He froze, of all the things he’d thought she was going to say, that had never crossed his mind.
“You told me when I figured out why I didn’t trust her to tell you. I must have, have recognized her on some level. I never saw her do anything, I never saw any of them do anything; they were just in their minds. She was with the man. I couldn’t hear . . . Mulder?”
He still couldn’t seem to move. In fact, he was scaring her. She rose quickly and slid into the booth beside him. Now it was her trying to protect him from the rest of the world, as he had done for her. Her arms went around him, giving him back the warmth that seemed to have drained from his body.
“Mulder, I’m sorry.” She’d obviously handled this wrong. Her reactions were off, maybe her dislike of Diana had caused her to overreact. But when she had remembered seeing her it had seemed so clear.
“I trusted her. I . . . she found the X-Files with me.”
“I know.” The waiter approached to pour them some more wine, but she shook her head, cautioning him away.
“I’m a fucking idiot. I should have known, I should have - “
“Mulder, you are not an idiot. I, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but . . . you already knew.”
“What?” He finally seemed to see her again.
“You never shared Samantha with her.”
“But she knew about her.” He said bitterly.
“Maybe, but Mulder you still protected yourself. Part of you knew. And since you know about her, maybe she can lead you to him.”
His head came up suddenly. “Find him?”
“I don’t know. It’s what you do, at the FBI. If you could find out what happened . . . Mulder, I’m sorry. Do you want to leave?”
“What? Uh no, we haven’t eaten.” He glanced around, seeming to remember they were in a public place.
“No. Let’s eat. I don’t want to . . . “
“Okay.” She started to stand, move back to her seat, but his hand stopped her and she sat back.
He managed a sick sort of grin, “I guess it’s a good thing your parents aren’t with us tonight for several reasons.” She leaned her head against his shoulder.
He led her to the car, his hand on the small of her back. He tried to move her toward the passenger side, but she stopped. “Mulder, maybe I should drive.”
“Can I trust you? You don’t even have a license.” He tried to joke about it, but she took the keys from his hand. He didn’t protest, slipping into the passenger seat himself.
“Actually, I do. It hasn’t even expired. But I may need help navigating.”
“Your parent’s place is . . . “
“No, the guys. We were going to drop off the picture.” He had been there for her, now she could be the strong one, look after him. This was a good excuse not to leave him too soon.
He nodded, “I’d forgotten.”
“If you don’t feel up to it . . . “
“No, it’s a good idea, and I’m not ready to be alone tonight. Not yet anyway.”
“Mulder, you know I wish - “
“Sssh. I think you’ll be okay tonight. You should be with your parents.”
“I’m hardly eighteen Mulder, I’ve got to see about getting my job back, finding an apartment - “
“Don’t rush it Red. You’ve been through a lot, more than you may even realize yet.”
She turned to look at him, “We need to talk about this some more.”
He nodded, but didn’t commit. He sat quietly watching her then. Her hands on the wheel, her quick glances up at the mirror - she was so controlled, capable. Or was she acting? Last night she’d practically been in a fetal position, now she was looking after him - how could he be sure she was really okay?
Langly opened the door, “Hey, we just got a pizza, want some?”
Dana smiled up at him, “We just ate, I’m full. Don’t know about him.”
Langly glanced over at Mulder, but he shook his head, “Maybe later.”
“You okay Mulder?” Frohike swallowed and asked as he eyed the man.
Dana kept quiet, this was his, to tell or not, as he wanted. Byers stood and moved closer, “Mulder?”
“There is, uh . . . “ he looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then shook his head. “There’s a possibility that Diana might be working with . . . “
“Oh yeah.” Langly said as he moved around Mulder and snagged another piece of the pizza.
Mulder stared at him, “Oh yeah? What, you guys knew? You never - “
“Mulder.” Byers spoke calmly, “we didn’t have any evidence. It was just a feeling.”
“Come on dude, she has access to all the stuff we do and possibly more. So how come she’s so slow with the help when you need it.” Langly queried.
