Disclaimer: X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions; JAG nouns belong to DPB.
Timeline: Set during season 10 of JAG, which equals two years after season 9 of the X-Files. Just to be on the safe side, spoilers for season 10 JAG and season 9 X-Files abound.
Author's note: Thanks to Anne for the wonderful beta. Much appreciated. This one is for Jerie, who just never let up once I broached the idea of this fic.
A field outside of San
3:32 pm, Wednesday
The scar in the earth measured nearly 40 feet in length, about 20 feet or so in width. The grass -- which I was sure harbored snakes, scorpions, spiders, fire ants and possibly other creatures I didn't want to know about -- was flattened and scorched in patches. Above us, the sun blazed down, and humidity hung thick in the air; there was just a hint of a breeze, but not enough to offer respite. Already, I could feel the sweat soaking through my pink t-shirt. Seemingly unaffected by the heat, Mulder squatted next to the crash site, his expression pensive.
I kicked a clod of dirt with the toe of my boot, and then hunched for a second over a piece of metal glinting in the sun. Gingerly, I wrapped it in a tissue and stuck it in my pocket before going to join Mulder. Just to his left, two sets of wheel tracks, probably left from military vehicles, ran from the gash back out to the road.
"What do you think, Scully?"
I gazed over my shoulder at what had been the final resting spot of an F-14 fighter -- or so news reports said. The Internet chat rooms, which Mulder frequented, had come up with a very different theory on what had happened on this field just south of San Antonio.
"I'm thinking it's over a hundred degrees out and we're standing in a field staring at a whole lot of nothing," I said. "There's no X-File here, Mulder." I didn't bother to state the obvious; that for the last two years, we'd been on the run, and while we occasionally did stop to investigate the stray incident of paranormal phenomena we heard about every now and then, for the most part, the X-Files were no longer the biggest part of our life. I rested my hand lightly on Mulder's knee in a vain attempt to soften the blow. "We should go. If we leave now, we can be in San Antonio in an hour, and on a flight back to Vancouver in no time."
"You're giving up? After we took three flights and traveled more than ten hours to get here?"
"Mulder, there's *nothing* to see." I gestured at the wide open space surrounding us. "Whoever gave you your information took you for a ride. He took advantage of you, of your beliefs, and made you think there was something out here, to make you believe the answers you've been searching for lie this field. They *don't*, Mulder. We're wasting our time."
"Come on, Scully." He tilted his head a little to the side to look at me. I noticed for the first time the fine lines at the edges of his eyes. "We've got a plane that takes off from the naval base in Corpus Christi at just after sundown two days ago, and then disappears a few minutes later. The logical explanation, and I agree with you, is that a plane crashed. But a plane crash doesn't necessarily tell the true story of what happened here."
"Yes, it does, Mulder." Even after all of the years, I occasionally found it hard to rein in my impatience with Mulder's wild theories. "Sometimes, there's no need to look any further than the simplest explanation."
Mulder shook his head and stood up. "Look around, Scully. The craft hit ground on Monday. And yet, in just two days, there's no hard evidence left of what happened here," he said, gazing off to his left. "Except for this circular depression, this place has been scrubbed clean. Nichts, nada, zip. Surely there should be some debris left over." He glanced at me again. "You can't convince me our government is *this* efficient, Scully. We should know. We spent eight years --"
"Nine," I said automatically. He flinched at my correction, but I didn't offer an apology; after all, the past was the past, and that ninth year, the first of William's life, Mulder left to keep us safe -- something I had acknowledged but never accepted. I knew that missing time still affected both of us, albeit in different ways.
"Fine," he said, purposely not looking at me. "Nine years working for the government and we both know there is *no* way an accident of this magnitude can be cleaned up this quickly."
I had to admit he was right; the place was spotless, with the exception of the small piece of metal I had found a few yards away. In an open field like this alongside a major interstate, I would have expected more in the way of highway trash -- beer cans, cigarettes, napkins, bottles, any number of things -- but this was possibly the cleanest field in Texas, if not the whole country.
"They missed something, Mulder." I held out the small clip of metal to him. "Does this suggest anything extraterrestrial to you?"
He glanced at the triangle-shaped black fragment. The metal was light, cool to my touch, and I speculated it was probably part of the outer skin of the aircraft. "You're of the opinion this fragment is of this world, Scully?"
I raised an eyebrow at him. "What? You don't?" I held up my hand. "Wait. Don't answer that."
Mulder walked away from me, renewed enthusiasm in his step. "And Scully? Have you ever heard of a *round* F-14? I didn't think so."
I sighed and followed him. "You *don't* know that it was round, Mulder. The evidence--" I gestured towards the indention left behind "—doesn't seem to suggest *anything* other than your run-of-the-mill F-14." I put my hands on my hips, and blew out a breath, to move a strand of hair away from my mouth. "What exactly are you hoping to find here, Mulder?" I asked. Mulder stopped in place, and turned slowly to look at me.
"Do I really have to answer that?" His tone was soft, contemplative, and I bit my lip, suddenly ashamed of myself. It doesn't have to be like this, I thought, but I also knew I wasn't ready to confront Mulder. "You *know*, Scully."
Yeah, I thought with some bitterness, missing time has so much to answer for. "You're hoping to find evidence of an advance landing party?" I asked finally. I smiled, hoping to break the tension.
"Something like that, yeah." He flashed me a lopsided grin, and I knew he was relieved I was playing along with him now. "You don't think the aliens are just going to show up in 2012 without sending scouts first? How else are they going to know where all the best beach properties are?"
I sighed. "Maybe you should have had one of your Internet buddies come out here with you."
"And miss the fun of arguing with you?"
I was about to respond when I saw two figures approaching us -- a man and a woman, both dressed in military uniforms.
"Mulder, we have company."
Mulder turned. "What's that they say about 'more the merrier', Scully?" he asked in a low voice. "Maybe they can shed some light on what happened here."
"Mulder, we've spent the last two years *running* from the military. I'm not thrilled about coming face to face with them *now*." I looked seriously at Mulder. "Has it occurred to you that this could all have been a set-up? A trap to bring us out of hiding? To take *you* back into custody?"
"You're really starting to get a hang of this paranoia thing, Scully. I'm impressed."
"Mulder." I swallowed hard, and licked my dry lips nervously.
He reached and out and gently tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. "It's a risk I was willing to take."
