Secret Bird

by Politic X

Date Archived: 05/02/02
Feedback: politicx@aol.com
Website: http://politic_x.tripod.com
Status: Complete
Size:
Category: Relationship, RST  
Pairing: Scully/Reyes    
Rating: R
Spoilers: None
Permission to archive: Yes, anywhere, as long as my name is attached
Series: A sequel (of sorts) to 'Night Ride Across the Caucasus'
Notes: Many thanks to my beta team: Kate M., Caeliste and Georgia, to whom I'm severely in debt.
First posted on 05.01.02
Further notes follow the story.

Warnings:
Disclaimer: The only characters in this story that Fox and 1013 own are Monica Reyes and Dana Scully. Everyone else belongs to me.
Summary: Monica throws a party; Scully attends.






This story is for the girl who stands on the perimeter of my dance floor, winking and laughing and pushing me back into the crowd. Her dance card is full, but I'm going to stick around for a while, just in case.

'Wait a minute, baby
Stay with me a while
Said you'd give me light,
But you never told me about the fire...' -Nicks

Prologue

I want to go home.

When I was a child, I lifted my arms to the sky and let the breeze wash me spotless. But I can't come unsoiled in this dirty town; I'm too stained. There's too much nicotine, grease, sweat and semen to wash away. And I cannot come clean.

I escape to my best friend, Stephanie, when I can, because she lives in a small town between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where the trees are thick and the grass is so green and wild and fragrant that I wish I could bottle the scent of it. I want to inhale that place and hold the sweet air in my lungs long enough to render me weightless, airborne, sky high. And when I go there, I never want to leave.

But I do. I return to my city of vultures. I know joy must be here, or else this town wouldn't be home to anyone, but I can't find it. It's dusk right now in D.C. and it's my favorite time of day, when the world goes soft and the sky lambent. Dreams and love and happiness are in the air, in the smell of the Greek restaurant a block away, in the sound of laughter and shouting, in the subtle flirtations of the couple sitting on the worn stone steps of my building. I stand on the roof and look and listen. I know joy must be here, it must soundtrack the evening with car horns and street music, but when I lift my arms to the wind like I did when I was six, the breeze doesn't blow through me and it doesn't cleanse me and it doesn't carry my soul to heaven and back.

And this place doesn't feel like home.

I wish an extra wish this evening, as the layers of the sky grow darker above me. It's my secret wish, one that I just discovered recently, one that I try not to think about, one that I keep buried. I wish that Stephanie would go ahead and marry Raney and get it over with, and that we'd all go to Louisiana and live in her little cottage. It's always in a state of disrepair, but it sits on a piece of land so wide that it takes part of a day to walk it. There's no sound of car horns or street music, just cicadas and every kind of songbird you can imagine.

My father once told me that a wish is a bird in your hand, and it can die or it can fly, whichever you choose. You can neglect it and watch it starve to death or you can smother it or even crush it. Or you can nurture it and set it free. I don't want this wish to die.

I want it so badly that I see it when I close my eyes. The only thing similar to my dream home and this place is that it's dusk there, too. Raney's working on the piece-of-junk lawn mower, maybe. Stephanie's covering her Harley for the evening and she's probably singing or making some other soulful noise, because she's never quiet for long. And I'm preparing dinner. I watch them from the window for a while, until the broth of the pollo tizatlan is simmering, and then I move out of the heat of the kitchen and into the coolness of the mild November. I walk to the car that has just pulled into the long, dirt driveway, and wait in the dust for the ignition to turn off. Then my hands are opening the door, taking the baby and kissing his sweet, round head, and Stephanie is coming and pulling him from me. She knows just how to hold him because she had babies once. So I watch her carry William to Raney, and they make a big fuss over the little miracle. And I turn and look at the miracle's mother, and pull her into my arms and make her stay.

I make her stay and see that life isn't a cold concrete city of soulless, faceless vulture people. Life isn't gray buildings, gray sidewalks, gray parking garages, gray cars, gray clothes or gray air. Life isn't false truths or empty searches or conspiracies or power. Life isn't this emotional wasteland.

I make her stay and see what life is. I make her see that life is a growing child and that life is a family of friends standing on a dirt driveway at twilight in Louisiana or Mexico or wherever there's love, and I tell her that this is why we live. And I tell her how I once dreamt of this life from my rooftop in D.C.

And when I share this secret with her, she shares her secret with me.

I feel heavy and I know that it's my need that weighs so much. I don't want to need her. But I do, and I wonder why I want to take her away from here. I wonder why I want to hold her in my arms on a dirt driveway in Louisiana. I wonder why I want to promise her that when we tire of that place, we can move on. I can take her somewhere where the history is poured into clay, to a place where the land is long desert until it's broken by water or volcano or lush grass. It's a place where I can tell her a different story every night because the myth and lore around us are so rich that even the trees have tales. It's a place where I can sing Spanish lullabies to her child while she rocks him to sleep. It's the place where she's happy and unafraid, the place where she will let me lick her wounds and feed her love and nourish her soul back to health.

It's home.

I lock my wish away like I always do, but I won't continue keeping these thoughts to myself. I will not. I cannot. I cannot be Emily Dickinson and wrap them up in tidy little packages and pile them in my seclusion and cage my love like it's a secret bird, because I cannot cage my love like it's a secret.

Because I cannot cage my love.




McCall sleeps, thick hair hanging over her face, one arm draped across the desk, the other dangling. A mini-recorder is positioned beside her head. Her partner in crime is intensely taking notes. Scam artists. They do this once or twice a week, swapping turns. 4.0, both of them. They're my best students.

My favorites, too. I wipe down one side of the board and begin filling it with chalk marks again, talking fast. It's a rehash of methodology, and my students should be bored to tears. They should be bored to sleep, like McCall, but most of them are jotting everything down. I have to sigh. If they don't have it by now, they never will.

The phone rings four times before I can find the asinine thing. It's so small I haven't figured out where the hell the mouthpiece is. "Dana Scully." Whatever happened to the cell phones of the '90s? What was wrong with them? Is eight ounces too much to carry?

"Dana, hi, it's Monica."

"Agent Reyes." I waste an evil eye on McCall.

"I hope I didn't interrupt anything."

"No, no." If I can't get McCall's attention, I'll get Sayer's. I stare at her, and she finally looks up. I make a slicing motion across my throat and point to her buddy. Sayer doesn't spook easily, but she glances at McCall nervously.

"You're not in the middle of class?"

I jerk Sayer to attention with some loud and rapid snapping of my fingers. One of her books clatters to the floor.

McCall still sleeps, damn it.

"I don't answer my cell phone when I'm in class," I lie. I enjoy being unavailable.

"Oh. Are calls not allowed?"

"I don't allow them." The students are most frightened of me when I'm calm, so I walk slowly and calmly up the aisle and stop at the ninth row. Sayer's trying to nudge her girlfriend awake, to no avail. "Can you hold for a moment?"

"Sure."

I press the hold button and lean close to McCall. "HEY!"

She sits up, knocking her recorder over, almost falling out of the chair. I point to the door. "You, too," I say to Sayer.

They're scrambling, gathering things, fumbling. "It's okay. I've got it," Sayer whispers to McCall. She grabs the recorder up off the floor and helps her taller friend - still clumsy with sleep -negotiate the steps. McCall's backpack hangs open on her shoulder. Sayer follows behind, zipping it as they walk.

I flip Reyes on and walk back to my desk. "Sorry."

"No problem. I know you're busy." Her words are rushed. "I was calling to see if you would be available - if you would be interested in coming to a party. At my place, a celebration type thing - for my loft. Saturday night."

"Loft-warming?" I know there's a lilt in my voice, and I don't disguise it; Monica's nervous enough.

"Yes. Saturday. There'll be a lot of people there. You won't know most of them, but you'll like them."

I like the sound of this already. "Who will I know? Specifically?" It looks like all of my students have finished copying what's on the board. I glance at my watch and dismiss them with a wave of my hand. They're attentive when they want to be and scramble out.

"Oh." Monica falters. "Well, you might not know anyone, actually."

"Mm hmm."

"Are you starting class?"

"What?" Oh, the noise. "No."

"You'll enjoy yourself, I'm sure of it. You'll like my friends." Her tone is cajoling.

She doesn't need to talk me into it, but I'm not going to let her know that. "What time?"

"It starts at nine. But any time you want to come is fine. Some of my friends who have kids will get there right at nine and stay a couple of hours; some will show up at 11 and stay until 2 or 3. So, if you want to meet people like you, come early. If you want to meet people like me, come late."

"People like you?" I arch my eyebrow. The right one, the one that arches highest.

"Night owls."

"And because I have a child, I automatically belong to the dull and boring set who has to be in bed by midnight. Is that it?" I'm not giving her time to answer. "If I want to meet other boring parents, I need to come early? But if I want to meet people like you, who I assume are a more vivacious and entertaining lot -"

"No." Monica chuckles.

I sniff. "What, then? Hippies? Is it a bunch of whale-song-singing hippies I'm going to meet? Is that the kind of evening I'm in for?"

"Ah!" She laughs some words I can't understand. "No, no."

"Oh. Folk-tale-telling FBI agents?"

Monica's laughter fills the receiver for a moment, flooding me with warmth, then she sighs. "Afraid not. I'm the only whale-song-singing, folk-taletelling FBI hippy I know."

"Oh well." I can sigh, too, and I can do it louder, and I do. "I guess you're the only person like you who'll be there."

She snickers. "I'm more than a hippy agent, Dana."

"Mm hmm. Well, maybe one day you'll prove it to me." I'm looking at my nails, thinking about an outfit, nail polish, shoes.

"I'll have to get you away from work to do that."

Monica's voice is so sultry that she snaps me to attention as easily as I snapped my student. There's a pulse beating deep down in me, in a place that's normally very quiet.

"Is it even possible? To get you away from work?" Monica teases.

She obviously doesn't know who she's playing with. Or what. "I'm seduced away from it occasionally."

Monica doesn't miss a beat. "Yeah? How occasionally? Once a week? Saturday nights, maybe?"

Damn. I can't think of a clever response.

"'Cause all I've ever seen of you is work. All work and no play makes Dana a lonely girl."

"You saw me Saturday."

"Not nearly enough."

My mouth goes dry. Monica seems to be much better at this flirting game than I am. "At least it was memorable. You tell me a fascinating story then have a seizure. Was that to keep me interested?"

She's laughing. "Seizure? I was just lightheaded."

"No. Something was wrong. It was more than just your concern over me and whether or not I was leaving."

"I told you, it was real - I'd lost you once already. It was a powerful feeling of loss."

Monica had attempted to explain it to me at the time, but I didn't hear half of what she'd said. I had been concentrating on her hand, holding mine, and wondering if I could/should/would kiss her. I decided that I could but shouldn't, so I didn't. "Did you think I was going to rush off to the mountains if the men in the village didn't love me?"

"Something like that."

"Wouldn't happen." I'm nonchalant and I pick a piece of lint off my suit to prove it to myself. "Anyway, I think you're more like Irina than I am." I'm fascinated by that folk tale she told me last week. I want to know what it means to her.

"Running? Outcast?" If a smirk was a sound, it would be the sound she makes. "Not me."

"I don't know, Monica." My heart's in my throat. "I can see you fleeing to the Caucasus, waiting for love to find you."

"Yeah? Well, I might just surprise you. It might be that I'm the princess witch herself, casting a spell."

Casting a spell, indeed. "So." My voice cracks like a teenage boy's. "What would a lowly peasant wear to a party at the castle?"

"If the peasant was Irina, I think she could wear anything. She was the most beautiful woman in all the village, you know."

What's she telling me? Am I her Irina? I remember that she'd referred to me as beautiful and fierce last Saturday. I like that description - the fierce part, anyway. "And what about the princess? Some lovely gown?"

"Oh, no, no. I think the princess was probably a hippy. So she'd probably wear hippy clothes."

I laugh. "A hippy princess witch? I suppose she was fond of whale song?"

"I think there was probably more to her than that," she says primly.

"You'll have to prove it to me one day."

"I'll have to get you away from work to do that."

"I imagine you could seduce me away from it." My heart's beating irregularly and I'm afraid I'm making a fool of myself. "Look, my battery's about to die." Another lie. "I'll see you Saturday. Thanks, Monica." I click the phone off before I become a bigger fool.

"Date?"

Sayer's returned, and is sitting alone in the auditorium, in the front row, finishing her note taking.

"Loft-warming."

My student gives me a sly look. "She pretty?"

"Very."

"Sweet." She grins.

"Very."

Very sweet. Much too sweet, the woman and the situation. It'll never happen, but I have a feeling Monica's going to play me for all I'm worth before she breaks my heart. She won't mean to, of course, but women like her are loved by too many not to break a few.




The loft is spotless. I've cleaned it from top to bottom, even the windows, which are so large and so high on the walls that I had to purchase a ladder to reach the tops of them. I would've needed a ladder anyway to change the light bulbs. Such open space makes me happy.

Stephanie's due to arrive any minute, and Raney will probably be here shortly thereafter. They're my two closest buddies, and they'll make tonight more bearable. I expect to be given the cold shoulder by almost everyone, so I've made a small display of some art they should recognize. It should appease them; it was done by the salutatorian of our graduating class at Brown. He died a few months ago, and nothing has been the same since. Everyone loved Marty. His artwork is mostly sculptures, with a couple of mosaics thrown in. I'm leaving the drawings packed away, though, and the wolf stays in the guest bedroom, because these things are too personal to have on exhibit.

I've spent the last few days trying not to think about Dana and whether or not she'll come. She said she would, but she's so wrapped up in herself and her son that I'm not sure she'll even remember the invitation. I hope she does. She's the main reason for the party. I'm so at odds with my friends right now that I probably wouldn't have it otherwise. But I have to get her alone. I have to tell her what she means to me, and I need to know if I mean anything to her.

I know she cares about me as a friend, even though she's so gruff and unemotional that it's sometimes hard to know where she's coming from. I need to know if I'm more. I need to know if she lies awake thinking about me the way that I think about her. I need to know where I stand with her, and I need to know tonight, because I don't like guessing games. And I can't keep these feelings bottled up inside any longer.

Stephanie says that what I wear tonight is the key to everything. "Give her sexy, honey," she said from the road yesterday. Not only have we already discussed our outfits, but Steph's familiar with almost everything that hangs in my closet. We're that close, even though she lives a thousand miles away.

The outfit I'd planned to wear does nothing for her, even though she hasn't seen it. It's pretty - a soft cashmere dress, beige, and even softer brown leather boots that come to my knees. "Something sexier," Stephanie insisted. I'm not sure I dare to wear what she has in mind. The blouse is a halter top that she pushed me to buy last year when we were in New Orleans, and the skirt is excessively short. I plan to wear the cashmere. This party isn't about seduction, after all, it's about getting answers to some important questions and setting some secrets free.




I'm glad the parking garage is well lit. Monica's loft is located in a decidedly uneven section of town. Her building's nice; it's an old school with huge banks of windows, and the grounds are green and they cover a city block. But the adjacent blocks aren't as lush, and they're scattered with prostitutes and drug dealers. I don't like her living on the fringe like this.

