Dasha (dashakay) wrote in secretprobation,

Across a Crowded Room

SUMMARY: Regret, remembrance and sushi.
DISCLAIMER: Dear Chris, you know they don't belong to me.
POSTING DATE: August 1999

Peter is saying something about golf, or income taxes, and the kimono-clad waitress is setting down a sushi mosaic on a lacquer tray. She pretends to smile and nod along with Peter, and pours soy sauce into the little bowl, but in her mind she's thousands of miles away.

He just walked into the restaurant, you see, strolled into Ichigiku and took the seat directly across the room from her, under the print of two geisha dancing on the banks of the Kamo River. A rice paper screen partially divides the room so that she can see him, but he most likely cannot see her.

Thank God, she thinks as her trembling fingers hold the chopsticks. Suddenly sushi doesn't seem like the most appetizing dinner option, the fleshy pink of the maguro almost nauseating.

Peter deftly whisks wasabi into his sauce and looks up at her. "You seem pale," he says, his brow creased in concern. "Are you okay, honey?"

She nods. "I'm fine," she says, touching her temple. "Just the beginning of a headache."

He launches back into his topic of conversation. Index funds, it turns out, something a friend of his has urged them to look into. She's left to her reverie, staring at the man sitting across a crowded room from her.

How long has it been, three, four years?

It's easy to slip into an automatic mode, appearing to be raptly listening to Peter and eating her unagi roll and yellowtail, while inside she feels herself ripping at the seams. Touches of gray have appeared at his temples and he seems to need his glasses for more than just reading now, but he's still dashing in a well-cut navy suit and red tie. He still has that wicked grin that he flashes for the waitress' benefit.

She was the one who introduced him to sushi, dammit. One night they sat at the candlelit table in her apartment, with takeout from Hirami spread before them. She fed him bits of California roll with her chopsticks until he was ready for the more advanced varieties, like eel and a salmon skin roll.

There are still nights when she awakens in the dead hours of the night, shaking and sweating from a dream about him that is so real it's hard to tell which is the reality, his lumpy bed where he made love to her with such ardor, or the larger, softer bed where Peter is curled up next to her. It's hard to remember at those times that she's now in New York, and Washington, and her years with the Bureau are light-years away.

It's hard to remember he's been gone for ages.

Sometimes she swears she can still smell him on her skin when she wakes from one of those dreams.

The hostess approaches his table with a woman in tow and her jaw clenches at the sight. So, it's not a dinner for one after all. It's her. His woman, his lover. No, his wife.

Of course she wasn't invited to their wedding. It was a small affair almost two years ago, attended only by their families and a few friends. She managed to get hold of a few wedding pictures through an acquaintance of hers who knew the wedding photographer. Black and white proofs of him in a simple dark suit, toasting his new wife with a broad grin on his face. The two of them standing before the judge with their hands clasped, her face serene, his bathed in joy. She even got a shot of the kiss, her former lover clasping his wife at the neck and pulling her into the embrace that sealed their lives together.

"I, Fox Mulder, take thee..."

She shivers at the thought and wishes the air conditioning wasn't so high or she'd brought a sweater. She wishes she and Peter had been in the mood for Thai or Italian, and not Japanese.

And she wonders what the hell they're doing in New York.

Peter excuses himself to go to the bathroom and now she's truly free to sink into the warm bath of regret and a million other emotions she isn't able to properly name.

The happy couple clink sake cups and drink.

The first night they were together, that night in his apartment after a tough case out of town, still psychically stained by a string of beheadings of old women. She recalls how he finally took her hands and kissed her, long and slow, releasing the tension of too long together, but apart. Afterwards they opened a bottle of red wine and brought their glasses together in a toast to their future. Finally, she thought as he sank into her for the second time and she bit his shoulder, finally we are one.

He takes his wife's hand in his and she notices the simple platinum band on her slender finger.

That night, so many years ago, the rain was pattering against the windows as she lay sprawled on the wrinkled sheets of her bed, her heart still drumming away after her orgasm. He walked across the room in his nude glory, smiling shyly as he presented a diamond solitaire to her. Tears in her eyes, she nodded, too overcome to say yes.

She wonders how he proposed to his wife. Did he get down on one knee? Over dinner, with the ring on the dessert tray? No, she thinks, shaking her head, he did it in his simple, honest manner. He asked and she said yes.

Pushing some fallen grains of rice around with her chopsticks, she feels old and worn, badly used by time and circumstance. Of course his wife is younger than she, and of course the other woman is lovely tonight in her black linen shift dress, with her hair gently waving to her bare shoulders. She's smiling and happy; she's a woman in love.

All too well she remembers being the object of Fox Mulder's affection. He was a man obsessed with his work, his quest, but he had room enough in his heart to love her with a dogged tenacity. Even when they fought bitterly over a case, he loved her.

But it wasn't enough, was it? Not in the end. Not when that foul-smelling old man sat across from her in the booth of a Capitol Hill bar and told her she had to leave. Leave him, her life and work and family and go far away.

She tried to be brave. "And what if I don't?"

