Category: S, A, MSR - holidayesque
Spoilers: Assumes knowledge through Existence
Summary: "What if it was about what you want, Scully?"
Disclaiming all: Chris Carter owns M&S; Fox owns The XFiles;
we own this story.
No infringement intended.
Archive: Sure. Thanks!
Thanks to: Ebonbird & Euphrosyne for beta;
Dee, Weyo, Lori, and Connie for various and sundry chunks of
test-drive; Uncle Chris, cuz we love him. (PD, your number is up
next, so quit lookin' so smug)
Notes: Down there at the end
"So, Pickles," Agent MacDonald asked, glancing up
into the rearview mirror, "You been dead three days now.
How'd you like it?"
Webster 'Pickles' Pickell III, long-time mob accountant and
newly-minted FBI informant, leaned forward, adjusting his
considerable frame in the cramped back seat. "Hours are
good," he said.
"I'll bet." John Doggett shifted in the passenger
seat, rearranging his long legs and loosening his tie. "Let
me tell you," he said, "I got a real kick out of your
obituary. 'Rare brain disease.' Gotta give 'em points for that
"Yeah, very inventive," MacDonald chimed in, as if
they were discussing the neighbor's new walkway or a play from
Sunday's game. "In the old days, it was just 'an
"Or the always popular 'natural causes,'" Doggett
Pickell shrugged, then turned his gaze back to the window.
"I went to the funeral, you know," MacDonald
continued, reaching down to adjust the heat controls.
"Tasteful ceremony. Real nice turn out."
"Yeah, I was there, too. Very classy." Doggett shot
MacDonald a pointed look, then pushed a button, lowering his
window a good three inches. "And cremation is so in
Cold air wafted toward the back seat, rousing Dana Scully
from an unanticipated nap. Feeling slightly nauseous, she rubbed
her eyelids with her fingertips, trying to revive herself. There
was an ominous, pinched feeling between her brows that could
only mean she had one killer headache, possibly even a migraine,
coming on. 'Coffee,' she thought longingly, her eyelids
drooping, in spite of her intention to preserve her professional
They were miles from anywhere, though, traveling south on a
lonely country highway somewhere in the Appalachian mountains.
It had been hours since she'd bothered to read a road sign, but
judging from the darkness and the proliferation of snow-covered
pines outside the window, it seemed safe to assume that there
would be no coffee anytime soon.
Doggett twisted in his seat, craning his neck and casting a
glance first in Pickell's direction, then in hers. "That
too cold on you, Dana?"
Stifling a yawn, Scully stretched as broadly as modesty and
such cramped conditions allowed, and shook her head. "No.
No, it's fine."
The chill was, in fact, a welcome relief. For security
reasons, the car's back windows didn't open at all, making it
impossible to get any fresh air, and Jim MacDonald kept the
car's ambient temperature so high that the windows kept fogging
up. They'd still been on the Capitol Beltway when she'd
struggled out of her overcoat, and her jacket had come off as
the interstate climbed into the Virginia mountains. MacDonald's
latest temperature adjustment left her cursing the sweater she'd
put on that morning - there was, quite simply, nothing left to
Doggett had apologized profusely at their last rest stop,
blaming the heat on MacDonald's recent transfer from the Miami
field office, but Scully was beginning to wonder if Doggett's
alleged friend might actually be part lizard. That would
certainly explain a few things.
MacDonald, for his part, sent an annoyed glare Doggett's way,
then stabbed at the temperature controls again. A wave of hot
air rolled through the vehicle.
Doggett gave a martyred sigh. "Jesus, Mac, I hope Santa
brings you a transfusion or something for Christmas." His
window slid a few inches lower.
"No one else is complaining, Doggy," MacDonald
smirked, turning the blower to its highest setting.
"Dammit, Mac-" Doggett began, but the rest of what
he said was drowned out by the whir of the fan motor and
MacDonald's ear-splitting laugh of response.
Scully sagged miserably against the stiff vinyl seat and
yawned again. William had been up half the previous night, not
crying or fussing, just wide awake and willing to use his
toothless grin to charm her full attention. She didn't blame
him; the middle of the night was a lonely time for them both,
and on those nights when she felt her loneliness most keenly,
his gurgling, drooling, miraculous presence comforted her more
than she could ever hope to express. Still, sleep deprivation
was starting to take its toll. William could make up for his
weird hours by napping whenever he felt like it, but she didn't
have that luxury.
Shifting in her seat again, she rearranged the pile of coats
and jackets that separated her from Pickell, making it easier to
sit up straight. 'Wake up,' she admonished herself silently, and
began mentally ticking off the things she still had to
accomplish in the three days left before Christmas Eve: pick up
the gift she'd special-ordered for Tara; have William's picture
taken with Santa at the mall; upload that picture to the site
the Gunmen had set up for her; watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' and
'A Christmas Story'; attend the Christmas pageant at St. John's
tomorrow night with her mother; bake sugar cookies; bake
chocolate chip cookies; bake gingerbread cook-
She checked her watch. It was nearly midnight, and as far as
she could tell, they were still hours from their destination.
After Pickell was safely stowed, she was going to have to
navigate an unfamiliar airport on a holiday weekend, catch a
connecting flight to Atlanta, and, if she successfully completed
that ordeal, fight her way through the crowds and the traffic at
'Maybe I could just buy cookies,' she thought guiltily.
Ruggiero's Bakery on Adams was good, really good, and frankly,
Rosa made better cookies than she did. She could call in and
order three or four dozen and pick them up after church Sunday,
which would save her a couple of hours she didn't have. It felt
like cheating, but she was sure her family would understand.
Well, her family would nod and smile. Close enough.
Another huge yawn. Now, if she could only figure out where to
buy eight uninterrupted hours of sleep.
She pressed her forehead to the window, resting there a
moment, savoring the contrast between her warm skin and the
chilled pane. So cool. So cool and easy. So cool and easy and --
"Holy shit!" McDonald shouted. The car swerved,
throwing Scully hard to her left, then slamming her back against
the door. Her skull met the window with a sharp thud. Instantly
awake, her gun was in her hand before she realized she'd drawn
"Jesus, Mac," Doggett exclaimed. "Dana?
Pickles? You guys okay?"
She nodded, scanning reflexively for a threat. "Yeah,
"You hit your head, Dana?"
"It's okay. I'm fine."
"Did you see it?" MacDonald asked. "Big buck
in the middle of the road. Just standing there. I had to steer
around it. Sorry."
"Steering?" Doggett asked. "Is that what you
"If you're gonna be a backseat driver, Doggy, you're
gonna have to sit in the damned back seat."
"No harm done here," Pickell said. "Agent
Scully? Are you okay? Sounded like you hit your head pretty
Heart thudding crazily against her ribs, Scully pushed her
hair back from her face, brushing her fingers over the spot
where her head had hit the glass. She was going to have a
bruise, if not an actual lump. She re-holstered her gun,
resisting the urge to rub her temple. "I'm fine."
