Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and Skinner aren't mine. You know it, I know it, and the rest of the world knows it. They belong to Chris Carter and 10-13. Fox too.
Author's Notes: Melanocarpamine doesn't exist as far as I know. Other than that this story is pretty straight forward. Thanks to Kel for her medical info that made this a plausible scenario and not some figment of my imagination. Please send me e-mail. I'm using the magic word here, so I at least deserve a tiny comment or two. XScout@hotmail.com
To Live For
To Live For
J. Edgar Hoover Building
"Do I have to?"
"Yes, you have to. You've used all your sick days for injuries, you don't have any left for actually being *sick*, so this is to your benefit. Come on, it's not that bad."
He glared petulantly at her. "But, Scully, I never get sick." He paused at her raised eyebrow. "That didn't count, they were poisoning my water. I'm talking about a good old fashioned cold or something similar."
Dana Scully sighed loudly. "Mulder, the Bureau requires yearly vaccinations against the flu as part of your medical insurance, I can't do anything about it."
Her partner, Fox Mulder, returned her sigh. "I know, Scully, I know. I'm sorry for taking it out on you, I just *hate* needles."
"Men are such babies," she mumbled.
"I said, at least it's not rabies. That's seven long needles, all very painful. Five in your arm, one in your gludius maximus, and one more in the wound. This is just one shot to make sure you get through the flu season, that's all."
He pursed his lips, knowing that wasn't what she'd said. But he recognized this as a losing argument and decided to give in gracefully. "We'd better get going then, or we'll be late."
Scully grinned smugly. Point for her.
Washington Medical Center
"All right," the doctor looked at the clipboard in his hand, "Mr. Mulder, how are you doing today?"
He struggled to keep his tone civil, glancing at the man's brass nametag. "I'm fine, Dr. McCain."
The doctor didn't seem to notice his patient's disposition. "You're here for a flu shot, is that correct?"
"Hmmm, let's see what else we can get out of the way for you." Back to the clipboard. "Well, you haven't had a tetanus shot in a while, you're due for one."
Now McCain gave him a disapproving look, finally realizing that his patient was less than thrilled. "I'll be right back with the required vaccinations and we'll get you out of here as soon as possible."
Mulder just grunted noncommittally as the white-coated man left in search of needles to gleefully poke him with. A few minutes later the doctor returned, tray of vials in hand. He set them on the stand next to the counter and rummaged around in a cupboard, emerging with a couple of disposable syringes.
He filled each one to their required amounts, then pushed on the plunger slightly so a thin stream of medication sprayed from the needle.
"Ready?" he asked solicitously.
Mulder nodded and stared straight ahead, not wanting to watch the sharp point enter his skin. The first one was easy, only a twinge of pain as it entered his bloodstream. The second, however, hit like a rock, sending fire coursing through his veins. He gritted his teeth, straining to keep a set expression on his face. Damn, it hurt! He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a shot feel this bad. Perversely, he hoped Scully was getting the same thing.
Shocked that he could actually wish such a thing on his partner, he forgot about the pain, submerging himself in guilt instead. He vowed to be overly nice to her for the rest of the day to make up for it. She'd probably think he was up to something, but he had to alleviate his conscience. True, it had been just an innocent thought, but he couldn't help feeling terrible about it. Scully was his partner, his best friend, his... everything. He would die for her, would kill for her, would sacrifice everything for her.
Shaking his head to dispel the downturn of his thoughts, he glanced over at the doctor, who was diligently filling out papers on the ever-present clipboard. Dr. McCain looked up at his patient. "Well, Mr. Mulder, all done. Just give this to the woman at the nurses' station." He handed Mulder a slip of paper, illegible scrawling decorating its pink surface.
"Thank you," Mulder said absently, picking up his coat and heading out the door.
"How'd it go?"
His head raised at the voice in front of him. He smiled widely. "Just fine. You hungry?"
Scully's mouth had practically dropped open when he smiled. She had expected him to sulk, to complain, even to ignore her. But for him to smile and ask her to lunch? Never in a million years. She couldn't help grinning back. "Yeah, I am."
"How's Mexican sound?" He stood from the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the waiting room.
"Sounds good. You buying?" she queried.
"Sure. I'll even let you order for me, to make sure I get something remotely healthy."
She was rendered speechless and immobile by her shock. Mulder was already out the door before she snapped out of it and caught up with him. As they walked to the car she stared at him, trying to glean any information from his expression. She was still staring when they got in the car.
His head lolled towards her. "What?"
She crossed her arms and the right eyebrow went upwards. "What are you up to, Mulder?"
His face took on a look of pained innocence. "Whatever do you mean? Can't I take you out for lunch without having an ulterior motive?" Scully opened her mouth to reply but he cut her off. "Don't answer that. Let's just say I want to show you how much I appreciate you and leave it at that." He turned back to the steering wheel and started the car, pulling out of the parking space.
Scully, for her part, was again shocked into silence. She knew Mulder appreciated her, depended on her, needed her. But he didn't voice it often. Sure, he showed her every day with little gestures, with a look or a touch, but he didn't say it out loud. Tears sprung to her eyes and she faced the window, struggling to get control of herself.
Mulder switched on the radio, fiddling with the dial until he found the Oldies station. Not his personal choice of music, but he knew Scully enjoyed it. He also knew that she was having difficulties right now, she was trying to hide her emotions from him. When he saw how much his words affected her, he made another promise - to tell his partner how much she meant to him more often. Besides, you never knew how long you had before you lost the chance.
His brows furrowed at his morbid thinking. He turned the radio up louder. 'Happy Together' was playing, one of Scully's favorites. He could see her body begin to sway back and forth in time to the music, still facing out the window. He had to do something. Suddenly he had a flashback to a forest in Florida and an insistence by him that she sing. He grinned wickedly. If she thought *she* couldn't carry a tune, just wait until she heard *him*.
"I can see me lovin' nobody but you for all my life. When you're with me, baby, the skies'll be blue for all my life," he sang along, his voice raising above the stereo volume. Scully shifted in her seat, turning to stare at him. But this time it wasn't suspicion on her face. It was surprise, soon to be replaced by a huge smile, her eyes widening at his attempt to harmonize.
He just flashed her a grin and kept singing. "Me and you, and you and me, no matter how they toss the dice, it had to be." His eyes kept darting over to meet hers, humor and something else that she couldn't recognize dancing in them
"The only one for me is you, and you for me, so happy together," she joined in, laughing as he faltered slightly. Together they sang the last verse, grinning like fools.
Ramon's Mexican Restaurant
"It wasn't too bad, was it?"
Mulder swallowed hastily, almost choking in his effort to speak. "No, I just enjoy complaining about it. They gave me a tetanus along with it, said it was due."
She nodded, thoughtful. "Didn't you get one when that beast woman ripped you up?"
"Yeah. But that was almost five years ago."
"You only need one every ten years, seven if you're injured," she replied.
"Actually, I don't think we reported it, so it wouldn't be in my records. Things were a bit hectic, what with a wild woman roaming the streets." He took another bite of his Mexican pizza, mentally thanking Scully for not ordering anything *too* healthy for him. True, there were more vegetables than meat, but with the right amount of hot sauce it still tasted delicious.
"Hmm. That's true. Well, it won't do you any harm. Just think, only another seven years until your next one." She sipped her ice tea and silently reveled in the relaxing atmosphere.
"I thought you said ten years!" Mulder sputtered.
"With your luck? Trust me, the chances of you not getting injured in ten years is practically nil." She forked another slice of cheese quesadilla into her mouth.
Mulder's eyebrows raised. "Practically?"
She gave him a sly look. "Isn't it you who said 'nothing is impossible, just highly improbable'?"
J. Edgar Hoover Building
They had returned to the office and finished the expense reports on their latest case, bantering back and forth about inconsequential things. Finally it was time to go home, the rest of the building mostly empty, the other agents homeward bound at a more reasonable hour. Mulder walked Scully to the parking lot, briefcase in one hand, a box of files balanced between his other elbow and his hip.
Once he reached his car, he set his briefcase on the roof and moved around to open the trunk. He dropped the box in the compartment, a large 'thunk' resounding in the empty parking garage.
"What have you got in there?" she queried.
"Nothing, just a few files to look over. A little light reading before bedtime," he answered.
"Do you think you're really going to have time to read all those before tomorrow?" Scully asked skeptically.
Mulder looked momentarily confused. "There's not that many."
"You took half the office with you."
His lower lip jutted out. "Did not." Then he grinned impishly. "Maybe a third. Besides, I read fairly fast, won't take me more than five or six hours."
Scully's mouth turned down at the edges. "Leaving you with four or five hours for sleep."
