Title: More Full of Weeping
Summary: Scully's volunteer work pulls her into a strange place.
Author's note: Hmmmm. I've suspended some of Scully's disbelief in this. Please don't hold it against me. It seems to fit with the weird sort of loosen/tighten of her belief and faith we've seen in the last season and in the movie. Set somewhere after Folie a Deux and before The End.
Away with us he's going, The solemn-eyed: He'll hear no more the lowing Of the calves on the warm hillside Or the kettle on the hob Sing peace into his breast, Or see the brown mice bob Round and round the oat-meal chest. For he comes, the human child, To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, From a world more full of weeping than he can understand.
from: The Stolen Child, by William Butler Yeats.**
I can't honestly say that I like paperwork. However, sometimes, I need it as much as it needs to be done. A quiet day of routine is necessary for the sake of sanity. At least, for my sanity. Others would disagree.
Mulder is all but vibrating from the strain of it. He has shot enough "baskets" to rival Michael Jordan, and I've only been counting since noon. I still my fingers over the keyboard as he rises yet again from his seat, his sinewy frame tensed for another lay-up on the wastebasket. The over-flowing wastebasket. I make a soft noise to refocus the arrow of his concentration, and take necessary measures.
I give him "The Look".
"The Look" is a sort of family legacy. My grandmother used it on my mother, who in turn used it on Missy, Charlie, Bill and me. "The Look" could bring order to absolute chaos in mere seconds, stilling the whirling dervishes of childhood into circumspect and usually guilty silence.
It works surprisingly well on Mulder; better than one would expect, all things considered. I hold it in reserve for those times when he pushes too hard, too far. It is the line in the sand that lets him know "this far and no further", the reminder that we are still separate, that I am not merely an extension of him. Once or twice it has stopped him outright. More often than not, it has paused him long enough for me to recover, regroup, put on my Scully-face and deal with the world according to Mulder.
Today he just smiles a little sheepishly and carefully smoothes the battered 342-form into some semblance of respectability. I fix him a moment longer with my gaze, then return my attention to the report I am finishing.
"So, any big plans for the weekend, Scully?" he ventures, still avoiding the tower of folders that need to be re-filed. Wastebasketball having been taken from him, he is now focusing the full beam of his concentration on me. "Autopsy files to review? A wild orgy of house cleaning? Frozen dinners and a Blockbuster night?" Obviously "The Look" had been prematurely deployed.
I avoid his questions as I finish the last line of my report, carefully close all files and log-off. I can still feel his gaze upon me, bright with speculation. A devil whispers in my ear, and just this once I listen. "Tonight, I have a date Mulder. We'll see where the weekend goes from there." I gather purse and coat in quick, controlled motions, and am out the door before he can respond. "See you Monday."
I am half way to the elevator when I hear the soft explosion of his exhalation and an incredulous murmur that sounds wonderfully like "A DATE?" I cover my mouth to stifle the telltale laughter, knowing that I will pay for this come Monday, if not sooner. Mulder roused does not let anything rest and he applies this tenacity as much to me as he does to any X-file. I can still hear him muttering as I press the button to call for the elevator, and know that it is worth it.
I lock the door to my car, and double-check the headlights before shouldering my purse and heading up the drive to the squat concrete building. Only a few wan floodlights to stave off the early autumn twilight light it, and there is no welcome there at all. The name on the sign out front doesn't quite say "Foundling Hospital", but it is the twentieth century equivalent. It fairly screams "institution".
The inside is only moderately better. They have tried very hard to make it bright and cheerful, but beneath the painfully well meaning gloss there is still a drab dullness and sharp smell that speaks of hospitals and illness. There is a reason for that, of course. This is not a typical orphanage or fosterage care facility. The staff of St. Joseph's is a mix of social workers, medical personnel and volunteers -- like me. The children are the untouchable caste of our world, the crack babies and AIDS victims and heartbreakingly damaged. They are the children who will not live long or well, who weep and wail their short lives away, locked in private hells of their parents' making.
The woman behind the desk smiles tiredly at me, but with friendly recognition. "Hey, Dana. It's been a while for you."