Pickell paused. "You sure?"
"Yes, Mr. Pickell, I'm sure," she answered with a
tight little smile.
"Weird seeing a deer out in the middle of the night like
that." MacDonald said. "Now moose, that's another
story. Remember that time we were up in Maine, Doggy?" He
switched on the radio and country flavored Christmas carols
began to play, drowning out any words that followed.
Pickell said something she couldn't quite make out.
"Nice," he repeated, chin jutting toward the glass.
"Oh." Small houses, frosted with snow and lit by
twinkling Christmas decorations, dotted the hillsides on both
sides of the highway, giving the appearance that the mountains
themselves had been decorated for the holidays. It was pretty.
She hadn't noticed before. "Yes. Nice."
"Nice quiet life to go with it, I suppose," he went
"Hmm." In the six hours Pickell had been in her
custody, she hadn't formed any opinion of him, beyond the
obvious -- well-dressed, well-spoken, well-behaved mobster. Not
all that dangerous himself, but dangerous to be around, just the
same. "I wouldn't think a 'nice quiet life' would be
something that would interest you, Mr. Pickell."
Pickell laughed softly and fell silent.
The adrenaline buzz was wearing off. Scully folded her arms
across her chest and leaned back into her seat, letting her eyes
slip shut. 'Just for a minute,' she told herself. 'Just until
the headache's passed. Just until-'
"You ever been to Chattanooga, Agent Scully?"
"No," she murmured, without opening her eyes.
Pickell paused a long moment. "I hear it's a good place
to start over."
"Must be," she heard herself answer, but her voice
sounded distant, hollow, indistinct. Bing Crosby was telling her
he'd be home for Christmas and the vinyl wasn't hard, really, it
was soft as a cloud. Her temple throbbed with each heartbeat.
'God,' she thought, 'I really am tired...'
"Everyone deserves a second chance, right?"
For a moment she thought she ought to agree with Pickell, but
the heat was suffocating her, it was dragging her down, and she
was too weary, now, to worry about consequences, or appearances,
She wanted to tell him that yes, she thought everyone
deserved the opportunity to put things right; she needed to
believe that, and believe it completely, or she wouldn't be able
to forgive herself enough to get out of bed most mornings.
Instead, she found herself longing to hold Mulder's hand, even
if only for a moment. She just needed to touch him, to hear his
voice, to make him real.
She just needed to know he'd come home some day.
The air was dense and rich. It was tinted crimson.
She smacked her parched lips, tasting the breeze. Ah, yes,
she remembered: spiced apples and maple sugar.
And that smell, green and sharp, scratching the back of her
Pine needles? Yes, it was pine needles, crushed and fragrant,
like a walk through a pine lot or a hike in the woods. It
smelled like home.
There was something else, too, something deep and earthy,
roaring, howling, sputtering to her right, and another
something, more insistent, keening madly to her left.
A wake-up call? No, wait; a warning.
And it was so hot-
She opened her eyes with a start.
Scully rolled from her side to her back, staring up in wonder
at a huge stone fireplace, breathing in the sweet- smelling pine
logs sizzling in its grate. Above it, there was a rough-hewn
mantelpiece, trimmed with slender fir boughs, sprigs of holly,
sugared fruits, and shimmering crystal angels.
For a moment she watched the firelight, watched the way it
made the angels seem to dance in a primeval forest. It was
pretty. So pretty.
She sat bolt upright. "Hello?"
An insistent whistling was her only answer.
Reaching for her gun, Scully struggled to her feet, turning
slowly to look around her. Amber firelight danced across a
large, dark room filled with mismatched, overstuffed furniture.
Tall bookcases lined with paperbacks loomed in the shadows at
its edges. In a faraway corner stood a small dining table, set
for an elegant meal, the colored lights from an enormous
Christmas tree reflecting red, green, and gold against crystal
goblets and gleaming silver.
A weak light shone in a doorway to the right. The whistling
sound seemed to be coming from there.
"Hello? Is someone here?" She crossed the room
cautiously, gun at the ready, watching every shadow for
She stopped at the doorway and peered into a tiny kitchen,
where a collection of scented votives flickered on an oval
Formica-topped table. On an old gas range beyond it, a copper
kettle screamed. Feeling certain that someone must be watching
her, Scully ran her hand along the wall until she found a light
switch, then flipped it up and down several times, with no
"Is someone here?"
There was no answer. She crossed to the stove, lifted the
steaming kettle, placed it on the back burner, and switched off
The whistling faded, leaving only the muffled sound of snow
striking the lace-covered windows.
On the counter next to the stove, someone had set out a china
teapot and two cups and saucers. A tray held tea bags, milk and
sugar, and a plate half-filled with sugar cookies.
Scully's stomach growled, shattering the silence.
"What's going on?" she whispered, rubbing her eyes
with her free hand and tightening her grip on her gun. The last
thing she remembered was...
...a headache. Yes, that was right. She was in a car with
Doggett and MacDonald driving to...to Chattanooga, yes,
Chattanooga. They were taking a prisoner - no, a witness - to
Chattanooga and the car swerved and...and...
Heart pounding, she returned to the main room and felt her
way around its dark edges. There appeared to be only two doors.
One, dead-bolted and keyless, seemed to be the main entrance to
the house. The other opened into a closet, a black, icy recess
that filled her with so much irrational dread that she shut it
immediately and hurried back toward the fireplace.
What was going on?
Flames guarding her back, she sat down on the hearth, still
clutching her gun and staring in consternation at the glowing
Why did this seem so familiar?
The heat parched her clothes, warming the flesh beneath until
a rivulet of sweat coursed down her back. Shifting away from the
heat, she reached up and deliberately touched the warm stone of
the hearth, ran her fingers over the knotted threads of the rug,
took a deep breath of the smoky, evergreen-scented air.
If it was a dream, it was entirely too vivid for comfort.
Bracing her elbows on her knees, she dropped her head forward
into her heads...
...and grimaced when her fingers came into contact with the
swelling at her right temple. She touched the spot again. A
fresh jolt of pain shot through her.
She was certain now. It had to be some kind of hallucination.
A floorboard creaked above her head.
She rose to her feet. A gust of wind rattled the shingles and
sent the flames behind her leaping, brightening the room for an
instant and revealing a dark, narrow stairway on the far side of
the room. She frowned, wondering how, on her earlier
explorations, she'd managed to miss it.
Making her way across the room again, she watched the
stairway intently, waiting for some sign of life, some movement,
some answer. But there was nothing.
She pulled herself onto the first step and ascended, forced
by the darkness to find each stair with her foot before climbing
it. Arriving on the landing, she found herself in a kind of
entryway too short to be called a hallway and too narrow to be
called a vestibule. Fingers of light and shadow reached from an
open door to her left.
