Sent: Monday, September 11, 2000
The Clarity of Things
By Mary Kleinsmith (Buc252@aol.com)
Spoilers: none, I don't think
Summary: Mulder faces the ramifications of a deadly attack
Classification: MTA, SA, MA, UST
Archive: Yes, anywhere
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and everything related to them belong
Carter and 10-13, with magic added by David and Gillian. I'm only
Feedback: Please, please, please, please, please, please, please?
Author's Notes: I'm tagging this UST to indicate that there are
hints of a
coming relationship in the story, but don't expect much sexual
tension - it's
all true love. <g>
The Clarity of Things
J Edgar Hoover Building
It was so simple. So easy to get into the Hoover building unquestioned,
especially at night. As he made his way to the basement level,
looked twice at his ID badge, which was displayed in typical fashion
collar of his jacket. He laughed to himself, thinking how he'd
thing from some web site a couple months ago. This plan had been
the making, but he was going to be sure that the job was accomplished
thoroughly and completely. By this time tomorrow, Fox Mulder would
If truth were to be told, the worst part of the entire plan was
deal with the mercenaries - lowlifes who'd fight for anybody for
uninterested in causes or reasons. But they'd had the item he
plentiful supply, stored away for just the particular occasion
sure would be coming eventually. The small box was held securely,
casually, under one arm, even the "inter-agency mail"
sticker testifying to
The basement hall was darker than the rest of the building, and
momentarily if this was just for the night or if, seeing that
there was only
one office in this part of the building, the lighting was kept
at a minimum
24 hours a day. He placed the box gently in front of the locked
it on the floor for lack of a better place to leave it. At least,
less-trafficked area, there was only a small chance that anybody
his intended victim would be the one to open the box.
His instructions had been explicit. Special Agent Mulder was to
be the only
victim. He knew, from his research, that Mulder usually came in
helped. The only other person who was endangered was his partner,
already taken care of that. Thankfully, Agent Scully's car, parked
inconspicuously in front of her place of residence, was not equipped
alarm system. Upon leaving for work this morning, she'd quickly
her car was no longer in perfect operating condition, and getting
would take, he estimated, until at least ten or eleven o'clock.
time, Mulder would have succumbed to the package's deadly contents.
Office of the X-Files Division
J Edgar Hoover Building
"Damn," Fox Mulder cursed as his cell phone began ringing.
He didn't have a
spare hand to answer it, having his incoming mail and briefcase
in one hand,
a package he'd found at his office door under the other arm, and
the keys to
unlock said office in the same hand. He piled it all on the first
surface he could find as soon as he was through the door.
"Mulder, it's me." He couldn't help but smile at the
sound of her voice. It
was somehow melodic, at odds with the singing voice he knew she
"What's up that we can't talk about when you get here within
half an hour?"
he asked. Some day, he hoped, she'd call simply to tell him she
but he didn't see that happening until he got off his duff and
talked to her
about his feelings. He didn't know when, if ever, that was going
"That's what I'm calling about," Scully said, sounding
a little frustrated.
"I'm not sure when I'll be in today. Vandals did a real job
on my car last
night and I had to have it towed to the mechanic for some major
think they made my mechanic cry."
Mulder chuckled. "Do you want me to come pick you up?"
he asked, glancing at
the clock and noticing it was almost 8:00.
"No, that's okay. I have to be here to approve the estimate
anyway, so I'll
just have them do a rush job and then come in. I shouldn't be
any later than
"I'll take care of the 9:00 meeting with Skinner, and then
go over some new
case files until then. Maybe I'll have a new assignment by the
time you get
"I'm on pins and needles," she said with a slight chuckle.
"I'll see you
then, Mulder. Oh, and make sure that you proofread the entire
handing it in, okay? I'd planned to do that this morning."
"Trust me, Scully. Skinner will have a perfect report by
the meeting time.
Assistant Director Skinner's Office
It had been an uneventful meeting. Despite Agent Scully's absence,
report had been concise, thorough, and impressive. Never mind
that the case
itself sounded like it had taken place in the Twilight Zone. Agent
had explained how Scully's car had been vandalized and that she
in later, but Skinner saw no reason to postpone the simple meeting
as long as
she'd had such obvious input on the report itself.
Mulder, as was his custom, heaved a sigh of relief as their meeting
drew to a
close and he was dismissed. Walter Skinner decided that he didn't
ever figure the man out. Their relationship, as superior to agent
friends, had been becoming more and more comfortable in the preceding
yet Mulder still had an obvious unease about him when they had
a meeting over
the Files. Perhaps it was the simple fact that Mulder knew he
was more an
unbeliever, like Scully, than a believer. Or perhaps it was his
position since Mulder had read his mind and found out that it
who'd put the nanites into Skinner's bloodstream and was controlling
Skinner transferred the report to his "out" box, moving
onto new business
when the report caught his eye. Or, rather, something on the report
his eye. The line where the department head's signature was required
stoically blank. Mulder had forgotten to sign his report.
"Kim," he said, pushing the intercom button on his phone,
planning to have
her run it down to Mulder to sign. He immediately had second thoughts,
although he had no idea why.
"Yes, sir?" Kim's respectful voice returned.
"Uhhh. Never mind. I'll take care of it myself." His
next meeting wasn't
until noon, and to be honest, he felt like he wanted to get out
of the office
anyway. He may be administration now, but inside, where it counted,
still an agent. An agent who wanted to be out among other agents,
the feel of what was going on in the Bureau. That must be it,
he thought to
himself. Why else wouldn't he want Kim to run the simple errand?
Mulder tried to stifle a sigh as he walked the halls of the FBI
was eager to get back to the seclusion of his office, evading
the stares and
whispers he always seemed to attract from the staff. Comments
here and there
would reach his ears, much less kind when he was alone than when
he was with
Scully. At those times, the few his ears caught had more to do
speculation about their relationship than the "Spooky Mulder"
he heard now. The other agents were very careful not too utter
the "S" word
in front of Scully, since she'd laid into agents often enough
very early on
for making that mistake.
She still wasn't in, he thought, disappointed, when he opened
the door and
Scully wasn't there. Not that he'd really expected her to be.
around eleven, and no mechanic in existence underestimated the
time it would
take for a job. Still, he'd hoped she'd be there.
Well, he had some time to kill. Dropping into the chair behind
his desk, he
dug into the incoming mail with greater relish than usual. Most
of it was
junk mail, a few citizens' reports forwarded from law enforcement
and standard interoffice memos which usually didn't apply to the
division but were required to be distributed to all departments
The box intrigued him, which was why he'd left it for last. Who
agency would be sending him something? For a fraction of a second,
entertained the thought that it was from Scully - disguised so
set to arrive so that he'd see the contents while she wasn't there.
Damn, he thought to himself. I've got to get these thoughts under
Granted, he knew there was something beyond friendship growing
but Scully wasn't the type to send romantic gifts. Or, at least,
no indicated that she was. There was a lot about her he still
he realized as he grabbed a razor blade to slice open the sealing
The elevator clattered to a stop a moment before the doors opened
basement level. Skinner emerged into the hallway that led to the
office, something in him urging him to walk faster. Turning the
hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he knew something
His Marine training identified the faint, bitter-almond smell
Cyanide a moment before he raised his handkerchief to cover his
nose, trying to protect himself as much as possible. He rushed
to the wall
"Security, this is AD Skinner. We have a poisonous gas leak
on the basement
level. I believe it to be Hydrogen Cyanide. Evacuate the building,
the security systems and isolate this area. Contact HAZMAT, the
ambulance crews. Unknown yet if there are any victims."
The security officer was obviously thrown for a moment before
action, yet he recovered fairly quickly. "Yes sir, immediately,
line went dead as the guard disconnected the line. He was as good
word as the whelps of an evacuation siren could be heard permeating
building. Everybody should be leaving the building, but as he
there was no activity from inside the X-Files office.
Taking a deep breath through the handkerchief, Skinner rushed
the unsigned report to cover the doorknob before turning it to
It wouldn't do to have any directly on his skin. The fog in the
stronger than in the hall, and he was grateful for the glasses
his eyes somewhat from the noxious gas. Nerve gas, he thought
remembering how they'd been trained in emergency procedures against
during wartime so many years ago.
He found Mulder, collapsed behind his desk in a pool of what appeared
vomit. "Damn," Skinner muttered, checking the man's
pulse. It was racing,
his face having taken on the flushed cast of a victim of the toxic
It was safe to presume the agent had already taken in several
There was no way to get Mulder out of that room with one arm,
even for a man
who worked out daily. He had to find another option. Skinner quickly
the kerchief over his nose and mouth and around the back of his
it in place, but reducing the number of layers filtering the poisonous
It would have to do, he admitted, hoisting Mulder's prone form
shoulders. He headed for the farthest point on the floor from
contaminated office, slamming Mulder's door shut behind him to
contain it as
much as possible. Halfway down the hall, he felt his burden's
body behind to
move. But he wasn't regaining consciousness.
