SUMMARY: We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
TIMELINE: This universe takes off somewhere in Season 6 and ignores the rest.
DISCLAIMER: Even after ten years, they still don't belong to me.
NOTE: This story might not make a ton of sense unless you've read a previous story of mine, Blinded by White Light. This is a prequel of sorts. I have taken liberty with a few details from the previous story.
WORD COUNT: 9,600
DATE POSTED: April 2008
Black as ink, soft as velvet. I've never been quite as happy as I am right here, right now.
In the morning Rachel walked to work in a thoroughly bad mood. She had too many roommates who snored or talked in their sleep, calling out names of people they'd forget by morning. Sometimes their bad dreams entered hers and she'd wake with a start in the dark room of bunk beds, wondering just where the hell she was. That, and bad coffee, made her irritable this morning. Seriously, they could revive the near dead and grow new cities from the ruins, but they couldn't properly synthesize coffee? How hard could it be?
Rachel couldn't remember much, but she did remember the bitter-smooth richness of good coffee and the cup she currently held in her hand wasn't it. Not even close. Before she reached the sky bridge to the Clinic she pitched the cup in the garbage. She'd have to rely on adrenaline, not caffeine, today.
In the middle of the sky bridge, she stopped to look over Atlanta, waking under the dome. It was beautiful - metallic surfaces glittering in the unreal morning sunshine. The city felt like a living organism, growing and mutating by the day. In just the last few weeks a brace of high-rise apartment buildings had emerged on the horizon and new roads were weaving their way east and west, north and south, through clusters of smaller buildings and patches of green.
She was all for speed and progress. The faster the new version of Atlanta grew, the faster she'd move up the housing waiting list and get her own apartment.
She was so wrapped up in watching the city, she almost her dread of the upcoming work day. With a jolt, she remembered what the day held and had to fight the urge to return to the dormitory. Keep walking, Rachel told herself, you're almost there.
A hot, hot night in West Virginia and we're stuck in a town so remote the single motel doesn't even have air conditioning, just a noisy, rusty fan that only pushes the humid air around the small room. This motel has to be a new low in our partnership, I think, while I finally pull off my suit, slightly damp with humidity and perspiration, and throw my briefcase in the corner. The walls are delicately brushed with mildew and the television is strictly black and white, sporting a pair of rabbit ears.
On a night like this, memories of Antarctica seem pleasant.
Mulder and I sprawl naked on the scratchy sheets, almost audibly sweating. At least the motel's ice machine works. We're both sucking on ice cubes, rivulets of freezing water running down our chins and splashing on our bodies in refreshing droplets.
Thankfully, the case proved to be nonsense. The extraterrestrial sightings a number of teenaged girls reported turned out to be the result of a slumber party, a late-night viewing of "Alien" and several ounces of psychedelic mushrooms someone's sister had smuggled back from college.
"Tomorrow," I sigh. "Tomorrow we go home and join the rest of the twentieth century. Oh, for central air..."
"I'd settle for my cantankerous window box," Mulder says.
I'm not really listening to him, lost in my own reverie. "Central air, ice-cold beer, delivery Thai, and..."
"Thou," he interrupts, grinning.
"Very funny," I say. It sounds snappy. I'm in something of a mood, have been from the time I woke up. I've felt oddly restless, keyed-up all day, as if I've forgotten an appointment I made long ago. Everything made me jump today, from the sound of a door slamming as we were interviewing a witness to the unexpected touch of Mulder's hand on my arm while in the car.
I've been dreaming of things blue—swimming pools shimmering in the sun, Mexican tiles cool against my feet, even toxic blue Slurpees. Charlie and I used to rummage through the couch cushions for change and then run to the 7-11 to get the biggest Slurpees our money could buy. Blue raspberry was my favorite. We'd have contests in the parking lot to see who could spit the blue slush between their front teeth the farthest. I almost always won.
Mulder rolls over on his side to face me. "If you could be anywhere else at this moment, where would you be?"
"The morgue," I say.
"The morgue?" He looks vaguely horrified.
"It's always cool in the morgue. Slows decomposition."
"Romantic, Scully." He half laughs, half snorts and I flick water at him. "No, really, where would you like to be?"
Anywhere blue. "I see a swimming pool, perhaps in Mexico or the Virgin Islands."
"Those places are hot."
"It's night and while the air is still warm, it's not sweltering. And the water's nice and cool. I'm up to my shoulders in the water, eating a mango, letting the juice run into the water." Right now, nothing sounds better than a perfectly ripe mango, but I'm guessing the Abbottsville EZ-Stop doesn't stock a whole lot of mangoes.
"I like that place. Am I there?"
I smile. "Of course you are. You're floating on your back, watching the stars."
"That sounds like me."
"I know, always working." I grab another ice cube from the bucket and let it melt through my fingers onto my thighs. "Where would you be?"
Mulder doesn't hesitate. "Yankee Stadium. They're playing the Red Sox and we have really good seats, between home plate and first base. Maybe the second or third row."
"A baseball game?" My eyebrow rises.
"Sure. I've always wanted to take you to a Yankee game. We'd have hot dogs and beer, yell at the umpire."
"Why don't we do things like that more often?"
"Because we're working all the time," Mulder sighs. "But we could do it. Maybe next weekend. . . if we don't pick up a new case by then."
"I wonder what it would be like if..." I say, not quite sure how to say it. Something sad flickers through me.
I picture a sunny apartment or a small house on a quiet street. Rooms that have never known murder or abduction. A lazy dog stretched out on the floor. Maybe a garden. I even, just for an instant, picture a little girl, straight brown hair cut in bangs. No, I tell myself, don't imagine that. You'll never have that.
