Dasha (dashakay) wrote in secretprobation,
Dasha
dashakay
secretprobation

Faltering

FANDOM: X-Files
SUMMARY: An end, a ritual, a beginning.
RATING: R
SPOILERS: One Breath
DISCLAIMER: They still belong to Chris Carter, darn it.
DATE POSTED: March 2000


When he finally arrived home, the gray light of dawn was filtering through the windows. He shut the door behind him and surveyed the ruins of his apartment.

Fuck it, he thought. They're just objects.

He drew one faltering breath and it all welled up in him again.

In the doorway to the living room, he sank to his knees.



My God, she's young, he thought. Her face free of makeup, hair in a tangle behind her on the pillow, intelligent eyes closed and unseeing, it was painfully obvious how young she truly was. Just shy of her thirtieth birthday.

Her hand in his was limp as putty, white and unwrinkled, the nails clipped short and straight by the nurses. As he had been doing for the last hour, he squeezed her hand, waiting for the comforting squeeze back.

Can you feel me, Scully?

There was no response.

Intensive Care wards are never quiet. The intrusive beeping of monitors, the footfalls of nurses and orderlies, a murmur of laughter from the nurse's station all surrounded Mulder. But if he concentrated he was able to block it all out and hear only her breathing, one faltering
breath after another.

Each breath was a countdown to her last.

Mulder's hand found the disheveled mass of her hair, still alive with copper colors in the fluorescent light. It struck him as particularly pitiful that she should lie dying with her beautiful hair matted. She always had such lovely hair, waving gently around her face.

He wished he could feel her, feel her presence, as Melissa seemed able to. He wished he were spookier. For nearly two years he had been surrounded by Scuuly's life force, the energy that radiated from her slender form and keen mind.

The body lying on the bed belonged to Dana Scully, but he knew her mind and soul were somewhere far away.

"I wish you could hear me," he whispered. "But even if you could, I'm not sure what I'd say. Would sorry be enough for you? Can you ever forgive me for this?" The breath caught in his throat.

"I just wish you could hear me."

His back and neck were stiffening after sitting in the uncomfortable chair for so long, but he hated to leave.

When he said goodbye, it would be for the last time.

He steeled himself for the moment, watching her peaceful expression, as if she were only taking a brief nap. As if soon she'd wake and scowl to catch him staring at her. She'd done that once, after falling asleep on a plane on the way to a case.

Come on Scully, give me one of those looks of yours.

One last time, he squeezed her hand, waiting for a response.

Nothing, of course.

Mulder stood and leaned over her motionless body, brushing his lips against hers. Her lips were cool and dry, nary a twitch at his kiss. "I wish it could have been different," he said, and smoothed the hair at the top of her head.

Last look, last stare, last gaze. He didn't want to remember that shell of a woman, immobile in a hospital bed. He wanted to see her standing over a corpse, peering with curious eyes through a pair of goggles. He wanted to see her running beside him with a gun in her hand. God, how he wanted to see her relaxed over dinner, her heels kicked off under the table, smiling at his juvenile jokes.

He shut his eyes and saw all of those things.

No, he thought, opening his eyes. I will not say goodbye. This is not the end.

Without another look, another word, he turned on his heels and walked away from her bed.


In the corridor he found Melissa, sitting in a hard plastic chair, her eyes shut. He wondered if she were sleeping.

Her eyes opened. "I'm not sleeping; I was meditating."

He bit back a comment and merely nodded his head. "Where's your mother?"

"I got her to go home and rest for a while." Melissa peered up at him, the circles under her eyes evident in the harsh light of the corridor. "God, Mulder, you look like hell."

"Are you surprised?"

Her blue eyes softened a bit and for an instant he saw Dana reflected in the face of her older sister. "When was the last time you ate?"

He shrugged, not remembering.

"You'll collapse if you let your blood sugar and energy get too low. Why don't we go eat?"

"I'm not hungry."

