June 12th, 1982
On the evening of the final day, Dana lays out the purchases from the roadside store atop the map spread open on the dashboard. Sunflower seeds and yogurt covered raisins, two cherry cokes and a pack of spearmint gum. Her whole world is in this car, assembled in two suitcases and a duffel bag in the trunk, and a collection of snacks recently purchased with cash from her life savings.
Well, not quite her whole world. Outside the window, he’s fiddling with the gas pump, and she watches him, the smile that won’t seem to leave her face starting to make her cheeks hurt. She reaches over, pushes on the button to lower the window on the driver’s side.
“Need some help out there, hot stuff?”
“You’d better not be eating all my sunflower seeds before I get a chance to have any,” he warns her, his back still facing the car.
She giggles and reaches for the bag, tearing it open and stealing a few just so he’ll laugh about it when he sees.
“Then get back in here and kiss me so I don’t have to,” she calls.
She’d left the wedding night lingerie in a heap on the bed, beside her engagement ring and her cross, discarded for good at long last. His Roswell, New Mexico t-shirt suits her just fine braless, the sleeves rolled up to her shoulders, her hair tangled and messy from the wind down her back. The cutoff shorts she’d made herself are mobile and freeing, worn with use, and she props her foot up on the seat comfortably.
Mulder leans in the driver’s side window, eyeing the sunflower seeds suspiciously, and she laughs. His gaze finds her immediately, and he is visibly lovestruck at the sight of her, hovering with blue twilight behind him and fixing her in place with the sweetest of smiles.
“I won’t be a minute,” he promises, indicating the shop with a jerk of his thumb.
She nods. Watching him walk away feels blissfully temporary.
Flipping down the visor in front of her, she meets her own gaze in the little mirror. Her face is freckled, cheeks pink from sun and excitement, and the curly wisps of hair in front of her ears fuzz from humidity. There’s not a speck of the makeup she’d have worn if she’d stayed to get married, the infrequently used kit abandoned in her parents’ bathroom, and her lips are chapped from too many kisses at the side of the road, from biting down on them as she stares at her other half in the driver’s seat. The sight is unfamiliar, a side of herself she’s never let out so freely before, but it feels right, looks right.
It looks like her, bright eyed and wild, bursting with life and not bothering to contain it.
When it gets darker, too late to drive, Mulder will attempt chivalry, suggesting a motel stop, a bed and shower. She’ll remind him of their plans to save money for D.C., and kiss him for being sweet. They’ll recline the passenger’s seat all the way back, and she’ll curl up against him, burrow into his chest. Tucked away in a nest of Mexican blankets and warmth, they’ll sleep soundly for the first time in months with the night breeze on their faces, breathing together, surrounded on all sides by windows and the endless sky just outside.
He’s dropping into the driver’s seat with a declaration of her name before she’s had a chance to notice his approach, and she scrambles to fit their drinks into the cupholders, the snacks dropped in the glove compartment as he turns on the car.
“Ready?” He asks, grinning rakishly, her outlaw, her hitchhiker.
There’s a moment of silence, and then he catches on, eyes lighting up. He’s on her in seconds, scooping up her face in his big hands, mouth hot and demanding on hers, and she gasps against his lips. This is what she’s been waiting for, a kiss to claim her in public, where anyone could see, any secretive shame left dead or dying on the miles of Kansas highway behind them.
“Ready,” she says, breathless, when they come up for air.
As Mulder pulls out of the gas station, her fingers go to her throat on instinct, searching for the cross that’s dragged her steadily closer to six feet under for so many years. She comes up empty, and smiles. Instead, she lays her hand on his between them, a new habit to replace the old one.
The blacktop rolls beneath them, the open road pointing them east, towards the morning. Behind them, Kansas is level and endless, a final flatline, heartbeats dying out into silence. They will not go back. They aren’t ready to die, and she can’t imagine that they ever will be.