead sister’s voice. The call came from a phone that had been off the hook for hours. Emily’s parents both died within days of each other, their deaths made to look like suicides. Emily was dying.”
She took a deep breath, and continued, using every bit of her willpower to maintain her control enough to tell the story. “They were experimenting, trying to make some sort of hybrid, we suspect they used one of my eggs and some unknown source, possibly not entirely human, for the other half of the chromosomes. Emily was the result.”
“All Emily wanted was for them to stop testing her. So I stopped it. She died in my arms. Her body—We don’t know exactly what happened to her body. I looked inside her coffin after the service, and it was gone. They’d weighted the coffin with sand.”
She stopped, and took a deep, shaking breath.
“Mulder suspects there may be more children like Emily. I have to know. If I don’t know, I’m going to have to wonder the rest of my life how many of my babies—”
She stopped. Can’t breathe.
Gwynne reached out a hand, and took the empty cocoa mug from Dana’s shaking hands.
Dana shook her head, opening her mouth, then shutting it again. “I can’t.” The words came out in a strained whisper.
“You can’t...” Gwynne moved closer, sitting close to Dana, picked up her hands, and looked into her eyes. Her voice was soft, “You can’t go through your whole life wondering if they’re torturing children you will never have the chance to love, to hold. You can’t go through life waiting for another child to walk into your life to die. You can’t go through life knowing they will always have this to hold over you. And you can’t kill yourself to escape it, because they’ll just be freer to destroy those children at their whim. I know you can’t.”
Silent tears flowed down Dana’s cheeks, and her shoulders shook. “If you could have seen her.... She was beautiful.”
Gwynne gathered Dana into her arms like a small child, rocking her back and forth.
The words began pouring out of her in great gasping sobs, “Oh God, she was so...so beautiful. She wasn’t just some clone, some hybrid, some alien. She wasn’t a mutant...and they were killing her, trying to make her into something inhuman. She, she just wanted them to stop hurting her. She was so brave...I wanted to hold...hold her forever and I had to let her go so those fucking bastards couldn’t torture her for their “little experiments”...and they took her body. I couldn’t even bury her.” Her voice rose, the words forced out in a wail.
“And we don’t know how many more...what kind of pain...what kind of obscene experiments...what kind of cruelty....”
“I don’t even know how many children I have, if they have parents who love...could love them the way I will never...have...the...chance.”
Gwynne looked up, to see Fox Mulder standing in the doorway, tears running down his cheeks. She beckoned to him, urging him to come close, as she rocked Dana’s shaking body.
He looked completely desolate as he regarded her. Gwynne used a hand to motion him down behind Dana. Without further prompting, he wrapped himself around her from the other side.
The sobs continued to roll out as they both rocked her. They did not try to shush her, or calm her. They simply rocked with her, crying with her as she keened her anger and sadness and frustration and loss into the fire—lit darkness that surrounded them. Words poured from her in unintelligible bursts, crashing waves, punctuated by sobs and gasping cries.
As the waves began to slow, Gwynne untangled herself, and Fox lifted Dana onto his lap, pressing her head against his shoulder and leaning back to cradle her completely. She quieted, finally, then, her breath still deep and shaking, tears still running down her face. Gwynne handed Fox a box of tissues, and he began drying Dana’s face with one hand, stroking her hair with the other. He realized he was crooning to her, then, soft nonsense in rhythm with her breathing, instinctively slowing and soothing her.
Gwynne returned from the kitchen with a glass of milk in her hand, bent down and placed a straw on Dana’s lips, holding the milk there while Dana sucked it down.
The glass set to one side, Gwynne began surrounding Fox with pillows. He looked at her curiously, and she nodded in the direction of his shoulder. Dana had fallen asleep there, her body occasionally shuddering with a residual sob, lashes pressed damply against her cheeks, tendrils of hair escaping her braid and curling around her face.
He rested his head on hers, as Gwynne covered them with a comforter and banked the fire down to a dim glow. As the golden red light faded down, he noticed that the room was not entirely dark, a quiet bluish grey had crept into the edges of the room, not quite dawn, yet, but considering it.
He let the quiet overtake him, and faded into sleep with the fire, breathing in deep unison with the woman curled on his lap.
Continue to the next chapter on my website
Chapter 5: Morning of the Night
There are three parts to this chapter, both an artifact of the fact that this was originally published on Usenet, where we had manual line breaks and slow computers and thus had to break chapters into manageable chunks, and of the fact that the first five chapters of this were written by multiple people, and these subchapters had different permutations of authors. I've left in the breaks for this chapter, to give credit where credit is due.
Part A by Jenrose, Sunny, and Dawson Rambo
March 4, 1998
The sweet tang of oranges being sliced was a really nice alarm clock, almost as good as the rich pungency of the coffee that followed it.
Waking up with Dana Scully curled up like a child against his bare chest confirmed the sensation that he had somehow finally been wrenched out of the dark nightmare that was Fox Mulder’s normal state of being, and placed in a blissful dream or some domestic haven.
He opened his eyes and looked down at her, enjoying the moment, trying not to move, trying not wake her.
He must have tried too hard, moved too little, held his breath a little too long. She stirred, shifted, started to stretch...
Her dreams were softer this time.
Far from the sand.
Nothing can touch us.
Boat rocking steadily, breathing.
Heartbeat like time echoing.
So warm, rocking.
Curled around a small child.
Feel her breathing.
Reaching for her.
Boat disappears, then the water.
Even the dream is gone.
As she woke in the warm nest of pillows and Mulder’s arms, only a thin shred of the dream stayed with her.
Not fair that even the good dreams hurt.
Her eyes flew open as the pressure of his body on hers registered. Memories of the night before came rushing to the surface. Overwhelmed, she pushed herself off his lap, onto her feet, instinctively putting distance between them.
Can’t be that close, too close.
Can’t look at him.
He watched her, wordless. Don’t go. Don’t pull away from me.
She turned and fled into the bedroom, unable to meet his eyes, retreating.
He slumped against the couch.
Gwynne came in from the kitchen, wooden spoon in hand, with a flour covered apron tied around her sturdy frame.
He gestured at the hallway to the bedroom, his brow furrowed, lips pressed together.
Gwynne raised an eyebrow behind her flour-speckled glasses. “All right. Can you cook at all?”
He looked mildly surprised at the question, then found his voice. “Uh, sort of.”
She nodded. “I’ve got a couple of things just about ready to go into the oven. If you could put the little butter pats on the coffee cake, and put the cheese on top of the omelet, they can go in the oven together. I’ll go see what’s up with Sally.”
She handed him the wooden spoon. He took it, numbly, as she nudged him toward the kitchen.
She watched him for a moment, frowning. Then she took off her glasses and disappeared down the hallway.
Gwynne knocked gently on the bedroom door. “Sally?” she called softly.
The door cracked open a little, but did not swing wide.
Gwynne found Scully sitting on the bed, knees near her chest, trying to work through the tangled mess her hair had become. Quiet tears were rolling down her cheeks, her face turned down, eyes refusing to meet Gwynne’s.
“I really don’t want to talk about it this time.” Scully said, still keeping her face turned.
Gwynne sat on the bed behind her, and took the brush from her hand. She began separating the tangles. “So don’t talk.”