I take a freight elevator from the garage to the living quarters, and I have to smile. It's decidedly different, this building; the developers have done a good job in restoring it. The incredibly wide hallways still house lockers, the doors are heavy wood and the walls are brick. The first floor is retail space and Monica's floor is directly above a small day spa.

Six is on the end, beside an alcove with a window. I peer out it at the night. I don't like her being in a mixed-use building, but that's none of my business. I don't like her being the end apartment on the first residential floor adjacent to an 8' x 12' window, either. I especially don't like that she's bought this place instead of leasing it. If this is where she's putting down roots, I'll be worrying about her for a long time.

I press the buzzer, suddenly self-conscious about the house-warming gift I've brought her. It's too personal to be unwrapped in a crowd; she'll need to open it later.

I ring the buzzer again, just as she's opening the door, and my breath catches. I've always thought her pretty, but now I know better. She's gorgeous. I can't choose which feature to stare at, her eyes, her smile, her breasts, or her legs. "Dana," she says breathlessly, and it's her smile my eyes rest on.

"Hi."

"I'm glad to see you. Come in." She closes the door behind me. "Can I get your coat?"

"Yes, thanks." I maneuver her heavy present and reach up to remove my jacket myself, but Monica's already behind me. She brushes against my collarbones as she reaches around and grasps it in an area so close to my breasts that my nipples react to her heat. She opens my coat and then moves her hands back up to a place near the collar, pulls the leather, slides it down. I feel her fingertips through my thin blouse as they trail down my arms. I'm on fire.

"Love that blouse," she murmurs, her mouth seeming to be intimately close, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. "Turn around, let me see." I turn, feeling awkward, and her eyes are all over my body, but mostly on my breasts. Not that I'm wearing anything revealing - but the blouse is tight, and her admiration is open. The shirt is different for me, and I'm nervous. It's vivid and exotic - a Gaultier tulle top in black, lime green and silver - and I paid too much for it. I bought it just for tonight. "Nice," she says, and the price of the blouse is worth it. Her eyes sweep up to my face and she smiles mysteriously, as if we share a secret.

She's cast a spell on me.

This encounter - from the moment she opened the door until now - is one of the most erotic moments I've ever experienced, and far too brief. She moves to a nearby closet, and I let myself gawk. If she thinks I look nice, there must be a finer word for her. She's all mini-skirt, tall boots and bare legs, but it's her blouse that's the scenestealer. It's sleeveless, black and soft, like
crushed velvet. There's a keyhole of exposed flesh from her collarbone to her sternum. It looks quite charming on her - feminine but strong, accentuating her broad shoulders - but it's not what it seems. For all its sweet, earthy innocence, it's backless.

Two thoughts hit me at once. One, it's November and much too cold for her outfit. Two, this party isn't just a party if she wore it for me. She turns back to me, and I push those thoughts away. The finer word I want isn't on my tongue, so I thrust the present at her. "Here. For your house warming. Loft-warming, I should say."

Her smile lights up her whole face. "Thank you, that's so sweet."

I grimace. Sweet's not what I intended. "You might want to open it later."

Her eyes penetrate mine. There's something sexy about them that I've never noticed before. "Okay," she says softly. "Let me put it in a safe place."

I follow her, feeling decidedly conspicuous in this blouse. My trousers ride low and the blouse rides high, so my stomach feels uncomfortably naked. I try to relax. I wanted to be daring and different, someone more exciting than I am, and that's why my clothes are tight. Instead, I'm the same me stuck in a blouse so wild that everyone turns to stare in our direction.

There are many people here, but the loft is enormous, and it doesn't feel crowded. It seems even bigger than it did last week, when she didn't have all of her furniture yet. "Can I get you something to drink?" she asks over her shoulder.

"Sure."

I'm staring at her shoulders, at her back, at her shoulder blades, at the long line of her spine. She wore this blouse because she wanted someone to touch her. I wonder if she knows that someone's going to be me.

We walk into the kitchen area, and she places the gift on the counter. She looks at it for a moment, rubbing her thumb over the paper as if she's contemplating opening it. I stare at her back and think about how nice it would be to wrap my arms around her. I'd kiss her between her shoulder blades and slide my hands up to her breasts. She turns and smiles at me, and I'm almost ashamed of my lustful thoughts. Almost. "What's your poison?"

"What are my options?"

Her look is entirely innocent. "I'm sure I have anything you'd want."

I'm sure she does, too. "Why don't you pick my poison, in that case?"

She chuckles and scratches her brow. "Okay." I can't take my eyes from her. She grows pensive, staring right back at me. "I'd peg you for vodka or gin. Or white wine, maybe. A clear drink."

I'm surprised by her accuracy. "A gin and tonic would be great." Why not have a summer drink to celebrate her summer outfit? As she prepares it, I watch her and wonder if she's sleeping with anybody. I wonder if she sleeps with men. "And you?" I ask, when she hands me the drink. "What's your poison, Monica?" I take a sip, locking eyes with her. "Something harder, I imagine?"

There's definite heat in the room. "What could be harder than a gin and tonic?" she purrs. "Looks like water, tastes like gasoline."

"Yeah, well," I swallow. "Some things aren't what they seem."

She reaches into the cabinet. "And those," she says, pulling out a bottle of Jack Daniels, "Are the most interesting things of all." She pours herself a shot, downs it, and tilts the glass toward me.

I shake my head. "I'll stick with unleaded."

"Okay." She chuckles and grabs herself a beer from the fridge. "Let me introduce you around."

I follow her back to her amazing living space. I'm already sure I'll spend a lot of the evening learning about her from her friends, and I'm surprised by my enthusiasm. I want to spend the evening discussing her. I want to spend it looking at her pottery and books and photos, and everything else. I want to learn everything about her tonight.

"Monica!" someone yells. We look, and there's a guy at the other end of the loft. He's waving at her like a drunken idiot, asking about a cheron, whatever that is. She yells right back at him that it's in the guest room, but he doesn't seem to find it. She excuses herself from me to help him, and I'm alone suddenly, in the midst of sixty people who may or may not be friendly, who may or may not be gay, and who may or may not think I'm someone more exciting than I am because of my distinct blouse.

It takes me five seconds to realize that it's a mixed crowd, and not much longer than that for the first guy to hit on me. He's not bad looking, but there's an air of desperation that clings to him like cloying aftershave. I'm quickly becoming trapped in a conversation I don't want to have, and I can't be rude to him if he's a friend of Monica's.

I don't have to endure it long. Another man comes to my rescue. I hope these guys notice that I'm rolling my eyes at both of them. This man is easy, though. He's attractive, but he'd be plain if it weren't for his long, thick lashes and incredible gray eyes. He's dressed casually in blue jeans and loafers.

He steps right in front of the oily guy - Gary Somebody - and sticks his hand out. "Raney Pritchard," he says in a southern accent. His grip is firm and dry, compared to Gary's. "I'll be your tour guide this evening." His eyes crinkle.

"Dana Scully."

He nods, as if he knew this already. "Monica asked me to find you," he says.

I'm embarrassed that he found me so quickly; I'm sticking out like a sore thumb. I can just hear Monica tell him 'Find Dana Scully, she's the one with the loud blouse.' He seems to sense my discomfort. "There's not many people here I don't know." He nods curtly to Gary while taking my elbow and leading me away. "Excuse us, Walker."

I learn that Raney Pritchard is the pastor of a small congregation outside Atlanta, and that Monica really didn't fetch for me, but meant to rescue me from Gary Walker. "She's tied up with the Cheron right now," he says, glancing over my head.

"What's the cheron?"

"It's a sculpture of a wolf. Our friend, Marty Cheron, did it. He died a few months ago. The last time most of us were together was at his funeral."

I nod my sympathy.

"Freak motorcycle accident," he offers, and stops in front of the painting of the peasant and the princess witch, and begins telling me all about the artist, who happens to be here tonight, and for whom he obviously has great affection. "Speak of the devil." He looks across the room and I follow his gaze.

A woman's kissing Monica.




"How's my baby?"

Stephanie touches my arm and her breasts press against me as she leans up on tiptoe for a kiss. Fifteen years ago, that move of hers had me weakkneed and tongue-tied. Now I just roll my eyes. "I'm good."

Her lips linger on mine for a moment, not because there's any passion between us, but because she knows how it looks to everyone who's watching. And everyone's always watching her; she makes sure of that. She was born an actress and doesn't need a stage to show off her talents.

She's the other redhead in my life (until she changes colors again), and so different from Dana that they aren't comparable. Steph's the divorced mother of two grown boys, a drama coach and the proud owner of a Harley Davidson. Her hair is long and curly and her figure is voluptuous. She has the artist's flair and everything she wears is dramatic and gaudy; her clothes are always a disaster. And she brought plenty of gaudy with her this afternoon when she made the drive to my place. I hauled three suitcases of gaudy out of the trunk of her ancient car. Gaudy is heavy.

Tonight she's sporting a leather skirt, black boots - nothing like the ones I'm wearing because hers have a stiletto heel - and a small, red blouse. She loves cleavage - she loves tempting people that way - so the shirt's cut low at her breasts. She's looking cheap, raunchy and brazenly sexy. No taste, this woman. I wouldn't have her any other way.

"Is she here yet?"

I nod. "She's -"

"No, don't tell me. Let me find her."

"I'm getting another beer. What do you want?"

"Tequila."

I leave her and glance around at the other guests. Friends, all of them, mostly from Brown, and most of them know each other. They seem to be having a good time; some are gathering in cliques by the fireplace (which doesn't hold a fire tonight, but candles), some are dancing, and everyone is drinking. I learned a long time ago that the only requirement for having a good party is plenty of alcohol. The rest takes care of itself.

I have plenty of alcohol tonight. There's nothing appealing about getting drunk, but it's going to take more than a couple of beers for me to relax enough to talk to Dana. I don't know how to begin telling her how I feel. I can't even get up the courage to make small talk with her. I can't even look at her.

I catch a whiff of Stephanie before I ever reach her with her drink. She smells like the cologne that I buy her every year. It's the only classy thing about her, and she wears too much of it. And because she's Stephanie, it's the only thing she wears too much of tonight. Except for makeup, maybe. And jewelry.

She looks smug. "Found her." She knows how I feel about Dana. She knows without asking.

"Yeah?"

"Hard to miss." Stephanie nods toward the painting she did forever ago and the woman standing beneath it, beside Raney Pritchard. "Red. Devastating."

I blush. She's right, and what a succinct way to put it.

"So introduce me already."

I'm glad for the opportunity. No small talk required; Stephanie will take care of that. She walks straight to her without waiting on me, and without waiting for the introduction she requested, sticks out her hand. "Stephanie Laos."

Dana shakes it with pursed lips and a small smile. "Dana Scully."

"I know who you are. I've heard all about you." Stephanie winks at her.

Oh, God. Don't. Don't embarrass me.

"Really?" Dana cocks her head.

"Yeah." Stephanie's eyes run rampant over Dana, from her astonishingly well-fitting bell-bottoms to the blouse that's so wild (vivid and bold, just like the woman herself) and so snug that there's no doubt about what kind of body it contains. Stephanie opens her mouth to say something else and then uncharacteristically closes it. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"It's a pleasure meeting the person behind the painting." Dana nods toward the wall behind her. It's a big piece of art - 60" x 72" - and dwarfs her, but it looks tiny in the loft. This is the first place I've ever lived in which it has looked small.

Stephanie shrugs.

"Monica told me the story; you've captured it well."

Stephanie doesn't accept compliments easily. Dana's admiration pleases her, but she won't say so. "Whatever. I'll paint pictures and pretend to be people I'm not and you and Monica can go save the world."

Dana looks at me. "Unfortunately, I don't have the pleasure of saving the world or doing even less remarkable things with Monica."

I swallow hard. Stephanie not too subtly nudges me. Dana sips her drink.

Raney shifts from one foot to the other, unaware of the dynamic between the women he's standing with. "I don't know why y'all want to go and be in that kind of business. You can do a lot more good for our country by teaching."

He's making a reference to Stephanie, but she just snorts. "Yeah, right, Raney."

"Dana is a teacher," I say. Her eyes are on mine and I give her a smile. "She teaches people how to save the world."

This earns me an embarrassed grin. Dana's cheeks are flushed and she's so beautiful that she takes my breath away, but Stephanie interrupts this wonderfully awkward moment by grabbing my hand. "Finish your drink and let's dance."

"Now?" I ask, even though it's pointless to argue. There's no denying her - she'll only make a scene and whine and bitch and moan if I don't dance with her - so I give my drink to Raney, who already has his hand out. He caters to us like this; he always has.

Stephanie swallows her tequila and passes the glass to the person who looks most like a servant at the moment, Raney, of course. He's juggling three glasses. Dana looks at Stephanie as if she's seeing a circus attraction, and at me as if I'm a pushover. She even rolls her eyes. Dammit. "Come on, babe," Stephanie says, and jerks me away.

I don't want Dana to see me dancing with Stephanie, but what choice do I have? I'm uncomfortably aware that no one else is dancing to this song. It's Chicago. It's one of their old ones and it's not danceable. "Where's the dance music?"

"It's coming." CDs were her only responsibility tonight, and I'm sure she's picked plenty of good stuff, but for now we have to suffer through some classic rock. That the song's not easy to dance to suddenly becomes my least concern, though, as her left hand grips my bicep and her right hand clasps mine. This is our normal stance when we dance together, and there's nothing sexual or intimate about it, but Dana's staring at us and I feel ill at ease. "I love this song," Stephanie says, and smiles up at me.

"Since when?"

"Mmm," she says, and gives no answer.

Our moves are straight from the New York Hustle, which means that one of my hands stays in hers most of the time, while the other is on her shoulder blade. She's gained a few pounds since I last saw her. Stephanie's weight fluctuates with her moods, up and down, and she has to work to stay fit. I try not to look at Dana.

Stephanie notices. "I'm thinking that this chick is trying not to look at you, either. She's got that self-conscious expression on her face like she thinks somebody's watching her."

"She always has that expression on her face."

"Maybe she knows you're always watching."

Good point. I bring the subject back around to Stephanie. She's on caffeine again, which is not a good thing for someone who's predisposed to hyperactivity. She's on caffeine and she's eating a lot. She's not exercising. She's drinking. "How's work?" I ask, hoping that this is the problem and not something worse.

"Fine," she says.

"Seeing anybody I need to know about?"

"Nope." But she presses closer to me, hiding her face.

"Stephanie," I warn. "Tell me."

Instead, she sings with the song. "'Life is everything it's meant to be.'"

I draw back and look at her. She grips my hands and smiles radiantly.

This causes me great concern. Stephanie's the happiest when she's in dire straits. "Who is it?" She just smiles, trying to be mysterious, and I'm not even sure she's seeing someone. I'm not sure what she's up to at all.

The music's pumping up, reaching a crescendo, and Stephanie pushes away from me, still clasping my hands. "'Searching for an answer,'" she sings, twirling, beaming, letting go.