He blew a plume of smoke straight into her face. "You die. He dies."

She shrugged. "We've faced that threat before."

"I don't think you understand, Agent. You die and he dies. So do your mother and his. And I can guarantee you, it won't be a quick, merciful death for anyone." He pushed forward a photograph of her mother in the backyard, watering her flowers. Another photo was produced, this of a Volvo station wagon, crumpled and dented in the aftermath of a collision with a hit and run driver. "How is your
mother's hip, by the way? I was so sorry to hear about her...accident..."

"Why?" she whispered, her voice high and papery.

"Business. You and Agent Mulder are dangerous together." He stubbed out his cigarette and stood to leave. "If you say anything to him, no one will be spared."

He dropped a manila envelope on the table and walked away. Inside was a one-way first class plane ticket, a cashier's check for $75,000, and instructions on what to do when she reached her final destination.

She never got a chance to say goodbye. She packed her bags, wrote him a quick note and headed for National to catch the flight.

It was days before she finally allowed herself the luxury of tears. Alone in a hotel room, she spent hours going through her suitcases, finally realizing she'd forgotten to pack a picture of him in her haste.

Not that his image ever faded in her memory.

Peter returns and kisses her. He's a good man and she does love him. They have built a life together-- a beautiful apartment on Central Park West, an interesting circle of friends, time to spend together despite demanding careers. Her family adores him and her friends can't believe what a
catch he is.

When Peter asked her to marry him, she told him she needed some time to think. Understanding her pragmatic nature, he took it well and left her to her thoughts.

It snowed that night and she curled up in the window seat of her Chelsea apartment with her quilt, watching the fat flakes dancing their way down to the dirty street below. She sat and remembered the night when he'd looked at her in the lamplight of their bedroom and tenderly brushed the hair out of her eyes. His own hair was in wild late-night disarray and his quirky eyes were a blazing green unique only to Fox Mulder. "Only you," he whispered, spreading her legs with his warm hand. "You are the only woman I could ever love."

How she'd hung onto that thin thread with all her might during her exile.

She should have realized how the human heart could adapt. When she'd finally been allowed to return, he was a man in love and not with her. The signs were subtle, but she still knew him well enough to read them. It burned to see him gazing at the other woman with the look that was once reserved only for her.

Holding his wedding photo in her hands on that snowy night, she took a deep breath and made her decision. She and Peter were married in Bermuda three weeks later.

I wish I could have said goodbye to you, she thinks. As difficult as it would have been, you would have been left with a sweet memory of the two of us, our bodies and minds coming together one last time. Instead, the final hour they spent together was a hurried lunch in the Bureau cafeteria and a trip up to the Sci-Crime lab to pick up the results of some blood samples.

And then she was gone like a puff of smoke from the mouth of the shadowy man who held her fate in his hands.

She excuses herself for the Ladies Room, feeling tears about to well and not wanting to explain them to Peter.

In the bathroom she dabs away her tears with a tissue and reapplies powder, frowning at the lines around her eyes, picturing the young woman who once loved the man across the room. She drops Visine in her reddened eyes and steels herself for the rest of her life. It's going to go on and on and on, whether she likes it or not.

She steps out into the narrow corridor and collides with someone tall leaving the Men's Room. Her heart painfully lurches as she realizes it's him.

He turns to her and his mouth opens in surprise. "Diana," he says.

With great effort, she forces a smile on her face. "Hello Fox," she replies, keeping her voice cool and even.

"I-I didn't expect to see you here. We're in the city for a seminar."

She nods. "You're looking well."

He touches his graying hair. "Thank you, so are you."

A million things to say race through her mind, but none of them seems appropriate or right. There isn't anything she can say or do that will change the course of history and make things right again.

"Congratulations are in order," she finally says.

He glances at the engagement and wedding rings on her left hand. "Yeah, you too. Congratulations." On his own hand is a platinum band that matches his wife's.

"We're very happy."

"I'm glad to hear that." His voice sounds detached, as if she's merely the woman who once worked in the office down the hall from him. That's what happens when the love is gone, she thinks. I just wish it could be the same for me.

"How are things for you?" she asks, trying not to sound like she's prying.

His face melts into a full smile. "Life is good. Finally."

Finally. The word stabs at her core. She kisses his sandpaper-stubbled cheek. "Take care of yourself, Fox." Surreptitiously, she allows herself one last whiff of his warm soap and wool smell.

He squeezes her shoulder and pulls away. "You too, Diana." There is no rancor in his voice, not even after all she did to him, both before and after she disappeared from his life.

Like a sleepwalker, she returns to sit across from Peter and resume what remains of her life.

Across the crowded room Mulder rejoins Scully and again they clink their cups of sake in a toast to their future.


Special bento boxes of the finest maguro, unagi rolls, hamachi, California rolls and many cups of sake to my patient, devoted beta readers-- Blueswirl, Gwen and Plausible Deniability. I am lucky enough to have eaten sushi with two of these three wonderful people. Life is good.
Tags: fandom: x-files, year: 1999
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