I smile, and sign-in. "Hi, Gina. I was out of town with work. I just got back yesterday." She hands me my security tag and a list of duties for the night. Bottle and rocking duty, then story time. I scan the list, noting familiar names and a few new ones. One name I am looking for is not there and I glance up to find her gaze upon me, the stillness and shadow enough to tell me what I already know. "Jude? When?"
"Three days ago," she says softly, and then says no more. It doesn't do any good to talk about it; it doesn't change anything, and just makes it harder to keep going on with the rest. One more candle to light on Sunday, one less baby to rock tonight.
Some people deserve to be shot. Some people don't deserve the gifts God gives them. I close my eyes briefly, then give Gina a half-hearted smile and move from the foyer and into the wards.
Even with the 15 charges in the nursery rocked and fed and changed, there is no true silence. There is always movement, always the sound of restless babies, always crying that cannot be calmed or soothed. Many of these children are born hurting, born damaged through the willful neglect of their parents or simple, stupid accident. None of them are untouched by this world, even those who still gaze out at it with the clouded blue gaze of the new.
We fit together, these children and I. That is why I come here. We need each other, motherless children and a childless mother. Some days I am not sure if it is catharsis or penance, but I do know that it is necessary. They don't fill the emptiness, not quite, but it echoes a little less when I am here. There isn't time to mourn when somebody needs you with the single-minded determination that only young children can manage.
Still, it is surprisingly calm in here. I've been to read to the slightly older children in the next ward, and then returned here to try and quiet the restless ones. I sit and rock slowly in the scarred chair in the corner, crooning tunelessly to the squirming bundle in my arms. His name is Jordan, and he is 3 months old. Already his face is marked by the stigmata of foetal alcohol syndrome, his behaviour tainted by the wild restlessness that goes with the illness. Face screwed up in a never-ending mewl of discontent, he is still beautiful.
Eventually he begins to drift into sleep, his own temper wearing him out. I continue to rock, a pleasant lethargy settling into my bones. His weight is comforting in my arms, and I let everything just slip away into the rhythm of rock and hold. No X-files, no case reports, no cancer, no Mulder, no Emily- just me and Jordan and the rocking chair.
A movement at the far end of the nursery catches my attention and pulls me out of my gentle trance. At first I think it is another volunteer, but there is something inherently wrong. She is here, but she is filmy and blurred about the edges. I rub my eyes, careful not to disturb the bundle sleeping against me, and look again. In that brief instant she has covered much of the distance between us, and is no longer blurred at all. She is small, in a long green gown totally out of place in a children's ward of any kind, with a dark grey scarf covering her head and partially obscuring her down-turned face.
I find my voice, but keep it low for the sake of Jordan; it has taken almost an hour to get him to sleep, and I'll be damned if I'll do it again. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
She makes no sound, just stops quietly before me and reaches out a pale hand to stroke the baby in my arms. I jerk away before her touch can land, pressed back into the chair by a wave of cold that is more than physical. The woman pauses and a low cry comes from her mouth, builds slowly into a keening that lances through me, turns my guts to water and leaves me breathless. The noise of it is terrible, like a scalpel cutting into the heart of me, the well of grief and despair that I have so carefully guarded.
If I could have cried for Emily, this is what it would have sounded like.
Somehow I fight against the hopeless weight of her wail, reach out and pull back the scarf still hiding her face. I fall back again before what is revealed, unable to flee or breathe or even think. I burrow my face in the warmth of Jordan, and try to forget what I have just seen. The mouth is a twisted snarl of grief, the eyes dark and bottomless as night itself - and the face is mine.
The cold fades as quickly as it had come. I force myself to look up and meet the terror before me, only to find the ward empty. There is a faint buzzing, like static on a stereo, and the sound of restless children, but no echo of the cry that had fixed me to the battered rocking chair. I rise slowly and shake of the lingering chilled torpor, still careful of Jordan. I wend my way between the cradles and cribs to return the baby to his bed. I linger for awhile, watching his small movements, the way he presses his curled hand to his mouth and suckles it, the soft sweep of dark lashes against the full curve of his cheek. Something inside me uncurls, liquid and warm and every bit as painful as the nightmare cry that had driven me from dreams.
It is the biggest lie of all, that I can do this and remain detached from love and sorrow; I am overwhelmed by these small soft bodies, and the smell of powder and shampoo, and the taste of things I can never, ever have. Catharsis or penance? A little bit of both, perhaps.