We're great on the dance floor together; we've had enough experience with each other to know how we fit together. She swirls and comes to me with practiced grace, and I catch her hand and spin her more. I feel eyes on us, more eyes than just Dana's, and I'm not surprised. I know how we look together.

"Damn, we're sexy," she says, reading my mind for probably the hundredth time since I've known her. "Think Dana's noticed yet?"

"Is that what you're up to?" She's not fooling me a bit. There's more to what's going on with her tonight than simply sparking a little danger.

"I just want to push things along a bit," she says. "I'd like to see you hook up with somebody that cares about you for a change. I'd like it to happen tonight, so I can watch." She grins wickedly. "And I'd really like it to be a chick."

"Stephanie," I hiss, because she's unduly loud. Even her whispers are loud, like stage whispers.

She giggles.

"I don't even know if she - " I stop myself. "I don't think she's interested in me. Like that."

"Damn girl, wake up. Haven't we had this conversation before? You can't stop staring at her. She can't stop staring at you. And I can't stop staring at both of you staring at each other." She turns to look at Dana, who is, indeed staring at us. "It's like a dyke soap opera. All we need is the bi one - that would be me - coming on to the butch one - that would be Dana, who only has eyes for the femme one - that would be you, who's totally clueless at what's going on." She checks Scully out. "I gotta say, she's got that butch thing down pat for somebody who knows how to wear makeup." The music changes, and Stephanie twists in my arms. "Turn us around."

I do.

Raney's strutting up to us, rolling his arms over each other and singing off-key. "'Looking back on when I.'" He claps. "'Was a little nappy-headed boy.'"

Stephanie ignores the Stevie Wonder wannabe. "Okay, now don't look at her while I'm talking to you, but dig this, babe: Dana's staring at you, right? She's marking her territory. See, all the other dykes in the room noticed you immediately, as soon as they walked in the door."

I wonder how much she's had to drink. She was in the kitchen before the party started, while I was dressing, clinking bottles. She's not drunk yet, but she will be before the night's over. What she's saying is made even weirder by Raney, who's doing his stiff little dance around us, and still singing: "'Even though we sometimes - Would not get a thing.'" He concentrates on a little spin. "'We were happy with the - Joy the day would bring!'" He claps.

Stephanie prattles on. "And Dana's letting them know that you're off limits. She watches you and strikes her butch pose, and makes sure all the other dykes know that you're hers."

"You're crazy." That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. I kind of want to believe her, though. I push her away, until our arms are completely outstretched, our fingertips touching. She raises her left hand in the air, snaps her fingers, and comes whirling to me when I draw her back in.

"You think so?" Stephanie's arms are folded against my chest because I've pulled her that close. "Well, she's moved since I turned us around, babe. She doesn't want you to see her looking. She's standing right behind you. She's watching to see what I do with you." Stephanie looks at me conspiratorially. "I'm thinking I should make a pass at you. We've got to light a fire under that chick. She wants you, anybody can see that. What the hell's taking her so long?" Stephanie looks at me slyly again and motions for me to follow her. We step aside. "Dare you to ask her to dance."

"No way."

"Double dare you."

Raney does a little chicken dance beside me. "Double dare you, Monica!"

He doesn't even know what Stephanie wants me to do. He's back in his song, singing with Stevie Wonder. I've said it before and I say it again: "What a strange little preacher man." Cute as a button, though. Stephanie pinches me for attention. "Stephanie, I can't." She pushes at me. "No!"

Raney glances at us and heads off to the kitchen. He probably thinks we're going to argue.

She stands back and looks at me for a moment. I can see the gears turning. "Okay, be that way. Be lonesome."

"Don't get pouty on me. Please? Just let me take my time, okay? I'm nervous."

"Oh, baby." She's in my arms again. "Don't be afraid."

"I don't want to lose her." I swallow. "What if I tell her that I like her and she rejects me? What if I lose her friendship?"

She snorts. "Yeah, go tell her you like her, maybe you can hold hands during recess and - oh, baby, I'm sorry. I'm just teasing. Tell her you like her; tell her everything. She's not going to run away."

Her interest turns momentarily to Raney, who's returned with beers for all of us. He's too cute for Stephanie to resist. "I promise she won't," she says to me, then turns her attention to the man she loves but will never marry. "What do you think?" she asks him.

He hands us the beers. "About what?"

"Monica's girlfriend."

"Stephanie!" She's so freakin' loud.

"Dana?" Raney asks.

"See? Even he knows. And you know how vanilla Raney Baby is." Stephanie looks behind me, toward Dana, I presume. "Dig that butch walk. Yummy," she says, smiling slyly. "I sure wouldn't mind having me some government protection tonight." She winks.

Raney shakes his head. "Monica's still the prettiest FBI agent I've ever seen." He looks at Dana and shakes his head again. "Hands down."

"Well, of course she is," Stephanie says. "Nobody's as pretty as our baby. But goddamn. Look at that chick."

I follow her gaze and Raney's to Dana, and she's moved to another spot, farther from us. At this precise moment, she looks our way. She catches my eyes, and I want her over here with us. I want to be over there with her.

Raney shrugs. "I don't see it. She's all right, but she's not Monica. Or you, either."

Stephanie shakes her head in disgust. "I'll never get men."

"Oh, honey," Raney drawls. "I think you've gotten your share of 'em."

That little nugget pulls my attention back to him; he cracks me up. Raney sneaks them in now and then.

Stephanie rolls her eyes. "You know what I mean. Look at that face. How many people do you ever see with a face that dramatic? Damn. I'd get roles if I had a face like that."

"You get plenty of roles," Raney protests. "Too many roles."

I wonder if he's just encouraging her or if he really doesn't know what a hard time she's had finding acting work in the past couple of years.

"Yeah, whatever. She has the perfect face for an actor," Stephanie says. "She's gorgeous."

Raney seems noncommittal in his agreement. "Yeah, I guess. But she's kind of mean-looking or something."

I chuckle. "She's not mean." What she is, however, is 63 inches of intensity.

"Naw, that ain't the word." He thinks. "Severe." He nods. "Like she'd be into discipline."

I spew beer, choking, and Stephanie guffaws. She slaps my back, because I'm coughing like crazy, and she thinks pounding me will help. We're bent over, laughing our asses off.

"What? Why's that so funny?" Raney asks, and he really wonders.

It's funny because Raney's such an old-fashioned guy. He's 34 going on 90.

"A little-" Stephanie breaks off, laughing hysterically. "A little S&M, Raney?"

He blushes. "Well, yeah. She looks like she'd be into that a little too much for my taste."

Anything out of the ordinary is too much for Raney's taste.

"If she is, she's hooking up with the right chick," Stephanie says, winking.

It's Raney's turn to choke on beer. "What?"

"Isn't she, baby?"

I'm laughing too hard to answer.

"What?" Raney gazes at me incredulously. I don't think he could look more shocked. This makes me laugh all the harder.

"S&M," Stephanie says. "Dana's got it wrong if she thinks she's going to tie this one up, though. Monica's a regular dominatrix."

Stephanie's not just an actor; she's a director, so she knows about timing. She pulls me by the hand and we make our way back to the dance arena. It's time for some disco.




I wish Dana would join us. No such luck. We're dancing to Donna Summer, and when this song ends and ABBA begins, Raney comes over for a little disco action. Apparently, he's recovered from his embarrassment.

"Hey, you remember how to do the Hustle?" he shouts at me over the music. His brown, wavy hair is sprinkled with gray, but it doesn't make him look any older. He looks like a baby, even though he's my age.

Stephanie comes up behind him, her hands on his waist, beer bottle almost empty. "Of course she remembers, darling. I taught her."

Raney's familiar enough with Stephanie to overlook her sexual innuendos. "Remind me," he says. "I can't remember." When Raney says 'can't,' his 'a' is hard, and it sounds like "faint" with a 'c.'

"You can't?" Stephanie mocks. What she doesn't realize is that her accent is almost as thick as Raney's, and that when she mocks him, no one can really tell she's doing it but me. It's my own little joke.

"No."

"Come on, baby." Stephanie grabs my hand. "Let's remind him."

Raney's referring to the California Hustle, the line dance, and it takes us a few minutes to get it sorted out. Stephanie keeps putting too many moves in it, and I keep looking around for Dana. But I've finished my beer, and hers is long gone, and ABBA's gone off and Alicia Bridges has come and gone, too. We've taught Raney the steps, and we're headed away from the dance area toward the kitchen for more refreshment, but a sudden sound stops us.

It's KC and the Sunshine Band. Stephanie and I look at each other, and then we're in the middle of the crowd again, dancing our hearts out, throwing some Latin Hustle into our routine. Our hands are pressed together, arms stretched out, and we look like we're about to tango. We always get silly doing this, and Stephanie embellishes with kickbacks and air kisses. When the music ends, I'm disappointed, because we're having a blast, and so are our friends. But a new song's coming on, one I'm not familiar with.

Just when I'm walking away, Stephanie grabs my arm. "Oh, baby, baby!" she says loudly in my ear. "Strike a femme pose for that butch queen!"

I look to where she's looking, and Dana's stepped into the middle of a crowd of women that are moving to a line dance. My mouth just drops open, because I've wanted to dance with her all night, and while I'd rather tango with her, I'll settle for this, if I can figure out the steps. They seem simple. I can't pay attention to them, though, for watching her. She's the most beautiful woman I think I've ever seen.

She turns my heart, and I love her so much that I feel I'm suddenly on the outside, wanting in. I've always been inside others' hearts, but I don't know her story. She's locked up tight and always has been, I imagine. I've seen her faade crumble a couple of times, but never completely.

So I don't know what her secret is. Maybe it's a wish like mine, a bird that she keeps trapped in a gilded cage. How does she hold it in? I'm about to burst to free mine, to let it rush to her, a little red robin of love.

"Get OUT!" Stephanie crows. She sticks her fingers to her mouth and whistles. She nudges me. "That's your girl, sweetie. Ain't no doubt now. Ain't no doubt at all," she says gleefully.

"What do you mean?"

"It's the shuffle." She grinning, pulling my hand. "Remember that time we were at that bar in New Orleans and this song was playing and all the dykes were dancing to it? Remember?"

It was years ago. I remember being overwhelmed by hundreds of women in such a small space. "No."

She does the basic steps of the dance in front of me. "It's your California Hustle in a box. So pick it up, baby, because if your chick's out here now, it means she's a dyke. This is like the dyke anthem or something. Or it was that night. At that bar." She surveys the women gathered on my makeshift dance floor. "Gotta be a dyke thing."

She has her hands on my hips from behind, walking me through the shuffle and singing along. "'Why should I feel uptight?'" Her breasts press against me. Her entire voluptuous little body presses against me from behind, and I feel Dana's eyes on me. I know I'm turning red.

Stephanie's loud. At least she can carry a tune. "'Love had to show me one thing...'" She's shuffled over to Dana and I can't take my eyes away, she's so dangerously close to her. Steph leans nearer and says something to Dana that causes her to look my way immediately. I just grin at both of them like an idiot. I've picked up the steps by now and I'm growing comfortable enough to move in their direction.

Stephanie's shouting catcalls and she's not the only one. The first feminist I ever met is shouting, too. It's Raney, and he's sidled up to me, batting those long lashes like a girl. I smile my love for him. He's amazing. How many preachers know any dyke anthems? How many preachers know any dykes? He's a constant reminder that old-fashioned values don't necessarily mean narrow-minded principles.

He and Stephanie fill in the musical interlude while Diana Ross takes a break. I know it has to be Diana Ross, even if I don't know the song, because there's no mistaking her voice. I side step over to Steph and swap places with her so that she can dance with Raney. And I can dance with Dana. My hand reaches out to her and she takes it without looking up at me. I slip my other hand around her waist, and we're rocking on our heels, on our toes. Dancing with Dana. Sounds like a bad movie, feels like a heart attack. But a quick one; this dance doesn't invite much cuddling.

Stephanie's turned in a square - I was supposed to, too, but didn't - and she and Dana and everyone else are facing me. I catch Stephanie's eyes. She's having a blast. "'I was so right, so right!'" she sings.

I can't tell if Dana's singing or not, because her hair's fallen in her face. She's looking down at her feet and seems to be taking her dance steps very seriously. Raney's off-key, but he knows the song, and he sings it with gusto. "'Thought I could turn emotion on and off! I was so sure-'"

"'I was SO, SO SURE!'" Stephanie yells.

"'Til love taught me who was-'"

Raney's voice is twangy, but Stephanie drowns him out. "'WHO WAS!'"

"'The boss!'" everyone screams. Even some of those who aren't dancing scream it.

I look at Stephanie, Raney and Dana, at the women around me, and my heart fairly bursts with joy at this happiness, this togetherness, this healing moment. Yeah, this is a party and we're drinking tonight, flirting and laughing, but this dance isn't about anything so frivolous. It's about who we are. It's about unity and pride. It's about supporting each other. It's about us.

I join in the catcalls.




It was a hell of a sight, Monica in the midst of all the dykes, clapping, whooping. Dancing. God, she can dance. Even simple little moves like the shuffle look fluid and pretty when she does them.

I'm headed out of the dance area so that I can watch her more. I hope she and Stephanie will give me another show. There's nothing quite like two feminine women dancing together, and I've never seen anything like them. Stephanie's all long strawberry-blonde hair flying and pale skin flushed at her cheeks, a porcelain little doll. But Monica's bare legs, bare arms, and that magnificent bare back steal every bit of spotlight away from her friend. I wonder if they're lipstick lesbians or if they're bi. I wonder if they're two straight girls who like to experiment. They were twisting and tangling together like they've done it a thousand times, and the way Monica holds her says a lot about their relationship.

They've got something going, something more than friendship. I don't think it's sexual, despite Stephanie kissing her earlier. I think it's history. I think Stephanie is to Monica what Mulder is to me. I pass Stephanie and she slaps me on the back. "Sweet moves, baby." She grins devilishly.

She called me 'baby' and I didn't even punch her in the face, because Monica's right behind her, walking my way but not seeing me at all. Her eyes are moving over the people who are nearest to Stephanie, I see as I glance back. I wonder if there's trouble. Monica looks serious, and her walk is purposeful. But she smiles and her breasts brush my shoulder as she passes me. Her fingers brush by me as well, dangerously low, and catch my hand. She pulls me several feet, back to the dance floor. Oh, God. The Bee Gees. This is not happening.

She stops and turns around, grinning.

I'm shaking my head. "I can't dance to this, Monica." But my smile is going to split my face in half.

She leans and I catch a whiff of eucalyptus leaves, and her lips are so close to my ear that her breath sends chills down my spine. "Sure you can," she says. Her nose is in my hair. "Just follow me."

"No-"

"Look." One of her hands is already on the small of my back; the other is still grasping mine. She's using her height on me. "I bet you'd like to lead," she says. She pulls me in even closer, impossibly close, and once I wrap my brain around the idea that she may be talking about more than dancing, I cling to her like I'm lovesick, which I am. Still, I'm not known to cling. "But give me a shot at it." She pulls back and looks down at my face. "Okay?"

I wonder if she tries to be sexy or if it comes naturally to her. "You like taking charge, Agent Reyes?"

