TITLE: Melting Hearts (Sequel to Melting Snowflakes)

AUTHOR: Anna Greenway

E-MAIL: Friendship, MSR, DRR, Other/Other

SUMMARY: Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Reyes struggle to cope with the aftermath of their ordeal in the mountains. They return to Washington, and with the help of each other and their families, attempt to survive the ensuing trauma.

NOTE! This is the sequel to Melting Snowflakes. You will need to know that story in order to understand this one. You can find it at my site, the link for which is in my profile.

Melting Hearts (Work In Progress)

Sequel to Melting Snowflakes

Chapter One - The Advice of Doctor Moore

On the day after the four agents had been found, the Scully clan had a hard time just getting to their daughter's ward, let alone figuring out what to say. First they had had to fight their way through the media, who were camped outside the main hospital entrance, and who by now recognised them instantly as the relatives of Dana Scully, and shoved cameras in their faces and shouted questions which Margaret Scully had not even dared to ask herself. How was Dana coping? they asked. Had she talked about the experience? Did she agree with her daughter's decision to eat the bodies of her FBI colleagues? Margaret, whose emotions were already strained from nearly two weeks of believing her daughter was dead, elbowed her way through the crowd without saying a word. She felt Bill's hand on her back, and from the pressure could tell without even looking that her son was every bit as angry as she was. His wife, the kind and motherly Tara, was relatively sympathetic, pausing briefly to smile, tears in her eyes, and saying that they were relieved Dana was OK. Then she pushed her way inside with the rest, while the crowd continued to shout, held at bay by members of the Canadian police force.

The elevator bell chimed when they reached the third floor, and the three of them stepped out, their pace automatically slowing, as though with dread of what lay ahead. They passed the nurses' station, and when Margaret glanced at them she saw a young girl elbow the arm of another, who immediately hurried into the back rooms. Margaret realised, with a grim feeling seizing her, that she was now a celebrity. Mother of Dana Scully, the agent who had survived a plane crash, who'd watched 18 people die, who'd fed on their bodies to survive, who should be dead. But they had barely gone a few feet when a doctor, a man in his 50s with a serious expression, hurried out from a side door, introduced himself, and invited them into his office.

They had politely followed, and discovered that the doctor turned out to be Doctor Moore, a psychiatrist with expertise in post-traumatic stress. He waved for them to sit down on a leather sofa and positioned himself in a c hair opposite, his hands clasped together, looking, Margaret realised, a little nervous, like he was about to bring them bad news. She had glanced at Tara, who looked as nervous and confused as she was, and then looked back to the doctor, who wearily began a half hour spiel on what they could expect in regard to Dana's mental heatlh.

The effects on her daughter's mental health had only barely crossed her mind. She had felt such relief at hearing she was alive, and that three of her closest friends had survived also, that she had been able to push the other concerns away. After all, Dana had survived several traumatic events in the past, and still remained a strong, kind woman. But the doctor quickly painted her a different picture. They must remember, he said, that Dana had survived several traumatic events, not merely one. She had survived a plane crash. She had witnessed mass death and not only of strangers, but of friends and colleagues she had worked with for many years. Then they had to eat the bodies, the people they knew, to survive. She had hiked over a hundred kilometres in snow, never expecting to make it out alive. And then there were many events they were only beginning to hear about, things the FBI were putting together in the mountains which did not make sense. And not to mention the media attention. No, all in all, he thought all four of them had a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. And it was a crippling disorder, he'd said, one they might never recover from. So it was essential, in these early days, to know what to expect.

After that, Margaret had listened to the most horrifying list of possibilities she could have imagined. Some of it she understood; the physical conditions such as weakness, insomnia, vomiting, fainting. She felt she could deal with those. But the emotional responses were more fearsome, and though Doctor Moore hypothesised, he also emphasised that such experiences were so rare that anything might happen. But he said they could expect them to be extremely emotional. They might go from being fine one moment to crying hysterically the next. They might lash out, become irritable and angry. They will have also developed a very strong bond between them and, for a while, might not cope with being separated. It was this part of the conversation that Margaret paid attention to the most; the one where he said how they could help. In her mind she summarised it. She shouldn't force them to separate. She shouldn't force Dana to tell her what happened, but always be ready to listen. She should love her daughter no matter what she threw at her in return. She should be useful by helping with the everyday chores. And she shouldn't force her to go back to work too soon, but recognise her outlook on life will have significantly changed. When the doctor had finished, Bill thanked him keenly, shook his hand, and Margaret felt him take her elbow to lead her out of the room, toward the ward. But after hearing what lay ahead, she felt very much like walking in the other direction.

They walked to the double doors of the ward in silence, up to the policewoman who was sitting at the entrance as guard. Margaret automatically started rummaging in her bag for her purse. Yesterday they had been asked to show three forms of identification before they were allowed in. But today, the woman smiled, said "It's OK", and stood up to open the door for them. Then Margaret knew she'd become a celebrity.

Chapter Two - The First Hurdle

Dana Scully preferred the new ward. They had been moved there the previous night, when the hospital staff had bent the rules to allow male and female patients to share the one room. It was special circumstances, they said. The new ward was bigger, had a large old-fashioned window, and most importantly, she shared it with Monica, John and Mulder; her fellow survivors.

It was the morning after now, but it was still early. The sun was still on the horizon, its beams shining straight in through their window. She had been watching the night sky for the past few hours, unable to sleep, wondering what lay ahead for them. So far they had held up well, but as a doctor she knew that the last two weeks would be the easiest part of the whole experience - the part where someone merely closed their eyes before having a nightmare. The enduring desperation for escape had made it relatively easy. There had been adrenaline rushes, a need for problem solving, and isolation from the reactions of the outside world. Now, they were alone with their thoughts, and being harassed by the astronomical force of the entire world's media. And the only people who understood it were the three people she shared the room with.

Even the aftermath of their rescue had been relatively easy, there had been so many distractions. They had been thoroughly examined, had IV drips jabbed into their hands, had even been given flu vaccinations to protect their obliterated immune systems which their doctor feared would now allow them to get sick all too easily. And then there had been the rush from the outside world: the FBI flying in, the media crowding outside, and their families who had arrived mid-afternoon and stayed until well after sunset. Monica's family had hardly left. They had trotted in with the first hint of sunrise and were now chattering in soft, rapid Spanish. They had pulled the curtain around Monica's bed, as though the material would prevent Mulder and Doggett from being woken by the sound of their voices. And though Scully didn't speak Spanish, she knew from the tones of their voices what was happening.

