Title: Moments of Doubt
Author: ScullyFu
E-Mail: x-file_addict@msn.com
Posted: 9/02/01

Archives: Spookies, Gossamer, Ephemeral are okay. Others, please ask.
Spoilers: There are a couple of minor mentions in passing.
Rating: NC-17
Classification: ScullySlash. Mel's POV.

Disclaimer: They're not mine. CC, 1013 and Fox have the sole rights to their existence. Dammit!
Summary: Dana is hurting, but can she share her pain?
Thanks once again to Rochel. Her dedicated attention to grammar and her insights into character motivation were of immeasurable importance. Any boo-boos are mine and mine alone.
Note: This is the ninth in the series and falls between "She Wants You" and the start of the "Beach Blanket Bingo" trilogy. At this point in the series, I think it is necessary for you to have some background information on the Beach Blanket Bingo Universe. All the stories are relatively short, so if you want to read them to get caught up, please, be my guest. Go here: http://scullyfu.populli.net/

The jangling phone startles me from my near comatose state. I'd just begun to drift off again; I sleep in fits and starts when Dana's on night duty. My mind is fuzzy. Instinctively, I reach for her. Then I look at the clock. Shit! Three o'clock. This has to be her.

"Dana?" My voice sounds a little frantic, even to myself.

"Sorry to wake you."

"No, no, it's fine. I'm glad you called. I'd be more worried if you didn't call to tell me everything's okay."

This is the first time she's had to call since we made our agreement. I made her promise that if she were going to be later than her normal time, usually around two, she'd try to call.

She hesitates.

"Dana? What's wrong?" I think I'm starting to hyperventilate. "You're all right, aren't you? God, tell me you're all right."

"I'm fine."

"Thank God," I blurt out, followed by a questioning, "Really?"

"It's just-"

"What? Tell me. Where are you?" I'm speaking really fast and gulping for air at the same time.

"At the hospital."

"Which one?" I ask hurriedly.

"Saint Luke's."

"I'll be right there."

"No, you don't need to. Mulder will-"

"I said I'd be there in fifteen minutes." Hanging up the phone, I go to the dresser and grab a pair of sweats, throw a sweatshirt on over my pajama top and quickly pull my hair back without brushing it. I'm no sooner out the door then the cold cement porch reminds me I don't have any shoes on. Shit. Running back upstairs, I stick my feet into a pair of tennis shoes, sans socks.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I swipe the car keys off the foyer key holder. I think it's cold out, I can see my breath. But I'm feeling numb right now. Until I see with my own eyes that she's safe, I won't feel anything. I knew this would happen one day. Why the hell do lights turn red at fucking three in the morning? I do a cursory look around and then run it. I check my rearview mirror and see no flashing blue lights. That's all I'd need right now, some stupid cop pulling me over.


"Did you see that red light, lady?" he says, momentarily shining his flashlight in my eyes.

"Yes, you waddling advertisement for a donut shop," I fire back.

"So you saw it?" he says, taking my license and registration.

"Isn't that what I just said, Krispy Kreme Boy?" I respond, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Then why did you run it?" he asks, pounding his nightstick into the palm of his left hand and nearly destroying my documents.

"Well, let's see. It's three o'clock in the freaking morning and my girlfriend just called me from the hospital; she's been hurt by some stupid criminal lowlife, who, by the way, you should be out trying to find and I've got to get there and see for myself that she's all right. I mean, if that meets with your approval, Officer Eclair!"


Yeah, that'd be just great; on top of her traumatic night, Dana would have to come bail my sorry ass out of jail.

Okay, now to find a parking space. I wonder if I qualify as an Emergency Vehicle? Better not. Shit. Who the hell do all these cars belong to anyway? Why'd they bring her to this dump? It looks like some sort of gangbanger hospital. I can just see those slime balls driving up dumping bodies at the emergency door and peeling off with squealing tires. Here's a spot. Turning off the engine, I rush inside. At least I try to, my sleeve gets caught in the door and I'm unceremoniously yanked back. Crap. Okay, I'm free, now to get inside before I get shot or something.

"Dana Scully. FBI agent. She called me." I'm experiencing a shortness of breath. The receptionist looks at me as though she sees this sort of behavior all the time.

"Yes, she's fine. Try to calm down. I'll find her and tell her you're here. Your name, please."

I didn't hear a word she said. I've been frantically looking around trying to find Dana. "Nevermind," I say as I race towards her.

I'm just about to grab her when I realize Mulder is still here with her. Oh, hell. Does it get any better? I haven't seen him for a while, I wonder if he even remembers me. This is not good, I thought Dana would have told him to leave when she knew I was coming after her.

I notice the distress on her face and realize it's not totally from an injury. Seems my presence has already been duly noted. I guess I haven't been exactly low-key. She's looking at Mulder and he's looking at her. His synapses are working overtime. He's putting two and two together. He's not stupid by any stretch of the imagination. It's obvious that he understands why I'm here, why Dana called me in the middle of the night.

She clears her throat and re-introduces us, all the while keeping her eyes averted from either of us.

"Yes. I certainly remember you, Mel," he says.

We shake hands. I doubt either of us is in the mood for small talk. "Likewise. Well, thanks for staying with her, Mulder. I'll get her home."

He tries to smile, but doesn't do a very good job of it. He nods and says, "Scully," as he walks briskly out the door, his long coat flapping in his wake.

I hold her at arm's length and check her out, two arms, and two legs; yes, everything seems to be in place. I clutch her to me and feel her tense up. Damn, I'm hurting her, so I let up a bit and feel her relax; hell, so do I.

"What happened?" I ask.

"I want to go home."

Typical Dana reaction to something she doesn't want to deal with. 'Evade' could easily be her middle name. But I guess I really need to cut her some major slack here, she's obviously one hurting puppy.

I take her elbow and guide her outside. With a few grimaces, she slowly lowers herself into the car. I make sure she's buckled up and then go around to the driver's side. I think I slammed the door a little too forcefully, she probably thinks I'm angry. Well, in a way I am. Angry that one day I may be getting a call from Mulder and not her. Angry that she risks her life on a daily basis. Angry that I can't persuade her to leave the Bureau and come to work with me.

"We're outta here. Tell Skinner or whoever that you're taking two weeks off, I'm getting you away from this madness."

She starts to protest, give me her usual 'I'm fine' line. Well, I'm not Mulder and I don't buy it.

"It's not going to work this time. I know you love your job, Dana, but it's just plain nuts to put yourself on the line every single day. You deserve a break and I can use one, too. These past weeks have been hell for me with you gone most every night." Shit, I don't want to go there, but I can't seem to help myself. I'm a bundle of nerves and the words seem to have taken on a life of their own, flowing out rapidly and without censure.

"I sit up and wait for you to come home, all the while dreading the call. My muscles seize up from the time you leave till I hear your key in the door." I look at her and take her hand as we wait for the light to change; I'm not running any lights with her in the car. "I'll be damned if I'm going to lose you this way." I smile to let her know I'm not angry, just terribly afraid for her, for us.

She squeezes my hand in return. Without words, she tells me she understands perfectly what I'm saying. God, I don't recall ever feeling so much fear or love. If anything were to happen...well, I don't even want to allow those thoughts into my consciousness. Nothing is going to happen. She's going to live to a ripe old age and I'm going to be right there with her. I don't want to, but I have to let go of her hand to turn into the driveway.

She must be hurting; she never waits for me to open the car door for her. I stand patiently in the cold night air as she unbuckles her seat belt and then take her elbow to help her out. She seems a little stiff, like it hurts her to move.

"Dana?" I say with obvious concern in my voice.

"I'm fine." She sees me frown and stops moving. "Really. I'm just a little sore."

"It's cold out here. Come on."

We walk slowly to the front door. She leans heavily against me as I fumble with the key, finally getting it in the hole and opening the door. I sped out so quickly before I left the hall light on so the front of the house is lit. I flip off the porch light and carefully remove her coat, hanging it up on the rack. I'm struck again by how tiny she is. How can her body take all this abuse and still keep going?

"Do you want me to make up the couch?"

"No," she whispers, her voice strained. "I want to sleep with you."

With each step up the stairs I notice her wincing, like breathing is difficult. In the bedroom I help her undress and I'm glad she's wearing a blouse rather than a turtleneck; I'd hate to have her lift her arms that high, I'd probably just cut it off. There are some nasty bruises and swelling on her arms, but the thing that sends me into a fresh panic is the sight of her ribs wrapped tightly with an elastic ace bandage.

"Jesus, Dana, what the hell happened?"

"I got knocked over."


With a huge strained expulsion of air, she sits down on the bed.

"Don't try to protect me, Dana. I want to know what the hell is going on with you. Do you have any broken bones?"

"No. Just what you see." It's like she's reading my mind as she starts listing off the litany of her injuries. "No internal injuries or bleeding. Just some soreness and contusions, the doctor gave me a painkiller."

"Baby, I'm so sorry." I kneel down beside her placing my hands on her thighs. "Would you like a warm bath?"

"That would be nice."

I pull the comforter up to keep her from getting a chill, then I give her a gentle kiss before leaving. Turning on the water, I check it often to make sure it's not too hot. I dribble in some of her favorite scented bath oils. When the tub is almost three-quarters full I shut off the water.

As I'm heading out of the bathroom, I start talking, "Okay, honey, your bath's ready."

But when I get into the bedroom she's asleep sitting straight up. Oh, my heart is aching for her. I walk over and cautiously lift her up while I throw back the covers. For someone so small, she's a dead weight when she's out. Bad choice of words, Mel. She groans as I lower her down to her pillow. Dammit. This is not fair. She's only doing her job and she has to put up with this abuse. I'm so angry I could spit! But anger is not going to help Dana, so I have to keep that in check.

