Disclaimer: What if each character came with 'his' and 'hers' towels? Then Mulder and Scully would have 'his's and everyone else would have 'hers's. 'His' refers to CC and Fox Productions, 'hers' refers to me.
Authors Note: This is fourth in a series, so those others should be read first or the whole point of this story is moot. I intend to continue it as long as I can, but a little encouragement would help tremendously. XScout@hotmail.com
Grace Note: A note not necessary to the melody, added only for decoration.
J.P. Bailey Hospital
Friday, 9:33 pm
"I hope whoever invented coffee is in heaven right now."
"Amen to that."
Dana Scully flashed a haggard grin at the man sitting next to her. "You should go home, Sir, there's no need for you to stay.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jim Gillis peered down his broad nose at the diminutive woman before him. "I got you both into this mess, I intend to see you all the way through it."
"It's not your fault, Sir. This is our job, these are the risks we take. You know that."
He sighed loudly. "Yes, I do. And you're right, it's no one’s fault but Raymond Dolby's." He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms above his head. "Listen, why don't you call me Jim? I think that it's pretty safe to say that the investigation is over."
Sadness crept into Scully's eyes and she was about to reply when a nurse came into the room, heading straight to the machinery surrounding the patient. Crouching down, she examined a box shaped object on the ground. She squinted her eyes, wrote on a clipboard, fingered a few tubes and wrote some more. Straightening up, she lifted the stethoscope from her neck and placed it against Mulder’s chest. Another notation, a nod at the two visitors, and then she left.
She had been in about an hour before and had done the same thing. Gillis eyed the contraption that seemed to be the focus of the nurse's scrutiny. It was a plastic box, about the size of a cereal box, composed of several chambers and attached to something on the wall. A tube snaked out of the box and ran into the left side of Mulder's chest.
He glanced at Scully and motioned towards the equipment, "What is all that, and why does the nurse keep coming in here?"
Scully looked surprised by his question. "Why?"
"I'm an investigator, I am naturally curious." His voice took on a more serious tone, "Besides, I want to know if I should be worried or not."
"Don't worry, it's normal procedure after a chest surgery. Mulder has a single left pleural chest tube and that's attached to the Pluerevac. That's the box that the nurse was looking at, it lets fluids drain from the chest without letting air get back inside. See that column? It is where the drainage goes to and it's calibrated so you can see how much you are getting. The nurse was measuring the drainage. She'll do it hourly for a while, then less frequently until the drainage stops."
"Then what what? Oh, when the drainage stops? Then they'll remove the chest tube and we'll go from there. It'll be a big step on Mulder's road to recovery."
Gillis sipped at his coffee thoughtfully. "You've been here before."
"Excuse me?" Scully's left eyebrow inched up.
"Not in this hospital, but in this situation I mean. Mulder in a hospital bed, you by his side, wondering if this is it."
Scully's lips pressed into a thin line. "Yes. Yes I have. Every single time is one too many. It's not that Mulder is clumsy or accident prone, it's just that his sense of self-safety is a bit... underdeveloped." She shook her head at the ASAC's look of alarm. "I'm not saying that he is suicidal, though he has made me wonder on occasion. What I mean is that Mulder doesn't feel like his life is worth much compared to the greater good, that he has no second thought of risking himself if it will save another life or uncover a truth." She let out a long breath and glanced affectionately at the form in the bed. "My knight in shining armor."
Gillis snorted. He knew what Scully was talking about, had experienced it first hand back when Mulder was a full time profiler. He doubted whether Scully would have admitted such a thing to anyone who had not already made the same observations. "His armor is looking a bit dented to me," he said under his breath.
"You're doing great, Mulder, just a little farther. There you go." Scully's voice was an interesting mixture of concern and encouragement.
Mulder settled himself into the chair, trying to find a comfortable position. "How long do I have to stay like this?" It was a hidden admission to the pain he was experiencing.
Scully thanked the nurse who had helped her get her partner moved from the bed to the chair before answering. "Only about an hour. We need you to change positions because there may be some blood that won't drain when you are lying down."
"Well, now that I'm up, how about you tell me what happened since the tornado shelter?"
Scully pursed her lips. "I don't think we need to talk about the case right now." She sighed at the look of condescension on his face. "All right." She sat in a chair next to him and took a moment to arrange her thoughts.
"Well, Gillis found out that Trish was seeing someone named Ray and that he was privy to confidential aspects of the case. They showed up at Dolby's house and all hell broke loose. Luckily no one was injured and they managed to take him down without shooting him. Bastard is going to have to stand trial. The death penalty is legal in Kansas, lethal injection. And he is one over the minimum of murders needed to be sentenced.
