by Oracle

Title: Butterfly
Author: Oracle
Classification: SRA
Spoilers: Excelsis Dei
Rating: PG-13
Keywords: Mulder/Scully Romance, mytharc, alt-u Summary: "I can still see it, Mulder. Every detail was perfect, as though we'd never left that place."

Comments: Recently I watched Excelsis Dei for the first time and went hunting for post-eps. Guess what I found? Not a single one! As far as I know, no one has written a post-ep for Excelsis Dei. I couldn't resist.

I swiped a few ideas...okay, a lot of ideas, from Field Trip. But rest assured, there's no yellow goop involved.

Thanks to Jody and shaz for their fantastic betas!

And thanks to Circe for the beautiful website she's created for my stories:

"I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man"

--Chang Tzu

Water spills through a crack at the top of the door.

Scully can't think. How many minutes does it take to drown? Five minutes? Five minutes before permanent brain damage, in any case. How many minutes have passed?

The door is a waterfall now. Surely there's enough pressure to burst it open. She starts pounding on it.


She's done everything, tried everything. Now she's screaming his name even though he can't answer. He's trapped in the bathroom. He's drowning. Her knuckles are bleeding. Ms. Dawson stands beside her, trying to soothe her, maybe trying to pull her away.

The door creaks. How many minutes have passed? More than five. About ten. Ten minutes. Mulder must have found a way out. Some air vent, some hidden passage. This isn't how it ends, she thinks. This isn't the end.

The door unhinges. Scully pulls Ms. Dawson out of the way as they watch it burst open with a gush of water, two bodies washed in the swell. Mulder and the nurse. Neither of them is moving.

Scully can't breathe. She's gasping on air like a fish. This is what drowning feels like, she thinks. I know how it feels to drown.

She kneels beside Mulder and puts a hand to his cold, soaked skin. There isn't a pulse. How can this happen? His wide wet eyes are staring up at her. This isn't Mulder. Where is he? She grips his slippery suit lapels and shakes his body. It's a dead body. It can't be his body.

She finds her voice to scream his name again. Where is he? This isn't him. This isn't how it ends.

Warm, warmer, she can smell Mulder all around her. She's sobbing into his neck.

"Christ Scully," he murmurs in her ear, his voice breaking on her name. His lips brush along her jaw and she holds him tighter. He's wrapped around her, strong bare arms, cotton T-shirt and sweats, heart pounding beneath her chin. "God, you scared me. I heard you screaming in here and I thought you were being..."

She pulls away a little, sliding her palm up to press against his neck, his pulse. He covers her hand with his own.

"It was a dream," she whispers.

"You want to tell me about it?"

It's too dark to see his eyes. She reaches over to switch on the lamp. There he is, tearstained and relieved. She raises up on her knees and kisses the tip of his awkward nose.

He laughs quietly, pulling her back down into his arms. "What was that for?"

It's better not to reply.

"You really want to hear about my dream?" she asks, and feels him nod, his chin brushing her hair. "It was what happened today. Only you drowned. And it was real, Mulder. It was reality. I've never had a dream like that before."

"Hey," he says, kissing her forehead, the crease of her ear, her cheek. "It was a dream, Scully. It's okay."

"I don't want to sleep."

She'd be embarrassed if she hadn't just watched Mulder die. That's how it feels. It was real. And now here he is.

"Do you want me to stay?"

She untangles from him entirely before she answers. "Yes."

Mulder stands and picks up the remote, flicking on the TV. It's 'The Wizard of Oz' on mute. Dorothy walks out of her house, into a technicolour dream world.

"Toto," Scully whispers, "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

She takes the remote from Mulder and turns up the sound as he wanders into the bathroom, rubbing his eyes. When he returns he plumps up some pillows and sits next to her, taking her hand.

By the time the Wicked Witch is sinking into a puddle of goo, "I'm melting, I'm melting...oh, what a world!", Mulder is asleep. Scully wraps her arms around him, the living heat of him. She presses her face to his shoulder but she doesn't sleep.