There was no answer. Mouth dry, scalp tingling, she raised
her gun and stepped through the door.
The air was fresh and chilly, but utterly still, as if a
window that had been flung wide for hours had just now been
shut. A single candle lit the room, standing tall in a hurricane
glass on a round bedside table. The antique bedstead next to it
was high and square, with bedposts like tree trunks looming up
into the gloom. On the bed, a figure lay motionless, swathed in
patchwork quilts and surrounded by pillows.
"Hello?" she repeated. "My name is Dana
Scully. I'm a federal agent."
She took a step toward the bed. "I'm sorry to bother
you," she whispered, moving slowly forward, gun poised.
"I woke up here a few minutes ago and I don't know how
She stopped, gasped, swallowed a sob of disbelief.
"Oh my god."
Wind howled outside the window. A draft wafted across the
room, bending the flame of the candle and casting a twisted
shadow over the figure on the bed. She backed away, open-
She smelled blood. She smelled sweat.
She smelled *him*.
Sweet, unmistakable, the scent of him, memorized over the
years and unique as any fingerprint.
She tore the blankets back, gasping at the condition of his
body. The side of his head was purple, swollen, distended; black
bruises spread over his ribs; deep lacerations raced down his
arms and chest. There was a bullet hole, half- healed, in the
flesh of his side, and another, fresher, piercing his shoulder.
She fumbled for his wrist, lifted it and felt his skin, its
texture like a piece of familiar clothing, the fine hairs on his
forearm growing just as she remembered, the tiny mole on the
back of his hand raised to the perfect height, everything in its
...cold. Ice cold.
She crumpled to the edge of the bed. Oh god, not like this,
not like this again...
Bent double, she clung to the leaden hand, cradling it in her
If this was a dream, she was ready to wake up.
The sky was still dark beyond the windowpane, though it
seemed as if she had been sitting there for hours, or days,
perhaps; mutely assessing the indignities he had suffered,
touching his abrasions and broken bones, silently cataloguing
both his injuries and her regrets.
'Funny how your mind can play tricks on you,' she thought
vaguely, brushing the pad of her thumb over a vein on the back
of his hand. 'Show you what you want to see, even when it's not
the way you want to see it.'
She turned her gaze toward the candle flame, which burned
blue-gold just a few feet away. It was still fresh, still
perfectly tapered. Not a single drop of wax had pooled at its
You're letting your fear get the best of you, she told
herself. You need to take control. Once you've realized you're
dreaming, it's supposed to be easy.
"Wake up, Mulder," she whispered. "This isn't
how it's supposed to happen."
Yellow candlelight licked his ashen face. There was no
She closed her eyes and lifted his hand, spreading his cold
fingers over her warm cheek and holding them there. So cool. So
cool and easy. So cool and easy and...
She knew she ought to fight, to resist the sick, sinking
feeling in the pit of her stomach, overcome the urge to climb in
bed with him, wrap the quilt around them both, take his bloodied
body into her arms and just stay there forever.
She was tired, though, really tired, and there was so much
she had to do: pick up William; clean the house; wrap the gifts;
pick out a suit; buy the flowers; trim the tree; arrange for a
Time to bury Mulder again.
Her lids flew open. A single tear slid down her cheek and
pooled against his fingers. She pressed his palm to her face.
"Wake up, Mulder. I can't do this."
His fingers moved against her cheek.
It had been no more than a flinch, but she was sure it was
She turned his hand over in hers, laying her fingers eagerly
against his wrist but finding no change, no trace of a pulse.
Undaunted, she moved quickly to his jugular, pressing hard,
searching for signs of life, but finding nothing.
This is crazy, she told herself. It's only a dream. There's
nothing you can do except wake up.
Wake up, wake up...
"Mulder, please wake up."
His throat tightened against her fingers, swallowing - she
was sure of it.
"Mulder?" she whispered, lifting her fingers away
from his throat and stroking his forehead. "Mulder, can you
His lids were fluttering, his eyes were opening, first one,
then the other, and he was looking at her, he was...god, he was
"You're back," he said softly, sounding at once
desperately weak and so utterly happy she thought her heart
would break. "I've been waiting for you."
"Back?" He was speaking to her; why couldn't she
find his pulse? "Back where, Mulder?"
Her fingers brushed a long gash below his ribs. If Mulder
felt any pain, he didn't show it. "Back here," he
breathed. "Thank god. I thought..." His eyes closed.
"Mulder, no, stay awake," she commanded, rubbing
his cheek. "I need you to tell me what's going on. How did
you get here?"
He leaned into her palm like a kitten seeking warmth.
"Um..." He blinked up at her. The tip of his tongue
touched his lower lip, leaving a smear of rust-brown blood.
"I - It's no big deal, Scully. I think I just had one
helluva bad dream."
"What do you mean?"
"I hit him with my car, I think, but everyone knows you
can't kill them that way." He smiled again. "No, wait,
that was -- never mind."
'Them?' Scully fought off a nauseating wave of panic. Oh god
- where had Mulder been all these months? What had he been
doing? She'd thought she was sending him into hiding, into
safety. She should have known better.
Lifting the candle, she stood. "Mulder, I'm-"
Mulder reached for her hand. "Where you going?"
"I have to call someone, Mulder," she told him. She
checked pointlessly for a pulse again, elevated his feet, tucked
the blankets in around him. "God, I have to get you out of
here. I need to find a phone-"
"There isn't one," he murmured. "Don't you
"Remember?" She paused and rubbed her forehead. The
pounding was returning in earnest. "No, Mulder, I don't
"You know," he said.
"I don't know what you mean. I don't remember how I got
here. I don't even know where we are."
He licked his lips, smiled lazily. "We're here,
"What-" Her energy and resolve were draining away.
She dropped to the edge of the mattress and buried her aching
head in her hands, overcome by a sudden wave of helplessness.
"Mulder, I...I don't understand." Raising her head,
she stared at him, reaching out to lay her fingers on his throat
again. Still no pulse. "Am I. . . are you. . ."
Mulder looked small in the bed, a shadow among shadows. Even
in weak candlelight, she could see that his lips were blue. She
tried not to think about it, picking up the corner of the pillow
case and gently dabbing at the dark blood on his mouth and chin.
"I'm going to get you out of here."
His eyes drifted open. "Why would you want to do
"Because I have to save-"
She tucked the covers more tightly around him. "I'll
look for more blankets, Mulder, I'll-"
"Scully." His voice stopped her. "Remember
"Wh - what?"
The slow, lazy smile returned. "What would a guy have to
do to get it to rain sleeping bags?"
"Oh." She hesitated, realizing what he was asking.
"But, I - I don't want to hurt you."
"You can't." His smile grew broader. "You know
She considered it only a moment longer. He was asking so
little; she could do this for him. "All right. Okay."