Her face bows, and I think she's going to kiss me, but she only murmurs, "Of you? Yeah."

Her eyes remain fixed on mine, and I've forgotten that we're supposed to be dancing until someone jostles me. "You think you can turn me into Stephanie?" I ask. "You think you can whirl me around and make me look graceful? It's not going to happen. Two left feet here."

"Follow my lead." Monica pushes me away, holding my hand with her fingertips and this is absolutely crazy. I'm not accustomed to being led. I'm not sure I like it. She draws me back in again. "Eye contact. Don't look at the floor. Look at me."

Why would I look at the floor when I can look at her? This is what I ask her, after she turns me - it's weird, being turned - and holds me to her. The look on her face is priceless. She's working her mouth, pressing her lips together and pulling the bottom one in to rub her tongue over it. Her cheeks are a nice pink, and she's so focused on me that I think I'm going to explode if I don't touch her. Why can't this be a slow song? I could run my hands up to her shoulder blades and scrape my fingernails all the way back down.

She pushes me out, turning me and then herself, drawing me back to her. She finally says something. She's off on a whole tangent, talking about a movie. Apparently, she's seen 'Saturday Night Fever' sixteen times and knows every move John Travolta makes. "Every turn of the hip," she says, stepping back to place one hand on her pelvis, gyrating, and pointing at Stephanie, who's several feet away, with the other. Stephanie sees her and breaks away from her own dance partner to do the same. They wag their fingers at each other and smile. This is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen, and sexy as hell. "Every mop of the brow." She makes a dramatic gesture of wiping her forehead and slinging the sweat away. "Every smooth move." She looks cocky, pulling me to her as she turns. "Every dip of the girl," she says in my ear, and she's somehow manipulating me into this position. She has her hands on my waist and I'm finding myself being arched backwards, but I'm fighting it all the way, chuckling and protesting like the weak person I've become. She's dipped me so far backwards that the people are upside down, and when I think of how we must look, I start laughing uncontrollably.

Monica pulls me to her, but I can't stop giggling. She takes advantage of this and clowns around more, spinning me away from her so that she can do some solo moves. And the more I laugh, the more exaggerated all of these moves become, until I'm laughing so hard that I can't stand straight. Then her arm is around my waist, her hand holding mine tightly, and she's pulling and carrying me through the dance. "Stop," I beg her. My face is fire engine red.

She does, and I lean against her. My chest is still heaving from laughing so hard, and then I'm aware of her lips in my hair. She's kissing my head and holding me. "See how much fun it can be when someone else leads?"

I look up at her, slow motion stupidity, and I know I've been duped by this girl. There's nothing straight about her. Her eyes peer right down into mine, merry, winking. It's clichd and trite, but I want to look into those eyes every day for the rest of my life. Her hand's on my bare back, where my blouse has ridden up, and her thumb is making lazy patterns on my skin. This is the woman of my dreams and she might even be coming on to me. I'm amazed.

The music has changed, even though I can't remember it changing, and it's about to change again, and Stephanie brushes by. She's singing, and I know it's Sylvester's song about feeling mighty real, and I know Stephanie's twirling around us, and I know there's a young man in her arms, and I know Stephanie's asking to cut in on the dance, but all I feel is Monica holding me greedily to her. All I see is Monica laughing and shaking her head. All I hear is Monica telling Stephanie "no way." I wrap my arms around her.

And the slow song I want begins.

I don't know what it is; I can't remember the title. But I do remember skating around the hardwood floor of the roller rink when I was thirteen years old to this song. I went there every week for one entire summer, just to watch the other girls skating, especially the older ones, the ones that could skate backwards. I remember watching the girls with their boyfriends. I remember the sound of the skates on the floor, the soft flash of disco lights, how the rink went dark at the perimeter, and how I kissed a girl for the first time in that darkness. She was taller than me, a cheerleader. Brunette. Brown eyes.

Monica's smiling. "Are you okay?"

I nod.

"You disappeared there for a minute."

She looks spectacular tonight, in her piece of a blouse and piece of a skirt. Monica's the kind of person who looks different from outfit to outfit. Wearing red makes her look older and more serious, both blue and yellow soften her and make her seem more vulnerable, and she's like a chameleon in black, either hip or all business, depending on the cut of the outfit. And in brown she looks devastating. Brown suede jacket over a beige ribbed cashmere turtleneck. I've seen her in this outfit only once, but it was all I could do to keep my hands off her, even though the circumstances at the time were much too dire for me to have been thinking about sex. I swear, one day I'm going to walk into that basement while Doggett's at lunch and I'm going to push her chair back from her desk and push her chair back and push her chair and push her and push and push and push until I'm inside and she's wrapped tight around me.

"Dana."

She's breathtaking. I don't know who I'm kidding. It doesn't matter if she's gay or bi. She can have anyone in the room and she doesn't even know it. Her complete lack of guile makes her all the more beautiful and all the more wanted.

"Do you need to take a break?"

Yes, I need a break. Feelings are overwhelming me, and I don't know how to deal with them. Monica's looking at me with such gentle concern that I'm not sure I can stand it. I'm not accustomed to such a caring person being up close or in my face or holding me. I pull away from her a bit abruptly. "I need to sit this one out, Monica." I try smiling, but it's more of a grimace.

"Are you okay?"

I nod, but she's the woman of my dreams, and I've waited my entire life for her, and this is too good to be true. I've got to get out of here before I find out that I'll have to love her from afar. She watches me go.

It's air I need, but I head to the kitchen instead, where the alcohol is. I find a woman emptying the refrigerator. She removes a bottle of vodka and a twelve-pack of Heineken to grab something from the back. She places the items on the counter, and even though she's turned away from me, there's no one else here with long, strawberry-blonde hair. "Hi," I say, taking the cold bottle of vodka and pouring myself a shot.

Stephanie stands with a lime in her hand and studies me. "Hi yourself. How ya doin' there?"

"Fine."

Her eyes run all over me, like they've done before, and she proceeds to cut the lime in half. "Look." Stephanie seems to search for words. Here comes the warning. "Monica thinks the world of you, you know." She rummages around in a lower cabinet and pulls out some tequila and a rather large shot glass.

I cut a glance at her and down my shot.

"She's a special girl. I don't want to see her hurt." Stephanie pours salt on her hand, licks, drinks, and bites the lime. She doesn't even flinch, which makes me think that she must drink her tequila this way just for the drama of it.

I pour myself a vodka tonic. I need to be numb, and I need it pretty quickly, so the gin I've nursed all evening won't do, because I can't drink gin very fast. Vodka is a different story. "I won't be getting close enough to hurt her."

She rolls her eyes at me. "If I had a dime for every time I've heard that." Her voice is bitter and her face is hard. She seems to size me up, to be judging whether or not I'm worth her effort. "Have you seen her place?" She waves her arm out. "I mean, really seen it?"

"I've seen most of it."

"Yeah, but have you seen it?" Stephanie picks up a small stone statue from the counter. It rests very close to the gift I brought with me that Monica has yet to open. "Well, this is a bad example because I don't know who it's from." She replaces it and picks up a ceramic jar that's nearby. "See this?" I move over to her and look. "A woman who lived near Teotihuacn -" Stephanie slurs the word horribly - "Did this for Monica when she was in the hospital for so long that time." The jar is pretty and simple, blue with little white birds etched in. "There are things like this everywhere." She replaces it and pours another shot.

"When was she in the hospital? What happened?"

She turns to me and touches my arm. She seems to soften a bit. "Jesus. You're in love with her and you don't know a damn thing about her."

I'm not going to acknowledge this.

"She was in an accident when she was seven. She has problems with her back all the time." She repeats her tequila routine. "Damn bum back."

"What sort of accident?"

Stephanie shrugs. "Never would say. You know, the chick's wide open, but there are a couple of things she just won't talk about. Sometimes I think she has a lot of repressed stuff going on." She puts away the tequila, rinses her glass and tosses the lime in the garbage under the sink. "I mean, she's the most together person I've ever known, but she's got some issues she's never dealt with." She stops short while returning the Heineken to the refrigerator and eyes the vodka and then my vodka glass with raised eyebrows. "You finished with this?"

I shake my head, no, and I don't want to ask, but I do. "What kind of issues?"

"This isn't Monica Reyes 101." She reaches into the refrigerator and pulls out a Corona. "Look around some. Most of the little knick-knacks and stuff you'll find were made for her by her friends." She smiles. "She has a ton of friends. There are people from here to Mexico that love that woman." Her smile broadens. She looks proud. "You need to check out the wool tapestry hanging in her bedroom - a little blind boy did it for her. There's something about Monica. Everybody wants to give her gifts of love." She nods toward the gift I brought and begins walking away.

"Like the Cheron?"

Stephanie freezes for a split second, then turns back to me. "Yeah, like Marty's wolf. Most of his art was for her."

"He died, right? Motorcycle accident?"

"Yeah. A few months ago. It was bizarre." She's still looking at me, and she takes a step forward. "She didn't tell you, did she?"

"What?"

"Marty died a couple of days before your son was born."

I nod, but I don't understand what she's trying to tell me. "And?"

"It was a huge loss for her." She punctuates this statement with a pause. "Everyone expected her to be at the funeral, and she wasn't there. Everyone expected her to investigate his death, and she didn't."

Ah, I get it. "Because she was with me."

Stephanie nods. "That's right."

"And you hold this against me?"

Stephanie studies me. "Hold it against you? No. Expect you to live up to that kind of devotion? Hell, yeah."

"Why did you need her to look into his death? What happened?"

She shakes her head. "Like I said, this isn't a history lesson here. It's Monica's story to tell. She'll have to tell you." She waves her hand. "All I know is that it was awful and strange, and that he's dead and it shouldn't have happened." She's still staring at me. "You need to be good to her. If you're half as good to her as she is to you, I won't complain. But if you ever hurt her, I'll drive seventeen hours just to kick your ass."

She swigs her Corona and leaves.




Twenty minutes later, I'm still nursing my vodka, and I'm finally growing numb. I took Stephanie's advice and looked around at Monica's things, and I think this experience anesthetized me more than the alcohol.

She was right, there are tokens of love all over the loft. Pottery, poetry, a tapestry, wooden carvings... more things than I could believe possible. But it's the photos that get to me. They're everywhere, with different people in each one. Her friends are so varied in age and race that I can't even begin to discern which pictures are of her parents, if any of them are. There are some lucky people who get to be framed more than once - Stephanie and Raney are the ones I recognize. There are several more, and two of them haunt me.

One is a child, dark-haired and dark-eyed, who looks to be not quite old enough for school. She's in many pictures, from her birth to the one that's apparently the most recent - it lies without a frame on a stack of bills on Monica's massive desk. I try not to study it too carefully, because it's similar to the pictures of Monica from her childhood, and this alarms me and reminds me that I know nothing about her past.

The other person who worries me is a man. He's captured in almost as many pictures as the girl. He's dark-haired and dark-eyed, too, and looks to be of Native American heritage. His thick, straight hair touches his shoulders and he's at a football game with Stephanie, Raney, Monica, and some other people who appear to belong to their group, and his arm is around Monica's waist, and she's laughing so hard that her eyes squint closed. He's in another photo in black and white, seriously staring off into space, his white shirt a nice contrast to his deeply tanned skin. Desert is the background for this one. And then he's rappelling down the side of a mountain, and I know it's him, because there's an inset of a close-up.

The oldest picture is from their college days, and Stephanie - who looks incredible in jeans and a sweatshirt, no makeup, dark blonde hair pulled loosely in a ponytail - holds one blonde toddler and Monica another, and the dark man is staring at Monica with pure love on his face.

There's another photograph, and this one is strange. It's late afternoon, and there are several people standing on the wooden porch of a small white cottage. Two tall, lanky teenagers stand off to the side. They have long, blonde hair and cigarettes dangling from their hands, and they're very pretty boys, but in a very unkempt way. They're trying to come across as nonchalant, staring at the grown-ups in the picture, but both appear nervous. One of the adults they're gazing at is Stephanie, who's their mother, I'm thinking, because I see a resemblance. She's turned to Raney with her hands on her hips and a strong look of concern on her face. Raney seems to be trying to placate her, his arms open. The dark man is standing in front of the porch, his hand pushing his hair back. He, too, seems to be worried about something. His brow is wrinkled and he's frowning. And all of this is bizarre enough - especially when I wonder who the photographer is and how that person came to capture such a strange moment - without Monica being in it. But she is in it, and something inside of me crumbles. I think it's my heart breaking.

Monica's leaned against a column, placid, her eyes closed. She's wearing jeans and a loose blouse, and her hair is long and pushed back with a headband. There's a laceration on her face. It's small, but noticeable. The dark-haired little girl has on a colorful dress, and her arms are wrapped tight around Monica's legs, but this doesn't mean the child is hers. The child clings to her and looks at the camera fearfully, but this doesn't mean the child is hers.

And on this black and white picture is blue ink handwriting that I think I recognize as Monica's: "The last time."

As disturbing as this picture is, there's one that bothers me more. The dark-haired, dark-eyed man is on a large horse with Monica, her hair long and her face radiant. His arm comes from behind, circling her waist and reaching up, and his palm is over her heart. I stared at this photo for a long time before moving on.

I know who he is. His artwork seems to be concentrated in the living area, and it's what I see people admiring time and again, not for its form, but with the awe that comes from touching something that the dead have crafted. This man is Marty Cheron, and his arm circles around Monica's waist and snakes up to her heart and holds her.

And now I'm numb. I'm watching Monica visit her friends, laughing and talking. She can't belong to one group of people without someone tugging at her to join them. I'm not sure I've ever witnessed such popularity, so I prop against the kitchen counter and watch her from this almost hidden vantage point.

Stephanie's pulling at her this time, and they're on the dance floor again, and Monica has Stephanie by the waist. Stephanie is bending backwards, backwards until she's arching up in the most beautiful way, and suddenly it seems very sexual. The way that Monica holds her, propelling her up and then back again, causes my blood pressure to skyrocket; my face is aflame. I'm so jealous that I could march out there to the dance area and separate those two in one very swift move. I pull out the vodka instead, and pour myself another drink and breathe. And I pull a beer out of the fridge and open it, and I'm about to go interrupt them, but my hands will be full, so there's no danger of me embarrassing her.

They're still dancing, but Monica sees me and stops short. Stephanie whirls around at the look on Monica's face, then pats her butt. "Later, 'gator," she says and she's gone.




Dana's gaze is direct and intense. "Having a good time?" Her voice is tight. She's holding a beer and what I guess is another gin and tonic.

"I should be asking you that." I squeak. I'm in high school. I'm the dorky yearbook editor and I'm talking to the Beta Club president, who also happens to be Homecoming Queen. My hands feel clammy.

Dana nods. "Nice people. Nice place." She hands me the beer. "Nice host." My hands shake as I take it. Her fingers brush mine. "I'm going to get some air. Care to join me?"

I don't think it's a question at all. I don't think she's going to allow "no" for an answer. Part of me wants to test this theory. It's not the part of me that has a voice, though. My heart is thudding. "Sure."