“Anyway, Brahms found the... blood stain... running to the back yard." Here Scully paused to swallow the lump in her throat, remembering how much blood her partner had left behind on the wooden floor. Mulder reached over and took her hand in his own, giving it a gentle squeeze. She smiled in thanks. "They followed it to the shelter and the rest you can pretty much figure out."
"Did they find Trish?"
Scully nodded mournfully. "They pulled her body out of the river just before they arrived at Dolby's. It's such a shame, she was a promising agent."
"But she broke one of the most important rules - she gave vital information to a civilian. Don't look at me like that. I know I am not exactly the picture of protocol, but I have *never* divulged details of a case to unauthorized people. Too much can go wrong."
"True. We're living proof of that. But I can understand where she was coming from. She was a woman in the 'Boy's Club', she needed to have someone recognize how hard she worked. Hey, I didn't say it was right, I just said that I understand her position."
"She endangered the lives of her fellow agents. She put *your* life at risk. I cannot forgive her for that."
Scully was taken aback at the vehemence in Mulder's voice. His words finally sunk in and she shook her head in disbelief. "What about you, Mulder? You're the one who almost died out there."
He looked away uncomfortably. "It's not the same thing."
"Why not?" He continued to stare at the wall and she reached up to put her hand under his chin, turning it to face her. "Why not?" she repeated.
He couldn't meet her eyes. "It just isn't."
"Mulder, look at me." He reluctantly complied. "Why is my life worth more than your own? Do you think that you deserve to die??" Mulder closed his eyes, not willing to answer.
"That's it, isn't it? You think that you have somehow committed so many wrongs against others, that your life is forfeit. Mulder, you have to stop blaming yourself for everything. You are not God, you cannot expect to be responsible for events out of your control."
When he opened his eyes, they were glistening with unshed tears. "I know, It's just that... Scully if... if he hadn't decided to aim that gun at me..."
That was when Scully understood. Dolby had aimed the gun point blank at her head, there was no way she would have lived if he had fired. Mulder, on the other hand, was shot in the chest, giving him a chance at survival. For the greater good.
"Oh Mulder." She rose from her chair and knelt in front of him, drawing him into her arms. "Don't you think I would have felt the same way if *you* had died?"
She could feel hot tears against her neck, the soft flutter of his eyelashes against her skin. "Mulder, promise me that you won't ever sacrifice yourself for me."
A quiet sob was muffled by her shoulder. "I can't."
She began to rock him back and forth, her hand rubbing his back soothingly. "Shhh, it's okay, I know. I couldn't either."
Jim Gillis was balancing a tray of coffee and sandwiches in one hand and a stack of folders in the other, briefcase clutched precariously under the pile of papers. He had promised both himself and the DC agents that he would see them through to the end, but the responsibilities of an ASAC could not be ignored. So he compromised. Armed with cellphone, forms and pamphlets, and food, he was ready to face the day.
None of this could have prepared him for the scene he happened upon just outside of Mulder's room. He could hear the argument even before he turned the corner to find Dana Scully almost nose to nose with a doctor. Which was amazing in itself, considering that the female agent was a good head shorter than the bespectacled doctor. Interestingly enough, she wasn't the one yelling. In fact, her voice was even and controlled, projecting a sense of both authority and anger. The doctor was the one protesting loudly.
"There is no such indication that there is anything to be concerned about!"
"If you will remember, I am a medical doctor and I think it is too early."
The doctor took on an air of superiority. "I am well aware of your credentials, Dr. Scully. But I think that, since the majority of your patients are *dead*, I am significantly more qualified to make decisions regarding Agent Mulder's condition."
"What is going on here?" Gillis used the tone he reserved for reprimanding an underling.
Both antagonists turned to him, bewildered, not having realized that he was there. Scully recovered first.
"Sir. Dr. Evenrude thinks that it is time to remove Mulder's chest tube, since the drainage has stopped. I believe that it tapered off too quickly and that it's probably clotted. I want him to get a chest x-ray to check for an accumulation. If it *is* clotted, we might be able to use an ebolectomy catheter to remove the clot so the tube can drain again.”
Evenrude spoke up, trying to regain his sense of control over the situation. "A collection of blood that has consolidated and is too large to be drained. However, there is no evidence pointing to Dr. Scully's conclusion. The time elapsed since Agent Mulder's surgery is sufficient enough to have allowed for complete drainage. I think that perhaps Dr. Scully is a bit too close to this to be objective."
Scully sputtered angrily and her face grew dark. “I suppose you could consider ignoring all other possibilities as non-objective.”