“It’s true Mulder.” Byers spoke again, “Time and again we’ve gotten information that she should have been able to get. We haven’t said anything because, well, she is your . . . “
“Chickadee?” Frohike offered.
Mulder glared down at the little man, whose face reddened under his scrutiny. “She is nothing to me.”
Dana’s hand touched his arm, “She’s your partner, Mulder. If she has information . . . “
Mulder shook his head and stepped away from her and the others. The men watched, but kept their mouths closed. After a moment Dana opened her purse.
“Do you guys have any software that could age a person from a picture?”
Frohike looked away from Mulder and back to her. “Sure, I downloaded some a while back. I wanted to see what El Ponytail would look like in a few years.”
Langly snorted, but Byers reached for the small frame. “Is this . . . ?”
Dana looked over at Mulder, but let him answer. “Yeah. It’s Samantha. Think you can bring it up to . . . say 27 to 30?”
“We’ll get right on it. You want to wait?”
“No. I should get Red home. Take your time.”
“Mulder, if you - “
“I’ll talk to you later, okay?” He wouldn’t meet Byers’ eyes, just taking Dana’s arm.
He pulled up in front of her home, but neither made a move to leave the car. “Mulder, are you going to be okay?”
“Red, you’re the one that needs to be looked after.” But he didn’t seem particularly steady himself.
“You could stay here again tonight. They’ll understand.” She glanced at the house.
“In your bed? I don’t think so.” He tried to smile.
“You were there for me last night. I want . . .”
He shook his head. “I don’t think I’d be very good company.”
She tugged his fingers from the steering wheel and squeezed them. “You know I don’t want just your company Mulder. I wouldn’t have survived without you last night. I want to be with you.”
“I do know, but we . . . I’m sure we’re later than your Mom had in mind. I need to get you inside.”
“Mulder, you can call me, any time. There’s an extension in my room.”
“I don’t want to wake your parents.”
She paused then, “Mulder, are you angry with me, because I - “
He turned to her abruptly, “No. Red, I’m not . . . I don’t know what to think. If I could be so blind about her, what else have I missed?”
“Mulder, Diana has to be very good at what she does. Don’t blame yourself for this.”
“I’m supposed to be good too, Red.”
“You are the best. Believe it.”
“Come on, let’s get you inside before they ground you and forbid me to see you.”
She sighed, “I’m here for you. Please call me.”
He nodded and got out. He walked her to the door, and stepped inside with her. He noted the lights left on. “I better get out of here. I have no doubt your Ahab is listening for me to drive off.”
“You’re probably right.” She managed a small smile. “Dinner tomorrow? Here?”
“If I’m still welcome.”
“Mulder - “
“I’ll be here. Maybe I’ll have some information on your smoking friend.”
She nodded, pulling his face down to taste his lips once more, knowing it would be a long night alone, for both of them.
Dana was moving toward the kitchen when the phone rang early the next morning. It had been a long and uncomfortable night. She hoped it was him. She suspected that his night had been no better. “Hello?”
“Dana! Oh my god! Dana, are you really back? Are you okay?” The woman sounded completely breathless and excited.
“Yes! I saw the article in the paper this morning. You’re home! I’ve got to see you. Can you go out? Could I come get you for lunch?” She finally paused for a breath.
“Becky, calm down.” She actually chuckled as she visualized her friend, practically bouncing over the phone. “Yes, I can come out, but if you move your car, you’ll never find a parking space. I’ll pry my car keys from Mom and come over there. We can eat in the food court there at the hospital and visit.”
“Dana, are you sure?”
“Yes. I need to run a personal errand this morning anyway. Twelve thirty?”
“I can’t wait. You’re home!”
“I am and I can’t wait to see you either.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll let you go. Don’t be late Dana, I’ll go crazy!”
“I promise. I’ll see you for lunch Becky, just let me get dressed.”
“Yeah, okay. Bye!”
Dana hung up musing and continued on to the kitchen.
“Well,” her mother observed the smile on her face, “who was that?”
“Becky.” Dana smiled at her. “I’m going to meet her for lunch. Is my car running?”