He ignored the disapproval in her tone. "Exactly. Hey, maybe I'll sleep in 'til seven and forgo the morning jog." He shut the trunk and unlocked the door, moving his briefcase from the roof to the backseat.
"Only *you* would consider seven hours of rest, 'sleeping in'. Well, try not to stay up too late. I'll see you tomorrow. And, Mulder, thanks for lunch, I had a good time." She turned to leave, hoping Mulder wouldn't read into her words as much as she had put into them.
"No problem, I had fun. Uh, Scully?" He swiveled around in a circle, peering at the deserted parking area. "Where's your car?"
"In the shop. Carburetor went bad. I'll call a cab," she tossed over her shoulder.
"Don't be ridiculous, I'll take you home." He moved around to unlock the passenger door, holding it open for her.
"Thanks. I wasn't really looking forward to having to listen to the cabby's scintillating conversation." She gratefully took the offered seat.
After joining her in the car, Mulder removed his tie and tossed it back with his briefcase. "Don't worry, I'll regale you with a conversation that will be both intellectually stimulating yet preposterously funny."
She looked at him. "I can hardly wait."
Dana Scully's Apartment
Toeing off her shoes, Scully settled down on her bed, ready to finish the novel she had been trying to read for the past three months. Thinking back on her day, she smiled to herself. It had been relaxing and enjoyable, Mulder making her laugh and not talking about work. It was a rare descent into normalcy, one she found refreshing, as long as it didn't get too normal too often.
On the ride home, Mulder had told her a hilarious story about a case he studied at Oxford about an insane man who went to work naked one day. The tale was not only hysterically funny, but liberally smattered with psychological terminology and observations that proved to be very fascinating, as promised. If the FBI ever got around to firing Mulder, she hoped he would set up practice somewhere - he would be a wonderful psychiatrist.
When they had arrived at her apartment, Mulder walked her to the door, telling her this was a full service escort. He wished her a good night and she again requested that he try to go to sleep early. He promised that he'd think about it, then promptly yawned largely. It turned into a small bout of coughing and she had to pound his back to get him to stop. "Must have gone down the wrong pipe," he'd said. She'd shaken her head and asked him if he'd pick her up tomorrow morning. He'd happily agreed and declared he would pick her up by eight a.m. sharp.
Snuggling under the covers, she opened her book and began to read, knowing she'd be able to sleep in an extra half hour, since Mulder wouldn't get there until 8:30.
Fox Mulder's Apartment
"Damn it, where did I put it," Mulder mumbled to himself, pushing aside various bottles and plastic containers. He was searching for the bottle of cough syrup he'd bought after suffering from smoke inhalation back in '93. Cough medicine didn't expire did it? Not that it mattered, since he couldn't find it among all the unopened pill containers issued after one injury or another. He went back to the couch, flopping down on it and bringing his hand to his mouth to stifle the coughs.
It just figured that he would have a reaction to the shots. At least that's what he assumed it was. Either that or all the flu shot did was *give* him the illness, not protect him from it. Well, he could live with it until tomorrow. Scully probably had something he could take. He reached over to the coffee table and picked up the file on the top, flipping it open and scanning through it.
He was only halfway through the pile of folders and slowing down fast. He couldn't concentrate on what he was reading, couldn't keep from coughing long enough to read more than a paragraph at a time.
"I *cough* give up," he muttered. He dropped the file in his lap onto the floor with the rest of the cases he had already browsed through. Next, he dug around in the cushions and found the remote, switching on the TV to the Sci-Fi channel. They were having a 'Monstervision Marathon' and the current episode was one with William Shatner, where he was an astronaut attacked by something in space and affected physically by it. Mulder couldn't help thinking back to Colonel Belt. This was eerily similar.
He laid back and tried to let it carry him off to sleep.
"This isn't *cough* working," he groaned. He had lain there for over two hours, and while his coughing had abated some, it hadn't decreased enough to allow him to slumber. He would have to get up soon anyway, he might as well go for a jog and get in to work early.
He lurched off the couch and stumbled wearily into the bedroom, digging in his dresser for a pair of sweats. Sliding them over his boxers, he then grabbed his running shoes and shoved them onto his feet, not bothering to untie them first. He scooped up his keys on his way out the door.
Forty-five minutes later and he was in the middle of his normal circuit, his gait smooth, his breathing easy. This was exactly what he needed. He had just passed the deli that marked his halfway point, when suddenly he gasped. He couldn't breathe, couldn't take in any air at all. He bent over and put his hands on his knees, struggling to draw air into his aching lungs. Spots began to swim in front of his eyes and he swayed unsteadily. Finally, right before he felt that he would pass out, a delicious taste of oxygen swept down his throat and he gulped furiously, taking in as much as possible. It was too much. He started coughing, harsh and painful coughs, his body doubling over, his arms wrapping around his ribs in an effort to quell the tremors. He fell to his knees, his lungs ready to burst.
It seemed like hours before the coughing subsided and he was able to stand again, though in reality it was only ten minutes at the most. He decided to walk the rest of the way home, feeling lightheaded and not willing to take the chance of another asthmatic attack.
It took him more than an hour and a half to get back home, as he had to stop several times to catch his breath. When he reached his apartment, he threw the keys on the table and stripped himself of his clothes on his way to the shower. He turned on the water, waiting until steam was rising before moving to stand under the hot stream. He let it pour over him, rinsing away the dull ache in his chest, the slight dizziness in his head. After washing himself thoroughly, he switched off the water and dried off quickly. He dressed and shaved in a matter of minutes, his body on autopilot as his mind tried to come up with a reason for the breathing episode this morning.
He came up blank. Only thing he could think of was an adverse reaction to the flu shot. He'd ask Scully about it when she got to work. He took his briefcase and walked out the door at a little past 7:30.
Dana Scully's Apartment
This was getting ridiculous. She had expected him to be late, but this was pushing it. She had called his place only to get the machine, then she tried his cell phone, which answered 'The cellular customer you are trying to reach is either out of the service area or is not answering, please try again later'.
She glanced at her watch and thought back to the day before. Mulder had been exceedingly polite, going out of his way to be nice to her. He was always nice, but yesterday seemed a bit too contrived. She remembered the box of files in his hands and his vague answer to her question about its contents. With sudden clarity, it all made sense.
He had ditched her.
Disarmed her with mindless banter, put her at ease with the 'normal' act so that he could go traipsing off after some wild lead, leaving her to wonder and worry. She thought he'd gotten over doing that, after the thing with Dr. Goldstein. Apparently not. Well, this time she wasn't going wonder and worry. When he got back, she was going to give him a piece of her mind.
Snatching her purse off the counter, she hurried out the door, hoping she would be able to find an empty cab at this hour.
With one arm tightly wrapped around his ribcage, Mulder used his free hand to turn the pages of the file before him. He had given up trying to stifle the coughing, now he was just trying to keep his ribs from screaming every time he did cough. Not really seeing the papers in front of him, he absently ran his eyes over the words, filing them away in his memory so that he could access them later when his concentration was better. It was a simple case in Arizona, something about cattle mutilations in conjunction with crop circles. He suspected it was a hoax but he decided to take the case anyway, feeling that it would be a nice relaxing job. Both he and Scully could use a break and this seemed the perfect opportunity. He had already made the plane reservations an hour ago.
Finishing and closing the folder, he looked across his desk at the empty chair and again wondered where his partner was. It wasn't like her to be late. Dana Scully was punctual almost to a fault and always called if she was going to be even a minute late. He had tried her home number only to get her answering machine. Assuming that she was on her way, he had called her cellphone but he got a busy signal. That was ten minutes ago and he was starting to get worried.
For most people, someone being fifteen minutes late wasn't something to get overly paranoid about, but from past experience Mulder knew that in their line of work, anything could, and usually did, happen. You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you after all. It was time to try the cellular again. He reached over to pick up his phone when suddenly the door opened violently and the angry visage of Dana Scully was standing there.
"Scully?" His voice was filled with relief. "I was worri-"
"Where were you??" she demanded, not letting him finish his sentence.
Mulder was too taken aback by his partner's anger to formulate an answer. Scully strode into the office and tossed her coat and purse on her desk, her eyes staring intently on the closed file in front of him. "Where are you going??" her tone accusatory.
His eyes scrunched up as his mind attempted to uncover the reasoning behind the questions Scully was asking. "I'm not-" he began.
"Don't give me that! I called the airport and you have a ticket to Arizona in two hours! Did you really think you could ditch me that easily?? After all that we've been through together, I can't believe you would go behind my back and-"
Both agents jumped in surprise as the phone rang shrilly. Mulder answered it with a shaking hand, his wide eyes never leaving his partner's. "Mulder." He thanked heaven for allowing his voice to remain steady. He listened a moment before replying, "We'll be right up," and hung up. He gathered the papers in front of him and mumbled, "Skinner wants to see us."