Gillis sighed and rubbed his eyes. He didn't need this. "All right. Scully, do you think it is *plausible* that Dr. Evenrude is correct?" He raised a hand as she started to protest, "Consider it medically, not emotionally."
Scully bit her lip, her eyes downcast as she realized that Gillis was right. She had been thinking with her heart and not with her head. "Yes, it's plausible."
The doctor smiled haughtily until Gillis turned to him. "And do you concede that a clot is possible, based on your experience?"
Evenrude sniffed in disdain. "Remotely possible."
"Okay, then we'll agree to disagree. Now, since we seem to be at a stalemate, why don't we get a second opinion from someone at little more versed in medicine than I?"
A few minutes later, after Evenrude had consulted with another attending surgeon, they made their way to Mulder's room.
Muffled voices and annoying beeps were the first noises to filter into his subconscious. He tried to ignore them, to drop back into the warm safety of sleep. But he couldn't ignore the soft voice or the small hand on his forearm.
"Mulder, wake up."
His eyes fluttered open. "Scully?"
"Hey there. We're going to take out the chest tube now, it's stopped draining. This isn't going to be pleasant, so I want you to squeeze my hand if it hurts too much."
Mulder was fully awake now. He nodded his head in understanding. Grasping her hand, he watched the doctor make a few preparations. This consisted of removing the dressing, cutting the sutures that held the tube in place, and turning off the suction to the Pleurevac.
Evenrude solicitously asked his patient if he was ready. Mulder inclined his head in response. "Here we go. Take a deep breath and let it go. Now take a deep breath and hold it."
Mulder felt a slight tug at his chest, some pressure building up inside of him. Then came the pain. If felt as though one of his lungs was being ripped from him. He slammed his eyes shut and tried with all his might to not crush Scully's hand.
Scully felt Mulder's grip on her tighten and saw him cram his eyes shut, the tendons in his neck straining as he clenched his jaw. He paled drastically and beads of sweat appeared on his face. "Almost done, you're doing great," she assured him.
"All finished, you can breathe again," Evenrude proclaimed as he held up the tube, a fairly large blood clot at the end. Scully knew that this wasn't unusual, but she still had her reservations about removing the chest tube at this time.
"Piece of cake," Mulder muttered, his voice shaky.
"Okay, we're going to put some dressing on that and change the dressing on the surgical site as well. We'll give you an hour to rest a bit before we get you out of bed again."
"Oh joy," was the grumbled reply.
Mulder eyed the plastic column suspiciously. "Do I have to do this?"
"Yes, you do."
He frowned at his partner. She had that look - the one that meant if he didn't do as she said, he would regret it for years to come. He sighed and took the thing from her outstretched hand. "What do I do with it?"
"It's an incentive spirometer, for breathing exercises. Just inhale through the mouthpiece."
He did as told, placing his mouth over the opening at one end and tried to draw in a deep breath. He couldn't. He tried again, this time only succeeding in bringing on a coughing fit.
Once he finished, he tried one more time, if only to ease the look of concern on Scully's face. He gave up after that.
"I can't do it," he said angrily, dropping the spirometer in his lap. He didn't want to do this right now, all he wanted was to crawl back in the warm bed and sleep. He was cold, his muscles ached, his chest hurt, and it was hard to breathe deeply.
Scully picked up the device, her brows furrowed. Mulder was acting strangely; he was snapping at everyone, his patience short and his temper increasing. He was breathing fast, short shallow breaths. She placed a hand on his forehead, startled at the heat emanating from him. Checking the monitors, she found her suspicions confirmed. He was spiking a temperature and his pulse ox was dropping.
"C'mon, let's get you back into bed. I'm going to have a few words with Dr. Evenrude."
Mulder was more than willing to follow that order.
Gillis had left after Mulder's chest tube came out, realizing that he needed some notes that were saved on his laptop. He had now returned, laptop in hand, and was heading back to his agent's room. Before he turned the corner he could hear voices raised in anger and he sighed in frustration. Would those two ever stop?
He addressed them just as he stepped up. "What is it this time?"
Scully was first again. "Something's wrong. Mulder's temp is up, he can't take deep breaths. I was asking Dr. Evenrude if maybe they had missed something when they did the surgery."
"And I told Dr. Scully that nothing was overlooked. I am going to decrease Agent Mulder's pain medication because that's what is depressing his respiration." Evenrude sounded offended that anyone would question his knowledge after he had been proven right on taking the chest tube out.
"All I'm asking for is an x-ray to exclude any other possibilities." Scully insisted.
"Radiology is booked for the next hour."
"Then get a portable."
"They're all in use."
"How do you know that, I just asked?"