"I just wonder if this all ended, what do you think we'd be like?"
Mulder closes his eyes, as if he can see my idealized vision of the future. "We'd just be ourselves," he says. "But with fewer hospitalizations. Maybe some peace and quiet."
"Do you think we'll ever get to be those people?" This is the question I've don't like to ask.
He touches my shoulder. "Do you want out of this?" His voice has dropped to a whisper.
I shake my head. "Of course not. I just wonder sometimes." And truly, I don't. What we have is enough for me. It has to be. It's all I know now.
Warm lips press against my forehead. "All we can do is hope that day comes."
Hope. After all we've seen, the horror we've endured, hope still remains - battered, bruised and torn, but still standing.
Yesterday, after her shift was over, Bradley called Rachel into his office. She sat on the edge of a desk chair, trying to remember if she'd done anything egregiously wrong lately.
Bradley stroked his salt-and-pepper beard. "I've been very pleased with your work," he said.
She noted the slightest trace of condescension in his voice. Some of the Ones could be like that, fluffed up with pride in the fact that they had more time than anyone else, that they were the first to wake, the true pioneers. She thought it was ridiculous. Their numbers had been called first in an intergalactic lottery, so what?
"Thank you," she said, demurely folding her hands in her lap like a good little Four should. "I enjoy my work."
She treasured the hours she spent with her Second Week patients, talking to them, helping them ground themselves in their new realities, even holding their hands as they cried or screamed out their wrath at the brave new world. Her favorite thing was taking them for little walks to the garden behind the Clinic or to the sky bridge to see the city's lights at night. Their lost faces would light up at the odd beauty of it all.
"I think you're ready, Rachel," he said.
"Ready for what?" she asked, but she suspected she already knew. Her mouth felt dry.
"I'd like to reassign you to the First Week Unit. I think you can do it this time."
Her mind flashed to being pinned to the floor, a strong arm at her throat, and the sound of her own screams for help.
"You've grown and matured into your position. What happened wasn't your fault. We shouldn't have assigned you to First Week at that time. It was premature." Bradley chuckled a bit and she almost hated him for it. "Admittedly, that was a rather unusual case. Incidents like that are rare. I'd be very surprised if you saw a reaction like that again."
She frowned, remembering the broken collarbone and the livid bruises that had mottled her arms, the souvenirs of her sole day on the First Week Unit.
"Do I have a choice?" she asked.
"Of course you do, Rachel. No one is going to force you to do anything you don't want to do."
She lifted her chin. "Then I choose no. I don't want to do it."
"Are you sure?"
Bradley chuckled again, but this time there was real warmth in the chuckle. "Were you this stubborn Before?"
"How would I know?" She shrugged. Really, what a stupid thing to ask, almost bordering on impolite, she thought.
"Good point. But I just want you to know one thing. We really need you, Rachel. We need someone with your compassion and patience. Tomorrow a new batch of Eights arrives and we need good people in the unit."
Oh, he'd hit her where it counted, her secret soft spot, underneath the hard carapace she presented to the world.
Slowly, Rachel nodded her head, even though her brain was telling her it was a bad, bad idea.
"So, you'll do it? Excellent." Bradley typed something into his computer. "We'll start you with just one patient; keep it light to get you into the swing of things. You'll also receive a ten-percent raise."
Big deal. There wasn't much to buy, not yet. Commerce would come, they were told. They just had to be patient.
Rachel thought about the patient. Sometimes, although it was rare, they didn't make it back, not all the way. Sometimes they were left a mere husk of a person, doomed to drooling from the sedatives in an out-of-the-way ward. And sometimes they made it for a while, seemed to be thriving along with all the rest, and then figured out a way to commit suicide. There was always something in the Clinic, or the Orientation Center, that could do a person in if they were clever.
She stood up. "So, 8:00 tomorrow?"
"Yes. K will be the doctor on duty." Bradley stood up to see her out of his office.
The news made Rachel smile, just a little, although she tried to make sure Bradley couldn't see it. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction that she found good news in any of this.
Sticky fingers travel up and down my thigh.
When I was young, I thought my life would be unexceptional. Oh, I was sure I'd excel; I'd excelled at most things I'd done, but I imagined my life traveling the well-worn path followed by most people. How wrong I was.
In high school, I could clearly see the Dana Scully of the future. She'd go to an excellent college, then an even better medical school. I couldn't remember a time when I hadn't wanted to be a doctor. I'd do my residency in pediatrics, maybe family practice, and then join a successful practice and heal the ill with my compassion and intelligence. Somewhere in all that, I'd marry my nice, steady college sweetheart. Maybe he'd be a doctor, too. At the very least, he'd be a lawyer. Our wedding would be big, complete with a white dress and veil, all the relatives squeezed in the church, walking down the aisle on my father's arm. We'd buy a house in a gentrifying neighborhood and spend our free time fixing it up. After a few years there would be children - two of them, a boy and a girl. I could almost see their faces. Sometimes I daydreamed their names. Watering the lawn, Sunday Mass, wiping runny noses, a Volvo station wagon, and summer weekends at the Chesapeake Bay.
Surprise, surprise—my life didn't follow that exquisitely planned script.
I look into Mulder's eyes. I know that look well by now. "It's too hot," I say. "I don't know if I can stand to be touched." The fan sounds like it's whirring louder but it's not working any harder to cool the stifling air.
"It's never too hot," he says. "Or too cold, or windy, or rainy, or snowy..."
I mutter, "You're a veritable U.S. Postal Service."
His kiss changes my mind.
