Title: After I Have Dreamed
Summary: The agents investigate a missing persons case only to realize that the nightmares Scully has been suffering from may be an X-File in their own right.
Author's note: Originally meant to be a quirky little story for the angst-addicts list, there was a mutation, and this story arose. She was born from an improv -- I'll list the items at the end.
For my dear Carl--I promise... there are no deeper implications in the issues Mulder and Scully face.
For my sister and her dancing onions.
And for wen, who may mistakenly believe till the end of her days that I'm an alcoholic. This is for all of you angst-addicts who have helped to make one of the friendliest lists out there.
This story was brought to you by excessive amounts of Nestea Natural Lemon flavor iced tea and the letter N.
The Title of this story was pilfered (I mean, borrowed) from an e.e. cummings poem... 'it is at moments after i have dreamed'. There is something in this poem which speaks of Mulder and Scully to me... and although reading the poem is certainly not going to affect your understanding of the story, I think I'll transcribe it here:
it is at moments after i have dreamed
OKAY--now, on to the story... congrats to everyone who made it this far. ;)
Chapter One: Through a Glass, Darkly
For now we see through a glass, darkly;
1 Corinthians 13:12, King James Version
Scully woke with a start, her throat clenched in an attempt not to scream. Her fingers tightened involuntarily in the light cotton sheets, trapped in the memory of struggling against an invisible assailant. Her ragged breath hissed through her constricted throat as she tried to return herself to her customary calm.
She couldn't remember the particulars of the dream, but the thought of falling back to sleep terrified her. There was blood in her dream. A sea of incarnadine shadows taunted her from behind her eyelids. A smear of blood on white. On snow? Scully shook her head weakly, turning on the bedside lamp in an effort to dissolve the shadows.
/Is this what drove Mulder to perpetual insomnia?/
She found the stray thought of her partner strangely reassuring, but not quite comforting enough to allow her to return to her interrupted sleep. She thought about calling him, but decided against it on the off-chance that Mulder was actually getting a good night's sleep. The red digits on her alarm clock revealed the time at 2:39 a.m..
Scully pushed back the uncomfortable blankets, startled by the dampness left by her own cold sweat. A few strands of hair clung to her forehead in loose curls.
"Shower," she said aloud, more to banish the silence pervading her apartment than anything else. She flipped several lights on the way to the bathroom, attempting without success to dispel the darkness and the faint imprints of terror left by the dream on her memory.
"Sleep well?" Mulder asked the moment the door opened.
Scully frowned when her partner didn't even look up to acknowledge her presence, and replied, "Not particularly. Need I ask if you slept at all?"
"I slept through the night, actually. Like a baby. Eight and a half hours without waking once." He glanced up from the file he was perusing and pushed his reading glasses to the top of his head. She almost smiled at the mess he'd made of his hair. Another pair of glasses lay broken on his desk, drowning under a tidal wave of paperwork yet to be filed out or filed out. Or both. "How often does that happen? It appears only one of us can sleep through any given night. It's an X-File, Scully. So what kept you up? All night date? Sucked into the vortex of the Indiana Jones Marathon at midnight? It sure tempted me."
She raised an eyebrow to inform him that his humor was unappreciated.
"As a matter of fact, I had a nightmare."
That caught his attention. The humor melted instantaneously into concern. "That bad? What happened? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Mulder. Just a little shaken up. And tired as hell -- I slept until 2:39 exactly."
"Hell -- you couldn't get back to sleep?"
"I didn't *want* to go back to sleep. I don't remember any of the details, but it was bad enough that I woke almost screaming." She smiled reassuringly. "But it's over now. I'll be fine."
"Sorry, Scully," Mulder said, with real apology in his voice, "I know what a shitty deal that is. I guess now would be a bad time to tell you that we're going on assignment today. Weird case in NoWhere, Oregon. Little girl disappeared from her home. Police haven't been able to pull up any evidence. The windows were all locked, and the mother in the next room." He shrugged weakly, expecting an argument.
"I'll be glad to get away. Honestly. Besides, there'll be a connecting door." She winked at him, attempting to lighten the tendrils of melancholy that still remained present in the wake of her nightmare.
He gazed at her with barely concealed anxiety for several interminable moments, long fingers playing absentmindedly with a freshly sharpened pencil.
She broke the silence by saying, with a smile, "If you feel the irrepressible need to throw that at the ceiling, I'm willing to turn my back and pretend it never happened. But you're paying for any damages. I'm going to get a coffee -- how's your blood caffeine level?"
The Happy Sleeper Motel was anything but happy. Scully chased two spiders and a kamikaze moth out of the bathroom before drawing herself a warm bath liberally dosed with vanilla bath oil. She didn't trust the motel-supplied 'honey bubble bath'-- it looked a little too much like actual honey to be poured into a tub full of steaming water.
Through the thin walls of the bathroom, she could hear Mulder bustling around in his own bathroom. She heard -- quite clearly -- his loud expletive when he attempted to run the shower and only "goddamned shit" met his effort.
"Mulder!" she shouted through the wall, muffling a giggle with her hand.
"Yeah?" Came his disgruntled reply, distorted by the wall.
"When I'm finished my bath you're welcome to use the shower in here. At least the water seems to be fine."
"I wouldn't trust it."
"We can run a tox screen tomorrow and shut this place down if you want. We've got badges and guns."
Mulder laughed. "Thanks, Scully. I owe you one."
"Not a problem." She closed her eyes and soaked vanilla through her needy pores.
Mulder slipped past his sleeping partner, wondering if, after the nightmares of the night before, he ought to risk disturbing her in order to take his -- much needed -- shower.
Stopping beside her bed, a tender smile flickered across his face. She'd fallen asleep reading background checks and catching herself up on the case at hand. Her glasses had fallen half way down her face, perching precariously at the end of her nose. He removed them gently, and when she didn't budge he took the brown file folders off her lap and collected the errant ones that had fallen to the floor. Gingerly tucking the blankets up around her chin, he figured not even an earthquake, let alone a measly shower, was going to wake his partner.
"G'night, Scully," he whispered, touching the side of her face with two fingertips in a modified kiss.
Scully drowned in vanilla dreams.
The face in the mirror is not my face. It is, and it isn't, and my eyes are full of shadows. And tears. And dreams that were never meant to see the light of day. Are these eyes always so haunted? I shake my head to test the image in the mirror, but the reflection shakes her head too.
A vase with a single, dying rose stands before me on the vanity, weeping petals that fall like velvet to the cool wood. The rose is the color of darkness, the color of the deepest blood of the heart. It seems strangely fitting. In all my dreams there is the inescapable scent of rose petals. Closing two fingers around the nearest petal, I hold it to my lips and smile weakly. It is dead now, this small reminder of the beautiful whole. Separated. Lost.
And happier that way? Now that it is individual?
I am reminded uncomfortably of Aristotle, and the philosopher's idea that the basic unit of any society is a pair, and that in this pair there is always a superior and an inferior. Master and slave.
Husband and wife.
The face in the mirror is not my face. The dreams in those eyes are not my dreams--even if they were, they are impossible and ought to be forgotten before they cause trouble. I raise the hand holding the petal and press the velvet against my lips. My other hand traces the face in the mirror, following the lines improbably made by my own face.
It cannot be my face.
The face in the mirror is too happy.
A shadow crosses the glass, a reflection of something behind me. Someone.
/Now we see through a glass, darkly/ I think, and find myself screaming.
Instead of the clenched throat of the night before, Scully woke from her dream with a sharply bitten-off scream that stemmed from the pit of her stomach. Even as she caught the faintest echo of what her terror had been, Mulder emerged, dripping and half-naked from the steaming bathroom. A towel sagged dangerously low around his waist.
"I'm sorry, Mulder. I didn't mean to worry you. Hell. I didn't mean to worry myself."
Her brow furrowed in thought. "Mmm... yes. But I don't remember what it was about."
/Something about a mirror./
"It's still early, Scully. You've got to try and go back to sleep -- we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. I'll leave the connecting door open -- call me in if there's anything wrong."
"I'm sorry I disturbed your shower, Mulder. I think I might sit up and watch TV for a while. I--" The faintest shadows of her dream floated on the edge of her peripheral vision, taunting her with their closeness. "I don't know what happened. There was a mirror. The cloying scent of dying roses."
Mulder raised his eyebrows. "Sorry, Scully, I can't help you with the deeper symbolism in that one. Psychologist, yes, but not so much a dream analyst. If you're going to be up for a while do you want company? There was a Terminator marathon on in DC tonight -- maybe we can find it here. Oh, come on, Scully... don't give me that look. You know I won't get to sleep for hours anyway." Mulder gave her a reassuring smile.
Scully gave a little smile in return and said, "Okay, Mulder, but I want you to put some clothes on first."
Embarrassed, Mulder noticed that he was standing in a cool, damp puddle, his hair standing straight up in drying tufts, with a too-small, motel issue towel clutched around his waist. He chuckled and moved toward his bedroom. "Scully. It will be okay."
"I know, Mulder. Probably just something I ate. You know how much I protest against pizza late at night -- well, now I have a valid excuse."
Even as she joked about it, the shadows of the dream loomed over her, and she choked back her laughter. Mulder didn't notice, shutting the door behind himself, leaving his partner encased in heavy blankets, the dim light from the bathroom, and half-remembered terror.
Scully examined the inside of the house with an eye trained to find the tiniest flaw, the most inconspicuous anomaly, in the hopes that it might prove to be evidence. The anxious mother fluttered behind her, wringing her hands in nervous agitation.
"You say she disappeared from this room, Mrs. Reckwell?"
"Yes." Her terror was loud in her voice. "Yes, I left her in the playpen, but when I came back she was gone. And the windows were closed. And the door locked. I thought maybe she climbed over the side and was hiding -- she's big enough, now. But I had the child safety fence pulled across the door. She couldn't have left this room. Agent Scully... is there anything I can do? I looked everywhere. I don't know. I don't know. I--"
Scully put a reassuring hand on the woman's trembling shoulder, and pressed her into the nearest chair. "I need you to sit there for a little while, Mrs. Reckwell. I'm just checking for any clues--anything the police might have missed. Have you done anything in here--vacuumed? dusted?"
"No. No, Agent Scully. The police asked me not to. I haven't even come in here since... since that day."
Scully looked down at the little drawing table, covered in unrecognizable child-scribbles, filled with imaginative Crayola dreams.
"Pardon me, Agent Scully?"
Scully tilted her head toward the woman and frowned. "I'm sorry -- did I say that aloud?"
"I was remembering a little girl I knew once. Just a dream. Just a memory." Scully felt the familiar sting of tears behind her eyelids and banished them harshly. "She drew the most beautiful potatoes." She forced herself to turn away from the table, the treasured coloring books, the box of 94 Crayola colors. Periwinkle and Sea Foam had always been her favorites as a child. Charlie and Bill had fought over the reds and dark blues, and Missy always craved pinks. Scully shook her head with mild irritation.
"Cheryl told me she was drawing dancing onions. Dancing to the salad bowl."
Scully smiled at that. "Creative."
"Yes. Yes, she's that." Tears fell down the woman's face; Scully didn't think the woman even noticed anymore. Perhaps she didn't right now. Tears were quite possibly the most comforting thing in Marianne Reckwell's life.
The investigation didn't look good so far. The four-year-old had disappeared without a trace three days earlier. The police, finding nothing at all to explain the disappearance, referred the case to the FBI. And, of course, the strangeness of the girl's situation caused the file to land on Mulder's desk. Scully had expected, somehow, to arrive and find something obvious that the police were missing... but there was nothing. No marks on the carpet, nothing out of place. The girl seemed to have disappeared into thin air, and the more time that passed, the more unlikely it seemed they would find her alive. Or find her at all.
Scully glanced down at the picture on the windowsill. A smiling, blonde little girl, with big dark eyes and a pointed, pixie chin. Her hair had been lovingly styled with ribbons and curls. She imagined that face on milk cartons and shopping mall message boards. She imagined the years passing, the mother never giving up hope of seeing her baby again. Scully tried to imagine what computer software would do in an attempt to age the little girl's face, taunting the mother with a grown up girl she would never know.