She walks to the front door, and I walk behind her, feeling very much like a schoolgirl. I stop her at the closet so we can get our coats, but she shakes her head at hers. "I won't need it."

"It's colder than -"

"I won't need it," she says tersely.

I put mine on and we walk out my door and into the hall. She's heading to the front of the building, but I touch her elbow. "Come this way," I murmur. I lead her up a wide staircase to the roof.

A cool breeze slaps us when we push the heavy door open. I smell smoke, and not just cigarette smoke. Somebody's brought weed up here. I could stand to be taken down a notch, my nerves calmed, so I inhale as deeply as I can without Dana noticing.

She glances back at the crowd suspiciously as we move to the opposite side of the roof.
"Stephanie's friends, mostly," I tell her. They're actually her exes - three of them, anyway - but I'm not going to tell Dana this. Stephanie never dates anyone for long, and it's always about sex, never love. There's only one person she loves, and he's a preacher man, and she thinks she's so unworthy of him that she tries to prove this to him over and over again. He won't ever leave her side, though, that's what she doesn't get. He's in love with her, too.

"You went to college together - you and Stephanie?"

I nod and lean against a short wall. The roof is lined with these parapets, giving the old school building an almost fortress-like appearance. "I met her in college. She was different from anyone else I'd ever met. She had two kids in diapers when she started. She's your age."

Dana raises her eyebrows. "That's some feat."

"Yep. She's determined." I swallow hard. Whatever's bothering Dana is electrifying the air, and I'm afraid to breathe.

"She seems to care about you a lot." She drains her glass and sets it on the wall.

"It's mutual."

Dana nods silently. We're both lost in thoughts, and there's an uncomfortable silence. The tension is heavy. When we finally speak again, it's simultaneously.

"So, is she gay or what?" Dana asks.

"Do you have a tattoo?" I ask. I hear her question too late, and it's lost under the flurry of my words. "'Cause I think I saw one peeking out from under your blouse tonight."

"Is she gay?" Dana asks again. Her body is turned to mine, and I suddenly realize how close we're standing, as if we're huddling in the cold.

"No." I'm trapped in her scrutiny. "Why?"

"Because I was wondering if she's your date tonight."

My skin flushes hot and sweat breaks out under my arms. "No, I - I don't have a date tonight," I stutter. "We're friends. She's ... Stephanie dates men and women, but not me." I can't look at her, so I turn away. Her body's still angled to mine, though, and I feel her watching me. I force a smile, trying to be braver than I feel. "She's kind of crass sometimes, but she's a great friend. Always looking out for me." Dana touches my arm. It's just a touch, but I'm nervous, and I start babbling like an idiot. "You know that book - 'What Color is Your Parachute?' She wrote a play in college called 'What Color is Your U-Haul?'"

Dana erupts into laughter and I feel relieved. The tension between us begins to ease. "You need to get her to do her Forrest Gump take on her play." I'm terrible at imitations, but I try. "Well, you got your ButchDyke, your Lipstick Lesbian, your FemmeDyke, your GranolaDyke, your
CrystalLovingLesbian, your DieselDyke who's also known as your BullDyke, your JockDyke, your DykeOnABike-" I'm babbling gibberish and I force myself to stop.

She's still chuckling. "And which one am I, Monica?"

I try to swallow, but my mouth's gone dry. I didn't know. I did know. I'm terrified. I'm elated. I'm shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders. She's none of them. She's freaking Xena in a dress. The Red Edition. Concentrated. A little goes a long way.

She touches my waist and I practically jump out of my skin. "So, what did you ask me earlier? If I have a tattoo?"

I nod and swallow the rest of my beer down in three gulps.

"I do. I have an ouroboros on the small of my back."

I know she just didn't say an ouroboros. The beer bottle clanks when I place it beside her glass. "Tell me you don't." I can't disguise the disdain in my voice.

"It's a symbol of completion, of the life cycle-"

"I know what it is. The Great World Serpent of Norse mythology. It's a snake eating its own tail." I sound like I feel - disappointed in her.

"What? Have I fallen off the pedestal you put me on because I have a tattoo?"

Oh, God, even Dana knows I have a crush on her. "It's a really negative symbol to carry around forever."

"What's so negative about it?"

"It's a snake, Dana. It's eating its own tail -"

"Yes, for nourishment, to survive. Dying and being reborn, that's what it symbolizes, the life cycle."

"Is that what you think? You think like Nietzsche - a 'self-sufficient Nature' - you think in black and white like that?" She doesn't answer, just looks at me like I'm something to laugh at. "I know there are a lot of philosophies that believe this. But dying at one's own hands isn't really dying, is it? It's suicide. I'll kill myself so I can be reborn." I make a sound of disgust. "There are religions that fanatic."

"It's a snake, for crying out -"

"Okay. There are a lot of cultures that held the serpent in high esteem - many had serpent gods. In Eastern lore, snakes might be seen as good luck, but the mythology around them is so varied, and the Western mythology in particular is so passionate... In the Bible, who tempted Eve? The serpent. Medusa had a head full of them and she'd turn you to stone if you looked at her, she was so evil." Dana looks amused. She needs to take me seriously. "What do you think of when you think of St. Patrick?"

She grins. "Green beer?"

I'm scowling and I know it, and I don't want to put her off, but she's taking this much too lightly. "He drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. Doesn't that speak to you at all? A saint ridding his land of evil? Snakes are often depicted coming from holes in the ground, thus coming from the underworld. What bothers me the most about the ouroboros is that for all of the positive connotations in various cultures, it's the greatest influence of all - the Bible - that portrays the serpent as the representation of evil. So, yeah, go ahead and say it represents the continuity of life if you want to." I wrap my arms around me. "I think it's at the very least a negative thing to have permanently etched onto your skin."

"It's just a tattoo." She says gently, placating me. She touches my elbow. "It's just a tattoo. Look at it."

She turns, but I stop her. There's no way I can see the tattoo in this light. "Wait." I'll get a candle from the crowd that's on the opposite end of the roof. Maybe I can take a hit off someone's cigarette and calm my nerves while I'm over there. "I'll be right back."

"Monica-" She catches my arm.

"Don't go anywhere."

I go to the candles and the people and take a deep draw off a cigarette. "Stardust," one of the guys says. He's had a crush on me for years, and this is one of the things he calls me, "Stardust." It's the least offensive thing he calls me. He, like all men everywhere, seems to think that pretty words and singing "Brown-Eyed Girl" will get me in the sack. I smile at him and return his cigarette. His group invites me to join them, but I have to get back to Dana. I have to see that damn thing on her back. No wonder her life is a catastrophe.




Monica's gliding toward me like a ghost; her coat billowing behind her. She's cupping her hand to a candle, and between its glow and that of the moon and stars, she looks like an angel. Perhaps she is. I should have met her years ago, when I still believed in magic. No, I never believed in magic. I should have met her years ago, when I still believed in people. Maybe if I'd met her then, I'd be whole now. Maybe I'd be home.

"Let's see it," she says when she's before me. She lifts her chin. "Turn around."

Gladly. I love the command. I'd like more of them from her.

"Hold this." She hands me the candle and lifts my blouse. Goosebumps spread over my back, both from the cold air and desire. "Your slacks are hiding it," she says, pulling a bit at my waistband.

My slacks are riding too low to be covering the tattoo. Aren't they? The feeling of her fingers on my back at the waistband renders me incapable of logical thought. "Wait." There's only one button and I undo it. The pants still don't give very much - they're tight - so I move the zipper down a bit. "Okay."

She pulls the waistband slightly and I bend. I hope my legs don't shake. She takes the candle from me and holds it near my back. It's so close that it burns me, but I don't say a word, because I'm propped up on the parapet in the dark with a beautiful woman kneeling at my backside, candle in hand, pulling on my pants, staring at my tattoo. The smile on my face is very wide.

That is, until she starts tracing the tattoo with her fingers. Oh, this night. My legs do start shaking now, and I only hope that she doesn't spill wax on me, because I'll be in real trouble then.

"It's horrible," I think she says.

"What?" I twist, trying to see her.

She stands, but stays behind me, still looking at the tattoo. I twist more. I think that's disgust I see on her face. "It's horrible," she says. Her body is angling toward me now, and my back's going to break if I don't turn around. But I'm very aware that my pants are still unbuttoned and that her hand still rests on the tattoo and I don't want it anywhere else. For now. "Evil," she whispers.

I think I detect a glint of mischief in her eyes, but it's hard to tell in the dim light. "Yeah? Well where the hell were you five years ago when I was picking it out?" I manage to turn a bit, sort of facing her.

Her thumb traces the ouroboros. "You should have it removed."

Her hands are occupied - one on my tattoo, the other holding the candle - and mine are empty. I could take her before she blinks her eyes. I could have my hands up that skirt, in that small blouse. I put them on her hips instead and turn completely to her, and we're so close that our bodies touch.

"All that evil follows you," she murmurs. She holds the candle between our faces, and I blink at the sudden light.

I need her so badly that I can't breathe. "What do you want, Monica?"

Her eyes close and reopen slowly, and even in candlelight, I can see the blush cross her face. She rubs her bottom lip with her tongue.

I put my hand on hers and draw the candle closer to my face. We hold it, my hand over hers, near her breasts, cupping the candle so that I won't get wax on her. I blow the candle out and set it on the parapet. And now my right hand's in her hair, the left on her waist. Her thumb's still tracing my tattoo, but faster now, the tiny circles. "Tell me." I whisper.

The awful thing about being short is that you can't just kiss a tall woman nonchalantly. You have to reach up on tiptoes, hold her for support, stretch your back and crane your neck. It never looks suave. It always looks desperate. And that I am. I look up at her eyes and wonder if I dare stand on tiptoe and make the bold move.

I do dare. I reach up to kiss her, but she draws back, and I say it again. "Tell me what you want." She utters something, but it's so low that I don't hear her. I pull her neck down with one hand and run the other up her side, close to her breast. "Hmm? What?"

"You're just..." Monica's trembling.

I nudge my knee between her legs and press her against the low wall. I place her hands on my hips. "I'm just what?" Her lips are moving closer to mine, but not close enough. I go bolder with my hand, move it up to her breast, and rub her blouse there. Her eyes flutter shut and she moans. "I'm just what, Monica?" Her breath catches, and my hand's inside her blouse, teasing her nipple. "I'm just what?"

Her eyes are closed and she shivers. "You're..." Her tongue runs over her lips.

I press closer, touching her cheek, moving my other hand from her breast to her face, to her mouth, tracing her lips. I want to kiss her so badly. I run my fingers through her hair, down to her neck, pulling her down, down-

"You're playing me."

The words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I jerk back, away from her. Her eyes open slowly. "What?" I whisper. Surely, I'm misunderstanding something. "What are you talking about?"

Monica blinks and looks sad. "I know what you want." She looks down. "It's not what I want."

I try to breathe, but I feel like I've been punched in the stomach. What have I done? How could I have misunderstood? "I'm-" I swallow. "I'm sorry, Monica." Oh, God. The overwhelming feeling earlier - the panic that I would have to love her from afar - returns. But this feeling's worse. She's so sensitive. I've embarrassed her, embarrassed myself, and tears are filling her eyes. Oh, what have I done? "I'm so sorry." I back away from her and then turn and zip my pants and I have to get the hell out of here.

I'll make it to my car. I'll make it to my car and I'll drive out of here. My legs are numb and I'm hurting so badly that I have to lean against the stairway door to open it, grip the handrail as I move down the steps.

I make it to the underground parking deck before I realize that my coat is at her place. I'd leave it if it weren't for my keys. No keys, no money, no cell phone on me. No way to get home from here, and it's much, much too far and cold and dangerous to walk.

I'll just have to get myself together and go back. I need to breathe. Everything's okay.
Everything's exactly as I expected; I didn't think I had a chance with her anyway. I'd already thought of this likely scenario - rejection - and I'd already decided that I could love her from afar.

I've waited all of my life for her, and the knowledge that I've found her is enough. I'll never be less than grateful for her existence, because my feelings for her have forced a mirror in front of me, and suddenly I know all of the things I am. I know that I'm more than my job, more than a mother, more than a daughter, a sister, a friend. I'm someone who's been asleep for ten years, and I'm waking up, a newborn. I'm emotions, tender and fragile, but they're pure. I know that I'm capable of selfless love. I know the woman of my dreams exists and she's close enough that I can be a part of the background noise in her life. I can be her fan, silently cheering her on.

It is greater to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Yes, I know this as well.

I square my shoulders, gather my courage, and march back up the stairs. I'm a rock, impenetrable, silent and unmoving. But her face appears, unbidden, and I clutch at the handrail and stifle a sob. It's not my love for her that breaks me; it's the knowledge that I'll never love anyone else.




Dana left.

Stephanie's been riding me for half an hour, wanting to know what happened, what I said to upset her, why she left. There wasn't much to say. Dana wants what everybody wants. Sex. Instant gratification. I'm disappointed in her, but what's worse is how disappointed I am in myself for reacting so strongly. What's wrong with wanting sex?

What's wrong is I want more. I want love.

I'm back at the loft, hoping to catch Dana, hoping to make things right, but she's not here. So once I shake Stephanie off, I head back to the roof. Some of my buddies are still here, and I don't want their company, but I need a cigarette so badly that I'll pretend everything's okay long enough to smoke. The door creaks open and I drift toward the candles. The air is thick with marijuana. I'll take any kind of buzz I can get, so I'm inhaling even before my cigarette's lit. Raney's one of the people out here. I think he's keeping an eye on those smoking pot, because this isn't his group, and he wouldn't normally spend so much time away from Stephanie. I light up immediately and stand apart from the others.

"You okay?" Raney's soft voice asks. I can barely hear him above the night noise; however, I can smell the alcohol on his breath.

I nod, but a tear spills down my face. It's cold out here, but I'm colder. The tear will freeze.

"Girl troubles?"

I nod. As long as he asks 'yes or no' questions, I won't have to talk. I won't have to tell him that it upset me to realize that Dana only wanted what everyone else has always wanted. "You're too sweet," Stephanie always tells me. "Men think 'sweet' means easy." Apparently, so does Dana.

Maybe my body language confused her, but all I wanted was to hold her. I just want to be in her presence and talk to her. I want to hug her to me and let her know that the world is really an okay place.

Raney smiles, takes a candle from the table and brings it near my face. The warmth is weak, but I'll take it. "You have that tragic look about you."

I draw deeply on the cigarette.

"It's Dana, isn't it? Your friend from the FBI."

I remain silent, but finally nod.

"Thought so. I'm sorry." He sighs. "You're not the only one that's hurting, though."

Oh, no. I hope Stephanie hasn't done something mean to him. His eyes are sad when I look into them. His heart is broken, I can tell, but he blinks and turns away. "She's hurting, too, I think." He nods toward the lawn, and I look.

Dana's there, small and beautiful. I move to the parapet, my head swimming. The brick is rough under my hands, but it steadies me. I thought she'd left. Maybe she needed to cool down before she got in her car to drive away. She must be angry, not getting what she came here for. She turns to look at the building, and her eyes stop at the roof. She sees me and freezes on the spot. I'm transfixed. She doesn't take her eyes from me but she slowly backs away as if I pose a threat to her.