I can't refuse him, even on a sticky night after a strangely nervous day. So much is bound in his touch, his presence. We've lived a thousand lives together and endured unimaginable events. Mulder is now an elemental part of me.
With Jack, Ethan, all the others stretching back to my first date with Sean Cafferty to see Star Wars, I could never figure out why love disappointed me so. I thought I was cold, withholding, all of the names they called me when it finally went sour. Now I know that they, and I, were wrong. It was a matter of waiting - long, lonely years of waiting. I was abducted, shot, and made barren. I was given cancer and lay beside my child as she died. I was torn and humiliated in hundreds of creative ways. But sometimes I also found wonder, small pieces of the truth, and fleeting moments of beauty that knocked me to my knees.
Through it all, I became the woman who is here today lying on the bed with her partner in this dingy motel room somewhere in the West Virginia mountains. She's not the caricature doctor-wife-mother I'd daydreamed about in study hall, but someone stronger, tougher, and much wiser. A woman nursing a full load of hurt and anger, to be sure, but a woman who can take it and who will fight back. And through it all, the unbearable and the triumphant, was Mulder. Is Mulder. My partner, walking side by side with me on the journey.
His mouth hard on mine, hands everywhere, reading the Braille of my body. He knows everything about me now, the crooked little toe on my left foot and the brown birthmark at the crook of my elbow. A thousand times, Mulder has kissed the gunshot scar on my belly and traced the colors of the snake on my lower back. He has felt me arch against him as I've come so hard I thought I'd snap a ligament and held me as I've cried from the nightmares that haunt me on an all-too-frequent basis.
Mulder isn't like the others were, I think drowsily, as he takes nips at my neck, my breasts, the soft skin of my inner thighs. He wants to know the real me. Mulder has seen me at my darkest and lowest moments. He's not dazzled by the wonder girl facade. He wants to know my secrets, and I, his. There's nothing to hide anymore.
We haven't always been kind to each other and we haven't always been honest. Our suffering has torn us apart and brought us together dozens of times. But we're trying, we're really trying. We deserve an A for effort.
His beauty never fails to take me by surprise. The gold smoothness of his skin, the way his hands clench and unclench as I take him deep inside me, the stunned look in his eyes as we move together, as if he can't believe this is really happening. I know I can't. It's still too new, too fresh—we're still surprising each other by the day, still a little shy with one another, still in awe at how large this is.
Sweat is now running down my face, into my eyes, as I ride him harder, faster, wanting nothing more at this moment than for everything to dissolve, for the separate Mulder and Scully to merge for just one moment and become one being. I've never wanted forever before him. I was so careful of my precious identity, and so ready to shield my heart from hurt. Now I know who I am and Mulder is inextricably entwined with that identity.
When I come, it feels like letting go of everything for just a moment - my doubts and my fears. They'll return soon enough, but now I breathe with pleasure and contentment. This is a respite, a time to recharge for the inevitable battles ahead.
No, this is more. This is love, I think, touching the face of my beloved.
She stood in front of the door to the unit, palm poised to touch the security plate. Deep breath, Rachel told herself. Just do it. Her heart was beating out of control.
Just a few months earlier, her debut on the First Week Unit was a very different experience. She'd been so excited and confident. Wasn't she the first Four in her work group chosen for this most important assignment? Wasn't she widely regarded as one of the best befrienders at the Clinic, sending her patients off to their Orientation Centers as almost-functioning human beings? Didn't she consistently get the mute to speak and the despondent to laugh at one of her terrible jokes?
Rachel had been awed at the responsibility of her new position, but she was sure it was something she could do, and do well. She'd be the befriender every survivor wished they'd had when they'd awakened to the brave new world - calm, compassionate, and infinitely patient. She'd passed her training with flying colors and had shadowed several of her colleagues. Head held high, spine straight, she'd been so ready.
She remembered the small room, painted a soothing sage. False sunshine spilled through the filmy curtains at the window. Soft classical music played somewhere in the background. A bed with a dark green quilt. Pictures of flowers and trees on the walls. It was meant to be a happy, calm place to wake. Non-threatening, non-clinical. The only sign the room belonged to a medical facility was the IV unit on the wall, a plastic line running to the sleeping patient's hand. A thin band of plastic ran around his forehead, monitoring his vital signs and brain activity.
He looked so peaceful, her first patient. Rachel wondered if she'd looked like that, months ago, as if she'd just dropped off for a nice nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
She sat in the chair at the bedside and took his hand in hers. It was a large hand, pale olive in skin tone, the veins prominent. He was probably in his late thirties, early forties; there wasn't much gray in his brown hair. Dark lashes fanned on his face and his cupid's bow of a mouth was slightly open. His hospital gown was pale green, almost matching the walls.
She thought, who are you? There was no match in the DNA database. No name, no date of birth, no record of where he'd been found. There had been mass chaos in those days of rescue; keeping good records hadn't been a priority. The Others had assumed that survivors would be able to sort themselves out after awakening. They hadn't known what their miracle drug for the Plague would do to Human brains.
She squeezed the patient's hand. "I'm ready," she said. G, the doctor, could hear everything she heard and see everything she saw through the connector wrapped around her left ear. It felt like having someone reading over her shoulder.
"Everything's looking good," G replied. "We're going to start."
The IV unit began humming; new drugs were being introduced into the patient's system. It would only be a minute or so. Rachel felt pity for her patient. Awakening was something she'd never want to go through again.
Another squeeze of the hand, this one a bit stronger. "Good morning," she said in the soft voice she'd been trained to use. "It's time to wake up."
