by Politic X

Warning 1: I'd rate this story an NC-17 just for the explicit and gruesome autopsy scenes. Warning 2: SLASH: Scully/Reyes
Warning 3: This is recycled material based on Paphian Dreams, a Mulder / Scully story I wrote several years ago. I decided a few months ago that substituting Mulder's name with Monica's would be a good exercise. Of course, it wasn't that simple.

Disclaimer: Fox and 1013 own the characters

I am very fortunate to have two of the most brilliant people I've ever known as my beta readers, but I'm more than fortunate - I'm blessed - to have them as my dear friends. So, thank you Mikee and Ae for the fairly small thing of editing my story and thank you for the fairly enormous thing of keeping the death bitch at bay.

This story is for Anne Elizabeth.

R e v e r i e

My time has come.

The woods are thick, wet and black, and the ground is sinking below me. It rolls like the sea, threatening to submerge me in its undercurrents. The air is heavy on my shoulders and my legs are leaden; waves of grass and dirt pull my body down. I am drowning.

An eerie melody washes over me. (seasons don't fear the reaper nor do the wind the sun or the rain) Earth is cascading over my ankles, my knees, my thighs. I cast a frightened eye heavenward while succumbing to the pull of the ground.

I'm not a psychologist, but I recognize the symptoms of catatonia even while I'm experiencing them. Rigidity is settling into my muscles just as mania is seeping into my skull. I think I could give in to somnolence if it weren't for the urgency of the music.

I wrench myself upwards and try to do the things I do when I'm afraid, mental exercises to help me detach myself from the situation, dissect the scenario. I stop for a moment and try to log onto some external compass. But it's too dark and I'm disoriented and the music is unbearable and the ground is unsteady and I must run.

I'm in a forest, lost. I'm running. I don't know how I got here or why; I only know that I must find a way out. There's no clearly marked path, just slippery beds of pine needles and moss. My thoughts jumble as the ground beneath me gives and I fall with a painless thud.

Hang on, I think. My pulse is rapid; my breaths are shallow. Get your bearings. (seasons don't fear the reaper nor do the wind the sun or the rain) I breathe deeply only to find my mouth filling with dirt. I choke, sputter and spit.

Even my own vomit can't disguise the oppressing smell of cedars. I retch again. Then I push against the ground with all of my strength. I push myself up and I push myself forward. And notice the knife in my right hand.

It's a hunting knife, sharp. I hold it tightly as if it can protect me from this otherworld which is tugging at my spirit, stripping me of any control I might possess, and I begin moving again.

I run slowly at first, trying to find footing on the forest floor, and it's pulling me, a magnet. It's alive. And singing.

Fear snaps its teeth at my self-possession and finally rips away the carefully contained persona known as Dana Katherine Scully. There's no trace of my usual composure now. Not since I was a child have I so felt my spirit bursting the seams of my body. Composure will only slow me down.

I hurl myself forward, throwing myself like an object into the wind. Faster, harder, I run with abandon; wildly, tearfully, a child running from a monster. My head jerks back over my shoulder. I expect to see a demon there, chasing me. Although I see nothing but trees, it doesn't stop me from screaming.

My breathing becomes ragged and I run harder. My thoughts are no longer mine; the music fills my ears and head and I can't block it out. I begin reciting prayers, every prayer I've ever known: the rosary, the Lord's Prayer, the prayers I said as a child.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.

Bent branches scrape across my arms, wickedly black and leering. I use my weapon like a machete, whipping an X back and forth in front of me, desperate to escape these woods.

Tree limbs claw at my hair, rip my blouse. I feel the cutting wind where my sleeves have been torn and I glance down at them, afraid to slow my pace. My shirt is shredded and blood-stained.

Comprehension strikes me at once; I stumble and almost fall. The limbs aren't ripping my blouse; they're ripping my arms, my skin, tearing them like paper.

I stop still.

With hysterical certainty, I suddenly understand that it isn't the tree limbs that have harmed me. The knife is bloody. I've been lashing out at the branches, but striking myself instead.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death! "Have mercy on me!" I sob.

The knife enters my shoulder and I watch in horror as blood pours out of my body. There's no pain, only a surge of blackness that I wave away like a swarm of flies. Skin flaps about my bones.

I'm lightheaded, but suddenly quite lucid. Music swirls around me, stirring up leaves and pine needles in a whirlwind. (don't fear the reaper we'll be able to fly)

Fly, yes.

I run; I run from the sinking ground, the tearing limbs and the noise. Wind whistles through my ribboned arms, chilling me to my bare bones. I run until I see light, until I reach the edge of the woods.

The field is hushed, the ground solid. I'm too afraid to look back at the forest, but I can feel the coldness of it on my spine. My hair stands on end as I listen to the blood dripping from my body to the ground. I watch it for some time, transfixed by my own mortality.

There's nothing left from my shoulders to my wrists but pink flesh drooping away from the white bones beneath. This is something I can't comprehend; my hands are fully functional - I flex my fingers - yet the muscles and the sinew, the cartilage and the veins of my arms have all fallen away. I drop in a heap to the ground, searching for the remains of my body.

My blood! It pools before me, muddying the earth. I lift a finger to touch my left arm. It's cold and rubbery and moves in different directions beneath my touch. I think I'm going to vomit again but crawl away instead, chanting the rosary.

I'm alone with my nightmares on this grassy plain; I have to get out of here. I force myself to stand.

There's a paved road cutting through this field and a woman is walking it. She's far away from me and moving farther; still I know who she is. She's tall and beautiful. She walks with purpose, centered, confident, calm.

I must reach her.

I concentrate all of my energy on this woman. I run toward her, straining with hope. I stretch myself wide, struggling to leap across the plain, feeling that I could fly if it weren't for all the blood. Her name is a mantra on my lips. Monica. Monica.

I run, but she's faster.

Panic grips me. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, I pray the Lord, I pray the Lord....

Mania generates its own kind of clarity: I could reach her if it weren't for the blood weighing me down. Reverberations of the dissonant music haunt me as the knife moves over my legs. When the breeze comes, I run on it.

My blouse, black with blood, matches my long dark skirt. They flutter about me in ribbons with the flesh of my arms and legs. I feel like a ghost, a wisp of smoke from ashes. Relief floods hot through me when I finally catch up with the person whose providence is to save me.

I come close enough to feel the aura of peace and contentment that enshroud her. I come close enough to see the tranquility on her face. I wonder fleetingly if I'm so repulsive that she'll turn and run. I'm sure she will once she smells my sour sweat and blood. I gasp for air and grasp at her arms. But she merely smiles at me and walks away.

My voice becomes a loud screeching wail of her name, but she doesn't look back. Chills race through my body and that terrifying discord whistles in my ears. (come on baby don't fear the reaper)

I can't feel the knife entering my chest, but I can feel the terror and the sadness slipping away from me. Organs and muscles dissolve under my fingers as blood rushes over my breasts. I've spent too many years waiting for love to save me, I realize, and now I relinquish all hope to this somber field. The power to let go has been mine all along.

Even as I'm carried away from life, I seek Monica. She's still walking toward her destiny, but now she pauses to glance up at the sky. Thirty-eight years of life fall away from me like prayers, showering her in red rain. "Take my hand," I whisper down to her. "We'll be able to fly."

Her time has come.

"How often have you had this nightmare, Dana?" the staff social worker asks. She's an emollient to my pulsing nerves, her voice compassionate and her concern palpable.

"It first occurred about a month ago, and has been escalating...." I look down at my hands in my lap. "I'm having it nightly now."

"And what are your thoughts?" Karen Kosseff asks.

I look over at her briefly. "I've tried to analyze it, but I haven't really made any progress."

She waits, looking at me.

"Except," I concede. "That I care about Monica."

Her eyebrows arch.

"More, maybe...." I clear my throat. "More than I've admitted, I mean."

"To her or yourself?"


Kosseff nods thoughtfully. "Let's get to specifics. What about cutting yourself in the nightmare? Any thoughts on that?"

"No, not really." She's pointing out something obvious that I missed while trying to piece the puzzle together. I'm suddenly uncomfortable. I came to Kosseff for help, willing at last to face this pent-up desire for Monica Reyes, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to face the symbolic logic of the dream.

"Do you think you're still sacrificing yourself to work on the X-Files even though you've done more teaching than actual investigating lately?"

"There are sacrifices I've made, but they come with the territory."

"Do you think so?"

I don't wish to lie in the face of her concern, so I say nothing.

Kosseff presses me further. "Do you really believe that losing your sister, your child, losing a period of time in your life for which you cannot account...." Her voice is soft. "Do you think that comes with the territory?"

I bite my lip and work to maintain my composure. "I have a child now."

"But you lost one as well." She's referring to Emily, the child who was apparently the result of my abduction years ago. "And you lost Mulder, your best friend, your partner."

"I didn't lose him," I snap at her. I did lose him, really. He's out there somewhere, hiding, contacting me occasionally with terse, cloak-and-dagger messages that piss me off.

"But he's not here, helping you raise William."

I haven't seen Kosseff since I gave birth, so I'm rather surprised that she knows him by name. Then again, sometimes I think Karen Kosseff knows every single thing about me. I just shrug at her; she's on the money, as usual, so there's nothing to say.

"And he's not here, heading the X-Files division," she adds.

"Agents Reyes and Doggett are doing a fine job of that."

"Does this bother you?"

"I'm not sure I understand what you're asking. Does it bother me that they're doing a good job? No. I'm proud of them, proud for them."

"And worried, perhaps?"

Ah. "Yes."

"Are you afraid Agent Reyes will follow the same path as Agent Mulder?"

I am. I worry about that very thing. I don't say this, but she knows. Karen Kosseff reads between lines better than anyone I've ever met.

"You're afraid she'll become ... damaged?"

Kosseff's heard me refer to Mulder as damaged. The state of his mind has been questionable for as long as I've known him, and despite my firm hold on reality, these dreams have me worried about my sanity, too. Am I losing my mind? Quite possibly. Years of working on bizarre cases, wrestling with unexplainable phenomena, encountering human - and perhaps inhuman - demons has done something to my psyche. My outlook has changed. No longer do I see the world as a whole place. I see it fragmented, as if I'm looking at everything through broken glasses. It's more than my ideals that have been shattered along the way. My faith has been destroyed, too. I can't bear to think of Monica in this position five, ten years from now. "Yes," I finally mutter.

"And Agent Doggett? Are you concerned for his sanity as well?"

Doggett.... "I'm not very concerned about the effect the X-Files may have on him. He's a good man, he's been more than kind to me, but he isn't ... he's not...."

"He's not Monica."

I shake my head.

"Do you resent her?"

"No." That's ludicrous.

"Even though you're risking your life again just to be close to her?"

I'm so astonished by the assumption she's making that I have no words. Just an open mouth.

"You have a child now to consider. Yet you continue to help on cases whenever you can. And I've learned very well how dangerous your cases usually are."

Yes, she has. She's watched me face death more times than I care to count.

"In the nightmare, you are in a state of panic, slashing your body, doing whatever it takes to get out of the woods and get to Monica. You're terrified, in pain, dying, but she walks on, continuing her quest quietly. You need her, but she obviously doesn't need you. She's calm and centered, you said, and you're anything but."

"Yep," I say tightly. My discomfort begins turning into something darker. Kosseff is provoking the rancor that lies coiled in my stomach.

"Do you begrudge Monica her serenity?" she asks.

"No." I try to squash the bitterness back into the hole it came from. Kosseff is goading me in her gentle way; she wants me to lash out. But I'm afraid that if my emotion unleashes itself, it may break walls that are best left in place.

She appears to check something on her notepad. "Where is William in your nightmare?"

"He's not in it."

She nods. "Why do you think that is?"

"I don't know. You tell me." My patience has been stretched to its limit today. I can't take much more of this interrogation.

She smiles softly. "Perhaps he's not an issue that needs resolving. No one's in the nightmare but you and Monica. Maybe your unconscious mind is trying to work out a solution to waking issues you have with her."

Maybe. "Look, I just want the dreams to go away so I can sleep."

Kosseff eyes me thoughtfully. "You refer to them as dreams, not nightmares."

I stare at her. "I don't really care what we decide to call them as long as I'm able to get some rest." Surely she recognizes anger when it seethes on her sofa.

"You realize that while a sedative may help you fall asleep more easily, it can make the nightmares more vivid."

I nod, clenching my jaw. Am I not a doctor?

"Discussing this is a good form of expulsion. Purging our feelings can make us all rest easier."

I nod once again and fix my eyes on the clock mounted on the wall. "That's why I'm here," I say flatly.

Kosseff follows my gaze. "There are a couple of things I'd like to discuss with you before our time ends today. What do you think it means that the ground is sinking in the nightmare?"

If Kosseff is an exorcist, she's a kind one. I sigh, trying to release some of this misdirected irritation, and search myself for an answer. "Solid ground is symbolic of comfort and security. Maybe my dream is telling me that I feel no security in the present."

"Do you feel secure with Monica?"

How could I not? We're seldom together, yet when we are, I feel safer than I ever have. It started when William was born. Monica was there, acting as my midwife and my bodyguard. When the shelter she'd created for me was invaded, the only thing that kept me sane was the determined focus of her gaze. She stayed with me in the most frightening ordeal of my life, and she hardly knew me. And she's proven to be as steady as she is courageous. No matter when I've needed her, she's always been there. Secure isn't the correct word for how I feel with Monica. I'm not sure what the correct word is.

"Have you ever been in a lesbian relationship, Dana?"


"You'd think that the sinking ground and the instability it represents would have to do with your love for Monica. Yet the ground beneath her is stable."

I look up sharply. We haven't used the 'love' word yet. I merely said I have feelings for her.

She continues, unfazed. "But you run away from the sinking ground, the evil forest. And when you reach the safety of the field, you see Monica walking serenely, on solid ground. What do you make of that?"

"I don't know." The last bit of anger leaves me in a rush. I feel deflated in a way.

"What?" Kosseff studies my face. "What are you thinking right now?"

I'm thinking how everything makes sense when I'm with Monica. It's not that my cracked view of the world has changed; it just doesn't bother me as much. "I feel safe with her. Not necessarily safe from physical danger, but safe in a different way."

"In what way?" she asks softly.

"Like everything's okay. Like 'the universe is unfolding as it should' - like the Desiderata says." Even talking about her now, thinking about her, makes me feel better.

She nods. "What about the song you hear?"

The oddity of the question stirs me from my reverie. "The sound of it disturbs me. I've heard it plenty of times on the radio in the past; but in the dream it's so loud that it blocks out any rational thought. I start reciting prayers to silence it and to calm myself."

"The song is 'Don't Fear the Reaper' by Blue Oyster Cult," she says, looking dead-on at me. "The lyrics suggest suicide."

I nod my head, Blue Oyster Cult. Suicide?

Kosseff's staring a hole through me. "What is suicide, ultimately?"

"It's a cop-out," I say.

She shakes her head, no.

I think for a moment. What's suicide but a cop-out? Some people can't deal with the hand life has dealt them so they take their lives into their own hands. "Control. It's a matter of controlling one's fate."

Kosseff's words come rolling at me. "Control has always been important to you, hasn't it, Dana?"

I stand in a rush. "I need to get back to work."

Kosseff remains seated. "In a moment."

I look at her angrily. Expulsion is seldom pleasant; I know this, but I'm not sitting again. Enough is enough.

"You can't control the ground sinking beneath you, you can't control Monica walking away, you can't control anything but your own fate. Nevertheless Dana, controlling your fate is an awful lot to ask for, isn't it? We do what we can to direct our lives, but we don't have control over everything."

I nod.

"I know your impatience with therapy, but this-" Kosseff stabs her pad of paper. "This is something you can control. We can work together to stop the nightmares. There are several issues to address, and we'll take them one at a time. Where shall we start?"

She gives me a moment to answer, and during this moment, I sit down. I'm here. That's my start.

"How about with Monica? Perhaps you should tell her how you feel."

And how is that, really? Tell her that I need her so I can get through the nights? Tell her that I want to pin her to my bed so that I can finally have a dreamless sleep? "I'm not sure I can."

"If you can, if you can get your footing, if you can find a way to Monica, perhaps you will find your way to safety. Maybe safety is simply unburdening your heart to someone you trust." She lets this sink in before continuing. "The primary person you've trusted for years is unavailable to you now, but someone else is here, someone that you care about very much. Someone you trust." She sets her pad of paper aside.

I nod numbly. I don't know how I'll tell Monica what I feel; I don't know that I can.

Kosseff looks at me as if she knows what I'm thinking.

I bolt out the door.

There are several on-site psychiatrists at Quantico who are more than qualified to help me with the nightmares, and I'm at Quantico all day every day, Monday through Friday. The hour long drive to the Hoover Building should be enough reason to see these psychiatrists rather than a staff social worker.

But if I'm honest with myself, the location of Kosseff's office has something to do with my choice. I can't fully say that it's my history with Kosseff that draws me to her. It's the proximity of her office to Monica's.

So after today's meeting with Kosseff, I take the elevator down to the basement, a place so quiet and familiar that I shouldn't be cracking my knuckles, but I am. The doors open loudly and my heels are even louder in the hallway. The closer I get to my old office, the faster my heart beats.

Monica's staring at the door when I reach it, and a wide grin breaks across her face. "I was hoping that was you," she says.