"Good. I'd like to see him too," Scully returned coldly. She whirled around and stamped out the door, not waiting for Mulder to follow.
He swallowed in a vain attempt to wet his parched throat but all that did was start another coughing fit. Holding it in the best he possibly could, he scrambled after Scully, almost forgetting to close the door behind him in his haste. He was already breathing heavily by the time he was a few feet behind his partner, no longer able to keep the coughs in. "Scully," he gasped.
"What??" she snapped, never turning around. She was angry because, despite her vow not to be, she had been worried.
He was having trouble breathing now, not getting enough air to continue coughing, just to wheeze ineffectively. Dizzy from the lack of oxygen, he staggered and leaned against the wall, barely able to gasp out, "Scully," again.
"What?!" she turned on her heel to glare at the man behind her. As she took in the scene before her, her anger melted away to be replaced by concern and fear. "Mulder?" She watched in horror as he sank to the floor, his legs unable to hold him. She jogged the few paces to his side, kneeling down next to him.
"Mulder, what's wrong?" She tried to keep her voice even.
"Can't... breathe," he managed to say between wheezes.
Scully ran her eyes over him, noting the heaving of his chest, the bluish tint to his lips. It appeared he was having some sort of respiratory attack. She ran back to the office and threw open the door, racing to get the phone and dialing 9-1-1. After the paramedics had been dispatched, she returned to her partner, who was still panting for air.
"Mulder, help is on the way, hang on." Resting her hand on his forehead, she detected a slight fever that would probably grow worse in the next few minutes. His glazed eyes held hers as realization dawned in them. "Forgot to... pick... you up... Sorry."
"No, I'm sorry for yelling at you. I should have known you wouldn't ditch me," she murmured, caressing his cheek.
"Got... tickets for... both of us."
Scully mentally slapped herself. When she had called the airline, she had only asked if there were reservations for Fox Mulder. She had not asked whether he was flying alone. She wallowed in guilt for a moment until a breathy voice pulled her back.
"Didn't feel well... forgot to pick you up," he repeated.
She was about to respond, but Mulder started coughing violently, his whole body shaking with tremors. His head leaned to the side as spots danced in front of his eyes, his chest agonizingly tight. The dry coughs became deep and wet suddenly as liquid welled up in his throat.
Scully watched in helpless terror as her partner began to cough up blood, pouring down his chin and spattering on the floor and walls. "Oh God," she whispered. The first thing that came to her mind was lung cancer and Cancerman, but she dismissed that idea quickly.
Finally the harsh sounds stopped and Mulder leaned back against the wall, exhausted. She could tell by his shallow breaths that he wasn't getting enough oxygen. His fever bright eyes caught hers in panic when his wheezing became silent. He couldn't breathe at all. Scully watched in terror as her partner lost his battle with consciousness, slumping to the floor, his chest unmoving.
Assistant Director Skinner glanced at his watch again. They were late. While he knew Mulder wouldn't particularly care to make his boss wait, Skinner was positive that Scully would. Making his decision, he grabbed his coat and headed down to the basement.
The hallways were bustling with agents going to and fro, carrying out tasks assigned by their superiors. Several of them nodded at him as he passed, others scrambled out of his way, too green to be anything but afraid of the AD. He got on the elevator and pushed the button that would take him down to the bowels of the bureau. He heard a snicker behind him. Probably thought that 'Spooky' was in trouble again and was about to get seriously reamed by Skinner. Let them think what they wanted, they wouldn't accept the truth anyway.
And the truth was, Skinner was worried about his agents. Over the past five years, he had watched them struggle and fight, growing closer together and closer to the 'truth'. And somewhere along the way, they had managed to ingrain themselves in his heart. He cared for them. About their well being, emotional and physical. He was headed down to make sure that they were all right. It wouldn't be the first time he showed up at their door unexpectedly. And most likely it wouldn't be the last.
Several stops later and he had the elevator all to himself, descending the last three floors in silence. Finally he reached his destination and the doors slid open into the dim light. The flourescents were flickering, casting shadows along the hallway. He absently reminded himself to talk to maintenance about it when he almost ran into a stray file cabinet. Maneuvering past it, he saw another shape farther down the hall. But this shape was moving. At that moment, the overhead lights decided to come on fully, stopping their incessant half on/half off game.
After blinking furiously to adjust to the sudden illumination, he began to make out what the shape was. It was Agent Scully, leaning over her partner, administering rescue breathing.
Skinner came up behind the pair, not wanting to distract Scully from her ministrations. She looked pale, gasping for air between breaths for Mulder. He crouched down beside her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Scully, you need a break. Let me take over."
Scully glanced at her boss, not even wondering how or when he came to be next to her. Instead she just nodded and scooted back, making room for him by Mulder's head. Skinner checked for breathing, but he could neither hear nor feel any sign of respiration. Wiping the blood from Mulder's lips with his shirt sleeve, he took up the task of making his agent breathe while Scully took full advantage of the respite, breathing long and deep. Eventually Skinner began to look a bit woozy. She checked her watch. Seven minutes. Jesus Christ. Mulder had been in respiratory arrest for seven minutes.
"Sir." It was all she had to say to get Skinner to move away. She went back to her routine of breathing into Mulder's mouth and constantly checking his carotid artery for a pulse. She was getting frantic, her professional demeanor beginning to fail as time drew on. "C'mon, Mulder, help me out here. Don't do this to me damn it, I *need* you." Tears escaped from her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, decorating Mulder's white shirt with tiny gray spots.
It was just approaching nine minutes since her partner lost consciousness when suddenly his body jerked. His head tossed back and forth and he was coughing again, the blood in his throat making a sick gurgling noise. It was the most beautiful sound Scully had ever heard. "Mulder? Can you hear me?"
His eyes were squeezed shut but he nodded slightly. The coughs had subsided into the harsh wheezing of earlier and Scully was worried that he might repeat the respiratory arrest. "Where the hell are those damn paramedics?"
Skinner watched all this with fear and helplessness swirling about in his brain. He had to do something. "They won't be able to get a gurney down here, we should bring Mulder up to the ground floor." He made a mental note to raise hell about it. True, the basement wasn't exactly the sort of place that was frequented, but it was disgraceful as well as dangerous the way the corridor had been made into a storage area.
Scully flinched at the sound of her boss' voice. Totally focused on Mulder, she had forgotten he was there. Biting her lip, she mulled over what he said. She didn't want to move Mulder, but at this point, there wasn't much choice. "All right. I'll get his feet." She moved around to his long legs, grabbing an ankle in each hand.
"Forget that, get the elevator," Skinner ordered. It would take too long to carry his limp form between them. He scooped up Mulder into his arms, only a bit surprised at how heavy his agent was. Scully understood immediately and jogged over to the elevator, pushing the button and praying that the car would arrive soon. Her prayers were answered when a high pitched 'ding' announced the car's arrival just as Skinner joined her.
They rode up the several floors to the first level in silence, Mulder's labored breathing seeming louder in the stillness. They reached their destination and Skinner stepped out into the bullpen. Activity ground to a halt as agents took in the sight of Assistant Director Walter Skinner carrying Spooky Mulder in his arms, the Ice Queen in tow. All could tell by the blood staining Mulder's pale face and the grim expression on the AD's, that this was serious.
Skinner ignored the stares, his own eyes searching the room for a responsible man. Then he spotted someone he knew he could count on. "Agent Gallagher, call security and tell them to have the paramedics meet us in the lobby."
Gallagher never hesitated. He sprung over to his desk and yanked the phone from its receiver, punching in numbers hastily. "Harry?.... Yeah, it's Jack. Listen, are there paramedics in the building?.... Great. Have them wait there, AD Skinner is on his way to meet them.... I can't explain now, you'll see why in a minute." He hung up and called out to Skinner's retreating back. "Sir, the paramedics just showed up and are ready for you!"
Skinner didn't turn, didn't acknowledge Gallagher's words, but the agent knew that he'd heard. Scully, however, tossed a strained "Thank you" over her shoulder. Gallagher nodded and watched the trio disappear around a corner. Nobody said a word in the bullpen for a good fifteen seconds before erupting into cacophonous noise. Rumors began to fly, speculations abounded, and 'Spooky' jokes proliferated.
Jack Gallagher ignored it all. Instead of the impassivity everyone claimed was there, he had seen the anguish on Scully's face. Instead of the anger they said was radiating from Skinner, he saw only concern. And he knew that, despite wild rumors that Mulder was insane, the snide remarks that Spooky had finally lost it and gone berserk were incorrect. He had noticed the pain etched on Mulder's face, had heard the wet gasps. Before returning to the file he had been reviewing, he uttered a heartfelt prayer for the three agents headed for the lobby.
