Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Kimberly, Cancerman, and the black cancer all belong to CC and 1013. That doesn't leave me with much. No infringement intended.
Author's Note: All explanations thus far regarding the black oil have been disregarded. Also, this story revolves around the events during the Tunguska/Terma arc. You don't HAVE to have seen them, but it would help tremendously. E-mail me with any comments, XScout@hotmail.com ...I didn't even beg this time.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Could someone become addicted to aspirin? Did it really matter? He tossed back the small white pills and rubbed his temples in an attempt to ignore the ache that seemed to have set up permanent residence throughout his body.
He didn't know how much more of this he could take.
For the past three days Mulder had been having severe pains course through his body at random intervals, with no rhyme or reason. At first they were just annoying, stabs of pain that lasted only a moment, making him wonder if he had sprained something. But the frequency and severity increased over the next seventy-two hours and any hope that it was a pulled muscle or such diminished with each passing minute. How could anyone pull every muscle in the body at once? The constant discomfort coupled with a pounding headache made it impossible to sleep and water was the only thing his stomach could manage to keep down. The idea that it could be the flu flitted through his mind but his temperature was normal and the kind of aches he was experiencing were far too harsh to be due to illness.
He felt the only way to deal with this was to do what he normally did when he was under the weather - ignore it. Go to work and immerse himself in his job, pushing the pain from his mind. But it was getting harder to dismiss. Scully, of course, had noticed his uncharacteristic silence and questioned his rapid consumption of aspirin. He claimed it was due to a muscle strained while jogging and when she offered to take a look he quickly dismissed her offer by insisting it would be fine in a day or two. She'd shaken her head at his stubbornness and mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "typical male". Now it was a day or two later and he could hardly function. He only hoped that she wouldn't notice.
And Skinner was going to quit the FBI and become the next spokesman for Rogaine.
He raised his eyes to peer across the desk at his partner. She was sitting forward in her chair, one elbow resting on the table, propping her head up, while the other hand was slowly tapping a pen against her lower lip as she stared at the papers in front of her.
She hadn't seen. Thank God.
What Mulder didn't know was that she had indeed seen. Dana Scully had been keeping a close eye on her partner all day, cataloging every movement, every expression. She didn't like what she was seeing. To the best of her knowledge, Mulder wasn't eating, and judging by the circles under his eyes, he wasn't sleeping either. That in itself wasn't unusual if they were embroiled in a stressful case, but the X-Files team had spent the past four days filling out paperwork with nothing more stressing than how to explain yet another lost cellphone.
Stress or no, the only things she had seen him put in his mouth over the last two days were pain pills. Claimed it was from a jogging strain. Like she couldn't tell when he was lying after more than five years of partnership. But she let it pass, knowing he would tell her when he finally got over his male ego and was willing to accept her help. That was days ago and now he was carrying himself as though every movement was an effort; she had seen him try to mask injuries often enough to recognize the signs. She had asked him several times whether he was all right and each time he had replied, "I'm fine".
God knew she had said that same phrase often enough during her ordeal with cancer, so there was no way she was going to call him on it, but after watching him swallow twelve tablets over a period of eight hours she had reached her limit of patience. She was going to find out what was wrong with him right now or not at all. She set down the pen that she had scarcely used and focused on Mulder.
His eyes were squeezed shut and his jaw was clenched, perspiration beading on his forehead. His hands were raised to his brow, his fingertips moving in circular motions on his temples.
"Mulder!" she said more sharply than she intended.
His head jerked up and his eyes snapped open, flitting about the room as though to locate the noise that had drawn him out of his reverie. His gaze came to rest on Scully, who stared back in concern. She could tell that he was trying to remember how many times she had called his name.
"What?" he asked with suspicion in his voice, his hands moving to pick up papers scattered across his desk in an attempt to appear unflustered.
"Mulder, are you okay?" she asked softly, trying to coax an answer from him.
He nodded his head, wincing slightly at the movement. "I'm fine." He then returned to the papers he was shuffling, his eyes averted from her own.
"Damn it, Mulder!" Scully slammed her palms flat on the wooden surface and shot out of her chair to lean across her desk, her eyes blazing. Mulder was obviously as taken aback by her curse as he was by the violence of her actions. He stared at her, eyes wide, unconsciously leaning back in his chair to distance himself from her wrath.
"You are not *fine*," she sneered the word, "You haven't eaten or slept for close to three days, you're popping aspirin like they're sunflower seeds, and you are walking around like you're ready to collapse. I've tried to respect your privacy but enough is enough!" She finished her tirade and simply glared down at her partner, daring him to answer.
Mulder opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out. He closed it quickly lest he look like he was trying to come up with a way out. This would all be so much easier if she didn't look like she was ready to put another bullet in him 'for his own good'. Not that he could blame her for being angry. Too many times lately he had tried to hide injuries until he couldn't function well at work and then she had to take him to the doctor where he was told to rest and that if he had come earlier everything would have been taken care of quicker and less painfully. So not only did he waste both their time, raise their tempers, and spend needless time in pain, but he ended up seeming like a petulant child going in for a check-up. It really was a wonder that Scully put up with him as long as she had.
He debated whether he should tell her the truth but right then, with her faced flushed red with anger, his partner didn't look like she would be willing to give him any sympathy. He swallowed the lump in his throat and this time when he tried to speak his voice emerged hoarsely. "Really, Scully, I just took a fall jogging through the park, you know where it's really rough by the fountain, and it's taking a bit longer to heal up than usual." He gave her a hesitant lopsided grin that quickly faded.
Instead of getting calmer, Scully had only become more incensed. "Fine. If that's the way you want it that's fine by me. But if you ever, I mean *ever*, come to me again and expect me to take care of any hurts, you can just forget it!" With that she whirled around and strode out of the office, scooping up her coat and purse on the way, and closed the door harder than necessary.
Mulder stared after her for a few moments then dropped his head into his hands, covering his face. "Forgive me, Scully," he whispered. His body shook as another spasm of pain hit him.
Dana Scully's Apartment
After a long hot bath, the tension that had taken up residence in her shoulders had finally departed. Now she sat on her bed, her legs tucked up under her, her fingers combing through her wet hair. She couldn't seem to get Mulder off of her mind and not in a good way.
Why had she yelled at him like that? It was obvious he was hurting and she just left him there, as though his pain meant nothing to her. It was just so frustrating that he kept brushing off her attempts to help and what made it worse was knowing she had done the same thing to him while she wasted away from cancer. It was her own guilty feelings that had made her blow up at him, blaming him for her own sins. Her thoughts stopped abruptly as her fingers caught on a snarl.
She raked her nails over the spot until it was smooth again, then continued with her movements and her mental pondering. Tomorrow she would apologize for being overly sensitive; that should give him an excuse to tell her what was wrong. If he didn't, she could always tell him that if he wasn't feeling well when they were in the field that he might not be able to protect her as he should. She would feel horrible using his own fears against him but she knew that, while he might not care about his own health, he'd rather jump in front of a speeding bus than put her in harm's way. That trait was endearing, exasperating, and sometimes a little scary.