"Enough!" Gillis glared at both doctors. "You're arguing like children." When they both looked contrite, he continued, "Dr. Evenrude, don't you think it is in the patient's best interest that you rule out all other diagnoses before jumping to conclusions?"
Evenrude nodded slowly. "I'll call for a portable, but I can’t estimate how long it will take to get here.” He strode off before anyone could say any more.
Scully closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Thanks, Jim. If that pompous SOB kept at it like he was, I don't think I could be held accountable for my actions."
Gillis feigned a fearful expression. "Where's your weapon, Agent Scully?"
She waggled her eyebrows and grinned evilly.
Evenrude stood with his hands on his hips, his eyes focused on the x-ray in front of him. "There it is, right there. It's pretty low compared to where the chest tube was, probably couldn't drain properly." He turned to the woman standing to his left. "Dr. Scully, I must apologize for my behavior. You were right all along."
Scully didn't say 'I told you so', even if she was thinking it. "No Doctor, I understand. I remember what it is like to work thirty-six hour shifts on nothing but coffee."
Evenrude smiled. "It's a truce then."
Scully found Gillis in Mulder's room, watching the sleeping man take shallow, rapid breaths. He turned when he heard her footsteps on the tiled floor. "So?"
"There's a clot. We have to take him up to the OR to clean it out."
"Is it going to cause any problems?"
"I don't think so, I think we caught it soon enough. We won't know until after the surgery."
"Does Mulder always have this kind of luck?" Gillis smiled to make sure Scully understood that he was joking.
"If there's any possible way to complicate things, Mulder will find it." Scully smiled back.
Dr. Evenrude emerged from surgery, his tired eyes quickly finding the pair of FBI agents. "Dr. Scully, Agent Gillis."
Scully was on her feet instantly, practically bouncing on her toes in her eagerness. "Well?"
"Everything went smoothly. There was a little bleeder, but we tied it off and evacuated the clot. His hematocrit is good and I think it's pretty safe to say that he'll have a full recovery. Now, I am going home to take a shower and get some sleep. I suggest you do the same, Dr. Scully."
Evenrude shook hands with them both and then disappeared down the hallway. Gillis watched him go, a neutral expression on his face. "Good thing too, that man *needs* a nap."
Scully couldn't help the giggles that bubbled forth.
It was amazing, the difference a few hours of sleep could make. Mulder woke up feeling much better than before. He could breathe easier and the pain had diminished somewhat. He lay there for a few moments, relishing the sensation. It took him a while to realize that he wasn't in the same room that he had fallen asleep in.
He looked to his left and found Scully staring at him, a warm smile lighting up her eyes. "Hi, sleepyhead."
"Where am I?"
"We found a clot and you had to have surgery again. Remember that consent form you signed?” He nodded, recalling Scully shoving a form under nose and him signing it without reading. He certainly trusted her enough that he figured whatever she wanted done for him, he would agree to. “I swear, Mulder, if that doctor hadn't finally come to his senses, I would have held him at gunpoint until he took the x-ray."
"I don't doubt it," he chuckled.
A nurse came in then, acknowledging them with a nod. "Hi, I'm Nurse Conway. I'm here to check out Mr. Mulder's condition." She smiled at the patient. “How are you feeling, Mr. Mulder?”
Scully snorted and Mulder shot her a withering look.
“Do you remember where you are?” the nurse asked.
“Hell.” Now the withering look came from both women. “Sorry. I’m in J.P. Bailey Hospital in Plainville Kansas, United States of America, planet Earth.”
Nurse Conway laughed appreciatively as she checked his pulse in both wrists and ankles, watching the clock on the wall. The stethoscope came on again and she listened to his chest and belly. “Everything is looking and sounding good, you can have some ice chips now.”
After Mulder greedily swallowed the ice flakes that Scully spooned into his mouth, the nurse continued her examination. She took one of his hands in each of her own. "Squeeze for me. Good! Your grip is equally strong bilaterally, that's great. Now," she flipped up the blankets on the end on the bed to reveal his feet, "wiggle your toes."
She frowned momentarily. Lifting up his right leg, she instructed him to bed it at the knee. After doing so to her satisfaction, she repeated the gesture with his left leg. It didn't move.
Now, both Mulder and Scully had matching frowns. He tried again, concentrating on his knee. Nothing. He shot a panicky look at Scully.
"Now try moving the leg as a whole."
He did so, his body shaking with the effort. When she asked him to move his right leg, he complied with ease. This did nothing to assuage his fears.
Laying a hand on his foot, the nurse asked, “Can you feel my touch?”
“No.” Mulder’s voice was nothing but a whisper.
She moved her hand higher, just above the kneecap. “What about here?”