I sign off the chart on his crib, and start to turn away. Impulse seizes me, and I turn back, lean over the rails and press a feather kiss to the still-soft crown of Jordan's head. Wouldn't want to have to lie to Mulder about the goodnight kiss.
The phone shrills for the perhaps the fifth time, and I throw a pillow at it. It continues to ring, though, and I crack a bleary eye to check the time. It is just past three in the morning and someone is in big trouble.
"What do you want, Mulder? I've shot you once, and I'll do it again."
There is a pause, and a confused sound. "Uh, is this the residence of Dana Scully?"
Not Mulder. Damn. "Who's calling?" I ask, pulling myself together with brisk efficiency instilled by med school hours and Mulder emergencies.
"It's Gina, Dana." It takes me a moment to process, and the voice offers a prompt. "From St. Joseph's?"
"Okay, yeah. What's the matter?" I ask, fully upright and rooting around for my clothes. Pre-dawn calls usually require clothes.
I hear the soft catch of her breath as she hesitates. "I was calling to ask you how Jordan was before you put him down for the night. Was there anything unusual at all?"
I shimmy my nightgown down my body, holding the phone with my shoulder. "If there had been, I would have noted it on his chart. What's wrong, Gina?"
The catch again, and the sound of woman not weeping, but only just. "Jordan's dead. There's no reason why, he's just - dead."
The cold from my half-dream is all around me, and the sound of Gina's voice is lost in an echoing keen. My legs turn to water and I have to sit down or fall down. "I'll be there." I don't wait for an answer, simply hang up and sit in the darkness until I can move again.
All the warmth is gone from the soft, caramel-coloured body in the crib. He is still on his back, staring upwards, his gaze returned to the unfocused stare of his first days. For the second time in eight hours my hands move over his small body, but this time the gesture is impersonal. The feel of him is oddly distorted by the latex gloves, at odds with the memory of squirming silk that I had rocked to sleep seven hours ago.
It looks as though it could be SIDS - no violence, no illness. Just dropping off in sleep. Drug abuse in pre-natal life, and a teen mother. I catalogue the risk factors, noting how well Jordan fits the parameters, even in age and sex. I sigh, not wanting this - this senselessness, so early in the grey beginning of a Saturday morning.
Gina is still not weeping, but her dry eyes are rich with grief. She quietly watches my small movements, as does the Dr. Ellis, the pediatrician on call for St. Joseph's. I voice my suspicions, and both of them nod. It would not be the first time this has happened. Recognition does not make it any less terrible. It gives it a name, but no more meaning than before.
The coroner's team arrives, takes charge of the pathetically small bundle. I follow behind in my car, hoping to get permission to at least assist with the autopsy. It won't help at all; I know that there is nothing I can provide that they don't already have, but there will at least be some kind of closure. The visceral reality of an autopsy is the only way I know to say good-bye.
The woman performing the autopsy, Dr. Ingrid Mah, is surprisingly gentle; she touches Jordan with kindness, and her words are hushed. We do not speak to one another except to share observations and confirm our data. I like her for that, for her understanding.
We find only one anomaly, on either side of the jaw -- small, fingertip bruises, almost totally faded. Certainly not relevant to the cause of death, and yet worthy of note all the same. It would not be the first time children such as Jordan have been the victims of abuse in an institutional setting.
Now comes the internal exam and I step back as she saws through, the small body opening with minimal effort. Even as the electrical whine of the bone-saw fades, it is replaced by a rising moan that reverberates inside my head. It is the cry of the previous night, streaming from the shadowed maw of the open body. I fall back from a wave of cold that strikes like a blow, gag on a smell that a mask and a smear of Watkins rub cannot even begin to cover. It is death and decay and darkness that light cannot touch. I watch in horror as it snakes up and out, a palpable thing. It hovers there, a sentient malignancy; I can feel it watching me, laughing at me, even as it dissipates into nothing.
I taste bile in my throat, and feel a slow shudder run through me as the moment releases, passes. I glance over to the examiner, only to find that I am alone in this. She watches me with concerned, kind eyes that are completely unaware of what has passed.