They fly back to DC at nine the next morning. Groomed, business-suited and calm. They discuss the weather, basketball and their plans for New Years' Eve. Mulder flirts with the flight attendant and Scully rolls her eyes at him.

She likes to pretend certain things have never happened to them. She's never been missing, Mulder's never been shot. They've never spent a month in quarantine and there was no flukeman. Last night is just another thing that never happened.

She went to bed, she slept, she woke up. She didn't cry in Mulder's arms. She didn't spend half the night pressed to him, breathing him in, afraid he'd disappear if she fell asleep.

Last night and its dream seem far away. Mulder plugs himself into his walkman and she steals an earphone, rolling her eyes again when she realises it's the Sex Pistols. But she keeps listening.

She closes her eyes.

She's standing in the corridor of the Excelsis Dei nursing home. Someone drapes a blanket around her shoulders and whispers words of consolation. In front of her are two black canvas body bags. She looks up.

Ms. Dawson is talking to a group of police officers, making wild gestures, crying.

Scully looks back down. She knows Mulder's body is in one of the bags. Mulder is dead.

She kneels down and reads the labels. One of them says:

///Mulder, Fox William
Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation///

When she puts her hand to the bag, it shifts and squelches.

Mulder has pulled her half onto his lap.

"It's okay, it's okay," he whispers. "It's just another dream."

When she opens her eyes she leans up and brushes her lips against his mouth. It hurts to pull away. She's crying again. He strokes and soothes his hands along her back, urging her to take deep breaths.

The flight attendant pauses beside their seats. "Sir, ma'am...is everything all right?"

"Yes," Mulder replies. "Just a bad dream." His doesn't break Scully's gaze. When the attendant's heels clack away down the aisle, he asks, "Was it the same dream?"

She shakes her head and briskly climbs off him, settling back into her seat. She takes out a Kleenex and dabs her eyes dry.

"It was a continuation," she replies, trying to be detached, analytical. "As though I'd gone into shock after the events of the first dream. I opened my eyes and I was standing in the corridor, looking down at your body bag. I can still see it, Mulder. Every detail was perfect, as though we'd never left that place."

"Have you had any dreams like this before?"

"Mulder, I already told you no."

He shakes his head, "I mean, subject-matter wise..."

"Oh." She swallows. "Yes. Sometimes. But it's just a vague feeling...my dreams have always been that way. A feeling of losing you, or of you leaving. Sometimes images but nothing concrete."

"I wouldn't leave you," he says, too bluntly for it to be melodramatic. She already knows it, anyway.

"What do you think brought this on?" she asks, straightening her suit.

He shrugs, trying to seem casual, professional, as though they're discussing a case. He puts one of his earphones back in. An act for her benefit, of course. She can see right through it, but she still appreciates it.

"I don't know," he says. "Stress or fatigue. Probably both. I know you won't like me suggesting this, but Scully...maybe you should take some time off."

"No." It's simple. She's had about five months of "time off" this year. She refuses to make it six.

"Just for a while. A couple of days."

"What's the point of that?"

"You can accomplish a lot in a few days, believe me. Sleep, eat, watch daytime TV, get through a stack of magazines -"

She raises an eyebrow. "Those ones you don't own?"

"Well, in your case it would be a stack of romance novels." He waggles his eyebrows and leans a little closer. "You know, 'Flames of Her Desire', 'Passion in the Jungle', 'Taming the Crimson Rose' -"

"Mulder, I don't read romance novels," she says, wishing she didn't blush so easily.

"Whatever," he replies with a smirk. He hands her an earphone and leans back against his headrest, closing his eyes. It's the Ramones now, 'I Wanna be Sedated'. She nods along to the beat, even though she hates the song, and doesn't sleep.

At home Scully scatters rose crystals across a hot bath before sinking in up to her neck, attempting to luxuriate. Instead she starts fidgeting, wriggling her red toes in the water, picking a spot of mildew with her thumbnail, turning over onto her stomach, the porcelain smooth and cool against her chin.