The paramedics recognized the man who needed assistance immediately and in a matter of seconds Mulder was moved from the AD's arms to the gurney. Scully moved to follow as Mulder was escorted to the ambulance, giving Skinner an inquiring look.
"Go with them, I'll follow in a car," he directed. As if Scully would let the ambulance leave without her inside. She turned and hurried to catch up with the EMTs. By the time everyone was on board and the vehicle was in motion, an IV had been started and an oxygen mask placed over Mulder's mouth. There wasn't much they could do except monitor his vitals and give him pure oxygen, make sure he didn't choke on his own blood.
Scully enfolded his right hand in her own and talked soothingly, not quite sure if he heard her. He was conscious, but whether he was coherent was hard to tell since his eyes were shut and he didn't say anything. "Mulder, I'm here, it's all right, you're going to be okay," she whispered over and over.
Then his fingers tensed and squeezed her hand, letting her know that he was listening. She looked at his face and found that his eyes were open, staring up at her with complete trust. Her breath caught in her throat and she had to stifle a cry of sadness at the look in his eyes. He trusted her with his life and she didn't know if she would be able to live up to that, didn't know if she would be able to help this time.
Skinner walked through the pristine hallways, his steps sure and strong. A far cry from the terrified man he had been during the drive over here. Following the ambulance was easy enough, not needing to concentrate on where he was going, just on staying behind the larger vehicle. His mind had been free to wander over the past five years up until that point and he had hit the steering wheel in anger.
How could the Fates be so cruel? Why did good people have to suffer so much, live with grief and pain so often? Mulder and Scully had been plagued by evil, hurt physically and mentally, torn from each other and threatened by monsters, both literal and figurative. Yet somehow they had emerged in one piece, a little worse for the wear, but still alive. And they had grown closer, closer than anyone had ever imagined. Together they were a force to be reckoned with and together they strived to uncover the truth.
Skinner thought of the relationship between his two agents and thanked God for letting them find each other. Mulder had a reason to live - Scully. And they both had a reason to keep fighting the unseen elements that tried to destroy them - each other. As long as they were together, they would make it through this, of that he was sure.
And so, with a renewed sense of hope, he had pulled into the hospital parking lot and strode quickly through the white hallways, managing to find the waiting room with only a minimum number of wrong turns. It was there that he came upon Scully, her tiny figure slumped in a hard plastic chair against the wall, her face buried in her hands.
He walked over to her and placed a palm on her shaking shoulder. She flinched slightly and swatted hastily at her face, attempting to destroy the evidence of her grief. "Sir," was all she said.
He sank into the chair next to her "Scully... Dana. There is no weakness in letting it out, no shame in facing your fears. I know how you must be feeling right now, but don't give up hope. Mulder has surprised us more than once with his survival skills and I have no doubt he'll do it again. Besides, he's too stubborn to die."
Scully smiled weakly at his attempt to raise her spirits. A frown soon took over. "I shouldn't have yelled at him, I should have known he wouldn't leave me. I heard him cough last night, I should have noticed something was wrong, then maybe I could've-"
"Should haves and could haves don't get us anywhere, just keep us from seeing the light up ahead. We don't know what is wrong with Mulder, we don't know if anything could have been done to prevent it." He took her hand in his own. "Don't blame yourself for this, Dana, don't let the guilt overshadow your hope."
Scully looked into her boss' eyes, seeing only strength reflected in them, coupled with an emotion she had never seen on his face before - caring. Yes, she had seen him kind, helpful, even friendly. But at that moment she knew that AD Skinner cared about her and her partner as people, not just as agents under his command. "Thank you, Sir," she whispered.
He nodded in acceptance and released her hand. "Now, give me an update on what the doctors have discovered so far."
Scully straightened in her chair, automatically going into 'report mode'. "Dr. Hana is the pulmonary specialist on duty and he said he'd never seen anything like it. Mulder's lung capacity has been reduced to half. Something is destroying his tissue, but we don't know yet if it's a chemical agent or a microbe. He may even have been exposed to an environmental toxin, such as carbon tetrachloride." She paused, taking a deep breath before she continued. "Hana said that it is more reminiscent of the late stages of tuberculosis, but the onset of symptoms was too fast. He's going to run a test anyway."
Skinner's brow scrunched up. "I thought tuberculosis didn't exist anymore."
"It's mainly prevalent in lesser developed countries, like in South America and parts of Asia. But it is also common in the slums of urban centers in our own country."
"How would Mulder have contracted it?"
"I don't know, he hasn't been exposed to any conditions in which it might prevail, but I can't be sure. However, I am inclined to believe that this is not TB." She looked at him knowingly. "I'd say it has something to do with a certain group of government officials and their grudge against Mulder."
Skinner grimaced. "The Consortium." It was the title they had given to the shadow government of which Cancerman was an integral part.
She nodded. "Right now he is on a respirator and they're giving him antibiotics, bronchodilators, and steroids in hopes that they will have some effect. More tests are being run as we speak."
"How soon can we see him?"
"I don't know, I'm still waiting for word from Dr. Hana." The tone of her voice implied that she would not wait much longer. Luckily, it was at that moment that the afore mentioned doctor appeared from a room and headed toward them.
Scully was out of her seat in a flash, meeting Hana halfway. "Well?" she asked breathlessly.
"Agent Scully, perhaps you would like to sit down?" Hana gestured at the chair she had so recently vacated.
Scully swallowed the lump in her throat. Whenever a doctor told you to have a seat it was because they didn't want to have you collapse when they told you the bad news. Her mouth was dry and she couldn't seem to get her voice to work. Thankfully Skinner's was functioning perfectly.
"Just tell us." It was the tone he used to order his agents and it worked on the physician just as effectively.
Hana stood up tall, straightening his shoulders in an unconscious effort to appear confident. "Agent Mulder has suffered what we can only hesitantly categorize as an acute idiopathic pulmonary degeneration. We intubated right away on the basis of respiratory distress and gave him Sodium Bicarbonate intravenously. We did an arterial blood gas and found that his carbon dioxide is high, causing him to be acidotic." He realized that Skinner was staring at him with a confused expression. "Acidotic means that he wasn't getting any oxygen and couldn't get rid of his CO2. This causes his blood pressure to drop because his blood is too acidic."
When Skinner inclined his head in understanding, Hana went on. "An unknown toxin was found in his system and, while we are giving him antibiotics and steroids to fight it off, we are rather discouraged by the lack of response from the substance. We are testing all medications normally used to treat pulmonary patients such as Albuterol and Atrovent and a few others that show promise. Though his condition isn't primarily bronchospasm, he might as well have these drugs because the, if you'll pardon the term, *crud* in his lungs can act as an irritant. We administered Nitroglycerin and Primacor to decrease the pressure in his pulmonary arteries. A bronchoscopy showed multiple lesions, and we were able to obtain a biopsy. There was a copious amount of bloody, foamy drainage and we suctioned as much of the exudate as could. We took him up for a CT Scan, he should be finished fairly soon."
Scully was nodding as he spoke. She already knew all this and was getting angry with Hana for not getting to the point. She cleared her throat and gave him an icy glare.
The doctor swallowed and licked his lips, getting the message. "If there continues to be no change in the state of this toxin, then Agent Mulder's lung tissue will corrode until the respirator is no longer useful. If we *are* able to the stop the toxin, it has to be soon. At the rate that his tissue is being destroyed, it is a matter of days before he will never be well enough to live without the vent. If that is the case, then it is up to Agent Mulder to decide whether or not he wants the vent removed."
Scully gasped, bringing her hand up to her mouth, her head shaking back and forth. Skinner stared at her in concern. "Scully, what is it?"
She spoke so quietly that Skinner had to strain to hear her. "He'll want the respirator out, he won't want to live in that condition."
"It might not come to that," he offered in reassurance. God, he hoped that was true. He knew Mulder would rather die now than waste away hooked up to machines. A sudden image of Scully in a hospital bed, pale and thin, sprang up in his mind. Shaking his head to dispel the image, he turned his attention back to the doctor. "I don't understand. I thought people could lose an entire lung and still live out their lives?"
"True. People *can* lose a lot of lung tissue, but only if it happens gradually. This was so sudden, so immediate, that it is a major trauma to Agent Mulder's system, and his body is unable to compensate."
Skinner nodded at this logical explanation. "When can we see him?"
Hana motioned to Scully. "Since you are listed as his next of kin, you will be allowed to visit. Mr. Skinner, however, must remain outside of the..." He trailed off at the look the Assistant Director of the FBI was giving him. He sighed dramatically. "All right, you can go too, but you can only stay for ten minutes. Occasional visits every three hours is permissible but if you give me any reason to regret my decision I will personally have you removed from the hospital premises. Badge or no badge."
"Yes, Sir," Skinner deadpanned.
Dr. Hana snorted. "This way please."