I shake my head. Don't go. Don't tell me all you want is sex. Don't let me believe that.

I don't realize I've spoken aloud until Raney places his hand on my back. I've always thought his hands have healing powers, not because he's a preacher, but because he cares so much about people that love practically radiates from him. "Why don't you go talk to her?" he says.

My voice is hoarse. It gets like that when I'm upset. "She's leaving."

"She's going the wrong way, then."

And she is. She has turned from us now, and continues to walk the grounds, away from the building. She's faraway iridescence in emerald, silver and gold, shimmering on the dark green lawn, and I love her so much I can't bear for her to be this distant.

It's not supposed to happen like this. She's supposed to be in my life. She has to want more than sex. The sensation of her hand on my breast still makes me shudder. I want sex, too. But I want more. I want everything.

Maybe she'll fall in love with me one day, but it won't happen if I don't fix things right now. I hand Raney my cigarette and he smiles his encouragement. This man can see right through me. He always has. "I can't hold my feelings in," I say to him. They're spilling out of me. I can't contain them.

He nods. "Never does any good to try. You'll die that way." He wags the cigarette in front of my face. "Before you die this way."

His words propel me toward the stairway door and I jerk it open and stumble down the stairs. I can't cage my emotions as if they're a secret. I'll make her understand that love is not lust, and it doesn't flash in the night like a firefly, only to disappear at daylight. I hurry; I rush. I can't cage my love. I slip this gray, concrete, smokeheavy world. I sprint. I fly.

I'm running down the steps of the building, and Dana continues to stand in the dark, cold green grass. When she sees me coming, she takes a step backward but then stands, still as a statue. I'll frighten her with my emotion, but I charge her anyway. I won't believe that she's incapable of loving me until I see it in her face or hear it in her voice. I will not keep my secret trapped inside, and I won't allow us to remain trapped in this emotional desert, either.

"I love you," I say before I'm near enough for her to hear me. But when I am that close, close enough to see her face, all words leave me, and my heart leaps with hope. She cares about me. I knew she did, but I didn't realize how much. She's trying to hide her feelings behind a mask, and she's not succeeding.

And even though my throat's closed tight and my teeth are clenched together, I can't hide my feelings either; they're pouring out of me. They're streaking down my face.




She's stolen my breath away, standing on the roof, looking for all the world like an otherworldly creature - a spirit, a ghost, a witch, a vampire. But she's the antithesis to these things. She's merely a woman.

She comes out of the main entrance, down the former school steps, her long coat flapping behind her. I know she's running, but everything's slow motion and she's ethereal. Monica has made a fool of me already, and she's only going to hurt me again, but whatever it is, whatever she says and no matter how my heart breaks, it will be worth it to have her close one last time.

She doesn't slow down until she reaches me. "Don't go," she says between breaths.

"You looked like a ghost just now, with your coat blowing behind you." My voice sounds just as fragile as I feel, and it cracks. "Beautiful, like a princess witch from a fairy tale."

"Dana." Her face is wet, her makeup streaked. Oh, God. How could I have hurt her? I reach up and tilt her chin toward me. The pain I see makes me so sad that my eyes blur with tears. "I'm sorry," I say, knowing it's not enough. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

She presses her face into my hand. "It's my fault."

"No, it's not your fault, it's mine. I should have talked to you. I thought..." I try to find words. "I think I've misunderstood some things."

Monica nods. I wipe her cheek with my fingers. "I can't." She breaks down.

"I know." I whisper, trying to soothe her. I cup her face and rub her arm. "I'm going home, okay?" I keep rubbing her arm. "I'm glad you invited me here. I'm glad I came. Your place is wonderful, your friends are great." I look up at her and smile. She breaks my heart. "And you're amazing." I catch her hand and press my forehead to it, a servant begging her forgiveness. I press my lips to it, a peasant begging her love.

"Dana," she says, and she finally looks me in the eye. "Don't leave." It comes out broken in her chattering teeth. "Don't go."

"I have to, Monica." I wipe her face again. "But it's okay." She's so sad, and I didn't imagine that I could hurt her so. "Everything will be okay. It'll be fine." I remember last Saturday, how she'd worried that I was leaving town. "We'll still work together." I squeeze her hand. "I'm not leaving you."

"No." She shakes her head.

I'm rubbing her arms. She must be freezing with her bare legs and bare back, even with the coat, but I don't need an excuse to touch her. Or maybe I do; maybe that's the whole problem. "You need to get inside." Tears roll down her face. "It'll be okay," I promise. I move past her, but she grabs my arm and turns me. "Don't," I whisper. She's leaning to kiss me, but I pull away. My frustration is a sob. "I don't know what you want."

"I think we want the same thing."

"Stop playing word games, Monica."

She flinches. Her lashes are wet, blinking. "I want you to love me."

"Oh." It's a moan, a small cry. Time's trapped me here on this lawn, and I need to leave, because things can only get more painful for both of us. "I think you're confused," I say at last.

She shakes her head. "Not any more." She touches my face. "I didn't know."

"What?"

She whispers something about a secret and a bird, and leans down and kisses me with cold, cold lips. It's so slow and sweet that I think I'm dying. I don't know that I've ever been kissed like this. How can she show so much emotion when our mouths aren't even open? It's just her lips and my lips, and she's undoing me. I catch the lapels of her coat so that I don't fall at her feet.

Her lips kiss the corners of my mouth, my cheeks. She rests her forehead on mine. "Love is everything, isn't it?" I'm struck mute, still reeling from her kiss. She kisses my brow and pulls back, looking very seriously into my eyes. "I want everything."

And oh, I want to give it to her. I don't tell her this, of course. Neither do I tell her that I love her. Telling her that would be opening myself more than I can.

She runs her hands through my hair, letting them catch and tangle. "Oh, God," she murmurs. Her hands tremble as they trace my cheekbones. I close my eyes to the display of emotions on her face; her feelings are too much for me to accept right now.

She kisses me again, and it's as sweet as the first. It's still just her lips on mine. I'd like her tongue in my mouth, but this is so tender and loving that I want to cry. I clutch her coat like a lovesick child. I think I'd take my shoes off and walk a mile over broken glass, in the freezing cold, for this kiss.

But then she opens her mouth to me, and I know I'd crawl.




Somebody's shouting at us, but I'm trying to ignore him. Dana's kissing me, and I'm melting into a million pieces. It's one of the gentlest, most affectionate kisses I've ever experienced, and it's made all the sweeter because the predatory look on her face is gone, and her hand is not inside my shirt, and her knee is not between my legs. She's clutching my coat, and her eyes are closed. When I pull out of the kiss to stare in wonder at her, she tilts her face up for more, and I oblige. I think she must love me.

"Monica!" The man shouts again. I pull away from Dana's mouth reluctantly, extremely annoyed until I realize it's Raney.

"Your adoring public," Dana murmurs.

But something's wrong; he's stumbling toward us. "Stephanie," he says, breathing hard, his hands on his knees. He takes a moment to look up at Dana and me, still in each other's arms, and happiness crosses his face, but I see tears shining in his eyes.

"What about her? What's wrong?"

He wheezes, his breath coming in whistles. Dana turns and looks at him. "Spit it out," she barks.

He shakes his head. "Nothing." He looks up. "Sorry, shouldn't have interrupted you."

I know what's wrong - he's drunk. "Raney," I say softly, because he's crying. I walk over and embrace him. He's my height but seems smaller in my arms.

He's still shaking his head. "She's in there with some girl."

"Dammit," I mutter. He doesn't need to say more; I know what she's doing. She's been doing this forever, showing Raney how ugly she can be. I don't know what's worse, how she treats him, or how he lets her. His heart has been breaking for fifteen years.

Dana clears her throat. She looks uncomfortable. "I'm going inside," she says. Her arms are crossed and she must be freezing. I nod, and she walks away. My eyes track her until she disappears in the shadows of the building.

I rub Raney's back like I've done before, soothing him with my silent understanding. And like I've done before, I'll call a taxi for him, because he needs to leave soon. He doesn't drink often, but when he does, he goes overboard. I'm beginning to believe it's the only way he can be near Stephanie.

Stephanie is a good person; she's always been good to me. But she hates herself, and this hurts me. Raney and I love Stephanie more than anyone else; more, even than her family, than her boys. And still we have trouble dealing with her selfloathing. It taints every aspect of her life. It taints us.




I see Monica standing at the edge, hands resting on the parapet, and even from this view, she appears to be calm. I wonder why she's standing in the cold with no coat. Maybe she's not aware of the cold. Maybe she's on fire like I am.

She lifts her arms out to her side as if she's going to fly, as if she's going to jump from the building and test her wings. I hold my breath.

Her head tilts up for a long moment, like she's worshiping the stars in the sky, and she turns her hands over, palm up, in what must be a dance move, it's so elegant. Her fingers curl and uncurl. And I know now that she's not trying to fly and she's not worshiping the heavens.

She's casting another spell.

I move to her and I'm scared to death that this is a dream and that she does not want me. By the time I reach her, her hands rest once again on the parapet. She doesn't hear me behind her, such is the street noise. I put my hands on her waist. Her own hands are like ice as they clasp mine and she pulls me closer. She's not startled that I'm here; perhaps she knew I was watching her all along. I kiss her frozen back and rest my head between her shoulder blades. This is exactly where I want to be and exactly who I want to be with. I'm a glowing ember, steadily burning hot against her cold back.

"Dana Scully," she says hoarsely.

I kiss her between her shoulder blades again. She lifts my hands to her lips and kisses them. She's got me stretched taut against her back. She'd better proceed with caution, or I'll take her right here.

I don't know how long we stand like this, with her lips on my fingers, with my head against her back, before I realize that something's wrong. "Monica."

She kisses my fingers, and I feel the wetness of tears.

"Hey." I pull away and turn her around. Her eyes are shining, but she smiles. "What's wrong?"

She touches my face and her fingers are icicles. "Nothing," she says. "Everything's right. Everything's beautiful." Her thumb traces my cheekbone. "You're beautiful," she says, and leans down to kiss me.

She's the beautiful one, but I don't have the vocabulary she has; I don't have the eloquence to say how beautiful she is. I keep showing her my desperation, and I hope she understands. It's all I have to give her.

Her hands rest on my hips. We kiss languidly, leisurely. I don't want to take her; I want to be taken. I want this roof to be ours and this night to last forever. I want to shed my clothes and feel her naked against me. I want to undo her like she's undone me, like she keeps undoing me.

I'm not one to lose control, but I'm losing it to her. It's the only way I can show her my love. I arch up to her again, to beg for another kiss. She's generous. I'm molten, liquid fire, and all I want is to be poured onto the ground beneath her.

Monica leans back to gaze at me. She gives me a devastating look, one that I know even in the moonlight, and pulls me to her again slowly and tenderly, kissing my cheek, whispering my name. Our mouths are together again, and I could kiss her for the rest of my life. I'd never grow tired of her lips. I want them to tell me a thousand stories. I want them to say my name every morning and every night.

I want to be the only one she thinks about. I want to deserve her love. I want to know why she chose to be with me rather than her friends when that fellow died.

"Tell me about Marty Cheron."

Her back straightens. There's a subtle squaring of her shoulders. "Where did you hear that name?"

"I've been hearing it all night. The Cheron this, the Cheron that. I finally asked Stephanie, but she wouldn't tell me the whole story. Just that it's a sculpture by a man who died recently." I look at her, but she's hiding her face from me, in the shadows.

"And what did she say exactly?"

She's being unduly cautious. Cautious enough so that I'm suddenly jealous. I wonder why she wants to protect the dead man from my scrutiny. "Evasion doesn't become you, Monica."

She scowls and turns away slightly, hands twisting, fingers clasping and unclasping. I put my hand on her arm. My fingers graze her breast, but she doesn't notice. "Tell me."

She remains silent.

"Fine." I want to throw a tantrum right here. My emotions have run the gamut since my pregnancy, and I blame hormones. But the fact that my emotions are so extreme, I blame on Monica.

I don't throw a tantrum, just let go of her arm and wait. She seems to be literally chewing her words before she spits them out. Her jaw is moving, but her mouth isn't opening. Finally, her lips work over each other, pressing and pursing, and she says, in a voice I hardly recognize because it's so wired with tension, "He died."

"I know he died. I know he sculpted a piece of art for you. I know that it was a freak motorcycle accident. And I know that you were with me delivering William when his funeral took place." Saying the words makes me realize why I brought up the subject to begin with - to thank her. I stroke her forearm. "Tell me why you were with me."

She tells me exactly what I want to hear. "It was a choice. Life or death. I chose life." The words come out splintered; she's still tense.

She can't be any tenser than I am. "And you regret that?" I unfold her arms, take her hands, rub her fingers.

"Yes," she finally manages. "And no." She presses her lips together, pauses. "I regret that I couldn't be in two places at once, but I don't regret the choice I made. Marty was dead; there's nothing I could do for him. But I could help William make it safely into the world."

"Stephanie said they needed you - your friends did. She said that they needed you to investigate his death."

She stares blankly.

"But you haven't?"

She shakes her head. "No. There hasn't been -" she clamps her mouth shut on the rest of the sentence, but I know what she's saying. She hasn't had time to investigate his death.

"I've been keeping you pretty busy, haven't I?"

"I didn't want to leave you; I was worried about you and your son." Her words are bitter again when she mutters: "Mulder's son."

Bitterness is an especially vile thing when it's coming from her mouth. I don't want to cause her regret. "You've done a lot for us. Don't think for a minute that I don't realize that, Monica." I feel suddenly ashamed. "I haven't been good at thanking you for all you've done for me. You've kept me sane. You've saved my life in more ways than one." I squeeze her hands. "My son's alive because of you."

"I don't know about that," she murmurs. She still won't look at me.

"I do." I draw her closer, wrap my arms around her, but she's not yielding. I kiss the hollow of her neck and run my hands up her bare back. I kiss her throat. I feel her begin to relax. "You've done more for me in the past few months than a lifetime of friends."

She reaches down, runs her fingers through my hair. "I'm angry at Mulder," she says. "For deserting you."

I shake my head. "He didn't desert me. I asked him to leave."

"Oh." Her face tilts toward my lips.

I lean up to meet her kiss. I inhale her breath as she flicks her tongue inside my mouth. She tastes like cigarettes and alcohol, a combination that reminds me of smoky bars, pretty women and sex. It's a taste that excites me, and I arch toward her like the needy person I've become.

She probes me with her tongue, and I let her; I'm pliant in her arms. I'll let her lead for now. I'll let her lead for as long as she wants to. If I wasn't so tough, if I wasn't so frozen, I'd melt on the spot, and still, it's all I can do to hold my own. I'm so frightened of how good she makes me feel that I want to run away, but it's been so long since I've felt this. And I'm not sure it was ever this intense. I'm in love and I'm scared to death.

I pull away. "Where was the accident?"

Her body stiffens again. "North Carolina."

"Is that where he was from? Where he was buried?"

"No. Macon, Georgia."