Lifting her bare legs onto the bed, I cover her with the blankets. Even with the painkiller she winces when she tries to move. How does she do it? I've never met anyone as brave. She's been hurt too much on this job and I doubt I know even the half of it. Somehow, I've got to convince her to leave the Bureau and come to work for me. I can't stand to have her beat up like this. And, more to the point, I don't know how much more she can stand.

I walk back into the bathroom and drain the tub. I fill up a glass with water in case she wakes up thirsty during the night and set it on her nightstand. Going back downstairs, I check her coat pockets for the pain pills she mentioned. There they are in a small vial. I turn the label around and read the prescription. Jesus. That's some major league pain suppressor. With all her hospital visits I bet she could s tart her own damned pharmacy.

My initial adrenaline rush has worn off and now that I know Dana is safe, it's my turn to feel whoosie. My mouth is filling with saliva; my head is spinning; I feel like I may faint. Leaning against the stair banister, I wait for the queasiness to pass. In the morning I'll call and tell Mulder that she won't be in, although I'm sure he can figure it out on his own. Then I'll call the IT Department and tell them I've had a family emergency and I'll need a couple of weeks off. Jeez, it's already nearly five. Hell, it's so close to being time to go into work, I may as well call now. I'll just leave a message on the IT voice mail. If they don't like it, screw 'em. Mulder I'll call whenever we get up.

The call made, I go into the kitchen and scramble around some drawers until I find a bendable straw left over from some long ago root beer float night. I head back upstairs. So as not to jostle the bed, I climb in very deliberately. I lay perfectly still for a moment, not wanting to move for fear of disturbing her. But I can't sleep like this, all stiff. I shut off the nightlight. No doubt she'll sleep all night or what's left of it anyway. I turn on my side so I can watch over her in case she needs anything. Cautiously, I stroke her hair and arm to let her know she's not alone.

Shit! I must've fallen asleep and forgot to turn off the alarm and it's clanging like a fucking cowbell. I reach back quickly and pound the off button. Dana stirs and moans. Dammit. I was lying so close to her I must've brushed against her and woken her. Okay, I'll lie still for a few minutes; maybe she'll go back to sleep.

"Mel?" Her voice sounds small.

"Shhh. Go back to sleep," I whisper tenderly.

"Work," she says keeping her eyes shut.

What the hell is she talking about? She was so sore last night she could barely breathe and she's planning on going to work? She must still be feeling the effects of the painkiller.

"No work." I stroke her hair repeatedly, attempting to mesmerize her back to sleep.

"Have to get up." She starts to move, but her face shows her discomfort and she's forced to suck in air to fight off the pain.

I lay a hand on her shoulder. "Just be still. You're not going to work today. Bed rest all day."



"I love you."

"I love you, too, baby. Do you want a sip of water before you go back to sleep?"


"Do you want another painkiller?"


If she wants another pill she's probably really hurting. Dammit. I get up and walk over to her side of the bed, retrieving the water and pill from the nightstand. I place my hand behind her head and help her to raise up a bit. "Open your mouth a little." She does.

Placing the pill on her tongue, I guide the straw between her lips and tell her to suck. She takes a small sip, then another. I know from personal experience those painkillers can give you a bad case of cottonmouth. After a couple more sips, she pushes the straw out with her tongue, a little water dribbling down her chin. I wipe it off. She gives me a sleepy smile.

"Night, Sleeping Beauty." I place a soft kiss on her moistened lips.

"Hey," she says dreamily.

"What, baby?"

"That's how you're supposed to wake me up."

I can't help but smile. "Shhh, silly. I'm going to go downstairs so you can go back to sleep, but I'll be checking on you and I'll be right here when you wake up."

"You. Work. Mul--" she slurs.

"I'm not going to work today. I'll call Mulder. We'll talk when you get up. Right now, I want you to sleep."

She manages a slight upturn of the corners of her mouth and says, "Love you."

"And I love you, too. Now stop talking and sleep." I tuck the blankets tightly around her and kiss her forehead.

Back downstairs, I decide against grinding up coffee beans in case it would wake her, although I doubt it; so instead I grab the instant and put on the kettle. While the water boils I retrieve the paper from the front porch. I'll give it another few minutes before I call to speak directly with my contact at the Bureau and inform him that I'll need the next week or two off. I'll tell him I'll be calling one of my associates in Boston to come down to keep the training on schedule. Then I'll call Rick and tell him to hightail it down here for the next couple of weeks. We can meet later today so I can give him my notes and get him up to speed.

Mulder. I need to call him. This is going to be a bit sticky. I'm sure he's experiencing a bit of shock. Oh well, he had to find out sooner or later; I just wish Dana had been able to do it on more of her own terms. Then again, she did have the chance to get rid of him before I got there. But, maybe not. If Mulder is the kind of man, partner, I think he is, he wouldn't have left no matter how much Dana pressed him. Picking up the phone, I place the call.


"Good morning, Mulder, it's Mel."

"Morning." His voice sounds a bit strained; no, maybe disappointed is more accurate, he was probably hoping it was Dana. He clears his throat. "How's Scully?"

"She's sleeping. I just gave her another painkiller. God, Mulder, what the hell happened? She looks like someone took a tire iron to her." I can hear my voice wavering and struggle to get it back in control.

"What did Scully tell you?" he asks noncommittally.

"She was in no shape to talk last night. Why don't you tell me?" Take it easy, Mel, you don't want to alienate him. It's highly probable we'll be seeing each other periodically and I'd like us to stay on good terms.

"We were on surveillance and Scully was walking the neighborhood perimeter when some punks jumped her."

"Why didn't you stop them?" I'm nervous; the pitch of my voice is getting higher. I take a deep breath before continuing. "I'm sorry, Mulder, I certainly didn't mean to sound accusatory. I know you wouldn't let anything happen to Dana if you could have stopped it."

When he resumes speaking, his voice sounds less defensive. "She was out of visual contact; we were keeping in touch by wireless radio. It was a couple of minutes before we figured out she was in trouble. We flooded the area and found her in an alley."

"Oh, God, Mulder. Did they rape-"

"No," he says emphatically. "They didn't."

"Thank God." I'm happy he's being so open with me. "But why, Mulder? Why did they attack Dana?"

"Who knows why these scumbags do the shit they do, Mel. Anyway, we called an ambulance and got her to hospital right away."

"Did you catch them?" I ask hopefully.


"Will you?"

"Probably not." He doesn't sound surprised by the fact.

"How many were there?"


"But she didn't have anything worth taking, did she?"

"It doesn't matter to those sick fucks."

I'm frustrated at the futility of it all. "So what did the doctor say?"

"That beyond the bruises, she was all right. There were no broken bones, internal injuries or bleeding."

"Why are her arms so bruised and swollen?"

"She had them over her head in a defensive position."

I hear myself groan at the vision of her being kicked in the head. "Why is she bound up?"

"Just for support, to help avoid more pain when she moves."

"When does she have to go back to the doctor's?"

"In a couple weeks, unless there are complications."

"Complications?" The mere mention of the word sets my nerves on edge anew.

"If she's not feeling better in a day or two or if she has continuing headaches, that sort of thing."

"Thank you for filling me in, Mulder." I pause momentarily. "I guess this is unnecessary to say, but Dana won't be coming into work today. In fact, I want to take her away for a while. She needs to heal and I think some fresh air and sun would do her a world of good. We'll be gone for at least a week, maybe ten days."

"I think that's a good idea," he says. "Scully always comes back to work too soon."

"Can you talk to Skinner or whoever and see what you can do about getting her some time off, please?"

"That shouldn't be a problem. They know how bad off she is and would expect her to take some time, although she rarely does. I'll get in touch with Skinner and get back to you."




"For what?"

"For not shutting me out, for telling me about what happened to Dana."

We share a moment of silence; both of us contemplating our own private thoughts about her.



"I'm sorry you had to find out about Dana and me like that. I know she would've preferred to tell you under different circumstances."

"It's fine." There's that word again. These two have denial down to an art form.

"I do love her."

"I'm glad," he says, "she deserves some happiness." He pauses. "Look, Mel, I won't lie, it was a shock seeing you. But people love whomever they love." He pauses again.

It seems as though he wants to say something, but he's not sure if he should. "Mulder?"

"Look, last night after I walked out, I stopped to watch you through the glass doors and from what I observed it was apparent to me that you love her." He hesitates. "And she loves you."

"Dana's right when she says you are a wonderful person. I'm not sure I could be as generous."

"I just want Scully to be happy." He seems genuinely sincere.

"Do you think she is?"

He pauses. "Yes, I think finally she is."

I'm smiling, but tears are streaming down my face. "Do you want to come by and see her?" I ask.

"I think I'll give it a couple of days."

"Well, I'll wait for your call then. Oh, let me give you my number. It's five, five, five, eleven-thirteen."

"Give Scully my regards and tell her to take her time getting back."

"I will."


Hanging up, I feel relieved beyond words. He could have been a real hard ass, but after what must have been the initial shock of hearing from me, I think it went well. I need to give some serious thought to getting to know him better. He's a big part of Dana's life and well, I think I could like him, too.

Between phone calls to Mulder and my FBI consulting liaison, I check on Dana a couple times and have some more coffee. Next I call the office in Boston to arrange the logistics of getting Rick down here. He'll be catching the afternoon flight and will come directly here for a briefing. Reaching for the coffee jar, I decide to have some orange juice instead. Now that all the phone calls are done, I'll run back up and check on Dana. If she's awake, I'll come back and fix us some breakfast.