She had trouble liking Monica's parents. At first, they had seemed kind enough. It was clear they adored Monica. They had smothered her with hugs and kisses, refused to let go of her until Doggett, Mulder and herself had all exchanged smiles. They were also presentable, impeccably dressed in designer outfits, with wide smiles as though Monica had not been through the worst fortnight of her entire life but on holiday in the pacific. And when they left to go buy Monica some pyjamas and clothes for the trip home, they had returned from the shopping spree with the most expensive satin pyjamas money could buy. It was clear to Scully that they were rolling in cash, and went some way to explaining where Monica had picked up her own smiling nature and her taste in clothes. But it also explained why Monica had moved to the U.S. and it made Scully feel a deep appreciation for her own family, who were not rich but who had been sensitive to the point of annoying, telling her firmly that they would help her in any way she wanted, if she could just tell them what she needed. She had a terrible feeling Monica's family would not be so helpful. The tones of their voices from behind the curtains were much too cheery, and from the sound of it, Monica was putting on a strong face, matching them smile for smile.

The curtains whipped open with a screech and Scully looked over to see them exchanging goodbye hugs, Monica pressed hard against them. She saw Mr Reyes whisper something in her ear, and then kiss her, before standing up and creeping to the doorway, waving at Scully as they left.

Scully mouthed a goodbye, and then looked over at Monica, who sunk back against her many pillows and sighed.

"They're not annoying you, are they?" Scully asked, giving her a sympathetic look.

"Huh?" Monica looked up, and Scully saw she was surprised to find she wasn't the only one awake. "Oh, no, they've been great."

"You sure?" Scully knew she was lying and wanted to give her the opportunity to tell the truth, help if she could.

"Sure," Monica said, and threw Scully a lazy smile. "They're offering to track down the best doctors in the country. Apparently he's heard of someone at Harvard."

"How do you feel about that?"

Monica sighed, and her smile vanished. "I just want some sleep, really." She shook her head wearily and pushed herself to her feet, slipping off the bed and reaching out to pull the curtain back around. "I can't believe how tired I am."

Scully nodded, understanding that feeling perfectly herself. She watched Monica disappear behind the curtain again and listened to the sound of her arranging her blankets and settling down for a rest, and then, almost immediately after, she heard Doggett give a loud yawn, and then the voice of Mulder, whom she hadn't even known was awake.

"Have you been awake all night, Scully?"

Scully smiled to herself, not able to believe that even in a crisis, and without even looking at her, Mulder still hadn't lost his touch.

"I saw most of it, I think," she said. She left out what he would already know; that every time she closed her eyes she had seen the mountains, seen Skinner and Kim, seen the bodies ... and only through having her eyes open was she able to convince herself that she wasn't actually there.

"I hear your family, Dana," Doggett muttered sleepily, and Scully looked up in time to see her mother gingerly open the ward door and look around before setting her worried eyes on her. She crept inside, held the door open for Bill and Tara, and the three of them approached her bed, saying good morning to Doggett and Mulder as they passed.

"Dana," her mother said, hurrying over to her and sitting on the side of the bed. Scully let her mother hug her, trying to put some enthusiasm into the embrace to match her mother's. Then her mother pulled back and Scully felt her slide her hand through her hair. "How have you been?"

Scully hesitated. She had no idea how to answer such a simple question. The truth and the lies both seemed inappropriate. "Well," she said, "all right, considering."

Her mother nodded and Scully turned to welcome Tara, who kissed her and then sat herself down in a chair beside the bed.

"We'll have to be quiet," Scully warned, as Bill leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Monica's asleep."

Bill nodded, stood back again and then slipped several newspapers out from under his arm and put them onto her bedside table amongst the bouquets of flowers. "In case you're curious."

Scully eyed the front page of the Vancouver Sun and saw a huge photo of the crashed plane leap out at her. She closed her eyes as every muscle in her body seemed to clench painfully. "Oh God ..."

"Bill," her mother ordered sternly, "take them away."

Scully fell into her mother's gentle arms and put her head on her shoulder, breathing heavily. Through her own tears she heard Mulder ask Bill for the newspapers and Bill's footsteps as he took them over to Mulder's bed.

"Sorry, Dana," Margaret Scully said, rocking her from side to side. "We should've known."

Scully pulled back, wiping her eyes. "No, it's OK. It's just -"

But she broke off and shrugged. It was just that she couldn't bear to think about it. Just that her emotions felt amplified to a hundred times their normal strength. Just that she wished she wasn't living this moment.

"I know," her mother finished.

There was a moment's silence. When Scully looked up again she saw Mulder pretending to be engrossed in the newspapers, and Doggett sitting up in bed, watching her with tears in his eyes. At the look on his face she felt her strength return and she nodded to him in thanks, and understanding.

Bill returned and sat down in a chair next to Tara. "The good news is we've been in touch with Charles and he's on his way. He says he'll meet us in Washington as soon as he can."

Scully had mixed feelings about all the fuss. On the one hand she was grateful for her family's presence and support, not to mention touched by the way they had all dropped everything to fly to Vancouver, but on the other completely lost as to how they could help. But before she could take the thought much further, they were interrupted by the screech of Monica's curtain being flown back and Monica running to the bathroom, just inside the doors to the ward.

"Monica?" Doggett said, immediately worried. Scully saw Mulder's eyes snap up from the newspaper.

Scully threw back her blankets and swung her sore legs to the cold floor.

"Dana?" her mother said, but Scully ignored her and hurried to the bathroom. The door was partially open and Scully put her hand to it, slowly pushing it open all the way.


She put her head around the door and saw Monica kneeling in front of the toilet, vomiting into the bowl. Scully hurried forward and crouched beside her, putting an arm around her waist to hold her steady. Monica was so white she looked as though she was going to faint any second. She could feel her sway under her hands. Then, without warning, Monica fell sideways, lowering herself clumsily out of Scully's grip and onto the coolness of the tiled floor. Scully put her hand on Monica's forehead, feeling the sweat underneath and her burning hot skin. When she glanced up she saw both Mulder and Doggett in the doorway, with her family behind them.

"I'll get a nurse," her mother said, and disappeared from the crowd.

Scully looked back down to Monica. Her forehead felt slightly cooler and her eyes were focusing again, meeting Scully's with cringing embarrassment.