"For what?" It was nearly impossible to keep the frustration out of my voice. "For a *space craft* that may or may not have crashed out here? Mulder! You already know the truth! You already know the date!" I put my hands on my hips and glared at him. "What's left to find?" Mulder flinched and I felt a tinge of guilt. "I'm sorry," I said softly. I reached for his hand and curled my fingers around his.
A slight breeze ruffled his hair and he lowered his gaze to a point somewhere past my feet. "Aren't you curious, Scully?" For a moment, I was wondering if he was talking about colonization or something else. For two years now, every conversation seemed to have a double, loaded meaning. Mulder cleared his throat and continued on. "Aren't you in the least bit curious about what it's going to be like? When it finally happens? How it's going to happen?"
"Well, not at this moment. The officers are almost here."
Much to my annoyance, Mulder didn't appear at all perturbed. He straightened up as the two officers walked up to us. The woman, who was tall and had her dark brown hair pulled back into a chignon at the nape of her neck wore the uniform of the Marine Corps. Meanwhile, the man walking next to her was a few inches taller, dark-haired, and strong-jawed and from his uniform, I guessed he was Navy. By the scowls on their faces, I imagined they were just as unhappy to see us as we were to see them.
"We're going to have to ask you to leave," the man said. "You're trespassing on a federal government crime scene."
"Yeah, we heard about something happening here and me and the missus just wanted to check it out." Mulder slung his arm over my shoulders and I resisted the urge to shrug it off. "Looks like a pretty bad crash."
"You will have to leave," the female officer said firmly. She eyed me carefully. "We will escort you out."
"Are you in charge of this site?" Mulder asked. He extended his hand. "William Fox. This is my wife, Dana." He smiled genially. "Dana likes UFOs, insists we chase after them, and the amount of time she spends in chat rooms, it's amazing I even get to talk to her at all, isn't that right, sweetie?" Mulder flashed a grin at me. I gritted my teeth.
"That's right," I said.
"So she insisted we come down here and see if indeed a UFO crashed at this time."
"I can assure you," the woman said, "it was no UFO."
"So you're sticking to the official story? That an F-14 had engine trouble and crashed?" Mulder persisted.
The two officers exchanged looks.
"I'm afraid we can't answer any of your questions. You're going to have to leave," the man said finally.
Mulder reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of metal I'd found earlier. "How about this?" he asked. "Do you know what this is?"
The woman narrowed her dark eyes and I realized that she'd caught sight of the gun tucked in Mulder's hip holster. "You're both going to have to come with us."
Lackland Air Force Base
The woman sitting in front of me looked worn and gaunt, her long blond hair hanging limp past her shoulders. She wearily wiped a somewhat grimy hand across her face. She didn't look comfortable at all, but then I could sympathize; these small conference rooms with their white cinder block walls and harsh fluorescent lighting were less than inviting. She was wearing a pink t-shirt, tight across the breasts and abdomen, and black pants. Black suede sneakers completed the outfit. I noticed her watch -- a heavy silver belted Pulsar -- on her left arm when she rested her hands lightly on the table.
"Would you like some water?" I asked.
I filled her glass from the water pitcher sitting in the middle of the table. She took it gratefully. I noticed her nails were uneven, the nail polish chipped.
"I'm Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie," I said. "And you are Dana Fox?"
Without hesitation, she nodded. "Yes."
"Your firearm will be returned to you if you are cleared of any wrongdoing," I said. Finding the gun on the man who called himself William Fox had aroused my suspicions. When Commander Rabb and I searched their rental car, I'd discovered another weapon tucked away in Dana's purse. I'd secured it and sent both weapons to the lab to track down the serial numbers and registrations. It had taken about an hour to run down the owners' identities and that in itself had generated more curiosity; Harm had Petty Officer Coates back in Washington, D.C., conduct investigation on the couple masquerading under the names of William and Dana Fox. "We have some real concerns with your story, Dana, with what you were doing at the site, how you found out about it."
"It was on the news," she said matter-of-factly.
"But you had information, about timings, weather conditions, about what the pilot might have seen or not seen," I said. "Where did you learn these details?"
Her gaze was steady and unflinching. "On the internet," she said. "In a chat room. One of those places where you can talk about UFOs 24/7."
"And this chat room you visited, they said this was a UFO? Not an F-14?"
"You believed that?"
At this, Dana smiled slightly. "You have to admit, Colonel, some of the circumstances of the crash *were* suspicious."
I let the comment go. "And so you thought you'd come out here and check it out yourself?"
I jotted down a few notes on my legal pad and then looked at Dana. "And you came from where? Do you live in Texas, Dana?"
She seemed a little nervous now. "No, we flew in from out of state."
She tipped her head to the side. "I can't say."
"You can't say?"
Dana shook her head. "No."
I pushed my chair back. Great, just great, I thought as I rubbed my temples. Harm and I had come down here to investigate whether a highly respected and decorated pilot with Desert Storm experience behind him had purposely crashed his F-14 or whether it was a simple engine malfunction. At no time had I expected to run into a pair of paranoid UFO chasers. "Well, some parts of your story just don't add up. Your firearm, for instance, it's registered to a Dana Scully."
"My maiden name." Instinctively, she curled her fingers into a fist, but I'd already seen.
"You're not married," I said. "The absence of a wedding ring is the least of your problems. Commander Rabb and I've been unable to find a marriage certificate for you."
"You know how the DC courts are with paperwork--" she frowned. "Didn't you say you were a JAG lawyer? Stationed in Washington, DC?"
"Yes," I said.
She smiled. "I miss DC."
"You've lived there?"
"Yes," she said and then took a deep breath. "In a previous life." A faraway look came into Dana's eyes. "It seems like a very long time ago."
"Where do you live now?" I asked.
She eyed me carefully. "I can't tell you that."
I dropped my pen in frustration. "I can have you thrown in the brig."
But she wasn't listening to me. "Where's my partner?" she asked.
"Do you mean your husband?"
"You pointed out yourself we aren't really married." Dana glanced down at my hands. "But then again, neither are you." She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"No, you shouldn't have." I lifted my chin defiantly. "This conversation isn't about me. It's about you, about your 'husband', about what you were doing on a scene that is officially closed pending investigation. And you don't need to worry about your 'partner'; I'm sure he and Commander Rabb are having a similar conversation."
Dana's lips turned up slightly at the corners. "I'm sure," she said, and it was impossible to miss the note of amusement in her voice.