She took on a fierce expression that must have been a genetic trait of the Scully women. "Well, I am, so humor me and come with me to get some food." Melissa grabbed her jacket from the chair next to her and he found that all he could do was follow in her willful wake.

Outside, in the clear, starry night, they both paused to take a breath of the cold air that didn't smell like disinfectant or illness. Instead, the air smelled comfortingly of bread from the commercial bakery across the street and exhaust fumes.

Mulder tapped Melissa's arm. "Where do you want to go?"

"Let's see." She checked her watch. "It's past midnight; not a lot of places will be open around here. We could go to my apartment, I have some food in the fridge."

"I didn't think you lived in D.C."

Melissa lifted her chin. "I don't. I've been in Taos, New Mexico, but I'm staying at a friend's place while she's trekking in Nepal. She only lives a few miles away."

In his car, he followed her down quiet streets to a four-story brick apartment building with window boxes and a green canopy over the entrance.

The apartment was small, a studio with a kitchenette divided from the main room by a Formica-topped bar. There were batik fabrics draped on the walls and pieces of bric-a-brac from all over the world scattered about. In the corner was a wide futon set on a varnished wood frame. The room smelled of sandalwood and something else, perhaps sage. Perfectly Melissa, he thought.

Melissa strode in and dropped her jacket on the bed, heading straight for the refrigerator. "Can I get you anything?" she called over her shoulder. "I don't drink, but Chloe left some beer in here."

"That'll be fine," he said. He didn't know whether to sit or stand. Finally, he decided to sit on the sofa. He was so exhausted his legs were about to give out on him. The last time he'd slept had been about two days ago, by his reckoning.

He heard pots rattling in the kitchen, then the chop of a knife against a wood cutting board. "Is pasta okay?"

Nodding, he realized the power of speech had entirely fled. Since the day Scully had been taken he'd talked so very little. There had been nothing to say, really, with her gone.

Melissa walked over and sat next to him on the couch, handing him a bottle of India ale. He turned it around in his hands for a while before taking a drink.

She touched his face with fingers chilled from carrying the bottle. "Are you okay?"

He stared at her, surprised at the question. "Of course I'm not."

"I know. It's hard..."

"Yet, you seem so calm." Mulder wondered about her tranquil air, if it was truly indifference.

Melissa shut her eyes and bit her lip. After a few moments, she spoke. "I have to be calm. It's the only thing keeping me from completely falling apart. Death is natural and shouldn't be feared, but it's too soon for her, Mulder." She opened her eyes again and they were luminous with tears. Mulder realized just how wrong he had been about Melissa's feelings for her sister. "Dana has so much
left to give."

He wanted to believe it was too soon, he wanted it so badly he could taste it like Tantalus envisioning the flavor of the grapes just out of his reach.

She took his hand and squeezed and for a moment Mulder forgot to breathe, remembering waiting for Scully to squeeze back. Her profile was both like and unlike Dana's. Her nose had the same regal line as her sister's and she had a heartbreakingly similar arch to her eyebrows, but her face was more angular and somehow wearier than Scully's. Scully had a flushed innocence to her gently rounded face
that had long been gone from Melissa. Sitting next to him was a woman who had lived through some harrowing and enlightening experiences, and had come out of them with wisdom. Mulder wondered why he'd been unable to see this before, had been so quick to dismiss Melissa.

After a few minutes of silence, Melissa returned to the kitchen. "Pasta's ready," she called, carrying the pot to the sink to drain the noodles.

His stomach grumbled in automatic response, perhaps the first genuine hunger pang he'd had all week. Melissa handed him two plates and some silverware and he set them on the small wooden table in the corner.

Melissa brought out a serving dish of pasta. "Don't expect anything fancy. Dana's the cook."

He almost smiled at her use of the present tense.

They both sat down and she served him some fusilli with tomatoes and basil. Mulder stared at the red, white and green with something near fascination. It had been a long time since he'd eaten something that didn't come wrapped in plastic first.

Her voice was gentle and eerily similar in tone to Dana's: "You need to take better care of yourself."