"It's OK," Scully said. She moved her other hand to hold Monica's, squeezing it gently. "It's all right."

Monica lowered her eyes, looking away, but Scully felt her squeeze her hand in return.

"We should get her to the bed," Doggett said, walking forward.

"Can you walk?" Scully asked her.

"I don't know," Monica replied. Her voice was shaky.

Bill came striding forward. "I'll take her."

He knelt down beside them. Scully's instinct was to object, but he was already gently lifting Monica into a sitting position, and Monica appeared to be too weak to protest. Scully let go of her hand.

"Can you put your arm around me?" Bill asked her.

Monica lifted a satin-covered arm and put it around the shoulders of Scully's brother. Scully watched as he lifted her with ease, one arm around her waist and the other under her knees. It was as though there was no weight to her at all. Mulder and Tara backed out of the doorway to let him through and Scully's eyes met Doggett's, who swore quietly.

Scully reached forward to squeeze his shoulder, then forced herself to her feet and followed Bill to Monica's bed, where he was gently lying her down. Margaret Scully returned with two nurses and they immediately set to work applying damp cloths to her forehead and raising her feet to return the flow of blood to her head. Doggett walked around the bed to Monica's other side and sat down beside her, taking her hand in his. Scully noticed that Monica had tears in her eyes and walked forward, taking the curtain in her hand and intending to pull it around the bed so she could cry without an audience, but as she began to pull Mulder put his hand over hers and gently removed the material from her fingers. And when she looked over her shoulder to meet his eyes, she understood. The pain was not to be hidden. It was only through witnessing it that their families could even begin to understand it, and if they couldn't understand it they couldn't possibly help.

Chapter Three - Assistant Director Jana Cassidy

Later in the morning, after Doggett's family had arrived and Monica's parents returned, after the nurses had forced them all to try eating a decent breakfast, and after they had all calmed down from the group cry they had had around Monica's bed, Assistant Director Jana Cassidy showed up in the ward. Doggett had expected the FBI to make another appearance, but had been hoping desperately that he would be wrong. But the moment had come, and just when he was beginning to think they might be lucky, AD Cassidy walked through the door.

Doggett had been talking quietly with his parents and sister, who lived in Georgia but had flown immediately to Canada upon hearing of his survival. His parents were retired, but his younger sister Christi, who was only Monica's age, had taken emergency leave from her job as a fourth grade teacher at their local elementary school. For the past half hour or so, Doggett had been steering the conversation heavily in her direction, wanting to talk about anything other than his current situation, and she had, mercifully, sensed this and gossiped sweetly about her students and the events of their school. While she talked, Doggett had looked at her blonde curls and kind blue eyes and hated himself for getting her involved in this. His baby sister, who he had always looked after, who he wanted to shelter from the insane pain he felt within. And who, he knew, would sock him one if she knew.

And then the door opened, and in came Jana Cassidy, and he thought he would have preferred to spend another six hours listening to the perils of teaching.

She was professionally dressed in a grey suit with a skirt, and her heels clicked on the floor as she entered. Christi stopped talking, and Doggett noticed everyone else in the ward fell quiet too.

"Good morning," AD Cassidy said, pausing in the doorway, not knowing which direction to proceed in. Doggett was relieved that she wasn't smiling, that she looked just as sombre as the room felt.

"Assistant Director," Monica greeted, and made an effort at a smile.

"Call me Jana," she said kindly. Doggett took this as immediate confirmation that she wanted something and looked at her warily as she acknowledged the greetings from Mulder and Scully, and as Monica's father stood up.

"It's OK," he said, letting go of Monica's hand. "We shall make ourselves scarce. I bet you'd like to talk to these four heroes alone, huh?"

"For a few minutes, if I may."

Doggett leaned forward to give his mother and sister goodbye hugs and watched as they gathered their things and headed for the door. Scully's family soon followed, and then the five of them were left alone. Doggett sighed, resigned himself to the worst, and pushed himself off his bed, walking across to sit beside Monica to avoid having to have the conversation over the expanse of the whole ward. He sat beside her and she took his hand in hers. Scully and Mulder left their own beds and sat in the chairs vacated by Monica's parents.

"Sit down, Jana," Mulder said, waving to a chair beside him.

"I'm sorry for the intrusion," she said, sitting down and smoothing her skirt. "I imagine you don't feel much like being questioned, nor being deprived of the company of your families." She paused as she looked around at them. Doggett knew she was taking in their conditions, and from the way her eyes narrowed, pitying them. Her eyes passed over Doggett and Monica's tightly linked hands, Mulder and Scully's sleepy eyes, and the overflow of cards and flowers on the bedside tables. "I won't pretend I know how it feels to be the victim of this kind of tragedy. I confess I'm finding it difficult enough just being on the spectator side."

"How can we help?" Doggett asked, keen to cut to the chase. Out of the corner of his eyes Doggett saw Monica glance at him. On his hand he felt her rub her thumb gently over his.

Jana looked up at him. She took a deep breath. "We are under pressure from the media to provide a statement. We were hoping you would be willing to help us out with some of the facts."

"What kind of facts?" Monica asked.

"The circumstances of the crash, a timeline of events. Nothing in the way of emotional responses, or information which you may be uncomfortable in providing. Merely the facts to inform our press release."

Doggett saw Mulder sigh. He put his head in his hands, ran his hands through his hair. Scully's soft eyes were on him.

"Is that all?" Mulder asked.

Jana hesitated and Doggett felt his stomach sink. She looked awkward, worried about how they would react.

"We were also hoping you'd be willing to help us with another issue, to do with the families of those who didn't make it."

Doggett felt Monica's hand stiffen. "They want to know how they died," she said.

"More or less," Jana said, sighing. "They need closure. Anything you can share would be a huge help."

"Between that and a chronology of events that's pretty much the whole story," Scully said, with a touch of irritation.

Jana nodded. "I suppose so."

Doggett looked away, down at the floor beside the bed. He shared Scully's irritation, Monica's hesitance. It was easy to understand why the FBI needed the facts, but he knew going through the story was the last thing he wanted to do. No doubt they would have most of them already, they merely needed confirmation that what they had deduced was correct. The FBI wasn't stupid. But then his thoughts turned to the families, and his stomach clenched uncomfortably. He could imagine them mourning, crying, needing to be able to picture what had happened, when their son or daughter had died, needed to know it was quick and painless. And there was also the media outside, who would not stop harassing them until they gave them something.