I circled the name 'Dana Scully' on my legal pad. "I find it hard to believe--" I looked up as Harm entered.
"Sorry to interrupt," he said. "Colonel, can I see you for a moment?"
I rose from my seat and followed him into the hall. "What is it?"
He held out a file folder to me. "Coates faxed some background on our two UFO hunters," he said. "Meet Fox Mulder and Dana Scully."
The pages were stamped at the top with an easily recognizable government seal. I looked at Harm in surprise. "They were FBI agents?"
He nodded. "Well, she was until two years ago, which is when they both went missing and no one has heard from them since. Coates is still trying to run down the circumstances of their disappearance, but she says it'd probably be easier to survive an escape from Alcatraz." Harm flashed a quick grin in my direction; I did my best to ignore it. "Their files certainly make for interesting reading."
I shook my head as I quickly read through some of the material. "They specialized on something called 'the X-Files'." I flipped over a file photo of Dana Scully -- red hair framing a heart-shaped face, her intense blue eyes staring directly back at me, and not a smile on those lips. As for Fox Mulder, his hair stood rakishly on end, and he seemed to look somewhat bewildered, if not passive, in his picture. But from what I was reading, it looked as if Mulder had been the leader on their team, though Scully had played an important part as well. "What *are* the X-Files?"
"Investigations into the paranormal, which explains what they were doing out in the field. Apparently, they turned alien hunting and UFO scouting into a full-time career. Now this is where it gets interesting," Harm said. "She's a medical doctor and he's a profiler and both of them apparently had bright futures ahead of them before they got involved with the X-Files and--" he looked at me "-- each other."
"And?" I asked sharply, purposely keeping my attention on the file in my hands.
"I'm just saying, maybe we can give them a little bit of leeway, given their background."
"Tampering with a crime scene is still illegal," I said. "FBI agents or not."
"*Former* FBI agents," Harm said. "If I could get a straight answer out of Mulder, I'd be inclined to let them go, but he seems curiously tight-lipped about *everything*."
"I could say the same about Dana Scully," I told him. "Don't worry, you'll wear him down." I couldn't resist adding, "You usually do."
Harm offered me a patient, thin-lipped smile, and it occurred to me I'd seen that expression on his face quite a lot lately; today, for some reason, it absolutely infuriated me. I turned my attention back to the file.
"Do you have any idea of why they left the FBI?" I asked tightly.
"I've got Coates looking into that as well," Harm said. "Anyway, we need to wrap up our questioning of these two, and then we can get on with the investigation we came here to do in the first place. I've pushed back our interviews with the flight crew until tomorrow morning; it'll take us a couple of hours to drive down to Corpus Christi from here, so I thought we could leave first thing in the morning. What do you think?"
Truth be told, I wasn't really looking forward to spending two hours alone in the car with Harm -- our first extended time alone since I'd ended my relationship with Webb. Thankfully, the flight down to San Antonio had been too loud to actually carry on any kind of conversation; for the first time in my life, I'd been terribly grateful for military transport. I knew, though, sooner or later, the two of us would have to have that talk. We both excelled at avoidance and sidestepping, but I knew time was running out. I swallowed hard as I noted Harm's intent expression; somehow, no matter how many times I'd seen that intensity in his eyes, he always managed to take me off guard.
"Leaving after breakfast sounds good," I said, recovering my composure. I held up the file folder. "Can I keep this?"
Harm nodded and I returned to the small conference room. Dana Scully stood at the far end, her arms crossed against her chest.
"Why don't you start at the beginning?" I dropped the file folder on the table and pushed it in her direction. Dana's eyes widened as she glanced down at it.
"What is that?" Dana asked.
"You, in a nutshell," I said calmly. "I know everything now, that you were a medical doctor, that you were assigned to the X-Files in 1992 to work with Fox Mulder. You investigated the paranormal until 2002, when you and Mr. Mulder both disappeared."
"I'm impressed you came up with so much in such a short amount of time," Dana said softly.
"You must have known the gig was up when we confiscated your firearms," I said. "The only question is why you didn't change the registrations."
She shrugged. "Never got around to it, I suppose."
I gestured at her empty chair. "So you're sticking to your story about what you were doing out in that field?"
"And even if I did, would you believe me?"
I gazed at her. "Try me."
Lackland Air Force Base
Colonel Mackenzie wrote in quick scrawls across her yellow legal pad. She barely looked at me, except for when I paused. The question was a matter of quantity: how much exactly did I tell her about what Mulder and I were up to? The truth was very simple: after Roswell, we'd criss-crossed the country in an attempt to evade the men who were surely looking for us. About six months ago, we'd ended up in Vancouver. I was tired of running, and told Mulder so.
"Let them find us," I had told him. "For once, I just want to live something close to a normal life." Unspoken was the uncertainty about colonization, about what it meant, what it would be like. So we'd rented a two-bedroom house in Coquitlam and Mulder found a job teaching an online psychology course at a community college in Washington State, while I volunteered at a free clinic near downtown. We ate breakfast and dinner together and mostly at a normal times. Late in the evenings, we'd go for walks. Compared to what we'd been used to, this was a quiet life, but I enjoyed it and until I found Mulder prowling the UFO chat rooms, I thought he did too.
"And so he heard about this crash and decided to investigate" Mackenzie asked. In thick but narrow letters, she wrote 'UFO' across the top of the page.
"Yes," I said. I remembered standing in the living room, still going through our mail, when Mulder came bursting through the door, saying he'd booked us on two round-trip tickets on Air Canada to Dallas, via Denver, with a connection to San Antonio on Southwest Airlines. "Whoever he was talking to--" I looked apologetically at Mackenzie "-- said the F-14 had left an unusual indentation in the ground, that it was more reminiscent of a flying saucer, of other alleged UFO sites." I shrugged. "I was surprised because it really is a very simple and obvious case, not esoteric or mythological -- just your run-of-the-mill UFO sighting. But he insisted we should come and see for ourselves." I sighed, twisting my hands together. "And that's when I realized that he would always be this way, that he would always be on a quest, never content with what he has found, with what he knows to be true."
"Which is?" In the harsh fluorescent lighting, Mackenzie seemed devoid of softness or anything resembling that quality. I wanted to ask her if she felt forced into sternness by her environment, by the man she worked with and the rumors that swirled around any such partnership. But I bit back the question and looked directly back at Mackenzie.
"That some things are pre-ordained and cannot be changed."