She tosses and turns as though in bed. Fatigue gnaws behind her eyes. Her optic nerves ache and her mind feels heavy, feverish and slow, even though she knows there are no sensory neurons in the brain.

Leaning back against the tiled wall, she closes her eyes and tries to think about Mulder as she sometimes does in the bath, when she's tired and sad, when her body feels cold in the heat.

It doesn't work, she can't think.

Her eyes are closed. It's cold.

She's standing at the doorway of her apartment, holding her bag. This is where you reach into your pocket and take out the keys, she tells herself. Her arm bends, muscles contracting. Apparently, she's still alive. Her hand reaches into her pocket. The keys are warm metal against her palm.

She takes her hand out of her pocket without the keys. She sinks down on her knees in front of the door. It's too difficult.

Her cell phone rings. She lets it ring for a while. Eventually it stops.

A few minutes later, it rings again. By now, she's slumped against the door. She takes out the phone and clicks it open.

"Scully," she says.

A man clears his throat. For an instant, she thinks maybe -


"Agent Scully, I..." says Skinner. "I'm not sure what to say."

It would be better, she thinks, if no one said anything ever again. People should be quiet. The sky should be dark.

"You have my full support," he continues, "whatever you choose to do now."

"Thank you," she says. Then she clicks off the phone and throws it against the opposite wall. It breaks.

She stands up, unlocks her door and walks inside.

The body is being flown over in the morning. The body.

Scully walks into her kitchen and starts to break cups. She isn't out of control. This is methodical. One by one she takes them out--fine crystal, supermarket glass, clay and porcelain--and drops them to the floor. The sound of shattering is a comfort.

Eventually there are no more cups, so she starts on the plates.

Soon, there is nothing. Her heels crack shards beneath her feet.

This isn't the way it's supposed to end.

She sits on her couch and waits for morning. The night passes quickly, lit by streetlight glow, by police sirens screaming past, by the painful flaring in her mind. Eventually, the sun rises behind her blinds.

She changes clothes, she goes down to her car. She's going to drive to the morgue. The body is there by now. She's going to say goodbye before the funeral.

Scully opens her eyes. Mulder is kneeling beside the tub, gripping the porcelain rim. He's terrified.


She's up to her neck in freezing water. Mulder scoops her out of the bath without regard for her nudity, saying nothing. He wraps her in a towel and carries her into the bedroom, clutching her against his chest.

"Mulder, what's going on? What happened?"

Then she remembers the dream and wraps her arms around his neck.

"Mulder, God," she says, kissing his jaw, rubbing her cheek against his skin. "Mulder, you're here. You're here."

He makes soothing noises and she realises he's shaking badly, worse than she is.

"You didn't come to work today," he says. "So I came here."

Scully puts her face against his shoulder. He wraps them both in her quilt, rocking her in his arms.

"I knocked. I called out your name. No one answered, so I used my key. I thought you'd be in your living room, asleep on the sofa. But you weren't. I went into your bedroom and you weren't there either. When I found you lying in the tub I thought -"

"Hey," she says, running her palms under his crisp dress shirt, along his back. His skin is warm, smooth. "Mulder -"

"You were dreaming again, weren't you?" he whispers. He traces her mouth with his thumb.

They sit in silence for a while, holding each other.

"What time is it?"

"About nine thirty."

She nods, stroking her hands across his chest, his heart. "Do you want to hear about the dream?"

"Do you want to tell me?" he asks, and swallows. She can feel it against her cheek, his Adam's apple moving up and down, his breath quickening.

"It was a continuation of the last one. I was back in DC. I arrived at my apartment, I went inside. I sat up all night." She holds him tighter, unable to express it exactly, to pin it down with words. "I broke everything in my kitchen, piece by piece. I never knew it would be like that. I never wanted to know. I couldn't call you."