It was a few moments before he heard Jana speak again. "You are welcome to have your families present, if that would make things easier. It'll be quick and informal. We'll try to make it as painless as possible."

"It's no fairytale," Mulder said, his voice low. "The families might be better off not knowing."

"I can understand that," she said, "and we certainly won't be setting out to make them feel worse. But they do have a right to know."

Doggett let go of Monica's hand and slipped off the bed. He walked aimlessly until he found himself in the bathroom. There he sat down on the toilet and put his head in his hands, wishing his hands could take away the pain, not make him have to tell a story that everyone would regret hearing. He thought of those they had lost. Of Holly, who had effectively committed suicide. Of Follmer, who had shot himself. Of Skinner, who had circled the cliff's edge, not wanting to leave Kim, not knowing what had happened to her. He even thought of Colton, who had gripped Scully's arms, begging her to kill him. And the others … so many others …

His vision clouded with unshed tears, but through the watery haze he saw a pair of satin pyjamas kneel down in front of him.

There was a gentle voice. Monica's voice, and her soft hands covered his wrists, pulling his arms away from his face.

"John …"

He let his arms fall away and looked into her eyes that were holding tears of her own. He blinked away his own tears, wiped them away, and then looked up to see Scully and Mulder watching sadly from the doorway. When they saw he'd noticed them they closed the door behind them and leant against the sink. Mulder had his arm around Scully's shoulders.

Monica sat back, but left one hand on his knee to balance herself. "What do you think?"

Scully looked at them, her gaze moving from Monica's eyes to John's. "I knew they'd do this."

"I don't see how we can say no," Doggett said heavily.

"I don't think we can," Mulder said. "I mean imagine if it were any of your families. Our luck could've run out. It should've run out. They would have demanded the same information."

"That hardly makes it easy to give," Monica said.

"What about your families?" Scully asked. "Would you want them present?"

"It'll be hard enough even without them there," Doggett said.

"Yeah," Monica agreed softly. Then she looked up at him and Scully. "But personally, I'd rather only tell it once. Because they'll ask, sooner or later."

Doggett looked to Scully, and saw her eyes accept the logic in Monica's statement. To tell it once was a nightmare, to tell it twice was unthinkable.

Chapter Four – Telling the Story

It quickly became obvious to Fox Mulder why Deputy Director Kersh had sent Jana Cassidy to interview them instead of coming himself. He knew from the newspaper articles that Kersh was still busy at the crash site in the mountains, but that certainly hadn't stopped him from visiting the previous day. No, he was aware it was a very carefully calculated move. For one thing, none of them had had good experiences with Kersh and he would know that they would not pour their hearts out to him as easily as they would the gentle, understanding Jana Cassidy - the one who had bribed them with a plane trip home straight after the interview, who had insisted on flying their families free of charge. Also the one who had greeted Scully's mother as an old friend, and who, they quickly realised, had met several times over the course of the agonising twelve day wait back in D.C.

The four of them had finally been given the all clear to get dressed and prepare to leave, and Mulder had put on a pair of jeans, shirt and leather jacket that had been dropped on his bed by Mrs Scully, who had apparently dropped in to Dana's apartment on her way to the airport to pick up some clothes for her, and had opened the drawers to find his there as well. Mulder had chanced a glance at Scully, and saw that she was biting her lip. Unable to see her add another burden to her already substantial collection of worries, Mulder smiled and thanked Mrs Scully like a gentleman. She smiled at him in return, and then hurried over to her daughter's bed and ushered her behind the curtain. Mulder was at least grateful that Mrs Scully had bigger concerns than receiving blunt confirmation that her daughter was in a relationship, and apparently living with, Fox Mulder. But then, he thought, they all did, and normal rules and everyday worries were being shoved aside like a government handling a national emergency.

After they had dressed and packed, they all proceeded down the corridor to the enclosed waiting room AD Cassidy had borrowed for the purpose of the interview. She was seated on a sofa in front of the coffee table, busying herself arranging the outdated magazines into a single pile and pushing them to the side. Beside her was an agent Mulder didn't know. Mulder lowered himself onto a three-seat sofa opposite her, and was soon joined by a brave-faced Scully, who sat next to him, and an exhausted-looking Doggett, who sat on Scully's other side. Monica shunned the armchairs in favour of perching on the wide armrest next to Doggett, and when her parents walked past to take seats to the side of the waiting room, she threw them a confident smile, and her father shot her a wink. Scully's family quietly filed in a few seconds later, her mother already with tears in her eyes and Tara with a pocket pack of tissues in her hand, and then Doggett's, who took seats in armchairs without a word.

Jana addressed the families first. "I do have to ask you to be as quiet as possible. I also ask you to understand that this may not be easy to hear, and that any details spoken of in this room are not commented on outside of this room."

She waited as there were nods all around. Mulder looked around at their faces and saw every one of them was apprehensive, nervous about exactly what they were going to hear, but knowing they needed to hear it. Margaret Scully was absent-mindedly smoothing down her pants, over and over, Tara was holding hands with Bill, Christi Doggett was trying to catch her brother's eyes, and her parents had sunk deeply into their chairs with sad expressions, watching Jana Cassidy. As for Monica's parents, Mulder still wasn't sure what to make of them. He was not yet sure whether they were faking strength for Monica's sake, or whether they really did fail to see the implications of the situation. Either way, he sensed trouble. He also noticed that Doggett, Reyes and Scully were all refusing to meet their eyes, and were instead focusing on Jana and a manilla folder on the coffee table.

"All right," she said. "Agents, this is Tony McMillan, our media liaison officer. He will be recording this discussion and taking some notes."

Mulder gave him a polite nod, and watched as he turned on a small digital voice recorder and set it on the table. A finger pressed record, and then he turned to a fresh page of his notebook and raised his pen, ready.

"This is Assistant Director Jana Cassidy with Agents Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Reyes, meeting for an informal discussion of the events surrounding the crashed plane in the Rockies mountain range two weeks ago."

She opened the folder and her thin fingers pulled out a map. She unfolded it and spread it out on the coffee table. Mulder saw several places were already marked in, including the small town they had left on their way to Vancouver, and the location of the crashed plane. A ruled red line joined the two.

Jana looked up at them, inviting them to begin. Mulder sat forward on the edge of the sofa.

"We left Hume on the evening of the 14th," Mulder began. "We had been delayed a few hours because of the weather, but took off around eight o'clock, destined for Vancouver. About ten minutes into the flight, when we were above the Rockies, we began to experience severe turbulence. Extreme weather meant visibility was zero. There were alarms ... and the plane crashed into the snow."