Lowering him to the floor, Skinner watched helplessly as Mulder
convulse. He was still begging God to help him do something when
quickly grew dark. The blackness overtook him in seconds as he,
too, slid to
the floor unconscious.
If the cab driver had any sense, he'd be thanking God that he
wasn't one of
those chatty people who drove Scully so crazy. Especially this
was in no mood for it.
After waiting around at the garage for hours, she finally came
that there was no way her car would be ready that morning. It
took a little
convincing to get the mechanic to admit it, however, but with
the threat of
an IRS audit he finally gave her the revised estimate of late
to repair the damage left by the vandals. Not willing to miss
out on the
rest of a work day for such a stupid reason, especially when Mulder
perfectly good car they could use, she'd called for a cab and
driver directions to the Hoover building.
By the time the cab was a block away, the traffic's crawl had
further, essentially becoming a dead stop. Impatient as she watch
tick over the charge, Scully finally gave up.
"I'll just get out here, cabbie." Resigned to being
stuck in traffic with
nobody paying the fare, the driver muttered the charge. Scully
threw a few
bills through the window before leaving the vehicle in favor of
From this vantagepoint, she could see the commotion around the
Police cars and firetrucks were either arriving or already at
the scene, and
many people she recognized were talking in small groups at the
"What's going on?" she asked as she approached one group,
noticing the bright blue HAZMAT truck screech to a stop.
"I don't know," a nervous-looking woman said. "They
came over the speakers
and said we had to evacuate.
"Have you seen Agent Mulder?" she asked urgently, the
alarms going off in her
mind. The woman barely got out her apologies that she hadn't before
rushed off toward the HAZMAT team. They were scrambling into contamination
outfits and breathings masks.
"I'm Agent Dana Scully of the FBI and I'm also a medical
"We had a report of toxic gasses. It's probably just a false
so if you wouldn't mind . . ." He motioned her to clear the
way, but she had
no intention of budging. Her next sentence, though, took him totally
"You have to let me go in there with you."
The man to which she was speaking, who had an air of authority
to him, looked
stunned. "I'm sorry, Doctor Scully, but I can't let an untrained
worker in there. On the outside chance that there really is some
"I'm a federal agent, I live with danger every day of my
life," she said to
him harshly. "And while we're arguing about it, there could
be victims - my
coworkers and friends - in there who I can help! Having a doctor
could help save lives. Now are you going to give me a suit or
do I go in as
Realizing that there was no way he was going to deflect the stubborn
the chief called into the truck, and a small decontamination suit
handed out. "Any idea of the nature of the gas?" Scully
asked as she pulled
the suit on over her clothes.
"The person who called 911 said that an ex-Marine on the
scene said it was
Hydrogen Cyanide, but that's not been confirmed."
"Exactly where is the 'scene', Captain?"
By this time, the rest of the HAZMAT team was headed toward the
Scully scrambled behind them as she heard the Captain say, "The
The panic almost overtook her as the ramifications hit home. She
expert in HCN, but knew it was deadly - just as well as she knew
partner was more than likely in that basement. Please, Mulder,
Grabbing a medical kit, Scully joined the small platoon in white
the entrance. The heavier equipment was handled by other team
equipment she knew would be used to wash down any victims before
them to the hospital. She looked frantically around until her
eyes fell on
the Captain, carrying a pair of oxygen tanks. That would be vital
in the basement had inhaled the fumes.
The atmosphere in the hall was clear to the eye, but Scully knew
to automatically take that as authorization to take off her gas
inconvenient as the visor could be, it was better than getting
a lungful of
the stuff. It also didn't keep her from seeing the crumpled forms
floor near the X-Files office.
Skinner's bulk was very still, at odds with the slender form next
Dropping to her knees by his side, she did her best to hold him
Nothing seemed to calm the tremors, though, so she turned her
other, more immediate, problems. Mulder's lips were blue, his
breaths barely taking in any oxygen while his body fought the
affects of the
"We need some oxygen here!" she screamed through her
ventilator. The Captain
handed her the second oxygen tank while affixing an identical
Skinner's face. "We need to get them to the hospital!"
"We'll need to wash them down before we can transport,"
he reminded her,
shaking his head. "Can't take any chance of this stuff getting
"First things first, Captain," a young man said from
his place next to him.
His decontamination suit bore the insignia of an Emergency Medical
Technician. "We need to get IV's started on these guys."
"You have the antidote for this?" Scully asked in surprise.
She was too
upset about Mulder to realize how preposterous the suggestion
"No, we don't carry it with us. But we can get them started
on something to
help their breathing and counteract some of the symptoms."
As he was
uttering his last words, Skinner began to stir. He turned frightened
set in angry red skin to the men above him.
"Mulder . . ." he whispered through the oxygen mask,
and Scully fought the
tears that threatened to fall when she realized she didn't know
what to tell
their superior and friend. Her partner's convulsing had lessened,
helping slightly with the paleness of his lips, but at this moment,
nothing more she could do. Luckily, the Captain's words kept her
"You're both alive, and we're going to get you to the hospital
as quickly as
we can." Exhausted, Skinner seemed to accept the man's word
as he sunk down
again into near unconsciousness.
Around them, Scully finally realized that the remaining members
of the team
had completed setting up their equipment. "Why don't you
stay where you
are," one of them said kindly to her as he reached for Mulder.
could ask, the man in her arms was divested of his clothing, another
putting them and the clothes other members had removed from Skinner
large bag which was then tightly sealed and labeled.
Trying to keep her cool and remember that she was a doctor, she
she could do to help as the team members began washing down the
"We need to irrigate his eyes, in case any got in there.
Can you lift his
lids?" Scully just nodded, the awkward gloves making it difficult
manipulate Mulder's eyelids until the sterile water could be sprayed
hazel irises. They finished one and then moved on to the other,
instincts keeping unconscious check on her partner's respiration
"What's that?" she asked, watching as the EMT slid an
IV into Mulder's vein.
She didn't know if, in her anxiety over the situation, she'd forgotten,
she'd never known, what you were supposed to give a victim of
"Amyl nitride, Dr. Scully. Once I have the line in, we get
these two out of
Unwilling to expose equipment unnecessarily to whatever fumes
both men were wrapped in sterile sheets and gently carried from
Ambulance attendants awaited the team with beds on which they
laid the two
victims of the vicious bombing. Scully scrambled out of her decontamination
suit, eager to get into the ambulance with Mulder and Skinner.
agents stood nearby, at the sidelines, looking on in horror at
happened to the Assistant Director and one of the best profilers
had ever known.
Scully's eyes locked with theirs for just a moment. "Don't
assured her. "We'll find out who did this."
She knew the agents and knew she could trust them to be as good
word, but revenge or justice was the last thing on her mind at
Exchanging nods with them, she added, "I'll let you know
how they're doing,"
before the ambulance doors slammed shut on them.
The most frustrating thing about a hospital was the helplessness.
waited for word on her best friend and her boss, she was struck
totally powerless she felt. There was nothing she could do, nobody
arrest, no tests she could run or autopsies she could do - thank
she needed to do something!
The nurse who was working the desk, noticing her unsettled mood,
took pity on
her. She'd seen patients' families behave like this before, and
knew that if
she didn't find something to occupy the agent's time soon, she'd
the treatment room.
"Agent Scully," she said as gently as she was able.
"Yes?" Scully responded, turning to the woman behind
"I'm sure they'll be out as soon as they can to tell you
there's somebody you should call while you're waiting."
Somebody she should call? Scully turned a puzzled expression to
who added, "maybe Agent Mulder's mother or Mr. Skinner's
"No, Mulder's parents are dead," she thought dazedly.
There was one mother
she could call, though. As an afterthought, she asked, "Did
anybody call the
emergency contact in Skinner's file?"
"The only people listed there are Agent Mulder and yourself,"
Susan said with
a slight grin. "I guess you're his family, too."
Turning toward a bank of pay phones, Scully muttered, "then
his family is
about to become a little bit bigger."
When Maggie Scully arrived at George Washington University Medical
she found her daughter entrenched in a chair beside a bed in the
care unit. It took a few moments before she recognized the occupant
bed; he had so many tubes and wires coming off him, along with
down his throat. It looked exceedingly uncomfortable, and her
"Hi, Sweetie," she said, enveloping Scully in a hug
from behind. Dana hugged
her back, turning tired yet grateful eyes to her mother.
"Thanks for coming, Mom."
"What did the doctor's say?"
"That it's up to him now. They'd done all they can, but he's
They said he stopped breathing twice in the treatment room,"
she added, her
"Fox isn't going to give up now, honey. He's fought his way
through too many
things to give up his life to this."
"From your mouth to God's ears, and Mulder's, too,"
managing a slight smile.
"That's a winning combination if ever I've heard one,"
Maggie smiled back.
"Would you like some coffee, sweetheart?"
"That would be nice, Mom, thanks. I just couldn't bear to
drink any before,
while I was waiting."