"Yeah?" I feel quite breathless, like I ran all the way down the stairs to get here. "And why is that?"

Her eyebrows knit together in a frown, but she's still smiling. "Does there have to be a reason? I just don't see you enough."

This makes me very happy. Just about as happy as it makes me to notice that Doggett's nowhere around.

"Although I have to admit there's another reason I'm glad you're here." She taps a file on her desk. "I need your expertise."

Of course. I knew her smile wasn't for her friend. It was for her colleague.

"But tell me first," she continues. "How's William?"

"He's fine." I take a seat before her desk. "He's doing great."

"How's Mulder?" Monica's gaze is direct.

"The same. I hear from him once a week or so."

She rubs her tongue over her bottom lip. "I'm sorry. I know that must be hard."

What's hard is relaying to her that Mulder isn't who she thinks he is to me. He's just my friend, but how can I convey that convincingly when William is his child? Obviously his child, big nose and all.

"Anyway, I've found something interesting and ... disturbing." She touches the manila folder again. "I need your help." She glances at her watch. "If you have time."

It's 4:30, and we'll be stuck in traffic even if we leave right now. "My time is your time," I say lightly, kicking off my shoes. They clunk on the floor. They've been killing my feet all day; I can't wear three inches like I used to.

Monica stands and peers over her desk, grinning. "I have never understood how in the world you can wear those."


"You got a thing about being short?" Her eyebrows arch up, her eyes dancing.

"Of course not." I'm turning red. "But you know how hard it is being a woman here." In the FBI, I mean, but she knows. "Imagine being a small woman. It makes it all the more difficult to be taken seriously."

"Oh, I can't imagine anyone not taking you seriously."

Is she flirting with me? She's still standing, palms flat on her desk, leaning over it, and she looks at me with the same sweet smile and mischievous eyes. "You don't seem to be taking me seriously right now," I tell her.

"Hmm. But I am. I always take you seriously, Dana." The way she says my name, the way there's a little catch right before she says it, makes my heart skip a beat every single time.

"What kind of case are you on?"

She blinks and sits down. Professional walls just shifted back into place. I never realized she had them.

"Aural, Washington. Three women found dead in the past three days. Apparent suicide in each case, at least that's what the local police department is saying."

"Unfortunately, people kill themselves every day, Monica." I know there's a 'but' and I wait for it.

"But get this; each woman fits the same description: mid-thirties, successful, single."


Monica finally looks up at me. There's a haunted look about her face, the "I have a really bad feeling about this" expression that I'm becoming familiar with. "Tell me this is possible." She slaps some photos in front of me.

"Oh my God." Bile rises in my throat.

"Not merely slashed wrists here; these women carved up their entire bodies."

"They... they cut their arms, their legs into...." I close my eyes to the vertiginous room.

"Into strips. They cut themselves into strips." Monica pulls the photos away from me, sounding anguished. "They're human windsocks."

I'm speechless. My pulse is racing and perspiration trickles down my back. I'm going to vomit.

"How is this possible, Dana? Tell me."

I look up at her. I hear her words, but they're far away; I feel faint. Remnants of the dream flit in and out of my consciousness. There's a can of Sprite on her desk; I grab it. The rim tastes like lipstick, but not even the knowledge that it's her lipstick can keep the nausea at bay.

"Are you okay?"

"Thirsty," I lie, taking deep breaths between gulps.

Monica looks at me curiously, concerned. "Dana-"

Breathe. Swallow. Breathe.

"You're white as a ghost."

I square my shoulders. "It would be difficult, if not altogether impossible, to lacerate oneself to that extent before losing consciousness." I drain the rest of her soda. "Let me rephrase that. It would not be humanly possible. Even if they had taken some sort of palliatives or anodynes - painkillers - Monica, the resulting loss of blood would render them unconscious almost immediately." I return the soda can to her desk with a clink and blink my eyes. My composure had only wobbled; now it's back.

She picks up the empty can and tilts it toward me. "Can I get you another one?"

I shake my head, no. "Why would the police consider them suicides?"

She shrugs. "Can you believe it? Ridiculous. Apparently all of the women left behind notes and there wasn't evidence to support a theory of murder."

My eyebrow arches. "And how did this case come to fall into your hands?" I can't imagine that the Bureau will become involved since the local authorities are leaning toward suicide.

"I saw a story on CNN."


"And I contacted the Spokane leg of the FBI."

"So the FBI is involved?"

"Strange, isn't it? The Aural police department is apparently the voice on the case, but the FBI is working it off the record. Who knows? The town is small, maybe they requested assistance." Monica looks at me intently. "Are you sure you're okay? You're still pale."

"I'm fine. Why are you getting involved? Don't you think that if Skinner or Follmer or Kersh or whichever Dick-of-the-Day wanted you on it, he would've brought it to your attention?"

She flinches. I'm sure it's my inclusion of her friend, or ex-lover as rumor has it, in the group I just named. I despise Follmer. "I need to help," she says quietly.

"Why? Why do you need to help?"

"Because I have a feeling that... I don't know." She sighs and puts her head in her hands.

"Tell me."

"I have a feeling I'll be involved, regardless." She angles her eyes up at me while her head remains bowed toward the desk. "I saw that CNN report and I took it very personally."


"I couldn't detach."

"You have a problem doing that anyway, don't you?" I admire Monica's sensitivity and empathetic inclinations on a personal level, but when she becomes wrapped up in work, these inclinations worry me. If she's emotionally involved in a case, she's not safe.

She offers a lopsided smile and shuts down her computer. "Worse this time. Like I knew one of the victims or something."

"Really." Goosebumps race across my arms.

She shakes her head, chagrined. "I'm sure I should let it go. It's just that it made me so angry, calling them suicides."

"The media release. That's what they want to hit the news, so that's what hits the news."

"I'd go there if I thought I could."


"Washington. I'd go if I thought the trip would be approved by Brad. You know, Dick-of-the-Day."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"Why not? That's what he is. Absolutely." She folds her laptop and slides it into a briefcase that could only belong to her. Fashionable and expensive, black leather probably made in Italy. She slips the manila folder into a side pocket and rises. "Sometimes I learn the hard way who to trust. You know?"

No, I don't, because we're not remotely alike. The people I trust are few and far between, but Monica is so wide open, anyone could hurt her. She'll have a lifetime of heartaches if she remains so trusting. "Yeah." I stand, too. Looks like we're leaving.

"So. Big plans for the weekend?"

"Not really. You?"

She moves around the desk and stands very close, looking down at me. "Wow."

"Yep, it's a fact. You're taller. Gloat as if you've never noticed before and tell me when you're finished so I can put my shoes on." The difference in height is rather daunting. At this instant, when my feet are bare and hers are in heels, I'd say she's a good seven inches taller than I.

She grins. "Put your shoes on."

I do.

Her look is still one of amusement. "Oh, yeah. Much taller now."

I want to kiss that wisecracking mouth. "I thought you were finished gloating, Reyes."

She smirks and holds up her thumb and forefinger; they're about an inch apart. "If it makes you feel any better, that's how tall I feel next to you." Her face flushes. "So if I tease you about your height, just remember that." She walks away, leaving me standing, watching her go. I'm staring at her legs when she turns back. "You coming?"


And for the too short elevator ride and walk to the parking garage, I continue to stare at her long legs, her long hair and her dancing eyes as she tells me of her date later this evening. It's with an IT specialist in the Bureau who works such insane hours that though she and Monica made the date weeks ago, tonight is the first night they both had available. Monica describes her as 'funny', 'smart' and 'pretty'. I'm so jealous that I don't hear the rest.

The sun peeks through dark clouds briefly, then disappears again. I've never been afraid of thunder, but lightening can sometimes rattle me, like right now, as a streak cuts the sky. Static buzzes the radio station I'm listening to; I surf through the channels with trembling fingers, my thoughts as charged as electric particles in the air.

I'm good at holding it all in. Strength can be as simple as repressing emotions, and when I'm with Monica, strength is all that I want her to see. But when I'm alone, the tight coils of fear begin to unwind. Sweat dampens my armpits.

Cedar trees, dark and green, contort in my vision. I blink. Music swells, not in the car, not from the radio, but in my head. I can't escape it.

I switch the receiver to an AM station. Talk, that's what I need to hear. Not guitar riffs that sound disturbingly familiar. I wish I'd never mentioned the music to Kosseff. It stayed within my dreams before; now I can't shake it. (all our times have come, here but now they're gone. seasons don't fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain) "We can be like they are," I whisper.

I try to drown out the music with logic. Perhaps I saw the same CNN report that Monica did. It's quite possible that I could have had the tv on while feeding William or rocking William or playing with William or reading to William. I could have heard it without it registering at the time. I could've read a newspaper article or a similar case file and my subconscious has been embellishing it. Maybe that's why I'm having these dreams.

My shaking hands tell me differently.

I've had visions before, not like Monica's, but visions, nevertheless. Mine are usually fleeting glimpses of the dead. A chill touches the nape of my neck and I shiver. I've had visions before, but only when I was dying.

Cancer never leaves a person; it just hides in remission. When I was diagnosed several years ago with the disease, I became consumed with fear. Though the mass disappeared, the trauma of the experience didn't. I've been haunted by the cancer's absence, wondering if - or when - it will return.

I clench my fingers around the steering wheel and struggle to retain a firm grip on logic. The dream I have every night, the visions that pull me away from my desk, away from William, they don't mean that I'm going to die.

A single fat drop of rain hits my windshield and I jump. The dream isn't real; it's just a figment of my imagination brought on by stress. The fact that I'm so afraid when I wake up at night is causing insomnia, and this is making me so tired that I'm jittery. I'm too wound up, that's all. Too much caffeine.

I've never suffered from panic attacks, but I feel what must be the beginning of one forming now. I concentrate on breathing, slowly inhaling and exhaling, but my palms are slick and my heart races. I grit my teeth to squelch the shuddering; my breath comes in gasps. I think of the crime scene photos and see myself in them. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

I grip the steering wheel so hard that by the time I reach home my hands ache. I rush inside, closing curtains against the beginning rain. I turn on lamps and the tv. Still, I'm nervous. I begin cleaning vigorously: vacuum, mop, scrub. I wish William were here to soothe me. But he's with Mom tonight. He's with her all weekend, as a matter of fact, because I need to rest. I'm afraid the exhaustion brought on by so many sleepless nights will impair my judgment with him. I've already slept through his cries once.

It's well past dinnertime when I finally realize that cleaning isn't going to relax me. I retreat to a hot bath, complete with candles, in case the lights go out. I'm no longer panicked, but I can hear thunder booming, and I slip into a sullen uneasiness.

I'm on the sofa, wrapped up in my robe, staring blankly at the Post and drinking my second glass of wine when Monica calls. "Hi, Dana. Have you got a minute?"

Instantly I'm wired again, for altogether different reasons. I glance at the clock - 8:15. "I thought you were on a hot date."

"Yeah, yeah, I was supposed to be. I cancelled it." Her words become rushed. "I wanted to see if you - I wanted to see if I could - if you would -"

"What?" I feel a rush of affection hearing her stammering and stuttering, especially since it seems that's my role. Lately, I've become tongue-tied around her.

"Can I come over?"

I'm sure her words weren't meant to have such an effect on me, but my heart begins beating hard and I'm quite warm suddenly. Everywhere. "Sure."

"I'm sorry, I don't mean to invite myself, it's just that another woman killed herself. Four women, four days."

My first reaction is disappointment that she wants to come here just to consult with me on a case. Then I consider the case. I shudder. "Same city?"

"Yes. Aural, Washington, population 39,000."

"So, we've got a suicide town." I head to the kitchen for the bottle of wine while finishing off what's in my glass. My body feels sluggish, tired, but my mind is suddenly furtive and wary.

"Seems that way. I'm downloading some notes from a detective there. I found out a couple of hours ago that he requested FBI assistance, and that's why Spokane is involved. They told me to stay out of it."

"And you contacted him anyway. Why?"

"Because." Her one word hangs heavy before she continues. "I don't know how to describe the feeling I have about this, Dana. I wanted to tell you tonight."

A pulse beats between my legs. Maybe more alcohol isn't a good idea, as its effects on me include sexual ones. Wine lowers my defenses, relaxes me and causes blood to surge to the surface of my skin, tinting my cheeks and making my lips hot. Making everything hot. Since Monica already does these things, I should switch to coffee. Then I'll just have to deal with my racing heart, sweaty palms and jumping nerves. "Okay."

"Have you eaten?"

"No, actually."

"I thought if I were so bold as to invite myself over I might bring you your choice of dinner. And William's, although I'm not sure where to find exciting baby food."

"He's with his grandma tonight. But my choice?"



She chuckles. "Anything at all."

It occurs to me that it won't matter what she brings; I'll be too nervous to eat. Coffee is a bad idea. I refill my wine glass instead and head to my bedroom to find something other than this robe to wear. "Why don't you surprise me?"

Forty-five minutes later she's on my doorstep, brown bags in one hand, briefcase in the other. Her hair is drenched from the downpour and her eyes are twinkling. She fairly shines with excitement. "Is this what motherhood does? Keeps a hot babe home on a Friday night when she should be out breaking hearts?"

A hot babe? This is trouble I've never encountered before, wondering how to take being tagged a 'hot babe.' Not only has no one ever referred to me as such, but I'm not sure how chaste Monica's compliment is. Lesbians can make verbal passes at other women quite innocently, I realize. Monica can call me a babe and I don't know if she's complimenting me as a pal or coming onto me as a pal who wants to get into my pants. "A hot babe?"

She grins. "You know you're hot."

"Yes, but I didn't know you realized it," I say as I take the bags from her. Two can play at this flirting game.

"Oh." Her cocky smile dims a watt or two and she licks her bottom lip nervously. "Yeah. Hmm. I definitely realized it."

Chaste, no. My heart pounds. Monica is easily one of the prettiest women I've ever seen, and that little thing she does - licking her bottom lip - is both sexy and endearing. "Cajun?"

"Yeah." She sets her briefcase by the door and shrugs off her overcoat, hangs it, then follows me to the kitchen. She's wearing what she had on earlier at work: a baby blue, ribbed cashmere turtleneck, chocolate low rise slacks, darker chocolate chunky shoes, silver earrings, chocolate belt with a large silver buckle, and the ever present silver rings, one on each hand. She's casual but professional, hip but not in the least bit immature, trendy but not fake; and, when she catches me staring at her, she's self-conscious but not embarrassed. I imagine Monica is accustomed to being stared at.

As I open one of the bags, her eyes travel from the wine bottle that's still on the table to my half full glass. "For some reason I expected you to be drinking coffee."

The woman is psychic; I just have to accept it as fact. I smirk at her. "I started to put on a pot of coffee when you called. I know how long-winded you get."

"Dana," she says in mock seriousness. "When have you ever known me to be long-winded?"

"Only when you have an audience." I remember the long, long trip to Democrat Hot Springs, Georgia, where William was born. Monica drove me there. I remember dozing off and on, slipping into and out of consciousness, and every time I woke up, Monica was talking. She talked so much that I even dreamt of her talking. And if this had been anyone else on the face of the earth, I would have been annoyed tremendously. But it was Monica of the Soothing Voice, and so I was quite content to let her talk as much as she wanted.

Even back then I wanted her, although my fantasies were more innocent. I would stare at her lips, wondering how it felt to be kissed by her, imagining her kissing another woman, imagining her kissing me. If I'm ever bold enough to make a move on her, it will probably be while she's talking. I'll probably just lean over and kiss her lips and then urge her to continue saying whatever she's saying. I love her voice. I love the things she says. "What'd you get?" I pull out a Styrofoam container.

"Po' boy for me; jambalaya for you. Hope you weren't expecting a good night's sleep."

The irony of her innocent statement isn't lost on me. "Where'd you go?"

"Bardia's. You like jambalaya, right?"

"Yes." She knows this; she remembers the time I drooled over hers. It was a day that I took the results of an autopsy to her office while she and Doggett were there eating lunch. I was starving; every bite Monica took made my mouth water. She noticed, and as they continued discussing the case with me, Monica quietly scooped some jambalaya into her empty coffee mug, wiped the spoon she'd been eating with, and stuck it back into the Styrofoam container it had come in. Wordlessly, she passed the container to me.

She ate what she'd saved for herself - a significantly lesser portion than she'd given me - from her cup after digging around in her desk drawer for a utensil. She found a broken plastic fork and made do with it. And she didn't say a word. I was so moved by her kindness that I didn't know what to say. I simply thanked her, and she smiled. I've had trouble keeping myself grounded since then. Monica is kind to everyone; I shouldn't take it personally.

Still, Bardia's New Orleans Caf has this special memory attached to it, and I'm touched by the meal she brought tonight. I'm wary, too, of looking foolish if I make a fuss over it. She probably just stopped there because she loves the food. I know she didn't stop there because it was convenient - she had to leave Georgetown and go to Adams Morgan and come back to Georgetown.

I get two plates from the cabinet and open the refrigerator. "What do you want to drink?"

"Got beer?"

"Coffee, wine, beer... put a neon sign over my head and call me a convenience store."

She grins and pulls a chair out. "Oh, I'm sure I could think of better things to call you."

"And what might those things be?" She winks and opens her mouth, but I stop her short. "And they better not refer to my height."

"Oh. Well. What's the fun in that?" And she begins eating from one of the containers. I prefer using china, myself.