Oh yes, she knew that Fox Mulder wouldn't think twice about his own life if it came to saving hers and the depth of his devotion scared her. She knew how close he had come to taking his own life when he thought it might remove the reason she was given cancer and therefore buying her cure with his blood. It still gave her chills when she thought of it. Such selflessness and sacrifice was not expected from someone who was just a work partner, even one who was a good friend. However, it hinted at deeper feelings that she wasn't quite ready to delve into just yet.
Pushing away the distracting thoughts, she reached over and turned off the lamp and crawled under the covers, sighing in relief as she sank into the softness of her mattress, closing her eyes.
She couldn't sleep.
Not without knowing if her partner was all right. Damn the man anyway. If he had a speck of reason, he'd have told her days ago that he wasn't well. Then she would have taken him to the doctor if he warranted it and the whole thing would be over. Same old, same old. He was just too stubborn. Of course, that stubbornness, that relentless willpower of his, was part of who he was. He wouldn't be Mulder otherwise. And she would rather deal with him as he was than not at all.
She gave up staring at the inside of her eyelids and flicked the light back on. Picking up the phone, she glanced at the clock beside it. 12:03. Mulder never went to bed before one o'clock, it should be safe to call him. Her fingers traveled over the buttons, pressing out well-known numbers. It rang four times before the other line was answered.
"Mulder," came the muffled greeting.
She winced at the slurred sound of his voice. Had he been asleep? Impossible. "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
The reply took a while in coming, as though he was trying to get over his shock at her calling. "No."
She waited for him to expound on what he had been doing until she realized that he wasn't going to offer up any more information. "Oh. Well, I was just calling to... uh..." she trailed off, unsure as what to say.
"Look, Scully," Mulder said gruffly, "Can this wait until morning? I'm really tired and unless it's a national emergency, I'd rather deal with it tomorrow. Okay?"
It was a good thing that he couldn't see her face right then because the look alone was enough to kill. "Fine," she said icily, "I'll see you tomorrow then." Scully hung up the phone without waiting for a reply. She sat there for a moment, then suddenly turned, snatched up the pillow next to her and threw it across the room, grunting with the effort she put behind it.
God! He was so infuriating! How *dare* he trivialize what she was going to say! He knew she never called without just cause, how could he brush her off like that? She got up and stalked over to the brutalized pillow and scooped it up, squeezing it between her hands to release some of her anger. If he thought she was going to apologize now, he could just forget it. She refused to let him treat her like that and get away with it.
She carried her soft cannonball back to the bed and tossed it in its recently vacated space. She slid between the sheets and switched the light off, wishing she could switch off her tumultuous feelings as easily. It hurt that when she was finally ready to open up a bit Mulder hadn't wanted to talk to her. They were best friends, could trust each other to not only watch their backs but to keep any confidence. Despite that fact, they rarely talked - not in the sense of speaking, but that they didn't talk about their feelings.
She knew it was partly her own fault, as she tended to shy away from anything that might be construed as too personal. It was the fear of losing herself in him, the same way he had given himself to her. After her cancer went into remission and she discovered how close she came to losing Mulder, she had entertained the thought of leaving the X-Files. Not because she was afraid of the intensity of his emotions, but because she would rather leave him than lose him. It sounded ridiculous but it made sense to her. She had dismissed the idea soon after, her own selfishness in keeping him near overriding any fear of the future.
And so, when she took a chance, ready to talk to him, he had told her to kiss off. Not in those exact terms but she got the message loud and clear. She was angry and hurt. So blinded by her own guilt, she didn't realize how bad Mulder must have felt to actually admit that he was tired.
Fox Mulder's Apartment
There were certain times in his life when he wished he were dead. When Samantha was taken, when he was on the verge of collapse in the ISU, when Scully was abducted, when his newly found sister pushed him away, and when he thought Scully was dying. What was one more time?
His entire body throbbed with pain, his pulse coursing through him like fire, his bones tingling with needle-like pinpricks. Every movement sent agony through his muscles, every breath a struggle. A whole bottle of extra strength Tylenol had done nothing and now he just wanted to die.
Anything to get away from the pain. Maybe he should call Scully. She'd probably refuse to talk to him, insensitive bastard that he was. Make her pissed at him so he wouldn't have to tell her what was wrong. That was really brilliant. He'd be lucky if she even acknowledged him the next day, stupid son of a bitch. Damn. He continued to curse himself until he ran out of derogatory names and descriptive expletives. Why hadn't he told her? Because he didn't want to cause her any more pain and worry than she had already endured. Every painful memory his partner had of the past five years was directly linked to him and he didn't want to add to them. He knew what it was like to watch someone you cared for suffer, there was no way he was going to put her through that.
He had to push her away. He was too vulnerable right now, too weak to control his emotional mask. If he opened up to her now, it would all be over. Somehow she had gotten into his heart and now he couldn't get her out. An impossible dream, he knew, for how could she possibly feel anything but disdain for the man who had brought such pain into her life and her family's lives? On a rare occasion he did notice her gazing at him with an indefinable look in her eyes but he dared not hope it was anything more than a meaningless glance.
Every night he fell asleep wondering whether tomorrow would be the day she finally called it quits. He thought his luck had most likely run out. She was probably calling to tell him just that, to take leave of her pathetic excuse for a partner. His self pity quickly turned to panic. What would he do when she was gone? Oh God. What was he going to do? He'd apologize, that's what. Crawl to her on his hands and knees, beg her for forgiveness and tell her exactly how he felt - physically at least.
He thought about calling her back and apologizing right away. But it was just before four a.m. and she was most likely sleeping. Besides, even the idea of moving his arm to pick up the phone was too much effort.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Dana Scully was just about to get on the elevator when she heard someone calling her name. She turned around and saw Kimberly, Skinner's Administrative Assistant, walking towards her.
"Hi, Kim," she said with a lightness she wasn't feeling.
"Dana, hi. I'm glad I caught you. AD Skinner wants you and Mulder in his office at nine sharp." Kim gave the other woman a sympathetic smile. "I think he's a bit... disgruntled," she tried to put it mildly.
Scully groaned inwardly. Now what? Probably something Mulder did and she'd have to cover his butt as usual. She sighed, "Thanks Kim, we'll be up shortly." She had slept badly, waking unrested and with a sense of foreboding such as one gets when one has a nightmare and can't quite remember it in the morning. Right now anger vied with apprehension and as the elevator descended she decided to go with anger. It was safer.
Shaking off her unease, she exited the elevator and strode quickly down the stairs, grateful for the lack of activity in the halls. They would have to hurry to make the meeting on time. She did not want to make Skinner any more annoyed by being late.
She entered the X-Files office to see Mulder at his desk, his head snapping up from its place in his hands at her entrance. He gave her a hesitant smile and stood up slowly, trying unsuccessfully to hide his grimace. "Scully, I-"
"Save it, Mulder." She didn't have time for his excuses. "We have a meeting with Skinner and unless you want to spend the next month on wiretap, I suggest we hurry." She turned and walked out the door, not bothering to see if he followed. She didn't even glance behind her until she got into the elevator, so she didn't see Mulder put out a hand several times, using the wall for support, or notice that the trip up the stairs had exhausted him.