"That sounds stringent."
"Do you believe in fate, Colonel?"
Mackenzie leaned back in her chair, the pen clattering from her fingers. "I'm not sure what you mean." Impatiently, she pushed her hair out of her eyes and I noticed for the first time her eyes were dark, large and luminous.
"The inevitable events predestined to culminate in a final outcome, one that you cannot prevent or avoid no matter how hard you try, or how much you deny what's happening to you."
I shrugged. "I believe there is a path I've been meant to walk, that there is a reason for things which have happened to me, and all of these events, all of these things I've endured, they've led me to this very moment."
Mackenzie narrowed her eyes. "So you believe this, you and I sitting here and talking, you believe it's fate?"
I smiled. "You don't think so?"
Mackenzie shook her head. "It's hard to know what to think." She bit her lip. "Did you want to come to San Antonio?"
Good question, I thought, one that was hard to answer honestly. During my time on the X-Files, I'd found myself annoyed at Mulder, annoyed he knew I would come if he just called for me. I often thought one day I would just say no to him, and yet, it never happened. Obligation turned to desire, and it was impossible -- towards the end of my time on the X-Files -- to determine where his mission ended and mine began.
"No one wants to come to Texas in July, Colonel," I said lightly. "But Mulder did, and I suppose I could have stayed home and waited for him to return, but--"
"You wanted to be there." There was no emotion whatsoever in the Colonel's voice. I stared at her for a moment. Her expression was stone-faced, giving absolutely nothing away.
"Why?" Mackenzie leaned forward. "I've scanned the information I received from DC, Dana, and scuttlebutt says you followed this man everywhere, nearly destroyed your own career for him."
"Life was never dull," I said quietly.
"But it started as *his* quest, correct? The search for his missing sister?"
"And it became mine."
"And that's why you came to San Antonio today."
I nodded. "Yes."
Mackenzie glanced at me intently. In the background, I could hear the air conditioning unit kick on powerfully. I hunched my shoulders, trying not to shiver.
"And you're okay with that?" she asked finally. "You're willing to go where he goes, just like that? Follow him around the world if need be?"
"Depends. I could do without Antarctica," I said. "And fluke worms."
"You're better off not knowing," I said. "I've seen many things, too many things, that I cannot explain scientifically or rationally. And while I think these experiences have opened my mind to strange and fantastic possibilities, there are phenomena, which I admit, I could have gone without seeing." I looked directly at Mackenzie; her expression was pensive, perhaps even a little sad. "But I would do it all over again if Mulder asked me to. All of it, because it's given me the power, the strength, to save myself, and maybe even Mulder, a little bit."
Mackenzie cleared her throat. "So you're essentially allowing him to call the shots? Allowing his quests to become your own?"
"It's not just about Mulder," I said. I glanced at the door, wondering how Mulder was faring with Commander Rabb; I could only imagine Mulder spinning off abduction theories and hoped desperately the Commander would just accept Mulder's oddball theories. "It's never just about one person, but rather the choices, the decisions you make together, how all of it leads to a singular moment from which you can't turn away, no matter how much you both want to. Maybe Mulder was the one who pushed for this trip, but in the end I chose to join him, not because he told me to come, but because I *wanted* to. There is a difference."
"Was it difficult?" Mackenzie asked, knitting her fingers together. I noticed her wrists were especially slender, her fingers long and tapered. "When you were working together?" For the first time since we'd sat down in this room, I saw some of the wariness in her expression dissipate. Now, she looked genuinely interested and I realized, in more than a professional capacity.
"In what way?" I asked.
Mackenzie glanced off to the side, as if to avoid looking directly at me, and then down at her intertwined fingers. "When did you know?"
"Know what?" I asked in bewilderment. "What are you talking about?"
"That you--" she took a deep breath, paused for a few seconds "-- you worked together. You worked together for long time. Romantic relations between colleagues, especially ones who work as closely as the two of you did--" another deep breath "-- how did you make it work?"
I tipped my head to the side, considering. The question was never one that had come up before really; my romantic relationship with Mulder only took an intimate turn after we'd known each other nearly seven years, but I'd known -- had felt -- that I'd loved him for much longer than that. Expressing such an intangible concept, something that was nothing less than a feeling of intensity I could not deny, was next to impossible. "There was never a question of *not* working," I said finally.
"But you had to get on the same page at the same time," Mackenzie said and the urgency in her voice surprised me. She leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. "How did you do that? How did you know?"
"This has nothing to do with your initial line of questioning, nothing to do with why Mulder and I were in the field," I said softly. Mackenzie reached forward and grasped my wrist in her fingers. Her touch was a gentle pressure against my skin, an almost caress. I pulled away and the color rose in her face.
"I'm sorry," she said very quietly. "It's personal, and--" she shook her head, as if in dismay "-- I'm sorry."
"It's all right," I said. "You're making me think of past things I've taken for granted." I offered her a pensive smile. "I don't mind. It's been a long time--" I took a deep breath "-- since I've talked to anyone who wasn't Mulder. I think, even if two people are together, if you know how well you fit together, that this is where you're meant to be, it can still be difficult. There were times when I wasn't sure if I could handle the intensity of how I felt, how I still feel." I cleared my throat. "That every part of me wants to be with him, to protect him, to take care of him, that being with him is akin to saving *myself*. It's a fierce desire borne of the years we've spent together and it's become such a part of me now, I can't imagine anything else for myself."
Mackenzie's expression turned distracted. "And you?" she asked in a low, but thin voice. "Does he feel the same about you?" And then she waved the question away, swallowing hard. "I'm sorry. It's really none of my business," she said. "Where were we again? Yes, so you flew to San Antonio, rented a car and came to look at this field. What did you hope to find? A flying saucer?"
"In a word? Yes."
At this Mackenzie smiled. "Seriously?"
I nodded. "Or at least some sign an alien craft had landed here, but all evidence was gone by the time we got there."
"I can assure you, no spaceship crashed in that field. I have photos," Mackenzie said. "Captain Alan Grace piloted the F-14 in question. He issued a mayday about four minutes after take-off."
"He reported seeing bright lights, didn't he?" I asked.
Mackenzie looked surprised. "Yes. He said he could see three bright lights."
"Which obscured his vision."
"And then a few minutes later, the naval base in Corpus Christi lost radio contact and then seconds later, radar."
"Yes, you're correct. And you say you got this all off the Internet?"