A grown-up girl who had most likely died at the age of four, whose tortured little corpse had never been found, whose bones were hidden under a tree in some shallow grave somewhere.
Scully pressed her fingers into her temples in an attempt to blot out the dangerous thoughts. /Potato/ she thought. /Dancing onions. The girls we will never see again. The faces we will never see grow into adulthood. I see you, Emily, and I wonder who you might have been. And this woman. She sees her Cheryl. We grieve not only for your little lives, but for what you might have been. We grieve for the things we will never know. We grieve for the boyfriends we will never shoo away, the prom dresses we will never buy for you. We grieve because we can't argue with your choice of University, secretly happy that you are so determined. We grieve because we will never see our angel-princesses in wedding gowns or maternity dresses./
The familiar feel of Mulder's fingers pressing the small of her back banished the ghosts of Emily Sim and Cheryl Reckwell. Scully looked into her partner's face and saw fear reflected in his eyes. "You okay, Scully?"
She gave a small nod. "I'm fine, Mulder." /Some things hit too close to home./ She looked around and didn't see Marianne Reckwell. "Where is she?"
"You scared her, I think, Scully. She came to get me. She said you were muttering about potatoes. Need a little lunch? French fries, perhaps?"
Scully's lips quirked into a tiny smile. "Only Crayola dreams."
Confusion flitted across Mulder's face, but he suppressed it with, "Did you find anything?"
"Not a blessed thing. There's nothing, Mulder. If there weren't pictures of this little girl all over the house, I would doubt her existence."
"The mother was out of the room at the time. It could be abduction, Scully."
"Are we talking about normal human abduction or the extraterrestrial variety?"
"If a human being took her, there would be some evidence."
"Mul-der. Do me a favor and don't mention this theory to Mrs. Reckwell. She's having a hard enough time believing her daughter is gone without bringing aliens into the mixture. This is ridiculous. Is this the only reason why you took this case? We should have the local P.D. start sweeping the woods around here."
"Mulder, shut up. I'll grant that you've been right before--about many things. But I won't buy this. I won't fall back on aliens to explain everything that we *can't*. Think about the Lindbergh baby--they found him dead practically in the same goddamned neighborhood after being led on a wild goose chase halfway around the world. I think we have to examine earthly possibilities before we turn to lights in the sky and UFOs. I don't need this bullshit, and neither does she." Scully gestured broadly toward the rest of the house, where the nervous mother waited, nauseated and afraid of the truth.
Mulder opened his mouth several times, closed it again, and finally murmured, "I'm sorry. Scully, you're right. I'll get hold of the P.D."
Her jaw dropped. Or it would have, if she hadn't been clenching her teeth to hold inside the anguish of lost little girls and Crayola dreams.
"Still mad at me?"
"No, Mulder. I wasn't mad at you in the first place. Just frustrated. Dead children are so... wrong. What's the purpose? They come, they live, and they die--all in such a short time. But the pain of their loss just keeps on going."
He knew she wasn't just talking about the Reckwell girl. "Cheryl might not be dead."
Scully raised an eyebrow, sparing her partner a short glance. "She's been gone for almost four days, Mulder. No ransom note. Nothing. You know the Bureau stats better than I do--it's not a good sign."
"But it's not impossible."
She shook her head slowly, sadly. "It's improbable. I'm not giving up hope, Mulder. I just... I'm just preparing myself for the worst."
"Scully?" All of a sudden he was too close. His face was close to hers, his hand on her thigh. "Scully..."
"I'm fine, Mulder. Tired. I'm going to bed." She pushed his hand away and took three steps toward the connecting door that led to her room. "I'll see you in the morning. Try and get some sleep."
"I should be the one admonishing you, Scully. Goodnight."
She stared at him for a few moments, saying nothing. Finally, just when he thought he might explode from the inexplicable tension building between them, she turned and left.
Chapter Two: Unresting Thought
The ravens of unresting thought;
--WB Yeats, "The Two Trees"
Rather than minibars or room service, The Happy Sleeper possessed a disreputable twenty-four hour diner. Scully stared moodily at her untouched, greasy french fries and tried not to think about dreams. The waitress, a prematurely aging woman who was most likely ten years younger than she looked, gave the Agent half-fearful, half-pitying glances, but didn't approach. Scully had snapped at her once earlier in the evening for attempting to get too close.
The french fries were cold. /There is nothing more repulsive than a cold french fry/ Scully thought, and then laughed bitterly. She'd seen flukemen, garbage monsters, exploding virulent pustules, and the most disgusting thing she could think of was a cold french fry? The waitress gave her a frightened look and pretended to wait on another table across the restaurant.
Scully had been alone most of her adult life, and she was comfortable with it. She was comfortable with only herself for company. At least, she had convinced herself that she was.
The nagging voice in the back of her brain, who only appeared at the most inopportune of times, pointed out that she was lonely.
Scully thought of Mulder, most likely surfing the pay-per-view channels at the Bureau's expense and smiled. The Terminator marathon of the night before had been--comforting, too. In a different way. In a way that made her feel that her 'comfort with herself' was some kind of hoax, some kind of cover because she was lonely and didn't want to admit it. Mulder had a way of putting her at ease--it was like when she was small and spent time with her brothers for lack of anything better to fill her days. They had incorporated her into their war games (usually as the enemy or the damsel in distress), treated her to the occasional sundae, Charlie had taken her shopping once (and she thought he'd even enjoyed it, but he'd made her swear never to tell anyone they'd gone. Especially Bill.)
She hadn't been alone then, and she hadn't been lonely.
/But I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm a woman playing a man's game in a man's profession in a man's world and I don't have time to complicate my life with unnecessary relationships. Romantic or otherwise./
The little voice mentioned something teasing about Mulder.
Scully scowled down into her diet coke and pretended she couldn't hear herself think.
She knew she had drunk too much, but for some reason the thought didn't bother her. One diet coke had turned into three rum and coke before she knew it. Halfway through the last (particularly strong) drink, Scully had thought of Mulder, and hazily wondered why he wasn't drinking with her.
/If he won't come to me, I'll go to him. He'd like that./
She had already knocked on the connecting door when she recalled his brush off on the moth man case. Wine, willing women--even food, and he'd still run off without her.
She hoped he was still awake.
"Scully? 'S that you? I wondered where you'd gone. I was getting ready to call the cops. We've got enough missing people for this case, thanks."
The lock rattled the door and Scully tapped her foot impatiently. "I was bored."
"Bored? It's 2 am. You should be sleeping, not bored."
"Should be? I don't know, Dad, I think I can choose my own bed time. I'm a big girl now, after all."
Mulder opened the door after struggling with the sticky hinges and smiled. "You been drinking without me, Scully? I'm wounded. You know how I enjoy a good drunken stupor every now and again."
She didn't reply, pushing past him and setting her tray on the unstable chest of drawers supplied by the motel. She tried to ignore the shaking of her fingers as she set two glasses down on the fake wood finish. /What is there to be nervous about? This is Mulder, for God's sake! Just Mulder...just a drink between friends./
Mulder, ignorant of her inner monologue, continued with dry humor. She wondered if he wasn't a little bit nervous as well. Usually he controlled the intensity of any innuendoes that might contain sexual connotations. "You know what they say about alcohol--it doesn't *really* help drown your troubles. Your head will protest in the morning."
She snorted indelicately. "This from the man who drinks vodka and orange concentrate straight from the bottle. I don't think you can lecture me on alcoholic tendencies, Fox Mulder."
"So what have you got there?"
Mulder's lips pulled into a smile. "Absolut?"
Scully giggled. /Now there's a sure sign I've had too much to drink./ "What else? They've got the best advertising campaign. Very clever. It's like the Gap and those quirky khaki advertisements. I found myself wanting a pair of khakis, and the only place I could think to buy some was the Gap. Good advertising. Orange juice?"
"Scully," Mulder murmured, low and sultry, "you know me too well."
"Flattery'll get you nowhere, Mulder."
"Worth a try. I'm not the one serving alcohol here, anyway. You're asking for flattery."
/Is that all I'm asking for?/ She paused, struggling with a mixture of lightheartedness and real pain. "The only stipulation is that you don't run off into the night in a hurry as soon as the liquor is poured. You really know how to deflate a girl's ego, Mulder. I'm only just now forgiving you for the last time."
"Florida? Moth men? These should be ringing a bell--and if not, I'm sure your eidetic memory will recall my stunning rendition of 'Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.'"
Mulder looked sheepish and touched the back of her hand with tender fingertips. She could feel each callous burning through the delicate skin of her hand. "I'm really sorry, Scully. I -- just thought -- hell, I don't know what got into me." His laughter was infectious, and Scully found herself smiling. "It was pretty stupid of me, in retrospect. I mean -- I can't begin to tell you how many daydreams of mine start with you entering a room bearing alcohol."
"Daydreams or fantasies?"
He winked, but there was something serious hidden in the depths of his eyes. "Both. But in the latter you're usually clad only in luminous white chiffon."
"White chiffon, hmm?" Scully sipped her vodka and orange juice calmly, as though they were discussing angles on a case, or the strangeness of the weather. "I admit I always had you pegged as a black lace and garters kind of guy."
"Well of course, Scully. That's what *I'd* be wearing!" His voice lowered conspiratorially. "However, if you're dead set on the black lace, I may be persuaded to compromise."
"In your dreams, Mulder."
She decided not to press the subject any further.
"Scully, what do you suppose happened to that little girl? I mean, really?"
She set the glass on the edge of the table and ran one finger along the slippery rim. "I don't know, Mulder. I can't even begin to explain it."
"If nothing else, don't you think there is the slightest possibility that it might be an alien abduction?"
"Honestly, Mulder?" She glanced up at him, holding his gaze with her own. His eyes were dark with his desire for her to believe. At least, she hoped that was the origin of his desire. "Honestly, no. You have to admit that none of the evidence--"
"None of the evidence supports typical abduction scenarios. No lights, no sounds, no lost time. The neighbors were in their back yard doing lawn work--you don't think they would have noticed something as suspicious as a UFO? It just doesn't fit, Mulder. Nothing fits." Her voice fell, and her eyes followed. "Nothing fits."
"I know." He finished the last sip of his drink and smiled wearily. "You tired, Scully?"
"Thanks for the drink."
"Thanks for not leaving as soon as I poured it. You're right. I think I'll try and get some sleep. The last couple of nights is beginning to catch up."
He caught her hand as she moved past him--his touch felt like needles against her skin. "Sometimes someone else in the room helps me to sleep--maybe that's what you need."
He was too serious. She opened her mouth to dismiss his comment and tell him how little she appreciated such obvious innuendoes, but something in his eyes stopped her. "Mulder--I'll--I'll be fine, Mulder."
"You know where I am."
She inclined her head and felt something tear in her heart. The shadows were waiting in the wings for the moment of vulnerability--the moment to pounce. As soon as she recognized it for what it was, she patched up the translucent fissure, and closed her eyes, banishing Mulder and his damnably searching eyes.
The emptiness is all consuming. I frown because I am no longer alone, but there is some part of me that still wishes to be. There are tears falling like rain--or perhaps it is only the rain falling. Everything feels like tears.
I am cold because I know it is a weapon. "I asked you not to follow me."
"I missed you."
"You were following me. I asked you not to. I need to be alone."
"Because I *need* it. I can't lose myself. Don't you understand? Of course you don't! Of course you don't."
I look into his face and see blood there. He seems oblivious to the pain.
"But--I love you."
"If you loved me, you wouldn't torture me like this, Rhys."
"Celeste..." His voice is low, drawn like a wail. I can hear blood welling in his throat, inhabiting the place where my name used to live.
The tears and the rain are hot on my face. "Rhys, you promised me this. You promised me--"
"And you promised me you would let me in. We break a million promises to one another, it seems. Are you hiding something from me? Is that it?"
I reach out with one hand, attempting to soothe his anger with my lucid calm, but he will have none of it. "You cannot have my every moment, Rhys. You know you cannot have my every thought."