The ride up was quiet, tension filling the space instead of words, their gazes careful not to meet. When they reached the desired floor, Scully stepped out and walked briskly up to Kimberly's desk. Kim nodded at them and motioned to the door. "He's expecting you."
Scully turned to her partner, growing more exasperated at his slowness. "Today, Mulder," she mumbled.
He gave her an apologetic look, which she ignored, nodded to Kim in greeting and followed Scully into the proverbial Lion's Den.
Skinner was sitting at his desk, an unreadable expression on his face, a stack of papers laid out in front of him. "Agent Mulder, Agent Scully. Have a seat." Once his subordinates were seated, he took off his glasses, tossed them on his desk, and leaned back in his chair. A sure sign that they were about to get verbally harangued. "I just got finished reviewing your expense report on the Bellwood case..."
The Assistant Director spent the next ten minutes expounding on the waste of government supplies and taxpayer's money. Scully sat up straight and nodded every so often to indicate he had her full attention, while she tried to think of plausible reasons for losing another gun, cellphone, and crashing the rental car.
Any trace of foreboding disappeared as her irritation grew.
Mulder sat in front of the AD, too busy trying to focus on the conversation to actually hear any of it. When he had woken up that morning after a scant two hours sleep he had felt even worse than the night before. If that were possible. But the need to talk to Scully was enough to get him off his couch and into the office. Now she would be even angrier with him, since this dressing down was his fault, as usual. He hoped it wouldn't last much longer, he could hardly keep himself upright in his chair.
He tried to focus on the words coming out of Skinner's mouth and finally the noises coalesced into words.
"... and I'm sure that in the future you will both be more careful with the supplies that the government so graciously provides." Skinner gave his agents a warning look, as though he could ensure their following orders with a simple glare. Agent Scully had been attentive and sufficiently penitent throughout the meeting and he felt a twinge of guilt for having to reprimand her for something she hadn't done. Agent Mulder had been insolent as always, slouching in his seat and completely ignoring his superior. If the man wasn't such an asset to the Bureau, he'd... he'd what? He shouldn't kid himself, he knew he'd never do it. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully had managed to earn his respect over the years and of all the agents under his command, he felt closest to these two. If only they didn't get in trouble so damn often.
After it was obvious that the AD was done, Scully inclined her head and gave him a crisp "Yes, Sir." Skinner turned to Mulder and waited expectantly for a similar reply.
It wasn't forthcoming. In fact, it appeared that the agent hadn't even heard him. "Agent Mulder?"
Mulder wasn't even aware that he was being addressed. The pain enveloping his body had grown exponentially in the past few minutes and it was taking all his concentration to keep it from showing. His hands gripped the arms of the chair so tightly that his knuckles were white and his breathing was ragged. There were bright sparks in the corners of his vision that seemed to burn his eyes, making it impossible to even watch for any cues to respond to.
At this point and time it was all he could do to keep from screaming.
Scully waited for Mulder to answer their boss and when none was forthcoming she turned to look at her partner. She was surprised at what she found. His eyes were closed, perspiration standing out on his forehead, and he had a death grip on his chair. He was taking short labored breaths and she could see the strain on his face from keeping a set expression.
"Mulder?" She laid a small hand on his forearm to get his attention. His eyes struggled open and stared dazedly between his partner and his boss.
Skinner must have heard the concern in Scully's voice because he suddenly became aware of the younger man's physical condition. "Agent Mulder, are you all right?"
Mulder blinked several times and they could see him swallow painfully. "I'm sorry, Sir," he said hoarsely and stood up, using the chair as support. "I have to go."
Skinner and Scully were still sitting in shocked silence when Mulder took one step and swayed precariously. Scully was halfway out of her chair when her partner suddenly cried out, clutching his body and falling to the floor. She was beside him in an instant, only peripherally aware of Skinner calling for paramedics.
Mulder was writhing on the floor, his arms wrapped around himself, gasping for air through clenched teeth. It seemed as though waves of pain were crashing over him, each one more intense than the previous one. The spasms shook him with their intensity, his body practically convulsing.
Scully wasn't sure what to do. At first it seemed like he was having a seizure, but she realized when he called out to her that he was fully aware. His temperature was hardly elevated, so this wasn't caused by a fever. No flexing of limbs, no twitching or chewing movements, no signs of hallucinations, and he was conscious. None of the usual seizure symptoms at all.
His condition wasn't readily explained. So, instead of her medical support, she gave him emotional support. She took his hand in her own and told him that she was there, not to worry. She almost yelped when he squeezed her hand so hard she thought it might break under the pressure. That terrified her more than anything else. After more than five years of being partnered to this man, she knew that he had a tendency to minimize all hurts; he had an amazing capacity for pain and refused to let any discomfort he was feeling show. The fact that he was openly displaying his suffering told her that he must be experiencing an unimaginable level of pain.
He groaned aloud and his body jerked as another attack hit him. She held on, hoping that her touch could somehow transfer her strength to him. She reached up to caress his face, pushing back the damp hair. He opened his eyes at the contact and, as she looked back into those hazel depths, she raised her free hand to her mouth and whispered, "Oh my God."
There were black slivers swimming over his eyes.
Skinner looked over at his two agents when he heard Scully's whispered exclamation, half of his attention on the voice of the 911 operator. "Yes, immediately." He hung up the phone and stepped over to kneel next to Mulder. "What's happening?"
"Look at his eyes, Sir," Scully said quietly.
Skinner pushed his glasses back up his nose and gazed into the prone man's eyes. His breath caught in his throat and he glanced over at Scully. "Is that what I think it is?"
She just swallowed and nodded her head, wincing slightly when Mulder's grip tightened.
"How?" Skinner couldn't look at Mulder; he couldn't stand the sight of the oily film floating across his agent's wide eyes.
"I don't know, Sir, I..." Scully stopped, unable to voice her confusion.
The next ten minutes passed in a blur. Mulder continued to be wracked by spasms of pain, Skinner and Scully feeling helpless beside him. When the paramedics showed up, Mulder was barely conscious, the continuous agony taking its toll. Scully briefed the EMTs on her partner's symptoms and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that she would be joining them in the ambulance. Not that Mulder would let go of her hand.
Skinner elected to remain at the office. As worried as he was by his agent's condition, he was too unnerved by the implications of the substance he had seen pass over Mulder's eyes. Besides, he had to do damage control, keep the rumors to a minimum, and make sure no one falsely believed that 'Spooky' Mulder had finally flipped out. He remembered all too vividly the last time Mulder had been removed from his office on a gurney. That time, the younger man had been screaming about monsters hiding in the light and the bullpen had been bombarded for days with 'Spooky finally lost it' cracks.
The Assistant Director watched the paramedics pull the gurney, laden with a still writhing Mulder, out the door, Scully in tow. He sank down in his chair and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his forehead. He had to find out what the hell was going on. He reached over and picked up the phone - for once, Cancerman was going to come when Skinner called.