I leaned forward. "Let's clarify one thing for the record: *Mulder* got it off the Internet."
Mackenzie laughed for the first time since our initial meeting. "I'll make a note of it."
"Mulder believed the F-14 may have collided in mid-air with a UFO, but by the time we got to the field, everything was gone." I smiled wryly at Mackenzie. "You military types really know how to clean up well."
"I can't go into details, but the F-14 did have some sensitive data on it, and the operations folks felt it necessary to get out there right away and pull the flight data recorders."
"And let me guess, it's classified.
Mackenzie's lips turned up. "Maybe if you were *still* FBI, but even then--" Mackenzie's voice drifted off and for a moment she looked deep in thought. Finally she said, "Do you miss it?"
"The FBI? Or something else?"
"All of it. Do you have regrets about the choices you made? Leaving medicine, for instance, to become an FBI agent."
"Remember what I said about fate?"
"So you have no regrets?"
"I wouldn't say that." I took a deep breath. "I try not to dwell on what I've lost." I looked at Mackenzie and her pensive expression made me think once again, she was drifting away from the subject of the F-14's crash. "Do you have regrets?"
Mackenzie inhaled sharply and for a moment, her eyes glistened brightly. Then she blinked and recovered her composure. "I'm sorry. I've just had a rough time these last few weeks, and I'm having a hard time focusing." She glanced intently at me. "You seem like you'd understand."
She shrugged. "It's hard to explain, but I think -- I think to an extent you know what I've been through and what I want, it's what I've always wanted. I just, I just never knew how to get it, how to act on it so that it all worked out."
I stared at Mackenzie in confusion. "I'm sorry," I said finally, "but I don't understand."
Mackenzie rose from her seat and started to pace the length of the room, her heels clicking on the linoleum floor. She tipped her head back slightly so she was looking straight up at the ceiling. Finally, she put her hand down on the table and leaned towards me.
"Tell me," she said quietly. "How did you *know*?"
****Lackland Air Force Base
The hum of the air conditioning seemed to echo even louder with each passing second. Dana didn't move for a long time. I leaned my weight on the back of the wooden chair, keeping my gaze firmly on the beige linoleum floor. How had this happened? I wondered. I had wanted answers from Dana Scully from the very beginning, but I'd never imagine our conversation would twist in such a personal direction. And now, I figuratively held my breath, concerned in my selfishness, I'd pushed her too far. Finally, she looked up at me, tucked her hair behind her ears and gestured to my empty seat.
"Why don't you sit down?" she asked. I did as she suggested -- a tacit acknowledgement she was now in control, that she had suddenly filled the room with her presence.
"You said you've been through a lot," Dana said. "What do you mean by that?"
"I shouldn't have said anything." I twisted my hands together, feeling very suddenly vulnerable.
"But you did," Dana said. "Is there something you'd like to talk to me about?"
I took a deep breath and then, told her everything. I told her about my ex-husband, Christopher. I talked about the search for Harm's father and how we'd found Sergei in Chechnya. Dana poured me a glass of water when my hands shook when I mentioned Mic Brumby and our aborted wedding. Somehow, I segued into Paraguay, how I'd learned the diamond industry in a matter of days. I didn't stop to take a breath when I described my first encounter -- and the last -- with Sadik Fahd. Dana listened to all of this quietly, her chin cupped in the palm of her hand.
"You've endured a lot," she said simply.
I nodded, unable to speak; a hard lump had formed in my throat and I felt dangerously close to tears. Pull yourself together, Marine, I thought.
"And Clayton Webb?" Dana asked. "How does he fit into all of this?"
"I ended it between us about two weeks ago," I said. Amazingly, I didn't stumble over the words. "I couldn't live with the secrets anymore, not knowing where he was, what he was doing, if he was safe or not. In retrospect, I stayed with him too long, and maybe that's what hurts more."
"You're ashamed of staying when you knew it wouldn't work?"
I offered her a smile. "Yeah, something like that." I took a deep breath. "You'll have to excuse me. I'm not very good at talking. It's one of my worst faults. Ha-- Commander Rabb says I don't talk enough."
"Mulder used to have that complaint about me," Dana said with some feeling.
"How do you get over it?" I asked.
Dana shrugged. "Over time, you learn how to read the other person, hear what they aren't saying, and recognize when they need distance and when they need *you*. It takes time and patience and the acknowledgement you don't always have to fill the silence, that you can just accept what's happening to you for what it is and move from there."
"The problem with Ha-- the Commander -- we're never in the same place at the same time." At Dana's confused expression, I hastily added, "I don't mean physically, not at all. We often work the same cases, so geographically, uh, physically, we're in the same place. I meant, um, emotionally. We never seem to be feeling the same thing at the same time. It's just never, somehow it's never seemed to work out and I've gotten to this point where I'm not sure that it ever will, that neither of us want it enough to make it work." I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks as I continued to speak. "For a long time, it was always about Harm. He usually had the upper hand in the courtroom, he was the one running off to fly Tomcats, or taking off to search for his father. And I went along with it because he was my friend and later, I thought, maybe someone more."
"But it never worked out?"
"Like I said, when I was ready, he wasn't and vice versa." I shrugged. "We've spent so much time pushing each other away emotionally I just don't know whether I can take the chance." I clasped my hands together, in an almost gesture of prayer. "Sometimes I think, why ruin a good friendship?"
"Is that the only reason?"
"It's a pretty damn good one, if you ask me."
"Ah." Dana appraised me with a knowing look. "How long have you and the Commander worked together?"
"You can get to know a person very well in eight years," she said softly. "Warts and all."
"I suppose, you're right."
Dana settled back in her chair. For a moment, she stared off into space, as if deep in thought. In the background, I heard the obnoxiously loud tick of the clock, competing with the air conditioning. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, Dana looked back at me; her expression was contemplative. "Are you in love with him?" she asked.
I gave a short laugh. "I went to Chechnya for him, didn't I? I postponed my wedding for him." I shook my head. "Sometimes, he makes me *so* mad, with his single-mindedness, his determination to always play the hero. And maybe I don't communicate well, but neither does he. He expects me to read into his actions, to ferret out emotions from what he *does*, not what he says." I looked at Dana. "Is it really too much for me to *want* something more clearly stated than that?"
"Perhaps that's not the way the Commander communicates," Dana said carefully. "Maybe you just have to accept what he offers and not analyze it so much."