Jana Cassidy nodded. "What happened then?"

Mulder fell silent, remembering the mass of blood and bodies, the screaming, the howling gale outside. Scully slipped a hand onto his knee. He took a deep breath to gather his thoughts, and looked up again to see Reyes shifting uncomfortably and looking back at him, brown eyes filled with the same image he was seeing himself.

Doggett took the lead, his voice thick and tired. "The back of the plane had been torn off. The wind was coming in. We were relatively all right, but there were ... a lot injured. Several were dead."

"I understand this is hard," Jana Cassidy said, "but if you can, I need you to tell me the details. Who and how." She opened the manilla folder and pulled out a small stack of photos. "I have some names and pictures here which might help." Slowly, she lined up the photos over the top of map. Most of them were those held by the Bureau, and each had the agent's name printed underneath. There were also two of the pilots, provided, Mulder presumed, by the families. Jana lined them up in three rows of six. "Just anything you might remember."

Mulder wondered again why they'd agreed to do this, why it couldn't be enough for the families to know that their loved one was dead, and whether there was any real value in relating specifically how it had happened. He saw Reyes shake her head and lean back, unwilling, and unable to go further. Doggett sighed and did the same and Mulder saw the two of them exchange a look doubting they could relive the story at all. But Scully removed her hand from his knee and sat forward, perching on the very edge of the couch. Her tear-filled eyes slowly moved across each photo, taking her time, trying to recall the details without any of the emotions. Mulder felt a sense of respect and love soar within him, that she was even able to look at the photos, which was more than he, Doggett and Reyes were able to do. And if it hadn't been for Scully, he knew the interview could very well have ended right there.

Scully slowly picked out the two photos of the pilots and held them out for Jana. "The pilots died upon impact. They had multiple head and chest injuries."

Jana took the photos. Mulder saw Agent McMillan start to scribble. Scully returned her attention to the lines of photos.

Slowly she selected another four, agents who Mulder could only remember as being dead bodies. "They all died instantly."

Again, Jana took the photos. She passed them to Agent McMillan who copied down the names next to the information Scully had given: instant death.

Next Scully tapped a nail on a picture of a middle-aged woman named Patricia Reese. "Uh ... this lady was alive." Mulder noted how Scully refused to refer to the dead by their names, therefore being able to mechanically proceed through the facts and refuse the emotional connections. "She had breathing difficulties. I'm not completely sure, but I suspect several of her ribs were broken, probably a punctured lung. She succumbed to her injuries about five, ten minutes after the crash."

And so it went on. As Mulder and the entire room watched, Scully proceeded through all those who had died within the immediate aftermath of the crash. Agent Cornwall, who Mulder remembered as having half his leg severed and screaming in agony while his blood soaked the floor, but whose death Scully summarised with, "Uncontrollable bleeding from a leg wound." Agent Wright, who had died silently, unconscious from the moment of the crash, but who Scully suspected had internal bleeding. And Agent Cellich, who was just a kid, but whose intestines had spilled out over his lap, and who had died staring straight ahead, in shock, unsaveable. One by one Scully handed the photos to Jana Cassidy, who took them in silence. But when she got to Tom Colton, she stopped, her fingertips under his name. Then Mulder sat forward himself and very slowly, slid the photo out from under her fingers.

"Agent Colton," he said, passing the photo to Jana's outstretched hand. "Severe head injuries."

Then he met Scully's eyes and in them he saw the first tear fall. He lifted his arm and put it around her shoulders. She took a shaky breath.

Mulder saw Jana's eyes soften sympathetically. "Would you like to stop?"

Scully quickly wiped away the few tears that had escaped and vigorously shook her head. "No, I'm OK."

Mulder let his arm fall slightly, rubbing her back, and he met the eyes of Doggett and Reyes, who were both barely holding back tears of admiration, understanding, and sympathy. Doggett, who Mulder knew had wanted nothing to do with the interview, now squeezed Scully's shoulder briefly and sat forward, taking over, as though inspired by her strength and ashamed of his own fear.

"Uh ..." his eyes moved over the photos which only seconds before he had been unable to look at. "The rest survived the crash. Ourselves, AD Skinner, AD Follmer and Kimberly were all relatively unhurt. Holly had a nasty gash in her leg. We managed to bandage it, stop the bleeding. And these three," he separated three photos, "had internal injuries. They remained unconscious."

Jana nodded. "So you were left waiting for a search party."

"Yeah," Doggett said. "We tried to block up the hole in the plane to keep the warmth in, and we all put on extra clothes. We tried to keep the unconscious agents warm, but …"

"There wasn't much we could do," Reyes broke in softly. "They needed to be in a hospital."

Doggett nodded in agreement. He picked up one of the three photos and held it up, looking at the face. Mulder recognised it as the man on whom Kim and Monica had performed CPR, desperately trying to bring the dead man back to life, desperately denying they were helpless; the man Scully had finally forced them to quit trying to save.

"He died during the night," Doggett said. "We performed CPR, but had no success."

He handed the photo to Jana, who added it to her pile of the dead. She said nothing.

Doggett turned his attention to the remaining photos. Mulder knew who was next: Holly. Doggett fell silent. Mulder opened his mouth to continue the story but Reyes got there first. Her slender fingers reached out and picked up Holly's photo, and the four of them looked at the happy face it contained. It was the Holly they had only barely known before the crash. The Holly they would have, in all honesty, preferred to know. Instead they had seen this happy, smiling woman as a heartbroken soul on a freezing mountain range, standing amongst dead bodies and hating herself for having survived when so many others died. They had seen the Holly who couldn't bear the situation they'd found themselves in, the Holly who had snuck away and chosen to die.

"Holly," Reyes said, her voice barely remaining steady as she said the name. She looked up at Jana's expectant face, then back down at the picture. "She had survivor's guilt."

Mulder took over, seeing Reyes' hesitance over how to explain that Holly had committed suicide, and that they had slept right through it.

"We were all exhausted from the long hours on the case. We fell asleep. We woke in the early hours to find her gone."

Jana narrowed her eyes. "Gone?"

"Gone," Mulder repeated. "She had walked off into the snow. We quickly found her tracks, gave chase, but when we stumbled upon her …"

"It was too late," Scully finished.

Mulder saw Jana let out a held breath. Her hand reached out to take the photo from Monica, but it was shaking a little now, and he wondered how long her professionalism would last.