Mulder tilts her chin and looks down into her eyes. "Scully, this isn't right."

"To state the obvious."

"This dream...it almost sounds like you were awake."

"You're saying I was hallucinating?"

"Maybe." He closes his eyes, shakes his head. "I don't know. Something to that effect. Unless falling asleep in your tub is usual for you."

"It's never happened before."

"What do you think we should do?"

"I -" She doesn't even know where to start.

"Could you have been drugged? Those hallucinogens, at Excelsis Dei...could they have caused a reaction like this?"

"I guess it's within the realm of possibility, Mulder. But it doesn't make sense. You were exposed to those mushrooms just as much as I was, and you haven't been experiencing symptoms."

"Well...I can think of at least one other explanation."


He sucks in a breath. "I don't think you'll prefer it, Scully."

"Just tell me."

"Well," his voice goes very soft, almost reverent, "maybe it has something to do with...with what happened to you this year."

Scully shakes her head, unable to process his words. He stares at her, expectantly, but she doesn't want to think anymore. She presses her lips to the chocolate brown mole above his jaw. She's always wanted to do that. She does it again and tastes his skin with the tip of her tongue.

Before she can prepare herself, Mulder starts kissing her. He runs his tongue over her lips, once, twice, before she opens them for him, letting him in. Holding her face in his gentle hands, he kisses her without restraint, hot and wet. The tip of his nose rubs over her cheekbone.

His kisses her until she digs her nails into the hard muscles of his back, moaning. Her towel slips down around her waist.

"Scully -" he whispers, breathing hard against her lips.

Rising up on her knees, she brands her mouth to his and starts un-looping his tie. He pulls away and rubs his nose against the notch of her throat.

"Scully...please -" he's incoherent. "Scully. Got to stop. Stop."

"Oh." She wraps herself in the towel as she stands up.

It's hard to look at him. When she does and sees his grin, she's on the verge of fleeing the room. She doesn't think she can handle this.

But then he tugs her back into his arms, pulling her body against his, her back to his chest. "Come on, Scully," he murmurs in her ear, "what do you take me for?" And she realises he wasn't grinning at her expense. It was a smile of perfect happiness.

"I don't want to stop," she manages.

Mulder kisses her earlobe and she shivers. "Neither do I. But we have to talk about why you -"

She nods and closes her eyes, leaning into him. His silk tie and cotton shirt feel luxurious, decadent, against her skin.

"Look Mulder, it might not be as serious as we think it is."

"I want to get it checked out."

"And how do you propose to do that?" she replies, chuffing a laugh. "What will we tell the doctors?"

"I don't know." He presses a sloppy kiss to her neck and she smiles. "We'll figure it out."

Mulder calls Skinner on the way to the hospital, giving as few details as possible. "Yes, sir...no, it's not serious...yes, sir, we'll be back at work tomorrow..."

Scully stares out the window at the bumper-to-bumper traffic, fighting to keep her eyes open. Mulder's voice and the patter of rain outside aren't helping. For some reason she feels as though she hasn't slept in days.

When he clicks off the phone Mulder turns to give her a reassuring smile. She smiles in return, deciding not to reveal her state of fatigue. It doesn't really matter, anyway. If she falls asleep now, Mulder will wake her. There's nothing to fear.

He takes her hand and links his fingers through hers, warm and gentle. She closes her eyes for a moment.

The ER is packed with screaming, bleeding people. Doctors and nurses race from one patient to another. The walls are lined with beds.

Mulder grabs a nurse by the shoulder, a Hispanic man who gives him a dirty look.

"She's not waking up. She won't wake up. You have to do something," he babbles, fumbling for his ID card. He's holding Scully in his arms. Cold skin, lips almost bloodless. When he saw her slumped over in her seat he almost swerved off the road. He finds his badge and holds it up, "We're FBI."

The nurse nods and ducks off to find a doctor.

The rest is a blur for Mulder. It seems to take hours but must only be twenty minutes before Scully's in a bed, a doctor checking her over.