"Maybe some aromatherapy?"

Melissa finished chewing and stared at him. "I know you think I'm flaky, but I believe in what I do."

It was impossible to hide a dismissive noise. "More power to you, then."

She set down her fork. "I know you believe in things that make you look insane to others, so why is it so farfetched to accept my beliefs and way of life?"

Of course, she was right. He tried to strive for a lighter tone. "What did Dana think of your beliefs?"

"In her heart I think Dana always thought I was full of shit, but she also accepted the fact that my spirituality made me happy and a far better person. My mother, of course, thinks I've just been having a twenty-year rebellious period and any one of these days I'll get over it, go to law school, get married and give her some grandchildren. I'll be a good little Catholic girl again."

"Dana's the good girl of the family, right?"

She shook her head. "Dana is her own person. There's no role for her except beloved."

Mulder shut his eyes, suddenly overcome by a wave of dizziness, a sensation of loss and the outright unfairness of it all nearly choking him.

The fierce grip of Melissa's fingers around his jolted him back to awareness. "You can't let yourself be consumed like this. The negative energy will destroy you."

Too late for that, he thought, I'm already gone. I disappeared the day she was taken.

Melissa stroked his hand and her face softened. "That's not true. It's not too late."

Startled, he looked into her eyes.

A self-conscious smile played across her face. "Yes, I heard you, Mulder. I can do that, sometimes, when someone is in great emotional distress."

He pushed the pasta around on his plate. "I believe you," he said.

She laughed. "So, the believer finally believes. I never knew I had this gift until my freshman year of college. I scared the hell out of my roommate by waking up, screaming, 'Oh my God, Mom, my stomach!' But there was nothing wrong with me. The next morning my mother called to tell me
they'd taken Dana to the hospital in the middle of the night with appendicitis. She'd woken my parents screaming the very same thing."

Finally, he began to eat his food, finding the act of chewing difficult.

Melissa continued. "Dana and I shared..." She shook her head. "No. Dana and I share a special bond. We always have. I've been living across the country for years but I can always count on the fact that every week there will be a letter from her in my mailbox. The night she was taken, my housemates found me in the backyard in my nightgown, staring at the sky and screaming. I don't remember how I got there." She wiped away a few fallen tears with the back of her hand.

Pushing back her chair, she abruptly stood and headed for the bookshelf on the opposite wall. She reached for something on the top shelf and returned with a squat candle, tinted a pale lavender.

She placed the candle in the middle of the table and sat down again. "You have to promise you won't laugh at this, Mulder."

"It's a candle, what's to laugh at?"

"I have a friend back home named Mariah. She's a very powerful Wiccan."

Mulder's eyebrows began to rise, but he said nothing.

"I know it sounds silly, but I've witnessed her power myself. She's an accomplished healer, a white witch, working for the power of good, not evil. She drove me to the airport after I got the news about Dana and she gave me this candle." She picked up the candle and looked at it with an expression of awe. "Mariah calls this a Wishing Candle. She told me to use it for something important and not waste its tremendous power on something trivial. She only has enough power to make one of these candles a year,so it was a precious gift."

"You don't really believe a candle can bring her back, do you?" Funny how with Melissa, he became the skeptic.

Melissa looked straight at him and he could see the naked hope and desperation her eyes held. "I want to try. It takes two people to work the magic of the candle and I couldn't exactly ask my mother to do this with me. Will you help me?"

He had seen things that no one in his right mind would ever believe. Why not this? Why not invest his last shred of hope in a simple homemade candle made by some hippie woman in Taos?

I do want to believe, he thought, no matter how foolish this seems.

"You'll do it then?"

Mulder nodded.

Melissa turned off all the lights in the room, cloaking the room in blackness. She returned and lit the candle with a match. Soon they were surrounded by a warm violet glow.

"Mariah said we need to let the candle burn itself out and we can't turn on the lights again until it does. Now we have to look at the flame for a few minutes and make our wish."

They didn't need to discuss their shared wish.