I hand her a Heineken and a glass, and sit across from her with my jambalaya. It looks good, but I smell something even better. "What's in the other bag?"

"Beignets," she says, swallowing beer from the bottle. "They're for you."

I delve into the sack. "Beignets?"

"Ever had 'em?"

I shake my head, no.

"Donuts. Louisiana style."

I'm not wild about donuts, but if she brought them especially for me, I'll try them. I pull out a Styrofoam container and two small plastic ones. They're filled with some kind of topping.

"One's praline and the other's fudge, to dip them in. I should've brought you some caf au lait. You need to drink a good coffee to truly appreciate them."

I appreciate them already just because they were her idea. When I open the container, my mouth waters. Square pastries covered in powdered sugar, warm. I could kiss her. I look at her for a moment and actually contemplate it. "Thank you."

She grins, then frowns when she sees me using silverware. "You know you want to eat it with your hands."

I shake my head, cutting the beignet with my fork and dipping a piece into the fudge. Oh, God, it's heavenly.

"No, look." She reaches over and tears a bit of one of the beignets, dunking it into the praline sauce. She holds it just long enough for it to drip on the table, then pops it into her mouth. Sugar dots her sweater. "It's better my way."

I imagine most things are better her way. "It's messier your way."

She resumes with her sandwich, watching me continue with the fork. We pass a few minutes quietly, me going from the beignet to my jambalaya and back again. She's got me all out of sorts; I can't even decide what I want to eat. But something's going on with her as well. Monica's usually a slow eater, taking her time to enjoy every bite. Tonight, she swallows large bites of bread and oysters as if she's famished.

"Guess what I found out?"

"About the case?"

She nods.

"Is it something I'll see when I go through the file?"

She nods, popping chips into her mouth.

"Then don't spoil the surprise."

She swallows and smiles behind her beer bottle as she tilts it to her lips. "That's the thing. There's too much about this case, too many elements. I can't see the forest for the trees."

"I'm sure you can feel it, though." I give her a gentle smile, teasing her. Monica's so sensitive I imagine she can feel the stars coming out at night.

She shakes her head. "I can't feel the case right now." The look she gives me suggests she's feeling something else entirely.

"Really. What do you feel?"

"You." It could be a very sexual come on if Monica didn't look so worried. Her large brown eyes are full of concern. "Something's wrong, isn't it?"

Her eyes reveal so much that I can't bear to look into them. She treats everyone as kindly as she treats me. I know she does; I've seen her compassion too often not to realize this. Why then does my heart take it so personally?

"I've been worried about you."

"Why?" I look over my glass of wine at her.

She shrugs. "Bad feeling. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"Have you been having nightmares?" she asks.

"What?" My wine goes down the wrong way and I start coughing.

"You've got circles under your eyes."

"Monica..." I sip from my glass carefully, trying to squelch the coughs.

"You look like I do when I'm having nightmares. You look so tired, Dana. Not the kind of tired that I'm accustomed to seeing since William was born, either. More tired. Too tired." She takes another bite of her sandwich and pushes it away.

"I haven't been sleeping well," I admit, poking at my jambalaya.

She nods, encouraging me to continue.

"I fall asleep fine, but then I have a bad dream and I wake up, only to find I can't fall asleep again." I wipe my hands on a napkin. Monica, of all people, knows what it's like to have nightmares. She knows what it is to be afraid of sleep. "It's frustrating."

"You've lost weight," she murmurs.

My appetite is suddenly gone. I want to eat just to appease her, but the food would never make it past my mouth. "A couple of pounds," I say, staring at my plate. "My sleep pattern's been interrupted. It throws everything off."

"You've lost more than a couple of pounds, Dana."

I shrug, trying to appear nonchalant, but she's right. I've lost twelve.

"You didn't need to lose it to begin with; you didn't have any weight to lose. You're too thin."

"I'm fine."

She hardly acknowledges this, just moves on. "How long have you been having nightmares?"

"Not long." I push my chair back.

She questions me with her gaze.

"A few weeks." I begin putting the uneaten food away.

She runs her thumb over the label on her beer bottle. "You know, I've taken sleeping pills occasionally, but... nothing's worse than not being able to wake up from a bad dream."

There's something Monica wants to say to me, but she's struggling with words. I finish clearing the table and wait by the sink, watching her. She's been nervous since she got here. She looks as if she's giving this careful consideration before speaking.

She clears her throat. "And alcohol, that never solved anything."

It's not what she says so much as the tone of her voice that gets me. She's warning me.

"How much did you drink tonight before I got here?"

I feel the blood rush to my face. "What does it matter, Monica? It's Friday night, can't I have some wine? William's at Mom's, I haven't been sleeping, you're here, and I just needed to relax. I wanted to unwind."

"I'm here? What do you mean?" She's pushing her chair back and walking to me before I can respond. "Dana?"

I turn again to the sink. "Nothing."

Her hand is on my waist, just above my hip. Not a sexual place, but an intimate one, nonetheless. A place she shouldn't be touching. "I don't want to make you nervous," she breathes. She's saying this when her fingers are resting on a spot she's never touched before. And she suddenly seems to realize it, because she withdraws her hand.

"You don't," I lie.

"Good." She moves away so quietly I don't realize she's no longer directly behind me until I hear our chairs being pushed to the table. "It's none of my business how much you had to drink. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry. I've just been so worried."

"I'm a big girl," I say lightly. Or I try to say it lightly. I'm still burning from the contact her hand made with my body. "I've taken care of myself for a long time. I'll be okay."

"But you've always had Mulder to help.... You always had somebody there, riding shotgun."

I can finally look at her. She's so earnest in her concern for me that I just want to hold her and let her know I'll be all right. But that's not the only reason I want to hold her. Her touch sent shivers up my spine. "You really think Mulder helped?" The man was my ball and chain. "I carried him for eight years, Monica."

She nods, as if this is something she knew all along. "But still, he was by your side through everything. Your love for each other... it must have been of some comfort."

I top off my wine and get another beer from the fridge before replying. "I do love him very much, but maybe not in the way you think." She is so completely focused on my face that she doesn't notice I'm handing the beer to her until I wave it in front of her eyes. "I love him like you'd love a brother who's mentally ill."

"But.... William is his child, isn't he?"

"Maybe 'brother' isn't the right word. He's my best friend, was my only ally for a while, the only person outside my family that I could trust. I watched him lose his mind, Monica. That's the kind of love I have for him - the kind of love that tries to save someone from himself. Love for a drowning man. You know he's going under, but you try to give him hope." I'm getting emotional thinking about this. I don't want to think about Mulder right now, not with Monica here.

"William? That's the hope you gave him?"

"I didn't plan on getting pregnant; I'd tried already. I just assumed I couldn't, and we weren't careful."

"I didn't know. I didn't even know for sure that you and Mulder... that you two.... Well, I thought you were, but...." She trails off.

"We were just too wrapped up in each other to leave it at the office. And it isn't like anyone else was interested in me. You know what they used to say about Mulder and me."

She looks blank.

"Mulder was always considered ... different, and at first everyone looked at me sympathetically. But after a few years in that basement, it wasn't just Mulder that people talked about. We were freaks, Monica. Circus freaks, that's what everyone thought of us."

"That's not what I understand. No one has ever spoken less than highly of you two -"

"You weren't here. You didn't see it. Just give yourself a few years on the X Files. People will talk about you and Doggett, too. And you'll rely on each other more and more, like Mulder and I did. You'll live in an insular world. When I got pregnant, he was overjoyed. I was worried about having a baby - after everything I've gone through, Monica, all of the damage that's been done to my body - I was worried William wouldn't be healthy. But he is healthy. He's my miracle child."

"He is," she murmurs.

"When he was born, I realized how much time and energy I'd been spending on his father. I don't think I truly realized until then."

Our eyes lock. "I'm sorry," she says, almost whispering. "I had no idea it was so bad for you."

Returning her gaze, it's easy to think her empathy is meant just for me. She would be concerned for anyone under these circumstances, I remind myself. "I know I've let Mulder down. He's out there, wrestling with his inner demons, and I've closed myself to him. I let him see William sometimes, but...." I shake my head. "I can't do it anymore. I can't carry Mulder and raise William at the same time."

She wordlessly pulls me to her in an embrace.

"He's so heavy, Monica." I'm fighting tears. I had no intention of sharing this with her, yet here I am, pouring my life out. "He needs so much and I can't give it to him anymore. He needs me and I can't help him." My voice cracks; she rubs my back.

"You are amazing," she says in my ear.

No; she is amazing. After what I've just shared with her, that Mulder needs me and I can't be there for him, she still respects me.

"Thank you for trusting me with this."

I pull away again and look at her. She's so serious, so concerned, stroking my hair, pushing it away from my face. She's thanking me. Monica gives and gives to me and she's thanking me for trusting her. She smiles at my gaze, her eyes looking into mine. And something occurs to me, not about Mulder and me, not about Monica and me, but a reason for this empathetic woman to take the case so personally. "You had a vision, didn't you? About the case."

She jerks her hand away, flinching. I wonder why; it's certainly not news to me that she has visions. "Yes." She pulls on her beer, a deep swallow, and walks to the living room.

I follow with my wine, once again watching her walk, staring at her back when she bends to pick up her briefcase, at her hair as it falls over her shoulders. She sits on the sofa.

"Tell me about it."

"Just a vision," she says, dismissing it as if it's insignificant. "Let me show you these files." She rests the beer on a magazine that's on the coffee table and unlocks her briefcase.

"Don't change the subject."

She cuts her eyes at me.

"Did you have it before or after you saw the CNN report?"

"Before," she says quietly, pulling out a manila folder.

I sit beside her. "Tell me. Did you see the women? Did you see someone dying? Cutting herself?"

"You." Monica swallows and looks at me. "You were in a forest. You had something." Her voice grows so soft I can barely hear her. "I didn't understand. You had my keys and you cut yourself with them. And the forest caught on fire. It started burning."

"And where were you?" I almost whisper. She and I are sitting close, as if we're best friends sharing secrets. At this moment, I guess we are. I've been more intimate with her in the past fifteen minutes than I've been with any woman. I feel as naked and vulnerable as I did when I gave birth. I trusted her then. I trust her now.

She sucks her bottom lip into her mouth. I touch her arm. "I was there," she says.

"What were you doing?"

She shakes her head. "I couldn't get to you quickly enough. I watched you bleed." She blinks her eyes. "And behind you were these women. Their arms and legs... they were just... tattered. Tattered human beings. Hardly there. The wind blew right through them." She makes a small noise like a whimper and tries to cover it by clearing her throat. "It scared me."

It scares me, too, maybe more than my dream. Monica's visions have been known to be premonitions.

"Tell me about your nightmares."

"I'd rather talk about the case."

"Do they have something to do with it? With the case?"

"It's possible."

She looks at me thoughtfully, reading me. "When you can talk about it, will you tell me?"

"Yes." I lean back, turning toward her. "What information do you have?"

Monica begins shuffling through the papers and photos of the file. When she has them sorted, she speaks in her business voice. But it's still a lovely voice, warm as honey. "All four of the victims were found either in their homes or places of business. No one noticed anything unusual in their lives, no depression, nothing to indicate that these women were about to commit suicide. No unusual activity was suspected on the day of death. No strange visitors, phone calls, mail. One day they're teaching students, having dinner with their neighbors, seeing patients, and the next they're dead by apparent suicide.

"The fourth victim is 34 years old; she was an attorney." She rifles through her stack of paperwork and hands me a picture. "My contact sent me digital pictures."

I brace myself before looking at them. The victim's arms are strips, amazingly clean and evenly cut. Nausea. I breathe.

"She was found in her home at 2:00 this afternoon; the time of death is estimated at 4 a.m."

"Is there nothing at the scene? Fingerprints, hair, anything to suggest that someone else was in her house?" I ask.

"The local p.d. has really just begun analyzing it - she was found at 2:00 Pacific time - so I don't know yet. The man I'm in contact with, Detective Richard Heitt, sent me an email this evening. He attached the image and the few facts he has on Jamie Tosou -- that's her name. I printed them out. There are pictures of all of them." She hands them to me and quietly peruses the file.

I can't look at the photos again. "Were any of them married?"

She shakes her head, no.

"Children?" I ask.

"No. But guess what?"

"Is this the surprise you referred to earlier? The one you said I'd find if I looked at the file?"


"I don't know. What?"

"Every woman had missing ovaries."

I feel a headache forming. "Oh."

"I don't have the autopsy notes on Tosou, so I'm not sure about her, but...."

But she's going to leap to the conclusion that today's victim will have the same physiology as the others. I rub my forehead. "And what else? You said they left suicide notes."

Monica nods. "Not really suicide notes, but that seems to be the catch phrase for them." She hands me one of the documents.

It's a scanned image of a note found at the first victim's house. The handwriting is a scrawled mess. "Care to decipher this for me?" I ask.

Monica takes the page. "It's her name, over and over. And then she wrote: 'Listen'."

"And that's it? That constitutes a suicide note?" A distinct impression is forming in my mind that the Aural police department hasn't been thorough in its investigation.

Monica nods. "It was written on the back of an a.t.m. receipt and was found clutched in the victim's left hand. Her right hand held the razor blade that cut her up. There was a message written in blood on several walls in her home. The blood was hers. There's a partial print on the razor blade that's hers."

"What was the message on her walls?"

"The only legible words were her name."

"What weapons were used on the other victims?"

"Knives; she's the only razor. And all of them, Dana, even Tosou, moved to Aural within the past two years. They dropped everything - their careers, homes, cars - to move there."

We peruse the files for an hour, until I grow so weary that black spots dance in my vision. Three of the victims had been found in their homes. The other had been in her backyard. The suicide notes are mostly the same - the women's names and a declaration ('be quiet', 'go away', 'listen') to suggest mental illness. The notes written on scraps of paper. The pediatrician had written on her prescription pad.

The Aural police department is dead wrong. "A - it's not physically possible to do that to oneself. B - a victim everyday for the four days sounds like a pattern to me. It wasn't suicide, Monica."

Her voice is full of regret. "You're going to have nightmares about this tonight, aren't you?"

"I'll have them regardless," I tell her quietly. "I distinctly remember you saying that the Spokane branch of the Bureau told you to stay out of this, so is Detective Heitt consulting with you or what?"

She purses her lips. "Detective Heitt doesn't know I'm not with the Spokane division."


She winks at me.

"What are you going to do when he finds out? And when Spokane finds out? And when Skinner finds out?"

"I see no reason for any of them to find out, but if they do, I'll deal with it." Her face becomes serious. "I can't just leave this alone knowing that you could be involved."

"But I'm not even in Aural. I'm across the country. The victims are all in the same town there."

Monica looks down at the file. "There aren't any forests in D.C., Dana. In my vision, you could have been in Washington State."

"Okay, suppose the Aural p.d. doesn't find out that you're not with Spokane, and suppose Spokane doesn't find out you're investigating the case, which is, as you must realize, quite unlikely. But just suppose nobody on that end finds out. What are you going to do when Skinner finds out? Or Follmer or whoever."

"Dick-of-the-Day won't know. I wasn't planning on telling anyone else about the case. Care if I watch the weather?" She doesn't wait for me to answer, just picks up the remote, turns the tv on, and beings flipping channels.

"Investigate it from here, right? And hope that nothing catches up to you? Don't be so dense, Monica."

"What do you want me to do? Sit around and do nothing?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I want."

She scowls. "Is that what Mulder would do if he thought your life were at stake?"

"I'm not in any danger." I smile at her concern. Such a warm person. I'm lucky to have her in my life. And then the smile freezes on my face; I'm always one step behind Monica, I think. She's not watching the weather to see what's in the forecast for D.C. "You're not planning on going there."

"I intended to, yeah."

"You said you weren't going unless Brad approved it."

She shrugs.

"Is Doggett going?"

She glances away from me. "No. He's working on a case with the DEA. It's got him pretty tied up right now. My workload is okay. Besides, there's nothing pressing in the X Files as far as the Bureau's concerned. Everything will be there when I get back."

It's not her workload that concerns me. "There is no way no one will find out."

"I'll take a personal day." She looks at me. "No one else needs to know. Just me and you."

"I don't want you going there." I stifle a yawn, lean back and curl up.

"I have to."

"Please don't." Something flashes before me. A woman runs across the room behind Monica. She runs so quickly that she's just a dark streak in my vision. I'm frightened for half a second, and then I realize it's just another hallucination. I've been having them the past few days. Not often, just when I'm especially tired. I rub my eyes.

Monica turns to me. She lays her hand on my arm and leaves it there, gently stroking. "I'm so worried about you, Dana."

"I'm okay." My eyes drift shut at the touch of her fingers.

"You can't keep going like this. Not getting any sleep, trying to work full time and raise a child on your own. Without the benefit of a second parent." At this last bit, her voice gives away her ire with Mulder. I'm beginning to think she really can't stand him.

"What is your problem with him?" I open my sleepy eyes and see her staring at me.

"You need him and he isn't around."

"I explained that to you. He's not really... he can't be around, Monica. He's not himself."

She shifts and holds my hand. We're sitting too closely. Her knee bumps mine. "There are circles under your eyes," she says solemnly. "You're exhausted."

I haven't had someone so worried about my welfare in a long time. It's a wonderful feeling. "I'm okay."