"Yeah," I said. I got up and restlessly roamed the room. "That's me, always looking too deep into relationships, trying to figure out what's going on, what's not going on, where we stand. I over-think and end up even more confused later."
"You seem to have strong feelings for Clayton Webb."
"I think I loved him." I laughed somewhat nervously. "But it's hard to tell now, you know? I miss him in a way I didn't anticipate and there are days when I want to call him and see how he is." Just the other night, I had curled up on my sofa, clutching a lukewarm mug of tea in my hands, and staring at the telephone in near desperation; in the end, I'd gotten up and went for a quick walk outside and when I'd returned, the desire to call Webb had faded somewhat. "But I have to remind myself we weren't good for each other and distance is what I need."
Dana nodded. "Sometimes you just need to make a clean break, walk away."
"Have you done that? Made a clean break before, I mean." It was difficult to keep my tone neutral. There had been times when I'd considered walking away from JAG, from Harm -- and once I'd even done it –- but emotionally, I wasn't sure if I could handle putting physical distance between us. The previous instances when we'd been separated -- my stint in private practice, his return to active flight duty, just to name a few examples –- had never quite felt right. "And if you did, how did you survive it?"
"I was in love with a married man once, and--" Dana took a deep breath "-- it didn't work out for a variety of reasons. It hurt to leave, to break it off, but I had to -- for his sanity. For mine." Her expression turned ruefully. "I think the reasons are self-explanatory and I'll leave it at that. But to answer your question, yes, there have been times when I've wondered 'what if', but I admit, even after all I've been through over the last eleven years, I'm right where I want to be." She laughed softly. "Though, in all of my childhood fantasies, I imagined what every little girl imagines, the type of man I wanted to be with, the type of wedding, house, life, all of it. My very own fairytale and yet, I've ended somewhere completely unexpected with someone whom I would never have predicted for myself."
I sat down and pressed the tips of my fingers together as I stared across the table at Dana. "Did you ever talk?" I asked. "You and, eh, Mulder?"
Dana shook her head. "No, not the way you mean. We never needed that." A hint of color rose in her cheeks. "*Now* we're getting personal."
I was embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right." She waved my apology off. "I understand where you're coming from, Colonel--"
"Please, call me Mac."
Dana smiled, and I realized for the first time what a pretty smile she had, one that reached up to the very edges of her eyes.
"Mac, then," she said. "There's nothing paranormal about matters of the heart. It comes down to nothing more complicated than a leap of faith. There are risks worth taking."
I sat quietly, considering. I can't pinpoint exactly the moment when my feelings for Harm turned from platonic to something more intense, but the attraction had been there from the very first moment when I met him in the rose garden on our first case together. I'd thrown up excuses every step of the way, reasons *why* we shouldn't be together: the regulations against fraternization, the concern our friendship and working relationship would be ruined, that he didn't care about me in the same way, that we were simply not right for each other -- the list went on and on.
"Has it always been--" I swallowed. "Once you knew, once you ended up together, what happened?"
Dana looked down at her hands. "It's complicated, but Mulder, he, um, disappeared." Her eyes half-closed and I thought I heard a hint of emotion underlying her words. "When he came back, um, I was pregnant and we had to adjust."
I stared at her. "He didn't know?"
She shook her head. "He had been--" she hesitated, took a deep breath "-- abducted when I found out and he returned to me in the last couple of months of my pregnancy." She inhaled once again and I sensed despite her 'happy ever after' ending, she still found it difficult to talk about this period in her life. "And after the baby was born, circumstances dictated he had to leave immediately. And I didn't see him again for nearly a year." She shook her head. "When he came back for the second time, I had to tell him I'd given the baby up for adoption. Sometimes, I think that's why he's still searching. Not *for* William, never for William; he wouldn't put his son in danger. But he feels something will always be missing from his life, and I realize this isn't something I can help him with, no matter how much I want to. In the end, that's best answer I can give you about why we were in that field this afternoon." Dana pressed her hand to her face. "You know, it's funny, I haven't talked about those eighteen months in a long time, not even to Mulder."
Dana shrugged. "Maybe it's because I want to protect him from feeling the same sense of loss I did and I don't want him to feel guilty, that there is something he should be doing, that he ought to be saying." She paused for a moment. "I try not to second-guess what I did, but it's never easy. The question always remains at the back of my mind: if Mulder stayed, would I have kept William?" She offered me a lopsided sad smile. "Or perhaps that too, Mulder's absence, my inability to protect our son, maybe that too was all fated."
I wanted to push for more details about *why* Mulder had left right after the baby's birth, but Dana's expression grew distant and she bit her lip. So instead, I said softly, "But Mulder did come back in the end."
And at this, she smiled, almost beatifically. "I always felt, one day, he would." Dana took a deep breath. "No matter what, I always knew he would find me. After Antarctica -- he came all the way there to find me -- I knew there would never be a time when he wouldn't be looking for me. It was just a question of time and a matter of faith."
"Harm came to find me in Paraguay."
"The mission where you posed as Clayton Webb's wife?"
I nodded. "They tortured Clay and when they found out I wasn't really pregnant, Sadik Fahd's men threatened to torture me too. That's when Harm showed up. To save the day." I couldn't help the cynical note from creeping into my voice. "I was glad to see him, but furious at the same time. I wanted to believe Clay and I could extricate ourselves from the situation without Harm's help, but the truth was, Clay badly needed a doctor and I was strapped down to a table, in danger of being turned into bloody pulp myself." I pressed my hand flat against the table. "I was excited about participating in the undercover mission because I wanted to prove to myself, to Harm, to the Admiral, that I was capable of doing the job on my own."
"It sounds like you held your ground well," Dana said softly. "You learned about diamonds, you managed to translate Farsi--"
"And somewhere along the line," I said, "I convinced myself I was in love with Clayton Webb." I got up to pace. "If only Harm had been clear about what he wanted from me, if only he could just tell me *why* he had come--"
"Did you really need that?" Dana asked suddenly. She stood up and came to stand very close to me. "Did you *really* need that verbal reassurance?"
Dana shook her head. "Resigning his commission, coming to Paraguay, searching for you --" Dana looked me straight in the eye. "Tell, me, what does that mean to you?"
"I don't want to read too much into anything. I don't want to be hurt."
"I understand that. But even at face-value, what does it say?" Dana's hand was light as it covered mine. "It's an extraordinary gesture, beyond the realm of friendship."