I tiptoe into the room to get a closer look at her. She's still sleeping peacefully. Thank God for drugs. This time I can't help myself. Previously I've just peeked at her from the door, but now I feel compelled to touch her. I sit down on the floor next to her and place the back of my hand lightly on her cheek. She's warm, but not feverish. Breathing deeply, her cool exhaled air rhythmically blows across my fingers. Now that I know she's safe, I can't deny my own emotions any more. Tears trickle down my face, my mind races with images of her being senselessly attacked, outnumbered and alone, in pain, fearing for her life. Did she call out for me or was it Mulder's name on her lips? Stop it. This isn't doing any good.

Suddenly, I feel her stir. She smacks her lips, like she's thirsty. I see her try to swallow; her throat must be dry. Slowly, she lifts a hand from under the blankets and reaches out to me. Grasping it, I bring it to my lips.

"What time is it?" she asks.

It isn't till she asks that I realize how long I've been sitting here watching over her. "Close to noon."

"You okay?"

Me? She's worried about me? "Yes."

She nods when I ask if she wants a drink of water, so I repeat my actions of last night, or early this morning, lifting her head and placing the straw in her mouth. She takes a few deep pulls on the straw and manages not to dribble on herself this time.

"You were really upset last night," she says.

"Well, I don't have any experience with someone I love getting the living shit kicked out of her. It's something I could have lived without."

She tries to laugh, but has to stop, apparently it irritates her ribs. "I'll live."

"Dana, don't try to make light of this. You could have been killed before anyone got to you."

"But I wasn't."

"No. By some grace of God you were spared."

"I don't want to fight over this," she whispers.

"Me either. But, honey, when you're feeling better we do need to talk about the dangerous life you lead."

She doesn't respond to my veiled request for her to change jobs, so I decide to change the subject.

"Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?"

"I'd like a bath."

"Hey, you had your chance last night."

She opens her eyes for the first time and her pupils are still slightly dilated from the drugs. She smiles somewhat sadly.

"Oh, okay, I'll draw you another one," I tease.

As I'm getting up, she murmurs, "Kiss me?"

She doesn't need to ask twice. Leaning over, I place a kiss on her forehead, then move to her eyelids, down to the tip of her nose, the side of her mouth and finally to her lips. They're already dry, so I run my tongue over them. She moans. Instinctively, I pull back.

Instantly aware of my body placement, I ask, "Did I hurt you?" I can't imagine how I could have. Lord, are her lips bruised too?

"No. I just felt so good to have you touch me."

"I love you so much, baby. I'm sorry if I sound angry, I don't mean to; I'm just so scared for you."

"I know. And I love you for that," she pauses, "and for so many other things."

We kiss again, briefly, and I tell her to stay put while I go draw her a bath.

"Okay, all set," I say, returning to the bedroom.

Somehow or another while I've been out of the room, she's managed to sit up. Damn that stubborn Irish streak of hers.

"Dana, I told you to stay put. I don't want you hurting yourself any more than you already are." I pause. "Come on, let me help you into the bathroom."

"I can do it myself."

"Yes. I'm sure you can, but please let me do something for you? I need to feel useful, too, you know."

She says nothing, but extends her hand to me. I smile and help her to her feet, slowly. It takes a minute or two, but we eventually reach the bathroom.

I raise the toilet lid for her, help her sit down and then leave for a couple minutes. Rapping on the door, I ask if I can come back in.

"Yes," she answers.

"Here, let me get you out of that damn straight jacket," I say, unclamping the pronged ends of the fasteners securing the bandage.

As I unwind the elastic from around her body, I see indentations on her skin from the edges of the bandage; the creases remind me of welts. Although the swelling has subsided, her arms are even more discolored now than they were last night and my mind flashes back to her huddled on the pavement trying to protect her head from the thugs' shoes. I force myself to shake the thought and get back to the matter at hand.

"Aaaah," she breathes. "Those bandages always seem to tighten up more after they're on. The air feels good."

I take a chance and blow on her skin. She manages a smile. She looks better this morning. Her color is returning to normal. The creases will go away once her skin has an opportunity to relax.

"Okay, let's get you in this tub. I'm sure you'll feel a hundred percent better after you bathe and get some food in you."

"Yes, Doctor Mel," she chuckles, or tries to, stopping short and wincing again.

"Okay, real slow now. That's it, I've got you; I'm not going to let you fall."

She lifts a leg and gets it up over the edge of the tub, the other one follows. I ease her down as best I can without applying too much pressure to her ribcage area. Thank God she's so light.

I grab the loofa sponge and stream warm water over her shoulders, watching as it trickles down her back, front, and arms. I repeat the motion over again a few times before sudsing the sponge up and washing her. I take extra care when I get close to any bruises, which is quite a feat in itself since a good portion of her body resembles one large massive hematoma.

"That feels so good," she says with her eyes closed and obviously enjoying the cleansing of the warm water.

I wash her face and neck. She has a routine she religiously follows for her skin and it does not include this sort of substance on her face, but today she doesn't bother to protest.

"Almost done, baby," I say as I run the sponge between her legs and then down to her feet. "There, all done."

"Thank you."

"You don't need to thank me. I love you, Dana; I want to take care of you."

She looks at me with tear-filled eyes, but somehow she doesn't crack. How does she do that? I blink back the moisture from my eyes that's threatening to spill over.

"Want to sit for a while?" I ask.

"Yes. Stay with me?"

"Of course." I pick up the sponge again and dribble water over her to keep her warm.

I tell her about how I've arranged for Rick to come down and take over the training sessions for a couple of weeks.

"Why so long?" she asks.

"Because we're going to take ourselves a little R&R." She looks surprised. "Remember I told you last night? Well, I spoke with Mulder this morning and he's going to talk to Walter and get it all arranged."

I expect her to go off on a tirade about interfering in her work. I'm surprised as hell when instead of ripping me a new one, she quietly asks, "You spoke with Mulder?"

"This morning. Had ourselves quite a chat."

"How is he?"

"He sends his regards and says he'll see you in a day or two when you're feeling better."

"What else did he say?"

I know what she's hinting at. She wants to know if he said anything about us, us as a couple.

"He was extremely kind to me and answered all my questions about what happened to you." She knows I know what she's asking; I can see it in her eyes. "He also said he only wants to see you happy; which, by the way, he thinks you are now and he also thought when he saw us together last night we were very much in love."

She blushes at hearing this news. "Mulder said all that?"

"Yes." I pause. "I like him, Dana. It's clear he cares deeply for you and wants what's best for you. I hope he and I can be friends."

"I'd like that," she says, smiling.

"Okay, come on, let's get you out before you turn into a prune."

Once we get her out of the tub, I carefully towel her off and help her slip into a comfy flannel nightgown and slippers. The nightgown took a while; I didn't want her to make any awkward or sudden movements. But it wasn't so bad; I was able to get it over her head without her having to lift her arms too high. Slow is the operative word for the next couple of days.

Preparing her toothbrush, I hold on to her hips to support her while she does a quick cleaning of her teeth. When she's finished, I brush her hair for her.

"There, now you're fresh as a daisy." I kiss her softly just below her ear, one of her favorite spots, and mine as well. "You smell good."

She smiles at me through the mirror, but her eyes are still a little cloudy.

"Let's get you back in bed and I'll go fix us some breakfast."

As we approach the bed, she says, "Mel, there's no need to fuss. I can go downstairs." But her body language says otherwise.

"Absolutely not. You are going to stay in bed all day and rest. I would hope I wouldn't have to stand guard, but if it means bringing Rick up here for our meeting this afternoon, I will."

"Rick is coming over?" she asks, sounding as though this is the first she's heard of it.

She was groggy and still a little fuzzy around the edges when we were talking earlier; I guess she didn't absorb all the information about the plans for the day, so I fill her in again on what I've been doing while she slept.

"I can't go away now, Mel. The surveillance still isn't complete. I have to-"

"Dana. Stop for just a second, will you? No one is expecting you to show up for work tonight. In fact, they aren't going expecting to see you for a couple weeks. Mulder is going to inform them you need some recuperating time. He doesn't foresee any problems with you taking some time off. So, tomorrow, I'm going to call my travel agent and get us hooked up to somewhere warm and sunny for a week or so."

"What do you mean Mulder is informing them I need time to recuperate?"

"Just what I said."

"And just where did he get that idea?"

"I told him."


"Are you kidding?" I can't help but chuckle at the absurdity of the question. "Look at yourself, Dana. You're beat up, swollen and bruised. Of course you need some time off."

I best her at her own game, logic. She frowns and tries a different tactic. "You can't just take off, either, Mel."

"Nice try, honey, but that's why Rick is flying down. He's going to take over the reigns while we're gone. He's fully prepared to do the training; he just needs to be brought up to speed about where I am in the schedule and a few other details."


"It's settled."

"No, it's not." Oh God, here it comes. She's using that clipped, controlled way she has when she's irritated. "You just can't go around making work arrangements for me."

Damn. What's got her back up all of a sudden? "Don't you want to go away for a while?"

"That's not the point. Of course I'd love to spend some time away with you."

"Then what's the problem?"

"The problem is that I'm an adult, I don't need people deciding things for me. I say when I will or won't return to work. No one else. Ever."

"Great. Relax, Dana. I didn't think you'd mind. Jesus H.," I say, abruptly rising and going to stand by the window, my back to her. "I was just trying to do something for you. I'm sorry."