Her eyes are glued to my face. She pushes the hair away from my eyes and traces a line across my cheekbone with her thumb. Her look suggests surprise that she's doing it. Or that I'm letting her. "I wish I could...." Her voice trails off, her eyes clouding over.


"Help you."

"You already help me all the time, in so many ways."

"Not enough."

"What more can you do?" I'm staring at her eyes and she's staring at my lips, and I'm just about to float away. "Baby-sit? You want to be my nanny, Agent Reyes?"

"William's nanny? No. But..." She waggles her eyebrows. "I wouldn't mind babysitting you."

If I weren't so tired, maybe I could come back with something equally as witty and sexy, but I can hardly stay awake. "That's what you're doing right now, isn't it?" I close my eyes and I'm sucked downward quickly; sleep is pulling me so fast that it makes me woozy. I hate the sensation; this always happens when I'm too tired. I open my eyes. Monica's face swims in my vision. "Listen to me, Monica. I don't want you to go to Washington." My voice is like a soft sigh, not authoritative or commanding like I want it to be. I'll never convince her.

"Dana," she chides. "Why? What is so different this time? I've investigated a lot of cases, you know."

"But...." It's the only word I can get out before sleep pulls me down. I'm sinking slowly, aware of her fingers caressing the hair away from my face.

I feel her shift, hear the tv being turned down. And then I feel her lifting my feet, pulling my shoes off, and stretching me out on the sofa. I look up at her when she tucks an afghan around me. She meets my eyes. "No bad dreams tonight. Okay?"

I nod slightly, just staring right back at her, hoping she doesn't leave, but unsure of how I can ask her to stay.

She touches my face again, looking at me anxiously. Then she hears something on the tv that distracts her, and she turns away. "No rain in Washington, but it's going to be raining here all weekend. Bad storm. I'll be lucky to get out," she mutters. She turns back to me, and I'm still staring at her. Her smile widens. "Your eyes are just slits, Scully."

"Scully?" It takes some effort for me to get my voice working properly. It sounds and feels like it's coming from a deep well. The room is gray around the edges. I shake my head, admonishing her. "Dana."

"You like that?"

"Yeah," I say sluggishly.

"Okay. Dana." She leans in and kisses my forehead, her lips lingering on my skin for a moment before withdrawing.

I open my eyes. "I'll be okay if you want to go home."

Her disappointment is obvious. "Do you want me to go?"

I stare at her. "No."

She caresses my cheek with the back of her fingers. "Then I won't."

"I don't want you to investigate the case, either," I try.

She smiles.

I'm serious. "If you go to Washington, I'm going with you."

"You need to stay home with your son," she says.

"I need to be with you." My eyes close, and I force them open again. What I need is one night of uninterrupted sleep. "When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow afternoon."

"Get me a ticket." I can barely get the words out; I'm sinking.

"Dana." Her face is inches from mine.

"Get me a ticket." I can't keep my eyes open any longer, they're so heavy. I wonder if Monica was about to kiss me. She certainly seemed to be heading in that direction, with all of these touches and that little kiss to my forehead. And the hug in the kitchen. All of it combined is a lot of touching, even for Monica. I wonder what her IT date would think if she knew Monica gave up dinner with her to be with me. I wonder if Monica regrets it. Mmmm. She must not, because her lips are on my cheek. I drift. I wonder how long she plans to stay tonight, how long she plans to stay in Washington. I wonder if I'll have to reschedule any appointments. Kosseff wanted to see me again next Friday, but surely we won't be away that long. Monica said she'd take a personal day if she needed to, so that means Monday. We'll come back Monday. I have to remember to call Quantico.

Some time later I feel the weight of the cushions sink down. Monica's shifting, moving, but I can't find the energy to open my eyes.

I'm running.

I've come to dread reaching the field. Everything would be so easy if I just sank down into nothingness, the swell of earth enclosing me. Maybe I could if it weren't for the music. I reach for the knife quicker this time. (we can be like they are don't fear the reaper)

Blood pours from my arms and I begin to soar away from here, away from this nightmare of cloying cedars and haunting music. The field rushes up to me like a dream. Monica's here, but she's walking away, and although I'm running, fast, hard, breathless, I can't catch her. I scream her name.

My legs. Have I freed them yet? No.

I bring the knife down, and suddenly she's here, looking at me, saying my name. "It's okay," she murmurs, pulling me close to her.

"You wouldn't wait."

"What?" she asks before recognition lights her face. "But I am; I am waiting, Dana." She wraps her arms around me and pulls me close to her, so close I can hardly breathe. "It's going to be okay. I'm here with you; I'm not leaving."

A tremble of desire races through me. I wrap my right leg around her left. "We can be like they are," I whisper.

She bends her head to hear me. "What?"

I tilt my head up, lips close to her ear. "We'll be able to fly." I want to bite her neck, feel the blood pour from her body, free her.

Her mouth rests on my cheek, but she doesn't say anything.

"Don't you want to be with me?" I ask.

She pulls back and looks at me. "I am with you."

I need her so badly. I need to free her, get us out of here. I stretch my arms above my head, letting the wind course through them; I arch backwards, my pelvis hard against her leg.

"God, Dana." She crushes me to her.

"Take my hand, we'll be able to fly."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she says hoarsely, her lips on my head, on my cheek.

"I did it for you," I confess, reaching for the knife.

Her mouth opens on my neck. "What did you do for me?"

"Don't you see?" I hold my arms out. They flutter like ribbons on a breeze.

She looks at them and tenses. "What did you do to your arms?"

I hold up the knife to show her. "We can be like they are." Surely she hears the music.

She shakes her head. "Like who are?"

"Romeo and Juliet."

She lifts a hand from my back and touches my face. Her fingers warm me. Her eyes tell me I'm an angel.

"Together in eternity," I breathe. I look into her eyes. "Don't fear the reaper."

Realization tracks across her face and freezes there.

"We'll be able to fly." I flail my arms about. "We'll be able to fly!"

"Stop it, Dana." She grabs my shoulders. "Wake up." She shakes me. "Dammit, wake up, Dana."

Oh, she thinks this is a dream. I know what happens next - she's going to walk away now; she's going to continue without me like she always does. The thought of her leaving again hits me hard, and I double over in pain.

Her hands lift me up. I push her. "Go away!" I stand as tall as I can and look into her eyes. "Go on," I say firmly. "You don't see me anyway."

She bites her lip and cups my face with her hands. "You're all that I see, Dana."

The intensity of her stare burns me. I turn my head and rub her palm with my lips, with my tongue.

"Oh God. Oh God." She moves her fingers over my lips and shudders when I lick them. "Oh God."

"Take my hand," I whisper. The music is inside me; it pours from my mouth. "We'll be able to fly."

"Don't fear the reaper," she says quietly.

I nod, yes. She hears the music too.

Monica looks at me for a long moment before dropping her hands to her sides and shaking her head sadly. "This is a dream, Dana. This is a beautiful, frightening dream. I want you to wake up."

"No!" I jerk away from her, disentangling arms and legs. I turn and run, flying on the breeze.


But I'm gone, running for the forest; it's safer there. The woods embrace me like a wayward child and I run willingly into their deep darkness. She's close behind; I hear her. Trees bend toward us, black and rustling.

I've spent so many evenings in the embrace of these same smothering cedars that I've grown almost accustomed to their particular dampness. Always before the earth has clung to me in bits of wetness, sucking me downward in a numbing sensation of coldness and fear. But it's warmer here now, humid, hot.

I stop. Damp earth hisses beneath my feet, sending up clouds of steam like hidden hot springs. The forest ahead is still wet, but I'm standing in a place that's rapidly drying.

Scorching heat is on my back. When I turn to face it, I see Monica just inside the forest, ten yards away from me, running in slow motion. Pine needles rise in flame all around her, swirling like fiery tornadoes. Her eyes are glowing embers.

The ground below my feet begins to crackle and shift. I stand transfixed.

Smoke wafts from her body. Her left foot lands on a branch which bursts into flames. Her right foot causes a small anthill to explode. My chest grows warm. Monica is bringing the heat with her; I feel it spiraling toward me in a five foot, eight inch wave.

She's a few feet from me when something over my sternum suddenly becomes red hot. My cross.

I grab it and experience a pain so blinding that I drop it instinctively, only to feel the necklace melting on my skin. I scream at Monica, but I can't see through the smoke, now a heavy cloud around her.

I turn and run. The forest is ablaze; it heaves around me, hacking up dry, putrid air in my face. Bent tree limbs drip cinders on me, sparking my blouse and skirt. "Drop and roll! Drop and roll," I think. But the ground beneath me is doing its own rolling, sending wave after wave of fiery dirt against my legs. If I drop, I drown.

The cross, my talisman, is melting. I feel a hole in my chest beginning to open beneath the molten metal. Flesh is smoldering away from blood; I'm burning.

I do something that I've never wished to do: I grab at the necklace and yank. The chain flies away from me, but the cross doesn't. It's embedded, carving a cavity that goes deeper as I run.

I can feel it burning its way into my esophagus. It travels down like swallowed lava to my stomach. My chest is a gaping wound. Air hits hard against my ribcage, coaxing little fires away from my blouse and into the hollow space beneath. I press my hands against the hole, dodging a fireball from above.

"Monica!" I feel her behind me, fire igniting the backs of my legs, burning my skirt. Familiar music hits my ears.

I slow my gait enough to glance back at her, and she's so close I can feel her breath on my skin. Her lips move, but no sound comes from her mouth. It comes, instead, from her entire body. The song envelopes her in a white rush, seeping from her pores, growing and fading with each breath she takes.

Screaming one long wail, I run. My skin is charred, my hair is smoldering and my shoes are melting away. Sparks fly from within the hole in my chest. I'm burning from the inside out. Only the knife in my hand remains cool. I press it to my face, remembering.

Blood is liquid.

I slice my left arm as quickly as I can and the blood streams, cooling my skin instantly. But I've slowed down too much, and Monica tackles me. Heat, red and blinding, sears me.

The forest continues to blaze around us. I twist beneath her, pushing and struggling. "It's okay," she whispers.

I have to get away from here. "Monica." I shove her hard, but she's too strong for me.

She crouches over me, her hand white hot against my face. "God, you're burning up." She moves away quickly, before I realize she's leaving. I watch her run to the edge of the forest. She was the one who was supposed to save me, and she's abandoning me instead. The heat is smothering, but I'm cold suddenly, and I begin shivering uncontrollably. Cold. Not having the strength to move, I huddle on the ground.

I doze in never-never land, somewhere between fear and numbness, until something large falls on me. It mats the blood to my stripped flesh, enveloping me further in this icy stillness. I cry out and push the object away, but it presses closer. I open my eyes to it. Monica.

She's wrapping her coat around me, staring at me with eyes that are frightened and aware.

"You're too late," I accuse her. The words fall from me in a slur as my body lifts away from here, soaring skyward.

Of all of the places that I could awaken from this nightmare, I'd probably choose my own bed first. The quiet softness of my bedroom has dispelled turbulent dreams many times in the past. The familiar scent of my sheets and duvet and pillows always soothes me.

If not my bed, then perhaps my sofa or somewhere else in my apartment. Or at Mom's. Even waking from a nightmare to find myself at the office would be preferable to waking in a hospital. But there's no mistaking the smell.

I open my eyes to see Monica, hovering. She smiles at my mother and then at me. "Hey there, Sleeping Beauty."

"What happened?"

My mother gently pushes away hair that isn't in my eyes. "Your doctor said that your electrolytes are low, that you're anemic."

"How long have I been out?" My gaze is on Monica. "What time is it?"

She glances at her watch. "It's just after 12:00."



"What happened?"

"You don't remember the trip here?"

I shake my head, no.

Monica eyes my mother. "When I checked on you last night, you were out of it. I tried to wake you up so that we could catch the flight to Spokane. You felt feverish and your pulse was rapid-"

"She panicked." My mother smiles gently.

"Where's my chart?"

"Your doctor has it. She just walked out the door a second ago."

I continue to look at Monica. I feel that she's hiding something from me, that I've missed something during unconsciousness, something more than the trip to the hospital. "You're going on today?"

She nods. "I'm catching the 1:45 flight." She rubs her neck. "The case isn't pausing for us."

I catch her meaning. "I'm not surprised." I think for a moment. "After I meet with my doctor, I'll let you know my plans."

She nods. "Nothing she said to me sounded serious, but I imagine you'll be hooked up to the saline drip for a while. Apparently you've just run yourself down, Dana. I don't think you should be flying right now." Her look is concerned but not grave. I take comfort in this.

She leaves minutes later, but only because my mother is here. Mom and I exchange a tired look and small talk. I don't want her with me now. I want to be left alone. Moreover, God help me, I want to sleep again, no matter what dreams I have. I'm more tired than I can ever remember being.

Thankfully, she seems to understand this. She's reluctant to go, however, and stays with me until early evening, discussing her plans for the rest of her weekend with William, who is currently with a neighbor, a fact that worries me, even though it shouldn't. If my mother trusts her neighbor with her grandson, then the neighbor is trustworthy.

As light wanes from the small window in my room, I give her the only push she needs. "The truth is, Mom, that my body has taken a beating over the years. It's more than likely that I'll spend a lot of time in and out of hospitals for the rest of my life. I prefer to see you on other terms."

She balks a bit, but she does leave. She's just walking out the door when I feel my eyelids closing. Sleep comes to me again.

The woods are dark and deep, there's no trace of the previous wildfire or Monica... and I'm stumbling, tripping and sinking with the ground. Mud clogs my nose and I wipe at it. Although I continue wiping, I can't get it out of my nostrils; breathing becomes difficult. I can't think. Blood rushes in my ears, drowning out the music. I'm suffocating.

A piercing sound cuts the air and I jolt awake. It's my bedside phone. I reach for it, sweating.

"Dana, it's me. I just wanted to check on you. Are you okay?"

"Yes." My voice is groggy.

"I feel like I left you in the dark earlier. I'm sorry. I just figured you wouldn't want to talk about what happened last night in front of your mother."

"What did happen last night?"

Monica sighs. "In a nutshell? You were sleepwalking and you collapsed. You were running a fever. And, like your mom said, I panicked."


"There's a lot more to it than that, but we'll talk about it later. But listen to me; I don't want you to come here. Okay? Please, just stay there and rest. I'll call you tomorrow."

"Why?" The thought of her being in trouble sends my pulse racing. "What's going on? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, but you're not. You've run yourself down; these nightmares are getting the best of you. And there's nothing you can do here. I'm not even sure there's anything I can do. Just don't come."

"I need to be there, Monica."

"No, Dana, I'm telling you that you don't. Trust me on this. Do not come here."

Her vehemence is only making me want to be there more. "Something's wrong. What have you found?"

She sighs. "Nothing. Just... just promise me you won't come. At least wait until I see how long I'm going to be here. Please."

"I need to be there," I say in my firmest voice, the one that's hard to argue with.

"Why? Why do you need to be here?" She sounds exasperated. "I can handle this myself. You need to stay home, get well for your son."

"I need to be there because you're there."

"Oh." It's a squeak.

"I need to be with you." I count my heartbeats during the silence that follows. I'm too weak to keep arguing with her. My nose still feels clogged with mud and I'm dizzy.

"Dana." Her voice is a whisper, laden with emotion.

"So unless you plan to come home tomorrow, I'm flying there. All right?"


"Don't try arguing with me. It won't work. Just tell me goodbye, and I'll see you tomorrow."

She pauses. "Goodnight, Dana."

"Bye." As I put the receiver down, I notice that it's still slick in my hand, and sticky too. As is my chin. A rush of adrenaline punches my heart. I wipe my nose and snatch at the i.v., and my feet hit the floor so hard it hurts. I run to the bathroom, flipping on the switch. Light blinds me for a moment and then I see my reflection in the mirror.

Blood is dripping from my nose.

By eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, a time when I'm often in the healing stages of repentance, I'm staring down at the world from wispy white clouds. The airplane is beginning its descent and will soon bring me to a city that may unlock answers to the cedar-drenched forest of my dreams. I treasure this quiet moment of clarity.

I would have no interest in coming here if it weren't for Monica, nightmares or not. I think I would have continued trying to deal with them on my own indefinitely. And who knows where that would have led? Maybe I'd kill myself in my sleep. Maybe the nightmares would go away on their own. But Monica is waiting for me below, and I'm so anxious to be with her that it feels like days have passed since I last saw her face, not hours.

She gave me a wake-up call a few hours ago that I didn't need. I haven't slept since staring into the tiny mirror in the hospital bathroom. For several minutes, I was unable to move. I just watched my reflection as realization settled into my eyes. When I was able to react, there were no tears. I had my doctor paged and requested an x-ray. There was simply no reason for an MRI; the shadows present on the gray film showed me all I needed to know.

I didn't tell Monica about it, only that I'm feeling better, which is true. I do feel better than I did last night. I don't know how to tell her about the mass that's taken root in the very spot it inhabited several years ago. I don't want her to worry about the weakened state of my body, how a month of sleepless nights has made it vulnerable to disease. I didn't tell Monica any of this, and neither have I told my mother. I need to deal with things on my own, process my thoughts and feelings and know that when the time comes I'm strong enough to tell them what's going on without becoming overly emotional about it.