I stared at her. "Oh God," I said finally. I rubbed my eyes wearily. I'd woken up around 5 this morning, and then we'd taken a flight out of Dulles down to San Antonio. At this point, every muscle in my body was screaming for rest and my feet were aching. All of this fatigue made it impossible to think clearly. I made my way back to my chair and sat down. A few seconds later, Dana followed suit. "You think I made a mistake with Clayton Webb?"
"I don't know," Dana said. "I don't know you well enough and I don't know Mr. Webb at all. It only matters what *you* think, and whether you believe you can save what you have with Commander Rabb, if indeed that is what you want to do."
I sat back in my chair and contemplated the woman sitting opposite me. We'd been in this small room for nearly two hours, and I still had so much to ask her, but nothing related to the case at hand. I knew I couldn't keep her much longer, but I also didn't want to let her go. "So," I said finally, "what next?" I wasn't talking about the case and I knew Dana recognized that.
She shrugged. "As soon as you let us go, we'll head back home, I suppose. You?"
"We have depositions scheduled in this case all day tomorrow and if we get to everyone we need to talk to, we'll fly back to DC in the evening and then decide whether we have enough information to proceed with an Article 32 hearing."
"I'll let you know if we find any evidence of a UFO," I said half-jokingly.
Dana shook her head. "It's all right, really." And then she pointed at my pad and pen. "Can I borrow those? Thanks." Quickly, she scrawled an email address on the sheet. "Feel free to contact me if you have any questions." She pushed the pad back towards me. "I have a feeling we can help each other."
On this point, I thought Dana was simply being kind, that I was the one who needed her guidance and not the other way around. But I nodded and thanked her.
"I really have nothing else," I said. "I'll check on Harm and see where he is with your partner."
I walked to the door and then stopped, turned and looked at her. "A leap of faith, huh?"
She smiled at me. "You won't regret it."
River Walk Marriot
I felt grungy as we stumbled into the hotel room. Another hotel room, I thought in despair, but at least this one had some softer colors than the ones I'd grown accustomed to during our cross-country tour of motels. No brown carpet, no orange bedspreads and thank goodness, no dilapidated furniture or massage fingers. We'd missed the last possible flight to Vancouver and Mulder had suggested we spend the extra night on the river walk. A kind of honeymoon, he had said, and then offered to carry me over the 'threshold', such as it was; I promptly declined the offer and walked into the room on my own weary two feet.
Mulder heaved our bags into the closet and then promptly fell backwards on the king-size bed. I opened the curtains and stared down at the famous San Antonio river walk below. Tour boats made their way through the canal, and on either side, the sidewalks were filled with passersby and those enjoying an evening meal outdoors.
"Mulder," I said. I turned around just as he switched the television to ZNN. "What about dinner?"
"Dinner. Down there. You've dragged me all the way to San Antonio and now I insist you feed me some of that famous Tex-Mex food."
Mulder arched an eyebrow. "Demanding, aren't you?"
I smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. "We had a close call today, didn't we?"
He reached up lazily and touched a strand of my hair. He hadn't particularly liked the change from red to blond, but he knew it had been necessary. "I still don't believe, as you do that, that it was a trap," he said. "But you were right, there was no X-File, only wishful thinking on my part." He took a deep breath and sat up. "Commander Rabb showed me the photos, the wreckage--"
I stared at him in surprise. "I thought the crime scene was classified."
Mulder shrugged. "Well, it might have been before, but--"
"The Commander was eager to prove you wrong."
"Something like that." Mulder took off his shoes. "He also showed me pictures of the 'UFO'."
"Apparently, a local car dealership was sweeping the skies with bright lights and the pilot was momentarily blinded and didn't see a weather balloon, the end result being a whole lot of nuts and bolts ending up scattered in a field outside of San Antonio." He sighed. "I guess I read more into it than there was. You know how some of these chat rooms can be. They spin information in every which way -- in this case, turning a weather balloon into a UFO. You play along long enough and you find yourself adding to the paranoia and eventually it turns into one giant game of Telephone. You're not quite sure what's true, what's not, and you just have to go on your gut. Unfortunately, this time you were right." He offered me a rather sheepish grin. "Go ahead and say it, Scully. Go ahead and say 'I told you so.'"
I shook my head. "Mulder, you have to be careful," I said. "You can't go off after every UFO sighting you hear about, every case about the paranormal, not anymore."
He eyed me. "The red-haired you *was* more fun."
I ignored him. "Don't you see? People could be trying to lure you out into public, to get their hands on you, to take what you -- what *we* -- know. Doesn't that concern you?"
"Sure it does, Scully," he said. He got up and the bed bounced slightly. "But it doesn't change who I am." He went into the bathroom and a few seconds later, I heard the water running. I pulled back the comforter and lay back on the sheets, my feet hanging off the side of the bed. I closed my eyes and thought about Colonel Mackenzie, about the hint of desperation I'd heard in her voice when she'd talked about Commander Rabb. Finally I got up and went into the bathroom. Mulder was showering.
"It's me," I said.
"I should hope so."
I leaned against the bathroom sink. "Colonel Mackenzie and I had an interesting conversation."
He shut the water off. "Yeah?" He peeked around the shower curtain. "Don't tell me she's got an interest in the paranormal."
I made a face at him. "Do you ever wonder, Mulder? About us?"
Mulder frowned. "I don't understand."
I handed him a towel. "How we got to this moment, how we managed to survive, and that we are still together." I took a deep breath. "And maybe why it took us so long in the first place."
Mulder shook his head. "No," he said. "It just is." He placed a kiss lightly on my forehead. "I just knew." I pressed my face against his wet chest, wrapping my arms around him. His solid presence confirmed what I'd known about him from the very beginning, that he would always be there for me, and that I could forgive him for the times he wasn't. I tipped my head back and stared at him. "I told her about William," I said.
Mulder watched me very carefully. "And?"
I shrugged. "That's it." I cupped his face in my hands. "I am okay," I told him. "I want to know you are too, that you aren't still looking for the answers that just don't exist, that you aren't going to be taken in by those who intend to deceive you, who mean you nothing but harm."
Mulder stared back down at me and very slowly and deliberately he kissed me on the lips. "I can't promise you that, Scully."
I stared at him in frustration. "Mulder."
"You told me in Roswell you wouldn't give up fighting and I took you at your word," he said. "I'm still fighting, Scully. Are you?"