"The Arctic fox's habitat is one of the most inhospitable on earth. During the long winters, it lives in almost constant darkness; in summer the sun shines twenty-four hours a day, occasionally warming the air to just above freezing."
The sound of crinkling paper joined the blips and hisses of the room. Scully sighed and rubbed her burning eyes. She had been reading aloud for the past two hours, having begun after they had finally managed to get Mulder's temperature to drop. His fever had spiked at one hundred and four. The shivers that shook him kept the temp high, making his need for oxygen even greater and they'd had to resort to a cooling blanket to cool him down.
"The Arctic fox lives in a den or burrow dug into the side of a hill, cliff, or riverbank. In winter-" Her voice halted and she looked up from the magazine to stare at the monitors. Several of them were starting to change.
He was waking up.
Scully set the magazine on the table and scooted her chair closer to his bed. Her left hand moved to grip his, her other resting on his cheek, just below his twitching eyelids. "Mulder? You with me?"
His eyes slowly opened and searched her out. He tried to say something and that was when he realized there was a tube shoved down his throat. His eyes darted back and forth, his arms pulling against the restraints that kept him from carrying out his intentions. The feeling of being strapped to the bed was overwhelming, the choking of the respirator only added to his fear.
"Mulder, Mulder, it's all right. The tube is just to help you breathe, remember? The straps are there to keep you from pulling it out when you wake up. C'mon partner, I need you to calm down okay? Let it breathe for you. That's it." While she was speaking she ran her fingers lightly across his forehead in a soothing manner.
As soon as he stopped fighting the respirator she removed the restraints and pushed the nurse's call button. A middle-aged woman with her brown hair twisted up into a bun arrived almost immediately. Scully recognized her from her previous stay in this hospital during her battle with cancer. "Mandy, hi. Would you tell Doctor Hana that Agent Mulder has woken up?"
"Dana, I'm glad to see you're looking so well. I'll call the doctor right away." Mandy scurried out of the room to perform her task.
She turned her attention back to her partner. "We're going to leave the tube in until Dr. Hana says so. Until then, please don't fight it or they'll restrain you again." She could tell by the look in his eyes that he would do his best, though he wasn't happy with it.
Just then the doctor stepped in and came over to the bed. "Well, Agent Mulder, it's nice to meet the man who has so puzzled our labs. I'm Doctor Emile Hana, as I'm sure Agent Scully has told you. We're doing everything we can to treat your condition, though, since it has yet to be diagnosed, we are at a loss on what exactly the best treatment is. At least we have been able to control the fever, which is now down to a steady 99.2 degrees.
"We are going to continue with the antibiotics and steroids. We have seen some signs of improvement and hope that if we give them enough time, they'll have an effect."
Scully bit her lip and looked at Mulder. *Time* was something they couldn't afford.
Skinner had returned to the office after Mulder had been settled in his room, to finish up some important business that couldn't wait. When that was done he had dropped by his apartment to change into more comfortable clothes, preparing for a long night. Scully had called him often with updates on Mulder's condition and though he trusted her implicitly, he had to see for himself that his agent was still in the land of the living.
In her last call she told him that they were trying an experimental drug that might rejuvenate Mulder's lung tissue. Hoping for the best but still expecting the worst, Skinner made his way through the Intensive Care Unit. When he reached the room that he had last seen his two agents in, he was shocked to find it empty. Tamping down on the panic rising in his chest he sought out the nearest nurse.
"Excuse me? What happened to the patient in that room?"
Mandy smiled kindly at the man. "Agent Mulder's condition improved and he was transferred to the third floor. Room 310."
"Thank you," he said, already heading back towards the elevator.
After asking directions from two different orderlies, Skinner found room 310. Inside he discovered Scully, asleep in the chair beside Mulder's bed. As for the man in that bed, he was no longer adorned with a respirator, instead, an oxygen mask was strapped to his face. He quietly entered, pulling up another chair opposite Scully.
Mulder turned his head and regarded his boss under half closed lids. Skinner was staring at him as if he was a ghost. He appreciated the comparison, considering how close he had come to Death's door. He blinked in acknowledgment of the older man's presence, already having been thoroughly admonished for trying to speak earlier.
He was gratified that his boss was here, supporting Scully as he couldn't. Over the past year he had grown to trust Skinner, to rely on him to be there for both his partner and himself. And it touched him deeply that the man cared for him enough to come down here and spend time with them. He felt that he could tentatively call Walter Skinner his friend.
So when a nurse came in and insisted that Skinner leave, waking Scully in the process, Mulder was overjoyed that his diminutive partner verbally harangued that nurse into submission. The rest of the third floor knew within five minutes that the patient in room 310 would be allowed two full time visitors.
After Scully had collected herself and Skinner had finished chuckling, she thanked him for coming and asked when he had arrived.
"About half an hour ago. Found out Mulder'd been moved down here and here I am. So, tell me how such good fortune has occurred."
"The medication appears to have worked and his lungs are no longer being ravaged. While re-growth will take a lot longer, at least we don't need to fear complete respiratory failure. That's why the mask replaced the tube," she explained.
"Now we just need to figure out what it was," Skinner said thoughtfully.
Both Scully and Skinner's heads snapped over to look at Mulder. "What did you say?" Scully asked in astonishment.
"I know what it was." His voice was muffled by the mask but she could still tell that his throat was raw from the coughing and the irritation of the vent tube.
She moved closer, leaning over so that her face was a foot from his own.
"The tetanus shot. I wasn't due for one." He paused to catch his breath, the simple task of talking was taking a lot of effort. "Must have been something else. Hurt like hell going in."
"Damn it!" Scully's vehemence was so abrupt that Skinner jerked in his seat. "I should have realized this sooner!"
"Scully, what are you two talking about? What tetanus shot?" Skinner was confused and it was making him angry.
"Yesterday we went down to get our yearly flu shots. Mulder was also given a tetanus shot that the doctor said was due. I didn't think much about it since last time Mulder had a tetanus we didn't report it."
"So you think this unidentified substance in his bloodstream was some sort of poison that the Consotrium had administered to him?" He thought about it for a moment, testing the idea. "It makes sense."
Mulder was relieved that both his partner and Skinner had accepted the theory so easily. He had been afraid that it was something else, like a relapse of the retrovirus, or maybe the black cancer returning to haunt him. Their agreement eased his mind on that subject.
He squeezed Scully's hand to get her attention. "Get the Lone Gunmen to do a search on Dr. McCain."
"Good idea." She looked at Skinner. "Don't ask, just trust us. These guys can find a needle in a haystack."
Skinner had excused himself to go down to the cafeteria, having missed dinner. Scully declined his offer to join him and remained by her partner's bedside. They had sat in a comfortable silence for a good fifteen minutes before Mulder spoke.
"I'm sorry for not picking you up."
Scully's eyes closed and her head lolled back on her neck so that her face was tilted up a the ceiling. "Only you, Mulder. Only you would apologize for something so insignificant. But if it makes you feel any better, apology accepted." She brought her face back down and opened her eyes. "My turn. I'm sorry for yelling at you like that. You didn't deserve it, I should have listened to your explanation first. I shouldn't have assumed you'd ditch me, not after all we've been through."
He held her hand tighter. "Apology accepted." She could see him smile beneath the mask.
She opened her mouth to say something but her cell phone started chirping insistently. She sighed and reached around her to dig in the pocket of the coat hanging on the back of her chair. She pulled it out and punched a button. "Scully."
"Yo, Scully. How's our boy doin'?"
Scully grinned. "He's doing much better, Langley. Did you find anything on McCain?"
"Hold on, lemme give you to Byers."
Scully waited patiently as the phone was passed on to the head of the Lone Gunmen. In the background she could hear Frohike asking to talk to her. She could almost see his little round face, lit up with anticipation, his thick hands waving in excitement. She thanked God when Langley told Frohike to shut up and Byers was put on.
Byers was always so polite, so gentlemanly. So different from his two comrades. She often wondered why he was associated with them. "So? Anything?"
"Doctor Brian McCain MD, born in 1951 in Minneapolis Minnesota. Graduated from Harvey Mudd in 1973, twelfth in his class. From there he bounced all over the country, from one hospital to another until he came to Washington Medical Center where he has practiced for the last sixteen years.
"He has an eleven year old daughter named Cynthia whom he and his wife Margaret have been sending to a private Catholic school in Georgetown. Cynthia suffers from a rare congenital heart disease which has put her in the hospital over twenty times in her short life. She was on the waiting list for heart transplants, but so far down that her chances were slim. However, this morning Cynthia successfully underwent a transplant procedure and is now resting comfortably at her father's hospital.
"Doctor McCain has retired from practice and intends to move to Iowa where he owns some land. His office has already been cleaned out and all his patients referred to other doctors."