"She froze to death?" Jana asked.

"Yes," Monica replied.

"And what happened then?"

Monica gave a half shrug. A tear slipped down her cheek. "We carried her back to the plane."

There was a silence. Mulder heard someone across the room sniff, heard Agent McMillan scratching out paragraphs in his notebook. Mulder looked over at the door, away from all the faces in the room, trying to gather his strength and resist the urge to flee. But however much he longed to stand up and walk out, he knew he couldn't, because he would not leave the others to deal with it alone, and if they could go on then so could he.

Jana waited until Agent McMillan stopped writing and then she looked up. "What happened next?"

"Nothing," Monica said. "It was a long day and night of waiting. We expected a rescue. We had no idea at the time that we were so far off course."

Jana glanced away for a moment, hit with guilt and many what ifs, but Monica went on as though she hadn't noticed.

Her eyes returned the remaining photos and she picked up yet another one; the photo of the second unconscious agent to die.

"He died the next day," she said. "On the sixteenth." She then picked up the photo of the third unconscious agent. "And the seventeenth. Neither of them ever regained consciousness. They died without pain and we sat with them, held them as they went."

Mulder watched her carefully as she spoke, reading her body language rather than hearing anything she was saying. There were still tears in her eyes, but she spoke with confidence.

Jana gave an encouraging nod. "Keep going, you're doing well."

But Mulder knew what was next: Follmer, and he wasn't the least bit surprised when Monica instinctively looked toward them, wanting someone else to take over the story. Her confident posture of only seconds before appeared weakened now.

Mulder tried to give her an understanding look and picked up the thread himself. "We were starting to doubt whether there'd be a rescue. Assistant Director Follmer found a radio among the wreckage and managed to tune into a station. We heard that you'd had no luck, and that the weather forecast was blizzards. We knew time was running out."

He chanced a glance at Monica, but she appeared to be handling the conversation, and encouraged, he went on.

"Follmer became nervous. He thought we stood a better chance trying to hike out. He knew the FBI would have to give up its search, and that we would become weaker with each day. He tried to leave. Agent Reyes managed to talk him out of it, but …"

"He shot himself," Jana finished.

"Yes," Mulder said. He knew they had dug out the bodies from under the snow, and they would have quickly put together a picture of suicide. They may have even done ballistics testing on the bullet and found it was from Follmer's own gun.

Again, Mulder looked at Reyes. She was avoiding all their eyes, and instead looked across the room at her parents. Monica's mother was crying silently, but her father inclined his head, as though telling her he was proud, and encouraging her to keep herself together and make it through. But though Mulder couldn't deny her strength in not crying, the fact that she wasn't worried him. And as he looked at her parents, he saw instantly that neither of them had known about their daughter's relationship with him. And Monica, it seemed, found it too difficult to enlighten them. He caught Scully's eyes, which were equally concerned, and he was glad when she reached across Doggett and gently took Monica's hand. Monica clung to the hand, and Scully gave a small tug on it, urging her off the armrest and to move closer. Doggett slid an arm around Monica's hips and slid her onto his knees. Mulder saw her shoulders were shaking slightly, and for a second thought she was going to collapse, but Scully held her hand tighter and then Monica took a deep breath and flicked her hair back over her shoulder, ready to go on. And her parents, Mulder noticed, appeared completely clueless that she was reacting to anything other than the torture of seeing a boss commit suicide. But he knew, from the looks of both Doggett and Scully, that both of them knew exactly what he knew; that Monica's parents knew nothing.

"The Bureau of Meteorology has told us that there were blizzards for three days around that time," Jana said. "We are presuming that that's when the avalanche occurred?"

"Yes," Scully said. "The night of the nineteenth."

"Frankly, everyone's astonished that you managed to survive it."

"So are we," Doggett said bluntly.

"We were lucky," Scully said. "Agent Reyes and I were awake and up at the time. We managed to dig everyone out before they suffocated."

Jana looked impressed.

"But it was close," Scully added.

"And there were no lasting effects?" Jana asked. "You were all OK?"

"Yes." She paused. "At least physically."

Mulder saw her glance at Monica, and knew the two of them were sharing a memory far beyond what they were telling Jana. He knew the terror they must have experienced as they dug through the soft snow. He knew he and Doggett had only made it by seconds and that Scully and Reyes could very well have been left there on the mountain by themselves.

Jana took a deep breath. "So you waited out the storm, heard the search had been called off, and decided that the only course left was to hike out for help."

"That's right," Monica said. "It was the twenty-first when AD Skinner and Kimberly left."

Jana lowered her eyes slightly. Mulder had expected her to criticise their choice of Kimberly and Skinner as the ones to go, but was surprised, and hugely relieved, when she let it go.

"The weather forecast was wrong," Monica said. "We'd checked it several times."

Jana nodded sympathetically. "The weather can change so fast in the mountains."

There was a pause.

"When we recovered the bodies we found that Kimberly had a broken neck," Jana said. "We are assuming that a blizzard struck while they were out, and that in the low visibility, she slipped on the rocks."

Monica nodded.

Jana then looked as though she was going to say more, but instead she shook her head and sighed, and a terrible silence engulfed them. Mulder looked at Scully. There were tears in her eyes. Monica was holding her hand in both of hers. Doggett looked a million miles away. Mulder put an arm around Scully again, desperate to share the sense of mourning and guilt that they both felt from nine years of working with Skinner, the boss they had come to accept as a friend, and the two of them began to cry.

"He was a wonderful man," Jana said softly.

Mulder looked up at her through his watery vision. With a jolt he saw that she was crying.

She met their eyes. "He was my friend, too."

Chapter Five – At the Airport

"You can wait in here," the flight attendant said, leading the four of them into the hidden staff lounge filled with low, dark blue couches. It was enclosed, therefore allowing them some privacy from the prying eyes of the rest of Vancouver International airport. They had left their families in the main waiting area with AD Cassidy and several other agents, who Monica had been surprised to learn were accompanying them on the flight home.

She followed her friends in. Mulder and Scully sat down beside each other, so close their thighs were touching. Monica, absolutely exhausted from having next to no sleep the previous night, collapsed down next to Mulder, and John beside her.

"Is there anything I can get you?" the flight attendant asked politely. She stood in the doorway, ready to pull the door shut and leave them alone.

"I think we're OK," Monica said. "But thank you."

She meant it, and the flight attendant smiled.