The medics were at a loss on how to treat this patient. He looked to be in the throes of a seizure and yet not. In his seventeen years as an Emergency Medical Technician, Archie Rival had seen everything, from stomachaches to bomb victims, but he had never seen anyone in so much pain and still be conscious. Archie looked at his partner, Kathy, who returned his confused expression, then turned to the red headed woman who had insisted she join them. "Ma'am, did Agent Mulder eat anything in the past eight hours?"
Scully glanced up, her brows scrunched together as she tried to process the question. "No. As far as I know, he's had nothing but aspirin in the past two days."
Kathy pursed her lips thoughtfully. "He could have an ulcer from too much aspirin on an empty stomach."
"With these symptoms?" Archie asked, starting a saline drip as an automatic measure and setting up equipment for a cardiac tracing. He didn't know what else to do.
"Agent Mulder is infected with an unknown substance, the effects of which are undocumented and possibly deadly," Scully informed them in a clipped manner. She thought back to her examination of Dr. Sacks and wondered if this 'substance' was contagious. It was unlikely, but she'd recommend Mulder be put in an isolated area of the ICU.
Archie gave her a curious look, then leaned over and spoke loudly into the patient's ear. "Agent Mulder? Can you hear me?"
Mulder groaned an approximate version of 'yes'.
Kathy gave a hesitant smile to her partner. If the patient could understand and respond when spoken to, this wasn't a severe grand mal seizure. Which was a good thing, since anyone seizing this long would be a vegetable by now.
Can you tell me what is wrong?" Archie practically shouted.
Mulder gasped ineffectively. "Hurts," he managed to groan between gasps.
"Where does it hurt?"
"Everywhere..." Mulder turned his head from side to side, eyes clenched shut. "Scully..."
"I'm here, Mulder, I'm right here." She had to bite her lip to control the urge to weep at the pain in her partner's voice, her hand brushing his cheek in reassurance.
"Scully..." he whispered, relaxing infinitesimally. Suddenly his back arched off the gurney as he cried out.
"He's tachy!" Archie shouted as he took Mulder's pulse. "I need Verapamil, 10 milligrams!"
Kathy complied instantly, holding down the patient as Archie administered the drug. The medicine didn't put a dent in the racing heartbeat. Thankfully, a moment later, they pulled into the ambulance bay.
Mulder was unloaded in seconds, rushed to the trauma room soon after. Scully was dragged right along with them, unable to let go even if she had wanted to. The white walls flashed past her as she followed alongside the gurney, her brain unable to focus. Voices were muffled, as though she was submerged in water, images blurring slightly at the edges of her vision. Her world narrowed to one thing - her partner. Finally one of the nurses had to pry Mulder's clenched hand from around Scully's then ushered the dazed woman into the waiting room.
Minutes passed. Maybe hours. She wasn't sure. Eventually the same nurse that had helped her earlier returned with an ice pack for her hand and with an update on Mulder's condition.
There wasn't much information and what little there was wasn't encouraging.
He was put on oxygen and blood and urine samples were taken, but little else could be done. The doctors were dumbfounded, completely unable to diagnose his condition. The patient was experiencing extreme pain due to no apparent causes, his partner in the FBI claiming that he was suffering from an 'unknown substance'. It wasn't until Mulder finally lost his battle with his tortured body and passed out that they transferred him to an isolated room, per his partner's request.
George Washington Medical Center
Scully didn't really think that the doctors would find anything, but she hoped that perhaps they *might*. She was standing in front of Dr. Bailey, her arms crossed and her tired eyes focused on his lips, hoping that something, however minute, registered on one of the numerous tests that had been performed. She had signed off on tests from urine samples to MRIs, not caring if they seemed to prove useless. Bailey was now relating the results of those many tests.
"Considering his symptoms, I was leaning toward pheochromocytoma myself. That's a tumor that produces adrenaline and causes bursts of hypertension and tachycardia, but Agent Mulder's adrenaline levels are not high enough to suggest pheochromocytoma. The EKG results confirm supraventricular tachycardia. Basically, he has a normal rhythm except for the heartrate." Bailey closed his left eye and scratched his eyebrow for a moment. "We did an echocardiogram to see if his heart was damaged from the attacks and there doesn't appear to be any significant impairment - yet. We also conducted some electrophysiology studies so that if the source of Agent Mulder's tachycardia was located in the conductive system of his heart, we could attempt to destroy it. However, we couldn't identify the locus of the tachycardia.
"So, I still thought we might be looking at a brain tumor. Now, the EEG, CT scan, and MRI have all shown nothing even resembling a growth. Our last resort was the lumbar puncture, which also came out inconclusive. We've got him on Esmelol and it seems to be working, but we won't know until he wakes up. If that doesn't appear to make a dent, I want to try Adenosine. Essentially, it stops the heart - briefly - in the hopes that when the heart starts beating again he'll have a better rhythm. Or at least that, before it starts taching away again, we'll get a better look at what the rhythm is."
Dana drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Is there anything else that can be done at this point?"
Bailey shook his head in sympathy. "All we can do now is wait."
The first thing he noticed was the lack of pain. It was an epiphany of sorts, the realization of life without agony. Mulder opened his eyes, almost afraid to find that the reason for this blissful feeling was that he had died and gone to heaven. What he saw was as close to an angel as anything he had ever imagined.
No wings, no golden halo; just a small oval face framed with red hair. Dana Scully, angel extraordinaire.
Her eyes were fixed on him, face expressionless, her shoulders tense as though she were waiting for something.
She sagged visibly, breathing out loudly. No brain damage so far. Not that she expected any, but there was always a chance with seizures. Just another item to add to the list of symptoms contradicting the only observable diagnosis. She broke into a breathtaking smile. "How're you feeling?"
Mulder seemed to bask in the light from that smile. "Fi-" he stopped, looking guiltily at her. "I feel okay. What happened?"
Scully's closed her eyes. Memory loss. Perhaps he wasn't as lucid as she had believed. "What is the last thing you remember?"
"The ER. And pain, I remember that."
Thank God, not memory loss, just confusion. "You lost consciousness in the trauma room."
Mulder chewed on his lip for a moment. "What's wrong with me?" It came out sounding like a scared little boy.
He didn't know. He actually didn't know. This relieved Scully, who had been hurt by the thought that her partner had withheld this kind of information from her. Minor injuries like cuts and bruises could be excused but something as serious and life threatening as those oily black slivers were should never have been hidden, not even in an attempt to spare her any grief. "Mulder," she reached over and grasped his hand, "it's the black cancer."
While obviously shocked, she could tell Mulder was not completely taken by surprise. So he knew that he had been exposed at one point and time but apparently had never shown any symptoms until now. She raised her eyes from their entwined hands to search his eyes for the truth. He swallowed loudly and looked away. Scully read him as easily as a children's book.
Mulder stared at the bare wall to his right. "Tunguska."
"What?! You knew you had this...this *thing* since Tunguska??" Scully was livid. He had been hiding this from her almost two years! Why hadn't he told her? There had been plenty of time when they were off duty due to her getting sick.
Oh. With sudden realization she knew that he hadn't told her so as not to burden her during a time when she needed all her strength plus any he could give. Once again he had put her own welfare before his own.