The air in the room is so highly charged, if a match were to spark the room would ignite. The electrons in my head are spinning at the speed of light. I've never seen Dana so mad, and never has her anger been directed at me. There's a long silence, a cooling down period. I hear the bed sheets rustle and in a moment she's standing next to me. When she speaks, her voice is calmer.

"Mel, just please, don't interfere in my work. I know what I'm capable of and what I need." She touches my arm. "And, I know you were just trying to be helpful. But when it comes to my work, please don't get involved."

I turn to face her. "Don't get involved? What kind of bullshit is that, Dana? You can't possibly expect me to compartmentalize my feelings and concerns for you. Because if you do, I'm here to tell you right now, it isn't going to happen, Dana. I can't do that."

"I think you're missing my point, Mel."

"Am I? I think I hear you loud and clear. If you want me out of your life, Dana, just say so."

"Dammit, I didn't say that and you know it."

Again, silence and electricity, only this time there are dark clouds forming on our horizon.

"Mel, I've taken care of myself for over thirty-five years now. I think I should know by now what's best for me."

"You'd think," I mumble.

She sighs. "Can we just agree to disagree on this?"

"I meant it, Dana, I'm not a faucet. I just can't turn my feelings on and off." I pause and stride towards the door. "I can't breathe; I need some fresh air."

I have to leave for a while; try to clear my head. With the car top down, I get on the freeway and hit the gas, hard. I didn't bother to put on my baseball cap and my hair is flying every which way; I have to keep pushing it away from my face. I've got the CD player cranked up so loud I'm probably going to blow out the speakers.

What is going on with her? I can't believe she's so fucking angry about me speaking to Mulder on her behalf. I mean, I guess I can understand that she felt I was meddling, but I was only trying to help take care of her. Maybe this relationship was a bad idea. Well, at least we can be spared the whole drama of me having to move out of her apartment. Not moving in with her was the best idea I had. What the fuck am I saying? I love her. I want to be with her. This is just a big misunderstanding. All the painkillers aren't allowing her to think clearly. Aw, shit! I left her all by herself. She's in no shape to be left alone. Stupid.

When I get back, we'll sit down calmly and discuss this rationally. She's not the only one who flew off the handle. I over-reacted, too. At the next exit, I slow the car down and get off the freeway. Turning at the signal, I head back in the other direction. Home. Home to Dana. The woman I love.

I check my watch and see that I've been gone for about forty minutes. My hair is a tangled mess and apparently I've been crying without knowing it. The wind must have dried my tears as they hit my cheeks because I've got raccoon eyes. I moisten my thumb and run it under my eyes, stretching the tender skin, trying to get rid of the black smudges.

As I head upstairs, I'm going over in my head what I want to say to her. "Dana?" I call as I hit the second floor landing. Opening the bedroom door, I expect to find her in bed. She's not there, probably in the bathroom. I rap on the door, no response. I call her name again. Nothing. I charged upstairs so quickly, I must have missed her downstairs. That'd be just like her to go down to fix herself a cup of tea even though she should be resting.

I do a quick sweep of the kitchen, the front room and then fling open the sliding glass door leading to the back yard. She's nowhere. Jesus. I tear back up the stairs. Then I notice what I missed before. The closet doors and dresser drawers are thrown open and her clothes are gone. Racing into the bathroom, I see all her toiletries missing. Shitshitshit! Dammit all to hell! She's left. She must have called a cab after I left. Goddammit! What's wrong with her? She should be in bed, not riding in a damned dirty cab. This whole thing is my fault. If I hadn't left in the first place, she wouldn't be riding around in some filthy cab. Dammit, Mel!

Flying down the stairs, I grab the keys from the table in the foyer. I pull the door closed behind me, not worrying if I locked it or not. Running, I leap over the car door, buckle my seat belt and back up so quickly the tires must be spinning in two directions at once. They squeal in protest as I speed away. I wonder how long she's been gone. If she called a cab, she had to wait and I might even have a chance of catching up with her. But what if she didn't call a cab? What if she called Mulder? He'd drop everything and go get her. And what if she didn't go home? I've got no idea where Mulder lives or for that matter, her mother.

Don't start setting up roadblocks, Mel. She called a cab and she's going home. She's in no shape to go anywhere else. I don't think she'd want to get Mulder involved in this; hell, he just found out about us, I doubt she wants him to know we're fighting. Sonofabitch!

As I pull up to her apartment, I see her headed for the door. She didn't even take time to change clothes. She's still in her nightgown with her coat thrown over it. Maybe she needed help. And I wasn't there. Dammit. I've fucked up everything. The cabbie is helping her to the building door with her stuff. I'd forgotten she didn't have any luggage at my house, so she's thrown all her things in black trash bags. There's no place close to pull in, so I double park on the cab. The driver sees what I'm doing and starts yelling at me to move. I rush past him, ignoring his verbal assaults hurled at me in a totally foreign language.

Dana hears him screaming and turns just as I reach the door of her building. "What do you think you're doing?" I ask gruffly while latching onto her arm.

"Let go of me!" she replies pulling her arm from my grasp. A groan of discomfort escapes as she twists away.

"Dana. This is ridiculous. If we just sit down calmly, we can work this out."

"You seem to forget you were the one who left first." Her eyes are shards of pure blue ice. I can practically feel them ripping through my skin and stabbing my heart.

"I guess I deserve that. But I came back. Doesn't that count for anything?" She just stands looking at me. "Please, Dana. Let me come in." When she doesn't say no, I pick up the trash bags and start inside.

"You need to move your car," she says, her voice totally devoid of emotion.

It's then that I notice the cab driver is on a cell phone. He's giving Dana's address to someone. He said 'officer'. Shit! He's called the cops on me to get me towed. I grab the phone from him and punch the off button. "No need for that, I'm moving. See? I'm going to my car now and I'm moving." He doesn't look too happy, but at least he's not hitting 'redial'. "I'm sorry." I race to the car to get my purse. Taking out my wallet, I push a twenty at him. He stands mute. I push another twenty into his hand. "I'm really sorry."

He stares me down for another long minute before telling me to move my fucking car out of his fucking way and to hurry the fuck up. Seems he does know some English. I move to let him out and then take the spot. Dana has gone ahead to her apartment, but has left the bags on the landing. Nice little touch of unspoken anger there, Dana.

When I get to her door, it's shut. Dammit. Rather than putting down the bags, I kick the door to let her know I'm there. From the other side, I hear, "It's open." She knows my hands are full, but she's not going to cut me any slack. Whatever. I put down one bag, turn the knob, push open the door and throw the make believe luggage inside. I follow the bags and shut the door behind me. Looking around, I don't see Dana. She must be in the bedroom.

I hear her voice; she must be on the phone. "That's what I said, Mulder. No, I assure you I'm fine. I will see you tomorrow."

She looks up to see me. I think I make out a slight up turning of her lips. She doesn't waste any time making her point; that's for sure.

"You're doing this to spite me, aren't you? Trying to teach me a lesson."

"No. I'm going back to work because I'm fine."

"Dammit, Dana. Stop playing this idiotic juvenile game."

"I'm not playing any game. I'm simply ready to go back to work. And that's what I'm going to do."

"Look. I get the point. You want me to stay out of your work decisions. Fine. I will. Do what you want. I have a feeling you always do."

After all the angry words, the silence returns. I can't think of anything else to say, so I turn to go.

"Don't leave. Not like this. Please."

Stopping, but without turning around, I say, "I can't stay. We've both become accustomed to living our lives the way we want. And that's okay. But it doesn't look like we can live them together. Goodbye, Dana." By the time I say her name, I'm choking on the words. "I do love you," I whisper as I walk dejectedly out of the room.

Before I reach the front door, Dana is at my side. "Mel. Please," she says her voice barely above a whisper. "Don't go. I'm sorry. You're right. I was behaving badly." She takes my hand. "I love you so much. Please don't leave."

Her touch makes all my anger disappear. The woman I love is asking me to stay. How can I possibly leave? "Do you think we can discuss this quietly?" She shakes her head in agreement. "Because I think we need to work through this if we're going to have any chance at staying together."

She looks faint. Her eyes are rolling into the back of her head. Jesus. "Dana!" I catch her just as she collapses. I can't lift her completely, but I do manage to get her onto the couch. Walking swiftly into the bathroom, I wet a face cloth to place on her forehead. As I repeat her name softly, she eventually comes around.

"What happened?" she asks.

"You fainted. How do you feel?"


"You've over-taxed yourself with all your running around. You need to rest for a while. I'll fix you a cup of tea." As an afterthought, I add, "You stay here." Before heading to the kitchen, I grab a blanket from the closet and throw it over her. She smiles weakly.

When I return with a cup of tea for each of us, she's asleep. Her eyes are twitching underneath their lids' thin skin; I hope she's not in any pain. I wonder if she brought her painkillers with her. I shouldn't have left, if she's injured herself further, I'll never forgive myself.

An hour passes before she awakes. I've had plenty of time to think about our fight while I put her clothes away. It had to kill her to cram all her good suits into a trash bag, but they were in there such a short time they weren't wrinkled.

"Hi, baby, feel better?" I smile and kiss her forehead.

"Yes." She squeezes my hand.

We both speak at the same time. "I'm sorry," we say over each other. Then we each laugh nervously. I go and get her a fresh cup of tea.

Setting the tea on the table, I tell her, "Dana, I'm sorry. I over-reacted. And, you're right. I shouldn't have assumed I could make plans for you when work is involved. I won't do it again." I help her to an upright position and then sit next to her.

