Dana always knows what she wants. I have to remind myself
of this as she sits at our table, seeming somehow smaller in the face of
her father's silent disapproval.
She's not going to be a doctor. After all those years of med school, all the tuition and the time, she's allowed herself to be recruited by the FBI.
Bill's tension fills the room, painfully. "I don't understand this, Dana. Why the hell do you want to go work for the government? You've been a stellar student. Any hospital would be ecstatic to have you."
Dana shrugs, but she's not as uncertain about this decision as the gesture might imply. "This is what I need to do, Dad. I knew it as soon as the recruiter started talking to me."
"But all the skills you've built--they'll go to waste."
"No, they won't. I want to specialize in forensics. Maybe I could even teach. There's so much I can do there--"
Bill stands up. He suddenly seems even bigger and burlier than he is. I try to catch his attention, knowing I can calm him if he'll just look at me, but he won't look. He doesn't want to be calmed. My heart sinks as I realize where this is going, and that I can't do anything about it.
"You'd be safer in a hospital," he growls, then he leaves the room. Leaves his dinner behind, and his daughter.
Dana blinks. I want to tell her it's all right, that he'll come around, but I know better. Bill won't come around until he's damned good and ready. Dana knows this, too.
She stares at the doorway, her eyes aching for her father's approval. In a small voice she says, "It's what I have to do, Mom."
I touch her hand where it lies on the table. "I know, Dana. I know."
Another year, another small family gathering. The tension between Dana and her father has faded somewhat, but I know Dana still feels she's let him down. He won't say anything, either, won't tell her he's come to accept her decision, that on some level he's proud of her stubborn independence. He hasn't even told me, but I know. I can tell by the way his voice sounds when he talks about her. To her. But Dana hasn't had quite as many years with him as I have, and her interpretation of him is that of a daughter, not a wife.
"So tell us about this new assignment," says Bill. He sounds reluctant to hear about it, but I know this comes not from disapproval, but from concern for Dana's safety. Does Dana know that?
"Well, it was a strange trip, that's for certain." She shakes her head. "I've never seen anything like this case. In many ways it defied everything I was ever taught."
"How so?" I ask.
Her forehead wrinkles in a puzzled frown. "I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk about it."
"Don't compromise security for us," says Bill, and I can hear that tremor of pride. I hope Dana can.
"So what exactly is your assignment?" I ask. "Or what generally, if you can't say exactly."
"Well, I was assigned a partner, and my job is to assist him on his cases and make reports back to my supervisors."
I don't know much about the FBI, but this sounds odd. "Can't he make his own reports?"
She considers a moment, almost as if she doesn't have it all figured out for herself. "The cases this particular agent pursues are rather . . . different from what you might expect. My supervisors felt a strictly scientific approach might be helpful to his work."
"What kind of cases are they?"
"This latest one involved . . ." she hesitates, her smile almost embarrassed. "UFOs and alien abduction."
Bill snorts. "Good God."
"I know, Dad, it sounds crazy but . . . there honestly were things there I couldn't explain." She hesitates again, and I can tell she's trying to figure out how to say what's on her mind without saying too much. She's always been this way, even when government security wasn't involved. "I got the impression they wanted me to debunk his work, like maybe they want to prove he's wasting FBI resources so they can get rid of him. And when I found out what we were going to be investigating I started wondering if the whole thing was a big joke. Then we got to Oregon . . ."
Bill is frowning. "This partner of yours. His name's not Mulder, is it?"
Dana looks at her dad in surprise. "Yes, it is. Fox Mulder. Do you know him?"
"His father works for the state department. I'd heard the boy had gone off on some weird tangent a few years ago. Pity. He was hot shit in the violent crimes division."
"Bill." I say it in reflex at his language. I forget sometimes there aren't any two-year-olds in the house anymore.
He ignores me. "You be careful out there, Dana. This guy's trouble."
She shakes her head. I can tell from her expression that she's given this a great deal of thought. She's good at reading people, I've discovered, and undoubtedly she's formulated her own impressions of her new partner. "I don't think so, Dad. He has some bizarre ideas, but he's not dangerous. At least not to me."