After a moment, Gwynne spoke. “You know, it’s natural to want to maintain a tight control on yourself when everything else in the world is going crazy. Particularly when it seems other people are pulling all the strings.”
Scully shifted, started to turn, her mouth opening, ready to speak.
Gwynne put a hand on her shoulder, holding her in place. “You don’t want to talk about it. That’s fine. Just listen. I’ll be done in a minute. I’m not into opening wounds this morning.”
Dana settled back into place.
Gwynne unraveled the knot she was working on and moved to a different section. “There’s something for you to think about...You pride yourself on your ability to control your reactions. But if you can’t choose to let other people nurture you, if you can’t choose t o let them in, if you automatically lock everyone out when your emotions get too big, then you don’t have control at all.” As the snarls disappeared, Gwynne began to brush in long strokes. ” Dana let us in last night. Scully pushed her partner away this morning. You’re going to have to let Sally treat her husband like a husband, and not like a co-worker you can send home when it gets too intense.”
Dana wrapped her arms around her knees, and let her head rest on them. “I couldn’t be that close this morning. Couldn’t...”
Gwynne pulled a scrunchy out of a drawer, and brought the mass of hair together in a ponytail. “I know. But for this to work, you have to let him in. It may not be ‘safe,’ but if there is anyone in this world for you to trust, it’s him.”
“I do trust him.”
“You trust him. What exactly does that mean? You don’t trust him with your soul. You don’t trust him with your heart.”
Dana’s words were almost inaudible. “I trust him. I don’t trust myself.”
Gwynne smiled at Dana’s back. I know honey. That’s my point.
“Don’t you think it’s time to start?”
Dana turned around, put her feet on the floor. “My body betrayed me. My work has cost the life of my sister, my daughter, and God knows how many other people, and the things I want most in this world I can never have. How the hell am I going to trust myself? What is left to trust? Hell, I don’t even trust God anymore, and you expect me to have faith in myself?”
Gwynne’s voice was stern. “Your body has carried you through things most people could never hope to survive. Your work has saved hundreds, if not thousands of people. And this “I can never have what I really want” crap is just depression talking. I expect you to have faith in yourself, to trust yourself enough that you can let yourself be vulnerable to that man out there who loves you enough that he’s pouring every resource he can muster into finding your answers and bringing you peace.”
“I know.” Dana looked down. “But I don’t know how—I thought I knew. After the cancer I was so ready, then Emily—”
She looked up at Gwynne. “I let myself love her.”
“He is not Emily.” Gwynne’s voice was firm. “He’s been in your life much longer, and he’s not going away. Letting yourself be vulnerable to him is not going to kill him, and it won’t kill you either. I know you can’t be ‘Dana’ to his ‘Fox,’ right now. But you have a chance here, being ‘Sally’ to his ‘Martin,’ to learn how to drop some of those barriers you’ve gotten so good at keeping between ‘Scully’ and ‘Mulder.’”
Her voice softened. “You have to be able to be Sally enough so that you can stand in a room naked with him without worrying about grabbing a towel. You have to be Sally enough that you can call him ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey’ without it sounding fake. You have to be Sally enough so that when he climbs into that shower to check your tattoo patch you don’t panic like some kid who’s never seen a man naked.”
At that, Dana’s eyes dropped and she smiled. “Actually, Mulder naked is something I’m a bit too familiar with. Usually it also involves mind-altering substances, illness, or injury.”
Then she looked up. “How much do you talk to Dot Frohike, anyway?”
Gwynne chuckled. “More than her son does. Actually, she’s probably the reason you guys ended up here at all. As I said, we’ve been friends for years. We talked this morning, she had a lot to say about how much, and how little coaching you guys would need for the parts you’re going to be playing.”
Dana tilted her head. “How little?”
“Yeah. You have a huge advantage in that you’ve already had years to get used to each other. The fact that you’ve gone to hell and back with him will make it much easier for you to play the part of having been married for five years.”
“However,” a mischievous expression played on Gwynne’s lips, “It would be better still if you’d already been sleeping together. As it is, you’ll be pushing the physical boundaries of your relationship on a daily basis. I’d suggest that you sleep with him just to get past that, but we can’t have you...uh...fucking like bunnies, as it were, in the heat of the “first days” of a sexual relationship when you’re supposed to already have gotten past that point by four to six years.”
Dana blushed. “Do you really think that will be necessary for the cover to work?”
Gwynne shrugged. “What would you say if you were putting a married couple under surveillance and they were either barely touching each other or they were having sex every waking moment? I’d say that in the first case, they’d either been married for far too long, or were not married at all, and in the second case, that they were newlyweds, not a couple that have been having timed sex for the past two years trying to get pregnant.”
Dana bit her lip. “I see your point.”
“So Dot says, and I agree, that it’s important that you get comfortable with the idea of being naked in front of him, naked with him, showering with him—all that—the hard part for you will be learning to shift from what you’re used to, to a more physical relationship.”
Dana looked down, blushing, and noticed that she was still wearing the shirt she’d traveled in the day before. Suddenly she realized that she had no recollection of taking off her jeans or her bra the previous night.
“Gwynne,” she asked hesitantly, “did you help get me to bed last night?”
Gwynne shook her head. “Nope. And if you didn’t do it....” She gestured to the clothes that had been dropped in a heap on the floor. “You obviously had help.”
She smiled at the deepening blush on Dana’s cheeks. “Why don’t you go take a shower? I’ll send Martin to you in a few minutes to help you wash your...back.”
Dana’s eyes widened. Gwynne burst out laughing. “If you could see your face.... But I want you to do everything you can to be Sally today. If you can do that while you’re in the shower, it should make it much less awkward.”
Gwynne closed the door gently behind her.
It was inertia that allowed him to keep moving long enough to get into the kitchen. His hands were on autopilot as he finished putting the topping on the coffee cake. He shook himself a little, looked around, and found a cast iron pan filled with potato chunks and raw scrambled eggs. He forced himself to dump the bowl filled with chopped raw carrots and onions into the pan, watching the small pieces sink in the yellow liquid as his eyes began to sting from the onion vapors. Blinking back tears, he sprinkled cheese over the surface, until nothing could be seen but shreds of yellow and white, all trace of the vegetables and eggs lost beneath the blanket of cheddar.
He closed his eyes.
I’m going to lose her again.
He opened the oven, feeling a blast of heat sear his face as he leaned over to put in the two pans. He pushed the door closed, and it slammed harder than he expected. The noise jarred him.
Christ. Why the hell can’t she just let me in? What is she afraid of?
He knew what was tearing her up, knew all too well what was eating away at her soul. Hell. He’d tried to feed his soul to it long ago to protect her.
Couldn’t protect her. She hates it when I protect her. Can’t get it right.
“A high radiation procedure. Causing superovulation.” Two walls full of little metal drawers. And the sick realization that one drawer bore her name.
“They’re our mothers.” And he’d stood there like a fool, too numb, trying to comprehend something as simple as the fact that some bastards had stolen those little miracles. Little miracles that could brighten a life, save a life, grow up to save the world.
One of those little miracles stole her soul.
He sank to his knees, hands clenched around something, but he was too far gone to notice, dredging up other memories of Allentown. If he ever saw a Kurt Crawford again, he’d kill the bastard. Just for being there. Just for being alive.