When she saw the look of desolation on his face and knew that his thoughts had been running along the same lines as her own, her anger cooled immediately. "Tell me," she pleaded softly.
Mulder took a deep breath and turned back to face her. "I was held at a gulag where they were experimenting on the prisoners, you know that much, but what I never told you was that I was also experimented on. It was after Krycek left me in the cell. These men came in and injected me with something in the back of my neck. I tried to fight them, but I couldn't. I tried."
Scully squeezed his hand tighter, trying to convey her understanding and support. With his photographic memory, he was reliving the experience. Mulder continued after a brief pause.
"When I woke up, I was pinned beneath chicken wire, another needle mark on my left arm. There were others, other prisoners all around me, I could hear them screaming. There was a pipe suspended a few feet above me and there was this gurgling noise coming from it. Black liquid poured out onto my face and then I could feel them. I felt them crawl up my nose, in my eyes and mouth." He took a shaky breath and she knew he was trying to dispel the vivid images. "It felt like I was burning from the inside out."
Scully was holding back tears, thinking back to how she had been angry at him for making her face Congress alone. How she had resented him during her stay in a comfortable cell, while all the time, he was being tortured at the hands of Russian scientists. "Oh Mulder, I am so sorry. Why didn't you say something right when you got back?"
"I was going to, I was. But I was going to wait until the right time and then you got... sick." It was still hard for him to talk about her cancer, even though she had been tumor free for over a year now. "I figured one of us was enough, you didn't need to worry about anything else. Besides, nothing showed up on any of my exams, so I figured it was gone, that their experiments to find a cure were successful."
Scully smiled sadly at the irony. "Apparently not." Her assumptions behind his reluctance to talk had proven correct and now it was possible that in waiting for a sign of infection, Mulder might have signed his own death warrant.
"Yeah, apparently not. So what do the doctors say?" He didn't seem to be dwelling on the could'ves and should'ves, so she moved on as well.
"They are still running a few remote tests, trying to figure this out. Everything has come back negative, no signs of the cancer at all. They are completely at a loss."
"I was able to confuse an entire medical staff? My life is complete," Mulder quipped.
Scully snorted good humoredly. "Figures." She turned serious again. "But, Mulder, we don't know exactly what this is and, as such, have no idea how to treat it."
"It went away before, maybe it's dormant most of the time and just pops up every few years. I feel fine now." He grinned apologetically at her for using the 'F' word.
She smiled back in acceptance of his unspoken apology. "Maybe. But maybe not. All your tests are normal, other than a slightly elevated adrenaline level, maybe this was a one time thing." It was wishful thinking on her part. As a doctor, Scully knew that diseases did not just disappear.
"You're agreeing with me? Go get a nurse, I need a witness to this unprecedented event." His tone was teasing to take any sting out of the words. "I think we should call a national... holi..." he trailed off, his brow furrowing.
"Uh... I..." His eyes crammed shut and his body surged forward on the bed, his arms wrapping around himself protectively. He rocked back and forth, painful grunts accenting his movements. Scully was up instantly, her hand on the call button.
It was happening again.
She shifted in the uncomfortable plastic chair, trying to find some position that didn't aggravate her sore body. It was impossible. She gave up and stood, stretching her arms above her head and stifled a yawn. Coffee, she needed coffee.
The last seizure hadn't lasted as long as the first one, but it was severe enough to send Mulder back into unconsciousness. The Adenosine that Dr. Bailey had recommended had worked. Sort of. Mulder's heart *had* stopped, but when it restarted, it continued to beat at a frantic rate. He had been out since then, slipping into sleep for about seven hours now. She figured it was safe enough to leave him for a minute to get some coffee from the cafeteria. Nothing could happen to him in such a short time. Right?
When would she learn never to assume anything when it came to her partner?
"Dr. Scully to Intensive Care. Dr. Scully to the ICU."
Scully's head whipped around to stare at the intercom that had just spoken to her. She set her styrofoam cup down on the formica table, spilling half the contents in her haste. She then turned and headed out of the cafeteria at a sprint. Halfway to the ICU she was met by another nurse.
"Dr. Scully, thank goodness!" The nurse jogged alongside the distressed FBI agent.
"What is it? What happened?"
"I don't know. He woke up screaming and now he's thrashing about, calling out for you. I'm afraid he's violent."
Scully could hear it now, her partner's desperate cries echoing down the deserted hallway. When she reached the doorway she was shocked by the sight of two orderlies trying to calm a hysterical Mulder, who was straining with all his might against the wrist restraints strapping him to the bed.
"Back away," she commanded. The orderlies complied immediately, grateful for the reprieve.
Mulder was lying on his back, twisting violently in the sheets, tears streaming down his face. "No! Let me go! Scully! It's burning, oh God, it's burning! Noooo!"
With a flash of clarity, Scully knew what was wrong. Talking about his imprisonment had reawakened old fears and memories and now he was reliving his experience in Tunguska, the restraints adding to the reality of the nightmare. She quickly unstrapped him, calling his name to wake him. His eyes snapped open and he lurched forward, gasping. Scully lowered the rails on the bed and sat down next to him, gathering him into her arms.
He held onto her like a lifeline, his head buried in her shoulder. "It was so real. I couldn't move and then the oil was crawling on me. It was burning..." he sobbed uncontrollably.
Scully rubbed his back in circular motions, gesturing with her other hand for the nurses to leave. "Shhh, it's okay now, you're safe."
It took a few minutes before Mulder was calm enough to lay back. He wiped away the dried tear tracks and sniffled a bit. "Where'd you go?"
"I went for some coffee downstairs. Are you okay?"
Licking his parched lips, he nodded.
"Will you be all right for a minute?" she asked softly.
She patted his shoulder gently and slid off the bed. She walked out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Turning to the nurses still gathered outside, she tried to keep her voice low. "What the hell were you thinking?? You never restrain a seizure patient!"
The tallest nurse stepped forward a bit. "Mr. Mulder is not a diagnosed seizure patie-"
"I don't care what it says on his chart!" Scully interrupted. "His condition is unexplained and until the doctors can make a positive diagnosis, I want him treated as his symptoms dictate. That means he is not to be restrained at any time. Do I make myself clear??"
The three nurses looked at one another, all intimidated by the imposing woman before them. The one who spoke earlier resumed her position. "Yes ma'am."
Scully softened a bit. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm tired and I'm worried about my partner. Just, next time, think before you act, okay?"
One Week Later
Later, when she looked back on the past week, Scully would say that time passed quickly as she searched frantically for some way to alleviate her partner's pain. But while living in that week, time crawled by. Each seizure, which was what she reluctantly decided to call the attacks due to lack of a better term, seemed to last for hours, while in reality only lasting three to eight minutes. These seizures were measured by length, severity, and chemical changes in his body. The doctors had all agreed that Mulder was suffering from paroxysmal tachycardia and sensory seizures. That diagnosis did nothing but describe the symptoms, not the cause.
But she had expected this conclusion all along. Because his condition wasn't caused by anything recognizable to doctors anywhere on this planet. At least, doctors who were working *legally* and not for secret government organizations.