“Kinda, but it feels sort of numb.”
Nurse Conway recovered Mulder's legs and made a few notations on her chart. "I'm going to talk to the doctor, I'll be right back, okay?"
Mulder turned to Scully. "What's going on? What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure. You may just be experiencing some weakness, that's all."
"But in just *one* leg?"
Scully swallowed nervously.
Evenrude took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. An hour and a half of sleep. Why did he always get the difficult patients? He had been woken up from a blissful slumber by a phone call requesting him to return to the hospital. Upon arriving he had been told that Agent Mulder had loss of strength and a decrease in sensation a quarter of the way down his left leg.
So he’d gone over the data he had, tests, x-rays, and numerous papers, consulted their resident neurologist, and now he was sitting down in a plastic chair next to the stubborn FBI woman. Agent Mulder was lying in the bed next to them, his attention focused on Evenrude. He gestured towards the man he had brought with him. “This is Dr. Dickson, he’s our neurologist on staff.”
The agents nodded at the newcomer.
Evenrude replaced his glasses and shuffled the papers in his lap. "Here's what we've come up with. There are three possibilities: One, the clot was pressing on one of the arteries coming off the aorta that feeds the spinal cord. Two, interruption of the blood supply to the nerve from the disrupted artery in the second surgery. Either way leads to ischemic damage to the nerves. Three, the clot might have been compressing the nerve itself.
"Now, we believe that this is only temporary, and with physical therapy you will regain full mobility. It is going to take time and a lot of hard work, but your chances are good."
Relief washed over Mulder's feature but soon turned into dismay. "How long are we talking about here?"
"It depends on how bad the damage is and how committed you are to the exercises that the physical therapist assigns. It could as little as a few weeks up to a couple months."
"Thanks," Mulder said dejectedly.
"Well, I am going to go home and go back to sleep. If you have any questions, just ask Doctor Dickson."
Scully thanked him also and told him how much she appreciated all the help he had given them. He just grunted and walked out the door, almost running into Jim Gillis on his way out.
Dickson glanced at his new charge. “Any questions yet?”
“Not right now,” Scully answered for the both of them.
“All right, If you do come up with any, just ask Nurse Conway, she knows how to find me.” The neurologist sidestepped Gillis and went on his way.
"Hey there, Mulder, you're looking good. How ya feeling?" Gillis took in the atmosphere and realized that he was the only one smiling. "What's the matter?"
Scully took the initiative. "There's been some nerve damage and Mulder only has partial mobility in his left leg. Evenrude believes that it is temporary and Mulder will be back in the field in a few weeks to a few months."
"That's good news, so why does everyone look like it's the end of the world? It could have been worse," Gillis pointed out.
"True." Scully heaved a big sigh. "Looks like it's back to Quantico for me until you're back on your feet, partner."
Gillis cleared his throat. "If that doesn't appeal to you, I could always use an extra hand here."
Mulder finally spoke up. "Yeah, Scully, you'd be great in a field office. You're chances of promotion will go way up and you'll be in mortal danger a whole lot less than when you're with me."
Gillis heard the bitterness in the agent's voice and decided that was his cue to exit, stage right. "I'll leave you to discuss it, be back in a few hours to check on you both."
Scully laid a hand on his arm and squeezed. "Thanks, Jim, you've been a real source of support."
"Anytime, Scully. Anytime. See you 'round, Mulder." Then he left in search of a taxi. Back to the office - there was no rest for the weary.
The second the ASAC was out of hearing range, Scully whirled on her partner. "What was that comment about? Are you telling me that you don't want to work with me any more? That I would be safer if I wasn't with you? Did it ever occur to you that maybe I *want* to work with you? You aren't forcing me to stay, I make my own decisions.
"Don't use your disability as an excuse to allow me to leave you, Mulder. Because I won't. Your search for the truth is as much mine as it is yours. No, I wasn't there in the beginning, but I have been there for the past five years and I intend to be there until we find that truth. That is *my* choice. I may not believe in extra-terrestrials or paranormal phenomena, but I *do* believe in you."
Mulder listened to the heartfelt speech his partner was making and he had to struggle to keep the tears back. "Scully I... Thank you. Thank you for being more than my partner. Thank you for being my trust, conscience, co-conspirator, and my friend. I promise you that I will never forget all that you have given me. I can only hope that I return it all in full."
Scully stood up and leaned over, brushing his hair from his forehead and placing a chaste kiss there. "We'll get through this, Mulder. We've got one hell of a support system already, might as well put it to good use. Whatever it takes to get you back on your feet, I'll make sure you get it."
He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "All I need is you."
to be continued in Saving Grace