"You seem to have quite a few southern connections for someone who was raised in Mexico." I know that this is coming off as an interrogation; still I have to know these things.

She smiles, but it's brief and tight. "Yeah, I guess I do."

"Raney's from Atlanta, right?"

"Not originally, but that's where he lives now."

"And Stephanie?

"Yeah, she was born and raised in a small town in Georgia. Not as small a town as Doggett's, but there aren't many as small as Democrat Hot Springs."

Cheron, Laos and Pritchard. I wonder that Monica's three best friends at Brown were all from Georgia. And Doggett's from Georgia, too. It's a curious thing for someone raised in Mexico. "We'll go there on Monday, okay?"

She looks puzzled.

"North Carolina. We'll start an investigation of our own."

"Oh." She shakes her head and frowns. "I can't. Stephanie's staying here with me until Wednesday and then she's driving down to Florida for Thanksgiving."

The holidays; I forgot. "What are your plans?"

"For Thanksgiving? I'll go home when Stephanie does."

My heart sinks. It would be nice if she didn't have plans. It would be nice to see her sitting at my mother's table. Every person in my family will adore her; Mom already does. "When will you be back?"

She grimaces. "Sunday."

"How am I going to go that long without seeing you?" I mean to tease her, but it comes out petulant.

She smiles, a full radiant smile at me. It makes me so happy that I grin right back at her. Her hand strokes my hair, rubs my back. "Guess I have bad timing." Pain flicks across her face. "Having this party tonight."

She's holding something back from me, and I don't want her to. I need to know everything. "Sounds like perfect timing to me. Stephanie gets to stay with you while she's on school break; you get to catch up with her. And all your friends were able to be here tonight."

She looks away. "It's the first time I've seen most of them since before Marty died." She twirls my hair absently. "Some of them haven't forgiven me for not being there. They don't understand."

"I don't see it. Everyone looks thrilled to be here and to see you."

"I don't know." She's still far away. "His parents hate me." She shakes her head slowly, as if this still surprises her. "They hate me for not being there. At the funeral."

"You must have been very close to him." I know she was, but I don't know the nature of that closeness. Were they friends? Lovers?

Oh, God. Were they married?

Oh, God.

The thought makes me sick. But those photographs of Marty, those photos of the girl. What if she was married? What if she had a child? Impossible - I'd know. Monica's wide open; what you see is what you get with her. But it was Stephanie who told me that there were things Monica wouldn't talk about, and I think Stephanie would know. I think they were lovers at one time.

What do I know of Monica's past? I don't even know much about her life here and now.

She continues looking beyond me.

What exactly did Stephanie tell me about Marty? That most of his artwork was for Monica. That everyone expected her to be at the funeral and they expected her to handle the investigation into his death.

His parents were particularly upset that she didn't make the funeral. My mind runs over the various possibilities and the probabilities. Why did she come to Washington? Doggett had called her in to help out on a case and called her again to get me to safety when William was due. Then he asked her to join the X Files division and I've kept her running ever since.

Her face is slack. She's in a painful place right now, thinking about this dead man.

"I'll go on Monday and stay a couple of days. Check out the situation," I tell her.

I suddenly have her attention. "What?"

"I'm going to leave on Monday, go to North Carolina."

"No." She's vehement. "No." She touches my face, becomes gentle again. "It's Thanksgiving, stay here, with your family."

Sure, it's Thanksgiving. My best friend, who happens to be my son's father, and the woman I'm in love with won't be here to share it with me. It'll just be another family reunion. "I'll leave Monday morning. They'll have to cover for me at work. I'll come back on Wednesday." It's a lie. I'll leave tomorrow and I won't come back until I have some answers. It's the least I can do for her.

"Dana." Her word is a warning. "Don't." She shakes her head. "Okay? Just don't." She kisses me. "Please just stay here and rest and have a good Thanksgiving. Okay?"

"Will I get to see you at all?" Damn. I'm whining.

"Yes." She kisses me.

"When? You're leaving Wednesday. When do I get to see you?"

"Well, there's tonight." She kisses me.

"And?"

"And there's tomorrow." She kisses me.

"And?"

She smiles on my lips. "You know where to find me. I'll leave the rest up to you."

I think about how I frightened her earlier with my intensity. I made her cry, and I don't want it to happen again. "Maybe you shouldn't leave anything up to me, Monica."

"Why not?" She kisses me.

"Because." My hands are squeezing her arms too hard. My teeth bang against hers. 'Because I'll only hurt you again,' I think. 'And because you'll let me.'




The guests have left. Most of them, anyway.

Monica's sitting in a club chair, thinking about Stephanie, who has taken a young woman to her bed, and about Raney, who looked resigned to that fact when he left. The two women are in the guest bedroom now, and we can hear them bumping and laughing. I've waited an eternity for the party to end. Whether Monica loves me or not, whether she's bi or gay or even straight, she's going to be with me tonight.

She must feel me eyeing her, because she looks up at me and shudders. I'm ten feet away from her, staring. I gaze at her legs, her skirt, her blouse, her arms, her breasts. I can't wait for this any longer. I won't.

She leans back in the chair and I move one step forward. Her chin tilts up and her lips part. I take it as an invitation.

Her mouth is open before mine even gets there, and I push my tongue inside. It's deep, but I want to be deeper. I support myself by propping up with my left hand. My right's tangled in her hair, and I open my mouth wider to devour her.

She moans in my mouth.

Kissing her isn't enough. I want her on me, inside me. I want to be inside her. She's been everywhere for the past few months, but not close enough. I push my knee between hers, and she moans again. Her hands are on my back. My fingernails are digging into her skin, and I don't want to cause her pain, but I can't let go of her either.

"Dana," she says, trying to pull away.

I'm bruising her mouth. With a conscious effort, I move my lips down her face, along her neck, until I can take hold again. I bite her, sucking her in. Her moan isn't soft this time and her chest heaves beneath me. I push her against the back of the chair and hold her there. I have her pinned, my pretty butterfly, and I release her long enough to gaze at her like a prize.

What I see surprises me. Monica's eyes are mere slits, her mouth open. "Please," she says, wanting more. She looks at me from behind heavy lids. "Please." She places her hands on the back of my head and pulls me down to her lips.

Her bare thigh jumps beneath my touch. I'm not playing, so I don't caress her, I just push my hand up under her skirt. She's so wet that I cry out. I didn't know before tonight that she wanted me at all. And I never would have guessed that she'd want me this much.

I keep my hand where it is but I pull my face away again to look at her. I do stroke her now, through her panties. Her hands are on my back; she's not holding me so much as hanging on. Her breath catches and her eyes drift shut and open again. We're staring at each other when she comes, her eyes growing wide, then narrow, fluttering shut.

I'm so grateful that I want to be gentle with her, but I still need her so much that I can't be. My desire is overwhelming. I balance between these two extremes. Her hands are on my face again, her eyes are moist and grateful and loving. "Dana," she whispers.

My hand's on her neck, in her hair. I want her desperately. "Say it again."

"Dana," she whispers.

My hand's beneath her blouse, on her breast. I need her desperately. "Say it again."

"Dana," she moans. Her long legs are lifting, bending.

My hand's inside her panties, inside her. I love her desperately. "Say it again."

"Dana."

And this is when I realize that some women are so powerful they can bring you to orgasm merely by saying your name.




I've never held a live wire before, but I imagine the feeling is similar. Dana's so intense that heat radiates from her body. She's tiny, but she's a force. She's got me trapped in the club chair. I sat down to rest my feet, and Dana just walked boldly up to me, leaned down and began fucking my mouth. She still is; her tongue could be down my throat if I wasn't twisting and turning beneath her. Everywhere she touches makes me quiver.

She must think love is war, and that she has to conquer me, because that's how she's kissing me. What she doesn't understand is that she's already won the battle, and her victory wasn't marked by my orgasm, but hers. I wasn't even touching her when she came, just saying her name and hanging on while her hands roamed all over my body. I wonder if she climaxed so easily because she's in love with me or because her emotions are so intense that she's always on the verge of erupting. Whatever the reason, I know I've never felt as powerful or as grateful as then, when her body tensed, her eyes squeezed shut, and her hand stilled.

I touch her face, her hair. She's beautiful.

"I think we should take this to your bedroom." She kisses me. "Don't you?"

Yes. No. The thought terrifies me - I want her, but it's too much right now. I'm anxious enough the first time with somebody, and for the past fifteen years, those somebodies have been men. I shouldn't be so nervous, and maybe if we just sat here a while longer, I wouldn't be.

I don't know how to please her in bed, but this isn't really what concerns me. Her intensity is what's so disconcerting. She's going to burn me. I just want to kiss her for the rest of the night. I pull her down on top of me in the chair and run my hands up her back. The kiss I give her is steady and slow. I want this to last forever. She might be disappointed if it goes any further. I know I will. Sex is never as good as cuddling.

"Monica." Her lips move on my mouth and then she pulls away to kiss my cheek. "God, you've got the sweetest kisses." She takes my hand. "Come on."

I press my lips together and look away. I'm 34 years old and I've had sex plenty of times. There's no need for me to be afraid, especially of her. But I'm terrified, especially of her.

She pulls away. "Or I can leave."

Whatever dark emotion's on her face makes me feel worse. I shake my head. "I'm just nervous."

"Why?"

"It's been a long time," my voice dips so low that it cracks. I clear my throat. "Since I've been with a woman."

She turns my chin. "Monica." Her voice is a soft reprieve.

"I'm afraid." I'm afraid of falling in love with her. I'm afraid I already have.

"We don't have to do this." Her face is gentle.

I kiss her my gratitude. My hands are in her hair, my mouth opening beneath her. Her kisses are giving me everything I want. We don't need to take it any further.

Dana's tenderness is momentary. Her tongue's deep inside my mouth, her fingernails scrape across my neck. "But I need to leave if we're not going to, okay? I need to leave now."

I kiss her again, slowly. Why can't we kiss all night?

Both of her hands are in my blouse. "God," she murmurs. "Monica-"

My lips kiss her talking mouth, but she pulls away. Her hands are still on my breasts, fingers circling the nipples. "If I'm not staying here tonight, we have to stop this now." Her voice is ragged. "While I can. Do you understand?"

While she can. The thought of her forcing herself on me sends shivers down my spine. I nod, wordless. I don't want her to leave, but I don't know if she should stay. My feelings overwhelm me.

"What's it going to be?" Her fingers pinch me inside my blouse. I look down at them and shiver. Dana Scully's hands are on my breasts. "Monica?" Her voice is a warning. I look at her, but away quickly, because her face is raw lust. "Am I making the decision?" She pulls her hands out of my shirt, caresses the deep V line of my blouse. "Look at me." It's a command, and I force myself to meet her eyes. She's questioning me, but I can't answer. I'm so afraid of this. "You want me to make the choice?" Her voice is soft, but it still sounds like a threat. Her eyes dip down to her hands and then back to my eyes. She yanks the shirt open, tearing it savagely. And she looks victorious at my shock.

Her mouth is on one of my breasts, sucking and nipping, and then it's on the other. I'm trying to hold still, but I can't. I stifle a scream when she bites my nipple. She pulls away, leering at me. I don't know what I've gotten myself into. I'm terrified and so, so wet. "I can fuck you right here," she says. "But I'd rather fuck you in there."

She pulls me up. This is just like being with a man; it's pure sex. She walks me to my bedroom. But sex has never felt like this. My shirt is torn open and it's barely hanging together. I'm extremely aware of the chill of the air on my breasts where her saliva is beginning to dry.

I stop inside my room, and she closes the door behind us. I just stand here, uncertain, feeling nervous. I've never been so turned on in my life, but I'm paralyzed. My heart's about to jump out of my chest; my knees are almost knocking.

She's behind me, removing my blouse. It's ruined, and the sight of it as she drops it to the floor makes my legs weak. This is what she's capable of, such violent lust. Her hands are on the zipper of my skirt. She'll have me undressed in a moment. No. I grab her wrists to stop her, but release them and turn around to face her.

"Don't make me stop," she whispers, and puts her hands on my waist and begins kissing my breasts so sweetly that I can almost forget how she tore my blouse to get to them. She kisses my breasts and my neck, and I'm bending toward her. She's kissing my lips, opening her mouth beneath me, letting my tongue slip inside. Her hands are on my zipper. I'm shaking. I feel like a virgin.

I can't. I can't let her undress me like this. It's too fast. I push her arms, slide my hands down to her hands and hold them. She leans against my chest, breathing heavy. "Okay." But her voice isn't resigned, it's agitated. She kisses my chest between my breasts very softly. She kisses my collarbone the same way. She kisses my throat. These kisses are so chaste and sweet that I don't realize she's pushing me back toward my bed until my calves hit it.

She looks up at me, smiling. But her eyes flash with that frightening passion, and her hands break out of my grip, and she's easing me down onto the bed. I think I'm having a heart attack. I don't want it to be this way, but I do. My legs are already opening for her. She's between them, pushing my knees. I'm still wearing my boots, and I dig them into the duvet, scooting away from her, but giving her better access. Dana stares at me and reaches beneath my skirt with both hands and very slowly pulls my panties down. I raise slightly, and helping her in this tiny way causes her to pause for a moment, her mouth dropping open. Then she has them down my thighs, over my boots. She stands and pulls them off me completely and drops them on the floor. Her hesitation is brief. She must be contemplating whether or not to finish undressing me, because her eyes roam down to my lower body and back up. The sight of her makes me weak; I want her to make up her mind and do something already.

She kneels between my legs, kisses me on my chest, my breasts, the same slow, sweet kisses that she seduced me with before. I touch her head, tease my hand through her hair, and she seems to adore this. She runs her tongue along my neck. "Monica," she says softly, and moves her lips to my face. She kisses it everywhere before settling on my mouth. Our kiss is unhurried. I have both of my hands in her hair now, then on her back. She's so gentle and this is so good that I'm beginning to relax.

If it would stay like this, I'd be fine, but her tenderness is barely concealing something rawer. She's moving away from my mouth and now comes the moment I'm frightened of. This moment, when she touches her hands to my thighs and spreads them, when her face dips down and she darts her tongue out to taste me. I practically vault off the bed at the sensation. She moans and buries her face between my legs, and she stays there, her hands holding my skirt at my waist, holding my thighs open, until she's made me come in her mouth.

Dana must realize that she's won the battle, and that I'm hers, because she finally sits up. Her mouth is wet. She looks at me silently then unzips my boots and pulls them off. She's completely serious and deliberate, placing the boots beside the bed and then standing to look down at me. She pulls her blouse over her head, like it's time for her to get to work. I guess her shirt was hindering her.

"Oh, God." I actually say this aloud. She must shop at Victoria's Secret. I never would have pegged her as the type. And I never would have thought that I'd be the type to ogle. Her face flashes a self-conscious look, and then she tosses the blouse on the floor. I want to touch her. She looks vulnerable for the first time tonight. Even when I hurt her earlier and she was trying to escape, she'd had her guard up.