"I'll get us some. Who knows?" Maggie added. "Maybe
if I get some of that
good Starbucks coffee, the smell alone will entice Fox into waking
Maggie rushed from the hospital to the coffee shop around the
returning in short order with two large, strong, aromatic cups
She was an observant woman, and noticed that the curtain in the
cubicle - the one that had been pulled when she'd first arrived
and then left
again - was not pulled back. A patient was in the bed, and it
was a moment
before she recognized it as being Dana and Fox's boss, Walter
"Dana," Maggie said as she returned to Mulder's cubicle.
"Is that Mr.
Skinner in the next room?"
"Oh, yes, Mom. Did I forget to tell you about that?"
"You didn't tell me much - just that you needed me and that
Mulder was in the
"Sorry, I guess I didn't realize. Somebody sent Mulder a
poison gas bomb.
Hydrogen cyanide. AD Skinner recognized the smell and called for
then tried to pull Mulder out of the fumes and took in some himself
generosity. It wasn't too much, though, and the doctor says he'll
around soon. At least he didn't have convulsions like Mulder .
. ." she
finished in a whisper.
"Why is he by himself?" Maggie asked. "Shouldn't
they be calling his family?"
"He doesn't have any family, Mom. Maybe that's why he's sometimes
sympathetic to Mulder's idiosyncrasies."
"No family?" Maggie repeated, a troubled frown creasing
her brow. "Nobody
should have to wake up in the hospital alone."
"I thought," Dana said quietly, "that we could
take turns. And when I'm
sitting with Skinner, you can sit with Mulder and keep an eye
on him for me."
Maggie could tell that leaving Mulder's side was the last thing
wanted to do, but that she also felt an obligation to the man
who may have
saved her partner's life.
"That sounds good, but why don't you take the first shift
with Fox. I can
sit with Mr. Skinner just as well as you can."
"Are you sure, Mom?" Scully asked, but she didn't have
to be her mother to
recognize the relief in her voice.
"I'm sure. Besides, Mr. Skinner just might be more comfortable
from his own generation." Maggie exchanged smiles with her
kissing her on the cheek, handing her one of the cups of coffee,
disappearing into the adjoining cubicle.
The first thing that occurred to Walter Skinner was the noise.
always expected waking up after an injury to be a silent time,
before he even opened his eyes, he was deluged with noises. Clicking,
beeping, ticking - the sounds of soft-soled shoes and medicine
cart wheels on
He also always expected to be inundated with light, but he was
there, too, as he raised tired eyelids. The bed was surrounded
in dim light,
curiously at odds with the amplitude of the sounds, not by the
emergency room fluorescents he'd seen more times than he cared
In that dimness, he could see the silhouette of a woman. It must
than it feels, he thought, if they've had a nurse sitting vigil
time. As long as she was there, though, maybe she could get him
a drink of
water. He opened his mouth to form the words a moment before the
him. There was acid in his throat, he was sure - nothing else
this kind of pain. The dryness turned into a slight cough.
"Would you like some water?" the woman asked, emerging
from the shadows. She
held a cup to his lips and he took a taste, fighting to swallow
soreness there. As she withdrew the cup, he got his first, clear
look at his
"Mrs. Scully?" he managed, his voice sounding like sandpaper.
"Take it easy, Mr. Skinner. The doctor says you're going
to be all right."
If I'm going to be okay, why does she look so worried? Then it
came to him.
"What about Mulder?"
"Dana's with him in the next room."
Skinner didn't miss the fact that she hadn't really told him anything
that his agent was still alive. "How is he?"
"The doctors are . . . . hopeful."
"Which means his condition is what right now?"
"He's in a coma, Mr. Skinner. Dana won't leave his side,
and I agree with
her being there. But we both owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank
"Thanks for what?" Skinner asked, bemused. "Being
too late? Not recognizing
that horrible smell soon enough to save them the agony?"
"No!" Maggie said, reprimand clear in her voice. "Thank
you for getting him
out of there so he would live to be taken to the hospital."
"Too little, too late," he mumbled, suddenly realizing
how tired he was.
"Could you please ring for the doctor before I'm too tired
to talk to him?"
"Sure," Maggie answered while she pushed the button.
"Look, Mr. Skinner . .
"Walt, please," Skinner interrupted, but his words were
more of a gasp than
"Okay, Walt. I know we don't know each other very well. It's
actually, considering how much a part of my daughter's life you
are, but I do
know enough about you to know that you did all you could. Berating
isn't going to help Dana or Fox. They need you to be there for
them, as you
always are, and that means you getting better."
"A lot you know," Skinner managed. "I wish I had
been there for them
whenever they needed me, but at times, my hands were tied. I couldn't
. . .
I didn't support them the way I should have."
"And on those occasions, I know that they understood your
they didn't, they wouldn't still trust you so much. And they do
Arguing with Maggie Scully was getting to be too tiring, Skinner
was relieved when the doctor entered his cubicle.
"Well, good to see you awake, Mr. Skinner," he chimed
in as Walt rolled his
eyes. Without further preamble, he began checking the Assistant
vital signs, grunting unintelligibly as he reviewed results of
pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate, and on and on. Finally, he
stethoscope around his neck.
"Everything looks pretty good. The antidote has done its
job, and you're
going to be fine. I do want to keep you a couple days for observation,
These words went unheeded by both Maggie and Walter Skinner, as
hear the commotion coming from the next cubicle. Not negative
after 12 hours of Scully's silent vigil by her partner's side,
any noise was
"What's going on over there," Maggie asked pointedly.
"They're treating Agent Mulder as best they can," the
"That's all you need to worry about."
Scully was more than worried - she was frantic. It was bad enough
nobody seemed to be able to assure her that Mulder would ever
wake up from
his coma, now she had this to deal with.
"Please, Ms. Scully. You only have to leave for a few minutes
while I take
care of this, then you can come right back."
"Why won't you tell me what this is for? Mulder's been in
comas before and
they've never made me leave. What are you going to do to him?"
She knew she
was sounding paranoid, but she didn't trust her partner's health
anyone. "I am a doctor - I can handle it."
"I'm not trying to keep any secrets from you, Dr. Scully.
I just didn't want
to upset you unreasonably. I'm an ophthalmological specialist,
and I need to
check his eyes. We need to know if exposure to the gas resulted
"Damage?" Scully said, suddenly frightened.
The doctor looked up from where she was rinsing Mulder's eyes
with a clear
fluid. "Patients who are exposed to Hydrogen Cyanide at the
Mulder experienced can incur damage to their retina or optic nerve
disturbances in their vision. I'm seeing some redness around his
that could be a problem, but we won't know the extent until he
There's no sense in buying trouble ahead of time, though,"
she added almost
as an afterthought.
Scully found herself suddenly breathless, unable to grasp the
Mulder could possibly end up blind? And that was if he woke up
Before she could regain control of herself, the ophthalmologist
leaving her once again alone with Mulder. She went to his side,
hand in her quivering own.
"Mulder," she whispered, unable to speak at a higher
volume. "Don't let this
keep you from coming back to us. You're going to live, and you're
see - I won't let you suffer any more. You've been through too
tear silently rolled down her cheek as her emotions warred with
She knew she'd promised more than she could deliver. She had no
this, but he knew it as well as she did, and would understand
her words as
more wishful than fact.
Finally, her words grew stronger as she calmed. "Y'know,
extremely tired of visiting you in hospitals. Why don't you wake
up, and we
can get out of here? Mom's here and she'd love to see you. I know,
she's not right here in the room, but she's just next door. She
look in on Skinner and see how he was doing. He saved your life,
much for your theory of how much he'd like to be rid of you."
. . . still nothing.
"Dana, are you okay?" She didn't have to be as in need
of hearing that voice
as she was in order to recognize it instantly.
"Better than he his," she said quietly, her eyes never
leaving her partner's
face. There was no way he was going to start to come around without
knowing it. She hoped that her mother would understand that she
despite the fact that she didn't - couldn't - look up at her entrance.
"He'll be okay, Sweetheart," Maggie assured as she wrapped
her daughter in a
hug from behind. Thank God, Mom always knew what she needed. She
savor the hug, closing her eyes and 'making a memory' as she'd
call it in an old movie once, so she tried to come as close as
without having to break the visual connection between her and
hung on tightly for a few moments before parting slightly.
"How's Skinner?" Scully asked, turning her mind, if
not her eyes, to another
"He woke up awhile ago. He has a heck of a sore throat but
fine physically. The doctors are checking him over now, and we'd
voices from over here, so he asked me to check on you two. He's
upset, I'm afraid."
"Skinner? Don't tell me he's caught Mulder's guilt compulsion,"
"No, no guilt. Not really, anyway. More anger. I've seen
men angry in my
time - your Dad was no slouch at it when he was on a roll - but
directed on themselves. He says he should have realized what was
sooner. . . gotten Fox out of the office faster so he wouldn't
be in such
"He worked a miracle as it was, Mom. Skinner hardly ever
comes down to the
office, and when he does, it's usually something serious. He could
expected to recognize a noxious substance he hadn't smelled in
quickly enough to have done more than he did."