Scully pursed her lips. "I see, thank you, you guys never cease to amaze me."
The noise in the background grew louder.
"Give Dana my undying love!"
"Shut up, Melvin!"
"You shut up you wannabe hacker!"
"Why you little-"
"I'm sorry, Agent Scully, I have to go break up a fight. Give Mulder my best...Hey, Langley, put that down!"
The dial tone greeted her. Scully couldn't help but smile. That trio was more entertaining than Larry, Moe, and Curly. She realized that Mulder was staring at her impatiently.
"That was 'The Three Stooges'. Seems that Dr. McCain's daughter received a much needed heart transplant in payment for his services. Up until then he was clean as a whistle. I think he was just some unfortunate doctor who loved his family enough to do just about anything for them. And They used him as They use everyone. Now he's quit WMC and is moving to Iowa. At least They didn't kill him."
"At least some good came out of this." Mulder continued when Scully gave him a puzzled look. "That little girl is going to live."
A soft smile played at Scully's lips. Always worrying about others, never giving his own well being a second thought. That was Mulder. "So, it looks like we're on our own here. There is really nothing we can do except run tests on the substance you were injected with."
Mulder nodded, his eyes growing heavy now that all the adrenaline had vanished along with their only lead.
"Why don't you rest a bit. When Skinner gets back, I'll go for some coffee and check with the lab to see what they've turned up."
"You need to rest too," Mulder insisted.
"I will, I promise. I just want to make sure that the evidence doesn't do its usual disappearing act."
Mulder shifted on the bed, careful not to make any noise. Both Scully and Skinner were sound asleep, lounging on a vacant bed and a small couch respectively. Skinner's legs hung over the arm of the couch and Mulder sympathetically cringed at the cramped position.
He couldn't sleep. His throat hurt, his chest hurt, and the damn catheter was bugging the hell out of him. His lungs were damaged, not his bladder for Christ's sake. But every time he tried to take a deep breath he was reminded of why he was stuck in this bed.
The back of his throat itched, like it was just tempting him to cough, to undo all the medication's hard work. But he knew he shouldn't and so he held it in, his chest aching all the more for it. It was making it harder to breathe, harder to focus on not coughing.
He wondered whether there was any way to turn up the oxygen output of the mask. He was pulling in air desperately now, his lungs screaming, his head swimming. The tickle became a fiery scratching and he could no longer control his body. He began to cough, his throat and chest exploding in a paroxysm of agony, the monitors surrounding him bleating wildly.
Scully was awake in an instant and by his side, Skinner joining soon after. Mulder had folded his arms over his ribs to quell the harsh coughing, blood speckling the oxygen mask over his mouth. Skinner was at the door, yelling out into the hallway for help.
Several hospital personnel came running, a bleary eyed Dr. Hana among them, obviously just awake. He was pulling on his white coat just as he skidded to s stop inside room 310. "What happened??"
"I don't know, he started coughing again and he can't breathe." Scully's heart was in her throat, her own breaths coming fast and hard. Skinner's hand on her shoulders were reassuring as he pulled her back to give the doctor room.
In a flurry of activity the endotracheal tube was reinserted and Hana used an AMBU bag to push oxygen into Mulder's lungs until a respiratory therapist came rushing in with a ventilator. After the life-giving machine was attactched instrument readings were recorded, blood drawn, IV checked. Then Mulder was whisked from the room to receive a chest x-ray and other necessary tests.
Skinner had persuaded Scully to go back to sleep, insisting that she wouldn't be of any use if she couldn't think clearly. She had succumbed to his reasoning and returned to the empty bed an hour ago.
Hana had dropped by shortly thereafter and told him that Mulder had been readmitted to the ICU and that it would take a while longer before the tests were back. Skinner replied that they would be up just as soon as Scully awoke. He didn't have the heart to wake her himself, she looked so tired, had been through so much. She would probably be royally pissed at him but there were perks to being her boss - namely being able to get away with things other people didn't have a chance with.
She was starting to stir now, the sheets rustling under her. She sat up with a start, rapidly blinking away the last vestiges of sleep. The lights were all off, nothing but the pale glow of the moon illuminating the room. "Sir? What time is it?"
"Just after four."
"What?? Why didn't you wake me??" She swung her legs off the bed and jumped down.
"You needed some sleep before you collapsed from exhaustion. Don't worry, Dr. Hana has assured me that he would notify us the second Mulder's tests came back. He's back in the ICU and now that you're awake I think it's time we join him." Skinner stood from his chair and moved toward the door, pointedly ignoring the glare Scully was giving him.
They walked into Mulder's room to find a nurse leaning over him, a thin tube down his throat. The tube led to a clear canister which was filling with bloody secretions. Skinner glanced in alarm at his agent. "Scully, what's going on?"
She drew in a deep breath. "They have to suction the pulmonary secretions every few hours. They're bloody because of the damage to his alveoli."
"Why is he breathing so fast?"
"It is taking a lot of pressure to push air into his lungs. The ventilator is set at very fast rate to make up his inability to take a good volume," Scully explained, trying to avoid looking at the subjects of their discussion. Maybe if she ignored it, it would just go away and make this all a bad dream. A woman's voice destroyed her fantasy.
"I'm all done," the nurse said cheerfully. She walked around the bed to the ventilator to reset the alarms and check the patient's volumes and inspiratory pressures.
Dr. Hana walked in the room, one hand holding a clipboard, the other scrubbing vigorously at his face. He unsuccessfully stifled a yawn just as he was about to speak. "Sorry," he mumbled.
Skinner and Scully nodded in sympathy. Scully remembered her shifts as a medical student and was again thankful for her decision to join the FBI. She looked over at the man laying motionless in the bed and was even more certain of the rightness of that decision. They had taken up their previous positions, she on one side, Skinner on the other. Hana was standing at the foot of Mulder's bed, flipping through the papers on the clipboard.
"I wish I had good news, but I'm afraid at this point the chances of that are slim. I don't know what happened, the medication seemed to be working, the toxin had been neutralized. But now it's grown a resistance to the antibiotics and is attacking his lungs at twice the rate as before. All our resources have been exhausted, our theories and tests have revealed nothing.
"After consulting with my associates, I want to make an offer. I would like to try a new medicine that has had some success in treating TB patients in Africa. Melanocarpamine has been proven to help the body re-grow lung tissue at an accelerated rate. It might also put a halt to whatever it is that has been running amok in his system. It is still in its experimental stages so I must have your permission before it can be administered."
Without hesitation, Scully answered, "Absolutely. How long will it take to see if it has any effect?"
"One to two hours." Hana was scribbling on Mulder's chart, eager to try the new medication.
"That fast?" Scully was surprised.
"I said it accelerated growth." Hana was smiling. "I meant *really* accelerated."
Hana closed his eyed a sighed deeply. "The Melanocarpamine. It worked."
Skinner stood up and moved around to stand behind Scully, placing his hands on her shoulders. "Then why aren't you smiling, Doctor?"
"His lungs are completely incapacitated, no more than twenty-five percent of his lung tissue remains and what little there is will soon be destroyed. Short of a miracle, nothing can be done. Agent Scully, Agent Mulder needs to be informed of his choices. I will leave you alone so you may discuss it with him but I must be here when the final decision is made. I am trusting that you, as a doctor, will appraise him of all the pertinent consequences of either choice." With that, Hana turned and left, unable to bear the sadness that permeated the room.
Scully couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't hear. All she could do was think about what she would say, how she would tell Mulder to choose between painful life and immediate death. How could she possibly give him, the most important person in the world to her, an unbiased account of consequences when she was against the inevitable decision with all her heart? How could she watch him die? How could she live without him?
"Scully? Dana??" Skinner was getting worried. Scully's eyes were glazed over, she wasn't breathing, and her face was deathly pale. He knelt down by her side and forcibly moved her chair so that she was facing him. Then he gently gripped her shoulders and shook her back and forth slightly, calling her name.
Her eyes focused on him and he stopped. Her hands came up to her face and he could hear her whisper, "How?"
"Dana? I know this is hard, but Dr. Hana is going to be back soon. We need to wake Mulder." He spoke softly, his tone soothing.
Scully took a deep shuddering breath and held it for a few seconds before releasing it. Her hands dropped from her face and Skinner could see the tears glistening in her eyes. She pushed herself out of her chair and leaned over her partner's form.
Her left hand reached up to caress away the thick locks falling across his forehead. "Mulder? Wake up sleepyhead." Her voice was shaking, her hands trembling.
His eyelids fluttered and hazel orbs met blue. He didn't fight the respirator this time. He was too weak. He saw the tears and his hand moved to brush them away, his touch as light and caressing as her own had been.
"I need to ask you something, Mulder, I need you to listen and then answer after you've thought about it, okay? Two blinks is a yes and one is a no."
