Vignette, rated G.
Spoilers/Timeframe: Set between Never Again and Memento Mori.
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Beta thanks to MaybeAmanda and Char Chaffin.
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Summary: She thinks about the tattoo.
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She thinks about the tattoo.
Well, she argues with herself, it's not that she thinks about it. It's not that she's trying to think about it. It rises to her awareness when she's not expecting it; it surfaces like a sea creature swimming to the crest of an ocean swell, surprising her with its muted splash and its gulp of air before descending again to the depths. So, yes, she has to admit: she thinks about it.
Of course she'd thought about it for the first week. She had to. It might have been undertaken on a whim, but it was a wound, in effect, and it had to be cared for in order to heal. She carried a tube of A & D ointment in her purse for the first two days after she was released from the hospital, and anointed the tattoo faithfully every three hours. She exchanged her long soaks in fragrant frothing baths for spartan showers. On the third day she changed the ointment for a small bottle of Lubriderm and excused herself to the ladies' room to perform her ritual as often as propriety allowed.
By that fourth day she no longer needed to stand before the mirror, twisting her neck to peer over her shoulder, to locate the red snake on her back. She could feel its outline like Braille under her fingertips. By the end of the week, when the dry skin over it had flaked away, when her tactile sense began lying to her, telling her there was nothing remarkable on the surface of her skin, she knew its location by heart. It was right there -- right where his hand had always hovered protectively, possessively, behind her.
She refuses to ask herself whether that was why she chose that place for it.
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Late on a Friday night four weeks later she pushes the key into the lock and leans wearily against her own front door, letting it swing open under her weight. She has lost weight, she thinks; it seems that she has to lean against it harder now than only a few weeks ago. She chides herself that she is imagining things, shuffles into the vestibule, and lets her purse and overnight bag slide from her shoulder to the floor.
The door swings shut behind her. She touches the light switch and leans over, gathering up the last few days' mail from the floor. She straightens up and thumbs through the envelopes. There is nothing from the doctor's office, and though she's steeled herself against the possibility, something sinks inside her.
She toes off her shoes on her way to the desk where the red light on the answering machine blinks insistently. She leans down and reaches for it, but she hesitates and stands for a few seconds with her hand in midair, forefinger outstretched, before punching the button. She hears her hairdresser's voice and pushes the button again; she hears her mother's voice and skips that message too.
"Dana, this is Evelyn from Dr. Aquilino's office," the third message begins. "We have your lab results and the doctor would like you to come in so he can discuss them with you. Please give us a call at --"
She knows the number. She punches the button to silence the machine. The protocol is familiar enough. Good news can be sent through the mail or left on answering machines. Bad news must be delivered face to face, distilled through sympathetic tones and compassionate gazes. She stands very still for a long time, studying the pool of lamplight on the carpet. At its edges she can distinguish the texture of the rug, the warp and woof of the fabric revealed in shadow and light. She realizes she has never noticed it before.
She will need time off from work. She hasn't told Mulder yet. He will want an explanation. Eventually he will corner her doctors, one by one, and demand it of them too. She cannot bear thinking of how she will explain this to him now when she hasn't even been able to explain the coiled serpent on her back.
She leaves the mail stacked on the desk and turns away, reaches absently for the light switch as she passes, lets her fingertips graze the wall to guide her down the hallway in the dark. In the bathroom she brushes her teeth and washes her face by the dim light of the streetlamp outside the window. At the foot of her bed she lays her clothing on a chair and pulls a nightgown over her head. She crawls into bed and pulls the sheet and the soft quilt around herself like a cocoon.
Slowly her left hand slides out from its place tucked beneath the pillow, slipping down between the sheets, curving over the swell of her hip, finding its way under the hem of her nightgown, coming to rest on her lower back. She cannot feel the tattoo. She doesn't need to. Her fingers outline its edge, tracing the circle, tracing the circle.
And she thinks of life as a circle, an unending spiral, feeding off itself, birth and death and birth, death and birth. The primordial serpent entwined in the roots of the tree at the center of the world, the snake eating its own tail. World without end, amen.
She drifts to sleep thinking about the tattoo.