/I must have my own!/
"I must have my own!" I wail as his face drowns in the blood I have unintentionally caused with the daggers of my words.
"I must have my own! I must! I must!"
"Scully, wake up!"
She was torn between pushing the warm body away, and crushing it closer. She buried her face in his shoulder and bit her lip to calm the torrent of tears and fear.
"Scully, Scully, Scully..." he crooned, and she was reminded of the man in her dream, the tears and the blood.
"I'm okay, Mulder." Scully pushed away from her partner, brushing his hands from her shoulders with an irritated gesture.
Mulder's eyes were wounded. "I--you were crying, Scully."
"I know that, Mulder. It's *nothing*."
Mulder's face hardened, his eyes pierced her until she had to turn her face away. "Like struggling with cancer was nothing? Like losing Emily was nothing? Like almost kissing you in my hallway last summer was nothing? Like your partner saying 'I love you' was nothing?"
"Mulder, stop it!"
"No, Scully," he growled. She was ashamed to feel herself tremble. "*You* stop it! I wait and I wait for some sign of melting--for some sign that you might be hiding an emotion in there, and it never comes--"
"What if you're waiting for nothing?" She whispered the words, dipping them in acid before they left her mouth.
"Then you've been fucking with my mind since day one, Scully! Don't you see? Innuendoes go both fucking ways!"
Her heart jumped, painfully reopening the tear she had mended with indifference earlier in the evening. "Mulder..." she whispered, and kissed him. She wasn't sure if she kissed him because she wanted it--/I do want it, don't I?/--or if she was looking for a way to silence the hatred and the accusation that had slipped into his words.
He said nothing, closing his arms around her and pulling her convulsively against his body. She was startled to feel the muscles in his arms tremble. His return kiss was devouring; Scully could feel him encompassing her, assimilating her, binding her--with one kiss--so intrinsically to him that she might never be able to look in the mirror and see only herself ever again.
He terrified her. The man kissing her was not the trusted partner, the best friend. He was a force of nature. He was a comet, burning through her with cold flame, snatching her hopes, her dreams, leaving dust in his wake.
His kiss gave her nothing.
She closed her eyes, and he thought her tears were tears of relief, of happiness.
Scully drowned herself in the sound of the rain falling outside.
Chapter Three: Till Human Voices Wake Us
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
--TS Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
I am drowning in a sea of rose petals. It was pleasant at first--the gentle aroma, the velvety softness of a trillion petals. But it is harder to swim in petals than in water. I can feel myself sinking, breathing in matter instead of air, choking on beauty and my own fear. I am uncomfortable with the fear, because it is not who I am. I am brave. That is the essence of me. Or at least that is what I always thought it to be.
The fear is replaced by peace, after a while. There is a certain calm that comes with the knowledge that you must die. Memento mori. The skull and crossbones, the cushioned casket--they do not seem so frightening now. I never imagined it. I thought I would go into death as I lived life--kicking and screaming and demanding to be heard. To be accepted for what I was. Individual. Brilliant. Brave.
/Do not go gentle into that good night./
I think of *him*. He is beautiful, gentle... he has been my friend for years. But... something happened in the moment that I told him I returned his love. That man whom I knew so well disappeared. I see flashes of him sometimes, but he is not the same.
And I don't know if I love him, if this is who he truly is. He smothers me with every glance.
The petals wrap their tiny, velvety arms around me... a million arms, a million tiny embraces.
/Rage, rage against the dying of the light./
Rose petals and a sea of poetry. I open my mouth and the petals become parasites. I can feel them eating their way inside of me. It is strangely comforting--hardly like death at all, really.
/We have lingered in the chambers of the sea/
"Celeste! Celeste, what have you done?"
/By sea girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown/
I open my eyes and see only shades of pink and red and the loveliest pale coral. A necklace spins downward, downward, chasing me into the deeps of this flower ocean. I recognize it, and don't.
/Till human voices wake us, and we drown./
The choking petal-parasites steal my air. I have no voice to scream.
I'm not sure I'd even want to.
/Till human voices wake us, and we drown./
She opened her eyes, blinking blearily. "Till human voices wake us, and we drown."
"I had a dream again, Mulder."
"About T.S. Eliot? 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'?"
"Is that what it was? I thought, for a moment, that I'd made it up myself. You're right... I have a clear memory of high school English class." Scully frowned, wondering what Mulder was doing in her room, in her bed.
Then she remembered. She wanted to be able to say that they'd made love, but she couldn't. It had been sex. And it had left her feeling hollow and frail instead of fulfilled.
"You didn't wake up, anyway. Not a nightmare this time?"
"No," she murmured. "It was. I just gave in. I was drowning in a sea of rose petals. And it felt nice."
"Nice?" The fear in his eyes was smothering. In a way more confining than rose petals could ever have been. /He smothers me with every glance./
She made a voiceless sound of agreement, and pressed her head into the pillow. "Don't we have a case to investigate?"
"Are you up to it?"
"Mulder. It's my job."
She rolled on to her side and fixed him with an icy glare. "Don't do this, Mulder. I'll warn you now... and this is the only warning you'll get. This changes nothing. If you... if you treat me any differently I'll..."
"I won't, Scully. I promise." He leaned over, and kissed the tip of her nose. Feelings of pleasure and pain chased each other in her stomach. She spared him a smile and pushed the confusion to the back of her head to be dealt with later.
He reluctantly extricated himself from the bed, pausing when he reached the door that connected their rooms. "Hey. I love you, Scully."
The smile soured on her lips, but she hid it for his sake. "I know, Mulder. I love you, too."
Everywhere seemed to be filled with screaming. The dreams tasted like sawdust in her mouth. Sawdust and rose petals.
Or perhaps it was the words themselves that tasted so stale.
/But I *do* love you.../
Marianne Reckwell was steeped in paleness, and the dark circles under her eyes leant her the look of the damned. Scully wanted to reach out and embrace the woman, but cold professionalism halted her. The woman looked twenty years older than her twenty-five years. Her skin was translucent like rice paper, stretched across porcelain bones.
/She looks like I did when the cancer had me in it's grasp./
"Agent Scully," she whispered in greeting. "I don't suppose--"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Reckwell. There have been no new developments." /At least not in the case. What the hell am I going to do about Mulder?/
"Please, call me Marianne. Mrs. Reckwell makes me feel old... and helpless. People only call me by my last name when things are very uncomfortable."
Scully inclined her head and said nothing.
"Is there anything else I can do to help, Agent Scully?"
"Dana," Scully replied. "You can call me Dana, if you like. If it makes you feel more comfortable."
"How do you do it?" The woman's voice was full of tears. Scully tilted her head and raised an eyebrow.
"Your partner... Agent Mulder told me you lost a daughter. How do you do it? How can you go on?"
"Mulder told you that, did he," Scully whispered under her breath. /I'm going to kick his ass. Or worse./ "Marianne, I lost my daughter before she was even conceived, if you can believe that. I only knew her for a very short time, and she was in a great deal of pain. Her death was a relief... for her, and for others, I think. Perhaps even for me. You don't get over it, but you do go on."
"I just can't imagine--"
"We're looking very hard for your daughter, Marianne."
"But she's been gone for so long..."
"Not too long." Scully didn't mention that the incessant rain that had begun the night before and hadn't quit would be hampering Mulder and the police searching the woods. The rain, tirelessly, ignorantly, would wash away any trace that might have been left behind by a conventional kidnapper.
"The rain won't help, will it?"
The woman's eyes were a steady, wet blue-grey as they met Scully's. Neither woman said anything, but Scully knew that Marianne Reckwell was not as stupid as her grief made her appear. She knew very well the statistics and the improbability of finding her daughter alive.
"Could I see Cheryl's room?"
"Yes, of course."
The little girl's room was decorated tastefully in shades of pink and pale violet. Story book characters marched across her walls and over the bedspread. Toys were carefully stacked on the bottom shelves of a bookcase, untouched. A large piece of white paper had been taped to one wall, and it was covered in colorful drawings. /Dancing onions./ Three photographs sat in a pewter frame on top of the bookcase.
"I recognize Cheryl, of course. Who are these others?"
"My mother is the one holding Cheryl. I come from a large family--these are my brothers and sisters."
Scully peered closer at the bright pictures, trying to decide why the people looked familiar. There was an obvious family resemblance, but still--
"And this third photo?"
"The third is Cheryl's father. He died in a work-related accident two years ago. I'd like Cheryl to think that he's watching over her, keeping her safe even though he's not here anymore."
Scully looked down and saw that a blue, velvet-covered box had fallen beside the bookcase. Marianne made a strange noise in the back of her throat as Scully bent to pick it up.
"How did *that* get in here?"
"What is it?"
Marianne gestured that she should open the box.
/Till human voices wake us, and we drown./
Scully swallowed her scream before it found voice, staring at the object in her hands with equal parts curiosity and horror. A sea of rose petals. A spinning object. The sound of a man's voice dying.
"Agent Scully? Dana? Is there something wrong?"
"What is this?" /Whose voice is that? What's wrong with me?/
"It's... it's a medieval love rune. My great-grandmother brought it from Ireland when she immigrated; it's said to bring good luck and felicity in marriage. Something poetic like that. Although... although, it certainly didn't work for me, or for Aunt Celeste." Marianne's voice held a timbre of bitterness... Scully froze at the name Celeste.
"My mother's eldest sister. She... she's something of the family black sheep. Or she was. I never knew her--she died when my mother was still very young."
"Is your mother still alive?"
"Yes... she lives on the other side of town. Why?"
"I'd like to speak to her."
"What for?--she would never hurt Cheryl. You can't suspect *her*!"
Scully put her hand on the woman's shoulder before she launched into full scale hysterics. "Of course I don't suspect your mother... there is something... very strange going on here, Marianne."
"What--what do you mean?"
Scully dangled the love-rune necklace from trembling fingertips. "I dreamed about this last night. And in my dream a man kept calling me 'Celeste'. I need to get to the bottom of this. I've had... strange dreams before."
She felt herself choking on sand, sand and rose petals. /Emily./
Marianne frowned, clearly unconvinced by Scully's narrative. "I'll call her and tell her you'll be stopping by."
"Do you mind if I borrow this? I need to confer with my partner. You said the box was out of place--this may be the only hard evidence we've got."
The woman nodded reluctantly, leaving Scully to stare into the faces of the photograph.
The people trapped within bore a strange resemblance to the face in her dream. Her face that was *not* her face.
/Come on, Dana. This is Mulder's area of expertise. Remember? You don't believe in this paranormal ESP ghostly nonsense. You never have. You're looking for a bloodstain, a fingerprint--not a ghostly aunt and a cursed magic rune./
Thinking of Mulder made her cringe. And it made her smile.
/Till human voices wake us, and we drown./
Her head was throbbing. She'd had headaches before, of course. This pain... this pain was something she had never experienced, not even with the cancer. She stopped at the motel, parking crookedly, afraid that if she kept driving she might run herself off the road. She kept expecting her nose to drip blood onto her white blouse.
The room was empty. Both of them. Mulder had mentioned something about helping the police sweep the surrounding area, but she suspected he was actually going to hunt *someone* down who would corroborate a story of lights in the sky and lost time. /Never let it be said that I don't know my partner./
The smell of roses tickled her nose uncomfortably when she pushed her door open. "Mulder?"
She flipped the light switch and grimaced when she saw the bouquet of pale roses on the low dresser. Fighting her headache, she took two Advil, set her alarm to ring after a twenty minute nap, and read the card that perched among the green stems.
'Will you sing to me, sea-girl?'
"'Will you *sing* to me?'" She repeated aloud. The thought brought a smile to her lips, momentarily banishing her indecision and her discomfort with the events of the night before, washing dark feelings with strains of 'Jeremiah was a Bullfrog'. "Mulder, what *are* you talking about?" A part of her ate the words, devoured them with delight. That part of her, so small, so battered underneath the onslaught of these new emotions, loved Mulder. /I just always assumed that part was bigger than the rest./
Scribbled on a piece of paper underneath the flowers was a fragment of a poem.