"I'll come back for you when we're ready to board."

The door clicked closed and the four of them were left alone. From the other side of the door came a steady hum of the voices of their family and FBI colleagues, periodically drowned out by announcements on the speakers calling for passengers destined for other locations to board their planes.

"It's amazing, isn't it?" Doggett said, a second after the flight attendant was gone. "How selfless people become when something like this happens?"

"It's touching," Monica replied. "They really do care."

There was a short silence, and they heard the voice of Jana Cassidy rise above the murmur of the others.

"What do think they're talking about?" Monica asked quietly.

"Us," Doggett said immediately. "Without a doubt."

Monica looked around at her friends. "Do you think they're shocked by what we said?"

They had not had a chance after the interview to talk to their families. Agent McMillan had wrapped things up with a few general questions about how they were feeling, and then AD Cassidy had wiped her eyes and insisted they collect their things to head for the airport. Monica had looked at her parents' faces, but found it hard to judge what they were thinking. Her mother had a wet face from crying, but so did nearly everyone else. The only person who hadn't cried had been Scully's brother Bill, and John's father Jack - though he had had moist eyes. The four of them had risen from the couch and stood awkwardly in front of their relatives, but an awkward silence had prevailed when no one knew what to say. Eventually, Scully's mother had walked forward and said they'd better be going. She put an arm around Dana's shoulders to lead her away, and Monica and the others had followed, feeling totally wrecked.

"I expect so," Doggett said. "But right now they're probably just worried about us, wondering how we're gonna get through this."

Monica sighed. She felt so tired. It wouldn't have been so bad if there was only a week off and bedrest ahead. Instead, they had at least four funerals, the media stalking their every move, and their families constantly hovering. She doubted whether the four of them would have any time alone to work through their issues, and it scared her. And to top it all off, she still felt ill. Every time she stood up she felt dizzy and had the urge to vomit.

Monica nudged Mulder with her knee. "You're both very quiet."

Scully looked up. She looked exhausted, a million miles away and on complete autopilot.

"I guess I was just thinking," she said. "Wondering if we will get through it."

It was a loaded question, and Monica contemplated it for a moment before answering.

"Well we've come this far," she said. "We can't give up now."

Scully lowered her eyes. Mulder put a hand on her thigh, gently bringing her attention back.

"I think we'll make it," he said. "We just need to ask ourselves why we survived in the first place."

"It was luck," Doggett said.

Mulder nodded. "Yeah, most of it was. It was luck that we weren't injured from the crash. It was luck that Scully and Monica were awake to dig us out when the avalanche hit. It was luck that we had good weather to hike out in." He paused for a breath. "But it wasn't luck that Monica survived her hypothermia. It wasn't luck that kept us walking through that snow when we wanted to give up and fall down. And it wasn't luck that we didn't give up when Skinner and Kim died."

"We pulled each other through," Monica said, now seeing where Mulder was taking them.

"Exactly," Mulder said. "And we can do it again. I did a unit on post-traumatic stress when I was at Oxford, and we read countless books on the subject. And while the circumstances of the tragedies may vary, the method for dealing with them is always the same. It's about not denying anything we've been through. It's about being honest with ourselves, and your families. It means having the courage to ask for space when we need it and to ask for a shoulder when we need to cry. And if we do those things, if we stick together, we'll make it."

Chapter Six - It All Ends Here

There was a knock at the door and the young flight attendant reappeared, pushing the door open a fraction and poking her head around, trying to discreetly block the rest of the airport from seeing them.

"Excuse me, agents. We're ready to board."

"We'll be right there," Doggett said, and she closed the door again.

"Moment of truth," Monica said glumly. It would be the first time since the crash that they were getting on a plane, and deep down, she was terrified. The only thing that had so far kept her strength up was Doggett, Mulder and Scully, because since none of them had shown weakness at the idea, she hadn't dared to show any either. But the truth was that she wished they could catch a train, or even jump in a car and travel across the country. But real life apparently didn't work like that.

John reached over and squeezed her hand. "Well we've all done this hundreds of times before. It'll be all right."

"If you're trying to convince me, you're failing," Monica said, wrapping her smooth fingers around his rough ones.

"Well we can't stay here," Scully said reasonably. Her voice was higher than usual, betraying her fear.

"Somehow I wish we could," Monica said. She felt the others' eyes on her, sympathising. "Nothing's going to be the same anymore. When we get to Washington..."

She trailed off, struggling to compile the nightmare into a sentence. She knew already the four of them would have to go their separate ways. Their families were expecting to take them home after the flight, and so the three long weeks of being together would come to an abrupt end. Mulder and Scully were lucky, being taken together to their apartment by Scully's family, but both her and Doggett were going to face it alone. She pictured herself back in her cold apartment and knew it was going to feel foreign, like she didn't belong there anymore. Truly, all she wanted to do was stay together, to ignore the rest of the world and the demands and questions that were going to fall upon them, and to not have to break the bond that had kept them alive for the past three weeks.

"It's not the end," Mulder said.

"You and Dana will be together," she pointed out. "You'll be going home to your apartment, back into the warmth and safety of your own bed, and you'll be taken care of by her family."

"What about your family?" Mulder asked. "They love you. They'd accompany you to the toilet if you let them."

"Maybe," Monica said softly. She wasn't going to tell them that it had been years since she'd been close to her parents. As a child she'd adored them, and they had spoiled her in every way. Her father had enthusiastically encouraged her intelligence, seeing her potential to add to the family business empire. He had happily sponsored her to study at Brown in the U.S., paying her fees and costs of living and even caving in on her choice of course, but the split had come when she'd enrolled at Quantico. Her mother had been already heartbroken by Monica moving so far away from home instead of studying locally and staying loyal to the extended family, and when Monica decided to turn her back on both career possibilties of the family empire and academia, it had been the final straw. She knew her father was proud of her, and though he had been the one to encourage her brains and ambition, he had never thought it would take the form of being in law enforcement, where people were shot every day and saw things he didn't want his baby girl to see. And now, Monica suspected their clingyness was nothing more than enthusiasm to get her out of the FBI and drop her back into the life they wanted her to have.

"Monica, is there a problem with your parents?" Scully asked, concern on her face. "You know you can tell us anything."

"No," she said, not ready to make them worry until she was sure. "And it's not even that."

"Is it parting?" John asked. He squeezed her fingers again.

She nodded and was relieved when none of them were surprised. In fact, the sadness on their faces indicated they understood perfectly.