There is something else that I haven't told Monica, something that worries me almost as much as the cancer. I haven't told her about the heightened sense of awareness that's been growing for several days, the fleeting but vivid hallucinations which are escalating in frequency, the line between sleep and waking that's becoming blurred. I have no doubt that my sanity is questionable right now. It's been a month since the dreams first interrupted my life, and during this time, I've lost some of my ability to reason. It seems that I no longer act on my own free will; I just react. I know where this is leading - I'll be just as affected as Mulder before long. If I manage to outlive the cancer, I'll scurry underground like he did and give in to paranoia. And when this happens, William will have lost not only his father, but his mother as well.

The son of two insane parents, the nephew of two murdered aunts, the grandson of three people who died suddenly - by assassination, suicide and heart attack - William's greatest challenge in this world will be to stay safe. The burden on my mother is going to be tremendous. I don't want her to raise him alone, but I don't see any way around it. If I live through slitting my wrists and arms and legs like the rest of these women did, I still have hallucinations and paranoid tendencies to deal with. If I keep my sanity, I still have cancer to battle.

The plane circles over Spokane and I steel myself for Monica's scrutiny. I won't tell her just yet that anything's wrong. I want at least a day to appreciate our friendship without the fear of death interfering. I know any chance I may have had at taking our relationship to a different level was abruptly destroyed when I found the tumor. I know. But I've thought about cancer and death and insanity enough for today, and I want to think only of her. Just for today, I want to acknowledge my desire for her, the fantasy of where she and I could have gone; I want to face my feelings for her and bask in the dream of what could have been.

Just for today, I want to be a woman in love.

Monica stands in the airport calmly while others rush around her. She's serene in the midst of chaos, calm and certain and very womanly with her silver earrings and pink lips. Some of the tightness in my shoulders and chest begins easing. I'd like to rush into her arms because this is what today is about, this gorgeous woman who's smiling at me. I'd like to rush into her arms, but I'm too reserved for that. I make my way to her unhurried.

"I'm so glad to see you," she says, throwing her arms around me. I'm caught completely off guard by her unabashed affection, and I would normally become tense from such a demonstrative greeting, but now I welcome it. She notices and holds me tighter. So much warmth, and she saw me just yesterday. I'm glowing.

"What did the doctor say?" She asked me this already, when she called this morning. She had also taken the opportunity to inquire about my sleep, how I felt and if my mother had stayed with me all night. Monica's inquisitive by nature, and tenacious, too.

I don't want to lie, so I paraphrase once again, sidestepping direct answers. I pull away from her and head for my luggage. "That I need to get more rest. That sort of thing."

I can feel the weight of her gaze as I go to baggage claim. She follows me, picks up my suitcase as I'm reaching for it, and continues walking with me in silence. When we're seated in the rental car, she turns toward me. "What else did the doctor say?"

Goosebumps race across my arms. If anyone in the world has e.s.p., it's this woman. "Not a lot. What have you found out since you've been here?"

She's mute. Her eyes seek out mine, but I can't meet her gaze.

"There's been another one, hasn't there? Another death?"

She nods. "Rachel Gusolitz. Thirty-seven. Geologist. She was found at seven-thirty yesterday morning, three hours after she died." She hands me a manila folder stuffed full of photographs and copies of suicide notes, preliminary autopsy reports and crime scene details.

"And the manner of death?" I rifle through the case file, skimming its contents. I don't want to try to read while she drives.

"The same."

It grows quiet in the car as Monica maneuvers her way out of Spokane. She turns onto an interstate and exits a few miles later. "We're officially on the case. Spokane branch contacted Skinner. Wanted an expert on, and I quote: 'weird shit', to act as a consultant for their field agents. They specifically asked for Mulder."

I nod. They always do.

"So. I need your help. I want you to examine the bodies, but only if you feel up to it."

"That's what I'm here for," I tell her dryly.

"Oh, so that's why you're here." She grins and winks, but her sexiness is too light for the thick air between us.

It would be very easy to slip into the indulgent feelings she provokes. I should get this back on track; we have the case to work on. I look at her warily. "What do you expect me to find?"


Shock numbs me instantly. "Implants?"

"Their ova were harvested." She says this as if it's the answer to everything.

"Their ovaries were missing, Monica. To suggest that they were harvested is making a leap that's both illogical and paranoid. Don't tell me that you're going to follow Mulder's direction." I say a silent prayer: please, not Monica. "Don't tell me you're going to start blaming the Consortium for everything."

"I believe the leap I'm making is more like a step," she says mildly. "A logical step. None of them had ovaries. Tell me how likely that is."

It isn't likely at all. "Just because their ovaries were missing, it doesn't mean they were harvested. The most likely scenario is that they had ovarian cancer and were treated by undergoing bilateral oophorectomies."

"Surgical removal of their ovaries?"

I nod.

She furrows her brow. "So you think we're looking at four women who had ovarian cancer and each of them dropped everything in their lives to move to this small town on the tip of the United States in order to commit suicide."

"I admit it isn't very plausible, but -"

"My explanation is sound."

"Your explanation is paranoid."

"My explanation accounts for your nightmares."

My heart stops beating, and then begins again, alarmingly fast. "How's that?" I ask quietly.

Monica licks her lips nervously and glances at me. "You... What they did to you when you were abducted..."

She has no idea what I went through. She can't. She won't.

"This is a very personal question, and if you don't want to answer, I'll understand, but... Did they... do you...?"

"My ovaries were damaged at the time, not removed."

"Oh." Something crosses her mind; I see it on her face. "Then William wasn't such a miracle child after all, was he?"

"One of my ovaries was almost totally destroyed, and it was causing complications that couldn't be resolved without removal. The other was damaged to a lesser extent. If I removed it, I would have immediately begun menopause."

She looks at me sadly.

"So, I didn't remove it." I stare at my hands in my lap. But even concentrating on something other than her face can't stop me from opening up to Monica. I don't mean to talk; I just do. "Sometimes... since the nightmares began, I think I'm going through premature menopause. The insomnia."

She's quiet for such a long time that I finally look at her. She seems to be trying very hard not to cry.

"Hey. I've gone through a hell of a lot worse than menopause." It's meant as a joke, but a tear slides down her face.

"You've gone through too much," she finally says, her voice hoarse. "It isn't fair."

Monica is the most sensitive, most beautiful person I think I've ever known. Her care and concern for others, her capacity to love, is amazing. I roll my eyes at myself and my silly hope. Even if I were perfectly healthy, I wouldn't stand a chance with her. I simply have nothing as wonderful to give as she does. "So G-woman," I say glibly in an effort to cheer her. "Has it crossed your mind that we're dealing with a serial killer?"

She smiles, and this causes the remaining tears that have been pooled in her eyes to finally fall. "Can't be a serial killer." She wipes her face. "Locked doors. No one saw anyone."

"Maybe he was good at his job."

She shrugs. "I won't shoot it down. A death a day for the past five days, all in Aural. Could be a serial killer. No indication of one, though."

"They're dead. Suicide isn't possible. They couldn't have done it, Monica. No one is physically capable of wounding themselves like that. The cuts were even, from what I could tell from the pictures, not some hatchet job. It can't be suicide. It has to be murder."

"There's a pattern here that we're not seeing."

"Monica, you said it yourself the other night. There are lots of pieces to this puzzle. Sorting through them is going to take time."

"We don't have time, Dana. Every day, someone dies." A lock of hair falls into her eyes. She clears her throat. "You want to tell me what this is?"

I'm startled by her tone of voice. Her gaze remains on the highway, but her palm is open and something plastic and metal lies in it. "It's a fire starter, Monica."

Her look, when she takes her eyes from the road for a second, is dense.

"It's a utility lighter for fireplaces or barbecues." I take the object from her hand and press a button. "You know, a fire starter." I flick it on and off a couple of times.

Her brow is furrowed, as if from concentration. "Do you remember Friday night at all?" She whispers this to me as if we are lovers.

"Not much, but I already told you that." I click the fire starter on and off, trying to distract myself from the tremor that rolls up my spine, but the flame is gone.

She casts another glance at me. "What do you remember?"

I know she's not testing me; still, it feels that way. "I left work early. I cleaned house. You came over with dinner and we discussed the case."

"Do you remember falling asleep?"

"I remember sitting on the sofa. You were watching The Weather Channel." I shake the wand in my hand and click it again. Nothing.

"Let me fill in the blanks for you." She flips the radio station off and grabs the lighter from my hand, holding it.

The car is suddenly quiet, save the muted whish of tires flying over asphalt. I stare at her, dreading what's about to come.

"I was watching tv on the couch. You were beside me, asleep. I was only half awake myself; I'd been flipping channels. I must have dozed off, because the next thing I remember is your scream. I jumped up and saw you standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at me." She shivers slightly. "You were yelling for me. You were just standing there yelling. When I calmed you down, you said things that made me realize you were sleepwalking."

My fingers pick lint from my jacket while her words filter through me. It's coming back now, the part of the dream that included her. The emotion of it is coming back, the fear. The desire.

"You were having a nightmare, Dana. You were dreaming that you'd cut your arms up." She holds the lighter. "Like this was a knife."

I swallow and blink my eyes. This isn't how I had planned discussing my dream with her. "Monica, I -" The nightmare looms before me. She had been there, she'd witnessed it.

"You held your arms out to me like they were a prized possession. There were marks where you ran the lighter up and down them." She places the fire starter on the seat.

I take my eyes from her and stare through the window, contemplating the easiest way out of this conversation.

"So are you going to tell me what you're dreaming at night? Because I've got a good idea, Dana. You're slashing your body just like the victims did."

I reach for the bottle of water that rests beside the lighter and take a sip, buying time. "Monica," I finally say. "The dreams are metaphorical. My counselor believes that they point to personal issues."

"No, that's not it. Every dream is somewhat metaphorical, but there's more to this one. A lot more." When I remain silent, she slams her open palm on the steering wheel. "Dammit, Dana. Why do you continue to close yourself to me? You have to trust me. You. Have. To. Trust. Me." She punctuates each word my banging her hand. "Don't you realize what an insult it is after all this time, after I've been there for you time and again, for you to withhold your feelings?" A blush crosses her face quickly. "I mean, stuff. Withholding information. The case. What's going on."

Are my feelings that obvious? If so, then she must know how I despise revealing so many weaknesses to her. I don't want to tell her about the dreams because I don't want her to think that I'd put a knife to my arm. Of all the people I know, Monica is the one whose respect means the most. But if I haven't lost it by now, maybe I won't.

I think of trees: green, black and resinous. Bark that's mottled gray-brown and rust. I think of cedars, pines, hemlocks and firs. I think of slippery needles and rolling earth. I think about music, rising in crescendo until it seems to beat within my chest. I think about Monica, leaving me when I need her most, and the words begin falling out of my mouth. "It always begins the same. I'm in a forest, lost...."

At first, I can only look at my hands. But as I begin losing myself to the dream, I stare out the window at cedar trees rushing past. I can smell them.

Monica's quiet. She's been silent throughout my story-telling, as if she's detaching herself. But the graying of her face gives her away, and I know that she's disturbed by what I've told her.

"It's just a dream," I say quietly.

Her lips are tightly pressed together. She stares at the road ahead.

"It points to issues I have that need to be resolved."

She rubs one long finger against the steering wheel, but still says nothing.

"The manner in which these issues present themselves is unsettling, yeah. They keep me awake. I've tried taking sleeping pills. I've tried running in the evenings rather than the mornings. I've tried nightcaps; I've tried Nyquil - anything to knock me out, because once I wake up I'm too scared to fall asleep again.

"It's no wonder that I'm run down. Monica, the main significance of the dreams is the manner in which they affect my body. Now that William has finally begun to sleep through the night, I can't. I'd give my right arm for seven hours of sleep without interruption."

She blanches.

I touch her elbow lightly. "Freud would have a field day with my unconscious mind."

She pulls out her cigarettes.

"Please don't."

Her glance is sharp.

"Don't smoke."

She puts the cigarettes away and fumbles in her purse for gum. "Dana," she says, popping it into her mouth and chewing mightily. "All dreams are metaphorical to some extent, but don't get so caught up in the imagery of them that you miss the obvious warning signs, the clues that you're supposed to pick up. You're reading too much into them. If we were talking about one nightmare, sure, I can believe that it's metaphorical. I might even buy it right now if it weren't for this case, or my vision, or your self-inflicted wounds -"

"I'm not wounded. I haven't hurt myself."

"Only because the instrument that was handy was blunt. If it had been even slightly sharper, you would have cuts. Scratches, anyway. But don't change the subject. You have had nightmares for a month. This is more than symbolism. You've got to face this. We have to face it together."

"That's what we're doing, isn't it?"

"You're here, that's something," she concedes. "But you need to open your mind. Don't be so bullheaded."

"Bullheaded? Excuse me?"

Her smile is halfhearted for an instant, then disappears. "Tell me something, Dana. Why in the world do you think you tried to cut yourself with the utility lighter? I mean, you were in the kitchen. You have knives. Scissors."

I shake my head. "No, I don't. I put them away a while back. Packed them away." All I use now are things too dull to do much damage: butter knives, child's scissors.

"Because you're afraid you'll hurt yourself."

I shake my head, no. It's not me I'm afraid of hurting.


"Yes, even though he's not in the dream."

"But I am. I'm in the dream, Dana. Do you think you'd hurt me?"

She doesn't sound frightened; I don't think Monica is talking about knives or scissors or utility lighters anymore. "Not intentionally," I murmur.

She's silent for a moment. "You know what it is about these nightmares that bothers me most? Aside from your suicidal tendencies, of course." Both hands grip the steering wheel hard. "What bothers me the most is that I leave you when you need me."

Cherished. This is the word I was looking for with Kosseff the other day. When I'm with Monica, I feel more than safe and secure; I feel cherished.

She continues, her voice turning sarcastic. "At least in my vision I wasn't leaving you; I just couldn't get to you in time." When she glances at me, the sarcasm is gone, and her face is sad. "Why would you dream that I leave you?"

"I don't know." I try to smile.

"I don't either," she says softly.

The hospital is rather large for the size of the town, old and rambling, with narrow corridors and yellowed tiles; it has an autopsy suite, a fact which greatly pleases me. Nothing's worse than conducting examinations at a mortuary, unless it's traveling thirty miles to the next town over to perform an autopsy and thirty miles back to continue the investigation.

The suite is ancient and tiny, with a single porcelain autopsy table. The rooms are cramped and stocked full of bodies, dead and alive. Besides the females from our case, there are also three male corpses - two dead from gunshot wounds and one from an apparent heart attack. It's been a busy week in Aural, Washington.

The pathologist is here, waiting for us with the assistant that helped him perform the autopsies over the course of the week, and Detective Richard Heitt makes introductions all around. He's a tall man, graying and slender, with a bent nose and broad shoulders. His face is animated and intelligent, his eyes warm. His regard for Monica is one of respect and familiarity. Apparently, they've hit it off. Heitt's regard for me is another story.

His eyes stay on mine throughout our brief introduction and he seems reluctant to pull them away to tell us of the latest news. "Another one was found twenty minutes ago. I'd like to get you both over to the crime scene."

Monica shakes her head. "I'd rather you stay here," she says, looking at me. "I'm anxious to find out the results of your examination."

I nod, mutely. I'm watching Heitt, looking impossibly like Alan Alda in a charcoal blazer and denim shirt. Heitt is, in turn, watching me. Monica shifts uncomfortably.

Heitt peels his eyes away from me to glance at her. "It would be nice to have another scientist at the scene. With all due respect, Dr. Scully can always come here later in the day."

Monica looks at me, waiting for my decision.

"Thank you, Detective Heitt, but I agree with my partner on this. There's something that we need to know about the victims as soon as possible." I stare into Monica's brown eyes. "Something that may have been overlooked."

Heitt nods. "Of course." He waves a hand at the room. "The people of Hemec County, both living and dead, are at your disposal. If there's anything you need...." His words trail off.

"I'll call you," Monica says to me. She points to the case file that I've been holding since we departed from the airport. "Take a look at the pictures when you get a minute; the quality's a lot better."

As they exit the autopsy bay, the door swings slowly shut behind them and I hear Heitt's voice. "You failed to mention she was drop dead gorgeous." And I strain to hear Monica's reply. I miss most of it, just one word: "yep" and the rest is lost to my ears.

The manner in which Heitt had gazed at me leaves me feeling amused and flattered. Apparently the under-eye concealer I buy is worth my money. It's enough to buoy me up for a few moments, and Monica's terse "yep" buoys me even higher, until I begin my work.

Examining the bodies will be a slow process. What Monica believes is that I'll simply cart each one out, give it the once-over, and be done. What she fails to realize is that we need to conduct thorough inspections of each body. Thoroughness may be painstaking, but it's proven its merits. I want to know that the locals haven't been sloppy in their work. I want to know if there are clues that have gone undiscovered. I want to satisfy myself, and this is not done in speed.

Impatiently, I wait for the Aural pathologist to take me through the results of his autopsies. He seems to be a diligent man, carefully slow. I listen as he reads his notes, but I don't hear him.

My mind is focused on the coffee cup he holds. It's an opalescent piece of stoneware - pink, black and gray swirled together. It's the color of the three basal cell carcinomas that were removed from my oldest brother's neck last year.

Maybe it's because of my medical background that I associate color with disease. Autopsies are sickening whorls of blue-tinted flesh, black-red blood, brown-yellow bile and gray-brown brain tissue. The smells are just as overwhelming. Despite menthol under the nose and formaldehyde in the jars, the odor of death can't be masked.