They had gotten over this. The goddamn cancer had gone into remission. And things were finally getting back to normal. Better than normal. She’d grown from her brush with death. For a precious few joyous months he’d watched life flow back into her, the spring come back to her step, the color to her cheeks, hope to her soul.
But then came Emily. He’d been shocked by the overwhelming rush he’d felt when he’d first seen her. Seen her and her mother—seen Dana there playing with her child. He’d told her that he was not the best person to speak for her—but he hadn’t told her how his heart seemed to skip a beat when he first saw them together.
Is that what a father feels, seeing his child for the first time? He’d almost lost it when the doctor had asked them if they were Emily’s parents. He’d looked at Scully, and then carefully stepped away, when she’d answered “I’m her mother.” She’d shut him out then. And he’d let her.
Emily wasn’t his child, no matter how much his heart ached for her. She was Scully’s child, and barely. Only her flesh and blood and her heart torn open and left empty.
It had broken her spirit more thoroughly than that damned cancer had destroyed her body. And all his heroic attempts to save her, this time they could do nothing to keep her soul intact.
How much did one person have to go through? I came so close to losing her before.
His palms slammed against his eyes, futilely attempting to shut out the horror show playing on in his head.
What if you lost her again? What if you lost her now?
Gwynne stood for a moment at the doorway to the kitchen. He was curled on his knees, wearing only sweatpants, face smudged from the remnants of his beard, staring blindly at blood oozing from a cut on his hand. Shards of glass surrounded him, but it looked like they’d hit the ground after he did.
a room carpeted with glass knives
sharp sound echoing
shards cutting bare feet
falling to my knees
every piece of glass we’d owned
ruins around me
blood running down my fingers
harsh fragments grinding knees
nothing left to throw
Remembering—A young woman, with wise old eyes, pulling the shards out of my skin as all the rage in the world poured out with my blood. Taking me into her arms like a child and making me quit trying to die.
Gwynne took a deep breath. Time to pay back an old debt.
She first swept the shards of glass away from him. He did not seem to notice. Then she pulled out a central vac attachment and began getting the fine dust that remained, watching the glittering slivers vanish up the vacuum hose. She used the vacuum to pull a few remaining pieces off his pants.
Then she sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of him and pulled his hand toward her. His gaze followed his hand. She looked at the cut, realized it was very shallow, and covered it with her hand. His gaze blocked, his eyes moved up to meet hers.
“I can’t lose her. And I think I just did.” His voice was sad, quiet.
Gwynne closed her eyes, smiled, shook her head slightly. “You haven’t lost her. She lost herself.”
He cocked his head at her, frowned. “She ran from me.”
“No.” Gwynne’s voice was stern. “She ran from herself. You are just so close to the heart of her that when she flees from herself, you end up getting left behind too.”
His mouth twisted in a painfully ironic smile. “She told me it wasn’t always about me.”
Gwynne squeezed his hands in hers. “She’s right, in a way. But what you also have to remember is that when it comes to the heart of her, sometimes you’re all that’s there to bring her back.”
He dropped his head down. “But I don’t know how. Last night—she let me hold her—but this morning—”
“This morning she ran because she didn’t know how not to run. She was not running from you. It’s two steps forward, one step back. Still progress.”
He looked up at her then. “Progress.... The past two days were the first time I’d seen her laugh in months.”
“Since Emily died?”
“Last night was the first time you’ve seen her cry.”
“She’s cried before—” he started.
Gwynne interrupted. “But she hasn’t really let it out that way, has she?”
“No. Not ever. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a tear fall.” He shifted until he was sitting on the floor, and pulled his legs up to his chest.
“You know, don’t you, that she’s trying to stitch her soul back together. Sometimes the pieces won’t stay, sometimes the stitches won’t hold, but every piece found is a victory. She found a few pieces of her soul last night, you helped her pull them in, keep them there. This morning, some of those pieces tried to flee, because the pain is still there. But she has more of her soul now than she did yesterday.”
He gave a small laugh. “Sounds almost shamanic.” He looked up into eyes as old as the world.
Gwynne raised an eyebrow and smiled. “I just call it like I see it.”
His face shifted. “How was she—when you went in?”
“She was trying to brush her hair. She wasn’t being very successful.”
“Martin, why don’t you go find out yourself?”
He took a deep breath. “She usually wants to be alone.”
Gwynne sighed. “Scully wants to be alone. But Dana needs to learn to be Sally, and Sally needs her husband’s help to check that silly patch Dot pasted to her back.”
She smiled, and squeezed Mulder’s hands. “She won’t push you away.”
Part B by Jenrose and Dawson Rambo
Somehow, Scully thought, as she pulled off her clothes, being physically naked in front of Fox Mulder was one of the easier things Gwynne had recommended.
Nude, she walked into the bathroom. Like the rest of the house, it was spacious, full of light, potted plants making it seem almost like an atrium. She half expected a bird to fly out of a fern that presided majestically over the toilet. Opposite her was a glass walled shower, off to one side a step-in tub. She looked wistfully at the tub, but decided that would have to wait for later.
She shook her head slightly in bemusement. It seemed almost too real, too vivid, like a photograph with colors and contrast enhanced. The plants seemed greener, the shower bigger, the tub deeper than they had any right to be.
Hard to be numb in a place like this.
Towels hung on a bar next to the shower, even folded they looked like she could get lost in them. She stretched out her hand, running her fingers over the thick terry.
Don’t push him away.
She reached in, feeling the cold chrome of the shower controls on her fingers. The water rushed out, already hot.
She stepped inside, feeling the heat of the water flutter soft on her cheeks, closing her eyes against the spray.
So, Scully, what is the protocol for taking a shower with your partner?
Protocol. She almost laughed.
Let him in.
No barriers now, except a semi-translucent glass door, and two months worth of solid brick walls.
Scully knelt down on the floor, sinking to her knees with the weight of her wet hair and the heavy heat of the water pouring around her. The weight of Gwynne’s words pressed her closer to the floor.
Scully pushed him away.
Her skin seemed aware of each droplet pounding on it, sliding down. Her lungs drew in deep steam-filled breaths, and her knees pressed against the tiled floor. She sensed, rather than heard when he entered the bedroom, and forced herself to keep taking those full breaths, even though her heart wanted to stop.
She won’t push you away.
He undressed mechanically, his sweats falling in a heap where he stood, eyes unfocused. He could hear the rush of water from behind the closed door of the bathroom.
You haven’t lost her, she lost herself.
He walked to the threshold and stopped.
His hand pushed the door open slowly, hesitantly. The air in the bathroom was thick with steam. It took a moment for his eyes to settle on the glass door of the shower.
The wavy frosted glass obscured most of the details, all he could see was a small dark form, seemingly crouched or hunched over, near the bathroom floor.
Panic gripped him for a moment and he crossed the bathroom in two great strides, pulled open the door to find her kneeling on the shower floor, her wet hair dark and plastered against her skin, obscuring most of her from view.
She knelt under the spray, he could see she was staring at her cupped hands, watching water pour through them.
She looks so lost.
It was easier than he expected to simply step inside the roomy shower stall. He closed the door and reached down to her.
Gently, he urged her to her feet. “Hey.”