She reached out and took his hands. Mulder inhaled sharply.

Melissa's voice was soft. "I want you to clear your mind and only focus on what you wish for. Try to turn your energy white and positive."

At this point, despite his doubts, he was prepared to try anything, even turn his energy colors,
whatever that was.

"Let's begin," she whispered.

The flame was small and orange, the center of it the deepest blue, like Scully's eyes in bright sunshine.

...come back now. Fight the darkness closing around you, Scully, you can do it. You're small and innocent-looking but I know you now and I know your inner strength. I've seen your bravery and courage, I've seen you stand up to men twice your size, I've watched you save me time and time again. This isn't your time. You and I, we're on a journey together and there's so much for us to see and experience. I was alone on this quest for so long, but it only felt complete and right when you joined me. The truth is waiting somewhere out there and I don't want to find it
alone. It would be a hollow victory. I want you by my side, sharing it with me. I want to tease you again until you blush, I want you to nag me to clean the junk off my desk, I want to fight about who drives the rental car. Someday, when it's right, I want to kiss you and have my kiss make you flash one of your rare, stunning smiles. It's time now for you to gather that strength and fight your way back. That is my wish, for you to open
your eyes and be your mother's daughter again, Melissa's sister, to be my partner, my friend, the extraordinary woman you were and can still be. Open your eyes now. Return...


The candle's flame flickered for a moment and he held his breath. He lifted his eyes to Melissa's and he found her smiling.

"That was a beautiful wish," she said.

The room began to fill with the delicate scent of fresh flowers.

"If it will only come true," he said. He didn't even want to consider what would happen if it didn't. Yet, he knew, God, he knew it wouldn't come true. She was dying as they sat around a candle, wishing.

"Only time will tell, but I have great faith in Mariah's skill and power."

Mulder rolled his neck, stiff from sitting in the hospital and nights of lying on his couch, unable to sleep, unable to do anything but sink into the vastness of bleak despair.

"If you slept in a bed like a normal person, you wouldn't be so stiff," Melissa said.

He looked up at her, annoyed now at her psychic interjections.

"I didn't read that from you. Dana told me you don't have a bed."

"Oh." He dropped his head, ashamed that as usual he was making assumptions.

She stood. "Go sit on the bed. I'll take the kinks out of your neck. That's how I make my living most of the time. I'm a massage therapist."

"Interesting." He wasn't going to comment on that.

"I do therapeutic massage, not the kind you can get in a parlor. I went to school for it for nine months and I have a license in the state of New Mexico. I do Swedish, Ayurvedic, Shiatsu and aromatherapy."

Obediently, he walked to the futon and sat down. Melissa went into the bathroom and returned with a small plastic bottle, having changed into a tee shirt and a pair of loose cotton pants. "Take off your shirt and lie down," she ordered in a brisk, professional tone. "I have just the right oil blend for you. It detoxifies and cleanses."

With no small amount of self-consciousness, he pulled off his shirt and set it aside. Detoxifying and cleansing, he thought, as he settled on the Indian print bedspread. He was toxic, his pores and veins clogged with the poison of rage, of guilt, of longing, of the sorrow that had shadowed
him for three months. Every moment, no matter if he was brushing his teeth or questioning a witness, in the back of his head was the refrain, she's gone she's gone she's gone it's your damn fault she's gone.

Mulder felt strong, soft legs straddle him. "I wish I had my table with me but there was no time to think of that after Mom called me. I packed a bag and went to Albuquerque to get the next plane I could."

He smelled something citrus and herbal. Her hands went to his neck, kneading the knotted muscles there. It was nearly painful to be touched, when he'd shunned all human contact since that wonderful and horrible night in L.A. with Kristen.

He allowed himself to relax, muscle by muscle, tendon by tendon. Melissa was silent, going about the business of untangling his tense muscles with skillful fingers. When he shut his eyes, he only saw Scully, so still in her hospital the bed, breathing one faltering breath after another.

And then, under Melissa's hands, he finally saw nothing at all.