'I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
The words pulled her down, down, inside before she could fight them. Darkness pulsated behind her eyes, magnifying her headache, focusing the pain on the flowers and the words. She felt herself drowning, surrounded by a cacophony of human voices she didn't know and couldn't understand.
She felt the thorns in her hands, and felt, rather than heard, the glass vase shatter and her own scream.
She too shattered.
I'm sitting in a high-backed chair, prim and proper, shattering on the inside. He hands me a rose, a red one, for love, and I smile.
I do love him, after all.
"I will make you happy, Celeste."
My smile feels cold all of a sudden, as though my lips are no longer part of my body--they are acting on their own, smiling because they must.
I have always been capable of making myself happy. It's not as though I were waiting for this moment, for this man, living in agony because there is nothing else.
The scene shifts. My mother, beautiful and still young, is sewing the final touches of my wedding gown. It is lace and silk and chiffon. My mother is making me a set of wings--she knows me. She knows that I will still need to fly, even after I am married. I have never been content with a sedentary life. She kisses the bronze love-rune, hands it to me, and I repeat the action. It will be sewn into one of the petticoats, to bring me luck, to bring me happiness.
Again, because it seems I cannot find it on my own.
The scene shifts again, more jarring, even painful. I am sitting alone, faced by a rose bush, with a mirror on my lap. There is something infinitely comforting in the roses. Rhys has not followed me today, and I am glad. He cares too much, I think. He cares until even his caring is an obsession--and I can stand it no longer. I want to be alone.
I think of Shelley, because he is a poet, and roses inspire poetry. Almost every poet uses rose imagery. Rhys pointed that out to me once. They are beautiful and dangerous, soft and sharp. In the language of flowers, they engender more symbolism than any other flower. A color, a breed--each means a different thing. They are love, and death--two ideas not so far apart, I think.
/Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
My mother has finished my wedding dress.
I am reminded uncomfortably of Aristotle, and the philosopher's idea that the basic unit of any society is a pair, and that in this pair there is always a superior and an inferior. Master and slave.
Husband and wife.
I lift the mirror. I do not know who I am. The face in the mirror is not my face, cannot *be* my face... and yet it is. The features in the mirror blur--hair now red, now gold. Eyes, however, remain the same, invariable blue.
And they say that eyes are the windows to the soul.
The mirror shatters, leaving me fragmented and bleeding on the floor, covered in a blanket of petals.
/Love itself shall slumber on./
Chapter Four: Love Itself Shall Slumber On
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
The car tore into the parking lot, skidding on gravel and filling the air with obnoxious clouds of dust, before coming to a halt in front of the irate woman Mulder vaguely recognized as the Happy Sleeper's proprietor. The woman was shouting, balling her hands into fists, before Mulder shut the door behind him.
"I'll have you know that I'm about to call the police--"
"Where's my partner?" Mulder snapped.
The woman was immediately sheepish. "I don't know--I tried calling her first--the sound *is* coming from *her* room."
"You said there was the sound of breaking glass? A scream?"
"Yes--I didn't give it much attention until that *noise* started."
Mulder turned his back on the woman, to her indignant shriek of dismay. Biting down his terror, and the feeling of menace he hadn't been able to shake since the motel manager had called him fifteen minutes earlier, Mulder rattled Scully's door. Nothing. No answer.
"Scully? Are you in there?"
The angry motel manager glared at him.
"Go find me the key to her room--immediately!" He flashed his badge out of habit, knowing she would bow to greater authority than herself. The significance of the large blue letters spelling out "F-B-I" was not lost on the woman, who shut her mouth and scurried away, muttering obscenities under her breath.
Mulder jogged around the corner of the little cottage building and opened his own door. The sound was louder in here--it sounded suspiciously like an alarm.
If the manager hadn't mentioned that someone had screamed from the direction of Scully's room, Mulder would have laughed. /She just forgot to turn her alarm off... she must have set it for some time in the afternoon by mistake.../
The door connecting the two rooms was slightly ajar; Mulder's eyes adjusted to the darkness by the light of Scully's lamp. A pale, golden streak stretched before him like a path. He thought the light sparkled. Like a fairy tale. Like a dream. Hardly conscious of his own actions, Mulder covered the distance to Scully's room with a few giant strides and pushed the door open.
She lay on the floor, tangled in mess of broken flower stems and shattered glass. Blood was seeping from her hands, staining the vulnerable white of her rumpled cotton blouse.
For an instant, he froze. There was something too poetic, too unbelievable about the blood, the roses, the glittering gems of glass. She looked dead, pale and beautiful, and not at all like the Scully he had spoken to over breakfast. She looked like a red-haired Snow White, poisoned beyond kisses, beyond palaces, beyond love. All he could remember was the touch of her skin on his the night before... the *rightness* of their union...
The tears on her face afterward, when he believed she was as happy as he was. When he believed her tears were of joy and not of sorrow.
He fell to his knees beside her, heedless of the glass crunching beneath him. The room smelled sickeningly of roses. Scully's pulse fluttered against his searching fingertips--Mulder breathed for the first time since pushing open the door and seeing her crumpled on the floor.
"Scully," he whispered. "Scully... wake up."
The alarm shrilled noisily, echoing Mulder's frantic whispers. He reached out, dragged the plug from the wall, and threw the small appliance against the wall. It fell to the ground, a defeated, deflated siren, bereft of her wail.
Scully's eyelids quivered, but did not open.
"Scully, please. Please, wake up."
She trembled under his touch, her face contorting into a grimace. Turning her head toward the carpet, she uttered a tiny, terrible moan and opened her eyes. The blue irises fixed glassily on the flower carnage all around her. "And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,/Love itself shall slumber on."
Mulder pulled her out of the glass, the rose petals, the thorny stems. A red streak of pain trailed down her face from cheekbone to chin, delicate, like a vein of precious metal. He folded her into his arms like a flower, safe against his aching breast.
The outside entrance to Scully's room creaked open to admit the manager. "Well--did you find out what that infernal noise was--?" The woman paused, and her eyes widened when she saw the mess of glass, roses and Scully's blood sparkling on the carpet. "What the hell is going on here? You'd better pay for this mess! I'm not going to be responsible for this--!"
Mulder glared up at the woman, silencing her with all the venom his eyes could hold. "We'll take care of it, ma'am. If you don't mind?"
The woman's lips tightened, but she left.
Mulder cradled Scully's body close and kissed the top of her head.
"Scully, I'm sorry."
She turned her head as though she was suspended in thick water. "For what, Mulder?"
"For... upsetting you."
The smile that slithered across her lips was dark and secret. "Nothing to feel sorry for, Mulder."
"Let's get you cleaned up. I'll take you to the hospital--"
"No." Her voice was suddenly sharp, clear as crystal. "No. I have gauze in my bag. I'll be fine."
"I. Will. Be. Fine."
Mulder frowned but didn't press her. "Dinner? There's a Chinese place--"
He smiled down at her, tracing the unwounded side of her face with a gentle fingertip. "Italian then. In an hour."
She smiled up at him, a little vacantly. "Rhys likes Italian."
The close confines of the motel room suddenly stunk like dead roses.
Scully pressed her fingertips into her cheekbones, attempting to raise some color. Her skin stared back at her, untouchably pale. She frowned at the persistent stains on the carpet under her feet. /No wonder I've got no blood in my face.../
She could hear Mulder moving about in his room, humming under his breath. Scully had to admit--she'd never seen him happier. He moved with purpose, with strength.
She fought the feeling that every strong movement of his sapped more of her failing energy. To refocus herself, she thought about the case. The police investigation in the woods had, of course, come up empty-handed. /How can that be? There must be something! Some thread of a child's dress, snagged on a thorn. Some strands of blonde hair wrapped around a leaf./ "Children *don't* disappear without a trace!" Scully said aloud, more to hear the sound of her own voice than to reassert any statement of fact.
But the problem existed that children disappeared all the time. And often without a trace. Foundations whose sole purpose was to find lost children had thousands of pictures on their walls. Scully imagined the creeping flood of faces staring back at her, disappointed, dying, and she had to shake her head to free herself from the choking image.
As she smeared moist, berry colored lipstick over her lips, Scully remembered that she had passed out before going to speak to Marianne Reckwell's mother.
/Why is she in my dreams?/ Scully asked silently, unwilling to pose the question that lay deeper: /Why am *I* Celeste in my dreams?/
"What's happening tomorrow morning?" Mulder poked his head inside her room and smiled nervously.
"I'm going to speak with Marianne Reckwell's mother."
"Not at all. She just--" /How to explain this to Mulder?/ "--I just thought I'd like to cover all the bases."
Mulder nodded, but said nothing. Scully knew her partner well enough to recognize that he didn't believe a word of what she was saying, but that he trusted her to do what was right. /Do what's right. Do I even know what that is anymore?/
"Ready to go, Mulder?"
"When you are."
Scully smiled up at him and took his arm. "Let's get on with it, then."
The small restaurant was cozy and warm, filled with the scent of roasting tomatoes, fresh herbs and garlic bread fresh from the oven. The waiter, with classic Italian features and a crisp uniform, led the couple to a small table next to a stone fireplace to "keep out the chill of the evening." The table was covered in a checked white and red cloth, glasses were filled with water so cold instant condensation formed on the crystal, and menus were placed into waiting hands. Scully glanced up at Mulder, smiling at the attention being lavished upon them. /Much different from the usual greasy Chinese in cardboard boxes./
A small vase, made of the same crystal as the water glasses, housed one white rose.
"Do you know what that white rose signifies, Mulder?" Scully asked, after the waiter had returned and taken their orders.
"Not a clue."
"Silence. In the Victorian language of flowers."
Mulder raised his eyebrows and grinned. "I thought I was the veritable storehouse of trivial information in this partnership."
Scully shrugged. "I think it's interesting."
"So where'd you learn about it? This language of flowers?"
/A garden. A hand mirror. A beautiful man with gentle eyes. Long blonde hair. Eyes are the windows of the soul, you know. Poetry. Bloodanddreamsandrosesandshatteredglass./ There was a long moment of silence before she replied, "You know, I'm not sure. I just knew it."
The waiter returned, slipped caesar salad onto the table, and departed in one fluid motion.
"The police are thinking of calling off the search, Scully. The rain has washed away anything that might be considered evidence, and there's no sign of the weather letting up any time soon."
"You're not going along with that are you?"
"There's nothing we can do here, Scully. There is no case. There is no evidence. You must be able to see that; you're the scientist addicted to proof."
Scully let the comment slide. "We can't just leave."
"Because--what about the hopes of the mother? We can't crush Marianne Reckwell's hopes by giving up now--we can't--!"
"What hopes, Scully? If you look at this realistically, she knows her daughter is dead. And so do we. If I'm not mistaken, you're the one who was convinced of this last night. There is no ransom note, no contact. The girl is dead, or as good as."
"I refuse to believe that! There has to be some explanation!"
"Don't you want to know the truth?"
"The salient point and the only truth, Scully, is that this case hits you too close to home. You're drowning in memories of all the little girls you've lost, culminated in the face of Emily Sim. This is too goddamned personal. We've exhausted all of our investigative possibilities here."
"Don't bring Emily into this, Mulder. Not everything is about her. And as for investigative possibilities, I still need to talk to Marianne's mother."
"Fine. But if she's a dead end, we're flying back to DC tomorrow night."
The waiter slipped in with plates of lasagne, and slipped away again. The lone white rose bobbed in the breeze stirred by his passing.
"It's ironic, Mulder. In the language of flowers the flower that symbolizes truth is nightshade. Poisonous. Bittersweet. Deadly. What does that say about truth itself?"
Mulder clenched his teeth, but said nothing.
My wedding day.
I am draped in the proper white raiment of a bride. I am wrapped in the funeral shroud of my nuptials. My independence has been buried beneath orange blossoms and ivory roses. Orange blossoms are the wedding flower, according to the language of flowers. Rhys and I send each other little bouquets, rife with secret messages.
If I could send one now, I would send sprigs of cypress, sprigs of yew, butterfly weed and the Michaelmas daisy. Death, sorrow, 'let me go', and farewell.