"It's always hard when they're so small," Dr. Mah says with ready sympathy, completely misunderstanding my recoil. "You think you're inured to it, but how can you be? It's like a sin, almost, seeing this."
I swallow hard, and nod. "It just isn't right," I agree softly, reaching out to stroke the soft spot on the china-cup skull. Beautiful, even now, fragile innocence unmarred even in this moment of nakedness. "I don't think I can stay for the rest," I finish at last. "If you don't mind, I'd like a copy of the report. I'll leave my card with the office manager, if that's okay."
Dr. Mah nods her understanding, and returns her attention to the autopsy. I leave quickly, deliberately not running away but still unable to look back. The memory of darkness is enough to spur me on.
The diner is small and warm; lunch has come and gone, and I still haven't returned home. Instead, I drink my third cup of coffee, and push around the remains of the special on my plate, two-thirds eaten and completely untasted. Detachment is easier, as the memories have faded. I sit and analyse what has happened, but I am unable to find a logical explanation for what I have seen. That leaves delusion, but despite feeling a little shaky and unsure of myself, I don't think that my reason has slipped its surly bonds - but then again, if it had, I would probably be the last to know.
I smile darkly at that thought, and try to shake myself from the gloom that has descended over me. I glance at the bill the waitress has left with less than complete subtlety, and drop down cash accordingly. Sitting here accomplishes nothing, and I desperately need to do. It's the only way to get through these things.
I am surprised by the sunshine. At three a.m., there had been the tang of rain in the air; the skies had still been forbidding when I walked into the diner for lunch. Late October is not noted for sunny days. I take it as a sign, and pass by my parked car to walk instead. If I can't work myself out of this through reasoning, perhaps I can work it out through movement.
Eventually I come across a park, hidden in a small cul-de-sac. It isn't anything big, just a narrow strip of green with a few swings and see-saws, a set of monkey bars and the obligatory bench for tired parents. It is surprisingly empty, but then again, school is still in, and it really had looked like rain earlier. I walk over to the bench, and just let the sights and sounds and smells wash over me.
It reminds me of a park near one of the bases where my father had been stationed when I was young. We used to play there all the time, since Sega and the movie channel were still years away. So many innocent adventures, in a narrow swatch of green, on playground equipment in need of a decent paint job. It had been - wonderful.
I go with it, let myself relax in the memories. /You can't hurt all the time, Dana, / I remind myself. The weak sun feels good on my face, and the one or two children I can hear as I let my eyes drift closed are actually pretty soothing. Like a meditation tape, really. Lost sleep catches up with me; I don't actually doze off, but I am too heavy to move or do anything other than just sit here, and remember.
The park was a great place, as a kid. Full of wonder to a 7 year-old. It became, simply through make-believe, alien landscapes and wild jungles and a million other things -- whatever game Charlie or Missy could dream up. Bill and I were less creative, but we still threw ourselves into the games wholeheartedly. Moving as much as we did, we needed to be playmates and friends to each other.
It was best, though, when Grandmother Scully came to visit. Her voice still had a soft lilt to it from the country of her birth, and I remember the sound of it telling us stories that fueled Missy's games for weeks after. She talked about kings and queen and firbolgs and people called the -- my mind reaches, grasps for a name -- Tuatha De Danaan - the people of Danu.
Something inside me stirs at the memories, and a shiver moves me from my rest. It is as if there had never been any sun at all. The park is thick with shadows, and the children have disappeared for home, obviously far wiser than I am. I get up hurriedly, and walk back towards my car, barely managing to get to it before the rain hits with surprising force.
I sit for awhile behind the steering wheel, then pull out my cell phone and turn it on. I press one of the stored numbers, and wait for it to connect. It doesn't get a chance to ring.
"Mulder." His voice is tight and clipped, and I can tell that he has been trying to reach me for hours. I suppose I should be glad there aren't police cruisers flagging me down.
"Mulder, it's me," I say, and wait for the tirade. I let him get it out of his system, understanding it for what it really is.
When he at last winds down, he sounds a little embarrassed. "So, uh Scully, how was your date? The fact that your phone was off and I haven't heard from you in almost twenty-four hours would indicate that things went - well." There is a half-hearted leer in his voice, Mulder performing on command.