"It wasn't something serious," came a raspy voice that
yanked her stare from
her partner to the edge of the curtained cubicle. There, seated
wheelchair, was the very subject of their conversation, and he
happy. "Mulder forgot to sign his report. I'd been in the
office all day
and needed a breather anyway, so I decided to take it down for
him to sign.
That's all there was to it. There was no reason for me to have
Rather than replying to his self-flagellation, Scully was drawn
medical status. "Sir, what are you doing out of bed? I'm
sure your doctor
didn't say you're well enough to be up and around yet." Despite
light, Scully could see as well as hear the affect the poison
gas had had on
her superior. His face, neck, and hands were angry red, like the
she'd get if she forgot her sunblock on a hot summer's day at
Even the baldness of his head was not spared the assault of the
gas on his
skin. She suspected that Mulder's would be even redder if he weren't
from its more serious affects.
"They came in and checked me out, and wanted to move me to
a room. I asked
if I could stop in here first." Unnoticed until now, a young
pushed the wheelchair in which he was sitting further into the
it up beside Scully and the recumbent Mulder. "What did the
He was obviously no longer talking about himself.
"That first priority is his waking up. After that, we'll
have to see." She
didn't want to bring up her discussion with the ophthalmologist
- it would
just serve to give everybody one more thing about which to worry.
"Do they have any idea when, Sweetheart?" Maggie asked.
"Did you see those doctors in the ER?" Scully asked
with a hollow chuckle.
"They don't know much more about the affects of this than
I do, and I don't
think they have any idea when he'll wake up. It's going to take
an expert in
this damn gas to tell us anything, I think."
"It's time to go, Mr. Skinner," the young girl said
quietly, not wanting to
interrupt the conversation but determined to take proper care
of her charge.
"Okay," he said to her before looking back to Scully.
"When I get to my
room, I'll call some of my contacts in the military. I've got
a few favors I
can call in. It shouldn't take too much to get a military doctor
familiar with these kinds of things sent over to have a look at
help, Scully." Now who was supporting whom, Dana thought
with a small grin.
"Thank you, sir. You know where I'll be if you hear anything."
candystriper turned the wheelchair away as Scully turned back
to the bed.
Maggie squeezed her hand quickly but firmly.
"I think I'll go with him. You need some time with Fox, and
I can help him
with his phone call and bring the answer right back here, okay?"
Scully merely nodded as her mother's hand left her own. Once they
again, she settled in, sitting on the edge of the bed Mulder occupied.
have to wake up, Mulder. You've got a lot of people very worried
out here. Please . . ."
She sat, silent and still as a stature, until well into the night.
frustrated, she rose and began to pace, thinking about the many
she'd gone through this same ritual. What were they doing here
Mulder got hurt enough all on his own - they hardly needed to
add an assassin
to the group, but add they had.
She chuckled to herself, thinking how her thoughts sounded more
Seuss than Special Agent Scully. "Mulder," she said,
willing to try
anything. "If you don't wake up soon, I swear, I'm going
to read every
single book Seuss ever wrote out loud until you do. You'll have
to hear it
all, Mulder. Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who, How the Grinch
Christmas - even if it is only March!" Still, there was no
reaction from the
comatose man. Heck, he'd probably like it if she read those books.
I'll do you even better, then. I'll read to you from my science
Mulder. Just think, hours and hours and hours of purely scientific
insight, no 'extreme possibilities'. Nothing that can't be proven
laboratory or a courtroom."
So intent was she on trying to figure out what would most rile
that she didn't notice the increase in the frequency of beeps
from the heart
monitor. It, therefore, came as quite a shock when she heard rustling
the bed. She spun, her eyes drawn to the bed. The legs under the
moved again, and Scully raced back to his side.
Nearly crawling onto the bed in order to get as close to him as
aligned her face with her partner's. "Mulder, can you hear
me? If you can,
take my hand," she added, gripping his fingers like a lifeline.
gently, she felt the slight pressure on her knuckles, but before
react, or even glance at the movement, his eyelids were raising.
"Mulder!" It was more of a sigh than anything. He began
to doze again, but
Scully was determined. "Stay with me, here, partner. I know
rotten, but try to stay awake." Her eyes met his as he studied
obviously still groggy.
"What happened?" was the whisper he finally managed.
"You were gassed, do you remember?"
"And I don't even usually drink much," was the sardonic
accompanied his attempt at a smile. Scully returned it, relieved
obvious presence of the old Mulder.
"It wasn't liquor. Somebody sent you a bomb that released
If your throat is sore, it's just the aftereffects of the respirator.
stopped breathing, Mulder . . . nearly died." She tried to
hide the pain in
her voice. It hadn't hurt this badly since she found Mulder strapped
operating table in a military facility, near death from his impromptu
surgery. "You've got to stop doing this to me, Mulder. I'm
not sure how
many more times I can almost lose you."
"You can't get rid of me that easily," he quipped, falling
silent as their
eyes communicated in a way their words couldn't.
Scully's peripheral vision picked up somebody standing in the
she knew she should break their gaze. She just couldn't do it.
"So, Mr. Mulder has joined the land of the living!"
Scully had expected the
words, but Mulder just about jumped out of his skin.
"Easy, Mulder. It's just the doctor!" she tried to calm
him, but his
breathing was fast and his eyes were wide. "This is the doctor
treating you. His name is Wayne Herbst," she assured again.
"He's okay, he
won't hurt you."
Obviously still groggy, Mulder panted. "Didn't see 'm coming.
warn a guy . . ."
"Let's give him a minute," Scully said, exchanging a
look with the doctor.
"He only just woke up."
"Then I'd say his timing is perfect," the doctor responded.
"I figured I'd
check on him before I headed home for the day." They waited
another minute, then the doctor approached Mulder's bed.
"I just need to check your vitals, Agent Mulder," he
From Fox Mulder's perspective, it was unsettling, even if he was
to really know what was going on. He was looking at the ceiling,
Scully would climb back on the bed beside him, when he felt the
of a stethoscope against his chest. "How is your breathing,
"'s okay," he answered, trying not to shiver at the
cool metal of the
"I'm going to try something for just a few seconds, okay?
I'm going to
remove the oxygen and see how you breath unassisted."
"Why not?" Mulder answered with a shrug.
Slowly, Mulder felt the tube being removed from under his nose,
not have it pressing against his skin. "How's that feel?"
the doctor asked.
"Like breathing in high humidity."
"Your pulse-ox has dropped and you're breathing heavier.
We'll just have to
leave this on for awhile yet." The physician replaced the
oxygen tube. Able
to breath easily again, it occurred to him that he had not yet
seen the man
with whom he'd been talking. Mulder turned his head to check out
who seemed to be better than most. . .
. . . and was met with a blinding pain coursing through his eye
"Scully!" he nearly sobbed, reaching out a hand toward
Feeling the need to take action, she was above him in a microsecond,
searched out and met her blue eyes.
"Mulder, what is it? Talk to me, partner."
"Pain . . ." he groaned. "In my eyes."
Scully noticed that he seemed to be a little better. "And
how is it now?
Does it hurt as bad?"
Mulder looked at her a little easier. "No, it's better. Like
through my eyes," he panted. Scully exchanged a look with
"Okay, Mr. Mulder. We're going to call in an ophthalmologic
take a look, but for now, I'm going to do a few basic tests. Think
handle it? Still feeling groggy?"
"I can do it," Mulder said, sounding so sure of himself.
The doctor took a pen from his pocket and held it in the air between
and Scully. "You see this pen, right, Mr. Mulder?"
"Yep. It's blue, and looks like it costs about what I make
in a week." The
doctor chuckled and went on.
"Now, when I move it, I want you to follow it with your eyes.
Keep your head
still." The pen moved slowly to Mulder's right, and his eyes
his breathing rose a notch. "Does that hurt, Mr. Mulder?"
"Yeah," Mulder panted. "Not as bad as before, but
lots worse than when you
"Okay, let's try this." Dr. Herbst moved it to the other
extreme at Mulder's
left, and it nearly elicited a scream from the tortured agent.
doctor broke into his realm of pain. "Mr. Mulder, look at
looking at me - just focus straight forward!"
He complied quickly, and both Scully and the doctor could see
how much he
settled when he was able to focus forward again. "What's
going on?" Mulder
asked with a catch in his throat. Obviously, he'd never read anything
affects of Hydrogen Cyanide or the facts in that steel-trap of
a mind of his
would be spilling the information to the forefront even now.
"Just one more easy test, Mr. Mulder. I promise, this one
won't hurt." The
doctor walked to the end of Mulder's bed and held up a small sign
with colored blocks. "You'll forgive me for the subject matter,
but the only
one available nearby was from the pediatric ward. Mr. Mulder,
please look at
the poster and tell me how many blocks you see."