A tiny fluttering of lashes and a cough. Then his eyes opened all the way, cloudy hazel, trying to focus on what they saw. A sharp indrawing of breath.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
He turned his head to look at her. His eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. He now looked exhausted, as if he'd witnessed a thousand terrible things.
Rachel tried to make her voice sound even gentler. "Do you remember your name?"
He jerked his hand out of hers. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded in a voice hoarse with disuse.
She took a calming breath. "My name's Rachel. You're in a safe place and nothing bad will happen to you here." The words from her training module flowed off her tongue like honey.
The patient struggled to sit up. "Take it easy," she said. "You've been ill and need to get your strength back."
He sat up all the same and looked Rachel dead in the eyes. "Where is she?" he rasped.
"Who?" They'd covered this in training. Sometimes the patients called out for loved ones, lost artifacts from ruined memory banks. Still, it threw Rachel.
"Just go with it," G whispered in her ear. "See where it takes you."
"Where. Is. She?" he said, through gritted teeth.
"Who are you talking about?" she asked. Maybe this would be a good way to jump-start the few memories he had left.
The patient looked momentarily confused, as if the name was just on the tip of his tongue. He shook his head. "What have you done with her?" Tears began to run down his face.
"She's just fine," Rachel said, improvising.
"You liar!" He was shouting now. "What have you done with her, you bastards? I'll fucking kill each and every one of you if you've hurt her!"
She touched his shoulder. "Shh, shh," she soothed. "Everything will be all right."
"Fuck that shit—WHERE IS SHE?"
"G, what do I do now?" she whispered. There was no answer. Her hands began to shake.
Rachel remembered what happened next in jagged shards. One second he was tucked in bed and the next he seemed to be flying directly at her, the IV line ripping out of the unit on the wall. The weight of his body knocked her out of the chair and she hit the floor, hard, her head bouncing off the tiles. The patient straddled her, his large hands gripping her arms with impossible force. He leaned towards her, his breath hot on her cheek. "Now, are you going to tell me where she is or am I going to have to shoot you in the head, you fucking bitch?"
She heard herself scream. Where the hell was G? Where was security? His arm was now at her throat, pressing at her, and she struggled to breathe. She felt a sickening pain flood every cell.
The next thing she heard was the door opening and frantic footsteps, G's voice saying, "We're here, Rachel." She saw G's lean form bend over the patient and inject something into his bare thigh. Almost immediately, the patient loosened his grip on her. G and a security guard rolled him off her and managed to deposit him back in the bed.
Rachel lay on her back, staring at the white ceiling tiles, too stunned to move. G crouched next to her, charcoal eyes wide. "I'm sorry," he said in his soft voice. "I wasn't paying attention like I should have. I took off my unit for just a moment and—"
She turned her head and threw up on the shiny floor tiles.
Rachel was taken to the Medical Unit in a wheelchair. As an orderly rolled her out, she saw the patient. He was lying in bed, glassy-eyed from the sedatives, but the tears continued to roll down his face. She looked away.
Her injuries weren't anything life-threatening. A hairline fracture to her clavicle, bruises on her arms and chest, a goose egg at the back of her skull. She was given a sling to immobilize her shoulders, pain and anti-inflammatory derms, and was told to go home and rest.
When she got back to the dorm, everyone on her wing seemed to have heard the story and wanted the gory details. The last thing she wanted to do was discuss what had happened. Rachel was achy and feeling a little dazed from the pain derm on the inside of her forearm. Instead of lying down as ordered, she left the building and began walking until she'd climbed the small hillside behind the Clinic and the dorms. She sat on a bench at the top of the hill, wincing at how even her leg muscles were sore from what had happened.
The adrenaline from the attack had long since worn off and Rachel now felt drained and disappointed. Her first day hadn't gone as expected. She'd failed and nearly gotten herself killed in the process.
She remembered the anger on her patient's face and, more importantly, the sorrow and loss. Who was she? He hadn't remembered himself, probably never would, but some elemental part of his subconscious had only wanted to protect her. Rachel wondered who she'd been to the patient. Wife, lover, daughter? And what had happened to her - had she been killed in the Invasion or die of the Plague, or was she somewhere out there, in a Clinic or Orientation Center, not remembering him either?
I can't do this, she thought.
That afternoon, Rachel did something she rarely allowed herself to do anymore. She cried. She wept for her bravado and her failure, and she cried for the patient and his lost one. But mostly her tears were for herself, for the ones she'd lost and could no longer remember.
The next day, she walked into Bradley's office and demanded that he reassign her.
And now here she was, about to hop on the merry-go-round for another ride. Rachel took a deep breath and touched her palm to the plate. The door swished open and she stepped inside.
It's quiet now. Mulder may even be asleep; his breathing is soft and even. He's over on his side of the bed, his back to me. This is not a night for spooning ourselves to sleep.
I can't sleep. It's too warm and stuffy in this room, I drank coffee and iced tea nonstop during the day, and despite the lovely sex, I'm still feeling a bit on edge. My mind feels like it's desperately trying to remember something just beyond its reach. I'd get up and take an Ambien but it seems too complicated, somehow. Instead, I listen to the whirring fan.
From the dark comes Mulder's voice, slow and drowsy. "Hey, Scully?" I hear him roll over. "Are you awake?"
"Want to go to the movies with me tomorrow night?" He chuckles.
"Are you asking me out on a date?"
"We could go to one of those hundred-screen megaplexes with air conditioning so cold you can hang meat."
"That sounds nice," I say. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie in an actual theater. "What do you want to see?"
"I don't care—some dumb summer movie. Car chases. Gratuitous violence. Slapstick falls."
"That sounds like our lives, Mulder."
"You probably want to see some kind of chick flick," he says. "Lots of tenderness and people coming to terms with things."