She had consulted with specialists and read medical papers, did her own tests and even tried contacting Russia to see if there were any reports of people with similar symptoms. Skinner joined in the crusade by meeting with Cancerman, as though the smoking bastard would willingly reveal some cure for Mulder. It was all for naught.
The seizures continued, only varying in frequency and intensity. Some days Mulder was only uncomfortable several times for a few minutes, other days he passed out from the onslaught of pain. There was no rhyme or reason for any of his reactions.
And so, a week later, when Scully met with Mulder's primary doctor, it was with a heavy heart. She declined Dr. Bailey's offer to sit, irrationally believing that she would be able to somehow fight the outcome if standing. "Agent Scully, I know this has been hard on you and as Agent Mulder's next of kin you have had to do double duty as his doctor. As such, the ultimate decision is up to you."
Scully's knees started to weaken at the doctor's words. She suddenly felt the need to sit and moved over to sink slowly into the plush chair across from Dr. Bailey. "Decision?" she managed to say around the lump forming in her throat.
"As you know, we have run Agent Mulder through a course of drugs commonly given to patients experiencing seizures, from Phenobarbital to Carbamazepine. The Beta-blockers Lopressor and Tenormin didn't make a dent, neither did the calcium channel blocker Carizem. When those failed we administered painkillers in almost overdose amounts but they had no effect." Bailey removed his glasses and withdrew a handkerchief to clean the lenses.
"I know you tried Morphine, Demerol, and Nubain, but did you try anything that has a more immediate affect? Like Fentanyle or Toradol? I know it can be dangerous to use them in excessive amounts, but-"
"Agent Scully," Bailey interrupted, "Dana. You and I both know that whatever it is that your partner is suffering from, no amount of drugs is going to help. Have you considered that this may not even be a physical problem?"
"Are you saying that you think this is a somatization disorder?" Scully couldn't keep the anger out of her voice.
"I don't think that your partner is crazy, if that's what you're afraid of. But you must admit that when there are physical symptoms that have no physical causes, they may be triggered by psychological problems or distress. Law enforcement is certainly a job with many stressors, and from what I have seen in Agent Mulder's medical file, he has seen a therapist more than once." Dr. Bailey replaced his glasses as he flipped through Mulder's thick files.
"Agent Mulder has voluntarily gone to a therapist for hypnoregression to recover past memories. Any other visits were to an FBI therapist after particularly harrowing cases. Every agent goes at least once." Scully was indignant, furious that Bailey would even hint that her partner was unstable. Only *she* was allowed to do that.
"I see." Bailey took a deep breath, as though preparing himself for her wrath. "Due to Agent Mulder's lack of any diagnosable or treatable problems, I am recommending that..."
Assistant Director Walter Skinner was a soldier. As such, he had seen the most gruesome sights on the battlefield, from rotting corpses to dying comrades. But looking at what was lying in front of him chilled him to the bone. It was indescribably disgusting. It was... it was... inedible.
"What the hell do they put in these things?" he mumbled out loud, fingering the sandwich on the tray before him. He pushed it aside in disdain, settling for what he hoped to be a fresh apple. "No wonder hospital food has such a bed reputation."
Wiping away the apple juice dribbling over his chin, he looked up to see Scully bearing down on him. She did not look happy. He waved to the seat next to him at the cafeteria table, discarding the apple core next to his uneaten sandwich. "I take it the meeting did not go well?"
"They want to release him! Tomorrow morning at the latest!" Scully was obviously hard pressed to keep her voice down, her lips tight in fury.
"What?? Can they do that? Has Mulder's condition improved that much?" Skinner was astonished at his agent's vehemence at what ought to be good news.
"Hardly!" Scully spat. "But since they can find no cause and no treatment has had any effect so far, they have given four options. One is to discharge him and let him live with this... this thing. Or, they could electrically destroy or surgically remove Mulder's own pacemaker, his sinoatrial node, and implant an electronic pacemaker. That way he can't get tachy, and he still has a rhythm. But, considering that the reason for his seizure is... extra-terrestrial," she stumbled over the word, "I don't think this a wise decision. Another option is to put him in a home! A God damned convalescent home! As if he were some sort of invalid!"
Skinner nodded his head, obviously aware of what Mulder's reaction would be to such an idea. "And the fourth?"
"Not even worth discussing."
Skinner's lips pressed together and he gave Scully the look that demanded a full report.
She sighed and rubbed her hand over her tired eyes. "Or he could be placed in a mental institution that would deal with what Dr. Bailey believes to be his 'somatoform disorder', a mental disorder in which psychological problems cause physical ones."
"You've got to be joking. After seeing that stuff in his eyes?" Skinner asked incredulously.
"When Mulder arrived at the hospital, there was no trace of the black cancer. It's like it just visually disappeared, yet is still causing these seizures. There is no way to verify that Mulder is even infected with it. You and I are the only ones who know what is causing this." Scully sagged in her chair, her hands lying limp on the table.
"So, what is Mulder's current condition?"
She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "It's fairly unchanged. We've tried every intravenous painkiller there is, all anti-convulsants known to man, and even stopping his heart to try and keep his pulse normal when a seizure hits. Nothing has made a difference. There is nothing more we can do."
Skinner could tell how hard it was for his agent to admit that. It was a blow to her beliefs that science could not help, that she could not cure her partner of his 'cancer' as he had her own. He leaned forward and laid his hand lightly on hers. "What does this mean long term?"
"Every time Mulder has a seizure, his blood pressure and adrenaline levels go up and his pulse skyrockets. High blood pressure can cause strokes, nosebleeds, and retinal hemorrhages."
"Are you saying Mulder could go blind?" Skinner asked softly, unable to even comprehend such a thought.
"There is that possibility, yes. But I am more worried about his heart. Such constant stress is dangerous, it weakens the heart a little bit each time. Chances are, he'll keep having seizures until his heart can't take it anymore and just gives up on him." By now there were tears in her eyes, one escaping to trickle down her pale cheek. She didn't even bother to wipe it away.
When they walked into Mulder's room, he was sitting up in the bed, one arm raised slightly as he fingered the remote, flipping channels furiously. Skinner was surprised. He had been expecting something less... normal. To him, it appeared that Mulder was perfectly healthy, not like a man just given a death sentence.
Mulder switched off the television and dropped the remote on the small stand next to him. "One of the highest income hospitals in the state and they can't even afford cable." Sighing dramatically, he turned to look at his two visitors. He flashed Scully an impish grin before nodding to his boss and muttering a polite "Sir."
Skinner moved to seat himself on Mulder's left, while Scully sat in the chair on his other side. Mulder looked at his partner, instantly noticing the tear tracks on her face and recognized the tense set of her shoulders. "So, what's the verdict?"
Scully took Mulder's hand in her own and squeezed gently. Mulder saw the despair in her eyes, could feel the sadness radiating from her. He glanced at his boss for reassurance, finding none. He swallowed nervously, trying to keep his tone light. "That bad, huh?"
It was too much. "Mulder," Scully gasped out in a half sob. She couldn't say anything else, didn't need to really, her expression said everything.