"This is dumb," Mulder muttered warily yet exhaustedly.
"I may have just
woken up, but even now I can tell you that there're ten blocks
Scully's head snapped up so quickly, the doctor worried she'd
neck. The picture held fifteen blocks. She almost instantaneously
reaction, not wanting to upset her partner, and she breathed a
sigh of relief
when he didn't seem to notice how upset she'd become.
"Well, that's fine, Agent Mulder," Dr. Herbst said gently.
"I'm just going
to go call in the ophthalmological consult and then we'll be back
to talk to
you both some more." Looking intensely at Mulder for just
a moment, he then
left the room.
"Mulder, why don't you get some rest," Scully said,
smoothing his hair away
from those oh-so-expressive eyes. "I just want a couple words
doctor, then I'll be right back."
"Thanks," was the only response she got as his eyes
slid closed and he
Outside the cubical and out of Mulder's presence, Scully fought
her emotions. She couldn't even decide which emotion was strongest.
"Dr. Herbst, what's wrong with him?" she asked abruptly.
She knew that none
of this was his fault, but it was the best she could manage under
circumstances. He obviously understood.
"I'm not totally certain, Dr. Scully, which is why I want
to talk to an
expert before we say anything more to either of you."
"I can understand your not wanting to upset Mulder, but I'm
a doctor - I'll
understand whatever his status."
"That may be true, but if you were able to look at this objectively,
realize just how connected to you he is right now. Every time
you react with
an emotion, it's mirrored on his face. I presume you two have
for a long time?"
Scully didn't stop to think about the possible implications of
"together". "Seven years."
"And in those seven years, you've developed a connection.
If I were to tell
you something was seriously wrong with him, you'd go in there
and he'd feel
it in a minute. We can't have him thinking the worst at the moment,
have to keep both of your spirits up." His kind face smiled
Scully realized he was absolutely correct.
"Okay, but will you let us know as soon as you know anything?"
"Of course, Dr. Scully. There is something you can do, though,
occupy the time."
"What's that?" she asked eagerly.
"These are the orders for his move out of ICU. Now that he's
orderlies will move him to a room in the next few minutes. Go
with him, keep
him calm, and, if necessary, get him to keep his eyes stationary
during the move. It'll reduce the pain."
Sighing, Scully realized just how much this doctor was trying
to help her
partner. "Thanks, Dr. Herbst. I'll do just that."
The move went relatively smoothly, but nobody was more surprised
to find out that Mulder was not only not getting a private room,
but he was
being blessed with Assistant Director Skinner as a roommate. The
sleeping as they wheeled Mulder's bed into the room, but Maggie
was on her
feet in a second, coming to the young man's side. Scully suddenly
guilty at not having been more conscientious in keeping her mother
up to date
"Fox!" Maggie exclaimed, seemingly unsure whether the
man with his eyes
tightly closed was awake or asleep.
Mulder's head rolled toward the sound of the maternal voice, his
rising a moment later. "Mrs. Scully. You really didn't have
to come all
this way . . ."
"Oh, yes, I did," she interrupted affectionately. "You've
always been there
for our family - how could our family not be there for you?"
confusedly at her for a moment before his eyelids drooped once
again. It was
apparently he didn't believe it, but wasn't up to arguing the
"Excuse me, ma'am," a very young voice interrupted.
It was the orderly,
standing quietly beside a similarly dressed young man. "We
really need to
get the patient into bed before the doctors come back to see him."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Maggie smiled gently, stepping away
as the two transferred
Mulder from the rolling bed to something more comfortable, being
his oxygen and IV lines. Before long, they left the foursome in
Scully's attention was drawn to the other bed in the room. "How's
she asked her mother, nodding at the AD's form.
"Pretty good, although I didn't think it was going to be
quite so easy
getting him to go to sleep."
Mulder listened to the two women continue to talk through the
half-sleep. He vaguely wondered of whom they were speaking, rolling
to the side to study the next bed. "Skinner?"
Scully seemed to be surprised that he was awake. "This may
be your worst
nightmare, Mulder, but he's your roommate for a few days."
"What happened to him?" Mulder realized he was whispering
in deference to
his sleeping boss.
"Mulder, he pulled you out of the office. He was on his way
down to see you
when he recognized the peripheral odor of the gas. He managed
to pull you
out of there before succumbing himself."
"He saved me?" Mulder asked incredulously.
"Yes, he did, Fox," Maggie added, taking Mulder's hand.
"Luckily, he didn't
inhale as much as you did. The doctor says he'll be released tomorrow
"I can't believe I owe him my life," Mulder commented
never going to hear the end of it." Scully and Maggie both
to stifle the sound behind their hands.
"Don't be quiet on my account," came a deep voice from
the other side of the
room. Skinner pushed himself to a sitting position, trying unsuccessfully
not to pull on the IV still protruding from his arm. At least
he didn't have
to deal with the oxygen tube, Mulder thought.
"Nice to see you back among the living, Agent Mulder. Although
really planned on spending this much of your recovery time with
"You're no more surprised than I am, Sir," Mulder managed
as a knock sounded.
"Everybody decent?" Dr. Herbst asked, poking a head
in the room.
"For the moment. Keep those nurses out of here and we'll
be able to keep it
that way," Mulder joked weakly. The doctor entered, followed
by another female doctor that Scully seemed to recognize.
"Nice to see you again, Doctor," Scully said, shaking
hands with the woman.
"I'm sorry we weren't able to be properly introduced earlier.
I'm Dr. Dana
Scully." Mulder thought ironically how her title abruptly
changed from Agent
Scully to Dr. Scully whenever he was hospitalized.
"Dr. Hayden. Nice to meet you." She turned her attention
to Mulder. "So
how are you feeling, Mr. Mulder?"
"Why does everybody ask me that? Doesn't it tell you all
that in my chart?"
"Oh, a smart alec, huh?" Dr. Hayden chuckled. "Would
you mind if I took a
look at you? Then we'll talk."
"Fine, just promise me that if it's going to hurt like it
did before, you'll
borrow Scully's gun and shoot me, first."
"That's my job, Mulder," Scully smiled, but it was lost
amid the laughter,
heard only by her partner.
After a thorough going over, Hayden drew Herbst aside and there
conversation, after which the male doctor left the room. He returned
moment later with a nurse carrying a tray with a scary-looking
That thing had better be going into the IV port, Mulder thought.
"Okay, Mr. Mulder, not to sound like a clich_, but there's
good news and bad
news. I wish I could give you the choice of which to get first,
but in this
case, they're pretty much entangled too thoroughly to separate.
As a result
of the nerve gas to which you were subjected, you've developed
called Optic Neuritis. It's a condition of the optic nerve, and
you're having such serious pain when you move your eyes. This
manifests itself in what lay people call 'blind spots'."
"I'm not having any blind spots," Mulder denied but
without rancor. Scully
could see the uncertainty clearly written on his face.
"I hate to disagree with you, but you are. The conscious
eye compensates for
the blind spots so you don't fully realize where they are, but
trust me that
they're there." At the puzzled look on the patient's face,
"Do you remember in ICU when you were startled so badly when
I came into the
room? You didn't see me. And the poster I showed you with the
There were fifteen, not ten."
Mulder swallowed, but was quiet as Scully took his hand. It was
clammy. "What does all this mean? What can be done?"
she asked, voicing
what she knew he could not.
"We're starting you on a series of steroid injections,"
Hayden spoke to
Mulder rather than Scully, knowing that he would have asked the
he been able. "These should eliminate the pain and definitely
put a stop to
any further advancement of the blind spots. Meaning, Mr. Mulder,
there's no threat of you losing your vision. There's a possibility
treatment will result in the spots becoming reduced and eventually
disappearing altogether, but the chances of that are not absolute.
if they don't, you'll begin to automatically compensate for them
and go on as
if nothing has happened."
They all knew that she was trying to be supportive, happy to be
inform her patient that he would be able to resume a normal life,
realizing that this patient's life was anything but normal. Turning
to meet Scully's eyes, the statement was clearly written in them.
be a field agent if I can't adequately cover your back.//
"What are the odds, Doctor?" Scully asked.
"Odds?" The doctor seemed puzzled.
"The odds in his getting back to 100% vision."
"As I said, we can't be certain. Possibly in the 50/50 range
if we're lucky."
"I'm not sure if you're aware, Doctor Hayden," Skinner
spoke, breaking in
when he'd practically been forgotten. "But Mr. Mulder is
a special agent
with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and his vision directly
position with the bureau."
Dr. Hayden's eyes were shining with contentment at the minor inconvenience
her patient would endure even if he didn't get any better. Now
thoughtful and then sad. She was an intelligent woman, and now
understood why they were so concerned. "I understand the
problem a little
better now, thank you."
"No, thank you, Doctor," Mulder said, regaining his
voice. "So what's next?"