"Is Colin Firth currently in anything?"
"Ha, I knew it!"
"You knew what?"
"I knew you had a thing for him. When 'Pride and Prejudice' was on TV you walked around in a stupor for the whole week."
"I did not!" I laugh into the pillow.
"Oh, you certainly did. But if he's in a movie, we can go see it if you spring for the popcorn and Coke."
"Diet Coke," I say. "I stand firm on that one."
"It's a date, then." He pecks me on the forehead, a kiss like the sweet, chaste kisses he occasionally gave me before anything happened between us.
There's so much I want to tell him, so much left unsaid. I want to tell him I love him, but the words are still difficult for me to say very often.
I brush my lips against his. So soft, those lips. "Go to sleep, Mulder. It's late."
"It's late..." he repeats, his voice trailing off to slumber.
Someday I'm going to be able to tell him everything that runs through my head, all the things I'm not able to say. I'm going to tell him that he's the best thing that's ever happened to me, even after the rough, scary road we've had to travel to get to this place. And I'll tell him that I can't fathom a life without him by my side.
Mulder is fully asleep now, soft snores coming from that nose of his. He won't admit that he snores sometimes and one of these days I'm going to tape his snoring, just to prove him wrong.
Sleep is not going to come for a while. I'm sweaty and sticky and the sheets feel like a damp washcloth. I concede defeat and get up to take a shower.
Mercifully, the bathroom is clean. It's a dingy affair but at least nothing seems to be growing on the tiles. I turn the shower on to lukewarm and step in, letting the grime of the day wash away. It's no sparkling blue swimming pool, but it's better than nothing.
As I stand under the running water it hits me, something I've come to know intimately over the last few years, so intimately I've given it a name, the Big Black. It's a wave of sadness and fear so powerful it almost physically knocks me over. My heart starts racing and my hands are shaking. I have to turn off the water and sit at the edge of the tub.
The Big Black often visits at night, to taunt me. Lately, it's been telling me that this happiness won't last.
I wonder, what's next? There's always something horrible around the corner, waiting for us. What monsters and demons are hiding in the shadows? What more do we have to endure?
We've seen it all - disease, bullets, shadowy smoking men, and monsters of all shapes and sizes. Abduction, torture, imprisonment, experimentation - been there, done that. What's left?
It's the only thing we haven't faced yet. At least, not Mulder's death and not my own. We've come close, oh so dangerously close, but neither one of us has crossed the line.
Is it only a matter of time?
I don't want to think about this, can't think about this. Living without Mulder is something I can't comprehend anymore.
For a long time, I sit on the tub's edge, trying to take deep, even breaths and slow my heartbeat. After a time, the Big Black recedes somewhat and I get up and turn the shower back on, letting the water run as cold as it can to shock the rest of it out of my system.
My head has cleared and I feel like I can breathe again. I towel off and pad back to our damp nest of sheets. My body has cooled from the frigid water and the air coming from the fan actually feels refreshing.
I close my eyes and try to dream something happy.
A rainy fall night after long hours at the office. Mulder and I are walking to my apartment after driving around for a half-hour trying to find a parking place on a Friday night in Georgetown. We're sharing an umbrella and our arms are touching, just a little, which sends a low electric hum through my body. It hasn't been long for us, just a few weeks since that weekend on Martha's Vineyard, and everything feels so new. It's exciting, yet a bit overwhelming, to know that we're going back to my apartment to make love. I shiver, thinking of my hands on his body, his mouth on mine, tugging down the zipper of his trousers, feeling him slide into me so slowly I want to shriek, the sound of his voice as he comes, waking to the surprise of his dark head on my pillows.
We stop at an intersection to wait for the light to change. Mulder bends down and brushes stray hair out of my eyes, kisses me high on my cheekbone. He says, "I can't wait to get you home."
I laugh, a little self-consciously. "What are you going to do then?"
His laugh is a low rumble. "Well, first I'm going to take that dress off you and..."
I sit bolt upright in the sagging bed, stifling the urge to scream.
It's a million times stronger than the night I was called to the bridge. I can feel it centered in the nape of my neck and radiating out to my limbs.
It's too late. Everything we've done to fight this thing, it has come to nothing. They're almost here; I can feel their collective presence, getting nearer by the second.
I never wanted to believe in this day. I demanded proof, something tangible I could see with my own eyes, something to believe in. Anecdotes and shadowy informants weren't enough. Even the hazy recollection of something in the Antarctic sky wasn't enough. Not even my trust and faith in the man sleeping by my side. It was too huge and terrible for me to imagine.
"They're coming," I gasp through trembling lips.
Mulder rolls over with a groan and switches on the bedside lamp. "What's wrong, Scully?"
This time I scream the words.
The unit was quiet. The patient rooms were soundproofed, and for good reason. Nurses, befrienders and orderlies glided along the corridors with intent purpose. It didn't have the same atmosphere as the other units, where the patients were up and about, flapping around in their pajamas, looking simultaneously stunned and giddy.
As she passed Craig, an orderly, he said to her under his breath, "Hey, Rach, I heard they defrosted a nice, small woman just for you so that if you two get in a fight, you can take her."
She flashed him a dirty look and kept walking until she found K in his cubicle, his limbs looking ridiculously long as he sat in a Human-sized desk chair.
The first time she'd seen one of them, she'd been shocked. Even though she remembered very little of her past, she was sure she'd never seen anyone like that before. The word that immediately sprung into her mind was "alien."
Now, she was used to seeing the Others and they didn't seem so strange to her eyes. Genetically, they were cousins, she'd learned in Orientation.