Thick lashes came together twice.
Another deep breath. "Doctor Hana told us that the last attack virtually...decimated your lungs. What tissue is left is still infected with the toxin and continues to corrode. The respirator is the only thing keeping you breathing, do you understand that?"
Slow blinks, one after the other.
"You can stay on the respirator until there isn't enough tissue left for it to even help you breathe, giving us time to search for a cure. We can deal, we can bargain with Cancerman." Mulder blinked once, squeezing his lids tight to signify his absolute vehemence at the thought of going to the black lunged son of a bitch for help. "I know, I know you don't want that, but hear me out. They have to have a cure, They had one for my cancer, They must have one for this. We still have the MJ files to bargain with."
Another tight squeeze.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. "The alternative is that we remove the respirator now and let your pulmonary system take over. But, Mulder, with what tissue you have, your lungs wouldn't be able to cope. You would...suffocate.
"You can stay on the respirator and give us a chance to find a cure, or you can have it removed and..." She couldn't say it. Could only think it. Die.
Skinner was standing a few feet away, giving them privacy. He felt the need to contribute, to show his agents that he was behind them, no matter what happened. "Take your time, think it over."
Scully threw a grateful glance his way before looking back and seeing Mulder close his eyes and reopen them. No. "You've already decided?" There was a weight in her stomach, like she was going to throw up.
The moment of truth. "Do you want the respirator out?" She said it quietly, almost mouthing the words, as though by denying their existence, she could deny his answer.
A blink. Seconds passed, the tension was enough to make her want to scream. A blink.
Her jaw clenched. She had to grip the railing on the bed to remain upright. "Are you sure?"
Twice more, this time quick and firm.
She bit her lower lip to keep from crying out. Skinner's own eyes were burning. "I'll get Hana," he said, pulling open the door.
The doctor was standing just outside, talking to a nurse. He saw Skinner and excused himself, handing the nurse the chart he was holding. He strode over to the other man. "He's decided then?" Skinner nodded. Hana could tell what Mulder had chosen, could see it in their eyes. "Is there anyone you need to call, any family?"
Scully gasped. She had completely forgotten about Christina Mulder. She should definitely be informed that her son was about to die. She held little hope that the woman would come down, but there was always a chance that his mother would suddenly grow a heart. "Sir? Would you call his mother?"
"Certainly. If you'll excuse me, I'll attend to that now." Skinner was ashamed that he was so eager to leave, needing to get out of the room where sorrow hung so heavily. He retrieved his phone from his jacket and called information. Supplying them with what they asked he was connected to Greenwich. It rang three times before it was answered.
"Hello, Mrs. Mulder? This is Assistant Director Walter Skinner, I work with your son. I'm sorry to wake you at such an early hour but I'm afraid I have some bad news."
Her words were clipped. "Is Fox hurt?"
"In a manner of speaking. He was admitted to Washington General yesterday morning in serious condition which has only worsened over time. He was has declined the use of machines that will keep him alive and I thought you would like to be here when we discontinue their use." He held his breath, waiting for an answer.
Her tone was cold. "I'm sorry, Mr. Skinner, but I won't be able to make it." She offered no explanation as to why.
"But Ma'am, I think that you would-"
"Yes, I would. But my health does not permit me to travel. Thank you for calling and give Fox my regards."
Give Fox my regards?? What kind of a mother was she? Skinner wasn't sure whether to feel sorry for her or be angry with her. In the end he settled between the two. Sorry that the disappearance of her daughter had caused her to withdraw from the world and miss the rest of her other child's life. Angry that she didn't seem to care what she had missed.
He returned to Mulder's room where Hana was disconnecting various wires and tubes that Mulder didn't need. Soon all that remained was the heart monitor and the respirator. Scully sat silently by the bed, her hand entwined with her partner's. He looked down at his renegade agent, thinking of a way to break the news.
"Mulder, I'm sorry but your mother can't come per her doctor's advice to avoid traveling. She does send her love and wishes she could be here." So he was lying, what harm could it do to a dead man?
Mulder rolled his eyes, seeing through Skinner's attempt to interpret his mother's words. Christina had not told her son she loved him in over twenty-five years and she would not break that record now, not even at his death bed.
Hana cleared his throat noisily. "Are you ready?"
Skinner waved him away. "Could you give us a minute?"
"Sure. I'll be back in five." The door shut loudly behind him.
AD Skinner sat down next to his agents. "Mulder, I...I want you to know that it has been a pleasure working with you. Your passion and devotion, your intelligence and stubborn determination, while at times frustrating, makes you the best agent the Bureau has ever seen or will see. I promise you that the X-Files will remain open and we will bury those bastards when we uncover your Truth."
Mulder blinked several times, hoping they would understand.
Skinner smiled. "I know. And you're welcome. I'll go see what Hana has planned. Pardon me."
They both knew what he was saying. He was giving them time alone to say goodbye.
Scully brought their entangled hands to her lips. "Mulder..." What could she say? What could she tell him in a few minutes to describe everything she was feeling? "These past five years I have seen and learned so much, things about the Truth, and about myself. About my heart and my soul. I discovered that I shared these two integral parts of myself with another person. You....God, Mulder, I love you more than life itself."
He increased the pressure on her hand, his eyes blinking in double succession, tears squeezed out of them each time. Prayed that she understood, knew that he returned her love with all his heart. He didn't want to leave her, didn't want her to have to watch him die. But he couldn't let her deal. He would rather die than have Scully bargain away her soul to save him.
She bent down and kissed his forehead, her soft lips lingering a few moments. Then she moved to his ear and whispered, "I always will."
A hesitant rapping sounded at the door before Skinner peered in. Scully nodded and he retreated from view only to reappear with Hana in tow. The doctor got right down to business, not wanting to prolong this any more than absolutely necessary.
"Agent Mulder, you have already been versed in the removal of the respirator so I needn't instruct you. Do you understand all the implications of your decision?"
Lids drooped twice.
"All right. Do you want any religious overseer?"
"Then let's do this." Hana checked with the other two people in the room. "You ready?"
Skinner just stared impassively, the reflection on his glasses camouflaging the evidence of his inner turmoil. Scully held Mulder's left hand pressed between her own small fingers, not caring that tears were steadily flowing across her pale skin. She helped him to sit up and lean forward so she could place some pillows behind him, preparing him for an easier transition.
Dr. Hana inhaled deeply, letting it out in an explosive whoosh. Morphine had been administered and now there was only the act itself that needed to be performed. He stepped up next to Mulder and untaped the tube from his face. He held the tube in place within Mulder's airway. "Here we go." He lowered the rate of the vent to eighteen breaths a minute.
Mulder glanced at Hana, grateful to see that the doctor was having a bit of trouble composing himself. Hana cared about his patients and that meant a lot to Mulder in terms of reassurance.
Hana decreased the rate to twelve.
His eyes met Skinner's, gratitude and trust exchanged silently. The older man had become sort of a father figure, someone he respected and looked up to. He was glad to have his boss here.
Now he locked gazes with Scully. Dana. The woman who meant so much he was willing to die to save her, would commit a thousand sins to protect her. Though it was tragic that it took imminent death for them to admit their feelings to each other, Mulder was sure that they had admitted it to themselves long ago. It was no revelation that she loved him, or that he loved her. But when she finally said those words he felt that his heart would burst from the joy. He smiled at her with his eyes, his hand tight in hers.
The dial was now in the off position, signaling the time for the removal of the endotracheal tube.
Mulder blew out with what little air he had, Hana pulling at the same time. The tube moved up through his tortured throat, feeling as though it was tearing the sensitive tissue to pieces. He couldn't help the groan that escaped. Scully's fingers curled through his as she felt his body tense.
Then it was out, dangling in Hana's palm. A one hundred percent nonrebreather mask was placed over Mulder's nose and mouth. Time froze as everyone waited for the inevitable. The stillness was broken by a shallow gasp.
Mulder tried to draw in air, to suck in life giving oxygen. He couldn't. Nothing but a few wisps of air passed his lips. It felt like he was drowning, had swallowed gallons of water and now his lungs were full, unable to hold anything else.
With monumental effort he removed his hand from Scully's grasp and managed to to drag the mask off his face, the other hand raising enough that he could reach behind her neck. He pulled her down with him as he lay back against the pillows, his lips meeting hers in a desperate kiss. Expending what little air he had managed to attain, he wheezed, "I love you."
Releasing his hold on her coughed hoarsely, using every last ounce of oxygen. He was getting dizzy, spots swimming across his vision. He clenched his eyes shut, tears streaming down the sides of his face. Tired. He was so tired, he wanted to rest.
Scully stared at his pale face, his expression one of pain and sorrow. The frantic screaming of the heart monitor was pounding in her ears. She thought of what she was losing. What she was letting happen.