Skinner felt the need to speak, if only to feel like he had some control over the situation. "Agent Mulder, the doctors have decided that there is nothing they can do for you here. None of the treatments have worked and they still cannot pinpoint any cause for these seizures. You are being discharged tomorrow morning."
Confusion passed across Mulder's face. "I'm being kicked out? There's nothing they can do?" He chewed on his lip, his mind racing. "So I just have to learn to live with it?"
"Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. At least until..." Skinner couldn't finish.
Scully was able to pull herself together by then and she continued her boss' explanation. "The stress on your heart from the seizures is extreme and eventually it will grow too weak to perform its primary function."
Mulder stared at her blankly for a moment, absorbing what she said. "Eventually?"
Scully nodded. "You're fairly young and in good health, you have a strong heart."
"How long?" His voice held a note that pleaded for honesty.
"I don't know. If the seizures lessen over time, it could be years. If they continue to be severe, it could be months." Her voice cracked on the last word.
"Months," Mulder whispered. "So, what? Is the Bureau not willing to pay my medical bill? Why am I being released?"
"The hospital can offer nothing in the way of help. They can't stop the attacks and can't alleviate the pain. There is no point in you staying here. They recommended you be placed in a convalescent home-"
"No!" Mulder shouted, sitting up to stress his vehemence.
"I know, I know. I told them you would never go for that. They also mentioned that this might be some kind of somatoform disorder." Mulder snorted at that. Scully just nodded in agreement and continued, "Since that is out of the question, I declined their offer to have you institutionalized. The best scenario here is that you just try to live with it."
"Fine. I can do that. We can see if there is any information in the X-Files, follow up on some leads that might answer some questions about this black cancer. Maybe the Russians have found a cure." Mulder was animated now, his hands waving about energetically.
"Hold on there, Mulder." Skinner spoke sternly, but not without compassion. "You cannot return to work in your condition, there are rules and regulations. You can't even drive until you have been seizure free for one year, let alone go traipsing around the country on some vague lead. Besides, I've already exhausted all possibilities in that area."
Mulder sank back in the bed, realization finally setting in. "This is it? They win?"
Nobody said anything for a while.
Scully looked up, unsure whether or not she had heard her partner correctly. He was staring at her, his eyes reflecting such anguish that her heart constricted. "It doesn't have to be."
"We still have each other." Scully then did what she vowed she would never do - she let all her barriers down and allowed her feelings to shine through. All the hidden thoughts and unspoken wants were laid bare between them. There was no need to say anything, years of silent communication was enough to understand with a simple look. Mulder gasped slightly at what he saw.
He reached out a trembling hand to caress her cheek, his own eyes growing misty as he gazed into his partner's face.
Scully laid her own hand over his, pressing it against her cheek as she moved closer. Then, not caring that AD Skinner was sitting less than four feet away, Dana Scully kissed her partner square on the lips. It was gentle and soft, an offering of love.
Mulder's eyes closed and he reveled in the feeling of her lips against his, in the sensations coursing through him. When she pulled back it was as though he had lost the ability to breathe, all fresh air that was her touch was gone. He slowly opened his eyes, not daring to believe that this was real.
He gazed into the bottomless depths of Scully's soul and let his own emotional barrier crash down. "Will you love me for the rest of my life?" he murmured.
For a moment panic gripped him and he desperately wondered if he had just imagined what he wanted to see. Then he noticed that Scully was still staring at him with that blue-eyed gaze that shone with love and acceptance. She wasn't done.
Dana leaned up and kissed Mulder again then pressed her forehead against his in an intimate embrace. "I'll love you for the rest of mine."
Mulder glanced around the room he had occupied for the last week. "Yup. I think I've seen enough hospitals to last me into the afterlife." He winced at his choice of words.
Scully smiled sympathetically. "Mom stopped by your apartment to pick up some things and brought them to my place."
"Is Skinner okay with this? I mean, with you and me?" Mulder asked. He didn't need to ask if Margaret Scully approved, the woman had been badgering them both to get over it and get on with it for a long time. Needless to say the woman was ecstatic and trying extremely hard not to say "I told you so".
Scully shrugged as she picked up the small bag containing Mulder's personal effects. "Actually, he's the one who suggested you move in with me. I had already thought of that, but before I could bring it up, he did. Besides, you're not on active duty any more so this doesn't count as fraternization." She grinned slyly at him.
"You just want to keep an eye on me so I don't get into trouble," he chided.
"You know it. But seriously, it's safer for you that you not be alone to deal with the seizures. This way you can have your cake and eat it too." She leered at him. Mulder's mouth dropped open in shock. It was amazing how easily innuendo flowed from her lips now that she had no reason to resist it. He was *really* going to enjoy this new side of his partner.
"Ooh Scully, you know what I like." He reached over to take the bag of his belongings from her and gasped.
He was breathing heavily, his eyes shut tightly, left arm wrapped around himself. She was by him, ready to catch him if he fell. "Just... give me... a minute," he said through clenched teeth.
Scully waited, her heart in her throat. How would she be able to deal with this over and over again?
Finally the seizure subsided and Mulder straightened, bag in hand. "Let's go."
She was astounded by his lack of fear over what just happened. He was learning to live with it. So should she. Gathering her purse and coat, she followed him out the door, closing this chapter of their lives, the one in which they hid from each other, forever.
Dana Scully's Apartment
Three Weeks Later
"Scully? Have you seen my papers?"
"Which ones?" a voice from the kitchen replied.
Mulder lowered himself to the floor to search under the coffee table. "The ones for Omni."
Scully appeared in the doorway, wiping her flour coated hands on a dishtowel. "I thought you already sent those in."
He got up and placed his hands on his hips, obviously frustrated. "No, I sent in the article for the MUFON Bulletin. I was working on the Omni article last night."
"My mind was elsewhere last night, I guess." She gave him a suggestive grin.
He smiled back. "Yeah, mine too." He walked over to the ceiling high bookcase in the spare room and started rifling through the shelves.
Scully returned to the kitchen, where she was busily preparing dinner. She jerked slightly when long arms encircled her waist. Mulder's warm breath tickled her ear and his moist lips pressed to her neck. "Mmmm, smells good. If I knew you were such a good cook, Scully, I would have moved in years ago."
"Don't get used to it, G-man, I rarely have time to go all out and make a real meal. Perhaps you should use some of your spare time improving your culinary skills." She felt his arms tense and instantly was sorry she had spoken.
She turned around and put her own arms around him, tilting her head up to look at his face. "I'm sorry. I know how hard it is for you to not be working."
Mulder sighed quietly, blinking his eyes slowly. "This inactivity is driving me crazy. I'd give anything to be out chasing a giant bloodsucking worm right now."
Scully smiled sadly, all too aware of the impossibility of such a scenario. She raised a hand to lightly brush her partner's cheek. His own hand caught it and brought her palm to his lips. An electric jolt shot down her arm and through her body, causing her to shiver imperceptibly.
She stood on her toes to kiss him, murmuring between their lips, "Spare time *does* have its perks."
"Yeah," was his breathless reply.
All of a sudden, the doorbell rang. Mulder's head fell back as he groaned loudly.