"This is such an unsettled time for me, Mel. Not only struggling with telling Mulder and my family about us, but also about work in general." She gestures for me to hand her the tea, taking a sip before continuing. "Since we've been together I've come to realize that I don't necessarily want to be the one who's always in control, making all the decisions. It feels good to relinquish control once in a while." She gives me a small smile. "My work has been all I've had for so long, and well, it seems like the last part of my life that I do have some control over." She's fighting back her tears. "It's hard."

Stroking her hair, I coo, "It's all right, baby. Take your time. It's just that I want so much to spend the rest of my life with you, Dana."

"I want that, too."

"But when I see you risking your life nearly every day, it's hard for me. I guess my mothering instincts just kicked in and I wanted to protect you from any more harms. I had time to cool down and think while you were asleep and I realized that when it comes to work, I have to step back and let you do what you think best."

"Thank you." She kisses me while our separate tears meet and blend. I take her in a careful embrace and wipe her tears away. We gaze at each other for a few moments, our eyes expressing our apologies and our love.

I break the silence with, "Let's get some food in you." I can't help smiling broadly as I leave the room.


"All done?" I ask.

"Uh huh. That tasted so good. I hadn't eaten since dinner last night. You fix the best scrambled eggs."

I smile my thanks. "Honey, I'm going to let you get some sleep."

"I'm not tired."

"You must be exhausted, baby."

"We should go back to your house."

"Why? You can rest just as well here."

"But I seem to recall you mentioning Rick was coming in this afternoon."

"Shit, I forgot all about that." I pause, "Well, he can just as easily come here. I'll phone him with your address."

"No, you've got all your work over there." She must read the concern on my face. "I'll be fine. It's a short trip. I promise to rest when we get there. Okay?"


Trying to sound in charge, she says, "No need trying to talk me out of this; it is going to happen."

"You are so damned headstrong."

"Look who's calling the kettle black," she says while flashing me a smile as bright as the Moroccan midday sun.

Back at the house, I tell Dana to wait while I take her suitcase inside. And, as I thought, the door is unlocked. Lucky for me this is a good neighborhood. Going back to the car, I help her out and take her inside.

"Can you make it upstairs to bed?"

"Yes. Can I lean on you a little?"

"Always." So we start up slowly and eventually reach the landing. "Okay?"

"Hmm." I've learned that in Danaspeak that translates to not so good.

Entering the bedroom, I say, "How about a little stroll to the bathroom before I leave? Should I put the bandage back on you? Do you need any aspirin or a pain pill?"

"Okay. No. And yes." Her eyes are clearer now and her playfulness is returning, even in her discomfort. I think a lot of pent-up emotion was released with our fight.

I have to stop a moment to recall what I asked her. I accompany her to the bathroom and leave her while I straighten up the covers and fluff the pillows. When she calls, I help her back to bed. She's moving better now, not quite as slow. We both know she could be doing these things on her own, but she's lovingly granting me the privilege of being at her beck and call.

"Comfy? Warm enough?"

"Yes. Thanks."

"Want a magazine or maybe the TV on?"

"I might watch a bit of TV."

Retrieving the remote, I place it on the bed by her hand.

"I'm going to go downstairs now. Rick will be arriving shortly and I want to have all my notes ready. And, of course, I need to make a fresh pot of coffee for him; I don't think I've ever known anyone who can gulp down as much. If you need anything, just holler. I'll leave the door ajar."

She tells me to sit down on the bed for a moment. Taking my hand, she says, "Thank you for taking care of me."

"You're quite welcome, baby."

Leaning into her, I bring our lips together to meet and linger in what I can only describe as the sweetest, most tender kiss I've ever shared with anyone. It sends a feeling of well being swirling through by body and helps put me at ease. I move closer and carefully, very carefully, take her in my arms and pull her to me, wrapping her in the warmth of my body.



I hesitate. "Nothing," I answer, deciding to refrain from saying how much I hate that she's in this condition. Harping at her about her job is not going to serve any purpose.

"What is it?"

"Nothing, honey, really. Forget it. Just get some rest." I get up off the bed, place a kiss on the top of her head and walk to the door. Turning back in her direction, I tell her, "I adore you, Dana."

She gives me one of those brilliant smiles that causes my heart to beat double time.

As I partially close the door, she clicks on the TV.


"About ready for dinner?" I ask, walking into the bedroom.

She's got her head back against the pillows; her jaw is slackened in total relaxation, she's breathing through her mouth. I take the remote from the bed and turn the volume down on the TV. I don't want to shut it off completely, it's good background noise and has apparently helped to lull her to sleep. I wonder how long she's been out. Hopefully, she's comfortable. I know when I fall asleep sitting up in that position I usually wake up with a kink in my neck. Well, I can always give her a neck rub.

Her foot is sticking out from under the covers, but I don't dare adjust her blankets for fear of waking her. She's got the sweetest little feet. She likes it when I massage them with peppermint lotion, especially after she's had a long day in the autopsy bay. I've never seen her at work, but I bet she's cute as a button in those hospital scrubs. She looks good in blues and greens. I can just imagine her with those goggles and mask with her red hair creeping out from under a hair cap. She is gorgeous in anything.

Her toes wiggle. God, those ten delicious digits, how I love sucking on them. One by one wrapping my mouth around them, seducing them with my tongue, biting them, and pulling them deeper into my mouth until she squeals with delight. I feel a sudden rush of heat between my legs. We haven't made love since she started this assignment. When I get home, she's just about out the door; we're lucky to get a quick kiss and hug. Then when she gets home we're both dog-tired and are content to just fall asleep in each other's arms. When I get up for work, she's still sleeping and the cycle starts all over again. I miss making love with her. Touching her and being touched by her makes me feel whole.

She stirs. I watch, afraid to move. Hoping if I just stand still long enough, she'll go back to sleep. Her eyes flutter and she swipes at her nose, missing it completely, and her hand flops unceremoniously down onto the bed. The jolt wakes her; her eyes look scared.

"Huh? What?" she says to no one in particular.

"Shhh. You're safe. I'm right here."

She catches me in her vision and appears to process what I've just told her. Letting out a deep breath, she seems to relax. "My neck hurts," she whimpers, grimacing and reaching to grasp it.

"Here, let me," I say as I sit down next to her, working my hands into position between her and the pillows; I gently squeeze and prod her neck and shoulders. "Your neck was all bent out of shape. How long have you been asleep?"

"I don't know. Hmm, that feels good."

"Let me know if I squeeze too hard." I continue the massage for a few more minutes. As I stop, I press a kiss against her neck. "Better?"

"Uh huh. Thanks."

I reposition myself so that I'm looking at her. "You okay?"

"Yes. Why?"

"You looked a little scared when you first woke up."

Her face conveys annoyance. "I was just disoriented for a minute."

"I'm only trying to make sure you're all right."

"I am. So, please take off the kid gloves. I'm not made of porcelain; I don't break that easily. I'll be fine." She takes a breath and when she continues her voice is softer. "I am fine. I've been in more dire situations, honey. This looks bad, but believe me, I've been worse. I'll heal in no time. Really."

"And that's supposed to make me feel better?" I sense my face about to betray me, so I hide it behind my hand. I thought I'd gotten all the tears out of my system this afternoon with Rick, but I can feel them threatening to re-surface.

She's tugging at my fingers. I don't want her to see me upset about this, she doesn't need to be taking care of me. Getting up abruptly, I say, "I hear the teakettle." Leaving the room I hear her call after me, but I don't go back.

I'm standing at the kitchen sink, staring off into nowhere, thinking about nothing, when I hear her voice, "I'm sorry."

"Dana?" I say, turning around. "Why are you down here? You should be in bed. Are you all right? You didn't hurt yourself coming downstairs, did you?"

"I'm fine. But I'm worried about you."

She looks a bit shaky, so I go to her. "Come on, let's get you back to bed."

"No. I'm down here, I may as well stay for a while."

"Okay, then let's sit down in the front room." She lets me take her elbow and lead her to the sofa. I grab the throw from the back of it and wrap it around her. Standing over her, I say, "You are incorrigible. I guess its true, doctors make the worst patients."

She looks up at me. "Sweetie, I didn't mean to upset you. What I said, well, it came out wrong. I get frustrated when I have to give in to these injuries. I love it that you're concerned for me," she pauses, "but it's a bit stifling at the same time." Despite the words, her eyes are full of sympathy for my situation.

"I'm not trying to stifle you, Dana; I don't think I could even if I tried. I just don't really know what else to do except love you and take care of you the best way I know how." I blink back a tear. "I feel so useless."

"Honey, come here." She holds out her arms for me and I let her envelop me. "You are doing great. I've never felt so loved or cared for."

"Who's taken care of you before when you were hurt?"

"Well, let's see," she says while pressing a kiss on my forehead. "If I wasn't hospitalized, I've taken care of myself mostly. On the couple of occasions it was necessary for someone to assist me, it was either Mulder or my mother."

"I don't see how you could take care of yourself if you've been worse than this."

"I managed."

"Don't you ever just want to stop? Aren't you ever afraid?"

"Oh, God, yes. There have been lots of times when I've been extremely frightened."

"So why didn't you stop, go back to medicine or something?"

"I couldn't," she answers as she gently runs her hand over my back.

"Why not?"

She hesitates. "Mulder."

"What about Mulder?"

"I couldn't leave him to go on alone."

"He could get another partner, couldn't he?"

She smiles. "It's hard to adequately describe the relationship Mulder and I have. It's unique, I think. We've worked together for so long we have our own rhythm of doing things; our own shorthand for communicating; sometimes, I think we're both psychic," she chuckles.

"And you think he couldn't have that with another partner?"