"We've been through so much," she said. "And yet I've never felt anything like it before."

"I feel the same," Doggett confessed. "But going home doesn't mean we're going to throw that away. It just means we need to get our families settled, sleep a couple of hours, and then meet for breakfast for another round. Right?"

Monica smiled. "Right."

"And before you get jealous," Mulder said, "maybe you'd like to spend a night with Bill prowling around the bedroom keyhole."

Scully laughed and rubbed Mulder's leg. "He's trying."

There was a soft knock at the door and a moment later Mrs Scully appeared.

"Sorry to interrupt," she said, "but they're waiting to board us."

Monica had forgotten all about the flight attendant's request for them to come out and got to her feet with John, neither letting go of the other's hand. Mrs Scully swung open the door further and Monica saw their families were gathered on the other side, waiting for them to come out and wondering what on Earth had taken so long. Then Monica felt someone take her other hand and knew just by the feel of it that it was Scully.

"Remember," Scully said, leaning in so no one else could hear, "it's just the beginning."

Chapter Seven - Home

When they stepped out of the United terminal at Dulles International Airport, it was nearly midnight. The night sky was clear and full of stars, but it was biting cold, and as they set out for their cars in the long term parking area, John zipped up his jacket and shoved his hands in his pockets. It was a quiet group that made the walk. The only sounds were of their footsteps and the wheels of suitcases rolling on the asphalt, for everyone was absorbed in their own thoughts. John noticed that Scully was particularly silent, having been shaken awake from what could have been a long, deep sleep. She now walked ahead of him, under the loving arm of Tara, who was steering her gently and even pointing out steps and other obstacles because she was in such an exhausted daze. John could tell that all her sleepless nights had finally caught up with her, and if it hadn't been for Tara's arm and gentle guidance, she would have collapsed right there in the gutter.

Next to Tara walked Bill, who was carrying their bags, and behind them was Mulder, whose arm was in the motherly grip of Mrs Scully. John liked Mrs Scully. He had been uneasy with the fact that Mulder had no family to care for him. The hours in the hospital when the relatives had swarmed around their beds while the space around Mulder's was empty had made John feel awkward, to say the least. But, to his relief, Mrs Scully had taken him under her wing, as though he was her own son. Or at least a future son.

Monica walked unaided, next to her socialite mother and father, who had charmed half the FBI agents on the plane and still looked bright-eyed and alert, and John himself was between his parents Jack and Anne, with Christi a step ahead. His parents, as with Monica's, had deliberately booked motel accommodation before even leaving Vancouver, so as to not be a burden on them and allow them the space they needed. Christi, however, was going to sleep in one of his spare rooms, and he knew it was because though they understood he needed his space, they were careful to not leave him by himself. At first the whole arrangement had felt awkward, lightyears away from his real wish of not having to separate from his friends at all, but as the flight wore on he became aware that for this night, at least, they were all too tired for it to matter.

They reached the parking lot and stopped near Scully's beige sedan, which had been parked nearest. Scully pulled her car keys out of her coat pocket and handed them to Bill, who went to open the trunk to stack their bags inside.

John looked around at the circle of faces and said, "We need a minute."

He felt his mother touch him on the back as he began to walk away to a space a few cars along where they were out of earshot of everyone. There the four of them stopped walking and turned to face each other for the moment they had all dreaded. And now it had come, John was unsure what to say.

"I guess this is it," he said lamely.

There was a short silence. John heard the sounds of Bill stacking bags and rearranging them to all fit in, along with soft voices of conversation that sounded like the three families were all exchanging cell phone numbers so they could contact each other in emergency, though no one had been game to say what that might involve.

"We'll meet at your house in the morning," Mulder said to him. "We won't fit everyone in our apartment, nor Monica's."

John nodded. "Makes sense."

There was another pause.

"Will you be OK?" Monica asked him.

"Yeah," he said, trying to sound confident. "I'm not planning on doing anything other than sleeping tonight."

"Will you be OK, Monica?" Scully asked tentatively.

"I think so," she said. She glanced over his shoulder to her parents. Her expression became thoughtful.

"You can come as early as you like," John said. Something in him was especially uneasy about leaving Monica, but he couldn't see how to help. She was so determined to lie and constantly tell them she was all right.

"You know you can call, come by, anytime," Scully said, looking from Monica to John. "Both of you."

"We'll be fine," John said. He hated to see Scully so worried when what he wanted her to do was get a decent sleep.

"It's only a few hours," Monica added.

There was another awkward silence. The conversation from their families had lulled now.

"Well they're waiting," he said. "I suppose we ought to go."

Scully and Mulder nodded, but neither of them moved.

"You know," Monica said, "I don't know about you, but I feel I could use a hug."

The awkwardness evaporated suddenly as though it had never been there and John smiled. He looped an arm around Monica's shoulders, another around Mulder's, and the four of them came together in a hug that started off friendly, but as the seconds ticked on, ended in a furious embrace of warm hands and salty tears. It was like they were one, and the separation meant he had to leave three quarters of his soul behind. He held them tight, felt the others holding him tight, and the bond that was impossible to express in words was confirmed in action. As he stepped back he realised he vision had become watery again, but this time he didn't care. He kissed Monica on the cheek, then Scully, and finally stepped back, his heart pounding with pain.

Monica's whole face was wet as her and Scully kissed goodbye, and then, with a look of now or never, she took a deep breath and hurried away to her parents before she could change her mind. Doggett turned and watched her go, watched her parents both put arms around her, and then with a quick word of goodbye to his family and the Scullys, they led her away into the maze of cars.

John felt his arm being squeezed and broke his gaze from Monica to see Scully standing next to him. Her face, too, was wet from crying.

"We'll see you soon," she said.

He nodded. "You get some sleep."

Then she, too, left, with Mulder walking beside her, holding her hand. They walked back to her family, and Bill opened the back door for them while Mrs Scully and Tara helped them into the car.

And then John was alone. He saw his parents and sister slowly walking toward him.

"Are you OK?" his mother asked, putting a hand on the side of his face, her fingers on his wet cheeks.

"Yeah," he said. But it was an automatic response. It was not OK. If it was, he wouldn't be crying. If it was, Monica wouldn't have fled as though it was the hardest moment of her life. If it was, they wouldn't be asking. It wasn't, and as he heard Bill Scully start the car and the lights went on and the engine began to purr, his heart began to break.

None of them were OK.

This was a mistake.

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