When he came to consciousness again, Mulder wasn't sure where he was, what the time was, or even, for one brief, panicked instant, who he was. All he knew was that he was in bed, surrounded by the faint glow of candlelight, and a woman was touching his face, stroking the bristly stubble on his cheeks and jaw line.

"Shh," the woman said, her fingers warm and soft. "You were dreaming."

Funny, Mulder didn't remember dreaming. He didn't even remember falling asleep. The last thing he remembered was strong hands kneading his muscles.

And then it came to him that he was in an apartment with Melissa and just a few miles away his partner was deep in a coma, perhaps dying at this very moment.

Like every time he'd woken in the last three months, the pain of remembering shot through him, white hot and needle-sharp. No wonder he never slept anymore.

Melissa touched his eyelids. "You were crying in your sleep," she whispered. She wiped his tears dry with her fingertips, leaning in so close he could smell the wild herbal fragrance of her skin.

To his horror, he realized he was hard, straining against the worn material of his jeans. Please don't let her feel that, he thought. And if she does, she knows it's involuntary, right?

"I don't remember any dreams," he said.

"Maybe that's for the best." Melissa bent and kissed his forehead with dry lips.

"What are you doing?" he sputtered.

"I miss her, Mulder." Her whisper trailed into a faint sob.

He nodded. He'd been missing Scully so much and so long that he'd forgotten what it was like not to have that ache around his neck like a yoke. It was a sharp, acute pain, not the dull-edged ache of missing Samantha for so long. It was still new and raw and having Scully return, her mind and soul so very far away, didn't ease the pain at all.

"I know, Mulder," Melissa said and he flinched, remembering that she could somehow read what he was thinking and how he was feeling.

Even though she could share his state of mind, he still felt the empty, gut-clenching pang of loneliness.

"She complements you so well. The yin to your yang."

Mulder fought not to wince at her cliched analogy, but he knew it was true, too.

His voice struggled for control. "I don't know what's going to happen if--"

Melissa interrupted him with a kiss, closed-mouthed and squarely on the lips. His eyes opened wide in surprise and then drooped a bit and his lips softened under hers.

No no no no wrong wrong wrong wrong, he thought.

She pulled away from his lips. "It's not wrong."

Mulder struggled to sit up but Melissa's hands were firmly planted on either side of his head. "This isn't the time or the place," he rasped.

"You need some comfort right now and so do I," she said.

He shook his head, unable to say anything as she drew one leg over his body and settled her pelvis on him, where he was still hard.

"Please, Mulder," she whispered. "Please." In the candlelight her eyes were shiny with tears.

The night he'd spent with Kristen had been different than this one. It had been overlaid with a certain sort of anger, a desire to fuck himself to death, to drown and wallow in the pain and desperation. But Melissa seemed to be offering him something kinder and sweeter. A gift, a
chance to join the living for a moment.

Her fingers found the gold chain around his neck and lifted the tiny cross. "Have you been wearing this all this time?"

"Ever since your mother told me to keep it for her."

"You love Dana." It wasn't a question, it was a statement of fact.

Mulder had never quite looked at it in those terms before. He hadn't allowed himself that luxury.

But he did, he did. Almost from the very beginning.

"I'm glad," Melissa said, still toying with the chain and cross. "She deserves to be loved. You were the only one who refused to give up on her. I thought you were foolish at the time but now I think it's beautiful that you have so much faith in her."

He shuddered at the memory of the tense minutes in the hospital waiting room and her family's decision to take Scully off life support.

"I can't stand this waiting," he said.

Melissa nodded. "I know." She kissed him again and he allowed his mouth to open to her, to let her tongue enter him and gently probe. A shiver of combined pleasure and sorrow washed up his spine.

"We need this," she whispered against his cheek.

"We need this," he echoed.

And then it all became slow and liquid. Somehow they struggled off their clothes and gasped at the sensation of skin against skin.

In between sloppy kisses, her fingers wrapped around his erection, Melissa gasped, "Need to be close..."