I wiggle away from her and sit up. I want to hold her so badly that nothing else will do. I reach over and touch her shoulders and pull her to me, awkward and clumsy, until I have her in my arms, and she's leaning against me and she's between my legs, and I'm sitting with her cradled in my arms. I hold her and brush her hair back and kiss her slick mouth, and taste myself there. I hold her head in the crook of my arm and kiss her over and over. I kiss her until my fear is gone; I kiss her until she's the one that grows frightened. She doesn't want to be exposed and vulnerable. I try to kiss away her fear. I kiss her until she's pliable in my hands, her eyes closed, her lips trembling.

Her skin is soft under my fingers. I touch her neck, feel her pulse there, and kiss it tenderly. I want to be gentle with her, gentler than anyone has ever been. I kiss her mouth again. She's so quiet and serious. I touch her breast, first through her satin bra, and then pulling the strap down, kissing along her shoulder, I touch her breast. She jerks beneath me, but doesn't make a sound. I want to take her in my mouth and make love to her. This is who Dana Scully is, this fragile woman in my arms who tries to be tough all the time, who's so accustomed to depending on no one but herself that she's built up walls around her heart. And she's trusting me now by letting those walls slowly collapse.

I lay her down, and her eyes become large and questioning. I cover her face, her neck, her chest with kisses, and undo her bra, and my lips are all over her breasts, and this will never be enough for me. I want to show her what love is and how warmth can be more fulfilling than heat. I want her to see that she's right to trust me.

I trail kisses down her stomach and unzip her pants. And they're so tight I can't pull them down. This makes me laugh. She stares at me, indignant, and then she begins laughing, too. "I didn't think I'd get this far tonight. I'd have worn something looser." Her hand is in my hair and her eyes are shining with affection.

My heart skips a beat at this look. She's softer than I've ever seen her. "You're saying you didn't wear them for my benefit?"

"Oh, I wore them for your benefit. Just thought it would take a little more than tight pants to get you into bed." Her eyes wink. "Did you wear that blouse for me?"

I turn really red.

"Backless?" Her hand's on my face, cupping it. Her thumb moves to my lips. "Monica? You devil."

"I'm in love with you." It pops out of my mouth, and I didn't think it and I didn't plan it, it just pops out.

Dana's lips form an 'o' but she makes no sound. She pulls me down on top of her and kisses me so hard and for so long that I forget for a moment where we are. I'm somewhere floating, my ears are ringing and I'm falling and falling in love, over and over. I have to return this gift. She has to know how she makes me feel, and how I love her. I have to make her see how special she is.

I pull and push her pants down. She helps me; she squirms and wiggles them off, and she's nothing now except dark green Victoria's Secret panties and matching bra, unclasped. My hands are touching her, exploring her everywhere, and she's making little noises, moans, whimpers. My feelings are so deep that my fingertips tremble on her skin, and I want them to heal her. That's what I focus on.

Her chest rises and falls in a more rapid pattern now, and finally I have her naked and I kiss her breasts, her stomach, her thighs. Seeing her vulnerable like this overwhelms me. I want to make up for every bad thing that's happened to her. There are scars all over her body. It breaks my heart.

"Your skirt," she breathes.

I take it off and lie down over her, and this is when I'm really aware of how small she is. I'm afraid I'll hurt her, so I carefully distribute my weight to my elbows, my knees. I'm positioned so that our breasts touch, and it's unbelievable, this softness, this emotion. I try not to cry from the sweetness of it.

This is the first time I make love to Dana Scully, and I act like it's the last time. I pour every bit of love I have for her into kisses. I kiss her entire body little by little, and when I scoot down the bed and have my head between her thighs, I'm still taking my time. She doesn't allow this, though; it seems she thinks she's been still long enough, and she grabs my hair and pulls my head up roughly. The look on her face makes me weak. Then she's pushing and twisting until I'm flat on my back again and she's straddling me. It seems to be a position she's fond of; she looks triumphant. I just smile at her, though, because I know her secret. It's the same as mine.

"What?" She pinches my nipple, then leans over to take it between her lips.

I don't answer her, just run my hands through her hair and down her back and across her hips. I slip my fingers between her legs at the same time her fingers push inside me, painfully scraping. My fingernails aren't as long as hers, and they won't hurt her, so I follow her lead and push myself inside her forcefully. She gasps and bucks, and she's sweating and breathing hard and we're slow, sweet burning suddenly exploding. We're liquid fire, and we melt and drip and die and moan and come and come and come.




"Edain." I don't mean to say it. Edain's an Irish legend - the most beautiful woman in the world.

Dana's eyes are mere slits; the lashes flutter and close. "Hey," she breathes, smiling.

I stare down at her for a long moment. I've never been in bed with anyone like her. She radiates heat and she's constantly coiling and uncoiling, pulsing in the night. She's almost still now, her breathing a steady vibration; she's fallen asleep again. I kiss her gently on the lips.

She sighs. "Are you waking me up?"

"No." I whisper. "Go back to sleep."

She does, for a minute. Then her eyes open again. "Hey."

"Hi," I squeak. I'm dumbfounded by her beauty.

"You're staring at me."

It's impossible not to. I'm mesmerized by her eyes, drifting open and shut. I love her lips. I brush them tentatively with my own and let them rest there for a moment. It's impossible not to stare because she's the most beautiful and brave woman I've ever known.

We kiss, and she falls asleep again.

Sometime later, I wake up, and our hands are on each other. I don't know who started it, but it's tender and soft until our mouths lock together. Then our hands are rough, fast and desperate.

I'm too hot, and I sit up, needing air. Dana rises to meet me, scoots up close and wraps her legs around my waist. Her palms are flat on my back, and something about this touch makes me feel strong and protective. I hold her, stroking her hair, and we kiss. And this kiss is not about sex at all. And every kiss after is not about sex at all.

"This is incredible," Dana breathes, her lips on my clavicle.

"This is love," I tell her.




I'm sitting on the sofa with my arm crossed around one knee. I have on one of Monica's t-shirts and nothing else. My hair is slicked back wet, I smell like soap, and there are angry red marks on my neck.

Monica's sitting in the club chair again, with her legs crossed at the ankles. She has on a robe and nothing else. Her hair is a damp mess, she smells like shampoo, and there are angry red marks on her neck, down her back and across her hips.

We stare at each other.

No sound has come from the guest bedroom for hours. Stephanie and her companion are asleep. It's almost 5:30 in the morning, and Monica and I haven't slept very much, but I don't think either of us cares. We kept waking each other up with touches and kisses until, finally, we gave up and put on a pot of coffee.

And so here we sit, drinking. Monica smokes and watches me stare at her.

I don't know about this woman. She's beautiful, kind, and smart. She doesn't play games, she doesn't lie, and she doesn't wear a mask. There have been other women, pretty and sweet and trustworthy, but they aren't her. No one's ever been her.

She said she's in love with me, and I don't doubt her. Not really. It's just that the image of Marty Cheron, dark-haired, dark-eyed, with his hand on her chest, claiming her heart, burns me. It nags at the back of my mind. I want to look at the photograph right now, to see if the expression on her face is the same as the one I've seen tonight, to see if she loves us the same. I have to know who he was to her. I have to know that I'm more important.

"Are you okay?" Her voice is soft. She's finished smoking, has put out her cigarette and sits with her hands folded across her stomach.

I shake my head, no. No, I'm not okay. I won't be okay until I know that she's mine, and that no part of her belongs to that man or anyone else. I may not be okay even then. I may burn like this forever.

She rises slowly, wincing. I know she's sore; she should be. "What is it?" She walks to me.

I stare at her, wanting her. I see Marty Cheron with his hand on her breast.

She stands before me, tall, sleepy, and beautiful. I place my cup on the coffee table and reach up, opening her robe. She shudders. My hand reaches between her legs.




Dana's showering again. I'm on the roof.

I came up here to open her loft-warming present. I'd forgotten all about it until I put on the coffee earlier. I wanted to open it somewhere private.

I rub my fingers over the paper, take the ribbon between my hands, and pull. I wonder what kind of gifts Dana gives. It looks like she had the flat box store-wrapped, and I wonder if that means what's inside is as impersonal as the paper that covers it.

Or maybe it's very personal. "You might want to open it later," she said. Why? Maybe she's bought something that will give me an indication of how she feels about me. Maybe what I'm holding is what she thinks of me, what she thinks I like or what she thinks will touch me.

"It's an ashtray. A huge one."

I whirl around to see her laughing. And what a sight she is. Her face is scrubbed free of makeup. She's wearing another one of my t-shirts - the other having become soiled - and a pair of my jogging pants under her leather coat. The t-shirt is a bit big on her, but the jogging pants are ludicrous. They're scrunched around her ankles. She has on the shoes she wore last night - chunky ankle boots - and she looks ridiculous. I decide immediately that I really, really like sloppy on her. And I want to kiss her. She looks more rested than I've ever seen her, despite not sleeping much last night.

"I'm kidding," she chuckles. "Open it."

I look again at the paper.

"It's not much, Monica. Not enough for you to ponder like this." Her eyes are looking up at me, and her teeth are white, biting her bottom lip. "I didn't know what to get you," she says shyly. "I didn't know you well enough. I still don't."

I close my eyes and slowly reopen them, and she's still here, and she smells like my soap and my shampoo, and she used my toothbrush this morning, and she's wearing my boxer briefs and my jogging pants and my t-shirt, and I kiss her. I'm so happy I could cry.

"Open it. Get it over with."

I never would have guessed what's inside.

"It's a hex sign," she says, her lips twitching.

I nod. I know what it is, but I've never seen one like this. I've seen them in ceramic, large white disks that hang over doorways of barns and houses in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, but I've never seen a stained-glass one. "Do you know what it means?" I ask her.

"It's supposed to bring you good luck and peace."

I nod again. I need to sit down, because tears are blurring my eyes and I don't want to drop it. I sit down right there on the spot and lift it out of the box - it's larger than a dinner plate and heavy, leaded glass - and I cast the box aside so that I can hold my loft-warming gift up to the sunlight. After a moment of silent gratitude, I begin pointing to the parts and explaining their symbolism to her. I circle the rosette, whose leaves are in varying colors, with my fingertip. "The flower represents good luck. It has twelve petals, one for each month of the year."

Dana kneels beside me.

"Everything in it means something, even the colors. Blue is tranquility and peace, white is faith, yellow is health, purple represents something sacred." I look at her. "Red is passion." I trace the rosette. "It's outlined in black to hold all of these elements together, and black's also the color of protection." She's looking at me, not the hex sign, but I keep on anyway, because I want to tell her what she's given me if she doesn't know. The artist went to great lengths to incorporate a lot of symbolism in the piece, as if there was someone important he wanted to protect in every possible way. I point to the circle that separates the inner part of the rosette from the petals. "The circles represent continuity, the life cycle and everlasting love." Our eyes meet, but I don't expand on this particular bit of symbolism, because it's doubtful that she bought the piece of stained glass for that reason. I know why she bought it. It's my favorite part of the artwork.

"The doves symbolize peace and happiness. That they're crossed over each other represents true friendship." The doves are inside the rosette, in the center. They look away from each other, and a heart is centered between their heads. My throat is scratchy and my voice becomes hoarse. "The tulips symbolize faith and trust in mankind." And for this reason, the tulips are my favorite part.

Her hands are on mine, she's easing the heavy piece back in the box, and then she's touching my face and kissing me softly, her hands running through my hair. "You're amazing," she murmurs. Oh, she's opened up so much since yesterday. So gentle.

"This was your hex," I tell her. "I told you that story about Svetlana canting a hex on Irina. You came here last night to cast a spell on me, didn't you?" I'm teasing her playfully, but this means so much to me, it's so wonderful, that I'll never forget it.

"It's corny," she says at once. "Anyway, you're the one who cast the spell." Her voice is shy, and a blush rises to her face.

"It's not corny at all." I hold her loosely in the chilly breeze, on the cold roof. "It's beautiful." I say, looking over her head at the blueness of the sky. "So is this day." She looks, too, and we slowly stand and gaze out at the city.

I walk to the edge of the roof, lost in my thoughts. I'm listening to the music of noon in Georgetown; church bells are ringing. The smell of grilled seafood wafts to us on the breeze, making me hungry. And I feel so alive that I'm certain I can catch the atmosphere in my hands like a little bird and release it back to the sky.

Dana's lost in other thoughts. "So. Think you could stick with me for a while?" she asks in a tentative voice.

'No,' I want to say. 'A while isn't long enough.' I inhale and exhale again, and decide that such emotion might frighten her away. She's more vulnerable than I've ever seen her, and I don't want her to fly off. "I don't know. There's the work thing."

She arches her right eyebrow, the one that arches the highest.

"Getting you away from it," I say.

Her eyes slip over my body. "I suppose you could seduce me away."

"Really? Once a week? Saturdays, maybe?"

"Sundays, too, possibly."

"Mondays?"

She looks to the sky, as if considering her schedule. "I think most of my Mondays are open." Her eyes move back over me very slowly. "And Tuesdays are never bad."

I smile and stretch my arm out to her, touching my fingertips to hers. "What about hump day?"

Her lips twitch and then purse. She's trying hard not to smile. "Oh, I'll give you my hump days." She curls her fingers around mine and she stares at our hands. Her face takes on an almost bashful look. "I'll give you every day you want, Monica." And then her eyes are boring into me, direct and intense.

"I'll take all of them," I tell her, and raise our entwined hands in victory. We've escaped this emotional wasteland. The sky is beautiful blue, deep, inviting, and pure. I tilt my head up and stretch my other arm out. The breeze blows through me and washes me, and I don't feel quite as stained as I did yesterday. Even though D.C. is still soulless and cold, it will be my home as long as it's her home, for as long as she lets me love her.

And maybe one day we'll leave here and go to a place where the air is sweet and clean, and the land is covered in trees and green, green grass, and there are no conspiracies and no lies and no mysteries and there are no secret birds locked away because they're all free, singing and soaring.

Like love, uncaged.

THE END,
'Secret Bird'
by Politic X
politicx@aol.com

Author's Notes:

Sayer, McCall and Marty Cheron are such slight characters they may not be memorable, but they're mine. Stephanie Laos and Raney Pritchard are also my creations and I take full responsibility for their personalities (or lack thereof). Any similarities to real people, living or dead, are entirely coincidental. There, is that what I'm supposed to say?

'Secret Bird' went through some significant changes thanks to my beta team, who deserve to be thanked again and again: Kate M., Caeliste and Georgia. Fabulous women, smart as all get out, and kind enough to spare me their time though they lead busy lives. Thanks, y'all.

After much debating, I used the song "The Boss" for the lesbian line dance, even though I had a lot of encouragement to use "We Are Family" instead, and even though no one else may associate "The Boss" with the lesbian bar scene. What it came down to was this: "The Boss" is my memory and it's what I saw chicks dancing to in Atlanta in the mid-80s and it's what I figured out the steps to, and I indulged myself.

I love Dana Scully and Monica Reyes as individuals, but I particularly love them as a couple. They'll live on in my imagination long after the show is over. I hope there will be others out there who will continue writing them.




Wallflower:
If I have to beg gods,
Borrow worlds,
Steal time,
You'll be mine one day.
The journey to you is my night ride,
And you, my friend...
You're my secret bird.


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