I glance out at the rain sleeting down in solid sheets and wonder if I had imagined the sun. "Not good, no. He ended up dead."
There is a soft gawping noise and then a harsh breath through his nose. "No shit?" he says at last, not so much a question as just something to say. "No wonder you don't date much."
"Look, Mulder, I need your help with something. Is it okay if I come by in about an hour?" My free hand tugs the seatbelt into place, and double-checks the locks as I talk.
"You have to ask?" is all he says before hanging up.
I close my eyes and remember the feel of the sun as I turn over the ignition. It doesn't even begin to compare to those four words. Not even close.
Mulder has the door open before I've even reached it; he must have been watching through the peephole. He takes my jacket, wordlessly, and hangs it up on the stand. His silence is a gift, letting me find a comfortable place to work from. Even his gaze is quiet, barely glancing over me as he leads me deeper into his apartment to the black leather sofa that dominates the narrow living room.
I sit down, still silent as he bustles into the kitchen and then returns with a steaming mug. Inside the cobalt depths, yellow chicken broth takes on a greenish cast. It is hot and salty and tastes surprisingly good going down, removing the chill edge from the rain. "Thanks. How did you know I needed that?" My smile is small, but genuine.
"It's all I had," he replies with unflattering honesty, his expressive mouth quirking slightly, as if daring me to get the joke. "Unless, of course, you'd prefer some elderly peppermint schnapps?"
I feel my smile broaden, and shake my head at him. "No thanks. That's a girlie drink." I close my eyes, let his laughter settle over me. Then there is only the sound of his breathing, and the sharp pant of mine.
I tell him everything that I can remember; the rationalist in me cringes at my words, the scientist turns her back on me in disgust. I ignore them both and tell him every dream, every image that has challenged my reason in the last twenty-four hours. He sits on the coffee table directly opposite me, his knees almost, but not quite touching mine.
To his credit, he does not debate what I have seen, merely inserts finely honed questions into my narrative that somehow manage to pull a more complete story from me. When there is at last nothing to say, he stands up and begins to pace, processing what I have said. His expression is drawn inward as he tries to finish the connections I made while dozing on a park bench.
"Time to go online, and do a little research," he says at last, heading over to the desk and the reasonably new computer that now fills much of the surface.
"You believe me?" I ask, incredulous that I have told him this, and even more disbelieving of his faith. "Last time, you thought it was some post-traumatic stress thing, combined with religious fanaticism!" I cannot disguise the sharpness in my tone, the memory of hurt.
He pauses, looks back at me, his head cocked a little to the side in the way that he gets when he is figuring out how to say something that probably won't fit into words. "I believe in soul-eating insects. You believe in transubstantiation. Neither of us has a problem with belief." He smiles at me, and shrugs. "We just tend to disagree on what to believe in. For this, I think we can meet in the middle, don't you?"
He just looks at me, his face neutral, waiting. At last I nod, and stand up to join him. When he boots up the computer, I let my hand rest lightly on his shoulder, meeting him in the middle.
An hour of searching and reading turns up a few names, a framework for a bedtime story, but nothing concrete. I order Chinese food on my cell phone as he sifts through yet another site on Celtic folklore. When the food finally arrives, he logs off and shuts the computer down.
"So, any theories?" I ask, watching him dig into a box of chicken fried rice with his chopsticks.
He nods, his mouth too full to speak right away. He finishes the mouthful, takes a long swallow of the Coke that I had ordered with dinner, and moves into professor mode. His voice takes on the thinly veiled excitement that always appears when he starts lecturing me about something utterly surreal.
"Yeah, yeah, there was a bunch of stuff that fit with what you described, straight out of Celtic myth and legend. The woman of your vision sounds like some version of the banshee. Bean Sidhe, really," he says, with a slight shift in the pronunciation that I find hard to follow. "Though in some versions, she's Bean Nighe-" He pauses, reaches for the sweet and sour chicken balls, and knocks them back with animal efficiency. "Essentially, they're part of the fae, the unseen realm of Celtic folklore. They foretell death, appearing to either the one about to die, or kin. Almost universally, a woman in green, whose cry -- keen, from caoine, the mourning wail -- is said to pierce to the very soul. Some of those visited are said to turn white overnight."