A forensic pathologist doesn't become accustomed to the hues and aromas of death; she just tunes them out. For most, this means detaching themselves from the situation. Once the autopsy is over and the doctor returns to the world of the living, she tunes herself back in to the messages the occipital and parietal lobes are sending her. She can leave the coroner's office or crime scene or morgue and go home to her quiet apartment, appreciating the soothing pink of her easy chair and the strong scent of freshly brewed coffee.

Sometimes, however, the forensic pathologist can no longer continue the attach/detach dance. She may find that she's tuning in to the frequency of her occipital and parietal lobes during an autopsy. She may find herself suddenly aware of the yellow-white mucus and the yellow-green pus; she may find herself suddenly aware of the cloying, foul stench of death. She may become dizzy or faint. She may vomit into the open bowels of a cadaver. She may leave the autopsy bay vowing never to return.

Years later, instead of tuning in at the inappropriate times, the forensic pathologist may find that she's tuning out her occipital and parietal messages altogether. She may find that she no longer processes color or aroma, even when the information being sent to her nose and eyes is pleasant. She may not notice that the great-looking woman smiling at her has eyes that are a rich, coffee brown or that she's wearing a sage green vest or that she smells like eucalyptus and honey. The appetite of the forensic pathologist may suddenly vanish, as the pungent smell of her favorite spaghetti sauce no longer pierces her senses. She may take careful time with her wardrobe and appearance only to be surprised when she opens her closet one day to discover nothing but monochrome suits.

The forensic pathologist may find herself becoming dulled by the routine of autopsies. She may find herself searching for something more than skin that's stripped from shoulder to ankle, for something more than missing ovaries or carefully placed microchips. She may find herself searching for something more gruesome, more outrageous, more interesting.

She may find herself pleased when another anomaly presents itself.

At three o'clock Monica stops in to check on my progress and my general well being. "Have you found anything?" She watches me from a couple of yards away as I examine the feet of one victim.

"I'm only on the second, Monica." With the back of my sleeve, I wipe away a strand of hair that keeps falling over my field of vision. "The first does have an implant, though. And missing ovaries." And other aberrations that I'm not willing to discuss until I've finished examining all of them. "What did you find?"

She runs a hand through her own disheveled hair. "Fifth victim is Kim Timur. Thirty-one; an engineer. Single. Same method, same everything. Messages written in blood on her walls."

I walk to the other end of the table that holds Jessie Ramsey and begin manipulating the head. "What do the messages say?"

Monica glances at a notepad she's removed from a pocket. "The walls are hard to read. What we could decipher from them was due to our expectations based on the last victims' notes. She wrote her name again, and 'go away', 'leave me alone,' and 'all these singing voices'. So this just keeps getting stranger all the time, doesn't it? You were hearing singing voices in your dream, right? A song, anyway. 'Don't Fear the Reaper.'" She watches me for a few minutes in silence. "Have you eaten?"

I nod. I had a pack of crackers from the hospital vending machine two hours ago.

"I'm going to do a quick walk-through of the other crime scenes." She rubs her neck. "I only got to see one of them last night. I'll check back with you later."

I nod again.

When she's gone, I move back to Ramsey's feet and examine something that had caught my attention before Monica walked in the door. There are markings on an area of the right ankle that haven't been obliterated by a knife. I push the cut folds of skin together so that the markings form a small picture. Dolphins.

Ramsey's body, like those of the victim I've already examined, has a tattoo.

Time is being marked by organs. They've all been previously removed per the parameters of autopsy work, and are packed in jars and containers, weighed and labeled. The skin has been measured. The strips of flesh range in size from 1.5 to 2.75 centimeters wide, and each is as long as the limb it's attached to.

I study photographs of the women from the case file Monica left me. Five lives cut short by their own hands. I can't understand how those hands managed such a perfect job. The incisions are too precise to have been self-inflicted; no one could have done this to themselves. Still... my mind drifts back to the dream and I remember clearly the straight line drawn on my arm by the knife. It had been painless in the dream; the knife had almost moved of its own volition.

I go back to work, alternately reading notes, examining tissue and surveying the hulls of the bodies left. The victim found today will be brought here shortly and I'd like to be finished when she arrives. I don't want to follow up on someone else's autopsy with her; I want to conduct my own.

The third woman is blonde, fair-skinned and small. Her tattoo is not of dolphins, but a heart. It's not on her ankle, but on her arm. Her ovaries were not found when the pathologist did his work on Friday. She has a chip implanted in her neck. I place it in a small jar and label it.

And so it goes. When Monica comes in again, I'm weary. It's almost eleven p.m. and I'm finishing the fifth victim, the engineer. Her body, once whole and healthy, is an empty shell.

I've removed all of the organs, leaving open pits in the chest, abdomen and pelvic regions. There were no ovaries to cut in half and examine, but I incised the neck, and the microchip is in a row of bottles with the others.

Kim Timur's brain is hanging by a string in a jar of formaldehyde. When it's stable enough, the pathologist's assistant will slice tissue samples for study, and what remains of the brain will be incinerated with the rest of her organs. Kim Timur, whose organs currently reside in bottles and jars, whose body lies open on the table, will never be whole again. Parts of her will go to a grave and parts of her will be burned. The parts of her that I've been most interested in will become slides under a microscope.

I stand over the shell of her body. The top of her head is gone. The scalp is pulled down over her face. I feel, as I sometimes do, like a vulture, feasting on a carcass.

"What've you got?" Monica stares at the corpse with either detachment or fixed horror; it's hard to tell which with her frozen face.

"They're all the same, Monica."


I nod.

"Missing ovaries?"

I nod. "And tattoos. They all have tattoos."

She tears her eyes from the body and studies me in fascination. "What kind of tattoos?"

I shrug. "Different. Butterflies, dolphins..." I point to the table. "Elvis. All different."

"You have a tattoo, Dana."

"It's not that uncommon."

"Not in this case, at any rate." She cracks her knuckles, one by one. "It's not something I expected, but it ties in with the theory I've got."

I want to separate myself from the immediacy of death before getting into semantics. "Why don't you wait for me outside? We'll head back to the motel and review."

Monica leaves and I look at the pathologist, who has stuck with me through almost twelve hours of endless death, on a Sunday, no less. His autopsy bay is overflowing. Tomorrow morning the bodies will be transported to the various funeral homes chosen by the victims' families; there's simply no room for another Aural death.

All that remains is for me to give the word to the pathologist's assistant to do the sutures. When Timur's body is closed, the organs won't be inside. Her body will be sunken and twisted like Frankenstein's bride when she reaches the mortuary. It's my job to determine cause of death; it's someone else's job to make her presentable for the ceremony which follows, if that's possible. I highly doubt that even those closest to her will see her face in repose. Timur will have a closed casket service.

I nod at the assistant, signaling him to close her up, and to the pathologist himself, signaling my appreciation. He answered all of my questions, allowed me to further examine the bodies he'd been so thorough with and bowed aside gracefully when I asked to perform the fifth autopsy myself. I strip off my gloves to shake his hand.

After I've showered, Monica and I sit at the table in her room until almost one a.m., arguing. She thinks these women were subjected to the same testing that I was several years ago. This isn't what I disagree with. It's her more bizarre theory of cerebral manipulation that I balk at. "So you're saying that these women were being sent messages via the implants? Suicidal messages?"

"It's all in the chips, Dana. From what I've learned of them - things that you and Mulder already discovered - they were made using advanced technology. Biotechnology." She sips cold decaf and traces the outline of victim number four's face. "The tattoos. There's another key. Why do they have them? Why do you have yours?"

I stretch my neck and back. "It was just a thing, Monica. Something to mark a certain time in my life."

"But you're not the type of person who would just go out and get a tattoo."

"I'd thought about it. But not seriously, no."

"So it was impulse shopping?"

"Something like that. I just wanted to do it and I did."

"I think that can be said for each of these women. I think it's something they did for reasons they weren't altogether sure of. Like dropping successful jobs and moving to Aural."

"You think the implants controlled their actions."

She nods.

"I'm tired."

She looks at me compassionately. "I know."

I leave everything on her table - my autopsy reports, my laptop and my coffee cup - and head toward the connecting door. We have adjoining rooms, I assume because Monica wants to keep an eye on me.


I stop, not turning. I shouldn't have said that last night on the phone. I shouldn't have said that I needed to be here, to be with her, even if it's true. I'm not sure I'm ready to explain what I meant.

"Leave the door open."

I do turn around now, and she's gazing at me directly. I start to balk at her, but the look on her face is so worried that I can't. "Sure," I say. "If it will make you feel better."

Even though I'm bone weary, familiar wariness creeps under my skin. I can't take my mind from the victims, their tattoos, their implants, their shredded bodies. This is what I do to myself every night in my dreams, destroy myself in the same manner.

I've had lots of nightmares in my life, but they've never been this vivid or gruesome. Or persistent. I will dream again tonight, I know, but at least Monica's close. I can hear her bumping around as I crawl into bed. When I turn out my light, hers is still on. I wonder what she's doing. Reading, probably. I wonder what she's reading. I wonder what she's wearing. As I'm pondering these things, sleep pulls me down, and I begin dreaming. I'm still inside the forest, trying to get out. But this time when I fall, I can't get up. I pull, lift, try to climb out of a hole that's just getting bigger and deeper. I scream Monica's name until I'm hoarse, my throat scratchy and sore. I can't get out. But just when I begin to give in to exhaustion, she's there, bending and pulling me out of the hole, lifting me as if I'm light as a feather. I cling to her, breathing hard, trying not to cry. Monica came into the forest for me. She came into the forest, and she didn't burn it down; she didn't bring fire with her at all. There is heat, though, once I see her face. There is heat, and it's coming from me, smoldering embers in my belly, my chest, my mouth. I see myself burning in her eyes.

"It's okay," she murmurs, stroking my hair, shushing me.

The only word I can say is her name, although I can't say it, really, just cry it, whimper it.

"It's just a dream, Dana, it's okay. You're okay."

"Don't leave."

"I won't." She presses her lips to my forehead, pulling me to her, sitting on the forest floor. And the ground settles beneath her. The whole forest quiets down now that she's here, as if she's Fauna, mother goddess of the earth, protector of women. "I'll never leave you. You need to understand that."

"Yes you will; you always do."

"Wasn't I there for you when William was born?" Her hands are spread below my shoulder blades. "Wasn't I there when he was taken from you? Didn't I help you get him back?"

Monica's breasts are full and soft against me. I push hard into her embrace. Her body is more than a distraction. I think I could forget about everything else in her arms, even the forest.

"Don't you know...?" She trails off, kisses my head again. "There's not a lot I wouldn't do for you, Dana."

One of my hands is on the nape of her neck, the other in her hair. Her skin is warm. I flick my tongue out to taste it.

"Oh!" She jerks.

I want to pierce her skin, get her blood flowing, free her, and so I lean in and bite down and feel her body spasm beneath me A low keening escapes from her lips, and it doesn't end while my mouth is on her. Then, "God, Dana. What are you doing?" She manages to wrestle herself away, stands and holds my shoulders, stooping to talk to me. "What are you dreaming? Where are you?" She peers into my eyes.

"I'm with you," I tell her. Her eyelashes are still full and black, even without mascara, but I can't see her well. It's too dark here and the forest seems menacing again. The ground shifts beneath me. "We have to leave."

"We're okay here, we're safe. You're safe here."

I shake my head, looking back at the blackness of the forest behind me and at the dim light penetrating ahead.

Monica brushes the hair away from my face. "I won't let anything happen, okay?"

She smells warm and good and sweet, and she feels just the same when I reach out and stroke her breasts through her t-shirt.

She shudders at my touch. "Please." Her voice is husky. "You need to wake up."

"Why do you always think it's a dream?"

"Because.... You wouldn't be doing this."

"It's not a dream." I hook my arm around her neck and manage somehow to pull her down to me, even though I feel so weak and tired I can hardly move.

"Oh, God, Dana." Her mouth is close to my ear. "You're driving me crazy."

"I need you." My voice is just a sigh.

"Wake up. Please." She kisses my temple quickly, grips my arms tightly. "We're here, in Aural, Washington. You're in your hotel room. And I'm here with you. You're in your bed," she whispers. "There is no forest. Only us. Just me and you."

Her voice is soothing and I'm tired and I can't keep my eyes open.

"Just me and you," she repeats. "And I need to go back to bed before... before we get carried away. Because you're going to hate me tomorrow if you remember any of this." She kisses my forehead once more. "I don't want you to hate me." She lowers me to the ground and stands over me, tall and gorgeous, wearing only her t-shirt and panties. "Are you okay now?" She smoothes hair away from my face. "Is the dream over?" And she's walking away before I can answer her, even though she said she'd never leave.

The bed moves as if someone who's been lying beside me is getting up, and I think this is what awakens me. Or maybe it's the lips on my forehead or the smell of eucalyptus and honey. Monica. I listen to what could be the soft padding of her feet across the room.

When I open my eyes, she's not here, but I have the feeling she has just left. Her scent is still in the air. Why was she here? The dream. I dreamed again, yes. She held me in her arms, kissed my forehead, soothed my worries away. I hope I dreamt all of that; I hope she wasn't really here; I hope I didn't wake her up.

I bet I did, though. I bet it was just like the other night, when I was in the kitchen and she said I yelled her name. Terrific. I'm a strong woman, but Monica has no reason to believe it. She's only seen weakness.

I pull my robe on. I'm tired, but not sleepy at all. I'll just check on her, make sure she's asleep. Apologize if I woke her up. Maybe offer to make a coffee run. What time is it? Just after two. Too early to make a coffee run. I can apologize, anyway. And then dig out the book I brought and kill the rest of the night.

It's not a great book, certainly not enough to keep my mind from the nightmares and all of these sliced up women, but at least it's something to do. I could work on case notes, but I need an escape from death. So I'm thinking about the book when I walk to the adjoining doors, trying to remember where I left off. Her bed squeaks. She's probably tossing about, trying to get back to sleep after I woke her up. She's flat on her back, eyes closed, knees slightly raised, tenting the bedspread. "Monica, are you awake?" I whisper. Her mouth is open. She's probably cursing me under her breath; it certainly sounds like a swear word slipping from her lips. She's probably pissed off that she's spending her weekend here when she could be -

Oh. God.

About the time I realize what I'm seeing, Monica realizes what she's hearing - my voice - and she freezes. Oh God. Oh dear God. I've caught her masturbating.

I've never witnessed anything so sexy in my life. And how like me to crash such a delicate moment. I've embarrassed both of us just by being here, but I'm stuck now and even though my mind is willing me to back away, I'm still as a statue, three feet from her bed staring, staring.

Her legs slowly slide down until she's lying prone. "Dana," she murmurs.

I'm speechless.

"I thought it was over." Her face reveals mixed emotions - sympathy in her worried frown, embarrassment in her flushed cheeks, desire in her sleepy eyes. She speaks so softly that I move closer to hear her, so close I bang my shins on the bed. "I guess this is a bad one, huh? It just won't let go." She snakes her left hand from under the covers and touches my arm. The right hand remains hidden. Between her legs, I'm guessing.

I shake my head, no. She thinks I'm still dreaming, but I'm not. I've never dreamed anything so blatantly erotic. I've never even fantasized such. "What are you doing?" This could very possibly be the stupidest question I've ever asked. If it were pitch black in here, I'd still know what she's been doing; I smell her sex.

She shrugs wordlessly, her eyes on mine, her hand holding my wrist, stroking it.

We stare at each other like this for a minute, then she blinks slowly. "Are you okay?" Her voice is a hoarse whisper.

I nod.

"Are you lost?"

I shake my head.

"Are you in the forest?" Her warm fingers wrap around mine.

"I need you." My voice isn't much more than a whisper either, and it's no wonder - my mouth is parched.

"I'm here. I'm right here. Waiting for you."

I look at her, at the area where her hand is hidden, at her face. "You are?"

"Yes." Without a word, she lifts the covers and moves over, a silent invitation - one I take. I slide in beside her, and if I doubted what she was doing when I came in, those doubts are erased as the smell of sex becomes even stronger. Monica's smell.

I'm here. I'm right here. Waiting for you. Was she waiting for me to join her in bed? This isn't what she means, surely, but she seems to reassure me that it is exactly what she means, reaching out with her left hand to stroke my cheek. It's an innocent gesture made intimate by the awkwardness of her position, lying as she is on her left side. But then, I guess she doesn't want to touch me with the other hand, still hidden somewhere.

I return the caress. Monica's hair is soft, and she closes her eyes when I run my fingers through it. She shudders when I kiss her. We kiss slowly and gently, exploring. She makes small sounds and twists toward me. I'm trembling; that's how good it is. I never knew kissing could be so powerfully sexual. I would kiss her all night if she'd let me, but she doesn't. She pulls away after a moment. "Dana, this is wrong. You - you need to wake up," she says shakily.

"I am awake."

"You always think you're awake."

I slide my hand beneath the sheet and inch it toward her, finding the guilty fingers, damp and immobile on her flat stomach. I'm so heady from the scent of sex that I want to bury my face between her legs and inhale.

Her eyes grow large. "Come on. I'll sit with you for a while." She pushes herself up on her elbows as if she's about to leave. "I used to sleepwalk when I was a kid. Do you know what I'd do? I'd get out of my bed and go to the kitchen to get some cereal. Mom would find half eaten bowls of corn flakes all over the house. That's the only way she knew sometimes that I had been up." She grins and winks. "You got any cereal?"