"To your career, though. You have to think about that."
"Maybe. In the meantime-- Maybe you won't understand this, Dad, but he respects me. It's more than I can say for some of the other men I've worked with since I started with the Bureau. This may sound silly, but I feel comfortable working with him. I think I'm going to enjoy it."
"You just be careful, Starbuck."
So much can change so quickly. Only hours before I was sitting in front of the fire with my husband, laughing and reflecting on the evening just spent with our children. Now I sit in the funeral parlor, making arrangements.
I know that if I'd asked him, he would have said he'd prefer a sudden death to a lingering, painful one. In that, at least, he got his wish. But why now? Why not ten years from now? Twenty?
Dana puts her arm around me. She's sniffling but there are no tears. Not right now. She'll cry in her own time, when she can be alone. She doesn't like other people to see her tears. Probably because of her brothers, who always used to tease her when she cried.
"It'll be okay, Mom," she says.
I nod, because I know it will be eventually, but right now it's hard to believe. He's gone, my Bill, my Ahab. I can't imagine what life will be like without him.
With the arrangements made, Dana and I drive home. We've just walked in the door when an FTD truck pulls up. The driver heads for the porch with a beautiful arrangement of flowers. I sign for it, barely able to hold back the tears.
"My condolences," says the driver, and I nod.
Inside I set the flowers on the kitchen counter. Dana has disappeared. Probably to the bathroom, where she can cry in solitude. There's a card with the flowers. It's a big card, not the small kind the florists provide. I can tell from the barely legible handwriting that the sender filled it out himself.
"Mrs. Scully. My deepest sympathies in your time of loss. I didn't know the father but I have seen his reflection in his daughter and it is an admirable one. Fox Mulder."
Somehow this touches me more than some of the cards I've gotten
from close friends. This man knows me not at all, yet he's taken
the time to write this card. Dana was right. He's not dangerous.
Not to Dana.
It's a quiet evening at home when my doorbell rings. There are two men in suits on my front porch. One is tall and slim, with brown hair, the other shorter, stockier, with very little hair at all.
Something's wrong. I open the door with that knowledge lodged in my throat.
"Mrs. Scully," says the older man. "I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner, with the FBI--"
For an instant I'm certain my heart has stopped. "Oh my God what's happened to Dana?"
The older man, Skinner, is in charge but it's the younger one who takes the lead, catching me by my elbows and leading me back into the house, making sure I'm settled on the couch, asking me if I want a glass of water. At some point it registers that this must be Fox Mulder, Dana's partner, the man Bill said was trouble. He doesn't seem like trouble, except that he's the bearer of bad news.
"There's no reason to believe she's not still alive." He seems to be convincing himself as well as me. "We're doing everything in our power to find her, and we will find her." He stops, clenches his teeth and I realize with a moment of shock that he's biting back tears. "I shouldn't have lost her. It was my fault."
"Mulder . . ." says Skinner, but Mulder shakes his head.
"No, sir. It was my fault."
But that's not what I heard, in the story he's just told me. I feel a sudden urge to reach out to him, and I do, touching his knee as he sits in the chair across from me. "Fox, it's not your fault. I know you'll do everything possible."
His eyes meet mine and the wealth of pain in them astonishes me. "Yes. I will."
Then it hits me, out of nowhere. This man loves my daughter.
I wonder if Dana knows.
SIX WEEKS LATER
News has finally come. They've found Dana, but she's in a coma. At best, I can be with her when she dies.
I sit by her bed, the last few hours a vivid pain in my mind. Dana's living will has at least made the decisions easy. I might not agree with her, but I know I have to do as she wished.
It was a surprise, seeing Fox's name on her will. I would have thought she could have asked me to witness the document. I wonder what has happened between them in the year they've been working together. Again I've seen evidence of the depth of Fox's feeling for Dana, as he raged down the halls of the hospital, until they had to physically drag him away. What has he been to her?