"I think," she pauses, "if I left, Mulder would too. And, vice versa. The truth is, I think we both could have left a couple years ago and felt relatively satisfied about accomplishing what we set out to do. But I can't see myself paired up with anyone but Mulder. He was my first partner and I doubt I'd ever find the same passion about another assignment."

"You do love him, don't you, Dana?"

She thinks about that for a moment. "Yes, I do. He's taught me so much, Mel. And, I think at one time, I could have fallen in love with him." She grins somewhat bashfully at having disclosed something so personal. "Honestly, I think I've always been a bit smitten. But somewhere over the years, on some level I realized Mulder was not what I needed, no matter how much I love him."

"Do you think he feels the same way? I mean, is he in love with you?"

"God, honey, don't be jealous. Believe me, you've got nothing to be worried about."

"I'm not. I'm very secure about your love for me. I'm just curious as to what you think." I wrap my arm around her waist, and carefully lie my head against her shoulder. She doesn't exhibit any indication of discomfort, so I let my head relax totally.

"That's nice." She raises her hand and smoothes my hair. "I think he feels the same about me. In many ways, we're like brother and sister. We care deeply about each other, but we get exasperated and cranky, not to mention downright pissy sometimes."

I slide my hand from her waist to her hip, applying a little pressure.

"Are you examining me?" she asks with a sly smile.


"To see where you can touch without hurting me?"

"Not consciously, but I guess maybe. I don't want to hurt you."

"You aren't."

"Do you need anything? Aspirin or a pain pill or how about some dinner?"

"Only you," she whispers, turning to kiss me.

Her tongue presses through my lips. Oh, God, it feels good to have her want me. I know it hasn't even been a day since this all started, but so much has happened. It's good she's taking the initiative, I don't know if I would have; at least, not right now. I need her to guide me to where I can touch her and with how much pressure. Her tongue is doing wonderful things. A line from an old song rushes back, reminding me of what is going on in my mouth, "over, under, sideways, down, backward, forward, square, and round. When will it end?" Never, I hope.

I groan with relief and desire. I want her something fierce, but I know this isn't possible tonight, maybe tomorrow or the next day. She's still too bruised and sore for much more than this.

"Dana," I say breathlessly.

"Hmmm," she responds, her lips sliding down to my neck where she sucks gently.

"We need to stop."


"You're not ready for this tonight." God, please make her stop it now. My body is tingling from her touch, warm blood surges through me.

"Yes, I am."

I reluctantly push away from her. "Okay, then I'm not ready."

"What's wrong?" she asks as her brows furrow slightly.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't." She reaches out for me.

"I can't take that chance. Besides, there's no rush."

"I want you now," she says, her voice low and oozing desire.

"I don't think it's a good idea."

"Mel, I know what my body is capable of." She pauses momentarily. "It's because of the way I look, isn't it?"

I'm shocked at the suggestion. "Never. Don't even think that. I love you no matter what. Jesus, Dana, I want you, too. But, I just can't tonight. I'm having difficulty getting past the idea I'm going to hurt you more." I take her hand. "That's all that's holding me back. Believe me. It's got absolutely nothing to do with the way you look." I hesitate. "Please, just humor me on this, baby. I really need to see that you're better before we make love."

She looks hurt. I've upset her. "Okay," she mumbles and pulls the blanket tightly around her shoulders.

"I do love you, Dana, don't ever doubt that."

We sit in silence for a bit, each of us contemplating our own private thoughts; and, no doubt, trying to figure out the other's thoughts.

Just when it seems we're going to never speak again, she breaks the ice. "What are we having for dinner?"

Tentatively, I suggest, "How about a tuna casserole and salad?"

"That sounds good, I'll help." She makes moves as though she's going to get up, but then slumps back into the sofa.

"You stay right there. I'll just be in the kitchen for maybe twenty minutes or so. Then we'll eat in about an hour. Sound okay?"

"Uh huh. Can I at least get a kiss before you go?"

"You betcha."


After dinner, I help her upstairs and ask if she wants to sit up in the chair for a bit. She declines saying she thinks she'd better lay down for a while. That doesn't sound good. Without making a big deal out of it, I get her a fresh glass of water and hand it to her along with the bottle of aspirin and her painkillers, letting her make the choice. She chooses the painkiller. She must be hurting, to let me see her needing a pill.

She sits on the bed, I lift her legs in for her and she gets situated with a few grimaces. "Would you come to bed with me?"

"Okay, but no hanky panky, missy," I say in a teasing tone.

"I promise." She yawns. All that excitement and running around today certainly didn't do her any good. The last trip downstairs was more taxing on her than she's ready to admit.

Undressing quickly, I throw on my pajamas and climb in. "Closer," she whispers. I obey, scooting as close as possible. Turning on my side, I prop up on my elbow and push her hair back, exposing her face completely.

"How you doing, honey? Really."

She hesitates. "Not so well."

"Tell me." I slip my finger under her chin, pull her face towards me, and see the excess moisture in her eyes.

"I'm frightened, Mel. For the first time in a long time, I feel truly frightened." She shivers as though she's cold. "I." She stops and I notice her neck muscles tighten. "I don't want to die. God, I don't want to leave you."

"That's not going to happen." I lay a kiss on her quivering lips. "I won't let it." We both know how vacant that promise is, there's no way I can control her work environment. But I think it makes us both feel better anyway. We lie quietly for a bit, then she stirs in my arms.

"I don't know if I want to leave the Bureau completely." Well, that was certainly out of left field. She must have felt I was going to approach this again and decided to beat me to the punch.

She's actually considering leaving the X-Files? I don't want to bring up the job offer. "What would you do, go back to teaching at Quantico?"

"Possibly. It really seems to be my only option unless I want to partner up with someone new, which I don't; or, if I want a desk job, which I also don't want."

"Are those really your only options if you want to stay?"

"I don't even know if I'm going to change jobs. Mostly I'm just thinking out loud. I can talk to Skinner off the record and see what he suggests." She yawns again, a combination of too much activity, emotional upset, and her medicine kicking in.

"You need to rest. You've had a busy day. We can talk more tomorrow."

I kiss her, then do it again before I lean over and shut off her nightlight. Before I can shut off mine, she's fast asleep.


I've been up for a while now; my shuffling around the bedroom, even my shower has not caused her to wake. She looks peaceful enough now, but when she's awake, I can see the stress. The cumulative effect of all the damage to her body over the years has to be making the healing process longer each time. But physically she'll bounce back; it's her mental state that has me concerned. If she's having doubts about wanting to be in the field again, and yet goes back, just how effective will she be? Will she be able to protect herself, and Mulder, if she's not there one hundred percent?

I'm halfway down the stairs when the phone decides to ring. Crap! I take the rest of them two at a time, trying to get to it before it wakes Dana. I stab at the handle just before it rings a fourth time.



"Yes." I glance at my watch to find it's past ten. I recognize the voice, but I'm not totally focused yet.

"It's Mulder."

"Yes, of course, good morning. I rushed to pick up the phone before it woke Dana and I wasn't tuned in. Sorry."

"How is she doing?"

"Well, she's not the best patient." He chuckles in empathy. "Last night she came downstairs on her own steam. So I think she overdid it."

"Sounds like Scully. She never wants to be seen as less than capable. When she didn't show up for work this morning I figured something was up. You really need to convince her to take some time off, Mel. Although you've got your work cut out, I know how stubborn Scully can be about some things."

God, if he only knew about the fallout from my meddling yesterday, he wouldn't suggest me trying to tell her anything about work. Seven years have given him insight into her motives and behaviors I'm just now getting a glimpse of.

"Don't worry too much, Mel. She'll be on her feet in no time. She's a trooper. Don't underestimate her or let her size fool you. There's not much that can keep Scully down for long."

The initial awkwardness of yesterday's phone call is gone. Today we're chatting like people who have nothing but a friend's health in mind. It's nice. I'm beginning to feel camaraderie with Mulder.

"I spoke with Skinner yesterday afternoon. He says Scully's to take off as long as she likes and not to come back until she's one hundred percent. To tell you the truth, Mel, Skinner's always had a soft spot for Scully. I don't think there is anything he wouldn't do for her."

"Well, she is pretty damned loveable," I say, but immediately wish I hadn't. I don't want Mulder to think I'm flaunting our relationship.

"That she is," he agrees.

"Mulder, I'm sorry, I don't mean to be insensitive to your feelings about Dana and me."

"Like I said yesterday, Mel, I'm happy Scully has someone in her life. Whatever concerns I have over your relationship are purely professional ones."

"You mean the possibility someone may try to use it against her? Dana's mentioned that as well." God, either they're both paranoid or there's real reason for concern. "We've taken precautions about being seen together, especially at work."

"Don't I know it. I haven't seen you since you were making a presentation, before the other night, that is. I knew Scully had been seeing someone, but I would've never guessed it was you."

"Or any woman, I imagine."

"Well, no."

The awkwardness has returned.

"Look, Mel, I guess I never thought of Scully being with a woman. But, if that's what makes her happy, then so be it. All I want is the best for her. And, if you're the one to give her what she needs, then who am I to stand in judgement?"

"Thanks, Mulder. It hasn't been easy for Dana. She's been working up to telling her family, and that includes you. She thinks the world of you. Your opinion is important to her. So, for you to be so accepting is really going to help her."

There is a moment of silence. "Well, I've got to go. I just wanted to call with the news from Skinner. And try to talk her into some time off."

"Okay, I'll try. Thanks for calling."

"Give Scully my regards please."

"Definitely. Bye."

I hope the phone didn't wake her. I don't hear her, I'd better check. I go back up the stairs, one at a time. I pause at the door. Looking in, I see her curled up in bed. She looks like she's still asleep, but she must sense my presence.