But I can send nothing now.
A part of me is weary. Weary of the endless fighting, the endless battle against myself... and part of me wants to keep fighting, to tear this lace from my body, to dash it against the floor and run for all I'm worth.
There is talk of trouble in Europe. Perhaps it will be a war. Perhaps I may escape there, die valiantly in a trench, under a gun. But I am a woman, and would never be allowed.
Why do I need to go to Europe to die?
My face looks peaceful in the mirror, peaceful and sleepy and not quite like my face. Rhys will be waiting at the end of that long walk, and with him the life of a wife. No longer a woman--only a wife. Like my own mother who cleans all day, cooks, thankless.
No, thank you.
Filled with determination, I find the seam where my mother hid the love medallion, and tear it carefully. Out, out, into my hand. My hands do not tremble. I am not afraid.
I am somewhere else now, weak. My head hurts, and it's very warm. Or perhaps it is cold--the line between the two is blurry. All I know is that I'm terribly uncomfortable. The love medallion is still in my hand, although it has almost grown too heavy for me to hold. I am weak, weak, so tired. There is fragrant grass under my cheek, and the world is winding down so softly, so gently. It feels as thought it must be autumn, even though I know it is only a few days until the official beginning of the summer.
Rhys is near. I can hear him, taste him, smell him on the air. I can see now that he is beautiful. I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out.
I think, perhaps, that I might have been truly happy.
My dress, this sad shroud, is pale and soft and faded. The hem is brushed with dirt, and when I reach down to clean it away, my wrist smears red against the white. I don't remember doing that to myself.
Rhys is crying. I've... never seen him cry before.
His lips are moving, but I don't hear any words.
"Zinnia, my love," I whisper, "and a chrysanthemum."
I mourn your absence with a desolate heart.
What have I done?
Chapter Five: On Pierced Moment
one pierced moment whiter than the rest
e.e. cummings, "it is at moments after i have dreamed"
Scully's eyes opened slowly, fluttering as the morning sunshine lit on her face. Mulder slept soundly beside her, breathing evenly. Breath. Breath. Breath. For a moment, she closed her eyes and basked in the simple comfort the moment offered.
/God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference./
Sliding out of the bed as gently as she could, Scully looked back on her sleeping partner and smiled softly. "Sleep well, Mulder."
Forgoing the shower in favor of a hairbrush and some mascara, Scully chose the least wrinkled of her suits and scribbled a note to Mulder informing him of her intentions to go and speak to Marianne Reckwell's mother.
Scully locked the door behind herself, frowning at the rain that delighted in making a mess of her hair, her suit, and of course, her mascara.
Scully followed Marianne's directions carefully, and eventually pulled into the gravel driveway of a large, white house. The house had an aura of greatness, a sense of its own importance. Scully would not have been surprised if someone had told her that this was one of the first homes built in this part of the country. A carefully tended hedge blocked most of the front lawn from sight. Scully opened the latch on the white picket fence and hesitated before taking a step onto the property.
/You should not be here./
She was starting to doubt the voices in her head--they did not sound like her own conscience. They spoke in alien voices, old voices.
Shaking her head, Scully took a few steps up the cobblestoned path, and then froze. Just on the edge of her peripheral vision, the agent could see a gazebo blanketed with roses, pregnant blossoms heady with scent.
/A hand mirror. Shattered glass. "Will you marry me, my love?"/
She almost turned back. If she were one to believe in ghosts--/I do *not* believe in ghosts!/--she would have sworn that this property was alive with them. When she stepped forward, it felt as though she were brushing against ephemeral forms, gossamer gowns long dead.
Steeling herself, and digging her nails into her palm, Scully reached for the old-fashioned door knocker. She knocked three times, hoping wordlessly that there would be no one home, no one to usher into this house of ghosts and memories.
No such luck.
Less than thirty seconds passed before the door opened. A woman no taller than Scully (without the benefit of heels) smiled knowingly as she pulled the door back. She had bright eyes, blue as the eyes in her dream, as Scully's own eyes, and coils of grey braids piled on her head. Her dress was something left over from a different age, weathered brocade skirt falling to the ground covered by a long, flour-dusted apron.
"You must be Agent Scully, from the FBI. My daughter mentioned you might stop in. My name is Shannon. Shannon O'Shaunessy." The woman smiled kindly. "As Irish as you are, I'd wager. My hair was as red as yours once."
Scully opened her mouth, closed it, and then murmured, "Pleased to meet you, Mrs. O'Shaunessy. Could I have a few words?"
The woman gave an obsequious gesture and ushered the FBI Agent into her parlor. The room was a small museum, littered with shards left over from a life drawing to its close. Cataloguing the contents of the room for future reference, Scully realized morbidly that these things, these memories, these Crayola dreams and yellowed photographs of people long dead would fade when this woman did.
"You're here to ask me about Celeste, aren't you?" Shannon spoke aloud, forgoing such trivial formalities as a "please have a seat."
"Yes," Scully murmured, wondering if one of the many photographs housed a snapshot of the dead woman who had invaded her dreams. /I do *not* believe in ghosts! Idonotbelieveinghosts!/
"She's that one," the older woman declared, motioning to a photograph standing alone in an ice-crystal frame. Scully knew, even as she peered closer, exactly what the face would look like.
"She looks nothing like you," Shannon continued. "At least, not on the outside. Sweet girl, though. Not too many people in this family remember *that*. They only remember the broken wings, the shattered hopes. They only remember their angel's fall."
/Their angel's fall./
"What can you tell me about her? Marianne told me she died when you were young, but anything--"
"I was ten years old. Do you expect me to remember every detail? Because I do. She was my adored eldest sister. She was life and grace and beauty and everything I wanted to grow into. Sometimes I was jealous of her. We were the only girls in a family dominated by men. Oldest and youngest. And five brothers in between. Sometimes those brothers seemed like the most that stood between us. I was less than desired. My mother had lost her last child in a tragic miscarriage and vowed not to have any more children. Ever. I was, I suppose, the mistake child of their old age. Celeste was fifteen years older than me, and the next closest to my age was my brother John, who was eight when I was born."
Shannon moved about the room, gathering pictures in frames, dropping them on Scully's lap, pointing out the characters of her narrative.
"I had the advantage of being the baby of the family, though. I could get away with murder. John--poor John, rest his soul--he bore the brunt of the punishment for my rambunctious stunts. And Celeste presided over it all like a Queen. I thought she was a Queen. I adored her. And hated her. And wanted to be her. I was ten--you're not too far away from that age yourself--you must remember what it's like to be ten years old, painfully awkward, all legs and arms and head, with no breasts and little grace."
Scully smiled sadly. "Yes, I know. I remember. I had a beautiful, graceful older sister as well. I remember the envy I felt when she went out on dates, with garish makeup I thought was elegant at the time. I remember."
"Dates, yes. Celeste was engaged almost as long as I knew her. She and Rhys--"
Scully's heart stopped for a moment, then sped up, pumping double time. /I should have anticipated this! God grant me the serenity.../
Shannon continued blithely, ignoring the horror painted across the FBI Agent's face. "She and Rhys grew up together. All those childish games--running in the fields, jumping streams. I always found it so difficult to rearrange the image of my sister to include coming home muddy and stinking after a day tramping about outdoors. My first clear memories of my sister don't occur until I was four or five--she was older then, sophisticated. But she still had Rhys. There was a strange assumption made by both of them--they'd grown up together, they'd grow old together. And everyone assumed that was exactly what both of them wanted."
"But Celeste didn't want it. She wanted more. She wanted freedom," Scully whispered the words, gazing at the serene woman in the portrait on her lap.
"I knew Celeste wanted more than a simple life. She wanted adventure. She wanted the same thrilling elation every day that had accompanied her childhood feats of daring: jumping over streams, hide-and-go-seek in the darkest woods. Although I was the youngest, I'd like to think I knew her the best. Because I was so small, she would tell me things. She trusted me in ways she couldn't trust the other members of the family. She told me all her secrets, thinking I was too young to remember, too young to tell anyone. And I never did tell anyone. Even after her death, I held all her secrets dear to my heart and played stupid when my family asked questions. I was... so angry at my family. So angry, because the only ones who *really* grieved were Rhys and myself. And perhaps my mother. My mother knew something of Celeste, but instead of listening to her, instead of fanning her flame, my mother quenched her, bound her up in a wedding gown, and wept when all the dreams she'd imagined for her daughter were shattered on the edge of a razor blade."
/My dress, this sad shroud, is pale and soft and faded. The hem is brushed with dirt, and when I reach down to clean it away, my wrist smears red against the white. I don't remember doing that to myself./
"Rhys, though. She misunderstood Rhys from the beginning of their engagement, I think. He adored her. He wanted nothing more than to be with her, to raise a family with her. And she saw that as a trap, a downward spiral into a family just like her own. Too many children, and not enough love to go around. It's ironic, Agent Scully, that of the seven children, five died young. It's as though Celeste's death started an epidemic in our family until finally, finally, only John and I were left. And of course, there was the war. My three eldest brothers died in that god awful war. Rhys died in Europe, too, fighting brilliantly, fighting bravely. He was awarded the highest commendations, the most valuable medals of honor--posthumously. It's so easy to congratulate someone after they are dead."
"You loved him too, didn't you?"
Shannon glanced at the agent through her lowered eyelashes. "You're not so blind, I think. I loved him in the way and ten-year-old might love a future brother. He... paid positive attention to me. He was a wonderful man."
"But he died."
"What did he have to live for? He'd lost Celeste, and she was everything that had ever been important to him. He was a pacifist, you know, but the moment the army called for volunteers, he was there. He went to Europe not to fight, not to defend his country. He went to Europe to die, to forget her, to end a life doomed to be lived without her."
The older woman rustled around on a lower shelf for a moment, and finally resurfaced with a leather-bound book. Opening it with careful fingers, Shannon removed an old, yellowed photograph and passed it to the agent. "That's him. He looked dashing in that uniform, didn't he?"
Scully looked down into the picture and fought the urge to weep. /Is that my reaction? Or hers?/
"Why me? Why try to talk to me?"
"I don't know. Perhaps Celeste sees in you something of a kindred spirit. Perhaps she's trying to warn you. Perhaps we've got common Irish ancestors."
Scully dropped the picture onto her lap and wrapped her arms around herself tightly. She was so cold. "I don't believe in ghosts. I don't believe in any of this. This is not happening to me."
"I don't believe you, young miss. Anyone with half a brain can see that you're lost, suffering. You can't fool me. And you can't fool Celeste. She's chosen you--for one reason or another. And you'll play out this sad drama to the end, or you'll never have peace."
Scully squeezed her eyes shut, trying to dam the flood of memories that were--not--her--memories. "Do you still have my dress?"
Shannon's mouth dropped open. "Celeste?"
The younger woman's eyes snapped open, glinting with dangerous fire. "Who else would it be? You were always a good girl, Shannon. Did you keep my dress?"
"It's... in the attic."
Scully rose to her feet, and for a moment Shannon could have sworn it was a taller woman, with golden hair, who looked down on her. The agent shook her head and replied in a lighter tone, "Do you happen to have any other artifacts left over from Celeste's life?"
The old woman, shaken, nodded and motioned for the agent to follow her upstairs.
The attic seemed even older than the rest of the house. It was dark, cobwebby, draped in dreams that were doomed never to see the light of day. There were ghosts in every corner. A dressmaker's dolly, naked, was propped up against the wall, an old-fashioned straw hat perched lazily on the bald head. Running her fingers reverently across the weathered straw, Scully gently toyed with ribbons once blue silk, now grey and tattered. The attic held the scent of wonder--and the memory of rose petals.
Scully helped the older woman pull a heavy wooden trunk from one dusty corner. The stench of mothballs and old dust filled the room when the agent opened the lid. The trunk was filled with memories, keepsakes gathered by a tragic family. A delicate collar, dripping with sparkling rhinestones was removed, followed by a collection of strange flowers, dried and pressed. /"Zinnia, my love, and a chrysanthemum."/
Folded in layers of soft silk and tissue and dried rose petals was the wedding gown Scully had dreamed of. Fine, soft lace and old silk spilled into her hands, and she found herself weeping. This gown, this gown of shattered hopes, resting so comfortably in her arms--what did it mean? What could it mean?