Later I sit in the cafeteria with Missy. Missy thinks Dana will come back to us, but I find that hard to believe. She seems sometimes to operate on a different plane from the rest of us.
"Have you talked to Fox about this?" she says suddenly, looking into her cup of coffee. She looks tired, dark circles under her eyes, her once-neat hair falling untidily around her face.
"About how Dana got this way?"
I don't even want to think about it. "Not really."
"So you don't know why he's so determined to blame himself."
"No." She's right, though. Fox's burden of guilt seems almost pathological. What does he know that we don't?
"Do you think he did something to her?"
"No." My answer comes without thought. I don't need to think about it. If there's one thing about which I am absolutely certain, it's that Fox would never hurt Dana.
Missy shakes her head. "There's something very weird about him. Very . . . dark." She pauses. "And there's something else."
I study her, noting the delicate frown lines between her brows. She thinks she's about to drop a bombshell. "What's that?"
"He's in love with her."
I only nod and sip my coffee.
"Do you think either one of them knows it?"
This makes me smile, though reluctantly. "Somehow I doubt it."
My suspicions are confirmed a few days later when the miracle happens. Dana has come back to us, and we're all sitting in her room when Fox arrives. The set of his body as he moves toward her bed, the way he won't look at any of us directly, tells me he feels like he doesn't belong here. But Dana looks directly at him and smiles at his inane gift.
"Mulder," she says to him as he tries to leave. "I had the strength of your beliefs."
I see the change in his face as she says it. This means something to him, something profound. I wonder then--even after all the time I spent by her bedside, talking to her, coaxing her to come back to us, was it his voice that had brought her back?
He gives her back her cross, the one I gave to her and then gave back to him when he tried to return it to me. There's a moment then, a soft exchange between them of something language cannot adequately describe. He is awkward with it, and I realize then that, in spite of what burns in his eyes, they haven't been intimate. They will dance around each other, possibly for years, simply for the sake of propriety. This makes me sad, because it has become apparent to me, in just the past few minutes, how desperately they need each other.
I had almost lost a daughter once, and she was miraculously returned to me. This time, no.
I sit now in the hospital cafeteria with my remaining daughter. Dana's grief seems too much for her to bear. She has been silent since we heard the news of Missy's passing, and I wonder what she is thinking.
My thoughts have not been charitable, for the most part, and I hate myself for that. Where were you? I want to demand. Why couldn't you be here for your sister? For me? But whatever made her run, whatever forced her to be away from us, for her comfort and for her own, was serious enough to kill for.
"It should have been me," Dana says suddenly. Her voice is very quiet but it trembles with tears. "They were there to kill me."
I have realized this already. When I got the call I had automatically assumed it was Dana who had been hurt. When I heard what had happened I realized it was Dana who had been meant to be hurt, but the bullet had found her sister instead. What was I to do with this information? It was meaningless. The only thing that meant anything to me now was that Missy was dead.
"It wasn't your fault," I say.
"I tried to call her, to keep her from coming over. I tried to meet her on the way . . ." She stopped, swallowing hard. "I could have stopped it. I should have stopped it."
"There wasn't anything else you could have done." The words come automatically. They are true, but . . . "What is it you've found, Dana? What have you and Fox gotten into that's so important these people would kill for it?"
She stares at me, anger lurking in her eyes behind her grief and frustration. "That's the hell of it, Mom. I'm not even sure I know."
She leaves me then, and I wonder if I should have asked the question at all.
Later I go up to Missy's hospital room, now empty, the place where she died. I don't know why--perhaps I simply need to absorb what remains of the sense of her one last time. But the room isn't empty. Dana is there, with Fox, and he has her arms around her.
She's gone to him for comfort. She couldn't find that with me. I gave her only questions, the hint of recriminations. He gives her the strength of his embrace, of his belief, of his certainty that what they do is right.
In those moments, I hate him. God help me, I hate him.
My hands clench the wheel as I drive to Allentown. The memory of the morning's phone call clogs my throat.