"Well, you'll be in here at least four more days to be sure
the situation in
your lungs has resolved itself. In that time, we'll continue to
give you the
steroid therapy and I'm going to see what I can find out about
developments in treating this condition. And as hard as this will
need to rest. That will help you heal, too."
"I'll try," Mulder mumbled, noticing that Scully still
clenched his hand
"He'll do it," Scully affirmed strongly. What had he
ever done before he had
her taking care of him?
Soon their number was reduced to four once again. The room was
for several minutes before somebody finally spoke.
"Not to bring up a sore subject," Skinner asked Scully,
but has anybody
informed the Director how this happened? I'm sure he's going to
review the security protocols."
"He has, sir, and there's another team of agents reviewing
trying to find out who sent Mulder his care package. If we're
cameras got a good picture of him. Hopefully we'll be able to
put a name
with a face if we do."
"I keep hearing that word more and more, Scully. We've never
been able to
rely on luck before, and I'm not sure we can now."
"Which is why the Director put only the best agents on this
case. We'll find
him, Mulder. I promise you."
"Sweetheart," Maggie interrupted, seeming a bit timid.
"I know we've all
been distracted, but shouldn't there be a guard on the room in
did this tries again?"
Three pairs of eyes widened and three faces flushed in embarrassment
civilian pointing out something so obvious. "Oh, shit. I
thought of that when they were first admitted!" Scully exclaimed.
"I think your mind was elsewhere, baby," Maggie answered
blushed slightly at the endearment, but quickly went to the phone
to call the
bureau. Mulder admired the authoritative air in her voice as she
for the security guards to be stationed outside the hospital room
Skinner occupied. It occurred to him, for just a moment, how far
have gotten in the bureau had she not gotten mixed up in his quest.
she'd even be the youngest AD in history by this time.
Even so, Scully stuck with him. Just as, tonight, she stayed in
until she was sure the guard arrived and was given instructions.
did she and her mother leave for some sleep of their own.
You didn't have to be a trained FBI Agent and ex-Marine to see
Scully was at a loss. She seemed tentative during her time spent
with her partner, which was more often than he expected. As if
anticipating a storm that wasn't manifesting the way the weatherman
it would. So Walter Skinner watched quizzically while waiting
doctors to finally say he could leave. The "one or two days
had stretched into three at the recommendation of military intelligence,
that didn't make it any easier to take.
The only time he got a brief respite from the poking and prodding
doctors and the silent communication of his roommate and his partner
Maggie Scully was there. He couldn't put his finger on why he
relaxed around her, and chalked it up to her personality. While
he saw a
resemblance between his agent and her mother, there were stark
Scully was serious where Maggie was joyful, Scully was reserved
was open and giving, even to strangers, and Scully tended to be
to Maggie's relentless optimism. Granted, he could hardly blame
being pessimistic after her last seven years with the X-Files
hadn't been easy for either her or her partner, yet they persevered.
Dana Scully knew that her boss admired her perseverance, and normally,
Mulder's stick-to-itiveness would have even outweighed her own.
would that strength in his character work for him if he wasn't
able to go
back to work? It had been three days, and they hadn't again brought
subject of the possibility of the loss of his field agent status.
only repress that fear for so long before it would have to come
out, and she
expected to see it. But he hadn't once mentioned it since that
diagnosis. Repression wasn't anything new to Mulder, and she knew
good for him. In light of this, she was keeping a close eye on
The morning of the fourth day, when Scully entered the hospital
room, she was
surprised to see Mulder watching wistfully as Skinner tucked in
Could it be he'd miss the older man's company?
"What's the matter, Mulder?" she asked, smiling. "You
look like you're
losing your best friend."
"Nope, not quite," he said, turning a sardonic smile
on her. "I can't tell
you how nice it'll be to be able to watch whatever I want on the
having a certain somebody telling me that I'm rotting my brain."
Skinner exchanged wry smiles, obviously signifying the start of
"I don't know how you ever kept what little intelligence
you have watching
that kind of stuff," Skinner added. She'd never known Skinner
and Mulder to
joke like this with each other; at least this hospital trip had
been good for
something. It was new to her, and Scully had to admit she found
"You didn't seem to mind my 'little intelligence' when you
profiling done, Assistant Director." The title was said with
that spoke of Mulder's commonly accepted disdain for titles.
"Any port in a storm, Agent Mulder," Skinner rebutted,
inciting a rare,
sudden laugh from Scully.
"Enjoying the show, Scully?" Mulder asked, raising an
eyebrow. "Y'know, you
could come to your partner's aid while he's being verbally attacked."
"You'd never let me live it down if I didn't let you fight
your own battles.
Especially since you're so well armed yourself in that kind of
"Some partner you turned out to be!" Mulder pouted,
but there was a lightness
that belied the remark.
"Hope I'm not interrupting anything," came a voice from
the door as Dr.
Herbst entered the room.
"Nothing important," Scully said. "Just me trying
to keep 'the boys' from
verbally thrashing each other."
"Well, if they're being a problem," Herbst said, exchanging
a wink with
Scully, "maybe I should reconsider releasing Assistant Director
never know what abnormal behavior could signify."
"You'd better be joking," Skinner said, all seriousness,
to the physician.
He looked like he'd take off the head of the person who denied
him exit from
"Doesn't have much of a sense of humor, does he, Agent Scully?"
he asked in a
She shook her head and gave the doctor a smile as he let Skinner
off the hook.
"We just can't have people here affecting the morale of our
patients, so I
guess I will have to release you." He observed Skinner's
sigh of relief as
he handed over his papers. "See your personal physician in
a week for a
checkup, but I'm fairly certain you're going to be fine."
"Thank you, Doctor," Skinner said, seriously this time,
as he shook the man's
hand. "I appreciate everything you did for us."
"That means I should be able to go any time now too, huh?"
"Not so fast, Mr. Mulder. Don't forget, you had respiratory
addition to other affects that Mr. Skinner did not experience.
it's going to be a few more days."
Mulder sighed in disappointment and sunk down further into his
"How is he doing, Doctor?" Scully asked quietly.
"The steroids we've been giving him have halted the progression
of the Optic
Neuritis, and his lungs are showing marked improvement."
"But while the blind spots aren't progressing, they're also
Dr. Hayden will be in to check you more closely in a few minutes,
but it may
be that this is the best we're going to get. Thankfully, on a
basis, they won't affect your ability to live a normal life. Knowing
you have them will give you all the edge you need to be sure to
for them when driving or walking in traffic. It's easy to forget
they're there, but as long as you don't become complacent, it's
Scully looked over to Skinner as they exchanged a look - neither
one of them
knew if Mulder would be allowed in the field with this impairment.
however, seemed and unaware that the bureau could have a problem
operating this way.
"Well, I guess I'll leave the three of you to your own company,"
said, hefting the small bag of his personal possessions. "I'll
talk to you
He was barely out of the room when Scully had an idea. "Hold
on just a
second, Mulder. I'm going to let the AD use my car to get home.
Mom will be
here in a little while, and she can drive me to pick it up from
It'll save him having to get a cab."
Out in the hallway, she called to her boss's retreating back.
pulled up short and turned around to face her. "Why don't
you take my car -
I'll catch a ride home with my mother later."
"Thanks for the offer," he replied, taking her keys.
"Can I presume that
this is not the only reason you followed me out here?"
"You know me too well, Sir. Are you planning to check into
policy on disabilities in field-agents?"
"Yes, I need to know whether they'll let Mulder in the field
with these blind
"I know better than to ask that you keep this to yourself,
but why do I feel
like I want to anyway?"
"Because you don't want to lose your partner, Agent Scully.
I'll see what I
can find out."
"Whatever that is, Sir. Could you please let me know before
you talk to
Mulder? I want to hear the FBI's version, not that of a wishful
She'd originally planned to say "friend", but found
this more appropriate in
front of her boss.
"Of course, Agent Scully. I'll be in touch."
A week had passed, but Scully was still worried. By all accounts,
should be going swimmingly, as she remembered her mother describing
it wasn't. They were back to work, the office had been swept in
than one, and Skinner had found a never-considered loophole that
Mulder in the field. Apparently, the regulations called for a
test to be passed - a test that examined visual acuity, not necessarily
range. All Mulder had to do to pass the test was be sure he turned
to avoid the blind spots. Scully remembered how the doctor had
this action would become second nature. As unforthcoming as Mulder
about his feelings of never again being a field agent, he was
unrevealing of them when he was told that his worries were over.
What did it
take to get a reaction out of the man?
As for the attempt on Mulder's life, it hadn't been repeated.
the guard at the hospital, and even the agent parked out in front
apartment the first few days he was home, but shortly became frustrated
the constant supervision, needing to get out from under the watchful
She couldn't say she was happy about it, but he seemed safe and
hadn't shown his face again, so she was at least content. Or,
she would be.
Except . . .
The last few days, Mulder's entrance into the basement office
her healthy partner, but a man who looked on the verge of collapse.
smudges beneath his eyes had grown closer to black each day. He
he hadn't had a full night's sleep in ages, and while he always
in front of her, Scully couldn't shake the feeling that, when
wasn't eating at all.