Her dark red curls were falling around her face as she moved over him and he pushed them aside to watch her eyes.

Again, it nearly hurt to be touched, to have the shell he'd built around himself for so many months cracked open by her long fingers stroking him. Mulder sensed tears about to fill his eyes and he blinked them away.

Melissa smiled, then, and slowly moved onto his cock until he was buried to the hilt in her.

They exhaled in unison.

Everything washed together into a jumble of sensations. This was so different from the fierce, mad fucking he'd done with Kristen. He and Melissa were making love, even if they didn't love one another. Somehow, they were making love for Scully.

Melissa moved above him with a slow, elegant tempo and he steadied her with hands gripping her strong shoulders.

Close, so close to her. He hadn't let anyone inside for so long.

He heard a long, indrawn gasp from Melissa and watched with fascination as her features contorted in orgasm.

Mulder was suspended on a long plateau of pleasure, but he couldn't seem to rise above it. He shut his eyes and imagined various scenes from some of his favorite videos but no matter how hard he concentrated, release was not his.

Still breathing hard, Melissa bent to him. "It's okay to feel this," she whispered and kissed him.

He forced his eyes open and looked at Melissa. Suddenly her face melted and transformed before him. It became rounder and softer. Her hair turned a lighter shade of red, the waves just above her shoulders. A small mole bloomed over her full lips.

"Come for me, Mulder," the woman gasped, taking him in deeper thrusts.

He held his breath. Impossible, simply impossible.

The woman making love with him was Dana Scully.

She wasn't the blank, lifeless Scully he'd last seen in Intensive Care. This Scully was flushed with pleasure, biting her lower lip as she rode him.

He cupped her small breasts with shaking hands and blinked at her in astonishment and disbelief.

A hoarse cry ripped from his throat.

"Come on," she purred, "you can do it."

The cry turned animal as he felt the surges rocket through him. An indulgent smile crossed Scully's face as he moaned with his incredible and terrible pleasure.

The moment passed far too quickly and then it was over. Mulder closed his eyes and opened them again to see Melissa smiling down at him.

He didn't have the words to explain what had just happened to him, so he said nothing at all.

Melissa collapsed next to him and touched his face. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," he said, his heart still beating wildly out of control. He felt vaguely dirty and guilt-ridden for making love with Scully's sister while she was dying, and thinking of Scully while he was with Melissa.

Arranging a pillow under her head, Melissa said, in the sharp tone he remembered from the hospital, "Don't, Mulder."

"Don't what?"

Her voice softened again. "Don't let this be one more thing to add to your pile of guilt."

"It's more like a mountain, Melissa."

She was silent for several long moments, her fingers idly traveling up and down his bare arm.

"I know what you were thinking, what you saw."

He tensed. "What are you talking about?"

She rolled over to face him. "When you were coming," she said, her voice dropping to a whispered register. "You saw Dana, you felt her..."

Shame clambered on top of the guilt and his mouth opened.

"It's okay. It's what you needed to feel at the time-- that she was with you, alive and healthy."

She shrugged, and he wondered if she were truly hurt underneath her air of acceptance.

"I'm sorry." Mulder wanted to say something wonderfully eloquent just then but those were the only words that came to mind.

"I told you not to be."

Mulder pondered the fact that while his body felt good--relaxed and buzzing with afterglow--his mind had never been in a more muddled and black state.

Melissa reached for the quilt at the end of the futon and pulled it over their bodies.

"We should try to get some sleep," she said.

"Maybe we should go back to the hospital." I don't want to think of her being alone for so long, he thought.

She touched his hand and then squeezed his fingers. "There's nothing to do there but wait."

"But--"

"She's not alone, Mulder. I didn't tell you this before because I didn't want you to think I'm a complete flake, but I believe there are benevolent spirits watching over Dana. I could feel their presence in the room, particularly the presence of a strong female spirit. Sometimes when I walked in her room I could see her hovering over Dana. She was there to take care of her."

Mulder wished he could believe as Melissa did. He wished he had that comfort available to him.