"You say she's been having strange dreams?" The doctor opens Scully's eyes, one after the other, shining a tiny torch. "Have there been any...major life events recently? Anything that could have brought this on?"

"There's a possibility she's been exposed to hallucinogens of some kind. And...well, she was missing for three months this year. We're not sure what happened." This isn't the time for discussing alien abduction.

The doctor raises her eyebrows, taken aback. "You got any leads?"


"Well, I'll go take a look at her charts," she says. "And I'll try to get her a private room. Should anyone be contacted?"

"I'll call her mom and her sister."

Scully wanted to say goodbye, but when she sees the body laid out on a metal table she knows coming here was a mistake. It's covered with a white sheet, up to the neck. The eyes are closed. Mulder isn't here.

"I'm sorry," she tells the attendant who showed her in. "I can't do this."

"Are you sure?"

She turns and walks out of the room, quickly, before she can start crying or hyperventilating or being sick.

Outside she runs to her car and gets in, pulling out of the parking lot with screeching brakes, not sure where she's going.

Mulder's dead, she can't stop thinking. Mulder died. He's nowhere. There's nowhere to go.

She knew him for two years, only two years, but she's never felt anything like this before. This isn't grief. This is being cut in half, a magic trick gone wrong. This isn't what she'd thought it would be like.

Scully is alone. She drives.

When Mulder walks outside to get cell phone reception, the first thing he notices is the stink of burning tobacco. He turns around.

The nameless man is leaning against a wall, smoking.

Mulder can't help it. Rage eliminates higher consciousness. Reduced to instinct, he grabs the man's collar and slams him up against the wall.

"What the hell is going on?"

"Calm down, Agent Mulder," says the man, with a snake's smile. "I'm here to give you information, nothing more."

Mulder keeps him there for a moment longer, enjoying the only power he holds over the man-brute strength.

Once released the man straightens his tie and takes another drag.

"As you know, Agent Scully recently underwent a series of...tests."

"Experiments, you son of a bitch," Mulder growls. "You used her like a lab rat."

The man continues unperturbed. "One of these tests involved the implantation of an advanced form of microchip, too small to be detected on a hospital X-ray. Unless, of course, you know where to look for it."

"Where is it?"

"The base of her neck, in a position where electrical signals can be transferred to the brain."

"What kind of signals?"

"These microchips," the man continues, "have caused unfortunate side-effects, despite years of research conducted to perfect their technology. We recently came to believe that these faults had been corrected. However, your partner's fear-induced hallucinations indicate otherwise."

"How do you know about -?"

"You're a smart man, Agent Mulder." The man smiles again. "Just like your father. You can figure it out."

Mulder leans close to the man, getting right in his face, fists clenched at his sides. It's almost painful to hold back.

"I'm going to kill you."

"I don't doubt it. But," the man's smile widens, "you might need my help in the future."

"And why is that?"

"Simply removing the chip may not have the desired effect." The man drops his cigarette, crushing the spark beneath a well-polished dress shoe. He walks away before Mulder has a chance to lose control. "Give my regards to Agent Scully's family."

Scully finds herself at Mulder's apartment. She unlocks the door and walks inside.

There's a stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and she washes them, humming. She tells herself that Mulder is about to get home with a stack of files and some take-out Chinese. They'll get their work done quickly and stay up watching old movies. She'll take a cab home when he falls asleep on the sofa.

She finishes the dishes and stands with her hands floating in the lukewarm, soapy water. Mulder will get back any second. She waits in a daze.

After a while she unplugs the sink and walks through Mulder's apartment.

She looks around at Mulder's dining table, Mulder's hat stand, Mulder's alien lamp, Mulder's outer-space photographs, Mulder's leather sofa, Mulder's porno movie sticking out of the VCR, Mulder's Navajo blanket, Mulder's dirty T-shirt bunched up on the floor. She folds it and puts it on the coffee table. Mulder isn't here.