Figuring she could at least do something about that, she caught
off guard ten days after his release from the hospital. The work
drawing to a close, and Mulder's eyes had been drifting to the
frequently than usual. He was probably just tired of doing paperwork,
figured, and anxious to find a case that would put them back in
But not just yet.
"Do you have any plans tonight, Mulder?" she asked,
It seemed to take him a second to process the question. "Uh
. . . not unless
you count a sports video and a bowl of popcorn as plans. Why?"
"I just thought you might want to join me for dinner. I'd
love to try that
new Chinese place near the Mall." She knew his weaknesses,
and how much he
loved Chinese couisine. This was one meal he'd definitely eat.
Mulder appeared to consider for a fraction of a minute before
I stop home and change first?"
"Sure. You don't think I want to go in a business suit, do
you? This is
relaxation, Mulder, not business."
"Relaxation? You mean," his face brightened, "like
"To quote our less than illustrious president, it's all in
Call it what you like, Mulder. I thought it might be fun. Good
food . . .
no business talk. What do you say?"
"I say that we've done enough paperwork for one day,"
he said as he shut down
his computer and reached for his coat. "How about I meet
you there at 6:00?"
"Six sounds perfect," she responded, surprised at how
easily he'd been talked
into the outing. Maybe he wasn't as unsettled as she feared.
This one night, I'm going to forget it. Mulder repeated it over
and over in
his mind as he shed his suit and slid into his favorite pair of
his eyes kept straying to the gym bag sitting next to the leather
wasn't very big. He could put it in his car and nobody would ever
No! This night was for Scully, and he wouldn't let his compulsion
away from her. But the compulsion was for her, as well, wasn't
it? He was
still arguing with himself when he realized that he was done dressing.
didn't remember choosing the black T-shirt over the white or gray
his nearly-never-worn denim jacket over the leather one he usually
He tried to ignore the bag as he peered at his reflection in the
mirror. "Jeez, you're a mess," he muttered as he tried
to comb his hair into
some semblance of order. What had he been thinking, letting that
butcher his hair like this? Was he making some feeble attempt
his lost youth? Was this a midlife crisis? Mulder shook his head
dismissing the thought before wetting his comb and forcing his
behave. It would grow out fast enough, thankfully.
He was trying to decide if he should shave again when he heard
the bells of
the nearby church toll the quarter hour. It was the third time
the single beat - 5:45. Dismissing the notion in favor of being
on time, he
was almost through the door before, without missing a beat, he
and grabbed the gym bag. The door slammed, nearly catching the
"You failed," said the deep, menacing voice. "Not
only is Mulder not dead,
he's back to work! You assured me that you never fail."
Despite his experience, the voice from the dark intimidated him.
He knew the
person he was dealing with could be dangerous. "It was a
Circumstances I couldn't have predicted came to light."
"Fortunately for you," the voice continued as if it
hadn't heard his
entreaty, "I respect your work enough to give you one more
it right this time, or Mulder won't be the only one to end up
on a slab in
"This might be harder than I thought," the contractor
stated. "I know you
said that Mulder was to be the only victim, but I may not be able
to do it
without taking Scully, too."
"If that's how it has to be in order to see Mulder in his
grave, than so be
it. Take some men with you if you need to, just get it done."
As it turned out, the restaurant was an all-you-can-eat buffet.
the variety, and Mulder should have loved the volume but somehow
needed to get back on his feed, which had been disrupted after
And Scully wasn't above using whatever methods were at hand to
get him to eat.
"Here, Mulder. Taste this!" She held a morsel of chicken
chopsticks, close enough to his lips that he could smell it. She
he tipped his head slightly, taking in the food's appearance.
"Scully, I do have a plate of my own," he laughed before
giving in to her
entreaty and closing his lips around the chicken. After he chewed
swallowed, he added, "why do I get the feeling that you'd
never allow me to
feed you like that." When she didn't answer, he used his
fork to skewer a
piece of meat from his own plate, holding it in front of her own
"I'm going to leave lipstick on that, you know," she
grinned, knowing that it
was the last of his concerns. He gave her that look, and before
she knew it,
she was chewing the spicy yet sweet pork dish. She had a momentary
how they must look to the other patrons but dismissed it quickly.
having a good time, Mulder seemed relaxed, so who cares what anybody
The pair continued to trade their favorite flavors until both
empty. He looked surprised as she rose from her chair. "We
didn't have our
fortune cookies yet," he reminded her, apparently thinking
she was ready to
"Oh, I'm not ready for that, yet! I'm going back to the buffet
She grinned at him. "Coming?"
"Yeah, but I need to make a pit stop first. Save my seat,
"I've done that often enough," Scully quipped, turning
quickly so he wouldn't
see her blush.
The joke wasn't wasted on Mulder, who shook his head in silent
laughter as he
moved to the rear of the restaurant and the restrooms.
Scully was just returning to their table when she heard a ringing
wasn't hers, she realized as she checked her purse, after which
her eyes fell
on Mulder's denim jacket, draped over the back of the chair. There
sign of him returning from the restroom, so she patted down the
she came up with his mate to her own phone.
"Uh . . . hello?" she said tentatively, praying that
it wasn't work that
would pull them away from their enjoyable evening.
"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. I must have the wrong number,"
said a deep, male
voice that sounded somehow familiar.
"Wait!" Scully exclaimed, trying to halt the caller.
When she sensed he'd
returned to the line, she added. "Are you trying to reach
Agent Fox Mulder?"
"Why, yes, ma'am."
"Well, this is his phone - he just had to step away for a
few minutes. Can I
take a message?" She hoped it wasn't anything too complicated.
was good, but not what Mulder's was, and she didn't have a pad
to write on.
"Who am I talking to?" the man replied gruffly.
"This is his partner, Agent Scully." She failed to understand
why this news
incited a laugh until he continued.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Agent Scully. This is Dan Monroe at the firing
just wanted to see if Agent Mulder wanted me to leave the SDS
unlocked for him. He's usually already here when the time comes
for me to
leave, but I figured he was running late."
Scully didn't want to give away that she had no idea what he was
about, so she played it calmly. "Well, we decided to have
some dinner before
he headed over. It's not that much later than usual, is it?"
"I guess you must've lost track of the time. It's almost
seven. He's been
here at 6:30 on the dot every day for the past week and a half.
mind, though - he's always great about locking up so I don't have
"And don't think he doesn't appreciate it," Scully told
"I'm sure he'll be along shortly, so leave it unlocked, okay?"
"Sure, thanks, Agent Scully. Tell Mulder I'll leave the key
in the normal
place so he can lock up. Night."
Scully clicked off the phone, her mind racing, as she unconsciously
it in the pocket from which she'd taken it. She began eating a
startled when Mulder returned to their table and laid his hand
shoulder. She jumped a mile.
"Dammit, Mulder, don't do that to me!" She quickly softened
her comment with
a smile when a stricken expression passed his face. The look disappeared,
replaced by one of warmth.
"After all these years, Scully, don't you think you should
be more observant
of things sneak up on you?" he asked with a devilish grin.
"Things, yes. Mulders, no," she smiled back. "Thank
God there's only one
of you! That's work enough."
She knew that two or even one year ago, that would have been cruel
That Mulder, who seemed more like an injured puppy than a ferocious
dog, had changed into the confident man who stood now smiling
back at her.
He was more comfortable with himself these days, and she knew
that he would
take her comment with the humor with which it was intended. At
least he had
been, before the explosion.
He slid into his seat, examining her plate. "Hey, that looks
good," he said,
filching one of two remaining heart-shaped pastries. It was half
gone in the
first bite, but Scully was just happy that he was eating.
"Oh, your phone rang while you were in the men's room. I
hope you don't mind
that I answered it."
"No, that's fine. Please don't tell me it was Skinner."
"It wasn't Skinner," she said, her own relief as strong
as his. "It was Dan
at the firing range. He said to tell you he'd leave the key in
spot so you could lock up tonight." Scully leaned forward
in her chair
slightly, anticipating what he'd say.
"Oh, okay," Mulder said as if it were nothing. When
Scully's eyes turned to
him questioningly, he added, "I called to reserve time this
evening before I
knew about coming here. I just felt like I needed to bone up."
Okay, Scully accepted. So far, he was telling the truth, even
if he wasn't
giving her the entire story. "So, are you still going?"
Arching his back in a stretch, Mulder smiled as he rubbed his
stomach. "Yeah, I'll go over for a little bit. Gotta work
off some of this
"Just don't overdo it," Scully warned. "Technically,
"I'll keep it short, don't worry," he stated, but she
Dana Scully stared at the television, not having any idea what
show she had
been watching for the past half hour. Where was her partner right
She'd plopped down on her sofa, in the same spot where she now
sat, at 7:30
right after her arrival home. By now, Mulder should be finishing
practice drills and be on his way home, she thought.