"You're beautiful," I tell her. She's the most beautiful thing I think I've ever seen.

"I must be prettier in your dreams." Her thumb crosses my knuckles and her sweet smile turns soft.

Hardly. In my dreams, she's just as gorgeous and just as unattainable. She invited me into her bed, but I think she only means to comfort me. "I'm not dreaming, Monica."

She frowns, studying my face carefully. I lean over and kiss her again. It's an electrifying kiss. I follow her mouth as she squirms beneath me until she pushes my shoulders. "Dana," she protests shakily. "I know you think you're awake, but...."

"Does this feel like a dream to you? You've got to be kidding."

"I know you think you're awake. I know how real it can seem. No one could ever tell I was sleeping when I had my late night binges. I did it in college, too. My roommate found a bowl in her bed once." She tries to smile. "How spooky is that? Freshman year, first week. I'd just come out to her, and she was doing an outstanding job of reconciling that fact with her Southern Baptist upbringing, then she found a bowl of cereal between her legs, and when I tried to explain...." Monica giggles. "She requested a transfer. Didn't get it until the next semester. Boy, was she nervous around me. She hardly ever slept in our room after that."

"I'm not sleepwalking, Monica." I trace her lips with my fingernail, absorbed in her face until I see a figure dashing by the window. When I turn to look, it's gone. Just a streak on my peripheral vision, but I know what it was. Another dead woman. Her tattered arms waved like ribbons.

"What is it?" Monica's out of the bed, at the window before I can tell her it's nothing.

I shake my head.

"What?" She stares at me from several feet away. "You look like you saw a ghost."

"Hallucination," I tell her, and slide down under her covers, overcome suddenly by lethargy. "Nothing."

"Dana." She lets my name hang in the air, searching for other words. I watch her from my position, curled up in her bed. Her scent is so comforting that I find my eyes closing involuntarily. Great. I'll just interrupt her while she masturbates, make a clumsy pass at her, and fall asleep. That way she can truly see how much I adore her.

I think these sarcastic thoughts until I feel her weight. She's sitting beside me, stroking the hair from my face. "You're so exhausted," she says, looking at me tenderly.

"I'm fine," I mutter. She says something more, but I lose part of it. "Hmm?"

"Nevermind. You're drifting."

Her lips brush mine and I force my eyes open.

She smiles apologetically. "Sorry. Just wanted one more kiss before you go away again." The pads of her fingers smooth my forehead. "The Dana I know and love will be back in the morning, and she wouldn't dream of kissing me." She looks bashful.

The Dana she knows and loves? Loves?

"You sleep here tonight. I'll go to your room. Okay?" She presses her lips to my brow.

I catch her hair and twist my fingers in it and pull her down as firmly as I can while feeling inebriated. Her mouth opens with little prodding, and we kiss passionately, but only for a moment. When she pulls away to stare at me, I begin succumbing to drowsiness again. I could use a kick of adrenaline right now, but as sexy as Monica is, as beautiful as she looks and sweet as she smells and delicious as she tastes, I can no longer fight the exhaustion. Being with her makes me feel safe enough to fall asleep. "Stay here," I tell her tiredly.

She complies with a nod and crawls under the covers.



"I wasn't dreaming."

She wraps her fingers around mine and closes her eyes. My last conscious thought isn't a thought at all, but a feeling, the feeling that nothing in my life - not science nor law nor motherhood - has ever been as comforting as Monica's hand.

I'm lying in bed in what must be a mild state of shock; I'm lucid but I can't move. Memories of last night flit across my consciousness, but I can't really comprehend them.

"Dana?" Monica stirs beside me.

I stare at my left arm.

"You okay?"

I shake my head. No, I'm not okay.

She sits straight up in bed. I don't know what awakened her. It's four a.m. and her alarm hasn't gone off yet. "Everything all right?"

"No." The word sounds rusty. I shake my head again to clarify what I've just croaked. No. I have Monica's keys in my hand and everything is not all right.

She leaps off the bed and is suddenly on the other side, staring at my left arm. There's a puncture wound just below my shoulder and a clean, even cut reaching from it to my elbow. Her fingers hover over my arm tentatively and she looks at my face.

"It's deep, Monica."

"It's not bleeding." She stares again at my arm, her fingers trembling.

"It will," I say, just as blood spurts up and out, staining her t-shirt.

Monica yelps in fear and surprise, but recovers quickly, pressing her hand over the wound. I watch as blood begins seeping between her fingers.

The receiver is off the hook and she's dialing with one hand. Three numbers. "I need an ambulance at the Cedar Grove Motel on Highway 98." And her eyes become huge. "Oh shit, oh shit." She grabs her keys from me. Her keychain holds a Swiss Army knife, silver and heavy, and the large blade is open and bloody.

Monica's face is ashen, and as I begin to feel the effects of my dropping blood pressure, I'm sure mine becomes sickly white as well. She tells the 911 dispatcher to hang on, drops the phone, and uses the sheet as a bandage. She holds it down and grabs the phone again, repeating directions, talking calmly and clearly, her FBI training working well. But her compassionate eyes grow fearful as she stares at me. "They're on the way," she says, hanging up. "What do I need to do?"

I'm so weak I can hardly talk. "Just keep pressure on it. It'll be okay if they get here soon." And after that, she's checking her watch every thirty seconds. I try to stay awake so she won't worry.

Some time later, probably just a few minutes, I see her lips move, but I can't hear what she's saying. "What?"

"I'm tired of you getting hurt," she says again, loudly this time.

Darkness takes me down.

Fifty-two stitches and several hours later I'm watching Monica pace the motel room, alternately speaking to Heitt on her cell phone and pulling clothes from the dresser drawer. Her bag is opened on her bed. She's leaving Aural. She thinks I am, too.

She clicks the phone off and looks at me. "Well, no one's dead yet. I mean today. Maybe you... your attempt was ..." She runs a hand through her hair.

"Maybe. We should stay, see if there's another."

"No. Absolutely not."

We discussed this already this morning, over large cups of coffee. She'd been reserved, staring at me gravely while eating the fattest omelet I've ever seen. I think she had the cook stuff it with everything in the kitchen, and I teased her about this and about Aural in general and how I thought I'd kill myself out of sheer boredom if I had to stay in the God forsaken town another day, until she silenced me with her quiet voice. "You need to eat." I chewed my bagel and drank my juice and stared at the bruise on her neck and waited for her mood to pass.

She's still harboring the same emotions now, only some of them are bubbling to the surface. I've never seen her like this. Angry, yes, but she's also agitated and nervous. I place a hand on her arm, trying to soothe her with touch the way she soothed me last night. "I'm staying in Aural a few more days."

"No." She uses her height to her advantage, towering over me. Her breath smells like onions and peppers and coffee.

"Monica, if we go home now, it's going to continue. There will be more victims."

"And if we stay here you could be the next one. We don't know how to stop this thing, Dana. We can't remove your implant."

I touch the back of my neck self-consciously. "Do you think that could be the answer?"

"We've seen evidence that the implants control people to some extent. It's the only answer that I can come up with. All of the victims arrived in this town quite suddenly, dropping everything else to get here. All of these successful women put knives and razors to their bodies and killed themselves for no apparent reason. There's no evidence at the crime scenes to even remotely suggest that they weren't alone at the times of their deaths. That in itself says a lot, Dana."

I agree. With the technology available to us today, a person can't enter a house without leaving incriminating evidence. Even if she has gloves on, even if there are no witnesses, even if everything else goes as smoothly as the perp plans, she leaves behind traces of herself. Hair follicles, for example. Unless a person shaves herself from head to toe, she sheds constantly. No black caps or stocking masks are going to prevent that. "So what's left for us to do? Who's to say that something similar won't happen when we get back home? I can't lock away knives and scissors forever. I can't be a prisoner in my own life, Monica."

"It's the implant," she mutters. Her face is drawn and tired. She braces herself on the back of a chair, knuckles white. "You can't live with it and you can't live without it."

I lace my fingers together too tightly. My arm hurts like hell and this only aggravates it. I try to relax. "Maybe I can. Maybe I can remove the chip."

She blinks.

"Remission is over."

She had been rocking the chair under her hands. Now she almost flips it over. "What?"

"A few years ago I had a nasopharyngeal tumor. It coincided with the removal of the chip -"

"I know," she says sharply. "I know all about that. What do you mean, 'remission is over'?"

"I had a nose bleed Saturday evening; my doctor ran a couple of x-rays. It's back, Monica. Same location. The mass is small, but it's there."

She swallows convulsively. Her hands rub over her face and then push through her hair. Her fist, when it slams on the table, makes so much noise that I practically jump out of my skin.

"So maybe I can remove the implant," I tell her. Monica turns away. I know that she's crying; I can see her reflection in the mirror.

Not knowing the words to help her cope with this sudden revelation, not understanding the impact, if any, this will have on her life, I leave the room, wandering outside through the parking lot. There's a couple here, flirting and laughing, so I keep walking, around the side of the building.

I'm deep in thought, recycling the possible answers to the riddles of this case, to my own dilemma. Maybe it's the town itself causing the suicides. Maybe all of the victims had dreams like mine, maybe they were drawn to Aural to kill themselves. Maybe there's a radio frequency here that's signaling something in my chip. Maybe.

It's not as if removing it will trigger the cancer anyway. It's already there, growing even as we wait. And death by a tumor is more acceptable to me than death by a dream-induced suicide.

When I look up, I'm standing in a small field at the back of the motel. Cedar trees loom on the perimeter, their scent pungent. I've always loved trees, cedars in particular, but they've become associated with fear and violence. I think I'll opt for a fake fir this Christmas, if I live that long.

There's a well-worn path cutting through this field, leading into a wooded area. I walk it slowly, trying to find an answer.

I'm going to die, that much is certain. Whether it's now or in the future isn't for me to know. All I can do is prepare for the inevitable, setting my house in order. I thought I'd done just that when I was being eaten up with cancer before. But I didn't know Monica then.

Words, unspoken, are growing like thick vines between us. They twist, tendrils curling and tangling, growing fatter with time, binding us together but keeping us apart. No arguments or disagreements could do as much to separate us, I think, as this silence. There are so many things I want to say to her. I've never loved a woman like this. I've never loved anyone like this.

To prepare for death, I've got to face the wilderness between us and break my silence. I'm in love with her and I believe she's in love with me. But our love is unvoiced.

At the edge of the woods, I stop and look back. The motel is still close and my cell phone is in my jacket pocket, and this is just a forest. The path leads me through hardwoods and evergreens, berry bushes and fallen limbs. It's not a dense forest; I see a clearing not far ahead. Whippoorwills call and insects buzz about. From a distance, I can hear a tractor and somewhere closer a gurgling stream. The familiar sounds comfort me.

I want my death to be a clean, even cut across the lives of people who know me, not some festering, bloody wound that never heals. It's not fair to Monica for me to disclose what I've been holding inside just because I'm afraid that I'm dying. But maybe if I say the words, my death will be a clean, even cut that will heal, not some terminal wound.

By the time I reach the clearing, I'm trying to form the words that need to be said. Several large rocks cluster together and I sit on one, tired. How do I tell this woman that she's the person I've waited all of my life to meet? How do I tell her that her smile makes my legs so weak that I have to lean on something - the desk, a chair, the door, the wall - for support? How do I tell her that I know she watches me; that I can feel her eyes on my back because my back grows so hot I think it just might catch on fire? How do I tell her that these aren't just pretty words, that I'm quite certain that no one like her has ever existed, at least not in my world? How can I tell her all of these things, when they've just materialized? I didn't know how I felt about her until recently. Very recently. The cancer woke me up. The death sentence made me realize the life I'm wasting.

Cedars form a circle around the little grove. I spent a lot of time as a child running through forests like this, climbing trees and finding small treasures. I chuck my boot through the fallen needles in a lazy back and forth manner.

I've never been good with words, and nothing I can come up with to tell Monica seems adequate. Maybe I'll keep it simple. Maybe I'll just tell her that I'm in love with her. And in the next breath I'll remind her that I'm dying. Great.

The sound of my shoe scraping across the ground is the only thing I hear. I freeze for an instant and total silence surrounds me. Gone are the whippoorwills and the distant tractor. I glance about, marking the similarities between these woods and those in my dream. Cedars blend with hardwoods; pine needles scatter with leaves and moss on the forest floor. A lot of forests are like this. I continue swinging my foot. I will not be afraid of a bunch of trees.

My cell phone rings suddenly, the sound foreign and piercing, causing me to jerk out of my reverie. "Scully," I answer, even though I know it's her.

"If you're staying, I'm staying."

"I don't need your protection."

"Sounds a bit like the conversation we had before we came here, doesn't it?" Monica sighs into the phone. "We can't run from this. I was wrong for wanting to."

I agree; we have to face it head-on. "I don't want you keeping a suicide watch." The reception in the forest is poor - Monica's voice is becoming garbled. I stand up to quickly, becoming dizzy. And as I look around, trying to determine the direction from which I came, I realize that the forest is denser than I first thought. "I don't think I'll be sleeping much tonight anyway."

Her voice is emphatic. "It won't be a suicide watch. I just want to be close by."

"You're right next door-"

"Closer," she says firmly.

I concentrate on my breathing. This is just a forest. "I was sleepwalking last night. I took your keys, Monica. Somehow I found your keys while I was sleepwalking, and I opened the knife and cut myself with it."

"You were sleepwalking Friday night, too."

"So what are you planning to do? Take the chair by my bed and play voyeur? Because I don't think I can sleep knowing that you're watching me." I'm becoming somewhat alarmed, still casting glances about, trying to remember where I entered the forest.

"I thought I'd sleep with you."


"Like I did last night," she says.

I start searching for a witty comeback, but it's hard to be lighthearted when the situation is so heavy. "What if I try to hurt you, Monica?"

"You won't."

"You don't know that."

"You won't hurt me, Dana. But you might hurt yourself. I'll put away everything, make the room safe." Her voice is low. "I'll keep you safe."

I know she will, and the knowledge makes me ache to touch her, to thank her.

"Where are you, anyway? Those painkillers must be kicking in by now."

"I'm behind the motel and I didn't take any painkillers."

"You know, it wouldn't hurt you to be human for once. Take something for the pain. Your arm must be killing you."

It is. "It's fine." I hate for Monica to see me so weak. And there's no way I'll let her know that I've become lost. "Besides, the painkillers only exacerbate the...."


Something is moving in the corner of my eye. Another woman. Her arms and legs wave in ribbons. The vision is mesmerizing. I watch her intently. She's familiar.


The woman begins beckoning to me just as the ground shifts. The cell phone drops from my hand. I hear Monica's voice as if from a well: "Dana? Dana!"

I have to leave here. But the woman is beautiful, and the music is insistent, and the moving ground pulls me down like the sea.

And I am in a forest, lost.

When Melissa was twelve, she had an accident. Charlie and I were on our bicycles, trying desperately to keep up with our older sister, who was a block ahead. She turned to check on us from time to time, and the last time, her hair was in her face and when she pushed it away, she veered right into a parked car.

She suffered only minor injuries, but it wasn't apparent at the time - she was on the ground, tangled with her bike, unconscious. As soon as I reached her, I got off my bicycle and stood transfixed by the blood. Charlie did not stand transfixed. First, he yelled at me in his high-pitched voice to go get Mom. Then he dismounted his bike and bent down and pulled Melissa into his arms and began carrying and dragging her home. He was only seven, the youngest and smallest of us all, yet he managed to get her to safety. He got her to our lawn by the time I got Mom.

When Dad came home that night, he asked Charlie how "such a shrimp" managed to carry his big sister, and Charlie just shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "I got scared."

Charlie was a shrimp most of his life - still is, compared to Bill. But he has the biggest heart of any one of us. I have never understood how he managed to get Melissa home that day, but I always attribute it to adrenaline. And his big heart.

When Monica came running into the woods for me this afternoon, swatting tree limbs out of her way, taking long leaps and bounds to get to me, I watched her from the ground and thought of my little brother. I lost consciousness before Monica reached me.

There was no tattered woman. She was merely a hallucination, just like the rolling ground was a hallucination. But waking up in Monica's arms was not a figment of my imagination. Somehow, she carried me out of the forest. She's not tiny like Charlie, but I never would have imagined she could actually carry me. Adrenaline.

She stopped when we were outside the woods and smiled tenderly at me, lowering me to the ground. Her face was so chalky that her eyes looked like deep black holes. "Hi there," she said in a hoarse voice, and took her sleeve and began wiping my nose with it. "Your nose is bleeding."

Her look and voice and touch was so gentle that tears welled in my eyes. "When is this going to end?"

She shook her head and sat in the grass and held me until the bleeding stopped and the dizziness faded away.

We sit at the table in Monica's motel room again, our makeshift headquarters. "So you think that these women went insane and came here to commit suicide?" She toys with a coffee stirrer.

"I don't think it's that cut-and-dried, but yes, that's the basic idea."

"That's a nice little catch-all theory," she says sarcastically. "If you can't explain a person's actions, then they must be insane."

"And if you can't explain a person's actions," I argue. "Then there must be mind control going on."

"Give the mind control thing a chance." She pokes at my sleeve with her coffee stirrer. "Open your mind."

"It's open."

"Is it?"


She leans over and kisses me softly on the lips. "Mmm. An open mind is a good thing."