Leaving her shoes by the foot of the bed, she crawled under the
quilt, placed her arms carefully around him and gently pressed
her body against his. So cold. "Please tell me if I'm
hurting you," she whispered.
"Silly." His eyes slipped shut.
"We'll wait for morning," she said, forcing herself
to sound optimistic. "When the sun comes up, when there's
some light, I'll see if I can get out of here."
"It won't," he murmured, sinking against her.
"It never does."
Scully woke up, and immediately wondered if she was still
The bed her sleeping mind had concocted, the luxurious cotton
linens, the soft down pillows under her head and the thick
hand-knotted quilts cocooning her, the room itself - it was all
as she had dreamt, every detail perfect, down to her gun resting
on the bedside table.
She sat up quickly, pulled back the neatly tucked-in quilt.
Running her hand over the space he had occupied, she felt no
residual heat, no hairs or fibers. There wasn't even an
indentation where his bruised frame and battered limbs should
have been. She sniffed the air tentatively.
No. No trace of him.
"Of course not," she whispered, closing her eyes
with a sigh. "It was just a dream." She'd been
thinking about Mulder, worrying about him, and her dream - her
nightmare - had shown her what she most feared: Mulder had been
dying, and she had been unable to save him. Again.
Shutting her eyes tightly, she winced. She'd sat up too
quickly, she told herself. That's why her head was pounding, her
eyes stinging. That was the only reason. Disappointment had
nothing to do with it.
She stretched tentatively, and when it did not hurt, expanded
the motion. Joints snapped and muscles sung. Except for a slight
headache and some soreness on the right side of her head, she
felt rested. It was an odd sensation, one she'd nearly
forgotten. It felt good.
So where was she, exactly?
Glancing to her right, she saw that the candle still burned
on the bedside table. It looked fresh; the flame was still
burning at its very tip. Glancing to her left, she saw that it
was still dark beyond the window. She ran her tongue over her
teeth, discovered that they were not especially fuzzy. She must
not have slept very long.
Searching her memory, she found nothing that gave her a clue
as to how she'd ended up here. They must have stopped at some
safe-house on the way to Chattanooga, and for whatever reason,
must have decided to stay the night.
She reached up and touched the aching bump at her temple.
That had to be it. The blow to her head must have been more
serious than she'd realized. She must have passed out, and
Doggett and MacDonald must have decided to stop, and they must
have brought her inside. She must have taken in her surroundings
to a certain hazy degree, and her subconscious must have filled
in the rest.
But why wouldn't they have taken her to a hospital?
"Agent MacDonald? John? Mr. Pickell?"
She listened carefully. There was no response but wind
rattling the shutters.
There were no lamps in the room, no overhead light, but it
didn't seems as dark now as it had...well, as it had in her
dream. "It won't be long until dawn," she thought.
"We were supposed to be in Chattanooga by now."
Navigating by candlelight, Scully rose with care and slipped
on her shoes. Lifting the hurricane glass, she picked up the
candle and turned to look around.
In the corner, almost hidden in shadow, there was an old
fashioned washstand. Above it hung a small mirror, and on it
there was a pitcher, a wash basin, a bar of soap, and a cloth.
Resting the candle beside the basin, she touched the pitcher.
Pleasant warmth radiated through the porcelain. She tipped the
steaming water into the basin, took the soap and cloth, and
began working up a lather.
The combination of thick cloth stroking her face and warm
lather soothing her skin felt better than almost anything Scully
could remember. She bent and filled both hands with steaming
water, raising them to her face and allowing the warmth to work
its magic on the pain in her head. When she was finished, she
told herself, she'd find out what they'd done with her phone.
She needed to call her mother, tell her what was going on, and
check on William. The delay was probably going to make her miss
her flight - she'd more than likely miss the service at St.
John's this evening, and baking cookies had now made a
definitive move out of the realm of possibility.
She looked up from the basin and into the mirror.
Lit from beneath by only a tongue of flame, her features
looked hollow, ethereal, her skin milky and translucent, as if
her face was no more than a mask, a thin veneer of cloudy ice.
She leaned forward, closer to the glass, squinting at her
reflection. A wisp of breath condensed on its cold surface.
'It's like I'm not real,' she thought. 'Like I'm not quite
She shook her head. She HAD hit that window harder than she
If she held her breath and listened very carefully, she could
hear music. It was a Christmas song, faint, tinny and laced with
static. Someone was playing a radio in one of the rooms below.
The stairs were just as steep and narrow as they had been in
her dream. The living room was just as she remembered, or,
rather, had imagined it, though, like the bedroom, its darkness
now seemed less intimidating, more of a soft gray than a stark
black. She wondered at the details her semi- conscious mind had
been able to capture: the Christmas tree still sat in the
corner, dotted with glowing lights; a fire still crackled in the
fireplace; the mantelpiece was still festooned with ornaments
and greenery. The music she had heard was coming from an old
floor-model radio next to one of the bookshelves.
She had half-expected to find Doggett or MacDonald asleep on
one of the overstuffed couches, but neither man was there. There
must be more bedrooms on this floor, she thought, wondering
where an actual bathroom might be found. She had bed-head and
could really use...
A soft, steady pinging sound caught her attention. She turned
toward the kitchen. Over Bing Crosby's crooning, she could hear
the rattle of cutlery and dishes, the buzz of an electric motor,
and the thin whine of the kettle trying to build up a head of
"Hello?" she called. "Is someone...?"
There was a sudden squealing sound, like rusty hinges
opening, followed by the strong scent of hot cinnamon. Her
stomach growled. She'd been hungry before her nap and she was,
she realized, far hungrier now. Someone was obviously baking
something. Some of it, she hoped, holding the candle out and
picking her way carefully toward the kitchen, was meant for her.
"Excuse me, I..."
He was bent at the waist, pushing something into the old-
fashioned oven, yellow flannel pajama pants stretched across his
backside. A gray cotton T-shirt, worn thin and made shapeless by
too many washings and too much bleach, rode up his back,
revealing a smooth patch of almost- familiar skin.
She'd know him anywhere. Even in a dream.
Deflated, she closed her eyes and leaned slowly into the
archway. His name came out a soft, disappointed sigh.
"Hey." He closed the oven door and gave her a
dazzling smile. There was a smear of dull white something on his
cheek, and a dull white hand-print in the center of his shirt.
"There you are." His hand was on hers, relieving
her of the candle. "Careful with that. This place is a
tinderbox." He placed it on the table, then turned back to
her, his smile broader, brighter. "I thought you were going
to sleep forever."