K had a long, narrow face, high forehead, a flaring nose, and a square jaw. His eyes were lashless and dark gray, though Rachel had seen some Others with greenish eyes. No eyebrows, either. Skin so pale it seemed almost gray, especially under fluorescent lights. His hair was black and wiry, cut so short she could see the scalp underneath.
"Good morning," he said. His voice was soft and hesitant, slightly lisping. Rachel liked their accent and enjoyed overhearing them speaking among each other, the words long exhales of sibilance, punctuated by the occasional hard consonant. "Do you want some coffee?"
She made a face and shook her head. "That stuff is crap, K."
"I heard that the first coffee crop will soon be planted in Hawaii," he said. "What is it with you people and your obsession with that drink?"
"It's a Human thing, you wouldn't understand."
K pulled up another chair and motioned for her to sit. "Are you going to be all right?" he asked.
Rachel shrugged. "This is my job."
"I know, but I have to make sure you're okay before we get started and you don't seem okay. You seem nervous."
"Wouldn't you be?" she asked. "Besides, I can handle it." She squared her shoulders.
K was the only one of them she really knew, she mused. There wasn't any overt hostility between the Humans and their benefactors, but each group tended to keep to itself. They worked together, but when the shift was over, they each retreated to their own quarters, their own food, their own friends.
But K was somehow different. The Others weren't known for sparkling senses of humor, but K liked to sit in the befrienders' lounge and listen to them joke about their patients and roommates. After a while, he even began to smile at the jokes and try to make some of his own, as feeble as they were. He avidly followed the gossip swirling around the Clinic - who was slacking off, who was going to be reassigned to a new city, who was stealing rubbing alcohol to make hooch back in the dorms, who was sleeping with whom.
"I don't think this one will give you any trouble," he said. "She seems like a happy sleeper."
"What's her story?"
K punched some keys on his computer with long, slender fingers. "I'd say she's in her mid-thirties, although you might be a better judge of that. No name, no match in the Bank. You get to start from scratch with her. A nice clean slate"
Rachel grimaced. "A happy sleeper, you say?"
"She looked peaceful."
"They all look peaceful, K, even..." She didn't want to finish the sentence.
"She had a little smile on her face when I checked in on her. Must have been dreaming about something nice."
Someday she'd remember to ask K if the Others dreamed, too.
Deep breath. "Okay, let's do this," she said.
K handed her the connector and she hooked it around her ear. He tapped his monitor. "Rachel, I only have you today. If anything even slightly odd happens, Security will be there in 30 seconds."
Deeper breath. Focus.
K reached over and squeezed her hand.
Rachel froze; she'd never touched one of them. His hand was cool and seemed drier than Human hands.
"Believe that you can do this," he said.
She nodded and he let her hand go. Oddly, she found herself blushing.
Today's room was cornflower blue, the pictures on the walls of wildflowers. Her patient was lying under a blue and white striped comforter.
Rachel appraised the patient in the bed. She was a small woman, her red hair vibrant against the white pillow, pale gold hospital gown, delicate eyebrows etched above closed eyelids, a small mole above her upper lip. She would pretty once she opened her eyes and her face came to life. The patient was still, but there was REM activity visible behind her closed eyes and a trace of a smile lingered on her lips.
She almost hated to wake her patient.
It was time. Rachel sat in the bedside chair and took the woman's soft, warm hand in hers. She didn't think of her former patient, not then. She was intent on the task ahead.
"I'm ready," she murmured to K, whom she knew was watching and listening. "I'm ready."
Black as ink, soft as velvet. I've never been quite as happy as I am right here, right now.
From here, I can see everything. The triumphs, the mistakes, everything lost and gained. Amazingly, I regret very little of it.
I remember laughing hysterically, soaked with rain, in an Oregon graveyard. I remember airports and stakeouts and roadside cafe blue plate specials and how he'd sometimes bite his lip when he was thinking too hard. I remember Martha's Vineyard and how we both started shaking, we were so nervous at the prospect of touching each other. I remember a hot, hot night in West Virginia, stuck in a town so remote the single motel didn't even have air conditioning so we sweated and ate ice cubes, talking about baseball games and summer blockbuster movies. I remember amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
Thousands of twinkling stars in the sky, lit by a full moon in the mountains. The screaming sound of the ships overhead is deafening.
Mulder takes my hand in his.
Somehow, I always knew we'd die together, I think, my breathing quickening. As strong as we are, there's no way one could survive without the other. Can you even imagine such an existence?
The earth begins to shake under our feet. I look at Mulder in panic.
"Can you feel it coming?" I shout.
We will be together in the next life, Mulder.
There was so much I didn't believe in. I didn't believe in vampires, werewolves, or goat-suckers. I didn't want to believe in extraterrestrials. But in this I truly believe. I touch the small cross hanging around my neck.
We will be together in the next life, Mulder.
Brilliant light flares behind my closed eyes and I clamp my eyelids tighter, wanting the light to go away. Leave me alone in this darkness.
Mulder and I turn to each other. We say goodbye with our eyes.
But it isn't goodbye, Mulder. We will be together in the next life.
It feels so intimate to die together.
With a flash of white light I am blinded and everything just stops.
Black as ink, soft as velvet. I've never been quite as happy as I am right here, right now.
From here, I can see everything.
The light is brighter now. Somebody needs to stop that light.
Music comes from somewhere, lovely threads of piano and violin.
We will be together in the next life.
It's like individual grains of sand slipping from my cupped hand. One by one they fall.
We will be together.
The next life.
A cool hand squeezes my own hand. It's not his hand. The brighter the light gets, the more everything fades to sepia.