"Yes, honey, it's me." I walk into the room and over to the bed.

"Who was on the phone?"

"Mulder." I sit next to her on my side the bed. Her warm hand comes out from under the cover and clutches mine. "He called to find out why you weren't at work this morning. When I told him you were still asleep, he seemed relieved. He also said he'd spoken with Walter and he insists you're to take off as long as you need. He said you're not to come back until you're fully recovered."

She turns over onto her back and places her arms on the outside of the blanket. The discoloring has changed; the bruises are now a shade of reddish-purple. I stroke them tenderly.

"Are they sore?" I ask softly.

"Not so much. It's mainly my ribs that hurt. Any sort of twisting or turning is painful, I think there may be some muscle or tendon damage."

"Will it heal?"

"Eventually. But it will take a bit of time."

"Do you think a week in the sunshine would help?"


"Yes, remember I mentioned I wanted us to go someplace warm, a vacation of sorts? I think a week in the sun, at the beach, should help a good deal, don't you?"

She brightens at the prospect. She's often told me how much she loves the water. "Yes, I do."

"Good. Do you think with a few more days of rest here at home you'd be up to travel?"

"Uh huh." She pulls me down to her and kisses me. "I love you so much."

We hold each other for a long moment. "I'll call my travel agent today and get the ball rolling, if that's all right with you."

"Yes, I'd like for you to handle it," she says smiling warmly.

I can't help smiling back at her obvious attempt to give up some control. "Anywhere in particular you'd like to go?"

"Anywhere you are will be just fine. But these bruises are disgusting. I don't know that I want to wear a bathing suit."

"Don't worry. The place I have in mind is very secluded. You won't even have to wear a suit if you don't want to. Besides, they'll be fading in a few days. Right?"

"Right. If you're sure there's not going to be a lot of people, then I agree."

"Nope. I want you all to myself, no distractions." I smile. "It's settled then. I'll get it all arranged. You just focus on getting better."

"Is Mulder coming over?" she asks.

"No, I don't think so, but I expect him to call you. I think he wanted to speak with you this time, but you were still snoozing."

"I'd like to speak with him before I go back to work." She pauses. "To straighten things out."

"What do you mean?" I turn and position myself so I can hold her in my arms.

"About us."

"What's to straighten out? He knows we're together, he seems fine with it."

"I know. I'd just like to explain to him why I didn't tell him sooner." She looks up at me. "You don't know Mulder, Mel. I'm sure he came across as being okay, but he broods. He probably thinks I didn't trust him enough to tell him."

"So, do you want to call him back now?"

"No, I'll wait a while. Honey, after I get cleaned up I want to go downstairs, maybe sit out back in the sunlight."

"Sure. Do you need some aspirin or something?" I'm hoping she'll switch to aspirin rather than relying on the painkillers.

"No, I think I can get by without anything just now."

"Okay, first things first. Do you want a bath?"

"I think I'll have a shower so I can wash my hair." Good choice; it definitely needs it, she's got bed head in triplicate.

"Are you able to do it yourself, or do you want me to?"

"I think I may need your help, if you don't mind." I help her up from bed and walk with her to the bathroom. She's doing better. My arm around her waist isn't really necessary, but it feels good to touch her and it sends the unspoken message of my support for her. While she uses the toilet, I gather a fresh set of clothes for her. Dana brushes her hair and then her teeth, and I start warming up the water.

She's able to lift her arms high enough to get out of her nightgown without much difficulty. I pull up the lever in the tub and the shower springs to life. Helping Dana step in, I pull the shower curtain after her. I get out of my clothes and join her.

"Want to do your hair first?"

"Sure." She seems in decidedly better spirits today.

I guide her under the water and wet her hair thoroughly. "Too hot?" I ask.

"Just right." She responds. "Mmmm, that feels so good."

"Okay, here we go." She clamps her eyes shut tight.

Squeezing a smidgen of shampoo into the palm of my hand, I apply it to her hair and set off working it into a pile of suds on top of her head. After I've given her a brief head massage, I guide her back under the pulsating water and rinse out the shampoo, then apply her conditioner. While it's doing it's untangling magic, I soap up the loofa and hand it to her.

"Would you do it, please?" she asks sweetly.

Sure, no problem. Turning her away from me, I start at the back of her neck. As I move to her shoulders, she drops her chin to her chest. Taking her silent suggestion, I stop there to give her a little massage to loosen up some tightened muscles. As I get ready to move on, I lay a kiss on the shiny skin of her scar. I ease my way down to the middle of her back, then on to the small of it, where her waist curves shyly into her buttocks. Crouching down, those sweet mounds of flesh are right in front of me. Steady, Mel. I glide the loofa over the back of her legs, from her hamstrings down to her Achilles. She's humming with pleasure.

Turning her around, I start the process in reverse. I shift my weight to my heels. Her little muff is dripping wet, and directly at eye level. My breathing turns ragged. I slide the loofa in circular motions up over her flat stomach, pushing it up underneath her breasts, causing them to lift up. Rising up onto my knees, they are right at mouth level. I drop the sponge and start to run my hands over her slick and silky body. Oh God. I don't think I can restrain myself much longer. Her body is all sorts of strange colors: fading purples, with greens and yellows, both separate and mixed together. Wherever I've touched her, she hasn't shown any signs of discomfort; maybe this is the right time. A week without sex is a helluva long time when you're used to getting it every night.

We must be on the same wavelength. She takes my head in her hands and guides me to her breast. My mouth drops open, I'm in absolute awe. "Beautiful," I say allowing myself the pleasure of nuzzling it. Its softness reminds me of my pillow. My tongue swirling over her nipple causes it to harden. She moans and squeezes me tighter to her. Without conscious thought, like a newborn I cradle her nipple in the fold of my tongue and start sucking, pulling her deeper and deeper into my mouth. She backs up against the shower wall, forcing me to crawl across the hard porcelain on my knees to stay with her. I don't mind. The warm water beats down steadily on the back of my neck.

After God knows how long, Dana moves my head to her other breast. Again, as I begin to suck, she moans, causing all my blood to pool in my vagina, the building pressure nearly unbearable. Running my hands over her legs, I note they need shaving. I can do that for her tomorrow if she isn't able to do it for herself yet. I love doing things for her, anything. Like now. She's wanted me to make love to her, but I've been afraid of hurting her. Not now though. She seems totally relaxed in a highly sexed up sort of way. There's apparently no doubt in her mind that I won't hurt her. I never would, intentionally. Her confidence inspires me. As I slide my hand slowly up between her legs she releases a guttural sound somewhere between relief and desire.

While my thumb greets and reacquaints itself with her clit, I kiss my way down her stomach. Reaching her navel, I stop briefly, but my mind is set on a much different destination. My fingers are sliding around her labia, softly massaging her. Dana loves me to touch her this way, she says the sensations are amazing. She's undeniably slick and more than ready. I sit down at her feet and spread her legs. She gasps in anticipation. Her hands tangle in my hair. Slowly, I make my way to her. As my hands clutch her hips, she shakes with need. My thumbs spread her apart and I have to stop to thank God for her. I watch as she slides down the wall a bit, stopping in a modified sitting position; her legs bent at the knees and her pelvis thrust forward, inviting me to take her. My eager tongue brushes over her throbbing clit while I insert two fingers into her dark recesses. Immediately, her muscles clench. I take a moment to look up to see the woman I love, her head rolling from side to side against the shower wall, lost in pure unadulterated joy.

Removing my fingers, I replace them with my tongue. She is at once sweet and pungent, like a perfectly steeped orange zest tea. This is so right. Dana is love personified for me. With a tug at my head and a long moan she wastes no time in giving herself to me. She tastes so good and her moans urge me to continue. I never tire or get enough of hearing her love-soaked voice call my name. Her quads tighten as a second wave of ecstasy washes over her, the moans now louder and longer. She draws me up, continuing to emit sounds of pleasure as we kiss.

Eventually we break apart, both of us gasping for some much-needed oxygen. She smiles at me. "Thank you," she whispers. "Jesus, I've missed you."

"Oh, baby. I was afraid I'd hurt you."

"But, you didn't. You made me feel wonderful. After the attack the other night, I needed some of your love to counteract the hate."

"I'm sorry, honey. If I'd realized--"

"Doesn't matter now," she says and hungrily kisses me again.

Her lips are amazing. They are filled with love and tenderness; her demanding kisses the most erotic I've ever had. If we never did more than just kiss, I think I could feel fulfilled. My heart is racing. I want her again; want her to know that I want her.

"Are you feeling all right?" I ask.

"God, yes." She's absolutely beaming.

I lick her neck. "Want some more?"


I place open-mouth kisses on her throat; I love the little ring of creases that encircle her neck. "Good." I smile at her. "Turn around, baby," I lovingly command.

She returns my smile and then complies with my request; this is one of our favorite positions. I can make full contact with her body and she can usually achieve orgasm at least twice quite easily. Snaking my arms around her, I cup her soft breasts, heavy and swollen from excitement, in my hands as she leans back against my shoulder. Turning her head, we kiss while I massage her nipples. I'm very gentle, not wanting to remind her of any pain.

"Oh, Jesus!" I gasp.

I wasn't expecting her to reach back between my legs and touch me. I shiver as her delicate fingers begin to stroke and teasingly probe, encouraging me to catch up with her. My clit is heavy with pressure and feels as though it will explode any second now. "Keep doing that," I plead.