She stood, slowly, still facing the wall, closing her eyes as the water rushed against her face.
His eyes dropped as she stood. He saw impossibly tiny feet, toes facing away from him. And then wet, slick calves, water sluicing across and over and down towards her ankles. He started to raise his eyes, drawing them up the curves and planes of her body and then he stopped himself as he realized he’d found the point at which her thighs met.
This isn’t a peep show, dammit.
Her eyes stayed closed tightly in the spray. The water rushed down her face, plastering her hair in reddish brown sheets to her chest, pooling in her cupped hands.
Don’t push him away.
The control that had kept her breathing slow and even, fled.
His voice was rough. “You okay?”
It was startling how quickly he found her in his arms. Awkwardly, he rested his hands on the wet hair hanging down her back, feeling her shoulders shake against him, her arms curled on her chest between them, her cheek smooth next to his bare, wet chest.
Her words were lost in his chest and the running water. He leaned down a bit and asked, “What?”
He rested his cheek on her wet hair for a moment, tightening his arms slightly. Then he pulled back, tilted her chin up, bringing her eyes to meet his. “Why?”
Her eyes dropped momentarily to his chest, then she looked up at him.
“I’m sorry I shut you out.”
He drew her close again. “It’s okay.” He tried to sound light about it, but his voice wavered.
“No. You were right—Sally shouldn’t shut Martin out.” She rested her cheek against his chest again, feeling the heat of the shower and his skin wrapped around her like a cocoon.
“I think, under the circumstances,” he paused, noticing suddenly what the circumstances were, “it’s understandable.”
He was glad at that moment that her arms were between them, that he couldn’t feel her naked breasts on his chest, that she couldn’t feel....
They stood there for a long moment, the water from the shower running down her back.
“You know I’m here for you. You aren’t alone.” His fingers threaded through the wet mat of hair hanging down her back.
She wrapped her arms around him. “I’m glad you’re here.” She paused, then suddenly became very aware that she was hugging a very naked Mulder, and pulled back.
“Martin,” he corrected, automatically.
“Martin,” she continued. “You’re naked.”
He looked down at her, at the wet ropes of hair plastered to her breasts, her bare stomach, and lower....
“Sally,” he said, with a faint smile, “so are you.”
They stood there for a moment, separate, regarding each other hesitantly.
She broke out into a grin.
“This is really weird, isn’t it?” he said.
She blinked, tilted her head, then answered.
“You know, actually, it’s not as weird as I thought it would be. Actually,” she said, looking up and down his dripping body, “I could get used to this.”
He gulped. “Uh, yeah.”
She turned around, suppressing a smile, and found a bar of soap on a shelf under the shower.
Why do I think I just let him off the hook?
His eyes traced the outline of her back, the narrowness of her hips and then the gentle flare of her buttocks. Seeing someone in a hospital Johnny gown was one thing; this was another. His eyes tracked a single droplet of water as it traced its way from a shoulder blade, down her back, across the swell of her left buttock and then down her leg.
She reached back, handing him the soap.
“W—wash your back?” he asked.
She smiled at the wall in front of her, hearing his nervousness. She wondered if the look on his face had changed from the mixture of anticipation and fear, a totally Mulderesque mix of little-kid-in-the-candy-store, and hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar.
Twisting the soap in his hand, he lathered his fingers and then reached to touch her. She lifted the mass of her hair up and brought it over her shoulder to move it out of his way.
The feel of his soapy, wet hand on her shoulder was not unexpected, but her reaction to it caught her off guard. She...tingled. She closed her eyes, felt her knees wobble.
She sighed as his hands worked lower, gently, slowly, softly, applying soap with a feather touch.
He’s afraid to touch me, she thought. Scared. She blinked in the spray, realizing that somehow, that made it easier. He wasn’t leering, wasn’t making his usual snide innuendos.
She let out a ragged breath and then stepped back a bit, giving him freer access to her body. She smiled at the shower wall again as she felt rather than heard his answering sigh.
She felt his hands running over the patch. “Take it off,” she said softly.
She felt his fingers at the edge of the prosthesis. A slight tearing sensation, not painful, and then it was off. He handed it to her over her shoulder and Scully took it, washing the side that had been pressed against her back for two days, rolling the glue off with her fingers.
She realized, after a few moments, that she could no longer feel his hands on her skin. She twisted, looking over her shoulder, to find him studying her lower back intently.
He jerked, startled out of his focus by her voice. “Uh...No.”
She raised an eyebrow, still half twisted. “Then what?”
“Uh...I just realized I never have seen this up close before. I wanted to look at it.”
She turned back, facing the wall again, “Y’know, I haven’t seen it up close since I chose it. Kind of in an awkward place.”
She hadn’t had to see it. The image was engraved on her soul as permanently as the ink was embedded in her flesh.
The ouroboros, a snake forever consuming itself, feeding upon its own flesh in a never-ending circle of life, death and rebirth. With a shudder, she remembered the man whose dark eyes had all but seduced her into getting this tattoo, remembered the rebellious feeling of the needle stitching the ink into her skin that wet, drunken night, remembered thinking at the time how freaked Mulder would be if he knew. And here he was, stooped at the waist, bent over to take a closer look at it.
He reached out, traced the outline of the snake with his soapy fingers. His hand was familiar with this place, had gravitated to the small of her back for as long as they’d been partners. So strange to see it marked....
He wondered about the man, about Ed Jerse. He’d wanted so badly to ask, to know, to understand what had happened between them. Scully’s case notes, notes that he’d read one dark, lonely night months later (when he finally worked up the courage to read them) had recounted the conversations between her and Jerse completely. “People get the tattoo they deserve,” Jerse had said.
He left a trail of bubbles along the snake for a moment, obscuring the tattoo.
His fingers slick on her bare skin were nothing like the warm pressure she knew so well, the pressure of his palm resting on her back, through her clothes.
Impulsively, he leaned down and kissed the small of her back, just once, very lightly, lingering motionless with his lips touching her wet skin. Her breath caught in her throat. He straightened and returned to washing her back, fingers gliding over her skin.
She forced herself to breathe again.
His hands left her back, and she sighed softly, missing being touched.
When she found her voice, it was surprisingly raspy.
“Wash my hair,” she suggested.
Gladly, he thought. He located shampoo and quickly poured a dollop into his hand, and then began, fingers gently massaging her scalp, building the lather, making sure to get it all. Her hair hung it wet, soapy tendrils, ends curling where they weren’t plastered to the curves of her back, her shoulders.
She moved her head, leaning back a little into his hands as his fingers pressed against her scalp.
She leaned forward and washed the soap from her hair, running her fingers through it a few times, checking to see that the water ran clear. And then conditioner, and the same process over again. The indulgent feeling of having his hands in her hair was gone much too soon. Eyes closed, she turned, leaning back into the spray, letting the water move the hair away from her skin.
He watched her, not daring to breathe. She was naked before him, stretching and turning in the water, seemingly unconscious of his presence.
She tilted her head back in the water, eyes still closed, and his gaze moved down her body, which, with the veil of hair gone—
He flushed, felt his reaction, turned away, forced himself to breathe.
She heard the sharp sound of his breathing, and opened her eyes, to find his back to her.
“Martin?” She put a hand on his back.