He stared at the candle shadows dancing on the ceiling. "What if she doesn't wake?" he whispered.

Yes, he'd tried to say his farewell back at the hospital, but he realized there was no way he'd ever be able to properly say goodbye to Scully. It wasn't supposed to end like this.

"I don't know what we do then," she said in a tremulous voice.

He turned and looked at the candle, still burning on the table. I hope it works, he thought.

She moved closer, so that the heat of her body seemed to seep into his. For some reason, Mulder felt grateful for this, for her presence. He wondered if he'd have been able to survive this endless night alone. What if he'd stayed behind at his apartment, not listened to Melissa's advice? He would have sat alone in the dark with his gun, waiting to take his revenge. He would have killed.

Looking back on it now, he knew he would have been lost forever.

Now he felt found.

He took a deep breath. "Tell me about her," he said. "Tell me something about Dana I don't know."

Mulder could just barely make out the tiny smile that grew on Melissa's face.

"Okay, I'll tell you a story," she said. "This is really a story about me, but it'll tell you a lot about what kind of person my sister is."

Melissa began drawing a circular pattern on his palm with her index finger. It was oddly relaxing.

"Just after Dana graduated from high school, I spent the summer at home from college. You have to understand how Dana was then, or how she appeared to me. She'd graduated second in her class, had been president of the Student Council and was a National Merit Scholar. She was also very devout in those days. She went to Mass and to Confession every week and led the parish's youth group. She seemed so alien to me. She was everything I wasn't-- the perfect daughter, the achiever, on her way to a successful, mainstream, textbook life. While we rarely
fought, we didn't have much to say to each other, you know? Our roles were clearly defined. I was the misfit and the rebel, barely scraping my way through college and she always did what she was supposed to, colored inside the lines."

Closing his eyes, Mulder tried to picture that Dana Scully. It wasn't hard to do.

"The thing is, I'd misjudged my sister. I sort of looked down on her. I found her boring and closed-minded. But that summer changed everything.

"A few weeks after I got home, I found out I was pregnant. You can't imagine how horrible it was-- I felt so alone. I was in no way ready to be a mother and I'd broken up with Jess, the guy who'd gotten me pregnant at Antioch. I agonized about it for days, trying to figure out what to do."

Now it was Mulder's turn to squeeze her hand.

"I had no one to talk to about this. My parents had moved shortly after I'd graduated from high school, so I had no friends in town to help me. My parents would have completely freaked and I knew Dana wouldn't understand. So finally I made an appointment at an abortion clinic for the
Friday of a weekend when my parents would be gone on a fishing trip with some of their friends.

"The night before the appointment, I was a complete mess. I laid in my bed all night with the lights off, crying and staring out the window. I thought about suicide. Since I was such a terrible person that I was going to go kill my child, I thought that I might as well kill myself, too..."

He could hear the raw, sandpaper-rough pain in Melissa's voice.

"I must have finally fallen asleep because the next thing I remember is waking up and Dana had crawled in bed with me. She was holding and rocking me as I cried some more. I told her everything-- it just spilled out. I'd expected that if she found out she'd berate me for being so
careless, for having premarital sex in the first place, for having an abortion, but she just listened and comforted me until I fell asleep again.

"When I woke up the next morning, I heard Dana on the phone, calling in sick to her summer job as a day camp counselor. She hung up and told me, in a tone that said she'd accept no argument, that she was coming with me for the abortion.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but sure enough, she drove me there and not only did she come into the clinic with me but she convinced the staff there to let her stay with me through the procedure." Mulder could hear her voice begin to crack. "Dana held my hand through it all and distracted me by telling me stories from our childhood.