Scully searched the lowest hem and found the torn fabric where the love medallion once had been. Digging around in her pocket, she found the bronze medallion and looked at it carefully.
"Marianne gave you that." It was neither an accusation nor a question. "Do you understand the significance of it?"
"Marianne only mentioned that it was a love medallion--passed down to brides within the family."
"One side of the coin shows Eros, the other--Thanatos. Love and Death, hand in hand. Yet opposite. Love can never conquer Death, and Death can never touch Love."
A sudden, piercing pain sent Scully to her knees, hands clutching her head, gown and medallion, Eros and Thanatos forgotten. Her head was filled with the maddening tintinnabulation of a million bells. "Make. It. Stop."
Shannon reached her hand forward, but was pushed back.
"Mulder, Mulder, where are you?"
Scully wailed as the pain grew fiercer, "He smothers me with every glance, until we drown! We drown! Human voices wake us and we drown! He smothers, he smothers, he smothers with every glance! I. Must. Have. My. Own!"
"Celeste, stop! Celeste, leave her out of this!"
Scully whirled on the old woman, spearing her with eyes full of death. "Stay out of this little sister. You don't know anything about this. She needs me. She needs to know what I know. He'll destroy her. Like Rhys destroyed me!"
Snatching the dress and the medallion, Scully fled for the door, weeping, screaming. Shannon shook her head and watched the other woman go, whispering, "Leave her be, Celeste. She is not for you. She is not for you."
Shannon didn't leave the attic until she heard the car wheels screech. She knew what would happen next. God help her, she knew what would happen next. It was only a matter of time.
Chapter Six: To Lose Thee
To lose thee were to lose myself.
Milton, "Paradise Lost"
Mulder glanced anxiously at his watch for the eighteenth time in six minutes and wondered where the hell his partner had gone. She wasn't answering her cell phone (he was beginning to wonder why she had one at all), and he was worried.
Well, worried was an understatement. Her behavior had been so... un-Scully-like since the beginning of this case that he was contemplating bundling her up and sending her to the FBI shrink the moment the plane landed in DC.
Plane. Their plane was due to leave in four hours and twenty-nine minutes. Mulder had taken the liberty of packing her things, tidying her room, and making sure the manager had been well-paid for the bloodstained carpet and the stress of dealing with "near-psychotic" FBI agents who were "just lucky" she wasn't "ratting to their superiors about their unprofessional behavior".
But there was no Scully.
Finally, in a last ditched effort, Mulder called Marianne Reckwell and asked for directions to her mother's home.
"Agent Scully promised me that my mother was not a suspect!"
"She isn't, Mrs. Reckwell, I assure you. But I can't get hold of my partner, and the last I knew, she was going to speak with your mother. That was several hours ago."
The woman on the other end of the line gave an audible sigh and reluctantly outlined the route Mulder would need to take to reach her mother's home.
Mulder paid no attention to the ghosts in the front yard or the rose arbor that had so startled Scully earlier. He knocked powerfully on the door as a feeling of desperation rose in his gut, choking him with fear. /Something is wrong. Scully's in danger, and I don't know where the hell she is!/
Mulder looked down at the small woman and took a deep breath. "Was Agent Scully here to speak with you this morning?"
"And you are?"
Mulder took out his badge. "Sorry. I'm her partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder."
The woman nodded knowingly. "I'm Shannon O'Shaunessy, and yes, your partner was here. She left less than an hour ago."
"Do you know where--?"
"No, no, that's up to you."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, I know who *you* are. You're in love with her. You're the one Celeste is trying to protect her from. I know you."
Mulder clenched his fists and asked calmly, "Could you please enlighten me? Celeste? And why should Agent Scully need protection from me? We've been partners for more than six years."
"Celeste is my sister. My dead sister. She died in 1939, by her own hand, on her wedding day."
Mulder frowned and began pacing along the veranda. "What does a dead woman have to do with Scully?"
Shannon steepled her fingers and bit her bottom lip before explaining, in the tone of voice one would use with a child, "Agent Mulder, I'm not sure if you share the skepticism of your partner, but Celeste is... haunting Agent Scully. Possessing her. Celeste was supposed to marry a man named Rhys--a man she had known all her life--but she felt... trapped by the marriage, trapped by the thought of a life without adventure--"
"I still don't see what this has to do with my partner. I don't think Scully's life with me lacks adventure in any way. If your sister is haunting her, there should be some correlation, something that draws the two of them together. "
"You mean other than the fact that my great-great-grandmother was a Scully from Ireland. I think Celeste is trying to protect your partner, trying to save her."
"From me? Why?" As he said it, Mulder cringed. Shannon attempted to give him an explanation as she understood it, but he didn't hear her words. He, the expert profiler, could not grasp the unfamiliar quirks of a dead woman and form them into an understandable psychological explanation. /Let me tell you the reasons why Scully should be protected from me. My quest has quenched her, tied her down, ended her hopes of a brilliant career. She has suffered, and suffered, and suffered, and I am always too late to stop it. Even when she fights it, even when she pulls through at the last moment--it is her strength, not mine, that saves her. If there is anyone Scully ought to be protected from, it would be me./
He remembered the tears on her face after they'd made love. He thought of the sadness in her eyes when he kissed her, the shadows in her voice when she murmured, "I love you, too, Mulder."
Closing his fingers into a hurt fist, Mulder took a deep breath. "What happens now? Where might Scully have gone?"
"I'm afraid she's gone to repeat the past."
Mulder froze. "What are you telling me?"
"The only escape my sister could envision was suicide. I'm afraid Celeste and your partner are vying for control *within* one body."
"Scully would never kill herself! It goes against the tenets of her faith--she has too much to live for--" /She wouldn't do that to me!/
Shannon frowned and wrapped a knitted shawl around her shoulders to keep out the chill and the rain. "I don't think you understand the situation completely, Mr. Mulder."
Mulder shook his head fiercely, clenching both hands into fists. "Don't you understand? I'm losing her--and there's nothing I can do! She's been slipping away since we took this case--" /Since *I* took this case.../ "--and I can't stop it!"
"No, Mr. Mulder, I think it is you who does not understand. There *is* nothing you can do. Celeste has her now, and it's up to your Scully to escape her. If she can. If she even wants to. There is nothing you can do. Nothing. And every time you push her, every time you ask her what's wrong, she hates you a little more. Celeste, in the end, hated the only man she ever loved. And Scully is trapped in Celeste's memories now."
Defiance and rage slipped out of Mulder, drowning him in apathy and a hollow sorrow. "Where do we go?"
"We go where my sister went sixty years ago, and we pray we don't come too late."
Mulder followed Shannon's directions blindly. Now left, now right--if someone had asked him to outline on a map the route he took, he wouldn't have been able to do it for a million dollars. He was trapped in an oscillating downward spiral of emotion, of memory. He thought of every time he'd taken Scully for granted--and every time he'd almost lost her. Thoughts of her cancer stuck out prominently. He remembered her unwillingness to compromise--her unwillingness to accept death as the final destination of her disease.
He thought of how strong she'd been, and how lost he was. He remembered, with eidetic clarity, every moment he'd spent beside her while she lay sleeping, and how easily he'd been able to kiss her cheek or show some sign of affection, emotion, love. He remembered how he'd only been able to cry when she was asleep. He was afraid of her, afraid that if she knew the depth of his sorrow, she'd try to hide her pain from him, hide the true extent of her illness. He was afraid he'd be left in the dark while she died inside. He was afraid he wouldn't be allowed to die with her.
/I thought I knew her so well. I thought I understood everything, without effort, without thought. We were so in synch, I thought. We were so together. And I still took her for granted every minute of every day, because I knew, in the end, that she would never leave me./
"I was so cocky," he said aloud, catching Shannon off-guard. "I was so arrogant, so confident. I assumed she'd always be there. And, at the same time, I always dreaded the inevitable moments like this one. The moments where I realized that there was nothing I could do--that everything was in her hands."
"You're a lot like him. You're gentle. You'll die if you lose her."
Mulder squeezed his eyes shut for an instant, pushing back thoughts of his lonely apartment, a gun in his mouth, at his temple.
"It's true, isn't it?" Shannon pressed.
Mulder glanced at her. "I've gone to the ends of the earth for her, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I've given her more than six years of my life. She's given me everything. She has made me whole. If she dies, I die, and it will only be a formality when my heart stops beating."
"Turn right here."
The car swerved under his controlled touch, and his eyes returned, unfocussed, to the road.
Mulder sped up when he saw Scully's rental car turned into a ditch on the side of the road. Images of blood and death and broken limbs filled his eyes. Without thought for his passenger, he slammed the car into park and sprinted through the rain to the car in the ditch. Scully was no where to be found, although her clothes were tossed carelessly in the back seat.
"Scully!" Mulder howled, turning in swift circles, scanning the area around him for any sign of his partner.
Rape. Murder. Kidnaping.
Something worse than all of these.
A dead woman in control of his partner's actions.
Mulder turned his attention from the horizons to the mud under his feet. There. The imprint of a tiny foot, filled with rain, slowly melting under his gaze. The footprints headed away from the ditch, toward a fence and a field. He felt his heartbeat quicken.
"Mr. Mulder--she'll be there. In that field. Be careful." Shannon pressed her fingers into the side of his face and smiled sadly. "She is not Celeste. You must try and make her see that."
Mulder said nothing, simply nodding into the woman's hand. Turning away from her, he ran in the direction of Scully's footprints, hopping the fence carefully. Rain was pelting down in an unforgiving torrent, instantly soaking his suit and his skin through his trench coat. The rain was cold for spring, leaving a sodden chill in his bones.
"Scully! Scully! Talk to me!"
The mud sucked at his shoes, pulling him down, slowing his run. /How long has she been here? What has she done? Oh, Scully.../
"What are you doing here, Mulder?"
Mulder turned sharply and found Scully standing directly behind him, like a drowned goddess. Her hair was dark with rain and black tear streaks of mascara stained her face. She was wearing an old wedding dress that had been made for someone taller. The dress was too long--the sleeves fell down over her wrists so only her fingertips showed beneath the lace, and the hem dragged pitifully through the thick mud.
"What are you doing here, Mulder?" She repeated in a voice more grave, less human.
"I... couldn't find you. Shannon brought me here."
Scully tossed her head and snorted indelicately. "Shannon. That little girl is always getting into trouble."
Mulder took a step back. The voice sliding sibilantly out of Scully's mouth was--not--Scully's--voice. "Scully, please. It's cold out here. It's raining."
"What care I for rain? For cold?" Scully's eyes sparked blue fire that could not be quenched by the rain falling from the sky. She raised her arms and Mulder saw that in one hand she held her gun, and in the other a bunch of sticks and straggling weeds.
"What--what are you doing, Scully?"
The woman who both was and was not his partner smiled ferally. Tucking her gun under one arm, she tossed a stick at Mulder. "Nightshade, for you, for your goddamned truth that kills everything around you. A Michaelmas daisy--it means farewell." Her voice rose in pitch, ethereal. Mulder thought of Banshees and Ophelia. "Butterfly weed, butterfly weed."
"What does that mean?" Mulder asked softly.
"Let. Me. Go."
Mulder lowered his head, staring at the broken twigs she called butterfly weed.
"And hemlock, Mulder. This last one is hemlock. Do you know what it means?"
He said nothing.
"Do you? Do you know what it means? It means 'you will be my death.'" She threw the rest of her twigs at him. He felt them hit his body, irritating and small. He could not raise his head.
"Scully... you're not yourself."
"Who am I then, Mulder? Who am I, Psychologist Profiler? What does my behavior tell you? What does my behavior say?"
"Scully--you're--Shannon says you've been possessed. I think she may be right."