He bit his lip, willing his body to quit reacting, failing as he felt her touch.
“Hey...” Her voice low with concern.
She placed her hand on his arm, tugged, encouraging him to turn around.
“Martin, what is it?”
His answer was low, mumbled. She finally stepped around him, and immediately realized what the problem was.
When he realized where she was, he looked away, started to turn.
“No.” Her voice was firm, low, colored with a touch of amusement and all the strength he knew she was capable of. She caught his arm, preventing him from turning.
Dammit, he thought, Stupid. Can’t control—
He still refused to meet her gaze.
Finally she stepped close to him, almost touching, and reached up and brought his face around to hers.
“I’m letting you in. Don’t shut me out. I’m a grown woman, a doctor, I know what happens to the male body in the presence of...certain stimuli, and that,” she said, gesturing to his penis, “is not something you need to be ashamed of. For Pete's sake, Mulder, I’ve catheterized you God knows how many times—”
“Martin,” he whispered.
His eyes kept darting away from hers. She stepped back, put her hands on her naked hips, and glared at him. “Look at me.”
He looked at her face, then, struggling not to look lower, but also struggling to keep looking at those eyes flashing fire at him—
She deliberately reached up, cupping her breasts in her hands. “They’re breasts. They’re mine. Look at them.”
His mouth went dry, but his gaze dropped obediently.
Sure enough, they were.
He looked farther down, at her smooth stomach, and a strange look crossed his face. “Scu—Sally, you have an outie.”
She grinned. “That’s better. Look at me. We’re supposed to be comfortable with this. And it’s not either an outie.”
He realized then that he was breathing again, that he could do this, after all....
She reached out to him, this time to turn him around, so that he stood facing the shower head, his back to her. He looked back at her with a question on his face.
She smiled and said softly, “My turn.”
He nodded, and handed her the soap.
Her touch on his back was firm, sliding easily across the skin, but working deeper in to the muscles, massaging as she scrubbed.
He felt her fingers on a knot, unraveling it, pressing it out of existence, and sighed, knees suddenly less solid then they normally were.
“Mmmm...Sally...where did you learn that.”
She chuckled, working her way down the ropy muscles. “Dunno,” she said, teasing. “Just something I picked up.”
Her fingers moved quickly, he felt the muscles surrendering almost instantly to her touch. His eyes closed involuntarily, and he could feel something rumbling in his throat.
“Mu—Martin? Are you purring?”
He found he was incapable of responding.
The water rushed hot against his face, down his neck, down his back and chest. She must be getting kind of cold—I’m blocking all the water.
She finished soaping his back, and reached around him to soap his chest.
He was abruptly aware of her naked body pressed against his back, and put out his arms to steady himself against the shower wall and the glass door.
Dammit, she knows what this is doing to me... .
Her voice was low, amused. “Yes, Martin,” she said, arms still wrapped around him, hands sliding soap across his chest and stomach, “I know what I’m doing. I’m trying to get you a little more comfortable with this ‘naked’ thing.”
“Sally,” he rasped, “It’s not the naked thing that I’m having a hard...uh...time with right now. It’s the ‘feeling your wet, naked body plastered up against mine’ that’s causing me difficulty at the moment. I’m—how shall I say this—having difficulty...maintaining my professional boundaries.”
He could feel her laughing against him, and noted that it was not the most unpleasant of sensations.
“Professional boundaries?” she finally managed to sputter, “You’re worried about professional boundaries? Really?”
He frowned into the hot water. She had a point. So do I at the moment, came an irreverent thought.
Then he was laughing, too. He turned around and hugged her impulsively, ignoring his body’s antics, and reveling in the laughter.
Her laughter died down as she found herself surrounded by his embrace. Then her arms circled his back, drawing herself more tightly against him, ignoring the hard pressure on her belly.
A rush of communication flashed between them.
Help me. Help me be this Sally person, this Martin person’s wife.
Help me be your husband.
This case, this mission, was the most important one they had been on to date—they both knew this.
I need you, but I’m here for you too, her embrace said.
I’m here, and I’ll try to let you in, he answered, tightening his arms just a bit.
She stepped back then, looking up at him with a tender smile.
He bent down, and rested a gentle kiss on her lips, for just a moment.
When he stood upright, she ran a hand along his chest, noted that the slickness of the soap was gone, and then reached around him to turn off the water.
He moved past her, pulling in a towel, unfolding it with a flourish. He dried her as she watched him, a bemused smile flicking across her lips. He crouched, carefully drying each leg. He hesitated at her crotch, but she simply moved her legs a little farther apart. With a minimum of contact, and a slightly glazed look in his eyes, he ran the towel along the insides of her thighs and across her groin.
Somehow the rest was much easier. When he finished, he wrapped it ceremoniously around her shoulders, then turned to get the other towel.
Her arms around his waist stopped him. She took the towel off her shoulders, and proceeded to dry him off as well, crouching down as he had done to dry his legs, ignoring his slightly panicked look as she gently dried the rest of him.
When she was finished, she reached around and deftly secured the towel at his waist, then quickly reached out and nabbed the dry towel, grinning at him. He shook his head, and stepped out. She started to wrap the towel around her chest, but he stopped her, pointing to the small prosthesis on the shower shelf.
She nodded, handed the square to him, then wrapped the towel around her waist. Before she stepped out of the shower stall, she wrung her hair out over the drain.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Ready,” she affirmed. She leaned over the sink.
His fingers on her skin again, testing, seeing if it was dry. The smell of alcohol, sharp in the air. The coolness of it against her skin, cleaning the soap and the oil away. His fingers, tracing the outline of the tattoo.
His fingers, tugging the towel a little lower, needing the room to work, and then the breeze as the towel loosened completely and fluttered to the floor. She moved as if to retrieve it, feeling incredibly open and vulnerable, almost on display. Somehow she felt more naked here, without the water running down her body.
He pressed against her back softly with just the balls of his fingers, asking for her trust.
She gave it, resting her elbows on the vanity.
“Hurry up,” she said, and then realizing what he might think, softly added, “I’m cold.”
She felt the glue brush against her skin, and then a moment later the cool press of the prosthetic. “Hold on,” he whispered. “Dot said you had to let it set for a minute.” His fingers again, on her skin, tracing the square of fake skin, getting the bubbles out, making sure the seal was perfect. His finger, tracing blending cream around the edge, tickling.
She felt him squat behind her and wondered what the hell he was looking at. She glanced in the mirror and saw that he wasn’t looking, that his face was turned to the side, his eyes discreetly averted. Then she felt the towel climbing her legs as he draped it around her middle again. Another small kiss, this one on her shoulder.
“Done,” he said, straightening and looking at her in the mirror.
“Thanks,” she said, tugging the towel higher, covering her breasts, turning to face him.
“No problem,” he said again.
She felt the need to say more, to let him know that she wasn’t just thanking him for the application of the fake skin. “For...everything.”
His soft smile was his only answer.
“Go get dressed,” he said.
“Not yet. I have to do yours.”
“Oh, right,” he mumbled. She scooted up and sat on the smooth counter next to the sink. She realized then that he’d lost his towel, and felt herself instinctively trying not to look at his naked body. He’s my husband, a voice whispered. I can look. I should look. Why is it so different out here?