I considered for a moment. I was tired, yes, but Mulder did have a point; we couldn't stop because of fear; that's what the nebulous They would want. "Just promise me you won't chase after every single lead you get off the Internet, okay?"
"So I'm guessing the trip to Nashville to check out the potato chip shaped like Elvis is off?"
I rolled my eyes. "Get dressed, Mulder. You can't fight the good fight in your birthday suit."
Mulder leered at me and then swatted me with his towel. I yelped. "I thought you liked my birthday suit."
His breath was hot against my neck. "So, woman, what are we having for dinner?"
Lackland Air Force Base
Harm picked at the remnants of his enchilada dinner before pushing it back in my direction. He tipped his chair back and looked at me lazily. "How's the food?"
I took a sip of water. "Decent." I looked around the mess hall; at this late hour, we were the only two still eating and the cook and other kitchen workers were in the process of cleaning up. In the background, the omnipresent hum of the AC and the buzz of the fluorescent lights combined to strip away any shred of ambiance this large room might have possessed. Not to mention, dinner trays and cheap silverware also destroyed any illusion this dinner we shared was anything but work-related. "'Edible' would be a kind description."
"That's not a resounding vote of confidence," he answered.
I smiled. "I suppose beggars can't be choosers," I said. "We do owe the Air Force a big thank you for the use of their facilities. I was afraid after the transport landed, we'd be sent straight down to Corpus Christi without so much as a hello. I was very pleasantly surprised."
"Turner can be very forceful when he needs to be," Harm said in a somewhat grudging tone of voice. I laughed. While a part of me found the friction between Harm and his old friend somewhat amusing, it also hurt me to see them pulling them away from each other, perhaps in a knee-jerk reaction to some of the tension Harm and I had endured over the last year. I wondered if Harm's friendship with Turner could be saved when the new JAG was appointed and Turner resumed his old duties. "But you're right; it was nice of the Air Force to give us a ride down, otherwise, we'd have lost valuable time if we waited for transport to the Corpus Christi base. This way, we were also able to examine what was left of the crash scene."
"And meet two very interesting people." Contemplatively, I ran my finger over the rim of my water glass. "Don't you think?"
"Yes," Harm said. "'Interesting' is one word to describe them." He lapsed into silence. Just as I'd shoved a spoon of Spanish rice into my mouth, Harm leaned forward. "What's on your mind, Mac?" The question was an open invitation and the unusual directness of it took me aback.
I stared at my half-eaten quesadillas. "I was just thinking. About Mulder and Scully."
"More specifically, about something Scully said to me while I was questioning her." I looked him directly in the eye. "It was about you."
"Sounds like you talked a lot more than about UFOs," Harm said in a joking tone of voice.
"As did you and Mr. Mulder," I said. "I hear you took him out to the flight tarmac."
Harm flashed a cocky smile in my direction. "I would have taken him up too, if I'd been allowed."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "Well, for small miracles, I'm thankful."
"That's the problem, Mac," Harm said. "You have no faith in me."
I stared at him. "What did you say?"
Very slowly and carefully, Harm said, "'You have no faith in me.'"
I put my fork down, pushed my plate down. "You told me not too long ago you'd always be there for me." I took a deep breath. "You have to understand, Harm, it's hard for me to just take what you say on a matter of faith."
"I don't know what to say, Mac. I've done everything I can to convince you my intentions are nothing but noble," he said. "I can only say I'm ready to talk when you are."
"I'm aware of that." I stared down at the faux wood laminate tabletop. "And I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it. I'm sorry for making you wait." In the background, I heard someone drop a dish. "I just never know how to act around you."
"Why is this so hard for you?"
"Hard for *me*?" I stared at him in disbelief. "What about you?"
"A couple years ago, maybe, but I've changed. You asked last week about Commander Merrick, how a good man can do a 180 and lose all the principles he learned in the Navy in order to turn a quick profit." Harm leaned forward, his gaze intense as he stared at me. "You might not believe such a change in character is possible, Mac, but I do."
"You *have* changed, Harm, and for the better." I hated that I sounded condescending, but Harm didn't seem to take offense.
"Thank you for acknowledging that."
"I just wish I could trust this change in you."
"Have I ever given you reason to doubt me? To doubt what I'm saying?"
"You don't want to go there, Harm."
"I guess I deserve that." He considered for a moment. "How about in the last year?"
I was silent. The last year had been hard, between Harm's silence in the aftermath of Paraguay, and then our bitterness with each other when he'd finally returned to JAG. But I had to admit, he had come a long way since he'd assumed Mattie's guardianship and in the last couple of weeks, he had been nothing but supportive when I had told him about my diagnosis of endometriosis, not to mention, helping me out when I revealed Clay was not dead, as we'd previously thought. I remembered Dana Scully pointing out perhaps Harm communicated better through actions rather than words. I found it hard not to smile at the distinction; in the courtroom, Harm's rhetoric was unparalleled and much to my disgust, virtually undefeatable.
"Mac?" Harm asked softly.
I heard a door slam in the background and suddenly, the room fell quiet. I twisted around and saw the kitchen staff had finished up and it was just the two of us. My heart was beating furious as I stared across the table at Harm. Carefully, I reached out and covered his hand with mine. In that moment, I decided to accept the invitation he'd extended.
"We need to talk," I said. Even to my ears, my voice sounded scratchy and far away. For what had to be the millionth time today, I forced myself to pull it together. Buck up, Marine, I thought, don't back down *now*. "Harm?"
"I know," he said. "I've been saying we've needed to for over a year.
I shook my head. "No," I said, "now. Let's talk *now*."
Harm smiled at me. "Why now?"
I shrugged. "Maybe it's because I finally understand what you've been telling me all along." I smiled back. "Because I've been obstinate, willful, stubborn, hurtful -- all of those things -- and somehow, you've never wavered. You've always been there for me, even when I didn't want to acknowledge it."
"You asked me to have faith--" I took a deep breath "-- so I'm going on my gut, Harm." I looked at him directly. In the harsh light, every feature in his face seemed somewhat more pronounced, but still so familiar. Without thinking, I reached out and gently ran my fingers over the curve of his jaw.
Harm's smile widened as he turned his face into the palm of my hand. "Your 'gut' has saved my life before," he said softly, and I knew he was referring to the time when he'd been lost at sea.
"I'm counting on it now." I closed my eyes as he put his hand against my face. "To save us both."
~ the end
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