His arms were around her, then, enfolding her, crushing her
against the thread-bare gray cotton, his lips on her forehead,
warm and soft. "I even tried to kiss you awake, but that
didn't work." As if demonstrating, he kissed the bridge of
her nose, then the tip. "Guess I'm no Prince Charming,
Oh god. He sounded right. She breathed deeply, inhaling him:
he smelled right, too. And she knew - she just knew - if she
were to sweep her open palm across the plane of his stomach or
kiss his warm mouth or run the flat of her tongue from his
Adam's apple to his chin and back again that he would feel
right, taste right, BE right.
In her dreams, he always was.
"Scully? You okay?"
She thought she would sigh, but a tiny sob slipped out
instead. Another one threatened to follow, so she bit her top
lip to hold it in.
The kettle, which had been quietly burbling in the
background, erupted into full shriek.
"Hang on." He brushed his lips across her brow
again. "I promised you tea. Let me fix it." He
gestured toward a chrome-legged chair. "Sit."
She didn't want to sit. She wanted to wake up.
It was a dream. It had to be. But if dreams were answers to
questions you didn't know how to ask, she simply did not want to
ask this one. Not now, anyway. What good could it possibly do?
'Wake up,' she admonished herself silently, pinching the
delicate skin of her forearm. At the very least, she wished she
could force her eyes to turn away. 'Quit doing this to
She sagged against the door jamb and watched him go through
the ritual of tea making - pouring a little water into the pot,
swirling it around, then emptying it into the sink, dropping the
tea bags in, filling the pot with boiling water.
He placed the lid on top, then covered it with a dish cloth.
"No cozy," he said in explanation, as if he needed to
explain. He folded his arms across the white hand-print on his
chest, shaking some of the powder loose. Leaning back into the
counter, he gave a pleased little grin.
God. Even the grin was right.
She started to take a step into the room, then thought better
of it. "You said you promised me tea," she said,
trying to keep her voice light. "When did you promise me
"You know." He glanced at the stove.
"You were sitting by the fire, remember? I took a break
from dough making and came in to give you a kiss - you said you
were cold and I said I'd make you some tea. So I went to put the
kettle on, and you followed me in here, and um, you know, we
ended up upstairs..." He smiled for a moment, and then his
brows knit. "When I got back someone had turned the stove
off. I had to start over."
She stared at him. 'It was me,' she thought. 'I turned the
He brightened. "I finished the dough while you were
sleeping, though. It turned out really great."
"I don't remember sitting by the fire. Or asking for
tea. I don't remember any of it."
"No?" His bottom lip protruded slightly.
She shook her head. "No."
"Hmm." He gave a puzzled frown. "You must have
slept longer than I thought." He picked the plate off the
tray and crossed the kitchen, offering it to her.
She scanned the contents of the plate without wanting to:
plump chocolate chip cookies, packed with walnuts and chunks of
white and dark chocolate, and sugar cookies cut in the shapes of
leaping deer, decorated with glossy white icing and bright
crystals of colored sugar.
She looked into his face. His gaze was unguarded and
confident. Full of love.
Her mouth watered.
She took a step into the room, but then stopped, looked down,
shook her head. "No," she whispered. "This isn't
right. Mulder doesn't know how to bake."
"I do too." He took a deer and bit off its antlers,
crunching deliberately, then smacking his lips. "Yum."
"No." She looked up, forcing herself to speak,
though she felt a little ridiculous, explaining herself to a
dream. "I'd really like to just go with this. God, you have
no idea how much, but I can't. You're not him. You're not
"Scully?" He frowned and stepped closer.
"You're not making sense, honey. Why don't you think I'm
"I don't know," she answered, trying to sound glib
instead of scared and shaky. "Because you're baking, maybe.
Because of the way you make tea." She gave a half-shrug and
scowled down at the toe of her shoe so she wouldn't have to look
into his not-his face. "Because you were dead a few hours
ago and now, apparently, you're not."
There was a long moment of silence. He stood before her, eyes
locked on her face. "I've been dead then not-dead
before," he said quietly. "It never seemed to bother
you very much." He looked down abruptly, spun on his heel,
and headed back toward the stove.
Scully closed her eyes. The headache was back.
"Okay," he said brusquely, a few moments later,
placing the tea pot back on the tray, and the tray on the
Formica table. "If I'm not me, who am I?
Squeezing her eyes shut, she rubbed her forehead. "I - I
bumped my head."
She looked up. "In the car. There was a deer in the
road. We had to swerve around it and I - I was dozing, I
guess." The spot was still tender when she brushed it with
her fingers and she flinched.
"What car?" He took a few steps toward her.
"Let me see."
She pulled away from his outstretched hand. "I hit the
"Oh." He let his hand drop, then held his
antler-less cookie out to her with the other. "Here."
"Get even," he said, his eyes twinkling. "Bite
his head off."
"No." She turned her face away, brusquely, even as
she chastised herself for being rude. "No, thank you. I'm
not hungry." Her stomach growled in disagreement.
"Scully?" His voice was intimate, familiar.
"You're really starting to worry me. What's going on?"
"I think, I think when I hit my head, I might have
sustained a concussion."
"Oh. Well, that would certainly explain a few
things." His tone was agreeable, but she didn't think he
was really agreeing. He pulled out the twin of the chair he'd
offered her and sat.
She took another step toward him. She was both compelled and
afraid to ask. "Explain what things?"
"Tea?" he asked, and without waiting for an answer,
poured her a cup, then poured one for himself. "There's
honey on the counter or sugar in the bowl. Milk's here." He
swirled a spoon around in his cup. "You take milk,
She found herself standing by the table. The chairs were
gray, covered in textured vinyl and flecked with tiny silver and
gold boomerangs. They were exactly like the chairs her
grandmother had had in her basement, the ones she and Charlie
and Missy had covered with sheets and blankets and declared
tents or fortresses or castles.
She hadn't thought about Missy in a long time. She didn't
know why, but it made her heart race to think of her sister.
'Wake up,' she told herself. 'Please wake up, now.'
"Explain what things?" she found herself repeating.
"Why you slept so long. Why you're so disoriented."
He shrugged. "Why you're so crabby." He bit into a
chocolate chip cookie. "I think you should have a cookie,
Scully. Real chocolate."
"I didn't sleep that long. A few hours, maybe," she
answered, trying to ignore her hunger. She glanced out the
window. "It was dark then and it's still dark."
He snorted around a mouthful of crumbs, then swallowed.
"It's always dark here. I told you before."
"When before? And where is 'here'?"
He pursed his lips, staring at the table top. "Why won't
you sit down?"
"When before?" she repeated.
"We were upstairs. You were holding me. I was
dead." He turned his face to her. "As usual.
"As for where 'here' is," he went on, "it
still looks a lot like Quanochataug to me, but -"
"Quanochataug? Rhode Island?" She'd been there,
once. It had been spring. The furniture in the Mulder-family
summer house had been shrouded in white sheets and everything
had smelled of dust and disuse. Mulder had held a gun on her. It
wasn't one of her happier memories.