Her eyes found his feet and climbed. The cool air had done its job and Mulder was no longer tumescent. For that, Scully was glad, for the thought of having an erect, bobbing Mulder twelve inches away was a bit more than she wanted to deal with while trying to keep control of her hands.
Her eyes found his face and she concentrated her attentions there; his beard was coming along; it still needed help, but not much. Her hands traced his jaw, turning his head to one side and then the other.
“Cold cream first?” she asked.
Twisting at the waist, looking for the small jar, she felt the towel slip from under her arms and pool at her waist.
Automatically, her hands went to retrieve it. Tugging, she felt resistance. His hands were holding the towel at her waist. His eyes were averted, not looking, his top teeth chewing his bottom lip. Then, just as she’d done, he seemed to gather his will, and looked again at her body, her naked breasts. His thoughts reached her, as if he had spoken them aloud.
I’m trying to get comfortable with this.
Releasing her grip on the towel, feeling her nipples tighten in the cool air of the bathroom, “Sally” returned to searching for the cold cream.
She found the small jar and opened it, dipping two fingers inside to scoop out a generous dollop. Mulder stepped closer, leaning against the vanity in the “V” formed by her legs.
She applied it, stroking it against his beard, closing her eyes at the sensation of the prickly hairs under her fingers.
She found a washcloth and quickly wet it, and then wiped the cold cream off. His beard went from an almost black dark brown to a slightly lighter shade, a color closer to his own hair.
His gaze fell on Scully—Sally—as she worked. From his height and angle, he couldn’t help but see her.
All of her.
Had he been asked prior to this moment, Mulder would have expected arousal or excitement. He was surprised at the wave of warmth and tenderness that washed over him.
The flick of the brush against his face tickled, and he winced.
“Hold still,” she chided softly.
“How are we going to do this if we suspect surveillance?” he asked.
“Steam,” she answered. “We’ll do this as soon as we get out of the shower, when the bathroom is full of steam.”
Made sense. They’d have to test the theory.
Soon, too soon, she was finished. She recapped the bottle and smiled at her partner— Husband— and then reached for the towel.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered. She flushed.
“Gotta get dressed,” she mumbled, unable to look at him.
He whispered, “Scully—I...”
She turned from him then, tightening the towel around her body, and fled into the bedroom alone.
As he watched her go, Gwynne’s words came back to him.
Two steps forward. One back. Still progress.
Part C by Jenrose, Ellen R., Sarah Kiley, and Ashlle
Gwynne sliced the omelet into wedges, her eyes focused not on the pan full of eggs, but rather on the shifting colors projected onto the lenses of her glasses. The infrared images did not obscure the eggs; she could see what she was doing simply by shifting her focus, looking through her lenses instead of at them.
The walls of the bathroom were cool, a dull green, but Gwynne’s attention was centered on the reddish blobs moving in the cooler yellow of the steamy air.
Abruptly one of the blobs moved out of her view, leaving the other shifting restlessly. The red blob moved over near the sink, and a streak of cool blue suggested that the cold water had been turned on.
Brushing teeth? She guessed, then shrugged.
A chime rang, signaling to both Gwynne and the display controller that someone was at the front door. The video feed immediately shifted to a view of the porch. She smiled as she recognized the visitors.
Refocusing her eyes to look through the image, Gwynne set the pan of eggs on a hot pad in the middle of the table.
She wiped her hands on a dish towel as she walked to the front door, then reached up and thumbed a tiny switch on her glasses, returning them to a more conventional clarity.
The tile floor was cool under Mulder’s feet as he stood for a long moment facing the closed bathroom door.
Sighing, he turned, sat. The counter warm against his bare skin, still warm....
Give her a few minutes.
Mulder looked down at his hands and twisted the wedding ring around with his thumb.
His lips pursed, frowning, and for the first time that morning he noticed the small piece of plastic behind his lip. He pushed himself away from the counter, opened the drawer beneath, and found a toothbrush in a wrapped box. Another toothbrush stood up damply from a cup by the sink.
He spit the plastic out, and began brushing it gently with toothpaste. After he finished with his teeth, he popped the plastic bit back in, marveling at how easily it made itself at home behind his lip.
Finally, he wrapped his towel around his waist, and opened the door.
Scully was fully dressed, standing, staring at herself in a full length mirror by the window. She waved a strangely shaped dryer at her hair, which hung in wet curls down to her butt. The dark red was a strong contrast to the deep green of her shirt.
“Hi honey, I’m home,” he said softly.
She looked at him in the mirror, watching a lingering drop of water slide from his hair, down his neck, shoulder, chest.
She thumbed off the dryer.
“Mulder, I—” she stopped, uncertain as to how to explain why she ran from him. “I need you to understand....” She paused.
“What, Sally? ”
She took a deep breath, surprised at how much the distance he’d just imposed stung.
Did he feel like this when I ran?
‘I’m sor—” the words cut off as the towel dropped to the floor. She suppressed a gape, and averted her widening eyes. A flush crept into her cheeks.
Did he feel like this in the shower?
Pushing back the thought, she turned to look at him. Fully.
Bathed by the sunlight streaming in through the window, he reminded her of a panther, power and strength trapped in sleek, lithe muscles under taut, soft skin. She blinked and felt a rush of heat-assaulted with a momentary flash of her hands on his body, feeling that warm smooth skin beneath her fingertips.
Mulder watched her face, following the track her gaze was taking as it moved over his body. Realizing just where she wasn’t looking, he suppressed a smirk. She’s trying so hard. I need to make this easier for her, not more difficult.
He spoke. “Yeah?”
Swallowing, she tried to figure out how to put what she wanted to tell him into words. The sight of him was making it difficult to speak at all, and coherent speech was out of the question. She shut her eyes tightly. When you touch me and tell me I’m beautiful, I don’t know if I’m Scully or Sally, and I don’t know if you’re Mulder or Martin, and that scares the hell out of me.
She opened her eyes, found him standing inches away from her. She fought back an urge to run. Her eyes started to slide away from his, then returned. “Tell me.” His voice low, soft.
Where’s that unspoken communication when I need it? she wondered.
“I want to hear you say it.” His voice echoed quietly in her head, and she wondered if he’d spoken out loud.
She looked down, realized what she was looking at, then settled her gaze on the more neutral territory of his chest hairs.
“I don’t know where the boundaries are anymore. I don’t know...”
Boundaries. I’m standing naked in front of my partner and she’s worried about boundaries.
His chest hairs were fluttering, and she realized he was chuckling silently.
She felt a flash of irritation at his laughter. “I’m trying to tell you—”
Scully found suddenly that her nose was pressed against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her tightly. She blinked, trying to reorient herself.
“Scully...This does seem to be pushing some of the more extreme possibilities, doesn’t it?” His chest rumbled against her ear. “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing at the situation.”
She pulled back out of his embrace, trying to look stern.
Her voice was very controlled. “Clothes. Closet.”
Too controlled, Mulder thought. Like she’s fighting for control.
“Spoilsport.” He pouted at her, eyes twinkling.
She rolled her eyes, and pointedly turned her back on him, thumbing her diffuser back on to finish drying her hair.
He walked over to the open closet and pulled out a tweedy jacket. “Brown. Yuck.”