Maggie’s smile dimmed, “Do you think you should go alone? I mean, you haven’t driven or - “
“Mulder let me drive some last night. I did very well. And I’ll be in familiar territory. Mom, it’ll be okay. And, and I need to prove I can do this.”
“I know, which doesn’t mean I’ll stop worrying.”
“Well I expect that.” Dana smiled, “So my car is okay?”
“Yes, I drove it at least once a week; there should be a full tank of gas. You say Mulder let you drive?”
“Um hum,” Dana answered around a mouthful of muffin.
“You two are growing very close, aren’t you?”
Dana coughed as a crumb caught in her throat. “Uh, we . . . He’s very special to me.”
“So . . . so you and Daniel - “
Dana sobered, “Mom, that was a mistake. I can’t talk about this now, but what I feel for Mulder after just this little time . . .” She looked away for a moment, she shrugged “There’s no comparison.”
“I need to take a shower. There’s something I need to do before I meet Becky at the hospital.”
Maggie nodded, watching her. She knew Dana was pushing herself, when hadn’t she, but she liked what she saw.
Frohike hurried to unlock the door, “Lovely Lady! We weren’t expecting you this morning. Is the big guy with you?”
“No, is it safe?”
Byers came up behind Frohike, “I’ll protect you from him Dana. It’s good to see you. Was . . . was Mulder okay after you left last night?”
Her smile disappeared, “I don’t know. He was shaken. Maybe I shouldn’t have - “
“No, he needed to know. We should have said something.” Byers glanced over at the other two men and shrugged, “we just didn’t know what to say.”
She nodded. “Anyway, I thought I’d check on the picture, see if you got anything.”
“Oh, yeah.” Langly turned back to the desk. “We made several, different variations, hair colors, things like that.” He picked up a handful of papers, and handed them to her.
She took the chair that Frohike held for her and smiled at him, then looked at the first photograph. They had chosen her hair color and she chuckled, “I don’t think so.”
Frohike lifted one shoulder, “I like the color.”
“Thank you, but her complexion is wrong for it.”
“We tried to soften the nose, a more feminine version of Mulder’s.”
“Hey, his nose is perfect.” She protested.
“Uh yeah, and you wouldn’t be the slightest bit prejudice?”
“Who me?” She grinned. She felt comfortable here, almost as much as at home. She scanned through several of the pictures, then she stopped, the smile and color fading from her face.
“Dana? Are you okay?” Byers moved closer.
“This one . . . oh god.” The edges were crumpled in her fists.
“What is it?”
“I can’t . . . can I have this?”
“Uh sure. We’ll get you a new copy. Dana, are you okay?”
She nodded, “I have to meet someone, a friend for lunch. Don’t tell Mulder I took this. I need to see him, but don’t . . .”
“Dana, why don’t we call Mulder, have him pick you up?”
“No. I need to think. After last night, I . . . Please, I’ll be okay.” She rose from the chair and straightened the picture she had held, folding it and slipping it into her purse. Langly handed her a second copy of the same picture and she took it silently. “Thank . . . thank you.”
They let her out, but exchanged looks. “What was that?” Langly asked no one in particular.
“I don’t know. She looked like she’d seen a ghost.” Byers shook his head.
Dana forced her mind away from the picture. She needed to talk to Mulder but after last night, she wanted to handle it better. She parked in the visitor’s lot and took a deep breath to steady herself, then got out and stood looking at the hospital. Nothing seemed to have changed in the year she’d been gone, but it wasn’t true. Everything had changed.
Though she had told him not to, Daniel had left his wife for her. She didn’t understand that. They had fought bitterly over her decision to specialize in pathology. He had taken it personally, a slap against him, and if she were honest, that had been part of it. He had become so controlling. How could she have ever thought she was in love with him? Hero worship maybe, but he had taken advantage. When she’d finally found her backbone and walked away, he had switched to cajoling and needy. She shook her head; she was here to see Becky.
Dana locked the car and moved inside. She had no need to ask for directions and the volunteer was new, so she kept her head down and hurried. Becky had said not to be late.