He nodded. "Yeah, but there are things out of place.
Like those Christmas decorations. And the electricity's on, but
the lights don't seem to be working. Again. Oh, and this
table." He rapped it with his knuckle "I never saw it
before in my life." He exhaled noisily. "Afterlife.
"Your tea's getting cold. Come on. Sit down."
All the fight was knocked out of her, suddenly, and she sank
into a chair. "Afterl-?"
The pinging she'd heard earlier started again, louder now.
She realized it was the timer on the stove.
"Saved by the bell." He rose quickly, moving as
gracefully as Mulder ever had moved. There was a bristling
energy behind the fluid motions, though, that was unfamiliar and
somewhat disquieting. Heart in her mouth, she watched as he
turned off the timer, extracted a cookie sheet from the oven,
and placed it on a cooling rack.
He stood still for a moment, hands braced on the counter,
staring down at the pan. When he spoke, his tone was studied and
bland. "I don't suppose you remember this, either?"
In spite of herself, she rose and crossed the scuffed
linoleum. A featureless, cinnamon-colored figure occupied the
center of the cookie sheet. It was no more than four inches
Mulder regarded it intently, eyes glittering with a pained
expression she remembered all too well.
"A gingerbread man?"
"A gingerbread boy," he said softly, looking into
"I don't-" she murmured, feeling weak. "I
His gaze softened. His eyes held hers for a long, long
moment, then he looked away, down at the counter and the
fragrant cookie. He touched its surface, lightly, with his
forefinger. "We were going to decorate him together."
"You wanted to name him Charlie. Not Charles. Just
Scully stared at the cookie. Her head was swimming.
"You said you wanted him to have your brother's
generosity and your father's eyes. He'd be kind, like your
mother, open-minded like your sister, tall. And when he learned
to talk, he'd sound like me, only higher." He chuckled
softly. "I don't know why you'd want that, but you
Overwhelmed, Scully closed her eyes. "Oh." She
didn't know what else to say.
He turned, leaning his hip against the speckled counter. His
expression was troubled. "You really don't remember, do
"I - no, I- "
He sighed. "You wanted a baby, Scully." His voice
dropped low. "You asked me to help."
His voice was gentle, sorrowful. "But it didn't
"So I made this one for you." He paused.
She looked down at the tray again. "It's a - a cookie.
Just a cookie."
He nodded. "I know." His expression was tender,
heartbreakingly gentle. He reached out to her again. "But
She didn't want his touch. She stepped away from his hand,
her mind reeling. "But I - I had a baby."
"Yes. I did. I had-"
He shook his head. "No Scully. We - you tried. There
were only enough good eggs to try once. And it didn't
"No." Her confusion was turning into anger.
"No. I'm telling you, I had a baby. A son."
Mulder sighed. "Scully, I was waiting at your apartment.
I fell asleep on the couch. When you came home, you didn't even
have to say anything. I could see it in your eyes. You said it
was your last chance, and that it had been too much to hope for.
You cried. I cried. And then," he cleared his throat.
"And then I - I said something lame, and then we,
She closed her eyes. "We - we made love."
"Yeah." He looked down at his bare feet,
flour-dusted feet. "So you do remember? There was no baby,
Scully. We laid awake after and talked about what he or she
would have been like. What we'd each hoped for. And then we
never said another word about it again. But, honey, there was no
Her breath caught in her chest. God. He was right. Right in
every detail. Right about everything. But-
"No." She said it firmly, and shook her head,
backing away from him, toward the table. "No."
He followed, reaching out to her. "Scully,-"
"No." She held her hands out in front of her,
erecting a solid, invisible wall between them. "No. All
that happened. All of it. But there WAS a baby. Is a baby. My
"Oh, Scully." He sighed. The look he gave her was
filled with fear and pity.
"My son," she repeated. "William. For your
father. If you were Mulder, you'd know that."
His eyes widened. "Wha-?"
"I don't know who you are. I don't know how you know
what you know, but you aren't Mulder, and-"
"That, that wasn't real." His voice scarcely
reached her. "I only dreamt that, Scully. It didn't
"Before. When we were here, together. That was my
"'We' were never here. I don't even know for certain
where 'here' is. I don't even know who you really - "
"Yes, we were." His voice was becoming harsher, his
words more insistent. "I was sick. I was sick, and I was
worried they were going to take you, and I didn't want you going
back to Oregon. So I went with Skinner. We found the ship and I
walked into the light. And then," his voice dropped,
"then I was here. With you."
"No," she interrupted, "I-"
"Yes," he countered. "We were here. We slept
in the bed upstairs. We ate at this table. We made love on that
"Yes," he insisted, his voice thick and tight.
"And just a little while ago, while we were napping, I
dreamt we were back there. Separated. That you found me, blue
and rotting, in a field, and that you buried me under the
She rubbed her forehead. "No."
"And then, somehow - somehow, I was back with you again,
back in D.C., only it was different. I got fired. You had a new
partner. You were pregnant" - he held his cupped hand about
a foot and a half in front of his stomach - "I mean,
really, really pregnant. And then a bunch of weird shit
happened, and I had to send you away with this female agent, and
- and you had a baby. A son. I teased you that he looked like
Skinner, Scully, but you said-" his voice caught. He
swallowed audibly. "You said you were naming him after my
father. I thought it meant that. . .I thought it meant
Scully felt frozen. "Something?"
"I thought it meant you loved me." He gave a
humorless laugh. "But then you asked me to leave - well,
told me to go, actually - and I figured out that you never had.
Which - it was okay, really, almost a relief. No chance of
fucking it up, at least. After that, the dream is just a blur.
All I remember is running, and fighting, and trying to kill as
many of these beings who wouldn't die as I could. I wasn't
afraid of them because I had nothing to live for. Then you woke
me up and nothing had changed. I thought, thank god; she still
loves me." He took a step toward the table, sank into the
chair. "Guess not, huh?"
Scully opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. She
stared down at the table top, dragging her finger through a
patch of spilled sugar, tracing an inverted 's' curve, over and
She didn't want to cry. She just wanted to wake up.
"You know-," she began, but she caught herself. Her
voice was so thin, so slight, that she had to take a deep breath
before trying to speak again. "Mulder knows how I feel
He reached out and stilled her hand with his own. "I am
She looked up at him. His eyes were mournful, his jaw set. He
massaged her knuckle with the soft pad of his thumb as he held
her gaze. "And, Scully, I never had a clue how you
"How-" She licked her dry lips. "After
everything, after all we've been through - together - how can
you say that?"
"You know me," he answered. "Sometimes, I open
my mouth and the truth falls out."
She studied the sugary wrong-way 's' on the tabletop, gazed
at the plate of cookies beside it, at her untouched teacup.
Numb. She felt numb.
It was true. What he was saying was true. It had always been
about the truth, after all. When had she lost sight of that?