She walks into the bathroom. Opens the mirrored cabinet. There's Mulder's toothbrush, his toothpaste, his shaving cream. His razor.

She closes the cabinet.

He'll be back any second. He isn't dead. It never happened.

Her body folds, she can't help it. She sinks onto the tiles, stifling sobs. She doesn't cry.

Margaret Scully arrives while Scully is being X-rayed. Mulder fills her in.

"You say there's no scar?" she asks. "Fox, are you sure this man's to be trusted?"

"He's definitely not to be trusted, Mrs. Scully. But I can't see why he'd lie to me about this, when it's so easy to uncover the truth."

Margaret's eyes spill over with tears, but she doesn't start to sob. So strong, he thinks. It must be genetic.

"Fox..." she begins, then shakes her head.

"What is it?"

"What if taking out this chip...what if it kills her?"

He closes his eyes. He can't look at her.

"I've considered...that," he says. "But I don't know what else to do. If we leave it in, it's unlikely she'll ever wake up. Of course, there's always a chance..."

"I think we should take it out," says Margaret, voice firm. "But we should wait for Melissa. I'll call Bill and Charlie, but they've been at sea for months--they don't know the details well enough. It's up to the three of us."

"It's up to you and Melissa, Mrs. Scully. Not me."

"After what happened this year, I consider you part of the family. I was planning a memorial service, while you..." Margaret clears her throat, "You brought Dana back to life."

She's roused by the sound of Mulder's phone and answers it with a bleary, "Scully."

"Your boss, Mr. Skinner...he called me." Her mom sounds frantic. "He told me what happened. What are you doing, Dana?"

"I'm..." she looks around. "I'm sleeping."

Her mom takes a sharp breath. "How about I come and pick you up?"

"No, mom, I don't think that's a good idea."

"I'll take you home, Dana, make you some chicken soup. And we'll talk."

"Mom -"

"Dana, don't argue with me. Please, just let me -"

"He's gone, mom," Scully whispers. "There's nothing you can do. Okay? I need some time."

"Dana -"

"I guess..." Scully swallows, "I guess I'll see you at the funeral."

She clicks off the phone and switches on the TV, sitting back on Mulder's sofa. She imagines him lying here during the months she was missing, waiting for her to return. She imagines how he felt the day he waited for her to die.

Melissa sits beside the hospital bed, listening to Mulder's story. When he finishes she doesn't hesitate.

"Take it out," she whispers, grasping her sister's hand. "Mom...?"

Margaret nods. "I feel the same way."

"Dana would hate being controlled like this," says Melissa. "By this...this artificial thing inside her. She wouldn't want her power taken away."

It's been two days since they cut out the chip. Mulder sits slumped and rumpled in a chair beside the hospital bed, fast asleep.

"Fox," says Margaret, from across the room.

He blinks, yawning. "What?"

"Fox, look -"

He sits straighter, "What is it?"

"She's crying."

Margaret points to the tears trickling out of her daughter's eyes, then presses a hand to her mouth, her own tears beginning to fall.

Mulder stands and bends over his partner, stroking her hair, her face.

"Scully, please. If you can hear me, open your eyes."

She doesn't move. Her tears keep flowing. Mulder brushes them away with his fingertips. He kneels beside the bed and picks up her limp hand, kissing her palm, her knuckles, the bend of her wrist.

"I'm here," he says. "I'm here, Scully. Open your eyes."

Scully nods politely at Mulder's parents, then lets her mom embrace her. She didn't bring anything to the funeral except sunflower seeds. She was planning to scatter them but instead keeps them clasped in her pocket. She can't let go.

Mulder's family has hired a priest who gives the formal, expected speech. Scully's eyes leak tears like they've been slit open. She didn't bring anything to dry them. She didn't think she could cry.

When the priest finishes his sermon Scully looks away, looks anywhere but at the gravestone. She notices the Lone Gunmen standing several yards from the rest of the mourners. Frohike waves her over but she pretends not to notice. She tightens her grip on the sunflower seeds.