She laughed bitterly, bitingly. "You don't know that, Mulder. I can hear it in your voice. I'm here because of you. You push and you push and I'm sick to death of going where you want me to go. I am myself. I am my own person. I don't need you." She raised her arm toward him--the one that had held the twigs, and he saw a tiny, precise cut, weeping drops of blood onto the lace.
He grabbed her arm before she had a chance to pull away. "Oh, God, oh, Scully--what have you done?"
"I made it slow, Rhys."
"I'm Mulder. Not Rhys, Mulder. And you're Dana Scully, not Celeste."
"I made it slow... I can handle the torture. And then it will be all over. No more pushing, no more prodding. No life of torpid mediocrity. No family ties, no responsibilities." He could hear the weakness in her voice, and it terrified him.
"Scully, please. We have to get you to a hospital."
"No," she snapped. "I don't want you to foil this. I don't want you to stop me. You won't have me."
"Then I won't. I'll back away... I'll leave you if that's what you want, Scully. But don't *kill* yourself! Why would you do this? You could have stopped me at any time. You could have told me--"
"You wouldn't see," she snarled. "I cried in the darkness, Mulder. You wouldn't see and you wouldn't see! Do you see me now? Do you *see* me *now*!?" She wrenched her wrist out of his grip, taking steps backward as she did so.
"I've always seen you, Scully. You are everything I hold dear. You are everything I admire."
She gripped the gun tightly, waving it in his face and she continued to step backward. "You obfuscate the truth, Mulder! You search and you search and there are only lies. You feed me lies--you feed yourself lies! Oh, I can see you now for what you are--you're an emotional vampire! You drain me for sustenance and leave me to die. So fuck you, Mulder, but I can kill myself! I don't need you to do it for me. I'm hollow, Mulder! I'm a goddamned husk, a shell of a person, and I've got only you to blame for it!"
Her words stung him so painfully that he could only stand and stare at her, tears streaming mindlessly down his face.
"Your shadows have become more a part of me than your body ever was." Her words were dipped in acid, deliberately cruel.
She tilted her head and looked at him carefully. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "This is all wrong." She looked down at her wrist, noticed the blood and smiled. "So precise. This is all wrong."
"Scully--" He attempted to step towards her, but her moment of calm shattered.
"Stay away, Rhys--I've warned you. Stay away. She's not yours anymore, Mulder. I've saved her."
"You're killing her."
"She'll be happier. She'll be free."
"She's always been free, Celeste. And I'm sure she's been relatively happy. I love her."
"They say that, yes. But what is love, Mulder? You'll only swallow her, force her to assimilate."
"Is that what you thought Rhys was trying to do?"
The woman's eyes narrowed. "I know that's what he was trying to do. He wanted me to be his little wife."
"I think you're wrong."
"And I think you overestimate your understanding of the human psyche."
Mulder lunged forward, reaching for the gun, but Scully, startled, stumbled backward, tripping over the long, long train of the gown that had tangled itself around her legs.
A gunshot echoed in the rain and someone screamed.
Scully dropped the gun, eyes wild. Mulder clutched at his side, and squeezed his eyes shut to deny the pain.
"What have I done?" Scully's voice quavered as she reached for her partner with shaking hands. "Oh, God, Mulder, what have I done?" She pressed her hands over the wound, but blood welled out between her narrow fingers.
"Nothing... nothing you could have prevented, Scully." He bit his lip and wished he'd brought his cell. Perhaps Shannon would hear the shot and call 911. "This wasn't your fault." He removed her hands and pressed a fist into the weeping wound.
"Mulder, I'm... so sorry." The weakness was loud in her voice. She looked at the blood on her wrist, on the lace. Drops of blood had fallen to her skirt, mixing with the mud and the rain to form large, red-brown stains on the white. "Zinnia and a chrysanthemum, my love."
"What does that mean?"
"Mulder?" She looked up at him with hollow, haunted eyes. He could hardly see the blue for the shadows. "Mulder, what have I done? What's happening to me? I. Am. Not. Myself." And she fainted, her hand reaching for him, red with his blood.
He looked down at their blood mingling in the mud and wondered, realistically, if there was hope for either of them.
/There's no way in hell we're going to make that six o'clock flight after all./
Darkness claimed him shortly after.
Chapter Seven: La Belle Dame Sans Merci
"And there she lulled me to sleep,
"I saw pale kings and princes too,
John Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"
Mulder opened his eyes slowly, and stared at the white, white ceiling lit by achingly flourescent light. It took him several moments to realize that the antiseptic smell, the whiteness and the bandage immobilizing his midsection were all indicative of a hospital stay. Someone had pulled the blanket tight under his chin, and fluffed his one regulation pillow.
He remembered the streaks of blood on Scully's wrists.
He remembered the horror in her eyes, the loss. He remembered the sound of her voice that was not her voice.
He tried to forget her words.
He reached out blindly in the general direction he knew the emergency button would be, and pressed down several times. /How did I get here? Where am I? Where's Scully?/
A nurse popped her head in and smiled brightly--too brightly. He grimaced as she chirped, "It's nice to see you up, Mr. Mulder."
"How--?" he croaked. Swallowing painfully to dampen his throat, he asked, more clearly, "How long have I been here?"
"Twenty-four hours. You were rushed into ER with a gunshot wound, but it was clean. Unfortunately you lost quite a bit of blood at the scene. A little surgery and a blood transfusion had you back to the land of the living in no time."
"My partner?" he asked frantically. "What about Scully?"
"The woman in the wedding dress? She--it was a close call for her, Mr. Mulder, I won't hedge words. She lost a lot of blood at the scene. She flatlined in the ambulance, but the paramedics were able to stabilize her. She's resting peacefully, but has shown no sign of waking."
"But she's alive."
"Of course, Mr. Mulder. You two caused quite a stir, let me tell you. We don't get many gunshot victims here--especially FBI agents taking shots at each other. Your side's going to hurt for a while yet, and you'll be living in a wheelchair for a week. Too much walking will pull the wound open again, understood? Your records have been faxed from DC, and I'll tell you now, there will be none of this jumping up and running out when you're not fully healed. Is it true that you snuck out of the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head last summer?"
Mulder nodded weakly. "When can I see her? I need to see her."
"Please," he whispered, in a voice alive with sorrow.
"If you lie very still and try to sleep today, I'll try and pull some strings to get the two of you in the same room." She fussed with his blanket and checked the machines monitoring his heart. "It shouldn't be too hard."
Mulder freed one of his hands from the blankets, grasped the nurses fingers and kissed the back of her hand. "Thank you," he whispered. "That would mean the world to me."
Smiling gently, she pushed back his sweat-dampened hair and tucked his hand back inside the blankets. "You go to sleep now, Mr. Mulder. You're still weak. I'll see what I can do."
He opened his mouth to protest, but found that he was, in fact, very tired. Instead, he smiled and closed his eyes compliantly. Sleep was not far away.
Mulder couldn't comfortably lay on his side, so he kept his head turned toward his partner until his neck screamed in protest at being so abused.
Scully lay, weak and white against the hospital linen, drained of blood and life. Her heart monitor made comforting, even blips that reassured Mulder even when his neck wouldn't allow him to look at her anymore. But she showed no sign of waking. The doctors chatted over her inert body, unable to come to any conclusions about her endless sleep. They only talked when they thought Mulder was sleeping, but with his increased health came increased insomnia.
/Looks like everything's back to normal./
He closed his eyes when he heard the door open. The sound of the footsteps was unfamiliar, so he opened his eyes again. Shannon stood between the two of them, glancing from bed to bed.
"You're awake, Mr. Mulder."
He nodded weakly. "Can't say the same for Scully. She sleeps and sleeps--but it's a sleep of death. The doctors are baffled--I hear them talking when they think I'm asleep. They're afraid for her. They don't understand her. She ought to be perfectly healthy--but she's barely alive. She's living on the whim of the machines she's been hooked up to. If she gets any worse I know she'll reach the critical stage where her living will makes the decision of life or death. I've been here before."
"There's hope. We can hope that since she survived that fatal meeting of past and present in the field, she defeated the shades of Celeste."
Mulder sighed and said nothing.
"You have my prayers, Mr. Mulder. You have my best wishes for her recovery." Shannon reached out and brushed the hair from his brow. "Rest, Fox Mulder, FBI. She's out of your hands for now."
He nodded again and tears formed in his eyes, angrily brushed away. "I can't rest. She's hiding from me in there," he whispered after several long moments. "This sleep is her nepenthe--her way of blocking out the pain I've cause her in this life. She sleeps, she dreams--she drowns out the sorrows and the shadows of death. I know you, Scully. I know what you're doing. Come back." The unspoken 'I need you' hung in the air, heard by both.
Shannon smiled sorrowfully in abstract understanding.
The room is dark, but not uncomfortably so. I feel warm here, sheltered, as though nothing in the world can harm me. A nagging voice in the back of my head warns me that everything is not as simple as it appears, that even thought this is a dream (and I know that it's a dream) there is more at stake than a good night's rest.
The darkness ceases to feel comforting at that point.
I turn my head; a woman in a white dress stares back at me with bold eyes, blue and unassuming. She has the type of golden hair I spent years wishing for, but could never quite achieve from bottles or salons. Hers is natural. I feel jealous for a fraction of a moment.
Slowly, making sure I watch every movement, she raises her arms and rests them flat against the table, palms facing up. I can see the streaks of blood on the lace at her wrists. It seems as though this woman has been bleeding forever. She's been haunting me. Only I can't remember the reason why.
"I'm Special Agent Dana Scully, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation," I say aloud, like a mantra, like a prayer.
It seems strange that I have to make myself clear in my own dream, but I don't spend too long dwelling on it.
"You should see a doctor immediately."
"I thought you were a doctor."
I mentally slap myself. Of course I'm a doctor.
"What are you doing here?"
"I've come to make sure you don't back out. I've come to make sure you go through with the plan."
"Don't you remember anything?" She's using the same tone of voice Melissa used to use when she thought I was being particularly childish. "You shot your partner. You cut your wrists."
I look down and am startled to see that she is not lying. Weals of bloodless red mark the tender flesh of my wrists. I feel dizzy all of a sudden, disoriented.
"Why are you doing this to me?" I murmur. She is sapping my strength rapidly, this stranger in her white dress. She is sucking everything into herself, including my will, my resistance. I have the feeling something terrible will happen if I submit to her. "Why me, of all people?"
"We have a connection, you and I. You are restless and so am I. You are tortured. You made the fatal mistake, my dear. You gave him everything you are, you allowed him to convert you, to assimilate you, to make you his."
I am confused. To say the least. "You think Mulder did this? To me? You've got to be kidding."
Her smile is impish, secretive, dark. "Don't you remember, Dana? You cried after he took you. And he didn't understand--just as he never understands."
"It's complicated. Mulder and I have always been complicated. We work together. We're partners. We're--not supposed to have the kind of relationship we're both inclined to have."
Her name springs to mind in a flash of recognition. Celeste. A fragment of a memory accompanies it.
"You loved him, Celeste. He took your face in his hands and kissed your eyelids. You laughed and tucked red roses into his hair, his pockets. What was it? What was it that terrified you into... this. Into death?"
"Silence," she breathes. Tears hover on her eyelashes, threatening to fall. "Your partner is the source of your pain. It's his fault you're wounded, suffering."
"No," I say, sternly. "There is no evidence to prove that. Mulder is not the source of my problems. He may not understand me as well as he thinks he does, or as well as I'd like him to, but he's far from the source of my pain."
"Stop it!" Celeste cries sharply, slamming one fist into the table. "You know I'm telling the truth--you went with me, you wore the dress, you lived my memory!"
"Yes. I lived *your* memory. It was not mine."
"You don't love him."
"Like you didn't love Rhys?"
"Stop talking about him! We're talking about you!"
"You said you're restless, Celeste. Are you restless because you know now how wrong you were? Are you restless because you've realized your eternal mistake?"
"Stop it!" The other woman wails. I'm tortured by the pain on her face. I think, perhaps, she doesn't quite realize how wrong she has been. "I must have my own!"
"Independence does not mean self-sufficiency. At least, it doesn't mean that you must be alone!"