I hear a voice saying, "Good morning. It's time to wake up."
I don't want to wake but I feel myself rising to the surface, like a diver in the ocean, to the light, to the music.
My eyes open to white. White ceiling tiles, so bright I immediately clench my eyes shut, hoping the soft blackness will return to soothe me.
The hand squeezes mine again. "Open your eyes." The voice is gentle.
Against my will, my eyes open. At first, everything is blurred and appallingly colorful. Sunshine on blue walls, stripes on the bed. A plastic tube runs from my hand to the wall. A voice in my head states: that is an intravenous line, a route of administration of medication directly into the vein.
Tears spring to my eyes because I have no idea where I am.
"Good morning," says the voice and I turn my head to the sound. It's coming from a woman sitting in a chair by the bed. Jeans, t-shirt, dark blonde hair pulled into a messy ponytail. She's smiling at me. She's the one holding my hand.
"My name's Rachel. You're in a safe place and nothing bad will happen to you here," she says. Rachel.
I feel exhausted. All I want to do is go back to sleep.
Something is nagging at me. Something I forgot or something I needed to do that I didn't. "I promised," I sputter. "I promised."
What did I promise?
She only smiles at me. "What's your name?" Rachel asks.
My eyes search the while tiles on the ceiling as if they hold the answer. My name? I have no earthly idea.
I feel tears spilling down my face. To whom did I make this promise? My hand scrabbles at my neck, feeling for something that is no longer there.
None of this is making sense at all.
"You don't remember, huh?" she says. "That's okay. I'm going to help you remember your name."
Why can't I remember my name?
"This is going to sound really weird, but I want you to try this neat trick. I'm going to sing a song to you and I want you to look at me and listen."
What the hell is my name?
Rachel starts singing in a soft, melodious voice. "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear..." She stops and looks at me.
Candles on a cake, colorful balloons, presents wrapped in shiny paper.
She sings again, "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear..."
"Dana," I hear myself say.
She smiles as if I've solved the world's problems. "So, your name's Dana, then."
Dana. Day-nuh. I stop to consider the name, to taste each syllable to see if it fits. Something resonates from within. I am Dana.
In the small room, Rachel and I sing the Happy Birthday song together, the two of us smiling because my name is Dana.
The night shift came on at the Clinic and Rachel left Dana peacefully sleeping under the influence of a healthy dose of sedatives. She'd most likely sleep until morning but there was a befriender on night duty in case she, or any of the other patients on the unit, awakened.
After finishing her end-of-shift paperwork, Rachel walked down the hall to Bradley's office and poked her head in the doorway. He was at his computer, glasses sliding down his nose, madly tapping away at his keyboard. She'd heard he'd been a fairly lousy befriender but he was one hell of a bureaucrat.
"Hey, Bradley," she said.
He'd been so intent on whatever he'd been working on that he jumped a bit at the sound of her voice. "Oh hello, Rachel," he said, pushing his glasses back up. "How did it go today?"
"It was fine, no problems at all."
Her day with Dana had gone about as well as any first day could go. Dana had spent most of the day crying, as many of them did. Rachel had held her hand and murmured soothing words. Human voice and touch were critical to a patient's success. There had been some minor triumphs. Dana had eaten her first solid food - apple sauce - and even made a wobbly trip to the bathroom. It may have been emotionally draining for Rachel, but all in all, not a bad day after all. She was vastly relieved.
"K told me you got a first and last name. Good work," Bradley said. "I told you that you could do it. Maybe you should try listening to me more often."
She fought an overwhelming urge to roll her eyes. Rachel had a question for him, something that had been on her mind all day. "Hey, Bradley? Whatever happened to him?"
"Who are you talking about?" He wrinkled his forehead.
Rachel found herself unable to meet Bradley's eyes. "My first patient. What happened to him?"
As she'd held Dana and wiped away her tears, Rachel had kept thinking about her first patient. She hadn't been able to get the sound of his voice and the confusion and anger on his face out of her head. The memories were of him no longer frightened her, though. When she'd remembered her first patient as she held Dana's hand, Rachel had felt lonely.
Bradley turned to his keyboard and resumed his wild typing. After a minute, he looked up at her. "Here he is," he said, turning the monitor so Rachel could see it. "This is the progress report we got for him."
NORTH AMERICAN SECTOR
BOSTON ORIENTATION CENTER
ONE WEEK PROGRESS REPORT
NAME: Mulder, Fox William
DOB: 10-13-? [Year unknown to date]
SINGLE IDENTIFICATION #: 0023667341
LAST KNOWN RESIDENCE: Unknown to date
OCCUPATION: Unknown to date
DNA MATCH: None
RETRIEVAL DATE: Unknown
RETRIEVAL PLACE: Unknown
AWAKENING DATE: 11-18-1999
CLINIC LOCATION: Atlanta
FWM adjusting well to center. No known violent episodes since arrival. Passed psych screening. Participates in all scheduled activities. Approval to enter vocational program granted.
SUBMITTED BY: R. Ortega, Boston Orientation Center
Now she had a name to go with the face and the voice. Fox. Fox Mulder. It had an odd ring to her ears.
Rachel found herself exhaling in relief, although she wasn't exactly sure why. It was a good report; he'd probably made it. If he hadn't, the Clinic would have received notice of his death or psychiatric institutionalization.
After dinner, she left the cafeteria and started down the walkway to her dorm. She spotted K leaning against a wall, trying to look nonchalant and inconspicuous, which was difficult to pull off when one was nearly seven feet tall and grayish in skin tone.
Rachel stopped before him. "What are you doing around here, slumming?"
He tilted his head at her, seemingly confused.