Dana is dying. A rare form of cancer, she says. I can't deal with the reality of this right now, though, and one thought keeps ringing through my head. She waited to call me, waited until she was in the hospital, awaiting treatment, before she told me anything.
She told Fox. I know she told Fox. When did this happen, that she would confide in him and leave me out? I'm her mother, for God's sake--
I have to stop the thoughts, stop the anger, stop the tears. If I let them rule me I'll never make it to Allentown.
Dana is dying. Dana is dying.
In the hospital she's strong and fearless even in the face of my anger. I can barely articulate what I want to say to her, it all hurts so deeply. She is gentle and comforting. I should be gentle and comforting. Instead, finally, when she has so carefully refused all my offers of help, I leave the room in a barely-hidden blaze of anger.
Sitting in the hallway, I'm alone for a long time, fighting tears from time to time, but mostly just sitting, listening, wishing I could do more. After I time I doze, dream, wake up crying.
And who is there? Him, Fox, his arms around me, cradling me against his chest. He's saying something to me but I can't hear him.
It's so unexpected I don't know what to do at first and stand there with my arms at my sides. It strikes me abruptly that he smells good. And then I put my arms around him and hold him as tightly as I can, as if he were my own son, and let him comfort my tears.
"If there's anything to be done," I hear him say, "I'll do it." He pauses and I feel his breath hitch. "I can't let her die. Not like this."
He backs away finally, and suddenly is awkward. It's a strange thing I've noticed about him--the minute he enters my presence he changes from a tall, handsome man into an overgrown, gangly boy. It's one of the reasons he's always been "Fox" to me. Because "Mulder" would never hesitate to make eye contact with me, or have trouble figuring out what to do with his hands. "Fox," however, is perpetually sixteen years old, on his first date with my daughter and aching for my approval.
He has it, most of the time. Definitely now. I lay a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, Fox."
He nods toward Dana's room. "She's sleeping right now. I wanted to tell her I think I'm on the right track. I'll be back later."
Days later she's out of the hospital. The doctor had his own agenda, Fox tells me, and had no intention of healing Dana. There are other avenues to pursue. She keeps working. I keep worrying. "Call me if you need to," Fox tells me one day when I call for Dana and she's not there. "I'll tell you what I can."
The months drag on. I take Fox up on his offer and call him from time to time.
"How is she?"
"She seems okay today. Yesterday she was tired, I think."
"She doesn't tell you anything, either, does she?"
"Not much. But sometimes I can tell."
How can she work so closely with him and tell him so little? How can she love him as much as she does and withhold so many of her secrets?
"How is she doing?"
"Her nose bleeds sometimes." Fox's voice betrays him and I have to swallow hard to keep my own voice from shaking.
"Has she seen the doctor?"
I can only breathe for a few minutes, unable to make words. He waits me out in silence. "Fox, what about you? Are you all right?"
I make a mistake when I invite Father McCue to dinner. Dana won't reach out to me--I hope vainly that she'll reach out to someone. To the God she seems to have abandoned, save for the small gold cross at her throat.
She leaves halfway through dinner, summoned away by work. Bill Jr. glowers at me.
"What the hell is it with this guy?"
"This Mulder guy. Where does he get off calling her in the middle of dinner like that?"
"He's her partner."
"So what? She's at his beck and call?"
I shake my head. He's so much like his father it makes me want to cry. From frustration, mostly, but sometimes from memory. "She has her own life, Bill. You can't make her decisions for her."
"This guy's trouble, Mom. Big trouble."
Oh, Bill, you have no idea.
I hate the smell of hospitals. I've been in too many recently, and the smell makes me think of death.
The days I've dreaded have finally come. Dana's last days, as the cancer within her devours all she has left. In the end she talks to Father McCue, talks to me. Opens up, if only a little. It's a blessing, I suppose, that in these last hours we can be closer again.
Then there's Fox. Showing up with his crazy ideas, with a microchip and a possibility of hope. It's too much. I sit with Dana and hear Bill's voice flaying Fox in the hallway. Half of me wants to go out and defend him. The other half wants to go out and side with Bill. So I sit on the bed next to Dana, holding her hand, because it may be the last time I get to do this.