"You said 'Zinnia, my love, and a chrysanthemum' as you died! Don't you remember? Don't you remember those last moments of anguish? You'd better remember--you made me relive them! For all your airs--you didn't hate him! You loved him--admit it, Celeste! You're the one who has been lying to both of us!"
I'm disoriented. Celeste is gone.
It's a hospital. The air is antiseptic, cloying. Breathing too deeply is prohibited.
I don't want to relive this.
Mulder's hands on my face, his lips on my forehead. I'm dying. The cancer is spreading through my body; I can feel it like poison in my veins. I know it's only a matter of time--I want him to back away before it's too late, before he's too close and he loses me.
Before I lose him. I want to be apart. I want to be alone. I don't want to lose this battle, because to lose this battle means defeat in more ways than one.
I push him away with declarations of "I'm fine" until even I can't dispute the lost weight, the gauntness of my frame, the feel of taut skin against bones so fragile I feel they might break if I touch them too hard.
I feel like I might shatter if Mulder takes my face in his hands, kisses my forehead.
I know he'll take it too hard if I die. I've put a notation of suicide watch in my will to protect him. I'll be damned if he drags himself into death with me.
I am disoriented. Scully is gone.
It's a rose arbor. The blossoms are fading, yet strangely aromatic. It should smell like death, but only life abounds.
He is beautiful. I can't imagine spending one day without him, one moment. But I see my mother--the endless suffering of her days, and I... I'm afraid of that end.
I'm too blind to see that everything must not end as my family has ended. I'm too blind to see the other blossoms waiting to bloom after the roses are done.
Suddenly, suddenly, I'm drowning in blood. I'm drowning in the sound of my gun going off. There is the sound of someone screaming. I think it is me. Mulder offers a muffled grunt as he hits the ground. Rhys weeps, he holds my hand, he dies in a pool of his own blood in a gutter in France. Mulder touches my face, Rhys touches my face. Everything is tears.
"What have we done?"
I scream. I scream to end it all, but it doesn't end.
Chapter Eight: To the Marriage of True Minds
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
William Shakespeare, "Sonnet 116"
Mulder watched Scully's eyelids flicker, without allowing himself the luxury of hope. It was the most movement she'd made in over twenty-four hours. Her cheekbones and collarbones were too prominent above the blanket. She was too thin. The doctors chattered about cancer, about treatment, about brain damage, about Scully's living will. Mulder ignored them. He imagined that under the blankets, her hips would be too bony as well.
He wondered, absently, if he'd ever feel her hips pressed against him again. The thought was killed sharply. Brutally. It was more comforting to think of cancer.
Scully's fingers were limp in his, cold, waxen. Lifeless. The only life left was in her eyelids, in the filigree of delicate blood vessels that traced the papery skin. When they stopped, so would she.
He didn't allow himself to think about what would happen to him.
I approach her gently, because I know she has been wounded.
"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I don't think either of us wanted to hurt like that."
"I killed him," she whispers back, as though we are sisters sharing secrets in the dark.
"He killed himself, in his own way. He loved you, Celeste. He only wanted to get back to you."
She closes her eyes; there is something close to relief on her face.
"And you," she says calmly. "You push him away. You try to make him believe your indifference. You *are* like me, no matter how you dispute it. You don't see how independence and love can reconcile with one another."
"Eros and Thanatos. I think... I think I've reached a... turning point. I don't think I can go back to what I was. Love is not assimilation... it's not submission. It's taking everything unique to yourself and laying it on the line for the other person. Love is nothing more--and nothing less--than being completely honest with yourself and with the person whom you love."
Celeste touches the side of my face gently. "I am so sorry for misunderstanding... I'm so sorry for almost making the past repeat, with the same dire consequences. And I'm not sorry, because I think I finally understand."
She smiles again, comforting. She is so different now from the person who invaded my every thought, my dreams, my life.
"Just remember... when you wake up... about being honest."
The dark is empty again, and I am alone.
Scully opened her eyes tentatively, afraid of the reality she might face. /Gunshot. Scream. Mulder./ The room was empty, steeped with the un-lived-in feel of all hospitals. She pressed the call button and was relieved when a nurse pushed the door open moments later.
"She returns to the land of the living at last."
"Mulder," Scully said.
"He had to take a call--I'm sure he'll be back in here hovering by your side in no time at all. Don't you worry your pretty little head about it."
She wanted to say something about not having a pretty little head, thank you very much, but was distracted by warm thoughts of Mulder hovering by her bedside. /He must forgive me. He must know what happened. He must *believe* what happened./
The door was pushed open again, with exuberance. Mulder bounded in, wincing as something pulled at his side. The nurse shot him a warning glance and departed to get a doctor.
"I'm so sorry about that, Mulder. I... wasn't myself."
"Oh, this. It's a scratch, really. Scully, you'll never believe what happened! Marianne Reckwell just called to tell me that ten minutes ago she walked into the living room and found her daughter curled up in the armchair, sound asleep."
"I suppose you're counting this as proof of your alien abduction theory."
Mulder grinned impishly. "Scully--I'm so glad you're awake."
"What, and leave you here without me? You'd drown in the perpetual mess of your office. You'd be fired for never doing the paperwork. I know where I'm needed."
His smile was heavy with meaning beyond mere words.
Marianne ushered the two agents into her home, smiling broadly. She looked healthier, happier, younger. For a moment, Scully envied her. She wondered what it would take to make herself look healthier, happier, younger. Marianne embraced the female agent tightly and sighed, "Thank you" into her hair.
"Hi," said a little voice.
"Hello," Scully said, smiling as she instinctively knelt. Cheryl grinned up at her with the instantaneous trust of an outgoing child. A part of Scully wanted to protect the girl, warn her. Instead she offered her hand.
"You're Miss Scully."
"And you're Cheryl. I've heard so much about you."
"From your mom?"
"Yeah. And some other people."
Scully smiled gently.
Cheryl scuffed her toes against the floor and grabbed a piece of paper off the table. "Thank you, Miss Scully. I know you looked very hard for me. Auntie says thank you, too. And Emily says, 'I love you, Mommy.'"
Scully froze. Mulder's intake of breath was blasphemously loud in the sudden silence. The little girl only smiled up at her and stretched forward one small hand. Scully accepted the offering with trembling fingers.
"It's happy, Miss Scully. A happy place for you. Emily says that sometimes you're sad. I drew some dancing onions--those other things are Emily's potatoes." Cheryl giggled effervescently. "We were making you a salad."
"Thank you, Cheryl. Very much."
The little girl lowered her dark eyes, suddenly shy. Before she could drown in the Crayola swirls of the picture Cheryl had given her, Scully felt the gentle pressure of Mulder's fingers on her back, pressing her into reality. Scully reached out and squeezed the little girl's hand one last time before leaving.
Scully looked herself over one last time before throwing the last of her makeup in the suitcase and zipping it shut. Her suit hung loosely on her body; she had lost a disturbing amount of weight in the hospital. None of the clothes she had brought with her fit. /I'll have to wear some of the clothes I bought when I had cancer until I can gain the weight back./
There had been a sort of dark tension between her and Mulder since the hospital--since before the hospital. She knew he didn't blame her for the gunshot, but she could remember some of the hurtful words she had spoken when under Celeste's influence. /Emotional vampire. Oh, God./
"Scully, you almost ready in there?"
"Yes," she called back. She wanted to take a mental snapshot of this place, this dirty, unpleasant motel so like all the rest of the motels they spent their time in. And at the same time, so different. She wanted to remember the kamikaze moth the first night, the vanilla bubbles, the gentle banter with Mulder through the wall, the first kiss--so different from what she had expected. She wanted to crystalize the feelings of terror she'd felt waking to her own blood and shattered glass and rose petals. She wanted --desperately-- to remember what it had felt like to make love to Mulder.
She wasn't sure she'd ever feel that again. He certainly hadn't made any moves toward restarting that facet of their relationship. But, then again, neither had she.
Finally, she pushed open the connecting door and smiled weakly at her partner. "Will you remember this place ten years from now, Mulder?"
"Sure," he said nonchalantly, hoisting his bag over one shoulder and grasping the handle of her suitcase. "I remember everything, as you might recall."
She nodded, fighting the irrational urge to cry.
He looked at her with interest, and anxiety barely concealed.
"I'm so sorry for the way I treated you. You didn't deserve any of it."
Mulder shook his head. "Forget it, Scully."
She hesitated for a moment before closing her eyes and saying, "No, no, I'm sorry, Mulder, but I can't forget it. And neither can you, so we might as well stop pretending. Everything is not fine. We--we--did--something back there. We crossed a line. I need to--I want to know what happened."
"Look, Scully--I should be the one apologizing. I practically seduced you--oh, hell. I *did* seduce you. I'm--really sorry. And I'm not. But I won't blame you, I won't say anything, if you want to march into Skinner's office and ask for a transfer. Maybe next time they could give me a male partner, and I'll avoid all of this shit."
"Are you so sure? They gave you Krycek once, and the rest is history."
He smiled sadly--she recognized it as a smile of farewell. "Maybe you're right. I really ought to be left in that basement alone."
"With those videos that aren't yours?"
"Stop it, Scully. You're making me smile--and I feel shitty."
"Mulder. I know you. I know what those... words... I said must have made you feel. I feel terrible about it--I know it must have been like a flashback to the hurtful words of your father. I never wanted to hurt you like that. It wasn't --really-- me talking there. You probably believe that more than I actually can. I don't want to leave. I like it here."
"Scully, I know you have a loyalty to the work, but..."
"But what, Mulder? It's not just the work. It's you. Don't say anything about this not being personal, because it is. We've been hedging and dancing and pretending not to notice for months--for years, maybe. Do you want to go back to that? The endless innuendoes that will never go anywhere? The furtive hand-touches, and face kisses only when one of us is dying?"
"I don't want you to regret--"
"Do *you* regret it?"
Mulder gazed at her calmly, but Scully thought there were shadows of terror hiding behind the coolness of his eyes. "I could never regret *you*."
"The only thing I regret is that I hardly remember anything. But I don't regret being with you, Mulder, and I sure as hell don't regret loving you."
Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, turning his face a little as though he were in pain. "So--so you *don't* want to pretend this never happened?"
/Is that what you think our relationship has to be? Oh, Mulder./ "No, Mulder. I'm--so sorry things weren't perfect, but I don't want to give you up."
"When have things ever been perfect, Scully?" He gave her a small smile. "If things were perfect all of a sudden it might be grounds for an X-File in and of itself."
Scully's unexpected laugh took them both by surprise. "Come on, Mulder. We've got a plane to catch."
She moved past him, shouldering her laptop case.
She turned and opened her mouth to ask him what the problem was, but he silenced her query with a kiss. Scully smiled against his lips. "We may have to investigate this further after all, Agent Mulder," she whispered. "That was damn near perfect."
Mulder chuckled and led her toward the door, hand on the small of her back.
Okayyyy... I now have unbelievable respect for every one of you who has tackled fanfic novels--this is about 120K and... phew. It was fun. But it was hard! Any and all feedback would be adored. Literally. I keep it all in a nice folder and look back on it when I'm feel writer's block looming. So any of you who'd like to be my writer's block remedy can send a note to email@example.com
Thank you in advance!
And now. Do you remember way back in the beginning, in part 0, I mentioned that this was an improv? I will now enlighten you with the objects and words I had to include.
The words were:
eros, thanatos, salient, nepenthe, oscillate, incarnadine, sibilant, tintinnabulation, effervescent, obfuscate, and obsequious. I think I got them all. oi.
The items were, in no particular order:
-medieval bronze medallion with love rune carved into it
Many thanks to all of you who stuck around till the end! And even more thanks to those of you who hit the reply button right now!
Tara Avery firstname.lastname@example.org ICQ 2570912 AIM: Tarysande www.ntonline.com/tavery/index.htm for X-Files fanfic: http://www.angelfire.com/bc/TaraAvery/fanfic.html "Cowards die many times before their deaths -- the valiant never taste of death but once." ~Shakespeare