However, every instinct in her was telling her that the apartment
last place she should be. Mulder was a big boy, her rational mind
He's perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He'd been doing
over thirty years now, and didn't need her interfering in his
Somehow, the argument rang hollow.
Her eyes scanned the apartment, searching for something to occupy
better than the inane prime-time lineup. Who cared which person
was the last
on that stupid island, anyway?
Before long, she was kneeling at the bathtub, scrubbing it with
Her bathroom had never shined so much - she'd already finished
the sink, the
toilet, and all the chrome. Yet only forty-five minutes of her
been used, and her mind was still crowded with thoughts of Mulder.
"To hell with it!" she exclaimed, ripping the rubber
gloves from her hands
and capping the cleaner. She realized she'd never get any rest
until she saw
him again and assured herself that he was safe and not overdoing
grabbed her keys, purse, and coat from the stand by the door,
the belt in the door as she slammed the it behind her.
For all Mulder knew, there could have been a stadium full of people
him. His focus was so finely tuned that everything not directly
the simulation faded into the non-existent background. 30th time's
charm, he said to himself as he reset the simulator and stood
for the starting signal. This time, he'd get it perfect. This
time, he'd be
able to get every bad guy and save every innocent bystander. Nothing
Not that he cared that much to ensure his own safety. He valued
but he valued Scully's a great deal more. And he'd never trust
himself to be
out in the field with her unless he knew that he could back her
couldn't have the blind spots in his vision risking her life.
fact that the FBI regulations allowed him to stay on duty, he
it if there was a chance that it could hurt his partner.
Thank God that Dan considered himself a friend - he'd pretty much
the range since being released from the hospital. His own needs
practically run the soda machine out of the bottled water that
for his dinner most nights. He couldn't think about eating until
what his ultimate fate was going to be: 100 percent functional
from the FBI at the ripe old age of 39.
All this flashed through his discerning mind in the second before
sounded and he made his way into the arena. Disregarded was the
his limbs and the tiredness in his mind as the figures popped
up and then
disappeared in turn. Mulder used all of his senses as he moved
course. If he got them all, maybe he'd call it a night . . . treat
to a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich on the way home and then settle
cozy bed and actually get some sleep for a change.
He realized he'd finished a good deal of the course on instinct
as he crossed
the finish line, knowing that it was okay - that an agent had
to be able to
act on instinct just as much as the physical evidence he had at
Closing his eyes, a wish on his lips, he waited to see the score
garnered this time.
Falling to his knees as he opened his eyes, he read numbers that
what he'd hoped. He swallowed the sob that tried to escape. Two
thirty-five seconds with one bad guy missed. He'd missed one .
That could be the one who kills Scully, he thought. She wasn't
safe on the
streets with him yet. Unsure whether his legs would carry him
course one more time, Mulder tried to get to his feet. Despite
had dinner, the lack of food over the past several days and his
affected him, bringing him back to his knees a fraction of a second
he'd arisen. He panted, weary and out of breath. He didn't hear
footsteps until a small hand fell on his shoulder.
"Mulder, are you okay?" Scully asked with a gentle smile.
He lifted his
head, taking in the concern in her eyes and the casual quality
Rather than answer the question, he just laughed - a soft, bitter
"Okay? I don't think I'll ever be okay again," he added
in a whisper. He'd
promised himself that this was the last night. If he couldn't
ability to get around his physical limitations in two weeks, he
ever would - and he couldn't ever let himself endanger his partner.
nothing and she was everything. She deserved a partner who could
back her up
one hundred percent.
"Mulder, how long have you been at this?"
"Two weeks," he answered as she helped him to his feet.
His legs seemed
stronger after the brief rest, and she released him, although
"I mean tonight."
"I'm not sure, maybe a couple hours. How long does it take
to run through
the simulator 30 times?"
"You've done this thirty times tonight?" she asked,
incredulous. "No wonder
you're exhausted! Did you at least take a break every now and
He smiled self deprecatingly, knowing he was in for a lecture.
working on a bottle of water between sessions. Does that count?"
"Knowing you, not hardly. Have you been coming here and working
every night?" The crease in her brow reflected both her concern
"Well, not every night," he said, hoping she wouldn't
call him on it and ask
for the last specific day he'd missed. Coming in during the day
weekends would hardly meet the criteria for which she was looking.
Her eyes met his doubtfully, but if she suspected his subterfuge,
to ignore it for now. "Why don't I take you home, Mulder.
We can watch a
movie or something."
Thank heavens. Maybe he could put all this out of his mind for
don't like any of my movies, and it's your turn," he said,
spent clip with a new one and zipping up his gym bag. The gun
found a home
in the hollow of his back, held fast to his body by the elastic
"Then we'll stop at Blockbuster on the way."
"How are you with nostalgia?" Mulder asked, slipping
an affectionate arm
around Scully's shoulders. "I just hooked up my new DVD player
day, and I hear that there're lots of classics re-released with
"You have a DVD player?" Scully asked, her concern dissolving
in a warm
smile. "Then I know what I want to see."
Making their way to the car, Mulder waited for her to enlighten
him, and when
she just walked in silence, he finally begged, "Well? Are
you going to tell
me or not?!"
"No, I won't tell you," Scully grinned mischievously.
"But I will give you a
Mulder was enjoying the game and being able to just enjoy being
"Okay, what's my clue?" He removed his arm from her
shoulders as they
arrived at the car, Scully breaking away to go to the driver's
"Da da Da da Da da Da da Da da." He smiled, recognizing
the distinctive tune
Scully tried her best to imitate. He loved that movie!
Later, if somebody had asked him what he saw that alerted him,
wouldn't have been able to tell them. It was something on the
level, identified by eyes or ears or one of the other five senses.
knew was that, in a fraction of a second, he knew that they were
"Scully, get down!" He made a flying tackle, bringing
her down to the
pavement and rolling to protect her both from the pavement and
that were suddenly flying overhead. It was hard to see in the
his gun was instantly in his hand and he loosed two rounds, hearing
thump as a body hit the ground. Still, the gunshots didn't stop,
they were by a half or perhaps a third.
The rebound of a gun near his own ear alerted him to the fact
that Scully, as
well, was returning fire, and as he looked into her face, he could
concentrating on a dark spot to their left where he could occasionally
the splash of moonlight on a gun barrel. There was a flash immediately
preceding each shot, and Scully rose to her knees, getting a bead
exactly the second shooter was.
Suddenly, everything began to move in slow motion. He saw Scully
arms and her finger tighten on the trigger, even saw the bullet
chamber, he believed. The conscious part of his mind was solely
his partner and her actions, but somewhere, his instincts were
their own accord. For a moment after Scully's shot took down the
shooter, he'd also taken down the third, the man dropping in his
tracks as he
circled around the car for a better angle.
It took a few silent, still moments for Mulder to realize that
it was over.
He panted, his need for oxygen crushing his chest as much as his
fear for his
partner and, yes, for himself.
"That was too close," Scully said, herself panting.
She flipped open her
cell and called the bureau, requesting a team and an ambulance.
to get to his feet, but Scully, snapping her phone off, grabbed
his hand and
pulled him down next to her. "Let's just sit here until the
Mulder nodded slightly, unsure he wanted to release his partner's
once, he had nothing to say.
"You saved my life, Mulder," Scully said, making it
apparent that she was
going to keep holding his hand for awhile longer. "Thanks
for backing me up.
Good to see you at 100% again, partner."
And it was like an epiphany for Fox Mulder, sitting there in the
of the FBI firing range. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?" he
asked, more to himself
than to her. But she heard, and she responded to the wonder in
I never doubted it for a minute, Mulder.
"This is the life," Mulder luxuriated, stretching widely
in his seat on the
couch. He reached up to take a glass from Scully's hand, taking
a sip off
"I'm only doing this because you did it last time, Mulder!
Don't get cocky."
Scully smiled wickedly as Mulder choked, spraying iced tea over
"Scully!" he exclaimed as he brought his coughing under
"Yes, Mulder?" she asked innocently, taking her seat
At a loss for what to say, Mulder whispered to himself as he ran
over the table's surface. "There's an off-color comment in
I'm sure of it."
"Just play the movie. I can't believe we found one we both
"I've always loved this one. There's just something so basic
Survival of the fittest."
"Yeah, like these past few weeks. Thank God that we ended
up the fittest and
they ended up with one of their shooters turning states evidence
his compatriots captured!"
"Nobody's happier about it than I am. I was beginning to
picture my head on
a plaque on somebody's wall."
Both agents grew silent as the music began and the title credits
"I remember begging my father not to go to sea after seeing
this movie for
the first time. Took him almost an hour to convince me that a
was too big to be in danger."
"The lake up in Quontacatauge went unused that summer, too."
The silence descended again, but it wasn't uncomfortable or strained
way. It was right. Peaceful. Content. They sipped their drinks
watched, mesmerized as childhood memories returned.
"D'you think that actress is really naked?"