Something inside her broke then, the wall that had been
standing guard, surrounding her all these days and months and
years while she stumbled along, sleepwalking through her own
life. It quaked, crumbled, fell to dust, leaving her empty and
Carefully pulling her shaking hand from beneath his, she
brushed the grains of sugar from her fingers, and cleared her
"The night you first held William," she told him
quietly, "your smile was like nothing I'd ever seen. Then
you kissed me and you smiled at me the same way you smiled at
Mulder made a soft sound of remembrance. He rose from his
chair and moved toward her.
She couldn't resist anymore. She didn't even want to. She had
carried this festering grief around far too long. Her eyes
filled with tears. She looked up at him, felt the hot gush over
her lashes, down her cheeks. "I thought *that* meant
"It did." He was close, so close that she could
feel him trembling. "To me, it meant everything."
She reached out impulsively and caught his hand, twining her
fingers with his. It felt so perfect, so right, palm fitting to
palm, heat and moisture collecting in the hollow space between
"But - but you left us. You left me."
"Oh Scully," he said, very softly, his baritone
slipping effortlessly through the charged air. "Of course I
did. You *wanted* me to leave."
She held back a sob. "It wasn't about what I
wanted." Her eyes locked with his. "It was about what
had to be. It wasn't a choice."
He nodded his understanding, his rapt face now hovering just
above hers, his voice little more than a sigh. "But - if it
had been?" He smoothed her hair back from her face.
"What if it was about what you want, Scully? What *do* you
She bit her bottom lip. "You know."
He shook his head 'no,' and bent to nuzzle the base of her
ear. "Tell me," he whispered.
"I want - ohhhhh," she sighed as the tip of his
tongue grazed her earlobe.
"Say it. What do you want?"
"I -" She tilted her chin, baring her throat to his
He traced her jugular with his tongue, lapping softly,
insistently, kissing his way higher. "I need to hear the
words. Say it."
"I want -" She shivered, threw her head back,
closed her eyes. It was too much, too good, everything she'd
ever imagined, everything she'd ever wanted, ever would want.
"Now," he insisted, taking her face between his
palms. He kissed the bridge of her nose, then the tip.
"Open your eyes, Scully. Wake up and tell me."
There were no more doubts. There were no more questions.
Opening her eyes, locking her gaze with his, she wrapped her
arms around his neck and pulled him so close she could almost
taste the cinnamon and tea on his lips and tongue.
He was hers, then, his mouth on hers, sweet and salty and
hotter than anything she ever could have dreamed.
Because it wasn't a dream. It couldn't be. Fumbling for the
hem of his t-shirt, she shoved her hands underneath the worn
cotton, laid them flat against the warmth of his chest. Throwing
her head back, she pulled her mouth away from his and stared
into his face, into his eyes, so wide, so dark with passion.
*Mulder's* face. *Mulder's* eyes.
She spread her fingers under his shirt, combing them through
the coarse hair, pressing her palms into his flesh until each
beat of his living heart resounded against her fingertips.
Real. He was real.
He reached up and traced her mouth with his index finger,
eyes steady on her face, darting from feature to feature. He
opened his mouth, as if he wanted to say something, but seemed
to have lost the ability to speak.
She kissed the tip of his finger, trailed her tongue along
it, from tip to base and back again. His skin tasted sweet, like
powdered sugar and chocolate and need. Mulder closed his eyes,
mouth dropping open in mute appreciation of the sensation. She
teased his fingertip between her teeth, then sucked it, hard.
"I want you to come home," she whispered, and he
responded with a wrenching cry, dropping his hands to her waist
and covering her mouth with his. The chrome table legs screamed
against the hardwood floor as he lifted her to its edge, driving
himself against her, his full length pressed against the fine
wool of her slacks.
She wrapped her legs around him, moaning at the hot pain-
pleasure pooling in her belly and thighs, at the rush of
moisture between her legs, at the way her vulva seemed to swell,
tender with need, rising to meet him.
His mouth was relentless.
She pushed impatiently against the hem of his shirt. Relaxing
his grip on her for a moment, he reached back, seized it by the
neck, and dragged it off his body in one smooth motion. Scully
tightened her legs around his waist, pulling him close, running
her lips down the side of his neck.
She inhaled. God, he smelled right. He WAS right.
She brushed her fingers across his shoulders, down his chest,
and over the plane of his stomach, wondering at the scars that
seemed to cover his body - all the injuries she thought she had
imagined earlier, lacerations, abrasions, bullet holes, were
exactly as she had seen them. Nothing had changed, but the
wounds were healed now, freshly healed, so pink and smooth she
was almost afraid to touch them.
"Mulder, these...they scare me," she murmured,
touching the bullet wound in his shoulder, then bending to kiss
it. "I'm afraid for you."
"Don't be," he whispered, tucking two fingers under
her chin and lifting her face. "I'm not." He trailed
his tongue along her lower lip, gazing into her eyes. "Not
"I can't -" she began but he stopped her mouth with
his own, caressing first one lip, then the other, the kiss
growing steadily more urgent, deep, intense. His hands snaked
under her sweater, pushed it up. He reached for her bra clasp,
opened it effortlessly, baring her to his touch, to his mouth,
to his tongue.
"Ahhhhhhh...." her voice sounded foreign, ethereal,
and she arched toward him, shuddering as his tongue made a warm,
wet circle around the tip of her breast.
"When we were here before," he panted, breathless,
"when you were here with me, it was good, Scully, but it
was never this good." She dug her fingers into his
shoulders, found his mouth again, kissed him hard. "It was
never this real..."
Within seconds she was under him, her back pressed into the
cool Formica, and there was a clattering sound, of cutlery
hitting the floor and dishes breaking. She smelled ginger and
cinnamon and laughed into his mouth because all the spices had
been scattered and she didn't care, didn't care at all.
She grabbed his waistband, delving inside it and pushing it
down, pushing the fabric away. He gave a low moan when she found
what she sought.
"Oh God, Mulder, you feel so-" She wrapped her
fingers around him more tightly. She had to tell him; from this
moment on she always would. "You feel so good."
He made a choked sound in the back of his throat and rose to
his knees. His eyes were feral - there was nothing gentle in his
expression. He reached down, unfastening the button at her waist
and peeling her clothes away.
She watched his face in wonder. This wasn't the cautious,
eager-to-please lover she'd taken to her bed one heartbroken
night. This was Mulder, the same passionate man she'd loved
quietly for years, raw with wanting her.
He was burning. She'd started the blaze. All she wanted now
was to feel that fire inside her.
His fingers were sliding between her folds, he was falling on
top of her, they were locked together, chest to chest, belly to
belly, sex to sex.
"Tell me again," he rumbled, breath hot against her
lips. "Tell me what you want."
You. This. Now.
"Say it, Scully. Please."
She opened her legs, guiding him forward.