Moving one hand down her stomach, I finger my way through her tuft of hair. Her tongue darts into my mouth. I rub my hand over her clit and tease at her entrance. She manipulates her other hand up behind my neck and pulls me deeper into the kiss. This is good; bending ever so slightly down towards her, my arm shifts allowing my middle finger to go in a bit further with each pass until it is buried deep inside her. Carefully maneuvering us around, my back is against the shower wall and I'm able to accept her full weight. I bend my knees slightly to accommodate our height difference. Running kisses up the back of her neck, she presses into me; we grind into each other's hand, first slowly, then more quickly as we're about to come. Around us, the steamy air traps the swirling crescendo of our passion's cries.

She slumps as I remove my hand from between her legs. "Tired?"

"A little."

I turn her towards me and hold her close. "Too much, um, activity?"

"No such thing." She looks up at me with a contented grin. "Not with you."

"You sweet talker." I bend into her as we kiss. "Want to get out now?" She nods. "Can you stand on your own or do I need to prop you up against the wall?"

"Don't get too carried away with yourself," she says laughing.

"You know that isn't what I meant, silly. I just don't want you fainting from the heat in here. In case no one's ever told you, you're a ton of bricks when you're out cold."

"I'm fine."

I shut off the water and grab the towels, handing her one. I wrap mine around me like a sarong before I cautiously dry her off and help steady her as she steps out of the tub.

"There, all done," I say.

I grab us each a towel for our wet hair. Rubbing lotion on her body, I take a closer look at her bruises. The swelling has gone down considerably and the discoloring is fading. Give her a few more days and she should be nearly back to normal.

"I grabbed your jammies. Is that okay?"

"Uh huh." I guide her backwards to sit on the closed toilet seat. She lifts her feet and I guide the pajama legs up; while she stands I pull the bottoms up the rest of the way. Mission accomplished; we tackle the top. "I can do the buttons," she announces.

I back off; she needs to feel some sense of accomplishment and empowerment. When she's done, she's beaming. "Told you."

"Never a doubt, honey. I just like doing things for you." After I dress, she allows me to brush out her hair. She looks gorgeous in her lavender satin jammies, her hair freshly washed and starting to show its natural wave. God, how I love her; I can't even begin to describe what she does for my soul.

"You know, Dana, I've always heard about love's healing properties."


"Well, its obvious, isn't it?"

I think she senses a setup. "What is?" she asks hesitantly.

"I mean, you seem like a completely different person now: happy, relaxed, rejuvenated."

I pause to let her stew a bit trying to figure out where I'm going with this. I can almost see the wheels turning. "And?" she asks cautiously.

"Come on, honey, surely you see it." I look at her quizzically as though I can't understand how she hasn't reached the same conclusion. One thing I've discovered about Dana, she hates to have her intelligence challenged. She arches her eyebrow, but remains silent, so I forge ahead. "I guess I have no option but to force myself to make love to you more often."

She slaps me on the arm and laughs. "*Force* yourself?"

I sigh dramatically, as though I'm resigned to an unwelcome task. "If I must, I must."

"You rat!" Her face is brightly animated as she slaps at my arm again; this time I grab her wrist before her hand reaches its mark.

"No need to thank me. I'm willing to make the sacrifice."

Laughing so hard that we stumble and almost fall onto the bed, I wrap her up in my arms, all my fears of hurting her erased from my mind.

"Let's go downstairs," she says. "I'm starving."


Hanging up the phone, I announce, "Okay, its all set. We leave in two days for a fun-filled seven days, six nights at the secluded beachfront resort where the support staff is the closest we'll get to seeing other people."

"You sound like a brochure," she says grinning.

"Well, actually, it's nearly word for word. Here, look." I plop down next to her and hand over the brochures my travel agent delivered by messenger yesterday while Dana was sleeping. "Doesn't it look glorious?"

"Yes. Very lovely." She smiles at me, her blue eyes bright again. "Can we afford it?"

"Of course we can. Besides, it's my treat."

She's about to speak, and from the look on her face, she's ready to protest. Taking her hand, I say, "Dana, I want to do this. I love you so much. Please, let me do this for us. Please?"

"But, sweetie, it looks awfully expensive. Please, let me pay half."

"No, baby. It was my idea, remember? I want to take you away. We've never had any time away together, just the two of us, without work. So, please, just let me have my fun."

She sits quietly, considering my plea. She seems to be taking forever. Then, finally, she looks into my eyes. "Thank you. I'd love to go as your guest."


"Pardon me?"

"You're going as my lover, not my guest."

She blushes. "Come here." She adorns me with kisses. "You are the best lover I could ever hope for."

"I've been so happy since I met you," I confess.

"Me, too." Tossing the brochures to the floor, she pulls me closer until I'm resting against her. We stay here, in silence, for at least a half an hour. She has such a calming effect on me; I think I may have fallen asleep for a bit.

Suddenly, I'm aware of her voice softly vibrating against my ear. "I need to go home and pack."


"Well, not this very minute; either this evening or tomorrow for sure."

"Okay. But I don't think we'll need to pack too much. Just a few shorts and tops, our bathing suits, something to wear if we want to dine at the restaurant, and toiletries. I think we can survive for a week on one suitcase each."

"I usually travel pretty light."

"Well, if you get cramped for space, you can leave your bathing suit home."

She squeezes me tighter as she laughs into my hair. "What am I going to do with you?"

Looking up at her, I say, "I may have a couple of ideas."

She grins from ear to ear, her twinkling eyes granting me approval to continue. I reposition my body so I'm able to whisper my ideas to her, each suggestion punctuated by my tongue winding its way inside her tiny seashell ear. By the time I'm finished, she's squirming and giggling.

She manages to get out a strangled "Okay". Pulling me over her, she kisses me ferociously.

I nuzzle her neck and fondle her breasts through her pajama top. "Look down," I say. Her vision drops to her chest; she looks up at me from under heavy lids. "Your headlights are on." I smile at her.

"High beams it would seem," she says, her breaths warm on my lips.

"The feel of satin sliding over your skin really excites me." I run the palms of my hands against her, pressing in when the heels make contact with her nipples and squeezing when my thumbs and fingers brush over her.

"Me, too," she agrees leaning her head back against a pillow. I place short little licks up and down her throat. Stopping at the hollow where her breastbones meet, I take note of how sexy the protruding bones are and how they electrify me.

Catching her gaze, I tell her, "I love to feel your nipples get hard when I touch them."

Unbuttoning the top of her pajamas gives me just a peek at the swell of her breasts. I can't help it; involuntarily, I whimper at the sight of them. "God, you're beautiful." Squeezing them together, I continue to run my thumbs over the satin. Her breathing turns ragged.

"I love to be touched by you," she says, her voice low and husky.

Lying my face against her, I kiss the warm exposed skin. She moans as I run my tongue into the valley between her breasts. Moving slowly, my mouth covers the fabric; grasping a nipple, I suck gently; her heat emanates through the thin material. My tongue swirls with delirious abandon and when I release her there's a dark circle of wetness turning the lavender satin a deep purplish color.

Taking her face in my hands, I whisper, "I adore you."

She runs her hands over my arms. "The feeling is mutual."

"Are you comfortable?"

"Yes," she says, drawing out the 's'. Damn, that's sexy.

"Warm enough?"

"Quite," she says dreamily.

"Good, because right now I just want to lie here and touch you."

She smiles lovingly at me; I yawn.

"Why don't you take a nap?" she asks.

"I'm fine." Somewhere along the line I've started using Dana's favorite phrase.

"Honey, you haven't had a solid night's sleep for a week now. You told me you didn't get a lot of sleep while I was on surveillance; and then, you've been taking care of me night and day. It's no wonder you're tired." She strokes my hair. "Rest. Just a little while. For me?"

I let her convince me and close my eyes, laying my head against her. I don't know how long I've been dozing, but at some point I wake up and notice that her pajama top has dried. Under her rhythmic breathing, I fall back asleep. I'm aware of her moving under me. She's trying to get up without disturbing me. In the distance I hear a man's voice. Rising, she tucks a pillow under my head; it's a poor substitute for the soft cushion of her body.

Her bare feet pad across the carpet and then on to the kitchen floor. She captures the phone as the man's voice drones on. I'm awake now and can't help listening. She's being quiet, but the house is quieter.

"Mulder, it's me," she says. "Yes, thanks, I'm fine." Her voice has a friendly, yet vaguely distant quality to it. There she goes again, using her patented 'don't ask too much' line.

"I want to talk to you before I come back to work." She pauses. "No, tonight isn't good. No, we're leaving tomorrow. Yes, it looks like we'll have to do it after we get back." I wonder if she realizes she just acknowledged us as a couple. "Okay, we will." She chuckles at something he says. "Yes, I'll use plenty of sun block." The chuckle turns into a full-blown laugh. "No, I will not bring you back an island girl."

That laugh. When she allows herself to relax she laughs a lot, over silly things, inconsequential things. I love that laugh; it's infectious. I'm smiling when she returns.

Her eyes and the tilt of her head ask the unspoken question.

"Your laugh. It's so earthy and full of life. It fills me with joy."

She lowers her eyes for a moment and smiles demurely. I reach out my hand and she sits down, her lap replacing the pillow; she cups my face and strokes it with her thumb.

"So, you're getting together with him after we get back?" I ask.

"Yes. There's just no time before we leave."

"Are you okay?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"Well, it was the first time you've spoken to him since he found out about us."


Our eyes meet in the long afternoon shadows of the room. "Do you know how proud I am of you?"

"Why is that?" she asks.

"You said we're leaving tomorrow. 'We', as in you and me, a couple."

"You're right. I didn't even notice. It just seemed so natural."

And with that, she bends over and kisses me. "Come on, let's run over to my place so I can pack."


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On to part 10, Promises, Promises