In the end, though, another miracle. How many can I expect? But I expect none, only accept those that come.
And a tiny voice in the back of my head says in anger, "Dana got two. Where was Missy's?"
Miracles come with a price, it seems. I realize this when I see the anguish in Dana's face as she tells me the horrible truth: she can never have a child.
It's not the end of the world, I realize. She could adopt, or maybe even conceive through some new miracle of today's science. But as I watch the pain on her face I remember the easy time I had conceiving my own children, and the way they felt as they grew beneath my heart, and I ache for her.
And then there is Emily.
How did this happen, that Dana had a child without having a child? Some of the things Fox has said to me over the past several months begin to make sense. I've continued to call him from time to time, to check on Dana, because Dana rarely tells me what's really going on. Sometimes as we talk he opens up to me. Just a few weeks ago:
"Mrs. Scully, I worry about the aftereffects of her abduction. I mean besides the cancer. I found out some other things that were done to her and I don't know whether to tell her."
"God, Fox, please don't tell me it's something else that could kill her."
"No, no, not that. Just something . . . important. Something that would be important to her."
"You have to tell her, whatever it is."
"Yeah. I guess I do."
And again he takes her away from a family gathering, but this time I can't blame her, as they go in search of the truth behind this little girl's existence. My granddaughter, I realize, but I can't tell myself that with any conviction. It's all too difficult for me to understand.
I still hurt, though, when Emily dies. There was nothing anyone could have done to save her. I stand in the small church and bleed inside for my daughter as she mourns for the only child she will ever mother. Next to me, Tara cradles my newest grandson. Dana touches his head with profound love. I don't know if I would have had the strength to do that, had I been in her place.
And again it is Fox who comforts her at the last, when the rest of us leave her to her pain. It barely seems strange to me anymore. He's become such an integral part of her life--even, to some extent, of mine--that at this point it would seem unbalanced without him.
Dana skips into the living room and tosses her purse on the couch.
Wait a minute. Skips? When in the last twenty years have I seen my daughter skip? Okay, maybe it's not quite a skip, but it's damn close.
I stir the spaghetti and examine her very closely as she joins me in the kitchen. She's grinning. I haven't seen one of those on her face in a long time.
I have a thought. I smile. "So how's Fox?"
She blushes. Blushes. And her eyes turn away from me, looking at the wall, the ceiling, the kitchen table. "Oh, Mulder's fine. He just got back from England."
"Congratulations, dear," I say. "It's about time."
Then I can do nothing but laugh as she stares at me in blank astonishment.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I don't understand."
"Was it good? Did the earth move?"
She's bright red now. Her face matches her hair. "Mother! How can you say that?"
"I'm sorry, dear, but you have the look of a woman who's been well-laid, more than once, and very recently."
Her mouth gapes like a guppy's.
"It's okay, Dana. You're a grown woman and I can't say I don't approve of your choice. But it damn well took you two long enough to get around to it."
She collapses into a chair, staring at me. After a moment, her blush recedes and she smiles. "Yeah, Mom, the earth moved. I think it rotated a hundred and eighty degrees on its axis, the wrong way, and then exploded."
I dish out the spaghetti and smile. "Good."
I don't quite know what to make of the message on my machine. It's Dana, calm at first, then near tears. "There's a lot of stuff that's going on with me right now and I just really need to talk." Ominous.
I've just walked in the door, returning from a visit to Bill's. I put my coat back on and walk out again.
I find her in her apartment and there she tells me perhaps the most bizarre story she's told me in the last seven years. Which is, frankly, quite an accomplishment.
Bizarre, amazing, horrible, miraculous. Oppositions butt up against each other mercilessly. Fox is gone, maybe dead. Taken by aliens?--we'll leave that for later. And Dana-- I stare wordlessly after her as she jumps up from the couch and runs to the bathroom. I hear her retching and am assaulted by memory. I spent a total of sixteen months with my head in a toilet--four months for each child.