"And she looked like me because?" His eyes slide away from mine and he becomes inordinately involved with his food. "Give, Mulder. This is not the time for obfuscation, your verbal sleight-of-hand!"
He sighs, stalls by draining his Coke and then taking another from the six-pack on the coffee table. "Well, the Bean Sidhe are traditionally the spirits of grieving mothers who've lost their children to untimely deaths. They fit into legends about Brid, and going back to Greek mythology, Demeter mourning Persephone." His long fingers fret nervously along the sweating column of the can as he waits for my reaction.
I wish I had one to give him. I am neither surprised nor unsurprised. Right now, it is just words in the confusion of noise. Instead, I sip my own drink and motion for him to continue.
He eyes me warily, not believing it can be so easy, but at the moment I've nothing to fight him with, no counter-hypothesis to offer. "The problem is, while the Bean Sidhe announces doom, she doesn't cause it. She doesn't fit with what you saw in the autopsy room."
"I was pretty upset - not overwrought, but stretched thin," I offer quietly. "Not much sleep, and then facing the senselessness of a crib death, the painful necessity of opening up Jordan - I could have been hallucinatory."
His big hands reach over and envelope mine in a steady grip. "Do you believe you saw what you say you saw, Scully?" He is serious, despite the tongue-twister phrasing. His voice is steady, giving no quarter.
I hang my head, this time the one unable to make eye contact. "I could have been dreaming, hallucinating. Grief, fatigue, childhood stories, all mixed up with my own personal issues - I could just be plucking imagery out of my subconscious to answer subliminal cues I haven't even picked up on-." His hands tighten over mine, not painful but still demanding. "Yes, I think I saw what I say I saw," I whisper. "God help me, but I did."
I raise my head, to find his eyes watching me with quiet sympathy. "That had to hurt." It isn't mockery, but it stings nonetheless; I pull my hands from his. Sometimes he sees too damned much.
"So if the banshee doesn't kill, what did I see at Jordan's autopsy?" I manage to keep my voice steady, almost analytical.
Mulder leans back against the couch, tapping one of his chopsticks against the full curve of his lower lip. "Well, there are a lot of possible answers there. I think the fact that it is Hallowe'en coming up plays into it. It's traditionally the time when the veil is 'thin' between this world and the next - evil spirits come back, and others fight to stay here."
"Evil spirits?" I can't keep the skepticism from my voice; it is reflexive.
Oddly enough, Mulder looks pleased. Perhaps my willing suspension of disbelief unnerved him. For all that he pushes the boundaries of the unknown, I suspect he likes some things utterly predictable -- especially me. "Hey, Scully, what you saw at the autopsy seems pretty phantasmagoric - so evil spirits is where I'd be looking." He snakes out a long arm, dives into the welter of papers on the table and begins pulling out sheets. "Look at these stories, Scully. Soul-stealers, baby-snatchers, psychic vampires, hungry ghosts - spirits who feed on the life energy of mortals. Lemures, for example." He pauses, digs back into the rice carton.
I let the sheets he has pressed on me fall to my lap and stare at him in consternation. "Lemurs are small, furry primates, Mulder."
He laughs, almost spitting rice. "No, lemures," he corrects, emphasizing the slight difference in pronunciation. "Lemur actually means 'nocturnal spirits'. Lemure are ghosts that take possession of a body, unwilling to give up life. They suck back the life forces of unsuspecting victims in order to maintain a sort of parasitic immortality. They have legends of them going back to Roman times." His smile shifts suddenly into a frown. "When you think about it, St. Joseph's would be a pretty natural hunting ground. Unwanted children fall prey to all sorts of predators." A darkness passes through his eyes, a memory of bruises. It hurts to see it. I need to get away from it.
I stage a full-fledged retreat under the guise of tidying up; cartons are gathered, taken through to the kitchen. I scrape and rinse plates, put leftovers in tupperware and carefully refrain from commenting on the expiry date of the milk. I feel Mulder watching me from the doorway, but he says nothing.
When I turn around, he is holding my coat and purse. "You were going to say you need to leave, get home, weren't you?" he says softly, neutrally.
"I didn't get much sleep last night," I agree, shrugging into the trench he holds for me. "I need time to process all this, finish making connections."