"Shh, " Scully admonished. She stepped out of his embrace and headed for the door. "Hey, maybe whoever it is would like to join us in a little three way-"
"Scully!" Mulder's wide-eyed shock was just the reaction she wanted.
She laughed playfully. "Sometimes, Mulder, you are so gullible." She was still chuckling a bit when she opened the door to reveal Assistant Director Skinner.
"Sir?" Scully couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. She shook it off quickly and motioned for her boss to come in. "Sir, this is an unexpected pleasure."
"Hey, Scully, who-" Mulder stepped into the living room and stopped when he saw the man standing next to his partner. "Sir?"
Skinner smiled briefly at the similar reaction both his agents had to his arrival. "Should I have called ahead?"
"Oh, no. No, Sir, not at all. Please, sit down." Scully gestured towards a chair. "Would you like anything to drink?"
"No, thank you." Skinner sat in the large chair and watched as Mulder moved to sit on the couch facing him. He looked good. In fact, he looked better than Skinner could ever remember. Mulder had gained much needed weight, his skin was a healthy color, and his eyes did not speak of sleepless nights. Living with Scully definitely agreed with him.
Scully sat down next to her partner, their knees touching lightly. Skinner was slightly disconcerted by the view in front of him. It was so domestic. Mulder was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, Scully in a thin sweater and jeans, both looking so uncharacteristically happy that Skinner was afraid that maybe he had made the wrong choice in coming over.
Mulder leaned forward and settled his arms on his thighs, his hands dangling between his legs. "So, what is it we can do for you, Sir?"
Skinner cleared his throat, trying to dispel the feeling of guilt that had descended upon him as soon as he had entered the apartment. "Actually, I'm here to make an offer." When neither said anything, he continued. "One of the full time profilers in the ISU just retired and there is an opening in that department." He took a deep breath, "Since being a profiler does not necessarily require field agent status, I thought that perhaps you, Agent Mulder, might be inclined to accept the position. At least until your condition dictates otherwise, whether it improves enough for the X-Files to be re-opened, or degrades to the point that you feel you cannot work any longer."
When Skinner had mentioned the ISU, Scully reached for her partner's hand. The AD saw the panic in both his agents' eyes, understanding immediately. He knew why Mulder had to transfer out of the Investigative Support Unit, had seen first hand how those kinds of cases affected the man back when he, Skinner, was still just an SAC. Mulder went too deep, too far into the mind of the killer; that was what made him the most successful profiler in the history of the ISU. Skinner knew that asking his maverick agent to go back into profiling was like asking someone to walk back into a prison they had barely escaped from alive but it was an opportunity for Mulder to go back to work. Albeit wasn't the X-Files, but at least he would feel like he was making a difference and not like he was some useless invalid.
The AD quickly moved to reassure them. "Agent Scully will be assigned as your partner, of course. If her expertise is not needed on a case, she can part time at Quantico." He smiled as they sagged in relief. "You didn't think I'd split up one of the best teams in the FBI, did you?"
Mulder and Scully looked at each other in disbelief. "The Brass upstairs actually approved this?" Mulder queried.
"Yes. In fact, they were quite eager to have you back in the ISU. Agent Scully has been updating me periodically on your condition and since the seizures are declining in frequency, I figured you would be getting bored. This way you can return to active duty but in a position that wouldn't require field status. Seemed to me like the perfect opportunity." Skinner leaned back in the chair, signaling that he was done.
"Sir, I don't know what to say," Mulder admitted. "I... Sir, thank you. This means a lot to-" The smile that had appeared on his face disappeared just as suddenly. He groaned quietly and doubled over, his breath coming in hard bursts.
Skinner was halfway out of his chair when Scully raised a hand to stop him, shaking her head. He sank down, his expression alarmed. He had somehow convinced himself that Mulder was fine, that the black cancer had vanished and there were only a few minor aches to deal with. Seeing the pain etched on his agent's face, Skinner berated himself for putting the good of the Bureau before Mulder's health. His eyes darted back and forth between the two on the couch.
Mulder was rocking slightly, his eyes shut against the pain. Scully had one hand on his shoulder, the other on his knee, and was murmuring softly to him. A few tense minutes later, Mulder relaxed, taking long deep breaths to steady himself. He looked apologetically at his boss. "Sorry, Sir, didn't mean to be so melodramatic."
"Jesus, Mulder," Skinner muttered. "Are you sure you can do this? I will not have you come back to work if it is in any way a risk to your health. *Physical* health at least," he added when he saw the wry grin spread across Mulder's face. "I'll give you two time to think about it. Call me when you've reached a decision." He stood up and the others followed suit.
The AD moved quickly for the door, eager to leave so that he could forget the anguish of his agent's expression, so that he could reconvince himself that this was the right thing to do. "Good day, Agents."
Scully held the door open, Mulder standing behind her. They both nodded with a respectful "Sir."
After shutting the door, Scully fell back against it and giggled. "You nearly gave him a heart attack, Mulder."
He grinned lopsidedly. "Serves him right. I mean, it's only fair since he has spent the last six years of his career trying to give *me* one."
They both laughed unabashedly for several moments before subsiding into hiccups. Mulder grabbed her hand and led her over to the couch, pulling her down with him. "Now, where were we?"
Scully pushed against his chest. "Wait. Skinner was right, we need to think about this. I know you want to work, believe me, I understand. But if this puts your health in jeopardy, I don't think you should do it."
"What could happen? It's not like profiling will have any affect on these seizures. We both know that."
"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about your mental health. From what I've heard, and from what you yourself have told me, the ISU nearly killed you. I refuse to let you do this if that could happen again." She ran her fingers through his silky hair, brushing it back from his forehead.
His eyes softened and he held her close. "Scully, I can't promise that I won't get too... involved... in the cases, I won't make that kind of commitment. But I can promise that I will try. Besides, I have a lot more at stake than I did ten years ago. And yes, I am scared. Scared of going back to that way of life. But this time I'll have you to make sure I come out of it in one piece.
"Now, I don't want you to think that you have to baby-sit me, that this assignment is just something to keep you busy while I work on the cases. We're partners and we'll solve them together. This isn't just my decision, it's up to you too."
Scully snuggled between Mulder and the back of the couch, resting her head on his chest. "I am bored out of my mind at Quantico, nothing is challenging or even vaguely interesting. This sounds like the best alternative to working on the X-Files. You know, there is a very real possibility that we may never work on them again.
"Mulder, I am scared too. I was terrified for you during the Moscow case, I don't know if I can go through that on a regular basis. All I can do is pray that my presence alone will keep you safe, I have to believe that. I know that if you feel that you can make a difference, nothing can stop you. And I wouldn't want to. You know that I'll be there for you."
"You always have been," he whispered, kissing the top of her fiery head. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life, however long that might be, writing articles for science magazines and UFO circulars. If I can save lives, wouldn't it be worth any personal risk? But, Dana, if you aren't sure about this, I won't take the job. You mean more to me than life itself, I trust you without restraint. Just say yes or no."
Scully raised her eyes to meet his, tears sparkling in the corners. "Yes," she murmured. "Let's do it."
Mulder caressed her pale cheek with his thumb. "Yes, let's. As long as we're together, we'll be fine."