She smirked. “I wore the peaches shirt. You can’t complain about a simple jacket.”
He sighed and pulled out some beige pants. “So where did she hide my underwear?”
Scully raised an eyebrow. “Top left drawer. Next to the socks.”
Glancing over his shoulder as he stepped into soft knit boxers, Mulder caught her looking at him in the mirror. Gotcha. He winked at her and wiggled his hips deliberately as he pulled the boxers up.
She blushed and looked away, but he could see a small smile.
Chuckling, he turned around to sit on the edge of the bed.
“Argyle socks? Shoot me now....”
She shook her head slightly, then flipped her hair upside down to dry the underneath.
“Don’t complain. I couldn’t find a single pair of pumps. Not a heel higher than a half an inch anywhere in the closet.”
“Well, you are supposed to look different—subtracting a couple of inches can only help.”
She glared at him from underneath her hair. “Easy for you to say, Mr. six-foot-one.”
Sarah Eglantine bounded into her mother’s kitchen, and dumped her backpack on the floor with a thud. “They gonna come out soon?” she called out as she pulled out a small bag of whole coffee beans from her pack.
Jess Eglantine wrapped her arm around her mother’s waist, and they followed Sarah into the kitchen at a more sedate pace. Gwynne caught Sarah’s hand, smelled the coffee beans appreciatively, and smiled. “Yep. They’re just getting dressed now. Is that Macadamia Nut?”
Sarah grinned. “Uh huh. I nabbed the first scoop out of the new shipment, just for you.”
Gwynne kissed her younger daughter’s cheek. “You’re just trying to butter me up.”
Jess set her purse on the counter next to the coffee cake. She picked up a table knife, cut the cake into squares, then set it on the table. “So what are they like?” Looking up, she found her mother carrying a stack of plates to the table.
“I think you’ll like them. He’s a wiseass, she’s a skeptic, and they’re both good as gold.” Gwynne set the plates down.
She walked over to the refrigerator to pull out the large pitcher of chilled fresh orange juice. With her face hidden from her daughters, Gwynne reached up and thumbed the little switch again.
Her eyes twitched, then adjusted to the image, and she saw that the two red blurs were in the bedroom, a lighter, orangy red indicating that their bare skin had been covered. She thumbed off the screen and stood up as Sarah poured some beans into a small electric grinder. Sarah’s palm pressed on the top of the grinder, and a grating noise filled the room.
“I’ll go see if they’re ready for breakfast,” Gwynne called out over the roar of the coffee grinder.
When he finished pulling on his clothes, Mulder stood up and turned around for Scully’s appraisal.
He was rewarded with a grin. “You look like an absentminded professor. Your socks don’t match.”
He looked down at his stocking feet, puzzled, Sure enough, the argyle patterns were in different colors. He started toward the drawer to look for a complete pair. Her hand on his arm stopped him.
“Don’t....” The gleam in her eye was positively devilish. “I’ve always had a thing for academic types. Besides,” she added, “I think that was intentional. Though I daresay mismatched argyle socks might be going a bit too far.”
He looked up, sighed. “She thinks of everything, doesn’t she?”
They both spun around to find Gwynne standing in the doorway of the bedroom.
“We have some company. My daughters are joining us for breakfast.”
Mulder and Scully looked at each other, faces mirroring apprehension, then back at Gwynne.
Gwynne shook her head and chuckled. “Just put on your best “Martin and Sally” faces, and come have some eggs.”
She turned, and they followed her to the kitchen.
The toasty smells of baked cheese and sweet cake set stomachs to growling and mouths to salivating as they stepped into the kitchen.
“Is that coffee I smell?” Scully sniffed appreciatively.
Mulder took a deep breath.
The young woman at the espresso machine couldn’t have been more than 20. Her straight hair, pulled back in a ponytail, was streaked with the remains of some color nature never intended. Her clothes hung from her in a deliberate disarray, and her feet looked ten sizes bigger than the rest of her, weighted down by heavy black boots.
Sitting at the table was a woman who looked to be in her early thirties, much more conservatively dressed, though equally relaxed. She sipped a demitasse of espresso, regarding Martin and Sally Harrod with interest.
“Organic Macadamia Nut Dark Roast blend,” the younger woman answered.
Mulder looked amused. “PC coffee?”
The young woman looked at him, tilted her head, raised her eyebrow, and asked slowly, “Would you prefer Mac-spresso?”
The other woman rolled her eyes at the pun. “Bad one sis...”
Scully elbowed Mulder, then grinned at the young woman. “No thanks, that smells too good.”
Gwynne smiled, “Martin, Sally, meet my daughters. This is Jessie,” gesturing to the woman sitting at the table, “and that rebel over there is Sarah.”
“Mom, don’t hassle me...I’m making your coffee.” Sarah’s voice was tinged with amusement. “Do you guys like steamed milk in your espresso, or espresso in your steamed milk?” She turned to them, her full lips quirking into a smile.
They blinked at her, trying to make sense of the question, when Jessie clarified, with a bemused smile. “What my sister is trying to say is that she can make you a latte, or a cappuccino, whichever you prefer. And you can call me Jess,” she said, looking pointedly at her mother.
Scully smiled. “Uh...cappuccino.”
Mulder looked at her, then said in a mock whisper, “She wants chocolate sprinkles if you have them.”
Sarah chuckled. “One cappuccino with chocolate sprinkles. And for you, sir?”
“Sir?” Mulder blinked.
“Well, you have been my toughest professor for a year. I think that deserves a ‘Sir.’” She winked at him and held a small metal pitcher of milk up to the spout of the machine.
His brain completely failed to compute that, so he shrugged and said, “Espresso with sugar. A year? I thought I was on sabbatical.”
The loud bubbling hiss of the steam frothing the milk made it impossible for her to reply immediately.
As she assembled the cappuccino, she spoke. “You have been on sabbatical this semester, but I’ve been helping you set up your research project in San Diego since early January, and before that I was doing a work-study position in your department. You’re an awfully demanding prof....”
Scully chuckled as she took the cup from Sarah. “That fits. Thanks.” Mulder frowned. “January...San Diego...”
Gwynne sat down and began serving the wedges of omelet and squares of cake. “When Frohike told us what you’d found there, we knew you’d be heading back. I was actually kind of surprised it took you two months to think of it.”
Scully shot a look at Mulder. He told them. Not me.
He looked down at his feet and said softly, “I didn’t tell Scully everything until Monday.”
Gwynne looked at him long and hard, and frowned. Then she turned to Scully. “Well, although I can’t condone his keeping something like that from you, he did buy us some time to set some things up for your trip.”
Scully looked away from them and took a long sip of her coffee. Mulder bit his lip.
The only sound, as Gwynne set the food on the plates, was the gurgle of the espresso machine.
Sarah handed Mulder his coffee.
“So,” she began, breaking the increasingly uncomfortable silence, “Whose idea was it for Martin here to grow a John-boy beard?”
Scully looked at Sarah quizzically, then noticed Jessie was hiding her mouth in a napkin. “John-boy?”
Gwynne glared at her younger daughter. “John Byers.”
Scully chuckled, regarded Mulder for a moment. “Y’know, there is some resemblance, Martin .”
He looked bemused. “Actually, I think it was Dot Frohike’s idea....”