He looms large in the shadows of his apartment, the dark furniture somehow small in comparison to his incredible physical presence. So often, he is so withdrawn you hardly realize he's there. Other times, like right now, he is so very there that the sense of him is almost overpowering. There are eight inches between us, and I can barely breathe.
"Thanks for your help. I really appreciate it." Suddenly, without even realizing it, there is a room between us and I am reaching for the door.
He leans against the far wall, and I can still feel his eyes on me even though I've half-turned away. "Got another date?" His voice is still soft, still neutral.
"Mulder-." I can't say anything more. I hope it will be enough.
It isn't. "Why all the secrecy? Were you ever going to tell me?" Neutrality is replaced by a thread of hurt.
I open the door, and pull my coat close around my body. "Not now, Mulder. I don't want to talk about it."
Even as I close the door I hear his voice, still terribly soft. "When have you ever?"
The rain has lessened to a thin trickle. The streets shine in the streetlights, and I can hear the hiss as my tires hydroplane slightly. Without conscious volition, I drive my car over to St. Joseph's. I am tired enough to sleep through 'til Monday, but I still don't want to go home. The silence there is almost as frightening as the questions at Mulder's.
Gina is not at her desk when I arrive. I reach over and grab the sign-in sheet to log in. Maybe rocking and feeding and diapers will lull me enough so that I can drag myself home and to bed. Maybe I can just curl up and sleep in the rocker, too tired even to dream.
The toddlers are settled for the night, so I go straight to the nursery. Someone is perpetually awake there. I can hear soft cries even as I approach the door.
I find Gina there, hovering over a crib and muttering. "Is something the matter?"
She starts, jerks upright, her eyes dark and unfocused. "Dana? What are you doing here?"
I shrug and walk over to join her at the crib. "Couldn't sleep, figured I'd find people here in the same boat." I gesture to the three or four little bodies stirring in cribs. "I was right." I lay a hand on her shoulder. "Is something the matter? You don't usually leave the front; I thought night rounds were for nurses?"
Her face is pale, her eyes red-rimmed. "No, just feeling antsy. After Jordan, I just want to see for myself that they're all breathing. Stupid, huh?"
I give her shoulder a squeeze. "Pretty normal, I suspect. It's why I'm here, I think. Just to make sure."
She passes her hands over her face, and her shoulders shake. "It's just - awful," she says softly. She feels awkward under my hand, shuddering but not weeping. I have no idea how to comfort, my bedside manner eroded by years of dealing with cadavers. The coroner rarely has to console the survivors, while the dead need no comforting at all.
Gina straightens, and I have to admire her strength. She's here every night and yet she is holding together. "I'd better get back to the front. You never know who might try waltzing into the place." She pats my shoulder, a mirror gesture to my sympathy, before leaving the nursery.
The crib I'm standing at is soft pink, and the little girl inside is tiny and pale against the blankets. An HIV baby, but miraculously enough not AIDS, not yet. I reach out and stroke her cheek. She doesn't stir at all. Something inside me murmurs and shudders, and I lean in closer. I do the unthinkable, and try to shake her awake. Nothing.
With a sense of growing dread, I search for a pulse. I almost sob aloud when I find it, but it is sluggish and thready, not at all what a baby's should be. With a strange fatalism, I turn her head from side to side to see small, fingertip bruises at her jaw, as if someone has dug in to pry her jaw open. A wave of cold settles in me, and I look up across the crib to see her standing there, a twisted mirror image. Her mouth contorts, and the keen rises up. Something inside me twists, snaps, and I can feel a warm trickle of blood trail down my upper lip. I force myself to look away from her mouth, up to the empty spaces of her gaze. She is not looking at the baby. She is not looking at me. She is looking behind me.
I turn slowly, see Gina approaching. I wipe the blood away on the cuff of my sweatshirt. "What have you done to her?" I demand, putting my body between Gina and the crib.
The other woman's face is utterly confused, and she reaches towards me as if to offer comfort. "Dana? What are you talking about?" Confusion melts into concern. "Are you okay, hon? I know how upset you are about Jordan-." She is still moving towards me, with predatory caution.
"You didn't cry at all," I realize suddenly. "Not a tear."