"And when it was all over, she took me home, got me into bed and stayed with me all weekend. She made me soup and made sure I wasn't bleeding too much or in too much pain. It hurt like crazy the first night and she went and stole some Tylenol 3 from my parents' medicine cabinet. During that weekend we began to talk for the first time, to find out who each other really was. I told her that I wanted to leave Antioch and study massage at a school in Boulder. Dana surprised me, too. I hadn't known that she wasn't a virgin anymore, that she was terrified that she wouldn't succeed in college, that she'd had a falling out with her best friend and they weren't speaking to each other anymore. I found out that she wasn't as perfect and invulnerable as the image that she presented to the outside world. We shared our secrets and started to become friends that weekend. After that, we knew that we were very different people, but that we could understand each other. That first and foremost, we were sisters."

Melissa sat up and reached over his body for a tissue on the bedside table, blew her nose. She lay back down.

"That's what kind of person Dana is. She has great compassion, even if she has to go against the grain of her beliefs."

"I know," Mulder said. "I've seen her compassion myself."

"She's not perfect by any means, but she's a good woman."

"She is."

Melissa's voice became so faint, Mulder had to strain to hear her next words. "And I may seem calm and composed and accepting of what has happened to her, but the truth is that I'm scared shitless that we're going to lose her."

He gathered her in his arms, for the first time feeling like the strong one in their unlikely and temporary coupling. "She's not going to die," he whispered into Melissa's hair. "She can't."

He held her until she fell into an uneasy sleep.

Mulder's brain was so burnt-out from all that had happened, he found himself unable to think any longer. He listened to the steady rhythm of Melissa's heart beating until he, too, fell asleep.

When he woke again, it was dark in the room. Mulder automatically sat up in bed, wondering what had changed.

It was the candle. It had sputtered out some time in the night. The room still smelled of wax and violets.

Mulder climbed out of the futon and walked over to the window. The sky was just beginning to lighten. He touched the candle, which had already turned cold and hardened. Did it work, he thought, and then felt silly for investing any kind of hope in a candle made by some witch in New
Mexico.

The phone hadn't rung all night. He hoped that meant nothing had changed.

He heard Melissa roll over in bed and in a rapid burst of images, what had happened earlier in the night came back to him.

He couldn't feel too ashamed about it, though. They'd needed each other. In a way, they'd rescued each other.

Quietly, he found his clothes and dressed. For a few minutes he stood over Melissa's still body, listening to her strong, even breathing, so different than the faltering breaths of her sister in the hospital.

"Thank you," he whispered and walked out the door.

In the pre-dawn light, he drove home on automatic pilot.


When he finally arrived home, the gray light of dawn was filtering through the windows. He shut the door behind him and surveyed the ruins of his apartment.

Fuck it, he thought. They're just objects.

He drew one faltering breath and it all welled up in him again.

In the doorway to the living room, he sank to his knees.



Later, the phone rang. He didn't want to answer it, but he did, his heart beating wildly out of control.

He began to smile before he'd even hung up the phone.

End

Note: Sorry for the lack of the /other warning in the headers, but sometimes I think that complete disclosure in headers just gives too much away about the story.

The first half of this story was written way back in May 1999 and then I got stuck and let it lie, neglected, on my hard drive until a few weeks ago. Thank goodness Plausible Deniability kept nagging me about it every so often or otherwise I would have entirely forgotten about its existence.

One of the reasons why I began this story was because I didn't like how Melissa was portrayed in "One Breath" as somewhat of a flake. I wanted to give some depth to her character and show that the things she believed in might have some credence. Granted, I'm no New Age fan (although aromatherapy does wonders for my sinuses) but it seemed to work for Melissa and give her the balance she needed in her life. And I also noticed an interesting glance pass between Mulder and Melissa in the final hospital scene and it got my horrible little brain thinking about what that look could possibly mean.

Because this story was written in two parts nearly a year apart, I have to thank two beta teams. Much gratitude to Team One: Bets, Gwen, Kim and Plausible Deniability, for giving me so much to think about. This story is much better due to your loving and exact touch. And all the cookies in the cupboard to Team Two: Gwen, Jean, Pequod and Shari. You guys gave me fresh perspective on a story that was most difficult to write and your patience and advice were indispensable.
Tags: fandom: x-files, year: 2000
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