"Sorry," she said. "That's probably too slangy for your implant to catch."
"What does it mean?"
"It's hard to explain. Something about hanging around the lower classes for adventure."
"Do you want to go for a walk?" he said abruptly, not meeting her eyes.
"Sure. Where do you want to go?"
"I don't know. Just a walk..." He shrugged his shoulders, a gesture he'd picked up a while back.
They walked through quiet, almost deserted streets, passing few people on the way. Those they did come across seemed a bit taken aback to see a human and one of the Others, companionably strolling together for no apparent official purpose. Every so often they'd stop to look at a building in construction to speculate on what purpose it would serve.
After a few miles, they found a small park next to a towering apartment building. Even though quite a few lights were on the building, the park's benches and tree-lined paths were empty. Outside the dome, it was getting dark.
"It seems sad to have this lovely space and no one is using it," Rachel said. They sat down on a park bench facing some playground equipment that looked as if it had never been used.
"More and more Humans are coming to Atlanta every day," K said. "Soon enough it will feel crowded and bustling, like a real city should."
So many lost, she thought. I can feel them tonight.
She turned to K. "I have a weird question for you. How do you say your name?"
"You won't be able to say it. None of the Humans can."
Rachel smiled at her lanky friend, dressed and jeans and a sweatshirt as if he were trying to fit in, to pass as a Human. "How will I know if I don't try?"
K sighed. "Fine. My name is Kassshiiaaatessaahaaarasaahdt." At least, that's what it sounded like to her ears.
She tried to repeat the sounds back to him and ended up dissolving in laughter. K smiled in response, since the Others didn't seem to laugh.
"We'd better stick with K." He pointed at the swings. "What are those?"
"Over there? They're swings."
"Yes, but what do you do with them?"
Rachel had no concrete memory of ever using a swing but something inside her told her that she absolutely, positively knew how to swing. She jumped up from the bench and started walking towards the swings. "Come over here and find out for yourself," she said over her shoulder.
There were three swings in a row, surrounded by soft sand. Rachel sat on the middle swing and began pumping her legs. The swing took her higher and higher and she reveled in the exhilarating sensation of flying up and down, back and forth.
She let herself come to a stop and looked at K, who was watching with fascination. "That looks like fun."
"You should try it yourself," she said.
"I don't think it would work. The swing is too low and my legs are too long."
He was probably right. The average child's swing wasn't built for the Others. Rachel held onto the chains of the swing and leaned as far back as she could to see the stars emerging on the other side of the dome.
She found herself singing: "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky..."
"That's a pretty song," K said. "Where does it come from?"
"I don't know. This is the first time I've ever heard it, or sung it, for that matter," she said. That was the odd thing about memories. Sometimes songs, or trivia, or even skills would seemingly materialize from thin air.
"It sounds like it could be a song for children," he said.
This was what felt so wrong about the park. It wasn't the lack of people in general, it was the children. There needed to be children playing on the swings and the merry-go-round. There needed to be shouts of glee and grubby faces and parents sitting on the benches, gossiping and trading potty-training tips.
"Do you have any children?" she asked K.
He shook his head.
Rachel bit her lip. "I did. I had a child. Or children. I don't know...I can't remember."
She felt his soft touch on her shoulder. "That must be terrible for you," he said.
"You have no idea." She turned away from K, remembering her horror and confusion after the exam in the Orientation Center when the doctor had gently explained to her that she appeared to have given birth to one or more children.
How could a mother possibly forget her own children?
She sighed. "How do you mourn someone you can't remember, K?"
"I don't know. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to live without my memories of the past."
She nodded. No, he couldn't imagine.
"Do you ever miss home, K?" she asked.
He ran long fingers through his short scruff of dark hair. "Of course I do. I get homesick."
No matter how fulfilled she was in her work, no matter how many friends she made, no matter how generally comfortable and safe her life was, Rachel never quite felt at home in the new world. It wasn't home. Atlanta was clean, shiny and untouched. There was no history here. Home was something far away, something she could not remember. Home had been a place called Florida, but it was just a word to her. Home had been being a mother, maybe a wife. She'd been somebody's daughter. She'd been a paramedic; she'd saved lives. There had been fires and floods and car accidents.
"So do I," she said. "So do I..."
Rachel wiped her eyes but there were no tears. She'd cried enough for her forgotten ones. It was time to find her home, whatever that meant.
Rachel swung high into the air. For the first time, she remembered wind on her face. She looked at the tapestry of stars sparkling in the night sky and dreamed of a place called home.
NORTH AMERICAN SECTOR
MINNEAPOLIS ORIENTATION CENTER
ONE WEEK PROGRESS REPORT
NAME: Scully, Dana [Middle name unknown to date]
SINGLE IDENTIFICATION #: 0023449761
LAST KNOWN RESIDENCE: Washington D.C. Area
OCCUPATION: Unknown to date
DNA MATCH: None
RETRIEVAL DATE: Unknown
RETRIEVAL PLACE: Unknown
AWAKENING DATE: 01-09-2000
CLINIC LOCATION: Atlanta
DS making adjustment to orientation program. Complains of frequent nightmares and insomnia, also frequent headaches. Participates in all scheduled activities. Approval to enter vocational unit granted.
SUBMITTED BY: S. Avery, Minneapolis Orientation Center
We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya
This story is for Anjou, for being a fantastic focus group of one and for her friendship, which helped me find the confidence to finish this story.
I owe Shari and jerry dozens and dozens of cookies for general loveliness and being kind enough to dust off their beta hats for me. I appreciate their time and effort more than I can ever express.
My most grateful thanks to my friends for welcoming me back.