Sarah laughed, and replied, staring at her sister, “Told ya Ma Frohike had a soft spot for John-boy—You’re just lucky she didn’t make you grow Uncle Muggy sideburns.”
“Uncle Muggy?” Scully croaked as both guests looked up in anticipation. Was Uncle Muggy—no, surely not....
Gwynne laughed. “Frohike.... When Sarah here was tiny, she couldn’t say “Melvin,” so “Unka Muggy” was one of her first two-word phrases. It stuck.”
Mulder’s grin was positively gleeful at that precious bit of information.
Scully frowned, tried to picture Frohike as an “Unka Muggy,” and failed. The idea was so absurd that she snorted. The cappuccino made an unexpected detour through her nose. She grabbed a napkin and turned away from the table.
Jessie looked at Martin for a long moment. “He doesn’t look a bit like John.”
Scully looked up over her napkin at Mulder and suddenly realized that he did, indeed, have a Byers beard.
Sarah started to say something, but Gwynne shot her a warning look that silenced her immediately.
Then Jessie turned, looked at her sister, and asked, “So have you seen Mr. Langly lately?”
Sarah coughed, blushed.
Jessie turned to their guests and smiled. “She’s had a crush on Ringo Langly since she was fourteen.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, and you’ve been carrying on a torrid affair with John-boy for how many years now?”
Scully shook her head, trying to equate her mental image of John Byers with the phrase “torrid affair” and failing completely. She could feel Mulder’s whole body shaking with suppressed laughter. If Langly has a nickname, Mulder’s going to lose it.
Jessie stood up abruptly and took her plate over to the sink. “That’s different. And it’s not a torrid affair. We’re friends .”
“Right, sis. You just keep telling yourself that.”
Gwynne spoke then, “Girls!”
A mother’s voice, saying “Girls!” Teasing banter.... Scully felt her eyes begin suddenly to sting. She took a deep breath.
Mulder was studying the family intently. “So you’ve known the guys for how long?”
Gwynne’s eyes glazed as she counted back.
“Let’s see—We met Dot and Muggy in early 1974, Ringo and John in, oh.... ‘bout 1990 or 1991.”
“1974.” Mulder echoed. “My sister was taken...”
Gwynne looked him in the eye, “November 27, 1973. As was my son.”
Mulder met her gaze for a long moment. “How old was he?”
She looked down at the table. “Noel was 10.”
His breath caught in his throat.
Finally a question found his tongue and used it. “The Project...”
She nodded. “My husband was involved. He was killed because he...threatened to expose them if they didn’t bring our child back. He was supposed to be an “object lesson” for the other families. When he was killed. Let’s just say my name has not always been Gwynne, nor has Jessie always been Jessica.”
“Why didn’t I know about you? If the guys have, for so long—”
Gwynne looked at him. “When Muggy came to me and told me who he’d met, what you were doing—I told him our story, but I made him swear not to tell you about us.”
“Why???” His voice had an edge to it that Scully recognized as something bordering on betrayal. She moved closer to him.
“I knew who you were—I knew your mother—and I knew that if you still used the name Fox Mulder you were still being watched very carefully. They think I’m dead, they’re not looking for me. I couldn’t risk my daughters that way.”
Scully looked at Sarah. “But you said 1973—Sarah can’t be older than 19 or 20.”
Sarah interjected. “My mother was Karen Sarasdar. Gwynne is my other mother. And you’re right, I was born in 1979.”
“Why now? If you couldn’t help us then, why can you risk it now?” He was maintaining control, but barely.
Gwynne nodded at him. “Martin Harrod is not being watched. I told the boys that if you asked for help going undercover, if you motivated it, I would help then. But as long as you were acting as “Fox Mulder, FBI,” they were watching you too closely; the risk was too great. Besides, the girls are all grown up now, and have chosen to be part of this.”
Martin. Have to be Martin. He looked down. How many people are going to get hurt because of this?
Scully put a hand on his arm. “We are all choosing to do this...And you are not responsible for what those bastards have done.” She reached up and pushed his hair back from his forehead. He took a deep breath, and she could see some of the tension leave.
She looked up at Gwynne. “Is this a quest for justice for you, for your son, your husband?”
Gwynne regarded her for a long moment. “Actually, I think it’s that I want to stop them from destroying more families the way they destroyed mine, and yours,” nodding at Mulder, “And yours,” she said, gesturing at Scully.
They ate in silence.
Finally Mulder spoke. “So what’s the plan for today?”
“Well, Jessie is going to take Sally over to their office. Sarah and I will take you to campus. You each need to have some passing familiarity with the places you’ve been working for the past couple years.”
Scully blinked. “Wait a minute. How does this work? Our office?”
Jess grinned. “Well, you see... We have an office with a lab. I see all the patients, and you’ve been doing research. You’re kind of odd, working at night, mostly.”
She paused, bit her lip. “You haven’t been in the office since October. The rumor then was that you were sick.” She paused. “In January, the rumor went around that you’d miscarried, and were taking time off to deal with it.”
Scully looked down at the table. “Oh.”
Gwynne reached out and took one of Scully’s hands. “We have tried to keep the rumors in directions running parallel to what you’ve dealt with over the past year. In October...”
“The cancer metastasized. And in January, Emily...” Scully’s words were quiet.
Jess continued. “Telling people you’d miscarried made them automatically assume that your earlier absence was due to morning sickness. They think the reason you’re not coming back is that you can’t stand to be around all the pregnant women on staff.”
That hits too close to home. Scully took a deep breath. “So why are we going in?”
Jess nodded. “You’re packing some things to take with you to San Diego. They all think you’re going down there to buy some Mexican baby or something.”
Scully raised her eyebrow. “Do they spend a lot of time discussing my fertility?”
Sarah snorted. “Bunch of busybodies and gossips.” She chuckled. “And my darling sister is ever so circumspect about how she starts these rumors.”
Scully remembered some of the more interesting rumors that had come out of the FBI secretarial pool, and chuckled. “I can just imagine.”
“So we’ll spend maybe an hour there this morning.” Jess smiled. “Then we can go have fun in town.”
“So what will my husband be doing while this is happening?” Scully asked primly.
Mulder began coughing, and set down his orange juice.
Sarah suppressed a smile, and answered, “Well, Mom and I will take him to campus, where he will meet his faithful assistant, Dena Marys, and a couple of other key staffers. We thought about having him teach a class, but we just won’t have time.”
“Who’s Dena Marys?” Scully asked. “Should I be jealous?”
Sarah sputtered, and Gwynne shot her a stern look.
Jess explained. “Uh, first of all, Dena is Mom’s age. And second, she doesn’t, uh, swing that way.”
Gwynne continued. “Dena is an old friend. She does most of the real work for your classes, as a favor to me. She also helps us plant rumors, but she doesn’t know your “real” background.”
“Martin, you will take a grand tour of “your part” of the campus with Sarah while I take care of a few things.”
Mulder nodded. “So what’s my story for being there today?”
“Same thing, essentially. You’re collecting the things you’ll need in San Diego for your research project. Dena has everything. She’ll catch you up on the research you’re working on.” Gwynne stood up to help Sarah clear away the breakfast dishes.
Continue to Chapter 5 on my website
Title is a line from Melissa Etheridge's song, "I will never be the same".