I get up and go to her, rubbing her back while she dry-heaves. "It's okay, honey. I'll be here for you."
She turns and buries her head against my chest, weeping.
There are some things--too many things--even a mother can't fix.
And this is another. There is a hole in my soul, as well, as they lower the coffin into the ground. It's not right that he should be gone. They made it through so much together.
I guess they just ran out of miracles.
There are miracles, and there are Miracles. There is the miracle of your daughter coming back from the edge of death after a mysterious abduction. The miracle of your daughter recovering from inoperable, untreatable, incurable cancer. The miracle of the growth of life where no life should have been able to grow.
And then there's the Miracle. When the man you watched buried three months ago is suddenly alive again.
I stand in the hospital corridor with Dana, smelling that awful hospital smell. She's big with her pregnancy now, and the sight of her warms my heart. I've watched her progress, watched her child grow inside her, felt the soft rolls and kicks beneath her skin. And wondered. Wondered why doubt flickers across her face sometimes when she caresses the bulge of her belly. Wondered why she won't admit to the obvious conclusion that she carries Fox's child. Has she seen so many strange things in the past several years, seen so many things that should have been miraculous twisted into ugliness, that she can't believe a simple, happy truth?
But she believes this. That Fox has somehow come back from death or some indistinguishable facsimile of it. She wants me to see him.
I'm almost afraid to. How will this have changed him? But Dana leads me by the hand to his hospital room.
He sits in the bed, flipping channels on the TV. The familiar face is marred by scars, but he smiles as I come in.
I can barely assimilate what I'm seeing. "Fox?"
"The one and only."
"Yeah, something like that."
I'm crying. With relief, with happiness, with something that feels very much like love. I go to his bed and hold him for a time, confirming his reality within the circle of my arms.
"Welcome home," I finally manage. "Welcome home."
EIGHT MONTHS LATER
So many changes. The last several months have been alternately harrowing and lovely. For a time I thought I had lost my latest grandson, perhaps the only child Dana could ever hope to have. And much of it would have been my fault, for placing trust where I shouldn't have.
But the danger seems to have passed, and here we all are.
I sit on the couch in my small house, the little, warm bundle that is William cradled in my arms. He's sleeping, burbling a little. In the kitchen, Dana, Tara and Michelle argue about how much oregano to put in the eggplant Parmesan. It's a happy argument and the sound of it makes me smile.
Outside, the boys are playing basketball. Fox, Bill and Charlie. I don't know how they're doing it with three people, but I know I wouldn't have allowed it if Charlie wasn't here. Fox and Bill can't play a civilized game of basketball. They can barely have a civilized conversation, even now. But with Charlie there, things seem to fall into place.
Just like brothers, the three of them. I stand and carry William to the window, to look out at the game. The three boys are sweating, swearing, occasionally laughing. Fox sinks a basket over Bill's head while I watch and Charlie deftly prevents Bill from killing him with a word, a grin, and a grab at the ball.
Bill's son Matthew and Charlie's son Mitch sit in front of the TV watching a Disney movie. They wanted to watch their dads play ball, but last time we let them they expanded their vocabulary in ways none of us approved of. So they're in here instead, being more wholesomely entertained.
I miss Bill. I wish he were here to see this. But I feel him in the air as I smile at the sounds of my family. I miss Missy, as well. Her presence seems also to drift through the room like smoke.
I had two sons and two daughters, whom I carried beneath my heart. My sons brought me two more daughters, and grandchildren who fill my life with laughter. And my baby girl, my Dana, has shown me the truth of miracles, by walking away from death, and by giving me William, the impossible child of her love for Fox. And she has brought me another son.
He still calls me Mrs. Scully, even now, while Tara and Michelle happily call me Mom. He still goes gawky in my presence, still has trouble making eye contact. I can't help but wonder what his relationship with his own mother was like. She's gone now, I hear, so now he's stuck with me.
That's fine with me. Just like my other two sons, he is, and always will be, my favorite.