I'll say. So is an open mouth. I part my lips to see if she'll take the hint and kiss me again, but she doesn't. She sits straight in her chair and clears her throat and gets back to business. "Okay. The microchips control actions, that's the theory. And we've seen some evidence to suggest this - like in your report about Ruskin Dam."

"That was years ago."

"All of those people, including you, visited Ruskin Dam that night for no apparent reason. I think that whoever created the device is testing it. They want to see how effective it is, or what flaws it has, before selling it or mass-producing it."

"Testing it how?"

"By running tasks for the subjects to perform. Altered behavior. Manipulating brain signals in a proactive manner; not just toying with how a person thinks, but how they act. For example, driving to a dam in the middle of the night, or moving to a city you've never even seen before -"

"Or getting tattooed," I say quite suddenly.

"Right. Not unusual behavior unless we're talking about someone like you." Her lips twitch and her eyes twinkle and she pokes me again with the coffee stirrer. "You getting a tattoo would be like me getting a .... hmm... it'd be like me...."

"Becoming a vegan?"

She flashes a grin, her eyebrows knitted. "I can go without meat just fine, thank you very much."

I take a swig from my bottle of water. "Sure, but could you go without leather? Even for a day?" I bump her foot with mine and begin wagging it back and forth lazily.

She blushes. "Yeah, well. Back to my theory."

"Back to your theory."

"So the subject performs tasks that would be considered out of character for her. Once the series of tasks is completed, the chip is programmed to cause suicidal tendencies. But the victim can't kill herself in a convenient method; she has to do something that will be entirely against her will. The death has to be slow and painful."

I understand what she's getting at. "And this lets the experimenters know that their science is at work, and not outside factors."

"Exactly. All of the outcomes they plan for must be salient ones. If this is an experiment, then someone's monitoring the outcome. Each task has to be something that the subject would not do under normal circumstances. It has to be an action that stands apart from other actions. Suicide by gunshot or sleeping pills or even slit wrists has a low salience factor, because it's a common occurrence - maybe the subject killed herself because she wanted to. But no one willingly cuts their arms and legs into strips."

"What I'm bothered by isn't the idea you're trying to sell here, Monica, but the parameters of it. There are too many loopholes."

"Such as?"

"If somebody went to such great lengths in designing this chip - and I'm not even going to question its value -"

"You know how much governments would pay for this technology? To be able to manipulate people through a computer programmed microchip?" Her leg starts shimmying, vibrating the table. "Soldiers, politicians...."

"Why go to so much trouble placing the implant when the obvious first reaction for most people would be to remove it if they ever discovered it?"

She shrugs. "It's just one of the risks. How many people are going to find it, anyway? How long did it take you to find yours? I'm not saying that the study isn't flawed... But they obviously thought out the chip removal scenario. When it's taken out, it sets off a biological reaction - cancer. And not just any cancer, but a specific one. A nasopharyngeal tumor."

"And a nasopharyngeal tumor is salient?"

"More so than lung cancer, yeah. More than a heart attack. How many heart attacks happen every day? How many people are diagnosed with lung cancer? Think about it. No one I've ever heard of except you has developed this kind of tumor. You can't get any more salient than that. So you've got a very specific, conspicuous death when the chip is removed."

"But what about the harvested ova?"

"For cloning purposes, the whole alien-human hybrid scenario."

"But there were men at the dam that night. They had implants. They were found in the autopsies."

She nods.


"I'm sure there are male subjects. Maybe there are more experimental groups still out there Dana. Maybe the men won't be systematically killed off like the women. Maybe the men are not going to be killed at all. I don't know." She chews the coffee stirrer. "Maybe the men aren't programmed to get tattoos and move across country and slit their wrists. Maybe they're programmed to rob banks or something. Think of the most horrific crimes of the past ten, twenty years. The ones that you don't hear about often. Cannibalism, butchery." Her wide eyes widen. "Mass murders. Bombings. Suicide bombers. What if these people are programmed to-"

I hold up my hand. "Enough." The effects of my adrenaline rush are wearing off. I'd been quite excited when her theory made some sense, but there are too many questions. Still, I don't see any answers staring me in the face. Well, one. "If you're right, if the implant is doing this, you realize what it means?" I stare at my hands. "There's no living through this for me. There's no way out."

She covers my hands with one of hers and shakes her head. "I don't believe that. There's a way, we've just got to find it."

"Well, at any rate, the cancer is already there, growing as we speak. Taking the implant out isn't going to change that, but maybe it'll stop the self-inflicted injuries. Maybe it'll help me sleep at night."

"You didn't have any extensive tests run to determine the nature of what showed up on the film. It could've been a shadow."

"That's wishful thinking."

She touches my cheek with the back of her hand. Fear can only be sustained for so long before giving way to other emotions. I've run the gamut these past few days, angry and sad, frightened and weary, but now it's gratitude I feel as her touch glances over my face. "We're going to beat this thing," she whispers to me. "We'll find the answer."

"Sometimes the answers aren't what we want to hear."

Her eyes are vehement. "It's not your time, Dana."

I tangle my fingers in hers. "I want to believe you."

"You need to. You should."

I shake my head. It isn't that simple.

"I know it isn't your time."

The conviction in her voice gives me some strength. "Monica, I can't turn a blind eye on the tumor. It's there. It's inoperable. I will die from it."

She flinches, withdrawing from my grip. "I don't believe that. I think you need to have more tests run tomorrow. I don't trust the x-ray you had in D.C. It could've been a shadow you saw."

"It wasn't."

"If the implant were in my neck, would you be so quick to tell me to remove it? No, you'd want to examine it; you'd want tests run. You'd want to know what we're facing so that we could make the best decision. This isn't any different."

She's right, but I just want the chip out. "Monica, it's making me feel trapped. My body's a ticking bomb, and we've got to deactivate it. Removing the implant is our only choice."

"I've never known you to give up so quickly," she says angrily.

"I'm not giving up. I'm just trying to make the most expedient choice possible."

"Haste makes waste," she mutters and looks down.

"Monica." My voice is a command and her gaze slowly meets mine again. "It's the only thing in my control right now. It's a matter of standing and fighting, or falling and succumbing to whatever happens." I reach out for her hand and grasp it firmly. "It's time for me to stand."

Her eyes stay on mine for an eternity and then she places a kiss on my forehead. It's the only affirmation I need.

The emergency room is almost empty, but it's after ten p.m. in this small city, and I'm not surprised. If we were in D.C., I'd still have a five hour wait ahead of me, even if I am a doctor. Even if I am an FBI agent. I'm glad I'm here when the nurse takes my information.

"How's the arm?" she asks, looking at my chart.

"Fine, but there's a piece of shrapnel in my neck," I tell her. "It'll take fifteen minutes for a doctor to remove."

Monica stands straight, towering over the nurse. "We want it out tonight."

The procedure is simple and would be straightforward if it weren't for the cancer. My doctor wants to run an x-ray to get a better idea of the size of the chip and its location, and it's then that I warn her. "You're going to see something on the film that has nothing to do with this. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, a nasopharyngeal tumor. It went into remission but it's back now. It's about 5 millimeters in diameter."

She asks no questions, but sends me off to have the x-ray taken while Monica waits in the examining room. When I return, Monica's alone, standing with her hands in her pockets. "I've decided that in my next life I'm going to live in a small town in Oregon, drive a beat-up old car, and write for a living."

I sit on a stool and study her. "Sounds fascinating."

She nods, jingling some loose change. "I'll have a cottage. It may be small, but it'll be paid for. It'll have a fireplace in the bedroom and lots of books. But no tv, no telephone, no computer."

My left eyebrow arches.

"I'll marry my sweetheart and we'll spend our weekends going to barbeques and hoedowns and raking leaves. We'll stay up late, drinking wine and discussing Stein and Steinbeck."

"I'm not sure you're going to find someone with such low expectations, Monica, not even in Oregon," I say lightly.

She looks chagrined. "I think it sounds idyllic," she argues. "We'd have our own little slice of heaven."


She stubs her toe on the floor. "My wife and me."

"And what would a wife of yours be like?" I find myself asking. My heart is tripping over itself. "Cheerleader? Prom queen? Happy homemaker?"

"No," she says softly, appearing to mull this over. "She's more like the bookworm/science club president who never settled for anything she didn't want."

I stare at the faded tile her shoe keeps marking and picture the quaint house she's dreaming of. Large windows. Floors that are that rich, dark color of old hardwood. "I bet she's a teacher."

She nods in my peripheral vision. "She always liked to teach."

We stay lost in this vision of the future, silently conjuring our own images. Unspoken words are tangled vines between us, but the thorns are few, and this garden can be tended.

Our reverie is interrupted by the attending physician. Monica stares at me solemnly before I bow my head to the alcohol rub and the quick incision. The doctor drops the chip in a jar without a word and sutures my neck herself.

When Monica and I prepare to leave, she stops us with the swish of a manila envelope. "You'll want to take this to your oncologist," she says, handing me the x-ray. "When's the last time you took a look at the tumor?"

"A few days ago."

"And you said it was about five millimeters?"

I nod.

Her eyes reveal nothing, but her posture straightens. "It's grown."

The morning is almost hopeful. I didn't try to harm myself last night, and I didn't have the nightmare. My only complaint is physical - my arm throbs and my neck stings.

Monica hangs up the phone. "No deaths yesterday, Dana." She looks optimistic.

"You think it's over?" It's never over when questions remain.

She shrugs. "There's not much we can do even if it isn't. We came in as consultants. I emailed Spokane my report, and I'll send the hard copy when we get back home."

"I still don't understand. Why Aural? If the chip is to blame, then why is it programmed to send the women here?"

She grins sheepishly. "Close to Microsoft headquarters?"

I roll my eyes.

"Close to Nintendo's headquarters, too." She waggles her eyebrows, then becomes serious. "Small town, better to isolate the women and study their behavior. Far enough away from their original homes that it's another test, to see if the subject will drop her successful career to move to a town with no possibilities of finding a job paying her the salary she's accustomed to. All of the victims moved here from fairly large cities."

"And you're willing to close the file and admit there's nothing we can do?"

"If I'm overlooking something, tell me. We can't broadcast a public announcement instructing people to examine their necks for an implant. If the chips are removed, there's a sudden increase in the cancer rate."

"What if we're wrong, though? What if it isn't the implants?"

"Then the only other theory that makes any sense is your suggestion that these women went insane. And there's nothing we can do about that, either."

I still feel that we could be missing a key to the puzzle, but I can't figure out what it is. I think about all of the ways the women were alike - tattoos, implants, missing ova. "And which theory made it to your report, Monica? Insanity or implants?"

"Insanity induced by the implants."

"So we just go back to D.C."

She hands me my laptop. "Can't exactly stay, can we? Spokane's kicking my butt out. Our work here is done. Besides, William needs his mommy and you need to be near your doctor."

She's been cheerful this morning, because I didn't dream last night, and I didn't harm myself, and because she was in my bed to keep a very close eye on me. And she's also cheerful because we're going home. Monica wants me to be near my oncologist now that the chip has been removed. I can't argue on this account; it's the most practical thing to do. "It would be nice to go home," I agree.

She looks at me carefully. "We'll keep an eye on it from there, Dana. If more bodies turn up - here or somewhere else - we'll look into it. I'm not just letting this go; I don't want you to think that."

The drive to the airport is silent but not peaceful. I lean my forehead against the passenger window and watch the forests pass, firs swirling in my vision until I'm dizzy. Running, that's what we're doing.

Monica seems to read my thoughts in that uncanny way of hers and she pats the steering wheel. "It's okay for us to be leaving, Dana."

I say nothing, staring at the trees.

"There are other cases that need our attention. There are other people we can help." Her tone is firm.

I finally find the words to tell her my state of mind. It can't be over, not like this, not with everything unresolved. "I don't like it ending this way."

Her hands tighten on the steering wheel but she remains quiet. I think about her faith in me, as strong as the cedars rushing past the window, and I touch my necklace. It's not just faith that hangs there, around my neck, but hope, strength and love. I want to give it to her.

Home again. And again and again. Four weeks after our return to D.C., a suburb of Biloxi reported an unusual suicide. By the time we arrived, a third woman had set herself on fire. When we left the swampland, the total was five.

Almost a month later, the mayor of a large town in Michigan filled her tub with acid before taking a bath. And though we flew there before her death hit news stands, we were unable to prevent four women from melting and burning away in similar fashion. So we came home again, preparing ourselves for the next round.

I turn restlessly in my bed, apprehensive. It's been almost four weeks since the last suicides; Monica and I wait for the return of the deaths, certain that they're coming.

Even though I'm worried, sleep comes tumbling toward me. I no longer have nightmares every night, but I do have remnants of them now and then. On good nights, I don't dream at all. And on the occasional great night, I dream only of Monica. Love is the fuel that keeps me going; it's what gives me the slightest bit of optimism.

I'm in love with her, something I haven't yet disclosed. Not in words, anyway. I think I've told her in kisses and touches. She's a patient lover, so sweet and gentle that I cry from the irony of the situation. I'm in love. I'm dying.

As soon as we returned from Aural, I commissioned a jeweler to replicate the cross that hangs around my neck. "Make it larger, less delicate," I told the man. "I want something simple, like this one, but heavier. Silver." And today the jeweler called me.

I hold the necklace tight in my fist, feeling its contours making an impression in my palm. Love is the strength that keeps me going despite the tumor that's tripled in size over the course of two months. The cancer has appeared to stabilize during the past week, but I don't count on that. I hug my blanket and close my eyes. Hope lives in my heart.

I can't hope for a longer life than the one I've been given; I can't hope that Monica will be able to rest with unspoken words once I'm gone. I shouldn't hope for anything, but still I do.

I hope there is a tomorrow. I hope it brings grassy fields and Monica waiting on the road.

Cedar trees bend toward me as the ground rolls under my feet. A wave of nausea jars me to my senses and I'm running even though I'm not afraid. Motion sick, yes, but I won't fall here.

Waves of grassy dirt splash at my ankles; still I don't waver. I'm strong, straight, unyielding. I run faster toward the field, wanting to see the soft blue sky. Music swells in my ears. (we can be like they are don't fear the reaper)

The knife twitches in my fist and I feel my arm rise up, as if to swat at the tree limbs that tangle my path. I know what the knife is for; I remember the blood. "Leave me alone!" I yell out angrily.

I open my palm and try to shake the knife away, but it's glued to me. I hold it before me like a snake I've grabbed by the throat, keeping my eye on it as I run. It will hold no power over me. I am Dana Katherine Scully, M.D., FBI, and I won't fear the reaper.

"I will fear no evil," I chant as I run. The words are strong against the bitter chords of the music; a prayer.

I want to smell the tender lilac and run my bare feet through the cool grass. I want to leap to the moment that I can quit running. I want to feel the firmness of solid ground beneath my feet. I want to stand. All of these things I pray for with five words: I am Dana Katherine Scully.

The knife veers toward my left shoulder. I struggle with it, pushing it toward the open air. "I am Dana Katherine Scully," I say over and over. "And I don't fear the reaper." And I don't. I am strong.

I see light ahead.

Dandelions wink up at me, tickling my legs. I'm at once absorbed in them, finding pleasure in their quiet familiarity. My pulse slows. My arms aren't strips of flesh, fluttering in the wind; they're whole. I kick my shoes off and curl my toes in the dirt. The ground is firm.

I hear her footsteps though she's far away. Monica's walking the road. I wave to her. She pauses for a long moment, staring at me. I know that she'll continue her journey without me for now, but I realize that we'll catch up with each other later. I'm not being abandoned.

I smile at the distant vision of her and turn a circle in the field, facing the forest. Strains of the music reach my ears: we can be like they are. "No," I say softly. I can't be like they are.

The knife is still in my hand. I look at the forest, seeing it for what it is: a dark dream. I bend and begin carving the ground. I will fear no evil. I am Dana Katherine Scully, M.D., FBI. Doctor, agent, mother. Woman in love.


"Yes, you are," a voice says.

I look up to see Monica standing beside me, staring at the ground. Her eyes are clear but filled with emotion. "Let's go, Dana," she says.

I reach my hand out to her and the knife is gone; what's there, instead, is a simple cross on a silver chain.

"What's that?" she asks.

I stare at the metal, flicking it against the light, and I remember what it signifies. "Faith." I reach up to place it around her neck; she bends slightly to accommodate me. "Hope," I say.

"Love?" she asks, touching the necklace in reverence.


She stands straight. She's the sun, glowing, warming me, staring at me with such intensity that I can hardly feel the coolness of the shadow I cast to the forest. "Then do you think you're finished?" she asks in a quiet voice.

"Finished with what?"


I nod and look toward the distant road. "I think so."

"Good." She gazes at the road, too, and points. "My house is about half a mile from here."

"Come on, then," I say and lock my hand into hers. I pull her along, fairly floating over the ground. I remember her home, though I've never seen it. It's a cottage, she once told me, small, plain.

"The paint's peeling," she says, as we move toward the road. "And it needs some yard work. And it's got a leaky roof."

I squeeze her hand. "And hardwood floors," I murmur.

The ground shifts beneath our feet, swirling and dropping, but we're not sinking. We stand, but we move. We race through the field like human streams; we travel smoothly on the road like the blood that courses through our veins. We're not running but rushing, flowing, moving together like liquid.

And this is flying, I think. This is flying.

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