"Come home," she whispered. "Come home, come
He slipped inside her, then. "I am," he moaned,
pressing himself against her, into her, gliding straight to her
center, his sex smooth and thick and irresistible. "I am, I
am..." Then her belly was humming, her legs were shaking,
she was pulsing, rocking, heaving against him.
She raked her fingernails along his back. He cried out and
thrust harder, burying his face between her shoulder and neck.
Rolling her head to one side, she lifted her chin, mouth open,
lips quivering. She was his; she always had been.
She closed her eyes, her body overwhelmed, her heart
overflowing. Fireworks burst on her eyelids, red and purple,
orange and crimson, sending sparks of light and heat streaking
She was glowing, she knew, they were glowing, together, and
Mulder was deep inside her and she wanted him to stay forever;
he was growling with pleasure, howling her name, and they were
bathed in light, incandescent, blazing; they *were* the light,
rising, breaking, dawning...
A gust of cold air slapped her cheek Pale pinkish light
played over her eyelids.
Her eyes snapped open.
She scrambled to sit up, panicked, reaching instinctively for
her gun. "Muld-?"
"Good morning!" Agent MacDonald stood on the
opposite side of the car, leaning on the door, peering in at
Her head turned rapidly from side to side. "How-?"
"Dana?" Doggett tapped on the car window next to
her, his voice distant and indistinct through the glass.
"You okay?" He squinted at her, his concern obvious.
She sat up and rubbed her forehead. "Oh my god -"
Her body was soaked in sweat, but the breeze through the open
door was bitterly cold. A shudder worked its way through her,
rattling her bones. "I'm fi-" she answered
automatically, then shuddered again.
Doggett frowned, gesturing toward the lock. "Open
She did, then ran her hand over her hair, attempting to
smooth it back into place. Her heart was thumping wildly; she
couldn't catch her breath.
Oh god, she thought. Oh god, not again.
Doggett pulled the door open. He gave her an appraising look,
appeared unsatisfied with what he saw, and stood up, leaning
across the roof. "Yo, Mac. Take Pickles on up, okay? We're
right behind you."
"Can do. Come on, Pickles." Pickell's door closed
with a controlled thud.
"Dana?" Doggett stuck his head back in the car. His
tone was deliberately bright. "Are you okay? Really?"
"Yes," she replied. "Really. I just, I got
confused about where we were." She looked past him. They
were parked in front of a nondescript block building. "Is
this - ?"
"Yeah, Chattanooga. End of the line."
She looked at her watch. "Three hours. Oh my god."
He straightened and gave a casual shrug. "You looked
like you could use some sleep."
She licked her dry lips. They felt swollen and tender, and oh
god, she could almost still taste...
Her eyes filled with tears. She blinked them away.
"John, I was -- we're on duty. You should have woken me
"Don't worry," he replied with an easy smile.
"Mac was too busy running his mouth to notice and Pickell
isn't real likely to mention it to anyone, if you know what I
She swung toward the door and planted her feet on the
pavement. Her legs were trembling; her back ached; muscles she'd
all but forgotten felt taut and strained. Doggett took a step
back as she rose unsteadily to her feet. "Still, Agent
Doggett, you should have-"
"Still, *Agent* Scully," he interrupted, "you
looked like you needed the rest."
She felt her hackles rise. "This isn't about what I
Doggett's voice dropped low. "Isn't about what you need?
Well, hell, Dana, if you don't mind me asking, when *will* it
Her mouth dropped open. "I - " Desperately
uncomfortable, she stared down at her shoes, unable to meet his
Doggett's voice softened. "Hey. That wasn't a
"Oh? It sounded like one."
"I didn't mean it like - I mean, I'm just concerned.
Shit," he bent, trying to catch her eye. "I'm worried,
all right? You've been pushing yourself too hard, you've been
"I've been pushing as hard as I have to," she
snapped. There was a dizzying ache in the pit of her stomach
and, she now realized, cheeks burning, a pool of moisture
between her legs. Her body was cooling rapidly, the memory of
her dream flying away into the frosty December air.
Alone. She was alone again. Oh god.
"Dana, you have to-"
"John, I'm doing all I can," she interrupted.
"That's what I *have* to do."
"I know that." Doggett replied. "I just wish
you'd admit that you're human, Dana, you know?"
She nodded, trying to find a way to answer him without
sobbing out loud.
Her stomach gave a loud growl.
"Whoa!" Doggett's eyes went wide. "When did
you last eat?"
She took a deep breath, trying to control herself.
"John, don't try -"
"Stop." He commanded. "White flag. Truce.
We've got three hours before our flight. I'll run upstairs, sign
whatever needs to be signed, tell Mac to take care of Pickles.
Then I'm buying you breakfast. Real food, too."
She looked at his guileless expression.
"You can call me a son of a bitch later. Kick my sorry
ass up and down the road. Whatever."
A bright beam of light touched her face. She looked up. The
sun had been edging its way up behind a tall downtown building.
It had now climbed free of the gray urban landscape and was
soaring higher in the sky.
'Don't be afraid,' Mulder had said.
"Breakfast sounds like a good idea." she said,
feeling a reluctant smile tug at the corners of her mouth.
"Good." Doggett smiled. "Great."
She stretched, watching her breath rise in grey gusts in the
raw early-morning air. "Just let me get my coat." She
turned toward the car.
"Ah, shit," Doggett said. "Damned government-
She grabbed her coat and bag. "What's wrong?"
"You'd think they could keep these cars clean."
Doggett moved to her side, gesturing vaguely toward her back.
"There's something all over your, um. . ."
"My what?" She tried, pointlessly, to look over her
shoulder. "What is it?"
"Some kind of - here, let me, um, brush it -"
"Yeah. Please." She turned her back fully to him.
"Christ, it looks like you laid down in this
stuff." He ran his hand carefully down her sweater, so
lightly that he barely made contact. "I wonder how come no
one noticed it in the seat."
"What is it?" She turned to face him, curious.
"I'm not sure." Doggett sniffed his palm. "I
think it's. . ." He sniffed again. "Huh. Some kind of
spice." He held out his hand to her.
A fine, golden powder clung to his palm.
She inhaled, breathing in pine logs and candlelight, truths
whispered and dreams shared, paths that twine and flow together,
if only for an instant in time. It smelled like home.
"Ginger," she said, reaching up and taking some on
her fingertips. "It's ginger."
"Like the cookies? Really?" His brow furrowed.
"How'd that get there?"
She shook her head. "It doesn't matter," she told
him, eyes brimming. A smile, the first genuine smile she'd known
for months, crept across her face. "Let's go get that
breakfast. I want to go home."
(1) Very late. We realize that. Really
(2) Yes, Running Lessons III is in the works. Really.
(3) It seemed like a good idea at the time. Really.
(4) Real life sucks toads.
Thanks for reading!