Her smile is gentle, appeasing. "I don't cry much." She is still moving, blurring along the edges. She looks like a special effect in progress, metamorphosing from one skin to the next in sickening lurches.
My throat is thick with fear, and the keening is making my teeth ache. "Unseelie things don't cry. Changelings don't weep, the unsained souls have no tears," I hiss, remembering the stories my grandmother told me, the articles Mulder printed up. "What are you? What have you done to her?"
She stops a foot from me, still Gina and yet something horribly else as well. Her pupils contract wrong, her mouth stretches too wide in it's smile. I smell French lilies and rotten meat together and gag. "I thought you were a scientist, Dana? A rational woman? Why all the faery tales?" Her hand reaches out, hard and horned, to skim along my cheek. "I exist. I survive. I dispense small mercies to unwanted children. Is that so very wrong? Don't tell me you disagree with euthanasia?" Her voice is low, almost coaxing.
"Jordan wasn't dying. You take without permission. You destroy. I don't agree with murder, and I've seen enough monsters to recognize one when I see it." Her breath is hot, and closer than it was just seconds ago.
"Unwanted children, with no future, no hope, no love. I am merciful," she argues, still coaxing, wheedling, moving closer with each word.
"Life is hope," I growl. "And they were not unloved. Every child here was loved, and that means they were claimed." I remember, vaguely, the need to be claimed. "I claim them."
She is against me, a hunger walking. Her hands are now on either side of my face, and her voice mingles with the keening in my head. "Poor Dana. Are you loved? Are you claimed? Lonely Dana, childless Dana." She nuzzles at my neck, as if catching a scent. I feel a tongue slide over my sweating skin. "I can taste the memory of her, Dana. Your little Emily. Your sister Samantha. Your father Ahab. Poor, lonely Dana. Maybe I should be kind to you?"
She is stronger than flesh and blood. Her hands grasp either side of my jaw, force my mouth open wide before covering it with her own. I feel her tongue flicker in, serpent fast, and shudder at the contact. It feels as if I've caught a live wire and have become part of its circuit. Memory wavers, floods out; she drinks it down even as she swallow me whole.
The keening changes, swells, pushes at me from the inside out. The circuit falters, and I manage to pull away from the hungry mouth. I reach up and yank the cross from my neck, snapping the gossamer chain. With a cry that matches the wail inside I shove it into her mouth, as far back as I can. "I am claimed." It is little more than a pant, but it is enough.
Gina staggers, falls back gagging. "And now you're claimed. I name you, lemure. I name you, hungry ghost. I name you, sluagh." The names tumble from memory, and each one lands like a blow. "You're a thief, a murderer, and it ends now!"
She tries to speak, but cannot. She is choking, writhing, whimpering. I just watch her, wonder a little that no one has come to see what is happening, but understand that perhaps such ignorance is part of the human survival mode. Better not to be aware of things that go bump in the night.
At last she stills, and I am startled by the transformation. Gina is gone. So is the not-Gina, the beast. All that remains is a dried husk wearing a pale blue medical uniform, a ghastly parody of an Egyptian mummy.
The keening has stopped. I look up to see the woman, the banshee, glide past me, over to the corpse on the floor. She kneels beside it, and after careful consideration pulls the shirt up and away from the withered brown skin. Pale white hands push into the chest, split it like rotten fruit. A miracle occurs.
It's like a meteor shower, or soap bubbles in moonlight, or a hundred other metaphors that can't even come close. Just beauty, streaming out of corruption, and it takes my breath away. I hear soft voices and infant cries and laughing women; I see a stream of souls climb like Jacob's ladder up to heaven. My face is wet with tears before I even realize that I am crying.
She reaches into the stream, catches something, then turns and holds it out to me. It is fragile and translucent, softly caramel. It shivers in my cupped palms, and I am filled with the memory of warm lips on my crown, and a voice that soothed the suffering. Jordan. I return him to the river of souls released. "Good-bye, Jordan." Good-bye, Emily.
I turn to her, and I want to ask if it ever stops hurting, if the longing ever goes away, but her very presence is an answer to that. At least, right now, in the midnight of her eyes there is reflected light, like shooting stars.
She stands silently beside me as we watch the light fade, and there is comfort in that.