If she concentrates she can hear Mulder's voice saying her name, telling her he's here. She closes her eyes and feels Mulder's presence beside her. Mulder holding her hand, telling her it's going to be okay.

"Scully," says Frohike, and she opens her eyes. The three of them are standing in front of her, uncharacteristically dressed in suits and sober ties. She's not sure what to say.

"I can still hear him," she blurts out.

She feels as though she doesn't have a right to cry like this, in front of them. They've known Mulder much longer than she has. She swipes at her eyes, suddenly angry. Byers hands her an immaculate linen handkerchief.

"Thanks," she says, trying to calm down. "I'm sorry. It's just that -"

And then she hears Mulder's voice, clearly. "Scully, it's time to wake up now."

She shivers.

"Are you okay?" asks Frohike, putting a hand on her arm. "Scully, why don't you come with us? We'll drive you to the wake."

"We can talk," says Byers.

"Reminisce," Langly adds.

Frohike raises his eyebrows, "What do you say?"

"Mrs. Scully, I think it's time we started looking for another way," says Mulder. He sounds defeated.

Scully glances around, wildly. "What's going on?"

The Lone Gunmen stare at her.

"Scully, you're freaking out," says Langly. "You wanna go sit down or something?"

"I'll get you some water," offers Byers.

"No, no." Scully puts her face in her hands, pulling herself together. "I'm fine. I'm just...I'm tired. I haven't slept since -"

"Dana?" her mother walks up behind her, takes her gently by the elbow. "Dana, why don't you open your eyes?"

"Mom, what are you talking about?"

"I asked whether you were coming with me."

Scully closes her eyes, rubbing her temple. Severe fatigue and emotional upheaval can bring on a state of delirium, she reminds herself. That's all this is. If she were pleading her case, she'd claim temporary insanity. It will be over when she opens her eyes.

When she opens her eyes, the cemetery is gone. She blinks. Her eyes sting as though they've been closed for days, not seconds.

She tries to move and realises she's lying down. The ceiling is white. There's a scent of disinfectant. Bleeping machines. She's in a hospital bed.

"Did I faint?" she whispers, looking around.

Her mom is sitting next to her bed, stroking her hair, smiling. "Dana. Thank God."

"Mom, did I faint? At the funeral?"

Someone clears his throat and squeezes her hand. "You've been dreaming, Scully."

Scully holds the glass tube up to her bedside lamp, studying the microchip. It floats in deionised water, a speck like a sea monkey. Tiny and seemingly harmless. She rubs the back of her neck, her fingertips catching on gauze.

"I want to know..." Mulder begins. He swallows. "I want to know if you think I did the right thing."

She starts, staring at him.

"Of course I do," she says. "What else would you have done?"

"There's still a risk," he whispers.

"Mulder, there's always a risk." She smiles, tentatively.

His expression brightens with relief. But he's tired, too. Completely exhausted. He's bleary-eyed and stubbled, his freckles standing out against his pale skin. A glance at the wall clock tells her it's 9:15 pm.

"Why don't you come and lie down?" she whispers, shifting over and patting the mattress. She puts the tube on a bedside table, next to Melissa's gift of daffodils.

He chuckles. "You're kidding."

She waggles her eyebrows and pats the bed again. "I'm not going to wait all night."

He flops down beside her, using the old yawn-and-stretch to put his arm around her shoulder. Then, briefly, sweetly, he kisses her. She reaches over to switch off the lamp and the room becomes night-flooded, quiet except for the sirens outside.

"Do you ever wonder...?" she murmurs, before they fall asleep.

"Wonder what?"

"If this is all a dream."

He kisses her again, his lips lingering on hers. His mouth tastes of coffee, hers of lime jello. It's perfect.

"If we're dreaming," he whispers, "I don't want to wake up."

"Neither do I," she replies, yawning and leaning closer, resting her head on his chest. "Neither do I."

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