No. She wasn't going to let it end like this. "Put it back in! Dr. Hana, please put it back in! He wasn't of sound mind when he decided, he was coerced by other influences, I didn't advise him of all the consequences! Oh God, please!" She was throwing out every excuse possible in hopes that Hana would accept one.
Hana was torn. He knew that this woman was distraught, more than that even. It was like a part of her was dying. Agent Mulder had wanted this. But what if? What if any of what she said was true? He couldn't take the chance, he couldn't allow this if the decision wasn't made completely by the patient.
He hefted the tube in his hand for a second before deciding. Hana moved forward and dug in the tackle box that held all the instruments he would need. Laryngoscope, stylet, and a new ET tube came out. Mulder was too weak to put up any opposition and the tube was reinserted within moments.
Oxygen flooded his damaged lungs so instantly that it was almost too painful to bear. He groaned again, angry at Scully for not allowing him peace and yet thankful that he would be able to be with her a little longer.
Scully threw herself down on the bed, her elbows resting on the edge, her hands groping out for her partner's. She was weeping, unabashedly sobbing. "I'm sorry, Mulder, forgive me, I'm so sorry. I can't do this, I will not let you do this.
"When I was in a coma and they were going to turn off life support you fought them, you wouldn't give up hope. Please don't ask me to do what you couldn't." She buried her head in her arms, just millimeters from his side. "Forgive me," she cried.
Mulder's trembling hand raised and stroked the back of her head, his fingers running through her red tresses. He continued to caress her until her sobs quieted. She turned her head and looked into his eyes and saw nothing but love.
He forgave her.
"Who authorized this??" He glared around the room, his cold gaze meeting the five other pairs of eyes in the silent office. No one spoke, no one admitted to any knowledge of the breach of order.
He took a long drag on his cigarette, blowing the smoke out in an exasperated sigh. "The toxin was not to be tested on anything other than the merchandise. To infect Mulder with it? This must be rectified immediately, we do not need a martyr's crusade on our hands."
A few heads nodded in agreement, the others choosing to remain still in acknowledgment. They then stood from their respective chairs, filing out the door in a procession of dark suits and wrinkled skin. The only one remaining stood to the left of the huge oak desk, waiting for the next command.
"Bring him in." He waved at the door opposite the one which everyone had exited, the cigarette in his hand glowing with the motion.
The attendant hurried to the door and opened it, standing back as someone entered. He was huge, a behemoth of a man, his face jagged and angular, his close cropped hair slicked back. His eyes were emotionless, as though he was looking at a worm writhing at his feet.
Cancerman was not put off. "You must heal him."
The big man's deep voice was as toneless as the rest of him. "Why?"
"He is important to the success of the Project and must not be allowed to die."
The Bounty Hunter stared disdainfully at the old man in the chair. "He will live because We want him to, not because of your wishes." Having said that he turned and left the room.
Cancerman reached across his desk and stubbed out the cigarette in an ashtray, his hand shaking.
Skinner had been in the cafeteria for half an hour, trying to find something edible. Scully insisted she wasn't hungry and had spent the last few hours sitting by Mulder's side, talking about inconsequential things or humming a soothing tune.
She had asked Skinner to try and contact Cancerman in order to negotiate for a cure. He had agreed to do it as soon as Hana gave them the latest update. Scully didn't know what they would bargain with but she wouldn't hesitate to give whatever was asked for.
An orderly came in, smiling brightly, tray of towels and linens in hand. "Agent Scully? Dr. Hana would like to see you in his office right away."
She pushed up from the chair and leaned over Mulder. "I'll be right back, okay?" She kissed his forehead and smoothed back the unruly bangs.
He blinked at her three times.
She smiled. "I love you too."
She nodded kindly at the orderly as she passed and headed down the hallway. The man came in, shutting the door behind him and set the tray on the table. Then his skin seemed to distort, his body growing thick and tall, his hair shortening on his scalp.
Mulder's eyes were wide as he looked at the Bounty Hunter. Last time they met he couldn't remember what happened, didn't know whether he was supposed to have been killed or not. He struggled to move, to get a nurse's attention. But he was weak and could not make any noise. He was trapped.
The Bounty Hunter almost grinned in amusement at the fear in the agent's eyes. He lifted two meaty hands and laid them on Mulder's chest, his eyes drifted shut, his head tilting back ever so slightly.
Mulder felt heat begin to emanate from the center of his chest, slowly radiating outward, tendrils of warmth traveling up his throat. Panic gave way to understanding and he stopped struggling.
Hana looked up from the pile of papers on his desk. "Agent Scully, is there something I can help you with?"
Scully frowned. "I thought you wanted to see me."
He cocked his head to the side. "No, I haven't been able to get our latest lab results yet so I was going to wait until I had them in hand before talking to you."
"But an orderly..." An orderly she hadn't seen before. He hadn't followed her out of the room. "Oh God, no!" She whirled around and hurtled out of the office, Hana close behind.
Her mind was racing. He was one of Them. They were going to finish the job, make sure Mulder died before any deal could be made. She skidded to a stop in front of his room and jerked the door open, belatedly realizing that she was unarmed.
But there was no one there. No one but Mulder. Mulder, who was trying to get out of bed. Mulder sans respirator.
"What are you doing??" She rushed to his side, pushing him back down. "Where's the ET tube?"
"I took it out."
"You took it out?? Mulder, that is a delicate procedure, you shouldn't have attempted..." Wait a minute. He was talking. Moving. *Breathing*. "Mulder?"
He grinned at her. "Yeah, Scully?"
"I...You...How?" she stammered.
He took her hands and drew her close, bringing his mouth to meet hers. He pulled back and looked into her eyes. "Do you believe in miracles?"
It took a good twenty minutes for Mulder to explain to Scully and Skinner what had occurred. They were both inclined to be skeptical but they had seen the Bounty Hunter before, knew what he was capable of. Besides, the evidence lay before them in the form of one healthy FBI agent.
Hana, who had arrived moments after Scully, had been in denial at first. He had begun setting up to reintubate, positive that hypoxia had made the patient euphoric and had removed the tube himself. But after he gathered his wits, listened to Mulder's chest, and ordered enough tests to keep the technicians busy for hours, he finally came to the conclusion that he was dreaming.
All traces of the substance in Mulder's system was gone, his lungs were in perfect condition. Doctor Emile Hana had thrown up his hands at the whole situation and was now scheduled for a well deserved week of vacation. The lab results which Hana had been waiting for never arrived, as all samples of the toxin had mysteriously disappeared, along with Mulder's chest x-rays and CT scans.
Mulder was to be released the next morning after twenty-four hours of observation. Upon hearing this he had loudly complained, but relented under Scully's glare of reproach. Now he was back in room 310, sitting in the elevated bed and flipping through the morning cartoons on television.
Skinner, who had been sitting with his agents for the past hour decided that it was time to leave when Mulder cried out happily as the TV announced a Scooby-Doo marathon starting at 10 o'clock. He would never understand his maverick agent. Oxford-educated psychologist, brilliant criminal profiler, extraordinary investigator....cartoon junkie.
"I should be getting back to the office. They can't seem to run it without me." He stood and gathered his jacket into his arms.
He was pleased that his agents appeared disappointed by his statement. Scully also stood and walked around to stand next to him, resting a hand on his forearm. "Sir, thank you for all you've done. For being here for us."
He patted the hand on his arm. "Anytime, Scully, anytime." He turned to Mulder. "You had better do everything your partner tells you to. I do not want to have to come down here and find that you have been harassing the staff. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Sir," Mulder replied crisply. "And, Sir? That thank you is from both of us."
Skinner genuinely smiled at that, surprising the other two. Neither could remember ever seeing their superior actually smile. He glanced again at the bright colors bouncing across the television screen and shook his head. Then he turned and left, the confidence in his step more assured than when he had first arrived.
Mulder flipped off the TV and tossed the remote on the bedside table. Despite what Skinner might think, he wasn't interested in the Scooby-Doo marathon. He had already seen every episode.
She sat down on the edge of the bed. "Yes?"
He looked down at his hands, fiddling with the sheets. "I want to apologize for putting you through that." He raised a hand to stop her when she began to argue. "For making you suffer because of my own selfish need to give up fighting."
"That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, Mulder. I couldn't bear to lose you."
He brushed back a strand of hair from her face. "I wanted to die because then you wouldn't be able to sacrifice yourself for my sake. My death would protect you and that's all that mattered to me. But I want to thank you. For not letting me take the easy way out, for giving me a reason."
He had left his palm on her cheek and now she used her hand to press it to her face. "Reason to what?"
He leaned forward and captured her lips in a gentle expression of love. "I was always willing to die for you. But now, I want to live for you."