She stepped into the food court, but before she had a chance to even look around, heard Becky call her name. Dana turned toward the sound to see a large table, filled with friends, standing, waiting for her. Her cheeks colored beautifully and she was passed around the table to hugs and kisses. The babble threatened to overwhelm her when Becky firmly took her arm and led her to a seat. “Enough! Let the poor woman get a breath. Dana, I’m sorry. They found out you were coming . . . “
Dana relaxed a little, feeling more protected with Becky at her side. These people were real, she was really at the hospital and, and safe. “It’s okay. I’m glad to see everyone. I just wasn’t expecting it.”
Questions were tossed at her, but she stuck with Mulder’s words - she had been released by her captors and there was an on-going investigation. She couldn’t talk about it, but her health was returning and she had been back for a short while.
“You should have called me Dana. We were all so . . . you’re alive. There were times . . .” Becky’s eyes filled with tears.
“I know.” Dana’s own voice was choked. “I’m very lucky.”
“Will there be a trial?”
“I certainly hope so.” She responded, “But I’m not much help to the authorities. I don’t remember about my captivity. I heard that the man who took me from my apartment is dead.”
Becky nodded, “They found him in your car, but you were . . . “
Dana nodded, “Enough about me, really I’m going to be fine. Tell me what’s been going on here.”
They obliged her, changing topics. She noted others in the area looking at her and whispering, but decided to ignore it. There would be no trial, but hopefully everyone’s memory would be short.
They brought her up to date on hospital gossip, leaving Daniel out of the conversation. Carol mentioned that her sister was getting married and that brought Dana back to the picture folded in her purse. How was she going to tell him about this?
“Dana? Are you okay?”
She looked up, startled. “Sorry, I guess I zoned out. There’s a lot to absorb.”
The others began excusing themselves to get back to work, until only Dana and Becky were left.
“Dana, I hope you’re not upset. I couldn’t - “
“Becky, it’s fine. It was good to see everyone and also good to know I could handle it. I was pretty shaky when I got back.”
“But you’re okay now?”
Dana smiled, “Getting there.” Something drew her attention to the door. Her eyes widened and her lips parted in surprise and, and what looked like delight. Becky turned to see what had captured her attention.
“Damn.” Becky breathed. At that moment, Mulder spotted Dana and moved toward their table.
“Mulder?” Dana’s eyes were locked on him.
“Sorry, I didn’t want to intrude, but I . . . I wanted . . . “
Her cheeks colored again, “Uh, Mulder, this is Becky Levinson, a very dear friend. Becky this is Mulder. He helped with my rescue.”
“Mr. Mulder.” Becky held out her hand, which he shook. “Pleased to meet you.”
He nodded and finally looked at the seat next to Dana. “May I?”
“Please.” She nodded, moving her chair slightly closer. “Becky had a welcome home party for me. Everyone else has gone back to work.”
“Which I need to do too Dana.” Becky rose, “I’ll call you tomorrow. We need to find a time we can talk, just the two of us.”
“Yes, I’d love that.”
She watched as Becky left out the South side of the large area. Mulder watched Dana. He looked slightly embarrassed when she turned back to him. “So, how did you find me?”
“Look, I’m sorry. I’m not stalking - “
She smiled, “Did you call her or did she call you?”
He smiled, slightly embarrassed. “I called your Mom. I know you’re completely capable of - “
Her lips brushing softly across his shut him up. “Let’s get out of here.”
They rose from the table and his hand lightly touched her back to lead her out. Something made him look back and he spotted Daniel watching them from the opposite entrance. Dana hadn’t seen him, but it felt . . . uncomfortable. Had he messed up a meeting between them?
“Hey, Mulder.” She tugged on his lapel, “Where did you go?”
“Oh, uh sorry.”
She looked up at him, trying to read that expression. “Do you have to get back to the office right away?”
“Uh, no. I have a little time, why?” Her smile sent his blood racing. “This time of day my apartment isn’t that far . . . “
“What a good idea. I’ll follow you.”